Mad Crab Mojave: Chapter 29

In which Jones meets more enemies of the economy

They headed down the stairs and set off on foot towards the scrub desert. “I’ll show you the camels first,” Hassan explained. “They won’t be around later.”

“Camels?” Jones asked, nonplussed.

Hassan nodded proudly. “We get them from all over. The Phoenix Zoo, when they closed. The San Diego Zoo. They had a camel in Denver, that was very cruel, I’m not sure how we got it here. That was before I arrived. I helped with the San Diego acquisition. His name is Flavian. He’s an Arabian.”

They’d arrived at a pen made from rough cut two-by-fours. A pair of camels stood side to side, their lower lips swiveling in figure eights as they ground alfalfa between their teeth. Hassan patted one on the flank. 

“This is Flavian. That’s St. George.”

“Where’s the third one?”

“Violet? She’s with her baby. She gave birth in the spring. St. George was the father, of course. Hassan scratched St. George under the chin. The camel snorted, towering over them. 

“We’d like to find a mate for Flavian, but it’s tough.” Hassan frowned. “Not many left in the region. A camel is a large commitment. They’re wonderful for transportation. I’m not the expert, though. Have I told you about the band? Ibrahim? Said?”

Jones reached out a tentative hand towards Flavian. The camel spit at him, sending a gob of saliva towards his feet. Jones jumped back. Hassan didn’t seem to notice.

“Great guys, great musicians. Incredible mentors. We gotta play for you tonight. Said had the idea for the camels first. Of course, Marta saw the opportunity immediately. She’s pragmatic. Are you thirsty?”

Jones nodded. The sun had risen higher while they were talking. Hassan led him to some open stables. Reaching deep into the pocket of his loose trousers, he produced a canteen of water. Jones accepted it gratefully.

“You have an incredible setup,” said Jones, waving at the camel paddocks around him. “Are you completely self sufficient?”

“Of course not,” Hassan stuttered, taken aback. “Did someone tell you that? You think alfalfa grows in the desert? With hydroponics, ok, but then where does the water come from? We’re good on solar, that’s not a problem, but food. We have to bring that in. We do eat a lot of nopales.” He paused for a moment, choosing his words. “Sometimes it’s all nopales.”

“We have a trade network. There are barter markets. And of course, we keep an eye out for other opportunities.” Hassan trailed off, busying himself with a row of bridles hanging on the shed’s wall.

“It’s not that bad,” he continued. “I never lived in Mali. I was born in Canada, actually. Not that I can go back there. Ibrahim, if you can get him to talk to you about it, which you can’t, he’s been through some shit. He and Said both know how to live in the desert. They think all this is excessive. Said keeps trying to convince the board, if we cut back, less plumbing, there’d be less pressure on the water system. The board won’t listen. Personally, I think we’ll come around to that by necessity. I’ve never had to live in a tent. I’ll go out there with them some nights to know what it’s like, to understand how it might have to be. I’m willing to give up my room. As long as my little girl has a safe place to sleep every night and a plate of food in the morning, I’m happy. Speaking of!”

A young girl with long dark braids ran up to them from across the parking lot, barefoot. She grabbed Hassan around the legs and squeezed them. He laughed, and picked her up. “This is our Mitzi. Mr. Jones is a guest, I’m giving him a tour.”

Mitzi put her thumb in her mouth, and mumbled into her father’s shoulder, shy. “Mom says after this come help unload the new supplies.” Hassan put her down and patted her shoulder. 

“Can do, ma’am. Anything else?” Mitzi shook her head and gave Jones another sidelong glance, then ran off.

Hassan sighed with pride. “The love of my life,” he said. “She looks exactly like her mother. A person couldn’t ask for more in this world.” Watching her run off, Jones realized that he child was the spitting image of Marta. Hassan brushed sand off his hands.  

“What do you want to see next? The weaving studios? The dying vats? The carpentry shop? We’ve got a forge. I could show you the forge.” A train whistled in the distance. Hassan scanned the horizon, placing a hand over his brow to cut the glare. Jones perked up.

“Do you hear a lot of trains here?”

“Lately, yes.” Hassan said. “There was one in the middle of the night. Woke me up. They have tracks through the preserve. I don’t know what they’re doing over there. The mining company stripped this tract a long time ago. No one else in their right mind wants to come out here.”

The train whistled again. Hassan winced, rubbing the side of his nose.

“How did you wind up here?” Jones asked. 

Hassan rolled his eyes. “Typical story. I lived in Oregon, wasn’t up to much. Playing gigs with a bluegrass band, borrowing couches, getting kicked out of bars. Met a girl, she wanted me to clean up my act. I started volunteering. I started an organization - ‘music in the park.’ We wanted every child in Oregon to have the chance to hear Tuareg music played live, free admission. It was about cultural education. Next thing I know, elections, new policy, ‘you should’ve charged for that concert’, bam - Enemy of the Economy. You ever get it?”

“No,” said Jones. “I’ve always had my detective practice. My secretary handles the paperwork. I suppose we’re profitable.”

Hassan nodded. “That’s good, that’s good.” He seemed distracted now. “What kind of detective practice? Missing husbands and all that?”

Jones shook his head regretfully. “I’m a database detective.” 

Hassan cocked his head. “We don’t have any computers here. Even the ledgers are all on paper.”

Jones nodded. “That’s part of the mystery.” Hassan squinted at him. A small explosion rumbled across the desert valley. 

“Sure,” said Hassan. “Speaking of mysteries, let’s check out the forge. I’m thinking the brazier needs some attention.”