No one ever arrived here by chance. Here was nearly the end of the world, close to the southernmost tip of Chile, which resembles lace in the cold Pacific waters.
On this land, everything was so tough, desolate, and abused by the wind that even the stones seemed in pain. Yet just before the desert and the sea, a narrow, gray-walled structure emerged from the ground: the Poloverdo farm.
Travelers who reached this point were surprised to find a house. They would walk down the path and knock on the door to ask for a night's lodging. Most times, the traveler was a scientist, either a geologist with a box of stones, or an astronomer in quest of a dark night. Sometimes it was a poet. Other times simply an adventurer looking for spots yet undiscovered and far from the beaten path.
So rare were such visits that each one seemed like a big event. The Poloverdo woman would pour a drink from a chipped pitcher with shaky hands. The Poloverdo man would force himself to say two words to the stranger so as not to seem too boorish. But he was still a boor, and his wife unfailingly poured the wine outside the glass. All the while the wind would hiss through the disjointed window, sounding like the howling of wolves.
When the visitor departed, the man and the woman would close their door with a sigh of relief. Their solitude resumed its course on the desolate moor, among the rocks and the violent elements.
The Poloverdos had a child. A boy, who was born out of their bedroom routine, without particular love, and who grew like all the rest on this land, that is to say not very well. He spent his days hunting for snakes. He had dirt under his nails, his ears had been so beaten down by storms that they looked like flaps, his skin was yellow and dry, and his teeth were as white as pieces of salt. His name was Paolo. Paolo Poloverdo.
Paolo was the one who saw the man arrive on the path, one warm January day. And he was the one who ran to warn his parents that a stranger was coming. Except that this time, it was not a geologist, or an adventurer, and even less a poet. It was Angel Allegria. A vagrant, a crook, a mur-derer. And he was not arriving by chance at this house at the end of the world. The Poloverdo woman took her pitcher. Her eyes met those of Angel Allegria--small eyes, deeply set, as if pushed into their sockets by blows; eyes that betrayed a brutal wickedness. She shook more than usual. Her man sat on the bench facing the vagrant.
"Will you stay here long?" he asked.
"Yes," answered the other. He dipped his lips in the wine.
Outside, rain clouds were coming up from the sea. Paolo had gone out of the house. He was waiting for the first drops to fall, his face turned to the sky and his mouth open. Like all the creatures on this land, he was always thirsty. The poets who had come to visit had compared him to a seed planted in the bedrock, condemned never to bloom.
While the first drops came crashing down onto the dust and onto Paolo's tongue, Angel Allegria took out his knife and planted it in the man's throat, then in the woman's. On the table, the wine and the blood mingled, forever reddening the deep grooves of the wood.
This was not Angel's first crime. Death was commonplace where he came from. It put an end to debts, drunken disputes, women's deceptions, neighbors' betrayals, or simply ended the monotony of a dull day. This time it put an end to two weeks of wandering. Angel was tired of sleeping outdoors, of fleeing south a little more each morning. He had heard that this house was the last one before the desert and the sea, the ideal refuge for a hunted man. It was here that he wanted to sleep.
When Paolo came back, soaked to the bones, he discovered his parents lying on the ground, and he understood. Angel was waiting for him, knife in hand.
"Come here," Angel told him.
Paolo did not move. He stared at the sullied blade, at the hand holding the knife, at the arm that did not shake. The rain drummed on the metallic roof, as if announcing a trapeze artist's somersault at the circus.
"How old are you?" Angel asked.
"I don't know," Paolo answered.
"Can you make soup?"
Angel had a firm grip on the handle of his knife, and yet remained undecided. The child, very small, very dirty, very wet, stood in front of him, and he could not imagine putting an end to his life. An unexpected twist of his conscience, maybe a little pity, held back his arm.
"I've never killed a child," he said.
"Neither have I," said Paolo.
The answer made Angel smile.
"Can you make soup, or not?" he asked again.
"I think so."
"Make me some soup, then."
Angel put his knife away. He was sparing the child, and with some relief told himself that he did not need to kill him. The little one would not prevent him from sleeping here; besides, it would be convenient to send the boy to fetch water at the well rather than go himself.
Paolo headed for the back of the house, entered a dark recess where his mother kept some meager supplies, and soon came out with a few potatoes, a leek, a turnip, and a piece of dried-up lard. He knew how to make soup, although he had never made any. He had watched his mother so often that the recipe was imprinted in his mind. To make a fire, he only had to imitate his father's gestures. It was easy.
Once the soup was ready, he turned to Angel Allegria.
"Serve me," said the killer.
Paolo went to fetch one of his father's iron bowls, the largest one, and put it on the table, far from the blood and wine stain. He poured the soup into it.
"Eat with me," Angel ordered.
Paolo went to fetch another bowl, the smallest and most dented one, his own. He helped himself and sat on the bench, facing the man, who was already slurping his soup. The rain had stopped. It was not cold in the house, thanks to the fire that crackled in the fireplace. Behind the window, night was coming like an ocean wave about to engulf the house and drown the world. Paolo lit a candle.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from The Killer's Tears by Anne-Laure Bondoux. Copyright © 2006 by Anne-Laure Bondoux. Excerpted by permission of Delacorte Books for Young Readers, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.