Cody said, “So how’re we gonna make it so you’re gone from our land?”
They stood, the three of them, on the deserted ranch in the mountain valley.
“Cody, listen,” Tess said.
“No, you listen. You hijacked this guy to buy our land back. You took advantage. You saw the opportunity. Good for you. Good for us. Now you think you have feelings for him. Or your ashamed or some such shit.”
JJ said, “Wait, I think we…”
“Shut the fuck up! This here’s a family matter first.”
Tess said, “Yes, I took advantage. But, he’s a really nice guy.”
“You’re confusing nice with scared as shit. This fucker don’t even know where he is.” Cody turned to JJ. “Where are we?”
JJ looked around. Mountain ranges flanked the valley. There was that sense of vastness, glorious and daunting, he always felt in the West. The sky was way up there, far above the land. It was impossible to not feel small and limited out here. Right-sized. Humility, uncomfortable and undeniable, was forced on you. They were always talking about humility in AA, how humility was the key to sobriety. Well here it was, for real. God’s presence was everywhere, if there was any God at all.
“I’ll tell you where we are,” JJ said. “We’re on my ranch. That’s where we are.”
Birds chirped nearby and the muffled roar of a distant wind grew from way up the valley, way up high.
“And how’re you gonna sign it over,” Cody asked.
“I’m not. I’m keeping it.”
The wind from the heights was coming down the valley now. JJ loved how you could hear it miles away, hear it growing like an approaching train, then it was upon you, sometimes little more than a breeze, sometimes a serious gust. You didn’t know which, but you could hear it coming. Sometimes it missed you entirely.
“Jason,” Tess said, “This here land’s been in our family since…a long time. Our people used to live here. Our parents are dead and you did a good thing buying it from the bank.”
“He wants it for himself,” Cody said. “Maybe I can convince him.” He walked back to his truck and got in.
“Jason, listen,” Tess whispered. “He’s crazy. Just tell him what he wants to hear and then we’ll work something out.”
Cody started the truck, put it in gear, and, engine revving, lurched toward JJ’s rental Camaro. The truck looked like it would drive right over the Hyper-blue metallic sports car, like a fullback breaking through the line and pancaking some defensive back. He skidded to a stop just short of the car. Cody rolled down the window. “Last chance, fucker. We can go back to town all together and straighten this out. Or you can walk back and think more about it. ‘Cause if you don’t tell us what we want to hear, I’m crushing this fuckin car.”
“Cody! No!” Tess ran toward the truck, stopped halfway and looked back at JJ. “Please,” she said. “Please just let us have it.”
“Last chance, sucker,” Cody yelled, revving and lurching the truck closer.
Options scrolled through JJ’s head. A lawyer, letting them have it, renting it to them, buying time, turning the tables…
“All right! Stop!”
“I’ll sign it over.”
“He’ll sign,” Tess yelled. “Cody!”
Cody stared at JJ, calculating. Then he shut down the truck as a cold gust finally reached them, rustling sage and shrub, and rolling tumbleweeds down the valley.