"As you must know," Perez began, "the seventeenth decree of the Constitution of Yucatan, approved on the thirteenth of September, 1823, prohibited the traffic in slaves. But, as we also know, the sale of indians, has never ceased, particularly in those two states furthest from the capital, Sonora and Yucatan. The Governors of these states have always been silent partners in the enterprise, and some of them have been less than silent. They provided passports for the captives, so if one is offended by slavery, he may say that it was and is the tourist trade that has been and will be practiced here."

          Baltazar chuckled at his own little joke and took another swallow of the warm beer. "Not only was the government, itself, engaged in the transport of slaves, there were those who made contracts with the National Guard of consenting states. In Yucatan, the commission was five pesos for every indian. Besides ridding the peninsula of the hostile Maya in that dangerous period during and shortly after the Caste War, the contractors and government conspired to blame any incidents which should come to the attention of the outside world as the work of "Pirates".

          "Foremost among these was Francisco Marti, whose theater of operations was the northeast coast, between Sisal and Cozumel. Marti was not Mexican, he was a Spaniard whose liaison to the Governor... one Juan Anduce... protected him from official intervention. And his methods... ah!" said Perez, raising his bottle, "... what my grandfather told me! Sometimes he would merely linger offshore as a merchant trader, inviting the Maya aboard ship to inspect the cloth and jewelry he claimed to offer. The next time these foolish shoppers set foot on dry land, they were in Cuba! Marti kidnapped soldiers, women, laborers, even a sublevado General. The Maya captured a number of pirates in their camps along the northeast coast, but never Francisco Marti. It was the stupidity of his protectors that brought about his retirement."

          "How was that?" José asked, and the pirate coughed before continuing what was clearly a distasteful portion of his history.

          "The fault was with the Captain of a vessel called the "Cetro", under the orders of the Governor of Yucatan himself. This sceptre, as Fortune would have it, lay in the hand of a fool and not a king, for the insolent captain unloaded its cargo in Havana directly under the nose of Buenaventura Vivo, perhaps the only honest Mexican consul of the late century. Vivo reported this sale to the capital and, thereafter, pressure was placed upon the Governor to end the trade. Marti, no foolish man, found another sea in which to practice his trade. Others, less skillful, less ambitious, worked this coast in little boats while Maximilian came to power but, twelve years following Buenaventura Vivo, Juarez again prohibited the trade, using the Navy to enforce it. Only in the last twenty years have we, the buyers and sellers and takers of souls, restored this Caribe del Bravo to its position as a sea of opportunity for the few and terror for the many. So let's drink to the General!"

          "To Bravo!" José raised his bottle, but the slaver tossed the empty glass over his shoulder, picked up another from the case on the floor and merely regarded it.

          "Well," he declared, "I am a slaver and a pirate, a good one. I make no apology but to God, even the priest here grants me absolution, for I am the last of my kind." José waved a hand to object, but Baltazar Perez cut him down with a single glance as if separating his eyes from his throat.

          "This century will see piracy's end, for the life we know is coming to its end with President Diaz, and that end approaches sooner than we think. I have one son in Veracruz, another in Havana, still another in New Orleans, daughters, too, besides who knows how many bastards flung about. Slavery will always be with us... but the slavers of this century, they'll change their tune. My sons are growing up with education, they will be tradesmen or perhaps doctors, lawyers, officers. Practitioners of the subtle art, slavers perhaps, but never an honest pirate. Our age is nears its end. I've seen a man in Havana, Merida too, one man with a fountain pen and a document steal as much in a minute as I've earned in twenty years - at considerable risk, I might add. So down with slavery, I say. And now," he added, rising unsteadily to his feet, "let us have a look at these wretched fellows."

          Perez steadied himself by La Siria's table, placed one hand over his stomach and let his belly release a great loud gaseous burp, after which he shook his shaggy head and smiled. "Maybe it will console them that they have the honor of being among the last of their kind to be sold in Cuba. Do you think so?"

          "Why not?" the Major allowed.