I had known Jaime Nuñez for three years when the big incident took place on a Saturday, the third day of a four-day annual equestrian event, the Concurso Amistad, at the CHE equestrian club (Centro Hípico Ecuestre) on the outskirts of Guadalajara. This was one of the stellar horse shows in that city, and one of the more important social events of the year.
When I first met him, Jaime – a good looking Latino who combed his hair straight back and looked every bit the “latin lover” – was suffering a case of the financial shorts, finding himself at the beginning of his career after graduating with a MBA from Yale University. He lived in a very humble apartment over in the Jardínes del Bosque neighborhood. Despite having no visible employment, his semblance of poverty would change over the next few years. Overnight he bought three jumpers and moved into a large home at the CHE, previously owned by a well-known narcotraficante. I was told the house was originally owned by Juan Diego Mijares, an important drug dealer who had since moved to a walled, well-guarded compound in a section of the city called Ciudad Granjas.
Jaime was kind enough to let me ride two of his three horses. Whatever his mysterious businesses, my take on Jaime was that the man was up to his neck in some very profitable shenanigans bordering on the illegal. The additional plus of having a law degree and a master’s in business administration also helped. To be truthful, I never saw any of his academic accomplishments hanging on a wall. To my knowledge, Jaime’s office was always the interior of some expensive car with a dubious registration. Even if he could exhibit these diplomas, one might understand the difficulty of hanging them inside a car.
On the Saturday of this four-day equestrian event, my friend announced over the public address system he was hosting an open house at his home behind the club’s stables. The festivities would commence around sundown. No need to set an exact time; Mexicans would came to a party at their convenience.
Jaime instructed Melanie, his live-in American girlfriend, to make all the arrangements. Most Guadalajara women would not lend themselves to such a liaison in the full knowledge their reputations would be ruined; being branded as used merchandise reduced their chances of a future marriage to something less than zero.
On the other hand, the resort beaches of Mexico were awash with women recently arrived from the United States who were perfectly willing to accept a live-in situation with a man like Jaime. That most of these women came from a class economically wanting and culturally deprived meant nothing to Jaime. To his way of thinking, image was everything. For most Mexican men these female “barbies-come-to-life” were a fantasy come true.
My wife, Mariana, who considered herself a social snob, tolerated Jaime. But, if possible, she would have nothing to do with his girlfriend Melanie and her peers.
To entertain his guests, Jaime hired a mariachi band. One of the reasons he was being so gracious was the possibility of endearing himself to the genuine Guadalajara upper-class society who frowned on people of his ilk. The other reason was because inside his spacious home he kept a tack shop of illegally imported saddles, bridles and other accessories for horses and riders alike, inherited from the days Juan Diego Mijares inhabited the premises. This wide variety of imported equestrian equipment was sold under-the-table, well hidden from the prying eyes of government inspectors who frowned on such activities, unless, of course, they were paid handsomely.
Alas, no one came to his party, except Mariana, the seven-piece mariachi band and myself. But if those attending the horse show bypassed Jaime’s party, down the street a well-known banker was holding a soirée of his own. Everyone, who was anybody in the “horsy” set, was there. Rather than fight the obvious, Jaime donated the mariachis to the party down the street, assuming the banker would take care of their wages from that moment on. This was to prove a bad assumption on his part. My understanding was that bankers have always been in the business of having you pay them.
“No point in staying here,” Jaime solemnly intoned. “Why don’t you guys join the action?”
“C’mon Jaime… you and Melanie come with us, or we’re not going.”
“I insist,” and so Mariana and I moved on, leaving Jaime and Melanie to suffer the social indignities thrust upon them.
The party was winding down; the mariachis had gone their way, when out of nowhere gunfire broke out from the general direction of Jaime’s home. After assuring ourselves the gunplay was over, we cautiously ambled up the deserted street in search of our friend. The front door was open and, as we entered the empty living room, we were suddenly accosted by a rather ugly and badly dressed bearded man who might have passed for a rabbi.
“I’m in real trouble,” the highly excitable Jaime informed us. “I’ve just blown out the rear window of a pickup truck parked down the street!”
“Why would you do that?” a puzzled Mariana piped in.
“Hey, it’s a long story, but it’s not important why, it’s who that’s important.”
“Calm down, you’re not making any sense,” I said.
“I’m out of here and off to the airport… see you guys when this all dies down. Make yourself at home. My house is your house. Hopefully, nobody will recognize me or I’m dead meat! Melanie will explain everything,” and he was gone.
No sooner done, than Melanie came flying out of her bedroom screaming at the top of her audible scale, “You p…k, what am I supposed to do about this f…ing mess?” As I said, these beach bunnies were culturally impaired. “I didn’t sign on for this kind of problem. You have no idea what that p…k’s gone and done.”
Having disposed of five different usages of the “p” word, a clear manifestation of her limited vocabulary, we finally were able to calm her down and put together the events of the evening leading to Jaime’s unexpected exit. Brain-wise, Melanie was unquestionably a light bulb in a weak socket.
When all was said and done, this is what she told us: They had retired to their bedroom when the doorbell rang. This was totally unexpected and, considering the time of night, Jaime thought it prudent to take his AK-47 as a precaution.
To his surprise, standing outside was the mariachi band demanding they be paid for their evening’s work. That request seemed outrageous after the social snub he had so recently experienced. He saw no other solution but for them to leave. Noting a slight hesitation on the part of the musicians, he leveled his AK-47 in their general direction. The musicians all fell to the ground begging forgiveness for their audacious request. To make sure they understood his intention of not parting with one additional centavo, Jaime sprayed the dark, empty cobblestone street from left to right with a few quick rounds, mostly for effect. To his surprise he heard the explosion of glass. When investigated, it turned out to be the remains of a rear window from a pickup truck parked in the dark shadows shrouding the left side of the street. While the musicians quickly dispersed into the night, three sleepy soldiers slowly piled out the back of their damaged truck followed by the opening of the passenger door from which a lieutenant appeared, shaking shards of glass from his uniform.
What transpired then is hard to tell. Suffice to say, Jaime disposed of his weapon as fast as he could and stepped forward to face the music. The music, in this case, was the lieutenant and his three privates charged with caring for General Máximo Cervantes’ horses being ridden in the show by his wife and daughter.
General Cervantes was none other than the district military commander for a region that unfortunately included Jaime’s private residence and everything within a radius of three hundred kilometers.
All agreed General Cervantes would take umbrage at the damage to his truck, considering the aggression to his private property was without merit or cause. The lieutenant pointed out that from the General’s point of view the danger to his three men was of little consequence. His reputation was to look upon private property as a far more important asset than human life.
This last piece of information had a very sobering effect on Jaime’s status as a human being. It was a veritable cold shower of bad news that required an immediate course of action. Thus, he took it upon himself to exit, disguised as a rather plump bearded professor. In Jaime’s fertile mind, this would somehow cover his tracks when the cavalry came calling.
The following morning I looked in on Melanie; it seemed like the only decent thing to do. Not being directly or indirectly involved, I felt we had nothing to fear. That was not the case with Melanie, who acted like an AWOL soldier two heartbeats away from being executed by a firing squad. The mystery of what was going to be the outcome of the previous night’s events was about to become clear. The doorbell rang. Some ten very innocuous people stood patiently outside. They were a mixture of both sexes and their ages ran from teenagers to middle age.
“¿En qué le podemos servir?” I nonchalantly asked.
One of the older men stepped forward. “We understand that you have a tack shop in the house.”
“Are you interested in buying something?”
The man smiled. “Not really. You see, we are all relatives or friends of General Máximo Cervantes. In the full knowledge that the damage to his truck came from this house, he suggested we take whatever we need from your tack shop until the damage to this vehicle has been paid. There is also the question of an affront to his sensibilities and authority.” He grinned. “I’m sure you understand.”
I turned around to get Melanie’s reaction. She was standing behind me, hidden in the shadows of the entrance hallway. No need for a discussion, I agreed this was, if not a fair deal, the only deal.
“Mi casa es su casa.” I urged them to enter in the best of Mexican traditions.
“Are you the owner?”
“No. The fact is… he was called away.”
“Too bad, the General would like to talk to el Señor Núñez. Oh well, it will have to be another time.” They all filed into the house, the teenagers giggling amongst themselves as they proceeded to liberate Jaime of his contraband tack. I got the impression the damage to the general’s sensibilities had a lot higher price tag than the blown out rear window of his pickup truck, which, as it turned out, belonged to the army and not to him. But who was in a position to put forth that argument? At least the solution was bloodless, and for sure there would be no police intervention or ensuing lawsuits. The wheel of justice had come full circle – a la mexicana.
We later found out Jaime was so panicked at the possibility of being tracked down by General Cervantes that he ensconced himself in an apartment in Mexico City for two weeks before returning to a now empty home. Melanie was long since gone; not even a note. At least I got to enjoy riding his horses.
“You don’t mess with a general with troops under his command,” he soberly told me on his return.
“I guess not.”
“You have no idea how creative they can be when they get upset.”
“I got the impression that the general in question just wanted to get hold of your tack for free.”
“Maybe so, but you never know.”
Some months later I was competing in a jumping competition in the city of San Luis Potosi where this rather attractive woman joined our group. It soon became obvious she was the wife of a military officer. After we all identified ourselves as being from Guadalajara, I asked her if perchance she was the wife of a General Cervantes.
“Indeed…Why do you ask?”
I then explained the unfortunate story of my friend Jaime.
“Sure I remember,” she said. “My husband was curious to meet him. He so admires men with balls,” and she cupped her hands below her waist. “Shame… he really wanted to give your friend a lesson on how to shoot straight.”
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Beldon Butterfield is the author of the novel The Line/ La Línea, available here. This is an excerpt from the book.