Now, in fact, it was well past midnight when the slave trader grasped another bottle of the warm beer and barked "Prepare me a room!" La Siria grunted as the slaver shot the top off of the beer, causing a third of it to spill over as foam, but Baltazar merely laughed through his rotten teeth before turning back to José.

          "Look, Major," he said, "it has been... six months? Yes, that sounds about right. I remember that because of the bad lot you sold to me, friend, the kind of men one keeps in chains."

          "Weren't they going to Cuba? Well, what of it? Certainly your voyage couldn't have been disturbed by a few resentful debtors, could it?" José taunted him.

          "Of course not!" said Perez, tipping the bottle angrily and so hastily that his lip was cut by the broken glass. He flicked his tongue over the dripping blood and savored this. "It is said that those born under Mars seem particularly weakened under the influence of Neptune. I swear the hold still stinks with that lot, and the purchaser gave me the Devil's own time before I could convince him that a few days on solid ground would return these fellows to their old ways."

          "Why anyone would wish that escapes me," the Major said.

          "Well the purchaser was not Cuban but Colombian. He is... or perhaps was, by now... raising some sort of private army. Havana's a den of lunatics. It pleased me, Major, to be able to return with my ship and my profit to an orderly nation, secure under our estimable President. Let's drink to Don Porfirio! I hope, by the way, you new bunch isn't of such a nature."

          "A little of this and a little of that," admitted José, with a reluctance that alerted the slaver.

          "How many?"

          José swallowed a little beer. "You know the way it is when the chicle gathering season is on. Fortunately there has been some trouble between indians who are reasonable and those who aren't and I was made a gift. Sixty men."

          "Sixty!" Perez shook his head. "Even if my purse permitted, the boat would not. I can take no more than forty this time. Send the rest to cut chicle."

          "I can't, these ones would know where to hide. Sell the rest of the beer," José suggested, pounding a bottle against the table and frowning, "it's mostly glass anyway."

          "Since there is so much product, I gather that you will be lowering your usual price."

          "No," the Major said. "Thirty pesos the head."

          "Thirty!" Baltazar mopped his brow. "That's a fair price for fighting men, but for your lot of this and that..."

          "Nonsense, old friend," José smiled. "You'll easily get eighty."

          "Sixty, God willing. And there is my problem with shrinkage." Baltazar Perez had done business with some of the most upstanding and reputable merchants in the Caribbean and he could talk their language, when he wished. It was even said that, on one of the nameless little English-speaking islands between Cuba and the state of Florida he used for his retreat, he kept an accountant, a German with one eye to keep track of what he sometimes called his "capital".

          "The Yaquis have given some of these people ideas," he added.

          A few years earlier, a number of Yaqui indians from Sonora had been shipped overseas from Veracruz to the port of Progreso, a part of the so-called relocation instigated by Ramon Corral and pursued so vigorously that the great hacendados of Coahuila, Sonora and Chihuahua petitioned Diaz to call off his creature, lest their supply of labor be utterly decimated. Among these were a number of women including, it was alleged, the daughter of a Yaqui chief. The prospect of their slavery and the attentions of the sailors upon their princess so provoked the prisoners that they demonstrated their displeasure by throwing themselves into the sea, resulting in considerable loss to their contractor.

          "These," José swore, "are not Yaquis. They have no pride, nor do they realize that death by suicide would preferable to their fate."

          "What about women?" Perez persisted.

          "Three." The trader scowled. "If you can't take sixty, you at least can find room for fifty," José suggested.

          The slaver thought this over. "I do not have a boat so large as Diaz," he said, referring not to the President but to Valentin Diaz, contractor for the Colonization Company who sold debt laborers by the hundred to chicle companies. "And with so many people, there is even more threat of disease. Fifty," he said again, swallowing more beer. "I will do it, if I can choose my own fifty. Out of any lot there are bound to be at least ten who have sickness or who will otherwise prove more trouble then they are worth."

          "You may choose your fifty," José consented. What was the matter to him... he would never see any of these men again! They cemented their deal by cracking bottles together, then forced the empties into the sand, neck down, which was the way that floors were constructed in Vigia Chico.

          "Will you want a contract for these."

          "No," said the Major. "It might leave a trail. The troubles are continuing around Valladolid and, I suspect, that there will soon be another of those incidents Quintana Roo is famous for... a massacre."

          "What a shame." Perez made a sign of the cross. "The sublevados?"

          "I think rather it will be deserters this time, with a few Maya... or at least, people in white clothing... at their edge. The General wishes to make an impression upon the capitaleños that it is not just a matter of indians, but that renegade Mexican soldiers are capable of conspiring to obstruct the development of the territory. He has his objectives."

          "Well, they're no business of mine." And the trader shook his head. "Too bad, in a way. I went to a great deal of trouble to prepare contracts. I even had them drawn up by a printer. Who ever could question the legality of a printed contract."

          "Someone who cannot read?"

          Perez laughed. "I even gave them a raise," he said, passing a sample page to José. "Well at least that's a space where the purchaser can give them a raise, if he desires. It's almost the same thing."

          The emergence of the legal contract as a tool of slavery was a practice dating to the end of the Caste War. It was initially used by those who wished their reputations preserved as being something other than that of keepers of and traders in slaves, for such had been especially singled out by the indian justice that prevailed in Yucatan's countryside through the 1850s. No document could fend off a determined brigade of sublevados, but the assistance from abroad that Mexico required demanded at least the pretense of a legal system, especially after both the expulsion of Maximilian and the end of slavery in the United States. In the interest of presenting a civilized face to the world, Mexico had enacted a system of documentation that any so-called slave was, in fact, a free man who had sold his liberty for the settlement of past debts or future benefits. Perez had reprinted one of the more imaginative ones, leaving space to spell out a salary and even various items charged against wages; food, sandals, a hat...

          "May I keep this? The General will be amused."

          Perez waved his approval. "Anything Bravo desires is his, of course. By the way, how is the old fox doing? Does he still have a mortal fear of eggs?"

          "Oh yes," José said. "He will not abide them being brought into Santa Cruz! However, he has been appointed Inspector General of Primary Instruction by the Superintendent of Education."

          "Isn't he already Superintendent of Education? Well, I suppose there is nothing in the Constitution that prohibits him from appointing himself to inspect himself. As long as the salary is right. How many posts does that make now?"

          José made an appearance of counting upon his fingers. "Civil Governor, Jefe Military, Superintendent of Health..."

          "Superintendent of Health? What in the devil does that pertain to?"

          "Actually it's a post at which he spends more than a little time. Ordering graves to be dug, ditches made to drain water that could breed mosquitoes, signing orders quarantining lepers, shooting stray dogs... that I have seen him do himself."

          "Well, old Ignacio has always hated dogs, long before he developed this hatred of eggs. So now he is Superintendent of Health," Perez added, taking another mouthful of beer. "Is he expected to develop a cure for lead poisoning?"

          "You had better give me a good price on this bad beer," said the Major. "Otherwise, I've a mind to tell the General what you said."

          The slaver made an obscene gesture.

          "He'd sell you to Pancha Robles..."

          "She already has my heart," sighed Baltazar. "I'd be a happy pirate if the rest of my poor frame could follow into such bondage!"

          Pancha Robles was the chief competitor to Perez and, also, the lover to whom he had proposed marriage a dozen times without avail. A famous horsewoman, reputed for bringing her pistols with her to bed and... it had been said... employing them upon those who failed to satisfy, she ransomed prisoners from the state and local jails and sold them to the hacendados.

          "I could take the place of her son," Perez dreamed. "She needs a man to help... she beat him so badly that he has been abed for weeks."

          "That's terrible," José said. "How could a mother do that to her own son?"

          "Gerardo is a dashing fellow, but he has the vice of killing slaves. Well, don't we all? It's as natural as taking a sip of rum now and again; I could tell you about the last poor devil who could not keep from throwing up below deck until the rest couldn't sleep from the stink and they began to howl. It was either murder or mutiny. But still, amigo, it's money lost. That boy was given nine men in chains to escort to Asturias del Sur, and arrived with only two alive. He'd shot the other seven! I don't know what the first was for but the others complained about dragging dead men along and they got it for that. Two hundred eighty pesos wasted!"

          "Well, with such associates, Doña Pancha can't afford much competition now.

          "Bah!" said Perez, bringing up another bottle. Too drunk, by now, to bother shooting the cap off he pounded it against the table and broke its neck on the third attempt. "We're just small fry. Those gentlemen with contacts, those kind... they have the walk of President Diaz's jails or else they can just snatch up Yaquis by the thousands and drop them in Yucatan. Nobody thinks of insulting them as slavers, no... they quote Aristotle and show themselves in fancy dress where the Ministers and Deputies knock one another aside to kiss their feet. The Vice President, Luis Torres, that kind..."

          He removed his hat and slapped it on the table. It seemed, to the Major's clouding mind, a form of homage to a giant among rogues.

          "The esteemed General Torres! He'll send a train of eighty cars up to Sonora with supplies and weapons to sell to the rebel Yaquis. Then he sends the same cars back, filled with his same Yaqui customers. How he isn't caught and hanged... by somebody, anybody... I cannot understand. I can only drink another toast to his exploits."

          "No, that's not a thing I could picture you doing." The great eagle rarely visited José when he was drinking, but the little one was possessed by an unreasonable desire to taunt the slave trader. Perez, however, was beyond insult.

          "You can count on that! Sonora's locked up, tight as a virgin's strongbox. Besides, I don't want Yaquis on my ship... when they're not killing themselves or trying to kill you, they're trying to escape. And they're damned good at it. Give a Yaqui a head start and he'll find his way back to Sonora as well as any dog. Five thousand kilometers, that's true. One of Corral's men in Campeche tried to sell a hacendado a Yaqui who had escaped from that very estanción, gone back to Sonora and was caught again. His own indian."

          "Naturally the fellow paid," José concluded.

          "Of course. If the Vice President wishes to be paid twice for the same Yaqui, then a hacendado has to pay. Later, he can raise the price of his exports or cut his wages. Most likely the latter."

          "That's an amazing story," José had to admit. "Where do you learn of such things?"

          Perez leaned back, assuming an air of affronted dignity. "Why Major, I am a pirate from a reputable family of the same. My grandfather sailed with the great Francisco Marti himself."

          José uncapped another bottle. "Tell me about it," he said.

          And so he did.