On Monday, Stew and I paid a visit to the construction site and noticed that the velador, or watchman, was missing, and so were the blankets on his bed and the few articles that personalized his corner of the tar-paper storage shack where he occasionally spent the night with his wife and four-month-old baby Maria.
The bucket of food that Stew and I keep refilling to feed Luis' entourage of three puppies, two chubby adult mutts and a young skeletal Doberman that had attached himself to his circus parade about a month ago, also was gone.
Instead we found a new velador, a round-faced guy in his 20s who'd brought along his own two tiny puppies and a frightened bitch to nurse them. He prefers sleeping in his 30-some-year-old Pontiac Bonneville jalopy rather than in the storage shed. Nice enough guy, who offered to bring us cacti from his own rancho when he saw us planting some agaves. How much was he charging, I asked. "Just whatever you want to give me señor," he said.
He didn't know why the last velador had disappeared, but quickly reassured us about his own experience in the business as if spending the night in a shack, or in an old car, required some training or apprenticeship.
So we asked Martín, the maestro, or construction foreman, what had happened with Luis. The explanation was vague, at best, but stone-faced Martín has never been very chatty anyway. There was some equipment missing--Martín wouldn't say what exactly--and the logical person to blame was the velador since his job was to watch the site.
Stew asked the architect and the answer was equally fuzzy. Something had turned up missing, and Luis was the only one of about 20 workers who didn't come up with a persuasive alibi. Someone needed to be made an example of, the architect explained, to avert any more thievery.
Besides, he added, Luis wasn't at the site a couple of times. Stew and I always found Luis and his gang on duty, though often he seemed eager to take off for home when we told him we were going to hang around for a couple of hours.
So Luis got fired. A rough and quick kind of construction site justice this is, particularly when a young guy with a wife, a four-month-old baby and a pack of five or six mangy dogs are at the receiving end.
Stew feebly protested to the architect that we liked Luis, had taken pictures of him and his family and bought some gifts for the baby. He seemed like an alright guy. We had even talked to him about staying on after the house was finished, to work as a gardener or "hombre mil usos" or "thousand-use man."
We had asked Luis to water our young trees a couple of times and he had fulfilled his mission with gusto. In fact, I had to tell that he didn't have to drown them every day.
The architect didn't appear moved by Stew's story. "If you want him back, you can have him."
Problem is, we didn't even know where exactly Luis and his family lived, though one Sunday we saw him with his wife and baby waiting for a bus by the entrance of a dirt-poor wreck of a town nearby called Sosnavar.
At this point we didn't know if we'd ever see Luis and his tribe again. Should we look for him in Sosnavar? Is Maria OK? How about that ghostly Doberman puppy we were trying to fatten up? Is she still alive? Is Luis really a thief?
Part of me felt we should try to find him, and least to ask him for his side of the story. Bring more toys for Maria. Maybe we could adopt the Doberman, who according to Luis was probably kicked out by her owners because she wasn't "brava" or fierce enough. Indeed all the Doberman seemed to be able to do was lick you and merrily wiggle her bony rear end with the brutally chopped-off tail.
Or perhaps we should just forget about it. Often life for man or animals can be so unfair and miserable around here that you just begin to accept it on its own terms.
On Friday morning, as we finished up planting more agaves, Luis showed up at the construction site. He said he needed work, that he had been looking all week since he had gotten fired and hadn't found anything. He was wearing a ragged tank top and looked as scrawny as his bedraggled puppies.
I asked him for his version of what happened and his story was as vague, and unconvincing, as all the others. Luis said he didn't know why he had gotten fired, that whatever equipment was missing had been missing for a couple of months.
His wife and girl were fine, and so were the skinny dogs. He grinned nervously and seemed evasive.
The conversation started breaking up and turning awkward and I finally gave him $200 pesos and asked him to water all the trees. That's about $15 dollars. I was going to offer him more but Stew cut in and said that was more than enough. I finally told Luis we'd bring more food for the dogs on Saturday and think about hiring him to do some gardening.
I expected him to grab the wheelbarrow, load up the plastic jugs and start watering the trees right away, in a grateful burst of energy. Instead he casually visited with some of his friends in the construction crew, and finally said he'd come back on Saturday, at around 3 p.m., to do the watering.
If the gate was locked, Luis asked, was it alright if he jumped the fence? I quickly said no, that he should check with the new velador, who'd let him in. Later on I spoke to the maestro and told him to be sure the velador was around on Saturday when Luis came to water the trees.
Suddenly I don't trust this guy, and suspect he indeed stole something.
The architect showed up later and said the missing equipment was an electric tile cutter that was stored under the velador's bed.
I said I felt bad about Luis getting fired, about his wife and baby, but the architect seemed unmoved. His attitude, which had seemed callous before, now seemed sensible and prudent, coming from a guy who's worked with Mexican construction crews for about 15 years.
This is all turning to be too bad for everyone involved--wife, baby and starving animals included.