Storms Never Last Ch. 04byJakeRivers©
Thanks to Raoul Tirant for his editing assistance.
Part 4 – Wyoming
Chapter One - Acey
I'd had any number of people tell me how much their life had changed when they had their first child. This from a friend in high school, "It's amazing. It's like putting a diaper on a boat anchor and carrying it around with you. From the first day your life changes in expected and unexpected ways. No more grabbing your purse and heading out the door. You almost have to have a checklist just to go to the store. There are times that by the time I've found and restocked the diaper bag, changed the diaper a final time after just having changed it, finding the baby's coat somehow under the bed, putting her in the car seat, I've been so tired I just took her back in the house and collapsed.
"Jimmie and I can't decide at the last minute to go out to dinner. I spend an hour getting all pretty so Jimmie will see how sexy I am and get him sniffing around—then, just then, the baby starts bawling. I'm beginning to think sex is just something to watch on television."
It quickly became obvious with Millie that this was all true. She was the sweetest thing, and she slept like a baby, but still, she was a baby. And I wouldn't undo it for the world. Terry and I never thought that our hurried coupling would produce something that demanded—and received—such love from us. I knew Terry had come to love me, but it was something to watch him with Mille. He had a degree of tenderness about him that I never expected. I was coming to understand just how much I loved the both of them.
After we got settled in the new ranch house, west of Laramie, we worked out an arrangement for his writing. I knew—and understood what it meant to us—that he was a writer. If he was working he went into his office and closed the door. I wouldn't bother him unless it was something urgent. When he wasn't working he was great with Millie. If I were tired I could take a nap knowing our baby was in good hands—and that meant diaper changes, feeding and bathing, and naps.
He did have to travel some, but it wasn't too often, and usually just for a day or two. His writing was progressing nicely. His first Western was finally released and was doing well. In working with his agent he came up with a new model he wanted to try, one that combined his interests in both fiction and non-fiction. He wanted to do the research first, and publish that. If there was enough, he would publish it as a novel, otherwise in one or another historical journals. He was doing the first one at the request of the University of Arizona Press. It was to be a small volume on the seceding of the Southern New Mexico Territory from the Union during the Civil War. This was formalized in the "Ordinance of Secession of Arizona Territory," in July, 1962.
He was there for a week doing research and lining out the outline for a novel. The Journal article was already published and he was deep in the plot of the novel. He already had the second of these planned, a treatise and novel based on the "Pleasant Valley War" in the Tonto Basin of Arizona in the 1880s. In an extended feud that made far overshadowed the Hatfields and McCoys, the fighting between the cattle-herding Grahams and the sheep-herding Tewksburys, was almost literally, a fight to the last man. We were planning on spending a month's stay in a cabin under the Mogollon Rim, while he worked on his research.
Time flew for the next couple of years. My folks, Lee and Kate, decided to retire. We talked it over and they sold their ranch in Amarillo and had a house built on the flats, the lower part of our property. It was closer to the road and didn't have the great view, but I loved having them close. My mom was a big help when I gave birth again two years after Mille. We named him Terry Lee. He was a cute baby, but as soon as he started crawling he became a handful. As soon as he hit the floor he would take off at full speed for the nearest horizon. It was worse when he started walking. I swear that just a couple weeks after his first step he did nothing but run at full speed.
Terry and I grew in our love. He was always thoughtful and considerate of me. I never had any reason to doubt his love, but at the same time he gave me space to do the things I liked. With my mom to help with the kids, I started with rodeo again. I didn't have any plans to compete, but I did work with the girls at the University and Laramie High School. I enjoyed working with the girls, and watching them improve. I guess I became a role model for them. It wasn't uncommon for me to come home and have Terry look at the wet spot on my shirt from teenage tears. I learned more than I ever wanted about the angst of young love.
Then about ten years into our marriage, our lives were rocked to the core.
Hector Ángel Elizondo was like any other kid living in Ciudad Juárez, until his parents were killed in a drive by shooting when he was ten. He went to live with his uncle, Eyahue Elizondo, more commonly known as, "El Charro." El Charro was one of the top leaders in the Barrio gang. This gang had been dealing drugs and stealing cars in El Paso, Texas, but over time became contract killers—mostly across the border in Mexico—but they would go anywhere if the money was good. They did the dirty work for the Cartels that wanted to keep their hands clean. The Barrios locate targets, stalk them and finally kill them in ambushes involving multiple chase cars and radio communications by masked gunmen in body armor, who vanish back into safe houses in Juárez or El Paso.
Ángel, as he became known, was immediately started in training to be an assassin. He showed a natural flair, and at thirteen, made his first hit. His Uncle, to give him motivation, found the men who killed his parents and prepared his nephew for the job.
Ángel, because of his young age, was able to move around freely. The small gang he was looking for frequented a tired, not too clean restaurant in Juárez. Angel got a job for pennies a day as a dishwasher and he watched for several weeks as the men wandered in and out. On the evening they were drunk and strung out on drugs, he retrieved his Belgium made FN 5.57-caliber pistol, known as "asesino de policia," or "cop killer" in Mexico.
Calmly walking through the door into the dining room he cut down the four men responsible for the deaths of his parents. Within a year he was known as, the Ángel de la muerte, or the "Angel of death."
El Charro had a contract to kill a drug dealer in Cheyenne, Wyoming. He didn't need a written agreement, or a reason, just a handshake and the money, in advance. Ángel flew to Los Angeles, where he was provided with a car and the necessary weapon. He drove east on I-80, following the maps he was provided with. He was told to stay overnight in Rock City, but wanting to get it over with and get out of the driving snow, he pushed on through. A few miles west of Laramie, Ángel started feeling drowsy. He passed by a roadside stop, and less than five minutes later closed his eyes for a brief, but fatal, five seconds. It was 8:07pm.
Terry left the ranch at seven, right after dinner. He was going to a friend's house to pick up a present for his daughter, Millie. For her tenth birthday, he was buying her a pony. She had been taking riding lessons, and wanted a horse, "more than anything in the world." Terry had a number of well trained horses, but none the right size and training for his daughter. Pulling his trailer he arrived at his friend's house and loaded the pony. The wind had come up and a ground blizzard made visibility almost non-existent. His friend wanted him to wait, but Terry wanted to get home. He did accept a mug of coffee to drink on the way home. At 8:06 he pulled slowly onto the entrance ramp to I-80 heading east. As he shifted up, he took a sip of the coffee, and finding too hot, so he quickly tried to put it down. As he was pulling onto the interstate lane, he was trying to put the mug down, but couldn't find the holder. Briefly, no more than two seconds, he looked down to place the mug in its holder. As he did, the clock on the dash changed to 8:07 in the dark evening.
Clarence Jones was pissed off. The foreman at the Circle K ranch insisted he go pick up a load of hay. He protested, until he was reminded he was going to take a few days off. "Now if you want to tell Jenny that you are postponing your vacation..."
So now at a little after eight he was gingerly driving down the road at a relatively sedate fifty miles an hour. He normally drove faster, but due to the marginal conditions he wasn't pushing it. Having lived in the area for all of his forty-seven years he knew how the road could ice up with conditions like this. He was approaching an exit, and thinking about pulling off the road, when a car flashed by at what must have been seventy or so. The car cut back into his lane too soon, and without thinking he slammed on his brakes. He was driving a thirty year old F-350, built back when antilock and antiskid brakes just weren't happening. The brakes locked and started skidding on the ice, the trailed with its several tons of hay whiplashing to the side. He saw in sudden horror a truck pulling on the road from the eastbound entrance lane. He braced for a crash, but felt only a slight bump as he edged into the other truck. He skidded for what seemed forever, and came to a stop facing backward, with his trailer blocking both lanes of the interstate.
Almost in shock, he staggered out of the cab, almost as a reflex grabbing some flares. Hit lit them up and threw them across the road, hoping against hope that oncoming traffic would see them. As luck seems to balance out, a highway patrol car pulled up within seconds, and took charge. Before the arrival of help he ran forward to see what had happened to the truck that was on the entrance ramp. He saw some flames down the embankment, and as he got closer, he could see a man behind the wheel. With no conscious thought, he slid down the embankment and could see flames coming from the engine compartment. Grabbing the door to the truck, he pulled it open and dragged the man out. He was unconscious, with a nasty wound on his forehead.
Concerned with fire, he pulled the man up to the freeway, just as a highway patrolman ran over.
Hector Ángel Elizondo knew nothing of the wreck. He drove on to Cheyenne where he found his target better protected than he expected. He didn't realize this until a millisecond before a cut off twelve-gauge shotgun like to cut him in half.
Clarence Jones suffered no physical effects from the crash, but caught tons of grief from his foreman and his wife. The foreman he could understand, but he was forever mystified why his wife was so upset. Women!
The pony miraculously had no serious injuries from the crash.
Terry Fisher was lucky to arrive at the hospital within twenty minutes of the crash. The doctor was convinced that ten minutes later would have been too late. It was three the next morning before he was identified—his id was in the glove box and pretty much burned to ashes. His wife was notified and informed by the doctor when she arrived that he had a major head trauma and after the surgery put into an induced come to reduce cranial swelling.
Terry had told me he expected to be home by nine, and finally I called his friend who told me he had left around eight. "But you know Terry. He likely pulled off somewhere to wait for conditions to improve."
That made sense, so I went to bed. I had trouble getting to sleep, but my worry was about his comfort, huddled up in his truck in the storm. It was somewhere after three when the phone rang. The doctor told me what had happened, and finished with, "As I said, he is in an induced coma now, so don't come down now. The conditions are really bad and I don't want any more patients tonight."
I went out on the porch, and had to agree with him. I couldn't even see the stairs leading down from the porch. I went back to bed, but didn't even think about sleeping. When I finally saw a faint lightening at the window, I got dressed and looked out. The wind had died down and snow was just light flurries. There were drifts here and there, but I was sure we could get out in my dad's four wheel drive truck. I called down and asked him to pick me up. Mom came over with him to take care of the kids.
The hospital was quiet when we got there, but I eventually found someone. She told me to go to the nurses' station for critical care. The nurse found a doctor for me, and from the look of him she had woken him from a nap. He yawned, and said, "Sorry, it was a long night. Terry is doing as good as could be expected, and should be in a coma for about a week. We performed surgery for a cranial hematoma to reduce the swelling. We are doing everything we can. He had a serious injury, but we think with the time for his body to rest he should heal okay. The induced coma is to give him time for the swelling to continue to go down and for the brain to heal itself. You can visit him for a few moments, but there is really nothing to see."
I went in and stared at the confusion of dangling tubes, machines making scary noises and flashing garish lights. I put my hand on his and let him feel my love. We didn't have the most normal courtship—hell, it wasn't normal at all. But the initial attraction had blossomed into a rich love. I was young and could get bitchy at times, but he just smiled and kept on loving me. He was all the man I could ask for or hope to get. The thought occurred to me that the pain I was feeling now must be a lot like how he felt when his wife, Annie had died. Tears streaming down my face, I sat next to the bed, and told him of my love as I gently held his hand.
Eight days after the induced coma, the doctors revived him with no problems. Due to the relatively short time he was under, the doctor's told me that there should be no significant problems with his regaining his motor skills. A week later he was home, and a month after that he was like new, though a little subdued.
Sitting on the porch one night he talked to me about the effects of the accident on him.
"Acey, this might sound somewhat inane, but the thought that flashed in my mind as the truck was sliding off the road, was how short life can be. No matter how we live our lives, we are not guaranteed any sure time to live. Like Annie, and like it was almost with me, life can go in a heartbeat. I'm not able to clarify my thoughts the way I'd like, but I want for us to live our lives to the fullest; to live in the here and now.
"I know I'm not the first with these observations, but it is the first time I've seriously considered them. I read something this morning that's stayed in my mind all day."
"Love is stronger than death even though it can't stop death from happening, but no matter how hard death tries it can't separate people from love. It can't take away our memories either. In the end, life is stronger than death."
"Annie is gone but she will live forever in my memories. How you and I love each other, each and every day, will create memories in each other, and in our families and friends. This isn't anything earthshakingly new, but we don't usually take the time to consider how our love affects others."
He took my hand and led me to our bedroom, and we made slow, poignant love, a tender time of touching and talking—keeping our love fresh.
Chapter Two - Terry
I held my arm out for Millie to take, so I could walk her down the aisle. She had the special glow that brides tend to have. She had just finished her PhD in Art History at Stanford, and her husband to be was doing his internship and Stanford Children's Hospital, when they met at an on-campus dance. As I walked her towards her waiting fiancé I could feel her hand shaking as she held onto my arm.
I thought of the incongruity of "giving her away." That was the last thing I wanted to do—I wanted to hold on to her forever. I wanted to keep her safe from harm, from the vagaries of life. But she loved him, and if I'd learned anything in life, it was the importance of love. I turned her over to Doug and he shook my hand in a way—that told me she was his to take care of now. His hug following the handshake told me he knew what I was feeling. As I walked back to Acey she gave me a warm smile that made me feel better at losing my girl.
The ceremony and reception went by in a blur. Later that night, fueled by one too many glasses of champagne, my dreams came in a blur, a montage of vignettes of Annie, Acey, and incongruously Lane and Mille and excerpts of their story that was inspired by other dreams. I heard the sharp bark of the pistol and the smell of gunpowder; I saw the incredible power of the landslide sweeping down from the arid mountains, engulfing Annie as she whispered, "I'm sorry, with her last breath. Acey on our first night, abandoning herself in passion ... she was the first thing I saw as I came out of the coma. Rightfully so, she was my life now.
I woke buried in the tousled, sweaty sheets. Had I led a perfect life? No, but it was mine. Would I have changed some things? Sure, who wouldn't? But it was a good life. The voice of Ray Price came to me, crooning in his inimitable way:
"Life is just another scene
In this old world of broken dreams
Oh, the night life, it ain't no good life
But it's my life."
Yeah, there were some hard times, but the time I had left to live looked like a damn good life. I rolled over and put my arms around Acey. Yeah, the life we have is a great one.
I have taken some liberties with time frames; for example, the disastrous Ancash earthquake took place in 1970 with almost 75,000 deaths. The quake destabilized the northern wall of Mount Huascarán, causing a rock, ice and snow avalanche and burying the towns of Yungay and Ranrahirca. The avalanche started as a sliding mass of glacial ice and rock about 3,000 feet (910 m) wide and one mile (1.6 km) long. It advanced about 11 miles (18 km) to the village of Yungay at an average speed of more than 100 miles per hour. The fast-moving mass picked up glacial deposits and by the time it reached Yungay, it is estimated to have consisted of about 80 million cubic meters of water, mud, and rocks. Every year, on the anniversary of the disaster, school children all over the country practice emergency measures.
For those wine lovers that care about such things, Zinfandel is related to the Italian grape, Primitivo. Both Primitivo and Zinfandel are related to an ancient Croatian grape called Crljenak Kastelanski. Zin (as it is commonly called) was first planted in the valley 1859, and rapidly spread throughout California. Zinfandel is synonymous with Dry Creek Valley, where some world-renowned wines are made from this grape.
And, if some of you are interested, I do plan on starting my second Western story shortly. By some strange coincidence, it will be called, "Death Rides the Range."