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caliche, everywhere. Over the steering wheel the sheriff pointed at a fence shimmering on the horizon. He turned on the radio and chose a news broadcast from Laredo. Car accidents, county commission meetings, cattle prices, high school football there was no mention of the escape. The sheriff switched to a Spanish-language broadcast and my ears strained, like muscles flexing, to understand. “How’s your Spanish? You learning any?” “Un poco.” “Well you better learn ‘tin poco’ more if you want to survive in this part of the world.” “I will.” Sheriff Falcon looked at his passenger sizing me up, as if he were measuring me for a suit. When the lawman spoke next the question was direct and threatening. “There’s something I wanted to ask you.” “What is it?” “Where do you go every week? People say that they’ve seen you coming and going with an overnight bag. You sure you aren’t driving up to Austin,” the sheriff asked, “carrying a package for one of our local ‘businessmen?'” “I go south, not north.” “South where?” “Mexico City. I go to Reynosa and catch the afternoon train to Monterrey. Then the night train to the capital.” “Mexico City? What’d you want to do down there?” “Walk in the parks, visit museums, go to bookstores. I practice my Spanish. I’m one of the few people who really likes Mexico City. I’d live there if the air was clean enough to breathe.” The sheriff nodded to acknowledge that there really are people in the world who would travel all night on a train to go to a bookstore or to visit a museum. But Sheriff Falcon’s own interests were more practical. “What if something happens here while you’re down there? Who’ll write up the article and send it to the newspaper?” “Nothing happens here, Sheriff. That’s the beauty of Starr County. I’ve been here for almost six months and the only excitement we’ve had is a fire at the school, one barroom shooting and this escape. Everything else has been a routine story that if I don’t write today I can write next week. Going to Mexico City is a risk that I’m willing to take.” A lot of people didn’t like the Rio Grande Valley. They thought it was “too close” to Mexico. For me the problem was completely opposite. Mexico wasn’t close enough. For me all of Mexico could be distilled, focused into a single image, a scene out of a photograph by Casasola: a horse thief standing against a wall as an impatient row of federales waits to shoot him. At the thief’s feet sits a dog, well-trained and patient. To me, both man and animal were romantic figures. There was nothing like either of them on this side of the border. “Do you think I ought to fire her?” the sheriff asked. There wasn’t any point in opening my notebook. This morning the sheriff would be telling me the truth, not the facts. “Who?” “The dispatcher.” The sheriff’s car turned onto a dirt road. The state police plane was in the distance overhead. Somewhere up there sunlight was bouncing off silver wings and then the reflection was rising and disappearing in the gaudy clouds as the plane turned to make another pass. A breeze blew through the window. The wind gave me a sensation of power. In Starr County there was none of the cynicism about the press that you see in big cities. It was a little scary. In the hallways of the courthouse my own stories were quoted as if they were written by God. Factual or false, biased or impartial, once something appeared in the newspaper it became real. There was a reason for our “posse” . this morning, after all. It had nothing to do with catching the escaped prisoners. The sheriff wanted to feel me out. He wanted to know if the newspaper was going to make a stink about the sleeping deputy. Sheriff Falcon was in a bad position. Firing people in a 14 THE TEXAS OBSERVER OCTOBER 6, 2000