Monday, December 4, 2017
Terry didn’t consider himself a "snow bird," although the description might have been fair for the first couple years of his retirement. At that time, Terry owned an ice-house and two snow-mobiles and he wintered in Arizona for only six weeks, from the new year until Valentine’s Day. But Terry liked the sun and the blue skies of the Arizona winter and the rugged landscape so different in every respect from the Minnesota prairie intrigued him and he would have gladly stayed longer but for his wife’s protests. His wife didn’t like the barren canyons and the lawns that were terraced gravel and the cactus with its strange fruit and thorns repelled her and, of course, there were the scorpions and the tarantulas, creatures that she never actually saw but that she imagined to be lurking under every stone in the desert. A brain aneurysm knocked Terry’s wife off her feet and she died at the Mayo Clinic a few days later. When this happened, it was late October and the trees were bare and the crops in the field besieged by big harvesting machines that cast up plumes of dusty golden grain. The great machines lumbered over the highways between fields and, on the way home from the hospital, Terry was caught behind one of them. A funnel-shaped wagon was under tow behind the big harvester and it seemed off-balance, wobbling to and fro on the highway and dribbling a little corn onto the concrete highway and, then, rain slapped at the windshield of his pickup truck, the blow made harsh by sleet mixed in with the big cold droplets. A half-dozen cars trailed him in the slow procession across the flat, wet and windswept land. "What is there for me here?" Terry thought. And in the middle of November, after the funeral, he rented a mobile home in Apache Junction and stayed there until mid-May.
When he returned to his home town, it was already warm and humid and lightning flashed against the dark horizon. Tornados prowled the prairie. Terry gave his good snowmobile to his son along with his ice fishing house. The old snowmobile he donated to the police auxiliary in town and took a tax deduction. Terry had been a cop in the village where he lived. For a time, he was even chief of police but didn’t like the paperwork and the administrative duties and, so, resigned from that position to return to driving a squad car. Law enforcement personnel generally retire at age 55 and Terry was no exception. His health was good and he exercised daily, walking his dog and using the Nordic track in his basement. He was free to travel and, with his wife, he went south to the desert and was a "snow bird" for a couple of years and, then, after he had buried her, decided that there was no reason for him not to live in Arizona for half the year. So he left Minnesota after Halloween each autumn, drove to his trailer house in Apache Junction, and lived in the desert until the end of April when he returned north.
Terry was a sociable fellow and he made friends easily. He had lots of interesting stories about his career as a small-town cop and liked to tell them. On the old Apache trail, in the direction of the Roosevelt Dam, there were some state parks and a campground down at the lake impounded behind the high cement escarpment, and Terry volunteered to be a campground host. This meant that he patrolled the winding one-lane road that led between the campsites scattered among the saguaro and the dry gulches overlooking the tongue of water clenched between the tan cliffs and the high brooding buttes. He greeted the campers, checked their registration cards and made sure that all fees were properly paid. He sometimes sold firewood out of his pickup truck and, daily, distributed brochures describing activities that the rangers had scheduled – there were ghost stories told by campfire light, star-gazing hikes and nature hikes in the early mornings before the sun was too hot, history forums in the amphitheater on the wars with the Apaches, Geronimo, and the Lost Dutchman Mine, trail rides on tame burros and hay rides over the hills and up to the abandoned mine workings. People from Ohio and Pennsylvania and, even, Quebec asked him questions about the animals and the plants that lived in the desert and, if there was a hawk or golden eagle circling he pointed proudly up at the sky to show the bird, taking care also to identify for the newcomers the emerald and obsidian lizards squatting among the cacti and the snakes that warmed themselves on the slabs of sun-cracked rock. Sometimes, he unplugged toilets or fixed the hot showers down at the camp office and he told people where the nearest restaurant was located, the nearest package place for booze, the closest hospital or clinic if you got sick or fell from a cliff or ended up stung by a cactus or wasp or scorpion.
Terry felt useful and, sometimes, the work even involved encounters that reminded him of policing the little village where he lived in Minnesota: there were underage drinkers to reprimand and set on the straight and narrow path, people who played music too loudly and disturbed their neighbors, and vandals that he sometimes chased in his pick-up truck between the trailhead monuments that they had tagged with spray-paint marks. One evening, he heard some firecrackers popping at one of the campsites. The season had been even dryer than usual and the chaparral was like tinder and, in any event, fireworks were forbidden within the park. So Terry hopped in his pickup and drove along the winding lane among the campsites toward the sound.
A burly man with a white goatee sat at picnic table next to his Keystone Hideout. The RV was dry-camped and Terry could hear the hum of its generator, a smear of yellowish light showing in the windows. The man had a slender rifle and, as Terry parked his truck, he shouldered the weapon and fired a couple shots into the gathering twilight. Terry reached to the side and opened his glove compartment where he kept his old service revolver. The man had a small styrofoam cooler beside him and the awning from his RV was extended as a shelter over the picnic table. A small campfire leaked a little smoke listlessly above the flicker of flames. Terry held the gun in his hand. The man at the picnic table took a beer from his cooler, snapped it open, and drank. Terry decided to put the revolver on the seat next to him, covered with a newspaper.
Terry got out of the pickup and stood with open door between himself and the man with the rifle.
"Can’t be shooting here in the park," Terry said.
"Really," the man said.
"What do you see?" Terry asked.
"Coyote or, maybe, a feral cat," the man replied. He had a southern accent.
"Well, coyotes are protected here," Terry told the man. He paused. "...so I would appreciate it if you would put that gun away."
"You call this a gun," the man said grinning. "This is just a pea-shooter."
"Maybe so," Terry said, "but rules are rules." Terry pointed at the RV: "Nice rig," he said.
The man grinned and took another beer out of his cooler, waving the can at Terry.
"It’s a cool one," the man said.
"I’m not supposed to drink on the job," Terry said.
"You’re a volunteer, a campground host," the man replied.
"That’s true," Terry said. He tapped the big white "Campground Host" button that he wore on his lapel.
"So it’s not much of a job," the man said. "Come on, you can have a beer with me."
"Okay," Terry said, "but only if you put away that pea-shooter."
"You got it, partner," the man said.
The burly man’s head was shaved and he had greenish, faded tattoos on both forearms and biceps as well. He shook Terry’s hand, gave him a beer, and, then, took the .22 into the RV. Terry saw that the RV had a Texas license.
The man returned and sat down at the picnic table next to Terry. "Snowbird?" he asked. "Not really," Terry told him. "I’m here for half the year."
"You sound like you’re from up north," the man said.
"That ain’t really the north," the man said. "I call that the north country, the north woods, right?"
Terry nodded. The man said that there was good fishing in Minnesota. He told Terry that his name was Roger -- "big Rog" they call me -- and that he was from some place in Texas south of Fort Worth. "I’m really from nowhere and everywhere," Big Rog said. "Jus’ bummin’ around." He gestured to the RV – "this is my home," he said.
Big Rog had been in the Marine Corps. After his military service, he worked for 25 years in Law Enforcement. Terry said that he had been a cop as well. "I figured," Big Rog said, saluting him with his beer.
When they finished the six-pack of beer, Big Rog went into the RV. Terry heard a woman’s voice, but couldn’t understand her words. Rog came out with another four beers. The beer was in bottles and the glass was cold and wet to the touch. "It’s all I got," Big Rog apologized.
They spoke some more about law enforcement. Terry said that the town where he worked had gone from lily-white to 40% Mexican within about two years. "Tyson’s opened a chicken processing plant outside city-limits," Terry said. "That way they don’t pay taxes to the town." Big Rog nodded. "Then, they bring in immigrant labor," Terry said. "It changes the whole environment."
"Wet backs?" Big Rog said.
"I suppose," Terry replied. "But we were told it wasn’t any of our business to figure that out."
"Increases the crime, right?" Big Rog asked.
"Sure," Terry said. "Different kind of crime."
Rog said that any nation that didn’t defend its borders wasn’t sovereign and didn’t deserve being called a country.
Terry said that he agreed, although he admitted that he wasn’t political and hadn’t thought about it much.
"You know about the ‘Minutemen’?" Big Rog asked.
Terry shook his head.
Big Rog said that the Minutemen were volunteers who patrolled the border and helped to detain illegal immigrants. He said that most of them were ex-military or former law enforcement. "They give you some training and, then, you go down to the border and help out defending it. We’re outgunned down there. Out-numbered. The border patrol agents have to pretend to discourage our work, but secretly, when no one’s looking, they tell me they’re happy as hell to have our assistance."
Terry said that it sounded interesting.
"Listen, I’m a member of the chapter in Apache Junction," Big Rog said. "There’s a bunch of snowbirds, ex-coppers from Ohio and Illinois and Iowa. You’d fit right in."
"I’m not really a snowbird," Terry replied.
"Right," Big Rog said. "You can come to our next meeting, as my guest. You put in about two days training – just a formality for a former cop like you – and, then, you’re ready to work the border."
"Absolutely," Big Rog said. "It’s a helluva lot of fun and you’re doing your patriotic duty as well. You get to roam the mountains and deserts human-hunting. It’s human-hunting. You chase down the illegals, herd them together, give ‘em Cokes and candy-bars because, you know, the poor bastards are always half-dead when you catch up to them. It’s really not cruel in any way. You’re helping out people who might otherwise end up starved or dead of thirst in the cactus. You know, almost 300 people died out there last year, just in this sector alone."
"What is this sector?" Terry asked.
"I work Cochise County, down by Bisbee, Tombstone, Naco."
"That many people died out there?"
"God’s truth," Big Rog said. "That’s why the work’s so important. You gotta find the poor bastards before the sun gets ‘em, before they get baked to death out on the desert. It’s really humanitarian work if you think about it. You got whole families humpin’ it across the desert. It’s a pathetic thing to see."
"You see, you gotta hunt ‘em down, detain them for ICE, get ICE on the cell-phone and call them in. Then, you give the wet-backs Coke and snicker bars, make sure the children are okay, rehydrate everyone. Then, ICE comes, puts ‘em in a van, and deports their brown asses back to the Federal District or wherever the hell they came from."
Terry said that it sounded interesting.
"It’s doing God’s work," Big Rog said. "Protecting the border."
The moon came up. A coyote cried out in the scrub. The moon was the color of butter and caught in the horns of the Superstition Mountains.
Terry finished his beer and walked into the darkness to urinate. The fire had gone out. He saw the eyes of some scorpions, faintly florescent in the night. He told Big Rog that he would attend the next meeting of the Minutemen in Apache Junction. Big Rog’s wife came from the RV. It was cool and she had shut off the generator so that the RV’s windows were now dark.
"This is my wife, Lupe," Big Rog said.
She said hello and, then, spoke to Rog in Spanish.
He replied in Spanish.
"Terry is a widower," Big Rog said.
Lupe said that she was sorry to hear that. Terry said goodnight, shook Rog’s hand, and went to his pickup truck. He was a little drunk and, on the ride back to his trailer house, a deer ran out in front of him and he almost hit the animal. The deer had a white breast and its eyes were immense and fearful.
They towed a flatbed with two ATVs up to the overlook at Montezuma Pass. The border was below, marked by an old pylon-shaped stone monument and a fence comprised of green-painted iron posts with wire threaded through them. A gravel road ran parallel to the border for a mile or so in the hot basin below. Where the cinnamon-colored foothills, round as a puppy’s head, came down from the main range of the Huachucas, the gravel road split into a half-dozen foottrails radiating into Mexico and up into the sierra. The straight-edge of the fence vanished into the broken country rising toward the summits.
Terry and Big Rog got out of the King Cab of the pickup truck and stretched. Coleman and Jenkins came out of the truck as well and got out a couple of folding chairs. The parking lot at Montezuma Overlook was about half-full and there were people hiking on the trails that switchbacked up toward the green, wooded flanks of the mountains. At higher elevations, the ridge was white with snow and the sun shone brightly off the jagged summits overhead. Voices rang out overhead.
A park ranger came up to where they had parked, at the opposite end of the big lot where the dirt road corkscrewed down to the border. "Minutemen?" the ranger asked. She was a fat girl squeezed into her brown uniform.
"Proud to be," Big Rog said. The men were all wearing camouflage windbreakers labeled G- Monsters." The Minuteman chapter in Apache Junction was nicknamed the "Gila Monsters."
"I can’t have you in this parking lot," she said.
"This is supposed to be a welcoming place for everyone," the girl said.
Coleman said: "You’re welcoming your country right away. You understand that."
Big Rog smiled. "She don’t make the rules," he said.
"I don’t make the rules," the girl repeated.
"No problem," Big Rog said.
They put away their lawn chairs and got back into the pickup. Jenkins drove them down the curving road a half mile to a boulder-strewn terrace three or four-hundred feet below the National Monument parking lot. There was an old fire-pit and the open scar of a gravel quarry, used apparently to make the parking lot overhead. They parked by the fire-pit and set up their surveillance post.
The men took turns manning two tripod-mounted binoculars. One of the binoculars was a Celestron and it had a zoom function. The other was a Pentax. With the binoculars, they scanned the fence and the empty plain beyond, a rolling expanse of featureless grass undulating down to a watercourse concealed by a gallery of cottonwood and willow trees. Three or four ranges of mountains were visible in Mexico, blue silhouettes hovering in the air at the plain’s rim. Once, Coleman saw dust rising from the chaparral in Mexico and supposed that someone was driving on a road hidden there – but the Celestron showed him that it was only a dust-devil, a yellow vortex idly wandering the wasteland.
Jenkins had served in the first war in Iraq and had something wrong with his left hip and shoulder. Coleman was a nature enthusiast and he had to be reminded not to turn the binoculars in the direction of unusual birds. A couple times, he tracked birds with the binoculars, rotating in the direction that his target was flying until he had turned entirely around and was pointing the lens up toward the stony heights of the mountains behind them. He made some notes on a small spiral notebook pad that he kept in the breast pocket of his camouflage vest. Coleman had a bad back and, every twenty minutes, he had to get up from the lawn chair and pace the perimeter of their post.
After three hours, Jenkins distributed Red Bull from the cooler. "The sun makes you drowsy," he said. Big Rog declined the Red Bull, instead, taking a long swig from his canteen. "It makes me too jangly," Big Rog said. "I’m too high-strung as it is." Coleman drank a Starbucks frappucino in a bottle. The caffeine kicked-in and everyone was talkative for awhile. Terry said that his wife had been a bird-lover. She had spent years battling the squirrels that ravaged her bird feeders. "They can be destructive," Coleman said. He told Terry how he fed the birds that came to his house, mostly wise and wary old crows. Jenkins talked about his experiences in the war. Big Rog said that he had asked for leave from his post as town cop so that he could enlist in the military but that the city council had denied this to him – "if I quit I would have lost my pension," Big Rog said sadly. "You didn’t miss a helluva lot," Jenkins said sardonically.
An hour later, it was quiet again and Jenkins had fallen asleep. Big Rog whispered so as not to wake the sleeping man: "I think I see activity down there," he said, pointing to the area where the road paralleling the fence became diffuse and evaporated into the trails radiating like spread fingers from the lane’s dead end. I’m going to investigate," he said. He hopped on the ATV and asked Terry if he wanted to ride with him. Terry said ‘yes’ and he climbed onto the back of the four-wheeler. They drove down the switchbacks to the road next to the battered fence-line. It was slow-going twisting along the mountain side because the gravel road was narrow and corrugated with washboard erosion that made their teeth rattle and jarred their spines. The dirt road adjacent to the fence-line was slashed and incised by arroyos gouged out by flash floods roaring down from the mountains overhead. Distances were deceptive and it took them a half-hour to reach the place where the dirt lane divided and, then, divided again in a maze of small eroded hillsides. They rode up and down the hillsides, pebbles scattering behind them, and Big Rog pointed out a neat little pile of cougar scat drying on a slab of stone. They waved back to the surveillance post where the sunlight flashed off the lenses of the mounted binoculars, the big white pickup moored on the hillside like a sailing ship. In a funnel-shaped ravine leading steeply uphill to the snow-crested mountains, they found a couple of cairns, one of them marked by two pint-sized tequila bottles. "It’s a cartel trail," Big Rog said. "Drug smugglers use this path over the mountains and, then, across the desert to Tucson and Phoenix."
Big Rog and Terry returned to the post. Jenkins’ shoulder and hip were bothering him and so they loaded their gear into the big pickup and drove up to the parking lot at the pass. It was late afternoon and the lot was mostly empty. Two families, everyone wearing sunglasses, were resting in the shady ramada next to the visitor center. They used the restrooms and, then, set off on the two-lane asphalt running along the western slope of Huachuca mountains.
The road ran across a vast basin between ranges. The terrain had the character of great, half-folded wings, brown and shapely hills rolling upward toward the stands of ponderosa pine and aspen on the mountain sides. No speed limit was posted and there was no traffic and so they drove at 90 miles an hour across the open range, a few conical mountains nodding vaguely at them as they passed.
At a crossroads, 18 miles from the border, Coleman looked to the right and saw two men climbing out of a ditch on the forest road leading toward the rocky escarpment of the mountains. They passed the forest road, drove a half mile, and, then, Big Rog said that the two pedestrians were worth investigating. Jenkins made a u-turn and they drove back to the forest road. It was narrow and pitted, but passable for a high-clearance vehicle and the two men were standing in the shade of a mesquite tree by the lane. Big Rog signaled that Jenkins should stop a hundred feet from them. He tapped Terry on the shoulder and the two of them got out of the pick-up truck and walked toward the men.
The men were clean-shaven and looked like brothers. The older man wore glasses and was carrying a vinyl backpack. Both of them had tattered ski-sweaters that they had removed and wrapped like scarves around their shoulders and throat. Their trousers were scuffed with dirt and they wore black and white tennis shoes battered at the heel and toe.
"Buenes Tardes," Big Rog said.
The two men nodded to him and smiled uncertainly.
Big Rog said something to them in Spanish. He told Terry: "I am asking them if they need a ride somewhere."
The older man shook his head. He said something in Spanish. His brother said: "We’re waiting for an Uber."
"An Uber?’ Big Rog said.
"There’s an Uber coming," the younger man said. "Here you can see my app." He flashed his cell-phone at Big Rog.
Big Rog was puzzled. He turned toward Terry. "What’s an ‘Uber’?"
Terry said: "I’m not sure. It’s hard to explain. Like a taxi or something."
"Ride-share," the younger man said helpfully.
Big Rog lifted his fist in the air, shook it for a second, and, then, tapped at his forehead twice.
"Do you need some water?" Big Rog asked.
The older man grinned and opened his backpack a little so that they could see a tall plastic flask of water.
"That’s good," Big Rog said.
"The ‘Uber’ will be here shortly," the younger man said.
"Where’s it coming from?" Terry asked.
The young man gestured up toward the north. "Patagonia," he said.
"That’s fifteen miles," Big Rog shook his head.
The two men set off, ambling through the scrub along a narrow winding game-trail.
"What about the ‘Uber’?" Terry asked.
"It’s okay," the younger man replied.
"Will you come back?" Big Rog called. He repeated his words in Spanish.
"We have to be on our way."
"But what about the ride?" Terry asked.
"We have to be on our way," the younger man said.
The men walked slowly at first but, then, more quickly. On the asphalt highway, a big white Suburban marked ‘Border Patrol’ crested a ridge a half-mile to the south. Terry turned to watch the Suburban approaching. When he looked back at the winding trail in the scrub, the men had vanished.
"Illegals," Big Rog said.
"How do you know?" Terry asked.
"It’s not rocket science," Big Rog replied. "And the water. He showed me a bottle of Bonafont Agua Natural – you don’t get that this side of the border. The water bottle is a dead give-away."
"Then, why didn’t we take them into custody?"
"On what authority?" Big Rog asked. "We’re not federal agents. We can chat them up and try to keep them here for the patrol. That’s why I gave the signal, told Jenkins to call. But if we touch them, or, even, ask for papers, that’s an assault, an assault and battery. Also, maybe, a federal crime – posing as border authorities."
The Suburban turned off the highway and, spraying gravel all around, skidded to a stop near the pickup. A border control agent stepped out of the Suburban, shaking his head angrily.
"You got what?" he asked.
"Two illegals," Big Rog said.
"I don’t see any illegals," the border patrol agent said.
"They went that-away," Big Rog said pointing down the trail.
Jenkins got out of the pick-up truck holding his cell-phone. "I placed the call, officer," he said.
Jenkins pointed to Big Rog. "He told me too."
"Well, I don’t see any illegals here now," the border patrol agent said.
"I told you – they went that-away," Big Rog said.
"I’m not gonna beat the bush looking for them," the agent said. "You know, you wise-asses are just making my job harder. Those illegals are off-path now and will probably get lost and thirsty. Probably get delirious. The more lost they get, the more dangerous this becomes. You’re just making people desperate."
"That’s not our intent," Big Rog said.
"We’re former law enforcement ourselves," Terry told him.
"We don’t need your help," the agent said. "If those two get turned-around out there and die of heat exhaustion or thirst, I’m tellin’ you: it’s on you, it’s on you and your vigilante organization."
"We just had a friendly conversation..." Big Rog said.
The agent kicked some pebbles up under foot. "Have a good day," he said. He returned to the big white Suburban, put the vehicle in gear, and drove back to the highway.
Another five miles north on the asphalt highway, they came to a Border Patrol checkpoint. A couple of Suburbans were parked on the highway to narrow the road to a single lane. A detached trailer sat at a slant on the shoulder and the checkpoint was signaled by highway patrol cars by the side of the road, their lights strobing bright and blinding blue. One highway patrol car was parked an eighth of a mile to the south of the Border Patrol barricade and, as they slowed to approach, Terry could see another car a quarter mile to the north.
At the checkpoint, an African-American woman in an olive-green Border Patrol uniform bent toward the driver’s window. She asked Jenkins for his license. "Yes ma’am," Jenkins said, handing the card to her.
The woman recognized Rog.
"So you been chasin’ around the desert this afternoon?" she asked him
"That I have," Rog said.
"Have any luck?" she asked.
"Saw two Apaches," he said. "But – vamanos."
She winked at him.
"Rog," she said. "You and your boys stay out of mischief."
Three weeks later, the Apache Junction G-Monsters returned to the Border. They met at the Legion Post before dawn and drove cross-country to the Montezuma Pass overlook. The roads were flat and featureless and the distant archipelagos of mountains hidden by early morning haze. The villages on the highway were dominated by vast prisons with perimeters protected by barbed wire and featureless palisades of pre-fab concrete.
South of the interstate to El Paso, the Minutemen pulled into a truck stop to re-fill their thermos bottles with coffee. The parking lot was crowded with semi-trucks with Mexican licenses, a few of them decorated by the horns of longhorn cattle mounted on their hoods. Terry was hungry and he bought a burrito in the café.
"That’s a NAFTA burrito," Big Rog said.
"I wouldn’t eat that thing if I were you," Jenkins added.
Terry ignored him.
The overlook at Montezuma Pass is under the ridge of the Huachucas and the parking lot was shadowy when they reached that place. The sun had not yet risen above the rounded, snow-dusted peaks looming over the pass.
Near the Visitor Center, three middle-aged women wearing shapeless sweaters and hiking boots stood beside a van marked Covenant Ark Rescue. Noah’s ark was painted on the side of the panel truck under a stencil of a rainbow.
"They’ll have to let us set up in the parking lot," Big Rog said. "Fair is fair."
"Why?" Terry asked.
Jenkins said: "Those are rescuers. They hike around the desert looking for illegals and give them protein bars and bottled water."
"The border is a busy place," Terry said.
Coleman was asleep in the back of the truck snoring.
Terry said that the burrito had gone right through him and that he had to run to the toilet. He hustled across the parking lot. A woman with long grey hair braided into pony tails was filling her canteen at the fountain next to the toilets. She turned to Terry and greeted him with a cheerful "good morning". The bookstore and small museum in the Visitor Center weren’t open yet.
There were three stalls in the men’s toilet and they were all occupied. This was inconvenient. Terry loitered at the urinal and, then, washed his hands. Squatting down to verify that there was someone in each stall, Terry saw that there were big backpacks leaning against the metal doors in two of them. Conscientious hikers, he knew, cultivated constipation on the trail to avoid fouling the natural wonders that they traversed. Terry wondered how long he would have to wait.
A toilet flushed and a young man with blonde dreadlocks emerged from the stall half-dragging and kicking his heavy pack. At the same time, the toilet flushed in the third stall and a bald man exited wearing a Covenant Ark windbreaker.
From within his stall, Terry heard the bald man talking to the kid with the dreadlocks.
"I saw you coming down just now," the bald man said.
"Did the AZT from Flagstaff all the way down here," the kid with the dreadlocks said.
"Good for you. See anyone up in the Huachucas?"
"You know," the kid said, "the guidebooks warn you. Hike the Huachucas and you’ll likely meet friendly recent immigrants and, even, some entrepreneurs in the import-export business."
"That is very true," the bald man replied.
"I ran into a whole family, maybe two families up on Yaqui Ridge. It’s damn cold up there and they weren’t exactly dressed for the weather."
"You don’t say."
"You talk to them?"
"No habla Espanol," the kid said. "I had a couple of garbage bags, you know, thirty gallon bags. I gave ‘em the bags. You can wear those like a poncho – increases your survivability."
"That was generous."
"I trekked through a blizzard up at Sedona," the kid said. "Lots of snow."
Terry went across the lot to the pickup. He told Big Rog what he had heard in the toilet.
Big Rog took a topographic map from the glove compartment and opened it out on the hood of the truck. He pointed to the map.
"Here is the Yaqui Ridge trail. This is the intercept with the AZT. They would be up in this area," Big Rog pointed. "There’s another intercept. It’s not marked here, but you go up the Tequila trail, the direct route up and over that the drug mules use. This will get you up on the ridge in front of the pilgrims. So we can stop them up there, detain them, and, at least, give notice to ICE as to their presence."
Big Rog folded the map and they got into the truck. Jenkins took a small GPS tracker out of his briefcase and checked the batteries. "I don’t know if you got transmission up there," he said. He frowned and looked up at the big shadowy peaks, a honey-red glow outlining the east-facing summits.
"It’s okay," Rog said. "There’s transmission towers up on the ridge. For the military, the base."
Jenkins drove them down from the pass to the bumpy lane running along the fence. He stopped by the funnel-shaped groove leading steeply uphill and marked by the cairns crowned by the empty tequila bottles.
They manhandled the ATVs off the motorcycle trailer. Rog got on one of them and revved the throttle. Terry took the other ATV.
"We’ll meet you at the parking lot up at the pass," Rog said. He took the GPS tracker’s black box and verified that it was transmitting position to his cell-phone. Rog took out his pistol from a velcro pouch under his arm.
"Are you carrying?" he asked Terry.
"No," Terry said. "Should I be?"
"Uh-uh," Rog said. "I’ll supply the fire-power. You gotta be careful. Point the gun at the wrong person, compadre, and they send you prison for ten years for kidnaping."
"Okay," Terry said.
"I’ll supply the muscle," Rog said.
Then, he straddled the ATV four-wheeler and jetted up the steeply inclined dry wash. Terry followed him, taking care to offset his position behind Rog so that the ATV to the front wouldn’t blind him with the spray of sand and stones.
The way up the arroyo has difficult, a narrow path that rose between eroded dirt banks. The trail twisted underneath him and bucked like a mule and he had to focus on the path to keep from rolling the ATV on its side. From time to time, the path required that the four-wheelers scramble up sheer mud walls and Terry felt the wheels spinning under him and was almost thrown back several times. But Rog was ahead and what he could do, Terry could do also, and so they made their way between the dirt cliffs up to where the air was colder, edged with the mint chill of the snow fields above them.
Rog stopped at the foot of an impassible slide of fist-sized rocks and loose gravel. Erosion was undercutting some fir trees above and their roots were exposed, like claws embedded with feral ferocity in the side of the hill. Vertical slabs of rock walled the box canyon.
"Now what?" Terry said.
He was panting as if the exertions of the ATV under him had been his.
"We have to get over this," Big Rog said. "He pointed to where the trail switchbacked up the landslide, turns too tight for the four-wheelers to navigate.
"Easy goes it," Big Rog said. He started up the incline and, each time, that he began to slide back, dislodging avalanches of stone and dirt, he turned sharply into the slope. After a few minutes, he reached the last pitch, a sheer climb up past the tortured roots extruded from the hill.
"You can do it," Big Rog said. Terry started up the incline, reached the half-way point, and, then, lost the ATV. It seemed to buckle under him and he jumped clear. The four-wheeler sputtered and rolled end over end down to the base of the slope.
"I’m sorry,’ Terry said.
"It’s okay," Rog told him. "We’ll come up and retrieve the ATV after we get our work done."
Terry brushed himself off and scrambled up the switchbacks to where Roger was waiting for him.
"You ride on back," Rog said.
They had reached a broad meadow where the trees stood at stately intervals. Bumble bees were humming in flowers and a few hundred yards up the gently sloping hillside, a field of snow shallow and blinding white hung over them. Behind them, the landscape fell away into the basin – it was like something that you glimpse from the window of an airplane: brown crumpled terrain dropping steeply into the vast basin.
Twenty minutes later, they caught up with the illegals.
Later, Terry said that it happened more quickly than you can tell it. Some things he remembered clearly, but other aspects of the encounter were vague to him. If you prefaced your account emphasizing how swiftly one event followed another, if helped with the parts that were unclear.
The trail was mostly mud, trampled into mire, and the path no longer climbed upward. Rather, the trail skirted some high rock faces, wet with meltwater trickling down them. The ATV clawed at the path and mud fountained out from its fat rear tires. They were high on the snowy shoulder of the mountain, rounding the crest among tall, erect ponderosa pines. The basin to the south and west where the fence marked the border with Mexico was behind them; around the curve, and a saddle between two big snowy knolls marked the pass. The shallow snow spreading across the bright clearings was eloquent with the tracks of small animals and a hawk hung in the air overhead. At the pass, some trails crossed and a wooden sign etched with directions marked the way. Someone had left a cheap crucifix on a braid of metal hanging on the wooden sign. Below, the trees fell away sharply into a canyon that was roaring with snowmelt and they could see down onto the desert, a vast tawny expanse where clouds lazily dragged their shadows over the land.
A flat ringed with big, snow-tipped trees stretched out below the crest. Terry saw several people gathered around a blue-green lagoon in the middle of the flat. He gunned the ATV and they fishtailed down off the hill and, then, across the flat, losing the trail in the heavy white snow. Despite the chill, the sun was warm and it burned on their necks and shoulders and they could smell the heavy creosote-sap rising in the fir trees enclosing the clearing.
"This is Bathtub Spring," Big Rog said. "Year ‘round water."
Terry saw that there was an old cast-iron bathtub, monstrously heavy and chipped around its edges, embedded in the soggy meadow. The bathtub was brimming over with green-gray water.
"It’s a real bathtub," Terry marveled.
"Catch basin for the spring," Big Rog replied.
Some big round logs had been hauled near the spring to serve as makeshift benches. The people were dark shadows crouched among the benches, several of them rising uncertainly as the ATV approached.
Terry counted five, a family group, it seemed. An older man with a grizzled grey shepherd’s beard and round granny glasses leaned on a metal cane. The cane forked under his arm and seemed to be half-crutch. Two young men wearing stocking caps and matching Seattle Seahawks shirts looked up at them. The young men had cigarettes drooping from their lips and wore blue jeans with belts decorated with ornate, shield-like buckles. A woman, draped in a plastic rain poncho, peered at them for a moment and, then, turned her face to the side, watching from the corner of her eye – her face was brown and wrinkled with worry. A six-year old girl clutched at the woman’s raincoat. The little girl had pierced ears and was wearing dangling earrings. Cheap backpacks were hunkered down in the snow around them. The little girl stooped, cupped some snow, and lifted it to her mouth. The woman batted at the girl’s hand before she could suck on the snow.
Big Rog greeted the people in Spanish. The middle-aged man with fork-shaped cane limped toward them. He said something. Rog stopped the ATV and stepped into the snow dusting the ground. Terry climbed off the ATV on the other side.
One of the young men wearing a Seahawks jersey flicked his cigarette aside and stepped forward to stand beside the man with the cane.
"We come up here from Naco," the young man said.
"Sonora," the young man replied.
"Hiking?" Big Rog asked.
"Family trip. To see the mountains, nature," the young man said.
"Beautiful day," Terry said, nodding to the young man. His brother finished his cigarette and stepped forward to stand by the other two men.
The woman said something in Spanish to the old man. He grunted. The sun was very bright and it made him squint at them. He spoke to the woman. His teeth were very bad.
Big Rog turned to Terry: "She says she’s permitted to work here. She cleans houses in Sierra Vista. One of the boys does lawn work – at least, that’s what she says."
"I have a lawn service in Sierra Vista," one of the men in the Seahawks’ shirt said.
"You’re making a mistake," Big Rog said. "We’re not Federales, comprende. Not cops."
"We didn’t think you were cops," the young man in the Seahawks’ shirt said. His brother nodded.
"Just out for a hike like you’all," Big Rog said.
"Seen any animals?" Terry asked.
"A couple deer," the man in the jersey said.
"The other day I saw a ringtail cat up here," Rog said. "Beautiful animal."
The little girl stooped to eat some more snow.
"Is the water in the spring potable?" Terry asked.
"Very much so," Big Rog said. "You should have the little girl fill up her bottle from the spring."
The woman was holding a tall Bonafont water bottle that was mostly empty.
"Do you’all have a map?" Big Rog asked.
"Somewhere in the backpack," the young man in the jersey said.
" ‘Cause I wonder if we could compare routes," Big Rog said. He slid his hand into the breast pocket of his camouflage vest. Slowly, he removed his cell-phone and, then, the park brochure from the National Monument. He opened the brochure to a small drawing showing the trail system in the Monument and adjacent BLM land. Terry understood that withdrawing the map was a subterfuge to remove his phone.
"Let’s see here," Big Rog said. "I think we’re on this trail, right? You see the mark ‘Bathtub Springs’?"
The young man wearing the Seahawks’ jersey glanced at his brother. He stepped forward to peer at the map.
"Let me check Google Earth, you know, the maps," Big Rog said.
"We should check Google Earth," Terry said.
Big Rog tapped at his phone. Someone shouted. A few hundred feet away, two men appeared trudging up another trail that was coiled with tight, steep switchbacks. A boy was in the lead, bending forward under a heavy-looking pack. For some reason, the pack was tied with string wrapped around its side. The boy grunted as he reached the level path, a stone’s throw from the porcelain-colored bathtub embedded in the meadow. A dozen yards behind him, another man staggered up the steep trail. He was much older than the boy and had a broad face with froglike eyes and dangling jowls. The man’s nose had been badly damaged – it was flattened across his face in a fleshy vaguely star-shaped mass. He was wearing a white cowboy hat.
The heavy-set man called out again. His voice was raw and he was having a great amount of difficulty with the steep grade that he was climbing. His lips were open. Probably, he couldn’t breathe through his mutilated nose.
"Narcos," Big Rog said under his breath.
He turned to face the two men who were now approaching. The burly man was limping and seemed unable to catch his breath. The boy, by contrast, was relieved that the terrain was now level and he bounded forward, a spring in his step. The mountainous backpack on his shoulder wobbled over him, precipitously balanced and always about to fall.
"Howdy," Big Rog said to the boy. The young man ignored him but the older, fat guy nodded, took off his hat, and swabbed sweat from his forehead with a red rag.
"Who are you calling?" the fat man asked.
"I’m checking Google maps, trying to locate our position," Big Rog said.
"Is that a new I-Phone?" the fat man asked.
The Mexican family retreated a little, standing on the other side of the bathtub spring.
"I don’t know how old it is," Big Rog said.
The two men were close now, eyeing the ATV.
"Nice four-wheeler," the fat man said.
"It is," Rog replied.
"Could I look at your phone, perhaps..." the fat man said. "I would like to see where we are also."
The young man under the towering backpack stood nervously shuffling from one foot to another.
Rog stepped forward to hand the fat man his phone. As the man reached for it, Big Rog pulled his revolver from his waistband.
"Step back," Rog said.
"You don’t need to do this," the fat man in the cowboy hat said. He shrugged and turned away from Big Rog. He took one step, and, then, spun on his heel. A gun was in his hand.
Terry heard the shots and saw the muzzle flashes. At close-range, the gunshots sounded muted, almost inconspicuous in the vast wilderness – it reminded Terry of a car door being shut. But the sound must have been bigger than he sensed, because he heard the booms echoing off the rock face and thundering in the canyon.
Big Rog was down on his back. The man with the ruined nose twisted sideways. Terry felt a blow against his shin like a sledgehammer smashing into him. Then, another blow shattered his ribs and he felt his breath knocked out of him. He didn’t think he would fall, but, then, felt the snow under his neck and clumped between his belt and underpants. From the corner of his eye, he saw the Mexican family sprinting away, the little girl hanging upside down from her mother’s arms as the woman carried her across the meadow and into the tree-line. The old man with the crutch hopped like a frog along the path.
The boy with the big back pack ran in the direction of the tree-line, slipped and fell. He got up, cursed, ran another hundred feet and fell again.
Terry could see that Rog was all ripped open and the snow around him was bright red. The fat man with the amphibian eyes rolled onto his side and tried to cross himself, but he was still clutching the gun and his arm seemed to have lost its strength. He raised his pistol hand up to his forehead and across his chest, but couldn’t complete the gesture.
After that, it wasn’t clear what happened. Terry passed out. He opened his eyes and saw cliffs with meltwater draining off them. Then, he saw a dozen fir trees in a straight line. The line was very exact and he thought the trees must have been planted. He didn’t see how he could move because his leg was smashed to pieces below his knee-cap. But he was moving, walking, perhaps. Someone was muttering in Spanish. He passed out again and, then, saw grass fragrant with sage. A cactus gestured at him. Stars came out and he was very cold. He thought that he would freeze to death. The rising sun illumined a cyclone fence topped with razor wire. The ground hummed for a long time. It was a jeep approaching along the narrow gravel road. He saw faces and felt himself being lifted and, then, there was nothing.
Terry felt the bite of the IV being started in his arm. The nurse had drawn a curtain around the alcove where he rested on a hard, tilted bed. The neck brace on his throat chaffed him and he struggled to breathe. The curtain enclosing the alcove showed a tropical beach with white sand and palm trees. Surf was beating against the white sand beach. Terry’s lips were very dry and his throat burned. Someone shined a light in his eyes and injected something into his crook of his elbow.
It was later. The curtain was still drawn. The tropical beach knew neither sunrise, nor sunset. The white sand was still lit brilliantly by the banks of florescent bulbs above him. A man in white leaned over him. "We have called for a helicopter," the man said. "To take you to Banner in Phoenix."
Terry wanted to ask what "Banner" was. But he couldn’t speak. There was a tube in his mouth and throat.
"Trauma center,’ the man in white said. "You’re stable and we’ll get you up there for surgery."
The man went away. Terry closed his eyes.
He heard a woman crying. She spoke in Spanish. Terry saw her profile, a little beyond the curtain showing the tropical beach. He thought that he was delirious: it was the woman from the mountaintop, her eyes red and her face all wrinkled with worry. A woman in a Border Patrol uniform stood a discrete distance away, framed by the doorway.
Terry wondered if they had saved Big Rog and if he were here also, in another alcove, shielded from view by a shower curtain showing sunset over the Caribbean or Diamondhead in Oahu.
Later, the man in white said that there was fog and the helicopter was unable to come. An ambulance was waiting.
Terry saw ceilings, a glimpse of a grey, wet cloud, and, then, he was in a vehicle. The air smelled strongly of disinfectant.
The six-year old girl from the mountaintop rested on the gurney next to him. Her earrings had been removed and her face looked tiny and pinched. Yellowish blisters covered her lips.
A man and woman were working on the little girl. They had trouble finding a place to stab her with the IV. The woman said that she was terribly dehydrated. Her family had been lost on the desert.
"Goddamned illegals," the man said. "To treat your children this way."
"The mother is in there," the woman said. "The Border Patrol has her. Crying her eyes out."
"It serves her right," the man said. "To put you kid in harm’s way like this. It’s so fucking selfish."
The IV must have hurt the child because she opened her eyes and made a high-pitched sound.
"She wants her mother," the woman said.
The girl looked at Terry and said something. It was confusing. Why were these people here? Terry closed his eyes. The vehicle began to move.
Terry opened his eyes. He wondered if they had reached the other hospital. The little girl in the gurney beside him was on her back with her mouth wide open.
"What is it?" the woman asked.
"Car crash," the driver said.
"Well, we can’t stop," the man said. "No one’s asking us to stop," the driver said.
"What is it?"
"Fatality by the looks of things, head-on," the driver replied.
"How’d the guy get in the wrong lane like that?" the man asked.
"Who knows? The fog?" the driver said.
Terry closed his eyes again.
Jenkins had been crying. He dabbed at his eyes with his fist. Coleman wore sunglasses to hide his tears. Terry was dry-eyed. His wounds hurt him and the chicken cordon bleu on his plate was stiff and tasteless. He had trouble swallowing.
Each corner of the banquet room at the American Legion Post was draped with flags. Pictures of old men lined the walls. These were old soldiers now deceased. The room was full and very hot, each place-setting at each table occupied. Some journalists stood in the hallway outside the big room, leaning forward to hear what was happening.
Although he had an orthotic brace for his smashed lower leg, Terry thought that it was best to attend the banquet in his wheelchair. Jenkins and Coleman vied for the honor of pushing him. They sat at his side on the dais. The ramp to reach the platform’s top had been much too steep and it was necessary for both men to put their shoulders to the wheelchair to butt him up onto the dais and, now, Terry was anxious about how he would be taken down from that height. It was only 18 inches, but might as well have been a hundred feet and he didn’t want to fall and spoil all of the physical therapy that he had undergone during the past five months.
Behind the head table on the platform, there was a life-sized framed picture of Big Rog. Big Rog’s wife had fainted when she saw the picture. Now, she sat next to Jenkins and her tears made him cry as well. Wet crumpled napkins cluttered the table in front of them.
The presidential candidate was late. Someone said there was dust storm that had slowed the motorcade on 60 a little to the east of Apache Junction. Dessert was served, mixed berries in creme fraiche.
The chairman of Gila Monsters Minuteman chapter made a speech. He said that Big Rog and Terry were heroes. As he was speaking, the journalists blocked the door and their cameras flashed. A half-dozen men in dark suits entered the hall. A couple of them approached the platform where the dignitaries were seated. The chairman stuttered and asked for a hearty round applause for the candidate. Terry had been too occupied with his recovery from his wounds and had paid almost no attention to the news. The bullet had ruined one of his lungs, piercing it with fragments of bone from his shattered ribs and this injury required that Terry attend respiratory physical therapy four times a week. The damage to his shin bone and its muscles resulted in foot-drop and Terry’s PT for this injury occurred twice a week. He was exhausted all of the time and afflicted with terrible memories and, at night, despite his fatigue, he was unable to sleep without the aid of addictive medication. Politics didn’t concern him and he wished that he could return to Minnesota – it was now summer and the air outside the American Legion post was like a blast furnace.
A handsome man in a dark suit approached the dais. He looked left and right. Then, he saw Terry. Terry nodded to him and, as the man came near to him, he put out his hand and said: "I’m honored to meet you."
The handsome man shook his head. "I’m Secret Service," he said. He asked if he could look inside the pouch attached to Terry’s wheelchair. Inside were a couple of self-lubricating catheters, a pair of Depends adult diapers, some pain medication and a couple of rescue inhalers.
"Do you have to?" Terry said. "It’s embarrassing."
"Just a peek," the Secret Service man said. He bent over, inspected the contents of the pouch, and, then, gave a thumbs-up to another agent standing among the tables on the floor.
At the doorway, journalists were shouting questions to the candidate and he barked answers back to them.
Then, the candidate entered the room. He shook hands with all of the people on the dais and hugged Big Rog’s wife. The candidate was a big man with a loud voice.
In his speech, the candidate said that no nation is sovereign unless it defends its borders. He said that he had come from the border and met many wonderful officers who worked there. He said that Big Rog and Terry were heroes and that he hoped to establish immigration policies worthy of them. It was a short speech, not too flamboyant, and Terry agreed with some of what he said.
The chairman of the Apache Junction Gila Monsters went to the lectern when the candidate had finished speaking. The chairman praised Big Rog’s courage and, then, handed a medal to his widow. The chairman said that Terry’s strength and endurance were superhuman. "This man was shot through the lung and lower leg. It’s a miracle that he survived," the speaker said. "Somehow, he managed to crawl down off the crest of the Huachuca Mountains and I don’t need to tell you about that terrain, about how rugged it is, how difficult. But this man – " (here the chairman pointed at Terry) – "this man somehow was able to reach safety notwithstanding these terrible wounds. With a collapsed lung and a mangled left leg, he descended more than a 4000 feet vertically and, at least, seven miles from where he was shot to reach the service road at the Army Base where he was found. What magnificent courage! What fantastic and inspiring strength!"
The praise made Terry blush and his ears were bright red.
The Chairman pinned a medal on his breast. Terry could smell the Chairman’s breath sweet and rotten with Windsor Canadian whisky.
"I want to quote from a well-known movie set right here in Arizona. It’s a Western. ‘You got some hard bark on you, Mister,’ just to get down off that mountain, away from the killing ground to the place where you were rescued." The applause sounded like the surf beating on the shore of a white beach at a Caribbean desert island.
The candidate shook Terry’s hand again and made another brief speech about the patriotism of the Minutemen and how sincerely the Border Patrol appreciated their efforts.
Terry’s leg hurt him and he wished that he were back among the lakes and trees in Minnesota.
The two soldiers were dressed in their combat fatigues patrolling Camp Huachuca’s fence-perimeter when they found Terry. It was midday and the sun was high overhead and, although it was March, the air was warm.
Terry was lying on his back in the middle of the roadway. He had been placed in a conspicuous location atop a low rise near one of the barracks buildings. Unfortunately, that barracks was empty. The troops had been dispatched overseas and so Terry was not found until early afternoon.
His chest wound was packed with cloth that seemed to have been torn from someone’s undershirt. There was a tourniquet tied around his left lower leg. Terry was in shock despite the fact that his G Monsters windbreaker was beneath not one but two Seattle Seahawks’ jerseys. Someone had set a 50 ounce bottle of Bonafont Agua Natural next to his head.