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Set in the small Texas town of Bug Tussle, a young girl comes face to face with a budding icon and the choice of a future she expected and the future she wants.
SANTA FE, NEW MEXICO
JULY 4, PRESENT DAY
Grant Lawrence sat next to his grandmother as the last echoes of a spectacular sunset
faded into the peaceful calm of the desert evening. Lights from Santa Fe began to
twinkle in the distance, and then Roman candles and rockets flashed brilliantly across
the dark sky like angry fingers of the gods.
“Grandmother, it’s beautiful. I love the desert. It’s mysterious and magical at the same
time. It never seems to change, yet, it’s always changing. The desert makes me feel both
energized and relaxed. Its colors are subtle yet brilliant. This land is full of amazing
contrasts and enigmas. I guess that I’m trying to say that I respect it yet fear the desert
at the same time.”
She set martini glass down and gave him a withering glare, “Lovely sentiment. Well
spoken, but, young man, you know better than to call me the G-word.”
He nodded and sipped his beer, “Yes, ma’am.”
“Ma’am? What the hell are you doing? You know I hate that word.”
A coyote howled somewhere nearby, probably disturbed by the sounds and flashes of
light from the fireworks display in the distance.
Harper Noelle took a puff of her Panetela, the thin cigar she loved to smoke; then
grabbed the revolver that lay on the table between them. Bang! The shot echoed across
the high desert. Grant jumped even though he had become accustomed to her unique
ways of changing the subject.
“Damn mangy coyote! Scared him into the next county. Now, what’s that you said?”
“Um, nothing. I was just enjoying the fireworks.”
Grant loved his grandmother even though he couldn’t call her by that name. Her short,
spiky hair was some combination of fire-engine red and platinum blonde. She never
allowed anyone to see her without full makeup including an impressive set of false
eyelashes that could probably stir up a dust storm when she got mad.
Yes, she was one of a kind. Smart, talented, and wealthy. Harper Noelle had led a life
that had embarrassed many, terrified some, and turned others green with envy. Grant
only hoped that he could follow in her impressive footsteps…well, not precisely, but
Harper took another sip of her martini and put her feet on the wooden railing that
edged the cantilevered deck.
As usual, she wore her signature, hand-tooled cowboy boots that were custom-made by
Willie Lusk over in Lubbock. Grant loved them for their classic Western design and
impeccable craftsmanship, but he could only dream of owning a pair.
She noticed his glance, “Boy, I see that you like my boots. They’re perfection in leather.
Work hard and maybe, just maybe, I’ll buy you a pair one day. Like after you make
your first million.
“Me, I plan to be buried in mine unless I decide to get cremated. I wouldn’t want these
beauties reduced to cinders. Ah, cremation, I like that idea. In fact, I just made a
momentous decision. When I bite the New Mexico dust, you get me cremated, and then
scatter my ashes over Badass Burt’s ranch.”
“You mean the spread next door? Do you mean Burt Bianchi and his Lucky Lover
“Damn right. That Yankee SOB came down here from some Sicilian mob family in New
York. Claims that he was a Capo, but he was just some low-level enforcer who stole a
bunch of money. That fool tries to act like a cowboy, but he winds up looking like a
jackass dude in a shiny shirt with embroidered roses all over it.”
“I take it that you don’t care for him?”
“Ha. Understatement of the year. We hate each other. We’d kill each other if we had a
chance, but I’ll get the ultimate revenge. You just sprinkle my ashes over his ranch, and
he’ll be stuck with me forever! Use a helicopter with a Texas flag flying from it. Buzz his
ranch house. With any luck at all, he’ll have a heart attack.”
She waved her empty glass in the air, “Constanza, be a dear and make us another round
of those delightful martinis.”
Constanza, silent as the night, appeared before them with fresh martinis and settled
down in a lounge chair a few feet away.
Grant had known Constanza Mendoza for ages. She had worked for Harper long before
she bought this ranch. Over the years, the two had become close friends, and Constanza
served as a confidante, an advisor in complex divorces, and private pilot.
Harper tipped her glass to Constanza, “You’re a Goddess in disguise. Queen of the
perfect martini but followed closely by your secret ingredient margaritas.”
As Harper raised her glass in a toasting gesture, Grant noticed the tiny letter E
surrounded by a heart tattooed on her left wrist. He’d always wondered about that
tattoo but never dared to ask. Tonight, he felt brave. Well, maybe the beer helped. He
mused to himself, After all, she wouldn’t throw me off the deck with a witness present. Well,
perhaps she would.
Grant braved her wrath, “I’ve always been curious about two things, but I’ve never
dared to ask about them.”
“Well, speak up! Don’t mumble and don’t stutter. I’m not stupid, and I’m not deaf.”
“Okay, why did you change your name? Mom says it’s just because you’re an
iconoclast. She says that your eccentric habits and peculiar ways embarrass her.”
“Darlin’, your mother is an over-educated, prissy, pea-brained smartass. I should never
have sent her to that damn college back East. Ruined her! Those sorry liberal professors
have their heads up their collective asses. Don’t know a thing about the real world.“
She warmed up to one of her favorite rants, “Those fools couldn’t earn a living
spreading mustard on burgers at a fast food restaurant. They’ve got all the common
sense of a senile cockroach.
“You know what Ph.D. stands for? Well let me tell you; it stands for; Positively Helpless
Grant couldn’t suppress a laugh, “Okay, I get it that you don’t have much regard for
those dwelling in ivory towers, but what does that have to do with changing your
She chose to ignore his laughter.
“Sorry for the digression. You just happened to mention one of my pet peeves. I still
have some hope for your mother coming to her senses, but that little light dims a bit
more every day.
“Yes, as you know, I was born Noelle Harper. The Harper part was okay, but I hated
Noelle. My mother cursed me forever by giving birth to me on Christmas Day. How
could she do that to me? Unbelievable. She could have made a tiny, little effort to get
me into the world a week or two early. Oh, well, I guess that turn about’s fair play
because I must have messed up her holiday just as much as she messed up mine.
“Everybody started getting whipped up about Christmas on the day after
Thanksgiving. I lived through parties, caroling, Christmas plays, and all the rest of that
blather. Then, we come to the Big Day. Presents for everyone, then roast turkey with all
the trimmings, and fourteen kinds of dessert. “
Grant interjected, “Harper, may I call you that? What did you get for your birthday?
Your special day?”
“Special day? What a joke. They sang happy birthday to me as we ate leftovers at the
end of the day. I can’t tell you how many times that someone told me how special it
must be to have a birthday on the holiest day of the year. Bullshit! My so-called special
day didn’t even warrant a holiday footnote.”
“When I left, well…make that escaped, Bug Tussle, I reinvented myself. I changed from
a self-centered, bratty teenager into a feisty, ambitious, fabulous young woman. I
decided what I wanted from life, and I went after it.
“I’d always hated that stupid name, Noelle, so I just switched it to my last name. I
became Harper Noelle. Had a nice ring to it if I do say so myself.”
“Well, I agree that you’re feisty and ambitious, but you’ve also got a reputation for
being ruthless, relentless, and obsessed.”
“Bah! Any fool saying that is just jealous. After all, I’ve got beauty, brains, and money.
“Now, my favorite you-know-what, what is the second thing that you want to ask me?”
“You mean grandson? The word that you won’t say?”
Harper ignored the remark.
“Okay, the other thing that I want to know about is that tattoo on your wrist. Tattoos
and you just don’t seem to cohabitate on any planet in the solar system.”
Harper wrapped a warm blanket around her shoulders and seemed lost in thought for
several moments. Finally, she spoke, “Well, kiddies, it’s going to be a long night. Let’s
break out the Don Julio 1942. I think it’s time we switched to a fine tequila.”
She lit another Panetela and leaned back, gazing at the millions of stars overhead. The
sweet smell of piñon smoke drifted gently from the chiminea. The quiet desert night
gave a sense of peace and calm, but Grant knew the truth. The still silence merely
obscures secrets and dangers that can bring terror to the bravest of souls.
Harper sighed, and turned toward Grant, “Ah, yes, that little tattoo; it goes all the way
back to the ranch where I grew up in Bug Tussle, Texas. That little inking represents the
strange day when two worlds collided, and I changed…forever.”