I’m upwind with a cigarette when Mr. Thad’s red pickup comes out of the swale and descends. A light squeal of brakes. He’s got Hector with him.
Mr. Thad is tall and thin except for a slight potbelly. Eyebrows and mustache like white caterpillars, but the whiskers over his lip are stained brown. Red vessels cluster in his cheeks. He removes his hat and passes a hand over slicked white hair.
“Yep.” He expels a jet of tobacco juice. “That’s a dead animal.”
“What do you think, Mr. Thad?”
He looks at the sun, then at me, a smile curling beneath his mustache, and seems suddenly drunk. “I think it’s gonna rain today, by god.”
Hector scoffs before catching himself.
“Don’t think so?”
Hector grimaces and looks elsewhere.
“What say you, boy?”
I glance at the empty sky. “I don’t think so, sir, but that’s not what I meant.”
“Was down south yesterday,” Mr. Thad goes on. “Them Mexican Indians say rain. Praying to their holy santos and likewise with the dances. Doubling up on that shit. I’m inclined to hope. Hector, you got any of them santos?”
“Pray your ass off then, boy.” Mr. Thad begins to list toward his truck.
“Mr. Thad,” I call.
“Go get the backhoe and pick that thing up before my dogs find it. Dead cow ain’t it?” He clambers into his truck and is gone. He’s left Hector behind, too.
I pinch the ember from my cigarette and put the butt in my pocket. Hector bumps his eyebrows and begins walking.
We arrive at the big gray barn, me leading my horse, and play rock-paper-scissors to determine who must deposit the cow into the gulch. Hector wins, paper over rock.
“I know your head, my friend.”
He smiles and taps his temple. “Your head is hard like a rock.”