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Short Fiction. Nash Candelaria, a native of New Mexico, is the author of an acclaimed series of historical novels about the Southwest. His 1982 novel, NOT BY THE SWORD, received an American Book Award in 1983. This latest book of seven short stories, also set primarily in the Southwest, explores border culture, social issues, relationships, and the experience of living in an unwilling hybrid culture such as that in the U.S., in prose which is as delightful as it is precise. Alfonso Peña was a wrinkle of a man, ...
Short Fiction. Nash Candelaria, a native of New Mexico, is the author of an acclaimed series of historical novels about the Southwest. His 1982 novel, NOT BY THE SWORD, received an American Book Award in 1983. This latest book of seven short stories, also set primarily in the Southwest, explores border culture, social issues, relationships, and the experience of living in an unwilling hybrid culture such as that in the U.S., in prose which is as delightful as it is precise. Alfonso Peña was a wrinkle of a man, begins the title story. Not just the creases around his eyes, the corners of his mouth, or his neck. Not just his clothes. But everything about him. His life was an unneat series of furrows and rumples that were chaotic and irretrievably fixed. No iron was hot enough, no steam press powerful enough to smooth them out. Without smoothing out the fictional realities of the lives he creates, Candelaria takes his readers with him on a journey into the series of furrows and rumples that make up our unneat existence.
Award-winning author Nash Candelaria's sly wit and clear-eyed compassion shine in his newest collection of short stories. Candelaria is the author of many novels and short story collections, and he has received an American Book Award.
Alfonso Peña was a wrinkle of a man. Not just the creases around his eyes, the corners of his mouth, or his neck. Not just his clothes. But everything about him. His life was an unneat series of furrows and rumples that were chaotic and irretrievably fixed. No iron was hot enough, no steam press powerful enough to smooth them out.
Even more than that, his soul was a wrinkle. An unevenness of hills and valleys that added up to confusion and chaos. It was seldom anything big that undid him. No capital sin damned him forever. No felony caused him to be locked up where they'd throw away the key. It was an accumulation of little sins, a swamp of veniality, that held him back. That kept him from moving toward anything—anything at all. His life was a mess. A pair of muddy shoes that left its tracks everywhere.
This particular day he had taken the bus from his little adobe house in the farming suburb of Los Rafas into the city of Albuquerque. His car was not running, and he did not have the money to have it repaired. He had told his wife that he was going into town for a job interview, which was a lie. Alfonso did not have the courage nor the revolver to hold up banks, so a job it would have to be—sometime. Not that he wouldn't engage in a minor case of larceny if the opportunity presented itself.
He stumbled off the bus in the old downtown section of Central Avenue that was being renovated. He sidled up alertly behind a man retrieving the morning newspaper from a vending machine. When the man turned withnewspaper in hand, Alfonso quickly caught the cover before it slammed shut.
Now, he thought, he could at least search the classified advertising in case his wife should question him. Since he preferred to read the newspaper in comfort, habit led him toward a coffee shop that he and fellow workers had frequented before he had been fired from the advertising agency. Alfonso had the hopeful feeling that someone he knew would be there and would pick up the tab for a hot cup and a sweet roll.
It was not to be. The place was empty except for the paisano behind the counter. "Hey," the waiter said in Spanish. "Haven't seen you in months. You still at the same place?"
Why was it, Alfonso thought, that the help never showed proper respect? If there had been others in the shop he would have ignored the question, pretending that he had not heard it.
"I'm freelancing," he said without thinking. It was, he suddenly realized, an avenue he had not pursued for some time.
Even in a city of nearly half a million people the advertising community was a relatively small one. He was known by many with whom he had had falling-outs over one thing or another, parting with bitter feelings. And the word travelled fast, even to those he didn't know.
They were fools, he told himself. So-called art directors and advertising managers with little taste and less talent. That was the price one paid for working with fools. They didn't recognize good art when they saw it. They refused to pay the price for first-class work. Then they bad-mouthed you to others in the business.
This reputation had been his undoing during the reference checks that followed hopeful job interviews. Later there were no interviews, even after repeated calls, as if his reputation had preceded him.
"It's the fucking system," he mumbled. "A goddamned conspiracy"
"What's that?" the waiter asked.
The fucking fat cats, he thought. Sucking money from the working man, then not giving him a chance to work. They don't do that to you in Cuba. There everybody works. Everybody eats. Everybody shares. What we need is a good revolution. Then we'll see how these rich, powerful pigs like it when they have to live on slop and bed down in outhouses.
"So," the waiter said. "What kind of freelancing do you do?"
"Art!" His voice burst out, almost a shout, filled with anger and frustration. His hands moved away from each other, hesitated, then moved out again. "Big art! Too good for the advertising business."
"Must be a lotta money in that."
"I'm a fucking millionaire. Now come on. Give me another cup of coffee."
The waiter's mouth fell open. He filled Alfonso's cup, then turned and retreated to the end of the counter, wiping the already clean top.
First they steal your country, Alfonso thought. Then they steal your language so you can't even think naturally. You think in gringo. Then, when you can't or won't talk gringo, they call you stupid. Estúpidos don't deserve jobs. All they deserve is a kick in the ass. When you decide a sore ass is no substitute for a full belly and you complain, they call you a troublemaker and haul you off to jail.
He grabbed at his stomach, the cold pain shooting through him like an icicle. Then the icicle reached out with frozen tentacles that squeezed and shook his insides. His forehead broke out in sweat. He closed his eyes and grimaced.
The waiter had finally worked his way back along the counter. "Hey, you all right, man?"
"My goddamned ulcer. That's what advertising does to you." Which, like so much of what Alfonso said, was not an outright lie but was not the whole truth, either. For he often thought that he was born with the damned thing. Not enough chichi when he was a baby. And a poor man couldn't always afford milk to soothe an aching stomach. Christ!
True, he was living in his dead mother's house rent free. Well, almost rent free. His goddamned brother and sister wanted him to pay something. All three of them had inherited the house equally. But Christ, they had homes. Nice homes. Not some tiny hundred-year-old adobe farmhouse that started to dissolve when the humidity went up. Pretty soon he and his wife would be living inside transparent walls while the air outside would turn dirt brown from dissolving adobe.
Anyway—Shit! he said to himself, interrupting his train of thought. He should forget the goddamned newspaper and its want ads and take the bus to the university law library. Then he'd teach that money-grubbing brother and sister of his a thing or two. They had no right to kick him out. The house was as much his as theirs. Where would he and Dolores live? In the street? Was that what it had come to?
He stared at the cup of coffee, considering whether or not to push it aside and move on to the bus stop. Impulsively, he reached instead for the pitcher of thin blue milk that passed for coffee cream and filled the empty half of his cup. There. That would help his stomach. The beginning of a milk diet. Settle down, he said silently to his innards. I'm feeding you just like a baby.
Meanwhile, the waiter had been watching him as if expecting a collapse or a fit. But the pain passed, and Alfonso's color returned.
"You think you got troubles," the waiter said, nodding toward the newspaper beside Alfonso's cup. "What about that priest, Father Ted? We used to go to that parish. North of here across the river. Even God doesn't protect you any more."
Priest and Cohorts Indicted for Alien Smuggling, the headline read.
Alfonso unfolded the paper and glanced at the photograph of a stocky priest; a middle-aged, heavyset woman; a tall, gray-haired man in a business suit; and a slender young woman between two Federal cops. A nice-looking woman in a dark suit was talking to the priest. They meant nothing to Alfonso.
"Irene Bustamante," he read. "Federal Public Defender—" The name was familiar. But then, hell, the city was full of Bustamantes. His poor dead mother's sister had married a Bustamante.
He looked up and saw the waiter watching him. "Yeah," the waiter said. "He can't afford a real lawyer so they give him this woman lawyer. From an old family around here."
"Everybody's old family around here," Alfonso said. "Nobody has enough sense to get the hell out of this rat hole."
But inside he felt a surge of excitement. Daniel, he remembered. Cousin Daniel. That lawyer must be his daughter. He remembered years ago, when he and Daniel were still speaking, the happy toddler who had driven him crazy busybodying all over the room as if nothing could keep her still. Little Reeny.
He stared at the newspaper, clouds of vague thought coalescing.
* * *
"I can have a thousand protesters surrounding the federal courthouse at an hour's notice!" Alfonso gripped the telephone as if it was a policeman's throat. "You think they're going to ignore that? Hell! Who do you think was behind the protests during the Bicentennial? The photograph of that sign that was in all the newspapers: They Came to Remind Us that We Are a Conquered People! Remember that? All you have to do is remind the goddamned power structure that the real power is in the people. They'll crap their pants. They can't fight the will of the people."
Alfonso could tell from her tone of voice that she was resisting. First of all, she was probably wondering who he was even though he had told her that her father's mother and his mother were sisters, both bearers of the proud name of Baca. Historic people. Among the conquistadors that tamed this asshole country. But then, what did people know about history, especially their own history? Especially nowadays. They didn't know shit.
Maybe he should have toned down his language, except that it was too late for that. When he had telephoned the office some snotty-voiced woman said that Ms. Bustamante was in conference and couldn't be disturbed. Could he leave his number so she could call him back? Except that Alfonso had been that route too many times, waiting for calls that never came. No, thank you. He'd hold on the line.
"Tell her it's her cousin," he had insisted. "Tell her it's important. A matter of cultural pride."
When Ms. Bustamante finally came to the telephone, sounding even snottier than the first woman, he had waited so long that he couldn't control his language. It flowed vehemently, gathering force with every word, an avalanche of insistence that would not stop for fear that he would be rejected again.
Finally Alfonso heaved a sigh—that is, exhaled the smoke from the fire that burned inside him. He stared out of the flyspecked glass of the telephone booth. The pharmacist was talking to a short, round, dark woman who held a slip of paper tightly in her right hand. Two other customers stood in line behind her, poor paisanos who lived in the neighborhood.
He looked out the window of the drugstore. It was a small place compared to those in the newer parts of town. Across the potholed street lay an empty lot, dry, dusty, and forlorn. Three young men stood in front of the store as if they had no better place to be, cigarettes dangling from their lips. They turned in unison, bobbing their heads in greeting at a passing lowrider.
Ms. Bustamante's grandfather, Alfonso's Uncle Matías, had scraped a livelihood from his worthless mountain acres by selling firewood door-to-door from an old Ford truck. As a treat, old Uncle Matías would occasionally take Alfonso and his cousin Daniel up in the mountains to pick piñon. The boys would race to see who could fill their gunnysacks with the most pine nuts. Later they would sell their bounty to one of the tienditas in town not unlike this crummy old drugstore. Now, talking to Ms. Bustamante reminded him that his cousin Daniel had been dead for a dozen years—he had forgotten about that—and that he, Alfonso, was no longer a boy.
"We can't have that, Señor Peña! That would make matters worse!" She sounded like his sister bitching at him about something—anything.
But he couldn't help himself. On he rambled, his voice rising toward hysteria, not sure what he was saying except that he had to make her understand. Understand what? He wasn't sure of that either.
"What is it exactly that you want, Señor Peña?" She spoke in Spanish this time, the unguarded language of intimacy among brown-skinned New Mexicans, especially among family. Except that there wasn't a hint of intimacy in her voice. It was a voice tainted with accusation. A voice talking to someone who was an embarrassment. A voice talking in the presence of foreigners who did not understand Spanish and who the voice hoped would not notice.
"I read about the sanctuary people," Alfonso said. "About what the fucking government is trying to do to them. I been through that. Ask me about 1976. About the teachers' union. They fired me for speaking up for my rights."
There was silence from the other end of the line, a silence of disapproval, as if she had just sniffed something abominably foul. "There is a team of lawyers representing them," Ms. Bustamante finally said. "Are you a lawyer?"
Peña felt his eyes strain, the skin on his face tighten. But even more, Peña felt his anger rising. She must have known damned well that he was no lawyer. He resented her uncivil rejection. Back in 1976, when he had been a mover and shaker in the Movimiento, people were clamoring for his help.
"Look," she continued. "I'm extremely busy. I have somebody at my desk waiting to talk to me. What is it that you want?" When he didn't answer right away, her voice softened. "I think I remember you from your mother's funeral. My grandmother and I went to the services. I was truly sorry that your mother and my grandmother drifted apart over the years. Sisters should stick together."
At least, Alfonso thought, she didn't ask me why I wasn't at her father's funeral. "Look," he said. "I can get a thousand picketers out like that—" He snapped his fingers. "The judge will get the picture. Just tell me, and I'll round up the faithful from the Movement. They can't do that to innocent people. To the priest. To you."
"No, thank you! I have enough worries without someone starting a riot in front of the federal courthouse. The defendants' problems are in the hands of their lawyers and the justice system. If you want to help, don't even think about protests."
Justice system! In disgust, Alfonso cleared his throat and spat onto the floor of the telephone booth. For an instant he regretted that he had shot off his mouth. Some people wouldn't recognize how to get things done if you stuck it up their ass. The hell with it!
"I gotta go," Alfonso said abruptly. "I got a job interview over near Old Town. If you don't want my help—" He shrugged and hung up, cutting her off in mid sentence. Then he walked out into the clear, sunny morning and headed toward the bus stop.
* * *
The gentle sway of the bus and the warm desert sun lulled Alfonso into a state of drowsiness. He was grateful for small favors. Talking to his cousin Daniel's daughter had reawakened memories. He had forgotten that the man had been dead the past twelve years, that he had died about the time Alfonso was in the midst of his troubles with the school administration. And Daniel's mother was still alive, while her sister, Alfonso's mother, was rotting in the ground.
It had been a year since Mamá had passed away. The memory of her death carried a heavy load of regret, remorse, and anger. The last time he had seen his mother alive was in the hospital. At that stage of her illness she had been in the intensive care ward, tubes sticking into her nose, needles in her arm, some strange electronic machine blinking traces across the face of a tiny screen: Channel Death.
"The nurse said she's a little better today," his brother Cipriano had whispered when he had sidled in. His sister Margarita had tossed him a look, eyebrow lifted, without saying what Alfonso knew she was thinking: Late as usual.
Alfonso had looked down at the old woman on the bed. Her eyes were closed, but he could sense that she was listening. The gray, thinning hair was bunched up where her head rested on the pillow. A few strands were matted against her forehead, and her mouth hung slack as if she could not control it, as if she had had a stroke. But it had not been a stroke. It was cancer. Cancer of the pancreas. Incurable and just a matter of time.
"I couldn't get off work," Alfonso said in a stage whisper. Although he was looking at Cipriano, he had meant it for Margarita.
"The sons-a-bitches," he continued. "I could be dying of a heart attack, and they'd shove a pencil in my hand for one last drawing."
Margarita shook her head. "Shh—," she said, meaning his cursing. "The priest was just here." Then she added, almost in tears, "Poor Mamá. She looks so weak. God—" shaking her head. "God."
The not-yet corpse stirred and emitted a low groan. But Alfonso had his mind on other things. "What'd she say about the house?" he whispered. "Did she say anything about the house?"
After that he didn't remember exactly what had happened. He had been too intent on his own needs. Too intent on making sure that he didn't get screwed by Margarita and Cipriano, who were bad influences on his mother. It seemed that everything he did was twisted into some form of accusation that drove the old lady into a frenzy.
It might have been that Margarita told him, "Shh," one time too many. Or that like so often, she had started to pray aloud, asking them to join in, although Alfonso knew she meant it mostly for him. Well, if he wanted to pray he would have gone to goddamned church. Who the hell was she? Some kind of nun?
Maybe Cipriano had told him to shut up because Mamá could hear. Couldn't Alfonso see that the dear thing was trying to speak? That the slack lips tightened as if trying to form words? Then Cipriano would have taken the old lady's hand to show that he cared. To show that he was the good son. The kiss-ass good son. "Mamá, I love you more than anyone." Mierda!
Or maybe—no. It couldn't have been what Alfonso might have said. He wasn't that insensitive. Arguing over the little adobe house in the intensive care ward. That's what Margarita and Cipriano would say now. But they would have said that no matter what. They were always ganging up on him. He, little brother Alfonso, the black sheep.
Whatever—he couldn't remember now. Except that suddenly like one of those horror movies where the corpse opens its eyes and points a shaking finger in accusation—the old lady raised her head off the pillow. "How dare you," she had croaked at Alfonso. "Get out! Don't come back. You didn't let me live in peace. Now, for God's sakes, let me die in peace!"
He had been shocked. Mamá hadn't really meant it. She was sick. She didn't know what she was saying. Margarita had put Mamá up to it. Who knows what stories that bitch sister of his had been telling the old lady?
Out! He remembered the trembling finger, the tubes dangling from her arm like some obscene plastic rosary, the look of hate on the old lady's face. Out!
When he had tried to reach for her, to take her hand and calm her down, Cipriano had gotten between them. "You better go," he had hissed. "Can't you see how you've upset her? Jesus Christ, Fonso. When are you ever going to learn?"
"Well, fuck you!" he had said aloud. "She's my mother too. Fuck all of you!"
Then out. Bumping into the doctor as he stormed down the hall. "She's my mother too!" he had shouted at the doctor who had looked at him in surprise.
That was the last he had seen the old lady alive. The next time it had been at the funeral parlor. The coffin lid open. Mamá in her Sunday black dress that differed from the black dresses she wore during the week only in that it was newer and better made. He couldn't remember seeing her in anything other than black since his father had died. Back when he was in high school. Just before he had gone into the army.
"Listen, Mamá," he had said to the still, waxlike corpse that somewhat resembled Mamá but was not really her. "Listen," he said, instead of the prayers that others at the coffin mumbled under their breaths. "You didn't mean what you said in the hospital. I know that. I know you loved me. And I want to tell you that I'm not angry. I know you weren't yourself. I know that Margarita poisoned your mind with lies about me. I forgive you, Mamá, and I pray for you every day."
Still thinking those thoughts while the priest droned through the church service and then over the open grave. Still thinking when the funeral attendees made their way to Margarita's house for the obligatory after-funeral get-together.
Margarita ran around to everybody, accepting their embraces and giving them her tears in return. In between she went back and forth to the kitchen with the hot casseroles that people had brought. Acting more like the goddamned hostess at a coming-out party than the grieving daughter of the departed.
Well, Alfonso had thought, she was my mother too. And he accepted the condolences of those who came. Some of whom were wary, not having seen Alfonso for years. Having heard about his troubles years ago but acting as if they had been yesterday. About his militancy. Getting fired from his teaching job. Having his photograph spread across the front page of the newspapers. Leading a protest that had erupted into the shooting of some poor paisano by the police.
Through the dreariness of the gathering he tried to remain solemn. Not that he did not feel the sadness, the loss. For in truth, during all his troubles over the years, the troubles that many of the people gathered here remembered too well, it had been his mother who had stood behind him. He knew that no matter how angry she had been, she had never really meant that anger. That he had been her favorite. He had been the one who had come around most often, even though many times it was to ask for money.
But through the dreary gathering, dry-eyed, ready to scream, he could only sense the unreality of it all. The subdued cocktail party atmosphere. The sad way some people looked at him yet avoided him if they could. His unbelievable, uncontrollable feeling that he would burst into laughter if one more person turned away from him and rushed toward Margarita or Cipriano.
Then, after all that draining intensity, there had been the heightened expectation when the will was read a few days later. He should have known what would happen. He knew what bloodsuckers lawyers were.
But there it was, Mamá's words coming out of that cold-fish lawyer who rushed through the reading, in a hurry to collect his fee. "My house and all my worldly goods, except for the small bequest to the Church of the Immaculate Heart, I give equally to my son Cipriano and my daughter Margarita. My son Alfonso has received more than his share during my lifetime. All I can leave him now are my fervent prayers that he will mend his ways before it is too late."
The shock! At least Margarita had the good grace not to snicker. Cipriano had avoided looking at him. Disinherited! Left nothing. Not a dirty adobe brick or a single raw frijol. Jesus! He had almost collapsed right there. Now what the hell was he going to do?
If you had only known the truth, Mamá, he thought as the bus approached the old center of the city. If you hadn't listened to other people's lies.
He looked alertly out the window. They were approaching the building where Cipriano had his barber shop—no, now it was a hair salon. Fancy. Alfonso stared to make sure that it was still there on the wall. The huge, spray-can painted graffiti. Garamond bold he had made it. Worthy of the finest typesetter. In black against the desert tan of the building. "Cipriano Peña is a capitalist marrano!"
Alfonso couldn't help but smile. It was still there. They'd have to sandblast the building to get it off. His brother was too cheap to do that.
Very nice, Alfonso thought. Not only artistic but literary too. "Capitalistic marrano!" Hah. Marrano was Spanish for pig. But what pleased him most was not the bilingualism of it. Hell, even the Anglos around here knew a little Spanish. It was the double meaning of marrano, a literary allusion or whatever the hell they called it. Because marrano had another meaning, one that went way back to when his ancestors had first settled this miserable place in the seventeenth century. A marrano referred to a Jew who ate pork. That is, a Jew who had forsaken his faith to save his life during the Spanish Inquisition. Who knows what money-grubbing strain might have sneaked into the family, especially into Cipriano, who was a capitalistic marrano. A pig. A Jew. Both.
A departing passenger left behind a folded tangle of newspaper. Alfonso moved quickly and grabbed it. When he looked out the window he saw that the bus was alongside the old Kimo Theater.
"Transfer," he demanded of the driver. Then he hopped off, slapping the folded newspaper against his thigh. A new idea had occurred to him.
* * *
"I'm sorry," the blond receptionist said after the third attempt to get through. "Her line is still busy."
"I'm her cousin," Alfonso said. "It's very important that I talk to her."
She flashed a weak smile that was not even a good pretense. He could tell that she wanted him to leave. The hell with her, Alfonso thought. He headed past the reception counter toward the door into the interior of the building.
"Sir!" The receptionist's voice rose in alarm. "Sir! You can't go in there."
Two visitors, looking uncomfortable in their neat but unstylish clothes, looked up from the government issue chairs on which they sat. The receptionist quickly tapped a succession of pushbuttons on her telephone.
Alfonso half expected a siren to scream. As he put his hand on the doorknob he realized that if he continued they would probably throw him out. He would have no chance of speaking to Ms. Bustamante.
He sighed and turned back toward the counter, ignoring the nervous stares of the waiting visitors. Jailbirds, he thought. That's what they look like. Tarted up so their free lawyers might think they're innocent.
Before he was halfway to the counter the door popped open and a uniformed marshal walked out, scanning left and right like he was walking a beat in a tough barrio. The marshal's hand was on his left hip over the small rectangular holster that housed a walkie-talkie.
Here it comes, Alfonso thought. He looked down at his rumpled trousers and the poor excuse for a sport coat. He tried to adjust his necktie that he had loosened while on the bus. At least he had shaved this morning. But deep inside he was prepared for rejection, thinking that if he was in a pressed business suit or was white-skinned, he would be treated differently.
He was trying to decide whether or not to make a scene as the marshal approached the counter. He could see the moving lips of the officer and the receptionist, but he couldn't hear the words. The marshal looked over his shoulder at Alfonso.
"I'll wait," Alfonso said, the closest he would ever come to an apology The unexpected sound of his voice was like a shout in the uneasy quiet. He dropped onto a chair facing one of the visitors, who looked away.
The dark-complected marshal strolled across the lobby and leaned over Alfonso, speaking in Spanish. "Señor Peña, you want to talk to Attorney Bustamante? You'll have to wait until she's off the telephone. The receptionist is only doing her job. When I go back in I'll tell Ms. Bustamante that you're waiting."
The guard smiled a dark-brown, friendly smile that had an edge to it. I'll be nice if you don't fuck with me, it said.
Alfonso nodded, loosening his grip on the arms of the chair. Well, he thought, though still wary, that's more like it. He straightened his tie and tossed a glare toward the receptionist who was busy on the telephone. Then he smiled toward the visitor opposite, who still would not acknowledge him. This time Alfonso did not react, did not curse the man under his breath or give it another thought.
In a few minutes the door opened and a sturdy, good-looking young woman with a harried expression on her face walked to the counter. The receptionist nodded in Alfonso's direction. The woman approached rapidly, her dark eyes under thick black brows boring into him.
"Let's sit over there," she commanded. She did not say "away from the others" but Alfonso knew what she meant.
"What is it that you want?" she asked.
"Don't you recognize me?"
After his disappointment, Alfonso realized: Why should she? He didn't remember her from his mother's funeral. He had not been close to her father since high school. He had seen Daniel infrequently and mostly by accident until the time of his death. Their lives had taken different paths.
He vaguely remembered the overactive little girl who was Daniel's oldest daughter. He would not have recognized the woman she had become except for the captioned photograph in the newspaper. She was a celebrity now, a famous person.
"I'm your cousin Alfonso." Her expression did not change. "Alfonso Peña," he added, disappointed that she did not recognize his name.
She blinked and her face lit up with—with what?—amusement? suspicion? "Yes," she said. "The phone call. The radical."
Yes, Alfonso thought. The radical. The socialist. Defender of the poor. Fighter against bigotry. Champion of the brown-skinned and the red-skinned. Militant. Outspoken. Burr under the saddle of the powerful. Wielder of the custard pie against the pompous. Revealer of the emperor's clothes. Searchlight on the privileged and unfair. Troublemaker. Don Quixote de los Frijoles. What the hell did this young twit know?
"As I told you on the telephone, I want to help."
The expression on her face hardened. "I think my position on that was very clear."
"I have a daughter your age," he said. "Maybe a little younger. She lives in California."
What he didn't say was that he suspected that she had moved to get away from him. Lupe had never told him that outright, but he sensed it anyway. His wife had told him often enough to stop meddling in their daughter's life. Then Lupe had married this young Anglo engineer and gone away. Now there were only birthday and Christmas cards. Occasional telephone calls. Occasional visits on vacation.
Ms. Bustamante eyed him suspiciously. Her dark eyes made him uncomfortable, as if she could see deep inside him and know his most secret thoughts. She ignored his comment about his daughter.
"We have a team of lawyers working for us. What I really need right now is to get back to my desk and get on with my work."
"I've been through this kind of thing before," he said. "I know what these courts can do. Find innocent people guilty. See conspiracies where none exist. What the defendants need is popular support. A show that we Spanish-speaking people are not going to put up with their shit."
She stiffened and took a deep breath, her dark brows arching. No more cursing, he thought to himself. Bureaucrats do not like four-letter words.
"I can get a thousand people picketing the federal courthouse at an hour's notice," he said.
"No. Our lawyers are handling this. That's the last thing we want. Look," she said, "this conversation is getting nowhere. I can't stop you from doing whatever you want as long as it's within the law, but I think it's a bad idea. Now I have to go back to work."
Then again, unable to help himself, "I'm an artist. I want to draw the court proceedings and sell them to the newspapers. I—" He couldn't say it. Tell her that he desperately needed a job.
"I can't do anything about that," she said. "You can do anything you want in the courtroom as long as you don't disrupt the proceedings. As for the newspapers, talk to them." Then abruptly, "I can't talk anymore. I have to get back to my desk."
She turned and walked quickly away. She doesn't know what difficulties she's going to face in court, he thought. Thank God she has a relative who can be of service. Which for him was the equivalent of a promise.
|The Dancing School||49|
|A Whole Lot of Justice||65|