The Devil's Clerk

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VIII

A cup of tea in hand, he was enjoying the evening breeze in a rocking chair on don Eugenio’s patio. He was announcing to his host that his mission had come to an end and thanking him for the pleasant moments he had spent in his company. Don Eugenio protested: it had been a pleasure.

“How did your stay on the Isle of Love go?”

“Couldn’t have been better,” replied Ruetcel.

And to humor his host, he recounted the words of Maria’s sons about the lights of the Charco Verde at night. Don Eugenio admitted that he himself had seen them. He approved: “Of course, they exist.” And he burst into laughter when Ruetcel repeated the questions the two brothers had asked him when he returned (“No one” had come to bother him? Had “they” paid him a visit?, etc.) Ruetcel had never seen the old man so pleased. He was ecstatic, guffawing midsentence, “You should tell them, dear Ruetcel, tell these people, that you have come to check up on me, to inspect the accounts of the Charco Verde. You’ll do that, won’t you? Just mention it in passing, to Maria, to Jesus and Judas, and whenever you can to anyone you meet on Ometepe: ’Yes, yes, Chico Largo has sent me here on a mission, as inspector in this matter. He wants to put things in order in the Charco Verde business.’ You’ll see how they react.”

“I won’t have enough time to spread such information, don Eugenio.”

“Don’t worry; the rumor is already out.”

“For God’s sake, Angel had even warned me,” thought Ruetcel. Then aloud, he added, “I’ll send you a copy of my report, don Eugenio.”

“That’s very kind of you. I’m very touched", said don Eugenio. "And as you know, this house is yours. If ever you should need something. An appointment with Chico Largo, for instance”—laughter—“to finish writing your book, who knows? Perhaps you’ll need his help?”

Ruetcel felt the time was right for what he wanted. “By the way, don Eugenio,” said he. “Didn’t you promise to one day show me the notebook of archives that you yourself are writing about the Charco Verde?”

Don Eugenio remained silent. As a matter of fact, he did not remember ever having made such an offer. This young man, this Ruetcel had a lot of nerve. The old man became severe: “That’s impossible, my friend. And you know it.”

“Haven’t you shown it to others?”

“Please, don’t insist. I believe I’ve told you what horrible things happened to my writer friend who asked for it.”

Embarrassed, Ruetcel took a pack of cigarettes from his pocket, and offered one to Eugenio. “You aren’t a member of the Antismokers League, are you?” he said smiling.

“I like a good smoke every now and then,” confessed the old man. “Ah! American cigarettes!”

“And English…”

“Don’t even mention English cigarettes…”

“Here, there’re some right here. Would you like one?”

“Really? Oh, I’d love to! With this revolution, it’s rare.” Silence. Puffs of smoke. “Tell me, Señor Ruetcel, your book, your report, as you say, what is it about?”

“About you, of course.”

“About me?”

“About you.”

“But why?”

“You consume a lot of energy.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, for example, for tobacco drying.”

“I see what you’re getting at.”

“I’m not so sure.”

“And what are you going to write?”

“What I know.”

“What do you know?” asked don Eugenio.

“What you yourself have taught me, of course.”

“In other words?”

“It’s simple: Don Eugenio, eighty years of age, from Masaya, farmer, limps, wears green-tinted glasses because his eyes are sensitive, owns twenty kilns and a small pond called the Charco Verde. Claims that people believe he’s sold his soul to the devil.”

“Ah! Damnation! You swindler! You win! I thought you said it was a report about energy.”

“It is. Who ever said anything different?”

“And when will you finish it?”

“Well! I’ve often thought it was finished.”

“Soon?”

“Soon it will be the last time.”

“The last time?”

“The last time I dare say, ‘It’s finished.’”

“What’s missing?”

“The solution.”

“To what?”

“The end.”

“Of what?”

“Of our problem,” said Ruetcel in a sigh.

“A sighing heart means an unsatisfied one. This problem, my friend, what is it exactly?”

“Your energy demand.”

“Oh, that! I’m surprised.”

“It’s just that you consume a lot of energy.”

“Really, such a lot?”

“Hellish…”

“Really?”

“Damnation! Twenty tobacco kilns, drying over wood fires; you think that’s a little?”

“For what I produce, that’s what I need. When it comes to wood fires, the flames simply have to be high, lots of flames, for a good wood flavor. It’s all in the method. For the comfort, too. There’s no doubt about it: it’s better with a wood fire.”

“Really? Better than what?”

“Than other combustibles.”

“That much better?”

“I swear! And, then there’s the smell, too. Did you consider that, the smell?”

“What do you mean, the smell…?”

“It’s better with a wood fire.”

“The smell!” exclaimed Ruetcel indignantly.

“Don’t get angry.”

“I’m not angry.”

“But I saw you, there, that you were troubled…”

“Not the least bit,” said Ruetcel.

“I was only joking…”

“That’s what I had understood. Don’t worry.”

“The truth is that it’s a question of quality.”

“What do you mean?”

“Virginia tobacco has to be dried over a wood fire. Requirement of the company.”

“I see. It’s the company.”

“Tell me something, Ruetcel, the solution to this problem…what do you think it might be?”

“If I knew, this report would be finished.”

“But you said that you’d already finished it, several times.”

“That’s correct.”

“You must’ve had a solution then.”

“I thought so.”

“And what was it?”

“No more tobacco, no more kilns. No more deforestation, no more threats to biodiversity.”

“Hey, wait a minute!”

“No more company, no more big properties. Oh, I was forgetting: no more watermelons, either.”

“Then you want to do me in.”

“I wanted to. I’ve changed my mind.”

“And not a moment too soon! What a pleasant surprise! My friend, I’m overjoyed! I congratulate you and myself from the bottom of my heart! You really wanted to see me go? You were driving me straight to my grave!”

Don Eugenio stared at Ruetcel, and so they remained, looking each other in the eye, until Ruetcel said smiling, “Please, forgive me.”

“You’re forgiven. What about the right solution, then, do you think you’ll come up with it?”

“It exists. I’m sure of it.”

“Seems to me you’re the kind of person who likes difficult problems: you want to discover the Nahuatl origin of the legend of the Charco Verde. You want to have the book of Chico Largo’s archives. You have to solve the problem of my energy demand, of deforestation and biodiversity, and you want to finish writing your own book. Quite a program. You’re a pretty ambitious fellow, aren’t you?”

“I know there’s some way out.”

“I hope it will be a bit more cheerful than the first!”

“We’re trying.”

“Thank goodness. You really had me scared, you know!”

“No.”

“You did, I guarantee you. For a moment there I thought you had it in for me.”

“That’s right, I did. I told you, didn’t I?”

“And all of a sudden you don’t anymore?”

“No.”

“Can you explain why?”

“Well, it’s simple: I like you.”

Don Eugenio breathed a sigh of relief. “Ah, that is a problem! That you should like me!”

“A moral problem, yes.”

“A moral problem!”

“There’s got to be a moral to this story.”

“I agree.”

“I insist; it must be a good moral.”

“A happy end means justice, too.”

“It should be full of justice, you’re right,” Ruetcel approved.

Don Eugenio was pensive a moment, his head lowered. Then he looked at Ruetcel. “Perhaps I can help you.”

“What do you suggest?”

“I am privy to a bit of information. Some raw materials.”

“What do you mean?”

“I’m talking about the Charco Verde.”

“That famous book you were writing?”

Don Eugenio kept silent. He looked for something in the collar of his shirt: a gold chain that he wore around his neck, from which he unfastened a key. Then he called Oswaldo, his son, who came and stood at the door of the patio. “Go look in my study, son. Use this to unlock the draw of the Napoleon secretary. You’ll find a notebook there. Bring it to me.”

While waiting for Oswaldo, don Eugenio took off his glasses and meditated with closed eyes. Ruetcel noticed that his eyelids were without lashes. There was definitively something of a reptile about him.

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