"A vineyard," she explained, "is how rich people piss away money while maintaining the vague resemblance of not doing any work."
They were out on the porch, drinking cervezas served in square black bottles, marked with a goat head in a pentagram. She called it a veranda, but where J.J. came from it was just a porch, built around a stone deck on a house that they'd hollowed out of one of God's hills, overlooking a sloping terraced valley of ripening vines in the boiling sun. Every now and again, a shotgun would go off - one of the keepers shooing the birds away from the crop.
In his mind, he called her the Bitch. She was every inch of one too. There was an aggressive ordinariness about her that women did not really achieve until they hit the other side of fifty, practical jeans, blouse, and boots that probably cost more than his truck, but would be fit to wear for a lifetime; she was as timeless as his own grandmother had been, and Abuelita had been a proper ball-buster. The Bitch had snow-white hair that she could afford to keep cropped short and wrinkles she didn't feel the need to hide because she was past using mere sex to get men to pay attention to her - though she was fit enough and sprightly enough a cougar to claim whatever she wanted. Trying not to eye her cleavage as he took a sip of his beer, he admitted to himself that she would not be the one begging him to bed, if it ever came to that.
"The thing about a vineyard, is that it's agricultural labor - which is difficult - and a small business unto itself, which is more difficult still. Lots of people have to work together for things to prosper, for a crop to come in, but in the end one person owns the land, one person makes the bulk of the money, one person is responsible for hiring and firing - and so the livelihoods of all the rest. A very lord-of-the-manor mentality sets in. Quiet feudal."
She took a drink, and J.J. noticed her fingers were free of rings - free even of the pale circles where rings might once have been. He could picture her as a lady in Castille, or perhaps a conquistadora keeping the indios in their place with whip and steel, looking down her pure-bred nose at all the mestizos...
"This is my land," she said, putting the bottle on the table, "and I treat my people well. Doctors for the sick and the hurt, the children go to the schools instead of straight to the fields. Not everyone is so kind. Not everyone can afford to be kind."
The Bitch looked west, to the dim blue line of the Pacific, and then north, to the neighboring valley. Even in the shade, drinking a cool beer, the sweat coated J.J.'s upper lip, trickled gently down his ribs. It was time for a siesta. Yet the neighboring valley was busy as a hive of bees, small brown downs flickering up and down.
"Senora," J.J. said, laying his empty bottle on the glass-topped table. "I am sure many of your campesinos appreciate what you do for them. It is much better," he nodded northwards, "than the alternatives."
"If things do not change soon," the Bitch said, as she crossed her legs and leaned onto the table, arching her fingers so the empty bottle hanging between them like the fly awaiting the mercy of a spider, "then there will be no alternatives. As I have said, vineyards are a business - but one for decaying millionaires, not fresh ones - and the attitude can be positively medieval. We have so little left, and when it is threatened, we will fight to protect it...and, for those with more ambition than sense, they will fight to take what is not theirs."
Ah, at last it becomes clear. J.J. did not say; the Bitch was bothered by a Bastard. Fair enough.
"If you..." the Bitch began, but J.J. simply held up a hand, cutting her off.
"No more words," he said, "let us speak in numbers."
She nodded, and pulled a pale blue piece of folded paper from a pocket, and laid it between them. J.J. opened it just enough to read the zeroes, then grunted and nodded his head as he took it and placed it in his own pocket.
"Let us have another drink, senora."
"To the harvest, of course."
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