Down Mexico Way
Excerpt from the novel DOWN MEXICO WAY coming soon
(from the Dimensions Series)
Maybe it was just as well. It was only a hundred and sixty acres compared to other Texas spreads, now many owned by corporations. But all of her childhood was wrapped around the buildings, fences, hills, and trees; and even when away, she could see each clear as day, what the trees would look like in autumn with their burnish red oak leaves, what the air would smell like in spring with the honeysuckle wrapped around all the fence posts.
She paused at the door as she saw an old black pickup barrel across the pasture road. She supposed it must be Mark Landis, the real estate man that she hadn’t met yet. But his vehicle didn’t match the cost of the firm’s name or reputation. She guessed that teaching at a women’s college back east gave her a distorted perception that a lawyer with a concentration in real estate from Landis & Landis would not want to feel the hot wind and hang an arm out the lowered cab window.
As the pickup came closer, she frowned. The man behind the wheel wore a cowboy hat and his arm lay swathed in a blue plaid western shirt. The black pickup slammed to a stop, the dust lifted and danced in the sun.
The rush of a Senior Prom memory spilled into her thoughts. Then the flickering lights at the dance where he asked her to marry him in front of all the class, knowing it was only a joke between these two friends. Then the shock of his entry into the Army and then to Afghanistan.
She smiled in recognition as he opened the gate to the white picket fence.
“How good to see you! How did you know I was here?”
He didn’t smile. He walked up the stone path. His voice came harsh with no friendship, “Why didn’t you call for entrance to this property. It’s under surveillance.”
Well, let’s see,” she frowned in confusion, “how was I suppose to call you, Joe? It’s been over ten years since you decided to save America. How was I to know you were even in the area?”
Joseph’s eyes filled with recognition. He stepped back and frowned heavily, “Little Ava? Is that you?”
“Yes, Joe. It’s me.” She laughed and stepped toward him a pace. Then she threw her arms around his neck in a hug. “You didn’t recognize me! And who was I going to call, your Mom?”
“No,” he paused and looked down. He looked back at her sharply as though her absence betrayed a trust. “She died last spring. You could have tried to call old friends to see.”
“I’m so sorry, Joe. I didn’t know. I guess I could have done that. I didn’t even know that you were back from the Middle East or from all those assignments that I heard you accepted. I also heard you got some sort of medals, bronze star, silver star. Anyway, Daddy was just gushing over the telephone about your combat medals.”
“Bronze Star would be the combat medal.” Joseph frowned harder. “It’s good to see you. And it’s true. I didn’t recognize you, Ava. You look like a woman now, not a little girl. I guess I won’t be calling you ‘little Ava’ anymore.”
“But how did you know I was here even if you didn’t recognize me?”
“There is surveillance.”
“Oh, you don’t mean it.”
“Yes, and we’ve picked up activity on film at night. We’ve managed to clear them out by helicopters. But, I come out here daily to check on all those old antiques of your parents. You know that there’s a rumor that you’re selling the farm.”
It was Ava’s turn to frown, now. “My goodness, I don’t think that I’ve spoken to anyone about that. In fact, I haven’t seen any of our old friends. I . . .”
“Sam’s new real estate agency in El Paso.”
“Oh, your little brother, Sam. Yes, I called several real estate agents, but I don’t think I spoke to Sam. How is he?”
“He thinks he went into the wrong business. It’s hard to make a profit selling land with unsolved murders.”
Ava frowned as she nodded. She noticed the old sparkle never reached Joseph’s eyes.
He looked at her left hand. “You mean no special gentleman has proposed yet.”
Oh, yes, my special gentleman did,” she looked at Joseph with a teasing gleam in her eye, “but then he ran off to war and loved guns better than babies,” she shrugged lightly.
Joseph barely broke a smile as he stated, “Well that stupid guy. I hope he didn’t get killed over there.”
“Oh no,” Ava played along, “in fact he brought back medals. Many medals worth more than all the wives and babies in the world.”
Joseph looked skeptical and didn’t respond to her comment. “Well, Ava, I’m now assigned as an investigator here. Actually, it’s what the military is setting up for national defense.”
“It has something to do with the unsolved murders – your parents being two in the group.”
Ava felt the light tenor of the conversation open a hole in her heart. She felt empty. “I should have been here. I might have been able to save them.”
“If you had been here, I’m certain you would have been buried with them.”
“What do you know?”
“At this point, border land is being sold. The new owners don’t want to be bothered with anyone on their property. It seems that soon the place of your parents’ murders will belong to someone else.”
“No one has told me any of this,” she frowned. “And if I don’t sell? Are you close?”
“Little questioner, Ava!” He shook his head. “You were always buzzing around the classroom with your questions. That’s why you passed through two grades in one year for two years in a row. And that’s why you graduated with my class when you should have been way behind me. But as I remember, some of the questions you asked, you really never needed to know.”
“Oh no you don’t, Joe. My questions mattered to me. I wanted to make certain that you chose the right girl.”
“Well, if you find her, call me, Ava, but right now I’ve got work to do.”
“Do you have a lead?” Ava prompted again.
“No, and it’s not looking very good. You can’t stay out here, either. These murders are unsolved. This property is considered a place where the murderers will return.”
“It’s been two years!”
“I have a hunch that the reason your parents were murdered is that someone needed more land beside the border. Do you understand now. This area is not safe. Arizona has put up with this for years. But it looks like Texas is coming under the threat.”
“They aren’t bringing drugs across the border, Joe. The people coming over the border are poor and helpless.”
“Not too helpless if they murdered your parents.”
The honk of a horn brought Ava’s eyes to the sound, “My real estate agent.” She announced as she eyed the man in the red Mercedes. The sound of a helicopter chopped the air overhead. She looked back at Joseph. “Your surveillance team?” When he didn’t respond, she said, “Come on, let’s talk to Mr. Landis.”
“You mean my brother’s competition.”
Ava grabbed his arm and pulled him with her, “Come on, you might want to get pointers for your brother.”
Ava pulled Joseph with her, knowing she couldn’t budge him if he didn’t want to go. The lawyer stepped out of his car.
“Hi,” Ava called from the picket fence.
The lawyer paused and frowned, “You didn’t tell me you were married.”
Ava’s blue eyes grew wide and her black tapered brows lifted as she smiled up at Joseph. “This is a very good friend of mine. He is here to make certain I don’t make any mistakes.”
“Is that so.” The lawyer eyed the tall cowboy. “It’s good to meet you, Miss Meadows.” Mark Landis extended his hand.
Mark focused on Ava and ignored Joseph. “My client will gift you with more than the current rate for land in this area.” The lawyers eyes never left Ava’s. “The expense is already settled in my client’s mind. Now, all that is needed is for you, Miss Meadows, to sign this contract I have prepared.” He paused and pulled a slip of paper from his briefcase. “Here is the cashier’s check already issued by the bank.”
Ava’s eyes widened as she counted the zeros. Her hand shook as she lifted it to examine the check further. Joseph clasped her other hand in his and addressed the lawyer.
“You’ll have to let her lawyer look at the contract first.”
The lawyer’s eyes remained on Ava and he continued to ignore Joseph. “What do you think, Miss Meadows? You could pay off your mortgage, your car, or whatever. You could take a trip to Europe.” Ava’s eyes narrowed on the lawyer. These expenses were all the reasons why she wanted to sell the property.
“I’ve been to Europe.” Joseph said. “It lacks a lot compared to Texas. And she needs the contract reviewed by her lawyer.
“But surely, Joe, can you believe that it’s for this much money?”
“Yes, I can. An easy entry from Mexico to Texas would definitely be worth a little more money.”
The real estate lawyer laughed, “Surely Sir, you don’t believe that. With the proposed building of a wall and the security systems. Surely not. All my client wants is a retreat on the Rio Grande.”
“I haven’t seen a wall, yet. It looks like a lot of people that are buying up the land after unsolved murders don’t want a wall, now.”
Joseph’s eyes never left the lawyer as he spoke to Ava, “It’s your parents’ life we’re concerned with, Ava.”
The lawyer waited as Ava lowered the check and continued to frown at it in silence. She finally shook her head and spoke, “I’m sorry, I do need my lawyer to review the contract.
The lawyer heaved a sigh and placed the check back into his briefcase. “I always wonder about friends who don’t allow their friends to gain a good profit, Miss Meadows. I always think that these friends are not real friends at all.”
Ava pulled from Joseph’s grasp and reached for the lawyer’s hand, “I will have this reviewed in at least three days and get back with you on this property.”
The lawyer’s eyebrows lifted. “My client has a pending offer elsewhere today. He has already instructed me that if you refuse his generous offer, then he will have no need to pay you for this property. We will dispose of the cashier’s check.”
Ava felt her heart sink. She couldn’t maintain the taxes on both this border property and her own house in North Carolina. She looked at Joseph with a frown for him to give her some way of escape from this decision. He looked back at her like this was a challenge that he expected her to meet.
“It was your parents that got murdered, Ava. It’s time to find out who killed them.”
Mark Landis said no further words but silently stepped off the porch.
“May I call you later?”
“Only if you intend to sell, Miss Meadows. And again, it may be too late if my client follows through with what he has said.” He slammed the door to his Mercedes, the engine purred and the gravel spewed as he turned the car around and sped down the pasture road.”
The low flying helicopter reappeared overhead and Ava gasped as Joseph clasped her hand again and jerked her toward the house.
“Joe, what are you doing!”
A bullet hit the dirt where Joseph had stood. Ava understood. She started running with him as she turned her head to see the chopper’s cab opened and a sniper focusing. Joseph lifted a plank from the porch floor. Ava frowned in confusion as Joseph pulled a large weapon from its hiding place.
“Get in the house!”
Ava frowned at the command and froze in place
Joseph pushed open the door and shoved her inside. He jumped off the porch and Ava watched through the window as he turned away so that she saw only his profile. The huge barreled weapon looked many times larger than a rifle. He placed it to rest over his shoulder. Whatever the weapon was, it held a large cartridge that Joseph aimed and released. It blasted and hurled a huge bomb toward the craft as rapidly as the explosion from its rear rushed in an opposite direction. The thrust of the weapon’s exhaust would have toppled the wall she stood behind if he hadn’t turned the back exhaust of the weapon away from the house. The chopper blew into flames and crashed into the nearby sandy field. Black smoke rose high overhead.
Ava shakily opened the door, “I’ll get my cell phone so we can call the Sheriff.”
“No need,” Joseph said. He pulled out his walkie-talkie and gave instructions as he watched the blaze in the field. He eyed it for anyone who might escape.
“Joe, I do really need to take that check and leave, don’t I?”
He looked down at her, “No Ava. What this helicopter means is that we’re going to investigate Landis and Landis.”
“Joe, you don’t mean it.”
“Yes, I mean it.”
“Then I’m in on this investigation.”
“No, you have to get back east to that women’s college.”
“No, I don’t. I took a sabbatical. You know, flora and fauna, that’s my interests. I’m to study south Texas vegetation. And this murder investigation is my business.”
Joseph frowned, “I’m certain that I don’t need your help.”
“Joe, I have just turned down more than ten million bucks for this property and as you so reminded me, it was my mother’s and father’s murder. I’m in on this.”
Ava saw the slow rage burn in Joseph Manning’s eyes.
“Ava Meadows, if you are in on this, the whole city of El Paso will know more about this investigation than me.”
“Joe, if I don’t get my money for this, then I am getting in on this investigation.”
Just then, Ava saw a woman at the white picket fence. But where had she come from? There was no vehicle that she could have arrived in, only the helicopter.
Joseph didn’t turn around when the woman called.
Ava looked at the woman calling from across the yard but Joseph Manning appeared not to hear her.
“Joe, you’re being called.”
Joseph frowned harder. “What?”
“You’re being called.”
The woman no longer stood there. Ava squinted her eyes and looked harder at the empty place.
“She’s not there anymore. My goodness. I saw her. I heard her! But, she’s gone. Oh, my! There’s no place to hide.”
Joseph Manning frowned and straightened. He looked closely at the area. He shook his head and placed the huge caliber weapon back into its hiding place. “They call this a Law. And I don’t want you touching it,” he placed the boards back over the weapon.
“What’s the matter, Joe? You act like you’ve seen a ghost.”
He seated himself on the step and rested the weight of his forearms on his knees while Ava settled beside him.
“You sure you saw someone?” he asked.
“Oh yes, she was waving and yelling to get your attention.”
What did she wear?”
“Wear?” Ava had to think hard. The woman’s rapid movement to get Joseph’s attention held her memory. “Well, it was a shawl. It looked like it had many colors on it.” The colors seemed to spring into her thoughts, “Oh yes, it held primarily the colors of orange and turquoise.”
Joseph took a deep breath, “Have you ever seen her before?”
Ava laughed, “Joe, she was yelling your name and you didn’t even hear her.”
Joseph heaved another breath as though he labored for the explanation. “The woman may be a ghost.”
“Oh really, Joe. She looked a little too pretty to be a ghost.”
“Can you explain what you saw?”
Ava frowned at Joseph’s attitude. He appeared too serious. She rushed to give him what he asked. “Well, she had long black hair. It looked straight. It fell passed her shoulders. I couldn’t see the color of her eyes. She looked slender.”
Several seconds clicked by in silence.
“Well, does my description of the woman match this so-called ghost that you say you think it is?”
After several more seconds, he said, “Do you remember a Jolene Bancroft in school?”
Ava’s eyes widened. “It was her! But it couldn’t be her. She was killed . . .”
“She was murdered on the border. Her body left naked. But a turquoise and orange wrap was found. They assumed rape, but there was little they could find of semen since her body was well deteriorated when they found it.”
“Joe, stop!” She frowned harder. “Why would you be getting these calls from a dead person? You didn’t see her. You didn’t even hear her. I had to get your attention.”
“Goes to show you what a good actor I am.”
Ava gasped, “Don’t tell me that you were play-acting?”
“Yes, I was ‘play-acting’ like you call it. Whatever this evil is, it can’t read minds. It’s not omnipotent. It can’t tell what I am really thinking. God’s the only one that can do that. So, I’m not giving this entity any high-fives that it might be weirding me out.”
“Entity? Jolene? An entity?”
“I’m talking about occult activity, paranormal activity. It’s dangerous. And the kids around here are playing with it all the time. The thing that you saw was not Jolene.”
“Paranormal?” She laughed.
“If you choose to make fun of why you saw a woman and then she disappeared, that is exactly what I’m telling you. And the entity is not Jolene. It’s a demon.”
Ava felt the hairs on her nape rise. She definitely needed in on this investigation.