Retreat (Robledo Mountain #3)
Chapter 3

Copyright© 2020 by Kraken

We left Santa Fe for the Estancia three days later. Anna spent those three days shopping for the kids and rebuilding our supplies. I’d spent my time with the Judge, Lucien, Tom, and Hiram, reviewing information on ‘the Boss’, which remained slim to none.

Between the four of them, and Kit’s friends and trusted contacts, there were over forty people reporting anything they heard about the mysterious ‘Boss’. Unfortunately, none of the friends and contacts had heard a word. It was frustrating, to say the least.

It was Lucien who opined that it was almost like ‘the Boss’ didn’t even live in Santa Fe. Now that was something we’d never thought of. It was also something we currently had no way of proving or disproving. All we could do, for the time being, was continue as we had been.

Anna and I had been discussing our plans whenever possible, both during the ride after rescuing the kids, as well as daily after we arrived in Santa Fe. Originally, we’d planned on a three or four-week visit with Josefa and Kit in Taos before the last leg of our trip. The kids changed those plans significantly.

We’d decided before ever reaching town, that we would limit our stay to just Santa Fe, and leave for home as soon as possible. We were extremely worried about ‘the Boss’ coming after the kids, to get to us, while we were in Santa Fe. We were just as concerned about being ambushed or attacked, during the trip home.

Anna mailed a long letter to Josefa, giving her the details and our apologies, shortly after we arrived in Santa Fe.

We left Santa Fe at three in the morning. As far as we could tell, no one saw us leave. We were ten miles out of town riding south down the Camino Real when the first light of dawn broke over the mountains.

Five miles later we left the road, heading east for a mile, before turning south again. I’d left my horse with Anna when we left the trail and while she led everyone away, I worked on hiding the trail we’d left leaving the road and the tracks heading east.

I caught up to them just after they stopped for a quick lunch of sausage dogs and tea. Anna and Beth had found and bought preserved soft foods like creamed corn and applesauce for Rose to eat during our lunch breaks, which was the real reason for the stop. Riding a horse while trying to spoon-feed a baby was a losing proposition.

While we were eating, Manuel asked why we’d left the road, since it was the fastest way to get where we were going. I explained about roads being magnets for raiding parties and bandits looking to ambush travelers. Our goal was to avoid as much trouble as we could while we traveled. We’d ride parallel to the road and the river, at a distance of anywhere from one to two miles. Close enough to the river to get water when we needed it, but far enough away to keep out of sight from most troublemakers.

Anna and I had decided to use this opportunity to begin familiarizing the kids with the kinds of things they’d see, living on the Estancia in general and the Hacienda in particular. We started teaching them Apache as we rode. We explained that everyone on the Estancia was required to be fluent in English, Spanish, and Apache as well as to learn Latin in school. They would spend their afternoons as we rode, learning Apache. The mornings would be spent learning about the desert, the plants that could be eaten, or used for medicine, the animals that were around us and their behavior.

We made camp early that night and began teaching the kids Aikido. We’d started teaching them Tai Chi shortly after we’d rescued them, and they’d watched us do our katas, so it was a natural progression to them to learn what we were doing and why. They had fun learning to fall correctly. Watching them learn the throws was often hilarious, especially little Mike, who insisted on practicing each throw until he got it right and succeeded in throwing Manuel.

Traveling much slower, with frequent side trips to explore whatever caught the kids’ interest, along with making early camps; meant that our normal two-and-a-half-week trip turned into a five-week trip. During those five weeks, the kids absorbed everything we taught them like the little sponges they were.

Mike proved to be the best of the group when it came to languages, picking up Apache far faster than the other three, and radically improving his previously limited Spanish. Manuel picked up everything dealing with survival in the desert, and tracking, at an equally astonishing rate; while Sierra proved to be a fearless fighter, picking up Aikido much quicker than the others. She was also much quicker in learning anything dealing with medicine. Beth spent most of her time with Anna and caring for Rose, so I wasn’t really sure where her talents or interests lie.

We stopped in Socorro for two days as planned, to introduce myself as the US Marshal. Socorro was another small village with pretentions of grandeur by calling itself a town. In the future, I knew it would become an important town in the area, but for now, there wasn’t much to it.

Our visit to Fort Craig, nine miles downriver, was a little better but like Fort Thorn, it was a dismal place for a fort. The commander readily agreed to a monthly delivery of cattle, and quickly signed the contract, telling us he was starting to get desperate for both meat and produce.

I made a mental note of the need for produce and decided Tomas needed to visit Fort Fillmore, Fort Thorn, and Fort Craig to get a feel for what quantities they would be willing to buy. We stayed only a few hours at Fort Craig before resuming our trip home.

For once we were successful in avoiding confrontations and gunfights, as we saw no one during the entire trip, outside of our two day stop in Socorro, and the short stop at Fort Craig. We did come across two or three-week-old tracks left by groups of unshod horses numerous times, indicating that some raiding parties were active, but we never saw them or came across the remains of their handiwork.

It was mid-morning on the last day of the trip when we got the first indication that things on the Estancia had progressed at a rapid rate while we were gone. We weren’t in sight of the levees yet, when I caught a flash of light coming from the Robledo Mountains.

I’d been talking to Anna and stopped midsentence to look at the flashing light. A moment later I was grinning, and Anna was trying to figure out why I’d stopped talking, and why I was grinning.

“We’ve been seen by a Scout/Sniper Team. The Hacienda now knows we’re almost home,” I said.

“How do you know that?” she asked in a slightly exasperated voice.

“Watch the Robledo Mountains,” I said pointing with my chin.

Looking over, she was just in time to see the flashes of the last word of an acknowledgment.

She turned back to me, grinning. “If they’ve started the lookout posts and signaling already, I wonder what else has changed. I have to say it’s good to be home.”

We had talked about the changes that were planned, and what we hoped to see when we were finally back on the Estancia. Even though we thought we were mentally prepared for the changes, we found we were emotionally unprepared.

Our first sight of the river, with levees down both sides as far as we could see, produced a lump in my throat almost as big as the one I got the first time I saw the Hacienda. I looked over at Anna and saw tears in her eyes at the sight of the levees.

She grabbed my hand, gave it a squeeze, and in a croaking voice full of emotion said, “It’s really happening!”

I could do nothing but nod as I didn’t trust my voice just then. Beth could tell something unusual was happening and rode up next to us on Anna’s side to find out what it was. That caused the other three to ride up next to us with the twins on my side and Mike pulling in between us.

Anna recovered a little quicker than I did. She pointed to the river and explained what the levees were and that it meant we were almost home. It didn’t mean much to them as they had no basis from which to understand the planning and hard work that had been involved.

We continued riding six abreast for another hour before stopping for lunch. None of us really wanted to stop, but the baby needed to be fed, and that just wasn’t happening while we were moving. So, we might as well all eat.

We were done eating a nice venison stew and were packing everything we’d used up when a loud muffled explosion came from across the river followed closely by the eruption of a large dark cloud of dust.

I’d lost track of the days again and had been about to ask Anna what day it was. Instead, I turned to her with a grin on my face and told her it was either Saturday or Sunday. She smiled at me with a tolerant look and told me it was Saturday.

The kids had all gathered around us, wanting to know what the explosion was. I explained that it was caused by blasting rocks loose from the mountain’s side, so they could be used in building things like the levee. That reassured them, and we mounted our horses for the final ride of the trip.

Just under two hours later, we got our next completely unexpected surprise when we saw a stone bridge spanning the river, with a macadam paved road leading from the other side of the bridge to the slope up to the Hacienda.

I didn’t know why Tom had decided to change the original timber bridge to stone, but I was sure he had a good reason and that I’d find out in due time. The bridge was much wider than I’d originally envisioned, but as long as the design work was solid, I was fine with that.

At the bridge, we discovered it was only partially complete, with three of the five concrete spans yet to be laid. At its highest point, the center of the bridge was less than eight feet above the river. It was gently sloped to tightly packed earth and rock covered slopes ending about twenty yards beyond the levees.

All in all, it looked to be a good well thought out design and implementation. We rode back to the riverbank, through an opening in the levee, across the river through the opposite opening. Finally, we went up the slope to the Hacienda.

As we crested the slope, Anna and I both turned in our saddle to watch the kid’s reactions to their first sight of the Hacienda. The look of wonder and disbelief on their faces, confirmed yet again that I would never get bored watching anyone’s first reaction to the Hacienda.

Before turning back around Anna told the kids, “Welcome home!”

We dismounted to a welcoming party, as Alejandro and Izabella came running out jumping in my and Anna’s arms for hugs, followed by all the adults. We happily greeted everyone and introduced the five new arrivals. The women quickly rounded up Anna and the kids leaving me with the men as they disappeared into the Hacienda.

I looked at the five men standing there along with the four young cousins who’d come up to get the horses and shook my head as I said, “We all now know where I stand in order of importance!”

They all laughed as we started unloading the panniers, and pulling off the saddlebags and scabbards, before turning the animals over to the cousins.

With six of us, it was a matter of minutes. We were soon done hauling everything into the office, where it was all stacked against the wall for later unpacking. I poured scotch for everyone, including the Padre, and handed them out.

Raising my glass, I toasted babies, which got a grin from three of the five other men in the room. Lorena, Sofia, and Esperanza were all in various stages of pregnancy, with Lorena due at any time. Sofia was due sometime in September, and Esperanza in October.

We talked about babies for a few minutes, before the obvious questions about the five new kids started the conversation in a whole new direction. I told the story of the rescue and our travels home. Everyone had grim looks on their faces, and Tom started to say something when Carla came into the room announcing supper was ready.

Supper was both crowded, and a riot of conversations; as you’d expect after a four-month absence, and the addition of five new people. I looked out over the table and realized we needed a bigger table if we were going to continue to all eat together. As it was, the four ladies of the housekeeping staff weren’t eating with us tonight, as there was no room! We had twenty-one people seated around a table designed for twenty-two!

I mentioned it to Anna, and she said she knew just the one we needed. We would get it the next time we went to El Paso.

Supper was Christmas enchiladas, with all the sides. Yolanda told us Martina had changed the menu from pizza as soon as she got the word this morning that we would arrive tonight.

Beth looked up with a perplexed expression on her face at the references to Christmas enchiladas, pizza, and Martina knowing we would be here for supper tonight. Anna explained that Christmas enchiladas referred to the red and green sauces and that pizza was a favorite lunch and supper food she’d get to try in a few days.

Yolanda then explained that there were security teams out all around the edges of the Estancia. They sent signals back to the Hacienda anytime they saw someone approaching, and we’d been seen this morning. Both explanations satisfied Beth, and she went back to talking to Izabella.

The two young ladies were thrilled to have someone their own age to talk to. As I glanced around the table, I noticed the kid’s conversations were broken into the various age groups. Carlo, Consuelo, and Mike were deeply involved in a conversation, while Antonia, Angelina, and the twins were involved in a conversation of their own.

I ate my mix of red and green enchiladas with relish, enjoying both the food and the conversation of close friends. The major bit of gossip was the frequent visits by George while we’d been gone, and the relationship that appeared to be developing between him and Celia. I smiled to myself hoping that the relationship continued to flourish. Even if George decided to stay in the Army, he needed some love in his life.

As we finished eating, the ladies from the kitchen brought coffee out for everyone. Tom started to talk about the work that had been done on the Estancia while we were gone. I waved him off, telling him that I was sure we’d see some of it tomorrow, on our way to church. The rest could wait until the Monday morning meeting.

What I was really interested in, was how the people were doing. I asked him if we’d lost any of the new arrivals from either the farmers or vaqueros. Was there enough work to keep everyone busy? How were Heinrich’s people holding up, and how was Raul’s family doing?

We talked about the people of the Estancia for the next half hour or so. I learned that no one had left, and everyone that wanted to be, was gainfully employed. Everyone appeared to be happy and content, as reported by Jesus, Miguel, and Hector’s foreman. Raul’s family had settled in nicely, and no one had heard any complaints from them.

Various relationships were developing among the older kids of the farmers, vaqueros, cousins, and masons. I smiled as I heard more about the people and the integration that was occurring.

As I listened, I finally noticed that Grandfather Garcia was missing. As the discussions about the people were winding down, I asked how long he’d stayed before returning to Las Cruces. The room got deathly quiet, and Yolanda suddenly had tears in her eyes.

I looked at Anna with a sense of dread, knowing someone at the table was about to give us some really terrible news. From the expression on her face, it was clear Anna didn’t have a clue about what was wrong either.

Finally, Tom cleared his throat. In a hoarse voice, he said, “Grandfather Garcia and Yolanda’s father are dead.”

Anna let out a small sob, and I put my arm around her hugging her close. With a deep sense of foreboding, I asked Tom what happened. He took a large drink of coffee before launching into the story.

“A few days after you left, the Scout/Sniper Team south of the Estancia noticed vultures circling near the Camino Real, about four miles from Las Cruces. It was outside their patrol area, but they went to investigate anyway. They discovered the bodies of Grandfather Garcia and Yolanda’s father three hundred yards east of the road.

“One stayed with the bodies, while the other got close enough to send a signal to the lookout Yolanda and Miguel had just established on Robledo Mountain. He, in turn, signaled the cousins watching the horses on the upper plateau.

“I put the Estancia on alert and had the Reserve force stay near the Village while the vaquero’s patrolled the perimeter across the river. Yolanda and I took all the cousins that were close by, and two of the farmers driving wagons. We got to the bodies a few hours later.

“The Scout/Sniper Team told us they had backtracked a wagon to the road where the ambush had occurred, but there wasn’t much to see as a late spring rain had obscured most of the details. Regardless, from what they could tell, a group of between eight and twelve riders on shod horses had ambushed the two men in the wagon, killing them.

“That group had broken up, with two loading the bodies on the wagon and dumping them in the desert, before taking the wagon Southwest and rejoining the road headed towards Las Cruces. The other group of riders had also headed south on the road to Las Cruces.

“Both the wagon and the rider’s tracks disappeared about a half mile before Las Cruces, mixed in with all the old tracks around the area, and muddled by the rain. There was no way to tell the old tracks from the new tracks.

“I couldn’t think of what else to do, but to try and track the group, and neither could Miguel. So, I had the cousins load Grandfather Garcia into a wagon, and they headed towards the Robledo Mountains, where they said Grandfather Garcia had already picked out his burial ground.

“I loaded Yolanda’s father into the other wagon, and Yolanda and I gave our horses to the farmers telling them to ride back to the Hacienda and let them know we would be in Las Cruces for a few days.

“Yolanda and I drove the wagon to the Mendoza’s and spent a few days grieving with the family before returning to the Hacienda. I did ride over to Mesilla to let Esteban and Ed know what had happened.”

By the time Tom was done talking, I had a death grip on the edge of the table. My vision had slowly narrowed. All I could see was a black tunnel, with a small bright red dot at the far end. I knew I was hyperventilating but it didn’t matter.

My first instinct was one I hadn’t felt in over thirty years: to get up, get my guns, and immediately go hunting. A hunt with only one acceptable outcome; the execution of the man who’d ordered Grandfather Garcia’s death, and led the group that made it happen.

I knew, deep down inside, that this was a different desert and a different time. The last time I’d felt this way, I’d gone ‘berserker’ for two weeks during Desert Storm. That was the only thing that stopped me. I was leaning forward in my chair, trying with everything I had to control the anger and rage I was feeling.

I felt Anna’s hand on my shoulder, trying to pull me back. It took everything I had not to shake her off. If anybody could pull me out of this fugue of rage and anger, it was my indomitable Anna.

Eventually, she got me to sit back in the chair and climbed into my lap with her arms around me and cuddling close. I could hear Anna’s sobs and feel the tears she was crying seeping through my shirt both of which only increased my anger.

Anna and I stayed cuddled together in the chair at the dining room table for some unknown amount of time. It felt like hours, but I’m sure it was only minutes. When I finally got my breathing under control and felt like I had sufficiently mastered my emotions, I stood up still holding Anna.

“Anna and I need some time alone. We’ll see you all in the morning,” I said through locked jaws.

I carried Anna upstairs laying her gently on the bed and lay down next to her. She rolled on to her side, facing me, and put her arms around me. She tucked her head onto my chest, underneath my chin. Neither one of us moved for over thirty minutes. Anna’s breathing had evened out into a regular pattern and I thought she had fallen asleep.

I started to disentangle myself from our embrace when I looked down and found Anna staring at me with a calm expression but with that hard, angry glint in her eye that I’d noticed earlier.

“What are you doing, Pablo?” she asked.

“I need to do something physical to burn off some of the rage I’m feeling, or I’ll explode,” I replied as I moved to the center of the room.

With a small sad smile, she said, “I feel the same way.”

I helped her out of bed, and we both stripped down to our underwear before moving to the center of the room and beginning our katas.

She matched me move for move through three-fourths of the katas, which were the ones she knew. She sat, cross-legged, on the bed, to watch me finish. When I started the Krav Maga katas, she rejoined me and kept up through the first third.

Before I’d finished the next two katas, she had redressed and left the bedroom, coming back ten minutes later with a coffee service and a small glass of scotch from the office. She set everything down on the small table in front of the couch. She sat sipping coffee while I finished the katas. When I was done, she handed me the scotch and poured me a cup of coffee after I’d thrown back the shot.

We sat quietly together, drinking our coffee for a while before she started talking.

“Pablo, I know with all my heart that you feel responsible for what happened, and that buried in your anguish is a bitterness over the thought that you could have prevented it. I also know you will not let Great Grandfather’s and Uncle Jim’s death go unavenged.

“While I agree with avenging them, I do not and cannot let you carry the burden of responsibility for their deaths. We both know that their deaths were in retribution for rescuing the ranchers and killing the Comancheros.

“We also both know that Great Grandfather and Uncle Jim were already dead, by the time we found out about the threats from Esteban and Ed. Apart from not going after the Comancheros in the first place, there is absolutely nothing we could have done to stop it from happening. Canceling our trip wouldn’t have done anything except allow us to find the bodies a few hours earlier.

“By all means, keep your anger, but keep it tight! Bank it like you would a fire until you can unleash it in a positive way. More importantly, you need to let that bitterness out, before it festers and poisons your soul.”

I sighed and looked into Anna’s expressive eyes.

“My love, my mind knows everything you have said is true. My heart, on the other hand, knows with absolute certainty that it’s my fault. There was a time when my heart would have overruled my mind. I would have already left by now on a manhunt that would not have ended until I had succeeded or was dead.

“Except when it comes to you, my mind now rules, not my heart. It will take some time for me to come to terms emotionally, with their deaths. But eventually, it will happen. Through it all, I know just being close to you will keep me grounded, and when we get past this, we’ll find that we love each other deeper, hug each other tighter, and kiss each other more often.”

She crawled back into my lap for a tight hug and long kiss, before settling in my arms. It had been a long day, compounded by the emotional toll of homecoming, learning of the deaths, and when combined with the physical exertions we’d just completed, served to leave us both extremely tired. We both eventually got up, undressed, and climbed into bed. There we fell into an exhausted sleep.

It seemed like I’d just closed my eyes when I reopened them to discover it was morning already. While the curtains on the French doors blocked most of the sunlight, there were still stray rays of muted light creeping out from around the edges. Anna’s head was on my shoulder. When I looked down at her, I once again found her eyes wide open, staring at me.

She gave me a smile and rose up to give me a small good morning kiss, before telling me it was time to get up. We’d both been looking forward to sharing a nice hot shower since we started back from the Colorado River. Deaths in the family notwithstanding, we were bound and determined to make it a reality this morning.

Our mutual morning shower wasn’t the usual frolicsome fun we were used to having. It was a gentle sharing of our love, instead. We completed our morning preparations and dressed for a Sunday at home, before heading downstairs for breakfast.

We were a little early for breakfast. Anna went to check on Rose and the other kids, while I had my first cup of coffee for the day. She came back a few minutes later carrying Rose, with the other four kids following along behind her all dressed in their Sunday best. They were almost immediately followed by the rest of the Hacienda. Cristina, Celia, and Carla brought in breakfast, even before everyone had finished pouring their coffee.

The adults were subdued while eating and were looking at Anna and me quizzically. Anna apparently had soon had enough and addressed the table.

“We’re both fine after last night’s episode. While we’re both still upset, we are back to functioning as adults.”

Slowly the table conversations returned, and before we’d finished our after-breakfast coffee we were talking about a visit to Las Cruces next week with all the kids. Anna said that the rest of the family needed to meet the newest members of the family, and I needed to check in with Esteban and Ed. Tom and Yolanda decided to go with us, while the other three families decided to stay at the Hacienda, given the late stages of pregnancy all three wives were in.

We finished up the coffee, rounded up the kids, and walked outside to find a nice six-person buggy with sunshade, a wagon painted in the Estancia colors, and seven saddled horses waiting for us.

I raised an eyebrow at the buggy, and Tom told me that Mr. Mendoza had given it to the Estancia to use, since he never used it, and it was taking up room in his stable, room he needed for other things. The pregnant ladies with the house staff all shared the buggy while the rest of us loaded all the kids in the wagon and then mounted up for the short ride to the Estancia village, with me and Anna in the lead.

Anna and I pulled up our horses as we reached the top of the hill overlooking the village. As the rest of the group rode on into the village, we looked down on what to me seemed a much more complete village than when we’d left. The stable and wagon yard complex was complete, and trees had been planted in the plaza; the church was almost done, lacking only a roof, stained glass windows, and a door; and the storehouses on the opposite side of the village had been started.

I couldn’t help but wonder who had decided to tint the stucco on the church with what had become known locally as ‘Dos Santos Rose’. Don’t get me wrong, it was really nice; but most churches in this part of the world were either white or stone brown.

Anna, who was beaming me a big Anna smile, said that it was almost done. I looked out over the village again and told her all we needed to finish it, was paved streets, a rectory, and a large schoolhouse. She grinned, telling me that was for next year as she started her horse down to the plaza. I followed her a few seconds later.

With the sun beating down relentlessly on the crowd gathered in the plaza, the Padre decided discretion was the better part of valor and kept the service mercifully short. As had become the local practice, a small aisle was kept clear in the middle of the plaza. The Padre walked down the aisle at the end of the service and waited at the edge of the plaza for the parishioners to walk by, saying a few words to each of them.

Anna and I waited at the very back of the line and were the last ones out of the plaza. We chatted with the Padre in our turn, and he told us we’d see him back at the Hacienda for lunch. We loaded everyone back in the buggy and wagon and returned to the Hacienda.

Lunch was back to the riotous affairs that we were used to during mealtime, with too many conversations going on around the table, in a mix of too many different languages to follow. I smiled at Anna and told her I’d missed this.

When lunch was over Anna told the kids to stay at the table and asked the Padre to stay as well. Although school was over for the summer, the Padre was running a modified summer school in the mornings, to help the new arrivals catch up as much as possible before school restarted as normal in late September, after the rainy season. Anna asked him if he had room for Beth, the twins, and Mike to attend so they could start getting caught up in the languages if nothing else.

The Padre assured Anna that he had the room and told the kids he was looking forward to working with them starting the next morning. Beth and Mike were thrilled with the thought of going to school. The twins, on the other hand, weren’t happy about having to spend their mornings in school while the rest of the Hacienda kids were out having fun. We told them it was only for a few hours in the mornings, and their afternoons would be theirs to enjoy. They both settled down a bit on hearing our assurances.

We took a few minutes to unpack the panniers and saddlebags, before settling down in the shade of the terrace, to discuss our plans for the coming week with Tom and Yolanda. Just before supper, we all agreed that we would spend Monday through Thursday getting caught up on Estancia business. On Friday morning, we would leave on a week-long trip to Las Cruces, with all the kids as well as Tom and Yolanda.

The trip was needed for many reasons, with the most important being grieving with other family, introducing our new kids; and reviewing our trip with Esteban and Ed, while getting up to speed on their activities since we’d been gone.

After supper, Anna led us into the living room and asked me for some songs. With the grief of losing great grandfather and Yolanda’s father fresh in my mind, I found myself playing “Vaya Con Dios”, “Holes in the Floor of Heaven”, and “One More Day”. There wasn’t a dry eye in the room when I finished. I apologized for the selections, letting everyone know I just wasn’t up to playing something romantic or fun this evening.

The next morning as breakfast was ending, Tom gave me a thick stack of papers, telling me it was all the reports since I’d left, and it would be helpful to read as many of them as I could get through before the weekly meeting started in a couple of hours.

Taking the papers, I asked Anna to join me in the study, and we’d read them together. Anna said she’d join me in a few minutes and disappeared into the kitchen. I walked into the office, sat down on the couch to get comfortable, and started reading. I had finished the first two pages when Anna came in, carrying a coffee service which she put on the low table in front of us before pouring two cups and handing me one.

I handed her the two pages I’d finished, in exchange for the coffee. We settled back on the couch to read. A little over two hours later we’d managed to make our way through all the reports, which we found to be concise and well written.

Except for Giuseppe’s facilities reports, there was a single page report for each major area of the Estancia for each month. Giuseppe’s weekly reports were much more detailed and included drawings of everything that changed, along with the why’s. At the end of the two hours, we knew what the status was in each area of the Estancia, what changes had been made, and just as importantly, why they were made.

It was going to be a close-run to finish the bridge before the rainy season; and, as we discovered from the reports, the bridge was going to be a key component in keeping both sides of the Estancia connected during the rainy season. I almost slapped myself on the forehead when I realized I’d completely overlooked how we were going to get across the river in both directions during the rainy season, with the levees in place.

The planned wooden bridge had been replaced by a stone bridge design when Juan had told them he wouldn’t be able to get the wood in time to get it built this year. Thankfully, Heinrich and Giuseppe had a lot of experience in bridge building in Europe and quickly reverted to the stone and concrete design.

The levees, on the other hand, were going better than expected and would be completed in early July. The irrigation intake channels had been cast by Heinrich and his crew and were placed every three hundred yards along both sides of the river under the levees. The control gates had all been built by Raphael to Giuseppe’s design, as approved by Tomas. The excess drainage channels had been completed from the dams to the river and were good for this rainy season.

Giuseppe was evaluating the possibilities of building partially buried water retention tanks near the last dam, to retain even more of the water from the rainy season. Heinrich estimated that all the work he’d been contracted for so far would be completed, just after the start of the new year. Now that got my attention. There was still too much masonry work to be done, to lose the masons at the beginning of the year. I made a note to talk about this during today’s meeting.

Meanwhile, the church had also been slightly redesigned. There now was a masonry lower section and an adobe upper section, to alleviate the foundation settling problems caused by too much weight on adobe foundations. The church was also scheduled to be finished in mid-July although the pews, prayer books, hymnals, and other interior items wouldn’t begin to arrive until after July.

The stables and wagon yard complex were complete, the livestock were in good shape, and all the wagons had been painted and numbered in the approved paint scheme. The wagon yard had a good supply of wood to make replacement spokes, tongues, axles, and wagon beds. Wagon maintenance was an ongoing activity, as rock hauling took a heavy toll on wagon beds and sides, as well as on axles and wheels.

The only shortage I could identify in this area was the lack of a third forge and blacksmith. It wasn’t critical yet, but Raul assured us that once we started farming full time, things would quickly bog down with just two blacksmiths.

Tomas had been extremely busy. He had a rotating team picking up compost material from the village and ranch and had started a large compost area near the river. After four months in the sweltering heat, the first load of compost had been delivered to an earthworm farm he’d set up.

After mixing the compost with dirt and sand, it had been put in wooden forms built from scraps of wood salvaged from old wagon bed planks. Finally, the earthworms he paid the kids to collect were added.

While that was going on, he’d had six teams clearing farmland starting at the Northern end of the west side of the river. Three more teams followed behind them with wagon loads of dirt and sand, roughly leveling the cleared ground; while two more teams came behind them, spreading manure from the stables and corrals on the cleared and leveled fields.

He had also devoted one team to preparing, plowing, planting, maintaining, and harvesting the two large areas on the upper plateau I’d shown him. He’d planted potatoes, corn, squash, watermelon, lettuce, carrots, tomatoes, onions, chiles, cucumbers, peas, and beans.

The bulk of the effort after the planting was keeping the areas weeded and watered. The watering necessitated hauling buckets of water up the cliff face on ropes and carrying them to the garden area. So far, all the different crops were doing well in the garden. He’d also developed a schedule to rotate all the teams through the various tasks so that none of them were stuck with boring, smelly, or arduous tasks for more than two weeks at a time.

Hector reported that initial deliveries to Forts Fillmore, Thorn, and McLane had been made, and regular follow-on deliveries scheduled. The delivery of 2,000 head to Dr. Steck had been made. He had also contacted the Indian Agent at Fort McLane, closing a deal for 2,000 head with him. The large herds had left the Estancia for Fort McLane a month ago, and the twenty-five vaqueros he’d sent with them should be returning in the next few days.

At the urging of Jesus, the villagers and ranch families had been offered cattle at the price of three dollars a head, and they were taking advantage of the offer at the rate of fifteen head a week. Additionally, Hector had contacted the butchers in Las Cruces and Mesilla and was selling an average of ten head a week at five dollars a head.

To my dismay, I learned that even after all the sales, the herd had remained near 13,000 head. Apparently, despite the long drive last year, the bulls had managed to do their job with a bumper crop of calves resulting, this spring. I was going to have to work on getting more contracts. A letter to Kit and Lucien, as well as a visit to Fort Bliss, certainly seemed the best bets for quick sales.

Jesus’s report was upbeat, with few problems requiring him in his official role of Alcalde. The villagers’ morale was high, now that the heavy work of building the levees was almost done, and the clearing and preparing of the fields had started. At a recent village meeting, the villagers had decided the most pressing need, was for a combined multiple room schoolhouse and community activity center. Tom had agreed with the request, and Jesus had contacted Jorge. He was scheduled to visit the village at the beginning of July to talk with the villagers and ranch families and begin to draw up the building design.

Yolanda and Miguel’s report proved to be the most fascinating to me. They had trained an additional four Scout/Sniper Teams while Anna and I had been gone, with another three teams scheduled to start training after the next rainy period ended. They’d all agreed that eight teams were the minimum number required to support the Estancia, so I was happy with the progress so far.

A new refresher Apache training course had been designed and added. The new course was taught on a team basis to each team, as they were assigned to Reserve Force duty. It focused on emergency first aid and communications, using the small signaling mirrors I’d given Yolanda before we left.

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