THE INSURGENCE of CHAN SANTA CRUZ

 

BOOK SEVEN:  CUAHTENOTL EPACT

 

CHAPTER TWENTY EIGHT

 

          "I am going to give you your freedom," José promised, at last; All Saints Day having dawned with rain of a rather less rigorous aspect, though the sun remained blotted and mottled by cold fog, as if ripped from the canvas of one of those French indeterminists whose daubs and blotches sometimes reveal order when viewed from a distance. The Major found himself imprisoned within the bleakest of landscapes, now; face crusted with dried blood and crisscrossed with a dozen new scars, the rest of his body aching as if consumed by influenza. "If you will, you might outrun me, reach the General's saddlebags before I catch up with you..."

          "Where would I go?" she replied. "And what would I do with Bravo's money that is not money at all any longer... take it to another bank? To be shot at by the custodians, and be forced to shoot them back?"

          The knots that he had tied had strengthened with all of the moisture of Cuahtenotl and the Major's chilled, trembling fingers could not loosen them. Finally, he untied the hammock and lay it in the mud, Consuela and all, pressed one of the ropes against a hearthstone and frayed and gnawed at it with the Jackal's machete until the strands parted and the General's mistress sat up, rubbing her wrists and ankles.

          "Going anywhere... nowhere? Think again," and José tapped his head. "I haven't grown soft, there's a job for you now. Wash yourself... and change those filthy clothes... we are going down to San Sebastien. You are going to remember every face, every creature whom this... this Gerardo spoke to or even glanced at while you were there, every proprietor of every store you set foot in, every patrón of every taverna that would serve him drinks."

          "And if I run away?" Consuela ridiculed him.

          "I still have my Browning," the Major said, slapping his knee, then tapping his head again to demonstrate his superior intellect. Then he frowned, scratched... along with a few of those miserable gray beetles, several tufts of his own hair came away between his fingers. He yawned, closed his eyes tightly, almost hoping that the witch would make a break for the door. When she was still there, he sighed and went to his satchel, which had reposed safely in the choza all the while, though its bottom was sodden and streaked with mud, also somewhat spattered with the blood of the dead man, still on the floor.

          He removed a matchbox, wrapped up in a dry shirt, and nodded at a pile of sticks which rested on a slab of rock still a few inches off the carpet of mud that now covered most of the floor of the choza. "Put those stones back together and get a fire going." He pointed to the coffeepot, lying on its side beneath the strange frieze of overlying tendrils of dark wood that comprised half the northern wall of the choza. "Rinse that out and boil some water... I don't suppose that the Jackal thought to bring coffee with him from San Sebastien?"

          "Gerardo hated coffee. He would drink it in Santa Cruz because that is what all of you dzulob drank, but he preferred tea as the English have it, with lemon. Every afternoon, once the sun began its descent, he would have me serve him a cup of tea..." she slid her fingers through a pile of rubbish, mostly bottles of caña, and removed a tin of loose, brown flakes. "Of course there is no lemon here..."

          José ordered her to turn her face to the miniature Asilo San Geronimo as he sloughed off the damp military greatcoat and removed his shirt... filthy with mud, sweat and bloodstains where the weapons of his adversaries on the plain below had raised great, red welts across the blue and purple blotches on his skin. He changed his trousers and, last of all, the socks that had fairly disintegrated... while his boots were off, he took the opportunity to clean and reload the Browning, replacing it in his belt where the Webley had been and feeling less the man for the diminution of his firepower. Consuela had no other Yucatec huipile, but there was a skirt among her few belongings in the choza and, over this, went one of the Jackal's own enormous shirts.

          "You'll be cold," he predicted, "but, in San Sebastien, I will buy you a sweater... and maybe some real shoes instead of those sandals. Shoes fit for dancing in." Suddenly a shape flashed by the eastern exposure... some sort of animal that caused the Major to raise his Browning.

          "I was told that there were no dogs in Cuahtenotl," he glowered.

          "This was his place, these mountains, but I have discovered that there are worse things here than dogs," Consuela shuddered.

          They shared a cup of the hot tea, passing it from hand to hand and so warming their outer as their inner selves while El Chacol slept the sleep of don del Muerte beside them and the two zopilotes never turned to face either the meal they contemplated, nor the unpleasant, featherless giants who sometimes injured them with their firesticks. They remained with backsides turned to José and Consuela, stolid as the guards of the Palacio in Mexico City who took, as their models, those Beefeaters who protected London's Buckingham Palace.

          Consuela did not ask of the Major's intent towards the dead man as they made ready to leave, but he anticipated her question and simply replied "...nobody can harm him further where he lies, but if someone does wish to take him, well, it won't matter to me!" And, after that, all he could say were words reminding Consuela to remind him to purchase candles when in San Sebastien.

          If the rain was less punishing than it had been Thursday afternoon and evening, it was colder and Consuela, shivering in the thin, white shirt, hurried down the trail to Cuahtenotl... having to stop on several occasions for the limping Major to catch up. There was a further interregnum when the reached level ground at the meadow, for José, despite his apprehensions, felt a need to return to Malinche's cabriolé and its attendant false pianos and look for his Webley in the grass and mud... a hopeless task he gave up on after perhaps half an hour while Consuela hopped on one foot, then on the other, like a frozen, impatient vulture, and shouted out at him "Venga! Venga!" and, perhaps once, or more than once to the Major's addled senses, "Vengaza!" Sober with his failed expectations, José fairly pushed her down the trail, hurrying despite his aches and, when they finally reached the village, continued to push her bodily across the plaza and into El Gato Vasilante, where he offended the solicitous Limón by demanding a copita of the Souvenir, and at once.

          The patron's mouth soured at the sight of Consuela, for he had known the Jackal, despite his words, and, although mean, El Gato still possessed the dignity that attends to bars from which women are excluded.

          There were, however, no other tipplers present... the hour was early, to be fair, and the patrón was still polishing his glasses. Not even the three foreign maggots.

          "Señor Bustamente, do you not remember... it was wholly consumed yesterday, while you were at cards with Doktor Krankenhauer and the Americans, Mister Smith and that other. It is gone... and what has happened to you? None of my business," he added as José rewarded him with a scowl. "Perhaps a copita of brandy... Mexican, alas, but of the better quality. It will at least keep you warm."

 

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