Saturday, July 28, 2007

Fifty Two

They mounted their horses, the food and strong coffee having barely taken the edge off their exhaustion. Even restless Coyote sagged over his reins as they made their leave and headed toward the mesas.

"So what exactly did Bonham say?" Boeing asked, once they were beyond earshot of the Lone Star camp.

"He tried to make something of it, as we figured he would. I doubt he really gave a damn what happened to his mavericks, but you men gave him an opening, and he was going to try and take it. That's why unless you've got orders, you don't go executing folks without a trial, and you sure as hell don't mutilate the bodies. Right outcome doesn't justify wrong method."

"You've told us that already," Coyote pointed out. "And like we said—

"Enough. I'm too tired to rehash all that. As far as I'm concerned, it's over and forgotten. But if you go pulling something like that again, I don't care what your reasons, you better not plan on coming back to my camp."

"We know," Boeing said irritably.

Aguilero, who had been bringing up the rear, moved closer. "So what happens now? Did we get a promise out of Bonham, or are we going to have to go through this every time they decide they don't want to impose discipline on their people?"

"We got a promise," Harley said. "I wish I could say I had confidence he'll follow through, but I'll pass the word up the chain of command and make sure the subject of mavericks gets taken up when the truce gets renegotiated."

"When will that be?"

"Soon, I hope."

"In other words, you don't know."

"Until we get our upper command structure reconfigured, I don't know much of anything."

They plodded on in silence. It was a sunny morning, but the wind was fierce, blowing dust and dry brush. They pulled kerchiefs across their faces and lowered their hat brims, anxious to reach the shelter of the mesas, where they would lose the direct force of the wind in the twists and turns of the passes.

They were nearing a fork in the trail when they heard pounding hooves. As one they turned to Coyote, who returned their questioning looks with panicked eyes. "You can't expect me to know everything!" Cursing, they wheeled their horses and drew their guns as a group of soldiers galloped toward them across the scrub.

The riders were closing fast and the men had already taken aim when the leader raised a hand and let out a whoop. It was a female voice. The men didn't lower their weapons, but their shoulders relaxed. Lone Star women could be deadly, but they weren't known for treachery. "Hold your fire, boys!" the rider called, with another whoop and a wave of her arm.

"Ellie Mae," Harley muttered. "I wonder what she wants?"

"Maybe she likes you," Will offered. "I told Mother to be nice or she'd lose you to a younger woman."

Ellie Mae, flanked by two lieutenants, swooped into their midst with guns safely holstered. She looked at their drawn weapons. "Put your toys away, boys. We ain't got no quarrel with y'all." She trotted her horse in a circle around them, then stopped in front of Harley as the rest of her riders arrived and lined up in a half-moon behind her.

"To what do we owe the honor?" Harley asked.

Ellie Mae turned to one of her lieutenants and then to Jane, who was trying to steady her skittish mount with her good hand. Then she raised her chin and met Harley’s eyes. "Me and my gals had a little talk about y'all, and we want you to know as a matter of record that we think what Bonham did was wrong. We told him months ago those mavericks was nothing but trouble and should be strung up."

"Damn right," one of the women muttered.

"We feel bad we didn't take matters into our own hands. We should’ve stood by our principles and insisted Bonham follow regulations. What happened to your girls was partly our fault." By now some of the women had bowed their heads, as if they were in church. "Saying we're sorry ain't going to fix nothing." Ellie Mae took a deep breath. "But we owe you. We want you to know that if any of you is ever in a tight spot and we can help. . ."

"Thank you, Miss Ellie Mae," Harley said. "But I'm sure that won't be necessary."

"This is about our honor," she said, straightening in the saddle. "If there's ever a chance we can make it up to you—"

"How about you convince your people to end this stupid war?" Coyote blurted out.

"Be reasonable," Ellie Mae sighed. "Together, we can keep out the United States and Mexico indefinitely. Besides, you'd like being a Texan."

"If I wanted to be a Texan, I'd move there."

Harley waved a hand for silence. "Enough. This isn't the time or place to talk politics."

"That's right," Ellie Mae agreed. "We're here to make you a sincere offer, one that ain't got nothing to do with politics. Our offer stands, no matter what."

"Thank you, Miss Ellie Mae," Harley said again.

"Well." Ellie Mae looked at her women. "I think that was it, wasn't it?"

Jane spurred her horse forward. "Just the coffee." With a shy smile, she handed Will a cloth bag of freshly ground beans. "You're a real good shot," she said. "And a good medic, too." She touched her hat brim and rejoined the group.

"Have a safe trip, gentlemen.” Ellie Mae pulled off her hat and waved it in farewell. Her ladies did the same. Then they kicked their horses' flanks and trotted off in a cloud of desert dust.

The men watched them in bemusement. "That was totally unexpected."

"Who'd have thought?"

"Looks like we got our very own Guardian Rangers."

"How come I didn't manage to get laid out of this deal?"

"Shut up, Boeing."

"You can have some of my coffee, if it will make you feel any better."

"I told you Jane liked you."

"Right." Will tried to fit the coffee into this saddle bag. "Anyone else want to give me a hard time about it?" He looked at Harley. "How far to our next camp?"

Harley looked up at the sky, gauging the position of the sun. "If we hurry, we can make camp part way up these mesas and take a siesta. And my maps show a camping spot that we should be able to make by sunset."

"When will we be back at the mines?"

"If we keep talking like this, never."



Alice Audrey said...

Ah, so it's the coffee. I've been waiting to see what nice thing they got out of the whole thing. I assume the offer of support will come up in book two.

Ann (bunnygirl) said...

Regarding the coffee, yes, although Boeing would've rather gotten laid.

Regarding the offer of support, you're completely right.

Alice Audrey said...

LOL, yeah I got that about Boeing