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PART TWO


I


Demetrio, nonplussed, scratched his head: "Look
here, don't ask me any more questions. . . . You gave me
the eagle I wear on my hat, didn't you? All right then;
you just tell me: 'Demetrio, do this or do that,' and that's
all there is to it."


To champagne, that sparkles and foams as the beaded
bubbles burst at the brim of the glass, Demetrio pre-
ferred the native tequila, limpid and fiery.

The soldiers sat in groups about the tables in the res-
taurant, ragged men, filthy with sweat, dirt and smoke,
their hair matted, wild, disheveled.

"I killed two colonels," one man clamored in a guttural
harsh voice. He was a small fat fellow, with embroidered
hat and chamois coat, wearing a light purple handker-
chief about his neck.

"They were so Goddamned fat they couldn't even run.
By God, I wish you could have seen them, tripping and
stumbling at every step they took, climbing up the hill,
red as tomatoes, their tongues hanging out like hounds.
'Don't run so fast, you lousy beggars!' I called after them.
'I'm not so fond of frightened geese--stop, You bald-
headed bastards: I won't harm you! You needn't worry!'
By God, they certainly fell for it. Pop, pop! One shot for
each of them, and a well-earned rest for a pair of poor
sinners, be damned to them!"

"I couldn't get a single one of their generals!" said a
swarthy man who sat in one corner between the wall
and the bar, holding his rifle between his outstretched
legs. "I sighted one: a fellow with a hell of a lot of gold
plastered all over him. His gold chevrons shone like a
Goddamned sunset. And I let him go by, fool that I was.
He took off his handkerchief and waved it. I stood there
with my mouth wide open like a fool! Then I ducked
and he started shooting, bullet after bullet. I let him kill
a poor cargador. Then I said: 'My turn, now! Holy Vir-
gin, Mother of God! Don't let me miss this son of a
bitch.' But, by Christ, he disappeared. He was riding
a hell of a fine nag; he went by me like lightning! There
was another poor fool coming up the road. He got it and
turned the prettiest somersault you ever saw!"

Talk flew from lip to lip, each soldier vying with his
fellow, snatching the words from the other's mouth. As
they declaimed passionately, women with olive, swarthy
skins, bright eyes, and teeth of ivory, with revolvers at
their waists, cartridge-belts across their breasts, and broad
Mexican hats on their heads, wove their way like stray
street curs in and out among groups. A vulgar wench,
with rouged cheeks and dark brown arms and neck,
gave a great leap and landed on the bar near Demetrio's
table.

He turned his head toward her and literally collided
with a pair of lubric eyes under a narrow forehead and
thick, straight hair, parted in the middle.

The door opened wide. Anastasio, Pancracio, Quail,
and Meco filed in, dazed.

Anastasio uttered a cry of surprise and stepped for-
ward to shake hands with the little fat man wearing a
charro suit and a lavender bandanna. A pair of old
friends, met again. So warm was their embrace, so tightly
they clutched each other that the blood rushed to their
heads, they turned purple.

"Look here, Demetrio, I want the honor of introducing
you to Blondie. He's a real friend, you know. I love him
like a brother. You must get to know him, Chief, he's
a man! Do you remember that damn jail at Escobedo,
where we stayed together for over a year?"

Without removing his cigar from his lips, Demetrio,
buried in a sullen silence amid the bustle and uproar,
offered his hand and said:

"I'm delighted to meet you!"

"So your name is Demetrio Macias?" the girl asked
suddenly. Seated on the bar, she swung her legs; at
every swing, the toes of her shoes touched Demetrio's
back.

"Yes: I'm Demetrio Macias!" he said, scarcely turn-
ing toward her.

Indifferently, she continued to swing her legs, display-
ing her blue stockings with ostentation.

"Hey, War Paint, what are you doing here? Step down
and have a drink!" said the man called Blondie.

The girl accepted readily and boldly thrust her way
through the crowd to a chair facing Demetrio.

"So you're the famous Demetrio Macias, the hero of
Zacatecas?" the girl asked.
Demetrio bowed assent, while Blondie, laughing, said:

"You're a wise one, War Paint. You want to sport a
general!"

Without understanding Blondie's words, Demetrio
raised his eyes to hers; they gazed at each other like two
dogs sniffing one another with distrust. Demetrio could not
resist her furiously provocative glances; he was forced to
lower his eyes.

From their seats, some of Natera's officers began to
hurl obscenities at War Paint. Without paying the slightest
attention, she said:

"General Natera is going to hand you out a little
general's eagle. Put it here and shake on it, boy!"

She stuck out her hand at Demetrio and shook it with
the strength of a man. Demetrio, melting to the con-
gratulations raining down upon him, ordered champagne.

"I don't want no more to drink," Blondie said to the
waiter, "I'm feeling sick. Just bring me some ice water."

"I want something to eat," said Pancracio. "Bring me
anything you've got but don't make it chili or beans!"

Officers kept coming in; presently the restaurant was
crowded. Small stars, bars, eagles and insignia of every
sort or description dotted their hats. They wore wide silk
bandannas around their necks, large diamond rings on
their fingers, large heavy gold watch chains across their
breasts.

"Here, waiter," Blondie cried, "I ordered ice water.
And I'm not begging for it either, see? Look at this bunch
of bills. I'll buy you, your wife, and all you possess,
see? Don't tell me there's none left--I don't care a damn
about that! It's up to you to find some way to get it and
Goddamned quick, too. I don't like to play about; I get
mad when I'm crossed. . . . By God, didn't I tell you I
wouldn't stand for any backchat? You won't bring it to
me, eh? Well, take this. . . ."
A heavy blow sent the waiter reeling to the floor.

"That's the sort of man I am, General Macias! I'm
clean-shaven, eh? Not a hair on my chin? Do you know
why? Well, I'll tell you! You see I get mad easy as hell;
and when there's nobody to pick on, I pull my hair until
my temper passes. If I hadn't pulled my beard hair by
hair, I'd have died a long time ago from sheer anger!"

"It does you no good to go to pieces when you're
angry," a man affirmed earnestly from below a hat that
covered his head as a roof does a house. "When I was
up at Torreon I killed an old lady who refused to sell
me some enchiladas. She was angry, I can tell you; I
got no enchiladas but I felt satisfied anyhow!"

"I killed a storekeeper at Parral because he gave me
some change and there were two Huerta bills in it," said
a man with a star on his hat and precious stones on his
black, calloused hands.

"Down in Chihuahua I killed a man because I always
saw him sitting at the table whenever I went to eat. I
hated the looks of him so I just killed him! What the hell
could I do!"
"Hmm! I killed. . . .
The theme is inexhaustible.

By dawn, when the restaurant was wild with joy and
the floor dotted with spittle, young painted girls from the
suburbs had mingled freely among the dark northern
women. Demetrio pulled out his jeweled gold watch, ask-
ing Anastasio Montanez to tell him the time.

Anastasio glanced at the watch, then, poking his head
out of a small window, gazed at the starry sky.

"The Pleiades are pretty low in the west. I guess it
won't be long now before daybreak. . . ."

Outside the restaurant, the shouts, laughter and song
of the drunkards rang through the air. Men galloped wild-
ly down the streets, the hoofs of their horses hammering
on the sidewalks. From every quarter of the town pis-
tols spoke, guns belched. Demetrio and the girl called
War Paint staggered tipsily hand in hand down the center
of the street, bound for the hotel.





The Underdogs by Mariano Azuela
Category:
General Fiction

Mexico - History - 1910-1946
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