had been jailed or fit the description of recently found dead. They posted fliers and added a missing-person report to the Coahuila state police’s already burgeoning files. Three relativesall womentried to arrange a meeting with El Borrado in Piedras Negras, but backed out after becoming worried that local police might be protecting him. Ten months later, Puente’s remains were discovered a few miles away from an inland Border Patrol checkpoint on state Highway 57 that undocumented immigrants typically try to hike around. The find brought some closure for his family, but they couldn’t believe that nobody in Puente’s group had helped him, or at least made an anonymous call to say he fell behind and could not keep up. The hardest part for Mireya Martinez, 36, a naturalized U.S. citizen and hospital janitor in Waco, was coming back to the border and viewing her brother’s bones at a funeral home. She asked why the upper front teeth were missing from the skull. Heat and animals were apparently responsible, she recalls being told. Hungry coyotes and wild hogs abound in the area, and the hot sun is unrelenting. “But animals don’t eat teeth,” Martinez said in a recent interview, crying. Human remains and scorched dreams weren’t anything new for Lazarski. He saw plenty during 30 years in the Border Patrol. “Welcome to the sovereign country of Maverick County,” Lazarski says when describing the history of savage death in the borderlands around Eagle Pass. About a week after authorities gathered Puente’s remains from the ranch Lazarski oversees, the same heavy equipment operator discovered the jawbone had been overlooked. He buried it. Lazarski found out and had the operator dig it up, reasoning it might be part of a crime scene. Lazarski says he called the Mexican consulate to report the find, but nobody returned his message. “If they don’t care about their own citizens, then why should I?” Lazarski asks. Months passed, and the jawbone sat on the table at Lazarski’s home, at times unsettling his grown daughter. It nagged at Lazarski, too. The jawbone was mangled and bore marks that might have come from an assault. Maybe it wasn’t heat that killed Puente. In August, a man from Dallas telephoned Lazarski, claiming to be Puente’s brother. He wished to visit and pray at the site where the remains were found. A clay pigeon aficionado known as an excellent shot, Lazarski was cautious about meeting the brother, partly because of his homegrown theory that it wasn’t exposure to heat that killed Puente. Before going into the brush with a stranger under strange circumstances, Lazarski agreed to meet the man in a public place. He recommended the sun-baked Border Caf. Half gas station, half restaurant, it is the local parliament for truckers and large, old men in denim and cowboy hats. Puente’s oldest brother Jairo has come a long way since he left Nieves in the ’80s. He pulled up to the Border Caf in an enormous red, new model Ford F-250 pickup. Jairo, about 5 feet 10 inches tall, thick in the chest and belly, extended a friendly hand. He had a grasp of English, but tended to ramble. Jairo fueled up the truck while two women, including his girlfriend Viki, entered the caf and waited in awkward silence. Waitresses rolled silverware at a nearby table. When Jairo sat down, Lazarski asked him for identification. Jairo handed over a permanent resident ID card and explained that he buys scrap seat stuffing in Mexican border towns and resells it to carpet padding manufacturers in Dallas. “My mom gave me a small cross,” Jairo said, which he wanted to post as a marker in the brush where his brother died. He talked about the family Cristobal left behind and the life he led back in Nieves. As if it were just regular, you-don’t-say-coffee talk, Lazarski suggested that somebody harmed Puente. “You think somebody killed him?” Jairo asked. “You’ll see,” Lazarski said. Out in the parking lot, Lazarski dug around in the toolbox of his white pickup truck, then checked a bag behind the seat and found what he was looking for. He asked Jairo to come to the other side of the truck for a little privacy, and then the men were looking at a mandible, a human jawbone. Lazarski pointed to a notch where the jaw attaches to the skull like a hinge; it was busted. Several teeth were gone; three were broken in half. “Somebody hit him with a goddamn baseball bat or a fence post,” Lazarski said. Heading out of town on state Highway 57, Lazarski peered into his rearview mirror at Jairo in the red truck. One of the women stayed behind, apparently because she did not have documents to clear the Border Patrol checkpoint. “Looks like the old boy has a pretty good business,” Lazarski said. “He wasn’t just a poor wetback. The family has moneytortilleria … business in Dallas. Most people walking through the brush are poor as hell.” Pulling off the highway, the two-truck caravan went down a grassy path bordering an endless fence line. Jairo drove with the jawbone resting on the center console of his truck cab, next to a white metal cross with the name “Cristobal A. Puente Gallardo” written across it in black. Noticing a large stock tank, he ruled out the idea that his brother had run out of water, though drinking from such sources in desperation sometimes makes passing immigrants sick. “They killed my brother,” he said, “for money or something.” Lazarski stopped about 2 miles in. The grass was tall, the sun high, and it was hot. Almost forgetting the cross, the group ducked under a taut, barbed-wire fence and walked past cacti and more brush. Lazarski, amazed by the growth from recent rains, picked a blue flower and gave it to Jairo’s girlfriend. 16 THE TEXAS OBSERVER OCTOBER 5, 2007
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