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Prologue


Had they done it a thousand times, each with a different set of players, the end would have been very much the same, for such is the fate of the human condition.

Chapter 1: Contreras, México August 19, 1847


The bodega was dark, reeking of fermentation and dust. Stacked against the rear wall were small, black, spherical pots corked and sealed with wax. General Franklin Pierce's orderly used his knife to pry the cork from one and sniffed. Making a face he said to the empty room, "This oughta do."

Gathering four of the dusty little pots in his arms he took them across the cobbled plaza to the house the General had chosen to be his headquarters for the night. The house's owner and his family had fled when the troops entered the town but his cook lingered unconcerned and seemed indifferent to serving her patrón or the uniformed gringos. General Pierce was conversing with General Worth over platters of tampiqueña. When the orderly entered the dining room his eyes went wide. "What have you found, Williams?" he asked.

"I believe it's called mescal hereabouts. Whatever it is, it's plenty potent."

Pierce drained the glass of the wine he'd found in the larder and said, "Let's see how it tastes. Pour some for General Worth first."

Williams filled Worth's glass with the white, slightly cloudy, liquor then tipped the small crock over Pierce's. With a tiny splash, a large, white grub dropped into the goblet. The two generals stared in amazement. "The Méxicans believe the worm gives it strength, sir," William assured.

"Well, it certainly would do that," Pierce replied as he spooned the maggot from his glass. Raising it in salute to Worth, he took a mouthful. Swallowing quickly, he gasped and said, "A very potent worm indeed." Worth sipped his daintily.

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