The man [Senor Fuentes] pitched upon to negotiate with Sotillo was a Notary Public, whom the Revolution had found languishing in the common jail on a charge of forging documents.
Nostromo, Joseph Conrad
I did not set out to become a revolutionary, but I became one by happenstance nonetheless. I–me, Don Miguel Quesadilla–was resigned to living a life of obscurity after my fraudulent authentication of over a hundred retail installment sale contracts came to light. At first, I was bitter that I had been trapped in the web of intrigue spun by Alvarez Lease-to-Own Appliances; how was I to know that there were only 79 men–not 283–named “Juan Valdez” in the little border town where I was born? Perhaps, you say, I should have asked for identification from each of them. To you I say, listen to my sad tale.
Ignacio Alvarez had created this so-called “chattel paper” for the purpose of acquiring riches beyond the dreams of avarice. I? I was merely the humble, hard-working notario publico whose office was conveniently located in a little hole-in-the-wall in the alleyway that led to the freight entrance. Yes, I asked for identification, and as the parade of men streamed by, each would hand the driver’s license to the one behind him, who was free to use it as he pleased. At twenty-five pesos per notarization I was not going to look too hard, and when I did, I would avert my gaze from–and turn a blind eye towards–anything disreputable.
And so I descended into a state of disgrace, a crepuscular netherworld from which no notary returns; no man would trust my stamp or my seal once I had been linked with the fraudulent sales of Alvarez Lease-to-Own! I kept body and soul together by doing handwriting analysis–it is funny how each woman’s hand I examined revealed that she would marry a rich man. I learned to play the game; tell a woman her loopy y’s, g’s and p’s meant she would marry a poor man, and suddenly she screams that your fees are too high!
It was in this ignoble state that the Escuadron de la Muerte found me, and determined that they could put me to use, even though my only skills were to stamp my stamp, squeeze my seal, and say “Is this your free act and deed?” Or so I thought.
“You can do much more, much more,” said the man called Senor Fuentes, as if he were a Mexican Mr. Rogers, without a first name, just an honorifica. “You can also ask if someone is telling the truth!” he said with menacing emphasis. “In negotiations, as you know from watching George Costanza in the classic American situation comedy Seinfeld . . .”
“I did not see that before it went off the air,” I said.
“You can watch re-runs on cable–it is in syndication,” the nefarious henchman who stood by Fuentes said. “Many aging yuppies have the boxed DVD sets.”
I could see that my fate was as inevitable as a cow being led to slaughter. “What would I learn from these–DVDs you speak of?”
“Jerry urges George to accept an offer for the TV show they have developed, but George says ‘It’s a negotiation’–and he whirls his hands in the air like this.”
The henchman whirled his hands in the air in imitation of the Great Costanza, then fell silent.
“We want you to negotiate with this Sotillo. You will know when he is serious, and when he is merely bluffing.”
I felt unequal to the task. I stood 5’11″, and weighed 220 pounds dripping wet. The task, by contrast, was huge.
“It is illegal to lie to a notary,” the henchman said, as he shifted his hench from one shoulder to the other. “It is merely a sin to tell a lie to a non-notary.”
“What’s a non-notary?”
“Someone who does not hold the esteemed office of notario publico!”
“Do they have non-notarial stamps and seals?” I asked, genuinely curious.
“This is a matter that need not concern you,” Fuentes said. “Come”–and I followed him.
I met Sotillo at–where else–the negotiating table. A swarthy man, he was prepared to manufacture matching t-shirts and fleece pullovers so that the Escuadron de la Muerte would stand out from the many other escuadrons de la muertes roaming around without cool matching gear.
“How much does it cost for you to make an especial silk-screened t-shirt?” I asked him, playing the ingenue.
“More than your pathetic life is worth, Mr. Former Notario Publico,” he snapped.
I blanched, then turned red. The net result was a soft pink, like those Brooks Brothers Oxford cloth shirts–the baggy kind.
“Still, I am able to charge everyday low prices because I keep my overhead low,” he said.
I looked up at the ceiling; it was indeed low, so low that the heat in the negotiating room was unbearable.
“What is your price, Sotillo?”
“How many in your escuadron?”
“What does this matter?”
“In this business, you can lower your cost of goods sold dramatically by increasing volume. Do you know nothing at all of the rag trade?”
“Those who know don’t tell, and those who tell don’t know,” I said, repeating the vow of omerta I had been taught during Gang of Death Pledge Week, which included many selfless acts of community service so the Dean of Students couldn’t accuse us of hazing. “Let’s just say there are between 8 and 10 of us, except during cold and flu season when attendance falls dramatically.”
“So”–I could almost see the wheels of deduction and calculation whirling in his head. “Let me hazard a guess–you want nine shirts, an assortment of men’s medium, large, extra-large and XXL?”
“And the fleece pullovers–will they have a little doo-dad on the breast?”
“Si also. A little skull and crossbones with ‘La Costaguana Escuadron de la Muerte’ stitched underneath, por favor.”
“That’s gonna cost extra,” he said
“Fifty pesos per unit.”
It was time for me to earn my keep. “That is twice as much as it costs me to notarize a lengthy chattel mortgage–it’s outrageous!”
“You want good quality stuff, you must pay for it.”
“That is what you will charge us–what does it cost you?”
He swallowed hard, and I seemed to detect an air of duplicity, of falsehood about him. “Forty-five pesos–I’m entitled to a measly 11% mark-up.”
Just then a stoop-shouldered woman in a brightly-colored dress came around the corner, a measuring tape around her shoulders, a thimble on her thumb, and an armful of fleece pullovers draped over her arms. “Here is another load for you, my son,” she said to Sotillo. “It is so wonderful what you are doing for the children, so many of which are yours, who run ragged through the plaza all day.”
I gave him a look that could have defrosted a frozen Taco Joe’s Chimichanga.
“So this is how you keep your overhead low, you miserable cur,” I fairly spat at him. “Exploiting your own mother!”
”It’s good for her to get out of the house,” Sotillo said without remorse. He was remorseless!
“And why is that?”
“If she doesn’t, she just sits around all day and watches Mexican soap operas.”
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