THE INSURGENCE of CHAN SANTA CRUZ
BOOK FIVE: THE BOOK of STONE
CHAPTER TWENTY SEVEN
"Take this one aside," Rosario quickly and furtively decreed. A small back room of the hospital had been reserved for those whose maladies were specific and treatable... not one in ten were of this nature, but the room was always full. He slipped Solis half a loaf of bread and returned to the inspection, his afternoon ruined. Examination of the arriving prisoners was a routine, occasionally bringing forth something of notably loathsome origin, other times holding an unexpected light moment. Within the past year, Rosario had begun to gamble with his staff, placing small bets on whether this one would survive for a month or that one last a year. When nobody would put money down... for the obviously reason that the doctor usually won... he gambled with himself. But the arrival of Octaviano Solis had ruined this casual pleasure and he hurried through the line, reducing it to ten men who could benefit from treatment, releasing the others into the custody of the corporal with the simple, yet hapless order "Feed them!" Of the ten, four were given quinine, two held for surgery in the evening and three others provided with other such medicineS as Rosario's cabinet permitted.
The last was Colonel Solis.
"Do you want to talk about it? No?" The doctor sighed and muttered a few words in Mayan out the window. Promptly a boy handed him a few tortillas and a tin cup filled with beans and greasy scraps of some anonymous flesh.
"Take it slowly," Rosario advised, for Solis had already devoured the bread and attacked the meal with an enthusiasm that might prove a fatal shock to a stomach that must almost have forgotten what to do with food. "I'll do what I can while this..." he trailed off. "Anyway, if you work outside, you'll lose that pallor, although there is always difficulty getting enough to eat."
"I'll try," said Solis.
"Actually," said Rosario, "the work is not what you'll have to worry about. It's the rest of it, at night."
"Night?" Solis seemed incapable of more than a few words at one time.
"Night," the doctor repeated. "I can find some pretext to keep you here for a few days to build up your strength, but the new arrivals are locked up in the church. There's a different standard of authority there..."
"I know," the disgraced Colonel remembered. "I was in Belem," he added.
"Well then you understand the way that these things go," Rosario said. "Some people didn't... don't," he corrected, rather hastily, "they don't have the sort of background for these things, even from the other side."
"Who?" said Solis.
"I beg your pardon?"
The prisoner coughed, swallowing the last of the meal and wiping his lips with his sleeve. "Excuse my manners," he said. "I have had to adapt myself to these circumstances. But you may wish to know that things are not so different in prison, in Belem, from our own army. How? There is rank, leadership... and a certain order is imposed from within. Bravo is a subscriber to Mr. Darwin’s theory - he recognizes the authority of certain men as leaders, just as Don Porfirio recognizes your General Bravo." And the Colonel paused as if exhausted by the effort of so much speaking. "There is a caudillo in the chapel. Who is he?"
"The man is called Lo Matochino for he has, as you may understand, a particular hatred for the huaches. I'm not saying that he won't kill a Mexican or any one of our indians, not at all, but he has such a loathing of all Orientals that Bravo has consented to have ours stored in what used to be an ammunition warehouse."
"So the General acknowledges him."
"Well, if that is what you call it. He'd never admit to knowing the man but, of course, the General speaks with his Corporal, and the Corporal controls the Captain of the Guard who must deal with Matochino."
"Is that Boleaga? Is the rat still around?"
"The very same. Where else in all Mexico, I ask you, does a Captain, a Major, even Colonels tremble upon the words of an insignificant Corporal? The older Bravo grows, the more suspicious he becomes. Even his own son Tomas is in disfavor... a matter of the sale of some slaves of the wrong color. And Major Macias... he could help you too, if he were here, but he has been given a little village in the monte off the railroad for his very own to command. So the General has nobody to trust save those who come to him for benefits or to cause injury to their enemies. There is never an end of those! But what of you?"
The Colonel placed a finger to his lips. "I made certain enemies," Solis recalled, "who represented me as a revolutionary because I was not so quick, as they would have liked, to massacre villages of women, children and old men that the guerrillas left behind. Were they correct, the obvious recourse to me would be to kill this Matochino and unleash the wild horses of anarchy across this place, leaving them to take their course. But for the present, and despite this excellent supper, I am too weak to be interested in anything beyond my survival."
"I think that this is admirable," said the Doctor, "also, it has been my experience that the General does not look favorably upon those who harm the ones who keep order, deserving of death as they may be. However, Matochino also has the practice of killing those he perceives as rivals whether, in truth, they are or are not."
Solis nodded. "I've learned a few tricks of persuasion from an old sergeant who served under the French. These may give me the time I need until it is over."
"Until what is over?" asked Rosario.
Solis gestured widely to include the room, the hospital and more... the whole of Santa Cruz, the territory, even the Republic. There was a world in his grasp. "Things fall apart in Mexico. As this President, so goes the Republic."
Dr. Rosario nodded... sadly, for although such disorder would bring an end to his exile, he was a much older man now, and a much more cautious one. He called, perforce, for the boy to escort Solis to a hamaca, in which... with luck... he would be able to pass a few days before entering the church, where the other new prisoners would be gathered after their examination. He filled a glass with cognac and returned to the main room of the hospital.
Of sixteen hammocks, two contained those of the newcomers whose condition necessitated further attention and ten more were filled with those of the territory who had suffered injury or disease. Keeping a firm grasp upon the cognac, he dragged a chair behind him and placed it beside the hammock of a Yaqui who... for a reason still unexplained... had acquired a sudden attack of "lead poisoning" the previous night. There was nothing the doctor could do; his liver and intestines were pierced, infection had swiftly followed and his skin was now a mottled briarpatch of violet, brown and yellow.
Still conscious, the indian heard Dr. Rosario approach. With the last of his strength, he turned his head in the direction of the scraping sound. Rosario took a cigar from his pocket and lit it up. Having taken a few healthy puffs, he handed it to the dying man and raised the cognac in a toast. The Yaqui took one breath of smoke, shivered and, amidst a fanfare of grunts and farts and fluttering extremities, don del Muerte made his entrance onto that stage wherein all possibilities are closed.
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