Railroad (Robledo Mountain #4)
Copyright© 2020 by Kraken
I woke up the next morning feeling more refreshed than I had since the mountain lion attack. Stretching my arms out to my side, I looked at my right hand, flexed my fingers, and laughed at the thought that I could play the guitar again. I hadn’t realized until yesterday afternoon how much I missed it.
Jumping out of bed, I ran through my tai chi exercises and the katas, before cleaning up with a basin of water, and getting dressed. I was whistling as I walked in the back door of the restaurant.
“Well aren’t you in a good mood this morning,” Mrs. Mendoza said, her cheerful voice quickly changing to surprise as I picked her up and twirled her around the room. Lowering her voice, as I set her down, she added, “Jose told me you played the guitar yesterday. Good for you. I know that is important to you.”
Before I could reply, I heard someone clearing their throat behind me. “Keep your hands off my girl, gringo. I happen to know you have one of your own.”
Whirling around, I found Mr. Mendoza in the doorway giving me a silly grin.
“Whew,” I said to Mrs. Mendoza, wiping my brow with an exaggerated motion. “For a moment there I thought maybe it was your husband and we’d have to tell him about us.”
I walked past him and into the dining room to the sounds of laughter coming from the kitchen.
Breakfast was a gastronomic treat, at least for me. I don’t know how much I ate at dinner the previous night nor could I recall what was served, but whatever it was I must not have eaten much of it. I remembered to apologize for being such a poor dinner companion the previous evening. Everyone was kind enough to accept my apology without comment.
I helped clean the table after breakfast and with a couple of hours to kill I sat down and picked up the guitar. I’d been playing scales to loosen up my fingers for about an hour when some of the kids from the extended Mendoza family stuck their heads in the door. Smiling, I waved them in.
Once they were settled, I began playing three railroad-related songs. They didn’t understand anything about the songs except that they were about that strange wonderful thing called a railroad. I started with ‘Wabash Cannonball’, then moved to ‘Orange Blossom Special’, and ended with ‘City of New Orleans’.
Looking up from the guitar to thank the kids for listening, I saw Mrs. Mendoza standing in the doorway with tears in her eyes and a broad smile on her face. I nodded thanks to her before giving the kids all my attention, telling them that I was done for today, but I’d play more for them the next time I was back.
One of the younger Mendoza ladies brought in an urn of coffee and seven cups and saucers as I was heading out to the restaurant proper to await the arrival of Juan and the potential leaders of our railroad security force. George and Kit came in the door from wherever they had gone after breakfast and I waved them on into the dining room.
Looking out the window, I could see Juan leading three men up the street towards the restaurant, so instead of sitting down, I just stood at the entrance to the hallway and waited. When he entered the door, I waved him towards the back before turning and going back to the family dining room.
Juan and the other three men entered the room a moment later and immediately started to make introductions. Juan didn’t get three words into the introductions when the three men behind him snapped to perfect parade ground attention.
I did my best to keep the smile off my face. ‘Some things never change,’ I thought to myself, remembering how long it took me to lose the Pavlovian reflex of snapping to attention when an officer walked into a room after I left the Air Force. I started to say something but then decided to let George handle it.
George snapped a perfect, “As you were, gentlemen,” before a large smile spread across his face. “Mick, Eric, Paddy, it’s damn good to see you three! When I resigned, I certainly never expected to see any of you lifers again. What the hell happened to make you resign?”
Watching the interplay among the three men was fascinating. The oldest of the three, by far, was Paddy, the former sergeant. The next oldest was Mick, slightly younger than George. The youngest, by a couple of years, was Eric. Even Eric looked to be in his mid-thirties, making them all much older than my apparent age.
All three of them; from the tall whip-thin Eric to the short, almost fireplug, Mick, to the barrel-chested mountain masquerading as a man, Paddy, carried themselves with the same square-shouldered straight-backed bearing. They gave off the air of calm competence I’d long ago come to associate with men used to command.
“Well, Sir,” Mick started his response, “I guess you could say we had one set of bad orders too many.”
“It’s George, Mick. There’s no rank among us anymore. What happened?”
“Some damn chair warmer back east is what happened! Major Longstreet was made acting Commander at Fort Bliss, and two days later gets a copy of orders assigning Major Lynde to Fort McLane. That’s bad enough, we all know Major Lynde is a fine staff officer but the old fart has no business being anywhere near troops in the field, much less in command, but then the orders go on to assign him two companies of fresh green troops with me and Eric as Company Commanders.
“About the only saving grace to the whole thing was we were given six months at Fort Bliss for field training and familiarization as necessary. There was a chance we could have made something of those green troops before getting to Fort McLane and going up against the Apache. At least until Lynde read the orders and decided further training was unnecessary.
“It took less than an hour for Eric and me to decide it was time to resign. I feel sorry for those new troops, but I’m in no hurry to lose my scalp. Paddy and his posse of Sergeants had already resigned by the time Eric and I were done packing.
“Major Longstreet suggested that we come up here and look up Mr. McAllister. He was on a trip, according to his wife, and ain’t she a looker. She hired us temporarily, subject to Mr. McAllister’s approval, and sent us back down here to interview, evaluate, and document as many of the men volunteering for the railroad security force which is what we’ve been doing.”
George, who’d been grim-faced when he heard about Major Lynde, now had a smile spread across his face.
“It’s a shame they gave old Isaac Lynde a command. He’d probably be okay as a paymaster, but I think being assigned under him, especially under those circumstances, would have made me resign too. I can’t but help believe that his command is going to come to a bitter end.”
Giving his head a shake, as if to remove the negative thoughts, he then continued, “Now, let me introduce you to the man who makes the decisions, and your new boss.”
The three men turned towards Kit, before turning back to George in confusion on hearing his and Juan’s laughter.
“Gentlemen,” he said still laughing, “I have the honor of introducing you to my third cousin, and the man who’ll be paying you, US Marshal Paul McAllister,” he ended this statement by pointing to me with a flourishing wave of his arm.
I couldn’t help smiling at this seldom-seen side of George. Meanwhile, the men were looking confusedly back and forth between Kit and me trying to figure out what was going on.
“Gentlemen, I am indeed US Marshal Paul McAllister, the husband of Anna. And yes, Mr. Johnson,” I said letting my smile grow, “I agree, she is quite a looker, but then I’m a little biased. I’m also the man with the responsibility for hiring a security force for the new railroad being built between Las Cruces and Santa Fe.
“Don’t worry, gentlemen,” I hurried on. “There was no offense taken by your remarks. Based on Anna’s assessment and both Juan and George’s recommendation, your employment is confirmed and official.
“Before we get down to business, let me introduce my cousin, through marriage, and therefore George’s as well, Kit Carson. Kit, I think you’ve figured out who is who, but just in case we both are wrong, say hello to Mick Johnson, Eric Jameson, and Paddy McDonnell,” pointing to each man in turn.
The mix of confusion and awe on the three men’s faces combined with Juan and George’s laughter in the background was just too much and both Kit and I started laughing softly.
“Please, gentlemen; get some coffee and sit down, there’s much to discuss in the next few hours.”
Off-balance, mentally, the men went through the motions of getting coffee and sitting down at the table side by side. Their uneasiness at the situation still clearly visible.
“All right, gentlemen, all kidding aside, let’s get down to business. First, you deserve to know exactly what it is you’re facing. George, here, is the head of Estancia Dos Santos Security. He’s responsible for keeping the Estancia, and the 3000 plus people who live and work there, safe and secure. More on that in a few minutes. First, let me tell you a little about myself.”
For the next forty-five minutes, I told them of my background, concentrating on my adopted Apache heritage and the cultural environment we had established on the Estancia. I made sure to stay completely away from any discussion about gold. When I was done, I turned to George.
“George, give them the background on what they’ll be facing.”
George gave them what little details we knew about ‘the Boss’, recounted every incident we’d had with his forces, reemphasized that ‘the Boss’ was active everywhere in the territory and El Paso as well. He finished off with a description of all the incidents and attacks on the rail bed and crews.
When he was done, Paddy asked, in a deep rumbling voice, “What about the Apache, any problems with them?”
“No,” George said with a small smile. “At least not on the railroad and the road crews. We have had the usual problems on the Estancia with Navajo and Comanche raids though. Every once in a while, we get a small band of Apache renegades who try to attack us. I should point out that not a single one of the raids on the Estancia, regardless of who the attackers were, has ever succeeded.” He let that sink in a moment. “We’ve lost a total of two men during all the attacks that have ever happened. We are well organized, well trained, and well armed. Paul expects you to be no less.”
“Gentlemen, you know what you’re up against, and as George said, what I expect. Do you still want the job?”
The three quickly nodded their heads. “All right, there’s one last set of facts you need to know about, and a promise you need to consider before making it.”
For the next few minutes, I took them through the events that would lead to the Civil War. I let them know I was pro-Union and anti-slavery and I was using all the resources at my disposal to ensure that the territory remained that way.
“So, gentlemen,” I concluded, “before we go any further, you need to decide if you’re willing to promise me that you won’t answer the coming patriotic call to arms, on either side and will remain in my employ.”
The three looked at each other and then, for the first time, Eric Jameson spoke. “None of us are pro-slavery, nor are we strongly pro-Union. There is something to be said for a State’s right to secede; however, I don’t think I want to see the nation break into two parts. I think I speak for all three of us when I say that I don’t mind sitting out the coming war, assuming you’re right about it. After all the fighting we did in the war with Mexico and now the Indians, none of us want to have to face friends across the battle lines or destroy the cities, towns, and farms of those friends. If we can help build something like the railroad and a new State then, I for one will gladly take that oath.”
The other two men rapidly agreed and all three gave their promise.
“It seems you are now employees of Thunderbird Railroad. Welcome to the fold,” I said, toasting them with my coffee cup. “I’d like to spend the next couple of hours talking about organization and reviewing your lists of people you’ve interviewed and your evaluations of them generally. Who you hire is up to you, as your very life will depend on those you hire after all.”
Mr. Mendoza strolled into the room as I finished talking, followed almost immediately by Mrs. Mendoza and the ladies from the kitchen bearing lunch. I introduced the Mendozas as our hosts and my in-laws as the ladies laid out our lunch. Soon, we were eating and exchanging pleasant conversation with Mr. Mendoza.
The lunch break was short, thankfully, as Mr. Mendoza ate quickly and left without his usual three after-lunch cups of coffee. The ladies also quickly cleared the table when it became apparent to them that we were done eating.
With a clean table and fresh coffee, I turned back to the last two subjects.
“Except in one aspect, the ultimate decision on the organization is yours to make, I’m not going to second guess you. The one aspect that I will insist on is that Mick will be the Railroad Security Commander, Eric and Paddy will be the two Company Commanders. Mick, for now, you will report directly to me, until I can find and hire the Railroad President.” The shock on their three faces at this announcement was clear. I gave them a few moments to absorb their new roles before continuing. “The rest of the organization is up to you three. I will share my preferences, but you’re free to use them as you will.
“We’ve found that five-man squads, five squads to a platoon, and four platoons to a company work extremely well. I would prefer to have at least two companies as well as a fifteen to twenty-man headquarters group. Larger companies or one more company is also advisable.
“We would like to have one company centered here in Las Cruces, the other in Santa Fe, with a platoon from Las Cruces in Socorro and a platoon from Santa Fe in Albuquerque, at least to start with. Patrols of the rail lines would be staged out of all four locations. Communications is an issue in the short term, but sometime in the next two years, we should have communications via telegraph.
“All that aside, let’s talk about the number of men you’ve interviewed, your general impression of them, and how many of them you’d hire.”
Mick pulled a thick wad of folded paper out of his coat pocket, unfolded them on the table, and after a quick glance at the other two, began to tell me about the men they interviewed.
“We’ve talked to just a little over three hundred men in the last month or so. The sheer number of men surprised us and, as we did the interviews, we tried to understand what was causing so many men, in such a sparsely populated territory, to apply for what most consider a hazardous job.
“We came to the conclusion that money was the primary factor. Ranches and farms from Chihuahua to Austin are failing left and right. People need to eat, and most of those applying are desperate to feed themselves and their families.
“There’s a small group though, less than thirty men, that we couldn’t figure out until this morning when George told us about ‘the Boss’. These men, both Hispanos and Anglos, are what I’d call hard case gun hands. It wouldn’t surprise me if most of them are on wanted posters. We’d already decided to discount them for hiring consideration.”
Damn, there goes the hope of getting home this afternoon. Making a quick decision, I said, “Everyone in the room raise your right hands.” When the hands were all raised, I gave them the oath and then declared they were all now temporary US Deputy Marshals.
“Um, Paul? Why are we Deputies?” Kit asked.
“Because we’re going to go through the wanted posters later this afternoon and see if we can match any of them to the men Mick was just telling us about. If we can, you all are going to help me arrest them tomorrow after inviting them for a second interview. Excuse me just a few moments please.”
Picking up a pencil and paper from the sideboard, I wrote a quick note to Esteban and Ed, telling them to bring the prisoner wagon, the most current batch of wanted posters and warrants, and all the manacles they had, to the restaurant as soon as possible and to plan on spending the night and most of tomorrow in Las Cruces. As an afterthought, I also told them to tell no one else, most especially the Sheriff or his Deputies, where they were going or why.
Taking the folded and sealed note out to the restaurant I found Martin just finishing up a late lunch.
“Martin, good to see you. If you have a few minutes, can you take this note to Mr. Mendoza and ask him to have one of his stable hands deliver it immediately to Esteban and Ed over in Mesilla?”
“Hey, Pablo, good to see you too. I can do better than that. I’m on my way to Mesilla now to see about some more mules. I’ll deliver it for you and probably a little faster than a stable hand would. It seems to be important from the way you’re acting.”
“Thanks, Martin. It is important. Oh, and there’s no need to mention the note to anyone you happen to run into.”
“Ah,” he said smiling. “Got you. I’m on my way right now,” he said standing up, grabbing his hat, and walking out the door.
Yes, definitely a good man, I thought as I walked back into the room.
“Sorry to interrupt our discussion,” I said, sitting back down in my chair. “Please continue on with your interviews and evaluation.”
“I must say working for you is going to be interesting.” Juan, George, and Kit all started laughing at the inside joke Mick had just stumbled into. Mick, Eric, and Paddy were confused once again. ‘They’ll learn,’ I thought to myself. “I really want to see how this plays out,” Mick finally said, trying to get the discussion back on track.
“We came up with a set of criteria we used to make our final recommendations. First, a man had to be bilingual. Second, they needed to have a horse. Third, they needed to have their own pistol and rifle. Other than those three things, we discussed our impression of each man and tried to rate him on loyalty, ability, and honor, which were the only three criteria we could come up with based on just a short interview.”
“I can certainly understand your problem given the task you’d been given. I can agree with your first criteria. The second and third criteria you used, though, aren’t appropriate. If you have men you want to hire who don’t have a horse or weapons, I’ll provide them. As a matter of fact, I’m going to eventually provide a common pistol and rifle to every man. That will take a while but it’s coming. Does that change your recommendations at all?”
“It does,” Mick said surprised. “That adds another twenty-five or thirty men to those we’d hire, which brings us up to one hundred and ninety men.”
“I’m pleasantly surprised. I figured it would be lower than that,” I said.
“We initially thought the same,” Mick said with a grin. “What we hadn’t counted on was the number of people related to, or friends with, Juan and Jorge. We also hadn’t counted on the number of ex-soldiers living in west Texas and around the Territory.”
I sat back, thinking about everything that needed to be done. This was one of the shortfalls in our planning. We hadn’t planned at all for actually setting up and organizing the Railroad Security Force. Training them, yes, arming them, yes, organizing them, no. Of course, I’d hoped to have the Railroad President hired and onboard by now and he would have been handling this.
“First things first, then. “I want you three to send messages to all the men you think are on wanted posters. The message should invite them to a second interview tomorrow morning at ten o’clock. By the way, where did you do the interviews?”
“They were all done at the cantina down at the other end of town. The owners were willing to let us do them in a back room and most of the men are living down in that area.”
“Does the back room you used have a back door?” At their nod, I asked, “What’s behind the cantina?”
“The only thing back there is the outhouse, and a large old stable that the owners use for storage,” Paddy answered. “There’s hardly anything in there though.”
“Okay. You guys go ahead and write out a message and the list of men. When you’re done, Eric and Paddy will go deliver them. If they ask why they’re getting a second interview, tell them Mick is in charge and you don’t know why he wants the interview. When you’re done, come back here.
“George, Kit, you both look like you could use a good beer. Why don’t you ride down to that cantina, get a beer, and check out the lay of the land? See what you think about using that old stable as a place to hold well manacled or tied up prisoners as a temporary holding area.” George and Kit, both with smiles on their faces, rapidly got up walked out the back door.
“Juan, go over those names to make sure none of them are your relatives or friends, just to make sure, please.” Juan nodded and moved to the other side of the table to review the list of undesirables.
I went into the kitchen and let Mrs. Mendoza know what was going on and asked her for two orders of take-out food for dinner. I didn’t expect Esteban and Ed to arrive before six o’clock and probably closer to eight o’clock tonight. The rest of us could eat as normal but Esteban and Ed would be eating in the stables tonight as we looked through the wanted posters and warrants and finalized our plans.
“None of these men are relatives or friends of mine, Paul,” Juan said as I walked back into the room.
“I didn’t really think they would be, but better safe than sorry,” I replied with a smile. “Are you okay being part of this?”
“Are you kidding?” he asked in disbelief. “I wouldn’t miss this opportunity to be one of ‘Los Hombres Malos’ for anything in the world.”
“Okay, just checking. I need you to set Mick up with an account for Security under the Estancia for now. I don’t think they’ll need anything from you but just in case they do they’ll have an account.”
“Consider it done my friend.”
“Thank you. I don’t expect Esteban and Ed until late this evening, probably about eight o’clock. Unless you want to sit here drinking coffee all afternoon, why don’t you take off for now? Meet us over in the stables after dinner tonight.”
“Sounds good to me, Paul. I’ll wait and walk partway with Eric and Paddy.”
“We’re ready, Juan,” Eric said, standing up with Paddy to join Juan at the door. “We’ll be back as soon as we can.”
“No hurry, guys, I’m taking Mick to a few places I do business with to open up accounts so he can get what you may need.”
Nodding, the two followed Juan outside and down the street.
“Come on, Mick, let’s go see a man about a horse,” I said heading out the backdoor.
“Hey, Pablo,” Mr. Mendoza greeted me as I walked out of the back of the stables towards his table. “Hey, Mick,” he added a moment later.
“Hi again,” I said smiling. “Some of the new men we’re hiring to work Railroad Security may need horses. Can you set Mick up with an account for Security under the Estancia and make sure he gets what he needs if he comes calling?”
“I can do that Pablo. You sure you don’t want to just put it on your account?”
“I’m more than sure. You’ll go broke if I do that.”
Shaking my head, I threw a wave and said, “We’re off to see Mrs. Amador and the gunsmith. See you later.”
Mr. Mendoza was still laughing as we walked through the stable back out to the street.
I took Mick around to the various businesses I dealt with, introduced him, and opened accounts for him to use while he was getting organized. A little more than an hour later we were walking back to the restaurant and found Eric, Paddy, Kit, and George walking up the street together towards us. Mick and I held up and waited for the four to join us.
“They have all been invited, Paul,” Eric said with a certain amount of satisfaction.
“Good, I don’t expect anything else to happen until later tonight when my two Deputies get here. Why don’t you three take off for now? We’ll meet back together in the stables after dinner, about eight tonight.”
“Sounds good, Paul,” Mick said to the other’s nods.
Kit, George, and I watched them leave before we turned and headed towards the stables.
I’d only taken two steps when I stopped, turned up the street, and said over my shoulder, “I need to get some things for tomorrow. I’ll probably need some help carrying it all.”
Kit and George quickly caught with me.
“How was the beer?” I asked as we walked.
“What’s not to like? Kit asked.
“You losing your memory, Kit?” George asked with a smile in his voice. “Paul hates beer, I know we’ve talked about that before.”
Kit gave a rude snort. “I thought you all were pulling my leg. Granted, I’ve never seen him drink a beer in all the time we’ve spent together in Santa Fe, but still, hate beer? How can that be?”
“Married life agrees with you George,” I said over their gentle laughter at me. “You’ve been a lot happier since your wedding than I’ve ever seen you before.”
“What’s not to enjoy about it?” George asked. “Being out of the Army is part of it, being rich is part of it, helping to build something greater than just me, instead of trying to tear something down is part of it, but the biggest part is Celia. About the only thing that would make it perfect is if Jim Longstreet came walking down the street telling us he left the Army and gave his word to you Paul.”
“That would sure make me a little happier too, George, but we’ll manage somehow,” I said before changing subjects. “This is where we want to go.”
Dolores was at the counter as we walked into the Delgado’s leather store. “Well hello, you three. Where are your wives?”
“Hi, Dolores,” I said with a big grin. “You’ll have to get your haggling entertainment some other time. The ladies are all back on the Estancia.”
“Oh, you. I don’t know what Anna sees in you, you’re no fun at all. What can I do for you gentlemen today?
Both George and Kit shrugged their shoulders in response and pointed at me.
“We’re looking for leather piggin’ strings. You have anything like that?”
“Absolutely, this is cattle country after all. How many do you need?”
“Oh, one hundred fifty or so should do,” I said nonchalantly.
“Good lord, why so many,” she asked curiously.
“They’re not for the ranch Dolores. We use them to hogtie prisoners when we’re out of manacles. Nothing better than piggin’ strings for that.