“Son of Somebody”
By Jan Lucas
With Penny McQueen
Stepping to the ranch-house porch, John Cannon looked past his front gate. Burning piles of dead cattle winked red as smoke danced across the valley. Ocotillo rattled in evening wind, dust-devils kicked and swirled. Empty water-ollas suspended from cross-beams counted the days before defaulted loans and a lost legacy. Two months into the rainy season and no break in sight. That damn fool dowser was a waste of time and money, Jeff Patterson’s got more grudges than water and he’s going to by-God keep both. Still rather deal with him than Don Sebastian. He’d cheat his blind grandmother if he had one, should’ve known I wouldn’t win with that old bandit.
Hair and beard neatly trimmed, clothes immaculate, the Lion of Sonora had welcomed John with warm expansiveness. “My old friend! Mi casa, su casa!” John took the proffered glass of wine, thinking no, I’m not in my house. I’m definitely in yours and I’m going to regret this.
Impatient, John listened while Montoya discussed children and grandchildren. “Que milagro! To think, I had given up on Manolito ever providing heirs. How I counted on you and Victoria for grandchildren! And what happens? Manolito presents me with a legitimate child and already has another on the way. While you and my daughter...” Seated in an overstuffed, brocade chair, he sighed dramatically as Pepé refilled his goblet. “My dear son-in-law, would you care for more wine?”
Not really. A stout rope for my neck will do. “Thank you, Don Sebastian. You are a most courteous host.”
“And you are a most welcome guest, as always.” Montoya frowned. “But you have not come to discuss my beautiful granddaughter. Why do I have the pleasure of your company?”
John watched Don Sebastian’s shrewd eyes as he explained. Shaking his head, the old man replied, “What a pity poor Victoria is subjected to such unpleasantness. It fills me with sorrow to refuse you in your hour of need, but I cannot let my love for her influence business decisions.”
“What is it you want? I’m already offering a mortgage on the ranch and a percentage of cattle sales.”
“The mortgage is only good if you fail and a percentage of cattle sales is a pittance given the poor quality of High Chaparral beef.” Don Sebastian stood, pinching the bridge of his nose. He closed his eyes, then gazed benevolently at his son-in-law. “I was thinking more of a gift.”
“Sí, a gift. Your south range would do nicely.”
“But that’s my best graze!”
“Why so it is.” Montoya’s eyes widened and his brows reached toward his hairline.
Calling his father-in-law a “greedy cattle-thief,” John swore he’d start over before giving the Lion of Sonora an inch of the High Chaparral. Staring across his parched land, starting over looked like a sure bet.
Thinking he’d never smell anything but the stench of dead cows, Buck slung his saddle on the rail. He watched Blue slide to the ground and slump against a post. Listening to his nephew snore, he nudged Manolito’s ribs. “Pore boy’s wore out.”
“He is not alone, amigo mio.” Mano rolled knotted shoulders and jerked his chin toward the ranch-house. Half in shadow, John walked the porch, stopping when Victoria glided outside. She touched his arm; he nodded and they trudged toward the door. As it closed behind them, Buck shook his head.
“Much longer and he ain’t gonna have a pot or a window to throw it out of. Oughta be something we can do.” He scrubbed a black-gloved hand across his face and spat in the dust. “Hey, Mano? Patterson’s looking to sell his place, ain’t he?”
“Not to John, compadre. To John, he will not even lease water.”
“Yeah, but I been thinking mebbe if we…” Buck poked a finger at Mano, then sagged. “Naw, I ain’t got any good ideas. You?”
“Sí, one.” A muscle in his jaw jumped as Manolito tilted his head and looked at the sky. “It does not include you.”
“What kinda frijole-brained plan you got in mind?”
“One that will work.” Smiling, he put a palm to his chest and bowed. “Compadre, I have the irresistible desire to be a fine young caballero.” He swung over the rail, tipped his hat and sauntered to the house, Buck squinting at his back.
“Ain’t gonna happen, ay-meego. Not this time,” Buck muttered, dropping a hand to his nephew’s shoulder.
Blue snorted awake. “What ain’t?”
“He’s talking about moving home to his daddy, Blue.”
“Moving home?” He scrambled to his feet, fists clenched. “Pa needs every man here! Manolito can’t run out on him!”
“Settle down. You knowed Mano don’t do nothing without good reason,” he said softly, studying the ranch-house. “You got any idea how many times he’s took the short stick instead of me, rode off instead of me, almost got hisself kilt instead of me? I done lost count and a friend that donkey-dumb don’t come around real often.”
“Don’t see how you can stop him from going, Uncle Buck.”
“Sure I can. All we need is another way to save ole John’s ranch.” He leaned his forehead in his hands, then jerked up, whooped and swatted Blue’s hat. “I got it! A-patch is Injuns! What’s Injuns good at, Blue? Rain-dance, that’s what.” Grinning, he draped an arm around his nephew’s neck. Blue tapped his hat in place and glared.
“Apaches don’t know rain-dances any better than you know about camels or Arizona’d look like Virginia.” Struggling when Buck trapped him in a hammerlock and wheeled him toward the barn, he yelped, “Hey, what’s the big idea? You let me go, I ain’t joking.”
“Nephew, I knowed a lot about camels and more about Injuns. Now saddle Soapy so you can see the big idea your own self.”
Seated near the fireplace with his wife’s slender hand on his, John eyed his brother-in-law’s somber face. “Well, Mano? What’s your problem?”
“No problem, John. A solution,” he replied, perching on an end-table.
“Oh? What might that be?”
Gaze locked on John, hands clasped, he leaned forward. “You were unsuccessful when you spoke with Papá because all he wants is Chaparral.”
Cannon opened his mouth, but Victoria spoke first, “You cannot mean my husband should have done as Papá wanted. A mortgage is one thing, but giving him part of the ranch? Madre mia!”
“Calma, mi hermana, calma. I have a plan. No risk to John or Chaparral.” He raised his eyebrows and announced. “I have something Papá wants more than land.”
“Mano, I’m sorry but I can’t imagine what you have that he wants,” John observed bluntly. Victoria glanced at her brother.
Manolito laughed. “You do not know? He wants me at Hacienda Montoya.” He flashed a smile at his sister’s pinched forehead and pursed lips. “Victoria, por favor. Do not look at me in that tone of voice. It is my offer to make.”
“Well, I can’t say I’m not grateful, but burn too much daylight and it’s a fool’s errand,” John said, jaw tight. Manolito nodded once and stood.
“Men! Can you not wait one minute more?” Victoria jumped to her feet, frowning at Mano. “Are you certain there is nothing else?”
“I am certain,” he answered. He squeezed John’s shoulder and stepped to Victoria, took her hand in his and kissed her cheek. Eyes pleading, she grasped his arm.
“Manolo, with all my heart I want you to take your place at Hacienda Montoya, but never have you wanted it. Please do not do this.”
Wrapping his arms around her, he answered, “Remember what was, hermanita mia. If not for you, for John and for this rancho, would I be alive today?”
Tears in her eyes, she whispered, “Vaya con Dios, my brother.”
“Always, my sister.” He winked. “In the lion’s den, best to be Daniel, sí?”
After swinging daughter Lina into the high-chair with a “Wheee!”, Pilar Montoya grabbed a cleaver, chopped tomatillos and tossed them in the skillet. She brushed her sweaty forehead with a hand before slinging flank-steaks on the cutting-board. What a shame to eat the oldest cow in America. People would have paid to see her. The meat sizzled in hot oil. Hasta luego, abuela vieja.
A cross-breeze drifting through the bank of French doors brought little relief from the heat. Four months pregnant, Pilar lifted the hem of her shift and fanned herself. The thin cotton clung to her body like wet wrapping-paper as she dropped peppers and onions in the pot, singing to Lina. Nursery-songs segued into love-songs as she crushed pungent cilantro, hips swaying with the mortar’s rolling strokes.
Rich aromas led Manolito to the cocina. Dropping his gloves on the table, he circled Pilar with his arms and gave her a long, hungry kiss. Hands sliding around his waist, she inhaled deeply. “Mmm. You smell like gunpowder, leather, horses, sweat and dust. Like a man. Like my man.”
“Fortunately, your fragrance is sweeter.” Fishing a piece of meat from the skillet, he popped it in his mouth, sighed and moved the skillet from the flame. “This must wait.” He cradled her face in his hands, tracing her lips with his finger. “You are a feast for the senses, mi amada, but you also must wait. I ride tonight for the house of my father.”
“When will you come back?”
“¿Quien sabe? Soon or John loses the rancho.” Mano scooped meat into a tortilla, swallowed a few bites and picked Lina up. Closing his eyes and stroking her soft curls, he held her for a moment, then returned her to the high-chair with a kiss. He surveyed the cramped room as he turned to Pilar. “Querida mia, at Rancho Montoya, I shall build you the magnificent home you deserve,” he declared, touching her cheek. “Someday, I promise. Anywhere you like.”
What about California? “My love, any home with you is a mansion.” Intense eyes searching his, she added, “What about you, Manito? Can you be happy there?”
The angles of his face sharp in light from cook-fire and candles, he answered, “I will learn, muchacha. I will learn.”
Don’t let nobody argue Mano ain’t crafty as his daddy. First time me and John met Don Sebastian, he invitated us to dinner and a firing squad at the same time. Mano done just as good by Big John, covered him with that old flintlock he used to favor, stole his horse and thanked him, all in the same breath.
So I knowed Mano is the for-real son of his pa. But sure as sure, you couldn’t never tell which one’d land on top and it don’t hurt to tip the house odds. Blue weren’t convinced, but he mounted up, grinning big as daylight. “It’s the most tom-fool idea you’ve come up with yet, but the only thing worse than you and Manolito cooking up some hare-brained scheme is you by yourself. I don’t come along, you’ll come home with an elephant.”
“Ain’t nothing fool about it.” I slapped the brim of his hat and laughed, “You been in this Godforsook land so long, you think water don’t come from nowhere but holes in the ground.” For once, I was the one yelled, “Yeehaw!” and headed out the Chaparral gate for Horsehead Canyon.
That canyon’s a snake’s maze of trails and switchbacks, got deep arroyos and valleys that’d hide a whole regiment of blue-bellies. Just past them twin pillars at the mouth, Chief Koso tucked away his A-patch band. Hardscrabble old braves, squaws, and younguns, they kept alive by thinning Brother John’s herd, or caging food offen Indian agents.
Me and Blue was halfway in when I spotted ole Kaitah’s gray head behind the boulders. Iffen I was Chief Koso, I’d had me a sentry weren’t deef. Old or not, it ain’t healthy to surprise no A-patch, so I tossed a handful of rocks, let him know we was in the neighborhood. He didn’t look so old when he come at us with that dirty rifle. A-patch never clean their guns, but they’s born knowing how to shoot real good.
Angry old Indian in front, Blue griped behind me, “Looks like he’d be happier to see us, all the beef Pa’s given ‘em since the drought got bad. I knew we shoulda brought more grub.” We lifted our hands higher and marched up the trail when Kaitah snarled and waved his Winchester. “Uncle Buck, maybe they’re eating so good, they don’t want rain. You think of that?”
“Blue, you oughta have a little more faith in your uncle.” Ahead I saw the camp, squaws lining up for the show, and Koso outside his tent, ready to meet the White Eyes. I checked my hat band and vest pocket. Empty. Betting my nephew had himself a stash, I asked, “How much money you got?”
The stark borderlands between High Chaparral and Rancho Montoya harbored dangerous men – Apaches, comancheros, rurales and jealous husbands. By midmorning, only boredom and relentless sun pursued Manolito. The dangerous men this trip were him and the one at trail’s end.
Wiping grit from his eyes and nose, he squinted into heat waves rising from the valley floor and shook his water-bags. One full, the other empty. Dismounting, he poured water into his hat for the horse, then led on foot toward a seep in the mountains. Walking made slow miles and the seep was dry. Ground-tying the sorrel in the meager shade of a spindly cottonwood, Mano slouched against the trunk. He swallowed a can of tomatoes and pulled his hat-brim over his eyes. Montoya land would be there when the sun drew lower. He waited.
Late afternoon was the devil’s furnace as he rode familiar short-cuts through jagged mountains to the river and deep holes of cool water in a grassy valley. When Macadoo was nose-down in good graze, Manolito took off his boots, left his gunbelt, gloves and jacket on the bank and walked into the water.
While the horse cropped, he dug a hole to obscure his cookfire from unwelcome eyes and laid wood at the bottom. When the fire burned low, he tossed beans, bacon and chilies in the skillet, then poured coffee into a battered tin cup. Taking a drink, he looked to Heaven.
Stars littered the sky like hot, distant coals. An owl’s call said ghosts walk like living men, bad dreams come. Water splashed on rocks and the horse’s hooves whispered through tall grass. Finished with supper, Mano washed his plate with river-water and sand until it shone. With his teeth he jerked the cork from a bottle of tequila and took one long pull before slapping the cork in place, setting the bottle aside and easing himself to his bedroll. Pistola held against his chest, he pulled the rough wool blanket to his chin and closed his eyes.
In the twilight of consciousness when sleep first took hold, his dream merged with sounds of desert and river. Gentle wind became dying Mercedes, murmuring about children they would never have. Branches scraped across stone and Anita Santiago mocked, “Your father may be the Lion of Sonora, but you are the Rooster.” A coyote’s mournful yips were his own voice asking Maria de la Peña to stay and learn to love him. In a kestrel’s screech, Perlita Flores accused him of only liking her looks through the bottom of an empty glass. Skirts swishing to the sound of rushing water, his sister wagged a finger at him and huffed, “You are the image of your father, but he had sense enough to put down roots.”
“Roots? A tree has roots, a man has legs,” he answered as she grasped his arm, propelling him to Casa Montoya. Through the cavernous passages, his mother sang of Señora Santa Ana, watching over little niños from an open window in Heaven. Turning, he looked into a maid-servant’s sly eyes.
She gestured lewdly. “You don’t know nothing except you like what you see, eh? How many years you got, twelve? Thirteen?” Paralyzed, he nodded and felt searching hands. “Come here, little muchacho. Your father is a very rich man, sí?” Heart pounding, he blinked and was alone in yawning darkness. Don Sebastian’s voice thundered off barren walls, “Manolito you are a drunk, a villain, and a disgrace to the name of Montoya.”
Bracing himself, he bowed his head. Votives flickered as he knelt at an altar draped in fine linen, laden with silver. Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned.
“What are you, Don Sebastian? Eh? Old bandido! I am but the son of my father!” The silver melted in time to tinkling keys of a bordello piano. Running down a winding hallway, he breathed air sticky with sweat, opium, liquor and perfume. Salacious hands groped and hungry lips opened wide. Nameless girls begged him to use them. “I have exotic tastes,” he said and they promised to satisfy. Raising a glass to sweet decadence, he drained it. The piano played feverishly, his own voice louder. “A truly good girl would not give in and the other kind, hombre, they get what they deserve… I love you, marry me … I always propose to a woman before I make love to her, it is the polite thing to do… she mistook my fond friendship for something more permanent… marry me, you are the fairest flower…I drink to make you more beautiful, chiquita…Sí, I believe a good woman can save me, also. Let me show you how…”
“My stupid son. For a boy it is one thing, but you are a man.”
“But Papá, I am so good at it.” He laughed and burning lances of a thousand demons pierced his skin. Clawing at them, he screamed until Pilar’s caressing hands took away the pain. He buried his face in her silky black hair and whispered, “Am I damned for disappointing my father, querida mia?”
“Oh, my poor Manito, no. Come with me.” Smiling, she led toward an open doorway. Beyond it Birdette Breaux sat at a rough table, shuffling an oversized deck. Eyes like chunks of coal, she turned a card and slid it across the table. “The Hanged Man.” Her fingernail tapped the image of a medieval figure bound to a rude cross by one ankle. “For Yoruba peoples, cross mean creation, because Mawu Lisa go to four corners of the sky when she make the world. This man hang between heaven and hell, him. He understand both. You understand me?”
In his dream, he answered, “Never.” He touched the figure’s peaceful face. “But this hombre. Sí, I understand him.”
The same cross stood in the Apache camp and Manolito hung from it head-down. Warriors galloped toward him, their cracking whips cut his flesh like bayonets. The medicine man spun his shrieking prayer-wheel; Mano blinked and saw Padre Sanchez gently swinging a censer. Incense fused with smoke from Apache fires. Gritting his teeth against the lash, he heard the priest recite, “I chastise my body and bring it into subjection.” The whip sang out and sweet incense filled his lungs. He heard Sanchez intone, “For if you live according to the flesh, you shall die: but if by the Spirit you mortify the deeds of the flesh, you shall live.”
Wind dried his blood as it ran. Smelling of copper, it seemed to flow from another man’s wounds. Delirious, he reached for the sun and touched the rawhide strap around little Olive’s neck. Cutting it loose, he held her in the scorching heat. Her tears stung like acid, the rawhide dropped from his hand and looking up, he saw St. Ann smile.
Madre de Dios, ants. In the nightmare they were demons. Come morning, only ants. I woke scratching the bites and my bedroll looked like a large herd of vacas stampeded across it. Ay-yi-yi, maybe a hoof landed on my head.
Don Sebastian de Montoya was no saint. Much as I admired the old lion, only in a dream would I confuse Our Father in Heaven with my father in Sonora. They both expected much of me, but Papá was more difficult to please.
Near his lair, I found a tree where as a small boy I carved my initials. I learned to survive in his world. But not since I was a little muchacho carving on trees did I want it.
Like it was yesterday, I saw myself at Casa Montoya’s formal dining table. Small for my age, taking great care with my breakfast. Relentlessly drilled on the confusing array of silverware in front of me, a dull ache filled my stomach, but I sat very straight, feet flat and hands properly placed. Papá spoke of a brilliant cattle-deal while watching me. I believed he was pleased. Over-confident, I used the wrong fork. From the corner of my eye, I saw him frown. The dull ache became like a strong hand twisting inside. I clenched the knife too hard. It squirted across the floor and Papá snorted. “Mi hijo, improve your manners or you will be dining with the pigs when the de la Vega family visits next month.”
I hoped he was joking. Hombre, acceptable playmates were in short supply at Hacienda Montoya. Even though she was only a girl, Mercedes de la Vega could climb trees and I liked her. But no longer did I look forward to seeing her. I would be with the pigs, she would make fun of me, no longer be my friend.
Later trapped at the desk in my room, I thought pigs an improvement over my tutor. When he spoke, fetid breath fouled my air. “When I return, we shall have our test on comportment, then on to Paradise Lost.” Eyebrows like mating caterpillars, he clapped pudgy hands on his hips. “If the stick does not mend your ways, perhaps Milton will.” Wrong! I was rooting for Satan, he looked like my Tío Domingo. “I will not be so tolerant next time, young man.” His dewlaps shook as he waddled through the doorway in a cloud of bay-rum and sweat.
“Sí, Señor Baca.” Head bowed like a devout alter-boy, I heard him lock me in. I bit my lip until I could no longer hear his footsteps. Then I laughed. Hombre, a dead rattlesnake on the floor can make a fat man scream like a girl. The best part of a miserable day, but amusement had a price. Sitting was most uncomfortable; standing up was paradise found.
I shuffled across the floor, spinning a toy soldier through my fingers. All morning, Señor Baca droned about things having nothing to do with becoming the greatest matador in the world. Madre mia, I was ten years old, what good was the language of the fan?
Outside I heard shouting and laughter. Boys from Casa Cueva headed home from the fields, all practicing to be the greatest matador in the world. Shirts became capes, amigos were charging bulls with fingers for horns. The corrida de toros was broken by wrestling matches until all of them were filthy. I was not allowed to play with them. In my blue velvet suit and lacy shirt, I watched the fun and blew my nose on a starched cuff, trying to catch my breath.
Leaning against the casement, I thought of Papá occupied with important business, Mamá giving Victoria a sewing lesson and Baca, out of the room. By the time I shucked my jacket and backed out the window, my eyes were dry and there was a grin on my face. From the ledge to a paloverde limb, to the ground and out the gate, I ran down the mountainside. The boys from the village were gone. Debating, I looked from the grand house to cottonwoods by the river. The river won.
It flowed through Montoya land, but belonged to nobody. I decided to be like the river – free. No longer lonely and no longer a fine young caballero fettered with rules. Mamá could have another little niño more to my father’s liking, but so they would not forget me, I carved my initials on a trunk. Skipping stones, I thought of living off rabbits and rattlesnakes, going when and where I wanted. Perhaps one day to return, the savior of México – México always needs saving. Dressed in hides, big knife in my belt and rifle over my shoulder, I would ride bareback like an Apache, my many friends beside me. We would laugh loud and often. At the huge fiesta in my honor, I would eat raw beef with my bare hands. Papá would not care, so great would be his love for me.
Night fell unnoticed. Primero, swatting gnats kept me busy. Segundo, cold wind rattled my teeth. Lights flickered at Casa Montoya as I shivered in the dark. While my family dined beside a cozy fire, I ate a stringy lizard and made my bed on the ground. Hombre, something about it felt good and I slept deep.
Hoofbeats on rocks jolted me awake. Leaping to my feet, back against a tree, I watched the Lion of Sonora dismount. ¡Ay, Chihuahua! Strong, built like an oak stump, hair and beard black as the stallion he rode. Silver trim on his saddle and bridle glinted in the moonlight, spurs jingled with powerful steps. When I saw his hand on his pistol-grip, I hoped it would be quick.
“Your Mamá is very worried, Manito. You made her cry. What kind of boy do you suppose makes his mother cry?”
First torture, then death. Fair enough. I tried not to blink. “A bad one, Papá. I am sorry.”
He lifted my chin with his hand and studied me, then ruffled my hair. “No, Manos. Not bad. Only restless, bored with lessons, eh? Perhaps now is the time to ride with your father, learn the duties of a patrón.” I thought it was a trick until he mounted and gave me his hand. I took it and he swung me behind him. The stallion galloped for home as I held on to my father, my spirit high as the stars.
Over twenty years later on the last leg to Hacienda Montoya, I was not as proud as that night or days after, riding beside my important father. But I was pretty happy. I had a clean shirt, fresh shave and a good plan. Of course, I would lie to Papá, but he would tell me lies and mine were for a good cause. Without Chaparral, I would only have a magnificent head-stone. Better to share John Cannon’s dream, be alive, have a home, a beautiful woman to love and to love me, friends. Mi compañero Buck, like part of me. ¡Ay, Chihuahua¡ Sometimes he saves your life with twigs, guitar-strings and dynamite, sometimes goes to buy a mule and returns with a camel. Madre de Dios, I remembered one time in Nogales, threw my head back and laughed out loud.
Big brother John called Chief Koso a hungry faker, but even a hungry Injun got pride. Me and Blue spent the rest of the day smoking pipe with the Chief. A cowpuncher’s legs ain’t meant to be folded around a campfire, so mine was ready to break when Kaitah brought over some stoppered gourds.
Mano can brag about fruit of the cactus all he wants, A-patch fire-water smells like turpentine and tastes like kerosene. I’ve drunk whisky cut with chewed tobacco, coal oil, boiled sawdust and rabbit droppings, but I ain’t never drunk nothing bad as tiswin. Trouble was, unless we was sociable, I wasn’t getting no rain dance. I drunk enough to clean behind my eyeballs and handed the gourd to Blue.
“Uncle Buck, I don’t even like whisky and this stuff tastes like rat spit. My head’s ready to bust open.” Blue lost his company manners about the fourth drink. “I been saving for six months to buy Becca a birthday present and I ain’t about to give five of my best steers to some rag-tag, flea-bitten bunch of…” He shut up when I clamped my hand over his mouth, but not quick enough. That old bird Kaitah was on his feet and headed for us.
Good thing for Blue’s scalp I can talk fast. Hand on my nephew, I told Koso how we needed rain and how Blue was just the man to pay him for a sacred rain dance. Blue’s a good boy, even if he got a streak of Big John in him. He settled down, swallowed tiswin, and we commenced to watch.
Them A-patch dancers howled like coyotes, sweat dripping into the sand from their painted hair, eyes like fire behind black masks. Their medicine man looked like bones from head to foot, and when he spun that prayer wheel, the high-pitched whine went through my head like a bullet. Six years I heered that wheel spin in nightmares. Six years of Injun dancers, whips cracking and lost little girls.
“Hey, Uncle Buck, you getting sick on tiswin?”
“Naw, Blue. I feel real good,” I said, not about to tell him I weren’t having the time of my life. I found my hat and put it on backwards for good luck. Koso’s bunch was dancing up our rain, and I knowed the Allmighty made me a drinking man for a reason. If being politer meant drinking up all the tiswin in camp, I’d do it for High Chaparral and mi amigo Manolito.
Weeks before Apache warriors danced in dying campfire’s glow, gaslights burned at a rococo plantation-house near New Orleans. From the third-floor library, conversation rang through cypress-planked hallways and into humid night.
Burnished Italian boots propped on the desk and wavy silver hair past his shoulders, Fernando Hidalgo tilted back in his chair. His right arm and eye were taken by the Union army; shirt and eye-patch tailored in Barcelona. He swallowed the last drop of chicory-laced café-au-lait, set the cup down and picked up the letter. While Georges Metoyer looked over his shoulder, Hidalgo read.
It is hot enough to singe the hide off a brass monkey, but I never lack entertainment -- recently, questions from the Bishop about the validity of my marriage. Some nonsense about circumventing Church protocols. Whether awful mistake or some vindictive four-flusher, I ended it pronto.
My word, some girls pray for annulments, but I would rather javalinas rip me to shreds. However, I wish Don Sebastian was not such a meddlesome biddy. “Quiet, womanly pursuit”. Fiddlesticks! His last letter made it sound as if I play violin in a bawdy-house or gamble for more than pin-money. Shame on him, but for now I avoid El Toro Loco. Too bad there is no place to play poker on the q.t. -- the mission-school counted on a cut of my winnings. When I think of the dear Sisters and the poor Papago children who may never become literate Catholics, I could just sit down and cry…
Gently dropping his daughter’s letter on the glossy desktop, Hidalgo looked heavenward and tapped Metoyer’s sinewy arm. “Geo, do you imagine her making a list? Plucky optimism. Prick that feckless dog Manolo Montoya and I bleed. Death by smallish feral swine. Poor illiterate children. She damn well knows I was behind the Bishop’s inquiries.”
“When are we leaving?” Amusement crinkled Georges Metoyer’s eyes as he reached for a teak box.
“¡Ay, children! When they are young, they feed from the mother and when they are grown, from the father.” He shrugged. “Tell your wife we leave shortly. We may need time to visit the Sonoran aristocracy.” Hidalgo pinched the bridge of his thin nose and exhaled loudly. “Load a donkey with gold, it is still a donkey.”
“Cigar?” Metoyer opened the box and Hidalgo waved him away. Diamond horse-shoe ring flashing, Metoyer extracted one for himself and snapped the box shut. “Worst bite I ever had was from a donkey. It kicked, too.” Leaning against the desk, he lit the cigar and puffed.
“Are you trying to make some kind of point?”
“With you? After sixty years, why would I be foolish now?” He pointed at Hidalgo with the cigar. “Young Montoya. I believe his heart is good.”
“My dear friend, his heart is not the organ which concerns me.” With a manicured left hand, he lifted a model ship from the desk and studied it. “In what condition is the Catalina Valiente these days?”
“Still the fittest paddle-wheeler on the Colorado. Why? Planning to keel-haul our friend Don Sebastian?”
“Come now! That was never my style.” He set the model down with a flourish and winked. “With such a treasured associate, I prefer gentle persuasion. If that fails, then we shoot him.”
The fine linen paper sported a crest of serpent, crescent and clarion. Don Sebastian Montoya ran a finger over the motto, then flicked his hand as if shooing flies. “Nemo me impune lacessit. ‘No one provokes me with impunity’. Bah! We shall see about that.”
My Dear Sebastian,
Our friendship does not entitle you to give my daughter orders. Pilar’s poker winnings support the less fortunate and supply her with funds to protect against your son’s irresponsible character. You will not compel her to abandon cards, public violin concerts or anything else to keep peace with you.
In short, if Pilar dances naked down the main street of Tucson, all you need do is avert your eyes like a gentleman.
You are a practical man, so think of her not as the wife of your wastrel son, but as an expensive broodmare like you see in better herds than yours. Pamper such mares and they produce superior foals. Superior grandchildren are preferable to a new generation of Montoyas bred to stare at bovine posteriors, therefore I expect your cooperation.
Regarding your complaint of insufficient dowry, I contacted my dear friend His Holiness Leo XIII and was pleased with his prompt reply. If you are in need of horses, buy some.
With Deepest Sincerity,
Fernando Rafael Hidalgo Vargas Aritza Ortiz
Mano urged Macadoo up the mountain to Casa Montoya, at his back a thousand-foot wall of dust driven by a fierce thunderstorm. Vertical rain and hail lashed ten square miles of Sonora, turning arroyos into wild rivers and burying trails in sliding mud. In half an hour it was over and the sun shone, but Mano shivered in whipping wind.
Pants splotched with drying mud and hat pulled low, he rode into the heavily-guarded courtyard past precisely spaced shrubs and a garden pruned into submission. Dismounting, he threw his reins to a sentry and opened the massive front door.
Amidst fine brocade draperies, Persian carpets and tall crystal candelabra, Mano adjusted his bandanna while buffing his boots on pants-legs. He cleared his throat as Don Sebastian Montoya descended the staircase like the king of a substantial castle. Attired in a heavily-embroidered lavender suit, the Lion of Sonora held fast to his cane, tapping it peevishly when he stopped at the landing and glared. “Mano, you are filthy.”
“Hola, Papá. Good to see you, too.” He slumped into a leather chair, crossed a boot over his knee and began ponderously unbuckling his spur. Grabbing the caked rowel, he pulled spur from boot, then boot from foot. “You are well, I trust?”
“Yes and how kind of you to come such a great distance and soil my floor to inquire about my health.” Don Sebastian continued down the stairs. “Or was that merely a pleasantry before pleading for my assistance with John Cannon’s cattle?”
“Victoria sends her love, Pilar also. And yes, there is business to discuss.” Dripping water from his hair ran down his neck as Manolito released the other spur and shucked his boot. The tip of his father’s cane prodded his knee.
“Your business, not mine, I am sure. A fitting time for respect, yet you enter my home a mud-encrusted saddle-tramp. Why is that, do you suppose?”
Brushing away the cane, he slid off wet socks and wiggled his toes before heaving his feet on a hassock. “Padre mio, I traveled very fast with little rest. Dust, sand, rattle-snakes, hot sun. Then more dust and the first rain I have seen in one hundred years, which makes for mud.”
“Ah, I see. How fortunate I have you to explain these things. Dust, water, mud. Remarkable.”
Shaking his head, he watched the old man clean his cane by grinding it into a discarded sock. Satisfied, Don Sebastian sat stiffly, facing the fireplace. Mano addressed his profile. “Very dry in Arizona, Papá. No rain in the Territory for a very long time.”
“Manolito, both discussion of the weather and your business can wait. Neither is of concern to me. This is my concern.” He raised a hand. “I seem to be missing one of my gloves. My servants are unable to locate it. Make yourself useful, mi hijo. Remove the muck of your tedious journey, put on suitable clothing and find my glove.” he ordered with a sideways glance, clapping his hands sharply when Mano made no move to comply. “Why are you still sitting when there is something I need you to do?”
Put your chin any higher in the air, old lion, you will tip over backwards. Mano scratched his cheek and crossed his arms. “Because, Papá, I cannot imagine the appropriate clothing to look for a glove. I know the clothes of a vaquero, the clothes of a fine caballero, but the clothes of one hunting for a glove? Those I do not know.” Amusement in his eyes, he studied the elder Montoya. “Eh, purple gloves, Papá? Where do you even purchase such a thing?”
“They were specially tailored to match my suit. This should be apparent to you,” the hacendado declared. “Does it make you happy to prattle while my hand is cold?”
“No, sir,” he answered, chin dropped and eyes downcast. ¡Madre de Dios! A few minutes under the Lion’s paw, no longer am I Manolo Montoya, connoisseur of women and herder of cattle. Only a little niño slow to obey. Sighing in surrender, he rose heavily to his feet and muttered through clenched teeth as he trudged to the stairs, “Rest would make me happy, but that is apparently impossible.”
“What did you say?”
“That perhaps you should rest, Papá,” he called over his shoulder.
The old man cried out merrily, “A splendid idea, mi hijo! I have just returned from Hermosillo, a taxing excursion. Bring me a snifter of brandy. Also, my men left a trunk in the carriage. Collect it and take it to my room.”
Slowly, Manolito ran his fingers through his hair, then put his hand on the banister as dampness from his shirt sent a shiver down his back. “Can the trunk not wait? The rain is falling in sheets.”
“Which means now is the perfect time, since you are still wet.” He pressed his palms together. “Be careful of the trunk. It contains gifts for Victoria and I do not wish them water-logged.”
Rolling his eyes, Mano spat a silent curse and snapped, “All right. But when you wonder why I have not returned to Rancho Montoya, remember this conversation. This is why, Papá. Oh, yes! This is why.”
“But mi hijo, that makes no sense.” Don Sebastian examined his ruffled cuffs, spoke toward the fireplace. “It does not often rain like this in Sonora.”
Dust blew around the legs of John Cannon’s horse, whipping traces of grit into John’s eyes. Lips tight, he settled his hat. He listened to the scrape of shovels, glaring into the pit at sweat-streaked faces and flying sand.
Hooking a knee over his saddle-horn, Buck wiped his forehead and raised an eyebrow at his brother. “Dry as a widow’s heart, John. Rimrock’s played out and Snake Canyon won’t last much longer.” Squinting, he unwound his canteen, shook it, then replaced it without drinking. “You got yourself any better ideas?”
“Nope, and we’re beat here. Round up the men and head back to the ranch.”
Blue’s hair was gray with dust as he trotted toward them, shovel across his shoulder. “You want us to try the gully, Pa?” He took Buck’s offered canteen and gulped. “Look at them cottonwoods and sawgrass, willya? There’s water here, I know it.”
Face like carved granite, John answered, “Boy, you dig there, all you’re gonna do is break your back over a cup of mud. With this heat, it’ll be dry in an hour.”
“Well what are we supposed to do? Give up? Shoot all the cattle and send bones back east?”
“Easy, Blue Boy.” Buck swung his leg back in the stirrup. “We doing all we can.”
“No we ain’t Buck. Pa, why don’t we dig….”
“Dig for what, boy? We’ve sunk three dry holes.” John swung his horse around, spoke over his shoulder. “Load up the bracing and get the men home.” With a harsh “Haw!” he rode off, elbows stiff and back ramrod straight.
As his father galloped from sight, Blue chewed his lip and slapped his thigh with his hat, raising a puff of dust. “He don’t never listen to me. What about Laughlin Flats? Most worthless piece of land on Chaparral, and I found water.” Replacing his hat, he shoved a fist into his palm. “But he’s always gotta be right.”
Face sunburned and creased, Buck stared after his brother, seeing more than man, horse and desert. “Yore Pa got a lot on his mind, Blue.”
“That’s right, take up for him. Drag me on a wild goose chase to Koso’s camp where you get roostered-up on Apache oh-be-joyful. I woke up with my mouth on fire and my head caved in, you gave Koso all my money and now it’s Blue Boy don’t know anything. I guess that’s right, I’m just a dumb cowpoke. Dumb enough I let my uncle talk me into paying for an Apache rain-dance.”
“Blue, sometimes, a man’s smarter to let things lay.” Gathering the reins, he pushed forward. “Let’s get them boards loaded.”
Wearing a powder-blue suit trimmed in navy brocade, Don Sebastian took his place at the head of the long, rectangular table in Casa Montoya’s formal dining-room. On his left, Manolito sat with feet flat, hands in his lap, buttons on his fitted grey jacket polished and creases of his trousers dagger-sharp.
Eating with typical gusto, the older man peered at the younger. “Let me be certain I understand correctly. After years of refusing to accept your rightful responsibilities, you now wish to do this to keep the cattle of John Cannon alive.” He grunted, had a drink of wine. “If John’s cattle die, I will own the Chaparral. Why should I want to help him?”
“Loyalty to a friend, padre mio.” Mano forked a slice of beef and chewed carefully.
“Loyalty, bah! This is business,” he said, shaking his knife at his son. “John would sell to me for a fraction of the value.”
“Cut his own neck to give you a bargain? Wrong, Papá. John also is a businessman.”
“Unfortunately, not a successful one. Poor Victoria.” He sighed heavily. “But she is a grown woman. She chose to remain with him.” He shook his head, pushed away from the table and tapped his fingers together. “Mano, do you truly believe you are sufficient compensation for my assistance?”
“You have asked me many times to come back, have you not?”
“Sí. Perhaps you should have consented at one of those many times. Now, mi hijo, is a different time,” he said with a shrug. “Please visit when you wish to see healthy cattle.”
“Gracias, your affection warms my heart.” He touched a palm to his chest and glanced down. The hint of a smile played on his lips. It vanished before he looked into Don Sebastian’s eyes. “Maybe for the best, eh? Next time you visit Chaparral, come to El Toro Loco, watch my Pilar play cards.”
“She continues to disgrace the House of Montoya? This is not acceptable!”
“Mi culpa, padre mio. For you, she stopped, but she was so unhappy! How could Manolito Montoya allow a beautiful woman to be unhappy?”
“Allow it the same as always! What is one more?”
“One too many when I see her every day.” Tongue probing the inside of his cheek, he stalled, then continued with an expression of near-religious bliss on his face. “Hombre, cards in her hand, Lina on her lap, she looks like Our Lady of the Inside Straight.”
Don Sebastian rolled his eyes and snorted. “I suppose you are saying if you remain in Arizona, my granddaughter will spend her young life in cheap cantinas.”
Manolito shrugged and took a sip of wine, rolling it in his mouth before swallowing. “Tucson is far from here, Papá.”
“Sí and this is blackmail,” he answered, considering his son while a white-clad servant collected dinner-dishes. “Always to my disappointment, you have refused to return. Now you wish to do so because you are loyal to your friends, an unfortunate habit you did not get from me.” He tapped his fingertips on the tabletop. “All right. But you will not live under my roof and drag the name of Montoya through the dirt. Give me your word.”
Unblinking, he answered softly, “I promise you, Papá. I will be the man I was raised to be.”
Blue Boy may not look much like my big brother, but he sure enough acts like him. After John rode off, Blue started tossing well-bracing like them boards was hot coals, growling like a wolf pup. Weren’t long before he quit and stood, smacking one fist into the other. I thought mebbe I’d leave him work his own way out of it, but he got a shovel and commenced to digging in the gulley. Dirt flew like it ain’t since we first got to Chaparral and John put him in charge of the adobe mud pit. I watched for a bit, then asked, “Blue, what exactly is you doing?”
“I ain’t leaving until I hit water, Buck.” He had that stubborn look around his mouth, same as his daddy. Joe and the boys was gathering and staring.
I’ll ride for days, chase cows long as you want and sleep sitting on my horse. But I purely hate stand-up work, and digging is the worst. We’d been at Conejo Springs for three Godforsook days, already moved rock enough to break a man’s heart worse than any painted-up mattress-dancer. All I wanted was to shove my tired feet under Victoria’s table, and my tired bones onto my bed. When I looked at Joe, he rolled his eyes, and asked, “Boss said to get on back to the ranch, didn’t he?”
Blue never stopped, just kept shoveling in a steady back and forth. My back hurt watching him. Thought about punching him right in the mouth for being mule stubborn, but I heard Joe ask about leaving, louder this time. Watching my boy, I could see my daddy and his daddy, mixed up inside him. It were the last thing I wanted to do, but I went to the wagon and got me a shovel. “You can go home, Joe.” I spit on my hands and hefted a load of dirt. “If Blue’s gonna find water, I guess I’d better be here to keep him from drowning.”
Early dusk filtered through the ranch compound, spilling cooler air across porch and corral. As ranch hands unsaddled, John Cannon paced at the corral railing, silver on his hat-band catching the last rays of sunlight over mountains. When Joe Butler ducked under hanging tack and tried scooting for the bunkhouse, his boss stopped him with a growled, “You hold on. I sent out six men and a wagon. You want to explain how you lost everything but four hands?”
Lower teeth chewing his black mustache, Butler folded his saddle blanket precisely before glancing up at his employer. Muscles twitched in his jaw before he answered, “Buck thought, that is Blue figured maybe…”
“Blue said he was gonna dig until he hit the ocean, Boss. And Joe here, he figured they’d need gear to do it.” Hand on his tired back, Pedro’s eyebrows disappeared under heavy black hair. “Jou want I should go bring them back?”
“No, you stay right here,” Cannon grumbled, “I take my eyes off you people for two minutes and everything’s a balled-up mess.” Laughter and music rang from the Montoya house as John advanced on Sam Butler, pointing to a Dormeuse chariot beside the barn and extra horses tied to the rail. “First thing I see when I ride in is that rig. I need Fernando Hidalgo’s bunch like a hole in the head. How long does the old snake intend on staying?”
“No telling, Mr. Cannon. They said something about fixing up a boat over on the Colorado,” Sam offered.
“Hell’s bells! Don’t those people understand drought? That river’s probably a trickle by now and I’ve got trouble enough without them making camp here.” He glared across the ravine, then faced Sam again. “Pilar says she didn’t invite ‘em. You believe her?”
“Well, she sure looked surprised.” Sam rubbed his cheek. “If it makes any difference, Mrs. Cannon’s happier than I’ve seen in a while.”
Pedro’s eyes bulged as he leaned toward John. “That’s right, Boss. She says Señor Hidalgo make her feel like she’s in Europe. He brung a lot of real good whisky, too. Maybe jou don’t like him because jou never been to Europe.” He winced when Joe rabbit-punched him.
“Mark my words, I wouldn’t have any use for that uppity sidewinder if I’d been to Europe ten times,” John snapped. “He’s a pain in the neck, but if Victoria’s happy…” We’ve been through worse, but not by much. She’s working her fingers to the bone, worried about Manolito, with defaulted loans days away, can’t very well begrudge her. “Well, what are you men standing around for? Get to work. Joe, saddle me a fresh horse.”
Joe squared his shoulders and said, “Yessir, Mr. Cannon,” then turned for the barn.
“Sam, I’m going after my half-witted kinfolks and I’ll brook no more problems. Keep the men out of Fernando’s whisky.”
Putting aside Victoria’s concerns about missed dinner and bad hombres roaming the desert, Big John pushed his horse through cold, early evening air. The chill settled a pain in his right hip. Annoyed, he shifted in the saddle, but no relief came. He dismounted and walked, refusing to humor his arthritic joint.
When the grating in his hip eased, he remounted. Moonlight over sandstone peaks outlined arms of saguaro and snaky cholla. Climbing a rise, the horse bunched, straining. John leaned forward, his chest brushing the saddlehorn until they scrambled to the top.
Below him, lanterns lit the bowl of the springs. He saw abandoned holes, dirt and rocks piled to one side. Beyond the light, Buck and Blue powered a ramming drill with muscle and boards. Dirt and rock spit, then stopped.
Blue began clearing the jam as Buck sat and stretched his legs forward. “Blue, why cain’t we sleep?” He bounced on his wooden seat. “Yore underground lake’ll still be right where it ain’t come morning.”
“Do what you want, but I ain’t quitting.” Shovels of rock and sand swung in steady rhythm to Blue’s words. He straightened from underneath the drill, leaned on his shovel, wiped his grimy face, and sniffed. “Just don’t come asking me for a drink,” he snapped as hooves against rocks spun him around and brought Buck to his feet. They faced the oncoming rider, guns drawn.
“Put ‘em away. If I’d wanted to kill you, you’d be dead already,” Big John drawled. Dismounting, he crossed to the drill and surveyed the piled castings. “Looks like you struck sand. Good work.”
“Pa, there’s water down here and I aim to bring it up.” Glancing at his uncle, Blue hoisted himself on one end of the support beam. “Long as I got rods to drill with, I ain’t leaving, so save your breath.”
John looked at his son -- eyes hollow with exhaustion, gripping the beam with determined hands. His stubborn jaw-line was familiar as the one John shaved every morning. He remembered his own father and brother, squared off in anger, determined jaws, fists clenched, yelling in anger. Picking up a shovel, he said, “I didn’t say a word about leaving, but any fool can see this is a three-man job.”
Home was a magnet tugging Manolito north, but fast, hard miles drained man and horse. Macadoo plodded, head hanging listlessly. As bracing wind cut through Mano’s jacket, his chin dropped to his chest and he dozed.
Distant, rhythmic thumps pricked the gelding’s ears. A clunk yanked his head up, snapping Manolito awake. Conejo Springs straight ahead, he heard men’s low talk and a harsh mechanical rumble. Reining in, he tied the horse to a mesquite tree, drew his pistola and crept up a rocky embankment. At the lip of a rise, he slipped behind a boulder, paused and peeked out.
Half-blinded by lantern-light, he saw shadows moving beyond spidery branches and strained to understand voices muffled by wind and creaking wood. “…dry as bug dust…give it a while longer…iffen you’d let me go home I’d be dead asleep by now…you might as well be dead for all the use you are...why don’t you two shut up…didn’t nobody ask you to this party, big brother…didn’t nobody ask me for my tools, either, little brother… all right, if you two are gonna argue, go home and leave the work to me…”
Holstering his revolver, Manolito chuckled. “Ay-yi-yi. Middle of the night, middle of the desert, Cannons working like burros.” He stood and called out, “Yo soy Manolito, do not shoot!” Three grimy men clambered from a big hole as he strolled downhill. “Amigos! You find something to drink besides sand?”
Buck leaned on a shovel, grinning. “Hey, Mano! Que pasa and no we ain’t.” He lobbed his shovel at Manolito, watched it thud to the ground. “Join on in, aye-migo. We having us a real hog-killin’ time.”
“No, gracias.” He side-stepped the implement as if it might fang him. “I have recently shoveled enough, figuratively speaking.”
“Meaning your daddy said no?”
“Turn down his favorite son? Oh, no!” He leaned against a beam. “Mucho spade-work, only the cost of bargaining with Don Sebastian de Montoya, compadre.” He jerked his head toward John. “Take your cattle there when you wish.”
“I’m obliged to you.” The big man walked forward and clapped him on the shoulder. “Whatever you need, you’ve got it.”
“Hey, Mano? Better ask Pa for a fresh horse. When you see what’s at the ranch, you’ll be wanting one so’s you can vamoose,” Blue said. His uncle grabbed his collar.
“How about you let the man rest ‘fore you heap all that on him.” He released the younger man with a shove that sat him down hard on the ground. “Sorry, Blue Boy, but shut up and stay put.”
“All of what, compadre?” Mano stretched and squinted at Buck. “Digame. Now.”
“Well, I wasn’t gonna say nothing, but you got yourself some company, ay-migo,” he drawled. “Little Missy Pilar’s pa, that George fella, whole passel of cousins from Argentina or Peruvia.”
“You are joking.”
John barked a laugh. “Nope. He’s telling the God’s honest truth and they’re all yours. Ride out again, I’ll have your hide.” He yawned. “If you boys can complain without me, I’m going to get a little shut-eye. Don Fernando’s bunch thinks every night is Mardi Gras,” he grumbled.
Watching his brother-in-law limp to a blanket and lie down, Manolito Montoya cursed. “I have just returned from the most difficult thing I have ever done. I only want to be at Chaparral, for Pili to scrape off the grime and feed me before I fall asleep. What is the Prince of Darkness doing here? Eh?”
“They’s… uh… working on a boat.” Buck scrubbed a hand across his hair.
“A boat? At Chaparral? Madre mia, I knew her family was loco.” Frowning, he shook his head and shut his eyes. “I only hope their insanity does not afflict our children.”
“Mebbe you’d best pray them kids ain’t a-flicted with gambling. I ain’t saying Lord Fernando ain’t crazy as a betsy bug, but they’s here because of p-o-k-e-r.”
Mano opened his eyes and scrutinized the Cannon men. “Poker?”
“That’s right. See, Blue? He spells good, must not be dumb as I think.” Buck grinned at his still-fuming nephew. “Snore Montoya, ain’t no boat at the ranch. It be over on the Colorado, some old freight-hauler they’s gonna fix up so Missy Pilar can play cards without yore daddy catching wind of it. Ain’t that nice?”
“ ‘Nice’ is not quite the word I would use.” Manolito sighed as Blue scrambled to his feet.
“That’s right, Mano! Ain’t nothing nice about it!” he interrupted hotly.
Grabbing his nephew’s arm, Buck snapped, “Didn’t I tell you to stay put? Dang, Boy. You got too much sand in yore ears to hear good?” Blue stared at his feet, breathing hard, hands in his pockets. Buck turned casually to Mano. “You can tell Blue ain’t happy. Good thing he’s out here digging, I’m tired of keeping him from trying to get hisself kilt.”
Blue kicked up a clod of dirt, snorted and glared at Manolito. “Mr. High-and-Mighty ain’t so big!” Grabbing Mano’s shoulder with one hand, he jerked a thumb at his chest. “I can take him.”
Manolito rubbed his temple. If anyone ever needs an excellent description of Purgatory, this is it. Hell is behind me; Heaven is so close. Yet, reading the signs? Ay-yi-yi, I will be trapped in an interminable conversation about Blue’s romantic woes. “Scorpions, rattlesnakes. Small also, sí?” Unaffected by Mano’s apathetic expression, Blue plunged ahead.
“So? He ain’t got no right to get cozy with my girl!”
“You is bound and determined to keep at it, ain’t you, boy?” Buck interrupted, pulling his muttering nephew’s collar tight. “Looky, Mano. It’s like this. Ole Fernando’s swah-vay type Eur-o-pean ways got Rebecca all starry-eyed and Blue Boy’s in a uproar ‘cause she don’t look at him like that.” He cuffed Blue lightly on the back of his head, then grabbed his collar again. “I been tryin’ to tell him, she ain’t never gonna look at him like that, him bein’ my blooded nephew instead of some back-East dandy. Mebbe one day she’ll look at him better, but meantimes, Lord Fernando ain’t got no dee-signs on her and she ain’t looking’ to run off with a man old enough to be her grampaw.”
Mano studied Blue’s increasingly rosy face. “Amigo, Buck is right. Es nada.”
“No it ain’t!” Blue protested angrily, breaking free. “Last I seen, he was standing real close, yammering about names and stuff. Becca was gaping at him like he hung the stars and all he was saying was how ‘Hidalgo’ means ‘son of somebody’. Don’t make no sense for beans why she’d so be all-fired interested in that.”
“Perhaps etymology fascinates her,” Manolito hypothesized with a tired laugh. “Actually, ‘Hidalgo’ means ‘son of somebody’ in a special way. It was the name given by the king to sons of royalty. But we are all sons of somebody, are we not? Our fathers and mothers are important whatever our lineage.” Mano halted, rounding up his thoughts. Looking at Blue, his face was grave, his tone serious. “Hombre, you are impetuous. Don Fernando charms your señorita, you want to pull him aside and give him -- como se dice -- a good talking to? If he gives you lip, you punch him, teach him a lesson like you would any cowpoke, right?”
“Sure. You’d do the same if you was me.”
“Wrong! A scorpion cannot sting if you leave it alone.” Hands on hips, he blew out a breath. “Give him a good talking to, it will amuse him as if the dirt under his fingernails spoke. Throw a punch, Blue, use the hand you least need. Because that is the last thing you will do with it. It may be the last thing you do. Entiendes?”
“Sure, I understand. You’re scared. Don’t mean I gotta be.” Blue shoved a clod of dirt with his toe, staring at Manolito’s bland face. “Hey, wait a minute. You ain’t afraid of Johnny Ringo. How come that old man scares you?”
“Because I understand them both at least a little. Johnny has an emptiness inside him, what he does is business. Business is business, sí? Fernando is more dangerous, Blue. In him is the fire of obsession -- sometimes a cold fire, sometimes a hot one. Do him a slight? Hombre, you may live for years! But one day when conditions are favorable to him …” He drew a finger across his throat as young Cannon’s eyes grew wider; glancing at Buck, his uncle’s curt nod chilled him. “Why risk it, compadre? He enjoys making women happy. Let him. The accommodations at Chaparral do not suit him. A few days and adios. They will be gone.” Mano gazed at the waning moon. “As for me, amigos, I would like to be gone from here. The hangman’s beautiful daughter awaits.” He squeezed Blue’s shoulder, turned and strolled toward his waiting horse.
“Hasta la vista, Don Juanolito,” Buck called after him, chuckling. “News ain’t all bad. They brung plenty whisky older’n Blue and a puppy for yore little girl, something called a English Massive. Ole Fernando says they’s good at watching kids. You mebbe needin’ another set of eyes for all of ‘em.” He slung an arm around his nephew’s shoulders. “C’mon, Blue Boy. First time I seed Missy’s pa was at First Manassas...”
Pants, long-johns and holster hung on a chair, Manolito’s skin was dark desert sand in light from the fireplace. He sank to the bed, stretching lean legs across the quilt, easing his head into Pilar’s lap. She ruffled his hair with her fingers. “My own Daniel, returned from the lion’s den.” Firelight danced in his eyes, but sunburn wrinkled the corners and weary charcoal circles lay underneath. “And how is my own Daniel?”
“Not bad, gracias.” He reached up and slowly caressed her face, trailing fingers to her throat and breasts. “Good to be home, Doña Pilar. Always. The view is so very beautiful.”
“Mmm, more handsome from here. I like the cut of your jib, sailor.” Lightly she touched the sharp peaks and plains of his face, and sighed. “None more beloved to me in all the world.”
“Ay, Pilar! My sun and moon, my North Star. I want so much for you, querida.”
“I know.” She kissed the tips of his long fingers. “But I have all I want, Manito mio. Is there nothing you want from me?”
A languid smile parting his lips, he blinked heavy eyelids. “Love me, Pilar. Just love me.”
“I do,” she murmured. “I always have.” She guided his index finger across her mouth and his breath quickened. “I always will.” Pressing his finger between her lips, she tasted salt and leather. Slowly, she drew it out and kissed his calloused palm. “I will now, mi amado.”
Two chimes from the living-room clock echoed upstairs and Victoria sat up in bed. She pounded pillows before throwing herself back down, arms folded, muttering in Español. “If John Cannon wishes to chase men across Arizona desert until the middle of the night among the wolves and the Apaches, then let him! Let him!” Shaking a finger at the ceiling, she hissed, “And that Buck! He probably left Blue alone and went to Tucson for drinking and gambling and women. Madre de Dios.”
Glaring at curtains swaying in the breeze, she blew stray hair from her eyes. “Blue! He is no better, disobeying his father. What was he thinking? What? Idiotas, from the son to the father to the uncle! The only thing worse than Cannon men is Montoya men.” From downstairs, the clock chimed three times. “My greedy father, my brother doing a ridiculous thing that will only make him miserable. Ooooh!” Victoria threw a pillow across the room and pulled the blanket to her chin. She slept fitfully until a shout of “YeeHAW!” woke her with a start.
“Yeehaw!” Pounding hooves and hollering filled the yard. White teeth grinning through mud-crusted lips, Blue snatched the guard’s hat and tossed it skyward. Yelling again, he galloped Soapy across the yard and kicked the bunkhouse wall. “Get out here, you saddle tramps!”
Racing through the gate, the brothers Cannon skidded their horses to a stop as Victoria ran from the front door, tying the sash of her dressing-gown. Before she could speak, John vaulted off his horse, swept her in his arms, and kissed her soundly. “Victoria, you’re the second prettiest thing a man could ever hope to see.” There were dirty splotches on her shoulders when he removed his hands.
“The second? And just what am I second to, Mr. Cannon?” she asked, looking at her husband’s smiling face.
“The first prettiest thing. Buck! Blue!”
Buck shouldered ahead of Blue, pushed his hat back, bowed low, and shook a canteen at her. “John and me and Blue, we brung you a present.” He pulled the cap with his teeth, upended the container, dumped it at her feet and nodded at his nephew. “Tell her, Blue.”
Grabbing the metal rod, Blue clanged the dinner triangle until ringing filled the valley. “We got water!”
My Pilar went into labor on the Catalina Valiente while counting our poker winnings somewhere between Yuma and Puerto Isabel. Steaming downriver through borderlands buried in barren sand, Leandro Manuel roared into the world like a lion. I did not know if my son was Americano or Méxicano, I knew only he was Montoya.
My daughter’s arms soft around my neck, I walked the deck at midnight, watching muddy water and cook-fires at shanties on shore. Little girls are easy until they become bigger girls and need protection from men like me. But a son? What did I know of sons?
Bones of weak men fill the desert. My son would be strong, mucho hombre. Brave, honorable, loyal, fair-minded, responsible – a person to make his grandfather proud, but with kindness and mercy for his fellow man. “And for his fellow woman, respect also,” I said, looking into Lina’s guileless brown eyes. “When he sees a pretty señorita, he will remember that she, like you, is someone’s daughter, someone’s sister. This he will remember and behave as a gentleman.” Ay, caramba. How was I to produce such a saint, by bad example?
Not in a very long time had I prayed, but it seemed like a good time. “Nuestro Padre, por favor, make him a better man than I am.” Madre mia, what could be easier?
“My love, he is a wonderful baby and the man who one day takes his place will be magnificent.” Half-way to Hacienda Montoya, the lantern in our tent burned low, wind flapped the canvas and one of the horses snorted. Smiling, Pilar laid her journal face-down on her stomach, sunk deeper into her pillow and closed her eyes. “Give him time, hmm?”
“Sí, a decade for each gloriously impossible expectation.” I said. “If ever I say I want him to be a fine, young caballero, shoot me.”
“Get my pistol, but I will miss you,” she murmured, squeezing my hand. “Mano, if he turns out happy, healthy and as much a man as his father, it is enough, yes?” Wood crackled in the campfire outside and the pencil dropped from her fingers. I watched her breath move the battered book, sliding it to the side. I caught it when it slipped toward the floor, pulled the blanket to her shoulders and kissed her lips. While she snored softly, I opened her diary.
Manolo describes Manuel as if he will grow to be Blue Cannon. But our children are not Cannon children, they are the children of Mano Montoya. My husband is red desert sand, gentle spring sunlight, rugged rawhide, hoofbeats of a proud mustang stallion & eagle’s wings…
From a stand of paloverde, a raven cawed. Black as my Pilar’s hair, they mate for life.
Lina is the daughter of her father & grandfather. Gentle, but solid granite – unyielding as Don Sebastian. Feet on the ground, smiling sweetly, she goes her own way. Manuel will go his. He has Manolo’s dimples & a charming toothless grin – his father’s son, he is deep water. I see it in his eyes.
If not in his diapers. Poetic, but she imagines things.
His course will be swift & true as an Apache arrow, crafted from granite, sinew, mesquite & feathers from an eagle’s wings.
And she, the archer, would not let me bind the arrow’s fletching with lead.
No soaring heights for his Mamí -- Birdette warned it was too soon for travel & I feel like Hell’s half acre. But Mano paced the deck like a caged tiger -- Hacienda Montoya beckoned & staying on the ship seemed self-indulgent.
Very noble, Doña Pilar. And the next day, a small detour to the rancho of an old friend. If necessary, I would sell our mules and burn the wagon, but we would stay until the roses returned to her cheeks.
The love between my complicated husband & his father is desert sun – strong, life-giving, destructive. Passionate & proud – how they laugh together, how they wound each other. In Manuel, Mano sees a shot at redemption.
Was I a fool to consider my son a second chance? Quien sabe? If so, all fathers are fools.
Like Don Sebastian, he sometimes scorns the part of him which will never grow up. Not I. I love all of him, the honorable, brave man & the charming, footloose youth, but the boy inside is restless. Manolo cleaves to me with more urgency than a small child, calls me his North Star & trusts me to keep his heart safe, yet the siren song of an unfettered life is loud in his ears. When he looks at our children with pride & love, I see also fear & desire for something else. I know he wants to run.
Hombre, sometimes a woman sees more than she should.
I trust the man to bridle the boy. He knows the stakes.
I always thought she was pretty smart, but that made me reconsider.
In the palm of his hand, he holds my heart, my respect, my soul.
Right, probably adios to all if she knew what happened on the ship. Oh, she was busy with the baby, I was neglected for too long, maybe got a little drunk and the girl was so lovely.
I am not naive, but he sidestepped the trap my nitwit cousins set & the girl was quite beautiful.
Her cousins? Madre de Dios, I thought it was her father.
I write sitting by the river, my feet in crisp water. Birdette entertains Lina and Manuel naps. An infant’s life is simple, unlike that of a man. Mano says I guide him to higher ground – in truth, he guides himself, but I am forever beside him.
Love. I still needed another word.
Houselights and lanterns shone on Casa Montoya’s midnight courtyard. Golden in the light, water in the three-tiered fountain streamed from basin to basin and across Manolito’s outstretched hand. He touched a moist finger to his lips, not his forehead. Hombre, no holy-water in the house of my father, but maybe rebirth and salvation. Or maybe only sin and obligations flowing from generation to generation. Mine to choose. Turning, he relaxed against the fountain’s base, silver goblet beside him on the red tile. He heard a low chuckle and looked toward the wrought-iron table where his father sat holding his son. “Papácito, I may have to wash my face and my iniquities to stay awake.”
Old Montoya glanced up from the soft bundle in his arms. “Mi hijo, your iniquities frequently disturb my sleep. Cleansing your soul would do us both a favor,” he said, then returned his attention to the infant. As he cooed, Manolito picked out a few words: “fine young caballero” and “all yours one day”. Ay-yi-yi! Next you will tell my little son ‘business is business’. “Mano, he looks like me, does he not?” Milky breath fluttered the ruffles on his shirt as he touched the infant’s wispy curls. “Sebastian Manuel Leandro de Montoya y Hidalgo. Sí, the very image of his grandfather.”
“Sí, Papa.” he nodded, stretched out his long legs and crossed his arms. But for my mouth, jawline and eyes, Pili’s hair and nose, over sixty years and two hundred pounds between you, almost twins. And by the time you discover his name does not include ‘Sebastian’, we will be many miles away. “Sturdy. Like a bull.”
“Bull, bah! Like a lion!” Looking down, he tickled the baby’s chin and murmured, “A lion.” Straightening, his voice became stronger as he said, “His children, the children of his children will preserve Hacienda Montoya for the ages.”
“To Hacienda Montoya and very large burdens on very small shoulders. Salúd.” He lifted his glass as if toasting a worthy opponent and drank. “A good vintage, Papá.”
Looking up from the baby, he frowned at Mano. “Indeed. A pity there has yet to be a good year for sons, however this is an excellent year for grandsons.”
Rolling another sip of wine in his mouth, Manolito tilted his head back and swallowed. “Manolito Montoya – in and of himself, a disappointment. But like his father’s best breeding stallion, a good producer.”
“Mi hijo, you are only a barely broken mustang. Visit the auction in Hermosillo. Such animals sell for pesos.” Don Sebastian snorted. “A man should be more than a mere herd-sire.”
“I am more, padre mio. Just not to you,” he answered, listening to the splash and gurgle of the fountain. Combing fingers through his hair, he stood stiffly and wine-goblet in hand, strolled toward his father. At the table, he lifted a crystal carafe, refilled his glass and slumped into a nearby chair. Grinning, he raised his eyebrows. “Pilar knows my true value. She says I am her diamond. Worth more than fine horses, land or cattle.”
“Only to an overly romantic young woman.” Squinting at Manolito, his forceful tone disturbed Manuel. His fidgeting increased as his grandfather declared, “I fought to be somebody so my son and the sons of my son would not live on their knees saying ‘Sí, Patrón’. Yet you throw it away to be one of John Cannon’s vaqueros. Bravo, mi hijo. Here my grandsons would be people of importance. Instead, you give them a future of servitude.” He gestured to the struggling baby. “You are condemning Manuelito to live on his knees.”
“Never will I stand tall on the necks of others,” he declared quietly, rising and plucking Manuel from Don Sebastian. “I will stand on my own feet and my children will not suffer for it.” Holding his son against a shoulder, Mano murmured “There, there, mi niño” and began to walk, swaying slowly. “One way or another, we all serve something or someone. I want Manuel to decide who or what, Papá. Not me, not you. Him. Entiendes?” Mano fixed Don Sebastian with a level gaze and the old man nodded, tight jaw defiant.
“Is that the sum total of your hopes for him, to choose how he subjegates himself?”
“¡Ay-yi-yi! Why should I have more?” He threw back his head and laughed. “Papá, you have hopes and expectations enough for us both. Madre de Dios! For every father and grandfather in Sonora.” To the baby, he whispered loudly, “Manuel, I give you my word, never will I let him load you down like a mula. Make no mistake, he would. Oh, yes!” He scooped his goblet from the table and sipped while rocking the infant, somber in moonlight and shadow. “There is one more thing I want for him, Papá. And he can do it without people genuflecting and calling me Patrón. I want him to be a better man than I am.”
“A better man than his father.” Chin up, his voice was surprisingly gentle. “It is what all fathers want for their sons, Manos. Even yours.”
Throat tight, dark eyes soft, he asked, “Even mine, eh?” as he walked behind Don Sebastian and lay an affectionate hand on his shoulder. “Big boots to fill, much less exceed, Papá.” Manolito leaned closer. “What if I am only a different man? Can you sleep tonight if that is so?” Gesturing to the house, he offered his arm with a flourish. “Yours is not the only blood in my veins, Don Sebastian de Montoya. I am also the son of my mother. And my own man.”
“She had a compassionate heart, your mother. It is not a bad thing to pass on to a son.” Eyes focused on a distant point, he fell quiet, then stood up straight and proud. Glancing at Mano’s proffered arm, he patted the younger man’s cheek. “That is not to say it is practical, mi hijo. And I do not need your assistance to negotiate my way to bed. I can walk on my own two feet. But walk beside me on yours.”
Heading home on a train out of Tucson, I had a shiner black as my cassock. Passengers peeked, wondering how a priest got slugged. The rowdy-looking kid sitting across from me pulled a tobacco tin from worn Levi’s, stuck another wad in his cheek and grinned. “That’s some wallop, Padre. Ain’t your kind supposed to be peaceful-like?”
“Yeah, but the other guy wasn’t.” He laughed, I passed the spittoon and changed the subject. Much is expected of Padre Leandro Manuel Montoya, so I didn’t say the other guy looked worse.
I had stopped at Butler’s saloon collecting for the church building fund when a big galoot at a poker-table gestured to an empty seat. “You want money for yore god-durned church, get it like a man.” Joe Butler snickered and got busy wiping the bar. I learned arithmetic playing Five Card Stud with my mother. Only a tiny niño when I joined bunkhouse games, I sat in my father’s lap and mimicked him – hat pulled low, tongue rolling against the inside of my cheek. Sam, Joe and the boys thought it was cute when I tried cheating like him until I started winning.
“Mock not lest ye be smitten,” I answered Goliath, opening my hand to four pretty ladies and adding losers would be in Mass come Sunday. My table-mates laughed and threw enough money down for a new roof on Nuestra Señora de los Remedios. Then my old friend Jay stumbled through the bat-wing doors.
He left Arizona a little muchacho, returned from St Louis seventeen and spoiling for a fight the minute he and his papá stepped off the train. I reined him in for the first hour but lost him in a cheap cantina on Meyer Street. Considering he wore the worst city-slicker cowboy duds west of New York City, he should’ve been difficult to misplace. Joe laughed so hard he popped buttons off his shirt. Jay’s face flushed and he lurched for Joe, swinging with enthusiasm if not technique. I waded in, parting saddle-bums like Moses parting the Red Sea.
Joe busted Jay’s lip as I pulled them off each other and Jay caught me with an elbow before he went down for the count. When I got back from Sonora, he was going to put a new roof on Nuestra Señora if he had to pound nails with his teeth.
My father pointed at my black eye and hooted. “¡Ay, Chihuahua! What is this? Rough trade at the confessional or resistant converts?”
“Long story, Pop. The other guy looks worse,” I said, taking my bag from the porter as Don Manolo clapped me on the back. Arms around each other, we walked from the station. I looked for horses.
“Hombre, ride horses at the rancho. Behold! My Duryea motor-wagon,” he announced with a flourish. That explained the goggles. “There was a race, Manny. Chicago to Evanston.” He stroked the upholstery like it was the flank of a young mare. “This model ran over eight miles an hour for ten hours. Fantastico, eh?” Winking, he snapped on the goggles. “Maybe we have a race here. There are still renegade Apaches in the mountains. More exciting than Illinois, sí?”
The way he drove? You bet. We careened toward Hacienda Montoya in a cloud of dust at a break-neck ten miles an hour. The Duryea bucked like a bronco, sank in deep sand and high-centered on rocks. It had to be pushed, pulled and petted. Grinning, my father shouted, “But you never have to walk it, muchacho!” He smudged the dust on his goggles with his bandana and yipped, “Hoowee-hoowee! I am the luckiest man in all the world. Driving this fine machine on a fine day, my fine son beside me. Andele!” I was so happy for him, next time I was bringing my horse. “¡Ay-yi-yi! If life was fair, I would have a son like Jay, not you. He is a wild one, that one?”
“Very, and angry. Interested only in girls and getting drunk, but I am about to interest him in baseball.”
“Baseball? Padre Manny, I hate to tell you this, but for healthy young men who are not priests, never will baseball replace girls.”
“Oh, all he needs is incentive, like staying out of jail.”
He rolled his eyes to me. “Madre de Dios, what is jail when Tucson is a field of lovely flowers ready for picking?” he said with a rakish grin, squeezing my arm. “Hombre, so what if he drinks and chases women? Let him. He has a good heart.”
“Right.” We rolled through ocotillo and saguaro downhill to the river. “Excellent taste in the flowers, too. He said Candy is – how did he put it? ‘Fine as cream gravy’.”
“Candy? Our Candalaria? Montoya? Your little sister?” Shooting me a look to split granite, he veered toward a paloverde clump. I yanked the tiller. We missed it.
“That exact one. He noticed she is no longer a little niña…”
“What?” He rammed a cottonwood, killing the engine. “Madre de Dios! A drunken degenerate, close enough to my daughter to notice her? How did you let this happen? Eh?” Yanking off his goggles, he scrambled from the motor-wagon, gesturing frenetically. Eyes blazing, he paced to the water-line and back, whirled and smacked the Duryea. “You left her in the same town with him?”
“Calma, Papí, calma.” The palace of El Presidente is less heavily guarded than my sisters. “You said it yourself, he has a good heart.”
“So what?” he hissed, face like a thundercloud. “You think his heart worries me? Wrong! He touches your sister and…” He drew a finger across his throat. “Entiendes?” I nodded. Flinging himself into the seat, he tried to start the engine. Not a chance.
Man alive, it was hot, but the sun was setting and we had nice spot to make camp. Leafy branches of old trees hung over cool water and quail whistled. Peaceful, except for Don Manolo berating himself and the motor-wagon. Abruptly he grinned and clapped me on the shoulder. “Hey, Manny – you get the wood, I cook the frijoles, eh?”
“Sure, Papí.” Feet on solid ground, wiping the sweat from my eyes, I rolled up my sleeves as he rummaged through packs tied to the Duryea, first singing “la gallina… li-de-di-di” then idly humming it.
Gathering sticks, I glanced at him. They called Grandfather Montoya the Lion of Sonora, but looking at photographs, he was a bull of a man, solid and forceful, a warrior from first trumpet to last blood drying in the sand. A lion is graceful, dangerous, playful, a little lazy and usually surrounded by females. The Lion of Sonora was making frijoles.
Still humming, he flipped a can in the air and caught it behind his back, followed with a few tango steps. He tangos like he was born to it. Maybe so. He spent his life dancing formal waltzes or wild fandangos, but tango is passion set to music and Don Manolo Montoya is a passionate man. Women love him for it, but he would make most of them loco. If La Gallina didn’t get them, his beans would.
Arms heavy with firewood, I walked toward him as he pulled out a bottle of tequila. He uncorked it with his teeth, plinked the cork into a boulder and took a swig. “Hoowee!” Eyes twinkling, he wiped his mouth with a cuff. “Good thing I like your company, it may take us a while to reach home.”
“Why? Especially slow frijoles?”
“Hombre, no.” He jerked his head at the motor-wagon and shrugged. “I drive it, muchacho, repairing it is another matter.” Oh, God is good!
I abandoned the Duryea like a dead horse. Andele! Cannon land behind us, beneath our feet was Montoya earth. Montoya cactus, scrub and mountains surrounded us. The river became Montoya water. We followed it south, hanging to the dappled shade of cottonwoods. In my father’s day, his vaqueros would have found us long before we stopped to examine blisters. But these are different days and the vaqueros of Don Sebastian Montoya ride no more.
Manny passed me a fresh canteen, black curls falling over his forehead and dimples framing the wide-open smile of an honest man. If I ignored cassock, collar and broad-brimmed hat, he looked like a handsome young caballero strolling his vast hacienda. He has the sturdy build of my father, the same powerful hands. But never will those hands caress a woman or hold his own son. This fruit of my loins, easy to love and admire, so difficult to understand. “Manuel, tell me. Are you never tempted, muchacho? A pretty girl looks your way, you ever think of kissing her?”
“Sometimes.” His eyes were gentle. “If ever priests are allowed to marry, I promise to be first in line. Until then?” He shrugged. “Compared to the honor of serving God, it is nothing.” This I could not grasp. Making love with his mother may be as close to heaven as Manolito Montoya gets.
Hell is probably much like the dusty road to Casa Cueva – sand, bleached bones, brutal heat. There we broke bread with Padre Sanchez, his age etched in wrinkles and white hair, but fire in his eyes. Thirsty travel ahead, I moistened my lips in the cantina while Sanchez helped Manny provision two burros.
At the summit of sandstone hills outside Casa Cueva, I leaned against rock and looked across fifty miles of valley where the vast herds of Don Sebastian de Montoya once browsed. My few dozen head graze closer to home; mature vineyards dot land where his ranged. Years before beef prices dropped lower than Papá’s business ethics, a bright young man persuaded his Tío Domingo grapes might be interesting for more than our private enjoyment. Oh, yes! Hombre, those vines saved Hacienda Montoya. I love them so much, drinking tequila or mescal almost brings guilt.
“No, Papá. Not the vineyards, you. You saved it, many times.” Manny stood and dusted his cassock. He looked at me then turned his face homeward. “Apaches, bandidos, comancheros, filibusteros, drought, floods, relentless sun, bad cattle markets. You fought them all. You even fought them after Grandfather cut you from his will. Considerable work for someone who did not want it.”
“Wanting it and wanting to preserve it are not the same thing, Manuel.” Crossing my ankles, I pulled my hat a little lower. From the corner of my eye I saw corded muscles move under black cloth as he stretched and swept his hand across the horizon.
“Man alive, look at this country.” Saying it like he was seeing it for the first time, he shook his head. “As easy to die out there today as a hundred years ago.”
“Mi hijo, if you are wondering, I did not preserve it for my children, but out of respect for my father." Closing my eyes, I heard a low sigh of relief. “I miss the old lion.” Cloth whispered and Manuel’s shoes scraped on loose rock. A breeze swirled up from the valley, twilight on its tail. “I miss my father, I miss my good compañero Buck. Ay, caramba. I do not like missing people.”
“I think Buck will come home, Pop. Someday.”
“You are an optimist, eh? Everyone believes he is dead,” I answered, harsher than intended. “Anyway, home is not what it was.” Shoving my hat back, I sat up as Manny eased himself beside me. “Ay-yi-yi. John Cannon, one stubborn hombre. Cattle thieves have more of his cattle than he does.” The alliance between Chaparral and Rancho Montoya continued, but winery workers are not known for marksmanship. Rodrigo and I could not fight bandidos across thousands of acres of range. “Cheaper if Big John gives them all to the comancheros, eh? Maybe Blue can make him listen this time.”
“Maybe.” He turned to me, frowning, questions darkening his eyes. “Papí, speaking of home…” He stopped, hands clasped.
“What about it?”
“¡Madre mia! Her I could miss a little.” Why me? Bad enough our third-born is an actress, she discovered politics. “I could miss her until she understands we are on the same side. Hombre, I have opposed Presidente Diaz longer than she has been alive.”
“Pop, listen to me. She says there is revolution on the wind and Vicky talks of unrest among the miners, here in Sonora.”
Jumping to my feet, I paced, grumbling, “When the congressman announced Tucson would get the university, smarter people than Manolito Montoya were so angry they threw rotten fruit. Buck hit him with a dead cat. Ay-yi-yi! If I had known my daughter Vicky would study mine engineering there, I would have found my own dead cat.” I pivoted, counting points on my fingers as I walked toward him. “Primero, Mari is overly dramatic. Segundo, Ana Victoria is an angel and perhaps she speaks the truth, but so what? Because, Padre Manny, tercero, this is México. Always there are rumors of revolution! Entiendes? Today, next month, ten years from now, quien sabe?” Hands on my hips, I waited.
“If there is a revolution, what will you do?”
“Try to be on the winning side.” With a wink, I collected my pack and canteen. “Upah, Manuel! The journey calls. Andele, vamanos!”
Stars appeared above us and leading the animals downhill, I saw dim lights beckon from a far plateau. Casa Montoya, the house of my father. Es verdad, a grand house, but without those living in it, only wood and plaster and tile. This land I love, it is only rock and sand, not flesh and blood. Defend it against the army of Presidente Diaz, pistolas and rifles against heavy artillery? No, gracias. I pass my turn. “My father’s real monument, Manny – it is not Hacienda Montoya but you and your sisters, their children and the children of their children.”
“And you.” His voice was that of a little niño, still believing his father to be a giant among men.
“Wrong.” I put my arm around him. “I am only an old vaquero who grows grapes, makes a little wine, dabbles in politics and is reduced to riding a burro.” His jaw twitched when I clapped his back and mounted my noble steed. Hard hooves crunched gravel as my son fell in beside me, silent. Above us, stars and a gibbous moon shone in endless black. “Hey, Manny? In one thing, I am most fortunate. As Buck said of himself, when I went to Chaparral, I became part of something larger than me. Chaparral, family, the love of a good woman, our interesting children. With Buck, making the C-Bar-M our rancho. Even my father’s dream. It was not mine, but I guarded it, am part of it as I was of John’s dream. What price I have paid for these things, hombre, it is a pittance.” I glanced over and he was smiling. “What?”
“Nothing, except… I am the son of my father.” Teeth white and dimples deep, he raised his eyebrows. “Entiendes, Don Manolo?” Sometimes Manolito is not so bright, but riding beside Manuel under the limitless sky, swaying with the steps of my burro, I understood.
“Sí, hijo mio. At last.” A good man, my strapping son. Not exactly what I meant when I asked God to make him a better man than I am, but looking at him, I had an idea. “So tell me, Padre Manny. You remember how to work cattle?”
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