Sunday, March 28, 2021

The Eighth Angel, Finale


Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3 & 4



The Anderson Ranch, southeast of El Paso, near the Rio Grande


John Anderson spent the day pacing. Delivering Travis to Angel de Venganza had been as easy as John had feared. Cooped up on the ranch, never allowed to travel alone since members of the posse started turning up dead, Travis jumped at the chance to go to El Paso alone for a simple errand. John knew Travis would find justification to spend the night drinking, gambling, and whoring. John would never have minded if Travis had been able to confine himself to those activities. He’d been young once himself.

Travis in town on his own was what led to the current predicament. No whores caught his drunken fancy that night, so he forced himself on a young married woman named Rosalyn Bentley. Travis almost had to kill the husband when he came looking to avenge his wife’s honor. John never learned all the details, but some agreement assuaged Bentley’s grievance; a scapegoat was needed. Jaime Escalante had a reputation as a roughneck and Lothario. He had been known to flirt with Rosalyn Bentley and there were white men in El Paso who had suspicions about their women’s interactions with Escalante. Hanging the rape on him would only work if no one looked too closely, and there were people who mattered in El Paso who would not be inclined to look closely at all.

John Anderson knew none of this when he agreed to hire a posse to bring back the accused rapist. At the time he’d been proud to see Travis step forward to choose and organize the men, attributing it to a growth of civic responsibility. Only later did he realize the story Travis and Bentley cooked up would not hold water were the Mexican allowed to face charges.

Dark thoughts and recriminations occupied John’s mind all day until he noticed the shadows creep along the side of the main house. Travis had left not long after sunup. John had begun to worry the Mexican might have gone back on his word when he heard a horse approach at a full gallop. The hoofbeats stopped at the edge of the front porch and a voice he didn’t recognize at first began to scream.

“Daddy! Daddy! God damn it, Daddy. Come look what that son of a bitch half-breed beaner did to me!”

John ran to the front door. Travis sat his horse so close to the porch he could dismounted directly onto it. He was hatless with hair hanging over his face in long strands. Tears dripped form his jaw. Snot fouled his mustache.

“What is it boy? What happened?”

“What happened? What happened? This happened!”

Travis pulled the hair back from his face to look straight at his father. Branded into his forehead was the letter V, the lower point almost to the bridge of the nose, between the eyes.

John felt ill. Refused to look away. “Did they hurt you, boy?”

Travis’s face a mix of pain, rage, and confusion. “They? Weren’t no they. One man. Same one killed Red and Easy and the others. Picked me off on the way to town like he’d been waiting for me. First time in almost a year you let me go out alone and…” A flush of realization came to Travis’s face. “You knew.”

“It was the price of saving your life.”

“You worked it out? You talked to him? Knowing what he’d been doing, you met him and didn’t kill him?”

“We have to answer for what we did. To atone.”

“You got a brand on you I don’t know about? What the hell does V stand for, anyway? He said you’d know. Said it was appropriate.”

Tears clouded John’s vision. Travis had lived within a mile of the border all his life and knew no more than ten words of Spanish that weren’t insults or blasphemy. “Violador, I expect.”

“What’s that in English?”

“Rapist.” John was already recovering. “Get Esmeralda to put some of her salve on that burn. I’ll help you down.”

Travis reined his mount away from his father’s reaching hands. “I don’t need no more of your kind of help, you old bastard.” Walked his horse to the corner of the house. “I’m warning you, old man. You best sleep with one eye open form now on.”

John let him go. Much as he loved the boy and as much as his son was hurting, he knew the only way Travis would come at him was to hire it done. John stood alone and watched the sun begin to sink across the river. All the work he’d done. Buried a wife, a daughter, and a younger son, only to leave his life’s labor to such an heir.

He didn’t know how long the man had been sitting his horse at the crest of the ridge. Only after Joh focused on him did the rider tip his hat before walking his horse down the other side.



Southwestern United States and northern Mexico


Seven years later, it surprised no one when Travis Anderson hired six gunmen to bring Angel de Venganza back to the Anderson ranch, dirt still falling on his father’s casket. The men, renowned bounty hunters all, ranged as far as Yuma, Fort Smith, Denver, and Chihuahua. They examined hotels and saloons and brothels and stage lines and train depots for two years. Travis had no idea how much whisky or how many whores he paid for.

He recalled them when the expenses began to cut into his own habits. In all that time and distance they encountered no one who had seen or had knowledge of a man named Angel de Venganza. He had no family nor friends nor enemies. No birth or baptismal records. No headstone.

Men who knew Easy Book in Texas could not place the name. The men who’d been drinking with Red Durham in Bisbee never had a name for the young Mexican Red sat with that night. Never got a good look at his face. The livery owner was new in town, the previous proprietor having moved on. California, maybe. Or Oregon.

The only person to see Angel de Venganza after John Anderson watched him ride his horse into the setting sun was Travis Anderson, who saw him every night.


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