New Mexico Noir: La Mariposa

When Anthony headed for his piece-of-sky truck, I jumped in before he could argue. He turned the keys and out poured old-school metal. I closed my eyes and concentrated on the guitar solo for a moment: some old Scorps song, a favorite of my older brother’s. Klaus’s voice rose in a crescendo of emotion, and I experienced a moment of euphoria, which led to a marvelous epiphany: I was a private detective on my way to investigate my first case, albeit, against Anthony’s will.

Mrs. Garcia’s nephew lived in a small ranch house surrounded by dilapidated wood fencing that caged a ferocious Rottweiler whose bark was deep and throaty, as though vibrating from the depth of his muscular frame. When we approached the front door via the drive, I wondered if the fence would hold him. Anthony looked a little wary, also, but risked ringing the doorbell. Nobody responded.

He rang the bell again. The dog leaped against the fence, and I scooted farther away, making sure that Anthony was in between us. From around the back of the house appeared Herman, shorter than I remembered, but with a grand bigote to make up for it. He clapped his hands and yelled at his dog to shut up.

“Hey, Herman!” Anthony said.

“Dude, what’s up? Long time, no see.”

The men did some kind of fist-smack instead of high five, and I almost expected a cloud burst and shouting: “Wonder twin powers activate!” Clearly, Herman was animal, taking the form of his dog, and Anthony was water, very fluid and sneaky.

Herman looked at me from under lowered lids. “Bella Ella.”

“Hi, Herman, how are you?”

“Not too bad. You want a Coke?”

“Only if you call off your dog,” said Anthony.

“Go on, get in the house.” The tough dog whined like a baby, but obeyed Herman’s command.

We walked through a dirt patch with holes dug by dog paw nails and around to a flat expanse of yard covered in circularly raked sand broken up here and there by river rocks. Along the side of the house, a path of saltillos led through the dirt and then through the sand and up to a small back patio where a bench sat, decked with gardening shears, spades of varying sizes, and leather gloves. Up against the house leaned a weed-wacker and a rake. My eye went quickly to the back door, which had an extra large doggy door.

“Wow,” Anthony said, “a Zen garden.

“Exactly,” said Herman, and he led us over the saltillos to the porch, where he extracted three cans from a cooler filled with ice. The cans turned out to be green tea sodas. “Have a seat.”

He politely offered me the singular porch chair, and I sat down and cracked open the can so as not to offend the host’s hospitality.

“Did you do this?” Anthony asked him, also opening the can and drinking up. He gave the bitter-sweet stuff a dubious look.

“My counselor at the drug clinic told me I should get in touch with the artistic side of my soul and bring it together with the dark side. She said I could do that with a Zen garden. Yin and yang. That’s what those rocks in the center represent.”

“You’ve been going to a drug clinic?”

“The counseling’s been amazing, really opened my life to new possibilities. It could help yours, too, bro, with the booze.”

“To each his own, Herman. To you, a rock garden; to me, drinking beer.”

“Right,” I said and saluted Anthony with the disgusting soda. Neither man appeared to notice me or my toast.

“Yin and yang, Anthony. The universe has two sides, you know. Just remember that. Yin and yang.”

I wasn’t certain whether his philosophy was derived from Star Wars or was bona fide Oriental, but I was almost certain yin and yang represented the female and male aspects of the universe conjoined, or at least of opposite forces at work in the cosmos. At that moment, the male aspect stuck his nose out the doggie door and greeted me with a growl. I was content to keep my yang to itself, thank you.

It looked to me as if Herman had stolen his great-aunt’s gardening tools in order to be at peace with the universe. I yawned. Was detective work always this simple? “Herman, you need to take the tools back to your aunt,” I said.

Anthony looked at me, clearly annoyed.

“I was just borrowing them,” Herman said.

“And take her a pound cake. She’d appreciate that.”

He looked thoughtful. “That’s a good idea, Ella. Hey, Anthony, if you and Ella ever split up, let me know. I could use a woman like her around.”

“Sure,” said Anthony, “but only if you need a secretary who’s supposed to be cleaning the office and instead getting in the way of investigations.”

Herman looked at me with what could have been a romantic expression, if it weren’t creepy. “She could be the key, Anthony. The key to finding la mariposa. That’s what you mean by investigations, right? You’re after her, too.”

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