Chapter Four: Ashe
"Hey, Dave. I'm Ashe." The man was cute enough. Not that Ashe had the time to take advantage of that. He threw his duffel bag behind the seat and climbed up into the truck. He pulled the door shut behind him, and it made an unholy screeching noise. "Old truck, huh?"
"Yeah. It was my Daddy's." Dave rubbed the cracked and faded burgundy dash affectionately, and then pulled the old Ford back onto the Highway. "Don't build 'em like this any more."
Ashe nodded. "Thanks for the ride. I'm going to the U of A hospital, up in Tucson."
Dave glanced over at him. "Everything okay?"
"I hope so." Ashe stared out the window at the storm, not in the mood to talk about it. The rain outside the cab was still coming down heavily, the old windshield wipers thumping back and forth in a hypnotizing rhythm.
Ashe had gotten used to these desert storms over the last three years. They blew through in a couple hours, but brought along a lot of drama. Clouds were piled up into the atmosphere like Goliaths, and such thunder and lightning that it felt as if the gods themselves were striking the Earth.
He changed the subject. "Where are you coming from?"
Dave pulled out the ashtray and spat a wad of chewing tobacco into it, slamming it back shut. "I was hunting down by the border. Camped out for a couple days outside Douglas."
"Beautiful country down there. Did you catch anything?"
"Just a couple rattlers." He pointed at the bed of the truck behind them. "They'll make nice hat bands."
Ashe winced. He didn't like the idea of killing animals for sport. "I'm from Bisbee."
"Nice town. I stopped there for breakfast on the way up." He pulled out a bottled water from below to his seat. "Here. You're probably thirsty after the ride."
Ashe accepted it with a smile. "Thanks. I wasn't counting on a monsoon so late in the season."
"That's why I headed home early. I was planning to stay another two or three days, but camping in the rain's no fun."
Ashe was thirsty. He opened the bottle and took a sip.
"You an Arizona native?" Dave asked.
He shook his head. "No, I've been all over the states. Army brat. You?"
"Yup, born and raised in Southern Arizona. Lived out here all my life."
A sign off the side of the road said 'Saint David, Population 1699'. They rumbled into town, as the small two-lane highway swung around to the west. Dave turned off the highway just past an old mobile home park onto Sibyl Road.
"My Daddy died a couple years back, and left me the ranch. I'm all alone out here." He grinned at Ashe.
Ashe smiled politely but noncommittally, and turned to look out the window at the passing town.
Dave's ranch was about ten minutes outside of Saint David. At some point, the pavement gave out, and the truck kicked up a big cloud of dust from the dirt road. The desert out here was empty and dry, with wide spaces between the mesquite trees that dotted the desert landscape.
Dave pulled off the road in front of a metal gate set in the middle of a long barbed-wire fence. He got out and pulled it open, and drove the truck up the gravel driveway. A modest pink stucco house sat on one side of the driveway, with a big old barn hunkering over the other side. Ashe glanced up at it. The wood slats were faded and gray, and the whole thing seemed to lean just a little to one side.
"Welcome to Compton Ranch." Dave stopped the truck, and the old beast kicked out a puff of smoke with a bang from the tailpipe. "My great, great granddaddy homesteaded this place. He built the barn with his own hands." He put on the brake and hopped down out of the truck.
Ashe opened the door and stepped out, his boots crunching on the gravel of the driveway. The rain had abated, and the clouds were quickly making their way east, toward New Mexico.
"Come on inside. I'll make us a sandwich and then we can get to work on your bike."
Ashe followed him inside.
Dave's living room was filled with shelves, each one covered with dead, stuffed animals with glassy eyes—prairie dogs, jack rabbits, and even a small coyote. Dave was a taxidermist, then. He shuddered at the sight of all those dead, shiny eyes focused on him.
Dave threw his backpack down on the floor next to the old floral print couch. "I don't get company all that often. Let me see what I've got in the fridge."
The kitchen, a small galley affair, opened off the living room.
"Ah, here we go." Dave pulled a silver can of Pooka Blue Reserve beer out of the fridge and handed it to Ashe.
Ashe wrinkled his nose, but opened it and took a sip of the cheap swill anyhow. It was only polite. The beer tasted like watered down piss.
"Thanks." He glanced outside. "Look, I really want to get back on the road—"
"We'll get to your bike in a minute. I promise. But I'm starving. Boloney or turkey?"
Ashe couldn't help but notice the gun stuffed in the back of Dave's pants, outlaw-style. No surprise there.
"Turkey's fine." Ashe leaned back against the counter. The kitchen was old, probably a fifties remodel, from the look of the blue formica countertops and the metal-rimmed cabinet doors. Dave made him a sandwich on white bread. The bread was dry, but at least it wasn't moldy.
They sat down together in the living room on the big couch, and Ashe made short work of his lunch. He had been hungry. Then he realized Dave was watching him, his own sandwich uneaten.
"What?" Ashe knew that look.
Dave smiled. "I saw how you were looking at me in there." He pointed at the kitchen with his thumb, and his grin widened.
"Look, I really need to get my bike fixed." He stood and edged toward the door. "My dad's waiting for me."
Dave looked hurt. "Look, I'm sorry. It's just… you're so cute, and I ain't never done it with a phoenix before. I get lonely out here."
"It's okay. But can we please just get my bike fixed?"
Dave nodded. "It's gonna be hard, though, with that chest of yours distracting me."
Ashe sighed. He'd have to get one of his spare shirts out of the truck.