THE INSURGENCE of CHAN SANTA CRUZ
BOOK EIGHT: THE SECOND of the BOOKS of CHANGE
CHAPTER TWENTY SEVEN
Now, as the days of Alvarado's rule lolled into weeks, and the bodies swinging from the trees and lampposts swelled and burst in April's heat, General Alvarado's interest turned slowly from the remnants of the Argumedista conspiracy to other suspects... immoralists, Zapatistas, suspected Guatemalans. The tenure of these in the Penitenceria Juarez, seldom long, grew shorter.
The warden of penitentiary was Captain Efraim Alonso, who had been a sergeant there since the governorship of Olegario Molina. Upon his arrival, Alvarado emptied the penitentiary of its occupants and arrested Argumedo's warden, making him the first of its new inhabitants. Sergeant Alonso quickly swore his loyalty to Alvarado, describing in chilling and punctilious detail such atrocities as the warden had committed until the Governor, only two days in Merida, gave the order for the warden to be hanged, and appointed Efraim in his stead.
Alonso was a democrat of the spleen, he had despised Argumedo, Zapata too, as well as Venustiano Carranza... but, of course, he did not mention this last to Salvador Alvarado. His hatred waxed for the humble and powerful alike... the former for enduring their abuse and trusting to unstable men (such as most of the leaders of the Revolution seemed), the rich he hated for their arrogance and had envied for their ease of life. One of the few things which pleased him, during the tumult of the past three years, was how quickly a man atop the world could plummet overnight, dropping into the Penitenceria like a chestnut. Into the common cells he threw a few of each class and his Corporal removed the dead when morning came... some Guatemalan plotters and some so-called Zapatistas, maybe a few henequeros whose protests against the Reguladora tired the Governor, some thieves and, to season the stew, a religious fanatic. Alvarado, in his eagerness for reform, had mistaken Merida's insane asylum for another prison, releasing its inhabitants... who expressed gratitude by shrieking oaths against their liberator and disrupting what they could of the city's already ruptured peace.
Rigoberto Macias waited in a small dark room with two suspected Zapatistas and a gambler, turned in by his jealous mistress, who worried day and night over the fate of the rare birds he had collected. With his political opponents and the common criminals of Merida behind bars, Alvarado had begun to seize those long used to maintaining their vices by occasional tips to accommodating policemen. Suddenly, their ease of life had been interrupted and... here came Efraim Alonso strutting vainly down the corridor of the Penitenceria, a gold watch in his left hand with its chain knotted like a noose around one finger. "For whom has time arrived?" he liked to call, sometimes stopping before a cell whose occupants were shortly to be removed, and this part of the prison went as silent as a grave.
It was on the morning following Don Antonio's visit that Alonso stopped and dangled his watch before Rigoberto's cell. "Licenciado?" he finally called and the three others gasped in relief as Rigoberto was brought out and marched to the warden's office.
"A proposal, Captain?" Rigoberto ventured when they reached the quiet of Alonso's office and the warden told him of his orders to turn the prisoner over to one of Alvarado's surliest lieutenants... a Sonoran renowned for his cruelty. There was an hour yet before the time for this had come; Efraim Alonso had called for Rigoberto because he was one of the Caballeros, men the new warden had admired since his youth.
Efraim Alonso had also supported the cause of Yucatecan independence, sympathies Alvarado had not discovered.
"Like yourself, Captain, I have lived all my life in this state," Rigoberto said. "You know well I am no Zapatista, rather a Yucatecan patriot; one who sought to set the peninsula apart from the madness of Mexico. If that means that the Governor believes me treacherous, that is his opinion as a Mexican.
"A man may die as a patriot or traitor, and I must confess I fear branding as one of the latter. Life cannot help but be short, that which follows in doubt, but reputation is eternal, no?" The warden nodded with a pained expression.
"How unfortunate that I have received orders," said Alonso, setting the ticking watch on his desk. "There is no longer anything that I can do."
"What you can do," said Rigoberto, "is to extend, to me, the right which all men have, an honorable death and burial. Come now, Captain, must I go into details? What was good enough for President Madero and our own misguided Pino Suarez will be sufficient for me."
Alonso picked his watched up and frowned, twisting the gold chain three times around his middle finger. The ley de fuga was not unknown to him, although Alvarado frowned on the practice. It was his response to the hated Argumedo, whose fondness for summary executions was such that the previous warden had had to discontinue the practice of inscribing notches on his pistol, for the lack of room thereon.
"Brave words," the Captain said, "for a Licenciado."
"I am more than that," said Rigoberto, "as you know. I am a Caballero, perhaps the last."
Alonso nodded. "Certainly the last who would admit it. They were crazy," he said softly, but with furtive admiration. The last generation of the Caballeros, fortified with the clapper and with dreams of nationhood, had disappeared into the watermelon patch of Halacho. Most of those who had not perished had joined Roberto Urzaiz in sailing away... the remaining senior members cursed Alvarado's taxes in whispers and denied the existence of all secret societies as relics of the previous, barbaric century.
"Very well," Alonso said, "what do I gain from this? I am ordered to bring a living prisoner to Ricardo Parral at three o'clock." He held up his watch. "To present the Lieutenant with a dead man would be understandable, but to bring him news of an escape would cost my position, at the least.
Rigoberto nodded and slipped from his finger the ring of the Caballeros. "This will be yours," he said, placing it upon the desk. "Do you know what it is?"
The warden nodded. "I prefer that it be taken by an officer, even the commander of a prison, than by Alvarado's hangman."
Efraim Alonso stared at this ring, which seemed to swell before his eyes to become all that he had seen and dreamed of, but could never possess. The veins of his neck stood out and there was enough white blood running through them to feel shame over the brown and, while his Governor plotted the reconstitution of Yucatan according to Marxist principles of justice and equality, the Captain reached out and closed his fingers around this emblem of the past.
"You will have your honorable death," he said, calling for one of his Sergeants, a famous pistolero who had found, in Sonora, that there could be just as much pleasure in the service of Salvador Alvarado as there was outside the law.
"A test of your eye and hand, Sergeant. Take this prisoner outside and bring him within sight of the motorcar, which shall be waiting, fully operable and running. Give him fifty meters to the motorcar and a head start of thirty. It is now twenty to three. You shall enter the yard at ten to three, not one minute earlier nor later."
"You have my word, Captain."
Alonso picked up his telephone and called the gatekeeper as soon as they'd gone. "At ten minutes to three," he said, "open the gate. Leave it open, no matter what you see. The yard shall be cleared of all prisoners."
"At your orders," came the gatekeeper's answer. Alonso placed the telephone down, lifted it once more and ordered all prisoners taken and locked in their cells until four in the afternoon. The feel of the instrument against his ear, the voices compressed to the thickness of wire... such things were magic, magic of a future which already seemed to be wringing the bitterness and envy from Alonso's soul as if this were a grape or olive, beneath the press. An unfamiliar benevolence for all the world permeated the jailer.
"Perhaps," thought the Captain, "I am wrong in maintaining affection for the old ways. Alvarado is a decent man, a fair one, and his socialist state is the wave of the future." He let his watch dangle and picked up the ring; it seemed warm to the touch. Alonso glanced about, there were no prying eyes, and he slipped the ring with its bell and inscriptions over his middle finger. He raised the watch to his ear and heard the seconds ticking by.
"Caballeros," he sighed. The ticking of the watch converged upon the throbbing of his finger as the blood adjusted to the pressure of the ring. The larger hand crept forward towards ten minutes to the hour.
The ringing of the telephone startled him out of his fascination. It must be the gatekeeper, he thought, the man was an obvious imbecile who could not remember the simplest instructions. But it was Alvarado's interrogator... yes, the prisoner was on his way, don Efraim assured him, he was in the hands of a trustworthy man. Ricardo Parral swore, Alvarado had changed his mind, the prisoner was to be brought directly to the railroad station. But, the warden, insisted, wasn't Parral to take Alvarado's vengeance? No... there had been a deal with this one...
Alonso's rear widow faced the yard. He stood, hung the telephone up abruptly on the Governor's man and turned, thinking to drop the telephone and run but he could already see Rigoberto Macias breaking towards the waiting motorcar. The window was stuck.
Rigoberto's legs pumped, the blood flushed his throat and the clapper of the campaña began to sound for the last time in his fevered brain. Once, twice... it would toll its last, forever, after. There would come no rich pealing of bells; rather, only the tolling of the new century's Bakelite sentinels, the thin trillings of telephones and then, above this, a single shot.
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