This happens every summer. A tourist hikes into the desert outside Las Vegas without enough water and gets lost. Most of them die. This summer it’s an Italian, a student, twenty years old, according to the Nye County Register. Manny, the manager of the Cherry Patch Ranch, reads the story to Darla, his best girl, while they tan beside the pool in the long late 

sun. “His friend found his way back and told the ­authorities, thank God. Seven days they give this kid to live out here.” Manny checks his watch. “Well, six. Paper’s a day old.” 

“Fucking tourists,” says Darla, lifting her head from an Us Weekly. She lies facedown, topless on a beach towel laid over the sun-warped wooden picnic table she pulled next to Manny’s cracking plastic lounger. Darla has worked at the Ranch for two years, nothing to Manny’s fifteen but longer than most girls last out here, long enough to be called a veteran. She may have tits like a gymnast but she’s smart for twenty and has a round, bright face with a gap between her front teeth that makes her look five years youngera true asset in this business. Straight men eat her shit up. 

Once, she and another girl—a middle-aged woman really, who goes by Lacy—dyed their hair together, both the same shade of coppery strawberry blonde. Manny warned them it was a mistake. “Bad for business,” he said. “Men want variety.” But he marveled as the very next client to pass through the front door pointed to the two new redheads and asked, “How much for a mother-daughter party?”

Poor Lacy took one small step back—as if she just realized she was old enough to be the girl’s mother—but Darla simply slipped her fingers through Lacy’s and said, “What do you think, Mama? Four grand?”

“Put that shit away,” she says now. “You’re depressing me.”

Manny lingers on the story of the missing foreigner, then scans the other goings-on of the rednecks and dirt farmers and Jesus freaks in Sulfur. The Lady Spartans win the AAA state softball championship. Ponderosa Dairy petitions BLM for more land. He can’t be blamed for wanting some excitement around here. He puts the paper under his chair. 

Darla checks her phone and turns over on the picnic table, exposing her small stark breasts to the sun. She folds her magazine back along its spine and leans over to Manny, tapping a picture of a shirtless movie star standing in the Malibu surf, dripping wet. “I met him,” she says. “In L.A. He used to come in to Spearmint all the time. One of my girlfriends gave him a lap dance. Said he had a huge cock.”

“Girl, don’t tell me that. I’m so horny I could rape the Schwan’s man.”

“I’ll trade you,” she says, slipping her hand gingerly between her legs. “My twat is sore.” She goes back to her magazine. Manny watches the heat waves warp and wobble the mountains in the distance. Six days. Poor kid. Soon, Darla lifts her sunglasses and presses two fingers to her left breast. “Am I burning?”