Railroad (Robledo Mountain #4)
Chapter 8

Copyright© 2020 by Kraken

The trip from the Hacienda to the meeting site was uneventful, although I must admit to having a sense of unease until we’d passed the area of the last mountain lion attack. The weather had moderated and become warmer, but we weren’t fooled. The seasonal spring winds were nearing their end, but we had to expect to deal with them, and dust storms, for the next couple of weeks.

We arrived in the clearing mid-afternoon of the day before the meeting. Miguel, using hand signals, sent the Scout/Sniper teams out to scout their assigned quadrants while the rest of us set up camp. Just after dark, all four of the teams returned to camp for dinner.

The team assigned to the northern quadrant reported a group of twelve Apaches were camped two hours to the north. They hadn’t gone close enough to the camp to discover who they were, but they were confidant it was at least one of the groups we were expecting.

None of the other three teams had found anyone within three hours of the meeting site. After a quiet dinner, the four teams disappeared into the darkness, heading for the hide holes each team had identified and prepared. We knew that all of them were within yelling distance. We also knew that none of us, nor any of the Apache coming for the meeting, would see any evidence of them, especially since they were all using ghillie suits made specifically for this landscape.

Mid-morning, the next day, we heard a faint, “They come,” from the north. Standing up, we waited around the fire, as a group of ten Apache walked through the scrub and into camp. I knew right away that Mangas Coloradas was in the party. It was extremely difficult to miss the old square-shouldered Apache who was taller than me.

I remained in the background, as we’d planned, while Nantan and Miguel greeted the arrivals.

“Paul, move forward now and repeat what I say,” Laura whispered to me urgently. “Victorio, Cochise, and Geronimo are going to leave because they perceive you as a white man.”

Although I was confused, not only by Laura’s demand but why Cochise and Geronimo would be here, I moved forward just as the greetings were finished.

Listening closely, I repeated, word for word, what Laura whispered into my left ear.

“My heart is gladdened, and the spirits are pleased, that Loco, Mangas Coloradas, Victorio, Delgadito, Cochise, and Geronimo all answered the call for a meeting,” I said, pointing to each man as I named him. “Please tell your son and his friend they are welcome in this camp,” I said to Mangas Coloradas. “We have eight warriors guarding the camp and we tell you there is no one else within three hours of here.”

All eyes turned towards Nantan and Miguel, first in surprise, and then for confirmation.

“This is Thundercloud, a time walker and spirit speaker, of our family. He speaks the truth,” Nantan stated with an agreeing nod from Miguel. “His wife, a great-granddaughter of Jaime, is also a spirit speaker,” he added.

To say the least, I was completely surprised by Nantan’s statement. How he knew I was a time walker, much less spoke to spirits, was beyond me. Nonetheless, I did my best to keep surprise off my face. Laura was absolutely no help as she had gone quiet.

“Let us sit at the fire and talk,” Nantan continued, waving towards the blankets arranged around the fire. “We also have coffee and tea for those interested.”

As we were settling onto the blankets, one of Mangas Coloradas’s warriors came back into the clearing, leading two young men. All three promptly sat down behind Mangas Coloradas while glaring at me. They continued to glare as the leaders spent the next few minutes making pleasant conversation. With the niceties over, Miguel began talking.

“Both Thundercloud and Nantan spoke the truth. Thundercloud is a member of the Garcia family and he is a spirit talker. More importantly, the spirits give him visions of future times, which he shares with us when he thinks it right to do so. The fact that he knew you by sight, without ever having met any of you, and knew that Mangas Coloradas’ son and his friend were guarding the camp, should be proof enough.”

I relaxed at this point, very relieved that Miguel and Nantan defined ‘time walker’ as someone who received visions of the future instead of actually walking through time.

“Thundercloud asked for this meeting to discuss two topics of importance to all of us. Please give him your attention.”

I sat quietly for a few moments, gathering my thoughts, with all eyes on me. Taking a deep breath, I began.

“As Nantan and Miguel have said, the spirits talk to me from time to time. Sometimes they give me a warning of immediate danger. Sometimes they give me information I need to make a decision benefitting our family. Sometimes they give me knowledge of our history.

“They also do more than whisper to me. They also visit me, from time to time, to give me visions of the future. It took me a while to understand that these visions of the future were, and are, of a future that is the most likely to happen. The visions they give me do not have to happen. The future I am shown can be changed. The future can be changed by changing some of the small events as they happen or even before they happen.

“The Apache, all Apache, are well on the way to being wiped from the face of the earth. The spirits have shown me visions of a time, in the next fifty years, where the number of Apache, all Apache, are fewer than the number of Chiricahua today.

“Look to the Lipan Apache for the truth in these words. Not too many years past, the Lipan were a strong tribe, equal to the Mescalero or Chiricahua. How many Lipan are alive today? Between the Comanche, the Mexicans, and the white men, they have almost been erased from the earth.”

Jumping to his feet, Cochise snorted in anger. “We have fought the Comanche from the beginning of time. We have fought the white men since they started coming here over three hundred years ago. We will fight the white men for another three hundred years.”

“No, Cochise, we won’t. Two things are wrong with what you just said. First, you lumped all white men into a single group when they are really two separate groups. The first group were Spaniards but now are Mexicans. They were far from home, getting here was extremely difficult, and there were never all that many of them.

“The second group were, and are, Americans, including those Mexicans now living here. They have all the land east of the great river, what they call the Mississippi. They are as many as the stars in the sky, or the rocks in the desert, or the trees in all Apache lands. These white-eyes are not as far from home as the Spaniards were nor is it all that difficult for them to get here. Since there are more of them, they fight much differently than the Spaniards did.

“No, you will not be fighting them in fifty years, much less another three hundred years. Keep living and fighting as you are now and, all but one of you, will be dead in less than thirty years.”

I stopped talking as my audience, except Nantan and Miguel, stood to express their dismay and anger at my words. Again, we sat quietly until their emotions had been expressed and they had resettled.

“None of the Apache, except the Garcias, and perhaps Santana, have yet to understand that the way of our ancestors is disappearing. There is nothing the Apache can do to stop that from happening. There are things that can be done to ensure that we, as a people, live on with strength and honor. Most of these things mean changing the way we live, but those changes are going to be forced on us anyway.”

I watched for a few moments as every member of my audience looked at each other in concern.

“The question you, and all the other leaders, must answer is, will you make those changes on your own and save the strength and honor of our people, or, will you drag on the fight, as small children do when told no, thereby sowing the seeds of death and suffering for all Apache.

“I give you this information to think about. Instead of more discussion now, I will hold a meeting, at Estancia Dos Santos, near Las Cruces, after the rainy season, to discuss this matter in much more detail. During that meeting, I will provide a detailed description of the future of my visions. I will not only describe some clear ways we can change the future, by changing some of the things we are doing now, I will also show you examples of some of those changes. I will speak no more of this, today.”

By the time I finished speaking, everyone, except Nantan and Miguel, were back on their feet, decrying my words. The three of us sat, calmly and quietly, simply sipping coffee, until they had finished and were again reseated. Now it wasn’t just the two youngest warriors who were glaring at me.

“My first reason for asking for this meeting was to invite you, Mangas Coloradas, Loco, Victorio, and Delgadito, to the meeting later this year, and through them, the other Chiricahua leaders as well. With Cochise and Geronimo here, I invite you directly, with any other Chiricahua leaders who wish to attend.”

“You say the spirits speak to you,” Mangas Coloradas interrupted. “Is it more than one spirit or is there more than one? If it’s only one, which one is it?” he asked.

“It is only one. She has never given me her name, but Grandfather Jaime told me, just before he died, that he had discovered in a vision with Ussen, that it was Girl-Without-Parents.”

Nantan and Miguel nodded at the questioning looks the others shot them at my response. The glaring looks of anger were replaced by ones of concern. A vision of Ussen, by a renowned Shaman of Jaime’s reputation, was not something to be taken lightly. Especially when confirmed by the Shaman’s trusted relatives.

After a few minutes of thought, Loco turned to me. “You have indeed given us much to think about. I’m almost afraid to ask, but what is the second reason you asked to meet us?”

“Let us have lunch before discussing the other reason,” I said, nodding to Miguel.

He stood up, gave a sharp loud whistle, and then waited for a moment before a faint whistling reply came from each of the four cardinal points. Turning to us, he said, “There are no enemies of any kind within three hours. It is safe to prepare a warm lunch.”

He turned and opened a pack lying near him, taking several packages, he removed various ingredients and spices, adding them, as well as water, to the pot that had been simmering over the coals since early this morning.

Within a half-hour, everyone had a bowl of antelope soup and a cup of fresh hot coffee or tea. I remained silent, ignoring both the food sitting in front of me and the conversations going on around me. Instead of eating and talking, I was meditating, trying to center myself, before taking on the task of explaining the primary reason I’d asked for this meeting. I’d been off-balance, mentally, ever since our guests’ arrival and Laura’s whisper.

How long I meditated, I can’t say, but eventually, I regained my center and became aware of the conversations going on around me.

“Does he do this often?” Geronimo asked.

“Often enough that none of us are surprised when it happens,” Miguel responded.

“What is he doing?” Loco asked.

“He could be listening to Girl-Without-Parents. He could be seeing a vision, although those usually come at night or in a sweat lodge. He could be examining old visions to see if he finds something he didn’t see before,” Nantan answered, again with a shrug. “You can ask him when he comes back to us, but don’t expect an answer. Sometimes he answers, most often he doesn’t. When he does answer, it usually doesn’t make sense without much thought.”

A few moments later, I blinked my dry eyes several times rapidly, gave a small stretch, and picked up my bowl of stew. I ate rapidly, finishing the stew a short time later, and relaxed with a fresh cup of hot coffee.

“What’s the matter with your arm,” Geronimo asked me as I took my first sip.

I’d expected the first question to be about what I’d been doing, not about my arm, so I was a little confused by the question.

“You’re favoring your right arm,” Geronimo said, seeing my confusion and mistaking it for a need for clarification. “What’s wrong with it?”

“My horse got in an argument with a mountain lion,” I said with a small grin. “I was on the horse when the argument started, but not when it ended.”

“There was more to it than that,” Nantan said, irritated by my self-effacing response.

He went on to explain, in detail, what had happened and described my injuries in some detail. I was quite surprised when he told them that Anna had described the injury, in great detail, to him, Miguel, and Maco, using Grey’s Anatomy.

He concluded with, “His shoulder wound will probably never heal completely, and he will never be able to lift that arm above his shoulder, but he continues to work at it, every day. At least he can now feel his hand, which he couldn’t do for many weeks.”

“So, you are a warrior, after all,” Victorio said.

“Even hurt as he was, no one here would have bested him in a fight,” Miguel said before I had a chance to respond. “His way of fighting is different from anything you have ever seen. Just after we first met, one of my young warriors challenged him. He told the warrior exactly what was going to happen and then did just what he described. In the blink of an eye, the warrior was on the ground, unconscious, and Thundercloud was sitting back down to finish his dinner.”

“This I would like to see,” Victorio said, staring at me in challenge.

“Come to the meeting at the Estancia later this year. I will show you then,” I promised.

Standing up, I began helping Miguel clean up from lunch, before preparing a large pot of chili, using salted beef, beans, green chile, and spices we’d brought with us, for dinner. Once the pot of chili was cooking over the fire, I returned to my blanket and sat down.

When everyone was quiet, I began to speak. “The second reason I asked for you to meet me, is to tell you that thirty days from now, a large group of men are going to be at Hanover Mountain to reopen the mine. I ask that you leave them completely alone. Do not meet with them, do not trade with them, do not raid them.”

Delgadito snorted in contempt. “Fools! There is no gold there. Tell them to stay away.”

“We all know that’s not true,” I said in a hard voice, staring directly at Delgadito. “We all know there is gold in Hanover Mountain. Lying to them will not stop them from looking. Besides, they are not looking for gold. They will find some there, eventually, but it will be a small amount and they will eventually decide it’s much too hard to get out of the mountain.”

“If it’s not gold, then what are they looking for?” Mangas Coloradas asked.

“They aren’t looking for anything. They already know what they want is there and what they want is this,” I said, tossing him a small reddish colored rock I’d picked up from a small pile near the mine as we passed by it the day before.

He looked at it curiously, turning it over in his hand to examine it in detail, before asking, “What is it?”

“It’s iron ore,” I replied. To the last man, all of our guests gave me a blank look. As hard as I found it to believe, not a single one of them knew what iron ore was nor what it was used for.

“Please show me your knives,” I said, pulling mine out of my sheath, and laying down in front of me.

When everyone’s knife was lying on the ground in front of me, I asked, “Although all of these knives are of different styles, they all have one thing in common, do you know what that is?”

“Other than they were all taken from a dead white man, you mean?” Cochise asked, grinning.

“Other than that, yes,” I replied, stern-faced. When no one answered, I explained, “All of them, no matter where they were made, who made them, or who designed them, all started out looking just like that rock.” Seeing their look of disbelief, I added, “Every rifle you shoot and every pot you cook in, all started out looking like that rock.”

After a moment, Mangas Coloradas asked, “How is this rock turned into these things?”

“I can’t tell you the specific details of how it is done,” I replied. They mistook my hesitation for not wanting to tell them. “I can’t tell you the details, not because I don’t want to, but because it’s a secret held by those few people whose life work it is. I can tell you it involves heating the rock until it melts, adding some other rocks to it, letting it cool, pounding it with large hammers, and then repeating that over and over again.”

I was getting tired of it, but again, they all looked to Miguel and Nantan, who both nodded in confirmation. How they felt confirming something they knew nothing about is beyond me, but perhaps they’d learned about the process from one of the blacksmiths.

“I am prepared to negotiate an annual gift to each of you in exchange for staying away from the miners and those with them,” I said when I had their attention again.

“And if we don’t agree to this?” Loco asked, out of more than curiosity.

“Then I, and my cousins will join the Chiricahua in mourning the loss of every warrior that attacks the miners,” I replied in a cold flat voice.

Cochise laughed at my response. “Miners are the easiest white men to kill,” he asserted. “They are too busy mining to pay attention to what is going on around them.”

“What you say is true. That’s why they will be accompanied by forty well-trained guards whose only job is to pay attention to what is going on in the area around the mine. I know they are well trained because Miguel and the rest of our cousins trained them. These guards have experience protecting the Estancia and have not lost a man while fighting off numerous Comancheros, Comanche, Navajo, and, yes, even Apache raiding parties.”

“Again, Thundercloud is being modest. He also trained them in different ways of fighting. They are very good at what they do. Better than most Apache,” Miguel said in a quiet voice, confirming what I’d said.

“You dare to threaten us?” Victorio asked angrily.

“I make no threats, no demands. I simply ask, offer gifts in exchange, and tell you what will be if warriors raid the miners. The decision is yours to make,” I said quietly, yet firmly.

Our guests all looked at each other, before standing as one, and walking off to the edge of the clearing where they stood in a loose circle, talking.

“You have given them much to think about, Thundercloud, and not a lot of time to do it in,” Miguel said. “They will argue for a while before coming to any agreement.”

“Well then, now seems like a good time to tend to the animals. They’ve been hobbled in the same area since last night and I’m sure they need to be moved and watered. If you two will do that I will tend to the chili and put some cornbread on.”

I’d just finished putting the skillet of cornbread near the fire to cook when both of them returned from seeing to the animals. I took the last of the coffee and, swishing the dregs around the empty pot, looked at Miguel pleadingly. He took pity on me and made a fresh pot.

“How did you know the names of the leaders?” Nantan asked quietly, as we watched the men talking.

“Girl-Without-Parents told me.”

“Did she tell you to jump in before we introduced you?”

“Yes, she said Victorio, Cochise, and Geronimo were angry to see a white man here and were getting ready to turn around and leave.”

“Anger was in their eyes. It was a good thing you interrupted,” Nantan said, nodding in satisfaction.

It was well after dark when Miguel informed the warriors that dinner was ready. I couldn’t see who it was, but one of them waved in acknowledgment and they all continued talking. Almost ten minutes later, the loose circle broke up and the men joined us, taking their seats around the fire after getting a bowl of chili and some cornbread.

“We have thought about what you said,” Loco said after everyone was done eating. “We agree to what you ask, none of our warriors will raid this mine if what you offer in exchange is fair. You must know, however, that we cannot, and do not, speak for other groups.”

“This has always been so,” Miguel acknowledged. “Let us talk of what we offer in exchange. But first, we have gifts for you as our thanks for coming to the meeting.”

Taking that as the cue, Nantan opened a small pack and began handing out small bags to each of our guests. Each bag contained candy, sugar, and tobacco. Watching their faces as they opened the bags was a treat in itself. Sugar and Tobacco were traditional gifts, so they weren’t really surprised by them. The stick candy was a different matter. Their faces went from puzzlement to joy as they realized what it was, they began acting like, well, like kids in a candy store. At the rate they were all going through the first stick of their five-stick bundle, I was sure it would all be gone by morning.

Shaking my head, I began cleaning up the bowls.

“You do not take part in this?” Loco asked surprised to see me cleaning up.

“Trading was one of the skills I lost when I was gifted with spirit talking and time walking,” I said with a shrug. “Since I have no skill, I no longer have an interest in it, nor do I find it entertaining.”

Mangas Coloradas gave me a questioning look. “One of the skills you lost? What other skills did you lose?”

Miguel’s swallowed laugh came out as a snort. “He can’t make coffee worth a damn.”

Nantan laughed outright and added, “If he makes coffee, it’s a waste of water.”

Ignoring the laughter, I pretended I didn’t hear them and continued cleaning up. By the time I was done, Miguel was closing in on an agreement on the items and numbers of each. I sat down next to Nantan with my coffee and just listened. Fifteen minutes later, they were still arguing over how many of each item we would provide, and I grew weary of the arguing. Getting up I went over to my bedroll, laid down, and quickly fell asleep, with the drone of their arguing playing in the background.

“Pablo!” Laura yelled. “Get up! Javelinas are coming!”

I’d no sooner stood up and drawn my pistol when rifle shots came from the east. Spinning to face that direction, I saw the others waking up and readying their weapons.

“Javelinas,” I said in explanation. “Get ready, here they come.”

No sooner had I said that than a pack of eight javelinas came tearing through the brush. Much like an angered boar, their eyes were red, and they were looking for something to take their anger out on. Luckily, even though they could be just as deadly as wild boar, they weren’t as difficult to kill. Still, I was wishing I had my rifle.

Nantan and Miguel moved up to stand on either side of me and I was glad to see they had their shotguns. The three of us opened fire at the same time. Our shots were accurate, and the effects were immediate. In just moments I found myself changing magazines. Taking a good look around as I swapped out magazines, I saw all eight of the javelinas were dead.

Miguel and Nantan reloaded before moving out to check the east Scout/Sniper team. I holstered my pistol and turned to find our guests walking toward the javelinas, staring at me in dumbfounded amazement.

They gathered around the javelinas, staring at the five corpses shredded by shotgun rounds and the three with multiple holes in their heads.

“How did you do that so fast?” Victorio asked in a puzzled voice.

Looking over at him, I shrugged. “Practice,” I said as I bent down and began picking up the brass. “Lots and lots of practice.”

Geronimo watched me closely for a minute before asking, “What are you doing?”

“Picking up the empty brass,” I said absentmindedly, scanning the ground for the rest of the empty brass I knew was there somewhere.

“Huh?”

Not seeing the glistening of any more brass, I pulled a full magazine from my pocket and stripped off a round. Holding it up I explained what it was and how we reloaded the empty brass.

By the time I was done, Miguel and Nantan had returned, letting me know that the guards had killed four of the javelinas before they were past them.

Loco looked at Miguel, giving him a hard stare. “I think we need to start our trade talk over. Instead of the rifles you offered, we want pistols, like he used,” he said, pointing at me.

“I don’t have any more to trade you,” I said. “If I had more, we would have offered them to you, along with the training on how to use them. What we offered and you accepted is what we have to trade.”

“We will talk more again in the morning,” he replied belligerently.

I’d had enough. My patience was worn thin, I was tired, and my shoulder was beginning to ache. I was seriously contemplating taking an ibuprofen before going back to bed.

“You can talk until you’re blue in the face,” I snapped back. “The facts are the facts. We’ve asked, shown you what we have to trade, you decide. We’re leaving after breakfast in the morning, with or without your agreement.” Giving them all a hard look, I added, “I’m going back to bed.”

I woke up to the sound of quiet conversations with the smell of fresh coffee and bacon sizzling in a skillet. Sitting up, I realized I was the last one to awaken. Our guests had already butchered the javelinas and strips of meat were on drying racks over six separate fires. Ignoring them for a moment, I also noticed that all of our Scout/Sniper teams were in camp, packed and ready to leave. They were lounging near the fire, waiting for their first fresh hot meal in thirty-six hours.

I packed up my bedroll and carried it over to where the animals were before heading back to the fire and my first cup of coffee. Nantan was cooking this morning and he handed me a cup as I squatted down next to him.

“We thought perhaps you were going to sleep all day, Thundercloud,” he said quietly with a small smile on his face. “You have gotten lazy in your old age.”

Taking my first sip, I let out a sigh of satisfaction, before responding. “I was tired. Too much happened yesterday. It seems I’m not yet fully recovered.”

“Everyone but you knows that,” he said while stirring the beans. “You did well from start to finish though.”

“How did our guests do after I went back to bed?” I asked, absently rubbing my shoulder, trying to relieve the faint throbbing ache.

“They were angry for a while,” he said with a shrug. “Miguel and I talked to them for about an hour, showing them our pistols and shotguns. We explained that there were no others and the bullets they used were extremely hard to get. We got through to them eventually, but it was still a sore point with them when they got up this morning.”

“Well, I’m out of patience. You and Miguel can handle them this morning.” He nodded and I added, “I’d like to be on the way home in less than an hour if you can manage it.”

Taking four rashers of bacon out of the skillet, he put them on a plate and added beans before handing it to me. “Javelina bacon,” he said pointing with the long fork he was using to cook with. “Not as good as what we are used to, but edible.”

I thanked him and sat down on my blanket to eat. Nantan was right, the javelina bacon wasn’t as good as pork bacon, but it was edible, just barely. It wasn’t something I would want to eat daily. Over the next ten minutes, everyone else filled a plate and joined me to eat.

“You did very well last night,” I said to the pair that had been on the east side of the camp. “Killing four javelinas, with one shot each, as they rushed you in the dark is a feat worthy of telling around a fire when we get back.”

“We are Scout/Snipers,” one of them replied with a small smile on his face. “One shot, one kill.”

I grinned in response, “Just like you were trained. Still, it was well done.”

Using sand, I cleaned my plate, and carried it and my blanket over to the horses, while the rest continued to eat. Saddling a horse one-handed still required an effort, but I had finally mastered it. Once the saddle was actually on the horse’s back, I could use both hands on the cinch straps, so it was not quite as difficult as it had been.

Now ready to leave, I returned to the fire, refilled my coffee cup, and squatted down next to Nantan, waiting to see what decision our guests had made.

Five minutes later, I had my answer. The Scout/Sniper teams all stood up, collected plates and cooking utensils, and headed towards the horses to clean everything and add it to the already loaded pack mules.

Apparently, our guests had decided to stay another day to finish drying the javelina meat before returning home. Following their lead, I stood up when Miguel and Nantan did and began the ritual of leaving. Grasping forearms and thanking each of them for coming. In return, we were thanked for the gifts and assurances that the agreement would be enforced within their group.

Ten minutes later, we all headed home with Scout/Sniper teams providing security. An hour into our return trip, I asked Nantan when he’d known they were going to accept the agreement.

“Both Miguel and I suspected they would when we finally got back to bed last night. They confirmed it this morning while you were packing your horse after breakfast. They still want better weapons, like the pistols and the shotguns, but they understood we didn’t have any.”

“We may be able to do something about that next year,” I said thoughtfully. “If Steve’s trip goes well, we’ll be getting some better weapons for the railroad security force. They won’t be as good as ours, but they’ll be much better than the muzzleloaders.”

Silence resumed for the next minutes while Nantan and Miguel thought about what I’d said.

“That would be a good thing, as long as they use cartridges as ours do,” Miguel said, breaking the silence. “If they don’t use cartridges then don’t bother, they wouldn’t be happy with anything less.”

“It’s a year from now, I guess we’ll see what we have then and make a decision. I want to thank you both for everything you did back there. It wouldn’t have succeeded if not for you.”

They both nodded, accepting my thanks.

Pushing hard, we rode through the back door and onto the upper plateau just afternoon four days later. It had been a long hard two weeks and I was looking forward to holding Anna, JJ, and the rest of the kids, not to mention Martina’s cooking and really good coffee.

I’d just dismounted and turned my horse over to one of the young cousins when Anna came flying out the door of the upper courtyard and jumped into my arms. A big grin on my face, I spun her around two or three times as she peppered my face with kisses.

The ache in my shoulder grew with every spin and I finally, with great reluctance, had to put her down. We continued in a deep hug for another few moments before she looked up into my face.

“I’ve missed you, mi Pablo, and we’ve all been so worried about you,” she said while looking into my eyes.

“And I’ve missed you, but why were you worried about me?”

“Not just about you! All of you. It’s been terrible,” she said, almost crying now, as she gave me another tight hug.

“Let’s go inside, get comfortable, and you can tell me what was so terrible,” I replied, soothingly, as I led her inside and down to the den.

Regaining her composure, she stopped just outside the den. “I’ll be right back,” she said disappearing down the hall towards the kitchen. Shrugging, I headed into the den, took off my coat, and tried to relax on the love seat while waiting for her return.

She returned in less than two minutes later, carrying a coffee service with a large plate of biscochitos, followed by Tom, Yolanda, Maco, and Beth. They all took a seat, as I got up and went to the desk to get some ibuprofen.

“Is your shoulder bothering you Pablo?” Anna asked while pouring us both cups of coffee.

“It is, my love,” I replied after dry swallowing two of the pills. “Something I fear I’m just going to have learn to live with. Although twelve days of sleeping on the cold hard ground didn’t help any. Now, tell me why you were all so worried about us.”

“It started two days after you and the others left, Paul,” Tom said, as the apparent spokesman. “The lookouts and Scout/Sniper teams started reporting small groups of six to eight men on horses scouting the edges of the Estancia. Over the next three days, we managed to identify three separate groups of horsemen. We continued to watch them for the next four days. Three days ago, all of the groups met up just northeast of the Estancia. They shared a lunch and coordinated an attack on the Estancia to start at noon the next day.”

“Wait a minute Tom,” I said, holding up my hand. “How did you find out they were coordinating an attack?”

“Oh, we found out a lot more than that, but I’ll let Maco tell you,” he said smiling as looked over at Maco.

“When we first got word of the groups scouting the Estancia, I got concerned, so I sent out three more teams in each direction, giving us a total of sixteen teams to watch the various groups. When the various groups all met up for lunch that day, one of those teams, quite by luck, was dug into a small hill, covered in their ghillie suits, under a mesquite bush. They listened to everything that was said.

“Turns out every single one of the twenty-one men were ‘hired’ in Santa Fe or Las Vegas, by a man who said he represented ‘the Boss’, to come down here and kill you and as many of us as possible. Men, women, children, it didn’t matter. It seems ‘the Boss’ wants to put enough fear in our hearts that we all desert you, leaving you and Anna alone.

“It also seems that the man who hired them wasn’t well thought of. As they were having lunch, the men in the gang were all laughing about the thin, fancily dressed, white man, who drank most of his meals, yet still managed to keep his job as a clerk to someone in the Governor’s Palace.

“Anyway, they finally got around to finalizing their plan for attacking the next day, which was to come down the road from both directions with the third group coming from behind the Doña Ana Mountains. The two groups on the road were supposed to split off once they reached the road to the Hacienda. One group was to cross the river and attack the Hacienda while the other group rode to the ranch and attacked it. Since the ranch buildings were so large, the Doña Ana group was to attack there as well. The two road groups were supposed to time things so that they met up on the road at the bridge exactly at noon.

“The Scout/Sniper team that overheard all this were convinced that the gang was a bunch of idiots. It was obvious from their discussion that none of the gang knew how big the Estancia is, had never been on the road, and knew nothing about how the Hacienda or ranch buildings were laid out. They also knew nothing about the village or that it even existed.

“Once the men left, heading off to their camps, the team came to the Hacienda, gave us all the information and we planned the ambushes. I’ll let Tom tell you about that,” Maco finished.

“That’s quite a story,” I said, smiling despite the ache in my shoulder, which seemed to be growing stronger. “Did you write up the new information and send it out to Santa Fe?”

“We did indeed,” Tom said. “The two riders we sent to mail it in Mesilla actually passed the group of attackers coming up the road. They were a little concerned, but the group coming up the road didn’t bother them at all.

“As for the ambushes, we had four teams set up near where the Doña Ana Mountain group had decided to cross into the Estancia. We had four teams up on the lower plateau and four more teams between the bridge and the ranch, all on small hills, none of which were more than three hundred yards from the bridge, with excellent sightlines. One Scout/Sniper team, on foot, was following each of the two groups just in case they decided to try something else.

“At noon exactly, the Doña Ana group crossed the Estancia border and were all taken out by the Scout/Sniper teams assigned to them. The two groups on the road were still over an hour away from the bridge. We were worried that they heard the shots fired at the Doña Ana group, but either they didn’t hear them or weren’t concerned because both groups kept moving towards the bridge at a walk.

“Just after one o’clock, the two teams met on the road, they talked for a few minutes, and it looked like they decided that since it was so late there was no need to attack the ranch as the attack there was over, one way or another. The groups pulled their pistols, spurred their horses into a gallop and headed across the bridge.

“All eight teams opened up when the group reached the highest part of the bridge. We’d hoped to get at least one prisoner to take to the Judge but not a single one left the bridge alive.”

Finished, Tom sat back in his chair and waited. Suddenly, he sat up again.

“I had Maco split the money the dead men were carrying. ‘The Boss’ must not pay real well, because each of the Scout/Snipers received just under ten dollars each.”

“Well done, both you,” I said. “Too bad you couldn’t take one alive though. It would have been nice to have a live one. Maybe we could have sweated some information out of them before taking him to the Judge.”

I turned to Anna, “That still doesn’t explain why you were worried about us.”

“I knew there was something we were forgetting,” Maco said before Anna could say anything. “The other thing we learned from listening to the men talk was that there was a fourth group setting up to ambush you. It seems that Sofio Henckle made a big deal about you bringing some masons to the mine site to build a big barracks for them to live in. The group waiting to ambush you were prepared to wait up to eight weeks for you to come. How they missed you on your way back is puzzling.”

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