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The Stage Manager - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
fernwithy
fernwithy
The Stage Manager
Well, I'd written enough about Teresa from the sidelines, I wanted to get into her head. And I found something kind of interesting there...

The Stage Manager


For a moment when the door opened, Teresa thought she might have found her quarry without having to talk to Ernesto at all. The man had a droopy mustache, and he was older than she remembered Héctor being, but then, Héctor had left Santa Cecilia twenty years ago. Perhaps he’d aged badly. She didn’t exactly look like a teenager herself anymore. Hard living for a decade before she’d found her way back to the convent had not been kind to her complexion.

But the more she looked, the clearer it was that this man wasn’t Héctor. His graying hair was wavy, his skin was a bit lighter, and his features were quite different, though somehow that hadn’t jumped out at her at first.

“May I help you, Sister?” he asked.

“I’m sorry… you looked familiar.” She held out one gloved hand. “I am Teresa. I once knew Ernesto in Santa Cecilia.”

“Delmar Essará,” the man said, then smiled brightly. “Maybe you saw me back in the days of the silents. I was Antonio Duras?”

“Of course,” Teresa said. “I knew you looked familiar.”

In fact, that probably was where he seemed familiar from. Before going to the convent, Teresa had spent a lot of time hunkered down in the movie theater, and now she remembered the young man who’d been the lead in several of Ernesto’s early movies. She remembered him because she’d thought even then that he reminded her, in some vague way, of Héctor.

“It’s good to be remembered,” he said. “My voice didn’t carry well to musicals.” He smiled. “But I still have my contacts. They’ve been useful in managing things for Ernesto. What can I do for you?”

“I wanted to talk to Ernesto,” she said. “It’s private.”

Essará’s eyes narrowed, but he gestured into the dim little office and pointed at a chair. “He’s a very busy man. Can I take a message for you?”

“I was looking for his old partner, really.” Teresa took the offered seat. “He walked out on his wife and daughter, and… well, his daughter had her first child last week, and she…”

Teresa wasn’t sure how to finish that. Coco Rivera de Hernandez had come to her in tears three days ago, not wanting to tell Imelda how much she’d been thinking of Héctor lately, how much she wanted her little baby to hear her father’s voice… or at least to know where he was. “I hate the idea that she’ll grow up not knowing that there was more to Papá than… than leaving. I just… I want her to know the truth!”

But that was a confidence. And if Imelda knew how many of Coco’s confidences had come to Teresa la Perdita over the years, there might be another meltdown. Teresa was too much a part of the old world, when she’d just been Teresa Rivera, another orphan in the convent, nearly raised by Imelda, even though they were of an age.

And it wasn’t just for Coco.

Teresa hated seeing Imelda in pain, as she always was now. Imelda had tried to save her once. Teresa wanted to return the favor. Even if all she learned was that Héctor was dead, there would only be one more great pain, then there could be healing.

Essará was looking at her blankly. “Partner?”

“Héctor Rivera,” she said. “He used to write their songs. It’s his guitar that Ernesto plays. I’ve seen it in his movies. They went on the road together and… Héctor apparently just kept moving.” She fished in her large, practical bag and brought out a sketch she’d done. She was no Picasso, but her work was serviceable enough, and she’d drawn several pictures of Héctor from memory, mostly singing in the plaza, which was where she remembered him best.

Essará flipped through the pictures, a closed expression on his face. Teresa wondered if he saw the resemblance.

He closed it. “I don’t know this man. And I have known Ernesto for many years now. I’ve never seen him. And he’s always had that guitar.”

“Héctor wrote that song ‘Poco Loco.’ They used to sing it together.”

He sat up straight. “Ernesto writes his own songs.”

Teresa frowned. “But I… well, I know…”

“Ernesto writes his own songs, and no other story will be told, Sister.”

“I… oh. All right. The lies are between Ernesto and God. I won’t intervene. I haven’t spread his other secrets around either, and don’t intend to. I’m just trying to find Coco Rivera’s father.”

“What sorts of secrets?”

“The sorts I just said I’m not going to spread around,” Teresa said, trying to keep her voice level. “The sort that anyone who has been at his drunken parties probably already knows.”

“You’ve… been to Ernesto’s parties?”

“I wasn’t always a nun.”

He looked at her for a very long time, in silence, and Teresa suspected that he could see through her habit now… see the stupid, foolish girl she had once been, the one who’d put on a flouncy red dress, cut low across the bust, and imagined herself to be so very grown-up when the fine gentleman, Ernesto de la Cruz, had taken her upstairs at the inn. He hadn’t bothered with a room. He’d just lifted her skirts in a broom closet. She’d imagined that she would be living in a fine house with him, on a fine street, but instead, he’d taken her back downstairs, and told all and sundry that she was a good…

And that they’d probably like to…

She hadn’t dared cry that first night. She’d known the men in the cantina would eat her alive if she did. So she had swaggered and bragged and strutted, and in the end, she had become what Ernesto had called her. The tears had been almost in private. Only Héctor had seen them, in the alley behind the cantina the next morning. She hadn’t told him what had happened, but she supposed he guessed. He’d probably seen Ernesto go through other girls.

He didn’t tell her that everything would be all right, but he did clown and do stupid, childish things until she was surprised into laughing at him, and he had brought her lunch and a shawl to put on over her half-exposed bosoms. She remembered wondering at the idea that only twenty-four hours earlier, she’d thought she was the lucky one, to be special to Ernesto de la Cruz, while stern Imelda had to settle for the overexcited puppy that was Héctor Rivera.

She had lost any illusion of her own specialness to Ernesto quickly, though not as quickly as she probably should have, in hindsight. She’d continued to expect the “old Ernesto” to come back for almost a month, while he extolled her “talents” to other men. It wasn’t until he outright pushed her onto another man’s lap that she really understood, and even then, the shame had made her bitter instead of repentant. She’d lashed out at Imelda for telling her the truth instead of at Ernesto for the lies. And she’d played along when he brought in new girls in flouncy dresses, laughing with everyone else. She still had a lot of penance to do for laughing. More for that than for any of the tawdry things she’d done to keep a roof over her head for the next few years.

She clenched her jaw tightly. That had been another girl. That was why she had taken the name Teresa La Perdita when she took her vows. She had been lost. Now, she was found.

“He’s still doing it, isn’t he?” Teresa asked. “And you know it, and you stand by, like I did.”

“He’s been my friend for many years. And he is my employer.”

“I don’t think he’s really anyone’s friend.” She shook her head. “But that’s between you and God. I just need to talk to Ernesto, to see if he knows… Héctor may be dead by now; we’ve certainly never heard from him. But maybe I could find where he was buried. Where he was headed off to in such a hurry. The last letter said he was heading for New York. I thought maybe… some of the new songs sound like Héctor’s, so I thought maybe he was alive, and he and Ernesto were still in touch.”

“Ernesto writes—”

“—writes his own songs, yes, I remember.” She took back her sketchbook and put it in her purse. “Can you help me? I just need to meet with him. Lunch. You can sit with us if you want to make sure I’m not threatening him.”

For the first time, Essará smiled. “I don’t think he’d be threatened, Sister.” He sighed. “Give me a moment. I’ll see if I can reach him at the studio.”

He disappeared into an inner office. Teresa stood and looked around the reception area. There were photograph of Essará as an actor and as a manager, shaking hands with many men she assumed were important movie people, though she didn’t recognize him. There was also an old poster from a circus in Sonora, with a drawing of him standing on the back of a horse, playing a guitar. Beside it was a picture of Ernesto doing the same stunt in a movie, signed “Delmarito—couldn’t have done it without you! Ernesto de la Cruz.”

She rolled her eyes. Same old Ernesto. Stupid pet names, while he himself expected to be addressed with utmost respect. She’d called him “Netito” once, when she’d considered him her paramour, and he had pretended not to know who she was talking to, despite the fact that he mostly called her “jovencita,” if he bothered with calling her anything at all.

On a low table, there was a mockup of a stage, a flight of stairs meant to look like an Aztec pyramid. Little paper dolls danced on all the levels, and a little paper Ernesto with a little paper guitar was climbing up toward a church bell that sat improbably at the top of it. It was represented by a little jingle bell, and Teresa poked it to make it ring.

The door to the inner office opened, and Essará came out. He noticed what she was looking at. “Set design for a show he’s doing next week. The bell goes when he starts singing, and it’s supposed to start ringing at the end of the show.”

“Oh.”

He tugged on a little string she hadn’t noticed, and the little bell swung merrily. “This is my life now. I make deals, and I pull strings for bells.”

“You work backstage, too?”

“Yes… business manager, stage manager… basically, if it’s Ernesto-related, I manage it.” He grinned. “Besides, it keeps me in the theater. I do miss the business sometimes.” He smiled sadly.

“Why did you quit?”

“Like I said—I don’t have the voice…” He smiled awkward and shrugged. “Talkies were not a friendly development for me. I was a circus man.”

“But you used to sing,” Teresa said, pointing to the circus poster. “Why couldn’t you have been in movies, too? Ernesto is even famous for doing your trick.”

“My voice isn’t special. I’m a good singer, for a trick rider. Not for movie musicals.”

“But what about the ones that aren’t musicals? Your speaking voice seems very soothing to me.”

“Thank you, sister. But… there are reasons. Besides, I had my turn as a star. This part is more interesting.”

“Did Ernesto tell you to stop? Did he tell you your voice wasn’t as good as you thought? That you weren’t as pret—as handsome as you thought?”

He closed off again. Teresa remembered doing the same thing when, before Imelda had finally lost patience with her, she’d tried to say, “Teresa, this is not a life that you’re living. This is a death that you’re dying. Stop listening to Ernesto’s lies!”

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I don’t mean to be so pushy. It’s a sin I’m constantly confessing to. And it’s been painful for other people.”

“No, sister, it’s all right.”

“I did like you in the silents. I remember the one where you were a bandido and the governor’s daughter was in love with you. Very dashing.”

Essará laughed fondly. “Ah, yes. El Bárbaro. That was the first picture I did with Ernesto. He was coming up from the carpas. They didn’t want to hire him. Different world—I was the big shot. I insisted.”

“Why?”

“I’d been auditioning all day with people who were trying to be exactly like me.” He shrugged self-consciously. “Like I said, I was a big deal at the time. But when Ernesto auditioned—in the silents, we didn’t have to read scripts, we just pantomimed and made lines up—he worked off of me. He played the other part.”

“The straight man.”

“Well… sort of. The calmer one, anyway. I was always dancing around and sword-fighting.”

“That’s what he did for years. Though Héctor was the second-man in the act.”

Essará shook his head, bemused. “He never mentioned that. They were close?”

“Like brothers.”

“Brothers.” He smiled. “Anyway, I convinced the director. He didn’t want Ernesto because he thought it wasn’t right for the side-man to be bigger than the star, but I told him it would be like Robin Hood and Little John. It worked. So when the next one came up, and it was about a circus, I told that director that he should give Ernesto a try. There was one more after that… I didn’t have to convince anyone after two hits. Then the talkies came, and we switched places. But Ernesto wasn’t able to convince them that I was right.” He shrugged again. “It’s all right. I like what I do.”

“Do you have other clients?” Teresa looked around the room. Most of the pictures were of Ernesto, but there was also a light-haired woman and a man in a bullfighting costume.

“Sometimes. But most of them leave. I have to spend too much time managing Ernesto.”

“That’s not fair.”

“I’m well-compensated, Sister.”

“But… as someone who has been in Ernesto’s circle… I know how hard it gets to see in his shadow. It’s good to have other people. You do have other people?”

“No. Not really. My people died in the war. And… I…” He frowned. “This is a business where people don’t remember you two seconds after you leave the room if you haven’t had a hit for a year.”

“Maybe you should get back on a stage. Or whatever they call it for movies. You have a kind face. I would like to see it on the screen again.”

“That part of my life is over. But thank you for your loyalty. Could I give you an autograph?”

“Yes, I’d love one.”

He laughed and pulled the circus poster out of its frame, and scrawled, “To Sister Teresa, who is full of advice. Love, Antonio Duras/Delmar Essará.”

“Oh, this looks like a memento of yours.”

“I don’t have any other pictures of myself. And I’m sure there’s another of these at home.”

Teresa took it and smiled, feeling rather close to her old self, the fancy girl who’d spent much of her late teens and early twenties hiding in the movie palace. Someday, she would be able to forgive that girl for her stupidity. At the moment, it seemed like it might even be easy.

She sighed. “Do you think I could talk to Ernesto? In public… I’d rather not be alone with him.”

This got a sharp look, but Essará just sighed. “I’ll see what I can do. He wasn’t available when I called the set. Enjoy Mexico City for a few days. Where are you staying?”

“With the Madres Capuchinas,” she said. “They said I can stay as long as I need to.”

“Good. I’ll call. Or send someone. I’ve never actually tried to get a message into a convent. My contacts tend to be more… earthly.”

“They have a telephone,” Teresa said. “They’re very proud of it.”

“Good. That could make it easier. I’ll see if he’ll meet you. I take it he won’t remember you as a nun?”

“He’ll remember me as Teresa Rivera, if he remembers me at all.” She started for the door, but paused there, looking back at the thin man with the thick mustache, at the little stage set on the desk. The bell was still ringing. “Señor Essará,” she said, “I don’t want to overstep my bounds. But you should get outside in the sunshine. It’s not doing you favors to be in the shadow.”

“But there are many things you can do in the shadows that you can’t do in the light, Sister.”

“God sees all.”

“Then God is a voyeur.”

She wrinkled her nose. “I never thought of it that way. Yes, that’s disturbing when I give it thought.” She smiled. “I hope to hear from you soon, Señor.”

“Del. You may as well call me Delmar, if you’re going to give me life advice.”

“Oh, I give everyone life advice. I’m very free with it. It’s gotten me in a lot of trouble over the years.”

He laughed, and came to the door, waving her out into the hall of the office building. “I’ll be in touch,” he said. “One way or the other.”

She smiled back and headed out into the sunshine. She heard the door close behind her.

It was a strange and surreal week in the capital. Teresa’s original plan—which was beneath her, and she knew it—had been to see the sights and watch movies in the dark, always her favorite vice. But early Thursday morning, two days after her meeting with Essará, a ship called the Potrero del Llano, carrying oil to New York, went down off the coast of Florida, sunk by a Nazi U-Boat.

Until then, there had been a lot of talk of neutrality. Spain was neutral. Most of the hemisphere was neutral, except for the Yanquis and the Canadians. The Americans had been thumping the drumbeat, trying to force Mexico into the war with military movies and radio broadcasts designed to stir up animosity against the Axis, but that had mostly caused hard feelings—“Do they think we’re so easily manipulated? That we’re their dogs to be called out?”

The sinking of the ship had changed things. There was no neutrality when your own men died. But it was a strange, confused kind of anger. Germans who lived in the capital insisted that it had been a mistake, that someone had misread a flag. Or maybe the Americans had done it themselves, a frame-up to rile their neighbors. “What is Mexican blood to these dogs?” a German pronounced on the street corner. “They use it for their games!”

No one believed it (except maybe for the ones who had wanted the neutrality to break in the other direction). The submarines had been patrolling the Atlantic for years now. If it had been a frame-up, it was one that had been paid for in other blood. And if it had been an accident, it had been an inevitable one. So neutrality was gone, but what would it mean? Would the troops be sent out? Would the ships sail on Europe, as Europeans had once sailed on Mexico? Would the Germans be turned out of the country? And what about the trade deals, the whole economy? They had barely recovered from La Cristiada, and now there would be another conflict?

The government debated.

The country waited.

Teresa and the nuns she was staying with fanned out into the city, trying to calm people as much as they could, and assure them that God was still with them. Mother Superior prayed daily to thank God that President Ávila didn’t suppress their activities, the way Calles had. The people needed them. Teresa walked the streets of the city until her shoes broke (she would have to brace herself and go to Imelda when she got home), and she spoke to hundreds of people. She read up on the war, trying to see the propaganda from both sides to understand what was really going on, as she had never troubled herself to learn it before. Surely, the most terrible conjectures were just fear-mongering, but what if…

And so when Sister Beatriz told her she had a telephone call the following Tuesday, she had nearly forgotten that she was waiting for one, and she didn’t recognize Essará’s name at first.

“He can meet us for lunch,” Essará said, with no preliminaries, and Teresa frowned, trying to remember. Then it came back. Ernesto. Héctor. “He’ll meet at La Ópera. Don’t worry, I have the bill.”

“Oh. Yes. I… of course.”

There was a soft laugh on the other end. “Forgot about us in the big commotion, did you?”

“Yes.”

“Well, I assure you, Ernesto hasn’t noticed it. His attention is squarely fixed on some questions I asked. I should probably warn you—he may or may not be polite. His commentary was… unkind.”

“I’ve been on the receiving end of Ernesto’s unkindness before, Señor Essará. I think I can handle it.”

They made arrangements, and she borrowed a pair of shoes (too loose) from an older nun. She considered allowing herself the luxury of a taxicab, but in the end, she took city buses. Women with infants worried that their men were going off to war, never to return. Men made grand statements of what they planned to do to the lousy Nazis. Other men argued with them. The bus driver painted on a carefully neutral expression.

She got off the bus and made her way to a nice neighborhood, where a series of awnings went around the corner. It wasn’t the fanciest restaurant in town, but it was nicer than anything Teresa had been to for a long while. She guessed that Ernesto would not be seen with someone from Santa Cecilia in the truly swanky establishments.

Inside, the polished floor reflected the scrolled windows, and the exquisite carved ceiling. It was slow at this hour, and only two tables were occupied. One was near the windows, and the people seemed to be bewildered-looking tourists whose vacation had been spoiled by war talk. The other was a booth with high-backed benches. She could see Essará’s face, in this dim light again calling Héctor to mind. Across from him, so that, from the door, his face couldn’t be seen, was another man, of whom Teresa could only see a single hand, holding a smoking cigar. He tapped it impatiently. The tip of a boot stuck out. His legs must have been crossed. The boot tip jiggled.

Ernesto hated waiting.

Teresa deliberately let a full minute go by. Essará could clearly see her, and a smile flickered across his face. She gathered herself and went to the table, choosing to sit beside Essará.

For the first time in over two decades—at least in real life—she looked at Ernesto de la Cruz.

He was as handsome as ever, maybe even more, now that he had professionals looking after that mop of curly hair. It was almost entirely tamed now, though he had coaxed one curl down over his forehead. His eyebrows still had a kind of wry tilt to them, like he was watching a mildly interesting comedy. He’d grown a mustache which suited him, hiding his weak upper lip. If he hadn’t been wrinkling his nose like someone had just wheeled over the kitchen’s garbage scraps, it would have seemed like one of his movies.

“Teresa,” he said. “Oh, right. You. I wasn’t entirely sure who Delmar was talking about. A nun!” He snorted and rolled his eyes at Essará. “You should see the tetas she’s hiding under there. Of course, you may be the only man in Mexico who hasn’t see them.”

“Ernesto…”

He turned to Teresa. “Of course, Delmar’s not very interested in things like that. Not a great one for the tetas is our Del.” He laughed, as if he’d said something vastly amusing.

Essará sighed wearily. “Ernesto never tires of sharing that joke. I learned this week that he once shared it with every major casting director in Mexico.”

“You really think they didn’t already know?” Ernesto took a drag on his cigar. “So what is it that Sister Teresa, Blessed of the Borrachos, wants with a mere working actor?”

“I came to save your soul, of course.”

He snorted. “Yes, I’m sure that’s it.”

“Do a good deed. Tell me where to find Héctor Rivera. He’s just become a grandfather.”

“And if he cared about that, wouldn’t he already be home?”

“Why isn’t he?”

Ernesto looked at her through a haze of smoke, then put the cigar out in a little ceramic ashtray. “Did Imelda send you? Because I told her if I heard another damned word about the guitar or the songs, the next thing she’d hear was her entire business coming down around her, and the whole town laughing at her because Héctor finally found a real woman.”

“Imelda has no idea that I’m here. Even Coco doesn’t know. I just wanted to try.” He didn’t have a response to this, so she leaned forward. “Ernesto, your lies are your own. It’s not for me to call you out on them. There will be reckoning for you someday, but I won’t bring it. Where is Héctor?”

“I killed him, of course,” Ernesto said, smirking. “I fed him rat poison and dumped his body, so I could steal his songs and his guitar.”

“Could you try to be serious?”

He shrugged. “I have no idea where Héctor is these days. Last time I saw him, I put him on a train going north. Maybe New York. Maybe Hollywood. He doesn’t exactly send me letters.”

“Yes, but where do you send his royalty checks?”

“We co-owned everything in the act. I paid him off when he decided to leave. I owe him nothing.”

“He was your best friend. Don’t you even care that he fell off the face of the earth?”

Ernesto took a deep breath, and painted an expression on his face that Teresa supposed was meant to be sadness. It looked like the one he used in movies for that, anyway, but it didn’t come off as well in real life. “Listen, Teresa,” he said, “I don’t know what happened to Héctor. When we started the tour, he was… well, as I’m sure you remember him. Laughing. Happy. Softhearted. A lot like our Del,” he said, giving a patronizing smile to his manager that was probably meant to be friendly. “But the more attention I got, the more he resented it. He started striking out on his own. He left me to go to meetings that were supposed to be for both of us, because he just had to make everything about him. He got tangled up with a lot of… well, foreign influences. Rather like the rest of the country lately.” He sneered out the window.
“The next thing I knew, he was packing and looking for train tickets. He left the act. He left me to pick up the pieces with all the backers we let down. I was very angry at him for a long time. I may even have taken some of it out on Imelda. That was probably wrong. Though I can’t say I’ll ever like that money-grubbing insect.”

Teresa made up her mind to pay extra for the shoe repair she needed. “So you think Héctor, who made up a song about all things he meant to do with his baby and sang it all over town when he found out he was going to be a father—I know, I heard it, and I said some cruel things to Imelda about it—that this man decided to go off to be a bit player in Hollywood and didn’t so much as send his daughter a postcard?”

“Oh, I’m sure he didn’t mean to be a bit player. He’s probably still scrambling for parts and expecting the big one to hit any time. He probably still thinks she’s four and hasn’t noticed that he’s not there.” He folded his napkin. “Are we done? I don’t feel much like eating this second-rate fare.”

He didn’t wait for an answer. He just left. As he opened the door, Teresa heard someone call out, “It’s Ernesto!”

“He’ll probably still be signing autographs when we finish lunch,” Essará said. “I’m sorry, Sister. I thought maybe seeing you would… I don’t know. Shake some details loose. Why don’t you take his seat? I’ll buy you lunch anyway.”

Teresa nodded and slipped out of his bench, going around to sit where Ernesto had been. His cigar was still smoldering in the ashtray, stinking to high heaven.

Essará saw her face and moved the ashtray, signaling to a waiter to take it away. He ordered for both of them, and while they were waiting, he said, “I’ve done a lot of soul-searching this week, Sister. Maybe big things in the world make my concerns seem smaller. Ernesto is my only client, as you noticed. So I… well, I may have talked myself out of noticing certain things. But I made a lot of phone calls. And visits. One was to actress I know who left the business after Ernesto made things difficult for her—I didn’t know it at the time, but apparently, he made a pass at her and when she threatened to tell her husband, he told everyone he knew that she was difficult and spoiled.”

“That sounds like Ernesto.”

“She’s the one who told me what he spread around the casting directors. He’s right that they knew, but apparently he told them that I would inevitably embarrass the studios through lack of control.” He laughed ruefully. “He always said he was trying to get me into his movies, just like I did for him, but that other people wouldn’t have it. You’d think I’d have noticed, as his manager, that he managed to veto any man on screen who was even close to his age and not utterly repulsive.”

“I’m sorry.”

“And any time I had another client, he’d complain and complain, and he was bringing in so much more money than anyone else that I… I let them go. Sent them to other managers.”

“So he made sure that you couldn’t function without him, financially speaking.”

“Yes. I don’t know why.”

Teresa sighed. “He wasn’t kidding about Héctor being like you, you know. It was the first thing I thought.”

“Really? He was roguishly handsome and charming, too?”

“He was kind-hearted and sweet.”

“Thank you, Sister. But what do you really think happened?”

“I don’t know. I hoped I’d be able to listen whatever lies Ernesto told and figure out the truth. But I can’t. I expect he left the act. Maybe he did run into some kind of foul play. Ernesto just doesn’t care to find out.”

“Do you think he threatened to… say something to people in Santa Cecilia if Héctor went home?”

“Why would he?”

“Maybe he was afraid that people who knew both of them would talk about the songs. Like you did.”

“Oh. Maybe. I don’t know. It seems like a lot of effort for a little secret. Who would care?”

“There’s a whole myth out there. I know. I helped build it.” His smile faltered. “And now I’m stuck in it. And I still don’t know why. It’s not like I have anything on him. I don’t… well, I don’t have any, shall we say, special knowledge of him.”

“I have plenty,” Teresa said. “The stories I could tell if I hadn’t vowed not to…” She smiled and took Essará’s hand. “I think maybe Ernesto just didn’t want to be left again. So he did what he always does, only… he’s better at it now than he used to be. For Ernesto, this kind of approach is almost subtle.”

“He keeps doing it. The actress I mentioned. About a dozen actors. And I found out he’s trying to do it to this new up and comer, Infante… he’s been in pictures for a couple of years, but Ernesto hates him. I called him—Infante, I mean—and he said he’s already had to deflect lies Ernesto has told about him, over and over. He’s got the guts to fight it, and the connections. Most don’t. I don’t know how many people he’s chased out of the business.”

Teresa frowned. “I’d love to say ‘It’s a terrible business that they’re well shot of,’ but I can’t. Breaking people’s dreams isn’t good, no matter how empty…” She caught herself. “I’m sorry, Señor Essará. It’s your business as well.”

“Anyone who’s been in it is… not unfamiliar with the side of it you’re talking about. I just never realized I was personally enabling it.”

Their meals came, with tall, cold glasses of foaming beer. Teresa sipped hers, and it tasted like heaven. Once the waiter was gone, she said, “What are you going to do?”

“I don’t know. I really don’t. With everything that’s happening in the world, I don’t know if it’s worth it to do anything about one crooked actor.” He sighed. “He’s not going to be able to keep this up forever. Sooner or later, people will talk. And it’ll break the country’s heart to know. It seems like a bad time for the country to have a broken heart.” He shook his head. “What will you do, Sister?”

“I’ll go back to Santa Cecilia, and I’ll help baptize little Victoria Hernandez Rivera. And I won’t tell Coco that I went looking. What good would that do? And I will pray for Héctor to come home. It’s all I can do for them. As to Ernesto… I’ll pray that he finds his soul, because everyone must have one somewhere, and that he takes himself off of this path before he finds himself damned.”

“I think it may be a hopeless prayer.”

“I strongly suspect it is, but don’t tell my Mother Superior.” Teresa felt a bitter smile curl her lips. “Possibly because it’s insincere. Part of me wouldn’t mind seeing him damned. Which means I probably am as well.”

“I’m not a great one for praying, myself,” Essará said. “So I’ll need to think of something else.”

She nodded.

They spent the rest of the meal speaking of small things, even sharing a laugh or two at Ernesto’s expense. Contrary to Essará’s prediction, Ernesto wasn’t still signing autographs when the left two hours later, on good terms.

The world was shaken again two days later, when another ship, the Faja de Oro went down, and a week after that, the country was officially at war.

Even that wasn’t enough to keep the death of Ernesto de la Cruz off the front page, with a vivid picture of a fallen bell.

Teresa la Perdita read the story in the alley behind the theater. She would confess later that, in her darkest heart, she wasn’t sorry, that she nearly rejoiced, and she would sincerely repent of that failing in her soul. As her penance, she requested to be buried in the shadow of the giant mausoleum where he would be laid to rest—an eternal mark on her soul.

She confessed to her anger. She confessed to all of the sordid things she had done after he left her.

But she never confessed to anything she might have told his poor stage manager, who was, after all, broken-hearted over the accident.
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Comments
From: (Anonymous) Date: December 24th, 2018 08:55 am (UTC) (Link)
We know that she wasn't successful in life, but one still can't help but root Teresa on as she tries to make things right.
And you got to feel for the position Essará's in (I assume he's gay or ace, judging by Ernesto's comments about stories passed around). Speaking of which, that was a good reveal as who he was when they were looking at the model.

*low whistle* That was pretty damn gutsy of Ernesto to flatout say what he did, but be so cavalier that Teresa automatically wrote it off as jest.
Probably good for Pedro Infante that the bell fell.

"It seems like a bad time for the country to have a broken heart.”
Of course, it's not exactly the greatest of times currently as the news broke. I guess is it ever a good time?

That last line had me in stitches.
Though did Essará become infamous in the aftermath or was simply forgotten?

--- FFR
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: December 24th, 2018 07:07 pm (UTC) (Link)
Teresa has a tendency to push people into possibly stupid decisions, but her heart is generally in the right place.

Del's gay, certainly, though Teresa couldn't care less. (She probably has a generally orthodox view of the subject, but having done time in the trade, she knows of quite a few things she considers more serious sins. I suspect she thinks of it kind of like eating meat on Friday... she wouldn't do it, but doesn't expect that everyone on the planet agrees with her.) The forties weren't awful on the subject in Mexico City, but it would have torpedoed a movie career very effectively.

No time is especially good for idols to crash to the ground, but probably yeah... the entrance to the second world war would have been particularly bad.

Given the way Miguel pictures the scene, I'd guess Del is seen as something of a buffoon, accidentally getting so wrapped up in the show that he tripped a wire. And with his whole family dead in the Revolution, unfortunately, he's forgotten as an individual human, except by Teresa, but she didn't live an especially long life.
From: queen_bellatrix Date: December 25th, 2018 09:33 am (UTC) (Link)
Ooooo, I just discovered this now, and I'm grinning in absolute delight!!! Have to head off to bed, but this will make the best late-night Christmas present after the familial obligations. Will comment properly once I've read, but it's always such a joy to be away for a few days and come back to you having dropped a little gift.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: December 26th, 2018 02:00 am (UTC) (Link)
Merry Christmas, then! See you later.
sonetka From: sonetka Date: December 27th, 2018 09:00 pm (UTC) (Link)
I've been doing a lot and missed this when you first posted it -- I love it! I love how Teresa has the best intentions and is genuinely trying to help (and kind of inadvertently does help, in a way she didn't intend) but it's also clear how she and Imelda would drive each other insane. Ernesto is his usual unnerving self -- not just trying to build himself up but actively tearing others down as well. I loved that little mention of Infante at the end -- who knew he owed his successful career to a lunch meeting between a nun and Ernesto's stage manager? Ernesto does seem pretty comfortable with Infante and Negrete at his Sunrise Spectacular party, but at that point they've all been dead for decades, their reputations are secure (or so Ernesto thinks :)) and I'm sure Infante doesn't mind the music and entertainment even if he doesn't care all that much for Ernesto on a personal level. (Though I bet after the big scandal, he was telling everyone "I knew it! Wait till you hear what he tried to do to me when we were still alive!"
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: December 28th, 2018 01:30 am (UTC) (Link)
I can see Ernesto being good with them at his party... but not co-starring in his Sunrise Spectacular! I'll bet they both trash talk him behind his back. ;p

And yes, Teresa with her bumbling-around-until-something-sticks approach would clash with Imelda's this-is-the-LAW approach. Frequently.
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