"Thank You So Much, Mr. Campbell," Claire Newmark said as the disgruntled speaker returned to his seat. As head of the Cochise County Board of Supervisors, Claire was chairing that Friday morning's meeting. "Do you have anything to say in response, Sheriff Brady?"
Joanna snapped awake. One of the things about being a sleep-deprived working mother meant that she could fall asleep anywhere—in front of her computer, at her desk, in church, and definitely in front of the TV set on those rare occasions when she actually tried to watch a show. In this case, she had dozed off during a Board of Supervisors Friday morning meeting.
Randy Campbell was one of Joanna's constituents. A prominent local rancher, Campbell was also one of Joanna's most vociferous critics. He had come to the Board of Supervisors meeting that morning armed with his usual litany of complaints.
Joanna had considerable sympathy for the man. His ranch, located on Border Road just east of Bisbee Junction, was also border-crossing central for illegal immigrants. Campbell's house had been broken into on numerous occasions. His wife and children had been held at gunpoint and threatened by armed robbers who had taken the time to load several television sets and power tools into Randy's pickup truck before driving off in it. His fences had been cut, letting his livestock loose. Once outside the fence, his daughter's prize-winning bull had been hit and killed by a passing Border Patrol vehicle.
So even though Joanna may have allowed herself to doze during the course of Randy Campbell's tirade, she knew what he had said—almost by heart—because she had heard it all before.
"Thank you, Madame Chairman," Joanna said, rising to her feet. "And thank you, too, Mr. Campbell. I appreciate the fact that you're willing to bring your concerns to the attention of this board and also into the public arena. I live in a rural setting myself. Although we haven't had the same number of incidents Mr. Campbell has had, our property, too, has been damaged by illegal crossers.
"The problem is this. We're dealing with something that is well beyond the scope of my department to handle. We've done our best to increase patrols in Mr. Campbell's area. Because of that, we've also managed to decrease our response time. But the truth is, the border-enforcement problem is a national issue. It requires a national solution as opposed to a local one. Our mission is to handle criminal complaints, and we do that to the best of our ability, but that ability is limited by both budgetary and personnel considerations.
"There are eighty miles of international border inside Cochise County. That's a lot of territory to cover. It's also a lot of crime to cover. My department does the best it can, and I'm sure Border Patrol and Homeland Security are doing the best they can to interdict illegal entrants. No one agency caused this, and no one agency can fix it. Thank you."
Randy Campbell was still glowering at her as Joanna resumed her seat. The public-comment part of the meeting had come at the very end of the day's agenda. A few minutes later, as Joanna walked toward her car in the parking lot, Claire Newmark fell into step beside her.
"Sorry to have to let him dump on you like that," Claire said. "But you just stood for reelection. Mine is coming up. If I hadn't given him a forum, he'd come looking for me next. I figured you could handle him, and you did. Very nicely, as a matter of fact. It sounded a little like a stump speech, but not too much. Way to go."
The exchange caught Joanna by surprise. She had gradually come to understand that although the office of sheriff was theoretically nonpartisan, it was definitely not nonpolitical. Everything Joanna did or didn't do was grist for someone's mill, and this was no exception. What she hadn't realized, however, was that somehow the political climate in Cochise County had changed. There was now an established old-girls network capable of wielding its own particular brand of power. To Joanna Brady's astonishment, she was in a position to reap some of the benefits of that unexpected sea change.
"Thanks," she said.
With that, Joanna headed back to her office at the Cochise County Justice Center. She'd had her weekly ordeal by bureaucracy. Now it was time to go do battle with her other daily headache—paperwork. Crime fighting was supposed to be her main focus. Too bad it took so many dead trees to do it.
Alfred Beasley had pretty much of a death grip on the steering wheel of the decrepit old Buick as he nursed it up the steep winding mountain road toward Montezuma Pass. He and Martha had bought the Buick new, fifteen years earlier. At the time they made the purchase, they had also discussed the very real possibility that this would be their last new vehicle—that this final Regal would be their "toes-up" Buick. Back then they hadn't expected it would last nearly as long as it had. Of course, they hadn't really thought they'd make it this far, either. Martha had just turned ninety-one and Alfred himself was eighty-eight. She'd outlived her parents by forty years; Alfred had surpassed his by almost as many.
Throughout their long marriage, they had always loved road trips, and this one was no exception. Martha had insisted that they do Montezuma Pass at the bottom of the Huachuca Mountains "one last time," as she said, and they were doing it, come hell or high water—and not necessarily in that order. The rains had come two days late—on the sixth of July rather than the fourth. Once they were off the paved road and onto gravel, there were places where there were already washouts. In one spot a small boulder had fallen onto the road. Afraid the Buick would high-center if Alfred tried going over it, he carefully steered around it, praying that no one would come barreling downhill toward them when their left rear tire—far more worn than it should have been—was within mere inches of going over the edge. Alfred breathed a heartfelt sigh of relief once they were back on the right-hand side of the narrow road. No matter what else was going on with him, at least he could still drive.