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Authors: Dolores Durando

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BOOK: And Yesterday Is Gone
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I hadn't slept since Thursday night and this was Saturday. I was warm, clean and so full of food, I fought to stay awake, but it was a losing battle.

“Hey man,” I said, “where can I sleep?”

But as I got to my feet, I saw that he was already asleep with his guitar resting upside-down on the empty plates. I made it up the stairs and turned into the first bedroom I came to. There were several couples there in various forms of relaxation. One of them pointed to a mattress with a blanket in a corner and I stepped over and around some people, then collapsed on top of it. Hazy thoughts blew through my mind, just as my eyes closed. Did last night really happen? Did I really shovel dirt over a murdered man? Too much weed, I had to be hallucinating—never happened. And I slept.

Then I could smell that kerosene lantern. I looked up into those bulging eyes and twisted away to hide from that accusing stare and from the blood that dripped down on my face.

His voice sounded clear, the bloody gash in his throat quivering when he asked, “You love them sheep yet, kid?” Someone was screaming as I frantically threw shovelful after shovelful of that wet, black dirt and heard the soft thud as it covered his face. But his eyes never left mine.

I fought, but my arms and legs seemed immovable. As I faded back into reality, the last words I heard were, “Another time, señor.” Carlos' mocking promise.

My roommates released me and went back to bed, muttering, “Where'd he score the acid? Someone ought to be with him when he trips.”

My throat was raw from my own screams and I was wet with the clammy fear that only let me doze in and out of sleep for many nights to come. I wanted to go home. I wanted Ma and Sis.

CHAPTER 6

C
arlos turned and drove through the rolling countryside in a neighborhood made up of white fences, elaborate barns and discreetly placed houses. The hills were dotted with sleek horses that would never have known anything but the best.

The shabby, smelly truck was buzzed through the iron gate that proclaimed the property to be a thoroughbred breeding and training facility. He pulled up to a large house that sat sequestered amid a grove of eucalyptus trees.

Before the engine stopped, large double doors were flung open and several well-dressed men strode out and deferentially, almost reverently, opened his door, enveloping him with a boisterous welcome.

The keys were tossed to a grinning workman who drove the truck into the wide aisle of a barn and parked it beside a spotless Mercedes and an equally gleaming Bentley. The tall doors rolled and closed quietly on half a million dollars' worth of grass stained with Ollie's blood.

The man who sat at the head of the table that evening was not the same man who had driven in. This man, his huge frame draped in an expensive suit, who lifted a glass of vintage wine in toast, was a far cry from the barbaric-appearing man who had arrived only this morning. But under that fine linen shirt beat the same heart.

His eyes widened, but only slightly, at the appearance of several young women, exquisitely gowned, who appeared from nowhere. None were seated until Carlos made his choice.

The festivities lasted through the night and into the next day, but on the third day, it was all business. The women, with one exception, had been sent back to the city.

The men, sequestered around a long table, were interrupted only by the appearance of food.

Plans were being made to enlarge the operation.

“I'll need at least two men to start the new field—and double the supplies. Now let your barn help enjoy the mutton.”

When the truck appeared as if by magic, it was fully loaded with extra supplies and two young Mexican men.

“I'll be back soon—I liked the accommodations,” Carlos said as he closed the door.

The truck pulled away and the woman waved indifferently, pulling her fur coat tightly about her. Two men in the back clutched the tarp tightly to keep themselves and the supplies out of the wind.

The windshield wipers worked furiously as the heavily loaded truck moved toward the Calaveras Mountains.

She lay asleep, her legs curled under her, her head on Carlos' thigh, his hand caressing through the long, auburn hair, then sliding about in the luxuriant fur.

The two men, wet and cold, huddled beneath the tarp that struggled to free itself from the desperate clutch of their hands, cursed the gringos, the driver, the rain and prayed for their destination to appear.

The younger Mexican spoke through chattering teeth, “I'd sooner swim the river.”

“Not me, at least nobody's shooting at us.”

•  •  •

At the ranch, Lupe agonized. What if? What if? What if Steve had been discovered? Her life would be on the line. Juan would probably get off with a beating. All too well, she knew Carlos' murderous temper.

She watched the pickup bounce up the driveway and stop at the bunkhouse, surprised to see strange men unloading supplies.
Why there?
she wondered.

Carlos was carrying something up the walkway. After pushing the door open, he stepped in and kicked it shut as he released his hold on the woman in his arms. She swayed against him, her coat slid to the floor in a soft heap around the high-heeled shoes. She smiled vacantly at Lupe.

Carlos steered her to the bedroom where she collapsed on the bed with the same vacant smile. He covered her with the coat.

Fear and rage made Lupe's voice tremble as she demanded, “Who is this woman? Why is she here?”

With a smile, Carlos answered, “She is my woman, my cook.”

A fleeting memory of a time she had been all Carlos had ever needed forced the words, “Since when haven't I been your woman, your cook?”

“Since Ollie.” He sneered. “You go down to the bunkhouse and cook for those new men. Help the gringo with the sheep. It gets chilly down there—take a blanket.”

“Carlos, are you crazy? You know I won't sleep in the bunkhouse. I won't go—and to hell with the sheep.”

His eyes glittered. “You? You'll tell
me
what you'll do?” His voice was hardly above a whisper. He stepped closer and held her by the arm with one hand; a finger of the other traced a line below her chin from ear to ear.

He dropped her arms and hissed, “Get out.”

•  •  •

Two days later, the rain still fell, washing away the dirt that covered the roots of the hillside brush and causing streams of water to cascade down the steep slopes of the canyon. When the downpour paused momentarily, the men rushed up the eroded path to the safety of the tent.

Carlos watched through the rain-streaked window, but turned when he smelled the scorched eggs, heard the sizzle of the coffee as it boiled over.

The woman slumped at the table, barefoot, seemingly unaware of the cold. Her carelessly tied satin robe revealed the naked body beneath. Her mouth was slack, her blue-green eyes nearly closed, and her long auburn hair hung uncombed. The beautifully manicured fingers fumbled with a syringe.

Carlos cursed, then laughed as he scooped her up as effortlessly as though she were a child and tossed her on the rumpled bed. The ivory- skinned gringa lay like a silken doll—her long-lashed eyes were always half-closed in a dream sleep where he could not intrude. She was always available, accepting, but detached from his reality, rousing herself from her golden sleep only to relocate the position of the needle, then to retreat again to her world.

Better she and her heroin go back to the city, Carlos thought as he watched her insert the syringe between her painted toes, then close her eyes and turn her back to him and his world.

He felt rather than heard the door open and turned to see Lupe on the threshold. A blanket flung around her shoulders, her hair wet and clinging to her face, a long, ugly scratch showing red against her cheek.

“I told you not to come back,” Carlos growled.

“Carlos,” she pleaded. “I can't stay down there. I can't work with those sheep. I'm terrified of that old ram—someday he'll come through that fence at me—and the gringo is gone.

“I struggled with one of those strange men all night, but I can't stop him. He's so brutal—look at my face.”

“Pretend it's Ollie.” Carlos grinned.

“What I've done, I've done for you,” she answered.

He gave a short, ugly laugh.

Desperation overriding her fear, she spoke through clenched teeth, “You murdering son of a bitch.”

“Be careful, woman, you're a long way from home. Go back to your bunkhouse. Treat that man like you treated Ollie and maybe he won't hurt you.” He laughed. “You might even break in Juan—he's old enough to need a woman. He'll be seventeen soon—almost a man now.”

“A man?” She smiled. “Are you blind? That pretty one, a man?” she asked with derision in her voice.

Unwittingly, Carlos had given her the only weapon that could hurt him.

“No woman will ever seduce him. He'll never give you a grandson. Everyone has seen it but you. Are you afraid to take your blinders off? Ask him how he helped his gringo escape and in your truck,” she goaded, knowing she had drawn blood.

His face remained totally impassive. He turned his head so the anguish in his eyes would not betray him, the anguish that flooded through his body with every breath he drew.

Her words finalized in his mind what he had known in his heart, the intuition he had denied for so long.

She sensed her advantage like an animal that smelled blood.

“You've been gone a long time—there are powerful men who have kept this organization going for you. What will your compadres think of their great El Jefe when your son wants to play house with their manly sons? How much respect will you get then? They will laugh at you behind your back—at their El Jefe whose son is
maricón.
I will have it better in the bunkhouse.”

He stood, his back to her, bent like a great gut-shot animal, devastated by her mocking words.

Turning at last, he spoke slowly and with deliberation. “You've made it very clear what I must do. I promise you that man will never bother you again and that ram is a threat that needs to die.”

He walked to the gun cabinet, chose a thirty-eight revolver, snapped the cylinder out, spun it and saw that it was loaded, then placed it in his waistband. It felt good riding against his belly.

Lupe walked ahead of him, gloating to herself. “I'll be out of that bunkhouse tonight.” She pulled the blanket closer and wiped her face with one corner as she lengthened her steps to keep up with his long strides.

As they neared the fence, the big ram charged.

“Shoot. Shoot,” Lupe screamed as she turned to face Carlos and looked directly into the deadly black eye of the thirty-eight. As the unaccustomed sound of the gunshot scattered the sheep, the smell of gunpowder hung in the air. Almost carelessly, he dropped her limp body into a nearby wheelbarrow and moved it behind the cabin.

The men came down from work late that afternoon. The remnants of breakfast and the empty coffeepot greeted them as they opened the door to a cold, damp bunkhouse. Juan ignited the heater and looked for the can opener.

Later that evening, Carlos lit the lantern and the wheelbarrow was pushed up the muddy path without the dinner basket Lupe had carried the last time she'd gone up there.

Carlos dug steadily, the dim light of the lantern making ghostly shadows as it moved with each push of the wind.

He hunched his massive shoulders against the driving rain as the hole grew deeper, and at last he was satisfied. He lifted her as though she were weightless and dropped the body in the muddy pit.

He looked down at her and wiped from his face the rain that dripped around the brim of his hat.

“You laid with him in life,” he said with a grim smile. “Now lay with him in hell.”

At daylight Juan headed out to feed the sheep. The sun broke through the clouds and a glancing ray of light glinted on an earring held fast in a congealed splatter of blood on the floor of the wheelbarrow.

He shuddered, now knowing where Lupe slept.

The tight fist in Juan's gut tensed as he sensed the presence of his father before the tall shadow fell before him.

Silently, Carlos leaned against the baled hay, lit a cigarette and watched his tall, slender son fork hay to the noisy sheep—his son who had the refined, beautiful face of the gringa woman who had born him. The large, dark eyes; the softly curved lips, the same elegant bearing. The hands that held the pitchfork with long, graceful fingers were the hands of his mother.

I loved her with every breath that I took, as I loved him when she laid him in my arms,
he thought.

The memory cut like a knife, then the icy chill of revulsion flooded the past.

How could I have sired this—this man with the ways of a woman? For years I knew it wasn't true—not my son, then I thought it's just a passing phase. I knew he would change, outgrow this foolishness as he grew older. His whiskers would mark him as a man…but now I see the truth. I would sooner he be dead.

“Where is the gringo? Your lover?” came Carlos' scathing questions.

“I loved him, but he was not my lover. Now he is safe—you meant to kill him, too.”

“Yes, and I am tempted to kill you, you
maricón.”
His frustration and rage struggled with his indecision.

“Yes, you could do that. But I will live in your mind as long as you draw breath.”

Carlos stood, as if undecided, facing his son with only his rage and shame existing between them.

“I'll take you and that gringa whore to San Francisco in the morning, and if there is a God, I pray I'll never see either of you again, in this life or in hell,” he delivered in his guttural Spanish.

“And I will say amen to that—father.” The word “father” conveyed in the same scathing tone as Carlos had used for
“maricón.”

BOOK: And Yesterday Is Gone
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