Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Border Town Mêlée (a short story, reedited, 2-2011)

Border Town Mêlée
[Christmas Day--1927]

Note: the story took place around Christmas time, in 1927, the names of the people and location have been changed, for reasons I'd prefer not to mention: which linger in my family's history.

(The End:) Seven Mexicans came to the bridge crossing from the American side of Laredo, and what is known as the Rio Grande, over to what is known as Laredo Nuevo, or the New Laredo, and again the same crossing the same river, yet known to the other side, the Mexican side, as the Rio Bravo de Norte.
A youthful, and strong looking Military Sergeant, from the United States border crossing, was checking their ID's out, as an American Colonel, Colonel Albright (who had just happened to be at the crossing at the same time), seen the Sergeant in Charge, checking them out: doing a cross-checking, double checking of the several weather beaten Mexican's. Thence, the warrior Colonel stood by watching carefully (as he leaned against his car dawdling over some papers in his hands)—studying the inspection, as the Sergeant checked out their clothing, along with their undergarments, faces [profiles], ID's— (precarious indeed—was the good Sergeant, thought the colonel); possibly some of this checking was too impress the Colonel—so the Colonel thought—for the Sergeant was taking much longer than normal, or probably because he felt there was something wrong and couldn't quite put his finger on it.
In the course of a military career, one often acquires instincts and astuteness beyond the normal, a survival thing, somehow, someway imprinted into our character, our physical beings, sometimes held loose in our subconscious to grab at instantly in such matters, as in making judgments, with just a glance and a thought. In either case (with the art of foresight and deduction), the Colonel approached the Sergeant and the several Mexicans, whom were standing beside the guard shack that lead to the bridge crossing the Rio Grande; the Sergeant and his two Privates were armed with weapons, both privates guarding—hawk-eyed like, on any and everything that moved within the radius of a hundred yards: thus, standing—almost standing, like robots—in case there was resistance, an emergency, or crisis of any kind.
"Any problems Sergeant?" asked the Colonel, whom had one Junior Officer and one Staff Sergeant on each side of him, as he approached within three feet of the Sergeant in Charge of the Guard Post; knowing the Sergeant slightly, for the Colonel had crossed the bridge many times for official meetings, business, with the Mexican aristocrats, on such matters that concerned his GI's going into their town and drinking, buying souvenirs, and buying flesh and pleasure. The Colonel—prosperous enough to be able to purchase the respect of the Sergeant— signaled to his black-limousine driver, a Private First Class, now in back of him, to turn off the engine, and park the automobile for the time being.
(A long pause took place—the Sergeant had seen the Colonel approaching, now both within a few feet of one another.)
Says the Sergeant, now standing nearly three feet in front of the Colonel, with his waxed and dutiful available smile, "We had some trouble as you know, Sir, earlier on this morning and some this afternoon, and so I'm just double checking, they look a bit ragged, as if they were doing some fighting someplace, possibly the... ((A pause, the Colonel is opening his mouth to speak, to say something, and the Sergeant simply stops...)(a light smile appears on the Colonel's face, directly looking into the Sergeant's eyes, to insure he knew, the Sergeant knew that is, that the Colonel was still a Colonel, the same one that had looked the other way a few times for him, pertaining to the Sergeant’s squad, his men, that had drank too much on a few occasions, crossing the bridge back to the American side—consequently, leaving well enough alone….))
"Yes, I know we've had some trouble Sergeant, and yes, double checking is wise, but if you don't mind, let me see their papers, or whatever you're holding, ID's of whatever kind they have. We have just fought a good skirmish as you well know, with these devils."
A little unusual was this request, thought the Sergeant, which provoked some suspicion, but the Sergeant handed over the documents nonetheless, without question, all four passports, and two birth certificates, along with three licenses. All indicating they were from Mexico City, and Veracruz.
"Without a doubt, I don't see a mounting problem with these wetbacks," said the Colonel “Let them pass on through…none are this Manuel Garcia I’m looking for.”
(Garcia was among these seven and the Colonel knew this; but what the Sergeant didn't know, and the Colonel did was two things: first of all, all seven had weapons under their ponchos, had they checked much more a new skirmish would have been provoked—and it was Christmas Day; second, he had given his word for a twenty-four ceasefire with the Colonel, although only them two knew it. And even though the '24-hour period,' was not spelled out during the dialogue between Garcia and the Colonel, it was implied, understood, and they both knew it.) Having heard that from the Colonel, the Sergeant started to stand-down—hesitantly, but stand-down he did, as a result, reducing the concerned tension that was surly building up within the mind of both the Colonel and Garcia himself. The Colonel somehow had created calm, saved the day, yet a tiny cloud of suspicion had been left in the mind of the Sergeant.

Early Part of the Day

(The Beginning :) In the early part of the day, the part that the Sergeant was talking about, the Colonel, during a fire-fight, had killed Garcia's son, and wife whom tried to guard him (Garcia, his father, wife and son all had been huddled together) from racing bullets, and in the process they took the bullets for him; the father being the only survivor, besides Manuel himself. Colonel Albright knew, then and now knew, the moment of battle, when the bullets are flying, seemingly never to stop—men tend to hope without being conscious of it, hope for a happy ending, more life to live thereafter—the moment of sudden death with a bullet is never really realized by the dead, it’s too instant (and so this was also part of his deliberation—his thinking, when he approach the band of Mexicans and the Sergeant after the battle on the bridge, the seven Mexicans trying to crossover, which at this point was still in the future).
In addition, there were a number of American soldiers killed in the fire-fight. The battle had gone on for over three hours, and when it was over—the clash that took place in this small town, on the American side of the border—the Colonel took to resting, a siesta, as the Mexicans call it—thinking and allowing his imagination to speculate on his future, fanciful thoughts came and left.
Now with an empty pistol on his lap, resting against a brick wall of a second floor building he was occupying, his mind went to the current event: he had shot previously transversely —across from one building to the other side—that is to say, from the top of the building he was in, to the building on the other side where Garcia was, for where he had kill the enemy, the wife and son who had surrounded Garcia; this was now on his mind, he didn't mean to shoot the wife and teenage boy, but it did happen, peculiar as it was, it did take place. What were they looking for he pondered on? That one would give up their life for possibly another, “All for a Paradise without snakes."

At this point, Albright, had thought the battle was over, and Garcia was dead (of which of course he was not true) he had found himself walking down aimlessly down off the top of the building, and resting against a wall on the second floor, tired, fatigued to the marrow of his bones. Feeling a little guilty also, and sad, that the skirmish could not have been contained to simply the men, the so called soldiers of the world; he let out a great sigh of energy from his stomach and lungs as he leaned hard against the brick wall—in a sonorous tone, the last of the air came out of his body: his mouth, his nose, his eyes shutting a bit, and then reopening.
As the silence of the afternoon took hold—the sun overwhelmingly heating up the outside of the vacant building like toast, the Colonel rested cumbersomely against the wall of the building: cooling his body temperature to normal, as he started to breath better, more from his stomach: while checking his empty revolver, now resting on his thigh: while the other soldiers under his command, remained in place, he had one platoon of: forty-four-men in all; forty-four men covering the whole town of which ten of them had surrounded this very building, and the building Garcia was in.
The Colonel had given instructions to all remaining soldiers to stay in place, to stand-down for the moment, to let the Mexicans come out if they wished to, peacefully. But none did. And so it was a waiting game. They had killed several they knew, several Mexicans, and figured between five to ten were left (evidently only seven were left, these were the seven that had showed up at the bridge crossing, and the Colonel knew, he knew his word was given, implied, not to fight, and that more lives were at stake had he let the situation go, or get out of hand; he headed on toward his next destination in his big long, black limacine).
The two men: Garcia and Colonel Albright now were face to face—both less then twenty-feet away. Garcia had showed up on the other side of the street, oddly enough, on the stairway that led up to the room the Colonel was in, resting against the wall. The Colonel heard the footsteps, but said nothing, thinking it was one of his men. Hence, still sitting, leaning lightly against the wall, not as heavy as he was before, again, an instinctive measure for he did not hear his men talking nor any low-laughter from their voices, nor the sounds of boots, just an uneasy sound of one person climbing the steps; his men came in two's or three's, normally not alone—; he went checking for a cigar within his pockets, he projected to himself the fighting had stopped, or at least clogged up for the meantime, there was a twenty-minutes lapse now.
As the Mexican warrior got onto the second floor, the dusty wooden floor (a few spiders, roaches, rats scrambling here and there—the colonel started to listen hard, trying to wipe out the disruptions around him, mentally), then he (he being: Garcia) seen the Colonel latent, resting against the fortification, the thick brick wall, he had seen him before, they both had seen each other before, but the Colonel was now vulnerable— and Garcia stood there like a tropical moon light fixture. The Colonel had bullets to insert into his gun in his pocket—but they had not yet been inserted, and quickly said, before Garcia could pull out his weapon, "Enough, there's been enough fighting for one day, enough killing for one day its Christmas Day. Both maintaining a sharp look at each others movements, as if to indicated should I, or should I not—Garcia not knowing the Colonel’s gun was empty; now snake instincts, snake eyes, shot towards one another, not yet bullets. And surely—thought the Colonel, surely he’s thinking: this murderer who killed my wife and son, wants peace? But was it his bullet that killed them or was it one of his soldiers? It was questionable, although the Colonel was in charge.
The dark Mexican, lean and rustic looking—with almost telegraphic eyes, long black hair, sunken in face, pocked marked cheeks, five foot six inches tall, as dirty as a rag-picker: said with an honorable, and bawled voice: "Se, amigo, daya largo--let there be peace," (it had been a long day for both, and much killing had taken place, three soldiers of the Colonel’s had been shot, one dead, two in severe condition) he turned around, a tear in Garcia’s eye (the Colonel noticed, he wanted the day to be over just like Albright did), and walked back down the steps. The Colonel never touched his gun, nor did the Mexican go for his.
Nothing would bring back his wife and boy, and in battle one knows there are no real rules—other than to win and stay alive, not really any rules, rules are not for wars or battles, after a victory, who can claim: you didn’t go by the rules; the winner will hang you for such slander. No rules exist when it comes to the last breathe; all soldiers know that, even if you bring into sight your own flesh and blood. Plus Garcia knew that Colonel knew it was not a man’s way to kill children or women, it was as it was something that happened and would not have, had his wife and boy not insisted on being part of the militia.

No: 155 (Written 2003, Minnesota) Reedited 2-2011 (shorter version)