The Hundredth Meridian

Reconquista de Villas

Héctor Villa was discovering the hard way that running afoul of the authorities in America is like riding a horse into quicksand, as Rodolfo Fierro, the Centaur’s chief executioner, had had the misfortune to do: You escape from the fatal mire only by miracle (something God had not seen fit to vouchsafe poor Fierro).

For months after Héctor had wound up his yard sale, follow-up letters had continued to arrive almost weekly from the Belen municipal building—letters which, while stating very little in nearly incomprehensible English, appeared to threaten bankruptcy, sanctions, prison, and flogging in the public square.  In desperation, he’d considered pulling up the red-white-and-blue mailbox by its post and renting an anonymous P.O. box downtown as a means to alleviate the sense of personal violation he suffered in receiving the harassing communications at his own home.  He was on the verge of actually doing so when, late one evening in September, his telephone rang—and Héctor found himself facing a crisis compared to which the hovering city fathers of Belen appeared less like ravens than meadowlarks.

For ten or twenty seconds, he heard only a crackling buzz on the line, punctuated by the chink of coins being fed into a coin box.  The sound was followed by cuss words in Spanish, just before the line went dead.  Héctor hung up and was halfway across the...

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