Tequila Highway (Chapters 16 & 17)

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BORDER COWBOYS

Clay’s dad was the first to suggest that his son hadn’t been kidnapped. Henry Davidson was a mean drunk. He was tying one on at Grady’s Saloon when he overheard two local ranch hands talking about Clay’s disappearance. Whatever they said got Henry riled up. He nearly beat one of the men senseless.

“My son ain’t no pussy. Did you ever think maybe he was the brains behind it all?” he shouted, before staggering out of the bar and disappearing into the night.

The next morning, the sheriff went to talk to Henry. The trailer was empty, and the family was gone.

 SOFIA

The Mayfield Ranch was ten miles north of ours. It had been in the family a hundred years. The old headquarter house had seen better days. Jenny Mayfield was on the front porch and waved when I pulled up. I’d taken Patrick’s advice and had called her. She’d invited me to a Santa Rita Foundation meeting. Her family was one of six that had formed a conservation easement in the valley. Jenny had quit her job at Safeway in Nogales. Her mother had diabetes and taking care of her was a full-time job.

Jenny’s mother sat in the living room in a recliner surrounded by magazines and crochet projects. Her gaze was set on the evening news while Jenny and I picked up the dining room.

“How is Sam doing?” she asked.

“He’s struggling. We all are.”

“Alzheimer’s is awful. It hard on everyone. My mom’s diabetes runs our lives. Next week we take her to Tucson.” She took a tablecloth from the sideboard and snapped it open. “She’s having her right foot amputated. The doctor said we have no other choice.”

“My God, I’m sorry.”

“John is afraid we’ll need to tie her down to get her into the truck. She’s become real bitter.”

“My grandpa isn’t sleeping through the night anymore, and he gets angry when he’s confused. The ranch is falling apart at the seams.” I put water glasses on the table. “We’re all exhausted.”

“Maybe you’ll get some answers to your troubles tonight.” Jenny excused herself to help her mom to bed. The house needed a good cleaning. Had I not spent the last two months at home, I may have judged her.

John came into the kitchen as I was making coffee. “Sofia Covington, as I live and breathe.” He gave me a tight squeeze. “You look the same as you did the day you left home.”

We dated for a while in high school. He was a nice kid, too nice for me at the time, and I cut him loose. A few years later he married Jenny. They were well-suited.

“Where’s Jenny?” he asked.

“Helping her mom.”

“I married a saint.” He kissed my forehead and headed down the hall toward the bedrooms.

People showed up while the coffee brewed. Most folks I’d already seen at church or run into in Nogales. The meeting began promptly at seven. My name appeared at the top of the agenda. Sofia Covington- Introduction and Purpose for Attending. I didn’t have a purpose—nothing specific anyway. My mouth went dry, and I poured myself a glass of water.

Jenny did the introductions. There were two men at the table I didn’t recognize. Mac Seeger was a biologist with the Southwest Conservation Trust and Carlos Ramirez worked at the University of Arizona. I was too nervous to catch his title. John mentioned to Mac and Carlos that I was Sam Covington’s granddaughter. Mac nodded. “We always hoped Sam would join us. We’re happy you’re here.”

I knew everyone else. Lloyd and Chelsea owned the Dempsey Cattle Company east of us. Chelsea’s cancer was in remission. Belinda Middleton lost her husband years before when he fell from a ladder and broke his neck. Buddy and Skip Crown were fraternal twins who remained bachelors and had inherited the family ranch. As young men, they were wild. Time had tempered them. They were no longer hard-headed cowboys, rather aging gentlemen. Patrick mentioned the brothers in his book. They’d helped Jake on the ranch after Patrick went off to college. Henry Sullivan’s place was west of Jake’s. I read about him in Border Cowboys. His wife’s family once owned Millie’s Diner. They brought hot meals to the Waters’ ranch to feed the folks who helped look for Clay. Walt Jenkins winked when he caught my eye. He’d been by earlier in the day to see my grandpa.

Jenny introduced me and asked if I’d like to say a few words. “I’m just here to learn about the foundation,” I said.

I remained quiet as the group went through the agenda. Belinda’s ranch was adjacent to Walt’s. Together they were moving cows onto lush pastures at Walt’s place to give land on both ranches time to recover from overgrazing. Buddy and Skip were working with several agencies to organize a controlled burn of nine hundred acres on their deeded land to help clear out scrub brush and mesquite to reestablish grasslands. The big item on the agenda was a proposed subdivision of a hundred and fifty homes north of Henry Sullivan’s place. Everyone around the table was concerned about the water impact such a project would have on the valley. Henry, along with Mac and Carlos, were gathering information. Carlos asked to be put on the agenda for the next meeting to report their findings.

Everyone met in the kitchen after we finished. I was cutting the cheesecake I brought and served Mac a piece. “If you have questions, let me know,” he said. “Your ranch has great value to this valley.”

“To the valley?”

“The Bonita Creek is a major artery to the San Pedro River.”

I handed him a fork. “We’ve used it for years to fill the stock tanks,” I said.

“Sam made sure the water kept to its natural path when he put in those tanks. He’s a smart man. How’s he doing?”

“Alzheimer’s has hit him pretty hard.”

“I’m real sorry to hear that, Sofia.” He set down his empty plate and handed me his business card. “I need to get home. Call if you need anything.”

I helped John clean up. Jenny met me on the back porch with two glasses of white wine after she checked on her mom. “I hope we’ll be seeing you at the meetings,” she said.

“I have a lot to learn, but we need to do something. Garrett McBride is after our ranch.”

She peered into the darkness beyond the porch as though someone watched us. “Be careful, Sofia,” she said. “He’s spent a lot of time and money to get his hands on your land. Just knowing you were here tonight will make him mad.”

“He’s already approached me.”

“You know, McBride is also mixed up with those crooks from Phoenix who are working to put in that subdivision.” She sipped her wine. “If it weren’t for the SCT and the Santa Rita Foundation, this valley would be up to its eyeballs in folks from California buying up our land and trying to tell us how to live. That’s what’s going on over in Remington.”

“I hope it doesn’t come to that.” The temperature had dropped, and I buttoned up my jacket. “I’m still not sure I understand how a conservation easement works.”

“It’s unique to each ranch. The SCT purchased a good portion of this place. Mac was a big help. He answered a lot of our questions. Lloyd and Chelsea were the first to sell. Their ranch spreads for miles, and they have a lot of San Pedro river front on their property the SCT was interested in acquiring. Along with Walt, they formed the Santa Rita Foundation.”

“Sounds like the Southwest Conservation Trust owns half the property in this valley.”

“Not everyone in the foundation is working with the SCT, although it’s no secret that they would like to purchase more land.”

“Then what does the foundation do?”

“We’re working together to learn how best to run cattle and at the same time preserve the desert. John attends conferences, and we get a lot of support from outside groups that are also interested in land conservation. There are other folks like Carlos who work for universities, government agencies, and nonprofits who help with land management. Last summer a team of graduate students from the University of Arizona came down with Carlos to help reestablish a hundred acres of native grasses. They’re tracking progress and plan to plant more next year.”

She put down her glass and slipped on a jacket she’d brought from the house. “The money from the sale helped with the nursing home expenses for John’s mom. It’s covering some of my mom’s medical bills too,” she said.

“John’s dad was furious when we first brought up the idea of a conservation easement,” Jenny said. “Before he died, he’d made peace. ‘I don’t want to manage this place from my grave,’” he’d said.

“So you sold the ranch, but still live here?”

“We didn’t sell everything, of course. We still have the house and barns, and we kept a good portion of the property west of the house. If Tyler and Ellie decide to build a life for themselves here, we’ve designated land for home sites and provisions so that they can ranch.”

I’d seen Tyler and Ellie at church. They were still in elementary school. Like me, they would always have a place to call home.

Jenny shooed away a long-haired, grey cat that bounded up the steps, a squirming mouse dangling from its mouth. “The SCT was more interested in the land south of the highway where the water comes down from the mountains through the arroyos in spring after the snow melts and fills two natural ponds. It’s a haven for migratory birds. Before we worked with the SCT and foundation, John and his dad used those ponds for cattle. It’s been four years since we pulled the cows off that pasture. You would not believe how gorgeous it is out there. A scientist from Cornell Lab of Ornithology set up cameras last February to track birds. We had a live feed on my computer. My mom and I spent several weeks glued to the screen during migration.” She winked. “John bought me a set of binoculars and a camera for my birthday, so that I can go out there this spring to key birds for my life list.”

“My grandpa is dead set against this. My nana is, too,” I said.
“It’s best to have all the facts before you discuss this with them. Change is real hard for some of these old timers. They spent their whole lives acquiring land and leases. Words like conservation and easement scare them. They shut down or become angry at the mention of the SCT or the foundation.”

She walked me out to my truck and tilted her head up toward the night sky. “So much goes on under this crazy blanket of stars,” she said.

The image of my mom behind the wheel of our old ranch truck holding up a bottle found me. Her voice whispering, tequila highway before it drifted upward into the dark.

A pipe under the kitchen sink burst. The valve was rusted, so I turned off the main water supply to the house. I contemplated a stockpile of plumbing supplies out in the barn knowing full well Julio would have to fix the pipe. He’d left after breakfast on horseback to check on Jake’s cattle. I fetched Daisy and headed out that way.

Every blade of grass, each prickly pear cactus, and the swirling patterns in the soil where rain had run during the monsoon storms mattered now that I had a stake in the ranch. Whole pastures were over-grazed and left bare like the surface of the moon. Some ancient part of me yearned to cradle the parched earth against my belly until sweet shoots of life appeared.

Grandpa had a shelf above his chair in the living room dedicated to books written by ranchers and cowboys about Santa Cruz and Cochise counties. Many recounted the area as being once lush with tall grass and cowboys moving tens of thousands of heads of cattle. Back when Geronimo was hiding out in the Chiricahua Mountains, the United States was at war with Mexico, and Billy the Kid was making a name for himself. Generations of cattle to come had taken a toll on the land.

While lost in my thoughts, Daisy put us on the cow trail leading to the cabin. I examined the ground next to us and wondered how the ranch had survived as long as it had. Cattle ranching was a rough and unpredictable business. During branding, the valley echoed with the bawling of mama cows and calves who’d been separated. Men pushed and prodded calves into chutes where the animals waited one by one with terror-filled eyes to enter the squeeze. Timing was everything. Once a calf’s head was clear, the squeeze was pulled shut, and the calf turned on its side. There it would remain for several minutes as it was vaccinated, branded, and ear tagged. If it was a bull calf, it was castrated. Set upright and released, it cried for its mother. Depending on the corral set-up, mama cows stretched their heads over thick boards bawling for their babies or kicked up dirt in an adjacent pasture.

Nana and I had worked side by side in the kitchen preparing hearty feasts for the men during branding. The air thick with smoke from burning hair and hide, made me nauseous. When I’d leave my post at the stove to sit at the table or hang my head over the sink in fear I’d puke, Nana would cut an orange in half and hold it under my nose. “Ay, you’re just like your mamá,” she’d say.

My grandpa was a gentle man by nature. Cowboys who worked his cattle had best show respect and restraint. Anyone caught beating or kicking an animal was asked to leave. My mom had hated branding time. She’d head up to the cabin before daylight where she would remain until the last cow/calf pair as reunited, making the desert quiet again.

Daisy stopped and raised her head. Her ears twitched as she slowly moved her head side to side to pick up either a sound or a scent. I gave her the reins to see what she’d do. Her rhythm changed as we moved forward. “What is it girl?”  I looked over my shoulder to see if we were being followed.

I’d been thinking about a puppy. Highway was so old and lethargic, I sometimes thought he was lying dead next to my grandpa’s chair and would rest my hand on his side to check if he were breathing. A puppy chomping on Highways’ ears might kill him. We needed something around the house to warn us of intruders. Nana worried flood lights set off by rabbits would wake Grandpa at night. Neither of us could afford to lose anymore sleep.

I tied Daisy to an oak tree outside the cabin. She was still on high alert. The hoot of an owl caught my attention, and I walked around to the back of the cabin to see if I could spot it in the trees. Someone had weaved the lavender ribbon from my mom’s letters into the branches of the arch above the altar. Searching the area, nothing else looked out of place. The constant state of exhaustion I had succumbed to worked like a drug. I was often confused and forgetful and wondered, if like misplacing my sunglasses half a dozen times a day, I had laced the ribbon.

I set the rock my mom had given me at the base of the altar where it belonged, a totem of a past life that was slipping away. Childhood memories of my mom were demanding their rightful place alongside the ones I’d gathered since visiting her. I’d meticulously arranged a photo album of my parents in my head and packed it away when I left with The Cowboy. The woman I met at Pearl’s house was not the person I had carried inside me all those years. I was trying hard to hold onto my childhood images, but the contrast between the past and present was so great, the old memories were fading like the scent of a spice I couldn’t quite place.

My dad was a different story. Like a painting, he’d remained untouched for nearly thirty years. He wore his cowboy hat cockeyed to keep the sun out of his eyes. Julio said it made him look half-drunk, to which my dad would reply, “I don’t do anything half-way except chase women.” My mom would laugh and punch him in the arm.

I picked up the stone. How strange my mom had painted the stand of oaks where he had drowned, but in many ways our story had come full circle. It was only fitting the rock had found its final resting place at my mom’s altar.

I closed my eyes and there stood my dad—work shirt, cowboy hat, arms outstretched. Nothing had changed.

I walked back to the cabin and gave the door a push with my hip. Dusty boot prints dotted the turquoise floor. Something glimmered in the windowsill— a cellophane cigarette wrapper. I picked it up.

The cabin went dim when someone entered the doorway. Fear filled me like lead. The cellophane crinkled in my fist. I slowly turned around. It was Daisy. I’d done a poor job of tying her reins. “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, you scared me. Let’s get out of here,” I said.

Outside in the glaring sun, atop Daisy, I glassed each pasture with my grandpa’s old binoculars, looking for signs of intruders on our land. Thoughts of the McBrides emerged out the desert like armed banditos and whittled away at my nerves. Something moved, and I dialed in the binoculars. It was the cowboy who had crossed into Mexico. He was at least a mile away on Jake’s side of the fence walking toward Old Job Boulder.

A rattlesnake slithered a few feet in front of us and coiled on the path leading to the hot springs. Daisy reared up. The binoculars knocked against my chest. I pulled back on the reins. Daisy tried at once to buck me off and run for safe ground. I managed to hold on until she found the cow trail and fell into a canter. I turned around in the saddle but couldn’t see a thing through the binoculars as Daisy made a beeline to the house.

Julio was hosing down Chico when I returned to the barn.

“I found footprints in the cabin and this.” I pulled the cellophane wrapper from my pocket.

“What were you doing up there alone? We had an agreement.”

“I rode up there looking for you. Someone was over by Old Job Boulder.”

“I think Jake has a guy working for him.”

“This guy was on foot.”

His brow furrowed like he was working out a problem in his head. “Jake said there are tracks over by Juniper Falls. He thinks they’re from illegals. Maybe drug mules.”

I removed Daisy’s saddle. “It wasn’t an illegal. The guy wore a cowboy hat.” I threw a halter on Daisy. “A pipe under the kitchen sink burst.”

Julio avoided looking at me as he handed me Chico’s reins. “I’ll go check the pipe while you put up the horses.”

Julio knew more than he was letting on. I would add the wandering cowboy to the list of secrets that our family was so good at keeping.

I sat on the kitchen floor and handed Julio tools. “I went to a Santa Rita Foundation meeting. Everyone knows about Garrett McBride’s interest in the ranch.”

He came out from under the sink and rested his back against the stove. “Those people are putting ranchers out of business. This would make Sam angry.”

“It’s not like that. We have to do something, or Garrett will end up owning this place.”

My grandparents were out on the front porch. Julio leaned over to see if they had come back inside. Satisfied we were alone, he raised his voice. “Jake is helping with the lease. We can find other ranchers to put cattle here.”

“Even if we did, what will they eat? There’s no grass.”

“I can get a job. You can get a job to pay taxes. Maybe we get some cows.”

“Then what? With us working, who will be here to help with my grandpa? Who will trim the trees, feed the animals, tend a garden, and mend fence? Where will the money come from when the heater goes out or the roof leaks again?” I was upsetting him. “I know this is difficult, Julio, but getting jobs in Nogales isn’t the solution.”

“So, you’re giving up?” He threw his wrench of the floor and got up. “Stay away from the foundation.” He reached the door and spun around. “Just because you think this is the answer, does not make it so, m’ija.”

I stepped out onto the back porch. Dixie was eating the hay I left for her. Many ranchers we knew had stopped using horses to bring in cattle. Instead they gathered with ATVs. A part of our history was dying. As a result, everything my grandparents and Julio had worked for might one day disappear. Grandpa was adamant about the SCT. Like a lot of people, he and Nana believed they would end up with nothing if they put the ranch in a conservation easement. I’d done enough reading on the SCT and the Santa Rita Foundation to understand their interests lay with maintaining a balance between the environment and cattle ranching. I didn’t want another scene with Julio or anyone else until I had more facts. I decided to invite Mac for dinner.

 

BORDER COWBOYS

Sometimes a problem or worry can appear so big, it is the only lens we see our lives through. I held on to the belief that I was powerless to do anything about Clay’s disappearance for so long, I gave in to it.

I learned a thing or two about what may have happened up at Old Job Boulder while doing research for this book. Clay was my best friend, but he had a mind of his own. Digging up the past may have answered some of my questions, but in the process, it also unearthed things that I wish had stayed buried.

 

SOFIA

Mac grew up on the Santa Rita Cattle Company and understood the lifestyle and concerns of people he worked with. Even Julio warmed up to him and was serving each of us a second helping of chili con carne as Nana and I listened to Mac and Grandpa swap stories about ranching families in the valley. Mac ignored my grandpa’s confusion and kept the conversation moving.

By the end of supper, all the excitement had made Grandpa irritable. “Nana, why don’t you take Sam to bed? I’ll clear the table,” I said.

Grandpa crossed his arms. “I can do it myself.”

“Of course, you can mi amor,” Nana said. “But I want to tuck you in.”

He kissed her forehead. “That’s my girl.”

Both Julio and Mac helped with dishes. Nana met us in the living room. Julio brought in a tray with rice pudding and coffee.

Mac was over six feet tall and broad-shouldered; a giant among my great-grandma Ruby’s furniture. He sat down in my grandpa’s recliner and faced Nana. “Sofia took me up to the hot springs today. What a beautiful spot,” he said.

Nana sipped her coffee. She was still leery of the foundation, but she liked Mac. She would choose her words carefully. “It is a special place,” she said.

“I’m not here to do anything but answer questions you may have,” he said.

Julio cleared his throat before he spoke. “We know the ranchers who are with the foundation. They sold out.”

Mac lifted an eyebrow but remained quiet. We’d ridden up to the cabin earlier in the day where he’d mentioned rumors about SCT and the foundation circulated as truth throughout the valley. To Julio he said, “I understand where that becomes a concern for people,” he finally said. “Giving up something that you’ve worked hard for doesn’t make a lot of sense, does it?”

Julio tossed his cowboy hat on to the coffee table. “Sam says those people are out to steal our land.”

“Come on, Julio,” I said. “Let’s hear him out.”

Nana set down her coffee cup and smoothed the front of her apron. “I’m sorry, Mac, but this is family business. Please, I am sure you understand.”

“Of course.” He stood with his cowboy hat dangling from his fingers. “Supper was delicious. I hope to see you all soon.”

I jumped to my feet. “I’ll walk you to the door.”

I followed him through the kitchen to the back porch. “That was stupid of me,” I said. “I’m just frustrated. I didn’t mean to drag you into any of this.”

He lit a cigarette. “It’s okay. You have to be pretty thick-skinned to do this kind of work.”

“Julio thinks I’m dishonoring my grandpa, and my nana is scared.”

“It’s not just about selling a portion of the ranch, Sofia. It’s about seeing the bigger picture. People put up fences and claim the land inside the borders. Think of the Bonita Creek. It flows for miles through a lot of country to get to where it’s going. If we look at it like that, then the stream doesn’t belong to anyone in particular. That’s hard for ranchers like Sam to wrap their heads around.”

“You mentioned earlier today there is someone who could help us with this,” I said.

“Yes, Michelle Carter. She worked with John and Jenny. She’s better with the details.”

“Garrett thinks the hot springs are worth something. What if I built a small restaurant? Someplace quiet.”

“After such an incredible dinner, you have my full attention.”

“Thank you. I was a chef back in Chicago. I’m not a rancher, not like my grandpa. I’ve been thinking of doing a bed and breakfast here. Maybe open the hot springs for guests. Nothing big.” The idea was one of a half dozen schemes I’d contemplated to save the ranch. “It might be a nice retreat for people. Is this something we could do if we joined the foundation? It means we would keep the hot springs.”

“I’m a biologist by training, so I ask the questions differently. How would building a business impact the flora and fauna? How do you develop the land without damaging the natural course of things?”

“It would change the ranch.”

“Yes, but not in the way Julio sees it, although he’s not alone. This is your ranch. What we are most concerned with is balance. How can people and the desert coexist? Our organization and the Santa Rita Foundation work hard to find answers to that question. Joining the foundation would give you resources to move forward.” He leaned against the railing. “Personally, I’d love to see a B &B. I know of several families unable to reimagine ways to work the land. In the end, some folks lose everything.”

“Julio wants to run cows again. My nana hopes my grandpa will get better. Both those things are unrealistic, but until they’re ready to hear the truth, this place seems to die a little bit each day.”

“You’ll find a way. They’ve trusted Sam all these years. It’s a big adjustment.” He stepped off the porch. “I hope to see you at the next meeting.”

“I’ll be there.”

Mac was handsome and easy to be with. He was also married. Available men in the valley were a rarity, and it was just as well. Dating along with refinishing the floors and painting my bedroom would have to wait until I had both the time and energy to tackle the projects that lingered at the bottom of my to-do list.

Nana’s optimism that things would be okay was quickly dispelled in the accountant’s office in Nogales. After a long afternoon examining my grandparents’ finances and answering questions, Nana and I sat somewhat dumbfounded as Frank Cruz explained, in a courteous yet unwavering tone, that without some sort of income, we had less than two years before my grandparents’ retirement was used up. This didn’t include new purchases such as a vehicle, and there was no money to pay Letty to come more often unless some of the assets on the ranch were sold. When Frank mentioned the Cadillac, Nana reached over and covered my hand with hers. “Sam saved for five years to buy me that car.”

“Do you and Sam have any other assets?” Frank asked.

I shook my head. “The tractor and trucks are old and on the brink of falling apart.”

Nana pursed her lips. She was a prideful woman. I needed to learn to keep my mouth shut if I expected to gain her trust.

Nana grabbed her purse from the back of the chair. “We will call you,” she said.

Frank sat behind his paper-strewn desk looking confused. I reached over the mess to shake his hand. “I’ll be back to collect all of this,” I said.

Nana handed me the keys out in the parking lot. “You drive, m’ija. I’m too tired.” She stared out the passenger window, not saying a word.

I was faced with problems every day as kitchen manager at Tavolino: truck drivers who showed up late or delivered the wrong order, staff who argued with coworkers or quit in a huff, customers who complained their spaghetti was cold or their steak was over cooked. I had enjoyed tackling the challenges. But it was confined to 3,000 square feet of prime real estate in downtown Chicago. The minute I walked out the back door, the problems disappeared until my next shift. The ranch spread for miles like molten lava. I couldn’t seem to get a handle on anything. Had Frank Cruz set a million dollars on his desk for Nana to put in her purse, I would have experienced the satisfaction I’d felt each night the restaurant door clicked shut behind me. Instead, the meeting had only added to our list of worries. Nana’s optimism was picked clean of hope by Frank’s dim assessment of my grandparents’ financial future. I’d left his office feeling more anxious than when we went in.

I pulled over at our mailbox. When I got back in the car, Nana was crying. “What will we do? Sam took care of ranch business.”

She produced a hankie from inside her bra and dabbed at her eyes. We sat a long time with the car running. “I know you don’t want to hear this, but we’ll have to move unless something is done,” I said.

We sat again in silence as I tried to gauge her mood. Finally, she spoke. “Can the Santa Rita Foundation really help? Ay, m’ija, Sam will be so upset.”

“In the end, he wants what is best for the ranch.”“Okay, tell me what I need to do.” For years she had protected my grandpa. The fight was gone. I held back tears in fear of upsetting her.

“I will talk to Mac and ranchers in the foundation. Let me worry about the ranch.”

She took my face in her hands. “You will do the right thing. I trust you, m’ija.”

Jake was at the house when Nana and I got home. He and Grandpa had just returned from checking on cattle over in the north pasture across the highway. Julio had stayed behind to finish my morning chores. Nana smiled when Grandpa walked into the kitchen. The shift in her was subtle yet profound. She’d accepted the truth about Grandpa’s condition and tenderly caressed his face.

“Patrick’s coming home at the end of the week,” Jake said. “He’s taking some time off from his job. Says Chicago’s too cold.”

“That’s great news,” I said. “The two of you need to come by for dinner when he gets in. I’ll see if Walt wants to join us.”

“I’ll invite Teresa and José,” Nana said. “It would be nice to have people here.”

I filled the tea kettle. “We’ll have a party then.”

Julio came in holding his hat. “What’s wrong?” I asked.

“The tires on the tractor were slashed.”

Nana sat down. “What do you mean?”

“I mean someone came here last night while we were sleeping and took a knife to the tires on the tractor.”

Grandpa’s eyes filled with tears. “Not my tractor.”

“Who would do such a thing?” Nana asked. Even before she spoke, she knew. We all did. Garrett McBride had crossed a line

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