Tuesday evening, the fifth of March: 6:49 pm in the Walmart parking lot, Belen, New Mexico
Stones was having murderous thoughts. It was scaring the hell out of the scattered customers who remained of the hoard getting home from work in Albuquerque, 30 miles north. The look she gave the gangbanger asking if she wanted a piece of him was enough to make the entire small group of Spanish gangsters back off as she stormed out the door of the store. Foul mood doesn’t begin to describe the underlying burning rage that was rearing its ugly head again. It radiated out of her like heat from forge.
She was still very frustrated by her forced vacation. That Pakistani bullet had really messed up her gut. The peritonitis was only a dim memory along with that horrible excuse for a hospital in Jalalabad. She had much better memories of the incredibly good and compassionate care she received in Germany for four months as they repaired the damage in her lower abdomen. It was good to be home with her Mom and Dad, but she was ready to spit at poor Dr. Benjamin at the Veterans hospital in Albuquerque. She was so sick of sitting around.
But she had been dealing with that. She still wasn’t sure if she even wanted to go back to work, but that was a decision for a future day. The basic problem was that she was back in Belen again. She just knew too much about what went on in this sleepy-looking Spanish railroad town. Having graduated from high school nearly fifteen years ago in Los Lunas several miles north up the Rio Grande, she knew many people in this town. Her father, Jake, often ranted on about all the witchcraft in the town. But Stones knew little of that first hand. There were just a lot of nasty people. The place just set her on edge.
She was so focused on containing herself that she barely noticed that it was much darker than it had been back in the corner of the parking lot where she had been forced to park her little PT Cruiser. “Those clerks in Wally World ought to be fired,” she muttered as her long, lovely legs slammed the nailed heels of her hiking boots against the asphalt, “there’s no excuse for that arrogance. I can’t help it that I’m Anglo.” The anti-Anglo prejudice of Valencia County was getting a little hard to take. Every time she came back down here it was worse.
She’d come down to meet one of her best friends in college, Maria Alvarez. It had sounded like a good thing to see Mary again. It seemed like another life, ten long years ago and far away. Their shattered lives had drawn them close at the University of Iowa. They had helped each other put themselves back together after Harvey Ortman had decided that social statisticians needed to be dead. Harry Schnieder, her fiancee, had been sitting next to her in the fourth row from the back of the small auditorium. He was throwing her another thrilling wink with those deep blue eyes when Harvey walked into the room with his Uzi blazing.
The first or second bullet caught Harry right in the winking eye and the love of her young life disappeared in a red mist that sprayed all over Maria and much of the rest of the class. Rage took over and Stones just reacted. She leaped out of her seat and strode forward in one incredibly quick step that allowed her swinging left foot to smash into the gun and hand of hate. The hiking boot didn’t even slow down as it flew up through the instantly broken hand curving in to smash the face of the human garbage who was laughing as he killed her life and her friends.
That kick finished a horrible trail of terror Harvey had left behind him after blowing away the guards at the front door with a silenced Glock. He had continued to spread blood and death through the entire lobby area with dull coughs from the muzzle as the deadly hollow point bullets picked off nearly a dozen innocent bystanders. He pulled out the Uzi as he walked to the doorway into the auditorium.
By the time he entered the auditorium he was laughing in incredible, loud, hysterical laughter spraying bullets throughout the students on either side of the aisle as he strode down toward the podium. Over two dozen lost their life in the barrage. The maniacal noise was cut off to dreadful silence as his face was caved into a virtually unrecognizable mass of smashed bone and blood. The Uzi quit spraying bullets while flying away from smashed fingers. When Stones came to her self, she was sitting in the floor holding the remains of her love cradled in her arms, sobbing over the loss. She hadn’t thought about that day for a least a year. She was always surprised by how much the memories still hurt after all these years.
Of course Maria’s macho brother had not helped this afternoon. It was obvious that he had been beating his sister and probably abusing her little girls. The last straw was when he pawed Stone’s breast as she walked by him on the recliner. He hadn’t even bother to say hello. It wasn’t until Stones grabbed his grasping hand and squeezed until he doubled up in the chair that he backed off. Maria was so beat down that it really pissed her off. There were old bruises around her neck that were almost faded, but Stones knew where they were from.
Today had been rough. She had forgotten how bad it was. Her pity party was in full swing as she picked her way through the trash, beer cans, used rubbers, and broken glass that coated this side of the lot like demented confetti after a nasty party.
She snapped back into the present as she heard little cries of pain and grunting. She became aware that all the lights in this corner of the lot were out. She noticed that they’d been shot out again. She was on full alert now.
She saw the back end of her car just beyond a large black Dodge Ram pickup about twenty feet ahead. Even in the gloom the little sticker with the pyramid in the back window was obvious. Brief wonder flashed through her mind about the source of these new trucks. She’d seen five of them this afternoon—all had Mexican plates from Chihuahua.
She rounded the back of the truck, heading for her car. As she passed the truck she glanced to her right and saw three small dark men beating a young Anglo. He was curled in a fetal position on the ground trying to save himself from the blows of a baseball bat, a chain, and heavy boots.
Her introspective anger exploded into action. She took three quick steps, dropping the sack of groceries and her purse, and launched herself feet first onto the back of the slightly larger man swinging the bat. She felt both of her heels sink deep into his upper back as he was knocked on his face and she fell on top of him. Glancing left she heard the man with the chain Shout. She saw him start swinging the chain around his head. She quickly rolled right. Pushing up with her right hand, she found it wrapped around the handle of the bat that had been knocked out of the big man’s hands as he hit the ground face first. Planting her left foot, she reached out with her left hand and grabbed the chain as it flew toward her. The searing pain of the chain as it slid through her unprotected hand really jacked up the adrenalin. Her hand locked on the chain and she twisted violently—pulling the chain while planting the end of the bat on the asphalt. This gave her enough leverage to kick the third man behind her in the throat with the side of her boot.
The unexpected jerk on the chain yanked the second man into a surprised stagger toward her. Debbie leaped toward the chain swinger with the bat cocked over her shoulder. The man she had first jumped tried to grab her other arm, but merely succeeded in ripping the sleeve of her blazer. Shrugging out of the remnants of her sleeve, she slapped chain man on the side of his head with the bat. He went down like a slab of beef.
Whirling on the ball of her other foot, she almost avoided the man with the sleeve. But he knocked her down with a glancing punch to the side of her face that propelled her—sliding on her knee—toward the back of the truck. She leveraged herself up with the bat. The third man was clutching his throat, gasping for air. She knocked him to the ground with a full swing of the bat to his stomach. Solidly swinging the bat, she hit the first thug in the back of the head—before he could struggle to his feet to cause her more trouble.
With the three of them on the ground, two of them writhing in pain and the third totally unconscious, she shouted at the Anglo. “Get up! Get out of here!”
The man staggered to his feet, ran over to his van, and slammed the side door—leaving the spilled bags of groceries on the pavement. He ran around the van, jumped in, started the engine with a roar and took off.
Debbie grabbed her purse and bag and ran to her car, unlocking it with the fob. She jumped into the PT Cruiser, flicked the switch, and mashed the accelerator to the floor. The immense torque of the electric motors almost surprised the computer into smoking its tires most of the way to the exit of the parking lot.
Broadsliding west from the lot onto the access road, she raced for I-25 at well over a hundred miles per hour. With her heart pounding from the adrenalin and exertion, she glanced in her rearview mirror as she continued to accelerate through the ramp heading north to Los Lunas. She hit the freeway at nearly 140 miles per hour. There were no lights on the dark road in back of her, so she let herself think a little. She lifted the accelerator, letting the motors absorb some energy and put it back into the capacitors to recharge the batteries. Within a half mile she was back down to the legal limit.
She tried to calm herself down—but on the ten-minute drive north to the Los Lunas exit, she began shaking so bad that she almost had to stop the car. Damn! Dr. Ben was right—I am still too weak to go back to work. She focused on her breathing, driving, and compelled her body to slow down. It was not easy.
What was that about? She thought. The adrenalin was now subsiding a little, but she was still in flight mode. She was still surprised at the results of her social corrections even after all these years of fighting evil. All she wanted to do was drive up to the foothills to see her parents. She needed to clear her head and think. Her relative weakness and the surprise of her lack of awareness had shocked her. She needed to talk to her parents.
About forty minutes later, she was sitting in her father’s office in her parents’ rambling hacienda at the foot of the Manzano Mountains—fifteen miles east of Los Lunas and the cottonwood bosque of the Rio Grande Valley. Actually she was trying to sit, but the remains of the adrenalin was making that difficult. Between that and the surprise of her reactions or lack of them, she was a bit jumpy.
“I think I may have killed at least one of them. What the hell were those three macho thugs doing? It didn’t look like a robbery—just causin’ pain for sport!” Deborah Stoner tried to slump back in the comfortable, old leather club chair in her dad’s office. Normally, she could come here and relax—but that was more difficult tonight.
Even Hulda, her mother’s Basset, could not cheer her up tonight. She had followed Deborah into the office and put her front paws into Deb’s lap with Concern. But after a couple of ritual ear scratches, she had been gently pushed back to the floor and was now just lying next to the chair with an eye of concern on the other daughter of the house.
Deb was a mess—though still stunningly beautiful with only the remnants of her normal immaculate grooming. She was a tall, lean woman with a narrow-waisted figure that had been a magnet to men and boys ever since she turned twelve. Her wavy, auburn hair, which had become long again during her long recovery, was not artfully draped over her shoulders in loose curls. It was a straggly mess.
Her jewelry was very understated—with a simple strand of handmade silver beads around her neck and round turquoise buttons in her ears. Amazingly, they were still in place. Normally, her eyes shone emerald green. Tonight, those gorgeous eyes were glazed over from the physical stress and her makeup was blotchy with dark streaks coming from the corners of her eyes.
The top two buttons on her cream-colored, silk blouse were ripped off leaving her uncharacteristically immodest. The left arm was ripped off her navy blazer, and her bloody left knee was showing through the rips in her khaki slacks. It was so out of character.
It was obvious that she had just grabbed her hair, twisted, and clamped it off with the silver barrette she carried in her purse. An impressive shiner was developing around her left eye. Her boots were scuffed and oily from the scum on the parking lot. Her left arm was lying on the arm of the chair, with her hand hanging in the air clenching and unclenching as she repeatedly rubbed her thumb across the inside of her fingers. She was visibly upset. Her knee was throbbing and her hip hurt (probably from hitting the ground as she rolled off the back of the first goon). Her hand was bloody from the chain sliding through before she grabbed on.
She had quickly driven the dozen miles across Los Lunas on Main Street and up Meadowlake Road to her parents’ home at the base of the Manzano mountains. Ever since her mother, Rachael Stoner, had married Jakob Jackson when Deborah was a little girl, the Jackson home had been a haven of peace for her. Not that there hadn’t been some knockdown drag-out wars within these walls. Her temper was at least as bad as Jakob’s, and that made for some fiery verbal brawls. But that was mostly just normal teenage behavior in the later part of the twentieth century.
It was only after the killing in Iowa that the Jackson hacienda had become her place of work. After a great deal of prayer (following a strong offer from Ralph back East) Jakob and Rachael had brought her into the family business. After her recent injuries, she had been thinking about getting out of the business. Now that seemed much less likely. She didn’t seem to be able to escape her work.
Jakob’s office was more like a study/den—lined with hand-built pine bookcases that were stuffed to overflowing with not only her dad’s technical reference books but with hundreds of books of political fiction, non-fiction, and scripture reference works. The room was painted a deep blue-violet with stained pine molding that matched the bookcases and desks.
Only the outside wall was free from books and it was mostly glass. The windows were covered with two-inch pine blinds that, as usual, were pulled to the top to expose the view. All available wall space was covered with framed antique maps lit by the track lighting that ringed the ceiling with at least a dozen small spots. Jakob had built the room in the middle of the north wall of their rambling adobe hacienda between the family room that faced west over the valley and the master bedroom facing north and east along the Manzanos.
The view from the office was stupendous. The Manzano Mountains framed the view on the east side the whole way north to the Sandia Crest, overlooking Albuquerque only 25 miles north. But, during the day you could see over Sandia Lab and Kirtland Air Force Base all the way to the Jemez Mountains east of Cuba, New Mexico nearly a hundred miles to the north. Tonight, the city lights spread almost forty miles north and west across the Rio Grande up through Rio Rancho and the huge Intel plant up there.
However, she sat facing away from that view toward a huge pine desk that jutted out from the side of Jakob’s drafting table on the south side of the room. The table and desk were actually built out as extensions of the bookcase on the west side of the room. They reached out to form a cozy working space with everything in easy reach. The desk was filled, as usual, with the clutter of a very active mind that was constantly in motion—always working on something new.
Jacob swung around in his large executive leather chair from the little bar and snack area built into the bottom of the bookcase covering the south wall floor to ceiling except for the gap around the door. He was a very large man but certainly not fat. He was a large-boned Swede who stood nearly two meters tall.
His short silver hair glowed in the lamp light, delightfully tussled from his tendency to run his hand through it when he was thinking—which was all the time. Laugh lines creased a strong, confident face. The brilliant blue eyes always held a touch of mirth—though he tended toward a cynicism he had to work to control.
Tonight, however, he was dealing with that old rage that had been so much of a problem throughout his life. After the idealism taught in high schools in the 1950s, the real world machinations and power plays coupled with the outright evil of many organizations had infuriated him. Now he largely had it under control, but it was still the driving force of his life.
Things had become much more simple for him when he had realized over thirty years ago that he had a real enemy who hated him and his family. That evil was present in strength in Belen. A lot of it was political, but there was a lot of spiritual evil there also. Seeing his daughter injured after a battle with elements of that evil was still hard to look at—even after all these years of battle—even though she was a warrior in that fight.
Get yourself under control! Jakob prayed silently. Lord, please give me the grace to calm down and be a help to my daughter. You love her more than I do. I need your wisdom, Lord.
You could see the concern for his daughter in the slightly furrowed brow and studious alertness. He had noticed the thumb rubbing and recognized it for what it was—the sure indicator that his daughter was extremely angry. But that type of alertness was not uncommon in this man. What was uncommon was the slight squinting of the eyes and the rigid set of the jaw. In recent years, Jakob had learned a great deal about controlling his thoughts and relaxing in trust. But it was a struggle tonight. There was a reason why he had formed the company and he was dealing with that tonight.
Deb had seen his brown Stetson on the peg near the front door when she came In. So she headed straight for his office. As she walked in the door, he had been attacking the complex problems of a design for which Sandia Lab had sought him. He was dressed in his usual comfortable “home” clothes—wearing a flannel shirt with the sleeves cut off plus well-worn blue jeans.
The desk lamps glinted off the large red coral needlepoint bracelet on his right wrist and the silver cross with five matched natural red coral stones on a thick silver anchor chain around his neck. The only gold he ever wore was in the simple gold band on his left hand.
The only slightly jarring element to his attire in New Mexico was the pair of well-worn hiking boots that he always wore. Cowboy boots were too much of an affectation for him—he was into comfort, design, and workmanship. In his hands he held two hand-thrown, cobalt blue, stoneware goblets with manzanita stems. They were from the set of twelve that he had picked up in the Napa valley for Rachael while on one of his many trips for Black Sail.
He held one out to Deborah with a little smile, “Here, Stones, have some sherry—then start from the beginning. Are you sure the lights were shot out?” Stones was Deborah’s favorite nickname. Jake had called her that since his little tomboy entered ninth grade. All her closest friends called her that now. It started as a simple contraction of her last name but in reality, it described her ferocious personality when aroused. There was no evidence of her normally calm, self-controlled exterior now. He was trying to calm her down by reminding her who she was. It wasn’t working well.
Deb took the goblet and a large swallow of the cream sherry and forced herself back in to the chair. The warmth sliding down her throat felt familiar and normal. She was still getting herself under control. What is wrong? She thought, Get a grip! There was a little flicker of a smile at that reminder of one of her mother’s favorite phrases. She was always telling one of her sheep to get a grip. The wine, the chair, and her dad’s presence were helping. After a few long seconds, she looked at her beloved stepfather and started to explain her day.
“I was coming back from a visit to Maria Alvarez on the south side of Belen. She was there when Harry was killed—remember? We got talking and it got pretty bad.” As soon as she spoke the memories flooded back. “It had been a horrible visit. Her brother is even worse, if possible. It was stupid of me to go, I guess. But she’s an old friend and we’ve been through a lot together.”
“Her damn brother even tried pawing me…” She smiled at Jakob to cover her anger, plus she didn’t want him to think it was a big deal, “I took care of it, but it just added to the day.”
Jakob gave a little grin, imagining how she took care of it and motioned her to continue.
“I left there really upset with that old rage burning in my gut. It’s been a while. I’m not really sure why I was so upset. It must have been around seven o’clock ’cause it was completely dark. I came up through town and stopped at the Wal-Mart to get some paper towels, some veggies, and a salad. I should never stop there. You know what it’s like. I should have just come up to the Wally World up here in Los Lunas. But I was tired—just wanted to get home as quick as possible and take a shower.”
Jakob nodded in agreement—smiled to encourage her.
“An Anglo is simply not welcome in that store any more. It’s gotten much worse than it was the last time I was there. Needless to say, I got in and out as fast as possible—even more irritated by the little nasties that are part of the prejudice down there. The cashier just jabbered in Spanish to the cashier in back of me like I wasn’t even there—just assuming the dumb Anglo chick couldn’t understand them with all the nasty looks because an Anglo would dare contaminate their world. I even heard a woman ask her friend, ‘What is she doing here?’”
The further she got into the story the faster Deborah was talking. She was perched on the edge of her seat again and there was a glint in her eye that was not pretty as the words flowed out of her mouth. A steely calm was descending on her features.
“As I walked to my car (which was out near the highway because of all the shoppers stopping on their way home from the city) I was just lost in thought. In hindsight, I’m amazed at how little I was aware of my surroundings. I kinda snapped to the present when I heard little cries and some scuffling. That’s when I noticed that several of the parking lot lights in my area were out. They had obviously been shot out again. The gangstas seem to think that’s great fun. As I got near my car, I rounded one of those huge macho pickup trucks with a tall shell on the back. I found myself behind three thugs and a body. They had a nicely dressed young Anglo man on the ground and were brutally beating him. By the time I got there, he was curled on the ground in a fetal position as they all worked at kicking, whipping, and beating him. The cries were his whimpers as he was hit.
“I had noticed the plates from Chihuahua, Mexico. It was one of those fancy trucks with Chihuahuan plates, roll bars, aggressive off-road tires with 19” black-spoked rims—we’ve talked about’em. They’re certainly not the usual vehicles coming up from Juarez crossing through El Paso. Those three thugs were not the old migrant workers either—these trucks are fancy. I’ve even seen a couple Hummers. These new trucks are all completely black and in really good condition. The men were dressed up, neat & tidy, not your normal Belen slime.”
Jake smiled again in acknowledgement of the truth of what she had said so far and cranked his hand in a tight circle to urge her on.
“Between the Mexican truck and my Cruiser was an old Dodge Caravan. There was an empty parking slot between the van and the truck. The van had a terrified, slim young Anglo woman in the front seat and I saw at least one young girl sitting in far back seat. The door was open and second seat was filled with bags of groceries and stuff. A couple of the bags had fallen on the ground and a jar of salsa (I think) had broken. I just glanced over there.
“On the ground, closer to the truck than the van, these three well-dressed, bearded Mexicans were beating a poor man to death. One had a bat—another was using a chain. After the afternoon I had and the experience in Wally World, I just lost it. One too many macho bullies, I guess.” She tossed a quick vague smile at her dad.
Jake returned the smile with a warm grin of his own.
She resumed without a break, “I launched myself feet first onto the back of the nearest thug dropping my purse and the bag. I’m still trying to reconstruct what happened. I was just reacting. I must have simply gone berserk. I thought I had grown past that, but I was absolutely sick of inadequate men proving their manhood. They were simply beating a defenseless man to death. I must have grabbed the bat when it bounced out of the hand of the first man I jumped. He slammed into the pavement face first with my heels in his back and me on top of him.
“The first man reached up and grabbed at my arm. As I jerked forward with the bat, my sleeve ripped off. Leaving the sleeve, I grabbed the chain as the second man swung it at my head. I was able to use that as leverage along with the bat to kick the third one in the throat. Somewhere during all this I ended up sliding across the pavement on my knee but I was able to pry myself up with the bat. I turned around swinging and started whaling on the other two until they were on the ground and not moving. They got in a few punches, but I couldn’t even feel them. I just wanted to kill all three of them.
“The first guy I jumped was unconscious on the ground in a pool of blood. I hollered at the Anglo to get out of there and grabbed up my purse and bag before the spreading blood messed it up. He got up, slammed the side door of his van, ran around and took off as fast as he could. I kept the bat (worried about fingerprints, I guess) and ran over to my car. Denzell told me the Cruiser could not spin its tires, but they were sure chirping as I flew out of the lot.”
Jakob interrupted, “What happened to your eye?”
Stones thought a moment. “I have no idea. It’s pretty much a blur. Anyway, when I got back in Los Lunas, I couldn’t stand the idea of going to my place—being alone didn’t seem to be an option. And I’m obviously in no shape to be seen in public, so I came here. I needed to talk with someone sane. I thought I was done with this crap!” With that and a little grin, it was like all the air escaped her lungs and she crumpled back into the soft leather of the chair—all energy gone. The calm face that had momentarily reasserted itself was gone. Her hand was trembling to the point where she could hardly hold the goblet.
Jakob got out of his chair, came around the desk, gently took the wine out of her hand, and set it on the old pine apothecary chest used as an end table between the two chairs. Then he got on his knees in front of his daughter. “Come here, babe. You’re still not completely healed. The adrenalin must have been quite a jolt to the system. This will pass.” With a big smile, he opened his arms.
Deborah leaned forward and threw her arms around her father’s neck. As she buried her face next to his neck, she felt the soft flannel of his shirt. Smelling his familiar scent of aftershave with the overtones of oil, steel shavings, and his shop, the tears stated flowing. Within seconds she was sobbing as Jakob just held her tight, patting her back.
“There, there,” he said, “we’ll figure it out. All things work to the good…”
Deb quietly finished the phrase along with him, “…for those who love the Lord.” She wasn’t sure she believed that—or even really knew what that meant. However, it sounded good now in this place of peace and she needed that. “I love you, dad…” she murmured.
After a couple of minutes, she gathered herself together and gently pushed herself out of his arms back into her chair. Jakob stiffly climbed to his feet and sat in the other chair. The old joints were certainly not as limber as they used to be. He swung the arm of the old strap iron adjustable floor lamp next to his chair out of the way so he could see his daughter’s face.
“Well, let’s start with first things first,” he said, always the pragmatist. “Did anyone see you?”
“I don’t think so,” she thought out loud. “At least four or five lights were out in that corner of the lot. I shouldn’t even have parked there, but I was in a hurry to get home. Like I said, normally I wouldn’t even stop in Belen. But I was tired and in a hurry and just wanted to get home to shower and clean up. Maria’s house was filthy as usual—dirty diapers, just plain dirt, old moldy dishes piled high in the kitchen sink, trash all over… I could see missing cabinet doors in the kitchen with one of them just hanging at an angle from the top hinge. Maria has never really recovered from the shooting. Somehow she just doesn’t care anymore—about anything. Some cat was using the space under an old ratty end table as a litter box. The place reeked. I hated to even sit down. I even had to brush off the chair before I sat in it.”
Coming back to the present and thinking for a few seconds, she looked over at her dad and said, “No, I didn’t see anyone else. Even so, that town is secretive. No one would tell anything to the cops unless they were caught in the act. You remember when Michael was beat unconscious by those four gangbangers a couple years back? He was stupid enough to flip them the bird when they cut him off on I-25. He still has no sense of smell and all they can tell him is that it is brain damage.
“There’s a lot of bad stuff going on down there. It gives me the creeps—and I don’t creep easily.”
Jakob smiled (mostly to himself). “That town has been a center for curandera or so-called ‘white’ healing witches for centuries.” He knew Deb didn’t believe any of this stuff, but a little reminder wouldn’t hurt. “The spiritual garbage of that place should give you the creeps. If it didn’t, I’d be concerned. What about the men though? Why do you think they were from Old Mexico? We’d wondered about that when we talked about them last week.”
Stones thought a second. “The Chihuahua plates mostly—but they certainly looked the part of rich tourists. Their accent was different. It didn’t sound like the local Spanglish. I could understand them fine, but they were not local. I’m sure they were not normal illegals either. These men were strong, healthy, and trained… It was a tough fight.
“One had on snakeskin boots that must have cost him a thousand dollars. The one with the bat had on a huge silver concho belt with a matching bolo tie. These men were not poor. The beating was really methodical. It was almost like they were doing it for exercise or practice.”
“I imagine you rocked’em a little—this gorgeous babe whalin’ on’em.” Jake grinned at his daughter. “I’ve never seen you in action, but I know your mother taught you well. I was against it when she started training you the summer you were six, but she insisted. The wisdom of her training has become obvious. Shucks, I could see the wisdom when you left that quarterback unconscious in his Corvette back in high school. Remember him?”
Deb laughed in memory. “I think my feet still hurt from that walk home. Those gorgeous four-inch spikes were killers. I’ve never seen such a look of surprise as he slipped into sleep. I think he thought he was going to have his way with me—dope that he was. I always understood the need for the sleeper holds with all those creeps who were after me in high school.”
Her eyes clouded over and became dark in thought. You could see things click into place behind those eyes. “All that hard work kept me alive tonight. But I’m really in bad shape. I guess I thought that I wouldn’t need that stuff any more. I was huffin’ and puffin’ after the fight. I’d better get back in shape. I hope that man and his family are all right. That was an old van and the spilled groceries must have cost him over fifty dollars and he sure didn’t look like they could afford a loss like that. There was nothing else to do though. We had to get out of there. It’s just not safe for Anglos after dark any more—anywhere in Valencia county. But Belén and south to Bernardo are the worst.”
Steering her back on track, Jakob asked, “So you think it was racial?”
“’Fraid so, dad. That is the main thing holding the Valencia County gangs together. The anger directed at me was astounding. As I was peeling out of the lot onto the freeway feeder I remembered that little Aztlan sticker I’ve been telling you about. They had one in the back window. It wasn’t conspicuous, but all those Chihuahua trucks have them. Did you find anything out about it?” She and her parents had been curious about those stickers a couple weeks earlier when they were talking over dinner. As usual, they’d had a long talk—that time speculating about what that sticker meant.
Jake brow furrowed as he raised his left eyebrow like he always did when deep in thought, “Not really—the best I have found seems to show it is tied in with those Mexican secessionists like the National Council of La Raza. The Reconquistas have been ranting and raving since the 1980s or even earlier.
“You remember that fight up in Tierra Amarilla over the Old Spanish land grants back in the sixties? Many of the Mexican immigrants seem to believe that the Southwest should really be a new nation called Aztlan. It looks like they are getting serious. Suddenly, they seem to have a lot of money and their rhetoric has taken a practical turn. They could be a genuine problem. I couldn’t really find anything though. I don’t read Spanish well enough. I talked to Ralph about it and he has someone looking into it. He’ll get back to us when he finds out anything meaningful.
“As you know, I’ve been worried about them ever since I read up on Bustamante’s background when he ran against Schwarzenegger in 2002. Hispanics are the largest minority in the country now. From Texas through Southern California, they are the majority though most can’t vote yet.”
Abruptly, he focused on the present and looked Stones in the eye. “That’s enough for tonight. You’re really in no shape to drive. Why don’t you stay over? Tomorrow night, Senator Aragón and Nancy are coming to dinner. If anyone knows anything, Dannie will. You better clean up those scrapes. No need for an infection.”
Stones nodded in agreement. She was ready to crash at this point, and the peace of her father’s home was very appealing. She got up, gave her dad a hug and a quiet thanks, and walked back to her room.
She still kept clothes in the old antique dresser Rachael had found for her when she was in high school. Her mom and dad had decorated the whole house with old beat-up pieces of furniture they had lovingly redone. Her room was in the middle of the outer eastern wall of the Jackson hacienda facing the steep upward slope of the Manzano Mountains. It wasn’t overly large, but it was as comfortable as a flannel nightgown on a cold winter morning.
As she flipped the switch at the door, the old hand-painted glass lamp on the night stand next to her bed lit the room with a soft warm glow. The walls were a warm, creamy yellow. The carpet was a light blue-gray. The bed was an old four-poster of dark mahogany made up with a soft comforter covered in pale yellow cabbage roses. There was a pile of beautiful pillows at the head of the bed with her needlepointed version of Hulda’s mother stuffed and seated on the top pillow. Her mother had given her that silly-looking stuffed dog for her sixteenth birthday several years before Hulda was born.
The walls were filled with photos from her childhood, mementos of concerts, dances, and trips, and a large picture of Miss Piggy launching out in to the room on the back of a Harley. Around the top of the walls, her mother had stenciled a complex pattern of grapes, leaves, and vine. The window overlooking the back yard was framed with ecru lace curtains tied back to reveal the view. The room was protected from the sun by ecru mini-blinds. Debbie walked over to the window and raised the blinds as well as the window. A gentle, almost cold, breeze entered the room with the smell of the hyacinths outside. The sleeping would be good tonight.
She was too tired to even shower. She had her own bathroom and went in there to clean up her wounds. There was no way she was going to get blood on her mother’s sheets. When she had cleaned up and wiped off the dirt and blood, she bandaged the spots still oozing. Then she just dropped her clothes on the soft berber carpet and slipped between the sheets. She’d pick up in the morning. The air-dried sheets that were a hallmark of her mother’s living style smelled so good that she just deeply inhaled the aroma. It was good to be home. With a long sigh, she slipped off into deep, restful sleep in moments.