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Short Stories - Oņate beta

Oņate beta 
by William Doonan

I. Oņate

Diego de Oņate dreamed about the comet again, a blistering fireball that cut through the afternoon glare and landed with a crunch in the middle of the plaza, on top of the fountain dedicated to Simon Farrier, the wealthy American who had paid for it. The impact shattered church windows but the only other adverse effect was the unexpected resurrection of the dead who began issuing forth from their graves to eat the living.

Always the same dream.

There weren’t really any graves nearby anyway, Oņate reassured himself. The dead would have to face the long walk from the cemetery or hitch a ride into town.

A mature man, Oņate had grown comfortable with a lifestyle that held napping sacred. This afternoon he had settled down on the porch for just a quick rest, and were it not for the comet, he might have slept well into the evening. And that wouldn’t do. Plans had been made to meet his friend Milos Constantinos for dinner and he still had his businesses to attend. All this meant that he was now in a hurry.

He cursed the hard luck that some years back left him flush with cash, and cursed his ex-wife Lucy, who urged him to buy what was probably the only late model Audi sedan in all of Central America. The car brought him nearly three months of dripping envy from all who knew him, but had since sat motionless in front of the house, lacking some vital part that no local mechanic could identify. You should have bought a Toyota, Lucy suggested one afternoon, bringing her closer to a violent end than Oņate was comfortable admitting.

Rushing through the narrow streets of Pocos, Oņate passed a cantina just as Rocio Vasquez stumbled out, already considerably drunk. "Do you know how long I've been drinking here, Diego?" he asked.

"About a hundred years," Oņate said, moving along the edge of the sidewalk.

"One hundred and fifty three years." Friends began pulling him back inside. "That's a long time."

"It is," Oņate agreed, moving along. He turned a corner and nearly collided with a funeral procession. Men and women climbed solemnly onto a bus as the coffin was loaded on top.

"The Rivera boy," confided the driver, a man Oņate had known since childhood. "So young."

"Tomasito?" said Oņate, taken aback. "He was in the store just days ago renting a movie. Pirates of the Caribbean II, if memory serves." And he had not yet returned it.

"Felipe not Tomasito," the driver corrected. "He and Tito Remedios and the Perez girl were up in the hills poking through the Indian burials, looking for gold. Supposedly they found a little statue of a man with the head and wings of a bird."

Oņate frowned.

"And in the process of digging it up, Felipe fell into the open tomb, hitting his head on a stone pillar. They had been drinking quite a lot."

"And the statue?"

“It remains unclear. Tito Remedios claims it disappeared, but that's not likely. Such a thing would be worth something."

"I should imagine so," Oņate said. “It has been a long time since the last one was found.” With the coffin lashed down and the last of the passengers boarded, the driver waved his goodbye, and Oņate made a quick path to his ice cream store.

II. Oņate Flashback

A younger, trimmer, fitter Diego de Oņate reached deeply into the sink to find the last of the spoons. Year after countless year he had traveled here to Elizabeth, New Jersey to spend a few months bussing tables and washing dishes at the Prometheus Diner. There was so little work back home once the harvest was in.

The Constantinos family, first Simon, then his son Simon, several more Simons, and finally young Theo, made him welcome, regaling him with tales of their homeland while suggesting procedures for more efficient dish scrubbing. Oņate developed a love of things Greek and read four books on the history and culture.

"You have to meet my cousin Milos," said Theo Constantinos, leaning over the sink, his arms wet with suds. "He told me he's had his eye on you these past years."

"As much as I admire your culture," Oņate answered, scraping the remnants of a kebab into the garbage bin, "I remain committed to a heterosexual lifestyle."

Theo shook his head. "No, no. He wants to talk to you about something else, about the little gold pieces."

"I don't have any more."

"No? Even back at home?"

"No. And it was wrong of me to sell that one to that fellow, the Colonel. I would never do it again. I needed the money, you see. The other time was different. I gave the statue to your grandfather when he was in the hospital. He was always kind to me and he was very sick."

Theo nodded. "He wore it on a chain, never took it off. He moved back to Crete shortly after. In fact I got a postcard from him last week. He said he rode a donkey to Church."

"Not surprising. He was a vigorous man."

"Not many men make it to their hundredth birthday party."

"Not many." Oņate wiped his hands and stole a bit of baklava from the platter on top of the refrigerator.

"That was twenty-two years ago," Theo said. "Do you like cheese?"

Oņate nodded.

"That's good. My cousin also likes cheese."

Milos Constantinos pressed himself into the booth. "I have a home in Crete,” he said. “I manufacture cheese which I sell to Turks. It's not very good cheese but they buy it."

"That must be very nice for you," Oņate said.

"Also, I teach classes at the college in Athens."

"That must also be very nice for you."

"I teach about antiquities, about archaeology. I once participated in the excavation of a Roman cemetery in Palestine. So very many skeletons."

Oņate leaned back into the booth.

"When you dig the Indian graves," Constantinos asked, "do you find skeletons?"

Oņate crossed his arms, then his legs. "It's not legal to dig up Indian graves."

Constantinos said nothing.

Oņate frowned. "But if you were to do so, you wouldn't find any skeletons."

"I thought not."

"The ground soil is such that the skeletons are not preserved. The archaeologists say as much."

"I'm sure." Constantinos chuckled.

Oņate leaned in closer. "You think they're lying?"

"No. They don't know what they've gotten into."

"And what's that?"

"I think," Constantinos began, choosing his words, "I think that it is possible not to die."

Oņate looked out the window, watching as a pigeon picked at the remains of a melon.

"Some years back you gave something to my grandfather. It shares certain properties with some relics that turn up from time to time. I'm a member of a group that studies these relics."

"I don't have any more of them," Oņate said.

"I'm told that you sold one once, long ago. That means you had at least two. You could maybe turn up a third."


"How old are you, Diego?"

Oņate fussed with his coffee. "I think about forty. I'm not sure. There are no records."

"But there are," Constantinos replied. "I've done some research. There are records from the mission at Solano where you went to school as a young man. Do you remember the Sisters of Piety? They taught you to write and read in Spanish, though it was not your native language."

"A little," he said, reaching back into his memory. "They were kind."

"The mission was closed in 1698," said Constantinos. "You're quite old. Could we maybe become friends?"

Oņate frowned. "I'll be going home soon."

"If I wrote you letters, would you respond?"

"I might," he said, "if I had a moment from time to time. I'm a busy man."

III. Oņate's Six Happy Flavors

'Now With Ten Flavors,' read the small aluminum sign below the larger plastic one. When Oņate's Six Happy Flavors first opened its doors, ice cream was a novelty in Pocos. Truth be told, only four flavors were commercially available: chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, and guava. But Oņate had improvised, mixing to create strawberry-guava and chocolate-guava, which tasted very bad.

"I'll have a small chocolate cone," he called to Mildred Caravagio as he pressed into the store. It was his usual greeting. Mildred was ancient. Tall and solid. She licked the scoop as he made his way behind the counter to the small office where he kept his cigarettes and the fax. "Use the other scoop, please."

"Hana is looking for you," said Mildred. "She says there is a problem at the video store."

Oņate winced. He was newly suspicious about Mildred, certain that she often forgot to charge for sprinkles. But these feelings were overshadowed by his love for Hana Mora, the manager of his movie rental store.

"Did you hear about Felipe Rivera?" he asked, inspecting the cone that Mildred handed him. "Apparently he hit his head on a tomb pillar and died."

"So sad," said Mildred, shaking her head. "So sad."

"I can be thankful at least that the accident didn’t happen on one of my fields. If it had, the Rivera family would probably sue me, like the family in Out of Africa who sued the Kikuyus when the coffee plantation failed."

Mildred scowled. "Nobody sued the Kikuyus. The plantation failed due to climatic issues, largely altitude. Blixen was no help."

"Maybe it was Out of Africa II, the one with Van Damme. He came back with a vengeance."

"There's no such movie, Diego."

"I read that it was in the making."

Mildred shook her head. "Hana tells me you have a visitor coming,” she said, helping herself to one of his cigarettes, “the man who asks too many questions.”

“He is my friend,” Oņate said. Against his better judgment he had corresponded regularly with Constantinos over the years. But the phone call last night announcing the visit surprised him. Other than the time and place of their planned meeting, nothing more was revealed.

“Friend or no friend,” Mildred told him firmly, “be careful what you say to him. He’s not from here. Now go see Hana. She was upset.”

Oņate paused by the door. "When was the last time someone in Pocos died?"

Mildred pulled hard on the cigarette and exhaled slowly, the smoke forming a blue plume above her hair net. She sat heavily, plumping down on the vinyl couch. "It was awhile back, wasn't it? Most of the young people leave."

Outside, a cat chased a little duck across the lane.

"Rocio Vasquez," she said finally. "About four years ago. He walked in front of the tourist bus, drunk as all daylight. We buried him on the hilltop."

Oņate nodded. "I saw him this morning."

Mildred frowned. She took a pen from the desk and used it to scratch her behind. "I did too. He came in for a cone. Had no money but I gave him one for old times."

Oņate finished his cone and made quick time through the plaza, admiring the neon sign that beckoned him and hopefully others, a sign that was visible even through the church windows. Oņate beta, it read.

Times had been tough ever since Donato’s DVDs began offering family entertainment in the newer format, and Oņate was slow to respond. His program of converting all the betamax tapes to VHS was completed just as DVDs rendered them obsolete. Now Hana ordered all the little discs she could get her hands on, and they were getting by.

Hana Mora, her back to the door, ran an optical scanner over the DVDs that arrived with the morning mail, adding their titles to the database.

"You complete me," Oņate said, standing at the counter.

Hana turned. "I'm glad you're here."

He smiled, remembered kissing a little high-ticket girl way back when, behind the palisade near the river, before the Spanish came. "You're glad I'm here?"

"Yeah, I need to pee," she said, moving quickly.

Don Efren Cuevas was pushed through the door by his little son who came for Shrek II.

"Nothing goes with a movie like popcorn." Oņate smiled.

"Just the movie," said Cuevas as the boy produced the plastic case. "We have fruit at home."

"It's quite uplifting," Oņate said as he wrote out the slip. "Truly an inspiration that the people of France can still have hope after all history has inflicted upon them."

Silence. The boy looked up in horror.

"I don't think it's about that," said Cuevas.

Oņate turned the plastic case over to read the liner. He frowned. "Perhaps I was thinking of another film. My memory is not what it was."

"We have a little problem," Hana said when the customers left.

"Tell me the new lesbian movies arrived today."

She shook her head. "But we got fourteen copies of Lion King and six of the sequel. I didn't even know there was a sequel."

"I enjoyed it. He might look like a beast but he has a heart of gold."

"The problem that I mentioned is this, there was an error made, and I made it. I checked the invoice to confirm. Apparently I ordered six copies of Transformers II. They arrived today."

Oņate braced himself on the counter to keep from falling. "We'll be ruined."

"It's not that bad."

He stared at the ceiling and held up a fist. "Only Steven Segal can save us now. He must make more movies."

"I feel a need to repent."

"Perhaps if we made love," he suggested but she ignored him as was her custom.

IV. Oņate's Bag of Indian Gold

Get Oņate sugared up with ice cream and he's inevitably going to start thinking about his ex-wife Lucy who left him many years ago to live with the Toyota salesman. The first time he saw Lucy, the Statue of Liberty came to mind. Like that famous New Jersey landmark, she was cold and beautiful and had places inside where you were forbidden to go.

A city girl from the capital; he met her at a dance. There were little pink cakes and a band and Lucy was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. Oņate drank a cold cerveza and a beaker of that Black Label Scotch. He told himself that he was as beautiful and as worthy as any of God's fauna, and asked her to dance, then later to marry him.

Lucy brought him years of sheer joy before unceremoniously morphing into something different, something who spent her days drinking wine with her friends, and sleeping with him only when quite drunk, which was blessedly often.

"Tell me about this," Lucy scowled one day just before the end, just as the rains came. She held up a tiny gold statue. It was a little man with the head and wings of a bird. "I found it in a drawer."

"It was in a bag behind the washing machine," he answered, reaching for it.

"No," she said, pulling away. "I want to know where you got it."

"From the hills. From the burials in the hills. Years ago we sometimes found them there."

"It's magic," she said. "You know that."


"My grandfather had one. He bought it from a Negro woman who told fortunes. He'd been sick. The nuns told him he wouldn't live to see the trolleys that mules would pull through the streets of the capital."

Oņate closed his eyes.

"He got better. You have more of these," Lucy said.

"I have a few."

"You have more than a few. I found the bag. There were three in it."

"Three is a few."

"I'm going to be leaving you, Diego," she said.

He stared at her.

"I feel like we've been together forever."

"That's bad?" he asked, not entirely surprised, not entirely overcome.

"Yes,” she said. “It's too long."

When his first wife left him long ago, she left dancing, taking two jars of corn liquor from the shed behind his pole house, promising that he and his neighbors would be spared. When the Quetzal scouts came from across the hills, Oņate shot one through the leg with a fat drippy dart and was clubbed senseless as his roof burned.

"You can't take the gold," he scowled. "You can take the car or the couch or the little TV, not the big TV. And you can't take the gold."

"I'm sorry." Lucy stared at herself in the mirror. "I need to take them, for me and for Peter and his daughter."


"Peter Montoya, the man who sells the Toyota cars. We're leaving together."

Oņate dashed for the laundry room. He pushed aside the washer but the bag was gone. "You can't have them," he shouted, running back into the bedroom. "You have to give them back."

Lucy took his face in her hands. "Are you crying?"


"Do you want me to die, Diego?"

"No," he said softly, touching her hair. "No, not ever."

He watched from the porch as she left, walking quickly past the broken down Audi. His neighbor was feeding a baby parrot on the front lawn. It was a messy job involving a big spoon and goopy oatmeal for which the baby parrot was too eager.

"I'll think of it all tomorrow," Oņate said, "at Tara. I can stand it then. Tomorrow. I'll think of some way to get her back. After all, tomorrow is another day."

"What's that from?" the neighbor asked.

Oņate scratched his bottom. "English Patient, I think."

"Are you drunk?"


"Wife leaving you?"

He nodded.

"That's really too bad. She's hot."

V. Oņate's Friend Milos Constantinos

They puffed thin cigars on the veranda at the Hotel Jardin. They ate chicken with squash and nice beans, drank Schnapps, and toasted the new moon.

“Show me the tomb,” Constantinos suggested for the third time.

"No," Oņate said again.

"Why not?"

"Because I'm too old to be climbing around the hills. And because there's no gold there anymore."

"You're sure?"

"Yes. Why did you come here? Why now?"

Constantinos ordered another round of Schnapps from the hostess. "I got a call from someone in my antiquities group," he said. "We had some information that someone found a new burial with a statue in it. They sent me to meet with him, but I have not yet been able to. A boy died, as you know. And as such, the statue seems not to be for sale."

Oņate shook his head. “They can’t sell it to you now,” he said.

“And you know why, don’t you?”

Oņate nodded. "They'll need it to bring him back."

"That's right,” Constantinos said. “I'm old, Diego. I'll be eighty next week. I've got some kind of tendonitis that gets in the way of my golf. I've also got a photo of you and my grandfather in Times Square the night Taft was elected."

"Do I look good in it?"

"You look OK but you didn't smile."

"Maybe I was sad."

"Maybe. I want to see the tomb, Diego. Just to see it. They'll have to take him there to bring him back. I want to see them bring him back."

Oņate downed his Schnapps, wincing in agony. "No."

"Listen," Constantinos said. "You're my friend and I love you, but you're going to bring me up that hill to meet those boys or I'll kill you."

Oņate frowned his way into a gentle smile, allowed himself a rare moment of lucidity. "I might be quite hard to kill, Milos."

Later, they took in the night air, walking a circuit around the plaza, making their way to Six Happy Flavors. Oņate unlocked the door, locked it behind them, and double dipped two chocolate cones.

"He's not from here," called Mildred Caravagio from the dark, from the little office where Oņate kept his cigarettes and the fax. "Bad enough you let Lucy walk away with what she did. You can't be giving him anything."

Oņate handed him one of the cones.

Constantinos sat deeply into a plastic chair and licked at his cone. "Would that be Mildred speaking? Sister Mildred from the mission that Friar Pedro de Oņate founded in 1670? You bore the Friar two children, both of whom died in infancy. You were very young. How did you come by your little statue?"

In the dark, Oņate reached for the sprinkles, sprinkled them on his cone, saw the flicker of the match as Mildred lit one of his cigarettes and moved into the front room.

"The Viceroy sent a few soldiers to defend the mission," she began, walking slowly toward Constantinos. "But they ran away the night the warriors came. There were about forty of them. Most of their people were already dead from the smallpox and they were hungry, you see. They killed the Friar when he told them to go back to the hills. They left the children alone but they drank all the wine and tied the lambs together to take with them.

"They brought the nuns into the rectory," she continued, pulling deeply on the cigarette, sitting herself across from Constantinos. "There were only three of us, and they were many. Afterwards, one of them seemed sorry. He put a bit of leather around my neck, a bit of leather with a little gold statue hanging from it. He said it would keep me safe. Then they left. They even took the cask of olive oil that the Viceroy sent. I was particularly sad about that. I'm not sure why."

Constantinos sat motionless, ice cream dripping onto his hand.

"How do you like that, fat boy?" Mildred asked, damping her cigarette in his cone. "Now I'll have to kill you with the ice cream scoop."

"No," said Oņate firmly. "There'll be no scoop killing. He's done nothing wrong."

Mildred turned to face him. "Don't take him into the hills, Diego."

"He only wants to meet with the boys. That's all."

"It's meant to be a secret," she growled. "That's why it works."

"She's right," said Constantinos, his voice a shaken whisper. "It is meant to be a secret, but that's not why it works."

They turned to him, said nothing.

"I saw someone try it once in Pakistan. It was a little girl, a dead girl, maybe eleven years old. She stood up and walked around for a moment before laying back down. It didn't work. I just want to see it," he said. "Then I'll leave."

VI. Oņate’s Coffee Field Near the Tomb

Pale butterflies tussled among the bright red heliconias and the pointy ginger flowers. Above them, olive-throated parakeets gurgled and chirped while the little tree frogs slept. Lush fields of coffee blanketed the visible world, and beyond them, the peaks of twin volcanoes held vigil. They were quiet today.

Constantinos cut into a wheel of goat cheese while Oņate cut slices from a sausage. They had been climbing most of the morning, and stopped to take a break under a low palm. The rain was not far off and the air had grown chilly.

"There are thousands of statues in the museum in the capital," Oņate said, “thousands."

"All fakes," Constantinos answered. "A secret cooperative of artisans makes them. And there never were thousands," he said, making a little sandwich. "At most there were a few hundred real ones. The government sold them in the 1940s. Why do you think, Diego, that this is the only country in Central America with universal health care, no significant external debt, and outstanding dental hygiene?"

Oņate pulled the cork from a bottle of wine and filled two plastic cups. "The prosperity is due to an emphasis on sustainable development, ecotourism, and a stable democracy."

"No, it is not," Constantinos said. “It is not. Every now and then a farmer would bring one of the statues to some people who got in touch with our people. They were mostly fakes, but not always. The real ones were sent to a house in Cyprus where they were sold by silent auction. Or to another house in Damascus where Saudis bid wildly. All of this was controlled by one man, a man known as the Colonel. He claims to have worked as an aide to Stonewall Jackson during the American Civil War. Do you know what the greatest commodity in the world is now, Diego?"

Oņate smiled knowingly. "Information. The computer superhighway that connects us all."

"Immortality," Constantinos told him. "The last piece sold for more than 700 million dollars. You were there that night at the mission at Solano when the warriors came, weren't you?"

Oņate took a piece of cheese and wrapped it in a corn tortilla. "I think so," he said. "I mean I know so, but I can only just glimpse it from time to time. I was hiding in the barn. I was older than the other children but the sisters kept me because I was strong and could cut wood."

"And when the warriors came?"

"They didn't find me. I felt ashamed afterwards. The Friar had even given me his name."

Cresting the hilltop where Oņate planted his first banana trees long ago, they pushed on as the rain clouds gathered.

"They might not even be there?"

"They'll be there."

"Why not Mexican gold?" Oņate asked, cutting the brush with his machete. "Is that no good?"

"No," said Constantinos, puffing along behind him.

"Why not?"

"I don't know?"

"Greek gold?"



"I don't know. Nobody knows."

"It's just gold from here then?"

"No," said Constantinos, leaning against a coconut palm to catch his breath. "No, not just from here. Some Etruscan gold has similar properties, but there's not much of it. Did you see the National Geographic about the archaeologist who found the tombs outside Perugia?"

Oņate shook his head.

"They ran him out of the country when the workers dug up a coin with his face on it. He had come back for more. The Vatican confiscated it all."


"And some Syrian pieces," Constantinos continued, pushing forward. "And one or two hat pins from Babylon. Some cups from Zambia have been reported, but it's not yet been verified. Nothing from Egypt or Rome or China or Peru. Every few months the Colonel gets wind of a new piece, but nothing real has turned up in decades, not here, not anywhere in the world, until just now."

"We're almost there," Oņate said as the rain came.

Constantinos pulled an umbrella from his backpack, opened it, and watched as it sailed off like a kite over the coffee fields.
"The Riveras have a shed below the ridge," Oņate called. "They own the field below. We can rest there; the rains rarely last an hour."

They moved quickly through the rain and through the low door into the shed. Inside Tito Remedios lay in a hammock with the Perez girl beside him. Her eyes were red from crying. Felipe Rivera leaned against the wall, his face and Sunday suit creased with mud. The rain fell like pebbles on the tin roof.

"Can I at least see it?" Constantinos asked.

Felipe Rivera blinked but said nothing. He coughed up a little cloud of dust. Tito Remedios gave the matter a measure of consideration before holding up the little gold statue, a man with the head and wings of a bird.

Oņate leaned in close to smell it.

"How did he die?” Constantinos asked, staring at the boy.

“He caught his leg on a vine,” Tito said, climbing out of the hammock. “Then he fell back, cracking his head. We had been drinking, but no matter. He's going to be fine." He clapped Felipe on the back, bringing up another little dust cloud.

"No, he's not going to be fine," Constantinos said. He handed the statue to Oņate. "It's not real, is it?"

Oņate smelled it again and touched it to his tongue. "No."

Constantinos shook his head. "So you contacted the Colonel and told him you had located a new tomb with a new statue. You dug around but you didn't find anything, so you got a fake. Then this boy died.”

The Perez girl began to cry.

"He'll be fine," Tito said, clapping Felipe's shoulder. "He's walking around, isn't he? He followed us here. He just needs a little time to come back."

Constantinos shook his head. "There is a membrane between death and life, and like all membranes, it's permeable under the right conditions. You don't have the right conditions."

"He's right," Oņate said. "I remember that from Spiderman II."

"But he's alive," Tito insisted as the girl cried behind him.

Felipe Rivera blinked, poked out his tongue and drew it back.

"No he's not," said Constantinos. "He's dead. You've just got him animated a bit, probably something residual in the hills. It won't last more than a few hours."

Tito shook his head. "When I made the call, I was sure we had something. We've been digging in these hills for years," he said. "I think all the real ones are gone."

Oņate placed the palm of his hand on Felipe's forehead. It was damp and smelled like the dirt he used to dig from the Indian graves as a younger man. "We'll help you put him back," he said.

VII. Oņate beta

"So sad," he said, forcing the tears. He knew Hana would hold his hand if he cried, and when he did, she did.

"It must have been awful."

They were sitting on the bench by the fountain, the one the dream comet hit. Oņate buried his face in her hair. "We led Felipe back to the coffin and he just got in without a sound. I think he smiled but an ant crawled out of his nose so I looked away. His eyes were open when Tito nailed the top back on."

"How terrible," said Hana, stroking the side of his head. "Your friend left then?"

"Yes, he took the bus. He said he was fairly sure there was no more Indian gold here. I promised I would write if any turned up."

"At least I have mine," she said, reaching into her pocket and producing a tiny statue.

Oņate's eyes opened wide. He touched it, then smelled it. "Where did you get it?"

"You gave it to me. You gave me yours also to hold onto. Remember that day you lost it and we had to tear apart the store to find it?"

"The video store?"

Hana chuckled. "We'll it wasn't a video store back then. I think we were selling mostly axe heads and nails and those iron mills that replaced the grinding stones."

"And I was young and pretty," he added.

"No. You were old and ugly even back then."

"Where's mine, then?"

"In the bathroom. You spend a lot of time there."

He smiled and took her slender hands in his. "You know Hana, you truly are the wind between my wings."

"You can't say anything original," she scolded, pulling away.

"I can," he said. "I just like metaphors."

Watching her scurry across the plaza back to the store, Oņate sighed. The lamps around the fountain flickered on, and a moment later, other lamps lit the street corners and the little kiosk with the public telephones. He stood up and walked slowly towards the ice cream store to have a cone before bed.

"You've got company," Mildred said as he walked in. She frowned deeply and flicked her ash into the new cherry vanilla. Oņate turned to the man at the table in the back. It was the Colonel.

"Seņor Oņate," he said quietly.

“Of all the ice cream joints in the world, you had to have a double cone in mine.” Oņate made his way slowly across the room and sat across from him. "I remember you.”

"You sold me something once,” the Colonel said, “years back in New Jersey. I remember it like it was yesterday. I was reading the daily paper. The Confederate Army had just been rousted at Vicksburg."

"I remember," said Oņate. "The Union soldiers wore blue. You wore gray. And you had a green hat. You looked like a homo."

"I'm Simon Farrier," the man said, extending his hand.

Oņate stared at him.

"I sent Constantinos. He has some expertise in this area, but in the end I had to come to see for myself. I was informed that a new statue had turned up, though it appears I was misled."

"You've been a regret of mine."

"At least I tried to give back to the community. I built the fountain, and I paid for the new Ministry of Justice building."

"Liar," Mildred shouted from behind the counter. "The Ministry of Justice was paid for with municipal bonds."

Farrier shrugged. "Well, I paid for the fountain. And I've invested a lot more in these parts, paying local boys to dig around."

"And now it's time for the killing," said Mildred, moving fast, brandishing the big scoop.

Farrier jumped out of the way as the scoop slammed down into the table, cutting a neat cuticle of green plastic. He hid behind Oņate as Mildred raised the scoop and made her second approach.

"We've discussed this," Oņate scolded.

Mildred fumed, her great bosoms rising and falling with each breath. "You have to have more respect, Diego," she said. "You can't be telling people things."

Oņate nodded. "Leave here tonight," he told Farrier. "Don't ever come back. There's no more here."

Farrier nodded, his eyes still fixed on Mildred and the scoop. "I'll take the morning bus."

"You'll take the night taxi," Oņate told him. "Back to the capital and then get on a plane. Take up fishing or play the crosswords but don't come back here. There's nothing more for you here."

Farrier nodded. "I had the idea of traveling to Peru next."

"Won't be worth your while," Oņate said. "But you know, there's no place like Zambia."

"Diego," Mildred yelled, smacking him in the head with the scoop.

"Zambia." Farrier said the word slowly, drawing it out as if it were a piece of dental floss lodged between molars. "Good bye then, Seņor Oņate."

"You've been a fool," Mildred scolded, much later, scraping residual ice from the cooler.

"I'm an old man, the world must expect that of me. What do you say we close up early tonight? We haven't had any customers since you tried to kill the man."

She put down the scoop and shut the glass window over the cooler. "You do make me angry at times."

"Mildred," Oņate began, "I think this is the beginning of a beautiful..."

"Stop it, Diego," she said, turning off the lights, leaving them in darkness. "I don't think I can manage to hear it again."

"Fine," he said, taking her by the hand. "Let's go watch Lion King."

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