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January 2017

Ace's Backhoe

When Sammy took over he fired everyone and put Ace in charge. Ace Scanlin had been his driver and bodyguard. He'd never managed anything larger than the turning radius of a truck but Sammy let him run the ranch and restaurant.  

Ace had no sense of priority or proportion. He would obsess over some details and ignore more important things. Like when Sadie went out of town for a weekend and left Ace in charge of the barn. He had a flush toilet installed in the office but didn’t feed. Horses and the kenneled hounds would have died if there hadn’t been automatic water troughs.

And there was his temper. It became startlingly obvious to Sammy after two workmen disappeared, that Ace, who confessed he’d gotten angry and killed them, wouldn’t work out. Everyone was terrified of him. No one showed up at the house anymore. Hiring anyone to do actual work was impossible and that made Ace even madder since it meant he had to do the work himself.

But Sammy was afraid of him too. And the guy could operate a backhoe, which was pretty important if you are going to go around killing people.

Lines of Power

She stood alone outside under the long portal that edged one side of the old building. The wind was howling through the long stretch of power lines up the mesa. Alva had given the power company an easement across Cozy Y figuring it was just for his land. He didn’t know they’d use it for huge towers and high-voltage lines that make your ears buzz when you stand under them.

A former friend was a "planner" with the power company and worked on impact assessments. Mostly she got paid to mollify people who showed up at the public meetings worried about how the towers and lines would look. Or about whether electromagnetic radiation was bad for you - which was met with the technical equivalent of “pshaw” And "prove it."

Nobody thought to ask if lines and towers would moan like sad ghosts.

Alva also assumed that same easement was wide enough for the road. He didn’t think about the steepness of the mesa’s edge and when his engineer pointed it out he got mad and fired him. His lawyer was as clueless as he was about topography and engineering. That’s why Sammy had to get another easement. He made sure this one’s wide enough for six lanes. 

A Real Dump

The place was a real dump. That’s saying something because people were dumping all over after they stopped running sheep and cattle on Cozy Y. People needed it then - the land - they used it for everything: animals, plants, firewood, rocks and there was a lead mine too. After the wars no one really wanted to work the land like that. And Alva wouldn’t let them anyway - not the way his father had.

The fences and that nice old-style Cozy Y gate came down. You know the one with a counter-balance thing and you can stay in your truck and just pull on a rope and it opens. Everyone loved that gate. They’d put little kids on it so they could ride it up and down. No wonder it finally broke. Alva never got it fixed and it rotted away in the weeds - like nearly everything else.

The arroyo filled up with trash, mattresses, tires, dead animals. Then one day a thunderstorm parked itself right over all that crap and washed it clean down into the valley.  Roiling piles of garbage. A particularly solid sleeper-sofa punched a hole in the small dam that usually held back the water. Everything was swept onto fields and yards and even into a couple homes. The place was covered in filth, broken bits and mud - the mesa’s payback for neglect.

That was right around the time Connie took over. She had the fences fixed and a couple of pretty little rock check dams built. ATVs are the problem now. Thank God she didn’t live to see that. Angel wants a drone to patrol that fence line now, if Sammy doesn't sell it all first.


Rosa had been forced to give up her baby. She’d been raped by her cousin but could never tell anyone.  The whole place was full of secrets like that, and worse. Secrets and lies and lies about the secrets. They were like salt on soil and nothing good or sincere would grow. Only mutual distrust thrived, jungle thick.

You could trace it back further than the Colonel’s land theft of course. There were lies told to the King’s agents and to priests. Layers of lies told to the earliest investors. New lies excuse and protect old lies.  Lying becomes normal coping behavior. Lies and misconceptions just keep growing and going. Like the New Mexico State Motto: It grows as it goes. They meant tall tales, the liars.

Alva's Dogs

Maybe it was concussions Alva got playing football or lead gas exposure over the years but he was unable to focus or absorb new information by about the age of sixty. I mean he was always a bit like that, but he got worse. He was immune to facts about how the ranch was being run into the ground.  And he was horrible at poker, just like his grandfather. That got worse too. Before Aunt Connie got involved he nearly lost the ranch.

Have you ever known someone where the only good thing you could say about him was that you liked his dogs? All of Alva’s dogs were great. There were always several with him at the ranch. While they stayed right by his side, he seldom expressed affection for them. But they didn’t take their eyes off Aunt Connie whenever she entered the room.

No, the best thing about Alva wasn’t even Alva’s. The dogs' job was to mind him like a flock of sheep - follow him around and alert Aunt Connie if he strayed far. He used to lock himself in the old outhouse just to get away. But after about ten minutes they’d start howling and barking.  There was this one persistent terrier that dug right underneath so far so it started to lean. The door jammed and he was trapped in there for hours. Everyone missed the dogs first.

Rosa chuckled.  She frequently digressed from ranch history into excruciatingly detailed descriptions of each of Connie’s dogs. Chock asked her about his enemies.
He called them his business partners - not his enemies. God, he was dumb. I suppose Connie could have had a hand in their disappearance. But those guys probably had lots of other enemies. Real enemies. Nobody really believes a sweet old lady who makes empanadas and tamales at Christmas is capable of … that kind of thing. Whatever. They never found those two men, dead or alive. There was a TV show about it long after she died but nothing came of it except a little notoriety for Sammy.

She took a sip of tea and stood up to look out the painted window of her atrium. Her dogs stood up, stretching, and the hawk-eyed burro in the pasture rotated one giant ear her direction in acknowledgment.

Remembering hurt. She missed Connie. She missed each of those old dogs.  But she sure didn't miss Alva. Chocky saw himself out. She sat down again and smiled.