Two herders were in the camp. Abuela had evidently put up a fight—and lost.
Esther May hadn’t heard them arrive while she bathed in the river. Her stomach cramped, and burning bile rose in her throat. The scene before her was almost the same as when she and her father were surprised at the Rio Grande. That encounter ended with her being abused to the threshold of death and Daddy killed.
What About This Time?
She stopped at the edge of the clearing, not completely dry. Her wet hair trailed beads of water over the shoulders of her clean clothes. She pressed the bundle of washed clothes against her chest and forced the quiver out of her voice.
“What are you doing here?”
Emilio’s grin widened. “Taking back my stolen property, senorita.” He rested a foot on the keg of flour.
“We didn’t steal anything. It was given to us.” Esther May cast a quick glance at Abuela, who returned her gaze with steady, determined eyes.
Esther May felt the heat rise in her face along with rage she rarely experienced. “You beat up a woman for flour?”
She Had It Coming
The vaquero with the scratched face answered. “She wouldn’t let us search the wagon and fought me. She said it belonged to Riding Woman.” He sneered at Esther May. “Is that you, Woman Who Gets Rode?”
Emilio chuckled and tipped his head toward the vaquero. “Alvaro has long been away from his wife. That is why he comes here with me.”
Esther May side-stepped toward deeper, night-time shadows. “I’ve seen men like you before. I’ve made ’em pay, too.”
Emilio cast his arms wide. “That’s why I’m here—for my pay. Do you think I go all the way to the Tontos for a few scrawny cattle?” He shook his head and gestured at the flour keg. “Old Alejandro didn’t know I count these every night, or why I give him a big barrel of flour, so he doesn’t have to open the little ones.”
Emilio puckered his lips and frowned. “I may have persuaded him a little too much, but he told me where it was.”
What Is It?
Esther May edged a bit more sideways, the fire highlighting the men. “So if it’s not flour, and you don’t want the cattle, what is it?”
“Gold, senorita. Or rather rocks with gold in them. There are lots of them in Apache country.” Emilio shrugged. “The Indians have no use for it, but they like guns. I take them guns, they give me gold. The cattle are for nosy people to think I like rustled beef. That way, no one knows anything.”
We Do Now
“I know. You just told me. And now, so does your man, Alvaro.”
“Yes,” Emilio bobbed his head, “but neither of you will be around to say anything.”
Emilio drew his pistol and shot Alvaro so quickly the unlucky herder didn’t show surprise.
The bundle of clothes in Esther May’s hand bounced as she fired the gun hidden inside.
Emilio’s body slammed back against the wagon. He did have time to register astonishment before he fell with a shattered breastbone from a .44 slug.
Esther May dropped the clothes and ran to untie Abuela. “Let’s get out of here!”
Abuela touched Esther May’s arm. “We can’t outrun them, Riding Woman.”
Esther May bit her lip. “Then, we’ll have to find a place we can defend.”
Abuela’s thin hand circled Esther May’s wrist. “Think.”
“You’re trying to tell me something, Abuela. What?” She sat, stroked the older woman’s face, and frowned at her bloody hair. “If we don’t run or hide … ”
Abuela said nothing while Esther May thought aloud. “There were five of them. Two are here. Alejandro won’t hurt us—that leaves two, but they will have heard the shots.”
“They will think that was for us,” Abuela said.
Turn The Tables
“OK,” Esther May said. “I think I can make my way to their camp in the dark and convince them to leave us alone.”
She checked the cut on Abuela’s scalp. It was already clotted over. “You’ll be fine. I’ll fetch the gelding and get over there.
“Go like The People,” Abuela said. “Bareback. Saddle makes too much noise.”
What is Esther May going into? We’d like your opinion, leave it while you’re here.
Here’s an interesting article about some gold finds in Arizona.
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