“What’s your name, kid?” the sodden wayfarer asked.
“Francisco P. Ramirez.”
“What’s the P. stand for?”
“Not Pancho. Fair enough.”
“What’s your name?”
“Your name is complicated?”
“I’ve had a few.”
“We don’t have much time.”
I had plenty of time.
“Why do you need La Jefa?” I asked.
“I need to get a message to la capital.”
“Racing homers only fly one way. Monsieur Vigne has had La Jefa for years. He had a sweetheart once in Mexico City, yet he never sent her a message for fear no one would bring La Jefa back. La Jefa is for an emergency only, and love isn’t an emergency.”
“Shit, you are twelve.”
“What’s the message?”
“Do you know about the Mexican War?”
“Fourteen-year-olds must be very stupid where you come from. I know from the newspapers.”
“Newspapers. What good are newspapers in the West? By the time you read about war, there’s peace. By the time you read about peace, there’s war. You might as well study ancient history. At least Gibbon gets the dates right. The daily press is just fast enough to be wrong.”
“So why are you a journalist?”
“I ask myself the same thing every day. All right, what does the press tell you about the Mexican War?”
“Depends on the paper. The Mexican ones call it the American War.”
“A war doesn’t care what you call it. What’s the last newspaper you read about this ‘American War’?”
“Someone left a Santa Fe New Mexican from Christmas on the Friday stage. The driver saves them for me. He brought me one from New Year’s the week before. It gets confusing sometimes. But the New Year’s one said the treaty talks in la capital broke down. What’s the last you read?”
“It’s all out of date,” he sighed. “All of it. That’s why I need your Jefe. I know something about Mexico that even Mexico doesn’t know.”
“Something that fits around the leg of a pigeon?”
“Is that what you had in your hand? When you tried to free La Jefa?”
“Hijo, enough with the questions. Do I get the bird or don’t I? I haven’t slept two hours together for three nights straight.”
“Then you’d better tell me the story while you’re still awake.”
“You’d better let me sleep or you’ll never get the story.”
I thought fast.
“Tell me the story or I’ll throttle the bird myself, and then where will you be?”
“You’ve been reading more than just newspapers, haven’t you? Put some coffee on. Have they heard of John Sutter’s Fort down here? Oh, and call me Navarre.”
This is part three of five from a new short story. See also part one, part two, part four, and part five.
Artwork by Jacquelyn Campaña.
David Kipen is the founder of the nonprofit Libros Schmibros Lending Library in Boyle Heights, a lecturer on the UCLA faculty, and a Critic-at-Large of the LA Times. His Dear Los Angeles: The City in Diaries and Letters will be published Fall 2018 by Modern Library. The Américas will be his first novel, and he welcomes your kibitzing at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright: © 2017 David Kipen. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC-BY 4.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited. See http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/