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Показать все книги автора/авторов: Stivers Dick

«Scorched Earth», Dick Stivers


Acrid smoke drifted up from the scorched earth.

Where the farm belonging to the three Yaqui families had marked the dusty, gray slopes of the Sierra Madres with arid fields of corn and squash and beans, only fire-blackened stones remained.

A man's scream, the voice made animal by pain, came from a smoking tangle of mud-plastered sticks. The man choked, his scream dying to a gasp, then nothing.

From a ruin that had been a lean-to ramada for sleeping and cooking, a child cried. Lost in blind shock, alone in her seared flesh, she wailed for her dead mother and father.

The child's pleading pierced the haunting silence that enveloped the scene of devastation like a cloak of death.

Two army colonels stalked through the ashes.

Colonel Alfredo Gonzalez of the army of the Republic of Mexico wore the red beret of the elite International Group. The eagle insignia on the collar of his tailored and pressed camo fatigues identified him as a commander.

The second officer, six-foot-six Colonel Jon Gunther, stood head and shoulders above the Mexican officer. Unlike the Mexican, Colonel Gunther did not need insignia to identify him as an officer. His stride, his straight back, his massive build carried the message of his career as a paramilitary officer.

Surrounded by ashes, Gonzalez and Gunther evaluated the effects of the splash of flaming avgas-styrene gel.

In a helicopter a hundred meters away, a soldier laughed. Soldiers in camouflage fatigues and helmets sat at the door of the troopship, smoking cigarettes and tossing rocks. One soldier, his M-16 rifle slung over his back, scanned the nearby mountainsides with binoculars.

The Sierra Madre Occidentals extended into the distance, a vast wasteland of mesquite and rocks and dust. Rains came twice a year to the range of high jagged mountains paralleling the Pacific coast of Mexico. But the Alaskan storms, after sweeping across the Pacific states of North America, brought only light rain. After a few weeks of green grass and wild flowers, the sun scorched the land dry. Blistering winds tore away soil, darkening the sky with dust. Only cacti and mesquite and sturdy desert trees flourished. Later in this month of August, torrential rains would sweep north from the equator, bringing flash floods and erosion. Every year dry riverbeds suddenly became bottomless channels of churning mud and debris.

The families of this ejido— a small cooperative farm — had attempted to scratch a living from the rocky soil of the Sierra Madres. After clearing a tiny valley of mesquite and cacti with their machetes, they had made a plow out of a mesquite tree and a piece of scrap iron. The men took turns pulling the plow. They had no money for a mule. Though the Yaqui tribes had lived and died in these valleys and mountains for a thousand years, Yaqui families did not — according to Mexican law — own this land, therefore they could not borrow money from the Mexican banks to rent mules.

Working in teams, they had pulled the improvised plow through the hard-packed earth. Their skin baked under a hostile sun, and their hands gnarled and calloused from their labor. They put in their crops of corn and beans. The women and children walked a kilometer up the rocky mountainside overlooking the valley to return with buckets of water while the men dug a well. One man sweated in the pit, sometimes digging, sometimes loading the rocks and sand into a bucket on a rope. The other men hauled the bucket to the surface. Two ten-year-old boys dragged the bucket to the edge of the clearing and dumped out the rocks.

In December, when they would harvest their corn and beans and sell the crop in the markets of the pueblos, the three families hoped to buy a mechanical water pump and the pipe to bring the deep water to a reservoir. With water, they could grow more crops. Though they would never be as rich as the Mexicans who had seized the ancestral lands of their people to make the vast corporate farms of Los Mochis and Ciudad Obregon, they hoped to feed their children and perhaps save money for books and radios.

Then the strangers in business suits came.

The two Mexican strangers walked through the lines of corn and beans without regard for the seedlings they crushed with every step. They spurned the children in ragged clothes who gathered around to see the outsiders.

Looking down at the Yaqui campesinos who worked in teams in the deep pit that would be the well, the strangers introduced themselves.

They had come from Culiacan to offer the campesinos wealth, more money than the campesinos could ever earn farming or picking cotton, enough money to buy motorcycles and mescal, even Japanese televisions.

In return for this wealth, the Mexicans from Culiacan wanted the ejidoto plant red amapola poppies. And to razor the poppies for their white gold: opium. Opium from which the chemists of Culiacan and Hermosillo would make heroin to feed the hungry veins of the needle addicts in the cities of North America.

The three families refused. As Yaquis, they distrusted Mexicans. They did not know these two Mexicans from Culiacan, who wore the suits of rich men and who drove the expensive four-wheel-drive Silverado.

The smooth-talking Mexicans repeated their slick promises of easy money. Much easy money. More than the families could earn in a lifetime of selling corn and beans and squash. No more poverty.

The Yaqui families of the ejidorefused again. One man, a father of five children, said he could not risk prison. The police, or federales, would come, and then he would be in the prison at Mazatlan. Who would feed his children while he rotted in the prison? Who would work with his brother and cousin?

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