THE INSURGENCE of CHAN SANTA CRUZ
BOOK NINE: BOOK of the JAGUAR PRIEST
CHAPTER TWENTY SIX
"So long as it is not an infant," Almanzar reasoned, "I suppose that we can handle young Pablito. By the age of three or four, you can distract a child for hours. All you have to do is dangle something new and shiny before its nose, something that makes noise is even better."
"Very well," the Colonel suggested, "I shall give him my pistol. Such concern on your part... I cannot imagine," Solis added.
"He is my friend." the Corporal replied. "And if he has a woman, than her welfare is also mine, and so shall be that of her child."
"Oh Democracy, breaking out in the most unexpected places! So, if poor Pablito is afflicted with lice, as most of the urchins in this place are, I suppose that each of them are your friends too."
"Certainly," Almanzar acknowledged.
The Colonel cursed and snatched up the documents Carranza had drawn up for the signature, or mark, of the Tatoob. "A friend should have been able to conclude such a simple task as acquiring this signature, shouldn't he?"
"That wasn't my job," Almanzar answered, inflaming the Colonel's bad humor.
"No, it isn't," growled Solis, "and, for the life of me, I cannot see what is! Somebody, Corporal, has designs on my authority. Otherwise you would have been returned to your post."
"He wants me here," protested Almanzar.
"And who is the authority who states this? Why... it is the Corporal himself."
"No, it is the Governor. If you do not believe, ask him!"
"How?" They were waiting in a cafe fronting one of the streets of the Zocalo while the Tatoob was next door with Panopio, a famous tailor, and a barber, being groomed and fitted for his adventures. "He will groom himself out of a romance," the Colonel changed the subject, consulting his watch, and removing a cigar, the length of which approximated the time that remained until their meeting.
Two thirds of it had been consumed when the Tatoob entered, in the midst of a veritable cloud of scent that made Almanzar gag. Even Solis, too familiar with those excessive toiletries favored by the lajartijas, scowled... the scent was of a premium brand, but undoubtedly had been applied in four or five times the desired quantity.
"Stand by the window," directed the Colonel, otherwise pleased with the transformation. The ill-fitting overcoat, necessary during the crossing of the Sierra, was gone... as were the comic opera tails, Silvestro's peasant sandals and his white trousers. Now the Tatoob was a General; his boots were blacked, his hair pomaded as greasily as that of Felix Diaz had ever been and, on his tunic, were the braids... Solis observed wryly... of a Lieutenant General. The barber had shaved and trimmed him to de-emphasize his origins and Panopio had provided him with the further essentials of a Federal officer... monocle, cigarette holder and handkerchief. "Corporal," Solis said, "your estimation?"
"All he needs is a carnation," Almanzar deduced, leaning as far away from the stinking General as he could.
"Of course," Solis agreed. "Panopio clothed all of the Reyistas, as well as many followers of Pablo Gonzalez. What a pity it is that Villa distrusted him so when he entered the capital; otherwise the war would have been over months ago. Panopio's Generals are terrified of soiling their uniforms! But now, we must be on our way."
They stopped a taxi to take them to Hidalgo's glorieta, where Maria waited. "Jesucristo and his saints have mercy on our spotted souls," exclaimed the Colonel. "That dress and the General's cologne were made for one another."
"I don't see any little boy," Almanzar said. "Do you think something has happened?"
"We'll see. As our guest," Solis abruptly told the General, "you must wait here. And he slammed the door of their fotingo. "Buenas tardes," he called to Maria. "It should be a warm night, so let me take your fur." He reached towards her shoulder but the "fur" began to wriggle; a pair of dark beads turned upon the Colonel and a set of razor-sharp teeth snapped out, drawing blood from the thumb of Octaviano Solis.
"Hush Pablito!" said Maria. "The nice man was only joking. He is a very kind man, see?" And she thrust the dog into the Colonels' arms; Pablito barking still, but raising his head to sniff the Colonel's cheeks and lick his exposed lips. "See? Everybody's a friend."
"Have you... removed yourself... from that place?" Solis asked.
Maria put one hand to her hip the better to spit and, as the wind was brisk, her contempt traveled all the way to the fender of the taxi. Pablito yapped and licked the Colonel's face again. "That horrid man," she said, "he kicked my baby. You can just imagine how it would have fared had we had a child. But Valentin is out borrowing money and when he returns, he'll understand what I've always thought of him. I cut all his shirts to rags, and the sombrero that he alleges Zapata gave to him."
"Do you think that that was wise?" the Colonel asked beneath his squirming burden. "The man is, of course, a bandit but, in some respects, as notable a figure as Santa Anna. That sombrero might someday have been worth a lot of money after Carranza has him shot or hanged... as a memento of our Revolution."
"Of course, were it really so, but Valentin stole it off the head of one of those Zapatistas two years ago, after the man became drunk. Valentin steals everything and makes up such stories to impress those pigs... his clients." Pablito lowered his tongue and the Colonel saw the evil gleam in Maria's eye. "I poured ink over his books and slashed his paintings, too, even those ones he says some famous Frenchman left to settle his bill at the bar. More garbage, of course. And I took the knife I did these things with and it's in the suitcase." And she grinned at her cunning.
"Corporal, bring the lady's baggage." Solis turned towards the fotingo with his load. "I hope that you enjoy Bernard Shaw. He does run on in that English manner, but the company has an excellent reputation."
"The Teatro Colon, madam. It is the season's opening." Almanzar set Maria's cardboard suitcase on the grass, awaiting orders.
"I'll need a better dress," she determined, running her fingers through her hair, using the taxi window as a mirror.
Solis grunted. "The door, corporal." Pablito kept up a tirade against passing traffic, which naturally slowed out of curiosity. "Open this door!"
"At once, sir!" Almanzar circled the fotingo, leaving Maria's suitcase on the grass. The Colonel emptied the little dog into the motorcar where he assumed a defensive posture, glowering at Silvestro, barking at the Tatoob with such wrath that he shrank towards the corner.
"Shut up!" Maria called, slapping the little dog across the back. Pablito howled and leaped into Almanzar's arms.
"He likes me!" wondered the Corporal.
"Dogs love a roll in carrion," Maria acknowledged. "Lirio, Valentin, all those pigs from the cantina, he loved all of them." And she crowded into the taxi. Colonel Solis took the empty seat beside the driver and ordered him to the Hotel Alameda.
"I'm glad that Pablito likes somebody," said the Colonel. "They will keep each other company... both being forbidden to enter the Theater."
"Dogs aren't allowed?" Maria asked.
"Nor Corporals," Solis smirked.
It was not until they reached the hotel that Maria cried "My suitcase!" Almanzar flushed a deep red.
"Undoubtedly it is gone by now. Probably for the better," Solis shrugged.
Maria frowned but her expression changed abruptly as she noted a fine Salon two doors down from the hotel. "You are so wise, Colonel, didn't I say I would need new clothes? And my General can certainly afford a few presents. She patted Silvestro on the knee and leaned towards Solis. "And a better brand of cologne, if possible," she whispered. "He stinks like a horse."
Some hours afterwards, the three were situated in the Teatro Colon, a grand imitation of the Parisian Opera... and only slightly damaged by bullets... where was being introduced Bernard Shaw's "Man and Superman". A finer, grander Palacio des Belles Artes had been ordained by Porfirio Diaz nearly a decade ago, but it remained under construction and, in fact, would not be completed for many more years... thus, the gente decente of the Capital endured their drafty Colon. A detour to the couturier had improved Maria's wardrobe and a good scrubbing had diminished, somewhat, the effects of the Tatoob's cologne, though he might still be taken for a Felicista… one of those supporters of the dictator's exiled nephew whose favoring of strong pomades and perfumes was deemed a serious impediment to their endeavors to sneak back into Mexico. But Silvestro, in his uniform, and Maria, in her gown, now made an admirable couple, and some of those attending the Teatro... acquaintances of the Colonel... were favorably impressed by the mysterious nobility of the newcomers.
It was also a source of amusement, to the Colonel, how Silvestro's pretense of ignorance of the Spanish language was rapidly crumbling, like a Mayan ruin that has been retaken by the monte. "I have heard many Spanish words," the Tatoob explained uneasily, "though you may well imagine what manner of words they were... falsehoods, curses, orders. When I was a peon with no dignity, no rifle, not even a shirt, the mayordomo would call out 'Work faster, boys', although the sun was at its height and we were stabbed by sisal in a hundred places. And I've remembered such oaths the dzulob shouted as they burned our children... as I saw at the village of Chunchel from the monte, unable to prevent the slaughter for we were only five with machetes against forty dzulob. So you may understand that, until I came to this place, I had not cause to understand the Spanish language, save those words of the lash and of the gun... I had not met Maria and your fine President. Now, I have better reason to be attentive."
"You seem to have gleaned certain words of love, as those of hate," Solis observed.
"Women, as well as men, found opportunities to escape from Bravo's colony," Silvestro replied.
They found their seats and the Tatoob made to his novia a gift of raw chicle. "Put that away!" the Colonel snapped; Silvestro was between them, otherwise he would have snatched it from her fingers. "If you want to represent yourself as a man of good breeding, don't chew gum in public."
Maria shrugged, for the Colonel's explications were all in Mayan, a language she sincerely did not understand. "Gum?" she invited the German diplomatic minister in the adjoining seat, icy and starched. She tore half the chicle from the wad, put it in her mouth and offered the other half, but the German looked away.
"Stuck up people," she whispered to the Tatoob. "Valentin says they are losing that war over there, you know."
The play, as Solis feared, was British and tedious. He dozed from time to time, waking only at intervals and Maria... after an initial excitement over the ladies on stage and their millinery... fell entirely asleep and snored, the lump of gum visible in her sagging mouth like an iceberg in a sea of drool. Only Silvestro sat alertly through all three hours... fascinated, silently moving his lips in imitation of the bombastic speeches that the actors made.
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