Rio Pecos Compound: Chapter 9.

11 Jun
Cover for Rio Pecos Compound, Book Six of The Clint Mason Series by William F. Martin.

Rio Pecos Compound

Learn more about Rio Pecos Compound: Book Six of The Clint Mason Series

Copyright William F. Martin. All Rights Reserved.

Chapter 9.

Joe Black was aptly named. He was a blacksmith, as big as a barn and of African descent. His family had been transported from Spain to Mexico City by the Spanish Army when he was a very small boy. His life in Mexico had mirrored his father’s. The skills of the forge seemed to come naturally. Although his family had been slaves to the Spanish Army and later the Mexican Army, the skillset of a blacksmith provided them a certain independence. When the Mexican Army moved up the Rio Grande Valley to Santa Fe, Joe Black’s family was taken along to care for the horses, wagons and guns. When the Mexican Army pulled back out of New Mexico Territory, many of the Mexican and Spanish families stayed.

The fairly rapid retreat of the Mexican Army had left a lot behind. This included this blacksmith family and their whole set up and tools. Since ownership was mostly determined by force and grit, for several years Joe’s dad ran an independent stable. However, within a few years, one of the powerful families took over their stable and blacksmith holdings and they were once again working for a landholder. This new master had become more and more cruel and demanding. Joe’s nights were constantly interrupted with orders to repair wagons, saddle horses and even deliver mounts before sun up.

After three of the most abusive gun hands were found with their throats cut, gossip had it that these men had harassed the wrong people. Since Joe was in an ideal position to observe the comings and goings of most people in Santa Fe, he began to see a pattern developing with the Pecos River compound people.

When these people came to town it seemed to coincide with the presence of the odd hide-trader. There was no obvious sign that the Rio Pecos group was with or even knew of this man. It also seemed another coincidence that connected with any punishment dealt out to offending gunmen, the presence of this dark, dirty hide-trader was noted.

Joe’s keen eye for horses and guns told him that in spite of appearance, this trader was well-armed, and he was riding one of the finest horses in the area. The trader had several horses that were all of excellent breeding. The obvious health of the horses indicated that they were receiving good care. Contrarily, the horses were never brushed, giving them a shabby look which served to mislead any judgement of their quality. One time Joe had offered to rub down the trader’s horse after a late arrival. The trader had declined, saying it might spoil the horse. Declining the offer to make his horse look good confirmed Joe’s opinion that the trader wanted his appearance to stay low-key and unnoticed.

Late one evening, Joe was rousted out of bed by one of the owner’s top guns, one of the meanest of the lot. Even his own group seemed to fear him and gave him extra space. He went by the name of Big Jake. Now even though Joe was a very big man, this Jake was even bigger. Joe had seen Big Jake take on three cowpokes and beat them unmercifully. Thus, Joe tried to avoid Big Jake, or at least not make him mad. This night it was clear that Big Jake was in a foul mood and looking for an excuse to beat someone.

So when Big Jake spotted the hide-trader’s horse in the stable, he demanded that Joe saddle him. Joe tried to explain that the horse wasn’t his and that the owner could call for it at any time. This refusal set Big Jake off. A gun barrel upside Joe’s head put him on his knees. Then a cruel, vicious kick to the head just about put Joe’s lights out. He was down on all fours trying to get his senses back when Big Jake gave him a rib-cracking kick into the stomach and chest. He rolled over to see a knife flash in the lantern light before all went black.

Joe did not know how long he was unconscious, but now the sun was just rising. That meant about five or six hours. It was a Sunday morning and no one had come by the stable as far as Joe could tell.

He slowly got to his feet and staggered over to the water trough. The cold water helped to clear his head, but the pain in his ribs and the large lump and cut beside his head was almost unbearable.

He could not bring the events of the last night back into focus. He knew that Big Jake had beaten him terribly and the flashing of a big knife blade was somewhere in his memory. Joe closed up the stable and hit his bed. Maybe a day of rest would help him to sort out the events of the night.

Monday morning found Joe in tremendous pain, so he sneaked down to the back door of the doctor’s office. The doctor’s horse and buggy had been under Joe’s care for several years. They had an open, mutual respect for each other. After some extensive repair work and some pain killers, Joe was at least mobile. The doctor was discreet and did not ask questions. While broken ribs had not caused any other damage inside the body, Joe would have to avoid lifting for several weeks. The head concussion could possibly be a more serious concern, but only time would tell if any brain damage was involved. The pain killers would help him to endure the pain, although he was warned to take it lightly, because when you try to stop, it can be rough.

Later that afternoon, the Mexican-looking hide-trader came back to Joe’s stable driving one of Joe’s wagons and horses. Joe’s head was hurting him so much that conversation was unwelcome. The hide-trader put Joe’s wagon and horses away and saddled up his horse. Then the trader went about fixing up the stable, feeding the stock, plus putting down new straw in the area where Joe had been beaten. Then the mysterious character disappeared. Joe saw a fresh bucket of water beside his door, plus a loaf of bread.

Over the next couple of weeks, the townspeople came and went, fetching their own mounts as they recognized Joe’s poor condition. The hide-trader came by every few days, fed the stock, brought Joe food and water, plus did any repair work that was urgent. He would appear without noise, swiftly complete the tasks and disappear. His speed and efficiency was remarkable.

Twice the landlord had come looking for Big Jake and complained about Joe’s lack of work. Joe was threatened with eviction if he didn’t get his act together quickly. By the third week following his terrible beating, the blacksmith was partially back to work. Though the doctor was reasonably sure that no permanent damage had been done, he cautioned Joe to continue light work for several more weeks.

Joe was taking his morning meal at one of the local back street cafés, a great place to hear the local gossip. The word was out that Big Jake had not been seen for three weeks. Most of the locals that frequented Maria’s Café were very pleased, but worried. The sheriff was really checking out everyone that had had a run-in with Big Jake. Nearly everyone in Maria’s Café had been harassed at one time or another by this hateful gunman. The sheriff had narrowed down Big Jake’s movements so that Joe’s stable was the last place he was known to have visited. The owner had told the sheriff that Big Jake had been sent to the stable to get the best mount for an early morning trip. Big Jake did not make that trip as far as anyone could tell.

Joe confessed that Big Jake had come to the stable, demanded a mount, and when Joe could not satisfy him, Big Jake had beat him unconscious. Joe didn’t know what happened after that because he didn’t come around for five or six hours, and by then Jake and his horse were gone. Joe told the sheriff that Big Jake had been in a foul mood and was looking for trouble. Maybe he found more than he could handle. The doctor had sided with Joe by telling the sheriff that Joe was so badly beaten that he could not have moved Big Jake or hauled him away.

The sheriff and the stable owner were not completely buying the story, but both knew Big Jake’s hot temper and his bad moods. Many of the owner’s other gunmen and wranglers were not sorry to have some relief from the oppressive style of Big Jake. The sheriff’s presence was of real concern to Joe – especially, after uncovering the large blood stains where he had been beaten. It was the same spot that the hide-trader had spread a lot of clean new straw. This was on his mind when he found the hide-trader stacking the stable stall’s manure on that area of the barn floor. It would seem more logical to clean the stalls by throwing the manure into the center of the walkway. The coincidence was too much. A mutual look passed between Joe and this strange hide-trader, and in the meeting of their eyes, they understood. No additional discussion was needed between them and none was asked for or provided. Joe’s strength was returning, so he pitched in to finish cleaning the stalls, put down new straw and feed the livestock without a word between them. The giant pile of waste straw and manure was left. It would completely mask the blood stain and prevent the inspection of a curious sheriff or owner.

As Joe’s health returned, he saw less and less of the trader. His horse would show up in Joe’s stable, sometimes even two horses, and would be left there for several days. They often showed signs of hard riding, so Joe took it as his responsibility to tend the trader’s mounts whenever they appeared. It was a little unnerving in that this rider could come and go, trade horses and re-saddle without disturbing Joe. It was probably a little due to the light dose of pain killers the doctor was providing. The doctor told Joe he would gradually reduce the dose and he should be completely on his own within the next couple of weeks. Joe’s headaches were reducing in frequency and intensity. Even his ribs were a lot less troublesome, so that most of the blacksmith and stable chores could now be done without too much pain. His strength was almost back to normal.

Even so, things were not going well between him and the imposing owner of the stable. The demands for wagon repairs, gun modifications, the delivery of horses to the rancher’s gunmen and trail crews, plus making a profit for the owner as the town’s blacksmith were constant. He had become a slave again to a domineering landlord. The brief period of freedom between the time the Mexican Army had abandoned him and the takeover of his stable by the rich rancher and landowner had revealed desires in him that could not be quieted. Each day of domination became more and more unbearable.

Joe was beginning to believe that this quiet hide-trader was the protector of the Rio Pecos Compound. He had seen too many times when the people of Pecos were avenged or protected when the presence or some signs of the trader appeared in his stable. But Joe kept all of this to himself.

It seemed that a final chapter to Joe’s blacksmith life was being written by his landlord. He showed up one day, accompanied by the sheriff, and presented Joe with an eviction notice. The sheriff told Joe that since he was without any means of livelihood or support, he should move on shortly. The landlord would bring his own blacksmith crew from his ranch next week and he expected that Joe would vacate the premises within the seven days. The sheriff made it clear that if any of the tools or equipment were missing, he would be a wanted man.

Blacksmithing was the only trade Joe had known since he was a young boy working beside his father. Without tools or a place to work, he was faced with fear for his own survival. This would be the first time in his entire life that he was without a job or even a place to live. Even when he was a slave, housing and food had been provided. The fear of this unknown felt like a stranglehold to him. His mind would not focus. He went through the routine of each day, but still could not come up with a plan of action. The deadline was drawing closer and this only caused his panic to deepen. The headaches returned, the shortness of breath at night and a sense of despair was sapping his strength. It was just then that he came face to face with the smelly, quiet hide-trader. A gushing plea for help jumped out of Joe’s mouth as they stood in the middle of the barn pathway beside the huge mound of manure. Joe could not contain himself as he presented the serious state of his affairs. He had always considered himself a dignified self-contained person. It was not in his character to ask for help or complain. Joe did not recognize this uncharacteristic release of hopelessness, anger, fear and desperation. It left him completely drained. He stood before this complete stranger without any defenses. The hide-trader had not said a word, but had just waited until Joe had completed exhausted himself.

Then a hand was presented for a firm, but friendly and knowing contact. “Joe, you can call me Clint. May I call you Joe? The Rio Pecos people need a good citizen, and if you would provide us with blacksmithing, we could sure use your services. I understand you are in a position that would allow you to relocate.”

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