In the shadow of the rubber trees

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In the shadow of the rubber trees

Postby flm » Mon Jul 22, 2019 10:16 pm

The lawn was pristine. Behind them stood the rear of the main house, a large white building with the primary function of showing how much money the Maradiaga family had. The house was arrayed in the traditional style of the Veridian governing class, with a central structure being joined at its ends by two wings stretching back perpendicularly. With three stories, each of which had high ceilings, the house stood far taller than its Wallasean counterparts.

Ernesto looked back at the patio. His children were playing, bouncing a bright red ball off of one of the inner walls, launching it at various angles under one of the arches to send it back into the patio under another. He could not make out the expression of their nanny, Antonia, but she was likely frowning, annoyed at the fact that one of the maids would have to clean the scruff marks from the wall once the children were done. He had told Antonia that these things shouldn’t worry her, but he could see that they always did. Antonia and her family did not have people who would come by later and clean the walls, so she would rather not get them dirty in the first place. Ernesto understood the mentality, but if you had other people to tidy up for you, then it was best to use one’s time more judiciously.

Ernesto’s wife, Paula Daniela, was the second daughter, and fourth child, of old Jorge Maradiaga. She tidied up after the entire family. Ernesto’s father in law still ran things, allegedly. No paper reached his desk that had not been triple-checked by Paula. Be it shipments of bottles to vineyards, payroll summaries for the truck factory, or the updated margin sheets from the telecommunications company founded by her great-great-grandfather, all pages bore her initials. Always curtly added in deep green ink on the top right, impatiently moving on to the next point of business.

Ernesto talked. He was good at talking. He couldn’t string two figures together, but he could pick up a language and shake it through quite morely quickly than most. He talked while he played paddle, he talked when he shared the rum from the cane grown on the estate, and he talked when he cultivated his slightly larger-than-average belly with braised pork, his favourite by far. He’d met Paula for the first time when he was 7 and she was 3, and they had known each other for quite some time. Even at a young age she had been impressive in her tenacity, something which Ernesto had started to notice as he aged. His family had enough money to be around.. His family lacked enough of it to impress Jorge Maradiaga, but Ernesto Montaño del Riego (Sr.) did have enough money to send him to do a master’s degree in Flamaguay. Ernesto arrived in the fallen land of all their ancestors at the same time Paula was pursuing her undergraduate. The lack of immediate interference provided by her father was soon noted. He talked wildly, and some of it was even true. He accomplished his goal scant weeks after handing in his thesis. Unlike her father, Paula didn’t care that Ernesto’s father was rich yet failed to place himself in the category of his father's father, and his father, also having money. Paula agreed that she would marry Ernesto, and told him not to worry about the finances or her father. She’d bested her father by the time was ten.

Ernesto’s oldest brother-in-law, Rogelio, was a Deputy. Ernesto didn’t much like Rogelio, although he didn’t dislike him either. Placed beside his sister, he was an imbecile. Perhaps Rogelio was the son of Gaudio, the foreman at the estate. More likely, Paula was. Rogelio had taken it upon himself, like all good Maradiagas, to advance the cause of the noble Zavalan people, in specific that of the entrenched settler class. Thankfully, the country was not merely left unattended in the hands of Rogelio and his colleagues. Rogelio had as part of his portfolio matters of defense, and Paula’s micromanagement of their resident Deputy had resulted in Ernesto yet again sitting across from his old friend, Constable William Cuthbert.

Ernesto did not know if he was friends with Cuthbert, but he thought it would be good to be friends, so he kept calling him his friend. Cuthbert probably thought he was a degenerate and an Oswinist, but Ernesto hoped to rank first among all the degenerates Cuthbert knew, ideally even above some Senlanders. There must be something to their relationship, because Cuthbert kept coming back, and Cuthbert was certainly important enough not to have to come if he didn't want to. Cuthbert sat across the table, sitting in the shade of the ancient rubber tree. Cuthbert's typical patterned garrison cap sat atop his red mane. A mane increasingly streaked with white, which stretched around his fat head through his bush-like sideburns to his coarse beard. Curthbert was sweating like a pig. The rum had made his red face even more colourful. He displayed no outward signs of discomfort, either at the temperature or at the content of the sheets arrayed in front of him.

“I trust everything is as accorded, Constable.”

“Providence shall guide these arms to the hands of the faithful. Much as our shells will be led by Providence's hand onto wave after wave of Prekovite vehicles, spilling open the wretched creatures within.”

Cuthbert and Ernesto took a drink of rum in unison, an unspoken toast. In the distance the groundsmen went about their business, carefully tending to the vegetation by hand. “That is real work.” Ernesto lifted a finger from the hand gripping the glass and pointed at the men in their white overalls, carrying tools and baskets filled with trimmed branches and swept-up leaves. “I am sad to hear that some of your countrymen seem not to be up for real work.”

Cuthbert tipped his chin forward. “We shall see. Providence has given us the weapons we need. Providence willing we also count on those infused with true Faith.” He tapped his finger twice on some of the papers laying on the table and then once on his brow.

“It will start now." Ernesto put down his glass. "The Occidentallists are luring in the Malay, the men from the Straights, the impetuous brand of Praetonian, even the Company men. All of them.” The pair rose from their seats as Ernesto outstretched his hand.

The representative of the Kirk took his host’s hand and shook it purposefully. “Yes, it is time.”

“The weapons will likely stop, certainly at this rate. Funes will shut the tap.”

“We know.”

“We will need our ports, our ships, our planes, all for our own business. I hope you understand, my friend.”

“We know. You may be delivered yet. Providence will judge the Company men, the result shall be just.”

“One would certainly hope. As I hope that we shall count on your visit after all this.”

“We will need vehicles to patrol in the East. The truck your groundskeepers are using is an impressive model, perhaps with some armour, but this is a discussion for another day.”

“One we shall have.” Ernesto gestured up the path, back to the house.

“Providence willing. Send my regards to your wife.”

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Re: In the shadow of the rubber trees

Postby flm » Tue Aug 27, 2019 9:48 pm

The workmen saw the first vehicle, a 4x4 of the local police force, and remained at leisure. When they were able to make out the second truck they scattered, leaving a couple beers unfinished in the yard. All in all four vehicles pulled into the construction site, the local police first, then the national police, an unmarked grey truck, and yet another from national police. The security guard from the construction company emerged nervously, exchanged some words with the local police, and then went to shut the gate. They were all more than sure that the workmen had already made it past the far fence and were on their way out. The kind of man that fell into short-term, off-the-books construction work in Veraluca had likely made some trouble during his life. And that type of man knew that there was no more ruthless mafia than the Veralucan National Patrol. One could deal with the local police, they were reasonable people, even if they had the poor taste to become police officers. The National Patrol, on the other hand, knew that their gang was as well-disciplined as it was well-armed.

Felipe Mercho was twenty-eight years old, and had always been a headache for his mother. He wasn’t much a headache for his father, who had spent Felipe’s childhood playing cards and drinking rum down with the boys at the club. Felipe had found school boring, and had happily started working full time when he was fourteen. He had done odd jobs at the lumber yard, mostly with the motor pool. The lumber yard was one of the oldest employer’s in Villa Adelina, and certainly the biggest. There was good work at the yard more often than not, and directly or indirectly kept a lot of the town out of indigence. Martín Quiñonéz had set up the timber yard in 1887, after he had to leave Careolara due to a conflict involving a woman. He had sold everything, said that he would return to Flamaguay, and left for Veridis. Martín died in Villa Adelina, three weeks after his seventy-first birthday, he’d never gone back.

Felipe was thin, tanned, and had thick black hair to accompany his boyish looks. While working at “Maderas Quiñonéz” he had fallen in with what his mother had called a bad bunch. His mother, Aura, was a good judge of character and was not at all surprised when Felipe came back one afternoon after having been missing for a week with a wad of Oryontic Dollars. He’d gone over the border to Valimero with some of the older men from the yard, refused to explain how he had made the money, and returned with three months’ wages. He had only been sixteen, and since then he had gone over countless times. Aura had never stopped complaining, but Felipe had won over the rest of the family. New house, new car, new phones, were all arguments much louder than Aura. Felipe’s father, his brother, and his two sisters were all happy. His brother had even taken up his old job at the yard, and his sisters had no need to stop studying.

The vehicles stopped, and the police, both local and national, emerged out of their vehicles. The rear door of the unmarked grey truck was opened by one of the nationals. A tall pale-skinned man exited first, followed by two men dragging another. The pale-skinned man was the only one in a suit, which coincidentally matched the tone of the truck. His suit was spotless but the cowboy boots he was wearing were caked in mud.

“There”. He pointed with his cigarette case at the second-closest of the temporary garages, a cheap structure with tin roofs thrown up to house the trucks used in hauling material for the construction of the bridge. The second-closest garage was empty, and the two men in shirts and jeans dragged their captive in. The man in the suit offered cigarettes to the men of the National Patrol, who accepted. The three men of the local police were by the gate, with the security guard of the construction company. They were already smoking, and all had enough experience to know that they had to pay no attention to whatever was happening.

Ernesto lit his own cigarette, put the cigarette-case into the inner breast pocket of his suit, and strode into the garage. His men had put Felipe on a chair, Felipe was bleeding, enough for Felipe to worry but not enough for Ernesto to think that they had to stop the performance. Ernesto gestured to one of his men, who brought forth another chair and then retreated against the thin metal wall of the garage. Ernesto dragged his chair right beside Felipe’s, and sat down.

“Felipe, I am your friend, I have always been your friend. No?”

“Yes Mr. Olaizola. You are my friend.” Felipe spoke softly, carefully.

“Very well then Felipe, but then when I ask you to do things, why do you not do them?”

“You know I am a hard worker sir. I have always done what you wa-“

Ernesto raised a single finger. “Ah but this time you have not. You have wasted my time, and you wasted your time too. You probably think I am a very powerful man. Maybe I am the most powerful man you know. But I will tell you Felipe, I am not the most powerful man I know.” Felipe did not say anything, he was not certain as to what was the right answer. “I know many other more powerful men. And when I ask you to do something I am asking you because these other men ask things of me. Do you understand?”

“Yes sir, I understand.”

“I’m not sure you do. These other men, they are not as nice as I am. They do not like failure. You know what people use this place for? What they will have to stop using this place for once they build the bridge and put in lights and a little police booth and everything?”

“Yes Mr. Olaizola I know.” Felipe indeed knew, as he had once seen a man be thrown down into the ravine. Ernesto knew that Felipe had been there that day that the fall alone had not killed a man, and that the dead man had screamed as he floated down the river, with his broken body barely staying above the water, unable to reach either bank.

“They told me to bring you here. You also know what they meant when they said that. But don’t worry. I brought you here now, and I have done what they asked.” Felipe was slouched in the chair, his bound hands resting between his knees. “I have done what they asked, but I will not do what they implied. I know you, I know the people here, I know your mother. They don’t, and they don’t understand.” Felipe looked up. “You are indeed a hard worker Felipe. I think what you needed was a bit of a shake up.” Ernesto stood. “Pep, untie Felipe.”

Pep walked over and with one sharp movement cut through the plastic strap joining Felipe’s wrists. “Thank you.”

“Thank you is what I will say, Felipe, when you accomplish your tasks.” Ernesto placed his hand on Felipe’s shoulder. “You may think it strange, but every little thing is important now. This is an important task you have been given, and you will receive an important reward when you accomplish it.”

“Thank you sir. I will not make any more mistakes.” Felipe rubbed his wrists, easing the tense skin.

"You did very well by returning. Weaker men would have not. They would have thrown the letter into the jungle, taken the money, and disappeared."

Felipe nodded. Both men knew that Felipe had to return. If Felipe had not returned then the men of the National Patrol accompanying Ernesto would have presented themselves at Felipe's new house. They would have left the bodies as to be fully clear as to what had happened.

"So tonight you will rest. Tomorrow you will go, and you will hand-deliver this letter to Fat Álvarez, as we had said. It is very important that you do this. You know this border better than most. You can do this. You must and are expected to do this." Ernesto spoke firmly, clearly.

"I understand." Felipe nodded again.

The next day Felipe crossed into Valimero. Last time he had thought of himself, and he had been scared. This time he thought of his family, and he lost his timidity.

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