Nobody here realizes that I am drinking ice water. They all think I was gulping something alcoholic... She giggles in appreciation of the trick she is pulling on the bar goers, who are surreptitiously eying her between reordering drinks from Óscar, but have not yet gained the temerity to approach.
Glancing about, she guiltily suppresses her giggle. That will appear tipsy to them.
Raising her glass yet again, she discovers it is empty. They also don't realize that I blew my last $5.00 in the world to acquire this mineral-laden beverage masquerading as pure water. She winces at the irony.
Slowly, the local lawman, who has been seated with his back to the wall at the first table inside the door, rises and approaches. With a raised eyebrow, he requests permission to join her. She nods her acquiescence.
Doesnt he cut a fine figure of full-flowered manhood, now?
"Óscar, otro vaso, por favor," she requests of the bartender, her eyes never leaving the sheriff's.
Óscar's eyes widen briefly, then return to normal. He turns, choosing a clear 8 ounce plastic restaurant-style water glass from the store of upturned glasses that line the mirror behind the bar, flips up the counter, sets the glass in front of the sheriff, then pours slowly and tidily right up to the brim, returning the pitcher to the table with a satisfying thud.
Protecting the sheriff's reputation? she thinks.
The sheriff studies the brim-full liquid before him. "I came over here to suggest that you were hitting that sauce pretty hot and heavy, and might best slow down until you get to your destination of...." Another raised eyebrow invites her to complete his sentence.
Raising both of hers, she smiles broadly, "Maybe you'd better join me before we get intimate."
"I don't drink on duty."
"How admirable. But sheriffing in this heat must be hot, sweaty work. Besides, you don't know that I am not from a culture that believes that refusal to drink with someone is the same as a refusal of their friendship. Surely just entering the only air-conditioned building for miles around does not indicate criminal intent." She nods again toward the glass.
His eyes lock on hers. Suggestively, she wiggles her nose, then meaningfully eyes the glass. He follows her gaze, then positions his nose above the glass, lowering it by imperceptible increments until he can sniff the contents without appearing to from afar. He glances up, then takes a closer sniff. "Water?"
Admiring the cleft of his dimpled chin and the outline of his square jaw against the blue of his uniform, she suggests coquettishly, raising one eyebrow in an arched look, "What else would I bolt so in this heat?"
An appreciative burst of laughter startles the other patrons into turning in their direction, instead of watching from the corners of their collective eyes. Saluting her, he, too, drains his glass and pours more. "You must be the new school teacher." His baritone echoes through the cavernous room, clearly audible to all.
"Guilty." Her near-whisper is for him alone.
The pitcher's contents soon disappear. "Óscar, another." Laying a fiver on the table, the sheriff eyes the others in the bar. They wilt under his gaze, returning to their own companions, or their glasses, which are NOT water.
"Weren't you supposed to arrive earlier in the day?"
"How do you know that?"
"It's a very small town."
"I was supposed to meet a Native American..."
"I wouldn't let one of our local Indians hear you call them by that disgustingly politically correct phrase if you want to make friends around here."
"An Indian at a cafe in town, but it was closed when I drove in. In fact, this is the ONLY place in town that appears open."
"There's the Blissful Rest Motelnext door."
Her eyes widen in disbelief. "Is that an offer?" Her manner stiffens perceptibly. "No. I promised I would live ON the reservation, AMONG the Nat... err, Indians, and speak only Spanish as part of my employment contract."
"On the reservation? ON THE RESERVATION?... WHERE on the reservation?"
All eyes again focus on her as the echo of his words dies.
"I really don't know. I was supposed to meet someone at Ellie's Cafe."
"Tom was in there until about 3:00. I thought that was a bit odd."
"Tom? That wasn't the name." Rattled, she grabs her purse and with quick, nervous motions, ransacks its insides until she produces a wrinkled envelope.
"That your suitcase?"
"No." She flattens the letter on the table, regarding it fixedly. "Yes," she says, stabbing her finger at a spot on the page before her. "It is John, not Tom."
"John? Juan NEVER comes to town. Never."
"Then why would he tell me to meet him at a cafe in town? That certainly doesn't make much sense. It says right here, "Vamos a encontrarnos al café de Ellie en la aldea de Broken Lance en la carretera 160, aproximadamente 150 millas de Flagstaff, al mediodía."
Again an explosive laugh booms from the sheriff, drawing every eye in the place. Even one towheaded drunk, whose head had been resting firmly on the table ever since she entered, raises.
"You read Spanish right rapidly. I take it you came through Wolf's Creek Pass, then!"
Embarrassed, she glances around the room, then gasps in recognition as her eyes meet the blond's.
"Pete! Oh, my. Whatever is HE doing HERE? I didn't expect to have to deal with him until school started up again this fall!"
Following her gaze, the sheriff sees Paul Peter Sorenson squint at her, then grin and give a halfhearted wave in her direction. "'Lo," he says, dropping his head to the table with a thud, as if it were too heavy for his neck muscles to support.
"Hello to you, too," she whispers, way too softly for him to have heard even if he still had been awake by then.
Last updated 1/3/02.