Direct Purchase Instructions

Thank you for investigating my new form of selling my novels.Go to my Amazon link -- the one on the far right of this page. Click and scroll through the titles. Choose one to preview. Please read the preview. If it appeals to you, you have a choice to make. If not, try another. NOTE that all titles are 9.99 and that my titles are not part of any Amazon give-away program. My novels are no longer free -- from anywhere. Not Amazon, not Bookbub, not Smashwords, Diesel, or some Russian hacker. So, now you have to decide. 1. click and purchase the book from Amazon -- or2. contact me and buy it for 50% less. 60% less if you are a member of my blog.If you choose the second option, contact me via e-mail bobhatting@gmail.com and tell me the title. I'll give you a price. You send me the money via PayPal and I'll send you a zip file with the novel in these formats: PDF, MOBI, and Epub. You can then upload whichever format you choose to your reading device. Sound fair? Happy reading.RWHPSFor those of you in the Philippines, I accept cash via Palawan. Contact me for my mobile number.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Food from Scratch




DON'T BE LAZY -- PREPARE YOUR OWN!



I’m often asked — ‘why do you not eat in restaurant more often?’

The answer I usually use — it’s a health issue.  That’s true but it goes way beyond health.  It’s anti-aging. If you can limit the poisons you add to your body by breathing and ingestion, you will live longer.  When you recognize the benefits of certain foods and combine them to repair your body’s natural immune system, reverse aging occurs.
So, in my household, we bake our own bread, we juice local tropical fruits, we make tea from ginger, lemon grass, and turmeric we grow in the pyramid herb garden, we roast our coffee, we ozonate our drinking water and we make our own sea salt.  The sugar we use is either honey or muscavado (raspadura).  We make our own coconut oil. And when we ozonate it — it becomes our miracle cure for most everything (from burns to ulcers).
We recently moved to another house in town and now I have my smoker installed and functioning properly.  We are currently experimenting with making our own bacon, ham, and Cdn bacon.  It’s turned out quite nicely; not only with taste but also the simplicity of production.
Here’s a synopsis of that process.  
  

Homemade bacon and Cdn Bacon or any of our smoked products begins with the salt.

We make our own salt from seawater.  The seawater is purified by ozonating a two gallon glass jar of the raw seawater for five (5) min.  This kills all the bad organisms and lowers the radiation.  Then water is cooked down to salt — basic clean sea salt.  
The curing of bacon and Cdn bacon begins with the brine.(dry or wet)  We use only our salt and muscavado (Raspadura in Central America) No chemicals allowed.  The spice mix we put in the glaze is all natural as well as the coconut milk and pineapple juice.  We juice our pineapple to get the juice — we squeeze the coconut milk from the shredded copra (this is also the way we make coconut oil)
The curing process takes 4-5 days.  The smoking process takes 4-6 hours.  Then like magic, the bacon and the Cdn bacon are finished.
Fish fillets, beef and chicken jerky take less time in the smoker.  They are not cured but they are brined; usually for 24 hours. Smoking is usually on racks rather than on hooks and takes less time.  All in all, the preservation aspect is good and the flavors are wonderful.
As an aside: we use a vacuum packer and then put our food products in the freezer or refer.  Two things happen — if you lose power —no problem it will maintain its freshness for about 2 weeks.  If you defrost and then change your mind, you can refreeze without creating any risk of food poisoning. With a vacuum sealed package it adds four times the ‘goodness’ life to ordinary frozen meats.   

  









Monday, October 9, 2017

ANSWERING A NARCISSISTIC NINCONPOOP


I have an acquaintance who says he’s my friend. Actually, he’s not. I have nothing in common with the man except we come from the same country.

He’s the type who asks personal questions disguised as though he’s interested. Most ranchers know what I’m referring to: 1.) “How many cattle do you have on your ranch?” 2.) “How many rental houses do you own?” 3.) “How many books do you sell each month?” 4.)”How much did you pay for your house?”

These questions and many like them are asked by these types of people. In my mind it translates to — HOW MUCH MONEY DO YOU HAVE IN THE BANK? or — HOW MUCH DO YOU EARN? Am I being rude by pointing this out? Perhaps, but the rude people in my mind are the ones who ask those kind of questions.

This guy scoffed at my response to his question about my royalties. “Christ, you are wasting your time!” he stated in an angry tone. “I have part time employees who earn more than that each month!”

I didn’t argue with him. I smiled at his response and exited his space. Frankly, I haven't seen him since nor do I wish to. He’s what I call a NN person (narcissistic nincompoop)

So to enlighten some of you folks who don’t know authors, I’ve decided to post this set of facts and opinions on my blog.



HERE’S SOME TRUTHS ABOUT AUTHORS
Authors don’t write for anyone except for themselves. They write to salve the inspiration they received in some form.
Authors seldom write for money. They accept money but it’s not what drives them.
Authors seldom write for fame. Show me a writer who glories in the limelight and I’ll show you an author who has a ghostwriter.


Authors have enormous freedom. (In more ways than one can imagine.) Think about it : we can work anytime from anywhere. But that’s not all. We choose — everything!


Authors don’t care what anyone thinks. The harshest critic cannot contain or quash the creativity of an author.
Authors create legacies within their genre. Think about it: no one writes like Jack London, Elmer Kelton, Edward Abbey, Hemmingway, Dunbar, Louis L'Amor, Zoe Saadia, or Robert Hatting.
Authors educate, entertain, and perhaps enlighten. No matter the genre — a reader will take something away from a well written book.
Authors create estates —
Let’s break down that last statement. I’ll use my inventory as an example. I have 25 novels published and another 4 completed and in the Que for editing/formatting. Two others are WIP.  Fifteen are outlined.

As an Indie — all my rights and all my revenues belongs to me. LET’S ROUND OFF to 30 novels with an average net to me of $4.00 (digital) $18.00 (print)

Take one digital unit… if I sell 5 per week = $20. 52 weeks in a year = $1040. I plan on living another 20 years, so I’ll make 20 grand more or less for this one novel. But it doesn’t stop there. My copyright is good for another 51 years after I pass. My designated heir will continue to receive my royalties. Do the math. 71 years x 1000 m/l = $71,000. X 30 titles? 640K?   Not bad but there's more.
 Let’s talk about those 20 additional years. I can produce at least 2 novels per year. If I quit dicking around with my inventions, I can write 4 per year. Just for grins let’s assume I can at least produce those 2 per year. That’s 40 more novels for a total of 70.  $ 70,000 X 70 = 4.9 mil. That’s an estate!

Okay… maybe this is a stretch with a digital novel ( especially after I pass). But, what if one of the 30 (or 70) novels gets some upward movement? Perhaps a second title gains some traction? Then we have the proverbial jump rope scenario — the 2 handles raise the belly of the rope — all the titles get more exposure and consequently there is much more revenue. It’s happened with a lot of my contemporaries. Edward Abbey for one… DESERT SOLITAIRE was a mild hit. Then MONKEY WRENCH GANG was published and took off like a rocket. Overnight (after 40 years of writing), Ed became a star in our industry.

My point is — investing the time to write a book may seem like a vanity play or a waste of time to the NN types. Over time it’s actually rewarding. Ask any author that’s published over five books to describe the feeling one gets when they finish the first draft of a manuscript.. By typing finis or ‘30’. Most can’t. I know I can’t put it in words.

‘30’

 

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Rustler stove revisited


CONCRETE RUSTLER STOVE  Homemade for about 1250 pesos ($25.)
(prepper 101)



The rustler hole fires have been around for ages. They were upgraded to wood stoves and forges a few hundred years ago. Those which are commonly called Rocket Stoves and featured on you tube are just remakes of the original wood stove. Create a draft; AIR+FUEL=FIRE, the more air (oxygen)the hotter the fire and the combustion will eliminate smoke and increase the BTU’s. There’s really no new science — just new materials, designs and applications. 

I built my rustler stove for several reasons. I’m in the tropics and need to burn lawn refuse now and again. The synergy of burning junk and cooking down sea salt plus drying oregano is shown in one photo. Creating something out of nothing appeals to me.

One does not need a large fire — a hot fire is what is needed. The fire pit is only four inches in diameter. Once combustion reaches almost 100 percent, however, the heat created encompasses the entire chamber. Of course the heat rises, so the end result is a fire which is cylindrical(4”x 13”). Harness the heat with an iron pot, a skillet, or grill, and it becomes the off-grid — free energy stove.

When I want to B-B-Q a hamburger or chicken, I use charcoal made from coconut shells. I added an air intake into the feed hole and inserted an aluminum tube to convert the trash burner into a forge by adding a small air pump. I have a foot pump that I can use when the power goes out.

It’s multipurpose but not portable.(I included handles, so it can be moved around the yard, but it’s heavy.) I’ve made a similar unit out of stainless steel in the past. They are perfect for packing to the beach, but too small for my yard refuse.

I had to sell my dutch oven before I left Panama for the Philippines. That would be perfect for an oven for this unit. I’m looking, but in the meantime I will craft some sort of oven — either out of clay or steel.

Future experiments will be canning with a pressure cooker, baking with a crafted unit, and perhaps adding a basin for larger forge capacity.

Future photos — roasting our coffee using the coffee husks as fuel. Actual step by step building of the units and the enhancement of the forging capabilities.
Note the grate inside the steel feed tube, the pot ring and the grill.
Rebar reinforcing placed inside each unit before concrete is poured into the plastic bucket 

Steel parts primered with anti rust paint.


 



Ozonated sea water being rendered down to sea salt.  Fresh oregano being dried by the extra heat.

Friday, September 1, 2017

PEPPER PYLE, by ROBERT HATTING

Here's a preview of my newest novel. 

Comments or direct interaction is welcome. 

*****

Copyright © Statement
No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including recording, photocopying, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the written permission of the publisher.  The author has applied for and will receive a statement from the US Library of Congress certifying that this work of Robert W. Hatting is original intellectual property.  

Fiction Statement
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the authors’ imaginations or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
 
PROLOGUE

During the civil war many captured southern soldiers and officers were released to serve in the Union Army as infantry soldiers and served only in the west to help with the Indian hostilities.  They were referred to as Galvanized Yankees.

One such man was captured former Colonel Willard Pyle, a former Texas Rangers who enlisted in the Confederate Army. He was captured along with six of his men and served a year in the POW prison in Rock Island, Illinois.  During that year of incarceration, he planned and orchestrated the only mass escape from the infamous Rock Island prison.  Pyle colluded with the escapees and covered their escape.  He was given a choice — a firing squad or transfer his allegiance and become a Yankee soldier.  Pyle opted to become a Galvanized Yankee and was assigned to a company in Arizona territory and later to a command post in New Mexico Territory.   He was an able and courageous soldier and his superiors soon recognized his leadership abilities. They advanced him — first to corporal, then to Sergeant, and then to Master Sergeant.  While imprisoned in Rock Island, Pyle had arranged for some hot peppers to be smuggled into the camp to fight scurvy. They called him Pepper and the moniker stuck with him throughout his service to the Union army. Pepper served two twenty-four month additional hitches and then disappeared a few months before the termination of his third enlistment. He was presumed killed or captured at the Lordsburg massacre.  Since his body was never found, the Union officers of the ‘Repudiated Command’ deemed him a deserter and placed a bounty on his head.  Since he had been an Officer in the confederate army, the reward for his capture was substantial.

Chapter 1.

 

It didn’t take me long to size up the Lieutenant.  He was green as grass but thought he knew everything.  Gad, I detested those clowns they sent from the academy.  His logic was like that of a mule.

“Sergeant, load those coolies that can’t walk into the supply wagon,” he ordered.

I pointed to the wagon.  “Already accomplished, Sir,” I replied. “Only six can’t walk.  Everyone else is fit to make the trek to the mines.”

He began walking toward me leading his horse.  It was typical.  He was supposed to lead, not mess with details.  That was my job.

“I don’t need the details, Sergeant.  Just do as you’re ordered,” He barked as he approached me.

Since I only had three months left on my enlistment, I decided to push back at the young officer.

“I understand my job, Lieutenant.  I’m not sure you know yours.  Just climb on that horse and lead us outta here.  My men and I can handle the rest,” I shouted so my men could hear.

I knew he said something but I didn’t understand.  A hail of gunfire and the shot that tore off my left hand was all my ears heard before I slumped to the ground in extreme pain.  I witnessed many of my men die without returning fire.  We had been ambushed so I scrambled for cover behind a boulder.  The Chinese scattered like quail and several of the elders and one youngster crabbed toward the big rock. The Chinese youth picked up my hand, and then wrapped her scarf around my wrist in tourniquet fashion.

I expected more gunfire but the only sound I heard was the pounding of my heart.  The little China girl was still holding my hand and was attempting to attach it to my bleeding stob.  Smashing the mutilated appendage into my flesh was excruciating but I managed to push her away without hurting her or exposing me to whomever had ambushed us. 

“It won’t grow back, throw it away,” I instructed through my gritted teeth.

An older China lady tried grabbing the youth to protect her – the girl resisted and clung to my arm.  My mutilated left hand flew out of sight as the little one crawled closer and pulled the scarf tighter. The girl and the Granny were shouting at one another but I couldn’t understand their gibberish.  I held the pain in contempt as I peered around the boulder to see who was shooting as us.   The little one held on tight and tried to pull me back to the safety of the rocks. Once again, the older woman reached for the child.

So far, there were only rifle shots and they were sporadic; like only two or three people attacking.  The distinctive reports of the .30-.40 Krag, the infantry weapon issued to my men, were silent.  No one in my squad was firing back. Then I heard the same sound that had blown off my hand — the distinctive report of a buffalo gun — a big caliber -- Sharps .50.

“There must be a white man shooting at us,” I mumbled to no one in general. 

“I know,” said the young Chinese girl.  “I saw him when we were helping my grandfather into the wagon,” she reported in perfect English.

I was shocked.  This small Chinese youth was speaking like a refined lady.  That impression faded when the report from the buffalo rifle sounded again.  The young woman screeched but held my tourniquet tight.  She witnessed her grandmother bleeding out from the large wound in her chest.  She sobbed and held my arm.  “My only people are now gone,” she sobbed.

I wasn’t sure we would survive.  We hugged the boulder as the heat of the afternoon bore upon our parched bodies.  No other shots were fired and it appeared as though our attackers had left.  As the shadows of late afternoon lengthened, I gambled a peek around the boulder and only saw the bloating bodies of my squad, the coolies we were escorting, and low flying circle of vultures anticipating a feast.

I was able to stand with the assistance of the girl and the boulder.  I propped myself against the boulder and took stock of the situation.  My left arm was throbbing but the tourniquet kept me from bleeding out.  The girl loosened it as we both inspected the damage.  I was surprised the teenage girl didn’t approach her grandmother or her grandfather who was slumped over the sideboard of the wagon.  She glanced toward the body her grandmother a couple of times but seemed to be more intent on my wound.  I nodded toward the body of the old woman.

“She is gone and we are alive.  I am sad but I had promised not to grieve for the old ones.   What do we do now?” She asked as she wrapped part of my neckerchief around the wound.

I pondered her question as I took mental inventory of my squad and the coolies we had been charged to escort.  My squad was dead, their bodies stripped of weapons and some clothing.  Since we were infantry, only five horses had been stolen; the Lieutenant’s mount and the wagon team.  I scanned the hills for any evidence of our enemy before I took several steps toward the Lieutenant.  Since there was no mutilation of the bodies, I assumed the attackers had been Comancheros; renegades from various tribes plus Mexican bandits that had banned together with a rogue white man.  Comancheros dealt in captives; mostly women and children that captured by the tribes, traded to the Comancheros, and ultimately sold to rich Mexican overlords south of the border.  Being captured by the Comancheros and sold as slaves was worse than death at the hand of the Apaches.

The young Chinese girl finally stood in front of me, waiting for an answer. Her facial expression brought me out of my reverie. I was about to answer when movement near the dry wash caught my eye.  I reached for my pistol but it remained holstered as the girl placed her hand on the leather flap.  Two Chinese women and a man emerged from the wash and began walking our way.  The four Chinese began jabbering in their language.  I didn’t understand a word.  The older man walked directly toward me and held out his hand; pointing to my wound.  “Hin Lo is a healer.  He wants to help you with your wound,” the young woman explained.

I nodded at the old man and turned back to the girl.  The two women, who had approached in a timid manner, were carrying a rifle and a canteen; evidently scrounged from the bodies of my men. 

“What is your name?” I asked the girl?

“My name is Mai Li,” she answered.  “My family is from the region of Seschaean in southern China.  I am seventeen years old and a Christian,” she added.

I was shocked because she looked like a twelve year old Apache kid. 

“We need to find water and shelter and get away from this place,” I advised. “Those Comancheros may come back.  We need to be in the foothills of those mountains, yonder.”

 

 

 

Chapter 2

 

I’m not partial to bragging, but I must have walked fifteen miles in the dark, guided by the North Star, before I finally gave up and let the women assist me down the ridge and into the gully with the small seep.  My legs were wobbly and my left arm was swollen and throbbing.  Once we reached the water and my Chinese companions had their drink, I was made over like royalty.  I must have dozed off because when I woke up it was early morning, the sun was out, my stob had been stitched, and Mai Li was placing a new dressing on me; part of a petticoat. 

“Your fever is gone.  We made a good camp; can we stay here a few days?  Hin Lo says you need to get your strength back,”

I looked at our location and considered our vulnerability down in the gully.  I pointed to the ridge above.  “We need to take turns standing guard on the ridge.  If those Comancheros track us here, the guy with the buffalo gun can kill us all in a matter of minutes.”

“Why would they follow us?” Mai Li asked.

“I don’t know why they attacked us to begin with,” I replied. “If they were on a raid to take hostages, they wouldn’t have killed everyone.  It just doesn’t make sense,” I stated.

Mai Li looked at the ridge and then back to me.  “Maybe just today — we rest.  Then we go.”

 “That jasper with the buffalo gun… you said you saw him?  What did he look like?”

Mai Li leaned back, closed her eyes and began describing the white man with words like big, hairy, old, dirty, and wicked.

“Would you recognize him if you saw him again?” I gently asked.

Mai Li nodded her head.  “I will not forget the man who killed my grandparents,” she responded with a break in her voice.

I knew if I was to track the guy down, she would have to come along. Suddenly that became my quest.  To avenge those two old folks, the thirteen other Chinese coolies, my squad and even the no-nothing, do nothing lieutenant.  I looked at my left forearm.  Yep, and revenge for blowing off my hand, too.

 

****

 

Our trip to the mountains surrounding Silver City took almost two weeks. The destination I chose as our final camp was from a scouting expedition that had taken place years prior — back when I was an expendable Galvie. We had had some scary moments back then, dealing with the relatives of old Mangus Colorado, but the Colonel who was leading the expedition, showed some common sense.  He guessed that Cochise was a powerhouse Injun, just like his pop, the legendary Mangus Colorado, often called Red Sleeves, and he backed off the war department’s normal position and elected peace over extermination.

I recalled the old Apache stronghold as being one of the nicest settings in the southwest; an abundance of game because of the good grass and water, tall timber, and a perfect defensible location. Since those earlier times, the Apaches had been moved to a reservation and the mountains near the old cliff dwellings had been explored by prospectors — not much gold or silver had been found, so it was a good place for us to hide out and for me to heal.

Hin Lo was a wily older Chinaman.  He seldom spoke but he knew his way around the west.  He gathered roots and bark from various plants to keep my stob healing without infection. Mai Li told me he had worked as a seaman when he was young and was sold into slavery when he was sent ashore in San Francisco. It seemed like a windy story to me.  He didn’t look to be a day over forty but the history she related made him out to be sixty years, plus. However, considering my poor record at judging the age of Chinese, perhaps it was all true. 

The other two women in our group were as opposite as night and day.  They were both young — in their twenties and both relatively attractive if you like the looks of China girls.  Neither had the bearing or beauty of Mai Li but they seemed amiable and trustworthy.  Dao was quiet, Pink was chatty.  They assumed all the burdens of all our camps plus took turns attending to my wound when Mai Li was away, mostly hunting small game and herbs of the desert.

We posted lookouts every night and I often took a peek down our back trail.  I could see no sign of the Comancheros. What worried me was the white man who had obviously aligned himself with the bandits.  If he had split off, we would never see any sign of him until it was too late.  I assumed he was a renegade mountain man or buffalo hunter. That assumption was easy, because of the weapon he had used.  What I couldn’t figure was why he and his gang set out to annihilate a squad of Union soldiers and eighteen Chinese coolies who were merely being relocated.

Once we reached our destination life became easier.  We were settled but still wary.  

I inspected the stob on my left hand as Hin Lo removed the bandage.  The infection was gone but the flesh was still red and tender to the touch. I was anxious for it to heal so I could fashion some kind of apparatus to hold a rifle.  I had a pistol but it was worthless in my hand.  I had never been a good pistol shot.  However, with a long gun, I was deadly.

I left the bandage off, thinking the sunlight would be good for my healing.  It was a pleasant afternoon.  Our cave as I called it would be cooling, now that it was in the shade.  The ancient Indians that built these cliff type dwellings knew a lot about architecture and weather patterns.  We were shaded from the hot sun in the afternoon, greeted by the sun rising from the east, and protected from the storms that hammered these high elevations from the North.  When it was sunny, we mostly hung out around the ‘southern park’ as I called it because it was close to the little creek that provided our water and also near the game trails that converged at the beaver pond.  Except for the fear of the Comancheros on our back-trail, I could have been content to settle in and begin a new life in the hanging valley.  Unfortunately, I knew the army was going to be upset with me for not reporting what happened back at the railroad spur.  We had traveled a long way and I had passed many opportunities for me to telegraph my superiors.  It was a mental condition.  I was afraid of the jasper that was following us but also finished with that life.  When my hand went flying into the dust, something else went flying, too.  My loyalty to a country I had fought against and then joined in pushing Indians off their lands and rounding up the rebels… yep I think of them as rebs.  Confederate comrades in buckskin and feathers, rebeling and fighting to stay in or near their homeland.

The sun was waning and shadows became long.  I was all alone in my usual spot among the dead-falls at the edge of the meadow.  Mai Li was nowhere to be seen.  Pink was above me close to the cliff-side, stretching and scraping deer-hides.  Dao and Hin Lo had gone off in search of cattail roots; our main source of vegetables.  Sometimes watercress but mostly tulle roots as we called them back in Texas.  I became concerned for Mai Li.  I had not even talked to her since the night before; then only to relieve her of her sentry duty.  Hin Lo relieved me at four.  I had crawled under the skins and was dead asleep until first light.  Come to think of it — she wasn’t outside by the creek as usual. I finally got off my lazy butt and walked up the hill toward Pink.  She grinned as I approached.  “Where is Mai Li?” I asked very slowly so she could understand.

She pointed to the part of the high mountain valley where the creek disappeared for about two-hundred yards and then re-appeared over the cliff trail that led down to Piños Altos, a small miner’s camp, and eventually the high mountain desert and Silver City.

I tried to get the reason for her disappearance but received mostly smiles and shaking of the head.  Pink was a good woman, but had not tried very hard to learn my language.  Dao, on the other hand spent many hours with Mai Li practicing her English words and phrases.  She was still shy with me but I admired her for her effort. 

I turned and pointed to the direction she told me Mai Li had gone.  Pink handed me a piece of deer jerky and finally nodded her understanding.

 

 

      

 

Chapter 3

 

Darkness was almost upon our camp by the time I returned to the cliff dwelling.  I had spent the late afternoon looking for Mai Li and hadn’t seen any signs of her passing.  Needless to say, I was disturbed. I could see a feint light behind the deerskin curtain that served to keep out the wind and cold. The flickering fire was a beaconing call because it also meant food.  My stomach was rumbling from lack of nutrition and over exertion. 

“It’s Pepper, I’m back,” I announced just before pulling aside our makeshift door.

My greeting was the barrel of a Sharps fifty and an old mountain man controlling the trigger.

“Where’s that china gurl?” he demanded as he shoved the rifle toward my face.

I was staring at the rifle bore; the one that had shot off my hand and killed my men; not to mention the grandparents of Mai Li and all the other coolies we had been escorting.

As my eyes adjusted to the dim light produced by the dwindling flames, I could see Hin Lo, Pink, and Dao trussed up like hogs for slaughter.  This nasty old man and his big ass rifle fired my anger.  I leapt at him by jumping right through the fire.  The rifle went off but missed me because I had startled him with my crazy behavior.  I clubbed him with my left arm and then punched him in the face.  Then I went crazy and kicked the life out of him — finally stabbing him several times with his own Bowie knife.  By this time, the cave had become totally dark.  I drug the old man to the remaining coals and shoved his arm into the heat.  His greasy buckskin smoldered and finally burst into a small flame.  It was enough light to locate the woodpile.  I threw some kindling on the fire and then took the knife toward the back of the dwelling and began cutting the trusses of my friends. I could still hear the boom of the gunshot in my ears as I helped Hin Lo to his feet.  Pink was already standing, helping Dao.

Hin Lo pointed at the old man lying in the fire.  He was moving.  I quickly pulled his arm out of the fire and picked up the rifle.  Hin Lo put more kindling on the fire and I looked more closely at our assailant.  I set the rifle aside and looked for other weapons.  I found a smaller knife - akin to a green river skinning knife in his possibles sack along with several dozen fifty caliber cartridges.  I used the razor sharp knife to cut the strap and appropriate his pouch.  I then sliced away part of his filthy shirt to expose the wounds I had made with the bowie knife.  Hin Lo inspected the wound over the old man’s heart. It shot a stream of blood each time the heart beat.  Hin Lo shook his head in the negative and I agreed. Just as I was about to drag his dying body outside, the old man opened his eyes and looked me full in the face. “You kilt me,” he said. 

“Why did you kill my men and all those coolies,” I asked.

 “To get the gurl. I was paid to get the china gurl,” the dying man slurred.

“Who paid you?  How much did you get?” I demanded as I began to steam again.

“Them missionaries paid me a huntert dollars in gold.”

“You and them Comancheros killed all my men and them coolies for a hundred dollars?  I should kill you again!” I shouted as Mai Li came through the doeskin curtain.

I must have been quite a sight — I had my bloody stump pressed against that old jaspers windpipe and his bowie in my right hand poised to stab him again.

“Sergeant Pepper!  What are you doing?”

Before I could answer, Pink and Dao began explaining in their own language.  I lowered the knife and looked at the old mountain man.  He was gasping for air because my stob was still pressed hard against his throat. He passed out.

I released the pressure on his windpipe, shoved the bowie knife under my belt, and proceeded to drag the old killer out of our dwelling.  Hin Lo splashed a dipper of water on his smoldering buckskin sleeve and then assisted me in my efforts. 

Once I had the killer propped against a log, I took out the knife again and waved it under his nose. “Where’s your horse?” I asked in a gentler manner.  Are you alone?”

The light from the fire in the cliff dwelling shrouded the old man in a dim light.  It was eerie to witness.

Hin Lo pressed his ear to the killer’s chest and then shook his head in a negative manner.

I got off my knees and turned toward the door to our dwelling.  Silhouetted in the firelight was Mai Li.

“I’ve been worried about you.  Where did you spend the day?” I gently inquired. 

Mai Li held out her hand and took a step forward.  I took her hand and she pulled me back into our cave; Hin Lo followed.

As I calmed, the pain came — it came like thunder.  My stob was bleeding and throbbed like never before.  Hin Lo pulled up my sleeve and exposed a gash; evidently caused by the bullet fired at me.  Mai Li pulled several rabbit skins from her possibles bag and held them toward the light.  “I have been trapping rabbits for their fur and meat.  I placed snares in several places.  One set is down by the hiding stream.”

“You should have told me.  I was worried.”

“It was a surprise.  I wanted to make a cover for your wrist…a soft cover to keep it from hurting.

I wanted to cry from the pain as Hin Lo treated my bullet graze and my stob.  I was pleased Mai Li was okay and looking after me but I needed the truth.  Why would some missionaries hire a killer to come for her — killing all those people for a teenage Chinese girl?  I finally asked. 

“That jasper outside is the same guy that killed my men and your grandparents.  He admitted he was hired to find you.  Hired by some missionaries,” I stated in a stern manner.

Mai Li began to cry.  Not just a weep, but a flood of wailing.  She ran outside.  I was tempted to follow her but decided I needed to rethink our situation and take steps to let the military know what had happened and why.

“Hin Lo, there has to be a horse around here somewhere.  Maybe two.  Can you go find it?” Then I turned to the women.

 “Pink and Dao, go wrap that body in some skins.  We’ll take it to Piños Altos in the morning.”

Mai Li had heard my commands and returned to the cave with the dressed rabbits. She was still whimpering from her cry but was functioning.  She and the other women spitted the carcasses on green tree limbs and then took two deerskins out to wrap the old killer.

I hoped I was thinking clearly through all my pain.  I had not contacted the army and was probably presumed dead.  The mess down by Lordsburg was probably listed as an Indian massacre and some tribe was being punished for what that old hired killer had done.

I decided to sit on my pallet and rethink my plans.  My arm and wrist stob was still painful — I wanted to sleep, but the smell of the roasting rabbit kept my tiredness at bay.  Mai Li came through the opening and walked directly to me.  She squatted in front of me.  “After we eat I will tell you the truth, Pepper.”

I was surprised and pleased.  She smiled and gave me a sensual touch on my good arm.  I was about to respond to her when Hin Lo pulled back the curtain.  “Horses — outside,” he said in broken English.  Then he spoke five or six sentences to Mai Li.

“Three horses.  One stallion with saddle.  One mare for pack. And a baby sucking.”

What went through my mind at that moment was horse ranch in this hanging valley.  But the dream drifted as I considered our reality. 

“Bring in the packs.  I want to see what we have.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 4

 

Distracted by the treasures we acquired from the killer, Mai Li didn’t get a chance to tell me her story.  I admit I fell asleep while all the camping equipment was admired and stored.  Early morning was decision time for me.  My head was clear and my pain had subsided.  Even the stob was faring better after placing the rabbit skin glove over the tender scar tissue.  Killer had willed us a coffee pot and even a small doeskin pouch of roasted coffee beans. I showed the women how to smash the beans and add them to boiling water.  I sipped coffee and took my time explaining our immediate future.

“I’m taking the body of the killer to Piños Altos and I’m taking Mai Li with me. We’ll take one horse.  By the way, Hin Lo, the male horse is not a stallion, it’s a gelding; a stallion that has been castrated.”  Mai Li translated for me but I’m sure he understood before she explained.

“How long are we going to be gone?” Mai Li asked.

“I’m not sure.  A few days — perhaps a week.  It depends if I get to see some authority in Piños Altos.  If we have to go on to Silver City, it may be two weeks.

Hin lo asked a question of Mai Li for her to ask me.

“He wants to know how we are going to take the body if we only have one horse.”

“Mai Li and I will walk and pack the body over the saddle.  The body will only go as far as Piños Altos.  Even If there is no authority there, I just want an opportunity to have witnesses about to explain what happened.  Once the body is gone we will ride double,” I explained. 

Hin Lo nodded his understanding.  Mai Li didn’t need to translate. 

“Since we found seventy dollars in killer’s possible sack, I’m going to buy supplies so we can survive the winter.  I’m sure it’s what’s left of the blood money. I have about forty dollars. We’ll have a grubstake and should be fine if we continue to hunt and dry our meat,” I estimated.

Pink served Mai Li and I rabbit for breakfast.  While we ate, Hin Lo saddled the gelding. I helped him load the body of the killer.  The horse was skittish at first but settled down after I let him take a few steps.  I was packing the killer’s old Sharps fifty and Mai Li had a small sack of provisions for us and the canteen we’d used to trek all the way from Lordsburg. We were ready and yet we weren’t.  Mai Li had set some snares on her trap line and wanted to show Dao where they were located.  We spent an hour running the snare line.  Dao walked back to the cliff dwelling with four more rabbits and we started our walk to Piños Altos and we also began our talk.

“Okay, Mai Li, explain to me why some missionaries would hire that old killer to exterminate my men and all of the coolies we were escorting in order to capture you?”

She didn’t pause.  Evidently she’d rehearsed what she was going to admit. 

“I was borne on the ship that brought us to your shores. My parents brought my father’s parents with them to our new life in your country. Just before we reached California, most everyone on the ship became ill, including the crew.  My parents died but my grandparents and I survived the plague.  According to my grandparents, we were not allowed off the ship for several weeks.  Then a religious group took us to their farm outside of the city,” Mai Li related. 

I was becoming bored with her story because it didn’t explain why the killer attacked us. “Can you skip some of the details?  Why are they after you?”

“I was just explaining my background.  My grandparents were given jobs on the big farm owned by the missionary group.  It was like an orphanage.  I was raised there, went to school there and had a job as a housemaid in the main house.”

The story dragged on.  I couldn’t seem to get her to understand that I needed to know.  To understand why I lost my left hand, why my men and the coolies we were escorting were murdered.  She didn’t understand my impatience.

The walk down the creek-bed was the most dangerous part of the trail. We had to walk single file, so we were limited in our talk.   Once we reached the saddle that overlooked the Mogollon river basin, the timber changed from alpine cedar, fir and fern to Ponderosa pine intermixed with cactus. We stood on the banks of the small creek as it fell over a small embankment and again disappeared underground. I chose that spot to make camp for the night.  “We may as well camp here.  Help me unload the corpse.”

Unlike the hanging valley we had been living in for over a month, the ridge on which we camped had a longer dusk and became cooler with the updrafts from the Mogollon river basin.  Mai Li moved her pallet next to mine after we ate.  “When I was nine years old, everything changed at the orphanage farm.  It was bought by two brothers who claimed they were the sons of god.  Pendegrast was their family name.  They sent my grandparents away along with all the other workers on the farm.  They replaced our teachers and finally some of the older orphans.  All the boys were sent off right after the bad brothers took over.”

Mai Li leaned against my wounded arm as the dusk turned to dark.  Our small fire seemed to light the world as the breeze blew our coals alive.

My arm was beginning to heal. It itched like my stob did when it was scarring over. I rolled up my sleeve to scratch the scab.  Mai Li became very attentive and cleansed the scabbing wound with water from our canteen. “Dao says you were very brave when you killed the old man.  You were unarmed and he was pointing the rifle at you,” Mai Li stated while she rolled down my shirt sleeve.

“I just went crazy is all – not brave.  We’re half way to Piños Altos and you still haven’t explained why the missionaries sent a killer after you,” I reminded her. 

Mai Li snuggled a little closer.  “The bad brothers were not missionaries.  They were just the opposite.  For the first nine years I had a good life.  So did all the other orphans and workers.  When William Prendergast purchased the orphanage farm, that all changed. I lost contact with my grandparents for over a year.  One of the cook’s helpers, an older Mexican woman, found them and would sneak messages back and forth.”

I was getting sleepy.  I was also impatient.  “Tell me why they are looking for you?”

“I know where all the bodies are buried and I ran away to tell the authorities,” she stated with a sob.

Mai Li finally got my attention.  “Which bodies?

“All the boys and all the girls who wouldn’t give their virginity to the bad brothers.  Also every girl that got pregnant just disappeared,” she explained.  “Every orphan girl who had their first menses was at risk.  Once their bodies became womanish, they were used by the brothers and then sent to the city to brothels owned by the Prendergast family.”

I had to ask.  Something in me caused a pain in my heart for this girl.  I had known a lot of tainted women but I also had seen many young girls in the brothels, too.  I’d always wondered why they had succumbed to prostitution.  Now I was getting an insight.

“Did the brothers use you and send you to a brothel?” I asked as gently as I could.

“Mai Li put her head on my shoulder and sighed.  “I have always looked young, I was slow to mature.  Since I was the maid in the main house, they just looked at me like furniture.  My menses came when I was fourteen.  I was able to hide my womanhood for another year.  Then the younger brother, Bobby, tied me up and used me hard for two months.  Then I was passed to William. Finally, after being a sex slave to both brothers, I escaped and went to the find my grandparents.”

Now I knew.  Drowsiness was winning.  I leaned back on the saddle and closed my eyes.  “Let me guess.  You went to some Sheriff and he wouldn’t take your statement because you are Chinese.  So you joined a work detail in order to escape.”

“Yes, Pepper.  That’s what happened.  I had no idea they would send a killer to find me and kill all of those innocent people.  Just because of me,” she sobbed.

I should have responded but I was just too worn out.  I slightly recall Mai Li covering me with doeskin and then laying beside me.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 5

 

I woke up with my hat over my eyes but the sun on my face.  I hadn’t slept that sound or this long since before my arm had been blown off.  Once the cobwebs of sleep left me, I understood why.  I was warm.  Mia Li was snuggled up beside me and both our sleeping robes covered us.  We were sharing body heat and double doeskin.  She was looking at me as I became aware of our surroundings. 

“You took off my boots,” I mumbled.

“Yes Pepper.  I pulled your hat down, loosened your belt, and removed your boots. I would have done more to make you comfortable but you were sleeping too hard,” she stated with a mischievous and slightly sensuous grin.

It took a moment for that remark to sink in.  She was out of character and I certainly liked her personality change. “I need to water the bushes.  Can you roll our beds?  We need to continue our trip.”

Standing in the timber doing my morning business, my mind was replaying the story I’d heard form Mai Li the evening before.  She had been through a lot and was still being loyal to me; actually acting seductive.  Then it dawned on me.  Old killer wanted her.  Not me but her.  My reaction was to salve my situation by taking the body to the authorities and reporting to the army; leading whomever right to the girl.  I felt really foolish and a bit ashamed.  Up until killer had breached our hideout, I had always assumed the massacre outside Lordsburg had been about me, not a seventeen year old Chinese girl.

“Mai Li, make a fire and cook some of the grub we brought.  I’m going to discuss a new plan with you,” I hollered from the creek.

Once I explained the reason I had changed my mind, Mai Li was reasonable and actually pleased at my decision.  Perhaps the body of the old killer we were burying by caving in a dry wash over his stinking corpse was a reminder of how dangerous it would be to be observed or seen by anyone who might report her whereabouts to the Prendergast brothers.

“You can wait here or we can ride double back to our hide-out, I suggested. I’m just going to Piños Altos, to buy supplies — nowhere else.  Now that we have the killer buried, we really don’t need to hurry.”

Mai Li washed her hands in the cool creek water. She gathered needles from ground that had fallen from the pines.  She handed them to me.  My puzzled look made her giggle. “Brush me off, Pepper.  I’m filthy!”

I took the pine needles and did the deed.  She returned the favor because we were both dusty and dirty from burying the killer. 

“Just take me back to the waterfall.  I’ll walk back from there,” she offered. 

I was skeptical but finally agreed to her suggestion that we ride back up the disappearing creek toward our hanging valley. She suggested this plan so I could take my time and perhaps carry more supplies to help survive through the winter.

I wanted to ride the gelding for a few yards before I let Mai Li come aboard.  The horse and I were strangers.  The saddle was worn but in good repair.  I swung aboard and turned the horse around a few times. Since the killer and I were about the same size, I didn’t need to adjust the stirrups.   The gelding stepped right out and seemed gentle.  I reached out for the old Sharps being handed to me by Mai Li.  We walked a few more yards up the trail and then stopped.  Mai Li held out her hand and I was able to swing her up behind me from the off side.  She circled my waist and then reached around with her possibles pouch.  I hung it over the old Mexican style wooden horn.  She squeezed me tighter as I reined the horse toward the disappearing creek.

It took only an hour to reach the hidden creek waterfall.  The trail was treacherous for man and horse.  We dismounted and began climbing the ghost trail that avoided the small cliff. Mai Li was leading the horse up the switchback and I was scouting a better way up the cliff-side.  I looked closely at the waterfall.  Something seemed out of place — not natural.  Stones had been placed in such a manner to provide steps.  I decided to investigate.  “Tie the horse to a tree and come with me.”

I looked over my shoulder and witnessed Mai Li loosening the cinch on our horse.  That observance impressed me.

As we walked on the stones toward the edge of the waterfall, I took her hand and tried to step in each one in the direction the stones pointed.  The stones steps were small but had large spaces in between; two steps for me — three for Mai Li. The coded trail seemed to take us away from the waterfall and then veered under — into a declivity.  I looked back at Mai Li.  A big grin graced her youthful face.  I glanced over her shoulder at the pattern of the rocks.  From my angle it was a definite stepping pattern. The declivity was dark.  We inched along, our backs against the cliff to prevent getting soaked by the falling water.  The mist and spray was actually refreshing on this summer day. 

I felt it before I saw it.  Two boulders formed the declivity.  There was a crack in between.  I was just barely able to squeeze through and pull Mai Li in with me. It was dark but not bottom of a well dark -- light seemed to be coming from somewhere.  As our eyes adjusted to the darkness, it became obvious we were in a cave behind two huge boulders I finally found a match and struck it on the side of the boulder. I looked down to avoid getting the flame in my eyes.  I was standing near a rock ring used to contain a campfire.  Inside the rock ring were three stones that had obviously been placed there to support a pot of some kind.  I noticed Mai Li move just as the flame went out. 

“Light another.  I have tinder,” she said.

I lit another match and when she placed an old bird’s nest in the flame, the small cave brightened to the point we could see details of another civilization.

“Look back there, another opening!” she exclaimed as she bent to place the tinder and a few twigs into the fire-pit.

Close to the fire pit was a matate and a mano; ancient implements for grinding seeds to flour.  When the flame became steady, I looked at the small cave in which we were standing.  It was obvious that it had been used as a kitchen.  Clay pot sherds were everywhere; the corduroy pattern was prevalent. I watched the smoke; it rose directly overhead. A small opening high in the ceiling where the two boulders formed to make the cliff was the outlet for the smoke to escape.

Mai Li had a couple of twigs aflame to make a torch.  She stepped toward the other opening, I followed. 

“Where did you find the tinder and the twigs?” asked.  “This cave is barren of wood.”

Mai Li giggled as she placed the min-torch into the opening of the back cave.  “I carry this in my bag all the time. I’m the one who usually starts the fires if you recall.”

The back cave was a bit smaller than the kitchen cave with a much lower ceiling.  It was barely high enough for my six foot frame.  My hat brushed the ceiling several times.  Evidently this cave had been used as the residence; stones had been stacked along three sides of the cave.  One looked like a granary and the other two were obviously sleeping pallets. No one had been in this place for several hundred years.  Most of the pottery was intact and some were painted with scenes from their ancient culture.  I noticed a couple of painted plates that were bawdy in nature.  I’d read about them.  This was an ancient Mimbres home-site. 

“That lower cave of the cliff dwelling we use as hide-out in the hanging valley was inhabited by the Anazasi ancients.  This is a Mimbres homesite and probably predates the Anazasi by two hundred years,” I stated just as the torch burned out. A sliver of light from the small fire in the fire-pit showed us the way out.  We held hands to negotiate toward the light.  “I love this place,” Mai Li stated with a giggle.  “I love you,” I inadvertently blurted.

I had no idea where that proclamation came from.  I was fond of her, relied on her, worried about her — very true, but that statement was way out of line.  I couldn’t take it back or even explain the feeling, so I just remained mute.

Mai Li squeezed my hand and pulled me to a stop.  She circled my waist with her arms and pulled herself close.  I responded by hugging her in return — around her shoulders. 

   

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 6

 

Mai Li held my hand until we reached the gelding.  We had not spoken of my inadvertent proclamation.  We were silent with our thoughts. I untied the bay and cinched him tight again.  I felt Mai Li pull down on my jacket sleeve.  I looked down and knew it was time to kiss her.  We were clumsy but finally embraced.  “Be careful, my dear Pepper.  Look for me here when you return.  I’m going to fix up this place for us.”

I was surprised at the term of endearment but also her statement about the Mimbres home-site and us.  Us, we, our; foreign words to my ears and mind.

“Why? Why the waterfall cave?” I asked as I swung aboard the gelding.

“My dear Pepper, it’s our place — our special place.  No one has been in that home for over twelve-hundred years according to your knowledge of history.  AND, that’s where you told me you loved me.  It’s ours!” she said as she handed me the Sharps.

I didn’t argue.  “I should be back in a day or two.  “I’ll check here on my way back but I really think you need to check on the others back in the valley.”

“I’m going there, now.  Be careful, Pepper!”

Mai Li turned and began walking up the trail to our hidden valley camp.  I turned the bay down the trail toward our previous campsite.  My mind was ablaze with emotions, plans, fears, and suddenly an odor.  I had just wiped some water off my face and took a whiff of the military jacket I was wearing.  It dawned on me I had no other clothes. Visiting Piños Altos in a Yankee uniform was not bright.   I put the gaddayup to the gelding and soon we were near our campsite from the previous evening.

I tied the gelding near where we had buried the killer.  I began digging him out.  Once I had him out of the sand and gravel, I stripped his stinking old body and replaced his clothes with mine.  I kept my boots, skivvies and hat but was able to fit into his buckskins.  I immediately went to the creek and immersed myself, fully dressed, and began to scrub with the sand from the bottom of an eddy.  Most of the blood and grease washed away.  The ratty condition remained and some of the odor — odors from campfires past.  I pulled myself out of the water and let the sun dry me for a bit.  Then I built a fire and placed a lot of green wood on the flames.  The smoke became black as the flames licked at the green ponderosa pine limbs.  I moved around the fire so I could get full effect of the smoke. I alternated — dry wood for flames and green wood for smoke.  I kept moving so the buckskin didn’t get stiff.  I went into several coughing fits during this phase of my ‘cleansing’.

After an hour of this, I felt better about the odor.  I was relatively dry so I placed the wide belt of the killer around his long buckskin jerkin. The belt had the scabbard for the Bowie knife I’d taken from the killer during our fight.  Now it was properly sheathed. I took my matches, cash, and clasp knife and began looking for pockets.  In a breast pocket, I found six gold pieces — twenty dollar denominations.  I laughed out loud.  I had been in such a hurry to get him wrapped and into the hands of the authorities; no one had gone through his pockets.  Mai Li and I had buried one-hundred-twenty dollars; enough cash to provision our group for the entire winter.  I began to take stock.  I had the seventy dollars I’d found in killer’s possible sack, now the one-hundred-twenty, and my own measly forty-two dollars; two-hundred-thirty-two dollars for provisions. 

As a hunch, I looked in the two other pockets of the jerkin.  They were empty.  The buckskin leggings had no pockets or folds. I inspected the rawhide belt again before I circled my waist.  It appeared there was something sewn in the middle but I chose to ignore it.  Out in the wilderness I needed the belt more than extra cash. I knew I had enough.

The gelding had a mile eating fast walk.  He was strong, smooth and gentle.  Not puppy dog gentle but seasoned, trained, and intelligent.  According to his teeth, he was coming seven.  The bay color was like camouflage in the ponderosa forest.  His black hooves and legs indicated he’d been sired by a mustang. I knew he was a keeper.  I’d not looked closely at the mare and filly. But from what I had learned so far, the old killer had good taste in his gear and horseflesh.  Everything except the Sharps fifty.  It was an old fashioned buffalo gun, a single shot with a set trigger and heavy as hell.  For his profession it was perfect but for me with only one hand it was not practical.  Keeping it balanced with my stob was a difficult task.  I suspected I’d trade it off the next chance I got.  The 30-40 krag we’d packed all the way from the Lordsburg massacre was being used by Hin Lo.  He was a fair shot at close range.  My pistol and holster were in the possession of Dao.  I’d taught her how to shoot properly but soon learned that she was no better than me — both of us major wasters of ammunition.

My mind wandered to many subjects as that mile-eating gait took us closer to Piños Altos.  I thought about my relationship with Mai Li, her problems in the past, making a home in that hanging valley, collecting my back wages and mustering out bonus from the army and setting things right, and lastly — why didn’t I rebury the killer? I’d left him in my uniform, laying at the edge of the dry wash.  I should have put him back in his shallow grave and knocked some dirt over him.  I vowed to remedy that oversight on my return trip. 

It was full dark by the time I topped the ridge overlooking placer creek.  I could see the lights of some miner camps.  I skirted the small tent community in favor of reaching Piños Altos further up the opposite ridge. Years ago when I had been in the area with the military, looking for Mangus Colorado, I spent four days in the local hotel being treated for a broken arm by the military medic.  I’d liked the town; it was a nice community that served the miners and Indian reservations.     

The first place I needed to visit was the livery stable.  My horse needed care. It was late but not bad for a mining town.  Since the front door to the barn was open, one had to assume the hostler was up.  I dismounted and hollered hallo.  A voice from inner shack answered me.  “Be out in a shake,” he said with a southern accent.

I recognized his voice from somewhere in my past. It was distinctive. My mind dug way back in my history to make the connection to a face — a young confederate corporal starved and sick who needed urging to crawl out of the tunnel being dug at Rock Island prison.

An Indian woman stepped out of the inner hut with a lantern.  She pointed to the stalls.  “You take any,” she said in broken English.  “My man there soon.”

I nodded and walked the gelding to the first available stall.  I was removing the saddle when the hostler spoke.  “I suppose you’re here fer them saddle bags y’all left for safe keepin’,” said the hostler.

I set the saddle and blanket on the rack built into the stall divider and then turned to face the hostler.

I recognized him instantly.  “Fuzzy, you have me confused with some other jasper.  How are you?  It’s been a long time — a lifetime ago,” I stated.

“C’c’colnel Pyle?  Is that you Pepper?  I thought you was that Digger fella,” Fuzzy stated.

My gelding was munching on hay in the manger and the Sharps was leaning against the nearest post.  Gordon Coffee looked at the horse and then the buffalo rifle.  “You got his horse and rifle, Pepper.  I wouldn’t forget them details -- His clothes, too.”

We shook hands and I showed him my stob.  “He shot this off a few months ago and then tried to kill me three days ago.  I suppose I’m entitled — spoils of war, I guess. Tell me about yourself, Fuzzy.  I heard only you and Davey Blake made it out.  Everyone else from them forty-two prisoners who went through the tunnel was captured or killed.”

Fuzzy looked at my stob when I pulled off the rabbit skin sock.  He took a step back and a sadness came over his demeanor.  “Sorry, Colonel.  You is a helluva good man.  I don’t know why Digger was after you but I’m glad you survived. Old man Tanner was hell on wheels.  Shit, half the towns-folks had trouble with that mean tooth jasper! Especially my partner.”

I issued the bay a can of cracked corn and forked him more hay.  Fuzzy was rubbing him down.  We didn’t speak for a few moments and then ex-corporal Coffee made an offer. “Let’s go inside, Pepper.  I’ll have my woman fix you some grub and we can talk.”

 

 

 

 

Chapter 7

 

Fuzzy’s wife was Apache.  Her tribe was the Mescalero Apaches being settled on a reservation near Fort Stanton.  She fixed me a steak while Fuzzy and I drank a pot of coffee.

“Pepper, I’d offer sumptin stronger but I went dry.  My partner, Will, put the rule down.  ‘Stop drinkin or pull out’ he said.  I had the notion he meant it so I ain’t pulled a cork for nigh on to four years.”

I nodded and dug into the elk steak. We didn’t talk until I devoured everything but the bone and leaned back in my chair to finish another cup of coffee.

“I really needed that.  Thanks for cuttin’ it up for me,” I said.  “Eating one handed still ain’t natural for me.  Do you have a smitty in town?  I need a hook.”

“Will and me own a blacksmith shop, but our smitty left town to work for the mines in Silver City.”

“If I can borrow the shop, I’ll build it myself.  I ain’t goin’ to Silver City,” I proclaimed.

Fuzzy nodded and then explained how he and his partner came about.  Will Palmer was working as a clerk in the mercantile in Piños Altos.  He was Davey Blake’s first cousin.  It’s where they had come to hide out after escaping Rock Island Prison.

“We started jest workin’ odd jobs and now we own half the town. Davey died of snakebite up by Reserve while visitin’ his wife’s relatives.  Now its jest me ‘n Will.  I’ll take you to meet him in the mornin’”

“Can I bunk in one of the stalls?” I asked.

“Take the loft.  Outhouse is out back.  Breakfast is at first light.  Milly has hens, so we eat good — jest like proper southerners,” Fuzzy chuckled as he went into a back room and came out with a set of saddlebags.

“These are yourn” he said.  “Might as well have all the truck of that damn ole Digger.  Maybe tomorrow you can tell me yore plans. My helper will be here after breakfast and then we can go see Will.”

I took the saddlebags and draped them over my injured arm.  They were heavy — not gold heavy, but something substantial.  I carried them up to the loft and then went back for my bedding.  I was thinking of Mai Li a lot and decided to buy her some apache buckskin clothing like Milly was wearing.  Maybe some for Pink and Dao, too.  Hin Lo was another story.  I decided not to decide about him.

Finding an old friend in this town was fortuitous. I had not told Fuzzy about Mai Li or her troubles.  I just told of the massacre and the Chinese folks that helped me out.  I told him very little; taking responsibility for the killer, Digger who must have had a grudge against me. 

It was dark in the loft of that barn.  I decided to check out the contents of the saddlebags in the morning.

Clucking chickens, roosters crowing, and the slam of the outhouse door brought me from a deep sleep.  I had slept warm because of the straw pile I chose plus the buckskin clothing was a lot more practical than the Army uniform. The military boots were uncomfortable with the buckskins.  I decided to buy myself some new moccasins — apache style and maybe some new buckskins.

After visiting the outhouse, I sat near the upper window and added several items to my list.  The saddle bags were on my lap.   Enough light filtered through the window to allow for a preliminary inspection of the contents; extra horseshoes, horseshoe nails, a small hammer, frog cutter and hoof pick — useful ferrier supplies for a traveling man. There was liniment, extra cartridges for the big fifty and some .45 long colt cartridges.  I puzzled over them for a moment and then opened the other side of the saddle bags. On top was a derringer; obviously .45 long colt.   Below that was a Colt revolver, also .45 caliber.  I loaded the derringer and placed it in a pocket of the buckskin shirt — down low where I could reach it if necessary. I checked the loads in the Colt and then shoved it under the belt; for a cross draw.  

The remaining items in the saddle bag were a puzzler; a crucible, a gold/silver scale and four molds.  The molds were for unmarked coins.  I puzzled over them for a few minutes and then began putting everything away.  Fuzzy hollered as I was coming down the ladder.

Breakfast was a short affair because Fuzzy was anxious to get me to the mercantile before it opened.  Evidently he had sent his helper to the store to explain my presence and early visit before opening hours. 

Will was expecting us and had coffee ready on the pot belly stove.  Their store seemed to contain a little of everything; like most trading posts. Items on shelves behind the counter were the most expensive — the guns. 

Once the introductions were made and the story of how Fuzzy and I spent time in Rock Island, Fuzzy suggest I tell Will about the Lordsburg massacre. 

We spent the better part of an hour swapping stories and retelling history.  Finally Will came to the point.  “What are your plans, Pepper?  Are you staying in the area?”

“I’d like to file a homestead on that upper valley where I’m living.  Maybe turn it into a horse ranch,” I speculated.

Will and Fuzzy shared a look and then turned back to me.  “You can file a mining claim on it today, right here in this store.  A clerk will be here in an hour — you need to go to Silver City to file the homestead.  Cattle would be more rewarding for you, Pepper.  Horses are cheap because of all the Indians in the region,” Will advised.

I considered his recommendation.  He seemed to be a slick businessman; much more savvy than his partner, Fuzzy Coffee.

The little man inside me wondered why Fuzzy and his partner Will kept wondering about my plans. Perhaps it was just their way of being friendly. I dismissed the thoughts.

“I noticed you didn’t mention mining,” I said with a grin.

Will and Fuzzy laughed.  Minin’ is kaput ‘round here, Pepper.  Just a few lode claims still bein’ worked over by tent city,” Fuzzy explained.

“Not much is shipped out of this region.  Silver and copper is being mined down near Silver City.  I hear rumors that silver ain’t gonna be much longer.  Copper, however, is going strong,” Will added.

Since Will was standing behind the counter, whenever I looked at him I couldn’t help but notice a Henry repeating rifle hanging on the wall above his head.  I imagined in my mind how to hold the weapon and work the lever.  I suddenly realized how valuable the ‘big fifty’ was to me in my one-hand condition.  I knew I could handle it somewhat expertly once I had a hook on my wrist.  The range of the Sharps would be really advantageous for us during the winter. 

“You’ve given me a lot of things to think about.  I’ll act on the mining claim today. I need to research where to get cattle, but I need to provision for the winter.  Tell me again about horses.  I need a couple head,” I queried.

“We have a corral full out behind the stable.  Take your pick for twenty dollars a head,” Fuzzy offered.

“Right now I have limited funds.  Perhaps we can discuss the cattle idea next year.  Here’s my provision list.  If I’ve money left over, I’ll look for a horse.  Right now I need to borrow your tools to make hook for this stob!”

Will looked at me and smiled.  “I can get some cattle.  You put them out to pasture and we’ll split fifty-fifty. Take whatever horses you need.  Pay us next year.  Not many takers now days and we’ll just have to feed them come winter,” Will offered.”

“Thanks, I may do that.  Take me to your blacksmith shop, Fuzzy,” I said.

“Pepper, I noticed you’re packing a Sharps ‘big fifty’.  Not many around these days.  My meat hunter needs something like that for this fall and winter.  Would you consider a trade?” Will asked.

“I got the same problem as your meat hunter.  I need a big bore to knock down the elk — our winter meat,” I stated.  “I’ll think on it while I’m hammerin’ out my hook.”

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 8

 

 

Making a hook for my stob was easy.  I found a hay hook hanging on the wall and once the forge got hot, I was able to form a new base with a three position ridge for adjusting the angle.  Fuzzy ran the forge bellows at first and then later he sent his young helper down to keep the coals orange hot. 

This was the first time operating one-handed.  I knew my way around blacksmithing; my father had been a smitty.  When captured and jailed as a POW in Rock Island, somehow the Yanks learned my family background and worked me like a rented mule on short rations in their shop. I made a lot of shackles. I had been worked hard but at least I had been warm and was able to sneak an occasional tool to my men digging the escape tunnel.

I decided to make a fork hook, too.  It would make feeding myself a lot easier.  Elk and mountain goat steaks were on my winter menu.  I filed the three tines sharp and then heat treated both apparatuses.  I was tempering the steel when an older short man came bursting into the shop.  “Smithy, I have an emergency.  Can you help me right now?”

I looked at the portly man and guessed him for what he was — a drummer. “I’m not the blacksmith.  I just borrowed the tools to make a hook for my bum wing,” I explained as I held up my stob.

The old gentleman looked at the apparatuses I’d just taken out of the tempering sandbox.  He looked at me with genuine compassion.  “Them two units has to have a hardwood base and a set of straps before you can use them.  If you can get my wagon horse shod, I’ll whittle them bases and build the straps for you. I have everything I need in my wagon.”

“Show me your horse,” I requested.  Then I looked at Fuzzy’s helper.  “Can you stay for awhile?”

The kid nodded as the old man led a big Percheron mare into the shop.  Soon, a young stud colt came dashing in — missing his mama. He had some size but still wanted to nurse.  “How old is your horse colt?” I asked. 

“Six months… way too old to be suckin’ the tit, but I move all the time so I ain't got no way to wean the little bastard.”

I lifted all the legs on the mare.  She was seasoned and didn’t try to jerk around or crush me. I began pulling the three remaining shoes and was able to trim her feet.  Actually my stob was doing pretty good.  I sized her feet and began building her shoes.  I glanced up several times and noticed the old gentleman working diligently on the wooden bases.  “Now that the sand is cooled, could you make an impression with your stob?  I want to get these bases hollowed to fit you perfectly.” 

I took the time to make the impressions and then motioned my helper to assist me in nailing the shoes on the mare.

The drummer handed me a wide leather strap.  “Put this around your wrist to protect it.  That’s saddle leather.”

He was correct.  The protection enabled me to cut and clinch the nails without help.  We finished about the same time.  He handed me the hook and the three tine fork.  I tried them on and was amazed at my immediate increase in dexterity.  I decided to experiment and selected a piece of steel used for making wagon rims.  I knew it contained high carbon; perfect for making a knife.  My helper, who I learned was named Jeff, seemed anxious to learn so I began explaining what I was attempting.

The drummer watched for moment and then asked what he owed me.

“How much will you take for that horse colt,” I asked as a response.

The drummer looked at me like I was crazy. 

“I never considered sellin’.  I just assumed no one would want the little pecker head.  He ain’t purebred Percheron.”

“What breed is his daddy?’ I asked.

“I dunno fer sure.  I think she was with some wild stallion up near Fort Laramie. 

I had suspected that was the case because the colt was dunn colored and had a black line down his back.  His hooves and legs were also black.  He showed mustang but was much larger because of his Percheron momma.

I continued forging the knife.  It wasn’t large but it would be a good carver because the steel I had chosen would harden easily and would hold an edge.  I was still waiting for an answer from the drummer when Fuzzy arrived.  It appeared the intrusion bothered the drummer.  “Jest give me that knife you made and I’ll let you have that peckerhead,” he announced in a whisper. “We’ll call it square.”

I handed him the knife and we shook hands.  The drummer walked out, so I ambled toward Fuzzy and held up the hook.  In my other hand I held the three tine fork.  “Now you don’t have to cut my meat like a baby!

Fuzzy was about to speak when the drummer came back into the shop with a halter.  He haltered the horse colt and tied him to one of the anvils.  Then he led the Percheron mare out of the building. The colt went crazy — kicking, jumping, sulling back on the stout rope and finally squealing like a pig being slaughtered.

“What the hell?” Fuzzy exclaimed.

I walked to the stud colt and hooked my hook into his halter.  I pulled his face down so we could look each other in the eye. “Settle down you big baby,” I said in a stern tone while I rubbed his withers with my right hand. He flared his nostrils two times like a tough guy and then let out a sigh. 

“Can I put this unweaned stud in your horse pen for a day?  I’ll see if I have any cash left after Will fills my order. I might buy a horse from you.  Also put a roll of that wagon tire steel on my bill,” I stated.

“Jeffry, take dis colt down to di pens and put him in the stud corral.   Me ‘n Pepper are going to lunch and try out that arm fork,” he said with a chuckle.

“I have one last task in your shop.  Give me a hand with the bellows,” I requested as Jeff led the horse colt out of the shop.

I walked to the corner of the building where I’d left the big fifty. I brought it back and leaned it against the anvil.   I cut several pieces of the wagon tire stock and began heating two and them.  The others I placed in my possible pouch. I pulled one piece out of the forge and began wrapping it around the barrel of the Sharps.  I fashioned a strap hanger complete with slots so I could adjust the sling.  I heated it again so it would expand, tapped it gently in place, and then doused it with water. It didn’t budge.  I made a second fastener for the stock to attach later. Once it was cool, I placed it in my pocket, picked up the fork attachment, took off the hook, and strapped on the tines.  I placed the hook over my belt, picked up the Sharps and motioned toward the door. “Lock up Fuzzy, it’s time to fork my steak!” I said with a chuckle.

I wasn’t surprised Will had joined us for lunch.  The cafe belonged to their company but I also knew they had been discussing me and my plans while I was doing my blacksmithing.  No one had ever been so concerned with my future plan as these two new friends. Well, maybe Mai Li.

“Let me repeat this so I totally understand,” Will stated.  “You made the hook you have in your belt, that fork you have jammed into the steak, You shod a workhorse, forged a knife, made a sling bracket for your rifle all before lunch?  I believe I need to rethink the offer I was about to make to you.”

I nodded, never looking up from my meal.  The tines were fantastic, but the look on both their faces when I put those devil tines in my mouth was priceless.

“If you go see the Apache women behind the church, they will take your measurements and have your buckskins and mocs ready by morning.  The squaw clothes are ready now,” Will advised. “They just delivered them to our store.”

“Thanks, I’ll go past there straight away.  I’m anxious to get out of these ragged clothes. What’s my bill? Including this meal, lodging, and found for my horse?  I’d like to pull out in the morning.”

“Zero if you come back and be our blacksmith.  We’ll pay you sixty dollars a month and provide a furnished house,” Will offered.

“I’m a one-armed smithy.  I wouldn’t be able to do all the work to justify my salary.  Here’s what I’m willing to do, however.  I’ll come here every two weeks for two days.  You stack up the jobs, pay me twenty dollars for each day plus put me up in Fuzzy’s loft and three meals a day — right in this here cafe. Assign that young man Jeff to help. He’s eager to learn and I’m a pretty good teacher.”

Fuzzy and Will shared a look and each nodded.  “Deal!  Your bill is seventy-four-dollars including that steel.  There’s no charge for meals or hay loft accommodations,” Will stated.

“Swell.  I’ll go get measured and then choose one of your horses.  I’ll come to the store after that to settle up.  Is the clerk available so I can file my mining claim?”

Will nodded in the affirmative and we all stood to leave.  He pointed to my Sharps.  “I’ll trade you that Henry you were looking at and throw in two hundred rounds of ammo.”

“Look at me Will.  I would need both hands to steady that Henry — one to hold the forestock and another to lever the action.  I’ll stick to the long shooter.  We’ll need it for winter game.”

 

 

      

 

  

Chapter 9

 

 

I was in and out of the Apache clothing hut in nothing flat; the women measured me with sticks and rawhide strings. One woman spoke broken English.  I communicated with her and in kinda of a sign language I used with Dao and Pink.

I wandered down to the horse corrals and looked at my new stud.  Junior was still acting like a baby.  He was alone in the stallion corral.  I decided to let the other horses teach him some manners, so I opened the gate that separated them and let him mingle.  He was kicked, bitten and thoroughly mauled by a mare that would not stand for him trying to suck. Jeffery left the barn and came out to watch my selection.  I slowly moved through the herd.  All the horses were Indian ponies.  I found two young mares that had the confirmation I desired and maybe had some mustang breeding.  They were calm but leery of me. They ignored Junior when he approached.

“Them ain’t broke to ride, Pepper,” Jeff offered.

I nodded and hazed them into the stud corral.  Junior followed.  I closed the gate and walked toward the barn.  “Do me a favor and feed those three some grain along with hay this afternoon.”

When I arrived at the trading post, Will was waiting on a couple of customers.

I attended to my mining claim straightaway.  I filed on the section of the lost creek that included the Mimbres waterfall site.  I filed another near the headwaters of the same creek, above the cliff dwelling.  The clerk set out to prepare the papers and the sketches I’d provided.  I had some time so I decided to look more closely at Will’s inventory. I picked out a coil of hemp rope, a couple of horsehair halters, and a rawhide bozal. I was looking at the cloth and ribbons when Will approached.  “I selected some of everything I got in inventory for your squaws.  That way when you come back you’ll know their favorites.”

I took what I’d selected to the counter and asked for a small spade and a gold pan.  “I selected two young mares; a dun and a grulla; both unbroke.  I’ll give you thirty for the pair,” I offered.

Will screwed up his face and then stuck out his hand.  “Deal! I’ll tally your bill.” 

“Oh, sell me some galena lead — about three pounds,” I added as an afterthought.

Fuzzy came through the door just as Will returned with my bill and receipt.  I began counting out the exact change to settle up. 

“What’s with the bozal?  Training a bronc?” Fuzzy asked.

“In a way.  Junior will wear it upside down once I modify it to give him some manners.  He’ll lead like a veteran by the time he’s living in the tall grass of my homestead,” I speculated.

Since they were both present, I proposed another idea.

“Will — Fuzzy, years ago I invented a special folding knife.  I will make one and bring it down in two or four weeks.  If you like it, I expect you to buy them from me and be the reseller.  You won’t make much money, but eventually what we make will be converted to cattle.  I’ll pay one half of every cow our partnership buys, you arrange delivery but you only get a third when we sell.  Think it over and give me an answer when I return.”

“Sounds fair enough.  How many head?” Will asked.

“Let’s start with a bull and two cows.” I said as a joke.  Fuzzy laughed, Will didn’t.

Once I received my papers on the mining claim, Fuzzy and I took everything I’d purchased to a vacant stall in his barn.  I used the remaining daylight to make six light packs.  Each horse would be packing two sacks.  Junior would pack a bit more because I was winding rope strands around the coil of buggy wheel steel.  Once finished, it would resemble a horse collar; the weight would keep his head down. Tossing his head would be knocked out of him by the lead weight I suspended from the bozal. The pain-relief training had been proven successful in the cavalry — now it was being applied to my own stock.

I thought about Mai Li a lot while I was braiding lead lines and fashioning hobbles for the three acquired horses.  I was setting ideas into motion that would keep all five of us busy and perhaps prosperous.  Since Mai Li was not able to go outside until the Prendergast brothers were eliminated, I needed to get her involved in building our estate.

Jeff came into the barn as I was loading the last homemade panniers.  He looked at what I had accomplished with my one hand and complimented me.

 “Pepper, I seen your stob when you first come here.  All it had was some rabbit fur covering yore flesh.  Now, you do things like no one I ever seen.”

Nodding at his compliment, I took off my hook and attached the tines. I took out the Bowie knife I’d used on Killer and fastened it to the tines with twine.  “Let’s go see how this works by giving them horses a haircut.”

Since I was using rope to fasten the pannier sacks over the backs of the horses, I needed something to use as a cushion between their withers and the ropes.  I had fashioned three sets of breast collars and britchens out of rope, too.

Jeff and I trimmed manes and tails of all the horses in the corrals.  I stuffed the horsehair into six small flour sacks and tied them off.  They looked like pillows.  I tossed one up in the loft to use that night. By grooming the horses, the stock looked better and I had a dual purpose reason for harvesting the hair.

Fuzzy and Milly had invited me to take supper and breakfast with them.  I was washing up when Fuzzy arrived with a strange woman — she was Apache but nobody I had seen before.  She had a set of low cut moccasins in her hand.

“Sunrise, here, wants yore boots fer the nite.  She and her sis is makin’ them hitoppers fer ya.”

I shucked my boots and handed them to her.  She motioned to a bench by the wash basin.  I sat down and she removed my socks, washed my feet and slipped on the mocs.  They were lined with some kind of soft fur and were really comfortable.

Fuzzy’s woman, Milly, had spent most of the day in the kitchen preparing our supper plus some loaves of bread for me to take to our camp. It was a pleasant time with good food. No one had to help me feed myself.  My dexterity was improving by the minute.  I was almost two handed again.

  Fuzzy told many stories of the experiences he and Davey had encountered being on the run from Yankee soldiers in the northern and western states.  I chronicled my time as a galvanized Yankee and my subsequent re-enlistments.  Fuzzy also related the advantages of having a life partner like Milly.  I was certainly impressed. We had a mutual admiration for each other and the beginning of a long friendship. 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 10

 

Combine a circus with a rodeo and toss in a few crazy ideas is the way to describe the morning of my departure.  Fuzzy, Will, Jeffrey, Milly, the Apache women who brought my high-tops, and even the old Apache woman who’d delivered my buckskin clothes all were in attendance trying to help.  Junior was the scamp, but it was my fault.

It had taken an inordinate amount of time and patience to get the three unbroken horses loaded and tied three abreast; Junior in the middle with a mare on each side.  There were no surprises; they fought, bucked, reared, and even bit Jeffery when he wasn’t looking.  When my boots and high-tops were delivered I chose to tie them on the back of Junior without packing them into the panniers.  I chose to wear the low-tops because they were so danged comfortable. I had twine connecting each boot which in turn was connected to each hightop moc. Evidently the soles of the boots were stiff enough to gouge Junior when the two mares moved against him. 

Junior went to bucking — the mares followed but with less vigor.  The bozal and lead weight kept the colt in constant agitation. I finally took my Bowie and cut the rope that held the footwear in place.  I then took my hook and grabbed the colt by the bozal and pulled his head down to look him in the eye again.  He rolled his eyes and laid back his ears.  I twisted the bozal and rubbed his forehead.  I saw the light go on in his brain.  “You’re going to behave or be my meal tonight,” I threatened in a soothing tone.”

I knotted the twine and tossed the footwear over the gelding in front of the saddle — something I should have done from the beginning. 

I said my goodbyes and lined them out.  My progress was erratic.  I had to ride downhill toward Tent City which put slack in my lead ropes.  The trio in training balked, sulled, and tried to run the gelding over.  My gelding kicked Junior in the chops — he began minding his manners.

As I approached the outskirts of Tent City, I chose a route to avoid anyone’s camp or claim.  It was difficult with three abreast because of the narrowness of the trail through the heavy timber.  I had small difficulty on upward inclines but downward was troublesome for Junior; he was kicked twice more by my gelding, so he sulled when we dropped into a shallow creek-bed.  The water spooked him and he reared to avoid getting his hooves wet.  Both mares charged forward and Junior fell to one side with his antics; the result was comical until two men charged out of the timber with shovels and shouts.

I pulled up to let the horses settle down.  The bigger of the two miners raised his shovel in a threat to hit my gelding.

“Woah, pard!  What’s your problem?” I hollered.

“You messed up our claim,” the younger of the two replied.

Since the smaller and younger man was leaning on his shovel, I suspected I could reason with him.  The burly guy was still threatening my gelding with his assertive behavior.  “Put the shovel down and be reasonable,” I said in a calm voice.  “I’m just making a crossing and I have three green horses.  Sorry if I muddied your digs.”

The burly guy lowered his spade and took a step forward.  Behind me the horses were settling down.  Junior was still tossing his head being bonked by the lead weight.  “You owe us.  Pay up or I’ll smash your horse’s leg,” he threatened as he spat a stream of tobacco.

They were too confident.  I must have looked like a greenhorn.  I suspected there was another in the timber.  They were hiwaymen, not prospectors.

Judging from the geldings ears, I guessed I was boxed.  The shooter had to be in the trees – in front, slightly to my left, the younger was to my right, and the burly guy was left center, up close to my horse. 

“Well, shit,” I cursed.  If it’s just money to let me pass, I’ll pay. I got a squaw waitin’ to shuck my corn.  C’mere,” I said to the burly guy with a little tremor in my voice, like I was afraid.

I reached into my pocket to pretend I was reaching for coins and palmed the belly gun.  The burly guy lowered the spade and approached my left side.  I reached out with my hook and snagged his shirtfront.  I yanked him close and then drew the derringer.  A moment later, I had the hook behind his head and the pistol barrel in his left eye.  “Tell your guy in the woods to show himself!” I ordered the younger man.

Nothing happened, so I dug the hook in deeper.  The burly guy let out a blood curdling scream and the man in the trees stepped out with one hand raised, a cap and ball pistol in the other.  “Drop the pistol.  You, on my right, go stand beside your shooter!” I barked.

Both men obeyed the order.  The antique pistol was on the ground and the young guy stood beside the timber guy.  The burly guy was stock still.  I undallied the lead ropes and turned the three abreast loose.  Then I released the pressure with my hook.  Burly went to his knees and then rolled to his side. I dismounted and looked at Burly.  He was bleeding from the back of his head.

“Come here and attend to this dummy,” I yelled.

Both men walked down the rise and came to stand in front of me; looking at Burly.

While they were walking, I’d pocketed the derringer and had drawn the Colt.  I still had the Sharps on a sling across my back. Once the would-be hiwaymen squatted near the guy on the ground, I pulled back the hammer on the Colt and covered all three.  “This rifle slung over my back is accurate up to six-hundred yards.  That’s about to that hump in the trail back yonder.  Pick up this trash and get to that spot or I’ll kill all three of you right here!”

The woods guy and the younger got Burly to his feet.  He was really unstable, but they got moving down the trail.  They waded the shallow creek and I began rounding up the horses.  I discovered that the gelding ground tied.  That was certainly a bonus. I finally unscrambled the three green horses and tied them nose to tail; Junior in the lead.  Once remounted, I looked over my shoulder.  The three hiwaymen were on the knob.  I wanted to fire a round in their direction but knew it would scare the bejeebers out of the young horses. I picked up the two spades and the cap and ball pistol.  It seemed to work but it hadn’t been cared for. I put it in my possible sack – I would use it for decoration or trading stock. I tied the spades to the back of the dunn mare.

The pack horses got much calmer once we began pulling the grade to the spot where I planned to stop and rebury Digger.  I knew the rocks and upward grade would tire them to the point of exhaustion by the time we reached the crest of the ridge.

Mai Li filled my mind.  I had so much to tell her and so many plans to share, I felt giddy as we reached the place where we’d camped and she’s shared her story.  My wounds were so much better than when we shared our blankets for the first time and she’d declared her intentions.  I was anxious to show her my left arm dexterity.  I’m sure I blushed at the thought.

When I reached the dry wash where I’d left the killer, I discovered nothing but scattered bones.  All the clothing was gone.  The wolves, buzzards or coyotes were likely culprits for eating the flesh and scattering the remains, but critters were not guilty of taking the Army Uniform.  I looked for tracks but saw only prints of animals and birds.  I assumed Indians had taken the clothes.

I decided to continue to the waterfall area — the legal mining claim I had on the Mimbres dwelling. I took a mental inventory of what I was bringing back for all five of us and what I planned to leave at the waterfall.  I wondered if Mai Li had followed through and returned to our secret place.  A large part of me wanted to see her at the waterfall.  The sensible part of me suspected that she’d lost the notion.  

 

  

 

Chapter 11

 

Not only was Junior foot-sore from walking the rocky trail, he was dog tired from the short journey.  The extra weight around his neck that he was carrying may have attributed to his weary gait, but I suspected it was all the energy he’d spent being a baby and a dickhead. Junior no longer tossed his head.  The bozal and lead weight had taught him a lesson. He no longer kicked at the mare behind nor did he bite the gelding, leading him.  In two or three pack trips, he would be well trained.

I rode past the waterfall to the small meadow above.  I just tied Junior and the mares. I stripped off the bridle of the gelding and let him graze while I walked back down the trail.  I was carrying one of the three spades I now owned.  One I had purchased and two acquired as spoils of war from the hiwaymen.  I was still packing the big fifty across my back, and of course was armed with my derringer, the Colt, and the Bowie.  I chuckled to myself.  There had been a time in my Galvanized Yankee life I wasn’t allowed anything but the Army issue 30-40 krag; and then only during eminent danger.

As I approached the steps, I noted small pebbles on each one.  I suspected Mai Li was giving me a sign.

Once behind the waterfall I tapped the boulder with my hook.  I knew she was listening for my boot steps, but I was in mocs.  The stealth they afforded was a bonus to their comfort. 

“Mai Li, its Pepper.  Are you here?”

I heard her before I saw her.  Her squeal of delight echoed off the outer cave.  Then I saw the light — a torch with enough candlepower to light both rooms.  Mai Li ran to me dropped the torch into the fire pit and jumped to encircle my neck with her arms.  We kissed, and it was not clumsy like the first time.

I finally lowered her to the ground and took her hand as she led me to the back room.  Suddenly she stopped and ran back to get the torch.  The light illuminated the smaller cave.  The room was spotless.  The bed frames had been repaired with mud and rocks.  Pine boughs had been placed on each bed frame but several deer hides were only on one.  I looked closer.  The bed had been expanded — to sleep double.  Mai Li looked at me in my ragged but clean buckskins.  “You took the clothes of the killer.  I knew it — Hin Lo was wrong.”

I didn’t understand.  “Explain, please,” I muttered as she lit a smaller torch that hung on the wall near the entry of the smaller cave.  She extinguished the large torch by covering it with a small hide.  The dimmer light cast shadows in our bedroom.

“An Indian youth came to our upper camp looking for work and he was wearing your army clothes.  Hin Lo was sure you had been killed.  I believed the Indian.  He said he found the clothes.  When I asked him where, he described where we camped.”

“So what happened to the Indian?” I asked.

“Hin Lo has him tied up in the granary.  Pink is guarding him with your pistol.”

I laughed at her description of the  Indian youth being held by Pink who was such a sweet young woman.  “You say he came looking for work?” 

  “Enough about the Apache boy.  You are going to seduce me, my dear Pepper,” she said as she approached and began removing my wide belt.  “I agree,” I said as I began lifting her dress.  “I’m starved for you!”

 

****

 

It took us three trips to the horses in the upper pasture to unload all I’d purchased and carry it back to the Mimbres cave.  Mai Li was astounded at all the extra horses and supplies.  We sat in the outer cavern and sorted items for the upper camp or our private place.  I was surprised at what Mai Li wanted for our secret home.  I’d only decided the gold or silver coin tools to be relegated to the waterfall hideout. I was also going to leave the spade and gold pan. But Mai Li chose a lot of staples for emergency supplies; also candles.

Before the last trip to the Mimbres home-site, we hobbled all four horses and turned them loose to graze.  I was hoping we didn’t have another circus performance in the morning.  It took two tries but I finally pitched a rope over a high branch in order to haul the saddle and the roll of buggy wheel steel into the top of a tree.  I placed stone markers around the section I’d described in the claim drawing. Our lower claim was now legal.  I had every intention of building a sluice box and installing it below the waterfall; mostly for show because if there was color in this stream, someone would have already claimed it.

Mai Li was roasting a haunch of venison that she’d brought from our upper camp.  Han Li had shot three deer just before Mai Li had arrived.  Most had been jerked for winter food.  The haunch that was over our fire had been partially smoked to preserve it.  I switched my hook for the fork apparatus and Mai Li went into a fit of laughter watching me put it on. Her laugh was infectious and soon we both had tears running down our noses. In my thirty-four years, I couldn’t remember ever being this happy.

“What are your plans, Pepper?  I see things you bought or traded for that makes no sense to me but I’m sure you have a reason,” Mia Li asked.

“Get ready for a long story, my dear.  I was in college when the war broke out.  All of my classmates joined to fight the Yanks. I wasn’t anxious to serve but I felt a duty to help my home state of Texas.  I finished my first year and then dropped out and joined the Texas Rangers.  I was with them less than a year when the command I was under had been pulled back from fighting Comanches on the western frontier, and assigned to guarding shipments of supplies for the army in East Texas. Since I was involved in the war effort anyway, I spoke with a few high ranking officers and was promised an officer ranking if I enlisted.  I’d only had one year of college but it qualified me for the rank of Lieutenant.  After a few skirmishes with the Yanks, I was promoted to Captain.  By age twenty-two, I was a Colonel. By age twenty-three I was captured and sent to the Rock Island Yankee prison camp in Illinois.  At the time of my confinement, I was the highest ranking officer in that prison.  I developed a plan for an escape tunnel.  I organized the men, provided digging implements and when it was finally used, created a diversion so some of the prisoners could escape. The warden eventually figured out my involvement and gave me the choice to be a galvanized Yankee or face a firing squad.”

“Yes, that is a very interesting story, Pepper but you didn’t answer my question. “What are your plans?”

“I’m getting to that.  Forty-two men escaped through that tunnel.  Only two got plumb away.  Only one is alive today and he lives in Piños Altos. I spent two days with him.  He has an Apache wife — they are a team.  He has a partner in the business — I’m not sure about him, but I admire what Fuzzy and his wife, Milly has created.  She’s his true partner and I believe I have a woman who is just as good if not better. We, my love, are going build an estate in which to be proud.  We have the resources already — A chunk of land, perfect for development, people we can trust; Hin Lo, Dao, Pink, Fuzzy in town, and maybe this Indian kid.  Employees, partners, collaborators — all these are precious resources.  I intend for us to help them help us.”

Mai Li was silent for a moment, digesting what her new life partner was explaining.  “I’m not sure I totally understand.  Give me an example.”

I didn’t hesitate. I took one of the flour sacks filled with horsehair and handed it to her.  “Look inside.”

Mai Li untied the bag and pulled out some of the horsehair.

“What do you see?”

“I see horsehair stuffing for a pillow.  I think rabbit skin or feathers would be better,” she surmised.

I took the sack from her and held a handful of the hair.  “I see Pink or Dao using this hair to braid halters, cinches, bridles, and reins. Whoever crafts something we can sell will receive a small commission. Helping us help them.  Same with Hin Lo with some other handcraft products or excess game.  Fuzzy and Will own the trading post — it serves this entire area; even Tent City and part of the reservation.  I’m going to make a special knife to sell.  That’s why I bought the carriage wheel steel.  Every dollar we make can go into livestock.”

I went on to explain my part time job as a smithy and my arrangement with Will about the cattle.  I intend to run two brands on this place; one with my minor partners and then our own brand.  I held up my fork with the tines straight up and then turned my wrist down.  “Devil Tine or Turkey track -- Which do you like?”

Mai Li began laughing again. 

 

 

 

Chapter 12

 

Junior no longer needed the bozal.  He was fitted with just his halter and a lead rope.  I put him in the second position.  The grulla mare seemed to have the most sense, so I didn’t attach her to a lead rope.  She wore a horsehair halter but was free to just follow along.

I noticed Mai Li inspect all the tack before we started the last leg of our journey. She would build the first hair halter — I’d bet on it.

After we started up the trail, Mai Li was full of questions.  Her concern was about the horse ranch side of our future, not raising the cattle. 

“If horses are cheap, why do you want to raise them?”  She asked from behind as we rode double. “That would be labor and investment without any profit?” 

“Horses are cheap now because there are so many of them.  They raise hundreds on the reservation out by Reserve.  Cattle are just the opposite.  Silver City is starved for beef.  Most miners don’t use horses.  If they buy one, it’s not the ‘Indian pony’ style.” Ranchers and cowboys want some horses with certain traits.  People who drive buggies and spring wagons want some size and strength. The army has high standards – the Indian ponies won’t meet those requirements.  We’re going to have a breed of horse like none other. Our half-draft, back there will sire some magnificent horses over the years.  The secret is eliminating the inbreeding and choosing the correct mares.  Horses are our long term future, Mai Li.  Cattle will be for the immediate future.”

When we reached the headwaters of hidden creek, I staked the claim as I had shown it on the sketch.  Now we had two legal mining claims. Baby steps to getting title to our ranch. The meadows from the lower vista seemed endless. I was really glad to be back.  The love nest was special, but this hanging valley defined magnificent.

Hin, Dao, and Pink were near the dead-falls when we rode up. A pile of branches suggested they were laying in firewood. There was an ax in one of Junior’s panniers.  I knew life would be much easier now that we had returned with supplies and basics.  I was determined to turn our hide-out into a home. 

Our arrival was a festive affair.  It seemed that the others sensed there was a change in our relationship.  Once I entered the cliff dwelling I could see some recent construction.  I also met their prisoner — a young Apache man wearing my military blouse.  I motioned to Hin Lo.  “Turn him loose… he’s not guilty of killing me!” Mai Li didn’t need to translate.  I handed my Bowie to Hin and he cut the rawhide bonds off the grateful young man.  “Thank you!” he said in English.

“What is your name and why did you come here?  How do you know this place?”

The young man rubbed his wrists to regain circulation.  He looked me straight in the eye and didn’t blink.  I could see some intelligence and courage in the youth.  “Brian Roscoe is my name.  I am eighteen.  My father is the Methodist minister to the reservation, my mother is Mescalero.  I am a half-breed who speaks three languages; Mescalero, English, and Spanish.”

I liked the fire this kid had in him.  Proud but rebellious.

Mai Li nodded her concurrence as she and Dao went about unloading the panniers.

“You didn’t answer the last part of my question.”

“I belong to a society who worships the gods of the ancients.  We know of all of the ancient sites,” Brian said.  “I was at this place of the ancient once before when I was very young. The time of the treaty signing.”

I did some mental math.  “You were six years of age.  I was here, too — in the Army.”

The young man grinned and blushed as he looked at the soldier blouse he was wearing.  He noticed my notice.  “I was cold — I have the jacket, too. The animals had started on the body.  I just took the soldier clothes.”

I shrugged my shoulders and turned toward the opening to outside.  “Where is the jacket, now?”  I asked in passing.

“I left it in the ancient dwelling on the other side of the underground river.”

I wasn’t aware of the place he’d described.  “Will you show me this place?” I asked.

He nodded in the affirmative.

As I stepped into the sunshine, the first thing I noticed was the mare and foal inherited from Digger who I’d left behind to graze, had come to visit the gelding I named Bay. They had obviously buddied with my gelding that had yet to be unsaddled. 

Mai Li was attempting to remove the rope wrapped coil of steel around Junior’s neck.  As usual, the baby half-draft was being difficult.  Brian, who had followed me outside, went to assist.  He calmed the stud in short order, removed the collar, and grabbed a handful of weeds and grass and rubbed the horse colt down; even under his belly which should have gotten him kicked.  I observed as he continued to work with the two green mares and then he began grooming the filly and her momma.

I unsaddled the gelding, gave him his customary rubdown and let him have a good roll.  I turned back to my inner group and pointed to the kid. “Any objection if I hire this boy?”

Mai Li translated and everyone’s face brightened - Hin Lo grinned.

“You are a good man, Pepper Pyle,” she stated as she patted my knee.

“We are like a family here in this valley. If everyone pitches in, we can all have a good life,” I advised.

Mai Li again translated as I turned to return to the cliff dwelling.  We needed to revise the structure a bit to allow for storage of our winter supplies.  I made some suggestions to the women and then picked up my big fifty, slung it over my shoulder, grabbed the old .30-.40 Krag rifle, and walked outside.  I motioned to Hin Lo and Brian to join me.

“Brian is going to show us a new area in this hanging valley.  We may as well hunt while we learn our territory,” I suggested as I handed the military rifle to Hin Lo. I also gave him a handful of cartridges.

“Brian, lead us to where you’ve been staying here in the valley.”

I heard something behind me as we set off across the meadow.  Junior was following us.  I chuckled as the knothead passed Hin Lo and me and tagged along behind Brian. 

“Brian, how would you like to be our wrangler?  No pay to begin with, just food and board, but when we get a ranch going you can receive pay and maybe bonuses,” I asked politely.

Brian turned and looked at me.  “I came here for a job.  Yes I will work that way.”

Hin looked at me.  “What me?” he asked as he raised the rifle over his head.

“Hunter and herdsman,” I replied.

Hin grinned and waved the rifle again.  He understood hunter.  I’d have Mai Li explain the herdsman part.

“Mister Pepper, what do you want me to do first?” Brian asked.

“Get settled in with one of the cliff houses.  We chose the one on ground level initially.  Pick any other — fix it up, and then start breaking those mares to ride.  I want all the horses on this place to be able to ride, drive, and pack.  Plus teach everyone here how to ride.”

“Even this half draft?”

‘Yes, especially, Junior.  You can wait for him to mature a bit.  He’s only six months.  In between breaking and training, you can be my helper, hunt with Hin Lo, and just make yourself useful.”

Our walk through the woods produced meat for the table and meat for preservation.  Two mule deer were dressed and hanging in a short ponderosa pine to be picked up on our way back. 

Junior bolted into a full run when the first shot was fired.  I assumed he would go back to our small horse herd — that’s the direction he had headed.  I saw several wild turkeys running through the timber.  “Looks like I need to trade for a shotgun,” I said to no one in general.

Brian stopped and turned back to me.  “I can trap most any bird you want.  The less shooting here -- in this valley, the better.  The ancients are at rest here.”

I respected his reverence to the ancients.  As long as we were all fed and some provisions were put aside for the winter, I was not concerned how the results were achieved. 

We broke through the timber into a natural clearing around four hundred acres in size, rectangular shaped.  The meadow was dotted by ponderosa pines twice as big as the others in the area.  Grass was twice as tall as the other meadows, suggesting natural sub irrigation.  The clearing sloped away from the timber to a small lake in the bottom left hand corner.  It was magnificent.  My mind raced to all the benefits of having this sub irrigated pasture for growing winter feed; then to how to harvest and store the feed.

Brian pointed to the small grove of cottonwood trees near the pond.  “That’s another ancient home site — over that ridge.”

 

 

       

 

 

Chapter 13

 

My mind was planning all the while inspecting the roof portion of the old Anazasi cliff dwelling.  The meadow stopped at a small seep that filled the pond.  A hundred yards past the cottonwoods was a cliff — built into the cliff was a small cliff dwelling. It had a short plateau at the bottom level that appeared to be a ledge of an extremely sheer cliff which dropped to a river below.  Across the river ravine was the foothills of a snow capped mountain range. The Anazasi dwelling was almost intact.  Unlike the ruins back at the camp by the beaver pond, this relic was pristine. I took a seat on some rocks at the edge of the pond.  They were different — like the ones in the fire pit at the waterfall Mimbres love nest.  I picked up a small stone about the size of a goose egg.  It was heavy — almost gold or lead heavy.  I sat there inspecting the stone when Hin Lo approached. He pointed to the sky.  Then he pointed to each stone like the one in my hand.  His gestures confirmed what I had suspected; these were meteorites. Some of the stones were as large as a milk bucket.  I counted a total of sixty.  I knew there were probably more under the soil.  Perhaps this entire hanging basin had been created by a meteor hitting the earth.  Imagining the uses for the stones enforced what I had been considering.  Maybe we should move our camp to these ruins — not so ruined.  The meteorite stones would make an excellent forge and perhaps even an anvil.

I looked at the tree line above the sub-irrigated meadow.  I would be easy to fence out the stock and preserve our hay.  Storage to keep it dry was another problem that could be solved later.

I envisioned the enormous effort in moving, but then considered the benefits.  I had the help of friends and now the horses.  We had very little money but I had a part time job that could fulfill our needs over time.  We were also set for winter as long as the wild game held out.

I decided to look at the ruins again and to explore to the base of the units.  I motioned Brian and Han Li over to discuss further exploration.  I guessed there was probably a set of stairs from the top to the bottom of the dwelling.  The ancients would have had a way to negotiate the various levels if they were under siege.  We scouted the top floor, where Brian had slept several nights and stored the military jacket. Hin Lo discovered a crawl space to the dwelling next door.  Brian went through and announced he’d found a set of steps. 

It took us an hour to negotiate the labyrinth of stealthy connections to the rooms and floors of the ruins.

 I was standing near the left side of the lower floor, scanning the cliff to the river below when I heard water running; just a few drips.  I explored and found water coming from under several rocks inside the building.  I crawled outside, careful not to fall over the rock shelf, and saw what I’d expected.  The ancients had built a quasi-aqueduct into the cliff dwelling.  I was impressed. The Ancients had my vote.  No wonder they had a cult following among the Mescalero.

I planned to discuss the new plan with Mai Li since we were life partners, but, it was a done deal in my mind.  This would be a very practical ranch headquarters.  She would have to give me a very strong reason for not shifting to the Meteorite Ruins.

I went back to the spring that fed the pond. It looked adequate for our needs even though it was summer. I drew a sketch in the dirt when I decided to build a forge out of the meteorite stones.  I arranged the outer shell size and then had my guys begin bringing me the stones.  It was going to be double walled with the air draft hole in the side — lower to the bottom, and the fire pit would be large enough for me to make a scythe or two.  Hin Lo grasped the concept and kept giggling aloud as we stacked and fitted the stones. Soon, it was waist high and large enough to accommodate anything we would need to create. 

We walked to the pond and washed up before heading back to our camp.  I visualized our future fence, the timber we could cut to build structures, and I visualized the ranch full of cattle and horses. This was a defining day for the future of everyone in our multi-cultural family.

Junior was grazing near the tree which held the deer carcasses.  Brian approached him and brought him closer to the dead meat. The colt shied at first.  Brian placed his hand in the carcass cavity and then rubbed it on Junior’s nose.  Hin Lo and I watched patiently as the young man loaded one carcass and then the other.  They were balanced on the colts back with no fastening and the colt was without a halter.  Brian stood for a moment and then walked toward the camp.  Junior followed like a puppy.

“Young mister Roscoe is an animal magician,” I whispered to Hin Lo.  I’m not sure he understood, but he nodded in agreement.

I was anxious to explain my thoughts to Mai Li so we detached ourselves from the others and walked to the beaver pond. 

“I don’t see where it would cause much of a problem.  All we have to really rebuild are the drying racks for making jerky,” Mai Li stated.  “Can you take me there later so I can see?  I want to be alone with you.” She added.

I nodded affirmative. “We’ll ride over after supper with our bedrolls.”

Brian spent several hours before our evening meal erecting and describing the various methods of trapping birds in our high valley.  He built three cage-like structures out of willow branches and installed them over holes he had previously dug with the spade. Each hole was about eighteen inched deep with a ramp on one end.  His cages were a foot high and were anchored by driving forked stakes into the ground.  He then wove brush and limbs into the cage to camouflage it and darken the interior.  Once securely fastened to the ground, he placed seeds from grasses he’d gathered into the bottom of the hole and made a trail of the bait leading to the trap.  Brian explained that turkeys or quail would peck their way down the open ramp but once in the bottom of the hole they would raise their heads and not be able to find their way out; as the entry ramp was too low.  I could taste the flavors of roasting turkey.  Brian also suggested that he could build some fish traps in the river below the ancient ruins we had just visited and I intended to make our new headquarters. I wasn’t idle during his teachings, I had finalized the foot bellows I was making out of deer hide just before supper.  I knew the meteorites could handle any heat I could create. My preference would have been coal but would have to settle for charcoal.  I looked at the timber in our hanging valley; all softwoods.  Not great for making charcoal but it would have to suffice. I knew I needed to make another set of bellows – a set for a helper to blow enough oxygen into the firebox in order to forge weld.  For just bending and shaping, the single foot bellows I had constructed would work just fine.

 

****

 

 

It took three tries before the forge I built out of the meteorites became one hundred percent serviceable.  Being without an anvil was my greatest handicap. I was able to use a flat topped meteorite to shape knife blades.  We made charcoal out of fallen limbs of ponderosa pine for fuel since we had no access to coal.  I hoped to remedy that in weeks to come.  I was able to finish two sets of blades, the component parts, and the handles.  I spent each evening filing, grinding, and assembling the locking folders.  Since the knife and the sheath were an integral system, I made one sheath as a pattern — Brian made two more which were professional quality.  Then Mai Li made one which was a work of art.  Teamwork had created over three dozen articles for sale in Piños Altos.  I was scheduled to make the trip in the following morning.

Brian was leaving on a mission for the ranch.  He would ride part way with me and then we’d split at Digger’s grave and he would ride on to the reservation to do some horse-trading. I’d issued him thirty dollars.  I told him I would give him a dollar bonus for every young mare equal to or better than the grulla he was riding.

 The grulla was the horse I had chosen for Mai Li to use. I expected the young mare would be perfect for my bride-to-be once it had been ridden to the reservation at Reserve and back.  Dao was already riding the buckskin mare I’d purchased.  Hin Lo rode the pack mare I’d inherited from Digger.  The filly had been weaned when we moved the camp to our new headquarters.  It only took three days to accomplish the separation.

Mai Li and I had staked two more claims which I intended to file on this trip.  After putting in my two days as a smitty, I was planning to travel to Silver City to file the homestead papers which would take me away from the ranch for almost a week.

 The move to our new headquarters went quickly and smoothly.  Mai Li and I took one of the top rooms in the Anazasi ruins and had settled in as husband and wife.  Everyone deferred to her status as my life partner.

Brian had been instructed to do what was necessary to make up with his father, the reverend and encourage him to make the journey to our ranch sometime before our hay harvest.  We wanted to be legally married.

***** You have reached the end of the free read for PEPPER PYLE. If you wish to read the remainder, please send me an e-mail: bobhatting@gmail.com

 

Best regards,

Rob Hatting