THE INSURGENCE of CHAN SANTA CRUZ
BOOK NINE: BOOK of the JAGUAR PRIEST
CHAPTER THIRTY EIGHT
The lights of the Governmental Palace blazed, calling forth Solis like a moth to his errands. Silvestro and Maria found a comfortable seat in the Plaza facing the Ayuntamiento where government, also slowed by the heat, governed late into the night. Never had its shadows seemed richer in texture or its flowers so suffused with sweetness... as though the drought, having burned away all vanity extracted and exposed hitherto hidden essences. Guitarists roamed the darkened boulevard, poetry vendors whispered their wares. Silvestro paid one of the latter five centavos and the same amount to read the words and, for a moment, the cares of the day were swept aside by sentiments.
"Excuse me," came a piercing, drawling interruption. "Are these seats here occupied?" A thin white man burned to the color of a boiled shrimp was pointing to the end of their bench.
Silvestro shook his head angrily, for there were many empty places to sit. Maria began to turn her nose up but could not help but notice the way that the strange fellow tapped his fingers on a big box he had placed between his legs. He turned his head to smile at her, tapped the box again and rolled his eyes in such a comic manner that Marie was compelled to nod. This was all that it took for the intruder to offer his hand.
"Buenyas dias, people," the boiled scarecrow said, "I'm Frank Miller, out of Ohiyer. That's me." And he nodded and he smiled and tapped the box again, a very happy fellow despite the large, purple bruise beneath his eye.
"General Silvestro Kaak," Silvestro said, for Colonel Solis had remonstrated him not to feel discomfort with his Mexican rank. He no longer pretended an ignorance of Spanish, either. "My wife, Maria." And he nodded formally, inviting the American to pick his box up and depart.
But, to the disapproval of the Tatoob, Maria asked "What happened to you?"
"This?" Frank Miller shrugged as if the injury was of no meaning. "One of those Guardia, a German sympathizer, I think. Had an appointment to see the Governor but they contrived to lose it and pitched me out. After all the trouble I'd gone through to come here, Alvarado won't see me." And he sighed and his tapping slowed down to a mournful knock. "All the way from Ohiyer," he repeated in his execrable Spanish, leaning towards Maria. "I could have helped him."
"How?" she asked, ignoring her husband's hand which was more a warning than a caress.
"Why... because I am an inventor," the American replied, with an expression suggesting the question to be an insult. And then he opened his billfold, took out a paper and unfolded it, holding it up before the newlyweds. "My degree," he said and, as it was entirely in English and Latin, there could be no disputing that it was what Miller maintained it to be. "The moment that I heard that there was drought down here, I made my way straight to New Orleans. Folks in Mexico, they need me, I said to myself. Must be that the Governor's bad temper's got something to do with all this heat."
"I do not think that is true," Silvestro said for, as a Governor appointed by Carranza, he felt an obligation to defend another, despite his lingering suspicions that the politician had played some part in that incident on the road to Progreso. "Governor Alvarado is a scientific socialist of the highest morality."
"Well that could be so," said Miller, leaning back as if to distance himself from his prior criticism. "I never did see the Governor, only those guards of his. They don't understand inventions. But I'm mighty pleased to hear that you know of him," and the American coughed and his eyes went liquid like those of a puppy... if ever were such a long pink dog as Frank Miller. "It might not be... would it... well, I wouldn't want to impose but since you are on speaking terms with the Governor, uh... he would talk to you if you asked, wouldn't he, your being a General and all of that?"
"Of course he would," Silvestro boasted, wishing that he had worn his uniform. "I am as powerful as he... a Governor myself."
"You don't say!" exclaimed the inventor, resting his knee against the box. "Well, that's kind of fortunate, one of the things I like about this country... that you just can sit down on a park bench and talk to a fellow and it turns out he's a Governor of the place, not like those stuck-up types we have back in the States. And you look just as ordinary as any of the folks around here, not that I mean to disrespect, no, that's good, that shows that you're a man of the people. I like that."
Silvestro gathered that the American did not entirely believe his claim. He took the gold watch that the President had given him from his shirt, but it made no sound and he tapped it fretfully.
Maria took it out of his hand to wind it. "You've let it run down again, pendejo!" she muttered, but Silvestro's attention was on the American.
"Now, since you're a Governor too," Miller said, "that changes things a whole heap! It might just be that you and me, we could do business. This place that you're governor of... is it far from here?"
"Two days," Silvestro allowed, "three days. That is, to the capital, Chan... Santa Cruz del Bravo." He pronounced this distastefully, remembering the way Solis had looked, seeming to measure him, when he asked for the name of the capital to be changed back. "But the territory of Quintana Roo borders upon Yucatan."
"Well then your people out there... that's over east, isn't it... they must be pretty dry themselves," Miller suggested. Maria had wound and set Silvestro's watch by the clock atop the Ayuntamiento, now she handed it over to the American. "Pretty fancy, Good Lord that's the man's inscription, too. You take good care of this," he told Silvestro, handing back Carranza's watch. "Well there might be no need for me to go through those animals over there... I'd ought to talk with you, as with Carranza, man to man.”
Silvestro nodded, placing the watch in his pocket as Frank Miller grinned and tapped his box again. "You're curious as cows to know what's in here, but don't want to be thought bothering to ask," he chided them. "Well, I'll tell you anyway... it's a machine for making rain."
Maria laughed even as the Tatoob gripped her arm. "Naw, I ain't offended," Miller said, "that's the way all of 'em react... at the first. You see here, Governor, what's in the air, though we can't see it by reason of its being invisible, is energy... magnetic energy. All kinds of magnetic energy... some that brings the rain, and some that works against it. This machine of mine, well it stops up the magnetic influences that don't and draws out those that do. Why a fellow like you, a Governor, you'd know all about machines, right?"
"In the capital," Silvestro boasted, "I flew the aircraft."
"He rode in one," Maria amended, annoyed at her husband's boastful vanity.
"All the same, lady, it's all the same. The mechanical principle, that's what them brothers who invented the airplane said to me."
"You know these men?" Silvestro asked.
"Course I do," said the inventor as if it were the most natural thing in the world. "Couple of brothers, from my home state, like I said, the name of White... did it out there by the ocean, somewhere. Real good friends of mine," Miller added, lowering his voice and poking Silvestro's arm. "They got degrees too, just like me! Say, why don't you folks come back with me, and we can tend to the details."
"Tonight... no," Maria said and shielded Silvestro from the Yankee. He sat up to push her away but she turned and said, "we have business of our own."
"The Lord be willing," said Frank Miller, "I can see I've no place in what you intend. Don't mind for interrupting. We'll talk on this tomorrow." And he gave the General his card with an address of a hotel, picked up his rainmaking device, waved and walked away.
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