“Gentlemen, a well-dressed man stole my suitcase in the station at Silao.” Her words produce an immediate and certain effect.
A well-dressed man, a dude, a tenderfoot, stealing a suitcase! Amazing, phenomenal! It awakens a feeling of universal indignation. It’s a pity: if this well-dressed man were here every one of the generals would shoot him one after the other!
“There’s nothing as vile as a city dude who steals!” a man says, exploding with indignation.
“To rob a poor old lady!”
“To steal from a poor defenseless woman!”
They prove their compassion by word and deed: a harsh verdict against the culprit; a five-peso bill for the victim.
“And I’m telling you the truth,” Blondie declares. “Don’t think it’s wrong to kill, because when you kill, it’s always out of anger. But stealing—Bah!”
This profound piece of reasoning meets with unani-mous assent. After a short silence while he meditates, a colonel ventures his opinion:
“Everything is all right according to something, see? That is, everything has its circumstances, see? God’s own truth is this: I have stolen, and if I say that everyone here has done the trick, I’m not telling a lie, I reckon!”
“Hell, I stole a lot of them sewing machines in Mex-ico,” exclaims a major. “I made more’n five hundred pesos even though I sold them at fifty cents apiece!”
A toothless captain, with hair prematurely white, an-nounces:
“I stole some horses in Zacatecas, all damn fine horses they was, and then I says to myself, ’This is your own little lottery, Pascual Mata,’ I says. ’You won’t have a worry in all your life after this.’ And the damned thing about it was that General Limon took a fancy to the horses too, and he stole them from me!”
“Of course—there’s no use denying it, I’ve stolen too,” Blondie confesses. “But ask any one of my partners how much profit I’ve got. I’m a big spender and my Purse is my friends’ to have a good time on! I have a better time if I drink myself senseless than I would have sending money back home to the old woman!”
The subject of “I stole,” though apparently inexhausti-ble, ceases to hold the men’s attention. Decks of cards gradually appear on the seats, drawing generals and of-ficers as the light draws mosquitoes.
The excitement of gambling soon absorbs every in-terest, the heat grows more and more intense. To breathe is to inhale the air of barracks, prison, brothel, and pigsty all in one.
And rising above the babble, from the car ahead ever the shrill voice, “Gentlemen, a well-dressed young man stole . . .”
The streets in Aguascalientes were so many refuse piles. Men in khaki moved to and fro like bees before their hive, overrunning the restaurants, the crapulous lunch houses, the parlous hotels, and the stands of the street vendors on which rotten pork lay alongside grimy cheese.