Fistful of reefer, p.24
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       Fistful of Reefer, p.24

           David Mark Brown
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  Friends and Foes

  Despite his recent celebrity status, Chancho had to wait nearly an hour before seeing Bronco O’Brien at the Bexar County Jail. During his wait he pondered the gaping expanse between Austin and San Antonio. While geographically close, the two towns were ideologically worlds apart. San Antonio, dominated by cattlemen and military, opposed Austin’s politicians and university students.

  By the time the guard escorted him to Bronco’s cell he understood why the Rangers had chosen to imprison the old man in San Antonio despite Ranger headquarters being in Austin.

  “Chancho, you scamp!” Bronco’s greeting caused the guard to stiffen, hesitant to let Chancho into the cell. “I knew you’d give ‘em hell!”

  Finally ushering Chancho inside, the guard slammed the bars behind him. “You’ve got half an hour. Whistle if you want out before that.”

  “I heard about your pardon a couple days ago. I hope that bastard, McCutchen, got what was coming to him.”

  Chancho hugged Bronco. “You know, I haven’t heard. Last I seen him was at Santa Polco.”

  Bronco slapped his leg. “He won’t be able to survive the scandal. I bet you dollars to cow pies he was a civilian by the time you shook the governor’s hand. Hot damn. You gotta tell me what it was like. That limp-wit Hobby. He’d a pardoned his own mother’s murderer to git rid of this mess. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad he did.”

  He stopped to breath. “Sorry about that. Just that I ain’t had nobody to visit with since Chloe left a few days ago. Here.” Bronco ushered Chancho over to the prison issue mattress. “Have a seat. I’m gonna stretch my legs for a bit.”

  “How is Chloe?” Her mention caused a wave of mixed emotion in Chancho. Part of him had hoped to see her.

  “Oh, she’ll make it. Hermilla’s been taking care of her. Beau and Luke can run the ranch. She’s a tough nugget, that one.” His voice started to quiver as he paced the cell. “I don’t know how I would have done it without her, after her mother died.” He turned and winked at Chancho. “You should stick around. She’s supposed to be back in town today.”

  Chancho changed the subject. “I want to apologize, Mr. O’Brien.”

  “Fir what?” He started pacing again.

  “For landing you in here.”

  “Dag blast it. Now cut that out. That piss ant, McCutchen, had me thrown in here, not you. Ha!” He slapped his leg. “You’re the one who made sure it was the last official thing he did. I should be thanking you.” He sighed. “Besides, I’ll be getting out pretty soon. Trumped up charges on obstruction of justice and violation of the county liquor laws can’t hold me for long. Tried to get me for inciting a riot, but the judge already threw that one out. I think they just want me cooling my heels until after the elections.” He snapped his fingers. “Speaking of! Chloe mentioned the buzz around Austin. Is it true? Don’t shoot me no shit, boy.”

  Chancho smiled and nodded.

  “Hot damn! That’ll show ‘em. Did you know you’re the first bonafide Mexican representative since Texas became a state?”

  It struck Chancho all over again how little he knew about the world he was entering.

  “Oh Daddy, leave the man alone. He hasn’t even gotten elected yet.” Chloe stood in the hall waiting for the guards to buzz her into the main prison corridor.

  “Why, don’t you think he’ll win?” Bronco slapped Chancho on his sore shoulder, bring tears to his eyes.

  “Oh, he’ll win, but first things first.” The door clicked and Chloe swung it open. She whisked around the door swaying her hips like a movie starlet on the silver screen rather than a rancher’s daughter in a county lockup. Chancho stood, holding his peace and trying to think about anything other than settling down to the pastoral life with Chloe in her perfect fitting jeans.

  “And what things might you be referring to?” Bronco winked at Chancho elaborately, playing at something completely beyond him.

  “Why Chancho, have you been crying?”

  Chancho looked back and forth between them, both acting funny. “It’s just my…” he gestured toward the sling immobilizing his arm, but gave up and shrugged his shoulders.

  “And what’s that silly outfit you’re wearing? Is this what people in Austin are wearing these days?”

  Sputtering, he looked down at his clothing, “I —” but the door buzzed again, cutting him off. Slowly the heavy bars swung open.

  “Well, ain’t this just a party,” Bronco said. “It’s about time.”

  Chancho gasped as Muddy and Nena stepped into the corridor, followed by a long silence.

  “At least he’s not naked.” Nena gripped the bars of the cell. “Anything else is an improvement.” She looked him in the eyes. “Although these bars are not becoming to a man of great vision.” Muddy stood behind her with his hands on her shoulders.

  Moments ago Chancho’s worst fear had been that his best friends were dead and gone. He had not prepared for the even worse possibility, that they lived but had not forgiven him. This sudden fear pulled him toward the floor like a millstone around his neck. “I’m sorry—”

  “No.” Muddy cut him off. “We should have stayed together.”

  Nena nodded. “Muddy is right, he was right. You were right, Chancho. The people were ready.”

  Chancho shook his head. “No. I was't ready. I was selfish and proud.” A tear trailed down Nena’s face and Chancho broke down into sobs. “Now look who’s crying.” He reached his arms through the bars to give both of them an awkward hug.

  “You started it, you crazy Mexican.” Nena’s voice quivered.

  Chloe and Bronco joined in, completing the group. Finally Bronco broke them up. “This is sweet and all, but one of us is supposed to be doing jail time here. The rest of you should be hugging and kissing on the outside.” He ribbed Chancho.

  “But how did you get here?” Chancho asked.

  “‘Cause the guard there is sweet on my daughter. Just lets her walk right through.” Bronco said loudly.

  “No,” Chancho corrected. “Not in here, but how did you get to be here? How have you hidden all this time?”

  “Oh that was easy, honey.” Chloe sparkled. “I took ‘em straight out of Blondie once we realized you were gone and dropped ‘em off south of the ranch. Daddy kept the ranger busy.”

  Bronco danced. “You should have seen him. The crowd worked him over pretty good before it was all over. He wanted to arrest ‘em all, but he settled for me.”

  Chancho’s boyish fascination returned. “Of course, the Kickapoo. And you stayed with them the whole time?”

  Muddy nodded. “They were more than glad to hide us. We stayed until Chloe left the signal that it was safe. When we learned we’d been pardoned we came here.”

  “But how did you know I—”

  Nena cut him off. “Don’t be dense. We knew you would be looking for us, and we knew you would visit Mr. O’Brien.”

  Chancho shook his head. “Am I really that predictable?”

  They were interrupted by the guard. “Alright. That’s enough. Only one visitor at a time.” He ushered Muddy and Nena with a drawn nightstick. “Out. Out.”

  Chloe held fast. “I’m staying, honey.”

  The guard sighed, “Alright. You in the cell, come on.”

  Bronco stepped front and center. “Hot damn. I knew they’d come to their senses.”

  “Not you, old man. The Motorcycle Mexican.”

  Bronco laughed. “So is that what they’re calling you?”

  Chancho shrugged as the guard escorted him from the cell. “I’ll get you out, Mr. O’Brien. After I get elected, I’ll do everything I can.”

  “I know you will, son. Don’t worry about me. They got great chili in here. I’ll gas ‘em out before its over.” He clenched his cheeks and ripped a barn burner that echoed off the walls.


  “No one can silence Bronco O’Brien!” He danced about his cell while the guard herded Chancho toward the secon
d set of doors leading to the entryway.

  Chloe clutched at Chancho’s sleeve imploring him with her eyes. “He’s keeping his spirits up, but he can’t stay in here. Please.”

  Chancho brushed her cheek with his hand. “I’ll get him out. I promise.”

  She kissed him on the forehead. “Ya’ll be careful. It can be rough out there, even for a celebrity.”

  Chancho rolled his eyes. “Please, señorita, I'm no celebrity. I’m the Motorcycle Mexican.”

  “Break it up.” The door buzzed and the guard shoved him through it.

  “I’ll keep a room ready for you at the ranch.” Chloe blew a kiss through the bars as the three friends turned to leave.

  “Bautizada! Bella, Tripalo!” Dressed like a gentleman but prancing about like a school boy, Chancho embraced the horses while creating a scene in front of the jail. “How did you get them?”

  “We didn’t. A man from Fort Clark transferred them here yesterday with instructions to hand them over to Del Rio Chancho Villarreal, aka the Motorcycle Mexican. That’s you, my friend.” Muddy put his arm around him.


  “There’s more.” He wrapped Nena in his other arm. “But the rest can wait until we get to Brackettville. Come, we have a long ride in front of us.”

  “Wait,” Chancho stopped. “I need some clothes.”

  “What’s wrong with those.” Nena snickered.

  “We don’t have any money.” Muddy looked him over, the corners of his mouth starting to curl. “Besides, you look fine.”

  “¡Increíble!” Chancho shoved him. “We do have money, and these are my politicking clothes. I can’t muck them up on horseback.”

  “How do we have money?” Nena prodded him.

  Chancho ran his thumbs up and down along the sides of his vest, grinning. “I made them compensate us for our marihuana.”

  “You didn’t.”

  Chancho nodded. “I did. The rinche had it destroyed as soon as they found it under Bronco’s barn. I think the governor wanted it kept secret.” He pulled a money clip from his pocket. “Twelve hundred dollars.” He flapped the money as he skipped toward the boardwalk, Nena and Muddy chasing him. “Come. You two look ratty.”

  After two days of riding the friends fell comfortably into old patterns, passing the time alternating between conversation, laughter and total silence. They held a new appreciation for the simpleness of a trail ride without pursuit. Chancho explained to them what he found at Mt. Sabinas, and how he’d used his share of the gold. Muddy and Nena did their best to console his grief over the loss of his orphanage family. Muddy vowed to help fulfill Ah Puch’s dream when the time came, and Nena offered that perhaps most of the orphans had survived.

  As they neared Brackettville on the second day a solemness shrouded Chancho until Muddy offered one of his favorite stories involving Jesse during their time in the troop. At the end Nena punctuated the story, “He died the way he wanted.” They all nodded, riding three abreast down Main Street.

  “It was a good death.” Chancho added. Clearing his throat, he begged them with his eyes to not prolong his agony any longer, having waited since San Antonio to hear the rest of the story Muddy had alluded to. Nena rode closer to Tripalo. Reaching into his saddle bags she pulled out a small tin can and tossed it to Chancho.

  Muddy explained, “Bronco’s men collected me and Nena’s saddle bag in Blondie before the ranger could, although they never found yours.”

  Chancho slapped his forehead. “Ay. I dropped it behind a saloon. It had the knife from Rock With Eyes.”

  “Well, there was nearly a riot—”

  “You would’ve liked it.” Nena added.

  Muddy continued, “We made it out in the confusion, but didn’t unpack the bags until we reached the caves. When we did, we found that. It was Jesse’s, I’m certain.”

  Chancho popped the lid from the can and carefully slid the contents into the palm of his hand. “What are they?”

  Muddy exchanged glances with Nena, both of them giving Chancho more time.

  “Each of them is made from a different material.” Chancho tucked the can into his pocket, using both hands to inspect the flat donut-shaped discs. He finally looked up at the others as they turned down a side street heading for Jesse’s place.

  “We’d hoped you could tell us their purpose.” Muddy said. “There were doubles of each material. We left the others with Sunny and his granddaughter.”

  “She was the female version of you. You’ll have to meet her, I just don’t want to be there when you do.” Chancho feigned offense as Nena motioning her hand like a mouth. “Yap, yap, yap.”

  Muddy played peacemaker. “We thought they might be used—”

  “With machinery.” Chancho interrupted. “Engines, pumps, anything mechanical. Si.” He scratched his chin. “It’s ingenious. So simple. Why didn’t I think of this? It’s always the simplest solutions that are most difficult.” Holding up a ring made of light plastic he peered at Muddy through the hole in the middle of it. “Remember the tank of methane for the harvester?”

  Nena smirked. “I wish I would have seen that.”

  “My scorched buttocks are another matter.” Chancho waved her off. “But the fire wouldn’t have happened with one of these. See?” He tossed it to Muddy. “With one of these the right size sandwiched between the tank and the rest of the valve the gas would not have leaked.” Chancho manipulated another ring in his hand, one made from a bendable rubber.

  Nena was skeptical. “Why would Jesse have hidden tractor parts in our bags.”

  “Not just tractor parts. Everything.” Chancho grew animated. “Autos, appliances, plumbing, pumps. Especially anything with liquids or gases.”

  Muddy made the connection the rest of them missed. “Like oil.”

  “Si. Definitely oil.” Chancho tracked the thought down, finally making the connection. “Oil!”

  But before they could follow the thought further they arrived at Jesse’s.

  “Is this—”

  “This is it.”

  “What happened?” Chancho gawked in disbelief at the charred wreckage of Jesse’s stick-framed house. Tattered remains of the old, scout’s personal effects fluttered gently in the breeze, scattered about the property. The burnt debris had been overturned, a path leading into the middle. They dismounted, Nena glaring about the neighborhood while Muddy and Chancho approached the rubble.

  Rummaging their way into the pile, they overturned a section of siding still intact. “Santa Maria.”

  The hollow beneath it revealed an earthen cellar. With Nena standing watch the men climbed down and waited several seconds at the bottom for their eyes to adjust. Dim light filtered through the opening above them. “Did you know about this place?”

  Muddy shook his head. The room extended for a dozen feet, the walls covered with empty shelves from floor to ceiling. Broken jars and empty ammunition cartons laid strewn across the floor. Like the rubble above, this room had been ransacked.

  “What did he keep in here?” Chancho inspected the dust patterns on a shelf looking for evidence of what they had held.

  After several seconds Muddy answered. “Guns, food, anything he needed for emergencies, and it looks like he was preparing for emergencies, lots of them.”

  “It looks like Jesse Warrior was not retired after all.”

  Muddy ran a hand over an empty shelf. “He said something to me on the way to the airstrip—that he had stumbled into something big involving Germans and a hideout near here.” Chancho waited for him to finish. “Whoever did this, they were looking for something, and it wasn’t guns.”

  Chancho rubbed the missing notch of his earlobe. “Whatever it was, do you think they found it?”

  “From what I know of Jesse, which obviously was not as much as I thought, I doubt it. This room would have been for emergency supplies, not for secrets.”

  “Plus someone came back down here after they burned the house. Why would they have
done that, if they already had what they wanted?” Chancho climbed up into the sunlight first.

  “Why burn the house at all if you are certain it contains nothing of value?” Muddy climbed up the earthen steps next. “Jesse had a modern toilet, remember?”

  “He never used it, but built an outhouse instead.”

  “Exactly. He said it didn’t work.”

  “Ay caramba.”

  “Help me find it.” The two men carved a new path through the rubble until they discovered the overturned ceramic toilet—the bowl broken, but the pull-chain tank intact. Muddy reached inside it and pulled out a heavy metal object with rubberized handles.

  “What is it?” Chancho’s jaw dropped.

  “I don’t know, but let’s get out of this mess.” They retreated to the big palm tree by the road.

  The object was heavy. Constructed mostly from metal, several buttons lined one side, and words had been stenciled along the length of it in Spanish. Chancho used his sleeve to wipe the grime from its surface until he could read the label, “Geological survey—Secretariat of the Interior.” He slowly shifted his gaze from the object to Muddy and then Nena. “I’ve seen these words before.”

  Nena prodded him. “There’s a lid.”

  Chancho carefully flipped the top of the device open while Muddy held it. Beneath the lid was another solid surface made from a different material. He tapped it. “It’s glass, but… like a photo plate.”

  “As in photographs?”

  “Exactly. The last time I saw something like this was on General Obregon’s personal train bound for Texas, just before Ah Puch and I, uh, diverted it. Come to think of it, it’s probably still where we left it.” Chancho sat the device on the ground. “I’m going to try something.”

  Atop the row of identical black buttons sat a larger red button. Chancho pressed it. A low buzz from within the box grew in intensity. The three friends backed away until it popped. A fizzling sound trailed off into silence as the glass surface began glowing blue. The glow increased until it revealing patterns of darkened black lines and illuminated blue areas of the glass. Holding their breath, they watched the patterns emerge.

  “It’s a map.” Nena saw it first.

  “Of what?” The image filled nearly the entire surface, still spreading into the corners. “It’s big, look.” Chancho held his finger over the surface. “This is the Texas Gulf Coast. This is Mexico.”

  “And this is what? California?”

  “Must be. Coahuila, Chihuahua, all the Northern provinces and Southwestern states.”

  Nena pointed at the glass surface. “So what do all these dots indicate? And why are there so many of them in Texas?”

  “And if that one button revealed this map, what about all the others?” Chancho added, “this thing could be like a box of negatives.”

  A noise came from the next block over causing Muddy to close the lid. “Here.” He handed the devise to Chancho. “Let’s figure it out somewhere else.” The three friends mounted up. “Besides, don’t you have a campaign to run? And I miss my goats.” Chancho grinned nonstop as they rode quietly out of town.

  McCutchen turned, burying his Colt .45 into the stranger’s belly with surprising speed considering his level of inebriation. At the same time he felt a pinch in his ribs. He looked down to see a pistol jabbing into his own side, applied with the same stealth and speed.

  “Ha.” He removed his Colt and let the hammer down gently. “I guess you got me.” Holstering his gun he turned back to the bar and drained what remained of his fourth glass of wine. An empty bottle sat next to the now empty glass. “Pull the trigger or push off. I’m busy.”

  “Are you? ‘Cause to me, it looks like your calendar’s wide open. What, now that you’re not a ranger and all.”

  Grinding his teeth, McCutchen slowly popped his neck and turned to face the stranger.

  “You son of a…” He stopped when he finally looked the man in the face. “Do I know you?”

  The man smiled. “We’ve met, once.”

  “I’ll be damned.” McCutchen slapped the surface of the bar. “Lipscomb. What the hell are you doing in Del Rio? Taking a vacation?”

  “Do you mind?” Lipscomb indicated the stool next to McCutchen.

  “Sure. Be my guest, but the wine sucks here.”

  Lipscomb nodded to the barkeep, “beer.” He turned back to the ex-ranger. “You’re looking good, my friend.”

  “Cut the crap, Deputy—”

  “Uhh,” Lipscomb tapped his badge, “It’s Sheriff now.”

  “Well congratulations. I’m glad someone benefitted from this circus, ‘cause it sure as hell wasn’t me.”

  “That’s what I wanted to talk to you about, McCutchen. You see, I don’t just work for the people of Brackettville. I have,” he paused to take a drink as his beer arrived.

  “Drinking a Heineken?” McCutchen grumbled.

  Lipscomb ignored him, “Now where was I? Oh yes. Let’s just say I answer to other interested parties,” he cleared his throat, “that compensate me well.”

  “Do you mind?” McCutchen lifted his empty glass, tapping it with his finger. Lipscomb flagged down the bartender again. “What interested parties?”

  “One interested party, to be specific, and I’m sure you could already guess as to their identity.”

  “Guesses are ugly for everyone involved.”

  “True. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. I’d hate to have to kill you for no good reason.”

  McCutchen tensed noticeably, but quickly let it go. He didn’t trust Lipscomb and wouldn’t anytime soon, but there was no point in preparing for a fight he would lose. “That would be a shame.”

  “Indeed, but it need not come to that.” Lipscomb took another swig of beer. “I’ve come with a job offer.”

  “Hah.” McCutchen scoffed. “Why the hell would I want to work for you, as a deputy?” The bartender filled his glass.

  “Nothing like that. No, you wouldn’t be working for me. And let me make one thing perfectly clear.” He gripped McCutchen in a steely glare that caused him to flush. “It wouldn’t be in any official capacity.”


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