Copyright© 2018 by Kraken
At the hotel, we found the buggy still hitched near the stable. We told the stable boy we were taking it back out, climbed in, and rolled out to the street with Mr. Mendoza driving. I knew that what was now called El Paso and El Paso del Norte, had originally been a series of small missions that had grown together, and that our hotel was really in the Anglo area just north of El Paso called Franklin. Even with that understanding, it was amazing how spread out El Paso was.
We pulled up to a livery stable about fifteen minutes later and climbed out of the buggy. As we headed into the stable, we were met by a short wizened older man who greeted Mr. Mendoza with a big grin on his face. The two hugged and greeted each other both talking at the same time.
Mr. Mendoza turned to me and introduced his cousin Raul as the owner of this establishment. He introduced me as Anna’s fiancée, and told him we were looking for mules and horses to take back with us.
All business now Raul asked, “What kind of work are you going to do with the mules, and how many are you looking for?”
“We’re looking primarily for mules to pull farm wagons, but they will also be used for plowing and other planting and harvesting work. We just need four, for now, Sir. We bought a new wagon and the mules will pull it back to Las Cruces. I expect to need eighty more over the next year, though.”
“I have more than enough mules here that are available if and when you need them,” he said as he led us over to a corral.
He went inside the corral and brought four mules over to us to look at. Mr. Mendoza checked them over thoroughly, and finally nodded to me before turning to Raul to talk price. I knew next to nothing about mules much less prices and trusted Mr. Mendoza, cousin to Raul or not, and let him handle the bargaining.
With the price of the mules with harnesses settled, we turned to horse talk. “Sir, I’m looking for good danger smart horses that don’t shy at the sound of gunfire. I will be using them for trips back and forth to Las Cruces from the ranch, as well as longer cross-country trips. I want two for me and two for Anna.”
He nodded and asked, “How good a horseman are you?”
I looked at Mr. Mendoza. “I don’t really know how to answer that.”
“Raul, Pablo sits the saddle well and handles his current horse, who is quite spirited, very well; but he doesn’t have bronc busting experience,” Mr. Mendoza replied for me.
Raul then asked about Anna’s ability. Mr. Mendoza said that Anna sat the saddle well but rarely rode. She was going to start riding every day when they got back to Las Cruces, to start getting use to riding, before the wedding. Raul nodded and thought for a few moments before taking us over to another corral.
He led two large nice-looking horses, one a palomino and the other a dun, out past us and over to a large tack shed. He looked at me evaluating my size, walked into the tack shed and returned carrying a saddle. After saddling the palomino he motioned for me to mount up and ride around the yard a little.
I lengthened the stirrups a little then mounted up settling into the saddle. Watching the horse’s ears for signs of trouble I was ready when she began hopping around and bucking. After a minute or two, she finally settled down and we rode around the yard at a walk, trot, canter, and then galloped back to where the others were standing. About halfway back, I drew my revolver and fired it at a stump as we passed it. A twitch of her ears was the horse’s only reaction.
I nodded at Raul as I dismounted. “She’ll do just fine ... well, if Mr. Mendoza approves.”
Raul said the dun was just as spirited, and as well trained, but responded to knee commands even better. Mr. Mendoza had already checked out the dun and was busy inspecting the palomino.
He finally looked over at me and said, “Both horses are in good health and well cared for as I would expect of any of Raul’s stock.”
Raul unsaddled the palomino and led her and the dun back into the corral telling us he’d be right back. He returned leading two paints.
“These two ladies spent the first three years of their working lives as cutting horses. They are extremely quick, and smarter than most horses I’ve worked with over the years; but more importantly, they are gentle. I think they will be perfect for Anna,” Raul said.
Mr. Mendoza checked them out in his usual thorough way, and nodded to me. Raul took them back into the stables and then came back out ready to start talking prices. I gestured to Mr. Mendoza who bargained with Raul for the next fifteen minutes. When they both agreed on the price we walked into the small office and went through the receipt and countersign process. I told Raul we’d take the four mules with us, and be back to get the horses in two days.
We stood next to the buggy talking for a few minutes when Raul mentioned to Mr. Mendoza that their younger cousin Hector was in town, staying with Raul and his family. Mr. Mendoza looked startled, and said the last time he’d seen Hector he was about my age. Raul told us that Hector was Segundo on a large Rancho a few hundred miles south; but the owner had died, and his sons were turning from ranching to farming.
Mr. Mendoza looked at me speculatively. I nodded at him and Mr. Mendoza invited Raul, his wife, and Hector to dinner that evening at the Cattleman’s Hotel at six. Raul quickly agreed, and said he was looking forward to it.
On our way back to the hotel to meet the ladies, Mr. Mendoza told us that Hector had been a little wild as a youth. He was very charismatic. He had never wanted to be anything but a vaquero, was an excellent horseman, an outstanding shot, and quickly mastered every part of being a vaquero. We talked about riding, roping, branding, and the life of a vaquero the rest of the way to the hotel.
I could hardly believe what we’d accomplished this morning. I had a full day and a half left, and the only thing remaining on my list was to visit the blacksmith about making metal storage boxes for the wagons.
We walked into the restaurant to find the ladies already seated. As we sat, the waitress brought us each coffee. We all ordered the lunch special and caught up with each other’s morning.
Mr. Mendoza mentioned that we had invited Raul, his wife, and cousin Hector to join us for dinner tonight. Mrs. Mendoza had never met Hector so Mr. Mendoza explained who he was, how they were related, and what he’d been doing. On hearing that Hector would be out of work soon I got a knowing nod and a large Anna smile.
With lunch over, we all walked back outside where, after quick goodbyes, the ladies started out in search of dresses and materials. I suggested we take the buggy and go see a blacksmith about wagon boxes. If there was enough time afterwards, we could go see Heinrich to make sure the deliveries had been made. They both thought that was a good plan, and once in the buggy we rode off.
The blacksmith stop was easier than I’d expected, as he knew exactly what I wanted. He showed us a smaller example he had just finished for another customer. The metal box had an insert with two stacked rows of padded arms to hold rifles. The insert could be removed to allow use of the box for other storage needs. The boxes were mounted with heated bolts hammered from both top and bottom to create large rivets. I ordered two boxes per month, based on the bed width of the wagons I’d ordered from the wainwright. I asked the blacksmith to work out his scheduling with the wainwright, so they’d already be installed when we picked them up each month.
We arrived at Heinrich’s camp to the sounds of a very loud argument. Heinrich was standing opposite a large red-faced man, who was taller than me. Both were loudly talking over the other. Two rough looking men were mounted behind the stranger, while all of Heinrich’s men were standing behind him. Climbing out of the buggy we walked toward the argument.
Laura’s soft voice seemed to come from my left. “Be careful with this one, Paul. He is angry and will lash out in fury at the slightest provocation.”
Startled, I stopped for a moment looking around for the source of the voice. There was no one there. Well, hell! Both Dream Laura and Great Grandfather Garcia had told me she was trying to talk to me. I guess the meditation was working after all, I thought resignedly. I was still uncomfortable with the thought of spirit voices talking to me in my head.
Quickly regaining the half step I’d lost on the others, we approached from the side and for all we could tell were completely unnoticed. Standing there without being noticed for more than a minute I finally lost my patience. Whistling loudly got me everyone’s attention as well as the desired result, peace and quiet.
“Heinrich, what’s going on here?” I asked in a reasonable tone of voice.
The other man started to answer but I held up my hand. “You’ll get your turn in a minute.”
I nodded to Heinrich to proceed. “This is Mr. Stevens, he is trying to force us to stay to finish a job some of my men have been working on. I tried to tell him that the contract says either side can terminate at any time, for any reason,” Heinrich explained.
“Thank you, Heinrich.” I turned to Mr. Stevens. “Is what Heinrich said correct?”
“Yes, it’s correct, but their leaving before the job is done will leave me in a bind,” Stevens said reluctantly.
“Sir, there are plenty of out of work masons in El Paso. I suggest you hire one or two of them to finish the work,” I said.
He started getting angrier. “Look, kid, I shouldn’t have to explain myself to you but the others charge too much. At least this crew knows they’re only worth forty cents a day. Now get out of the way before you get hurt.”
I had an uneasy feeling about where this was going but barreled on anyway. “Sir, if that’s the way you feel, then you should be happy to be rid of them. Regardless of your views on the subject; they have bid on a job, and that bid has been accepted. They are now my full-time employees, and we are pulling out in two days.”
He finally lost all control, and came towards me swinging his fist. I blocked his swing, hit him in the stomach and when he doubled over I caught him with my knee coming up under the chin. He flopped to the ground his back, passed out. The other two had dismounted while I was talking, and now decided they needed to defend Mr. Stevens.
Individually they may have been good fighters, but combined they were almost useless. They both rushed to get to me. Arriving at the almost the same time they just got in each other’s way. I sidestepped the one that was slightly faster, pushing his back as he went past giving him more momentum. I used the momentum caused by my push to move into a back leg sweep, that took the second man’s feet out from under him wrenching the knee of the leg he’d planted to throw a punch. The first man was back and swinging. I quickly blocked his punch and hit him with three quick punches, face, diaphragm, and face. Stunned and unable to catch his breath, he wasn’t even aware of what was going on as I took his arm, swung him around once, and threw him down into the second man causing a big tangle. I looked over at Mr. Mendoza who had a grim smile on his face, and was shaking his head back and forth.
All of a sudden, his eyes widened. Just seeing his eyes go wide had me spinning around while pulling my pistol. Stevens, like most folks, expected me to be right handed, and to spin to my right so that’s where he fired. Right into the side of one of the wagons. Since I was left handed I’d spun to the left. I shot him just as he was cocking his pistol again while tracking me to the left.
I holstered my pistol, looked down disgustedly at the corpse of Mr. Stevens, looked over at Mr. Mendoza and shook my head. I turned to Giuseppe.
“Please go find the Marshall and get him out here, pronto.”
Giuseppe nodded with wide eyes, mounted one of the two men’s horses, and headed to town at a gallop. I turned, saw my empty brass casing, and picked it up before turning to the other two men.
“Stay right where you are. If either of you try to get up, I’ll kill you both,” I said in a hard voice leaving no doubt in either of their minds that I was serious.
They both looked at Stevens then over at me, and nodded.
I looked at Heinrich. “It appears that your problems with Mr. Stevens are resolved in your favor. If you have any, I’d sure appreciate a cup of coffee right about now.”
Heinrich had two of his men stay with the men Steven’s had brought with him, and led the rest of us to the dining fly where we sat down. As he was pouring our coffee, the ladies and children came out of the wagons where they’d been hiding. I heard one of the men guarding the two Stevens men chase off a bunch of young ones, telling them to go play on the other side of the camp.
After a couple of swallows I could feel my adrenaline high dissipating, and asked Heinrich if any of the deliveries had been made yet. He assured me that everything had been delivered.
“Good. That’s what we came to see about. Will you still be ready to leave with only one more day to prepare and repack the wagons?” I asked him.
He gave a snort and said, “We can be ready to leave in an hour if that’s what you want.”
With a small grin, I replied. “It doesn’t matter what I want! Our ladies are expecting another day in town and already have plans, so we will leave as scheduled.”
Heinrich grinned and then lost his grin asking, “What do you want us to tell the Marshall when he arrives?”
I looked around at the men and in a loud voice said, “Answer all the Marshall’s questions with the truth.”
Heinrich nodded and we sat drinking coffee lapsing into silence.
Giuseppe arrived with the Marshall fifteen minutes later. We were all standing near the body when he pulled up and dismounted. The Marshall greeted me by name, and asked what had happened.
“Stevens changed a verbal argument into a physical argument and then tried to shoot me in the back.” I pointed at the bullet hole in the wagon. “He missed.”
The Marshall nodded and looked around at all the men standing there and asked if anyone had witnessed the shooting. They all nodded.
The Marshall sighed. “Stevens never could hold his temper. What’s with the other two men laying on the ground?”
“They tried to take up for Stevens after I’d knocked him out, and I had to get rough with them. That was when Stevens decided to use his gun since his fists had failed,” I replied.
He nodded again and asked me if I wanted to press charges on the other two. I shook my head ‘no.’ The Marshall looked at the two men and told them to get up and go. He told Heinrich he’d have the undertaker come out and get Stevens.
Shaking my hand, he said, “This is getting to be a bit of a habit, Paul. I’d hate to see it continue. Why, you might get a bad reputation.”
“Perish the thought, Marshal. I’m sure there’s some real crime going on somewhere in town. You need to get back to work,” I replied with a laugh.
He rode off into town, laughing.
I turned to Heinrich. “I’m glad you got all the deliveries. If you have any more problems get word to me at the Cattleman’s Hotel. Otherwise we’ll see you here as scheduled.”
He nodded and we left following the Marshal.
I asked Giuseppe, “Where do you need to go to get Sofia’s list done?”
He gave a shrug and said, “I’m not sure.”
Mr. Mendoza spoke up. “Show the list to my wife and Anna, tonight. They can tell you for certain.”
When we got to the hotel I told Mr. Mendoza and Giuseppe that I was going to talk to the banker, and then see what I could find out about registering my brand and springtime cattle sales. I left them at the hotel bar arguing about the merits of different beers.
I found Levi in his office, and he waved me in. “Levi, you’re the only one I know in town with decent scotch and I could really use a drink,” I said.
He nodded, reached into his desk drawer, pulled out a bottle and two glasses, poured for both of us, handing me one. Sitting down, I gratefully sipped the liquor. After a couple of sips, I asked if Stevens had been a customer of his. He immediately nodded and said the Marshall had already been to the bank to impound his account.
When he raised an inquisitive eyebrow, I described the argument and results. Levi said that Stevens had been an angry man from the first time he met him. We sat quietly sipping the scotch until it was gone. I thanked him again and went over to the Cattleman’s Association. I didn’t know what to expect but it turned out to be the work of minutes to register my brand and get information on spring cattle sales.
I was in the hotel lobby at five-thirty, reading a newspaper from St Louis, when Mr. Mendoza and Giuseppe walked in from the bar. They’d been down the street in one of the nicer saloons having a beer. I snorted and said they could have all the beer they wanted, and mine too, since I couldn’t stand the smell much less the taste of it.
They both gasped in surprise. Ignoring me for the moment, they began wondering how a man could survive without beer. That started them on a discussion of the best beers they’d had, and where. Thank the lord I only had to listen to them for ten minutes before the ladies arrived.
I got an Anna smile, hug, and kiss right there in the lobby! My day was made and all trials and tribulations were forgotten. The ladies told us they needed to use the facilities and would be back in a few minutes. As I watched them walk away, I was reminded of that old saying: “I hate for her to go, but I love to watch her leave.” Oh, man! I was one lucky guy! Meanwhile Giuseppe and Mr. Mendoza resumed their beer discussion right where they’d left off. Thankfully, Raul, his wife, and cousin Hector walked in.
Greetings and introductions were exchanged all around and then again when Mrs. Mendoza and Anna walked in. After a few minutes of conversation Mr. Mendoza suggested we go into dinner. With Anna on my arm, we led the way to the restaurant. Once inside, I asked for a private dining room for eight. We were quickly led to the same one we’d used the night before.
I seated Anna to my right, Giuseppe on my left, and the others settled themselves as they saw fit. Ordering coffee all around, Mrs. Mendoza began talking to Raul’s wife, while Mr. Mendoza, Raul, and Hector started talking about their childhoods. I was half listening to their conversation while asking Anna if she drank wine, and if so what kind she liked.
Anna became quite animated on the subject saying she particularly liked a good Cabernet when she could get it. I asked her what her favorite cabernet was, and she rapidly responded with the name of the winery whose cabernet the restaurant served. When the waitress came back with the coffee I ordered steak, potatoes, and green beans for Anna and me with Cabernet as the dinner drink. The others ordered the same with the ladies opting for the wine while the men chose beer. Anna giggled a little when I muttered that the men were all philistines.
Holding hands on top of the table, Anna and I listened to the discussion between the three cousins. So far, I liked what I’d seen of Hector. Twenty years younger than Mr. Mendoza, he was a thin man of medium height, with an expressive face, and a quick wit. Eventually Mr. Mendoza began to slowly turn the conversation toward Hector and why he was leaving the Ranch, then why he was looking for work around El Paso instead of closer to Chihuahua. I had to admire Mr. Mendoza. He could be extremely subtle with his questioning when he wanted to be.
As Hector talked, it became clear the owner’s sons were enamored with farming, and thought ranching was a money pit. The owner’s sons were almost giving away the cattle and still they sold slowly as there had been a glut of cattle in Mexico the last two years. The old Don had understood what was happening to the market and was content to let his herd build before selling but the sons wanted nothing further to do with cattle. Hector had eighty vaqueros that wanted to stay together with sixty of them having families.
On top of that, Hector himself was supposed to get married in a few months, and without a job that prospect was looking less and less hopeful. Hector also said the owner’s sons were even bigger idiots than he’d originally imagined. They owned a Finca twenty miles from the Rancho on the other side of Chihuahua. It was managed by one of Hectors best friends who told him that the owner’s sons were in the early stages of changing the varied crops to a single cash crop over the next three years despite his objections. The Finca Segundo kept telling them it was financial suicide as the fields needed to have crops rotated through them. The Finca Segundo was trying to find a new job as well but not having any luck.
Dinner arrived along with the wine, and when Anna saw the name of the winery she gave me an Anna smile and a quick arm slap. We ate and observed as the conversation continued. Near the end of the meal, Anna took my hand, gave it a quick squeeze, radiated an Anna smile worthy of the Mona Lisa, and gave me a soft nod of her head. The next time Mr. Mendoza glanced my way I gave him a small nod of my head.
In the lobby after dinner, Mr. Mendoza invited Hector to join us for breakfast the next morning when we had more time to discuss a potential job he knew of. Hector’s face lit up, and he quickly agreed to join us.