The Meteor

After he was released from the army, Danny Chavez moved back to New Mexico, The Land of Enchantment, specifically to the place where his father was born and where he himself had been raised. His parents lived there still, tucked firmly into a cocooned life style, one far simpler and less lonely than what he had seen in California and Georgia. Danny Chavez’s older brother resided in the little village as well, and had become very successful, with a grain transporting business, a dependable wife, and a handsome son.

For a time Danny Chavez felt himself healing, refreshed by the beauty of the high plains region. Though the community was poor, strewn with a litter of broken beer bottles from the town package store and heaps of detritus regularly deposited amid the sage brush, it was nestled beneath the Sangre de Christo Mountains. The mountains changed from moment to moment, with the position of the sun and the shadow play of clouds. There was a charm in people who waved to one another, a blessing in the brilliant sunlight, and magic in the rosy, golden dusk.

Danny Chavez, no longer a soldier, watched the mountains shift their raiment of smoky purple for deep green or distant lavender. He saw them punctuated by the shadow of a single cloud, or tucked like a wedge of blackest charcoal into a perfectly white mist. He observed them in winter, when they were snowy-shouldered and infused with the blood of sunset. Through every season, the Sangre de Christo Mountains held Danny’s spellbound attention, making him forget what combat had taught him. Slowly he ceased thinking about missions in which breathing had been his sole defense. The mountains made him forget the war, and that time was passing, as did the cocaine he was cramming up his nose.

But the earth turns in its slow, imperturbable fashion, and time changes all things. His parents passed away, and his brother Huberto’s grain transporting business went regional. Huberto Chavez soon opened a ranch supply store in a nearby town, with a small plywood building and a tall, secure fence to protect the expensive metal gates and panels, the watering troughs and grain mangers that made him so much money. It wasn’t long before Huberto Chavez became head of the local political party.

Huberto’s son, Sean, married a beautiful woman with blonde curls, and built a fine adobe house surrounded by green, well irrigated pastures, which were grazed by cows and horses from good breeding stock. She was lively, devoted to skiing and ice skating in the winter, but in the summer she grew bored, until the young couple started a family. Her two boys were a handful, and had to be driven places where they could learn and grow in experience, plus there was the Saint Bernard which the family kept as a pet. The dog had a habit of disappearing, and required a vigilant search every other month. She would make up stories to comfort the boys, until the dog would be found again.

Cosita, that little New Mexican village, had remained woven into the 1950’s, and was very nearly what it had been, when Danny Chavez’s parents were growing up. It was certainly just as it had been before Danny Chavez enlisted in the armed forces. With a population just under two hundred, the village owned a way of life. Of course, everyone who lived in Cosita knew both Danny Chavez and his brother Huberto. They knew everybody in every family within their borders. The local residents clucked over those among them who had succumbed to welfare, but accepted that achieving disability status resided in the provenance of luck. They never supported one another’s endeavors, a choice made of smallness, but one enjoined without collusion. With the exception of Huberto Chavez, and the gas station owner, Elihu Raes, all the villagers were convinced that to be poor and without prospects, was normal; and they accepted their lot.

In fact, those who returned to Cosita, from the outside world, immediately picked up the mantle of voluntary poverty. They were willing to forego hot running water, and to boil what they needed on wood stoves, where they pan-baked their homemade tortillas. Some endured terrible tragedies, the death of a daughter in a car accident on a winding mountain road, or the brutal bullying of a grandchild by the minister’s son. In the nearest community, many unsolved murders took place.

By the time he was fifty years old, Danny Chavez had all but given up hard drugs. For a period of five years, Danny had been addicted to black tar heroin, which was extremely popular and readily available in the region. Aided by a clinic in the next town, he was able to sweat that part of his life out through his pores. He cleaned up. Though he had no hope of ever matching Huberto’s social status, Danny Chavez nonetheless felt the weight of his brother’s shadow, and longed to make him self even in the balance. About the choices he had made, he was philosophical: “I may never make a lot of money, but I know a beautiful day when I see it; and I can take my time to relax and enjoy my life.”

One mild New Mexico afternoon, after a late spring thaw had succumbed to leafy green boughs clustered with lilacs, an uprising of delicate columbine, and the burgeoning of those ubiquitous and already insect-corrupted, many colored, fuzzy holly hocks, Danny Chavez had an idea. The day was brilliant with sun and sweet smelling; and Danny was feeling industrious. He decided to call on Bob Martin, the owner and restorer of an adobe building, which had once belonged to a union of sheep shearers. It was set in an original plaza, one of a handful remaining in the State.

Danny Chavez mounted the wooden steps that led up to the second floor of the building, because he had overheard his brother Huberto mention once that Bob Martin paid his ranch bills there, and watched over his restaurant, which was located across the road. Danny knocked on the door a few times, and very soon Bob Martin unlocked it and let him in. Looking around, Danny Chavez could see that the office occupied the entire second floor of the building. On one end sat a huge antique desk, and many book shelves full of books and collections of CD’s. There were racks of guns on the wall and many oil paintings. Antique glass in the windows created on odd white light and made things outside the building look blurry.

After explaining who he was, the brother of Huberto Chavez, Danny Chavez suggested to Bob Martin that a number of large boulders could be placed between the edge of the building lot and the road, in order to make sure drunks coming out of the bar didn’t crash into his newly restored adobe building. Bob Martin was highly receptive to the idea, but was befuddled as to how it could be accomplished. But Danny Chavez explained that it could be done with the proper equipment. He knew where to rent an articulated front end loader and how to operate it; and he assured Bob Martin that the job could be done. He gave Bob Martin a good price. The great part about it was that Bob Martin didn’t try to talk him down or make Danny Chavez wish he hadn’t brought the notion up in the first place. Instead the transaction went smoothly.

Soon after, Danny Chavez delivered, and artfully placed five big boulders as promised. The addition of stone boulders lent a feeling of substance and grandeur to the building, creating a site that was very pleasing to the eye. Several of the neighbors gathered to admire both the process and the results. Bob Martin was more than satisfied, and Danny Chavez had a sense of accomplishment that made his hopes pierce the brilliant blue canopy of sky overhead, which he now understood belonged to everyone.

After both the work and the period of appreciation were finished, Bob Martin and Danny Chavez went over to Bob’s Martin’s house to settle up. There Bob Martin cut him a sizeable check, and the two of them sat down in the tiled living room, with two couches and a handsome cast iron stove, to drink a beer together. Bob Martin’s wife, Dell, who had been born in New York State and held a doctoral degree, sat down with them. The three neighbors spoke cheerfully about the possibility of Danny Chavez building the couple a traditional orno. An orno was a domed, outdoor, wood-fired oven, made of adobe and typically found in southwestern backyards. It was used for baking bread and slow-cooking meat.

After an hour or so had passed, and everyone was on their second beer, Bob Martin brought up the subject of Danny’s Chavez’s brother, Huberto, marveling over his entrepreneurial achievements. Danny Chavez listened and smiled, in his accepting way, and reminisced about their childhood together. As young boys, he told the Martins, both Huberto and Danny had met with their friends on the surface of a huge meteor, which protruded from his father’s pasture.

“Every time we got together, my friend Ronny Trujillo used to take a piss on it. It was like a ritual for him,” said Danny Chavez, chuckling at the thought.

“Is the meteor still there?” asked Bob, his head nodding in double time.

“It’s been there as long as I can remember. It isn’t going to roll away,” said Danny.

“Is there a crater?” asked Bob.

“A pretty big crater, like a sort of dip is there.”

“Are you sure it’s a meteor?” Bob quizzed, leaning forward at some discomfort, because he was substantial around the middle and was wearing a huge belt buckle.

“Everybody knows about it, I’ve known since I was four years old,” answered Danny.

Bob heaved himself out of the chair and strode over to his bookshelf. He brought back a small plastic box, with a chunk of something dark inside, and pushed it across the table toward Danny.

“That’s a nickel iron meteor. You can see fusion marks where it entered into the earth’s atmosphere, because the speed of that thrust created a burn. That little rock cost me two hundred and fifty dollars.”

“Holly shit,” said Danny. “We’re going to have to find a way to dig that meteor up.”

“How big is it?” asked Bob Martin, and he seemed really interested.

“I don’t really know because just the top of that meteor shows. The rest is sunk way deep into the ground. I don’t really know how deep it goes.”

“Does it look like this one?” asked Bob.

“It’s dark and smooth almost like metal, said Danny Chavez, and inside his head the wheels were turning so that he could hardly sit still.”

“Well, meteors have properties. For one thing, they’re magnetic. I’ll loan you a magnet so you can test it. It should have a pretty damn good pull. For another thing, they contain a slight bit of radioactivity. That’s why I keep this one in a case. A Geiger counter will register this one, just this small chunk.”

Danny could hardly listen, because his mind was scrambling to figure out just how he was going to get access to the meteor. The meteor was on land that was no longer owned by his grandfather, but instead had been sold off to a neighbor. There was no question that if that owner discovered how much such a meteor was worth in dollars, there would be no letting Danny Chavez onto his property, let alone allowing Danny to dig it up. He was going to have to get that necessary permission.

He needed time to think, and soon said goodnight. His thinking went on late into the evening and early morning hours. He needed an angle. Because he needed a partner, both to get the permission paper and with everything that would come after, Danny called on his friend Ronny Trujillo. Ronny Trujillo, like Danny Chavez had kicked his drug habit and was now working part time at anything that would bring him in some money. They held their conversation in private behind Ronny’s trailer, the following afternoon. Ronny who wore a long moustache, and was already a quiet internal guy, grew quieter.

“This is big, said Ronny Trujillo at last.

“This is a real opportunity,” Danny told him, carefully bolstering the back of his front teeth with his tongue, feeling the familiar separation. “We have to come up with some kind of reason to tell your cousin, so that we can get some paper on it.”

“If my cousin knows that meteor is worth a ton of money, he’s not going to give us any paper. That would never happen,” observed Ronny Trujillo stroking his drooping moustache.

“Then we’ve got to tell him that there is something, but that we can’t say what it is. We can’t say what it is, because we aren’t sure. We don’t know if it’s on his land or not. And that it might be in the next field. And it’s better if we don’t tell him what it is,” said Danny.

Ronny Trujillo registered with a serious grimace the truth of this friend’s conclusions. He furrowed his brow and squinted with both eyes. He was silent for a moment. Then he said, “We’ll go to the neighbors on both sides, Alfredo Sandoval and Bernie Galvez, to get their permissions.”

“We’ve just got to tell Sandoval and Galvez that we are more or less prospecting. That way we will be able to get your cousin to give us paper,” said Danny Chavez, smiling because things were going so well.


“There is something valuable that might be on your land. But unless I have an opportunity to dig around, I won’t know,” said Danny Chavez, being mellow and smiling his wide, gap toothed smile.

“What do you think it is? Something like gold or silver? Maybe turquoise?” asked Alfredo Sandoval. He brushed the dirt off his fingers that had come from weeding around his wife’s hollyhocks which were almost as tall as he was, about five and half feet tall. Suddenly his dog, a large-headed black pit bull, jumped up on him. “Damn it to hell, Blackberry,” yelled Alfredo Sandoval and he stepped far enough away, to let the choke chain line control the dog.

“I’m not really sure what it is, so I’m not going to say. But I need for you to tell me in a letter of permit that you are willing to take twenty percent of whatever money Ronny and I make from it,” said Danny.

“I don’t know,” said Alfredo.

“You should know, because you have nothing to lose and twenty percent to gain,” said Danny Chavez. Then he bent down and pulled his jean cuff out of his boot.

“Maybe I could do it for thirty percent,” said Alfredo Sandoval.

By that evening Danny Chavez got the letter he wanted from Alfredo Sandoval. Feeling empowered; he drove down the road to the Galvez property. Pulling the letter out of a file folder, he showed to Bernie Galvez. Seeing the letter for himself, Bernie Galvez had to agree that he would hate to miss out on an opportunity and so would write the necessary letter of permission. A day later, Danny Chavez and Ronny Trujillo took both of the signed letters with them, and drove over to Ronny Trujillo’s cousin, Fidel Ortiz’s house, upon whose property the meteor had landed. Danny Chavez carefully parked his truck right over the meteor, so that Fidel wouldn’t give it a thought and grow greedy.

They had to pick their way around several old vehicles, trucks and cars, as well as rusty old tractor attachments, which Fidel had accumulated, and which were surrounded by tall spearing weeds and grasses. The most prolific wildflower in bloom was a type of bindweed that wrapped itself around objects as well as other weeds, and flowering, resembled morning glories in miniature. Accordingly, many of Fidel Ortiz’s rusted car parts were knotted with vines that sported miniature pink and white flowers. In the driest places, where bare dirt reigned, an occasional blue-green, spiky leaved plant pushed out fried egg flowers. The candelabra shape of a green that would become tumbleweed was repeated as far as the eye could see.

The two men stood at the door of Fidel Ortiz’s trailer. Danny Chavez knocked a couple of times. Fidel Ortiz came to the screen with an oily rag in his hand, flung it on the table behind him, where there were smaller car parts spread like a banquet, and came outside to join them.

“It’s a beautiful evening,” said Fidel. “You can grab that stump, if you want to sit.”

“Fidel, I have something for you that I think could be very big opportunity,” said Danny Chavez, bouncing his tongue off the separation behind his teeth. “But there is no way to be sure.”

“You can sit on that wagon, Ronny,” said Fidel Ortiz.

Ronny Trujillo sat down and tuned his attention to Danny Chavez. Danny Chavez smiled his wide mellow smile. He proceeded to give his explanation about prospecting; and then with a flourish, he lifted the letters out of his file folder, and handed them over for Fidel Ortiz to examine. There was a moment of silence, and then Fidel Ortiz shook his head and licked his lips.

“This sounds just like another one of your bullshit schemes.”

“Well okay, if you don’t want to take a percentage of our project, we’ll just focus our excavation over on the other properties,” said Danny Chavez, with an innocent shrug.

“There’s a chance of making some big money with this, Fidel. I ‘m trying to make sure you get in on it, because you’re my cousin and you’ve been good to me over the years,” said Ronny Trujillo. He cupped his hand over his moustache, and then combed it with his two fingers. You ought to at least consider the thing, no?”

“All right, but you better not screw me,” insisted Fidel Ortiz.

“Then you’ll write the letter of permission?” asked Ronny Trujillo.

“I’m not writing no letter of permission. You write it. You bring it to me. I’ll sign it if it looks okay; and you’d better not screw me, or you either, you cabron!”

“This could be big. You won’t regret it,” said Danny Chavez.


It was the following day, and a fierce wind had come up suddenly. That was usual for the season, and also for the time, which was nearing three o’clock in the afternoon. Howling like a banshee, and throwing up a swirling dirt devil in the distance, the disturbance added to the twisted knot of expectation and anxiety that was forming between Danny Chavez and Ronny Trujillo, as they sat at the Formica kitchen table in Ronny’s trailer, anticipating the work that would begin the following morning. They had hoped to be able to rent the front end loader again, but neither of them had enough money.

Through the window, they could see the trees bending north, driven by a southerly wind up from Albuquerque. It was that same wind, which in winter brought ice and snow. Across the driveway, there were quite a few trees, scrubby five foot pinions and pale silver aspens, which Ronny Trujillo had planted in his bare dirt yard. The yard was awash with mud that pooled in the rutted driveway, because Ronny Trujillo had watered those aspens so faithfully.

Danny Chavez told Ronny Trujillo everything he could remember about the two hundred and fifty dollar meteor again, the one that Bob Martin had shown him. They hashed and rehashed the details. Both of them knew that the meteor crowning at the edge of Fidel Ortiz’s pasture was at least three feet by four feet, and that was just the part that was visible. Their meteor could easily be several thousand times larger that Bob Martin’s meteor. They gloated about the fact that they were going to make a lot of money, but they were nervous and jerky in anticipation.

“Who could we sell it to?” asked Ronny Trujillo, suddenly.

Danny Chavez stopped smiling, left Ronny sitting at his table, and drove over to Bob Martin’s house. He talked to him through the screen.

“I didn’t think we were going to be able to get the letters of permission, but people started to cooperate when they heard I would give them their percent. We are going to make a bunch of money,” said Danny, feeling uneasy.

“Uh huh,” said Bob Martin.

“Do you think we could borrow money to rent the front end loader?”

“I wouldn’t use anything but picks and shovels to take it out, because if you take a piece of heavy equipment in there, you could break it up; and the larger it is, the more valuable it is,” answered Bob Martin.

“If I gave you, say five percent, would you help us sell the meteor off the internet?”

“I could help you with that. Did you try that magnet I gave you on it?” asked Bob Martin, opening the door and looking at Danny Chavez.

“There’s not quite as much pull as your meteor has, but it’s got some. Anyway, I know it’s a meteor. Everybody in Cosita knows it’s a meteor,” said Danny Chavez.


By seven o’clock the following morning, Danny Chavez and Ronny Trujillo had begun to excavate. Following Bob Martin’s advice, they were using hand tools. They were wired, wildly energetic, and making fun, not only because of money that would be theirs, and the fact that a great portion of their youth had pivoted around the meteor, but also because of the great adventure of doing something they had never before done. Working under the excruciating brilliance and back strapping heat of the relentless New Mexico sun, at an altitude of eight thousand feet, the men were breathless as they discovered that their meteor penetrated much further into the ground than they had first imagined. When they finally reached the bottom, which had been flatten by a huge impact, they were way beyond the weariness and weakness born of physical exertion, which they had experienced after just three and four hours, when they stopped for lunch and beers.

“This meteor is only showing the dark, fused surface at the top of it,” observed Ronny Trujillo, panting as pushed the dirt of the facets nearest to him and wiped the seat of his face with a forearm.

“Let’s not worry about that now. We can wash it off with a hose when we get it over to your place,” said Danny Chavez.

The daily wind had risen up, snapped off several small cottonwood branches and rattled the aspen leaves like bundles of green coins before dying down into the current early evening mildness. In the distance, the many, varied mountain ranges, Sangre De Christo, Culebra, Blanca, Ute among them, had drawn back through aqua and lavender blue skies, into their sober pinion forests. Beneath a canopy of clear air and perfectly delineated small white clouds, the lower fields of wildflowers and pungent sage, the green mesas darted by wild horses, the huge sweeping pastures, swam out into a hundred and fifty seamless miles. Lavender, yellow, pale green, all of it was folded into a tactile golden light.

Danny Chavez ducked into the cab of his old flat bed truck for a heavy chain. Then he and Ronny Trujillo bound up the five foot high, seven foot wide meteor. Carefully Danny Chavez backed up his truck until it was positioned correctly. Ronny Trujillo hooked two ends of the chain to the towing bar, and hollered to Danny Chavez to go forward. When Danny shifted into first gear, the truck hoisted the meteor onto the heap of dirt, which they had excavated from the crater. Once they had stabilized the meteor on the dirt pile, they drove over to Moises Medina’s place. After some explaining and begging, Moises Medina, agreed to take backhoe onto the property. In that way they were able to nudge the meteor up onto the steel diamond plate of the truck bed.

“Look at that,” said Danny Chavez. “It’s so huge that it crumpled my truck bed.

“It’s so damn big,” said Ronny.

It took the two men forty five minutes to drive the three quarters of a mile back to Ronny Trujillo’s trailer, where they pushed the meteor off the ruined truck bed and onto the ground. All four of the tires, Danny Chavez’s dualies, were flattened.

“I ruined my truck,” said Danny mournfully.

“Don’t worry about it,” advised Ronny, then he added, “This better be a damn meteor, after all the work we are doing.”

“It’s been a meteor for fifty years. I don’t know why it wouldn’t be one now,” said Danny, brightening because the hardest work was finished, and because he had a sense of grand accomplishment.

“Let’s have a beer,” said Ronny.

He went into the trailer and came out with a couple of cans of beer. He gave one to Danny Chavez. Then Ronny Trujillo turned on the hose, and with the hand that wasn’t holding the beer, began to wash off the meteor. That was when Victor Aguirre walked across the field from his trailer, which was located about half a block away.

“Hey Bro, I saw you drive by my place; what are you guys up to?” called out Victor Aguirre.

Victor Aguirre was a retired high school teacher, who held a Masters Degree from a university on the east coast. As Victor staggered closer to Danny Chavez, Danny could smell the whiskey on his breath.

“You remember the meteor? Well we pulled it out of the pasture, and there it is,” said Danny Chavez. “Do you believe what it took to do that?”

Victor Aguirre walked up to the meteor and took a close look. “This is no meteor,” Victor said. “This is only a big a rock.”

“Why are you saying that?” asked Danny. “You know what it took to get that sucker up out of the ground?”

“It’s a rock. Look at it. It’s a rock,” insisted Victor Aguirre.

“Victor, get the hell out of here,” said Ronny Trujillo, and turning to Danny Chavez, waved his arms, and retorted, “What the hell does he know about it?” Then he turned back to Victor Aguirre. “Just because you went to college, you think you know more than everybody else, but you fucking don’t know enough to stop drinking and living with your mother, so get the hell out of here!”

He turned the hose on Victor Aguirre at that point, which sent Victor scurrying out of range. Once he was clear of the punishment, Victor Aguirre waved his hand at Danny and Ronny in disgust, and then ambled back toward his trailer.

“The nerve of that freaking guy,” said Danny.

“Why don’t you go get Bob Martin. Let him know we got the meteor out, and he can take a real look at it,” suggested Ronny.

“Ronny, you know something. I think you lost another ten pounds with all that work today, and you were already some thin.”

Though exhausted, Danny Chavez went the short distance to Bob Martin’s house, parked in front of the tree stump that had been carved into a couple of bears, unlocked the gate, squirmed through Bob’s eager dog parade, and knocked at the door. When he told them what he had done, Bob Martin and his wife Dell were enthusiastic. They agreed to come over immediately. After Dell had grabbed her sweater and Bob Martin had loaded up his Geiger counter, the couple drove over to Ronny’s trailer in Bob Martin’s big ranch truck. They parked by the young trees and approached the meteor with awe.

Ronny Trujillo recognized Dell right away as the woman who had come into his yard the week before, checking out Ronny’s illegal scrub burn, thinking it was a house or a trailer on fire. They shook hands. In the meantime Bob Martin walked right over to the meteor and touched it, and then he pulled a magnet out of his pocket. He applied in several places as a doctor would a stethoscope. Danny followed him, and feeling very tired, stood staring at both Bob and the meteor and wondering what he would think.

“This is a rock,” said Bob Martin at last.

“That’s what Victor Aguirre said, and we told him to get the hell out. Look what that damn rock did to my truck. It destroyed my truck. Now I feel bad,” said Danny.

“I can see why you thought this top part was a meteor, but I’m pretty sure that dark area is just a small iron ore deposit,” said Bob.

He went back into his truck, took out the Geiger counter, and passed it over several facets of the meteor, but there was no radioactivity registering when he pointed it at the huge boulder, so after a moment he put it way.

“I don’t care if this is a meteor or not,” said Danny Chavez. “As far as I’m concerned, it’s a meteor. It’s always been a meteor.”

“This looks like basalt,” said Bob Martin. “When the driller dug my well, he had to drill through three hundred feet of it, so that’s how I know. But this is a beautiful rock, and it still has a lot of value. Someone will buy it.”

“I’m not moving this thing again,” said Danny. “This meteor is going to stay right here in the middle of Ronny’s little trees, and we’re going to charge people money to see it, so that I can pay for my truck.”

“I think this boulder might have been ejected from Ute Mountain, when it was a volcano ten million years ago. It was probably in a plastic state as it was propelled, and the act of hitting the ground packed it very tightly, which is why it’s perfectly flat on the bottom side. That’s what this is, oxidized iron and basalt. This might even have been the plug.”

“Do you think people are going to pay money to see a plug?” asked Danny. “I feel really sad.”

“You had a good day getting it out of the ground,” said Dell.

“We had some fun,” acknowledged Danny.

“We had a pretty good time,” agreed Ronny.

A huge raven circled overhead in the green-grey twilight, and the strangely harmonic call of a bird that no one knew the name of signaled the unspeakable loveliness of the place where people had found themselves circled tightly together. Nobody wanted to go home. So they stood staring at the huge boulder, and scrubbing away at the surface with some sandpaper that Ronny Trujillo had provided, trying to soften the marks where the chain had scarred it. They stood together until the darkness dropped down, and there was no longer an excuse to remain there.


Several weeks passed. The fall season was coming with its shorter days and beautifully mild weather. Autumn in the high plains was like an extension of summer, only better. It calmed the wind, removed the scourge from the sun, and pierced the air with the sweetly intoxicating scent of sage. Bob Martin’s dogs came alive and bounded over the cut fields, their silky coats flying, at the promise of a recently visited rabbit hole. One morning when Bob Martin was at home sharing a breakfast with Dell and reading the several days old New York Times which she and her husband received by mail, the telephone rang.

“Someone put two bullet holes in my front door. They set off a can of bear spray, stinking up my living room. And then they took a bath in my tub,” said Tom Bridge.

He laughed then with the familiar sardonic laugh that said he really didn’t mind, when it was clear that he did.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” said Bob Martin. “Is there anything I can do to help?”

“No, but if I were you I’d make sure my building was okay,” snorted Tom.

Bob Martin flew out of the house, jumped in his truck, and headed for his building. In moments, he concluded that a window had been pried open. He found the art, his several oil paintings intact, part of his gun collection and lots of ammunition missing, along with a sword and a few pewter pieces that belonged to a set of armor that had been in his family for years. Also conspicuously absent was a laptop computer, which contained restaurant and tax records. The depth of the loss began to bore through his skin, and he sat down at his desk. For a time he fumed bitterly, and then when he could breathe evenly he called the police.

In the meantime Tom Bridge wondered over from across the small plaza, and together the two men began to evaluate their circumstance. They deduced that their problems had begun with the arrival of a new tenant. A young man in his twenties had taken up residence in one of the small apartments on the plaza. He was working for his father on a nearby farm and keeping company with an underage girl. Furious at the thought, Bob Martin waited until Tom Bridge had left, and went to the young man’s door. When Padget appeared, looking guileless, Bob told him right out that he knew the young man had robbed him. He warned him that the taking of guns and ammunition would earn him prison time. He further said that if the girl was underage, she was in huge trouble, and that her parents would be informed.

Not an hour later, Padget’s mother, Rosaria Blanco, knocked at the door of Bob Martin’s upstairs office. By that time Dell had come over to make her own inventory of the missing items; and she was the one who answered. Rosaria Blanco was visibly upset, and perhaps threatened, as she decried the frequency with which her son was subjected to accusations of wrong doing. The lamentations went on for a long time, and Dell Martin was the one forced to endure them, along with the undercurrent recriminations and repetitions. The experience was unpleasant for her. After Mrs. Blanco left, Bob Martin was sheepish and said, “I probably shouldn’t have gone over to Padget’s.”

The state police arrived that evening, and although Bob and Dell Martin thought that it would be impossible to gather any evidence in the dark, the couple moved slowly over the grassy and stony parts of the plaza, following along with the policeman. Using their flashlights, they searched out the bullet casings. In the end there were five bullet casings and they were placed in a baggy. A couple of day later, Dell and Bob heard that the underage girl had been sent home to her mother and father in South Carolina.

Days passed and it seemed the matter had been put to rest, as are most cases in New Mexico, and particularly in Taos County. Bob Martin had a brainstorm. He wrote a letter to the Federal Bureau of Investigation stating that the large amount of ammunition stolen constituted a serious federal offense and threatened the public welfare. He demanded a federal investigation. He did not hear anything back for several weeks, and then suddenly he received a phone call from a female police detective. She stated that she had followed up on an anonymous tip, and that consequently, two guns and a huge cache of ammunition had been recovered, near an area of the Carson National Forest, and in the midst of scrub sage field.

A frequent customer of the restaurant admitted that he had known who committed the crime, and how it was done, within two days of the event. As accused, Padget Blanco had done the breaking and entering. But the fencing of the goods, in Albuquerque and Santa Fe, had required the criminal expertise of Ronny Trujillo. Nothing was done to punish the guilty parties, but as robberies became more frequent, neighbors drew together to discuss their problems, and eventually formed a Neighborhood Watch. The initial meeting was supported by the attendance of a State Police Officer. Ronny Trujillo and Padget Blanco, exercising a confounding amount of bravado, showed up as well. The two men were pointed out, albeit quietly, to the Police Officer who were present. Within two months, the two cohorts were in prison, and no one felt badly about that.

The colder weather drove the neighbors back inside their homes, and smoke from their wood fires could be seen circling above their roofs. When the snow came, late in the season, if sifted down, and was lifted up by the winds and deposited like sand in the desert. The brush peaked up, and between the clumps of sagebrush, rabbit tracks led to the burrow and disappeared. At night, as soon as darkness came, the yips of coyotes coming down from the mesas could be heard ringing out over the silence. Above it all the starry sky was suspended like a huge dome, and not one person, living or dead, could say how many stars made up that canopy of white light.

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