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Ra-a-a-a-ka. Ra-a-a-a-ka. Short bursts, as before, with the 7.62 shells tinkling as they hit the floor, the smoke swirling in the darkness making Teresa's throat itch; blasts from Pote's AK-47, blasts from the SIG-Sauer she holds with both hands- Short bursts, as before, with the 7.62 shells tinkling as they hit the floor, the smoke swirling in the darkness making Teresa's throat itch; blasts from Pote's AK-47, blasts from the SIG-Sauer she holds with both hands-boom, boom, boom, her mouth open so the noise doesn't burst her eardrums-blasts shooting toward the blasts that come from the stairs; the buzz of the bullets passing close by- her mouth open so the noise doesn't burst her eardrums-blasts shooting toward the blasts that come from the stairs; the buzz of the bullets passing close by-ziannng, ziannng- and dull, sinister chuffs against the plaster of the walls and the wood of the doors; the clink and crash of breaking glass when the windows on the other side of the hall are hit. The carriage of her pistol locks to the rear, and dull, sinister chuffs against the plaster of the walls and the wood of the doors; the clink and crash of breaking glass when the windows on the other side of the hall are hit. The carriage of her pistol locks to the rear, click, click, click, click, with no more rounds to shoot, and Teresa is confused for a second, until she realizes what's happened. with no more rounds to shoot, and Teresa is confused for a second, until she realizes what's happened.

She pushes the button to release the empty clip and clicks in another, the one that was in the front pocket of her jeans, and when she frees the carriage it chambers another round. She aims to shoot but waits, because Pote has half his body in the hall and another grenade is rolling toward the stairs, and this time the blast is huge in the darkness, thunderous, truly deafening- FMMMM. Cabrones! FMMMM. Cabrones! When Pote stands up and runs hunched over down to the hole, the AK-47 ready, Teresa stands up too and runs beside him, and they arrive at the destroyed railing at the same time. When they peer over, ready to wipe out anybody that might still be standing, the muzzle flashes from their guns reveal at least two bodies lying in the rubble of the stairway. When Pote stands up and runs hunched over down to the hole, the AK-47 ready, Teresa stands up too and runs beside him, and they arrive at the destroyed railing at the same time. When they peer over, ready to wipe out anybody that might still be standing, the muzzle flashes from their guns reveal at least two bodies lying in the rubble of the stairway.

Chingale. Her lungs hurt from the gunpowder and smoke. She muffles her coughing the best she can. She doesn't know how much time has passed. She is very thirsty. She is not afraid. Her lungs hurt from the gunpowder and smoke. She muffles her coughing the best she can. She doesn't know how much time has passed. She is very thirsty. She is not afraid.

How much ammo, patrona7" patrona7" "Not much." "Here you go." "Not much." "Here you go."

In the darkness, she catches two of the full clips Pote Galvez tosses to her, but misses the third. She gropes along the floor for it, then sticks it in one of her back pockets.



"Isn't anybody going to help us, mi dona7." mi dona7."

"Get real."

"The guachos guachos are outside.... The colonel seemed like a decent man." "His jurisdiction ends at the wall. We're going to have to make it out there." are outside.... The colonel seemed like a decent man." "His jurisdiction ends at the wall. We're going to have to make it out there."

"No way. Too far." "Yeah. Too far."

Creaking and footsteps. She grips the pistol and aims into the shadows, clenching her teeth. Maybe this is it, she thinks. But nobody comes up. Chale. Chale. False alarm. False alarm.

Suddenly they're there, and she hasn't heard them come up. This time the grenade rolling along the floor is aimed at the two of them, and Pote Galvez has just enough time to see it. Teresa rolls inside, covering her head with her hands, and the explosion lights up the door and hallway like day. Deafened, she takes a few seconds to register that the distant murmur is the sound of the furious bursts of gunfire that Pote Galvez is getting off. I ought to do something, too, she thinks. She gets up, staggering from the shock of the blast, grips the pistol, walks on her knees to the door, puts one hand on the frame for support, stands, steps outside, and starts firing blindly-boom, boom, boom-blasts of gunfire from both sides, the noise growing louder and louder, closer and closer, and all at once she sees black shadows rushing toward her, flashes of orange and blue, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, and bullets zing and bullets zing past, ziannnng, ziannnng, and there are chuffs on the walls everywhere, even behind her, to one side, under her left arm, and Pote Galvez'AK-47 joins in- and there are chuffs on the walls everywhere, even behind her, to one side, under her left arm, and Pote Galvez'AK-47 joins in-ra-a-a-a-ka, ra-a-a-a-a-ka-this time not short bursts but long, endless ones. Cabrones! Cabrones! she hears him scream, she hears him scream, cabrones! cabrones! and she realizes that something is going wrong, maybe he's been hit, or maybe she has, maybe she herself is dying right now and doesn't know it. But her right hand keeps squeezing the trigger, and she realizes that something is going wrong, maybe he's been hit, or maybe she has, maybe she herself is dying right now and doesn't know it. But her right hand keeps squeezing the trigger, boom, boom, boom, boom, and she thinks, and she thinks, If I'm shooting I must be alive. If I'm shooting I must be alive. I shoot, therefore I am. I shoot, therefore I am.

Her back against the wall, Teresa rams her last clip into the SIG-Sauer. She has checked herself all over and is amazed not to find a scratch. The sound of rain outside, in the garden. From time to time she hears Pote Galvez groaning through his teeth.

Are you wounded, Pinto?"

. "I fucked up real bad, patrona patrona. I took some lead."

"Does it hurt?"

"Hurts like hell. Why would I tell you no if the answer's yes?"

Pinto." "Si, senora." "Si, senora."

"Staying here won't cut it. I don't want them to hunt us down when we're out of ammunition, like rabbits." "Say the word."

The porch, she decides. There's an overhanging roof with shrubbery underneath, at the other end of the hall. The window above it is no problem, because by now there won't be a pane of glass left. If they can make it there, they can jump down and then cut their way through, or try to, and make it to the entrance gate or the wall beside the street. The rain can save their lives as well as it can slow them down. And the soldiers can fire inside, too, she thinks, although that's another risk. There are reporters outside, and people watching. Not as easy as at home. And don Epifanio Vargas can buy a lot of people, although no one can buy everybody.

Can you move, Pinto?" "Yes, patrona. patrona. I can." "The idea is the hall window, and then jump." "The idea is whatever you say." I can." "The idea is the hall window, and then jump." "The idea is whatever you say."

This has happened before, Teresa thinks. Something similar, and Pote Galvez was there that time too. "Pinto." "Sefwra." "Sefwra."

"How many grenades are left?" "One."

"Well, go for it."

The grenade is still rolling when they take off running down the hall, and the blast goes off just as they reach the window. Hearing the stutter of Pote's AK-47 behind her, Teresa puts one leg and then the other through the window, being careful not to cut herself on the splinters of glass, but when she puts her left hand down for support, she cuts herself. She feels the thick warm liquid run down the palm of her hand as she swings herself out, and the rain hitting her face. The tiles of the overhang creak under her feet. She sticks the pistol into her waistband before she drops, and she slides along the wet surface, braking at the downspout. Then, after hanging her feet over the edge, she kicks off and drops.

She splashes through the mud, the pistol once more in her hand. Pote Galvez lands beside her. A thump. A groan of pain. "Run, Pinto. Toward the wall."

There's no time. From the house, the cone of light from a flashlight is seeking them out, and the shooting starts again. This time the slugs make a dull sucking sound when they hit mud, a splash when they hit water. Teresa lifts the SIG-Sauer. I hope all this shit doesn't jam it, she thinks. She shoots single rounds, carefully, not losing her head, in an arc, and then throws herself facedown in the mud. Then she realizes that Pote Galvez is not firing. She turns to look at him, and in the distant light from the street sees him sprawled against a porch column.

"I'm sorry, patrona," patrona," she hears him whisper. "... This time they fucked me good." she hears him whisper. "... This time they fucked me good."

"Where?"

"In the gut... I don't know whether it's blood or rain, but there's a lot of it, whatever it is."

Teresa bites her muddy lower lip. She looks at the lights on the other side of the gate, the streetlamps that silhouette the palms and mango trees. It will be tough, she sees, to do it herself.

"Your gun?"

"Right there ... between us. I put in a double clip, full, but it slipped out of my hands when I got shot."

Teresa lifts her head to see. The AK-47 is on the porch steps. A burst of gunfire from the house forces her to duck.

"I can't reach it."

"Well, I'm truly sorry."

She looks toward the street. There is a crowd of people on the other side of the gate. Police sirens are wailing and a voice is yelling through a megaphone, but she can't tell what it's saying. In the trees, to the left, she hears splashing. Footsteps. Maybe a shadow. Somebody trying to get around on the other side of them. I hope those cabrones cabrones don't have night-vision goggles, she thinks. don't have night-vision goggles, she thinks.

"I need the AK-47."

It takes Pote Galvez a moment to respond. As if he were thinking about it. "I can't shoot anymore, patrona," patrona," he finally says. "I don't have the strength ... but I can try to push it to you." he finally says. "I don't have the strength ... but I can try to push it to you."

"Get real, Pinto. They'll kill you if you so much as stick your nose out."

"Fuck 'em. When it's over it's over."

Another shadow splashing around in the trees. Time's running out, Teresa realizes. Two minutes more, and the only way out won't go anywhere anymore. "Pote."

A silence. She has never called him by his name. "Senora." "Senora."

"Pass me the pinche pinche gun." gun."

Another silence. Raindrops pitter in the puddles and on the leaves of the trees. Then, in the background, the muffled voice of the bodyguard: "It was an honor knowing you, patrona." "Lo mismo te digo." patrona." "Lo mismo te digo." Same here, Pote. Same here, Pote.

Este es el corrido del caballo bianco, Teresa hears Potemkin Galvez sing softly. And with those words in her ears, breathing great lungfuls of air in fury and desperation, she grips the SIG-Sauer, half stands, and begins to shoot toward the house to cover her man. Then the night bursts forth in gunfire again, and slugs rip into the porch and the tree trunks. And silhouetted against all that she sees the chunky mass of the bodyguard push itself up and limp toward her, heartbreakingly, anguishingly slow, while bullets come at him from every direction, one after another hitting his body, ripping it to pieces like a doll whose joints are being torn apart, until he falls to his knees next to the AK-47. And it is a dead man who, with the last strength of his body, lifts the weapon by the barrel and tosses it away from himself, blindly, in the approximate direction of Teresa, before he rolls down the steps and falls on his face into the mud. Teresa hears Potemkin Galvez sing softly. And with those words in her ears, breathing great lungfuls of air in fury and desperation, she grips the SIG-Sauer, half stands, and begins to shoot toward the house to cover her man. Then the night bursts forth in gunfire again, and slugs rip into the porch and the tree trunks. And silhouetted against all that she sees the chunky mass of the bodyguard push itself up and limp toward her, heartbreakingly, anguishingly slow, while bullets come at him from every direction, one after another hitting his body, ripping it to pieces like a doll whose joints are being torn apart, until he falls to his knees next to the AK-47. And it is a dead man who, with the last strength of his body, lifts the weapon by the barrel and tosses it away from himself, blindly, in the approximate direction of Teresa, before he rolls down the steps and falls on his face into the mud.

Then she screams: Hijos de toda su puta madre! Hijos de toda su puta madre! ripping that last howl up from her belly, emptying the pistol's last shells into the house. Then she throws it to the ground, grabs the AK-47, and takes off running, her feet sinking into the mud, toward the trees to the left, where she saw the shadows before, with the low branches and shrubbery lashing her face, blinding her with splashes of water and rain. ripping that last howl up from her belly, emptying the pistol's last shells into the house. Then she throws it to the ground, grabs the AK-47, and takes off running, her feet sinking into the mud, toward the trees to the left, where she saw the shadows before, with the low branches and shrubbery lashing her face, blinding her with splashes of water and rain.

A shadow better defined than others-the AK-47 to her cheek, a short burst of fire that makes the gun hit her chin as it recoils, cutting her. Gunshots behind her and to the side, the gate and wall closer than before, figures in the lighted street, the megaphone still roaring incomprehensibly. The shadow isn't there anymore, and as she runs hunched over, with the AK-47 hot in her hands, Teresa sees a hulking mass. It moves, so without stopping she lifts the gun, turns the barrel, pulls the trigger, and shoots as she passes. I didn't hit it, she thinks when the blast fades away, crouching as much as she can. I don't think I hit it. More gunshots behind her and ziannnng ziannnng ziannnng ziannnng near her head, like lead mosquitoes. She turns and pulls the trigger again, and the AK-47 jumps in her hands with its near her head, like lead mosquitoes. She turns and pulls the trigger again, and the AK-47 jumps in her hands with its pinche pinche recoil. The flash of her own shots blinds her as she moves away, just as somebody sends a burst of fire where she'd been a second earlier. recoil. The flash of her own shots blinds her as she moves away, just as somebody sends a burst of fire where she'd been a second earlier. Fuck yon, cabron. Fuck yon, cabron. Another shadow in front of her. The sound of footsteps running after her, behind her. The shadow and Teresa fire at each other at point-blank range, so close that she sees a face in the flash of the gunshots: a moustache, eyes wide open, a white mouth. She almost pushes him over with the gun barrel when she runs past, as he falls to his knees among the shrubbery. Another shadow in front of her. The sound of footsteps running after her, behind her. The shadow and Teresa fire at each other at point-blank range, so close that she sees a face in the flash of the gunshots: a moustache, eyes wide open, a white mouth. She almost pushes him over with the gun barrel when she runs past, as he falls to his knees among the shrubbery. Ziannnng. Ziannnng. More bullets fly past, she trips, rolls along the ground. The AK-47 goes More bullets fly past, she trips, rolls along the ground. The AK-47 goes click, click. click, click. Teresa rolls over onto her back in the mud and creeps along like that, the rain running down her face, as she pushes the lever, pulls the long double-curved clip out, and turns it around, praying that there's not too much mud in the mechanism. The weapon is heavy on her stomach. The last thirty rounds, she says to herself, sucking on those showing at the top of the clip, to clean them. She pushes the clip in. Teresa rolls over onto her back in the mud and creeps along like that, the rain running down her face, as she pushes the lever, pulls the long double-curved clip out, and turns it around, praying that there's not too much mud in the mechanism. The weapon is heavy on her stomach. The last thirty rounds, she says to herself, sucking on those showing at the top of the clip, to clean them. She pushes the clip in. Click. Click. She pulls back hard on the carriage and lets it go. She pulls back hard on the carriage and lets it go. Click, click. Click, click. Then, from the nearby gate, comes the admiring voice of a soldier or a cop: Then, from the nearby gate, comes the admiring voice of a soldier or a cop: "Orale, mi narca!... Show 'em how a Sinaloa girl dies!" Show 'em how a Sinaloa girl dies!"

Teresa looks toward the gate, bewildered. Unsure whether to curse or laugh. Nobody is shooting now. She gets to her knees and then stands. She spits out bitter mud that tastes like metal and gunpowder. She runs through the trees, zigzagging, but her splashing makes too much noise. More gunfire behind her. She thinks she sees other shadows slipping along next to the wall, but she's not sure. She fires off a short burst to the right and another to the left, Hijos de puta, Hijos de puta, she mutters, runs five or six yards more and crouches down again. The rain turns to steam when it hits the hot barrel of the gun. Now she is close enough to the gate and the wall to see that the gate is open. she mutters, runs five or six yards more and crouches down again. The rain turns to steam when it hits the hot barrel of the gun. Now she is close enough to the gate and the wall to see that the gate is open.

She can see people out there, lying in the street, crouching behind cars, and can hear the words being repeated through the megaphone: "Come this way, Senora Mendoza.... We're from the Ninth District.... We will protect you...."

You could protect me a little more over this way, she thinks. Because I've still got twenty yards to go, and they're the longest twenty yards of my life. Certain that she will never be able to cover that distance, she lies down in the rain and says good-bye, one by one, to the ghosts that have been by her side for so many years. See you there, guys. Fucking pinche pinche Sinaloa, she says- one last parting word. Sinaloa, she says- one last parting word.

Another burst of gunfire to her right, and one to her left. Then she grits her teeth and takes off, stumbling in the mud. So tired she falls, or almost does, but then suddenly nobody is shooting. She stops abruptly, surprised, turns around, and sees the dark garden and the back of the house in shadow.

The rain is pelting the ground at her feet as she walks slowly through the gate, still carrying the AK-47, toward the people looking in from outside, guachos guachos in ponchos gleaming with the rain, Federales in street clothes and uniforms, cars with red and blue lights, television cameras, people lying on the sidewalks, in the rain. Flashbulbs. in ponchos gleaming with the rain, Federales in street clothes and uniforms, cars with red and blue lights, television cameras, people lying on the sidewalks, in the rain. Flashbulbs.

"Put down the weapon, senora."

She looks into the spotlights that are blinding her, confused. She's unable to understand what the voices are saying. Finally she raises the AK-47 slightly, regarding it as though she'd forgotten she was holding it. It's heavy. Really fucking heavy. So she drops it and starts walking again.

Hijole, she says to herself as she passes through the gate. I am so fucking tired. I hope some she says to herself as she passes through the gate. I am so fucking tired. I hope some pinche hijo de puta pinche hijo de puta has a cigarette. has a cigarette.

Afterword.

At eight that morning, Teresa Mendoza was driven to the attorney general's office in the Ministry of Justice building, with military vehicles and soldiers in combat gear cutting off all other traffic to Calle Rosales. The convoy roared up with sirens screaming, lights flashing in the rain. Armed men in gray Federales uniforms and green combat fatigues stood guard on the roofs of neighboring buildings, and barriers were set up on Morelos and Rubi streets; the historic old section of the city looked like a city under siege.

From the gate of the law school, where a space for journalists had been cordoned off, we saw her get out of the armored Suburban with blacked-out windows and walk under the arch toward the neocolonial patio with wrought-iron lampposts and stone columns. I was with Julio Bernal and Elmer Mendoza, and we would get only a glimpse of her, lit by photographers' flashbulbs, in her short walk from the Suburban to the arch, sur rounded as she was by agents and soldiers, and protected from the rain by an umbrella. Serious, elegant, dressed in black, with a dark raincoat, a black leather purse, and a bandaged hand. Her hair combed back with a part down the middle, gathered into a chignon at the nape of her neck, two silver earrings.

"There goes a girl with balls," Elmer said.

She spent an hour and fifty minutes inside, sitting before a commission consisting of the attorney general of Sinaloa, the commander of the Ninth Military District, an assistant federal attorney general who had come in from the Distrito Federal, a local representative to the House of Deputies, a federal representative, a senator, and a notary acting as secretary. And perhaps, as she took her seat and answered their questions, she could read on the table the headline from one of that morning's Culiacan newspapers: "Battle in Chapultepec: Four Federales Killed and Three Wounded Defending Witness-Gunman Also Killed." And another, more sensational: "Narca Slips Through."

Later I was told that the members of the commission, impressed, treated her from the first moment with extreme deference, and that the general commander of the Ninth District apologized for the security lapses, and that Teresa Mendoza listened and then inclined her head a little. And when she concluded her testimony and everyone stood up and she said, Thank you, gentlemen, and walked to the door, the political career of don Epifanio Vargas had been ruined forever.

We saw her reappear outside. She walked under the arch and came out toward the street, surrounded by bodyguards and soldiers, photographers' flashbulbs popping, while the Suburban's engine started and the car rolled slowly forward to meet her. Then I saw her stop and look around, as though she was searching for somebody in the crowd. A face, or a memory. Then she did something strange: she put a hand in her purse, rummaged inside, and took something out, a piece of paper or a photograph, and looked at it for a few seconds. We were too far away, so I pushed forward through the reporters, trying to get a better view, until a soldier stopped me. It might, I thought, have been the old half-snapshot I'd seen her holding during my visit to the house in Colonia Chapultepec. But from that distance, I just couldn't tell.

Then she tore it up. Whichever it was, piece of paper or photograph, I watched her tear it into tiny pieces before letting them fall to the wet ground. Then the Suburban drove up between us, and that was the last time I ever saw her.

That evening, Julio and Elmer took me to La Ballena, Guero Davila's favorite cantina, and we ordered three Pacificos and listened to Los Tigres del Norte sing "Carne Quemada"-"Burned Flesh"-on the jukebox. We drank in silence, looking at other silent faces around us.

I later learned that Epifanio Vargas lost his political position shortly thereafter. He spent time in the Almoloya prison while his extradition to the United States was being processed-an extradition which, after a long and scandalous review, the attorney general denied.

As for the other characters in this story, they each went their own way. Tomas Pestana, the mayor of Marbella, is still leading the city into the future. Former commissioner Nino Juarez is still head of security for a chain of department stores, now part of a powerful multinational corporation. Attorney Eddie Alvarez has gone into politics in Gibraltar, where a brother-in-law of his is the minister of labor and economy. And I was able to interview Oleg Yasikov while the Russian was serving a short sentence at Alcala-Meco for a murky affair involving Ukrainian immigrants and arms trafficking. He was a surprisingly pleasant fellow, and he spoke about his old friend with great affection and almost no inhibitions; he even told me some things of interest that I was able to fit into this story at the last minute.

I have never been able to learn what happened to Teresa Mendoza. There are those who say that she changed her face and identity and now lives in the United States. Florida, they say. Or California. Others claim that she went back to Europe, with her daughter, or son, if she had the baby. They mention Paris, Mallorca, Tuscany, but the fact is, nobody knows anything.

As for me, that last day as I sat before my bottle of beer at La Ballena, in Culiacan, listening to songs on the jukebox with a bunch of moustached, silent Sinaloans, I was sorry I lacked the talent to sum it all up in three minutes of words and music. Mine, for good or ill, was going to be a corrido on paper, more than four hundred pages of it.

You do what you can with what you've got. But I was sure that somewhere near there, somebody was already composing the song that would soon be playing in Sinaloa and all of Mexico, sung by Los Tigres, or Los Tucanes, or some other legendary group. A song those tough-looking individuals with big moustaches, plaid shirts, baseball caps, and blue jeans who surrounded Julio, Elmer, and me in the same cantina-maybe at the same table-where Guero Davila had sat would listen to, their faces stony, and each with a Pacifico in his hand, nodding in silence. The story of the Queen of the South. The corrido to Teresa Mendoza.

La Navata, Spain, May 2002

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