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August 7, 2013 / Ronald Chapman

Chapter 1 – The Sequel to A Killer’s Grace

Chapter One

A tall, broad shouldered man stands beside the acequia, the main irrigation channel that parallels the Rio Grande. A few feet away, still and almost unseen, stands a ghostly white dog fading into the blanket of snow that covers the earth. Both of them stare up the waterway watching a dun colored dog bounding above the bank barking at a beaver slipping through the waters.

Kevin Pitcairn shakes his head at the antics of the female boxer. “Another day…another adventure for Lucy.” Extending his hand he scratches Lincoln’s ears. “I wonder what you think of her?”

The male boxer looks up through eyes made opaque by congenital defects. He lifts his nose as if understanding.

“Let’s go get her, boy.”

Suddenly the dog pivots northward to gaze toward an unseen horizon. An instant later Pitcairn feels a tremor in the earth beneath him. He cocks his head and listens, wondering if it is one of the infrequent earthquakes that still occur through the rift of the Rio Grande. A few moments later a dull thud echoes softly through the atmosphere, muffled by distance and the snow but surely an explosion.

Moving off the asphalt path to get a better view through leafless cottonwood boughs, he spies a cloud rising above the distant terrain. “What the hell?” he mutters as Lincoln presses into his thigh. His mind races as he contemplates out loud. “Gotta be east and south of Santa Fe. That has got to be one big blast, but there’s nothing out there.” He pauses to consider. “Maybe a gas line?”

As a part-time news reporter and columnist for the Albuquerque Chronicle, he knows there is a story in the making. Pitcairn squints into the distance as if his concentration will discern the facts. The plume is further aloft and expanding. A thought arises unbidden that this may be some incarnation of violence. He shudders in an attempt to shirk the idea but is unable to do so.

Only fifteen months earlier his life had been transformed by what was now known as the Crucifix Protest, a nation-wide demonstration of sorts that co-opted the Christian crucifix as an upside down expression of distress. He had become deeply involved in matters related to a serial killer and his murder on the tarmac at the Albuquerque Sunport. It had thrust him unwillingly into a national dialogue on violence, innocence and forgiveness. One consequence was a continuing series of pieces on violence and its effects for the North Country Reader, a publication with a progressive angle though it mostly catered to provocative thought. The more important change was an inner one as he reached a kind of reconciliation with himself over his own history with violence.

Regardless of his comfort with the subject and gratitude for the remaking of his insides, he had more than a little reticence each time events conspired to engage him. He had made peace with the fact that his life was not his own in these matters. And as a result he was willing to go wherever he was drawn, though not always happily. Despite his reconciliation with himself, the effects of violence on others remained a source of heartache.

He took a deep breath and looked down as he nodded at Lincoln. “Guess Lucy is not the only one with another adventure at hand.”

With that comment Lucy the Clown appeared racing at breakneck speed only to find her traction slipping on ice beneath the snow. Madly scrambling her legs, tongue lolling from the side of her mouth, she tumbled out of control into chamisa beside the path. On impact the powdery blanket of snow exploded. She yelped then spun like a crab and emerged dappled in white. Looking up at Pitcairn she shook herself them romped toward him with great exuberance.

“Unbelievable…” he muttered as they turned to retrace their steps to his Jeep. He was aware his surroundings no longer felt pristine. In the back of his mind he observed himself fretting about the blast.

The roads in the valley were vacant over the few miles he drove to downtown Albuquerque and the home he shared with his girlfriend. Maria Elena C de Baca was one of the great gifts of his life. She was also an anchor that he could not imagine being without. Emmy, a playful nickname taken from her initials, was native New Mexican, at times emotionally capricious, and fiercely loyal. She was also an extremely talented senior staff member for Albuquerque’s Mayor. Her recent political battles for the re-election of the city’s first female top leader, Carlinda Dixon, had earned her the monicker La Diabla de Albuquerque from the conservative morning newspaper. He admired Emmy like no other woman he had ever met. Yet the foundation for their relationship was nothing more complicated than friendship.

Exiting the Jeep, Lucy and Lincoln raced to the house. Pitcairn stopped to look upward at the light trail of wood smoke above their home and closed his eyes to inhale the pungent odor of burning pinon. That smell rivaled the light as quintessentially New Mexican ambiance. In response, a deep sense of gratitude rose within him.

Several long strides brought him to the front door which swung open with a hearty creak that was immediately followed by the staccato sound of dogs’ nails on tile as they scurried toward the breakfast that awaited them.

An instant later Maria Elena’s voice rang down the hallway, “Cito?” Her nickname for him never ceased to make him smile, Kevincito…Little Kevin…a touching contrast to his actual stature.

“Right there,” he replied just before turning the corner into the kitchen. She leaned over the table with a casserole dish of breakfast enchiladas, her unique interpretation of New Mexican fare with eggs, carne adovada, sour cream, and chile layered between blue corn enchiladas. It combined some of Pitcairn’s favorite items and ensured immediate salivation.

Nearly black eyes gleamed at him as a smile split her slender, sculpted face. Dark wavy hair cascaded nearly to her shoulders, beautifully framing her olive-hued skin.

“Why are you still in your robe, Emmy?”

She cocked her head in apparent surprise. “Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. It’s a holiday.”

“Ah! I forgot,” he replied with a whack to the side of his head as he leaned down to kiss her lightly on the lips.

She grabbed his head and kissed him back deeply, then pulled away with a caressing touch to his cheek and a shake of her head. “For a guy who makes his living recounting facts for others, I do not understand how you can forget so many practical ones.”

“It’s called contextual memory. A blessing for deeper understanding and a curse for particulars. It’s why I write so many things down.”

“And how it is you could forget to swing by the grocery store on the way home…” she added.

He laughed as he slapped her ass and lowered himself into a chair.

Maria Elena disappeared into the bathroom as he heaped enchiladas onto his plate. Both dogs stood watching him, their breakfast already wolfed down with hopes for table scraps now emerging.

He gazed at them suddenly lost in thought. “Dogs and chile are a really bad idea. Go lay down.”

Shoveling a large bite into his mouth, he chewed and swallowed then hollered. “Emmy, there was some kind of blast up toward Santa Fe. Do you want to go check it out with me?”

There was no reply. He shrugged then returned his attention to his breakfast. As he ate it occurred to him that the timing of the explosion on this holiday might not be coincidental. His inner sense of disquiet increased.

A short time later she emerged dressed for the day. “I just heard on the radio there was a really big explosion at a Sufi compound near Glorieta. No details, but it sounds really bad.”

He had just taken a large gulp of coffee, which he quickly swallowed. “There’s a Sufi place up there?”

“South of the Presbyterian retreat center.”

“I felt a tremor in the ground while we were walking in the bosque,” he commented in referring to the forest of cottonwood trees along the river. “Then the sound of it was a bit delayed and I could see a cloud of smoke.” He paused in a brief reverie. “I wondered about it.”

“Wondered?” she queried with a serious tone.

His face screwed up slightly before he replied. “I have a feeling it’s some kind of violence.”

She advanced to press herself reassuringly against him. Sliding her hand gently across his neck to his shoulder, she kneaded the muscles lightly. “Did you hear the voice?”

Since the Crucifix Protest he infrequently heard what they now referred to as “the still small voice.” On one occasion it had spoken to them both, but only that one time. It had whispered “preciosa,” an endearment Maria Elena had received as a child from a dear aunt. The reverence they felt about the episode was such that they only spoke of it obliquely. It was as if speaking of it openly would be callous.

“No,” he replied quickly then added, “it just has a feeling to it.”

She leaned her cheek against the top of his head and continued to massage his shoulder.

He leaned away from her and turned. “Want to drive up there and check it out?”

She smiled and nodded.

“And there’s a great AA meeting at St. Francis Church.”

Maria Elena eased her face toward him as she grabbed his hair. “No. Period. No drunks.”

“Well, that seems definitive.”

“Cito, this is my day off. I’m delighted to go investigate with you, but I’m thinking a nice dinner or a good soak in a hot tub at Ten Thousand Waves. In fact, I’m thinking of one of those nice secluded tubs with a sauna. With the snow and the night sky it should be beautiful!”

He laughed as he rose. “La Diabla has spoken.”

She smacked him on the arm in response. “I haven’t decided how I feel about my new title. On the one hand, I’m pleased by the impression it creates.” She smiled mischievously. “On the other, it just doesn’t seem to fit my self-concept.” She scrunched up her face. “Then again, nothing wrong with a chica like myself commanding a little respect.”

“If you’re done self-reflecting, I’ll call the boss and let him know I’m on the story. It may be a holiday but Sean Mortensen’s brain never takes a break. And maybe you can call the spa and see about that hot tub.”

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2 Comments

Leave a Comment
  1. Irene Fuson / Aug 7 2013 6:38 pm

    What a unique place to be in knowing a characters real spirit. It’s like I am the character. Great writing putting us inside your character.

    • Ron Chapman / Aug 7 2013 11:36 pm

      Thank you, Irene! Pleased that you’re pleased … and of course, that the story is getting told!

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