THE INSURGENCE of CHAN SANTA CRUZ

 

BOOK SEVEN:  CUAHTENOTL EPACT

CHAPTER TWENTY NINE

And so "Jorge" ordered the brandy and a cup of coffee besides and, also, coffee for shivering Consuela, thereby preserving both his own façade of gallantry and the dignity of the tavern and tavernkeeper by refraining from asking that the woman be served alcohol. But when their beverages were before them and Limón at the other end of the bar, counting his stock, the Major poured a finger of the brandy into Consuela's cup, winking and pressing a forefinger over his puffed, blood-encrusted lips. There would be no penalty to him, except for the loss of a few cents, for he simply ordered another copita and, if Limón detected liquor on the breath of the Jackal's corteja, he did not give voice to his suspicions.

          They sat and sipped in silence for another half hour, then José told Limón, "We are going to San Sebastien for the day."

          "Good for you," the patron replied. "Any opportunity one takes to leave this place... for a day, even an hour, that is a blessing from the hand of God."

          Just as they were getting up to leave, young Ferriday burst through the swinging doors of the Cat with a smile wide as a Kansas sky that widened when he saw Consuela. The American removed his hat and the golden curls streamed down the sides of his head as he sank to one knee.

          "Marry me!" he proposed.

          Doktor Krankenhauer, propelling his bulk through the door with a grunt, then a chuckle, replied: "You have been seeking adventure, young man; here is adventure of a sort that may prove beyond your capacities." The secretive cardsharp, Mister Smith, slithered around the great, fat Professor of Americanism and the kneeling boy and, as he drew near Consuela, they fairly hissed at one another.

          José removed the battered brown hat from the pocket of his overcoat, slapped it against his thigh and placed it carefully on his head at a slight tilt to the right... where those handfuls of hair had come out. How could he be losing his hair, the Major wondered... don Antonio's scalp was full and healthy, though of a gray, turning slowly white.

          "I have located the medicine man," boasted Krankenhauer, removing a small vial from his coat. "And erblicken!... here is the gateway to the Aztec mysteries and, I am told, also those which brings the gift of the second sight."

          José was ready to push the old, useless windbag aside, but something in the Doktor's last words caused him to stop.

          "Do you mean that the... what you have allows, let us say, communion with the spirits, of the sort that the President is said to practice?"

          "Exactly! Why I was told that with a few flakes of this potion on my tongue... I'm afraid it's nasty stuff, they boil the mushroom and the little worms together, beat it into a paste, dry it out... anyway, I have a few questions for Moctezuma himself, and I shall have my answers. "They..." he dismissed his companions, "...are little men, with great fears, but perhaps the elegant and intrepid Señor Bustamente, who is not afraid of rain, nor wind, will consider this little potion of the ancients to help him find his magic beans."

          "Magic beans!" hooted Ferriday, rising from his posture of failed supplication as Consuela and Smith continued to glare at one another like a couple of tomcats. "It's all over town... though behind closed doors, you're the fool of the village, Jorge, the simpleton looking for his magic beans. You'll hear it from everyone, when they come out! Everybody knows that, if you want good coffee or a job... or adventure, for that matter... you had best go to Veracruz."

          "Well, I am going to San Sebastien for the day," José replied, suppressing his instinct to draw the Browning and shoot the young idiot in the belly... not fatally, but in such way that he would remember to mind his tongue. But Krankenhauer had already unstoppered the little vial and was shaking a few flakes of the noxious powder into a heavy, perfumed envelope with a German return address that the Major was unable to decipher before the Doktor sealed it, folded it in half, then into quarters, then eighths and handed it across.

          "Consider this my contribution to your quest for magic beans, be they in San Sebastien, Veracruz, or the Land of Nod. May you also find giants, a cabriole and team for your princess and one of those hens that lays the golden eggs! We shall regret your absence as companion and your perspicacity at whist. And now, exalted publican Limón, draw a copita of brandy on my tab and also what my companions will have, and we shall toast my good fortune... here, as it is again too dreary to actually search for antiquities, or oil gear, eh, Smith? Are you sure I cannot buy you and the lovely lady a drink?"

          "Very well, two beers for the journey," said José and Limón handed him a pair of bottles of his finest.

          "Adios!" the maggots called out, and the Major tipped his hat, placed his free hand against Consuela's back, guiding her towards the door as Limón nodded with relief. That a woman in a bar was bad luck must have been compounded seven times by the misfortune of the Epact and, though a businessman, the patrón was also, clearly, a believer.

          The church was deserted, the governmental palace locked. Fortunately, José had not lost the certificates of death for Kanegis, the Jackal... and that other... despite the rain and the soreness of two serious beatings in only three days, the Major's step as he showed Cuahtenotl his back was almost jaunty. Had he been a man who cared for the feelings of others, and asked after them, someone... a brave or very foolish person... might have told him that such temporary lightness of spirit was just that as decent people felt upon departing Akbal.

          For one of the few times in his life... although without exactly knowing why... the hunter, turned hunted, was experiencing the gratifications of escape.

 

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