Retreat (Robledo Mountain #3)
Copyright© 2020 by Kraken
I led a procession of four teams, the wagons, and the final four teams down the road. Instead of staying on the Camino Real to Mesilla, I detoured through Las Cruces, riding down the middle of Main Street, and then on to Mesilla. By the time the day was done, everyone in Las Cruces and Mesilla was going to know who I was, and that neither I nor the Estancia Dos Santos was to be trifled with.
Entering Mesilla, I slowed my horse until I was beside the lead vaquero. “Rodrigo, when we get to the plaza, I want you to unload the bodies from the wagons and lay them out in neat rows. Leave the prisoners in their wagon for now but make sure they are well guarded. I’ll join you after I’ve talked to my Deputies.”
At his nod, I cantered off down the street to the office. Inside, I was greeted by Esteban and Ed. I told them I had some bodies and prisoners following me, and we needed to get some things done.
“Esteban, get the last full set of papers the Judge sent, and come over to the plaza with me. Ed, please go round-up the Mayor, Town Marshal, Probate Judge, Justice of the Peace, Sheriff Bean if he’s in town, and the all bartenders from all the saloons. Have them meet me in the plaza. Make it clear this is an order, not a request. If they give you any gruff arrest them for impeding a federal investigation and bring them to the plaza at gunpoint.”
That got them moving. Ed put on his hat and grabbed his shotgun as he went out the door. Esteban opened a drawer in his desk and pulled out a stack of paper almost twelve inches thick, before grabbing his hat and following me out the door.
We stopped just outside the door to watch as the four wagons full of bodies and the wagon of prisoners rolled by, followed by the four teams of vaqueros. We walked to the front of the plaza arriving just in time for the first of the bodies to be lifted out of the wagon.
“Esteban, we have seventy-eight bodies to identify, and hopefully there’s some paper on more than a few of them. The first body they laid down is Flat Nose and I know we have paper on him,” I said.
Esteban gave a low whistle of surprise at the number of bodies. “You’re going to have to tell us how this happened Paul. It should prove to be an interesting story.”
“I’ll let you read the report later tonight. You and Ed are invited to supper at the restaurant in Las Cruces.”
While the vaqueros started laying a second row of bodies Esteban, and I began trying to identify the bodies in the first row. It took us fifteen minutes to complete the first row and we were able to identify five of the twelve bodies. We were about to start on the second row, when Ed walked up, herding all the people I’d asked him to bring. He was pointing his shotgun at three of the bartenders and telling them to get a move on.
They stopped in a group at the front of the plaza and stared at the bodies laid out by the vaqueros in neat orderly rows. I walked over and paced back forth in front of them for a minute.
“Gentlemen - and I use that term very loosely in your regard - you all know, or should know, who I am. Under normal circumstances, regardless of how I feel about you personally, I would greet you with a good day. However, these aren’t normal circumstances, and it’s definitely not a good day. It’s not a good day for these men you see laid out in front of you, and it’s not a good day for you, unless some things change, and change quickly.”
I stared each man in the eyes moving from one to the next before continuing. “This morning, just after sunrise, eighty-six Comancheros led by Flat Nose attacked Estancia Dos Santos. As you can see, they didn’t succeed. In fact, they failed and failed miserably.
“Of the men who attacked the Estancia, seventy-nine are dead and lie here in front of you. The other seven men, including Flat Nose’s chief Lieutenant, were lightly wounded and are now my prisoners. Those seven men will be kept in the county jail here for a few days, before being transported to Santa Fe for trial. Living on the frontier as we do, I expect raids by Indians or bandits at any moment, so I’m not too upset by that. I don’t like it, but I’m not too upset by it.”
I put my hands behind my back and paced in front of them for another minute, appearing to be deep in thought, before speaking again. “What I’m upset about, what I’m mad about, what I’m damned angry about, is the fact that for almost two years each of you, or the people in your employ, have lied multiple times directly to my Deputies and indirectly to me.”
I stopped in front of the three bartenders and stared at each of them. Sheriff Bean picked that moment to get huffy and try to throw his weight around.
“Marshal, I resent the insinuation that I or my Deputies have been lying to anyone,” he said.
“Sheriff, I don’t give a damn what you like or don’t like. You have two full-time Deputies, don’t you?” When he acknowledged that he did, I said, “And you hired those Deputies yourself didn’t you?” He grudgingly acknowledged that he had hired them. “Where are those Deputies now, Sheriff?”
The Sheriff looked around and not seeing his Deputies, gave a shrug and said, “They’re probably in the office at the courthouse.”
“That’s a curious thing, don’t you think, Sheriff? Four wagon loads of dead bodies roll into town, and yet, twenty minutes later, there’s still not a sign of the Deputies who should care about something like that.”
I turned to the Town Marshal. “The same thing can be said about your Deputy as well Marshal. Where can we find your Deputy?”
The Town Marshal glared at me for a moment before grudgingly saying, “He’s probably with the Sheriff’s Deputies in the Courthouse.”
“Esteban, Ed, go over to the courthouse and arrest all three of them for aiding and abetting known felons, both before and after the fact, in the commission of the crimes of murder, kidnapping, rape, and theft. Don’t take any chances with them, they probably know you’re coming.”
When Esteban and Ed walked into the courthouse, I continued with my little speech. “Now gentlemen, as I was saying, the next time you or one of your employees lies to my Deputies, you and them, will be arrested for making a false statement to a federal official and impeding a federal investigation. You will be sent to Santa Fe, in chains, and tried in federal court. Do you understand what I’m telling you? This ends... now!“
I stopped talking just as a muffled shot rang out from inside the courthouse across the street. A moment later, Esteban came out the door and waved, yelling that everything was fine before disappearing back inside.
I called Rodrigo over and asked him, in Apache, if he had paper and pencil with him. When he said that he did I told him what I wanted him to do. He grinned in reply and walked over to stand at the head of Flat Nose.
I turned to the town leaders and had them follow me over to stand at the feet of Flat Nose. “Now gentlemen, I have seventy-nine bodies to identify and you’re going to help me do it. If you lie and say you don’t know who someone was, you will be arrested and sent to Santa Fe with the others. All of you look at this body and someone tell me who it is.”
The Mayor, the Town Marshal, and two of the bartenders all identified him as Fulgencio Madrid, also known as Flat Nose.
Rodrigo asked the two bartenders for their names and wrote them down in his little book.
“See, gentlemen, that wasn’t so hard now, was it? Only seventy-eight more bodies to go.”
We were halfway done with the first row when Esteban and Ed came out the courthouse door pushing two men with their hands tied in front of them. Two other men followed them carrying another body.
Esteban told the men to stop in front of me. “Sorry, it took so long, Paul. These two and the other Sheriff’s Deputy over there decided to rob the county clerk and the land office before leaving out the back door. We caught them coming out of the Land Office and that one pulled a gun on us. Ed got him, as you can see, and we arrested the other two. We had to find and untie the county clerk and the land office clerk before we could bring these three out.”
“Good job guys, and well done. Put the dead one in the last row, and then start trying to find paper on the rest of these guys where we left off earlier,” I directed.
I returned to the town leaders, and we continued our efforts while Esteban and Ed checked each body against the wanted posters and warrants.
Two hours later we were done. Of the eighty bodies laid out on the plaza, we’d identified all but four and had paper on twenty-six of them. I had Scar Face brought over and he identified the four unknown bodies telling us what he could about them before I sent him back to the wagon.
I told the town leaders to stay where they were until I got back and then led Esteban, Ed, and Rodrigo a few yards away, where Rodrigo gave me the note pad, he’d been writing in, and I gave them instructions.
Rodrigo had the prisoners brought down off the wagon and then led the vaqueros and wagons out of Mesilla to Las Cruces, where I’d rejoin them at Mr. Mendoza’s stable. Esteban guarded the prisoners while Ed went over to the office, to write up the report on the Deputies robbing the county clerk and land office clerk.
I returned to the town leaders. “Gentlemen, I hope you take the lesson from today’s activity to heart. I won’t be so lenient the next time. Mayor, unless you want the plaza to stink to high heaven, I suggest you get the undertaker and arrange for immediate burial of these men. Since the three Deputies you recommended have been arrested on federal charges, I’m confiscating their possessions and turning them over to you, to use for the burials. If their possessions don’t cover the cost, then you’ll just have to cover it out of your budget. I’d like the Judge, Justice of the Peace, and Sheriff to stay for a few more minutes but the rest of you can go on about your business.”
When everyone else was out of earshot I gave the three men a hard stare. “I don’t like the things I’m hearing about the way you three have been operating. The rumors about you all handing out light fines to your friends while sentencing those you don’t like to maximum prison lengths are rampant. The next time I hear a rumor of that sort, I’m going to have to investigate, and I will find the truth, gentleman. If even part of that rumor is true, you will be looking at a trip to Santa Fe, a trial in federal court, and probably jail time in the territorial prison. That’s all I wanted to say. You other two can go but I still need a few words with the Sheriff.”
When the others had left, I said, “Sheriff, I believe you’re an honest and fair man but, unfortunately, you tend to listen to the wrong people. People like the Mayor and your brother Roy. I suggest you seriously consider doing the exact opposite of anything the Mayor advises and get your brother under control.
“Now, you have nine prisoners who are going to be in your jail cells for the next ten days or so, before my Deputies take them to Santa Fe. Unless you want to live in the courthouse until then guarding those prisoners yourself, I suggest you find new, trustworthy Deputies immediately. My Deputies and I will guard the prisoners until five this evening when I expect you back.”
Sheriff Bean clearly didn’t like being talked to like I’d been talking to him, especially by a much younger man, but he nodded his head and started to turn away.
“Sheriff, one final word of caution for you and your new Deputies. Those prisoners will be in your care. If they escape, I will arrest you and the Deputies for aiding and abetting. Likewise, if any of them die, I will arrest you and your Deputies for murder.”
With a clenched jaw, he hurried away to find his new Deputies.
Esteban and I led the prisoners into the jail cells in the courthouse and locked them up, before sitting down at the desks in the Sheriff’s office. I rummaged around in the Sheriff’s desk until I found paper and a pencil. When I had everything I needed, I told Esteban I would watch the prisoners, if he would be good enough to track down some coffee and sandwiches for us. He laughed and walked out the door, saying he’d be back in a few minutes.
I was hard at work on my report when Esteban returned with a large pot of coffee. Ed followed him in, carrying a plate of sandwiches, his report, and the papers on the dead Comancheros. I thanked them and grabbed a sandwich with a cup of coffee before returning to my report. Esteban and Ed talked quietly and took turns checking the prisoners frequently while I wrote.
I finally finished and signed the report. I added the wanted posters and warrants with deceased written across them, and also Ed’s report signed by Esteban and Ed. We hunted around the office until we found a large sheet of brown wrapping paper and twine to wrap everything in.
The Sheriff and his two new Deputies showed up while we were waiting for Ed to return from putting the package to the Judge in the mail. I gave the new Deputies the same warning I’d given the sheriff about the prisoners, and Esteban and I walked outside to wait for Ed. Ed came around the corner less than a minute later, and we all walked down to the stable, saddled our horses and rode to Las Cruces.
By the time we got to Las Cruces, I was bone tired. We turned our horses over to the stable boys and talked to the vaqueros who were lounging around the stables, most with a beer. Eventually, we made our way out behind the stables and found Mr. Mendoza sitting at the table working on harnesses as expected. He greeted us with a smile and told us he’d heard from the vaqueros that we’d had a busy day. I snorted and told him that was an understatement.
I sat and vegetated for what remained of the afternoon and listened to Esteban and Ed talking with Mr. Mendoza until he said it was time for supper. We walked in the back door, watched the kitchen dance for a few moments, and went to the family dining room.
Mrs. Mendoza followed us in with coffee and gave me a hug and cheek kiss before disappearing back into the kitchen. Over the next several minutes all the ladies of the Mendoza clan came in and gave me a hug and cheek kiss as well.
Supper was the normal affair much like supper at the Hacienda only a little tamer with only one language being spoken. The vaqueros had spread the word of what happened this morning, and this afternoon, so I didn’t get many questions about those activities. When Mrs. Mendoza asked how Anna and Yolanda were doing, I suddenly realized everyone was waiting for news about the Estancia.
I grinned at Mrs. Mendoza. “Anna and Yolanda are fine, as is everyone on the Estancia. You’ll be able to talk to Anna, Yolanda, and Tom tomorrow at lunch, as they’re bringing your two great-grandsons for a visit.” When the table had settled back down, I continued. “Cousin George has left the Army, and now leads the Estancia Militia. It was his plan that allowed us to beat the Comancheros this morning. He also proposed to Celia, so you can expect to get invitations as soon as the date is set.”
I gave them any other news I thought was worthy of their attention, and everyone appeared pleased with my efforts. There were going to be a lot more surprises over the next few days, but those would be revealed in private discussions with the appropriate people.
I drank a couple of cups of coffee after supper, just to be sociable, and turned in early. I was as mentally exhausted as I ever remembered being. Just before I drifted off to sleep, I heard Laura’s soft sweet voice in my left ear.
“You did extremely well, today. I’m very proud of you, and the man you’re becoming.”
After breakfast the next morning, I sent the vaqueros and wagons home with a message I’d written to Hector. I told Esteban and Ed to be ready to leave for Santa Fe with the prisoners in ten days, and that I would send twenty men to them as escorts for the trip.
As they were mounting their horses for the trip back to Mesilla, Esteban asked me to bring Anna for a visit, he had something he wanted both of us to see. Curious at what he wanted to show us I told him we’d stop by sometime tomorrow afternoon.
With business over, for the time being, I paid a quick visit to Mrs. Amador’s store and picked up a new pair of boots, so I could quit limping around. Boots in hand, I walked over to the barbers and had a quick bath, before settling in for a much-needed haircut and shave. When I walked out an hour later, I was looking good. Even my clothes didn’t look too bad as I’d had them brushed out while I was bathing.
I stopped by my favorite store on the way back to the stable, and said hello to Dolores Delgado, letting her know that Anna and Yolanda should be in town this afternoon for a visit. As I was leaving, Dolores told me she was looking forward to negotiating with Anna, as it was boring since she’d married me and left to live on the Estancia. I laughed as I walked out, thinking she was certainly going to be surprised the next time she met with us.
Back at the stables I found Mr. Mendoza at his usual spot and spent the rest of the morning picking his brain about the best place in El Paso to get luxurious and comfortable travel coaches made. It was his opinion that the only place to get a coach like I’d described, was the Rodriquez Brothers in El Paso del Norte.
From there we turned to talking about a wagon for transporting prisoners to Santa Fe. I told him I’d decided that Esteban and Ed needed a purpose-built wagon, that would keep the prisoners secured and the Deputies safe while they traveled.
He shrugged, and after a moment of thought said almost any wainwright could build what I needed. From his point of the view, the problem was going to be specifying exactly what I wanted built into the wagon to secure the prisoners. I was mulling over his comments when we heard horses and a wagon coming into the stable yard along with Tom’s voice.
Mr. Mendoza and I hurried out to the stable yard, arriving just in time for me to catch Anna in my arms as she dropped down from her horse. I hugged her tightly and swung her around in a circle a couple of times. She giggled delightedly before I set her down and gave her a big hug and a long kiss. When we were done, we turned and found Mr. Mendoza, a baby in each arm, walking towards the restaurant with Yolanda following behind him. I smiled at Anna as she hurried after Yolanda, catching up to her just outside the door.