Jo waited for the meeting to end. She’d taken a seat at Desmonda’s, and hoped it would happen before Prince returned. Prince was a perfect example of what raising a son in Arivaca could do. Desmonda was such a sweet, well-meaning woman.
At last Jack’s men rushed out of the Visitor center, and Jo stood before seeing tall, stooped Larry through the window. She sat back down. Behind her, Desmonda was worrying around her tiny, make-shift kitchen, mumbling and opening ancient cans of refried beans. The lunch rush wouldn’t start for another hour, but as she’d explained earlier, gesturing across the lot to a bald man turning small skinned animals on spits over a barrel fire, unless she got everything prepared she’d lose customers to Harper. Jo looked at Harper now as he pulled a blackened carcass—what were they, rabbits?—by its hind legs from the long, thin rod, then pierced a raw one in its place.
Prince sat down beside her. “Looks good, don’t it?”
“It looks like meat.”
“Why are you hanging out with a cop?”
Prince rolled a cigarette, lit it, and blew a puff of gray-blue smoke into Jo’s face. “Micah,” he said. “He’s a cop, ain’t he? He looks at things like a cop looks at things. Like they’d look better behind bars.”
“He’s not a cop.”
Jo wasn’t surprised that it was so obvious to Prince. He’d had a lot of experience with the law. Also, she couldn’t help feeling like his suspicions would be reinforced each time she denied it—she sounded so silly to herself. Anyway, he was wrong, wasn’t he? She clung to her half-truth, warmed by its false flame, and tried to change the subject.
“What were you doing with Jeremy earlier?”
“He’s also got a cop face, if you think about it,” Prince said, ignoring her question.
“He’s just a kid, you know.”
“That nose. Little eyes.”
“You should be encouraging him to go to school instead of break the law.”
Prince let out a short, nosey burst of laughter. It was an absurd thing to say, of course. The closest school was in Tucson, and there would be no way to make that commute. Jo had just shown herself to be out of touch, though she honestly knew better. She honestly understood. She stood.
“I’ve got to go talk to Jack,” she said.
Prince laughed again, but it was overwhelmed by the noises of the crowd as Jo walked quickly toward the Visitor center. It had rattled her, Prince’s observations, and her first thought was to warn Micah. Then she changed her mind. There was a fine line, wasn’t there, between cooperation and full commitment to the success of the mission. In her mind, she carried an armload of small stones out from Che’s tunnel. It was a fine line, but it was one she did not want to cross.
Larry was still in the Center, but when she reached the door she found him standing just inside it, looking at her. He didn’t say anything, just shook his head and shuffled past, obviously upset. She stepped up beside Jack, who was looking out the window. She felt a little reckless. She felt like she might tell him about Alex at any moment.
Then he kissed her.
The kiss took her by surprise, but quickly pulled her back into her body, which, she realized, was exhausted. Jack held her back against the cool windowpane, and with the heat of his body along her stomach and chest, she felt like the thinnest of filaments, an invisible strip of separation between inside and out. But as quickly as he’d begun to kiss her, he began to pull away. Then, in the space opening up between them, she put her hands.
Jack told her he loved her. Jack told her he wanted them to be together. Jack said he had everything under control. He yelled. When he left, she buzzed with his energy, and felt a kind of emptiness she hadn’t experienced in a long time. She’d felt it when she ran away from home at age thirteen, knowing she’d never return. She’d felt it when she’d left Jack. And she’d felt it after her son was born.
She watched Jack through the window, watched him talk to Jesse, standing in the sun, his black hair shining and hot. Then she heard the door open.
“There you are,” said Micah.
“Jack said that everything is ready.”
“Good. My men are standing by, and they’ll be showing up during the last stage performance. I’m not totally clear on the Busk events. Is Larry from outer space or something? I ask him what’s going on, and he just looks at me like I’m a moron. Jo, I want you to just relax and try to have a good time. There’s really nothing to do for a while but hear a little music, eat a little food, catch up with old friends, whatever. Hey, you know that bus out there can go a hundred and sixty miles between charges? Anyway, the point is to act like we’re here for the Busk.”
Jo tried to tune Micah’s voice out, but instead his words seemed even clearer than usual.
“I’ve got to go,” she said.
She left Micah standing by the window, taking in the activity as she’d done, as Jack had done before her. The noise of the festival burst into her ears as she opened the door, and she welcomed the unstructured crush of it. As she was walking down the steps from the Visitor center, Micah called out something before the door slammed behind her. Mercifully, she couldn’t quite make it out.
To her left erupted a cheer from the crowd surrounding Gramps’ area, and Jo went over to take a look. There were about twenty-five people, mostly men, and Jo nudged her way through them until she saw a young boy with outstretched arms. He was holding what looked like a metal potato, and as Jo watched, something flew out of it and hit one of the large targets. But it didn’t hit the target, not exactly. It hit a bird held there by its neck. The bird’s wings shot out, releasing a cloud of feathers into the air, and it gave a terrible, chicken-like squawk, then went limp.
The crowd cheered.
Gramps waved his hands in the air and approached the bird, lifting its thin little feet and giving it a shake. Satisfied, he walked back through the corridor of people, took the potato from the boy’s hands, along with a coin the boy held out, and said, “Who’s next?”
Jo pushed her way back through the crowd, where June was standing, arms akimbo, staring at their backs.
“Can you believe that?” Jo said.
“Who’s next?” she called, and turned around. At her booth, a gray-haired man wearing a long white dress was climbing off the table, and June’s gentle-giant brothers stood at either side, helping him to his feet. For a moment, Jo had the urge to stretch out on that table herself, but a half-naked woman with hairy forearms stepped in front of her, paid June, and lay supine across the table, her breasts spilling down the sides of her soft white body.
The brothers went to work.