The Tejano

12 May

Alex Stanton had never been given an assignment that filled him with such distaste and revulsion.

He clenched his teeth as he drove his carro along the highway from San Antonio to San Angelo.

Alex was one of only a handful of Anglos working in the Tejas Province Police. He had now spent twelve years of his investigative career as an undercover operative. That seemed to be his sole value to the Special Service Division: his ability to melt into the English-speaking minority, the twenty-five percent of the population still not assimilated into the culture and social system of Neuvo Mexico, north of the Rio Grande. A Texican spying and snooping on fellow Texicans, though the dark coloring of his eyes, hair, and skin made him passable as a Latino.

The flat plain of central West Tejas took on a bronze glow in the evening twilight. So still and lonely, as if the high plateau knew not what country it formally belonged to. Alex discovered himself grinning philosophically. What sort of adventure lay before him now? he wondered.

San Angelo ranked as the fifth largest city in Tejas. First came San Antonio, the provincial capital and informatics center. Then came El Paso, producer of microcomputadoras. Third was the eastern tejano city of Beaumont, with its oil and petroquimica industry. Laredo followed, a leader in banking, finance, and molecular genetica.

From its beginning dependent on the sheep, goats, and cattle of the region, San Angelo had advanced as a pioneer in optical communications equipment. The ciudad of wool and mohair fiber, it was called by its residents and outsiders. This was the city of a million that Alex Stanton entered with his secret mission in mind. As soon as he was settled in a downtown motor hotel, he rang the home telephone number of Valerio Borrega, the rodeo promoter who was to facilitate his entry into the world of the charreadas.

“Good evening,” Alex said into the teletransmitter. “This is Alex Stanton of St. Louis in the United States. I am here in San Angelo to begin my research for a series of articles on the rodeos of Tejas.”

“Welcome to our city, Senor,” replied a deep, sonorous basso. “This is Val Borrega. I was contacted by your superiors about the project you are engaged in. You shall enjoy my complete cooperation in that enterprise.”

“Thank you,” murmured the undercover agent.

“In fact, you can begin at once. I am giving an open reception for the charros who will be participating in the San Angelo Rodeo starting tomorrow. It is a good opportunity for you to meet participants from all sections of Tejas. The party will begin in about one hour, at the Fort Concho convention center. Can you make it there this evening, my friend?”

“Yes, of course,” replied Alex.

“Good. We will locate each other at the entrance there.”

Borrega was a tall, athletic-looking man with Aztec sharpness in his reddish-brown face. His serious, unsmiling expression never changed under any circumstances whatever.

Alex felt the power of the man’s iron grip as the two hook hands.

“So happy to meet you, at last,” declared the promoter. “I sincerely hope that you find what you have come to Tejas for.”

“Thank you,” mumbled Alex, looking past him at the tables where a group of males sat eating and drinking.

“Let me introduce you to some of my interesting guests,” proposed Borrega seriously. “They are all important players on the charranda circuit.”

He led the supposed journalist across the uncovered hardwood floor to where the rodeo riders and performers sat and started to make introductions, one by one.

The first three men Alex met had Hispanic names and physical characteristics.

There followed a surprisingly short, light red-headed cowboy named Skipper Smith. He gave a warm, hardy laugh as he shook the newsman’s hand.

“Skipper knows a lot of the history of rodeo life in Tejas,” explained Valerio Borrega. “He is the fourth generation of his family taking part in what we do.”

Alex then noticed that a female in riding pants sat beside the diminutive rider. The latter smiled and gave a fleeting wink of the eye. “Let me introduce you to one of the stars of the women’s charreada,” chuckled Smith. “This is Ramona Deutsch from Fredericksburg, up in the Central Hill Country.”

Remaining seated, the tall brunet offered him a long hand with an iron grip. Clasping it for a moment, Alex took in the complex of mixed features in the young woman. Milky Teutonic eyes in an olive-skinned face were prominent. High cheekbones and short, narrow nose stood out. Straight jet eyebrows merged together into one.

“Senor Stanton is a writer from the United States,” revealed Borrega. “Both of you should help him as much as possible in his search for facts about the rodeo scene here in Tejas.”

Ramona spoke to the stranger for the first time.

“Your work sounds very interesting to me,” she said softly. “Are there any charros left in your country today?”

“A few old-timers, that is all.” Alex curved his thin lips into a grin. “But all Americanos are greatly fascinated with the vaquero traditions of Tejas.”

Skipper Smith suddenly intervened. “Ramona is an expert goat roper. She has won many prizes in competition with the boys who engage in that particular sport.”

“That sounds interesting and exciting,” remarked the reporter.

“You shall have opportunity to interview Senorita Deutsch as well as the Skipper,” noted Valario Borrega. “Both of them can tell you much about the activities that keep them busy all year around.”

The host and his new guest moved down the long table, where others of the profession were introduced to the man who claimed he was from St. Louis.

After returning to his hotel room, the undercover agent waited until midnight before calling San Antonio headquarters long-distance. The Special Service Division never slept, Alex said to himself dreamily. And never suffered distraction, he smiled.

“Yes?” said a cold voice from the other end.

“This is Stanton. I arrived in San Angelo, met our informant, and went to a reception for rodeo riders with him. Dozens of them were introduced to me there.”

“What are your immediate plans?”

“Tomorrow I attend a busy schedule of events. Interviewing will start, too. I will be concentrating upon Anglo Texicans.”

“You are to proceed as per instructions,” indicated the icy baritone. “Time is of the essence, because there have been two incidents of public sabotage today. One occurred in Amarillo, the other in Galvaz. Neither, of course, appeared in any news medium. The public is not to become alarmed about them.”

“I understand the urgency of the general situation,” muttered Alex thoughtfully. “All my energy will be focused on unearthing any secrets they may be hiding here in San Angelo.”

“Report tomorrow at midnight again,” commanded the disembodied voice, then went dead. No farewell was spoken or implied.

For a moment, Alex stood frozen, the transceiver in his hand.

Could he find out what the Division was after? he asked himself.

The morning events in the Rodeo Coliseum included saddle bronco riding, bareback riding, and bull riding, the so-called “roughstock ” sports in which wild broncos and dangerous horned cattle had to be mastered and tamed.

Alex sat beside Val Borrega in the latter’s special box.

All sides of the high-domed auditorium were filled with excited, eager fans.

As the first rider came into the central corral on a bucking two-year old, the promoter turned to Alex and spoke.

“Later on, we will be seeing Skipper Smith come out. Can you believe that he is one of the top steer-wrestlers in all Tejas?” It isn’t size or weight that counts in the sport. The man is all muscle, extremely skilled muscle. Skipper is an object lesson in the importance of practice and training.”

All of a sudden, a warm, friendly voice came from the aisle behind the two men.

“Buenos dios,” said Ramona Deutsch to both of them.

Alex turned his head around.

“Good morning, Miss Deutsch. How are you today? Come to see the early riding events?”

She gave him a radiant smile. “I try not to miss what the others are up to, even though we goat-ropers will not be seen in action till tomorrow.”

Val interceded. “Since you are free all day, Ramona , why don’t you take our friend under your wing and show him about in back during the intermissions? I am certain you will do a good job.” He turned his face and eyes on Stanton. “There are matters of business hat cannot wait, unfortunately.”

“Excusing himself, Borrega rose and made his way out. The woman, dressed in brown corduroy pants and yellow silk blouse, sat down in the vacated seat.

For a short while, she watched the bronco-busters below in complete silence. Then, without looking at him, she asked a direct question.

“Do you have any idea why grown adults get involved in such crazy, senseless competitions?”

Alex glanced at her from the side for a second, then turned back to the central circle where a buckaroo was falling off a frenzied stallion.

“I have asked myself the same thing many times before visiting Tejas. That is probably my main reason for taking on this assignment.

“It is difficult to be certain about people’s motives, but once we discover them, they can be a most valuable tool.”

“A tool?” she said with surprise. “I don’t understand what you mean by that.”

The operative drew a deep breath. What could he now say that might make her trust him enough to talk without mental inhibition?

“If I had a clear idea of what motivated you to throw lassos at goats, Ramona, then I would have a good chance of predicting your future actions in many areas of life. Do you understand what it is I am saying?”

He could not see her pouting her lips.

“My reason for being here is as clear as crystal. I am upholding my family honor. There is no one else to carry on for us.”

“What do you mean?”

Before she was able to reply, a loud, harsh voice announced the morning intermission over the Coliseum’s audio system.

“Let’s go get some snacks,” proposed Ramona. “I’ll tell you my family’s history.”

“Eduard Deutsch and his wife came to Tejas in 1846, part of the group that established Fredericksburg that year. That was eleven years after the defeat of the Anglo rebellion at the battle of the Alamo. Because of the difficulty of farming, he and his three sons turned to raising cattle, sheep, and goats. By the time Eduard died in 1871, each brother had an extensive stock ranch.

“The oldest son, Emile Deutsch, became an important leader of the Germans of South Central Tejas. He was elected from his district to the provincial assembly in San Antonio, where he became a major statesman. He championed the rights of the people of Tejas against the centralism of the Mexican government. Our entire family supported tejano autonomy.

“So, when the Los Angeles Convention was called in 1893, Emile was sent as a delegate. He fought for a loose alliance of independent California, Greater Arizona, and Nevada with the Republic of Tejas. He became a leading opponent of what we still have today, the Confederation of Nuevo Mejico.”

A shadow fell over the milky eyes of Ramona as she paused.

“My own grandfather, a son of Emile, suffered along with the rest of his family for opposition to the union. Everyone related to Emile was disenfranchised and barred from politics. The new tejano government caused great financial losses to all of us. We never recovered our old fortune and position after that. But many other Germans, as well as Anglos, had similar experiences at that time. We are still only Texicans to the Latino majority, even today.”

All at once, her brow furrowed. “My older brother was killed in an accident with his carro. He is the one who taught me goat-roping. In a way, I am carrying it forward for him. Trying to accomplish what he would surely have done had he lived.” She stopped talking, swallowing hard.

Her eyes seemed to melt into a bluish cream, thought Alex to himself.

“My mother is from the San Filipe district of Del Rio, in the Rio Grande valley, south of where we now are. Her ancestors came to Tejas several hundred years ago. So, in a way, I am an alloy, a Tejas combination. Does that make sense to you, Alex?”

The latter nodded his head. “Yes, indeed it does.”

At that moment, an amplified voice announced that the steer wrestling was soon to begin.

The pair hurriedly finished eating, then rose and returned to their box seats.

“We shall see whether Skipper keeps his position as a primero,” laughed Ramona.

No one came close to the dexterity of Skipper Smith in the saddle. His victory was evident to all as he brought down the furious bull, twisting its powerful horns with an iron grip.

Ramona squealed with glee, clapping together her hands. Her face turned toward Alex.

“Timing, it’s all in the timing!” she informed her companion. “You saw how smoothly he glided off his horse onto the back of the steer. And how skillfully Skipper handled those horns. Each second, each instant, he was aware of what he was doing and what must come next.

“It is not size or strength that bring the bull to the ground, Alex. No, Skipper has perfect timing and coordination in all his muscles. He is the master musician in steer-wrestling.”

The two of them watched as the victor raised his arms into the air, then walked away from the cowering, prostrate bull.

All at once, Skipper stopped and began to scan the audience in all directions.

His gaze fastened on Ramona the instant he spotted her.

Smiling triumphantly, the steer-wrestler raised his right hand in greeting.

“Look out,” shouted someone. “The bull is getting up again.”

Skipper moved quickly to the edge of the ring and sprang over the fence. He was immediately gone from view.

The two spectators in Borrega’s box turned to each other.

“What do you think?” inquired Ramona, grinning broadly. “Isn’t he a wonder? No one can bring down a horned steer the way Skipper does.”

The rodeo show continued with additional, but less spectacular or heroic steer-wrestling.

Val appeared just as the morning’s events came to an end.

“How did you enjoy the show?” he said to Alex. “I’m sure they produced a lot of thrills for the audience. We always draw the best in all Tejas to the San Angelo charreada.”

“Everything was interesting and exciting,” admitted the journalist. “I can’t wait to begin interviewing some of the riders.”

“You can talk with Skipper Smith at once. I’ve invited him to have lunch with us at a café we can walk to. He will be free all afternoon.”

“That sounds good,” muttered Alex.

“I will have to be excused of course,” said Ramona with regret. “It is time for me to start preparing for my roping appearance this afternoon.”

She walked off, while Borrega and the undercover agent headed for the entrance along with the exiting crowd.

“Skipper will meet us there,” noted the promoter. “He is probably quite hungry from his vigorous exertions with the bull he brought to earth.”

The pair entered the café, finding an empty booth at once. An aproned waiter came to serve them immediately.

“I recommend the cabrito,amigo,” softly said Borrega. “Are you familiar with tejano barbecued goat? They make it from the finest kid, into a juicy, tender dish. They go well with enchiladas tres  colores.”

Alex smiled. “I had a tri-color enchilada on my drive to San Angelo.”

As the two gave their orders to the waiter, Skipper Smith arrived and sat down beside Val after shaking hands with both of them.

First Borrega, then Alex, congratulated the charro on his excellent performance at the Coliseum.

Smith gave the waiter an order for veal quesadillas with frijoles borraches on the side, then looked across at the Americano.

“You said that you live in the city of St. Louis of Missouri state?”

“That is correct,” replied Alex.

The cowboy’s eyes grew misty. “I have traveled to the United States only once, when I was a teenager. My father took me along with him to the town of Tulsa in the state of Cherokee. He was there for the rodeo at the county fair of the area.”

“That must have been interesting,” noted Stanton. “Tell me, why haven’t you returned to my country, Skipper?”

The latter seemed to hesitate a moment before he answered.

“It has not been possible for me to leave Tejas. I am busy all the time, all year long.”

Val continued the general explanation. “There has been a certain amount of hostility between Washington and Los Angeles in recent years. We are an integral part of the Confederation of Nuevo Mejico, and the relations between Tejas and the U.S.A. are affected by every political nuance that comes this way from California.

“It is never wise for tejanos to frequent the North too much.”

An odd, uneasy silence fell over the three men for a short time, until Skipper changed the subject.

“Ramona will be part of the goat-roping competition this afternoon,” he told the foreigner. “I hope to be there to see her perform.”

“Yes, that is my plan and intention.” Alex looked across at Borrega.

The entrepreneur suddenly had an idea, which he presented to the other two.

“Why don’t you and Skipper take my box for the matinée?” he asked Alex. “I have business matters that can’t be avoided, so the seats are yours to use.”

Both men agreed to the arrangement just as the waiter arrived carrying all three of their main dishes.

Alex watched the ropers with his eyes, listening to Smith ramble on with his explanations of what was happening. But the S.S.D. agent’s mind was involved with a fine analysis of what he was learning about the small man sitting by his side.

Could the Skipper be involved with the ring of terrorists setting off explosions in the towns of Tejas? The public had not been told of the extent of the violent destruction. Only locally was there any popular knowledge of these events. So far, the provincial government had succeeded in keeping the lid on. How much longer would that be possible, though?

It had to be the Anglo-Texican population that was behind the bombs. Suspicion had fallen by rational deduction upon the cowboys, broncobusters, and ropers of the rodeo circuit. Every explosion, so far, was connected in timing with a charreada in the same vicinity. The computadoras of the S.S.D. had come up with this perfect correlation. Operatives had been dispatched to all locations where rodeos were currently or would soon be in progress. Today, the focus was on San Angelo.

A dark thought occurred to Stratton.

If the man sitting at his left is a conspirator, what about Ramona Deutsch? Is she a part of his web? That would be monstrous, Alex told himself with shocked surprise. That would be more than conscienceless.

“Here comes Ramona,” announced Skipper, breaking into the reverie of his companion. “Watch how she goes after that frisky little goat.”

Alex did exactly that, focusing on the tall woman with a vaquero hat on her head and a lasso rope in her hands, riding a small, sprightly pinto with a white tail. She kept a tight hold on the reins with her left hand as the young horse circled the central ring of the field house.

Skipper continued speaking, almost as if alone.

“Ramona has no peer among female ropers, and she is ambitious. The tejano championship is what she dreams of. I know, because she has told me of it. And she has hopes of going North some day, too. Showing what she can do up in Colorado and Wyoming. You Americanos still have local fairs there, don’t you? She could win a lot of prizes in the U.S.A., couldn’t she? And earn some real money, too. More than we get paid at the charrearas down here.”

The two men watched Ramona make her first serious pass at the frightened, fleeing goat. She instantly decided not to attempt a throw at the quick, nimble animal.

“You see, I have very serious plans for Ramona and myself,” continued the charro with enthusiasm. “We may look unsuited for each other, with her height, I mean. But my own mother was taller and bigger than her husband. It is nothing unprecedented in our family, believe me.”

He is contemplating marriage with Ramona! realized Stratton. Along with taking her to the United States of America for exhibitions at county fairs across the West. But is he also a terrorist  hoping to separate Tejas from Nuevo Mejico? That was the great riddle here.

Ramona’s lasso flew through the air, snagging about the horns of the stunned goat. All of a sudden, the audience began to applaud.

Skipper turned to Alex with rapture on his face.

“She has done it, and quickly!” he cried. “Isn’t it marvelous?”

As the roper drew in the entangled target, the crowd roared loudly.

The noise was so great that few caught the initial explosion from somewhere beneath the polymer turf of the Coliseum.

Alex, feeling the box move, imagined an earthquake.

But as he watched the ceiling collapse, the S.S.D. man knew he was wrong. Were the terrorists making an attack on the charreada itself?

Why? he asked himself, then lost all consciousness.

Alex did not know that five days had passed until the moment he awakened in a private hospital room. And he did not know that a government ambulance had driven him to San Antonio. But he recognized the Division chief who stood beside his bed, peering down at him.

“You have been out for quite some time, Stratton,” whispered the police official, a brawny figure with dark brown eyes and hair. “But there is nothing to worry about. The doctors tell us that your recovery, though slow, will be complete.”

The injured agent began to remember the Coliseum.

“What happened? There was an explosion, I remember,” he said hoarsely.

“Yes, we discovered that the terrorist band stored its bombs under the field house in San Angelo. They have been doing the same at many sites across Tejas. That is why we could not detect them.”

Alex recalled what Ramona Deutsch had been involved with at the fatal moment.

“The goat-roper?” he demanded. “What happened to her?”

“Dead. It probably happened instantly. The same with the bull-wrestler sitting in the same box with you. There were scores of casualties. Only a few survived, one of whom was you. But we have solved the case and know who organized the bombings. No one would ever have suspected, the least obvious person imaginable.”

“Who is that?”

“Senor Valario Borrega, our own cooperative contact. The man who was helping and guiding your investigation. No wonder we were going nowhere! And he was in a position to mislead you, too. All the time, he has been a secret agent of Mexico City, setting bombs in order to disorganize Tejas. This traitor was captured immediately, after the explosion. He was hiding in an underground supply tunnel.”

Inner emotion boiled over within the patient’s brain.

Realizing that Stratton was profoundly shaken, the S.S.D. leader excused himself and left.

Yes, thought Alex, it will take me a long time to digest all of this.

But the awful result can never be accepted in any way.

At that moment he decided he would resign his post and quit his profession of undercover agent. Then, he hoped to look for a new life for himself.

Perhaps he could learn to throw ropes in the charrendas.

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