LAST RIGHT

Excerpt from Last Right

The youth arrived like a peasant, hitching a ride on the flatbed of a rusty pickup truck to the end of the driveway—two bales of straw, a goat, and an iPod, his travelling companions.

The guards watched him walk the last half-mile in, shouldering his rucksack and trudging between the citrus trees, his feet kicking up the dirt into the shimmer of the hot dry air. They took lazy beads on him with their rifles, and joked with each other about whether they should shoot him before he reached the main gates, just to relieve the boredom.

It was only when he drew nearer that they recognised his face, despite the simple clothes, and they shivered at the thought that they had even contemplated killing Manuel de Marquez's son, just for sport.

They had the gates opened before he'd reached them and he walked straight through without acknowledgement or thanks, as though it had never occurred to him that things would be otherwise. He demanded to be taken to his father and had barely skirted the two bullet-proof Mercedes parked near the fountain before old Enrique hurried out to greet him, taking the youth's hand in both his own and gripping it fiercely, his rheumy eyes filling.

'Julio!' he said. 'We feared you would be too late.'

'The old bastard's still alive then?'

Enrique tried to look shocked but couldn't quite bring it off. 'Your father is dying,' he said, quietly, as though afraid of being overheard.

Julio laughed and it wasn't a pleasant sound. 'He's been dying for years. Why the hurry now?'
'He's near the end. I think he has been hanging on, waiting for your return.'

The youth shook his head. 'More likely that he's bargaining with the devil over the terms of his admission.'

'The priest is with him.'

Julio turned in sardonic surprise as the pair mounted the front steps.

'You've managed to find another man of God who will stand his blasphemy?'

Enrique shrugged. 'Priests,' he said. 'It is their calling.'

Julio's amusement backed and died. 'For any that try to save the soul of my father,' he said, icy, 'it's more like a penance.'