Fiction

Jehrico Finds a Mistress

by Tom Sheehan
Jehrico knew what he was, and right from his first pick-up, a token-type horseshoe: He was a collector of things tossed aside, and Jehrico assumed that the Indian woman he was looking upon had been thrown aside, like so many of the tossed parts he had retrieved and made something of in his foraging about the old west, which was, indeed, his land of discovery and recovery. In fact, the token-type horseshoe, at his insistence, was made into a Bowie knife by a Mexican blacksmith whose father had fought at the Alamo and came away with stories of Jim Bowie.
Unwittingly he had started his small business with that token-type horseshoe.
As for the Indian maiden, Jehrico made his pronouncement early. “She is the most beautiful maiden I have ever seen, ever been around.” It was Jehrico’s voice coming along a windswept passage in the Randolph Mountain Range. He was not talking about Lupalazo, his wife, or his oldest daughter, Kerradina, a beauty in her own right, and he was not talking to anybody but himself and a piece of the wind that would keep his secret locked in the clouds and the high mass of rock lifting his eyes to the blue sky … at least for the time being.
“I will not buy her if she is possessed now because she must be free in my mind as well as her own mind, but I will trade for her. That is my custom.” The junkman and salvager of the west had not let go of the talismans, the many of them, that brought him luck or the goodness borne in what God designed and what man made and then discarded.
And at the moment his eyes were studying another ghost town he had come across, the dust of the years blowing into the wind, to be grasped, run through the sieve of his mind for what he now called “salvagations.” He had coined his own word for what he accomplished over the years. His friend Collie Sizemore probably had some influence on the coining.
This maiden was part of the old building, for the knotted rope binding her to a beam was thick as her wrist, solidly in place, not eaten by time or vermin of the ghost town, a prisoner of the “knotter” whoever that might be. He had seen no other person and heard no other sound but her moaning.
Surely, though, someone was about, someone who would not let go of this beautiful creature, who had her hog-tied to a beam she could not break down or carry on her back.
In the rear of this decrepit building partially blowing in the wind, part of its dust making the last journey through creation, he’d found her. There was a moan riding an edge of the wind, a human in distress, and Jehrico made his way into and through the shanty-like building on its way to history. Rubble was everywhere, a mess of furniture and various implements, artifacts of a once-livable site, sitting in the last place they had been used, wrecked by time, twist or toss. But every article he spotted worthy of description and identification was slowly sifting through his mind.
He was at work, and at rescue.
Jehrico, once called by Collie Sizemore as the “razor appraiser,” carried only his sharp eyes and a rugged cudgel, a hand-fashioned weapon to ward off the first wild animal to set upon him. He had never used the cudgel for a weapon, but rather to thrust found things aside, into better view, to see what they were made of, what they had left in them, what they might become.
The stories of things he had “turned over” had assumed a legendary status, consisting of so many invaluable finds that truth built upon itself, for many believed what he had not yet found would come to his hand, without doubt, before it blew away into dust. Collie also said, “Jehrico is a savior of all things found and leave no life left on the ground.”
There were folks in Bola City who swore Sizemore worked out of some book that Jehrico had found along the way, in a deserted Conestoga or a fallen schoolhouse, who preached what he read.
Collie, one of his first friends, had become proficient in spreading his status in the west, the way his words seemed fashioned solely for Jehrico Taxico, Collector. “Don’t leave it, he’ll retrieve it.” Don’t toss your tool, you’ll look the fool.” “Don’t fling-off old gimmicks, he’ll make ‘em do tricks.”
Jehrico, it was also known, had never carried a firearm to protect himself. Excelling in bartering, in trading up or down for some target piece he noted still locked into original form, into its first intent, he followed the moaning that issued from the nearly-collapsed building in the sixth ghost town he’d come upon. Each sound, each sigh, each throaty call for help, drew him through the wrecked building, which he assumed even animals stayed clear of.
When he caught sight of her, standing in a shaft of sunlight dancing around her, his breath came to a halt, balled up in his chest, collected itself for a gasp noting pleasure without touching. She was absolutely beautiful in her horrible state. Her clothes, what was left of them, were shredded, tattered, but in such a haphazard manner they had left her as a most desirable woman, beautiful, wanton, dressed for company, undressed for company, exhibiting the shapeliest torso from hips to shoulders and slung with an obviously prominent bust, the finest and firmest of legs and arms, the perfect face of a woman of the west, her moans ascending the loveliest of throats, coming past a perfection of pale lips, sitting on his ears like a psalm of sorts, a prayer of thanksgiving before Jehrico could contemplate or conduct her rescue.
“What will I do now?” he asked aloud in the midst of dust, danger and derring-do. He had to release her from bonds, cover her, see who had imprisoned her in this dangerous site, and engineer a trade. He beheld a vision of Lupalazo when he had first seen her with the Indian he eventually traded with, and now envisioned Lupalazo looking over his shoulder, and fully noting how he viewed this new beauteous maiden of the west, this prisoner. Of all people, Lupalazo would know the unsaid that was being said, the feelings that were conjured, the minute joy being thrust into play.
This new woman of the west was easily the most handsome and beautiful he had ever seen. She was not an artifact, not something to improve, alter, absorb into some new element. She was perfection, unalterable, inalterable. He dared not close his eyes; he was concerned, afraid, disturbed by what he might do, hope for, end up with.
Then he realized she had not spoken a word, uttered only the moans of imprisonment, the pain of roped limbs, but she raised her eyes and stared off to her left; she was alerting him to something, someone. Her eyes squinted tightly and her jaw dropped slack. Fright broke out on her face, her mouth atwitter, her eyes begging salvation.
Jehrico grasped his cudgel tighter, swung around and saw two Sioux Indians standing at the door behind him, one with a lance, one with an arrow in his bow. Neither one carried a stone ax or a long knife.
Jehrico screamed the name “Wakan-Tanka,” one of the gods of the Sioux he was familiar with, then he swung the cudgel and hit above his head a cross-piece running across the room. The walls of the old decrepit building shook dust from secret places, echoed along other sections of joists and beams, shaking the whole building. The two Sioux dropped their weapons and stood entranced in place as Jehrico held out one hand in a sign of peace, even as the shaking of the old structure slowed down, and ceased. He showed no scowl on his face or any part of a smile, neutral for the moment.
But the next move was Jehrico’s and he knew it. Withdrawing his Bowie knife, he cut the bonds off the woman, knelt down in front of her, took her hand and held it on his head for a second, stood up and said again, in his most solemn voice, “Wakan-Tanka. Wakan-Tanka.” He wondered what the pair of them looked like, her in her tattered clothes that showed most of her body, him with a mighty cudgel in hand and saying the name of one of the Sioux gods.
Then Jehrico, not through any bartering as yet, made another strange move; he flipped the cudgel in the air, caught it coming down at its thickest end and held the handle toward the Sioux. Both Indians stepped back, refused to grasp the cudgel, and fled the building without their weapons, the god’s name leaping from their throats, “Wakan-Tanka! Wakan-Tanka!” From the dusty, barren road for more than a half mile he could hear their cries as they carried off fear and surprise in departure.
It was not his old pal Collie Sizemore who first saw the strange pair coming into Bola City, Jehrico leading his mule and a lovely Indian maiden, blanket-wrapped, sitting on the mule as though she owned it, her eyes looking straight ahead into the center of town. But it was Lupalazo from the porch of their home who saw them. The maiden did not see any of the men eventually staring at her, but saw Lupalazo and three children clutching at her knees while staring at the man with a strange woman on his mule, a sight they had never seen.
But it was Collie Sizemore, ever alert, who saw them next, who yelled it out, “See what Jehrico brought home now. She’s a beauty, a bubble of trouble does appear the way it looks from way off here.”
The saloon emptied into the street to see the sight. There was noise galore, roaring guffaws and aws and ahs, as the crowd looked upon the Indian maiden when the blanket fell away from her loveliness.
“Did you dig her up from one of those holy places, Jehrico?” Collie yelled out. “She looks godilly and quite bodily. And your wife is bound by strife.”
There was laughter and wonder and daydreaming galore as Jehrico threw the blanket back onto the maiden still sitting on the mule. Lupalazo smiled, knowing her man, throwing Collie Sizemore a quick look of condemnation for his remarks, but allowing a smile as punctuation, knowing what and who Collie was from near the beginning.
One of the older patrons of the saloon, who had heard or seen Jehrico at bartering before, asked, “What’d you give up for her, Jehrico? You still got all your arms and your legs.”
Collie Sizemore had to laugh at that one, and snapped his fingers in joy, and then Jehrico said, “I only had to use the bait of one of their gods for a couple of Indians.” He threw his head back, his mouth open, as if to show shock of some kind.
“Which one was that?” asked the old man, as though he was plumb familiar with the whole tribe of gods that ran the heavens above.
Jehrico said, “Why, Wakan-Tanka, of course,”
The old patron of the saloon simply said, as he turned and looked out over the congregation of drinkers, his eyes finally settling on Jehrico, “Oh, that one. Serves him right getting used up like that. You’re still ahead of the game, Jehrico. Gotta hand it to you.” He slapped his thighs with both hands.
All of them, including Collie and Jehrico gave the old man credit with heavy laughter; it was loud and lush and long. But it was Lupalazo, the Collector’s wife, the mother of his six children, who threw her arms around the still-frightened Indian maiden and said, as she ushered her away from the crowd, “Come along with me, dear, and we’ll get you cleaned up and into a proper outfit. Something special for what you’ve been through, something right out of my own collection, something a little more attractive for you.”
Looking back over her shoulder, she added, to one and all, “You will be welcome as mistress of our household and then we’ll see who wants to venture close to an Indian maiden.”
She was sure Jehrico understood every word but, just in case, she said it in her own tongue, with no twist in the meaning, “Le dará la bienvenida como maestra de nuestro hogar y, a continuación, vamos a ver quién quiere aventurarse cerca de una doncella India.”
The Master Collector of Junk understood every word, in both languages and, for sure, the full intent.

 

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Tom Sheehan served in the 31st Infantry, Korea 1951-52, and graduated Boston College in 1956. His books are Epic Cures; Brief Cases, Short Spans; Collection of Friends; From the Quickening; The Saugus Book; Ah, Devon Unbowed; Reflections from Vinegar Hill; This Rare Earth & Other Flights, and Vigilantes East.  eBooks include Korean Echoes (nominated for a Distinguished Military Award), The Westering, (nominated for National Book Award); from Danse Macabre are Murder at the Forum (NHL mystery), Death of a Lottery Foe, Death by Punishment, and An Accountable Death. Co-editor of A Gathering of Memories, and Of Time and the River, two collections about our home town of Saugus, Massachusetts, both 400+ pages, 4500 copies sold, all proceeds from $40.00 each cost destined for a memorial scholarship for my co-editor, John Burns, in the Saugus School system as director of the English Department at the High School for 45 years. After conception of the idea for the books, and John putting out the word for material to be included by former students, and with a proposal of actions and schedules I prepared for a local bank, ten of his former students signed a loan from the bank for $60,000 to print two books not yet written!!!!

And paid it off!!!!

* * * * * * * * * * * *

 

 

Samuel4

painting by Samuel Barrera

Advertisements
Standard
Fiction

Jehrico and Lupalazo

by Tom Sheehan

It happened overnight in Bola City, and Jehrico Taxico, local junk man and businessman, was right there in the middle of things again. The whole town never figured Jehrico to fall in love, be more attracted to a woman than to his love of junk and making things work again, those which had lost the chance or the token push to gain the new chance. Junk searching, junk collecting, junk re-use were Jehrico’s main dishes in life. No mere woman was going to displace such talents.

This is not a story of a mere woman.

“Hell,” said Collie Sizemore, “Jehrico never once jumped in the tub with Molly. Never once had that joy and I been thinking about it non-stop since they set that damned thing up and started making money on it, that old piece of junk he found out there in some lost canyon. Can you imagine the chances he had with Molly and none ever took. Shakes me to my boot bottoms, it does. Right down where it counts.”

But once in a rare moon, when all the magic sticks of Indian medicine men and their magic stones point in one direction at one time, fate takes a big bite of life and spits it out for proper drying and falling into a rightful place. The fact is that Jehrico, though never wishing for such changes as a woman would bring, totally happy as a junk collector, knew fate was always hanging out someplace in a canyon, out on the grass where a wagon may have passed on 30 or 40 years earlier, died in its tracks and left odds and ends, or on a bold spot on the trail where nothing salvageable was likely to appear, the “likely” part being argumentative. Up from Mexico he had come, as a footloose and abandoned boy making his own way in the world and using every little tossed-out item that came across his path. To him and his wiles, and his need for gain at any measure, nothing was useless; not a piece of wood because it made a toothpick, and not an abandoned or lost iron bath tub or an abandoned piano, all too promising for future business advantages. Never mind a hunk of iron destined, in his mind, for many uses time and again the way the west and its need for implementation grew.

But fate jumped in one day on a return trip to the ghost town of Welcome Fire, where Jehrico once had retrieved an old piano, and where on this return trip came face to face with an Indian brave who had a woman trussed on an Indian pony. Jehrico saw two things in her eyes, deep pain and fear for the near future and a note of both beauty and understanding that said she knew his soul was also hurting some way.

The Indian had seen Jehrico before. “You gather old pieces, trade them, make new use. Tribe talk about you. Tribe saw you take the iron devil out of the canyon many moons ago. I have found a woman. Make new use of her in village.” The Indian pointed at the dark-haired, dark-eyed woman tied to a pony, no saddle under her. She was a hidden woman that somehow crept into Jehrico … and stayed put.

Her plight offered no quick solution to the junk collector, who said, “Get the best you can out of her. She will not last long. She will fade quick as old dog in last days.”

The Indian said, “You think no good come from her?”

Jehrico looked into her eyes in a quick glance, shook his head, and said, “It is written by the gods, if pony run off on you with her tied on, you will lose good pony.”

“You want to trade for pony?” the Indian said. “I make trade.”

Jehrico was fixing his argument in place. “I will trade for pony. He is decent pony.”

“You take woman with pony?”

“Why would I do that?” Jehrico replied. “I have miles to go in my searches. I have little food. Enough for me. I don’t need something that will eat my food and then will die on me. I would have to bury her so buzzards not take away. My God says I would have to bury her. What do you do for dead woman in your tribe? Gather much wood? Make big fire? Wait until she burn away for the High Spirit to take up with Him?”

The Indian, seeing Jehrico’s hand rubbing the handle of a knife, said, “I take knife, you take pony and woman.”

Jehrico, said, “I swap knife for pony, like I said.”

The woman was staring at him; her eyes had changed, as though she finally understood what Jehrico was doing.

The Indian relented. “I swap pony for knife. You can have woman for free.”

Jehrico handed him the knife, took the pony by the mane, patted him slowly with his other hand, and rode away slowly, saying, “If woman dies on me on the trail I will ask the Gods for help to bury her.” Then he put his heel against Mildred his mule and nudged her. “Off we go, Mildred. We make camp in another valley.”

Down the prairie a few miles, the latter part of the day coming on, shadows making new landmarks come to life, Jehrico untied her hands, splashed water on her wrists, gave her a drink from his flask, and said, “My name is Jehrico. What is your name? Where did you come from? How did the Indian capture you?”

The woman, her eyes changed again, a crease of a smile trying to make way at one corner of her mouth that had pouty lips, shook her beautiful black hair and said, “I am Lupalazo. I came from Mexico when a man take me from my home. He was taking me home to be slave. The Indian killed him and took me. He was taking me to his village to be slave. Are you going to make me slave? You fooled Indian right from the start. I saw what you were doing. I can see down into you from far away out here. That is best thing happen to me since my father die two moons ago. I was alone. No family. Will I be in your family now?”

Jehrico found himself already at that idea. “Yes,” he said, “you can be in my family. You can be my family.”

She said, looking straight into his eyes, “Lupalazo say we both need to clean away the past from both of us. We need to go in water and bathe. We need to get rid of bad smell and bad things. Do you know where we can go in water? Water in Mexico is beautiful. Makes you feel clean where mountain send down a message from high up.”

To the most secret place on the river Jehrico took her, wondering how it would be handled, them both at her insistence needing a bath.

But Lupalazo made it the easiest part of the day, the easiest part of the trade. “Nobody outside my family ever see all of me,” she said. “The Indian and the cowboy not see all of me. But I am in your family now and you can see all of me and I can see all of you. We do not worry about such things in our family.” Her smile triggered goodness and joy in both of them.

And at the edge of the river, under a growth of trees that formed like an umbrella over one spot, she took off her clothes and stood there at the edge of the river waiting for Jehrico to undress.

But he was stunned. He could not move. She was the most beautiful sight he had ever seen, never having seen a naked woman before, never dreaming of this sight. Spirits ran right through him, speaking strange words to him, sending strange feelings. Was she not better than a worthy piece of iron, a bronze piece thick as his arm? The thick bottom of a broken bottle, the sun coming for it?

“Are you afraid of water?” she said. “You need to have bath like I do. I will feel better. You look like you have never seen a woman with no clothes on. Is it that way? Do you like what you see? Have you ever seen a woman with no clothes on?”

“No.” stammered Jehrico, “I have never seen a woman with no clothes on. Never in my life.”

“Do you like what you see?” She did not pirouette or make any sensual move. She stood still, a proud and beautiful woman at a crux in her life. “I am in your family now. You can see me anytime. I like how your face looks at me. How your eyes fill up with me. Now is my turn.”

She gestured at him still fully clothed.

Jehrico Taxico, for the first time in his life, disrobed in front of a woman and knew he was in love for ever and ever. And felt more so when Lupalazo smiled back at him, stretched her hand for his hand and the pair of new lovers walked into the cool part of the river and felt the wash coming over them, the wash of splendidly clear water from high in the mountains.

After their bath they lie down in the shade of the trees and knew they were put together for their whole lives. “I will see you from everyplace I am from now on. From far or near.” She held his hand tightly to her.

And of course, it was Collie Sizemore, Bola City’s social scout, saloon porch denizen in the last of the evening light, who yelled out to all in Hagen’s Saloon, “Hey, folks, here comes J&M and he’s got a woman on an Indian pony and she’s prettier than that damned pony, I swear. Her hair’s black as Hades must be black when the fires are out. She’s not an Indian, but she might be from Jehrico’s old home town, ‘cause they look like they’re the best of friends forever, and he ain’t been gone but two days to Welcome Fire to do some more scroungin’. And he scrounged up somethin’ awful nice, if you was to ask me about it.”

The barkeep said, “Collie, you sound like you need a drink.”

Collie Sizemore, as much herald as Bola City would ever know, said, “I feel like somethin’ to celebrate is comin’ on me.”

So it was, only a week later, marriage now the first thing on his mind, Jehrico Taxico asked Lupalazo to marry him in a ceremony to be held in J&M’s Emporium and Dance Hall, the place Jehrico and Molly Yarbrough built around the retrieved piano Jehrico brought in from the ghost town of Welcome Fire.

Jehrico wanted to marry Lupalazo in a hurry, to make her an honest woman, and the shindig promised to be a lively one, and all the sideline accessory actions went into play. Lupalazo, of course, pulled a lot of attention her way, and her and Molly Yarbrough had a great get-acquainted session at the livery site where Jehrico’s tub was still a customer favorite in warm weather and after long cattle drives or long hours with the reins of a coach or wagon.

Molly said, “We’re lucky, Lupalazo, that we caught up with a churchman, Father Rueben Galarzo. He will perform the wedding. I’d like to be the maid of honor for you.”

“Oh, that very nice news, Molly. A churchman from my country once and Jehrico’s country once, and you say it is okay to marry Jehrico who make me dizzy. Make my head spin. It is okay to get married when head is spinning? Does your head spin sometime? You get dizzy? Mine spin whenever Jehrico is near me, and even when I am here and he is down there and fix building for the wedding.”

She thought over what she had said, and asked again of Molly, “Is it okay to get married by churchman when head spin?”

“It’s fine. It’s okay. It’s good to let your head spin. But be careful you don’t fall off your horse.” The ludicrous image leaped at the two women.

Molly and Lupalazo laughed until their sides hurt, and then Lupalazo said to Molly, “Does your head spin, Molly?”

Molly said, “Once in a while, after all my business is done.”

Jehrico’s future wife said, in all honesty, “Is great when it spin all the time and don’t worry about food or where to go or what else to do. But when I wake up I know I am hungry. All the dizzy time make me hungry. I could eat big steak now.”

The two women of the west shared another laughing concert, getting to know each other with deep affinity.

Molly had only one question to ask Lupalazo, and it was the source of her name. “How did your name come about?’ she had said, the curiosity coming as a warm look in her face.

“Oh, my mother tell me about night I was born. My father drink while sit and wait, lots of tequila and branch wine, and he look with his magic glass at shooting stars, many of them that night, and got his riata and told my mother he was going to rope a falling star for me when I came born, which was in the next hour. That is how she tell me, father to rope a star fall from the sky for me.”

Molly, after necessary preparations, had shut down the tub operation, saving it for co-owner Jehrico Taxico and the future Mrs. Lupalazo Taxico’s wedding and she picked out a dress for the bride from her own finery, a red silk body hugger from St. Louis that nobody had seen her wear. When she saw Lupalazo put it on she knew Jehrico would be knocked for a loop further than his current knocked loop when he saw her in it. Such a man in a man’s world would be knocked away for the count seeing the Mexican beauty at her luscious best. She’d even taken Molly’s breath away for a short count.

Molly Yarbrough realized that the junk collector supreme had picked up the most retrievable good thing he’d ever found in his scrounging travels, and come away with a whole gold mine.

The wedding was the highlight of the year for Bola City, and activities went on for four days, but nobody knew after a few hours where Jehrico had taken his bride.

Molly figured it was up along the river, or more likely to a ghost town where Jehrico might be showing his new wife a whole lost town he might someday bring back to life.

*****************************************************************************

Tom Sheehan served in the 31st Infantry Regiment in Korea, 1951. His short story collections are Epic Cures and Brief Cases, Short Spans, from Press 53; and From the Quickening and A Collection of Friends, Pocol Press.  He has 18 Pushcart nominations, appeared in Dzanc Best of the Web 2009, has 290 stories on Rope and Wire Magazine, appeared in 4 issues of Rosebud Magazine and 8 issues of Ocean Magazine. His novels include Vigilantes East, An Accountable Death, Death of a Phantom Receiver (an NFL mystery). Milspeak Publishers issued eBooks Korean Echoes, 2011 and The Westering, 2012 and will be followed by 9 more collections in the series. The Westering has been nominated for a National Book Award by the publisher. His work is in Wherever It Pleases, Nervous Breakdown, Troubadour21, Stone Hobo, Faith-Hope-Fiction, Canary, Subtle Tea, Red Dirt Review, Nontrue, Danse Macabre, Nashwaak Review, Jake’s Locked-Room Anthology, Ray’s Road Review, The Best of Sand Hill Review, The Linnet’s Wings, Wilderness House Literary Review, Dew on the Kudzu, Blue Lake Review, Qarrtsiluni, and many more Internet sites and in print magazines.

 kristi56

photo by Kristi Harms

Standard
Fiction

Jehrico and Lupalazo Townships, Inc.

by Tom Sheehan

(“Hard work getting done takes hard work getting to.” – written anonymously in scrawling black ink on a collector’s copy of an old western magazine, seen once  in a barn in Gilsum, New Hampshire, 1970.)

Jehrico had been gone for 13 days, his first time away from Lupalazo and the longest time ever away from Bola City on one of his junk retrieval excursions. Lupalazo missed him terribly and the town began to wonder; did someone catch up on an old score, or see a new Jehrico find that was worth money, or did he fall stray to chance where his whole life seemed to be buried in chance discovery?

The days had mounted and people continued to worry about him, those that knew him best and loved or admired him – Lupalazo, Molly Yarbrough, Collie Sizemore, Bobby Bell, and Arnold No-Last-Name at the livery.

It ought to be mentioned right up front, to throw light on one of them – Collie Sizemore – that bartender Bobby Bell had once found a piece of paper Collie had been writing on the night a gun fight broke out in Hagen’s Saloon and Collie ducked down along the bar and was not seen for two days. But the salvaged scrap of paper read, in Collie’s broad sweep of lettering, “Abracadabra – Any basic remake among Collie’s abbreviations/ definitions about Bola’s rack-abones.”

Collie Sizemore, still ginning up his imagination more for pleasure than any other purpose, had proposed his new idea to Molly Yarbrough before he could even mention a word of it to Jehrico, Bola City’s prominent entrepreneur and man of vision. Sizemore knew that Jehrico had unbounded talent at searching, ferreting, transforming the odds and ends in life’s clutter into sudden new use, sudden new value. And it was only by chance he heard a statement Lupalazo made to Molly on which he’d seized an addition to lesser language in what he called his “Abbreviary” or the fore-mentioned “Abracadabra.”

That was Lupalazo’s innocent reference to Jehrico’s current mission, and his being out of town for several days, much to her disappointment. But pride in her man sat right there in the middle of those spoken words, which really was a statement as much as a question: “Would you believe, Molly, if I told you my man Jehrico rides out there in the big world  to bring a whole town back for me?”

As he said later in the course of events, Sizemore did not want to hear Molly’s answer at that moment, rather finding the savage joy of settling a new bit of alphabet on a whole situation because he had unwittingly received the germ of the idea from someone else.

Despite that beginning, Sizemore danced into Hagen’s saloon, abeam of his own light, and the barkeep seeing from the entrance that he was at it again, knew he would initiate a new game sometime during the course of three drinks. Long ago Bell, behind the bar for close to 6 years, had determined that Collie Sizemore couldn’t hold things secret for more than three drinks, and just had the enormous ability to tantalize everybody for that long about what he was up to, in the reduction of proper names of the language. He also knew that the activity was the tip of a huge hunk of information about something that would have an effect on Bola City each and every time.

Of course, we out here know what Molly had to say to Lupalazo; “I should explain what Jehrico really meant when he said that, Lupalazo. He has a knacky way of talking, that man of yours.”

“Oh, Molly,” Lupalazo replied, “Jehrico long time now tell me not let anybody fill my ears what Jehrico say in his own words.”

She twirled about with those words in a little dance or pirouette of bodily punctuation. “Jehrico say that so Lupalazo keep spinning her man in her head and never let it change because words can change in me like he say Collie change words in his way. I am Jehrico’s woman. I am Jehrico’s family,” and as she said that, with a fabulous blush in her face that Molly had earlier understood meant a secret was kept but was let loose at the same time. She reached out, in the way only a woman can, and with a woman’s touch patted Lupalazo on the stomach, which made Lupalazo’s blush deepen more.

The beautiful Lupalazo, instantly more beautiful than she had ever been, even at her freedom from slavery, said, “Oh, my Molly and Jehrico’s Molly, it is a new Jehrico that sits in me waiting to see his father. Our Mexico lives again.” She hugged herself and that new being that was bound for this world of Jehrico and Lupalazo.

Jehrico meanwhile had bypassed Welcome Fire, the ghost town that he had “scoured down to the last nib,” as he’d put it, and was looking at a new site. This one was not a deserted ghost town and not an old mining area, but just a few broken down and weather-ravaged buildings in a pretty area “my Lupalazo would love for heavy reason.” It grabbed his attention as he rode with Mildred the mule over a rise in the road, about 10 miles past Welcome Fire. He stopped in place and saw his imagined  “new town in the middle of nowhere.” He’d tell Lupalazo and Molly and Collie Sizemore and Bobby Bell, each in turn of course, that he was stunned at how pretty the place looked, but it apparently was bone dry – not a drop of water in sight, though green life leaped at him. That fact of looking dry might have been the cause of its being long deserted. He readily believed that such a beautiful site had hidden resources. If it did, he’d find them. A promise made was a promise done.

The junk man from Mexico, the western salvager of serious note, the scrounger whom the Indians looked upon with a kind of reverence of things from the past, went looking for water that provided the leap of greenery – water he knew to be “as old as the hills,” as one old prospector put it, which caused Jehrico to say, “Men who spend life digging in Earth always find surprises.”

As he’d also say later, “I was in 6 or 7 caves, counting not mattering, when I smelled the water of the gods of the mountain. And the walls of this cave were moist with water trickles coming from up above, and the floor damp as moss under me. That water come from somewhere I couldn’t see and went somewhere else I couldn’t see. But the rock walls kept it in the hidden places. Make me wonder how to move the wall and make water run another way.”

“I went to find Mickey Lattimore way up in the hills and he sold me some dynamite. Mickey help me one other time when I needed a shovel. Sold me an old one, wore down to the nib but useful, and gave me a good cut branch to make a handle. That trip I dug 10 old horseshoes out of ground near Welcome Fire and made knife blades and two hammer heads from them.”

His eyes sparkled when he said, “I lit dynamite and run to catch up to Mildred who smelled what I was up to and run away. Good thing for me, and for Mildred same time. Half the mountain came down and in a quick hurry the water came down too, right into a hole in the ground and then it spilled and moved in a few days into its own creek. Before it go back into rocky places it was a pond you could swim in, wash, let you horse or mule cool off.

“My new town started with big bang of dynamite.  So I call it Boomtown.”

But that big bang also drew attention from two riders on a nearby trail. They were not Bola City citizens. They did not know Jehrico. But they knew what open and free water was – the salvation of many wrongs and the source of possible money at the touch of clear water.

The two men were neither friendly nor kind, and one said to the other, “We ride in slow, sayin’ we need water for our horses an’ when he ain’t lookin’ we whack him one an’ tie him up. There’s tons of places to hide him no one knows about. Maybe no one even misses him whoever he is.” He nodded at his own inspiration: “Then we got ourselves a neat piece of property and water to go with it.”

They rode in slow and hailing Jehrico. “Hey, fella, is that good water there? Our mounts are dry as desert bones. Can we give ‘em drink?” The speakers hands, fully exposed, touched at his own lips and throat to signify his own thirst.

The men were bandits fallen away from a bigger gang of bank and train robbers, looking for a better split on profits of their undertakings. Ben Simpron and Alex Chambers had thought themselves a little smarter than the rest of the gang they’d left. And before them, with water in this spot, loomed the best of any deal they could have cut for themselves.  The pair lounged in the saddle like cowpokes tired from a long drive or a long ride on a hard trail, portraying the images they wanted Jehrico to see.

Jehrico, innocent as always, bought the whole approach – and when he came to, with a thunderous headache pounding at him, he was bound and gagged and found himself in a cave. The stillness was deadly. The first thing he thought of, in that pounding headache, was of the little one that Lupalazo was carrying for him, and he wondered if it too, perhaps a little Jehrico or a new Lupalazo, was now caught in the same kind of stillness, the same kind of darkness, unable to get away from where he was – exactly like he was – bound here, words locked up in him with his own bandana tied across his mouth, and time ticking away like an old pocket watch one had no control over.

The pairing of things wrapped him up in his thinking; Lupalazo and her child, him and his thoughts of them, him and his bandana, the two men who had needed water and now might have it all, what he would have promised and given to Lupalazo as a birth gift for their child. His head was spinning the way Lupalazo said her head tended to spin with thoughts of him, a junk collector who had fled from Mexico, as a boy, where he was facing loneliness and slavery in one form or another.

But the junk collector was not to be called “one of them dumb little kids from over the border.” He had proved that time and time again in his long run at searching, finding, collecting, setting new uses for old things. All that, of course, required tools, tools at hand, to use at the accidental discovery of a relic piece on the open road, on  the wide grass, in the forlorn campsite. And those basic tools he had long ago designed to carry on his person with the least packaging; so the rasps for forming, the separate tongs of a pryer, a hammer as small as toymaker might employ, and several simple but stiff pieces of wire drawn from other material, were ensconced in the several small pockets of his high boots. He had crafted the pockets himself after arduous efforts at such work, and those hand-sewn pockets eventually carried all he needed for his sudden discoveries. The little boy right from the first was entranced by the workings of skilled men and would, whenever the chance came, study them at their crafts. Some of those men made tools to fit their own needs, or the needs of their neighbors.

So it was, in this newer experience of finding himself a prisoner, designed tools became his avenue of escape. And his favorites were two rasps he had made, having forged pieces of steel and shaped them to his choice and smoothed the blank rasps so he could form the teeth with a hammer and punch. That way he raised the teeth of metal on the forged piece of steel. He knew how to select the right hammer weight and the size of the punch. Then he “froze it in place with high heat.” An old blacksmith said it was called “stitching,” and Jehrico always listened to people smarter than him. When all the uniform stitching was done he “froze it in place with high heat.”

With thoughts of Lupalazo pushing him, he was able to extract one of the rasps from a boot pocket and used it to cut into one bind of rope, and in a short time was completely free of rope. He studied the tools he had, and the pieces of wire were used next, joining them to make a noose of sorts. Then, watching where one of the two captors would walk to check out the cave he was locked in, he made up his mind on a method of escape.

The guard’s attention had to be diverted in order for Jehrico to surprise him and get his gun. He could not find a loose stone in the cave to toss for a diverting noise, so with that in mind he took off his suspenders and tied them to the little hammer after cutting them into serviceable lengths for his ruse. He placed the hammer near one side of the cave entrance, stood away from that side, pulled on the end of the suspender lengths so that the hammer fell from a perch. When the guard came near and bent over to check the source of the sound, Jehrico dropped the noose of tied wires over his head and yanked it tight. The guard was now his quiet prisoner. He bound him up using the rope that he had been tied up with, bound the man’s kerchief over his mouth, and set out, now armed, to catch the second bandit.

Of course, it was Collie Sizemore who once again alerted all the folks in Hagen’s Saloon, and any Bola City citizen within earshot, about the parade now proceeding into Bola City.

“Hey, everybody,” he yelled into the saloon, “he’s back. He’s back. Here comes J&M proud as peacocks and Jehrico’s got two of the orneriest looking gents tied over their saddles, hand to foot and the ropes slung under their horses. A sight for sore eyes. Come have a look-see. Someone best go and tell Lupalazo and Molly that he’s back. J&M’s back. He’s back but he ain’t hauling no town with him. He’ll have high explaining to Lupalazo, I’m betting.”

It went easy for Jehrico, who explained to Lupalazo that their new home was so pretty he had to leave it in place. “It’s sitting right out there, Lupalazo, waiting for the three of us, and those two gents I brought in will never go visit there again.”

She said, as Molly came to their sides, “Jehrico left our new town out there for me to see right where it should stay. But he say not to be the only one we make. He find some other places to be big towns. Know they will grow when he starts them with name of their own.  I have first choice at new name for new town.”

Molly Yarbrough said, cocking her head and winking the way Lupalazo liked, “What will you call the new town of yours, Lupalazo?”

Mrs. Lupalazo Taxico replied, without a second’s hesitation, “I call it now and ever Jehrico Two, home away from home, but my man Jehrico is the boss and he call it Boomtown.”

So it was that Collie Sizemore entered in his Abbreviary and Abracadabra the simple Jay2/BT, which we all know became a major city with another name after Jehrico and Lupalazo and their six children went for a visit in Mexico and never came back to Bola City or any of the other sites built up by Jehrico and Lupalazo Townships, Inc. and those included Jehrico Two/Boomtown.

 

*****************************************************************************

 

Tom Sheehan served in the 31st Infantry Regiment in Korea, 1951. His short story collections are Epic Cures and Brief Cases, Short Spans, from Press 53; and From the Quickening and A Collection of Friends, Pocol Press. He has 18 Pushcart nominations, appeared in Dzanc Best of the Web 2009, has 313 stories on Rope and Wire Magazine, appeared in 5 issues of Rosebud Magazine and 8 issues of Ocean Magazine. His novels include Vigilantes East, An Accountable Death, Death of a Phantom Receiver (an NFL mystery). Milspeak Publishers issued eBooks Korean Echoes, 2011 and The Westering, 2012 (the latter nominated for a National Book Award) and will be followed by 9 more collections in the series. His work is in Nervous Breakdown, Troubadour21, Faith-Hope-Fiction, Subtle Tea, Danse Macabre, Jake’s Locked-Room Anthology, The Best of Sand Hill Review, The Linnet’s Wings (5th issue), Wilderness House Literary Review, Dew on the Kudzu, Blue Lake Review, Qarrtsiluni, and many more Internet sites and print magazines.

Standard
Fiction

The Secret of Jehrico’s Creek

by Tom Sheehan

In the heart of darkness, in the heart of night, Jehrico Taxico told his wife Lupalazo about the secret of the creek he had been swimming in for weeks and weeks, practically every time on his way home after leaving Bola City on a new search for old goods promising new values. It was said by a traveling drummer by the name of Epaminondas Anganistopolus that the Mexican junk collector had the “Midas Touch.”

Jehrico whispered beneath the blankets to his wife, “Ah, Lupalazo, la señora más querida de mi corazón, I have been keeping a secret from you that must never escape your lips once I tell it to you, and if you even think of it, think of it in the language of our other country, the language we have taught our children so they will know two ways of talking without a split tongue.”

Slightly worried about some strange encounter he might have come through, Lupalazo, hugging him, said, “Dearest heart, what makes you wait until the darkest of nights to tell me a secret that must weigh on your soul. I feel fate is come upon us.” She nestled closer to him and threw one leg over him, a move he had loved from the very beginning, in the shadows of the same creek, but under the trees.

“Oh,” he said, “la señora más querida de mi corazón, dearest lady of my heart, it does not twist the tail of fate, this secret of mine, unless we let go of its tail so bad men can twist it, make it dance for them.”

Lupalazo, the only true lady of his heart, beautiful the whole day long, nudged him with the length of her body, and said, “The husband of the house will now tell his wife the secret he has held away from her, from the mother of his children, here in the heart of darkness, here where we begin each new child of ours, where her ears are sharp as a night creature and her tongue is as silent for secrets as the day owl.”

Jehrico, knowing he could hold nothing more from her, slipped his hand under his side of the bed and took hold of a small goatskin pouch, which had rough but loose contents. Into her hands he placed it and said, “This is the first part of my secret.”

The goatskin pouch she immediately squeezed in her hands, shook at her ear, and smelled close to her nose.

“I smell the creek in it,” she said, “and feel some hard parts of earth. Do I dare think what you have thrust at me, this pouch, has something precious in it? Must it be of value comes to you and once was left to become dust, but with your hand and eye see more value in it? From where do these hard parts of earth come from if that is what they are?” She was then sitting up in bed, alert as ever, tossing the pouch from hand to hand, and Jehrico knew she was enjoying some moment of true expectation.

She could not see his broad smile, but knew it was there; his voice told her.

 You and everybody in Bola City know I swim and wash in the creek every day I can. I do that for you and for the children so they will learn by watching us, and for me and my good being. And fate it is and fate is what this is and what you cannot speak about. Cannot tell one living soul on Earth. That will bring the hounds on us, the bad men, the robbers, the thieves. They do not find things like Jehrico does, but take what is not theirs from all others.”

“Oh, my savior, dearest Jehrico, my heart pounds now, not with a new value coming, but that we will share a secret between us alone and no one else in the whole world around us. That is a grand feeling and swells my heart again.” She dropped the goatskin pouch over the edge of their bed and hugged him again and again.

Then, when her heart had been fully exposed, she said, “Now you can tell me, my Jehrico, for my ears alone.”

Joy was busting all the stretch of skin on his body. “I wash and swim in many places on the creek, but in one place, near where we met for the first time, I just put my hand down alone the bottom of the bank and squeeze some mud through my fingers until I find some of these.” With a quick hand he picked up the pouch from the floor, untied the rawhide lacing about it, and dumped, unseen but felt, a small pile of gold nuggets into Lupalazo’s lap.

“I dare not scream, Jehrico,” she said, “for that would be part of the secret. Is it really gold? Does it come to you when you don’t have to dig into a mountain of the gods, or work all day down in a hole in the ground where the gods may point fingers at you? Does it come that easy? Say it is so, my dearest one of all men. Say it comes easy to you after all the work you have done around here near Bola City.”

Jehrico Taxico, lover of the woman he had freed from slavery, finder of gold by his bare hands, smiled at Lupalazo’s excluding her children from the last comment. “It is the way a mother should love her children,” he thought, “above all else.” He was next in line for her and that was good enough for him.

“Yes, that’s the way it comes. It does not happen every time, of course, but enough times so it brings me back the way a ghost town calls me from its long, long sleep, saying I missed something special on my last trip there.”

“Who, besides the love of your life, has seen you swim and wash in the creek?” The tone of her voice was touched by anxiety.

“The freighters and the coach drivers along the creek and a few others who waved from the saddle as they rode past. But not one soul has seen me put any of the gold in my pouch or hide it near the same place I swim. Not a single person have I seen.”

“When do you go swim again?” she asked, her head at a coy angle, images running in her head.

“You do not come with me, Lupalazo. You do not come where others may see what happens.”

 “I want to see the joy on your face when you find the pebbles in your hands full of mud at first. I will love to see that.”

 “No, dear wife, but you will know the joy the next time I come home. I will not hide it from you.”

“You are wiser than me,” she said, and nestled close to him again. Beneath her legs she could feel the scattered nuggets. “The little devils,” she thought, “that make men change, make women fall in love so easily. But they will not change the man of my life, the father of my children.”

A look he did not see came across her face, a preface to an idea shaping its form in her mind, and it finally came free. “Dear heart of mine, you keep on the trail, you work hard, but time will come when no people remember we live here in Bola City on the side of a hill.”

It puzzled her even as she said it, and thought it also puzzled her man, but she knew it was true. She had seen parts of life pass so quickly, lives here and gone, villages here and gone, relatives here and gone, the other place here and gone.

She could not stop talking about the idea building inside her head. “The people will not remember you and Lupalazo and our children, like I have been cut away from my village in the mountains of Mexico, I who am a Yaqui Indian, who looks ever for Yaqui leader, Ave’lino Cobayori Domingues Urquides, who came from Sonora Mexico to these plains and these mountains. If he survives, it is not him by his Yaqui name, but he has become someone else in order to survive.”

Some of her argument lit up in him, and part of it was lost. It was evident that she knew many things he did not, but he did know that gold was not that important; he had gotten this far without it, gotten this far with found junk.

For all the month of hot July and part way through hot August, Jehrico went searching the prairies, the dim canyons, the mountain trails, and paid several visits to his old mine where he had brought back dear friend Molly Yarbrough’s best gift ever, the gentleman named Ash Worthley, the pair newly married and living in a fine new house at the edge of town.

The useless mine, Jehrico had decided, could be used as a decoy of some kind, a way to throw bad men into the dead mine and off his ordinary trails. Fate said such men would find out about his secret in some odd manner.

And so it came down to Jehrico’s detecting one day, on a side trail in the mountains, two horsemen hanging back on the trail, but never leaving it. And it was him they were following. One of them sat a pinto and one rode a big gray, a proud horse that made Jehrico think his rider was the boss of the two. The men looked like drovers just off a cattle drive, clothes rough, hats beat up by trail dust and weather, but sitting their mounts as if they were born to the saddle.

With artful deliberation, leaving only slight trail signs, but always visible trail signs, Jehrico went to the mine where he and Ash Worthley found not a speck of gold and left it that way. Now, for the great junkman of Bola City, the mine that had yielded nothing had become a thing of value. The two horsemen, he was sure, would enter the mine once he left it, just as he had planned. True dust did have value, he had always believed; the mine was proof of it once more to the Mexican junk collector, Lupalazo’s husband, father of her children, one of Bola City’s leading businessmen, and dearest friend of Molly and Ash Worthley, now off on their path to happiness.

In spite of omens, life was good.

He left one of two picks stuck between two chunks of rock, as if he had just toppled them from place and was trying to break them apart. He stayed in the mine for several hours, and every so often snuck close to the entrance and looked for signs of the two men. They were not too careful and Jehrico caught sight of them just about every time he looked, where they had secreted themselves across a stretch of a rocky surface and behind a fallen chunk of rock bigger than both horses. They were, he believed, waiting his departure, waiting to see what he brought out of the mine and might add to the saddlebag on Mildred the mule standing as if at attention in front of the mine.

The two men, from what he detected in them, would not harm him, wanting to check the mine for gold before any other steps were taken. They could always come back to the mine, the way now known. And he was also sure they would not prevent him from leaving.

All his thinking told him someone knew he had come into possession of some gold nuggets. As much as he tried he could not figure out who it was; it was not Lupalazo he knew with deep faith. Somewhere there had been a break in the trail.

A quick thought said it had to begin at the creek.

He waited another hour, making what noise he could to keep the spying men alert, until he made his way out of the mine, put a handful of nothing into Mildred’s saddlebag, gave her a good share of water, and sat up on her backside. He touched his heel to her flank and they started back toward Bola City, at least two hours away on the trail.

Riding easily on Mildred, he had no need to look back over his shoulder at the mine. The men would soon be in there, looking for the strike: if Jehrico Taxico had found gold, it had to come from this mine, as they would most likely believe

 And he’d not tell Lupalazo about the strange riders who had followed him for half a day and searched his dead mine. Some signs are too ominous to understand and he did not want to disturb her normal routines.

But he knew what the horses of these men looked like: he could pick them out of any hitching rail in Bola City any day of the week, and all the nights included too. Their colors and lines stayed in his mind.

It was new friend Ash Worthley who told Jehrico what he had heard in the saloon, from three men seated at a table in a far corner. He said he remembered every word, had not let them know he was listening to them, which was easy because they had been drinking for a good part of the afternoon, according to the barkeep.

“Them fellas came in afore noon and been at it since then, Ash. Seen one of them around, name’s Skid Polk, worked now a year or so at The Bell Bar spread down river. Never saw them other two though. Not in here.”

The sometimes hushed talk of the three men, the sometimes grunts of approval or discordant disapprovals, was reported by Worthley to Jehrico, much as repeated here:

First man: “Humph! You sure the stupid Mex junkie’s found gold, Skid? If he did, it has to be from that mine he works up near Topaz Pass. Me and Burkie went there must be five or six times and can’t find nothin’. Ain’t that right, Burkie? Huh, huh?”

Second man: “I swear that’s the truth, Skid. Not a bit of shine anyplace, like there never was any there any time ever. Whataboutthat? Whataboutthat? You sure about what your nephew said? Ah, kids play games even when they’re dreamin’.”

Third man: “Yuh! Yuh! He swore up and down about it, and the kid’s no dummy. He knew what he was hearin’ from the Mex kid, and just like I said … the Mex kid says his pa found some nugget, and then he said, ‘What’s a nugget?’ like the little dummy don’t know nothin’, and my smart nephew tells him it’s kind of a furry prairie critter so nothin’ gets spoiled ‘cause he knowed damned right well I’d be real interested and he comes onto a cut of it.”

First man (who’s probably the boss, inferred by Worthley): “I believe him, both of ‘em. We just watch the Mex some more and let him lead us to it. It sure don’t look like the mine’s the place. It’s as dead as the bank got closed down in Tremelin up the river.”

Jehrico, hearing all that Ash Worthley knew, stayed in town that night to keep his eye on things. He had seen Skid Polk before and saw him ride off, toward the Bar Bell spread down the river. He figured Polk would not go near the cabin and Lupalazo and the children; it was the other two he was concerned about. They had taken a place to sleep at the back of the barbershop, rooms at a premium in town. He didn’t know where their horses were, but they had to be close by.

For his night watch, Jehrico set up in an alley between the last two buildings in town, on the opposite end of town from the slow rise where his cabin was located. Mildred was as quiet as ever, resting from her normal rigors of carting junk.

Well before the dawn flash put a hazy light on the eastern sky, Jehrico heard two horses on the dusty road heading out of town. He and Mildred, quiet as scroungers on the hunt, followed at a safe distance, and he was glad the two men did not go near his cabin on the slope. It was the slight bit of light that showed him the two men who’d been in his mine, who had trailed him there, whom he was now trailing. He’d not get too close, not go too fast, and smiling at the last part because Mildred never once went too fast at anything at all, except for good grain or fresh water.

It was soon apparent that this type of work at this time was not for Jehrico. As he turned one sharp turn in the dusty road, he realized he had lost sight of the two riders in the growing light of dawn. Perhaps they had turned off the trail and were headed north or south … or were hidden, in an ambush set-up.

He brought Mildred to a standstill with a quiet command, but he had already been caught unawares, for the two men appeared at his side directly from clumps of brush at the side of the trail. Their guns were on him.

“Don’t move a muscle, Mex,” one of them said, “or we drop you off that critter in a hurry. Then we’ll go back to town before it really wakes up and raise a bit of hell with your woman and the kids. All that less’n you tell us where you found the gold and where you hid what you found already. It ain’t in that dried up mine that never was in the first place. We know that.”

The final word was the final threat. “You ain’t got a lot of time to do what I say, Mex.”

Jehrico was filled with a real fear, imagining the men loose in his home, anger making decisions for them, and greed, getting something for less than honest work. There had to be a way, and the most apparent one was to give them at least a clue to finding some gold. He might get a chance to escape.

“It’s down near the creek, off to the southwest there, past that hill you can see in the distance. It’s down there.”

The rifle barrel was jammed into his stomach. “Listen, Mex, you tell us any lies and we start breaking fingers, busting hands and leg bones, croaking you piece by piece so you can’t ever crawl home to that woman of yours, that squaw woman. We know all about her, Injun come over the big river.”

The rifle thrust came again, and harder than the first time. “I ain’t kiddin’ none, Mex. You remember that. And remember the squaw and the kids playin’ at her skirts. We ain’t afraid of doin’ things up the old fashioned way.” He jabbed Jehrico again and toppled him from Mildred’s back.

“If I don’t get there to show you, you won’t find the gold, and there’s no digging with it.”

The last part caused a change. “Okay, get back up there on that damned critter and we’ll go look.”

In an hour they were moving along the bank of the creek where Jehrico and Lupalazo had found their first joys and where he had found his gold strike. He searched out for some excuse, some way that he could get out of this problem, get free of these bandits, thieves, kidnappers, and once more enjoy a swim here with Lupalazo.

He made up his mind he’d delay as long as he could, perhaps time and fate to bring a stage or a freighter along the road, drivers recognize him, determine there was a problem to be solved.

“It all looks the same to me. I was only here once and it is hard to remember where I was.”

The rifle found his gut again, a thrust like the thrust of a bighorn bull. Pain shot down his legs, leaped onto his back, made him dizzy. “I have trouble remembering. There should be trees near here. He had seen a clump of trees down the creek a hundred or so yards. The trees presented only a short time of delay, Jehrico realized. Mildred would make it in little time, mere minutes.

“The man on the big gray said, “Down there! See those trees? Is that it?”

“I think so,” Jehrico said, ”but I get dizzy when you pound my belly with your rifle.” Each complaint might add but a few seconds or long minutes, but he’d keep trying. With no weapon he was at their mercy.

When they reached the clump of trees, the boss said, “Is this it? I’m getting damned tired of you playin’ them games on me. Is this it?” He knocked Jehrico off Mildred’s back once again, and yelled, “Show me where you found the damned gold. Now!”

They now were opposite the turn of the creek, and a growth of trees that formed like an umbrella over one spot, where he and Lupalazo were first wholly introduced. The scene came back to him in one image and one emotion and he saw Lupalazo as he first saw her. If he was to die, the time was full of her.

Jehrico, be delaying, got the rifle barrel right in the middle of his back again. Pain shot through him and he promised he’d never yield, then thought it was useless. He didn’t want the gold. He wanted Lupalazo and the children. How could he trade them for gold, and then, when he was jabbed once more by the rifle, again in the back, he believed they’d never let him go. They’d shoot him and toss him into the creek, right where the gold was.

He spun on his heel and said, “Why should I tell you and know you will kill me when you find the gold hidden in the trees.” It was his last ruse and last comment on the matter.

But concurrent with his kidnapping, his intuitive Yaqui wife had had not stood still in her home, wrapt up in her children. She had gone into town and called Ash Worthley from his work. There was a flurry of activity soon thereafter in Bola City, in the saloon, at the livery, at the general store.

As Jehrico Taxico was jabbed one more time by the rifle barrel, a shot came from the other side of the creek, a shot that knocked the bandit boss unconscious, and froze his partner upright in the saddle.

Jehrico saw Ash Worthley and the sheriff and a more men from Bola City with their guns trained on the second kidnapper.

And beautiful Lupalazo was shouting out at him, “Marido, querido corazón, estamos aquí. Estoy aquí. Estaremos en nuestra casa pronto.” And she said it in English so all could understand what was important in life: “Husband, dear heart, we are here. I am here. We will be in our home soon. I knew you would end up here, if you could help it.”

For closers, the Yaqui maiden, freed from slavery by her own junk collector, said it in her Yaqui language, knowing none of them understood it, including her husband. But she’d tell him in the night, under the cover of darkness and a blanket, in the secret confine of their home.

 

*****************************************************************************

 

Tom Sheehan served in the 31st Infantry Regiment in Korea, 1951. His short story collections are Epic Cures and Brief Cases, Short Spans, from Press 53; and From the Quickening and A Collection of Friends, Pocol Press. He has 20 Pushcart nominations, 325 stories on Rope and Wire Magazine, appeared in 5 issues of Rosebud Magazine, 6 issues of The Linnet’s Wings and 8 issues of Ocean Magazine. His novels include Vigilantes East, An Accountable Death, Death of a Phantom Receiver (an NFL mystery). Milspeak Publishers issued eBooks: Korean Echoes, 2011, nominated for The Society of Military History’s Distinguished Book Award and The Westering, 2012, nominated for a National Book Award. His newest eBook, Murder at the Forum, is released January, 2013 by Danse Macabre/Lazarus/Anvil Fiction.

His work is in Wherever It Pleases, Nervous Breakdown, Troubadour21, Stone Hobo, Faith-Hope-Fiction, Canary, Subtle Tea, Red Dirt Review, Nontrue, Danse Macabre, Nashwaak Review, Jake’s Locked-Room Anthology, Ray’s Road Review, The Best of Sand Hill Review, Wilderness House Literary Review, Dew on the Kudzu, Blue Lake Review, Slice of Life, Blue Ridge Literary Prose, KY Story, Eastlit, and many more Internet sites and print magazines.

 

Art by Sheila Lanham
Standard
Fiction

The Orphan from Ciudad verde pálido

by Tom Sheehan

“That kid ain’t halfway to a cricket, you ask me, ‘n’ I hope he’s small enough to crawl out of that mess.” The miner Lew Osgood stood at the entrance to the old mine, dust from a collapsed tunnel pouring out into the valley and getting caught up by a steady wind. He saw the 7- year-old Chico Vestra finally walk through the cloud of dust, and Chico yelled out, “The fuse was lit from the other end of the tunnel. It was coming toward me all lit up and I had to run.”

The blast had closed the entrance to the mine … behind Chico, by the Good Graces.

“Nobody was out here,” Osgood said. “Not a soul but me.”

Chico said, “Then he buried himself in there, Lew, or ducked out another way.”

Even in the dusty air Osgood noted the dark hair on Chico’s neck had found new grounds cascading over the back of his neck like a still-waterfall. “Getting older in a hurry,” Osgood thought, and seeing Chico’s brown eyes steady as a stallion’s.

He also knew Chico was the smartest kid in the valley (and maybe the only one), the place loaded with mines and dreamers who oftentimes could not hold onto reality, or even face up to it. That meant there was a whole cantankerous bunch of poor spirits and sour dispositions with enough docile dreamers to almost balance the scale, but few young dependents.

The explosion and tunnel collapse was the day’s start for Osgood and Chico Vestra, an orphan, a wanderer in the mining camps, living off hand-outs, what he could steal, catch or find as a toss-out. In search he was energetic, thorough, and showed a good deal of ingenuity and derring-do to finish a task. If they wanted, a dozen men, the good ones of soft words and not salty tongues, dreaming of the big strike, could toss warm words after Chico, tell what he had done for them, what a survivor looked like in the very early stages: “Kid’s a scrambler.” “Chico checks the ins and outs all the way.” “Ever see what he found and give back to Carter what he threw out one night when he was drunk. Honest as a good buck, the antlered kind.” “Kid ought to have his own bunk to crawl into give it nighttime.”

Osgood, 32, ex-sheriff, ex-train robber, ex-prisoner of the territorial jail, now a miner convinced gold was always underfoot, but never knowing how deep he’d have to go to find it, dig it, take it out, acknowledged a growing admiration for the youngster since he had started feeding him, finding odd little tasks to set his mind to.

Apt to talk out loud when no one was around, he’d mutter appreciation and a new clarity about Chico. “They did good for him down there in Mexico, for starters anyway; he shows it, but then they cut the kid loose. That’s hard for me to understand.” He’d shake his head

entertain again the idea that the junk collector he’d heard about in Bola City, that Jehrico fellow up from Mexico, would make a great adoptive father for Chico: the warm-blooded indeed took to one another like bees to prairie flowers. His “I’ll think on that,” came up as a promise.

Osgood, only once, asked Chico where he called home, and never forgot the answer: “I am el huérfano desde Ciudad verde pálido,” his eyes filled with a pale green memory of a place he might not see again. The grown man, with his own pale memories, imagined stories that might accompany Chico’s response.

Neither one, at the time of that discussion, knew a pair of mine thieves had found an entrance to the old mine that Osgood had won in a poker game and started searching for gold and finding a little for expenses, the word of gold in a dead and once-deserted mine had grasped the attention of two thieves bent on living off others. Charlie Briscoe and Pete Sunderland were a pair of life’s deadbeats, leaving cattle driving after a mere week on the trail … and never going back.

Briscoe had said one evening to Sunderland as they stared out on the evening’s assigned work, “I feel like I got nothin’ but cow dust and cow dung in my mouth and I ain’t here for long. I’m lookin’ for a partner to ride on to other doin’s, whatever comes our way.”

Sunderland simply said, “I’m with you on that, Pal. My craw’s full up too. Night watch tonight we can ride away from without a word.”

The pair had bound themselves into a partnership, not for the good of anybody else. When they found gold leavings, no matter the location (pocket, saddlebag or claim), they took it as their own, for Briscoe had announced the new twist in their search; “We keep our eyes on the spenders, the poker players, the gents buyin’ goods at stores, anybody who’s forkin’ over dust or coin that’s more than what they need for themselves.”

As usual, the way such partnerships develop, Sunderland fell into second place in the line of command; he was the follower and never the leader, finding it comfortable that way, and doted on and obeyed all that Briscoe pronounced for their ventures.

Such commands included the current situation: “It’s a snap, Pete. Just go in there at night with a light, through the secret entrance the drunk told us about, and string a length of fuse to a few sticks of dynamite that’ll collapse the tunnel. They’ll never think there’s another way in. We’ll have the whole place to ourselves.”

Sunderland, never an expert in any activity, only saw the ease of entering the mine at leisure, working at leisure, finding gold at leisure.

Fate had spoken from the mouth a youngster, when he had said, “Then he buried himself in there, Lew, or ducked out another way.”

The words had hit Osgood as if spoken from some mount, never mind from the mouth of a child. “That’s good thinking, Chico, ‘cause I was out front and never saw anybody come out but you. So, like you say, he’s buried or got out the way he most likely got in. Let’s go look.”

Chico was hoisted up onto the back of Osgood’s horse and they went searching for an entrance to the mine they had not known about, and which did not prove difficult at all. When they found the remains of several small fires, and trash tossed indiscriminately around the area, they found the entrance. It lay behind a large chunk of rock that had sheared off the cliff face in the distant past.

The horse was hidden by Osgood and the pair entered the mine. With a torch they soon found the man known as Sunderland, fallen under a few rocks of size. The body was cold and stiff.

Osgood said, “I saw him around the saloon a few times, with another gent, and neither one of them looked overworked. Never got his name, though. We’ll have to take him out and bury him. Maybe that other gent I’ve seen him with will come around again. We might get a chance to see what they were up to, but no good most likely.”

He hauled the body out of the mine, dug a grave and buried the remains, with a few words said by Osgood, not in any hurry. With two boards with just “? 1868” scratched on the cross piece, the spot was marked.

“I‘ll have to go back, Chico, and get some tools and supplies. It’ll take me a couple of trips, so I want you to hide up there on that ledge before dark and keep an eye out. If you see anybody around and I get close, toss a stone at me, but don’t let him see you.” Taking off his vest and handing it to Chico, he said, “This is all I got that you can keep warm with. I may not get back tonight, so it’ll help against any chill that comes. Be careful.” He patted Chico on the head and rode off.

But part way around the mountain, heading down a tight passage, a feeling of uneasiness came over him. It night have been a reaction to claustrophobia, he argued, but it didn’t carry enough weight. At one time, he assented, he’d just plow on. This was different; it carried equal parts of doubt and danger and began to dig into him. Reining in his horse, he sought some mental reservation to bring about a decision … all that came to him was Chico at a point of peril. It was enough for him to turn about and head back, darkness not too far away. Chico, most obviously, was on the ridge, but he began to urge the horse on.

The sense of shadows came from wherever the slanting light found structures of any kind, and it happened at a sharp turn in the trail when a single shot rang off an upper part of a cliff face, and a spark of light from a resounding ricochet pinged away but released set its sharp echo.

And a deep guttural voice broke out from a low shadow against the cliff: “I don’t know who’s up on that damned ridge, but you better show yourself, mister, ‘cause you ain’t goin’ no place before sun up and I’ll sure plug you quick once it comes. No way down from up there, but the one way I know.”

As if for kicks, to test the courage of the person hidden on the ridge, or from his own uneasiness, another shot followed, the pinging echo followed the shot, and silence followed that.

Osgood heard the stone as it clattered on the rocky surface of the canyon floor.

Chico, he figured, was not hurt, was trying to alarm the shooter, or had become aware of Osgood’s presence. Immediately he believed in his own sensibilities, and knew once again the uneasiness that had forced him to return to the site.

He dismounted, rifle in hand, and proceeded toward the source of the guttural voice, which released a new tirade. All the yeller got in response was a hail of stones from above.

The angry voice then screamed, “You son of a bitch, I’ll kill you.” Two side arms were emptied at the upper reaches of the canyon. “I got plenty more. Wait’ll I load up.”

That was followed most immediately by a single round not far from his feet, and it too had an eerie echo to its hit on a rocky surface and a spark that could set off flames.

In his most commanding voice, Osgood said, “Any more of that, mister, and you’re damned dead where you stand. Drop all weapons now or the neck slug catches you where it’ll hurt you most.”

Weapons fell in place, bumps and thumps and mutterings of half oaths, disarmament in its quickest form.

Osgood yelled out, “Chico, come on down and light us a new fire. We’ll see who this hombre is, find out what he’s been up to.”

In a matter of minutes, Chico came out of the deep shadows at the base of the cliff.

The guttural voice said, “Is that a midget or a kid? Is that who I was shootin’ at? Damned if it ain’t a snotty-nosed kid.”

The ex-sheriff said, “That snotty-nosed kid was in the mine when your pard set off the blast that killed him.”

“What pard? I ain’t got no pard. What mine you talkin’ about?”

“The other hombre I saw you with in town a few times, the one we buried out yonder a ways, dead when we found him from the blast he set off. It almost killed Chico here.”

“I sure don’t know what the hell you’re talkin’ about. My name’s Briscoe and I don’t know nothin’ about no mine and no pard that you may have killed, not me, and not any blast either.”

Sensing nervousness coming on Briscoe, Osgood said, “We’ll find out for sure when we talk to the sheriff and the fellow who runs the general store where they sell dynamite and if you happened to buy any recently that you ain’t used up anywhere else but here … in our mine.”

“Who says you own this mine?” Briscoe was now seen in the light of the fire Chico had going, the flames rising high as dry brush flared up.

“You know about this mine?”

“A drunk told us about it.” Briscoe knew immediately he had stepped beyond his lies.

Chico said, “We buried a man who got killed in there. If you bought the dynamite, the sheriff will find out. I was lucky I got out. It chased me all the way, all the boom, all the shaking.”

Feeling good about the revelations so far, Osgood said, “Briscoe, you got to know the snotty-nosed kid here figured the whole thing out. That’s sure to get a laugh and a rise from a judge in court. Attempted murder of a child. Death of a gent you know. Stealing from a claim. Hell, they’ll sentence you to the penitentiary in a second.”

Briscoe, tied to his horse on the way to town, was left with the sheriff after Osgood and Chico told their stories. The pair went back to the mine, worked it for few months, found but little gold and sold the mine to another miner for a small sum.

“What do we do now, Lew?” Chico asked Osgood as they sat in front of the mine’s second entrance, night in its early switch of light and shadows.

Osgood was in a quandary, and kept thinking about Chico’s start down in Mexico, and his getting cut loose for some reason unknown to both of them. “I think we have to see a man down in Bola City. His name is Jehrico and he’s from Mexico. He’s made a name for himself up this way. He salvages things that people throw away or lose on the trail. Makes money with a lot of things he comes across.”

Chico nodded, a smile starting across his face, his eyes lighting up.

“I think he’ll be glad to see you, Chico. Real glad. We’ll leave in the morning, first light.”

Both of them put out blankets and rolled into them, under a sky full of stars, night sounds keeping company with them for almost an hour, until sleep came all the way home to the ex-sheriff, ex-train robber, ex-prisoner of the territorial jail, and el huérfano desde Ciudad verde pálido.

 

***********************************************

Tom Sheehan served in the 31st Infantry Regiment in Korea, 1951. His short story collections are Epic Cures and Brief Cases, Short Spans, from Press 53; and From the Quickening and A Collection of Friends, Pocol Press. He has 20 Pushcart nominations, 325 stories on Rope and Wire Magazine, appeared in 5 issues of Rosebud Magazine, 6 issues of The Linnet’s Wings and 8 issues of Ocean Magazine. His novels include Vigilantes East, An Accountable Death, Death of a Phantom Receiver (an NFL mystery). Milspeak Publishers issued eBooks: Korean Echoes, 2011, nominated for The Society of Military History’s Distinguished Book Award and The Westering, 2012, nominated for a National Book Award. His newest eBook, Murder at the Forum, is released January, 2013 by Danse Macabre/Lazarus/Anvil Fiction.

His work is in Wherever It Pleases, Nervous Breakdown, Troubadour21, Stone Hobo, Faith-Hope-Fiction, Canary, Subtle Tea, Red Dirt Review, Nontrue, Danse Macabre, Nashwaak Review, Jake’s Locked-Room Anthology, Ray’s Road Review, The Best of Sand Hill Review, Wilderness House Literary Review, Dew on the Kudzu, Blue Lake Review, Slice of Life, Blue Ridge Literary Prose, KY Story, Eastlit, and many more Internet sites and print magazines.

Photo by Dan Griffin

Standard
Fiction

Jehrico and Chico the Mexican Orphan

by Tom Sheehan

“I swear,” stammered Collie Sizemore as he spouted to the patrons in Hagen’s Saloon in Bola City, “this gent out there has a little tyke with him looks the spittin’ image of Jehrico.” He was looking out the door of the saloon at the hitching rail. “Kid has the same eyes lookin’ at things like he’s ameasurin’ any way to get more out of it that’s been dead for so long it’s rusted or broke or half what it once was, and if that ain’t a clue for some shenanigans, I’d take it home and mother it, so to speak. You never saw the look-alike like this look-alike.”

He stared around the whole room, saw many of the familiar faces that had seen good old Jehrico at his very best, and further spent his thoughts; “Jehrico and Lupalazo and their whole gang gone for near a whole year now and this damned town just ain’t the same, but this kid I’m seein’ starts me to hopin’ all over again just like Jehrico was out and about afore we met him.” His wink of inner knowledge was as wide as a prairie schooner in the wind. And there was enough innuendo in his spouting that heads began to nod the affirmative way, and talk started, and laughter, and old Jehrico tales started all over again in solid rounds as good storytelling swung its way through the saloon.

Keen joy, laughter, hurrahs and guffaws made their bardic announcements. “Never was such a sight as him comin’ down the stretch with a real honest-to-goodness people’s  iron washin’ tub on a pair of old wheels he pulled free of some canyon yonder and brung home.” “Yah, well what about that cock-eyed burro or that damned if it ain’t or was a real wolf pup he skinkered on some jazbo waitin’ on revenge and who ain’t got half of it yet?”

The knee-slapping and table banging carried forth at each tale, like voice pages of a book.

Collie, of course, knew what was at hand: another good day in Hagen’s that he could talk about for another whole year.

Out front of Hagen’s, even as Collie Sizemore kept sizing up things, the boy Chico was staring at parts of Bola City as if he were star-gazing. “Is this really the place, Lew, where this Jehrico lives?”

“It was so the last time I heard, Chico, Part and parcel he is of Bola City.” His eyes went again to the Hagen sign and he offered up what he figured was his best advice of the day. “We best go wet these dry throats, Chico, if they’ll let you in. If they don’t, I’ll buy a couple of bottles and we’ll go smother it some other place real handy.”

He had a second thought and asked, “What will you tell this fella Jehrico if he asks you where you come from in the beginning?”

Chico Vestra replied, in his honest and best voice, “Soy un huérfano de una ciudad verde pálida, abajo en México.” His words carried close to 8 years of determination in them. In English he explained, “If he’s really from Mexico, he’ll know I said, ‘I am an orphan from a pale green city, down in Mexico.’”

Osgood, 32, ex-sheriff, ex-train robber, ex-prisoner of the territorial jail, now a miner convinced gold was always underfoot, had become so fond of the boy, he was afraid of what might happen when the junk collector met and came to know the boy as he did. There’d be a final separation without a doubt.

Sizemore stepped aside when they entered Hagen’s Saloon, but he said, “No chickens allowed in here.”

Osgood, surprised, bristled and replied, “You ain’t telling me he can’t come in here.” He looked down the full length of Sizemore, his face reflecting his measure of the man. “We’re just here looking for a father for him.”

Of course, Sizemore only heard what he wanted to hear, as he spun about and yelled out, “You hear that? Didn’t I tell you? He’s lookin’ for his father. I wish to Hell that Jehrico was here right now. We’d have ourselves a party, a celebration to end ‘em all.” Around the room he jumped and hooted, yelling all the way, “Wouldn’t that be a time? Wouldn’t it? My, oh my, just think about it. Makes me think the mornin’s  beans’re all sweet. Think on Jehrico findin’ this tyke and him not all used up.” His laughter was contagious, spreading like germs around the room, finding titters and guffaws and solid laughter that was first held in check and then let go like the customers were all saying “What the Hell!”

Surprised again, Osgood said, “Where is the Mexican junk collector? That’s who we’re looking for.”

“Hate to throw a downer at you, mister,” Sizemore said, “but Jehrico and Lupalazo brought their selves and kids down Mexico way ‘bout a year ago.”

Bobby Bell, Hagen’s bartender, looked at Chico and said to Osgood, “That boy, does he want a sarsaparilla, mister? He looks dry as a prairie skull. Bring him up here. I’ll fix his ailments, he got any.”

“He’s sound as a hickory bow, this boy, and just as true. Been on his own so long he owns where he’s been. But it’s never been home. I can’t make one for him, not the way I hoof around, but I heard about this Jehrico fella and Chico here’s a new image of him from what I heard along the trail all the way through some of them territories north of here and looking for life. Chico, he sees through things dead or not, useless or not, worth something or not. He’s special and needs a special man. That ain’t me and none of you here, from what I see and heard already.”

Chico was at the bar and the sarsaparilla was quickly in hand, as quick as the smile on the bartender’s face. “I knowed that boy was dry as a dead head out there. Look at ‘im go.”

All eyes went to the bar as Chico got his throat full of sweetness he’d never had, when suddenly, in that minute of quasi-glory, there came a yell from outside Hagen’s doors: “Hell, Collie, I damned well got you beat this time. My holler, it is. My holler.”

There was a pause, as if the suddenly-recognized voice of one of the newer town drunks, Cotton Grove, was assembling his words, as if waiting for the trumpets or bugles to accompany his announcement, which came clear, framed, but dependent on another’s earlier decree, Collie Sizemore’s; “Damned if it ain’t J&M or their lookylikes comin’ down the street and Jehrico’s walkin’ and leadin’ Mildred or her young one and there’s a Indian done tied up on Mildred like he ain’t goin’ anyplace but Hagen’s or Hell.”

The first thing said, or thought, was Collie Sizemore, upstaged for the very first time on his announcements to the Hagen’s crowd, saying, “I’ll never buy that drunk another drink long’s I live.”

The saloon crowd scattered and re-gathered in a line to get out the door to see the arrival of the favored and profitable junk collector supreme, at which bartender Bobby Bell said to Osgood, “Mister, you got all the stars gathered in your favor even if it’s daylight right now.” He looked at Chico, his drink consumed and staring at the bottom of the glass looking at the last drop, and advised, “And you got lucky again, kid. Plain all out lucky like the stars are your’n too, even in daylight. Why, we ain’t seen hide nor hair of Jehrico in a powerful long time. If that ain’t a charm for you, I’d chew it to a nuzzle.”

It was Jehrico, to the delight of the crowd spilling into the street, and Jehrico said right off, “Someone get the sheriff for me, like quick. I need him. And the doc, too.”

Chico and Osgood joined the crowd.

Sheriff Chuck Stocker, having heard the yell from Cotton Grove, was at the edge of the crowd and yelled out, “I’m right here, Jehrico. What’d this Injun do now? I think I seen him before. Is that Joe Dogtail?”

“It sure is, Sheriff, and he ain’t done anythin’ bad, but good. But you got to go out a few miles and see what’s left of what I saw.”

He wanted to say “Two bad cowpokes looking for the cheap way,” but it came out in his other language, “Dos vaqueros malos que buscan la manera barata.” And he quickly added, “Two hombres jumped the stage and killed the driver and all the horses and hurt the shotgun so bad I couldn’t move him, and Joe here killed the two bad gents, but got himself a bad shot I can’t fix and needs the doc too.”

Stocker issued his first question, “Know them bozos, Jehrico? Seen ‘em before?”

“Regulars they were, right here at Hagen’s. Luke Pollick and Jigger Ormsby, but both dead.
Joe here was more mad at them killin’ the horses than the driver and shotgun. But that ain’t all, Sheriff. There’s two passengers dead too, killed by Ormsby, cause Pollick’s gun don’t work no more, from what Joe says. Just jammed up, it did, so Ormsby, as Joe says, killed the horses and the drivers and the passengers. Just six shots all it took.”

The sheriff asked his second question. “How’d he get shot if there were only six shots took?”

“I figure,” Jehrico said, “that one of them went clean through one and hit Joe worse. It’s layin’ in Joe’s gut.” There was a pause and Jehrico proffered another statement. “Joe told me there were some other gents he saw hidden in the brush a hundred yards away, like they were part of the killers’ gang, but stay-aways. Not mixers.” And like he was tossing a clue on the ground in front of the Stocker, he asked, “That mean anythin’ to you, Sheriff?”

Stocker was nodding as if he was saying, “It sure does, Jehrico,” because his eyes went scanning through the crowd and Jehrico (and a few others) figured he was placing people that were in town at the moment, who had recently returned from elsewhere that he was aware of, or who was missing. The sheriff, of course, knew that Bola City had not grown so big that he couldn’t put a name and/or a face to some particular or peculiar characters, those that were on the other side of the fence or were fence riders, like shadows near evening, not quite evident, no firm silhouettes.

At the edge of the growing crowd, someone yelled out, “The doc’s comin’ with his bag,” And then added, “That Joe Dogtail’s probably got some white man’s blood in him now.” He looked around for agreeable comments, received none, and noticed Jehrico staring at him but not saying a word. It made him nervous.

The sheriff pointed at the livery owner and said, “Henry, rig up a team of horses for the coach and a wagon for carrying the dead back here and bring them out there soon as you can. I’m going out to check around.” His eyes scanned the crowd and he asked if anybody wanted to join him in a possible posse run.

No immediate response came from the crowd, and it was Lew Osgood who offered the only reply, “I’ve done my share of posse and sheriff work, Sheriff, and I’ll be glad to join you. My name’s Lew Osgood, but I have to leave my little buddy, Chico Vestra, with someone and I’d like it to be that Jehrico fellow. We both been hearing about him along the trail, all the way to the Nations.” His hand sat on top of Chico’s head. “Chico’s a fair right collector of things, too.”

The ground was broken for Chico, and Osgood realized the road was at least halved for the boy.

All this time Chico was staring at Jehrico, and Osgood could see he was probably looking into his soul and behind his eyeballs, perhaps the same way Jehrico looked at a piece of iron or lead he found beside the trail or at an old campsite. He knew he had come to the right place, at least for Chico. Jehrico would be a piece of home for him. His own intuitions had been right so far.

Jehrico, wide-eyed, a huge grin coming with the wide eyes, exclaimed, “Ho, ahora, es este un nuevo recaudador mexicano de bienes viejos o dañados para guardar, esto pequeño uno con ojos oscuros? This, of course, Chico understood as, “Ho, now, is this a new Mexican collector of old or damaged goods for saving, this little one with dark eyes?” It was said in Mexican undoubtedly as a welcome to Chico, and Chico and Lew Osgood were quickly aware of it.

Chico’s dark eyes had also made a transformation, and he replied, as he put his hand out to shake hands with Jehrico, “I speak good Inglés o norteamericano, too.”

Jehrico was delighted and shook Chico’s hand vigorously, and nodded at Osgood and the sheriff and promised, “If the boy has no mother and father, then I will be a father for him, but wait until he meets with Lupalazo, he will know he’s come home, all the way home. She comes right behind me. I had to rush Joe Dogtail here.”

The doctor, from his kneeling place in the street where he’d tended the wounded Indian, said, “He’s going to be okay, Jehrico. I can fix him up for you. Some fellows give a hand to get him to my office.”

The first two people to move to the side of Joe Dogtail were Chico and Jehrico, Chico saying in good English, “This is our first time saving something for good.”

There was an inflection in Chico’s words that only Jehrico understood. His nod was a solid affirmative to Chico Vestra’s first salvage job in the company of Jehrico Taxico.

By that time, Osgood and Sheriff Stocker were heading out of town, the pair raising dust as they rode, and a sheepish feeling seemed to come over those folks gathered in the street of Bola City, the way a single person shows personal embarrassment at having not stepped up when it counted.

Chico took a look and saw the pair disappear around a turn. He didn’t know if he’d ever see Lew Osgood again.

Stocker and Osgood looked around the site and found nothing that Jehrico had not told them about; all was as he had described … the dead driver and shotgun rider, the dead horses, the two dead passengers whose personal minor valuables were still in their possession. But it was apparent each man had been searched; shirts and vests had been ripped open and marks where their money belts were pulled forcibly from their bodies, the marks of the force visible.

“Killed for something the holdup men were aware of,” Stocker said, shaking his head in absolute question.

The livery man, Henry Tartan, came with a wagon and a team for the coach in tow. Only a young boy of 14 or so was with him, to be the second driver.

Osgood said to Stocker, “What’s going on in Bola City, Sheriff? Am I really seeing a message being sent by the people? Is there something I should know, now that I’m in the ranks with you, so to speak?”

The sheriff eyed Osgood’s stance, his wide shoulders, his hard-set chin, and had already measured his agility in the saddle. He found assurance and loyalty in the man, on which he was prompted to reply, “There sure is, Lew, but it’s all hidden. No one’s come to me or said anything openly, but there’s a big shadow hanging over the whole area and it’s has to be from one source. And I suspect that bodily threats have been made to keep things quiet. I have no idea. We have some big men in the area, hungry men, but nothing I know has been declared.”

Osgood wanted in, and made a declaration. “I’d be a good, quiet observer once we get back to town, once I’m sure that Chico’s been taken care of, accepted by Jehrico. Despite the boy’s abilities, he’s going to need a father, a mother, a family.”

“Well,” the sheriff offered, “He’s got the best in Jehrico and Lupalazo, that’s his wife. Jehrico traded with an Indian for her when she was tied on a horse and got the horse with the deal. Great story.” He chuckled loudly and added, “No doubts at all by me on the boy with them. And I accept your offer to help in any way. It’s needed. When we get the team and the coach started back, we’ll go check that brush and trees up there where Joe Dogtail said someone was hiding during the attempted holdup.”

In due time, the bodies were all placed in the wagon, the dead horses pulled off the trail and left for carrion eaters, and the two vehicles headed back to Bola City, driven by Henry Tartan and the youngster who came with him.

At the suspected hiding site, where Joe Dogtail said two men were hiding during the holdup, Stocker found nothing out of the ordinary in his search … no tell-tale signs that would give him any kind of a lead … no cigar butts, no trash of any kind, but a smooth place where perhaps two men might have sat on a poncho or saddle blanket playing cards while waiting for the stagecoach.

“Pretty cool, they were, if they were playing cards,” Stocker said, and Osgood got a small chuckle from the sheriff when he said, “And no discards visible either … but … “ and Osgood was looking at the ground where the horses had been tied off. He pointed to one spot on the ground bare of grass and a hoof print was clearly visible.

“Look here, Chuck. See this shoe print. I’ve seen that before. See how that shoe has heel and toe caulks on it. That’s special made.”

“I’ve seen a few like that,” Stocker said. “Why’s it so special to you?”

Osgood shrugged his shoulders and said, “Maybe nothing, but when Chico and I were coming down this way, just to find Jehrico if we could, and one night when the rain was in the air, we found a line camp up above Bola City, north of here, near the foot of a tall hill. It’s been used often enough from the things we found there, and that hoof print was fresh in the ground at the hitch rail. That was two days ago. I don’t call that a coincidence. Not this close. Not from someone who’s looking to stay hidden for a short time, at a place which is damned near here?
Is that worth a look?”

“Sure is, Lew. Let’s go see.”

When they spotted the line camp from a slight rise, Stocker said, “I know who owns this place, Charlie Evers of the Triple E spread. Edson, Evers and Edgerley, and Edson and Edgerley both bushwhacked in the last two years …”

“Leaving Evers as the lone owner?” Osgood said, as though it was not a question at all.

“Right you are,” the sheriff said. “Let’s see what’s around.  We might find something to follow up on.”

Back in Bola City, for two full days that Lew Osgood and the sheriff were off on their search, Chico sat in front of Hagen’s Saloon, his eyes looking at the trail into town. Jehrico could not persuade him to move at all. Dawn to dusk he sat there, and Jehrico and the whole town were amazed at the boy’s loyalty to a man who was not his father.

On the third day, when shadows first began to lean into town, Chico rose from his appointed place. People who were out and about, all knowing about the boy, spun around to look at the trail into town.

There came two riders, and Chico rushed toward them.

Word passed through Bola City as fast as a hot rumor.

In the saloon the crowd began to buzz, but no one rushed to greet the sheriff and Chico’s pal.

In one corner, at a crowded table, Charlie Evers sat with men in his employ. Some of them were known as bullies, but little had been said about them, at least openly.

One bystander, who had seen the arrival and Chico’s quick rush to his pal, came into the saloon and said to bartender Bobby bell, not a thing about Chico, but about the actions of the sheriff and the new gent. “Chuck’s out there with the kid’s friend and they’re looking at the shoes on all the horses on the hitch rails along the boardwalk. Even did the mortuary and the general store. Didn’t skip a horse in the whole bunch.”

Jehrico had come down from the room he had taken for a week, and heard the announcement made to Bell as if it was meant for the whole of Bola City. And with his knack of seeing into things, all around things, what things did or meant, he said, apparently also to all of Bola City, “Sounds to me like the Sheriff and Mr. Osgood have found somethin’ ‘bout them murders out there and are lookin’ for lost parts to go with it, and lookin’ right here in Bola City, of all places.”

The words of the Mexican junk collector, part owner of the Jehrico and Molly’s Emporium of Cleaning and J&M’s Emporium and Dance Hall, founder of townships, were as good and as solid as any piece of junk he had brought to life or to a new life.

And Charlie Evers was suddenly hit by a furious bolt of thought that the sheriff had a lead on his actions, not only for the past few days, but for a long time prior to that. His nerves began to tumble like they were in a shake-box the Indians made for their children. All that came to him was the prophetic voice of his wife who kept saying to him, “Charlie, It’s not right. You can’t make it right. It’ll never be right.” He also remembered his father saying, “She’ll have the last word on you, Charlie, so you better watch out.”

After silence from the street, with no more announcements, including Jehrico, Sheriff Chuck Stocker and Lew Osgood entered Hagen’s Saloon, with Stocker looking back over his shoulder at something he might have forgotten, or something he was trying to remember. While he approached the bar, Osgood slowly, like a shadow, slid to the other side of the saloon. Jehrico saw the movements of both men, and spotted Chico at the door. He motioned, subtly, to Chico to stay outside the saloon.

The sheriff, as casually as he could, said, “Who owns the gray at the far end of the hitch rail?”

In the middle of the room, a man stood up and said, “That’s my horse, Sheriff, if he’s got a black saddle and no saddlebag on. Is she okay? Anything happen to her? She’s been good to me.”

Stocker said, “Nothing, Luke, just wondered about her. Nice animal.” And he almost spit out the next question, “Who belongs to the paint at the other end, wearing four snow socks?”

“That’s mine, Chuck, and there’s nothing wrong with him and he ain’t missing me too much, is he?” A tall man, lean as a matchstick, stood beside his table, cards spread on the table, a pot worth two Saturdays sitting in the middle of it, and the drinks all gone bone dry with the betting.

“I think his axle’s broke,” the sheriff said, and the whole room had a great laugh, the ease coming swiftly after, the way a cake is smothered with sweetness in a baker’s hand.

Jehrico, still on the stairs, knowing Chico was still outside, out of the most immediate danger, nodded slowly, as if he had seen the sign of one of the old folks from the southern mountains, one of the shamans paying respects to the one god of the mountains, and knew the sheriff was setting the table for a possible visitor. He held his smile back.

Stocker, not done with his questions, and with Osgood situated at the far end of the room in a corner with unobstructed view in all directions, said, in a jaunty kind of voice, “And who owns that lumbago-stricken, arthritic-looking specimen of horseflesh with the ears of a clown in the suit of a palomino just outside the front door?”

It might have appeared that all of Bola City had needed that laugh, but more folks than Osgood and Jehrico were aware of the sheriff’s maneuverings.

Evers, of course, leaped up and yelled out in a frantic glee, for apparently the sheriff had not found out a thing about his exploits, his wife and father back in the mysteries of ignorance, “Hell, Chuck, everybody knows that’s my Cyclone, best hunk of horseflesh this side of the Mississippi, the Missouri and the Ohio all rolled into one pond.” He felt loose and free and away from suspicion. Far away. The sheriff was a dolt.

“And I bet he wears them special shoes you’re always talking about,” Stocker said. It was almost a question, and Jehrico could have easily twisted it that way.

But Evers leaped into the steel trap, “Wouldn’t let that critter wear anything else, Chuck, and Hervey burns them up special for me, just the way me and Cyclone like ’em,” and even as the words left his mouth, he was sorry he had said them. He could not bring them back.

It all flashed across his mind, the whole reality of the scene just acted out for him alone of all the people sitting in Hagen’s Saloon at the time. He reached for his gun, had it halfway out, and Lew Osgood, crack shot, knocked the gun out of his hand.

It was all over. Evers was convicted of murder, as were two more members of his gang; Lew Osgood had made a contribution to the folks of Bola City, not that he thought a helluva lot of them; Jehrico and Chico, both in new comfort zones, and knowing new destinies, went out to meet Lupalazo as she approached Bola City with a wagon train; and Chuck Stocker bought the Triple E spread from Charlie Evers’ widow (after Charlie was hung) and one day down the road he married her for good.

And Chico Vestra promised Jehrico that he’d pick the territory clean, right down to its bones before he was through, all the while knowing that Lupalazo had the softest hands he’d ever known and that she made the best enchiladas he’d never had before.

Life smelled good for him, for a change. And looked good. Deep in it he detected the solid good color of leavings more than a layer deep , the true arcs of precious remains, and laughter and happiness coming from a new place beyond.

 

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Tom Sheehan served in the 31st Infantry Regiment in Korea, 1951. His short story collections are Epic Cures and Brief Cases, Short Spans, from Press 53; and From the Quickening and A Collection of Friends, Pocol Press. He has 20 Pushcart nominations, 325 stories on Rope and Wire Magazine, appeared in 5 issues of Rosebud Magazine, 6 issues of The Linnet’s Wings and 8 issues of Ocean Magazine. His novels include Vigilantes East, An Accountable Death, Death of a Phantom Receiver (an NFL mystery). Milspeak Publishers issued eBooks: Korean Echoes, 2011, nominated for The Society of Military History’s Distinguished Book Award and The Westering, 2012, nominated for a National Book Award. His newest eBook, Murder at the Forum, is released January, 2013 by Danse Macabre/Lazarus/Anvil Fiction.

His work is in Wherever It Pleases, Nervous Breakdown, Troubadour21, Stone Hobo, Faith-Hope-Fiction, Canary, Subtle Tea, Red Dirt Review, Nontrue, Danse Macabre, Nashwaak Review, Jake’s Locked-Room Anthology, Ray’s Road Review, The Best of Sand Hill Review, Wilderness House Literary Review, Dew on the Kudzu, Blue Lake Review, Slice of Life, Blue Ridge Literary Prose, KY Story, Eastlit, and many more Internet sites and print magazines.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Jane5

Artist: Jane Gilday

Red House, Lambert Lane, springtime

Acrylic on panel

Standard
Fiction

Jehrico and Chico and the Western Conservation Society, Inc

by Tom Sheehan

 

They had found the secret cave, Jehrico and Chico … but they soon found out that they were not alone in the discovery.

Suddenly there echoed with an ear-blasting roar a single shot from a weapon near the opening of the cave behind them, with reverberations traveling deeper into the mountain as if doors were opening, mouths of more secret caves accepting entrance. The walls, though, began to hum with a mysterious throbbing as if the mountain itself was breathing with difficulty, as if it had expended itself too far. And at the far end of the cave, at least as far as they could see with torchlight and probably somewhat beyond, issued drum-like sounds, thousands of them at once, but drums weren’t making those cavernous sounds. Mystery, as alive as breathing, beat back at Jehrico Taxico and Chico Vestra caught inside the cave with all their provisions and supplies still packed up outside, and their horses and two pack mules hobbled in the hurry to look inside the cave.

Old customs, or Time itself, might have been shaking fists at them, warning them. Were ghosts or spirits abounding? The God of the mountain? An old Apache Dream-Chief at a ritual dance? Or an Aztec or Incan leftover still lost, still wandering, not over the land, but within the land? Chico’s heart, too, fluttered, while composed Jehrico, the great trader and elder of the pair, remained calm, measuring in his own way all the sudden changes around them. He still managed a degree of difference between him and his student of recovery of earthly things, the one-time orphan boy, Chico Vestra.

Chico carried a revolver and a recovered Indian arrow quiver he’d loaded with torch sticks back down the trail, enough to burn for hours if handled well. Behind them, after the echo of the gunshot faded in the confines, arose the yelling and chattering of voices as foreign as gibberish, which caused Jehrico to say, “Whatever language they’re speaking, Chico, trying to scare us off, it’s not Indian and it sure isn’t Apache. I think it’s a language from across the great ocean, from another land, the sing-song kind some of the freighters speak in Bola City. Some of those freighters are the laughing Italianos who came from the burst mountain all the way back in Italy, a place so far away it’s a dream.”

Chico, in the half light, nodded and replied, “Of course, you’re right, Jehrico. It’s like they’re trying to trick us, scare us away with the fake old Indian mysteries. Perhaps make us leave here in a hurry, leave behind all the gold we’re going to find.” He laughed lightly in his throat, which made Jehrico laugh in unison.

In the few short years that Jehrico and Chico the orphan from Ciudad verde pálido had “partnered up,” success came by the wagonload to the pair, by the ton, by the day. A find of a “misplaced delivery of gold” lost in 1849 was located, returned to the government and the pair given a substantial reward. It was the same story with the loot, down to the last dollar, when the two of them, at sunrise one morning, discovered the whole take from a robbery of the bank at Lubbock. They’d deciphered directions on a map found in the false bottom of an old suitcase salvaged from the ruins of a tottering barn. The experience seriously bothered Chico because there appeared not one remaining stick of the house or cabin that must have been built close to the barn. The orphan in him was speaking, only recalling vague and mythical elements of a house he had known so long ago … or believed he did.

“There’s nothing here, Jehrico,” he said as he scanned the area around the barn, shaking his head at the puzzle. “Not one board. Not one piece of the house. Not one piece of furniture. No leg off a chair or table. No cabinet or food locker. Not even the front door or a chunk from a shelf.” His head shook again in total disbelief when he added, “Like nobody ever lived here. Nobody at all.”

The statement of the bewildered young man echoed within Jehrico, once lost himself, once alone in the world. He looked again at the span of land, saw the most suitable location for a ranch house and said, “Burned, Chico, turned to everlasting dust the winds have blown away. The grass came back to bury the memories. That’s the way things happen, this side of the great river. I guess it happens on the other side too, in those other mountains.” His eyes had dropped into sadness Chico had learned to read so easily in their years together.

“Did you know them, Jehrico, the people who lived here, whose house is gone with the dust and the wind?”

“No, I didn’t know them, Chico, but it’s easy to say I know of them, or so many people who have perished in a hurry in this land. We may never know how many graves we trod on in our travels or how many homes once stood where we stand any day in our searches. Perhaps neither of us will ever know all the houses that might have been warm beneath our feet.”

His gaze swept far and wide and Chico knew that his new father carried far more mysteries in him than he’d ever allow to be known. It was as if Jehrico used a special scale to find and measure out sadness, so keeping much of it from kicking his own mind into long thoughts about loss and sadness. That, too, Chico realized, was another act of survival. Being taken in by Jehrico and Lupalazo was the luckiest thing ever given to the orphan from Ciudad verde pálido.

The mystery saddened and confounded and yet elated Chico for he had found family, favor and a home with Jehrico and Lupalazo. At 15 he had already embraced and absorbed all that

Jehrico openly revealed to him; the secrets that remained hidden in the odd parts life once cast aside in the rush west. He reveled in Lupalazo and his brothers and sisters, in the family warmth, in winter hearth and summer porch where learning the ways of survival and reclamation never ceased. With all that, he had grown into a handsome dark-haired, dark-skinned boy who smiled continuously, especially when he was in the midst of the family or bent over to pick up a cast-off his apt eye had discovered by shape, size, reflection of sun or moon, or with his hands searching old sites still wearing clues to a useful past.

It was not surprising that the handgun, too, had become a toy in Chico’s hands, though he had never seen Jehrico aim at or shoot any living person. It would be an eventful day when Chico fired his first shot in anger; it would, of course, be protecting the family. An expert in one kind of survival, he realized early and often that he was fated by a choice god to make stands in defense of the helpless, swear to his bounding belief that life had secrets man had to hunt down, and that he was a hunter.

As it was, Chico had a chance encounter with a Pima-Mexican in New Mexico who said, “There’s a lost gold mine somewhere in western New Mexico’s White Mountains.” His eyes sparkled when he talked and his head shook with awe. Chico almost felt the riches of that awe.

“Look at this,” he added, as he picked up a stick. On the ground he drew a map of the area, and noted twin peaks as distant markers. “For hundreds of years the Apaches, who have sacred burial grounds nearby, ignored the gold mine, finding little use for the gold in there other than for trinkets. But after several battles with white men, when some old ideas were put aside or killed, their charms and trinkets created too much curiosity about the source of rich gold from a lost mine even the Spaniards long ago had not found in years of searching.”

“All you have to do, Chico, is follow the White River into the mountains, find the prominent peaks as markers, find a secret entrance to the heart of the mountain … and get rich in a hurry.”

“But,” he added, “I will no longer go into that area because the Apaches told me never to come back or I’d lose my hair and the tarantulas and other critters would eat me at leisure before I rotted away.”

Jehrico, when Chico related the story, measured his past trading experiences with the Apaches and decided they swung enough weight for them to follow the White River and go into the mountains in the great search. “We will hunt for the secret entrance to the cave in the White Mountains.” The eyes of Jehrico Taxico gleamed again at the new adventure, the coming new recovery.

Weeks later they found the cave entrance gained by a niche in the mountain wall that lead to the opening of the cave in which Jehrico could stand upright with overhead room to spare.

But the cave drew them in. And their supplies and animals were still outside, probably in the hands of the Italianos yet at their foreign gibberish.

“We can’t go back out there, Chico. They want this place as much as we do. Let’s go on, see what we find, and see what’s really at the heart of this mountain.”

With a single torch on high the pair advanced into the cavernous hole in the mountain. And at one quick turn in a side tunnel, just asking to be explored, Chico gasped as his eyes fell on a large rectangular section of wall featuring artful drawings of strange creatures neither he nor Jehrico had ever seen. The section of wall was about 7 foot high and 4 foot wide. It was flat and smooth to the touch, though it was decorated with dozens of creatures never seen in the west. The odd creatures were upright creatures, not one of them similar to the four-legged critters populating the west, wolves, coyotes, big horn sheep, the deadly cougar or puma at prey. Their heads were as strange as possible, with wide eyes, a hole for a nose, narrow chins which might have held a mouth though it was unseen. Each one had a third hand that seemed unconnected to the body, though it was apparent as belonging with each drawing or etching.

And all the way across the top of the rectangle were a series of arrow-like formations, or bullet-like formations, each one identical to the one before it, but each one smaller until it finally faded into insignificance … as though it had climbed into the skies and disappeared.

Jehrico’s eyes followed the series of etchings until it disappeared, smiling at one point as he thought about a few comets he had seen tracing their routes across the same skies.

“Chico,” he offered, “we are at the foot of history, all history. This is a special place and we have been special visitors. We will only take what we need, like the law of the Indian, and let the rest be at peace, as it has been since near the beginning of time. We will let the Earth and all in it rest where it must rest, and conserve what we must to carry on all possibilities of the future and the future use of all, things that come to our hand.”

He gazed upward as if he was seeing clear through the mountain.

“No gold?” Chico said.

“Only what we need,” smiled Jehrico, “if we can get safely away from those who try to frighten us.”

“Perhaps we can pray to the God of the Mountain,” hoped Chico. “He might answer if we do as we say.”

So each of the salvage hunters, Pappa Jehrico, and adopted son Chico, sent their prayers into the heart of the mountain.

Their deep Mexican incantations alerted the Italianos behind them, a second single shot ensued as if in solitary answer, as if in reprisal, and the mountain shook, the cave walls shook, reverberations started anew, small dust particles behind to stir and rise into a draft of air that caught at them, new noises began a fearful sense of worldly echoes, the rocky surface under the feet of our hunters shook with a vigor they had never known, and the mountain began to fall inward on itself.

Screams came from near the cave entrance, screams of pain and surprise, and loss.

The pair, the new father and the new son, rushed ahead, for cataclysm was behind them.

Chico lit a second torch from the first torch and handed it to Jehrico, who rushed into another tunnel, hoping it was a safe route for them.

There in front of them, sounds of cataclysm still resounding in the cloistered air, they came upon a setting so much like an alter of adoration that they were caught up short; for on open display, like jewels in a storefront or atop a counter for viewing, was a collection of solid gold nuggets, some as big as Chico’s fist … a whole series of them. He took the remaining torch sticks from the leather quiver, tied them into a bundle with a strip of deerskin off his waist, and filled the quiver with the seen sum of gold. It was a heavy weight, but it was tolerable bearable.

Jehrico, looking about, said, “We leave the rest for history, for whatever follows. Now, we try to find our way out of here. I see how the dust moves with the draft, so there is escape somewhere ahead of us.

Behind them the tunnel and the cave had collapsed as they made way through a maze of openings, as though the God of the Mountain offered them choices or possible escape … with riches.

It took them a day and a half to get free of the mountain, to pass down myriad paths and tunnels and skip back from false openings. As they got free of the mountain, and as Chico asked, in their old language, “Y nunca vamos a volver aquí otra vez, Jehrico?” (“And we’ll never come back here again, Jehrico?”), there was another downward crumble of the mountain at the exit they had used. Again the mountain had come fallen on itself, both ends of the secret cave forever closed.

Jehrico nodded a firm and truthful “Yes,” a promise Chico knew would never be broken.

It took them another day to get back to the site of the original opening and their animals and supplies which, luckily, were as they had left them. Even though the mountain had tumbled inward with horrendous sounds, the animals had not run free of their hobbles.

Lupalazo and the children welcomed them back with gaiety and clamor. As she looked upon the face of her husband, she saw no message of their successful search, but the look on Chico’s face was as open as any boy’s face. It could hardly hold back all the surprise and good fortune. He shrugged one shoulder and Lupalazo heard the click and grating of solid objects, and though she did not know what was in the quiver, she knew it was special.

With the children clustered around Jehrico’s legs, Chico slowly turned his back to Lupalazo so she could look into the quiver, then she ran her fingers down inside, feeling the fortune at hand.

The gasp was understood by all that the Western Conservation Society, Inc. would soon be off and running … and it might run forever, a Mexican junk collector’s gift to the future, from him and Chico, his adopted orphan from Ciudad verde pálido.

 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Tom Sheehan served in the 31st Infantry Regiment in Korea, 1951. His short story collections are Epic Cures and Brief Cases, Short Spans, from Press 53; and From the Quickening and A Collection of Friends, Pocol Press. He has 20 Pushcart nominations, 325 stories on Rope and Wire Magazine, appeared in 5 issues of Rosebud Magazine, 6 issues of The Linnet’s Wings and 8 issues of Ocean Magazine. His novels include Vigilantes East, An Accountable Death, Death of a Phantom Receiver (an NFL mystery). Milspeak Publishers issued eBooks: Korean Echoes, 2011, nominated for The Society of Military History’s Distinguished Book Award and The Westering, 2012, nominated for a National Book Award. His newest eBook, Murder at the Forum, is released January, 2013 by Danse Macabre/Lazarus/Anvil Fiction.

His work is in Wherever It Pleases, Nervous Breakdown, Troubadour21, Stone Hobo, Faith-Hope-Fiction, Canary, Subtle Tea, Red Dirt Review, Nontrue, Danse Macabre, Nashwaak Review, Jake’s Locked-Room Anthology, Ray’s Road Review, The Best of Sand Hill Review, Wilderness House Literary Review, Dew on the Kudzu, Blue Lake Review, Slice of Life, Blue Ridge Literary Prose, KY Story, Eastlit, and many more Internet sites and print magazines.

 

*************************

Samuel37

painting by Samuel Barrera

Standard