FIRST READER ASKED me this summer if I trusted him. I said, “Of course!
Wait. What am I trusting you about?”
He had an idea about delving into Cauley’s relationship with the character’s childhood hero and first crush, Jim Cantu. And the book is a barn burner, due to his suggestion. Thank you, First Reader . . .
About the revised book:
Obituary writer Cauley MacKinnon has known Detective Jim Cantu her whole life–or she thought she did. He’d been a savior to the young girl who’d witnessed the murder of her father.
But when her childhood hero guns down a man in cold blood and leaves his pregnant wife and three children behind, Cauley’s got a choice. Destroy the legend she’d grown to love–or find the man she never really knew?
Jim Tomás de Hidalgo Cantu—The Colonia
They lived in a third-generation section of a barrio in a little border colonia called Rio Bravo, fifteen miles south of Laredo.
“Spitting distance,” Jim’s mother used to say, “from the stinking river between the Land of the Free. And the broken promises of Mejico.”
The trailer house Jim grew up in for all his formative life was three-room, one-bathroom affair, assembled from some place in Deep Georgia, in in 1951.
It measured eight-feet wide and twenty-feet long. It housed nine people, including Abuelita Maria. “Mexican people,” Jim noted, “didn’t warehouse their aging like typical American’s did. They cleared out a space or re-did whatever out-building they had, and moved the nuclear family around accordingly. But, Jim had heard, their trailer-house-living hadn’t always been that way.
A long time before, in the family’s comfortable adobe home in Nuevo Laredo, story had it, that his great-grandfather swaggered in one night, a bottle of bootleg tequila, half consumed, had slurred, “Vamanos!”
We leave. In a hurry.
“Pack only what you need,” he demanded. “We go now. Vamanos!”
The Texas Rangers had located the family’s Neuvo Laredo fortress, about twenty miles away from the United States border.
And the Rangers were coming, armed, he’d heard at the cantina, the drinking hole that where the news, gossip, tequila, and sometimes important information was passed like wildfire.
Like the impending advance of the Texas Ranger storm.
According to the scouts, the Rangers were coming. Full force.
And so the family fled. With the clothes on their backs, water packed on a mule, a few family treasures and most importantly, on a separate, better pack mule, their livelihood. Fifty liters of forbidden pure blue agave tequila.
Jim’s great-grandfather shepherded his family, along with the two pack mules with one purpose, he led them through dry desert, across the craggy, cedar spiked ridges and deadly valleys, trekking over ankle-breaking rocks.
Mostly traveling in moonlight and guided by the stars because the sunlight brought with it blistering heat. And the eagle eyes of the Texas Rangers.
Wading across the Rio Grande River, he told his family, was the Promised Land. While they did in fact, make it across the river and into Texas, they hadn’t made it far. The eastern shore of the Rio Grande was as far as Jim’s great-grandfather, ever got. What passed for a palace in Mejico didn’t make it far in The Promised Land.
On the eastern shore of the Rio Grande, Jim Tomás de Hidalgo Cantu grew up in what amounted to a shack on the optimistically named River View Drive, an Anglo name for one of the poorest communities in Texas. Jim’s family’s home was surrounded by just under five-hundred similar shacks, all of which had an outhouse, spotty electricity through third-hand propane tanks that were often empty, and a community garden-hose and rusty buckets that provided the entire colonia with drinking water.
The population rose and fell in direct correlation to the Mexican economy and how vigorously the Border Patrol actually patrolled the border.
In his younger, more prosperous days, Jim’s father and uncle had been “tequileros,” tequila smugglers, who’d inherited his bootlegging business from their father, who’d inherited it from his father, and back to the start of the illegal liquor-running back in 1848, before their glory days hit in 1920s American Prohibition. And they smuggled the distilled agave on both sides of the border.
The outlaws were the stuff of legend. So much so that songs had been written about their daring exploits, and were regularly performed at fiestas, long after the Texas lawmen had successfully killed them or confiscated their land or chased back to Mexico.
The way Jim’s father described them, he and his brother—the banditos—were dashing, whip-cracking, expert horsemen—vaqueros—and so stealthy they could slip right out from under the noses of those predatory Texas Rangers. He often compared the tequieros to the swashbuckling revolutionary General Pancho Villa.
The tequileros were folk heroes. And heroes were in short supply in the barrio.
According to legend, at the end of each successful tequila run, the “mujer hermosa”—the beautiful women—would gather at the gates to cheer when the tequileros galloped home on fine horses with the spoils of war against the Anglo oppressors.
Though Jim never again spoke of his father, he remembered the sweeping hand-gestures and graceful, dramatic telling of the stories as his father told the tales of the tequileros with pride and braggadocio. The tequileros, he said, were men of the people.
Then, he told, the entire villa would rush out to join the women. And there was always a raucous fiesta with joyous mariachis, playing, singing, dancing in the red dirt town square. And tequila. Over-flowing barrels of pure, blue agave.
The finale of the festial was always a crescendo of guitars, accordians and voices pitching in praise as the bootleggers scaled to the top of the adobe wall that surrounded the Mexican village.
There, they tossed coins to the children. They always ended the late evening by warbling breathtaking round of “gritos,’ a cacophonous whoop of celebration as they perched high on the walls of the hacienda. And then came the Texas Rangers.
The Rangers, his father told Jim, were to be feared and fought.
In the end, it was a Texas Ranger who brought Jim’s father down.
And set into motion events that would change Jim’s life. Forever.