Railroad (Robledo Mountain #4)
Copyright© 2020 by Kraken
We stopped at the post office on the way out of town and mailed off the report package to the Judge. The trip was mostly made in silence after that, but I did ask George to work on the training requirements with Miguel and Maco as well as tell Tom about the payroll. I also let him know I was expecting him to coordinate the four security teams we needed to have in Mesilla in five days to escort the prisoners.
He simply nodded his acceptance of these tasks, just as mentally tired as I was.
For most of the trip, I was trying to come up with what I wanted to say during the meeting with the Apache leaders that was starting in two days. I was so deep in thought that I was startled when George let out a sound somewhere between a snort and a harrumph.
“What’s that George? I didn’t catch what you said.”
“I didn’t say anything Paul, but the mirror signals are letting you know some of your guests have already arrived.”
“Did it say which ones?”
“No,” came his curt reply. I suspected that he was going to bring up sending incomplete messages at his next meeting with Miguel and Maco.
Stopping my horse, I took out my mirror, signaled acknowledgment and then asked for numbers and names.
The reply took a few minutes but eventually, it did come back.
George and I looked at each other in disbelief.
Every Mescalero and Chiricahua we’d invited, plus numerous others, had already shown up as had several Western Apache we hadn’t invited. Forty-two Apache leaders were waiting for us to begin the meeting.
I debated with myself for a few minutes and then sent an acknowledgment, adding that the meeting would start after breakfast tomorrow morning. There was no way I was in mental shape to start this dance, today. It was too important to mess it up, just because I couldn’t think clearly or rapidly enough.
Kit had been looking on interestedly and George had quietly explained what was going on while I was sending and receiving the messages.
“You know,” Kit said once we’d started riding again, “all that signaling back and forth is almost enough to make me look forward to learning to read and write.”
“That’s a good thing, Kit,” George replied, “because I think you and Josefa are supposed to start school, one on one, with one of the village ladies tomorrow morning on the terrace.”
Kit quickly swung in his saddle and gave George a glare. “I said almost, darn it.”
I patted him on his back in sympathy while George just chuckled.
Less than an hour later we dismounted in front of the courtyard gate and handed over our horses and turned just in time to each get a greeting from our respective wives. Once the hugging and kissing was over, I suggested we all have coffee on the terrace, and we could tell the story of our adventure in Las Cruces.
Celia ran off to arrange for coffee and then rejoined us on the terrace along with Tom, Yolanda, Giuseppe, Sofia, Hector, Lorena, Tomas, and Esperanza. Carla followed them a few moments later making three trips to the dumb waiter to bring out the coffee. She also brought a large plate of biscochitos which she set in front of me and three smaller plates she set in the center of the table. Everyone but me laughed at her little joke. I was too busy munching on biscochitos to laugh.
George, Kit, and I took turns telling our story of the last three days. At the point in the story where Kit was telling them that we’d found thirty men we suspected of working for ‘the Boss’ among the Security Force applicants, and found twenty-three of them were wanted men, Josefa gasped.
“Where do all these bad men come from?” she asked in dismay.
“Josefa, they come from the same places the over three hundred men who applied for the Security Force came from. As Mick Johnson, the new head of the Security Force told us, times are tough all over west Texas and the territory. Men are willing to do almost anything to feed themselves and their families.
“Who knows why at least twenty-three of those thirty turned to being outlaws, but they did. I suspect the other seven are also outlaws, or soon will be. We just didn’t have anything to arrest them on, this time.”
“Well,” Anna added, “at least you cleared them out for now. More will come though, so we all need to be watchful.”
George picked up the story where Kit had left off and finished it up to everyone’s apparent satisfaction.
“When did our guests start showing up?” I asked the table generally during a lull in the conversation a little later.
Yolanda gave a cute little snort. “They started arriving a few hours after you left. Instead of coming on to the Estancia they set up little camps along the edges. They were waiting for the right day. Miguel finally had enough waiting and sent some of his warriors out to bring them to the camp that was already set up for them.”
“He only waited that long because it gave the women time to build and stock the extra wickiups that were needed,” Anna said. “It also gave enough time to reevaluate the food they’d need and get it staged.”
“Well, I’m glad so many of them came, although I’m not ready to deal with them today. I hope I won’t have too many ruffled feathers to smooth over tomorrow morning.”
“From what I’ve seen so far I don’t think you have to worry too much about that Paul,” Tom said. “They’ve been wandering all over the Estancia, talking to everybody, amazed that everyone speaks Apache. Of course, they’re probably working out how the defenses are organized, where the best place to make an attack is, and how many defenders there are, but they always do that. I think they’ve been more than surprised that the first line of defense they’ll face are other Apaches.”
“They’re also fascinated by what they call the ‘talking metal’ meaning the signal mirrors,” Miguel said as he strode up to the tables from inside the Hacienda and took a seat. “They were very impressed that not only did you send a message but everyone on the Estancia could read it. By the way, welcome back Thundercloud.”
“Thanks, Miguel, any problems with our guests?”
“No, not yet, but I expect there to be one or two tomorrow or the next day.” Seeing my arched eyebrow, he explained, “Cha and Agua Nueves are here. None of us expected them to come but come they did. I’ve got warriors assigned to all the visitors and Scout/Sniper teams surround the camp at night so no one’s going to sneak out easily. Those are the only two real problem guests that I can see so far.
“Even those two are too busy being amazed by what they see and hear. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve taken small groups of them out to see the pecan trees, the fields, the flocks of sheep, and the ranch. I think the thing that surprises them the most is all the water. They are fascinated by Nine Ponds and the lake, especially when I tell them that the water comes from catching the rain during the rainy season.
“Of course, most of them scoff about the lazy white man until I tell them to open their eyes and take a good look around them with clear eyes. What they’re seeing wasn’t built by lazy white men but by hard-working men and women, white, brown, and Apache, who all live and fight together to keep what they’ve built.
“Thundercloud, you may already have a few converts if this is what you’re offering them.”
“You already know the answer to that, Miguel.”
“Yes, you offer a vision and the Estancia as an example, but they must take that vision and make it their own. Your vision offers an outline of what could be and the things they will have to do to ensure there are enough of them to finish building it.”
I nodded, “Exactly my friend. I don’t expect all of them to believe me and embrace my vision, but if even just a few accept it and work for it, all the Apache will be better off in the future.”
“Well, Santana, for one, won’t be too difficult to persuade. It’s been a few years since he went on the Warriors’ trail. He’s stayed hidden away from all white men until now. He knows the Apache need to change, he just isn’t sure what to change, or how to do it.”
“All it takes is one believer to start with,” I said smiling.
“I can also tell you that the no raiding rule doesn’t sit well with most of them. That may be the hardest thing we have to overcome.”
“Yes, I can see that,” I said thoughtfully. “But all that is for tomorrow. Let’s enjoy ourselves for a little while tonight. Tomorrow’s troubles can wait until tomorrow.”
He smiled as he nodded. “A good idea, Thundercloud,” he said, snatching two biscochitos off my plate and munched on them happily.
I smiled, hearing the laughter echo around the courtyard and back to the terrace.
I excused myself a short time later to take a nice long hot shower. Four days was about all I could stand without a bath or shower unless I was on a trip. I came out of the bathroom dressed, ready to return to the terrace when I saw the twelve-string guitar Anna had given me so many years ago, in its accustomed place, leaning against the wall near the fireplace.
Sitting down on the raised stone floor in front of the hearth, I picked up the guitar. I absently tuned it while examining stray thoughts I’d been having about tomorrow morning. Realizing that I’d been sitting there, unmoving for over five minutes, I looked down at the forgotten guitar resting on my lap.
I started to stand when I caught a glimpse of a solemn and sad-faced Anna standing in the doorway to our bedroom watching me. Raising my head, I looked into her eyes with a smile on my face and started playing ‘Two of Kind’. Her solemn expression changed to joy as I played and sang to her.
“Mi Pablo,” she whispered when I was done, tears of joy running down her face. “Your hand is better; you can play again.”
“Yes, my love,” I whispered back, the smile growing even bigger. “I can play again.”
Putting the guitar back in its usual place, I stood up and wrapped Anna in a warm hug, enjoying the feeling of having her in my arms again. She snuggled in even closer and squeezing my waist as hard as she could, she turned her face up towards me and reached for a kiss.
What started as a sweet gentle expression of love soon turned into something much more amorous and Anna suddenly pulled her face back from mine, moved her hands to my chest, and pushed us apart.
“As much as I don’t want to, we must stop, for now. If we don’t, we won’t get dinner and I’m hungry” she said breathlessly.
“When’s dinner,” I asked, stalking her around the bedroom with a lecherous look.
“Now!” she exclaimed, dashing for the door.
“Curses, foiled again!” I said in a loud whisper, snapping my fingers, chasing her out the door.
We were still laughing as we walked into the dining room. Looking around the table, I saw we had an unexpected visitor.
Seating Anna, I took my chair. “Welcome back Vic, when did you get in?” I asked as I sat down.
“I got here about an hour ago,” he said after taking a big drink of iced tea. “I must say that shower contraption of yours is something special. And this iced tea is a real wonder. I could really get used to all this.”
“Civilization does have its advantages, Vic, but then so does the peace and quiet of the desert,” I said knowing the latter was more important to him than the former.
“Ah, yes, there is that,” he replied as his eyes momentarily glazed over thinking about the solitude. He shook his head a moment later and threw his arms up and around animatedly, exclaiming, “Enough of that though. You were right, my friend, there’s coal aplenty on that land!”
The adults were smiling, and the little ones were laughing at his over the top gestures while Carla, Cristina, and Martina began bringing in dinner.
“Eat first my friend, then tell us all about it over coffee,” I said as bowls and platters were passed around the table.
As always, I enjoyed watching Vic during dinner. As a first-time visitor at mealtime, he was constantly turning his head trying to make sense of the conversations going on around him in five different languages at the same time, with the participants often switching between languages in the middle of a conversation.
Dinner over, the table cleared, young ones off to bed, and coffee poured, I turned to Vic. “So, tell us a tale of coal.”
Scooting his chair closer to the table, he leaned forward, arms on the table, thought for a moment, and then began spinning his tale.
“When you first sent me out there, I thought you were crazy. In the middle of the Jornada del Muerte, the Journey of Death, I thought I was crazy for taking the job. I’d forgotten how dry, dusty, and hot that part of the trail was.
“It took me longer to get there than I’d planned. I must be getting old. Anyway, I finally got to the area you told me to check. I searched, and searched, and searched some more, finally finding a small outcropping of coal just above the ground in a mound buried by sand and overgrown with mesquite.
“I only found it by accident. I’d just made camp and couldn’t find enough deadfall to make enough coals to cook on, so I went to a nearby old mesquite to cut down a large branch, you know how tough that is. When I was done, I threw the axe into the sand on the side of the hill so I could pick up the branch. The axe head buried itself, but it didn’t make the soft sound I was expecting as it entered the sand. Instead, the sound was more like it would make burying it in a piece of softwood.
“Curious, I pulled the axe back out and before the sand could fill back in, saw a glint of pure, solid black. Using my hands, I dug down a couple of inches into the sand and found coal! Moving around the large mound, brushing more sand away every three or four feet, I soon found that the entire mound was coal!
“I spent the next three months trying to map out the extent of the coalfield. The coal is all below ground and isn’t evenly distributed so it was hard to get a feel for it. The best I can tell is that the coalfield covers roughly two square miles, perhaps more. I can’t tell you how deep it goes, although in the spots I dug into, I went down six feet before I quit, and I was still hitting coal. Now I dug down in forty different places and found coal in six out of ten so it’s not a constant field throughout the area, but there’s probably coal even in the spots I didn’t find it, it’s just deeper is all.
“So, young man, you were right. All I need is money, miners, and wagons to develop it as a producing mine,” he finished, sitting back in his chair, with a satisfied look.
“Well done!” I said happily. “The money and wagons I’ll provide. The miners are for you to provide. You know where they are and how to get them. You’ll pay the same wages Sofio pays his miners. We can talk more about that in a couple of days.”
“Time’s a wasting, young man!” he exclaimed angrily. “I’ll be gone tomorrow morning so let’s get to it!”
“I’m too tired to do it tonight and I have visitors I have to attend to tomorrow,” I calmly replied. “If you want to leave, you are free to do so at any time. If you do leave, our deal is off. I can pay you your twenty-dollar fee now or Anna can give it to you tomorrow morning, your choice.”
“Not so fast, now,” he quickly said backing off his demand. “I thought you were in a hurry. I can certainly wait a day or two relaxing while you take care of other business.”
“Good. Our harvest celebration is the day after tomorrow, you’ll stay to help us celebrate?” I asked although it was more in the nature of a command.
“Certainly, certainly! Be happy to. Haven’t been to a fandango in quite a while. I look forward to it,” he said rapidly.
Anna interrupted the back and forth between Vic and me, obviously feeling it had gone on long enough.
“Let’s go to the living room and you can play some songs for us,” she said, giving me a direct look clearly expressing her thought that it was time to let the argument drop now that I was clearly on top.
Yolanda seconded her and stood up starting everyone else moving to the living room. Stopping in the den, Anna came out carrying my guitar, handing it to me.
“Sing for me, mi Pablo,” she commanded as I started to tune it after almost nine months of disuse.
“As you command, my lady,” I said grinning at her and starting to sing ‘Something That We Are’. Since she asked me to play for her, and not for our guests, I added our two songs before ending for the night.
By the time I was done, I was in a better frame of mind and much more relaxed. It appeared that the music had also worked its magic on Vic as well. Either that or Anna’s calm voice had settled him down. Either way, the group broke up in a much better mood than when we sat down in the living room.
It seemed like I’d just gotten to sleep when I found myself awake, sitting at a campfire overlooking Lake Roberts. The deepening shadows of sundown lit only by the gradual appearance of the stars of the Milky Way beginning their nightly show.
“Well, Pablo, you’ve certainly had an interesting few months,” Laura said quietly from her seat beside me as she handed me a cup of coffee.
“Hi again, Laura, I’ve missed you these last few months. And, yes, it seems like I’m living that ancient Chinese curse we used to laugh about.”
Laura gave a small laugh and held her cup out in a toast. “Here’s to living in interesting times.” I carefully clinked my cup against hers before taking a sip. “I didn’t intrude on what you were doing because I didn’t need to. You handled everything extremely well. Just as I’m sure you’ll handle the meeting with the Apache leaders over the next few days.”
“Thank you, Laura, but can you let me know you’re still around every once in a while?”
“I will try,” she responded tenderly. “Now, before your meeting tomorrow morning, you need to know that Santana was expecting your message requesting this meeting long before Nantan and Juan arrived.”
“Now that’s curious, Laura. How did he know about the meeting?”
“His shaman, Ujesh, told him just before Christmas that you would be sending it this summer. And before you ask, Ujesh knew because he saw it, and many other things, in a vision.”
“A vision you gave him?” I asked dryly, making it more a statement than a question.
Laura laughed again. “Yes, me among others. That’s the reason you’re here, tonight. You need to know about the visions Ujesh had and his interpretation of them before you talk to Santana and the rest of the leader’s tomorrow morning. You also need to know that Ujesh told all of the Mescalero leaders about his visions. While some refuse to believe the visions and his interpretation of them, most do believe, so the Mescalero at least are prepared to believe you.”
Laura proceeded to tell me - in detail - of the four visions, and how Ujesh had interpreted them.
“That sure makes my task a lot easier, thank you for that,” I said when she was done.
“You’re very welcome. I wish I could do more, but I have my limits. Now, one final thing. I suggest you add powder, caps, and balls to what you already plan on giving your guests as parting gifts.”
“Where am I going to get those things from, in time to have them available before the meeting is over?” I asked, thinking frantically.
Laura’s laugh, louder and stronger than ever before, settled me down, as did her words.
“My love, Anna is right, sometimes you can’t see the forest for the trees. The powder will come from the quarry. There is more than enough on hand to give each leader five pounds and still not affect quarry operations. The caps will come from the inventory in your trailer. They’ve been sitting there since you arrived. The balls will come from the lead flashing the masons have been using around the chimneys. It’s stored in your blacksmith’s shop and there’s is more than enough to have some of it melted into balls. Most of the farmers and vaqueros have ball molds sitting in their homes gathering dust.”
“Well now, don’t I feel like a biscuit!”
Laura’s final laugh echoed through the night as the dream world began to fade. “You would have thought of it sooner or later, I’m sure. Good luck tomorrow. I’ll be watching.”
I slept well the rest of the night, secure in the knowledge that Laura was still with me.
“Good morning Thundercloud,” Miguel greeted me as I came out the courtyard door the next morning after breakfast.
“Good morning, cousin. Did you think I’ve forgotten the way to the meeting?” I asked smiling.
“No, but I did want to talk to you before the meeting, so I thought this was the time to do it.”
“What do you want to talk about?” I asked as we took our horses from the young cousin who was holding them, mounted, and rode towards the slope down from the lower plateau.
“The sitting blankets near the fire have been arranged as you wanted. Our guests will be seated facing east. Nantan, you, and I will be seated three feet away from the guests facing them. You will be between Nantan and me. The two sets of targets are mounted on six-foot poles just behind our blankets.
“The four Scout/Snipers have been in place since before sunrise. I looked for them before I came to get you and couldn’t find them, so they are well concealed. The three shooters are within forty feet of the targets yet are outside the area we’ve set up for the guests.
“The three Scout/Sniper teams for the other set of targets are on a small hill four hundred yards behind us and are also well hidden. Everything is set to give our guests a demonstration they’ll never forget, but I hope it won’t be necessary.”
“Thank you, Miguel,” I replied. “I hope we won’t need it as well, but with your report yesterday about Cha and Agua Nueves, I’m afraid we’ll probably end up needing it, and sooner rather than later.”
“Yes, well, all you have to do is say the words and it will happen.”
“How are our guests this morning? I asked. “Anything I should know about them before we get there?”
“They are all fine and in a good mood, although Cha and Agua Neuves are as surly as ever. Other than them, all is well.”
“Well, let’s not allow their mood to change by keeping them waiting any longer than necessary,” I said, spurring my horse into a canter.
We pulled up and dismounted at the edge of the camp near the lake a short time later. Handing our horses over to two young cousins who’d been assigned the task of caring for all the horses, we walked over to the area reserved for the meeting, greeted Nantan, and settled ourselves on the blankets. I found myself smiling as one of the young Garcia ladies came over from the fire and handed me a cup of coffee and a plate of biscochitos.
“Where did these come from?” I asked her, staring wonderingly at the small cookies.