Two of Hearts
by Joel Doonan
perspective of a soaring bird, the land beneath it has no borders or
boundaries. It can canvass the terrain above fields and forests, searching for
signs of prey or the odor of carrion, following the rising air along ridges and
hills, and using the updraft of thermals to gain altitude.
particular day, a lone black vulture circled high above a rocky hilltop above a wiry patch of post-oak, prickly
pear and yucca. There was no discernible reason for it to circle around this
particular hill, but as birds often do, it followed instincts and intuition as
it watched and waited.
rays of yellow light began to beam from around tree limbs and under-story
brush. The light brightened for a time and then began to fade as a single
figure, a young man carrying a briefcase, stepped out from under the tree
cover. The man paused briefly at the woodland's edge and looked up, shielding
sun from his eyes as he watched the large black bird circle high above. The
vulture suddenly shifted its wings and sailed directly east. The man continued
downhill toward a dirt road and began walking in the same direction.
typically hot and dry across the land northwest of Del Rio, Texas; an area not
far from the U.S. / Mexico border. While the region's lower valleys host some
of the state's most productive farmland, the higher hills and slopes are
usually home to hard-scrabble ranches and rocky wilderness.
continued along the little-used gravel road, accompanied only by the sound of
his foot falls, the wind, and the moving shadows cast from tall dry grass that
waved along the roadside.
ranch house sat back from the road, one with ship-lap siding and corrugated
roofing. It had been built long ago and was ornamented with hand-cut
gingerbread trim at the eaves and roof peak, typical of German immigrant
part of the old home needed repair or painting, from the rusty tin on the roof
to the weathered posts that lined the broad front porch. A grand old barn stood
nearby, with traces of the original red-iron paint. The barn's huge sagging
doors, bolted to worn iron hinges, strained to support their weight.
beside the road sat atop a loose post that leaned to the side and teetered with
the breeze, and beside it stood a hand-lettered sign on a wood stake: “Help
Needed. Room & Board Available. Inquire Within.”
The young man
paused by the mailbox, eyed the house. He stared at the “Help Needed” sign for
a short while, then pulled it from the dirt, grabbed it by the stake and
proceeded up the narrow walkway to the front porch. At the front screen door,
he held the sign up in front of him, knocked and waited.
A heavy oak
door behind the screen slowly creaked open. A tall, thin, old woman stood in
the shadows and they looked at each other through the screen for a few moments.
“You here for
work?” she asked.
were white and dusty with bread flour and her long kitchen apron was stained
from berry jams and fruit pies.
replied. “Here for work.”
need a place to stay?”
“Yes, I need
the sign and leaned it against a porch post as she held the screen door open.
like a decent young man. Right now, you can help clean up.”
her into a large kitchen that smelled of fresh bread and cooling pies. There
were tin trays of oatmeal cookies on a hardwood counter and she pointed toward
a large scrub-sink full of pans and utensils. With his arms up to the elbows in
dishwater and a towel over his shoulder, they became better acquainted.
It had been
decades ago when her son left for the Afghan war. He was a member of the
National Guard, and even with the ever-present danger and unpredictable events
of any wartime effort, everything went well enough until his third and final
tour. He never made it home, and barely two months later, her husband also
Benny, died of a broken heart,” she said, “but that's not what was on the
certificate. I've been doing my best to hang on to this ranch ever since. It's
been hard.” She glanced toward the young man as he rinsed mixing bowls. She
spoke to him frankly.
like a Spanish fellow,” she said,
“You come here from across the border? I need to know, and I'm alright with it,
if you are.”
could say that I'm from across a border,” he replied, “I'm what you might refer
to as a travel agent, or more accurately, an agent that travels. You can call
call you Joe,” she said, “and if anyone asks, we'll say you're a travel agent,
visiting from across the border.” She tipped a fresh loaf from a baking tin
onto a folded towel. “You can call me Mary. Or better yet, Ms. Schneider.”
him eyeing a pie that was cooling next to a window nearby.
“All this is
for a fundraiser at Twin River Methodist. You can have a cookie or two for now.
We'll have a proper supper this evening like normal folks. We do have rules around here. We get up
early. We work hard. We eat well.”
Mary glanced at a calendar that hung from the side of her
fridge. “Keep forgetting to change this thing,” she said, flipping over to a
The month was
August, the year, 2038. It was Friday, and the bake sale was scheduled for the
kitchen clean and tidy and the baked goods cooling, ranch chores were next. As
instructed, Joe went to work with an old flat head shovel to clean out the
chicken coop. He spread fresh straw in the nest boxes and refilled feed and
water, while Mary tended her several pigs. They worked together to straighten
and tighten a fence that nearly circled the barn, and packed stones tightly around
the base of loose posts.
“Had to sell
most of the cattle earlier this year,” she explained as they worked, “I had a
feeling that it was going to be another dry summer. Turned out to be correct.
Sold them while they still had some weight and before feed became too
The sun began
to skirt the western horizon, sending long bluish shadows from distant hilltops
and giving color to a near cloudless sky. It was time to put away the tools and
clean up for dinner.
Joe was given
an upstairs bedroom, one with a slanted ceiling and a small window that looked
out toward the front road. A handmade quilt covered the twin bed and inside a
narrow dresser were plenty of men's work clothes. The overalls and plaid shirts
were a bit over-sized, but he was free to wear them as he needed. He slipped
the briefcase, his only luggage, beneath the bed and with a clean shirt and
overalls in hand, proceeded to the bath.
They sat at
opposite ends of a long, dark dining table, one draped with a vintage,
hand-embroidered, white lace table cloth. Steam rose from platters of fresh
cornbread, red beans and roast chicken. Joe sat straight in the wooden chair
that was designed more for posture than for comfort, with his black hair, long
on the top and short on the sides, slicked back.
He noticed a
large framed print of Jesus on the wall behind her; a portrait with folded
hands and eyes that gazed toward heaven. Mary closed her eyes to pray.
she began as Joe folded his hands like those illustrated in the picture. He
turned his eyes toward the ceiling. “Bless this bounty that you have had the
grace to bestow upon us. Protect and keep our loved ones from evil, and if it
be your will, let the rains fall again to water the grass. And also if it be
your will, grace us with enough money to cover this year's taxes. Amen.”
church every Sunday without exception,” she said, passing a platter, “but I
will not require you to accompany me. I supposed you're probably a Catholic,
“Yes. Probably a Catholic.”
early to his room and sat atop the bed with his only luggage, the single
briefcase, in front of him.
activated security locks were built into both sides, and once unlatched, the
case smoothly opened. A yellow light brightened his face; a light coming from a
source more ephemeral than from a simple monitor screen. A glow of energy
infused the air and he spoke toward the light so softly that he hardly made a
sound. The short conversation with an unseen source lasted only a few minutes.
He nodded and spoke audibly, “I know that I am here at my own risk, but I must
for a while longer to instructions and advice, then closed the briefcase.
was just peeking above the eastern horizon as Mary opened the back door and
stood atop the landing to shake out kitchen floor mats. She noticed Joe sitting
atop a line of stones that had been gathered and stacked long ago to divert
water from the barn's foundation. She heard the call of a hawk and looked up to
watch it hover high above him. Joe also watched the bird for a while until it
flew west across the back pasture. She turned her attention to shaking the mats
as he arrived for breakfast.
morning prayers,” he explained.
and re-positioned the mats. He wiped his shoes before stepping inside.
was filled with the aroma of bacon and pancakes, and Joe set plates on a small
kitchen table and took a seat as Mary joined him.
“There was a
bird high above you,” she said, pouring coffee.
“We know them
as messengers,” Joe replied, “We share the same spirit. We are all part of nature,
and if your mind is right and you learn how to watch the signs, birds can give
approving any commitment to a higher power, no matter how unusual.
Catholics are indeed a strange lot,” she added.”
routines of morning chores were complete, they prepared for an excursion to
town. Mary pulled an old farm truck close to an elevated bulk tank and Joe
filled the gas tank. In the back were cardboard boxes of baked goods and
several shopping bags filled with used clothing for donation at the fundraiser.
“You know how
to drive?” she asked as she took the driver's seat.
“I know how
to drive,” he said, pulling his door closed.
license?” she asked.
“I will have
one very soon,” he replied.
out their driveway and onto the gravel road, and a trail of dust rose behind as
they continued east toward the city.
newer cars and trucks are electric,” she explained as they continued. “That's
alright with me, no problem with keeping the air clean, but what I don't care
for is the fact that law enforcement can use their radar controllers to disable
your vehicle any time they see fit. I don't like being subject to their whims.
Sometimes I need to get somewhere in a hurry. I's my own personal business.”
at an intersection and turned east, following a paved, farm-to-market road.
to old vehicles like this one as rogues, or gas-burners,” she continued, “any
car or truck that does not have modern electronic parts and can't be controlled.
They don't like it, but for now it's still legal to drive them, particularly in
ranch country where folks have agricultural equipment and vehicles that need
“Not sure how
the laws are where you come from, but
new cars on this side of the border don't even have license plates anymore.
Everything is recorded electronically and each one can be tracked. We still do,
although, need AG exempt plates for farm or ranch use, or any older vehicle we
need to put on the road.”
Methodist was a fine example of mid-century Gothic architecture, built by
skilled masons nearly a century ago, and constructed primarily of limestone and
granite. Smooth limestone blocks formed the walls and chiseled granite arches
coursed above each tall window.
lot was bordered by a dense, tall hedge of wax-leaf ligustrums, and broad old
oaks provided shade for cars and trucks on this busy Saturday morning.
helped unload boxes of baked goods and hand-crafts while tables were set up
along either side of the main walkway. Others were accustomed to Mary having
temporary ranch hands, and let Joe know that he was welcome to join their
congregation, regardless of his faith.
in town included more than dropping off goods to support the fundraiser, with a
lengthy shopping list of household necessities and groceries. They soon
departed and continued farther into town.
“Need to stop
by the bank, first,” she said, “I prefer to pay cash for groceries.”
Bank's outdoor kiosk system was secure and convenient, and all banking
transactions and account access could be conducted using their automated teller
the screen and touched a button to begin the facial-recognition security
process. She entered a pass-code, and waited as the system scanned and
authenticated her identity.
nearby and noticed how the system operated. He also noticed that her ranch
account had little more than $785 remaining balance.
they haven't made the deposit yet,” she said as she made a modest cash
withdrawal, “From the spring cattle auction. Wonder what's holding things up?”
just take time,” Joe reassured.
Joe helped prepare dinner, and amidst the sizzle and smoke, Mary soon realized
that he was an experienced cook. With his handmade flatbread, BBQ beans and
novel use of fresh tomatoes, citrus and peppers, they produced a meal with an
uncommon, spicy ethnic quality.
across the border,” Mary reminisced as they sat down together at the dining
table, “Been to Juarez, a few times, when I was much younger. Used to have fun
“I also used
to have fun,” Joe added.
become a fiesta, of sorts,” said Mary, “Something to celebrate.”
She rose and
opened the cabinet door of an old buffet and brought out a dusty bottle of
wine; not a fine French import with a cork stopper and a red-wax seal, but one
with an aluminum screw-top that had been bottled in El Paso, and left over from
a neighboring church's communion supper.
a toast to the State of Texas. Joe then proposed a toast to the National Guard.
They both made a toast to Jesus, then one to St. Valentine, and finally a
blanket toast to every nation and province that lay anywhere south of the US
“Soon I'll be
needing a vehicle of my own.” said Joe, “There is personal business in town
that I need to take care of, and a work associate I need to contact.”
is an old car in the barn,” she said. “Look under the tarp between the hay
bales. It was my son's car. It's been sitting for so long it probably won't
run, but you are welcome to try and fix it up. Probably take a lot of sweat and
effort to get it roadworthy.
with it for years,” she added, “It was his second love. Second only to a cute
young lady named Alice that he met at Rio Diner.”
night, Joe opened the brief case and held his hand up to the yellow light.
“Agent request: State of Texas vehicle operator’s license.”
identification,” returned a soft voice. Joe held his hand steady. “Identity
confirmed. Face screen for imaging.”
steady and looked directly into the light. A series of low tones emerged and he
reached inside and withdrew a new Texas driver's license.
At an early morning hour, sunlight found paths
between gaps in the barn roofing to brighten the darker recesses where the old
vehicle was stored.
inch of dust lay atop the heavy canvass, mixed with pigeon droppings and
strands of loose grass from bales of hay. Propped against the sides were ranch
tools, shovels, and a rock bar. He moved the tools and glanced up toward a line
of pigeons, roosting on a beam directly overhead. He clapped loudly, and with a
noisy flurry of wings, the birds exited through the upper loft. He grabbed one
end of the tarp and pulled it back.
It was a 1936
Ford, 3 window coupe. Even after decades of storage, the yellow paint was still
bright despite patches of oily dirt that had seeped through the canvass. The
tires were flat to the dirt, rubber cracked and crumbling, but the alloy wheels
still looked fine. The car's interior had been professionally restored at one
point and thanks to proper storage, was still in good shape. He unlatched and
opened the hood.
V-8 fit perfectly between the inner fenders, and dual carburetors sat atop a
high-rise intake manifold. A polished aluminum air scoop rose neatly through
something painted on the doors and he knelt down by the driver's side for a closer
look. With a cloth he wiped away the dust.
by a skilled artisan was a pair of playing cards, both the same suit and
number, and an arched banner that spanned the lower half had the words, “Two of
He opened the
driver's door and slipped into the seat. Holding the steering wheel with one
hand, he worked the sifter with the other. The wooden front dash had analog
gauges for speed, rpm and oil pressure, and a simple toggle switch and starter
button replaced the original ignition.
ago, Mary's son had built a custom street-rod that after decades of storage,
deserved once more to feel the rush of wind and road.
evening, he once again accessed his briefcase for assistance. “Display vintage
Ford automotive design and maintenance.”
to flash across his face, slow at first, then in rapid succession. Joe closed
is eyes as the images continued, preferring to use a process of direct memory
By now, he
routinely wore plaid shirts and baggy overalls. He looked at home in the old
ranch truck as Mary sent him to town for animal feed, and while the ranch
supplies could be put on Mary's credit account, he would need to find his own
way to pay for car parts and tires.
and parked at Richland Bank, and with his briefcase in hand, walked up to the
From the case
he withdrew a palm-sized object, smooth and featureless like black onyx. With
the briefcase at his feet, he stood in front of the automated teller's screen
and pressed the case against the metal surface directly beneath it, maintaining
close contact. He held the palm-sized module up to the screen and spoke softly.
“Access banking system. Analyze encryption. Create new account.
teller began to respond as if unseen hands went to work. A touchscreen keyboard
appeared, and then with his new driver's license inserted into a slot, his
identification was authenticated and displayed as the keys softly flashed in
rapid sequence. A web-work of fractal mapping flashed across the driver's
license image, creating an electronic fingerprint.
identity established,” came a mechanical sounding voice from the automated
teller, “New account created. Enter currently available account balance.”
for a moment. He needed adequate funds for the possibility of an extended stay,
but not so much as to alert international banking regulations from a sudden
appearance of funds. He believed that the trigger threshold was fairly high,
and began at first by entering a modest dollar amount; but then with a flush of
confidence, added several extra zeros.
million. That should be plenty to get by on for now,” he thought.
funds credited,” said the automated teller, “Create new pass-code for future
Joe created a
new pass-code, and withdrew the cash he needed for auto parts and supplies.
above Ramón's Tire & Wheel read: Parts & service for gas-burners. If
you need it, we got it! If you want it, we can get it!
smelled of chassis grease, naphtha, and perfumed hand cleaner. The floor was
dark and slick in places from years of dripped oil, dust and foot traffic, and
while one customer's pickup sat high on a lift for transmission service,
another sat atop jack stands for brakes and tires. The sounds of air-tools
mixed with constant background music, and the stiff wind from a large-bladed
fan tossed his hair as Joe stepped inside with the Ford coupe's alloy rims.
for new experiences, it was not long before he departed with grease on his
hands, tire marks on his overalls, and all the supplies he needed from spark
plugs and ignition wires, to tires, battery and motor oil.
It has been
said that if you offer a wild hawk the choice between a million in cash or a
nice plump mouse, it will choose the mouse every time. The cash will later be
used for nesting.
From a bird's
eye view, passing high above the arid ranch-land with its thorny brush, prickly
pear cactus and sparse clump-grass, all the efforts and labors of humans are of
little concern. One might look down from high above to see the huge doors of
the old barn swing open, and then watch as the dusty yellow car was pushed and
rolled outside on brand new tires.
also notice the plump field-mice as they scurried between the side of the barn
and nearby chicken coop, helping themselves to chicken feed and unaware they
were being keenly observed, as just around the corner, the '36 coupe was washed
for the first time in over thirty years.
following days, in his spare time he began bringing the old car's drive-train
back into operating condition.
spark plugs removed, he poured a little motor oil into each cylinder. A
long-handled socket wrench helped turn the crankshaft, breaking loose the dry
bearings and slowly working the pistons to loosen the rings. Camshafts rotated
and valves raised and lowered. Gradually, turn by turn, lubricant worked its way
back into seals and bearings.
engine fired off for the first time, clouds of smoke poured from the twin tail
pipes as it burned off the oil that had lubricated the pistons and rings. It
ran rough for a while as Joe stood by the open hood and feathered the fuel with
a hand on the carburetor linkage. Then as the engine warmed and began to idle
smoothly, smoke and steam rose from hot exhaust headers, burning off decades of
thick inside the barn and he opened the doors for fresh air as Mary stood
nearby at a clothesline. She dropped the laundry basket and ran inside. She
shook her head. “Thought something was on fire,” she said, turning back to tend
the laundry, “My son did the same thing, a long time ago. Brings back memories.”
car was soon timed and tuned, and nearly ready for new adventures; but there
was one final detail still to be addressed.
An old Ford
Ranchero sat behind the barn next to the chicken coop, with the hood propped
open and wheels up on blocks. Chickens had adopted the interior for a
comfortable summer roost and feathers covered what was left of the seat.
applied to several rusty screws, he was able to remove license plates from
front and rear.
plates on the '36 Ford were long expired, and while borrowing plates from a
different vehicle was not technically legal, these were AG exempt and with no
cruiser had just exited the Rio Car Wash's automated tunnel. Officer Cleats
used a hand towel to dry the side mirrors while Sgt. Badger sat in the
passenger seat with the door open, checking a dash-mounted display for
notifications and alerts.
This was a
boring town in which to conduct police work. The citizens were almost always
compliant and drivers rarely exceeded speed limits. The little crime that did occur was often no more than teenage
mischief or alcohol induced misjudgment.
instantly noticed the vintage '36 as it approached and slowly passed, and felt
the low rumble that only comes from a gas-burner performance engine.
raised and aimed the hand-held Control Max 2100 radar ranging and surveillance
unit and waited for a transponder return. The screen on the unit displayed the
message: VEHICLE ANOMOLY. NO RECORD FOUND.
“Yep, it's a
rogue,” commented officer Cleats, “just like I thought. No electronics. We'd
better keep an eye on that one.”
Joe had his
own form of surveillance with him, and listened to soft tones coming from the
palm sized device as he slowly wove his way along the grid-work of downtown
streets, past retail shops and offices for professional services. At one point
the scanner began to hum louder and the pitch began to raise. He paused in
front of Atom City Tattoo, pulled to the curb and parked.
A woman with
long black hair stood at a workstation. She was cleaning tools and preparing
for the next appointment when the doorbell sounded. Glancing up, an expression
of shock and surprise flashed across her face as he stepped inside.
Her long dark
hair lay in a thick single braid down her back and a distinctive pair of
interlocked hearts was inked across her forearm. She was unmistakable.
said Joe as he approached.
herself on the workstation's seat back, looked down and took a deep breath.
she said, “It's been almost two years. Thought I'd never see you, or any of the
others again.” She took another breath and looked up.
difficult to locate,” Joe said, “Your tracer is barely working. But I was
convinced you were still here, somewhere on this side of the border.
never showed up at the interface, the council decided you had turned rogue, or
were perhaps even deceased.”
him to a quiet corner of the shop. She spoke softly.
“It was a
dangerous assignment,” she said, “I was conducting surveillance, recording in
an unsecured location. My intrusion was detected and I was detained for several
days. There was no way for me to make the rendezvous.
definite communications between the U.S. Department of State, and an entity
from the Parallel – with someone on our
side. The State Department has no idea who they are communicating with, or how
dangerous it could be. It's a clear violation.
“When I was
detained, as a precaution my briefcase was deactivated and the internal
interface, shifted back. Federal agents eventually let me go. No evidence.
“I had to
stay here and earn a living. Hoped someone would try and find me, but after the
first year, pretty much gave up. Glad it was you who finally came through.”
stopped looking,” said Joe, “Couldn't loose you, and never lost faith. It was
hard to figure out where you were located – what town or city. Good idea to
stay in a smaller, rural community.”
stepped back and stared at his baggy overalls and plaid shirt.
an interesting new look and style,” she added with a smirk.
“I'm a farmer
now,” he smiled. “This is what all of us farmers wear.”
up and out of the shop's front window, squinted through the bright sunlight
toward the yellow coupe parked outside by the curb.
always seem to find the coolest cars.”
“We need to
leave tomorrow,” said Joe, taking her by the hands, “while we still can. Before
things get too risky. You should take care of whatever affairs you need to
settle, and say goodbye to any associates. I will stop by and pick you up.”
back home at Schneider ranch, Joe wrote a letter to Mary, sealed it an envelope
and placed it inside his briefcase.
morning after helping with routine chores, he departed once more for town.
Drive-Thru was famous for their quarter pound, chili-cheese three-meat
burritos, and officer Cleats and Sgt. Badger were dining royally for lunch,
having ordered the “Rambo Triple-X Meal Deal,” served, or course, with fries
and a soda.
Cleats was sporting a new blue necktie – the latest in “skinny tie” fashion.
“This is what
I call 'the thin blue line',” he explained, tucking several paper napkins
around and a few more into his front collar.
burritos were notoriously greasy, and the napkins they provided were not the
finest in paper products. Their Triple-X Meal Deals had just arrived at the
cruiser's windows when the '36 Ford slowly rumbled past.
the plates,” said Cleats, with a burrito in his hand. Sgt Badger aimed the
Control Max at the rear license plate just as Cleats bit in. An electronic
readout quickly returned.
“That car is
definitely not a '78 Ranchero,” said Badger.
Cleats' three-meat burrito had spurted a stream of chili-fat from its low end.
“Quick, more napkins.”
for the thin blue line, the napkins stuck to the grease, and when he tried to
wipe it away, his fingers ripped through.
had a formidable viscosity, stronger than what the paper could handle, and
shreds of napkin joined the chili grease, creating drifting patterns across his
clean tan shirt and bright blue tie that could have passed as high art among
the better educated.
Follow this guy,” added Officer Cleats, frowning, looking down at his stained
shirt, “He's bound to be up to no good. And now he owes me a new tie.”
Joe was just
barely beyond their line of sight when he approached Twin River Methodist. He
sensed that he was being followed, and with a sharp turn into the church
parking lot, he was saved. Not so much by church doctrine, but by the tall row
of ligustrum hedges that encircled the lot.
through small gaps in the foliage as the police cruiser speed past, and then
drove across and exited through a rear alley.
with a customer when he stepped inside Atom City Tattoo. She looked up and
nodded, continuing to ink the final flower on the shoulder of a young woman
“We are all
done,” she said, “Finally finished the last rose.” She blotted away excess ink
to reveal a unique creation of vines and roses.
As the client
departed, Aurora gave a wave to the business owner. He blew her a kiss and
ushered her on.
“We need to
get out of here fast,” said Joe, “Things are getting a little tight. But there
is one small issue I must take care of first.”
Bank's outdoor kiosk, he accessed his account. He transferred all his remaining
financial assets into Mary's ranch account, then once more placed his briefcase
directly against the kiosk's metal surface. He held the palm-sized scanner.
personal account information of Josephus-Arenas,” he said, “Erase all
identification references and transaction records.”
nearby, leaning against the car and keeping an eye on passing traffic as he
began to remove all traces of his actions and identity from the banking system.
and transactions erased,” soon came a soft voice, “Identity structure
dismantled. All hidden account data-threads discovered and removed.”
By this time,
officer Cleats' police cruiser was docked at the Fast-Charge filling station,
recently revamped with new high-speed power-ports for electric vehicles, and
broad awnings that offered customers a comfortable place to relax or conduct
business while their vehicles' power banks were filled.
“There he is
again!” said Cleats as the yellow Ford sped rapidly past. “Now he's definitely
breaking the law. We've got to finally get this guy.”
slipped into the driver's seat and motioned toward Badger to join him.
not charged yet,” said Sgt. Badger.
take long,” Cleats replied, “Pull the plug!”
Badger did as
Cleats requested, slipped into the passenger seat and flipped on the chase
lights. He held the Control Max 2100 and aimed straight ahead as they pulled
into the flow of traffic. Cleats was instantly annoyed by the congestion.
“Get some of
these cars out of our way,” he said.
aim at a commercial van.
Flowers, no time for wedding showers. Bam! There you go to the curb.”
slowed to a stop, automatically turning to the roadside.
“Next up is
Jose's Plumbing. Take a break, the toilet can wait!”
quiet the poet today,” said Cleats.
“I love this
thing,” said Badger, shutting down several passenger cars at random. “Police
business in progress! Everyone to the side of the road!”
electronically track or control the yellow Ford Coupe, they had no option but
to try and maintain visual contact while weaving through traffic. They
maneuvered and struggled to close the distance, but Joe was able to stay well
ahead until they came to the edge of town where traffic thinned and speed
limits were eased. The cruiser rapidly accelerated.
Joe could see
them coming up fast from behind as they traveled toward the higher hills that
lay north of town. He pressed the gas and the coupe responded with a low
thunder and immediate traction, coursing up and over a steep rise in the road.
For a few moments the police lost visual contact.
been watching the sky from the passenger window; watching a pair of hawks
circle high overhead. With her arm out the window and hand open, she could feel
the feathers and wind across wings – see the land below through their eyes. The
birds suddenly left their circling pattern and proceeded directly west.
immediate next exit,” she said, “Turn left at the crossroad.”
to catch the exit, tires squealing as they turned sharply and dove beneath an
overpass. The police cruiser passed swiftly overhead, siren blaring as Joe and
Aurora turned west following a smaller, farm-to-market road. He floored the gas
There is a
distinctive sound; an inrush of air and fuel into wide-open carburetors that
comes from the engines of performance vehicles. This is followed a fraction of
a moment later by the application of horsepower against concrete or asphalt.
The new rear
tires gave a quick chirp and wind poured through the open windows. The wiry
scrub on either side became a blur and the faded yellow stripe ahead of them
rose and fell with the contours of the road.
cruiser slowed and stopped. Cleats and Badger realized they had lost track of
their target and spun around to retrace their path back to the previous
intersection. They noticed the 36 Ford atop a distant rise, and the chase
was designed and built for high-speed pursuit, and they were slowly closing the
distance; up until the vehicle's main power bank began to fade. They slowed and
gradually rolled to a stop, even as the cruiser's lights continued to dimly
the middle of the road, they stepped out and watched the yellow coupe gradually
disappear in the distance.
onto the gravel road that led toward the Schneider ranch.
They came to
an abrupt stop in front of the old farm house and Aurora watched as Joe stepped
out and slipped his letter into Mary's mailbox. Then he paused for a moment,
tilting the mailbox with its loose post left and right. He stepped over to the
handful of flat stones, he returned to the post and with the heel of his shoe,
pressed them into the gaps around its base. He pounded them down until the post
was straight and solid.
one last time at the old house, then slipped back into the driver’s seat.
Together he and Aurora continued west toward an alternate world, leaving only a
trail of dust behind as evidence of their passing.
street-rod slowed as they approached the forested hilltop.
onto a trail that wound up around the hill – a path used primarily by deer and
other wildlife. It was barely wide enough to accommodate the '36 coupe and he
continued slowly uphill over loose rocks and around clumps of cactus, barely
fitting between gaps in the branches as they entered the forest.
interface has been expanded since the last time you passed through,” said Joe,
“It's much larger now, and I'm tired of going back empty handed. This time,
we're keeping the car.”
As seen from above, once again light began to beam out
from around forest limbs. At this same time, for some reason, a tall cloud also
began to grow high above the hill.
was a reaction between atmospheric moisture and the radiating energy from an
extra-dimensional passage, and as the cloud continued to rapidly grow, a pair
of soaring birds arrived to take advantage of the uplift. They circled higher
as wind increased and the cloud became a thunderhead.
final pulses of yellow light, the dimensional passage faded away. At this same
time, lightning began to flash between the cloud and hilltop, and rain began to
surrounding hills and plains, more thunderstorms began to develop. They spread
out in patterns of waves and rows, far across the land in a sympathetic
response to the first original storm. Patterns
of atmospheric art were being created on a grand scale, as if the towering
clouds were having a conversation of sorts, spoken through the wind, in a
language only they could understand.
home from visiting a neighbor and rolled to a stop beside her mailbox. She
quickly noticed that the post was now solid and straight, and inside the box
along with flyers advertising a great sale price on vinyl windows and leaf-free
gutters, she found the letter from Joe. She had a feeling about it, and opened
it on the spot.
your hospitality, fine dining and enlightening company,” it read, “and while I
have enjoyed our time together, it is time for me to once again cross the
border and return home. I am forever grateful for your generosity.
soon discover that you did extremely well at this year's spring cattle auction,
and you will no longer need to worry about your property taxes. Perhaps now you
can travel like you did when you were younger, and have fun in Juarez or El
Paso. Someday we might meet again, and I wish you all the best.
By this time,
clouds had spread through the sky across her ranch as well, and a light rain
began to fall as she parked the truck.
had come early this year, ushering in a change in weather patterns that would
persist over the next several years. With milder conditions and improved annual
precipitation, ranching would become much easier.
Now with the addition of this
unexpected gift of rain from Nature, all of Mary's prayers had finally been
© 2023 Joel Doonan
Bio: Joel Doonan owns and operates a small signs and
graphics business in central Texas. A writer since childhood, his early
formative years were spent in the Amazon basin area of eastern Peru.
E-mail: Joel Doonan
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