THE INSURGENCE of CHAN SANTA CRUZ

 

BOOK SEVEN:  CUAHTENOTL EPACT

CHAPTER FORTY

 

          José made a detour to the cemetery before returning to the choza. He told himself that it was because someone might still have knowledge of the Jackal... then, he admitted to curiosity about the rites of midnight, still more than an hour away. But, pacing through the mud between flickering candles in their palm tents, with the shadows of huddled mourners... silent now, maybe asleep despite the cold rain... arranged round the occasional rude cairn, he finally admitted his fear of returning to the choza, having failed again. How many days... how much failure would it take before he slunk back to Veracruz like a whipped dog, his tail between his legs?

          He had promised his General... and the shadowy interests behind Bravo, men of commerce and diplomacy appalled by the actions of Francisco Madero... a quick and certain resolution to the crisis. It was not in his character to admit failure. Like El Chacol, the world was his... and he took what he wished, no matter how others might complain.

          And... because he was still hungry and, of course, thirsty and cold... when he espied a grave whose mourners had not deigned to stay until the churchtower tolled midnight, he gobbled down the stew and tortillas left beneath the wooden cross, and pulled the cup of offertory caña out from beneath its little palm choza and drained it at one swallow. If any of the people of the dead watched, he did not care, nor notice, for they were only shadows, without faces, wheezing or praying in the rain.

          He would not fail. If he had to wring the truth from every one of these ciphers, even having to wring the life from their necks in the doing, he would empty the village completely before returning in his failure. He was the eagle-chosen, the right hand of don del Muerte, the Draco of Akbal.

          He gathered up a few candles from deserted gravesites and, also, another copita to warm his belly for the trek back to the Jackal's choza.

          Rafael Cedral appeared to him at the end of the rise, just before the muddy path turned into a small forest that hid his view of the dark mounds of the church and the Cat and other structures of the plaza and, also, the cemetery to the northwest, with its flickering corpse-lights. José could see the monte through the great, bloody hole in the belly of the Rurale who had descended, in life, to a soap thief, and flesh was also torn from his neck and thigh, hanging in long strips since the dog, Diablo, had eaten his fill. "Remember me?" Cedral mumbled, for his tongue was cut away, ears too... he continued following the Major, berating him, but could not strike him with a fist, nor lift any branch to injure the officer who had brought him to don del Muerte.

          "You ran to the right," José finally said, annoyed. "Had you turned left, you might have lived."

          The soap thief muttered an answer, but José had ceased listening to him for... ahead... were perhaps a dozen men, all of sorrowful aspect. Some were Cruzob... or indians of an aspect of the Cruzob... that he had helped Aureliano Blanquet set afire, others had died on the beach at Vigia Chico and there even were two mutilated worse than Cedral, those he had ordered thrown to the crocodiles of Akbal.

          "You should have shot us, first," one of these complained, "instead of leaving us in the swamp, trussed like animals. It is a horrible thing to be eaten alive..."

          "We would have remained at Vigia Chico for Baltazar Perez to return," protested another, rejected by the slaver. "You said we would be set free in the monte, where we could have made our way to a chicle camp... then you ordered your man to kill us all?"

          "Did I not also allow a Padre to hear your confessions, even provide you with rum before the Sergeant brought you to Gloria?" José snapped back. "You lied, before the face of Juan de la Cruz, you professed repentance for your sins, but lied... else you would be with Him now instead of this pox of a village." The ghosts, ashamed for their wickedness, let him pass... although newer, different shades materialized ahead.

          "Has the Devil been able to persuade you that a fair day's work for your life is preferable to running away," he scolded one of those henequeros flayed alive, "when all that there is for one as you to run towards is the grave? And I expected you here, somewhere, Dina Sanchez... was death a respite for your sufferings? No? Well, at least you are not so far from Taxco... it's just over those mountains to the west. Haven't I done you a favor, bringing you here?"

          The Major glared round his audience of spectres, rewarding one and all with a smirk. "A sad lot... there is not one of you whose death brings me pride, you may just as well have been among the wretches of Dr. Rosario's hospital! And useless... where is the Jackal? Him, I would speak to! At least one of you can tell me where he is, or a fellow from long ago, a priest or one who pretended to be so whom I sent to Hell with my own hands... well, one of Ruben's knives did play a part. He had a goatee... where are you? Cabron!..."

          The dispirited spirits veritably fled as José resumed thrashing up the trail, stinging them with oaths as he had punished their bodies in life. A few of the bravest continued trailing him, though attempting to hide behind rocks and trees if he looked back... which he did less and less often, and with swelling contempt.

          "Hasn't it reached midnight yet," the Major now complained, emerging from the copse to the east of the valley and setting one foot carefully in front of the other to make the final twenty meters' climb. "I have had enough of ghosts and rain, and of these mountains, also." His limbs still ached from the blows dealt him by the Jackal and by those unknown villagers... some of whom certainly were still at the vigil, passing themselves off as Christians! Why couldn't a volcano open up at the summit where the railroad tracks turned north towards Puebla and bury this pigsty like certain other places richly deserving destruction? Pompeii came to mind, also Sodom and Gomorrah as he reached the clearing of the small plateau on which the choza teetered, willing himself to silence as he passed the Futurist mural with its ambitious charge and rounded the corner where eight... no, ten zopilotes now perched on the rail of the miniature Pullman, engrossed in a spectacle so astonishing that the Major could not even pull his Browning, as was his immediate instinct.

          Consuela lay over the fallen Chacol, fully clothed but in an apparent trance, her hands cradling the shaggy head of the cadaver, back arched, hips thrusting to a rhythm of the Devil's violin as her eyes fluttered and either sweat or rainwater from one of the holes in the roof poured down her face. "Querido!" she moaned, "...furia, animál! Montame, mi caballo! Ahhh...!"

          But the extent of her infamy only became apparent when the seething Major stepped forward and kicked her, hard, on the thigh... knocking her sideways and exposing the engorged stump of the Jackal, thick and oozing a blue sap like the zapote of a diseased tree. "Infamia!" cried José, "miserable witch!" Consuela scuttled backwards on her knees, eyes blazing with so furious a hatred that the Major actually averted his face, glanced towards the entrance to the choza to fall under the scrutiny of those big black birds, silent in condemnation, gawking at him as if he were a comic villain of a one-act zarzuela, or a circus cuckold.

          Now he reached for the Browning, but his fingers were still frozen... he fumbled the little automatic and it plunged into the mud of the floor. "Cabron!"

          "He would have given me what I needed," the General's hag spat, "...he!... not you, not that pitiful old man..."

          "Chankik?" the Major found a calm space to reply, and she leaped up and threw herself at him with nails scratching for his eyes, her hot breath hissing as her teeth scraped the underside of his chin. He fell back heavily and Consuela's fingernails raked the scabs on the back of his right hand that he had placed before his eyes. Only an instinctive roll prevented the toe of one of those new boots that she had bought with the Major's largesse from depriving him of his manhood... José took the blow on his left hip, two more on the thigh, just beneath.

          "Dzulob bastard," she raged, "son of a whore..."

          "You'll not defame my mother," the Major howled, lashing out with his feet and tripping the witch, who fell heavily against the roof of the railcar, causing the zopilotes... ten or, by now, an even dozen of them... to hop upwards and flap their filthy, black wings sequentially, like an honor guard raising sabres before the bride and groom at a military wedding. Consuela's fingers closed round the neck of one of the many empty liquor bottles in the choza and she hurled it at the Major who had, by this time, achieved one knee... José blocking it with his left forearm, though some of the splinters that arose as it shattered peppered his cheek, fingers and chin.

          "Witch!"

          "Mexicano!"

          He charged as a bull might, blinded more by wrath than the glass, slipped as he did and careened by her, into the backside of the Futurist mural. The impact tore a sheath of canvas from the roof and all its accumulated rainwater cascaded down atop the major, driving his hat downwards over his eyes and, with an unerring instinct for emasculation, she kicked at him again... a blow that José avoided by twisting at the last instant, catching it on his right hip, this time. Again it was instinct, more than reason that impelled him to thrust his bleeding right hand into the top of his boot, where he normally kept the Browning, a gesture of futility that gave Consuela the opportunity to kick his elbow, twice. Numbness radiated up the Major's arm, his fingers would not open or close as he willed them, and he rolled over and over in the mud towards the largest colony of empty bottles, grasping one and flinging it at her left-handed, nearly blind. He hurled another and another... too desperate, even, to see whether he had hit anything, his only impulse being to regain his footing.

          "What have you done with the General's saddlebags?" he screamed out, holding the last bottle of caña he had pulled from the pile by the neck in his left hand... the comparison with the Jackal's last moments streaming through his memories like a greasy tide. However old the bottle was, there was a tiny bit left and this streamed over his fist, causing the wounds to sting as if he'd plunged his hand into an ants' nest.

          "You'll never find them," Consuela sizzled back. "You'd have to kill me... and I still wouldn't tell you what I know. Gerardo was a man, the General... old as he was... was a man, but you... you! What do you do to women, what did you do out there, in Akbal? I know Baltazar Perez, remember? You let your brother sweep away your beloved and you do nothing... you go to the prostitutes of Merida and Cuba, but to break their necks, as if they were like that... that thing which you are holding."

          And the Major actually looked down at the bottle of caña in his fist.

          "How do you... how can you speak of such infamies?"

          "And you would cheat the General too, just as Gerardo tried, only perhaps you would be able to talk the bankers into giving you his money. And what then?"

          "You won't be around to see," José promised, waving the bottle back and forth a bit to acclimate his nerves to left-handedness, and to work the stinging out of his fist.

          "Are you going to kill me, too?" Consuela taunted. "The way you kill anyone who understands your nature... you! who call yourself as an eagle?"

          "I am eagle-born," José answered proudly.

          "By the deformed almanac of the Mexicans, perhaps. But Juan de la Cruz does not reckon the dias intercalarios by the wheel of four years, as the dzulob Papa Grigorio advised, he waits for the cycle of fifty two, and then appends thirteen days or, sometimes, twelve. How we ridiculed you!... the mazehualob of Chan Santa Cruz, and of Idznacab, also, the hired butcher who played the eagle in his own mind! Would you know your aspect... it knows you! Look, they are watching you, their brother! Ask them if they feel shame that one so stupid shares their birthright... ask! Look!"

          And, despite himself, the Major followed her finger to the railcar behind her and to the right, and to its tenants, who turned, as one, towards José, gauging his reaction to this news.

          Enraged, he hurled the bottle at her skull... the witch turned partially, but gasped as the missile struck her on the back, just beneath her neck. Stepping forward, José balled the bleeding, throbbing fingers of his left hand and, as Consuela turned back towards him, made a short arc of his fist, a missile that exploded on the point of her chin.

          The snake-woman dropped beside the grinning, putrid Jackal like ordure from a cart horse; one arm, flung wide, stroking the stubble of his beard reflexively, one of her legs, twitching convulsively, crossing the dead man's groin. Consuela's eyes fluttered, then shut, her mouth sagged open and, atop a crest of green, oozing ichor, her obscene, forked tongue lolled out... tapered and narrowed almost into arrowlike tips (the only evidence that she was not of the world of men, or women, as most know them). Massaging the searing pain in his knuckles with the equally mauled fingers of a right hand, only beginning to know any sensation of their own, the Major... nonetheless... glanced over his shoulder at his bald, black-feathered audience, and his features twisted into a dreadful smirk.

          "I may be brother to you, or not," he allowed, glancing back to the bodies in the mud, "but you must grant that I have been an excellent provider."

 

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