Tequila Highway (Chapters 18 & 19)

Sonoita 24

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BORDER COWBOYS

Clay was seeing a girl from Tucson. He met her at a dance in Nogales. Her name was Silvia Martinez. She was stunning and had Clay not asked her out, I would have jumped at the chance. After a couple of months, she invited Clay to meet her family. I’d offered to go with him, but he insisted on going alone.

 Silvia had two older brothers who weren’t at all interested in their little sister dating a white boy. They beat Clay pretty bad. He missed two days of school. When he returned, he got on like nothing ever happened.

He kept seeing Silvia even though I’d told him his life was in danger. I would drop him off near the San Xavier Mission on the Tohono O’odham Reservation where Silvia’s mom lived. Silvia would pick up Clay in a brand-new royal blue Oldsmobile Cutlass. I’d go visit my sister in Tucson for the day then pick up Clay before nightfall. He never told me where they went or what they did, but he sure seemed to like Silvia.

One night I waited for him in my truck until nine o’clock. No one except Clay and I knew what we were up to, and I was riled up waiting on him. Just when I thought I’d have to go looking for him, Clay came running out of the desert. His lip was bleeding and his cheek was split open. “Let’s get the hell out of here!” he hollered when he reached the truck.

I spun out of there like the headless horseman chased us. “Jesus, what happened? Did her brothers find you?”

He took the bandana I’d handed him and pressed it against his lip to stop the bleeding. “Nope. Turns out Silvia’s got a temper of her own.”

“She did that?”

“With a baseball bat. I offered to take her cousin back to Nogales. She accused me of cheating on her. I’m done. That family’s crazy.”

Clay and I never talked about that night. When a deputy sheriff asked me if I knew of anyone who might want to harm Clay, I said I couldn’t think of a soul.

In 1984 Eduardo and Javier Martinez, Silvia’s brothers, were arrested on drug smuggling charges. Eduardo died in prison during a gang riot. Javier was released in 1991. Nine days later he was arrested and eventually convicted on first degree murder charges. He is currently serving life without parole.

 

SOFIA

Garrett McBride pulled his big dually in next to my grandpa’s pickup truck outside Dalton’s. A friend of Nana’s, who sang in the choir, rang out my purchases as I kept one eye on Garrett.

I’d priced tires for the tractor and couldn’t afford to replace them, not with the unpredictable future we were facing. My grandpa’s medications changed each time he went to a doctor’s appointment, and as his health deteriorated, Nana and I would need to discuss Letty’s hours and nursing home options. The house, bunkhouse, and barn were held together precariously on a prayer. Broken pipes, leaky roofs, and electrical problems were imminent threats as sure as someone standing out in the orchard with a loaded canon. It wasn’t because my grandparents had neglected the structures, it was that keeping the cattle, our livelihood, healthy and safe, took every available minute and resource. Cows needed water. This meant water tanks, pumps, and miles of pipe needed constant maintenance. Corrals and fences kept the cattle inside our borders and safe from injury when branding and shipping. A hole in the fence could scatter cattle for miles costing a small fortune and days of labor to repair. Horses were needed to gather cows and required stewardship. Vehicles and farm equipment broke down so often that it was reason to celebrate when things, like the tractor, ran properly. Simply put, at the end of the day, if you had a roof over your head and a hot meal in your belly, you had much to be thankful for.

Garrett knew what he was doing. Replacing slashed tires on the tractor was near the bottom of our to-do list. He’d done it as a warning. Our first, and I worried what he would do next.

McBride was leaning against his tailgate when I got to my truck. His left temple was bandaged, and a purplish-blue bruise crawled out from under the gauze. He caught me staring and pulled his hat down. “Haven’t seen you around much, Sofia,” he said.

“I’ve been busy,” I said. I didn’t mention the tires and caught a glimpse of satisfaction turn up the corners of his mouth.

“I hear you’re thinking about selling out to those damn hippies,” he said. “You won’t make any money doing that.”

He rested a shiny black boot on my bumper blocking me in. “You’re going to throw all of Sam’s hard work down the drain to do what? Save the planet? If Sam had his wits about him, this would kill him dead.” He spit in the dirt. “I could make you a rich woman. I want you to think about that.”

He’d been slinking around in the dark, slashing tires and sending men to scare me in the middle of the night. In the light of day, he was a just a man. Without his boots on, I would tower over him. I squared my shoulders and looked him in the eye. “They’re not hippies, and what I do with the ranch is my business.”

His expression turned hard under the brim of his Stetson. “You don’t know who you’re dealing with.” He leaned in and drew a deep breath. “You smell like her. Like your mother.” He removed his foot and sauntered toward the store, leaving me dumbstruck.

In an instant, images of Garrett came in succession like flipping through the small paintings my mom had made for my dad: sipping a chocolate milkshake at a diner in Tucson; kissing my mom’s cheek in the lobby of a movie theater; handing me the pretty, little bear outside the shoe store.

Julio pulled in behind my truck. I slapped the hood. “You know about my mom and McBride,” I said, when I reached the driver’s side of his truck.

Julio wouldn’t look at me. “I’ve told you to leave the past alone, m’ija.”

“And I say I can’t. Tell me what happened.”

Julio put his truck in reverse and backed out of the parking lot. I kicked the front grill. “I deserve to know!” I shouted.

Garrett stood just inside the entrance of the store, smiling. I didn’t care that he defended drug runners or that he owned half the valley. I was done being intimidated. I swung the driver’s side door of my truck open, slamming it into Garrett’s shiny Silverado. His smile disappeared, and his hands balled up into fists at his sides before he disappeared into Dalton’s.

I banged on the steering wheel of my truck as I sped through town. My mom, in what could have only been a manic state, had made me an accomplice in her affair with Garrett. I was there when they held hands through a movie and when he took us to dinner where I’d spilled a root beer on a white linen tablecloth, my mom apologizing, McBride cooing, “It’s okay Faye. It’s okay.”

Unlike the bottle of tequila under the seat of our old truck, my mom hadn’t asked me to keep our outings a secret. I would have instinctively known the presence of another man would destroy my dad. My poor parents, their lives ruined by mental illness, with McBride a parasite who had taken advantage of the situation.

I parked in front of the electric co-op and collected myself before going inside. John Mayfield was behind the counter “It’s a beautiful day. You should be out climbing power poles,” I said.

“The sink in the bathroom is leaking. I offered to fix it.”

John was hired on as a lineman right out of high school. The Valley Co-op was the best paying employer in the area. He’d somehow managed to run the ranch in his spare time. “How is Jenny’s mom doing?” I asked.

“The surgery went well, but she’s having a hard time adjusting. Jenny’s working herself to the bone trying to keep up. How about you? How’s Sam?”

“Things change every day. He still knows my nana. I guess that’s all that matters.”

“I hope everything works out. Both the SCT and the foundation have been a godsend. Let us know if there’s anything we can do to help.”

I handed John an envelope with the electric bill and the check Nana had written. Had I stayed in Santa Rita, I would have married a local boy, had children, and would be living a life aligned with Jenny’s.

I stepped out into the sunshine. Garrett was on the other side of the park in Dalton’s parking lot assessing the damage to his truck. Between us lay the old New Mexico and Arizona Railroad tracks. I imagined myself a damsel in distress tied to the tracks with Garrett standing above me laughing as a steam engine barreled toward us blowing its whistle.

Nana invited the ladies from the church choir and neighbors she hadn’t seen in years to her party. Over forty people filled the house and spilled out onto the front porch. Patrick was back and people were polite toward him, but it was obvious the book had struck a nerve. He helped me in the kitchen, and after the food was served, he asked me to go for a walk.

The monsoons were behind us and the night temperatures had turned cold. Patrick built a fire in the old pit my dad had dug out in a clearing between the fruit trees. Under a star filled night in lawn chairs I borrowed from Julio’s porch, we spoke above the crackle and hiss of burning mesquite wood. Patrick said that while he was back in Chicago, all he thought about was coming home. “This place gets inside a person,” he said.

“I finished the book,” I said.

“I see.”

“What if he’s out there?”

“If I could take it all back, I would. I made a mistake. The book, the accusations, leaving Clay with the dope. I just hope he comes home.” He stoked the fire with a stick.

“Hold on.” I ran over to Julio’s where I got down on my knees and pulled the board out from under the porch and reached inside for the wooden box. Clay’s rifle was inside the bunkhouse under the sofa.

From Julio’s porch, I watched Patrick take a long draw from a silver flask. I’d numbed my grief with hard work and a forward momentum. I understood why he drank and debated if I should share with him what I held in my hands.

We met in the yard. “What do you have there?” he asked.

I held out the rifle. Patrick snatched it from me. “Jesus Christ, this is Clay’s old hunting rifle. He had it the day he went missing.” He stumbled as we made our way back to the fire.

We both knelt in the dirt. I studied his face as he ran a hand over the stock, inspecting it. The firelight lit up the tiny, shimmering globes of his tears. I set the wooden box at his feet. “What’s in there?”

I told him Julio had found the items in the wooden box up at the cabin, and that he’d seen my dad and Clay riding up at the border fence. Patrick stopped me when I said that maybe my dad and Clay were working together on something.

“Your dad was the most honest, stubborn man I’ve ever known. He wasn’t smuggling drugs, Sofia, if that’s what you think. I can guarantee it. He was a straight shooter if there ever was one.”

“I didn’t say he was smuggling drugs. But what was he doing? Why was Clay staying at the cabin?”

Patrick emptied the contents of the box in front of him where they flickered in the firelight. He picked up Natalia’s jelly jar. The apple butter inside looked edible. “That old man in Texas was right. Clay is alive.” He sat back on his heels. “I’ve taken so much shit for the book. This proves he didn’t run off with the drug runners.” He wagged the jelly jar at me. “It proves he wasn’t killed in Mexico.”

“It does.”

“I wrote the book to answer a single question.” He let out a long sigh. “What happened to Clay?”

“And did you? Did you answer your question?”

“I don’t care anymore what happened. All the research, the interviews, I’m still left with speculation and hearsay. I want to know where he is. I always have.”

He twisted Clay’s bandana between his fingers. “Why didn’t he come to me? I would have done anything for him.”

I reached over and brushed the tears from his face. Patrick placed his head in the crook of my neck. I smoothed his hair with the palm of my hand. When his lips found mine, I kissed him. If there had been the slightest spark, I would have pulled him down onto the hard ground. Instead I lay my hand over his when he fumbled with the zipper on my jacket. “Not tonight, Patrick,” I said. “Not like this.”

“Of course. I’m sorry.” I rested my head against his chest. We sat quietly as the flames burned down to embers. Someone’s truck started. The party was over. “It’s cold. I need to go inside,” I said.

“They found Clay’s saddlebags up at Old Job Boulder that day. His horse came back to the barn before sunset,” he said. “I worried if he was out there, a rattlesnake or something would get him. I know it’s selfish, Sofia, and I don’t expect you to understand, but I eventually blamed Clay for everything so that I could live with myself.” He added another log to the fire and picked up Clay’s rifle. “I’d like to stay out here a while if you don’t mind.”

“Of course. Stay as long as you’d like.” I had held Patrick responsible for destroying the stories I’d carried with me for years without ever recognizing it was my own fault. By leaving home so young, the only thing I had to take with me were childhood memories. Like me, Patrick had done what was necessary to make sense of the things that haunted him. Any animosity I had toward him dissolved. I brushed off the grass on my jeans and threw the paper cup I’d brought out with me into the fire. “It’s good to have you home,” I said.

Patrick stoked the fire. “Thanks. That means a lot.”

Nana worked masa into tortillas. I cut vegetables to add to rice. “Do you have any paintings from my mom?” I asked. “Patrick mentioned Jake has one hanging in their living room.”

“Yes, there are maybe six or seven in the bunkhouse.” Nana wiped her hands on her apron. “I will call Julio. He can bring them over when he comes for supper.”

“I can get them after we eat. Why are the paintings over at Julio’s?”

“I don’t remember.”

“Robbie put them over there,” Grandpa said. He’d come into the kitchen and was sitting at the table.

“Sam, that’s enough,” Nana said.

I sat down next to him. “Why did he do that?”

Grandpa’s eyes were cloudy with cataracts, but he was fully present. He would fade away soon, so I put my hand up when Nana went to speak. “He wanted to burn them after Queenie left,” he said. “He built a fire out in the old pit. Natalia put a stop to it. Said he’d regret it.” Tears ran down his cheeks. “Natalia, I miss him.”

She rushed to his side and covered his face with kisses. “I miss him, too.”

I’d never experienced that kind of love. The places inside me where it belonged ached.

Julio sensed the mood when he arrived. We ate quietly, lost in our own thoughts. After dinner, Julio and I walked over to the bunkhouse. The temperature gauge nailed to a post on his front porch read forty-two degrees. Inside, Julio lit a fire in the old fireplace my mom had studded with semiprecious stones she’d purchased at a mineral show in Tucson.

I waited in the living room while Julio retrieved the paintings, two at a time, from the closet in my old bedroom, a room I hadn’t stepped foot since my dad died. He leaned them against the sofa and along the wall on either side of the fireplace. The paintings danced in the firelight and the love I had for my mother filled the room.

Julio introduced each painting as though they were old friends: This is Crimson Canyon. Here is Juniper Falls in the summer. Ay, do you remember Robbie’s cutting horse, Blue Max?

I pointed to a painting no bigger than a sheet of paper; the subject I didn’t recognize. “Is that on the ranch?” I asked.

“No, that’s Jaguar Cave.”

Julio brought it over to where I sat in a chair next to the fire. The frame was made from old barn wood. The colors my mom had used brought out the hues of the desert. “Nana said if she ever found out I’d been to the cave, she’d tan my hide herself.”

Jaguar Cave was on a remote part of the Waters’ ranch, up in the hills where it was rocky. A place even the cows were smart enough to stay away from. It was rumored a black jaguar lived in the cave and hunted anything that got too close. My dad was the first to tell me about the big cat. He’d said if the stories were true, then the jaguar had to be at least a hundred years old

“Did she paint this from a photograph?” I asked.

Julio chuckled. “Ay, no. She went to the cave after Robbie said she wasn’t allowed to go without him. Sam and I were out in the barn. I asked her where she was going. She said she was off to invite the jaguar to supper.”

“She had a good sense of humor back then. She’s different now.” Julio kept his eyes on the painting. “I know about my mom and Garrett” I said. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

“I’m sorry, m’ija.”

I held up the painting. “Can I keep this one?”

“They’re all yours. I can bring them by the house tomorrow.”

The vibrant colors had made the dreary bunkhouse a home when I still lived with my parents. After my mom left, my dad brought in boxes from the barn and packed up all our family pictures and the paintings. The bare walls had signified a permanent change in our lives. In his desire to erase her from his mind, he’d forgotten how much I loved her. “Would you mind if we hung them here?”

“Of course not. This old place could use some of Faye,” he said.

I slipped the small painting of Jaguar Cave under my jacket. “It’s late. Do you have time to hang them tomorrow?” I asked.

“For you, any time is good.”

I opened my mouth to ask Julio a mountain of questions and stopped short. It was the first time we’d been easy with each other since I’d been home. I didn’t want it to end.

My room was becoming an on-site archaeological lab of sorts. I had stashed Clay’s belongings under my bed and had retrieved the box of my parents’ love letters and placed them on the top shelf in my closet. Out in the barn, among a stack of dated farm supply catalogs, I’d found the book I was reading the day my dad drowned. It was tucked away in a dresser drawer under my socks and underwear. In the morning I’d hang the painting of Jaguar Cave next to my dad’s old cowboy hat that hung on a peg near the door. My old spurs dangled on a nail under it. Patrick had asked to keep Clay’s rifle. I had agreed, but it was a missing puzzle piece, and I hoped he would let me have it back, at least for a little while.

Patrick’s book was on the nightstand next to my bed. I picked it up before propping myself up with pillows and covering my legs with an old quilt Ruby had made. Patrick had mentioned Jaguar Cave, but so many things had happened since I’d come home, I’d all but forgotten Border Cowboys was the reason I’d left Chicago. Flipping through pages, I found what I was looking for.

Jaguar Cave was forbidden; therefore, it was the one place Clay and I ventured to whenever we had the chance. It was at the most southeast corner of the ranch in a rocky patch of terrain. My dad had no use for the land, but that’s not why Clay and I were forbidden to go to the cave. It was rumored a black jaguar lived in those parts and had claimed the cave as his own. Stories about men being chased by the cat were common in the valley. Clay and I kept our hunting rifles loaded and slung over our shoulders when we rode up that way. My dad said the stories about a man-eating jaguar were hogwash, but he was certain one of us would get ourselves hurt playing in the cave.

I dialed Patrick’s number. He picked up on the second ring. “I know it’s late. Did I wake your dad

“No, he’s snoring in his chair. What’s going on?”

“Did you check Jaguar Cave?”

“When?”

“Did anyone check the cave after Clay went missing?”

“It’s in some pretty rough country.” He tapped a pen against something. I hoped it wouldn’t wake Jake. “Nobody went up there.”

“Julio found Clay’s things at our cabin. It was searched right after Clay went missing. There was no sign of him. Where would he have gone when he saw the drug runners?”

The tapping stopped. “It’s a long shot, Sofia. Even if he went to the cave, I don’t know what you expect to find.”

“I’ll come by tomorrow after Mass. We’ll go together.”

Clay must have known the truck or trucks that approached him were coming for the drugs. Nobody in their right mind would have waited around. After Clay disappeared, Jake locked the gates leading up to Old Job Boulder. No one had access to the cave and the stories of a man-eating jaguar faded into legend.

Garrett approached me in the church parking lot after Mass carrying a manila envelope. “I hoped I would run into you today,” he said. “Father Nico gave a wonderful homily. We should all learn to love our neighbors.” He handed me the envelope. “I know Sam would agree.”

“I’ll make sure he gets this.” I turned to walk away.

“No, Sofia. It’s for you.”

I leaned against the Cadillac and opened it. Inside was a document drafted by an attorney in Nogales. It stated that in the event my grandpa could no longer run cattle and manage the ranch, it would be put up for sale. In no uncertain terms, did he want it going into a conservation easement. “Where did you get this?” I asked.

“It’s filed with Sam’s attorney.”

“The ranch is in a trust.” Garrett crossed his arms when I went to hand him the document. “Sam can’t outright sell it,” I said.

“You’re right, but he’s managed it his entire life. What he wants matters in a court of law. No judge is going to just tear that up. I’m giving you one last chance here, Sofia.” He flicked the edge of the paper. “Do the right thing, or you’re bound to lose everything.”

“The right thing is to make sure you stay off our property. I want you to leave me alone.”

He scanned the parking lot for onlookers before stepping in close. “By the time this is settled, you’ll be flat broke from paying attorney fees. The ranch will be buried in back taxes. I’ll get it for a song.” He leaned back and tipped his hat. “You have a nice day, Miss Sofia Covington.”

I leaned against the Cadillac staring at the front page of the document. It was dated two years earlier after it was clear Grandpa’s memory was going but before there was a diagnosis. Garrett had orchestrated the whole thing.

Patrick approached the car. “Are we still on for today?” he asked.

“I’m not up for it.” I handed him the papers.

He read them quickly. “He’s desperate. I found out McBride has a gambling problem. He owes some very bad men in Reno a lot of money,” he said. “He’s got investors lined up on the project he wants to do over at your place. They don’t know the trouble he’s in.”

“He owns the Glendale Ranch, and he just bought that strip mall on Mariposa. I saw it in the paper.”

“He also filed for bankruptcy on the two produce houses he owns in Rio Rico. He needs the hot springs. That’s the draw. A desert oasis. That’s what his investors are banking on. Garrett’s not going to quit. The best thing we can hope for is that this blows up in his face.”

“I keep running into him. Eddie, too.”

“I doubt it’s a coincidence. Maybe you should back off a little. Stop going to the foundation meetings. Buy yourself some time.”

I took the papers from him. “If I wait, we could lose everything.”

Garrett pulled out of the parking lot. He was alone.

“We’ll figure something out,” Patrick said.

“Thanks.” Nana came out the kitchen door and waved. “This would kill her.”

Patrick jogged over to Nana and gave her a hug. I got back in the car, slipped the document into the envelope, and slid it under the seat. Leaving a dent in Garret’s truck was like running away with The Cowboy—a childish impulse that could lead to much bigger problems.

“Patrick is such a nice young man,” Nana said, when she got in the car.

“He’s a good friend,” I said.

She folded her hands in her lap. “I see.”

“Things could change,” I said. I didn’t have the heart to tell her I wasn’t interested in Patrick or the stomach to tell her about Garrett’s threats.

 

BORDER COWBOYS

Clay worked one summer breaking colts for a big outfit out in the Santa Ana Valley. Like our place, it butted up against Mexico. Clay didn’t like spending the nights out there and sometimes got a ride to our place from a cowboy coming into town. The foreman on that ranch had gone to school with my dad. His name was Jep. I’d never seen him without a cigar stuck to his lip. One night he came by and dropped off Clay. When my dad asked him to come in for beer, Jep said he needed to get back to the ranch. Jep remembered that night. “We had a lot of young bucks out on the ranch that year. Clay didn’t fit in. He was quiet. Stayed to himself. Some of those boys were real rough. One of the ranch hands accused Clay of stealing his pocketknife. There was talk of a fight, so I brought Clay back to your place. He was scrawny, but tough. I didn’t want any trouble.”

I knew Clay hadn’t stolen the pocketknife. It wasn’t in him to do something like that. But Jep had reason to worry. Clay was tough. He was never one to back down from a fight.

 

SOFIA

Grandpa had a fever. It was Saturday. Nana didn’t want to wait until Monday to see a doctor. She prepared an overnight bag to take to the hospital while I closed the house and Julio brought the Cadillac from the barn. We worked together to get Grandpa to the car. He was agitated and slipped on a porch step. His howl drowned out the sound of the car engine. Nana rushed to his side. “Stop. Stop it! You’re hurting him.”

“Julio, call 911,” I said.

I brought Grandpa a chair and an afghan from the house. Nana sat in the Cadillac with the heat on as we waited for the ambulance. The door was open so she could hold my grandpa’s hand. Julio paced and kicked the dirt. I looked on as one might at the scene of an accident. I considered Patrick’s advice. Maybe he’d been wrong. Selling out to McBride was better than losing the ranch. I didn’t blame Grandpa for what he’d done. I only hoped by the time it was all over, he would have no idea Garrett got exactly what he wanted.

Grandpa’s ankle was broken. A paramedic asked me what happened while his partner talked to Julio as he took Grandpa’s vitals. He glanced up. “His temperature is through the roof.”

Nana remained in the car. The ordeal had proved too overwhelming. “Where are they taking him?” she asked when Julio and I got in the car.

“To Nogales.” I reached over and kissed her cheek. “He’ll be fine.”

She faced the window. “It’s up to God.”

We lost sight of the ambulance within minutes of reaching the highway. People had gathered outside Grady’s Saloon to watch the ambulance whiz through town. Eddie was among them. He tipped his hat as we drove by.

Cabrón,” Julio whispered, from the back seat.

The doctor in the emergency room said the broken ankle was easy to fix. It was the urinary tract infection that needed treatment. The infection had gone to the kidneys. It explained why Grandpa was running a high fever. The doctor recommended my grandpa spend a few days in the hospital until the staff was sure his condition was stable. Nana took the news hard. She believed it was her fault. “I keep him clean and make sure he eats his meals and takes his pills. How did this happen? I didn’t know he was sick until he woke up with a fever.”

We spent three hours in the emergency room before Grandpa was transferred to a room. Julio sat with him so Nana and I could go to the cafeteria to grab something to eat. “The doctor said it’s difficult to know when an Alzheimer’s patient is sick,” I said. “Grandpa couldn’t tell us he had a fever.”

“I don’t care what the doctor says. I have slept next to Sam every night for fifty-eight years and had no idea something was wrong with him.” Her face sagged with exhaustion. “What can I do now?”

“We’ll figure something out,” I said

“I’ll call Letty tomorrow. Maybe she can work more days.”

I was happy to pay Letty with the money I’d saved, but with all the other expenses, it wouldn’t last long. I’d been reading up on Medicare and found that with a doctor’s permission, a person could stay in a hospital for an extended period after meeting his/her deductible before other arrangements needed to be made. “I think Grandpa can stay here until we figure something out,” I said.

Nana slammed her cup on the table. “Don’t talk to me about leaving him someplace. He belongs at home with me.”

I put my hands up. “I’m just trying to help.”

Tears slid down her cheeks. “Ay, m’ija, I am sorry. It’s not your fault.”

Julio came to the table. “He’s asking for you, Natalia.”

She rushed past both of us. “Sam didn’t recognize me,” Julio said

“The doctor says once the infection is cleared up, he should be better,” I said.

“He’s seeing spiders on the floor and says the bed is moving. Can an infection do that?”

“I don’t know,” I said.

Sometimes Sal Marino would bring his mother into the Tavolino and give her a bucket of carrots to peel or a bowl of pasta to roll out. She loved to cook, and the doctor said routine was good for her. As her dementia worsened, she sometimes wandered into the dining room or yelled at one of my staff. At some point both Sal and Johnny made the decision to put her in a nursing home. The brothers rarely mentioned her again. Grandpa was lost to us in a world beyond our reach. It would take all of us working together to keep him at home. Nana wasn’t ready to exclude him from our daily lives. I wasn’t ready for that either.

Nana and I met with a social worker whose job was to help our family understand not only my grandpa’s deteriorating condition, but also to prepare us for the final stages of Alzheimer’s. She also helped us navigate insurance forms and long-term care options. Nana was taking him home even though the doctor and social worker advised otherwise.

“Grandpa would receive excellent care. Some of the nurses are from church,” I said.

We sat in the waiting room. Grandpa was getting a chest x-ray. “I have told you what I want,” Nana said. “He is coming home and will stay there until I cannot help him anymore.”

“How do you know that time hasn’t come?”

Her eyes filled with tears. “God will give me a sign. Leave it be Sofia.”

The social worker had mentioned this might happen. It was best to let Nana come to the decision herself.

Nana fed my grandpa after a nurse brought him back to the room. His eyes remained glued on the evening news as he ate Salisbury steak and mashed potatoes. The infection had ravaged his body. Thin, withered arms stuck out of his hospital gown. His horn-rimmed glasses were too large against his drawn face. The doctor had said tremors were common. Grandpa’s lips quivered between bites. Nana hadn’t mentioned the changes in him. I was afraid to ask if she’d noticed. The love she had for him seemed to transcend the obvious changes. Taking him home meant more work for all of us. I’d made arrangements for Letty to be there.

Julio came in and stood at the foot of the bed twisting the brim of his cowboy hat. “Can I see you in the hall?” he asked.

We walked to the vending machine. “The border fence has been cut. It’s down for a quarter mile.” he said.

“McBride’s behind this.” I said.

He folded his arms over his chest. “We need to fix it. Some of Jake’s cows are over in Mexico.”

“My God, it will cost a fortune to replace. How many head does Jake have running up there?”

“Maybe fifty. Patrick and Jake are across the line in Mexico right now.”

“Don’t tell Nana. She’s got enough to worry about. Grandpa’s coming home tomorrow.”

“What? He can’t walk.”

“Letty will be there. She can help.”

“What do you want me to do about the fence?”

“Do we have any wire laying around?” I asked.

“We’ll need more.”

“Can you round up Daisy and Fox? I don’t want them wandering into Mexico. Fox should follow if you bring a bucket of sweet feed.”

We decided to meet at the feed store later in the day. In the meantime, I had to pick up the financial paperwork from the accountant for Michelle Carter. Slowly I was learning my way around the finances and what I would need to do to put the ranch in an easement. McBride remained the biggest obstacle in so many facets of my life, it was as though he lived in the house—a cold, dark shadow that hugged the walls and crawled into bed with me at night.

Mac met me at a Mexican restaurant in Nogales. He read the papers I received from Garrett and shook his head. “This could be a problem. The Southwest Conservation Trust can’t get involved until it’s resolved. I’m real sorry.”

“So, Garrett was right. I have no other choice than to sell him the ranch or risk losing it altogether.”

“I’m not sure it’s that black and white. It’s best to talk with an attorney. Find out what your options are.”

“Why would my grandpa do something like this? He and McBride weren’t friends. I can’t imagine who else would have put him up to it,” I said.

“After my grandfather died, my grandma took up with some big talker from West Texas,” Mac said. “The family didn’t care for him much, but we stayed out of their business. Then she got Alzheimer’s. By the time my mom stepped in to help, this guy had all but robbed my grandma blind. Her judgment was impaired. There wasn’t anything we could do. It’s possible Garrett saw an opportunity.

“I’d like to continue the work we’ve started. Someone from the University of Arizona is coming by to look at wildlife habitat. I talked to Michelle Carter. She’s asked for some ranch documents.” I picked at a muffin. “I’m not ready to give up. Not yet.”

“I’d be happy to help any way I can so that when this is resolved, we can move forward.”

“I’m sorry about your grandma,” I said.

Mac put on his jacket. “It used to be people got sick and died. When was the last time you heard of that happening? People seem to live forever now. Maybe Alzheimer’s is a price we pay for advancements in medicine.” He held the door for me. “Me. I hope to die while I can still dress myself.”

Mac handed me a business card out in the parking lot. “This guy has worked with several of the ranchers in the area. He’s a good attorney. He might be able to help.”

I had been too busy to research my legal rights regarding the ranch. Depending on my Grandpa’s moods, Nana called on my help several times a day. I had canceled as many appointments as I had made and often went to bed without a shower. A sense of urgency ran under my skin like an electric current. Sometimes in the middle of the night, I’d wake and shake like a dog to rid myself of it. Those nights it was impossible to fall back to sleep. I would get up and quietly straighten up the house or prepare all the meals for the following day. To get a handle on things, I would need to make a schedule and stick to it. First stop was Bo Roberts’ office. His name was on the document Garrett had given me.

 

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