Thursday, June 14, 2007


They took their plates to the crowded tables and squeezed in next to some Mexicans who halted their discussion to stare at them. "We were saving those seats for our friends," a dusky girl said. From the way she was glaring at Diana, it was hard to tell if she was more annoyed that she was from the wrong group or because of her light skin and exposed cleavage.

"We're very sorry, Doña," Sputnik said. "But there aren't many places left."

While the girl struggled with her consternation at being given an honorary title, Diana forced herself to smile at the two nearest men. "It's okay if we stay until your friends show up, isn't it?"

One man was unmoved, but before he could say anything, the other said, "Pos, sí. We will be finished soon anyway. And if not, we can find a way."

"We'll eat fast." Diana held the man's eyes, still smiling.

"No, Señorita, enjoy your dinner. Enjoy the fiesta."

"I don't want to eat a lot because I want to dance later." She leaned toward him. "Do you know what kind of dancing they'll have?"

The Mexican girl turned on her with fierce black eyes. "They'll be playing cumbias, bolilla, and Marcelo dances only with me. Got it?"

Diana sat back, uncertain what to do next. "Of course he does." On an inspiration, she grabbed Sputnik's hand and scooted a little closer to him on the hard wooden bench. "I was only asking. We like cumbias, too, don't we?"

"Of course, darling. Now go on and eat. We don't want to overstay our welcome."

Only slightly mollified, the Mexican girl returned to chatting with the members of her group.

Diana was too rattled at first to do more than play with her food. "It's okay," Sputnik whispered. "You pulled that off well."

Diana nodded, vowing next time not to flirt with a man until she was certain none of the other females in the vicinity was attached to him. She unwrapped a tamale. It was a little dry, but different from camp food and to her mind, delicious.

As she ate, she tried to listen in on the Mexicans, but even though they were speaking Spanish with the distinct and easily understood syllables of the northern states, they were peppering their conversation with words she couldn't figure out, harsh, guttural words from no language she had ever heard.

After they left, she explained the dilemma to Sputnik. "A lot of it sounded important, but they're using some other language for all the critical words and phrases—a Mexican Indian language, I think."

He frowned. "You're sure it's not a dialect that's indigenous to these parts? The Nativists seem to revive a new one every month."

"I know it's not an Apache or Pueblo language, and although I don't know Navajo or Zuni, I know they don’t sound like that."

"I'll try to get Libby to shadow them. Maybe she'll understand."

"I'm pretty sure she'll agree with me. It's different from what's around here. It's got to be a Mexican language."

"That would mean real Mexicans are moving up here. México Lindo has always been Mexican-Americans, but if Mexican citizens are joining, too..."

"This is serious."

Sputnik got to his feet. "This is going to require a change of plans. You're welcome to come with me, but—"

"No," Diana sighed, "I need to quit making excuses and do the job I'm here to do."

"Will you be all right on your own? There's people here who are a lot more dangerous than that Mexican brujita."

A smile crept across Diana's face. "I could've taken her on, and two more just like her."

"Well, try and stay in contact with other members of the group, okay? When I find Libby, I'll send her to you. I think she'll be able to offer some tips."

"I'd appreciate that." With a wave of her hand, Diana moved off into the crowd, feeling Sputnik's eyes upon her as she walked away. Soon she felt other men watching her as well. It was a creepy, claustrophobic feeling, but she held her head up and remembered to smile, scanning the area for someone she knew.

After a few minutes she caught sight of Boeing, chatting with a redhead in a short skirt. The girl didn't look like one of the Texas contingent, who prided themselves on looking like cowgirls, whether they were or not. She must be one of Morton's people, or a member of one of the mafia groups involved in drug-running, land-grabbing and small arms sales. As absorbed as Boeing was in the young woman's cleavage, Diana couldn't help wondering when he was going to get a chance to befriend his requisite wallflowers. In spite of herself, she giggled.

Big mistake. Someone grabbed her arm and she found herself staring at one of the most handsome men she had ever seen. Black-haired, green-eyed, with a light olive complexion, he was almost certainly Hispano. Hispanos Unidos perhaps? Ethnicity didn't always determine affiliation, so it wasn't good to assume. His smile was charming and a little disorienting, but as soon as he spoke, his unctuous, wheedling tone brought her back to reality.

"Hey, gorgeous, nice smile. Don't tell me you couldn't find a date for this shindig?"

Diana knew she should try to be nice at least long enough to find out if he had useful information, but her words came out cool, in spite of her good intentions. "Maybe I did, but I turned them all down."

"You wouldn't turn me down, would you? With legs like yours, I bet you're a great dancer."

"I am, but the band's not playing yet."

"They will soon. Come on, I'll get you a drink."

"No, thank you. I've already had one."

He looked at her critically, then his features smoothed back into a smile. "Are you here alone, or with friends?"

"Isn't everyone here with friends?"

"I guess so." He laughed, but it was a fake laugh. "Tell me, Beautiful, do you have a name? And do you always make such cute remarks?"

"Yes. And yes."

He frowned in exasperation and was about to speak again when Libertad hurried over. The man took one look and rolled his eyes. "Don’t tell me this is one of your friends.”

"You got a problem with that, Carlitos?"

"It's Carlos," he sneered. "And no, I have no problem at all." He let go of Diana's arm. "I should've known a girl this bitchy could only be part of your group." He stalked off into the crowd, looking for another girl to practice his pickup lines on.

Libertad grinned. "How does it feel to have gotten chatted up by Carlos Constantín, one of the biggest Casanovas in the entire Southwest? I guess I should've warned you about him, but having him hit on you is sort of an initiation rite."

"He's awful," Diana said. "What group is he with?"

"No one seems to know. I suspect he's unaffiliated and only comes to these sorts of functions because he has a sick fascination with female spies and soldiers."

"What a waste of good looks."

"If you want a nice guy, never go for the good looking ones.”

"I don't care about looks. I just want to find one to spy on."

"Not every girl has your sense." Libertad gave a jerk of her head. "Let's walk around a little bit. I've got a guy you can maybe get some information out of, but we need to get away from where he might see us, first."

Libertad moved easily through the crowd and Diana struggled to keep up. "There's a man here tonight who I think we can learn a thing or two from. One of Morton's people. Very shy, very intellectual, interested in women but without much experience with either females or truce functions. He'd be perfect for you to cut your teeth on."

Diana frowned. "I have training, you know."

"Hey, you don't have to prove anything. This is no minor deal, and I'd give you this guy even if you had years of experience, because you're not yet known to any of the groups here tonight. That gives you an advantage we can't afford to waste."

Reassured, Diana allowed herself a smile. "Okay, Libertad."

"My friends just call me Libby."

"Well, okay. So who is this guy, and what do you want me to do?"

"I've got a plan. Do you want a drink first? No? Then let's go over here, out of the way, and I'll tell you what needs to happen."

1 comment:

Alice Audrey said...

Poor Diana. This is hard for her.