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Authors: Dolores Durando

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BOOK: And Yesterday Is Gone
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He lowered the shotgun as though he'd forgotten he held it.

Lupe was about as thrilled as I was. We rushed back to the shed and pushed our way through the disturbed sheep.

The ewe was still straining to rid herself of something that was locked in an impossible position; the front leg and little ear still showed.

Lupe knelt to examine the suffering animal, then rolled up her sleeve and wriggled her hand inside. She maneuvered in there for what seemed to me to be forever, then pulled out the little leg and another followed. She went in again, pushed the lamb back, and readjusted the position of the bent neck. Then the head appeared, resting on top of the front legs.

Another convulsive push and the lamb slid out as though that had been its intention from the start. I drew a shaky breath and wondered if that old girl was as happy as I was—for both of us.

“Lupe,” I said, “You're a marvel—you've saved three lives tonight.” I was close to serious.

“Well, did you learn anything?” she asked.

“Yeah. Never wake up Ollie again. Was that gun loaded?”

“Hell yes—did it look like an ornament to you?”

I felt like a fool. She slid her arm around me.

“If it wasn't so damned cold, we could party for a while—he won't be awake for a couple of hours.”

I shrugged away. Suddenly I couldn't have been more exhausted if I had done the work for both Lupe and the ewe, who by now was on her feet cleaning her baby with enthusiasm.

I sank down on an overturned water bucket as though my legs had deserted me. Too late to go back to bed; too early for breakfast.

I watched Lupe wash her hands in the watering trough and wipe them indifferently on her shirttail.

Lupe and I had not indulged in much verbal communication and I was curious about this brown-skinned woman. Ma would have called her a “hussy” or worse.

I asked, “Lupe, how come you speak English so well? Juan can hardly say ‘good morning,' and in all my time here, I've never heard Carlos speak a word. Is he mute?”

She settled herself cross-legged in the straw and looked up. A serious look on her face brought me to attention.

“Carlos mute? Hardly. His voice was the last thing many men heard before they met their Maker. Never underestimate him. He is the cruelest man I've ever known.”

I felt a chill run up my back.

“But what about you, Lupe? How did you learn?”

“Ah, I'm a California native—born and raised in Concord. Went all through school there—an honor student. My grandparents raised me; I never knew my father or mother. When I was about twenty, I went to Mexico City to visit my grandmother's relatives and found that I loved Mexico, the people, the customs, flowers—and the men. I was young and pretty then.”

The contented sounds of the resting sheep—their bellies full as they lay close together in a tangle of wool, the lantern's soft light and a real conversation in English almost made the night a pleasure.

“I worked in a high-class bar that catered to tourists and it wasn't long before I was living with a man, Manuel, who had a lot of money. He taught me a lot about Spanish customs.” She laughed. “You can believe I was a fast learner.”

“Manuel was second in command of some big organization and had a lot of respect—or even fear, I thought—for the man who headed it. I met a lot of Manuel's friends who seemed to work for the same man. They and their women, too, were a rough bunch. I didn't care as long as the money rolled in. Of course, since I was Manuel's woman, I finally figured out that it was a drug operation—and one of the biggest in Mexico.

“I had never met Carlos—he didn't associate with any of us socially. Manuel said Carlos had truly fallen in love with a beautiful gringa. She was married, but her husband had disappeared—with Carlos' help. He moved her to a magnificent estate where she lived like a queen in a villa.

“Manuel took care of business as Carlos spent a lot of time at the villa—even more when she became pregnant. She delivered a large, handsome baby boy and Carlos was beside himself with joy. But that joy soon turned to heartbreak when the gringa died shortly after giving birth to Juan.

“Carlos took the baby to be baptized, but the priest refused so Carlos burned the church and shot the priest.

“Listen, my pretty boy, Ollie will be getting up soon and I'd better be there…”

I interrupted. “Tell him we had a hard time with that ewe.” I was really caught up in this story.

“Well, Carlos went completely crazy. He started a war with both the Federales and a rival gang. Eventually, he was head of the biggest cartel in Mexico, but it was paid for in blood.

“Many, many men were killed on both sides, and then three Federales were murdered. Burning churches, shooting priests and Federales are very bad things to do in Mexico.

“He and his band hid out in the mountains for a long time. He was the most wanted man in Mexico.”

“Lupe, when did you meet Carlos?”

“Well, I had gone back to work at that bar when Carlos sent someone down for me. When we couldn't drive any farther, I rode a mule—me, on a mule—to some horrible little village way back in the mountains.

“My first look at Carlos made me know that I had wasted my time with other men and I guessed he'd been a long time without a woman.

“First we talked. He wanted me to be on the lookout for a suitable contact stateside and he'd leave Manuel in charge in Mexico until it was safe for him to come back. He needed help to get Juan and himself out of Mexico and help when he got to San Francisco until he could get organized. He thought that in that fancy tourist bar I might meet someone who would be of help to him.

“I agreed—many pesos later. Then we celebrated. I got high as a kite on peyote—the Indians love peyote. The next morning I woke up in his sleeping bag and someone said we'd gotten married—after a fashion.

“I went back down the mountain on the mule. I wasn't much heavier—those pesos don't weigh much.

“Sometime later, I met Ollie at the bar. He was throwing a lot of money around and asked me if I knew where he could score some really good weed. We spent a couple of days together, then he went up the mountain. A week later Mr. and Mrs. Carlos and son were on a plane bound for San Francisco.

“Carlos still has his connections in Mexico, but Ollie works this end of it. Ollie figures he's got Carlos over a barrel because of the police—I suppose they're still looking for him in Mexico.

“But Ollie is walking a damn fine line.”

Lupe shifted nervously from one foot to the other—we'd both heard the muffled growl of the dog and I knew if he was out, that Carlos was up. I was glad we'd only been talking.

I grabbed her hand. “What happened to Juan all these years?”

“After Carlos burned the church, he took the baby to an old Indian woman deep in the mountains—some relative, I guess. Got a teacher for him when he was old enough, so Juan doesn't lack for an education. When he was young, Carlos spent a lot of time with him, but as Juan grew older, Carlos seemed to lose interest. Guess he had a good reason, if you look at it through Carlos' eyes. I was surprised when he brought him stateside.”

I let her go and followed her to the cabin.

I was on my third cup of coffee when the bell clanged and the first sign of daylight showed through the window.

Ollie slouched into the kitchen.

“Up early, ain't you kid? How's the ewe?”

“Fine,” I said. “Thanks to Lupe. I didn't study to be a vet—I'm better at digging holes.”

He gave me a friendly slap that just about knocked me off the bench.

“You know you're damn lucky I didn't shoot you last night.” He wasn't smiling.

CHAPTER 4

F
rom day to day, from daylight to dark, the garden was all that existed. The men came down wet and exhausted—almost too tired to eat.

The mood at the table was tense. The occasional goad from Ollie seemingly fell on deaf ears. There was absolutely no indication that Carlos heard, but the hate that radiated from him was almost visible.

I was about halfway done with the postholes and still up at least once a night with the sheep—the cleaning was never done. One night a ewe dropped twins, but one was dead. I buried it in the manure pile and then I buried the damned shovel, too.

In the back of my mind, this thought ate at me constantly: How in hell am I ever going to get out of this mess? It was almost one hundred miles to Angels Camp and there was nothing there. And for sure Ollie wasn't going to let me go out in that truck. Actually, we were all prisoners. I was getting desperate and scared when I realized I'd been there almost seven months. The only bright spots were the stolen time Juan and I had when we smoked our way to better things and, of course, Lupe's unpredictable appearances at the barn.

One late afternoon I saw Lupe walking down the path, carrying an egg basket. I lay the hayfork down and followed her like a shadow, watching the swing of those hips and hearing her laugh. I didn't need to follow knowing that she was going to the same place where the hay was piled high in one corner of the old barn.

She set the basket aside. Before I had my pants open, she was lying there, warm and brown, waiting, her dress tucked under her chin. She reached for me, ran her fingers through my hair, which had grown so long.

“My pretty boy,” she said and I fell on her as though I was starving and nothing mattered but this dark-skinned woman who brought heaven to me in an egg basket.

When we finished, again, the back of that haystack looked as though a couple of elephants had rolled around it.

I stood and tried to pull my pants up.

“Come back a minute,” she said. I laughed, which took about all the strength I had left.

Suddenly she jumped up and frantically started to brush off the hay, pulled back her hair and dug for her shoes. As I looked at her in amazement, she grabbed the egg basket and darted for the opposite end of the barn.

Then I heard the dog growling at the sheep and I felt the blood drain from my face as I tried to buckle a belt that evaded my every effort to make a connection.

“Hey, Ollie. Lookin' for your sweetie?” I heard her call.

“Maybe. What the hell are you doin' down here?”

“Do you think I laid these eggs?”

“Where's the kid?”

“How should I know? He's supposed to be down in the lambing shed, isn't he?”

“Well, as long as I'm here, I may as well look in on those sheep and see what kind of job he's doin'.”

I knew I was a dead man. It was a long way from that lambing shed and the shit was piled high—hadn't cleaned it yet—and no way in hell could I make it there before he did.

I heard her laugh and screwed up the courage to peek around the hay where I saw her slip an arm around him and say, “You can always look at them woolly sheep. C'mon and I'll show you something that will make you forget what a sheep looks like.”

“Yeah, you're right. I can always look at sheep. I came down to get some tools, but that can wait, too.”

I didn't catch what else he said, but I heard Lupe laugh and say, “That kid? He ain't old enough to have
cojones
. What do you think I am—a child molester?”

I didn't know if I should thank her for saving my life or choke her. I sank back on the hay; my legs absolutely refused to hold me.

That night at supper, Ollie said, “How're you doin', kid? You look kinda peaked. You're not goin' to poop out on me now, are ya?”

I said, “I'm so tired I can hardly walk. I hate those damn sheep.”

“You're
tired?” he growled. “You should try workin' like a man—like we do. You better learn to love them sheep 'cause you got a long ways to go.”

“Speaking of which,” I said. “I've been here nearly nine months. When am I going to get paid?” I asked for the second time.

“Paid? You got room and board, ain'tcha? You said you had money when I picked you up—you spent it already?”

He was trying to be funny—where in hell would I have spent it? In the sheep shed or bunkhouse?

Juan smuggled me a baggie a few times, but now I leaned on him for as much as he dared to steal. I'd get my wages out of that bastard one way or another and someday, someway, I was gonna get out of here.

We were all tired and irritable. Ollie had barely brought enough supplies back to feed us for three to four days, and the rest of the time, it was straight beans and rice. We were all hungry, but I figured Ollie had his own stash somewhere in the house.

Lupe didn't come down for several days, and I didn't know if I was relieved or depressed. But I figured that out when I saw her coming down the path. I was waiting in the hay.

She smiled, set down the egg basket. Although the thought
Would that work again?
crossed my mind, I immediately forgot it as she started to unbuckle my pants.

I slapped her hand away. “Child molester, huh? No
cojones
, huh?”

She laughed as she pulled off her dress. “I saved your pretty ass, amigo. He'd have killed you—and not the easy way. You'd have begged to die.”

She put her mind and efforts to other things that almost left me brain-dead.

CHAPTER 5

T
he weeks dragged on.

The last lamb had been born; I was so grateful I could have cried. The weather had turned so bad it rained most of the time—a cold, constant drizzle. I never got warm. When I complained to Ollie, he threw us three extra blankets that helped, but not much. The kerosene heater was a decoration—there wasn't any fuel. When I brought that to Ollie's attention, he looked surprised and said, “You got blankets, ain'tcha?”

Blankets don't throw much heat—I hated him.

I asked Lupe what they had up the trail. She said, “A big tent,” yet they still come down wet and cold, and Ollie was meaner than a snake. Of course, Carlos was his usual self and I felt sorry for Juan; he was so miserable.

BOOK: And Yesterday Is Gone
3.68Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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