Baldemar dismounts. He loops the reins around a post in the street outside the restaurant. La Hostería de Santo Domingo, it is called. He withdraws an antique English Dragoon pistol from his belt. No doubt he clutches the weapon in two hands, both of them trembling, for he has never launched an undertaking of this sort before. Dripping from the rain, he enters the restaurant and peers around until he recognizes the conservative general, Leonardo Márquez, installed at a dimly illuminated table. Baldemar weaves his way among the other tables, his eyes fixed on the villain. No doubt there is some commotion among the diners, at least the more observant few, those who realize an act of violence is imminent. Baldemar ignores them. He thinks only of carrying out his purpose. If anyone in Mexico deserves to die, it is Márquez.

A large, grizzled man, his swarthy face crisscrossed by the scars of battle, the general by now is probably nearing the end of a long midday meal, likely smooching upon a cigar. Perhaps he is reaching at this moment for a bottle of mezcal. He snorts to himself, happily. And why not be happy? Has he not returned to Mexico City in triumph, after years in the mountains of Michoacán, where he almost beggared himself, waging the savage rump of a nearly endless war? But he is back in the ascendance now — like all of Mexico ’s conservatives — and he is glorying in each and every consequent pleasure. He takes another puff of his cigar. Just now, some disturbance catches his eye. Or perhaps his hearing alerts him first, the creaking of chairs, the shifting of tables. He glances up, and for a moment or so he must be alarmed by what he sees — a pistol, just spitting distance away, pointed at his head. Anyone would feel a chill in the gut. The hammer slams down, and then what? A view of rose-bellied clouds drifting against the summit of a snow-glazed volcano, followed by ... nothing. Darkness. A void.

But he is in luck. God, once again, has taken his side. The gun does not fire. This is no surprise, really. Even at the best of times, an English Dragoon pistol is an unreliable weapon and is even worse when it rains. No doubt the powder in the firearm’s flintlock is damp. In any case, the hammer falls, the flint sparks, but the powder fails to ignite. And so General Márquez lives to fight another day.

He would have been better pleased had his officers managed to collar the assailant then and there. By rights, they should have wrestled the waddling ferret to the tiled floor of the restaurant, enabling the Tiger of Tacubaya, as Márquez is known, to enjoy the perquisites of revenge on his own terms — not at once, but later, in private, and with the meticulous attention to detail that such occasions so richly deserve. But that is not what happened.

Instead, Baldemar bolts. He has brought with him just one pistol, which contains just one ball. When it fails to fire, his enterprise is doomed. And so he turns and runs. The general’s officers scramble in pursuit, but Baldemar manages to get away. Fat as he is, he possesses surprising agility and speed. Besides, he well understands the course of his fate should he be taken alive. From what Diego understood of the tale, the last Márquez’s men see of Baldemar that afternoon is the spectacle of a rotund individual hurling himself atop a large-boned bay with three white socks. Baldemar gathers the reins and gallops off through the rain along the calle Belisario Dominguez, before careening right in the direction of the Zócalo. He must make a sight, with his legs kicking like a pair of broken wings in the driving rain and his ample haunches bouncing against the cantle of his high Mexican saddle …