Esther May poured cool water into a cup and returned the wrapped olla. Julio hung the jug in the shade where the breeze and evaporation chilled it. She tasted the fried prickly pear cactus. It wasn’t bad, and she liked dipping it into the salsa made spicy with red chili peppers.
The rock made a fine target. Esther May was behind Julio 3 to 4 in the art of spitting out the hard cactus seeds by curling her tongue around the kernel and blowing. She missed again as Brother Pablo arrived in the company of another man.
“Buenos Dias, senorita,” Pablo said. “I see Julio is teaching you to enjoy cactus.”
Esther May rose, wiped her chin and dusted off her pants. “He’s become a shadow—a helpful one, I might add.”
Brother Pablo introduced his companion. “This is Miguel, a fine horse-shoer. He will tend your horses’ hooves.” Pablo held up both hands before clasping them in a grip under his chin. “The Mission pays him, of course.”
Esther May suppressed a grin. “That’s very kind of you, Brother. Let’s go to the corrals.” She caught Miguel’s frown as he eyed her pants. Was he offended by dirty pants, or a woman in pants?
Whatever it was, she had no time for Miguel’s problems. Esther May tongued another seed from between her teeth and cheek, turned and spit. Julio laughed when she missed the rock again.
Brother Pablo wiped his brow. “Not me. I must return to make ready for tomorrow.” He eyed Esther May. “It’s the Sabbath. You are of the Faithful, aren’t you?”
“You mean Sunday? Church?”
“Yes. Everyone comes. Only the sinners stay at the saloons on the Sabbath. That’s why all the Senora’s are busy cooking tonight, to free them for the Lord’s Day.” He stretched himself to his full height. “You should come.”
Esther May displayed her brightest smile. “Of course, Brother. Count me in.”
Esther May’s guilt burned her cheeks when she recalled telling Brother Pablo she’d be at his Sunday service. But then again, he’d as much as told her that no one would be available to watch her horses.
She had an uncomfortable feeling of … what? Losing control? No. It was more than that. The last few months had taught her the dire consequences of negligence.
Esther May said her usual prayers along with special ones for her atonement and healing for C.J. Then she moved to a shady corner where the corral met the adobe and made sure her pistol slid easily in its holster.
The Third Man
Ten minutes after the last Mission bell rang, Esther May saw the vaquero coming along the ocotillo corral wall. She couldn’t recognize him as the man that shot at her. That event had happened under fire and he was on top of a galloping horse. This man wore no spurs and moved on foot as a cat moves through grass. He leaned over, swung a leg between the gate poles and ducked into the corral.
In the corner, Esther May clasped the pistol’s handle and made her tone as gruff as possible. “What are you doing?”
The vaquero spun around to see Esther May holding her gun on him.
He grinned. “Are you trying to be a man? You aren’t hiding behind a rock now. It takes an hombre to stand in the open face to face.”
Esther May hoped her voice was steady. “Drop your gun belt.”
The vaquero smoothed his mustache. “No. I don’t think so. Here’s what we’ll do, muchacha. I’ll take all the horses, you give me the scalpers money, and I let you live.”
Esther May raised her pistol to point between his eyes.
The vaquero drew his gun.
Esther May fired.
Is it over? Should Esther May have gone to church and sidestepped the issue? Leave a comment now.
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