Retreat (Robledo Mountain #3)
Copyright© 2020 by Kraken
My head was pounding!
Somehow, around the pain, I thought, ‘After seventy-some years, you’d think I’d remember to never mix distilled and fermented alcohol!’
I may have looked twenty years old, but I was well over seventy. Getting sent back over 160 years in time was bad enough. Throw in losing everyone and everything I knew, and it was even tougher. Losing fifty years off my apparent age paled in comparison; but it was rough, too. Well, losing the years, both in time and age, had its good points; but still, until I’d adjusted to the reality of it, I thought I was either going or already was, bat shit crazy.
Of course, hearing the voice of my dead wife whispering in my left ear at odd times, just reinforced the thought that I was experiencing a psychotic breakdown.
Eventually though, with the help of friends I made over the next few years, I’d come to adjust to my situation. My new reality. I think it was Anna, my lovely Anna, that finally grounded me to the point where I could accept my new reality.
We’d been married for almost a year. When I had the time to think about it, I still found it hard to believe that I’d found Anna. Okay, so Las Cruces isn’t exactly Casablanca but with just a little modification, the line about, ‘all the gin joints in all the world’, would apply to me meeting Anna. I’d probably never have noticed or entered that restaurant if it hadn’t been for meeting her grandfather a couple of times over the previous few months.
Thinking of Anna, I opened my eyes, only to immediately shut them again as the pain in my head flared. The glare of light from the sun as it peeked over the Doña Ana Mountains streaming through the French doors, was tough to take with a hangover. When I thought I had a handle on the pain, I squinted my eyes open as I turned my head.
Anna’s head was on my shoulder, her twinkling eyes were wide open and looking at me with a smile on her face.
“Good morning, mi Pablo,” she said softly. “You don’t look well.”
“I don’t feel well,” I grumbled in reply. “I don’t think we’ll be leaving for Las Cruces this morning my love. I’m sorry, but if this headache didn’t kill me the ride would.”
Anna gave a small giggle. “That’s okay Pablo. From what I saw of George and the others last night, I don’t think any of you will be able to make the ride, today.”
Anna was right. All the men in the Hacienda were too hungover to do much of anything. Aspirin and copious amounts of liquid to rehydrate were great at helping us recover from hangovers, but they’re not an antidote.
My cousin, George Pickett and I managed to recover from the celebration enough to ride to Las Cruces the next day. We arrived in the early afternoon, with Anna and I each leading three mules. George left us almost immediately. He had six more miles to go to get to Fort Fillmore and report back in from his leave.
At supper, Anna’s great grandfather, Mr. Garcia, asked if the invitation for him to spend time at the Hacienda was still open. Anna was quick to assure him it was a standing invitation, and he would be welcome any time he showed up, for as long as he cared to stay. Yolanda and Tom were there as were all the cousins, so he would be more than welcome, even if we weren’t there.
Mr. Garcia thanked us, and the conversation turned to other subjects. After supper, Anna, handed me my guitar and asked me to sing, as she wouldn’t get to hear it for a while. I thought for a minute and played “Till the Rivers All Run Dry” followed by “Tumbling Tumbleweeds”. The rest of the evening I played whatever the family requested, finally closing with “Anna’s Song”.
As we were going over to the house, Mr. Garcia told Yolanda’s father that he would take him up on the offer of a ride to the Hacienda in the morning. Anna beamed me a smile on hearing that, whispering to me that it would do him a lot of good to be around all the kids. We spent the night with the Mendoza clan enjoying soft beds and clean sheets knowing we wouldn’t have those luxuries for a few months.
The next morning, we said our goodbyes and rode out to Mesilla, for a quick stop to check in with my Deputy Marshals, Esteban and Ed, as well as say goodbye to George.
The visit with Esteban and Ed was disturbing, to say the least. Apparently, the Comancheros we’d killed on our raid a few months earlier were part of a larger group and had been awaiting the return of their leader and the rest. The leader had taken a large number of captives and goods east to the Comancheria, to sell to the Comanche.
The gossip being spread around the cantinas and bars was that the leader had been livid on his return to the camp and finding all his men dead, and the rest of the captives, as well as the loot, gone. While no one knew his name, he was described as a big man with a flat nose, which had been smashed and broken sometime in the past.
Everyone who’d seen him agreed that he most closely resembled an angry bear, both in build and disposition. He had publicly vowed vengeance on Esteban, Ed, and me during his last saloon appearance a few days ago, before disappearing into the desert.
So far there hadn’t been any reports of raids on ranches or farms in the area, but they were keeping their ears open. I told Esteban to write up a report and send it to the Judge, asking for any information he might have.
Anna and I debated putting off the trip until we’d tracked down the group of Comancheros but eventually decided to continue as planned. I wrote Tom a brief note explaining the situation, telling him to put the cousins on alert to this new threat. I gave Ed the note and asked him to take it to Juan for delivery to the Hacienda with the next delivery of building supplies. I also asked Ed to stop by the Mendozas and let them know about the threat as well.
We said our goodbyes to George outside Fort Fillmore and reminded him that even though we’d be gone for a few months, the invitation to visit the Hacienda remained open.
Anna and I led our mules west from Fort Fillmore, finally beginning our long-anticipated trip. I was worried about the Comancheros and Anna picked up on my worry. We were hypervigilant on the first portion of the trip not only while we were riding but at night as well, getting up numerous times each night to check the surrounding area.
We rode into Hurley, our first planned stop, exhausted and ready for a break. We spent a somewhat more relaxed two days in Hurley, ‘showing the badge’ after introducing ourselves to the Sheriff and Mayor.
The hotel was barely habitable and only contributed to my sense of unease. I was continuously on edge and, for the first time since we’d been married, I found myself snapping at Anna. When I realized what I was doing, I gave her a big hug and apologized to her.
For some reason, I couldn’t get my mind off the leader of the Comancheros, and his vow to get even with me. There was no telling what he would do, and it gnawed at me relentlessly. Anna did her best to comfort me, but I was worried. I was worried like I hadn’t been worried since coming to this timeline. I had a bad feeling, a premonition, that both Anna and I were going to regret not delaying the trip.
The third morning after arriving in Hurley, we packed up and rode the short distance to Fort McLane. We introduced ourselves to the Fort Commander using the letter of introduction Colonel Miles had written for us. He was indifferent to my status as US Marshal but was extremely interested in me as the owner of the Estancia Dos Santos, and our ability to regularly supply him with beef at an acceptable price.
Anna eventually negotiated a price of seven dollars and seventy-five cents a head for a contract that in every other respect was the same as those we’d signed with Fort Fillmore, and Fort Thorn. The Indian Agent for this area was on a trip to El Paso, though, and wouldn’t be back for some time
I let Tom know the terms of the contract in a letter I sent from the fort, as well as instructions to have Hector contact the Indian Agent when he made his first delivery, to see about selling him some beef.
Visitor accommodations at the fort looked to be even worse than the hotel in Hurley, so we decided to leave on the next leg of our trip, instead of spending the night at the fort.
We stuck to our tried and true method of paralleling the road, staying a half-mile off the road to attract less attention. The further west we rode the more relaxed I became until it was almost as much fun as the honeymoon trip up to Santa Fe.
There was still a small part of me that worried about the situation back home, but the distance and our lack of ability to influence the outcome lessened my worry with each mile west we rode.
We knew that Apache, Yaqui, and Navajo raiding parties frequently crossed this area at all times of the year, looking for targets of opportunity, so we rode carefully and were ever watchful. This was the kind of tension we were used to though, and it caused no undue stress. During this part of the trip, we passed two different slow-moving trains of freight wagons, hauling goods west, as well as a large wagon train of settlers headed for California.
Sonoita proved to be a town in name only. It was really nothing more than a handful of adobe buildings, centered around a general store. There was no government of any kind. After a quick lunch at the only cantina, we left for the three-mile ride to Fort Buchanan.
The Fort Commander gave us a cordial greeting after discovering who we were, and why we were there. We spent two hours learning the fort was established primarily to stop the cross-border raiding activity of the Apache and Yaqui Indians. The Major in charge of the Fort told us that he patrolled the wagon road as often as he could, but the bulk of his forces patrolled the border area. According to him, Sonoita and the Fort were so far off the beaten path that they had very few visitors or settlers in the area. There were so few visitors in fact, that the fort did not even have any visitor’s quarters. I crossed both Sonoita and the Fort off the list as a regular stop on the circuit.
Early the next afternoon, we were a little over half-way to Tucson, the next stop on our circuit when we decided to stop for a late lunch. I’d just taken a bite of my ham sandwich when I noticed a brown mass on the western horizon, stretching from side to side as far as the eye could see. Before I’d finished the mouthful of sandwich I was chewing, I knew we were in for a big sandstorm. I cursed under my breath, but Anna heard it and looked at me crossly.
I pointed behind her. “Sorry, but we’re in for a sandstorm, my love, and a big one at that. We need to move quickly.”
Sandwiches in hand, we mounted and rode northwest looking for a suitable arroyo or canyon to help us ride out the sandstorm. This wasn’t the Mesilla Valley with its abundance of arroyos and canyons and finding one was difficult.
We got lucky and came across an arroyo running north and south. It took us a couple of minutes to find a way down to the bottom and another few minutes to find a curve to better shelter us and the animals.
Using the panniers, packs, and saddles we built a hollow square, big enough for both of us to fit inside against the western wall. I hobbled and tied the horses and mules to some strong mesquite against the eastern wall before wrapping all their heads in canvas. Finished with the animals I went back over to the western wall and helped Anna unfold our large piece of canvas.
Working together we slid one end of the canvas down between the wall of the arroyo and the pack frames we’d stacked up against it. When it was far enough down, I lifted each of the two stacks of pack frames while Anna pulled about six inches of the canvas under them, before I set them back down.
The wind had picked up by now, as the leading edge of the sandstorm hit the arroyo and we hurried to tuck the sides of the canvas under the panniers on both sides. Done with that, we scurried under the canvas and I lifted the saddles while kneeling so that Anna could pull the final ends of canvas under them.
Anna and I sat at the back of our little refuge against the wall of the arroyo between the pack frames. Anna dug through her saddlebags to find the cotton cloth squares we’d packed, while I pulled one of the small water barrels over near us and used it to start refilling all four of our camel packs. When I was done with that, Anna handed me the cloth, receiving her two camel packs in exchange.
We dampened the cloths before tying them behind our necks, making a face mask. We could hear the wind howling around us, see the canvas shaking, and hear it flapping violently. A few minutes later we lost most of the daylight as the brown roiling haze of the sandstorm raged over us.
For the next two days, we sat and waited for the storm to blow itself out. After the first couple of hours, a coating of fine sand covered our hair, clothes, the packs, and saddles. Despite our face masks, the dust managed to get into our noses and mouth and, over time, irritated our throats making it uncomfortable and difficult to talk. Luckily, it wasn’t summer! While the air under the canvas was stifling, we weren’t sweating to death in one hundred plus degree temperatures.
The first twenty-four hours we talked for a few hours before having a supper of beef jerky I carried in a bag inside my coat, so it wasn’t covered in sand. We slept uneasily through the night and had a breakfast of more beef jerky while we talked some more about the future, our plans, what could go wrong, and what backup plans we needed to come up with.
The final twenty-four hours were maddening, as three different times the wind started to die down and we got more light leading us to believe the storm was about over, only to have it come roaring back. We held each other and waited silently for the last few hours.
We must have dozed off in our boredom as I woke up a few hours later with Anna’s head on my shoulder. It took me a few minutes to realize that everything was quiet and calm, and a few moments more to realize that meant the storm was over.
Gently waking Anna, I let her know the storm was over, and we needed to get out from under the canvas. As quickly as I could shift the saddles and lift the canvas, we were out from underneath it and breathing clean, clear, refreshing air.
The horses and mules seemed to have weathered the storm without much harm, and we gently unwrapped their heads one at a time, swabbing out their nostrils with our damp cloths, giving them small drinks and arranging feed bags.
It was almost dark by this time, and we spent what little daylight we had left finding firewood and pulling out what we needed to cook our first hot meal since breakfast three days ago. The last thing we did before going to bed was strip down to get out of our sand-laden clothes. We washed both ourselves, and our clothes, the best we could, using almost all of a full three-gallon cask of water.
We finally rode out of the arroyo the next morning, pushing the animals hard, to get to Tucson as early the next day as we could. We were both looking forward with anticipation to a nice hot bath.
We rode into Tucson near mid-morning and found it to be somewhere between Santa Fe and Mesilla in size. Asking a couple of men, we received directions to the best hotel in town and tied up in front of it a few minutes later. We checked into a room for two nights. Discovering the hotel only had one tub, I had it sent up for Anna to use while I arranged for the care and feeding of the livestock and went to the barbershop for my bath.
I came out of the barbershop an hour later clean, freshly sheared, wearing fresh clothes; looking, and feeling, much better. Anna was waiting in the hotel lobby looking like she was feeling better after her bath, too. She pinned my badge on the outside of my coat and we went in search of the best place for lunch.
We were sitting in the restaurant enjoying a leisurely cup of coffee when the Town Marshal walked in, looked around, and came over to our table. He took in my badge and without introducing himself, rudely informed me that it was customary for visiting lawmen to come to his office and introduce themselves when they got to town.
I sat back in my chair and, as I looked him up and down, I couldn’t help but wonder what it was about people that made them act like assholes when they had a little bit of power. I looked over at Anna who, with a twinkle in her eye, beamed me one of her special smiles. Picking up my coffee cup, I took a drink, wiping my mouth afterward with a napkin before asking him who he was.
My actions up to this point didn’t sit well with him and he answered tersely, “I’m the Town Marshal!”
“Well, now! That’s, sure enough, a rather strange name to my way of thinking, but I guess you can’t be held accountable for what your parents named you. What can I do for you, Mr. Marshal?”
“No damn it! My name’s not Marshal, I’m the Town Marshal,” he replied in exasperation.
“Well, why didn’t you say so? I’m Paul McAllister and this is my wife Anna. I’m the US Marshal for this part of the territory. What can I do for you?”
“Damn it, man! Are you deaf as well as stupid? I asked you why you didn’t come to my office and introduce yourself when you got into town?”
I was starting to get just a little angry by this point, and looking at him with a glare I said, “That’s the second time you’ve cussed in front of a lady. Apologize immediately and mind your tongue, or Tucson will be looking for a new Marshal this afternoon!”
The Marshal got red in the face as he lost all self-control and started to draw his pistol. Both mine and Anna’s pistols were out and pointed at him in a flash.
He calmed down immediately and moved his hand away from his holster. For effect, I cocked the pistol. “I’m still waiting to hear the apology.”
Looking from me to Anna, who cocked her pistol with a grim look on her face, the Marshal eventually stuttered out his apology to Anna. We both let the hammers down and holstered our pistols.
Taking a drink of coffee, I looked at the Marshal who remained standing in front of our table. With a sigh, I addressed the Marshal, “I don’t know who you think you are, or what powers you think you have, but let me make a few things clear. I don’t know you, I don’t even know your name since you haven’t had the manners to introduce yourself. I don’t work for you, and I’m not responsible to you. Where I go, when I go, and who I see; are absolutely none of your business, unless I choose to make it so.
“My wife and I have spent the last few weeks in the saddle, and two of the last three days hunkered down in a sandstorm, so we’re a little out of sorts. Neither of us appreciates your rude interruption as we’re relaxing for the first time since we started this journey. We may or may not see you before we leave town.
“Rest assured, however, that either I or one of my Deputies, will be in town for some time at least twice per year. When is none of your business. I strongly suggest you show yourself to the door with the clear knowledge that you’re still alive, only because you’re so slow with your gun that even my wife beat you to the draw.”
Ignoring the Marshal from that point on, I turned to Anna and asked her if she’d like another cup of coffee. At her nod, I poured us both a fresh cup. The Marshal finally turned and left as I was pouring.
Anna looked at me and said, “I don’t think we’ve seen the last of him.”
“You’re probably right; but people like that, in positions of authority, just get my dander up,” I replied.
Drinking our coffee in contemplative silence for a few minutes before Anna spoke up. “That Marshal reminds me of somebody, but I don’t know who.”
I shrugged and said it would come to her eventually. We finished our coffee and walked back to the hotel and asked the man behind the counter where we could find the Mayor. He took in my badge and politely told us that the Mayor ran the livery stable at the southern edge of town.
We walked back to the hotel stables to get our horses only to find the Marshal rifling through our panniers. We stopped ten feet behind him, I drew my revolver, looked at Anna, and cocked it. The sound reverberated throughout the stable and the Marshal went completely still.
“Marshal no name, please tell me why you’re pawing through our panniers without our permission,” I said in as reasonable a voice as possible.
“I’m looking for stolen valuables. I don’t like the look of you, and I don’t think you’re a US Marshal,” he replied belligerently.
I cocked an eyebrow at Anna who just shrugged. I looked back at the still bent over Marshal before saying, “Stand up slowly, with your hands visible.”
He did as I instructed and as he turned towards us, I heard a small gasp from Anna. I glanced over at her getting a look that said we needed to talk in return.
“Marshal, this is a territory of the United States. The 4th Amendment to the Constitution prohibits unreasonable search and seizure. That means that unless you have a search warrant, you are in violation of federal law, and I’m well within my rights to shoot you for attempted theft. This is the second time you’ve made me angry today. There won’t be a next time. Have I made myself clear?”
He started to reply but stopped when Anna broke in. “Pablo, the excitement from the restaurant and now this is getting to me. Please take me back to the room to rest for a while.”
Now that was interesting. She clearly wanted to talk to me as soon as possible. I motioned with my gun for the Marshal to leave the stables. He left without a word, and I tied the covers on all the panniers making sure they were tight before turning to Anna, taking her arm, and leading her back over to our room in the hotel.
No sooner were we inside and the door closed, than Anna asked me for the stack of wanted posters, descriptions, and warrants I’d gotten before we left Mesilla. Digging them out of my saddlebag, I handed them to her, curious to see if she would find something of interest.
She spent a few minutes looking through them before pulling a poster and warrant out of the pile and handing them to me. I looked down to see a picture of the Marshal we’d just been talking to.
His name was Fred Atchison. He was reportedly part of the Red River Gang and was wanted for robbing the Overland Stagecoach near Las Vegas, killing both the driver and guard. I looked up at Anna and she handed me three more wanted posters, one for each of the Red River Gang.
The leader of the gang was Mike ‘Two Hands’ Stubben. His nickname apparently stemming from the fact that he was completely ambidextrous and wore two guns. There were no pictures for the other two gang members, and the descriptions were generic which didn’t help us much. I looked up from the papers and found Anna throwing her shawl on over the shotgun sling she’d just finished putting on.
I raised an eyebrow at her and in a tart tone she said, “If you think you’re going up against four of them by yourself you have another thought coming.”
Putting on my shotgun sling, I wondered if I’d ever win an argument with her.
Checking that our shotguns were loaded, we walked downstairs and got directions to the Marshal’s office. We crossed the street and walked arm in arm down the sidewalk.
Just before we got to the Marshal’s office, I had Anna check for a back door and if there was one to see if it was locked. She returned less than a minute later telling me there was a back door, but it was locked. We walked into the office and found a young Deputy sitting at a desk, reading an old newspaper. He looked up and seeing my star introduced himself and asked how he could help us.
“We’re looking for the Marshal,” I replied.
“You just missed him,” came his reply. “The Marshal went over to the Mayor’s office just a few minutes ago.”
Out of curiosity, I asked, “How long have you been the Deputy?”
Giving a deep belly laugh he replied, “This is my third year as a winter Deputy. Normally, I’m a cowhand, but I prefer to spend my winters in town.”
I asked the same question about the Marshal, and the Deputy told us that the Marshal had taken the job about six months earlier when the old Mayor and Marshal had been killed walking down the street one evening after a late poker game.
He also told us that both the Mayor and Marshal had just been reelected before they were killed. No one in town wanted either job, so the new Mayor agreed to take the position and had appointed his friend the new Marshal.
Without coming right out and saying so it was clear from the Deputy’s tone of voice and body language that he didn’t much care for either the Mayor or the Marshal. I asked him for directions to the Mayor’s office and again he laughed before pointing out the window to a small adobe building across the street.
“That used to be a storehouse, and since it only has the one door, I’m certain both the Mayor and Marshal are still inside,” he said helpfully.
I thanked him and told him I’d see him a little later.
On our way across the street, I told Anna to enter behind me and move at least two steps to the left with her shotgun ready. She nodded and reached down to grip her shotgun. I stopped in front of the door, pulled my shotgun around holding it by the stock with my finger on the trigger, and at Anna’s nod I opened the door and entered.
The ‘Mayor’ was sitting at a desk talking to the ‘Marshal’, who was standing on the right side of the desk looking at a small ledger lying open on the desk in front of the ‘Mayor’. The ‘Mayor’ looked up, saw me entering the door with my shotgun ready, and reached over to a pistol lying beside the ledger.
He cocked it as he was raising it towards me and, without hesitation, I fired the shotgun in his direction. In the small confines of the office, the blast was deafening. The ‘Mayor’ was thrown against the back wall before falling to the floor.
Less than half a second later, I heard Anna’s 20-gauge shotgun go off, and watched as the ‘Marshal’ joined his friend on the floor against the back wall. At least this time he’d managed to get his pistol out of his holster!
I took Anna in a big hug. “Are you alright?
“I’m fine,” she replied, hugging me tightly before pulling back. “What’s next?”
“I have no clue,” I said. “I’m just making it up as I go along.” After a few seconds of thought, I said, “Wait here and don’t let anyone in until I get back with the Deputy.”
At her nod, I opened the door to walk out and found the Deputy crossing the street towards me at a trot. I waved him inside and he paled slightly at the sight of the ‘Mayor’ and ‘Marshal’ lying along the back wall.
Pulling out the wanted posters and warrants from my coat pocket I handed him the two for Mike ‘Two Hands’ Stubben and Fred Atchison. He read them both, looked at the two bodies, shook his head, and handed the papers back to me.
“That explains the rash of stagecoach holdups over the last six months,” he said shaking his head.
“Has anyone matching these descriptions been close to either the ‘Mayor’ or ‘Marshal’?” I asked as I handed him the papers on the other two members of the gang.
He read them quickly, thought for a second, and then shook his head saying, “Neither of them had any close acquaintances in town that I’m aware of.” After another moment of thought, he added, “When they first arrived in town, there were four of them; but the other two left town for California after the first week, or so they said.”
While the Deputy and I had been talking Anna had been looking through the ledger.
She looked up and interrupted us. “This ledger is broken into two parts. The first part shows a list of deposits and withdrawals from a bank in Santa Fe. The current balance is over $35,000. It also gives two names and the address of a boarding house in San Francisco. The other part of the ledger lists deposits and withdrawals for the livery stable, with a current balance of $18,000.”
The Deputy’s eyes nearly bulged out of his head at the numbers Anna gave. In 1855 that amount of money would allow him to retire at his young age, and never have to work a day in his life again if he was careful.
“Please make arrangements for the bodies with the undertaker,” I instructed the Deputy. “The weapons these two have should cover the cost of burial.”
He nodded and left while I searched the two bodies. Between them, they had just under twenty dollars, which I gave to Anna telling her, tongue in cheek, that it would cover the cost of our ammunition. We left the office and went to the bank to discuss the account shown in the ledger.
The bank president took in my badge and greeted us cordially after I introduced us. When he asked us how he could help us Anna handed me the ledger.
I said, “I need the answers to some questions. Is the account in the ledger still open? If so, is the current balance in the ledger accurate, if not, what’s the current balance? Does the ‘Mayor’ have any other accounts open under any other names?”
“I’ll have to check,” was the unexpected response. The town wasn’t so large to have many large depositors, and this was a very large account.
He started to move to the tellers’ area when I stopped him. “I also need the balances of any accounts the ‘Marshal’ has open as well.”
He nodded, clearly curious but also clearly intimidated by the badge, not asking any questions. When he came back, he said, “The balances in the ledger are accurate, neither man has more than one account, and the balance in the ‘Marshal’s’ account is just under forty dollars.”
“Do you know when the last stage holdup was?” I asked after a few moments of hard thinking.
“It was eight days ago. The robbers got away with almost $4,000 in the strongbox,” was his immediate reply.
“Hmmm,” I said while thinking furiously. “I need to see the detailed account information for both men, immediately.”
The Banker stiffened as he said, “I can’t do that without their permission.”
“That’s going to be a little difficult since they’re both dead,” I replied with a glare.
That news shocked him, but again he surprised me. “I still can’t give you that information.”
I looked at Anna shaking my head in disgust before looking back at the banker. “The ‘Mayor’, and ‘Marshal’s’ real names were Mike ‘Two Hands’ Stubben and Fred Atchison, leaders of the Red River Gang up near Las Vegas.”
I took the papers on both men out of my coat pocket and handed him the wanted posters. Now he was convinced but still refused to show me the account information. I sighed heavily and handed him the two warrants which included a statement authorizing review and seizure of all bank accounts.
As he was reading the warrants I said, “You can either give me immediate access, or I’ll put you in jail for ‘obstruction of justice’, and you can wait until transport to Santa Fe is arranged. Once in Santa Fe, you can explain your obstruction to the Federal Judge.”
His face lost all color, and he gulped before handing me back the warrants and leaving to get the account information.
Anna beamed one of her smiles my way. “I’ve never seen so many contrary people in one place in all my life.”
“Confiscation of the funds in these accounts is going to hurt the bank,” I explained. “He was just trying to delay the inevitable.”
He came back with the information I’d asked for regarding both accounts and handed it to me. I compared the activity recorded in the mayor’s ledger with what had been provided by the banker and when I was sure it matched, I asked where the Overland Stage Office was as that was our next stop.
“It’s two doors down on this side of the street,” the banker replied helpfully.
Standing up, I said, “We’ll be back when we’re done with the stage company manager.”
Anna followed me out of the bank curious at what I was going to do at the stage office. We walked into the stage office and, after confirming the man behind the counter was the manager, I introduced Anna and myself.
“Now that you know who I am what can you tell me about the holdups your stage company has experienced over the last six months?”
The manager answered my questions readily. “The stage has been held up five times in the last six months. Every holdup was within twenty miles of Tucson and was done by the same two men wearing black clothes and bandanas. In every case, at least one person, the shotgun rider, was killed. The total amount taken from all five robberies is $14,500.”
“I see,” I said thoughtfully. “What was the date of each robbery and what was the total amount taken in each robbery?”
He checked a diary and his account ledgers, before writing down the dates. I handed them to Anna asking her to check the dates against the ledger and see if she could determine if there was a pattern.
While she was doing that, the manager was looking back through the records and adding up the amounts. He handed me another piece of paper with the amount stolen during each robbery. After a quick look, I handed it to Anna as well.
After a few minutes, Anna said she was done. “There were deposits made ten days after each of the first four robberies.”
“How much was each deposit?” I asked.
She read off the amounts of each deposit and I compared the number she gave me to the amounts stolen. In every case, the amount deposited appeared to have been rounded up or down to the nearest twenty-five dollars.
“Well, that pretty much solves the robberies,” I said after giving them the results. I looked at the manager. “I need you to come to the bank with us please.”
He closed up the office and we all walked back to the bank, where we went directly to the bank president’s office. I asked to borrow his desk, his pen, and three pieces of paper. He waved me to his chair and after sitting down I wrote out the same set of instructions three times numbering each piece of paper sequentially as ‘1 of 3’, ‘2 of 3’, and ‘3 of 3’.
When I was done, I handed the three pieces of paper to the bank president and told him to read all three and after confirming they were exactly the same to sign all three. When he was done, I gave the same instructions to the stage manager who had a big smile on his face after reading the first paper. When he had signed all three, I signed them as well and kept the first copy giving each man one copy for their own records. I handed my copy to Anna and asked her to keep it with the ledger.
The paper instructed the bank to transfer $14,500 from the ‘Mayor’s’ account to the Overland Stage Company account. The remaining funds were to be added to the funds from the ‘Marshal’s’ account and a Bank Draft issued to the Judge in Santa Fe and given to me to deliver to him.
When he’d verified the transfer, the stage manager left, and I told the banker we’d wait while he prepared the Bank Draft. While he was doing that, I wrote out two copies of a receipt for the Bank Draft, numbering both as I had the instructions, and signed them. I gave him the second copy when he gave me the Bank Draft.
Before we left, I asked, “Did the ‘Mayor’ own the livery stable and his home?”
The banker shook his head. “The bank owns both and rented them to the ‘Mayor’. The house is part of the stable complex.”
I sarcastically thanked the banker for his help and we left.
Anna took my arm as we walked. When we passed the hotel she asked, “Where are we going?”
“To search the ‘Mayor’s’ house and stables if necessary,” I absently responded. “There’s still the money from the last robbery that hasn’t been deposited yet.”
Anna gave my arm a squeeze. “You know, cousin George was right.” I looked at her questioningly. “It’s never dull around us.”
I had to laugh and agree with her.
We found the stables strangely quiet with seven horses in stalls, no animals in the corrals, and no mules anywhere. We eventually found an older man leaned back in a rocker with his feet up on the desk, fast asleep. He woke up with a startled exclamation, almost tipping over backward in the rocker, at the sudden noise, as I loudly cleared my throat from the doorway.
When he righted himself, I introduced us both and asked him about the horses in the stable. He proved to be quite loquacious. Over the next five minutes, we learned that one horse belonged to the ‘Mayor’, one belonged to the ‘Marshal’, the other five horses were rentals, although nobody had ever rented them.
The stable had had no business in the last four months, as the prices had been set too high, and the only time the ‘Mayor’ was in the stables was to saddle his horse or give him his monthly pay. He wasn’t too surprised when I told him the ‘Mayor’ was dead and suggested he close up for the day and go see the banker to find out about his job and his pay.
He nodded and quickly left after walking out with us. Once he was gone, we made our way to the small house sitting off to the side and walked in the front door when no one answered my knock. There were three rooms in the house, a front parlor, a combination kitchen dining room, and a bedroom.
I started the search in the bedroom, looking under the mattress, under the bed, through the dresser, and in the small closet. When we didn’t find anything there, we went through the kitchen and then the parlor finding nothing.
I walked back to the kitchen door and looked around distractedly. “I’m sure the money is here somewhere. We just have to figure out where.”
Anna stood in the doorway with me looking at the kitchen. After a couple of minutes, she looked up at me. “Where’s the cold room?”
“I’m not sure there is one,” I said.
She pointed at the table where a plate of partially eaten toast and eggs as well as a glass of what looked like milk had been left out. “There’s no milk bottle anywhere,” she pointed out. “The toast has butter on it but there’s no sign of any butter, so both must be stored somewhere.”
I beamed her one of my special smiles and told her she was one smart lady. She snorted, gave me a light arm slap, and told me to look out the back door for a separate cold room or cellar entrance.
While Anna searched the kitchen more carefully for an entrance to a cold room, I walked out the back door and around the house. The only thing I found was the outhouse and I was pretty sure the money wasn’t hidden there. I returned to the house through the back door and found Anna studying the pantry floor.
Joining her we both stood looking into the pantry. “This pantry is odd. The shelves are much too narrow for the amount of floor space there is,” she said pensively.
I looked down at the floor to see if there was the outline of a trap door. I didn’t see a trap door, but I did see a small rectangular notch just big enough for a finger to fit into a cut between two of the floorboards.
Bending down, I stuck my finger into the notch feeling for a release latch. After a couple seconds of experimenting the latch moved to the left and released a catch holding the floor down. Using both hands I lifted the floor from where it had popped up, swinging it up on hidden hinges at the back of the pantry.
With the floor up, we could see a set of stairs leading down. I looked at the trap door and saw that it had been disguised by the simple expedient of using the normal staggered floor planks joins to hide the door, much like what I had done to hide the cave entrance.
Anna left while I was looking at the door and returned with a lit lamp. Pushing me out of the way she started down the steps before looking back at me. “Are you coming with me?”
Grinning, I said, “Right behind you, my love.”
The cold room proved to be quite large. Along the right-hand wall, we saw a small milk can sitting under a set of shelves holding butter, eggs, bacon, a ham, and a small wooden box of potatoes.
Along the back wall was a large heavy worktable. Four empty strong boxes from the Overland Stage Line were under the table, while a fifth opened box was on top of the table. A heavy chisel and sledgehammer were also on top of the table lying next to a shattered lock.
Against the left-hand wall was a smaller table holding two neatly folded sets of clothes, all black.
I walked to the table and picked up a bag of money from inside the strongbox. We’d count it later when we got back to our room, but I was pretty sure it held all the money from the last robbery.
Anna picked up something from behind the clothes on the other table and brought me a small metal money box like we used at the Hacienda. She put it on the worktable and opened it up, revealing a mix of half eagle, eagle, and double eagle gold pieces.
I put the money box and the bag of money from the strongbox, inside the wooden box the potatoes had been in, before picking up the straw the potatoes had been nestled in and putting it over the top. Anna led me back upstairs, closing the trap door after I was out, and followed me out of the house.
Back in our hotel room we both counted the money and found all $3,750 from the last robbery in the money bag as well as another $600 from the small money box. There was no way of telling where the $600 came from so I just dumped it loose in a burlap bag and put the bag of money from the stagecoach on top of it. I tied up the burlap bag and put it under the bed with our saddlebags.
I retrieved my courier bag and suggested to Anna that we go get some coffee while I wrote up my report to send to the Judge. She thought that was a splendid idea and we walked down to the restaurant.
Anna kept me company the rest of what was left of the afternoon. I wrote out the long report to the Judge, telling him what had happened and letting him know that I was bringing the various pieces of documentation, the Bank Draft, the ledger, and the money we’d found in the cold room with us on our trip to Santa Fe in a few months.
I added the wanted posters and warrants for ‘Two Hands’ and Fred that I’d marked diagonally with the word DECEASED, the date, Tucson, and Resisting Arrest. Anna read over the report and agreed it covered all the major points.
While Anna folded everything up into an envelope, I wrote another, much shorter, note to Esteban and Ed, telling them to ignore Sonoita and Fort Buchanan during their circuit and to remove the two dead men from their stack of posters and warrants. Anna read the note before folding it up into another envelope and handing both envelopes to me. She’d already addressed both envelopes, so I asked the waitress for a candle to seal them with. After sealing them with my ring, I put the envelopes in my courier bag to mail out tomorrow.
Later that night, following an acceptable supper in the restaurant, Anna and I discovered that while the bed in our room wasn’t perfect, it was more than adequate for ‘exploring possibilities’.
We fell asleep cuddled close together with the cool night air of early spring wafting through our open window.