11th story in the Destiny Series
I step out of the hacienda and head over to the corral, real curious to see which horses the Segundo has cut out for Scott and me.
I notice that Teresa’s already sitting on top of the corral fence with a young Mexican kid right beside her. They both look excited as they watch a couple of vaqueros breaking horses. Some other folks are also gathered along the fence, while a few riders mosey around. Seems there are close to twenty men in all, probably related to those that stayed. Shouldn’t be here, not with what’s going on! Guess I’ll need to mention that to my Ol’ Man, something he should have thought ‘bout himself.
As I come closer, my eyes settle on a striking palomino and I find myself grinning. I just love palominos – they’re simply the most beautiful horses – for me, that is. I keep looking at the horse and I swear he’s also looking at me, like he’s challenging me. Well, I’m up for it, Mr. High and Mighty Horse. And if I do right, you and me... well, we’ll be friends by the end of the day.
I jump over the fence and land in the corral. “Horse” and I still look at each other, checking each other out. Someone’s already saddled him and he whinnies as I get nearer and nearer to him. Close up, he’s far more beautiful than I first thought.
I run my hand along his head and over his flank. Once again, he whinnies and bobs his head but doesn’t try to bite me. Good sign. There’s fire in his eyes. I smack my lips in appreciation. I like that in a horse and this one has plenty.
Just as I’m about to mount, though, the Segundo stops me with a hand on my arm.
“Lo siento, Señor Johnny, but this isn’t the horse I cut for you.”
“Maybe not,” I say, wrenching my arm free, “but it’s the one I fancy and it’s the one I’m gonna take.”
“He’s not broken yet,” he tries again.
“Then, I will gentle him,” I add, trying to keep the edge from my voice. The Segundo’s not really at fault, he’s only doing his job. I wonder if he has chosen the horses for Scott and me or if it’s the Ol’ Man who has. Doesn’t really matter because my mind is made up. It’s gonna be this horse, no other and certainly not one chosen by a stranger.
I can’t help smiling as I leap on the horse. No sooner am I comfortably settled than he starts bucking. And boy, does he buck! Let’s say that staying on ain’t the easiest thing I’ve done.
In the distance, I can hear the girl yelling encouragements to me... along with the others. So, they want a show? Well, I’ll give ‘em one.
I jostle around as he tries his best to throw me but I’m not budging. My hat bounces on my back and I have to admit I enjoy being on this particular horse. I am sure he and I will make a good team and I am thrilled. Once this is over, we will be compadres.
After what seems a pretty long time, he finally settles down... enough for me to ride him over to the fence where Teresa is still sitting. Scott has joined her astride the fence. As for the boy who was there earlier, he’s left her side and now stands beside an older man – his father, probably – outside the corral.
“Hey! Good, Johnny. You broke him!” Teresa’s all excited and I don’t want to curb her enthusiasm. Being born here, she must realize this horse’s far from being broken, if anything, he’s just half-broken. I don’t want to break his spirit. I want him to trust me and accept me as his friend, his compadre. I want us to develop a bond, a special bond. I want to be able to trust this horse with my life. Might be wishful thinking on my part but if we’re to be together, we need to be able to rely on each other.
“That was wonderful,” she adds. She seems proud of my achievement. Makes me smile.
“Well, that’s a good animal,” I say, still smiling. Then, I lift my left leg over the horse’s neck and drop to the ground, on the side closest to the fence. Catching my breath is kinda hard. Tryin’ to break that horse has been a bit taxing. I can’t even remember the last time I did this. But even though I’m still a bit out of breath, I can’t resist teasing my brother.
“See that one over there?” I tell him, as I point to a very sedate horse standing nearby, “That one’s yours, Boston!”
Both Scott and Teresa look back over their shoulder and glance at the horse while I hold my hat, slip the string over my head and let it hang down my back.
“Yeah, I saw it. I saw this one as well,” Scott says as he jumps down inside the corral and takes the palomino’s reins. He then walks around the far side of the horse, obviously intent on mounting him.
“Now, what d’you think you’re doin’?”
He doesn’t answer but just leaps onto the horse.
“Hey! I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” I warn him. After all, I’ve just broken that horse... well, barely; he’s still kind of green around the edge. But Scott’s being pig-headed and sure doesn’t listen to reason. Well, he’s gonna regret it, no doubt. He’s gonna end up flat on his back or face in the dust.
He turns the horse around and urges him into a canter. The horse seems to respond well. As he rides away, he picks up speed. Well, seems I might have been wrong. I gotta say this ‘bout that brother of mine, he sure has grit. “Horse” doesn’t seem to mind as Scott gets him to jump over the fence and rides out of the corral.
I stand and look at them, hands on my hips, a smile I can’t help plastered on my face.
“Well...” I utter, as I turn to look at Teresa. Guess she’s impressed ‘cause she’s smiling, too.
I turn back just in time to see Scott and the horse jumping over a cart that’s been left unattended. Then, they jump back into the corral. Scott rides back over to where Teresa and I are standing. “Horse” snorts a few times and I have the feeling that he liked the ride.
“You’re right,” Boston tells me. “He is a fine animal. And, in answer to your question earlier, it was a cavalry unit I was in,” he adds as he dismounts.
I dip my head, but when I start to speak, I look up and catch his eyes and smile. “Well, I’ll say one thing, Boston, you sure know how to ride.”
I reach for my gunbelt. “You scared the pants off those cowhands. Didn’t he?” I look from Scott to Teresa as I say this. The girl’s clearly impressed and if she doesn’t stop biting her lower lip like she does, soon she’ll need a handkerchief to dab the blood. But, for now, she simply smiles and nods her head in agreement.
I buckle my gunbelt and the smile leaves my face. “But, that don’t make you ready for Day Pardee. You’re gonna end up with a bullet in your back.” I add, with just a hint of sarcasm.
“There’s an awful lot of back shooting going around here,” Scott answers while he tosses a rope over the horse’s neck. “What ever happened to the Code of the West?” he asks, leaning against the fence.
“Well, you see... that’s it. You gotta do it to them before they do it to you.” And I’m sure damn pleased to relay this information. He’s in for a surprise if he really thinks the Pardees of this world follow any code but their own. He clearly has no idea what he’s up... what we’re up against.
I grab my jacket and mount the horse. “I’m gonna...”, I stop myself and add “See ya!” instead. Why should I tell him what I’m gonna do? I start to ride out of the corral but then Teresa rises up.
“Where should I tell Mr. Lancer you’re going?”
Heck! What does it matters where I’m going? It’s none of her business. But then, my mouth says something else. The poor girl doesn’t deserve me being harsh with her, she’s just curious, that’s all. “Tell him I’ve gone to town to break up one of them gold pieces.” I smile and I ride away.
Took a couple of hours but at last, I’m in Morro Coyo – where Pardee’s supposed to be hangin’ around. Will need to tread carefully if he really is here.
Yep, I guess he is. I ride on, my senses on high alert. Ahead of me, there’s an old Mexican who carries a pole on his shoulders with what seems to be two full buckets of water. The poor man looks lost. Unless I’m mistaken, those gunshots I heard were directed at him, or I should say, at his buckets.
I get “Horse” to duck under the archway and can hear the old man pleading with someone who is, for the moment, hidden from my view. I approach carefully until I see what’s going on.
In front of the Mexican, there’s a bunch of mean-looking guys who either stand or sit on the porch of the saloon. Must be Pardee’s men. Better watch myself.
I pull up beside the old Mex and dismount. The poor man looks at me, fear in his eyes. In a plaintive voice, he asks me to tell these men not to shoot his water. Poor guy! He’s close to wetting himself, so I tell him not to worry. I let go of the horse’s reins as the old man drops the pole from his shoulder. I pick up one of the buckets and, with my free hand, reach for the horse’s reins.
“Gracias,” the old man says. I smile at him and then, I turn and walk down the street towards Pardee’s men. Seems they’re all new. Never seen them before. But then, Pardee and me... Well, it’s been a long time. Besides, no one stays very long with Day.
One of them wears a dirty vest – must have been white a long time ago. He fires and puts another hole in the bucket. “Horse” ain’t none too happy ‘bout it and shies away, but I pull him along. Behind me, I can hear the old Mex talking to someone, saying these men are mean. He’s right. They look like a mean bunch... Muy malo, indeed.
I tie the horse to a nearby post and I resume my walk towards the “muy malo hombres”, deliberately slowing my steps. I still carry the bucket in my left hand.
At first glance, there’s seven of them. A man wearing a hat and a black suit – almost as fancy as Scott’s suit but not quite – sits on a water barrel, a cigar in his mouth. A bearded man right next to him leans on a post and smokes a cigar too. That one is dressed like a cowboy. On a chair there’s a fat guy. His arms are folded across his torso. He looks a bit older than most of the others with his beard streaked with grey. An Indian sits on the steps and picks up his shotgun – no doubt ready to use it if necessary. Behind him, one holds a glass of beer. The one with the vest stands with his thumbs in his pockets. Almost hidden behind him, there’s another. They’re all watching me. I stop a few paces away from them and I take the time to look at each of them. Finally, my eyes settle on Vest.
“Just what do you want?” he asks me, in a very unfriendly tone.
“You got bad manners,” I answer, which makes him laugh.
From the corner of my eye, I see Black Suit removing his cigar from his mouth. “You gonna teach us some good ones?” he asks.
“Maybe.” And I wait to see what he’ll answer. But, it’s Fat Guy who does.
“Well, well, well,” he says. “I do believe we got us a hard one here, huh?”
A small smile tugs at the corner of my mouth as I look at him. Think things are ’bout to get real interesting.
“Let’s see how long it takes to make a good dog outta you,” Vests adds.
“Okay.” I keep my voice as soft as I can and glance down a bit.
“That’s my water... Bring it here!”
I look back up at him, play dumb and don’t move. Vest chuckles and turns to Fat Guy who, in turn, laughs.
“Dog won’t fetch, he’s gotta be taught,” Vest continues. He steps down and walks towards me until he’s but a few paces away from me.
“Now, hand me that water, Mister. I mean to have that for my tub.”
Dios! He’s calling me “Mister”! That sure feels funny, real funny. Those who know me usually call me Madrid and the others, filthy half-breed and whatnot, but Mister... Nah, that hasn’t happened often.
“I doubt it,” I say.
“Oh, do you now?” He’s starting to look like he’s pissed.
“You think they got bath tubs in Hell?” I ask innocently.
“What’s that?” he growls, livid.
I fling the bucket of water at him. He catches it but staggers back. At the same time, I crouch a bit, draw my gun and point it at him.
“You’re dead.” I almost said “Bang, you’re dead!” just like I used to do when I was a small kid playin’ in the dusty border town streets, before the other kids started to despise me for being a half-breed.
“So are you, Son,” Fat Guy says, his gun levelled at me, looking damn serious about it all.
I relax a bit, glance down, and then up – at the bluest sky I’ve ever seen.
“Well... I picked a good day for it.” I say, almost carelessly.
“You better believe me, Sonny Boy.”
Dios! He sounds so damn serious.
“I do. I do,” I say, smiling. “Only question now bein’ how many of you are goin’ with me.” Now, this could be very dangerous and I sure hope I’ve gambled rightly about the shadow I saw near the door; if it doesn't belong to who I'm betting on, I could very well be facing my last day. Sure, I’d be able to take a few down with me, but...
“Take him down, Coley.” I hear Vest say. He’s obviously still pissed.
And just as Fat Guy puts his finger on the trigger, a voice rings...