By Alfred Bekker
The volume of this book corresponds to 40 pocket pages.
The American West in the years after the Civil War: Jeff Kane has fled from the law by crossing the border to Mexico and meets men unwilling to accept that the war is over. Men celebrating the assassination of President Lincoln and preparing for a resumption of the fight ...
Cover: Edward Martin
DEATH IS WAITING IN SONORA
BY ALFRED BEKKER
The volume of this book corresponds to 40 pocket pages.
The American West in the years after the Civil War: Jeff Kane has fled from the law by crossing the border to Mexico and meets men unwilling to accept that the war is over. Men celebrating the assassination of President Lincoln and preparing for a resumption of the fight ...
Cover: Edward Martin
EIN CASSIOPEIAPRESS Buch: CASSIOPEIAPRESS, UKSAK E-Books und BEKKERpublishing sind Imprints von Alfred Bekker.
© by Author
© dieser Ausgabe 2018 by AlfredBekker/CassiopeiaPress, Lengerich/Westfalen in Arrangement mit der Edition Bärenklau, herausgegeben von Jörg Martin Munsonius.
Alle Rechte vorbehalten.
JEFF KANE HAD COVERED a day long ride when he reached Magdalena, a small town in the Mexican province of Sonora. The man, also known as 'Laredo Kid' since his time as a postman between San Antonio and Laredo, reined in his horse on a nearby hill in front of the city and let his eye travel. The few houses of Magdalena looked like they were thrown in the rugged, barren land that looked like an ember. A land that God had to have created in anger.
Kane rode along Main Street, which called itself "Calle de los Santos" – the street of saints. May the devil know why it bore that name. There had to be a reason. Perhaps the answer was to be found in the cemetery where Kane had passed. Many of the graves bore no names and even more bore names that sounded American.
Otherwise, the city consisted only of a snow-white church, a few houses of sandstone or clay and some bodegas, where the vaqueros of the area drank their tequila.
At the end of the "Calle de los Santos" was the largest of these bodegas. An ugly wooden construction whose facade color had to be faded decades ago.
Jeff Kane reined in his horse, dismounted and tied the animal up at the hitchrack in front of the bodega. Then he knocked the dust off his clothes. A week-long ride through dry, desert-like areas made the sand crawl everywhere and it was no doubt time he take a bath.
In Laredo he had escaped his pursuers, who had falsely accused him of murder. Since then, he had kept on the Mexican side of the border and had also avoided towns.
From the bodega was heard quarrelsome babble.
Kane let the swing doors fly apart and entered.
Inside there was a pleasant semi-darkness.
The bodegero was a short stocky man with dark eyes and a bushy mustache. He stared at Kane like a ghost. The five men in the bodega turned and fell silent. They had spoken English. Obviously, they were Americans. Kane noticed immediately that they were excellently armed. They were wearing deeply strapped revolver belts and Bowie knives. Their clothes were tattered. Some worn-out Drillich trousers, which used to come from the Confederate Army's former holdings, linen shirts. One of the guys wore a full-length Saddle Coat. Between his teeth was a cigarillo. The pants had been through best times already, but the revolver belt and the boots were of such fine workmanship that you could get the idea that they both had not belonged to him for so long.
Another had a dark beard that nearly grew beneath his eyes and a gray Confederate cap with the badges removed. Their outlines were clearly visible as the cloth underneath was less bleached by the sun.
Kane went to the bar.
He wore two revolver straps around his hips – the second one so that the Colt handle protruded forward. The man in the Southern cap stared there the whole time. He himself wore a scuffed holster with a long-drawn navy colt in it. His hand gripped the handle of the long Bowie knife.
Kane turned to the bodegero.
"Can I get a bath and a room for the night?" he asked.
"Well, senor ...," said the Bodegero. Kane did notice that he had looked first at a man sitting at one of the tables. He wore a suit and a bow around his shirt collar. Around the hips hung an army holster with the flap removed, so the colt could be pulled right away. His face was carved in stone. The lines were hard and the look out of his steel-blue eyes penetrating. Only after he nodded, the Bodegero gave his consent. "No problem, senor. If you pay in advance."
Kane put a few coins on the table.
"That will last for one night. If you like tortillas, there's even a meal included."
"Thank you. Do you have whiskey? My throat is dry."
"Only tequila, senor!"
"For my part ..."
The Bodegero poured out and Kane emptied the glass in one gulp.
The man in the saddle coat pointed to Kane's weapons.
"You are well equipped, Mister – two Colts! It certainly has its advantages if you have two irons in your belt. Especially if one of the primers blocks in the revolving breech."
"I'll sell one of them if you're interested!" Kane said. "I need some money. Interested?"
"One hundred American dollars – no pesos."
"Let me see, mister."
Kane unbuckled the second strap, put it rolled in onto the counter, and slid it over to the guy in the saddle coat.
The guy in the Southern cap spat and pointed at the Saddle Coat man. "Better don’t do any business with him."
"Why?" Kane asked.
"Because he does not have a hundred dollars – just enough pesos to afford a tequila here."
"Shut up, Dooley!" growled the Saddle Coat man, taking the gun from the holster and opening the revolving breech.
"It's true!" defended Dooley and pushed back the southern cap on the neck.
"It’s you who’s keen on the gun!" growled the Saddle Coat man.
Dooley grimaced and turned to the other gringos in the bodega. "Has anyone of you ever seen Brannigan owning a hundred bucks?"
Laughter filled the room.
Brannigan, the man in the Saddle Coat, bared his teeth like a beast of prey. "If anyone here doubts that I pay my debts, then he should tell me frankly, so I can blow his brains out!"
"Keep calm!" Kane replied. "I do not mind auctioning the Colt to the highest bidder!"
Dooley laughed harshly.
"Thanks, but I have a gun!"
Brannigan said, "I'll give you the hundred dollars, mister ... What's your name?"
"Call me Laredo Kid," Kane replied, because he could not think of anything better at the moment and he wanted to avoid having his real name spread around the area. After all, he could not rule out that those who unjustly accused him of murder might not stick to his tracks in Mexico, even though Texan marshals on the other side of the border, of course, had no powers whatsoever.
Brannigan strapped on the strap. His other revolver he wore left and with the handle forward.
"Not so fast," Kane said. "First the money!"
Brannigan grinned. Then he reached into the pocket of his saddle coat and pulled out a small bundle of bills. He counted out a hundred dollars and put them on the bar.
Kane looked at the bills with a glance.
"These are Confederate dollars," Kane stated. "Since the war is over, you can burn them in the oven without hesitation!"
"Listen to him, boys! Must be a fucking Yankee if he does not want these dollars!"
Laughter answered him. The bodegero fell back into a corner. He seemed to suspect that he could stand in the line of fire if the going became tough.
"I want my belt back," Kane said calmly.
"One Colt is enough to you, Laredo Kid! Then you just have to be always careful that the primers sit well!"
Kane's eyes narrowed. "I hate to say things twice!" he hissed through his teeth.
Brannigan reached for the Colt and yanked it out. Since he was obviously used to it, he reached for his own weapon crossover. Apparently he did not really trust the iron he had taken from Kane.
The barrel pointed to Kane’s chest.
"What do you want to do now, Laredo Kid?" he asked. "Undo the trade? Take my gun off?" Brannigan sneered. "You're welcome to try, and I'll take your other weapon too!"
For a moment nothing happened.
At that moment, one could have heard dropping a pin onto the coarse floorboards of the bodega.
"Come on, Laredo Kid! What are you waiting for!"
"All right then, Brannigan!" the man at the table intervened. He got up now. Brannigan seemed a bit confused. "Major Jackman, I ..."
"Take the dollars, Brannigan, and give the gentleman back his belt," the man said relentlessly, straightening his bow. Then he leaned back, his right resting on the Army holster.
"Major Jackman, this is probably just a fucking Yankee!" he said.
"He's Texan in his language," contradicted the man who was called Major Jackman. He got up, moved to Kane and reached into his jacket pocket. He took out a few bills. Union dollars. "I have a better idea," he said.
"And that would be?" Kane asked.
"I buy the weapon. The price is not excessive and it is a nice piece." He gave Kane the money. He counted and pocketed it. Jackman stretched his hand in Brannigan's direction. Whereupon he snapped off and gave Jackman the revolver belt. Jackman hung him over his shoulder.
"Were you at war?" he asked.
"Like almost everyone."
"I suppose you were fighting for the right side as a Texan."
"Looks different to everyone, what the right side was," Kane replied.
Jackman grinned. "I was a major in the Army of the Confederate States of America – and even if a war is over for a few traitors who signed the capitulation – not for me! And I'm not the only one!"
Kane knew that there were some stalwarts who did not want to understand that the cause of the South was lost. Out and over. Guerrilla forces, still attached to the spirit of the South, raged in Kansas and Missouri – but also in the Oklahoma Indian Territory. Some also pulled back to Mexico when the Union Army's blue shirts were crowding them.
The best known of these gang leaders was William C. Quantrill. But he was by no means the only one.
Many of these groups, despite their supposedly high patriotic ideals, had fallen down to mere criminal gangs for a long time.
And Kane had the vague idea that he had just met such a bunch here.
"I'm proud to have been in Gettysburg," said Jackman. "And although the other side has proven to be superior at the moment, our fight is far from over. We form ourselves. Did you hear that the Yankee president was executed?"
"Lincoln? Then that news spread even to this area by now ..." Kane said.
"A brave patriot shot him."
"I'm sorry if I cannot completely follow you, Major ..."
"I am always in need of good people. If you were at war, you can shoot too. The guy you took off the revolver belt would probably have learned it. What do you think about joining us? Brannigan is also Texan like you!"
"Sorry, Major Jackman. It will not work," Kane said.
"Why not? Now do not say that you have anything to lose! You rather look like someone forced to spend some time here in Sonora. Then you can do that with us! And by the way, it would be worthwhile for you too. Because we have introduced such a kind of tax system here and do live rather well by it."
"I have my own plans."
"I would not ride with this bastard either!" Brannigan growled.
"Shut up, Brannigan!" Major Jackman snapped, before turning back to Kane. "We have more than twenty men under arms. And if you want to put down roots in this area, then you should not mess with us. Because here we decide on our own whether someone is allowed to pass or not."
At that moment a man in black leather vest and black hat came through the swinging doors.
"Hey, Major, whom does the horse with the blue yankee coat on the saddle belong to?"
Everyone stared at Kane.
Major Jackman grimaced. "Now I understand," he muttered. "So you are really a Yankee!"
"The war is over," Kane said.
"Not for me! There is no place for you in Magdalena, Laredo Kid – or whatever your name may be in truth!" Major Jackman snapped his fingers and turned to the Bodegero. "Return him the money he gave you, Hombre ..."
"Tortillas and a bath he will have to take elsewhere!"
The Bodegero put the money on the bar. Kane decided that it was useless trying to prevail. He took the money, pocketed it, and headed for the swinging doors. He was not in the mood for trouble and that was obviously pre-programmed here. Major Jackmann and his gang seemed to regard Magdalena as their private property.
The man in black backed away from Kane. He had his thumbs trapped behind the deeply-strapped belt.
Kane had just reached the swinging doors when he noticed a movement behind him. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Brannigan move.
Brannigan tore out the revolver. A shot cracked out of his revolver.
Kane slid sideways.
He shoved the swinging door open with his shoulder and reached for his own weapon at the same time. With a cat-like, hundredfold practiced movement, his right hand tore the .45 out of the holster, while the left slid over the cock and pulled it back.
Brannigan's bullet hissed past Kane, burning a hole in the swinging door's wood.
Kane’s shot, however, caught Brannigan in the arm.
Brannigan screamed, dropping the gun.
Heavily, the Colt fell to the ground while the blood shot out of Brannigan's wound.
"Damned!" he croaked, grimacing.
The Major's men had their hands on their weapons, but none of them dared to rip out his Colt. They had seen how quickly Kane could pull and how well he could hit.
And it was clear to each of them that the one who now took up his weapon lost his life within a blink of an eye.
"Stay calm!" said Kane.
"You're going to pay, bastard!" Brannigan shouted. He was desperately trying to stop the bleeding on his forearm.
Kane moved back.
He left no one from the pack out of sight, not even for a fraction of a second.
Backwards and with the Colt in his fist he stepped outside.
The swinging doors swung back and forth for a few moments, when he had already disappeared and the stiffness of Jackman and the members of his pack suddenly broke away.
Kane ran to his horse. He swung himself into the saddle and patted the animal's neck.
You would have deserved something better!, he thought. After all, the horse had been carrying him all day and needed some rest.
But that had to be postponed to later.
Kane spurred the horse and made his way down Calle de los Santos to its end.
The Major's pack had meanwhile stormed out of the bodega.
A few shots were sent behind Kane. But none of these bullets found its target. They only made sure that Kane's horse made even faster progress.
But the man called Laredo Kid was already out of range. For anything over thirty yards, hitting with a revolver was a matter of luck, and before one of the guys pulled his Winchester out of the saddle shoe, Kane had long since disappeared behind the next hill.
In the meantime, he turned around and looked back.
But apparently nobody was in the mood to persecute him.
Soon he had reached the rough highlands and disappeared between the rugged massifs.
KANE RODE UNTIL THE evening. The sun soon became milky and sank to the horizon. At night he camped in the mountains and made a small fire. It barely cooled that night and so Kane left the old army coat where it was – strapped on his horse's saddle. The thin blanket was enough.
He scraped up the last supplies to get something to eat. The coffee was weak. But at least he would be able to have another cup the next morning.
At night, he awoke from a light sleep as the horse became restless and snorted.
The two Winchester rifles were close by – one in the saddle shoe, the so-called Scubbard, the other had been strapped to the blanket and was now leaning against it.
Kane had the revolver under the blanket.
The fire was pretty much burned down.
In the pale moonlight, he saw a figure emerge. Silently, the person moved between the nearby boulders and approached the camp.
Kane behaved calmly.
The figure approached like a shadow. In the left hand he held a rifle that was visible in the silhouette. In the right something different. For a brief moment the moonlight fell on it. The blade of a tomahawk flashed.
The Tomahawk darted down – right where Kane was.
Kane turned on the ground on his own axis.
The blow with the Tomahawk went nowhere. The hatchet dug into the ground.
Kane jerked the Colt up, cocking the gun and holding the muzzle to his opponent's head.
"No movement!" he growled.
The figure froze. It was an Indian. Moonlight fell on the blue-black hair held together by a broad, red headband, which fell over his shoulders. He was wearing a colorful cotton shirt that fell over his pants. Above it a belt with army holster, navy colt and bowie knife. His trousers were made of blue drill and had the characteristic side stripes of the Union army. Probably this Indian had once been an Army Scout.
In the left he carried a Sharp's rifle, which he had probably just lifted when leaving the army.
He took a deep breath.
His huge chest rose and fell. Every muscle and tendon in his body was tense.
The features were grim and distorted. Hateful.
"The gun away!" Kane demanded. "Drop immediately!"
The Indian hesitated. Kane raised the barrel of the revolver. The Indian dropped the Sharps rifle to the ground.
"Also the revolver belt."
He unbuckled it and let it slide to the ground.
"Who are you?" Kane asked.
"My name is Macondo."
"Why are you trying to kill me?"
"Why don’t you kill me right now?" he asked back. His English was pretty good.
"Because I want to know why you attacked me in my sleep."
"I followed your track. You come from Magdalena."
"I drank a tequila there. Is that enough reason to kill a man?"
"I wanted your rifles. Your revolver. Your horse ... and your scalp. Everyone who rides for the man who calls himself Major Jackman should pay for what he did to my family!"
"I do not ride for Major Jackman!" Kane explained.
"Pah!", Macondo scoffed and made a face. "In this area you either ride for Don Felipe or for Major Jackman! And all the Gringos are with Jackman!"
"In that case, you are wrong. I am not with Jackman. One of his men nearly burned a bullet in my back!"
"Why should I do that. I could just blow you up ... there's no reason why I should fool you."
Macondo narrowed his eyes. He still looked very tense. Like a puma before the jump.
"Want to see proof?" Kane asked.
Kane squatted down, pulled the Winchester out of the Scubbard and threw it a few yards away. He took the second Winchester, pocketed the Colt, and loaded it. Then he took a step back and pointed to the saddle. With the barrel of the Winchester he pointed to the laced coat.
"Look at the coat, roll it out and you'll see what I mean."
He opened his coat, looked at it in disbelief, and then looked at Kane.
"Do you see it?"
"You fought for the north?"
"Just like you, if you did not rob the trousers you are wearing from some sleeping poor devil, as you intended me to do. But do you realize now that I could not ride for Major Jackman?"
"I did not know that," he confessed. "What happens now? Are you shooting me?"
"Sit by the fire. I want to talk to you."
As they sat by the fire, Macondo recounted what Jackman and his men had done to his family. After the end of the civil war, he was dismissed as hundreds of thousands of other soldiers from the Northern Army, and then moved across the border to Mexico, where his clan now lived.
"More than twenty men appeared – armed with Winchester rifles, as you own two. This major has led them. Since I still had some pieces of equipment from my time as a scout at the Blue Skirts, they thought I might be a US Government spy to spy on groups like the Major's gang!"
"What exactly happened?"
"It was not far from here down by the Rio Tinto. They just fired and killed everyone. I'm the only one who managed to escape. There were hardly a handful of warriors. The rest were old men, women and children. Concerning weapons, there were barely more than tomahawks and knives, only three one-shot breech loaders, my Sharp's rifle, and my revolver. But our opponents had Winchester carbines which you can fire twelve times in a row without having to reload. We had no chance."
"When was that?" Kane asked.
"It was several moons ago," he said.
"And now you are waging war on this Jackman, like a lonely wolf."
"Yes. I want revenge. And there is no law here. The Mexican sheriff of Magdalena has fled - and an Apache he would not have helped anyway."
"Then Jackman set himself up as a kind of king," said Kane. "He wanted to hire me for his gang, before he knew I was fighting for the North and said he was raising taxes in the area."
Macondo nodded. "Protection money is that called elsewhere. Who does not pay, gets a bullet in the head. He owns the whole area."
"I saw only six men in Magdalena. Where is the rest of his troupe?"
"At his headquarters. That's what he set up on the hacienda of Don Felipe Hidalgo y Gonzales del Rey, a landlord and cattle breeder in the area."
"You mentioned the name Don Felipe before."
Macondo nodded. "Yes. He also has some men under arms ..."
"I suppose he does not want to put up with someone just taking his possession away!"
"Your’re right. But Don Felipe has difficulties in finding men who are willing to ride for him. Men who are brave enough."
Kane smiled thinly. "I can understand. Competing against Major Jackman's pack is likely to be suicidal."
"I do not care if I die," Macondo said, not referring to Kane's response to Don Felipe's difficulties in hiring men, but to his own fight against the major and his gang.
"Why don’t you join Don Felipe?" Kane asked. "You could satisfy your revenge and probably make good money doing it. I suppose he does not pay badly."
Macondo shook his head.
"No, I'm not going to earn money for my revenge. But maybe that's something for you."
Kane was surprised. "Why for me?"
"I suppose you need money and somebody is chasing you in the States."
"How come you know that?"
"There is no other reason to ride to Sonora. Not for a gringo like you. I do not suppose that you have a lot of money, unless you are persecuted for bank robbery. But then you would probably be wasting your money in the brothels of Palomas and not camping here in the wilderness."
Kane grinned. The Apache was a close observer.
"What’s your name, Gringo?" he asked.
"Not your real name. That confirms my assumptions."
Too late, Kane saw the reason why Macondo's hand had approached more and more his right, almost knee-high boot leg.
SUDDENLY THE INDIAN moved.
Like a puma, he almost jumped out of nowhere. From the bootleg he tore a slender knife whose blade flashed briefly in the moonlight.
He threw himself at Kane, who reacted too late for a fraction of a second.
The Indian above him turned the Winchester barrel aside and put the knife to Kane's throat.
Macondo's features expressed determination.
He showed his flawless teeth like a beast of prey.
But something made him hesitate to execute the cut.
"It would be against my honor if you just let me go and I would not liberate myself, Hombre," he murmured.
He took the knife from Kane's throat and got up.
Then he made a few steps to pick up his weapons from the ground. He strapped on the revolver belt, slipped the tomahawk into a dedicated loop on the left, and finally picked up the Sharps rifle from the ground.
Then he looked over at Kane.
"Maybe our ways will cross again, Laredo Kid."
Macondo turned over and disappeared in the night.
A little later, in the distance, the hoofbeats of a horse could be heard.
KANE TURNED IN FOR a few more hours. Shortly before sunrise, he cleared his camp, saddled his horse and continued on his way.
In the morning hours it was pleasantly cool.
He drove his horse further northwest.
As soon as possible he wanted to leave the area around Magdalena. This was the kingdom of the major. He might be a villain who deserved someone to stop him. But that was not Kane’s fight. He had difficulty enough to solve his own problems.
He rode through rugged, rough land, where the only vegetation seemed to be a few particularly resilient cactus species.
The sun rose like a glowing ball.
Kane noticed that his water bottle contained only a few drops.
Actually, he had planned to refresh his supplies in the city of Magdalena, which unfortunately hadn’t been possible. Now he had the hundred dollars of the major the self-proclaimed warlord had given him for the second revolver-belt in the service of the lost South – but these hundred Union dollars were only worth something where there was something to buy with. In the whole border area of Mexico, many traders preferred the US dollar to the unstable peso. Therefore, it would have been no problem to shop in Magdalena.
But out here in the desert, a few drops of water were worth much more than a hundred dollars, equivalent to a cowboy's pay for three months, a soldier's pay for half a year.
Finally, Kane stopped at a group of cactuses.
He cut off a piece of it, tried to touch it without being stung too much, and poured the juice into his waterbottle.
The juice tasted bitter and made Kane grimacing.
He also filled some of it in the tin cup from which he usually drank coffee and tried to persuade his horse to drink it.
But the animal just snorted and turned his head away.
"You're not thirsty enough, are you?"
Kane swung back into his saddle and continued on his way.
QUICKLY, IT WAS GETTING warmer. The sun was burning from the sky and the air over the dry, cracked land began to flicker.
Kane reached a canyon. The slopes rose steeply on both sides. In the middle of the gorge, the ground was still wet. Not too long ago there had been a stream here. Kane hoped that something was left of it and followed him.
He finally found a watering hole, which represented the miserable remnant of this stretch of water, which probably swelled up again after a long downpour so that it filled the entire width of the ravine.
The horse was hard to brake.
Kane had to use all his skills to keep the animal from following the irresistible smell of the water.
He tied it to a shrub in order to check the quality first.
If it was salty, and the animal took a few sips from it, it meant a death sentence for the horse.
Kane knelt on the bank and brought a handful of water to his mouth.
He spit it out again.
It was inedible.
At the same moment, he heard the rattling noise that followed when a Winchester was loaded.
"No movement, Hombre!" a rough voice said.
Kane turned his head to one side. Out of the corner of his eye, he could make out the guy. He wore a sombrero, which was often seen on the Mexican side of the border. Two cartridges hung over his shoulders and crossed over his chest.
For the two somewhat antique-looking pistols he had no holster. They just stuck behind his broad belt.
For a moment, Kane considered his chances of simply dropping to one side, tearing the revolver out of the holster and firing at the guy.
The man called Laredo Kid was both quick and accurate enough.
But then half a dozen other men appeared around the waterhole.
All armed with rifles.
The barrels were aimed at Kane.
The men exchanged a few sentences in Spanish that Kane did not understand. He only got one name.
There was always talk of "Don Felipe", again and again.
The man with the crossed straps and the sombrero approached Kane from behind and pulled the revolver from the holster, put it behind his belt, and then took the bowie knife. During the whole time, he pressed Kane the barrel of the Winchester in the back.
The others approached now, too.
According to their dress, they were all Mexicans.
"Good for him!" said one of the guys with an unshaven, full face and dark, black-blue hair, whose strands hung in his eyes. The sombrero he wore on a neck cord on his back. "Two Winchester rifles in the saddle! Not everybody can claim to own that, Hombre!"
"Don Felipe will be happy," the guy in the crossed straps was convinced, pushing Kane the gun into the back, making him believe that it was best not to do anything right now and stay calm.
The Mexican behind him struck him with the rifle butt. Kane collapsed.
The Mexican aimed the rifle barrel at him.
"What shall we do with you, Hombre? There are so few trees here where you could hang a man!"
"Pedro!" one of the others shouted. It was the unshaven man who had been with Kane's horse. "We bring him to Don Felipe!"
"Why not make short work of him?" Pedro asked. He spoke English – deliberately so Kane could hear every word. Pedro's face twisted. "Some good friends of mine had to bite the grass when your boss, this son of a bitch calling himself Major Jackman and having his rank in the devil's army, raided the hacienda of Don Felipe ... You know the Bible, don’t you?"
"Who does not?" Kane groaned. "But I'm not the one you think."
"Brave enough to kill the defenseless, that's you. But if you are held accountable, you are nothing but cowards and whimper!"
"You obviously think I'm one of Major Jackman's men."
Pedro grinned crookedly. "We do not just think you to be one of them, Hombre. You are one of Jackman's men. One of the bastards who cross the border because nobody needs them in the States. One of those deluded ones who don’t want to accept that the war is over there – and others who misuse only patriotic arguments to do what they've always done. Murder and plunder!"
Kane shook his head. "I have nothing to do with this Jackman. But on the contrary. In Magdalena, his people almost knocked me over because I was in the Northern Army."
Pedro loaded his Winchester and aimed at Kane's head.
He was obviously furious.
The idea that a man he thought to be responsible for the death of his friends was trying to justify himself, was apparently going too far for him.
"You'll see what you have of it when you face a higher judge! Madre de Dios!"
A shot came out of the barrel of the Winchester.
The muzzle fire licked like the bloodred tongue of a dragon from the mouth.
But the shot went wrong.
At the last moment, the unshaven man had jumped between and had pushed down the rifle barrel, causing the bullet to burn into the ground close to Kane.
A small sand fountain was whirled up.
The unshaven man exchanged a few rude words in Spanish with the guy named Pedro.
It was most ungentlemanly.
But the unshaven man obviously prevailed.
He turned to Kane.
"Do you have proof of what you said?"
"The blue military coat on my saddle. I fought for the north. Jackman hates me more than any Mexican."
"Anyone can have such a coat! That's no proof."
"I also have discharge papers from the Union Army."
"Show us those!"
Kane got up cautiously. His side ached from the brutal blow Pedro had given him.
Kane reached into the inside pocket of his leather vest and pulled out a folded document. He handed it to the unshaven man. He unfolded it and stared at it like an Indian medicine man on a totem. Kane could remark he was holding the document the wrong way round.
He handed it back to Kane.
"Seems to be okay," he claimed.
"Then I'd like to have my gun back so I can ride on."
"No, we'll take you to Don Felipe," the unshaven man countered. "He will decide what happens!"
KANE WAS PUT ON HIS horse. They tied his hands behind his back. In addition, they removed the two rifles from his saddle pack.
The unshaven man pulled Kane's horse behind him.
"What's your name, Hombre?" he asked on the way.
"I thought you read my discharge papers," Kane replied.
"Caramba! Can I remember every gringo name?"
"Call me Laredo Kid," Kane said with a grin.
The hours elapsed slow-moving. Kane asked for water for himself and his horse. After a little debate in Spanish, in which the words "loco" and "tonto" were used very often and the speech was not so noble, the unshaven Kane finally gave his water bottle.
And the horse got something to drink, too.
"After all, none of us wants you to stop us from traveling with us because your horse has collapsed under your butt, Gringo!" he said.
"I appreciate your warm hospitality!" Kane replied sarcastically.
Until early evening, they moved on through the fissured, barren landscape.
Then they reached a plain covered with stones, sand and some more or less withered bushes.
A church tower rose above this plain.
About half way to the next hills was a building surrounded by a white sandstone wall.
"A monastery?" Kane asked.
"An abandoned mission," the unshaven man nodded. "Neither Apaches nor Comanches managed to drive the monks out. Only a certain Major Jackman managed that ..."
"You're playing the unsuspecting, Laredo Kid!"
"You have seen my discharge papers from the Union Army!"
"Yeah, but honestly I do not think Jackman would make any difference. Everyone who knows how to use a weapon and is willing to ride for him and swing the iron he will gladly take with him!"
"You cannot know him very well or you would not say that," Kane said.
The unshaven man grinned. "Maybe I do not know Major Jackman as well as you, that's it, Laredo Kid. Is that a real name among you Gringos?"
"You wanted to tell me what happened in the mission."
The unshaved man laughed hoarsely. "It was already a few months ago. Maybe you were not yet there with that bunch at the time, Laredo Kid."
A snappy remark was on Kane's tongue.
In the way that he would not have to worry about it, if he really read the discharge papers and listened to Jackman and his men when talking about union soldiers.
But Kane sensed that he made the unshaven mad if he showed him up. And that could be dangerous for him. So Kane restrained himself. Maybe he would find someone to talk to in this disempowered landlord.
Someone who could read.
"The monks, like everyone else in the area, should pay their dues to Jackman," the unshaven man reported. "But they did not do that. They said that their surpluses were destined for the poor and not for depraved rabble like Jackman and his pack."
"I suppose the major got pretty angry."
"He is said to have personally shot two of the monks. Unarmed men of God, do you understand? Men who would never hurt a fly in their lives and dedicated their lives to helping the poor." The unshaved spat. "Can there be anything meaner?"
"What about the other monks?"
"Fled. Nobody can blame them. These were men of God, but not all of them bring with them the capacity in suffering of our Lord Jesus Christ – if you understand what I mean."
"And now Don Felipe has his headquarters there."
"Temporary camp I would call that," corrected the unshaven.
THE GATE OF THE MISSION was opened and the rider group burst into the courtyard.
A man with a thin mustache and a black straight-brimmed hat stepped out of the main house.
He was wearing a revolver belt with a long-barreled Navy Colt in it. With his teeth he held a cigar, which glistened slightly.
The newcomers welcomed de Mann as Don Felipe. What else they said Kane could not understand because he did not understand Spanish.
Two guys grabbed Kane pretty roughly and pulled him out of the saddle. Then they threw him in the dust.
"My men tell me you're one of Jackman's people!" said Don Felipe after removing the cigar from his mouth and forming a few rings with the smoke.
"In my left vest pocket you will find discharge papers of the Union Army. Jackman would never have taken someone like me."
Don Felipe put the cigar back in his mouth, walked over to Kane, reached into his vest pocket, and took out the document. He took a close look and folded it up again. Then he put it back in Kane's bag. "Untie the man."
Pedro spoke up.
He spoke in Spanish and Kane did not get much more than that he obviously did not like Don Felipe’s decision. The unshaven man, on the other hand, remained calm.
Don Felipe ended the dispute with a few harsh words.
Kane's bonds were instantly removed.
Don Felipe instructed his men to return the arms to Kane, which was instantaneous fulfilled. The unshaven man put one of the Winchester rifles in the saddle shoe. He handed the other rifle to Kane along with the revolver.
"No offense, Hombre."
"I'm sorry that my men obviously treated you a bit roughly," said Don Felipe. "Be my guest for that, though at the moment I can only offer you a modest luxury that, strictly speaking, does not even belong to me."
"One of your men reported on what happened to the monks," Kane said.
Don Felipe nodded somberly. "We stay here for a while and then look for another camp ..." He sighed. "Come in, senor ..."
"Call me Laredo Kid," Kane said.
Don Felipe looked Kane from head to toe. "All right, senor. And by the way, I hope you did not suffer serious damage. And as for the behavior of my people, you have to apologize. Some may be overzealous. But that's because they've lost some good friends in shootouts with Jackman and his squad. Some also have lost family members here in the area. The Major and his troop do not hesitate. If someone does not pay the so-called taxes, he’s done for. Taxes, of which he claims to set up an army, with which he wants to correct the result of the civil war."
"The Battle of Gettysburg is over," Kane said. "But unfortunately there are men like Jackman who do not understand that. They just do not want to believe that the cause of the South can no longer be upheld and that our country needs nothing more urgently than peace."
"I've been to you over there in the north pretty often. As a cattle breeder you get around pretty well, senor. But let me tell you, it will take a hundred years for the next president in Washington to come from the south!"
"I'm afraid you might be right."
Kane put his revolver in the holster. Don Felipe led him into the main house after the landlord had instructed his people to take care of the horses.
He expressly ordered the unshaven man to give enough water to Kane's animal, too. The unshaved man acknowledged this with a growl.
When Kane entered the house, it took him a moment to get used to the half-light. A few rough wooden furniture was here. No luxury. But he was not to be expected in a place where monks lived.
Don Felipe adjusted a chair for Kane.
"Sit down, senor."
Kane accepted the offer. He put the Winchester on his lap. Somehow he could not shake the feeling that Don Felipe was pursuing some ulterior motive. That he wanted to apologize for the behavior of his men was one thing. But he had something else in mind.
Don Felipe put a bottle and two metal cups on the table.
"Tequila?" Kane asked.
"No. Kentucky Bourbon. "
"I did not think you would get that kind of thing in this area!"
"In Palomas you get everything you want."
After filling the two glasses, Don Felipe sat down too.
Kane took a long sip. The bourbon was actually of high quality. Don Felipe apparently knew what was good and expensive.
Don Felipe drank too.
His eyes narrowed.
He offered Kane a cigar, but he refused.
"Look, I do not care why you're chased for over there in the States or whatever you have done wrong. You served in an army and apparently can handle weapons. That's enough for me ..."
"If you want to hire me, then unfortunately I have to disappoint you," said Kane. "Personally, I have every sympathy for the war you are waging against Major Jackman and his bastards. But this war is none of my business. And frankly, I do not intend to risk my life for a few dollars."
"Not even when it deals with a just cause?"
"The release papers from the Army of the Union have shown me that you have obviously thought otherwise!"
"That's over," Kane explained.
He wanted to rise.
"Don’t get up," Don Felipe ordered. "I want to tell you a story."
"I do not think this story is able to change my mind."
"Listen to it anyway. The only thing you risk is that you drink another beaker of bourbon and that your head will be throbbing later on!"
Kane took a deep breath. "All right then."
Don Felipe leaned forward a little. "Just look, when this gang attacked us, we had to flee in a hurry. My wife died years ago, but I have a daughter, twenty years old. Before I started fighting Jackman, I made sure she was safely housed."
"I can understand that," Kane said.
"I brought her to a relative in Palomas. Actually I had assumed that she would be safe there. But that was not the case. Jackman and his gang figured out where my daughter was and kidnapped her. He now holds her hostage on our hacienda to make sure I stay away from him. He can always put me under pressure this way."
"I'm sorry, Don Felipe. But you have a well-armed force that will assist you in everything you plan to do."
"You still do not understand! These men out there are of good will. And they have courage! And most of all, they do hate for one reason or another. Hatred for this Jackman, who sets himself up as master of life and death. But that's not a good way to fight."
Kane's eyes narrowed.
Don Felipe poured him the bourbon.
"What are you driving at, Don Felipe?"
The landlord did not respond to Kane's question at all.
Instead, he said, "If my people show up somewhere, Major Jackman knows right away that I'm behind it. But if a gringo like you ..."
"I'm sorry, Don Felipe. I've made my decision. I suggest you contact the authorities of your country."
Don Felipe's fist crashed on the table. "The authorities of my country? They are not existent in Sonora right now! Our country is moving towards a chaotic state! In Magdalena there is no sheriff and neither in Palomas. There are no men who want to do that."
"They'll have their reasons," Kane said.
Don Felipe leaned forward. "You’ll get a thousand dollars. You can buy three or four hundred cattle and settle down in the West as a rancher!"
Kane thought it over.
A thousand dollars.
The amount seemed to resonate in his mind.
He could live on a thousand dollars for a while. Maybe even build a new existence somewhere under a false name.
"What do I have to do for it?"
"Do you dare to rescue Isabellita – that's my daughter's name -?"