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? 

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.


Flying Y

Everything you could need or want was at the Flying Y. Everything.

Ace Scanlin managed the massage parlor concession and RV park. He hired managers who did all the work. When they complained, they disappeared. Sammy asked him about what ever happen to so and so and Ace got vague and said they quit.

Sammy decided he liked not knowing things like that. That's what he paid Ace for.

The RV park had no stay limits and there were very few rules. People didn't like noise after ten. That was the biggest complaint. 

Garbage pick-up was intermittent and security was a joke. Ace hired a guy to wear a uniform and ride around on a golf cart picking up trash and calling him about things he saw that didn't seem right. Damned if he didn't disappear too.

Continue reading "Flying Y " »

Cozy Y Rosa

Annie banged the kettle down on the old stove and sighed. "I can't get this damn thing lit."

"It's true then. You can't even boil water!"

Consuela was watching her from her seat at the bar, tapping a cigarette on a silver case and smiling.

Annie noticed the old woman was missing another tooth.

"Rosa!" Annie yelled, high pitched and slightly panicked.

She turned away from the long old greasy bar grill to take the cigarette Consuela offered.

Rosa entered silently behind her carrying crisp white bar towels. She set them in a neat stack on a shelf then removed a large box of wooden kitchen matches from her apron pocket. She struck a match, lit the stove, placed the kettle on the burner, and turned around to light both their cigarettes in one seamless move. Then she blew out the match and put it in an ashtray and set that down along with two cups and a box of tea bags.

Annie exhaled. "Thanks." But Rosa was gone.


Sadie put the top down and let the wind whip at her hair. She needed to think. The stink of Ace's cologne was seeping in from the trunk but he'd finally quit talking. The late afternoon desert light was tempered by a broad dark cloud bank that grew pink as the giant FLYING Y CASINO CAFE GAS sign blinked into view.

Ace started-up with his pleading again when she slowed down on the exit ramp. She sighed and turned up the stereo again. Not long ago he could have talked her into nearly anything. He almost did. But not now. She had seen what he was like.

Her plan had been to go to the ranch and bury him with the backhoe like they did with dead cows. Pushing the car over a cliff was possible but too obvious and she really liked that BMW.

She'd call Rosa. Rosa would know what to do.  But her phone was in the trunk with Ace. She'd heard him trying to call her brother Sammy but it had gone dead.

Gone dead. She mused about that phrase for awhile.


Charles "Chocky" Boone was naked and brushing his teeth on his front porch when he saw Annie at the burn-barrel, poking papers with a stick.  The burning bits were floating up like those little lantern kites. Some had landed, smoking, near dry tumbleweeds along the fence.

"Annie, not today! Not with this wind!"

"Oooh! Almost done!" She yelled back at him in a thin high voice. She had glanced over and snapped her head back.

She was wearing a pink bathrobe. Her tiny head poked above the huge collar and she'd rolled the long sleeves up to her bony elbows.

The plush cotton robes were like the Cozy Y uniform these days. They were all extra-large and extra pink. The Cozy Y brand was embroidered on the shoulder. Sammy had given them as Christmas gifts a year or two before and everyone hated them.  He must have ordered hundreds because they started showing up in all the thrift stores pretty soon.

Chocky had three or four now and really liked them. Part of his morning ritual was putting on a fresh clean robe before he sat down to write. Now he put one on, along with his boots, and trotted out the door to get the hose.

"Working on the Colonel's biography, Miss Annie?"

She looked up at him with a raised eyebrow and turned to go back inside.

Ace and Sadie - Cozy Y

When Ace woke he was in the trunk of Sadie's new BMW. He could tell by that new car smell. His head was sticky with blood and felt cracked open. He figured it was. His last concussion wasn't nearly as painful or bloody.

"Babe, we need to talk."

Sadie pretended she couldn't hear him and turned up the music.  Some woman wailing -a favorite of hers. Melissa something.

"Babe!" Over and over. He knew if he kept it up, she'd give in. She was so weak.

"So start talking."

He gave himself a little mental high-five. He could talk his way out of anything - certainly he could talk his own wife into letting him out of that trunk. 

"Let me out first babe. My back is killing me." He thought it best not to bring up what she'd done to his head. Probably used one of his golf clubs. It'd better not be bent.

She kept driving. Started singing in that voice of hers.

Ace looked at his watch and tried to figure out where she was headed. And whether she had really tried to kill him. Either way, he knew what he would do when he got out of that trunk.

Alva Simpson

Alva was a pretty good salesman. In his youth he had a job as the local agent for some notorious businessmen in Chicago who sold land in New Mexico over the phone and through magazine ads. Unsuspecting buyers heard misleading claims about its future value in high-pressure sales pitches. Alva was to show land to the few buyers who insisted on seeing what they were paying for.

When prospective purchasers got to town, Alva would show them around and postpone the site visit, first offering the tired travelers dinner and drinks. Then  he'd give them a tour of town to see what potential development would certainly look like in a few years. Finally, just as it was getting dark, they would arrive at the edge of a partially built subdivision for a view of the city lights below.Cozy y mesa

Alva would apologize for it getting so late. He would suggest they come back the next afternoon when he was free, knowing it was after their planned departure.  He'd tell them they could easily find the staked lot corners by themselves. "Your lot number is marked right on the corner stakes over there," he'd gesture broadly.

In the morning, buyers easily found the numbered wooden stakes near where they had parked the night before. What a view! - the couples would agree, glancing at impressive nearby homes.  More often than not, they were satisfied.

But the lot they agreed to purchase was much further away, surrounded by nothing and nearly inaccessible for the deep sand. Same lot number, different "unit."

The Chicago businessmen were eventually indicted by the FTC for defrauding purchasers. Alva avoided trouble by being underage at the time but learned some lessons. Unfortunately they weren't very good lessons.  


Perea's Bar and Grill, supposedly built on a Tiquex pueblo ruin, is closed. It sits on the edge of the old highway, boarded-up, stucco dark and blotchy from repeated graffiti paint-outs.

It was the community center of the once powerful village of Pereaville - today a collection of modest structures of some historic interest located in the river valley 10 miles from the state's largest city on an abandoned alignment of Route 66.

Across an arroyo from the bar, now a concrete drainage channel and retention pond, is a large old adobe; the Perea Hacienda. It too is vacant. Its low, long, thick walls extend along the highway and down an intersecting lane, receding from view and blending into the edge of the mesa behind. The huge rectangle encircles two interior patios, now choked with elms.