April 16, 2012

"A Cop, His Dog and Some Gun Thugs " - Leroy B. Vaughn

Editor's Note: This piece of flash non-fiction blew me away. Not even a brutal Mexican gang war can break the bonds of man's best friend. Thanks for sharing this incredible story, Leroy.

In present times, Sahuayo is a bustling city of approximately 350,000 people located in the Mexican state of Michoacan. The streets are packed with people, and traffic is non-stop from daylight until well after dark.

People stand in doorways and gossip with passing neighbors. Teenagers try to see which car stereo can shake the windows of the little block houses as they drive through the narrow streets, often going the wrong way.

This is a different Sahuayo than the one of 1949, when Everado Ochoa was a town policeman. The town had a population of about 10,000 people and was controlled by five powerful families.

Everado Ochoa had been appointed to the town patrol, as the law enforcement agency for Sahuayo was called at that time, by his uncle, Antonio Ochoa.

Antonio Ochoa was the commandant of the patrol. He had made his bones as a Cristero rebel chief during the rebellion that lasted from 1926 until 1929.

After Antonio Ochoa gained control of the town patrol, he deputized several of his relatives as patrolmen, allowing them to carry guns. They had little or no training in law enforcement, and Sahuayo was ruled with an iron fist.

As an example, Commandant Ochoa appointed his brother, Alfredo Ochoa, to assist in crime fighting in the town. Alfredo Ochoa was working as an off-duty officer at a local event, and was assigned to collect a small fee to use a public toilet. A local man did not feel that he should have to pay to use a toilet and told Alfredo the same. After a brief argument, Alfredo Ochoa shot the man dead.

After that incident, no one argued about pay toilets in Sahuayo.

The Cristero rebellion had been over for 20 years, but killers still roamed the streets of Sahuayo, bent on vendettas. By most accounts, the commandant's nephew, Everado Ochoa, was known as a decent person who was just trying to make a living in the town of Sahuayo.

At that time, Sahuayo was a rural town with narrow streets. There were more horse-drawn carts and donkeys in the town than there were cars or trucks. Everado Ochoa patrolled the streets on foot and knew everyone on his beat. He was a devoted husband and the father of a boy and a girl, both toddlers.

He looked forward to going home at the end of the day and spending time with his wife and kids, as well as his faithful dog, King.

Everado had found King when the dog was a pup. He bartered with the man selling the dog, saying that the bull terrier was the ugliest mutt he had ever seen. The man was going to charge him full price, ugly or not, until he realized that Everado was the nephew of the commandant. All of a sudden the price for King got much better.

Everado's wife didn't want a dog, especially one as ugly as this white bull terrier with the big brown spots and yellow eyes. Still, she knew Everado and King were going to be great friends.

Everado and King were soon seen all over the town, walking the narrow streets. At home, King was at Everado's feet while the patrolman relaxed in his favorite chair. At night, when Everado and his wife went to their bedroom, King followed them. He slept next to Everado's side of the bed.

One day, King was at his usual place by the front door, waiting for Everado to return from his patrol. Everado's wife was in the little kitchen, preparing something eat. Her two little children were at her side.

Everado was only a few blocks from home when a man ran up. He said someone was shooting a gun on a street a few blocks away. There were no police radios at that time in Sahuayo, and most of the citizens did not own telephones or cars. The man was sent to find the commandant. The 20-year-old patrolman headed to the scene on his own.

Everado was shot dead as soon as he arrived on the scene.

Everado's brother, Leopoldo, arrived at the scene before the commandant and his posse. He spotted two men he knew and did not like. Leopoldo shot both men, wounding but not killing them.

It turned out to be a case of mistaken identity. Neither man had anything to do with the death of his brother.

The real shooter was never found. He made his getaway during the confusion caused by Leopoldo Ochoa shooting the wrong men.

The next evening, Everado's wife sat in a corner of the house, wearing all black, as the women of the family prepared food for mourners at the wake. The men gathered on the street in front of the house and drank tequila.

Everado's casket was in the living room of the house on sawhorses. King, the bull terrier, guarded the casket from beneath it.

When the casket was moved from the house to the church for the funeral mass, King followed the horse-drawn wagon through the narrow streets of town.

After the mass, King followed the cortege to the cemetery. The mourners left after the graveside service, but not King. He stayed by his master's grave.

At first, the new widow did not notice King missing. One of the brothers brought him home after finding him in the cemetery at Everado's grave.

King did not sleep or eat after the death of his master. He sat at his spot near Everado's chair, as if he were waiting for the young patrolman to come home from work.

Three months after the funeral, Everado's wife came out of her bedroom and found King dead near Everado's chair. King, Everado's faithful companion, was two and one-half years old.

Thirty-three years after the death of Everado Ochoa, his brother, Leopoldo, died from complications after being shot several times in the knees. Unknown assailants shot him in his second-hand store in Los Angeles, California. Fifteen-hundred miles from Sahuayo.

Leroy Vaughn is a retired law enforment officer from southern California. He and his wife, Cecilia, lived in central Mexico for more than three years. This story was written after interviewing several surviving members of the Ochoa family. His short stories have been published in 10 magazines in the U.S. and Mexico.

1 comment:

  1. Moving story. We don't really know why dogs do the things they do. We just know they're family. Thanks for the post, Ben.