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(Book Selection) San Carlos Crossing -- V

Reaching the mesquite thicket by the spring, Lalo looked first to the crumpled body on the ground and then to the mule with the bullet crease across the neck.  Senor Finis was obviously dead.  Lalo grabbed him under both arms and dragged him back behind the shelter of the thicket and stretched him out on the ground.   Retrieving the bedroll from the back of Black’s saddle,  he covered the body.   Leading the mule  in behind the thicket as well he unsaddled him and tethered him beside the spring.

Lalo made a quick trip down to the barn and came back up to the spring with a block of good hay, 2 scoops of oats and a poultice for the wound on the mule’s neck.   Lalo knew the way of gringos; as long as there were not too many unanswered questions they were liable to just ignore a ‘stupid’ Mexican.  He quickly checked the area around the mesquite thicket for any signs that might give up his deception.  There was no blood trail and the ground was so rocky the best Indian tracker could not have followed the mule and man to the spring.  He went back down to the barn to wait on the gringos he knew would come.

Lalo was sitting in front of the barn on an old wooden nail keg mending a piece of mule harness when the 3 gringos rode up with the 2 bodies in tow.  The one in the lead with the bloodied shoulder had the look of a Rinche de Tejas as did the second man.   He recognized the third man as the man from the Customs Office at Castolon.   His eyes widened imperceptibly when he realized old Pascual was the body strapped across the mule. The other body was wrapped in a ground cloth and could only have been a comrade in arms.  Lalo stood and the big man in front asked “Where is Turney?”  Lalo shrugged his shoulders  “He is to work on yesterday.”   He gave Lalo a long, hard look.  “We are going to take a look around.”  Lalo looked at him impassively.   The statement was not made to garner permission from him.  His best bet was to just feign total indifference.  He sat back down on the nail keg and returned to the mule harness.   It did not take the 3 men long to search the house, barn and bunkhouse and  they returned to the horses tied by the barn.  The big man gave Lalo another hard, long look and got nothing in return but a blank stare.  “Let’s  get outta here boys.”  Lalo bent to his work again and a slight smile creased his weathered face.  “They will be back and not so nice the next time I think…”  Lalo sat on the nail keg and waited until he saw the specks of men and horses cross the ridge 2 miles to the south.  He rose, knowing what he had to do next.

Back up the hill to the spring he went in a measured hurry.  He was  pleased to see Black Jack had eaten the hay and oats and was resting easy, alert to his arrival.   He quickly wrapped Senor Finis in the bedroll and ground cloth and moved him 25 yards beyond the spring  to where there was a crevice in the rocks.  Digging a grave in the rocky ground would be an all day affair and Lalo did not have the luxury of that much time.    He returned to the spring and removed the saddle bags from the saddle and left them on the ground.   The bloodied saddle was placed into the rocky cleft first at one end and then Lalo tenderly laid the body of his friend in the crevice as well with his head resting on the saddle.  “Vaya con Dios mi amigo.”   The floor of the canyon in this area was littered with a jumble of rocks of all sizes that had tumbled down from above at some point in ages past.  Lalo quickly got to work walling up the cleft with these rocks paying special attention to make it look as natural as possible.  After over an hour of work, he stepped back to look at the result.   “Muy bueno” he said as he made the sign of the cross.  The entrance to the crevice had all but disappeared under Lalo’s hand.    Gathering up Black’s reins and the saddle bags, he made his way back down to the barn.  There was still much work to be done.

Lalo first tended to the black mule.  The bullet wound  looked better than he had first thought  and had ceased to bleed. Lalo cleaned it out best he could with a  feed sack and water and re-applied the poultice.   Black’s  bridle was exchanged for a halter and lead rope and he left him to rest in his stall.   The Mexican was in a huge hurry but he knew he had a long, dangerous, arduous trip in front of him. It would not set well to rush now and set out on such a journey ill prepared.   He went to the bunkhouse and retrieved a clean 10lb flour sack.  He got 6 lbs of cured bacon, a few pounds of dried beans wrapped in a square of cloth, some lard in a small can, some meal and the balance of the fresh tortillas he had made yesterday.  All of this went into the flour sack.  He fetched his Colt Single Action Army  with the 5 1/2″ barrel in .32-20 WCF and cleaned and oiled it.  He did the same for the old Winchester 1873 lever action rifle that was chambered in the same caliber as the Colt.  Senor Finis had a fairly good collection of nicer firearms in the ranch house but a Mexican with nice weapons would only raise suspicions. “Besides, I would never think of stealing from El Jefe. It just does not seem right.”   Lalo had arrived at the small ranch 5 years before with the battered old Winchester ’73.  El Jefe had given him the Colt SAA and a set of leather a few years back to complement the lever action rifle.  He picked up 2 boxes of cartridges for the weapons and headed out to the barn with his arms full.   He set down at the grinding stone and poured some water on the wheel as he pumped the foot treadle.  He put a razor hone on his belt knife and machete and added the machete to the growing goods pile on the floor.  He opened El Senor’s saddle bags he had retrieved from the spring to inventory the contents.  He knew full well what was in there having helped with the packing many times over the years. Some small cooking utensils, a flint and steel fire starter,  salt , pepper, a small packet of spices, a small skinning knife, some coffee and a battered and blackened drinking cup.  Towards the bottom of the second saddlebag was a goodly sized leather pouch.  It was full of gold coins; well over $1000.00.   It was the El Jefe’s spending money and guide pay from the ill fated last trip.   Lalo hesitated only momentarily before returning it to the bottom of the pack.  He stopped short of stealing personal goods from his boss but gold coin was a different animal.

Next order of business was to retrieve 3 good mules from the string that was in the corral and leave them tied to the outside of the fence.  Senor Finis’ saddle mare Rosetta was in her stall and he hoped El Jefe would forgive him for taking her.   The little sorrel mare had always been a favorite of  the Mexican and he could not see  turning her loose on the open range to fend for herself as he had the rest of the stock  in the corral which included his own no account saddle horse.   He threw his Charro saddle on the mare’s back and added his bedroll and Senor Finis’ saddle bags along with the Winchester in the boot.  The 3 mules were quickly packed with empty packsaddles;  the exception being the lead mule that would pack 2 goatskins of fresh water and the small grubstake.  By early afternoon, Lalo headed southwest with the 3 mules in tow.  Black Jack trailed at the rear of the string.

Lalo was looking for the scene of the ambush that had occurred a few hours before.  As he  crossed the same ridge south of the ranch that he had watched the Rangers cross that morning, he spied one lone buzzard circling the sky over Bee Mountain.  “As I figured Rosetta” and he urged the little mare forward at a quicker pace.

It was not long before Lalo was looking at the carnage amid the jumbled rocks in Ben’s Hole Creek.  He reined Rosetta in and tethered her to a dead mesquite trunk jutting out of the bank.   Singling out the 3 mules he quickly started down the creek bed with the intention to salvage anything of value that the mules could carry.  The first thing he spied among the rocks was Senor Finis’ Model 97 12 gauge.   Smiling to himself he thought  “So I get one of El Jefe’s  guns after all!”   Lalo was methodical and quick as he searched and stripped dead pistolero, horse and mule alike.   Saddle bags were thrown on the mules to be searched later; firearms, watches, gunbelts, fancy spurs, money and coin were all retrieved.  Lalo even managed to find a pair of fancy tooled leather boots that that he judged might be a close fit from the dead feet of a pistolero.

In just over 2 hours, Lalo headed up out of the creek north of Bee Mountain and turned  almost due east.  He was careful to stay to the hard rocky ground for several miles.  Probably sooner than later, the Rangers or someone they dispatched  would be at the ambush site with the same intentions as the Mexican.  He reckoned they were not going to take kindly to somebody beating their time;  he had no intention of making it easy to run him to ground.   His route was going to take him due east through Paint Gap and Grapevine Hills.  He would skirt Study Butte and Castolon a good ways to the north before finally turning south and following Heath Canyon down to the Rio Grande.

Ten days later, on a moonless night, Lalo crossed the Rio Grande into Mexico.  He had traveled only at night, sometimes less than a mile at a time on his cautious southward trek.   The fortune on the mule’s backs would see to it that he never would have to venture north of the river again.

 

 

 

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 NO 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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