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'We prefer a grave in Colombia to a cell in the United States'

May 18, 1997|GABRIEL GARCIA MARQUEZ | Gabriel Garcia Marquez was born in Aracataca, Columbia, in 1928. He is the author of many novels and collections of stories, including "One Hundred Years of Solitude," "The Autumn of the Patriarch," "Chronicle of a Death Foretold," "Love in the Time of Cholera" and "Of Love and Other Demons." Garcia Marquez was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1982. He lives in Mexico City and Bogota

She did not know what had happened to Beatriz, but thought they had let her go because she was not really involved in anything. When she saw her she felt great joy at not being alone, and at the same time immense sadness because she had been kidnapped too. They embraced as if they had not seen each other for a long time.

It was inconceivable that the two of them could survive in that squalid room, sleeping on a single mattress on the floor, with two masked guards who did not take their eyes off them for an instant. Then another man in a mask--elegant, well built, at least five feet, six inches tall--whom the others called "Doctor," the title used for any professional, took charge with the air of someone who had great authority. The rings were removed from Beatriz's left hand, but they did not notice that she was wearing a gold chain with a medal of the Virgin.

"This is a military operation, and nothing's going to happen to you," he said, and repeated: "We've only brought you here so that you can deliver a communique to the government."

"Who's holding us?" Maruja asked.

He shrugged. "That doesn't matter now," he said. He raised the machine gun so they had a clear view of it, and went on: "But I want to tell you one thing. This machine gun has a silencer, nobody knows where you are, or who you're with. The minute you scream or do anything else, we'll get rid of you and nobody will ever see you again." They held their breath, expecting the worst. But when he had finished his threats, the boss turned to Beatriz.

"Now we're separating you, we're going to let you go," he said. "We took you along by mistake."

Beatriz's response was immediate.

"Oh, no," she said without any hesitation. "I'm staying with Maruja."

Her decision was so brave and generous that even her abductor exclaimed in amazement, without a shred of irony: "What a loyal friend you have, don~a Maruja!" And she, grateful despite her consternation, agreed and thanked Beatriz. Then the "Doctor" asked if they wanted anything to eat. They refused but asked for water since their mouths were bone dry. Maruja, who always has a cigarette lit and keeps the pack and lighter in easy reach, had not smoked during the trip. She asked for her bag, where she kept her cigarettes, and he gave her one of his.

Both women asked to use the bathroom. Beatriz went first, her head covered by a torn, dirty cloth. "Keep your eyes on the floor," someone ordered. She was led by the hand along a narrow hall to a tiny, filthy lavatory with a sorry little window looking out on the night. The door had no inside lock, but it did close, and so Beatriz climbed up on the toilet and looked out the window. In the light of a streetlamp, all she could see was a small adobe house with red roof tiles and a patch of grass in front, the kind of house seen all along the roads through the savanna.

When she returned to the room, she found a drastic change in circumstances. "We know who you are now, and we can use you, too," the "Doctor" said. "You'll stay with us." They had found out on the radio, which had just announced the kidnapping.

Eduardo Carrillo, who reported on legal issues for the National Radio Network (RCN), had been discussing another matter with one of his sources in the military, when the officer received a report of the abduction on his two-way radio. The news was announced without delay, or further details. That was how the kidnappers learned Beatriz's identity.

The radio also said that the cab driver could remember two numbers on the license plate, and had given a general description of the car that had bumped into his taxi. The police had determined their escape route. The house had become dangerous for everyone, and they had to leave right away. Even worse: They were going to use a different car and the two women would have to be put in the trunk.

They protested but to no avail because their kidnappers seemed as frightened as they were, and made no effort to conceal it. Maruja asked for a little rubbing alcohol, terrified at the thought they would suffocate in the trunk.

"We don't have any alcohol," said the "Doctor" in a harsh voice. "You'll ride in the trunk and that's all there is to it. Hurry up."

They were obliged to take off their shoes and carry them as they were led through the house to the garage. There their heads were uncovered, and they were put into the trunk of the car in a fetal position. No force was used. The space was big enough, and it was well ventilated because the rubber seals had been removed. Before he closed the trunk, the "Doctor" filled them with dread. "We're carrying ten kilos of dynamite," he said. "At the first shout, cough, cry, whatever, we'll get out of the car and blow it up."

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