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Loup Garron was born and raised in Santa Olivia, an isolated, disenfranchised town next to a US military base inside a DMZ buffer zone between Texas and Mexico. A fugitive “Wolf-Man” who had a love affair with a local woman, Loup’s father was one of a group of men genetically-manipulated and used by the US government as a weapon. The “Wolf-Men” were engineered to have superhuman strength, speed, sensory capability, stamina, and a total lack of fear, and Loup, named for and sharing her father’s wolf-like qualities, is marked as an outsider.
After her mother dies, Loup goes to live among the misfit orphans at the parish church, where they seethe from the injustices visited upon the locals by the soldiers. Eventually, the orphans find an outlet for their frustrations: They form a vigilante group to support Loup Garron who, costumed as their patron saint, Santa Olivia, uses her special abilities to avenge the town.
Aware that she could lose her freedom, and possibly her life, Loup is determined to fight to redress the wrongs her community has suffered. And like the reincarnation of their patron saint, she will bring hope to all of Santa Olivia.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
Copyright © 2009 by Jacqueline Carey
All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.
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First eBook Edition: May 2009
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Other books by Jacqueline Carey
Kushiel's Justice *
They said that the statue of Our Lady of the Sorrows wept tears of blood the day the sickness came to Santa Olivia. The people said that God had turned his face away from humankind. They said that saints remember what God forgets about human suffering.
Of course they said that in a lot of places during those years.
For a long time, there was dying. Dying and fucking. A lot of dying and a lot of fucking, and more dying.
There were rumors about El Segundo's forces staging raids across the wall; Santa Anna el Segundo, the rebel Mexican general. If it was true, they were never seen anywhere near Santa Olivia. But why would they be? There wasn't a hospital there. After the second wave of sickness, there wasn't even a proper doctor.
But it must have been true because the soldiers came.
The day the soldiers arrived, Our Lady's tears dried to rust in her shrine. There were bullhorns and announcements about a wall, a new wall to the north to bracket the wall to the south. A cordon to contain El Segundo's attempted incursions. People could stay or go. Elsewhere in the cordon it was different, with wholesale evacuation and reparation, but there was no help for those who wanted to leave Santa Olivia.
Most stayed. They stayed because they were sick and dying, or because they were orphaned and confused. They stayed because it was home and they had nowhere else to go and the sickness was everywhere. They stayed because the soldiers didn't really want all of them to go, because the soldiers didn't want to be all alone in the hot, arid cordon between two countries.
But it wasn't home anymore, not exactly.
After the reservoir had been secured and the golf course seized for recreational purposes, after the bulldozers and the backhoes had chewed and leveled the terrain, after the cement trucks had poured foundations and the cinder-block walls had begun to climb, the soldiers explained. There was a meeting in the town square. It took place in the evening. There were generators to fuel the arc lights, because the power grid had been down for a long time in that part of Texas. General Argyle was there, a middle-aged man with a face like a knotted fist. His spokesman explained, bawling through a bullhorn.
"We are at war!
"This is no longer a part of Texas, no longer a part of the United States of America! You are in the buffer zone! You are no longer American citizens! By consenting to remain, you have agreed to this! The town of Santa Olivia no longer exists! You are denizens of Outpost No. 12!"
No one knew what it meant, not exactly. There was something about sickness and something about the scourge to the south on the far side of the old wall. But there was too much dying to be bothered. If the soldiers brought money and food and medicine and doctors who hadn't succumbed to the plague, that was to the good. It had always been an isolated place.
Santa Olivia; Santa Olvidada, soon to be forgotten by most of the world.
Outpost No. 12.
What Carmen Garron remembered most about that night was the humming generators and the light. She was thirteen years old, and for the past six years of her life, there had been precious little of it after nightfall. Generators were scarce, fuel to be hoarded for important matters like refrigeration. Now, here! Light, white-hot and spilled with reckless abandon, throwing stark shadows. It highlighted the general's clenched face with its incipient lines. It teased out the lurking sickness in her aunt's and uncle's faces, in the faces of their neighbors. It lit up her cousin Inez's nubile features, and her own.
And the soldiers… the American soldiers looked so strong and hale.
Carmen Garron liked soldiers.
After the barracks and the other buildings were finished, there were more soldiers. They didn't want to be bothered with the town's troubles, so arrangements were made. With the army's blessing, Dan Garza declared himself in charge and his men took care of security. They swaggered through the dusty streets, deferring to no one who wasn't in uniform. They weren't allowed to carry guns—no one in Outpost except soldiers were—but they carried lengths of metal pipe and weren't afraid to crack heads if they felt like it. People muttered, but what could you do? As long as they kept the peace, the general didn't care.
Old Hector Salamanca, who owned a good chunk of real estate in town, made arrangements, too. He was a shrewd old fucker, too scrawny and stubborn for the plague to take. His arrangements were made with the chief warrant officer and involved liquor and food and generators and kerosene. His businesses thrived. Bodegas turned to bars and brothels, and people could buy what they needed in his shops. As long as it kept the peace and kept the soldiers happy, the general didn't care.
Sister Martha Stearns and Father Ramon Perez also made arrangements. She was a diminutive blond woman with an intense gaze and a sense of purpose that owed nothing to divine calling; despite her nun's garb, she was in fact an orphan of the church and had never taken vows. Handsome Father Ramon, who was himself only a novice despite his priest's collar, knew this. They kept each other's secrets. It wasn't their fault. Father Gabriel, the last real priest in Santa Olivia, had caught the plague and hung himself from the bell tower before it could take him.
"Go forth, fornicators!" he had shouted before he plunged, perched on the narrow walkway, the noose around his neck. "Go forth while you may; go forth and seize the day! Fuck your mothers, your brothers, your sisters and fathers; fuck in the streets like dogs, you sodomites and whores! Why not? Death rules all! God has turned his face away!"
Then he jumped.
That explained all the fucking, in part.
What Sister Martha and Father Ramon arranged for was medical care. Once a week, a doctor from the base would hold a free clinic at the mission church, with its ancient adobe walls, and anyone could come. He taught Sister Martha enough about medicine to care for the townsfolk the rest of the time. They made those arrangements with the army chaplain, a sincere fellow who hadn't the faintest idea neither of them were true clergy. As long as it didn't interfere with the care and well-being of his soldiers, the general didn't care.
General Argyle cared about three things. He cared about his men; and they were men, all men. There was a story that once women had served in the army as officers and everything, but it was only a story. He cared about patrolling the southern wall and keeping his section of the cordon secure.
And he cared about boxing.
One thing about the general—whose full name was William Peter Argyle—was that he loved boxing. Loved it. It was said he'd been a boxer in his youth, a junior heavyweight of some promise, and maybe it was true. Anyway, he couldn't get enough of watching it. So the soldiers held boxing matches on the base, and on the third Saturday of every month, there was a match in the town square.
For the first year, they were mostly exhibition matches: soldiers fighting soldiers. When that began to bore the general, he made an offer. Higher stakes made the matches more exciting. If any of the townsfolk were able to defeat one of his champions, they would win a considerable purse and safe passage to the north for themselves and a companion. Out of the cordon, back to free territory in the U.S. of A.
A lot of men tried. None of them ever stood much of a chance, but they tried anyway. They put brawn and heart and sweat and blood into the effort, fighting until they were knocked down too hard to rise and lay gasping on the canvas floor. And that made the general very happy.
"Men ought to strive for what's beyond their grasp," he said once. "That's what makes 'em men."
What he thought of women, no one knew.
There were no women in the army and no women on the base, except for the local women hired on the cleaning crew, and they had to leave the premises before sundown. Married men had to leave their wives behind when they did their tours in the cordon. Single men with sweethearts were forced to abandon them; single men without sweethearts were forced to reconcile themselves to the fact that they'd not find lasting love until their tours ended. It had been declared illegal for military personnel to wed denizens of Outpost.
"Why?" Carmen Garron asked her first soldier-lover. She was seventeen years old, but she looked nineteen and had told him she was. Her aunt and uncle had passed, taken by the sickness; her cousin Inez had gotten her a job waitressing in a diner the soldiers liked to frequent. It didn't quite pay enough for her share of the rent on their apartment.
Her first lover was a clever boy from somewhere out East, with brown hair, spectacles, and a wiry wrestler's body.
"Because." He stroked her warm flesh, her skin damp with sweat. His face looked a little naked without his glasses, but his gaze was sharp and earnest. "They don't want people to know you exist. Not for certain. They don't want anyone to know. You understand that, don't you? That this used to be part of America?"
Carmen shrugged. "I guess."
His palm shaped the curve of her waist. "Trust me, they don't."
"Why?" she asked.
"Because they've told everyone there are no civilians left in the cordon." His hand dipped lower. "Everything that happens here is classified. We're not allowed to talk about it. And you're not allowed to leave."
She looked at the top of his head as he bent to follow his hand with his lips. "What about the general's offer? The boxing?"
He glanced up and laughed. "No one will ever win. And anyway, General Argyle's a little crazy."
"Okay," Carmen said uncertainly.
Her lover peered at her. "So you understand?"
A little bird in her heart uttered a single warbling note and died. "Yes," Carmen Garron said sadly to her first lover. "I understand."
He came and went, that one, after his tour ended. And then there was another who said much the same thing. He wasn't as clever, but he was fun and funny. Life settled into certain rhythms. By day there was the diner, by night—most nights—there was the soldier. Like the other, he gave her an allowance that enabled her to pay her share of the rent. Once a week, there was a visit to the free clinic in the mission. The army doctor gave her a certificate of health and a week's supply of condoms. He wasn't authorized to offer any other form of birth control to the female denizens of Outpost, no matter how hard Sister Martha argued for it.
The third soldier was different.
He was a boxer; that was where she saw him first. Fighting in the ring in the town square on the third Saturday against a young townsman named Ricky Canton. Carmen should have been rooting for the local challenger, the underdog; everyone did. Instead, her gaze was fixed on the soldier.
He was a big Minnesota farmboy with a nice, easy smile and a lazy, looping left hook that looked much slower than it was. He used it to pummel Ricky Canton up and down the ring.
"Go on!" Inez nudged her cousin.
In between the fourth and fifth rounds, Carmen Garron slipped through the crowd, made her way to the outside of the soldier's corner. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw her.
"Hi there." He slid one muscled, sweaty arm through the ropes, touched her hand with his gloved fist.
The bird in her heart warbled.
"Hi," Carmen whispered.
It took three more rounds for Ricky Canton to go down for good, but he did. The Minnesota farmboy stood in the center of the ring, tilting his head modestly as the referee raised his hand in victory. And then he went back to his corner, leaning on the ropes, lowering his head toward Carmen's.
"Can I buy you a drink?" he asked. "At Salamanca's?"
She flushed. "Of course."
She was twenty years old, still in the first flush of youth, and he was her first love—her first true love. His name was Tom Almquist, and on nights when she was alone, Carmen whispered his name to herself like a prayer. Like her first lover, he was earnest; like her second, he was funny, although it was humor of a slow, careful kind. But he was different.
"I'll marry you," he whispered the time the condom broke, his lips pressed to her temple. "Don't worry. Either way, I will."
"You can't!" Carmen whispered back.
His massive shoulders rose and fell. "Don't care. I will." He gave her a reassuring smile. "I bet we catch El Segundo in six months' time and all this will be over."
It didn't happen that way.
He would have kept his word if it had, because Tom Almquist was a determined young man, and when he found out that Carmen was pregnant for sure, it only made him more determined. He even talked to his commanding officer about Carmen. But two weeks after they knew for certain, Tom Almquist was killed when his squadron was sent to investigate a report that El Segundo's men had breached the southern wall some twenty miles away. There was a breach, but it was a small one. And there was a booby trap and a bomb.
The bird in Carmen Garron's heart went silent for a long time.
She named the boy Tom. He was a good baby, strong and sturdy, seldom fussy. By the time he was six months old, it was obvious he took after his father: blond-haired and blue-eyed, likely to be strapping.
There were no more soldiers paying an allowance, but there was still the diner, and the church helped with its widows and orphans fund, eked out from its meager coffer of tithes.
"I'm not a widow," Carmen murmured to Sister Martha Stearns. "And I'm too old to be an orphan."
Sister Martha gave her a pitying look. "Honey, we're all God's orphans and Christ's motherfucking widows. Take the money."
The tear-stained face of Our Lady of Sorrows seemed to nod in agreement. In the alcove nearby, the little effigy of Santa Olivia watched with wide, dark eyes, her basket over her arm.
"Okay," Carmen said.
The grief never went away, but after a while it faded. They got by. When her cousin Inez asked her to move out—the presence of a baby in a small apartment didn't exactly inspire the soldiers Inez dated—Carmen took a room above the diner. The owner's wife was a good-hearted woman named Sonia, crippled by severe arthritis, and she offered to watch Tom while Carmen worked.
So they got by, and Tom grew bigger, turning into a cheerful toddler with his father's sweet smile. After two years, Carmen began dating—but no soldiers. Only local boys. Danny Garza, the mayor-for-life's swaggering eldest son, took a fancy to her. He was a good-looking young tough who could be charming when he wanted to be, and for a while, he did. But he got angry when she wouldn't go to the fights with him. She hadn't been to the fights since a Minnesota farmboy beat Ricky Canton.
"No," Carmen said. "Never."
"I wasn't asking," Danny Garza said ominously.
Carmen shrugged. "No."
In Danny Garza's experience, women didn't say no. When Carmen wouldn't stop saying it, he hit her hard enough to blacken one eye and make the left side of her face swell, though not hard enough to break bones. Carmen wept, and her boy howled with confused horror.
"Serves you right," Danny spat. "Anyway, I've had better."
The swelling went away and the bruises faded. Danny Garza never came back, and Carmen Garron stopped dating. Years passed, one by one. In the cracked mirror above the dingy sink in her tiny bathroom, she watched her youth ebb away slowly. Her cousin Inez chided her.
"You should date," Inez said. "Find a man."
"I don't want a man," Carmen said.
"So find a woman." Inez shrugged. "Whatever. You'll wither up and die."
"I have a man. A little man all my own." Carmen gathered Tom in her arms and bounced him on her knee. At six years old, he was almost too heavy for it. He thrust his fists into the air and crowed like a victorious boxer.
Inez eyed her. "You're crazy, mija."
"No," Carmen said. "Just sad."
What she didn't say was, why bother? Who will protect us? Who will be strong enough to stand against the forces that have overturned our lives? Who can fight the killing sickness that comes in waves? Who can fight the menace to the south that slips through the wall and sets bombs and ambushes? Who can fight the government to the north that decided we were no longer its citizens? It was like the fights. The odds were insurmountable. She thought about her first lover, the clever brown-haired boy from somewhere out East, with a pang of distant regret.
No one will ever win.
"Whatever," Inez said diffidently. "We gotta survive."
Two weeks later, Carmen Garron met a man.
He was waiting in the street when she unlocked the door to open the diner, a dim figure in the early dawn. A soldier like any other, this one a black man in desert fatigues wearing his cap with the brim pulled low to shadow his face. There wasn't anything different about him, except that there was. He waited politely for her to finish turning the sign from Closed to Open, and his motionlessness was more motionless than it should be. She watched from the corner of one eye as he followed her into the diner and slid into a cracked booth. When he moved, he moved with a peculiar economy of movement.
"Morning," he said without looking up. "What do you have?"
Carmen pointed at the chalkboard. "On the wall."
She could have told him what they served—it usually paid to be polite—but she had an odd urge to see his face. He cocked his head and glanced up at her beneath the brim of his cap with a profoundly tired and utterly fearless gaze. No bird warbled, but her heartbeat quickened unaccountably.
"Eggs and chorizo," he said, looking past her. "A lot of both."
She brought a heaping plate and watched him eat steadily and methodically. No one else entered the diner.
"Hungry, huh?" she asked at length. "Long patrol?"
He looked up briefly. "Yes."
It was… what? Something about the eyes. Dark and unblinking as the statue of Santa Olivia, the fearless child-saint who'd ventured onto a battlefield with a basket of lunch for her soldier-papa and brought a war to a standstill over a hundred years ago.
At least that was the story.
"Yeah," Carmen said. "I've heard the guys complaining after they been out chasing the ghost. Powdered eggs on the base don't cut it. Ours are real, honest-to-God eggs. Laid by real hens."
Jesus, she was babbling. A flicker of amusement crossed his face—or at least she thought so. It was hard to tell. "Chasing the ghost?"
"Santa Anna," she said. "El Segundo. Isn't that what you call it?"
"Ah." A flicker of something else. "Yes." He held out his empty plate. "May I have another order?"
"Sure." Their fingers brushed as she took the plate. A touch, the merest touch, but Carmen shivered. "You really are hungry."
Grady, the owner and cook, scrambled another mess of eggs and chorizo, grumbling. She watched the soldier. When a couple more patrons from the base trickled in, jocular and still half-drunk from a night's carousing, he ducked his head unobtrusively. Carmen slid the second plate before him.
"Thank you." He ate mechanically, quicker now, fork to mouth, never spilling a crumb. She thought about how unspeakably tired his eyes had looked, and about how he didn't know that everyone in Outpost called patrolling in response to rumors of El Segundo's forces chasing the ghost. About how his uniform didn't seem to fit quite right, come to think of it. When his plate was empty, she paused beside his booth and laid a casual hand on his shoulder.
Muscle twitched beneath her hand, somehow denser and heavier and more fluid than muscle had a right to be. For the first time since Tom Almquist's death, desire flooded between her legs, startling and unexpected. Carmen's face grew hot and her fingers tightened involuntarily, craving more. The soldier's chin rose with a surprised jerk, his eyes suddenly wide and filled with wonder.
"Do you…" Acting on pure instinct, she lowered her voice until it was barely audible. "Do you have a place to stay?"
He shook his head imperceptibly.
Carmen nodded. "Come back at five."
He did. She wasn't sure he would, but he did. The bell jingled and there he was, leaning in the doorway, head lowered to shade his face, somehow more solid and present in the space he occupied than seemed natural. Carmen untied her apron and went to him, clearing her throat. Grady shot them an incurious glance, then went back to tending his grill.
"I'm not a whore," Carmen said.
"I didn't think you were," the soldier-who-wasn't-a-soldier replied.
"It's just a place to stay," she added. "I have a son."
He nodded. "You're a widow?"
A bitter laugh caught in her throat. "Aren't we all?"
He didn't move. "Yes."
Still; so still. Carmen reached out her hand. He took it, his fingers folding around hers. Strong and gentle. Too strong; too gentle. It felt like a promise of grace and a harbinger of sorrow. Her eyes burned with tears. He regarded her with the same weary fearlessness that he had shown before. He smelled hot and acrid, like sun-scorched dust. Her pulse beat hard, the blood throbbing in her veins.
"Why am I doing this?" she whispered.
He shook his head. "I don't know. You don't have to."
She gazed at their conjoined hands. "Tell me your name."
"Martin." The name had an unfamiliar lilt on his tongue.
"Just Martin?" she asked. He nodded. She smiled ruefully. "I'm Carmen. Carmen Garron."
She led him upstairs. The room wasn't much; there was her bed and Tom's cot, a table and a pair of chairs, and a hot plate where she cooked a little. Mostly she ate food from the diner. But it had its own bathroom, and it was clean. Martin took off his cap and hung it carefully from the back of one of the chairs. He looked younger without it, except for his eyes. "Where's your boy?"
"Down the hall with Sonia. She looks after him while I work. I should go fetch him." Carmen hesitated. "Make yourself at home. The shower works, if you like."
His lips curved upward. "I can take a hint."
She flushed. "It's not that."
"Carmen?" He stopped her as she was leaving. "Will your boy be scared?"
She paused, considering. There hadn't been a man in her quarters since Danny Garza beat her. "Maybe."
Martin nodded. "I'll wait, then."
She went to fetch Tom. He was reading a picture book while Sonia watched him, her gnarled hands folded in her lap; or at least he was turning the pages and telling stories to himself. He glanced up brightly when she arrived. "Hi, Mommy!"
"Hi, mijo." She kissed his cheek. "Any progress?"
Sonia shook her head. She'd been trying to teach him to read, but she suspected he had a learning disorder. "I know there are techniques, but I'm afraid it's beyond me. Mr. Ketterling might know."
- On Sale
- May 29, 2009
- Page Count
- 352 pages
- Grand Central Publishing