(Please read Dominos first.)
Thanks to my beta, Maddie. One of these days, I promise to learn the correct use of the comma! Thanks to Darla for making sure everything “fit” together. Special thanks to Adriana for putting up with me picking her brain about Catholic rites. The punishment in chapter 3 really happened to her mother in school.
Disclaimer: Although I’d like to, I don’t own Johnny Madrid Lancer. I do own Toni, the nuns, Frank Alveraz, and Mr. and Mrs. Wilson Porter. Those characters can’t be used without my permission.
Run away with me
Lost souls and reverie
Running wild and running free
Two kids, you and me
And I say
Hey, hey hey hey
Living like we're renegades
Hey hey hey
Hey hey hey
Living like we're renegades
Song by X Ambassadors
The boy sat alone in the cramped, dark closet. He was small for his age and skinny. Frequent meals had not come his way often. He sat with his knees drawn up, arms wrapped around his torso and rocked silently. It was a poor substitute for a mother’s comforting embrace, but then those hadn’t come often either.
He suddenly stopped rocking, raised his head and looked toward the door. He heard someone fumbling with the bolt lock on the outside of the door. Certain that it was the priest returning to meet out more punishment, the boy stood and wiped his face with his tattered cotton sleeve. Alone, he might give way to a few tears, but he had learned long ago not to give satisfaction to those who would hurt him with words or deeds. He might not be able to control what others did to him, but how he reacted was the one small thing he could control.
When the door opened, the boy at first only saw the flickering light of a candle. A stub of a candle to be sure, but after hours of total darkness, the candle shined bright as if trying it’s best to chase away the gloom. As the boy’s eyes adjusted, he could see that his visitor wasn’t the priest, but a girl about his age. She lowered the candle and shut the door behind her before walking over to him.
“Are you hungry?” she asked as she sat down against the wall. She fumbled with the pockets of her skirt and drew something out and held it out toward the boy.
“I knew they didn’t let you have supper so I saved you something. I thought you might want it. My name is Antonia.”
The boy stared at her offering for a minute before sitting beside her. He nodded his thanks before taking the food and began to eat. He wasn’t sure of the motives of this girl, but kindness didn’t often come his way and besides, he was hungry.
“You shouldn’t have tried to run away. They always catch you here. It just makes things worse. What’s your name?”
It didn’t take long to finish the small bean tortilla the girl had brought. It wasn’t much but he appreciated what the girl had done. Licking his fingers, he decided he ought to at least talk to her.
“You took a chance coming here. I don’t think they’d like it if they knew. You’ll get in trouble if they catch ya.”
The girl shrugged, drew her knees up and clapped her arms around them. “It don’t take much for me to get in trouble. They don’t like mixed kids like us.”
The boy’s eyes widened and he turned his head toward the girl. “How did you know I was mixed? You can’t see that good in the dark.”
“Oh, I overheard Sister Inez talking about you. Besides, I used to see you and your mother in the village sometimes.”
“You remember my mama?” he asked and he put his head on his knees. He knew better than to show tears and he really didn’t want to cry in front of a girl, but for a moment it all became too much and his shoulders shook with suppressed sobs.
For a few moments all was quiet until the girl put a hand on his arm. “I’m sorry. I won’t tell.”
The boy’s body shuddered with a big sigh and he straightened his shoulders and looked at the girl. If the candle light hadn’t been so feeble, the girl would have been able to see the blue eyes still filled with unshed tears and a look of gratitude.
“So you’re mixed too?” the boy asked, hoping to draw attention away from himself. “Which one?”
“Oh, I don’t know that. I was left on the doorstep here when I was a baby. It was sometime in June so they named me Antonia after St. Anthony. His feast day is June 13th.”
The girl started shaking her shoulders with laughter. “You know what he’s the patron saint of? He’s the saint for lost things. Since Sister Inez is always telling me I’m going to hell because I’m lost, guess the name fits. Guess they got something right.”
The girl pulled a medallion out from her shirt. It was on a piece of rawhide.
“This is a St. Anthony medal. You think if I pray to him to help me not be lost anymore while Sister Inez prays I stay lost and go to hell, God will get confused and let me into heaven anyway?”
The boy gave a bark of laughter and both of them enjoyed a mental picture of Sister Inez, St. Anthony and God trying to figure out just what to with the girl.
After a few moments, the girl stood up and bent down to pick up the candle. “Well, I gotta go,” she said as she walked to the door. “I’ll see you around.”
“Hey, Toni! Thanks a lot.”
“You’re welcome,” said the girl as she walked out the door.
The boy flinched as he heard the bolt slide back locking the door from the outside and he was once again in the dark. The light the girl had brought had been small, but it had made all the difference in the world.
The bell of the mission church rang loudly as the doors opened and the people spilled out. Duty done for the week, the parishioners walked across the plaza ready to now enjoy this bright Sunday.
For the children of the orphanage, Sunday afternoons were a time of freedom. Of course that freedom came with a price, there would be no lunch for them, but lunch was never enough anyway and a few free hours to indulge being a child was considered a fair trade.
Jonny looked around until he spotted the girl across the way. She was walking away from the crowd, holding an even smaller child’s hand.
“Hey, Antonia!” he shouted as he walked quickly toward her.
She stopped and waited for him and smiled with her eyes.
“I’m taking ‘Little Bit’ here for a walk by the river. Want to come?”
“Little Bit, huh?” he asked as he bent down to the little girl. She looked to be around five and was definitely mixed.
“Yes, little kids should get out of that jail sometimes. Her real name is Esme but I think ‘Little Bit’ suits her better.”
Johnny didn’t bother answering, just fell into step on the other side of the small child and held her other hand. The child lifted her knees and swung between the Johnny and Toni. Her childish glee caused them to look across toward each other and laugh just for the heck of it.
Soon the three reached the riverbank. There hadn’t been much rain so the river traveled westward slow and sluggish. Dragonflies darted here and there, chased by the three children.
The younger child finally grew tired and laid down for a nap in Toni’s lap. She was playing with the curls on the sleeping child’s forehead when she asked Johnny, “Did you ever have a Pa?”
Johnny tensed up. “Well my gringo father is in California somewhere.” He spat the words like bullets. “He kicked me and Mama out when I was two. He married her and had me but I guess he didn’t want no mixed kid around. I had a stepfather for a few years. Now him, he didn’t mind about me and was real good to Mama and me. He died when I was four or five and we just drifted after that.”
“Well, I don’t have any idea who my parents are but I think at least one was Spanish, not Mexican. I bet your Mama was Spanish also.”
“Why would you think that?”
Toni shifted her legs to find a more comfortable spot. “ Have you ever seen blue eyes like ours on a Mexican? I haven’t, but I have seen some hidalgo’s with blue eyes. Besides, a peon woman wouldn’t have left a mestizo on the church steps. Her family would have drowned me when I was born.
Johnny thought for a moment then nodded his head. “I hadn’t thought of that. Sounds reasonable.”
“Hey, how come you aren’t in school with me?”
She sighed. “I’d like to go but they won’t let me. I have to watch the little ones. Besides, I’m a girl and mixed.
“Well, I ain’t no girl but I am a mestizo. I still have to go and I hate it. I’ve gotten my hand smacked with that damn ruler more this week than I’ve ever had before.”
“I know you ain’t dumb. What kinda game are you playing?” Toni asked.
“That’s just it, it is all a game to me. I like to see them lose control. They can make fun of me, yell, hurt me, don’t matter. If I don’t like something, I run. If I can’t, well then I do whatever it takes to mess with their heads. I like to see how far I can go before they lose it. It’s fun trying to outthink them.
“You’re crazy Johnny.”
“No I’m not. It works. Don’t you do something?”
“I guess I play too, but different. I get all quiet and think about something else and don’t pay them any mind. And I stare. They hate that. Sister Jorge says she hates my blue eyes looking into her soul. Ha! As if she had one.”
The boy and girl both collapsed in laughter.
“Seriously though, the more they get mad, the quieter I get. I just stare at them, all quiet like. After a few minutes you can see them squirm. Then they either walk away or start spilling their guts. I guess that’s when I know I’ve won.”
“Well, if I’m crazy, I guess you are too,” said Johnny. And both broke out in laughter again.
The smaller child began to stir, woken up by the other two’s laughter. “I’m hungry Toni,” she said.
Johnny started to reach in his pockets. “Aw, shit. I meant to bring a couple of apples for us to eat. I snuck them out this morning and hid them before we went to Mass. I didn’t want them falling out of my pockets with all that kneeling we got to do! “
They all giggled at that picture.
“I’ll go back and get them.”
“Ok, ‘Little Bit’ and I will start walking up a ways here and you catch up.”
Johnny slowly pushed the heavy door to the church opened. He looked all around and cautiously poked his head around the door. Seeing no one there, he slipped through the crack he had made and walked over to the confessional box. With his hand on the door, he again looked around the church. Not seeing anyone, he opened the door, wincing at the squeak the door hinges made. He slid into the dark confessional and bent down to retrieve the two apples he had left in the darkened corner. Suddenly he heard a door close and heavy footsteps walk across the floor toward the confessional.
Shit, now what am I going to do?
From the noise coming from the other side of the confessional, the boy knew that the Padre was there waiting on him to begin.
“Padre, I believe in God and Jesus Cristo but I have sinned.”
“What is this sin?”
“I took two apples from the kitchen without asking to give to two poor people by the river. Oh, and I also cursed in church.”
“Are they all your sins?”
“Yes, Padre. I am sorry to have done them and I promise not to do them again.”
“I forgive you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Now you must pray two Padre Nuestros and ten Ave Marias. Now go with God.”
Johnny ran out of the confessional anxious to be gone before being seen. Not being real religious, he decided to do his penance later. He suddenly stopped at the door and swirled his head back toward the confessional. “Damn, I forgot the apples.”
He had been gone longer than he intended. He heard the yelling and curses before he reached the band of young teenage boys by the river. They were boys older than him, boys from the village, not the orphanage.
“Whore, half-breed, mestizo, filth”, the curses were meant to hurt as much as the rocks the village boys gathered. With each rock thrown, a curse followed.
Johnny pushed past the group and saw Toni draped over the small child for protection. So intent on her job as protector, ‘Little Bit’ was never hit. Toni took the full brunt of the abuse and although she never said a word, her body betrayed her as she flinched each time a rock found its target.
His heart filled with hate that gave him strength. He plowed into the band of older boys and using his fists and feet, attacked. The ferociousness of his attack surprised the teenagers and the boy was able to inflict a lot of damage to the others. Finally one boy slipped behind him and after grabbing his arms held them behind his back.
The older boys might have beat him to death if not for the old bruja who had left her house after hearing the noise. Fear of the old woman caused the teenagers to flee, leaving so abruptly that Johnny was just dropped onto the dusty ground.
“Johnny! Please help him,” shouted the girl as she rushed over to the fallen boy.
“Help me get him up. We’ll take him to my house.”
It was a struggle as the two got him up on wobbly legs and with someone on either side, they half carried the boy to the old woman’s shack. Little Bit, with thumb in mouth, trailed behind the three.
After settling the battered group at the kitchen table, the old woman went to gather cloths, water and medicinal herbs. Toni soaked a towel in water and wiped the blood off of Johnny’s face.
“Oh Johnny, I’m so sorry.”
He turned his head and opened the one eye that hadn’t swelled shut and looked at the Toni.
“Nothing to be sorry for. You think I wouldn’t try to protect my friend? I’m okay.”
Seeing the trickles of blood on her face where the rocks had found their target, he frowned. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine Johnny.”
“Yes, yes,” snapped the old woman as she placed her supplies on the table. “If either of you were any more ‘fine’, you’d be dead.”
“You,” she pointed a bony finger at the boy. “Sit right there and watch the little one. Antonia, come with me to the bedroom and I’ll look at your back.”
The two moved to the bedroom and while gone, Johnny took the towel and after wetting it again, placed it over his battered face. He must have dozed off because it seemed like only a minute before the old woman and girl were back.
“Antonia, you remember what I taught you to do? Well, show me you remember and help this boy.”
So under the supervision of the old woman, the young girl attended to the many cuts and bruises to the boy’s face.
“You did well, Antonia. Now you three need to leave and return to the orphanage. One of those boys was the mayor’s son so I doubt this trouble has ended for you.”
Toni gave the old woman a hug as she told the old woman “Thanks.”
Johnny stood and took the old woman’s hands in his. “Thank you for all you did.”
They both took the younger child’s hands and walked quietly out of the house and toward the mission. They both wondered what would happen next. They knew that they would somehow be blamed for this. After all, they were just two half-breeds.
Toni and Jonny stood together in front of the Reverend Mother’s desk. They had tried to explain what had happened by the river but it soon became apparent that Reverend Mother had already decided it was Johnny who started the whole thing.
“Those young boys you attacked all belong to good decent families. Their fathers are leaders in our village. I don’t believe that they would start anything. You, Johnny, on the other hand, have shown time again that you lack discipline. Sister Inez says that you are the spawn of the devil and your actions today prove her right. I make the rules here and you will do as I say.
“You were nothing and we took you in with Christian charity and gave you a place to sleep, food, a chance for an education, even the clothes on your back and this is how you repay us? Both of you have shown us what you are, a pair of ungrateful lost souls.
“Well, you can still sleep here, but I don’t want you around during the day to associate with the other children. The others are god-fearing children who still have a chance to make something of themselves. I don’t want to give either of you a chance to taint them with your bad blood. From now on, you will both work in the village. You’ll leave at first light and not return until supper. Johnny, you will work in the livery and Antonia, you will sew and work in the Senora Chavez’s laundry.
“Now go to your rooms. Tomorrow after breakfast go to the courtyard. Johnny, you will be punished for fighting. Now leave.”
The children turned and hurried out the door. They both leaned back against the closed door panting. Both had been silent during the tirade that had rained down on their heads. But the anger over the injustice of it all was evident in the clenching of fists by their sides and the tense set of their bodies. As one, both heads dropped to their chests, overcome with their emotions. A lone tear fell down Antonia’s cheek and she reached out to grab Johnny’s hand.
Startled, Johnny looked over to her. He rubbed his thumb over the back of her hand in a comforting motion and with his free hand wiped the tear from her cheek.
“We’ll be okay,” he whispered.
Antonia lifted her tear-filled eyes to his. For a minute blue eyes stared into blue. Finally, she gave Johnny a sad little smile and nodded her head.
The next morning, all the children at the orphanage were told to gather in the courtyard. A sheet had been laid down in the center. The sheet was covered with a thick layer of dried kernels of corn.
The Reverend Mother called for Johnny to stand beside her.
“Attention, everyone. The good Sisters and I at St. Catherine’s have tried to take care of you and your souls. However, Juanito here has shown himself not appreciative of our love and care. He decided to start a fight over someone who is just as unworthy. For this he must be punished.
“Johnny, you will kneel on this bed of corn until lunch. Do not try to stand or sit. As you kneel, I would suggest that you use this time to contemplate the condition of your soul.”
Johnny walked to the center of the sheet and knelt down, the hard kernels of corn digging into his knees. His head hung down, not wanting to see the faces that stared at him. Suddenly, he heard his name being called from the crowd. He looked up, searching the sea of faces until he found the one that gave him an encouraging little smile. His eyes locked with hers, drawing strength from her show of concern, friendship and acceptance.
One by one and in small groups, the children and adults left the courtyard until only one was left watching. Not a word was spoken, but Antonia stood by Johnny the entire morning. At first, he was uncomfortable, then as the morning went on, the pain from his knees became agony. The heat of the day and no water added to his misery. He knew it was only Antonia’s presence that kept him from crying out and giving the adults the satisfaction that they had broken him.
By lunch, agony had been replaced by exhaustion and numbness of holding his body erect. The Reverend Mother walked over to him.
“I hope you learned something from this. You can get up now. Tomorrow, you and her go to work.”
As soon as she left, Johnny struggled to stand on his lifeless legs. He stumbled and would have fallen if Antonia had not rushed to his side and held on to his arm.
As he struggled to stay up right, together they walked over to the fountain. As Johnny sat down on the edge, Toni grabbed the tin cup and dipped it into the cool water. As she handed it to Johnny, he took a long satisfying drink.
“Why?” he asked as he nodded his head toward the place she had stood all morning.
“I didn’t want you to be alone.”
One night, two weeks later, a malady of some kind seemed to attack the adults of the orphanage. The sister’s trekked, no, they ran, across the courtyard to the outhouse. It was obvious that something they had eaten for supper had not agreed with them. At least that is what the doctor who had been frantically summoned had determined.
“These things happen,” he shrugged.
Unbeknownst to the sisters, their activities were quietly being observed. The earnestness of their bodies’ needs kept them from noticing the two pair of eyes watching them from the shadows.
“How many times does that make for Reverend Mother?”
“I count three but there was that one time Sister Carlotta knocked her out of the way and got to the door of the jake first. Mother disappeared into the bushes for awhile, so I’m counting that as time number three.”
“Who do you think will win the most times?”
“Sister Inez, she always eats the most.”
“So where did you hear about this Candelabra cactus?”
“I told you! Marta has been teaching me about different healing plants and stuff whenever I can get off early from the laundry. I saw this dried up cactus and thought how nice it would be chopped up in a salad. When she told me what it does, I knew it would be the perfect thing to add to the sisters’ meal. They deserve it.”
“Yeah, but they don’t know it was us that did it.” Johnny grumbled.
“Doesn’t matter, we know the truth and that’s all that counts.”
“You know, Toni, you can be sneaky and mean sometimes. Guess that’s one reason we’re friends.”
And both children looked up, their eyes following Sister Inez as she hurried to the outhouse. If it hadn’t been so dark, you would have seen both faces grinning from ear to ear.
The Sisters at St. Catherine’s Orphanage had been in a bad mood for several weeks. The stomach ailment that had attacked the adults of the orphanage had lingered and had not been pleasant. The children had tried to stay out of their way, some more than others. Because Johnny and Toni worked in the village during the day, they were luckier than most. Grabbing a piece of fruit for breakfast, they hurried off as quickly as they could and returned each evening as late as possible.
One particular night, they both hurried back from work. Having been gone all day, they didn’t realize what waited for their return. As they slipped in, their intent was to quietly go to their places for supper. They had both learned early to try to be as invisible as possible.
“You two! Where do you think you are going?” asked Sister Inez.
“We were just going to go to the dining hall for supper,” answered Johnny.
“Well, you won’t be getting any supper tonight. Come with me.”
Johnny and Toni glanced at each other with a wary look and shrugged. Both minds turned as they tried to think of what they could have done to get in Sister Inez’s bad graces. Both of them hesitantly followed Sister Inez toward the bath house.
Once there they saw several stools that were just sitting out in the open. Beside two of the stools was a small rickety table that held a comb. Johnny and Toni both had puzzled looks on their face as they looked from the stools to Sister Inez.
“Both of you sit down. Oh, Sister Ava, come give me a hand.”
“I have to take these towels to Sister Portia.”
“Well, this won’t take a minute.”
Johnny looked over to Sister Inez. “Why are we here?” he asked.
“Well, it seems that some filthy child brought lice into this orphanage. The Sisters’ and I have been combing, going through and washing everyone’s hair. You two are the only ones left.”
“What do you want me to do Sister Inez?” asked Sister Ava.
“You take care of the boy and I’ll do her hair,” Sister said with a nod to the children.
Sister Ava started to pick up a comb .
“Heavens no! It’s late and I’m not wasting my time on these two. They are probably the ones who gave the lice to everyone else anyway. The boy there was the last one we took in. You know who his mother was, don’t you? I saw her once when going by the cantina and she was one of ‘those’ women. No wonder she came to a bad end. Anyone who would have a mestizo couldn’t have been much.”
While Sister Ava had been talking, Johnny had been struggling to get away. He slipped out of Sister Ava’s grasp and turned to face Sister Inez. “You don’t talk about my mama. She loved me!” And he delivered a swift kick to her shin.
Sister Inez leaned over and slapped him across the face. “Well if she did, she was the only one.” She grabbed his elbow and dragged him back to the stool. “Now you sit down and do as you are told. I don’t have time for this.”
Sister Inez reached into her pocket and pulled out two pair of scissors. As she handed one to Sister Ava, Sister Ava spoke up.
“Aren’t we going to check their hair first and if they have any lice, comb them out?”
“No, they need a haircut anyway.” And with that, Sister Inez grabbed hold of Toni’s long braids and started cutting. Toni’s hair was thick and the scissors were dull. It took many tries of sawing before the braids were off. Toni, who hadn’t said a word, wrapped her arms around her middle and tried to curl in toward herself like an armadillo for self-protection.
Meanwhile, Sister Ava cut Johnny’s hair with scissors just as dull. He no longer tried to jump off the stool. Instead, he stared straight ahead, his eyes burning with hatred toward the unfairness of it all. He only closed his eyes when the sisters poured kerosene over what was left of Toni and his hair to kill any remaining bugs.
As the Sisters gathered the stools, brushes and combs, Sister Ava looked over her shoulder back at the children. Side by side they stood staring at the Sisters’ backs, shorn heads dripping with kerosene, the smell overpowering. Two pair of blue eyes stared at the Sisters; one pair narrowed with hate, eyes as cold as a glacier; the other pair of eyes, dull with hurt.
“Come on. Let’s go to Marta’s house and see if she has any extra soap we can use. We can use the river to wash and get this smell off.”
Johnny turned back around to Toni. “Look, I can’t go to the livery tomorrow smelling like this. The horses and the customers won’t stand for it.”
“I don’t care.” Toni slowly raised her head and Johnny saw something in her eyes that he’d never seen before. She stomped over to the rickety table and kicked it. “I don’t care anymore. I don’t care anymore.” Her voice grew louder as she continued to kick the table. Suddenly she bent over, picked up the table and slammed it against the wall of the bathhouse. “I wish they would just leave us the hell alone!” she shouted.
Johnny gave a quick glance toward the main building and grabbing Toni’s elbow, dragged her into the bathhouse. He’d never seen her act like this before. Usually he had the quick temper and she was the one who calmed him down!
Inside, he leaned against the wall, watching as Toni paced up and down, muttering and sometimes shouting to herself. He wasn’t quite sure what to do.
“What’s going to happen to us, Johnny? We can’t, no, I won’t live like this the rest of my life. If this is all it is, then why bother? They won’t let us stay here much longer and then what will we do? The names and the insults hurt, but I can even let that go. I’m tired of being afraid. I’m tired of wondering if this time they will go too far.”
Toni came to an abrupt stop. She bowed her head and dropped to her knees, arms wrapped protectively around her middle. She started rocking back and forth. Pushing himself from the wall, Johnny knelt down beside her. He had to lean over to hear what Toni said next, “I’m tired of being hated for simply being born. How can you fight that?”
Johnny sat on his butt and made her do the same. He put his arm awkwardly around her shoulders and grabbed her hand with is other hand.
“Please don’t give up, Toni. You are the only reason I’ve stayed here. You’re my friend and I ain’t never had one of those before. I can trust you and you keep me from being too crazy. We’ll think of something. We gotta!”
“Oh, Johnny, I’m sorry I got so mad. I can usually take a lot, but treating us like we were nothing, I guess it just got to me. You’re my only friend too. I don’t feel alone and you make me laugh. I guess I’m just being pitiful.”
“Look, I mean it. We’ll figure something out together. We just have to find something we can do to make quick money so we can get out of here. Come on now, let’s go to Marta’s and get that soap. Maybe she has a scarf she’ll let me buy you that you can wear until your hair grows back. I earned a few peso’s yesterday.”
“Maybe. But you know those boys will tease me about it when they find out, scarf or not.”
“Well, let them. You still have that knife I gave you? Here’s mine,” and he rolled back the waistband of his pants to show the hidden pocket Toni had fashioned to hide the blade.
“Yes, mine is here.”
“You know, we haven’t had a chance to practice much lately. Maybe we can get away Sunday after Mass. That way we’ll be ready for anything.”
“Oh, Johnny! That won’t help against those boys. I can see it now. ’Half-breeds knife local mayor’s son.’ Yep, that will go over real good.”
“You never know, it might come in handy one day. We gotta do something. I can fight pretty good, but me being small and you being a girl, we can’t take on too many. “
“You’re going to have to be fast and sneaky, Johnny. Whatever you do, be faster than anybody else, won’t matter about your size.”
“Guess you’re right. See, I told you we could figure out something together.”
Johnny stood up and reached his hand down to Toni. She grabbed it and he pulled to help her stand. As they walked out of the bathhouse, they looked down at the destroyed table. Johnny kinda half-heartedly kicked at a remaining piece of wood. His face suddenly got a big grin and his eyes sparkled as he said, “Remind me never to get you really mad.”
Toni grinned back at him, “Yep, don’t sell me short! Come on, race ya!” And after trying to trip him, she gathered up her skirt and ran toward Marta’s. Johnny quickly followed and the night rang with their laughter.
Johnny spotted Toni sitting under the shade and plopped down beside her. “What ‘cha doing?”
“One of the vaqueros at Don Carlos’s ranch got into a fight at the cantina and messed up his shirt. He offered me a few pesos if I could mend it for him. He’s coming back tomorrow to get it.”
Johnny snatched it out of her hands. “Boy, he sure did mess it up. You got to fix up all that fancy stitching?”
“You sure you’re going to get paid?”
“Half now, half when he picks it up. I know better than to trust anyone.”
“I like all that fancy stuff on the front. Maybe I’ll get one like that one day.”
“Well, you get the shirt and I’ll embroider it for you and I’ll even let you wait until you pick it up to pay full.”
They both shared a laugh at that then sat quietly just enjoying the early evening. Some days there were times when they finished their work early and had discovered this out of the way place to wait until time to go back to the orphanage. Neither of them was ever anxious to go back to that enclosed building even just to sleep. Being outdoors with the wide open spaces gave them both a feeling of freedom they didn’t have indoors. With no one telling them what to do, they could for a little while just enjoy being kids.
“How was the livery today? Get to ride any?”
“No, no one needed their horse exercised. But some guy came in with a lame mare and Benito let me help wrap the leg. Benito said I’m getting real good at doctoring. Got my foot stepped on though. Mare had a foal with her and the foal stepped on me.” Johnny stretched out one sandal clad foot and tried to move it around. “If I’m going to work with horses, I got to get some boots.”
“Maybe you could earn some money for yourself and save up?” Toni stopped sewing for a minute and lifted her arm up and waved it in the general direction of the orphanage. “Just don’t let ‘them’ know how you got the money.”
“Hey,” said Johnny as he took hold of her arm. “Where did you get that bracelet?”
“Marta gave it to me. Did you know she was part Indian? She said that a friend gave it to her when she left her family and moved here. She said that the blue beads are turquoise and that if someone gives it to you then you’ll always have a friend and it will protect you. Her friend told her to always wear it to remember that no matter where Marta was, her friend would be there in her heart.”
“So why did she give it to you now?”
“Marta said that she was so old now, she didn’t need the bracelet anymore to remind her of her friend, she just knew. “
“Marta is a good person. Too bad other people don’t know her like we do.”
Johnny stretched out on his back beside Toni, his arms behind his head. He enjoyed the quiet and closed his eyes for a quick nap.
He opened one eye and turned his head toward Toni. “What?”
“We got to do something about Pedro. He hurt some kids yesterday and him and his friends tore up Marta’s garden the night before. I know Benito hasn’t told you, but Pedro and his friends have been bothering Benito, too. He thinks he can do what he wants just because he’s the mayor’s son. I mean, he’s been mean to us, but that don’t matter. We can look after ourselves, they can’t.”
Johnny sat up. “Benito never said anything to me!”
“Of course not. What grown-up wants to tell kids like us that he’s being bullied by a kid? I mean, Benito may be old, but he’s got his pride just like anyone else.”
Johnny got up and started pacing back and forth. “ I gotta think.”
“Well you better think of something better than fighting him. You might can whip him but all that will get you is being locked up for awhile in that closet again or worse.”
Toni continued sewing and watched as Johnny paced around the tree, his brow furrowed as he thought of the best way to pay back this pendejo.
Johnny suddenly stopped and stood in front of Toni. “Okay, his parents think he’s so great ‘cause the only ones he bothers are people like us.”
Toni nodded yes.
“So what if they think he starts doing things that shame his family, things they can’t overlook? Things against people that matter?”
“Well how in the hell are you going to get him to do that?”
“I didn’t say HE would do it, just that they think he did.”
Toni looked at Johnny and suddenly started grinning. “This is going to be fun!”
When Johnny and Toni walked into town a few days later, they could see people whispering in small groups. They reached the laundry first and they both asked Senora Chavez what was going on.
“It is such a shame, he has always been such a nice boy, but now…”
“Who, Senora Chavez?”
“Pedro Garcia. Someone broke into Senor Rojas’ store last night and tore up the place. Nothing was taken, just everything was torn up.”
“What does that have to do with Pedro Garcia?”
“Well, they can’t be sure, but a huge sack of flour was spilled in the store and molasses. There were footprints everywhere and they led right back to Pedro’s bedroom window!”
“No! You don’t say. How shameful.” Toni and Johnny both shook their heads sadly.
“Yes, of course he tried to deny it. Said that his good boots had gone missing the other day but when his parents searched his room, there they were! The boots were covered in flour and molasses and under his bed. Now who would steal a pair of boots and return them? You’d think the boy would come up with a better excuse than that.”
“What is going to happen to him, Senora Chavez?” asked Johnny.
“His father has had to pay a pretty penny to hush this whole thing up. But of course everyone still knows.”
“Well that is just awful, Senora. You’d think a boy like that would realize his place in this town,” said Toni.
“I heard that his father whipped him so hard, he won’t be able to sit down for a month. Well enough talk, you two better get to work. Seems like some people just aren’t what they seem to be. Who would have thought?” And she tsked and started to turn away.
Johnny and Toni both looked at Senora Chavez very seriously, “Yes, Ma’am.”
“You get the paper and pencil from Reverend Mother’s desk?”
“Here it is in my shawl.”
Toni sat beside Johnny as he took the paper and started drawing. After a few minutes her eyes got big.
“Are you sure that’s right? Isn’t that kinda….”
Johnny interrupted her. “Well he’s older ain’t he? Besides, I figure he’s the kind to brag.”
“Well, if you’re sure.”
“Morning, Benito!” called Johnny as he walked into the livery.
“Morning, Juanito. You’re here early today. You missed all the talk in town last night. Everyone’s talking. Nobody is supposed to know so of course, it is all over town.”
“What’s going on?” asked Johnny.
“That Pedro Garcia has gone crazy. When the schoolmarm got to school yesterday morning, she found a note on her desk from Pedro.”
“Well, maybe he needed extra help with school work.”
Benito made a huffing noise. “It wasn’t no school work that boy wanted, least ways not the math or reading kind. You are kinda young, Juanito to hear this, but Pedro wrote that he loved the teacher and wanted to show her that he could be a ‘man’. Then the estupido drew a picture of himself naked with all his parts hanging out. I seen the picture and I’d say that boy thinks highly of himself. I heard that he’s been kicked out of school and he can’t leave his house.
“Now, that’s a shame,” said Johnny. “What in the world was he thinking? Doesn’t sound like he has any control over himself lately. Well, better start working on repairing that tack.”
“Boy you sure stink!”
“Don’t say another word. I’m not ever wearing perfume if this is what it smells like. Where did you get it?”
“I snitched it from Rosa’s room along with her blouse.”
“Are you sure this will work? What if I get caught?”
“I’ll be right there if anything goes wrong, but it won’t. Come on. Did you put enough laudanum in that churro? I got the tequila.”
“Yes, quit asking me. Hey, good thing you saved my braids. Why did you do that?”
Johnny shrugged. “No reason I guess, not like you could glue them back on your head. Good thing I did though. Put that scarf back on and let me look.”
Toni put the small packet she held down and reached into the cloth sack she was carrying and pulled out a scarf. It had been lined and on the bottom inside, she had found a way to sew her cut braids to the cloth. The outside scarf covered the stitches so that at first glance it looked like a regular scarf holding back two long braids.
She looked down at herself at the blouse she was wearing and frowned. “You know if anyone sees me from the front wearing Rosa’s blouse, they’re gonna know I’m not her. I’m only eleven, I don’t have what she has yet.”
“Nobody’s going to see you except from the back. I’ve been watching, his father now checks on him every night around midnight. All you gotta do is stand by the window and when he opens the door, get out the window. He’ll just get a glance at you. He’ll be too busy looking at Pedro passed out on the bed.”
“You better be right.”
They reached the house and tiptoed around back to Pedro’s window. Johnny saw that no one was in the room and climbed in. He put the churro on the table by the bed. He quickly left out the window and joined Toni in the shadows.
They didn’t have to wait long. They heard Pedro come into his bedroom and heard him moving around the room getting ready for bed. They heard him exclaim as he discovered the unexpected treat by his bed. They could hear Pedro settle onto his bed after a few minutes.
Making sure that enough time had passed for the laudanum to take affect, they both walked over to the window. Johnny gave Toni a boost in order to climb through the window. Once in, she leaned over and took the bottle of tequila from Johnny.
She walked over to Pedro. “Take off his nightshirt!” whispered Johnny.
She grimaced and pulled it over Pedro’s head and dropped the nightshirt on the floor. She then messed up the covers and poured some of the tequila onto Pedro. Between the tequila and cheap perfume, the room stunk like a whorehouse.
She then stood by the window, ready to climb back out. She waited until she heard footsteps coming down the hall, then let out a scream. Hearing the footsteps now running to Pedro’s door, she dropped one leg over the windowsill. As the door to Pedro’s room opened and his father walked in, she waited just a minute to make sure she was seen. She then slipped out through the window and dropped to the ground. She and Johnny could hear Pedro’s father let out a roar and they clasped hands and ran as fast as they could, not stopping until they reached their favorite spot.
Both bent over, hands on knees, chests heaving to get their breaths. Toni let out a giggle. Johnny looked up at her and chuckled. In an instant they both were laughing so hard they were again trying to catch their breaths.
“Man, it sure is fun messing with people’s minds,” laughed Johnny. “Wonder what will happen to ol’ Pedro now?”
Toni looked up, “I don’t know when I’ve had so much fun! Well, the cactus in the Sisters’ food was pretty good. Johnny, ya know, I don’t think there is any hope for us!”
And both continued laughing all the way back to the orphanage.
Johnny leaned by the open door of the livery and looked out. He could see Toni and Senora Chavez standing by the door of the laundry. The town’s people were not even pretending to not know what was going on. At first everyone was talking as they watched Mayor Garcia’s house. There was a buggy parked in front and servants were loading a trunk onto the back. Suddenly, all became quiet as Pedro and his father walked out of the house, got into the buggy and drove off. When they could no longer be seen, the townfolk began to talk again and slowly started back to their daily chores.
“Where’s he going?” Johnny asked Benito with a nod toward Pedro’s house.
Benito shook his head sadly. “Our good mayor decided that he could no longer control his son and has sent him away to a school in Mexico City. Last night, his father found him dead drunk in bed and a woman climbing out of his window. It is a shame that that one did not realize the consequence of his actions before it was too late.”
Benito walked past Johnny, muttering about stupid boys. Johnny continued to look at the Mayor’s house with narrowed, darken eyes. He then turned his head, saw Toni across the way and smiled.
“Nope, some people just have to learn the hard way.” And he turned around and followed Benito into the barn.
Mass was over and the townspeople milled around enjoying gossiping to their neighbors. Johnny and Toni walked sedately over to the edge of the plaza so as to not draw attention to themselves. When they were far enough away, they clasped hands and ran to their favorite spot away from everyone.
“Hey, did you bring them?” asked Johnny.
Toni raised her skirt to her knees to show the rolled up rough cotton pants underneath. “So tell me again why I’m wearing pants?” she asked.
“You know you can’t ride a horse wearing a skirt! You said you wanted to ride with me the next time I exercised a good horse and there’s one at the livery now.”
Toni wiggled out of her skirt and placed it in the crook of a branch. “So who does this horse belong to?”
“There’s a man that’s been staying in town. I don’t know why he doesn’t exercise his own horse, all he does is just sit in one of those chairs outside the cantina or he’s inside the saloon getting a drink. He saw me brushing his horse the other day and said I could ride him some for exercise. About the only time he leaves the saloon or chair is to come check on his horse. He’s been teaching me some English .Hey, you know where those rocks are on the road at the end of town? Meet me there and we’ll ride out that way so no one will see us. The man doesn’t mind me riding, but he might not like you to.”
Johnny and Toni walked a ways together then parted, he toward the livery and she toward the back edges of the town. She didn’t want to bring attention to herself and thought that going behind the town and doubling back would be better. I don’t know why I’m worrying about someone seeing me, my hair is so short now, from the distance I look like a boy.
Johnny walked inside the livery and to the stall that held the man’s horse.
“Hey boy,” he said as he patted the horse’s neck. “You ready to go for a ride?” He got the blanket and saddle and put it on the patient horse. He was a mite short to reach up comfortably so he used an overturned bucket to give him a few inches. The horse, instinctively knowing what was coming filled his lungs with air. Johnny hit him in the side in order to tighten the cinch.
“Come on boy, you be nice today ‘cause you’re going to have a special rider and she’s never ridden a horse before.” He talked quietly and calmly to the horse as he led him out of the stall and into the livery yard. Once outside, he grabbed the reins and held onto the saddle. He gave a little hop and leaped up to grab the saddle horn as he swung his right leg over the saddle and his left leg found the stirrup. Sure will be glad when I grow some.
Once on the horse, he held the reins in his left hand and pulled the reins to the right while giving the horse a kick. The horse started to walk toward the right past the gate and onto the street. As Johnny rode the horse toward the end of town, he passed by the saloon. There in a chair watching, was the man. He looked up at Johnny, smiled and saluted. Johnny smiled back. He then gave the horse a little kick so that the horse began to trot. Johnny gripped his knees against the horse so that he could better move with the jarring gait.
After a few minutes, he saw Toni waiting by the rocks. Pulling on the reins, he brought the horse to a stop. “Johnny, he is beautiful! The man must have a lot of money to have such a fine horse and saddle.” She walked over to the horse and facing the horse’s head, grabbed the bridle and pulled his head toward her. She started scratching between his eyes. A horse fly must have bothered him because he suddenly stomped his foot and shuddered. “Whoa, boy!” Johnny and Toni both spoke at the same time.
“So do you want to ride or not?”
“Of course I do!”
“Well come over to this side and grab my arm. On the count of three, I’ll lift and you jump. Throw your right leg over. You can sit behind me.”
It took a few tries, but finally, Toni managed to get on and sit behind Johnny. She wrapped her arms around his waist to hold on and soon they were walking away from town. It was a new experience for the girl and she loved every minute. She soon got the rhythm of the horse’s movement and swayed in time. Neither spoke, there was no need. They were enjoying a type of freedom that seldom came their way.
After a mile or so, Johnny broke the spell. “ You want to go faster?” he asked and without waiting for an answer, he kicked the horse and leaned forward on the saddle. “Hold on!” he said turning his head around to look at Toni. She smiled and nodded her head yes and tightened her arms around his waist.
The horse began to walk faster and Johnny kicked again and leaned forward even more. He loosened the reins to give the horse his head and the horse stretched out his neck feeling the bit in his mouth. The horse shook his head and started to go faster, from walk, to trot, to cantor. At each change in gait, Johnny encouraged the horse to do more until finally the horse was galloping at full speed.
Johnny and Toni let out a whoop and yelled. They flew down the road, the wind blowing their hair back. Johnny adjusted himself in the saddle to fit the movement of the horse and Toni instinctively followed his lead. To urge the horse to go faster, they both leaned forward until they were almost laying down across the horse. The looks on their faces were one of pure abandonment!
Johnny slowly began to sit up and pull back on the reins. Bit by bit, he pulled back slowly until the horse had gradually slowed down to a walk.
Toni let go of his waist and reached up to brush the hair out of her face.
“Why are we slowing down?”
“It’s time to go back and the horse needs to walk to cool down some before we get back. If we go back running, someone will notice how winded he is and maybe guess what we were doing.”
“That was the most fun I’ve ever had! I wish we could have just kept going away from here and never looked back. Just think, we could go where we want, stay where we want, no one to tell us what to do, “ her voice trailed off.
“Yep, one of these days I’m going to have a good horse like this. I like working with horses and riding them even better.”
They reached the place in the road where they first met and stopping the horse, Johnny twisted around and grabbed Toni’s right arm as she started to swing her right leg over the saddle. She grabbed his leg as he lowered her down to the ground.
“I’ve got to get him back and settle him in for the night. Wait for me at our place and we’ll walk back to the orphanage. It’s getting late and I don’t want you walking back by yourself.”
“Okay, Johnny. See you in a bit.”
She watched him ride away back to town for a minute before turning toward the back part of town. One day, we’re going to get away, she thought as she made her way back to their spot in the grove of trees to wait for her friend.
The two were sitting on a couple of barrels outside the livery’s front door.
They were both munching on apples for lunch. As they ate, they aimlessly kicked their legs against the barrels and surveyed the goings on as people went about their daily business. They watched a lone rider coming in. The man, a gringo, stopped in front of the saloon. After getting off his horse, he tied it to the hitching post and went inside.
Johnny and Toni had finished their apples and were about to go back to work when they both heard a commotion coming from the saloon. They both turned back around toward the street when they saw the man who had just gone into the saloon come out and walk a ways down the street.
“Come on out, Alvarez, time we settle this, you worthless half-breed,” the man called.
Johnny and Toni watched as the batwings of the saloon slowly opened and the man whose horse they had ridden that Sunday walked out. He made his way to the street. The town’s people suddenly disappeared into the closest stores until the streets were empty. Johnny and Toni, although far enough back, could still see the middle of the street. They, along with the rest of the town’s people in the stores watched the two men in the middle of the street. Several men hung over the batwings of the saloon looking out.
In a flash it was over. The stranger never had a chance to get off a shot before the horse’s owner fired the fatal shot. He walked over to the fallen man and kicked his gun away from his body. He stood over the man and reached into his gunbelt and pulled out a new bullet. He took out the spent cartridge and put the new one in. Twirling the cylinder shut he then holstered his gun and walked away. As he walked toward the saloon, the men who had been watching backed away in awe and fear and let him through. Not a word was said.
Johnny and Toni moved to the livery when they saw Alvarez walk out of the saloon, saddlebags over his shoulder. Toni saw that the man was mixed just like them. “Get my horse, Juanito.”
Johnny walked into the barn and started to saddle the man’s horse. Alvarez handed his saddlebags to Toni and went to help.
“Yep, getting tired of this town.”
“Where will you go?
“Anywhere I want.”
“You were so fast! Toni and me were watching. Why did he call you out?”
“Well, about being fast, that takes a lot of practice. Why did he called me out?” the man shrugged. “Some people don’t think people like us can be as good as them. Sometimes I like to prove them wrong.”
The man took his saddlebags from Toni and threw them over the horse.
He led the horse out and swung up into the saddle. Johnny walked over to stand by Toni. The man stared at the two kids through narrowed eyes and sighed. He slowly smiled and reached into his shirt pocket and dug out a coin. He flipped it to Johnny. “Here, kid. You did a good job taking care of my horse.”
Alvarez turned his horse and started to ride away. He stopped and turned around in the saddle. “Remember you two. We are just as good as them, but sometimes we have to be better to get our point across.” He held up his hand in a salute, then turned around and rode away.
Johnny and Toni had hurried through breakfast and were leaving for work when they heard Sister Inez behind them.
“Toni, the Reverend Mother wants to see you in her office. Johnny, tell Senora Chavez she’ll be late today.”
The two looked at each other as Sister Inez walked away. “I wonder what I’ve done now?” Toni looked perplexed as she mentally went over the past week. “I can’t think of why she would want me, can you?”
“Maybe she wants you to start looking after the little ones again,” answered Johnny.
Toni turned to walk back inside. She turned around and called out to Johnny, “Stop by the laundry on your way home and I’ll tell you what the Reverend Mother wanted. See ya!”
As Johnny waved goodbye, he turned and headed out toward the town and work. He started thinking about the horsehair bracelet Benito was teaching him how to braid. He planned on giving it to Toni when he was finished. He could just picture him giving it to her. He knew she’d be pleased. She was so serious with everyone else, it gave him a good feeling that he could make her happy and smile. He smiled to himself at that and started whistling as he hurried on to the livery.
“You wanted to see me, Reverend Mother?” asked Toni.
“Yes, Antonia. Come on in.”
Toni walked over to the Reverend Mother’s desk. She saw that they weren’t alone in the room. Next to the desk there was a man and woman. The woman was sitting and was quietly coughing into a handkerchief. Beside her stood a man. They were both Americano’s and middle-aged. The man made Toni feel uncomfortable as he kept staring at her. His eyes seemed to follow her every move.
“Antonia, this is Mr. and Mrs. Wilson Porter. They are traveling to Naco, Sonora and Mrs. Porter has taken ill. They want a girl to help her in their travels and I have decided that you will go with them.”
Antonia turned startled eyes to the Porters. Mr. Porter walked over to her and put his arm around her shoulders. He started speaking, but since it was in English, she had no idea what he was saying.
“No, please, Reverend Mother! Don’t make me leave. Does he speak Spanish? Tell him, please!”
“The Porters speak very little Spanish, but you will learn English quickly. Mr. Porter just said that he looks forward to you being a part of their family. He believes you will suit very well. He has promised me that he will take very good care of you.”
Antonia violently shrugged her shoulders and twisted around so that the man’s arm was knocked off of her shoulders. She ran over to the Reverend Mother and grabbed her arm. “Please, Mother. Don’t make me go. I don’t know these people and I can’t talk to them. I don’t like the way he looks at me.”
The Reverend Mother drew herself up and removed Toni’s arm from hers.
She looked down at the girl with narrowed eyes. “You do not have a choice, Antonia. We have cared for you almost since you were born. No one else has wanted you. We can’t keep you forever, child. You are old enough to take care of yourself and make your way into the world. Be grateful that I have arranged for someone willing to take you in and feed and clothe you. You can show these good people your gratitude by working hard and doing what they say. Now, I’ll give you a few minutes to go gather your things. They want to leave right away.”
The Reverend Mother moved away from Toni and walked over to Mrs. Porter. The three adults quietly began talking in English, dismissing Toni from their discussion. Toni just stared at them with huge, sorrowful eyes. She briefly closed them and hugged herself tightly. She looked up when she felt someone’s eyes on her. While standing next to his wife and the Reverend Mother, the man had half-turned and was staring at her with a smirk.
Antonia blinked back her tears and straightened her shoulders. She felt a ball of hate start to grow in her belly. Her eyes narrowed and the hate that shown through them encompassed the three adults. She turned around and left the room.
She quickly ran to the room she shared with the older girls. She didn’t have much, but she didn’t want to leave anything behind.
Behind…oh my God, Johnny!
She sat down hard on the bed. Her head dropped to her chest in sorrow.
How can I leave Johnny? I’ll probably never see him again and I can’t even say goodbye. I can’t read or write so I can’t even leave a note. I can’t let him think I don’t care. What will happen to him? We’re all we’ve got. Why are you doing this God?
Her body shuddered and she drew a deep breath. Letting that hate in her belly again flow through her, she stiffened her spine and stood up. She took the knife Johnny had given her from the hidden pocket in the waistband of her skirt. She cut a square from the sheet and taking a deep breath, she made a small cut on her finger. She did something with the cloth and put her finger in her mouth until it stopped bleeding. Then she wiped her eyes and steadfastly packed her bag. Without even taking a last look, she left her room and went to find Little Bit.
Johnny had been busy all day and it was late when he was finally able to go home. He stopped at the laundry but didn’t see Toni. “Did Toni already leave, Senora Chavez?”
“She never came, Juanito. You tell the Sisters that I pay good money to the orphanage to have her come to work and if they don’t send her tomorrow, I’m going to get someone else.”
Johnny slowly walked away and headed back to the orphanage. As he walked, he fingered the bracelet that he had finished that day. He had planned on giving it to her on their way home. Too bad she’s already had her birthday, well at least her namesake day. But I guess she’ll like it even if it isn’t a special day. At least, I hope she does. I guess this is the first time I’ve ever given someone a present. Gotta say, it feels kinda nice.
He didn’t think she’d be there, but he stopped at their special place by the old tree just in case. He looked around, but didn’t see any sign that she’d been by. I wonder what they had her doing today? Guess I’ll find out in a minute. I don’t think she was sick, so guess I shouldn’t worry about that. Maybe they got some new kids in and wanted her to help. Yep, that’s probably it.
As Johnny made his way into the courtyard, he had to walk past some of the children who were killing time before supper. He noticed that some of the groups got quiet as he walked past them. He could almost feel their eyes bore into the back of his head as he continued toward the dining hall. The hair on the back of his neck stood up and he was getting a funny feeling in his belly. Every instinct he had was shouting at him that something was wrong. He saw someone break away from a group of children and start to run to him. It was Little Bit and she threw herself into his arms crying. He bent down to hear what she was saying.
“Toni is gone! They took her away!”
“Slow down, chica. What do you mean Toni is gone? What’s happened?”
An older girl walked over to the two of them and put her hand on Little Bit’s head. “It’s true, Johnny. Some Americano’s came and wanted a girl to help them while they traveled. The Reverend Mother sent Toni. She’s gone Johnny. They left before lunch this morning.”
Johnny felt all the air leave his lungs. He stumbled on legs that would no longer hold him up and sank to the ground. He lifted shocked eyes to the two girls. “Why? How could she leave?”
“She didn’t want to go, Johnny. They made her. She came to see me before they left. The Reverend Mother said that she was too old to stay here and needed to start looking after herself. Johnny, these people don’t even speak Spanish! How’s she even gonna know what to do?”
“Did she know where they were going?”
“She said they told her they were going to Naco, Sonora. That’s on the border with Arizona. I heard Sister Ava say that was about 300 miles away. Said it was a new town only about ten years old. This man, Wilson Porter, wants to start a new business there.”
“What Little Bit’?”
“She gave me something to give you. She was real sad to leave without saying goodbye.”
Little Bit fumbled with her pocket and pulled something out and put it in Johnny’s hand. As he opened his hand, he saw that he was holding the turquoise bracelet Marta had given Toni. With it was a small square of material. As he opened it up, Little Bit leaned over and whispered in his ear. On the square was a crude heart drawn in what he suspected was Toni’s blood.
“Toni told me to tell you to remember the story of the bracelet and to never forget.”
Johnny closed his eyes and remembered. He slowly shook his head and stood up. Wiping his hand across his face, he slowly wrapped the rawhide bracelet around his wrist. He tucked the cloth in his pocket and put his hand on Little Bit’s head. Somehow he managed to walk across the courtyard back into the dark. He stumbled for a few feet until he fell to his knees, violently sick. Wiping his sleeve across his mouth, he moved over to a tree and sank down to the ground. Pulling his knees up to his chin, he rocked back and forth. Memories flooded his mind of all the good times Toni and he had had while he fingered the beads on the bracelet.
Sorrow grew into hate. He hated the Reverend Mother for making his only friend leave. He hated the Sisters for being so cruel and unkind. He hated every “perfect” child at the orphanage and town who had never given them a chance. He hated his father for causing him to live this life. He hated his mother for dying and leaving him alone. And right now, he hated God for taking away the one good thing that had happened to him.
He grew quiet and looked up at the stars in the sky. Where are you, Toni? Are you thinking about me too? He gave a shake of his head and put his other hand over the bracelet, closed his eyes and made a promise. Standing up, he started to walk back to the orphanage. Looking straight ahead, no expression on his face, he ignored those still standing around.
He walked into the building without saying a word. The door slamming shut behind him the only sound echoing in the night.
“Reverend Mother, that man is here again. You really need to see him, this is two days in a row he’s been here. I don’t think he’s going away.”
“Alright, Sister Portia, send him in.”
The door to the Reverend Mother’s office opened as she heard Sister Portia entreat the man to come in. She watched the man as he made his way to her desk. He was an older man, an Anglo. He was dressed much differently than Mr. Porter had been. This man wore a suit that although now dusty, would have fit right in an Eastern city. He held his bowler hat in one hand as he reached across the desk with his other hand outstretched to shake the Reverend Mother’s hand.
“Good evening, Senor. Won’t you sit down? I’m so sorry I haven’t been able to see you the past few days. We’ve been very busy trying to find a young runaway. He had just left when you first came the other day and we were pretty busy sending out search parties.”
“I’m sorry to hear that, Reverend Mother. Did you find him?”
“No, I’m sorry to say we didn’t. We’ve had many people looking but we lost his tracks in the hills several miles from town. I don’t expect we’ll ever see him again.”
“Now, how may I help you, Senor….?”
“Burke, Senor Burke, ma’am. You see, I’m with the Pinkerton Detective Agency. We have a client who’s son has been missing and we’ve tracked him here. His name is Johnny Lancer. Have you heard of him?”