Saturday, February 3, 2018

FAQ 5 Black Mesa in Northern Arizona: Apache Hopi Navajo English Spanish Nations Culture, Food

The United States and
Northern Arizona
Nations, Language and Culture
Sé Habla Englés. Really?

Although my book is written in English, it is American English and specifically the English that is spoken in the southwest of the United States. The speech pattern is a mixture of European, Native American and Spanish. Some words pronounced like American English, others Native American and even more are Spanish.

If you live anywhere in Arizona, you become bi-lingual by osmosis. Go into Lowes all the signs are in English and Spanish. Arizona puts a unique cultural stamp on food also.

So here are some words and Arizona customs that my beta readers from other countries and other states have asked me to explain. Some I have explained in a separate blog, others need less explanation, relax and enjoy the view.

There is so much backstory I wanted to write. The incredible scenery. Ancient ruins. Places that catch a breath of cedar and pine. The altitude is 7000' to 12000' so make sure you drink plenty of water and take it slow.  Temperatures this week in February run from 10 degrees at night in the Grand Canyon to 60 degrees on the Plateau during the day. 

In my novel, I've mixed up the actual geologic formations of Northern Arizona into the backdrop of my imaginary town of Black Mesa AZ. There is an actual ancient volcanic caldera. The real Puerco River runs through the Petrified Forest and the Painted Desert. There is a real abandoned Pueblo where you can do an easy day hike. Hundreds of years ago around 1500 CE in a wetter climate there actually was a lake, water, village, game, and vegetation to support a vibrant community of people living in 125 dwellings.

So the geologic structures could have happened millions of years ago. In my mind, the imaginary town is overshadowed by a massive Black Volcanic Mesa. At the foot of the outcrop is Carriage Lock Lake (Carraigeacha Loch) damned by the lava flow from thousands of years ago. I invented the Rio de Plata a tributary of the Little Colorado River. I imagined the town's geology to look similar to a combination of Prescott and Sedona. 

This is the drive and country that Minerva, computer science, and Flynn, geology, make once a week to teach at the Imaginary Navapache Community College in Keams Canyon, a real town. If you signed up for Flynn's Geology 101 class you would be discussing these features. Listen to your Tony Hillerman audiobook along with me and hang on for a serene and scenic ride. As you listen to his accent you can hear the drawl and speech patterns of the American southwest, especially Northern Arizona and New Mexico.

Interviews with Tony Hillerman

I let people speak in their own words.

Northern Arizona Landscape
Apache and Navajo County

Who are Hopi?

Ruby Chimerica on the Hopi Reservation, Arizona

Welcome to the Navajo Nation

Navajo County AZ

Round Up-Apache County

Arizona Vacation Guide. T
Narrator is British so his pronunciations differ from that spoken in AZ.
Note: Canyon de Chelly is pronounced (can-yon day shay)

Monument Valley and Canyon de Chelly, Arizona (in HD)

Arizona volcano letting off steam in real time

Dinosaur Tracks Navajo Nation

Sunset Crater Volcano near Flagstaff  AZ
View 1 Sunset Crater Geology
View 2 Sunset crater
View 2 continued Sunset Crater Geology
View 3 Sunset Crater geology
More Sunset Crater

Back Country- Volcanoes,
 Cedar trees, Desert, Grass,
Old Route 66

Hike in New Mexico (looks similar to back county Northern AZ)

Hopi Rez in the shadow of an Ancient Volcano

I40 AZ SAncient Supervolcano near Kingman AZ

Journey down Route 66

Old route 66 Navajo AZ back road

Old route 66  AZ

Ghost Towns in the American Southwest AZ

Beautiful drive from Kingman to Oatman AZ

How to lose in translation.
Jokes in Navajo/Diné.
Hopi the Mesa Dwellers. Spanglish.
Alphabets and numbers in 
Navajo, Spanish, Apache 

Because I was a teacher of English as a Second Language and Mathematics I can’t help being interested in numbers and letters no matter what language.

Navajo Grandma joke

The Navajo Alphabet Song

Caterpillar Story-Navajo Language

Spanish Alphabet song

Apache Alphabet Song

English Alphabet Funny Animation

Hopi Language

Count in Hopi

Count in Spanish

Badgers WI vs Hoosiers IN

I remember as a kid I would visit my cousins. I grew up in Milwaukee WI (yew knooowww, with the flat nasal sound). I can spot anyone from Wisconsin or Minnesota the minute they open their mouth. My cousins were Hoosiers from Terre Haute, Indiana. My cousins also told me I talked too fast.

Some of the cultural differences were:
bubbler WI or water fountain IN, comic books WI or funny books IN, soda WI (any kind of soft drink) or coke cola IN (any kind of soft drink), green peppers WI or mangoes IN, tomatoes WI (pronounced TOE-MAY-TOES) or tomatoes IN (pronounced TOE-MAY-TERS), same thing with potatoes. we used paper bags at the grocery store they used paper sacks. As a kid, a dictionary freak and bookworm, I cracked up over the differences. I once joked with an Apache friend about my grandmother's Hoosier version of Fry Bread, it's Wonder white bread fried in bacon grease, they cracked up too.

 The best writer I've ever read who captured the Hoosier dialect was James Whitcomb Riley. Wonderful Stories my mother read to me as a child. She had the perfect Hoosier accent.

American Accents

James Whitcomb Riley. Hoosier Author and Poet.
FREE Kindle books.

plus American English vs. British English

Funny British English vs American English.

20 Words Brits and Americans Say Differently

I Don't Understand AMERICAN ENGLISH!!!!!

Navajo fry bread: yum with mutton, hatch green chilis, and onions.  

Good Fry Bread demo, however, Navajo Rez uses mutton, not beef.

Apache food exchange ceremony

Hopi Blue Corn Piki
Blue corn Hopi piki bread is pale blue in color. It reminds me of eating communion wafers. Light airy touch to the tongue. Very thin and wispy. Crisp but paper thin.

Navajo Food Drying

What's Cooking: Three Sisters Stew

This stew is so good on cold days. Corn beans and squash.

Acorn Soup
Apache acorn soup is an Apache tradition also. Couldn’t find an Apache video but I ate the soup during a traditional dinner on the Whiteriver Apache Rez.  Nutty flavor tastes like walnuts rather than peanuts.

Corn Chowder Navajo

Sumac Berry pudding Navajo

Mexican Posole
Mexican Traditional Posole (Poe-so-lay) soup or stew. Wonderful. Warms you up. Very spicy or if you're afraid don't add so many spices. I like it hot and spicey.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Murder@ the Black Mesa Café (Book 1) Chapters 1-15 SAMPLE

the Black Mesa

A Minerva Doyle Mystery (Book 1)
 Marty Knox
 “In every land,
Hardness is in the north of it,
Softness in the south,
Industry in the east,
And fire and inspiration in the west.”
Irish saying
Copyright 2018
Martha Knox
All rights reserved.
White Barn Books Inc.
1301 Walnut Street
Golden City MO 64748


Chapter 1 March

“Everything revolves around bread and death.”
Yiddish Proverb

“Geez, I had to give everything except a DNA sample and a pint of blood to sign my contract. My brain hurts,” I said to my hubby as I jammed my seat belt tight. Thanks to Arizona’s conflict with the Federal government, my briefcase bulged with Homeland Security documents; transcripts, an FBI fingerprint check, birth certificate, social security card, and my passport. “Let’s not eat dinner in a town with cement tepees as its major tourist attraction.”
“Minnie, why not try the Mom and Pop diner we spied off of I-40, by the turnoff to old Route 66?” Michael suggested.
“Excellent idea. I’m sweaty, thirsty and exhausted.” I leaned against the headrest. “A cool glass of sweet tea is what I need right now.”
We drove up to the Black Mesa Café, a burnt-red stone building. Emblazoned on the bay window a hand-drawn sign announced Home of the Crazy Burro. Signs attached to the cinder block walls advertised Coca-Cola, Texaco, Camel Cigarettes, Beeman’s Chewing Gum, even Route 66. I couldn’t escape tacky.
Michael opened the door of the Café for me. A blast of frigid air welcomed me. Delicious smells washed over me from a mahogany counter laden with fresh pies. Magnificent antique beveled glass mirrors decorated the wall.
Perched on a red leather stool, I twisted and twirled the chrome shoe kicks with my back to the crowd. An auburn-haired waitress in faded jeans, cowboy boots, and an Arizona Cardinals’ polo dropped two menus in front of us.
“Welcome to the Black Mesa Café. What’ll you want to drink?” She inquired. She smiled with pleasant warmth, no fake server grin. Not much makeup other than a swipe of smoky eye shadow, a dash of brick-colored lipstick, and a spatter of freckles showing on tanned skin.
“Rose, she’ll have sweet tea, and I need coffee, no sugar,” Michael responded as he observed her ID tag. He noticed everyone’s name.
He pointed with his chin to a dusty corner in the rear of the diner. We scooted over to the cluttered red Formica and chrome table. With a flourish, he stacked dishes in a neat pile and wiped the top off with a wet bar towel someone had left. He had a mischievous temperament that suited his optimistic nature. It was impossible for him to stay serious for long. We’d go to a strange café. Before I realized it, he poured water and refilled cups for customers. He used to embarrass me, but since most restaurant owners didn’t fuss, neither did I.
“Okay, enough of the musical chairs,” Rose teased. She set chips, homemade salsa, and our drinks on our table.
“Minnie wants the Crazy Burro, red sauce, guacamole and sour cream on the side, and I’ll have the Cowboy Burger with fries,” Michael said.
As we waited for our food, we played our favorite guessing game. Both of us sought to outdo the other with a fantastic imaginary profile of our fellow diners. As a retired ATF agent Michael loved to scrutinize people.
“Look at that customer at the counter in dirty Carhartts. He smells of sulfur and brimstone. Is he the devil’s apprentice? Come here to grab an unwitting soul?” Michael said.
The sooty man slouched over a burger and fries, gobbling up the meal as if he had to run out the exit. The workman slurped up his drink and banged the empty cup for a refill. He shot a glare at the sizeable noisy group in the rear corner.
“Welder, in a hurry to return to the job site,” I predicted. “Face, neck, and hands tanned, dotted with pinhole scabs, but his forehead from his eyebrows up is white. Tiny burn holes in his dungarees from the sparks. His sleeves blackened from the welding rod. He’s wearing thick steel-toed shoes. Needs protection from an iron bar dropped on his foot.”
“Identify Mr. Cowboy over there. The one with the mustachio and $200 Stetson,” I said at my turn to challenge him.
Michael inspected the guy. “Knife pleated jeans tucked into spit-shined boots, starched ironed long-sleeved shirt, black vest, and a bolo tie. Gun at his waist. It is Arizona. Legal to carry a firearm. A badge on his waist pocket. Yep, he’s the local law.” Easy guess. The man placed his palm near the weapon and shifted to inspect us as he paid his bill.
“Our score one to one. Even. Your round, loser pays for lunch,” I said.
“Do her. The senior in the next booth surrounded by a circle of kinfolk,” he said.
A sizable clan took up the entire back corner of the coffee shop. I watched the group dynamic. They gazed with rapt attention as the white-haired elder commanded their silence. The sun-beaten weathered woman pointed her arthritic bony finger at each individual. She spoke in a dry, raspy tone.
“Every one of you is after my money. I brought my updated will right here in my pocketbook. You’re not entitled to a damn thing unless you support me. I need help. I can revise it whenever I choose. Lawyer Smith is helpful since I pay him a packet of cash every month. I’ve got the paperwork tied up nice and legal: land, mineral rights, and grazing leases.” The crone’s voice blasted over the diners, as a baby whimpered.
Most individuals ducked their heads, ignored the loud outburst and struggled to focus on their food.
“She’s someone’s parent,” I speculated. “Holds them in her tight fist. They're afraid to blink in case she leaves them nothing in her will. Their mom must hide something important in her purse. She holds onto it for dear life. I detest emotional blackmail. My answer, it's a dysfunctional dynasty in action. I’ll wager mommy pits siblings against each other to examine them squirm.”
Rose arrived with our food. The game over, I dove into my Crazy Burro.
“Homemade salsa, handmade tortilla, and fresh guacamole,” I said while I entered foodie heaven with my first morsel. Michael couldn’t talk with his mouth full, so he saluted me in approval. We chewed in comfortable silence as dishes clattered around us in the busy Café. A little later Michael sprawled out in the seat and stretched his shirt over his jeans.
“Terrific burger. Add this diner to our list,” he said.
On our honeymoon last summer, we traveled across the United States in a Winnebago RV. As we checked out historical sites and quirky towns, we ate at mom and pop diners across the United States. Then we wrote our favorites onto the Route 66 Diner List.
Shouts of dismay from the extended clan in the next booth interrupted us. A baby shrieked. Plates and cups crashed to the floor. Our elderly matriarch passed out on the dinner table. When I punched 911 on my phone, the dispatcher knew the exact location.
Michael raced over to the elderly victim, while helpless relatives fluttered around her. Only a tall, slender lady beside the vulnerable old woman kept calm.
“Can you settle your household while Michael helps?” I requested. Their baby’s wails were ringing in my ears.
“Mother?” The fashionable lady patted the victim’s hand.
The mother's head rolled back unresponsive to her daughter’s urgent query. So Michael laid the elderly woman onto the bench. He cleared her airway and checked her pulse. I dealt with the relatives as he performed CPR. A siren screeched nearby.
I stood up and pulled our chairs into the banquet room. “Help me remove the tables. The EMTs need room,” I instructed the gawkers.
Rose stepped forward. “Richard. Victor. Flynn. Ed. Move stuff out of the way now. Let’s go.” She snapped her fingers in impatience at the most prominent man in front, and the others soon followed his lead. They obeyed her as if she were a Chief Master Sergeant. Guys shoved tables out of the aisle, and the gals stacked chairs.
The siren stopped. A wiry pony-tailed EMT burst through the door. She wore navy scrubs, with a Stethoscope wrapped around her neck, and ugly practical cop shoes.
“The woman passed out. Pulse thready, face clammy. I cleared the airway,” Michael said.
He stepped back out of her way as she clicked open a gunmetal gray suitcase packed with equipment. The EMT took over the patient. Three more EMTs dressed in heavy black and yellow boots rolled a Striker folding bed through the room. After they eased the platform a few inches above the floor, they lifted the victim onto it.
I observed the organized rescue as the EMTs wheeled the elderly matriarch through the door. The family gathered up her belongings and followed them.
“Thank you for helping Mother,” the elegant woman announced to the crowd before she left.
“Everybody. Listen. Let’s say a prayer for Mrs. Steven,” Rose said. People went silent and bowed their heads. “Dear God, please hold her in your hand. Keep her safe on her journey. Thy will be done. Amen.”
Rose looked around at the chaos. “Leave your tickets at the cash register. Dinner’s on me. Thanks for your help,” she said.
I pushed the chairs under the table. Soon other customers helped straighten up the restaurant. Women cleared dishes. Men moved heavy tables back in place. Someone grabbed a broom and swept up the EMTs’ debris. People worked with quiet efficiency.
The Black Mesa Café looked as if nothing had gone wrong, but an odor of medicinal alcohol and ozone wafted in the air. Michael and I lingered.
“Oh my God, I need a drink,” Rose said. “I’ve never had this much trouble since I inherited the place from my Dad.”
She gathered up the dinner tickets strewn around the cash register. During the confusion, people had thrown piles of twenty-dollar bills on the counter. Rose wiped her eyes with a napkin.
“This town, I told them dinner’s on me. They didn’t have to leave any money.”
“I’m glad her daughter had the common sense to calm the family,” I said.
“Yeah, it is a good thing Mrs. Steven had Gloria here, she’s the brains of the outfit,” said Rose. “The Steven’s clan goes for each other’s throats, but they come together in troubled times.”
“Are you going to be okay?” I asked as I patted her shoulder.
“Tomorrow’s another day. I hope Mrs. Steven comes out of the hospital okay. God willing,” she said. “Nothing a good night’s sleep and a hearty breakfast can’t cure.”

Chapter 2 March

“You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.”
Yiddish Proverb

Michael woke me up the next morning with a scratchy passionate kiss. As he hugged me the odor of his Old Spice aftershave, lingered on my skin. His black Irish hair inherited from a long-dead Celtic ancestor stuck straight out. I curled his thick wet mop my fingers. Disconcerting cobalt blue eyes observed the world in mild surprise at the wickedness he saw. Cursed with a dimple in his chin, and a cheery lopsided grin his personality radiated mirth. The only thing that kept him from being an Adonis was his squashed potato nose, which broken in a donnybrook, never healed right.
Michael was pleasant to shop for, dark wash or indigo jeans, cotton socks, and comfortable leather moccasins. His plain pocket undershirts were navy blue or black. I bought them by the six-pack. Michael snapped on his Wiley Coyote cartoon wristwatch, Swiss Army knife, and he was ready. Despite his early morning neat habits, he’d unravel until relaxed scruffiness won out by evening.
“What team are you supporting today?” I said.
“How ‘bout Arizona Diamondbacks?” he said. The randomness of his hat choices made a genial conversation starter with strangers.
“I’m starving. I need coffee now. The fancy gourmet mud they serve at this Bed and Breakfast sucks. Too bitter, and burnt. Hop to it. I’ll wait for you downstairs Minnie mine.” He snapped his towel.
For years, school readiness was my priority when I shared a bathroom with my kids. My cheeks were fever bright red at awkward moments, so I never needed blush. A touch of my favorite lipstick, a swish of eyeshadow completed a simple makeup routine. Dressed in my casual wardrobe of the day, boots, jeans and a sweater, I stuffed my hair under a straw sun hat.
I met Michael at the bottom of the handcrafted hundred-year-old oak staircase. The pastries and OJ offered at the Bed and Breakfast didn’t fit my standard for breakfast. Although Michael’s sweet tooth mandated him to grab a handful of muffins for a snack afterward. We headed to the Black Mesa Café. Michael and I sat at our table in the back of the restaurant. He knew what I wanted to eat.
“Morning, Rose. No menu. Denver omelet for her, side of fruit, English muffin dry, salsa. Two over easy, bacon, crispy hash browns, sourdough for me. Black coffee, lots,” Michael said.
“Pardon me, may I talk to you for a minute?” said the town Marshal as he tipped his Stetson. “Ma’am, sorry I’m interrupting your breakfast, but I’d like to ask your spouse a few quick questions.” Michael grabbed a cup of coffee and sat at the counter.
Rose came with our breakfast. “I’ll have iced coffee, nothing fancy, a plain glass of ice with coffee. I’ll need cream too,” I said. “How are you feeling?”
“I’m fine. No sleep, but I’ll OD on coffee. It’ll get me through the breakfast rush,” she said.
“How’s Mrs. Steven?” I said.
“She’s at the county hospital in Show Low. Nice of your hubby to step in to help. She has a big family, but they don’t have common sense. They eat here every Payday Friday. I memorize what everyone eats and drinks. They’re my regulars. Although they didn’t sit in their usual spots,” Rose replied.
“Well, I hope she’s okay. Kind of shook us up,” I informed her. I hoped to pull out local gossip. “My husband’s retired. I start a new job at the college in August. We’re looking for a home to buy.”
“Are you LDS?” asked Rose.
“No, why?”
“Most LDS members buy a house by the Temple in Snowflake. Other folks settle in our town. They don’t fit in with the high and mighty too much,” Rose said, so no one overheard her.
“Is the Steven’s family LDS?” I said.
“Mrs. Steven doesn’t approve of Mormons. She thinks it’s the devil’s cult. She feuds with her son Victor. He married an LDS woman. It doesn’t bother me what people believe as long as they work hard, stay honest, and abide by their word,” she said.
“Couldn’t help overhearing,” a robust gray-haired man leaned over my booth. “Here’s my card. I can find you a place out east if you want something quiet, with land. Call me when you’re available,” he said.
I filed the realtor’s card in my planner as Michael returned from his discussion with the town Marshal. Michael dug into his food.
“So what did the Marshal need?” I said.
“Dubois thanked me for my help,” he said. “The Marshal commended me because I kept a cool head. The EMTs lived at her house. Two of her daughters are court-appointed caretakers. Gloria’s her power of attorney. Dubois thinks they’re a pack of vultures waiting for the elderly lady to die.”
“No wonder Mrs. Steven threatens to disinherit them. I don’t blame her for not trusting her family with her welfare. Rose told me the family argued amongst them. I guess Mrs. Steven didn’t endorse their church choices,” I filled him in on what I knew.
“Religion or lack of it can start an argument in any family. Dubois wants us to stop by his office when we’re done eating breakfast,” he said.
“What for? Why us?” I said.
“We’re witnesses. Can’t blame him. Normal cop business. Just routine info,” Michael reassured me. “He’s an honest guy.”


Chapter 3 March

“Whoever says A, must also say B.” German Proverb

We strolled to the Marshal’s office, a remodeled grocery store. As we entered a foyer and turned right to an intake window, the aroma of oranges lingered in the room. Full-length white drapes covered the plate glass windows. Gold lettering spelled out titles of town officials.
“Good morning Peg. We’re looking for Marshal Dubois, he asked us to stop by after we finished our breakfast,” Michael said. He had sharp eyes. The nameplate on her desk gave her name away.
“Oh,” she fussed. “He didn’t tell me. Let me see if he’s in, please wait here,” she disappeared into another office. Chubby with a genuine welcome smile, Peg measured five feet tall on a good day. Her permed hair arranged in tight ringlets. I remembered personal details but had a tough time with names. So I guess it evened out Michael and me.
“Charles, Mr. and Mrs. Doyle say they have an appointment. Did you forget to tell me? I have to keep track of your schedule on the computer now,” she scolded him.
“Bring them in the office. I’ll get with you later on my calendar,” he said. The Marshal wasn’t concerned with obeying her wishes.
“Hi, take a seat. Ma’am right here. Michael over there,” he gestured towards two large rocking chairs.
He used a claw-footed round oak dining table as a desk, which sported a traditional black Bakelite landline telephone. An antique brass barometer displayed the local weather. The Underwood manual typewriter rested on a buffet with a new stiff white piece of paper rolled into it, ready to go.  A worn Stetson hung on an elk antler hat rack. Pricey Cowboy Artist pictures covered the walls.
When he took his hat off, Charles Dubois’ hair stood straight up in a 1950’s buzz cut. Shaggy eyebrows bristled over his wrinkled tawny brown eyes. His leathery skin told of life outdoors instead of stuck in a patrol car. He had the look of a hunter. If he was an animal, he could have passed for a wild mountain lion that still roamed the Mogollon Rim. His hands gnarled with large bony knuckles. An heirloom train engineer’s gold pocket watch peeked out of his leather vest. Crisp ironed blue jeans, boot cut, stuffed into the black mirror finish squared toed western boots. A magnificent braided horsehair bolo tie with a cabochon of copper-bearing Azurite completed his sober demeanor.
“I’m Charles Dubois, Marshal of Black Mesa,” he pronounced his name with a soft C. He spoke with a faint Canadian accent. He shook Michael’s hand and nodded in my direction. “The hospital called me. Mrs. Steven didn’t make it. She died last night. I hope you’re able to help me with behaviors you observed when this incident happened.”
“Do you mind if I record you?” he said as Peg bustled with the machine. “Saves me writing. I have arthritis in my hands. Peg does most of my paperwork for me. She’ll transcribe what you say when we’re done. Read it. Make any changes you see fit, and then sign the statement. ”
“I’m glad to help in any way. But we arrived yesterday, and don’t know anybody in town,” Michael said as Peg scurried out, her arms piled with folders. 
“Give me your names and where you’re from, the basics,” Charles said after he spouted legalize into the recorder.
“Michael Sean Doyle. Grew up in Miami, Arizona. Graduated from NAU, joined the Marines. Entered the ATF after I left the Marines. Got divorced. Stayed with the ATF  ‘till I retired. Married Minnie. I wanted to move back to Northern Arizona. I missed the open skies. The Valley lifestyle annoys me, too citified for my taste. We took my boys camping up here, and we had a terrific time. As soon as her old contract finishes at the end of May, we’ll live up here in the mountains,” Michael stated.
“Minerva Helen Doyle, friends and family call me Minnie. I’m from Joplin, Missouri. I graduated from Missouri Southern State College, with a B.S. in Math. Divorced, left Joplin with my kids after the tornado wiped out my home and my teaching job at the high school. I moved to Arizona. Earned a Master’s degree in Computer Science from Arizona State University. I taught at Central Arizona College and met Michael there. I recently signed a contract to teach at the local college this fall. We preferred a rural lifestyle in Northern Arizona,” I said.
“Mid-west folks have common sense. I want witnesses who perceive obscure details. The oddest fact could contribute to the investigation,” Charles said.
Michael related his observations. “During a family dinner, Mrs. Steven gave them a real dressing down and upset them. Helpless relatives. They stood frozen and shocked like most civilians. Then I rushed over to her when she passed out. Figured I’d better do CPR ‘till the EMTs came on board. Concentrated on keeping her breathing and her airway open. The EMTs got there ASAP, and then I let them do their job.”
“Not surprising they arrived there fast because most of them eat lunch at the Café since the county keeps a tab going. They’re called out often on her,” Charles commented and then asked me. “Mrs. Doyle, did you notice unusual speech or behavior?”
“The relatives weren’t happy to sit at the same table with her. She pulled a fat document out of her purse and kept saying she was seeing a lawyer. The family’s mother controlled and dominated them. Rose told me Mrs. Steven didn’t approve of their lifestyles,” I said.
“The coroner will give me an official mortality report. She was rushed to the hospital with bronchitis and pneumonia last month. A couple times, she fainted at the grocery store and church. Yesterday at the Café, I appreciated your help. Most people wouldn’t have bothered,” Charles said.
“I did my duty. Phone me if you need more information. Minnie and I are at the Bed and Breakfast, room four,” Michael said as he shook Charles’ hand.
“Why don’t you two stop over to my house for supper around five, so we can talk more? Here are the directions,” Charles said.
The Marshal drew Michael a rough map and explained directions Arizona style. “Easy to find. Turn left on Aspen Lane. Keep driving when you hit Third Street, go past the cornfield, over the orange cattle guard, to the dead end. That’s my house. Can’t miss it. Big Adobe. Red Metal Roof. Built it myself.”
“We’ve eaten restaurant food for the last two days,” Michael said. “I’d like a home-cooked meal.”


Chapter 4 March

“A man without dinner means two for supper.” Irish Proverb

Michael and I left the Bed and Breakfast at 4:15 p.m. He drove while I navigated. I hated using a GPS although he loved it. The voice grated on my nerves. Half the time it sent me on an unconventional route. Give me two cross streets and a map, and I can locate any place. I’m left/right dyslexic when it comes to verbal directions, but I can sense North, South, East, and West in my bones.
After turning off the main road, I pointed to a dirt track. Farmland on the roadside smelled loamy and fertile. I noticed green corn shoots poked up from the ground. An ancient cottonwood tree loomed over the red-roofed adobe house. Marshal Dubois’ home dead-ended on a cliff that overlooked the rest of the town. Michael parked the car. When I stepped out of the vehicle, I gazed across the desert valley to the looming Black Mesa volcanic outcrop and the lake beside it.
As I walked up the stone path, two lazy Australian Shepherds by the front of the house didn’t even get up to bark to warn of strangers approaching.
“Don’t mind them, those hound’s job is to eat and sleep,” Charles greeted us at the door. “Come on in, there’s more danger tripping over them than getting bit by them.”
“Take a seat. Supper’s ready,” he said.
He pulled out a massive wooden stool at the inlaid Mexican tile counter for me. The breakfast bar wrapped around the room ending at the kitchen stove. Cilantro, beans, and intoxicating spicy meat cooking in pots made my mouth water. Charles handed Michael and I each a glass of fresh iced lemonade, decorated with a sprig of mint and a lime wedge.
“Hope you enjoy Mexican. You don’t mind spices, do you?” Charles asked.
“Minnie loves spices and hot sauces, me not so much. I’ll try a bite once though,” Michael said.
“Hon, welcome Michael and Minerva Doyle. They’re moving to Black Mesa. He helped out with the incident at the Café. Let’s eat supper before it cools off. We can discuss Mrs. Steven later,” Charles said.
“Hi, I’m Sunny, Charles’ wife. Glad he invited you. I never know who’s going to drop in, so I make plenty of food to go around for visitors. Enough left for my widow ladies too,” she said. She wiped her hands on an over-sized cobbler’s apron. Many hearty meals stained the front. Underneath she wore jeans, a western shirt, and cowboy boots. Her one splash of feminine apparel was a silver waterfall necklace and handmade Zuni turquoise earrings.
Charles piled our plates with fresh tortillas, refried beans, spicy fajitas Hatch green chilies, and grilled onions. “Here, try my homemade salsa. Folks around here call it Gunslinger.”
Michael’s eyes teared. “Wow. What a bite.”
“You have a baby’s palate, son,” Charles teased.
I doused salsa on my plate and munched away. Michael couldn’t understand how I ate tongue blistering food. I loved it: horseradish, wasabi, chilies, and the hotter, the better.
“These beans have a savory tang. What’s the secret?” I asked.
“Charles puts plenty of Tequila in them when they’re cooking,” Sunny said.
Michael handed the Marshal a business card, “Who’s this guy? Is he reliable?”
“Paragon Realty. Ed Sanders. He’s lived here for a couple years, from New York City. Quiet for a city fellow. N0 dealings with the law, or complaints from the locals, but read the fine print when you sign a contract with him,” Charles said.
After we had eaten, we passed into the living room. Michael and I sunk into massive lodgepole pine chairs while Sunny and Charles took the gigantic couch. A polished slice of a tree trunk served as a coffee table. Charles propped his feet on the furniture. Sunny knocked them off with her arm and gave him a look.
Charles said. “I’m sorry that Mrs. Steven died. She worked hard as a man and did the heavy ranch chores. Folks around town say she wore the pants in the family.”
“She had to stay strong. Her husband was killed in a mine accident when the kids were tiny,” Sunny said. “She raised five young children herself there’s the oldest boy, Victor; twins, Loretta and Deborah; youngest boy, Flynn; and youngest girl, Gloria. It makes for an extensive family. They’ve done well for themselves.”
“When men give their word an honest man’s handshake says he’s honor bound,” Charles explained. “The Steven’s bunch made trouble because lots of spoken agreements turned out lousy.”
Sunny said, “Townsfolk here get the scandal out quick if someone doesn’t hold to their word, or tries to trick folks. Most people don’t trust any of that Steven’s clan except for Flynn; he’s a ‘good hand’ same as his papa. Flynn’s the family outcast because a couple of the relatives take after their Momma.”
“I needed to alert you, nobody makes pacts with the Steven’s bunch unless there’s a lawyer involved. Count your fingers after you shake hands with them,” Charles said. “That’s why I’m having an autopsy conducted on Mrs. Steven. I received approval from Holbrook to have her examined by the Pima County Office of Medical Examiner. It will take six to eight weeks for all the paperwork. I’ll piss off the clan, but it’s what I have to work out. Doesn’t call for you, me, the EMTs, the Black Mesa Café, or Navajo County being blamed because of the circumstances surrounding her death. I’m covering my bases.”


Chapter 5 March

“You scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours.” German Proverb

“Minerva, let me give you a tour of our home,” Sunny said.
She showed me a large formal living room with dead animal heads galore on the walls. Not something I’d consider a decorating style, but it matched the rest of her Southwest theme.
She said, “Charles and the boys go shooting elk in the fall. Does Michael?”
“He likes to fish,” I said. I knew Michael had enough excitement in the past hunting men.
“In summer we’ve got animals to take care of, alfalfa and corn to grow. It’s an all-day job keeping the crows off our plants. But in the autumn I can vegetables and fruit,” she said.
“We use a whole log in there when winter comes. We’re glad to have it,” she said. Sunny pointed to a mammoth floor to ceiling fireplace at one end of the living room.
In the next room, I discovered a lovely organized haven. Rows of flat drawers filled up with cloth. A large folding table on the other side held Sunny’s sewing machine and cutting mats. Her long-arm quilter took up the other wall. She had an entire walk-in closet full of supplies.
“I do more work in the winter. It’ s my quilting time,” she said.
“I’m envious. I love your workroom, you’ve given me ideas for mine,” I said in admiration.
“But I’m frustrated,” she said. “I wrote a recipe book for the ladies in the Altar Society, but my computer went blank. Every time Charles touches electronics, they die, so he’s no help. Neither are the kids.”
“I’m teaching Computer Science at the college in the Fall. Let me take a quick look at it,” I said. “First, check to see if it’s plugged in because cords can loosen up by tripping over them or pulling on them.”
When I pushed the plugs in, the screen opened. I detected one messy list on her hard drive. No separate folders.
“Your recipe book is still in here. Do you back up your files?” I asked.
“Back up?”
“My recommendation, buy a flash drive for your recipe book. You need another for your pictures. Putting files in folders will clean up your hard drive so it won’t run so slow. In addition, you can order external storage to protect your computer. Backup your work weekly,” I said.
“What’s a flash drive?” She asked.
Bless her heart, I saw her eyes glazed from too much technical jargon. From my experience, the only dumb questions are the ones you don’t ask.
“My hostess gift for an excellent meal will be two thumb drives. They’re small and portable. Plug them into your computer, and I’ll teach you how to make a secure copy of your latest work. A free lesson,” I said.
“Great. Charles doesn’t go near computers. He tells me to ask the kids for help, but they show me so fast I don’t understand,” she said.
“At least you aren’t afraid to turn it on. One of my students took forever to touch a computer, terrified she’d break it,” I said.
“I’m worried. Peg helps Charles with tech stuff but he needs to learn how to use technology, or else he’s out of a job. Charles must save his records at his office and then e-mail the file to the county,” she said. “The county court insists on storing law paperwork on a computer. The County Sheriff’s department upgraded two years ago and even has computers in the patrol cars.”
“I can do consulting work for him part-time if he’s got the okay,” I said.
We continued the tour of her home. Her bedroom, an oasis of calm, with a stunning blue and cream handmade wedding ring quilt on the bed. In the boy’s hideout, sturdy rodeo patterned coverlets decorated their lodgepole pine bunk beds. Last, in her daughter’s room, a 1930’s cowgirl themed bedspread on an antique four poster bed surprised me.
“The boys do rodeo every Friday. My daughter likes gymkhana. My kids rode horses since they could walk,” she said.
She brought me back to the family room where the guys were engrossed in the fishing channel.
“Charles, Minerva says she’s glad to help you organize your computer files at the office. You need somebody that knows what they’re doing,” she said.
“I did consulting work for the Maricopa County Sheriff’s office. I have a fingerprint card, and I’ve had a thorough background check done,” I explained.
Charles admitted, “I’m not into computers. Peg does that for me. Navajo County has more square miles than the eastern states or even foreign countries. The outskirts of town offer many places for misbehaving folks to hide. Let’s talk at my office. Give me the details. I’ll see how much I got left over in my budget. I can hire a consultant. Lord knows I need help,” he said.
While Sunny and I did the dishes and cleaned up the kitchen, I made friends with her. I liked her right away. She was not prissy. She struck me as funny, honest and unafraid to learn new ideas. She matched her name, an enthusiastic woman no matter what life threw at her. Sunny made it her mission to feed the hungry, clothe less fortunate children, and comfort the grieving widow.
She decorated her kitchen for comfort. It featured a Southwestern vibe from dried red chilis hanging on the wall to original Pioneer Cowboy Art. A series of black and white photos of pioneer women honored their struggle to build a home on the frontier. A woman washed clothes on a washboard while another boiled clothing over the fire. One group gathered at a quilting bee, a horsewoman in a divided skirt drove a buckboard, and last a school marm sheltered her unruly awkward charges behind her long skirts.
Michael and Charles conversed. They looked somber. Michael shook his head. Charles slammed his hand on the table. Michael gestured with the universal hand slicing a throat. What happened with those two? Sunny looked concerned. I thought they liked each other
“What’s wrong?” I asked Michael.
“Not much,” Michael said. “We were both stationed in Beirut in October 1983. We compared notes on our time stationed there. No worries.”
Michael didn’t talk much concerning his time in the Marines or the ATF. He kept himself to himself. Charles nodded in agreement, their friendship cemented. They absorbed the fishing show as if nothing happened.


Chapter 6 March

“Behind every successful rancher is a wife who works in town.” 
Cowboy Proverb

Michael and I researched the unique village before our session with the Realtor. When I stayed in Black Mesa, I had déjà vu. On the west side of town, the Rio de la Plata was dammed up to form a lake. A KOA park offered campsites for RVs. On the south side, an imposing black volcanic outcrop towered over the town. We held hands as we strolled along the country lane and listened to the wind whip through real pines, not saguaro cactus. Wildflowers popped up alongside the trail: California poppies, ox-eye daisies, and wild irises.
Horses roamed the fields and cattle munched grass. As we walked along the creek bank, we spotted animals who’d found a home. I held my nose because I smelled lots of skunks and manure.
We researched Zillow to narrow our list to four homes. Michael and I approached the Paragon Realtor’s office. I hoped the Realtor held up to a paragon of virtue.
“Ed, I’m Michael Doyle. My wife, Minerva. We’re looking for a VA approved three bedrooms, two baths, fixer-upper,” Michael informed him, as Ed pumped Michael’s hand. Michael had memorized Ed’s name from his card. I remembered he came from New York, a plus for me.
“I’m surprised at the home prices,” I said.
“It’s a quiet town. You’re lucky, before the recession, people couldn’t find a home for sale until somebody passed on, and the kids didn’t want it.” He escorted us to a pea green Land Rover, and we drove off with him on our house-hunting venture.
“When the Paper Mill by Snowflake/Taylor closed we lost good-paying jobs. Farmers and ranchers lived here for generations, so most need a side income after the harvest season,” Ed said. “People work for the county or state nowadays. Government officials saved bygone buildings after the freeway boom instead of razing them. We’re known for our original 1950’s architecture and artistic neon signage. We get visitors traveling Route 66. We’ve even had tourists from Japan taking photographs.”
Ed showed the first property. The two-story cottage with original lead glass windows tucked behind ancient cottonwood trees beckoned us. A journeyman mason had laid the mauve streaked limestone and quartz turquoise bearing rock.
Ed gave the sales pitch as he unlocked the door. “You see a historic home, built in 1870, one of the oldest houses in Black Mesa. Irish Catholic settled here after the Civil War. Men had come over in steerage. They joined the Irish Brigade on the Union side as soon as they left the boat. Soldiers who survived brought their wives and families out west away from the devastation and tragedy. They were excellent horsemen but worked as miners, lumberjacks, and stonemasons. Skills they learned in the old country.”
“It’s a classic Victorian layout. Amazing craftsmanship but outdated wiring,” Michael said.
As I stepped into the cottage, I got a weird ambiance. The hair on my neck stood up. My arms shivered with a sense of foreboding.
“Michael. Wait. Nope. I’ll wait outside until you’re done,” I said.
As the atmosphere closed in on me, I ducked through the door, relieved to stand in the sunshine. Michael teased me, but my sixth sense had saved my life when I lived in Joplin.
“Sorry Ed, not this dwelling,” I strode toward the Land Rover. “You know, and I know it’s haunted,” I said.
“130 years ago a gunman killed the town, Marshal. The tragedy left a widow with eight small kids,” Ed said.
“There’s more to it,” I stared at him. Legally he had to divulge what was wrong with the property.
“The house was a hospital during the Spanish Flu epidemic in the 1917’s, right after statehood,” Ed said.
“Let’s tour another,” Michael said.
“One without so much history,” I said.


Chapter 7 March

“He who has a farm with water and peat has the world.” Irish Proverb

Michael and I surveyed a couple more houses in town. Nothing else stirred our souls. We desired a home for the kids and grandkids to visit. Finally, Ed showed us a house minutes from the Navajo/Apache County line. He drove off Old Route 66, and then he turned on a dirt road lined with rural mailboxes and traveled up the gravel driveway.
The saltbox style house had two stories on the front, slanting to one story in the rear. A twenty-acre lot covered in old growth cedar trees rounded out the rest of the land. We investigated more outbuildings, a pair of railroad cars converted into a barn, and a small workshop next to the barn door.
Ed unlocked the front door. Wood floors flowed throughout the living room. A wall of windows faced north, so they let in sunlight not heat. On the south wall opposite the windows, floor to ceiling bookshelves rose on each side of a rugged stone fireplace. Heaven, because Michael and I were bookworms for life.
Ed said, “The children’s bedrooms run across both sides of the upstairs with Jack and Jill bathrooms. The first floor has the master bedroom/bathroom, kitchen, dining room, and an added guest bathroom. There’s a combination sewing/laundry room. The enclosed veranda goes the whole length of the house. It’s screened for summer, and with a wood stove cozy in the winter. I’ll let you folks wander around the property. Check out the basement and other buildings. Call out if you have questions, I’ll be waiting outside.” Ed finished his laid-back sales pitch.
“I love it so far. What do you think?” I said.
Michael said, “I want to examine the electric, heating, and plumbing.”
While he investigated the core mechanicals, I looked at the downstairs. A kitchen window over the sink opened out to a flower garden. I envied the new black appliances, but the solid knotty pine cabinets were too dark for my taste. I liked a fresh lighter stain. The guest bathroom took a beating from kids. Our first re-do.
As I entered a door off the kitchen, I walked into a pantry big as the sewing room. Although I much admired tons of shelving, who needs storage for an apocalypse? A person had to store a small grocery store full of food in there.
“Minnie, there’s a finished basement downstairs. The guy left his HD TV in a game room,” Michael said. “The mechanicals are up to code with a heat pump, on demand hot water heater, and new wiring panel. Let’s explore upstairs.”
A wrought iron stairway led up to the second-floor loft. Two sets of bunk beds took up the middle of each mirror image bedroom.
Ed said, “Are you curious why a huge storage pantry and enough beds for a dorm? The man, LDS, built it himself in 2000. They had four boys and three girls. That’s why they slept bunkhouse style. Father got a job in Salt Lake City after the Paper Mill closed. The wife and kids moved last year. Owner’s a motivated seller. He bought the place for cash. No mortgage, a quick close, and no bank to slow the buy.”
I felt a happy vibe in the home. I imagined I heard children’s laughter echo in the hall. “Between his kids, my kids, nieces, nephews and the grandkids, we have a big family,” I said.
“I foresee no problems with this home. Let’s put in an offer, with approval after inspection, and title search,” Michael said.
Then I decided. “Okay. I’ve got to drive back to the valley Monday. My plate’s full. Finals are coming up soon, and grades. I can’t juggle this and semester end. Can you finish the details yourself? Do you mind staying up here?”
“I’ll drive down to the motel on the weekends and help you pack up the condo. I’ve got it under control. Marines: Semper Fi.” Michael kissed me and twirled me around the dining room. He looked so happy.


Chapter 8 April through May and Memorial Day

“Don’t judge people by their relatives.” Cowboy Proverb

Michael signed the papers on his end. I faxed, emailed, and over-nighted my side of the paperwork. The home sale closed fast. No sense in dragging things we didn’t use anymore up a mountain. I sold or gave away the belongings we hadn’t used in a year, but not our books.
Because our condo lease ended, I had to stay in a motel near the college campus. On the weekends, I celebrated a second honeymoon with Michael when we snuggled in my room. Michael’s body resembled that of an Olympic swimmer, broad shoulders, narrow waist, firm butt, long legs, and five feet seven inches in western boots. After our romantic interlude, he carted our possessions up the Rim to our new residence. I missed his comforting presence next to me. Every small sound unnerved me. I hugged my pillow and watched old romantic black and white movies until I fell asleep.
I settled into a monastic routine and finished my school paperwork in record time. Student’s final exams were over. I submitted my grades, left my phone number with the Dean’s secretary, and took a deep breath of freedom from academia.
I glanced at my phone, ninety-three degrees at 5 a.m. in the Valley. The Weather Channel predicted Memorial Day to achieve one hundred and five degrees for the holiday. I hustled to leave town early Friday morning because by noon the highway up to the White Mountains turned into a parking lot.
The freeway was wide open to traffic. I turned off the AC when I neared Payson since the steep climb was tough on a car’s engine. The road from the Valley starts at 1200 feet above sea level rises to over 7000 feet in Heber/Overgaard. Then it ascends over the Mogollon Plateau past Show/Low and reaches Holbrook on I-40. I took the shortcut to Old Route 66 and Black Mesa and made it up the hill in four hours. It is a 235-mile trip for foreigners, four and a half hours the Arizona way.
I pulled into the parking lot of the Black Mesa Café, my new home. Cedar trees sharp scent mingled with fresh, dry air. I shivered. My damp sleeveless top and hiking shorts stuck to the car seat when coming from the blazing hot valley. However, sensing a temperate drop of 30 to 40 degrees in the early morning high desert plateau I wish I wore jeans and a t-shirt. My arms covered in goose pimples, and my stomach grumbled in hunger. I walked in and saw Michael at our favorite booth.
I gave him a hug. “You’ve found a home. Your name on it yet?”. Even though I wanted to devour him on sight, but I presented the façade of a proper teacher in the Café.
“The locals hang out here. I sit here, drink coffee, listen to gossip, and keep my eye on the characters. How was your trip up?” He kissed me long and hard in front of everyone. He didn’t care what people thought.
“Traffic was okay coming up the mountain. I left early. Everyone slowed to a crawl going through Star Valley,” I said.
“Star Valley, a speed trap for sure. Camera catch you at ninety miles an hour through town?” He teased as he tousled my sweaty hair.
I clenched the steering wheel as I drove up the mountains. When the tops of ancient 300-year-old trees stand level with the pavement, I didn’t dare gaze sideways out the window. I kept my eyes focused on the road ahead until I drove past Heber/Overgaard.
“How did the movers do?” I asked.
“Great. I arranged the furniture where you wanted it. Left the kitchen, pantry, sewing room and closets because I figured you’d want to organize them. However, I got my coffee pot going, grill set up, tool shed organized, and barn cleaned out. If I’m lucky, I won’t need to do much remodeling or improvements on the house,” he said.
“Any problems?”
“Nope. Made the bed up,” Michael whispered in my ear, and with a naughty grin, he pecked me on my cheek.
“Have you eaten yet?” I asked. I presumed he’d eaten meals out while I lived in Casa Grande.
“Sunny and Charles looked after me. Drank coffee with Charles’ group of guys, fended for myself at brunch, but they had me over for supper every night. He’s a fascinating man. I trusted him right off,” Michael said. “He’s French Canadian, from Montreal, met Sunny when he was on leave from the UN peacekeepers. They married and moved closer to her family. She’s descended from the original Irish Catholic pioneers.”
Michael depended on no individual and took time to form acquaintances. His few close comrades in the Marines and ATF felt the same. If my survival depended on men who take care of my back, I’d trust only them.
He waved Rose over to our table. “I want chicken fried steak, taters, white gravy, and salad with blue cheese,” he said. “What’s the vegetable?”
“Green beans,” Rose explained.
“Skip it,” he said.
“Glad to see you back home, hon. what can I fix you for lunch?” Rose asked.
“Patty Melt, baked potato if you have it, and I’ll eat Michael’s green beans, salad, french with an F not ranch with an R,” I said.
“That’s funny. The two sound alike. I mix people’s dressing up if they have a thick southern accent. You want iced coffee with cream on the side. Correct?” She said.
“Yes, how did you remember?” I said, dumbfounded that she could recall what I drank more than a month ago.
“Oh, I recall everything my usual customers eat,” she said as she disappeared to place our order in the kitchen.
“Thanks for getting the taxes done. Were they too complicated?” I said. Michael and I had gotten married the previous summer, so this year was our first tax return together.
“Found a local person. Richard Fitzroy. Lives across the street from us. He was a corporate accountant at the Paper Mill. Now he’s retired and owns a tax business, meticulous,” Michael said.
“Have you received news on our unfortunate little old lady?” I said.
“Not yet. Charles says it takes six to eight weeks to get a postmortem report. The Marshal relies on Pima County. I used them before in the past on investigations by the border, slow but they produce excellent work,” he said.
Before he retired, he worked undercover for the ATF. With outdoor-bronzed skin and untamed curly black hair, he could pass for any Mediterranean or Latin ethnic group. He kept his slight gapped toothed smile because expensive dental work can give an operative away. Michael explained minimal details of his old cases. Too gruesome from what I’ve learned. My legal ability, I gathered hard to find cyber forensic information, behavior patterns, and statistical data then matched the results to criminals and a crime scene.
“How’s the family taking their Mother’s death?” I said.
Michael said, “They meet every Friday night for dinner. I listen to their mealtime arguments and take notes.”
“You’d think they’d get the creeps eating at the same table where she died,” I said.
“They leave Mrs. Steven’s chair and place setting empty in her memory. Sit in the same places at the back booth. I’ll figure the guilty party out,” he said as he took out his pocket-sized notebook. Michael absorbed their names.
He made a circle with his forefinger. “Seated counter-clockwise around the booth: Gloria, Richard (Gloria’s husband), (twins) Deborah and Loretta. Flynn, (Flynn’s wife) Jennifer, (baby) Lizabeth, (Victor’s wife) Pearl, and Victor. Rose told me they eat and drink the same thing when they come into the restaurant. She’s got their order ready when they walk in the door.”
“Guess what else. The whole clan lives on our street,” he said.
“What, how did that happen?” I said.
“The fellow whose house we purchased didn’t lose his job. Victor forced him to move. He quarreled with Victor Steven, the oldest brother, over horses grazing on Victor’s territory. That’s a no-go around here. Charles said both men sued each other ‘till one got fed up and left town,” Michael said.
“Great, I hope they leave us alone,” I said.


Chapter 9 June

“Always take a good look at what you’re about to eat. It’s not so important to know what it is, but it’s sure crucial to know what it was.” Cowboy Proverb

While knee-deep in boxes, I heard the doorbell. Michael hadn’t returned from the store. I found the coffee he made, but we were out of sugar. Had he forgotten his keys? I yanked the door open.

A tall, slender, elegant woman smiled at me. “Hello, I’m your neighbor Mrs. Gloria Steven-Fitzroy. You’re new to the neighborhood. The Black Mesa Chamber of Commerce has a packet of information with places to shop, and coupons for local stores. I brought treats from artisan businesses who are members of the Chamber. Am I interrupting you? Is this a good time?” Gloria said. She glanced around at my mess. Great, my home’s a wreck.
“No. Yes. I’m trying to get things straightened up. Unpacking and organizing; last in first out. Come on in, I’ve got sweet tea or Coke,” I said.
“I don’t drink sugary drinks. Bottled water is perfect for me,” Gloria said. She was one of those slender women who pulled off higher priced Nordstrom’s clothes as if they were designer originals. Skin made flawless by artifice, I recognized a demanding makeup job. Not a sliver of hair escaped her cultivated blonde French twist. Her demeanor was out of sync with the outdoorsy pioneer women’s image I had met so far in Black Mesa.
 “I’ve got a case of bottled water around here somewhere. Give me a sec. Please, make yourself comfortable,” I said as I shoved a pile of books off the sofa.
She brushed the couch off and sat, her legs crossed at the ankles. She wore pale hose and tan spectator pumps.
I resembled a Phoenix Suns’ fan girl fashion plate dressed in a baseball cap, hair sticking out, faded jeans, an old T-shirt, orange socks and purple sneakers. I took the basket of goodies to the kitchen.
“These treats appear yummy,” I called out to Gloria, as I ran to the pantry to get a water bottle.
At least I had the semblance of order in the house. Though, I noticed she had snooped through the living room while I left. It might look messy, but I was aware of the contents of each pile.
“So, where do you live?” I asked. Not too close I hope.
“The Steven family possesses most of the land around here. Richard and I are across the street in the large white colonial. Mother lived in the old ranch house. My oldest brother Victor owns all the grazing pasture, an alfalfa field, and cornfield along with the log cabin next to your property. Also, he has two horse barns on the other side of his house. You have a common lot line with him.”
“My twin sisters, Loretta and Deborah, live in Show Low near the hospital. My brother, Flynn resides at the end of our road in the double-wide manufactured home. Thank goodness no one can see him from the highway. He doesn’t bring up neighborhood property values, but the County zoned the property for trailer homes, farms, and proper houses, so what can one do?” she said.
She interrogated me, “Where does your husband work? Does he own his own business? We welcome new members to the Chamber of Commerce.”
“He’s retired. This fall, I’m teaching Computer Science, and look forward to helping people learn how to use computers at the local college,” I said.
“I’m the English department chair at NCC (Navapache Community College). Flynn is a tenured Geology professor at the college. Adjunct faculty should receive an e-mail invitation to the all-college reception in the fall. Contact your chairperson. The quality of the secretarial pool is lacking,” Gloria said.
“Michael and I are both bookworms. He likes thrillers, non-fiction, true-crime, action/adventure, history, biographies, and sci-fi. I read classics, science, technology, math, and mysteries. When I was a kid, I read all my grandfather’s favorites such as Treasure Island and the Three Musketeers. A great book, a comfy chair, and a cozy fireplace make life perfect,” I said.
“Awe-inspiring collection of books, you carry an unusual range of authors. We have something in common. I noticed your extensive collection of eighteenth and nineteenth-century women writers. That’s my realm of academic forte,” she said as she passed her fingernail over my books.
“Any women’s groups? Book clubs?” I said.
“I am involved with the Chamber of Commerce, a professional group,” she said. “We’ve been discussing an upgrade of our records to a computer and putting the town of Black Mesa on the Internet. We could use your technical ability to bring us into the twenty-first century,” she said.
“Any quilting groups? I love to quilt,” I said.
“I’m not familiar with ladies’ sewing circles. Thank you for the bottle of water. It was refreshing. I had better go, more visits to make today. Glad to meet you. See you at the next Chamber of Commerce meeting, third Thursday night of the month, at the Black Mesa Café, 7 p.m.”
“I’ll keep the Chamber in mind,” I said. Given my first impression of her, she was a manager, an executive. I prayed her outfit wasn’t the dress code for the college. I expected jeans, boots and even an upscale Eddie Bauer country vibe for teachers. Fingers crossed. Otherwise, I’d have to buy a whole new career wardrobe.


Chapter 10 June

“A meager compromise is better than a fat lawsuit.” Danish Proverb

June 5
Mr. Michael Doyle and Mrs. Minerva Doyle
4445 South Opal Drive
Black Mesa AZ 86028

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Michael Doyle,

This letter is to inform you that we, the family of Mrs. Mary Elizabeth Steven, initiated a wrongful death lawsuit in the matter of our Mother’s recent demise.

The family gathered at the Black Mesa Café on the night of March 23. We were having a quiet family dinner when Mother choked. She then passed out in front of us. Mrs. Doyle, you held us back from helping our mother. Mr. Doyle, you at once presumed to take over the responsibilities of the EMTs who are professionals. Mrs. Doyle, you were lax in your timeliness to call the EMTs. You kept us gathered together in such an emotional state and turmoil that none of us could come to Mother’s aide. As a result, our Mother died wrongfully and through your neglect. Mr. Doyle, you are not a medical professional. You should have waited until the EMTs arrived and you should have let them do their job.

The family of Mrs. Mary Elizabeth Steven has asked me, Mrs. Gloria Steven-Fitzroy, as executor, to inform you of our decision to file this lawsuit. We are requesting the following damages:

1) Economic. We have incurred $50,000 in medical expenses due to her stay in the hospital, and the cost of ambulance services. Funeral expenses are expected to be $10,000. Loretta Steven and Deborah Steven, my twin sisters, are no longer professional caregivers for my mother. We have to pay unexpected taxes due to the sale of family land to cover the immediate financial burden. My brother, Vincent Steven, has stood to lose the grazing lease rights which total $50,000 per year.

2) Non-economic damages. We have suffered mental anguish, pain, and suffering because of the loss of the love, society, companionship, care, protection, guidance, advice and nurturing from our Mother. Although these items are less tangible, they have more value to our family than any economic loss. We, therefore, decided we ask one million dollars for mental anguish and suffering.

3) We further ask three million dollars in punitive damages. Mr. Doyle should not ever presume to have the knowledge to rush to perform CPR when he is not a medical professional. We ask for these costs to compensate for elder abuse, misconduct and the resulting death of our Mother.

4) Attorney’s fees. As the survivors, we plan to recover interest on damages and be reimbursed for attorney’s expenses incurred in bringing this lawsuit. Attorney’s fees will be a minimum of $125,000.

Mrs. Gloria Fitzroy nee Steven
Executor of the Estate of Mrs. Mary Elizabeth Steven
4448 South Opal Drive
Black Mesa AZ 86028


Chapter 11 June

“There’s nothing so bad that it couldn’t be worse.” Irish proverb

Enraged, Michael grasped the official-looking registered mail document and paced the kitchen floor, his voice sharp and bitter.
“Are you kidding me? Wrongful death lawsuit? Crazy nut job family. What the hell! Tried my best to help the woman. Read this. You won’t believe it,” he said.
“My God. I start school in August. We spent our savings on closing costs,” I said. “We need a lawyer. No matter how much they cost. I found out the hard way they’re worth every dime you pay them.”
“Dubois warned me. The clan from hell is on our doorstep. I attempted to save her. Backstabbers. Can’t rely on anyone,” he said. “Get dressed. We’ll see Charles. He’s the one sane person I’d trust in this damn town.”
Michael reverted to combat wary Marine. It made no sense reasoning with him. I pulled on my boots and jumped into the truck. Fastened my seatbelt before Michael gunned his old Chevy, and I hung on for dear life. Ten minutes later Michael screeched into the parking lot at the Marshal’s office.
“Peg, Charles in?” Michael barged past her.
“Sorry, Peg. Emergency,” I said.
Charles sat with his feet up on his desk, listening on the landline phone. He waved his hand motioning us to wait and held up one finger. He kept writing, not saying a word.
Then he spoke. “Got it. Homicide. Thank you for working on it. Appreciate your attention to detail. I’ll get right on it. Released it when? You have the grand jury evidence you need?”
Charles continued, “Take multiple samples because we need more for a murder case. The relatives planned to cremate her. I want hair, nails, blood, and ‘tox’ screen. We’re dealing with a very twisted family here. Okay. Fax the report ASAP, send an extra official copy registered mail. No slip-ups.” He hung up the phone.
“How can I help you, Michael? You’ve got a burr on your tail,” he swung his boots to the floor.
“That damn Steven’s clan is suing us for millions of dollars. A wrongful death lawsuit. I tried to save her. God Almighty, help me; you’re the one person in this town I trust. You warned me concerning them,” Michael said.
“Easy does it. Good news. Pima County Office Medical Examiner phoned me with the autopsy results. No worries regarding the complaint. They ruled her demise due to an overdose of caffeine and other poisons. We’re looking at a homicide,” Charles said.
Michael said, “What happened?”
“Found long-term arsenic poisoning in her hair and nails. Her stomach contents revealed someone used caffeine poison to kill her at the last Steven’s family Friday night meal. Somebody wanted to make sure she died. Now we need to investigate who poisoned her,” Charles said.
“Lord knows I drink enough coffee every day to float a battleship but how does caffeine exterminate you?” Michael pondered. “I understand arsenic as a poison method.”
“A tablespoon of pure caffeine could put down a horse. Recent incidents involve high school and college kids. They drank pumped-up sports juice, and they ended up at the doctor’s office. One student is on life support at the hospital. Whoever is adding caffeine to drinks goofed, someone died,” Charles said.
“OK, now what?” Michael said.
“Don’t say a word to anyone in town, you’re not the only one being sued by the Steven’s family,” Charles said. “They want to cremate the body. I suspect they hope to get rid of the evidence. Wish I knew this beforehand; I’d have secured the scene at the Café when the incident happened. Everything’s washed up long ago.”
“Let me join you in the hunt. I must defend my reputation,” Michael said. “Find out who did this crime.”
“There’s the fax,” Charles said. The machine spit out three sheets of paper. “Here I’ll read to you. Mary Elizabeth Steven was alive and well, eating dinner at the Black Mesa Café with her relatives. It was a Friday occurrence for them to gather and discuss the family’s business holdings. She was last seen awake but in obvious respiratory distress at 17:55 on March 30 when the EMTs transferred her to Summit Hospital in Show Low.
“Death scene: Mary Elizabeth Steven and her children; Victor Steven, Loretta Steven, Deborah Steven, Flynn Steven, and Gloria Steven-Fitzroy. Also attending were in-laws Pearl Steven and Richard Fitzroy.
“GI Findings: Vomiting, abdominal dumping, hypertension, tachypnea, and dysrhythmias. Mrs. Steven’s stomach decontaminated with activated charcoal. A complete blood count, urinalysis, arterial blood gas, chest radiograph, CT of the head, ECG, electrocardiography, and telemetry monitoring, given to her at the hospital. Symptoms showed by the patient included anxiety, tremors, seizures, and dilated pupils. She died from complications of extreme cardiac arrhythmia due to caffeine toxicity.
“We performed an autopsy of her organs after her death. White particles mixed with undigested hemorrhagic liquid were in the stomach contents. The toxicological test proved an acute overdosage of 255 mg of caffeine. Tests on the kidneys, liver, lungs, heart, brain, skeletal muscle, urine, and skin confirmed extreme levels of caffeine toxicity. The cause of death is due to fatal caffeine poisoning. Further testing for other toxic substances showed high levels of arsenic in hair and fingernails over an extended period,” Charles concluded.
“That lets me off the hook. Mrs. Steven’s cause of death wasn’t my negligence. Score one for my side,” Michael said with grim relief. “Sorry she died.”
“You’re retired from the ATF, Michael, an expert profiler who can get inside people’s heads, and figure out their motives. When I received an excellent recommendation for you, I decided I need a ‘good hand’ on as a part-time deputy. That’s what my budget will handle, we’re stretched too thin,” Charles said. “I could do with your help to investigate Mrs. Steven’s death. Let’s do it the old-fashioned way before DNA, use our brains. Liars stick out like a saddle sore. I trust none of the Steven clan.”
“The Maricopa County Sheriff’s department confirmed Minerva’s done impressive cyber forensic work for them. Minerva can charge me consulting fees. I need an expert nerd to dig into the family history and finances,” Charles continued.
Michael said, “I understand your point concerning computers. Take my bubble nose Chevy. Ugly but simple to fix. Manufacturers cram every new vehicle with electronic crap.”
Charles said, “My El Camino works for me. I ruined my truck I bought last year. Stuck out in the boondocks and blew the engine up when I touched it. Cost me $1500 for a brain.”
“I stopped fixing Minnie’s car a long time ago. You need computer diagnostic tools. The warning light went off on the SUV, turned out it was due for a regular oil change, nothing serious,” Michael said.
“When Sunny and I married we moved to Black Mesa because it’s off the beaten path. I can’t touch electronics, the innards fry. She looks stuff up on the computer for me, and programs the HDTV,” Charles said. “I’m not the only one who’s affected by electronics. I fit right in with individuals who chose no electricity on purpose. Figured most folks were old-fashioned Amish people.”
Charles explained, “Mrs. Steven’s wake and funeral are coming up soon. I need an insider who can watch the action. The Steven’s family will be on their best conduct around me. Big. False. Front. You’re a friendly neighbor who’s making peace. They’ll apologize to you for the lawsuit. Let them drop their guard. Keep your ears open. Watch them. You know how to profile behavior.” Charles’ relentless eyes of a born hunter bored into us. He was on the prowl searching for justice for the elderly murder victim.”
“I trust you,” Michael stated. “I’ll help with interviews and arrests. Put too many evil men in prison, so no one here knows of my real past. My cover: a redneck blue-collar guy and a retired ex-Marine,” Michael said.
“Charles, I’ll help you with any forensic computer investigations as a consultant,” I said.
We were quiet on the way home. What a relief. The lawsuit was invalid. Michael and I were both lost in our thoughts. Michael took his time driving back. He turned the radio on to our favorite country station. Patsy Cline’s soothing southern lilt washed over us. I scooted over on the bench seat beside him and laid my head on his shoulder as he drove. When he shifted gears, I felt safe against his arm. A familiar mechanical smell of well-oiled steel machinery drifted up from the floorboards. The engine’s deep rumble lulled me into a relaxed doze.
“What do you think Charles’ offer entails?” I asked.
“Charles will be a trustworthy partner. I’d enjoy working with him,” Michael said. “I’m bored since I retired. Work in Maricopa County as a law officer, no thanks, but Black Mesa is different. I predict traffic stops and bar fights. Everybody and their brother has guns around here, it’s the culture. Most of the problems come from travelers coming off I-40. The ones who stay at the Motel.”
“Do you mind working part-time?” I said. “This is a change from being a field officer in charge of your own cases to a small town deputy.”
“I could use the extra money. Max’s Mother has been pressuring me. His grandfather’s fine hand is behind the push. I cannot understand why Max doesn’t go to a public school. Didn’t hurt me any. I got a good education growing up in Miami,” Michael said.
Michael’s ex-wife had stepped up the financial burden to secure his youngest son’s placement in a military institute. Max was a delightful child, with an excellent ingenious imagination. I thought a rigid environment stifled the kid’s wonderful gift, but not my decision to make.
I said, “Charles’ offer is a win-win for both of us. It will give me a chance to teach part-time, and keep up with the latest law enforcement technology.  At the college, you’d have to wait for someone to get hit by a bus before achieving tenure. This job offer will help me get my foot in the door of the law enforcement academy.”
The intellectual challenge of catching criminals was my favorite part of law enforcement. I gathered data for a search warrant, piled up irrefutable evidence for an arrest, and helped prosecutors deliver reliable documentation of the case to a jury. Besides, I hated carrying guns and seizing a criminal bigger than me.


Chapter 12 June

“A stiff apology is a second insult. The injured party does not want to be compensated because he has been wronged; he wants to be healed because he has been hurt.”
Gilbert K. Chesterton

A few days after the lawsuit fiasco, Michael and I arrived home from grocery shopping. As we pulled into the driveway, I spotted two people inside a car parked in front of our home. Michael grabbed our groceries from the Chevy while I hopped out of the truck and dashed to unlock the door. I recognized the Fitzroy’s vehicle and wasn’t in the mood for trouble. What did she want? Gloria held a hostess present in her grip. ‘Beware of Greeks bearing gifts’ passed through my brain as I peeped into the basket stacked with fruit and exotic cheeses.
“Hello Richard,” Michael said. “How can I help you?” He motioned them to relax on the couch. I had straightened the house up before we started to the store. Lucky me, I am in time to entertain someone who had sued us.
After I set Gloria’s gift on the counter, I reached for a bottle of wine, goblets, and snacks from the kitchen.
Gloria demurred, “No alcohol for Richard and me, but we’ll drink plain unsweetened tea if you have it,” Gloria requested.
I snatched a couple bottles from the refrigerator. Done playing host, I listened to their excuses. I could play helpful when I preferred.
“We drove over to extend an apology for the lawsuit we brought against you. The coroner’s report arrived by certified mail from the Marshal’s office. I cannot comprehend how Mother got into caffeine poison, but she was always seeking out home remedies. The family discussed our options and agreed that we’d abandon the lawsuits. A professional emergency worker could have saved Mother. Your amateur aid wasn’t needed.” She smoothed her elegant chignon with her manicured fingers although not a hair was out of place.
“You’re wrong,” Michael said. “I endured a terrorist bombing, and my guys survived because of my skill.”
Richard stuffed his mouth with food while he conceded to Michael. With her arms wrapped around her waist, Gloria glared at her husband. She responded as if Mr. Fitzroy should dive in and stand by her comment
“Taxes go okay? The forms I prepared for you?” Richard interjected, shifting the discussion to ward off an altercation.
“You produced a proper return. Complicated taxes. Two states. Two incomes. Married half the year. A retirement package. Everything turned out fine. No issues,” Michael said.
Gloria said, “I need to welcome you both to our neighborhood. I’m inviting you to join us at the Property Owners Association meeting tonight. You can meet my family since we live in proximity to each other.”
“Is this a block watch?” I asked.
“The POA is a gathering of neighbors. We consider any issues in the town and explore measures to alleviate them. Homeowners attend. No renters allowed,” she added. “We forward complaints to the Navajo County Building, Zoning, and Code Enforcement. They cite property owners who neglect to comply. The county handles grievances which include abandoned vehicles, accumulation of rubbish, and junk.”
“I don’t suppose we had plans for tonight, do we?” Michael asked me. He twisted his back to the Fitzroy couple then winked at me as he splashed more wine into my empty glass.
“No, I think we can go. Thank you for inviting us. What time does it start?” I said.
“7 o’clock on the dot. You had better arrive early. We’re having elections for a new Vice-President,” she said. “Victor, my brother, takes over as the President. See you tonight,” Gloria said. She gathered up her expensive designer purse. She hustled Richard out the door before he could snatch more cheese and crackers. I stifled a giggle. Poor henpecked guy.
“That was a backhanded apology,” Michael said after they left. “Better than nothin’. Bet Victor used his position as VP to intimidate the fellow who owned our property. Nepotism in action, give someone power, and they become petty tyrants. I need to scope out the players.”
At 6:30 p.m., Michael and I slipped into the rear of the POA building. The Fitzroy’s sat toward the front of the hall. Wooden picnic tables and benches lined up in a row facing the speaker’s platform. Sunny waved me over, and I choose a place near her and Charles.
We paid attention to Victor Steven congratulating Ed Sanders, the new POA Vice-President. Ed gave a brief acceptance speech. Next, on the program, we listened to a pair of nurses clad in scrubs. They spelled out the details of a charity fundraiser for the NICU unit at the hospital.
A man shouting from the rear drowned out the women’s presentation. “I told your Ma, and I’m telling you the same thing. If you don’t keep your nose out of my business, you’ll regret it. You got no reason to report me to the county. Your Ma’s house is a pigpen. Now I got the county sniffing around my place because of her interferin’. They’re on my ass to clear up my land. Victor, the next time any of your people come on my land I’m meeting them with my shotgun. A man’s home is his castle. I’m defending mine,” he yelled as he pounded his fist on the table.
Sunny whispered, “Mary Steven feuded with Jeremiah, the local welder, over junk cars and an old WW2 Quonset hut full of broken appliances on his property. She turned him into the county. That ornery welder caused a rumpus at other POA meetings. Then the whole clan took turns defending their mother when he roared at her, and she’d yell back at him. Charles maintains the peace at these meetings.”
Charles leaned over to Michael and slapped him on the back. “Let’s go. Wanna help me? Your first arrest. Welcome to Black Mesa.” Michael followed behind Charles.
Charles called out, “Take it easy, Jeremiah. Don’t get upset. This family gathering isn’t the place for shouting and creating trouble. Come along peaceable.”
The two men arrested Jeremiah for disrupting the peace, a misdemeanor, and he’d spend the night cooling off his temper at the Marshal’s office.
After Michael and Charles left, I had no sympathy for disputes, neither the Steven’s family nor the Fitzroy’s conflict with Jeremiah. Fed up with them, I felt outraged for Michael’s sake, but I kept my indignation in control in a public place. Gloria’s apology was inadequate. Michael worked to save Mary Steven not harm her. I ducked out the exit to avert any contact with them.
Once home, I settled into a comfortable armchair and buried my nose in the newspaper. The Black Mesa Gazette had a full-page article written on Mrs. Mary Steven. She acted in many traditional Western movies during the 50’s and 60’s. A black-and-white photo showed her astride a galloping horse. Her youthful, brash, grin told of her reckless daring-do.
She started out as a stunt rider, later earning spoken parts. Her career as a B movie actor ended when she wed. She was influential in Northern Arizona on the rodeo circuit. The Steven’s Sliding S Bar Ranch continued to raise rodeo horses. The Steven’s family had the matriarch cremated. Mr. Victor Steven scheduled a memorial ride after the Mass at Our Lady of Perpetual Peace Church. It commenced at OLPP and traveled on the old highway to the Ranch where Mary was to be interred with her late husband.
Donations were requested for the NICU instead of flowers. Mrs. Mary Steven’s funeral service was open to close friends and family members. Mrs. Gloria Steven-Fitzroy invited friends of the family to her residence after the memorial ride. I suspected one of these loving liars had poisoned their mother.
Michael’s old Chevy rumbled up the driveway. The back door banged. He clattered around in the kitchen. He bore in two steaming cups: his black, mine half sugar and cream.
“You didn’t have to wait up, Charles stayed with Jeremiah at the office,” Michael said as he kissed me on my forehead. “The family pissed Jeremiah off. I listened to his side of the story once we got him settled. I don’t blame him. Mary Steven hounded him for years, another situation, in and out of courts with the Steven’s clan,” he said. “They better not start with me, because that shit won’t fly. I’ll nip it right now. They’re messing with a Marine.”
“I wanted to make sure you got home safe from your first arrest. What happened with the desperado welder?” I asked.
“He’ll pay a $25 fine and be out in the morning after he sleeps. The jail is a joke. It’s an old storage room with no windows and a Schlage lock on a standard metal house door. Thrift store furnished cell; kid’s iron double bunk bed, dented lawn chair, and a folding table. It’s enough for people to cool their heads overnight. Charles has to take the serious arrests to Holbrook, at the Navajo County facility,” he said. “Watcha reading, any news?”
“Mary Steven’s obit covered the entire back page. She’s notorious,” I said as I handed him the Black Mesa Gazette. “I understand she was the boss lady of the family. She ran the POA meetings and the town with an iron glove. Victor, her son, controls things in her place. Kept it in the family,” I said.
“I guess they can bury relatives on their own property,” he commented as he read the obit. “Hey, Minnie you know you could cremate me, put me in a toolbox, and bury me inside my man cave?” Michael teased me.

“I’ll put your ashes in a fake book and stick you on a shelf in the library if you don’t behave,” I said. I snuggled up to him. Joking aside, I didn’t want to think of ill will happening to my hubby. We needed to stay on the right side of the Steven’s clan.


Chapter 13 June

“Dead men tell no tales, but there’s many a thing to be learned at the wake house.”
Irish Proverb

We skipped Mrs. Steven’s funeral services and the memorial ride. Instead, we checked out the reception at Gloria’s house. Michael broke out his only navy blue suit left from his ATF courtroom days. I helped him with his Marine Corps necktie. I hugged Michael for encouragement. My handsome Irish husband, he smelled of Old Spice and starched cotton.
Forced to put on lipstick, a dress, stockings, and heels, I dreaded this farce. A 1940’s black toque trimmed with a small veil perched on my baby fine messy hair finished my beauty routine.
“Ready?” Michael said. “Let’s get this done.”
We walked across the street to Gloria’s home. Gloria didn’t kid around when she declared she had a grand white colonial dwelling. It looked like someone sucked up Tara from Georgia and plunked it down in Arizona. Two-story columns framed the entrance. A long veranda led up to the double cut glass front doors.
A pair of full-figured women greeted us at the door. The first wore navy blue scrubs. She passed her hand through her short burgundy streaked spiked haircut and grabbed something pale blue from the stand behind her back. The other clad in vivid green cartoon hospital scrubs sported a shaggy pink highlighted bob. Except for their striking tresses, both sisters were identical.
“Hello, I’m Loretta Steven, and my sister is Deborah Steven. Gloria instructed me to make certain everyone puts these on over their shoes before they enter her living room. It’s not our idea,” Loretta said as she passed us hospital booties.
I had the compulsion to take my high-heels off when I stepped into the Fitzroy foyer. Michael grinned at me over the absurdity of our circumstances.
“Go with the flow,” he whispered. “We’re visitors in a strange country.”
“I apologize for wearing uniform scrubs, but we got off duty an hour ago. I’m in the ER, and Deborah’s in the NICU at Summit in Show Low. It’s fifty minutes away. Gloria insisted we arrive early, no chance to switch clothes,” Loretta said.
“Sorry to learn your Mother died. Michael gave his best effort to help her,” I said.
“Yes, Mommy’s been sick for a while, but she and Daddy are together now. Loretta and I were her caregivers. We’ve been nursing her for more than a year at home,” Deborah said.
“I went all out to give her the soundest medical care. Mommy went downhill so sudden. I regretted not being by her side when she collapsed, I wasn’t expecting her to die,” Loretta said. Her eyes teared.
“The lawsuit was a waste of time but, Gloria told me the family couldn’t afford Mommy’s medical bills,” Deborah said.
“Mommy was in the hospital often this year. Even though we work there, the Medicare insurance doesn’t pay for everything, the copays were killing us,” Loretta said.
“Yes, Gloria made us sign the paperwork. We hated to sue you because your husband tried to help Mommy in her time of need,” Deborah said.
“I’m thankful he treated her. I don’t blame him. Maybe the results would have turned out different if I stayed with Mommy instead of rushing back to the ER for a traffic accident,” Loretta said.
I watched a verbal tennis match between the twins.
“Help yourself to the buffet in the dining room,” Deborah said.
Michael and I made our way through the two-story foyer, illuminated by a glass chandelier. We negotiated a path into the central part of the house. Pale walls, frosty aqua curtains, white carpets, and icy furniture adorned Gloria’s home. Immaculate birch logs heaped high in the ecru stone fireplace, bet no one lit a match in that recess. A picture on the wall depicted a bleak forest covered in snow, which echoed the wintry vibe. Gloria’s house had the warmth of a glacier. Was she allergic to colors? No cuddles, no snuggles, no softness.
A tray of minuscule tea sandwiches and assorted pastries were arrayed on a buffet table. Cocktail crackers with hors d’oeuvres looked like tiny jewels, untouchable. Plates of vegetables and fruit occupied a bright spot in the dining room. No wine or liquor in sight, only soda water, 7-Up, orange juice, and pale red punch allowed. This soirée was not like any Irish wake I’ve attended.
 I peeped in the restroom, the best place to find out secrets. Beige walls, vanilla soap, exceptionally clean and sterile, it gave me the shivers even in June. I needed to repaint mine in livelier colors.
Thick rolled spa towels draped on a rack and dared me to wipe my hands on them. A pale basket held folded paper wipes for guests. Etched tree branches decorated the sliding glass doors of the shower stall.
I opened the medicine cabinet, everyday stuff: perfume, wrinkle serum, Band-Aids, deodorant, razors, hand lotion, and shaving cream. High dollar pricey brand names displayed, no generic products sullied these shelves.
I found empty bottles of cheap toiletries hidden in the wastebasket. Gloria bought inexpensive lotions and filled up the expensive, classy glass decanters. Who’s she trying to hoodwink?
I joined the guests at the buffet. Starved and nervous, the wake gave me consent to eat. Gloria came toward me as I loaded up my plate. “I’m sorry for your loss,” I said, gulping a mouthful of food.
“Yes, Mother was chronically ill. We were not shocked when she passed away,” Gloria said. “Cremation is so civilized, no dirt or coffins. Victor will receive the ashes since he is the oldest. I do not want them in my home. I remember Mother as she was in life.”
“Yes, I understand. People live so far apart. When my Dad died, my youngest brother couldn’t get leave from the Navy. My sister booked a plane from back east, so we had two memorial services, one military, and the other for the family and friends,” I said.
“Did you enjoy the buffet?” She asked me, not paying attention to my answer, while she glanced around at the other visitors.
“Gloria, it’s perfect. Did you cater? The cuisine appears as if a professional chef prepared it,” I said.
“I created every morsel. In this rural town, it is a tradition to contribute a covered dish for a grieving family. People donated foodstuffs, but I don’t trust their kitchens. You never know how immaculate someone is around groceries. I only consume what I prepare,” she said. “So I gave the additional fare to Loretta and Deborah. They’ll gulp down anything. They’re not finicky.”
“You have an elegant house,” I said. “Perfect, a Martha Stewart magazine decorating style.”
“Yes, I have worked hard to decorate it. I had to drive to Scottsdale since nothing available here suited me. Mother thought it was too modern, but Richard and I love it,” she said. “Thank you for your condolences. I appreciate you and your husband coming to my home. I hope you harbor no harsh feelings regarding the litigation. The family had me start the paperwork. I was reluctant because you and I must work together at the college. Nevertheless, my relatives come first before strangers.”
“We’re okay. Glad it’s ruled out,” I said.
“Yes, Mother had an unexpected death due to heart failure. No one is at fault. Nothing one could do. At least she had professional care in the emergency room,” she said.
“Michael had CPR training. He tried to assist your Mom,” I protested in Michael’s defense.
“We abandoned the lawsuit as soon as the Marshal spoke to us,” she said. “I must see to my other guests.”
Was she clueless, or was she not willing to admit a scandal in public? Who murdered Mrs. Steven at dinner?


Chapter 14 June

“The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” Irish Proverb.

Men can gossip as often as women can. Michael huddled in the corner with a tall, bulky rancher sporting an old-fashioned mustache, and looking owlishly thru wire-rimmed glasses. He reminded me of black-and-white images of Theodore Roosevelt. The man wore his Sunday best jeans, a starched, ironed white shirt, tan western cut sports coat, and a bolo tie with a solid gold nugget slide. I suppressed a snicker when I looked at the blue hospital booties over his tooled leather cowboy boots.
“Victor, meet my wife Minerva,” Michael said.
“Hello, you’re our next door neighbor. I’m sad to hear your Mother died,” I said.
“Yeah, Ma had a harsh life. We worked the ranch together from the time I was a kid. Pa died when I was twelve. I quit school to support Ma. There wasn’t a horse alive she couldn’t ride. We’d wake up at daybreak to finish the chores. She kinda slowed this year. I took over the businesses. Loretta and Deborah cared full-time for Ma,” he said. He thrust his hand through his bushy chestnut hair.
“So what took place?” Michael asked.
“Ma’s been sick for a while. She caught bronchitis in the winter, and she never got back her strength. She’s had stomach spells. Me and Pearl drove her to the hospital in Show Low a bunch of times this year,” he said.
“I tried my best to assist her. Couldn’t sit by and not jump in, not my nature,” Michael said.
“Glad you helped Ma. I’m not good with sick people. I didn’t start the lawsuit. My baby brother Flynn refused to touch it with a ten-foot pole, but Loretta and Deborah were upset about medical bills. I advised them to wait ‘till Medicare paid then worry what’s left to pay. Bill collectors will collect blood money soon enough from Ma’s insurance. But the girls both work at the hospital and I figure they’re scared for their jobs.
“Gloria gets along great with stuffed shirt city folks. I let her work out the legal paperwork. I hate lawyers. Nothing but a pack of liars, thieves, momma’s boys, and sissies,” Victor said, his face turning redder.
“Victor informed me he raises cattle and hogs. Does the butchering himself,” Michael said, expecting to calm Victor by changing the topic.
“Yeah, I hunt every fall. I was drawed last year and got me an Elk. You’ll need a tag, Michael. Join the buddies and me for a ride,” Victor said.
“I’m more of a fisherman, chiefly trout,” Michael said.
“Big Lake on the Apache Rez. The Forest Service stocks it with fingerlings. Get a license in Pinetop/Lakeside,” Victor said.
“Sounds terrific. What else do families do around town?” Michael asked.
“I belong to the Black Mesa Gold Prospectors. Found this nugget in the Potato field by Prescott. We go up in late July or early August after the Monsoon rains wash out the gravel. You’re welcome to join me and my brother Flynn. He’s a teacher up at the college, a true gold expert,” he said.
“Michael told me he might buy a horse from Pearl. You ride?” Victor asked me.
“Michael’s the horse expert. I’m a hiker and camper,” I said. “Couldn’t your wife come today?”
“She worked at home. Pearl and the Relief Society ladies cooked food for the family. I took the grub here for her. Told her to rest, take a short nap, and show up later. I wished you’d meet her. She’s a good woman, simple folk,” Victor said.
“I’m looking forward to meeting Pearl,” I said.

“You could join Pearl’s quilt group. They could keep a whole village in blankets. The gals meet at the Stake House every week,” Victor said. Gloria’s waving at me. She needs something for me to tote or fetch. I’ll cut her slack today. Nice to meet both of you,” he patted my hand, and he shook Michael’s hand as he took off to see what Gloria demanded.


Chapter 15 June

“Blood is thicker than water.” Irish Proverb

As Victor Steven walked off, Michael took me to the corner fireplace.
“What did you figure out?” Michael asked.
“It appears only Gloria requested the lawsuit,” I said.
“We’ve got one more interview, Flynn. Let’s go find out what he tells us,” Michael said.
“They act as if she died in her sleep, they won’t accept the murder took place,” I said.
“Charles didn’t offer them the details. When its homicide, we investigate families first, then enemies last,” Michael slipped into cop talk.
We stood by as Gloria grabbed a six-foot tall man’s arm and pulled him over to us. He was slim, with a marathoner’s build, and intense sun-creased brown eyes, from outdoor living.
“I notice you are meeting people. Let me introduce you to my brother, Flynn Steven. He’s a tenured Geology professor at Navapache Community College, where we both work,” she said.
“Flynn, meet Mr. and Mrs. Michael Doyle. Minerva is an adjunct faculty member at the college this fall. You two are colleagues. At least you can have an intelligent conversation. Lord knows no one else in this room has any brains. Carry on, I must manage my other visitors,” she said.
Flynn’s red hair curled over his collar, and he sported a trim beard. He wore chinos, a pale blue western shirt, corduroy jacket and a bolo tie, which had a trilobite clasp.
“Hi, Flynn Steven, glad to meet an associate faculty member. Gloria is pretentious. I get my hands dirty grubbing around in rocks. Plus contrary to what my younger sister believes, everybody’s smart in their own way, college or not,” Flynn shook Michael’s hand and then mine.
“Minerva,” I said. “I’m slated for Computer Science classes in Keam’s Canyon during the fall semester.”
“I tried everything to revive your mother ‘till the medics got there,” Michael said.
“You gave your best. You are not responsible. We understood Mom had been sick this year, first a severe chill last winter, later in and out of the emergency room with stomach complications. She was a spunky woman and struggled to grow healthier. She is at rest now. I refused to be part of the lawsuit given that Gloria and Victor love to get into legal crap,” Flynn said.
“Thanks, I respect your sentiment. In a crisis, civilians don’t realize professionals act in emergencies. I can’t stand by and do nothing when someone is injured. I did my best to treat your mom until the EMTs arrived,” Michael said.
“Dad died when we were young, so Mom took over the homestead. She has toiled hard her entire life struggling to maintain the ranch. She should have let my brother operate the businesses a long time ago. Victor’s a self-starter, a good-hand, up at daybreak, and works until midnight. Not a day passes by something needs overhauling, mending, or tending. Ranch work is the hardest job I know. I attended college because I couldn’t imagine myself as a rancher. Friday nights I ride and rope for fun. I dig around and prospect, but I love teaching the most. Mom wanted Victor and me to be partners. No thanks,” Flynn said.
“Here’s my wife, Jennifer,” he said. “Honey, let me introduce Michael and Minerva, they moved up here from the Valley, and settled next door to Victor. Minerva’s collaborating with me at the college in the fall.”
“Glad to meet you. Sorry to interrupt but Gloria is giving me the high-sign regarding Lizbeth. She’s not real happy having kids anywhere near her white carpet. I’m dead on my feet, sweetheart,” Jennifer said.
“We’ve worn out our welcome and lingered long enough. Give me my little country bumpkin,” he said as he nuzzled the baby. “Come on over to our home before school commences. We’re at the end of the lane in the white trash trailer,” he quipped. “You can put on your boots too.”
I liked his wry sense of humor. We said our goodbyes to the grieving family. The function at Gloria’s house drained me.
As soon as Michael and I made it home, I chucked the little black dress, heels, pantyhose and ridiculous hat in the closet. Michael laughed when I threw my lacy black bra into the corner laundry basket.
“Unpleasant time, huh?” He said.
“I’ve never been so miserable in my whole life. What’s wrong with me? I can’t stand formal social obligations,” I said.
I tugged on my jeans and a team jersey. Michael reached over, wrapped his arms around my waist, and kissed my neck. He tousled my hair and held my chin in his hand.
“I love you my sensible country gal. You let me mess up your fuzzy duckling locks. You’re scary smart and my special nerdy bookworm.
“I married you because you are trustworthy and very sexy. You smell of lavender soap and sun-dried clothes, not expensive smotherin’ perfume,” Michael said. “Remember the big-band dance song from the 1940’s, ‘cool and limpid green eyes,’ that’s you, a fresh-scrubbed beauty without makeup.
“Because you are my finest partner and my bride, we can make love in a tent or the tail-end of my pickup truck. We’re not hifalutin’ people. Provide us with a campfire, or a Bar-B-Q and we’re happy. We’re not hifalutin’ people.” he said.

“Thank you, dear, I needed a pep talk. Gloria gave away the food the women worked so hard to prepare. Her fare was tidbits. I’m ravenous, let’s eat supper at the café,” I suggested.