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The Mexican Moonshine War

Miscommunication can be awkward.

Over the border, it can be fatal.

The Mexican Moonshine War by Bill Baber

I stared at Gaff, not sure I had heard him correctly.  "Alverez wants us to kill a woman? I'll  be damned."

He nodded at me without looking, then poured more bourbon as if that would make me feel differently about the situation.

I picked up my glass and walked across the room, looking out the window at a quiet Tucson Sunday afternoon. “Not sure how I feel about that.”

“You know Alverez, we don’t do it and he’ll send someone after us,” Gaff replied.

“Yeah? Well, I’m getting tired of that miserable bastard thinking we’re slaves of some sort. Killing a woman in the states don’t carry any risk for him. We get caught, we’re the ones that’ll fry like bacon. And let me make sure I understand this right; the cheap prick is only offering us half of what he gives us for killing a man? Fuck him.”

“Well, the way I see it," Gaff said, “is we kill her or we kill him. There’s no immediate return if we take him out.” He filled his own glass. “On top of that, he tried to convince me there’s less danger involved takin’ out a filly. But this one’s a wildcat. We fuck up and we might be dead one way or the other."

“Why does he want her dead?”

“Mexican Moonshine.”

“What the hell is that?”

“Bacanora,” Gaff said. “It’s like tequila. But you can only call it tequila if it’s made in Jalisco from agave grown there. Bacanora is made with agave from Sonora. It’s illegal in Mexico but there’s a huge demand for it up here because of all the people that have migrated from Sonora.”

“What the hell has that got to do with a woman?”

“Elvera Marquez’s family down there has been making it for years. Her husband was the main supplier up here; they produced a good product and had a nice business. Alverez wanted a piece and they turned him down. So, he started mass producing the stuff and selling it cheaper. Busted up a couple of their stills and started a war. Her family are all vaqueros from up in the mountains where they make the stuff and Alverez’s men got their ass kicked going against a bunch of cowboys. But the woman’s husband was killed and she’s been raising hell with him on both sides of the border ever since.”

We drank more bourbon. Seemed like the only sensible thing to do. “I still don’t like it,” I muttered.


We were on the road early the next morning. An hour southwest of Tucson, the sun peaked over the Chiricahuas. Our destination was near Naco, a border town where Elvera Marquez was supposed to be bringing a shipment of hooch across the border.

Gaff and me hadn’t spoken more than a few words all morning. He chain smoked and I looked without interest at the drab desert landscape. A couple of miles north of Naco, Gaff turned onto a dirt road leading to a chain of hills that stretched like knuckles across the border.

An hour later, wisps of dust could be seen coming out of the hills. Using his binoculars, Gaff spotted two pickup trucks waiting in the shade of a large mesquite tree a mile or so ahead of us. “She’s there with three amigos. We best move before those mules get here.”

“I still don’t like this Gaff, not a goddamn bit.”

Just then, a volley of shots sounded.

“Holy shit!” Gaff exclaimed. “There’s law closing in on this side and Federales across the border.”

From the dust, we could tell the mule train had turned around and was high tailing it back into the hills. A moment later, the two pickups raced by us with the feds in pursuit.  

Half an hour later, we slowly proceeded back the way we had come. State troopers had blocked the road at the highway and Elvera and her muchachos had made a stand. It hadn’t ended well for them. The four bodies were laid out just off the road. Half of Elvera Marquez’s head was gone.

We were questioned by the troopers. Gaff told them we had planned on doing some target practice. The cop in charge told us to get the hell out of there.

The next day we met Alverez at La Roca, a restaurant built into a hillside on Nogales’s east end. Our table was flanked by his body guards.

“You are here to collect a bounty?” He asked. “My understanding is that she was killed by American lawmen, not by you.”

“That’s not how it happened,” Gaff told him. “We had no idea the road would be blocked. When they tried to run we gunned them down and got the hell out of there before the state cops could figure it out.”

I wasn’t sure Alverez was buying it, but he smiled and ordered a round of the restaurant’s best tequila.

“Why argue, amigos? Five thousand is a cheap price to pay; I will sell that much Bacanora next week.”

He raised his glass and toasted, “Salud.” As we drank, I silently toasted thanks that I hadn’t taken part in killing a woman. My dislike for Alverez deepened and I wished Elvera Marquez had won her war with him. But he was the most powerful man in northern Mexico and her army just wasn’t big enough.

A few days later, there was a knock on the door of our hotel room. When I answered, one of Alverez’s men handed me an unlabeled bottle that contained clear liquid. “A gift from Señor Alverez,” was all he said before turning away. 

“What is it? “ I asked Gaff.

He smiled. “Bacanora.”

He poured us both a shot. It tasted like lighter fluid.

“We almost killed a woman over this shit? Pour me some bourbon, would ya?” I said

He did. We had never been asked to kill a woman over bourbon.

BILL BABER’S crime fiction and poetry have appeared widely online and in numerous anthologies including Betrayed from Authors on the Air Press. His writing has earned Derringer Prize and best of the Net consideration. A book of his poetry, Where the Wind Comes to Play was published by Berberis Press in 2011. He lives in Tucson with his wife and a spoiled dog and has been known to cross the border for a cold beer. He is working on his first novel.