Consuelo (by Lisa M.)

Summary:  What Happened During and Next for the episode Amigo
Category:  Bonanza
Genre:  Western
Rated:  PG
Word Count:  5826


 

Joe awakened first to a throbbing headache and then the comfort of a damp cloth laid across his forehead. There were hands lightly stroking his face, hands that were gentle, but unfamiliar. Not Pa’s hands. Not Pa.

“Pa?”

“No, señor. I’m not your papa.” replied a soothing voice, with a hint of amusement. A woman’s voice.

Joe’s eyes fluttered opened and as his vision cleared, he saw the face of a pretty dark-haired woman gazing down at him in concern. “Who….who are you?” he murmured.

“Shhhh….no more words, señor,” the woman said softly, pressing a warning finger to his lips. “He will hear.”

“Who?” Joe asked, confused. “Who will hear?” He tried to look around to see where he was. Where was he, anyway? He was laying on the ground, and…

“El Capitán, señor.”

Cap Fenner.

And in the blink of an eye, the memory slammed back.

*****

“You didn’t really think you could get away from us, did you, boy?”

Joe was caught, hopelessly caught. In his urgency to catch up to Hoss, he hadn’t been paying much attention to his surroundings. Probably wouldn’t have mattered anyway. He was ridiculously outnumbered. As he’d slowed his horse to navigate a rocky pass, Fenner’s men had come at him from nearly every direction.

Cap Fenner must have planned it down to the last detail. The comancheros’ repeated raids in a few isolated areas west of Virginia City had kept the sheriff and his posses conveniently distracted and well away from the Ponderosa. His pa knew that Fenner was planning something — probably a raid on the ranch itself — and that it was just a matter of time before Fenner took action. His pa had also grimly realized that he and Joe alone were woefully unprepared to defend themselves against such an occurrence.

It all came down to the money, the ten thousand dollars that Fenner’s band of thieves had stolen from the Virginia City Bank, the very cash that the wounded Amigo was dragging along with him when Pa first came upon him over a week ago. That money was currently locked away in his father’s safe, and Joe wished once again that Sheriff Coffee had taken it with him to Virginia City. Maybe then they wouldn’t be in this predicament.

But if Joe could make it to the North Forks meadow and fetch Hoss and the other hands, they might have a chance. Someone could be sent to track down the posses and sheriff and maybe, just maybe, they’d be able to get out of this whole mess alive and Cap Fenner and his gang would finally be captured and brought to justice.

Of course, it was too late now. As Fenner’s men surrounded him, Joe realized with a growing sense of dread that they weren’t interested at all in the ranch. Cap Fenner was out to grab himself a hostage. He and his gang had obviously been laying in wait for a Cartwright to emerge from the house, and Joe just happened to be that unlucky Cartwright. He could only thank God it hadn’t been his pa.

“What do you want?” Joe asked, trying to stall, hoping he could find some way out of the trap he had stupidly ridden into. His horse sidestepped nervously, sensing his master’s trepidation.

Fenner smiled humorlessly. “I think you know, boy. You don’t look stupid.”

“If it’s about the money, you’re too late. The sheriff took it back to the bank,” Joe replied, knowing he didn’t sound very convincing. He’d never been good at lying.

“Oh, he did, did he?” Fenner removed his hat and bowed dramatically. “Well, my deepest apologies, Mr. Cartwright. We’ll just be on our way then.”

He looked around at his companions and snickered. “I think someone needs to show Mr. Cartwright here just what happens to people who lie to me.”

Before Joe even realized what was happening, one of Fenner’s men was slamming into him, driving him from his horse to the hard ground, and in the next instant, they were all on him like a pack of wolves, punching and kicking ferociously. Joe fought back as well as he could, but there were too many of them, and within minutes, he had collapsed, bruised and bleeding on the rocky ground. Fenner barked out an order, and the men fell back obediently. Joe lay dazed and unmoving for several agonizing moments, trying to catch his breath. His vision began to gray and blur, and Joe fought desperately to maintain his hold on consciousness as he wondered uneasily what would happen next. Fenner eventually stepped up and stared down at Joe for a long moment before drawing back his boot to kick Joe viciously in the stomach. Joe yelped, and weakly tried to turn and crawl away from his tormentor, but Fenner’s boot struck out again, flipping Joe onto his back. Fenner then planted his boot squarely on Joe’s chest, holding him firmly in place.

“I can see that we understand each other, Mr. Cartwright.”

Joe glared up at him defiantly, but couldn’t find the strength to respond.

“I mean to get my money back, boy,” Fenner said menacingly. “And now I’ve got you to help me do it.”

**********

“Drink, señor,” Consuelo urged softly, lifting his head and holding a canteen to his lips. As Joe reached up to grasp it, he realized that his hands had been tied. His feet, too, he discovered. Joe pulled against the ropes, but there was no give. So much for any chance of escaping, he thought grimly.

He took a small sip, and as he mumbled his thanks, Fenner abruptly appeared and backhanded Consuelo so hard that she fell to the ground.

“Who said you could give him water?” he demanded angrily as Consuelo tried to scoot away from him, terrified.

“Lo siento, Capitán! I was only…”

“Leave her alone!” Joe said.

Fenner turned away from the cowering woman and turned his attention to Joe.

“Ah, I see you’ve met our lovely Consuelo, Mr. Cartwright,” he said. “She’s proven to be quite valuable to us. Haven’t you, Consuelo?”

Consuelo looked up at him tearfully but didn’t reply.

“Turns out that our dear friend Amigo has tender feelings for his young wife. He’d do just about anything to prevent something from happening to her.”

With that, Fenner stepped over to Consuelo and yanked her roughly to her feet. “Fetch me my supper, woman!” he demanded, shoving her away. “Now!”

“Sí, Capitán,” Consuelo replied meekly. As she scurried toward the fire, Joe realized for the first time that the woman was with child, and new outrage flared in him at such mistreatment. It must have shown in his expression, because Fenner laughed coldly.

“I wouldn’t waste any time worrying about Consuelo or that peon husband of hers,” Fenner said, reaching down and snatching up the canteen. He replaced the cap, and then tossed the canteen several yards away, well out of Joe’s reach.

“I’d be worryin’ more about myself if I were you, boy.”

**********

Consuelo stoked the flames beneath the bean pot and stiffened when she heard the sound of familiar hoof beats in the distance. Fenner’s gang was returning to the camp. Consuelo prepared herself once again for the leers and lewd suggestions that she inevitably faced once they arrived. The fact that she was heavy with child didn’t seem to discourage them much, and Amigo wasn’t around this time to protect her. Capitán had actually ordered them to leave her alone several times before, and for that she was grateful, even if he did so only because it prevented her from serving him his dinner or preparing his bedroll.

But today, the men seemed upbeat, excited. They barely glanced at her when they rode into the camp and dismounted. Cap Fenner was wearing his hat tilted back and that smug smile that meant that the gang had completed another successful raid.

She discovered the reason for their mood a moment later, when a couple of the men dragged in the body of a young man and flung him carelessly to the ground near the edge of the camp. He had been beaten severely, and from where she stood, Consuelo couldn’t even tell if he was alive.

She knew instantly who it was. It was José, the son of the man who had been so kind to Amigo; the great patrón of the Ponderosa, he had said. Consuelo had overheard Fenner talking about his plan to watch the house and capture one of the Cartwrights and ransom him for the money Fenner had stolen.

Consuelo heart sank at the thought of such a kind man losing his young son at the hands of Fenner. For she had also heard Fenner laughingly describe how he planned on shooting the hostage immediately after Fenner got his money back. Would serve those Cartwrights right, he said, taking something that belonged to him.

She watched as Fenner stepped over to the young man lying so still and nudged him with his foot. The young man moaned and tried to move away. Fenner laughed.

“Still alive, boy?”

Fenner gestured to one of the comancheros. “Carson, tie him. Got a feeling this one’ll try and run off first chance he gets.”

As Carson approached the prisoner with the rope in hand, Joe must have realized what was about to happen, and he began to fiercely resist having his hands and feet tied. Jack hollered for assistance, and within seconds, a blow to the boy’s head abruptly ended his struggles.

Consuelo was horrified at the cruel treatment, and tried to run to Joe’s aid, but she was brutally shoved away by Fenner and told to mind her own business.

It was only later, when the men had gathered around the fire and were passing around a bottle of rotgut, that she gathered up the courage to approach the young man who had been lying so fearfully still for hours. At first, she thought that the final blow had killed him, but she soon noticed that every now and then the young man moaned, and had once even called out for his pa, which caused a great deal of snickering from the men nearby.

She crept to his side and was horrified anew at how badly he had been beaten. He was young–younger than she–and handsome, even with so many bruises. She wet a cloth and began gently wiping away the blood that smeared his face. He stirred at her touch, and moaned softly.

“Pa?”

“No, señor. I’m not your papa…”

**********

A sharp breeze whistled through the rock canyon that surrounded the camp, and Joe shivered. He was too far away from the fire to feel its warmth. Probably better that way anyway. Fenner and his friends were drinking and warming themselves by the fire and were mostly ignoring him for now. Joe tested the ropes binding him again, but they were still as brutally tight as the last dozen times he had tried.

The sun had set hours ago. Must be about eight o’clock. Pa would be missing him by now, he knew. And under the circumstances, probably worried sick. Joe should have been back with Hoss and the rest of the hands by now. Pa was no fool. He’d have realized that something had happened to him.

“You are cold, señor?”

Joe looked up and saw that Consuelo had come to offer him a blanket. As tempting as it might be, he didn’t want to see her suffer again because of him. “No,” he replied. “I don’t need it.”

Consuelo carefully lowered herself to the ground beside him and covered him with it anyway. “There is no need to be brave, José…Joe,” she said. “I saw you shivering.”

Joe looked at her quizzically. “How do you know my name?”

Joe caught the flash of her smile in the moonlight.

“Amigo,” she said softly. “He tells me of you. And of your father, Benjamin.”

“He’s your husband? Amigo?”

“Sí. Amigo – he is well?” Consuelo asked, her voice suddenly anxious.

“He’s well, Consuelo. But why did he decide to leave you and come back to the house? Doesn’t he know that my pa will turn him in to the law?”

Consuelo turned her face away and didn’t respond at first.

“It is because Capitán tells him to do this,” she said finally, her voice hitching. “If Amigo does not obey, then he’ll…”

“Fenner threatened to hurt you?” Joe asked quietly.

She nodded. “I beg him. Please. Please don’t send my husband back there to die, I beg him, but he doesn’t listen to me. He doesn’t listen to anyone.”

“Is it because of the money? He wanted Amigo to find out where the money was?”

“Sí. But Capitán says Amigo is too slow. He doesn’t want to wait. I hear them talking by the fire, and he says he will take one of you. He doesn’t care which one.”

Joe sighed heavily and was quiet for a time as he considered her words. It was what he had suspected Fenner was up to. “When?” he asked finally.

“Tonight, señor. So they can come to the house in the darkness, and your father will not know.”

“And Fenner plans on ransoming me for the money?”

“Sí, and then he….then he…”

“Then he…what?”

Consuelo shrugged. “I do not know, señor. He will escape then.”

Joe tried to read her expression in the darkness. Was there something she wasn’t telling him? He impatiently brushed the thought aside. Too many other things to worry about now.

“You’d better go, ma’am. Fenner will be angry with you for talking to me.”

Consuelo glanced at the group laughing around the fire. Fenner looked up at that moment, and frowned as he saw her sitting beside Joe.

She scrambled to her feet and stepped away, leaving Joe alone, and wondering what would happen next…

*****

It was time.

Consuelo was removing the coffee pot from the fire, and looked up curiously as the men around her suddenly fell silent. They were all staring at her, some smiling. That never boded well. She rose to her feet, but before she could even move, they were surrounding her, snatching up her hands and tying them. She started to scream, but was immediately silenced by Fenner’s slap. He clutched her face roughly and leaned in close.

“Quiet, woman,” he hissed. “You will be quiet, or I’ll turn you over to them. Now it’s time for all of us to pay a visit to your beloved husband.”

Consuelo’s heart sank. Amigo. They were going to hurt Amigo. She had never been more sure of anything in her life. She bit back an overwhelming urge to cry, fearing the wrath of Capitán.

She was pushed toward the horses and easily tossed up into a saddle, and her bound hands were secured tightly to the pommel.

“Get the kid,” Fenner called out.

Joe had fallen into an exhausted sleep, and Consuelo watched sadly as Carson reached down and brutally jerked the young man awake. The ropes binding his feet together were slashed through, and he immediately took the opportunity to kick out at his captors, but he was just as quickly beaten into submission again. Fenner’s men dragged him to his pony and forced him to mount. Joe’s hands were then tied to the pommel just as hers were, but he remained still and kept his head down all the while, apparently too dazed to resist.

Fenner mounted his own horse and sidled up next to Joe, smirking as he reached over for the pony’s reins. “Sorry we woke you up,” he said mockingly. “Ready to go see your pa? I’ll bet he’s gonna be really happy to see you.”

That got the Joe’s attention. He tried to kick out at Fenner, but only managed to strike a glancing blow to the man’s horse. Fenner reached out and angrily seized him by his collar and struck him hard across the face, opening a cut near his brow.

“You ain’t learned nothin’ yet, did ya, Cartwright?” Fenner spat out harshly, yanking him closer. “Once I get my money, I ain’t gonna have no more use for you or your pa. You’d be wise to keep that in mind, boy.”

He abruptly released Joe at that, and then snapped out an order to his men, who had mounted and were waiting with blazing torches in hand.

Consuelo started as the horse shifted beneath her and then moved to a keep a steady pace alongside the other horses. She glanced over at Joe, and for a moment, he lifted his head and looked back at her. The light from the torches cast dancing shadows across his face, and she could see how afraid he was. She knew that he was afraid for his papa, just as she was afraid for Amigo. She tried to think of something comforting to say to him, but her horse suddenly jerked ahead, and she lost sight of him.

Her thoughts turned to her husband, and the tears began to fall again unbidden. Amigo. How close they had come to the life they had always hoped for. How many times had they lain awake and whispered of their dreams for their child? She closed her eyes and imagined the secure feel of his arms around her, remembering the last time he held her in the night. . .

Consuelo stared into the dying flames of the fire and listened to the snores of the men from the far side of the camp. She ran her hand lightly over her swollen belly, hoping that it would soothe the baby’s agitated movements so that she could sleep. Soon, little one. Soon you and I will sleep in a fine, soft bed. Amigo had promised her that they could go back to Mexico and that they would have a little house of their own. Just a few days more, he said, and Capitán had promised that they could leave together. There was a bank in Virginia City, and soon they would all have more money than they had ever seen. And then, no more. No more midnight raids, no more running from posses, and no more sleeping in the dirt, shivering in the wind. Consuelo wrapped the thin blanket tightly around her and snuggled closer to her husband.

“Consuelo?” Amigo stirred beside her. “You cannot sleep again?”

“If the baby does not sleep, then the mama does not sleep,” she sighed. “And the baby is very much awake tonight.”

Amigo covered her hand with his own, and Consuelo heard his soft chuckle as he felt the tiny kicks. “My son likes to show how strong he is,” he murmured proudly.

Consuelo smiled. “No, querido. I think your daughter grows weary of being called a son. She is showing you that she is angry.”

“No, it will be a son,” he insisted. “A fine son.”

“If God blesses us, then it will be a son,” Consuelo replied softly. “And he will be handsome and brave, just like his father.”

A long silence passed, and when Amigo didn’t respond, Consuelo wondered if he had fallen back to sleep.

“Amigo?”

She turned to look at him, and caught her breath at the look in his eyes.

“My son will be nothing like his father,” he said fiercely.

Her husband had been so doggedly determined to create a better life for his family, but then he was unexpectedly shot and captured, and she knew that the lovely life they had dreamed for their child would never be. The devastating certainty of felt like a dead weight in her heart. And whether at the brutal hands of Capitán or from a hangman’s noose, Consuelo knew in that moment that Amigo would be lost to her forever.

*****

Joe glanced around him and his dread began to mount as each familiar landmark came into view, signifying that they getting closer. He frantically tried to think of a way out of his situation, but could come up with nothing. He’d long ago stopped trying to loosen his bonds.

Joe didn’t believe for a minute that Fenner would release them unharmed and be on his way after he got his money. He’d seen first hand how cruel the man could be. He also worried about what would become of Consuelo, the young woman who had been so kind to him and who even now was one of Fenner’s prisoners.

They reined in the horses well beyond the barn so they wouldn’t be heard. Joe was roughly jerked from his horse by two of Fenner’s men and flung to the ground. He immediately scrambled to his feet and tried to run, but they were back on him in a heartbeat and forcing him toward the house. The group stopped beside the barn, and Fenner sent one of his men ahead to peek through the window. Joe saw that the house was still lit, and guessed that his father was in the great room, and completely oblivious as to what was about to take place. His heart sank as the devastating knowledge sank in that his pa was now in just as much danger as he was. Maybe he could warn him; he could yell or…

As if sensing his thoughts, Fenner was suddenly behind him, clamping his hand hard over Joe’s mouth, and shoving a gun into the small of his back.

“You’d best keep quiet, boy,” Fenner hissed in his ear. “Or your pa’s gonna be the one who suffers for it.”

*****

“It’s just Cartwright and Amigo, Captain,” Carson said, running back. “Saw ’em through the window.”

“You sure there ain’t no one else?” asked Fenner.

“I’m sure, Captain. It’s just the two of ’em,” he replied. “But I’m thinkin’ the old man knows something’s up. Saw him strapping on his gun.”

Fenner snickered. “Well, we’ll relieve him of that soon enough.” He gestured toward Joseph. “We got his boy, remember?”

Joe looked angry at that, but before he could say anything, a scraping sound drew their attention. They looked toward the house and saw someone opening the upstairs window. There was a glimpse of white in the moonlight as something drifted to the ground below. The figure in the window paused, as if searching the darkness. Amigo.

“Looks like Cartwright told Amigo where the money is,” Fenner said. “We might not have to shoot that peon after all.”

Consuelo caught her breath at the mention of her husband and at how callously Fenner discussed killing him. Fenner would kill without thought or remorse; she had seen him do it. How could she have foolishly thought that she and Amigo could ever escape such cruelty?

Fenner gestured toward the house and the group moved silently toward the porch, forcing their prisoners ahead of them. Consuelo was shoved forward at one point so forcefully that she stumbled, but Joe was beside her, reaching out with bound hands to grasp her arm and steady her.

“Ma’am? You okay?” he asked softly.

She glanced up, and even in the moonlight, she could see the bruises and swelling that distorted his handsome face, and she felt a pang of fear for him. She wondered if he knew what Fenner was planning to do. She forced a weak smile and nodded.

“Fine, señor,” she replied. “I’m fine.”

They stopped just beyond the porch and Fenner held up his hands to quiet them. “Time for me to get my money, gentlemen.” he announced in a low voice. “I’ll go in first.”

Fenner and his men moved silently toward the house, forcing their bound prisoners ahead of them. Fenner drew his gun and pushed the door open, and as he strode into the house, Joe could hear him talking as Fenner’s men restrained him on the porch.

“You will throw down your weapon, Mr. Cartwright. . .”

*****

One bullet. Joe watched in alarm as Fenner plucked it from the floor and held it up. It caught the light, and Amigo gazed at it almost reverently before taking it from Fenner. “Uno.”

Dear God, he was going to die.

For a few brief moments, Fenner had seemed quite agreeable to his father’s request that no further harm should come to him or Consuelo if he agreed to turn over the money. But they should have known better. They should have realized that a man like Fenner would never keep his word. Fenner got his money and then gleefully announced to his pa that they were going to murder his son, and Joe saw the color drain from his pa’s face.

Joe was shocked, horrified that it had come to this. They were actually going to kill him. Just like that. For no reason. He had heard the tales of Fenner’s cold-blooded brutality throughout the territory, and Joe didn’t think that he and his pa would escape unscathed from the dire situation that they found themselves in, but somehow he didn’t believe . . . didn’t want to believe. . .

Joe knew his pa; knew he wouldn’t stand by passively and watch as his son was murdered. But when his pa suddenly jumped forward to attack Fenner and Amigo, he was immediately overpowered and knocked out, falling on the stairs, and in that moment, Joe’s last shred of hope was stripped away.

But Joe had little time to think about his pa now. Amigo was moving toward him, holding his father’s gun casually at his side, as if he performed such a grim task routinely. The room had fallen silent, and Joe could hear that bastard Carson above him breathing hard in bloodthirsty anticipation.

Joe had come perilously close to death before, had seen brief, fleeting glimpses of the grim specter throughout his life, but in the blink of an eye, death would slip back into the shadows, and Joe would survive to tell about it. But now, in this unspeakably terrifying moment, death had returned and didn’t seem to be going anywhere. And this time, it had a face. Amigo’s face.

Amigo crouched beside him and dropped the lone bullet into the chamber and snapped the cylinder into place, and Joe stared at him, trying to read the expression in his eyes, but seeing nothing there but coldness. Pa had told him that there was something decent in everybody, but Pa was wrong.

Pa.

Pa would blame himself for this. Pa still lay unmoving at the base of the staircase, and Joe was thankful that his father wouldn’t have to watch. . .

Dear God, he was going to die.

There was a roaring in his ears as his mind screamed for him do something, anything — move away, yell, fight, plead, beg for his life. Anything, anything to stop what was happening, but his will was rendered useless by paralyzing fear.

Amigo raised the gun and cocked it, pointing it at Joe’s head, and Joe stared terrified into the barrel, breathing hard. It was time. Would he hear it? Would he feel it?

The taut silence was broken by Consuelo. “No lo hagas!” she pleaded, sounding just as shocked and scared as Joe felt. What would become of her?

“Déjame!” Amigo snapped back. Joe watched as Amigo’s finger slipped into position around the trigger, and Joe turned his face away, waiting. . .

The resounding click was deafening in the silence of the great room, and Joe’s heart nearly stopped at the sound of it. For the briefest of moments, he thought he was safe, that it was over, until he heard Amigo laughing and realized that it had been nothing more than a cruel trick. Then Fenner was yelling, and Amigo moved around so that he was at Joe’s head, and Joe heard the sound of the hammer being cocked again. He held his breath. . .

Then the room was rocked with a sudden explosion of gunfire, and there was yelling and Consuelo was screaming, and as he realized that he hadn’t been shot and his pa was up and shooting, Joe’s senses slammed back and he started fighting.

And then it was over, just like that. The smoke cleared and the echoes of gunfire faded, and Cap Fenner was dead, his eyes staring sightlessly at the ceiling. All that could be heard was the sound of Consuelo, weeping inconsolably.

Amigo.

Joe stepped over and dropped to his knees beside him, saw the spreading blood from the wound in his chest, and realized only then what Amigo had done for him. For all of them.

Amigo lifted his head weakly to look at him. “José,” he whispered. “I never knew my father. Perhaps he was one. . .such as yours.” He closed his eyes then, and as his final breath escaped him, it bore his wife’s name.

Joe swallowed back the lump in his throat and tried to blink away threatening tears. His eyes desperately sought out his father, and in the next moment his pa was there beside him and clutching him hard to his chest.

“Joseph,” Pa breathed. He drew back slightly and gently cradled his son’s face in his hands. “Are you alright, boy?” he asked urgently, searching his eyes.

“Pa,” Joe said, his voice hitching. “Amigo. Did you see what he…”

“I saw, Joseph,” Pa replied quietly, pulling him close again. “I saw. He gave me my son back.”

*****

Joe stepped from his room into the hallway and was greeted by Consuelo.

“I guess this is it,” he said. “You’re really leaving today?”

“Sí,” she said, running a hand across her belly. “It is best. The baby will be here soon, and I wish to be with my family when he comes. Do you understand?”

“I understand. But you know you are welcome here on the Ponderosa any time. But only if you bring the baby with you!”

Consuelo’s smile flashed in the dim light. “You are better now, señor?” she asked, reaching up to lightly touch one of the many bruises still coloring his face.

Joe grinned back. “I’ve looked worse than this before, ma’am,” he said. “You can ask my pa.”

“Your papa,” she replied seriously. “He is proud of you, Joseph. I see it in his eyes.”

Joe sighed. “I sure don’t know why,” he said. “I haven’t exactly made life easy for him through the years.”

“It’s not supposed to be easy,” she said, her voice breaking. “All fathers — they have such dreams for their sons. Amigo…Amigo, he wanted…”

Joe reached out to embrace her as she burst into tears. “I was so wrong, Consuelo,” he murmured into her hair as she sobbed softly into his chest. “I was wrong about your husband. My pa tried to tell me but I wouldn’t listen,” he said. “And I’m sorry about that. Sorrier than I can say.”

He held her and offered what comfort he could for several long minutes in the darkened hallway, and as Consuelo silently poured out her grief, Joe swore he could feel the tiny movements of the child she carried.

*****

Epilogue: Two months later. . .

“Joe?” Pa called out from the landing. “You coming up to bed, son?”

“Later, Pa. You go on up.”

“Okay. . .but don’t be up too late now,” Pa replied, yawning. “Busy day tomorrow.”

“I know, Pa. Good night.”

“Good night.”

Joe watched as his pa headed up toward his room, and heard the click as the door closed behind him. He smiled slightly to himself. There were some things that would never change, no matter how old he got. Pa would always be Pa — ever concerned, always looking out for his boys, whether they needed it or not. Joe knew he hadn’t always appreciated it over the years, but every now and again, something would happen that would make him take notice of everything his pa had done for him.

Now was one of those times.

“The son is made in his father’s image, señor,” Amigo had told him. Joe hadn’t given much thought to what the wounded comanchero had meant at the time; he had been too caught up in his anger at his father. Why would his father harbor such a man — give him food and shelter and a warm bed? Joe had abided by his father’s wishes, but he couldn’t remember the last time he had so grievously disagreed with him.

But Amigo was dead now, and Joe would never have the chance to tell him that he was right.

Pa knew. Pa always seemed to know about such things. Amigo had never had chance to be good and decent. Sometimes the circumstances in which a child is born shapes him into the man he will become. Joe realized that he himself had been born to privilege; he had been wanted and loved his entire life. He’d never had to worry about food or clothing or shelter. He’d been far from spoiled, of course, and he was definitely no stranger to hard work. But even though he was grateful for what he’d been given over the years, he knew his life was miles away from the life Amigo had been forced to lead.

Joe wasn’t perfect by any stretch. He knew he could be impulsive and stubborn and hot-tempered, qualities that he’d probably struggle with for the rest of his life. But through it all, Joe had his father to lead by his quiet example. Joe had come to realize that more than anything else, the constancy of his father’s love and wisdom and support was what had shaped Joe into the man that he had become.

Cap Fenner was dead and buried, as were nearly all of his gang members. A significant price had been placed upon their collective heads, and though it would never come close to the price that Amigo had paid to save them all, it seemed only fitting that the reward money be given to his family. Amigo’s son would never know his father, but the father’s dreams for his son would nevertheless be realized. Consuelo promised that the babe who now bore his father’s name would someday go to school and have all the privileges and care that Amigo never had.

Joe reached into his pocket and removed Consuelo’s letter announcing the recent birth. Joe smiled again at the enclosed photograph of little Amigo, looking plump and mighty perturbed in an elaborately laced christening gown. SomedayAmigo, Joe thought to himself, stroking his fingers lightly across the tiny portrait. Someday I’ll tell you about your father. Your mama will know when the time is right.

Joe turned up the lamp and dipped the pen into the inkwell, pausing as he thought hard about what he wanted to say about the man to whom he owed his life.

Dear Amigo, he wrote. . . .

***The End***

Thanks Dodo and Corinna for the wonderful suggestions! You’re the best!

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