Copyright© 2018 by Kraken
I was up early the next morning after a restless night, dreading the conversation Anna wanted to have. Walking into the restaurant I was surprised to get my normal Anna smile, hug, and kiss. Maybe this wasn’t going to be so bad after all. She pointed me back to my usual table, and brought over two cups of coffee. Sitting down, she said that breakfast would be out in a few minutes and asked how I’d slept.
“Not well. It was a restless sleep that had me tossing and turning all night,” I replied.
She looked at me with concern in her eyes. “Was it because of the man you killed, yesterday?”
I stared at her, thinking that this conversation wasn’t going anywhere near the direction I’d thought it would go.
“Anna, the man I killed yesterday wasn’t the first man I’ve killed. I don’t like killing people, and I usually go out of my way to avoid it; but, as you heard last night, when someone picks up a weapon and tries to use it on me or someone who is important to me the only response I can give them is to kill them first. If I’d killed that man by accident; then yes, I would feel bad about it. But the fact is he was doing everything in his power to kill me. I have no regrets about killing him. If he’d succeeded in killing me then you’d be sitting here alone this morning wondering about what might have been.”
With a thoughtful look she said, “I’ve never thought about death that way. I’ve never really thought about death at all, except when someone I know dies. Then I just think about how senseless their death was. I think I understand what you are saying. I’m confused now, though. If you weren’t upset from killing that man, why did you not sleep well?”
I reached over and took hold of both her hands. “My sweet Dulcinea, my dad used to say that there were five words every man he ever knew, was deathly afraid of hearing from the woman in his life. He also said that most women learned early the impact those words had, and figured out different ways to give other phrases the same meaning.”
As I finished speaking, Mrs. Mendoza set my breakfast in front of me and pulled up a chair of her own.
“Mama, do you know the five words he’s talking about?”
“No, dear. I’m interested in hearing them as well.”
I looked at both of them and said, “The five words every man dreads having a woman say to him, above all other things, are: ‘Honey, we need to talk.’”
They stared at me for a minute, blinked, looked at each other, and started laughing. I took the opportunity to eat my breakfast. The entire time I was eating, the two would calm down, look at each other, and start laughing all over again. Finally, when I was done eating, Mrs. Mendoza asked what had brought this up.
“I was asking him why he didn’t sleep well last night. I thought it might be because he killed that man yesterday, but that wasn’t it at all. It was the five dreaded words. But I never said that yesterday.”
“Yes, you did, Anna. You didn’t realize it but you meant exactly that when you told me you wanted to talk more about the fight this morning at breakfast. To a man, that’s ‘woman code’ for: ‘Honey, we need to talk.’”
That started them both laughing all over again. When they’d both settled down again, Anna asked, “I just wanted to make sure you were all right after killing a man, that’s all.”
I nodded and launched into an explanation. “Anna, men and women are vastly different creatures. Not just in how their bodies look or how their plumbing works but also in how they think and look at relationships. One of the great mysteries to men is how women think. It’s a mystery to us because women think in ways that are so foreign to us that it is a constant source of confusion. Women, I understand, have the same problem with the way men think. When a woman tells a man that they ‘need to talk,’ the man knows he’s either done something wrong from the woman’s point of view; or, even worse, he’s going to have to try and follow the woman’s thoughts as she tries to explain whatever the problem or issue is. The woman wants to talk about it, pull at all the threads of how it was caused, did someone really mean what they said, what tone of voice was used, what was the body language saying. A man on the other hand just wants to figure out what the problem is, the best way to fix it, fix the problem, and move on to the next one. All he hears is a woman describing a problem so he stops paying attention to what the woman is saying, and starts thinking about solutions. Invariably, at some point, he tells the woman what he thinks is the obvious solution and figures it’s time to move on to the next problem. The woman gets angry that the man wasn’t listening to her and, wham, the fight is on. Neither one understands the way the other thinks, nor why they are even fighting. By the time a young man gets to be my age he knows that when a woman says, ‘Honey we need to talk’ he’d much rather face a whole tribe of Comanche than go through that.”
Again, the two looked at each other. Mrs. Mendoza laughed and said, “He’s right, dear. I’ve seen and done the same thing with Papa. The other ladies have as well. It’s one of the great mysteries of life, and one every man and woman have to come to grips with, each in their own way. In my case, I’ve learned to just bring him problems I can’t solve, tell him the possible solutions I’ve thought of, why I don’t think those solutions will work, and ask him to come up with a workable solution. For the rest, I talk to you and the other ladies. If you and Pablo continue together, you’ll need to understand that there will be times you’ll want to say, ‘Honey we need to talk’ and figure out how to say them, or save them until you’re in town.”
Mrs. Mendoza was one smart woman.
We talked for a while longer before I paid for breakfast, gave Anna a kiss and hug, getting a big Anna smile in return, and left for the stables. At the stables, I invited Mr. Mendoza to ride out with me to practice shooting. We saddled up and rode east, out of town towards the Organ Mountains, looking for an arroyo about six feet deep that we could get in and out of easily.
He led me straight to an arroyo that was perfect for shooting practice, and far enough from town we weren’t likely to get curious spectators while practicing. We tethered the horses in a small cutout on one side of the arroyo. Gathering six sticks of varying lengths, I stuck them standing up in the sand forty yards away, and went back to the horses. I got my saddlebags before walking to the middle of the arroyo. I took the hammer thong off my Colt, loosened it up in the holster, then drew and fired at the sticks as fast as I could. I hit three of the six sticks, which I thought was pretty good for forty-yard snap shots with the off-hand. Holstering the gun, I walked back over to where Mr. Mendoza was sitting in the shade of a cottonwood overhanging the bank.
“That’s a fine pistol you have, Pablo. I could have used one like that back when I was first starting business with my cousin Raul,” he said while watching me reload. At my questioning look, he explained, “Back when I was about your age, my cousin Raul and I decided to go into business selling wild horses we captured and saddle broke. We spent six months rounding up wild horses, and another eight months breaking them. We were finally ready to drive them to El Paso del Norte and sell them when the Federales showed up and requisitioned them from us. All that time and work and we got nothing for it. A couple of nights later, after Raul and I drank too much Tequila, we snuck into the Federales compound, and stole our horses back. We were driving the horses out of the compound when some of the guards fired at us. Raul was hit in the back, but managed to stay on his horse. We rode towards the Rio Grande until just before daylight when Raul fell off his horse. He was lucky, he’d been hit just under the shoulder blade but either it was at the extreme range of the rifle or the shooter used a light load of powder. Either way, the ball was lodged just underneath the skin. I was able to get the ball out and bandage him up, but poor Raul was so sore and tender it was all he could do to hold the reins and stay on the horse. For four days we drove those horses towards the Rio Grande, trying to get away from the Federales. Luckily there were only six horses left at the compound, so there weren’t a lot of them chasing us. Unfortunately, they had pistols and rifles. We had nothing but our knives. Losing the Federales was the only option we had, unless we wanted to give up the horses or die.”
He stopped there so I had to ask, “What happened?”
Grinning, he said, “We lost them, of course! By luck we came to a section of hardpan near the Franklin Mountains, after crossing the Rio Grande. We rode on that hardpan for half a day, before finding a canyon with enough water and grass for the horses. We watched the Federales hunting for us from behind some rocks at the top of the canyon. Three days later, we watched them pass by us on their way back towards the Rio Grande. Within three weeks we sold those horses to ranchers around El Paso del Norte. The first thing we did with the money, was buy a pistol and rifle each, along with shot, powder, and horn. The rest of the money we used to buy ten acres near town, after we decided to stay there instead of going back to Chihuahua.” He trailed off, appearing to be lost in memories for a few moments.
“That was our first exposure to thieves at that level,” he continued. “Over the next twenty years we had our herds stolen by Federales, Apaches, and just plain bandits. Every time, we tracked them down and stole them back. Sometimes without violence, but usually with at least a few of those who stole the herd getting killed. We got smarter though the longer we lived near El Paso and learned the surrounding land. Most of the time we kept the majority of our herd hidden in canyons, and worked on them there before selling them. We also practiced a lot with our pistols and rifles. We soon learned that having extra rifles was well worth the expense.”
He sat staring off into space for a few moments before getting a big grin on his face. “The US Army set up a fort near El Paso, just after the war started. They were supposed to be mounted infantry but they didn’t have any horses. Instead of buying our horses, they did just like the damned Federales did, and requisitioned our horses. They did give us a piece of paper that they said would be exchanged for $10 per head. All Raul and I had to do to get paid, was present the paper to the Quartermaster in San Antonio.” He paused and gave a derisive snort. “San Antonio! They said it like it was a peaceful overnight outing. Never mind the fact that most of the country between here and there was a war zone between the US and Mexican governments. Never mind the fact that the Apache and Comanche were raiding both sides. Just go to San Antonio. So, Raul and I did what we always did when someone stole our herd. We stole it back. Even in the early days of the war it was clear the Americans were going to win the war so we tried not to kill anyone. Regardless, we ended exchanging gunfire with the troops guarding the horses that night. Some of them were hurt, and two were killed. We herded the horses up the Rio Grande to one of the hidden canyons in the Franklin Mountains. I guarded them while Raul went home in case the Army came around asking questions. It was a good thing he did, too. The Army came by and questioned Raul. He told them I’d left for San Antonio right after they requisitioned our herd. Meanwhile the Army hired some Apache to trail the stolen herd. The Apache failed to find the trail, and told the Army the horses were lost. Some people think the fact that the Apaches the Army hired were Garcia Apaches had something to do with their failure to find the trail, but no one ever said it publicly. We did sell those horses to the Army, in El Paso, after the war, for a much higher price! We got cash money on delivery, too. We made enough from that sale to set the family up here in Las Cruces and for Raul to expand the stables in El Paso.”
Mr. Mendoza turned his head to stare at me. “That’s enough of the Mendoza story for now, Pablo. You haven’t fired but six shots since we got here. I’m not that good a story teller to make you forget about practicing. Why don’t you tell me why we’re out here?”
“Mr. Mendoza, there’s some things you need to know about me. Actually, there’s a lot you need to know about me, but most of it will have to wait for another time. For now, I want to stick to just a few things if that’s okay with you.”
He gave me a concerned look, but nodded once.
“I told you a few years back, the first time I came to town, that I’d found a little gold and showed you the bars I’d made. Those weren’t the only bars of gold I had, but that’s the only time I used gold bars to buy things with. I’ve made darn sure not to spend a lot of money in Las Cruces too. Yes, I’ve bought quite a bit of things in Las Cruces but nothing extravagant. Mostly things that any farm or ranch needs, like stock, wagons, supplies, and the like. Just about everything I bought was from you and Mrs. Amador. About the only luxury I bought, was the wood I used to build the floor in my house. What I’m trying to say is that no one, including you, has any idea how much money I have, or for that matter where and how I live. That needs to change and it needs to start changing now. By the time Anna and I get married; she, you and Mrs. Mendoza need to know as much about me as you can learn.
It was clear from the look on his face that he was interested in what I was saying, but didn’t understand the need for talking out here instead of around the dinner table.
“I’ve been very careful to talk about my place as a rancho, which is true as far as it goes. It’s really much more than a rancho. To really understand what I mean you first need to understand what I think is going to happen to the country, to the Territory, and to Las Cruces in the next ten years. Sometime in the next ten years, there’s going to be a war between the North and the South. The slavery issue is getting louder and more violent on both sides. The south will lose the war, but it will take a few years. Most of the fighting will be east of the Mississippi River, but there will be a few battles here in New Mexico as both sides try to gain control of the territory. Just like in the last war, the armies will need and demand food and horses from whoever they come across. In most instances, they will simply take what they need, issuing worthless paper script promising payment at some future date. While the war goes on most of the soldiers out here will be pulled back east. When that happens, the various Indian tribes will think they’ve driven the white man out, and will start large scale raiding. They won’t quit when the soldiers come back, either. Meanwhile, large gangs of robbers will move west, taking whatever they can, whenever they can, from whoever they can, until the army comes back. Finally, when the war is won, the North will make demands the South can’t meet and unscrupulous men will start taking over all the land they can steal. I plan on my ranch being big enough, and strong enough, to outlast the war and raids, both military and political. I have the land now, most of the money I think I need, and most of a plan to make it happen. I just need to finalize the plan and find the right people to help me turn it into reality. I’m really hoping that you, Jorge, and Juan will be three of the key people in helping me with my plan but you will know much more about the plan than the other two. Not because I don’t trust them; but because, for now, they don’t need to know as much.”
Mr. Mendoza was looking at me strangely and said, “You really believe all that?”
“Yes, Sir, every word,” I said seriously.
“I don’t know if you’re right or wrong but let’s say you’re right. What are your plans?” He said after a moment’s thought.
“I need to give you a little more background. When I went up to Santa Fe and got my homestead, I also bought some land around it. A little over forty thousand acres to be exact. I don’t own a little rancho, I own what will become Estancia Dos Santos. My home, which sits almost smack dab in the center of it will become the Hacienda Dos Santos. The eight miles of land, four miles in all directions either side of the river will become the Finca Dos Santos with a village, Dos Santos Village of over three hundred families nearby. The desert land between the river and the Doña Ana Mountains will have somewhere around eight thousand head of cattle grazing on it, and will become Rancho Dos Santos.”
“Forty thousand acres?” he asked unbelievably.
He shook his head again before saying, “Having land is good but do you have the money to do the rest?”
I grinned at him. “There was more gold than I let on, a few years ago. A lot more. Every time I’ve come to visit Anna, you all asked me what I’d been doing and every time I told you the same thing, I was earning money and working on preparing the ranch. In fact, I’ve spent the last three years digging up gold. I’ve made nine trips to deposit the gold in the bank in Santa Fe, and another trip to El Paso a few weeks back to start an account there, and buy an engagement ring for Anna. So, yes, I have the money I need to make my vision a reality. What I don’t have, is the people to make it happen. I’m going to take Jorge up to my land, and explain my vision to him, so he can draw up some designs. When we get back to Las Cruces after that trip, I want to explain to the three of you the kinds of people I’m looking for, so you can help me find them. Rest assured that barring any unforeseen excessive spending, Anna and I will be very comfortable for the rest of lives.”
I sat silent for the next few minutes while he was thinking about what I’d just said. Once his attention returned to me I pulled out my revolver.
“This gun is currently one of a kind, I think. You saw that it fired six shots but then I had to open it, remove the empty brass, reload it, and close it back up before I could shoot again. That’s better than having to reload after each shot, like you do a muzzle loader, or change cylinders like you do with the new revolvers.”