Ben rides alongside the Santa Cruz River for well over an hour, passing a campesino on a burro, then a range of low hills crowned with old mine tailings. Near the start of the river's westward bend, he enters the pueblosmall houses and stores flanking a fissured dirt street that leads into the plaza. It is siesta time. A couple of women in brilliant Indian garb are drawing water from the communal well; a man sits smoking on the bandstand steps; otherwise no one is out in the fierce midday heat. Esteban's, a flat-roofed adobe with the ends of its roof beams protruding from the front wall and CANTINA painted above its door, is a few doors down from the church, the grandest building in town, grander than the nearby courthouse.
Ben knots Maggie's reins to the hitching rail beside three other horses, one a big sorrel that must go seventeen hands. It is dim insidea couple of windows admit patches of light in which dust motes swirl and sparkle. Three vaqueros sit drinking at crude tables against a wall, two together, the other by himself, tipping a beer bottle to his lips. All three look at Ben. He nods. The two seated together return the nod, but the third makes no movement, just squints at Ben as he crosses the dirt floor, worn as smooth as marble, gleaming in the places where the window light strikes it.
Esteban is in the back room. Ben hears clinks and clatters and surmises that he is stocking shelves. He stands at the bar. On the wall behind it planks supported by stout pegs hold dusty glasses, unlabeled bottles, and squat earthenware jugs. Ben waits a minute or two, feeling the solitary man's eyes on his back. The sensation makes him nervous, and he raps the bar loudly with his knuckles to gain Esteban's attention.
Excerpted from Crossers by Philip Caputo Copyright © 2009 by Philip Caputo. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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