THE INSURGENCE of CHAN SANTA CRUZ

 

BOOK SEVEN:  CUAHTENOTL EPACT

CHAPTER THIRTY SIX

 

          But José did, after all, follow Consuela into the little church on the plaza. It was the sight of the jefe, Patricio, in a dress uniform of his office, greeting parishioners as they gathered at the door. So many people! José wondered what they did when the garbage train failed... where were their cattle, their milpas? Perhaps the former had been penned up in a secret place against the evils of the days of Epact, but what about the pigs? Garbage towns depended on their pigs... José knew of several in Yucatan and, also, Campeche where the pigs ate the garbage, and the villagers ate the pigs. Was their fear of the village dead so great that they had brought their pigs into their houses to live for five full days?

          The Major did not even want to think about birds, for they reminded him of the sentinels, waiting back at the choza. The zopilotes had held their places after he and Consuela left, as they had refused to enter the night before... it was as if there had been a contract drawn up, that they would not enter the hovel, even if unoccupied, but would wait until the carcass of Gerardo Moscoso was dragged out, under the sun or the rain, to begin to tear him apart.

          One of those milling about the entrance to the church, or already seated within, would certainly know of the boy who had become Bravo's ferocious El Chacol... where he played, where he hid, what places were precious to him. The Major would have that knowledge, if it required the rigorous questioning of every ragpicker in town.

          They descended to the plaza carefully, for the weather... poised on the frontier between snow and sleet, ice and rain... had made the path treacherous. By the time they had reached the church, all but a few of the parishioners had entered... these were apparently Nahuatl speakers, indians or nearly so, who followed the advice of their ancestors that one makes it through the unlucky days by drinking as much as one can hold or afford. The Jefe Policia, Patricio, was about to enter and bar the door to the church behind him when the Consuela, her new, white Celtic wool sweater bobbing through the rain, led a limping José Macias to the gateway of God.

          "I am pleased to find you here," said the Major, "for I have further intelligence worth your consideration."

          "And I have something to share with you, Señor Bustamente," replied Patricio. "Go, shake the wet from your clothes in the lobby, take a seat in the rear and I shall come to you."

          José swiveled his neck towards the shuttered Gato, though the gesture brought pain and tiny red dots of fire flashed before his eyes.

          "Are you making a joke with me, Jorgecito?" the jefe chided, "and on the day of All Souls? Very, very dangerous! Limón and Whelk remain dedicated Positivists... despite that idiot who now calls himself our President... and, if you are speaking of those others..."

          He did not complete his sentence, nor need to. After shaking such water from his clothes in the manner of certain wet dogs, José led Consuela into the nave, wherefrom they quickly found seats in the last of the surviving pews on the south side. The congregation was not divided, with the men on one side, women and children on the other, but all mixed, in a promiscuous way and, furthermore, there was a small table below and to the left side of the counterfeit altar, facing the parishioners. Behind this was the sacristan, an old man of vaguely familiar aspect... for it seemed as if the parish was as many of those deep in the indian villages of the peninsula, where some half-Catholic xaman intervened between the ladino priest and the people, as the priest served as emissary to God.

          Padre Luis was fair as Krankenhauer or the American, Ferriday, though somewhat older than the latter, and his blond hair, under its Roman cap, was lank and greasy, as though he had just stepped from his harlot's bed. "Réquiem aetérnam dona eis Dómine," he welcomed his parishioners, "et lux perpetua luceat eis."

          And the sacristan replied, in Spanish: "Eternal rest give unto thy children, O Lord: and let perpetual light shine upon them."

@

          The jefe slid into the pew, nudging José in his aching ribs. "Didn't I tell you that the man was unconventional? Look at this place! They'd have excommunicated him long ago, but I've heard that his father is a most important fellow... a bishop, in Guadalajara, perhaps, or was it Monterrey? They've made him consent to holding Mass in Latin, but he has this old fellow translating into the vulgate...

          He nudged José again as the sacristan translated the Padre's Epistle of the Corinthians... "The trumpet shall sound and the dead shall rise again incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality."

          "Do you know him?" the jefe smirked. "He knows you!"

          "O death, where is thy victory?" the sacristan translated, while his parishioners nodded to hear the words of Juan de la Cruz in their own tongue. "O death, where is thy sting? Now the sting of death is sin: and the strength of sin is the law..."

          José frowned. "He is that one who gave to me the man in the red shirt."

          "Eliseo Martín," Patricio nodded. "Very good! By the way, Señor Bustamente, Kanegis has not been seen round our humble pueblo for a while... and he is not the sort to be afraid of spirits. I suspect he rather enjoys those that come out of a bottle. Would you know where he has gone?"

          "After I paid him off for witnessing an unfortunate misadventure, I believe that he went down to San Sebastien. Certainly the choice of spirits is more varied there."

          The jefe glanced towards Consuela, who merely lifted her chin... haughty as a duenna in the company of tradesmen. "About that misadventure..."

          "I am still arranging details," José hissed. Meanwhile, Padre Luis, performing the customary ablutions and footsteps, read the gospels of the dead from John, and Eliseo... whose voice was the clearer and more resonant, translated:

"The hour cometh wherein all that are in the graves shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and they that have done good things shall come forth unto the resurrection of life, but they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of judgment.

And the priest replied "Glory to God!" and the congregation replied "Amen!"

          José bent his lips nearer the ear of Patricio and whispered, "I believe that I have found the name of the one whom I seek..."

          "The thief who stole your magic beans?"

          "Do not speak that way among others, or I shall be forced to...

          "To do what, cafetero?" said the jefe, turning to stare down the visitor, though adjudging him a man capable of violence. But, then, the fellow had a weakness... he was certainly not whom he appeared.

          They remained glaring at each other throughout the Padre's singsong reading of the Dies Irae and old Martín's canonical translation... eyes locked, nostrils flaring, neither condescending to look downwards to see what might have crept into the other's hand.

"Dies irae, dies illa, Solvet saeclum in faviílla..."

          "Day of wrath! O day of mourning, See fulfilled the prophets warning; Heaven and earth in ashes, burning..."

"Mors stupébit et natúra, Cum resúrget creatúra, Judicánti responsúra."

          "Death is struck, and nature quaking, All creation is awaking, To its judge, an answer making!"

          As if ashamed of the character of the priest, the Latin words that issued from the tongue of Padre Luis were hollow, synthetic as the debris that was the bedrock of Cuahtenotl; those of the old sacristan were precise, and magisterial.

"Judex ergo cum sedébit," Padre Luis continued his banal intonation like a Profesor reading bad verse: "Quidquid latet apparébit, Nil inúltum remanébit."

          "When the Judge His seat attaineth, And each hidden deed arraigneth, Nothing unavenged remaineth," responded Eliseo Martín.

          José nodded slightly, acknowledging the resolution of the jefe of this sad place. Not that he would spare an instant in murdering him, should the need arise, but he had a need of Patricio... for the moment... and the fellow did hold a card over him. It was a damp place, this village, a city of the dead and the discarded under the protection of muan... the vultures... unsuited for eagles or any of their kind.

          "Thou the sinful woman savedst... Thou the dying thief forgavest..."

          "Remember," said the Major, as if to impress his will upon the other by reverting to their estate of the Palacio Municipal... the man of force, distinction, of many names, and his common information-seller. "The tuno is an Army deserter, and his name was... is... Gerardo Moscoso."

          "Moscoso," the jefe frowned, "I do not recall any families of that name here."

"Oro supplex et acclínis," Padre Luis brazened it out. "Cor contrítum quasi cinis. Gere curam mei finis."

          "Low I kneel, with heart-submission. See, like ashes, my contrition: Help me in my last condition."

          "Forgive me!" the priest declared, in Spanish. And the jefe did an extraordinary thing... he rose from his seat and went to the lobby... which is called narthex in cathedrals and churches of distinction, but was, here, only a shabby room in which parishioners could shake the water from their clothes before taking their seats. Patricio rattled the timbers of the old door and struck its deadbolt with the heel of his hand to be sure that it was locked, marched up the aisle and scrutinized every face that was there... perhaps some two hundred observants of All Souls Day.

          "Forgive me," repeated Luis, but pridefully, beginning to gather confidence from the approval of his congregation. "The language of my fathers is old, and no longer useful anywhere on this world... which we know to be round, though we pretend not. Ancient are the days and the customs of the world and this most holy Catholic and Apostolic Church; timeless and without end the glories of Juan de la Cruz."

          "Cabrón!" the Major swore. Were these Cruzob sons of bitches everywhere?

          "Faith there is, which has its roots deep in the soil of tradition. We ask: what does Juan de la Cruz desire other than that one day become as the last, and as the next. And the harmony of concord is sweet to the ear of the Almighty. But we are also informed, right from the beginning of the first of the books of Our Lord, the book of Genesis, that we are shaped in the image of God... and so, God must also be our mirror, shaped with all our faults and virtues. Otherwise, Juan de la Cruz would have come down to us with the face and hooves of a goat, as the demoniacs would have it, or a Roman bull, or Aztec crocodile." And the congregation replied with laughter... but of a polite nature, low of pitch and quickly dissipated, and, once again, José heard the tapping of rain against the old roof, as if the fingers of some vile creature seeking to gain entry.

          "So we are, for better or for worse, what God has made us... and we pray to Him to be given advantage over other men that our lives be long, our children many and our property increase. And He asks of us in return... what? That we lead lives of chastity and peaceableness and charity... but that is not enough, for He has shown that a little commotion must come into being now and again. Juan de la Cruz grows bored, as we do, he sometimes makes the ground shake and mountains purge themselves of fire, like those who patronize El Gato, purging themselves of too much caña. God seeks amusement as we do... and though he accepts our servility as his right of Creation; he takes pleasure from testing our resolution through adversity, and the greater delight from trials we set for ourselves, and others, of that free will which he has granted us, as is the consensus of all theologians and worldly philosophers alike. Juan de la Cruz drinks the tears of our suffering as caña, and our special agonies as the finest cognac, whether we suffer for him or, as Joshua teaches and Saint Augustine affirms, bring suffering down upon the stranger and alien in His name."

          Padre Luis cleared his throat, and glanced towards Patricio, who nodded as if to assure the priest that no outsider had violated the ragged sanctuary... save for the Major, of course, and for Consuela.

          "Many are the years and great the mysteries of the wanderings of Jesucristo... both from His appearance in the Temple of Jerusalem to His wanderings in the desert, which number eighteen years, and after His ascension. Most certainly, He did preach to the Mexicans... whether in the person of the King Quetzalcoatl, or as another, a man of no importance. The souls of Europe have grown lean with wealth and ease of living, as those of the priviligiados in that great Babylon below... the souls of Mexico are strong, and the necessities of Juan de la Cruz also severe. And He was gratified by the blood of the sacrifice of men, under the laws and customs of Mictlantecuhtli, the Angel of Death. And the cities of the Mexicans, here and to the southeast, flourished, and Juan de la Cruz rewarded his faithful with prosperity."

          José started... for the Padre's words were clearly heretical. He turned to Consuela, but she regarded him with an ancient hauteur, one assassin to another. And, as Luis drank from a clear glass on the salvaged altar, beneath the absurdly grinning Turk on the cross... a clear substance that may have been water, or something else... the Major took a longer look at the canvases that had taken such places on the walls as were the proper abode of the stations. He beheld swirling fantasies of maroon and violet and black... here and there a corpse butchered like a pig, or an impossibly shriveled, skeletal face in white or yellow... as the grimmest of decadent portraiture from the infamous gallery of the Sar Peladán, in Paris.

          "God's justice, and his mercy, compel the faithful to walk a narrow path," Padre Luis resumed. "On the one side is indolence that, in its flowering, becomes contempt for God's rites and observations and the precious suffering. But, on the other, lies excess... the sin into which Mexico fell when its people forgot Juan de la Cruz, and pursued the taking of human hearts indiscriminately, for the satisfaction of their own blood lusts. And Juan de la Cruz sent Cortes, to overthrow the altars of excess and institute four centuries of slavery and decadence, which has not been the absence of cruelty, but its disassociation from the name of God. Now the time of moral invalidism is almost at its end... God's warnings resound everywhere! From the volcano of Colima to the overthrow of great leaders like Diaz and King Edward of the English... the capture of the Presidency by a little goblin whose hair conceals his horns, his cloven hooves hidden in the boots of a ranchero. Nothing, however, masks the otherwordliness of Madero to the heart that is faithful to Juan de la Cruz, the loyal heart that knows what follows the goblin shall be worse... far worse... and, yet, is unafraid. We petition thee, Almighty God, with neither cringing nor slaughter, but with strong blood, taken justly. "Cor Jesu sacratís simum, miserére nobis! Panem de caelo praestititísti eis."

          "Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy upon us," Eliseo translated, bearing a tray that was not silver but, to the Major's eye, of that same Bakelite as the great bottle of Lévignac's Tonic. Upon it reposed a bell-shaped chalice (that reminded José of the campana of the Caballeros!) and a plate of tortillas. "Thou didst give them bread from Heaven!"

          "Orémus!" exhorted the Padre, and, from the campana, lifted a bloody filet of flesh, which caused the resolute Major Macias to turn to Consuela...

          "Cabron! That is a human heart, up there, in that bowl..."

          "And is it the first you have ever seen in your career of infamy?" she replied

 

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