Carlotta (Desert Queen)

Submitted by Warren Woods to Contest #7 in response to: Write a story about a person longing for family.... view prompt

Dear Reverend,


In your entire life if you never experience true love or if you find yourself questioning love or the strength of your love for someone else, please read this letter. Its contents are entirely factual, I assure you. I have probably overshared many details but it is my best effort to explain things this way so that you can see that I am genuine and candid and so that you can understand the exact details, as best I can describe them, of how I found love (or how love found me). After presenting the information, I will discuss the reason for my letter and my request of you. 

In August of 1977, the boss of the outfit that I drove freight for, Mr. Pacheco, had a hard time keeping drivers on staff and often found himself asking me to haul freight on my days off. You see, in those days, the Department of Transportation didn’t worry too much about the exhaustion of young drivers in the southwest United States. We had driving logs but nothing was enforced and we hardly maintained any entries into the aforementioned logs anyway. So, I would accept his offers any chance I could get. 

Anyhow, my boss (Jerry Pacheco) asked me one Sunday afternoon if I could make a run to California, just north of Los Angeles up near Bakersfield. I had hardly been to California in my life, not for business or for pleasure and with no one or nothing really strapping me down to any commitment at home, I took his offer. I figured I could stash away the extra pay and if I stayed on schedule, I could probably reach Bakersfield by early Monday morning, unload, turn around and be home sometime Monday night. That would leave the rest of my week open to pick up any extra work. See, after a non-stop run like that, I usually slept for 10 hours or so. That is, after I unwound on the sofa in front of the television with a glass of whisky (sorry, Father). Anyway, I figured by the Wednesday after my return, I’d certainly be ready to pick up a longer run out east or somewhere on the northern Pacific coast. 

The Bakersfield job sounded pretty straightforward. I’d oversee the loading of about 25 pallets of some type of plastic product, drive my truck (at the time I was driving a 1971 Kenworth I had mostly paid off) through the night into Bakersfield, oversee the unload, turn around and head home. In those days, I was living on the outskirts of Albuquerque in a mobile home park called Riviera De Sandia. I had a modest little one-bedroom trailer that I had been staying in for about a year and a half. My life was dedicated to that trucking job not because I was passionate about it, but because I was motivated. Motivated by money and saving as much of it as I could so that I could move to the desert and retire early. I often dreamed of owning a small ranch with a couple of quarter horses, maybe a mule. At some point, maybe I’d meet a woman and fall in love. Or maybe not, I wasn’t too concerned with the love part. I hadn’t had much luck with relationships. At the time, this was about the extent of my dream. I was alone and caught up in the present and not thinking much of my own future.

I’m sharing details about my job and this drive in particular so that you have an idea of where my head was at and what my life was like at the time, reverend. You and I didn’t really talk too frequently and I barely had time for church at that age. If I’m being honest, I can hardly recall many details of your life at the time except that you had just joined the church in Albuquerque and had moved from Midland (I think). I apologize for my ignorance, reverend. 

Anyway, back to the trip and the fateful moment when I met the woman who I wish to marry. 

After fueling up and doing my regular pre-trip maintenance check, I began the trip. It was about 9 o’clock in the evening on Sunday night. I remember because there was a beautiful desert sunset that night. The sky was a pink and orange gradient and there were little wispy clouds scattered about the sky, all sort of marching over the plateau toward Albuquerque. It’s always easy to enjoy and recall the sunsets when I’m in the cab. See, when you’re in the rig and in view of the sky, you’re kind of forced to observe every little detail because there isn’t much else to do, especially if the interstate is sparse. The display before me went on for what seemed like an hour or more while I began the trip, bound for Bakersfield. When the sun finally set, I was settled into the cab and rolling ahead. Per usual, I had a classic country radio station on softly. I never turned it up too loud because I was afraid I wouldn’t hear noise from the engine compartment indicating a broken belt or some mechanical issue. Some big rig drivers don’t listen to the radio at all. I was never that way. I was too afraid to hear the conversations in my mind.

Well, I drove on through the darkness and the desert summer heat. The night was uneventful, just the way I liked it to be in those days. Outside of Flagstaff, I saw a pack of coyotes, close enough to the road for my headlights to illuminate them. I had never seen coyotes near the road that weren’t in motion. These coyotes looked like they were having some sort of meeting in the ditch and when I got up near them they looked at me in my bright lights as if I were interfering. That was about the extent of anything worth remembering on my drive out there. By Monday morning, I found myself just south of Bakersfield. As expected, I had made good timing. I had been on the road just shy of twelve hours by the time I reached the joint to unload. With the time change, it was about 8 o’clock in the morning (if my memory is right) when I reached the company that was to accept and unload the pallets. I unstrapped the load and moved everything to the back of the trailer while two men operating forklifts brought the load down and moved it into their warehouse. All said and done, the unpacking probably took less than an hour. Quick and painless.

As I rolled up my straps and tie-downs and cleaned up the container, I couldn’t help but think of how smooth this impromptu trip had been. I found that this was often the case with my trips, that’s why Mr. Pacheco always asked me to haul freight last-minute. See, I’m a firm believer that the coolness of the run is always because of the coolness of the driver and his rig. A good driver doesn’t often have many run-ins. Sometimes, events can’t be avoided and you find yourself victim of a blow-out or traffic delay, but hey that’s the job and if that’s all you got to worry about on a run, then you’re doing alright by me (and Mr. Pacheco).

So, I headed eastbound toward home with an empty trailer, hoping to make better time on account of a lighter load. Somewhere near the New Mexico border, I decided I just couldn’t make it home without stopping to relieve myself and perhaps grab a bite. I ended up stopping at a travel plaza just across the border in Gallup. Up until this point, there hadn’t been much out of the ordinary on this trip. Not the drive to Bakersfield, nor the drive home (thus far). But when I parked the Kenworth at the back of the lot and stepped out of the cab, the air was thick and the smell (which I can’t describe) was indicative of the event about to unfold. See, when I walked into the plaza (mostly empty as it was evening by then), my eyes met a woman who would change everything. From the moment I saw her I fell in love. Even though “falling in love” is something I’ve heard people say and talk about a thousand times before, I have never even come close to the actual feeling of “falling in love.” Up until meeting this beautiful patron of the truck plaza, I had never felt love this way before. She looked about my age (I was only 22 at the time) or a little bit younger but I imagined her beauty probably made her look younger than she actually was. When I saw her I felt like I could damn near black out and die right there on the ground. I have a difficult time trying to even put the feeling into words but the closest thing I can think of is when you see a dog in the wild who’s spent its whole life living in the dirt outside with nothing to eat but trash and no fresh water to drink and no warm and cozy place to lay it’s head (I’m the dog in this analogy, Reverend) and suddenly someone with a warm heart opens their arms and the door to their home for the dog. And that someone feeds the dog more than it’s howling belly can even bare and bathes it and dries its coat with a clean warm towel and allows it to sleep in a soft plush bed and scratches its belly until its eyes slowly close and it finds rest like never before. Well, SHE was the woman who opened her heart and home to me. Except she wasn’t any regular woman, she was royalty (in rags, I’ll admit) who opened the gate to her castle and waved her arm to invite me in. 

It sounds silly, I know. The woman in the plaza smiled at me and began to talk to me and I talked back to her for a brief moment. Even under all that duress, can you believe it Reverend? In that moment it was as if we both decided to let love take over and spend eternity together. What I didn’t know (but she explained to me while the man was in the bathroom) was that a man, who was a friend of her father’s to whom her father owed a great debt to, had taken her for a drive. The choice given to her indebted father by this man was either that the father faces death or that the father surrenders his daughter to the man for an unspecified time. The woman’s father, a drinker and gambler and an absolutely terrible man, gave his daughter to this dangerous man as if he were loaning him a book, no questions asked. So, off the bad man went with the daughter of the man who owed him a great deal of money. The daughter told me the man who took her, hit her in the chest so hard with his closed fist that they both heard the crack of one of her ribs echo in the cab of his truck. She told me that this had just happened. Right before they stopped at this truck stop. She told me that she was certain the man intended to rape and kill her and that her father likely sat at home, unconcerned and drunk. She told me that she had been in fear for her and her father’s life for some time and knew that an event like this was inevitable and that she had been making plans to move out for some time and that this event happened the night she had packed her bags, planning to leave the next morning. Can you believe this, Reverend? I swear it’s the truth.

I know you think I’m crazy, but I believed every word she said. I’ve always been a good judge of character and had found that my gut never led me astray in my entire life. When I asked her questions, in an attempt to pursue the truth and weed out any lies, she replied unflinched as if she were responding straight from her heart. I also noticed her outfit was a little odd. She was wearing pants and shoes that seemed to fit her but she had on a Harley Davidson shirt that looked to be at least two sizes too large for her torso. She told me this was because the shirt didn’t even belong to her but rather belonged to the man she was with. He had made her change out of the cropped shirt she was wearing so that her badly bruised chest (from the broken rib) wouldn’t be detected by anyone at the truck stop. She said the man who took her told her he was going to stop for a six pack of Bud, take her up to the mountains, rape her and bury her in the desert. 

I was scared. Scared for the woman and scared that this man would walk out of the bathroom at any moment. So, when I heard all I needed to hear to make up my mind (which wasn’t much as the love I felt for this woman was so powerful it didn’t take much convincing on her part), I turned and walked out to my rig. It was perfect timing too because the man walked out of the restroom with his beer in one arm and the woman in the other. Reverend, this next part may be difficult to read but I share it with you because it is the truth and I want you to know the exact order of events that transpired so that you can understand the action I took. 

As they stood inside the store for a moment to check out (I could now see the fear progress in her face, probably assuming that I didn’t believe a word she said and bailed to leave her alone with him to die) I watched them through the window of my rig and the glass of the travel plaza. When they walked out together toward the man’s truck, I stepped out of my rig and shut and locked my cab door. I had left my rig in idle, my truck sitting and vibrating in the lot. Anyway, they walked up to his truck at the corner of the lot and he opened her door first and pushed her into his truck and slammed the door and I heard him from where I was say “fucking bitch” as he walked around to the driver side. He threw the beer onto the seat between them and got in. I could hear him yelling from outside of his closed truck cab. There was no doubt, this man had abducted this poor woman and she was certainly going to die. So, I moved along the parked cars in the lot towards the truck. By this point, my body was numb and my chest was throbbing. I approached the driver’s side door where they sat in the dark. I stood outside of the man’s driver side door, waiting for him to notice. I wasn’t even sure what I was going to do or what was even going to happen so I just stood there for a minute. He didn’t even notice me or look over his shoulder at me until she looked at me from the passenger side. Her eyes told him that someone was standing outside his door, waiting to set her free. He ignored me at first but eventually rolled down his window. At first, he refused to step out of the truck. I raised my voice and then he his. Then the man pulled a pistol out of the glove box and just set it on his lap. I was not deterred. I thought, if this man shoots me dead in the parking lot of this truck plaza, it will draw attention to the scene and the woman will have to escape. Someone would surely notice and I’d be lying dead or bleeding but at least the woman would be free. But then things took a serious turn and the man raised the gun up to my chest. My pounding heart begged for him to shoot me so that she could throw the passenger door open and run. Instead, she (my love and savior on the passenger side) reached over and slammed her palm against the truck horn as hard as possible. Except the horn was mute on the old truck but the man noticed her movement and turned to investigate her actions. That’s when I grabbed the pistol from him with both hands and turned the heavy metal piece around in both hands but then my left hand handed the gun to my right hand and my right hand pressed the barrel up to the back of the man’s head (still turned facing her) and my finger squeezed the trigger and the gun went off into the back of that man’s head. What was left of his head fell forward against the steering wheel. Then I dropped the gun on the pavement. And I thought, the woman’s father’s debt was no longer. She was free.

It wasn’t long before the sheriff came and cuffed both her and me and took us to jail in Gallup. Eventually, the father of the woman who I had fallen in love with would catch wind of the incident and contact the police to notify the police that his daughter had been kidnapped. So, they released her. But I was transferred to the penitentiary in Santa Fe county where I currently sit. 

The woman who changed my life forever awaits my possible parole so that we can begin to live our life together. We correspond through mail weekly, almost daily and speak over the phone when possible. I have no regrets about my actions nor do I concern myself with my circumstance because I know that the unending love that I felt for her and still feel today set the both of us free. My request of you, Reverend, is that you will oversee our marriage, to take place behind bars on the grounds of the penitentiary. I understand that you may well believe that my sin is so great that you are unable to assist in our marriage. I only hope that above all else you understand my actions that evening.

I saved her life and she mine, Father. Please reply.

Yours truly,

Casey

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