|From Toromillo the Hunted
by John Cunyus, iUniverse, 2007.
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Miguel Escalante was a collector of sounds, a by-product of five years
in the jungle where subtle variations in sound – a twig breaking, an odd
animal cry, even an unexpected silence – were warning signs from a
He unconsciously committed to memory the footsteps of everyone
around him. He could hear Ana coming in bare feet three carpeted
rooms away. He’d memorized the footsteps of the Colombian
commandant on the island, the soldier who attended them, and the
valet who brought them their meals.
Ana was sound asleep on the seat beside him. Miguel leaned back,
letting the sun warm and soothe his aching limbs, basking in the sound
of gentle surf. Then he heard unfamiliar footsteps.
He was instantly fully awake, fully alert, listening with every fabric of his
being. Last night’s warning echoed through his mind. The footsteps
Miguel reached inside his pocket, pulled out his pistol, and cocked it.
Ana snored gently beside him.
The footsteps reached the veranda of his room, fifteen meters behind
him. Miguel decided to dive left, away from Ana.
The footsteps crossed the veranda and reached the top of the steps
down to the beach. Miguel leapt off the chair and rolled onto his
stomach, pistol in firing position.
In the same instant, a figure in Colombian army olive green leapt to the
sand from a hiding place in a tree no more than twenty meters away.
Miguel recognized the shape immediately – Sergeant Victorio Lopez
from his unit, who’d fought at his side the last five years.
In one continuous motion, Lopez pulled back the lever on his AK-47
and threw himself toward Ana and Miguel. He ducked a shoulder, rolled
in the sand, and rose up in a firing crouch, his body between Ana and
whoever was coming across the veranda.
An unfamiliar Colombian soldier, hardly more than a kid, froze terrified
at the top of the steps. Miguel’s and Lopez’s weapons were aimed
straight at his heart.
In the same instant, two more soldiers, each also instantly recognized
by Miguel, leapt down from the trees, pulling back the levers on their
rifles. Both positioned themselves out of the line of fire of the two men
on the beach, as they’d done in ambush for years.
The poor Colombian soldier heard the men behind him and shrieked
with fear. He glanced over his shoulder to see two more rifles pointing
at him, peed in his pants, and fainted dead away down the steps onto
“Sergeant,” Miguel said completely deadpan, “he’s obviously one of
“I’d say so, sir,” Lopez replied.
Ana awakened with a start when the man fell. She saw Miguel flat on
his stomach on the beach, gun drawn, and began to pull herself upright
from the fully reclined beach chair. It’s hard to do that quickly.
As she did, Lopez stood up from his firing crouch too. He never took
his eye off the sprawled figure on the beach. He simply reached behind
him with one arm to make sure he stayed between Ana and the fallen
“What the . . .” she sputtered, hair tousled from sleep, trying to take it
“Who the . . . what the hell is going on here?” she finally managed to
Miguel’s voice was perfectly calm.
“Martin,” he said to one of the two soldiers on the veranda, “secure the
Martin (pronounced Mar-TEEN in Spanish) Diego straddled the fallen
soldier, pointing his gun directly at the man’s head. The soldier stirred,
looked up into the barrel of Martin’s rifle, and fainted again.
“Colombia’s finest,” Martin sneered.
“Eduardo,” Miguel commanded the other, “search him.”
Eduardo leapt down from the veranda and quickly went through the
“He’s got a letter, sir.”
“Bring it to me.”
Eduardo brought it down. Miguel took it. The pain in his legs from the
jump and roll was so intense, though, he couldn’t force his eyes to
focus. His voice remained completely calm.
“Mrs. Escalante,” he ordered, “read the letter.”
Ana reached over and took it from him with a trembling hand. Before
she could read it, they heard the sound of footsteps running toward
them. Lopez pushed Ana back down, then he, Martin, and Eduardo
formed an arc with their bodies to shield her. They calmly aimed their
rifles at whatever was coming their way.
“It’s the doctor,” Miguel said, recognizing the footsteps.
“He’s coming with the commandant and some soldiers,” Lopez added.
An instant later the doctor and the soldiers burst onto the veranda.
Just as suddenly, they skidded to a terrified halt.
The doctor’s voice was frantic. “Don’t shoot! Don’t shoot! It’s us!”
“Come out where we can see you,” Miguel ordered.
The doctor and the commandant stepped into view, hands high in the
air. The other soldiers stood back.
“Clear?” Lopez asked.
“Clear?” Martin asked.
Miguel looked the doctor and commandant over for a moment and said,
“Stand down, boys,” Lopez ordered.
Martin and Eduardo released the levers on their assault rifles. They
didn’t lower them. The doctor and commandant walked very slowly
“What happened?” the doctor asked, his heart pounding in his ears.
Lopez answered, “We didn’t recognize the footsteps.”
If Miguel hadn’t been in such pain by this time he would have smiled.
He and Lopez had been together so long they could almost think each
“My God,” the doctor cried when he saw the other man lying in a heap
on the beach. “Is he dead?”
“No,” Miguel said. “Passed out.”
At that point Miguel closed his eyes and lowered his weapon. His voice
was hardly more than a whisper.
“Martin,” he said.
“See to Mrs. Escalante.”
“Sergeant,” he said.
“Help me get inside. I don’t think I can get up.”
Lopez, Ana, and the doctor each stepped to his side. Lopez slung his
rifle over his shoulder, pushed the doctor out of the way, and picked
Miguel up bodily off the beach.
“Where to, Major?”
Miguel couldn’t answer.
Ana said, “Into the room. Take him to the couch”
Eduardo and Martin, weapons still raised, shielded Lopez, Miguel, and
Ana as Lopez carried him inside. Someone on the island had tipped
somebody off. They were taking no chances.
Lopez, sweat and sand mixed together on his face, laid Miguel gently
on the couch. Miguel was struggling to stay conscious against the
whirlwind of pain.
“What does the letter say?” he asked weakly.
“What?” Ana asked.
She hadn’t quite heard him.
“He wants to know what the letter says,” Lopez repeated.
Ana opened it and gasped.
“My God,” she said. “The guerrillas murdered two of Hernan Virrey’s
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