THE INSURGENCE of CHAN SANTA CRUZ

 

BOOK EIGHT:  THE SECOND of the BOOKS of CHANGE

 

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

 

          When Roberto Urzaiz had married Teodora Fermin, Sergeant Trona... the Hermano Mayor's stalwart bodyguard and valet... had been given a room of his own on the second floor of the grand Fermin house on the Paseo de Montejo. Here, there was plenty of space to display the mementos of a long, distinguished career in the service of the old Regime. Like Roberto, Trona had been bitten by the collector's bug... his pistols, sabers and letters of commendation may have been somewhat less valuable than his master's antiques, but were none the less precious. Each item had a history and none was more important than the framed photograph of Porfirio Diaz, bearing the President's own handwritten felicitations to a brave soldier.

          Certain unpleasant incidents had caused Trona to lose his officers' stripes but they had not taken away the portrait of Don Porfirio... the Sergeant kept it on his bureau, dusting it religiously... and he despised Carranza no less than he had hated Madero and all that Madero represented. So when Roberto and the Licenciado Rigoberto Macias took him into their confidence, Sergeant Trona's only question was whether he would be allowed to break the backs of the Federal sailors that the patriotic conspirators wished him to fight in the service of the Patria Chica.

          "No, no Sargento... this is a most difficult request," said Roberto, "one that I could not make of any other. It is no sacrifice to kill Carranza's men, it is a duty, rather... something of a privilege, if the truth be told. But to allow the little tadpoles to defeat you, to humiliate and rob you and the men you will be leading... such is the highest duty, the greatest sacrifice one could make for our cause, for it involves not merely life, but reputation."

          Sergeant Trona swallowed heavily. "I do not understand," he said finally, "but if by allowing myself to be beaten by Carranza's sailors advances our cause of independence, I shall seek and accept this humiliation."

          "Brave fellow!" said Rigoberto and clapped the Sergeant on the shoulder. "Trust us! It won't be pleasant... but it is the first step by which our port shall be made clear, the way opened for my brother's provisions and the Campecheños convinced of the inevitability and the righteousness of our struggle."

          "I will expose my chin to Carranza," vowed Sergeant Trona, whose devotion to the Bible, as to authority, was earnest (if his recollections of its particulars were somewhat faulty) "and when they have struck me once I shall expose the other."

          "Good man!" the Hermano Mayor said. "We'll lay a line of dominoes from Progreso to Veracruz, and the last that topples shall squash the fat, blind spider in his very web."

          The incident was set for the first night on which a party from either of Carranza's gunboats made the journey from Progreso to Merida for the revelries that are the prerogative of all sailors, visiting all ports. Near sundown on a Friday, Rigoberto's agent in the port telegraphed of the passing of a naval party. "They are headed to La Hiena Risa," said the Licenciado and Trona, whose palate had been cultivated over his years of service to the prodigal Caballero, nearly bit his tongue.

          "The liquor at the Hyena's worse than gasoline," Sergeant Trona complained. "I would rather accept a beating from a score of Colonel Breceda's troops," he said, referring to the Commander of the warships and their eleven hundred men, "than a copita at La Hiena Risa. Those faces you see, thinking they laugh with good humor, have twisted their mouths for the foulness of the drink they've swallowed," the Sargento added.

          "For the Patria Chica," Urzaiz reminded him. "For our independence..."

          "Yes, we must sacrifice," Trona accepted bitterly.

          "That's the spirit," said Rigoberto, again clouting the big man's arm. "There will be a statue erected to you in the new, free Republica Sudoriental."

          "Do you mean so?" Trona wondered, and in the highest of spirits set off towards his appointment with destiny, failing to consider the origins of most statuary.

          The execution of the first stage of the Licenciado's plan was simple, and the Sergeant's performance worthy of that of any great thespian, a Gillette or Sir Henry Irving. Situated with four hirelings at La Hiena, Trona engaged the party of eight Federals whom Rigoberto's spy had tracked from the port; the only perilous circumstance was the reluctance of the sailors to respond to Trona's insults fired at the First Chief. "How was I to know Carranza pays them with his own money," Trona was to tell his patron, sheepishly, but by proceeding to allegations against the popular Breceda he'd finally aroused the sailors and it was not long before fists were flying, bottles soon, then chairs and tables.

          "What cockroaches Carranza's sailors were," Sergeant Trona complained, "I had to pretend to be laid out when one of them hit me with a bottle of that special London whiskey the suckers buy for girls... it's colored water, you could drink a bucket of it! How was it that the police didn't round those fellows up and deposit them in the Penitenceria? Surely Argumedo's police wouldn't have missed such opportunity..."

          "They did," said Rigoberto, "but it was by a design of ours, and by the intervention of certain associates of the Hermano Mayor."

          "Principally Doña Sara, merriest of the hyenas and an actress worth of her namesake, the famous Bernhardt. It was Sara and her girls who led the Federals out of danger, I believe their sacrifice was as great or even greater, for the Carrancistas do not bathe as decent people do and like the dogs they are, most harbor fleas. Your work is almost done, Sergeant," congratulated Urzaiz, "all that is left is to put on a face tomorrow morning before Iniguez and the second act will be under way."

          Promptly on Friday morning, Rigoberto shepherded a distraught Trona and his four defeated-looking cohorts into court to swear out warrants before the volatile Judge Iniguez. No less mercurial than four years ago during the Valladolid trials, the Judge was an ardent separationist but... still... found opportunity to taunt the Licenciado Macias from the bench.

          "You say..." the Judge declared, his spectacles dangling on the bridge of his nose, "you say these Federals subdued you with ease, robbed you of all your money and took, besides..."

          "Three Parisian portraits of the Cubist persuasion," replied Trona, who had been carefully coached by Roberto Urzaiz. The Caballero was seated by Rigoberto, and they had determined a complicated series of hand signals.

          "Cuban art? I did not know there were artists in Cuba, besides those hacks who scribble pictures of the fortress, or men unloading fish to sell to the stupid Norteamericanos."

          "Not Cuban, your honor," the beet-faced Sergeant corrected, "Cubist. It is a fashion of the French and Spanish..."

          "Three Cubist portraits! I am not a connoisseur of European art, but I have heard of Cubism and I did not know that it was accommodable to portraiture. Why it is nothing but a lot of squares and rectangles and arrows... cubes, if you will, although the painters are as poor as mathematicians as they may be at painting. Now, Sergeant, what were you doing with these obviously valuable works of art... however degenerate... at La Hiena Risa?"

          "I was guarding them... sir... your Honor!" said the sergeant with an absolutely rigid countenance.

          Judge Iniguez pushed his glasses back, for surprise and disgust were about to precipitate their fall. "Guarding them!" And though Trona was in the dock, Iniguez directed a formidable index figure towards Roberto Urzaiz.

          The Hermano Mayor rose with a simpering grin.

          "What was this man doing at such a dive? Remember, I know Trona, and I know the nature of these hyenas."

          "Why Judge," Roberto explained, "any serious collector knows that those best qualified to appraise modern art are of the demimondaine. This is the modern era, sir, those who shall set our standards and set value upon compositions are no longer aesthetes and Professors, but..."

          "But Doña Sara and her kittens?"

          "What a deducer you are, sir, what an enigma! That is exactly what I meant." Urzaiz now let his features collapse. "Only these damned Federal pirates took advantage of their numbers to rob the Sergeant, the way Carranza has carried off everything else of Yucatan."

          "You may be right about that." Iniguez, pressing his finger to his glasses, fumbled for the gavel. "He's welcome to all such art in France, as I am concerned, but I am sworn to uphold the law and to apply it, even against the Constitutionalists. These shouldn't be too hard to distinguish, so I am hereby swearing out authorization for a search to commence after lunch. And just to ensure that you're not up to any of your tricks, gentlemen, I'll be going with you."

          Iniguez drove his gavel into the bench with an unusual robustness. "Cubist art! These politicians will drive every honest Yucateco to Havana before we have seen the end of this!"

 

RETURN to HOMEPAGE – “THE INSURGENCE of CHAN SANTA CRUZ”

 

RETURN to GENERISIS HOMEPAGE