Eagle Nest, New Mexico. The town where the Rocky Mountains meet the Southwest. Thousand-foot peaks rose from the plains. River canyons spilled out to the high desert. Pine and wood smoke scents permeated the mountain air. The main street was less that a mile long and lined with shops carrying locally-made crafts and fine arts. Booming with Old West cultures, such a prairies, fortresses, and a western downtown, it was a nature lover’s paradise.
Just exiting Highway-38 in a burgundy Grand Cherokee, Sheriff Gina Vasquez was minutes away from reaching the Sheriff’s station. She drove up to a red light and flipped on her right-turn signal. Only two cars ahead of her.
Uneventful. Smaller town residents never worried about traffic during the peak of rush hour. But Gina kind of missed the sounds of screeching tires, honking horns, throttling engines, blasting music and yells of obscenity.
So much time has passed, and Gina still hasn’t figured anything out: how to let go of the past, how to start a new life. She’s been stuck on neutral ever since leaving New York. Not going from bad to worse, but no signs of improvement either. Perhaps it was time to go home? No. Eagle Nest is her home now. Things will turn around eventually. Put those selfish desires to the side and focus on living your life.
After making a right turn at the light, Gina pulled over on the side of the road. Her nightmare was still fresh in her mind, but not in a frightening way. More bothered, deciphering the standout elements: the glowing badge, zombie cops, and finding love during such terror. What did they mean?
Just then, she heard her cell phone buzzed from inside her bomber jacket. Veronica’s smiling face popped up on the touch screen. “Hey girl,” Gina pleasantly answered. “Whatcha doing?”
“Just getting to the station,” Veronica said while coming out of a bagel shop, carrying a bag of food and a container of freshly squeezed orange juice. “Had to make a quick pit stop at the store first. You know how I do? I need my toasted bagel in the morning or else I’m a cranky ol’ broad all day.” Both ladies laughed. “Beautiful day today!”
“I know! Plenty of sunshine with a nice cool breeze.”
“Days like this are rare, so enjoy it while you can. How are you feeling?” “Ugh, feelin’ like crap. Must’ve slept wrong because my side is killing me.
The nightmare I had didn’t help the matter either. But don’t worry, I’ll be there
soon. Would you be able to start the roll call for me?” “Uh...Gina? You’re off today, remember?”
Is her mind so far gone that she can’t even remember which day she works? Gina buried her face in her palms and inaudibly sobbed. What kind of life is this? Is she just a shell of what she used to be? If her job isn’t that important, then what other reason is there for her to live?
Things were great during Gina’s first eighteen months in Eagle Nest. She and Veronica were an unstoppable team, breaking up frat parties and arresting on-the-corner drug dealers regularly. Her cases weren’t dangerous like her detective days in New York, but she had loved the thrill of taking crime off the
street. Veronica was delighted to see her best friend take back control of her life.
However, the following three years were a different story. Gina’s performance declined. She looked more demoralized. Alex did her best to
keep her sister’s spirits high, but there was only so much she could do over the phone. Veronica would take Gina out after work for dinner, dancing and other fun activities to keep her mind clear. It worked for a while, but Gina had grown tired. Distant. Before the drinking started, Gina barely slept for more than three hours a night.
Ideas were running thin and Veronica didn’t know how else to help her
friend. She was worried. Will Gina be alive by this time next year? Veronica
battled to keep those thoughts out of her head, but with Gina’s decline moving at such an alarming rate, she may just be denying the undisputed truth.
“Gina?” Veronica called out. “You okay?”
“Uh, yeah,” Gina answering, sniffling her nose while wiping the tears from her eyes. “Just checking my planner and - umm - I’m having my windows replaced.” Gina lied. “That’s why I took today off.” She then sighed. “Oh, well. Since I’m dressed, might as well go for a drive, right?”
“Yeah!” Veronica encouraged. “Go to a fancy outdoor café and treat yourself to a nice breakfast. Enjoy the sunshine. Hell, chill by the lake a get a tan! Just...have a good day, okay?”
“10-4. Thanks, Ronnie.”
“I always got your back, girl. On that subject though, I’ve been informed about some locker room talk among the other deputies. Faith is slipping, they say. They think you’re not as dedicated as you used to be.”
Gina never liked gossip, especially when it was about her. But the deputies were right. Even though she showed up to work every day, her mind was somewhere else. She blamed herself for their loss in faith. “They have every right to feel that way, Ronnie. Maybe if I talk to them and explain –”
“What for? You were hired as sheriff for a reason. Most of those guys couldn’t tie their own shoelaces let alone run a station house. Typical male ego is all. I bet if one of them were having bad days, they would preach to the choir about giving second chances and keep hope alive. Blah-blah-blah.”
“You might be right. However, it’s my job to keep camaraderie in the office. I should probably put together a staff meeting tomorrow morning so that everyone can voice their opinions at once. Set that up for me, please?”
“Got it. But these guys don’t need an explanation, in my opinion. I, for one,
am glad you’re the boss.”
“Thanks to you. See you tomorrow.” She hung up the phone and noticed the road signs up ahead. Albuquerque was 159 miles away, a three-hour drive. No matter. That’s where she wanted to go. Veronica said to treat herself. Big city action may be just what she needed to either provide some answers or shake out
of this stagnant funk.
During the drive, Gina rolled down her window and enjoyed the beautiful landscape. Great Plains colored in golden brown as the sun peaked over the Rockies. Although surrounded by breathtaking scenery, plenty of times she contemplated returning home. Whenever she did, however, dreadful memories of Paul resurfaced.
It was 5 AM in New York. Was Alex awake? She’s the first person the
sheriff would bring her problems to. But knowing how hard her sister works, the last thing she wanted to do was bombard her with problems before breakfast. Then at that moment, her cell phone buzzed again. She gasped. It was Alex! “Girl, you must have ESP,” she answered. “I was just about to call you.”
“Good thing I got to you first,” Alex laughed.
“What’s got you up so early?”
“Haven’t slept yet, Gi! I’m heading home as we speak. I figured I’d call you now because I’m going to sleep like the dead.”
“Ugh! Another all-nighter, huh?”
“Yup. We’ve been chasing this underground group smuggling illegal guns into the country for the past few months. Our mole tipped us off about a meeting in the Florida Keys last night. My team and I got out there and caught them before they sailed off to Columbia.”
Gina was in awe. “I’m so proud of you Allie. You’ve become a phenomenal
“Eh, runs in the family.” The sisters laughed. “So, how are you holding up?”
“I had the scariest dream last night, Allie.” As Gina explained every gory detail, Alex had conflicting emotions: terrible that Gina has yet to find peace and anger toward hearing such a strong woman act so weak. She knew moving to New Mexico was a bad idea. This only proves her point.
“Damn,” said Alex. “Sounds like you’ve been watching...jeez I can’t even call it a horror movie. I don’t know what the hell to call it! Sorry you had a restless night. Again!”
“Oh, here we go! Go ahead and say what’s on your mind. I know you’re just
dying to lecture me about moving out to the desert. Like you always do.”
“No lecture. I just want to talk.” Gina was surprised at her subtle tone. “Remember our lunch outings at Union Square Park? Sunday dinners at Mom’s house? Watching afternoon movies before working night shifts?”
“Me too. I think about it all the time. I remember how we used to sit down and talk about what was on our minds. We’d usually come up with solutions together and then move on.”
“From what I recall, it was you doing most of the talking and me doing all
“Not all the time smarty.”
“You’re right. Eighty percent of the time.”
Alex sarcastically laughed but knew it was the truth. “I always looked forward to the chance to help you for once. Now that I finally get it, I have to do it via long-distance phone calls. Words only work if you choose to listen to them, but I can’t send a warm hug over the phone.
“I can sure use one of those.” “And I want to give you one.”
“I... I can’t go back, Allie. Not yet.”
“C’mon, Gina! Why not? What’s done is done. Moving halfway across the country hasn’t made much of an improvement with your life, has it? I hate to see you punish yourself like this.”
“I don’t think I’ve been punished enough.”
“Hold it right there. That ex-husband of yours was no saint. Don’t forget he broke his vow to you. Retribution was coming for him regardless, only you got to him first. Nothing can ever erase the past, but you must accept that what happened was a mistake. Ask God for forgiveness and move on. You have a
second chance, Gina. Don’t deny yourself that. Please.”
“Allie… I have to go. I’ll call later this evening, okay?”
Alex sighed with disappointment. “Fine. This doesn’t mean I’m going to
“You got it, ma’am. Hope you get plenty of rest.” “You, too Gina. Take care. Love you.”
“Love you, too.”
As Gina hung up the phone, she did something for the first time: act like an outsider looking at her current situation. How much suffering must she endure before accepting forgiveness?
Alex was right. Life out west hasn’t blossomed as she hoped. We all make mistakes. Even though time had been served, she’s not a criminal. Perhaps it was time to pack up and go home.