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December 2016

Aunt Connie

Consuela Escadero Simpson’s mother, Maria, was a dancer. They said all her babies were born dancing. She danced straight through eight pregnancies by two husbands - brothers - and outlived them both. She raised eight girls. Connie was the youngest.  The oldest, also named Maria, married the Colonel and their boy, Alvalito, married Connie. Apparently no one thought it was weird to marry your own aunt. They weren’t asked. It was arranged for them.  

Aunt Connie said their marriage was about a poker fight in Perea’s Bar. The Colonel accused her father, a longtime business partner, of cheating. A horrible fight broke out. The Colonel tried to shoot the old man who was swinging at him with a knife. He missed and shot his dog, a widely beloved terrier.

Everyone came running toward the gunfire and found the two men collapsed in a weeping heap. At first they thought they'd wounded each other and no one was sad or shocked. But when they pulled them apart and saw the dead dog the bar erupted in wailing. She said people heard the cries for miles. Men had wounded each other in fights in Perea's for decades but loss of that precocious pup was the last straw. Something had to be done.

After the dog’s well-attended graveside service in the chapel cemetery, the men were given an ultimatum by their wives: transfer assets to their children or have their many illegal enterprises exposed. To seal this pact and tie the fortunes of the families together, their children were married. There was little debate or disagreement other than from the couple. And the fact that the families were already related and this had not aligned sympathies, didn't figure into it.


Alvalito, who danced at least as well as his grandmother, ran the Spanish Dance School at the Perea Hacienda for almost fifty years. He and Connie had a son, Alva. But he was short on common sense and almost lost the ranch to his unsavory business partners. After that, Connie took it back somehow and ran the bar and the rest of the ranch with Rosa - until she died and the twins came of age and Sammy screwed it up again. So that's the short story.


The Salvage Yard

(First published February 2015)

That stoner's stupid junk pile sits right in the middle of my limited access arterial.

Sammy Simpson rapped his Perea High School class ring on his desk a couple times and Ace rolled his eyes.  Sammy had started doing the ring thing after watching House of Cards.

All he cared about was getting his road. Access through from the freeway was impossible.  His father, Alva, had sold-off large lots without easements and those owners didn't want or need a six lane road. Neither did Cozy Y Ranchette owners in the valley. Who would?

That left the the old gas station and salvage yard north of the hacienda. And that big pile of crap.

It was a huge and made of wrecks: cars, trucks, buses and military vehicles. It started after Chocky got a grant to clean-up the place after the restaurant burned. All those rusting hulks were drained and stripped and arranged for  permanent removal. Only that last part never happened. So the pile got over 180' high and the base covered a half-acre.

It got to be sort of a tourist attraction. A paved path led between and up through the Chevys and Fords and Volvos. At the very top was a terrace and school bus apartments he rented on Airbnb. People got married up there.

The way he did it with contrasting horizontal bands of brown rusted cars and white enamel refrigerators and stoves, from a distance, it looked like a castle.


Caracol Gardens

Sadie turned into Caracol Drive. The old bar was long gone but the place still gave her the creeps. It had been photographed in a couple of magazines before it fell into ruin. After Aunt Connie died everything went that way. South. She included herself in that. The bar was a metaphor and vandals tore the place apart. They ripped remaining letters off the sign and took chunks of the shell facade. They were lighting fires inside and dumping garbage all over the parking lot. Sammy had a fence put up but by then it was too late.

Chocky bought it and burned it. At least that's what everyone said. He says he didn’t but no one could blame him. Or pin it on him. It was cheap fifties construction and would have cost too much to tear down. Everyone said he did it because of bad memories. Because of Uncle Johnny and the kids he molested there. Or because of Alva and the Colonel. But surely all that wasn’t El Caracol's fault. A place was made to pay for people's sins, just like the bar that burned before it and the barn that it replaced and the old adobe before that.  

Now a wall and shade structure edged the parking lot and she pulled her white BMW up to the intercom and mailbox.   The gate opened silently and she drove through. It was even nicer than the last time she was there. He'd built a huge sundial and cleverly illuminated sculptures out of salvaged tiles and scrap steel where El Caracol had been. Solar lights lit a walkway and a circular fountain sculpture traced the bar's distinctive curl in shimming water. The roses she'd planted where her Aunts' ashes were buried had grown.

Chocky met her in front of his place, the first in a series of small cabins that had once been Cozy Y Gardens Motor Court.  His giant three-story sculpture loomed behind him, dark but for the apartments and deck on top where Sadie could see smoke curling from a barbeque grill and lights in both the converted school buses.

Full house? She gestured with her chin.

Booked through November.

Three months!


The Land Speculator

It was banks, bulldozers and boom times. Alva made a killing just drawing lines and filing deeds. The state was one of the last to enact subdivision law. Legislation was quietly vetoed by the rancher governor at least a couple times. You didn’t have to build roads or provide water. Just survey and file. Market and sell. Sometimes not even in that order. You’d think it’d be hard to mess that up but Alva did.

Potsherds Piedras MarcadasAlva liked to say he was a rancher like the beloved governor but all he ever did with the Cozy Y was sell it off. He lost parts of it too - soured deals or card games. He was stupid about money and had really bad luck.  

Right after he inherited the ranch he sold the fields and woodland bosque along the river. Even his greedy grandfather, the Colonel, had known not to do that. Loss of that irrigated bottomland cut the ranch’s already slim agricultural prospects leaving only mesa lands - already overgrazed and eroded in the Colonel’s time by centuries of sheep.

But this, like Alva’s other mistakes, was missing or skipped-over in the satiny smooth ranch tales. These included Annie Simpson’s biography of her husband’s grandfather, The Colonel and The Cozy Y - a history so slick and light it might could slide off any self-respecting coffee table.

Local business news features centered on Alva as successful businessman and his young twins, heirs to his proud legacy. They were displayed prominently at various events wearing silly matching outfits and gloomy faces - both custom made by their mother.

The stories served to promote the ranch’s only remaining profitable enterprise, El Caracol. While Alva was the centerpiece of this rich ranch fiction, as well as a frequent centerpiece in the Caracol bar, he had next to nothing to do with any of it. His mother Consuela ran everything.  Until the day she died. Then it all fell, silently and heavily, on the shoulders of Consuela’s half-sister, Rosa. Now that she’s gone, it’s gone to hell.

Chocky learned the truth incrementally and over years. Rosa tended to provide information on a need-to-know basis. He didn’t even know she was his landlord until he tried to buy the property six years after he’d lived there.

He felt she misjudged the timing - not even giving him answers about ranch archaeology he’d asked repeatedly before she died. She’d only say he was asking the wrong question and look at him with mischievous eyes.