The Patron Saint of Luchadores

      Jesus Malverde, Angel of the Poor

Luchador Mask       Jesus Malverde is sometimes referred to as the Robin Hood of Mexico, robbing from the rich and giving to the poor during a period of severe government oppression. His story plays a prominent role in my novel, The Patron Saint of Luchadores. The story below jumps around a bit between Jesus Malverde's origins, his time as a bandit, and his death.

      Jesus Juarez Mote was born in a tiny Sinaloan town with a few short kilometers of sparse jungle vegetation between it and the Sea of Cortez to the west. At the age of fourteen, he apprenticed as a tailor with his father’s best and oldest friend. This was in the time of the Porfiriato, in Mexico in the late 1800s. The nation was leaping forward, making industrial and economic leaps forward. But as often happens when fortunes are made across a vast and diverse country, many that already lagged behind were left out entirely. Indians and farmers with nothing but an acre of dry, dry dust; families with children forced to sleep with the cows and the pigs in the mud.
      “My father is sick,” said Jesus one day to his master. “Mama, too. They have the flu, or maybe it is something worse.”
      The tailor was an old man and he bowed his head low in sadness, anticipating the worst as inevitable.
      “I am sorry, young man, but I can not do anything to help.”
      “A few extra pesos might help,” said Jesus. “They hardly have enough to eat.”
      “Of course,” said the old man, digging in a drawer before dropping a few tired coins in Jesus’s palm.
      Jesus bought his parents a round of nourishing roasted and shredded chicken, soup and tortillas and broth. He carried his bounty back to the house with three bedrooms and the dirt floor that he was raised in.
      “Mama y papa, sit up,” said Jesus, “I brought food to help heal your bodies.”
      His father struggled up from lying down in bed and propped himself up on his elbows.
      “I don’t think your mama will make it through the night, mijo,” he said.
      “Don’t be so dramatic,” muttered Jesus, “and eat this.”
      When Jesus’s mother did not sit up, the tailor’s apprentice felt her forehead and the palms of her hands.
      “You are right, papa. She is very sick.”
      “Go and ask the policia for help,” said Jesus’s father. “He can send for the doctor in the next town over. The doctor will have to come then.”
      Jesus went out into the warm, balmy night air to track down a policeman. He found the chief of police and a loyal servant of Governor Cañedo in a local cantina flirting with a young barmaid.
      “Please,” said Jesus, begging the policeman to stop carousing with the pretty young barmaid and help his parents.
      “I am busy,” was the reply over and over again. “Have a drink and I will send word in the morning.”
      In his despair, Jesus did not return home that night to his parents. He drank shot after shot of tequila, eventually passing out in front of the bar. In the morning he awoke in a jail cell with the same policeman sleeping in a chair in front of the cage.
      “Let me out,” shouted Jesus, dragging a tin cup back and forth across the bars to wake the policeman. “My parents need me; you have to send word to the next town and get a doctor here as soon as you can.”
      But the policeman was stubborn and did not want to hear Jesus’s troubles; he especially did not want to be told what he needed to do to help.
      “What have your madre y tu padre ever done for me?” asked the jailer. “If I went to them, would they have anything to offer? Free food or drink? Maybe a woman for the night? No, your parents have nothing, and their death will be no great loss.”
      “You can not let them die,” shouted Jesus. “God would punish such an act.”
      The policeman shrugged, “If God wishes for them to live then he will see that the doctor comes over from the next town in time.”
      “Please,” begged Jesus, “let me out of this cage. I will give you anything you want.”
      The policeman scoffed: “You have nothing I want.” He stood and picked up his gun belt from the desk, slinging it over his shoulder. Jesus stared at the thick row of .357 caliber bullets wedged into individual leather loops all along the belt.
      “How many bullets do you have in your gun belt, senor?” asked Jesus.
      “Enough to keep the peace.” The policeman stopped in front of the door and drew a silver pistola with a clean, pearl handle from its holster. “Have you ever seen a pistola as beautiful as this?”
      Jesus shook his head.
      “It came from an old man, very much like your father, sick and dying. I tried to save him, called the doctor, but it was too late. When he came, there was nothing to be done.”

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      When the policeman let Jesus Mote out of jail, the young man ran all the way across town to his parent’s house, bursting through the front door, through the kitchen and front room, and into the single bedroom behind. There he found the doctor packing up his travel bag.
      “I am very sorry,” said the doctor, resting his hand on Jesus’s shoulder. “There was nothing I could do. The fever had taken hold of their bodies and damaged both of their brains by the time I got here.”
      Jesus did not answer the doctor. He ran from the house, blind as hot salty drops burned his eyes. He ran into the wall of the house next door and fell to the ground where he wept. He spent the night curled up on his parent’s front porch, afraid to enter the house. The next morning, the policeman nudged Jesus awake with the tow of his shiny black boot.
      “Wake up, pandejo,” he said. “I need you to sign some papers so we can bury your parents and settle their debts.”
      “What debts?” asked Jesus, sitting up and rubbing the sleep out of his eyes.
      “They owed a lot of money in taxes to Porfirio,” he replied. “We all owe Mexico for all she provides us, and your parents had not paid in some time.”
      “They were poor, they had nothing to pay.”
      “Yes, yes, I know,” said the policeman, “and you can not get blood from a stone. But it turns out we can, at least in some cases. Like now, your parents died with debts to the government. Their house can be used to settle those debts.”
      “You can not take their house,” shouted Jesus.
      “Well, if you want it, you can have it. All you have to do is settle their debts.”
      “I have no money either.”
      “What a shame,” said the policeman, stepping over Jesus and entering the house. “Come inside and we will sign papers transferring their property to the Porfirio.”
      Jesus dragged himself up to his feet and crossed the threshold into his parents home one last time. He could see that they were still lying in their beds.
      “The mortician is just waiting for my word to take them away and bury them at the cemetery with a new stone cross he carved just for them.” The policeman set the papers and a fountain pen down on the scarred kitchen table. “Sign.”
      “I will not.”
      “Then you have the money to pay their debts?”
      The policeman sighed, “Then what is your game here, Jesus. You are a carpenter’s apprentice who spent last night in jail instead of helping your dying parents. You have nothing, and if you do not sign, I will arrest you again and your parents will rot in that bed until you have signed.”
      Jesus felt light-headed, almost as if he was leaving his own body and watching the scene in parent’s house unfold in front of him from above. Jesus reached for the fountain and the policeman leaned back, satisfied and unthreatened by the man. But instead, Jesus grabbed the pearl-handled pistola on the policeman’s waist, drew the gun, and fired a single shot into the belly of belly of the policeman. Jesus kept watching from above as he unstrapped the gun belt from the policeman and buckled it around his own waist.
      “Help me,” begged the policeman, lying sprawled out on the floor of ancient ceramic tile reclaimed from the waste of a hacienda.
      Jesus scavenged what meager possessions of value his parents still had, intending to distribute them to the people who had always helped his family. Jesus ignored the dying pleas of the man on the ground did not even answer the dying man, instead stepping over him and out the front door.

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      The green brush faded to brown along the dirt road stretching from the Sinaloan coastline towards Sonora and the burnt northern deserts of Mexico. A coastal breeze caught Jesus Malverde in the face, the salty air waking him to his current situation. He swung his gaze down at the four soldiers on their knees in the dirt.
      “You can keep all the money,” said one soldier, nodding his head towards the spilt treasure chest and the dead tax collector. “Just let us go.”
      “I did not mean to shoot him,” muttered Malverde, more to himself than anyone else.
      “We know, we know,” said the soldiers’ spokesman, “but he struggled, and you did what you had to.”
      “His life was not worth this.”
      “If you say so,” said the soldier. He cleared his throat and let his eyes wander lazily out over the surf in the distance. “I have killed people too, senor. It is not something I am proud of, but it is my job. Not always other soldiers or crooks; sometimes innocent people.”
      Jesus Malverde’s gaze turned razor sharp, the haze drifting past his eyes gone on the chill breeze. “Who have you killed?”
      “You know how it is. Sometimes we are supposed to enforce the laws, or help the tax collectors do their job, and the people don’t want to pay. Maybe on another day, they would not fight, they would give up the money they owe.”
      “You have killed people because they resist Porfirio’s taxes?” asked Jesus.
      The soldier shrugged; he sensed a change but was unsure what he said wrong. “I only killed people I was ordered to kill.”
      “If I let you leave here today, would you kill again?”
      “That depends, senor.”
      “It depends on what?”
      “What I am ordered to do,” said the soldiers.
      “Would you kill an old man who refused to pay his taxes?”
      The soldier didn’t answer.
      “Would you kill an old lady hiding her son, a thief?”
      The soldier squirmed, contorting his torso while remining on his knees, “I don’t know.”
      “What you do is wrong,” said Malverde.
      The soldier regained his composure: “Perhaps, but you just shot a man for his money.”
      “I did not mean for him to die. I was only trying to rob him.” Jesus stopped and lost himself in thought. The soldiers sat still as statues and stared at the man with the rifle. “I cannot allow you to kill again,” said Jesus, breaking his silence.
      “You don’t mean to kill us, do you? What good is more killing, more murder?”
      Jesus Malverde pulled a large bowie knife from its sheath on his belt. “No, I don’t intend to kill you. But if I cut off your finger, you can never fire a gun again. The army will send you home and you will never kill again.”

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      The moment Governor Canedo heard about Jesus Malverde’s death he dispatched a unit of his most trusted soldiers to the tiny town where Jesus Malverde was shot down. They were ordered to pack up the body of the outlaw and cart it back to Culiacán, the capital of Sinaloa. Canedo’s daughter was treated like a rescued hostage, her bullet wound bandaged before she was given a seat in a separate carriage. The ex-bandido who murdered Jesus Malverde accompanied them as well, eager to claim his prize from the governor.
      The soldiers were under direct orders from Canedo to proceed directly to Culiacán and not stop in any towns along the way. They were to camp on the road at night and under no circumstances indulge the local population. Their mission was a closely guarded secret, as the governor feared turning Malverde into a martyr.
      Yet somehow word spread, almost as if the people knew who was in the pine box atop the carriage the soldiers were escorting. People lined all along the tamped down, damp roads, camping out in the rain and waiting for the informal funeral procession to pass them by. They stood beside small flickering fires on top of dried oak logs, lit in the hazy drizzle to keep themselves warm. The people did not say anything; they did not cheer or cry or wail or shout out in anger as the soldiers trod down the road between the rows of townsfolk, standing in clusters of three or four, mile after mile after mile. The soldiers marched through the rain with their heads down, unable to look up at the people watching them.
      The traitorous bandido rode a horse all to himself in the center of the procession and shouted at the people along the road, day after day. He cursed at them, but they said nothing in return, only stood and stared like stone statues beside their tiny flames. The soldiers looked at the belligerent bandido wearing the tin policeman’s badge with disdain. They shook their heads and muttered to themselves. Almost to a man the soldiers wished they were invisible, away from the policeman and the commoners lining the road. They wished they were not tasked with the distasteful job of transporting the corpse of a folk hero, even if that hero often left the soldiers and policemen of Sinaloa fearing for their lives.
      Throughout the short, three-day journey, Canedo’s daughter sat quiet and subdued, perched alone atop the rear-most carriage.

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