Word count 3,900
9th in the It All Adds Up series
As always, thanks to my beta, Lacy. Special thanks to Darla for finding the perfect picture.
Johnny cocked his head and stood. His hand went to his side and his fingers tapped the butt of his Colt. The snap of twigs and the jingle of a horse’s bit, let him know that someone was riding into camp.
“It’s just me!”
He relaxed at the sound of the sing- song voice that penetrated the early evening air. He stepped over to his own horse, Sombra and waited. After Toni rode in, he reached out, grabbed her horse’s bridle, then pulled Star over to the highline.
“Did you get work today?” Johnny asked.
Toni leaned forward and rested both arms on the saddle horn.
“Si, I worked in the store today and tomorrow I work at the laundry! ¿No es maravilloso?”
Johnny unbuckled Star’s bridle and exchanged it for a halter. He attached the lead line to the halter and tied the horse to the highline next to Sombra.
“Bien ¿me oyes?” When Johnny still didn’t answer, Toni mumbled something under her breath and climbed from her saddle.
“Yes, I heard you and yes, that’s wonderful that you got more work.” Johnny patted the horse’s neck then began to uncinch the saddle as Toni grabbed her saddlebags.
Reaching for the saddle to pull it off the horse, he heard a thud behind him as Toni dropped the saddlebags. “Unh-uh! Are you loco? You’ll pull those stitches!”
Ignoring her, Johnny continued to pull at the saddle. He stopped when small hands reached up and began to slap at his hands. “¡Basta!”
“No, you stop it.” He took his hands off the saddle and reached down for the saddlebag. Without another word, he stomped back to the fire. He used the time it took Toni to see to her horse to take deep breaths. By the time she came into the clearing carrying her saddle, he had a sheepish grin for her. “Lo siento.”
Placing her saddle next to his, she walked to the fire next to him.“I know you are antsy about having to take it easy, Johnny, but you have to let your back heal. Most of the marks are healed, but that whip cut pretty deep in a couple of places. The sooner you rest and let them heal, the sooner we can move on and you find a job. Now sit down and pour me some coffee and I’ll show you what I got today.”
Johnny sighed and did as he was told.
Toni sat cross-legged by the fire and pulled her saddlebag beside her. Johnny handed her a cup of coffee. He winced as he lowered himself down beside her. He loved how she usually managed to not tell him ‘I told you so’.
“You didn’t say but did you find us a place to stay in town?” He shifted and tried to ease his back.
“Well, yes and no.” Toni jumped up, grabbed his saddle, made a pad with her bedroll and placed it behind his back.
Johnny flashed her a smile as he leaned back. “Well?”
“The livery owner said that if it started to rain, we could find a place in the stable.” Toni raised her cup and her eyes twinkled over the rim.
“Toni, we’re in the middle of the desert! It ain’t gonna rain!” Johnny shook his head.
“Well, I didn’t say we had found a place for sure,” chuckled Toni.
Toni smiled as Johnny picked up a rock and threw it at a dead limb on a mesquite bush across the camp. “It ain’t right”, he muttered.
Toni set her cup down and scooted closer to him. He watched with a frown as she just stared at him with a big smile on her face.
“What?” he asked.
“Guess what I found out in town?” She nudged his leg.
“I have no idea,” he answered.
“In a few days it is Feliz Navidad!” Her voice was light.
“So?” he grumped.
She scooted closer and put her arm on his. “That means it’s December and that means that it’s your birthday month! You’re seventeen now, well maybe. Let’s celebrate!”
When Johnny didn’t answer, Toni begged, “Please?”
He sighed and put his hand atop hers. “You really want to?”
Toni smiled, “Oh, yes! We can have a special dinner and maybe go to midnight mass. I’ll even dress up and wear my skirt and my pretty shawl. It will be fun, you’ll see.”
Johnny knew that Toni rarely asked for anything for herself. How could he turn her down? Besides, it had been hard for her the past month while he’d been locked up, damn that two-timing Don Marcos!
“All right,” he nodded. “We’ll do some celebrating. Not sure what we can do with no money, but we can make our own fun.”
Toni let out a squeal and hugged Johnny’s neck. She gave him a big kiss then pulled away. “Look, I’ve already started collecting stuff!”
She opened her saddlebag and began to pull some groceries out.“One of the things I had to do today at the store was go through the food and throw out the bad stuff.” She held up a small cabbage. The outside leaves had turned yellow and it had a bad spot on one side. “Look at this! He was going to throw it in the garbage!” She next pulled out some hominy and a shrunken onion. “If I can get some peppers and maybe a piece of pork from the cantina, I can makepozole rojo!
Johnny’s eyes brightened and he sat up. “Pozole, huh? Dios, we haven’t had that in a long time.”
Toni put the food items from the saddlebag into a gunnysack. With a huff, she stood up and carried the sack to the rock lined cache Johnny had made in the ground. “Want me to make some coffee?” She held up the canvas bag of water that had been left in the cache to cool.
“Yeah, that sounds good.” Johnny stretched and winced as his stitches pulled. “You ready to start your lessons?”
Toni knelt by the fire and started a pot of coffee. She set the pot on the fire and scooted next to Johnny. “Here,” she said, handing Johnny an apple, “Supper.”
“You sure you want to learn Spanish and not English?” he asked.
“I’m sure. The letters and sounds keep changing too much in English. Besides, why should I learn how to write in English? I like the Mexican side better.” Toni took a stick and practiced writing her name in the dirt.
“We are both, ya know.” Johnny took his hand and wiped away the ‘d’ in Madrid, she’d gotten it backwards. “This way,” he told her as he wrote the letter correctly.
Toni corrected the second ‘d’. “I know, I just like the Mexican half better. I fit in better with them, well, as much as they let me fit in.”
“Well, one day it won’t matter. I’ll have us a place where we won’t have to beg to sleep in a stable, people will come to me and ask me for a job, not the other way around. We’ll raise the finest horses around.” Johnny grabbed her stick and wrote ‘Lancer’ in the dirt. “Here, you might as well learn this name, too.”
Toni watched as he drew the letters in the dirt. “Sounds like a good plan. Is that going to be before or after you kill your father?”
Johnny’s hand stilled. He glanced up at Toni with a scowl then looked down again. “Well, don’t you think he deserves it after kicking me and my momma out like we was nothing?”
“Maybe.” Toni took the stick from his hand and began to trace the letters he had written. “Course I’m sorry about how hard you and your momma had it when you was little, but then I never would have met you.”
Johnny erased the name Lancer from the dirt. “And you, querida, are the only thing keeping me from facing him. Now write this.” Johnny scratched some words into the ground.
“That’s English!” Toni accused. “What’s it say?”
“Wanted, Dead or Alive.” Johnny answered. “If you see my name and those words together, we’re in trouble. Might be good for you to know.”
“I better not,” Toni snapped.
Johnny watched as she traced the letters then began to copy them below the words he’d written.
“Johnny, I was just thinking. If you’re the oldest son, then when your papi dies, you’ll be the patrón. If it is a working ranch, then it will have a hacienda, barns, corrals, everything you would need for your horse ranch.” She started on a second row.
“Si, but I don’t think the law would look too kindly to me stepping into the position if I kill the old man.” Johnny stood up and threw another log onto the fire. “Besides, I got you, a good horse, good friends…,” he crouched next to Toni, “ and in a few days, I’m going to be eating pozole, that is, if the cook don’t burn it.”
“Oh, you!” Toni gave Johnny a push and he started to loose his balance. Grabbing her arm to steady himself, he only succeeded in pulling her down with him. They both lay there laughing in the cool desert night.
“He isn’t going to have to worry about shooting his papi, ‘cause I’m going to kill him myself.” Toni plunged her hands into the hot soapy water and grabbed another shirt. She slapped it on the washboard and began scrubbing.
“Si, senora?” She stopped her scrubbing and answered the laundry’s owner.
“No se enoje con la camisa.” The older woman stepped next to Toni and patted her shoulder. “Men can be, how do you say like niño pequeños?”
“Little children?” Toni slumped her shoulders. “You’re right, I shouldn’t be mad at the shirt.” Toni lifted the soaking shirt and began to squeeze the water out of it. She gave the shirt an extra firm squeeze. “But it was either this shirt or his neck I’d like to wring.”
Señora Garcia broke into laughter. She walked over to the clothesline and grabbed two clothespins. Toni joined her and took the wooden clothespins as she hung up the maligned shirt.
“He just won’t listen to reason, Señora. He’s still healing but he’s here with me today to try to earn money.” Toni shook her head in frustration.
Senora Garcia placed her hand against Toni’s cheek. “Ah, chica, he is a man. In his head he knows that he should listen to you. But…,” Senora Garcia moved her hand from Toni’s cheek and tapped Toni’s chest. “But in his heart, he wants to be your protector, to take care of you.”
Señora Garcia began to walk away. “He is a good man, chica, even if he is a pistolero.”
Toni’s eyes followed her boss as she walked away, and sighed.
The older woman was right. Johnny didn’t have much but he did have his pride. She vowed not to say another word about him not being ready to work, even if it killed her.
She walked to the back of the laundry shed to get some more things to wash. Hands on her hips, she looked around her. In the corner was a sack she had missed. Grabbing the sack, she walked back to her place at the washtub. She reached in the cloth bag and pulled out a white shirt. It wasn’t in bad shape, just a plain white shirt, the kind Johnny liked to wear. It did have some stains on the front, though.
She laid it to the side and began to pull out the other items from the bag when Señora Garciagot her attention.
“Don’t bother washing those things, Antonia.”
The laundry owner walked over to Toni, bent down and grabbed the items Toni had pulled out of the bag. As she straightened up, she handed the clothes to Toni.
“Just put them back in the bag. The man who owned them left them here to be cleaned. He won’t be coming back to claim them.”
The señoragrabbed the bag and held it open. Toni stuffed the clothes back in. She bent over and picked up the white shirt last. She hesitated.
“Do you want to keep that shirt?”
Toni fingered one of the stains. “He only has one shirt now.”
“Pfft!” The older woman scoffed. “Your pistolero needs to learn to look before he leaps. He should never have worked for Don Marcos. Even here, we have heard of Don Marcos and his ways.”
“He lied.” Toni spoke sadly. “After the job was finished, Don Marcos didn’t want to pay him and made up a reason for him to be thrown in jail. He’d still be there now if the capitán of the army nearby hadn’t stepped in. Johnny helped his brother years ago.”
The señora said something rude under her breath. “All men in power lie. Your young man would do well to remember that if he wants to live longer.”
Toni lifted the shirt by the shoulders and eyed it. It looked like it would fit Johnny. “Do you think he would mind, it belonging to a dead man and all.”
The older woman closed the bag. “It doesn’t belong to a dead man. It belongs to me and I will sell it to you for an extra hour of washing clothes. Surely he won’t be bothered by wearing a shirt that once belonged to an old woman!”
Toni draped the shirt across her arm and smiled. Already her mind was racing as she planned how she could embroider the shirt to cover the stains. If she could get it finished in time, it would be a wonderful surprise for Johnny to wear to Christmas Eve Mass.
Johnny Madrid was making the storekeeper nervous. The poor man kept rearranging the cans of peaches. At first the man had tried to bag dried beans but since more were hitting the floor than the inside of the bags, the jittery man had moved on to something bigger, like tin cans. Johnny hadn’t said a word to the man, but he did enjoy resting his hand on the butt of his gun at times.
For a small Mexican town, the store had a pretty good variety of goods. Johnny made his way over to the clothing area. He looked up when the storekeeper cleared his throat.
“Is there something I can do for you…Señor…?” The unspoken question hung in the air between the two men.
“Madrid, Johnny Madrid.”
Johnny stared at the way the man’s overly large Adam’s apple bobbed as the man swallowed. The man licked his lips and lowered his gaze. Johnny turned to continue looking at the doo dads set out for the ladies. He started to pick up some hair ribbons when his nose twitched at the nice smell that came from a package next to it. He picked it up and sniffed. Lemon. He sniffed again. There was something else, too. He unwrapped the paper and ran his hands over the round shape. Soap. Mighty fancy soap it seemed.
Holding the soap in one hand, he turned around to face the
storekeeper. “Hey, what is this?” Johnny lifted the soap into the air.
The man walked across the aisle, bumping into a small table of trail kits. The man took the bar of soap in one hand and lowered the glasses from atop of his head to his eyes with the other hand. He peered at the packaging. “Lemon Verbena Soap,” the man replied in answer to Johnny’s question. “It was made by the Caswell-Massey Company in America.”
Johnny looked at the man in astonishment. “How the hell did you get fancy soap from the states to sell here?”
The portly man drew himself up and threw back his shoulders. “Now that their war is over, we sometimes get people who have lost their plantations traveling through here to Mexico City.” He shrugged, “Sometimes they need to trade for things.”
Johnny held out his hand and took back the soap. He sniffed it again. He looked down at the ribbons spilling across the table like a rainbow.
Looking back up at the storekeeper, he asked, “Do you have any work I can do?”
The storekeeper blinked. He stammered, “No, Señor Madrid. I have no need for a pistolero.
Johnny narrowed his eyes. “I didn’t figure you did. We’ll be moving on after Feliz Navidad and we’ll need some supplies to get me to my next job. Since the man I worked for last decided to not pay up, I’m short on money.” Johnny set the soap down. “I was wondering if we could take it out in trade.”
The storekeeper nodded and walked to his counter. “I heard about that. Don Marcos, wasn’t it?” He pulled some papers from a drawer and laid them on the counter. He looked up at Johnny and tsked. ”Don Marcos is a greedy man. He always has someone to do his dirty work then tries to refuse payment. My sister’s nephew owns the store in the town nearest the patrón’s estancia. Always Don Marcos orders things and then refuses to pay because he says the goods were inferior.”
Johnny moved to stand on the other side of the counter. The man tapped the papers on the counter. “Now these customers pay on time. Las Posada has begun and in three days it will be Feliz Navidad,people are very busy. Too busy to pick up the supplies they have ordered.”
Johnny’s fingers tapped the side of his leg.
“I have a wagon. If you will deliver these supplies for me, we will make a trade. Your time for my goods, is it a deal?”
Johnny nodded and held out his hand. The storekeeper looked into Johnny’s eyes. Whatever he saw must have pleased him because he held out his own hand and the two men shook to seal the deal.
The next couple of days were busy ones for Johnny and Toni. Preparing for the festivities each night leading up to Christmas Eve meant that the women were too busy to wash their own clothes and their husbands were too busy doing last minute jobs for their wives to pick up supplies. Johnny and Toni were both up at first light to travel into town to begin work.
Johnny had managed to talk the livery owner into letting him muck out the stalls each morning in exchange for grain for Toni’s and his horses. The rest of the day was spent driving the wagon to the local ranches and nearby homes delivering everyone’s supplies for their holiday feasts.
Toni spent every spare moment embroidering Johnny’s new shirt. The laundry owner had been impressed by Toni’s skill with the needle and had asked Toni to embroider some handkerchiefs for extra pay. The shirt she kept in town so it would be a surprise, the handkerchiefs were worked on by firelight at their camp. The reading lessons would have to wait. Making money to live on was more important.
Food was not a problem now. On the first day as delivery boy, Johnny had driven out to a ranch several miles from town. He passed by an area that was dotted with prickly pear cactus, nopales. After unloading the supplies, he stopped by the stand of cactus on the way home. Thankful that he had his heavy riding gloves, he filled a gunnysack full of the cactus pads. At the end of the day, he took advantage of the back step of the store and scraped the thorns off the paddles and cut around the edges. With a few extra things from the store, he and Toni had eaten well each night.
Finally it was Christmas Eve. The town had closed early as everyone had to make last minute preparations for the fiesta that night. As a parting gift for all of her hard work, Señora Garcia had allowed Johnny and Toni to drag the washtub into the shed and take baths. They would miss the festivities and the free food if they rode back to camp so they had decided to stay in town until after Mass.
After filling the huge iron cauldron, they waited for the water to heat. As the two sat against the side of the building, they both looked with satisfaction at their bulging saddlebags. Between the two of them, they had earned enough money to buy plenty of supplies to tide them over until Johnny found another job.
It was nice just sitting there listening to the night sounds of the town; a door slamming shut, children squealing with excitement, occasionally a mother’s voice could be heard urging their children to hurry up and quit playing, the sound of the band warming up. It wasn’t sounds that they felt a part of, but in a way, it was comforting.
Toni sighed in contentment.
“Happy?” Johnny smiled at her. From the look on her face, he knew she was.
She grabbed his hand and interlocked their fingers. “Very.”
She waved her free arm in front of her. “You’re healing, we’re safe, we have food to eat and most important, we’re together. What more could we want?”
Johnny smiled and worked his fingers from hers. “Well,” he said as he reached for his saddlebag. “If you don’t want anything else, maybe I just better take this back.” He pulled out a brown paper bag and dangled it in front of her.
Toni’s eyes widened. “For me?” she asked.
Johnny nodded and handed her the bag. She looked at it a moment then slowly opened the top of the bag. Reaching in a hand, she pulled the items out. The hair ribbons she recognized, but she wasn’t sure about the round object wrapped in paper. She unwrapped it and a citrus smell wafted upwards.
“It smells good but what is it?” she asked.
“Soap. Fancy soap from back east in America.”
Toni rubbed the soap and smelled it again. “Isn’t that something?”
“I wanted you to have something special. Do you like it?” he asked worriedly.
She threw her arms around him. “I love it! I never thought I’d ever have something as fancy as this! And you know I needed new hair ribbons. Gracias.”
She reached for her saddlebag. “Close your eyes and hold out your hands.”
She put a package in Johnny’s open hands. “You can open them, now.”
Johnny looked at the brown paper wrapped package he held.
“It’s for your birthday month and Feliz Navidad.”
He opened the package and lifted up the white shirt. The front of the shirt was embroidered with black swirls and knots. Having watched Toni sew before, he knew what had gone into sewing that design. He took her hands into his. They were red and chapped from the blistering hot water of the laundry. He spread her fingers out and kissed each one. He couldn’t help but notice the many tiny darkened pinpricks at the tips of her fingers.
“Gracias, mi amor y mi princesa.”
Toni laid her head against his shoulder. The water was boiling now, yet they didn’t care. They both listened as the church bells began to ring.
“Feliz Navidad, mi corazón.”
“Feliz cumpleaños, Johnny.”
~ end ~
To cook nopales, first wear heavy garden gloves, not just thin cotton ones. Scrap the pads of all thorns with knife. Where the thorns were attached look like the eye of a potato. Cut that out with tip of knife. Cut off edges of pads. Thorns there are too small to trouble yourself with.
Wash pads then cut into strips. Next cut strips into about inch long pieces. Boil for about 10 minutes with salt, onion slices, garlic and husk of a tomatillo. Drain.
Nearest I can compare it to are green beans. On their own they don’t have much of a taste. They seem to take the taste of the seasoning.
Nopales Con Huevos (Cactus with Eggs)
- 2/3 cups of nopales chopped and cooked
- 2 eggs
- 2 tbsp. of chopped green onions
- 1 tbsp. vegetable oil
- Salt to taste
Add the oil to a frying pan over medium heat. Add the chopped green onions and stir fry for a minute. Add the nopales and cook for 1 – 2 minutes. Add the eggs and cook until tender, stirring as needed. Add salt to taste.
ENSALADA de NOPALES (Cactus Salad)
- 6 nopales (cactus pads) chopped and cooked
- 1 1/2 cup chopped tomato
- 2 serrano peppers finely chopped
- 1/2 cup of chopped onion
- 1/2 cup fresh cilantro chopped
- 1 teaspoon Mexican oregano
- 1/3 cup of olive oil
- 2 tbsp. lemon juice
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 avocado
- 1/2 cup crumble fresh cheese
- Corn tortillas or tostadas to serve
Directions: Mix together and eat!
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It All Adds Up Series
Shine A Light In The Dark
A Change In Plans
Misery Loves Company
Friends And Enemies
Good Intentions And All That
I See Fire
Wrong Side of Heaven