Ranya slept in the backseat of an abandoned Cadillac, on the outskirts of the crossroads village of Mountainview. Even in June the high plains were chilly at night at 6,000 feet of elevation. Mountainview was in fact entirely flat, but it did enjoy a spectacular view of the Monzano and Sandia mountains erupting to above 10,000 feet just behind it. On the other side of these mountains, forty miles northwest as a crow might fly, lay her destination: Albuquerque.
She washed her face with a baby wipe from her pack, and applied light makeup in the Caddy's rear view mirror. Ranya hated the length of her hair: too short to tie back in a ponytail, but too thick to stay put behind her ears. She wasn't used to loose hair rubbing her face this way, it irritated her. But at least the chopped and dyed-black hair had gotten her out of D-Camp, so she really couldn't complain. She brushed it back, and pulled on her newest ball cap: tan, with a leaping blue marlin on the front. It was one of her untraceable Barlow ranch acquisitions, along with her cheap Timex digital watch, her folding knife, and other items. She wore the same clothes she had hiked and slept in: blue jeans and the dead assistant warden's black hooded sweatshirt.
At six AM she was standing outside the front door of the Ancient Pueblos Restaurant on State Road 60, when it was unlocked from the inside by a plump middle-aged woman. The gray-haired lady smiled and said, "Good morning, honey, c'mon in," and flipped the "Closed" sign inside the glass door over to read "Open." Evidently, the Espanol Solamente laws had yet to take root in Mountainview.
Ranya followed her inside and picked a table near the kitchen. The restaurant was humble, but homey, with just eight tables in the main dining room. The place was neat and clean, the tables were covered with fresh white tablecloths, and mouth-watering aromas were emanating from the kitchen.
The waitress returned to her table with a steaming pot of coffee, and Ranya turned over a porcelain cup already on the table to be filled. "I'll be right back with the cream, all right?" she said. "Will you be having breakfast? We only take cash, hon." She gestured to a hand-painted sign above the kitchen, which read, "In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash."
Ranya understood that the woman had noted her brown backpack, her lack of a car outside, and the dust on her slept-in clothes. "Cash is fine. Can I see a menu?" Ranya guessed that the regulars at this small town diner probably knew the selections by heart.
"Sure thing--just a sec."
While the server was gone, the front door opened again with the jingle of a bell. Four young people, college age, entered the dining room. Two guys and two girls. Ranya pretended to examine the mural of an ancient Indian mesa dwelling painted on the wall behind them, while observing them in her peripheral vision.
It was 'the comrades' from the bridge. Ranya glanced over at them. They were wearing jeans and khaki shorts, and sweaters and sweatshirts. One very tall guy, at least six foot four, had dirty blond shoulder length hair and wore wire-rimmed eyeglasses. The other was a young black of medium height and build, with a bushy Afro hairstyle. Both had several days' growth of whiskers on their oily faces. One girl was a blond with a long ponytail, attractive except for the rings through her eyebrow and lip. The other was a dumpy brunette with her hair in tight braids, and too many silver earrings to count. Derek, Kalil, Destiny and Lisa...up close, and in the light of day. Derek had large blue oriental character tattoos visible on the back of his neck above his gray University of Michigan sweatshirt, and silver rivets punched through his ear lobes big enough to serve as pencil holders. Ranya turned away, disgusted.
The waitress returned with Ranya's menu and cream, and four more menus for the other table. Derek asked the woman, "What time does the gas station open up around here? We need to get back on the road." The town's independent service station and mini-mart were visible through the front windows across State Road 60.
"Don't worry, by the time you finish breakfast, they'll be open. You're having breakfast, right?"
"Um, sure. Yeah, we're having breakfast," said the tall one.
"We only take cash. Cash or metal. No checks, no credit cards, no e-bucks."
Ranya watched their obvious discomfort out of the corner of her eye.
"Uhh...yeah, no problem. Let's see the menus."
Ranya studied her own plastic laminated folding menu. The prices were marked in black grease pencil over the old printed figures. Pancakes, bacon and two eggs were $64! Suddenly her bankroll of nearly $9,000, mostly in crisp new hundred dollar "blue bucks," didn't make her feel quite as rich as it had yesterday.
The waitress came back to take her order. The glass-plated front door opened again, and a genuine cowboy, about fifty, held it open for his wife. He was wearing a black cowboy hat, cowboy boots, jeans and a jean jacket. Ranya could see at a glance that he was the real thing, not a poser. The man nodded to the waitress, and they both raised eyebrows at the table of unsavory young people.
"Have you decided yet, hon?" she asked Ranya, her pencil poised over her blank pad.
"I'll have the Western omelet, with the home fries, and a side of bacon. And a glass of orange juice."
"Okay, coming up."
"And, ahh..." She lowered her voice. "Is...Don here?"
The waitress looked directly at Ranya, skeptically, sizing her up. "Don? You want to see Don? You know him? You related, or something?"
"Ah, no, not exactly, but somebody told me..." Ranya was flustered and floundering slightly, afraid of being overheard. The meticulously planned linkup was suddenly not going according to the plan.
The waitress just stared blankly at her. "Don's not in yet. He'll be in later, most likely. You want to leave a message?"
"Ahh, no. Wait...actually, well...maybe. After breakfast. If he's not here by then."
"Sure thing." The waitress turned for the kitchen.
Damn, thought Ranya. Now what? Hang around and wait for Don? Leave a note for him, and kill time in this remote village, where a stranger without a car will stick out like an Eskimo in the Sahara? While pondering her options, she overheard the college-aged group talking quietly among themselves.
"I've got four hundred left, but it's got to go for the gas," said the longhaired Derek. His hair was parted in the middle, and hung in dirty strands under his whiskery dimpled chin. "We can eat when we get to the university; they'll have something there."
The pony-tailed blond grumbled, "I can't get my cell phone to work in this crappy little town! Daddy...um, my f-father...well, he could zap me a thousand e-bucks, if I could only get this stupid phone to work!"
"Des, didn't you hear her?" whined the chubby brunette Lisa. "They don't even take e-bucks here! Cash only, she said."
"Shit!" exclaimed Destiny, getting a look from the cowboy's wife two tables over. "How much is toast and coffee?"
Ranya looked across at them again, sizing up the situation. She got up and sidled over to their table, drawing their hushed attention, and leaned among them and said softly, "Hey, you guys go to Michigan? I go to Virginia--UVA." She addressed herself primarily to their apparent leader, Derek with the neck tattoos and the rivet-punched ears, smiling while suppressing her revulsion.
The longhaired young man had a greasy face and terrible body odor--or perhaps his entire group did. He replied, "Yeah, I do...I mean, we do...or at least we did."
"You wouldn't be heading to Albuquerque by any chance, would you? If you are, I could chip in for gas, if that would help. I could even pay for a full tank, if you can give me a lift up there."
The four of them broke into smiles, sudden relief flooding their faces at the prospect of both a hearty country breakfast, and an easy non-stop drive to the University of New Mexico, their neo-Marxist Mecca.
It had taken Special Agent Garabanda only five minutes to walk up 5th Street from the Federal Building to the Bernalillo County Courthouse. This was where the latest skirmish in the ongoing custody battle with his former wife Karin was going to be fought. They were the first case on the docket this Monday at nine AM, and the judge was only fifteen minutes late when she appeared from her chambers.
The chubby family court judge had a long brown ponytail, and a pierced nose. Alex Garabanda knew he was in deep trouble going before Judge Galatea Balfour-Obregon. Prior to becoming a judge, she had been a New Mexico left-wing radical activist and public defender for decades. It was not his first time going before her, and so far, it had never turned out well.
His ex-wife Karin was seated at the other table on the far side of her female attorney, and would not even make eye contact with him. Instead, she had stared straight ahead while they all waited for the judge to appear. He had to admit Karin looked terrific, with her long blond hair teased out. She was wearing her beige pants suit, with the ruffled blouse showing at her throat and cuffs.
Alex's former wife had already dropped his name. Now Karin Garabanda-Bergen was once again simply Karin Bergen. She had divorced him, dropped his name, and was now attempting to take Brian away. The fact that the female judge also had a hyphenated last name filled him with additional foreboding.
His attorney whispered, "No matter what, don't let the judge bait you into losing your temper. That's what she wants, an incident--I know how this bitch works. Remember, if it doesn't go our way today, we'll straighten it out on appeal. Just keep your cool." Rudy Contreras was a local Albuquerque lawyer with a good reputation for successfully defending fathers' custodial rights, even if he came across as somewhat sleazy, with his thin mustache and slicked-back hair.
Judge Balfour-Obregon began, while slowly shaking her head in obvious disdain. The proceedings were being conducted entirely in Spanish, in accordance with recently passed state laws. Her Spanish was adequate, but choppy and ungrammatical, with a residual New York accent. "Special Agent Garabanda, I've reviewed the case file. I'm particularly concerned with that absolute disaster two weeks ago at the Federal Law Enforcement Officers annual Memorial Day picnic. I must say, I find it hard to believe that the federal government entrusts a firearm to an FBI agent who can get drunk and assault a woman, in front of over a hundred witnesses."
"Your Honor, my client was not under the influence of alcohol, and he did not 'assault a woman.' What happened at that picnic was deeply regrettable, but an initial board of inquiry has determined that it was Ms. Bosch who initiated--"
"That's enough, counselor. Don't even go there! Special Agent Bosch, let us not forget, had to be hospitalized after your client put her in a choke hold."
"My client was only restraining Ms. Bosch, so that she could not strike him again with an aluminum softball bat--"
"Silence! I've heard enough. More than enough! The irrational homophobic attitude of your client is very well known to this court. He's lucky he wasn't charged with hate crimes after that picnic incident! If Special Agent Garabanda can't deal with the fact that his ex-wife is dating a woman, that does not speak well to his stability nor to his socialization, not to mention his fitness to share in the raising of their son."
"Therefore, it is the decision of this court that your client shall lose all custodial rights and privileges. Mr. Garabanda, your joint custody agreement is hereby terminated. And furthermore, I'm granting Plaintiff's motion to make the temporary restraining order against you permanent. Special Agent Garabanda, if you so much as come within two hundred yards of Karin Bergen, Brian Garabanda, or Gretchen Bosch, I'll have you arrested and thrown in jail for contempt!"
Garabanda's lawyer tried again, "Your honor, I--"
"Save it, counselor. It's time that homophobes like your client were dragged into the 21st century! The fact that he is an FBI supervisor doesn't mitigate the facts of this case. In fact, I should have expected a far more socially progressive attitude from someone of his ethnic background."
"Your honor, the fact that my client is--"
"I told you I was finished, counselor! We'll re-examine limited visitation rights in six months. Until then, I would strongly advise your client to stay well clear of his former wife, her fiancee Ms. Bosch, or their son Brian."
Special Agent Alex Garabanda slowly lowered his forehead to the table. Behind him, he heard Gretchen Bosch snickering in her unmistakable female baritone voice.