The first news of the day was not good. Paco had been spotted, along with three other men—likely Feds—just outside of Arivaca. Having come on his old, enormous horse with the news, Benjamin now stood before Jack in the parking lot, looking out at him from behind bangs of long, black hair. He was twelve, but his height made him look older. Though Jack had never had reason for prolonged contact with the boy, he’d never quite been indifferent to him either. The truth was, he’d always seen something of himself in Ben, both having been raised in the shadow of a single parent at war with the demon of booze. Jack felt kinship with all the fatherless children that everywhere seemed to sprout up like drought-proof weeds from the hard packed earth, but Ben had always stood out.
“My mom said you’d want to know,” Ben said now.
Jack watched the morning bus pull into the driveway. “Your mother is a good woman.”
The bus slowed to a crawl as it entered the lot, booths only a few feet to either side of its path. Jack nodded to the driver, then looked back at the boy. This was, he knew, a perfect opportunity to get to know Ben a little better, to at least learn something about him that might make the naming come more easily. But instead of asking a question, instead of teasing out something hidden under layers of skepticism and bluff, all that came was the kind of dull parental platitude he’d hated at Ben’s age.
“I saw you with Prince yesterday,” Jack said. “You think that’s a good idea?”
“I would have expected that from Jeremy, but I always thought you had more sense.”
In fact, he’d never thought any such thing, but he tried to think of it as returning Jesse’s favor somehow—surely she had the same reservations about his friendship with Desmonda’s son. Her son stood straight, his hands clasped behind his back and his head slightly bowed, as Jack remembered having once stood before his father. It was a humiliating thing, childhood, and he hadn’t been able to get past it fast enough. Unable to read the kid’s expression through his greasy hair, Jack imagined Ben felt the same way.
He let the kid go, and watched him climb with difficulty back onto his saddle. The mare was old and steady, indifferent to his scrambling legs, and once mounted, moved off in a thoughtful way through the busy parking lot. Two men seemed close to blows over a spilled glass of water, a woman with a missing hand was trying to fold a large, stained blanket in the dust, and Ben rode straight through it all without distraction. There was a familiar singularity of purpose, he thought, in the child’s approach. Some credible power of containment that some might confuse with being aloof. Nonetheless, a kid out here, in this place of ignorance and fear, was lucky to have something reliable beneath him, something to carry him through the fray. Something to simply keep him moving.
Jack suddenly wondered why, with a town full of men claiming potential paternity, none had had the decency to step up and actually be a dad. It was shameful, really. It was just the kind of shallow, ultimately bogus kind of pride that his own father had always hated, one of the very attitudes that he’d wanted Jack to escape.
In the northeast corner of the lot Wendy tended to her chickens, marching after them around the small coop as though she had something to learn. Along the south end, tourists filed from the bus to the visitor center, where they were given masks, instructed on how to wear them, and pointed toward the watchtower. They gawked silently at the scattered booths, just now getting ready for their return after the show, then began to climb.
“Rockette!” he called. “Here, girl!”
He whistled a couple of times and waited, looking up at the tower as Archie explained to the visitors what they’d be seeing. He couldn’t hear what the boy was saying, but his body language suggested an emphasis on participation. Why had he doubted this kid? He watched the boy’s quick, economic movements, his thin arms spinning flat, open hands around as he gestured; it looked as though he was practicing some harmless, helpful martial art. Here was a boy inquisitive as he was obviously competent, and Jack had responded with irritability and suspicion.
With the show underway, Archie climbed down from the tower and stood beside him. There was no getting around his aversion to the boy’s blatant religious observation, but it wasn’t a prejudice Jack was proud of. If Archie wanted to honor the presence of a higher power, of some other realm, more power to him. It seemed to make him dependable and enthusiastic, and that’s exactly what Jack needed more of at the park.
“Who’s playing today?” he asked.
“Music.” Archie nodded toward the makeshift stage: just a slab of concrete Jack had poured a few years back, when the Busk had grown too big for playing on dirt.
“I don’t know. That’s Larry’s bag.” He thumbed in the direction of the gift shop, where Larry was setting up. In addition to his self-appointed position as resident graph artist, Larry was something of a music connoisseur, and he’d been booking the Busk music and performance for a number of years. Normally the acts would already be posted, but yesterday Jack had noticed the empty slots on the sign. He hadn’t wanted to harass Larry, though. He knew him well enough to know he was worried; any confrontation would only increase the man’s already considerable stress.
Jack looked down at a dirty, shirtless Archie, and the idea of training him crossed his mind. Really training him.
“I’m making you a mole on the next run,” Jack said.
Archie’s face momentarily lost its scowl of concentration, and he looked up at Jack with an open face, a smile.
“You’ll play a brat from San Diego. You’ll have to get cleaned up, of course.”
“Yes, sir!” he said.
“See what you can find in the way of clean clothes, okay? And make sure we get a chance to talk before the show.”
“Yes, sir. Thank you, sir!”
Angel called Archie over to the far side of the field, where he was unloading sandbags from the shovel of the old tractor. Archie looked to Jack expectantly before going, and Jack nodded, releasing him. He watched the kid run over, marked the energy of his stride.
Being called sir reminded Jack of his father.
“Rockette!” he called again. “Rockette, come!”
People had begun to trickle down Jack’s driveway for the Busk, puddling up in the parking lot, gathering before what booths were already open, and talking to those men and women still working to get set up. People came down from Arivaca, of course—that made up most folks—but word of the festival had begun to spread wide over the last few years, and in the absence of any other organized event—towns had long since ceased funding anything not absolutely necessary, and even those services were unreliable— people had come to put more stock in the Busk. They traveled farther for it, and stayed longer at it. They expected more of it.
Jack looked at the people coming down the driveway, some having been on the road for days, riding from as far away as Bisbee, Tombstone, or any of the innumerable tiny towns in southern Arizona, some unnamed. It always made him a little nervous. Some people didn’t see much of anyone year round, and a man could forget how to act, how to interpret the action of others. Things could get out of hand. Two years ago there’d been a murder; a tall, twitchy man from Lukeville stabbed another from nowhere for walking in front of him during Del Funk’s unintentionally hilarious recital of “Puttin’ on the Ritz.” He was arrested, but then released a few days later because it would have cost too much money to feed him until the trial. He was ordered to never return, and so far he hadn’t. Jack waved to Sunshine, who shuffled his tarot cards on a rag of once-red velvet.
“Rockette!” Where was that dog?
Jack walked over to the gift shop, where Larry was arranging small glass unicorns on an engraved, pewter plate.
“This might seem rather non-sequitur,” Larry said, “but bear with me.”
“These are obviously high-ticket items.” Larry waved his hand across them as though casting a spell. “I got them in a deal with a distributor in Albuquerque, and I’ve been saving them. I think they might play well against the variety of crap…”
Jack shook his head, then saw Jo walking down the driveway. Strange, he thought, that he hadn’t seen her leave.
“…I mean, hand-made goods on offer in the lot. It’s an alternative that says high- standards; it’s a conversation piece. Even if we only sell three or four of them…” Jack wasn’t paying much attention, and Larry knew it. He sighed and went back to arranging unicorns.
There were a couple of new booths this year, and Jack continued watching Jo until she walked by one of them. It involved a cage of some sort, held a few feet in the air over a plastic drum. Jack didn’t understand it, but the people setting it up, a young man and woman who’d come in an elaborate, live-in horse-drawn cart seemed to know what they were doing, so he’d left them to it. Now he was having second thoughts. He looked around for Jo again, but she’d disappeared.
“Who do we have singing this year?” Jack asked.
“What do you care?”
“Oh come on, Larry, don’t be like that.”
“Well, you just don’t seem to have much interest in my decisions.”
Jack squinted up at the man. They’d worked together for years, and though they’d never become friends, they had a mutual understanding. Or so Jack thought. Maybe he’d been taking Larry for granted.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I reckon you’re right.”
Larry seemed surprised at Jack’s response, and remained silent.
“Have you seen Rockette?”
Larry shook his head and shrugged.
“I want to put her in the run, see what happens.”
“It’s in her nature to herd,” said Larry.
Jack thought of the conversations he’d had with Jo after buying Rockette from Paco. She’d told him about a dog she saw once, a Pointer. It spent an evening in an abandoned lot beside a soup kitchen she worked in at the time, and wore no collar. No owner. It was mangy, dirty, with strange blisters along its back. She watched it follow pigeons around, keeping a safe distance behind them, its nose close to the ground and its tail high in the air, the whole dog forming an arrow.
“I never knew they literally pointed,” she’d said.
It was one of the saddest things she’d ever seen.