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Tales from the Coffee Plantation

The beautiful hacienda overlooked a large green sloping hill, which in turn gave way to acres of coffee beans.  The entire landscape was drenched in early afternoon sun.  Juan Valdez leaned on the neatly painted wooden rail on the veranda outside of his private office and looked out at his plantation.

The middle-aged Guatemalan native frowned as he watched a group of peasants congregate at one of the nearest bean fields.  From this distance, it looked to Valdez that the peasants were encircling another peasant, who appeared to be gesturing wildly.  The peasants were paying more attention to this one speaker than to their bean-picking duties.

Juan Valdez puffed on his imported Cuban cigar and pointed his pudgy finger toward the disturbance below.  “That one, bring him to me, Luis.”

A swarthy giant of a man emerged from the shadowed corner of the veranda and nodded with a grunt.  He silently disappeared into the building, rifle slung over his shoulder.

“It would appear that you are still having labor difficulties, Senor Valdez,” said the pale American in the black suit and dark sunglasses who sat quietly at the ornate table on the far end of the veranda.  The man sipped an amber beverage from a tall sweaty glass.

Valdez returned to the table and sat down.  He took another puff on the cigar and pointed it at the man in the suit.  “And now my American friend, you shall see how Juan Valdez resolves labor disputes.”  He absently wiped perspiration from the back of his neck with a napkin.  “Then you will report favorably to your superiors.”

The suited man took a cigarette from a shiny open pack on the table, lit it, and blew a couple of smoke rings up in the air.  “I certainly hope so, Senor.  For both our sakes.”

The two sat quietly for several minutes.  There was a commotion down in the fields where the peasants had been listening to the speaker.  Luis had arrived and waded bodily into the throng, automatically dispersing the peasants, who scurried back to their appointed places in the field.  The speaker was hustled from the field roughly and pushed along the curving path back up to the house.  He appeared to hesitate until Luis brandished his weapon menacingly.

Juan nodded to another corner of the veranda and a heavyset, homely man in a light gray suit emerged from the shadows.  “Want I should leave?” he asked, glancing quickly in the direction of the American.

“No Victor,” replied Valdez, “I may have need of you.”  He turned his attention to the American.  “As you will soon see, Mr. Squalese is one of my most trusted advisors, senor.”

The American said nothing but continued to watch the busy activity in the fields below.

Victor leaned against the building and began absentmindedly picking his nose, bent from several previous fractures.

Juan Valdez poured some fresh coffee into his cup, and then brought it to his lips.  He sniffed the aroma of the fresh coffee and smiled, then returned the cup to the table.  “Ah, this shall be one of my best years.  Delicious.”

The American snorted.  “I don’t drink the stuff myself.”

“Pity,” replied Valdez.

Noises soon emerged from within the building.  “Ah, Luis has returned.”  Juan sipped his coffee.

A thin young man, dressed in the typical field hand’s dirty rags, was shoved out onto the porch, his sunhat clutched in both hands nervously.  Luis grunted inaudibly behind him and took up position between the peasant and the open door leading into the building.  The peasant was now trapped on the veranda.

Juan Valdez took a leisurely sip of coffee, then shifted his position around in the chair to face the peasant.  To a casual observer, he looked all the world like a kindly Latin American padrone.

“What is your name?” he asked the peasant with a smile.

The peasant’s eyes darted back and forth.  He was obviously frightened.  “I am called Guillermo, padrone.”

“Ah yes, Guillermo son of Rodriguez, now I recall.  How is your mother doing, Guillermo?”

Juan’s gentle manner had the desired effect: Guillermo visibly relaxed.  “She complains about her old bones, padrone, but otherwise she is well.”

“Good, good.”  He lifted the cup of coffee to his lips again but did not drink.

“We are nothing without our peasants, senor,” he said to the American in the black suit. Without looking up at the peasant, he asked “And your lovely sister?  She is also well, I trust?”  He lifted his eyes.  “She is a fine-looking girl, Guillermo.”

“Thank you padrone,” stuttered Guillermo.

“Perhaps I should give her to one of my sons.  Victor, what do you think?”  He glanced over at Victor Squalese, who had been watching silently.  Victor shrugged his shoulders.

“Ah well, what do these Americans know about women, eh Guillermo?”  Juan Valdez smiled at the peasant.

Valdez sipped his coffee, letting an uncomfortable silence fill the veranda.  Finally he looked up at the peasant, who was becoming nervous again,shifting his feet back and forth.  “Tell me Guillermo, have I mistreated you or your family in any way?”

Guillermo hesitated.  “Uh, what do you mean padrone?”

“It is a simple question.  Have I mistreated you or your family?”

The peasant’s eyes darted back and forth again.  He thought he noticed a smirk on Victor Squalese’s face.  “Uh no, padrone,” he answered quietly, bowing his head.

“What was that Guillermo?  I didn’t hear you.”

“No padrone.”

Valdez suddenly burst up out of his chair and grabbed the surprised peasant by his shirt collar.  “Then why do you continue to upset the other workers?!” he shouted, inches from the suddenly frightened man’s face.  “Do you think me a fool? DO YOU?!!”  He sprayed Guillermo’s face with his angry spittle.

Juan Valdez was not a large man but he was he known to be powerfully strong.  He tossed Guillermo to the floor of the veranda and pulled a stout leather strap from one deep pants pocket.  As Guillermo struggled to right himself, Valdez raised the leather strap above his head.

“I take care of you and your miserable little family and this is the thanks I get?  Stirring up trouble?”  Juan let himself get angry now, and brought the strap down on Guillermo’s back.

The peasant squirmed in pain and tried to shuffle along the floor away from his padrone, but he had nowhere to go.  Valdez stalked him across the veranda, and began swinging the leather strip in earnest, his arm rising and falling with robotic precision as he verbally assaulted the hapless sobbing peasant.  The THWACK THWACK of the whipping punctuated the normal dull roar of the plantation and echoed across the fields.  A few brave peasants dared to sneak a look up at their master’s hacienda but returned quickly to their work as rough overseers stared them down.

After a few minutes, Guillermo’s sobbing faded into wimpering and the man’s arms were criss-crossed with nasty red marks from the strap.  Valdez wiped sweat from his forehead and took a step back, still clutching the strap.  He was breathing heavily now.

“Victor,” he panted, “remove this dog from my sight.  I’m done with him.”

Victor nodded with a grunt and peeled the shaking peasant from the veranda floor.  “Let’s go youse,” he muttered, yanking him bodily into the building.  Guillermo would not be seen again.

Juan Valdez sat back down at the table and smiled.  He wiped sweat off his face with a napkin and took another sip of coffee.  “We will do well this season I think,” he said, enjoying the rich coffee aroma fill his nostrils.

The padrone watched the activity down in the fields again, allowing silence to fall over the veranda once again.  After several minutes, he snapped his fingers as if remembering something important.

“Luis, bring that peasant’s sister to the main house.  I require fresh entertainment this evening.”

“Si senor,” muttered the big man, who quietly disappeared into the house to run his master’s errand.

Juan Valdez enjoyed another loud slurp of coffee and looked at the American in the black suit.  “They are like children,” he said.

The American lit another cigarette.

THE END.

© 2006 Michael S. Cohen

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