No one knew about the woman with two faces. When the news about El Colonel Guzman broke, vague as it was, a long list of people tried to benefit from it, but it didn’t include the woman with two faces. In a society where rumor is rife and truth lurks in shadows, many groups were given credit — but no one knew about the woman with two faces.
Take the CIA. They had always been close to Guzman. Not officially, of course. But, after all, the CIA had to be close to the Minister of Security for the Capital Region. Among other things, they were widely credited with being the architects of Guzman’s enormously successful “disappearance” program. Of course, officially, the state did not have such a policy. Officially, the state had deplored in its usual florid language the disappearances of its own citizens. Darkly, it blamed “foreign supported rebel elements” for the nightly abductions, denying any complicity. Thanks to this denial, the people knew of the government’s role. Among them was the woman with two faces.
As part of the state’s denial, Guzman had gone so far as to regularly give audience to the many women who came to the capital seeking news of their loved ones. Fed by the daily parade in the plaza outside his office — “las madres de los desaparecidos” — they fashioned themselves — these women came to him tearful, full of hope that he could help them. Daily he would entertain them by the dozens, promising allegiance with their cause. Privately, Guzman had wondered at their belief in his partnership, mistaking hope’s desperation for native dullness. It had been the woman with two faces who shook him most strongly, she who had sent him scrambling indecorously from his office with the beginning look of terror on his face.
On the other hand, the rebels were a natural recipient of the blame. The government-supported press euphemistically charged these “seditious elements” in the country with what had happened to the Colonel. This was the usual term the government reserved for the rebels, who were only pleased to add Guzman’s fate to their growing accomplishments. Basking in this unearned success, they found themselves hip deep with new recruits and able to press their attacks on the state — and on the capital — from all sides. If they had known of the woman with two faces, they would have denounced her as a politically naive interloper.
Guzman had scurried home that day and, after some unpleasantness at a dinner party for the Presidente, uncharacteristically locked himself in his study. When the food ordered to his door went untouched, Senora Guzman had his personal guard break into the room. It was then that the story broke, although the official press did not detail the complete lack of physical trace of Guzman — nor did it tell of the presence of his journal. The story of the party never got out.
The priests were slow to seek responsibility. Since there was the murky possibility of foul play, they had to tread carefully. Finally, some of the Archbishop’s more resourceful young retainers latched onto a story that Guzman had checked into a very secluded monastery in a remote valley of the Pyrenees. This helped explain where he was while also demonstrating expiation and conversion, so the local priests were only too glad to pick up on the theme. But the rebels did not appreciate their intervention, preferring a revolutionary, not contemplative turn of mind. The priests also did not know about the woman with two faces. They would have denounced her animistic beliefs if they had.
In his headlong rush home, Guzman left behind his riding crop and campaign cap. Sequestered in his study, he emitted incoherent wails, but would tell no one, not even his ancient manservant Felipe, what troubled him. He did order the old retainer to bring his white dress gloves, then sent him again for an old lounging robe rather than wear a new smoking jacket Senora Guzman had just had made for him. Guzman had then banned all interruptions until the dinner party. Only Felipe and the Senora — and the security men she told later — knew that just before the dinner he sent for the Senora’s make up case.
Senora Guzman was widely reputed to have several admirers, all shadowy. Several foreign ambassadors, the Presidente, and even a leader of the rebels were rumored to be among her paramours. One fanciful rumor held that a cabal, a virtual posse of her lovers had stolen into the mansion and somehow done away with Guzman. Even the Senora gave such stories credence, but she did not wish to ruin her various liaisons by asking any direct questions. Instead she promptly ordered the family villa in Majorca prepared for a long period of mourning and departed two days later without a swatch of black in 17 pieces of luggage.
Far to the north, the daily international, though Manhattan-based, congregation of diplomats talked quietly in corridors resplendent with the lethargy of words, not action. They showed their complete, if foolish, faith in paper prescriptions and verbose ukases. Though far from the scene, various statesmen circumlocuted around the Colonel and his fate, pointing to a splendid order in the world when asked. Their subsequent resort to “no comment” and “national security” concerns immediately ignited the fires of paranoia on all points of the compass. Reactionary and revolutionary alike waved the banners of liberty and ideology and sang the praises of Guzman’s countrymen in overcoming whatever that speaker’s versions of their troubles were. Somehow it all came out the same. The people of the world turned to almanacs, encyclopedias, even histories of mystical occurrences to find the last time so many persons of differing flags and beliefs, yet perversely identical reactions, had concurred. As widely reported as these events were, none, not one of the usual outlets of world opinion carried a single word about the woman with two faces. They didn’t know.
Those who did know didn’t know what to make of the strange contents of Guzman’s journal of those last few days. They pored over the obviously deteriorating scribbling of the man and called in experts who described him as guilt ridden, drug addicted, syphilitic, and psychotic. Without exception, they discounted the journal as completely unreliable and suspected it as a false lead concocted to throw them off the scent — although they hadn’t a whiff of anything else to go on.
Nor did Guzman’s own government, though everyone believed they knew more than they claimed. Since no one believed the government anymore, its spokesmen came to realize not the futility of their lies, but rather the wasted effort in concocting them. With ultimate cunning, they resorted to telling the truth, at least what truth they knew, and then sat back while anchormen and analysts around the world dissected their statements searching for hidden lies. Disinformation specialists of all stripes made small fortunes on the 24 hour news cycle proposing alternate viewpoints and reacting to unfamiliar, thus unrecognized truth with discourses of misdirected and unnecessary insight.
El Presidente Morto was pragmatic enough to heed his spin staff’s advice. He began to slyly slant the reports so that he could be blamed for what had happened to Guzman. It worked perfectly and the international press began nominating him for the next Nobel Prize, ignoring the nefarious implications of his supposed betrayal of his most trusted minion.
The very next day, Morto was seated incongruously in front of his own gilt laden portrait in Guzman’s office. He had sent for Guzman’s journal as part of his public display of taking direct charge of the search for his security chief. He had just read the first few sentences, which began:
“It was the woman with two faces …”
Morto screwed up his face quizzically as Guzman’s secretary, Maria, informed him that yet another “madre” was in the anteroom. He waved her in as he continued reading:
“. . . As I sat in my study, I began to realize that I was diminishing in every way — even my hands, my very flesh was becoming transparent! I was disappearing as the old woman — she of the two faces — had cursed me !”
Morto looked up as the woman came in — another dull peasant type, with the flat stolid face of the mountain natives. She wore the usual placard around her neck adorned with the photo of her missing son.
“One moment, Senora, er, Mestixto.” He stumbled over the perverse Indian pronunciation. The journal went on:
“Yes, with her stupid native rattle, and her mumbled chant, she has consigned me to — to a living hell. What was it she told me ? Yes, that I would ‘disappear,’ disappear as I had made so many others disappear. But I will not die — not die ?! She promised me. No, she said that my fate would be to vanish so completely that neither God nor the Devil himself could find me — and that I would wander, forever lost, between heaven and hell ! …”
Morto sighed and shook his head as he looked up again at a sound from across the room. In an instant he was across the floor, reaching for the gourd rattle in her solid fist. As he vainly tried to wrench it from her, his strength seeming to drain away, he noticed how much her son’s face — the photograph wrinkled from so much handling — made her appear to have two faces.
Adams writes mostly short fiction in various genres, and has completed one novel, and several children’s stories. He works in Ewing directing a program encouraging voluntarism.