Once [Brunner said], before it all went to shit, there was a boy, an Indian boy—Quechua—who was different. Plainly put, his skill was not at first seen to have much use: he could draw perfect circles. Without the aid of instruments, you understand. Perfect circles, in any size—small enough to fit inside a man's dilated pupil or large enough to circumscribe his own outstretched body. He was found one day playing in the dust of the Quito airstrip, with planes taking off and landing all around him. He said later—he said this quite clearly in his sleep one night—that while on the airstrip, he heard a buzzing in his ears, but it was not the sound of the airplanes, which he could not hear at all; it was a buzzing that came from within his head and from somewhere far-off, perhaps in the mountains. It sounded, he said, as if many powerful beings were dancing in the distance, and the sound of their stamping feet was the buzzing in his ears.
The boy might have continued to draw his perfect circles in the dust if a pilot had not taken him from that place and put him in the care of a Jesuit priest, Eduardo Cassana, who cared for him at The Saints of Earth & Sky, a tiny church on the northeast side of Quito, hunched up against the mountains. Mostly farmer, laborers, and carpenters came to this church. Father Cassana, in his sixties by now, let anyone who would attend services do so, even the homeless that were looked down upon.
The boy spoke Quechua, and a second language that sounded both like certain hummingbird sounds and like the thrumming of their wings. Thus few people understood him except for Father Cassana, who had learned Quechua during his many years of preaching to the locals. The boy's age was indeterminate, but Father Cassana estimated he was between seven and nine. He had a thin grace and his stare was blank, but it was a very different sort of blankness, in Father Cassana's opinion. It was the blankness of a soul staring inward at itself, wondering whether the outside world was real.
He could not have thought why this occurred to him, but it did. Father Cassana wondered if perhaps the gaze could be turned outward, and into the light of the Lord, but conversation wasn't foremost on his mind. The mystery posed by the boy needed solving first.
The way in which the boy held himself, and the stare, made Father Cassana think of someone much older and, indeed, with the addition of lines and creases caused by age, he could have been just another laborer lugging crops to market, the gait slow and deliberate.
The boy had been given ordinary clothes to wear, but what he had worn on the airstrip had been gathered up and sent with him to the church. They were of such fine design and detail, woven with a consummate skill, in dyes of brilliant reds, greens, blues, and purples, that Father Cassana could not bear to throw them away. Instead, he washed the pancho, the trousers, the boots of peccary skin, the feathered cap. On Sundays he allowed the boy to attend church dressed in these clothes. In church, the boy would act his age, swinging his feet over the edge of the pews and tapping his fingers against the row in front of him. Often, he would also stare unnervingly at members of the congregation, ignoring the sermon. His eyes had long, dark lashes, and his mouth remained open, as if in awe of the farmers and laborers who comprised Father Cassana's flock. The eyes at such times would reflect only the agitation of the congregation, and many of those who came to the services complained to Father Cassana about "the gaze of the fool." Father Cassana would listen solemnly to such complaints, nod a few times, but he had no answer. He did not stare into those eyes except by accident, for the boy disturbed him as well, much as he tried to put aside such irrational feelings.
As if to make up for his effect, the boy soon became a good worker. He helped Father Cassana around the Saints of Earth and Air by pumping water from the well and using a bicycle to run simple errands into Quito. This did not mean, either to Father Cassana or to anyone else, that the boy was "normal," however, for what the boy most liked to do was draw his perfect circles in the dirt. The priest gave the boy a pen and paper, and still the boy drew his perfect circles.
Over several weeks, Father Cassana's curiosity about the boy grew and grew. Who were his parents? Where had he been born? What was his exact age? Had he been subjected to some strain upon the nerves that explained his fixation?
When he could stand his own ignorance no longer, Father Cassana called the boy aside one day after Sunday services, as they stood at the door to the church. He bent to one knee and looked into the eyes that disturbed him so. "Boy, who is your father? Your mother? Where did you grow up?" He asked these questions quickly, as if dreading the answers.
Later, when asked the same question, the boy might or might not respond, or even acknowledge the priest's presence, but this first time he said, "I listen to the buzzing in my head. I do not listen to the moment. My mother and father lie before me and the future lies behind me, over my shoulder. How can I see anything?"
Sometimes when the boy gave this response, Father Cassana felt a stabbing pain in his head, a weight against his chest, from the realization that the succinct sophistication of the reply in one so young terrified him. But luckily for his sense of balance and the fundamental rightness of the world, the boy rarely said anything. Instead, he would take up his pen and paper and make his perfect circles.
In several instances, the priest would check in on the boy from the doorway late at night, only to find the boy still making circles in his sleep, his hands moving through the air, cutting it with slow, rhythmic motions. The first time Father Cassanas observed this behavior, two weeks after the boy's arrival, he caught the boy's hands in his, the better to calm him. But the boy jumped up from his bed and hit Father Cassana across the face with a clenched fist.
"What is the day?!" the boy screamed. "What is the day? Tell me the year? Why have you abandoned me?!"
Then, he would lapse into the hummingbird song and thrash with such intensity that Father Cassana wondered later if he should take the boy to a physician.
As for his own humiliation—the blow felt like hot mercury against his cheek—Father Cassana had trembled with an unpriestly rage for more than a minute after the boy had hit him, struggling not to strike back. This reaction also made Father Cassana consider an outside intervention, but ultimately he talked himself out of that decision. After all, even though he hadn't meant to, he had provoked the incident.
As for what the boy really remembered of his past, Father Cassana came to believe he knew nothing of it. Certainly the boy did not comprehend the passage of time, at least not as most people perceived it. Sometimes, Father Cassana would find the boy in the weed-infested empty field behind the church, standing as if he had planted one foot in front of the other and planned soon, within the hour, to take another step, after which he would stand poised to take a second step after another hour.
Father Cassana could not help himself. He walked up to the boy the first time he observed this behavior, questions ready to spill from his lips, forestalled only by the memory of the prior episode and by the thoroughness with which the boy ignored him.
A kind of coldness flooded Father Cassana as he watched the boy, who held his arms above him, as if about to dive into the grass. He had a distinct impression in that moment of his own mortality, and especially a sense of his own smallness in the world—how if he were to suddenly disappear, he would no more be missed by his congregation than he was missed now by the boy, who ignored him with such profound effortlessness.
At the time, Father Cassana could not see this as a second gift beyond the making of perfect circles—or, at least, a virtue in the child, perhaps even an act of self-preservation. For who could know what kind of life the child had had before coming into Father Cassana's care? All he knew instead was that he soon felt colder than ever before in his life as he watched the boy, hearing his own breath and the murmur and rustle of insects around them. If he had ever had a truly religious vision before, he might have recognized the feeling that welled up in him in that moment: the shock of an epiphany creeping up on the conscious mind, with aftershocks that would overtake him for months afterwards and cocoon him snugly within a certain type of discipline. Instead, because Father Cassana was a sturdy man, imbued with commonsense, and led a flock of the sturdy and commonsensical, he sat in the grass and just watched the boy.
The boy's brown eyes were open and his gaze focused on the mountains. A slight smile creased his mouth.
"What are you doing?" he finally asked the boy, more to break the silence, than expecting an answer.
The boy's gaze did not falter from the mountains, but from his lips came the words, "Waiting for them to come to me."
Them did not feel Christian to Father Cassana and he said three Hail Mary's, clutched his rosary beads, and would have shaken the boy from his trance, if not, again, for the memory of what had happened when he'd shaken the boy from sleep. Besides, the words the boy had spoken had somehow warmed him, broken the cold.
So instead he sat there, waiting until late afternoon for them to come to the boy. The grass smelled sweet and the clouds sailing across the sky calmed him and the buzzing of the insects seemed pleasant to him. So pleasant that he could almost forget the chill of fright that had threatened to overwhelm him. He hardly noticed the passage of time until the bells rang for vespers. They seemed an intrusion, their tone shrill and unkind.
Father Cassana started from his half-sleep, roused himself, and, to his relief, the boy followed him back into the church, still silent as ever.
And so their days might have remained, the boy helping the priest with chores and periodically calling the mountain gods to his side, had not the pilot who had taken the boy from the Quito airfield come to visit, out of some misguided sense of civic duty, I suppose. Some misplaced sense of parentage, perhaps?
Or perhaps he just heard the boy calling to the mountains and mistook the message.
* * *
Who was this pilot? A young man in his twenties taht we will call Dietrich, after the most famous of all blondes. He looked quite dapper in his airman's clothes, or so he thought, and the ladies of Quito did nothing to discourage this image he had of himself. In upper class social circles—which coalesced and suddenly disintegrated depending on political intrigue—he was much sought-after as an exotic attendee at parties, or as the temporary escort for the latest debutante entering the Ecuadorian limelight.
In other circles—coarser and more direct—Dietrich the pilot had a more tarnished reputation, as a fool-hardy aviator who lusted after the lost treasures of the Incas and who, truth be known, spent nearly every moment when not in Quito flying over the Llanganatis jungles or hiking through them with a guide named Sucre Bloomfield.
Dietrich the pilot seemed as suited for such treks as for high society, for he had a wiry strength to his height, and had the chin of a boxer who has never boxed; thus it, and he, remained ruggedly "pretty" rather than simply hardened. His parents, German by birth, had died of something he referred to in vague terms as "consumption" and he had been raised by his grandmother. All of his life Dietrich had loved women with the passion that was his greatest strength and his greatest weakness, and he could neither settle down nor truly wander.
So Dietrich moved from one distraction to another, always with a vague idea of what he wanted—money, power, prestige—but with no firmness of resolve to stick with an occupation, to punch through to a conclusion. Instead, he flirted with success, always successful enough, but never as successful as one might suppose. He formed no real emotional attachments, except to his dream of the Incan treasure, and this made him seem lighter than air at times, to float in the aether, with his feet only precariously touching the ground—which, of course, being mistaken for supreme confidence—made him all the more desirable.
This flitting, this lack of close ties, never seemed to bother Dietrich—never a moment of introspection—until he met the boy.
I cannot tell you what changed inside of Dietrich upon the appearance of the boy in his life. I cannot tell you why, after so long, he might feel lonely or feel like a father to that particular boy. Perhaps these were not his feelings at all, and I am wrong. Was it simply, then, that Dietrich saw in the boy the same qualities he saw in his other compadres? Even if they included smugglers and others of uncertain standing?
On the airstrip where he had found the boy, his eyes had not at first registered what they saw as an emergency—the boy playing in the midst of a busy airstrip with planes careering past him and taking off again. The boy's air of indifference fooled Dietrich for the critical moment. A moment long enough for his indecision to later frighten him. Much of his calm came from never thinking, always moving forward. He had to depend on split-second reactions to emergencies, as well, when in the air or when trekking through the Llanganatas jungles, often encountering the unexpected, and yet this boy had somehow tricked him into dismissing danger.
The boy did not look up when Dietrich first ran up to him and, again, his indifference and his devotion to making circles in the dirt distracted Dietrich from his main purpose of scooping the boy up and getting off the runway. Instead, he stood there, looking over the boy's shoulder as he drew circles, the muscles in the boy's back tensed to bring pressure to bear on his arm and then his hand, which moved in slow, supple, but controlled motions. Dressed in such unusual clothes.
The whine of an old transport plane taxiing down the runway had startled Dietrich from his own trance.
"Here, boy," he shouted over the whine of propeller blades. "Here, boy!" and put a hand on the boy's shoulder. The boy's skin was warm, like the surface of a pot just taken from the kiln. He drew back his hand in surprise as the boy turned to stare up at him.
The boy said something that sounded like the trilling of tiny birds in a distant garden.
"Do you speak English?" Dietrich shouted, dirt kicking up around his feet.
The boy just stared.
"Do you speak German?" Dietrich asked in German.
Still no response. In only ten minutes it would be mid-day and more planes would be coasting in to the landing strip.
"Very well, then," he said, and again touched the boy's shoulder, "even if you can't understand me, you should be able to understand this," and he leaned around and made a motion for the boy to get up. He bent over and took the boy's arm, meaning to pull him to his feet.
The boy flinched away, violently, hands raised from the dirt for just an instant. He did not rise.
"Fine," Dietrich said. "Just fine. Come on, up we go!"
He got behind the boy and started to hoist him to his feet—and just as quickly dropped him. The feel of flesh against his hands, his arms, frightened him somehow. The boy was warm, seemed almost to give off a static shock, which deadened Dietrich's nerve ends.
"Up, up, up," he pantomimed in desperation, realizing how foolish he must look to anyone watching from the airport building. "Do you want to get run over, or slashed by an engine?"
The boy got up then and let Dietrich lead him out of the dust and sun and heat, and to safety.
All of this Dietrich remembered when he came to visit Father Cassana at his church four months later. He had logged over six hundred hours of flight time, shuttling back and forth between enterprises both legal and illegal. He hadn't shaved in three weeks and the high altitude of the Andes and the perilous nature of his routes had temporarily imbued his face with a residual fatigue, most visible in the droop of his left eyelid and a darkness beneath his eyes. He wore boots that ended at his calves because he thought that such height helped him keep his balance when tired. Bloomfield, Dietrich's guide, had visited Father Cassana the previous evening before attending to other tasks, and so the priest was there to greet Dietrich, somewhat cautiously, at the door to the main room.
"How is the boy?" Dietrich asked, after they had exchanged pleasantries and entered Father Cassana's office behind the altar.
"Fine, in his way," Father Cassana replied. "He can make circles, perfect circles, but otherwise he has no abilities to speak of other than the strength of his back and arms."
He waved Dietrich into a chair.
"I noticed that myself," Dietrich said. "He was describing circles in the dust at the airfield when I found him. Tell me, has he has told you his name or indicated where he is from or where his parents are?"
"No, but you can ask him for yourself if you like. Sometimes he will at least respond to the question."
"I'm not good at that language."
"I will translate, if necessary. Do you want to see him now?"
Despite his unease around the boy, Father Cassana did not really want the boy to meet Dietrich. He feared the German might try to take the boy away from him, to reunite him with his real parents or simply to work at the airfield. But he could think of no good reason for the boy not to meet Dietrich.
They found him out back, sitting amidst the grasses, each of his eight fingers making perfect if tiny circles in the dirt, his thumbs trailing behind.
"How are you?" Dietrich asked in Spanish, and the priest translated for him.
The boy said nothing. His face was unblemished from the dirt that had coated it when Dietrich had last seen him.
Dietrich knelt beside the boy. His skin shone with a low glaze. The eyes stared at the mountains while the hands made their perfect circles.
"How about your family? Do you know where they are?"
When the priest had translated, the boy trilled in a rapid-fire series of sentences. The priest told Dietrich, I knew he would say this, part of this: You cannot know your past for it lies over your shoulder and you can only glimpse fragments of your future, for they lie too far ahead. He also says that he can tell you that for now he resides in the church behind us and is looked after by a priest named Eduardo Cassana." The priest's tone and expression reflected bemusement but also a touch of humor.
Dietrich looked down at the boy's hands. They did not trace circles now, but a stranger shape, which resembled three or four half-circles, the eccentric outlines of some commune or compound, and an "x" within the inner circle. When Dietrich saw this, it came as a genuine shock, for he had seen this configuration before. His heart pounded and his breath came short and harsh, and he thought he might fall over, boots or no boots.
He caught the boy's hand, so he could not erase the symbol. "Does he do this often?" he asked the priest.
"Draw something other than circles?" In truth, Dietrich was exasperated with the priest for what seemed like misinformation.
The priest shook his head. "Not that I have seen. But he draws so many circles…" In truth, something in the act, in finding out that the boy didn't just draw perfect circles, shook him to his core, but he hid it well.
"Ask him if he knows what these marks mean," Dietrich asked.
The priest did as he was told, listened to the boy's answer, and said, "He says no, but that neither do you." Except Father Cassana could tell that Dietrich did know what they meant.
The boy stared up at Dietrich with a look that was almost defiant for a moment, and then gazed back toward the mountains and said nothing more.
When they had walked back down to the church, Dietrich let out a heaving sigh and exclaimed, "Christ all mighty!", and laughed, a little too loudly.
"What is wrong?" Father Cassana asked.
"Nothing, nothing," Dietrich said, trying to compose himself. Inside, his heart was strained to the breaking point; he wanted to dance, to run a hundred miles in his bare feet, and yet there was also along with the sense of great opportunity a corresponding dread and fear that he had to tamp down.
For what the boy had drawn was an exact replica of part of a map that Bloomfield had acquired for him just last year, one that purported to show the location of the lost treasure of the Incas, hidden in the middle of the Llanganatis jungles. But there was no frame of reference for the map—it was impossible to tell what specific area it referred to, or, indeed, if it were legitimate. But now he'd had a hint, an impossible tantalizing glimpse from the boy's very hand. And the idea had immediately come to him that if he could only have more time with the boy he might solve the mystery, and thus find the treasure.
"I want to take the boy with me," Dietrich said, perhaps more bluntly than he would have wished.
"I have told you already that he requires more attention than an ordinary child, and you are not an ordinary parent. It would be hard on both of you."
"I'm willing to take the responsibility," Dietrich said. "I want the responsibility.
For an hour, Dietrich continued to talk, trying to convince Father Cassana. He spoke of his childhood growing up in the Black Forest back in Germany and how he had had a father who was often absent, and how he had often wished to have a child of his own. He did not mention the most pivotal incident in his life, the incident that had largely made him who he was as he stood there talking, but he knew that one way or the other he would always come back to it. He talked about the bungalow he had next to the airfield and how it could easily accommodate a child. He spoke of how in Quito the boy could eventually go to school.
After awhile, though, Dietrich stopped, became silent in a way that Father Cassana could not interpret.
"I have told you already that he is different," Father Cassana said as if Dietrich were hard of hearing. "He is not an ordinary child and you are not an ordinary parent. It would be difficult for both of you."
Dietrich just stared that the priest as if he had spoken in another language.
For how much longer did they talk? Did Father Cassana say no and did Dietrich then return to the subject later? Did Dietrich leave and come back several times, each time the moon larger in the sky when he undertook the journey home? How often did he use the same argument, and did he come up with some new way of explaining what he wanted and why?
I don't know—Dietrich was never clear about it with me. All that matters now, all that you must know, is that the priest eventually let Dietrich persuade him to his will.
In truth, although Father Cassana found much that was pleasant to the evenings standing in the tall grasses as the boy called to them, he still could not shake his fear of the unknown. He knew this was a common, if seldom stated, malady of priests, and still it didn't make a difference. He also no doubt remembered the hostile stares of his congregation and, again, the flailing arms that had greeted him when he had tried to embrace the boy. But also—and I have thought about this for a long time—it may be that the boy said something to him on the subject. Or perhaps Father Cassana came to believe that in some way allowing the boy to leave was important to his destiny.
When at least Father Cassana consented, he said "But you must name him before you take him. He must have a name."
"Very well," Dietrich said. He felt some wariness about a name, because thus far the child was just "the boy who drew circles" and he didn't know how naming him would change that. But he couldn't deny such a sensible request.
As they deliberated, the boy turned to them from where he was sitting, took the priest's hand in his, smiled, and said, "Rimachi."
Dietrich noticed that the priest turned pale and tried to draw away, but it would not be until many months later that anyone understood what Father Cassana felt in that moment.
On his deathbed, his hair turned an ethereal white, his eyes bloodshot, dying, in fact, of nothing known in the physician's arts, he would say to the Quechua who tended him, who then told Bloomfield, "When he shook my hand, I felt a warmth in my hand that spread up into my arm. I looked into his eyes and I saw the mountains there and it felt as if I were falling into those mountains, into the peaks, without Christ or God anywhere around me. I felt as if they had left me, as if I were naked and alone, and unbaptized. And I heard as if from afar voices calling from the mountains. Calling to me? I heard them, I tell you. I heard them as clearly as I hear your voice today."
"What did they say?" the Quechua asked.
"They told me to come to them. They told me to give up my faith and bring the boy and come to them. And, by Christ, I wanted to come to them, but I was too scared!"
Soon after, Father Cassana died and was laid to rest in the church cemetery.
But that was many months after Dietrich left with the boy. The evening Dietrich left, he sent Bloomfield back to check on the priest. Something about the stricken look on Father Cassana's face had concerned him. Something there had seemed like a warning, and Dietrich wanted to know what it was.
Bloomfield found that despite the fading light, Father Cassana had gone out into the grassy fields, where he stood staring up at the mountains. Bloomfield watched patiently for a few hours as the light retreated and the moon came out. Father Cassana stood in the same spot, as if time had stopped, with the look of one who is about to move, is caught between action and inertia. When Bloomfield left, the priest still stood there, staring at the shadowy shapes above him.
After the priest's death, with Dietrich searching for clues the boy had not yet given him, Bloomfield was sent back to the church. He searched through Father Cassana's things in the small office behind the altar. Afraid of being discovered, he could not spend much time there, but he did bring back to Dietrich a piece of paper he'd found crumpled up in a corner of the room.
In a shaky hand, Father Cassana had drawn the symbol of the broken blueprints that had so startled Dietrich. He had also written a paragraph, which read, "Once, after I had stood and looked long enough, I saw someone half-way up the mountain. He was thin and there was a glint of gold at his forehead. He was climbing through the undergrowth and trees very deliberately, with a slowness he chose. He wore strange clothes of some kind. There was a strangeness to the way he moved, I soon realized. It was almost circular, and did not follow the curve of the mountain. When the moonlight came up it reflected off of him with an unnatural glow and at times I could have sworn that he would disappear and then immediately reappear higher up the mountain several times. Then his movements became more like a spider or a beetle, and he scuttled along on his hands and feet at a monstrous speed. When he stopped this last time, I can say truthfully that he looked right down at me. He could see me. He had seen me all along. Then he disappeared for good. The next thing I remember is my helpers finding me asleep in the field the next morning, covered in dirt, as if I had thrashed around."
This revelation did not impress Bloomfield, who had seen all manner of strange thing, and it did not at first register much with Dietrich, either.
* * *
When Dietrich saw the symbol from his map redrawn by the boy name named Rimachi, every instinct had cried out that he must bring the child back to the Quito airfield. He could not have said it made any kind of logical sense, and Bloomfield looked at him askance from that day forward. But searching for the lost treasure of the Incas had become reflexive in him, something he worked toward even when his mind was focused on other missions, other people. In a sense, it was like Rimachi's perfect circles: surely by now he didn't think about drawing them, but they were a part of him regardless.
But in these years of seeking, Dietrich had lost perspective. He had lost that part of himself that could have told him the symbol in the dust was a coincidence, even the commonsense that could have told him the boy probably knew nothing about the treasure. That is the power of gold when it becomes a kind of quest and talisman. A superstition grows within you because if you apply logic you would soon enough realize what you seek is impossible, against the odds.
The newly named Rimachi took his new life in stride, no trace of concern crossing that unmarked face as Dietrich brought him to the bungalow next to the Quito airfield. And, although the boy never showed emotion, he seemed to delight in the airfield, for behind it—as you well know—lay all the thousands jumbled shared of crashes and junked planes. Used parts, motors, propellers, carriages, wheels to spin.
Chief amongst the junkyard's enticements, the greatest anachronism of them all: the hulking ruined shadow of a rusting World War I submarine, which Rimachi soon made his own. The submarine had been part of a doomed arms deal. An arms dealer named only as Tal had sold an unfortunate fringe militia a hodge-podge of equipment, much of it inoperable or outdated, and the USS Merriweather had been chief among them. Now it served as Rimachi's private castle. He would spend hours scampering on the cracked, rusted deck or below quarters in the moss-cradled shade. I can attest from many visits that any awkwardness in his gait was offset by his curiosity to explore. Nimbly, he would jump from the forward turret to the eroded and corroded flagpole from which a US flag had once flown.
Dietrich would watch these exploits with more than a little alarm, and tell me or Bloomfield it was because when he looked at the boy he saw more money than he could spend in a lifetime. But we knew that this was Dietrich putting a hard face on a softer emotion.
"Be careful," he would say and Rimachi would start for an instant, caught almost in mid-jump, looking like a startled forest owl, but then continue on without heeding danger or Dietrich's muttered curses. Indeed, on some nights, with the moon above especially bright, it was all Dietrich could do to coerce the boy down from the rusted-out hulk and into the safety of the bungalow.
The bungalow had a fireplace, for the nights in Quito had a chill to them, even when the days were hot, and Dietrich would light a fire and he and the boy would sit by it, sometimes with Bloomfield staring suspiciously at them from a corner. The boy liked to stare into the flames while Dietrich re-sewed buttons on to his leather jackets or his thread-worn fancy shirts.
The fire had a calming effect on Rimachi, and Dietrich soon began to feel comfortable enough around the boy to ask questions, although not completely comfortable. He hesitated to engage him in conversation. He could not easily define what made him uneasy, made him begin to say something to the child and then clamp his mouth shut instead.
But some questions were easier than others. He started with ones he already had asked, like "Where are you from?"
"I listen to the buzzing in my head, not the past. The past lies far ahead of me and the future lies behind me, over my shoulder. How can I see anything?"
He would stare up at Dietrich, and Dietrich would realize he was trembling, even though he had never trembled in dozens of situations in which less stable men would have perished through indecision or lack of will.
And Dietrich would force himself to draw the half-circles and the "x" using a stick of charcoal on a stone next to the fireplace. "What's this, Rimachi? Can you tell me what this is?"
"This is," Rimachi would say, and draw the same symbols alongside Dietrich's own.
The first time this happened, Dietrich grumbled and went back to sewing a particularly stubborn button with an animal-like ferocity. The second time, he clenched his fists. The third, the fourth, the fifth times, he gritted his teeth.
For awhile, Dietrich gave up. For several months, he took piecework jobs, whatever was available. He ran missions for me, too, and those were more dangerous and he always took his gun. You didn't know about those, but trust me, you don't want to know. He took up with a new woman. He went to parties. He let Rimachi explore the ruins of the submarine to his heart's content.
He also sent Bloomfield back to the church after the priest died. Bloomfield handed him the piece of paper like it was cursed.
"What does this mean?" Dietrich asked Bloomfield after he'd read the priest's account of seeing a strange man on the mountain.
"It means," said Bloomfield, "that you should stop looking."
There was nothing in his resolute features that Dietrich could point to later as unclear on this point.
A month after that, Dietrich asked Rimachi again, showing him Father Cassana's drawing and words.
This time, Rimachi smiled and said, "Take me to the mountains and I will show you what it means."
Dietrich stopped asking the boy questions and began to plan his expedition.
* * *
Brunner paused in his storytelling then, for a long while, tapping a finger against his knee, looking away from me.
This pause was out of respect, I believe. For one should not contemplate an expedition into the Llanganatis without a pause of this kind. Even a prayer, perhaps.
What can I tell you about the cloud forests? They lie some fifty miles east of Cuzco, and no one has ever mapped them in their entirety. The hairy, white-lipped tapir lives there, amongst the thick, wet, cold vegetation, and only this tapir has seen the entire expanse of the llanganatis. The impassable trees have roots like fractured glass and the stunted branches of the trees level off abruptly. At the base of such trees, which lie like a crown of thorns upon all of the mountains and valleys, grow bushes whose limbs smell of death. Mosquitoes manage to survive in the cold, but also there are ticks on the arrow plants. The weather feels dreary—a foggy light drizzle that makes it hard to see. Could a fish swim in this fog? Perhaps.
I have braved it only twice, and never again, I have promised myself.
* * *
Outside, into the lull of Brunner's brooding, it had begun to rain: a torrential downpour that held out no hope of abatement. The dancers had left the stage, and a few had taken up with patrons of the bar: boyfriends, husbands, someone new. The rest had slipped quietly into the night, where the stars glinted down through the windows like floating shards of glass. Everything was silent except the rain, everything but the clink of glass against glass as the bartender dried them. The fire was almost out and its warmth had begun to evaporate into the air.
If Dietrich was indeed now out in the darkness above the llanganatis, I could not doubt the he would almost certainly be killed.
"What did Dietrich do then?" I asked finally. "Who did he take with him into the llanganatis that time? And what did he find?"
Brunner gave me an almost sullen look; he had begun this strange story and yet now he didn't want to finish it.
"He took two men: [name scratched out] and Sucre Bloomfield. [name scratched out] was a degenerate member of the Argentine aristocracy; he had several land holdings and he was in the fur and animal trade, which made life very comfortable for him. Dietrich had met him at a party and managed to secure his financial backing for his futile expeditions. Now he wanted in on the adventure part of it."