UNDERGROUND VOICES: J.S. KIERLAND
J. S. KIERLAND
The early morning light hit the window and Pearce carried his clothes downstairs to dress in front of the potbellied stove. Throwing his denim jacket over the TV, he slipped into a red flannel shirt and pulled on his jeans. He opened the front closet, took out an extra denim jacket, and reached up to the top shelf for the cowboy hats. Plopping the brown hat on his head, he dusted the black one across his sleeve, looked into the clouded mirror next to the front door, hesitated, but then pulled on his boots.
The thin ice crunched along the frosted path when he stepped into the morning chill. A sheep dog’s nervous bark echoed across the cobblestones. A coyote had probably slipped into the neighborhood looking for a quick kill. The horses on the hill remained quiet. Whatever prowled the streets had decided to stay on the other side of town where the sun began to break through the mist.
Pearce lifted the heavy plastic off the motorcycle and its chrome gave off a ghostly glow in the early light. He took hold of the dark leather seat and steadied it. His brother had bought the cycle at a police auction. A cream line snaked across its maroon fender, ran down along the gas tank, and back over the glistening wheels in a never-ending turn. It was an Electra Glide that the cycle mags had tabbed the Panhead. He mounted her, released the break, and rolled down Hill Street. At the county road he kicked it into gear, roared down the mountain, and headed for the low desert.
Pearce rolled into the parking lot fifteen minutes ahead of schedule, curled the Harley under the shade of a Palos Verde and stared up at the razor wire that ran the top of the high wall. A guard in the tower pointed down at the dusty road where a bus with bars on its windows rolled toward them. It veered into the parking lot, made a wide turn, and pulled up at the prison entrance. A string of men stepped out in single file. Shoulders bent, hands cuffed. They were herded toward a gate and disappeared into its deep shadows. The rows of pickup trucks began to open. People headed for the gate as the guards led another group out of the prison toward the empty bus. Some of the women began to wave. A few of the men peeled off the line spreading their arms to catch the children that ran at them. Speaking in whispers, they walked back to the pickups. Pearce moved in closer to study the rest of the men. One of them lowered his head and Pearce recognized his brother. Cropped hair, short steps, and ten years thinner.
The rest of the men waited in line to be checked off the guard’s list before disappearing into the bus. Pearce had gotten in so close he could almost touch them. He started to tell the guard that he’d come to pick up his brother but Chino’s raspy voice shot out at him. “Don’t listen to anything that shit says. I’m about to rip his heart out.”
“Thought you might like a lift home,” Pearce said, moving down the line of men. “Brought your Panhead.”
When he’d gotten in close, Chino reached out to grab him but the Latino next to him stepped in to cut him off. “You ain’t even off the premises and you’re trying to get back in,” the Latino said.
“I don’t need no fucking lift,” Chino rasped.
“He’s trying to be your friend,” the man drawled, stuffing a folded piece of paper into Chino’s pocket.
“You got a problem, Safford?” a guard shouted.
“My brother, sir,” Chino said.
“You’re either on the bus or off the bus,” the guard said. “It’s a lift to Phoenix, not a family picnic.”
Pearce shoved the black cowboy hat into Chino’s hand. His brother took it, reshaped the brim, and slipped it on his head. It didn’t fit because of the short-cropped hair, so he cocked it down over his forehead.
“Bring anything else with you besides my denim, my Harley, and my hat?” he asked.
Pearce opened his jacket to show him the pint of Wild Turkey he had stowed in his belt. Chino quickly covered the bottle with his hat before the guard could see it. “Still as crazy as ever,” he said. He leaned back, whispered something to the Latino, and headed across the parking lot with Pearce. “Take care, boys,” he yelled to the men getting on the bus.
“We’ll keep a light on for you,” the guard yelled back.
“Fuck you, pension boy,” Chino muttered as Pearce flipped him his denim jacket. “I got to wash out this ten year prison shit, bro. First time you see some pines … pull over. I’ll finish the Wild Turkey, kick in your kidneys, and leave you to die.”
“Can’t do that. The guys are waiting for us up in Jerome … betting big numbers. We owe it to them.”
“They’re giving odds on me killing you?”
“The numbers are posted all over town.”
“Who’s the favorite?”
“Right now … you’re eight to five. Last week you were two to one.”
“That’s because I’m an ex-con,” Chino said, slipping the pint of Wild Turkey out of Pearce’s belt.
“How about stopping at Pinnacle Peak? We’ll get steak and eggs … and those biscuits you like.”
“Just as long as I don’t have to stand in a fucking line,” Chino said, sliding onto the seat behind his brother. He took one last look at the men getting on the bus and the Harley exploded to a start.
Chino had sensed it even before they reached the interstate. More traffic, more trucks, and a lot more mobile homes dotted the landscape. Miles of desert filled with chain-restaurants, shopping centers, and gas stations. Even his secret dirt paths had been paved. They’d left nothing untouched. The guards and the new cons had told him about the great changes going on outside, but he refused to believe them until now. He felt like he’d been in a terrible accident. Thrown through a windshield and into a place he vaguely recognized. There’d been war in the Mideast, social upheavals, three presidents, four governors, and a new millennium. The world had changed on him.
By the time they hit the interstate the clear desert morning had grown warmer. They rolled north at eighty miles an hour, skirting endless lines of lumbering RV’s with names like Bounder and EZ Spirit. Neon signs seemed to erupt out of the desert like wild flowers: Gasoline, Casinos, Golf, and Family Dining. Pearce pushed the Harley into the fast lane and Chino could see the valley up ahead. The whole landscape seemed to lift out of the desert like a broken spoke, with rivers of freeways, houses, and golf courses.
“Where the hell are we?” he yelled over the wind.
“Phoenix,” Pearce yelled back. “Got big, eh?”
“Where’d they all come from?”
“Back East, California, Midwest. Nice homes. Big cars. Golf courses, swimming pools, and malls.”
Chino took a quick sip of the Wild Turkey and stared at the spectacle. Pearce moved into the right lane and headed north. Traffic merged and they rolled across the concrete ribbon and down past towers of glass. The traffic thinned as they headed up into the mountains and the scattered sentinels of saguaro began to disappear. A new kind of light seemed to glare through the polluted air and endless sky. He needed to do something fast if he didn’t want to be crushed in it like a piece of road-kill.
By the time Mackey had gotten to work the breakfast bunch were already at the counter. Liberty, the waitress, filled their coffee mugs in the tense silence. Woo Woo Hutchins sat at the end of the counter eating his seven flapjacks on two plates. J.J. Fitz sat next to him cutting into his three-egg omelet. Slade Perkins slumped at the other end piercing his bright yellow egg yokes until they ran into the fries. Two-Bear Jones sat between them eating his biscuits with the usual side order of burnt bacon.
Several new customers sat in the booths. It’d taken Mackey months to get used to them and the packed tourist buses that descended on the cafe every afternoon with people she’d never seen before. She’d reluctantly signed contracts with a couple of Phoenix travel agents to serve the daily invasion that rolled through on their way to the red cliffs of Sedona. Her lunches consisted of soup, hot dogs, burgers, a variety of sandwiches, and her special Arizona pies. The pies had become so popular that they began putting on extra buses just for the lunch crowd that came up the mountain for those large crisp crusts that draped over bubbling baked vegetables and meats.
Some of the newspapers and magazines, even a few TV stations, had tried to get her recipe. Pearce hadn’t helped the situation when he decided to tell them “that it all depended on what the local boys brought in that morning. Sometimes they used coyote, maybe even venison or elk. Bear meat if they got lucky, but mostly just healthy Arizona beef.” Pearce’s confession turned the pies into an instant Arizona legend, even though the only real mystery was in Mackey’s rich buttery crust. But Pearce’s hype had worked and her pies sold by the dozens. In fact, that particular morning was the first time Pearce had missed a shift since the cafe had opened.
Mackey’s only connection with Pearce’s brother was from a variety of stories the boys told about him before he was captured and sent to prison. Like her Arizona pies, the Safford family’s escapades had risen into the aerie realm of myth. One of the more popular myths was that one of Chino’s ex-girlfriends just happened to be in the bank when he decided to rob it.
The sheriff assigned his deputy, Big Donny Buckeye, to bring Chino in. Big Donny’s wife had once run away because he had a tendency to beat her on Friday nights. Chino took her in one Saturday morning and convinced her to go with him to Vegas. A few days later he rolled back into town alone. Donny never saw his wife again and Chino refused to tell him where she was. So it was payback time. Legally. A bullet through Chino’s head was Donny’s simple plan.
The sheriff knew that if it happened that way it’d make a nice statement to anyone else planning to violate the county’s banking system. But Pearce led the feds to Chino before Donny had a chance to kill him. The great Arizona manhunt came to a sudden end at a mountain cave the brothers used in the hunting season. The feds got Chino, a five-day supply of food, a fifth of Wild Turkey, and Pearce got his brother’s undying hatred for turning him in.
A new wave of breakfast orders arrived and Mackey loaded a pile of dirty dishes into the washer. Pushing her dark red tresses up under the white cook’s hat, she acknowledged the anxious glances from a few of the breakfast bunch as they went out the door. Then she picked up the batch of new orders and started pouring more eggs onto the sizzling griddle.
Mackey felt it as she poured herself another cup of coffee and sprayed perfume on her hands to take away the smell of the onions. The place had finally emptied. The tables still held the last of the dirty dishes, and Liberty had vanished. She stared out at the empty street, took off her apron, and opened the front door. Faint sounds of shouting hung in the dry air. Halfway up the hill she saw the crowd of men moving together like some strange, confused beast. She climbed the old stone steps and watched the burly men swaying in their numbing dance. The staccato shouting became clearer as she got closer.
Liberty crouched in a doorway like a frightened animal.
“I couldn’t stop them!” she wailed, nodding towards the circle of men shouting at each other. “It’s Chino. He’s back!” she said, stumbling across the cobbled street. “I went to the cops but they just laughed at me. Said they had bets on the fight like everybody else.”
“Go back to the cafe,” Mackey said.
The circle of men began to push their way up the hill toward the Holy Family Church. The crowd’s outer crust had shifted positions and she could see Pearce being thrown up against the church wall by a hunched figure ramming him with his head. The struggle seemed to grow with the crowd’s shouting. Mackey moved along the edge of the circle trying to push past a little man with greasy hair they called Clumsy Clyde. He pushed Mackey away without looking up. She pushed in again. Clyde turned to hit her but then stopped when he saw it was Mackey. He started to say something but then ran to another opening. Mackey shouldered her way in toward the center. The closer she got the louder the yelling became. Pearce’s bloodied face lifted up over the crowd. A deep gash sliced over his left eye but a contented smile lit his face as he swung at someone he had in a headlock. They made such a tight ball she could hardly tell one from the other. One of the men leaned in to try and separate the combatants, but the rest pulled him away.
Mackey squeezed in closer as the struggle roared on in front of her. Another bloodied head popped into view at her feet. This one had cuts over both eyes and a large blue lump on his left cheek. His body looked powerful in the tight bloodied t-shirt that had been partially torn off his back. A surprised look came into his eyes when he saw Mackey staring down at him.
“YOU’RE LATE, YOU SONOFABITCH!” she yelled at him. The men took a step back when they heard her, and Chino stared up into Mackey’s cold blue stare. “The lunch crowd’s been here and gone,” she said. “The dirty dishes are still on the tables! How you figure the work gets done if you two are out here playing tough guy with each other?”
“Who is this broad?” Chino yelled back.
“Two-Bear, you and Slade load these clowns into my pickup. Take them down to the clinic. When the doc finishes stitching I want both of them back up here. That means no celebrating until those tables are cleared and cleaned!”
“Yes, ma’am,” the huge man said, helping the combatants to their feet. Chino pushed him away but he could barely get to his knees by himself.
“Let 'em fight, Mackey! We’ll clean up for you when they finish!” Woo Woo yelled from the back, and a chorus of agreement rose from the crowd.
“You got any idea what time it is?” Mackey yelled.
“Hell,” Chino said, still trying to get up. “Who gives a shit what time it is?”
“I give a shit! Settle your grudges on your own time! Right now it’s Arizona pie time! Get your asses in gear,” Mackey said, and the men cleared a path for her.
“Who the hell are you anyway, the goddamned sheriff?”
Mackey stopped to look back at Chino. “I’m the reason you’re still not in jail, Mr. Safford,” she said, pushing her way back through the crowd. Chino watched her long, shapely legs disappear among the gaggle of men’s boots, her perfume still hanging in the air.
“Where the hell did that come from?”
“That’s the boss,” Pearce said. “You better do what she says or there’ll be no living with her.”
“Living with her?”
“You don’t think they let you out into the real world on your looks, do you? That’s the lady that gave you a job,” Pearce said, pulling his brother to his feet.
“What’s all this bullshit about Arizona pies?”
“Pickup’s in back of the church,” Two-Bear said. “Mackey said to take you both into the—”
“I don’t need any stitches,” Chino said.
“If Mackey says you need stitches you better get stitches whether you need them or not,” Two-Bear said, leading the way through the crowd to the truck.
“What the hell’s got into you guys?” Chino asked the men filing past him. “You telling me this fight’s over cause some woman’s pissed about her goddamn pies? This fight’s not over till I say it is.”
“Fight’s over, Chino. You lost. So did I,” Two-Bear said, heading for Mackey’s truck.
“What do you mean, I lost … you lost?”
“I bet on you that’s what it means.”
“How much did you lose?” Pearce asked.
“Two-hundred and fifty bucks,” Two-Bear said. “I thought sure you’d take him over the falls.”
“You didn’t lose,” Chino said. “Don’t payoff.”
“It’s already paid,” the big man said. “Things aren’t like they used to be. You pay your bets right off now. Nobody trusts nobody anymore. We had Curley hold the money. Bets poured in from all over. Must’ve been thousands.”
“I still don’t believe some broad can just walk in—”
“Leave it lie, bro.”
“Suppose I don’t want to?”
“You don’t have any choice.”
Blood ran down Chino’s cheek from the cut over his eye and he wiped it away with his sore hand. Two-Bear helped him into the back of Mackey’s old Ford pickup and the blood from over his eye dripped along the paint-scraped truck bed.
Mackey went in the back way, turned on the kitchen lights, and started the coffee. Someone was knocking on the front window. To her surprise, Chino was waiting for her. His bandaged eye looked a lot worse in the early morning light.
“Where’s Pearce?” he asked, looking around.
“Trying to shave his swollen face,” she said, handing him the work sheet and the keys. “You’ll be the one to open every morning.” He nodded as he glanced down at the piece of paper. “It’s important that those things on the list are ready when we get here.” She began breaking eggs into an aluminum bowl. “Couple of dozen usually does it for starters. Just put them in the fridge when you’re finished.”
“Sounds easy enough.”
“Sorry, I didn’t ask if you’d ever done it before.”
“Break eggs? Did it when Pearce and I went hunting. I always made breakfast,” he said, beginning to break the eggs into the bowl with one hand. “Want them whipped?” he asked.
“Yes, please. That covers the scrambled eggs and omelets. The rest I cook to order.”
“What else you got?” he asked.
“Pancake batter’s in this dispenser,” she told him. “Just make sure there’s enough. Pearce usually checks it before we leave for the day.” “How long’s my brother been into this kitchen work?” he asked, in a sarcastic way. Mackey didn’t answer. When he finished with the eggs, he looked up. She pointed to the garbage pail near the door. He carried over the broken shells. “I could use a bigger bowl. They’ll whip better.”
She got him a larger bowl out of the cabinet. “The only other thing is to have the tables and booths ready for Liberty. She’s always late. Poor thing can’t help herself.” Mackey pulled out one of the deep drawers to show him where they kept the utensils and napkins. “I get in about six,” she said. “I make the first batch of coffee and heat the grill. Pearce gets in about six-thirty. Then we’re ready to roll.”
He poured the eggs into the larger bowl. “Do you put a little cold water in like the French?” he asked.
“The Breakfast Bunch don’t care much about the French. Besides, they don’t like anything they eat or drink to be watered down.” He laughed, and the sudden pain made him put his hand up to his bandaged eye. “Is that hurting you?” she asked.
“Not enough to miss my first day of work.”
“How many stitches?”
“Fifteen. Twenty-two between us.”
“That some kind of record?”
“It is for us,” he said, taking out a handful of knives, forks, and spoons to place along the counter with a paper napkin under each set.
“Is the room we got you all right?” Mackey asked.
“I slept okay … if that’s what you mean.”
“It’s the best we could do on short notice. Has a private entrance so we thought—”
“It’ll do,” he said.
“Don’t put the cafe’s front lights on too early or they’ll be knocking on the door to get in. That means you have to set up the booths with just the kitchen lights on.”
She felt a sudden relief when she heard Pearce’s boots on the gravel at the back door. He stumbled in with a baseball cap slanted down over his eyes to hide his swollen face. “How’s it going?” he asked, glancing over at his brother folding napkins.
“Real good,” Mackey said. “You didn’t tell me he used to cook breakfast for you.”
“Chino whipped up the best goddamn omelet in the forest,” he said in a loud voice so his brother could hear him. “When those mule deer smelled Chino’s cooking they headed right for our campfire. Soon as they showed, we’d shoot ‘em and go home early. Never had to leave camp. Ain’t that so, bro?”
“Something like that,” Chino said from the dark.
“That’s what the old man used to tell everybody. Made us hunt even harder. We’d stay out there until we had something to bring home just to prove him right. He knew all the tricks.”
“Yeah, old Winslow was one clever sonofabitch,” Chino said from the darkness.
“I haven’t told Chino about the days off yet. You can clue him in on all that after the breakfast rush.”
“Will do,” Pearce said.
“Almost time to open,” Mackey said. “Whole town will be here just to see how the combatants fared after the war.”
“More like a dumb dance,” came out of the darkness.
The pickup bounced its way through the thin pines. Pearce drove along the edge, avoiding the deep ruts where the heavy rains had cut into the scarred road. They bounced into the last turn before heading up over the tree line.
“What the hell we doing here?” Chino asked, rubbing the new skin over his left eye.
Pearce pulled the truck in close to the barbed wire and jumped out. Chino followed him up to the faded wooden sign. SAFFORD MINE - DANGER - STAY OUT. Pearce lifted the rusted metal bar on the gate so he could park next to the broken sluice that zigzagged across the hill.
Chino looked in at the piles of rock and ragged shafts that sunk down beyond the daylight. That hole had always frightened him. He could taste the dirt on his lips, and the ache in his lower back just thinking about hauling those heavy stones he hated so much. Pearce gunned the truck up the steep hill inside the barbed wire. When he turned off the motor the incredible silence came back. “I hate this place,” Chino muttered.
“Give me a hand with this,” Pearce said, untying the ropes around the piece of canvas in the back of the truck.
“Last thing this place needs is another rock.”
“Yeah, but let’s just slide it on down anyway so we can lift it out,” Pearce said. Chino reached in from the other side and they slid the covered piece of stone down over the truck bed. Chino could see the stains on the canvas where he’d bled from the cut over his eye. “It goes up there between those scrub oaks on the ridge,” Pearce said, angling his end toward the edge of the truck. Chino took hold of the canvas and they stumbled across the edge of the hill, into the small clump of trees, then down on their knees to lower it into position.
“That’s one heavy sonofabitch,” Chino muttered.
“I’ve been waiting for you to get out of prison before I did this,” Pearce said. “Now that you’re here I can forget all about this godforsaken hill. This is the end of it,” he said, uncovering a polished red rock tombstone. It had a curled design along its top with the name WINSLOW SAFFORD chiseled across its middle in large, deep letters. Near the base of it were the words:
Cast a cold eye On life, on death, Horseman, pass by
The two men stared down at it. “You telling me the old man’s buried up here somewhere?” Chino asked.
“You’re kneeling on him,” Pearce said. Chino looked down then quickly hopped off the grave. “This is where he wanted to be. I just waited until you got back before setting the stone. I figured old Winslow would’ve wanted it that way.”
“You mean he’s not buried over in Bagdad with Ma?”
“That’s where everyone thinks he is. I paid off the guy at the funeral parlor. The only place he wanted to be was right here,” Pearce said, lifting the stone up on its end so he could shift it inch by inch to a spot he had dug between the trees. When he got there Chino helped him lift the stone onto the two rebars that he’d set years before.
“You forgot to date the damn thing,” Chino said.
“He handed me a piece of paper with this stuff written on it, and then pointed to the spot. Don’t think he cared much about the date. The spot was everything to the old man.”
“What the hell does it mean?” Chino said, taking a closer look at the words carved into the headstone.
“Never could figure it out,” Pearce said.
“Horseman, pass by. No Trespassing I guess.”
“He didn’t tell me. I didn’t ask.”
“What’s funny about it?”
“I thought you dragged me up here to find out where I buried those tomato cans.”
“What tomato cans?”
“The ones with all that missing money,” Chino said, glancing suspiciously around the hill. “I just hid enough to give me a head start when I got out.”
Pearce watched the slight smile break in Chino’s eyes. “You saying that crap about missing money was true?”
“True as a cold rain, bro.”
“The old man would’ve loved it.”
“Yeah, he would’ve done that little dance of his,” Chino said, doing a quick double step in imitation of their father. “I knew they’d put me away. I just wanted to protect my end.”
“You think the money’s still here?”
“It is unless it walked away.”
“What’re you planning to do with it?”
“Invest. Make a lot of money for the both of us, bro. That’s the way the old man would’ve wanted it. Sticking together. We got our differences but we’re blood.”
“The Safford motto,” Pearce said, looking down at the unsettled ground around the tree. “Now that old Winslow’s got his fancy cut stone. It’s finally over.”
“That’s right. It’s takeoff time,” Chino said.
“You can’t go anywhere. You’re on parole.”
“That’s the trouble. Everything’s so fucking clear you can see right through it.”
“Maybe. But it’s the way it is.”
“Does that include you too?”
“I’m not on parole.”
“Don’t look that way to me, bro,” he said. “Right now, Mackey’s got custody of the both of us.”
“What the hell does Mackey have to do with it?”
Chino kicked at the loose dirt along the edge of Winslow’s grave, then smoothed it over with his boot. He let his brother’s sudden anger hang in the breeze that edged its way up through the pines.
“Mackey don’t need me or you,” Pearce said.
“That’s what I been trying to tell you. The woman gives you a job, room, board, and beds you down. After awhile that gets to be like prison, bro. It’s time you broke out. Let loose. We’re not getting any younger. Sixty is coming at us like a freight train.” Pearce stared back at him from the other side of the shaded tombstone. “I figure you need a change of scenery. No guards. No roll calls. No lines. No dishes. No Arizona pies. Let’s just get out of here, bro. They’ve shoved Arizona so deep into the chute it’s already in the past and doesn’t know it.”
The caw of a raven drifted up through the trees. Pearce could feel his brother’s whiskey stare. “What’ve you got planned?” he asked. Chino put his arm around his brother’s shoulder. “First thing is those old tomato cans,” he said.
“You buried them up here?”
“This goddamned mine’s the only place I could think of. If you remember … there wasn’t much time to spare.”
“You think they’re still up here?”
“I haven’t told a soul.”
“And now you’re about to make a withdrawal.”
“That’s it. Close the account.”
“Sure you remember where you buried them?”
“Get the shovel. I’ll meet you on the other side of that big ass rock,” Chino said, heading up the hill. Pearce watched his brother go around the wide cluster of mesquite, and head back to get the shovel.
When Chino located the three boulders, he started digging. He’d buried the money in heavy plastic freezer bags, stuffed them into cans, and buried them upside down so they wouldn’t fill with water. “They’re only about two feet down. I was in a hurry,” he said.
After digging about ten holes around the rocks, Chino remembered he had stretched a string between the inside of the boulders to form an equilateral triangle. He buried the fourth can directly between the others. They began to uncover the earth along the inside of the boulder until they hit the rusted edge of a large can. Chino stopped digging and Pearce carefully pulled out the remains. He could see the money, wrapped inside the plastic, and smiled up at his brother. Once they had found the first can it was easy to calculate where the others were. The middle one had slipped down a few feet where the soil had washed away. Part of the can had actually been exposed and all they had to do was put the shovel under it and angle it out.
The old Three Dog Night tune, One Man Band, blared in Chino’s head as he sang and danced between the boulders, hugging the bags of money. Pearce liked to remember his brother this way and waited for Chino’s dance to end. Then they tore the bags open and did a quick count.
“All there?” Pearce asked.
“About twenty-five thousand looks numbered,” he said. “They’ve probably got that pack on file somewhere. Have to get rid of it.”
“What about the rest?”
“Looks good,” he said, separating the piles.
“I’ll hide the bulk of it in the truck,” Pearce said, carrying the stacks of money up the hill. When he glanced back he saw a dull white smoke rising from between the boulders where his brother was burning the short stack of traceable money.
Jerome hung on the edge of a mountain. It’d been an old mining-town gone copper dry. Many of its houses had collapsed over the years with the shifting earth, sliding down the mountain to join the slag heaps in the washes below. Those that were left hung tenaciously along the cracked streets like broken boxes forgotten in time. Woo Woo Hutchins, Slade Perkins, and Two-Bear Jones walked the cobble street and headed for the Spirit Room at the end of the block. Jenny, the barmaid, handed each of them three fingers of bourbon and pointed at the makeshift table in the middle of the room. A piece of plywood had been placed over the pool table where the Safford brothers were passing out tortilla chips and cerveza fria to their guests. Then Perkins asked about Mackey and a silence hit the room. “No women invited,” Chino said, and the boys settled in to drink their cold beers.
Old J.J. Fitz, a paunchy, red-faced Irishman, got up on the semi-carpeted bandstand to propose a toast. “To the dear lads and the free beer,” he said. The gang roared and carried him over to the makeshift table. He stood among the chips and salsa, in his soiled boots, waiting for quiet. Then he raised his sweating bottle of beer and said, “I want to propose a goddamned toast while I’m still able to speak coherently!” He lifted the Corona over his head as if he was about to pour it on himself. “To the dear, dear Safford boys.” A wild cheer rose out of the crowd and the frustrated old man had to stomp on the table to quiet them. “To the Safford boys,” he said in a flourish. “They’re what Arizona used to be!” The men howled and barked at him. “Arizona and the Safford Boys are all about the same goddamned thing,” Fitzey said. “Love, loyalty, friendship, and the best a man can be. So here’s to the Safford Boys and to old Arizoney!” Then he blurted in a rapid fire of spit and speech, “To every blessed one of thee, and to all in peril on the sea!” The gang roared their approval and pulled the old man down, passing him from one to the other like a stuffed laundry bag.
Pearce reached up with the rest and heaved Fitzey into the next breach of waiting arms. Then his eye caught a glimpse of someone standing between the parked cars across the street. They watched each other through the wild tumult of getting J.J. back on his feet. Any movement of Pearce’s head made the figure in the street seem to disappear into the deep shadows along the stonewall.
More Corona was opened in a fever of shouting and laughter, but Pearce could only feel the emptiness in the staring eyes from across the street. Somehow it had gotten all turned around. He couldn’t explain it to her, or to himself. They hadn’t been alone since Chino arrived. Even their day off seemed to run into the rest of the week. Nights had become a simple routine of brushing teeth then falling asleep. No practical jokes, no midnight discussions, or loud sex. Their rough, desperate kisses had been replaced with simple goodnights.
Pearce wanted to tell her how he’d fallen in love the first time he saw her get out of the car with the California plates, and that he wanted to marry her and have all those babies that danced in her eyes. He stared out at the figure in the shadows, listening to the babble that flew around him like frightened birds. Woo Woo leaned over to grab the last piece of limp pizza. “Hey, Pearce, you drunk or just flying in another orbit?” he asked. “There’s nothing out there. It’s all in here.” Pearce forced a laugh and took a slug of the cold beer.
“This time we’re going all the way, bro,” Chino said.
Pearce lifted his bottle in a silent toast and glanced out the window again. The street was empty, and he wondered if anyone had been out there at all.
Tom Watkins, the parole officer in Cottonwood, read Mackey’s progress reports on Chino. He’d even gotten a pay raise. Chino took Watkins’ compliments graciously, swore he had no known association with any convicted criminals in the past week, shook the parole officer’s hand, promised to “keep up the good work,” then headed back to the truck.
Work in the cafe had gotten harder and they were all feeling the strain. An extra tour bus had been added on Saturdays, and the Arizona pies became even more popular. Chino was convinced that Arizona’s population boom, the land sales, and the disappearing desert were all Mackey’s fault. His intolerance toward her had solidified into a hatred he barely managed to cover with that quick smile he now gave his brother slumped half-asleep behind the wheel.
“Can I buy you breakfast?” he said, shading his eyes against the low morning sun.
“Where to?” Pearce asked.
“How about the Omelet Shack in Sedona. Haven’t been there in awhile,” he said.
Pearce nodded and they headed towards the great red buttes that had remained unchanged in the ten years Chino had been gone. As they got closer he could see where the new homes had been built behind the mini-malls and the blur of advertising signs. Pearce pulled the pickup into one of the long parking lots, and they rolled toward the wide wooden structure with the curled sign across its front.
“See that guy behind you?” Chino asked.
Pearce turned to see a man sitting behind the wheel of an old Chevy. “I think he’s one of the guys I’m supposed to meet. Something tells me he’s changed his mind.”
“Wait here until I get back. If the guy in the truck decides to follow me, hang with him,” Chino said.
“What about breakfast?”
“We’ll do it when I get back.”
Chino slipped out of the truck. He’d picked this place because of the low lights, dark stained tables, and tourist trade. Ramon was sitting alone in the back, and he slid into the booth with the sharp-featured Latino.
“How’s it been going?”
“I don’t exactly miss prison.”
“Want a beer?” Ramon asked.
“Yeah, I could use one,” Chino said, glancing around.
“Looking for something, amigo?”
“I thought you’d be with—”
“He couldn’t make it,” Ramon said.
“Is he the one sitting out in the Chevy?”
“Yeah … doesn’t want to be seen with ex-cons.”
“Did he give you the piece?”
“Did you bring the money?”
“Yeah,” Chino said.
“I checked out the place. They’re on the ninth floor. There are three elevators and a way to get out through the underground parking lot … just like he said.”
“Did he give you the remote?”
“He won’t give us nothing until he gets paid, amigo. After that I’ll test the remote to make sure it works.” Ramon smiled. “You trust me, don’t you?”
Just as Chino started to answer a waitress showed up and said, “You want to order?”
“Bring me one of those,” Chino said, pointing at the Carta Blanca.
“How’s Tom Watkins doing?”
“You know him?”
“He used to be my parole officer in Guadalupe.”
Chino took a long brown envelope out of his jacket and dropped it on the table. “That’s thirty grand,” he said.
Ramon quickly stuffed the envelope into his shirt. “I’ll get started right away,” he said. “It’s the perfect time. The tourists are buying everything in sight.” He smiled, and slid several folded pieces of paper toward Chino. “This is a breakdown of the whole operation. Second to second. Once we get into the final phase it shouldn’t take more than two minutes. Memorize the floor plans, the steps, the timing. Then burn it. It’ll go down a week from today. That’s when they bring in the Christmas shipment.”
“That’s a lot of money I just gave you.”
“No. What we’re getting is a lot of money. If you’re worried we can forget the whole thing. No hard feelings.”
“Have you figured out how we’ll get the stuff across the border?”
“All taken care of. We’ll drive to Lukeville and cross there. I’ll meet you in Penasco later that afternoon,” he said, sliding a couple of passports across the table. Chino covered them when he saw the waitress coming with the beer.
When she left he opened one of the passports and looked down at his picture with someone else’s name under it. He opened the other one to look down at Pearce’s picture over another strange name. “Don’t forget to sign them,” Ramon said. “And be sure to use the same names on the passport.”
“I pay this guy. Get the remote and check it out.”
“And the incidentals?”
“Taken care of,” Ramon said, throwing some money on the table. “You sure your brother’s up for all this?”
“He’ll be fine,” Chino said.
“Then we better get out of here.”
“You know how to get in touch with me?”
“Same way we been doing, amigo. Just give me a couple of days,” he said, putting his index finger into the top of the beer bottle and heading for the door.
Pearce recognized the Latino walking across the parking lot with the bottle hanging from his finger. The heavyset man in the Chevy started the truck, the Latino jumped in, and they rolled across the blacktop and out into the bustling Sedona traffic.
Chino came out a few minutes later. “I just made that investment,” he said, taking out the passports and flipping them on the dashboard. Pearce stared down at the pictures they had taken a few weeks before. “These little items spell freedom. With a capital F,” Chino said.
“Who the hell is Elliot Sanders?”
Pearce shoved the passport at him.
“It’s just our cover for awhile,” Chino said.
“You bought a whole deal here.”
“You’ll be third man on the swing … with a full cut. I need you on this, bro. I got no one else.”
“Let me think about it,” Pearce said.
“There’s no time for that.”
“I’ve got to be able to pull out anytime I want.”
Chino didn’t move. “Okay,” he finally said. “But when you see how easy this lays you’ll get comfortable with it.”
“No guns,” Pearce said.
Chino took a deep breath. “There has to be at least one. It’s safer that way.”
“No guns, or you can forget about me.”
He waited for Pearce to say something else, but he didn’t. “Things like this don’t come along every day,” Chino said, shoving the phony passports into his pocket. “I just can’t walk around with that number under me anymore.”
“Is it that bad?” Pearce asked.
“Yeah,” Chino said. “I’m starting to hate myself. I have to get out or I’ll do something crazy.”
Sedona’s red rocks faded into the rearview mirror, breaking into odd-shaped pieces. Pearce listened to his brother breathing heavily next to him.
“Okay, no guns,” Chino finally said, and they drove back up the mountain to Jerome in silence.
Mackey didn’t expect it to happen so fast. She’d picked up a professional stove at a Flagstaff auction, ordered a brand new refrigerator, got a dishwasher from Phoenix, and found a rebuilt freezer in Cottonwood. Then four shiny buses reading, ARIZONA PIE COUNTRY, descended on the cafe the next Saturday. The tour operators had filled two extras. The mayor, the police chief, and the rest of the town didn’t know how to react to the sudden windfall. Mackey had to run around hiring busboys out of the bars to clear the tables.
Every customer wanted an Arizona pie. When they ran out they filled in with hamburgers, hot dogs, and chicken salad. The town police had to wave other tourists through the winding streets and out the other end because there was nowhere to park. Mackey finally hung the CLOSED sign on the front door.
“I’ll go down to the supermarket. Pick up what I can for tomorrow,” Pearce said. “You get the crusts going. We need a shitload of new supplies.”
“Don’t ever let me run out of pies again,” she said.
“I told Chino to come back and uncrate that rebuilt freezer. While the pies are baking we’ll get it running,” he said. “All I need is some cash for the new supplies.”
“Want a list?”
“Hell, no. Arizona pies run in my head,” he said, opening the cash drawer. He gave a low, hard whistle at the money they’d taken in. Few hundred ought to get what we need,” he said, emptying the cash on the counter. “We’ll take the rest down to the night deposit when I get back.”
“Don’t have time to count money until I have those crusts ready for tomorrow,” Mackey said, shoveling the cash into a floppy gray bag.
“The bank can wait. The pies can’t.”
By the time she looked up Pearce had already crossed the street and disappeared over the hill. At first she didn’t realize another face had been staring back at her until she saw the tire iron in his hand.
“Pearce told me you needed some help unpacking that new freezer,” he yelled through the window.
She took a quick breath and laughed. “Chino … didn’t see you there. I’m sorry we had to drag you back after all that craziness today. I’ll pay you extra time.”
“That’s all right,” he shrugged, and headed for the large crate. “If I’d done this a week ago we wouldn’t have had to work so goddamn hard today.”
“Sorry. I just didn’t expect it to double like that.”
Chino checked the over-sized crate and Mackey went into the kitchen, lined her spices across the counter, and took out all the flour she had left. A loud squeal of ripping nails burst through the cafe. She looked up to see Chino ripping off the top of the crate, jamming the tire iron down into it.
She wondered if he had stopped at the Spirit Room for a few drinks before he got there. When he drank she could see the anger in his eyes, and it frightened her. There’d usually be the smell of mints on his breath to go with it.
“Might as well use this wood for the fireplace,” he said, holding up the pieces of sharp edged slats that he’d ripped from the crate. “It’ll make good kindling.”
“I’ll throw it out back,” he said, and she caught the smell of mint as he went by. She set the large aluminum bowl on the counter and began mixing the dough. The broken pieces of wood hit the pavement with a crash just outside the back door. “I’ll carry that stuff up to the house before we leave tomorrow,” he said, coming back in.
“Where you going?” she asked.
“Didn’t Pearce tell you?” he asked. “He’s taking me down to Phoenix after work. I have a meeting at the state parole board early Monday morning. We figured it’d be easier staying down in Phoenix the night before.”
“Sounds like you’re getting to meet the higher-ups.”
“One parole officer’s the same as another. They stamp them out on a cookie-cutter,” he said.
“I thought you liked Tom Watkins.”
“They’re all the same.”
“Long as you’re going down to Phoenix you can take the pickup. Get some supplies while you’re there.”
“We’re taking the Harley. Motor needs work.”
“I thought you did your own tuning.”
“Needs an expert to look it over. Especially after so many years just sitting around.”
Mackey nodded, pushing a large ball of dough across the board. There’d been a lot of incoming phone calls for Chino but she hadn’t been suspicious until he’d mentioned going to Phoenix. She and Pearce hadn’t spent their day off together since he’d arrived. It’d taken her a long time to understand Pearce’s determination to get his brother out of prison, but as the weeks went by she sensed something deeper between them. They seemed to be locked into something she didn’t understand. When she looked up Chino was standing in front of her, slapping the tire iron in his hand. “We’ll move the freezer when Pearce gets back,” he said.
She pulled back, and said, “Thanks for opening the crate. Sorry we had to pull you out of the bar.” He glanced down at the tire iron in his hand, and slipped it behind him.
“I wasn’t at the bar,” he said. “Just heading up to the house.” Mackey threw another lump of dough onto the long plastic sheet. “Don’t worry,” he said. “We’ll have that freezer running before we leave tomorrow.”
“This place just rolls along,” she sighed, catching his eye before he looked away.
“You’re right about that. Only trouble is it could roll right over you,” he said. “Work’s getting too hard … hours too long,” he said in that hard tone he had whenever he drank too much. Mackey could see the tire iron swinging back and forth behind him. “Nothing’s worth your life,” he said.
“I’m working hard to put some money away,” she said. “That’s why I pay good money for the work. Guess I expect too much. If it’s too tough … maybe you should get another job.”
He stopped breathing and just stood there. The iron bar behind him swung back and forth like an off centered pendulum. “What’re you going to do with all this money you’re making?”
“Buy some land,” she said.
“That’s ranching. Cattle, horses, and stacks of feed for the winter. Your own rodeo.”
“It’s what your brother wants,” she said, lining up the balls of pie dough. “Someone has to take care of Pearce.”
“Wages and aspirin don’t sound like Pearce to me.”
“Maybe you don’t know him anymore,” she said. He dropped the tire iron on the counter and she jumped. It rolled to a stop and she glanced up into his whiskey stare.
“You in love with him?”
“I’ve been in love with Pearce even before I laid eyes on him,” she said, slapping the balls of dough through the sprinkled flour. “We go together. Perfect fit.”
“Guess you didn’t plan on me showing up, eh?”
“I don’t plan on anything,” she said.
“I can see it in your eyes, honey. You’re not sure whether he loves you or just did all this to get me out.”
It was the way he said it that hurt Mackey. Like he was laughing, and knew something she didn’t.
“Guess I’ll go get a drink,” he said, opening the door. “By the way, thanks for those good reports to my parole officer.” When Mackey looked up again he was gone.
They hit Phoenix just before dark. Pearce left Chino at the Circle K and walked down the street to pick up the U-Haul he’d reserved the week before. He drove the truck to the deserted corner in the motel’s parking lot, opened the back, slid out the ramp, and waited for Chino to roll the Harley up into the truck. They tied it to the side panels, closed the back, and checked in.
Pearce went out to pick up a couple of burgers and beers before they went over the map again. Chino turned on the TV to watch a hockey game and fell asleep before the last period. Pearce flipped through the channels fighting the urge to call Mackey. She was probably working through the night. He didn’t want to lie to her again so he checked the alarm for the third time, and then fell asleep with the TV still on.
He heard Chino in the shower when the alarm went off so he got dressed and went out to find a couple of coffees. When he got back Chino had almost finished wiping down the room.
“Don’t touch anything,” he said.
“It’ll be squeaky clean by the time the maid gets through anyway,” Pearce said.
“The less they know, the better.”
“I checked the truck. It’s working fine.”
“All we have to do is put out the DO NOT DISTURB sign and slip on the coveralls.”
“We’re about a half hour ahead,” Pearce said.
“What’s it like out?”
“Cool. No wind. Should be an easy ride to the border.”
“Let’s go. The less we’re seen the better,” Chino said, grabbing the overnight bag.
Pearce wiped both doorknobs with a hand towel then glanced down along the outside corridor. The passageway looked shapeless in the half-light. Long shadows hung against the walls. He jammed the door with his foot, so they could walk out without touching anything, and then finally let it close behind him.
Chino opened the truck’s back door and Pearce jumped up with him. They slipped into the baggy gray coveralls. Pearce zipped up his front, then handed his brother one of the matching caps. Ramon had insisted they wear them even though Pearce had been against it. Now that they had put them on he realized how professional and nondescript the uniforms made them look. The Latino knew the game. Pearce began to sense how well the operation had been planned. He hardly had to think about what to do next.
He pulled down the truck’s back ramp, checked the parking lot, and signaled Chino to come down on the Harley. He jumped on as Chino kicked it to a start. They were twenty minutes ahead of schedule.
Ramon was waiting for them, ready to go, which seemed to relax Chino. “Let’s set up now,” the Latino said.
They slipped on the work gloves, loaded the signs and ropes, and took the elevator to the ninth floor. Ramon opened the elevator’s control box while Pearce and Chino set the plastic barriers and caution tape. Then they put the large OUT OF ORDER sign in front of the middle elevator.
“What about the guy downstairs?” Chino asked.
Ramon pulled a remote out of his coveralls. “Works like a dream,” he said. “I’ve already set the signs on the main floor. All we have to do is wait for his signal.”
“Let’s make sure we’re ready for them,” Chino said.
Ramon closed the doors with the remote, and turned the elevator off with the key. Chino opened the stepladder and began taking out the ceiling panels. When he had enough of the top opened, he climbed out into the elevator shaft and reached back to help Pearce up. They stood together on top of the elevator holding the steel cables as a thin ray of daylight drifted over them from above.
Pearce waited for Ramon to lift the ladder up onto the top of the elevator. They balanced it between them as the cables hummed through the elevator shaft. The faint sound of women’s voices drifted through the emptiness as the office workers began to arrive. Pearce leaned out over the edge to watch the elevator in the next shaft rise from floor to floor, and then drop to the bottom again.
“Did he tell you which side they’d use?” Chino asked.
Ramon pointed to the other shaft. “They always take the same elevator, and that’s where he’ll put them. They won’t suspect a thing. When he gives the signal we’re into the two-minute drill. The faster we get out of here the better. I’ll meet you on the other side of the border. Don’t forget the masks. Every detail helps.”
Chino took the ski masks out of his coveralls and gave one to Pearce. The operation began to shift into an eerie rhythm of its own. Ramon checked his watch as Chino stared down at the disappearing elevator in the next shaft.
A telephone rang. Its sharp sound cut through the soft whirring of the sliding cables. One ring. Two rings. Three. Then it stopped.
“They’re here,” Ramon said.
Pearce leaned out to look down the other shaft and wondered why it took so long. Then he saw the top of it moving up through the thin ray of sunlight. Time seemed suspended as the elevator crept towards them.
Ramon aimed the remote along the wall. The elevator came to a smooth stop just between the eighth and ninth floors. Pearce lifted one of the panels off the top, and Chino shoved his head and arm into the lighted space.
“Freeze or you’re fucking dead!” he yelled.
The two men were facing the elevator door. One of them reached for the alarm but then stopped, and the moment seemed endless. Chino dropped into the elevator, shoving both men against the back wall, and Pearce covered the door.
The larger man held a small zippered bag with a lock on it. Chino tore it out of his hand and flipped it up to Ramon, standing at the top of the elevator. “Put your hands where I can see them,” Chino said to the man, patting him down and pulling a .38 out of the guy’s pocket. Pearce took the gun, raised his hand, and a roll of duct tape flew down. He caught it cleanly, flipped the gun to Ramon, and began taping the men’s hands and legs. He pressed the rest over their mouths and eyes turning them into what looked like manikins.
“Forty-five seconds,” Ramon said, leaning into the elevator with the ladder. Pearce caught the end of it, set it, and tapped Chino on the shoulder before starting to climb out. When he looked back he could see Chino going through both men’s pockets. He had pulled out another black bag from the little guy’s jacket. The man’s breathing got faster. Pearce watched as Chino stuffed the black bag into his coveralls.
“Thirty seconds,” Ramon’s voice echoed through the shaft. When Pearce got to the top he turned to help Chino out. Ramon had already crossed the open shaft.
Pearce waited for Chino, and stretched across the shaft to the other elevator where Ramon waited for them. The cadence kept clicking in his head. It’d gotten to nine seconds when he saw Ramon putting the key back into the elevator panel.
Pearce couldn’t remember whether he had shouted, “Noooooo,” or just imagined it. A blinding light flashed behind him and a sharp crackling sound echoed through the open shaft. By the time he turned back Chino was hanging between the cables in a suspended ring of fire and smoke. He leaned out to catch him and felt the rush of heat pour out of his body as he lowered him into the elevator.
“You didn’t wait for my signal, you sonofabitch!” Pearce yelled, and felt the floor dropping as he pulled Chino’s mask off to look down at the twisted expression on his brother’s face. Ramon was mumbling prayers in Spanish. When the elevator stopped they lifted Chino to his feet and dragged him out into the garage. Pearce ran to the Panhead, kicked it to a start, and swung it around to where Ramon held Chino against the wall. “Sit him up behind me,” he said, and Ramon wrapped Chino’s arms around Pearce’s neck so he could grab his hands. Pearce shoved it into gear with his other hand and took off into the morning glare. He kept to the backstreets, made a quick left in front of the oncoming traffic, and rolled up the street that edged the motel’s parking lot. The open U-Haul stood in the corner where they’d left it. He drove the motorcycle straight up the ramp into the truck and turned off the ignition. Chino hadn’t moved.
Straddling the seat, Pearce turned to ease Chino onto the floor. His eyes were closed and his head rolled easily in the bend of Pearce’s arm. “We made it, bro,” he whispered, and Chino’s head fell back onto the truck bed. He slipped out of the coveralls, tied the Electra Glide to the side panels, then jumped down and slid the ramp back into position so he could close up the truck.
The scream of sirens got closer as he walked to the motel’s office to drop off the room keys. He put on a pair of sunglasses to cover his stinging eyes, and stared numbly at the printer spitting out the receipt.
The U-Haul groaned up the dirt road and Pearce squeezed the wheel to keep from sliding into the deep ruts. He made the last turn and gunned the truck in close to the broken wooden sign. SAFFORD MINE - DANGER - STAY OUT. Then he backed the truck up until the mineshaft’s gaping mouth filled the mirrors. When he opened the truck a pungent smell of burnt flesh hit him. He took a deep breath, lowered the ramp, and looked out across the valley. The sky had turned a snow gray with only a few hours of light left.
Moving up the truck’s ramp he tried not to look at his brother’s body slumped in the corner. He set the cycle’s kickstand, undid the bunji cords, wound the ropes into a large loop, then hooked all of it onto the back. Setting himself, he lifted Chino in a quick upward motion, put him on the seat and straddled the cycle. He swung the kickstand with his boot and the burnt smell of his brother’s flesh filled his head. He began to cry as he rolled him forward to the edge of the truck. Then he pushed the front wheel over a small hump so they could roll down the ramp. The cycle swung wildly, slid off the ramp, and threw them into the rust-colored dust.
The entrance to the mine gaped at him from twenty feet away and his shoulder throbbed. He crawled out from under the cycle. Chino’s body lay sprawled up against the broken sluice. Fresh blood glistened on the boards where Chino had landed. This time when he tried to pick up his brother the pain in his shoulder stopped him.
He dragged Chino into the mine with his good arm, leaned him up against a wooden pole, and staggered back up the incline to the Electra Glide. The maroon paint had been scratched and the chrome had been dented but it could still roll. He guided it down into the mine, curling it between the stanchions, and leaned it against the center pole.
The dampness made him shudder and the pain shot across his shoulder as he headed up the slope. This time when he lifted Chino he heard something fall, and he stared down at the black flannel bag that Chino had taken from the little man in the elevator. When he pulled the drawstring the polished jewels tumbled into his palm in glittering colors. There were diamonds, rubies, and emeralds. He shook out some more and a large sapphire tumbled over the rest like a blue beacon in the half-light. Pearce stared at the glittering rocks in his hand trying to put a price on them. They could be worth hundreds of thousands. He squeezed the jewels in his fist and funneled them back into the bag. “We hit the jackpot, bro,” he said, sitting down next to Chino. They sat like that for a long time, leaning against each other, shadows deepening as the daylight faded in the dusty air along the jagged entrance. He reached over to take his brother in his arms. His lungs filled with the after burn on Chino’s clothing. “Just remember the good times, bro. You, me, and the old man,” he said, stuffing the bag of jewels back into Chino’s pocket. “I never wanted any of it. I was planning to tell you that when we hit the border,” he muttered, trying not to cry. “Jesus, what happened to us?”
The fading light turned the mine’s row of pillars into lines of sentinels. He took hold of Chino’s arms and dragged him in deeper to where he’d left the motorcycle. His shoulder felt worse as he cradled his brother’s body and lifted him up onto the seat. He shoved Chino’s boots into the stirrups and clicked on the cycle’s front headlight. The beam bent along the mine’s dark walls, lighting the serpentine path.
“Don’t look back, bro,” he said, grabbing the nylon ropes and wrapping them around the old wooden posts. He backed out on his hands and knees and tied the ropes to the truck. A dull silence hung over the mountain. It’d gotten colder. He could see all the way to the other side where a thin sliver of light glowed against the old man’s tombstone.
Pearce climbed into the truck, turned the key, and the motor rumbled to a start. He let the truck roll until he felt the pull of the ropes behind him. Then he pressed hard on the gas pedal. When he couldn’t see the ropes anymore he let the weight of the truck take him over the incline and heard a low rumble behind him. A shower of rocks bounced around him and a cloud of dust thickened across the windshield. The truck began to slide. His foot jammed down on the brake and he waited for the sound of the falling rocks to subside. Then he stepped out into the dusty air and looked up at where the earth had buckled along the ridge. Large boulders had rolled down off the top, covering the entrance and the old man’s sign. The sluice and barbed wire were gone too. He waited until the dust settled before starting to dig his way back under the truck to untie the ropes. Cursing his bleeding hands, he began to clear some of the large boulders that blocked the old road. When he started the truck again he didn’t look back until he was well below the tree line.
The snow began to dance in the headlights making little webs on the windshield. He thought about Mackey’s fresh baked Arizona pies as he waited to make the last turn. The cafe’s lights were still on so he parked across the street and trudged through the thickening snow. Mackey was at the counter, spreading dough over a line of unfinished pies. He tapped on the back window but she kept working. He hit it harder and she looked up and smiled when she saw his face pressed against the window.
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