THE INSURGENCE of CHAN SANTA CRUZ

 

BOOK SEVEN:  CUAHTENOTL EPACT

CHAPTER FORTY ONE

 

          It was the Major's overconfidence, then, that nearly cost him his life – for an imp of obsession had entered his mind with Consuela's words, and he fairly convinced himself that... knowing, all the while, the Jackal's hiding place... she had taken the saddlebags with her back into the choza or, at least, near to it. Therefore, he busied himself for ten minutes, throwing up stones and mud and bottles already turned over in a vain search for the saddlebags as the pitiful grave candles brought up the mountain flickered and the witch lay sprawled over her lover’s corpse, green ichor still oozing downwards from her lips. Rain spattered the corner of the choza by the Futurist mural where the canvas had parted company with the roof, and as he labored, José filled the air and warmed himself, also, with a string of vituperations and mal ojo... directed, foremost, at the bodies in the mud, but also against Francisco Madero, his lackey Rivera and the feckless Felix Diaz, finally (and despite his loathing for Consuela) against Rigoberto and Elena.

          The saddlebags were still missing; he'd even rolled the Jackal over with a foot to be certain that she had not dug a hole in the mud beneath him, hiding the General's lucre as the honeycomb beneath the lion. Doing so had the additional virtue of again concealing the oozing stump that the witch had exposed in pulling down Gerardo's trousers... now, he lay atop her with both cheeks bare and beslimed, small white grubs writhing as they dropped from his anus onto the mire of the choza floor.

          "Have at it, jovenes!" the Major advised as he ducked through the menacingly sagging canvas and flags of the door.

          His foot had stirred some noxious gases within the carcass of Gerardo Moscoso, causing the dead man to groan as if stricken with an intestinal pain, and the zopilotes on their rail to hop from one foot to the other anticipating their feast... murmurings both high-pitched and low escaping their gullets.

          The quickening rain drove José back into the choza after only a few minutes' futile searching... time enough, however, for Consuela to recover her senses, obtain a weapon and conceal herself in a corner of the choza behind a hanging flap of canvas. Fortunately, it was the Jackal's machete she had found, not the Browning, and when the Major entered, wet and swearing, the dozen zopilotes screeched and flapped their wings, and José ducked so that her thrust... although ripping through his overcoat and shirt... merely creased his back from shoulder to spine, without piercing a kidney, liver or vital organ.

          He rolled against her heavily, knocking the witch backwards and Consuela fell heavily against the thickest part of the tonic bottle. Its foundations loosened by the rain and wind, it now revolved ninety degrees, the neck spinning against the Major's knees and tripping him neatly... he stumbled backwards and beheld the grinning, phosphorescent Monsieur Lévignac just before his skull slammed into the exposed, swelled abdomen of the Jackal, who lay on his back, again, after Consuela had crawled out from beneath him. Stretched like a balloon with the vapors of don del Muerte, Gerardo's belly exploded and a ceviche of morsels of stomach and intestine, bowels and skin, unmentionably odious fluids, liquefied feces and astonished maggots erupted about his head like a cloacal Colima of putrefaction, rife with acids that burnt and scarred his face, like caustic sulfur.

          Consuela still held the machete, but stagnant water that had gathered within the open-mouthed tonic bottle over, perhaps, years spewed out as the prop bobbed in its cradle of mud... the hair and eyebrows of its patron writhing furiously. By the grace of Jesucristo, it had come to rest over José's pilfered candles, all but one of which expired in a veil of steam that ascended with the glowing green gases of the dead Jackal, leaving both combatants blinded and, further, separated by the flag of... was it Uruguay?... which had detached from the roof, spilling even more water into the choza. The whole structure was rapidly falling apart... not like the manse of Usher under the sledge of time and timeless evil, but by the violence of those within, the living and the dead. The last image that the candles revealed to José, as he vomited up all the caña he had consumed and, also, the graveyard stew, were several tufts of wispy, blond hair within the latter, one so curled that it almost could have served a ring for a slender, beloved finger...

          Consuela still held the machete... but, upon the rupture of El Chacol, the zopilotes alighted en masse... all necks and beaks and flapping, black wings, surrounding and covering the Major like a heavenly blanket of protection as she chopped and hacked and swore, and feathers rose and fell with the screams of birds and the cries and curses of people. Still drenched in his victim's ordure, the Major rolled away and his battered, lacerated fingers, scrabbling through the mud in his ignominious flight, providentially closed around the Browning.

          José rose up from the mire as Lazarus unsaved and blinded, garbed in all of the filth of Cuahtenotl... the Browning quavering left to right, up and down as Consuela stabbed out with the Jackal's machete at those shadows which, in the dark of the choza, seemed a darker darkness.

          Each waiting for the other to make a sound, a mistake...

          Mutely, the Major extended his left hand towards the barrel of the Browning; kneading it, trying to wipe away the mud and filth that would certainly cause the little automatic to explode, leaving his hand and fingers as shredded as the Jackal's. His breath came in short, painful gasps... the pantings of a beaten dog he hoped could not be detected beneath the sound of the zopilotes tearing into flesh besides, of course, the relentless raindrops and, perceiving the futility of this cleaning, he raised the gun to his own mouth, licking the barrel and sucking clods of earth from its muzzle.

          Consuela thrust out at a perceived movement and one of the vultures angrily protested his injury. She stepped back, the "plotch!" of a boot rising out of the mud before settling in again betraying her situation next the fairycastle of the San Geronimo insane asylum, back against the knotty, carved frieze.

          "We don't have to kill each other," the Major suggested, conceding what might have been an advantage... although he would not have wished to lay money down upon the trustworthiness of the Browning after such abuse. "If you would tell me where the saddlebags are, we could go back to Veracruz together, even to Havana. The General is a practical man, he would rather have his money than your head, and we would settle, upon you, a sum enabling you to live in comfort anywhere that you wished. You could leave Mexico and go to whatever place you desired... I've heard there are provinces in Germany where witches are numerous and respected, also the American state of Massachusetts. You are thinking, not lunging out, now, and that is a start..."

          No sound returned to him save that of the vultures... granted, at last, their permission to be seated at the banquet, ripping into the exposed, putrefying viscera of the Jackal, cackling with delight.

          "What is it that you want?" he appealed when Consuela remained silent... and then he knew the answer before she spoke.

          "You saw a theatrical prop that has become part of a wall," she finally replied, "but did you really see what the artist intended? This is a replica of the raft of snakes, upon which Jesucristo crossed the ocean to Jerusalem? They are only wood... Belizian mahogany to be sure... but, on the last day of the dzulob Anno Domani 999, the sole begotten son of He who keeps the canopy of the skies from falling like the sad roof of this choza sailed away on his mission of mercy to the Jews and godless, soulless beings of that which you call Europe. We know the dzulob to be stupid... they read the old stones, but make errors not only of days but whole katunes; whether they misapply their own time by a thousand years out of ignorance or in an attempt to fool the mazehualob is a thing that I shall never know. What we know is this: Jesucristo sailed East upon a raft of snakes, and although they were living serpents and elegant dealers of death... cascabeles, cuatronarices, crotalos... they would not harm the son of Juan de la Cruz."

          José waited, and then was about to make a reply when she added: "You are not Jesucristo!

          "You do not make life, nor even save it... you end life," the General's woman charged, "and not just once but for ever. Nothing that is pleasing to Juan de la Cruz grows where your footsteps have been... you have killed your hundreds, and brought poor Gerardo to don del Muerte, dooming his ancestors to eternity in untended graves. Do you think I care for your money? Do you think it was ever about the money? Ask me again what it is that I want from you..."

          And suddenly the Major knew... but more than that, he remembered what Eliseo and the dark Padre Luis had advised him of, in Cuahtenotl's cemetery...

          "There is shame in an untended grave!"

 

 

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