Salazar Sanso raised his binoculars and looked out over the edge
of the steep drop into the rosy New Mexican desert. Through the
lenses, he scanned the modest-sized Gypsy camp that hugged the base
of the mesa. A brisk river separated it from twenty-five tents,
which were a combination of sturdy canvas and tall wood-stilt
frames. Surrounding them were several trucks and a few SUVs, larger
tented structures that Sanso assumed were facilities for school and
medicine and whatnot, and a large meetinghouse, which perhaps had
once been a rancher’s barn.
Children played a game of kickball outside the camp, within
shouting distance. A group of men smoked near the entrance of the
meetinghouse. Few women in sight. Most of the community—a
hundred, hundred twenty-five by his estimation—were tending
their carnival booths in Albuquerque for the weekend.
“Tell me what I’m looking for,” Sanso said to
the woman standing next to him. A hot breeze played with his hair
and stroked his close-cropped beard. The wind’s
uncharacteristic humidity predicted an approaching thunderstorm. In
the west, crowding clouds positioned themselves between the camp
and the fading afternoon sun.
“She’s fairer skinned than the rest, and
taller.” Callista held out a grainy picture of a young woman
in blue jeans. Sanso lowered the binoculars and took it. Long hair
the color of New Mexico’s red rocks dunked in water, dark
eyes, tan skin, heart-shaped face. She was walking with another
woman who wore a long skirt, arms linked, heads inclined toward
each other. “They say she is the daughter of a
“A non-Gypsy woman? But Jason Mikkado is the leader of
“Which is why they tolerate her. She’s his only
surviving child after all. But he has difficulty . . . controlling
her. If he weren’t the rom baro, I think
they’d have cast her out by now. They call her Rom
Ameriko behind his back.”
“But not hers?” Sanso smiled at the
characterization. An Americanized Gypsy. Someone who could be
counted neither among the Gypsies nor the outsiders, the
gajé. It was a biting insult.
“She doesn’t really care what anyone thinks of
“Good. She’s younger than I expected.”
“Seventeen. But don’t be fooled.”
Sanso winked at Callista. “Are you saying you and she are
cut from the same cloth?”
“When I was seventeen I was worth cashmere. She’s
all denim. But she knows cashmere when she sees it. She aspires to
cashmere. She and I could be . . . friends. Of a sort.”
Sanso returned to his study of the camp and noticed a rusty
sedan approaching from about a mile off, kicking up pink desert
dust under the gathering gray sky. “Will she
“If I’ve judged her correctly.” Callista
paused. “She’s more like you.”
He wouldn’t stoop to asking how much more. Did the girl
merely share his love of fine food? Or did she possess his need to
trample the barriers set up by family and culture, barriers that
prevented one from reaching his full potential? When he was
seventeen he turned his back on his wealthy South American family
so he could become the lord of his own kingdom. His father and
brothers wouldn’t have allowed him to be anything more than a
“You say that like it’s a bad thing,” he
“For her, it could be.”
That was the truth, if she shared even half of his yearnings.
“The exchange is still set for Tuesday?”
“Yes. One million dollars. We confirmed this
“What do they suspect?”
Callista placed her hands on her hips. “They suspect that
we suspect nothing.”
The sedan, a dump of a Chevy, was speeding. Three hundred yards
outside the camp, the car left the small dirt highway it had been
traveling and made a beeline for the meetinghouse. The front
driver’s-side tire looked low.
The car kept up its pace through the perimeter and came to a
skidding stop in front of the smoking men. The door opened and the
driver stepped out, slamming the door.
Sanso homed in on the frowning face. Here was the denim girl, an
outsider born on the inside, where he needed her.
Janeal Mikkado was wearing jeans. And flip-flops. Footwear the
old-timers would disapprove of. Sanso already loved this child.
Her excuse for shoes flapped their way past the group of men.
The eldest in the bunch averted their eyes. Sanso had always found
this Gypsy quirk amusing: Everything above the waist was considered
pure and good. A woman could bare her chest and no one would blink.
But everything below the waist was considered dirty, impure, taboo.
A true Gypsy woman should cover it up.
The youngest man in the gathering leered and leaned in toward
Janeal, saying something that likely only she could hear. Quick as
a striking rattlesnake, she jabbed him below his ribcage without
breaking stride and proceeded into the meetinghouse. The man
doubled over, holding his stomach, trying to laugh it off.
Yes, this girl was going to work out fine.
Janeal Mikkado stormed into the meetinghouse. From the outside,
the building looked like little more than what it once had been: a
large old barn, abandoned decades ago by an eccentric rancher who
died without heirs. Janeal’s great-grandfather had purchased
the remote property, too arid for successful ranching, at auction
for ten thousand dollars. The Gypsy kumpanía led by
Jason Mikkado returned to it every spring and stayed through the
summer, doing business with the people of Albuquerque and
entertaining narrow-minded tourists who thought Gypsies had no
identity or culture outside of fortune-telling and magic
For this, Janeal hated the outsiders, the naive
gajé. And yet she also loved the outside world, the
promise of freedom and choice and opportunity. She toyed daily,
hourly, with the idea of leaving this place.
If not for her father, she would leave right now, leave him
behind with her boyfriend Robert and best friend Katie, who said
they were as curious about the world as she was but, when pressed,
showed only feigned interest in it. They mocked her fascination as
nothing more than a girl’s childish fantasy, though they were
never intentionally cruel.
Her father didn’t know of the hopes she harbored, nor of
the bitterness she sometimes indulged in; it soothed the loneliness
of her most adventuresome self. Confiding these thoughts to him
would be the same as turning her back on him after all he’d
suffered. Of all the people she knew, he was the only one she truly
loved. In the deepest, most honest sense of the word,
love, she understood it was something she couldn’t
define or identify outside of her relationship with him.
Not even the love she bore for Robert Lukin came close.
No, she hadn’t found the courage to leave yet. It
wasn’t like she could go off and come home for holidays, as
she heard the gajé her age did. Leaving the
kumpanía would be synonymous with rejecting
it—and everyone in it. Then they, too, would be free to
reject her. Finally. Janeal didn’t have any misunderstanding
as to what the people of this community really thought of her.
Not that she needed it, but that gave her one more reason to
hate them. They wouldn’t allow her to belong if she’d
Someday she would leave. Someday, when she knew she could endure
not being welcome here ever again, when she knew her father would
be able to endure it too.
Inside the building, Janeal hesitated at the sight of Mrs.
Marković, who had appeared yesterday as the
kumpanía prepared for the annual festival and asked
for their hospitality for the weekend. She was ninety-eight, she
said, though one of the elders said he’d seen her walk into
camp straight out of the desert and didn’t believe she was a
day over seventy. At Jason’s encouragement, she stayed with a
young family at the edge of camp but spent the hottest hours of the
day in the cool of this building. From the squat oak rocker by the
front window, she gazed down the corridor between tents and
observed everyone’s comings and goings.
The woman’s brown paper-skinned hands lay folded atop her
gold-and-fuchsia-colored skirt. She wore her waist-length gray hair
in front of her shoulders and hadn’t stopped smiling since
she arrived, showing off strangely healthy teeth.
But when Janeal caught her eye this afternoon, Mrs.
Marković offered only a curt nod. A slight, short nod that
seemed to yank the tablecloth off Janeal’s thoughts, exposing
them. Startled, Janeal shut down that part of her mind.
She turned right and took the stairs to the game room two at a
time. If she was lucky, Robert would be finished with his work
already, and she could download her frustrations on him while she
had his complete attention.
Unlike the outside of the structure, which her father said was
best left dilapidated to avoid attracting troublemakers while the
kumpanía wintered in California, the interior had
been renovated and built out into a practical, attractive community
space that included a social area, a conference room, a kitchen,
and her father’s business offices. On the north side of the
building, Jason Mikkado added private living quarters.
Upstairs, he transformed the old loft into a game room, which
now ran all the way from the front of the barn to the back. The
roof on each side sloped.
Janeal stopped climbing the stairs when her eyes broke the plane
of the floor. She scanned quickly.
Against the left wall, on the floor that provided a ceiling for
the kitchen and dining room, stood three old arcade games rigged to
be played without coins or tokens.
Spread across the middle of the room were a pool table, a
foosball table, and a ping-pong table. Café chairs surrounding
chess and checker tables filled the rest of the floor.
The rectangular Tiffany lamp suspended over the pool table
filled the room with a dull red ambiance.
No Robert. Janeal sighed and turned on the ball of her foot to
go back downstairs. She placed her hand on the wrought-iron
banister and felt a shock of electricity zing up her arm.
She flinched, let go, and heard the air crack behind her right
ear all at the same time. She must have closed her eyes too, though
she didn’t register this until she opened them.
Her shadow stretched out in front of her and spilled down the
green-carpeted stairs, swaying like a ghost clinging to her ankles,
rocked by a strange red glow. Janeal turned around.
The Tiffany lamp was swinging gently.
She stared at the fixture for several seconds, trying to guess
what could have set it in motion. No idea. Its arc shortened on
each return until finally it was almost still again.
Without touching the handrail, Janeal went back downstairs,
rubbing the palm of her hand. It still tingled.
She passed Mrs. Marković without looking at the old woman,
though Janeal sensed the stranger’s eyes on her. Janeal
jogged through the gathering room, taking long strides directly
through the rear doors and down a hall to her father’s
office. She burst in.
Her boyfriend jumped in his seat at her entrance and knocked
over a Styrofoam cup of coffee at his right hand. “Man,
Janeal. I wish you’d quit doing that.”
“I do it often enough that you ought to be used to it by
now.” She grinned to take the bite out of her words and
snatched tissues out of a box. Dabbing at the desk, she thought she
shouldn’t have said that. “I didn’t mean to come
“Of course you didn’t mean to.” Robert took a
deep breath and righted the cup. “You barrel through
everything without meaning to because that’s what you do.
You’re a tornado.”
She wondered why she bothered to rein in what she said when
Robert wouldn’t keep tabs on his own words. She scowled at
him and took a step toward the door. He reached out and touched her
“I’m sorry. That’s not the best metaphor for
what your family’s been through,” he said, not entirely
apologetic. “I get that. But it’s the best one I can
think of for you.” She crossed her arms. “Take it as a
She tried to read affection into his tone. Why was it so hard
for him to love her without getting into these confrontations?
“Good thing there wasn’t much left.” She
gestured to the empty cup.
“Good thing. Here, let me have that.” He reached for
the limp, wet tissues and she grabbed his hand, pulled him close
for a kiss. He neither protested nor lingered.
Robert released her lips and leaned around her to toss the
tissues in the trash. Janeal released his fingers and focused on
her feet. “So what lit a blaze under you today?”
She collected her thoughts. “Katie.”
Robert laughed at her. Of course he would laugh. In
Robert’s eyes, Katie could do no wrong.
“What could Katie have done to annoy anyone?”
“Nothing. That’s just it. Katie never ruffles
“You’re looking pretty crazed.”
“I’m not crazed, Robert.”
He took her hands, reigniting her attraction to him. “So
tell me what Katie didn’t do that has you so
Janeal sighed and supposed that one of the reasons she
couldn’t resist Robert was because he had this strange power
to defuse her when she wanted to be inflamed. That and maybe
because he loved her even though everyone else in the
kumpanía told him he shouldn’t.
She was caught off guard by the possibility that his love for
her was nothing more than his own rebellion against the
kumpanía. That could explain his wavering behavior of
She set the disturbing idea aside without completely rejecting
it and leaned against her father’s desk. Robert surrounded
her feet with his and waited for her to explain.
He was her height, but twice as broad. His brown skin made hers
look alabaster white, though she had plenty of color in it.
Robert’s coarse black hair fell sloppily across his forehead
and covered his brows. He had full lips and a square face—a
handsome, true Romany.
“You should have seen the line outside her booth at the
“Yeah? She did well, then? She was nervous this morning
“Nervous. You’d have thought she came out of the
womb telling fortunes.”
“So she’s a natural.” His smile seemed
“She’s a fraud, Robert! Everything we do at these
events is a fraud.”
Robert dropped her hands and stepped back. “We’ve
been over this. It’s not fraud. It’s entertainment. The
gajé are always willing to part with their money for
a little cultural fun. It’s how we stay alive.”
“Our culture is not about fortune-telling.
It’s about music and art and story—the
gajé will pay for that too!”
“Not as much.” Robert started stacking the papers he
had been bent over when she had come in. He was nineteen and had
been put in charge of managing the kumpanía’s
accounts—a tremendous statement of her father’s faith
in Robert’s maturity and skill. “And since when did you
think highly of our ‘culture’?”
Janeal frowned. “Katie always said she would never stoop
“There is no stooping going on here. Katie is pretty and
has the voice of a siren. She’s a model woman.” Janeal
hated it when Robert talked about Katie that way, even though she
admired Katie’s beauty herself. But he didn’t have to
make a point of things. “Not a person in this
kumpanía has ever had a bad word to say about her.
Unlike . . .”
Unlike her. At least he had the presence of mind to stop
himself. He tapped the edge of the papers to straighten them.
“She’s doing her part to bring in funds for the
group,” Robert finished.
“She doesn’t have to do it so well,” muttered
Robert straightened and caught Janeal’s eye. “You
hate it all anyway. Why do you care whether Katie tells a few
fortunes for fun?”
“Because it reinforces what the gajé think
of us. That we’re cons. Swindlers. Vipers.”
“Listen to you! You don’t think any better of your
own people. You’re talking out both sides of your mouth,
“I might like ‘my people’ more if they
didn’t reinforce their own stereotypes with this kind of
“If your food booth made as much money as that
fortune-telling booth did, I don’t think you’d be so
Warmth flared in Janeal’s cheeks. “That’s not
“You know I’m right.”
“You are so wrong.”
Janeal turned toward the door, uncomfortable with the direction
of the conversation. All Janeal wanted was a little sympathy, a
little commiseration over a lost ideal. But Robert didn’t
possess her same passion, and maybe it was her fault to keep
wishing he did. The truth was, her friends only indulged her scorn.
That was the only truth she needed to acknowledge.
“I got a tattoo today,” she muttered, not sure why
she would bother to tell him at this point. Earlier, she thought he
might have found it alluringly risqué.
Robert’s eyebrows shot up. “You must have really
been upset to do that.”
“Would you stop with that already?”
“Let’s see it, then.”
She turned her leg sideways and hiked up the hem of her jeans.
Above her left anklebone, right where her slender calf started to
curve, was a tattoo of a flaming sun. Robert whistled his surprise
and bent to touch it. She snatched her leg away.
“Your dad’s not ever going to see that,
The possibility that showing Robert might have set off a chain
reaction she couldn’t take back caused Janeal’s stomach
to fall. “Not if you don’t tell him,” she
whispered, dropping her hem.
“Maybe you should stop going to these things if they
bother you so much. Don’t attend the carnival. There’s
plenty of work to be done here at the camp.”
“If I don’t go, who will cook the
Janeal’s stuffed cabbage leaves were known even in other
kumpanías. Her work in the kitchen was the source of
the only praise she ever received from her people.
Robert leaned against the door frame and crossed his arms. She
tried to read his expression, but when she thought she saw
annoyance there, she looked away. This conversation had not turned
out the way she planned. He cleared his throat.
“Did you bring some back for me today?”
Janeal walked away, not sure if she was more disgusted with
herself or with him.
“Tomorrow,” she said. Tomorrow she would probably
have leftovers. Katie’s booth had attracted three times as
many patrons today, and five times the cash.
After the carnival troupe returned and supper had been served,
Janeal kissed her father at the dining room table and went outside,
leaving Jason with the advisers and close companions who usually
took meals with their leader. The day had been profitable, and
there was plenty of happy discussion to cover her quick exit.
She walked every evening atop the lowest mesa, which only took
about fifteen minutes to climb. Often Robert or Katie or both of
them came with her. Not tonight, though. Tonight she slipped out
before either of them could ask her about going. Tonight she needed
to work some things out in her own mind about Robert and Katie and
her own future with this little traveling family.
A few short yards from the kitchen’s rear door, Janeal
took her favorite passage across the narrow river. She’d
traversed the series of fifteen umbrella-size boulders so many
times over the years that she could leap them in the dark without
getting wet. On the other side, she leaned her body into the angle
of the steep slope and started to climb. The air and the earth
shared the scent of fresh rain, which had passed through before
nightfall like a politician, quickly and with only enough substance
to be convincing.
She did not want to stay put in this cycle of Gypsy life,
spending summers in New Mexico and winters in California. She
despised their way of earning a living, hustling the
gajé for whatever money they would part with or
settling for blue-collar work. This attitude made her an alien in
her own community but wasn’t enough to win the favor of
outsiders, who scorned her because she was Rom.
Part Rom. She was fair enough that the average person
wouldn’t guess it, but when she went to the carnival, guilt
by association was all the average person needed to convict her.
And she resented what the others murmured about her mother, who was
indeed a wife Jason had taken from among the non-Gypsies.
But Rosa Mikkado’s mind if not her body was Rom through and
through. She had died fifteen years ago with Janeal’s other
siblings when a tornado ripped through their Kansas community.
Janeal’s foot slipped on a skittering layer of loose rock,
so she dropped to her hands until the earth stopped sliding, then
resumed her climb.
Did she fit anywhere?
At the top of the mesa, she dropped to her bottom and swung her
legs over the edge, looking down on her summer home. Interior
lanterns had turned some of the tents into evening fireflies. A few
families were building campfires outside. Someone had turned up a
radio. With the weekend festivals at an end, tomorrow the camp
would rest and play.
Maybe she’d sneak out. Drive to Santa Fe. If her little
beater could get her there and her father wouldn’t find
She heard a sound behind her. Footsteps on gravel. Had Robert
come up another way, looking for her? He knew better than to follow
if she was in one of her “moods,” as he called these
times. She resented that too --- even her contemplative nature
could be held against her in this place. She twisted her waist to
Two people she did not recognize approached her. A woman, she
thought, and a man. The sunset had faded, and one held up a
flashlight directly into her face. She threw up an arm to shield
“A friend of your father’s.”
A friend of her father’s would come to the camp to inquire
about her. Any other approach would be inappropriate. Even the
gajé knew this.
“I doubt it,” she said. She scrabbled to her knees,
debating whether she ought to bolt. Curiosity and something else
she couldn’t name held her in place. The palm of her hand
tingled where she had zapped it on the stairway banister.
The flashlight beam dropped, and the man laughed.
“You were right about her,” he said, speaking to the
woman but looking at Janeal. He handed the light to his companion
and stuck his hands into the pockets of his dark slacks. In four
long strides he put himself at the edge of the dark mesa but kept
enough distance from Janeal to hold off any inkling that he meant
It was the first time she’d ever encountered a stranger up
here, let alone one who knew her name.
From what she could see in the poor light, the man was younger
than her father but much older than she. He was nicely dressed in
belted slacks and a button-front shirt. Long-sleeved, even though
it was summer. Moonlight reflected off his shoes. A neatly trimmed
black beard matched his neatly trimmed wavy black hair. It had been
slicked back off his forehead and touched the tops of his
shoulders. She smelled a sharp-edged spice and wondered if he
styled his locks with clove oil. She wanted to touch his hair.
The desire startled her.
He was slender, handsome. Beautiful in fact, more stunning than
Robert—more delicate than rugged, more intellectual she
assumed. More powerful, or capable of commanding at the very least.
She realized she was staring.
Something glinted in his earlobes. Diamonds. She’d seen
plenty of those. Most of the men in her kumpanía wore
such jewels to the carnivals, joking they were safest there among
gajé who assumed the Gypsies were poor and their
“Do you love your father?” The man’s voice
shocked Janeal out of her musings.
“Do you love your father?”
The question was so unexpected that the easy answer escaped her.
“What does that—”
“Maybe nothing. Maybe everything.”
Janeal’s own breath sounded like wind in a tunnel to her.
“Of course I love him.”
“Does your father love you?”
Janeal frowned, mystified.
“I guess you’d have to ask him.”
“No. No, I don’t. Children know when they are
recipients of their father’s love. Are you?”
“I --- yes. What is this?”
“A verification of ---”
“Who are you?” she asked. “And why are you
He turned his eyes to hers for the first time, and she could not
hold his gaze. She didn’t believe he was angry at her, but
his eyes were like spotlights that exposed her.
Exposed what? She had nothing to hide.
“I am Salazar Sanso. And I am here because I want you to
save your father’s life.”
Alarm caused Janeal’s breath to quicken. “His life
isn’t in danger,” she said, feigning confidence.
He took his hands out of his pockets and wove them together by
the fingers. “I wasn’t sure you’d be willing to
do this thing if you did not feel he loves you.”
Sanso gestured and Janeal’s eyes followed the line of his
arm, which pointed to a shadowy hulk of a car.
“Will you allow me to show you?”
She turned back to him. She should have been terrified.
That’s what she thought at the moment she realized she was
only anxious, and perhaps curious, which sent a small thrill of
excitement through her chest. But it didn’t eclipse her
caution. She wasn’t a fool; she was a young woman in the
dusky desert with a man of unknown intentions.
“What do you need to show me that can’t be discussed
“That I am trustworthy.”
She had not expected that. A reply evaded her.
“If you come with me, and I return you unharmed in two
hours, you will doubt me less than if I preach to you and then
leave you to question my spontaneous visit.”
The strength of her desire to go with him surprised her, but she
said, “Or I could go with you and never be heard from
“You are safe, and I am telling you the truth: your
father’s life is in danger, and unless you save him from his
enemies, he will be dead by Wednesday morning. Come. Let me show
you. I will not harm the one person in the world who can help
Maybe she was a fool after all. More than that, though, she was
a daughter who would step between her father and death without
having to think about it.
And perhaps if she were forced to tell the truth, she would
acknowledge she was a daughter who would be willing to leave her
father after all.
He extended his hand out to her, beckoning, palm turned up with
the smooth skin of a man who’d never known manual labor.
Janeal slipped her fingers into his.
Excerpted from BURN © Copyright 2011 by Ted Dekker and Erin
Healy. Reprinted with permission by Thomas Nelson. All rights