This is Part #17 | Jump to Raven # 1
Don Hidalgo stood holding the bound Raven in one hand and aiming a pistol at Don Pedro with the other.
Don Pedro scowled back at him.
“Don Hidalgo, don’t do this,” Pato said. “Nothing ends well with guns.”
“A chance I’ll take,” Hidalgo said, “since I’m holding the gun.”
Without making a sound, Santa Sofía slipped out of the bushes behind Hidalgo. She was carrying something in her right hand.
Santa Sofía crept like a shadow across the gravel behind Don Hidalgo. I forced myself to look at Hidalgo so I didn’t tip him off.
“We had a deal,” I said. “My daughter for your son.”
Santa Sofía stood just behind Don Hidalgo.
“Yes, we made a deal,” Hidalgo said. “But I have a gun and your daughter, so we’ll renegotiate.”
Santa Sofía raised her arm to Don Hidalgo’s shoulder.
“You’re breaking the deal?” Pato asked.
Hidalgo laughed. “Release my son,” he said. “Now.”
Santa Sofía opened her hand and a red-and-black banded snake dropped onto Hidalgo’s shoulder. Hidalgo made a sort of strangling sound as the snake coiled itself around his neck.
El Cangrejo jerked at the slight noise.
“Don’t move,” I whispered. “A coral snake is wrapped around your father’s neck.”
His muscles went slack.
Don Hidalgo stood silent and still in the middle of the parking lot.
“You are smart not to move,” Sofía said, still standing behind Hidalgo. “Movement makes coral snakes nervous. Loud noise, like a gunshot, sends them into a panic.”
Don Hidalgo didn’t move. Nobody else did either. Santa Sofía was the only one who hadn’t locked up when the snake wrapped around Don Hidalgo’s neck.
Sofía spoke softly. “I’m going to take your pistol,” she said. She reached out and took hold of the gun.
Hidalgo opened his hand. His fingers shook.
“Thank you,” Sofía said. “Now let go of Raven.”
Hidalgo released his grip on Raven. She took a step to the side and froze.
“Raven,” Santa Sofía said, “Go sit by Pato. Walk slowly.”
Her eyes wide, Raven crunched across the gravel and sat on the tailgate next to Pato. He cut the twine binding her wrists with a dive knife and put an arm around her. Raven leaned into the hug and rubbed her wrists.
Sofía came to stand next to me. She held Hidalgo’s pistol next to her thigh.
Hidalgo stood in the middle of the parking lot, sweat darkening his shirt. The snake had unwound half of its body from his neck and was exploring his chest with small bobbing motions and flicks of its tongue.
“We are giving you your son back,” Sofía said.
I guided the still-blindfolded and bound El Cangrejo to Hidalgo’s Land Rover and helped him into the passenger seat. I went around to the driver’s side and took the keys from the ignition.
“I’ll leave them by the highway,” I told El Cangrejo, “to make sure you don’t follow us too close.”
I crunched across the lot at a snail’s pace and stood with an arm around Raven. I kept my eyes on Santa Sofía and Don Hidalgo.
Sofía held the pistol away from her body. “Don Pedro,” she said, “would you hold this for me?”
Don Pedro handed me his machete and stepped forward. He took the gun in both hands and aimed it at Don Hidalgo. The look of hatred passing between the two men was palpable.
The snake sensed the change and curled itself around his neck once again.
Panic replaced rage on Hidalgo’s face.
Sofía walked a wide circle around Hidalgo until she was behind him. She spoke in the same, low tone as before. “I’m going to take the snake off of you now. Don Pedro will happily shoot you if you make a move toward me.”
She stood behind Hidalgo and held her hand over his shoulder. She made a quiet noise in the back of her throat and the snake flowed onto her arm.
Before backing away, she whispered a few words in Don Hidalgo’s ear.
Whatever it was she said, Hidalgo didn’t move for the few moments it took for Pato and Santa Sofía to climb into Silver. Raven and I were already seated in the front of my Blazer.
Don Pedro got in behind us. I almost drove off the road twice in the first couple hundred yards from looking over at her instead of the dirt road that led to the highway.
“Dad, I’m fine” she said. “Don’t get in a wreck right after rescuing me.”
After that, I kept my eyes on the potholes and my hands at 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock on the wheel. Other than a quick pause where the dirt met the pavement to hang Don Hidalgo’s keys on a branch like I’d promised, I didn’t waste any time getting the hell out of there.