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That’s him! - The Amphibian Man by Alexander Belyaev

Dolores-Pedro Zurita’s mother — was a stout doughy old woman with a hooknose, a jutting chin and a thick moustache that added up to produce an odd, almost forbidding effect. The latter adornment, so rare with her sex, had earned her the nickname of Dona Dolores la Mostacha by which she was known throughout the locality.

When Pedro brought his young bride to her she had greeted the girl with an unceremonious stare. Dolores had an eye only for deficiencies. The girl’s beauty struck her, but it was like her not to show it in any way and to decide later, over her pots and pans, that that was just what was wrong with the girl.

“A tasty dish! “ she said that day, alone with her son, and shook her head, “Much too tasty! “ and, after a sigh, “See you don’t run into trouble with a beauty like that for a wife. I wish you’d married a Spanish girl.” She paused, then added, “Haughty, too. And her hands, why, she won’t do a stroke of work about the house with those soft hands of hers.”

“Well break her to it,” Pedro said and bent over his accounts.

Dolores yawned and, leaving Pedro to his work, went out into the garden, cool with the evening. She was fond of sitting in the moonlit mimosa-scented garden, all by herself, dreaming.

She went past a border of lilies gleaming white in the moonlight, past whispering laurel bushes, to a bank overgrown with myrtles, let herself down onto it and was soon lost in her dreams. In them she was buying a neighbour out of his farm, building new sheds and out-houses, breeding flocks of fine-fleece sheep.

“Pest on you,” the old woman cried angrily, slapping her cheek. “Those mosquitoes won’t leave a body in peace for a moment.” Clouds had banked the skies and the garden was dark. Against the darker sky a bluish band low on the horizon-the glow of the lights of the town of Parana-gained in lightness.

Suddenly, above the low stone fence, she spotted a man’s head. A pair of manacled hands were lifted into view and the man eased himself carefully over the fence.

The old woman shuddered with terror. An escaped convict in her garden! She wanted to cry out but couldn’t, tried to get up and run but her legs buckled under her. From her bank, spell-bound, she watched the stranger.

Meanwhile he had made his way cautiously among the bushes to the house and was stealing from window to window, peering in.

Then she heard him-or was she mistaken? — caU softly, “Gutierrez! “

That’s your beauty for you, she thought. That’s the type she goes about with. Wouldn’t be surprised if she murdered me and Pedro, burgled the place and made away with that convict of hers.

A feeling of gloating hatred for Gutierrez seized the old woman. Her strength recovered, she jumped up and waddled quickly inside.

“Quick! “ Dolores whispered to her son. “There’s a convict in our garden. He’s calling for Gutierrez.”

Pedro rushed out as though the house were on fire, seized a spade lying by the garden path and ran round the corner.

Standing at the wall and peering into a window was a stranger in a crumpled suit, his hands manacled.

“Damn you! “ Zurita muttered and brought his spade down on the crown of the man’s head.

The man fell as though cut down.

“That’s done for him,” Zurita said in a low voice.

“It has indeed,” Dolores, who had caught up with him, agreed in a tone she would have used if her son had squashed a scorpion.

Zurita looked at his mother.

“Where shall we take him to?”

“The pond,” the old woman indicated. “It’s deep.”

“Hell come to the surface.”

“Well weight him. Hold on a second.”

Dolores ran inside and searched feverishly for a sack to put the dead man in. But she had sent all her sacks to the mill with wheat that morning. So she took a pillow-case and a length of string.

“There’re no sacks,” she told her son. “Here, put some stones in the pillow-case and tie it up to his handcuffs.”

Zurita nodded, heaved the body on his back and dragged it to a small pond in the back of the garden.

“Mind the blood,” Dolores whispered to him, waddling behind, pillow-case and string in hand.

“You wash it away,” Pedro replied, putting the man’s head down, however, so that the blood would spill on the ground.

At the pond Zurita quickly stuffed the pillow-case with stones, tied it securely to the young man’s hands and shoved the body into the water.

“I must change.” Pedro glanced up at the sky. “It’s going to rain. By the mom-ing there won’t be a trace of blood on the grass.”

“What about the pond, won’t the water turn red?” asked Dolores.

“No, not in a running-water pond. Oh, to hell with it! “ growled Zurita and shook his fist in the direction of the house.

“There’s your beauty for you,” the old woman was saying in a whining voice as she followed her son towards the house.

* * *

Gutierrez had been given a room in the attic. That night she could not go to sleep what with the stuffiness, stinging mosquitoes and the cheerless thoughts that crowded her mind.

The memory of Ichthyander still came between her and her sleep. Her husband she did not love. Her mother-in-law she detested, yet here she was sharing their roof with them.

Gutierrez thought she heard Ichthyander’s voice calling her. A noise like muffled voices floated up to her window. She listened but heard nothing. Towards dawn she decided that she was not to fall asleep that night at all. She went out into the garden.

The sun was not up yet. The garden lay in front of her, wrapped in pre-dawn haze. The clouds had been chased away and heavy drops of dew sparkled in the grass and on the trees. In her light gown, barefoot, Gutierrez was walking over the grass. Suddenly she stopped short. In the walk, outside her window, the sand was blood-stained. A blood-stained spade was lying nearby.

A crime had been committed that night. Or was there some other explanation for these blood stains?

Involuntarily Gutierrez followed the track which led her to the pond. Suppose the key to the crime is hidden in the pond, she thought, peering, scared, into the greenish water.

Down there, in that murky water, looking straight at her was Ichthyander’s face. There was a wound near the temple. The face expressed suffering mingled with happiness.

Could she have gone mad? Gutierrez wanted to run away, but she couldn’t. Nor could she tear her eyes away from Ichthyanders’s face.

Meanwhile Ichthyander’s face was slowly coming up, till, with a soft ripple, it was clear of the water. Ichthyander stretched his manacled hands towards Gutierrez and smiled wanly.

“Gutierrez! “ he said. “My dearest! At last-” but he did not finish. Clutching at her head Gutierrez was crying:

“Be gone! Be gone, unlucky ghost! I know you’re dead. Why should you appear to me?”

“No, no, Gutierrez, I’m not dead,” the ghost hastened to reply, “I didn’t drown. Forgive me… There are things you don’t know about me… Why didn’t I tell you… Oh, don’t go away, listen to me. I’m alive, here, touch my hands…”

He was stretching his hands towards her. She kept staring at him.

“Don’t be afraid, I’m alive… I can live underwater. I’m not like other people. I can live underwater. I didn’t drown that time I jumped into the sea. I did it because it was difficult for me to breathe on land.”

Ichthyander swayed; then went on, as hastily and as disjointedly as before:

“I’ve been looking for you, Gutierrez. Last night your husband struck me on the head when I was standing outside your window and then threw me into the pond. In the water I came to. I managed to get that stone-weighted sack off but I couldn’t”, here Ichthyander showed up the handcuffs, “these…”

Gutierrez was almost convinced now.

“But why are your hands manacled?”

“Ill tell you about it later. Come away with me, Gutierrez. Well hide at my father’s, nobody can find us there… And well be together… Feel my hands, Gutierrez. Olsen told me people call me the ‘sea-devil’ but I’m human. Why are you afraid of me?”

Covered with silt from head to foot Ichthyander waded out of the pond and sank wearily onto the grass.

Gutierrez bent over him and took him by the hand.

“My poor boy,” she said. “What a pleasant rendezvous! “ a mocking voice suddenly came to them.

They looked round and saw Zurita standing nearby.

Zurita, like Gutierrez, had not been able to sleep a wink that night. He had come into the garden, attracted by Gutierrez’s cry, and had heard all that had followed. When Pedro realized that the “sea-devil” he had been so long trying to catch was at arm’s length from him he thanked his lucky stars and decided to take Ichthyander to the Jellyfish there and then. But then he had second thoughts.

“I don’t think you’ll be able to carry Gutierrez to Doctor Salvator. She’s my wife, you know. Besides you’re wanted by the police.”

“But I’ve done nothing wrong! “ the young man cried.

“People who’ve done nothing wrong are not issued with nice little bracelets like those. And as you’re now in my hands I feel it’s only my duty to hand you over to the police.”

“Surely you are not going to do that?” Gutierrez asked her husband indignantly.

“My duty points that way,” Pedro said, shrugging his shoulders.

“Nice thing that’d be,” cut in Dolores, who had just appeared on the scene,

“letting loose a convict. And what for? For prying in another man’s garden and looking for a chance to carry away his wife?”

Gutierrez went across to her husband, took hold of his hands and said gently:

“Let him go. Please. I’ve done you no wrong…”

Dolores shook her head vigorously, afraid her son would give in.

“Don’t listen to her, Pedro! “ she shouted.

“I can’t resist a woman’s entreaty,” Zurita said urbanely. “Ill do as you wish.”

“Hardly married and already tied to her apron-strings,” the old woman said grumpily.

“Wait a minute, Mother. We’ll file your handcuffs, my young fellow, rig you up in something decent and take you on board the Jellyfish. When we’re in the Rio de la Plata you can jump overboard wherever you please. But I will only let you go on one condition: you must forget Gutierrez. And Gutierrez, I’ll take you along, as well. Youll be safer with me.”

“You’re better than I thought you were,” Gutierrez said sincerely. Zurita gave a complacent twirl to his moustache and bowed to his wife. Dolores knew her son well enough to guess that he was planning something nasty. But, to play his game, she went on grumbling, “Tied to her apron-strings that’s what you are. Well, you deserve all you’ll get.”

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