THE LEGEND . . .
. . . tells of a skeleton of a man, with a Spanish blade in its back, slumped on a pale ghost horse, withsooty eye sockets and sooty nostrils and sooty mane and tail, which eerily screams as it gallops up and down Squawman's Valley. The Apaches regard the valley as sacred. It has become a part of the lore of the land that the forbidden valley is a place no man ventures without meeting up with himself. A valley of no return.
The cry of a cactus wren repetitively rasped in the heat-shimmering silence. From its bristly perch of a cholla, its beady eyes mirrored the watery, dark silhouette of a man on a horse emerging larger and clearer from white gypsum dunes.
He came out of a baked, bleached, and broiled country, where hawks lazily glided on air currents at the heights of a great upthrust of bisque-colored rock. The rock loomed like a riven prow of a petrified ship over vast salt flats of a dried-up ancient sea. The flat-topped ridge of the plateau mountain range possessed a mystical aura of forbidding isolation.
The lone rider appeared carved out of the ancient cliff-sides. The horse was a smoky beige dun, ears, eyes, and nostrils shaded the same as its dark mane, tail and legs the color of the sooty shadows in the recesses of the cliffs. Horse and rider blended in with the desert environment.
Eyes gleamed like silvery slivers of ice in the shadow of the dust-coated, sun-bleached, wide-brimmed hat. The eyes conveyed a cold indifference to life and even to death and gave the cleanly chiseled face a visage of fierce fearlessness. A long-barreled forty-four strapped low on his thigh invested the fearlessness with a deadliness that even the most foolhardy of his kind would think twice about before daring to defy.
He rode easily and unhurriedly. His gaze was fixed straight ahead, but there was an intensity beneath the surface of his casual bearing that gave the impression not a creature stirred for a mile around without his awareness. He knew he was being watched.
There were no people. No naked brown children playing in the powdery dirt. No barking dogs. Mesquite-pole pens went empty. No wood smoke came from the ramadas of outside kitchens. No chile ristras drying red in the sun. Fields of cornstalks and pumpkin vines lay to waste, sun-scorched and withering but for some moist green patches—a sign of life. Dust devils whirled around corners of deserted adobes. A wooden shutter repeatedly banged somewhere, as if by a pissed ghost. In his all-encompassing observation, over the harshly serene abandonment, like a forsaken gesture begging divine pardon from the savagery of a hostile land, stood the heavy wooden cross of a church.
He sensed the stealthy observation of his passage from the belfry. It faintly rang a ghostly peal. The slow clip-clop of the horse’s hooves on the hard, dusty ground echoed in the haunted quiet, distantly punctuated by the pissed ghost’s banging. The corner of the lone rider’s mouth twitched the suggestion of a humorless grin.
Waxed with the sky’s dusky light, a pair of haunted green eyes gazed from the belfry at the wagon road’s slate-gray scar on the purple-mottled face of the late evening desert. The road dipped and rose and disappeared until it was seen again, a straight ribbon that reeled out in the lower distance toward the tiny lights of the town.
Behind the vacant green gaze were fiery flashes of a violence so awful that for the past seven years the mind within had locked the memory in a deep chamber of oblivion. But then this evening the devil out of the desert foothills had unbolted the heavy door, and it fell open, freeing through the slender crack the horrors that clamored insanely to get out.
The ghostly hamlet left behind on the mesa, the rider rode along the featureless, flat desert floor, monotonously bristled with widely spaced scrub brush so uniform in growth it appeared as if a giant hand with giant scissors had clipped it all flat-topped for miles around. He came to a cluster of squat adobes haphazardly arranged like so many pebbles strewn by the whimsical hand of fate in the middle of the windswept plain. Up close, the settlement assumed a more orderly appearance with a water well centrally anchoring the adobe structures to impart overall the semblance of a small town.
Chickens squawked their complaints and flapped their wings in elusion of the pale dun’s high-stepping sooty legs. Midge-clouds hovered in bronze sun-shafts like desert heat waves in the cooling-down part of the day. Saddle horses, the few that there were, ear-twitched and tail-switched, listlessly chasing off pesky gnats. Through the general stench of sun-baked animal and human waste matter wove wafts redolent of roasting corn and a telltale aroma of tortillas cooking on comales, blue-hot sheets of tin fixed over red-hot mesquite-wood coals.
Barefoot children playing in the open quickly disappeared from sight. He rode past a long building, pockmarked with bullet holes and cankered with exposed patches of the straw-reinforced mud bricks where white gypsum plaster had fallen away. Doorless black holes to windowless sleeping rooms were fitted with Mexican blankets for privacy, some of which for ventilation had been flipped over viga studs aside each crib opening.
Two loafers idly leaned against wall space of the long adobe. They wore embroidered sombreros with huge brims and buckskin strings, and silver conchas adorned their leather dress. Each one’s hips carelessly boasted a low-slung holster. The dirt-ingrained hands of one, tall and lanky, fondled a coiled rope of braided rawhide in the absent manner of a snake charmer. The other, short and rotund, observantly lifted a cornhusk cigarito to his mouth between pendant gray moustaches that hung from his doughy face like Spanish moss.
Their watery, bloodshot eyes weighed the heavy sacks slung over the saddle of the slow-prancing zebra dun. They watched the rider pause long enough to let the horse have its fill at the wooden trough next to the well. Anyone could see the heavy sacks were not grain for the horse. The two loafers contemplated the sacks but not without heeding the looks of the gringo as his shadow obliquely broke over their well-weathered, leather-clad forms.
A lady with frizzy hair the color and seemingly the texture of grama grass, cheekbones and lips berry-stained, swung hips caged in whalebone in time with the high-stepping fores of the horse.“Hello, mister,” she purred in a whisky voice. “You look like a real man who would like some obligin’ company.”
Her sashaying promenade, in fancy but faded and soiled taffeta skirts that had lost their froufrou and inevitably seen better days in better towns, came to an end with one chicken-claw hand on a thrust-out false hip as she stared after the horse and its rider, neither of which had shown her so much as a flicker of acknowledgment. A sneer pushed the smirk off her disease-emaciated, painted face.
An untimely bray of laughter burst out of the doorless doorway behind her. The spurned lady made a jeering face at the sounds of revelry, then briefly searched the ground for a rock of dimensions suitable for her intentions. She snatched it up, pitched it full force, and hitched up her pathetically humbled dance-hall skirts and ran faster than the speed of sound—specifically that of chairs crashing over and roaring oaths of outraged surprise.
She peeked out from the darkness of a tiny jacal crouched between two mesquite trees and with a sotol stalk in the front yard, sticking up like a flagpole of a desolate dominion.
The likes of a snarling wolf came stumbling out of the saloon with such vigor, he nearly fell on his hairy face. Lurching to a halt, he brandished two double-action pistols. His murderous glower leered up and down, left and right, and landed on the back of the lone rider on the smoky beige horse.
“Hey! You!” he yelled. “Hey, yellabelly rock-throwin’ bastid! Turn around! I’m talkin’ ta ya!”
Where the two loafers had been was only bullet-pocked wall space. The lady squeezed her eyes shut tight, listening to the wolfman’s accusations and insults.
“Who the hell ya think yar? Throwin’ rocks like a idjit! Turn around, damn it! I’ll plug ya right in the back, goddamn chicken-shit coward! You deaf? I warned ya!”
At the sound of the pistol shots, the frizzy-haired lady opened her eyes and peeked from the dark doorway. Other eyes peeked from other dark doorways.
The rider pivoted the bit-chomping dun around.
The wolfman growled an oath at his astonishingly bad luck. It was plainly incredible to him that all four shots had missed their mark. Even if he had been blind drunk, which he was not, the proximity should have made the stranger’s back as sure a target as the broad side of a barn. Only God or the Devil could have diverted the course of the bullets for them to have missed their mark at such close range.
He saw it was more likely the latter, the Devil not ready to make claim on the soul He already possessed. If the reptile-cold stare was not enough to sober the wolfman, it succeeded in penetrating his alcoholic fog and unnerving him. His bowed legs visibly trembled. But even drunk, he knew something had been started that could not be reversed. He met the icy stare from Hell with forced bravado.
The devil horse walked toward him. The wolfman emptied both barrels out of sheer panic. The icy-eyed stranger kept coming. Unbelievingly, the wolfman staggered backwards.
The frizzy-haired lady and every furtive spectator thought the stranger was going to walk the horse right over the wolfman. Instead, his right foot left its stirrup with such swift action that all anyone clearly saw was the struck victim’s arms fling up and outward as if in surprised surrender before he went sprawling flat on his back.
The wolfman’s six-shooters went spinning in the dirt. Clutching his throat with one hand, the wolfman rolled on a hip and reached for one of the lost weapons. The pistol danced away from his outstretched fingers to the dust-spurting tune of a lightning-quick, palm-fanned, single-action, converted, old army Remington.
Bloodily foaming at the mouth, the wolfman’s rabid glare shot out pain-twisted hate. It was a glare that established a lifetime vendetta.
Two men came skidding out of the saloon on spurs, hands high and wide of their gun belts.
“Don’t shoot, mister! We jes wanna git the hell outta town!”
“Then git,” came a soft growl.
“It all right we take him?” one of them politely asked.
The answer came—a hastening jerk of the forty-four’s long, octagonal barrel.
As they lifted their felled comrade, they jammed his retrieved revolvers into his holsters and hauled him, boots dragging, to his horse. In less than a minute all three were making dust out of town.
The frizzy-haired lady’s carbon-rimmed, jaundiced eyes were wide upon the stranger. She watched him loosely rein the horse around and continue in his previous direction, but not before she felt branded by the searing cold glints of his eyes, which seemed to crinkle a secret smile directly at her. She felt accused and condemned.
She backed away from the doorway, deeper into the darkness of her mean shelter. She whimpered. Chills crawled up her spine as if she were touched by the cold draft of a tomb. She lay down on her filthy, flea-infested pallet and stared up into the dark at the low ceiling. She was found that way a few hours later by one of her regular customers, who got the surprise of his life when he crawled in next to her. The consumption had at last consumed her.
The sudden lull in laughter and conversation alerted him. He had his elbows down on the bar, the sacks of gold at his feet. There were no reflective surfaces, no glass or mirror, to see behind him. He sensed someone close.
He was still.
Everyone was still.
Time seemed to stand still.
In the next split fraction of a second, he was crouched, with gun drawn and palm poised over the cocked hammer.
The people who witnessed the scene later testified among themselves that it had been only by the miracle of the saints who watched over her that he had not pulled the trigger. The mind of even a gunman as swift as the pistolero americano could not function as fast as his self-trained reflexes. Each singular act from the draw to the squeeze was done in one unbroken motion performed without thought and as mechanically as if the weapon functioned with hair-trigger precision itself. Conceivably, he had expected El Lobo, whom he had earlier disgraced and humiliated, or any one of a number of reputation-seekers that haunted his kind’s every wakeful and sleeping moment.
While his gun was still trained on her, he drew himself up to his full height. She pressed so close that the mouth of the long barrel got lost in a deep fold of the dark rebozo that cloaked her from head to hips. Her face was darkly shadowed in the hood as his was beneath the low-set hat brim. From their respective shadows, soulless blue eyes and haunted green eyes locked in an
Then, as suddenly as she had appeared, she turned and made her way back out of the cantina into the street.
He struck a sulfur match with a thumbnail and motioned to the cantinero. The cantinero poured more pulque into the glass and took the opportunity to make a furtive study of the clean-shaven face behind the match flame. A cloud of cigar smoke broke over the lowered hat brim, which abruptly came up. Dark-gold lashes revealed eyes colder than death itself. Desalmado. Without soul. The soulless eyes of such a man, the cantinero thought, would make the Devil himself shudder. Or laugh with delight.
The suspense anticlimactically broken, finger snapping, foot tapping, and hand clapping to the fevered tempo of a guitar pervaded the smoky atmosphere. Everything was back to normal at an accelerated pace that might have come from relief or disappointment. A few loudly and dramatically strummed chords commanded everyone’s attention.
“¡Oiga! Candelario canta,” the cantinero said.
After a while, the gunman glanced over his shoulder. The guitarist gave him a wide, toothy grin and sang with animated fervor, nodding a sleek, black head. The gunman slid his gaze over the faces in the murky tallow light. Floppy brims of sombreros bobbed up and down over wide, mustachioed grins. All eyes were upon him.
Generally, no songs glorified his kind. No dime novels immortalized his kind. Like those of his kind, he eschewed notoriety. Anonymity was his trademark. The nature of his work straddled the fine line between lawfulness and lawlessness. His employers could be an individual or a collective body of individuals and who invariably regarded himself or themselves as God-fearing, law-abiding citizens who hated violence but were forced to employ violence to stamp out violence, or were forced to seek a personal justice that bureaucratic blindness, bigotry, or bribery, or all three, denied them. Rarely did his employers respect him for his profession--fear was not respect—and they respected less their own association with him. They were glad and relieved when the association came to an end, whereupon he, the persona non grata, collected his pay, expected no thanks, and rode off to disappear into the sunset—nameless, faceless, without trace as if he had never been there.
The corrido was about him. It drew attention to him he did not want or like. The hero kept his back turned to his adulators and his face to the dark
bottles and glasses on the rough shelves behind the jerry-built plank bar.
The guitarist put to music lyrics that romanticized his swift deadliness with the foot and the gun, how he had turned the much feared and hated killer El Lobo from a growling wolf into a bleating sheep. No romantic ballad was complete without its amorous implications. And leave it to a Mexican guitar player to make two wordless stares sound like a love affair.
“Señor, eet ees their way to show for you their respect,” the cantinero said.
“El Lobo . . . mucho mal hombre.”
“Mucho borracho,” the gunman drily corrected.
“Drunk or no,” the cantinero snorted, “veeshus keeler!” His shiny anthracite eyes flashed, and the fat caterpillar of black hair riding his upper lip curled with contempt. “They say he work for beeg men een El Paso, do their dirty work een salt war. You know about that, eh?”
The gunman nodded. The “war” over the control of the salt lakes, between Mexican peons, who for generations had freely mined the salt on the American side of the Rio Grande, and greedy U.S. legislators and politicians who wanted the potential profits from claiming the salt lakes and charging for the salt, had been going on for decades. In Uvalde he had read the outdated news in an old copy of The San Antonio Express that, the past December, white American ringleaders were shot in a small Mexican town on the American side of the river by a Mexican firing squad from the other side of the river. The Texas Rangers were called in, and the mob held them prisoners, then allowed them to leave without their weapons, after which the Mexican mob looted the little Mexican town.
It appeared by the cantinero’s remarks that nothing had been resolved over the past eight months since the Mexican mob incident. The “salt war” seemed to be becoming another military affair, like the Lincoln County War, which he had read about in a more current copy of the Express while in Uvalde getting a haircut and a shave in the barber shop after a hot bath. The barber had a special going, three for the price of two, and he had been able to get caught up on the news. When the Lincoln County sheriff’s own deputized posse made themselves “the Regulators” and shot him and his official deputy, that long ongoing feud had been settled by soldiers from Fort Stanton, who marched into the town of Lincoln with a Gatling and a howitzer. The army ended that civilian war only a month ago. The famed Billy the Kid had been involved. Seemed there was no newspaper he could pick up and read on the frontier anywhere in which the kid outlaw wasn’t mentioned. No doubt, the gunman wrily thought, the Kid enjoyed the publicity, and the publishers enjoyed the newspapers he sold without their having to pay him a hawker’s dime.
The cantinero got all riled up. The subject matter touched a sore spot in every patron of the establishment. The cantinero raised a fist. He was no longer speaking English, since he was no longer addressing the pistolero americano but the whole room of patrons. “The gringos hire that pack of coyotes to work over the people!” A roar of heated affirmation rose up in the suddenly close room. Glasses clinked. Liquor poured.
The pistolero americano was forgotten in the political fervor. He shifted his weight over the sacks of gold at his feet, hoping they would remember he was their hero.
This was Comanchero country. Every peón from here to the Staked Plains was a likely candidate, if not an active member of the covert community, then a collaborator in one form or another. Sheepherder, farmer, shopkeeper, cantinero, vaquero, even padre by apparent occupation, Comanchero by clandestine profession or association. Even if one did not him- or herself rob from the Anglos and Spanish ricos and trade the booty with the hostile Indians, he or she inevitably had a relative, friend, acquaintance, or lover who did. Secret loyalties to the underground brotherhood were strong, however strange, bound by flesh, fraternization, or fear, most of the time all three. In spite of these people’s celebration of him as a hero, he wouldn’t trust any one of them not to castrate him for a copper tostón should their hated enemy, El Lobo, put the bounty on the hairy skin of his balls. Of all Comanchero contraband, human life was the cheapest, and a gringo’s life even cheaper.
He lifted his gaze to see the cantinero demanding, practically in his face, “Hear sheep burn alive?Terrible, my friend. Sound human. Like bebés, they cry. The cries of those poor sheep burning alive don’t let a man sleep all night. Puts a pain in his chest and brings tears to his eyes. You want to shoot them until they are all dead, and you don’t hear no cries of their pain no more.”
The gunman said nothing. His eyes were slits of frigid dispassion seeing back in time as he indifferently mused upon the madness of men. He sipped at the bad pulque, which left an unsavory taste in his mouth. A vestigial soreness in his gut reminded him of another unsavory taste—slop of a worst sort, mucous slime forced down a throat that kept locking up to try to block its passage into a gut that kept sending it back up . . . dank, underground darkness . . . lice- and roach-infested . . . where he might have rotted to hell if not for one daring and devious señorita. Raquel. Held against her will by one General Hinostroza.
Raquel had seen her chance for escape in helping the gringo prisoner to escape. Only the gringo prisoner was one step ahead of clever Raquel, seeing through her ploy to use him as a decoy to lure the guards in one direction, while she made her getaway in another. With a few little last-minute changes in Raquel’s well-thought out plan, together they had made their escape, not to mention with the good general’s gold. The good general without a doubt had obtained it no less virtuously, considering it was American gold, and he was in the side business of rustling Texas longhorns across the border and selling the stolen American stock back to Americans in Arizona and California.
Though the bruises and lacerations from the general’s polished, black military boot and the rifle butts of his bandoliered guardia had faded from visible evidence on his muscularly lean body, the crude imprints were still deeply rammed in his memory, and the reassuring touch of his moccasined toe against the two twenty-five-pound sacks that lay on the dirt floor at his feet helped ease the vestigial soreness in both body and mind.
As for Raquel . . . last seen in the Sierra Madre wilderness with her fugitive lover and his band of bandidos, drunkenly celebrating their new wealth in Raquel’s share of the glittering yellow Liberty heads and heraldic eagles, which would make them as strong as an army and enable them to buy American weapons and ammunition for their guerrilla warfare in the land of revolutions.
The physical closeness of their faces over the bar seemed to remove former social restraints, and they were friends.
“Amigo, a drink on the house!” The cantinero brought a glazed clay jug out from under the bar and poured two glasses. He raised his glass, before gulping down the liquid. “¡Salud!”
The gunman tentatively tasted the clear liquid in the clean glass, discovered not just a little better grade mescal than the piss-colored pulque, but an agave liquor meriting the name tequila. He gulped the liquor all at once and savored the smooth burn down his alimentary canal to his stomach, where it mushroomed into velvet heat that radiated throughout him and caused an almost instantaneous rush of sublime lightheadedness. He soundlessly sucked his lips against his teeth.
Pleased by the compliment, the cantinero poured two more shot glasses and asked, “Mind you me ask, amigo, what were that theeng weeth you and the señorita?”
The gunman lifted his icy gaze to the cantinero’s face. “I was hoping you could tell me.”
The cantinero shrugged. “What I know about her ees only what I hear, ¿sabé? They say she, you know”—drawing circles with a finger aside his temple—“not all there. Loca. She leeve up there een the empty village weeth only the ghost of a padre.”
“How did the padre become a ghost?” the gunman asked, tongue in cheek. Mexicans loved their ghost legends. His own favorite was the legend of La Llorona, the Weeping Woman. Mexican mothers threatened their children La Llorona would come and get them if they didn’t behave. La Llorona’s restless spirit haunted riverbanks, or any water way, dry wash if there was no local wet stream, wailing banshee cries, remorsefully lamenting the loss of her children drowned by her own hand. Someone had told him it was a legend handed down from the Aztecs, but the Aztec mother had used a dagger to slay her baby. The tale varied region by region, but always the distraught mother had killed her baby or children to spite a lover or husband for his infidelity. The gunman wondered if the cantinero’s ghost story might be as good.
“The Lobo gang, they ride their horses over the people’s crops. Shoot at any man, woman, even niño show hees face. The padre try talk weeth them. They shoot heem. Dead!” The cantinero snapped his fingers. “Like that! A man of God they shoot like a snake! Now you know why you hero to these peoples. El Lobo mucho mal hombre. Heem and hees gang.”
“What happened to the people?”
“The peoples, they farmers, pastores, artesanos work weeth the leather and wood. They raise a few cattle for their own use. The Lobo gang stole them. The peoples they no fighters. After El Lobo burn the sheep and use the goats, chickens, pigs for target practice, the peoples go. They can’t win against hombres like that. They say before El Lobo gang come to work for the salt ring een El Paso, they do dirty work for beeg ranchers een the range wars over there een Texas.”
“This is Texas,” the gunman said. Although it was true, there was no law in the county other than a small unit of the Texas Rangers based at the little settlement of Ysleta near El Paso. By the time the Rangers got wind of any criminal doings in this most remote part of the county, it might as well have been on the moon. The gunman understood why the Lobo gang could get away with criminal behavior when any posturing of the law was a hundred miles away. That was his job, to do when there was no law, or the law was ineffective or too far-flung, hired by private parties who had the money to afford him to administer justice according to their regulations, since he was their employee, not the employee of any county, state, or federal government.
“Sí. Yo sé, pero, I mean over there een Texas faraway from here many days east. I never been there. I think Texas she ees beeg like Mexico she ees beeg.”
The gunman wordlessly agreed with a nod of his head. He had been coming through Texas for over a week from the brazada. By now he had aimed to be in central New Mexico Territory, and he was still in Texas.
“Eet ees believe El Lobo wants the grass een these parts for heemself. To bring een cattle before the beeg cattlemen come and claim eet. That’s why he want the peoples out. That’s what I hear. He don’t want to work for the beeg men no more. He wants to be the beeg man.” The cantinero shrugged.
“¿Quién sabe? Who knows? Weeth a man like that, eh?”
The gunman made no reply. The cantinero turned his conversation back to the girl. “Strange how Dominica come een here like that, eh?”
“That ees what she ees called. She never come to town before.”
“You never saw her before, but you know who she is?”
“Who else could she be, amigo, eh? Where else could she come from but up there een the village on the mesilla?”
The cantinero called out to a group at a table close to the bar and asked if any of them knew the girl. Rapid Spanish assailed the gunman’s ears from all mouths at the table at once.
“Sí, amigo. Eet were her,” the cantinero said. “I used to keep the padre’s wine een my stock. I regret that loss. Carlos Valenzuela used to breeng eet. Diego over there, he knew Carlos. The padre, he used to come when he were sent for to geeve the last rites to somebody, ¿sabe? More than a few times he geeve the last rites to customers right there on the floor.” The cantinero jutted his chin indicatively. He made a pass over the bar with a smelly, damp cloth.
“The way he tolded eet to me, her peoples was emigrantes. Could be seven, maybe eight years ago now, they was camp-ed een the mountain pass up there.” The cantinero jerked his head in a general direction toward the plateau mountain that rose out of the desert like a great barrier wall to the east. “There ees a old stagecoach station up there I am tolded. Eet ees a favoreet place to stop for to rest and get water by travelers of the El Paso-San Antonio road.”
The gunman was well acquainted with the old Pinery. The abandoned way station on the old Butterfield Overland Mail road was more than a favorite stopping place for emigrants, freighters, soldiers, outlaws, and drovers driving cattle from Texas to Arizona and California; it was the only place between long stretches of waterless desert. The long-deserted Butterfield station where fresh stagecoach horses had been kept, with sweet spring water and grass for livestock, was an oasis for travelers of the bygone Butterfield route. And it was a favorite place of Apaches for ambushing the travelers.
“Thees place right here,” the cantinero said, emphatically thumping a burly arm on the rough-hewn pine bar, practically making it jump, “were stagecoach way station once.”
“What about the girl?” the gunman prodded.
“Like I said, I only know what I hear. Her whole family were supposed to be massacred up there een the pass by the old station. How the girl escaped nobody know. The religious say the saints preserved her life and took away her memory of the horrors she must have seen. Some call her la loca santa. The holy crazy one. She come een here like that and up so close to you and look at you like that. Escalofriante. Give me the chills. I am not the only one to cross myself, señor.”
That was true. In his peripheral vision, the gunman had seen a lot of hands making the sign of the cross from foreheads to chests and shoulders as the girl made her exiting passage.
“She ees call Dominica. For the day the Indian mujer bring her to the church. Domingo. The padre learned about her people, their massacre, from the Indian mujer who finded her.”
The cantinero, putting the cork back on his private jug, started slightly. The sand-dry croak of a whisper that had come from the parched lips in the hatbrim-shadowed face sounded like the voice of the dead risen from the grave. He almost crossed himself. But the gold coin pushed across the bar at him warmed his sepulchral chill. He shrugged.
“Sí, amigo. It ees said one side of her face all scar. Very bad. Like burned. Or something. When she bring the girl to the church and tolded the padre about the girl’s peoples, she went back een the mountains from where she came-ed. The padre deedin learned nothing about her but for her scar face. It ees her face they say make her once seen, always remembered. Somebody say she were seen een the mountains north, een New Mexico, squaw of a squawman.” Again he perfunctorily jutted his chin in the general direction of the mountain ranges to the east. Counting out some coins in change, he glanced up, because he had the feeling he was talking to himself. He was.
The cantinero pocketed the quarter eagle and put the silver peso and two-bit pieces into the money box. He watched the figure recede through the murky haze of tobacco smoke toward the open doorway. The pistolero americano walked lightly and quietly, no spurs jangling on the hard-packed dirt floor. The brown jerga fell to a ragged hem around high moccasins. Even burdened by two heavy sacks slung over a shoulder, which the cantinero figured held gold coins as a sure bet—supported by the quarter eagle in his pocket—the pistolero americano moved less like a horseman and more like a ground animal. Catlike and deadly.
END OF SAMPLE CHAPTERS
Where was the gunman going?
Why did he deviate from his destination to rescue Dominca from an uncertain fate?
Who was the scar-faced Indian woman?
Why did two members of the Lobo gang want Dominica dead?
What was the meaning of the gold coin on the chest of each of the two Mexican corpses?
Why did Encarcion Corvalan Armendaariz sequester herself from the world when the remains of the gunman, known to her as Quinn Harden, was brought to the Corvalan ranch by the Apaches for burial?
How can the gunman with whom Dominica had lived and survived the perils through Apacheria be in his grave in Squawman's Valley as Raul Corvalan claimed to see him buried four years before?
And why does that damn cactus wren keep showing up?