Hoping the adventure of a raft trip in Big Bend National Park will lift her spirits, Paul takes Anna to southwest Texas. Instead of the soul-soothing experience they'd longed for, the couple finds a pregnant woman--more dead than alive--and soon they are sucked into a labyrinth of intrigue that leads from the Mexican desert to the steps of the Governor's Mansion in Austin.
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Nevada Barr is the award-winning author of fourteen previous Anna Pigeon mysteries, including the New York Times bestsellers Winter Study and Hard Truth.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Table of Contents
ALSO BY NEVADA BARR
A Superior Death
Track of the Cat
Seeking Enlightenment . . . Hat by Hat
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Borderline / Nevada Barr.
eISBN : 978-1-101-02923-7
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
While the author has made every effort to provide accurate telephone numbers and Internet addresses at the time of publication, neither the publisher nor the author assumes any responsibility for errors, or for changes that occur after publication. Further, the publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
For Kendall, who gave us a magical dog
For purposes of mine own I have done many terrible things. I have moved thousands of tons of rocks from Mexico to America at the rock slide in Santa Elena Canyon. I have rerouted roads and allowed horses to be ridden where they are banned by park regulation. I have changed park protocols and, in some dire cases, rewritten a rule or two. In my defense, I have given the park a shiny new helicopter and updated a few other sundry pieces of machinery. Now that the book is finished, I promise to return Big Bend to the pristine and well-run park that I found it.
Wailing cut through the perfect darkness. Like a machete, it slashed away the tangle of sleeping dreams holding Gabriela hostage, neither unconscious nor conscious. The baby did that to her. Before the baby she’d slept deep and warm and silent, curled next to Marcos. But now there was the baby and Marcos had become a Diablo, a devil, a man who didn’t burn up in the fires of hell.
Thin shrieking cut through the walls of her belly and the baby woke kicking, its little heels thumping into the soft flesh beneath her rib cage. “You are a devil like your papa,” she murmured, and reached out and turned on the bedside lamp.
“Marcos.” Gabriela tugged gently on her husband’s earlobe. Asleep he was beautiful, with his round face and straight black eyebrows, his hair falling long on his shoulders like an Apache’s. “Wake up,” she said. “It’s the sirens.” She tugged again, harder this time. Marcos caught her hand without waking and kissed her palm. Then his eyes flew open, wide and scared, and he sat bolt upright.
“It’s time?” he demanded. “Gabby, I’ll—”
Gabriela never found out what he’d do. He was wrapped in the sheet and when he tried to leap out of bed he fell to the floor in a muffle of bedding and curses. She started to laugh but decided against it. The baby liked to sit on her bladder and she had to pee most of the time.
Again the sirens sounded.
Looking sheepish, Marcos got up from the floor. “Oh,” he said. “My ride is here.”
The sun was going to be up soon and gray light behind the Chisos Mountains made them black like the cutouts children made from construction paper. The street bisecting the village was scuffling with people and horses and dogs and little kids who didn’t want to miss the show. Men rode bareback. They had saddles, vaqueros took pride in the tooled leather of their tack, but nobody bothered with saddles now. Diablos also prided themselves on being fast. Men pulled their wives up behind them. Some had sons old enough to be useful and they ran ahead or rode behind.
Gabriela was so fat she could no longer sit behind Marcos. “I got to get a horse with a bigger rump,” he joked as he pulled her awkwardly up in front of him. “Why don’t you stay in bed and let one of these worthless boys bring Tildy back?”
“No, I like to see cowboys turn into Devils,” Gabriela said. “It’s like magic.”
Marcos wrapped his arms around her and the baby she carried and drummed his heels on Tildy’s sides. Before she got so big they’d race down to the Rio Bravo del Norte, Gabriela holding him tightly around the waist, him bending over the horse’s neck. Today they’d be one of the last to arrive at the river and she knew Marcos didn’t like that, but he was such a good husband he never said anything or told her she was too big to come.
The Estada de Coahuila in Mexico had let go of their water earlier in the spring. Now, at the bend where the river turned north again, it was shallow enough to walk a horse through without the rider getting his feet wet. Light was leaking around the few clouds on the eastern horizon and the giant reeds on the banks were turning from black to green. The greedy desert gave up little ground to the intrusion of water-hungry plants. Gray stony soil crabbed with the claws of sotol and ocotillo and horse-crippler cactus pushed nearly to the water’s edge.
The first of the mounted Diablos rode into the water and a shout went up as the others followed, horses’ hooves churning the water, women clutching their men and their skirts to keep them from trailing in the water, children running out to shout across to rangers waiting by a truck with the lights and siren on. Rangers waving and shouting back. On American soil in Big Bend National Park where the Rio del Norte was called the Rio Grande, the vaqueros slid from their horses and caught yellow shirts and helmets from a ranger tossing them from the rear of a truck.
This was Gabriela’s favorite part and, though she’d watched it a dozen or more times, she steadied Tildy and stared transfixed as Mexican vaqueros turned into American firefighters, the Diablos, one of the most respected fire crews in the southwest.
“Adiós,” Marcos called, and waved his yellow helmet in an arc as the truck backed up the slope from the river, the crew in the back.
Tildy twitched her ears and neighed softly but she was as steady as a rock. She acted as if she knew Gabriela was carrying a child and didn’t sport around the way she did when it was just Marcos on her back. “Adiós, mi querido,” Gabriela whispered, and waved until the truck was over the low hill between the road and the river.
The women and boys were riding the horses back across the river to Boquillas to open up their shops. Business was good. Not as good as two weeks before when American colleges were on spring break and kids came to Big Bend to raft the river. Big Bend was proud of the villages that shared the river. Together they showed how countries should live as friends. The rangers came across to visit and to eat in Mexico, visitors were sent to share a Mexican beer. Boys made money ferrying them across in little skiffs for a dollar or two, and the littler kids laughed and joked as they helped them to get astride the tough little burros, and then, for a quarter, they led the burros into the village where the women had crafts and food for sale. Older boys and men lucky enough to own pickup trucks would take the more adventurous tourists into the wild Coahuila Mountains to camp or hike or just breathe the cleanest air in the world.
THREE DAYS LATER, at two-fifteen in the morning, Gabriela’s contractions came. Her little sister, Lucia, had been assigned to look after her while Marcos was working fire crew. Lucia, just turned seven and so serious and responsible Gabriela wondered where she had come from, ran to tell their mother.
Alicia and Gabriela’s mother-in-law, Guadalupe, packed her into a borrowed donkey cart for the short trip to the river. Boquillas had no doctor, no hospital and no medicines. That was reason enough to have her baby in America but Guadalupe had delivered more babies than a lot of doctors and bragged that she never lost one. Guadalupe had refused to deliver her first grandchild. She scolded Gabriela for asking and told her the best gift a mother could give her child was to be born in the United States, over the river. The baby would then be a citizen of both the U.S. and Mexico and would have work and an education if he wanted it. Guadalupe had no doubt that her first grandchild would be a he.
“I can walk,” Gabriela protested until it was clear they were set on giving her the ride in the cart they had gone to so much trouble to get for her. Guadalupe led the donkey and Gabriela’s mother walked beside the cart to hold Gabriela’s hand. The jolting down the dirt track made Gabriela groan.
“Shhh,” Alicia hissed, then leaned in toward her daughter, the silver in her hair catching the faint light of the moon and running like lightning through the long black hair. “Not much longer,” she whispered. “Let the mother-in-law be right. One day you might want money for a house.”
Gabriela and her mother laughed and Gabby did her best to stifle any more ungrateful sounds.
The river was up half a foot from rains in the mountains. It wasn’t more than thigh-deep, but too deep for the donkey and cart. “You’re going to have an early baptism for that baby,” Guadalupe joked as she and Alicia helped Gabby to climb out.
“This is my best dress,” Gabby complained. “My best fat dress. I guess tomorrow I won’t have to wear it anymore.”
“No new dresses for you,” Alicia said. “Once you have children you get no more treats. They all go to the kid. You’ll have to take that dress in and wear it till the baby is in high school.” Guadalupe laughed. Gabriela wished Marcos was there. He could drink beer and wait and make up lies with his buddies and, when the baby was born, he could come to the river and carry her and the baby home on Tildy’s back.
“God I hate this mud,” Gabriela said as her shoe sunk into the cool slime then came free with a sucking sound and a slurp that nearly pulled her sneaker off her foot.
“Don’t blaspheme,” her mother said automatically. “We’ve got you. We’ll go slow.”
“Pick up my skirt,” Gabby begged. “I don’t want to go knocking on doors looking like my water just broke. Lift it out of the water.”
“It’s too deep,” her mother said flatly. “Your underpants will show.”
“I’m not wearing any underpants,” Gabby said, and felt a small stab of satisfaction as Alicia began muttering her rosary under her breath.
“You better not let Marcos hear you saying things like that,” Guadalupe warned her. “He has a temper like his dad.”
Gabriela was glad it was dark so her mother-in-law wouldn’t see the smile that came to her lips when she thought of what Marcos would do if she told him she didn’t have any panties on.
With her mother holding her right arm and her mother-in-law her left, the three of them waded into the river. The night was kind, seventy degrees with a whisper of a breeze coming down from the Chisos, smelling of pine and heat and dust laid by the rain. The water was cool and felt good on Gabby’s legs and groin. The baby in her belly seemed to float on the water, taking the weight off the small of her back for a change.
“Women should give birth in the river,” Gabby said. “Women should be pregnant in the river. You can pee anytime you want.”
“Don’t you dare pee,” Alicia said. “I’m downstream.”
“You are going to have that baby in the water if you two don’t stop making jokes and move faster.”
“Remember your house,” Alicia murmured in Gabriela’s ear and Gabby laughed loudly.
“Now you did make me pee, Mama.”
Before Alicia could make a retort a braying came out of the darkness on the American side of the Rio Grande. A man with a machine amplifying his voice was shouting at them in Spanish:
“Se ha carredo la frontera. The border is closed. Go back. This border is closed by order of the United States government.”
“No it isn’t,” Alicia yelled back.. “Not between the park and Boquillas.” There was no answering bray, and Gabby’s mother urged her forward. “Some fool ranger not old enough to go to the bathroom by himself gets those talking horns and thinks he’s John Wayne at the Alamo,” Alicia grumbled.
The Alamo was Alicia’s favorite movie. Gabby had had to watch it at least three times. The only thing that kept it from boring her completely out of her mind was that her mother always rooted for John Wayne and saw nothing funny in that at all. “It’s only a movie,” she’d tell Gabby and her brother. “Nobody’s real. I can like who I like.”
They’d reached midstream when the voice came again and, with it, painfully bright lights. “The border is closed,” the man announced again. “Go back.”
“My daughter is having a baby. She’s having a baby right now!” Alicia shouted.
The disembodied voice came back over the water. “Crossings are permitted only at authorize...
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