Spy in a Little Black Dress - By Maxine Kenneth


Granada, Nicaragua, October 13, 1856

Maria Consuela heard the pop-pop-pop of musket fire coming from beyond the convent walls and knew that the day of liberation had arrived.

Today the convent gates were thrown wide open, and she and her sister novices ran out into the street, as uncharacteristically giddy as young schoolgirls on holiday, to greet the conquering heroes. There they were, the norteamericanos, or the filibusters, as they were known back home in America, supporters of her country’s Democratic faction. They wore no uniforms, but instead a rough collection of motley outfits: swallowtail coats and middy jackets, stovepipe hats and cloth caps. Some had bandoliers strapped across their chests; others had leather or burlap ammunition pouches slung over one shoulder. All of them carried their rifles and pistols casually at their sides, raising them occasionally to shoot at the odd Legitimist sniper popping up here and there.

Joining the crowd in support of the liberators was just the excuse Maria Consuela needed to say good-bye to the convent behind whose walls she had lived for so many years, like a prisoner resigned to her fate. She had been forced by circumstance to trade one stifling existence as the dutiful daughter of middle-class parents for another as the young novitiate dedicated to Christ. And now, this liberation of her country was her chance to leave both lives behind and make a fresh start. She would never return to the convent, she promised, even if it meant becoming a campesino’s wife and working in the fields from dawn till dusk.

Maria Consuela and the other novices joined the joyous crowd and skipped alongside the filibusters as they marched—strolled, really—through the narrow and twisty streets of Granada, the former Legitimist stronghold. The young women pecked the soldiers daringly on the cheek as a show of thanks for freeing them from the oppressive Legitimist regime and showered them with flowers as a kind of benediction.

One very young soldier caught the flower Maria Consuela boldly threw his way, removed his cap, and put the flower in his hair. His fellow filibusters laughed at him, but he looked at Maria Consuela and winked at her, as though they were sharing a private joke. To Maria Consuela, this soldier, with his thick rimless glasses, looked more like a librarian than a member of a conquering army.

Suddenly, Maria Consuela heard the sound of a single rifle shot coming from above the street and watched as one of the soldiers fell to the ground, his chest exploding in a bright red spray of blood. She had never seen anyone killed before, and it horrified her.

A second rifle shot immediately ensued, and Maria Consuela mistook it for an echo of the first. But when a second soldier collapsed in a shattered heap, she realized just how much danger the crowd was in.

“Sniper,” someone called out. And all the soldiers and their well-wishers melted away into the nearest doorways or alleyways, seeking protection from the shooter lying in wait in his vantage point on a rooftop overlooking the street.

Maria Consuela wanted to move to safety too, but found that her legs wouldn’t let her. She was frozen in place, paralyzed by fear.

Then a third rifle shot sounded in the street, and a little spray of earth erupted right in front of her. Something must be wrong, Maria Consuela thought. The sniper couldn’t be such a bad shot that he missed her so completely.

Before she could react, a fourth rifle shot cracked the air, and dirt from the ground spat up to her right.

A fifth, and a clod of dirt sprang up to her left.

Then, with a chill, Maria Consuela realized that the sniper wasn’t a bad marksman. He was merely toying with her, using her as a staked goat in order to lure some of the soldiers out of hiding so he could finish them off. He knew that sooner or later someone would come to her aid, and then he would hit his target with deadly accuracy. Unless he got tired of waiting, at which point she was sure to become his next victim.

Maria Consuela cringed, knowing that the next breath she took might well be her last. Please, God, she pleaded in the throes of desperation, let me live, and if you do, I will return to the convent and pledge the rest of my life to extolling your glory.

But in the interval between the last rifle shot and the one sure to come, a man appeared in the street. He was