The Narc and the Smuggler in the Land of Plenty

A dying narcotics agent opens his files, and out pours Miguel, just one of a legion of Mexicans who embraced drug-running as their ticket to the American dream

We arrived about noon. The music was already playing. Even before we arrived I could hear laughter and singing as we approached the corrals. My uncles, the Garcias, had killed two pigs and a goat and put them in the ground over hot coals and smooth rocks that had been heated by fires overnight. The women of the village were making tortillas and there were large pots of beans cooking over mesquite fires. Everyone brought what they could afford--a chicken or a bunch of onions, tomatoes or maybe some fresh green chilies for the huge bowls of green salsa the women were preparing.

It was very festive despite the government's ban on drinking mescal or tequila at the fiestas on the mountain. There were just too many people getting stabbed, and too many shootings over petty quarrels. . . . But this doesn't mean that there wasn't plenty to drink. It just meant that the men had to go off by themselves to the arroyos and fields where they had hidden their jugs.

Uncle Julian and my godfather, Eduardo Gutierrez, were already at the fiesta when we arrived. I could hear shouts of greeting from old friends and my father took time to wave and greet all his friends. As the afternoon wore on, the guests were starting to feel better and better from the frequent visits to their jugs, and the men were apparently getting tired from the dancing and from racing their horses in the skill games. The fiesta seemed to be lagging a bit. A harmless fist fight or two broke out near the place where the mescal was stashed. Actually they were just catching their breath so they would be able to keep going into the night, when things really got lively. My father, who was not much of a drinker, limited his drinks to just one or two that afternoon and was in good condition . . .

Once or twice I tried to persuade my father that it was time to go home. I didn't like the way the Garcia men were drinking so much and making trouble. Besides, I was tired of chasing Jesusita Garcia around the village trying to get a hug and a kiss from her. I could see that my father was having a good time and knowing him it wouldn't do to rush him. My Uncle Julian, God love him, was drinking too much and making a fool of himself to please the ladies. But this was expected and he infected everyone around him with good cheer and laughter. I loved Uncle Julian and considered him a true friend. It was my Uncle Julian who taught me to ride a horse in the proper style and how to shoot straight with a pistol that was almost as big and heavy as I was.

It was about three in the afternoon when Trini Garcia came looking for my father and called him aside. Trini told him that Juan wanted to have a drink with him in the corral and to talk to him about something important. My father was in a good mood and thought nothing of the invitation. The corral was a logical place to have a drink and talk business. It was a very large corral surrounded by a sturdy wood fence and used mostly for branding calves and cutting the bulls' gonads to make them into steers. In the center was a huge walnut tree that gave shade to one side of the enclosure. There was a large gate that swung easily on leather hinges. The corral was often used for the dances, and in fact the musicians were already playing outside the corral, getting tuned and warmed up for the dance that evening.

I noticed my father's concern for the first time as we approached the corral. All of my uncles were under the tree by their horses. They were all armed and were drinking heavily from a burlap covered jug. I saw my father hesitate, he looked around to see if there were any friendly faces nearby. He saw Julian and Eduardo, but they had been drinking all day and having too much fun to notice anything around them.

Once my father was inside the corral, Trini slammed the gate shut, pushed the lever home, and escorted my father to where his brothers were waiting. I waited outside of the corral because this meeting was going to be between the grown-ups. My uncle Juan didn't waste any time sweet talking him.

"We are sick of you telling us what we can do and what we can't do on our mountain. We are tired of your cowardice about drugs and tired of having to pay for our cattle to graze, and the best way to settle this once and for all is to kill you, Julian, and your miserable son," he yelled.

My uncle Juan then reached over his shoulder and pulled a long machete from its leather sheath and started hacking away at him. Fortunately, my father had not been drinking very much so he had all of his senses about him, and he had fought against the machete before. I knew he was in trouble and then I realized he had not worn his gun, it was in his saddlebag where it was of no use to him. He was making Juan miss a lot but some of the blows caught him on his arms and hands and cut him badly. The blood gushed from a stroke that caught him on the left shoulder. He tried to keep moving away from him, feinting and weaving, I was thankful he was wearing the heavy charro outfit. He never thought to yell for help or plead for mercy.

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