A couple of weeks ago, we visited Columbus, New Mexico through the eyes of JB Vinson. The excerpt was from THE CITY OF ROCKS, the third in my BJ Vinson series. The following scene is from the same book (beginning of Chapter 5), and occurs the next day as our Confidential Investigator hero departs Columbus on the way to the M Lazy M Ranch on the trail of a kidnapped duck. Ah, but not an ordinary duck. Quacky (as she is known) represents big bucks.
Ranchers, like farmers, generally rise with the sun, so I was on the road early Monday, breezing west along Highway 9 over a landscape dominated by creosote, locoweed, and wildflowers. The bright sky was spotted with scattered clouds. The blue silhouette of the Cedar Mountain Range shadowed the horizon.
The weathercast this morning had predicted a high of ninety-nine degrees, but the temperature had not yet climbed to that point as I drove into the country that had once sheltered the likes of Curly Bill, Old Man Clanton, and Dick Gray, desperados who hid out in the caves and canyons of the Boot Heel. Somewhere ahead of me was a black oak with large knotholes where the outlaws left messages for one another in what is still called Post Office Canyon.
I passed a sign noting I had crossed into Hidalgo County, a landmass of about thirty-five hundred square miles populated by fewer than six thousand residents; a place known for its large ranches. The Gray Ranch, which was now called by its original name of the Diamond A, was 321,000 acres—a staggering 500 square miles. Alongside that, the M Lazy M was a piker.
I turned south on Highway 81. The ranch was a fair drive from Hachita, the closest town, and as I had a considerable amount of work to do, I phoned Del to let him know I intended to take Bert Kurtz up on his offer to remain overnight. He wanted to clear it with the insurance company to make sure they wouldn’t consider it a conflict of interest should Mud Hen be involved in any sort of scam. He promised to call me back.
The M Lazy M lay hard against the Mexican state of Chihuahua just short of the Hatchet Mountains in the upper reaches of the Boot Heel. A cattle guard, flanked by a tall adobe arch bearing the ranch’s brand—two capital M’s, the second one lying on its side—marked the main gateway to the spread.
I paused to snap a photo of the entrance before heading down a well-graded gravel road toward what I assumed would eventually lead to the ranch house. I stopped several times to take pictures of the road and anything else of interest. Like crime scene investigators, PIs can’t function without loads of photos.
I traveled another ten miles with no sign of habitation; although white-faced cattle grazing in the distance identified this as a working ranch. At the end of the road, I encountered another fence, behind which loomed an odd-looking structure, one that had appeared to have grown from a modest home into something of a monstrosity as succeeding generations of Muldrens left their stamp on the edifice, building first with wood, then with fieldstone and brick. The latest addition was in adobe.
The place was reminiscent of Gothic novel cover art, although the graceful cottonwoods and sycamores scattered about the broad yard softened the effect. Even so, their towering presence on this landscape of stunted bushes and twisted piñons was almost as bizarre as the building itself. They had obviously been carefully nurtured by the first M’s, possibly even the Lazy M, until they dwarfed every other living thing within sight.
Interesting country, isn’t it. Come visit it, and see all the other wonders of this beautiful state. But above all, guys …keep on reading.
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