Sunday, November 23, 2014

Michael McGarrity’s Backlands ... a review

“Backlands continues the story of Patrick Kerney; his
ex-wife, Emma; and their young son, Matthew, shortly
after the tragic battlefield death of the eldest son, CJ, at
the end of World War I. Scarred by the loss of an older
brother he idolized, estranged from a father he barely
knows, and deeply troubled by the failing health of a
mother he adores, eight-year-old Matthew is suddenly
and irrevocably forced to set aside his childhood and
take on responsibilities far beyond his years. When the
world spirals into the Great Depression and drought
settles like a plague over the nation, Matthew must
abandon his own dreams to salvage the Kerney ranch.
Plunged into a deep trough of dark family secrets, hidden
crimes, broken promises, and lies, Matthew must
struggle to survive on the unforgiving, sun-blasted
Tularosa Basin.”
                                                ~~ {From the book cover 

Michael McGarrity’s Backlands, the 2nd in a trilogy continues the family saga of the Kerney’s who make their living ranching on the Tularosa in southern New Mexico. McGarrity makes a fine historical writer covering several events including the market crash of ‘29, the depression, the Civilian Conservation Corps, and WWII and how they affected ranchers during those times.
The use of era appropriate language is fascinating and the prose is smooth and easygoing. Even with 500 or so pages, readers will fly through this well paced story with rapt interest.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

WILLA Award Winner Amy Hale Auker on the process ...

I have been waiting on Amy Hale Auker’s new book The Story is the Thing and in a post on Facebook, she mentioned there would be a delay until December 1, a few simple publishing items needed to be taken care of before the book could find its way to the readers. It made me think about the journey Authors travel and the navigation skills needed to sail the publishing seas. I reached out to Amy recently and asked if she would like to write about that very topic. Read what she has to say:

This Bonus of a Day by Amy Hale Auker

Today I got a wonderful surprise from my publisher. I can’t tell you what it is, but I can promise you that it truly is something wonderful.
The cold wind is blowing in the Santa Maria Mountains of Arizona. Our fall cow move is almost over. And the publication date of my new book, The Story Is the Thing, is made of jello. We are aiming for December 1, 2014.

Writing is one thing. Writing is my first love. Publishing is another.

In 2004, I went to a meeting with a man who was to become my best friend, my mentor, and eventually, my non-fiction editor. The meeting was, on the surface, about an entirely different matter, but Andy knew, probably more than I did, that I was a writer. He asked me to send him something I had written that I had never shown anyone else. Because of him, I stopped writing long, creative emails illustrated with photographs and started filling a folder with lyric first-person essays that made me run from my warm home out onto the prairie to escape their scary claws. One morning as I cooked for a crew of fifteen men and poured coffee for the truck drivers whose rigs idled growling beside the loading chute, I went back and forth to my keyboard until I had all of the words on the page for an essay called "Weather Talk." I cut and pasted it into an email addressed to Andy, cleaned the globs of pie crust dough from the keyboard, and went back to stirring the beans. The phone rang 30 minutes later. That is it. That is the voice. Now go write some more of these and we have a book.

The problem was I didn't care about a book. I cared about the soul-slamming feeling of having finally gotten onto the screen the swirl of words in my brain. Gotten them on the screen in a way that the swirl was making sense. 

By 2006, I had enough essays for a book, my marriage was failing, and the first seeds of ambition were throwing off their lifelong seed cotes and pushing up through my creative life. But books don't just happen because we finally wrote enough words.

Andy took Rightful Place to the university press that had hired him to find voices in the rural West that might not otherwise be heard. They balked. Where were my credentials? I had been published; a decade before, in magazines like Western Horseman and American Cowboy, but the university press wasn't impressed. So, the poor little sad collection of essays began the brave march through a peer review process. It took four years. Yes, four. And in that time, I did not rewrite it so much as reread it... over and over and over. Andy took the comments of one peer reviewer and rearranged the essays, splitting one in half, putting half at the beginning of the book and half at the end. Can't have "too much Amy, too soon."

Life goes on even when we are holding our breath.

I got divorced, got homeless, wrote another collection of essays that was cathartic but not necessarily publishable, got healed, was a bad mother, fell in love. I wrote my way through bucketfuls of pain on a little website called Six Sentences. I gained a community of writers. At one point, as I cried actual tears about the publication process, my new love said, Eh. Who needs essays? I read to be entertained. That brought me up short and I began to look around at our newly combined shelves. Novel after novel after novel.  GREAT novels, by really talented writers. Some of them genius.
I stopped rewriting and rereading the two collections of essays. I started showing up at the page every day. I began to write about a girl named Charlie. I gave her a mentor named Bill Morgan. Who would have imagined that Uncle Bill would become more fascinating to me than this young girl trapped in a scary marriage, discovering her sexuality? In fact, Uncle Bill began to tell me his life story and I couldn't write it down fast enough. I filled yellow legal pads with his words. The Story Is the Thing was born.
And it was awful. I put it in a drawer and started writing another novel.
Winter of Beauty was easier to write and much more traditionally structured. I spent hours in a dark hallway with blue tacky clay, making a construction paper outline on the walls. I discovered Rafe and Shiney. I met Jody and an old black cowboy named Delbert Lincoln. I lived on a mountain called The Bride. 
In February 2010, I got the call I had been waiting for. The university press committee had voted to publish Rightful Place and a contract was on its way. I was back to the essays and immersed in a brand new process... the publication process. It was a game of wait-for-years, hold-your-breath-for-months and then "please return this with your notes and corrections within ten days." I filled out endless forms. I got a managing editor, a copy editor, a marketing adviser, and a design team. I dotted all of the “I’s” and crossed all of the “T’s.” I did everything I was told to do including pay my dues to organizations that support writers.
I built a website and a social media presence. 

We received Advance Reader Copies for Rightful Place in January 2011. 
I submitted both novels to the managing editor at the university press only to be told that they didn't have time to read them. Perhaps I could workshop them?
RIGHTFUL PLACE was released April 15, 2011.

I began to shop, not workshop, the novels to agents and independent presses. Rightful Place began to win awards. And still, I edited and immersed myself in the manuscripts. I rewrote The Story is the Thing. I made another pass on Winter of Beauty. I wrote query letters and new essays for magazines. I wrote morning pages. I edited the mss again. 

During this whole time I was also working for a living, learning new ways of being in the world. I was learning that I needed to choose something to earn a paycheck that fed the writing. I am blessed to be a cowboy on a big ranch in the high Sonoron desert. Riding and writing go hand in hand.
My query letters began to pay off. I got an email from a "publisher" who wanted both novels. He sent me a contract and the specifics of how he publishes. I was to put up half the money for publication and the publisher would put up the other half. I asked about cover art and design... he sent me to a website I hated. I asked about copy editing and big picture fiction editing and he basically shrugged and said he was sure he could handle all of that. I took the contract to the man who owns the ranch where I work. He asked one question: What was I going to get for my money? In short, nothing. These scams are everywhere.

In October 2012, I got another bite. An independent press called Pen-L Publishing asked to read both novels. (Have you ever seen a crazy lady do a happy dance?) I think the turn-around time on that email was four minutes.  Pen-L sent me a contract for Winter of Beauty saying that The Story Is the Thing was too experimental, not traditionally structured enough for them to take a chance on it. This time, the contract was legitimate. By the time WINTER OF BEAUTY was released in October 2013, I had probably read it, with a red pen in hand, upwards of 20 times... the whole thing. And we still found typos in that first batch of 100 copies.

In December of last year, I sent Pen-L an email saying that I had rewritten The Story Is the Thing and asking if they were interested in seeing that draft. They replied with a contract. In the negotiations I pointed out that I knew too many great Western artists for any of my books to end up with a stock photo on the cover. They agreed. I asked my friend Steve Atkinson to step in as cover artist and designer. Design matters. 

During this time, since 2008, I have also been writing essays, enough that a new collection now rests on the desk of the managing editor at the university press. So writing continues, even as publication swirls around it. By now you have gotten the idea that I am always writing something new, but also always reading and rereading and editing and polishing something old.

The publication date for The Story Is the Thing was set for Fall 2014.

Delays in the publication of this book have been coming our way, one after another. Whether it is a misplaced draft or an overlooked email or … get this… Did you know that IS needs to be capitalized in the title? So, the cover had to go back to the designer… minor, but time consuming.

I was supposed to move back to cow camp today with pending final page proofs hanging over my head. Instead, my boss (yeah, he’s also my husband) said that the wind was too cold… we’ll go tomorrow. Those cows can wait. One more day. 

This morning my inbox dinged. The file I had been waiting for. I poured more hot water over the tea bag in my cup and curled up beside the most wonderful fire in the world, bolstered by pillows and this bonus of a day. And I began to look over this book, this book that means so much to me and will go out into the world soon.  This unconventionally structured work of fiction…

The surprise took my breath away. It is on page 117. I hope you get to see it ...

Thank you Amy for sharing your experience with us. 

I know I always appreciate knowing the story behind the story and now I’m certainly curious to learn more about the publisher’s page 117 surprise. 

I’m looking forward to reading Amy’s new book. Her writing is beautifully lyrical and her stories are heartfelt. Her body of work is growing and her voice is strong. 

It’s easy to realize Amy is a poet. She has written several poems and has performed at the cowboy poetry gatherings. She will be a featured performer at the Cowboy Christmas, Wickenburg, AZ on December 5-6, 2014 and at the Texas Cowboy Poetry Gathering, Alpine, TX on February 27-28, 2015

Amy's books can be purchased directly from her website where all books are signed by her and at all the usual places including B&N and Amazon but if you choose to purchase at a store, I would suggest you support a local independent bookstore such as Amy's bookstore pick, Peregrine Book Co in Prescott, AZ,  my personal favorite Bookwork’s in Albuquerque  or one in your neighborhood.  

You can also purchase directly from Pen-L Publishing.

Pre-order The Story is the Thing at Amy's website.
Author Amy Hale Auker will be was among a panel of authors at the Peregrine Book Company Saturday, Sept. 6, for a discussion on “Women Who Broke the Mold.” (Steve Atkinson/Courtesy photo) {from The Daily Courier}

 Be sure to catch up with a few other posts on Amy’s work by linking to:

Whiskey Tales: [reviewing] Rightful Places by Amy Hale Auker - See more at:

An artist's eye and a poet's pen ... Amy Hale Auker - Beach ... - See more at:

Ranching on the Rocks with Gail Steiger and Amy Hale Auker - See more at:

Whiskey Tales: Winter of Beauty by Amy Hale Auker ... A ... - See more at:

Whiskey Tales: Amy Hale Auker ... a hard working writer - See more at:

Watch for the release of a new book by Amy Hale Auker ... - See more at:

Women Writing the West®

Women Writing the West®: November Member News: Just in time for Christmas shopping! New releases from our prolific WWW members! Sherry Monahan, Frontier Fare Drawn from the aut...

I have a number of these on my winter reading list! Check them out and see which you'll add to your list.
Purchased at all the usual places including B&N and Amazon but if you are so inclined I would suggest you support a local independent bookstore such as Bookwork’s in AlbuquerqueThe Collected Works Bookstore in Santa Fe or one in your neighborhood.  

Friday, November 14, 2014

Vision ...

And what I saw was not really who he was …
But I knew then I would always love what I saw

And then I saw what I did not know was under cover …
I knew then it would never be the same

And so it was that my vision was poor 
and no set of spectacles would help 
I looked through the glass into reality

And then I saw …
He was not the person
I thought I saw
But it was too late ...

I had already fallen in love with the vision

© Beachwalkermari 2014

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Traditional Pinyon Pine Nut Picking of the Navajo

I found this video of traditional pinion picking that I thought was really interesting. I went with 'family' a few times to pick pinion in the high country in northern New Mexico. It's tough on your hands and fingers for sure but the time spent out in the fresh mountain air and the camaraderie of all who are together to wild harvest is just wonderful, plus salt roasted pinion are delicious.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Deathmark by Jann Arrington-Wolcott ... a metaphysical story of enduring love

I finished reading Deathmark by Jann Arrington-Wolcott with a satisfied heart and that is just how I like to close a book. I came across this read by browsing the 2015 catalog of Women Writing the West, an association of writers and other professionals who write about and promote the West.

A metaphysical mystery, Deathmark hits the mark with a nicely developed main character with whom many women can easily identify or at least understand, and an interesting supporting character who adds a bit of sizzle and mystery. The author captures the personalities of cliché characters such as the Santa Fe shaman and the outrageous romance writer quite well and it’s apparent she is informed about the Santa Fe lifestyle which for readers familiar with the setting adds an opportunity for attentiveness. The characters play out the mystery so nicely I didn’t bother to try to guess the ending, I just went with it.
A story about loves endurance across time, the past life theme holds the readers interest  and the author knits the scenes together quite well making the dual stories easy to follow and making the authors/publishers choice to use different fonts unnecessary but acceptable.

I found myself staying up late to read this story interested in what would happen next. It’s a quick and easy read, completely enjoyable and satisfying, I would recommend this book to anyone with an interest in the metaphysical especially an interest in past lives. 
Jann Arrington-Wolcott
Jann Arrington-Wolcott is also the author of Brujo which was made into a cable television movie featuring Suzanne Summers. You can learn more about Jann and read Chapter 1 of Deathmark by linking to her websiteHer books can be purchased at all the usual places including B&N and Amazon but if you are so inclined I would suggest you support a local independent bookstore such as Bookwork’s in Albuquerque, The Collected Works Bookstore in Santa Fe or one in your neighborhood. 

Sunday, November 2, 2014

An interview with award winning author of Bone Horses and Canyon of Remembering, Lesley Poling-Kempes

Several months ago I read two fabulous books, Canyon of Remembering and Bone Horses written by award winning author and long time New Mexico resident Lesley Poling-Kempes. Both were stunningly well done and deeply enchanting stories and one of those books, Bone Horses has won several awards which include the 2014 WILLA Award winner for Contemporary Fiction, the Tony Hillerman Award for Best Fiction by the New Mexico-Arizona Book Awards, the Silver Medal 2014 IPPY Book Awards and the Southwest Books of the Year "Good Read." 

I recently caught up with Lesley and asked if she would be interested in an interview. Much to my delight she agreed …
Was being an author always your goal?
When I was a young girl I made up stories, wrote them down, and made drawings to go with them. But I didn’t consider being a writer until college. I studied journalism at the University of New Mexico when Tony Hillerman was chairman of the department. Tony was my teacher and mentor, and he encouraged me to write both fiction and nonfiction.
Although you’ve been writing for awhile, there was obviously a time when you were just starting out. When did you openly call yourself a writer and feel comfortable doing so?
I called myself a writer right out of college. I worked at New Mexico Magazine for 6 months, and then quit so that I could ‘just write’ and find out who I was as a writer. With my husband, I lived in a very old adobe house in rural northern New Mexico. I wrote short stories and freelanced articles. While working on a documentary (I did post grad work in filmmaking) I stumbled into the story of the Harvey Girls and began working on a book that became The Harvey Girls: Women Who Opened the West, published in 1989.
You write with a wonderful sense of place and you capture the culture and traditions of northern New Mexico so well. What is most intriguing to you about the Indio-Hispanic culture?
I have always been aware of the influence of places in my life and how a landscape affects the people and cultures that are connected to that landscape. I was smitten by northern New Mexico as a child (I was raised in New York, but had family in the Southwest) and wanted to live here after college so that I could be immersed in the place. It was natural to write stories about my adopted home of Abiquiu and the cultures native to this place, but I did not take on the history of Abiquiu until I had lived here almost twenty years. My book Valley of Shining Stone: The Story of Abiquiu was an enormous undertaking as a writer and a researcher, and I depended on the input and stories of my neighbors to bring that book to life. My book about Ghost Ranch (Ghost Ranch) also depended as much on oral histories as on archival research.
You mention you were raised in New York, why did you choose New Mexico as your home?
My dad was raised in El Paso and went east for college and grad school. I lived most of my childhood in New York. I came with my family to Ghost Ranch in the early 1960s and was smitten by northern New Mexico. I knew I was home here, and I returned to stay in my college years. I’ve lived near Abiquiu for more than three decades.
Lesley Poling-Kempes
You recently won several awards for your book Bone Horses. Did you expect such accolades? Can you tell us how that has changed things for you?
Having Bone Horses win these awards has given me wonderful affirmation as a writer. I become very disconnected from the outer world when I’m working and the publication of a book can be both exhilarating and nerve-wracking. I felt that Bone Horses was a good novel but until it began to get read and reviewed, I had many moments of doubt. I’m working on a new novel right now, and the process is difficult, as always. But the success of Bone Horses, a novel that took me years to sort out and write and rewrite, does help me through those days (and there are many of them!) when going is tough and slow. Have the awards changed things for me? Yes and no. People take my work more seriously now, and perhaps give Bone Horses a read because of the awards it has won. But ultimately, the success of a book comes down to how much readers love it and pass it along. That remains the same.

How would you categorize your writing style? Do you think your writing has changed over time?
I love magical realism and the blurring of what is considered ‘real’ and what is considered fantastical. I love for a place to be a character in my stories. My stories are always woven into a place, and the place is woven into the characters. My writing style has changed very little, except that I have become (I hope!) a better editor of my own prose. My first published short stories (in the literary reviews Puerto del Sol and Writer’s Forum, and in Best of the West and several other anthologies) were about people and place, and when I reread them, I recognize the emergence of the themes and style I still favor today, more than 30 years later.
Do you have any unique methods to inspire yourself to write?
I keep a notebook for every project I am working on, or hope to work on. In this way I can engage in and connect with a novel or book of nonfiction even before I begin to work on it. I am very disciplined when I’m working on a book and keep to a daily routine. I begin work early in the morning and often write until mid-afternoon.
Do you hand write your manuscripts or do you use any specific technology application to write?
I keep a journal that is handwritten – I love good paper and pens. But when I’m drafting a book I need to write quickly and so use a computer. I write a fairly messy first draft and do heavy editing. The computer makes this job bearable (I wrote my first book, The Harvey Girls, on a typewriter and literally cut and pasted text into place). I do print out drafts and do first edits and comments with a pen. I need to see the way a narrative is unfolding on the page. Then I return to the computer.
Do you have any current projects in the works?
I worked the last 2 years on a nonfiction book called LADIES OF THE CANYONS: A League of Extraordinary Women and their Adventures in the American Southwest, a project that was under contract with the University of Arizona Press. I handed the final manuscript in just a month ago. It is the most ambitious book I’ve undertaken, and the most satisfying. The book chronicles the lives of women who came into the Southwest before World War One. I did research in Boston and the East Coast, in San Diego and Los Angeles, and in archives in the Southwest. There are more than 50 historic photographs in the text. LADIES OF THE CANYONS will be released in September of 2015. I have also recently completed an historical novel, Gallup, with Robert N. Singer. This novel is based on a screenplay of the same name, and is represented by my literary agent and currently seeking a publisher.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
Write write write. Write when you are inspired and write when you are not inspired. Believe that what you have to say is important and trust in your process. Read authors whose words and images and stories move you, change you. Honor your voice. Be kind to yourself and most of all, be patient and love the creative journey.
Thank you Lesley for your time, I'm looking forward to reading more of your work.

Canyon of Remembering and Bone Horses are hauntingly memorable, with carefully crafted characters and a magnificent sense of place, both geographical and sociological.  I plan to add Valley of Shining Stone: The Story of Abiquiu and Ghost Ranch to my ever growing list of books to be read.

You can learn more about Lesley and her work by visiting her website and Facebook page. Her books can be purchased at all the usual places including B&N and Amazon but if you are so inclined I would suggest you support a local independent bookstore such as Bookwork’s in Albuquerque, The Collected Works Bookstore in Santa Fe or one in your neighborhood.
"WWA Spur Award finalist "Canyon of Remembering" is now available as an eBook and is free to borrow for Kindle Prime users" ~ from the authors website
Lesley's publications include:


Ladies of the Canyons, University of Arizona Press, 2015

Bone Horses, La Alameda Press, June 2013; 2014 WILLA Award for Contemporary Fiction; Tony Hillerman Award for Best Fiction, New Mexico/Arizona Book Awards; Silver Medal, IPPY Awards, Best Fiction/Mountain West; Southwest Books of the Year “Readers’ Choice” Award.

The Harvey Girls: Women Who Opened the West, Paragon House, New York, 1989; Da Capo/Perseus, Cambridge, 2007; Zia Award for Excellence, New Mexico Press Women

Ghost Ranch, University of Arizona Press, Tucson, 2005; IPPY Awards, runner up, Best Western nonfiction; Southwest Books of the Year “Top Choice” Award

Georgia O’Keeffe and New Mexico: A Sense of Place, (Barbara Buhler Lynes, Lesley Poling-Kempes, Frederick Turner), Princeton University Press, 2004 Winner, IPPY Award, Best Fine Art Book

Canyon of Remembering, Texas Tech University Press, Lubbock, 1996; paperback 2000 Western Writers of America Spur Award, finalist - Best First Novel

Valley of Shining Stone: The Story of Abiquiu, University of Arizona Press, Tucson, 1997

Children’s Literature:

The Golden Era: West by Rail with the Harvey Girls (Vol. 2), Texas Tech University Press, Lubbock, 1997

Far From Home: West by Rail with the Harvey Girls (Vol. 1), Texas Tech University Press, Lubbock, 1994

Contributing writer:

Voices From a Sacred Place: In Defense of Petroglyph National Monument“Keeping History Underfoot,” Artcraft Printing, Seattle, 1998.

Ghost Ranch: Land of Light: The Photographs of Janet Russek & David Scheinbaum“Piedra Lumbre: A Brief History,” Balcony Press, Los Angeles, 1997.

Short Fiction:

“Edith’s Own,” Higher Elevations: Stories from the West, Swallow Press, Ohio University, Athens, 1993

“My Sister and Her Visit West,” Best of the West 3: New Short Stories from the Wide Side of the Missouri, Peregrine Smith Books, Salt Lake City, 1990

“Edith’s Own,” Writer’s Forum 16, University Press of Colorado, Colorado Springs, 1990

“My Sister and Her Visit West,” Puerto del Sol, New Mexico State University, 1989

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

{From the Short Story Archive} Death at the Morada

Death at the Morada

The sun was barely coming up over the mesa. The night had been cold and Jake was running out of time. He had to get the cattle back down to the valley before the crew left for Fort Worth. There was no way he was going to miss out on a chance to make some money with the rest of them. When Rivera said the rancher from Dallas was looking for some good hands, he was ready to go. Only he had to finish the work he promised to do for Mateo, so he had to get these five head down so they could be hauled over to Tucumcari day after tomorrow. He dusted himself off and drank the last of the rotten coffee he made earlier, then he wet down the fire pit he had made. He could see them off in the distance. Looks like none strayed, that was good. He didn’t want to waste any time looking for a stray and his back wasn’t feeling all that good after sleeping on a roll all night. The thought of a nice warm bed was mighty enticing just then. Mateo would let it pass if Jake said he couldn’t bring them down but he wanted to keep it good with Mateo for those times when he needed some extra work. Mateo was shrewd and if Jake didn’t do what he promised he’d pass him over the next few times for work, Mateo’s way of saying, "don’t mess with me."
It pissed Jake off that he had to kowtow to the Mexican but until he could get enough money to buy the land back, he’d have to play that game. Jake was a raw teen when his father lost the land to the bank trying to make it work as a farmer. The Mexican had swooped in to buy it up from the bank for pennies just as he had done to his own “borracho” brother’s land whom in a night of drunken gambling, signed it over to Mateo for $50,000.00 when the land was worth $500,000.00. The “borracho” wasn’t able to think beyond the bottle and ended up begging his brother to let him live in the old adobe house that was on the land. When he could stay sober, he worked as a hand for his brother Mateo. The 50 grand was gone in no time.
Jake saddled up and started the work of the day moving cattle. The sun was over the mesa now and it would be late afternoon by the time he got down to the valley assuming there was no problems. At least it was a pretty morning; he could enjoy the blue sky and crisp air. Wasn’t long before he saw the smoke. He wasn’t sure where it was coming from.
He cut away from the heard and headed toward the smoke. As he got closer, he saw the fire. The old “Morada” was on fire. No one should have been in the old church this time of year, the old Spanish families held their ceremonies during Easter. The “Majordomos” checked on the church now and then to keep it clean and ready for use. It’s was possible they were in trouble. After all, they were always lighting those damn candles all over the place.
Jake grew up with the old Spanish traditions all around him; partly they were his traditions too. He had joined the local men on several occasions when they paraded the saint statues through the villages. Had joined the big feast at the “Morada” on Good Friday and walked the Stations of the Cross. A few times, he even took part in the “Penitentes” rites with “Los Hermanos.” He could speak 'Spanglish' with the best of them and could switch to pure Castilian, on a dime, to talk with the “Viejos.”
When he reached the "Morada", it was awash in flames. He pulled out his cell phone hoping he could get a connection. Cell phones didn’t always work in the high desert mountains. He dialed Mateo but the call dropped. He knew he wouldn’t be able to do anything himself; there wasn’t even a water supply nearby. The rangers would have to either let it burn out or order up a slurry drop. He moved a few yards hoping he would find a hot spot and dialed again. Mateo picked up on the second ring.
“Mateo, its Jake. The “Morada” is in flames. I can’t put it out myself. Call the ranger station, see what they can do.”
“OK, stay there, I’ll call them. Is the herd safe?”
“Yeah, they’re fine, far enough away. Hurry up, The “Viejos” are gonna’ be upset if they lose all their old statues.”
“OK, let me call” and Mateo hung up.
Jake waited, helpless, hoping they wouldn’t end up losing all their treasured artifacts. He wondered if he should start to dig a line just in case the grass caught. It could help, it would keep him busy until the rangers and volunteers got there. This was gonna’ put a damper on his plans. He got down from his horse and gave her a smack. He knew the horse would trot down to where the cattle were, instinctively looking for safety.
He heard the helicopter first followed by the grinding of gears of the volunteer water trucks. Three trucks pulled in close. Men jumped out and started getting the manual hoses ready to spray. They had to hit the target consistently since they had a limited amount of water in the trucks. He knew all of these men, spent plenty of time in town with any one of them having a beer or hitting the dance hall. He knew them all to be good men, hard working men. He kept digging knowing they would tell him to do something else if it were necessary. One of the men, Billy, nodded at Jake letting him know he was doing the right thing by digging the fire line. You couldn’t take a chance. Wildfires were a problem in the west and everyone knew to be careful just like they knew to turn the water off when they brushed their teeth. Water was precious in the desert.
It was almost an hour later when the fire was out and all that was left were adobe walls and burnt wood beams. The sheriff had arrived, as did several of the local and state police. A few of the local ranchers and “Viejos” had driven up in their old ranch trucks to see what was going on.
They found the body face down near the wood stove. It was easy enough to see the woman had been shot in the head. Identifying the body would be a pain in its condition. When the coroner left with the body, the sheriff walked back over to Jake. Ray Moro had been the sheriff longer than he cared to remember and this murder was not something he wanted to have to deal with. He had promised his wife they’d ride up to Alamosa for the weekend. Looks like that will have to wait. He knew Jake and his family for years and knew Jake was a good man even though he had a bit of a chip on his shoulder about his father losing the land.
“Jake, do you remember hearing any vehicles or voices up here last night?”
“No, I didn’t. Like I told your man, I made camp a good ways back near where the shale road reaches the top.”
“I’m pretty sure you would have heard if there was a vehicle. Dead quite up here in the night and sound carries pretty good. Doesn’t mean they couldn’t have hiked up. If you remember anything more than you already told my deputy, come see me.”
“Alright Ray.”
The sheriff started walking toward his truck and without turning back called out, “Stay close Jake, just in case we need ya’ for anything.”
Jake was tired. All the craziness of the day and digging the line that wasn’t needed took his energy. Most of the day was gone and he still had to move those cows. Looks like he wasn’t going to Fort Worth. He was hours behind his schedule to get down to the Valley and now Ray wants him to “stay close.” What the hell does that mean?
Mateo had called him twice to find out what was going on and told Jake not to worry about the cows. If he got them down by tomorrow afternoon, that would be fine, there was still time. Jake didn’t tell him about the woman found in the Morada.
Mateo sat in the cab of his dually and dialed ‘Becka’s number again. He was starting to get worried. She told him she was going to be staying at La Fonda. It was a pretty long drive from Dallas and he was hoping she didn’t run into any problems on the road. The Jeep Cherokee he bought her a few months ago was in good shape, it was brand new and he had made sure it had regular maintenance. Why wasn’t she answering her phone?
Mateo looked out over the valley. He loved this place and planned to make all of it his own. He was proud of his accomplishments even if some thought he went about them in a shady way or was overly aggressive in negotiations. He was a landowner, a successful rancher and was respected in Santa Fe and Taos as a man of influence. He built himself a spectacular home with a view of the entire valley and mountains beyond. From the back, he could see the mesa. His family was well taken care of and his wife Dolores had everything she could want. Now that the kids were gone, Dolores had taken to volunteering in town leaving Mateo with more time on his hands than he wanted. He probably could have brought those five head down from the mesa himself but no matter what Jake may think; Mateo liked him and wanted to give him the extra work. He knew Jake thought he was a bastard for buying his family’s land at a bargain but it was just business.
Mateo started up the truck and headed down the gravel road. He’d head into town, get a beer at Shorty’s before he tried to call ‘Becka again. Maybe play a game of pool.
Mateo walked into a full room at Shorty’s. A Los Lonely Boys song was playing. He sat in a booth by the pool table and ordered a Tecate. Ray Moro spotted him, walked over and sat opposite Mateo in the booth.
“Winding down Mat?”
“Yeah, got too much time on my hands. I think I need a hobby.”
“I don’t know about that, you seem to be a pretty busy guy from all that I read in the Journal.”
Mateo laughed, “Can’t believe everything you read.”
“I expect you handled the call up to the mesa today. What happened?”
Ray sat back and nodded to the waitress to bring his usual, Coke with ice and two wedges of lemon. He knew it was Mateo who called the fire in and that he was told about it by Jake who was working Mateo’s cattle up there.
“Yep, I was up there. Looks like we have a murder on our hands. Used the fire to cover the deed. Don’t know why people think a fire will cover up a murder but they do. Jake spotted the fire.”
Damn, you’re kidding me. Jake didn’t say anything. Just that the Morada burnt to a crisp. Who was killed and why didn’t he tell me?”
“He’s under orders from my office not to share any details though I’m surprised he did as we asked and we aren’t sharing yet.”
“You can see the mesa from your place, Mat. Did you see anything, lights, vehicles, anything out of the ordinary last night or today?”
“I can see the mesa from the back of the house but I don’t usually go out back and I didn’t last night or today. Do you think the murder took place last night?
“Hmm, like I said before, we aren’t sharing yet.”
Mateo sat talking with Ray a while longer before he remembered he had to try to call ‘Becka again. He told Ray that if he remembers anything or hears anything, he’d let him know and he excused himself. Back in the truck, he tried ‘Becka’s phone again. Still no answer. Now Mateo was concerned and he headed to La Fonda.
Jake was exhausted by the time he got down to the valley. It was just before dusk and he was happy he made it before the sky darkened. Now the cattle were wandering in a big corral and he was heading home to shower and sleep in his own bed. His truck was just where he left it. He’d call Mateo in the morning even though Mat would have a bird’s eye view of them from his front porch.
Happy he didn’t run into any major snags keeping them together and herded in the direction he wanted, he still would have preferred to have never even seen the smoke. He wished he didn’t have to be involved. He didn’t see or hear anything except the smoke and didn’t know anyone was in there until he heard Ray call for the coroner and still, he doesn’t even know who the body was. Ray was careful not to share details but expected details when he answered questions. Jake couldn’t remember a murder around here in his lifetime. This would be a big deal once the details were out.
Jake flashed his lights at the driver coming up the road that didn’t have their headlights on and was driving much faster than the two-lane country road could allow. Ignoring his flashing lights, the driver passed him way too fast and way too close. Jake recognized Dolores’s car and was surprised by her driving. He’d never seen her drive like that before but he was pretty darn sure it was her driving and not someone else. No one could miss that big hair of hers.
Jake parked in his driveway, happy to be home; still annoyed he wasn’t going to Ft. Worth.
Mateo pulled up and parked beside the barn. It was late and he was tired. 'Becka never checked into La Fonda and still there was no answer when he called. The lights were on and that meant Dolores was still up. He thought about Dolores, she was a good woman, a good mother. They had met in high school and married shortly after. Within a year, they had a daughter and the following year, a boy. They had a good life. Dolores never had to work but now that the kids were gone, she was antsy to do something. When she told Mateo she was thinking of volunteering at the museum, he supported her; even spoke to a friend on the board to see if he could smooth the way. And he did.
Lately though she wasn’t herself. She was moody and drinking more than normal. Maybe the volunteering was too much. He’d talk to her about it.
He walked up the steps to the porch and looked out over the valley. Looked like Jake had brought the cattle down safely. He would have to throw in a few bucks more for a job well done. Dolores was passed out on the couch, Chris LeDoux was blaring on the radio and an empty bottle of wine on the table. Mateo turned off the radio and picked Dolores up to put her to bed. Mateo couldn’t figure out what was going on with his wife. He got her undressed and into the bed and headed to the kitchen to get something to eat. He opened the refrigerator and took out the makings for a sandwich, adding item after item into the crook of his arms. With his elbow, he swung the refrigerator door closed and started to put everything down on the table when he saw the note. In Dolores’s handwriting was the name ‘Becka and a phone number. It was “Becka’s cell phone number. Mateo lost his appetite. Dolores knew.
Mateo didn’t mean for anything to happen. He loved his wife and he loved his life with her but when he met Rebecka on business in Dallas, he didn’t realize he was heading into danger. This wasn’t good. Maybe that’s why ‘Becka didn’t meet him and why she wasn’t answering his calls.
Mateo put the sandwich makings back in the refrigerator and took out a beer. He went out to the porch and sat, he needed to think of what he was going to say to Dolores.

Mateo woke to a knock at the door.
“Ray, what are you doing here so early in the morning?’
“Came to talk with you about the fire. We identified the body that we found in the Morada, Mat. Her name was Rebecka Moran.”
Mateo leaned against the wall, “Come in Ray.”
When Ray finally left, Mateo just sat and stared. Mateo couldn’t believe how his world was spinning out of control. They found ‘Becka dead in the Morada with a gun shot in the head. Her Jeep was found in the parking lot on Marcy Street in downtown Santa Fe just a few blocks from La Fonda. Whoever killed her was sloppy and thought the fire would cover their tracks. Ray had been sure to tell Mateo to stay close because there was much more they would need to speak to him about regarding his whereabouts and his affair with Rebecka Moran.
Dolores had heard everything from the bedroom. When Ray left, she came out dressed looking like the pain of the world was on her shoulders. Couldn’t tell if it was the pain of what she had learned about her husband’s affair and the murder or if it was the bottle of wine taking its wager.
“How could you Mateo? You make me sick.” She turned back to the bedroom and retrieved an overnight bag she had packed. “I’m leaving. I’m going to Taos, I need to think.”
Mateo was speechless. He knew he should say something but he was overwhelmed. All he could do was watch her go. He couldn’t believe this was happening.
He picked up his phone. “Jake, it’s Mateo. I need your help. Can you handle the haul to Tucumcari? I’ll pay you good. The woman’s body they found, turns out its someone I know. I can’t leave and I don’t have a mind too. “Can ya’ help me out?”
Jake figured he knew what Mateo meant when he said he knew the woman. There were rumors around about his business trips to Dallas. When Mateo asked him for help, Jake saw dollar signs and agreed to haul the cattle to Tucumcari.
“Sure, no problem, I’ll take care of it.”
“Everything you need is in the barn and I’ll leave the papers you’ll need in your box, I’ll call the boys and let them know you’re taking my place. They’ll be at the barn by sun up. Make sure they know there’s no drink until the works done. I’ll call Bill Deere in Tucumcari; he’s the person you’ll see when you get there. I’m counting on ya’ Jake.”
“Don’t worry, I’ve handled hauls before.”
Jake hung up and smiled, Mateo just might get his after all.
“Hey Ray, got a minute.” Ray’s deputy was standing at the office door.
“Whatcha’ got for me Frank?”
“We found tire marks on the back side leading up to the mesa and it looks like the vehicle had a bit of an oil leak too. We also found two sets of footprints; both woman and one set matched the shoes that were on the deceased. The fire was set with gasoline probably from the cans kept in the workroom at the back of the Morada.
“Good work. Did you match the tires to the vehicle type?
“Yeah, belongs to a Cadillac Escalade, not too many of those around here.”
“We also found a pair of sunglasses on what would be the driver’s side, ladies Oakley’s

“Hmm, I know of one Escalade around here and the driver usually wears Oakley’s. I don’t think I like where this is going. You know what to do next Frank.
Mateo sat on his porch looking out over the valley. He had no energy to do anything. He kept going over in his mind how ‘Becka ended up at the Morada and why she never called. Who would want to kill her? Mateo sat with his elbows on his knees and his head in his hands. He was sure Dolores would be filing for a divorce. This would ruin him. He heard a vehicle and looked up to see Ray Moro driving up the road. Mateo watched Ray slow down to make the turn over the cattle guard into his property. He’d be up at the house in a minute. Mateo got up and headed to the front door to let Ray in.
“Ray, come in. How about some coffee, it’s old, from this morning. I could make a fresh pot?”
“No thanks Mat. If ya’ have a coke I’d take that. Is Dolores here?”
Mateo handed Ray a cold can of Coke from the refrigerator “No, she left to Taos. She heard us talking this morning and took off. Said I made her sick. She’ll probably file for divorce.”
“What time did she leave?”
“Around 8:30, shortly after you left. Why?”
“We think she may know something about what happened up at the Morada. Let me make a call, I’ll be right back.”
Before Mateo could say anything else, Ray walked out onto the porch and closed the door behind him. Mateo didn’t understand what was going on.
“Mateo, did you see Dolores yesterday morning?”
“No, I left the house early to meet the boys for breakfast in town. I had to tell them what the plan was for hauling the cattle Jake was bringing down to Tucumcari. She was still sleeping when I left.”
They heard the Deputy’s truck coming up the driveway. Ray went to the door to let him in. Several other vehicles were with him. Ray spoke quietly with Frank for a few minutes.
“Ray, we have a warrant to search your home”, Ray said and Frank handed it to Mateo.
“Sure, go ahead. Am I a suspect?”
“No Mat, but Dolores is. We found tire marks up at the Morada that match her Escalade and a pair of Oakley’s, the one she always wears. Did she have them on when she left for Taos?”
“No. God, I can’t believe this. Dolores couldn’t.” Mateo fell into the chair at the table.
“She’s been picked up in Embudo on the road to Taos. They found a gun in her SUV. I’m sure it will match. She’s already implicated herself. Looks like she found out about the affair and lured Rebecka to the Morada, shot her and tried to cover up with the fire.” Ray put his hand on Mateo’s shoulder.
“Yesterday, when I came in I found a note with ‘Becka’s name and cell phone number and I realized she knew about the affair but kill he, I can’t, I don’t think Dolores could do such a thing.”
Mateo got the call from Ray in the late afternoon. Dolores didn’t want to see him or have anything to do with him. She didn’t want him to come to the trial or attempt to reach her. In her mind, this was his entire fault. Ray said she was ranting and didn’t make sense but she wasn’t sorry. She confessed to the murder.
Dolores heard Mateo’s cell phone ring and was surprised he had left his phone on the nightstand. Dolores picked up the phone and saw the call was coming from “B”. Dolores had felt the change in Mateo and knew something was wrong with their relationship. Mateo had been distant, often taken trips that he wouldn’t normally have bothered to take and he had been guarded about where he was going, what he was doing. So when she saw the call come in from “B”, she went into a tailspin. She starred at the phone until, the message signal came on, and then she dialed the voicemail and listened. The woman was talking about their upcoming tryst and how excited she was to be with him. She left the time and place that she would be in Santa Fe. Dolores was sick and then the plan started to evolve.
Dolores called the number back under the guise of being Mateo’s secretary. Dolores figured if it didn’t work and the woman knew better, then she would just have to have it out but if not she could meet this home wrecker and Dolores would have her say. She called and identified herself as Mateo’s secretary and told Rebecka that Mateo would be in a meeting and asked her to call Rebecka and arrange to pick up and bring her to the ranch where they would attend a party together. Dolores had laughed when she realized how young and naïve the woman was and that made her even angrier. Dolores picked her up in the parking lot a few blocks from where the woman was planning to stay. They drove the hour chatting amiably about Rebecka and how she met Mateo. Rebecka was more than happy to keep the conversation on herself. It was apparent from what Rebecka was saying that she knew Mateo was married and had two grown children but that was all, didn’t even know the wife’s name or anything about his children but was convinced the wife had to be awful if such a nice man like Mateo would so easily stray. Rebecka was happy to tell about the Jeep Cherokee that Mateo had bought her among other things including the diamond bracelet, which Rebecka kept dangling in Dolores’ face. Dolores had all to do to keep her temper. When they arrived at the Morada, Rebecka wanted to know why they were there because it didn’t look like anyone else was. Dolores said that was where they were all meeting, she was to get there early to open up and turn on the lights, blah, blah, blah, and Rebecka believed her. It was so simple and when Rebecka walked in and looked around, she turned to Dolores who had a gun pointing at her. It had made Dolores feel so good to just say, ‘I’m Mateo’s awful wife’ and shot Rebecka in the head. She left the body there, went to the back room where she knew there was a few can of gasoline, and poured it around. As she left, she lit the gas and for a few minutes watched the flames take hold.
“Mateo, she may need an insanity defense,” Ray said.
Mateo hung up the phone, walked out to the porch and dialed Jake. Listening to the phone ring, he watched the sun go down on the valley.

+++++ © Beachwalkermari  October 5, 2011