The Freedom Run Back to top
led the way through the night,
his whole body trembling. For a moment, he thought he’d lost his way in
the darkness, and he nearly panicked. If the gunman thought he was trying
to trick him, that thing at his side just might go off.
At last they stood by the door to the church offices.
Next to the door, a heavily curtained window glowed dimly. Michael turned
to the shadow behind him. “It’s late,” he said, “but I think he might
still be in there.”
Michael hesitated. What if this nut were some kind
of assassin, sent to eliminate the priest for some reason or other? But
Michael knew he had no choice: “This gun is real,” the man had said.
The gun was jabbed harder into his ribs. Michael knocked,
feeling like Judas.
“Who is it?” called the priest from within.
“Michael? Come in, it’s open.”
With the speed of a bullet, the man hit the latch and
kicked open the door. Michael was pushed in with so much force, he practically
bounced off the desk. When he picked himself up from the floor, the priest
was just easing back into his chair. The gunman had bolted the door and
stood now with his gun trained on them both.
Michael stared in disbelief. He hadn’t seen his attacker clearly before;
all he had noticed was the gun. The guy looked so much like himself they
could have been brothers. The Chilean was only a little older, and slightly
The gunman’s gaze ran nervously over the room, pausing
at the darkened entrance to the storeroom. “Who is in that room?” he demanded.
“There is no one in that room,” Father Heighes snapped.
“Now who are you, and what do you want?”
The Chilean sighed. “My name,” he declared, “is Orlando
Michael started. So this was “Orlando”. No wonder that
little girl had been so confused.
“I came down from the mountains near here,” the young
man continued. “I lived there while fighting for freedom. The army is
looking for me right now. I am wishing the protection of your mission.”
“Oh.” Father Heighes ran a hand through his greying
hair. “That’s great. That’s just ducky.” He glared at Orlando.
“Do you expect me to even consider the matter when I am under the watch
of a gun?”
“No. Please understand, Father. I only needed it to
get in here. You promise, Father, you will listen to my story?”
“I promise.” TEMPORARY RENAME
“Then I will give you the gun.” He came forward, and
after a moment’s hesitation, laid the weapon on the desk.
The priest’s eyes widened. “This is an automatic weapon,
“Remove the ammunition, please.”
Orlando did so.
“All right,” said Father Heighes. “Sit down, Michael.
You too, Orlando. I want you to tell me the whole story.”
Orlando sat, clasped his hands nervously, and stared
at the floor. “Our camp was attacked yesterday,” he began. “They took
everyone who didn’t escape. My friend Alberto and I –”
“No. Take it right from the top. I want to hear how
you ended up hiding in the mountains to begin with. This is necessary
if I am to give you sanctuary. Michael, for God’s sake, would you sit
paused, as if to think. It was a long time before he spoke again. “When
I was very young,” he said finally, “my family lived in Chercos. Like
many people in those days – or ma#99CCFFny now – we didn’t have much money. In
those days, the rich landowners got it all, while the people who worked
the farms for them had little. But a new government had come to power
then – the Unidad Popular. They were Socialists, led by Salvador Allende.
They took over the large farms, the spundos, and gave them to the people
who worked on them. Did you know that your mission was part of a spundo?”
Father Heighes nodded. “The hospital used to be a private
home. The church was a chapel for the workers.”
“Yes. It all belonged to one man, a good man who paid
his workers fair. Other landowners, like Victor Basaulto, were not so
kind. Basaulto owned most of the land around Chercos, even the good land
in the valley where grapes are grown for wine. His land was also given
to the people who worked on it, including my parents, by Allende’s government.
“But soon after that, the putsch came, and Allende
was killed. General Pinochet took over the country with the army. Victor
Basaulto became a soldier in that army.
“We had no rights at all after that. People could be
thrown into jail for no reason. Sometimes they were tortured, or just
made to ‘disappear’. My father stood up against the new government. He
tried to organize the people in Chercos to fight it. He became the enemy
of Victor Basaulto, who tried for many years to get his land back. Then
Victor Basaulto became army commander for this area.”
Here Orlando paused again, as if remembering was painful. “My family was
taken one night,” he said quietly, “sixteen months ago. The police just
came and took them, while I was out. My parents and little sister Isabel
– I waited for days, but they never came back.” #99CCFF
One of them did, Michael thought. And you weren’t there.
“When some people in the village left to join the resistance,
I did too. We camped in the mountains and helped people get out of the
country – or back in, if they’d been forced to leave. We did things to
make trouble for the government and the foreign banks that support it.
We collected money to help the others who fight Pinochet – even those
“Yesterday, the army came and found our camp. I don’t know
how. Only my friend Alberto and I escaped. We were cut off from Argentina’s
border and had to come down, into Chile. He was walking ahead of me last
night when they got him. He yelled, to warn me, and I escaped again. They
will try to make him tell where I am, but he does not know about this
place. We agreed to each have a plan of our own, in case one of us...”
The rebel’s voice seemed suddenly to have failed him. His eyes pleaded
with the priest.
Father Heighes said nothing. Outside, thunder rumbled
in the distance.
Michael was shaken. It all tied in with the rumours
he’d heard. Orlando’s almost spooky resemblence to himself unnerved him,
too. But there was something about the rebel’s tale that didn’t add up.
Michael felt there was more to it, that there was something Orlando wasn’t
“Are we going to help him, Father? What if he’s not
telling the truth?”
“Either way,” the priest said, “he’s a human being
in trouble. Yes, Michael. We will help him.”
Orlando’s noisy sigh of relief filled the room.
He looked ready to burst into tears. “Thank you, Father. I –” He lapsed
suddenly into silence and stared at the locked door.
The latch was lifting, quietly, up and down...
Copyright © 1990 by Phil Campagna