Summary: Van is a young U.S. Marshal who’s good at the job but carrying a secret that could ruin a good career. A mission to capture a dangerous outlaw in Arizona could expose that secret.
Category: General Fiction
Word Count: 6,398
Sometimes trouble does come looking for you. My younger brother used that as an excuse far too many times. How could trouble come looking for you? Surely you have to do something foolish to get yourself into predicaments like the ones in which he frequently found himself. Yet now I know because here I stood facing a pimply-faced kid with his hand poised over his pistol. I didn’t dare turn to walk away unless I wanted to risk a bullet in my back. All I could do was try to stare him down as I did my best to talk him out of trying to make a reputation by killing me in a gunfight.
Meanwhile sweat was running down the middle of my back as I waited for the local sheriff to show up and end this before I had to kill this boy or he got off a lucky shot and made my little brother a sad man today. Of course, he wouldn’t hear about it for weeks. He lived a thousand miles or so away. It’s weird what runs through your mind at a time like this. One would suppose you’re supposed to have deep thoughts or think about your life. I think about things like that. Maybe that’s what has always given me an edge in these confrontations. My opponents seem to want me to look scared or worried about meeting my Maker. Instead, I have odd thoughts they probably can’t imagine I’m having. Like right now I’m thinking the sheriff of this hot and dusty Arizona town always has his nose in the middle of things so where is he when I need him to be nosy?
It’s not easy to talk to a boy who’s intent on ending my life because he heard I shot six men to death over the past two years. Not much time to see that many graves adding up on my account. He’s got that dime novel idea in his head about gun fights. Fool thinks men stand in the street and shoot at each other. Maybe they do when they’ve had too much to drink and don’t know any better. A man who wants to live gets himself behind something solid and usually wants his rifle not his pistol. He thinks he’s going to be famous, but more likely he’ll be hanging by the neck before a week is up. This town doesn’t take kindly to boys shooting the U.S. Marshal or anyone else who brought back the money outlaws took from the bank. He’s not from here. Justice for a stranger in town isn’t pretty.
I’ve been trying to tell him all of this, but educating a boy who’s intent on becoming a man by walking on your bones is nigh onto impossible. I see his hand start to move and know I’ve lost my chance to talk him out of this. I relax my gun hand and hope I’m fast enough. If I’m not, everyone will learn my secret. Of course, if I’m dead, I’ll be beyond caring.
The next thing I felt was a shotgun poking me in the side and heard the orders to raise my hands. I did because you don’t want to argue with a man holding a scattergun. That would be stupid. I did take a look and found myself staring into the eyes of the sheriff. There was that little crinkle around the eyes that told me he was enjoying this. I assumed the other tall shadow looming over me was his deputy, Aaron.
“Got yourself into a bit of a pickle, ain’t ya, Van?”
“Sheriff, I was minding my own business when this boy called me out.”
“You didn’t have to oblige him.”
“I was in the middle of the street with nowhere to rush off to. Damn kid had me dead to rights.”
The sheriff’s senior deputy had to join in on the fun. “You losing your edge, Van?”
The boy was mighty irritated by all of it. “Hey, you two are in the way. Move aside.”
Two other men moved in and disarmed the boy grabbing his arms and dragging him to the sheriff. He was yelling and sputtering whatever vile words he knew until he was brought to a halt next to the sheriff. Now this sheriff stands a couple of inches over six feet and towers over any crowd. Aaron, his deputy, was about the same size. The other two deputies were about my height or maybe a bit taller, about the height of average men.
“Boy, we got a law against shooting off guns in this town. You were going to break that rule so I had every right to stop you. Nice gun you got, but you don’t get to use it here. Now, you owe a few fines for your behavior.”
“You gotta give me my gun back. I paid forty dollars for that pistol.”
“How much for the belt and holster?”
“That was about another five.”
“Aaron, how much are the fines for inciting mayhem, disturbing the peace, and in general, causing a nuisance?”
“That would be about twenty, twenty, and ten, Sheriff.”
“So fifty total. Boy, you got fifty dollars?”
“Of course I don’t have fifty dollars.”
Then I’ll take your pistol and rig as payment of your fines. You get on your horse and ride on outta here. Don’t you never come back neither.”
“That ain’t fair. I need my gun.”
“Oh, I think it’s fair. We saved your life, and we ain’t locking you up. You got a rifle there on your saddle from what I can see. That’s all you need. Now get on out of here before I change my mind on that second thing and lock you up. Seems you could use some time to cool down by my reckoning.”
“You didn’t save my life. I coulda took him.”
“You think like that, and you’ll soon be toes up. Van here already took care of a lot of young guns like you. Now git.”
After the deputies released him, we watched that boy walk stiff-legged to his horse, tighten the cinch, and mount up. He rode off without looking back. I guess he was doing his best to try to preserve what was left of his dignity at least in his mind. Most who had been close enough to hear everything smirked or snickered before walking off now that the fun was over.
“Sheriff, I’m bound to have trouble with that boy again.”
“Not until he gets fifty dollars together to buy another pistol, and who knows where you’ll be by then. At least you probably won’t be in this town. Van, you know why I got three deputies. The folks here got real tired of dodging bullets fired by some drunken cowhands fighting over a saloon girl or because of some insult they thought they heard. Now, you gonna come on in the office, have some coffee, and tell us why you’re here?”
Sheriff Rand Everly was about as curious a man as I had ever met. I know he had questions about me, but as long as I did my job and gave him no trouble, he wasn’t going to push on those. So I agreed to some coffee and some talk not that I was going to tell them the real reason I was there. He probably knew that too. Too many people knowing what I was doing would likely mean I’d fail and maybe die in the process. I didn’t much like the prospect of either of those especially the latter so as we walked, I came up with a story. With a cup of coffee in my hand a short time later, I offered it up.
“I’m on my way to Yuma Prison. There’s a man there who might enjoy a shorter sentence, and I might be able to pull some strings and get it for him if he’s willing to part with some information I think he has.”
Aaron was skeptical. “What makes you think he’d tell you the truth?”
“Nothing. But if what he says doesn’t check out, I don’t intercede with the territorial governor on his behalf and he spends another five years there and maybe some of it in solitary for sending me on a wild goose chase. I know I might be wasting my time, but El Tigre is worth catching.”
“Whoa, that’s who you’re after? He’s got probably five men with him; maybe more.”
It was clear they didn’t think I could manage this on my own. “If I find out what I need to know, I’ll get some help. There’s enough of a bounty on him and his men that if I can get together a good group, and they’ll be well paid if we’re successful.”
“He’s probably in Apache country. Oh, yeah, not such a problem for you.”
Aaron remembered my supposed Apache heritage at that point. It was how I explained my lack of facial hair, my darker skin, my height, and being thin. I wore my hair long too to accentuate that heritage telling everyone who cared to listen that my mother was Apache. Rand was the only one who had ever looked at me with a bit of a frown when I told that story. I think he saw my hazel eyes and guessed there was more to my story that I wasn’t telling.
Truth was my mother was a light-skinned mulatto and my father was a white man. They came west only to be caught in a riot in a mining town. My mother was targeted and my father came to her defense. My brother and I were orphaned that night and fled with all the others chased out of town by white miners intent on maintaining their monopoly of underground mining jobs thinking somehow we were competition. The difference between me and my brother was that I never went back. At fifteen years old, I struck out on my own, and the safest way to live was to dress and act like a man, so I did.
At first, I did every job a youth might get swabbing out saloons and digging graves. I took meals to men in jail in Virginia City and got paid well to bring tins of beer to workmen there. I mucked out livery stables and learned to ride fairly well. Using some of my wages, I bought a gun and got some men to teach me to shoot and found out I was a natural at it. The hard work I did gave me the strength needed to handle a pistol that most women couldn’t do. To make more money, I signed on as a guard for freight wagons carrying silver out of that city. Eventually I offered my services to the U.S. Marshals service who accepted me. By then, I was using a shortened version of my name, Van for Savannah. I was naturally a loner so staying by myself allowed me to keep my secret rather easily.
After we talked a bit more and had dinner, Rand sent his deputies off to do rounds giving us a chance to speak privately. He had a concern and wanted my opinion. He talked and it was probably equal to all the words he ever uttered in a conversation with me.
“Van, I was thinking of my deputies and my dream of finding a woman and having a family. They’re good men, but they ain’t no substitute for a real family. I met a woman. Barbara is her name. She’s the one who brung us dinner tonight. I plan on retiring from this job, marrying her, and raising my children among the tall trees away from all this heat and dust. But I feel an obligation to this town after all the years I spent here. What I don’t know is which of my deputies to recommend for my job. Aaron is the hickory. You can see him standing out there leaning against a post talking to Barbara, and he’s a smart one and he bends but never breaks. Got a bit of a temper though. There’s Jace talking to the men throwing horseshoes, and he’s like an oak. He can take so much without hardly sweating. Nobody can rile him. He keeps cool under pressure. Finally there’s the young one, Dave, who’s still learning the ropes so he’s probably not ready although he’s the one who wants the job.”
“You already know Dave is too eager and has too much to learn. If he quits because he doesn’t get the job, it just means he really wasn’t ready for it. If he learns to think before doing, he could be good at it someday. Between the other two, I favor Aaron because he’s the smarter of the two. Both are strong, but Jace will always be a solid number two because he doesn’t think things through like Aaron. They’ll make a good team if Jace can accept being second in command.”
“How’d you get so smart at your age? You’re even younger than Dave.”
“I’ve been on my own since I was fifteen. I’ve done more living than Dave has.”
As usual, Rand offered me a place to sleep even if it’s only the extra bunk at the office. It saves me some money to bunk in there, and it’s quieter than the rooms to let above the saloon. I thanked him and spent the evening visiting with Aaron who had the night shift.
“Why do you keep doing this, Van?”
“It’s my job.”
Aaron nodded like he understood, and maybe he did. What he said next led me to believe he understood and was the right man for this job.
“We don’t always get the job done, and that hurts. But we do our best, and we’d feel awful not doing the job so we hafta keep trying. Then somebody smiles and says thank you, or you see somebody go on home who wouldn’t have had that chance without you doing what you did, and it makes it all worth it.”
I know what he means by that. I have to do this, but sometimes I still feel like I have the weight of the world on my shoulders. Then a laugh or a kind word of gratitude from somebody makes me feel so much better. I wonder if they know how important they are to me. I have a difficult time saying it to people. Do they know that when I yell or argue, it’s because I care? Do they know the tears that I shed inside each time one of them is hurt or killed? I worry a lot, but what keeps me going are the treasures in my heart. Those are forever mine. It’s funny because I don’t have a family except the brother I rarely see, but I feel all the good people are my family. I want to protect them from what happened to my parents. Whenever I think I’ve done something to advance that cause, then, I feel good inside. It’s a hard thing to explain to others, and I don’t think many will understand. There are times I wish I could find one man who could stand at my side and share that feeling, but it’s a pipe dream.
In the morning, I headed out of town like I was going to Yuma. Five miles down the road, I veered off to go north. I only went a short distance though before I took cover and waited for the man who had been following me to see if he actually was or it was coincidence. I might mention that I don’t believe in coincidence. He turned off where I had and followed my track slowing when he saw I had slowed. I had to smile a little at that point wondering why he was there. He stopped his horse, pulled off his hat, and waited. I watched him closely. He always looked so relaxed, but I knew that he only hid the tension well.
After about fifteen minutes, he rather lazily slid from the saddle and loosened the cinch talking softly to his horse. I couldn’t hear the words, but I could understand the intent. He was telling his horse to be calm. Damn, then he was gone. I suspected he was going to do that, and I still missed it. I didn’t move. I didn’t hardly breathe waiting to hear the noises that said he was approaching. The turn of a pebble or the crunch in the sand. Perhaps a twig cracking. None of that happened. The first thing I heard made my heart pound.
“You didn’t come to see me so I came to see what was keeping you.”
Maybe I was the one who claimed Apache heritage, but I was sure Jim Black had some kind of native blood in him by the way he could move. “Maybe I was testing you to see if you could find me.”
He stared at me with those dark eyes of his, but I refused to break. He had to finally say something. “You planning to go after that little bastard on your own?”
“What little bastard would that be?”
“Don’t play games with me. I know you too well. You’ve been asking around about El Tigre and then take off. I drew the logical conclusion. He’s got four or five men with him. You’re going to get us killed.”
“I’m not letting you try this alone. That’s what friends do, Van. I got your back on this even if it’s a fool stunt, and I must be crazy to go with you.”
Stunned, I was quiet for a bit staring at him and realizing for the first time, I guess, how good a friend he had become. We’d worked together on a few cases, but I didn’t know Jim would risk his life to help me like this. He deserved some honesty from me.
“He’s alone. Well, not alone exactly, but none of his men are there.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I’ve got some information. When he gets enough money and has had enough excitement for a while, he visits a woman in a mountain hideout. The only ones there are him and her and the men and women who do the work around the place. He has guards but not his regular men. The workers at the hideout could probably use guns if they had to, but they’re not in the habit of using them. I figured to go in hard and fast and take him before they have a chance to react.”
“Why not a posse?”
“Putting out the word for a posse in town?”
“Yeah, I get it. Somebody would be bound to run out there to tell him to try to get some money for their trouble. He’d be long gone before you ever got there.”
“And quite possibly leave me a little reception committee for my trouble.”
“So even better with the two of us. The odds are definitely in our favor.” He had that smile of his that made it look like the canary that swallowed the cat.
“Our favor? I don’t recall agreeing to you coming along with me. I don’t want to be responsible for anyone else being hurt.”
“I decide where I go, Van, and I’m responsible for me. Now, tell me where this place is, how we’re going to surprise him, and where we’re taking him after we get him. I know you plan everything so tell me what it is.”
“The place he’s got and the woman he favors are in the Big Horns.”
Whistling softly, he frowned as he thought about that. “Tough to get in there without being seen. You must have more to your plan.”
“Yeah, tough to get in there especially since he has men stationed to watch too. Except they only watch for anyone coming from the north, south, or east.”
“You don’t plan to go through the mountains to get to him?”
“It’s exactly how I plan to do it. They don’t expect anyone coming that way so they don’t watch. I’ll dress a lot like an Apache and travel light. No one will likely pay much attention. Once I’ve got him, I’ll backtrack and then head straight down to Yuma. It’s where he’ll hang anyway once the trial is done.”
“How do you plan to snatch him? He’s not exactly going to come along quietly.”
“I’ll have to work that out when I see the place. I haven’t gotten close enough yet to see the layout. I didn’t want to alert them that anyone knew about his hideout by nosing around too close.”
“There’s some question marks in your plan, but I like the overall feel of it. Let’s go.”
“I still didn’t agree.”
“Of course you did. You told me the whole plan. Now stop being stubborn, and let’s get going. It’s hot out here.”
Staring at him, I couldn’t help the thought that he grew up out of the land with the spare color and elemental power about him so much like the desert and the tough plants that grew there. There was no resisting him either. I’d seen saguaro take root on a small ledge on a sheer wall of rock and flourish there. He was like that; able to grab on to the smallest thing and take hold. There was no way I was going to dislodge him. I had no choice in the matter so I got on my horse, wheeled her around, and headed in the direction of the spot I had already scoped out for my camp for the first night. It was shielded on three sides by rocks so no light was going to show to the north and give away my campsite. The next camps were likely to be cold camps.
We didn’t talk much that night as it was late by the time we got to the place I had chosen. Jim and I split the camp chores and took turns sleeping. It was the bonus of having a partner on the mission. Without him, I would have found sleep a lot more difficult.
In the morning, Jim did as I did throwing his blanket over his saddle to disguise it. He pulled his cream-colored shirt out of his pants letting it hang loose and let his long dark brown hair hang loose tying a bandana around his head after wetting it. He had folded his hat and put it in his saddlebags. We packed up the cooking gear in its sack and stowed it behind some bushes knowing we wouldn’t be using it until we got back at least this far. We would retrieve it on the way back if we could. We had cooked extra biscuits and beans for breakfast and packed them up as well as we could in small tins I had along. From a distance, we would look quite a bit like two Apache riding toward the mountains. No one would likely pay much attention to us. Two were not a threat, and Apache were often seen in this area.
If we had spare horses, we could have made much better time, but that would have drawn attention we didn’t want. It took us three days to get to the mountains and begin our trek toward El Tigre’s mountain hideout. We went even more slowly there scouting ahead carefully one at a time before the other advanced. Almost a week after we began, we hid behind rocks on a ridge and surveyed the compound. Neither of us said anything for perhaps two hours as we observed the routine in the place. Then we slid back down the slope and talked about what we would do.
“It looks like we can approach to within about a quarter mile by horse. Then it’s on foot from there. That’s not the hard part. Van, we have to get him back that quarter mile, and he’s going to be fighting us the whole way.”
“Not if he’s gagged and tied.”
“We can’t carry him. The terrain is too difficult.”
“No, but I saw donkeys in that compound. If we get one and pack him on top of it, we could lead it down there and then use it to pack him out too.”
“That’s a lot of weight for a donkey.”
“So, we take two and switch them off.”
“Damn, you know, that could work.
“We’ll tie up anyone in the compound. I didn’t see anyone armed there. I think all the guards are out on the perimeter watching the approaches.”
“We’ll have to be quiet though so we don’t draw attention.”
“Van, that’s going to be difficult.”
“Not if we can get this in the water.” I held up my ace in the hole. A bottle of sleeping medicine I had gotten from a doctor under false pretenses. I hoped to get it into the water in the house and then approach the house at night.
“Sleeping powder? What if someone gets too much? They could die.”
“The risks of working for someone like El Tigre.”
“Yes, but how many has he murdered or kidnapped and sold into slavery? Some of what he has done is beyond what any human should be able to stomach, but from all accounts, he enjoys it. Yet, these people are with him. They have to know they’re taking a risk.”
“I guess that’s true, and he has to be stopped. But how will you get it into the water without being seen?”
“That’s the tricky part. I’ll have to sneak in there at dusk. I hope you’ll watch, and if it all goes bad, give me cover to try to get out.”
“That’s not a very good plan.”
“Best I got. Don’t sound so worried, Jim. It’s the life we all signed on to do.”
Jim didn’t seem convinced and gave me a look of profound sadness that I found difficult to understand. It was our plan though, and a few hours later, I began a stealthy approach to the compound. I got close without being seen much as I expected and waited for dusk and the chance to get to the kitchen window once everyone was indoors. I watched as the food was prepared and carried into the dining area. There was always one in the kitchen though so there was no chance to get to the pitchers on the serving table until they needed more water. One was sent to the well with a bucket as the other two moved with more platters into the other room. It was tight, but I had a minute. I rushed into the kitchen opening the bottle as I moved, poured powder into each pitcher and swished it around a little. Then I heard the boy with the bucket coming back and had no alternative. I ducked under that table.
One advantage of being on the small, thin side is that I can do things like that. Intent on filling the pitchers, that boy never saw me. The other two coming back in focused on the boy and the pitchers of water. He watched them leave as I scrabbled to the door and slipped outside. I looked in the window when I had a chance, and he was staring at the door as if he might have seen something but wasn’t sure. I made no noise and waited. When the other two returned, he said nothing. My heart stopped trying to pound its way out of my chest.
That only worked a second though as Jim whispered in my ear a moment later and nearly made me cry out. A hand across my mouth stopped that and let me get my wits about me again.
“Damn, why did you do that?”
“I couldn’t see you any more as it got darker. The only way to cover you was to get here too. Now, successful?”
“Yes, let’s hope they all drink some water.”
They did. We watched and soon the staff began to stagger a bit and then sat in chairs clearly woozy. One by one, they dropped their heads on their arms or fell against the table and slept. We entered the kitchen then and doused the lamps moving to the door to the dining room and pushing it open cautiously. El Tigre must not have had much water because he was awake but clearly affected. His woman was asleep and he was attempting to wake her, but his words were slurred. We subdued him and tied his hands behind his back actually somewhat grateful we didn’t have to carry him. Jim gagged him and we forced him to walk to the small stable. There we got two donkeys and were getting him on one when another man showed up and carrying a shotgun. He fired as Jim did. I was hit by some stray shot.
“Not as bad as I will be if we stay here. Get another donkey. We’re all going to have to ride out of here.”
El Tigre’s eyes said he didn’t think we could outride his men especially as we would be on donkeys. He had no idea what direction we were planning to go. When we turned to the west, he twisted around looking for his men. They weren’t there yet, but we could hear them coming. We were heading down the slope when we heard their voices, the shouts for their boss and the confusion of their yells to each other. It seemed to them that their boss had disappeared, and yet everyone seemed to be sleeping. We got to our horses and began the hard trek out of the mountains. Except to rest the horses and the donkeys, we traveled without stopping until the next night. By then, I was weak and feverish. Jim was furious with me, but until then I wouldn’t stop.
“I know I’m taking a risk of infection. But if we stop to do something about it, I’m taking a risk that both of us will die of lead poisoning, a rather severe case of it too probably. We have no more than eight to twelve hours head start on them. We need to keep it.”
“We don’t know that they’re following us.”
“You want to bet our lives on that?”
Reluctantly, Jim accepted that we had to keep going until I began to sway in the saddle. Then nothing was going to stop him from calling a halt. It was at one of the sheltered campsites we had used on the way in. At least, we could make a fire. About all I could manage was getting off my horse and sitting down. Jim had to do everything else. He tied El Tigre even more securely and we were both glad the man was gagged so we didn’t have to listen to the epithets we would have heard about that. We heard some each time we removed his gag to give him water.
Seeing Jim squint and look off to the horizon, I was worried that we had lost our advantage. However he didn’t check his pistol or his rifle. Instead, he went to get the horses and brought them to me telling me to hold the reins. Then he got the donkeys and brought them in close too tying them off to a small tree. With a suspicion about what was about to happen, I waited. He took a blanket and threw it over El Tigre who threw it off.
“Fool! There’s a sandstorm coming. If you don’t want the skin sheered right off of you and lungs full of sand, you’ll pull that blanket back up over your head.”
He complied then as Jim got two blankets and moved to sit beside me as I leaned against the rock wall. He took the horses’ reins from me and threw the blanket over my head. Pulled the other end over his and wrapped the other one around our legs. It wasn’t much protection but it was all we had.
When it was over, I felt like there was sand everywhere, but I could breathe which was the most important. The horses were still there too although not in the best of shape. El Tigre was gone. The ropes were cut.
“Damn, he must have had a knife in his boot or someplace. I never thought to look.”
It wasn’t important. I wanted to say that, but I was too weak. The loss of blood, the pain, the riding, and the storm had taken the last of my reserves. I leaned back, closed my eyes, and moaned. Jim was at my side in a moment helping me stretch out. He shook out a blanket and assisted me to lay on it.
“He took the donkeys, but I can’t believe he survived out there. Right now though, you need some help. I’m going to make a fire, heat a knife, and take that shot out of you. Those wounds are festering.”
That sounded all right until he came back and began unbuttoning my shirt. I put a hand up to stop him.
“Cut the sleeve. You can get at all of them that way.”
“Van, I know you’re a woman so don’t worry.”
“What?” The shock of that on top of everything else affecting me nearly made me pass out.
“Don’t worry. Now let me take off this shirt and clean you up so I can take out that shot and bandage you up properly.”
My pain was matched then by my heart pounding so hard it hurt. I had no idea anyone knew. He was a gentleman though doing nothing with the bindings I had around my chest but carefully and diligently cleaning up the places where the shot had penetrated and then digging out each one. He put a pad of cloth over each hole and then wrapped a makeshift bandage around the whole area. Once the pain subsided enough that I could talk, I had a few questions.
“Where did you get a bandage?”
“It’s your clean shirt. I know you always carry one with you. It’s why I didn’t want to cut up the one you’re wearing. I wanted the clean one for bandages.”
Now it was time for the most important question. “How did you know?”
“Oh, I didn’t at first. I have to admit, you had me questioning myself to the very core of my being. Every time I was around you, my pants got too tight, and you know what I mean even if you are a lady. You’re around men enough. I’m not sure how you pulled it off doing all the things you’ve done, but I wondered how I could be so attracted to a man, even such an attractive man. Then, I paid extra attention to you. After some time and some deep thinking, I knew there was another answer. It made everything make a whole lot more sense. You always working alone. The way I feel when I’m near you. The way you’re never after the gals in the saloons we visit. The way you stay off by yourself all the time. You claim to be half Apache, and you are the least Apache of any half Apache I’ve ever known. You really knew nothing about them when you got here.”
“Does anyone else know?”
“That’s all you got to say to me?”
Dropping my head with the onset of what promised to be a fierce headache, I didn’t have anything else to say. All my words were so twisted up in turmoil, there was no possible way to form a sentence. Then I didn’t have to say anything anyway. Jim pulled me to him and wrapped those strong arms gently around me. He was a bit tentative so he must have been wondering if I would struggle. I wasn’t planning to fight him at all. Surrendering to his embrace, I waited for the kiss that didn’t come and finally looked up into his face.
“I love you. I want to care for you, but I won’t ask you to change. Maybe when you trust me enough, you’ll tell me why you chose to live like this. For me, it’s enough if you’ll love me and agree to be with me.”
Trembling in his arms with all that had happened, I made him wait for my answer. Pain, weakness from my injuries, and his words had put a lot of pressure on me. I needed some time to be sure I was making the right decision for me. I knew he would only worry until I answered, but this was too important to rush too much. If I said no, I guessed he would resign. It would be impossible to work near each other and not be together after all this and with what he knew. I had one question I needed answered.
“Partners, in everything?”
His answer was quick and sure. He wasn’t going to make me change. He accepted me as I was.
“I’d like that.”
Then he did kiss me taking his time being gentle at first until my passion matched his. I’d never kissed a man before, and he must have known that teaching me about kissing that day. He knew we were treading a difficult path, but as long as we did our jobs, no one was likely to question us much. We were going to have to count on that.
Our partnership started well. After spending another day in camp so I could rest, we headed out backtracking on our original path. We found El Tigre’s body or what was left of it and brought it in. With the announcement of his death, his gang broke up and scattered. Without his leadership, robberies, kidnappings, and murders diminished in the region. We each got a commendation, and we got approval to work as a team based on our success working together. We were doing a lot more than working together, but that wasn’t for anyone else to know. Cold nights on the trail weren’t so cold any more though.