A Justicia knew where the question was going. He answered before it got there. “The dispatcher was asleep.” The escapees had walked out past the sleeping radio dispatcher/jailer. That was that. One for the sheriff. He had told the truth, to his considerable embarrassment. “I’m going out,” Gene Falcon said, standing and offering his fleshy hand, “to check some of the ranches in the county. Why don’t you come along?” “I’d like that.” “Give me about twenty minutes. I still have a few calls to make.” “I’ll meet you ” “In the parking lot,” he said. Outside, the sun was gathering strength. Standing on the courthouse steps there was an unpleasant tingle on the skin of my forehead and along my wrists and under my arms. It was almost winter but my pores were open, preparing for another long day. To the north, the Border Patrol operated inspection points on the roads leaving the county. The patrol’s officers had instructions to look for the escapees as well as for the usual illegal aliens. To the east and west, the sheriff’s own deputies were cruising back roads and visiting ranches to ask if anyone had seen suspicious movements on the land. There were other men on horseback, and the state police were sending an airplane to check the more remote areas of the county. It was all, of course, totally pointless. To the south, the thin waters of the Rio Grande were flowing darkly, not far beyond the edge of the courthouse parking lot. If you fired a pistol, the bullet would land on the far riverbank on the “other side,” as it was called on this side. All three escaped men had ties to Mexico, either friends or family. One was married to a woman from Reynosa. The sheriff had mentioned that there was a “possibility” that the men he was looking for had crossed the river, but it was almost certain they were there now, at that moment sitting down to a breakfast of beans and beer among friends. It was a possibility, yes, Sheriff Falcon had said. It was the only possibility. The sheriff appeared, dodging cars on the parking lot. Most of my contact with Eugene Falcon had been in his office. If you hadn’t before seen the sheriff away from his desk, the sight was somehow encouraging. Like most of the respectable men in the county, Sheriff Falcon’s body was going to fat, but it was a slow process and he was at the point where the extra weight was attractive. Gave him substance and authority. There was no outward sign of the office Eugene Falcon held. He could have been a rancher, and his family did own property in Starr County, but someone had told me that they had nothing there no cows, no water, no oil or natural gas. Just land. Blink your eyes once and you were already out of Rio Grande City. The two lanes grew to four, merging into the highway that reached all the way to the shores of the Gulf of Mexico. The scenery was not very impressive. The Rio Grande was still close enough to smell the water, but the big farms in the Upper Valley had drained so much from the river that the land was shriveled and colorless except white dust, THE TEXAS OBSERVER 13 OCTOBER 6, 2000
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