The Last Scam, Excerpt from Chapter 6
That night the city of Oaxaca continued its routine as though the new market had never been blown up. The old market was crowded with wares, and tourists strolled through the blocks of peddlers fingering merchandise and marking bargains until well after dark. There were more soldiers stationed on the corners, but their presence hadn’t seemed to inhibit a concert at the bandstand by the Oaxaca State Band. Their repertoire was straight John Philip Sousa, and the sounds they made carried throughout the valley.
For a while Henry Amazon lay on his back at the Fuenteses’ picking up the far-off strains of brass music. The marches made the animals restless at first, and several dogs barked around the village. The last tune Amazon heard as he drifted off into sleep was “The Stars and Stripes Forever!”
When he awoke, bright light was washing through the open doorway and the birds were busy in the courtyard. He pulled his boots on. It was time to meet Rascón.
The meeting with the Indian Rascón was critical to Henry Amazon’s plans. If things with Rascón didn’t work out, there was still Gomez Gordo, but Amazon wanted to stay away from him. Rascón was a better arrangement. The Indian and his friends had access to everything Amazon wanted: top-notch Kind and a dirt airstrip behind Chichicapan in the south foothills. It was Rascón’s importance that had prompted Henry to leave Zorro in town, for Rascón was easily spooked.
The Indian’s meeting place system was known only to a few, and constructed so that he could control things. After leaving the rocks behind the cactus, Amazon was supposed to show up twenty miles beyond the Fuenteses’ in Tlacolula on its market day and proceed to a street on the other side of the marketplace. The plaza across from Tlacolula’s church and the streets surrounding it were full of Indians.
Amazon parked, proceeded on foot down the main street for another block past the teeming market, and then turned right at a tiny hardware store. The street here had a slight grade to it and no sidewalks. Within five minutes he could see the edge of the village, where the adobes stopped and the fields began. The flat surface of walls facing the street along this stretch was broken only by a dead-end alley separating the Tlacolula Rotary Club from a doctor’s office. Amazon stepped into the mouth of the alley, deep enough to be hidden from the street, and waited. The alley ran on behind him another twenty feet to a steel door that led into the doctor’s courtyard. On the two occasions Amazon and Rascón had used this meeting spot before, the Indian had arrived by a different means each time. Once he had jumped off a passing truck; the other time he materialized out of a doorway a half block closer to the plaza and arrived on foot. Amazon lit a cigarette and leaned against a wall, waiting. Rascón showed up five minutes later. This time he stepped out of the steel door at the dead end of the alley and closed it softly behind him. Rascón accepted the cigarette Amazon offered and leaned against the other wall, facing the gringo. The Indian was wearing an old brown wool serape and straw hat that cast shade across most of his face. Rascón fidgeted and kept glancing at the mouth of the alley when the business discussion began.
As Amazon told him how much Kind he wanted, Rascón let out a low whistle.
He then added in quick and sloppy Spanish that his friends didn’t have anything close to that much around now. “All we got is the last two boxes from the harvest before,” he explained.
Amazon felt a sinking feeling in his stomach.
“But my friends,” Rascón continued with another look out toward the street, “will go back in the mountains in three more days to get a new crop.”
“How many days till they get back?”
“Dos, quizás, tres semanas.”
Amazon said three weeks would suit him fine. He just wanted to make a down payment to hold the new crop for him.
Rascón said it was one hundred dollars a pound, American money, and to get five hundred pounds, Amazon had to leave twenty percent down before Rasc6n’s friends went back into the Sierra Madre.
Amazon tried to bargain, but Rascón was unyielding. His eyes squirmed and wandered in their sockets. Worried about blowing the connection, Amazon eventually gave in, and they smoked another cigarette on the deal. The gringo was to be at the arranged spot on Tuesday night to pick up the remaining two boxes from Rascón ‘s friends and make his deposit.
Amazon left the alley first and walked back up the street without looking behind him.
On his way through the market he stopped once to buy a dozen size-C batteries as a present for The Cockroach and one more time where a young boy was working his fortune-telling bird. When a peso was placed in front of the sparrow’s cage, the bird hopped out to a box full of folded paper slips, picked one out, and hopped back again to the cage where the boy gave him a few seeds. Each slip had a different fortune.
Henry Amazon put his peso down but never got to read about his future. Twice the bird hopped out to pick his fortune but each time returned without choosing one. Despite the boy’s coaxing, the bird refused even to leave the cage. Finally the boy gave Amazon’s peso, back and apologized. He said his bird couldn’t help gringos with their future.
He was a Mexican bird.