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Authors: Peter Brandvold

High and Wild

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For D.,
wherever you may be

1

T
exas Ranger Rupert Glynn
brushed blood from his cheek and hissed in the darkness. “What do you propose we do now, Haskell, you barnacle-brained son of a bitch?”

The Ranger lay on his side amid strewn alley trash, breathing hard. A dead Mexican
rurale
lay bleeding across his legs, the hide-wrapped bone handle of a bowie knife protruding from the middle of the Mexican's back.

Pinkerton Agent William Barrett Travis “Bear” Haskell stepped out of the alley's dense shadows relieved by glittering starlight and planted his right rope-soled sandal against the dead
rurale
's back.

“Don't see no reason to go callin' me names, Rupe.” Haskell wrapped his big, pawlike right hand around the bowie's handle, which he'd molded to fit his thick fingers.

He gave a soft grunt as he pulled.

The knife made a sucking, crunching sound as the big, bearded agent, who resembled nothing so much as a bear, albeit one in Mexican peasant pajamas, pulled the knife out of the
rurale
's shattered spine.

Blood dribbled from the blade like oil. It shone in the starlight angling down from a clean-scoured northern Sonora sky.

“We haven't descended to the level of whores' orphans, now, have we?” the agent said, cleaning the knife's blade on the back of the
rurale
's dark blue, yellow-striped trousers, methodically removing the blood. “If you ain't careful, that's what Sonoma's gonna start thinkin' about us. That we're no more than green shavers with our necks in a hump!”

Haskell glanced at the beautiful young Yaqui woman, who often worked for the Pinkerton operative down here in Mexico as a spy of sorts and who now pressed her back against the
adobe
brick wall on the opposite side of the narrow alley they were in. Sonoma, who spoke and understood English perfectly, having been raised by Catholic missionaries in Arizona Territory, ignored the two men.

She stared out the alley mouth, toward the cobbled street of this remote Shadow Montaña village that was suddenly much busier this time of the night—nearly midnight—than Haskell had expected it would be.

He'd thought that locating the American president's kidnapped niece would be the relatively hard part and that stealing her away from the village late at night when the
rurales
were away and the
peones
were asleep would be the relatively easy part.

As Haskell's beautiful Yaqui partner pressed her back against the wall, sliding her slender, perfectly sculpted shoulders back as she clutched her sawed-off, Belgium-made shotgun with double Damascus steel barrels in both her fine-boned, brown hands, she thrust her full breasts forward against her doeskin blouse. The deep V cut down the front of the blouse complained against its rawhide stays, and Haskell thought that he and Ranger Glynn were going to have one hell of a beautiful, if fleeting, distraction.

“Schoolboys,” Sonoma rasped out, jerking an impatient look at both men, dark eyes sparking devilishly. “Yes, that's what I'm stuck with. Roughhousing
gringo
schoolboys. One on the ground, the other one staring at my tits and playing with the pretty knife he thinks is his cock!”

Haskell and the Ranger shared an ironic glance. Haskell shrugged.

“Quit sparking the girl,” Glynn admonished, grunting as he tried to roll out from under the fat, dead
rurale
, “and give me a hand here, Bear.”

Bear slid the knife into the sheath concealed under his left shoulder and kicked the
rurale
off Glynn's legs. He and the Ranger were much closer than they sometimes acted, having grown up together on neighboring West Texas ranches and then fighting in the War Between the States together. He took his old friend's hand and helped him up.

“You all right?” Haskell asked him.

“Never better.”

Haskell crouched at the alley mouth, casting his gaze up and down the street twisting and turning between the low
adobe
huts and business buildings. The strains of wildly strummed guitars and blasting horns sounded from one end of the village to the other.

“Fuckin'
fandango
,” he muttered half to himself, raking a broad hand through his thick, dark brown beard. “Of all nights—wouldn't you just know it?”

He glanced to Sonoma standing on his left, keeping her back pressed against the
adobe
wall and looking around with the same bewilderment creasing the Pinkerton agent's own features.

“What do you suppose they're celebrating?” he asked her.

There was shouting and yelling and conversing all up and down the street. Haskell knew some Spanish, but the villagers were saying things far too quickly and shrilly for a nonnative speaker to decipher.

Sonoma, however, had picked up some of it.

She turned to Haskell, her eyes grave. “The
rurales
are back. Capitán Villarreal's bunch. It sounds like they have captured a notorious border bandit. I don't know who, but that's what the celebration is about. Villarreal has captured a
desperado
, and the
peones
have much reason to rejoice.”

Sonoma dipped her voice in sarcasm. “Not the least of which is that the old bastard Villarreal will be in a better mood . . . for a while, anyway. Maybe he'll stop target-shooting peasants from his apartment windows for a few days.”

The
rurale
captain was known for the horrific iron grip he held on all of northern Sonora from his headquarters here in the little border village of La Ciudad. It was said that Villarreal was trying to establish his own republic with stolen gold and weapons, one he would rule as a despot.

Many of the weapons with which he hoped to establish and hold his republic were coming from his frequent raids on small American cavalry posts north of the border. During one such raid, he and his team of Mexican coyotes had kidnapped President Johnson's niece, who'd been traveling via cavalry-escorted stagecoach to visit her new husband, an officer stationed at Fort Clement in far western Arizona Territory.

After several failed diplomatic attempts to free the girl, the Pinkertons were called in. More specifically, Bear Haskell had been called in by the president himself, for the big, shaggy-headed, hell-for-leather Texan had made quite a name for himself as a Union spy and
guerrilla
fighter during the still-recent war.

“If that goddamn Villarreal's back,” said Glynn, “I say we pull out and hole up in the hills again until he takes out another patrol. Plenty of border bandits around here to keep him busy. He won't rest on his laurels for too damn long.”

Haskell stubbornly shook his head. “I've already got word to the girl we'd be coming for her. She'll be waiting. Besides, with Villarreal back, who knows how much longer she'll still be in one piece.” He glanced darkly over his shoulder at Glynn. “He's got a reputation for forgettin' he's a gentleman, ya know. 'Specially when he's drinkin' hard, like he probably is tonight.”


Sí
,” Sonoma agreed, staring up the street on Haskell's left, toward where the
rurales
were housed in a large, barrack-like
adobe
. “If the
gringa
is still alive, she might not be after tonight. Soon that
bastardo
will tire of her and cut her throat.”

On a previous reconnaissance mission, Haskell had discovered that the president's niece, Miss Madeleine Johnson, was being housed in the large hotel beside the
rurales
' headquarters, in Captain Villarreal's own private suite. Haskell stared toward both buildings, although from his current vantage, he could see neither one but only the lights of many flares and lanterns from up beyond a bend in the twisting street, beyond the central church square and stone fountain.

“You two wait here,” Haskell said. “I'm goin' in.”

“Hold on,” Sonoma hissed. “You can't go alone!”

Haskell looked at the girl, in her doeskin blouse, high deerskin leggings that rose nearly to her shapely knees, and black-and-white calico skirt. On her head she wore a red
bandana
. Down over her opulent breasts dangled a leather medicine pouch and a necklace of Yaqui talismans carved from coyote bones.

He shook his head. “You two ain't in disguise. You're attired like a damned renegade. Though a right purty one.” He grinned, shook his shaggy head. “I'm the only one with half a chance to get in there and get her out. You fetch the horses at the rear of the alley and wait for me and Miss Johnson.”

That had been the plan all along, before they'd discovered Villarreal was in town. That's why neither the Ranger nor Sonoma had worn a disguise.

“All I need is a
poncho
,” Sonoma said, looking around, holding her shotgun in front of her belly. “Then I'll look as Mexican as any of the villagers.”

Before Haskell could stop her, she crossed in front of him and mounted the boardwalk in front of the shop on his right. Haskell and Glynn watched as she crouched over a
peón
passed out against a wall about twenty feet away.

The
peón
had his head down. His wagon-wheel
sombrero
had tumbled off his head to dangle down around his knees by its thong. He wore a dark
poncho
with wide red stripes.

Sonoma touched the
peón
's shoulder.

The man stopped snoring and grunted and then resumed snoring.

Haskell looked at Glynn, who glanced tensely back at him.

Sonoma clutched the
peón
's shoulder, shook him. The
peón
lifted his wobbly head. He opened one eye and then the other. The starlight shone in the whites as he angled his head and tried to focus. When he saw the buxom beauty before him, he sucked a sharp breath through his teeth.

Sonoma spoke to the man in Spanish.

He spoke back to her.

Sonoma sighed and glanced toward where Haskell and the Ranger were watching her edgily. Then she swiped the
peón
's
sombrero
from around his neck, tossed it down before her, and lifted her blouse above her breasts. The
peón
stared at her chest, shaping a slow grin, his eyes flashing lustily at the large brown melons exposed before him.

He lifted his right hand and reached out to touch one of the succulent orbs. Sonoma lowered her blouse abruptly and slapped the
peón
—a sharp crack across his jaws.

In Spanish, she hissed, “Does your wife know what a perverted devil you are, old man?”

Then she ordered him to take off his
sombrero
and to be quick about it and said that if he told anyone who had it or what he'd seen out here tonight, she'd hunt him down and geld him.

When she was wearing the old man's
poncho
along with the raggedy straw
sombrero
, Sonoma beckoned to Haskell.

“What are you waiting for?” she called, just loudly enough for both men to hear above the distant horns and mandolins. Most of the dancing and revelry seemed to have moved off toward the east end of the village.

“Sorry,” Haskell said when they were jogging up the street together, keeping to the shadows. “Every time I see you naked, Sonoma, I feel like a tongue-tied twelve-year-old.”

Sonoma snickered. Her shotgun hung from a lanyard around her neck, concealed by the poncho. “It's not like it was the first time you've seen them.”

“No,” Haskell said, shaking his head slowly as they approached the busier, more raucous end of the village, where the president's niece was being held. “And I sure hope it ain't the last!”

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