Deborah Halter

Nelson's Wife

All the neighbors saw The Associated Press story, and when my husband and I got home from Mexico, people started asking us questions. The newspaper said that the guy's name was Luis. I couldn't pronounce his last name. Nelson said it was just like The Associated Press to spell some god-awful Mexican name right and then misspell ours.

It happened near the end of our trip. The guy went nuts. He walked into a café in Teotihuacan, grabbed a butcher knife and stabbed a customer to death. Then he just walked out. I couldn't understand how he expected to get away with it.

I noticed him as soon as he walked into the café because he wasn't wearing anything but a pair of khaki shorts. Men here in Pleasant Valley dress in sport shirts and leisure slacks just to pick up the newspapers on their lawns. My husband was the one who looked out of place in that café, in his Hilfigers, with his laptop on the table between us. So when this guy walked in I just smiled, thinking that Nelson and a hundred other men in Pleasant Valley could stand together on the golf course, take off their shirts and still not come up with a chest like this guy had.

When the guy walked over to the service counter, he leaned over a cutlery tray and picked up a butcher knife. He had thick black hair and polished brown skin, with broad shoulders, a tight waist and muscular legs. He would have looked better in Nelson's clothes than Nelson did. I enjoyed watching him.

Like I said, Nelson had covered our table with his computer and printouts, and when he does that there's nothing much for me to do. He was telling me about the international marketing possibilities and handing me a stack of receipts from our trip. If nothing else, I'm married to one of the best businessmen in Little Rock. Nelson deducts everything, and he figures I can make up phony names as well as anybody. He says the IRS can never track these people down anyway, so it doesn't matter whether they're real.

Anyway, when the guy in the café picked up the knife, I didn't think anything about it. He didn't look like a killer. I mean, he didn't have scars on his arms or face, and he didn't look like he hated his mother or anything. And he was wearing a silver cross around his neck.

I looked away from him when I heard Nelson say that we'd better get back to the hotel so I could finish packing. He was angry with me for talking him into leaving Mexico City in the first place. I had asked to go to Teotihuacan to see the pyramids, but it was too hot to climb them.

I don't think Nelson noticed anything about the café. I had wanted something cozy and romantic, with strolling mariachis. But this place was dusty and dull - ratty tables, mismatched chairs, filthy floors - with only a flimsy screen separating us from the chickens and dogs outside.

When I looked back at the guy in the café, I saw him standing over two men at a small table in the corner. He stabbed one of them, just like that. Nelson didn't waste any time getting us out of there. He grabbed his laptop, his calculator, his printouts and his briefcase, then he dragged me out the door. But he dragged me to the wrong place. We dodged into an alley and there the guy was, watching the police run toward him. He looked at me and told Nelson to stand aside.

Nelson told me to do what the man said and maybe nobody would get hurt. It sounded like what they always say in the movies. Anyway, the guy pointed the knife at my neck and pulled me away from the café. Nelson froze. After the guy led me about fifty feet down the road, I heard Nelson yelling, "He stole my wife! He stole my wife!"

Some things, you never forget. I can still see the police running and Nelson standing still. The guy drags me down another alley and into a deserted shack. He barricades the door and I fall into a pile of rotten wood with rusty nails that puncture my legs. I am reminded of an old movie about a woman trapped in a cave with an ape - not that this guy is an ape - and she keeps him calm by talking to him. So maybe if I can keep this guy preoccupied long enough, Nelson and the police will have time to find us.

"What are you going to do with me?" I ask, but he just shrugs. "Nada."

I don't understand. If he's not going to do anything with me, why am I here? I figure I'd better keep talking, so he won't think of something.

"What did that man in the café do to you? Why did you kill him?" He sits down on an old crate and props his elbows on his knees and stares at the knife in his hands. "Mi mujer. I kill him because he took my wife."

Jealous husband, that's all. I'm relieved, because he probably doesn't have a dozen murders to his name with me number thirteen.

"You killed a man for stealing your wife?" I get scared when he doesn't answer, so I keep talking as gently as I can.

"You can't outrun them. Maybe if you surrender they'll go easy on you." He looks as if he's trying to be patient. By the time he answers, he's not smiling.

"Give myself up? To their justice? No. I am in the hands of the Blessed Virgin Mary. She will deliver me."

I don't know what to say to a man who has put himself in the hands of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

"You blame me, seńora, for killing the man who takes my wife? What would your husband do to such a man?"

"Nelson wouldn't kill him. He'd know that the affair was my decision, too."

"At the point of a knife, seńora?" He looks at me hard, and I realize that he has killed a man who raped his wife. I don't know why he didn't just come out and say so in the first place. I'm sorry about his wife, but I didn't have anything to do with it and I don't appreciate being held hostage. This whole affair is insane.

"This is Terésa," he says, handing me a faded, crumpled picture of a beautiful young woman smiling straight into the camera. "I loved her when I was fourteen, and I love her as an angel in heaven."

Just then, the police begin to shoot through the old wooden door. Luis looks at the door and at me, then he dashes across the room and hoists himself up to a high window. He's still climbing toward the open space when I hear an explosion of bullets.

They were still shooting him when Nelson pulled me up from the woodpile. When he saw the blood on my legs, he said it was a good thing the cops had finished the guy off. He finished inspecting me, brushed the dirt off his clothes, and said his briefcase was so scratched he would have to buy a new one when we got home.


Tiffany Phillips 3.jpg (89903 bytes)

(photo by tiffany Phillips)