Sunday, April 19, 2009

Life in Baja

This last Wednesday evening my wife and I went for a bit of a walk on the Boulevard. She’s had a cold and we would walk to the pharmacy a couple blocks from the house. We did that, bought some pills and cough medicine, then walked south about ten minutes, rested a bit, and walked back toward our street. The street lights on the Boulevard were out and we didn’t really like being in the dark.

Approaching our corner we found half a dozen police cars and a confusion of people where a half hour earlier there had been only the guardia who checks the cars going in and out of our neighborhood. Now we walked through the confusion, my wife greeting the owner of the cantina one door north of our street. He was talking to two policemen but he took a moment to return her salutation soberly and we walked on. On warm evenings I sometimes sit at an outdoor counter in front of his place to drink a beer while I read.

As it turns out, the story is this. When we first walked out to the Boulevard it was about 9:30. When we returned to find the corner invested with police, it was a few minutes after ten. We have since learned that at 9:45 a white panel had driven up to the guard shack, four masked men with automatic weapons had jumped out, grabbed a fifteen-year-old boy who liked to hang around there, and shoved him into the panel. When the quardia protested the gunmen threw him in the panel with the boy and off they went.

The boy is the younger son of the cantina owner. The guardia is new and has been on the job only five days or so. The kidnappers then strangled the guardia, cut off his head, and threw it off the bridge onto the freeway below. They could have shot him in the head and had done with it, but the supposition is that they wanted to impress on the boy that it would not be in his interest to not cooperate, so they strangled the man and decapitated him while the young man was looking on.

Pretty used to share taxis with the guardia sometimes on the way to her work on the other side, or her return. My wife knows part of his family. He was a swell guy. And so on. I’m a little disturbed. As in depressed. Not certain why. I think it’s because the kidnappers would strangle their victim, rather than shoot him. When Pepe was murdered he was shot in the head. A simple, even generous murder, if I can put it that way. No pain. No distress. Imagine being strangled!

The word on the street is that the kidnappers will demand one million dollars in ransom for the cantinero’s son. Who knows how much they will accept.

Last night I was walking the couple miles downtown, resting the knee a couple three times at bus stop benches. When I was walking in the street in the dark past the big clearing where the city park is going to be created, a small red car pulled up in front of me in what appeared to be more of a hurry than necessary. When three rowdy guys got out from three different doors of the car all at once I had a sinking feeling. I’m not certain that describes it. I felt something, a sudden anxiety maybe. Fright. I don’t like to admit it. I picked up my pace and didn’t look back. It was nothing. I don’t know what it was, but it had nothing to do with me.

Now the neighbors are reviewing other crimes, other murders that have gone down the last few months that I didn’t know about. We’ve been here ten years now. I’ve never had the slightest problem with anyone. I walk in the dark, alone, year after year. Nothing. But now I feel uneasy. I feel uneasy inside the house. My wife doesn’t want me to walk after sundown. Maybe I won’t. One thing in my favor. Kidnappers who know anything at all know I have no money. I’m no good to them. None of us in this house has any money.

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