THE INSURGENCE of CHAN SANTA CRUZ
BOOK NINE: BOOK of the JAGUAR PRIEST
CHAPTER TWENTY FOUR
Maria Morelos listlessly swung a dry rag at one of the many empty tables at the Well of Sorrows. The dust hopped up and fell wearily back again; a lazy moth stopped circling the lantern and retired to the very place which she had struck at, defying her cloth and, as it seemed, her very being. Maria lacked the will to disturb it again. She slumped in an empty chair and stared across the basement room, a sea of empty tables broken only by a few sailors and chattering old men.
It was always like this after incidents. The men of no certain address, who desired not to call attention to themselves, vanished, seeking other haunts, and would not return until these suffered similar disruptions. The women and the lajartijas who hunted them, also, would retire to the Roca San Pedro or Malinche's Castle and their return to the Well of Sorrow might be weeks in coming. Bad nights, such as this, seemed to lie stretched out on into the future, like a vista of tombstones.
Concentrating upon imaginary tombstones, Maria avoided the eye of Valentin. The lord of the Well already sagged against his counter. Where there were no customers to serve he served himself and a formidable army of empty glasses had accumulated. Another hour, thought Maria, and he'd fall asleep, collapsing like a broken bull. Then she would chase the solitary drinkers out and bar the door to wait for morning, and another day of the same. "At least when he sleeps he can't beat me," she reasoned. There were no others on whom blame could be affixed. The Texan was not a man to cross and, in a good mood, was generous with the American silver with which he kept his pockets full. And Lirio was acquainted with useful friends who, one and all, provided useful services. Where they went was song and drink and easy money, love and laughter... except, of course, to the few who were devoured. They had certainly repaired to San Gregorio's or some other such and Maria, meanwhile, could not defend her dignity against even a moth.
The true culprit was, of course, that indian General and the raton who had accompanied him. In the busy years preceding Carranza's entry as First Chief, Maria Morelos had been a traveling musician and a soldadera, widow of both a Federal Sergeant and, later, a Villista. No such could fail to dream of the adoration of Generals... even during her performance of the marital duties she'd closed her eyes, dreaming that the embrace was of one of those bold centaurs of Ares... Villa himself or Zapata, even Obregon (though he had lost an arm in combat with Villa, and was rumoured to have saved it as a souvenir, pickled, in a jar). After the flight of Huerta, she had tarried as mistress to one of the Zapata's Colonels, but the man had thrown her over for a younger woman, then had died at Puebla. Still, for every death, another young officer would appear... the Republic threw up doomed gallants as if sown with dragons' teeth.
And this one... who spoke not a word of Spanish but seemed to understand... who was he? "Maria!" called Valentin, puncturing her reveries.
One of the old men wanted mezcal, the cheapest the Well could offer, and Maria bore it to him as if it were champagne. His eyes popped at the sight of her face and bosom with the beady glance of an old rooster that death has forgotten for the moment. A dried carnation in the buttonhole of his shabby brown suit proclaimed him one of the leftover Reyistas, used and thrown away by the First Chief after having been allowed to win one of the smaller lotteries. Ever a miser, the Well detested him even as they fawned upon the small favors he offered through his clicking, poorly fitted teeth. A week ago, he had offered Valentin a cheap shirt for the pleasure of her company and the cantina keeper laughed at him.
Maria wondered how long it would be until the people came back, and whether the lottery winner would sweeten his offer.
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