15 minute read

Dennis Doty—"When it Rains"

A YELLOW-THROATED chuckawalla basked in the late morning warmth on a rock beside the faint dirt track. Beyond the rocky canyon, the flat desert landscape stretched forever before disappearing into a distant mirage. Above, a turkey vulture circled slowly, searching for some creature which might succumb to the oppressive heat. The old man and his burro weren’t the least bit out of place. His serape and once-gray hat, faded as the desert background, matched the equally nondescript image of the burro. The old man looked more faded than his forty years deserved.

He plodded along the faint track appearing to look neither left nor right. The burro followed on a long lead. Yet under the faded felt hat, dark eyes missed nothing including the wisp of dust a halfmile or so to the east. He turned a sharp left around a boulder the size of a large farm wagon and climbed a short way to a ledge sheltered by a granite overhang. It seemed to be a dead end until he reached out with his left hand and uprooted an eight-foot-tall mesquite bush giving himself and the burro access through the thicket.

Dropping the lead rope, he went back around the boulder and with great care brushed out his tracks and those of the burro as he backed into his hideaway. Carefully, he replanted the mesquite bush to conceal the opening and hoped it would be enough.

If the Apache the wisp of dust had betrayed were looking for him, they would find his trail. The old man hoped that they were simply hunters or raiders going from one place to another and would not notice his tracks. The late morning sun heating th cool desert sands created a stiff breeze and even an occasional dust devil. Maybe it would be enough to cover his tracks. He crossed himself and said a short prayer to Santa Barbara, the patron of miners, then led the burro back under the overhang and picketed it in a shallow depression where he hoped it would remain quiet and safe from any stray gunfire.

The old man had found this hidden ledge three months ago and recognized its easily defensible access as a perfect campsite. The overhang provided shelter for himself and his burro in the frequent summer monsoons and helped disperse the smoke from his small campfires. A small seep provided enough water to keep him and his burro alive but no more, at least not this time of year.

Rummaging through his packs, he dug out a spare pistol and all the ammunition he had. These he carried a short distance to a stone breastwork he had constructed facing the only entrance to the ledge. Returning to his packs, he gathered his bedroll, some jerky, and his ace-in-the-hole, a Model 1866 Winchester repeater. Gathering both his canteens, he got down behind the breastworks. He was as ready as he could be for whatever was to come.

Juana had begged him not to go prospecting again. She was terrified that the Apache would find him and kill him. She wasn’t ready to be a widow.

Maybe he should have listened to her. But no, he looked into her frightened eyes and said, This is the last time. Find it or not, I will return, and I will go no more. I love you, Juana. I promise you. I will return.” He reckoned he’d better keep that promise.

Thirty minutes passed before the faint sound of a guttural voice reached him. He tensed. An Apache appeared around a bend in the main wash moving at that walk-jog pace they could maintain for days at a time. As he drew near the side canyon, three more Apache followed him around the bend. All carried rifles, and the old man noted with satisfaction that none were repeaters.

The leader waited for the others to catch up, and a lively discussion ensued. The old man didn’t speak Apache, but it seemed clear from the accompanying gestures that three braves wanted to continue up the wash while the leader wanted to explore the side wash. Apparently, the wind had done its job and covered his tracks. After a bit more discussion, the leader took charge and started up the side wash.

Crawling to the end of his breastwork, the old man peered down at the area around the mesquite bush, being careful to show only his eyes and the top of his head. At first, he could see nothing out of the ordinary, but with no warning at all, the Apache leader appeared looking for tracks. He scanned the canyon walls, and the old man ducked down and held entirely still. When he chanced another glance, two more Apache had joined their leader.

Finding nothing, the leader signaled them to remount. When he vaulted onto his pony, the leader’s rifle struck the mesquite, and it slowly toppled over. Instantly, all three Apache dismounted and peered through the hole in the brush.

No longer having a choice other than to fight, the old man sighted down the barrel of his Winchester at one of the bare-chested braves. As the leader stepped through the opening, the old man squeezed the trigger.

The Apache grunted and fell back. He lay still with a thumb-size hole in his chest. The other, following his leader, ducked through the opening.

The old man waited. The fourth Apache ran into the clearing, and the old man put him down neatly beside his fallen comrade then rolled back behind his breastwork and watched the trail onto his ledge. The Apache were on the trail somewhere between the clearing and his ledge. The old man chuckled. They’ve got me right where I want them.

He waited, watching the ledge opening, occasionally wiping sweat from his brow. Maybe they were waiting for dark. No, Apache don’t like to fight at night. Maybe they waited for him to show himself. No chance. He was no green kid.

The heat and thirst nearly killed him. Well, at least the thirst did. He finally reached for his canteen. At the same instant, an Apache sprinted onto the ledge and dropped out of sight where there seemed to be no cover at all. The old man had seen this before. The other Apache would show himself briefly as a distraction while this one ran closer. The old man sighted in where the Apache had dropped.

Suddenly, the other Apache ran onto the ledge whooping and dropped just as the first one rose again. The Winchester spoke once, and the warrior went down. Instantly, the other warrior sprang towards him firing his rifle and a pistol. Bullets ricocheted off his breastworks and the overhang above him. He obviously thought the Winchester was empty. It was his final mistake. The old man held steady on his chest and squeezed. The Apache stopped in full, dropping his weapons as he fell.

The old man rolled to the end of his breastworks and peered into the arroyo. Nothing moved at first, including the two Apache he had dropped earlier. A horse stamped its hoof nervously. He’d have to go down and try to catch those ponies before they wandered home and brought help. First, he’d need to confirm that both the Apache on the ledge were dead. It wouldn’t do to be killed by a ghost.

The Apache were dead. So was his burro, who had caught a stray round just under his left ear.

¡Mierda! He had been a good burro, too.

The old man got his rope, reloaded his rifle, and went down the narrow trail to the bottom of the arroyo. All four Apache horses were there standing ground hitched like the well-trained animals they were. Two bore a US on their shoulders, and one had an unfamiliar brand on its hip. The fourth was a solid looking grulla mare with no brands or markings on her. He tied the three branded animals to his rope, then mounted the mare and rode back up to his ledge.

He picketed the horses so he could load his gear. Walking over to his poor burro, he removed his hat to say a few words. As he looked up, something caught his eye. A bullet had skimmed the overhang and the scar gleamed dully. Gold! He had finally found the vein he knew was there. He had simply never thought it was right over his campfire.

This discovery created several new problems. First, how to get to the gold. He could barely reach it with his pick. The ponies probably wouldn’t stand for him swinging a pick while sitting on them. He finally settled on a rock drill and a single jack to pry loose a small bag of samples. He packed the bag along with his supplies on one of the horses.

The bodies were more of a problem. He would have buried them shallow where they were, but now, with the gold, he had to get them far away. He hoped the other two horses weren’t too skittish about the smell of blood and death. They’d both have to pack double until he found a place to get rid of the corpses.

It was mid-afternoon by the time he got the bodies loaded and tied down. He rode the mare and led the other horses down to the bottom of the arroyo where he tied them while he brushed out tracks and replanted his mesquite bush. He walked up the arroyo a short piece and cut a couple of large mesquite bushes which he tied behind the ponies with the bodies. They wouldn’t eliminate his tracks, but they would obscure them somewhat, and, hopefully, the desert would do the rest.

Nighttime travel was dangerous but better to risk that than to try to dispose of the dead Apache in daylight. The old man rode out of the arroyo but stayed close in the shadow of the mountains until it was dark. At dusk, he found a ravine with soft banks. He placed the bodies there and caved the bank in over them. It wouldn’t hide them for long with four-legged and winged scavengers and the summer monsoons to wash the sand away, but it was far enough from the mine, and that was the important thing.

TWO DAYS LATER AND covered in trail dust, he rode into the little jacal he shared with Juana who was overjoyed to see him. She eyed the horses suspiciously but said nothing while he turned them into the corral and came to the house to wash up.

He sat down at the table and put the leather bag between his feet. Juana placed a bowl of beans, a stack of tortillas, and a cup of mezcal before him.“

Are you in trouble?”

“No. Why should I be in trouble?”

“You come home without your burro but with four horses instead. The sheriff came looking for you while you were gone.”

“What did he want?”

“He didn’t say, only that he wants to know when you return.”

“I don’t know any more than you do about the sheriff, Querida. I’ll ride in and see what he wants in the morning.”

“Where did you get the horses?”

“I was hoping you wouldn’t ask. Some Apache gave them to me after they killed my poor burro.”

“They gave them to you?”

“They had no further need of them.”

“I see. You must never go out there again. I’m lucky you came back this time.”

“I may have to go back again.” He lifted the bag onto the table and pushed it to her.“

What is it?”

“Open it and see.”

She opened the bag and pulled out a chunk of ore. “Rocks?”

“Oro, Querida. Nearly pure gold.”

“How much is here?”

“Not much. A few hundred, maybe a thousand dollars, but there is much more where that came from. Much more.”

“You promised me. In all these years you have never lied. You have never broken a promise to me.”

“This is true. Let us sleep tonight. After I see the sheriff, we will speak more of this.”

“Bueno.”

THE NEXT MORNING, HE rode the mare and led the gelding with the unfamiliar brand. Tying off in front of the sheriff’s office, he knocked and waited to be invited in.

“Cisco, I’ve been looking for you,” said a voice from behind his horses.

“Si, Sheriff Johnson. Juana told me you were asking for me.”

“These are some nice horses you’ve got. Where’d you get them?”

“That’s a big part of the reason I’m here. Can we talk inside?”

“Sure. I forget my manners sometimes. Come on in.” The sheriff indicated a chair and poured two cups of coffee before taking a seat. “So, what’s on your mind, Cisco?”

“I had a bit of a quarrel with some Apache a few days ago. They killed my burro, but they had no further use for their horses.”

“I see. How many?”

“Quatro. Four. You saw two of the horses when we came in. The grulla mare has no markings, and I would like to keep her. She’s a good horse. The bay gelding outside has a brand I don’t recognize. I think the owner might like him back.”

“I see. I noticed the strange brand. Didn’t recognize it, either, I’m afriad. Could be a Texas brand or even Mexican. If you like, I’ll send a note to the Cattleman’s Association and see if they can tell us who owns it.”

“Por favor, señor.”

“You said four. What about the other two?”

“Ah, si. A fine bay and a fiery chestnut. Both geldings. I thought it best not to be seen with them until I had spoken to you. They both have the US brand on their shoulder.”

“So, cavalry mounts. Yeah, some folks might act a bit hasty before asking how you came to have them. They at your and Juana’s place?”

“Si.”

“I’ll have a couple boys ride out and pick them up later if you don’t mind.”

“That would be fine. Thank you, Sheriff. Now, I believe you wanted to see me, as well.”

“Well, it wasn’t so much me as a fine gentleman from Laredo, un abogado, I believe.”

“What would a fine lawyer from Laredo want with me? I’ve never even been there.”

“First, let me ask you a few questions.”

“Si.”

“I’ve always known you as Francisco Garcia and folks call you Cisco.”

“Si.”

“But that’s not your real name, is it?”

Cisco shifted uncomfortably in his chair and stalled by taking a sip of coffee.

“According to the gentleman from Laredo, your real name is Rafael Martín Francisco Gomez de Parada. Is he right?”

“He is, but I have never used that name.”

“Well, it seems he’s been hired to find you. Apparently, a certain Coronel Jose Martín Simon Gomez de Parada is related to you.”

“He is my grandfather who cast us out and forced my mother into a nunnery when he discovered she was pregnant. I was born there.”“

Why would a man do that to his own daughter.”

“She fell in love with a caballero. Someone far beneath her station in my grandfather’s eyes. He is not a forgiving man.”

“Was. Was not a forgiving man. He’s dead.”

“Bueno. I am pleased to hear this.”

“Apparently, he was more forgiving than you think. I’m told that the coronel owned a vast estancia in Frontera and substantial interests in several mines in Guerrero state. He left it all to you.”

“To me?”“

The lawyer says you are his only surviving blood relative. I suppose this means I’ll have to learn to call you Don Francisco now instead of simply Cisco.” Cisco began to chuckle. The chuckles turned to laughter and finally loud guffaws. The perplexed sheriff chuckled a little but mostly stared as Cisco began to wipe his tearing eyes.

“It wasn’t that funny, Cisco.”“

No, no, my friend. It wasn’t that at all. It was this.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a chunk of ore with several large nuggets in it and dropped it on the sheriff’s desk.

Dennis Doty, a Southern California native, stories spring from a vivid imagination, including growing up in a small town, the decade he served in the Marine Corps, and a multitude of stories from two years riding on the old Southwest RCA rodeo circuit. Dennis presently lives in Appalachia, with his wife and their two dogs, where he divides his time between writing, swapping lies with the other old Dennis so impressed Publisher Dusty Richards that The Ranch Boss invited him to join serves as Publisher of the magazine itself and as company, Oghma Creative Media. Dennis blogs on a regular basis on a multitude of You can learn more about Dennis and his writing at www.dennisdotywebsite.com