Retreat (Robledo Mountain #3)
Copyright© 2020 by Kraken
Tom and I were becoming bored. The Segundos were all doing their jobs well. Cattle were being delivered on time, and the herd continued to grow. The land along the river was being cleared and prepared for planting, while early harvesting in the greenhouses had already started for some of the crops, like tomatoes.
Building activities were continuing at a furious pace; with the fences, roads, water retention buildings, and School/Community Center all in different stages. We spent quite a bit of time on the terrace or in the study drinking coffee, talking, adding details to our initial plans, and fine-tuning them where we could.
At one point, midafternoon, two weeks after Joseph’s birth, Tom gave a sigh and looked up from his writing.
“You know Paul, after everything that’s happened over the last couple of years it’s getting downright boring around here. It would be nice to have a little excitement again.”
I looked at him in mock horror. “Bite your tongue, Tom! The last thing we need around here is excitement. At least until after Anna has had the baby and recovered.”
Tom laughed and, putting a droll look on his face, responded with, “Yes, Dear.”
We were still laughing over the exchange when Celia came out on the terrace and said, “Paul, Anna would like to see you in the bedroom, the baby is coming.”
I looked over at Tom with a grin, “You wanted some excitement? Well, here it is.”
I hurried into the bedroom through the terrace doors and found Anna laying on the bed surrounded by all the ladies. I squeezed through them and sat on the side of the bed at Anna’s side.
She beamed one of her Anna smiles. “It won’t be long now.”
“Anna, my love, don’t be in a hurry. It will happen when your body is ready for it, not before,” I replied.
Anna laughed and with a giggle said, “The contractions started this morning as we were getting ready for breakfast. It’s not me who’s in a hurry, it’s our son. He’s in a hurry to greet the world, my love.”
Anna was hit with a strong contraction just as she finished talking and gripped my hand. Hard. The contraction went on for what felt like forever. When it was over Anna released my hand and relaxed.
“Now give me a kiss my love and go back to what you were doing. You’ll know when it’s time to greet your son.”
Obediently, I gave her a deep kiss, packed with all the love I felt for her and stood up from the bed. I returned to the terrace to wait, just like all the anxious fathers before me. Time seemed to slow to a crawl.
Over the next hour, we were joined by Giuseppe, Tomas, Hector, Miguel, and Maco. Izabella ensured fresh coffee was available for all of us as we waited, and she did it with a smile.
My nerves were worn thin and I was about ready to head down to the study for a large scotch when the clear wail of a newborn came from the bedroom.
We all smiled at each other for a moment. I gave a fist pump, walked through the French doors into the bedroom, and watched as Anna received our son in her arms while beaming me a huge super megawatt Anna smile.
I sat down beside her, giving her a brief hug while I kissed her head and looked down at our son. Anna held him up for me to take. “Jaime Jose McAllister meet your father.”
Taking him in my arms, I gently rocked him back and forth before telling him, “JJ, I’ve been looking forward to meeting you for quite a while. Welcome to the Hacienda son. I hope you are as happy here as your mother and I are.”
Naturally, being a McAllister, he broke the mood by peeing all over me. I just laughed, handed him to Beth who was waiting to clean him up a little more and went to take a shower after giving Anna another kiss.
The smile never left my face the whole time I was showering. Not even when I heard Laura’s soft voice in my left ear.
“I’m proud of you. You’re well on the way to becoming the man you were always meant to be.”
I was still smiling when I came out of the bathroom and found both Anna and JJ asleep. Beth sat rocking in a chair near the bed watching over them. I gave Anna and JJ a light kiss and told Beth to join everyone else for supper as I was going to stay in the room. After Beth left, I lay down on the bed next to Anna and snuggled both her and JJ in my arm before falling into a light sleep.
I awoke in the wee hours of the morning to find Anna feeding JJ and silently lay there watching her for a few minutes before falling back to sleep. When I woke up for the day, just before daybreak, I found Anna feeding JJ again. I smiled at them, gave her a quick kiss, and headed downstairs. I was hoping the coffee was ready.
I found all the ladies doing the kitchen dance, and asked Izabella for a coffee service upstairs and to send up breakfast for two when it was ready. She flashed me a huge smile and said it was on its way.
I checked the dumb waiter upstairs, and true to her word the coffee service was there. Anna looked more than ready for some coffee, and after her first cup told me she was famished. I laughed and told her breakfast would be up in a few minutes. I went in to take a quick shower and put on clean clothes.
JJ was fast asleep in the middle of the bed when I came out. Anna had opened the curtains and the French doors and was standing just inside watching the sunrise over the Doña Ana Mountains. I walked up behind her and put my arms around her. She leaned back into me with a light sigh.
“It’s nice to feel you holding me again, my love. I’ve missed that,” she said.
“No more than I have,” I replied as I pulled her in closer, and settled my chin on her head.
Our reverie was broken a few minutes later when Beth came in, carrying a large tray with two large plates full of eggs, bacon, potatoes, and toast along with fresh coffee. Beth looked over at JJ sleeping on the bed and smiled as she set the tray down on the breakfast table in the corner of the room.
“Since you both missed supper last night we figured you’d be really hungry, so Miranda fixed you both large plates. How’s JJ this morning? We didn’t hear anything out of him all night, and we were beginning to get worried.”
“Thank you, Beth, and thank the other ladies as well. Pablo and I are both famished. JJ slept most of the night, only waking up once to be fed, so he’s doing fine,” Anna replied.
As Anna and I dug into our breakfast Beth sat down on the bed and gazed at JJ with a wistful expression on her face. I glanced at Anna and in between mouthfuls nodded at Beth saying, “Maco’s going to have his hands full with that one.”
Beth overhead my quiet comment and snorted saying, “Maco is moving so slow, I don’t know if one of these will ever be in our future.”
Anna and I both laughed at her comment. “Beth don’t be in such a hurry. Pablo and I waited over three years before we were married, and we were just a little younger than you when we met. Maco is still unsure of our way of doing things. Things like courting and proposing. If it’s meant to be, it will be.”
Beth looked over at us and nodded, but I’m sure she wasn’t convinced by Anna’s reassurance. I decided I needed to have ‘the talk’ with Maco sometime soon.
Anna and I finished our breakfast and were talking over our coffee when JJ woke up. Beth cooed over him for a few minutes before Anna got up, asking me to take the tray back downstairs on my way out. I raised an eyebrow at her, and she giggled.
“You’ll not be hovering over me all day, getting in our way, my love. Go pretend like you are responsible for the Estancia, and everyone on it for a while,” she said with a grin and the devil dancing in her eyes.
I harrumphed with a mock scowl on my face, muttering about not getting any respect, leaving the room with the tray to the sound of Anna and Beth’s laughter.
Izabella was waiting for me at the bottom of the steps and took the tray from my hands, telling me to join the others in the dining room. My arrival seemed to be some sort of signal, as all the ladies except Yolanda got up telling the kids it was time to leave for school.
When the ladies and kids had all left, I looked around the room before raising my arm to sniff my armpit saying in a concerned voice, “I took a shower, this morning. Was it something I said?”
Everyone in the room had a good laugh at my antics as I poured myself a cup of coffee and sat down.
George looked around the table before looking at me.
“Paul, for the last two weeks I’ve been learning about the land in and around the Estancia as well as reviewing the threats you’ve faced in the past. I’ve reviewed the reports that were written in each case and I think you’re right about the Comancheros raiding the Estancia. But I haven’t been able to get a feel from the reports about how soon that might be. Regardless, we’ve come up with some detailed plans. If you have time, we’d like to go over them with you to see what you think.”
“Well, since Anna kicked me out of the bedroom for getting in the way of ‘woman’s work’, I’m all yours today, George,” I replied.
Yolanda gave Tom an arm slap and said, “See? Pablo can take a hint.”
Tom delivered the by now expected response of, “Yes, Dear.”
As muted grins broke out around the table I laughed. “Yolanda, you know good and well that Anna doesn’t give hints. She specifically told me to leave, because I was getting in the way of woman’s work.”
Tom reached over and lightly tapped Yolanda’s arm imitating an arm slap. “See? Anna knows how to say what she means.”
Yolanda looked a little startled but recovered quickly. Imitating Tom perfectly, she gave him a droll, “Yes, Dear.”
The physical and verbal exchange was so unexpected that by the time they were done we were all laughing loud and hard.
When we’d all recovered, we followed George’s lead and refreshed our coffee before following him upstairs to the war room. I hadn’t been in the room in a few months, so I was surprised to see what looked like a completed model of the Estancia and the surrounding land sitting on a plank table taking up the center of the room.
The far end of the room had two roll-top desks separated by two wooden three drawer filing cabinets. Framed and wood mounted maps of Doña Ana County, New Mexico Territory, and the United States had been hung on the wall opposite the door. I nodded approvingly at what I saw and started to ask questions; but stopped myself before saying anything, realizing my questions could wait until later.
It was a tight fit, but all ten of us crowded around the model. Up close, it was readily apparent that the model was still a work in progress, but it had progressed past the point of being nothing more than a papier-mache outline.
George cleared his throat, and in a lecturing voice, I was sure he’d learned at West Point, began talking. As he started, I wondered if he would follow the centuries-old, three-part military briefing practice: 1) Tell them the information you’ll be telling them; 2) Tell them the information and; 3) Tell them the information you told them.
I’ll be damned if that isn’t exactly what he did.
“Paul, you told us that you were most concerned with attacks from the south and the east, so that’s where we concentrated our efforts. We’ll look at the current resource and communication situation on the Estancia and the surrounding area before turning to specific plans we’ve developed to counter raids from those two directions. Finally, I’ll talk about the changes we want to make to better support those plans.”
George stopped there to take a sip of coffee and look around to make sure we were all following along without questions.
Satisfied, he put his cup down and continued. “Miguel and the cousins did a fantastic job of siting the observation and signaling posts. Because of their work, we have what amounts to a three hundred sixty-degree coverage of the approaches to the Estancia.
“Likewise, the use of Morse Code and the signaling mirrors give us rapid and continual communications ability during daylight hours, except during the rainy season when it becomes dependent on the cloud cover. Unfortunately, we have no rapid long-distance communication capability during the hours of darkness.
“Additionally, enough Scout/Sniper teams have been trained to provide continual coverage with two teams on each side of the Estancia at any given time. These teams are usually anywhere from three to five miles outside the boundaries of the Estancia and provide excellent early warning information.
“All the men of the Estancia are well trained with their firearms and will ride to the sound of gunfire without a moment’s hesitation. On the negative side, they haven’t been trained to fight in anything larger than five- or ten-man teams. That alone could cause unnecessary deaths from friendly fire, or from inaction. That will have to be addressed in the near term.”
He paused for a sip of coffee before continuing. “With these factors in mind, we’ve come up with two different plans for attacks from the south, and two plans for attacks from the east, for a total of four plans. Which plan we use will depend on which direction the attack comes from, and how much warning we get.
“All four plans have three key common elements. The first is that three teams each, are designated as being responsible for the defense of each of the living areas. That means that three teams will immediately report to the Hacienda, three teams will report to the village plaza, and three teams will report to the ranch building.
“In the village, the three teams will spread the alarm and enclose the open areas of the plaza using wagons from the wagon yard.
“The second common element is that the teams assigned to stone quarry duty will immediately form up as a rapid response force, and report to the Hacienda for dispatch as the attack evolves.
“The third common element is that all the other teams will report to one of two staging areas. Which staging area, will depend on where the attack is coming from.”
At this point, he stopped for more coffee and picked up a long wooden dowel. Using the dowel as a pointer he continued. “If the attack is from the south, then they will report to the staging area here. If it’s from the east, the staging area is here. When everyone has gathered at the appropriate staging area, we will move together to one of two ambush sites that Maco and his team have selected.
“In each case, there is an ambush site less than a mile off the Estancia and another just inside the Estancia. For lack of better names, and to keep it simple, we are calling the four plans S1, S2, and E1, and E2. The letter tells everyone which staging area to use, and the number indicates which ambush site we plan on using.
“Our hope is that we can move fast enough to ambush the attackers, well before they reach the Estancia. If the attackers are moving faster than we hope, then we’ll use the ambush sites on the Estancia, instead.”
George asked if there were any questions so far. Neither Tom nor I had any at this point and George continued. “So far everything I’ve talked about assumes that the Comancheros make their attack in broad daylight, sometime after all the men are at work.
“Miguel, Maco, Yolanda and I have talked about this at length and based on the reports from the group you rescued last year, none of us think this is the way it’s going to happen. Instead, we expect them to follow the same pattern they’ve used successfully so far.
“They will ride in, in small groups, to a meeting place somewhere within five miles of the Estancia. They will make a cold camp for the night. While the bulk of them are sleeping, they will send a few scouts in during the night to see what the situation is and try to identify where they can expect resistance.
“Most likely those scouts won’t be expected to report back, but instead will take up positions where they can observe and shoot from concealment, to cover the main body during the raid. If we’re right, and this is what happens, then our plans remain the same except we will also make a cold camp at our ambush point, and the Scout/Sniper teams will be responsible for taking out any scouts the Comancheros send in.
“That summarizes the plans we’ve made, so far. We want to start practicing, next week. We can go into details and visit the staging and ambush sites later today or tomorrow if you’d like. But before we do that, some changes need to be made, to the Finca and Ranch operations, to make this work. I’d like to cover those, now.”
George stopped and waited for me to agree or disagree. At my head nod, he moved right into the changes they were recommending.
“The first change is the work locations. Starting Monday, and continuing until the attack, the bulk of the farmers and vaqueros will work south of the Hacienda and the Ranch Operations Building.
“Additionally, the three closest teams to the Hacienda, Village, and Ranch Buildings, along with two of the off-duty Sniper/Scout teams will be specifically identified. They will be told every Monday, which areas they will support, in case of an attack. The stone quarry teams and any vaqueros working north of the Hacienda will specifically be told to report to the Hacienda, regardless of where they happen to be if an attack occurs. This includes the masons.
“The second change is that starting Monday, everyone will need to carry enough food and water to remain comfortable if they have to stay out, overnight.
“The third change is the distribution of horses. The farm teams and road teams working the farthest away from the south boundary, need to have saddled horses with them in addition to the normal wagon horses. A wagon is simply too slow to get the teams furthest away to the rally point in time.
“The Estancia has plenty of horses. What we don’t have enough of, is saddles! So, we’ll need to experiment a little to see how many teams we can support with saddled horses. In addition, we also need to have twenty horses and saddles moved to the Hacienda corral for use by the rapid response teams that will be forming up here.
“Finally, we need to explain all this to everyone! Monday morning, we’ll begin practicing. We don’t believe we’ll need more than three or four practice runs, but we could need more. Our recommendation is that we spend all day Monday on this, and then have at least one practice drill every week, on different days and times.”
George looked around the room before beginning his conclusion. “I’ve talked about the current resource and communication situation on the Estancia and the surrounding area. That was followed by specific plans we’ve developed to counter raids from those two directions, and finally, the changes we want to make to better support those plans. If everyone agrees we can return to the dining room and get fresh coffee before getting into questions and details.”
As I looked around the room, it was clear that the three Segundo’s and Jesus had already heard this pitch, and had agreed, which meant that Tom and I were the only ones who hadn’t heard it before and we would be the ones asking most of the questions.
By Tom’s body language, I could tell that he was impressed but I didn’t know how many questions he would have. I was greatly impressed with what George and his group had come up with and only had a few questions at the moment.
I turned to George and the other three. “George, you four have done a lot of work and I’m very impressed and pleased with what you’ve come up with. By all means, let’s head downstairs where we can discuss things in comfort.”
Cristina, Celia, and Carla followed us into the dining room carrying fresh coffee services for everyone. We all settled in after pouring ourselves more coffee, and the discussions began in earnest.
My first set of questions was directed not at George and his team, but at the three Segundo’s and Jesus. They all said that they knew about the plans and agreed with both them and the changes George was proposing.
My second set of questions was about the rally and ambush sites, which Maco answered in detail and we agreed that Tom, George, Miguel, Maco, and I would ride out and look at the sites after lunch.
My last set of questions dealt with communications procedures for anything dealing with an attack or exercises practicing for an attack. To my surprise, Miguel answered my questions in detail. All attack or exercise messages would be in Apache and only Apache. Exercise messages were preceded and ended with three Xs.
I raised my eyebrows in surprise. “Miguel, how can the messages be in Apache? There’s no Apache alphabet or written language.”
“Simple, Paul. We use the Spanish alphabet and rules. It took a little bit of work, but we’ve got it figured out, and have practiced so we know it works,” he replied with a grin.
Done with my questions, I turned to Tom, who asked how the teams working the crushed rock quarry would be notified, and what their responsibilities would be. George finished answering his questions just as everyone began arriving for lunch.
I again complimented them on their planning and gave them the go ahead to start all the changes on Monday. I also told Miguel that I wanted to see all the off-duty Scout/Sniper teams - including him and Maco - tomorrow, after lunch.
Anna brought JJ down with her for lunch where he was, of course, the center of attention. Eventually, she put JJ in the big enclosed playpen in the corner of the dining room, with the other four newborns, while we ate lunch.
After lunch, I told George, Miguel, and Maco that Tom and I would meet them outside in a few minutes and asked them to get the horses ready. I took Tom into the study, barred the door, and opened up the cave door telling him that we needed to get something I wanted to demonstrate and hand out, once we got to the first rally point.
I handed Tom two silencers, forestalling his question on what they were, telling him to put them in his saddlebags and I would explain what they were for, later. I put nine more in a burlap bag, and we rejoined the others who were waiting for us, outside.
The southern rally point turned out to be a large arroyo just off the road about a half-mile from the Estancia boundary. It was a good location, close enough to quickly move the men into position once everybody had arrived, and more than large enough to hold everyone. I dismounted still carrying the burlap bag, and at my request, the others joined me.
“Gentleman, what I’m about to show you is a special tool that I don’t want to ever hear talked about. You will all receive two of these special tools, as will all the Scout/Snipers. No one else on the Estancia, except Anna, Yolanda, Tom, and I will have, or will even know about, these tools. One of the purposes of the Scout/Sniper teams is to unsettle our enemies through long-distance shooting. Another way to increase the enemy’s fear is to take out their guards and scouts quietly from close range.”
I reached into the bag and pulled out a silencer before putting the bag down. I held up the silencer so that they all could see it.
“This is a silencer and allows us to use our pistols without a lot of noise. There are two major drawbacks to using this tool. The first drawback is accuracy. You all know that I’m extremely good using a pistol.”
While I was talking, I’d screwed the silencer on to the end of my pistol. I pointed at a small barrel cactus growing on a ledge halfway up the arroyo wall about twenty feet from where we were standing.
“Please watch and listen closely.”
I aimed and fired three rounds at the cactus. The only sounds from the gun were three soft muted pops and the mechanical sound of the pistol ejecting and reloading rounds. I hit the cactus with one shot, while the other two just missed to the left of the cactus.
I’m not sure whether they were more surprised by the lack of noise or the fact that I missed two of three aimed shots at such close range.