Refuge (Robledo Mountain #2)
Chapter 4

Copyright© 2020 by Kraken

Standing at the terrace railing with a light breeze blowing from the north while sipping a fresh cup of coffee the next morning, I watched the gaggle head down the slope before breaking into their separate groups. Giuseppe and Sofia with their escort of three of the cousins headed off towards the site of yesterday’s ambush. Tom and Yolanda rode out to practice shooting, while Miguel and the cousins led their group of farmers across the river to begin another day of Apache training.

My mind was in a turmoil as I looked out over the wind swept, mostly brown vegetation, and arroyo strewn landscape between the river and the mountains in the distance. I was startled out of my thoughts by Anna’s hand on my arm.

“What are you thinking so hard about my love?” Anna asked with a concerned look adding,

“You looked like someone was walking over your grave!”

“I didn’t even hear you come out,” I said with a small grim smile. “I was just thinking we need to make some decisions. Things are getting out of hand and I’m tired of playing defense. Somehow, we need to start acting against the threats facing us; but before we do that, we need to talk about the immediate future.”

Still wearing the concern in her eyes, Anna grabbed my hand leading me toward one of the tables. “Well, come sit down at the table. It looks like we won’t have much wind to worry about today and I brought fresh coffee with me.” Taking my cup as I sat down, she refilled it and handed it back. “So, start talking.”

Trying to get my thoughts in order, I nodded my head and took a sip of coffee before starting. “My love, we both know that whoever is trying to kill us is based in Santa Fe. I’m very worried about taking you there as we planned. It’ll be too damn easy for whoever is behind this to take care of us there instead of here or Las Cruces where we have support.”

Anna interrupted at this point. “What you say is true, mi Pablo, but we can’t just stay here and pretend that no one is out there! They’ve already proven that they are more than willing to come after us. Sooner or later, no matter where we are, they are going to be successful. Whether it’s here, Las Cruces, El Paso, or Santa Fe will make no difference when that happens.

“I’m not willing to give up our trip to Santa Fe as we planned.” I started to respond but Anna was on a roll and refused to be interrupted. “We won’t be alone in Santa Fe despite what you think. I’ve been corresponding with my cousin in Taos and she and her husband will be meeting us in Santa Fe. You also have at least one friend there yourself. No! I will not give up going to Santa Fe for our honeymoon!” Finished with her rant, she sat back in the chair and crossed her arms, daring me to continue the argument.

From the fire in her eyes, I knew I was fighting a losing battle. All I could do was give a heavy sigh, nod my head in understanding, and pour myself more coffee.

“I already knew that’s what you were going to say my love. I can’t help worrying about it; but yes, we’re still going as planned. As I was saying, we need to do some long-term planning, though. Specifically, we need to put together our own network of people in Santa Fe, beyond Hiram Greenburg, to help us find out who is after us. In all my trips to Santa Fe, I’ve never stayed more than a few hours because I was too worried about giving someone the opportunity to follow me or set up an ambush. That’s going to change with our honeymoon. If we can get the right group of people, and if we get lucky, then maybe we can get some information on whoever it is behind these attacks; but it’s going to take work, time, and a lot of luck.”

Anna was visibly pleased by my response, and her body language had relaxed the more I talked. “Why will it take luck? We just need to tell a few people what’s going on and ask them to ask around. It may take time, but eventually we’ll get an answer.”

I shook my head. “Anna, whoever is behind this is very smart, well organized, and has resources beyond our understanding. It’s going to take a lot more than just asking some people to get us some information. On top of all that there are over 5,000 people living in Santa Fe not to mention all those living on small farms and ranches within a day’s ride. How many more people travel through Santa Fe every week on the Santa Fe Trail or on the Camino Real? Most of the people who’ve come after me and us don’t appear to even live in Santa Fe.

“As if that’s not enough to worry about, we have to be careful who we get information from. We have to trust them to give us the correct information and not some rumor or, worse, outright false information. Acting on rumor will simply use up our valuable resources with nothing to show for it, while acting on false information could mean our riding into a trap.”

“I’m a little confused,” Anna said as I stopped to sip my coffee. “What do you mean by resources? You said we have more than enough money. Why would we need money for this?”

“I wasn’t talking about money, in this case. What I meant was people. Our people. The people here on the Estancia, both those who work for us and our family as well as our friends and family in Las Cruces. While there are going to be a lot of people here on the Estancia, there won’t be an infinite supply. There is a minimum number that will need to remain here to do the work that needs to be done.

“We will run out of people quickly if we send those we have available off on wild goose chases based on nothing more than rumor. And before you ask, yes, we could very well end up spending money to make this work.

“If nothing else, we’ll need to pay people to bring the information from Santa Fe to us even if it’s nothing more than paying your grandfather’s drivers to carry letters from our informers. Depending on what we find during our visit to Santa Fe, we may end up giving someone we trust the money to buy a business like a saloon, cantina, barbershop, or something similar.

“The kind of business where people congregate and talk in unguarded moments. Depending on how much we trust them they may also act as a clearing house for all the others that are getting us information in Santa Fe.”

“Okay, I understand most of that, although I never really thought it could get as complicated as what you’re saying. But, clearing house? That’s a new term to me. You have to explain what you mean by that, please.”

“It just means a central place where everything is collected, sorted, consolidated, evaluated, passed on, or stored. I’m thinking that we’re going to need at least two if not three clearing houses. Before you ask, we’re going to have to set up the same kind of network in Mesilla when we get back.

“What we know right now is that ‘the Boss’ is in Santa Fe. He not only sends people after us directly he also sends orders to someone in Mesilla who puts teams together to come after us so we’re going to need a clearing house in Mesilla at a minimum. Well, there and here in the room across from the armory.

“We’ll take the information we get from both Santa Fe and Mesilla and combine it here, so we can evaluate the people involved, the threats, develop better defensive plans and, hopefully, an offensive strategy to attack and nullify the threats in both Mesilla and Santa Fe.”

Anna sat deep in thought for several minutes after I’d finished my explanation. With a shake of her head in frustration she said, “The way you explained it makes sense, Pablo, but it seems to be a lot of work in a lot of places. I guess I understand what you say about Santa Fe. It is a big place and it’s so far away, but Mesilla is only half the size and less than a day’s ride from here. Surely it won’t be difficult to get information from there. I’m kind of surprised you haven’t tried there already. Are you sure it’s really all that complicated?”

Now it was my turn to be frustrated. I finished the fresh cup of coffee I’d just poured myself, to give myself time to overcome the frustration before answering her.

“Anna, there are almost 3,000 people living in Mesilla. That doesn’t count all those living within a day’s ride, nor those traveling through there on the Camino Real in both directions, not to mention the stagecoach passengers going east and west from and to California. The fact that Mesilla is closer makes it that much more dangerous to go anywhere near there.

None of your family or the others in Las Cruces that we are friends with, have any family or close friends in Mesilla; nor, with the exception of Jorge and perhaps Juan, do any of them have a reason to go to Mesilla. The minute one of us turns up in Mesilla, the very people we want information on will know that we are there looking for them. Not only will we be in danger but anyone we talk to will be, also. We need a reason to be there. A real reason, or we put everyone we talk to in danger. I’m still trying to come up with something, but for the moment we’ll start our efforts in Santa Fe.”

Further discussion was interrupted by Celia.

“Perdone, patron, lunch will be ready in a few minutes. Giuseppe and his wife haven’t returned yet. Should we hold off serving until they return?”

Being addressed as patron momentarily threw me, but Anna answered for me. “Let’s wait a half hour for them to get back, please, Celia. If they’re not back by then we’ll save them some for when they do return.” Celia nodded her understanding but before she could enter the house Anna called her back. “Please take the coffee service back with you. We’re done with it for now.”

Once Celia had removed the service and left for the kitchen, Anna turned to me and resumed our conversation. “I need to think about everything we’ve talked about this morning. It’s going to take me a while to fully understand what you said, and the implications to the Estancia as well as my friends and family in Las Cruces.”

While she was talking, she motioned for me to get up. Taking my hand, she led me over to the railing where we’d started our conversation earlier this morning. Looking north she pointed at a group of riders in the distance. “It looks like Giuseppe, Sofia, and the three cousins should be here in less than fifteen minutes. Was there anything else we need to talk about before they get here?”

Pulling her into a hug I replied, “There’s lots of things I want to talk about, the most important of which is security on the Estancia; but we should include everyone else in that, as well as everything I think we need to start making plans about. For the time being our discussion about information gathering should be just between the two of us. There’s no reason to give any of them, or the folks in Las Cruces, a reason to try something while we’re on our trip and get themselves in trouble.”

Over lunch we talked about the raid. The consensus was that it was unusually early in the year for the Navajo to start raiding this far south. It was clear to me that between the mysterious “Boss” in Santa Fe, and the raids from the various tribes, we needed to start taking security much more seriously. The sooner we had everyone through the initial training the better.

“How’s training the farmers going?” I asked in the general direction of Miguel and Maco.

“Well, they’re never going to be Apaches, but they’re doing pretty well considering they’re farmers not warriors,” Miguel replied laconically.

I laughed and asked, “Have any of the other cousins committed to the Estancia?”

“Besides Maco and me there are seven others who’ve committed to staying,” Miguel replied after swallowing. “I think most of the rest will end up staying, though. It’s just going to take a little time for them to reach a decision.”

I looked over at Anna. A slight shiver went up my spine as I realized her eyes were telling me she understood where I was going to go next and agreed with me. Her approval was strengthened by a small squeeze of my hand.

“If you don’t have anything pressing that needs to be done today, I’d like for everyone here to spend the rest of day with me and Anna to discuss various topics. Chief among those, are various types of training and assignments,” I said looking around at the table.

Everyone agreed to stay, so I suggested we reconvene on the terrace. Anna immediately went to the kitchen to arrange for coffee for the afternoon, while everyone else left the dining room for the terrace. I stopped in the study, closing and barring the door behind me. I quickly moved through the cave and dumped a box of ‘signaling mirrors’ into a burlap bag, before closing everything up and joining Anna as she walked up to the terrace.

Once everyone was settled in with coffee, I began. “It should be obvious to everyone by now, that security is going to be an issue for all of us on the Estancia from this point forward. Between the attacks from Santa Fe, the raiding parties from the various tribes, and any others who will want to try and take what we are building we are facing some serious threats.”

Those at the table all gave serious nods of agreement.

“Miguel, I’d like to make you responsible for Estancia security. To start with, I think the uncommitted cousins should take on the task of providing two guards around the clock on the boulder trail on the upper plateau as well as two guards on the horses up there.” Seeing him nod with a grin I continued. “I want you to form the committed cousins up in two-man teams before tomorrow morning. Tomorrow morning after breakfast, we’ll start training the nine of you with our weapons. Once you complete the training, we’ll give you all weapons of your own. In the meantime, have some of the uncommitted cousins continue training the farmers.”

“You will give everyone who commits to the Estancia weapons like you and the others use?” Miguel asked incredulously.

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