The world-famous International Balloon Fiesta of Albuquerque is one of the city’s most eagerly anticipated annual events and its biggest moneymaker. But when a woman plunges to her death from one of the balloons—foreshadowed by Sonny’s vision of a body plummeting from the sky—Sonny’s sure it’s murder.
The dead woman was the chief witness to testify against the cult implicated in the murder for hire of Sonny’s cousin Gloria, whose death still haunts him. In addition to motive, Sonny finds means and opportunity: a homeless family who saw someone push Veronica Worthy out of the hot-air balloon. Worthy was one of the four wives of Raven, leader of the sun cult, and a dangerous, shamanlike criminal who’s supposed to be dead. But the four black feathers found on the corpse are his calling card—clues to let Sonny know he’s alive and kicking. And his murder spree isn’t over.
Led by his spirit guides, Sonny races to stop a vengeful madman and save the woman he loves.
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Rio Grande Fall
A Sonny Baca Novel
By Rudolfo Anaya
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1996 Rudolfo Anaya
All rights reserved.
Sonny felt the soft pressure of the eagle feather across his chest. The soft voice of the healer was calling him back from his vision. He smelled the sweet aroma of the burning copal in the room, and he struggled to rise out of the dark shadows where he had been running with a family of coyotes.
Thin wisps of copal smoke floated over the altar and curled upward. The traditional healers of the Río Grande burned sage or romero, common herbs growing in the New Mexican countryside, but Lorenza was burning copal, the incense of the Aztecs.
Praying to the saints, burning copal, and instructing Sonny on how to find the coyotes, his guardian spirits, were all part of the cleansing ceremony she had just performed on Sonny. The limpieza was to rid him of the ghost that had plagued him all summer.
"You have susto," Rita had told Sonny all along. "Your soul has been inhabited by Gloria's ghost. That's what causes the fright. Go to Lorenza. She's a curandera; she can help you get rid of Gloria's ghost."
Sonny had felt the shock of Gloria's spirit when he entered her bedroom and Frank Dominic had pulled back the sheet that covered her body. She had been murdered that June night, and her body had been drained of its blood. Rita believed that Gloria's spirit, still lingering in the room, had entered and taken possession of Sonny.
Her spirit had attached to his, and its needs had sapped his energy. All summer he had felt depressed and distracted. Even nights with Rita suffered. He needed to be cleansed.
So Rita had finally persuaded him to see Lorenza Villa, her good friend. A very nice-looking curandera, Sonny thought. Lorenza was about thirty-five, her body rounded but firm. Her clear, brown skin was the color of Mexican milk chocolate, and her black hair fell around her shoulders, dark and luxuriant. But it was her bright brown eyes that held those who dared look into them.
When he first met her, he thought she was cross-eyed, as each eye seemed to look at him from just a slightly different angle. Then he remembered that the face of a shaman has a pronounced right and left side, and so, he figured, a right and left eye. The right seemed to smile; the left looked deeper into his thoughts. Perhaps there were two women in her, two souls.
Which eye gazed at the lover when she was making love? Sonny wondered.
Yes, sensuous, with a smile that was reassuring and seductive at the same time. She moved with grace, self-contained, every ounce of energy a fluid movement. When she touched him, a tingle of arousal ran through him.
She clapped her hands to awaken him, and the drumming stopped. When she began the ceremony, she had put a tape in the player, and the sound of the drum helped transport him to a place where he could finally rid himself of Gloria's spirit.
He opened his eyes and looked at her. She smiled, her full lips the color of the bright prickly pear fruit of late summer. Her long dark hair cascaded down either side of her face, creating a black shawl that fell over her full breasts.
She moved to the small altar in a corner of the room. A statue of the Virgen de Guadalupe stood surrounded by flowers, herbs, and votive candles. The statues of other saints filled the lower tier of the altar: the Santo Niño de Atocha, St. Anne, and the black San Martín de Porres.
Also arranged on the altar were milagros, small ex-votos probably brought to her by other clients, a pearl rosary with gold crucifix, a photograph of a man on crutches, a child's scapular, a pocketknife, a book of fairy tales.
A shaman who prays to the saints, Sonny thought. His mother believed in the saints, prayed to the saints, trusted in their power. He thought for a moment of his mother lying in her hospital bed, recovering from the heart bypass operation. He had stayed with her for three days. Her recovery had been excellent. Still, he told himself that tonight he would drop in and see her.
There was a santo for every need. For don Eliseo the saints were Lords and Ladies of the Light, men and women whose souls were filled with clarity.
Lorenza rose and placed the votive candle Sonny had brought at the feet of the virgin. She lit it, bowed in prayer for a moment, then turned to him.
"Concentrate on the smoke," she said.
"Someone fell from the sky."
"Death," she whispered.
The last thing he had seen in his vision was a body falling from the sky. Why did Lorenza say it was an image of death?
"Are we finished?" he asked, still feeling groggy. Was he back from the river world of the coyotes? Back from the vision?
"For today," she said, then she went out and closed the door behind her.
Yeah, Sonny nodded. What a trip. With her help he had gone to a place he had never dreamed of. Now as he looked at the dark smoke rising from the candle, he saw it take the shape of the head of a coyote.
There it was again, his nagual. His guardian spirit in the animal world. He stared at the smoke as the figures of coyotes took shape and rose in the curling wisps. The same coyotes he had met during the cleansing ceremony.
Then he closed his eyes. Maybe he was imagining the coyote in the smoke, just as he had imagined them during the trance. Lord, he had smoked marijuana before, but the mota only made him groggy and sleepy, so he never became an aficionado. Grass brought no visions.
A year ago he had done the peyote ceremony with don Eliseo and a handful of his Indian neighbors up in the Sandias. A beautiful vision quest. The forest had come alive, the trees danced to music, tiny animals scurried along the forest floor, a king bear appeared, spoke to Sonny. But not even that extrasensory perception induced by the peyote compared to the vision today.
He opened his eyes. The curling smoke of the candle had turned white, wisps rising around the statue of the virgin, the smoke cleansing away Gloria's ghost.
The images of his journey to the world of spirits returned, and one in particular didn't make sense—at least it didn't relate to the coyotes. He had seen someone falling from the sky.
"Death," Lorenza had whispered.
He rose, took the gold Zia medallion from where he had hung it on the altar, and put it around his neck. It was the gold chain and medallion he had taken from Raven only months ago.
He thought for a moment of Tamara Dubronsky's words: "Now you are the new Raven."
He shook his head, put on his shirt, and went out of the room and into the kitchen. Rita and Lorenza sat sipping tea on the ledge of a small beehive fireplace. The adobe walls were soft, feminine, tranquil. For centuries the Indians and Mexicanos of the valley had been building the earth houses, using clay to make the mud bricks. There was something about an adobe home that made one feel connected to the earth.
Rita rose, took Sonny's hands, and looked into his eyes. She saw that for the first time in months there was a spark in his eyes, a smile on his lips.
"How are you, amor?"
"Bien," he answered, and looked at Lorenza. "I feel like I've been in another world."
"I told you Lorenza could work magic," Rita said.
She had tried to doctor him with herbal teas all summer, but she knew the source of his illness was deeper than her herbs could reach. She knew Gloria's spirit had invaded Sonny's soul.
"I believe you now," he said as he took the cup of tea Lorenza offered. "Gracias."
"De nada," Lorenza replied.
He looked at the two women, both daughters of the Alburquerque Río Grande valley. Daughters of the old Hispanos, Mexicanos, and Indians of the valley, a blend of genes that over the centuries had produced what Sonny thought were the most beautiful women on earth. The full-bodied, brown-skinned Nueva Mexicana woman, a mestiza with the beauty of the earth and sky in her soul.
Rita's hair, black like Lorenza's, curled around her shoulders and glistened in the morning sunlight pouring through the window. Her brown eyes sparkled.
He saw how alike they were. Hermanas. They could be sisters. Rita was his age, Lorenza maybe five years older. A ripe age. Sonny wondered if men came to have their souls cleansed just to be near her, to smell the sweetness of her body and to watch the way she moved as she worked.
He smiled. Both women smiled back, for the moment allowing themselves to bathe in his obvious admiration.
Rita glanced at Lorenza. She knew Sonny admired women, liked the way they moved, danced, and talked. He admired their physical beauty, but he also respected and trusted the unique instincts of las mujeres. That is why he could learn from them, as he had learned today from Lorenza.
Rita knew Sonny had led a dissolute life after his divorce a few years ago. He was young and trying to understand why his marriage to Angie failed, and so many a weekend had been full of drinking and dancing along the Fourth Street bars, especially at the Fiesta Lounge.
That's where they met, danced, and fell in love. He began to show up at her restaurant, they dated, and for two years they had been happy. They fitted each other, kindred lovers who plumbed each other's sensuality, kindred souls who shared their most intimate secrets.
She had proposed marriage; he was the first man who ever came up to her expectations, she liked to be with him, and she had fallen for him. Besides, he was thirty and he had sown enough of his wild oats. Now he needed a home, she thought, a family, a place to work, a garden. He needed children. He needed a wife, and she intended to be that woman.
At first he joked about getting married, but the more he was with Rita, the more he realized she was the right woman for him. It was time for him to settle down. Then came the Zia summer with its evil, and Sonny took a slide into lethargy. Gloria's spirit haunted him, and the thought of Raven wouldn't let him rest.
"What did you see?" Rita asked.
"I saw Gloria," he said. "Or her ghost. Then I saw four coyotes. They were at a place near the river, a place I had forgotten. It was my abuelo's farm near Socorro. My parents used to send Armando and me there when we were kids."
"It was a beginning," Lorenza said, glancing at Rita. "Most people don't usually meet their guardian spirits during the first limpieza. But our compañero is gifted."
She looked at Sonny and he returned her smile. "Hey, all I did was follow your instructions."
"The coyote spirits came to you, so that is one way to the world of spirits. You can go deeper."
"Another session?" Sonny asked.
"If you want to truly learn to use the power in your vision," Lorenza replied.
During the cleansing ceremony Sonny had entered the underworld, what Lorenza called the world of spirits. There he found the coyotes by the river, and running with the coyotes did bring a sense of power, but what did it all mean?
Lorenza sensed his questioning. "We're losing the spiritual knowledge of the old people," she said. "I studied with curanderas in Río Arriba, learned their prayers and ceremonies. I also listened to their cuentos, the stories they told about men and women who could turn into animals. Some could turn into owls and fly at night. Those brujos, some good and some evil, knew the world of the nagual."
"The nagual," Sonny repeated. The animal spirit of a person. An Aztec word, like copal, which she burned. In the old folk tales brujos or sorcerers were said to use these supernatural animals. A brujo could actually turn into his nagual. Rita had told him Lorenza had studied with brujos in Mexico, and in this case brujo didn't just mean witch. It meant something more powerful; it meant men and women who could enter the world of spirits.
"Our cuentos are full of stories that taught us about people who could take the form of animals," Lorenza said. "The stories are full of brujas and the spiritual tricks they played. That world exists. It is the world of spirits, what the New Age people call energy."
"And there's a way to enter that world, like I did. To get rid of Gloria's spirit."
"It has always been so," Lorenza answered. "But most of our people are losing touch with that world."
"Why?" Sonny asked.
"The young no longer pay attention to the spiritual values of our ancestors."
"Too busy watching TV or listening to rap," Sonny suggested. "Maybe that's one reason why I quit teaching. The kids are into the pop world, videos, whatever." He shook his head.
"What will happen to us if we let our spiritual traditions die?" Rita wondered.
"We can't," Lorenza said. "To lose them now would be to give in to evil. So we pay attention to the messages of the ancestors."
She glanced at Sonny.
"Learn to fight Raven," he said.
She nodded. "Even in the smallest ways. Like the artists who are going to burn the Kookoóee this week. Federico Armijo and his friends. They resurrected el Coco, the bogeyman our parents warned us would get us if we were bad boys and girls, and they gave him life again. They're getting our kids interested in their folklore. So it's up to us to keep the way of our ancestors alive."
"El Coco is from the world of spirits," Sonny said.
"We all move back and forth from that world to this." Lorenza smiled. She knew Sonny was open to learning. He had gone on his first vision quest and come back stronger.
Sonny thought of don Eliseo. The old man had said that when he died, the old culture of the Nuevo Mexicanos of the Río Grande valley would disappear. The young people just weren't keeping up the traditions. Don Eliseo, a man in his eighties who knew the old ways, was a link to history, as was Lorenza Villa, who lived and practiced the old ways of curing the soul.
Sonny sipped the tea, a mixture of herbs with a hint of mint. The aroma was soothing and pleasant. The ripeness of autumn was in the air. In the stillness of the morning he heard a gas saw. Someone was cutting wood for winter, and far away the whinny of a horse. Here in Corrales a lot of people kept horses.
Down the road the Wagner Farms fruit stalls were full of homegrown apples, and ristras of red chile hung drying in the warm October sun. In the fields huge orange pumpkins were ripening for Halloween. Autumn was his favorite time. It was also the season of his birth. In late October he would turn thirty-one.
"Qué piensas?" Rita asked.
"How good all this is," he answered.
Another sound interrupted them. The blast of a burner, a whooshing sound, then another.
Lorenza glanced out the kitchen window. "The balloons are coming over the river. Want to watch?"
"Yes," Rita said, and Lorenza led them out onto the small patio extending from the kitchen.
As they stepped out, they were greeted by the sight of hundreds of brightly colored hot-air balloons floating in the clear air. It was the first week of October and the first day of the Alburquerque balloon fiesta. The morning's mass ascension filled the air with the bright globes. They had been launched from a large field near Journal Center on Alameda Boulevard, and those that caught the easterly breeze were floating across the river, colorful blossoms in the quiet morning air, brilliant in the morning sun.
The balloons moved across their view, punctuating the morning stillness with the occasional blasts of fire from the propane burners.
Around them the towering cottonwoods of the valley were touched with the first hint of autumn gold. Across the valley the Sandia Mountains—blue, granite-faced peaks born of a fault in the earth long ago—rose as a backdrop for the balloon show. On many a summer evening the mountain blushed, the color of a ripe watermelon.
"Qué maravilla," Rita said, enraptured by the sight of balloons as they floated peacefully overhead.
"Quite a sight," Lorenza said.
"Bucks for the city," Sonny mused.
The Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, as it was billed, had grown into an international event, drawing people from all over the world and bringing millions of dollars into the city's coffers. It had become the biggest moneymaker for the city, surpassing even the state fair in September.
But the people floating in the balloons know nothing of the traditional world of Lorenza, Sonny thought as he looked up.
"I've always wanted to take a ride," Rita said.
"Hey, why don't the three of us go up?" Sonny asked.
Sonny loved to fly. He had spent a year learning to hang glide off the ten-thousand-foot-high Sandia Crest, and he had taken helicopter lessons. Flying was part of the release he had sought, perhaps part of the danger, when he was going through his divorce.
Excerpted from Rio Grande Fall by Rudolfo Anaya. Copyright © 1996 Rudolfo Anaya. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews