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The moon hangs over Ch�vez too. He can open the next Tecate and squeeze the lime around its rim and swivel his eyes at the skirts and throw back his head to sing with the best of men, but he does it all the way he docs it in the ring: a controlled discharge of life, checked before it staggers over the edge. Somebody else can pick the fight with the idiot slurring insults at the next table. Somebody else can come into the ring with a roll of fat hanging over his waistband. In 1986 Ch�vez gasped past Rocky Lockridge to retain his WBC super featherweight title, and shortly afterward he met a Culiac�n high school track coach named Daniel Castro. Ever since, in addition to his three-to six-mile morning runs, Ch�vez has done timed interval workouts on a track—perhaps 10 100-meter sprints, five 400s, five 800s or five 1,000s a day. Six weeks before each major fight he goes into the mountains outside Mexico City, sweats out all the beer and runs through the pine trees at an altitude nearly two miles above sea level, so that when he descends to a fight site, he is drinking oxygen as if it were Tecate. Sometimes he shatters boxing ritual by running two or three miles on the morning of a fight.
He has a sense of duty, a governing purpose for his life. The people ask, One-hundred-and-oh? Is that his governing purpose now? If there's a beer in his fist and he's in the mood to talk, he'll admit it: He believes he can reach that fat, round number, and then retire within the next few years. But stubbornly he adds that this is not his true motivation; over and over he repeats the same seven words that interviewers keep wanting to sweep past, that his reason to continue is the same as his reason to begin, "para asegurar la seguridad de mi familia [to assure the security of my family]." He might scrape the paint off the bottom of all 19 cars on the two massive speed bumps he has had poured a few yards apart in front of his house, but Ch�vez is going to assure the security of his family.
You want to know what kind of crazy Ch�vez is? Drain a couple beers and slam a car into his house, as a teenager did early one morning three years ago, and then you will know. "See this crack in the stucco in the corner of Julio's house?" asks Juan Antonio Valenzuela, Ch�vez's friend since school days, as he runs his finger across it. When Ch�vez heard the collision, he bolted from a dead sleep and raced downstairs, his head turning wildly to make sure his children were inside the house. Then he exploded out the door and into the teenager's face, a madness in his eyes that we never see in the ring. "If you kill my kid," he screamed, "I kill you!" The teenager blinked at him groggily. How could he know that he had just awakened a ghost, the spirit of the dead little brother—killed by a young drunk in a barreling car 11 years earlier—to whom Ch�vez prayed during his most desperate moments in the ring? How could he know that Julio had felt responsible when Omar, 4, was struck down...no, not because Julio had been at the scene, not because Julio could have done a thing about it, but only because God had given him an assignment in life, to assure the security of his family, and somehow he had failed.
Rat-tat-tat-tat.... SOLDIER SHOT BY DRUG DEALERS.... Rat-tat-tat-tat.... YOUTH MURDERED DURING ARGUMENT OVER CARDS.... Rat-tat-tat-tat.... The infantry stirs from its stupor. A small, battered car cautiously approaches the two speed bumps, the news vendor inside hollering the day's headlines over a loudspeaker between tape-recorded bursts of machine-gun fire. No car bombs to report today, like the ones that Culiac�n's drug kingpins planted in front of each other's houses a few months ago. No military helicopters swooping in on raids, no assault teams on rooftops. The vendor's car scrapes bottom. No one bothers to buy. Slow news day.
Here we go. Ch�vez is awake, maybe rat-tat-tatted awake, and coming out of the house, stretching and blinking in the midday light. Already his arm is wrapped tightly around the waist of one of his lieutenants. Already he's smiling, such an easy, affectionate smile. That's something else Amalia doesn't understand: He smiles so easily during the day. But when he sleeps, he frowns.
Ch�vez looks up and down the street. His hangover has outlasted the poor today; they've surrendered and gone. He won't have to peel off a few hundred dollars worth of pesos to buy a coffin for a widow who can't afford to bury her husband, as he did a few weeks earlier. He won't have to sneak out the back door, cut between houses and meet his infantry on the next block over, as he often must.
He issues one quiet order. The infantry mobilizes. There is a moment of flux as the keys to his 19 cars are sorted and the men decide who will go in the Stealth, who in the Lincoln, who in the Suburban. Amalia shakes her head and sighs, sighs of pride and exasperation. She doesn't know many other men who come home from a job and give their wives $100,000 to $200,000 to spend as they wish, as he docs after each big fight. She doesn't know many other men who each year on April 30, Mexico's Day of the Children, blast the stereo outside the house, organize dance contests on the street, cook hot dogs and give away boxes of toys to all the neighborhood kids. "But I want to be married to a normal man," she says. "He is always going. Always with other people. I see him only when he comes home to sleep. The first day of our honeymoon, he was called to go train for a fight, and we have never been alone since. We plan a day at the beach with just us and our children, and suddenly there are five cars and 15 little ones from the neighborhood going with us, and he is telling me to relax, they will keep our children occupied. He is a good man, but he crosses the line of goodness. I don't want more money or fame. I want him."
Julio backs the Stealth out of the garage. Amalia doesn't understand. He leads the five-car caravan to Isabel and Perla's new restaurant at the train station, decorated and equipped with $50,000 he gave them. The infantry piles out. He hurries in, gives his mom a kiss, makes a phone call, poses for a picture and leaves. Perla says, "He is our saint. He solves all our problems. When I broke up with the man I loved, Julio rented an apartment in Tijuana for me and gave me money every month, so I could go away and forget. I just wish he could sit and have a beer with me and talk and listen to mariachi, but he is never alone anymore, there are always four or five others squeezed in the car with him."
Julio backs his car away from the restaurant, glancing back at the caravan in his rearview mirror. Perla doesn't understand. He is leeching as much from them as they are from him: They are his burden. They are his ballast. He fights to start his brother Rafael's pool table business, his brother Sergio's car repair shop, his sister Cristin�'s discotheque, his mother Isabel and his sister Perla's restaurant, his brothers Cristi�n's and Roberto's gasoline stations. He fights to keep his brother Rodolfo going as his cornerman and his brother Ariel as manager of his properties. He fights to buy them all homes and automobiles, to break ground on the hotel, the office complex and the 1,000 town houses he's about to have built, to keep his cousins and in-laws and neighbors and old friends working in his minisupermarkets and washing his cars and guarding his home and waiting on the street outside to follow him in a caravan wherever he might go, because if he couldn't do all that, if someone ever took that away from him....
He shoves a Chalino S�nchez cassette into the tape player and sings along: "Already they left, the snows of January, already they arrived, the flowers of May, already you have seen me restrain myself like a man, and my bitter pain silence me...." It was less than a year ago that Chalino made what can be a fatal mistake in Culi�can for anyone with a lot of power or a few enemies. He was traveling without his boys, driving home after a performance, when a vehicle pulled across the highway in front of him, blocking his way. He was found on the roadside with a bullet in his head, and now he is more popular than ever. "My city is very conflictive," says Ch�vez. "Very violent. It is dangerous for all. It scares me. I worry about my children, my family. Not everyone can like me. But there is nothing I can do. If someone really wants to kill me, he could kill me anywhere."