Day of the Dead

by Paula Stiles

Episode #301-Season Premiere

Part One of Four


The worker ran, screaming, out of the mine shaft into the bright sunlight. He did not stop screaming until he tripped and fell down. Two guards and Inigo Garcia, the mine foreman ran after him. The man did not move as they approached. Inigo knelt down beside the worker and turned him over. He knew the face--Jaime Sanchez. Jaime was good-natured but lazy, and prone to steal other men's food when their backs were turned. Jaime's eyes, half-closed, stared up at the sky. A small line of foam ran down the side of his mouth into the dust. In his hand, he still clutched a nugget of ore-locked gold. Inigo surreptitiously picked it out of Jaime's hands and pocketed it, resolving to get it to Jaime's widow and seven children. It was all the inheritance the man could leave them.

Inigo did not consider himself a bad man. Just because he worked for Colonel Montoya, whom many in Santa Helena considered the right-hand man of the Devil himself, didn't mean that Inigo was going to Hell, too. He cared about his men, and he did his best to see that they got as good a deal in their work as he could bargain for them. Gold mining was not easy. Montoya's wages were bad, and if a man slipped a low-quality nugget into his pocket, Inigo usually looked the other way. Even if that man was Jaime.

"Madre de Dios," said Pedro, one of the soldiers, as he leaned over and peered at Jaime's body. "That is the third one this week." He had only been on sentry duty at the mine for a month. He wasn't used to it yet. "We should call Dr. Helm."

"No," Inigo said firmly, as he stood up and brushed off his knees. "Call the priest. There will be no work for the doctor here. This man is dead."

Act One

"I'm going into town, Marta! I'll be back before noon," Tessa called as she shut the door behind her. She thought she heard Marta growl back a response, but did not heed it. Marta had been distracted all morning, rolling out dough to make Bones of the Holy pastries for Los Dios de las Muertes and working on some sort of garlic paella dish which stank up the entire kitchen. The three Days of the Dead always made Marta morose and superstitious--and put her in a cooking frenzy. She wouldn't return to normal until the third of November. Tessa always fled the house as soon as she could.

Hoping that she, herself, did not reek of garlic, Tessa made for the barn, kicking idly at her riding skirts. She would go to the market, to see if they had any decent fruit, and visit Vera for a good, mid-morning gossip. Perhaps she would even drop in on Dr. Helm, if she found any apples at market, or he had not gone out on a visit.

She smiled to herself at that thought. Life had grown much more pleasant since Dr. Helm had discovered her secret. At first, she had feared that he might let it slip, but he was very discreet. Even if he were a more talkative man, she thought that his hatred of Colonel Montoya and Captain Grisham would keep him quiet. Roberto rarely spoke of the two years' service that he still owed to Montoya, but she could see how much he longed to be out from under the Colonel's thumb. She hoped that it would not make him reckless, but that was not something that she could hold against him--not while she still played the Queen.

Love...that was more complicated. She knew that Roberto felt deeply for her, as she did for him. She had spent many a passionate evening with him in his office (as the Queen) or, more recently, at her hacienda (as Tessa), though he had been careful of her honour. They needed to talk, and soon, about where they wanted to go next. Should she marry so far below her station? A foreigner and a likely commoner? She had sat by her father's grave early this morning, as she would each morning for the next three days, and wondered how he would see her now. As much as she loved and still missed him, she knew that he never would have allowed such a liaison. But then, he never would have allowed her to take up the mask of the Queen of Swords, either. She felt sad, to wonder whether her father would even accept her now, running a hacienda on her own, with a secret life as a bandita and an English lover with a dark past.

And yet, she did love Roberto very much.

As she approached the stable, she saw Ramon, the new stablehand, sitting on the ground against the stable wall, with his head hanging down. He must have been taking a rest. She smiled and nodded to him, before entering the stable. Chico nickered in his stall. She went up to him and slipped the bolt to let him out.

As she did, she heard a sound behind her and turned. It saved her life. Ramon had come up behind her with a knife. He lunged at her. She threw herself to one side, tripped on her skirts, cursing them silently and not for the first time, and fell to the floor. The knife thunked into the stall door. Chico whinnied in terror and kicked the back of his stall. Gathering up her skirts, Tessa scrambled to get further out of the way as Ramon yanked at the knife, groaning as if in agony. She thought of trying to talk to him, but one look at his wild eyes and foaming mouth told her that reason was far across the ocean for this man. She groped backward and found a horseshoe, just as Ramon yanked the knife free of the wood. She pushed herself to her feet. When he lunged again, she whacked him in the head with the horseshoe.

To her consternation, he did not fall down, though he stumbled backwards, screeching, his hand clutched to his head. Grabbing her skirts, she readied the bloodied horseshoe again as he steadied himself for another attack. Before Ramon could lunge at her again, Chico burst out of his stall and ran him down.

She heard running footsteps, then Pablo, her groom, shouted to her that he was going to catch Chico. Marta, followed by several farm hands, rushed in. "What has happened?" She saw Tessa, still holding the horseshoe, and gasped. "Mi hija! Are you all right?" She came to Tessa and took the horseshoe from her hand, then enfolded her in a hug. Tessa leaned into the comforting embrace for a moment, then shook free as she heard the man groan.

Pablo knelt next to the man, who still lived, but not for long. Ramon stared up at the ceiling, eyes wide, a line of foam running down the side of his face into the bloodstained dirt. He shivered.

"No, Tessa, you musn't--" Ignoring Marta's warning, Tessa knelt in the dirt next to the man, who did not seem to see her.

"Why?" she whispered. "Why did you do it, Ramon?" He groaned again, but it was not an answer, only a cry of pain. He shivered, gasped once or twice, and then his eyes became fixed. Tessa knew that look. She had caused it many times before. He was dead.

Garcia watched as Helm crouched down next to the dead man and rolled the head back and forth. "He's dead, all right," Helm said in a detached voice, standing up. "Poisoned, from the looks of things." He looked at Garcia. "And your reason for calling me out here would be...?"

"He died in agony, Doctor," Garcia replied sharply. He still wished they had called the priest, but the guards had insisted on calling the doctor, as well. "Don't you care?"

Helm snorted. "Garcia, you lose men to bad liquor all the time, but you've never sent for me before this. Don't get all self-righteous with me, now. The saint act doesn't sit well with you. There's not a thing I can do for him at this point. So, why did you really call me?"

Damn him. For a man who was a regular in Jorge's bodega, the good doctor saw entirely too much. "This was different. It was...they may go blind and they may go crazy, but not like that. He was poisoned." Garcia felt stupid, insisting on what was a matter of degree. It had only been in the past year that they had stopped using prisoners and conscripts at the mine. Now that he thought about it, Montoya would be angry that he had called the doctor out to the mine. Montoya did not like being on the receiving end of the good doctor's lectures about how he was working his men to death for a little gold, even if they were all now being paid. For a man who barely made do, himself, Helm was annoyingly contemptuous of money. And, like the padre, Dr. Helm would never find himself out of work. Not in this hard, cold world.

Helm sighed. "Fine. Bring him into one of your tents and I'll do a full examination on him. But I still think it's bad liquor. I won't argue that the man was poisoned, but I don't doubt he did it to himself." He turned away, and went back down the hill, presumably to get his bag, which he had left on his saddle.

Garcia glared at Helm's back, then turned to the two soldiers standing unhappily near by, sweating under the sun. "You heard him!" he snapped, making them both jump to attention. "Pick up the body and bring it to my tent!" The soldiers rushed to pick up the body, though they both looked less than happy about it. Whether it was superstition or distaste that made them hesitate, Garcia couldn't tell, but as they were Montoya' men, he also didn't care. Any man who worked for Montoya, or that bastard Grisham, shouldn't have any nerves left. Just look at the doctor.

Tessa watched while Marta pulled back the blanket covering the body (Ramon, she told herself. His name was Ramon) and carefully examined the corpse. Someone--Tessa did not remember who--had gotten the blanket and mercifully closed the dead man's eyes. Marta's frown deepened as she looked at the man's hands and felt through his clothing. She glanced up at Tessa. "I have no idea what caused this man to attack you, Tessa. It is as though he were possessed."

"Perhaps he drank something which made him go crazy. Bad liquor, perhaps?" Much as she disliked it, Tessa knew that her workers made their own liquor. Sometimes, they made a bad batch, and would end up blind, mad or dead.

"Perhaps." Marta did not sound convinced. "Did he seem to have difficulty seeing when he came after you?"

"I don't think so. Why?"

Marta pulled the blanket back over Ramon's head, then stood up, brushing off her skirts. "I do not think this was bad liquor. Or, if it was, it was not the kind that the men usually make." She looked at Tessa, and Tessa was startled to see that she was frightened. "I think this is something different."

"What?" A horrible thought struck Tessa. "You don't think it was that awful woman from last spring, do you?"

"Señora Caplatas? It could be," Marta said thoughtfully. "You and Dr. Helm never did catch her. Nor did we find any bodies after her hacienda burned down. is strange. Her rage was focused on one man, and he is now dead. I do not understand why she would now come after you. Perhaps it has more to do with the town graveyard being desecrated last month. Somebody dug up one of the older graves, looking for gold."

Tessa scoffed. "That is a little superstitious, even for you, Marta. Angry ghosts did not kill my ranch hand. And even if there were such a thing, surely they would go after the good Coronel, first." She stifled a smirk.

Marta regarded her gravely, making her feel like an errant convent girl. "Do not mock forces that you do not understand. Try to understand them, first. Surely, you learned that last spring."

Tessa bowed her head. "I'm sorry, Marta. I didn't mean to doubt you. It's just that, well, vengeful ghosts seem to be a little on the outrageous side. Even Señora Caplatas turned out to be a living, breathing woman, in the end." Uneasy, she rubbed her arms and tried not to think of the house where she and Dr. Helm had been trapped last All Hallow's Eve. Afterwards, Roberto had been adamant that they had not been themselves, that night, that what they had seen had been phantasms of their own minds. She had wanted to believe him, but now, she was not so sure. One thing she did know, however: that nightmare was not connected to this. Whatever spirits had inhabited the Arnezes hacienda in the past were now free.

Marta folded her arms, snorting in disgust. "You spend too much time around Dr. Helm. I think his cynicism is rubbing off on you."

"He would be flattered to hear you say that, I think, Marta." Tessa smirked at Marta's unwilling grin. She felt her own smile fade as she looked down at the dead man under his blanket. "Oh, what am I going to tell Ramon's wife?" she mourned.

Marta went to her, gently put an arm around her shoulder and led her out of the barn. "It's all right, child. We won't turn his widow and children out in the cold, of course. We will give him a decent burial, and then we will find out how this happened."

"Yes," Tessa agreed, in a very low voice. "Perhaps the Queen of Swords will be able to find some answers that I can't."

Jésus watched as Dr. Helm left the tent, drying his hands with a towel. The doctor had called for water, earlier. Jésus cursed to himself as the mine foreman followed Helm out. This wasn't going to work unless he could get the Doctor alone now, and Garcia alone later. He was looking forward to the second encounter very much.

Garcia followed Helm down the hill, shouting at the doctor and waving his hands. The doctor shrugged and kept walking. Jésus could not hear what they said to each other, but whatever the doctor told him, Garcia did not like it. He shouted louder. Helm ignored him until Garcia grabbed his shoulder. Suddenly, the doctor turned on the foreman. He tore Garcia's hand from his vest and held it up between them, looming over the man. Whatever he did then made Garcia cry out and try to back away. Jésus smiled. Helm spoke, too low for Jésus to hear, though he strained to do so. When Helm released Garcia and turned away, back down the hill, Garcia did not follow.

Jésus scrambled down the rocks, doing his best to stay out of Garcia's sight, as he made for the doctor's horse. Clearly, Helm intended to leave as soon as possible. Death made doctors impatient. Jésus came down into the broad, dry arroyo bed where the horse was, just as Helm was strapping his medical bag up behind his saddle and pulling his broad-brimmed hat on.

"Doctor!" Jésus called. "Wait!"

Rolling his eyes, the doctor paused in what he was doing and turned to Jésus. "Can I help you, Señor?" His tone was strained but polite.

"I saw you with the mine foreman. Did they lose another man?"

"Another man?" Helm's face was bland, but his eyes narrowed. Jésus bit down a smile. He had done his share of mountain hunting. The easiest way to trap a big cat was to prick his curiosity. "I was told of only one death, Señor...?" Helm prompted him.

Jésus jerked his head towards a small cave (created by a rockfall from mining activity) that he had picked out the day before for this rendezvous. "Come have a drink with me and I will tell you all about it."

Helm folded his arms and leaned against his horse, which grunted at him in annoyance and shifted to its other back foot. "Why not tell me now? I am all ears." His light eyes made him look innocent, but Jésus knew better. He had heard all the town rumours, living and dead, especially about the stranger who had ridden into town two years ago and murdered a Don in broad daylight, just to get at Dr. Helm. This man standing in front of him had a past as dark as pitch, perfect for what Jésus had in mind.

Jésus cringed, hoping he wasn't overdoing it. "Not here. The foreman will see."

"I see." Helm straightened and picked up his horse's reins. He was going to take the bait. "And you're afraid of that, are you? Well, then, by all means, let's go have that drink. I wouldn't mind the rest."

Jésus turned and led the doctor towards the cave. So far, it was all going according to plan. Soon, he would have exactly what he desired.

Continue to Part Two

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