New Mexico Territory
Harrison walked back inside the ranch house, he had Ramos's saddle bags slung over his shoulder. A single lantern lit the darkening insides. The wife had finished bandaging Ramos's thigh. She was pregnant and wearing her gun belt across her chest. She was standing at the wood stove and putting on pot of coffee. The brother was seated in a corner and pulling on the finger lever of his Model 1876 lever action rifle; the lever was not moving. The old man had his muzzle loader slung across his back. He was using a hammer and chisel to cut shooting loops into the outside walls.
Ramos was on top of the large dinner table with his legs out stretched. Harrison and the old man had drug the table over to a beam so he could rest his back. A Spencer rifle lay on the table to his right along with a half-smoked cigar. Harrison walked over to Ramos and laid the saddle bags in his lap. Ramos took out a canteen, small flask and a box of bullets.
Harrison studied Ramos's thigh.
"You did good work, knew to boil the horse hair."
Harrison looked down at the drying blood on the floor. He picked up a small piece of bloodied cloth. "Found that bit of pants."
The wife looked up from the coffee pot, "Helped the bullet went straight through."
"Sorry if my friend's cigar smoke bothered you much."
"I was surprised how steady he kept his hand."
"Not as steady as your needle."
The wife gave a weak smile then went back to staring at the coffee pot.
Harrison patted Ramos on the back.
"We're heading out."
Ramos smiled at Harrison with his yellow teeth and nodded towards the brother.
"Really?" Harrison asked.
Ramos nodded his head, "Sí."
"Hell, you're right."
Broken glass crunched under Harrison's boots as he walked over to the brother.
The brother looked up.
"Here," Harrison said as he snatched the rifle from the brother's hands.
Harrison looked into the rifle's action, "Got two going the same way."
Harrison moved the right flap of his duster to the side and unsheathed a knife. Using the blunt top of the blade's point he slowly pushed one of the rounds back into the rifle's magazine tube. This freed up the finger lever allowing him to fully open the action. Shaking out the other round Harrison worked the rifle's action reloading the chamber. He ran his fingers along the rim of the other cartridge before reinserting it into the rifle's magazine.
"Still getten use to her," the brother said reaching out with his hands.
Harrison turned his back to the brother and looked at the wife. "You ever shoot a forty five-seventy five?"
"Me?" the wife asked pointing at herself.
"Here," Harrison held out the rifle. "Take it."
The steady rhythm of the old man's hammer and chisel stopped.
The wife's eyes drifted over to her brother then back to Harrison.
"Take it, you handled yourself fine with the colt." Harrison said.
The wife held out her hands. Harrison lowered the rifle down into her open palms.
"So, you can work it?"
The wife nodded as she hugged the rifle to her breast.
"Get a glove for your lever hand."
Harrison turned back to the brother.
"Give me your ammo belt."
Harrison gestured with his hand, "Come on, ain't got time."
The brother stood and grabbed the buckle of his leather ammunition belt.
"You tryen to say somethen Mr. Harrison?"
"No, I ain't saying anything."
"Then why you snatch my rifle and hand it to my sister?"
"You really want to discuss all that?"
The brother looked away from Harrison.
"Was gonna give it to her anyway."
The brother undid his belt and tossed it to Harrison. Harrison adjusted its length and rebuckled it. He helped the wife put it on. Her gun belt and ammunition belt formed an "X" across her chest.
"Know it's heavy but best to leave it on," Harrison told her.
The wife turned back towards the wood stove as the sound of the hammer and chisel again filled the room.
The front door opened. A tall man with a long red beard stepped in. He grinned at Ramos then looked at Harrison.
"Boys are all saddled up Harry."
"You put the shotgun with my kit?"
"Spare shells in your right bag."
The bearded man looked at Ramos, "How's our Mexican?"
Ramos waved at the bearded man, "¿Cómo es tu madre?"
"He's improving," Harrison answered.
"Seems like it."
"Alright, have Douglas ride ahead."
"You got it."
"And remind him he ain't a one-man army."
"Will do Harry."
"Good, I'll be right out."
The bearded man tipped his hat towards Ramos before going back outside.
"That wasn't my scattergun was it?" the brother asked.
"Just borrowing it," Harrison answered.
"Leaven me with just my pistol?"
Harrison scratched his stubbled chin, "We're fixing for some close work, ain't gonna have time to reload mine."
The brother put his hand on the butt of his Colt Army Revolver and stepped towards Harrison.
"You saying I'm lily-livered?"
"Do you want me to?"
"What is it you want then?"
"I want to ride with ya all."
"Mr. Harrison, you are an employee of this ranch."
"Well you ain't the owner and I ain't got time for this."
"Mr. Harrison, I insist."
"Be nice having five guns." Harrison looked around the dark room, "But only got four that are able to saddle up."
"See, that's callen me lily-livered."
With two long steps Harrison covered the distance between himself and the brother. He jabbed the brother in the chest with his pointer finger.
"I will say that during the dust up all you managed to do was muck up your rifle."
"But . . . "
"Just sat crossed legged staring at the dirt."
"I was startled is all, I ain't scared."
"Maybe, I've seen men pull it together the second time around and Lord knows in these parts you'll get another try. But tonight, we can't afford to have you figuring out where your balls are."
The brother's hand fell away from the butt of his revolver. His head sunk low into his chest as he looked down at his boots. He stepped backwards until his back pressed against the far wall.
Harrison walked over to Ramos and whispered into his ear. Ramos looked at the brother and smiled.
"Alright, we're heading out." Harrison took out a pair of gloves from his back pocket.
"Don't forget," he shook his gloves at Ramos as he walked towards the door. "Want to live you'll listen to him."
Still clutching the rifle to her breast, the wife followed Harrison to the door.
"My husband?" she asked.
"Had the boys put him up in the barn."
"But we need to . . . "
Harrison held up his hands.
"Should be back by mid-day. We'll bury him then. We ain't back, you'll have other problems."
"They just shot him down."
"I know it's hard, but we can't change any of this."
"His gun was in the house."
"That don't matter to this sort."
The wife nodded her head as she lowered the forearm of the rifle into her left hand and wrapped her right hand around the serrated grip of the rifle's wood stock.
Harrison opened the ranch's door.
"All right then, don't forget to sleep in shifts, and keep that coffee going."
Harrison walked out of the ranch house. Moments later there was the sound of galloping horses which quickly faded from ear shot. The four were left with only the steady rhythm of the old man and his chisel.
Ramos unscrewed the top of his flask. He raised the flask high towards the ceiling before bringing it down to his lips. He took a drink, rubbed his belly and then took another. He held the flask out to the brother.
The brother raised his head.
"No, thank you."
"Aquí, bebe ahora."
The brother stared at the dented flask. Smacking the heel of his revolver he walked over to Ramos. He took the flask, tipped it towards Ramos then drank. His body tensed as the whiskey burned down his throat before warming his stomach.
The brother handed the flask back to Ramos and walked over to the old man.
"Sis, pour me some coffee, won't you?"
The brother patted the old man on the shoulder.
"Here," the brother said holding out his hands.
"Thank you," the old man said as he handed his hammer and chisel to the brother.
Ramos held out his flask to the old man. The old man took the flask and drank long from it.
"Thank you," the old man handed back the flask and unslung his muzzle loader. He walked over to a chair, sat and shut his eyes.
The brother held the chisel in his left and the hammer in his right. He resumed the old man's work, only pausing to sip at his coffee.
Ramos watched this and smiled.