Burning of the Devil (La Quema del Diablo)

Copyright 2012 Jeff Williams

CHAPTER 1 - A Butterfly Beats Its Wings

Juan Ramirez was late for class, again. But for the young Ladino student, the ten minutes of extra sleep was well worth the anxiety of the subsequent frenzied commute to make up for the lost time.

Consistent with any similar urban university, parking spots conveniently close to his first class were in predictably short supply at the Universidad de San Carlos de Guatemala. Today’s search for an empty space was guaranteed to be as time-consuming as the day before.

Unlike previous days, however, a black pickup truck tailed his car closely this morning in the heavy traffic. From the moment he had left home it followed him undetected. Now downtown, its occupants looked on impatiently as he drove around and around — and around — the campus parking lots.

After a half dozen laps Juan’s persistence was finally rewarded. A parking spot emptied within a miraculously reasonable distance of his first classroom, and he rushed to claim it before competing students could react.

The black pickup truck pulled over to a nearby curb and came to a stop alongside a sign which read "prohibido estacionar". A minor traffic violation was not a concern to the two men inside, as illegal parking would be the least of their wrongdoings today.

Several text books had slipped out of Juan’s backpack and onto the floor during the frantic ride to school. Flustered, he stuffed the errant books back where they belonged, and stepped out of the car.

The passenger of the truck opened his creaky door, hopped down onto the dusty sidewalk, and quietly approached his target.

Juan’s hectic morning made him blithely unaware of his immediate surroundings. He failed to notice that the man now blocking his path also gripped a sawed-off shotgun.

Without saying a word, the stone-faced gunman shot the unsuspecting student in the upper chest at close range. Bloodstained from the violent backscatter of the victim’s gaping wound, the dispassionate shooter turned and — wiping blood from his cheek — walked nonchalantly back to the truck. The getaway vehicle eased slowly onto Once Avenida and blended into the morning traffic.

Several Ladino passersby witnessed the brief and fatal attack, and though all eyes had at first been irresistibly drawn to the disfigured victim, they eventually refocused on the gunman. Descriptions to police of his appearance were vaguely consistent — all agreed that the killer was an ugly little Mayan wearing a ball cap and holding a big shotgun.

The brutal death was officially attributed to robbery, though nothing was stolen from Ramirez; his grieving family knew differently but had no other recourse.

And so it goes in Guatemala City.