Throughout the day today, I will be posting short excerpts from my new novel, Owl Dance. This first excerpt is from the beginning of the novel. We meet one of the story’s protagonists, Ramon “Búho” Morales, sheriff of Socorro, New Mexico. Enjoy!
“Sheriff, I hate to spread rumors…”
Ramon Morales tipped his hat back on his head. The blurred form of a small, hunched-over woman silhouetted by the light of the setting sun was in the door of his office. “Rumors? What…?”
The woman inclined her head and planted her hands on her hips. “I’m talking about the curandera that rode into town last month in her fancy wagon.” She looked from one side to the other, then stepped close to the desk. Mrs. Chavez’s face became clear then. “I think she may be practicing black magic,” she said in hushed tones. “She might be a bruja.”
The sheriff sat upright and put on a pair of wire-frame, round-lensed spectacles. “What makes you think that?”
“That wagon of hers is full of strange potions and powders.” Mrs. Chavez’s breath smelled of garlic and onions. Ramon scooted back, putting a few inches between himself and the irate woman. “She gave Mr. Garcia a potion that cured his liver and he took up drinking again. She told Mrs. Johnson there wasn’t anything she could do about her straying husband.”
Ramon shrugged. “Alfredo Garcia’s a drunk. Of course he started drinking again when he felt better.” The sheriff inclined his head, confused about the second point. “I’d think you’d be happy she couldn’t help Mr. and Mrs. Johnson. You’re a curandera, too. That’s more business for you.”
Mrs. Chavez heaved an exasperated sigh. “That’s not the point. They went to her first, even though she’s not a local. She doesn’t even go to Mass.” She straightened and pointed a long, gnarled finger at the sheriff. “But that’s not the worst of it. You should see the owls. They’re her familiars.”
Ramon stood. This nonsense had gone on for long enough. “She lives out by Old Man Seaton’s farm.” He firmly took hold of Mrs. Chavez’s elbow. She tensed and her eyes narrowed, but she did nothing else to resist as he escorted her toward the door. “There are always owls out there. They aren’t a bad omen. They just hunt the mice in the field.”
“You would sympathize with those creatures—with a name like Búho Morales.” She clucked her tongue. Ramon rolled his eyes at the use of his nickname. “Mark my words, Sheriff. She’s trouble.”
Ramon didn’t like the sound of that. He’d heard rumors of witch hunts in other parts of New Mexico Territory. Some had turned very ugly. Still, he wanted Mrs. Chavez out of there so he could focus on more immediate concerns. “I’ll go talk to her soon,” he said.
She pursed her lips and seemed to consider that. Finally, her shoulders relaxed. “Thank you, Sheriff.”
Ramon sighed and gently closed the door behind the old woman. Socorro, New Mexico had been part of the United States for less than twenty years. In that time, it had swollen from a population of about 400 to nearly 4000. Many of the settlers came to work the silver and lead mines in the surrounding mountains. Others were ranchers who had moved up from Texas after the Civil War, looking for new land to feed their cattle. Meanwhile, farmers did their best to hold onto prize soil near the valuable waters of the Rio Grande. It was a rough and tumble town that failed to attract many educated folks like doctors. Ramon was pleased at the prospect of a new healer in the town, but frustrated that others would not welcome her.
Ramon shook his head and tried to put thoughts of Mrs. Chavez behind him. It was Friday night of a warm spring day. That meant there would be bigger trouble than squabbling curanderas. The miners would be coming in from the hills and the cowboys would be coming in from the ranches. They would collide in the saloons that night. The sheriff turned around and resumed his place at the desk. Just as he removed his glasses and tipped his hat over his eyes to get a little more rest, the door burst open.
“Sheriff!” Deputy Ray Hillerman was breathing hard. “We already got our first fight down at the Cap!”
Copies of Owl Dance may be ordered at: