Saturday, June 9, 2007

Six (Continued)

They stopped in front of the dilapidated remains of what had once been the town's premier conference hotel. The brickwork was bullet-pocked, and many of the upper windows were broken and boarded over, but some effort had been made to restore the first floor to its former usefulness.

Patton and his Unitas followers were ushered into the threadbare lobby, which was full of delegates like themselves, huddling in clusters surrounded by milling, suspicious bodyguards, all on the alert for tricks and advantages. Patton assessed his group. "Libby, you and Boeing go check out the conference room. We'll wait here."

Boeing and Libertad set off down the hallway and Patton turned to the others with a forced smile. "Let's say hello to a few of these people, since we stand for unity."

Slowly they began making the rounds. Bonham was representing Lone Star, the expansionist military wing of the Republic of Texas. He was surrounded by a group of rough-looking men and women in kerchiefs and big hats that they stubbornly refused to remove indoors.

Mick Ferguson was representing one of the mafia groups which had coalesced around the remnants of a National Guard unit. His bodyguard dressed in old United States army fatigues. Diana eyed Ferguson suspiciously, wondering if his Guard affiliation meant he had any connection to Strecker and the men who had raided her valley home.

Near the entrance to the main hallway they found Don Diego of México Lindo deep in conversation with Don Manuel of Hispanos Unidos. The two men nodded to Patton out of respect for their shared ancestry, but their lips curled in amusement at his poor Spanish.

"Es obvioso que usted ha abandonado a su gente y herencia," Manuel said with a tight smile.

"I haven’t abandoned either my heritage or my people," Patton said. "I only wish for them to live in peace with other groups and choose freely from among the most competent leaders of all backgrounds."

"There is no freedom when you are subject to the will of whoever gets the most votes from the rabble," Diego said. "Eso fue el problema con sus Estados Unidos. You relied on free elections and the people chose foolishly once too often."

"Well, the past is past. This is a day to discuss our common goals and interests."

“That was what we were just talking about," Diego said. "We of la raza have many things in common. We hope you will join us in seeking justice for our people."

"Of course I will. I want justice for all people." Patton turned away. As they walked toward a mafia delegation, he muttered to Amalia, "If these fools could think of someone besides their own nearest kin for ten minutes, we might actually accomplish something."

Libertad and Boeing came over. "Looks good. Plenty of windows, plenty of exits, no sign of a trap."

"Is anyone back there yet?"

"One of the Pueblo groups, some Christian environmentalists, and of course Morton's people."

Patton looked around the room. Apparently some of the other leaders were getting similar news, because the Navajos were starting toward the hallway and it looked like Lone Star was getting ready to head that way, too. "Well, let's take a look. We don't want to be the last ones and look like we're afraid."

When they got to the conference room, Patton assigned positions. Although the best locations near the exits appeared to be taken, Diana gritted her teeth and forced herself to smile at a México Lindo man standing near the doorway she wanted. He moved out of her way, giving her a prime spot between himself and an Indian of a tribe unknown to her, but who she suspected of being from one of the Apache groups operating in the region. She patted her concealed pistol, then settled in for what she did worst— waiting for something to happen.

Across the room, Libertad had posted herself beside a member of the Pueblo Nation and was standing stony-faced while the Isleta guard chatted with a friend in their language. This brought Diana's attention back to the Indian beside her. As she was wondering if there was a way to find out what tribe he was from, a member of his group strode up to him, and after a dismissive glance at Diana, began speaking.

Diana closed her eyes and tried to listen in. They spoke rapidly in a dialect just different enough from the one she was familiar with that she needed every mental resource to follow the outlines of their conversation. It wasn't much, just ordinary soldier chatter about how long they would have to be on duty and whether there would there be any food afterward, but Diana made note of the men's faces. She would try to position herself nearby later when they had more opportunities to mingle. Maybe she could learn something useful.

She had no such linguistic luck with the México Lindo man on the other side of her. Although Diana's mother had been of Scandinavian descent, Hispanos often recognized their own and her father's Hispanic features, evident in her eyes and complexion, gave her away. When the man spoke to the pretty Chicana soldier on his left, it was in English and they stuck to neutral topics.

Elfego Morton, the town strongman, got to his feet and welcomed the delegates to San Eusebio and thanked them for respecting the truce. He outlined his version of the problems facing the region, emphasizing his desire for the creation of a neutral zone that would encompass his town and the surrounding ranch lands. A mafia delegate made a few respectful comments in support of the plan. Bonham chimed in, disagreeing. Morton asked for other opinions and got a question from a twitchy drug-runner in reply. A secretary beside Morton's chair began taking notes, and the conference got underway.

1 comment:

Alice Audrey said...

Nice little touch of back story regarding the demise of the USA.