THE INSURGENCE of CHAN SANTA CRUZ
BOOK FIVE: THE BOOK of STONE
After his service at Akbal and the occasional visits to Vigia Chico, José found the capital of the territory to resemble less a military garrison than a large, open sore... occupied by a thriving population of squirming parasites who needed, only, the absence of the iron hand of General Bravo to emerge into the daylight. The General had proceeded from Merida to a "leave" in the capital while that city was prepared for the Centennial; Bravo's replacement, Colonel Tavares, was but a nominal commander, about whom indecision and anarchy whirled like cyclones. Reviving, to the consternation of the garrison, the punitive expeditions into the monte, he inadvertently disrupted some minor elements of the General's chicle arrangements without, however, encountering a single sublevado. Discipline, always harsh, grew arbitrary. The daughter of a Yaqui chief, exiled to the territory as a warning to her family, began a hunger strike after being raped by soldiers. Tavares showed no interest in the matter, though José warned him that her death would inspire more riots in Sonora.
His father's absence, coupled with the obtusity of his stand-in, gave Tomas Bravo the opportunity to make his own name known in Quintana Roo. To be sure, the Captain had not been left out of the commerce of the territory; in his capacity as "sleeping partner", the General was necessarily obligated to delegate both authority and a share of the profits to those he trusted most. Tomas Bravo knew well that the deference shown to him was on account of his father, and not owing to his own capacities, and this set off a hungering for recognition. His father would have put a thumb down over that, and quickly, but, under the temporary command of the chocolatero Tavares, a harvest of certain grief was assured.
That which we, of more enlightened times, can only see in Tomas Bravo as insanity, perhaps, falls outside the pale of materialism - contra Karl Marx and Adam Smith. The Captain received a regular income from the army, of course, as well as appointment to a number of official posts, which carried few duties other than the writing of a letter to the capital twice yearly. Further, there was his share of the chicle commissions, the less obvious commissions on the lease of "emigrant labor", and such miscellaneous fruits that, from time to time, fell in his path.
One of these had been the visit of the archaeologist Lavelle through the territory with Juan Kui following as his muleteer, bearing such stones and statues as he had collected in his wanderings. The Frenchman had, at first, expressed surprise and outrage when Tomas presented him with a bill for the services of the guard, which he believed a courtesy of the Republic, but a short meeting with the General centering upon the advisability of paying his export duties from Vigia Chico rather than from Veracruz... where the officials frowned upon the removal of Mexico's ancestral artifacts... cleared the air of misconceptions and Tomas had been invited to share in the proceeds from the Americanist's generous donation.
So Tomas Bravo did not lack financial means; moreover, he would one day inherit his father's incalculable wealth, but this dependence upon his father's rank and privileges gnawed into his spirit as a rat's tooth worries the unprotected infant. The General's departure was an opportunity to step out of his shadow, and José had been back in Santa Cruz barely a week when Colonel Tavares begged his help on a disciplinary matter whose roots were watered by the General's stupidly ambitious son.
"There are some men," the Colonel announced, "who are to be assigned to Vigia Chico. The port is to be their first stop on a journey."
"So?" the Major asked.
"There exists a reasonable possibility that the port commander will not welcome their arrival."
"Old Caza?" José said. "Impossible! There isn't anything that man wouldn't do for money, or his General."
"These orders come from a Bravo, but not the Bravo," Tavares said.
José frowned, having expected something like this. "Well, it's irregular but, after all, a matter of the family. And I don't see why Caza should be upset. It's not as if Don Ignacio hasn't ordered dozens of such transports."
"True," Tavares nodded, "but the General has never asked him to hold white men and some women also, as I understand. Caza has some notion that his troops might grow a bit uneasy at the prospect of selling their own kind off. There are soldiers included... execrable soldiers, to be sure, but all the same I am responsible for them, and for the morale of the territory."
"So has the General given approval?"
"Only to Tomas, if at all. The Captain seems quite sure of himself, but the only assurance he has offered me is his word."
Tavares opened a cabinet in his desk and removed two glasses and a bottle of cognac. He was no Victoriano Huerta, and resorted to liquor only when distressed, but distress was a state common these days, so José chose to ignore the shaking of the Colonel's hand as he poured the cognac and the greed with which he swallowed it.
Settled, somewhat, Tavares poured another drink for himself but not to the top of the glass, and he let it sit upon the desk while he gathered his resources to confront this problem.
"Captain Bravo is under our command. The authority he cites appears only by implication; nevertheless Don Ignacio is fond of his son, or appears to be. I do not wish to give offense to the General." Tavares helped himself to another mouthful of cognac. "I never intended to wind up in a place like this at all..."
José raised his own glass as a device for concealing his disgust. Chocolatero!
"The Captain, needless to say, has told me nothing more than that his father is agreeable to the plan. If there is anything the matter, it is my responsibility to lay the details out and, that being so, how can I confront him with a request for proof of his father's approval?"
"Would you prefer I spoke to him?" José said, swallowing the rest of the cognac.
"That might be beneficial. If he has written authority," the Colonel said, "or if the General is willing to give it, then by all means what he plans to do is appropriate."
"That gives me the choice of making an enemy either of the father or the son."
"We all make enemies," Tavares said, "sometimes whether we wish to or not."
"I understand," José replied. "This is an order, then?"
Tavares nodded, giving José the excuse he desired... he saluted and left the wretched Colonel at once. Why Tavares hadn't even asked to move into Bravo's office... leaving it and the long-secluded indian woman to Tomas, whose only friends were the greenest, least capable new graduates of the Colegio of no greater military acumen than the caballeros de la campaña. How similar was Bravo to his mentor, don Porfirio! By encircling himself with men of little talent the General had secured his own position and reputation as a great leader... but at what cost?
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