Lolo’s homestead runs across a couple acres of semi-alkaline soil, conveniently close to the river’s edge. Annie is out in the field when he crests the low hills that overlook his patch. She waves, but keeps digging, planting for whatever water he can collect in bounty.
Lolo pauses, watching Annie work. Hot wind kicks up, carrying with it the scents of sage and clay. A dust devil swirls around Annie, whipping her bandana off her head. Lolo smiles as she snags it; she sees him still watching her and waves at him to quit loafing.
He grins to himself and starts Maggie down the hill, but he doesn’t stop watching Annie work. He’s grateful for her. Grateful that every time he comes back from tamarisk hunting she is still here. She’s steady. Steadier than the people like Travis who give up when times get dry. Steadier than anyone Lolo knows, really. And if she has nightmares sometimes, and can’t stand being in towns or crowds and wakes up in the middle of the night calling out for family she’ll never see again, well, then it’s all the more reason to seed more tamarisk and make sure they never get pushed off their patch like she was pushed.
Lolo gets Maggie to kneel down so he can dismount, then leads her over to a water trough, half-full of slime and water skippers. He gets a bucket and heads for the river while Maggie groans and complains behind him. The patch used to have a well and running water, but like everyone else, they lost their pumping rights and BuRec stuffed the well with Quickcrete when the water table dropped below the Minimum Allowable Reserve. Now he and Annie steal buckets from the river, or, when the Interior Department isn’t watching, they jump up and down on a footpump and dump water into a hidden underground cistern he built when the Resource Conservation and Allowable Use Guidelines went into effect.
Annie calls the guidelines "RaCAUG" and it sounds like she’s hawking spit when she says it, but even with their filled-in well, they’re lucky. They aren’t like Spanish Oaks or Antelope Valley or River Reaches: expensive places that had rotten water rights and turned to dust, money or no, when Vegas and L.A. put in their calls. And they didn’t have to bail out of Phoenix Metro when the Central Arizona Project got turned off and then had its aqueducts blown to smithereens when Arizona wouldn’t stop pumping out of Lake Mead.
Pouring water into Maggie’s water trough, and looking around at his dusty patch with Annie out in the fields, Lolo reminds himself how lucky he is. He hasn’t blown away. He and Annie are dug in. Calies may call them water ticks, but fuck them. If it weren’t for people like him and Annie, they’d dry up and blow away the same as everyone else. And if Lolo moves a little bit of tamarisk around, well, the Calies deserve it, considering what they’ve done to everyone else.
Finished with Maggie, Lolo goes into the house and gets a drink of his own out of the filter urn. The water is cool in the shadows of the adobe house. Juniper beams hang low overhead. He sits down and connects his BuRec camera to the solar panel they’ve got scabbed onto the roof. Its charge light blinks amber. Lolo goes and gets some more water. He’s used to being thirsty, but for some reason he can’t get enough today. Big Daddy Drought’s got his hands around Lolo’s neck today.
Annie comes in, wiping her forehead with a tanned arm. "Don’t drink too much water," she says. "I haven’t been able to pump. Bunch of guardies around."
"What the hell are they doing around? We haven’t even opened our headgates yet."
"They said they were looking for you."
Lolo almost drops his cup.
They know about his tamarisk reseeding. They know he’s been splitting and planting root-clusters. That he’s been dragging big healthy chunks of tamarisk up and down the river. A week ago he uploaded his claim on the canyon tamarisk — his biggest stand yet — almost worth an acre-foot in itself in water bounty. And now the guardies are knocking on his door.
Lolo forces his hand not to shake as he puts his cup down. "They say what they want?" He’s surprised his voice doesn’t crack.
"Just that they wanted to talk to you." She pauses. "They had one of those Humvees. With the guns."
Lolo closes his eyes. Forces himself to take a deep breath. "They’ve always got guns. It’s probably nothing."
"It reminded me of Lake Havasu. When they cleared us out. When they shut down the water treatment plant and everyone tried to burn down the BLM office."
"It’s probably nothing." Suddenly he’s glad he never told her about his tamarisk hijinks. They can’t punish her the same. How many acre-feet is he liable for? It must be hundreds. They’ll want him, all right. Put him on a Straw work crew and make him work for life, repay his water debt forever. He’s replanted hundreds, maybe thousands of tamarisk, shuffling them around like a cardsharp on a poker table, moving them from one bank to another, killing them again and again and again, and always happily sending in his "evidence."
"It’s probably nothing," he says again.
"That’s what people said in Havasu."
Lolo waves out at their newly tilled patch. The sun shines down hot and hard on the small plot. "We’re not worth that kind of effort." He forces a grin. "It probably has to do with those enviro crazies who tried to blow up the Straw. Some of them supposedly ran this way. It’s probably that."
Annie shakes her head, unconvinced. "I don’t know. They could have asked me the same as you."
"Yeah, but I cover a lot of ground. See a lot of things. I’ll bet that’s why they want to talk to me. They’re just looking for eco-freaks."
"Yeah, maybe you’re right. It’s probably that." She nods slowly, trying to make herself believe. "Those enviros, they don’t make any sense at all. Not enough water for people, and they want to give the river to a bunch of fish and birds."
Lolo nods emphatically and grins wider. "Yeah. Stupid." But suddenly he views the eco-crazies with something approaching brotherly affection. The Californians are after him, too.