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w. michael farmer
Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright
The Betrayals of Pancho
From Sundowners, A Division of Treble Heart Books
Dreams of a fiery jaguar haunt Henry Grace when his old friend, Pancho Villa, fighting a civil war, asks for help. Supporting Villa leads Henry into a long journey into darkness. It is a time of cold calculation and a time of insanity, a time of betrayal and a time of loyalty, a time of deadly enemies and a time of unseen friends, a time of revenge and a time of justice, a time of secrets, and a time of answers hidden in a dream.
Read the First Chapter of the Exciting Story of Hombrectio In Pancho Villa's Civil War
Mesilla, New Mexico, 1951
1. The Man In The Red Shirt
Feral fire, inexplicable and uninvited, burned in her new husband's eyes, confusing Roberta, even frightening her a little, and she held on to Henry's powerful hand as much to restrain him as for reassurance he was the same man she had just married.
Henry's brow focused into a hard frown, his jaw muscles rippled over clenched teeth as he aggressively stared at the creased, brown leathery face of a Mexican, tall and lean, sinew tough, his white hair combed straight back to the edge of his bright red shirt's collar. He was respectably dressed for a fiesta and wore a large, finely done silver and turquoise belt buckle and pressed jeans with perfect, straight creases running all the way to the toes of his shiny, black boots.
Bowing to them like an aristocrat, elegantly swinging his hand, fingers slightly curled, across his waist, and then standing straight, the old gentleman thrust his chin defiantly forward and locked his gaze on Henry's eyes. A lifetime seemed to pass, the men locked in a bond that surrounded and encapsulated them in a memory so focused and powerful Roberta didn't even exist – and she knew it.
Speaking with a smoker's throaty growl, Red Shirt smiled and said in near perfect border English, "Buenos noches, Hombrecito. I have traveled many miles through the dust of Chihuahua to attend this fine fiesta and to wish you well. I offer my heartfelt congratulations to you and to your bride. May an old man have the pleasure of a dance with your lady?"
Henry, lips forming a thin straight line, said nothing.
Roberta, seeing Henry's first pink blush of surprise turning dark, angry red and feeling her fear recede, snapped her hand from Henry's and grabbed the old man's calloused, arthritic one to sweep him away in a grand ballroom swirl. Henry watched them swing through a few steps of a waltz and then returned to their table, leaving only them on the dance floor.
She looked into the old man's eyes and searched her memory, but found nothing except a certainty that somehow she ought to know him.
"You have me at a disadvantage, señor. I do not recall meeting you. You called my husband Hombrecito. Few know him by that name. You must know him from the days of his youth."
"Si, señora, I know him from those days. He has not told you of the vaquero in the red shirt, Camisa Roja?"
The old man felt her tense in his arms and knew he was no stranger.
"Si, señor. My husband told me the story of a vaquero in a camisa roja killing his wife and unborn child. You are that hombre?"
"Si, beautiful lady. I am the man."
"How is it my husband came to know you instead of killing you?"
He shrugged his shoulders and lifted his brushy white brows.
"He came to know me by way of his amigo, General Francisco Villa. I served General Villa in the Revolución and ... in later times."
"My husband was in medical school during the Revolución. So you knew him in the later times?"
"Si, in the later times."
"When were these later times, señor?"
Camisa Roja grinned, his teeth bright against his brown skin in the golden lantern light.
"Ah, that your new husband must tell you, señora. I will not."
Nothing more was said as he gracefully swung Roberta through a few more rounds before the music ended. He escorted her back to Henry, and handing her hand to him, bowed to them once more.
"Muchas gracias, beautiful lady and Hombrecito. I wish for you a long life together and much happiness. I hope you know now, Hombrecito, life dealt you a good hand. You more than broke even. Buenos noches, and adios."
Leaving Henry and Roberta staring after him, he turned and disappeared into the darkness beyond the lantern light. Roberta slid her arm inside Henry's, and leaning next to him, she whispered in his ear:
"You owe me a story."
Smiling once again, Henry kissed her cheek and nodded.
Months passed. Henry never mentioned Camisa Roja.
One night a juniper-wood fire crackled on the adobe hearth, filling their house with the sweet odor of burning cedar. Outside, a wild January wind swirled and moaned across the desert, shaking the creosotes and mesquites and sailing tumbleweeds into fences and arroyos.
Sipping pinot noir, Roberta and Henry slumped together in the middle of their big sofa and stared at the fire, stocking feet resting on a reddish-brown, cowhide ottoman and pointed toward the hearth's toasty glow.
Roberta put an arm around Henry's shoulders and gave him a hug. Her question came out of nowhere, holding him to a promise implied but never spoken. He had hoped she would forget about the man in the red shirt, but he had not yet learned the lesson most men married a while know: wives never forget anything their husbands say or imply.
"You promised to tell me about Camisa Roja. Why won't you?"
Henry raised his brows and shrugged.
"I don't know. He's from a dark time I'd rather forget, a time I almost killed a friend who betrayed me, and an innocent man came close to being killed because I betrayed him. I made promises and swore oaths I did not keep, and I came to know things about my true self I wished I'd never learned…It was a time when I suddenly learned my choices in life weren't black or white anymore; most were shades of gray. Camisa Roja is lucky to be alive. It's a miracle I didn't kill him. I tried. The last time I saw him I promised him I'd kill him if I ever saw him again and he knew I meant it. He shouldn't have come to the wedding." Henry took a sip of wine, stared at the fire, and muttered, "He shouldn't have come."
"Oh, come on, don't be so hard on yourself or him. He probably traveled hundreds of long miles to wish us long life and happiness. He danced once with me and left. What's so bad about that? Tell me how you came to know him and what happened." She chuckled. "You know I won't let you rest until you do."
Henry stared at the flames playing hide-and-seek in a stack of glowing embers. He slowly shook his head and grinned. I knew I should have read the fine print in that marriage contract.
He looked at her, winced, and sighed.
"All right, I'll tell you. Better yet, after the spring winds die down, I'll show you the country where it all happened while I tell you the story. We'll go down to Mexico, rent a jeep in Casas Grandes, and drive the trails where it all took place. How does that sound?"
Roberta slowly nodded.
"Wonderful. It'll be our first vacation since we married, and I'd love to see the country where my folks were born. I've never been to Chihuahua."
"Pour us some more of that pinot. It lifts the burdens of the day and warms the heart…for better things… than telling stories."
She raised an eyebrow and smiled. "You don't need pinot for that Henry Grace and you know it."
He smiled and stared at the garnet-colored pool of liquid in the long stem glass as long forgotten memories awoke and reached for him through the cage where he'd kept them for the past thirty-five years.