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6

THE AFTERNOON OF the fourth day. The Chevrolet Impala moved in low gear through streets that were like alleys, past stone structures with wooden entranceways, tenements that dated only a hundred years-new housing in a town where the son of Christopher Columbus had lived in style. Mary stared at scarred walls. They could be in San Juan or Caracas. The heat pressed motionless in the narrow streets. She searched for something to hold her interest as Moran spoke to Bienvenido in English and pidgin present-tense Spanish. The oldest buildings of all, she realized, the ones that dated to the early sixteenth century, were the newest in appearance, clean, reconstructed among recent decay, with all the charm of Disney World.

When they left the car to walk, Moran would nod to people along the street and in doorways staring at them, staring longer at the blond-haired woman than at the bearded man.

Mary said, Youre sure were all right.

Morans gaze came down from the upper floors of a building to the narrow shops on the street level. They look at you and its instant love. Blondes have some kind of magic. His gaze lifted again. Up by that corner window-those are bullet holes. My fire team came along this street We shouldnt have been anywhere near this area.

Whats a fire team? She pictured firemen.

A third of a squad. Two riflemen, an automatic rifleman and the fire-team leader. Thirteen men in a squad, forty-eight in a platoon. The platoon was Cat Chaser. After we lost our sergeant I was Cat Chaser Four-if anybody wanted to call up and say hi.

Mister!

Moran turned to see the dark face close to him, teeth missing and brown-stained eyes smiling, the man holding up lottery tickets. Moran waved him away, moving past.

You the Marine, uh? the man said, stopping Moran again in his tracks. I hear it on the radio, the marine looking for his girl. You the Marine, yes?

I was a Marine, Moran said.

They were standing now, people gathering around. Mary saw the eager expression on the mans face as he said, This is the Marine! Excited. You looking for the girl Luci Palma. You find her?

Mary watched Moran shake his head, with the same eager expression as the mans. You know her?

No, I dont think so. The man turned to the other people and began speaking in Spanish.

Moran took Marys arm. They continued up the old street past lingering people, piles of trash, children following them now, the children and the lottery-ticket mans voice raised, telling everyone something in Spanish, with feeling, like he was telling a story.

Whats he saying?

I ran an ad in the paper, looking for somebody, Moran said. Evidently one of the radio stations got hold of it.

Looking for somebody, Mary said.

Someone I met after I was taken prisoner. One of the snipers.

A girl?

She was about sixteen. Luci Palma.

Thats why you came here? To see her?

No, this is why I came. What were doing now. But I was curious.

Ill bet you are.

She was a skinny little kid.

She wont be now, though, Mary said, will she? Have you seen her since then?

This is the first time Ive been back, Moran said. Coming to a corner he was looking at the upper stories again. Mary watched him turn to look off in the direction of the river. There the grain elevators I told you about. See? Ten stories high. The Eighty-second sat up their with their cannons. Up on top.

Mary stared at the cement cylinders standing about a mile away, on the opposite bank of the Ozama River. She felt Morans hand on her arm and they continued across the intersection. Behind them, Bienvenidos Impala came to a stop. Moran was pointing now. Thats the building. The one on the corner. Where I chased the sniper.

The girl?

No, it was a guy in a green striped shirt. Green and white. Moran turned, looking at the side streets again, thoughtful. Theyd hide a gun in an upstairs room, take a shot at you, come out, walk up the street to an apartment where they had another gun stashed and let you have a few more rounds. You see how narrow the streets are, you have to look almost straight up. You feel exposed, looking up, trying to spot the window, the guys already someplace else, drawing a bead on you He turned slowly back to the building on the corner and stared, squinting in the sunlight. I stuck my head out of that third-floor window, right there



| Cat Chaser | * * *