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Don Louis Ortez Ornellas, the Benefactor

by

R. Harlan Smith

   It was the monsoon season. All it did was rain. Even when it didn’t rain, clouds kept hiding the sky as far as you could see. The people of the village of Dos Cruces east of Chihuahua in the Sierra Madre sat under their ramadas and in their doorways, trying to keep their matches and tobacco dry, and the kindling for their stoves so they could smoke and cook. Sixty-six people lived there with their goats and chickens and little gardens. Even the dogs moped around impatiently with nothing to sniff at. It was one of these days when don Louis Ortez Ornellas drove into town in his nice black and gray Lincoln Zephyr and his fine beige suit.

   As usual, don Louis pretended to be in a good mood, smiling and waving his greetings. He was used to the somber response they gave him, so when he parked at Rosa’s Canteena and hurried in, he didn’t expect much. He took off his hat and whipped a spray of rain on the floor. Rosa put a glass and a bottle and her payment on the bar and stood back with her arms folded across her chest. Don Louis cursed the mud on his ostrich skin boots and looked around the room. There were four old men gambling for match sticks in the back. Dolores, the big sister of little Ricardo Ortiz, sat alone at a table near the bar where she could see out the door. When she saw don Louis, she put her muddy boots up on the other chair at her table. It was a motion that hid her thumb as it slipped the rawhide loop off the hammer of her .44. Don Loius didn’t notice. She sat with her feet up, one hand in her lap rubbing two coins together, her other hand held on to a glass of beer on the table. Don Louis couldn’t tell she kept her eyes on him behind her sun glasses, or that she was willing to kill him.

   Don Louis gave Rosa a nod and took up her payment and his glass and the bottle. Rosa just looked at him as if her were a fly and there was nothing else to look at. Don Louis crossed the floor to Dolores’ table, grinning. He was happy to see her.

   “You don’t mind to join me with a drink, eh, Dolores?”

   Dolores didn’t speak. She put her boots down and smiled to herself as don Loius sat in the mud she left on the chair.

   “Such a pretty smile for me. How is little Ricardo?”

   “You saw him last month?”

   “Of course, I saw him last month.”

   “He’s the same this month.”

   Don Louis downed a drink. “Good. That’s good.”

   “Did you like the present I sent to you?”

   Don Louis won a motorcycle in a poker game from a man in Chihuahua. Two of his men had to beat the man to get it away from him. Don Louis instructed the two men to find a woman named Dolores Ortiz in Dos Cruces and give it to her. They found her in Rosa’s Canteena at her table. When they came toward her she slipped the loop off the hammer of her .44 and stood up to face them. She didn’t know who they were, these men in suits, but they looked like bad news. The fat one who rode the motorcycle put up his hands in a peaceful gesture: “Tranquillo, tranquillo,” he said, holding up the keys. “Don Louis sent this to you with his respects.”

   “I don’t want it,” Dolores said.

   Where was there to go in Dos Cruces on such a big machine?

   The man threw the keys and the papers for it on her table. The two men looked at her for a minute and grinned at her, shaking their heads, then they jumped into their pickup and headed back to Chihuahua. The people gathered around it to have a look at such a big shiny machine. It had the name of a gringo on the gas tank. They wondered who Harley Davidson was and why he would give his beautiful machine to Dolores Ortiz. The muffler ticked and clicked as it cooled. Dolores drove it up to her hideout in the rocks where she lived and left it there in a cave. She walked back down the hill and sat at her table with a fresh beer. Rosa smiled and shook her head. Dolores nodded and smiled. Dolores closed her eyes when she smiled and it drove men wild. They all felt cheated and frustrated by her sun glasses.

   “It’s a very nice present, don Louis, but there’s no gasoline in Dos Cruces.”

   Don Louis turned to the men in back. “Carlos,” he called out. “Carlos Ramirez. Come here.”

   An old man rose from the table and came over to don Louise who handed him the keys to his Lincold Zephyr. “Bring the gas cans from my trunk and put them inside the door.” The old man obeyed without a word. The five gallon cans were too heavy for him, but he struggled with both of them one at a time and went back to his friends.

   “Did little Ricardo like the sandals I brought for him?”

   “No.”

   “No?” Don Louis was visibly disappointed. “What does it take to please that boy?”

   Dolores shrugged. “He wants a shoe.”

   “A shoe? One shoe?”

   “He already has one. He’s waiting to find another one.”

   “But the sandals-”

   “They were too big. He gave them to Daniel Aguilar who keeps goats up in the grasslands.”

   “Yes. I know Daniel. That’s a day’s walk from here.”

   “Daniel gave him some meat.”

   “Meat? I can bring him all the meat he wants. Stupid boy.”

   “You be careful how you talk about little Ricardo.”

   “Are you making a threat to me, your benefactor?”

   “No.”

   Don Louis tensed his jaw. His face swelled red and he took a deep breath and let it out through his nose like a bull. He looked down at his boots and cursed the mud again. “I have to go back,” he said. “It’s not raining so bad in Chihuahua.”

   Dolores stared out at the rain on the street.

   “You and little Ricardo could live in Chihuahua. He could go to school.”

   Dolores didn’t answer.

   Don Louis stood up and threw a handful of bubble gum on the table. “For little Ricardo,” he said.

   Dolores sat very still.

   “I’ll see you next month.”

   “Maybe.”

  Don Louis put his hat on and walked out of Rosa’s Canteena. Rosa laughed quietly at the mud on the seat of his pants. He raced his motor and sped out of Dos Cruces, swerving back and forth and throwing mud everywhere.

   Dolores slipped the loop back over the hammer on her .44.

   But that wasn’t the end of the story. There was more to it than that. It was easy to see don Louis had a soft spot for women. He got them to do things for him for money. He didn’t know what to do with a woman that had no respect for money, a woman like the stubborn but pretty Dolores Ortiz. Things were different the following month when don Louis came to Dos Cruces.

   Don Louis came to Dos Cruces late Saturday afternoon in his fine Lincoln Zephyr on a day when the sun was bright and there were great white billowing clouds piled high in the sky like ice cream, and Father Francisco was making kites with long tails for the children and coloring the sky with them. Everyone agreed it was a day fit for a fiesta. There was music coming from Rosa’s Canteena and the fragrances of pork cooking; sausages and bacon, and there was plenty of rice and beans steaming in pots, and heated tortillas. It was the first time don Louis had ever heard joy coming from the hearts of the people of Dos Cruces.

   He parked close to the door and got out with a little bag with a pair of shoes in it and walked into Rosa’s looking for Dolores at her table, but his face fell into a frown when he saw she was not sitting there. The music stopped and the crowd went silent.

   “What’s the matter?” he said. “Go on. Go on with your fun. What’s the occasion?” he asked Rosa.

   “It’s a celebration of things to come.”

   “Things to come.” Don Louis nodded. “Things to come.”

   Rosa stood as usual behind the bar. Her hair was up and she had a bit of rose color on her lips. She smiled openly to show the little bit of gold in her tooth, and that was not common. What was also not common was the glass and bottle on the bar for him, and his payment. They weren’t there.

   Don Louis looked at Rosa. “Well?” he said.

   “Well what?” she shot back angrily.

   Don Louis was surprised and a little scared with the silence in the room. He looked at Rosa: “Where is your payment, Rosa Magdalena?”

   Rosa stared right back at him. “Dolores took it,” she said.

  Don Louis’s eyes got very big. His face swelled red again and his mouth fell open. Then in a low angry voice he said, “Where is Dolores Ortiz?”

   Rosa shrugged. “Who knows?”

   Then she called out to the crowd. “Does anybody know where Dolores Ortiz is?”

   They all shrugged and looked at each other. They didn’t know.

  Don Louis twirled the bag and slammed it onto the bar to scare Rosa, but she was not scared. He walked to the middle of the room and unbuttoned his jacket to cool off. They could see he wore his shoulder holster with the shiny little snub-nose six shooter. He loosened his shirt collar, and the crowd moved back away from him.

   He walked to the table where the food was spread and dipped a heap of guacamole with his fingers. He put it in his mouth and spat it on the floor and wiped his fingers on the table cloth.

   “Okay,” he said. “Okay. I know where she is.”

   Don Louis backed his Lincold Zephyr away from Rosa’s Canteena and sped up the hill to where Dolores’ hideout was. It was a hard climb for his car and the tires spun and one of them gasped the air out and flopped all the way up to where he disappeared over the top of the hill. Everyone went outside and watched the top of the hill. They didn’t know what to expect. All they could see was the dust that followed him up there.

   Little Ricardo ran around to the back of the hill and climbed up to the top of the rocks where he could see don Louis and his Lincoln Zephyr with a flat rear tire down below.

   Don Louis skidded to a stop and got out of his car. He squinted his eyes and wiped the sweat away from his forehead with a monogrammed handkerchief.

   He called out. “Dolores Ortiz. I know you’re up there.”

   Only a dead silence came back to him. He strained his eyes to see where she might hide, but there was nothing. He paced back and forth cursing and waving his arms. Then he lit one of his little cigars and leaned against a fender and smoked for a while. He had never been so angry in his life. Only a woman could make him so mad.

   “Dolores Ortiz,” he called again, and there was no response.

   The people in the village watched and listened, but there was nothing to see or hear. Someone said it was not a good idea to make don Louis angry. He would take it out on anybody. “Not today I don’t think so,” someone said.

   Don Louis finished his little cigar and threw it down and crushed it angrily with his boot. It was the hottest time of the day, so he took off his jacket and rolled up his sleeves and proceeded to change his tire. When he was finished, he stood with his hands on his hips and called out to Dolores Ortiz.

   “Dolores Ortiz, just give me Rosa’s payment and I’ll go away.”

   He waited and still there was no answer.

   “Puta,” he said, and he took out his shiny little pistol. “I’m coming up,” he said, “I will kill you, Dolores Ortiz. And when I’m finished with you, I will find your stupid little one-shoe brother and kill him, too.” And he started up the rocks. Dolores’s thumb slipped the little rawhide loop off the hammer of her .44. She rested the barrel on her forearm and shot don Louis’ hat off. The bullet burrowed into the top of the Lincoln Zephyr and whined off down into the canyon on the other side of the hill.

   Don Louis’ voice was hysterical. “You shoot my hat? And you shoot my car? Now I will kill you for sure.”

  Don Louis fired several shots at the puff of smoke, hoping a ricochet would get her. He heard a little squeal. He would never have dreamed it was a squeal of glee and not the squeal of zinging pain of a hot little bullet. Dolores moved quickly to the side and took a position off to his right. She watched him clamber over the rocks and stood up in plain view. She whistled and when don Louis looked, her bullet went into don Louis’ eye. His arms went up and he fell backwards to land beside his car with a big pink mess at the back of his head. It was ugly.

   The villagers outside Rosa’s Canteena heard the gunfire; the little pops of don Louis’ shiny pistol and the two explosive shots of Dolores’ .44.

   Little Ricardo helped his big sister load don Louis into his car and they pushed it over the edge. It fell over and over and settled upside down into a crevice two hundred feet below. A landslide of boulders and debris followed it down and buried it forever.

   “Did you take his money?” Ricardo said.

   “Yes.”

   The people outside Rosa’s Canteena waited for more gun shots until one of them pointed to the top of the hill.

   “Look,” someone said.

   A tire was bobbing up and down toward the top of the hill. Then under it they saw Dolores Ortiz holding it over her head. She gave it a heave and bounced it down the hill. The villagers watched as if hypnotized as it rolled toward them and past them and clear to the other end of the village where it ran out of momentum and fell over into the weeds. Then Dolores Ortiz fixed her hat smartly on her head. She put her arm across little Ricardo’s shoulders, and she and little Ricardo Ortiz came down the hill side by side.

   That night, after everyone was full of food and the musicians could play no more and they were all full of home brew, they made a fire behind Rosa’s Canteena. Little Ricardo wore a brand new pair of shoes. He threw his old shoe onto the fire and tonight, the night of the festival of things to come, little Ricardo was the one with a story to tell.

end

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