Kane sat his horse with the frown of a troubled man, long stirrups and legs thrust forward
A Village With No Name
** 21 **
Tom Kane sat atop his horse with the frown of a troubled man, long stirrups and legs thrust forward, the reins held low at the pommel of the saddle. His stallion stood with the patience of a trained thoroughbred; its weight set on three legs, the fourth crooked at the hoof.
There was anger in Kane’s posture when he stepped down from his mount and marched over to where Sam sat on his horse beneath the shade of a large honey locust tree. Kane reached up and pulled him from the saddle by the cloth of his upper arm. “What the hell were you thinking?” Kane scolded him. His tone was hard and threatening. “I still own that piece of land. Evans never signed land ownership papers. Those were my buildings. I can burn down any damn thing I want if I own it.” Kane stood over him, his hands set at his hips. “The simple instruction I gave you, you’ve turned into an unnecessary bloodbath. Now, tell me,” Kane rasped further, “how did Mrs. Evans burn to death?”
Sam lifted himself from the dirt, dusted the loose gravel from his shirt front and pants, then took a quick pace back from his boss. He had seen the quickness of Kane’s hands many times in a saloon brawl, the jabbing right followed by a swinging upper thrust to the jaw that would send a rowdy cowhand sprawling dazed, and bewildered to the hard, dry floor.
“It was her fault, Mister Kane,” Sam protested, retrieving his floppy, beige hat from the dirt. She kicked my privates. No woman should do that to a man. When she tried again, I shot her. To hide the bullet hole, I dragged her into the burning barn. Anyone finding her body would think she burnt to death.”
“Mauled by a desperate woman,” said Kane, with a bitter laugh.
His gaze drifted past Sam to the distant mountain range and the forest and grasslands that spread through the valley, and he realized how little it had changed since he had first arrived in this wild and untamed land with his family. He had chosen not to plow the land but breed cattle, and now the landscape was dotted red and brown, and white and black with well-grazed herds, a mixture of Texas Longhorn and Angus which had given him the foundation of his fortune. But like most men that came west, the thought of gold was ever at the back of his mind. A year after he had completed the construction of their two-story ranch house, his wife had died of consumption. Leaving his two children with Rosa, over weekends, he headed for the mountains.
Late one afternoon, he found himself in a bottleneck that stretched for over a mile through the rocky terrain before leading into a blind canyon. The opening in the rock face gaped like the jaws of a dried prairie dog, bleak and foul-breathed. It was an old mine, possibly from the early Spanish days, he guessed. He decided to extend his trip and spent many days and nights digging into the sides of the old shaft that drove deep into the mountain. On the morning of the tenth day after he had packed his mule, he decided to take one last look around the mine. He was hoping to find something left by the old miners he might keep as a trophy; an old Spanish Potosi or a rusted sword to hang on his study wall. Thirty-meters into the old shaft, Kane struck the rock wall with displeasure and disappointment; his hopes and dreams shattered by the lack of gold. But as he turned to leave, the light from his oil lamp ignited a speck of polished metal buried in the dark wall. At first, he couldn’t believe his good fortune. Who had ever mined the shaft had followed what they thought was the only vein, but unknown to them, the seam had split.
He worked the new shaft for thirty days, often taking the time to sit on the ground, looking up at the yellow metal sparkling in the light of his flat wick oil lamp. There was no hurry, for there was more than enough to last one man’s lifetime. On the thirty-first day, he packed his mule and broke camp. When he came in sight of Tombstone, he decided to spend the night on the outskirts of town. Though he had a reputation as a successful horse and cattle rancher, he was low on money and didn’t wont to pay for anything with his gold, as it would bring an unwanted attraction to himself.
The following morning he rose early, lit a small smokeless fire, and cooked a pot of steaming black coffee. He didn’t bother to cook breakfast as once his business with the bank was completed, he aimed to treat himself to a good breakfast in one of the finest, eating houses in town.
It was on the second day of his trip back to the mine when he felt the flesh at the back of his neck begin to prickle, and it drove a cold uneasy shiver up his spine, a feeling of being followed. As there were only a few hours left before he reached the mine, Kane waited until he reached the bottleneck before securing his horse and mule out of sight. Pulling his Winchester from its leather brace, he climbed the steep cayon wall until he found a good lookout point between two jagged, and well-weathered rocks overlooking the entrance to the narrow gorge.
Kane didn’t have to wait long for a lone rider to come into view, his head cocked at an angle to his chest, his eyes fixed to the ground following the freshly laid tracks. When the rider got closer, Kane recognized him as a prospector by the gear strapped to the sides of his stock-mule. Realizing that this was just the first of many who would try to take his gold mine, and most likely kill him in the process, Kane knew he either had to shoot the man or take him on as a partner. It only took him a moment to decide that two guns were better than one to protect the mine.
“Mister Kane, your son, Scott, is ridin’ in.”
It was a shout from one of Tom Kane’s hired-help sitting on the corral fence. Scott was riding under the ‘Buckhorn Ranch’ sign when Kane turned to look at him. Kane scuffed at the gravel with his boot as he waited for his son.
“What are you doing back?” Kane called out, challenging his son dryly. “I thought I told you to stay in the village for the night?”
Tim reined in his horse at his pa's side. “Mary Loo, Pa,” he said aloud as if trying to hide his imperfections. “I was about to lock up the stranger when Mary Loo walked into Ben’s office. I got distracted for a moment, and he overpowered me. He’s coming after you, Pa. He’s blaming you for the deaths of Theo and his wife.”
Kane grabbed the headgear of Scott's horse and clenched his grip. The animal blew hard and threw up its head in fright. “What was I to do, Scott? The man had gone mad with rage and was aiming to kill me. Anyway, they died before I got there. I had nothing to do with their deaths.”
“But you were there, Pa. The stranger, Gideon, he saw you.”
“I was across the river when the shooting started.”Kane released his grip on the halter, and Scott’s mount stepped back with angst and relief. “This is a hard land, Scott,” Kane continued sternly. “If Theo had lived, he would have taken his story to the sheriff in Tombstone. However, luck was on our side. Five of Sam’s renegade Indian friends were in the area, and he took them with him when he went after Theo. I lost men in that shoot out, but Sam assures me, Theo's body had two apache arrows protruding from his chest.”
“What about the bullets, Pa. How will you explain this?”
“What of them?” Kane looked at his son narrowly. “Indians use guns. I’ll clear up the matter with the sheriff in Tombstone when I’m up there next week. It was an apache attack, nothing more. I’ll have Sam and the boys collect the dead in the morning.”
“You best do it tonight, Pa,” said Scott. “Gideon told Ben to collect the dead early in the morning. He wants to take the bodies up to Tombstone as evidence.”
Kane turned to walk away but stopped in mid-turn. “Where are Theo and his wife?”
“In the barn out at the Evans’ ranch,” Scott told him. Then in a softer tone, he asked, “What are you going to do with the children, Pa? Mary Loo and Rosa are staying out there with them.”
Kane clenched his jaw. “Once I've settled this matter, I’ll send them to some distant orphanage. Right now, this stranger is becoming more than just a hand full. I need to deal with him.”
** 22 **
Tim sat quietly at the kitchen table, looking down at the flapjacks stacked on his plate. The freshly laid butter had melted between them and now oozed down their sides, pulling the rich, wild honey with it.
“You’re not eating,” Rosa remarked with concern. “I have a pot filled with them, staying warm in the oven, just waiting for you to finish those.”
Tim looked up; the rounds of his eyes still puffy from his tears that had flowed freely that evening. “Ma always made them for us on Sundays. Do you think she’s looking down on us?”
Oh, mi Hijo. “Oh, my child,” Rosa sighed. “Every day is Sunday in heaven, Tim.” She moved over to the table and stopping behind him, placed her hands gently on the young boy's shoulders. “Yes, she is, and don’t you ever forget that. She’ll be watching over you, helping you with everything you do.”
Tim cocked his head to look up at her and tried to show a strong face, yet still, a tear rolled down his cheek.
Unable to control herself, Bree suddenly broke out, “Why, Mary Loo ... why?” and let the fork she was holding in her hand fall to the table, her head dropping into the cups of her unsteady hands. She could not hold back her sorrow and rose hurriedly from her chair and ran from the kitchen, choked with loud, breath gasping sobs.
Mary Loo rose instantly, dabbing at her mouth with a white table napkin, then tossed it loosely down to the table. “What a terrible thing …” she groaned beneath her breath and raced after Bree.
Hearing Bree’s pain, Tim’s eyes began the moisten again. “What … will happen to us?” He sniffed as Rosa wiped at his tear. “Who who will look after us? We can’t stay here alone.”
“Oh, mi Hijo,” Rosa said again, “Don’t think about such things now.” Rosa looked away, hiding her worry. When she turned back to Tim, she was breathing heavily. “Mary Loo was Bree’s age when her ma died," she said in almost a whisper, "and Scott was about yours. Time heals, Tim, I promise, ‘cause they'll always be in your heart and memories.”
“I’m scared, Rosa.” Tim was trying to show his strength again, but his shoulders quivered beneath his tan, cotton shirt, and his tummy hurt. “What will happen if Sam comes back?”
Rosa sat down beside the boy and pulled him close. She gave him a short, tight squeeze. “Jackson stayed here last night,” she said. “Do you think Sam will trouble us if Jackson staying at the ranch?”
In all the time Rosa spoke, Tim had not turned away from her. Now he turned to look down at the flapjacks, and he smiled a big smile. “I don’t think so,” he said and drew his face into an alarming pose, and his eyebrows rose as he turned back to her. “No! He’s much bigger than Sam.” And together, they laughed out loud for a short moment. Then Tim was thoughtful again.
“Will you and Mary Loo stay with us?” he asked.
“For as long as you want us, too,” Rosa answered.
** 23 **
Gideon wrapped his knuckles against the back door as he entered the kitchen, and for a moment, he stood sniffing the sweet odor in the air. “Flapjacks and honey?” he asked.
Looking up, Rosa offered her warmest smile. “Señor Gedeón,” she said, boasting her broad Mexican accent. “All freshly cooked this morning,” She tightened her arm around Tim’s shoulders. “You remember, Señor Gideon, don’t you?” and Tim nodded.
“Sit, Señor Gideon,” Rosa told him, pointing to a chair at the head of the table. She rose from the table and moved over to the open dinner display cabinet, took a white plate patterned in blue, then from the oven she took four large flapjacks and placed them on the plate. When she returned to her seat, she set them down in front of Gideon. Pushing the butter and honey a little closer to him, she asked, “Where is Jackson?”
Gideon separated the flapjacks and buttered each one in turn, then poured a large amount of wild honey over them and then piled them back one on top of the other. He sliced through the top two layers and popped the warm, sticky fork-load into his mouth. “In the barn,” he dabbed at his lips with the back of his hand as he swallowed, “… washing up.” He popped another large amount into his mouth, and asked, “Bree …? Where is the young, girl?”
Rosa shook her head but grinned kindly. “Hombre’s,” she exclaimed tonely. “You are all the same. The more you have in your mouths, the more you want to talk. She’s upstairs with Mary Loo.”
Gideon pushed his balled fist against his lips and swallowed hard. “Sorry …” he offered. “It’s just that they are the best I’ve ever eaten.”
Tim smiled, but Rosa frowned. “You’re just as bad, young man,” she told him.
Gideon noticed that Tim hadn’t touched his breakfast. “I was hoping you would show me your cave this morning,” he said. “On the way down to the creek, we can stop off at the barn to see Dicky.”
At the sound of Dicky’s name, Tim’s face lit up like a wick of an oil lamp. “I wanted to go to him when I woke up this morning, but Mary Loo said not until after breakfast.”
"We'll go when you've eaten what's on your plate."
“But I’m not hungry, Mister Gideon, Tim argued. “I want to go to Dicky.”
“Eat what you can,” Gideon told him,” then we’ll go.”
Tim stuffed his mouth with a large piece of flapjack. “Have you seen … Dicky?” he burst out. “Is he … alright?” And Gideon smiled as little fragments of half munched flapjack spat from his mouth as he spoke. Rosa just closed her eyes and shook her head.
“Jackson dressed Dicky’s wound last night," said Gideon. The bullet passed through the fleshy part of his upper leg. In a week, he’ll be running around.”
Rosa cleared her throat with a short breath of air, then interjected. “Is Jackson coming up to the house?”
Gideon swallowed before he answered, “He’s nervous about coming up ..." his voice faded off.
“This house has never discriminated against anyone. He knows that.”
“Maybe it’s his way of showing respect.”
Rosa didn’t answer, but sat quietly with her hands, clamped together resting on the kitchen table. A striking woman, well-posed and groomed, and Gideon couldn’t help but notice why Watkins wouldn’t be attracted to her. “I’ll have a word with him later,” she said eventually and rose from her chair over to the kitchen door. “Molly!” she hollowed out into the backyard.
After a filling breakfast, Gideon followed the well-trodden path that twisted like the coils of a diamondback-adder from the homestead down through a well-maintained vegetable garden, of various kinds and colors, to the bunkhouse standing on the creek flats. Little Tim trotted behind, trying to keep pace with Gideon’s wide steps. On an overturned barrel, Jackson sat leaned back against the bunkhouse wall eating the flapjacks Rosa had sent down to him with Molly. At his feet stood a large mug of steaming black coffee. The large man looked up as they approached, and reaching down for the coffee, he began to sip at the dark, hot liquid. The sun had risen fully into the sky and fell across his broad face, and powerful arms and the exposed skin shone like the well-oiled stock of a rifle. He had removed the padding covering the wound in his cheek. The swelling had gone, and the blemished shades from the extensive bruising were lessening, but a long dark scab still traced his cheek from below the left eye to his jawline.
When Jackson finished eating and swallowed down the last of his coffee, he led them into the barn where Dicky had spent the night. While Jackson redressed the wound with a mixture of wet earth and herbs he had taken from the creek, Tim stood holding Dicky’s head against his chest softly rubbing at the base of the ears and along the sides of the long neck. When Jackson was finished, he bound the wound with a clean strip of linen that Rosa had given him the night before.
Around mid-morning, Mary Loo called for Tim to return to the house for his time of schooling. As no school existed in the village, Mrs. Evans had put aside two hours of every day to teach Tim and Bree to read and write, and the craft of how to put numbers together. The time set aside for reading was always from the Bible, as she thought it would serve them well in the ways of their Lord, and give them a solid foundation on which to build their lives.
Tim frowned and scuffed his feet in the dirt. "Not today," he groaned. “He looked up at the two men for support. "I haven't shown you my cave yet, Mister Gideon."
"We can do that this afternoon,” said Gideon. “Right now, it's important to learn how to read and write. When you're older, you'll be happy you did."
"Can you read, Mister Gideon?"
"A little," Gideon replied.
"And you, Jackson?"
Jackson nodded and smiled. His tight curls of black hair shone like molasses in the morning sun, his smile sparkling as brightly. "Grandpa made sure of that. Even Michael can read and count. Without it, how would we know how much change to give our customers?"
“Tim,” Rosa called this time, and Jackson pointed up to the house.
"Best you run along,” he said. “You don't want to get on the wrong side, Rosa."
Tim turned slowly with his chin pressed against his chest and started back up the path on heavy feet.
** 24 **