Friday, July 27, 2007

Fifty One

They emerged from the tent an hour later. Ellie Mae came out first, a lithe blonde prematurely aged by hard living, but who still carried herself with the air of a pretty woman who knew her own worth. Then Harley and Will stepped out, stifling smiles. Bonham lumbered out behind them, annoyed. Ellie Mae looked at the Unitas men, still sitting their horses. "You boys got some important riding to do, or are y'all going to join us for breakfast? We don't allow folks to eat on horseback. It ain't good manners."

The young men looked at Harley, who nodded. "We've been invited to stay for breakfast, men. Ellie Mae will have someone see to our horses."

Coyote, Boeing and Aguilero dismounted and Ellie Mae called to Bonham's guard. "Zagolani, have one of my girls put these men's horses where I keep mine." Then she whispered something in the Apache girl's ear that made her eyes widen. She flashed the Unitas men a smile.

With a grim set to his jaw, Bonham led the party to the main campfire, where he introduced them as his guests, then stalked off as if on important business.

"What's he so mad about?" Coyote asked.

"He wanted to make an issue of it," Will said. "Ellie Mae trumped him."

The men settled in near the fire and accepted cups of coffee, plates of eggs and camp bread, and slices of dried apples. The Lone Star soldiers eyed them suspiciously, but mumbled appropriate greetings and fell back to eating. After a few minutes, Jane sat down, followed by Ellie Mae holding a steaming mug of coffee. She looked at the men of her unit. "Y'all better show some manners."

"We ain't done nothing," one of them said.

"See that you don't."

"We got a joint mission coming up?"

"Maybe they're petitioning to move to the Hill Country and get away from this damn desert," another said.

A few of the men laughed.

"You don't like the desert, maybe you should go home to Texas," Boeing told him.

Harley silenced Boeing with a look. "We're not here to argue with anyone."

"Then why are you here?" asked a young Vietnamese who had decorated the band of his regulation cowboy hat with dragons.

Ellie Mae glanced at Harley before answering. "Those mavericks we kicked out attacked some of their women."

There were murmurs of disapproval, but one man said, "So what? We can't do nothing about it. Once they're out, they're unaffiliated. We don't have no control over them."

"We're asking that you keep truce by not turning them loose around here," Harley said. "Execute them, send them home under guard, we don't care. Just don't go adding to the number of unaffiliated troublemakers we already have to deal with."

"You don't see us sending our mavericks to Texas to rape your women," Coyote added.

Some of the Texans shifted uncomfortably.

"We can't have people thinking Texans don't stand for law and order,” Ellie Mae said. "Otherwise we'll be fighting them forever."

"Seems like we're going to be, anyway," one man said.

"If you're tired of fighting, we’re not your problem," Will said. "We'll stop anytime you and the other groups want to."

"Unitas only wants free and fair elections," Harley added. "Make enough people want to be Texans, and we'll be fighting for you, not against you."

"No," said a sullen young Texan of indeterminate race. "It was one of your local leaders who invited us here in the first place. There's too many groups fighting, and no one is in charge. It’s going to go on forever, elections or no elections."

"Especially if the elections keep getting disrupted."

"Like what happened in Amargo? That guy Strecker takes no prisoners."

Will had been blowing steam off his coffee and now his head snapped up. "Strecker? Did I hear you right?"

"Guy's a total sadist. One of the drug lords brought him in from God knows where to oversee a supposedly free election. Strecker had some of the opposition candidate’s campaign workers kidnapped the night before the voting and strung them up on the plaza. Next morning, the drug lord won in a landslide. Big surprise."

"I know about Strecker's methods," Will said. "My family's been looking for him for a long time." He looked at Harley. "We need to talk about this."

Harley nodded, but indicated with a motion of his hand that they would say no more for now. He got to his feet and stretched. "Miss Ellie Mae, we thank you for your hospitality. But it's time we were back on the road."

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Alice Audrey said...

Interesting how the story is weaving around itself. Wish I had more time to read today.

Ann (bunnygirl) said...

Yeah, you stopped just one post short of finishing Book One.

Alice Audrey said...

I did?! Gah! Off to the next post!