« Chapter Five: Agustín | Main | Chapter Seven: Lucia »

Chapter Six: Darrell

There were giants in the earth in those days, or more precisely on the earth. Before him, a stylized human figure a hundred feet tall was scratched into the desert pavement.

If one wanted evidence that the desert is shaped by water, one needed look no further. All these stones, five miles from the nearest water and a thousand feet above it, were as smooth and rounded as if tumbled in an Appalachian stream, flushed out of the Whipple mountains over the centuries by flood after flash flood. The cobbles were stained black. A thin film of bacteria settled on each upturned surface, pulled manganese from the air and laid it down on the rock, there to oxidize and turn black. Ten thousand years they labored and then the artists came.

The artists went to a lot of trouble, one thousand years ago, or two, to move the rocks just so. Their intent was now obscure. There were five of their figures within five square miles, all of them with their feet pointing south. Those figures had fourteen feet among them. Some said the figures – or at least those of them with two legs – each represented Mastamho, who drove a willow spear into the side of a range of mountains far to the north, and pulled it out to unleash the Colorado River. He used his spear tip to carve the river's course through the desert.

Two of the figures were lions, fifty feet from pad to shoulder. There were those who referred to them as representations of Hatakulya, a were-puma variously described as Mastamho's spirit guide or friend. Some interpreters quibbled, suggested the stories were mere overlays, appropriations of the work of earlier people into current local myths.

Whatever meaning they held, the figures represented many hours of labor. Pick up a varnished stone and the desert floor, formerly guarded from exposure to the elements, will be pale underneath. Scrape away a layer and light shines out on a dark background. Drawing each figure meant moving seven or eight cubic yards of rock, in an age before the advent of the Bobcat rental yard. All of it was moved in baskets, or pushed by improvised wooden rakes.

Darrell picked up a stone from the periphery, hefted it in his hand.

There is a peculiar cast to the light in the evening desert sky, an odd pink with a wash of celadon. Across the river, lights flicked slowly on. The land turned purple. A light plane flew slowly past, two thousand feet above the cobbled ground. Its engine noise against the quiet desert twilight flushed a raven from behind a nearby boulder. From up there, you got your best view of these intaglios, light figures splayed out across the black desert soil, as if Mastamho had been washed out of the canyon by a flash flood. The raven flew off toward the river. The plane flew southwest toward Blythe. Its taillight winked for a long time, red against a deepening red sky.

He hurled the fist-sized stone at Mastamho's face, as hard as he could. It splintered, leaving a crater in the figure's brow. He cracked another beer, flicked the twist-off into the darkening intaglio, and scuffled along its perimeter.

His F-250 clicked in the cooling air. The engine had rattled coming up the hill, again. Thinking about it infuriated him. Four hundred goddamn bucks to the Yuma Downtown Mechanics last week! Hydraulic lifters were just not supposed to make that kind of noise. He knew he was looking at a valve job, and rent was coming due. No way the check-cashing place would front him enough. Another what, eight hundred? A thousand bucks sunk into the damn truck engine? More than he paid for the fucking fender flares, that's for damn sure. He shouldn't have gotten the grille guard last month, and he was looking at another nine hundred dollars worth of tire sometime before winter, and the court was after him for the child support again.

A noise came from the arroyo, a skittering of stones and a yelp. Goddamn wetbacks finally showed up, thought Darrell, and he sprinted for the truck, an inconspicuous cherry red parked across Mastamho's calves. He grabbed his father's hunting rifle off the front seat, peered through the scope. The scope was brand new, from the "neighborhood watch" section of the Army Surplus in Needles, and he'd never actually used it in the field.

He couldn't see a damn thing.

He grabbed the maglite instead, steeled himself to bathe the outcrop in the white light of frontier justice. He peered into the gathering dark.

There came a snap of twig from the arroyo. He flinched so hard he wrenched his shoulder. A spooked pair of quail burst out and flew off a hundred yards to the west.

Someone had spooked the quail, Darrell reckoned. This was it. The Minuteman camp had paid off. He would do his part for America. He raised his father's Remington. Goddamn wetbacks. Was a time when this was a good place to work, dams going in, good pay, when a guy could get a job doing something other than mopping the floor in the bail bonds joint. By the time my grandfather was my age, he'd already worked three years on Boulder Dam. My dad poured concrete at Glen Canyon, and then at the Mohave power plant. Try getting a Bechtel job around here now. Or any kind of construction at all. Unless they're putting in a new casino in Laughlin, and even then you'll work with the goddamn wetbacks. Fucking stores with Spanish signs I can't read, goddamn unlicensed truckers coming into California again, taking our wives away and moving them to fancy-ass houses in Victorville and slamming us for child support, teenagers having their babies in Bullhead City and going on the damn welfare. I've had enough. We've all fucking goddamn had enough. Time to make my move. "Come out with your goddamn hands up, asshole!"

His voice echoed off placid granite.

No one came out with his or her hands up.

"I said, come out with your hands up! I've – we've got you surrounded."

Echoes died off again.

He tried to remember the phrase they'd taught at Minuteman camp. Some of these wetbacks got here not even speaking English. Yell "you're surrounded," and they might think you're yelling at some cattle or some ass thing. Three beers made it harder to remember. "Salada con el manos arriba!"


"You have one last chance, Pedro, and then I'm gonna come get your brown ass."


A breeze ruffled the bundles of paper in the truck bed. He'd used the Internet to translate a message into Spanish, printed leaflets up after hours on the bail bonds office copier. In big block letters, they read:

"¡Amigos del espalda mojado de la atención! Sus partidarios han depositado el agua en las rocas a través de la presa de Parker, por la pintada de "Norte". ¡Si usted tiene sed, ayúdese!"

(Attention wetback friends! Your supporters have cached water in the rocks across from Parker Dam, by the "Norte" graffiti. If you're thirsty, help yourself!)

He'd cut out a figure of a snoozing sombrero-ed hombre leaning up a saguaro in an effort to liven up the leaflet, and left them laying around Yuma. A week of waiting by the rocks had turned up nothing. About Wednesday he'd realized that his campfires might have given him away, and now the blackened circle of ash on Mastamho's breast was three days cold. And now, his trap sprung, he had but to collect his prize.

"I..." he croaked, and then stopped. Damn it! Don't let on you're alone until you've got 'em tied up!

"We've got you covered, Pedro. Don't try anything funny!" Rifle braced against his right shoulder with one hand, Maglite in the other hand, he crept toward his quarry.

He remembered another word they'd taught him in camp.

"We have men behind all the rocks here, pendejo, so just sit tight and don't move!"

He crunched another hundred feet across the gravel. Now he could see into the arroyo, but the brush obscured his vision. He shined the flashlight.

"Come out with your hands up! Salido!" He carefully fired a warning shot over the arroyo, and then swept the Maglite over the brush with his left hand.

There was sudden rustle from inside the brush, and a burst of movement running away from Darrell, and in the split second before he recognized the lupine ears, the brushy tail, he had turned and fired wildly.

He knew he had fucked up even before he felt it. A .416 Remington Magnum's recoil velocity is 18.5 feet per second. He had fired one-handed and in a hurry. Every single one of those feet per second caught him in his collarbone, which snapped. He dropped the rifle, shouting in pain and anger.

Across the arroyo, behind the rocks to which he had scrambled when the flashlight spooked him, the coyote perked up his ears at Darrell's howling. He gave a tentative yip in response, and then a chorus of barks rained down on them from the Whipple Mountains.

It was early morning and six more beers before Darrell had dulled his pain enough to risk driving with his hurt arm. He climbed into the driver's seat, wincing and bleary. Out of force of habit he reached for the shoulder strap. A sharp stab persuaded him otherwise. He reached around the steering column with his left hand and turned the ignition key. The truck roared awake in a clatter of lifter noise. Closing his eyes against the certainty of pain, he reached for the shift lever and pushed it into first gear. The pain made his whole body flinch. His foot fell off the clutch. The truck lurched forward in a spray of varnished gravel, then stalled.

Another swig of beer, another awkward reach around the wheel, and he jolted another twenty feet. The third time was the charm. He carefully pushed the clutch all the way down, centered his foot on the pedal, screamed the shift lever into first, rode the clutch as he waited for the blinding flashes of light to leak from his head, and then fishtailed across the open plain to the dirt road.

Shifting into second was easier, and he made it all the way to Route 62 and a half-mile west, steering one-handed, before a kindly San Bernardino County sheriff escorted Darrell first to the hospital and then to jail.

It took a long while for the dust to settle, an hour, perhaps two. At noon a light plane flew low and fast over the intaglios, then doubled back for another pass, and then another. A third of Mastamho's torso had been obliterated, scraped away in a near-helix of fish-tailing all-terrain tire tracks, flung into the air to choke the beaver tail cacti for miles downwind under the pink and celadon evening sky.