The sun hadn't come up over the distant New Mexican hills when Naco heard the horses in the yard. The carpenter realized it must be something important, but his hangover refused to let him out of bed. So, he waited until someone started pounding on his door before rolling off the bunk, and staggered to the basin where he splashed water in his face. The cracked mirror above the bowl revealed the mustached face of a man in his thirties with a small tuft of beard curling under his lip. The eyes were bleary, and there were deep creases along both cheeks. It was a face that had seen many Las Vegas mornings, and would probably go on seeing them for years to come.
Whoever was at his door began shouting, the voice raspy from the morning chill. "Ai! Naco! Wake up, you butcher of trees! There is someone who will pay for your skill! Wake up and greet the sun, you dirty devil!"
Rodriguez. Of all the people in town, why did it have to be Rodriguez? Naco groaned as he yanked the front door open in irritation. "And what do you want this early?" he asked.
Rodriguez wrinkled his nose, "Ah, it is good that you are up amigo! We come from the village to fetch you and your tools. The rich owner of a broken wagon is in a great hurry, there is dinero to be made! So, come Naco, and greet the sun!"
"Let them bring it here," Naco grumped, and made to shut the door, but Rodriguez had stuck his boot against it.
"Oh no, amigo! This is a job you must go to!" The man smiled showing off his gold tooth.
Naco leaned against his doorway, knowing that Rodriguez was not above playing a trick on him, even at this ungodly hour of the morning. Fortunately, there was another rider present, a young man Naco had seen around lately. "Is he lying?" he asked.
The young man grinned, "No, señor, there is a wagon that needs repaired." He shrugged. "That is all I know of it."
Naco sighed, "Let me dress, and gather some tools." Twenty minutes later the carpenter had pulled on an almost clean shirt, and stuffed his pants into the top of his boots. Naco packed his tool chest on the donkey while the others saddled his old gelding for him. As they rode to town Naco asked, "Who is this person that wakes a man with the promise of money?"
Rodriguez' face was hidden in the shadows of his sombrero, "Not an hombre, Naco! A woman of surpassing beauty! I think she is running from something, so she will pay you well for your services!" He smiled.
Naco's stomach heeled over at the mention of a young woman. "Where is she from, this woman?"
"I believe she mentioned Chihuahua," Rodriguez answered.
Now Naco knew why Rodriguez had ridden all the way to his place to fetch him. He reined in his horse. "Rodriguez, you know I would rather not—"
But the vaquero interrupted, "Naco, how can you turn down work when you owe money to so many of your friends?" Then Rodriguez reached over, and slapped Naco's horse with his reins. The old horse jumped and trotted ahead, pulling the donkey's lead line so that the ass brayed its annoyance into the sunrise.
Naco resigned himself to making the best of a bad job, and the two riders closed up behind him. The new man spoke to Rodriguez. "Why would he not take this job?"
"It's not the job," Rodriquez answered, "It's where it comes from. You are new around here, so you don't know señor Naco like the rest of us."
The rider looked at the carpenter's back. "Why is he so special?"
Rodriguez gestured at Naco. "The man on that horse used to be one of the toughest pistoleros in Old Mexico, and he was very quick on the draw." The vaquero's laugh was a brittle sound in the cool of the morning, "But one day there was a gunfight in a little fly-speck village called St. Vincente." Rodriguez shrugged. "There was shooting. Our carpenter heard noises behind a fence, and fired his guns through it, killing a young girl who was shielding her little brother. It was an accident, but the girl's death broke our Naco. He left Chihuahua, and moved north. Now he kills trees instead of people. He is a good carpenter when he is sober, but it is getting harder and harder to catch him in that state," Rodriguez laughed again.
Naco listened to Rodriguez tell his story. The carpenter thought back to that day when his reflexes had ended a young life. He had sworn never to kill again, and he had kept that vow but, God in Heaven, it was hard to do when he had to listen to someone like Rodriguez talking about him. The trio arrived in Las Vegas just as the cocks were crowing from the manure heaps, waking the town from a night's sleep.
The woman was in the plaza waiting for them. Although she called herself Señora Consuela, Naco was certain she could not be more than sixteen years old. The carpenter shrugged. He knew there were many girls in Mexico who already had several children at this age. Naco winced inwardly at the thought of children, and went to look at the wagon. The señora had loaded a heavy trunk in the rear of a one horse buckboard, and driven over trails too rough for the light vehicle. Now the wagon was in a sad state of repair. There were cracked boards in the wagons bed, which had allowed the rear springs to pull loose, and the wheels to slide out of alignment.
Naco looked the job over. Not as bad as he feared, but worse than he could fix quickly. "I probably can get it fixed by tomorrow, señora," he shrugged. "I'll need to make some parts to replace what is broken. Your trunk is too heavy for the wagon," he pointed out," it will have to be removed for the work to progress."
Consuela baulked at this. "I would prefer not to remove my things. I have a small bag I can change out of," she said.
Naco sighed, "It will slow the job down . . . "
"Señor . . . Naco," Consuela said, "I do not wish the trunk to be removed from the wagon. I trust I have made that clear. Now, can you repair it or not?"
Naco looked at the job. "Si señora." He shook his head in disgust, and unhitched the horse. The wagon was so light that he should have been able to move it himself but, with the trunk in the back, Naco found it stiff going. Rodriguez only laughed when Naco asked for a hand pushing the wagon over to the livery stable, but the other rider dismounted and helped.
"Damn thing weighs a ton," Naco grunted as he heaved, and the rider agreed. "You're new in town," the carpenter said as he surveyed the damages.
The man nodded. "I'm just passing through," he said as he dusted off his hands, and selected his next words with care. "Your friend told me an interesting story about you."
Naco grunted. "That one talks and talks. His words mean nothing," but he did not look at the new man as he answered.
"Is it true?" the young man asked as he leaned against the doorway.
The carpenter paused and turned to look at the new man. Naco had a feeling that he already knew this fellow, although he had never met him until this morning. "A man can be in two places, and be two different men, amigo," he said slowly. "The Naco who came from Chihuahua is not the Naco you are talking to now."
The young man considered this wisdom for a moment before nodding solemnly and leaving the carpenter to his work.
Naco labored on the wagon all day. It was good to be busy for a change, but the job was difficult because of the trunk. As evening fell the carpenter looked over toward the cantina where the señora was staying the night since Las Vegas had no hotel. Naco looked at the lights, listened to the laughter, and made a decision about that damn trunk. There was a block and tackle hanging from a rafter in the livery, and with the trunk out of the wagon he could be done this evening. Naco shrugged, and started working the chains under the heavy box.
Over in the cantina Rodriguez nursed a beer, and tried to think what to do next. At first, he thought he would go over, and talk to that pretty Señora Consuela, but she made it clear she wasn't interested in a rangy vaquero. Rodriquez didn't have enough money to gamble, so he decided to see if that splinter-shaver Naco was still on the job. Maybe he would get lucky, and catch the son-of-bitch drunk, or asleep under the wagon.
But Naco was hard at work when Rodriguez strutted into the stable. The lady's trunk was sitting on the floor now, and the repairs were going much faster. "I thought she didn't want that moved?" Rodriguez said.
"I had no choice, and if you keep your mouth shut for a change, she doesn't need to know it ever was," Naco said, without looking up.
"Looks like you dropped it," Rodriguez pointed to a dent in the dirt floor.
"That's nothing, the trunk is very sturdy," the carpenter replied. "Hand me that block if you're not doing anything. With a little luck I will have this done tonight!"
Rodriguez nodded, and sat on a bale of straw to watch.
"Hey hombre," Naco said as he fastened a board down. "I got a little money, why don't you go buy us some mescal for later?"
Rodriguez thought this was an excellent idea, and went for the drink. But Naco never turned up, so the vaquero finished the bottle alone.
The riders came at daybreak. There were three hard men, each packing two pistols, and looking for a certain buckboard wagon. They found Consuela in the cantina, and hustled her across the street to the livery where the wagon and trunk were. The girl was forced to produce the key, and the lid opened, but the trunk was empty. "The carpenter has robbed me!" Consuela wailed.
Just then a whistle from the square drew everyone's attention. The banditos looked out into the plaza, and saw a pistolero lounging by the fountain with the morning sun at his back. The man was dressed in black from his sombrero to his boots. A red bandanna was tied around his forehead under his hat, and the ruffles on his white shirt fluttered in the morning breeze. Naco the pistolero stood relaxed although his hands hovered close to the well-worn holsters carrying long-barreled .44's.
Seeing that there was only one man the bandits strode out of the barn, and lined up facing the stranger. The leader slowly cut a piece of chewing tobacco, and looked at their adversary. "Hey hombre, what you want here?" he asked as he tucked the plug away.
Naco stood easy with his boot cocked up on a silver spur. "I come for the girl," he said.
The leader glanced at Consuela standing beside one of his men, "She don't look like she wants to go, amigo," the man chewed, and spat juice, "I think you should go now, and leave this business to us."
"She owes me money for my repairs," Naco said.
The leader was puzzled now, "You the carpenter?" he asked.
"I know wood," Naco answered, and stroked his mustache.
"Then you know what was in the trunk," the leader chewed slowly.
"More importantly, I know where it is now," Naco grinned, "Release the girl, and I tell you something."
"Just like that, eh?" the leader smiled.
"Si. Just like that," the carpenter said.
As this scene was playing itself out, Rodriguez stumbled into the cantina through the backdoor. The vaquero's head was thumping from a hangover and he couldn't quite remember where Naco had found the silver for the mescal. Rodriguez smiled at the thought of drinking all of the liquor without sharing with the carpenter, and he poured a cup of black coffee before walking into the barroom. Nobody greeted him though; everyone was looking out into the square. Rodriguez walked over to the swinging doors, and saw Naco facing down three men.
"Christo!" he said, "The hombre is loco!"
The new man in town looked up from loading his guns, and nodded, "Si, two guns against six aren't good odds."
"Two guns my ass!" Rodriguez said, "That fool sold me his pistols when he came to town! He doesn't own a gun!"
The new man gritted his teeth as he looked out the door. "I believe señor Naco could use some help then," he said, and stepped out into the square taking up a place to Naco's left.
Rodriguez stood in the cantina a moment fuming to himself before storming out the swinging doors muttering, "I'll be damned if a fool carpenter is gonna show me up . . . " and took a stand on Naco's right.
Naco played the sudden appearance of help to perfection. He leaned back a little, and turned to his neighbor on the left, "Are the others in position?" he asked loudly.
The new man smiled and nodded.
Naco faced the bandits. "Drop the iron, or die," he said.
One bandit looked around uncertainly, but the leader went for his guns, and then the others did as well. The quiet plaza suddenly became a shooting gallery with lead flying everywhere. When the smoke cleared the bandits were dead. The new man had received a slight wound while Rodriguez had his hat shot off his head, but Naco, who had never drawn his guns, was shot in the chest and had seen his last sunrise.
The two men knelt over the fallen carpenter, trying to ease his last moments. Consuela ran up with a dipper of water from the fountain. The dying man smiled at her, "It's . . . in the livery stalls," he whispered to her, "the . . . trunk slipped . . . when I moved it."
"What's in the stalls?" Rodriguez asked.
"The silver those men stole from us in Chihuahua," the girl answered.
Naco winced in pain as he explained, "I . . . had to move . . . the trunk, señora. It slipped . . . and popped open . . . when it hit the floor. When I saw . . . what was inside . . . I knew . . . that someone very bad . . . would be following you. So . . . I hid . . . the silver. I . . . thought to replace . . . it before you . . . left town. But . . . when I rode home . . . last night . . . those three were camped . . . by the road. I heard them . . . talking," he gasped for breath.
The new man took up the tale. "Consuela and I found bags of silver coins buried in a cave," he said. "It is very old, perhaps dating from when the Spaniards were in Mexico, and those men stole it from us, but we tricked them, and left them locked in a calaboose in Chihuahua. Consuela and I decided to come north, and start a new life here, so I came ahead looking for a place for us." The new man paused, and looked at the carpenter sternly, "That was when I heard of señor Naco from this man," he nodded to Rodriguez, "and knew I must avenge my sister."
Naco smiled. "It's been . . . fifteen years, but . . . I knew you looked . . . familiar." Blood clogged his mouth.
"If you see her, I think she might forgive you," the young man said quietly.
"Do . . . you?" Naco asked.
"When you put yourself out there for Consuela you earned my forgiveness and respect." The younger man nodded grimly."Your past is wiped clean." Then he smiled faintly as he drew Consuela to him, and looked at Naco's still holstered guns.
"I . . . carved them . . . last night," the carpenter whispered. "I . . . thought I could bluff . . . them." He looked at Rodriguez. "Hey . . . I leave you my tools . . . Quit . . . talking so much . . . learn a trade . . . You'll live longer . . . " And Naco faded away.
"Madre de Dios," Rodriguez muttered as he pulled a .44 from Naco's holster. The splinter-shaver had faced his last battle with pistols made of wood.