Table of Contents
CHAPTER SUMMARIES WITH NOTES
The chapter opens with Tench, the dentist, who is looking for his ether cylinder, which is supposed to have come by ship. The first description of the scene is ominous. Vultures are looking down from a rooftop on a scorching Mexican waterfront; they are in search of carrion. Tench throws a stone and hits them. One vulture flies over the plaza, over the bust of an ex-president, and toward the river and the sea.
Tench is an Englishman settled in Mexico. He is seen walking towards the quay, sweating in the heat. A few important landmarks are mentioned, like the treasury, which has once been a church, the barber's, the dentist's, the warehouse, and the customs. Tench is watching the ship, General Obregon, being unloaded. The main cargo is beer; he counts one hundred forty cases of it being unloaded. Prohibition is the law of the region, and only beer is permitted.
Tench spots a pretty young girl with a fine thin figure. Her smile reveals a gold tooth. He exclaims, "My God, a pretty one." Someone asks in English, "What did you say?" Tench looks at the stranger with surprise. He is delighted to hear English and finds out that the stranger has learned it in the U.S. The man has "a hollow face with a three days beard"; he is a small man dressed in a shabby, dark city suit, carrying a small attaché case. He has a novel under his arm. He gives an impression of unstable hilarity. Tench asks the stranger whether he has arrived by the boat or whether he is departing. The stranger gives evasive answers. In the course of the conversation, he finds out when the ship is likely to sail to Vera Cruz. He even mentions the name of a man called Lopez, and Tench informs him that the man has been shot dead because he helped "undesirables . . . to get out." Lopez's girl friend now lives with the chief of police.
Tench brings two glasses; they settle down in the rocking chairs and drink the stranger's brandy. Tench warns him that the water is unsafe to drink and complains of a stomachache. Tench observes that the stranger's teeth are yellow and need attention. "The man's dark suit and sloping shoulders reminded him uncomfortably of a coffin, and death is in his curious mouth already."