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San Carlos Crossing

The black horse mule looked down at the man squatted on the river bank as the  man shifted the plug of Dan Patch tobacco to his other cheek and spat.   They had both been waiting quietly in the willows watching the few lights in Paso Lajitas across the river go out one by one. It was just after midnight in late March, 1920.

Finis Turney was doing the mental calculations in his head   – 18 miles. If Pascual Orozco, his pistoleros, muleros and 23 pack mules had left San Carlos shortly after dark, they should be arriving at the smooth rock ford across the Rio Grande shortly. The pistoleros and muleros called Finis   hombre que monta el mulo fantasma negro”- the mule man  riding the black ghost.  He never so much as spoke to any of the muleros but they damned sure knew of him. Finis grinned as he  leaned into the Winchester 1873 rifle  in .44-40 WCF that stood  at his side like a crutch.  “If they only knew…..”  At 46 years old he was getting a might long in the tooth for late nights such as this.  He and Black Jack had arrived hours earlier to make sure no unwanted company was waiting and watching.   The man and the mule were alert but easy.  Neither thought about how many times they had spent the evening peering across the Rio Grande over years past in the same fashion.  First it was candelaria wax smuggled across to avoid import duties and taxes due at the Customs House in Lajitas.   Now, with Prohibition, it was alcohol.

Finis caught movement across the river about the same time Black Jack cocked an ear forward.  “Time to earn our keep Black.”  He leaned heavily on the lever action rifle as he stood.  Sliding  the rifle into the saddle scabbard, he peered up and down the river bank one last time before he swung up into the Mexican saddle on the big mule’s back.  Black Jack was well suited to tough travel in the High Desert of South Texas; any mule beat out a horse in this wild,rough country.  Standing almost 17 hands high, the mule was the result of a pairing between a Belgian draft mare and a Mammoth Jack north of Uvalde 8 years before.  At 1500 lbs he would dwarf the mules in the Mexican pack train that was just beginning to cross the river.

Finis stayed in the shadow of the willows as he saw to his gear.   He reached across with his right hand and moved the  closed toe cross draw holster that was home to a Colt Frontier Model Single Action Army in .44-40 WCF to a more comfortable spot on his left hip.   The 12 gauge Winchester Model 97 Riot gun was in a loose leather sleeve attached to the saddle and rode crossways behind the pommel.  Finis made sure the 97 was free to move in the sleeve.  Dark close work required quick action at times.  The Model 97 was designed to slam fire as it was manufactured without a trigger disconnector.  Holding down the trigger and pumping a new shell into the chamber fired the shotgun automatically.  Finis could cut loose with a wall of lead in just over 2 seconds as he emptied the 6 rounds fast as he could pump another one into the chamber.  More than one bandito in the day had stood down when confronted with the business end of Finis’ 97 pump.  Watching the mule train’s progress, he cut another plug of Dan Patch and waited.

Finis touched a heel to Black’s flank and they moved out of the shadows.  Pascual was at the head of the mule train and Finis noted with satisfaction that the group moved with only an occasional harness leather creak and muted clink of glass on glass. “Good”  Finis thought, ” No square ten gallon cans of rotgut whiskey on board tonight.”  Those shiny cans reminded  Finis more of what you would put coal oil  in — or even gasoline to fuel one of the model T motorcars that were showing up more and more these days.  He muttered out loud to the mule ” They suredly ain’t fit to hold a man’s liquor Black.”  The panniers on the mules this night were loaded with quarts of higher quality rum which would be well received by the gringo bootlegger  in Alpine.   Well packed in straw or wrapped in leaves, a good mule could carry upwards of 200 quarts of the brown liquid destined for the speakeasies of San Antone and points north.

That was Finis’ job on this dark night lit by only the fingernail crescent of a moon.   He would guide the mule train through the draws and hills between Terlingua and Study Butte and then on to Alpine.  He planned to skirt the Customs House and Army detachment garrisoned at Lajitas to their east before he eventually cut Terlingua Creek and turned north .  The Army boys in Lajitas were of little concern, the Revolution in Mexico was winding down and the Mexican Raiders seldom ventured across the border these days.   Finis’ main concern was the stretch around Terlingua and Study Butte 11 miles to the North.  You never knew when a mercury miner or law dog was going to be out and about up that way.  Their schedule should put the smugglers in the thick up there around 4am.  Hopefully at a time when most men were comfortably a-bed.

Finis turned Black and fell in pace as the mule train came abreast of  the mule and man.   Riding easily beside Pascual at the head of the train, Finis looked over at the aging bandito who fairly bristled with guns and bandoleros of long gleaming rifle cartridges.  Pascual returned the gaze and his mouth turned up slightly at one corner.  “Vamonos.”

The old outlaw was at least 15 years his senior and while they were not friends; a deep mutual respect had developed between the two over the years.  Even though the smuggling train was escorted by 5 more pistoleros of note and the muleros were armed with razor sharp machetes, Pascual  looked like he could and would take on Pershing’s army single handed.  Gnarled, scarred and marked by 50 years or more of borderland set-to’s, the old jefe de jefes had been uniquely disfigured by a Mescalero Apache arrow in his youth.  The Apache arrow had pierced his right cheek, leaving a perfectly round hole when it healed.  Pascual had chosen to adorn the hole with a concho made from a Mexican Escudo gold coin; just like the bangle in a  senorita”s ear Finis thought. ” Now, by God, ain’t ev’ry day you see that.”  He nodded to Pascual with a dip of the hat brim and touched a silver spurred heel to Black.  “En tu placer.”

 

Previous installments of the book are HERE.

Disclaimer:  This is a work of fiction.  None of the characters are real.  The events depicted may or may not be historically true or even remotely factual.  Locations and descriptions may or may not be actual.  This is my original work and you DO NOT have permission to copy more than a short excerpt which must point back to my original document. This work and all work in this series is Copyright © 2013 MyOldRV.com.

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San Carlos Crossing, 9.8 out of 10 based on 15 ratings
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9 comments to San Carlos Crossing

  • Ken

    Please tell me this whole book will be available soon. This kinda sounds like “Elmer Kelton” restored, only more suspenseful. Keep it up Andy (also hurry up)

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    • Andrew

      Thanks Ken
      I was hoping you would like it. It ain’t near to a book yet; I have several installments written but the rest is just of jumble of unorganized notes. There will be another installment in a few days.

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  • Ken

    OK. Suffering a brain cramp here. How do I vote on a post? OH, I see now, the little block is thumb up or thumb down. MY bad, I hit the down thumb by mistake. That vote should be discounted, because I am dumb.

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  • Bryan

    This is great! The story is richly described, I could easily imagine the smell of worn leather and horseflesh. I’m like Ken, eagerly waiting for the next installment.

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  • Marty

    Damn…got the makings of a terrific western movie..how did you get the idea for the character with an arrow hole in his cheek? And then plugging it with a gold inset…what an imagination. Getting a visual on this fellow sort of scares me already. The suspense is building.

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    • Andrew

      Hey Marty,

      That gold bangle thing didn’t come from anywhere but my brain. Sorta scary, huh? 🙂

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  • I’m as hooked as a hungry bluegill. Something is rattling around in the back of my head, like I already know this Finis Turney fellow and he’s my kind of hombre.

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    • Andrew

      Thanks for the kind words Richard. Another installment due up 1/1

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