Mr. Nobody

Sadie and Cat had made a scarecrow in late September for a Halloween display the kids were putting up at the barn. They stuffed straw inside clothes over a wooden frame and propped it up on the second floor deck of the barn apartment. The head was a ball of fabric inside nylons with glasses and a hat. They named him “Mr. Nobody” and he almost looked real from the stable yard. From the parking lot he was convincing and menacing in the way he seemed to glare reprovingly from behind dark sunglasses. Some people found this disturbing. Mr. Nobody particularly disturbed Ace. 

The first time he saw the scarecrow Sadie was with him in his truck. As they turned into the driveway he started grumbling and cursing about how he hated strangers. She began laughing uncontrollably and didn’t stop until he rolled down his window and reached for the gun under his seat. She could barely talk through coughing gasps.

—Nobody! It’s Nobody!

This enraged him further as it implied guilt and denial. He took aim.

Angel heard pinging on the roof before the snap of gunfire and quickly assessed where it was coming from. This wasn’t hard as he could also hear Ace screaming. 

—Who does he think he is sitting there like that!? 

Sadie burst out in a fresh peal of fresh laughter. Angel admitted it was funny unless a horse got shot. 

—I don’t like the way he’s looking at me!

Ace spun the tires of his truck and drove through the gate into the stable yard and then jumped out, waving his gun.  He stomped up to the deck yelling insults at the straw man. When he noticed the mask he called him a pussy and a mummy a few times. A small group of parents and students gathered. Someone made a TikTok

Ace finally caught a clue when he recognized the sunglasses and hat as Sadie’s. Next he noticed a stick in a boot where a leg should be. He stopped yelling, deflated visibly, and got in his truck and drove off. A week later they found Mr. Nobody where Ace had hung him up from a tree and burned him. The kids at the stable had a funeral and then built his widow, Mrs. Nobody.

After that, the guys took turns wearing Sadie’s sunglasses and hat and staring at Ace from the deck whenever they saw him coming. He stopped visiting the barn. 



He noticed the crows. Their loud calls distracted him from the white noise of pain. They were circling close enough to look him in the eye. They watched as he picked his way across lava boulders in his stupid dress shoes. He was suddenly self-conscious and worried he’d fall. He was sure they’d peck his eyes out.

Velvet edges of saltbush and mesquite sharpened as dawn light hardened into day. He could tell he wasn’t thinking clearly. The wreck beat him up badly. He had tumbled around in the trunk of his wife’s sedan. The horizon had waves and there was ringing in his head. One side of his body wasn’t working right. It was hard to walk straight. He imagined taking a DUI test in this condition and laughed. Certain failure. He wiped sweat and blood off his face with the sleeve of his dress shirt and yelped as he snagged his cut lip with his cufflink. This became the most painful thing on his body for a few moments before fading into the dull roar of agony.  

Sadie had seemed so sweet and easy-going. Hard to believe she had that much violence inside her. Telling her to calm down  didn't help. Neither did his suggestion that her anger was because of menopause. Still, he was shocked when she hit him. She found out about the waitress and didn’t like being tricked. He couldn’t blame her. When they found that grave, which never should have happened, she figured it out. 

He wanted to avoid the security cameras along the highway. He’d installed the system for a billboard company and had done such a shitty job he figured they probably weren't working. But he didn’t want to take the chance.  Cross-country was rough going. Stickers clung to his socks and he was getting blisters. He needed to rest and sat down to watch the crows on what happened to be an ant pile. 

In the few moments before the biting began, he reflected on Sadie’s perverted sense of duty to her brother. He was her downfall. She treated him better than he ever treated her.  He recalled the time she'd slapped his face for calling Sebastian a dumbass. Sebastian called her a dumbass all the time. 

Ace stood up squealing. The ants were inside his trousers and biting. He tried to take them off but didn’t take off his boots first and hopped around on one leg briefly before falling back onto the ant pile in his underwear.

Sadie’s witchy friend had warned him that the consequences of his actions would pile up until the "scale of fate” tipped.  He didn’t know what she meant then but was pretty sure now. 

Ice House

There was a hidden entrance to the Cozy Y ranch house. The Colonel built a Spanish Colonial home in 1910. It sat on the mesa above the older structures on the valley floor beneath it. In one of these was an ice house or root cellar. The roof was reinforced with beams and the walls were lined with shelves. In the back wall was a closet that housed a dumbwaiter up to the pantry. 

There was room for a day bed and floor lamp. Connie would hide from her father-in-law down there. It stayed cool on the hottest days and cozy in the winter. She read books, ate peaches and preserves from glass jars with a spoon, and napped on piles of  Persian carpets and Navajo rugs stored there. They were safe from their enemies too - the moths and sunlight.

When the first ranch house burned the icehouse and other structures were all that remained. These were ignored in rebuilding. Rosa had the dumbwaiter closet rebuilt after the fire, replacing the dumbwaiter with a series of ladders and stairs. She showed it to Chocky but Alva never knew about it and neither did Sebastian. Sadie was almost certain that Ace didn't either. 

Sadie tried to jog the last hundred yards but was too exhausted. She'd been without water for the last couple of miles and she was wearing heels. She walked up her driveway and glanced at her reflection in a patio window. She looked exactly as she would expect to look if she'd hiked across the desert after killing her husband, shoving him in the trunk and wrecking the car.

She knew she couldn't get in without passing the office window.  If he wasn't there someone else might be and there would be questions. She paused to consider her options. The swimming pool was burbling and glistening. It was right there. She was so thirsty and hot.  

He glanced up when he heard the splash. She still had her clothes on but she'd done far weirder things. She waved at him and smiled a genuine smile because the water felt so delicious. When he was no longer watching she got out and strolled to the cabana for a towel. She headed the direction of the main house but appeared to reconsider and headed to the bar for a drink instead. No one was at the window when she turned around. She went back into the cabana and down a ladder in one of the changing room closets, emerging silently from the ice house below.

There was no sign of anyone at the barn.  Either Cat or Angel would be with a horse or in the office. She waved at the security camera. Her barn was never left unattended or unguarded. She began counting seconds and got to three when her dogs turned the corner of the barn at a full run. They immediately veered toward the ice house and she allowed them to jump into her arms. 



Angel had worked at the diner since he was eight. That was what Uncle Johnny liked to say but Angel’s earliest memory was standing on a stool washing dishes and he was probably only three or four. By eight he was working the grill. When he was big enough to balance the heavy trays he served customers. Uncle Johnny told him that he’d make him a bartender when he was old enough and promised to pay him regular wages but he never did. Angel was nearly broken by drudgery and boredom before Rosa took over management of the place. 

Rosa sent Angel to school, cut his work hours, and increased his pay. When he finished high school he used his savings to travel everywhere. He came home when Rosa decided to retire. Sadie convinced her mother, Annie, to hire him to manage the new horse barn. 

Annie was bad at people - caring about them, recognizing them, and remembering them. Angel was her dead husband’s nephew but when he told her, as a joke and straight to her face, that he was a Russian circus horse trainer, she believed him. So he had to continue with his poor attempt at an Eastern European accent and began studying Russian because of it. A year later Annie got mad about a hay delivery mix-up and called Immigration on him. He had to show his passport and explain the joke but this just convinced Annie that he was a Russian spy.  She seemed a little afraid of him after that.


After the Colonel stole the land grant he fenced off the roads and trails, cutting off access to thousands of acres families had been using for a couple hundred years. Later most of it was bought by the feds for National Forest and everyone blamed the "government" for everything.

Sadie used air quotes and tossed the spiral bound notebook onto a nearby table. She chose another from an ungainly pile. Cat raised her eyebrows and glanced into the dark corner of the bar where Chocky was sitting in the booth he used as his office. Smoke curled into the light of a desk lamp. He had on sunglasses. It was hard to tell if he was listening.

Sadie was fast, turning pages noisily, looking for portions of her writing she'd previously highlighted, reading then tossing. Cat tried to put discarded notebooks in order but Sadie kept aiming at the tidy stack she'd made, knocking them all to the floor. Sadie seemed oblivious which made it funnier to Chocky who laughed aloud when she managed a direct hit.   

Villagers’ herds were starving when he offered to buy them at discounted prices. That’s when people got mad. Then he turned them against each other, telling nasty rumors about this or that. He started a little civil war that lasted right up until World War II. That gutted the population of angry men. He died soon after that. 

Sadie paused and looked up from the notebook. Cat braced to catch it. But Sadie set it down carefully and began speaking slowly and clearly, not looking at notes. 

Aunt Connie poisoned my father after he raped her the third time.

This hung in the air like a strong scent, hard to identify, pungent, intriguing. Chocky looked up. Cat's chin dropped. Sadie continued, quietly.

She told Rosa she started putting rat poison in his coffee and that it took longer than she thought it would. He died at the poker table in the back room of his bar after winning a big hand.

Chocky took off his sunglasses.

They said it was a stroke.

They never did an autopsy. 

Cat just stared. Sadie continued reading.

A professor at the University wrote a history of the land grant called, “The Thief Who Was a King.”  He was like the Dan Brown of Escadero with his nuggets of half-truths carved to fit his fairy tale. It centered on the ridiculous claim that the Colonel was a descendant of an original land grantee, making him a legitimate heir to the grant. He was the son of a woman who was thrown out of the village for being a witch, according to this fiction. That was more interesting than the truth - he was just a wanna-be Santa Fe Ring white-collar crook. 

She paused to take a swallow of water and glanced at them both, then went on.

The professor later said he’d taken cash from Annie to promote the myth. Then he made the fatal mistake of trying to blackmail her with the fact that the Colonel wasn’t a Colonel. She  hired a young body guard to beat him up and he died of a stroke a week later. Ace, the bodyguard, got promoted to assistant ranch manager.

Sadie threw this notebook, deftly hitting Cat's pile, scattering them like playing cards. Then she lit and took a long drag on a little hand-rolled cigarette.  

What was that about poison again? 

Who Killed Cricket Coogler? 2

Downtown Las Cruces was quiet after midnight. Big partiers and players from Santa Fe and Ft. Bliss were at the clubs down in Anapra, a misbegotten little pocket on the border where nobody claimed authority or took responsibility for anything. It was wide-open. Gambling was supposed to be illegal then, although you might be forgiven for not knowing that. Even Uncle Johnny had slots in the back room of the diner. But those places in Anapra were like palaces. Cricket described it to him once - the neon lights, doormen, music, and back rooms that seemed to go on and on.

Angelo would sometimes walk Cricket home after closing. He looked forward to it even though he had to get up before dawn the next morning to help his father with their flock. He’d wait on the bus bench across from the diner, watching her move about the counter and flirt with customers with professional ease. After closing, Johnny would lock the front door behind her. Tonight Angelo watched as Johnny he held her around the waist from behind whispering something in her ear that made her squeal. 

On the walk she took off her loud shoes and strolled barefoot in the dark shadows talking. She told him about beautiful things and places she would go. Neither of them had been past El Paso or Albuquerque but she had big dreams - like going to California. Unsurprisingly, none of her dreams involved herding sheep.  


Who Killed Cricket Coogler? 3

One night she told him she’d gotten a job as a hostess in Anapra. She talked about what she’d wear, her new lipstick. Some new shoes of her sister’s. He tried to ask her more about the job but she didn’t really know much then and after that she wouldn’t talk to him about much of anything. She didn’t have time. She was too busy at the diner and now she got rides, mostly with customers, to and from downtown. Red shoes

Angelo missed her. He wanted to hear about her hopes and new clothes. Her mother was pleased to see him when he stopped by. She told him that Sheriff Apodaca gave Cricket rides to and from her job and how important her job must be if he taxied her about. She imagined it as a secretarial role, though Cricket hadn’t finished high school and couldn’t type.

She brought cash home, her mother said. When he asked how much she just raised an eyebrow and pointed to the new TV with her chin. 

Who Killed Cricket Coogler 4.

Maybe loud shoes took attention off the rest of her. Relieved her of the weight of mens’ eyes. It seemed to Angelo that men and women stared at Cricket as if her kind of pretty might wear-off on them. Her particular sweetness might get absorbed and somehow make them more attractive. Most just leered.  Like Johnny and his associates who called her a ‘tall drink o’ water for the desert,’ and whispered things in her ear while she refilled their coffees. Angelo suggested she bash them in the head with the coffee pot. But she just had to smile and take it. She probably saw the attention as a way out of town.
Maybe the car she got into that night gave her a ride to LA. He held fast to that thought. But she left without saying anything and  it had been over two weeks.

On Easter morning,  like most Sundays after church, he went rabbit hunting with his younger brother and his friends. They had gotten a late start and the desert sun was already high and hot over the mesa south of town. Angelo’s brother would say it was the smell and the flies they noticed first. But Angelo saw a single red shoe and recognized it at once. Through the waves of nausea and welling tears, he saw her broken body.

Between her disappearance and the horrifying discovery was a period of suspended reality Angelo would hold in his heart until his death. He didn’t want to know what actually happened, so he imagined what hadn’t in great detail. Cricket went to Los Angeles. Cricket was just too busy to get in touch. 


The Barn

The budding equestrians at Cozy Y were routinely disappointed that no one got to actually ride a horse during a riding lesson. The fine print included in the multi-page contract noted that “handling” and “associated activities deemed appropriate by the Manager” were included in the $75 per hour group Riding lesson fee.

The associated activities included an array of back-breaking barn chores distributed to students in a hierarchical system placing the youngest and newest firmly at the bottom. “Manure management” was in the category of associated activities. Students paid to rake, shovel and wheelbarrow horse shit.

Other tasks on these bottom rungs of the barn “intern” ladder, as it was fondly called, included cleaning saddles and bridles, sweeping the aisles, assisting with fence repairs, opening gates - everything except touching a horse. This had the cumulative effect of further fueling desire. New students would furtively caress any horses close enough. 

Those advancing to subsequent levels of horsemanship began assisting handlers with grooming. Then they would learn “ground work” - the term encompassing every single thing except riding.  Only after about three or four lessons, depending on the judgement of the Manager with an eye to insurance risk, could a student with no previous experience actually ride. 


Angel worked On a boat dock in Florida for a decade before moving into the apartment in the barn and becoming manager. Sammy hired him on a whim believing he was a Russian horse trainer because someone said he was from Moscow.  It was the Moscow in Idaho but Angel didn’t correct him. He began speaking to Sammy, in their few conversations, with a slight Eastern European accent. 

The boat dock gig was after the horse barn job in Idaho. Angel thought them very similar. The only people that made money from horses or boats had money to begin with or attached themselves, parasite-like, to those that did. Everyone else lost money and called it fun.

Both attract hustlers who prey on beginners and romantics. The true horse lovers and avid fishermen are the easiest marks. People will spend stupid amounts of money on things they love. 

Mostly, the money in barns and docks is in the real estate, not horses and boats.  In fact the owners that make the most money, don’t even seem to like them.  They  like the land they occupy. They like the monthly checks from the suckers. 

Sammy treated the Cozy Y barn like that until Angel took over. 





Disputes over land, water and livestock were never resolved in favor of natives. By the end of that first decade of the century the Colonel had managed to gain title to nearly all of the village and most of the grant lands the villagers once held in common. He used it to run cattle until it was overgrazed and in the 1920’s he began selling it off or losing it in poker games. Some suspected he didn’t even own Cozy Y ranch anymore.

By then he had married a daughter of one of the largest and oldest families in the village. Perea, the Colonel’s father in law, ran Perea’s Bar, which the Colonel had lost to him in a game in the bar’s back parlor.

Perea had a parrot that talked. Tied on his high perch in a corner behind the bar, the bird  would occasionally squawk something amusing. One night the Colonel heard the parrot repeating a phrase that sounded, from the little Spanish the Colonel knew, like “oro,” Spanish for “gold.” When he asked Perea about it, the old man just laughed and shook his head.

This did nothing but stoke the Colonel’s curiosity and he became fascinated with the bird, encouraging it to repeat the phrase. After some deliberation, he decided the bird was saying, “oro de honra,” or “gold of honor.”

He became obsessed with the meaning and began asking the villagers questions. He tried to be subtle. He didn’t want people to think he had a secret. Or that he knew about one they weren’t telling him. But there are only so many ways to pose questions about “gold” before people start to notice.  

One night a man who seemed very drunk sat next to the Colonel in the bar and told him a story an act of heroism during the war. The Colonel got uneasy as the story progressed, wary of questions the man might ask about his own fictitious service. The man seemed to sense this and moved on to how a gift was given to the soldiers for their honorable service. The gift was gold and there was so much of it, the man explained to the Colonel, that it had to be hidden and they died before coming back for it. He leaned in close at this point and whispered, “It’s in an abandoned mine somewhere near here!” 

The Colonel’s jaw was slightly ajar when the man stopped and took a sip of his drink. “I’ve said too much.” As if prophetically, the parrot squawked the familiar phrase. The Colonel glanced sharply at the man who seemed not to notice but smiled a little as he nodded goodbye. He left the bar before the Colonel could formulate any questions.  

He was obsessed with finding gold treasure after that. The improbability of the story didn’t occur to him. He only saw it as a perfect fit for his puzzle - what was the Gold of Honor. The search ruined him, but the work to reopen the old lead mine in the ranch foothills employed villagers for a few years, at least.

After he died, the newspaper described his search for the Gold Of Honor treasure. Perea read it and shook his head. It would only carry the secret forward. There would be more treasure hunters now.

He positioned the Colonel’s obituary beneath the parrot’s perch. The bird squawked the familiar refrain.

“orejona! orejona!”  

Big ears! Big ears!