For All Nails #275A: Mansion (Part 2)
By President Chester A. Arthur
"Don't give me that goddamn spic talk boy."
"...I beg your pardon?"
I had not spoken more than a few words since I'd entered the Presidential mansion of Martin Cole, the Kramer Guard Commandant whose overthrow of Benito Hermión had ended the threat of empire in Mexico. I'd found the former President in his bañador by a magnificent Olympic swimming pool, brandishing a massive revolver as he took careful aim at a statue of Cortez. The mansion was shabby and old. At the time I'd lamented that a President of Mexico could live in such poverty; I soon learned that the former El Presidente had his own motivations. Had I spoken Spanish in my efforts to get his attention? Perhaps.
"I said, don't give me that goddamn spic talk." He spat tobacco on the marble below, the stains on the tile and his teeth showing it was by no means the first time he'd done so. "I am a proud goddamn Jeffersonian, and I don't need to hear no indio talk from anyone but my goddamn butler!" He shot the statue of the former head of Kramer Associates in the face, producing a shower of debris from what turned out to be a plaster head. Some old dissolute men are fat with age, but Cole was a lean, hatchet-faced man who'd gone thinner and sharper with age, his back and chest covered with scars from clubs and bullets.
I didn't speak even after I could hear again, instead staring with horrified fascination as the nearly nude old man strode up and down the weed-grown marble walkway by his swimming pool, servants occasionally peeking out through the windows to watch with motives I couldn't quite follow. Were they hoping he was alive, or dead? "I beg your pardon, Mr. President, I didn't mean to offend you..." I swallowed. Was this really the jut-jawed hero of my textbooks? "I'm sorry, did you say you were Jeffersonian? I had in my files that you're from --"
"I am a goddamn Yucateco!" exclaimed Cole, shooting me a black look. "Sixteen miserable goddamn years on that goddamn peninsula, I think I deserve to be both a Jeffersonian and a Yucateco." With a look of deep disgust on his face, still holding his smoking weapon, the old man took a seat in the rattan chair by the pool, still glaring at the statue of Cortez overhead. "Feh, I knew that Jew bastard was conning me. I've got this Jew bastard down in Hilo-town," he confessed to me, "who makes these statues for me. Can't shoot marble without blowing my goddamn head off, so I get them plaster on the cheap. And I paid him good dinero to put pig's blood in that goddamn thing so it would bleed! Goddamn it to hellfire."
I wasn't sure what to say, before I finally asked, "Do you mean Lang, the sculptor?" I'd substituted for a brother periodista at a society party some time earlier, and met the monocled Lang there among his refugee friends. Xawaii, then as now, attracted the strangest people. "I wasn't aware he was taking commissions --"
"I was once the goddamn President of the goddamn United States of Mexico," Cole spat at me. "He goddamn well took my commission and LIKED it. Especially with the money I gave him. Took Kramer money in gold my whole life. Smartest thing I ever did." He shot me a look, then added, "So, you were asking me about where I'm from? I suppose you got the whole story, didn't you? About Nathanael Greene Cole, the hero of the Rocky Mountain War, who got hisself a mestizo wife and went to work for Kramer?" He grinned, suddenly and wickedly, and it was almost as terrible as his wrath. "My father was the greatest man who ever lived. That's right, greater than Kramer, greater than Jackson, greater than all those rich hijos de puta. What's your daddy do?"
"He's dead," I confessed. "He was, ah, killed in the repulse of the French in 1914. . . "
"GOOD MAN!" Cole roared, and he clapped me on the back. "There's nothin' finer than killin' a Frenchman. Lousy Jew bastards have been draining this country dry since before it even was a country." He began unpacking his pistol, his arthritic hands moving with a dexterity that belied his age and their warped state. "They tried to kill us off back before we got started, you know that? Slipping dinero to Washington's boys back in the 1770s, just enough so they got --" He made a gesture with his pistol that you'd think a man with his experience with firearms would know better than to do. "You know the story."
"Your father worked for the first Kramer, I believe?" I asked gently, realizing quickly that I was going to need to learn to work past his rants if I was going to get anywhere on this assignment. Perhaps he was just putting me on. "Personally?"
"Oh yes! They'd been in the same unit back in the Rocky Mountain days, fightin' those Confederation bastards up in the hills. My daddy helped pull Kramer out of the snowbank himself when they were cleaning up the place, and they were the best of friends after that. See, by the time he was a fancy and refined gentleman, old Mineheer Kramer needed a man to run his household, make sure it was ran smooth. And as it happened, my daddy happened to be the finest goddamn cook in Mexico. Kramer said that himself." He scratched his temple with the revolver, and added, "You don't think it demeans a white man to work with his hands, do you?"
"No sir," I said with great firmness, realizing exactly what answer I needed to give the man. "There is nothing finer than manual labor. That's what brought me into writing about sports," I added, "so that I could see men who worked with bone and muscle and made an art of it."
"Good boy," said Cole, digging a peasant's straw hat out from beneath his chair and putting it on his head. "I always was an anti-slavery man," he went on, pulling the hat down almost over his eyes as shelter against the scorching Xawaiian sun. "You can put that in that biography of yours. Martin Cole, anti-slavery man! Martin Cole, abolitionist!" He cackled like a fiend before adding, "The truth is, slavery's just another way for rich bastards to stick it to the poor white man. They let us think," he said, thinking nothing of the great mansion where he lived, and indeed had been a recluse for years, "that we're better than those nigrasbecause we've got white skin, and that way they can bleed us dry all they want! Damn scuzzy bitches..." He fell dead silent, and for a moment I thought he'd fallen asleep.
"Boy?" he asked, just before I could rise. "What do they tell you boys in school about Benito Hermión, anyway?"
(Forward to FAN #276: The Power of Pointlists.)
(Forward to 1 June 1949: Broken Regiment.)
(Return to For All Nails.)