What Will They Say About You?
by Carol Pahl
A large woman, dressed in denim bib-overalls stood on the next rise watching them. "I'm Alice. Want to look for treasures with me?" The middle-aged woman hiked down the hill, a large smile on her face until she got closer to the couple. "Is he ok? He doesn't look too good." She reached out a large beefy hand and with a gentleness of a wisp of breeze she brushed the sand from his cheek. Her expression shifted as she observed the bruises and open wounds. "I can help. My house is just over there a ways." She pointed off in the distance.
Without waiting for an answer, she shoved another smaller section of rubble under the lower piece of concrete. She grabbed his torn t-shirt, lifting him from the ground before she rose, pushing the upper slab up with her back. When a slight gap opened between the two pieces, she pulled his arm free and his body went limp. Her large body cradled him from falling debris as she slowly lowered the slab. As both pieces shuddered she carried the man from the dangerous position. Her strong legs easily climbed out of the rubble and Maria scrambled to keep up with the other woman. The delicate balance disturbed, the concrete shuddered and collapsed, sending a cloud of dust into the air.
Not sure how far they walked, Maria dropped to the ground in the cool shade of the small adobe house that disappeared into the ground, her rubbery legs unable to take another step. The woman, carrying the man, disappeared inside for a few minutes before returning and picked her up like she was a stray kitten, just discovered by a child. Having no strength left to fight, Maria prayed to the Virgin Mary, silently reciting prayers learned at her mother's side.
The man lay on the floor on a blanket pallet and Maria was set beside him. Alice studied the two letters on the front of the torn, filthy t-shirt; her tongue sticking out between her lips and her finger reaching out to trace the shapes. "J," she recited and smiled. Her brow scrunched as she studied the second letter. Was it an 'O'? She grinned, happy with herself for reading the name. JO, she repeated to herself; his name was JO. "I can help him, Jo. I can help him. What is your name?" she asked the frightened girl.
"Hi, Maria. I'm Alice. Helen went to Pueblo. She'll be back tomorrow. She's my sister." Alice chewed the inside of her lip, thinking and mumbling, "Mary and Jo." Her eyes looked back and forth between the man and the girl, studying her swollen middle. A huge grin grew on her face. "You can stay here, here with me and Helen. I love your story. Baby Jesus can be born here. I'll help you take care of him!"
Unable to understand the ramblings, Maria's body shook. First her boyfriend dumped her in the desert, then she found the injured man and now she was trapped in here with the crazy lady. "No comprender," she said hesitantly.
Alice continued to chew on her lip, a bad habit Helen tried continuously to break. "You're Maria and Jo, just like Mary and Joseph? You're going to have a baby, like the story in the Bible?" She frowned.
A moan from the injured man disrupted their conversation. "Oh, he's hurt. Joey's hurt."
Maria watched the strange woman gently tend to the man, her own heart slowing. Maybe she wasn't in danger. Maybe someone would soon arrive and understand her, get her back to Durango and her family.
By evening Alice and Maria sat beside the feverish man, taking turns wiping his flush face. His body sported one of Alice's flannel shirts, covering the many bandages hiding his now clean cuts. She swaddled his left arm to his body to protect the swollen shoulder and broken arm. Alice continued to visit, not upset with Maria responses in Spanish.
"Chris, you got to stop beatin' yourself up over this." Vin sat next to his friend, exasperated at the man's bullheadedness; needing to blame someone and ending up blaming himself.
The leader of Team Seven stared at the amber liquid in the shot glass, tempting him, inviting him to escape into the sea of drunkenness. All the sadness and grief would evaporate and he'd leave the horrifying nightmare for a respite of numbing peace. If all the hate filled people of the world would just leave him alone to wallow alone in the pool of whisky, he'd be a happy man. "Nope," he said to the glass, clenching his teeth. "You aren't going to win me this time," he muttered.
Vin watched the other man's back, stopping anyone from coming too close. He'd take care of the volatile man and let the rest of the team handle the depressed roommate of one JD Dunne.
Buck Wilmington said little to anyone. He came to work; he went home. To the outside world, the man dealt bravely with the loss of his younger partner. What the rest of the world didn't know was the close relationship the two men held. Both men were raised in a one parent home by a loving mother. JD was the little brother Buck Wilmington never had and he willing accepted the task of 'raising' the green kid from back east. Buck was the big brother JD dreamed about; there to listen to his ideas, to guide him both on the job and off the clock. Some observers even went as far as to say the two deserved each other but under the rowdiness, pranks and good times were the souls of two men who genuinely cared about each other as they would have cared for a blood sibling.
The rest of the team knew that all was not right with their Buck. He was a coiled snake ready to strike out without a warning and woe to the person on the receiving end of that wrath. A simmering volcano would be more predictable than a distraught Wilmington. The man gave freely of his joyful spirit but hid deeply his pain and loss. Dunne had been the key to tempering the older man's psyche and with the death of his 'little bro' the other men feared the loss of 'mother-hen' Buck Wilmington.
Relentlessly, Buck studied the files of the prisoner held in the maximum federal security facility. He scoured the records of the Grange company looking for any ties that might explain who would plant explosive inside the building's computer center. JD's death would not go unanswered!
"Yo? Yo?" Maria struggled with the harsh 'J' sound, instead using the softer sound for 'J'.
The man struggled to open his eyes and he attempted to focus on the two dark haired visions in front of him but his vision limited by the bruised and swollen eyelids refused to cooperate. The blurry form moved, adding to his nausea, forcing him to suck air between his clenched teeth.
"Agua, senor." A cool cup rested against his scabbed lips and the water tempted him. He tried to suck the moisture into his mouth but most of it ran down the neckline of his shirt and soaked the blanket. A small amount of water passed the steel barrier and he eagerly swallowed it. She wiped the dribble from his chin and returned his head to the folded blanket being used as a pillow. A few minutes later she tried again. By the third time, more water was swallowed than damped the blanket.
His stomached stopped flip-flopping if he kept his eyes closed. His body craved the water and he didn't want to embarrass himself by loosing the little he'd consumed.
The man chanced opening his eyes and saw the hunk of bread waiting by his lips.
He longed to open his mouth wide so he could eat the entire loaf but sighed
in frustration. To be so tempted and yet unable to eat the morsel of food offered
left him frustrated. His right hand grabbed the food from the girl and he tried
to force it past the wall of wire and enamel, searching for an opening, some
way to get the bread past his teeth.
Marie saw the wires and jerked away. She'd never seen a person whose mouth had been wired shut. Was he some sort of monster? Was his punishment for some evil deed to spend the rest of his life deprived of eating?
His energy spent, he slumped back onto the floor, still sucking air through his teeth, yet wanting to scream. His head pounded like someone was beating on it with large drum sticks, the pain excruciating. Eventually his body said 'enough' and wilted, like a marionette whose strings were no longer attached to the control board.
Alice often brought small critters into her home and healed them. She cared for the sick ones and tended the broken bones of the injured. Her calm, gentle touch and lack of fear for the wildlife usually ended with success. If one of the animals didn't survive, her sister removed the carcass. Alice didn't understand death. She went to sleep each night and woke to a new day. To her the cold, stiff bodies were only sleeping.
The teenager watched the resident of the house carefully. What did she put into the cup of water? Alice stirred the brew before kneeling beside the injured man. She carefully dripped it into his mouth, wiping the remnants of the leaves away with her shirttail. "Sleep tight, Joey. You'll feel better tomorrow." She looked at Maria and added. "Tomorrow Helen will be here. She'll be surprised to see what I found."
The woman emptied the pockets of the ripped jeans and set the items in a neat row on the windowsill. After carefully removing the ruined clothes from Joey, she bathed his abrasions and weeping cuts. Bruises marred his chest and back. She guided his shoulder back into its socket and tied it in place to heal. Smooth wooden sticks splinted the broken upper arm. Helen would be home tomorrow and would wash his jeans. The t-shirt was ruined but she could still use it to bandage another critter. His small frame drowned in her extra large bib overalls but the extra room accommodated the collection of bandages and wrappings she used to protect his injuries.
The younger woman slept on the floor, her body giving into the rest it craved. Helen would be surprised tomorrow when she came home to find Joey and Maria here.
Curiosity could be Alice's other name; she loved to find treasures and explored the small world around the homestead. Each day was original and offered new sparkly and colorful items to find. She couldn't resist opening the small leather folder lying on the sill. Helen preached and preached about leaving other peoples' things alone but Alice couldn't refrain from the temptation to look inside it. Maybe there was a treasure. She grinned and touched the shiny button, with the lines and letters. This was a real treasure. On the other side of the folder were many letters neatly arranged in rows. Big letters and small ones. She found lots of 'A's' and an 'l'. There were many 'i's' but not too many 'c's'. She pointed at all of the 'e's'. Helen would be proud of her, 'reading' all of the letters. Studying the badge closer, she looked at the photograph. "I like your picture, Joey," she laughed comparing the small laminated photo to the sleeping battered body. "You look prettier in the picture." She set the wallet next to the gun. She didn't know what is was but it wasn't pretty like the button in the folder. She'd have to ask Helen about it tomorrow.
Her eyes drifted toward Maria. She was going to have a baby. She'd seen all sorts of animals give birth. Maybe she'd get to watch when Maria had her baby. Maria and Joey. Just like Mary and Joseph in the Christmas story.
"Chris. It ain't your fault. We all know the risk." Vin said, standing close to his friend.
The blond haired man rose in anger, "Not my fault? Not my fault?" he roared. "Hell, yes it's my fault. I'm the one who ordered him back in the field when he hadn't been released. When I find that bastard who did this I'm going to tear him limb from limb and…"
"And it won't bring JD back. Just end up sending you to prison. Buck's already lost his little brother. Don't make him loose his oldest friend too." Tanner picked up Larabee's jacket and threw it in front of his team leader. "
As the summer sun rose sending a pink glow to the sunrise, Alice left the house in her daily search for new treasures. Helen would be home tomorrow and she would share her treasures with her sister. The late morning heat would chase her back to the cool cabin. What would she find today?
"Yoey?" Maria watched Alice leave the house and disappear down the dirt trail. The woman showed no interest in the couple. Would she return? "Yoey," she said again, a little bit louder.
JD opened his eyes and smiled slightly; he must still be dreaming. The pregnant angel was looking down at him. The ugly wires contrasted with his pale teeth. "Hi. More wa'er?" he asked, wondering if a person could know they were thirsty in a dream.
Maria smiled and helped him sit up to lean against the wall. She handed him the same cup from last night and watched as he held it with one shaky hand and made a sucking sound with his lips. Very little spilled onto his shirt.
"Danks," he said as he handed the empty cup back to her. "Are you an angel?"
She took the cup and answered with her own question, "Deseado por el polici'a?"
Each smiled at the other's question. He pointed to her to go first.
"I Maria Coronado; no a'ngel bueno. My papa, he say I no a'ngel." She frowned, thinking about her parents and how she'd disappointed them more than once.
"I tink you are an angel. You 'aved me, brought me to 'ore house. 'Ore husband mus be a huge fella." JD pulled the overalls away from his body.
"No. Not me. De senora, se brought you here. Se is …" Maria shook her head, trying to find the right English word to describe Alice. "Se grande senora," she said, gesturing with her arms.
"Oh." He couldn't remember another woman; all he remembered was the angel in the desert who'd found him.
"The senora, she left. ¿Tienes hambre? How you eat?" Maria asked bluntly, pointing to her own mouth. Are you hungry?
His eyes drifted down to her large middle, before returning to her face. There was something he should remember, something he needed to do. What was it? She was a pretty teenager. She'd introduced herself so he must not know her. His eyes shifted to the small room, lit by the small opening near the ceiling. What was this place? Outside a couple of birds cooed but there were no sounds of traffic. No radio or television noise played in the background. It was like the huge silence he loved when riding on Chris' ranch, the solitude, the feeling of being one with nature.
His right hand grabbed his hair as a wave of intense pain shot through his head. The water in his stomach rolled and threatened to reappear. He clamped his eyes shut tight and breathed rapidly through his mouth as sweat caked and clogged on his filthy skin. "Aughhhh," he moaned, as the world gradually dimmed and the angel was forgotten.
"What are you doing here? I'm Alice. What to help me look for a treasure?"
Maria jumped awkwardly to her feet when the woman's voice broke the silence, her heart beating rapidly in her chest.
"Who's he?" Alice pointed at the man sleeping on the floor by the younger woman's feet. "Is he OK? You're going to have a baby." Alice pointed at Maria's swollen middle.
The soon-to-be mother looked in fear at the large woman. Had she forgotten that she'd carried them into her home yesterday? That she had cleaned the man's wounds and dressed him in her own clothing? This lady frightened her more than the strange man who carried a gun and had his mouth wired shut.
"Oh, I know. You're Mary and he's Joseph and you are going to have the baby in a stable on Christmas!"
Alice set a red, plastic box on the floor, a box covered with concrete dust. "I found a cool treasure in the rocks. See. It's got lots of blocks in it. Each one has ribbons inside." She turned and left the small room, leaving Maria alone with Joey again. How could such a large woman enter the house without making a single sound?
Josiah returned the receiver to its cradle and stared at the blinking lights on the telephone. Interesting inventions, telephones. He remembered the old crank ones at his grandparents, standing on a kitchen chair and listening to the tinny voice through the heavy earpiece. He loved to turn the crank. Was their number one long, two short, one long or was it the other way around. His eyes drifted toward the modern flip face of his cell phone, an object so small his large hands could hardly operate the tiny buttons. How could somethin
g so small and lightweight transport sound and pictures to another person anywhere
on the globe?
One thing was the same. Telephones were invented to share messages and he just received a message he dreaded. A crushed skull was discovered in the rubble of the destroyed Grange building in La Junta. The pieces of bone and couple of teeth would be sent to the federal labs for identification.
They would all go through the process, hold a memorial service, say nice things about a life snuffed out before having a chance to experience it, attend the mandatory grief counseling and then hopefully turn to each other to weather the healing process.
Just once he wished the jarring ring of the telephone could offer good news, joyful tidings. He'd better call Larabee and inform him.
"Here, Joey. You need to drink this." Alice held the coffee cup to his healing lips and dribbled the creamy concoction onto his teeth. He tried to suck the thick liquid into his mouth, as she encouraged him, her own lips mimicking his strange drinking method. "That's it. A little more." Her compassion and gentle care contrasted with the childlike personality he'd seen earlier.
She wiped the small dribbles from his chin as he tried to speak. "Phone? Call. Help." He'd remembered what he needed to do. He needed to call for help; let Buck know where he was, except he didn't know where here was.
"Helen has a phone. She has to call lots when she's here. She'll be here tomorrow." She smiled as she left him alone.
He laid his head back against the wall and closed his eyes, shutting out the bright sunlight. His eyes hurt to look into the bright room. Would this pounding headache never end?
Alice returned a short time later with the same cup. "Joey," she said kneeling down beside the injured man. "I made you some tea. You'll feel better. Here." She handed him the mug.
Inside was an amber liquid and no unrecognizable green things floated on top. He took a tentative sip, wondering if it would taste as awful as some of the drinks Nathan shared with the team. Warm, the drink had a slightly sweet taste and was as easy as sucking water to drink. He stomach didn't revolt or threaten to erupt. After several swallows, Joey noticed the pounding staccato beat in his head slowed to a mellow rumbling. The afternoon sun's rays sparkled, illuminating the dancing dust motes. A row of colorful glass bottles, resting on a shelf overhead cast rainbows on the surrounding walls. Somewhere birds were singings, accompanied by chirping crickets.
Almost pliable, he allowed the large woman to help him recline on the pallet. Was it a short time ago that he wished he could die? Now the pain was tolerable. He really should call someone; let them know where he was. Maybe he'd do that after the next performance by the birds ended.
The next morning, Alice repeated her routine. When she returned from her treasure hunt, she seemed surprised to see the young couple in her house. It didn't take her long to remember Joey and Maria. She kept promising that her sister would return tomorrow. The guests began to doubt Helen existed.
"Que' le pasa Alice?" Maria asked Joey after she'd helped him to low porch that surround the rustic home. "Senora kind, yet she forgets who we are." What is wrong with Alice?
"That's the way she is. She was probly born dat way. Can't 'elp it." Why did he have to feel like an old lady, so tired and weak all the time? He rode out another wave of pain in his skull before continuing. "She can take care of herself. Long as she keeps feeding us. I'll get stronger eventually. Go for help."
"I don't wait tat long. I don't know about baby. It come. Now!"
She grabbed her middle and grimaced in pain. "Espero soy hoy mañana Alice talk. Necesito ayuda hoy." I hope today is the tomorrow Alice talks about. I need help today.
Panic raced across the young man's face as his muddled brain tried to process the girl's language. Here? Now? She was going to have the baby now? He couldn't even walk the few steps from inside the small house to the porch. He couldn't help Maria deliver her baby!
"Who are you? Want to see what I found today?" Alice walked out of the house and towered over the two occupied chairs. The woman pulled quartz and pyrite stones from her many pockets, dropping them on the wooden floor. Broken pits of glass were mixed in the shiny pile. How had she returned without either of them seeing her? Was there more than one way into this dwelling?
"Alice," Joey asked, reaching out to touch the woman's empty hand. "You have neighbors? Anyone could 'elp Maria. She's having the baby, and having it today. We need to get to the 'ospital."
Maria nodded in agreement. Another contraction seized her and she panted, trying to ease the pain.
The young man reached for her hand, to give her something to hold and she latched onto it tightly. "Hacerte la parada!" she cried. "Hacerte la parada!" Make it stop!
Alice forgot about the shiny pieces still in her many pockets and her care giving mode took over. She helped the teenager into the house and took her to her own bedroom. Sometimes nature took its own sweet time with birthing so she wasn't worried. Maria would need to rest and let things happen as they should. She helped the girl onto the large bed and gave her another pillow to hug. As the strong contraction subsided, Maria dozed, somehow reassured that she was in good hands with the strange woman named Alice.
Alice ran from the quiet room and found Joey faced down on the floor; one of the wooden chairs lying on its side next to him. He moaned in pain.
"That's ok. Don't fret." Alice gently picked him up like a sleeping dog, and returned him to the pallet in the side room. "I'll be right back." True to her word, she was only gone a few minutes. She carried another mug and offered the sweet liquid to the young man.
'Good,' he thought. 'This stuff dulls the pain.'
"You rest. Maria and me are going to have the baby." She left the room and he surrendered to the blissful escape the drink offered.
"Alice? Are you here? I'm home. Alice, where are you?" Helen set her laptop backpack and suitcase in her bedroom before continuing her search for her sister. She stepped into the small back room, ready to discover her sister's newest creatures and froze. "What the? A man?" Alice had never found a man before. His face was scruffy, like he needed a shave and he was wearing her sister's clothes. He continued to sleep, oblivious to her scrutiny.
She turned, hoping to find her sister and almost ran the large woman over. "Alice. Who is he?" she said.
"You're home! It's tomorrow!" Alice bear-hugged the small woman and spun her around in circles.
"ALICE JANE! Put me down this minute," Helen scolded. "Who is that?" She pointed at the sleeping guest on the floor. "And what is he doing dressed in your good overalls? On the floor?"
Alice grabbed her sister's hand and dragged her towards her own bedroom. "Maria's in my bed and she's going have a baby, just like the Christmas story."
"Girl, it's August, not Christmas." She froze in the doorway, stunned by the small teenager dwarfed in Alice's bed.
Sweat poured from Maria's face, her chest heaving as she panted through another contraction. "Ayudarme!" Help me!
Neither she nor Alice had ever witnessed a human birth and this baby was not going to be born in her home. "Alice, listen to me. We've got to take her to the clinic, to Watsonville, to see the doctor."
"Nooooo. I want the baby here. I want to take care of the baby. I want."
Helen placed her pointer finger over Alice's mouth, silencing the tirade. "You can take care of all the animals you find that need help. But this little girl needs someone who's done this before. We'll see if Maria can come to visit after she has the baby. I don't have time to argue. Help her," she pointed to the soon-to-be mother, "into my car. Then I'll drive us to town and she can have her baby."
With pain racking her small body, and her second language forgotten, Maria's colorful usage of the Spanish language spoke louder than knowing the meaning of the string of words. This baby was about to show it's little self in the world. They had to move now!
Helen grabbed her purse and car keys and followed the pair to the car. Alice gently set Maria into the back seat and opened the passenger side door. "Wait. She can't have her baby without Joseph. He's got to be there." She left the door open and ran back into the house. Once again the young man was cradled by the strong woman, oblivious to being carried like a child.
Chapter 1 | Chapter 3