First chapter of a novel in progress.
Daybreak was still an hour away as Juan began the four-mile walk to hacienda Del Rey, owned by his employer, Don Cenobio Suaza. Over his shoulder he saw a crimson glow covering the eastern sky and he knew a chilly November rain would fall before he reached his destination. There would be much to accomplish despite the wet weather. More than one-hundred guests were expected for the wedding and Juan would be busy setting tables, filling wine bottles and butchering the choicest pigs. Tomorrow, Don Cenobio’s daughter, Celia, would be marrying a young man from Guadalajara, son of a wealthy hacendado whose holdings were even greater than Suaza’s. To Juan it seemed impossible that anyone could be richer than his benefactor. Don Cenobio owned several hundred acres along the northern shore of Lake Chapala. Of the five hands who worked at the casco Juan was, at sixteen, the youngest, the mozo.
He made a turn at the beach and headed westward along the lake, his sandals kicking up sand. White pelicans bobbed in the water like corks. They were here for their annual vacation just like the tourists who flocked every winter from the north. Two grand hotels had been built in the past year alone and Juan’s father, Miguel, had worked on both. Miguel was a day laborer who moved between jobs frequently. That and his love for drink kept his family in constant need. His wife and all eight of his children worked outside the home, including the youngest, Preciosa, who was only six. She accompanied her mother to the old Arazpalo Hotel at the end of the boardwalk. There they cleaned rooms and washed clothes for two pesos per day. The clientele at the Arazpalo consisted mostly of weekenders from Guadalajara. Business was good in the lakes region despite the political turmoil that gripped the rest of Mexico. The fighting had not yet reached the high plateau but Juan had heard Don Cenobio say it would be only a matter of time. Already there was word that Pancho Villa would soon enter Guadalajara. Juan didn’t quite understand the reasons behind the fighting. All he knew was Don Cenobio was loathe seeing either the revolutionaries or the fedarales at his gates.
A flock of guan, about ten in all, crossed Juan’s path and hurried to drink at the water’s edge. Were he not on his way to work he might try to snatch one for his mother’s supper pot. The guans were as tasty as chicken and just one of the large birds would feed his family. He recalled the meal from the previous night; beans and rice, barely enough, and not even a few charrales. If his father would have been present there would have been less to go around. Miguel Quintera had not come home for the second night in a row. Juan half expected to see him sleeping on the beach, which he was known to do. Oh well, Juan thought, probably better his father didn’t come home if he had been drinking with his companeros. When he was sober Miguel was a quiet man. As a drinker he became a loud, self-pitying bully who didn’t hesitate to strike his wife or his children. At least the family had enjoyed a break from his terrorism.
Fishing boats were pulled onto the beach in Ajijic and the fishermen unloaded their catch of charrales, carpa and bagre into large woven baskets. When the Nahua first settled the northern shore everyone enjoyed an abundance of fish. Fewer men made a living on the lake these days. The shallow waters could not support years of overfishing, and the population had shrunk to levels those first settlers would not recognize. In their day it was said one could walk across the lake on the backs of the charrales. It was now difficult work to fill a boat. Many fishermen had converted their crafts to ferry tourists and carry cargo. Don Cenobio owned two boats which he used to transport his tequila to all parts of the lakeshore. Juan didn’t like riding the boats. The shallowness of the lake made the water extremely choppy and he was prone to motion sickness.
Juan made his way inland for the last half-mile of his trek. His thoughts turned to Don Cenobio’s nieces, Clara and Constanza, the dark haired twins. They had come from Jocotepec to help with the wedding preparations and spent the week making flower arrangements and assisting Senora Mana in the kitchen. Juan had let himself become foolish enough to believe Clara had been especially attentive to him, him, a Nahua boy with a flat nose and hand-me-down trousers. Both girls were well mannered and accustomed to having servants. What they offered as civility Juan sometimes mistook for affection. He knew they would be leaving soon but he looked forward to another day of smelling their perfumes and making them laugh. He loved to hear them laugh.
The rain began to fall in the dim light. As he neared the hacienda Juan could make out the shape of the windmill and the low, long house. He knew Don Cenobio would be having breakfast, usually chorizo scrambled into two eggs, a small portion of potatoes and bananas fresh off the tree Then he would walk the grounds for half an hour always ending at the press house. Don Cenobio was known throughout Jalisco for his tequila and he took great pride in overseeing the operation. The damp smell of the roasting agave permeated the morning air. Parrots squawked in the palms along the dirt road. Juan spotted Senora Mana tossing feed to the chickens. She made a clucking sound that echoed down to the lake. Juan moved toward her glancing from right to left searching for the twins, and as she turned in his direction she smiled and said,
“Mozo, we gotta lotta work to do today.” She pointed to a large orange chicken. “This one for the pot.” Juan saw a kettle hanging over the outside hearth. It was barely daylight and already Senora Mana was cooking. So, stewed chicken for lunch he thought. It was one of his favorites, although everything she cooked was okay with him. It would be a long day and smelling the simmering stew would make the morning pass more slowly.
The chickens scattered under his feet. He quickly cornered the hen, grabbed it, and twisting its neck he followed Senora Maria to the summer kitchen. Under the tress he twisted until the head came off, squirting blood onto the ground. The bird flapped as if it was trying to fly but Juan held it tightly by the feet. After a few minutes it was limp. One dip into the pot loosened the feathers enough for him to pull them off. The old woman put her feed pail on the ground. It seemed huge in her tiny hand. She arranged herself at the table and began grinding chilies in the molcajete.
“Senora, have you chosen the pigs for the wedding dinner?” Juan asked. To him, any of the young pigs in the pen would do, but Senor Maria had a method. She would stroke the animal, taking its snout into her hands and looking into its eyes. Senora insisted she could choose the best tasting pig in this manner. Two would be needed for the feast and Juan was anxious to get started on the butchering. He had learned to do this by watching and helping Enrique and eventually the foreman was convinced his young assistant could take over the responsibility.
“Yes, but first I must tell you about my vision,” she said. Senora Mana was a mystic; some said she was a bruja. She fed those suspicions by always wearing black and always wearing a shawl, even in the heat of the day. Her visions had become rarer and more outlandish in recent months and the work hands made fun of her. Juan, however, respected her fortune telling. Two years earlier, as he chopped wood, she had called to him, “Mozo, come here. I have something important to tell you.” Juan dropped his hatchet and went into the kitchen.
“Si, Senora, what is it?”
“You must go home,” she ordered, “without delay. I have spoken to Enrique. I had a vision. You must go.”
“What sort of vision?” Juan asked. “Is there trouble?” He was excited and fearful at the same time.
“Just go to your family now and be there for your mother.”
“What about my mother?” Juan asked urgently.
“Just go, now, and be there for her.” Enrique had saddled a bridle horse for Juan to ride back to Chapala. When he arrived at the shack he opened the door to find his mother kneeling before her small shrine to the Virgin. Her hair was pulled back in her customary bun. She was holding her rosary and weeping. Juan’s two sisters and three of his five brothers surrounded her. The oldest, Patrocinio, went to Juan.
“What has happened?” Juan inquired, “What is wrong with Mama?”
“It’s not Mama,” Patrocinio answered, “it’s the baby.” He pointed to tiny Rosa, barely three months old, lying in a basket on the table. “She has a fever. We can do nothing but wait.” The infant had suffered some kind of insect bite was having a severe allergic reaction. She struggled, filling the room with cries for several hours before she finally succumbed. It was a terrible scene, one that Juan would relive many times, even now as he plucked the chicken. Hopefully this time the Senora’s vision would be less traumatic.
“What did you see?” Juan finally asked. The old woman had been waiting patiently for his question. She stopped grinding and reached into her apron pocket for her pipe. Striking a match on the molcajete, she lit the macuche and took several quick puffs, the smoke surrounding her head like a halo.
“The day was bright in a place with no trees. A small stream flowed near a camp with many people, your mother, brothers and sisters as well. They called for you but you could not hear them…”
“Was I not with them, Senora?”
“No, mozo, you were not there. Something had taken you away, an eagle perhaps… you were in the sky, a sky with no clouds, circling, sailing on the sunshine. Your eyes were wide and you tried to speak but could not…the wind filled your lungs.” At this point Senora Mana looked straight at Juan. He saw in her black eyes a life that went beyond the day, an energy that frightened him. He dropped the chicken on the table.
“Was I in heaven?” he asked, half aware. His thoughts were of his mother and the pain she must be feeling at his death.
“No you were not a spirit… you had your body, the one you have now. It is very strange to me… I have never had a vision that puzzles me as much as this.” She took a long drag on the pipe. “I think maybe you will find Aztlan.” Juan stiffened at the word. Aztlan, the place of the white heron. It was a mythic island, the origin of the Aztec people. It was said that seven tribes set out from seven caves in Aztlan, migrating southward. The Nahua tribe eventually settled near Chapala. These were the ancestors of Juan and his family. To them, finding Aztlan would be akin to discovering the Garden of Eden.
“Senora, it cannot be,” he said excitedly, “why me? Why would I be chosen to find Aztlan?”
“I’m not sure,” she replied, exhaling a large blue-white cloud of smoke. “But I never question. If it is your destiny then so be it. Get ready to ride the wind.” She shrugged, stood up and returned to her grinding.
Juan felt light-headed. Surely there must be some mistake, he thought. I am a poor Nahua, not even the descendant of a chief! I have done nothing to deserve such an honor! He decided to keep the news to himself. No one would believe him anyway. He finished with the chicken.
By the time the Nahua arrived in the Lake Chapala valley several tribes had already settled the area. The Coca and Cazcana tribes had migrated to the northwestern shore as early as 100 B.C. Surviving mostly by fishing the abundant waters and harvesting the numerous fruits and vegetables that grew there they lived peacefully, worshipping their gods and enjoying the perfect climate. Even when the Spanish arrived in the mid-1500’s the native peoples reacted without hostility. The chiefs enthusiastically accepted Christianity and the Franciscan Friars sent by the crown performed baptisms in the warms springs of San Juan Cosala. Although there was no gold to be sent back to Spain there were lemons, oranges, bananas, mangoes, avocados and plums. The Spanish organized trade routes and inaugurated an agricultural system to cultivate large fields of corn, beans and rice where only small plots had existed. Don Cenobio’s ancestors was given control of a vast tract of land near Ajijic. The Suaza family had controlled the land since, building a mill and at one time even hosting a convent on the grounds. When Don Cenobio took control of the hacienda upon his father’s death it was the largest distilling operation in Jalisco, employing a fulltime contingent of 20 workers on two ranchos. During the previous twenty years Don Cenobio had turned over control of the mill to the town of Ajijic, rented the grain fields to local farmers and concentrated on the liquor business. It was quite profitable and he became even richer as a result. When he brought his future wife from Spain in 1890, his was the most famous tequila in Mexico.
Juan had learned bits and pieces of this history over the years but it affected him little. His family had always lived on the fringes, performing odd jobs, hiring out as day labor. For him there was no inheritance, no land to assume. Gaining employment with Don Cenobio was by far the highlight of life so far and he looked forward to spending many years on the hacienda. He knew his low stature would afford him little opportunity otherwise and he was grateful to Father Jesus for setting him on this path. Perhaps one day he would have a family. Perhaps he would one day take Enrique’s position as foreman, earning an unbelievable 100 pesos per month.
He seldom let himself dwell on such things. It was unlucky according to Senora Mana. She told him once, “Mozo, be happy where you are. Any other place could be full of sorrow.” He knew where the place of sorrow was… his own home. He was glad to be away for the evening though he felt a little guilty leaving his mother, brothers and sisters to deal with his father. Hopefully Miguel was absent once again.
The men had erected a large tent on the front lawn and busied themselves placing tables and chairs in close rows to get as many as possible out of the rain. Senora Mana assured Don Cenobio the rain would cease by nightfall but he was taking no chances. With so many important people attending he wanted everything to be perfect. It was a wish of his late wife, Dona Martina, to have her only child married in traditional Spanish elegance. Dona Martina had come from the old country specifically to marry Don Cenobio, though he was not considered a handsome man. She was raised in culture and never quite adjusted to the ways of the locals, the informal manner of speaking, the simple lifestyle. For Celia she wished the life she had given up, a life filled with museums, opera. Dona Martina had eventually come to love Don Cenobio, but she wanted no arranged marriage for her daughter. And Celia did love her fiancé, Hector de la Garza. But unlike her mother she also loved the lake country. She would be perfectly comfortable as a member of Guadalajara society, such as it was. Don Cenobio was of course happy for her. But as he got older he was becoming bored with the day to day at the hacienda. The wedding was a pleasant diversion.
Around noon the twins began to ready a table for lunch. They brought china from the house and created formal settings with forks to the right. This would be a treat for Juan. He seldom used silverware, usually scooping his food with a tortilla. Don Cenobio ordered that everyone, family and staff, would eat together. This was not unusual. He was genuinely fond of the people who worked for him. Senora Mana had been with the Suaza’s since before Don Cenobio was born. She practically raised him. And Enrique, he had been a schoolmate at the mission. Both were very loyal to the family and the business, and it was Enrique who had brought Juan to the hacienda at the suggestion of Father Jesus Orozco. The young priest was fond of Juan and made him an altar boy. Juan loved the rituals of the church and endured much mockery from his father because of it. Miguel Quintana had no use for religion. It held false hope as far as he was concerned. Neither did he approve of education. He had never learned to read or write and saw no need for his children to learn. For him, staying an illiterate, drunken peon kept him from wishing for things he could never have.
As they ate the men talked, first about the progress of the work. Diego, who was responsible for the furnace assured Don Cenobio the last batch of agave would be roasted that afternoon. He would then suspend roasting until after the wedding.
“Enrique,” asked Don Cenobio, “what about the automobile?” At the word automobile they all quit talking to listen. Don Cenobio had recently brought a Dodge Sedan from Mexico City. There were only a few in Chapala and it was an excitement to everyone each time the car was brought out of the tool shed.
“It is ready, Don Cenobio,” Enrique replied, “I have cleaned it inside and out.” It was Don Cenobio’s plan to personally drive his daughter and new son-in-law into Chapala where they would officially sign their marriage documents. They would then stay at the new Hotel Palmera, in the luxury suite on the top floor, continuing by rail to Guadalajara the next day.
“Do you hear, daughter?” teased Don Cenobio, “you will be chauffeured by the richest man on the lake.”
“Papa, I’m so excited,” she replied, “and Hector will be also.” She turned to Clara and the two began a furious conversation about the car, the trip and the groom. Juan sat mesmerized by Clara, the way she spoke slightly from the side of her mouth, the way her head moved as she listened to Celia. The three young girls looked remarkably similar, with dark hair pulled into a bun and tied with bright ribbon. To Juan, Celia seemed much older than her twenty years. She had been acting as her father’s official hostess for so long it was difficult to remember when Dona Martina was still alive. Juan had seen Celia grow into a woman and he thought of her as his sister. And Constanza, although pleasant, was quite serious. She seemed older, too, too old to be interested in a mozo. But Clara… with Clara it was different. It seemed she was always laughing, teasing Juan and encouraging her sister to have more fun. Clara was lively and smart and funny and… Juan had slipped into a daydream, forgetting to eat his lunch. He had no idea about love until Clara came to Del Rey but after the past week he had learned of yearning.
“Senora Mana how is it going with the food?” asked Don Cenobio.
“Si, the salads are ready, the corn is ready for the fire and Juan has finished one of the pigs. All three will be ready for the pit tonight.” She barely looked up from her stew. “This afternoon we will pick the fruit and finish the table decorations.”
“Good, good. I have bragged to my future in-laws about your wizardry in the kitchen. Let them enjoy your best.” When Don Cenobio used the word ‘wizardry’ the other men exchanged glances. Juan thought Diego would burst out laughing. Enrique shot them all stern looks. Senora Mana simply nodded and kept eating. Don Cenobio turned to Juan.
“Juan, you have dressed a pig? I wasn’t aware you had those skills.” Juan barely heard the words. He looked at Don Cenobio blankly. “Mozo…. Are you with us?” Don Cenobio asked, smiling. It was obvious to everyone, except maybe Clara, that Juan was preoccupied.
“Uh, si Don Cenobio, si… Enrique showed me.”
“Yes, and he does fine when he can keep his mind on his work!” Enrique laughed. Juan looked down at the table, embarrassed. The others chuckled (except for Clara). Don Cenobio took a cigar from his breast pocket and lit it. He sat up and adjusted his waistcoat. He always dressed formally and looked very officious with his silver hair and matching pencil moustache.
“I see,” he said. Then turning to Jorge, “Jorge, what is this I heard you saying earlier… you saw soldiers on the far slope?” The day before Jorge, the groundsman, was inspecting the northern boundary of the hacienda in the foothills, looking for squatters. While on his ride he had seen two fedarales on horseback with a long spyglass. When he told them they were trespassing they assured him they were on official business, scouting a route for their troop to follow toward Guadalajara. Further discussion revealed that their superiors were convinced the Villistas were close, perhaps watching them as they spoke. Jorge followed the two fedarales off the property and then thought nothing of it. Soldiers had been wandering onto the hacienda for the past few years, mostly looking for food, always needing directions. It seemed the government didn’t know where their army was located. He had only mentioned it to Enrique in passing, saying, “We had more uniformed clowns on the property,” and then having a good laugh that they looked so destitute, as if the government couldn’t feed their own fighters. Enrique took it more seriously, ordering the men to be on the lookout for the fedarales. He thought they may try to enter the compound to steal food. He didn’t begrudge them nourishment and instructed everyone to give them what they wanted and then send them away.
“Villa is nothing but a thug,” Don Cenobio said. His views on Pancho Villa were well known. He felt Villa’s commandeering of land and money in the name of revolution amounted to banditry plain and simple. Also, he doubted Villa’s reputation as a ‘Robin Hood,’ believing the self-proclaimed general was a self-serving despot. But neither did he fully support the government, now ostensibly headed by Carranza. The so-called convention at Aguascalientes had solved nothing. As a rich landowner he stood to lose the most no matter who prevailed in the fighting. Had he not been generous to his employees and neighbors? Had he not remained when other hacendados fled? There was no sharecropping on his hacienda, however he allowed several families to live on his property and grow what they needed, and he paid them to harvest agave. He had put up a tidy sum to help construction of the new Palacio Municipal. No, Don Cenobio considered himself a fair and benevolent man.
The meal broke up and everyone resumed their work. Juan went back behind the tool shed to begin butchering the second pig. He had tied it to a small lemon tree and now he retrieved Enrique’s revolver to dispatch the animal. It was kept in a holster hanging inside the door of the shed. In the past he would have simply slit the pig’s throat, but Enrique believed using the pistol was more efficient. That didn’t bother Juan. He liked the feel of the .38 caliber Smith & Wesson. When Enrique first bought the weapon he taught Juan how to load the cartridges and shoot with one hand. It was more difficult for Juan whose hands were much smaller than Enrique’s. The two of them often went out in the fields to shoot snakes, rats, and other vermin, and Juan came to be a respectable marksman. In fact, Enrique had once told Don Cenobio that Juan could shoot the eye out of a scorpion at twenty paces. It filled Juan with pride that the foreman put so much confidence in him.
He finished with the third pig just before nightfall. The rain had stopped as Senora Mana predicted, and Enrique and Diego had dug a pit. They lined it with palm fronds and stacked cord wood at the bottom for a fire. Here they would place all three pigs, cover them with fronds and build another fire on top to slowly barbecue the meat overnight. Senora had seasoned them with her special mixture of chilies, along with cumin, salt, pepper and vinegar. Juan would be staying at the hacienda to help tend the fire. He hadn’t seen Clara all afternoon and was hoping she might enjoy sitting near the fire with him. It would take all of his courage to ask. He watched her now, on the back porch, with Constanza, making centerpieces out of dahlias. She was singing softly and laughing with her sister. Juan imagined it must be the sound of angels. He thought he had never seen anything so beautiful, Clara, her movements, the way she turned gracefully… to look right at him! She smiled and Juan froze. He could not move his mouth to speak. And now she walked toward him and he searched his mind for something to say, anything. Juan had not imagined she would be so forward and it surprised him. He lamely raised his hand to wave.
“Juan,” Clara called to him, “how is the cooking going?” He was confused. The cooking? Oh, the cooking, the pigs, the fire, the plan to ask…. “It smells good. Senora is such a good cook. I will be sad to leave this place.” She was now standing in front of him. He sat on a log, stunned.
“Juan, is something wrong?”
“Uhhh… wrong, no, no….” He stumbled to his feet. “
“It is so exciting.”
“The wedding, Juan,” she laughed. “The wedding is exciting.” He stuttered and then,
“Yes, exciting… and much work.” Not the best thing to say but at least words came out of his mouth. Perhaps she would not think him to be a total idiot.
“Are you joining us for dinner?” It was near eight o’ clock, dinner time, and the girls were finishing their work. “We are having only a light meal.”
“Uhh..no, not tonight, no. I have to tend the fire.”
“Can I bring you something then?”
“Bring me what?”
“Something to eat,” she said.
“Oh, food… yes, yes please! That would be good of you senorita.” Juan felt sick.
“Very well, then, I will bring you a plate of mangoes and oranges. Then perhaps we could sit by the fire and talk.”
“Talk about what?” he asked. This truly was not going well.
“Whatever we choose, Juan. It is not a lesson,” she said turning away. “See you later then.”
“Yes, later…then,” he answered, amazed at his stupidity. All the rehearsing in his head all day and this was the best he could do? At least she didn’t seem offended by his oafishness; she was coming back after all. But what would he say then?
A little past nine Clara left the house to deliver Juan his dinner. He was anxious to see her and make a better impression that he had earlier. Although he could neither read nor write Juan was generally well spoken. He picked up cues from Father Jesus’ masses. He was a good listener and a better mimic. He went over in his mind how he would greet Clara. “Hello, senorita how was your dinner?” He reviewed it again and again. Then he stood to greet her.
“Uhhh… good evening… hello sen…senorita,” he stammered.
“Hello, Juan…please, let’s sit. The fire is so nice in this cool air.” She handed Juan the plate of sliced fruit and they sat down together on the log. Juan ate a piece of mango. He imagined it must be as sweet as kissing Clara. He had not allowed himself to think of it until then. He knew he had no hope of kissing the senorita. What was he but a peon, a mozo, a young boy with ripped trousers and a dirty shirt.
“Do like working for my uncle?” Clara asked.
“Oh, yes, Don Cenobio is a fair man,” Juan answered, forming a complete sentence for the first time.
“He is my mother’s brother. He has been like my father since my true father died. Is your father alive, Juan?” Juan was uncomfortable with the question. He felt like he had no father, only a drunken man who sometimes didn’t come home and who sometimes terrorized his family.
“Yes… but I...I don’t see him much. I spend a lot of time here on the hacienda. I prefer it here.”
“Do you have brothers and sisters?”
“Five brothers and two sisters,” he answered between bites. He hadn’t realized how hungry he was.
“It is only Constanza and I,” Clara said. “I’ve wondered at times what it be like to have a brother.”
“I am second to oldest.”
“And you are what… eighteen years old I guess?” Juan stopped chewing. He thought for a moment and decided to let Clara think it was so. He nodded.
“I only had my quinceneria last spring… with Constanza, of course.” She sighed. “I love my sister but sometimes I think it would be nice to have my own life unattached to her as it is.” Juan barely heard what she said. He was captivated by the glow of her smile, the reflections of the fire in her eyes. It was something he could have never imagined and now here it was. And it was going well.
“My brothers and I share everything,” he said, “we sleep in the same bed, wear each other’s clothes. We are almost many twins.” Clara laughed.
“It’s funny how you say that, many twins.” Juan laughed with her. He sat down the plate and grabbed a stick to poke the fire. Sparks flew up and the flames flared in the highlights Juan thought he saw someone behind a chaparral nearby. He stood up.
“What is it?” Clara asked.
“Probably Diego, checking the furnace embers,” Juan answered. Then he shouted, “Diego! Is that you?” There was no reply. “Diego!” He walked toward the bush. When he was within several feet a man, a fedarale rushed out and pushed him to the ground. Before Juan could get up the soldier was on him, striking him until finally Juan was unconscious. At the same time another fedarale came up behind Clara, grabbing her and dragging her away from the fire. She tried to scream but he covered her mouth. It had happened so fast there was no time to react.
Juan slowly opened his eyes. For a moment he didn’t know where he was. His jaw ached and he had pain in his ribs and then suddenly he remembered. What was happening? He rolled onto his elbow and saw the silhouettes of two men, one standing, one kneeling. They were talking in low tones, laughing sometimes, speaking sternly other times. They had Clara. They had her pinned down and they had her dress pulled up over her head, stuffed into her mouth. Juan panicked. He had no idea what to do. Before he could think he was crawling toward the tool shed. The fedarales didn’t notice, they were focused on the girl, encouraging each other. Juan reached the holster and removed Enrique’s pistol. He checked the cylinder. Three shells. Hopefully he wouldn’t have to use any of them, but as he moved from the shed he knew he had to be ready to shoot.
He approached the men slowly. Still they didn’t notice. He was practically on top of them before he said,
“Stop! Get away now or I’ll shoot.” One of the soldiers turned to see the young man pointing the gun.
“Ahhh, you have come to the rescue,” he said mockingly. “Your girl is a sweet one! Too bad you can’t taste her! Ha Ha!” He stood up. “Listen you little roach, give me that gun. You don’t know how to use that thing. Give it to me before….”
“No!” Juan shouted. “Leave her alone or I will shoot you!”
“Shoot me, eh,” replied the soldier, “Then you must do it because we will do what we want with her.” He stepped toward Juan. “Now give me the …”
Juan fired striking the soldier in the chest. The man’s eyes widened in astonishment as he stumbled backward, falling over his companion. The man who was assaulting Clara stood up, saw Juan still pointing the gun, turned and ran into the brush. Juan could hear him mounting a horse and fleeing the grounds. Then, Juan went to Clara, who was sobbing, halting with each breath
“Clara,” he said, “it is alright, they are gone.” He pulled down her dress and helped her to her feet. He checked the solider and saw he was dead. Clara continued to cry as he guided her toward the house. A light had come on and when they reached the porch Senora Mana was there in her robe holding a lamp.
“Juan, boy, what has happened?” she asked, helping Juan get Clara up the steps. “I heard a shot. Is she alright?” They sat Clara on a chaise and Juan explained to Senora Mana.
“Two men…. Fedarales… I’ve killed one of them. One escaped.”
“Are you certain he is dead?”
“I am certain. My shot went into his heart.” By this time Don Cenobio had arrived on the porch. He quickly questioned Juan, found what had happened and said, “Mana take the girl inside. Juan come with me.” They hurried down the path and found the soldier, dead.
“Juan this is not good. The other man, he is certain to bring more soldiers. They will be looking for you. It is too dangerous for you to go anywhere tonight. Stay in the tool shed until morning. Where is the gun?” In all the rush Juan had dropped it somewhere between the fire pit and the house. “I dropped it, Don Cenobio.”
“Don’t worry for now. Just stay in the shed until I come to get you….. Better yet…” Don Cenobio led Juan to the Dodge automobile and opened the trunk. “Here, no one will find you here.” Juan climbed into the trunk and Don Cenobio closed the lid. He left the shed and started toward the house. Enrique, who hadn’t heard the shot, was walking from his adobe to the fire to take his turn and they met on the path.
“Don Cenobio, why are you out so late? We are tending….”
“Enrique, there is a situation…we have much to do.”