THE INSURGENCE of CHAN SANTA CRUZ

 

BOOK EIGHT:  THE SECOND of the BOOKS of CHANGE

 

CHAPTER NINETEEN

 

          "Cubist art?"

          Colonel Breceda of the gunboat Progreso could scarcely contain his contempt and his astonishment. The absurd genius of the conspiracy had blown down his defenses... the orders of Carranza and his War Minister had been to refuse any unauthorized person entry on board even, or perhaps especially, a judge of the unauthorized Argumedista government. But this request, backed by a warrant signed by Iniguez and by the mutinous Governor, himself, had utterly discombobulated the Commander of the blockading forces.

          "Well why not..." Breceda recovered, "... what damage can a Judge, a lawyer and... and..." and he scrutinized Urzaiz again, giving up explanation. The Hermano Mayor had proceeded from court to bathe and change his clothes, he'd gone to Progreso in a gray velvet suit with spats, a Belgian hat and a British umbrella... although the sky was clear, the temperature still a sweltering thirty six degrees Celsius. "But," Breceda added, "I must be allowed to keep this warrant. It would be in the interests of justice," he added, although his true reason for the condition was that he intended to present the document to Carranza... as evidence that the Yucatecan Governor was not merely disloyal, but out of his mind.

          "Go ahead!" the Colonel welcomed his visitors. "Here is Captain Tumil, allow them the run of the ship. Wait... I'll come along. It isn't every day we are visited by art collectors and their little Judges. Stand aside..."

          Breceda had motioned the search party to allow another party of longshoremen to storm pass. A provision boat had tied up beside the Progreso and the Bravo, and barrels were being dragged into the hold.

          "Ammunition?" inquired Roberto Urzaiz.  “Gunpowder?”

          Breceda chuckled. "No, we already have plenty of that. It is only rice."

          "Your men eat... rice?" The old Caballero's expression was one of disgust, and the Colonel thought again... Yucatan! Such a queer place.

          "We'll do this errand quickly," Rigoberto promised, feeling in the pocket of his linen jacket. "Cigars? Colonel... captain..."

          He'd taken half the little cylinders from his pocket, holding two up to the Federals. Breceda accepted with a still suspicious nod, Tumil eagerly. The Licenciado now graced Urzaiz, Judge Iniguez and himself, they smoked, conversed about the weather, hunting and things of as little consequence before Judge Iniguez cleared his throat, indicating it was time for the search to commence. Breceda could scarcely keep his eyes off of Urzaiz... something was wrong with this encounter, and the soul of wrongness dwelt in the person of the Hermano Mayor.

          The salty air had a calming effect on the salty tongue of the Judge, who led the search through the engine room and the bunks, throwing aside a blanket here or there, directing Captain Tumil to open a locker... occasionally pointing out a man to the discomfited Sergeant Trona and asking "This one? This one?"

          "I thank you for these cigars," the Colonel said when they reached the magazine, where the fresh barrels of rice were being loaded next to barrels of powder, "but I'll also thank you to leave them with Seaman Vargas here before we enter. There is a rumor that some Argumedistas... lawless men I hear, certainly not men of refinement as yourselves... wish to blow up my little ships. I hold you would not object to leaving your smoking material with Vargas... he abjures tobacco, and our panatelas will be perfectly safe."

          "Of course I have no objection," smiled Roberto Urzaiz and, while the Judge opened a few barrels of powder and a few of rice to ensure no Cubist art had been disguised therein, and while Rigoberto followed him with one hand in his pocket, testing the weight of the cigars still there, the Hermano Mayor informed Colonel Breceda of the new young avant-garde, not only the Cubists but the Futurists and Surrealists; even the most advanced ideologies employing machinery and urinals.

          "But why don't the Europeans simply have these men shot?" complained Breceda as Rigoberto opened one of the powder barrels, making a display of sifting the powder to satisfy himself that there was no Picasso within. Leaving, in the powder, one of José's "cigars", the Licenciado shook his head, should one of the Constitutionalist naval officers be watching. These, however, had been completely taken with the florid Hermano Mayor.

          "Well this, of course, is being done," Urzaiz explained, "for all of the best artists have supported the war and compose tributes to steel and cannon-shot and, of course, to that ultimate refinement of the fighting arts, the aeroplane."

          "So they're enjoying the little scrap, eh?" Breceda snorted. "Give them five years as we have had and then let's see what they scribble in their manifestoes!"

          "Oh, that would be wonderful," the Caballero gushed, "but as they all have gone to the front to depict the slaughter and write their odes to the miracle of modern, total war, there won't be any of them left in five months, let alone five years. And that is why this theft is such a terrible thing... scarcity, and the early death of artists, raise the value of their output by... would you believe a factor of ten? A hundred! That's not just my fancy, it is the opinion of Señor Ortega, the most reputable collector in Mexico City."

          "Well I am pleased to know that you... or someone... will profit by these adventures. But, as you see, none of your precious modern art is contained in this room, nor obviously anywhere on the Progreso. Judge Iniguez, must this buffoonery be repeated upon the Bravo?"

          "It must," interjected Rigoberto, "your own Constitution demands a thorough investigation of all crimes committed against Mexican citizens."

          "You have a convenient interpretation of citizenship," the Colonel scolded. "Captain!" he ordered Tumil, "take these fellows to the Bravo, comply with their reasonable requests and see they are conveyed ashore when their searching is finished. Should anything be discovered, I'll be in my cabin... reading a monograph by Frederick Taylor," he added, somewhat ominously. "There's a man who died before his time, I suppose that the value of his work's been heightened too. Gentlemen..."

          "What a Philistine!" sniffed Urzaiz, not even bothering to conceal his sentiments.

          Rigoberto slipped his hand back into his pocket jostling the half dozen cigars there, one of which was of more weight than all the rest combined.

 

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