“Like settling down with a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel—if it was rewritten by James M. Cain.”
Michael Gruber’s Night of the Jaguar—like his earlier novels featuring
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Night of the JaguarA Novel
By Michael Gruber
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Michael Gruber
All right reserved.
Jimmy Paz sits up in his bed, folding from the waist like a jackknife with his heart thumping so hard he can almost hear it over the whine of the air-conditioning. A moment of disorientation here: the dream has been so vivid. But he looks about him and accepts that he is in his bedroom in his house in South Miami, Florida; he can make out the familiar shapes in the real glow from the digital clock and the paler beams of moonlight slipping through the blinds, and he can feel the warm loom of his wife's body beside him. The clock tells him it is three-ten in the morning.
Paz has not had a dream like this in seven years, but back then he used to have them all the time. There are families that take dreams seriously, that discuss them around the breakfast table, but the Paz family is not one of them, although the mother of the family is a psychiatrist in training. Paz lies back on his pillow and considers the dream he has just had, which was the sort in which the dreamer has Godlike perspective, floating over some scene and watching the players perform. He recalls something about a murder, someone has been shot in the middle of a village somewhere, and Paz and . . . Someone, some vast presence next to him,God or some powerful figure, is watching as the men who have shot the . . . Paz can't recall, but it is someone of significance . . . as the killers escape into a forest of tall trees, and these men, to ease their passage through the forest are . . . exploding the trees, touching them and making them disappear into red dust. The area through which they have passed is reduced to a rusty desert, and the dream carries a feeling of deep sadness and outrage about all this.
The killers are fleeing from a single man dressed in rough animal skins, like John the Baptist. He shoots at them with a bow and arrow, and they fall one by one, but it also seems as if their numbers do not decrease. Paz asks the Someone what this all means and in the dream gets an answer, but now he can't recall what it was. There's a sense of a vast intelligence there, both ferocious and calm . . .
Paz shakes his head violently, as if to make the scraps of dream-life go away, and at this motion his wife murmurs and stirs. He makes himself relax. This is not supposed to happen to him anymore, meaningful dreams. He has devoted the past seven years to expunging the memory of his previous life, when he was a police detective, during which career certain things happened to him that could not have happened in a rational world, and he has nearly convinced himself that they did not in fact occur, that in fact there are no saints or demons playing incomprehensible games in the unseen world, but that if such games did exist, as many believe, they would not involve Jimmy Paz as a player. Or pawn.
Now the dream is fading; he encourages this, he wills forgetfulness. He has already forgotten that the skin-clad man with the bow had his own brown face. He has forgotten the part about his daughter, Amelia. He has forgotten the cat.
They shot the priest on a Sunday in the plaza of San Pedro Casivare just after mass, which he had just said because the regular priest was ill and because he volunteered to do it. He had not said mass for a congregation of believers in a long time, years. The priest lay there for some minutes; none of the townspeople wanted to touch him, because of the trouble he'd made and because the gunmen were still there leaning against their car, watching the people with interest and smoking cigars. The people stood in silent groups; above, on the rooftops, hopeful black vultures flapped and shoved. The day was hot and there was no breeze, so a few minutes before noon, the gunmen mounted their vehicle and drove away for some shade and a drink. As soon as they left, a group of Indians, six or seven of them, appeared as if from nowhere and carried him off in a blue blanket, down the street to the riverside, the path they took traced by drops of blood in the pale dust. At the edge of the wide brown water they laid him tenderly in a long dugout canoe, and paddled away, upriver toward the Puxto.
He didn't learn of the shooting until two days later, although he dreamed of white birds and so knew that someone's death was at hand. And he had seen the death of someone walking through the night, toward the river, and he knew from the look of it that it was not the death of a Speaker of Language, a Runiya, but of a wai'ichura. So he knew who the person was, for there was only one of these in the village. The man was alone in his little compound, lying in his hammock, inhabiting the light trance that was his usual state of being, when he heard the rattles sound. Slowly, and not without reluctance, he gathered the scattered fingers of his being back into his body, back into the daily, leaving the timeless life of the plants and animals, becoming again a human person, Moie.
Standing now, he washed his face at a clay basin and carefully spilled the water on the ground outside the house, stirring the mud with his toe, so that no enemy could seize on the dregs of his reflected face to do him harm. He took a drink of cool chicha beer from the clay pot, using a gourd. The rattlings continued.
Excerpted from Night of the Jaguar by Michael Gruber Copyright © 2006 by Michael Gruber. Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author
New York Times bestselling author Michael Gruber is the author of five acclaimed novels. He lives in Seattle.
- Seattle, Washington
- Date of Birth:
- October 1, 1940
- Place of Birth:
- New York, New York
- B.A., Columbia University, 1961; Ph.D., University of Miami, 1973
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