Western Short Story
Diego San Pedroia, headed the wagon train deep into Texas hill territory heading south west into territory to be called Liano county in the time to come. The air, though dry, carried a touch of river in it, making him smile at his sense of direction; with no maps at hand after the lead wagon caught fire and burned the few maps, barren as some landmarks. The men of the wagon train had driven off Indians in a firestorm of their own, suffering one man killed by an arrow in his chest.
The victim’s wife, Clara Dobry, now a lone widow, handled the wagon when they started anew after the quick burial. Diego promised her special attention would come her way after her loss, and she fully understood his admonition when he inserted himself in the discussion, “and that includes me, Clara, a special eye and care to wherever we end up in these vast hills and valleys. Don’t you go worrying about anything,”
Her retort was quick. “The only thing I worry about, outside of us finding a new home for ourselves, this whole train, is that gent in the last wagon, that one who calls himself The Deacon, of which he ain’t no deacon, already trying to prime me with interest even before Claude was in the ground. Right on he said we ought to share one wagon, and my wagon being the best bet.”
Her concern was in her eyes, which Diego read with certainty. “Don’t worry about him, Clara. I had him figured real early as to what he was, insisting right up front that he’d be the last wagon in the train. I figured that was the quick getaway if there was trouble and we’d be overtaken by injuns. I’ll keep a keener eye on him than on you, if you understand my point.” He looed back over his shoulder before explaining,” I’ve been watching him since day one, and he covers himself with care from morning until night, His name is Slade Peckham and hardly tolerable to most of us. That’s my word on that creature.”
“You ease my soul, Mr. Pedroia.” She slipped her hand into his hand. The bond was made.
“Call me Diego, Clara, anytime you want,” They’re eyes were locked as well as their hands.
Then he rode off a short distance, looked back, felt the messages in the air. Now he had to find a place to settle the whole train down, every man, woman and child. He had long promised himself, after several other trips, to find a location “deep in nowhere,’ as he termed it. In the mass of hills and valleys and glens, he was sure he’d find one that would be easier to protect than a site on the plains. He’d seen that too, in his time. He was 32 years old and found times when he thought he was 52, sometimes not sure if that doubt was in his mind or in his body; some days both parts knew it at once, those were the days he had to work his way out of it; ride hard, drive men hard, keep his eyes on The Deacon, Slade Peckham.
He had the deepest suspicion that the man was worthy of any ruse, any trick, to gain an upper hand in any situation where life, death, or money had a hand in the outcome. Those were his select moments to conduct his out-reach searches for a dream location, thinking it would pop up in a treasured hurry with one declaration one view from a mount.
Of course, worries about Slade Peckham rode in the saddle with him, wondering, when they were not in sight of each other, what that intolerable man was up to at the back of the wagon train.
Diego San Pedroia promised himself a chance to get a long view of Peckham for a good part if a day. That’s when he saw Peckham dawdle behind his wagon to collect three stones and when Peckham had cone on past that point, he found the three stones beside the trail laid out in a tight triangle. With a quick ride back over the trail, he found three other triangles at direction changes of the wagon train. The signals were obviously for other riders, perhaps, and most likely, gang members, and also waiting for the end of the trail, where the lost colony would find itself.
Diego mulled over his options, the called upon several outstanding pioneers to join him in a meeting, saying he had seen a place ahead of them and wanted them to find agreement with his selected sight, They all agreed, and Sam Peckham sauntered into the group, heard what was being planned, and said, “I’d sure like to join you gents in that errand.”
“Naw, Slade, I want you to sit up front and take care of things when we’re off for part of the day. Always need a man out front, always. Everybody agrees with that, right, men?”
To a man, they all nodded, at which Peckham nodded and said, “Whatever you say, Diego. Whatever you say.” He kept nodding his head in a posed assurance.
When the group was out if sight if the wagon, Diego explained about their real mission. “Somebody is leaving trail markers behind us. I figure they’re for members if a gang that will one day come down on top of us, but we’re going to beat them to the punch, so load up for your best action. I picked you gents as the best ones to help me.”
One man said, “I’m guessing that someone must be Peckham. If he was here right now, I’d drop him out of the saddle and strangle him to death. I swear I would. Am I correct in this, Diego? Am I?” He looked like he was about to explode. “My wife and two young uns are with me, looking for the same place and opportunity that you’re looking for, Diego, but I could strangle that man, if he’s the one you’re talking about.”
Both hands felt for his double-holstered pistols, already proven to be handled with talent.
“It’s why you’re here, Duke, and with those guns of yours, and not Slade Peckham. We’re going to circle around and look for whoever or whatever is riding behind the wagon train and reading them signs he’s leaving, just like a road map, they are.”
In a few hours of hard travel, they came upon six horsemen camped below them in a tight gully, almost the kind of place Diego had been looking for. “We go in a rush on top of them. They won’t be expecting anything from us. I suspect they’ve been behind us since Peckham joined the wagon train back at Breakout City. Just sidled up and put himself last in line. Neat as a pin. Not a question. No shady remarks, just someone dreaming like the rest of us. They had this act all planned out for themselves. Damned near got their toes into our wagons. Now we get even. Peckham, making some moves on his own, like on Clara Dobry while we’re out here.”
The select gunman, Slip Toner, said, “Hell, Diego, we all knew you two were bound up early, like lots had been drawn and you won. We all saw it, ‘cept maybe Slade, which serves him almost as good as today’s going to make us feel, make me feel. I’m ready for shootin’, you can bet on that and the outcome. I’m itchin’ for a fight.”
He slapped leather in a traditional move, the sound as honest as a vow.
After the encampment was found, their own horses tied off behind high obstruction, it was over as soon as Diego challenged them to give themselves up and one of them went for his guns. That’s when Slip Toner shot the man dead as well as the man beside him, both of them hitting the ground at the same moment. The other four men raised their hands.
“Tie them up for presents for Slade Peckham, He’s got the biggest surprise coming to him,” Diego said.
One of the bound prisoners asked, “Did that rat turn us up? I never did trust him, like he wasn’t goin’ to be around when we hit you folks. Just like he’s always been.”
Diego replied, “No, he didn’t but he’s going to wish he had, and out here we have to hold our own court and trial and carry out the verdicts to each man. That’s the way it’ll be even when we get”
That’s just the way it went when they rode up to the wagon train, Slade Peckham trying to slip away, and Slip Toner saying, “Don’t try it, Slade, or I’ll pit a few slugs where you don’t want them, right where you think you got curly hair.”
Every man there that moment cringed with the realities.
Clara Dobry, sidling up to Diego San Pedroia, said, “I’m glad you’re not in that crowd, Señor. That’d hurt like blazes.”
He didn’t know where he was in his search but he knew where he was with her, and he was sure all things would join sooner or later, and the Lost Colony, in all graciousness, would find its place somewhere in a little pocket of trust in the West.