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Published on Saturday, April, 2013

The Valdez Event

By Johnny Gunn

 

Grady had never been in a situation like this in all his fourteen years, was afraid on the one hand, anxious to find out what was going to happen on the other. He was well concealed behind a stack of barrels, some filled with flour, some with whiskey, some with molasses, smack in front of the general store. In the street, not twenty five feet from his hiding place, stood the sheriff, Mean John McGinty, angry and looking to kill his man.

Mean John McGinty got his name the old fashioned way; being mean most of the time. He never gave anyone an even break, never went out of his way to help a stranger, or even an acquaintance for that matter. He was most pleased when he didn't have to arrest someone, instead killing them. "Saves this county hundreds of dollars a year in court costs and jail time. They're criminals, do 'em in, get rid of vermin."

Grady watched as McGinty put the pressure on his latest victim. In other communities, he might be considered a suspect, in Santa Ricardo County he is a victim. Juan Valdez, fifth generation rancher and horseman in Santa Ricardo County, stood straight, eyes bright, shoulders squared, listening to the diatribe coming from Mean John McGinty.

"Word I have, Valdez, is, you've been using a runnin' iron on some of the cattle around here don't belong to you. Stealin' another man's cattle, it's called rustlin' in case you don't know your English too well, calls for a hangin'."

   

"My English is better than yours, sheriff, so don't play the racial game with me. I have never stolen anything in my life, and would never steal another man's cattle. My family has been in this valley for more than a century, and that's sure as hell more than you can say."

"You proddin' me, Valdez? I don't take to proddin', boy." McGinty had his right hand hovering near the Colt hanging from a gun belt filled with bullets, silver conches, and some say the stains were blood from previous victims. "Now you unhook that gun belt of yourn and turn around so I can put the chains on you."

"I'd rather not do that sheriff. I've not done anything wrong, you just want to get rid of me, and then take my ranch like you've done others. No, I think you'll have to take my guns away from me in a fair fight, sir. I'll not give in to your devious ways, Mean John McGinty."

Grady had never seen anything like this in his life, a man standing up to Mean John McGinty. He found that he was holding his breath so long he got dizzy. Juan Valdez was a friend of Grady's family, in fact was a friend to most of the people in the valley. Were there others watching? If not, Grady would be in danger himself if McGinty killed Valdez and he was the only witness.

At holidays, special events, fiestas, the Valdez family often supplied large amounts of food and drink, always provided entertainment by way of Mexican bands and dancers, and showered brides and grooms of the various families with gifts and money. He was a stable and willing member of the community. It was his very successful ranch that has brought about this unfolding event on the main street of Santa Ricardo.

Sometime around the mid 1700s the Spanish crown created a large section of land in a valley north of what is now the Mexican border with the United States. At that time, it was a part of Spanish Mexico. The land grant was given to Victorino Valdez for special services rendered to the crown, and most of the grant has remained in the Valdez family until this day, with various sections pealed off for sons and daughters over the last hundred or so years.

Along with raising some of the best cattle in the area, the Valdez ranch provides squash, beans, corn, and hay to many of the cities and towns in the Territory. Juan's father started some orchards many years ago that provide fresh fruit all summer and fall in the area. It is a known fact that Mean John McGinty, a racist, a tormentor, and a fool in many respects, has designs on many of the ranches in the county, including the Valdez ranch.

Grady wanted to get out of his hiding place and run for home, but if he moves, the sheriff will see him, and know that he has heard and seen too much. He may only be fourteen, but Grady is wise in many ways. He hunched down further within the confines of the barrels. If this was two hours later, or any other day of the week besides Sunday, there would be people all over the street, but right now, there are only three, the sheriff, the victim, and the witness.

Sunday morning activities in the village of Santa Ricardo was a long and slow process, starting with Grady making his way to half a dozen homes up and down the streets, delivering eggs from his mother's hen house. She insisted that her customers have their eggs when they woke up Sunday mornings. Following eggs deliveries, Grady then raced for home to milk the goats and old Bessie, their cow.

Getting the goat milk ready for distribution was next, and in the meantime, his mother had to start a batch of cheese. Sunday mornings in Santa Ricardo were long and slow, but not at Grady's house. Fast and furious, and right now, Grady knew he was going to be late getting home to care for his goats and old Bessie.

"I'm giving you one last chance, here, Valdez. Drop that gun belt or die."

"You aren't going to kill me like you have many others, McGinty. I'm younger, I'm stronger, and most important, I'm far smarter than you. You like this idea of being able to kill a man when there are no witnesses, don't you? And, you don't know if I brought any of my charros with me, do you?

"See, you're already looking around. See anything, sheriff? You're a blow hard, McGinty, you're a fake. You shoot people in the back. Come on, then, let's see if you're good enough to take a real man, straight on. I've committed no crime, you have no right to challenge me in the middle of the street in the town my family helped build."

Mean John McGinty hadn't been talked to in this manner, ever. His swagger and known desire to kill usually prevailed. Something has gone wrong, he is thinking, and knows he has to kill Valdez. He has spent years thinking about having a large ranch, one like the Valdez ranch, and now, it's in his grasp. All he has to do is kill this Mexican, wait for the county to put the property up for bid, and take it by intimidation. All he has to do is kill this law abiding rancher.

Mean John McGinty looked around him. There were no people on the street, it was just sunrise, so it would be the blast from his Colt that would wake up the town. He looked Valdez in the eye, that was one of his ways, scare the man, fright was a horrible thing for a man to die with, and McGinty frightened people. His eyes narrowed, his mouth was grim with a moustache that emphasized the downward turn of his mouth. He was feeling his muscles preparing for the draw.

Pull the pistol and cock the hammer as it came clear of leather, don't aim, let your hand simply point, and pull the trigger. Cock and pull again, then stand and wait for the man to bleed out. So many times this has been the way. "I'm waiting, Valdez."

Juan Valdez has fought Indians, has fought rustlers, has fought bandits, has killed more than one man, and is fully prepared to defend himself this morning. He sees McGinty look around for witnesses, sees the man tighten up a bit, and pulls his own Colt just as McGinty says "Valdez". McGinty's iron never clears leather when the heavy chunk of lead tears through his heart, knocking him backwards. He is a crumpled, lifeless piece of bad man when Grady emerges from behind the barrels.

"Where did you come from?" Valdez is surprised by the boy's appearance. "Did you see and hear all of this?"

"Yes, Sir, I did. The sheriff was going to kill you, wasn't he."

"I'm afraid so, Grady. I'm afraid so."

Within minutes, town's people were on the street, checking out the body of a man most feared, talking among themselves, listening to Valdez, listening to Grady, agreeing that the man had to die.

"I'm so sorry I'm late, mama. I was really afraid. I'll take care of the goats and old Bessie right away."

"You're a brave little man to stay and be a witness to that horrible shooting. Very brave, Grady. Come now, I'll help with the milking."

THE END

 

Mr. Gunn is retired, devoting his time to fiction writing. His collection, "Out of the West ... Tales of the American Frontier" (Bottom of the Hill Publishing), was released in December 2010. His short fiction can be found in The Storyteller and Rope and Wire. He lives with his wife Patty, a couple of horses, some rabbits and chickens, and one goofy goat north of Reno, Nevada.

 

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