San Antonio Has a Way of... Part 3 - Catalina, A Chili Queen


“We must find the police. We must give it to the owner; but we don’t know the owner. Gonzalo…children, I am not a happy Mamacita at this

moment”, Catalina pleaded in exasperation. ” Maria get me that extra cazuela and a potato sack. I am going to wrap this pistola and put it away. Listen to me, boys. You must not go near it…promise me; until I can decide what to do about it”, she sternly said, standing with her hands on her hips. The children knew their mother was no longer shaken by the experience ; they all nodded while at complete attention. They now see the Mamacita that takes charge and makes decisions to keep their family safe. They had no Papa around. Catalina was their Papa and Mama during these kinds of times.

“Mama, I see there is a customer out front by our tables for some chili”, said Maria after giving her mother the cazuela.“Yes, of course…we can not ignore the hungry people for our chili and tortillas. Go and help the man, Maria”, she said while wrapping the pistol in the sack, putting it in the pot and securing it among some crates stacked under the cart. “Now Gabriela, go and help your sister with the chili. Boys! Gonzalo, you must sit still out front where I can see you. Twins, see if Tico needs any water and clean up his droppings. We do not keep a messy place here at the Calderon family chili stand!’, she ordered waving her hands in all directions.

“Hello, Senor. May I get you some of our chili? “, Maria asked the man.” Amos Murphy is the name”, he said standing before her as tall as his height would allow him . He wore well scuffed boots, a pair of once fine brown trousers, now patched and with tears at the seams. His black felt hat was like the trousers…. of a similar vintage and state of decay. The formerly white , but now with a grayish hue , linen shirt was probably once made for for a man of position; and his greasy black tie hung so the bow was no consequence. A heavy woven wool waistcoat of a nondescript color was surely meant for a much cooler clime. The smart and elegant forest green velvet coat was a garment out of place. It had covered buttons, was tailored by a top house-probably in New Orleans ,that was obvious. Fancy black stitching was prominent on the lapels, which were made of a fine pale gray wool. “Why yes, dear young lady.” A plate of your finest chili …some beans and fresh tortillas also, I believe”, he said with a flourish as if he had rehearsed the speech beforehand.

“Let me help you, Maria. Yes senor, you look familiar. Have I seen you on our plaza before?”, Catalina asked with a cautious tone in her halting English. He tipped his hat and smiled widely with missing teeth. “The name is Amos Murphy,

you probably have seen me at my former place of employ. My brother is Rian. He is the boss man…you know him. He runs the show at the slaughterhouse you frequent for your meats. You see, I needed a change from manual labor. I thank my brother for giving me a chance to get started after traveling to your fine city of San Antonio from our home in Ireland…. 2 months past”, his brogue seeming to be more pronounced now. Catalina thought this man was not what he seemed or what he said. It seemed odd that a man so short of stature could be Mr Murphy’s brother; he was probably a head shorter and did not have the strong body of a man who worked with animals. He reminded her of the ads she has seen while passing the cigar store on the way to the plaza; however, the pictures of those men were very fancy. This man’s efforts were lacking in every department.

“Coffee too, sir?, asked Maria. “Yes, that would be lovely dear lady”…. he slipped a small leather flask from his waistcoat and poured some clear spirits in the cup. Catalina approached from behind after putting the pistol away and said, “Is there anything else, senor?, She inquired.” No senora, I’ll enjoy my fine repast and be on my way. I am presently and proudly in the employ of Herr Schmidt; there, over there, at the large tent”, he said as he pointed to the tent where business was starting to become busy as the skies grew darker. You understand, I am presently in charge of the poker game and we are in need of more participants ; the other two gents found themselves a bit short of funds and left my game quite early.

Amos Murphy quickly paid his penny and ate his chili, beans and tortillas. He gave Maria an extra penny, mentioning that her smile reminded him of his niece back in Ireland and that he appreciated her cordial service.“Mama, Mama.” “What do you want, Gonzalo.” “That is the man.” What man are you speaking about,” she said impatiently, suddenly remembering she had to deal with the pistola.”That is the man that put the pistola between two barrels behind the tent where the fancy ladies are, ” he blurted out. “You did not say anything about seeing a man put the pistola by some barrels.” ” I was scared. I did not steal it”,  he mumbled, then started to cry. “Quiet now. It is all right, Gonzalo”, his Mama said soothingly. At that moment Officer Langley, the City Policeman, strode up and asked Maria if he could speak to her mother. “Mrs. Calderon; there has been a robbery over at Herr Schmidt’s and I would like to ask you some questions.” He proceeded to recount that a member of the early poker game had had his small silver pistol stolen. It had great sentimental value. The small Mexican lady that worked there mentioned while out back of the tent having a cigarette,  she saw a small Mexican boy pick a silver object from s between some  barrels. She mentioned that had seen him before at Catalina’s chili stand.

“Yes Senor Langley”, she said relieved. “I have it in a safe place.” She retrieved the packet, and handed it to him. Langley unwrapped it. “This looks very much like the one he lost. I see the small crack on the right side of the handle.” “Gonzalo, tell the man how you got the pistola.” ” I saw the man in the green coat put it by the barrels and I took it. I didn’t steal it. I thought he didn’t want it anymore. Maybe it was broken.”, he said with wide eyes swelling with tears. “Mrs. Calderon, I believe your little boy has solved this case quite nicely. I’ll take this pistol and we will not speak of the matter again.” “Thank God, Senor Langley. I will say a prayer at Mass for you. I did not know what to do. Gonzalo will never do anything like that again.” "Yes ma’am, I’m sure he won’t. Have a good evening.” "Won’t you have some chili and tortillas? You must be very hungry.”"I have eaten here often when I have Plaza duty. You make a fine bowl of chili red. I may be back later in the evening”, he said with a smile.

“It was the end of their evening. The time was almost ten. Catalina could not remember when she had been so tired. The work was not the reason.The pistola event had made the trip to the plaza very difficult that night.She just wanted to get home and finally to rest.They had a long trek home in the dark with just their one lantern to see by. All of the children were packing up as they always did. The twins were hitching up Tico, who had been sleeping the whole time they were at the plaza, except for a few munches of corn stalks. Maria was pouring water on the stone fire ring and putting the grate on the cart. Gonzalo , Gabriela and Catalina were sweeping all around their area. The city crew would be coming early in the morning to clean the plaza, but they always left it clean and tidy.”Mrs. Calderon, I believe?” It was Herr Schmidt addressing Catalina in his thick accent as he walked up to the almost packed cart.”Yes, Senor Schmidt. I am Senora Calderon.” “I believe I have to thank you and your family for solving a problem we had this evening. “ ”Problema?,” she said with a quizzical look on her face." "I had an employee that cheated one of my customers ; he had stolen his silver pistol from the man’s coat pocket. The man that took this pistol was wearing a fancy green coat. We found out from Langley , the policeman , that this man’s name is Bartlett, not Murphy as he claimed when I had hired him to run my poker game. I guess he is wanted in New Orleans for the same thing-robbing a card player. Maybe other places too.” “It was not a pleasant experience for me, my son should not have picked up that pistola, Senor Schmidt”.“I understand, but I am very pleased that  he did take that pistol. I now have a happy customer. Mrs. Calderon, here is a small reward for your help. Besides, all of my people say you are the best Chili Queen on the Plaza.!”, as he handed her five silver dollars. She looked in her hand, astonished and speechless. “Children. Look what Senor….”, just as she looked up to thank him he was almost back to his tent. He stopped at the door flap, turned in the golden light from inside and tipped his hat to her.

Mrs. Calderon now had the immense sum of $5.26 bound tightly and safely in one of her mother’s lace handkerchiefs.The night had been good. Twenty five bowls sold; plus the penny from the man in the green coat. She and her children would be back the next night to sell more of their chili, refritos, fresh tortillas, and strong hot coffee. The five dollars would be saved and kept safe; buried in the tin box under their jacal. Maybe there would also be presents for Papa this year when he came home for Christmas.

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