Sunday, November 08, 2009

BARBARIA installment 5


Raphael Obregon pulled his two-horse surrey to the curb in front of The Golden Spike on Pacific Street. Eleven-year-old Jewett Andaluce was riding with him up front, and hopped to the ground and began to unbridle. It was almost noon, and the street was crowded with vehicles, livestock and people coming and going in all directions. The sky was clear, and an icy breeze out of the north was embracing the streets of the Barbary Coast.

“Keep an eye on things, all right?” Raphael said. The boy nodded vigorously, and patted the neck of the curbside horse.

“You know what to do, now, eh?” Raphael asked. “I’m going to have ’em bring you something to eat and drink. Just stay with the horses and look after things, O.K?”

Jewett smiled. His face was animated and he kept patting the horse’s neck, but didn’t speak.

“This might take an hour or so. That’s a long time to wait. Think you can do that?” Again, an energetic nodding of the head. The man laughed and walked into the Saloon.

The lights were dim compared to the bright sunshine on the street. Men sat at cloth covered tables, eating, drinking, and talking. There were a few informal card games going on, but the gaming wheels and dice tables weren’t operating yet. A dozen women in short satin skirts and net stockings were scattered about the room, mingling with the customers. One of the women came around from behind the bar and hooked her arm in Raphael’s.

“Hello, Salina,” he said, kissing her on the cheek.

“What’s this I hear about you leaving today?” she said. She wore the required abundance of rouge on her full cheeks and lips. Her brown hair was lightly oiled and styled about her face in ringlets.

“Yeah, I have to go on a trip. Just found out. Too bad, huh?”

“Yeah, too damn bad for me. I was countin’ on making some more cash off of you tonight.” She reached up and stuck her finger in his ear.

Raphael slid two dollars in silver from his vest pocket and handed it to her. “Here, that ought to ease your pain. Get my boy out front something to eat, O.K? And kind of keep an eye on him for me. He’s not used to this big city life, you know?”

“Oooh. For two bucks, I’ll be his mama and his grandma. What’s his name again? Jew Boy?”

“Nah, just Jew. Short for Jewett. I’ll be upstairs talking to my brother. You seen him this morning?”

“Yeah, he was here a while ago. Said hello. He’s probably up there in Fairyland, having one of his friends for lunch. You sure you want to go up there. Some of those old boys would really like to taste what you got.” She whooped with laughter and reached down and squeezed Raphael’s penis for emphasis. He goosed her, and made his way through the kitchen to the back stairs.

The Golden Spike took up the first two stories of the building on Pacific and Green. The two upper floors comprised The Adonis, a dance and gambling club reserved for special clientele, who were, for the most part, homosexual men. Lazarus O’Brian, a long time friend of the owner, kept a private room at The Adonis, fourth floor, rear.

Raphael mounted the stairs slowly. He’d had a late night, and wasn’t feeling very well. He checked the lounge and restaurant on the third floor, and was relieved to see Lazaro at a window table, eating alone. The décor was more luxurious and sedate than in the gaudy saloon downstairs, and the curtains were open onto Pacific Avenue, flooding the room with daylight. Several men greeted Raphael and shook his hand as he made his way across the room.

Lazaro stood and embraced his youthful brother. Raphael wasn’t hungry. He ordered a whiskey and a pot of tea with milk.

“Salina gave me your letter last night. Sounds like Jorge’s bit off more than he can chew.”

“Oh, I think he’ll be all right. He’s bringing some workers up from Jalisco, and the railroad station agent in Los Angeles wasn’t cooperative.”

“How many people he got with him?”

“There’s twenty altogether. They had nineteen, then picked up one more in Los Angeles.”

“All men?” Raphael sipped his whiskey and tea in turn.

“No. Just twelve. The rest are women and kids.”

“Where are they now?”

“On their way up the coast to San Luis Obispo. I’ve arranged for train transport from there. But there’s another problem.”


Lazaro laughed. “You’re surprisingly well informed for a bandido, Little Brother.”

“Yeah, us outlaws need to pay attention. That vigilant bunch down there has been good for my business. Got Chinese and Mexican whores pouring into town these days, looking for shelter.”

“Well, they’ve taken to stopping trains, now. Looking for Chinese to hang.”

Raphael gulped the last of his drinks and leaned forward, elbows on the table. “What do you want me to do?”

Lazaro shook his head. “I’m not sure. Maybe meet him at San Luis and give him an escort across the valley to Fresno? I just don’t want him trying to take that train through Monterey. That mob’s blood is up, and all the law enforcement agencies want to do is avoid confrontation.”

“He don’t have any Chinos with him does he?”

“No, but they’ve been attacking anyone that ain’t white. An uppity negro could really set them off, you know?”

“Oh, yeah, Hermano, I know,” Raphael said. “Any excuse to lynch a negro. Especially one that talks like a white college professor.”

“So, what do you think?”

“Does the Railroad have a spur line east out of San Luis?”

“No. Nothing cuts across until you get north of Monterey to Pacheco Pass.”

“That fuss in Monterey. It’s about dock work, right?”

“Yeah. The beet farmers fired all the Chinese field workers, bringing in Mexicans. So the Chinos went looking for work on the docks, and fishing. That’s white work down there, same as here. A vigilance committee started up a couple of weeks ago, raising Hell.”

“Trouble is,” said Raphael, “if I try to take some men down to San Luis, we could get lynched on the way. Wouldn’t be much help to Jorge, then.”

“Yeah. I was thinking you could take some white guys with you, for protection.”

“Who? You?”

“No, I can’t. I have to be in Sacramento all week. I was thinking about those Vacaville cowboys. What’re their names?”

“You mean Will Dexter? Him and Pappy?”

“Yeah. Those two. They always seemed like pretty good fellows to me.”

“They’re all right.” Raphael looked around and waved at the waiter for another whiskey and tea. “You mind doin’ a little cattle business this week?”

“What kind of cattle business?” Lazaro raised his eyebrows. “You a rustler now?”

“Hell, no. Folks look out for their pimps and bootleggers, but they like to hang rustlers. I don’t go in for dangerous work, Lazaro,” Raphael laughed, “You know me better than that.”

“What cattle business, then?”

“I’m talking about Will and Pappy. They’d probably go along with us, if there was a cattle deal in it.”

“Sure. That would be OK. What kind of deal?”

“Loan them the money for a couple of carloads of steers at the
Dixon Auction Yard, and ship ’em to San Luis. I’ll take my men and horses in one of the cattle cars, and get Will and Pappy to come along as bosses. Nobody’s going to make a couple of white cowmen unload their cattle to look for Chinamen in the middle of the night.”

“What are you going to do with the steers when you get off the train?”

“I’m thinking we’ll go ahead and drive them across the valley to Fresno. Pappy and Will can sell ‘em for a profit, and pay you back. Why not? We’ll put the women and kids in a wagon. Only thing safer than pimping and bootlegging in California is a Central Valley cattle drive. The law even allows us Indians to carry all the guns we need with no questions asked. Protection from all those imaginary rustlers out there.”

The two men worked out some details, then Raphael finished his drinks and summed up. “So I’ll need to go to Vacaville today to talk to Pappy and Will and the Andaluce boys. If everyone’s willing, we can leave out in a couple of days.”

“I’ll wire my bank in Vacaville, so your cowboy friends can draw the money tomorrow,” said Lazaro, “Anything else you want me to do?”

“Naw, I don’t think so,” said Raphael, thinking out loud, “ We’ll ship at night. It might be raining, so we’ll get us those enclosed stock cars. Ones with drop ramps on one side, so we can unload before we pull into the yards at San Luis. Have ’em panel off part of a car for us Indians and the horses, and put down a thick bed of straw. Late. Close to midnight as possible. Oh, yeah! Don’t forget to wire Jorge in San Luis, and tell him to stay put at the station until we get there.”

“Goddammit, Raphael, listen to you giving orders. That voice. You sound just like Papa.”

The young man didn’t smile. Before Lazaro could say anything else, Raphael pushed his chair back and stood up. He reached across the table and gripped his brother’s shoulder, holding him in his seat.

“I ain’t nothing like him,” he said, then walked away.

* * *

Around eleven P.M., two days later, a freight train pulled out of the Vacaville yard, heading south. Inside the fourth from the last car, which appeared locked from the outside but, on the left side, was not, four men lounged in the dark with Raphael. Ignatio and Gyp Andaluce, Ely Madrone, and Felix Suisun. . Ignatio and Gyp were young Jewett’s older brothers. Eli and Felix were their uncles. Their horses were tied and loosely saddled at the rear of the car, munching from feedbags. There were two extra horses, unsaddled, for Will Dexter and Pappy Mouton, who were riding up ahead in a passenger car.

Most of the cattle in the front half of Raphael’s stock car were calm. Some were lying in the straw, belching and chewing their cuds. A few were crowded nervously against the walls, as far away from the men as possible. The men themselves grumbled and joked about riding in the dark. They sipped whiskey, slept, and complained because Raphael wouldn’t let them smoke in the straw. Now and then someone would get up and grope his way among the horses to urinate, trying not to stumble, and clucking to calm any restless beast that might take a notion to kick.

After five hours, Raphael figured they were getting close to Monterey station. The men bridled and cinched up five of the horses. When Raphael felt the train beginning to slow, he put on his sheepskin jacket and a pair of leather gloves, then eased open the door of the car just enough to squeeze through. It was raining. Not too hard, but the wet steel of the ladder on the side of the car was slippery. Someone pulled the door closed, and Raphael climbed to the roof, made his way forward, and got down in the space between cars. He moved back and forth from one side of the train to the other, looking for torches up ahead, and hoping that the Monterey Vigilance Committee had decided to stay home out of the rain tonight.

When he spotted a dozen or so torches on the west side of the train, Raphael got back to the door of the car and banged to be let in. His men were armed with pistols, rifles, and shotguns. There was only one door to the car, on the east side. They mounted their animals, facing that side in a loose semicircle, and each trained a cocked and loaded weapon on the door. Most of them, including Raphael, were hoping to get out of this yard without incident. Gyp was enjoying the moment, however, and anticipating a good fight. Raphael untied the rope holding up the stock ramp. If he released it after the door was open, the ramp would drop from its own weight.

The general plan was to avoid discovery, but if the door came open, Raphael had directed everyone to ride out of there fast, doing as much damage as possible on the way, and to head south a mile or so to rendezvous, unless they were being chased. Then it would have to be every man for himself.

The train came to a halt. Shouting could be heard up the tracks toward the engine, but the words were unintelligible. As the group of gunmen waited, a couple of voices became louder and clearer. Some men were coming down the tracks toward them, but it sounded like they were keeping to the west side of the train. Raphael’s men whispered to their horses, trying to calm them, but the excitement of being bridled and readied for riding was stirring them up.

“Hey, thar!” a man shouted just outside their car, “They got cattle and maybe some mules in these cars here.” He rattled the slats on that side.

Someone answered, “Well, goddamit, don’t open the car up unless you wanna be chasin’ stock around here the rest of the night. Jesus!”

Through the gaps in the sideboards, Raphael and the others could see two men with torches, and the shadows of two long guns in the firelight.

“Yeah, Boy. Ima turn’em loose for ya. Help ya pass the time, roundin’ ‘em up.”

The torches sprinkled their light over the crowd of men and beasts inside the train, but revealed nothing. In response to human voices, the shuffling hooves and agitated snorting of the animals inside became louder and more rapid.

A shout from a third man up the tracks was answered by one of the torch bearers, “C’mon, boy! Get a move on. It’s rainin’ out here, y’ know.”

The late arrival soon caught up. “Well. Y’ seen any Chinamens yet? Ah got ma scalpin’ knife, just in case.”

“Nah,” one answered, “ Hell, what ‘a you know about scalpin’, anyway? You was still suckin’ Mama’s milk in them days.”

“Hell, Man! I say bring back the scalpin’ times, that’s what. They ought ‘a put a bounty on the Chinamens’ heads like they use to do the Redskins. Hell, Man! This’d be white man’s country again in no time.”

One of the men answered with a laugh. “Yeah, you missed out, Young’n. Them fellas up around the Mother Lode, they used to pay us a dollar a piece back then. Indians or Mexicans, didn’t matter. Ain’t that right, Singalong?”

The two older men chattered on to the kid about the old days as torchlight diminished and darkness returned to the interior of the car. The vigilante voices soon mingled with the drip and drizzle of rain, becoming garbled and inaudible, as the men moved away down the tracks, farther from the security of their comrades who huddled under the eaves of the Monterey Station House.

Raphael’s companions began to converse in their own language, which he barely understood. He did hear “sing along” mentioned several times. Finally, he hushed the men.

“Will you guys shut up, for Christ sake?” he said in a hoarse whisper.

Gyp sidled over to him and gripped his arm. “Felix knows one of those guys,” he said.

“What guys? Them guys outside with the ropes and guns? Those guys who’ll lynch us if they get the chance? Just be quiet, and we’ll get out of here alive in a few minutes, if we’re lucky.”

“One of ‘em is Singalong Smith,” Gyp whispered.

Raphael didn’t answer. He noticed that everyone was quiet now, but he could see enough in the dark to know they were all watching him.

“Who the hell is Singalong Smith?”

“He killed a lot of people,” Gyp continued, “In the old days. Up around Grinding Rock.”

“Killed what people? Friends of Felix?”

“Yeah. Family. Felix knows that Singalong real well. Been waiting to find that man someday.”

“Good,” said Raphael, “now you found him, Felix. Later on you can come back here and scalp the sonofabitch. But …”

Felix said something in Miwok. Gyp translated.

“Now is the time.”

Raphael sighed and leaned back against the slats. “Shit!”

Felix eased open the door of the boxcar and dropped to the ground outside, in direct contradiction to Raphael’s plan and his orders. But the Andaluce clan was not asking for his permission, and he couldn’t stop them. Four Wild Indians on the warpath. Those white guys shouldn’t have said all that shit about scalping, right outside the car like that, where Felix and them could hear. Those white guys should have talked about something else, so they could have lived a little longer.

Raphael realized that a change of plan was necessary. He thought about what to do. They were probably going to have to shoot their way out of there. If he were going to get to San Luis to help Jorge, he’d have to make a run for it now, before the fighting started. The train could get moving at any time. Worse yet, that bunch from the station might decide to come down and check on their friends. He decided to wait a few more minutes, and then a few more, and kept postponing his move. His heart did a jump when the door was suddenly slid open.

Felix scrambled into the car and took the rope from Raphael’s hand, then lowered the stock ramp slowly and quietly. Eighteen-year-old Gyp climbed up the ramp out of breath, carrying the body of a man across his shoulders. Raphael got off his horse and helped ease the load down onto the straw. The rest of a macabre caravan followed, with two more bodies. Felix worked the rope and pulley, raising the ramp back into place, and Ignatio closed the door behind them.

Raphael groped in the dark and was relieved to discover that there was no blood. He took that as a good omen. The men were dead, however. Strangled, he supposed. Now, if the train would just get moving. With the deceased on board, the Sheriffs and Federal Marshals wouldn’t be involved right away, if the Indians could get out of the station undetected. But as soon as the white men were missed, there would be trouble. Raphael’s mind was tiptoeing on the edge of panic. Even if they got out of there, the station at San Luis would be contacted. That was the next station, and the train would be searched there for sure. They might even be stopped on the way.

“We have to dump these guys pretty soon,” Raphael announced. Nobody said anything. He wanted to ask Felix why he had killed all these guys tonight, just to make conversation. Gyp saved him the trouble.

“Why’d you have to do that, Felix?” His voice was trembling. Gyp liked to fight. He was used to winning money in bare fist matches around home. But he’d never seen anyone killed before. He’d never really associated fighting with killing, until now.

Felix, in his sixties, with gray hair that hung straight to his waist, didn’t answer. He was a man of few words, and besides, his brother-in-law, Ely, had developed the habit over the years of speaking on Felix’ behalf.

“What the hell did you do to those guys, anyway?” Raphael insisted. “The whole idea is to get to San Luis without any trouble, for Christ Sake.”

Ely answered, “Felix is pretty sure that one of these older guys is Singalong Smith. There weren’t a lot of white men with that first name who used to scalp people in the gold country. So Felix is pretty sure he got the right fella.”

“Well, as long as he’s pretty sure. So, you think this old boy killed some of your people?” Raphael knew that was a stupid question, but he felt the need to say something, “He killed someone you know?”

Felix probably just looked at him. It was too dark to tell for sure, but that’s what Felix usually did when you asked him a question. He’d just look at you with a sort of inquiring expression.

“Lots a’ people,” said Ely, after a suitable interval of silence.

“Our grandparents?” whispered Ignatio, “Is he the one killed your mother and father, Tio?”

After another seemingly eternal 30 seconds of silence, Ely said, “No. That warn’t the one. That fella’s name was Coonskin. Felix ain’t found him yet. ‘Course, they was a lot of old boys name a’ Coonskin back then.”

Soon the steam engine coughed, the whistle sounded, followed by the thunder of freight cars being jerked forward on their couplings traveled down the tracks. With great relief, Raphael felt the wheels beneath them begin to turn. The shriek of the whistle started up a chorus of coyote chatter from the surrounding meadows, as the cattle cars moved past the station house. The vigilantes had extinguished their torches and were standing around the wood stove inside the building, awaiting the return of their comrades.

The train accelerated for several minutes and then began to slow as it reached a long grade into the mountains. Felix slid the door open, allowing the rain and wind to do a whirlng performance through the car. He stood in the opening for a quarter of an hour as the trained climbed to a summit, then began to drag the corpses, one by one, to the doorway and dump them off. No one moved to assist him. Then Felix broke his silence, and began to shout into the night in his mother tongue. Raphael figured he must be praying, and this was confirmed when Gyp, who was huddled up against Raphael, crossed himself.

After a while, Felix stopped shouting, or chanting, or whatever he’d been doing, and closed the door. He turned and sat in the damp straw. Ely suddenly began reciting the Pater Noster in a nervous, high-pitched tone, and his nephews and brother-in-law responded. It was too dark to see clearly, but Raphael could hear the faint rattling of rosary beads. After a while, he joined in the prayers.

Labels: ,


Post a Comment

<< Home