Nemisio — Nesio — Ortiz became an orphan when he was sixteen. He witnessed the murder of his mother. To help keep him out of the line of feudal gun fire, I temporarily pitched an old Army field tent where no one would look: a gringo-owned boulder-pocked mountain pasture. While farmers in the pueblo below cheered and hooted at soccer games, Nesio and I used the noise to disguise his marksmanship practice, using a rifle — a family relic of Revolution-era firearms — and a pistol of mine. Intense practice made Nesio a good shot. He was best when picturing the man who had killed his mother.
In the 1950s and ‘60s, harsh relations between families were often settled with riñas —(family feuds). As a gringo, such entanglements didn’t involve me. My killing centered on eight-foot-long mountain cascabelas (rattlesnakes). I sold the meat to a man who concocted medicines from it, and the whole snakes to brujas who used rattler “power” to cure and change lives.
Riñas erupted frequently in scattered pueblos tracing the ragged southwestern end of Jalisco’s huge lake. Small communities formed a dispersed line running from the tail-end edge of Jalisco well into Michoacan.
The social milieu of remote two- and three-street villages was often made up of just a few, sometimes bristly, families. The small pueblo that Felipe and Sara Ortiz lived in, San Luciano, was Nesio’s birthplace. I knew him and his parents because they bought supplies each week in pueblos near Jocotepec.
Felipe and Sara were driving a small herd of sheep along the south side of their village’s plaza when a pendajo named ‘Nando Perez, stepped off his bicycle (few cars in such villages then), pulled an ancient pistol and shot at Felipe Ortiz but hit Sara. Felipe, unarmed, ducked across the cobbled street to a portales table where domino players had ducked out of the way. He plucked a butcher knife off the bar and came after ‘Nando Perez. The villain escaped on his bike.
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