I.23 Clean-up

When the burial was over, the moon was already waning. In my exhaustion, I lost track of what I was doing. I might have talked with the mayor some more, but I cannot say if that conversation took place after or before heading for the cemetery. I also recall tracing back my steps to Mercedes’s house, as I had promised. But by that time, her daughter had heard news of the orders I had given to evacuate the village. I have a vivid image of her mute hostility as she stood in the doorway, blocking my path. By some clue, which either she gave me or I read in her behaviour, probably the latter, I understood with relief that Mercedes was recovering. The next thing that I am absolutely certain I did not dream was the ray of sunlight in the little room above the temple, and the sight of Salvacion’s empty bed. It was already quite late in the day. I scavenged the ground floor and Ernesto’s apartments for some food and drink. Someone had tidied up his wardrobe and placed it in a chest, leaving the provisions in the cellar untouched. The villagers were honest to the point of absurdity, especially given the circumstances. Still, I was thankful for the cold water. My thiroat was sore and my whole body still ached from the past night.

As I sat lazily in the shade of the front porch, spotting the shadows of the invisible villagers in the scorching sun, Salvacion’s figure appeared, coming from the central plaza. I immediately recognised the distinct, low and arched figure who followed her wrapped in a black temple cloak. Hernani had arrived. His men must already be rounding up the townspeople. I normally thanked the wisdom of our Blessed College for letting others clean up after our interventions, but this time, I could not help but feel like I would have preferred to take care of them myself. Hernani, whose years of experience had taught him to spot uneasiness in inspectors, greeted me with his slow, gravelly voice:

“A difficult case, uh?”

He chuckled at my reaction.

“Don’t beat yourself up. Justice can be a messy thing.”

I nodded with a thankful smile and turned my eyes to the plaza, where the grey cloaks of the acolytes floated among the brown travelling clothes and bags of the villagers. It was not long before I caught sight of Mercedes, sitting on a chest with her arm in a sling. As I stood up and hesitated on the edge of the shade, Hernani’s chuckle rose once more behind me.

“And don’t leave unfinished business here. You won’t see these people again.”

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