On the Trail

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The time is September of 2008. The place is Ojinaga, Mexico. Observing the peaceful beauty and outward normalcy of the pueblo, you could not tell that bad things are happening.

Two unusually brutal murders interrupt Capitán Benito Escalante’s weekend visit in Texas. One perpetrator, a gringo covered in his victim’s blood, is behind bars. The other is, for now, still in the wind.

As the capitán says, “Crime doesn’t stop just because the police captain is busy.” Who is the woman claiming to be the gringo prisoner’s friend? What do a box containing a fifty-year-old mystery, a man with “eyes like a cat,” and a homeless boy with a sobering secret, have to do with the murders? What does the blind curandera know?

Capitán Escalante invites you to ride, run, and walk along with him as he tries to figure it out. “Invite” might be the wrong word…his tale of intrigue and adventure will force you to turn pages until all questions are answered. When he rests, you can rest. Then everybody can take a breather on a bench in the shade on the plaza.

But not for long.

 

Knocking Out a Wall, Part Two

My final Avalanche column ran a few Thursdays ago and on the same day, my ex came to Alpine. When I opened the door, I gaped. It took a few seconds before I could speak. How long do you think he’ll be able to pull off timing like that?

He invited me to lunch and of course I accepted. I broke the news that he could relax; there wouldn’t be any more columns about him. The look of disappointment on his face almost made me laugh.

His response: “Good. Now you’ll stop calling me a liar in public.”

Yeah, right.

Then he said, “I told you that people don’t want to hear those stories.”

Al contrario, Cowboy. It seems they do.

I tried to work a few more stories out of him, but he’s wise to me now. So I have to go with what I know. And I was there for this one.

What we didn’t know at the time was that the Border Patrolman who had taken such a dislike to us was a vindictive man, and he was the boss. Before I continue, I want to say that this is about only one man, not the Border Patrol in general.

The cowboy had been picked up on numerous occasions and was returned to the border each time. He’d worked at the fluorspar mine in the Christmas Mountains, on Terlingua Ranch, and in Odessa, Midland, and Lajitas. He said he’d never been mistreated once by any Border Patrolman and he never feared them. My point is that in any profession there can be one who gives the whole bunch a bad rep.

I could tell you the man’s name, but it doesn’t matter. He’s long gone from the job and also the planet. Suffice it to say that the night of the murder, which was later determined to be an accidental shooting, he let personal hatred supersede his professional duties.

Lajitas was similar to a large plantation during the days of slavery. In the Big House, some inhabitants were “less than” others. The workers, no matter our background or color, were in it together. We were tight. At the Big House they professed, “But we love our Mexicans.” Read, we love our cheap labor.

Border Patrol raids were common, but back then it was like a big game. A few green-uniformed men would show up in town. Radios, walkie-talkies, and telephones would hum with the news. La Chota!

The Border Patrol only came because they were supposed to and they sometimes took men away if they were slow enough to get caught. Or if the officers managed to surprise them. On raid days we hid people in all the nooks and crannies of the resort while the outside workers ran for the hills. I said it was like a big game, but I didn’t say everyone enjoyed it.

Four times they came in succession and it became evident they were after my cowboy. They asked about him at the Big House and they chased him. He escaped into the mountains or to the Rio, and he was fast. This became a rock in the boot because the boss was telling them to get That Mexican.

The manager of Lajitas called me in to say that this problem with the Border Patrol was disrupting the work schedule. I asked what I was supposed to do about it. Did he expect me to tell him not to run? No. He was one of the best workers. What, then? He didn’t know.

The Border Patrol figured it out pronto. The next day they returned with the boss and he caught my cowboy himself. He yelled to stop or he’d shoot him. That was a tactic they hadn’t used on him before and it worked.
I was at home and received this call from the front desk: “They have him in front of the hotel.” Nobody had to tell me who had nabbed who. I ran as though they were chasing me.

They had put him in back of a Suburban that was barred. There were a few other stricken-faced guys with him. It was a sight that tore at my heart. I was about to start sobbing, but he gave a tiny grin and shrugged. He believed he’d be back in a few days. I knew it would not be that simple.

What followed was a long, drawn-out mess. He was prosecuted because he’d run away and in doing that, he had “endangered” an officer of the Law. The game had reached a new level and the opponent held all the pieces.
I was forced to hire an immigration attorney. He said if I intended to marry the man, and I did, I had gone about it backwards. He explained that you’re supposed to get a “Sweetheart Visa” first. Great. Everywhere but within the law, falling in love comes first. The bottom line, law-wise, was that he should have stayed in Mexico until we were married. I didn’t bother to point out that if he’d stayed there I would never have met him.

The cowboy was jailed in Alpine, then Pecos, and was later moved to a big holding facility in El Paso. He was formally deported and then came back on a provisional visa. Doing it the wrong way cost us plenty. They slammed door after door.

The great news is that love won. We made it through the wall.

* * *

We saw our Border Patrol nemesis a year or so later when we were eating in the Badlands Restaurant in Lajitas. My husband was holding our tiny newborn daughter and the sun was shining brightly on both of them.
The Bad Man came in with two other men and they all glared at us.

My wise cowboy said, “Don’t look at him, Honey. He’s too small and sad to be part of our world.”

That was true; I knew it was, but I was not so forgiving. I said, “I wish I could hurt him.”

“You already did.”

Darker Than Black

I’m proud to announce that my 4th published book was released yesterday! It is the third in the series “Deputy Ricos Tales.” This link will take you the paperback version, but it is also available in Kindle. The cover design is by my talented daughter, Margarita Garcia; photo by Amber Garcia

http://www.amazon.com/Darker-Than-Black-Deputy-Ricos/dp/149522337X/ref=sr_1_5?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1393587566&sr=1-5&keywords=darker+than+black

 

A Rio Grande Affair

Recently, I had an opportunity to stick my toes into the Rio Grande. The river is no longer the formidable barrier it once was, and it can seldom be rafted, but the mud along the bank still squishes. Birds still swoop at the surface, turtles still dive into it, the water still moves downstream, and it still smells like damp desert. I still love it.

     We have a history, this river and I. Thirty-three years ago, I saw it for the first time. It might have been its historical significance or cowboy movie memories, or the surreal beauty of the land it divides, but I had goosebumps at first sight. And I fell in love, not just with the Rio, but with the rugged, wild terrain on both sides of it.

     This Florida girl, accustomed to sandy beaches, lakes, crystal clear streams, swamps, and more greenery than is healthy, fell hard for the Big Bend country—everything about it. The immense open spaces with nothing to block the view, jagged peaks, hidden forests, steep canyons, and the widest sky I had ever seen, spoke to me in a way nothing ever had.

     At the time, my familiarity with Mexico pretty much began and ended with Speedy Gonzalez cartoons and of course, all those insulting stereotypes from old westerns.

     I stood at the top of a nature trail at Rio Grande Village in Big Bend National Park. The idea of a foreign land “right over there” was even more intriguing than the famous river. From the top of the trail I could admire both sides, the mountains that stretched out in all directions jutting towards the sky, the vegetation growing along the banks, and then I spotted a man, a Mexican man, dressed all in white and wearing a wide sombrero, hoeing in a garden in Boquillas, Mexico. Ordinary, you might say, but my heart rate sped up and I got a little teary-eyed. I wanted to laugh and cry and dance at the same time. And I had no idea why.

     How would I have known that I would meet, fall in love with, and marry a Mexican man? Or that my future self would learn to speak Spanish and cook Mexican food? Or that without question, I would take in a chubby little Mexican boy and raise him as my own? If you had told me I would stay up until two in the morning making tamales with my mother-and-sisters-in-law on Christmas Eve, I would have thrown up my hands and sworn there was no way that would ever happen.

      I have spent so much time in Mexico it has become as much a part of my life as my country of birth. I’ve attended weddings, quinceañeras, funerals, births, and deaths—and more dances than I could ever count. I’ve wandered its shores, explored its mountains, and camped in its wilderness. I love its people with all my heart.

     How would I have known then that I would go to work for a river outfitter and enjoy the work so much I would eventually own the company? I would raft all the canyons and most of them more than once, on trips guided by some of the most fun and life-loving people I have ever had the pleasure to know. Every river adventure was different and each held its own magic. There was always something new to learn or to admire or some side canyon to explore. After sumptuous dinners and campfire conversation, we would fall asleep under a ribbon of stars or stay up late to watch the full moon illuminate the canyon walls.

     It runs in my veins now, this muddy river. Who knew it would be so hard to drag my toes out of its mud?