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The Secret of El Arenque Rojo, Chapter 9: Standoff

by Amy Nance

Did you buy the Woot 2012 Calendar? If you did, you probably noticed that there's a QR code on every page. Scan the QR code at the beginning of each month for the latest chapter in The Secret of El Arenque Rojo. To recap, in Chapter 1, video store owner Roy Odom found a box of mysterious VHS tapes. In Chapter 2, he started to notice some odd coincidences and symbols in the movies on the tapes. He sought the help of an unusual film professor in Chapter 3; discovered that the implications were bigger than he'd ever imagined in Chapter 4; and had a disquieting dream before being betrayed by a confederate in Chapter 5. The turncoat had a change of heart in Chapter 6... but learned in Chapter 7 that even considering betrayal has its price. Chapter 8 introduced us to a shady new character determined to destroy all evidence. Will he succeed? Read on to find out…

Duke squirmed to find a comfortable position with his hands tied behind his back. There were seven los Estereotipos crammed in the bed of the 1979 El Camino with him to thwart any attempts to escape. He took care not to make any sudden movements, because when he did, the one with the especially prominent unibrow slapped him over the head. The sun was coming up, but between the wind-blown dust assaulting his eyes and his swollen, parched tongue sticking to the roof of his mouth, he barely noticed. They had been driving all night.

For the first time in miles, they came upon an intersection. They must be getting close, he thought. Two men pulled up next to them in a black Chevy Nova. When the driver looked their way, Duke stumbled to his knees and called for help. Unibrow grabbed him by the back of the neck and threw him against the rear window. None of this seemed to phase the driver of the Nova, who simply turned his head back towards the road and casually drove off when the light turned green.

Evelyn Sayre slid open the glass panel that separated them from her seat inside the cab. She spoke with a vaguely Spanish accent that he had never noticed before.

"Sit down, tú pollino estúpido. You have no chance for escape."

"I told you a million times, Evelyn. I'm sorry. If you let me go, I promise I won't tell anyone about any of this." Duke's eyes flitted desperately back and forth between Evelyn and Roy Odom, who merely pursed his lips and shrugged. Was he in on it, or was he a captive too?

"You are correct about one thing, Duke. You won't be telling anyone about any of this. Mi familia, they have been guarding this secret for centuries, often with our lives. You think it was an accident that those tapes landed in the hands of this simplón?" she said as she gestured at Odom.

"We thought he was too dumb to figure it out, but we underestimated his resolve."

"Thanks! I mean, hey wait a minute …" said Odom.

She ignored him and continued. "We never would have dreamed he'd think to get you involved. That was our mistake, one we won't be making it again. The point is, if you think I'm going to let some gabacho film professor blow this whole thing wide open, you've got another thing coming. I would die first."

As if on cue, the El Camino suddenly burst into flames. The explosion flipped it end over end, and it spun around three times before grinding to a stop upside down.

Roy Odom lifted his head 50 feet from the wreckage, still gripping the box of tapes. Blood dripped down into his eyes from a large gash on his head, but amazingly, he was otherwise unscathed. Dead los Estereotipos were strewn all over the road. The driver's lifeless body dangled upside down, still fastened into his seatbelt. He saw Duke, wedged underneath the overturned cab. He hadn't made it.

Odom blinked and squinted into the sunrise. A dark figure was approaching on foot. Just then, Evelyn emerged from the other side of the car. She was inching forward on her stomach, slowly, painfully dragging her injured legs behind her. She drew a gun from her belt, and aimed it at the dark figure who was now standing directly over her.

He blocked out the sun enough so that Odom could now see him clearly. He was tall and thin with shoulder-length silver hair combed neatly behind his ears. He cocked his head to the side and looked down upon her with a look of amusement. Without fear, he bent down and took the gun from her hand. Odom closed his eyes tight and buried his face in the box. A single shot went off with a bang.

Drake had just gotten out of his car at Secreto Mortal Studios when he heard the explosion. He could see the plume of smoke rising in the sky a few miles away. "Damn," he said as he flicked his cigarette to the ground and stamped out the butt. "Looks like someone beat me to the punch."