Read an Excerpt
Michael Patrick Obañon was a handsome fellow. He had a graceful air about him and when he spoke he made poetry with his long-fingered hands. His voice was controlled and gentle and his glance was friendly and frank. For all the world he appeared not Irish but a Castilian gentleman from the court at Madrid.
Many hoofs, dulled by the sand of the yard, came close and stopped. Michael stood up.
“Where are you going?” demanded Klarner, staring first at Obañon and then at the silver-mounted revolver which hung holstered from a peg on the wall.
“To ask them in, of course,” replied Michael, unconcerned.
Klarner caught at the leg-of-mutton silk sleeve. “Don’t be a fool. We’ve still got time. You and I can make a run for Washington and . . .”
The door crashed inward with a swirl of dust and the two turned to face the intruder.
The man was tall and thickly built. He had a Walker pistol in his huge and horny hand and his squinted, ink-dot eyes probed the dimness of the room. His heavy, Teutonic face was almost covered by a shaggy, untrimmed beard. The faded red shirt with its big bib and pearl buttons attested that he had come from California, as did his flat-heeled miner’s boots.
“Come in,” said Michael with a ghost of a bow.
“Is this Santa Rosa?”
“You are correct,” replied Michael. “La hacienda de Obañon.”
The stranger turned and made a come-on gesture with his heavy Walker pistol. “This is the place, Charlie. Come on in!”
Leather creaked and voices rose.
“What the hell do I care where you eat?” roared the stranger. “There must be grub somewhere in these shacks. Go find it. You ain’t helpless!”
He turned back to the room and crossed heavily to the table. A choice apple, carefully grown on the rancho, caught the stranger’s eye. He picked it up, wiped it on his shirt and sank his yellow fangs into it with a loud crack. Somehow he managed to chew the bite but it impeded his speech for some little time.
Two more men appeared in the doorway.
The stranger again motioned with the pistol. “C’mon. Here’s food.”
One of the men was squat. His head was large and so were his features, all out of keeping with his size. Though covered with dust, his clothes were loud, consisting of a checkered vest, a yellow suit and a small green hat which he now jerked off and twisted in his hands.
“Mebbe we’re intruding, Gus. Mebbe these gents ain’t finished their breakfast.” He took another turn on his hat and looked nervously at Michael. “Don’t mind Gus. He ain’t got much manners like Charlie and me.”
“Think nothing of it,” said Michael with another ghost of a bow, much to the amazement of Klarner. “I shall have a servant bring in more food for you.”
“Hell,” said Gus, gnawing on the apple, “you speak pretty good English for a damned greaser. Don’t he, Mr. Lusby?”
Mr. Lusby gave his hat yet another turn and looked uncomfortable and perspiring. “You don’t mind, Gus. If it’s too much trouble, señor. . . .”
“Think nothing of it,” said Michael. “Please be seated.”
“My name is Lusby. Julius Lusby, Mr. . . .”
“I am don Michael to my friends, Mr. Lusby.”
“Sure. Sure. Glad to meetcha, don Michael. Look, this is Gus Mueller and this is Charlie Pearson.”
Gus did not even bother to nod. He prowled around the big room, still gripping the Walker pistol, opening doors and closing them, bending a calculating eye upon the beautiful Indian rugs and the finely carved, imported furniture.
Charlie Pearson was leaning against the door jamb with his boots crossed. His shirt had once been white linen and his stock was flowing black silk. He had the hard but easy air of the gambler about him.
He eyed Michael suspiciously. Finally, he muttered, “Pleased,” and went on picking his teeth.
“Maybe you can tell me where is the boss?” said Mr. Lusby hesitantly.
Gus came to the center of the room and tossed the apple core out the window. “Sure. We got business around here. Where’s the greaser that owns this dump?”
Michael smiled. “Perhaps he has already heard of your coming.”
“I get it,” said Gus with a harsh laugh. “And he wasn’t far from wrong, neither. I suppose you’re the major-domo, huh?” And as Michael did not show any signs of doing anything but smiling politely, Gus nudged Mr. Lusby. “Show him the papers.”
“Yep,” said Charlie. “Show him the papers. We got to make this here thing legal.”
Mr. Lusby ran his hands nervously through his pockets and at last located the documents. He edged up to the table, giving the impression of being about to run, and laid several sheets face up on the cloth.
“Since the border’s moved,” said Mr. Lusby, “all this is United States. I fixed it so the boys could file. And here’s the deeds, all ethical and legal, to the Santa Rosa Valley. This ranch house is on it, ain’t it?”
“Yes,” said Michael.
“There,” said Mr. Lusby with a sigh of relief. “I got it done.”
Antonio came to the kitchen door and stared in.
“Hey, you,” said Gus, “hustle some grub. I could eat a mule.”
“Don Michael . . .” said Antonio.
“You heard the gentleman, Antonio.”
“Sí, don Michael,” and miserably he withdrew. A moment later came the loud crashing of dishes being thrown about.
Mr. Lusby looked apologetic. “We don’t want to put you out none, señor. . . .”
“Naw,” said Charlie. “But the point is, you’ll have to find someplace to sleep. We’re takin’ over here.”
“Naturally,” said don Michael. “Come, judge.”
“Wait a minute,” said Mr. Lusby. “Look. We don’t know nothing about this place. We don’t know where the cows is or nothing. Maybe you want a job, huh?”
“A job?” said Michael.
“Sure,” said Mr. Lusby. “You look like a pretty good feller. We’ll pay you thirty dollars a month.” He added hastily, “But not another nickel!”
“Why, you are too kind,” said don Michael. “As I am out of employment, I shall be happy to accept such a liberal offer.”
He gave them a smile, accompanied by a floating gesture of his hands which gave them to understand that he was completely theirs to command. “And now, if you gentlemen will excuse me, I shall show your men where the forage is kept.”
“That’s the spirit,” said Charlie unexpectedly. “When you find out the other gent’s got a third ace as his hole card, don’t go quittin’. Deal ’em up, I says.”
Michael took his silver-encrusted sombrero from the wall and put it on, adjusting the diamond which held the flowing chin thong. He buckled the silver-inlaid pistol about his waist, and so normal did that gesture seem to the three strangers that they failed to note it.
Michael motioned to Judge Klarner and walked out into the hot morning sunlight of the yard.