Carrie Ann Benton and Rodney Buchard have been in love since grammar school. Her father, federal judge Horace Benton, has forbidden them to see each other. The reason? Rodney's mother is Mexican, a fact that will hurt Horace's prospects of becoming governor of Arizona-and one day, maybe president of the United States.
The judge needs the money and support of affluent voters-which excludes the likes of a so-called "half-breed" like Rodney. Instead, Horace aligns himself with the state's many powerful cattlemen.
Defying her father's wishes, Carrie continues her secret romance at an undisclosed rendezvous point inside Fire Mountain, unaware that someone is tracking them-someone prepared to end their relationship for good.
Meanwhile, Earl, a wealthy cattle baron's son, is duped into following their trail in hopes of professing his love to Carrie and separating her from Rodney once and for all.
After an accidental death, US Marshal Max Greystone arrives to investigate and begins to unravel a twisted web of lies, deceit, and intrigue. Will the truth be uncovered before more people lose their lives?
|6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.36(d)
About the Author
John Henry Hardy holds an MA in business management and was awarded the George Washington Honor Medal by the Freedoms Foundation at Valley Forge. He is a retired US Marine Corps officer and AT&T territorial support manager. Hardy lives with his wife,Lucy, in Mesa, Arizona.
Read an Excerpt
The old woman parked her car behind a hillock, not far from the old Goldfield Grammar School, and began walking down the hot asphalt road with the sun beating down on her head and back. It was very hot — a typical summer's day in the Arizona Sonoran Desert. Carrie Ann knew this was the last time she could make it to The Place. She had made the trip many times before, but now her ninety-third birthday was approaching, and she knew this would be her last visit to the secluded trysting spot.
Climbing up the little-used trail had become harder with each passing year, and in spite of the dry desert air, sweat appeared on her brow. She stopped to rest, placing the old picnic basket down carefully on the ground before taking a drink from the canteen he had given to her more than seventy-five years ago. It and the engagement ring were the only mementos she had of the first man she had loved. Carrie had married and raised a family with another fine man whom she also loved, and their three children were grown up now and had blessed them with five grandchildren. But her husband had been killed on D-Day — June 6, 1944 — and was interred in an American cemetery not far from where her first love was buried. He was killed during the Second Battle of the Marne in World War I. In the summer of 1960, she'd traveled to France and visited both of their graves, but she'd never gone back again; the memories were too painful. Now she was climbing the morning side of the mountain once again, where the huge boulders were casting shadows on the creosote bushes and the cholla and saguaro cacti that somehow thrived in this parched land. Then she carefully scrutinized the ground around a large rock before sitting down on it to rest. Fire Mountain was a beautiful place, but it was crawling with desert fauna, including the deadly Diamondback and Mohave rattlesnakes, so she had to be very careful.
Her vista from the mountainside was now clouded by hundreds of sand-colored houses of every size and description; the town of Apache Junction had grown greatly over the years. Beyond Fire Mountain, she could barely make out the tiny hamlet of Tortilla Flat and the extreme eastern edge of the burgeoning city of Mesa. But Goldfield, the town where she had grown up, was clearly visible. When it had been a bustling mining town, it had boasted a boardinghouse, a general store, a blacksmith shop, a brewery, a meat market, and three saloons, and she could still make out the old adobe structure where she had attended grammar school. However, Goldfield had become a ghost town when the gold ore had petered out in 1926. It was now a tourist attraction. Carrie saw the roof of her blue Chevrolet parked behind the hillock not far from the school and thought, How ironic. That's the very spot where Oliver Draper parked his car on the day he fell off the western side of the mountain and died.
As she again focused her gaze back on the old school building, she remembered circling the big saguaro cactus in the middle of the playground with her friends, holding hands and dressed in their long cotton dresses and black button shoes. They moved in a ring-around-the-rosy fashion, singing, "All around the mulberry bush, the monkey chased the weasel. The monkey thought it was all in fun — pop goes the weasel. A penny for a spool of thread, a penny for a needle ..." Then suddenly they heard the principal clanging the old handheld bell; recess was over.
As she headed into the building, she noticed him watching her again. The sandy-haired boy with the bright-blue eyes was always looking at her and smiling. His name was Rodney Buchard, and he was fascinated by Carrie Ann Benton's long brown tresses and dark-brown eyes. They were both twelve years old and in the sixth grade, but she was too shy to talk to him, although she was captivated by his alluring smile and feelings she did not yet understand.
Carrie learned from the other girls in her class that his father was a French Canadian and his mother a Mexican, and everyone in the school liked him — everyone, that is, but Earl Remington. Earl's father owned El Caballo Tinto Rancho — the Red Horse Ranch — one of the largest spreads in Arizona, and Earl never let anyone at school forget it.
Years later, in the spring of her high-school freshman year, Rodney asked her to go the school dance, and she said yes.
"Why are you going to the dance with him?" the lanky Earl Remington pouted, his blue eyes glowering with an intense hatred. Earl was used to getting things his way, but not with Carrie Ann Benton. "He's poor," Earl continued. "His folks ain't got anything. Besides, he's not even a white man."
"What do you mean he's not a white man?" Carrie Ann innocently asked.
"He's a half-breed, Carrie!" Earl shouted. "His mother is Mexican. My old man hates Mexicans and Indians. He had to fight them off when he was building up the ranch."
"Well, my stepmother is Mexican," Carrie angrily replied. "And she sure ain't a half-breed!"
"She ain't your stepmother, Carrie," Earl replied. "She just lives in your house."
Carrie was shocked. She had never thought about whether or not Maria was married to her dad — it didn't matter. Her biological mother had died when Carrie was two, and Maria Alvarez had taken to raising her. "But she has her own room, and my father pays her to keep house," Carrie tartly replied.
"My old man says money isn't the only thing old Judge Benton is giving her." Earl snickered as he walked away, and at that moment, Carrie Ann Benton began to hate Earl Remington.
At the dinner table that evening, Carrie angrily blurted out, "Rodney is taking me to the freshman dance, Daddy, and Earl Remington called him a bad name.. Earl is telling the kids at school that he has a crush on me," she continued, "and he's jealous because I like Rodney and not him."
Judge Horace Benton stopped chewing his beef enchilada for a moment and wistfully looked over at his daughter. When he finished chewing and swallowing his food, he asked, "Is his last name Buchard?"
"I want you to stay away from Rodney Buchard," Judge Benton hissed. "He's from the wrong side of town, Carrie. Boys like him are nothing but trouble."
"But I like him, Dad. He's very nice, and I —"
"Stay away from him, Carrie." Her dad quickly became red-faced and sounded very angry. "And you're not going to the dance or any other place with him — got it?"
Carrie could see him flush with anger. She got the feeling that something was terribly wrong. It can't be because he's Mexican, she thought. Maria is Mexican and has lived with us for many years. She turned her head to look at Maria for support. She, in turn, was staring at Carrie's father with an inquisitive expression on her face.
Judge Benton saw Carrie look at Maria, and suddenly his face blanched when he noticed Maria's officious look. He had to choose his next words very carefully. "I heard the marshal mention his name a few times, Carrie," he said, "that's all. I don't want you to make any mistakes."
His answer seemed to satisfy Maria, and she stood up without saying anything and began clearing some of the dishes from the table. Carrie always put her own dishes in the sink, and as she was doing so, she saw Maria quickly disappear into the sala, or living room, and got an uneasy feeling in the pit of her stomach. As she silently climbed the stairs to her room, she glanced down at Maria sitting on the sofa, knowing that she would never interfere with the relationship between Carrie and her father. A few minutes later, her father tapped on the door and then came in and sat down next to her on the bed.
"Carrie," he said softly as he put his arm around her, "I want you to understand. I'm doing this for your own good. Someday when you're older and have children of your own, you'll understand what a man of wealth can offer you — a man like Chester Remington's son."
"I hate Earl Remington, Daddy."
"But Chester Remington owns the largest cattle ranch in this part of Arizona, Carrie," he insisted. "Earl is his only son, and someday El Caballo Tinto will belong to him." He was surprised she wasn't enthused by the prospect of possibly being the mistress of a thriving cattle empire.
"I don't care, Daddy. I hate him, and he says terrible things about you and Maria."
"Oh, Carrie, that's just a boy talking," he said. "When he's a few years older and grows up, he'll act a lot nicer; you'll see."
Carrie couldn't believe her dad would tolerate what Earl had said about him and Maria.
"I'll never be interested in Earl Remington, Dad. I like Rodney."
"Well, if you ever become involved with Rodney Buchard, Carrie, it will be over my dead body!"
She had made him terribly angry again.
That night, after he was certain Carrie was asleep, Horace Benton quietly walked down the hallway and slipped into Maria's bedroom, gently closing the door behind him. He could tell Maria was not in a good mood, and although he had the final say as to what happened in the courtroom, he had learned a long time ago that he didn't have the final say as to what happened in the bedroom.
Maria was sitting before the mirror combing her long dark tresses. Her brown eyes focused on his reflection in the mirror for a moment, and then she went back to combing her hair. Horace walked up behind her and gently put his hands on her shoulders, a gesture indicating he was in the mood to make love. But she didn't respond to his gesture, and he immediately knew it wasn't going to be as good a night as he had hoped it would be.
"When are we going to get married, Horace?" she softly asked.
The question jolted him. He had an inkling Carrie's remark concerning Rodney Buchard had piqued her interest. But it wasn't what Carrie had said; it was his angry retort that had gotten Maria's attention.
Horace didn't know what to say. He didn't want to get married any time soon. His ambitions wouldn't allow it. But he wanted a pretty woman for sex and one who was also a good cook, a good housekeeper, and easy to get along with — and one who loved Carrie. Maria had all of these attributes. "Why do you suddenly want to start rocking the boat?" he asked. "You have everything you want and need — beautiful clothes, plenty of food and wine, a beautiful home."
She calmly turned to face him and softly answered, "No, Horace, you have everything you want and need. After all these years of loving you, I suddenly realized that you're ashamed of me because I'm not white. You are, aren't you?"
"No. Never," he answered as he paled.
"That's what made you so angry at Carrie," she continued without acknowledging his answer. "It's because you know Rodney's mother is Mexican! And that's why you've never taken me out dining or gone shopping with me."
"No, it's because I'm a very busy man!" he answered.
"Even when the president appointed you to the federal bench," she continued, "you celebrated with your friends without inviting me."
"I love you," he replied. "I'm not ashamed of you."
"Then why won't you marry me?" she asked.
He had to think fast. If they waited a year, Carrie would be just two months shy of her sixteenth birthday, and she would be able to do most things for herself. "OK," he said. "How about May first?"
"That's less than a month away," she replied. His answer had surprised her and filled her heart with anticipation. Her half-smile pained him as he realized she'd misunderstood him.
"No," he said, "May first of next year, 1913."
"But that's more than a year away, Horace," she sheepishly answered.
"That's the best I can do, Maria," he firmly replied.
Maria intently studied his reflection in the mirror for a moment, hoping his expression would soften. It didn't, and it broke her heart when she suddenly admitted what she had suspected for years. He may never marry me, because I'm not a white woman, she thought. Even though they were not husband and wife, they shared many secrets. She was privy to his grandiose dreams of becoming governor and perhaps one day president of the United States, but it was obvious his future plans did not include her! He is just using me, she thought. Maria Alvarez stared at him for a few moments longer, knowing the die was cast. Either he was going to relent or their relationship would be over forever, but she had to know. "All right, Horace," she confidently replied. "The next time I'll see you in my bedroom will be on the evening of May first, 1913 — our wedding day — and that's the best I can do."
Horace Benton's heart was shattered. He knew her well. She was a very gentle person, but when she'd made up her mind about something as important as marriage, there was no changing it. Yet he had never expected such a retort from Maria — she was always so obsequious. When she opened the bedroom door, he was shocked and couldn't quite believe it. But when he heard the door close softly behind him, he felt as hurt as he had when his wife had died almost fourteen years ago. Carrie was asleep. The big house now seemed deathly quiet, and suddenly he never felt so alone in all his life.
Back in his own bedroom, his gray eyes studied his salt-and-pepper locks and black mustache in the mirror. He was feeling terribly upset. He loved her, but he couldn't marry her. It was OK to hire a Mexican woman to be your housekeeper and everything else, but that was all. Judge Benton figured the people who voted — the ones that counted — would never understand. It is 1912, he thought, and yet the outcome of the Mexican War is still a painful memory for many families living in the West, since the land was ceded to the United States with the Treaty of Hidalgo. The United States paid Mexico a fifteen-million-dollar settlement, with the proviso that the Mexicans living within the new boundaries of the United States could become citizens, if they so desired. However, Judge Benton knew that the old Spanish land grants certifying the ownership of the lands owned by the former citizens of Mexico did not hold sway in the US courts without the proper documentation, and many of the former Mexican citizens now living in the new state of Arizona had never received any such paperwork. Besides, many of them didn't speak English, and therefore, the judge concluded, most of them wouldn't vote anyway. Thus, if he was to realize his ambitions, he would need the money and support of influential men like Chester Remington, who he knew hated Mexicans and Indians. Thus, he would have to string Maria along until he was elected governor, and in the meantime, he would secretly patronize the brothel at the western edge of town. But where could Maria go anyway? he wondered. She has no money to speak of, and this has been her home for the last fifteen years. There's no way she could leave me and survive, especially since her family moved back to Mexico years ago. Horace Benton knew he would never find another woman who could take Maria's place — not in his home or in his heart — but his obsessive ambitions kept driving him onward, fueling his temperamental attitude. He had to be in court in the morning, but he spent the night tossing and turning.
"Aren't you going to eat breakfast with us, Maria?" Carrie asked the next morning.
"No, sweetie," Maria softly answered as she touched Carrie's shoulder. "It is not appropriate for a mere servant to eat at the same table as the master of the house." The judge cringed when he heard Maria's remark, and she glanced at him, but he pretended to be totally unperturbed, and she quickly headed back into the kitchen to dine alone. It was a real shocker for Carrie. She looked over at her dad as he was putting a piece of chorizo in his mouth and pretending not to notice her painful expression. Carrie loved Maria and was aware that ever since she had mentioned Rodney Buchard's name, a chilling tension had begun pervading the household. She began to wonder in earnest about what Earl Remington had said about her father not liking Mexicans and Indians; yet she knew her father loved Maria just as she did.
Horace Benton barely tasted the rest of the chorizo, eggs, salsa, and black coffee Maria had served for breakfast, and he kept glancing at a sullen-looking Carrie as they sat dining alone. He realized that what was transpiring between him and Maria was very painful for Carrie, but he knew she would be proud of him once he was elected governor of Arizona. Later on, he thought, Carrie will appreciate what I am doing even more when she becomes First Daughter of the American nation.
Excerpted from "The Place Where The Giant Fell"
Copyright © 2016 Mr. John Henry Hardy.
Excerpted by permission of CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.
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