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Macho Caballo Page

Las Aventuras De Macho Caballo

MACHO CABALLO PART I: CHAPTER NUEVE FALSE TRAILS AND BAD ROADS
DISTRACTIONS: “Where are you going?” demanded Estrellita. Machita realized that she had been dragging the blond girl along with her toward the stairway. “I saw the guy who had me chased at the marketplace,” said Machita, “He was up at the head of the stairs, a bald guy wearing a red and blue cloak.” “There's no one there now,” said Estrellita, “He must have seen you and left.” Indeed, the landing at the top of the stairway was deserted. “I think I am beginning to see things,” said Machita, “This dress is cutting off my wind.” “Don't start that again!” Estrellita said, “If you wouldn't go around like a tornado, you wouldn't be out of breath all the time.” “This was not such a good idea,” muttered Machita as they descended the stair, “My clothes are uncomfortable, my shoes are killing me, I'm a guy in a dress at a *big* party, and I'm seeing things.” On the main floor, the party swirled about them. Clusters of girls and a few lone boys were scattered throughout the house, but most of the guests were parents and chaperones, while servants flowed between them. “See anyone you want to talk to?” asked Machita. “Naw. Let's sneak outside again.” “There is Señora de Muerte. Maybe she has learned something,” Machita turned to discover that she could not find Estrellita. She turned again and she was at a doorway where she had seen the Doña. “She must have gone through here,” Machita said. MESSAGES: “Estrellita!” cried Maria, “I have something here for you. It is from Alita!” “For me?” wondered Estrellita. “No, actually, it is addressed to Ramón. Do you suppose you could take it to him?” “Sure. But what would she want with Ramón?” “Are you kidding? She'd eat him up. She has a big simpatico for that boy! By the way, what did you do to her? She is *very* upset!” “Alita got catty with my friend Machita and he... she slapped her down, but good,” said Estrellita, searching the room for her companion. “I don't see Machita anywhere. She was with me just a moment ago.” “She was that girl with the dark complexion, wasn't she? I haven't seen her either. Maybe she went outside.” “It's just like her to wander off, like that,” grumbled Estrellita. THE BEAT OF THE NIGHT: The memories of how Ramón got into the corridor were vague. He was pretending to be Machita, wearing a dress, looking for Señora de Muerte, and he was no longer at the party. The corridor opened into a small room. On the other side, it continued sharply to the right, with a lone candle on a stand in the corner to light the way. Looking back the way he had come, Ramón saw his shadow and puzzled at its strange shape - the billows of the skirt large at the bottom, tapering to a slim and shapely body at the top - until he realized that he was looking at himself... herself... The inside of her elbow brushed a breast and Machita stopped in confusion. Sounds of merriment echoed from behind, hushed in the corridor. The European orchestra had begun a fast-paced dance. Surely she must go there, but... to the right a figure beckoned. Doña Mercedes had appeared again, waving her on. Her heart thudded in her ears, making it difficult to think. Somewhere she heard the shuffle and grumble of a badger. Machita hurried on to the right after the Doña. The dance was well under way, with older couples as well as youths joining in the trot. Estrellita had searched among the party-goers until she despaired of finding anyone familiar, then she left the ballroom and continued her search in the back hallways. Near the kitchen, she came upon one of the vaqueros. “Francisco, I cannot find Ramón,” she said, “He was looking for Señora de Muerte.” “The Señora is in here,” said Francisco, “But you must not be seen with us. It would be best if you returned to the party.” At that moment, Doña Mercedes appeared at the doorway. “Francisco is correct, child,” she said, “We have found a guarded building and our men will try to find out who is within it. You and 'Lucha' must go back inside.” “But I can't find him! He was beside me in the ballroom, then he saw that man who tried to have him... her grabbed. I got distracted, and the next thing I knew, he was gone!” “While we are here, we must say 'she', Estrellita. Always think of Ramón as a girl.” “Oooh! I don't care about that! *She* is missing, and I am getting worried! You didn't see the expression on her face when she was trying to catch that man!” “I will help you search, child,” said Doña Mercedes, closing the kitchen door behind her. She paused and added, “Francisco, be careful.” “Sin falta, Señora.” Something gray and grumbly seemed to be constantly underfoot, weaving between her ankles, interfering with her progress. The pulse in her ears was too loud to be her heart - the sound was coming from somewhere beyond the Doña. Machita stumbled over the badger and caught herself before she fell, seeing the shape of the Señora dimly ahead. There was a lighted doorway beyond her. When she passed the opening, yellow candleflare made her cloak glow with blue and red highlights. “Señora?” Machita called. OPENINGS: In the wan light of a gibbous moon, three men crept toward the corner of a wellhouse. One looked around the wall. “Two guards,” whispered Pablo, who had been unanimously elected to be the lookout because he was the oldest and the slowest. Calpern and Francisco flattened themselves against the adobe wall and advanced cautiously to peer across at the small building and the men guarding its door. From the great house a boy came running, spoke excitedly to the guards, and hurried back. The two men argued briefly, then followed, leaving the door exposed. “This is almost too easy,” complained Calpern. “Nevertheless, it is our chance,” said Francisco, “We must take it. Pablo...” “I will remain alert,” Pablo assured him as the cowboy and the vaquero went ahead. “Unlocked,” Calpern said, “Amigo, I don't like this.” Francisco drew his pistol. “Do you wish the honor?” he asked as he drew the door open. “Hell, no!” said Calpern, drawing his own weapon, “But it looks like we got no choice.” He slipped through the doorway, avoiding bales and crates in the dim light thrown off by a lantern. The lantern sat on a table in the middle of the one room building, and with it they could see a man tied to a bunk at the back wall. The man was Joaquim, bleeding from a blow to the head. “What the hell...?” Calpern asked, then turned at a noise from the doorway. There was Pablo, looking shamefaced, and behind him were the two guards, brandishing weapons and grinning victoriously. FALSE TRAILS: The air was close and still, and perspiration ran down Machita's neck, staining the dress. The vibration of the drums made thought impossible, drawing her on. The corridor was endless, and she had walked for hours, it seemed, until at last the figure of the Doña stopped at a portal and beckoned her. Machita’s way was blocked by the growling badger, now facing her and barring the narrow entranceway. It whistled and grunted, stamping its feet as though warning her off. Something about it filtered through the fog in her wavering mind, like daylight filtering through heavy leaves... She knew of a badger. A badger with a name. If only she could remember... something. Something about a badger... “Come *on*, Lucha!” called Doña Mercedes, beckoning sharply. The badger swapped ends suddenly, turning to face the woman in the portal. It growled now toward the Doña. Suddenly it launched into an attack, a leap which ended abruptly as the Doña reached with apparent ease and swatted it out of the air. The badger thumped against the floor and skidded past Machita, growling and working its short legs in an effort to turn itself upright. One leg appeared bent at an unnatural angle. “Papa?” Machita looked closely at the injured animal. It turned knowing eyes to her and limped snarling toward the figure in the doorway. That figure spoke in a commanding voice, deeper than the Señora's, “Come on, child!” [She called me ‘Lucha’,] thought Machita, so she asked, “Who am I?” “I am Doña de Muerte,” said the figure, and again the cloak reflected red and blue highlights, “Hurry, child, or that beast will get you!” “I'm not afraid of it,” said Machita, “Do not tell me who you are! Tell me... who am I?” “You are Lucha, of course! Now, COME ON!!” the figure who resembled Doña Mercedes, her face distorted with anger, reached for Machita. Machita scooped up the injured badger and ran for the open. “I don't know who that was,” she panted, “But it was *not* Doña Mercedes!” Reversing the path she had taken into the corridor, she found herself outside in a surprisingly short time, facing a gate into the garden. Beyond it she found Sinestro and Alita. “Is that a pet?” Alita asked in alarm, as the badger wriggled in Machita's arms, “Keep it away from me!”. Her two bodyguards tried to get behind her. “Someone is chasing me,” puffed Machita, “I think it was the man who tried to have me attacked at the marketplace.” “What kind of an accusation is this?” demanded Sinestro, “You'll have to come on inside so we can get to the bottom of this.” “Not a good idea,” said Machita, “He seems to know his way around. As soon as I find my friends I am going to get out of here!” “You'll be safer inside! Sergeant!” called Sinestro. “Oh, no, you don't!” Machita ran again. Alita watched her go. “What was *that* all about?” she wondered. Machita had not taken many steps before she ran into a familiar face. Gordo staggered after the collision and reached to keep her from falling down and dropping the badger. Finally, the burden of holding the wriggling badger became too much and she sat it on the stone pathway. It immediately dragged itself into the shrubbery. “Machita! Señorita!” cried Gordo, “Is something wrong? Wait! Don't go!” But she was already around the corner and lost to his sight. There were guests and servants everywhere, but no Estrellita. Finally, Machita spied her friend near the great house, standing by an arbor. About to run up to Estrellita, she stopped in doubt. The blond girl saw her and hurried over. “Ramón!” she cried, “Where have you been?” “You called me Ramón!” cried Machita, “You know who I am!” “Of course I know, silly. After you told me, that is. What is wrong with you?” “I'll tell you later. Right now, someone is impersonating Doña Mercedes. And I think that creepy priest is trying to trap me!” “Are you feeling all right?” “No!” Together, they looked until they found their escort, and Machita quizzed the older woman until she was satisfied that she was the genuine, if puzzled, Doña Mercedes. Almost simultaneously, two soldiers appeared from the great house, heading for them, and another soldier appeared from the stables, also moving in their direction. “I forgot to mention,” said Machita, “I told Señor Sinestro about the guy who tried to grab me. Now, he is after me, too. I think he wants to lock me up for my own safety.” “You just had to keep at it until you have them chasing you, no matter what shape you are in!” complained Estrellita, “Come on, we'll have to keep away from them.” Dragging Doña Mercedes along with them, they tried to lose themselves in the crowds of celebrants. They made their way through to the outside of the walls, then through the gate. They had paused to catch their breath when the three women were very nearly run down by a horse-drawn coach which careened to a stop before them. “Climb in!” cried Red Cloud, from the driver's perch, “There are soldados after us!” She cracked the whip and the coach was bouncing down the graveled path before they could close the doors. Estrellita fell into the rear seat and caught the Doña before she fell on top of her. FREEING THE BULL: “Hsssst! Gordo!” Gordo peered around for the speaker, finally focusing on a small window in a nearby building. “Hey! Francisco! What's happening, man?” “We're in a bit of a tight spot, Gordo. Can you go get help?” “What are you doing in there, man? That's Don Algrupa's hoosegow!” “It's a long story, compadre. Can you go get help? We've got to get out.” “I don't know if I should. I mean, after all, if Senor Algrupa had you put in there, I could get in trouble getting you out.” “Listen, chico! We have to find the girls! They may be in trouble!” “The girls? Estrellita? *Machita*?” “Shhhh! Not so loud! You have to... where are you going?” “Ahh, Migúel! Jesús! What's going on?” “Nada, chico. Just watching the henhouse,” said Jesús. “Henhouse. That's a good one.” “Yeah. We gotta hold these guys 'til morning. Then we let them go.” Gordo leaned against the side of the building. He pulled a long leather scabbard from beneath his jacket and flipped it idly from hand to hand. “You know, you really ought to let them out, now,” he said, “I mean, you could be real polite.” “No way!” snorted Migúel, “We got orders!” Gordo released a catch on the scabbard and one end slid off revealing a blade that gleamed in the moonlight. “That's quite a knife,” opined Migúel. “My uncle gave it to me,” said Gordo, “You know, the one who...” “... was killed in the revolution. Yes, you have told us about him.” Gordo released another catch and the scabbard fell off the other end of the knife, revealing a double-bladed knife with slightly curved blades on each end. He tossed it in his hand, grasping it by the leather-wound handle in the middle. “I didn't know your uncle had a 'Toro',” gulped Migúel. Again Gordo flipped the knife into the air, catching it deftly mid-spin. He continued the motion down and back up again in a figure-eight past the noses of the two men. “He don't, anymore,” he said, “I do.” Migúel eyed the gleaming blades and the notch slashed into the brim of his sombrero, and gulped, “I guess they have stayed inside long enough.” “Yes, yes!” agreed Jesús, “We really ought to let them out, now.” Calpern saw the weapon as Gordo was fitting the scabbards back onto it. Cautiously reaching over to touch it, he said, “Son, that thing is as dangerous to you as it is to the other guy.” “This is true, Senor,” admitted Gordo, “But he don't know that!” AND BAD ROADS: Machita held onto the door post and leaned out to shout at Red Cloud. “This is the wrong road! We have to go the other way to get home to the rancho!” “It is patrolled,” said Red Cloud. She dragged on the reins as they rounded a curve and the horses pounded down a straight stretch of road. “This way there are no soldados,” she said. When she could, she threw a glance behind for possible pursuers. Wan moonlight cast a faint phosphorescence over the white roadway as the coach barreled along. “I see a lantern ahead,” she warned, “I'm turning off onto another road.” “There's no road, here!” objected Machita as the coach rocked over small boulders and large stones. “It is an old one,” said the Indian maiden, “They won't look this way.” The coach creaked and complained as it encountered greater obstacles and the road deteriorated into a frayed path. Eventually, they reached a place in the road where they could admit that it no longer existed. At this point, the coach stopped. The horses could pull it no farther. “Thank God,” breathed the Doña. “We're in a good hiding place,” said Red Cloud, “There are plenty of boulders and obstructions. No one can see us from the road, here.” Red Cloud descended from the driver's perch as the leather suspension on the coach complained. In the silence, an owl called and beyond the ridge a coyote yipped. “I saw something move,” shuddered Estrellita. “Don't say that,” said Doña Mercedes, “Next thing you know, I'll be seeing things, too.” “It is not her imagination,” said Machita, “I think this was a bad place to stop. You'd better find a place to hide.” A shadow detached itself from a high boulder perilously nearby and moved into the moonlight. The dark form resolved itself into an Apache warrior who stepped closer and said, “Get them!” LETTING THE CAT OUT OF THE BAG: Machita felt her hair yanked brutally as she was pulled from the shelter of the coach. Another brave caught her wrists and yanked her along to a cave. “I have found this one!” cried the youngest of the braves, “This one will be a fine slave!” “Better check to see if she is a maiden,” cautioned an older brave, Bluenose, with a chuckle. “How do I know if she is a maiden? They do not wear their hair in the proper styles.” “All Mexican girls are virgins,” replied Selnik, another veteran warrior, “Until we make them otherwise.” “Selnik is missing his wives,” observed another. “This is a good raid,” said the youngest, “We have meat, we have gold, and we have three girls!” “Heyo, small one!” cried Red Cloud, “You have been sampling the pulque. You do not have three girls!” “This one likes to talk,” observed Bluenose. He threw aside the pemmican he had been sucking and drew his knife. Without preamble, he removed their bonds. “Help cook,” he commanded. “You should look closer,” said Red Cloud, “You have two women and a man.” “Huh?” Bluenose paused, puzzled. “What are you saying?” cried Machita. “Splash us all with cold water,” said Red Cloud, “See what happens.” “Don't do this!” Machita tried to get to her feet, but her captor shoved her back to the ground. “Perhaps we are magic,” suggested Red Cloud, “Perhaps you have drunk too much. Perhaps you have been poisoned by the food you have stolen.” “This one is delirious,” suggested Bluenose. “One will change into a man with cold water,” insisted Red Cloud, “And will change into a girl with hot water.” Bluenose unstopped his canteen and poured a cupful over Red Cloud. “Nothing,” he observed. He thought deeply, then said, “It is a good joke. Try the others.” Splashing Estrellita resulted in an abusive torrent of profanity which made Machita, despite her terror, regard the young Spanish girl with surprise. There was a collective gasp when the water hit Machita, and Ramón felt the constriction of the dress making it difficult to catch his breath. The nearest brave raised his skull- crusher to dispatch him. “Don't harm him!” cried the Doña, leaping to her feet, “He turns to a girl with hot water!” She grabbed for the war club, and the brave yanked it away from her, throwing the old woman against the grotto wall. Estrellita cried aloud and gathered the old woman into her arms. “This one talks too much,” said Bluenose, “We don't need noisy women.” “Lucha would silence her,” said the boy, “She would enjoy this.” “Boy, you think too much of that girl,” warned Bluenose, “Don't kill him yet!” he commanded, by now thoroughly intrigued with the process. “They said hot water turns him into a girl.” They waited while the fire was built back up and water heated in a pot. Ramón gasped for air and gazed worriedly at Red Cloud, but she seemed smugly unaware of his misgiving. Bluenose still held her wrist, so she could not escape. When hot water effected its change on Ramón, turning him back into a girl, one of the braves chuckled, “This kind of magic has advantages. If all Mexican boys were like this, we could have a worker by day and a bedmate by night!” “What about the other two?” asked Bluenose. Hot water elicited another stream of abuse from Estrellita. “That one is not magic,” he decided, and indicated Red Cloud, “How about this one?” “I wouldn't do that,” advised Machita, “She gets upset if you splash her with hot water.” Bluenose laughed and poured. There was instant panic. “Ach...ch...ch...ch...” sputtered Estrellita. Her eyes were wide, the pupils shrunk to tiny pinpoints as she stared and stammered. The warriors were scrambling over one another to get out of the cave in one piece. Several were moaning their death- chants in terrified gasps.
Behind them, a deep guttering pounded, like rocks rolling around in a drum. After the growling ended there came a scream, sounding like either the agonized shriek of a woman in mortal terror... or the angry cry of a thoroughly pissed jaguar. “Ka... ca... ca...” continued Estrellita. The hair behind her ears was standing straight out. “Cat!!!!” she finally pronounced, “She turned into a cc....c...c.c.cat!!!” “Told 'em not to pick on her,” said Machita, as she slipped out of the knots and began to work on Estrellita's bonds. “But you said... When you said...” “I *told* you I had a guide with me when I visited the hot springs,” explained Machita. “But I thought you meant you went with your father!” cried Estrellita, flattening against the wall of the cave as something padded back from the cave entrance in the dark. The noise and pained cries of departing warriors vanished into the distance. Machita handed the canteen to Estrellita. “You'd better handle this,” she said. “What am I going to do with *that*?” “Pour it over Red Cloud,” said Machita, “I would do it myself, but I don't think she would approve.” “Hummmpphh!” said Estrellita shakily, “You're not very brave. What's so hard about pouring water?” Nevertheless, she approached the big cat gingerly as the jaguar bared it's fangs at her. “Nice kitty. Ramón, what if she doesn't recognize me? I'm taking a big chance, here.” “I'd be taking an even bigger chance,” Machita said as she carefully faced the entrance to the cave, “Her clothes are over there.” Their captors had gathered just outside, but were reluctant to come back in. “Better hurry,” she added. Estrellita swung the canteen so the water poured out in an arc. Some fell on the jaguar, which changed into a naked Indian girl. “I think I see what you mean!” said Estrellita, as she hurried to help Red Cloud into her discarded garments. “That bought us some time,” said Red Cloud, “But they will be back.” “Yes, I have been expecting them. But they seem to be waiting for us to come out,” said Machita, puzzled. Estrellita held Doña Mercedes gently and used some of the cool water to bath her forehead. They heard a muffled shout. “Let the boy go!” “What boy?” asked Estrellita. There was a groan from behind a pillar. “*This* boy,” said Red Cloud, dragging the youngest warrior into the dim light, “I must have knocked him around when I first changed over.” “She sometimes has a little trouble controlling her other self,” explained Machita. “No more trouble than you have running,” snapped the Indian maiden. “Release the boy and we will let you go,” shouted Bluenose, “Do not harm him or we will wipe you out.” “Let's let him go,” said Estrellita, “He sounds upset.” Red Cloud was tying her mantilla in place. She said, “Just how long do you think we would last if they got the boy back?” “Father, I am unharmed!” called the boy. He became silent when he felt the fire-sharpened end of a stick prodding his throat. “His Papa? Now we are *really* in trouble,” said Machita. “Are you complaining again?” snarled Red Cloud, “Why aren't you male, yet? We could use a little muscle with our captive.” “I don't have any clothes,” said Machita, “This dress is too tight when I change.” “You are very strange women. I have never seen three girls argue so,” said the Apache boy. Three sets of eyes turned as one toward their hostage. “He is about your size,” noticed Estrellita. “What!?” the littlest Apache asked in alarm. “And about as smart, too,” added Red Cloud. _______________ Glossary: Sin falta - Without fail. simpatico - pleasant, nice. (usually) The way it is used here indicates that Alita feels *very* nice towards Ramon. Return to main page