First Chapter For Your Review.
Long Gun - Day of Consequence
by Tony Sanders
© Copyright 2012
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
No portion of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means – electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording,
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All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
-Now Here You Go -
July 1, 1876
Hot dry days . . . In the deep summer quiet and brilliant ivory vista of Central California, two hundred miles north of the Pueblo de Los Angeles, ten miles west of the railroad’s Coaling Station-A, crouched a bright, arid, dot of a town named San Benito.
Five-year-old Jimmy Longhon crawled on his hands and knees along the rows of semi shade, pulling weeds, and pushing cool, damp soil up around the corn stocks in Polly’s yard. Polly was the oldest resident of San Benito, and perhaps all of California. Jimmy listened precociously to the wrinkled old woman as the two of them tended her garden.
“Which cookies do you prefer, Jimmy, Oatmeal or plain sugar?” Polly asked as she worked. Her voice had a wonderful deep timbre. Jimmy found the pitch and resonance, comfortable, warm, and inviting.
The little boy had a soft tan face, blue eyes, white hair and an air of innocence unusual in the unpredictable wilderness of the early American west.
With his inquisitive personality Jimmy stood out among the other five year old children in San Benito. He thought of everyone in San Benito as family even though they really weren’t. He loved to help old Polly Reiner work in her garden. Probably because he lived so close, he was the only child around town who ever came by to visit the old woman. She had grown ninety gardens during her hundred and three years of life. Jimmy had seen only five of them.
“I think I like oatmeal cookies best,” Jimmy smiled. “But I’ve got to get goin’.” He said as he stood up, dusting his pudgy little hands on his pants, “Pretty soon Cisco’s picken’ me up on his way back to his ranch. But I’ll come and see ya on the fourth of July. That’s America’s birthday ya know.”
With a cookie in each hand, affectionate gratitude twinkling from her eyes, Polly bent down for Jimmy’s hug. “I know honey. America’s a hundred and I’m a hundred and three, a few years older than America. Can you believe that?” She handed her little helper two large oatmeal cookies she had made the night before.
“Wow! Is it your birthday on the fourth of July too?” He clamped one of the cookies in his teeth, reached up, closed his eyes warmly, and hugged her arm with his dirty little hand.
“No honey, I think my birthday was in June. Maybe the sixth but the old bible with the day I was born written in it is so faded and dirty I can’t read the day clear enough to know for sure. But the year I was born is as clear as can be, 1773. Isn’t that a great year?”
Feeling the soft skin of her wrinkled face, he removed the cookie from his mouth, puckered and gave her a kiss including some crumbs from his lips to her cheek. He toddled out of the garden thinking about what she had asked. He turned to wave a cookie holding hand. “Yea. That was a swell year to be born. Bye! See ya on the fourth of July!”
Nestled between Polly’s house and Jimmy’s was his second favorite place in the world: the hardware store.
Jimmy spent countless hours eye level with the counter-top, paying earnest attention, always hoping to help Ohma Mintz. On the walk home from gardening he couldn’t help but stop in to see Ohma. Walking through the door he piped up, “Hey Ohma,” in his high-pitched voice. He thought Ohma was her given name. Jimmy didn’t know that Ohma meant ‘grandmother’ in German. He liked to listen to his shoes clonk on the wooden floor as he walked through the deep maze of lofty shelves. He carefully scrutinized all the tools and interesting hardware-store thing-a-ma-bobs on display for little boys. He finally arrived at the counter, all the way at the back of the store, where Mrs. Mintz waited.
“I can’t stay long. My mom’s letting me go out to Cisco’s to help make bricks,” he informed the tall, white haired woman. She could just barely see the top of his bright blond head on the other side of her counter. There was no mistaking that he was there. After a moment’s pause he lifted up on his toes. His eyes peeked over the edge of the counter smiling with a half eaten cookie in each hand.
“Where’d you get those cookies?” Ohma asked with a feigned look of hunger.
“Polly gave ‘em to me.” he squeaked holding one out. “Want one?”
Mrs. Mintz took one and gave it a little nibble, “Mmmmmm that’s good isn’t it, Honey?”
“Yep. Bye!” he said smiling to himself, waved, and trotted all the way back out thru the front door.
At home, Jimmy’s mother packed a change of clothes into one side of an old worn out pair of saddlebags that Jimmy used for a suitcase.
Dora Longhon was born Callidora Stewart Emerson in Knoxville, Tennessee and spoke with a distinct southern accent, “You be a good boy out there at Cisco’s,” she drawled to her son. “And don’t get too dirty.” Her eyes rolled in her head as she realized the futility of her ridiculous demand. He’s a five-year-old boy. Short of an inadvertent bath from falling in the creek, he would be getting dirty.
Cisco (Francisco Hernandez), a kind old Mexican grandfather and Jimmy’s favorite friend, farmed vegetables and made adobe bricks on a small plot of land along the depot trail, four miles east of San Benito.
The boy’s earliest memories were of Cisco and Lupito, the draft mule, standing outside the fence of his yard. They stopped by everyday when they were in town to look in on the single mother and to play cowboys-and-Indians with Jimmy before they headed back to their ranch.
Even though the dangers of the Wild West were obvious to even the greenest green horn, it only took a little common sense to know which of one’s friends could be trusted with one’s children. In San Benito, Cisco was known and trusted far and wide. On special occasions Jimmy’s mother let the boy ride out with Cisco to play with the old man’s grandchildren.
Cisco and Lupito pulled up parallel to the Longhon’s front fence. “¡Hola! Dora.” Cisco smiled at Jimmy’s mother, with his bright, wide, grin that had lots of teeth.
“¡Hola,” she replied with her southern accent.
“Hey Cisco! Hey Lupito!” Unimpressed, the mule turned his head to look at Jimmy, and then blew air through his lips.
Cisco graveled his best silly voice for his little friend. “Hey Jeemeeeee!”
Jimmy’s mom lifted him over the buckboard rail. He quickly scuffled over the weathered bench to sit next to Cisco.
“Oh my Cisco, this is so nice of you.” she worried out loud; “If he gives you any trouble, just give him a good swat on the bottom. I’ll see you both back here on the fourth for the celebration.” And so the three of them, if you’re counting Lupito, trundled away in the wagon.
On very special days, riding far out from town, Cisco let Jimmy hold his “pistolé” and pretend to shoot it. The old man would recite audacious fables of the Spanish Conquistadors and Highwaymen who marched north on foot through California with the padres in long columns of people, horses, goats and cattle.
Jimmy couldn’t remember his own father. And he treasured these moments with Cisco. He was sure that his father would let him pretend to shoot a real gun just like Cisco did. Over Jimmy’s few years of life his love and admiration for Cisco grew. The trips to Cisco’s tiny rancharito were always an adventure.
“Jaime,” Cisco said, pronouncing the boy’s name in Spanish, “that procesión stretched along the ocean road farther than you could see. It was magnifico. All the people and their animals looked like they were walking into the dust at the front end of the long parade and out of the dust at the far end.”
With his left eye tightly closed, Jimmy struggled to hold the heavy gun out in shooting position. Lupito kept one worried ear turned back toward Jimmy as the boy held Cisco’s gun.
“Were you scared of those Caquista-doors?” Jimmy quizzed Cisco with wide, curious eyes. The whole issue of the doors confused his young innocent mind.
“Course I was. Those were very dangerous times, Mijo.” Cisco confessed. “You never knew what to expect. I hid behind tall round rocks, being very careful that the feather I wore on the back of my head couldn’t be seen by the highway men.”
Jimmy sat bouncing along on the wagon’s bench amazed by Cisco’s bravery. “Did you ever get caught by them?”
“One time I had to rescue a beautiful señorita imprisoned by the Padres. The mother superior at the convent in Mission San Francisco wanted her to become a Novicia Monja of the Sacred Heart. But Señorita Carolina had other plans. She struggled with the idea and rejected the sacrifice of sisterhood. She told me all this after I crept down to their camp and untied her hands. When the soldiers saw me, and the señorita untied, they came running. We were much faster than those clumsy old men wearing heavy leather and iron shirts and iron hats. We ran very far away and hid in the tall brush and bushes far from the trail. With the help of the fog they never found us but I was very scared.”
Cisco’s memories and details amazed Jimmy. “Where did you go?” Jimmy continued.
“The señorita and I stayed very silent and crept south and inland away from the ocean for many days. We gathered seeds and berries and onions from the land to eat. We slept cuddled together for warmth in shelters we made from brush and straw. We whispered to each other instead of talking out loud.”
“What happened to the señorita?” Jimmy cut in.
“After many days, we found the water hole near San Benito. With the clear clean water and soft moist dirt, it looked like a fine place to live. The beautiful señorita and I worked together building our cabin from straw and mud. She enjoyed stomping in the cool, wet adobe just like you and Lina. Sometimes to cool off on hot days, we wrestled in the cool pit and looked like muddy monsters. We cultivated the land around the water hole. We planted vegetables and fruit trees whenever we found seeds or roots. People started to know were we lived. Over time, from folks stopping by to say hello, the walk from Coaling Station A to San Benito became the main trail. Our love grew with the land. But God played a prank on us. Carolina died very young giving birth to our daughter Nela. I’ve lived a long life without the bonita señorita who was, for a short time, Señora Carolina Francisco Hernandez, mi esposa. But Nela and I have found happiness in the people moving into the west. And of course you know Oscar Saldoña, Nela’s husband, a very hard-working man. They have their daughter, your friend, Lina, and their other children. And so we have lived happily by the adobe pit. Now you know the story of the beautiful Carolina and how I saved her from the Padres. But maybe God meant for her to stay with the Sacred Heart Sisters. So to get even with me he made her his angel, instead of mine.”
Soon the compadres, Cisco, Lupito and Jimmy, rumbling along the gritty trail, arrived at Dust Creek.
Lupito possessed a typically mulish attitude. At the creek ford, he stopped and stared straight ahead over the shallow water, playing his part in a silly ritual of man versus beast. Jimmy felt sorry for Lupito. It seemed obvious how difficult it was for the mule to pull the heavy wagon over the rocks, through the water, up the soft muddy dirt, and back onto the road on the other side of the creek.
Cisco learned many years before that if he pulled his revolver and fired a shot into the sky he could get Lupito’s attention. After a few training shots Cisco only had to shake the pistol over his head. The rattle of the cylinder and the sight of the potentially explosive weapon made Lupito squint his eyes, fold back his ears, turn his head, and bite at the harness. With no other alternative, the stubborn beast leaned forward with great effort and a humorous, grueling look on his oversized eyebrows. He trudged as slowly as he could, pulling the heavy cart into the water and across the creek. The looks on Jimmy and Cisco’s faces mindlessly mimicked Lupito’s. They glanced at one another then back at Lupito then back at one another. As they had many times before, they shook their heads from side to side, rolled their eyes and said, “Sheesh!” in unison.
At Cisco’s cabin, Jimmy stood up in the wagon and jumped off running before the wagon had stopped. “Mijo don’ jump like that. You coul’ get hurt!” Cisco kindly scolded Jimmy.
“I’m sorry Cisco.” The boy never wanted Cisco to be mad at him. He loved Cisco like a father. And he loved to make adobe bricks and stomp barefoot in the huge puddle of cool adobe mud and straw with all the brown eyed, brown haired grandchildren who called Cisco “Bapa”!
Lina, Cisco’s oldest granddaughter, was the same age as Jimmy. She ran up to him and grabbed his hand. “Come on, Jimmy!” They ran off to jump into the refreshing, cool mud in the pit.
The number of finished bricks was negligible when the children “worked” in the adobe pit. The amount of fun and revelry far exceeded the amount of work actually done.
“Mijos, andale, ven aqui,” Cisco called. And six, wet, muddy children, including Jimmy, came running. Lina took charge and lined up the children by height, the youngest going first.
“Gracias, Lina. You are very kind and have done a very good job of lining everybody up.” One at a time Cisco gently stood them in the wooden half barrel of water warmed by the afternoon sun.
Tavo, first in line, wiggled and tried to escape. “Bapa! Stop it!” little Tavo hollered.
Cisco leaned his head very far back. With his most serious and humorous look he leaned Tavo precariously backward over the barrel. He peered down his nose at the side of Tavo’s head for his overly precise inspection. Tavo cried with alligator tears and squirmed to get loose. Cisco pursed his lips and raised his eyebrows very high and said in his Doctor Bomba voice. “My goodness, Señor Gustavo! How did you get adobe mud so far down in your ears?” The other fidgeting children in line watched Tavo and Bapa intently as Cisco gently dug out the mud. They poked their tiny little fingers in their own ears checking if they had any mud. “This mud in your ears is of the best quality. You’ve done a very good job of mushing the adobe for your old friend, Dr. Bomba.” The little boy giggled and wiggled and jumped from the tub running to escape from his bath. Lina grabbed him by the arm mid stride, swinging him out and back, as he attempted to run off.
“That’s okay, Lina.” Cisco said, “Señor Gustavo knows when he’s clean enough. I hope no potato bugs grow in his ears to eat his brains out.”
The rest of the tiny gang laughed at their grandfather. “Yaaa! The potato bugs are going to eat out Tavo’s brains!” they cackled.
Tavo stomped and crossed his arms. Pouting and pressing his big head and chin firmly against his chest, “I don’t have any brains for the potato bugs to eat!” he insisted.
The other children laughed even longer and louder.
Cisco, and his helper Lina, washed the rest of the children with an old rag. The brood turned from slippery brown to pinky orange. When they were ready to go into the cabin, from the haze of diluted pink/orange dry mud left on their skin, they looked like powdered debutante children from a French estate. Cisco knew the adobe powder kept insects and such from infesting his little monsters.
The three-room cabin was tidy and clean, except the children’s room which was wall-to-wall blankets, dolls, sticks, bird’s nests, and from time to time, piglets, kid goats, puppies, or baby chicks. The cabin burst to life when the children swarmed in to investigate all the fascinating things they had collected during their adventures romping around the ranch.
The next day all the grandchildren were up early and excited. They had heard everyone talking about the one-hundredth birthday of the United States. The morning of the Fourth of July, ‘el Quatro de Julio,’ prepared for the huge celebration, Jimmy rode back into town with Cisco and his friends in the bulky wagon.
Loaded heavily with melons, potatoes, sweet corn, tamales and grandchildren the wagon lumbered up Cross Road and right at Main Street. Diagonally across the intersection Lupito stopped. The mule appeared once again to be in a trance. He stared into the shade as Cisco’s buckboard rig blocked the busy road, forcing riders and pedestrians to detour around the wagon. Lupito ignored Cisco slapping his haunches with loose leather driving reins.
A few seconds later, Baxter Boreen, riding his tall black stallion named ‘Maybe,’ came up Dust Creek Road from the west. As he rounded the corner he saw Lupito in his trance and Cisco’s wagon blocking his way.
“Cisco,” Jimmy whispered and pointed off to the left.
“Si, Jaime?” Cisco whispered back.
“Baxter won’t like it if he has to go ‘round.” Jimmy warned.
Baxter was six feet three inches tall, with a tight, jet-black braid hanging straight down his back to his waist. Piercing blue eyes, and a long pointed nose with a bony hump halfway down from the top gave Baxter a hard angry look, even when he was happy.
Baxter generally avoided the town’s social events. The verdict of innuendo and gossip established that the citizens of San Benito were not fond of Baxter’s mysterious way of life. Nobody had ever seen him put in a day’s work. How could he always have money to gamble and drink? This was suspicious behavior to the hard working farmers who scratched a living out of the stingy, dry ground of San Benito.
At Cisco’s rig, ‘Maybe,’ the huge stallion, stopped abruptly, shied, and sidestepped quickly to the right, away from the farm wagon. “Whoa, Maybe!” Baxter roared. The sight and smell of the mule frightened the lawless horse. He squealed deep from his throat, arched his back, and tried to heave Baxter from the saddle. ‘Maybe’ repeatedly kicked his hind legs, throwing Baxter back and forth like a rag doll. But Baxter, the experienced buckaroo, dropped his heels, slouched in the saddle and planted the seat of his pants deep into ‘Maybe’s’ leather chair. He artfully followed the horse’s jarring bucks. Up and down they went until with one last leap the stallion settled in an uneasy, stiff legged stance in the street.
Not far away, Cisco lashed the driving reins again and harder, desperate to get Lupito’s attention and move the wagon away from Baxter’s crazy horse.
“Andale, hombre!” Baxter barked at the old man, unintentionally jerking the reins back on ‘Maybe’s’ sensitive mouth, “Move that heap of a rig!” The big, black stallion stepped quickly, going nowhere, dancing nervously in place. Suddenly, ‘Maybe’s’ front hooves and fetlocks paddled high out in front. He reared dreadfully high on his hind legs. It was a long, bouncy, almost over-backward leap that frightened Baxter nearly to death.
“Si, Amigo. Momentito, por favor.” Cisco grinned nervously to himself.
Not a patient man, Baxter didn’t yield to anyone -- man, woman, or child. He was plain old rude, loud, big and vicious. Everybody felt a lot better when Baxter was not around.
Cisco panicked. Lupito sulked. Baxter’s heart pounded atop the raging horse. ‘Maybe’ continued his dance stirring up clouds of dust floating above the dirt street. Passing pedestrians waved ineffectively at their faces attempting not to breath Baxter’s dust.
Gathering the reins in his left fist he swatted at Lupito’s rear. Then Cisco stood up in the wagon shouting at the dimwitted beast, “¡Andale, ahora mismo!” His worried breath burned in his chest. Then, without thinking, he pulled the revolver from his belt, a natural act for Cisco and Lupito, but a threatening gesture to Baxter.
“Mira aqui gringo! This mule won’t move! I’m trying to get him out of your way!”
As Cisco shouted, and waved the pistol, he paid attention to Lupito. Baxter’s heart seized at the sight of Cisco’s gun. Jimmy watched Baxter and could tell by his ghastly expression that he didn’t know how Cisco had trained Lupito with the old revolver.
“No!” Jimmy screamed, lunging from the seat, waving his arms, “It’s for the . . .”
Cisco didn’t have a chance to make Lupito move the wagon. Baxter had grabbed his Colt forty-five pistol from the holster with his right hand and quickly pointed it across ‘Maybe’s’ tangled, sweaty, mane. From twenty feet away, Cisco looked up just as Baxter pointed the gun. Cisco’s kind old eyes met Baxter’s. In that moment Baxter knew Cisco intended him no harm and could have aborted his defense. But the hardened villain, obsessed with defending against constant oncoming trouble, with tangled reins in his left fist, fanned the gun hammer without thinking.
The bizarre sounds of the shots were eerily confusing. First the loud explosion from the gun, of course, immediately followed by the unexpected smack sound as the bullet hit Cisco’s flesh. Very quickly, the sound, “Kablam blap, kablam blap!” resounded as Baxter fired in rapid succession. It was not funny at all, horrifying to everyone nearby.
Flinching at the blast from the gun, and fighting Baxter’s oblivious jerks on the reins, ‘Maybe’, the stud horse, spun his left hip toward Cisco. Baxter’s head turned to stay in line with the old man, as ‘Maybe’ spun. Baxter looked over his left shoulder when the two slugs of fire breathing lead exploded from his gun. The first grazed Jimmy’s left shoulder knocking him out of the wagon, and then it pierced Cisco’s heart. The second chunk of lead came to rest not an inch from the first, ending any hope for Cisco’s survival.
The ringing in Jimmy’s ears from the gunshots deafened him. The boy was mindless of his lifesaving attempt. With his hands behind him deep in the street’s dust, he wavered as he sat up, “Ohhh Cisco,” his high voice gasped, “Are you okay?”
Cisco didn’t answer. His head didn’t nod. His eyes didn’t blink. The thought that Cisco would come up smiling, his eyes would pop open and twinkle and he would tell Jimmy that he was okay, that he was just joking, quickly passed. Cisco’s pose looked comfortable, as though he were pleasantly asleep on the street; which in itself proclaimed the eerie truth of the matter.
Cisco’s clouding eyes blindly stared at his hand that still held the simple, rusty gun. Dirt stirred by Cisco’s hard landing, covered the end of the gun’s barrel. Jimmy’s eyes followed along Cisco’s lifeless arm to the old .44 caliber, cap and ball, Dragoon.
Cisco’s grandchildren who had ridden in with Jimmy and Cisco were crouched in the wagon. Peeking over the sideboards, befuddled at first, they quickly realized what had just happened. Their big, brown, teary eyes gaped wide in fear.
“Shhhh!” Lina whispered sternly to her brothers and sisters with an urgent, demanding voice, “Baxter might shoot again!” Her tiny, little fingers, and white knuckles, gripped the top sideboard tightly, in sheer panic and terror.
Then Jimmy looked up at Baxter through blurring tears, and snuffled, “Why?” The confused anguish in his young falsetto voice explained it all.
“Why?!” growled Baxter, insincerely, “Everyone here saw the old man pull his gun! -- ‘n who ‘re you t’ ask me why?” Forehead and eyebrows cross with furry, he towered against the sun-dried sky. Repugnant and overpowering, he spoke to the little boy, intending everyone nearby to hear his declaration.
Squatting in his tears, Jimmy sniveled courageously, “I’m Jimmy Longhon and Cisco was my best friend!” He choked on the oppressive words. His dead friend’s life puddled in the street. The pungent odor of blood, intestines, and burnt gunpowder, lingered in the air, a memory unfit for a budding mind.
Baxter grinned nervously and mocked Jimmy’s name, “Long Gun, that’s a hell of a name, for such a little man.” Baxter turned toward the group of curious gawkers. He surveyed for trouble as more men hustled up the street to see what the disturbance was.
A moment passed while Baxter turned away. Without forethought or malice, Jimmy struggled quizzically to lift Cisco’s cocked and loaded revolver. Its weight felt good in his hand, but the miserable excitement of the moment shamed the pleasant thoughts.
With an overconfident attitude, scowling eyes, intending to speak again, Baxter turned back to the boy.
Jimmy flinched from the gun’s concussion. The weapon jumped in his hands. Strands of hair on his forehead puffed into the air as hot gas escaped from the worn, loose cylinder of Cisco’s old farm implement of a gun. It wasn’t clear to anyone close by, or to Jimmy for that matter, whether he pulled the trigger deliberately, or if the gun went off by accident.
Paralyzed from the impact of the bullet, Baxter dropped his revolver. His eyebrows arched. His mouth stretched wide, confounded by the pain. Clutching his traumatically bloody chest, Baxter stared into the youthful bright blue eyes and the soft innocent face of little Jimmy Longhon. Unable to speak clearly Baxter choked out the words, “You’re just a child and you shot me dead in the chest. I’m very sorry boy.” Then he leaned forward very slowly.
Jimmy looked back into Baxter’s dying eyes. The respect of the now quiet, frightened man, unable to take back his mistake confused Jimmy. “You were so shameful and now you’re so polite, I don’t get it, Mr. Boreen.”
Baxter finally fell from his horse and landed in a pile on the dusty path to eternity. Along the road and beyond the town, the gunshot’s echo faded into the distant silence following the thud of Baxter’s limp body landing in the street. With words that no one could hear, except Jimmy, his face covered in blood, sweat, and dust, Baxter whispered blindly in Jimmy’s direction. “Don’t start ‘n end your life they way I have.” For an instant Jimmy pondered unshooting the gun -- obviously impossible.
Bewildered by the lighter load, with one ear searching over his back, a confused expression crossed ‘Maybe’s’ face. Then he perked his ears forward nervously. Still keyed up, he briskly looked around. Flinching and quivering at every vibration, he leaned down, sniffed the fallen man, snorted with displeasure, and then took five quick steps backward. Finding no restraint on the reins he arched his back and loped off west, down the road that Baxter came in from.
Elsie Cutchel, four years old, stepped out onto the boardwalk from inside the store when she heard the shots. “Come back here!” Her mother quickly scooted out and grabbed her.
Elsie peeked around from behind her mother’s dress, “Jimmy!” she shouted at the top of her little voice, but he was too far away. “I don’t think he can hear me,” she said looking up at her mother. “He never wants to play with me.” Her looks of admiration toward the older little boy gave away her innocent affection for him. As on many other days, he was too busy to pay attention to her.
“You must understand how serious this is, Elsie! Jimmy is in a lot of trouble!” Her mother scolded, looking down crossly, and giving Elsie a shake.
After his mother bandaged his wound, Jimmy couldn’t sleep. He thought of Cisco’s death. Even though he didn’t completely understand what death meant, he knew it was bad. He wondered what his long lost father would have done.
He knew Cisco wasn’t coming back and felt it was his fault. “What did I do?” His thoughts kept repeating. “Maybe if I hadn’t jumped and shouted Baxter wouldn’t have fired his gun.”
The bullet that grazed him hadn’t cut into muscle. The throbbing wound burned painfully. It felt as if the slug had ripped his arm completely off.
His mother continued to scold little Jimmy in the most loving way she could. Cuddling him in her arms and rocking him gently she said, “You had no business touchin’ Cisco’s gun?” She admonished the boy. “My gosh, you could have been killt’!”
After she tucked him into his bed she tried to be quiet but continued to ramble, thinking Jimmy wasn’t listening. “We aren’t the kind of people t’ go around shootin’ uthus!”
From deep inside Jimmy’s mind his father’s words came to him. “Dory, let the boy lick his wounds; this ain’t no time to ride hard on him.” Jimmy was sure his father would have known the pain and guilt that he was feeling.
“Oh my.” Dora whispered at the ceiling, missing her husband that she had loved so dearly, “Buck, I don’t want trouble with folks around town. What ‘re they goin’ to think of us now?” She worried aloud, humiliated. “I wish you were here. Just think of ‘r reputation, and Jimmy’s such a little guy?”
Jimmy wondered if his mother heard his father’s voice as she spoke. The same voice he felt inside but could barely remember. “Everyone around San Benito knew Jimmy wasn’t trouble, and everyone around San Benito cared for the boy. Everyone around San Benito loved old Cisco. Baxter shouldn’t have been so quick to shoot.”
Sad and weary, Jimmy tried to understand everything that happened that day but couldn’t. He longed for his father to walk in the house and into his room at that moment and tell him that everything would be okay. But he knew he wouldn’t.
He felt lonely and sorry for himself and was already missing Cisco. He felt a slight glow of satisfaction, muddled with guilt and shame. He wasn’t looking forward to seeing any of his friends around town.
Jimmy actually understood as much as anybody else in town about what took place that day. He just wasn’t old enough to know what he knew.
The next morning, the town’s people buried Cisco and Baxter. Jimmy felt tired and sick to his stomach. His shoulder throbbed. He skulked alone through the high grass up to the crest of the hill overlooking the cemetery. His blond hair was barely visible along the tops of the sea of barely stocks as he tunneled through them. He sat in the tall weeds sucking a green barley stem. He silently watched for a very long time. Men finished filling in the graves and Cisco’s friends and family had all left.
A chilly breeze swept over the vacant cemetery. Threatening clouds rolled along the horizon and the sky darkened. Through tears and blurry eyes, Jimmy glanced up from his lookout on the hill. In disbelief, he glanced at the sky again, and then looked again intently. He thought he saw three men on horseback, riding away from the cemetery, into the eternal sky. Maybe they were just clouds.
Sadness gripped his eyes and throat. He walked down the hill and through the rickety, Iron Gate attached to the ornate picket fence that enclosed the cemetery. Unable to sort out the horrible events, he made up his mind to not think about that day ever again.
“I’m sorry Cisco. I didn’t mean to g’t you kil’t.” Jimmy blubbered, standing quite close looking down over Cisco’s freshly mounded grave. He crouched down and scooped up a handful of the dirt. The dirt seemed to have a grounding effect on the boy. His heart felt calm with a strength and energy that lifted the boy’s spirit, opening his eyes to a calm veracity.
Even now, Baxter Boreen’s bony skull still holds the villain’s wild expression of shock and bewilderment, from the day of consequence, when little Jimmy Longhon shot him in the chest, stopping his black heart cold.