None of the sultry Spanish summer heat outside permeated the thick stone walls of the military court, where its dank, miserable dampness seeped into the prisoner’s bones.
Flickering lamps attached to wall braziers illuminated Raúl Calderón’s impassive face. Flanked by two guards, he stood straight in his white uniform. At the age of twenty-four, he had endured grueling danger and devastation in the past seven years. God willing, he would survive this peril, too.
And if not, his conscience was clear.
He faced only a judge and a jury of five officers, seated at a long, unadorned and rather battered table more suitable for carousing at a tavern than for the graver purpose. The judge had barred an audience. One of the jurors cursorily looked at the papers in front of him. Another read each page meticulously, as though he would find some exception to the judgment they would hand down. But Raúl knew, those testimonies held irrefutable evidence of his crime.
Punishable through death by garrote, a crude method that could sever the spinal cord and avoid strangulation if done correctly.
“Captain Raúl Calderón.”
At the mention of his name, the prisoner’s blue eyes flickered to the judge’s, whose expression was heavy, exhausted. “Do you have anything else to say for yourself?”
Raúl looked each juror in the eye, then the judge. “No, sir.”
“I have presided over this court for other cases. You are the first Captain of the Guards to come through.” For a moment, a veil seemed to fall away between judge and prisoner. It was just a man conversing with another, wondering aloud, “How could this have happened?”
The stone walls seemed to press in on Raúl as he pondered this question. Points in his life flashed through his mind, from his childhood, fighting to get into the army, victory, loss, heartbreak, and then, now, a crossroads which could lead to his life or death.
How could this have happened?
Raúl knew exactly how it began, seven years before.