Once upon a time there was a beautiful young woman named Santa Rita.
With mesquite green eyes and hair that turned gold with desert blossoms in the spring, no wrangler from Sonoita to Tucson could look at Santa Rita without seeing everything that was magnificent about the Old West in her sky-blue eyes.
At least that was true until the day a fellow came along from out of town. A fellow who saw something else.
“Hello, sir,” the handsome stranger said, introducing himself. “My name’s Augusta Rosemont. Call me Rosemont.”
“Hello, son.” I shook his hand. “You can call me Tucson.”
“May I say you look fantastic for being nearly three centuries old, sir?” His cellphone hummed. “Excuse me.” He tapped it mute and slid it back into his suit. He was as slick and worldly as Miss Rita was innocent and rough. “Enough small talk, sir. Let’s cut to the chase. She’s a beauty. First time I laid eyes on her I said, ‘There’s a girl with potential.’”
I stammered. “You don’t have to tell me. I watched her grow over the centuries into the most beautiful mountain range in the West.”
Yawning, he pulled out his phone to see if anyone had texted him.
“With hills like Napa Valley, and a prairie right out of a John Ford Western, there’s nothing like her. And when the sun hits her just right, she can blow a hole through your heart a mile wide.”
He slapped me on the shoulder. “Exactly what I was thinking! A hole a mile wide! She’s a beauty we can turn into a real moneymaker — if you catch my drift. Mr. Tucson, can I be frank, sir? What’s your price? Everybody’s got a price.”
He reached for his money clip and began unfurling dollars.
“I’d like to make a new woman out of her. Carve her up, gouge out her heart until there’s nothing left but a crater where she’s standing. And get rid of those ridiculous butterflies in her hair. And then, in about a quarter of a century, when I’m done with her, I’ll dump what’s left of her on your front porch in a pretty little urn. There’ll be a lake you can remember her by. I’ll see to that.”
I stroked my chin. “Well, I could use the money right now.”
“There’ll be jobs, sir. Picture it. Hundreds of people working 25 years straight like ants stripping a carcass; stripping her as naked as the moon. Millions of years of Mother Nature’s handiwork gone in the snap of a finger, shipped overseas and ending up in bracelets and wires. It’s a marvel.”
“And think how many big-box stores you’d have to build to employ that many people. Let’s see — probably three.” He laughed. “What do you need? Scholarships? A sponsor for a summer camp for orphans?” He peeled more bills off the roll and tossed them at my feet. I dropped to my knees, scooping up every last one.
“Don’t get me wrong, old man, but from the looks of this town you don’t hang onto the past, do you? Everybody knows you bulldozed most of what made this place special into a landfill, and right now, I’m thinking ... if I made you the right offer on the dirt that mission sits on south of town you’d jump at it.”
“That’s Native American land.”
“Those people? The ones whining about the pots and bones in Santa Rita’s blood? Spare me.”
I was shocked by his dismissive tone. “What about water? You’ll need water, son, and these days I’m not sure I’ve got much of an inheritance to pass on. Our drought is going to get ...”
He laughed. “Ever heard of 21st-century mining, pops? Trust me, old-timer.” He winked and he put his arm around me. “Look. We got to get copper from somewhere, right, granddad? Copper doesn’t grow on trees you know.”
Neither do endangered wildlife, I thought to myself. Or riparian habitats. There’s more to her than just copper.
“I got a joke for you, pops. When’s the next time you’ll see a jaguar around your little Miss Santa Rita? When a visiting mining executive hops out of one to inspect our pit. I love that joke!”
He waved more bills under my nose. “Name your price, old man. Let me take her away from all this. She’s a big girl.”
She’s the last of her kind, I thought, as I looked at the wads of money in my hands. “When I was just a stagecoach stop, I watched the mines come. They tore up the land around here from Bisbee to Jerome. There were coins in the dirt for the miners and cash in the bank for the suits. And then they left, leaving behind ghost towns and scars on the land. Times are different now. Our future is in technology, transportation, trade and ...”
He looked up from his texts. “Whatever, old man. What do you say?”