Isabel makes an odious call
“So, here we are, finally, after all these years,” Señor Sierra Vargas carefully tapped the ash on his cigar into a giant granite ashtray shaped like a fish. “And now you come to me to ask for my help, eh?”
Isabel sat at the edge of a large velvet chair. She wore a scarf over her hair and a long dress of dark cotton that covered her legs to the ankles. On her feet she wore canvas shoes that swooshed slightly when she walked. She wore no makeup or jewelry. No adornments. She wanted nothing to encourage this man. She nodded at his question but did not speak.
“I am happy that you think so highly of me,” he said with a slight smile, his head tilted to one side, rolling the cigar between his thumb and forefinger, “that you come to my villa at last. Never have you been inside these walls. I think that is a pity. What do you think?”
“I was never invited,” Isabel answered.
Señor Sierra Vargas puffed at his cigar, releasing a thin stream of smoke through pursed lips. The smoke curled and rose, expanding in front of him and lifting toward the high ceiling of the large entryway with its great wooden doors that opened to a sunny patio beyond.
“My wife … ” he began and crossed himself, “was a very proper woman.” He puffed at the cigar again, this time letting the smoke drift out between his teeth, slowly, while he looked at the ceiling. “She was very religious. A good, honorable woman.”
“I have heard that she was very kind,” Isabel said politely. She thought that perhaps Señor Sierra Vargas missed his wife more than anyone had said. Perhaps he was in deep mourning still.
“Yes,” he agreed. “A very kind woman. Always concerned for those in need. Always helping at the church. If only we had had children,” he continued, “perhaps I would feel more … ” he seemed to be searching for the right word, “more complete. Yes that is it. My life is still incomplete. And my wife, well, you see, she knew how I felt about you. And knowing this, she would never allow me to invite you to our villa.” He smiled again, this time looking straight at Isabel.
“I’m here now,” Isabel whispered.
“So many years have gone by,” Señor Sierra Vargas nodded pensively. “And we have seen each other at your shows and when collectors came to Puerto Vallarta. In those years since I began as your mentor, you have achieved much. I was in a position to help you and your family then. I kept my bargain. Now I am in a different position and I can help you much, much more. I am no longer a small, successful, business owner here in Mexico. I have interests all over the Americas. I am respected and powerful. And there are those who would want me to seek more. Who wish me to think about politics. But they tell me I need a wife … and children. What do you think of this idea? Of my marrying again?”
“If that would make you happy,” Isabel spoke softly.
“Happy?” he laughed. He snubbed out the cigar and stood. “Come, I will show you the villa. It is in need of restoring, of a woman’s touch to remake it in her image. But the building is strong and sound, although no longer young. I suppose we are alike, this villa and myself.”
He took her by the arm to lead her down the hallway into the villa. He smelled of cigar smoke and leather. His hand was hard like the wood of the large doors they walked through. He held her arm tightly and she followed along, not wanting to upset him, waiting for the right moment to ask for his help with Estrellita.
“I am a man who is no longer young, yet I am still strong, as you see,” he explained as they walked. “My wife was from a very fine family. Perhaps you know of them? From her mother’s side, Ruiz, the family traced back to Spain many, many generations before the Conquistadores. And from her father’s side, Velazquez, from the north of Spain in the mountains. I myself am but a poor peasant and yet, as you can see by my surroundings, I have made a success of myself.” He stopped and opened his arms expansively, letting go of her, gesturing to the gigantic patio and reflecting pool that connected the entrance wing of the villa to the private rooms.
“All the art you see in the house was selected by my wife. She had a penchant for the very old. These masterpieces are highly valued. But you see, my dear, I have a fondness for the discovery of the new.
“Because of my wife, I have been allowed into circles that never would have permitted me entry by any other means. You see, we are all a little political are we not?” He looked slyly at Isabel who was studying the works hanging in the hall they had entered.
“What is it you want from me?” Isabel asked bluntly for the first time in all the years she had known this man.
Señor Sierra Vargas chose to answer her question with one of his own. “This help that you need,” he asked, “what is the nature of it?”
“It is my daughter, Estrellita,” Isabel answered quietly. “She is going to run away to America. I want to keep her here. Can you help with this?”
Señor Sierra Vargas took Isabel’s hands in his and turned her to face him.
“Ah leetle thing, are you still so naïve? Do you think I would let you come here and not know what you would want of me?” He let go of her hands and placed his on her slim waist. “I know why you came here. And I know who your Estrellita has been with. I am not a man who likes surprises. Therefore I make it my business to know everything that happens. I was fooled once. It will never happen again. And now … what are we going to do about this situation we find ourselves in?”