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Southwest Heading South, part 4

Part 4

The name was familiar to her, that was for sure. Not great memories associated with the guy who was maybe my father, it seemed. But she knew him. I determined to find out what she knew. I would find a way to meet her, then talk to her, this woman who had so rudely hung up on me before even hearing what I was after. After she disconnected our conversation, it had taken me only a few minutes to feed the number into one of those reverse look-up sites, where a landline’s address could be identified. I whistled softly to myself when the address popped up. Even I knew that LaVista Gardens was one of the most exclusive neighborhoods in Phoenix.

The next morning, just at sunrise, I fed the address into my phone’s map program and hurried to my car. Traffic was heavy and slow, as it always was in Phoenix, which was frustrating, but eventually, I pulled into a boulevard driveway festooned with tropical plants. About 20 yards ahead, I saw a guard house and a gate. Damn. I was sure the guard wouldn’t let a girl in a junker car (the driver’s side panel was navy though the rest of the car was beige, and the right side-view mirror was bent at a strange angle), who was possibly Latina and who didn’t know the name of the person she wanted to see into this gated community. Fortunately, there was a turnaround before the gate, constructed, no doubt, for others like me who realized just before it was too late that this community was closed to the likes of them. I made a U-turn, then drove on to the next parking lot I saw, which wasn’t too close. It was a Wendy’s. I magnified the woman’s place on my mapping program. In close-up, I could see the house was one of a cluster of a dozen huge houses abutting a mountain. Some further map exploration indicated a trailhead off the next road west of the mysterious mansion, as I had already dubbed it. A plan gradually hatched in my brain.

I had my hiking boots in the trunk from when I’d gone on an early morning hill walk with one of my roommates a couple of weeks ago on a blissfully cloudy day that promised, but never delivered, the monsoon rains that drenched Phoenix this time of year. I drove to the trailhead, got my boots out and put them on over my sneaker socks. I had sunscreen, water, and a hat, because, when you live in a desert, you always have those items in the car. Sure enough, there was a trail that headed in the right direction. I wedged my phone in the back pocket of my shorts and set out east. The trail meandered around the mountains a bit, which were all purples and mauves in the early light. Down below, I could see the tops of houses. This high up the income scale, most of them were Spanish tile and none of them had solar panels. The large yards surrounding the homes had a mix of desert shrubs and manicured lawns. In the regular yards of regular people, most of the landscaping had transitioned to rock and cacti. Water was outrageously expensive and with the city’s urging and a cute TV campaign about “dry-scaping,” the people of Phoenix had come to the realization that they lived in a desert and planted their yards accordingly. Not up in these heights. The greenery caused a tiny bit of humidity to creep into the air. It felt good on my face, good in my lungs. Further off, I could see the high-rise skyline and the blue smog cloud that perpetually hung over the valley that was Phoenix. Up here, though, the air was fresh and lightly scented with jasmine or honeysuckle, not tailpipe fumes.

I was the only one out on the trail this early and hot morning, never good when hiking in the desert. But it was perfect for my little plan. I checked my phone from time to time, seeing how close I was to the house where the woman who had hung up on me lived. About 20 minutes from the trailhead, the program indicated I was standing right above it, about 50 feet in elevation further up the hillside. Of course, the gated community was fenced off from the hiking area, with expensive-looking black wrought iron. I noticed there was a gate not far from the mystery mansion. I found a semi-level spot that had a good view of the place and sat down to observe. Not ten minutes later, I saw a gray-haired woman in something that looked like a maid’s uniform come out of one of the sliding glass doors to the pool area of the back yard. All of these places had pools, some more than one. This one had a medium-sized pool for swimming and higher on the property, a smaller in-ground hot tub. She got out a broom and dustpan from a neat tool shed next to the pool and began to sweep the leaf litter and other debris from decorative tiles surrounding the pool. It was now or never.

I took some trailside dust and rubbed it into my knees and calves. I even put some on one cheek. Then I scrabbled down from the trail a bit, sending a bunch of stones scattering. And fell, in a convincing way, sliding further and screaming as I did. I saw the woman look up.

“Help!” I said, pretending to notice her for the first time. “I think I sprained my ankle!”

The woman dropped the broom and looked up. “Can you walk, Senorita?”

I feigned trying, then collapsed. “Maybe it’s broken!” I cried. We weren’t so very far apart, just divided by the fence and the wealth it represented.

“You stay where you are. I come to you!” she called to me and disappeared. But in a few seconds, she came out from the front of the house and headed toward the gate I had seen from above. I could see her punch in a code. The gate clicked open, the woman came through it and picked her way up the hill, avoiding cacti and loose gravel. She was wearing sneakers, I noted with some relief. I didn’t want her to slip, gray-haired as she was.

She came up to my level. “Can you stand, Senorita?” she asked. Up close, I saw she was Latina, like me.

“Maybe,” I replied. “Can you help me up?”

She offered her hand, and I got to my feet, wincing in pretend pain as I put weight on the left foot. She positioned herself on one side of me.

“I will help you to the house,” she said. She took my left arm, bracing my left side and we started down the hill to the gate. Me fake limping, her propping me up.

“Madam will call her doctor, if you need one.”

I was in. And it seemed I would meet “Madam,” the woman who had hung up on me.

“I am Maria,” my savior was telling me. “And you?”

“Veronica.” I said. “You are so kind.”

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