It was midday over the Guadalupe Mountains in West Pecos. Stetson looked hard at the bright sun. The heat had burned his cheeks and nose which were barely covered by the straw hat that quietly sat on the top of his head. The dust had settled. In the distant, he could spot the cattle, grazing, in the fields overlooking the prairies. They seemed to sense an unrest that echoed his internal state. Sheriff Warner was still on his way back from El Paso and wouldn’t be returning until at least Tuesday. That meant Stetson had 28 hours to leave town before getting arrested. He had to make a quick decision. He could travel up North to Abilene or the take the shortest trail through the Big Bend Pass, through Austin and head east towards Nacogdoches. Starting a brand new life without Piedad would not be possible.
He made his way to the Old Wagon Saloon. It was almost empty, except for one drunkard that lay sprawled on an unsteady stool. As Stetson waited patiently for Piedad to close the place up, he ordered the last drink himself.
“Stetson, you know Sheriff Warner returns tomorrow, and when he gets back, he’s going to lock you up for good this time. Why you still hangin’ around? Por que? I thought you’d be in Amarillo by now!”
“Piedad, I’ve been thinkin’. What’re you gonna do without me? Are you going to marry that Pedro that your parents keep fixin’ you with? Or are you gonna come with me? Make a decision, Piedad. I don’t have much time.”
“Stetson, what am I goin to do riding behind your back all the way to east Texas? I’m a West Texas gal. I can’t leave my family. You know how close we are. Why you always go off being a jerk to them. What has my family done to you? Que?”
“It’s not that I hate them, but they always look at me like a rattlesnake that just slithered in their barn hiding in a corner, ready to strike any minute.”
“So? They love their only daughter. Why don’t you understand that?”
“Piedad listen, I don’t have a family, no ties to any city. I’m in trouble with the law, always getting into one too many barroom brawls, bein’ handcuffed or chased away by authority. It ain’t a life of fluffy feathered pillows and brunches served in porcelain teasets, but I got a heart bigger than Texas, and I promise to love you no matter what. Is that something you can live with? Tell me now cause I aint got the time to play guessing games.”
Piedad looked across at the 22-year old, 5’6″ tall lad with well built biceps, tousled light brown hair, and bright blue eyes that sparkled under the light. The years of hardship, the conflicts with society, and running from the law had burrowed lines on his face, but a warm smile quickly erased those painful memories, replacing them with a wide grin, bright and hopeful about their future together.
“What’s the matter?” She said smiling, “Aren’t you gonna wait for me forever? Para Siempre ! And I’ll be waiting for you on the other side like a good wife.”
“So you’re not coming with me?”
“I didn’t say that!”
“Then is that a yes?”
“She’s not goin anywhere with you ‘” you snake! Take your hands off her!” A familiar high pitched voice grumbled from behind him in broken English. It was Pedro aiming his pistola straight at Stetson’s hat.
Without turning around, Stetson retorted, “Make me — Pedro ‘” ’cause I ain’t scared of you.”
“Stetson, he’s aiming his pistola straight at you!” Piedad shrieked.
“Piedad, meet me outside Johnson’s Farm by sundown at 7 sharp. If you love me, you’ll come with me tonight. It’ll be now or never! ” And to Pedro’s surprise, a 9mm bullet grazed the palm of his hand that was aiming at Stetson’s head. He dropped his weapon and squeezed his right hand in pain. When he opened his eyes, Stetson had disappeared as if vanishing into thin air.
As Pedro made his way to Miller’s Dispensary, he was stopped in his tracks by Sheriff Warner.
“Sheriff Warner ‘” I thought you were coming back tomorrow!”
“Howdy Amigos! Say listen here ‘” did that Stetson just threaten you right now?”
“Sheriff, that boy comes into my territory and tell me to get off my own land! When I find him, I’m going to set him straight!”
” Well I’m arrestin him for the shooting at the saloon, for stealin Johnson’s cattle, and for making unlawful entry into Piedad’s home… the list goes on! I swear ‘” when I git my hands on that rogue, I’m gonna wring his neck! I want him — dead or alive! He’s just a no good criminal!”
“Well he was just here by the Old Saloon. He’s probably gone by now!”
“Listen ‘” senor. You’d best get that hand fixed ‘” or you won’t even be able to lasso a bull!”
At the dispensary, the good Doctor Miller applied antiseptics and bandaged Pedro’s right hand. At the mention of Stetson’s name, the doctor’s eyes narrowed and he contorted his face into a troubled expression.
“Listen Pedro'” could you tell Stetson that he owes me $200! “
“Why Doc ? Did you remove a bullet from his chest or somethin’ ?”
“No ‘” about a month ago, he brought his lady friend here — what’s her name — the cute Spanish girl ‘” Piedad – I believe that’s her name. I treated her for a pain in her liver ‘” she had a bad infection! He brought her here just in time. You know he really loves that girl!”
“Oh yah? Well that girl’s gonna be my wife soon! So he better not lay a hand on her!”
“Don’t do anything rash Pedro. Stetson’s a good man. He’s got a gentle heart. He’s just a wayward cowboy with a troubled past. He’s always on the run from that sheriff!”
“Well he is trouble all right. The whole town’s lookin for him. He’s not getting away this time ‘” not from me! Muy Malo!”
It was already 6:30 by the time Stetson rode by the Old Wagon. Piedad had locked up and gone home. She was probably helping her parents cook supper. This part of the area becomes deserted by the time the sun sets. It looked now like a ghost town ‘” all the shops were closed up. The people who had been here only conducted their business, but lived along the outskirts at the edges of the town itself. That’s where their life was ‘” in the homes, ranches and farms that bordered along the rivers that ran between Texas and Mexico. The pastor at the Church was still on duty and would soon be ringing the bell to announce the time.
Stetson made a halt for Guinevere, his trusty steed of many years. At the watering hole, she quenched her thirst. As he heard the soft rustling of leaves, the corner of his eye caught more than just tumbleweed fleeing across the town’s main courtyard. The barrel of Sherriff’s rifle approached from behind the prickly pear. Another click from behind the church signaled the cocking of a double barrel, and then there was one more from behind the Old Saloon ‘” the glimpse of a familiar pancho reflective of Pedro’s ancestry told Stetson who wants him dead this very minute.
Stetson quickly assessed the number of bullets left in his revolver. He took a step back and stopped at ten paces. He could take down Pedro and the one behind the Church, but he wouldn’t have enough time to escape the Sheriff. With a flick of his wrist, he fired the first two shots which were answered, in response, by a flurry of rounds from behind the church, the prickly pear, and from the Old Wagon. One by one, each took a shot at each other continuously for about 2 minutes. Amidst a cloud of dust, the sound of a horse clicking was all that they heard. When the confusion settled, the lone rider had once again resisted their arrest.
The Sheriff was in no mood to give up again. He followed the tracks towards Johnson’s farm. The church bell rung the hour of seven. The sky had taken a darker maroon hue. Guinevere paced nervously at the fence surrounding Johnson’s farm.
“Where the hell is she?” Stetson muttered in frustration. He could hear Pedro and Sheriff getting closer by the minute. Stetson, once again, had to make a split decision.
Just then, in the cool breeze, he heard her soft voice, reassuring him, “Stetson — I’m here!”
He bent down, picked Piedad by the waist side and lifted her onto Guinevere. Like an angel, she swooped down onto the horse.
By the time the Sheriff and Pedro reached the farm, there was no one in sight. To their dismay, they retraced their steps back to town. In the far distant trails of the Big Bend Mountains, two lovers locked their arms, fearless and unbeaten, as they rode off into the sunset !