Turning his back on Wallace, he addressed Nandi. “You're aunt's probably dead , mister. The fire blew through here hot and fast. We've been looking and haven't found any survivors. You'd be better served searching in the camps the Army is setting up. Looking for her here is a fool's errand.”
Nandi set her shoulders, a picture of indignation. “Senor Carlos, my aunt would never have fled from her mistress' house; she would have seen it as her duty to remain. I refuse to believe God would reward that kind of devotion with death.”
Charles' voice took on an edge of rough exasperation at Nandi's intransigence. “He did it to a bunch of others today, friend. If your aunt was fool enough to stay, and you're fool enough to insist on looking for her, then you can be fools together.” He unslung a pair of canteens from his shoulders and handed one each to Nandi and Luis. “Here, take these, and don't use 'em sparingly. Your friend looks like he's about to collapse, and while we won't stop your idiotic search we're not going to rescue you from your own stupidity either.”
Nandi and Luis took the canteens, Luis immediately draining his. Charles looked sympathetically at Luis' sweat stained shirt and took the empty canteen from Luis' hand, replacing it with a fuller one. Wallace shook his head in disgust. Luis nodded his thanks.
“Best be out before the soldiers show up,” Charles said pointedly. “They're likely shoot you as looters, whatever the truth.” He looked the pair up and down. Wallace grumbled and danced the hotfoot in the background. “Be quick about your search, and if we find you've been scavenging, we'll save the soldiers the trouble and hang you ourselves.”
“Senor, we are grateful. If we could intrude on your generosity for one more thing: my aunt lived near the Water Tower. Without the normal landmarks, we're having trouble locating the area. Could you provide directions?”
“Wallace, which way was the Water Tower?”
“Russell said it was still standing, northeast, toward the Lake. Why?”
“That's the area these folks are headed.”
“Then point 'em southwest and let's head out. My feet are burnin' and I'm bored.”
“You are such a dick,” Charles muttered sotto voce. Turning back toward Nandi he pointed northeast. “Go that way. The Tower is supposedly still standing. You should see it, it being the highest point in the city at the moment, I suppose.” Turning abruptly and ignoring Nandi's extended hand, he waved to the gathered men. “Turn north. We want to be out of here before the troops move in. They're like as not to shoot us as looters before they can get the lay of the land.”
Time and distance passed in a heat haze.
The canteens soon ran dry, providing a momentary respite to parched throats. The setting sun raced to meet dark rain clouds. Clouds of steam rose in tiny puffs as wind borne rain drops preceded the torrent visibly falling on the horizon. The fire still raged to the south, a column of pyrotechnic defiance against the oncoming precipitation.
Nandi and Luis slogged carefully toward the pillar visible against the oncoming gloom. The hiss and pop of falling rain flashing into vapor competed with the creak and groan of the settling piles of ruin which surrounded them. The Water Tower, standing alone amidst the devastation, was a lighthouse of hope to the weary travelers.
“When the Hell did you learn to speak Spanish?”
“You know my yoga sessions on Wednesday?”
“I do them at the Hispanic Community Center.”
“So before I do yoga I attend a Spanish language class, and then some of my yoga classmates and I go out for coffee afterwards. The weekly immersion made it easy to get a conversational knowledge quickly.”
Luis looked completely flummoxed. “But why would you learn Spanish but never tell me?”
“So I could talk to your mother about you.”
Luis went from flummoxed to floored. “What?!”
Nandi had to laugh at his expression. “Well, more about your father. When our relationship started getting serious, I wanted to know what I was getting into. The best way to do that was to see what kind of man you'd turn into, and the best way to do that was to talk to the woman who had spent the majority of her life with him. Plus I got to hear all the embarrassing stories of your childhood.”
“That noodle incident was completely overblown! And anyway, my mom speaks perfect English.”
“Yes, but your grandmother doesn't.”
“Oh, your mom introduced us by phone early on. We've been talking regularly since then.”
“When my grandparents came to Chicago I spent the weekendtranslatingfor the two of you.”
“Oh, si senor.” Nandi batted her eyelashes coquettishly. “It was very cute. You Grandmother was very amused.”
“But, why? Why the secrecy, why the deception? I mean, you put a lot of work into this, and I don't see what the payoff is.”
“Well Luis, I was researching a potential lifelong commitment. It seemed worth some effort.”
The subsonic rustle of falling rain reverberated on the edge of hearing as they stood next to the blackened but standing Water Tower. “'Lifelong commitment'? What,” realization dawned across Luis' face. “You mean you knew even then that you wanted to marry me?”
The rain drops hissed and spit as they impacted the Water Tower's stone facings, marring the uniform soot covering into multi hued streaks. The air temperature dipped noticeably, dragged down by the falling water. “I wouldn't go that far. But I knew I wanted you to want to marry me.”
Luis walked around the Water Tower to get out of the worst of the driving rain, and checked his watch. “Any other surprises I should know about?”
“Not really.” She grinned beneath the rivulets running off her hat. “But after everything else I've shared, saying no would have seemed anticlimactic.”