The car hurtled west towing a swirl of black exhaust into
the first light of day. It was old and low, with Baja plates
and a loose muffler that dangled and sparked on the dips.
The woman drove. She was silver-haired and fl at-faced and
though her eyes were open wide to gather the light, her face
was still slack from sleep. Her husband sat heavily beside
her, boots spread and hat low, nodding slowly through the
rises and falls of the highway, a coffee cup riding on his
â€śCansada,â€ť she said. Tired. Then told him about a
dream she had had the night before: an enormous wave made of
white lilies, a blue sun, and a nice talk with Benito,
thirty years dead, who told her to say hello to his father.
Cansado, he thought.
He looked out. It was desert as far as he could see or
remember seeing. He worked on cars at the gas station in
Bondâ€™s Corner. She had motel rooms to clean in Buenavista.
She told him about another dream she had had, and her
husband lifted the cup and sipped and set it back on his
thigh and closed his eyes.
The sun rose behind them. The woman checked its progress in
the rearview mirror. Something registered ahead and she
dropped her gaze back through the windshield to a young
coyote sitting just off the shoulder next to a paloverde.
She had never seen a coyote sitting down. She wondered if
all her maids would show up today or she would have to clean
a block of rooms herself. The sore neck. The weak arm. She
steered the car down a steep dip and lifted her eyes to the
mirror again. What did a wave of white lilies mean? In her
dream, Benito looked young and sweet, exactly as he had in
life. Benito the Beautiful. She was crossing herself as she
neared the rise and still looking back at the sun while
thinking of him and when she looked ahead again, she saw
that she had drifted far into the oncoming lane. When she
topped the rise, the truck was barreling down on her, the
grille shiny and looming and the windshield a sun-forged
plate of armor. Her husband cursed and reached for the
wheel, but she was still in her genuflection and his hand
closed not on the wheel but on her wrist so that she could
use only her half crippled left hand to correct the course
of the big heavy Mercury.
She swung the wheel to the right with all her strength. She
felt the back end come around and the front end slide away
and she clutched the wheel with both hands now, and her
husband was thrown against her, and orbs of his coffee
wobbled in space but he held the wheel, too, and the truck
thundered by with a sucking howl. The sedan broke loose from
the pull and spun twice quickly and she was so utterly dazed
by the force that when she saw the man crouching on the
right shoulder by his pickup, she had no idea which way to
turn the wheel in order to miss him. Then it was too late
anyway. She saw the long hood of the car sweep across him
and she felt the sharp impact, but the Mercury kept spinning
and when it finally ground sideways through the gravel to a
stop, she had no idea how she had missed the pickup, or
where the dead man had landed.
She threw the shift into park. They sat for a moment,
breathing hard, hearts pounding, dust rising around them in
the sudden silence. She looked west down the highway and saw
nothing but road, and when she looked behind them she saw
the pickup truck and the rise far behind it.
â€śDios,â€ť she whispered.
The man looked hard at his wife then pulled the keys from
the ignition and tried to brush the coffee from his new
jeans. He pushed open the door and stepped into the morning.
It took them a few minutes to find the dead man sprawled
back in the desert on the white sand between clumps of
yucca. He was a gringo. He was small. His face was covered
in blood and his body was misshapen. He wore the same kind
of clothes she saw at Wal-Mart. He had a watch but no rings.
â€śDonâ€™t touch him, heâ€™s alive,â€ť said her husband.
The manâ€™s breath whistled in and out, and a tooth moved in
his broken mouth. Then for a long time nothing. Then he
She crossed herself and knelt beside him. Her husband looked
around them, then back at the sun just above the horizon
now. She asked God and Ignacio what to do with such a broken
body. She said there was the hospital in Buenavista, famous
doctors who treated important people.
â€śGo away,â€ť whispered the dead man. He opened his eyes. They
were blue beneath the blood. â€śPlease.â€ť
â€śYou will die,â€ť she said.
The man was silent for a long moment during which he did not
breathe. Then another breath, this one deeper, followed by
another. The tooth moved and the air whistled in and out.
The husband said they would be arrested and deported, so if
this man wanted them to go away, then they would.
She looked up at him. â€śNo. We drive to the hospital. We tell
them where he is.â€ť
â€śTell them. Nothing,â€ť whispered the gringo. His eyes looked
but the woman thought that any eyes would look that way in a
face so ruined and bloody.
â€śWe have a duty to God,â€ť she said.
The gringo drew a long breath, then he raised his hand very
slightly from the sand, and he pointed his index finger at
her, then curled it toward himself.
He curled the finger again, then lowered his hand back to
the ground. He was watching her.
Maria Consalvo Reina Villalobos stared into the blue eyes.
She looked at the broken, doll-like body. And she knew that
if they were to leave the gringo here and drive away and not
say one thing, then he would die and his blood would be on
her hands twiceâ€”once for thinking of waves of lilies and her
beloved son Benito, and once for not telling anyone that
there was a man dying in the desert not ten miles from town.
She leaned in closer. She saw him watching her through the
blood. His broken tooth whistled again. She sensed Ignacio
hovering behind her. The little man said something that she
couldnâ€™t hear, so she leaned even closer.
â€śSeĂ±ora y seĂ±or,â€ť the gringo whispered. â€śIn the name
of Benito the Beautiful, tell them nothing.â€ť
Maria Consalvo scrambled to her feet, hitting at herself as
if she were being attacked by hornets. Ignacio stood tall
and glared down at the gringo who called his dead son by
name. He saw a boulder of quartz lying just beyond the
yucca, a single boulder, as if dropped there for a purpose.
He took his wife by the arm and led her away. Ignacio knew
that the man would probably be dead before the heat of
afternoon, and certainly dead after it. He brought his wife
to the passenger side of the Mercury and he opened the door
for her and steadied her as she spilled into the cracked
They were silent until Buenavista. As they entered the
little border town, they agreed to say nothing to the
authorities. They passed the zocalo and St. Ceciliaâ€™s church
and the Rite Aid and the Dennyâ€™s. At the Ocotillo Lodge,
Ignacio left the Mercury idling while he opened his wifeâ€™s
door and kissed her formally before he drove off for Bondâ€™s
Corner. He had not opened her door or kissed her before work
in twenty-four years.
Within five minutes Mariaâ€™s conscience prevailed and she
called the Buenavista police station and told them about the
man in the desert. She gave a good location based on the
gringoâ€™s pickup truck.
She hung up when the deep-voiced policeman asked her name.
She knew that voice: Gabriel Reyes, chief of Buenavistaâ€™s
police force. Reyes ate breakfast alone at the Ocotillo on
Thursdays, his uniform crisp, his face sad.
Ignacio called no one. When he got to work, his gringo boss
walked him to the far part of the lot and lifted the tarp
from a GM Yukon peppered with bullet holes. He told Ignacio
it was muy importante, nĂşmero uno. Fine,
thought Ignacio. He preferred narcotraficantes to
tiny devils any day.
Not long after Maria and Ignacio had left the man, the
tractor trailer that had nearly obliterated them arrived
back on the scene of the near disaster. It had taken the
driver two miles to still his nerves and face down his fears
and make the laborious two-lane turnaround. He pulled off
the road just behind the pickup truck. From his elevated
position in the cab, he could see the big skid marks. He
surveyed the desert around him and saw nothing unusual.
There had been a man working on a flat tire. Then the
Mercury coming at him in his own lane.
He got out and walked over to the pickup and saw the blown
tire and the jack resting in the sand. The keys were still
in the ignition and the driverâ€™s window was down. He reached
in and honked the horn and waited. A moment later he walked
out into the desert beyond the pickup, but not far.
Rattlesnakes liked the cool mornings this time of year. Heâ€™d
run over one last spring not far from here that reached
almost all the way across his lane, then heâ€™d taken the time
to turn around on the narrow highway and run over it again.
He called out, and a jackrabbit bolted and his heart raced.
A minute later he climbed back into the Freightliner and
continued on toward Yuma. No good came in this desert.
Reyes looked at the skid marks, then up at the sun, then he
followed the footprints that led into the desert. There were
two sets. One was made by cowboy boots that left deep heel
marks in the sand. The other was smaller and lighter and
could have been pretty much any kind of shoe. The woman, he
The tracks ended and Reyes found blood and a slight
indentation where someone had rested. Apparently rested. The
two tracks turned back toward the highway. But a third set
of footprints, smaller than the boots but heavier than the
shoes, continued away from this bloody lie into the desert
Reyes had no trouble following them. Half a mile to the
north in the foothills that would later offer shade, he
found a bloody little man half dug into an old den beneath a
honey mesquite, legs protruding. Reyes knelt and saw the
glint of an eye back in the darkness, and he reached down
and lightly touched the manâ€™s leg and told him he would be
okay. Then he stood and on his third try was able to place a
cell call to Imperial Mercy for an ambulance. Procedure was
to call county first, but Reyes figured this guy would be
dead if he had to wait for paramedics out of El Centro.
â€śTheyâ€™re on the way,â€ť he said.
The man groaned.