THE INSURGENCE of CHAN SANTA CRUZ

 

BOOK SEVEN:  CUAHTENOTL EPACT

CHAPTER THIRTY

          The journey down the mountain to San Sebastien consumed rather more than two but less than three hours... being downhill, besides there being a better trail which improved with each hundred meters of descent. The weather was better also... although Lord Kin never divulged his full glory, the rain nearly ceased and the fog and drizzle became perceptibly lighter.

          A half kilometer above San Sebastien Alto, a pair of mounted Rurales closed in upon the voyagers, one from either side, their Mausers at hand. "Remove that peashooter from your belt, hombre, and place your hands behind your head." Refraining from pointing out that the little Browning had felled... after several shots, it is true... the ferocious El Chacol, José complied, but shouted back that he was a man of respect, a comercio with papers in his shirt... and if he could be only allowed to produce them, there would be none of this nonsense that he might be mistaken for a Zapatista, bent on some mission of plunder and revenge.

          "Very well," the foremost of the Rurales agreed, "but do so with deliberation and be assured that my cousin and I are expert riflemen."

          "Scourge of all of the rabbits of Morelos state, and Puebla also."

          "I am removing my passport and commercial licenses," José said, holding up the forged documents provided by Rico Malafonte in his right hand. "My name is Jorge Bustamente, and I am a trader in coffee for the Sanborns."

"Are you here to improve the quality of that ditchwater sold in San Sebastien?" inquired the Rurale, confirming the Major's suspicions that the evil brew of the panaderia... was it less than three days ago?... was the standard hereabouts, and excellence was an exception.

          "With the assistance of your jefe and, perhaps, the town clerk." José had placed a five-peso note among his documents, which the senior Rurale took as though it were his birthright, and not a gratuity. He held up the traveler's papers and smirked.

          "There is a fee of fifteen pesos, Señor Bustamente, to allow Zapatistas to go about their business."

          "I have a competitor," José retorted, "an unscrupulous fellow who pays no taxes, besides selling his bad coffee. I am quite willing to work with the military and political orders here but, as they are men of rank whom, I presume, guard their communities as jealous husbands, they will have to determine the division of the spoils."

          "If you are allowed to reach them. My duty is to shoot Zapatistas, unless they pay up... which fee is twenty pesos, now, for it looks like you are accustomed to simple beatings." And his cousin, a dull fellow now... as Armando, was there something in the air here, or water, to produce so many imbeciles?... laughed and drooled and nearly lost control of his horse which, doubtlessly, bore no little contempt for its master.

          So José did not flinch. The terrible uncertainties of the previous evening were behind him. Ghosts he feared... well, some of them. And the little eggs running about the meadow of Cuahtenotl... frankly, they disturbed him (although he knew his head, despite the blows, they must be only children). But these were a couple of louts... what had the German called such as Kanegis, lümmelen? He could defeat and destroy them without a gun, with only his hands... the horses were the principle weakness of these Rurales, though by no means the only one. But it would be easier, still, to outstand and outwit them.

          He lowered his arms and crossed them, daring the somewhat less obtuse of the Rurales to shoot him on the spot, watching for signs that the man was preparing to do just that. When none manifested, he repeated: "I am the Sanborns' agent for Puebla and Morelos. Perhaps you have heard of them. Politics is irrelevant to me but, if I am harmed, Sanborn's will send their detectives out from the capital, and these are hard men... plenty of army officers cashiered by our lunatic of a President. Boys like you... the only way you'd be able to save your skins, and only for a while, would be to join the Zapatistas yourselves. And for a measly fifteen pesos?

          "Besides," and he lowered his voice to a soothing murmur that followed in the wake of the wind that whistled through the pines and the raindrops that trickled off the cousins' saddles, "I know what you're up to! When you set out from town, you stop in the cafes and eat and drink without paying a bill, perhaps you do a service for the mesoneros now and then... haul a drunk out or pinch some fellow without money for his coffee. Well, when Sanborn's is installed in the cafes and I am the provider, you'll get a decent cup to start your day off, not the bitter swill of my competitor. But if you prefer... shoot!"

          And he turned his back.

          "I'm waiting..."

 

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