Sacred Cows: Death and Squalor on the Rio Grande

No retrospective of New Gonzo journalism would be complete without this well-known early example, a piece that saved the career of the woman who defined the genre. We reprint it here as it first appeared in the October 2027 issue of Crunch magazine.

At 7 a.m. on a bright Thursday morning last June, in the Mexican border town of Nuevo Laredo, 40-year-old Carlos Flores completed a week of double shifts at the shoe factory where he sometimes worked. He drove his rusted, powder blue Ford pickup a quarter mile through cinderblock neighborhoods to the Diosa Del Amor liquor store. There he purchased a carton of smokes, a 12-pack of beer, and a half pint of vodka. According to the police report, he drank one of the beers and all of the vodka while driving home. He pulled into the Rio Vista trailer park and waved to little Esperanza Delgado, who was walking along the dirt street in her school uniform and backpack.

As Carlos parked the truck in front of his trailer and climbed out, he heard the familiar sound of a herd approaching–the random bellowing of the cows, the turbine roar of the rancher’s engine. He looked up and saw a herd of about 30, moving at a good clip. Some were spotted, some a solid brown. A single, jet-black longhorn bull was flying in the lead.

They were so low in the morning sky that Carlos could see the lead bull’s dangling pizzle, the swinging udders of the cows, the sunglasses and white Stetson of the driver in a bright red air skiff behind them. The massive wings of the cattle pumped up and down in heavy, emphatic rhythms. Their legs jerked with each beat, kicking uselessly at the empty air beneath them. Each leathery wingstroke was a lunge upward, clawing at the air to climb a few feet, buying a little time in which to lift the heavy wings for the next cycle. From behind them Carlos heard country music playing on the skiff’s radio, cranked loud enough to be heard over the engine.

It had been a long week for Carlos, and the vodka was starting to loosen him up. He later explained to the police that he had worked too many hours and was just tired–of the grinding factory work, the petty supervisors, the low wages, the chronic debt. He was tired of American country music. And he was especially tired of cattle flying overhead, raining urine and feces onto the tin roofs and dirt yards of his trailer park as they flew northward and over the wall to the United States.

On impulse, he reached into the truck for his old U.S. Army surplus Springfield .30-06. It’s a bolt-action rifle, meaning that you have to take your hand off the trigger and slide a lever back and forth to load each bullet into the chamber. With a weapon like that, shooting wildly into the air without taking time to aim, you can fire three rounds in about five seconds. That’s how long it took Carlos to come to his senses.

“I didn’t mean to kill,” he told me when I interviewed him for this article. “I’m not a killer.” He says it a lot, like a mantra or an uncontrollable verbal tic, and when he says it he looks as though he is about to cry or vomit.

I asked him how he had felt in that life-changing moment.

“At first I felt happy, as light as air,” he said, “as if I could fly too. I didn’t mean to hit anything. I was just blowing off steam.”

One shot disappeared into the sky and was never accounted for. A second shot lodged in a cow’s leg near the hip–the sirloin, if you’re a chef–and the cow bawled in pain but managed to keep flying.

Another cow was not as lucky. The final shot pierced its thirteenth rib–the short rib, if you’re a butcher–traversed the lung, rebounded from the third thoracic vertebra, and severed an artery before sliding to a hot stop in the cow’s windpipe.

“I think it tried to scream,” Carlos told me through a hole in the plexiglass, sweating in the visitation area a few days before his trial. “But it couldn’t. And it couldn’t fly, either. It thrashed its wings, but was choking on the bullet and drowning in its own blood.”

The official report from the medical examiner states that the cow was still alive as it tumbled mutely out of the sky. If it could have remained aloft, it would have bled to death within a minute or two. But instead, its painful last moments were cut short when it landed on the one thing moving in Rio Vista trailer park at 7:30 that morning–small, pretty Esperanza Delgado, in her plaid skirt and backpack, on her morning walk to school.

Six weeks later, I answered an audio call at home and smiled at a familiar-sounding male voice.

“I’m looking for a writer who speaks Spanish, likes to travel, and isn’t super picky about, you know, jobs.”

“Speaking,” I said. Then I recognized the voice, and my smile faded.

“Attagirl,” he said. “Listen, there’s a murder trial next week in Mexico. It could turn out to be interesting, but we’re short-handed and can’t cover it. Someone suggested sending you down there. We have space for up to eight thousand words, if you can find a story in it. We can front you some expense money. But it has to be a real story.”

I wasn’t sure I ever wanted to work with Crunch again, even if I was getting desperate. And what I needed was a staff job at a real news outfit like CNN or AltNet, not a freelance assignment for a pop music monthly. But the only other call I’d had that week was from American Express. As soon as he mentioned expense money, all I heard was dollar signs.

“A real story,” he said again, or something like that.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned as a journalist, it’s that money makes things happen. The first thing that happened was that I told him I’d do it. The next thing was that I paid my rent and threw some money to the attack dogs at MasterCard. And then I bought myself a plane ticket to Laredo.

Before I left town, the money also arranged me an exclusive private meeting with Carlos Flores in prison. I’ll spare you the details, but a friend from my Wellesley days works at a Texas paper now, and she had a contact in the Zeta cartel who was able to set it up. After a brief exchange, an anonymous email instructed me to show up at the prison carrying a paper copy of Crunch with twenty 500-peso notes tucked into its pages.

So two days later in Nuevo Laredo, feeling very Brenda Starr, I arrived at the prison and cable-locked my rented Vespa to a meter in the visitor’s lot.

The Centro de Ejecución de Sanciones, or CEDES, is a tan-painted brick complex that occupies several city blocks, completely surrounded by a high chain-link fence topped with razor wire. At the gate, I showed the guard my Crunch credentials and California driver’s license, and he looked at me in surprise.

“A woman.” He frowned disapprovingly but waved me through to the visitor entrance.

I was met in the lobby by a pot-bellied guard with shiny black hair who had been told to expect a visitor. He relieved me of my magazine as well as half of the cigarettes I had brought for Flores, then walked me past the assorted visitors sitting in the plastic chairs of the waiting area. When we got to his work area, behind the information counter, he dropped his bribes on the desk.

Beside the office, near the entry to the prisoner area, stood the familiar frame of a low-res security scanner, the same model you see at convenience stores and nursery schools. I started to step in, but he shook his head.

“It’s broken,” he said. “I’ll need you to raise your arms above your head.”

“The lights are on,” I observed. “It looks okay.”

“Looks can be deceiving,” he replied with a shrug. “We can call this off if you prefer.”

I raised my arms and tried to think of Nellie Bly.

The frisking was thorough but inefficient. His breath reeked of cigars, fish tacos, and old cavities, and I squinted and looked away. I had imagined something like this, a show of power combined with cheap sexual bullying, but it was somehow worse when done in full view of the visitor’s area. A small, gray-haired woman with a leathery brown face and thin mustache observed the entire search, her gleaming black eyes watching without expression. I was glad to have an ally, if that’s what she was, but something unreadable in the depths of those dark eyes made me shiver.

This drew an appreciative chuckle from the guard.

“It would be better if this were done by a female guard in a private room,” he said, almost sympathetically. “But some of the guards were given the afternoon off. You understand how it is.”

When he was satisfied that I had no drugs or weapons–even extremely tiny ones–he handed me a pamphlet about how to survive my visit. Then, before I could open it, he led me through a portal of sliding steel bars that locked us in with a heavy click.

For a few minutes I chugged busily along behind him, clutching his pamphlet, my tablet, and the remaining carton of cigarettes, on some not-quite-sensible Kate Spade pumps I’d bought that morning because they matched the Vespa. Eventually he deposited me in a fluorescently-lit cinderblock room that someone had decorated with dirty linoleum, chipped Formica, and layers of green paint. I settled into a sticky plastic chair and switched on my tablet. For better or worse I had managed to get in. Now the problem was to find a story.

Through a thick plexiglass partition I watched a metal door swing open in an adjacent room. A guard escorted a small, sweating man through the doorway to a seat behind the plexiglass. Except for the fluorescent sheen and the dark circles, he looked just like his newspaper photos. I took a deep breath of the stale air and tried to smile.

“I didn’t mean to kill her,” Carlos said through the partition, before the guard had even gotten out the door. “I’m not a killer.”

I nodded to show that I believed him.

“Sometimes I drink too much,” he said.

I nodded again.

“And I was tired.”

He looked tired sitting there, too, like he hadn’t slept in weeks. Tired and scared, I realized. I had been worried about getting him to talk, but he was so glad to have company that he chattered non-stop until our half hour was up. I needn’t have bothered to bring the cigarettes.

Orphaned by a factory fire at age ten, Flores had grown up in foster homes and institutions. Soon after high school, he escaped the factories of Juarez by following a girlfriend to Nuevo Laredo, where he’d been working in factories ever since. Over the years he’d done a little jail time for the kinds of things people do when they drink too much–writing bad checks, playing loud music, resisting arrest. But he didn’t strike me as a killer, or even an angry drunk. Just a stereotype.

He had a girlfriend who sounded like another kind of stereotype.

“Her name is Maria,” he told me. “She’s the only good thing that ever happened to me.” Maria had been with him for years, putting up with his occasional gambling, sporadic infidelity, and steady drinking. In his eyes, this made her a saint.

“I’ve had no way to reach her since I was arrested,” he said. “She works in the fields, sometimes for weeks at a time. I never know when she will be at home. If you can find her, tell her that I love her, and I’m sorry. Tell her I’m not a killer.” He looked earnestly at me. “Can you remember all that?”

I made a note in my pad, more for his benefit than for mine. “Where would I find her?”

“If she’s not at my trailer, then I don’t know,” he replied miserably. “She’s a beewalker, and she’s usually working at one of the ranches. But if you see her, please tell her.”

In Carlos Flores’s mind, his entire life had been a series of lousy deals, and the accidental death of Esperanza Delgado was just the latest bum draw. Something unlucky had happened to him. It could’ve happened to anybody. He clearly felt bad for the girl and her family, but you could see that he knew his life would never be the same. His fear of what lay ahead left little room for any other thought.

We were running out of time, and I still didn’t have what anyone would call a real story. I used my tablet to snap a few pictures of the perspiring man behind the safety glass, and asked him about the trial. What did he think of the public defender who had been assigned to his case?

“He seems like a good man,” Flores said, as if trying to convince himself. “But he doesn’t have a plan, and I don’t think he can help me. I don’t think anyone can.”

“It looks bad for you,” I agreed. “You destroyed the property of one of the world’s most powerful men. He can’t let you get away with it. He, or the Consortium, will have to make an example of you.”

Carlos nodded. “I know. I’m an idiot. I wish I had never shot those cows.”

But as he said it, something unexpected happened. It was quick but unmistakable. For the briefest fraction of a second, despite all his remorse and fear, Carlos Flores couldn’t hold back a smile.

I made a note.

There are now almost a dozen herds of flying cattle in the world. The herd in this case–or the murder weapon, if you’re the prosecuting attorney–belonged to Big Bill Benjamin. A Wall Street Journal profile of Big Bill last year described him as (in this order) All-American wide receiver at Baylor, youngest CEO of a publicly-held energy company, and “spiritual leader of the new-energy brat pack known as the Consortium.” You can view now and get an attorney to protect you.

The Consortium, of course, is the investment group that revolutionized energy and transportation with the development of the powerful, expensive new woven-carbon mesh fuels. Mesh is to gas, the ads say, as gas is to dinosaurs. The Consortium’s mega-rich members have since become famous for their flamboyant displays of wealth. Prominent among these was the sinking of millions of dollars of their own personal money into the development of flying cows–because, and here I’m quoting the Journal again, “we could.”

Although the Consortium is headquartered in Dallas, the actual genetic and surgical work of creating the flying bovines was done at a Consortium lab near Nuevo Laredo. You might expect advanced biomedical experiments to be done at an American university, but in Mexico there are fewer animal rights activists, and fewer obstacles to things like vivisection and unregistered genetic modifications.

I didn’t really expect to get any quotes from Benjamin on that subject, or any other, but I wanted to at least say in the article that he declined to comment. To do that, of course, you have to call and ask. So I did. And to my surprise, after an hour’s work I found myself talking to his secretary.

In the monitor she looked expensively dressed and perfectly groomed, in a very Southern and professional way, and I wished I had spent some time spiffing up before the call. I explained that I was in town to cover the trial, and held my old Crunch credentials up to the screen. She peered at the badge as I smiled and tried to look like my photo.

“Isn’t Crunch a rock-and-roll magazine?”

I nodded. “Yes, they are. I mean, we are. I mean, yes, it is.”

“Then why does your little card-thing say ‘Fashion Editor’? Do they have a fashion department?”

I hadn’t used the badge since I actually worked at Crunch, so I’d forgotten about that little bit of cleverness.

“Oh, that.” I tucked the badge back in my purse. “It’s just a title they gave me, sort of an inside joke. It doesn’t mean anything.”

She looked doubtful.

“Actually,” I volunteered, “years ago we had a very popular sports editor who mostly wrote about politics. It’s only a–“

“Are you here to write about politics?”

I laughed at the idea before I could stop myself. “No, ma’am. I’m really not a political person. At all. I’m just here to cover the trial.”

She started to give me a well-practiced brush-off, but a voice interrupted her and she looked off-screen. I heard a man speaking to her, his voice too low for me to make out the words.

“Seriously?” she said. The man said something I couldn’t decipher.

She frowned and said, “But she’s not even a real–“, and the male voice cut her off again. She shrugged and turned back to smile professionally at me through the monitor.

Big Bill would agree to an interview, she told me, on one condition. I must meet him at his ranch, south of Nuevo Laredo, and join him for an early evening ride with his herd. Before she could change her mind, I accepted her offer, signed off the call, and hopped on the Vespa to find a decent pair of cowboy boots.

The heat of the day was breaking when I arrived at the ranch. The secretary–just as chic, seamless, and intimidating in person as she had been on the monitor–met me out front. We walked around the large ranch house and past some low outbuildings to a fenced-in acre of packed dirt. As we rounded the corner of a dusty aluminum tack shed, I saw a sleek red turbo air skiff parked next to a mesh pump. The little skyboat looked too trim to carry enough gasoline to fly for more than a few minutes, but could probably zip around for hours on the much more highly-processed mesh fuel. I mentally estimated how much it would cost to fly a craft like that, in paychecks per hour, and tried to imagine being wealthy enough to use it for herding cows. As a hobby. And wondered why anyone would even want to.

Then I saw them for the first time. A few dozen of them stood in the corral, the animals that The New Yorker once called “the Frankenholsteins.” Of course, real Holsteins are spotted black and white, and some of these were, too. And I must say, there’s something funny and very friendly about cows with spotted wings. But most of these creatures were just cows of the plain brown variety. With wings. Huge, colossal, muscular wings that arched and twitched in anticipation of flight as the beasts paced restlessly around the yard making, you know, cow noises.

A hundred questions occurred to me at once. The one that popped out was the most obvious: “Why don’t they fly away?”

My escort shrugged without slowing down. “We think it’s a herd instinct. Or maybe it just doesn’t occur to them.”

Big Bill Benjamin stowed a cooler on the air skiff and turned to walk toward us as we approached. He as large as his name suggested, with big shoulders and a strong handshake. He appraised me from head to boots with the quick glance of an auctioneer and advised me to “just try to stay in the boat until we can get this show off the ground.” I looked for reassurance at the secretary, who nodded and made a dismissive gesture, shooing me toward a leather seat at the aft end of the skyboat. She walked away as I climbed aboard.

It took him a lot of shouting and running around the yard, plus some loud blasts from an air horn, to get the first animal into the air. The next few were easier to convince. Presently the entire herd was aloft, and Big Bill leaped into the idling skiff. He goosed the throttle, and with a sexy turbine roar we went up to meet them.

The herd slowly climbed to cruising altitude, and Bill gradually adjusted their course until the late-afternoon sun settled on our right. He guided his little flock with a lot of nerve-wracking skiff maneuvers, an occasional horn blast, and a steady stream of unembarrassed cursing. As pep talks go, I did not find it particularly elevating, but it seemed to have an uplifting effect on the cows.

Most of them seemed to struggle at flying, fighting for altitude like big-footed puppies trying to lunge out of a bathtub. But a few seemed to genuinely enjoy it. My eyes were drawn to one large black bull, its massive wings rising powerfully from its rippling back, that quickly established a dominant position at the front of the herd. It flew more easily and masterfully than the others, and was even able to coast a little from time to time.

“That’s Goliath. Isn’t he beautiful?”

Big Bill reached into the cooler, handed me a sweating bottle of Michelob, and started explaining why we were herding cattle through the Mexican sky in a flying boat.

“You have to understand what these things are, what they mean,” he said, taking a long pull on the beer.

“I always wanted to be a cowboy and go on one of the great cattle drives, but I was born in the wrong century. There are too many fences now, and packs of modified dogs guarding the border. You can’t herd cattle over the land for any distance. And if you could, you wouldn’t find any water.

“But one day, driving past the border fence, I had a crazy idea about cows that could jump over it. I found a few investors, and we hired some engineers and microscope jockeys to look into it. It took five years, and cost more than any of us will admit, but we pulled it off. We broke the goddamn laws of nature, bent her to our will, and created something new.”

He gestured at the herd with his beer bottle. “Look at those beauties. I can’t believe people make fun of them, or would ever want to shoot one. I know they’re ridiculous–maybe even ugly–but they’re ugly and ridiculous in a big, beautiful, badass way. They’re like Mount Rushmore or the Hoover Dam. The fact of their existence says that anything is possible–that a man can set his eyes on a goal, no matter how insane, and make it happen. Force it to happen. That’s the attitude that made America great–the attitude of explorers and cowboys, Rockefellers and Fords. It says that we will not only survive, but we will forge our own destiny.

“I built flying cows, damn it, the biggest living things in the air. I own them, and they serve me. They represent the triumph of the human will.”

He tossed his empty bottle over the side and reached into the cooler with a look in my direction.

“No, thanks, I’m fine,” I told him, showing him my half-full bottle, but he handed me another anyway. I stowed it in an unoccupied beverage holder in the arm of the plush leather seat.

An air skiff is usually a dirty, stripped-down, casual affair, more or less like an anorexic hovercraft or a Florida swamp boat with multiple downward-facing widemouth turbines. There’s a good chance of the boat tipping over and flying directly into the ground, and an equal chance of a passenger getting sucked into a turbine and, well, mistified. It’s the most dangerous and uncomfortable form of transportation in the world, with the possible exception of going over Niagara Falls in a barrel of dynamite. But Big Bill’s cherry red air skiff was in a class of its own, as if a hot little speedboat got drunk one night at an Air Force party, and nine months later, out popped this beautiful skyboat–fast, curvy, and hopelessly addicted to jet-quality carbon mesh.

Impatient with the plodding herd, he dropped her down to the cracked desert floor for a little exercise. We skimmed across the flats, racing past long evening shadows dotted here and there with startled ground squirrels. A few times the boat clipped the top of a tall cactus, and the wet smell of bruised succulent mingled briefly with the powdery incense of desert sage. We discovered an arroyo winding across the desert floor, and then nothing would do but to fly along its rambling path playing Star Wars, several times nearly hitting a rock wall. Bill, obviously enjoying himself, shared his personal observation that flying close to the ground provides a more visceral sense of speed. I wholeheartedly agreed, and drank the second beer to relax my viscera.

As I finished it, we neared a small settlement outside any obvious reach of municipal power, sewer, or police protection. It was an impromptu slum of plywood and corrugated metal, vaguely reminiscent of the decor of big-chain Mexican restaurants in the States. Big Bill swooped down so low that he almost grazed a tin roof, and an old man ran out from under it and glared up into our exhaust. I waved at him over the back of the boat as Bill started speaking again.

“We really did break the laws of nature, you know. Those babies were a mess to engineer, and they’re even more of a mess to maintain. Flying takes a lot more energy than walking, so you can’t just feed ’em grass. You have to feed ’em oats, alfalfa, and clover. Craploads of clover. And clover won’t grow without bees to pollinate it, so we have to bring in beewalkers.

“On top of that, clover is a legume, like beans, so it gives the cows gas. Gas! The damn things fart like cheerleaders, all night and day. If you give ’em too much clover, too rich of a mix, they get bloated–they literally fill up with gas and get round as a basketball. When that happens, you have to poke ’em to let the air out before their guts burst and they bleed to death. We lost a few before we figured it out.”

He smiled sideways at me as he finished his bottle. The look conveyed a real pride in his accomplishment, a winking appreciation of his earthy humor, and, I realized, a powerful affection for his muscular 2,000-pound flying lab rats.

I was feeling very mellow from a combination of the beers, the stories, the leather cushions, and the surprising beauty of a herd of cows flying in silhouette across a sinking red sun. It must be a principle of human nature that from a high enough altitude everything looks all right. I grabbed my pad to snap a few photos and made a note for the article: “One thing becomes very clear when you’re sailing over the Mexican desert in a yar little skyboat, drinking beers with a Texas billionaire. Flying cows are awesome. Nobody should shoot these things. People should worship them.” I tossed my empty brown beer bottle over the side and smiled at Big Bill.

He squinted into the setting sun and pointed at the herd. “Those cows are my babies. You understand?”

I nodded encouragingly and he continued, his voice getting lower, so I had to lean forward to hear him.

“Let me share something with you, honey.” He put his hand on my knee and I nodded again to show that he had my complete attention.

“Nobody crosses the Consortium.”

He gave my knee a little squeeze.

“Nobody crosses Big Bill Benjamin.”

He gave the knee a shake and showed me his strong white teeth. His voice was sharp and intimate, like a blade against a throat.

“And no pissant little Mexican factory drone is going to kill my cow and get away with it.”

He released his grip on me and leaned broadly back into the pilot’s seat.

“Oh,” I said. I brushed hair out of my eyes and blinked into the dry wind. Over the port bow I watched the cows struggling slowly across the sky, climbing and falling in the desert sunset. A series of black dots dropped away beneath one as it labored, its silhouette legs kicking helplessly at the air. I made another note: “Tonight I saw Mount Rushmore take a dump.”

Back at the motel that night, standing for a long time in a steaming hot shower, I noticed I was humming a folk song I had learned as a child. “Speed, bonnie boat, like a bird on the wing–onward, the sailors cry. Carry the lad who’s born to be king, over the sea to Skye.”

The Skye Boat Song, as it’s known, was inspired by a Scottish revolt against British rule, centuries ago. When I was a child, I loved that song, and because it was so pretty I was sad to learn that the revolt had failed.

The Mexican city of Nuevo Laredo sits just across the border from Laredo, Texas. Their combined metropolitan area is home to three-quarters of a million souls. The once-proud Rio Grande flows through it, reduced to a weak trickle after running a gauntlet of dams, canals, reservoirs, algae farms, and frack sites from Colorado to Texas. The local economy is fed by the maquiladoras–factories in a duty-free zone that use Mexican labor to assemble American products without paying import or export taxes. There, as along most of the border, a big slice of everything good ends up belonging to American corporations, or Los Zetas, or both. Life is not especially easy for the people of Nuevo Laredo.

But I’ll say this for them: they know how to put on a show, and they outdid themselves at the trial.

It began with a series of skirmishes over whether Carlos could get a fair trial in Nuevo Laredo at all. Then there was a prolonged bout of jury selection. That was followed by two judges recusing themselves, citing vague concerns about health and family. All of that just to get a court, judge, and jury. When we finally heard the opening arguments, they were almost anti-climactic.

It was obvious from the start that the prosecution had the advantage. There was no question that Carlos had shot the cow–he apologized for it to anyone who would listen–and everyone agreed that Esperanza had been crushed to death when the cow landed on her. This much could have been established in the first hour of the trial, but the press was in the gallery and careers were being made, so it took most of three days and required five expert witnesses.

In case the jury didn’t understand the law, we heard testimony on the legal definition of robo de ganado (cattle-rustling, a felony), and were instructed that if someone is killed in the commission of a felony (such as robo de ganado, we were reminded) the law calls it felony murder.

And to keep things from getting too clinical, we were shown photos of the beautiful little girl, Esperanza, and heard tearful testimony from her parents, her babysitter, and her teacher at Saint Ursula Academy. We even heard from the priest who had baptized her, listened to her confessions, and been preparing her for her first Holy Communion. I have to admit that it was moving, and I felt terrible for the family. But it merely charged up the jury without having any bearing at all on Carlos’s guilt or innocence. Why didn’t someone object?

It was no secret that, before the trial began, there had been a bitter struggle at the Tamaulipas state public defender’s office over who would defend Carlos. The loser, Carlos’s attorney, was a thin, nervous young man with a small chin and large nose in an oversized polyester-blend suit. During all this testimony he made careful notes, but after each witness he declined to ask any questions. I began to wonder if he had any strategy at all.

On the fourth day of the trial, the prosecution was wrapping things up. As the final condition of the case for felony murder, it was necessary to prove that the girl’s death was a foreseeable consequence of the alleged cattle-rustling. For this, the prosecution produced a university physics professor who testified about the mass of the cow and the force with which it had fallen on the girl–in foot-pounds, kilojoules, and patronizing metaphors.

When the prosecutor had finished with the physicist, Carlos’s attorney slowly rose and cleared his throat.

“Your honor, I would like to question this witness.”

“I’m glad to hear it,” said the judge. “Please proceed.”

In a nervous voice, the thin public defender began asking simple, almost random questions about the effect of the wind, the drag created by the cow’s wings, and so on. Then he asked, “And how did you calculate the speed of the cow’s descent?”

“Well,” the physics professor explained, “the animals are worth a lot of money–several hundred thousand U.S. dollars apiece. So each cow has a tracking device embedded in its neck that transmits very precise location data. That’s how I know.”

“Precise data?”

“Yes, very precise.” The professor nodded.

“You can tell how fast the cow was going, and how high it was flying?”

The witness looked annoyed. “Mmm, yes, that’s what I said. My calculation of force was based on the recorded airspeed of 16 knots and an altitude of 100 meters.”

“One hundred meters,” repeated the defense attorney, like an idiot. “300 feet.”

“Yes. It’s beyond question. The devices are completely reliable, and I tested this one myself. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind.”

The defense attorney was looking a little shiny, and I realized he was sweating in that baggy suit. He closed his eyes and took a breath, as if in prayer. Then he turned to the judge and made his play.

“May it please the court, based on this testimony I would like to move for an immediate dismissal of all charges against my client.”

He paused to give people time to gasp–to his credit, a few actually did–before he continued.

“Your honor, the Mexican air authority has very clear regulations on the altitude of aircraft in flight. I quote: ‘Except when necessary for takeoff and landing, no person may operate an aircraft over any congested area at an altitude of less than 300 meters above the nearest vertical obstacle, or closer than 200 meters to any person, vessel, vehicle, or structure.’

“Since the cattle and Señor Benjamin’s skyboat were flying too low, and too close to buildings and people, the cows and driver were trespassing and posed a clear danger. It is no different than the case of someone driving cattle right through the trailer park. Señor Flores is not guilty of robo de ganado or any other crime. He was acting in self-defense. I can even provide the corroboration with the help of a Theft Lawyer Overland Park if the need be.”

As his speech went on, the young lawyer warmed to his topic and even waved his arm a few times for emphasis. IF you are looking for the best closest law firm Lawyer Source provide the best options for you.

“Furthermore, the danger of illegally flying so close was more foreseeable than the danger of shooting warning shots into the sky in self-defense. Thus the legal responsibility for the little girl’s death falls on the driver, Señor Bill Benjamin.”

“And so, your honor, I ask that you dismiss all charges against my client and order the arrest of Señor Benjamin on charges of criminal trespass, reckless endangerment, violation of civil airspace–“

He took a breath and turned to face the jury.

“–and felony murder.”

I have to admit I was impressed. For a moment the room was completely silent. Then someone in the gallery gave a low whistle, and near the back of the room an elderly woman with a small chin and prominent nose applauded for a few seconds, to the obvious mortification of the public defender. This caused the Fox cameraman sitting next to me to start snickering, and it took a couple of hard jabs with my elbow to shut him up. The judge’s eyes closed for a long moment as if in pain, and people started murmuring. The gavel banged down a few times, and the judge leaned forward to speak into his microphone in a low, sober tone.

“Bailiff, return the prisoner to holding. Lawyers, I will see you in my chambers. We’ll need to talk about this.

“That’s all for today, good people. The court is adjourned until ten o’clock tomorrow morning.”

He banged the gavel again, and then it was hard to see or hear over the excited crowd. Everyone was talking and moving in all directions at once. I caught glimpses of the sweating, smiling public defender shaking hands, and the uniformed officers escorting a dazed Carlos from the room in handcuffs. He blinked at the locals who reached out to touch him as he passed.

I’m not the largest or pushiest person I know. By the time I struggled out into the bright Mexican afternoon, other reporters had already picked over the crowd. All the experts, from ballistics to babysitting, had cameras and microphones in their faces, leaving no obvious players for me to interview. Journalism is a tough racket, and there’s no room for the slow. You always have to plan two moves ahead, and if you’re snoozing, you’re losing.

I walked away from the crowd, out to the farthest corner of the parking lot, and leaned against a rusted powder blue Ford pickup I had spotted on the way in.

I didn’t have to wait long until she appeared, a small woman hiding in a big hat and sunglasses. She was younger than I had anticipated, and prettier. I showed her my Crunch press card.

“Hello, Maria,” I said in Spanish. “I have a message from Carlos. Do you have some time to talk?”

Her shoulders slumped, confirming my guess that she had been hoping to avoid reporters. She sighed, then pressed her lips together and nodded. “But we have to go see my babies,” she said. “They’ve been working all day without me.”

We loaded the Vespa onto the back of the Ford and headed away from the crowded courthouse square.

Our first stop was the trailer she sometimes shared with Carlos. It looked a lot like any trailer from back home in the States–shag carpet, faux paneling, printed photos of Maria’s family, a couch, a La-Z-Boy, a big Sony entertainer. An avocado Frigidaire contained a Tupperware full of mold, some Heinz ketchup, and eleven bottles of Bud. I was debating the ethics of snapping some pictures when Maria reappeared, transformed into a border-town cliché–a yellow Disney princess t-shirt, faded Levi’s cutoffs, and Nikes. The hat was gone and she had tied her black hair with a well-worn yellow bandanna, Rosie-the-Riveter style.

She was working that week at one of the Consortium ranches in the foothills south of town, near the Benjamin ranch. Most of the 20-minute drive passed in dusty, bumpy silence. We left the truck parked under an olive tree and started across a surprisingly green field.

“It’s irrigated,” she explained, and pointed to an underfed trickle of a stream, not far away. “Diverted from the Rio Grande.”

To get her talking, I asked about her work, trying to convince her that Crunch readers would be very interested in bees. I couldn’t tell if she believed me, but it was enough to get her started.

“I knew Carlos would not support us,” she told me, “so I had to find work. I had three choices: the maquiladoras, the Zetas, or beewalking.”

She pulled up the back of her t-shirt to show me a tattoo on the small of her back–a smiling female honeybee with big eyes, delicate wings, an improbable bosom, and a pert stinger that pointed suggestively down into Maria’s shorts. For the first time, it struck me as odd that people still picture bees with wings.

“That’s how they looked before the hive death, before jimo bees were invented,” she went on. She spoke a mixture of Spanish and English. In her accent the familiar term “jimo bee”, coined by Japanese marketing execs to make the bees seem cute and non-threatening, came out as “hemo bee”.

“That was when bees could still sting. And fly. Their wings made a buzzing sound.” As if I was too young to remember, she recited the familiar story of how global hive-death had led to the development of GMO bees, the first genetically-modified insects created for non-military use.

“It was necessary to make them flightless to stop the spread of disease,” she said, reciting a wistful catechism of the beewalker collective, “and to reassure the public that they are harmless.”

We were walking through a green pasture transplanted into the Mexican desert from the American Midwest. Fields of grass and clover, kept short by grazing cattle, were shaded by occasional olive and oak trees. The pastoral scene looked out of place against the distant desert foothills. I tried to imagine how much water it must take to keep this area green. On a nearby hillside, a few winged cattle stood munching on the scenery, creating a surreal, mythical atmosphere.

I was about to ask her where the bees were working when I became aware of subtle motion in the grass all around us. Maria laughed musically at my startled reaction, and smiled for the first time.

“I wondered when you would notice. Don’t be afraid, they’re harmless. They can’t sting, and they can’t fly or even make a sound. All they do is work and dance.”

She opened her hip pouch to show me her beewalker kit–five little bottles of scent in a small box. “Each smell has a different meaning to the bees,” she told me. “I use the scents to tell them where to work, where to nest, and what places to avoid. I can wake them up and put them to sleep with smells. They’re my babies, my little hard workers.”

She reached down into the grass and picked one up for my inspection. It didn’t look like the cute pictures of jimo bees that had been marketed to the American public, or the winking, buxom bee tattooed on Maria’s backside. It looked more like a large brown ant with big eyes and stripes of yellow fuzz. Reluctantly, I let her drop one onto my forearm.

The sensation was like an electric shock. By reflex I jerked and tried to shake it off of my arm. But it had an intense grip, and I couldn’t dislodge it. Maria laughed again and touched my shoulder reassuringly.

“It’s okay,” she said, “she won’t hurt you. She just has a strong grip, that’s all. She’s very strong from walking up and down blades of grass all day.” Maria gently plucked the bee from my outstretched arm and, with practiced ease, deposited it gently back on the ground. We resumed walking.

“Me and my babies, we spend a few days on each of the ranches around here in rotation. Sometimes I stay with them all night, and they keep me warm with their dancing. But usually I find them a nest and rub the night signal on it.” She opened one of the scent bottles and held it up for me to smell.


She nodded, smiling, and used a little swab to dab the scent among some rocks on the ground, being careful not to get any of the scent on herself. Looking closer, I could see a hole among the rocks, a sort of miniature cave formed by a crack in the dry earth.

“When they smell the cinnamon, they know to stop working and go inside for the night. They crawl in and start dancing to stay warm. They dance all night in shifts, and in the morning I come back and put them to work. After a few days I load them into a carrier and take them to another field.”

Most of the things she told me about the jimo bees are common knowledge. They pollinate fields on foot, covering remarkable distances during the day. By dancing all night they can survive surprisingly low temperatures. And they truly can’t sting anymore–I asked twice to be sure. Maria seemed defensive about it.

“It’s better this way,” she reasoned. “Stinging is stupid. Most bees, when they sting something, it tears out their guts and they die. It’s a sacrifice they make to defend the hive. But I don’t want my babies to die that way. Really, the jimo bees are better off without stingers.”

As she talked, the drifting scent of cinnamon began to create motion in the pasture. The grass seemed to ripple and shimmer, as if I could see through it to catch glimpses of another world below, an undercurrent beneath the scenery, in which something very large was moving slowly toward us. It was the bees, walking just below the grass.

Maria stood near the cinnamon-scented entrance to her improvised bee motel, humming a little tune and smiling. She put away the cinnamon and carefully dabbed one of the other scents around her eyes, nose, ears, and mouth. “They know my smell, too,” she told me. “You’ll see. They’ll say goodnight to me before they climb into the nest.”

And as I watched for the next few minutes, the bees flowed in from the pasture and gathered around her sneakers. They gradually climbed up her bare legs, past her shorts, up onto her Disney t-shirt, and soon completely covered her body, leaving parts of her face uncovered. The sight was eerie and alien, and I felt uncomfortable witnessing something so intensely intimate and private.

As more and more bees crawled up onto Maria’s body, I stepped farther back, until I was standing at a distance and Maria was just a tall hill of shimmering yellow and brown, rising out of a blanket of bees in a field of grass and clover. Only her eyes, and a few strands of black hair, were visible within the tower of moving bees. She blinked at me from within all that silent motion. I briefly wondered if she needed help, but she seemed to be smiling and her dark, gleaming eyes looked happy and strong. I made a note: “I am looking into the eyes of Mother Nature. Give or take.” I raised the tablet to snap a picture.

“Say queso,” I called to her, and her right arm reached slowly up to wave. I took a picture, and another, and another. Then the bees began to flow down her body and past her, toward the cinnamon smell, and pretty soon they had all left Maria and entered their little cave for the night. Presumably they were dancing in the darkness there, moved by some music I would never be able to hear.

With the bees put to bed, Maria drove me back to Nuevo Laredo, telling me stories about her childhood and her time at beewalker school. We arrived at my motel and unloaded my little scooter from the truck. As she climbed back up into the driver’s seat, I thanked her for an amazing experience. I had almost forgotten about the murder trial.

“I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Wait! We had a deal,” she said. “Tell me about Carlos. How did he look?”

“What do you mean? You saw him in the courtroom today.”

“Not really. How does he look up close?”

“Well, he looks a little rough,” I told her. “He’s a celebrity, for now, and he worries that it might make him a target. I don’t think he’s sleeping well.”

“He should have thought of that before he got drunk and started shooting things.” She frowned as if she regretted saying it. “The trial went better today, don’t you think?”

“Better, yes. It was hopeful–more so than yesterday. At least his lawyer finally came up with an argument. But Carlos has made some very powerful enemies. The Consortium can’t afford to let people go shooting their herds out of the sky.”

She nodded. “You said he gave you a message for me. What is it?”

“He said he loves you, Maria, and that he’s sorry.”

She digested this. “That’s all?”

I shrugged. “He said he’s not a killer.” I managed to say it without thinking about little Esperanza.

“It’s a lie,” she said to the steering wheel, shifting the truck into gear. “What about me? He’s killing me.” Her brow wrinkled, and then her whole face, and then she was driving away before I could tell that she was crying.

At the courthouse the next morning, the pervading sense of theatre was gone, replaced by a grim, no-nonsense atmosphere. People leaned forward in their seats and didn’t talk much. I sat near the front of the room with some other journalists, using the opportunity to do a little networking.

I had heard that Bill Benjamin might make an appearance, and at the last minute he strolled in wearing a shiny, tailored gray suit and a bolo tie with a huge turquoise slide. He removed his white Stetson as he took a prominent seat near a back corner of the gallery, easily visible to everyone in the room. He actively looked around, smiling and nodding at people, but somehow managed to avoid eye contact with me.

I turned and smiled at Maria, sitting in the other corner. She had abandoned the hat and sunglasses, and her black hair was neatly tied in a bun. She had dressed attractively in a quiet blue skirt and white blouse, looking like a professional woman, not a field worker. Her worried dark eyes smiled back at me anxiously.

The first order of business was the defense attorney’s motion to dismiss. In carefully-chosen words, glancing frequently in the direction of Bill Benjamin, the judge reaffirmed that the shooting was the most proximate and foreseeable cause of the girl’s death, and therefore liable for criminal prosecution. Thus the motion was denied, and the trial would proceed. The prosecutor nodded as the judge made each point, and the defense attorney shook his head slowly but didn’t make any notes.

Next the physics professor was recalled to the stand. Under careful questioning by the prosecutor, he explained that he had reconsidered his testimony on the altitude of the cattle and the driver. Through a math error, he had mistaken the ground elevation of 100 meters above sea level for the altitude of the cattle above the ground. But in fact, he said, the cows were actually flying over 300 meters in the air.

There were murmurs in the gallery, and I heard whispers in the reporter’s section as we all made notes on our tablets. The defense attorney rose reluctantly to his feet, shaking his head.

“Apparently Señor Flores is a much better shot than we gave him credit for,” he said. “But please, Professor, can you explain to us how it is possible to confuse the ground elevation with the altitude of a flying cow?”

“It involves some sophisticated mathematics,” replied the physicist. “It would be hard to explain to a lay person.”

“I see. Then would it be possible to show us the figures from the tracking device?”

The professor cast a quick glance to the back of the room, then cleared his throat. “No, I’m afraid that would be impossible. The records were destroyed by a computer error.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. How did it happen?”

“It was an accident. It would be, mmm, hard to explain to a non-professional.”

The defense attorney aimed a frustrated look at the judge, who glanced again toward the back of the room before returning the attorney’s glare with a mild, impassive gaze. The attorney spread his hands, shrugged sadly, and touched Carlos apologetically on the shoulder as he returned to his chair.

And with that, really, it was all over but the part where somebody sings. After closing arguments, the jury members were ushered out to a sumptuous lunch that had been donated by an anonymous friend of the court. Then they retired to consider the merits of the case. By late afternoon, it was announced that a verdict had been reached, and the bailiffs marched us solemnly back into the courtroom to hear it.

The defendant, having been found guilty of illegal use of a firearm, destruction of property valued at almost a million Mexican pesos, and felony murder in the act of cattle-rustling, was sentenced to 30 years in prison plus restitution.

The gallery muttered and I think Maria gasped, but most people did not look surprised. The judge dismissed the jury and banged the gavel, and Carlos was led from the room blinking back tears. Maria stared at him, gray-faced, but did not try to fight through the gallery to embrace him.

A CNN stringer sitting behind me muttered, “He won’t last six months.” People around us rose to leave, and the Fox cameraman nudged me impatiently. I slowly stood up to join the crowd flowing toward the exits.

Out on the courthouse plaza, Big Bill Benjamin had actually left Goliath tethered to a hitching post, as if daring someone to rustle him. He apparently planned to fly back to his ranch on the beast’s saddled back. It was going to be quite a show, and people were gathering to study the bull from a safe distance. Word had spread that the big trial was over, and street vendors, anticipating a crowd, were arriving with beer and food. A rock band had set up some equipment on a small stage, and I wondered who was paying them. If I were good at describing things, you would hear someone tuning the bass and someone fooling around on the drums. You would see people talking in the square, admiring Goliath, waiting for the party to start. You would smell the tacos and fajitas, and the beer and cigars, and the bull.

Maria was standing at the base of the courthouse steps, hands in the pockets of her skirt. Thin-lipped and pale, she looked stricken to her soul, alone and small among the people clustering in the square. I walked up and hesitantly touched her shoulder.

“Are you okay?” I asked. I don’t care what you say, there really is such a thing as a stupid question.

“I didn’t honestly expect Carlos to go free,” she said, shaking her head. “But did you see that? They don’t even try to hide what they’re doing. Why do they have to make it so obvious?”

I shrugged as gently as I could.

“Look there.” She pointed at the Delgado girl’s parents, who were just leaving the courthouse. They were visibly upset by the sight of the huge winged animal tethered out in front, so much like the thing that had crushed their daughter.

“It’s not that they are bigger and stronger,” Maria said. “It’s not that they win every contest, and have more of everything, even while some of us truly don’t have enough.”She tugged at her neatly tied hair as she spoke, and shook it free.  Released from the tight bun, it fell loosely around her shoulders. I tried to read the flickering emotions on her face–grief and despair, I guessed, and something else, very old and dark.

“It’s that they still want more.”

Her voice was tired and flat, and I realized that she wasn’t complaining or asking me to agree. She was just explaining something, like when she explained why bees don’t have wings, or when Big Bill explained why cows can fly.

“They have to be above you, and step on you, and defecate on you,” she said. “They have to rub it in your face.”

I couldn’t think of anything to say. She pulled her hands out of her pockets and impulsively stood on tiptoe to hug me, putting her arms around my neck.

“So watch this, pretty Americana,” she said in my ear. In the growing excitement of the crowd around us, no one else heard her. She backed out of the unexpected embrace and gave me a fierce, bitter smile. She was beautiful in the fading sunlight, with her nostrils flared and her black eyes gleaming under all that hair. Her fingers brushed my cheek, and moved by the gesture, my own hand went up to touch the spot.

She turned and walked directly toward the spot where Big Bill was climbing onto his surreal leather-winged steer, preparing for his grand exit.  In the long shadows of late afternoon, he might have been mounting a giant long-horned bat from hell.

Maria’s sauntering stride assumed an exaggerated athletic grace as she moved toward him, like the prowl of a mountain lioness or the rhythmic sway of a trailer-park girl on the make.

“Señor!” she shouted, waving at Big Bill. He spotted her emerging from the crowd and smiled at her wide-open sashay. She had walked her bees on his ranch any number of times, but he didn’t seem to recognize her. He leered at her like a cartoon cobra that has spotted a mouse.

“Señor!” she shouted again. She stood a few yards from him, hands in her pockets, with one hip cocked to the side. “Can I touch your bull?”

He laughed and waved her forward. “Sure,” he said loudly, grinning through those strong white teeth. “Come here and touch my bull.”

Some of the men in the crowd laughed, but the women were quiet. She walked up to the bull and began petting his head and broad neck. The bull seemed to enjoy the attention, rolling his head back and forth in appreciation, his wings twitching lightly. Maria massaged his head admiringly, gently touching his shining nostrils, stroking his long, sharp horns, rubbing the ears seductively, running her hands along the leather bridle. She looked up out of the corner of her eye to see if Big Bill was enjoying the show. Seated upon the bull’s broad back, he smiled a wolf’s toothy smile and reached down to stroke her gleaming black hair.

My hand came away from my cheek where Maria had touched it, and I was briefly distracted by a faint odor, hard to distinguish amid the smells of beer and frying food in the busy square. On the small stage, the rock band had started playing a distracting Tex-Mex rock beat, and a spiky-haired teenager was singing a little too loudly about love into a microphone. Above the music I could faintly hear some men in the crowd actively whistling and cat-calling, urging Bill on. He leaned down to say something to Maria. She shook her head and started to back away. He grabbed her hair and said something else, frowning. The bull, which had been standing peacefully and enjoying Maria’s affectionate stroking, suddenly stamped a hoof and twitched his massive head.

I touched my cheek again where she had brushed it, and smelled on my fingers a faint scent of cinnamon.

Maria slapped Big Bill’s hand and tried to pull back while dodging the long horns of the bull, which was becoming increasingly agitated. His hooves shuffled impatiently and he snorted, swinging his broad head back and forth, almost jerking the reins from Big Bill’s hand.

I remembered trying to shake the jimo bee from my forearm. They can’t fly, but their grip is very strong, like an electric shock. In my mind’s eye I could still see Maria’s hands coming out of her pockets and busily, intimately stroking the bull’s bridle, and ears, and nostrils.

Cinnamon, I remembered her explaining, is a signal to the bees. It tells them to crawl inside and dance.

From where I stood, I couldn’t see Maria’s flightless babies as they crawled from under the bridle straps, where she must have placed them, to where she had rubbed cinnamon around the bull’s ears and nostrils. But I knew. Without wanting to, I imagined how it would feel to have jimo bees on my face, crawling into my nose and ears.

The bull snorted frantically and plunged his head up and down to shake loose the bees with their electric grip. Big Bill released Maria’s hair to yank on the reins, trying vainly to control the bull. She started walking away, more slowly than she should have, her back proudly turned on the struggle behind her. I held my breath for the first few steps, wanting her safely out of reach of those long, swinging horns. She was magnificent. But she should have run.

Big Bill’s white Stetson tumbled from his head and rolled away in gusts of air beneath the beating wings. The bull started leaping up and down, landing stiff-legged, and Big Bill bounced red-faced like a rodeo cowboy with one arm flung upward and his neck jerking violently. The restless, desperate sweeps of the great leather wings created drafts that flipped Maria’s hair up around her face as she walked slowly and resolutely toward where I stood in the crowd. For a moment Goliath reared back on his hind legs behind her, bellowing and snorting, his wings arched, his cloven hooves clawing at the air for balance.

“Maria!” I shouted. She smiled crazily at me, and I saw terror and triumph in her shining black eyes. I found myself smiling back at her in awe and encouragement, for a long second. Behind her, Goliath stumbled forward to regain his balance, almost tripping. One of his horns glanced off of the pavement before swinging wildly up and making contact. Her eyes widened as it pierced her spine and burst through the front of her blouse. Her head snapped backward as the bull lifted her off the ground, then rolled forward again as he shook her off like a ragdoll. Blood erupted in a convulsive gush from her mouth, and she collapsed in a twisted heap on the ground.

The bull’s frantic agony drove him in alternation rapidly up into the air, then back to the ground, then forward to repeatedly ram his head against a granite courthouse pillar. During one of the short flights, Bill lost his grip and tumbled 20 feet to the paved surface, landing on his head and not rising. No one rushed to help him, or to aid Maria where she lay broken and still on the courthouse plaza. The band had stopped playing and joined the crowd, retreating a safe distance to escape the widening gyre of violent death.

In the relative quiet the tormented bull, having lost all sense, came down awkwardly on one wing with a sound like exploding firecrackers. Screaming, he rose to his feet and stumbled sideways at great speed, breaking the other wing against the courthouse wall. He roared and defecated, repeatedly slamming his horns into the courthouse, still unable to dislodge the bees. As he danced in pain and rage, his heavy, now-useless wings dragged repeatedly across the bodies of Bill and Maria, leaving gruesome streaks on the square.

Finally a man in uniform drew a pistol and began firing at the bull, and then another did the same, and then a third. Goliath sank to his knees, wheezing, and slowly slanted forward to collapse on the ground. When the guns were empty, the men stood at a respectful distance, reloading. Goliath’s legs kicked weakly. Terrible, quiet groans escaped his twitching nostrils. A pool of dark blood appeared beneath his massive bulk, gradually spreading on the pavement. At last he gave a soft cough, and the shattered wings stopped moving, and the light went out in his monstrous, beautiful, anything-is-possible eyes.

That’s the story.

If it were up to me, I’d stop there. I worked pretty hard on that paragraph about Goliath, and I think we could end with it. And if you’re like me, by that point you’ve had about enough fun and you’re ready for the story to be over so you can go home to San Francisco and crawl into bed for a week. But Crunch says they’ll take me back as a staff reporter if I just please give their article a proper ending. And times are hard for journalists.


By the next day, when it finally occurred to someone to have a forensic veterinarian examine the bull, the jimo bees had wandered away from the taped-off courthouse square in search of clover. Despite all the wall-to-wall coverage you saw on CNN, Fox, and AltNet, no one knew about the jimo bees or even suspected that a murder was committed–a real one this time. You can forget all that crap the pundits were spouting about spontaneous flying bovine madness. There’s no such thing as SFBM.

Speaking of the media, I’m also spectacularly unimpressed that no one went back to follow up on Carlos. A week after the trial he was found in the showers at CEDES, dead of rope poisoning. None of the factory news outlets covered it. The medical examiner ruled it a suicide, and theorized that Carlos couldn’t live with the deaths of Esperanza and Maria.

Personally, I don’t buy it. My first instinct was to blame the Zetas, but they didn’t have any reason to kill him. I’ve tried to come up with another organization that might want him dead, but what organization that would be, I really can’t say. Really. I can’t say.

So let’s just agree that if someone as talkative as Carlos didn’t leave a note, it suggests he didn’t go willingly. I hope so. I hope he gave them a good fight.

What else is there to tell?

The Diosa Del Amor put up a framed photo of Carlos Flores in the liquor store and called him a tragic victim of corporate power.

Saint Ursula put up a framed photo of Esperanza Delgado in the school lobby and called her a tragic victim of liquor.

And the Consortium put a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal to announce a large new animal research facility in the Chihuahuan desert, a tribute to the memory of Big Bill Benjamin, a great man of science and a tragic victim of SFBM.

As for Maria, well, as far as I can tell no one is planning any kind of memorial for her. And that’s probably as it should be. After all, whether she intended it or not, in the end she was a killer.

But I’d like to think that maybe, for a while at least, on cold winter nights along the once-proud Rio Grande, in holes in the dirt near olive trees and lush fields of clover, she will be remembered by the jimo bees, her flightless babies, her little hard workers, as they dance in silence and wait for dawn.

Cody Watkins
Fashion Editor

Copyright 2015 A.S. Diev

About the Author

A.S. Diev

A. S. Diev is a technical writer, musician, and sometime roboticist in Mountain View, CA.

Find more by A.S. Diev

5 thoughts on “Sacred Cows: Death and Squalor on the Rio Grande

  1. Gobsmacked, I am. This is first rate short fiction. But you knew that if you’ve read it. More, Jim, more!

  2. Donna pierce says:

    Wonderful fun read. Talented writer

  3. Everett Wells says:

    I hope you’re writing other stories and they’re being published. This is great

  4. Joe Tyrrell says:

    Great story, with all-too-plausible agro-technology, poetic imagery and a lot of heart.

  5. judith lavezzi says:

    great story Jim! Congratulations. Fine and creative.

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