As he finally reached the meadow of Malinche, the Major... no longer having to balance himself... slipped his right hand into his pocket and caressed the Browning. He was confident that it would perform despite the cold, but there was ice in his pocket, and if it had entered the barrel of the gun, it might just explode in his fist. (There were quite a few such unfortunates in the Territory, maimed by the misfiring of their own weapons... forced out by Bravo or the Major himself to cut brush or lay railroad tracks with the stumps that remained of their hands.)

          "We are looking at you," repeated a chorus of voices from atop the cabriolé of the witch princess who gave to the world its firstborn son of mixed descent, don Martin Cortes. "We are knowing you!"

          "Who are you?" the Major roared back. The little ovals scampered to and fro... briefly coming together as if in conference and then, in unison, cast off their shells...

          "Madre de Satanás!" he whistled. There were indian boys he had run with and scuffled with at Idznacab... Berto, of course, and Miguelito, whom he had struck with a stick at the age of eight... some men had lifted the boy from the place where he lay and carried him off; never to be seen again. (Don Antonio explained that the family had, as one, moved their domicile to another estanción thirty kilometers to the northwest.)

          As soon as each revealed himself, time and the Devil began its work upon the features of the spectre... one grew a long, pointed nose and great warts, another's hair fell out and then, in pale, chalky clumps caught up and whirled away by the wind and snow, chunks of his brow and jaw... leaving behind the face of a calaver. Their limbs rotted and dropped away, their ribcages imploded... nothing was left but the snow and the last of them, masked in a glittering disguise of silk and spun sugar...

          "You lie!" the Major shouted back to the decomposing spectres, "my brother is not dead! I... I despise him for taking Elena, but I will have nothing to do with Berto's demise!"

          Again the children's laughter enveloped him from those small places in the wind and snow that the little faces of the dead had crawled into following their dissembling...

          El huevo es su amigo!

          And José turned his face into the wind and the snow, for he did not want to see the last of these little goblins remove its mask. What a punishment for his sins... to know the shape and direction and, maybe, even the time of his death! He damned the snow and the souls of his friends betrayed... most of all his lying, devious brother and the fickle Elena Villareal Macias... and, for good measure, her children, also. There was abuse for Krankenhauer and his attaches. "Las cresas!" he spat, and a gust of wind upended him... from his knees, the Major swung a fist at his invisible foes, but they were not as Gerardo Moscoso, nor even the scavengers who had beaten him down the night before. He cursed the Jackal, of course, and Consuela, but also General Bravo, Felix Diaz and all the politicos of the Republic, and the corrupt foreigners who preyed upon them.

          And when he had exhausted his every snowflake of hatred and spite, he rose from his knees and stumbled back to the choza... finding it, though he could barely see in front of his face. "Buenas noches, you miserable shack," he cried, "buenas noches, zopilotes! No need to greet me with 'nevermores', sleep... sleep and find solace in your dreams. Remember... the egg is your friend!" There were five of the great, black birds now, roosting on the overturned railcar, their feathers rising and falling with the rhythm of their sleep and their dreams of carrion and, perhaps, Juan de la Cruz del Cielo. "A good night to you my satchel, awaiting our magic beans, to you, ashes, stones, bottles... though you are empty as my General's purse without his certificates... buenas noches, Gerardo," he hailed the Jackal, dancing a little, stumbling jig round the body which lay where he and Consuela had left it that morning... frost gathering on the dead man's beard and in the hollows of his eyes. He slapped his pockets. "Forgot to buy candles," he shrugged. "Too bad!"

          The cadaver was truly frozen, hard as a statue of iron, and the stink of him had solidified too... a lattice of rottenness that the Major could brush away from his face, though the crystals would stick to his hand and his clothes. "Not saying much, are we?" he taunted the Jackal. "But then, you were always a man to speak with actions. Remember that foxy old clerk of the courts of Jalisco, who made the mistake of not sharing the fruits of his office with his jefe politico, and got himself sent to the Territory?" José got down upon his hands and knees and spoke into the Jackal's face, as though the man might reply with a smile or even a whisper.

          "He thought that Bravo was going to set him up with a position counting muskets or... or teaching the Cruzob how to cheat at cards? Efrain something-or-other.  And instead he was sent to clear brush for the tracks, and began to lecture us on the law. I walked away from him, most of the officers did... but you just let him talk on and on, until there were some watching, thinking that you actually believed the man had a point to make, about justice in Santa Cruz. And then, with his mouth still moving, you brought your machete up from behind your back... and smack! It wasn't that his head came off with one blow, nor even that his lips continued moving... for we have heard several words issue from the throats of dead men, and not always pleasant sentiments, eh Gerardo? It was that he wore one of those high old collars from the last century and your machete went through it cleanly, so that the fellow died in style. You had a name for your machete, I remember, a woman's name... was it Marta? Matilda? Something with an 'M', but not Maria... Boleaga asked about this, you said it would be an offense towards the mother of Juan de la Cruz. You had faith... of a sort, and compromised for the butcher that you were... but you did have faith..."

          José stretched out on his side so that his lips were almost touching the left ear of El Chacol, which was barely visible in the gloom of night but for the hoarfrost that glittered like black ice. If left to the elements, might the dead man not acquire a carapace of black diamonds, like the obsidian that the Aztec priests prized above mere flint for their ceremonial bloodlettings?

          "A strong arm is a good thing to have, Gerardo, but a weapon sharp enough to slice through shoddy fabric as that barrister's collar... well, that is something that takes determination and effort, plenty of it! But where has that brought you to now? Has Juan de la Cruz taken mercy upon your for your faith. By God! I'd pay a hundred pesos just to see you in Paradise for five minutes. Poor old Saint Francis and the solemn Juarez, Cortes and Dante and His Eminence, the fallen Leo, would scatter like rabbits when you came, swinging your... your... damn, I still cannot remember!

          "One should not presume to steal above the station of his life," was the Major's final advice and then, exhausted, he rolled back, stared at the canvas and flags of nations he could not recognize for the darkness, as they sagged under their burden of snow, and then he fell asleep, next to the corpse of his quarry, the intermittent winds blowing snowflakes that would eventually his weary bones as would a dirty, white blanket.