For All Nails #176: Santa Anna's Coming to Town
By Johnny Pez
Arthur Conroy stood in the anteroom outside the President's office. Through the half-open door he could hear the sound of a man being noisily ill.
"Sounds like Pedro got himself some bad pulky," said General Zachary Taylor with a chuckle.
It was, Conroy knew, a base libel. The President never drank anything but the finest Jefferson scotch whiskey. But Taylor never bothered to conceal his disdain for Pedro Hermión. Unlike his old friend and former commander Andrew Jackson, Taylor made no distinctions among different classes of Mexicans -- he despised them all.
Nevertheless, during the 1845 elections Taylor had publicly come out in favor of Hermión. "Better a steezo that wants to be a white man than a white man that wants to be a steezo," was how the Jefferson Patriot had quoted him on the matter. After assuming the Presidency, Hermión had asked Taylor to be General-in-Chief of the Army, and once again Taylor had put aside his disdain and agreed.
There was a pause in the sounds coming from the President's office, and for a moment Conroy thought that Hermión had spewed all he was going to spew. However, the unpleasant noises resumed, and Conroy stood awkwardly while Taylor continued to chuckle.
After a longer time than Conroy would have thought humanly possible, the sounds of illness ceased, the door swung open, and President Hermión appeared. His dark hair was in disarray, and his clear complexion had an unhealthy greenish tinge.
"Gentlemen," he said, "I apologize for my . . . indisposition. Won't you please come in?" As always, Hermión's accent was pure Jefferson, and his diction was as precise as a mathematical formula, though his normally commanding voice was currently as unsteady as his posture. As he led the others into the office, he continued, "I fear I've been a little under the weather since my visit to Chiapas."
Conroy could sympathize. He himself had been to Norfolk once before the war, and had spent an undignified three days astride a water closet after coming down with a bad case of Washington's Revenge. Stepping around an aromatic spittoon that had clearly been the recipient of the President's "indisposition", Conroy joined Taylor in occupying a set of chairs across from Hermión's desk. "What is it we can do for you, Mr. President?" Conroy asked.
"Gentlemen," said Pedro Hermión, "there is a certain matter which we have seen fit heretofore to ignore, but which will no longer brook being ignored."
Taylor spoke up. "You mean that yellow-bellied son-of-a-bitch Santa Anna, don't you?"
"Regretfully, General Taylor, I do indeed," said Hermión.
General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna had been a thorn in Hermión's side from the very start of his Presidency. At 51, Santa Anna was one of the senior generals in the Mexican Army, and he had spent the last year angling to replace Taylor. Thus far, Conroy knew, Hermión had been able to resist the general's efforts, but the fall of Tampico in July had changed everything. A North American army was in México Central itself, no more than two weeks' march from the Capital. The people were scared, and a scared populace was Santa Anna's natural constituency.
"This morning," Hermión continued, "I received a delegation from the Senate, requesting in no uncertain terms that Santa Anna be appointed to command of the force of District Guards that is holding the Tampico Road against the Tories."
"That damn sidewinder's got more shady friends than a whore's got sores," muttered Taylor.
"Shady they may be, General Taylor," said Hermión, "but they are influential as well. I have been presented with an ultimatum. Either Santa Anna is placed in command of the District Guards by noon tomorrow, or there will be a vote of no confidence passed against me in the Senate."
"Go ahead and let 'em vote," Taylor scoffed. "It's not as if you're some Governor-General that's gonna be sandbagged on their say-so. If they'd tried that with General Jackson, he'd've given 'em a few rounds of buckshot in the backside for their trouble."
"The problem isn't the Senate, Zach," Conroy explained to Taylor. "The problem is Santa Anna. Knowing him, he'd take the Senate vote as a signal to march on the Castle and make himself military dictator."
Taylor uttered a vile oath and exclaimed, "It'll be a cold day in Hell before the people of this country let some damn jumped-up greaser lord it over 'em!"
Hermión ignored Taylor's racial slur -- he had ignored worse from the man -- and said, "Under ordinary circumstances I would agree with you, General Taylor, but the circumstances are far from ordinary. If Santa Anna promises the populace salvation from the Tories, the populace will follow him."
"Damn snake couldn't lead a parade, much less an army," Taylor sneered. "We ought to just stand him up against a wall and give him a three-gun salute."
"A sensible solution, to be sure," said Hermión, "but unfortunately that is not the way things are done in Mexico. The rule of law must hold sway here, or we are no better than the anarchists the Tories accuse us of being."
"Mr. President," said Conroy, "if it comes to a choice of either allowing Santa Anna to flout the law, or of doing so ourselves to stop him, then I for one would prefer the latter."
The President looked at Conroy in disappointment. "Then you too advise me to resort to extralegal means, Mr. Conroy?" Perhaps it was simply his illness, but the President seemed particularly weary just then.
"If we wait until Santa Anna makes his move," Conroy pointed out, "we'll be too late. He'll be at the gates of the Castle with a mob at his back, and we'll be powerless to stop him. We cannot allow him to seize the initiative." The mournful look on Hermión's too-pale face led Conroy to add, "I'm not saying that we should do anything flagrantly illegal, only that we need to move before he does."
"Move how?" Hermión inquired. "And with what? Every soldier in the Capital has been sent down the Tampico Road with Major Doheny. There is no one left."
"Well, not quite no one," said Taylor. "There's a few of my boys from the Henrytown Heavies stopped in last night to pay a call on their old commander. Had us quite the time, we did."
"Will we be able to thwart Santa Anna with a handful of hung-over troopers?" Hermión wondered.
"Perhaps we will," said Conroy, as an idea began to form in his mind. "Now here's my plan . . . "
- Mexico City, Capital District, USM
- 20 August 1846
- 8:42 pm Mexico City time
General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna did not fear treachery as he answered the summons from Chapultepec Castle. Pedro Hermión did not have the capacity for it, the more fool him. Santa Anna was pleased that Hermión had seen wisdom and would not attempt to oppose his appointment to command of the District Guards. Santa Anna would soon have those feckless Norteños on the run; a fortnight, at most, would see him returning to the Capital in triumph at the head of a victorious army.
And then? Ah, and then, what might an ambitious man not do with an army at his back and the capital of a mighty nation at his feet?
Santa Anna ran his fingertips lightly over the weathered stone of the doorway as he entered the Castle. Oh yes, he silently told the building, you will be mine. He noted idly that the usual set of guards standing watch by the doors was missing. Sent off to join the District Guards, of course. No wonder Hermión had given in -- a couple of old women and a boy with a slingshot could capture this place! Santa Anna wondered whether he ought to go raise a mob somewhere and come back to claim the Castle first, and then go beat the Norteños. But, no, it was best to stick with the plan -- improvisation was for emergencies.
As he strode briskly through the Castle, Santa Anna surveyed it with a critical eye. Redecoration would definitely be called for after he moved in. That portrait of Jackson over there, for example, was all wrong for that space. A portrait of himself would be much more harmonious. And that oil painting of Iturbide by those stairs -- too small. A nice big portrait of himself would be much better. And that blank section of wall between those two doors? A portrait of himself would be just the thing.
The anteroom was empty, and the door to the President's office was open. Santa Anna walked in and stood smartly at attention before the desk (he would expect no less of his officers when he was President -- or Emperor).
Pedro Hermión seemed distracted as he sat motionless behind the desk. His hair, as usual, was slicked down and parted in the middle, though it still held a trace of the waviness he had inherited from his Greek father.
"At ease, General Santa Anna," he said in English. His normally robust voice was unusually subdued -- or perhaps not so unusually, given the circumstances. Santa Anna smartly broke off his salute and stood expectantly with his hands clasped behind his back.
As though his mind were on something else, Hermión said, "General, for some time now you have been rather insistent concerning your desire for appointment to an important military command."
The President's comment didn't really require a response, but Santa Anna couldn't resist responding anyway. "I'm eager to defend my country against those barbaric Anglos, sir."
"No doubt. Well, General, you'll be pleased to hear that I've seen fit to grant your request."
Santa Anna had known perfectly well what Hermión was going to say, but he still felt a tingle of excitement sweep through his body. "Thank you, sir!"
Picking up a sealed envelope by his right hand, the President continued, "In fact, knowing of your urgent desire in this regard, I already have your orders drafted and signed."
Yes! Victory! Glory! And beyond . . .
Handing the envelope to Santa Anna, Hermión said, "I hope you have your bags already packed, General, because you leave tonight for Campeche."
It took a moment for the name to register in Santa Anna's mind. "Con permiso?" he said.
Hermión continued, still in that distracted tone of voice, still in English. "You'll be relieving General Calzón, who has sent word that he intends to resign from the Army to pursue a career in politics. The Army's loss, however, is your gain."
"Yucatán?" Santa Anna finally burst out. "You think to exile me to the . . . " His voice faltered as he heard a set of footsteps behind him. Turning, he saw Hermión's political advisor Arthur Conroy and General-in-Chief Zachary Taylor, accompanied by three men in the uniform of the 3rd Jefferson Heavy Cavalry Brigade. Taylor's old unit, his mind noted absently.
Behind him, Hermión concluded, "Captain Barkley and his men have agreed to accompany you on your journey to Campeche to act as an honor guard. There is a coach and four waiting downstairs to convey you to your new command. I thank you for coming to see me, General, and wish you the best of luck in Yucatán. You are dismissed."
Santa Anna spun back, intending to shower Hermión with a blistering cascade of verbal abuse. The President, however, was bent over and wholly preoccupied with the task of spewing copiously into a spittoon. Santa Anna allowed himself to be led wordlessly from the office.
"Yessir," he heard Taylor say from behind him, "you've got to watch out for that bad pulky."
Forward to FAN #177: North to Alaska.
Forward to 22 March 1848: Rocky Mountain Way.
Return to For All Nails.