Retreat (Robledo Mountain #3)
Chapter 13

Copyright© 2020 by Kraken

I was on the terrace on a fine bright sunny afternoon, staring in horror at the list of things I’d come up with for Steve to do when he got back from Austin. No matter how I looked at it, I just couldn’t see how he would ever get everything on the list done, in the timeframe we wanted.

I was seriously starting to think that maybe we’d overextended ourselves this time, and we would have to push the timeframe out another year when something in my brain sparked. I suddenly remembered a conversation I’d overheard just after I’d been promoted to Staff Sergeant and joined the NCO ranks.

A crusty old Chief Master Sergeant was lecturing a new Second Lieutenant in his office. As usual, the Chief had left the door open. I was walking by on some errand or another. Everyone in the hallway clearly heard the Chief talking.

“Remember, LT, your job is to know the details of what needs to be done and when. It’s the NCO’s job to get those details done. If you learn nothing else, here; learn this, and learn it well. Never, ever, try to tell an NCO how to do something. You tell an NCO what needs to be done and when it needs to be done by. If the NCO needs help or additional resources to get something done, they’ll let you know.”

I was smiling to myself at the memory when I heard Laura soft laugh in my left ear. Then I knew that I’d just gotten my answer to the problem.

I decided that I was done for the day and I was due for some Anna and JJ time when George came up the outside steps and sat down at the table across from me. He looked a little wan and I asked what he’d been up to all day that had worn him down so much.

He barked a quick laugh and said, “I’ve been reminding myself why I left the Army, Paul. I’ve been in the saddle since just after breakfast riding the east side of the Doña Ana’s with Maco trying to get as familiar with that area of the Estancia as I am with the west side.”

I commiserated with him for a few minutes before turning to the subject of his impending wedding and asked him how things were going with the Padre. He assured me things were going well, but Celia still hadn’t set a date yet.

She was close to choosing the date, but there were a couple of things getting in the way that she needed to work out. She wouldn’t tell him what those things were, so he had no idea how to help her. I shrugged and agreed that there wasn’t much he could do.

We were talking about how the militia was shaping up when one of the young cousins from the corrals on the upper plateau came running down the steps and handed George a message. George glanced at it, sat up straight, and read it more closely before handing it to me.

It took me a few moments to puzzle out the shorthand, but when I did, I looked in alarm at George. The message read:

From: SS 2 South

To: SG

Message: lge nmbr (70+) men in sml grps mvng north cnvrg nr pt bravo

“Well, George, it looks like you were right,” I said.

He nodded, and with a grim face turned to the young man.

“Send a message from me to the entire Estancia. Message to read, Alert, Alert, Alert. Execute Alpha One Alpha, immediately. Alert, Alert, Alert.”

The boy looked at him for a moment, nodded his head, repeated the message verbatim, and ran off the terrace up the steps.

I was ready to run downstairs and ride out, but George hadn’t moved yet. “What are you thinking so hard about, George?” I asked.

He gave a deep sigh before replying. “A lot of men are going to die sometime in the next twelve hours. I just hope I’ve trained them well enough that it’s ours that do the killing, not the dying.”

“Me, too, George! Me, too. Let’s go find our ladies, let them know what’s happening. Then we’ll head for the rally point.”

He nodded, and we went off in search of Celia and Anna. We found them together in the dining room. George told them what was happening, and we each hugged and kissed our lady goodbye before grabbing our weapons from the study. One of the cousins came riding up leading our saddled horses behind him as we walked out the courtyard door onto the lower plateau.

We mounted and began the long ride to the rally point, with George setting a steady but unhurried pace. As we rode, I asked George what the second Alpha in the message meant.

Still, with a grim face, he said, “That’s a small refinement we came up with a couple of weeks back. It means the enemy is converging and settling in for the night three to five miles outside the Estancia. A Bravo instead of an Alpha would have meant one to three miles. In either of those two cases, everyone was to go to the rally point without raising any dust. If the message had just read Alpha One that meant a full attack was on its way and to make all possible speed to the rally point.”

I could see horses and wagons moving all around us heading in the same direction we were going and thought to ask him about food and water for the men and horses.

As it turned out the feed and water for the horses were staged at the rally point a few weeks ago. A wagon each, from the village and the ranch, were sent out, to both rally points every morning, and brought back in every night. The food was used for lunch the next day. I couldn’t help but laugh and agree when he said the ladies of the Estancia would make fine logistics and supply NCOs.

When we finally reached the rally point, we found two hundred of the expected three hundred men already there. I followed George’s lead again and we rode to a makeshift corral deep inside the arroyo. We unsaddled our horses, turned them loose inside the corral, and threw our saddles on one of the wagons lined up outside the corral.

As we walked back to where the men were gathering, I asked George what Point Bravo was. It turned out that it was one of three places the Scout/Sniper teams had found within five miles of the Estancia where a large group of men could hole up and camp for the night.

We found Tom talking to a couple of men just outside the main gathering of men. He turned as we walked up and said, “The last message came in fifteen minutes ago and said that Point Bravo was confirmed. Over seventy men are preparing a full camp with small cooking fires and horse picket lines.”

George nodded, thanked him, and turned to look out over the men when one of the cousins appeared at his side out of nowhere. George acknowledged his presence with a short nod but otherwise ignored him for the time being. He walked out to the middle of the arroyo and stood there looking at the men milling around. Without a word, men started coming forward and forming up into ranks of five.

George patiently waited until there were sixty full ranks of five men then turned to the cousin.

“Send all present and accounted for. Expect attack during early morning hours near first light. God bless and good luck,” he said.

The cousin climbed out of the arroyo, took out his mirror, and began signaling.

“That was well done, George. Well done, indeed. The training you’ve given them has paid off very well so far,” I told him.

Deep in thought, he nevertheless acknowledged the compliment and again voiced his hope that it was good enough.

I turned towards Tom and saw Steve standing next to him. To say I was startled was an understatement.

“Steve, what the hell are you doing here? You’re supposed to be at the Hacienda.”

Steve shrugged. “Tom and I were spending a couple of extra hours in the saddle when the message was flashed and since this was closer than the Hacienda, I just came with him,” he replied.

“It’s too late to send you to the Hacienda now,” I groaned with dismay. “You haven’t trained for this and you don’t have a weapon, so I want you to stay close to George until this is over. You do what he tells you to do when he tells you to do it. Got it?”

George had heard the exchange and was shaking his head in disgust. I took the opportunity to change subjects.

“Tom, George, both of you raise your right hands and repeat after me.” They looked at me curiously but raised their right hands. “I, state your name, do hereby faithfully swear to execute the duties of the office I am about to enter and enforce the laws of the United States.”

When they completed the oath, I threw both a badge and said, “Congratulations. You are both now Acting Deputy US Marshals. I need you two to gather all the men and administer the same oath to them. I’m a little short of badges so we’ll have to make do with the two you have.”

While I was talking, I had pinned my badge on my coat, and they followed suit before walking to the center of the arroyo together. George waved his arm around his head and less than a minute later sixty men were gathered around him and Tom. He talked quietly for a few minutes and the group broke up.

George stood on one side of the arroyo while Tom stood on the other as men began to line up in groups of five in front of the two men. Each team took the oath, were congratulated, and went back to whatever they were doing. In less than ten minutes after I’d given them the task, it was done.

They both walked back to me and George looked at me. “Now what, Paul?” he asked.

I shrugged and said, “It’s your show, George. I do need to talk to you a little later, when you have time, about how you see this unfolding so that we’re both working from the same plan.”

George looked at me skeptically and asked, “What do you mean, ‘working from the same plan’?”

I pointed to the badge on my chest. “We have to obey the law, too, George. So far, those men out there haven’t broken any laws that I’m aware of. None of us even know who they are for sure. Tomorrow morning, when they get close enough, I have to be standing where we can see each other. If they are who we think they are, then I will identify myself and let them know they are under arrest. If any one of them goes for a gun, I expect you and the rest of the men to put holes, lots of holes, into every single one of them. But I have to give them the chance to surrender.”

George gave a deep sigh. “I know you’re right, Paul, but it makes me mad to think of the extremes we go to just to make sure the criminals are offered the chance to surrender.”

Having had his say he turned around and walked off.

Tom cleared his throat to get my attention and said, “Come on. Let’s get our saddles and some blankets so we can set up our area of the camp.”

Steve and I followed Tom back to the corrals, where he showed us a wagon half full of blankets. We each grabbed a couple of blankets, found our saddles, and followed Tom over to an area against the arroyo wall where we set up our sleeping areas. We were losing daylight fast, so we walked over to the food wagons, and each grabbed a sandwich.

Leaning against our saddles, we ate the sandwiches and washed them down with water. George showed up carrying blankets and his saddle just as the last of the light faded away. When he sat down, I handed him a sandwich and told him to eat, as he was going to need the energy later. He thanked me and quickly ate.

When George was done eating, he leaned back against the saddle and gave a long sigh. “I wish I could figure these guys out.”

“What’s troubling you, George?” Tom asked.

“Well, either these guys are much better led and trained than we thought, or they’re being led by idiots. In either case, I’m worried that something we haven’t accounted for is going to happen and we won’t be in the position to stop them,” George said with an explosive breath.

We were all silent for a moment.

“Run it down for us, George,” I said quietly. “Give us specifics of what has you spooked and then tell us how you see it playing out in the morning.”

George sat quietly for a moment and then started talking. “What’s bothering me is that, with one major exception, they did everything we expected all the way up until they got to the rally point. From there they haven’t done anything I expected.

“From everything we know about them and the tactics they’ve used in the past, they shouldn’t be here tonight. There’s no moon for the next two nights. In less than a half-hour, no one out here will be able to see their hand in front of their face.

“Then there’s their rally point. With no moon tonight they should have rallied much closer to the Hacienda. Instead, they rallied almost ten miles away and rather than moving closer as a group they pitched camp.

“When they did that, I began to get really worried that something else is going on and they are just a distraction. However, the last report we got from the Scout/Sniper teams and observation posts, just before we lost the sun, reported no activity at all to the west, north, or east.”

He gave another worried sigh, going quiet for a minute before continuing.

“The success these guys have had over the months clearly tells me they aren’t being led by a complete idiot, and that someone in their leadership group has had some kind of training. This just doesn’t make sense.

“As far as how I see it happening tomorrow there’s not much to say. Given the lack of moonlight to see by, I don’t expect them to send out their normal scouts. Also, with the lack of moonlight, they won’t be able to move towards the Hacienda until the false dawn gives them some light to see by.

“They really only have two options in the morning, if they are really going to attack us. The first option is that they ride out from their camp and up the road to get closer to the Hacienda and Ranch, figuring that everyone is going to be at breakfast, and they won’t be noticed until it’s too late. In that case, we ambush them as planned.

“The other, much more worrisome option is that they move out from their camp in small groups to another rally point much closer to the Hacienda. We didn’t plan for anything like that, and it becomes much harder to stop them. We’ll have to break the men up into their smaller teams and send one or two teams after each group. It’s very likely that a lot more of our men are going to die if we end up doing that.”

Tom interrupted George at that point. “Is it possible that there’s a much simpler explanation for how their acting, George? Maybe something as simple as they think they are already close, within a mile or two of the Hacienda? Would that explain what they’ve done so far?”

I’ve always been a big fan of ‘Occam’s Razor’, and Tom had used it to nail this problem down as far as I was concerned. I didn’t say anything though as I wanted to hear how George would respond.

Time seemed to stretch out and slow to a crawl, as we sat quietly waiting for George’s response. It seemed as if we’d been waiting thirty minutes, but I was sure it was less than two minutes when we heard George mutter something about ‘Occam’s Razor’ under his breath. I smiled in the dark, knowing that George was upset that he hadn’t thought of a simpler explanation.

It was quiet again for a moment and then we heard George say, “Tom, that would certainly fit the facts we have, and you’re probably right. You’ll excuse me, though, if I continue to try to come up with other reasons, just in case.”

We heard Tom snort just before he said, “George, you’re the expert. I’d be very worried if you weren’t trying to come up with other reasons.”

For the next hour, we talked quietly among ourselves about other things. Mostly George’s forthcoming wedding, and his conversion to Catholicism. There was little to do besides talk and with no light, there was absolutely nothing to see except the stars. Eventually, we all drifted off to sleep.

I don’t know about everyone else, but despite the tension that had been building inside of me since we got the alarm, I slept extremely well. Perhaps it was exhaustion from all the worrying I’d been doing for the last few months or the stress of re-planning everything since word had come that Steve would be visiting us.

Whatever the reason, I slept soundly through the night and didn’t wake up until I felt someone nudging my arm. I opened my eyes and saw a vaguely human-shaped gray outline against the dark night sky. It was George telling me we were moving to the ambush site in fifteen minutes.

I must not have moved at all while I slept, because as I got up, I discovered I was extremely stiff. As far as I could tell, with the limited light, I had plenty of room, so I closed my eyes and concentrated as I began doing Tai Chi exercises. I stopped after ten minutes, feeling much looser and ready for what lay ahead.

Although a long way from daylight, there was enough light to see by now. I picked up the blankets and my saddle and returned them to the wagons grabbing another couple of sandwiches from the food wagon as I passed it. With my shotgun hanging on my left side from its sling, and my rifle slung over my right shoulder, I walked around the arroyo looking for George, Tom, and Steve as I ate my sandwiches.

I finally saw them up near the road and walked over giving them a quiet good morning. We stood quietly for the next five minutes and watched the activity as the men prepared to leave. Eventually, the men, all three hundred of them, were gathered around us and quiet expectation filled the morning air.

George broke the silence and in a calm normal talking voice said, “You all know where to go and what to do. We’ve practiced it enough times that there shouldn’t be any surprises. We are using ambush point one. That’s three-quarters of a mile from here, and we don’t know yet what the enemy is doing or if they’ve started moving towards us, so let’s get there as quickly as we can. Team leaders, take your men out and get into position.”

As the men started to move off, George spoke up in a little louder voice. “Oh, remember that Paul is going to be standing in the middle of the road, so make sure you don’t shoot him by mistake.”

“I’d appreciate that, and so would Anna!” I added.

That got the nervous laughter that George was expecting, and he waved everyone forward. It was a far cry from a military formation, but as the men passed us, they broke into a trot with each team staying together. The four of us joined in at about the middle of the pack and ran forward as well.

It was immediately apparent that Steve was struggling to keep up with us, so we slowed a little and let the rest of the men pass us. It was a good thing we didn’t have to go farther than we did, because he wouldn’t have made it. He was gasping for breath when George slowed to a walk, near the ambush point. He led us over to an arroyo heading east off the road and sat down with his back against the arroyo wall with a good view of the Doña Ana Mountains where he was expecting to get the signal updates from.

When Steve quit gasping for air George clapped him on the back, and with a smile said, “We’ll work on your running when you get back from Austin.”

Steve groaned and just shook his head, still too out of breath to talk. George stood up and motioned for me to join him. I joined him on the road, and we walked fifteen yards further down the road. He stopped next to a four-foot-tall boulder standing just off the left side of the road.

“If you insist on standing and meeting them on the road this is the best place to do it. The boulder will give you some protection if you need it and somehow I think you will,” he said.

I nodded, liking his thinking and then turned back to look towards the arroyo. “Remind me how the men are deployed,” I said.

He turned and swept his arm along the length of the arroyo. “There are two hundred men in the arroyo waiting for the first shot to be fired. If they do what they’ve been told, then they won’t be seen until then.”

He turned to the west and swept his arm out towards the river. “There’s a draw about fifty feet from the road that roughly parallels it. There are a hundred men in that draw with the same instructions as the ones in the arroyo.”

He turned north and pointed to four separate small hills about three hundred yards behind the arroyo.

“There’s a Scout/Sniper team on each of those four hills. At the first sign of someone pulling a gun or making any other threatening move, they will fire. That is the signal for everyone else to rise up and start firing.”

Something was off here but I couldn’t put my finger on it. I turned around a full 360 degrees, looking at everything before it dawned on me.

I turned to George and asked, “What happened to all the brush?”

George laughed heartily for the first time since yesterday afternoon and said, “I had anything taller than a small barrel cactus cleared out for a hundred yards from the arroyo and the draw. I left the mesquite and creosote growing along the edges of the arroyo and draw to give our men some extra concealment but the Comancheros won’t have anything to hide behind. It’s now a classic killing field. If it comes to gunplay this morning, the raiders will be wiped out in less than thirty seconds. Let’s hope it takes them longer to wonder about that than it did you.”

“George, I meant what I said yesterday evening. You’ve done a hell of a job, here. Let’s get this done and then hopefully we can rest for a few years,” I said in a very sincere voice.

As he was about to reply we both caught a flash from the Doña Anas. George turned and made a big wave, signaling a ‘ready to receive’ acknowledgment with a torch since direct sunlight hadn’t reached us here yet. The message said that the raiders had broken camp. I raised an eyebrow when the message said the raiders were less than two miles away and coming up the road at a canter. They were much closer than I’d expected.

George waved another acknowledgment before turning to me. “I’d still like to know why they are doing it this way instead of how they usually do it, but at this point, it’s curiosity, not worry, that makes me wonder. Hopefully one of them will survive long enough to tell us.”

While George had been talking, I’d been watching the growing dust cloud to the south. “We can always hope George, but it really doesn’t matter, anymore.” I pointed to the south with my chin. “Whatever reason they have for doing it this way, they are doing it in a hurry. You best get along back to the men and let them know the raiders are almost here.”

George turned and looked at the dust cloud with me for a moment before wishing me good luck and walked back to the arroyo. About halfway there he stopped and turned to look at me.

“None of us want to be the one to tell Anna you died from stupidity, Paul. Don’t take any chances. You get your ass behind that boulder at the first sign of gunplay and stay there. Let us do what we trained to do.”

Done, he turned and disappeared into the arroyo with the men.

I stood gazing at the dust cloud as it grew before walking back to the boulder. I unslung my rifle leaning it against the backside of the boulder and walked around to the side of the boulder nearest the road. I checked that the safety was off on the shotgun and that it was fully loaded before leaning it back against the boulder. I began clearing my mind using the calming breathing exercises, I’d been taught so long ago, as I waited.

Less than ten minutes later, I could clearly see the dark mass of riders below the dust cloud. After another five minutes and I could see the individual riders. I pushed myself away from the boulder, grabbed the shotgun and took two steps onto the road where I stood with the shotgun cradled in my arm.

The lead riders finally saw me when they were less than a hundred yards away. As they passed the last of the mesquite and creosote bushes entering the clearing George had made, the riders began to move out to the sides of the two lead riders before slowing to a walk. They all came to a complete stop when they were ten yards away from me.

There was no question about it any longer. It was indeed Flat Nose and his gang of Comancheros. Flat Nose looked just as he’d been described.

A big burly man with thick, long, greasy, hair and a full beard that was just as long and greasy as his hair. His nose was indeed flat and spread out over much of his face. The hair, beard, nose, and beady deep-set eyes all combined to give him the look of an angry bear.

His looks and body language, even from the saddle, conveyed the impression that he was going to get what he wanted, and nothing was going to stand in his way. In short, it screamed mean, sadistic, brutal, bully.

I calmly looked over both him and his men before saying, “Good morning, Flat Nose. I’d welcome you to Estancia Dos Santos. Sadly, though, you’re not there yet. But where are my manners? Let me introduce myself, I am United States Marshal Paul McAllister. You and all your men are under arrest for murder, theft, rape, and kidnapping. If you throw down your guns and surrender peacefully, I can guarantee you a fair trial.”

There were a few snickers from among his men, but Flat Nose just glared at me with those dark beads of coal where his eyes should be. When he started talking it was in a surprisingly smooth mellow voice, not the deep gravelly growl I expected.

“Good morning, Marshal. I want to thank you for making my day complete. Not only do I get the riches, women, and cattle of the ranch behind you, I also get you. You’ve caused me and the organization I work for much grief in the last few years, and today I have the pleasure of putting an end to it.”

I smiled to myself. The man had a certain swagger to him, but he had no real clue of what he was facing. “Flat Nose, the ranch and everyone else on the Estancia have known you were coming since yesterday afternoon when you all met up at your campsite. They’ve had plenty of time to prepare. You aren’t facing a single-family living in a jacal, or badly built adobe home getting caught in a surprise raid. You’re facing hardened farmers and vaqueros fighting from a large stone building. And they are expecting you. A few of your men may be able to make off with a few head of cattle but you, and the rest of your men, will be lying dead. I encourage you to make this easy on yourself and surrender now.”

Flat Nose gave me a sadistic smile. “Marshal, my name is Fulgencio Madrid, not Flat Nose. You will die in just a few minutes, just for addressing me in such a manner. Not once, but twice. As for the ranch, I have eyes and can see the building from here, so I know it’s less than a mile away. The boss in Santa Fe wants you dead, and the ranch wiped out, as a lesson to everyone else in the valley. By the time we are done today the ranch building and the bunkhouse behind it will be destroyed. There won’t be a building left standing at the ranch.”

This time I couldn’t help but give a loud laugh. “Flat Nose, you are one stupid son of a bitch. I really expected more from a man who could lead as large a group of cutthroats as you’ve got here. Let me give you a little hint about what you face at the ranch if you should get by me. The building you see is two stories tall and easily fifty times larger than any building you have ever raided.

“It looks so close because it’s so big. It was built to house eighty vaqueros and their families. There are only two ways in, and both have long since been barricaded. Yes, there is a bunkhouse behind the ranch building. It has apartments for twenty single vaqueros. You are welcome to try and take it but you won’t find anything there, as the single vaqueros moved into the ranch building last night. But enough of this chit chat. This is the last time I’m going to say it. Either surrender or go for your guns.”

I think I touched a raw nerve calling him Flat Nose publicly for the third time. He glared at me for another couple of moments then, keeping both hands on his saddle horn, he stood and swept his gaze in a 180-degree arc from the end of his line of men on the left past me to the end of his men on the right. I knew he was playing for a little time to look things over and make sure he hadn’t missed something obviously wrong.

When he was done, he turned back to me. “Marshal, I told you when we started talking that you are a dead man. I don’t listen to dead men. Even if you weren’t dead, you are still lying to me so, either way, I’m not going to listen to you. It’s time to end this little game you’ve been playing. It’s time for you to die.”

I’d been half-expecting him to have a saddle gun but the sight of him raising his hand from the saddle with a gun already in it still surprised me more than a little. It didn’t slow me down any, though. I pulled the trigger on the shotgun three times as fast as I could get the barrel on target while taking two steps to my left to get what little protection the boulder could provide.

After the first blast of my shotgun bullets started flying from behind me and to my right as the men of the Estancia opened fire. I knew I’d hit Flat Nose with at least one of the shotgun blasts, as he was lifted off his horse and thrown backward. His horse ran past me down the road and that probably saved my life as I saw it shudder from getting hit with at least three shots as it passed between me and the right side of Flat Nose’s men.

By the time the horse passed me the fighting was over. All of the raiders were down on the ground along with several horses. Riderless horses were running off into the desert in every direction and those that weren’t were ground hitched and trembling.

I stepped out from behind the boulder and cussed as my right leg almost gave out from under me. Looking down I realized that either a lucky shot or a ricochet had torn most of the heel of my desert boot off. Grumbling to myself, I carefully stepped from behind the boulder and into the field.

After almost a full minute of looking at all the bodies I yelled back over my shoulder, “Tom, bring me two teams. George, check the men. I need a list of casualties and wounded. Everyone else stay ready. This may not be over, yet.”

Tom came out from the arroyo leading the ten men I’d asked for. “Work in teams of two and check all the raiders. Be very careful, as some aren’t dead and maybe playing possum. One-man checks, while the other guards him. Search each body for weapons, don’t forget to check the boots. Throw any you find in piles well away from the bodies. Start a new pile after every five men.”

They broke up into two-man teams and started the grisly task I’d given them. When they were gone, I turned my back to Tom and lifted my leg at the knee. “Do me a favor Tom. Use that pig sticker you carry and cut off what’s left of my boot heel so I can walk without looking like I’m drunk.”

Tom looked down at my heel, smiled, reached behind his back, and pulled out what to my way of thinking was a ridiculously large Bowie knife. When he’d finished carving the heel off my boot, I thanked him and looked up to see George standing in front of me, holding my rifle out to me, and smiling.

“There are no fatal casualties to report, but there are five minor grazing wounds. Three arms, one shoulder, and one head. The head wound is bleeding a lot, of course, but it’s just a graze,” he said.

“That’s great news, George. I’ll say it again, you’ve done a hell of a job so far, and you were right! This was, indeed, a perfect killing field.” I sighed at the thought of what was to come. “The fight may be over for now, but we have a lot of work to do. First thing first, though. Please get your signaler over here.”

George turned and looked at the arroyo before putting his left hand in the air and pumping it twice. Before he’d turned back around to face me, the cousin who was his assigned signaler came running out of the arroyo.

He came to a stop next to George, and I told him, “Send the following signal. Battle over. No fatal casualties. Five lightly wounded, none serious. Wounded returning to Hacienda. Names to follow.”

When it was clear I was done he turned towards the Robledo’s and started sending the message after receiving the ready signal.

While he was sending, I told George, “Give him the names to send when he’s done, then get all the wagons and horses up here from the rally point. Use the first empty wagon that pulls up to send the wounded to the Hacienda.”

George stayed with the signaler while Tom and I walked over to Flat Nose. He’d landed on his ass and was in a slouched sitting position. Using my foot, I gave his shoulder a small shove that sent him backward so that he was lying flat on his back. I’d hit him in the chest with at least two shotgun shots, as there wasn’t much left between his neck and his waist. I don’t know how long it took him to die, but he’d died too quickly as far as I was concerned.

George walked up telling us the messages had been sent. I nodded and thought for a minute. Sweeping my hand around in front of us I said, “This is a big mess, George. What do you intend to do about all the horses? Especially the dead horses.”

George gave me another small grin. “I’m going to have the vaqueros round up all the horses they can find and bring them here for some of the men to ride back. I’ll also have some of them drag the dead horses out to an arroyo or wash, push them over the side and cave the walls in on them.”

I rubbed my jaw in thought for a moment and then gave him his new orders. “Good. After you’ve got that started, I want you to send three Scout/Sniper teams out to backtrack the raiders and find out where they came from. When they find the main camp, I want two teams to remain and observe, while the third team comes back to lead you and eight teams to the camp. When you get there, I want you to end this once and for all. Arrest those you can, kill those who resist. I’m tired of people like these taking advantage of honest working people. Bring the bodies and prisoners to the office at Mesilla when you’re done.”

I turned to give Tom some tasks and found two of the young cousins standing behind us. I gave them a curious look and started to ask George why they were here, when he said with a grin, “These are yours and Tom’s signalers. I’m tired of you stealing mine.”

He turned then and walked off to start the tasks I’d given him.

I smiled at the two young men, clapped them on the back, and told them to stick close. “Tom, when the wagons start arriving, I want you to load the raiders into three groups of wagons. I want the dead loaded in one group of wagons, the dying in another group of wagons, and the wounded who will recover along with any unwounded in the third group of wagons.

“I want that third group well trussed up, hogtied would be nice, before they are loaded in the wagons. Make sure all the bodies are searched for papers and valuables before they’re loaded. I want Flat Nose loaded on the lead wagon at the very top of the pile, so he’s easily seen. Pick out the drivers and shotgun guards for each wagon as well as eight teams to act as my escort to Mesilla.”

Tom looked at me curiously for a second, and then asked, “Eight teams? That’s a little much, isn’t it?”

Grinning, I replied, “It’s time people saw just what we are capable of when pressed. Between the wagons loaded with dead bodies and the escorts, I think they’ll get the message I’m trying to send.”

Tom grinned, nodded his head, and walked off with his signaler beside him.

It took fifteen more minutes for all the wagons and horses to arrive and then the work really started. Tom and George rejoined me a few minutes later and we watched the activities for a couple of minutes.

Tom eventually broke the silence. “Paul, there are seventy-nine dead or dying and seven lightly wounded. The lightly wounded are tied up and sitting over by the road out of the way.”

“Thanks, Tom,” I replied. “Bring me the lightly wounded one at a time with a couple of guards.”

The first prisoner was a surly young man who would only tell me his name. I made a big fuss smiling continuously at him, clapping him enthusiastically on the shoulder, and laughing like he’d said something funny. Finally, I told Tom to take him over to the boulder and sit him down under guard before bringing me the next prisoner.

The next prisoner Tom brought me was a little older and answered my questions readily enough.

When he said his name was Bernardo, I acted quite surprised. “I’m surprised at how young you are Bernardo. Your friend Estefan over there told me you were one of Flat Nose’s Lieutenants and knew where the camp was, who in Santa Fe was telling Flat Nose what to do, and what the future plans were. Yes, sir, I’m real surprised at how young you are.”

Bernardo was visibly upset and angrily replied, “Estefan is an idiot. I’m the same as him. As far as Flat Nose was concerned, we were both peons. We did what we were told to do when we were told to do it and were never told anything. Our job was to hold the horses when the men attacked. The only one left who might know the answers to any of your questions is Scar Face. He’s the only one of Flat Nose’s Lieutenants left alive.”

I told the two guards to take Bernardo over to the other side of the boulder from his friend, and not to let them talk. When they walked away with Bernardo I turned to Tom.

“Tom, bring me the rest of the prisoners, one at a time. Save Scar Face for last.”

Tom grinned at me and walked back over to get another prisoner.

While we were waiting George said, “Well played, cousin. I’m impressed.”

I must admit, I was enjoying the little game I was playing and hoped that it would pay some dividends.

“It’s a start, George. Hopefully, by the time I’m done with Scar Face, we’ll learn something of value. Is Miguel here?”

George said he was, and I asked my new signaler to go find Miguel and ask him to come see me with two of his fiercest looking warriors. The signaler ran past Tom as he was arriving with the next prisoner.

Three of the next four prisoners talked willingly enough but they didn’t provide much in the way of additional information. Apparently, Flat Nose didn’t give out much information to anyone outside his closest circle of Lieutenants, and they only talked to the rank and file to give orders. The fourth prisoner never said a word, and I felt like I was talking to myself. In disgust, I sent him over to the boulder with the others and told Tom to bring me Scar Face.

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