Excerpt of Dance with Snakes

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“Do you think they’ll call a state of emergency?” Rita asks.

She doesn’t know, this kind of situation is unheard-of; there are a ton of different accounts of what’s happened and the president is extremely nervous. This crisis could paralyze the whole country.

The Special Forces unit has combed through even the most secluded parts of the gardens, and hasn’t found any trace of the snakes. A calm begins to spread inside the building.

“I’ve got to get back to the office,” Rita says, but she still doesn’t feel brave enough to cross the lawn and head for the parking lot, even though the entire area is teeming with men in uniform armed with high-powered weapons.

She wonders why the Chevrolet didn’t take the opportunity to follow her into the Presidential Palace. What stopped it? Maybe it was just a reconnaissance mission. She’s in Ms. Cuevas’s office now, drinking a Coke, thinking she won’t write an article, but rather a first-person account of the events, a testimonial that’ll make her colleagues drool with envy. A piece that will expose the effects of the snake attacks on the country’s political leadership. Assistant Press Secretary Cuevas tells her to be cautious, moderate, and not to put the President in an awkward position. He’s having enough trouble dealing with this crisis and doesn’t deserve to have his image further damaged. Matías will disagree completely: he’ll push her to write an article exposing the panic and chaos that’s spreading so rapidly among the political leadership that the President doesn’t even feel safe in the Presidential Palace.

She turns on the walkie-talkie. The frequency is clear. She tells Matías about spotting the yellow Chevrolet, about the chaos in the building, the cancellation of the emergency cabinet meeting, and the evacuation of the President and his ministers by helicopter.

“Do you know where they went?’ Matías asks.

No idea. Maybe to Police Headquarters or the National Defence Building, she speculates.

He tells her to try and find out the President’s whereabouts and get back to the office.

She leaves the Assistant Press Secretary’s office and looks for Colonel Martínez. She finds him on the lawn, talking with two Special Forces lieutenants. The colonel claims not to know where the helicopter went.

Rita calls Víctor and tells him to bring the Volkswagen around. The search has been called off and they’re authorized to leave the premises. They drive through the front gates at ten after eleven. There are groups of reporters outside waiting, proof that word of a possible snake attack at the Presidential Palace has filtered out to the city’s news outlets. She waves to them without stopping. The heat outside is oppressive and sticky, as if there’s an afternoon storm brewing. They drive in silence, exhausted by the morning’s bizarre events, falling into the relaxed state that follows extreme stress.

“It’s too bad there weren’t any photographers there,” she murmurs when they get to the office.

Her colleagues question her as she walks by, hungry for details, but before she can tell them anything, she has to report to Matías. She hangs her jacket over the back of her chair, takes a quick trip to the washroom, and goes into the boss’s office.

Arturo sent the good news from Police Headquarters. They found the old, yellow, American car that drove past the Presidential Palace, but it was a Ford, not a Chevrolet, and the driver was a respectable engineer as terrified of snakes and reptiles as anyone else.

Rita falls back on a chair.

“It can’t be,” she says.

Matías’s breath has gotten considerably worse, as if he’s spent the last hour shoving coffee and cigarettes in his mouth.

“At least you created a story for yourself,” he says. “Not all reporters can do that.”

From DANCE WITH SNAKES, by Horacio Castellanos Moya, translated by Lee Paula Springer, copyright ©1996 by Horacio Castellanos Moya, translation copyright ©2009 by Lee Paula Springer. Reprinted by permission of Biblioasis.

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