Railroad (Robledo Mountain #4)
Copyright© 2020 by Kraken
At my insistence, we pushed hard on the way back home, knocking two days off the return trip. The dull ache in my shoulder hadn’t returned at all since we left the Hacienda, so I felt comfortable pushing a little harder.
As we dismounted in front of the courtyard gate, I asked the cousin who took my horse to send a message asking Nantan and Miguel to dinner this evening. Saddlebags over our shoulders and carrying our bedrolls, we entered the Hacienda looking forward to seeing our wives and kids, taking a hot shower, and some of Martina’s good cooking in that order.
Inside, we received the welcome from Anna and Yolanda we’d been looking forward to. We also found a visitor.
“Pablo, Tom, this is Donna Cyr, an old friend of Josefa’s and also a friend of Mrs. Gutierrez,” Anna said introducing us. “She came to help Mrs. Gutierrez out after her husband was hurt in that ambush. Why don’t you two put your things away and come join us for coffee.”
Tom and I quickly put our things away, and also took the opportunity to wash up a little, reducing the smell of the trail to a tolerable level. I returned to the living room to find Tom already seated with coffee. Anna patted the love seat and I sat next to her, gratefully accepting the cup of coffee she handed me.
“Cyr is a French name isn’t it?” I asked after taking my first sip. At Donna’s nod, I added, “There aren’t many French in southern New Mexico, how did you end up in Las Cruces?”
“It’s a long, and sometimes unpleasant, story,” she replied. Seeing the interest in our eyes, she shrugged and gave us her story.
“My father left France to escape persecution from the papists. He was a Baptist, you see? Anyway, he made his way west and into the mountains where he met and fell in with a small group of French fur trappers on the frontier. Every spring, these trappers took their furs to Taos to sell or trade. Five years after he started trapping, he met my mother on one of his trips to Taos, they fell in love, despite the age difference, and were married two years later.
“I was born the following year and grew up with Josefa and Ignacia. Then mother died, just before the war started. Father decided to take me to New Orleans, where there were other French, and enrolled me in a lady’s finishing school. He paid my entire five-year tuition upfront, kissed me on the forehead, said he would be back for visits, and returned to Taos. He arrived just in time to be killed in the revolt that killed Charles Bent and Paul Jaramillo. I didn’t find out about it until shortly before I graduated.
“I had a fine education, could speak three languages fluently, and could play several instruments, but had no money, and no prospects. Marriage was the obvious solution, and I was introduced to several suitors, judged by New Orleans society as suitable to a woman of my station. I fell madly in love with one of my suitors, and he with me, and I accepted his proposal.
“He was killed, a few months after we were married, in a duel, with a man of questionable standing, who publicly slighted the memory of his father. Again, I was without funds and no prospects. For the next two years, I did the things that I needed to do to live. My last job in New Orleans was as a cook’s assistant, in a large restaurant in the French Quarter, where I learned how to cook and serve fancy meals to the city’s elite, while fending off unwanted suitors who seemed to think that because I was a widow, without family protection, I was available for their personal entertainment.
“I was without hope and quite despondent. In desperation, I attended a small Baptist church and found myself listening to a wonderful sermon, taken from the Book of Luke, telling Jesus’ parable about the shepherd and his one lost sheep. I realized at that moment that I was that lost sheep!
“My faith reaffirmed, I took what little money I had, bought a stage ticket to Mesilla, where my mother’s family was living. When I arrived in Mesilla, I found my mother’s family had traveled on to somewhere else in Mexico. No one could tell me where. With little money remaining, I ended up in Las Cruces where I met and was befriended by Mrs. Gutierrez. With her help, I found work cooking in a cantina. It isn’t fine dining but it’s a respectable job that keeps me fed and a roof over my head. Or at least it was.
“I owe so much to Mrs. Gutierrez that when I found out about her husband, I immediately came here to volunteer my services to help with the children and around her house.
“I knew that Mr. Gutierrez had taken a job on the Estancia, but I had no idea how big this place is. You can imagine my surprise at arriving and finding a village larger than Las Cruces hidden away back in the hills. With all the people who’ve been trooping in and out of the house since I arrived, it became clear that she has all the help she needs.
“I had decided to return to Las Cruces when I discovered that Josefa was here at the Hacienda, so I stopped off for a short visit with her before continuing on the Las Cruces. I’m not sure what I’m going to do at this point. What is clear to me is that the Lord led me here for a reason, I just have to have faith and he’ll show me the way.”
“That’s quite a story,” I said, thinking all the while that she’d make an excellent assistant to Mrs. Mendoza. I looked over at Anna to see if she was thinking the same way. The smile in her eyes told me she was and then she confirmed it.
“Donna’s going to stay with us for another couple of days and then catch a ride with Giuseppe and the masons when they leave for San Vicente. They’ll drop her off at Grandmother’s place before continuing on.”
“Perfect,” I said, giving her hand a squeeze. Turning back to Donna, I asked, “What instruments do you play?”
“Piano, flute, and harp,” she responded shyly.
“Well, I don’t think there are any flutes or harps around here, but there’s a piano right over there,” I said gesturing with my arm. “It’s been quiet for the last few months so, please, play something for us.”
“No, please,” she gasped out. “It’s been many years since I’ve even touched a piano.”
Anna gave me a small frown and then covered for me unintentionally putting Donna on the spot.
“We understand, dear. How is your shoulder, mi Pablo?”
“It’s great Anna. Not a twinge at all this trip,” I replied enthusiastically.
“Good, in that case, why don’t you try to play something? You haven’t touched the piano in over three months, I know you’re eager to see if your injury has affected your playing.”
“I think I will,” I said, standing up and walking over to the piano.
Sitting at the piano, I thought for a moment, and then tentatively started playing “Fere Jacques”. I didn’t seem to be having any problems playing, so I started singing. I was surprised when Donna started a round, singing the lyrics shortly after me. What was more surprising was finding Anna, Yolanda, and Josefa, joining in, each with their own round.
I sat, staring at the keys thinking that it had been too easy when I felt Anna’s hand on my shoulder. “How did it feel, mi Pablo?” she asked softly, concern in her voice and in her eyes.
“It felt great!” I replied, giving her a big smile. “But, let’s face it, that was an easy one. I think I need something just a little more difficult.”
Smiling, she returned to the love seat as I started playing “Music Box Dancer”. I found it hard to believe, but there wasn’t even a twinge of pain.
Finished, I turned to Anna, “I think it’s going to be okay. I’ll have to play some of the harder music to be sure, but I think playing the piano is going to be okay. The guitar? That’s a different story. I think I need some more work on my hand strength before I want to attempt that.”
“I can understand that, mi Pablo. Now, play another one and then it’ll be time for you and Tom to go clean up before dinner.”
“And don’t play one of the sappy love songs you like so much,” Tom said throwing in his two cents worth. “Play something fun.”
With hardly any thought, I played “She’ll Be Coming Around the Mountain” with sound effects. Everyone in my little audience were all laughing by the time I was done as none of them had ever heard it before. Ending with a flourish, I stood up and told them I would be down for dinner after a nice hot shower.
Dinner was the normal chaos Tom and I had been missing. Nantan and Miguel were happy to hear that I’d hired their nephew, Daniel, and that he would be bringing his new bride with him when he arrived this summer. We spent quite a bit of time discussing the training I wanted the new Deputies to get while I was gone.
I played again, after dinner, at Anna’s request. I again tried something a little more difficult, playing “Nadia’s Theme”. That was as far as I wanted to push things, musically speaking, and I called it a night.
The next two weeks passed quickly. Giuseppe, along with Donna and the masons, left as planned, escorted by four security teams. Donna carried a letter from Anna to her Grandmother asking her to consider Donna as her assistant in the railroad restaurant project.
Both George and Rodrigo returned the day after we did. Although they’d enjoyed themselves, George and Celia were happy to be back from their short honeymoon in El Paso. While I was happy to see George and Celia, the most important thing they brought back with them was a message from Jim saying that he was sending me two officers he highly approved of, who had resigned from the Army and were outstanding surveyors. They had some personal business to take care of in El Paso and planned to arrive at the Hacienda in mid-May.
Rodrigo and his team had ended up killing all of the would-be ambushers who had set up five hours ride south of San Vicente. While Rodrigo’s men had tried to take prisoners, the ambushers refused to surrender. Two team members were wounded, neither critically, slowing the return trip significantly. One had a bullet graze on his inside thigh making riding extremely uncomfortable. The other had a broken arm resulting from a fall down a small bluff he was shooting from when the edge, which was heavily undercut, gave way beneath his weight.
I received a short note the following day from Mr. Mendoza letting me know that Martin Amador was enthused about both the trip this summer and buying the Freight/Stable business at the end of this year. They had ten heavy freight wagons packed with all the wooden boxes and burlap bags Anna had been sending.
Kit returned three days later with Ignacia and her kids and the four security teams that had escorted our Santa Fe visitors’ home. He’d passed the cattle herd Hector and his crew were driving up to Taos and gave him the name of the acting Ute Indian Agent. He also let him know the Basque shepherds had agreed to move down to the Estancia with their entire flock of sheep and were waiting outside of Taos for Hector’s arrival.
George, Tom, Kit, and I spent as much time as we could with our families but updating continually changing plans on the fly and coordinating all the changes had to take priority. The weekly Estancia meeting, the day before George, Tom and I were leaving, was eye-opening in many ways. Although we had all known that it was going to be a busy four months, it all seemed to be an abstract thought until now. My statement last year about people being a resource we had to manage now came back to haunt me. For the first time Anna, Yolanda, Hector, and Tomas would have far fewer people than they were used to having available.
Giuseppe, Jorge, and Juan were all going to have a busy summer. Once Giuseppe was done surveying the mine barracks and processing plant, he was heading to Las Cruces where he would survey the depot complex. When that was done, he would begin surveying the railroad line from Las Cruces to Socorro with a side trip to survey the line from San Antonio out to the coal mine. In Socorro, he would survey the depot complex there before returning home.
Jorge was finalizing the buildings in each of the depot complexes in Las Cruces, Socorro, Albuquerque, and Santa Fe. Each of the complexes would have the same architectural feel but would employ slightly different architectural designs. The highest priority now, though, was the iron processing and production building at the Hanover Mine. When he completed the mine buildings and depot complexes, he was going to make a trip with Juan up to Socorro to work on designs for the new combined US Marshals Office and County Offices.
Juan was probably going to be the busiest. Besides having a road crew working on the road between Mesilla and the mine, he would have a large crew working as masons and mason’s helpers on the barracks and iron processing and production buildings. As soon as Giuseppe was finished surveying the Las Cruces depot complex, he would have most of his now sizable workforce, building the various buildings. In mid-summer, he was going with Nantan to the Sierra Blanca area to start logging trees for railroad ties. He’d bought the old sawmill, near what would become the town of Tularosa, and would be taking a crew with him to open up and work the old sawmill. I was also sending four security teams and two Scout/Sniper teams with them just in case some Mescaleros decided to ignore whatever agreement Nantan worked out. The biggest threat they were to protect against though was Comanche raiding parties that were attacking more often and in larger numbers.
Nantan was going to both issue the formal meeting invitation to the Mescalero leaders and to smooth the way for at least a short-term logging agreement with the tribal leadership. Miguel would go to the Mimbreños Chiricahua in the Gila Mountains with the same invitation and ask them to send messengers out to all the other Chiricahua leaders. The meeting was set for the third week in September.
The big drain on our manpower pool was the one hundred and twenty men making up the various security teams assigned to protect everyone off the Estancia. Eight teams were assigned to protect the mine. Four teams each were assigned to protect Juan’s logging group, Juan and Jorge’s visit to Socorro, and Giuseppe’s surveying work. Four more teams were assigned to Las Cruces, split evenly between protecting Mrs. Mendoza’s restaurant and the Las Cruces depot complex. All those teams meant the loss of almost one-third of our men.
In the meantime, we still had cattle to drive to the various forts, crops to weed, maintain, and harvest, and trips to Las Cruces, Mesilla, and El Paso to sell the harvested crops. The cattle drives, and trips to sell our harvest, had to have enough men to protect against attacks by Indians, Comancheros, and bandits. With all of that, the Estancia itself still required full-time protection.
Everyone could see that the Estancia leadership team that remained on the Estancia was facing a daunting task. I did remind them that the safety of our people was our first concern. If that meant all the crops didn’t get harvested, or get to market, then so be it.
The night before we left on our trip, the Hacienda was much quieter than usual, as the four of us spent what little time remained focused solely on our families, and especially our wives. I don’t know what the others did but, at Anna’s insistence, we spent the evening, well into the early morning hours, ‘exploring possibilities’, in the hope that she would be pregnant on my return. The fact that it was a pleasant way to spend an evening was icing on the cake to both of us.
Shortly after sunrise the next morning, the first of May 1857, the four of us along with Rodrigo and four security teams left the Hacienda for Las Cruces. On arriving in Las Cruces, the security teams broke off from us and headed straight to Mr. Mendoza’s stable. The four of us, along with Rodrigo dismounted in front of the restaurant and headed inside where we found Mr. Mendoza, Giuseppe, Sofio, Juan, and Martin waiting for us.
Tom, Kit, George, and I received the obligatory hug and cheek kiss from Mrs. Mendoza who then shooed us all into the family dining room where coffee and iced tea were waiting. We got straight to business after getting our drinks and sitting down at the table.
“Paul, the barracks and processing area have been surveyed and the masons were going all out on the barracks when I left,” Giuseppe said with satisfaction. “I’ve started surveying the depot complex here in town and should be done, with a full survey report completed in another four or five days. Once that’s done, Juan’s builders can start work. From there, I’ll start surveying the rail line from here towards Socorro.”
“Thanks, Giuseppe. That’s good work in record time.” Turning to Juan, I asked, “Any problems up at the mine?”
“No problems at all, Paul,” he replied. “I’ve got six masons and fourteen apprentices up there now, working under your masons. They are working smoothly together, and the barracks should be done in another six weeks. As you asked, we built a small tent town, for fifty miners, off to the side where the miners will stay until the barracks are ready. I’ve also got two road crew teams building a road from the mine to Pinos Altos. Once they reach there, they’ll continue working on the road to Mesilla. You were right, by the way, that road is a disaster. On the plus side, that scraper of yours is making things much easier.”
“I’m impressed, Paul,” Sofio interrupted. “You said it would happen, and it is. Exactly like you said it would.”
“Hire the best people you can find, pay them better than others, and get out of their way,” I replied. “Juan is one of the best, whether it’s building houses and businesses, or roads. That’s the secret. How’re you doing on getting more people, Juan?”
“It’s still a little too early to tell, Paul, but I’ve got commitments from roughly fifty men, family or their friends, that they’ll be here from Chihuahua and the surrounding area. Last I heard, they expect to arrive less than two weeks from now. Most are unskilled laborers but there’s a sprinkling of two or three experienced builders, sawmill workers, and loggers. If everyone comes, I think we’ll be all right, although there will be some time lost initially to get everyone trained in whatever activity I assign them to.
“The last thing I have is that I’ve got Mr. Gillespie coming up in late June to drill water wells. I know that’s an expense you hadn’t budgeted for but the creek up at the mine isn’t large enough, especially in the summer, to handle the number of people you’re going to have at the mine. Sofio and his people should be okay for now but come July it’s going to get tough without a couple of wells. The only thing that may delay his arrival is if we haven’t gotten the worst parts of the road completed by then.”
“I didn’t even think of that, Juan. Great catch. I’ll make sure you get written authorization to give to John so that he gets paid by Levi in El Paso when he’s done drilling. As a matter of fact, I’ll write that now while Sofio tells us about his miners. Thanks for that.” I waved to Sofio to give us a report on his miners while reaching for a pen, ink, and paper.
“I’ve got forty-eight miners ready to leave first thing tomorrow morning. Mr. Mendoza has eight heavy-duty freight wagons loaded and waiting for us along with drivers. A few of us have horses or mules to ride, but most will be walking with the freight wagons. As slow as they have to go there shouldn’t be any problem keeping up.
“I’ve got a man I’ll introduce you to tomorrow morning before we leave, who’s interested in the coal mine you want developed.” Surprised, I put down my pen and gave him my full attention. “He’s an experienced prospector with some knowledge of coal and a lot of experience developing finds of various ores into working operations.”
“That was quick. How did you find him so fast?” I asked, still surprised.
Sofio gave a small snort. “Paul, this entire area is full of small mines. Silver, copper, and iron mostly. All of these small mines mean that the possibility exists that are larger veins of ore just waiting to be discovered. That attracts prospectors and mine developers of all kinds here. The man I’ll introduce you too is much like me. He has no interest in spending his life actually mining. He wants to find a vein of ore he can develop into a working operation. He’d rather own it, but in a pinch, he doesn’t mind working for someone else until he gets enough money to strike out on his own.”
“Makes sense,” I said, picking my pen back up. “I look forward to meeting him.” I quickly finished the authorization and signed it. “Anything else we need to talk about? I asked as I handed the authorization to Juan.
Silence answered my question. “Thank you all, then. Sofio, Rodrigo here, is leading the security teams up to and at the mine. There are twenty men there now and he’s brought another twenty with him. They’ll be escorting you all up to the mine. His men will join the men already there giving you forty men to provide security. He speaks with my voice for all things regarding your security. Please listen to him when he tells you something.” Sofio nodded his understanding and his agreement. “I think we’re done then. My thanks to all of you again, for a job well done. I’ll see most of you tomorrow morning when I see you off. If Mr. Mendoza, Tom, Kit, George, and Martin will please stay for a discussion on a different topic.”
A few minutes later, after everyone had cleared out, I nodded to Tom, who got up and left for a few moments. When he came back, he stopped in the doorway and remained standing there.
“All clear, Paul. There are a couple of customers sitting near the door having a late lunch, but other than that the only ones in the building are the Mendoza ladies, and they are all in the kitchen.”
“Thanks, Tom. Okay, gentlemen, we are safe to discuss our trip without fear of being overheard. Tom is going to watch the hallway to make sure nothing is overheard. Martin, welcome aboard. Mr. Mendoza has told me about the discussion between you two, and the promise you gave. Do you have any questions?”
“No, not really; although I must say from everything I’ve seen here today, you are quite a surprise,” Martin replied with a smile. “Mr. Mendoza told me that interesting things happened around you. I didn’t really believe him until now.”
I ignored the laughter coming from around the table at Martin’s remark. “All right, to recap a few things for everyone. We’ve had to make some changes to our original plan because of my shoulder and a promise I made Anna. More on those changes in a few minutes.
“First, the only people who know where the goldfield is besides me, are Tom and Anna. They’ve both been there. We will be heading west from here. That’s all I’m going to say about the location. Once we get to the goldfield then you will also know its exact location.
“Second, I’ve gone to great lengths to create the impression that the gold I’ve found is in the well-established Cerrillos goldfield. The last thing we want, or need, is a new gold rush. The goldfield will be discovered in a few years at most. You’ll understand why I say this when we get to the goldfield. Until someone else discovers it, we are the only ones who will be reaping the benefits.
“I’m often asked by friends and family why I don’t just buy the land and make the discovery public. The answer is because if I did that, I would have to spend all my time trying to keep others off the land, hire a bunch of people I don’t know and can’t trust, to mine, process, and transport it for me. How much I would lose doing it that way versus how much more I could mine and sell, I couldn’t tell you. Regardless, I didn’t, nor do I now, want to move to the goldfield and I certainly don’t want to spend all my time protecting and developing a gold mine. There simply was, and is, too much going on here and in Santa Fe for me to spend all of my time there.
“Everyone here, except Martin, knows the full extent of everything that’s happening now and what we are working on for the future. Do any of you want to take on the role of being my full-time representative at the goldfield for the next three or four years if I buy the land and make the goldfield public?”
I got a ‘no’ or a head shake from everyone.
“Martin, do you want to do the job? I’ll warn you it’s out in the middle of nowhere with little in the way of civilization close by. As a matter of fact, the closest town is about the size of Las Cruces and it’s two or four days away, depending on how much you value your horse.”
“You would trust me to do this?” he asked in wonder.
“Most of the men I trust to do something like this are in this room,” I replied. “There are a few others, you all know them, but I’ve got them doing other things that are just as important to our current plans as the goldfield is. The job is yours though if you want it.”
Shaking his head, Martin said, “No thank you, Paul. I’ve got too much going on here, including buying Mr. Mendoza’s business, to spend all my time at a goldfield. Besides, I don’t know enough about mining, processing, or selling gold.”
“Transporting the gold, you could do though,” I said smiling. “Now, you’re all probably wondering why I brought this up.” I received a lot of ‘yes’ and head nods as I looked around the room. “The reason is simple. We need to continue to keep the location secret, and we need to keep your participation secret. We do not need ‘the Boss’, whoever he is, learning either secret. If he does, you will all be at even more risk than you are now. Martin, do you understand what I’m talking about?”
“Yes,” Martin yes, emphatically. “Mr. Mendoza took great pains in telling me everything you and the family have gone through. I understand the threat you’re talking about.”
“Good. Now, the plan is for everyone to wear typical freighter clothes and leave out of here just before sunrise tomorrow morning. The change we have to make to that plan is that Tom and I will not be leaving with you. We will remain behind making ourselves visible here and in Mesilla tomorrow and the next day. We will ride out just before daybreak two days behind you and catch up with you on the trail. Our goal is that all anyone will see tomorrow morning is a normal train of freight wagons leaving Las Cruces but that they won’t know who is driving them. Tom and I being visible for a couple of days will remove any ties between us and the freight wagons leaving.
“That means that Mr. Mendoza and Martin will have to drive three tandem wagons in a twelve-in-hand for the first few days. Tom and I also need to take a side trip when we get near Tucson so, while we’re gone, Mr. Mendoza and Martin will have to again drive three wagons. I hope we’ll only be gone a day or two, but it could be as long as five or six days. We will catch up to you as soon as we can regardless of how long it takes.”
“Why does Tom need to go with you, Paul?” Mr. Mendoza asked.
“Because I promised Anna I wouldn’t travel anywhere alone anymore. She’s convinced I wouldn’t have been hurt on my last trip if someone else had been with me.”
“I guess that makes sense, the promise I mean,” he said reflectively. “I think that mountain lion would have attacked no matter how many people were with you but, then again, maybe not.”
I nodded my head in agreement and continued on. “Tomorrow morning I’d like to see you gone before Sofio and the rest gather to begin their trip up to the mine. Is there anything stopping any of you from leaving that early?”
Silence again was my answer. “All right then, let’s all go about our normal business. For Tom, George, Kit and me, that means spending the afternoon with Mr. Mendoza watching him repair tack.” There were smiles all around at that old joke. “Martin, I’m not sure what your normal business is nowadays, but you’re welcome to join us in watching Mr. Mendoza work.”
We talked for a few more minutes, finishing our coffee in the process, and left the restaurant, following Mr. Mendoza over to, and through, the stable to his worktable. We enjoyed the easy companionship and were joined by Rodrigo and most of the security teams, which just created a party atmosphere.
The party atmosphere continued through dinner and the remainder of the evening. I did take Mr. and Mrs. Mendoza aside for a few moments to let them know that there was a security team assigned to protect Mrs. Mendoza and the restaurant until ‘the Boss’ had been identified and taken care of.
Mr. Mendoza, Martin, George, and Kit rolled out of the wagon yard next to the stable the next morning just as the first hint of light was breaking across the Organ Mountains. Tom and I sleepily watched them disappear in the gloom of early morning before turning back to the restaurant to get our morning cup of coffee.
We watched out the restaurant window as first the drivers, then the miners began showing up. As the miners were hitching up the mules, Rodrigo was going over the placement of the various teams during the trip up to the mine. Eventually, Sofio showed up with another man, looked around the gathering men, and headed for the restaurant with his companion. By the time they walked into the restaurant, Mrs. Mendoza had two more cups of coffee waiting for them on the table.
In his no-nonsense manner, Sofio wasn’t even halfway to the table before he started talking. “Paul, Tom, this here is my amigo Victoriano Armijo. He’s the man I was telling you about.”
“Please, gentlemen, have a seat and some coffee. Sofio, if I’m any judge of what’s going on outside, you have five minutes before Rodrigo moves out. Unless you want to stick around here and then catch up to them on your own, I’d recommend you gulp that coffee down and get your mule saddled up, so you’ll be in the saddle when Rodrigo moves out.”
“Not to worry, Paul. They won’t leave without me,” Sofio replied confidently.
“Sofio, they will leave without you,” I replied sternly. “Rodrigo is my trail boss on any long trip we make. He has years of experience in leading large groups of animals and people on long trips across the desert. He makes the decision on when to start each day, when and where to stop for lunch, when and where to stop each evening, what configuration the wagons will be in during stops, how many of the men will be guarding the wagons during travel, how many while in camp, and where they will be.
“As far as he is concerned, if you, or anyone else, doesn’t show up when he’s ready to leave, then it’s up to you to catch up. You own the mine and the miners work for you, that’s true, but from here to the mine he is in charge. At the mine he’s in charge of security and his word in that regard is the law. You’d do well to remember that Sofio.”
Sofio glared at me for almost a full minute, before quickly gulping down his coffee and bolting out the door.
Victoriano Armijo let out a small snort. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen that kind of reaction from old Sofio before,” he said over his cup. “And please, call me Vic. I’ve always believed Victoriano is an unnecessary mouthful.”
“Well, Vic, Tom and I were just getting ready to have breakfast. You’re more than welcome to join us.” At his nod, I held up three fingers to Mrs. Mendoza who left for the kitchen. “While we’re waiting for breakfast why don’t you tell us about yourself?”
“Not much to tell,” he said with a shrug. “My father was a miner down in Mexico and when he wasn’t digging in a mine, he was out prospecting for his own strike. I started going with him when I was about eight. He knew a lot about the different ores and he taught me everything he could during those trips.
“I knew by the time I was twelve that I wasn’t going to be a miner. I enjoyed prospecting too much to be stuck in a mine. I also knew that if I was ever lucky enough to make a strike then I would need to know how to develop the mine. I started out hanging around the mine office to see what they did. I started working as a sweeper, then as a runner, and eventually got to the point where I knew more about the mines than most of the office clerks. I saw first-hand all the thought and coordination that went into running a profitable mine.
“When I was sixteen, I heard about a new mine opening up thirty miles away and traveled there. I offered the manager my services as an office worker. The manager, curious at what made me believe I was up to such a task, started asking me questions. Six hours later he hired me as his assistant.”
“So, you know how to read, write, and figure?” I interrupted.
“Of course,” he said giving me an affronted look. “I wouldn’t be of much use in an office if I couldn’t do those things.” I nodded and motioned for him to continue. “I spent the next two years at that mine learning even more about developing a strike into a working mine. After that I struck out on my own, prospecting for a strike in the Santa Rita Mountains, around what is now San Vicente. I made a couple of small strikes, one copper and the other silver, but they weren’t worth the effort to develop. Eventually, I ran out of money and fell back on working in another mine office. Ever since then, I’ve prospected when I have a poke saved up and worked in mining offices when I need money. I’ve worked copper, gold, silver, iron, and coal mine strikes both on my own and developing those strikes for others.”
“You never made a big strike?” I asked as Maria sat our breakfast down in front of us.
“Nope, I will someday. At least I hope I will,” he replied before digging into his breakfast.
Apparently, Vic was a big believer in eating without talking as he said not another word until his plate was empty. I looked him over while we were eating. He was older than Sofio but that was about all I could tell age-wise. He was slim, of average height, with short, black, wavy hair, dark brown eyes, and a weathered complexion you can only get from spending your life outdoors.
“All right, young man,” Vic said, sitting back in his chair with a fresh cup of coffee. “I’ve given you my story. Sofio didn’t tell me much about you or about what you want me for. All he said was you might have a job for me.”
“That’s true,” I replied, thoughtfully. I looked over at Tom with a questioning look and received a small, barely perceptible nod in return. “Would it surprise you to learn that I’ve done a little prospecting of my own?”
“Nope, doesn’t surprise me a bit. This whole part of the territory is riddled with ore of one kind or another. I’d be real surprised to find a single man here who hasn’t done a little prospecting.”
“You’re probably right about that,” I said in agreement. “In my case, I didn’t find a thing of value. At least I didn’t think so at the time. Now I think I was wrong. What I found was coal. Coal that I now know is valuable. The only problem I have is that I don’t know exactly where I was when I found it. So, in a nutshell, what I want to hire you to do is find that coal on land that I now own and then develop it into a producing mine.”
“And just where is this land that you think you found coal on?”
I pulled my Marshal’s copy of the territorial map out of my satchel and spread it out on the table. The only thing it had marked on it was the square of land I’d bought east of San Antonio.
“It’s somewhere in there,” I said, pointing at the square of land. “I know I was only two or three days from San Antonio but that’s all I remember. There weren’t any obvious landmarks I could use to pinpoint it on a map.”
“That’s quite a bit of land, young man,” he said appreciatively.
“That it is. What I’m offering you in return is to bankroll you for your efforts and ten percent of the mine. Normally, I’d send five to ten men with you to provide protection, but at the moment and for the foreseeable future I don’t have any extra men.”
He waved off the extra men I’d normally send with him. “I work best on my own. I’ve kept my scalp so far by relying on myself. I don’t intend to change that.” He stared intently at the map for another couple of minutes. “I’ll tell you what, young man, you get me a decent pack mule and all the grub I need, for as long as I need, and I’ll find your coal. If you want me to develop the find, then I want twenty-five percent, not ten.”
I sighed, wondering if I was ever going to find anyone in this time who didn’t consider dickering both an art form and a form of entertainment. Tom broke out in laughter at my sigh and the look on my face.
“What did I say that you find so funny?” Vic asked Tom belligerently.
“It’s not you, Vic,” Tom explained, “it’s Paul. He absolutely hates negotiating, trading, dickering, whatever you want to call it. He finds no entertainment in it. As a matter of fact, he thinks it’s a useless exercise in wasting time. I’ll give you some free advice. If you want the job, tell him what percentage you’ll accept because, I’ll tell you right now, you aren’t going to get twenty-five percent. If you don’t give him a reasonable number, he’s going to tell you he enjoyed meeting you and wish you luck on your next strike.”
Vic looked back and forth between Tom and me a couple of times before focusing solely on me.
“That’s the contrariest thing I’ve ever heard,” he said rubbing his jaw. “I can play by those rules though. I’ll find and develop your mine for the stake I described and fifteen percent of the mine, providing the coalfield is large enough to justify developing it. If it’s not big enough, I want twenty dollars over and above the stake.” I started to agree when he added, “And I keep the mule.”
I waited a moment to make sure he didn’t add something else. “Agreed,” I said when it became clear he was waiting for my response. “Let’s go get you a mule.”
We got up from the table and walked towards the door.
I passed Maria a half eagle, “If Mrs. Mendoza won’t take it, then you keep it.”
We were out the door before she could respond and on our way to the stable. At the stable, I found the young man Mr. Mendoza had hired as the stable manager just inside the stable watching two young men muck out the stalls.