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True Stories by Steve Keely
Hobo Memoirs

Bust Ass in Sand Valley

March cooks the desert and nights find me under the stars on a mattress five-feet above scorpions and snakes. The heat stirs others tonight as a vehicle races the godforsaken track past my place. Sudden headlights veer into the half-mile drive and close. I shake off sleep and duck behind the trailer as a black truck reaches the mattress. A lone figure steps out - a silhouette with a fat rifle - who strides and shines with a nocturnal competence reserved for night predators to my hiding spot. There’s a moment to think fast or soil myself. ‘Are you all right?’ he whispers. I exhale, ‘Yes.’

‘Something weird is goin’ on out there,’ continues my mile-away neighbor TJ. ‘A nut has turned into every wash between my place and yours. Someone’s lookin’ for a way out.’ I dress in dark and climb into his Road Warrior buggy. ‘Hold this,’ he passes the shotgun and we roar down the road.

‘They’re somewhere in the desert between my place and yours and that’s irritating,’ he brakes at the first wash their car entered. Our bug is a cut-down VW with oversized tires and four small bow lights that switch independently – one to invisibly tail and four to blind. Their prints are memorized as signatures. They entered this wash and returned…. and this one… the pattern repeats a dozen times but no car. Abruptly, headlights show as one dot about four miles east and divide into two bright eyes at three miles. ‘They ain’t seen us,’ asserts TJ.’ He parks on an open rise and adds softly, ‘Let them come to us.’

The car stops at a half-mile. TJ ignites all four spots for one second and the other douses his. ‘Now comes the wait,’ he lights a ciggie shielding the match. In five minutes, ‘They’re out there plotting,’ he states.’ I’m Poncho riding shotgun with the Cisco Kid who had 283 confirmed kills and enough decorations in Nam to stagger a marine. He retired here as an outcast.

The fire’s at the filter so he turns the key and we roll slowly. ‘That’s a scatter gun’, he murmurs. ‘Seven shots: Push the safety, pull the trigger, pump, and pull. Folks outside Sand Valley foolishly think we’re crazy and dangerous but don’t worry an’ act normal.’ Now he guns the engine and hits all four beams. The Road Warrior lurches and circles the other car once and we stop with lights out behind a gray Scout.

No one sat in the other driver’s seat on the circle yet a passenger sat in plainly erect panic at the attack - sudden, swift and loud. ‘Let’s find em!’ TJ voice carries across the desert as we leap out and separate. One body crouches scant yards from our buggy front bumper. She slings a purse and signals with a penlight. Others might have bailed as well so I melt away to search.

‘Are you lost?’ TJ flatly asks the lady. Silence. ‘Are you lost?’ I repeat from the darkness. “Please, PLEASE!’ she cries. ‘Get us out of this Valley. We’ve been going forever since Salvation Pass’. Her hair hangs like snakes and her body shakes from dread, drugs or both. ‘Calm down,’ he reassures, ‘We’ll help you out.’

Sand Valley is a 150-square mile bowl edged by hills and rippled by dry washes pouring in from adjacent basins. To the west lies the Coco Mountain Gunnery Range whose far entrance is Salvation Pass. This sum 300-square miles Hades is manageable from a city chair but has forfeited many on site. Everything in each direction looks the same except the sun and North Star. One of these two with a 4-wheel drive can save you.

‘Does that Scout have 4-wheel drive?’ probes TJ. ‘Yes, she answers.’ ‘Is there a well at Salvation Pass?’ he tests. ‘Yes, dry,’ she replies. ‘Is that where you get the wets?’ he presses. ‘No, NO!’ she shrieks. ‘I beg for directions out of this insane place.’ ‘How much fuel in the Scout?’ ‘A quarter-tank.’ ‘Why don’t you come over to my place? I have gas.’ She wails.

An illegal alien ‘pipeline’ courses the Mexican border through Salvation Pass into the Coco Mountain Gunnery Range and then Sand Valley. ‘Wetbacks’ are regularly conveyed by Mexican ‘coyotes’ who switch at the Salvation Pass well to an American coyote for the perilous journey across the range and Sand Valley. A couple ears ago seven well-dressed Mexicans abandoned by their coyote gnawed barrel cactus for moisture in my trailer shade. We’re cordial but it’s illegal to say we aid them. Yearly, a few lost souls bury their heads in the sand in a final thrust to cool.

He points a new cigarette to the West, ‘Them is the Coco Mountains an’ beyond is the bombing range an’ on the far side is Salvation Pass.’ Then he points north, ‘That’s the North Star, ma’am. Get back in the Scout an’ foller that star till the road wiggles through the mountains an’ slips into a big wash an’ go clean across the range to Salvation pass prayin’ they ain’t bombin’.’ She shrieks, ‘Thank you, THANK YOU!’ and runs to the Scout where an argument ensues n Spanish. ‘I guess she don’t want to drive no more cuz it’s highly illegal,’ observes TJ. ‘Or,’ I say, ‘there may be others out here she don’t want to leave behind.’ The Scout dusts us under starlight.

‘Number one,’ coughs TJ, ‘she would have approached if she was only lost. Number two, she bust her ass three ways when we drove up: fell down, got caught, and filled her britches. Number three, that vehicle is fulla wetbacks.’

We follow at a distance without lights exactly over their treads to dissuade a return, and the easier to later know if they came back. One time the Scout turns about south until TJ flashes them. They retreat north and we stop the tail. ‘They’ll think we’re follerin’ them all night,’ he chuckles and drops me at the mattress. I gaze up and foresee the mystery visitors running out of gas and direction tonight until Cisco rides up alone to abet for a pretty penny… and he does!

I couldn’t sleep after the drama so arose to read and eat till sunrise. At noon I hiked to last night’s scene but found no footprints save the lady’s and ours. The Sand journal told the Scout had retraced south during the night with Cisco’s fresh tracks intermixed. I began an afternoon supply run to Bliss stopping first at TJ’s.

The first thing I notice is the ring sequence of tied dogs around his Freedom Village is altered. A barker replaces an attacker where the driveway enters. TJ marches up and growls, ‘They come back at 1:30 last night an’ siphoned from my truck.’ His wife Laura sides him, ‘I chased ‘em in my nightgown with a flashlight an’ a little surprise but they had got the gas and tore out so fast the Scout jumped the road.’ TJ nods, ‘They left $20 but that ain’t enough with the price of gas.’ I sit on a pail near a hill of newly boxed ammunition. He sits on his wife’s respirator and passes it to her on a crate. ‘I farted, it’s ready,’ he says. ‘Your gerbils are buzzard bait,’ she smirks toothlessly. A hundred chickens, cats, turkeys and dogs titter as the night event unfolds.

He had tracked them at first light for hours but lost the signature in wild cutbacks. “Somethin’ is wrong with that lady! The Scout went fifty yards up every wash in the Valley tryin’ to find a way out.’ He had returned to his compound for the truck to fill up in town but near the Valley exit had hit the first graded dirt road where the Scout whizzed by. ‘It was goin’ 50 mph but my V-8 caught and rammed its rear. It stalled an’ I ran to the driver’s door when two jeeps arrived in our dust. Four serious men erupted from them. Three pinned down the emptying aliens with semi-automatic rifles while one huge fella came up with a Desert Eagle 44 and yanked the lady by the hair from the driver’s seat.’ I checked, ‘What’s that?’

‘It’s a hand cannon that fit in this guy’s right mitt like a toy. He held the lady by the hair two feet off the ground with his left hand and hollered at me, ‘What the hell are you doin’ here?’ I nearly shit. ‘She robbed my gas!’ His manner changed an’ he wasn’t gonna shoot me. He glanced at my initialed license plate an’ said, ‘You’re TJ?’ ‘That’s right.’ I’d never met this gorilla but somehow he knew me. He dropped the broad into the wetbacks and went to his jeep to fetch these 100 rounds. ‘I understand you use a lot of ammo. Now get out of here!’ That lady owed me for the dent in my front bumper but there’s a time to fight and a time to run. I dashed like a roadrunner.‘

We sorted strings at Freedom Village. The four unknown characters wore three-day old beards and moved stiffly from the jeeps like off-road chase was not their favorite. The jeep cargoes were lined with spare fuel cans and M-16’s with new re-stocks but no sleeping bags or groceries. The lady had reeled about the bombing range and Sand Valley for two days laying hundreds of false trails but failing to throw the pursuers. The astonished wetbacks were probably secondary to a drug or gun load. Only in knowing if the chasers were officially good or bad guys could the lady’s fate be conjectured. ‘It ain’t healthy to know more,’ TJ concluded.

Those were two bust ass days in Sand Valley where the sunshine reflects everyone’s urges of logos, pathos, and ethos.

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