Revealed in the headlights of the van, Las Palomas had never looked so depressing to Héctor as it did that night.  Indeed, it appeared to him as positively sinister, a ghost town in which the few flesh-and-blood inhabitants were the apparitions, and the thronging specters from the past, the true living beings.  It occurred to him, in that instant, to make a U-turn in the potholed street and make a run back across the border for home.  Instead, he drove on to the Pink House and parked directly beneath the Elks sign.  Jacinta Ruiz, after all, was no one to be afraid of.  And Héctor felt himself in greater need of a drink than he could remember ever feeling.  Thank the Lord, he thought, Jesús “Eddie” wasn’t along this evening to share it with him.

The Pink House, which by day appeared merely startling, at night was hideous to behold in its resemblance to a demon bordello incongruously surrounded by ancient, parti-colored pickup trucks reassembled from the junkyards of northern Mexico.  Héctor locked the van, having taken care to leave nothing of value in view on the front seat, and entered the place, brushing past the Tarahumara woman who waited just behind the door with her hand extended, palm up.  He passed round the end of the service counter that had once served as the bar and went on to the dining room, where eight or ten paisanos in tight jeans, new cowboy boots, and filthy quilted vests drank beer and smoked cigarettes as they watched the wide-screen TV.  There was no sign of Jacinta Ruiz.  Héctor sat at a table as far away from the Mexicans as he could get and pretended to devote his attention to the TV, where a soccer game was being broadcast from Venezuela.  Héctor, though an aficionado, violently disapproved of Venezuela’s president, who only recently had denounced President Bush as the devil from the rostrum of the U.N. General Assembly in New York.  Therefore, he did his best to ignore the game, sitting with a vacant expression as he waited for Jacinta to show herself.  Through the door on the far side of the room, he could look into the store, with its arrangement of gaudy pottery and the ceramic bowl sinks that were so popular these days (AveMaría was keen to have one installed in the house in Belen), where he’d bought the Pancho Villa statue.  Héctor wished now he’d brought the statue along with him in order to return it, assuming Jacinta Ruiz would agree to take the damn thing back.

¡Buenas noches, Héctor!  ¿Como esta?

He turned from the TV where the Venezuelan team had just scored a goal on the Mexican one and saw Jacinta, holding a tray laden with a half-dozen dripping longneck bottles and smiling at him.

“Can you not watch the game at home on American TV?” Jacinta asked.  “And where is your compañero this evening?  Without Jesús, I almost did not recognize you—sitting alone like this!”

She passed behind him to the paisanos’ tables and placed the bottles, one after the other, before the disgruntled men.  “¡Chinga los Venezuelanos!” one of them urged vehemently through his drooping mustaches.  Héctor observed they were not placing bets, no doubt because nobody was willing to make a wager against the Mexican team.  He noted also that Jacinta took care to collect all the money owed her on the latest round.

“And what can I do for you tonight, mi querido?” she asked, setting a pink cocktail napkin down before him on the table.

Her low, solicitous voice was soothing to Héctor—better even than drink, it seemed to him.  However, he’d driven all this way, and it didn’t seem polite not to order anything.

“I’ll take a Corona,” Héctor said, “and a cup of menudo.”  He hadn’t intended to order food, having finished supper a couple hours before.  Perhaps it was the homey, almost intimate, atmosphere of the Pink House that provoked his hunger.

His cellphone went off while he was waiting for the soup to come from the kitchen.  He answered it and found himself speaking with AveMaría.

¡Oiga! ¡Oiga! Héctor, it is your wife calling!  Please tell your son he must go to bed, otherwise you will give him a good licking when you get home!”

“What’s he doing now?”

“Watching Animal Planet.  There’s a two-hour special about lions in Africa.  It isn’t suitable for a kid Dubya’s age, anyway—how the lions eat their cubs so the lionesses can go into heat right away and get pregnant again.  Also all the natives are Islamists, apparently.”

“Tell him to turn the TV off and get into bed—pronto.”

“I turned it off already, can’t you hear?  That’s what all the yelling going on in the background’s about.”

Jacinta Ruiz placed the soup cup before him and withdrew tactfully.

“Well, put the kid on and I’ll give him what-for.”

When he’d delivered the virtual thrashing over the telephone, Héctor discovered he was in need of another beer.  Jacinta brought it and sat down across the table from him, from where she had a view both of the paisanos and of the entrance door at the opposite end of the room.  At this time of year, the tourists were few, after dark especially, while the drinking population of Las Palomas seemed to have settled in for the night at one or another of the several watering holes.  The time, it seemed to Héctor, was ripe for the conversation he’d come for, if only he could find a means of initiating it.  He hadn’t felt so tongue-tied and awkward since the occasion of his first date with a girl named María-Brígida, more years ago than he cared to think of, in Namiquipa.

“So what did your wife have to say when you brought home that hideous statue the other day?” Jacinta wanted to know.

Héctor, in his delighted astonishment, wanted to kiss the girl.  (It had not gone this way with María-Brígida, who, so far from cooperating with his conversational—and other—plans, had begun the evening by mentioning she’d never kissed a boy without going to Confession afterward.)  Speechless with gratitude, he was unable to answer immediately, except to utter a few babbling disconnected syllables.

“She—she hasn’t seen it yet,” he confessed at last.  “I hid it away in my office in order to . . . think about it for a little while.”

“Oh?” Jacinta Ruiz sounded puzzled.

“Yes . . . You see, I have always regarded Pancho Villa as a great—a very great man.  He is my hero, from whom indeed I am descended.  You should know, I am a member of Los Hijos de Pancho Villa in Namiquipa,” he added proudly.

¿Verdad?”  Jacinta appeared more amused than otherwise.

¡Si!  In fact, I am Keeper of the Doors.  All my life, I have heard nothing but good spoken of General Villa—except from Americans, of course.  But the other day, I heard from you a different story.”

Jacinta Ruiz frowned and stared at the tabletop.

“It is true, I do not admire the man—in fact, I hate and despise him!”

“But why?  You are, after all, Méxicana!”

“And you,” she said, smiling, “are Americano—are you not?  It seems to me we have had this conversation before.”

Héctor, in his confusion, did not answer her at once.

“I—I am Méxicano-Americano, of course.”  Or was it Americano-Méxicano?  It had seemed all that was settled in his mind, once and forever, twenty years ago.  Now, he realized he did not know what to think.

“Whether you are Mexican or American,” Jacinta told him, “the bandit Villa fought and killed your people—Mexicans and Americans both—on either side of the border.  He was a thief and a murderer, not a revolutionary or a soldier at all.  I suppose you have read about Villa at Juárez, Villa at Celaya, Villa at Parral, Villa in Mexico City—Villa at Columbus.  I mentioned to you, not long ago, the business of Maude Wright and her husband.  But are you acquainted with the story of Villa and the McKinney Ranch—this side of the border, only a few miles from here?”

Héctor was.  Unfortunately, the event was less pretty even than the incident involving the Wrights, which indeed had taken place only the day before.  Villa and his army of 399 soldiers were encamped within striking distance of Columbus, which they attacked the following night.  That morning, Villa was sitting cross-legged beside his campfire drinking coffee when three horsebackers appeared on a rise several hundred yards away.  One of the riders waved in recognition, and then all three put their horses forward at a trot toward the camp.  They were Arthur McKinney of the Palomas Land and Cattle Company, an old acquaintance, and two of his ranch hands.  While the cowboys sat their horses to watch from a distance, McKinney approached the fire and inquired of the General how the revolution was going.  Villa assured him it went very well and ordered one of his men to serve Señor McKinney a cup of coffee.  The two men chatted casually together for several minutes.  At last, Villa remarked in a friendly manner, “You know, Arturo, I’m making war against the gringos, too, and I guess I’ll just start right here with you.”  Quick as greased lighting, a Villista threw a loop of barbed wire around McKinney’s neck.  The rancher, ready to take a joke, was in the middle of an appreciative laugh when suddenly his eyes bugged out and his tongue protruded.  A second Villista tossed the other end of the wire over a cottonwood branch and jerked the rancher off the ground, above the tin cup rolling in the dust.  Seeing their boss suspended in midair, the cowboys took a deep seat and spurred their horses to a run.  Before they’d covered a hundred yards, Villa’s men roped them from their saddles and dragged them to death behind their own horses.  While the incident was hardly among the most lurid episodes in the great man’s career—compared, for instance, with his shooting of ninety Carrancista “bitches” at Torreón in November 1916—Héctor found it distinctly embarrassing nevertheless in the context of his conversation with Jacinta Ruiz.

“Yes,” he agreed in a constrained voice, “I know about . . . all that.”

“To read of such things in books is not the same as hearing about them from one’s own family.  Mathilde Saenz—my grandmother—was a friend of the McKin-neys, as well as the Wrights.  Everyone was friends with everyone in the border country in those days, Méxicanos and Americanos alike—even the Indians, some of them.  ¿Y por qué no?  We were all neighbors, living in a hostile land, reliant upon one another for help and cooperation.  But where is the monument to that, I want to know?  Instead, there is Pancho Villa State Park—demanded by Mexicans in Palomas and Columbus, paid for by the Americans in Santa Fe!  ¡Santa María!  Whenever I drive by that maldito signo, I want to get out of the car and chop it down!”

Jacinta Ruiz’s black eyes sparked, her scarlet upper lip curled as she spoke, and her shapely body went rigid with contempt and defiance.  She looked very proud—and also, Héctor could not help noticing, very beautiful.  He tried assuring himself he’d never recognized her beauty before—and shrank in shame from this attempt at the grossest self-deception.

“I must see to my tables,” Jacinta said abruptly, rising from her chair and smoothing her skirt behind her.  “Do you, too, desire more beer?”

“No thanks,” Héctor said quickly.  “I need to be getting on home now, before my wife becomes worried for me.”

Her knowing, wholly sympathetic, smile confounded him.

“When Jesús returns from Belen,” Jacinta Ruiz assured him, “she will not be so worried, and then you can sit late with me again.  Buenas noches, Héctor.”

Twenty-five miles up the highway, in another country, AveMaría, FOX News, and bed awaited him.  Héctor paid his tab, put a generous tip down beside it, and went out into the shadowed streets of Las Palomas, where it seemed to him he could hear, after 90 years, the echo of battle just across the border, where one half of the still undreamed-of Héctor had fought the other half with rifle, sword, and case knife, in the predawn darkness splashed by the gutter and smoke of blazing pitchpine torches brandished aloft.