"You have much work to do, you lazy bastard," said Tomás.
The Urrea clan paid Aguirre handsomely to exercise his education for them in elaborate hydrological and construction plans. He had designed a network of vents to carry odors from the house's revolutionary indoor toilet. He had even astounded them all by designing a system of pipes that carried water uphill.
With liquid on the mind, it was not long before they found the notorious El Farolito cantina. There, they ate raw shellfish still gasping under tides of lime juice and hot sauce and great crystals of salt that cracked between the teeth of the men. Naked women writhed to a tuba-and-drum combo. The men regarded this display with joy, though Aguirre made the effort to feel guilty about it. Lieutenant Emilio Enríquez, in charge of the Conducta wagon train, joined them at the table.
"Teniente!" Tomás shouted. "What do you hear?"
"Gentlemen," said Enríquez, arranging his sword so he could sit. "Unrest in Mexico City."
Aguirre had to admit to himself that this soldier, though an enforcer of the oppressors, was a dashing figure in his medallions and the bright brass fittings on his tunic.
"What troubles are these, sir?" he said, always ready to hear the government was being overthrown.
Enríquez twirled the ends of his upswept bigote and nodded to the barkeep, who landed a foaming beer before him.
"Protesters," he sighed, "have dug up Santa Anna's leg again."
Everybody burst out laughing.
The old dictator's leg had once been blown off by a cannonball and buried with full military honors in the capital.
"Every year, somebody digs it up and kicks it around," Enríquez said.
Tomás raised his glass of beer.
"To Mexico," he said.
"To Santa Anna's leg!" Lieutenant Enríquez announced.
They all raised their glasses.
"The Canadians," Enríquez said, as he poured himself a fresh glass of beer, "have launched a mounted police force. They control their Indians."
"And bandits?" Tomás interjected.
Tomás Urrea's own father had been waylaid by bandits on the road to Palo Cagado. The bandits, a scruffy lot said to have dropped out of the Durango hills, had been after silver. Tomás's father, Don Juan Francisco, was well known for carrying casks of coin to cover the wages of the three hundred workers on his brother's great million-acre hacienda south of Culiacán. When the outlaws discovered no silver, they stood Don Juan Francisco against an alamo tree and executed him with a volley of ninety-seven bullets. Tomás had been nine at the time. Yet his subsequent hatred of bandidos, as he grew up on the vast ranch, was so intense it transformed into a lifelong fascination. Some even said Tomás now wished he were a bandido.
Copyright © 2005 by Luis Alberto Urrea
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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