Ephemeral yet eternal: the White Girl. Her arms are out to the side, her legs splay, and tiny fish dance around her toes. There’s no more than a hurried moment to look around this careworn land. Over here, they call it Río Bravo. Juárez is a new monster in an old land: Juárez is the laboratory of our future. Never mind the tape around her head. Juárez is the beast, the fulminating feast of violence and of the vastly unequal wielding of power; where the only true currencies are drugs, guns, and violence. One or two people emerge from hiding and rush to give her comfort when there is no comfort to be had. This is the Colonia de Anapra, a little less than a shantytown, trying hard to be a little bit more than a slum; poorest of all the poor colonias of Juárez. Juárez, from where the pickup truck approaches at pace, lies down the hill. As the truck disappears from view, Gabriel’s wife, whose name Arturo does not know, emerges into the street, screaming, her kids clinging to her legs, crying without really knowing why. She’s printed on a plastic banner that’s pinned to the wall of the house, right above the doorway. She picks up speed, and the far shore approaches, coming closer, until finally, a strong eddy takes her plump body and rolls her over, facedown in the water.
Arturo too looks for somewhere to vanish, and quickly backs into the shaded doorway of a green house on the corner oppo- site, an unusual house, one of the very few with more than one floor. All six men stare at the cops, who make very, very sure that they do not look back. The men haul Gabriel into the bed of the pickup, and climb back in, two of them clinging to the sides and two of them lounging on an old sofa that’s been bolted to the floor. The book transports readers to Anapra, one of the poorest neighborhoods of Juarez, Mexico, and not too far from the Mexican-American border, as it tells the story of Arturo, a young man trying to make a living and keep his head low. Anapra is just a small feeder fish, clinging to the belly of the whale, and while it doesn’t look like the most dangerous place on earth, it is here as much as anywhere else where drugs are run and bodies are hanged from telegraph poles, where dogs bark at the sound of guns in the cold desert darkness, where people vanish in the night. She moves with the water, whispering through the bulrushes by the bank. * * *
The night is yet to come. He makes a pistol with his thumb and forefinger, cocking his thumb back, aiming the gun right at Arturo, who cannot look away as the man drops his thumb, and mouths something, some- thing Arturo cannot grasp. As if trying not to disturb the air, the cop carefully gets back in his patrol car and nods to his colleague, just as the truck reaches them, slowing right up, dropping to a crawl as it passes. But when his friend Faustino steals money from the drug-dealing gang he’s supposed to be working for so he can smuggle his girlfriend and her baby over the border, Arturo must step in to help. There are marks on the concrete, marks of chalk. So now Arturo realizes where he is, which doorway he has backed into. There’s even the new hospital, up the hill. They are lines and curves; there are arrows, and small crosses and circles within the curving lines. There is little left to show who she was; her body says she was a young woman, but it’s hard to judge her age; her head is wrapped in thick electrical tape, leaving only a thin slit for her nostrils. One or two have stolen electricity using hookups from the power lines, a dangerous trick in a world made of sun-baked cardboard and wood. The truck makes a turn across the median, heading back to Juárez, and Arturo starts to relax, but as it passes him, the driver of the truck looks over and sees him. The man’s head tilts back, his mouth open as he laughs. He doesn’t give them any money.
Far, so very far away, on the other side of the street, Arturo looks down and sees what he has been standing on. He buys a couple of bottles and heads back to the car, ruffling the hair of one of the boys. The Del Rio store on the corner of Raya and Rancho Anapra, the main drag through the town. The spirit of Santa Muerte is ever-present in three-time Printz honoree Marcus Sedgwick’s timely new novel. Some days he helps out in an auto shop and this is one of those days. The plastic has been in the full sun for years now; her blacks have become grays, the green globe of the earth is weakened and weary. The best have cinder-block walls. Two guys in the cab, another four clinging on in the bed. Pre-order it here, and continue on for the first two chapters. So it’s only fitting that it would be titled Saint Death. It isn’t clear if she means the men who have taken her husband, or herself, her family. Santísima Muerte. She doesn’t react. In slow time, the driver straightens his left arm out of the cab window, and points at Arturo. Her only clothes are a stained tank top, and panties with Mickey Mouse on the front, a failed guardian angel. Handing one of the bottles through the window of his car to his colleague, he pulls the cap off his own. On Tiburón, the shark, a little girl and her friends watch her big brother wheeling his bike around in circles by the hardware store, showing off. He glances at the kids. It might be nothing, but better to be sure. The truck gets closer; a flashy dark-red body, tinted windows. The hot sun warms her body against the cool of the water, which ripples peacefully as she drifts. —¡Hijos de la chingada! Here, outside the green house, is something strange—a stretch of concrete sidewalk, where everywhere else the sidewalks are dirt. His head is shaven; he’s dressed, as are all the men, in a white wife-beater shirt; tattoos snake all down the muscles of both arms. A bus stops and a load of maquiladora workers climb out and stand around for a while, chatting. Don’t worry where you’re going; you will die where you have to. Her skull-gaze grinning, her stare unflinching. She looks down at Arturo; she looks down at everyone. The god was forgetful and has not returned to care for his creation, but other gods, pitiless ones, are approaching even now, in a speeding pickup truck. A patrol car crawls by, a rare enough sight in Anapra. There’s a smile inside him, a smile for their seriousness, and on another day he might have joked with them a little and made them laugh, but he’s too tired for that today, way too tired. A dozen of the roads are paved: cracked concrete and full of holes; the rest are just rutted strips of dirt. Never mind she was almost naked. When the police find her, if they find her, when they write a report, if they write a report, they’ll say she drowned, just another mojado, another “wetback,” and she drowned while trying to cross the river. Trucks come and go all the time, but the people know what this is. But these are exceptions, and all this, all of this, is founded on a belief that needs to ignore what is rapidly ap- proaching in the truck. It’s still warm. Another group hangs out by the twenty-four-hour automated water kiosk, hoping to beg a few pesos to buy some bottles. * * *
It’s over. Cautiously, he edges away, and looks up at Santa Muerte herself, Saint Death. It bowls into sight over the crest of the road and heads rapidly toward them. And the nights are long. The man’s face is tattooed, more ink than skin; markings of a narco gang, but at this range it’s hard to see which. A change in the current at the turn of the bend shifts her course and she floats out away from the bank, toward the center, uncaring, heedless. Then there’s Arturo. The truck cannot yet be heard, and on the corner of Rancho Anapra and Tiburón, where the paving stops and the road runs off toward the North as dirt, kids are playing in the street. ANAPRA
It doesn’t look like the most dangerous place on earth. And Juárez? Most of the houses aren’t houses at all, but jacales: shacks made of packing crates and sheets of corrugated iron, of cardboard and of crap, with roofs of plastic sheeting or tar paper held down with old car tires. Their eyes meet. It looks like somewhere half-made, it looks like an aborted thought. Now with only 36 hours to replace the missing money, Arturo must once again face his past and descend into the world of drug and human trafficking in his attempt to help his friend survive. A gaggle of parents coming back from a workshop at Las Hormigas passes by, talking about what it means to be better mothers, better fathers. Then, as he tilts his head back to drink, the sound of the pickup comes down the street. She holds a set of scales in one hand; in the other, she holds the whole world. It’s so strong a sensation that Arturo reaches up and tries to rub it away. Everyone else has disappeared. With Saint Death set to make its way to bookshelves on April 25, EW presents an exclusive excerpt from the cinematically-thrilling novel. —¡Hijos de la chingada! The man is called Gabriel. Thirteen hours of darkness in which all manner of evil can bloom, flowers that need no sun. Never mind the marks on her body. Left it to its own vices. One device, a pair of interlocking curving arrows, is intersected by seven more arrows that point into the house. The Beautiful Sister. The jacales are things that might, some distant day, be the ghostly ancestors of actual houses. It is something with immense power. Pure bone, and charcoal eye. La Flaquita, the Skinny Lady. The factory workers see the car and begin to disperse into the streets of fish, but they needn’t worry, the cops are just thirsty. He makes himself small in the doorway, as small as he can, and stands very still. Almost invisible, he steers his way steadily along Rancho Anapra.
Above him, unseen, something hovers. She screams it over and over. The four men are dragging the owner of the shop into the street. Over there, they call it Rio Grande, for that is El Norte: America. The worst take more effort to imagine than is comfortable. Arturo can see the blood even from across the street. It looks like a three-year-old god threw together some cardboard boxes and empty coffee tins and Coke bottles in the sandpit of the Chihuahuan desert, and then forgot it. When those houses are finally built, they will be built on lines of hope—the grid that’s already been optimistically scratched far out into the desert in the belief that this place can become a thriving community. The policemen start their car and drive steadily away, back toward the city. It’s the end of October; the sun sets at six o’clock and will not rise again till seven the next morn- ing. The men are roughing him up, nothing too serious, but then, as Gabriel tries to fight back, one of them hits him on the side of his head with the heel of a pistol and he slumps to the dust, barely conscious. Few have running water. They’ve left, and the tattooed narco is gone, but Arturo can still feel that finger pointing at him, right at his face, as if the fingertip is pressing into his forehead. Now, tantalizing, her fingers stroke the northern shore of the river. So serious. The Bony Lady. So seriously they play, that as Arturo weaves between them, they have no idea he’s even there. The people scatter. The four men climb down from the bed and, pulling out pis- tols, head into the hardware store. The cops are long gone, and anyway, it’s not the police these men are scared of; they’re scared of the other pandillas, the other gangs, like the M-33, the gang whose turf this is, for now at least. Arturo doesn’t feel that frightened; this is, God knows, not something new, but suddenly he feels very visible. Her shroud ripples in the breeze, white wings of death. Here, far from the ocean, where water is so precious, nearly all of the streets have the names of fish. She lay at the bottom of the river for two days before the bloating brought her to the top, pushing her arms and legs away from her body. Already, there are attempts to make this a normal kind of place: whitewashed cinder-block houses with green tin roofs, the Pemex gas station, a primary school, a secondary school. It’s moving fast, it has the growl of a powerful engine. Cars come and go down the road. He’s been lugging old tires around the yard all after- noon and his shoulders ache from the effort of that while his brain aches from the effort of listening to José, the owner, complaining. He flattens his foot to the floor and the truck speeds away, back toward the city. Exclusive Excerpt From Saint Death By Marcus Sedgewick
Not too far away from here, just over the horizon of our imagination, there’s a girl floating in the river. Their eyes meet, and as they do, Arturo feels something jolt, as if the world has shuddered underneath his feet. Arturo doesn’t really know him, nothing much beyond his name. One of the cops gets out and wanders over to the water shop. Show Full Article Above her, in a semicircle, it’s still just possible to make out some writing on the fading plastic: No temas a donde vayas que haz de morir donde debes.