“There she is.”
Papillion muttered the words, breathing deeply. His eye was pressed hard to the
scope of his rifle, the fine cross lines breaking the scene below into
quadrants. Upper left, a grassy field. Bottom left, parking lot. Bottom right,
a line of people, sweating, stinking masses gathered to pay homage. Upper
right, the prize. Nestled deep on a hard wooden table, surrounded by bleeding
flowers, a sheet of metal imprinted with the image of the Virgin Mary.
A scam, he thought, then instinctively lifted his right hand off the trigger
and crossed himself. Papillion may be a heathen, but he was a respectful
heathen. What if it wasn’t? What if somehow, the hand of God had come down and
touched the slab of iron, imprinting the face of the mother of the Lord into
the very molecules? Who was he to say that it couldn’t have happened?
A realist, that’s who. A man who knew it was a falsehood, a lie perpetrated to
force the means to an end.
He settled his finger back on the pull and used his falcon sight to follow her
progress. Long, wavy black hair cascaded down her back, a subdued headband held
the unruly mess off her forehead. She was dressed in a white skirt with eyelet
lace along the hem that just skimmed her knees, a white button down oxford
cloth shirt with a yellow scarf tied around her waist. The straps of
espadrilles wound around her slim ankles, and Papillion licked his lips. He’d
always been a leg-man. And the sister was a beautiful example of what a woman’s
legs were supposed to look like.
He watched her move through the crowd, saw their deference to her. Lucia. She
was a powerful woman. A woman that more than one faction wanted dead.
Papillion could retire after this hit. But it was a delicate operation. He
needed to wait for Sister Lucia to announce the hoax. Then the shooting could
be blamed on one of the faithful on the ground, someone so overcome with the
emotion of the appearance of their holy mother that a declaration of foolery
would tip them over the edge.
Fatima, this was not.
Lucia stared at the face of the Holy Mother. She waited, tuning out the noise,
the heat, the fetid stench of the unwashed. Was she in the presence of a
miracle? Had a great secret been revealed, a battle for good won? She waited,
and felt nothing. Disappointment filled her. Another hoax. The last time she’d
felt the presence of God was in a field, with no attendance other than a small
rabbit. There was nothing holy here.
She rose, shaking her head. The faithful moaned with hatred, denials were
shouted. She simply ignored them, walked back to her jeep. A flash caught her
eye, high on the cliff rising to the heavens to her right. Papillion, she
assumed. He’d been waiting for a chance to take her out for months now.
Lucia stopped. She spread her legs, spread her arms, threw her head back.
Presented herself to him, a target. Waited to feel the slam of the bullet in
her chest. When it didn’t come, she smiled. An honest assassin, Papillion. Or
smart enough to know that when she found the real miracle, she wouldn’t be able
to hide her joy.
She climbed into the Jeep, closed the door on another falsehood. One day, she
prayed. One day.
One day, Papillion prayed. One day she will find God, and I will help her meet
him. His eyes were closed; he felt the flash, the burn from below
instinctively. When he could finally pry his eyelids apart, the jeep was gone.
Lucia too. There was only a deep crater in the dirt, blackened and smoking.
Pilgrims were scattered carelessly in the brush. Red and black mingled with the
desert browns, painting the sands with raucous color.
One day had arrived at last.