New Mexico Noir: The Safety of Church and Family

Dave was the ever-silent man who always did the right thing, much to Angelica’s pleasure and annoyance. His dispassionate nature was legendary, and, when it came to escorting Victor from his property, he gently took Victor by the arm and propelled him to his truck, then drove him home. That was the sort of behavior that gave Angelica pleasure. It was his lack of passion in their marriage that perturbed her.

I was half in love with him, just as I was with Pedro and my other male acquaintances who were, happily, already married. Together they created the perfect man, a person who was not Victor, and who was kind, industrious, honorable, and marvelous in the kitchen. Victor possessed only handsomeness, a quality that had not made my final list.

“You look shell-shocked,” Angelica said.

“I’m in awe of your husband.”

“He’s pretty good, sometimes. I wouldn’t listen to Victor if I were you. Since you’re up, do you want breakfast?”

“Sure.”

I sat at her pinewood table in the dining room that she and Dave had painted sunny yellow. I watched as she dished up two bowls of vanilla yogurt and poured granola over the top. She set one bowl in front of me and poured me a cup of coffee, and we were all set to enjoy a private conversation, when her two sons, aged ten and twelve respectively, sleepily entered the kitchen. Normally, they were forbidden to make any noise before ten in the morning due to their mom’s schedule, and they were quiet out of habit. Still, we weren’t alone, and I decided not to discuss the last thing Victor had shouted at me.

Instead, I slowly licked clumps of sweet granola and yogurt from my spoon while I sipped the weak coffee her husband had made. Actually, I hadn’t seen him making coffee at all, but I knew from experience that he liked his coffee watery.

“Do you want some cream, Ella?” Angelica asked me.

“Sure.”

“I should probably make Dave some breakfast for when he gets back. He won’t have time to do it.”

I watched enviously as she made him fried eggs smothered in red chile and cheese, served over corn tortillas with leftover beans on the side. Dave wouldn’t eat anything else. The children ate Cocoa Puffs, and Angelica ate her health food, and Dave ate only what could be served with tortillas, beans and chile.

Dave slipped in the back door just as Angelica served up his plate. She never went off shift as a waitress unless she was asleep. Her husband wasn’t immediately interested in the food she’d prepared for him, however.

He stared at me with impassive black eyes set in a poker face. “Who’s Anthony?”

“My new employer.”

“And what does he employ you to do?”

“I’m his secretary. He’s a private investigator.”

“Um, Ella,” Angelica said, “you don’t need to answer my husband’s interrogation.”

“Actually, she does. There’s a reason why her parents are living in Colorado now, and maybe I don’t want it to harm my family.”

“They’re on vacation,” I said, even though my stomach roiled with fear. “A kind of permanent, retiree vacation.” I looked out to the porch, where the boys had taken their bowls of sugar cereal, which they slurped with gusto.

It was the end of summer, another hot and clear day, and their backyard was dense with the shadows of cottonwoods. The world was hushed and pleasant; it was holding its breath and waiting for terrible things. At least, it suddenly felt that way to me. It had to do with the smell in the air, at once a peaceful wind and tree smell that had an edge of something else.

Dave had turned his attention to his breakfast, and I no longer coveted it. The granola was giving me indigestion.

“I’m going to be late to work,” he said as he mopped up the last traces of chile with his tortilla. “Be careful, Ella. Are you sure you can trust this dude, Anthony?”

“I don’t know.”

Angelica cleared our bowls, as well as her husband’s plate. She set them in the sink. “Bring him over, Ella. I want to meet him when he’s not drunk. I’ll make everybody dinner, like a last of summer barbecue before the kids have to go back to school.”

“Angel, I don’t know,” Dave began. Then he shrugged and kissed his wife on her cheek. “It’ll be all right. Invite him, and maybe we can figure out what’s going on. Victor could be crazy.”

“He’s clearly insane,” Angelica agreed.

I wasn’t so sure. I needed to find my parents; they hadn’t left a number because they’d said they would be out of range of any cell towers. It was possible they’d given my brother more information than they’d given me, but I doubted it. They’d told me they would be living in a mountain cabin somewhere near Boulder, fly-fishing and recuperating from the ills their job stresses had caused them. My mom had just retired from the mayor’s office, and my dad had retired last fall from the Albuquerque police.

My brother, however, might know about Anthony, even if our parents were as much a mystery to him as to me. Anthony was the crux, of course, because what had been a strange sort of employment yesterday had turned sour with my house break-in, my swollen nose, and what Victor had yelled at me before Dave had dragged him off.

“Anthony Carrillo’s not what you think he is,” he’d yelled in a broken, drunkard’s voice that didn’t sound at all like his. “It’s not really a coincidence that you’re working for him, Ella. Think about it. Manuela’s family hates your mom. That’s why they fired you.”

Victor was a liar. I knew he was a liar. He’d lied to me for years. But that was different—wasn’t it? It was simply the way with certain men to keep their women on a short leash by telling them what they wanted to hear. This morning’s rant had the ring of truth in it, though.

Something about bells and truth struck a chord with me, because it dawned on me that today was Saturday.

“We need to go to church tomorrow,” I told Angelica.

“I don’t know about you, but we go every week. We go to the one o’clock mass.”

“No,” I said. “It has to be the earliest mass, at eight. That’s when Grandma Steadman will be there.”

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