When, on my return to Ajoya from my first vaccinating trip, Ramona called me into her back room and told me that the federales (federal soldiers) were after me, I did not take her too seriously. In the minds of the villagers, los federales are the 20th century bogey-men, and are out to get everyone. In Spring, when I had left for Chilar, a small troop of soldiers arrived in Ajoya, and immediately word radiated that they had come to take me prisoner. Young Goyo’s father, Remedios, was all set to take off ahead of the soldiers to warn me, but the soldiers withdrew again to their camp in San Ignacio. Then again, toward the end of the rainy season, Agustín Arisqueta, of Bordontita, arrived at El Rancho del Padre to warn me that the soldiers were on their way up river, and that they were going to confiscate my medicines and take me as prisoner to Culiacán, where they would go through all the capsules to see if I was packaging opium to smuggle it back to the United States. But the soldiers never arrived.

Ramona told me that her uncle, Francisco, who has recently become a soldier and is stationed at the cuartél in San Ignacio, had just visited her family in Ajoya. In the-course of conversation, Francisco had let slip the secret that a squadron of soldiers was camped outside Platanar (half-way between San Ignacio and Ajoya) with the intention of stopping my Jeep the next time I came out, and taking off the tires to see if I was smuggling goma (opium paste) inside them. “I just thought I’d better warn you,” said Ramona with a coy smile. I thanked her, and told her not to worry.

The first occasion I had to leave Ajoya for the coast was to drive a man with advanced tuberculosis to the hospital in Mazatlán. We left Ajoya before dawn, and as we passed Platanar, the soldiers, if they were there, must have been asleep. On the way back from Mazatlán that night, however, as I was re-passing Platanar, the black woodland to either side of the rough dirt road suddenly became alive with high-powered flashlights, and a swarm of soldiers, armed with rifles, descended toward my vehicle crying “¡Alto! ¡Alto!” I stopped, and they encircled my Jeep, shining their lights inside and into my eyes.

“What is your name?” demanded one of the soldiers.

“David Werner.” I said. All the soldiers nodded.

“Where are you going?”


“What do you have in the back here?” asked the lead soldier, shining his light on my small, portable refrigerator.

“A refrigerator with vaccines for inoculating the children of the upper villages,” I said. “I just picked them up at the Centro de Salud in San Ignacio.”

“All right,” said the soldier. “You can go on. Have a good trip.”

“Pass a good night,” I said, and drove away.

That was all I heard from the soldiers until several days later when I made a trip into San Ignacio to acquire ice for my next vaccinating trip. The ice truck had not yet arrived from Mazatlán, and I had parked my Jeep in the central plaza and begun to write a letter while I waited, when I looked up to see a small army Jeep racing in my direction. It was full of armed soldiers. The Jeep swung to a stop beside mine, and one of the soldiers called out, “¡Siga!” (Follow!)

I was escorted to the soldiers’ cuartél at the upper end of town, and ordered to park my car. I was marched into the main building, up to the desk of a stout, moody-looking officer, and left standing there with the introducción, “Aquí está.” (Here he is.)

The officer was none other than the teniente (lieutenant) who had been dispatched from México to investigate and put an end to the growing of contraband narcotics in the barrancas. His name was Manuel Corona Trujillo. With scarcely a word, he rose and opened a folder, which he extended toward me. In it was a pressed plant.

“You know what this is, do you not?” he said.

I did not. “Poppy?” I suggested, helpfully.

The lieutenant frowned. “It’s marijuana,” he said with irritation, “And I think you know it.” He looked at me with hard eyes. “I understand you’ve traveled a lot among the ranchos of Rincón de los Sapotitos and Rio Verde,” he said. “Who are your two companions?”

I told him I had many friends, and traveled sometimes with one person, sometimes another, and frequently alone. I could select no special two.

“Very well,” said the lieutenant, “I’ll be a little more specific: Who were the two men who climbed down a rope ladder with you into a ravine to the east of Sapotitos?”

“I’ve never seen such a ladder,” I said.

The lieutenant ignored my reply. “The two men are named Irineo Vidaca and Eligio Ruíz, right?”

“Eligio Ruíz I don’t know,” I said. “And Irineo Vidaca, who is my host in Verano, is nearly eighty years old. He hasn’t ventured as far as the main part of Verano since I’ve been there, much less to Sapotitos. If he tried to climb down a rope ladder he’d likely break his neck. I think you’re mistaken.”

The lieutenant stared at me, a little confused. “You do know Eligio Ruíz!” he insisted.

I shook my head. “Not by the name. It’s possible he came to me for medicines, and I have forgotten. I can check in my cards.”

The lieutenant snorted.

“I take it that you’re suspicious that I’m contrabanding opium or marijuana?” I volunteered.

“Your name is on my list,” confirmed the teniente.

I laughed, and said, “I’m as eager to see the end of drug traffic as you are. I’ve seen the harm addictive drugs can do.”

The lieutenant stared at me dubiously. “What are you doing wandering about the barrancas then? I know you’re giving away medicines. But what’s your real reason?”

I told him the truth, as nearly as I could, and it left him more confused than before. He rubbed his nose. “The people in Ajoya and Bordontita have told me you’ve got pretty good medicines,” he said at last. “I’ve had a miserable cold for more than a month…”

He accompanied me to my Jeep for the medicine, and thanked me gratefully when I gave it to him. Before we bade each other goodbye, he said to me once again, “Are you sure you don’t know Eligio Ruíz?”

Again I said no. As I drove away the teniente stood in the doorway of the cuartel, staring after me in perplexity, while he rubbed the end of his nose.

“I hope the medicine works!” I said to myself.


Following the accusation of the lieutenant in San Ignacio that I was in league with Eligio Ruíz as a contrabandista of opium, I asked around, and discovered that, although I cannot recall ever having met Eligio himself, I know his entire family. I have inoculated his children, and have been treating his wife for anemia. Eligio Ruíz is the closest neighbor of my friend Florinda Alvarado in Sapotitos, and since the death of Eligio’s first wife three years ago, Eligio has been living with Florinda’s daughter, Eulalia, the nineteen year old sister of Manuel and my young friend Pancho. I first met Eligio’s seven children last July when their grandmother, María Robles, brought them to my dispensary in Verano, explaining that they were huérfanos. (In the villages children are called orphans even when only one parent is dead.) Eligio’s children are all quite frail, fragile almost, but bright and very much alive. I gave them clothing, and when school began in Fall, gave them pencils, crayons, and writing pads. Frequently they come to visit me at my dispensary, for I think they sense that I like them.

I also found out that Eligio has been twice arrested for the illegal growing of opium poppy, and that each time his father, who lives somewhere on the coast, has bought him out of jail. One time Eligio’s father, who deplores his son’s involvement in the opium business, was himself apprehended by the state police. They reportedly forced him at gunpoint to hold in his hands a bunch of opium poppies, and then took a photograph to prove that they had “caught him red-handed”. Eligio’s father, of course, paid up rather than be taken to prison, and the police let him go.

As for Eligio Ruíz, some say he is one of the finest men they know, others say one of the wickedest. Who knows?