We hadn’t been here long. (Maybe a year? A year and a half? It was less than 2 years, because we were still in the old neighborhood–that much I know.)
My partner went walking amongst the houses a few blocks from our “apartment row”. While he was gone, I heard sirens. Lots of them. Waves and waves of them. And they were close by, coming down a street just on the other side of some of the buildings of our apartment complex.
Just as I was gathering up my keys and making sure the cats had sufficient food and water before going out to ensure he hadn’t been involved in an accident, he came in.
“Wow. You gotta see this. There’s gotta be like 4 fire trucks and 10 squads on scene.”
You have to understand, my partner isn’t being classless or heartless, nor is he a drama-seeking freak. He doesn’t take pleasure at another’s misfortune. He’s not morbid or carnage-obsessed. He just has a “fetish” for bright strobe lights on emergency vehicles. Especially fire trucks.
It took me a few minutes to get ready; I checked the online police/fire blotter but found nothing. Probably too soon–the system may not have had time to update/refresh yet. So I gave up on that and off we went.
My partner led the way. We’d walked this neighborhood together countless times before. There had never been any action to speak of, just friendly longtime residents out playing with their kids or walking their dogs.
The strobe-lit vehicles were clustered in a tight spot on a cul-de-sac, the second house in on the left. Yellow tape was already strung around the boundary of the front yard and there were already 4 blaze-orange road cones set up in a line across the entry point into the cul-de-sac. The trees in the front and side yards were thick and mature, and they retain their leaves year-round, so between the trees and the large brightly-lit emergency vehicles, it was nearly impossible to see anything. But the smell of smoke in the air told most of the story: a house fire.
House fires suck. I’ve been lucky thus far, but I still get sad just thinking about one. The thought of one’s sanctuary being vulnerable to destruction, the thought of someone losing everything material–those are uncomfortable thoughts, far too much so to complete.
But, this is San Antonio. We’re an old town, by American standards. We’re not always up to the latest of building code, either. And as such, buildings tend to catch fire pretty often.
A few days later, our last patient of the day, a very nice and down-to-earth lady, arrived at our office.
“Did you hear about the house fire just north of here?”
We affirmed that we had.
Turns out that she lives in that area. The backyard of her house butts up to that of the one that burned, so she had plenty of information.
Turns out that there was information to be had–the kind of information that you do and do not want to know.
We sat, silent and riveted, as she told us what she knew.
She had heard the firefighters talking back and forth on the radio. At first they were concerned that the breeze and overhanging tree branches would spread the fire to other houses, but they determined that the wind wasn’t strong enough.
Apparently the house was firebombed. The garage and the vehicles parked inside and in the driveway were scorched to the frame. The second floor roof, a room above the garage, had caved in. The people were home at the time, but ultimately unharmed.
Our patient heard, through the emergency radio chatter, that the residents of the house were innocent Mexican nationals who had the “audacity” to own a couple of urgent care medical clinics somewhere in Mexico and refuse to kowtow to the lords of the drug cartel when they attempted to extort them for money in sort of a modern-day stick-’em-up. Instead, the innocent upper-middle class family had fled north of the border, hunkering down in their Stateside home, trying to ride out the cartel’s shit storm.
The cartel had followed them here. And, in a purely dick move, sent them a powerful message.
Our patient had flipped on the TV local news channel to see if there was any coverage. KSAT is usually good for that, and it didn’t disappoint this time, either. They had a chopper in the air, circling overhead to capture live footage.
And then–poof!–nothing. Zip. Zilch. Nada. The TV station cut to commercial fairly suddenly, and when the break was over and they came back on, they talked about something else completely, pretending that the fire they had helicopter cameras aimed at just minutes ago…never happened.
At the office and at home, I searched online for any mention of this incident. Surely the news would report on this kind of thing; smaller fires routinely made the news. (For a big city, not a lot happens around here.)
I checked the police and fire blotters again. I compared notes with my partner and we confirmed the address and solid timeframe.
Again, nothing. There were other fires listed (on the blotter) elsewhere in the city within minutes of each other, some of which were smaller and less headline-significant.
Where was this one?
This incident had all but disappeared. Wiped clean. Erased.
At first I wondered, why would the news agencies do that? It’s a big enough story after all. Hell, the fire itself, even without the rest of its Bonus Baggage, was certainly newsworthy. (Did I mention that Nothing Ever Happens Here?) So why the hush-hush?
It didn’t take me long to conjure up some theories. This town is a huge tourist destination. We thrive on it. We depend on it. It’s also (too-)rapidly growing, one of the hottest areas in the country. And it’s an easy 2-4 hours from the Mexican border, depending on where you want to cross.
Suppressing the presence of the drug cartels is pretty paramount to maintaining that tourism-friendly and real estate-snappy image. Lots of potential players here.
The truth is, this place isn’t nearly as dangerous this event makes it sound. I do feel safe here. In these parts, the drug cartels narrow their targets to very specific people, for very specific reasons. I’m not saying those reasons are legitimate; that family did not–in any way–deserve what happened to them. Here, if you’re not a generally well-off Mexican national caught quite helplessly in the crosshairs of the cartels, or you don’t go looking for trouble, it won’t come looking for you.
Whoever hit the target house was extremely precise. Significant damage was done to the house itself and the vehicles parked in its driveway, but not one of the surrounding houses was touched. Not that I’m praising or admiring the jackholes who did this. They need to be brought to justice.
That being said, try not to let this discourage you from visiting! If you come to see the sights, stay within the bright lights of downtown or come over to our house. (We live in a different neighborhoods now.) ❤
(Note: the featured image and the dark concept behind it are real, although I didn’t even know about it until I watched the cable TV series “Breaking Bad”. The central figure is Santa Muerte, or female “Saint Death”, a dark entity worshipped by people, primarily in Mexico but also in the Southwestern US, who reside in the “underworld” that consists of drug cartels and gangs, but also those who aren’t necessarily up to no good, but rather, feel that the dominant Catholic church no longer speaks to them (or never did). To be truthful, although I do not condone or acknowledge or align myself with this figure in any way, I do find that the Mexican culture resonates more wholly with me than that of the norteamericanos.) 😉