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A sign at the door announced: There is no town drunk. We all take turns. A room opened up in front of us empty but for ten or so wooden tables and a handful of locals sitting at the bar. The oldest bar in the area the waiter told us as he took us to a table by one of the windows. He sat us down and took our drinks order. The local beer was our choice, Santa Fe Pale Ale. I figured it was what everyone around here drank. Mark smoothed out his dirty blond hair, trying to tame his curls into some semblance of style. The stubble on his chin and cheeks had saved those parts of his face from sunburn but his nose glowed and the rest of him didn’t look so good. I kinda liked the rough look on him. I told him so.
“That bad? Oh, I’d better go clean up.” and he practically ran to the bathrooms. I waited for him to come back before I started my pint, but he was too long gone.
“Cheers.” I muttered to myself and drank deeply. “Not bad, not bad at all.” I drank some more and started to feel better.
Mark came back over, his hair wet and flattened. A stain from the water dripping off his face covered the buttons on his shirt. Thinking he looked all tucked in and presentable, he sat down next to me, facing the bar.
“I need to get a battery operated shaver. I can’t do this cowboy thing for much longer.” He pulled out his notepad and made another note. “Tomorrow? Drive to Santa Fe to get supplies? I heard there’s a Super Wal-Mart this side of town – we could go there.”
“Do you reckon they’d have solar lights? I’m not into stumbling into a cactus in the middle of the night again. You know, we get to do the right thing and be all Green now. Oh, do we need to get a tent? Did you ever find it in the U-Haul?”
“No, I didn’t find it. But we’ll probably find the RV this afternoon and move into that. Anyway, we’ll need to drop the truck off tomorrow unless we want to pay for another day or two? We could get some groceries and another cooler while we’re out. What else?” He looked at the lists that kept growing minute by minute. He scratched his beard.
“Water, we need more water containers. Can we fill them at Wal-Mart? What about batteries for the flashlights? Matches? Fire starters? What else?”
The list grew and grew. We sat and drank while making plans. We didn’t even talk about the home he’d build, just the settling in phase. One day at a time, or so my uncle used to say once he got sober. Too much caffeine and rum had made a mess of him. Then again, he’d been much more fun after his tainted coffee in the mornings.
Mark went outside for a cigarette. I sat alone and looked around. The tavern was dark and wooden with a single sided bar complete with mirrors and high stools. A stage stood ready for the bands on the weekends with a PA system and speakers laying off to the side. The air inside felt stale and warm. All four windows were firmly closed and by the paintwork was my guess. The tables all sat empty but for ours. Mid afternoon on a Thursday didn’t bring out many drinkers or tourists apparently. The bearded and stocky bartender chatted with a few people, shaking his head occasionally, and laughing at their jokes as he pocketed their tips. He walked past me on the way out to the porch, a cigarette hanging from his mouth. He stopped to ask if I needed another yet.
“No, I’m fine. Thanks.”
He nodded once, saying nothing more, and kicking the solid wood door, he went outside.
“Where are you from?”
A young man sat himself down opposite me and smiled. He was missing one tooth in the front. His skin was toasted a dark brown and he smelt odd. He had a short dark brown beard and long hair tied back in a ponytail. The tee shirt was worn to transparency. He held out a hand. It was dirty.
“I’m Dave. Pleased to meet you.”
I shook his hand out of habit and introduced myself, “I’m Jenny. Do you live around here too?”
He nodded and took a big gulp from his pint. “Yep, came here in ’96 when I was a kid. I grew up here. It’s changed that’s for sure, what with everyone and their dogs moving here. Well, yeah, anyway, I’ve not seen you around so I figured I’d be polite and see where you’re visiting from.”
I sipped my pint and wished Mark would come back in. I told Dave how I’d moved here from Olympia, and that we were going to build a place out of town on our land.
“We?” he echoed.
“Yes, me and my boyfriend. Mark.”
“Oh, that’s nice.” There was a pause as he finished his pint in one long gulp. He stood up and nodded absently. “Well, yeah, see you around I guess.”
I drank some more and pulled out my camera, deleting the blurred photos from the drive the day before. I put it away as the waiter had poured me another pint and dropped it off as I looked over our lists for in the morning and sighed. There was too much to be done. I sighed again.
“Are you okay?”
The waiter was standing nearby with a pitcher of water with ice.
“You’ll need this if you’re not from around here, you’ll get headaches, hangovers, feel sleepy and probably get all irritable. It’s altitude sickness; some get it worse than others. Be careful for a while, especially with alcohol. It’s twice as strong if you’ve come from sea-level, okay?” He topped up my water glass with more ice before heading back to the bar. He was tidy in his black tee shirt and jeans, short brown hair, and shaved unlike the rest of the men around. I scooped out a piece of ice when he wasn’t looking and put it down my bra.
The door opened and Mark came back over grinning loosely.
“Some guy got in my face, calling me a narc.” Mark sat down next to me and gave me a kiss. A big slobbery beer and smoke flavored kiss.
“What’s that for?”
“Bringing me to this crazy town. A narc. Me? Why did he say that?” He sat there in his black tee shirt with sweat stains drying out nicely, and tucked himself in, scratching at his newly forming beard. I described my brief visitor at the table and asked if that was who’d talked to him.
“I wouldn’t call it talking, but yeah, a young and ugly bugger, scruffy and full of himself. Yep, that’s the one. He kept on calling me a Fed, not listening to a word I said. I get the feeling he says that to anyone new. Someone else out there told him to give it a break and they all made fun of him for picking on me. I told him to call me Special Agent Bradley in future. I think that helped me make friends with the other guys out there after he left. The bartender, he was all right. He’d been out West to Oregon and Washington before he settled here with his wife and kids. I liked him.”
“Did you tell them we live here now? That we’re locals?”
“Yes, but they’d already heard about us walking up Gringo Gulch in the middle of the day. Danny had stopped in here to tell them about picking up some tourists walking out in the noon sun.”
“And?” I sipped more water. “What else did you find out?”
“Not much, I tried to tell them that we bought the place so we’re not tourists, but they kind of laughed. It wasn’t mean, but sort of sarcastic, you know? Oh, and you know what? I’m told there’s an old school bus on the property, not an RV like the one the realtor promised. Somewhere on the back half of the forty acres Pete set up camp in a converted 1950s school bus. He lived in it until his daughter got him an RV or something and then he hit the road and sold up. Anyway, they reckon it’s probably all set up for us, better than waiting for the monsoon season in a tent.” Mark reached over and drank the rest of my pint.
I passed him the water too. “Finish that,” I said and I told him why he’d had those headaches all day long. He frowned but downed it in one.
“A bus you said? No RV?” I asked. “And monsoons?”
“Yep, regular as clockwork I’m told.”
We sat there nursing the beers when it occurred to me. “What about our stuff? Where are we going to put it all? When exactly does it start raining?” I needed details.
“In July.” Mark grinned. “So in about a weeks time. Do you want to go live in a school bus with me then?” he offered with a wickedly disbelieving grin.
“Yeah, why not.” I punched him lightly.
“Really?” He looked shocked. “You’d do that?”
“On one condition,” I told him. “No pack rats, cute or not.”
We clinked glasses and called for the check.
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