The Gonzales Gang By David P. Barker
“We are rough men and used to rough ways” – Bob Younger, famed outlaw of the Wild West
It was still dark outside when he woke up. He grunted and ran a hand over his eyes to wipe the sleep from them. Sitting up in bed, he stretched to try and pull his body loose. His wife turned in bed, still sound asleep. Sheriff McShea scratched at the stubble growing from his chin before he pulled himself to his feet. He had to stifle a groan as his knees popped. He stretched again, trying to loosen his back before he began to do an awkward early-morning limp from the bedroom to the kitchen downstairs.
He began to make a pot of coffee; his eyes stared out of the small kitchen window into the darkness. He blinked several times while waiting for the pot to brew. The kitchen around him was as dark as outside, which allowed his eyes to fully adjust. Roughly a hundred yards from the door that leads into his kitchen, a family of deer was stopped to graze. The Sheriff cracked a small smile as he watched them. The pot finished brewing and in the darkness, the Sheriff poured himself a cup of coffee and brought it to his lips for a slow drink. His eyes stayed focused on the deer. The buck of the group was in the front, his head bent low so that his antlers brushed the ground beneath him. He was an impressive looking buck, thick with antlers that have been growing for years as he managed to avoid being the target of hunters, coyotes, and wolves.
“How’ve you done it?” James whispered to the deer while taking another drink from his coffee cup. His free hand scratched at the back of his neck. James couldn’t pull his eyes from the buck, whose head had raised now and turned to face the dark house. Their eyes locked, at least in James’ mind they locked, across the hundred yards of darkness. The gaze was held for several moments. “What are you looking for?” James muttered to himself as the large buck finally broke the gaze to look at the deer behind him. One deer was a fully grown female; the other three were juvenile deer, one of them was just starting to grow its own antlers.
Just a few moments later, the deer bound away from the house and James was left standing there staring out at an empty space. He took another drink of coffee. The first hints of sunrise were beginning to form on the Eastern horizon. There was a knock on his kitchen door and James was suddenly pulled out of whatever trance he was in by the figure at the door. It belongs to Thomas Parker, one of his long time deputies – one of his trusted friends. The Sheriff pulled the door open and cocked his head. “What are you doing here, Tommy?”
Parker stepped into the dark kitchen. “Sorry to be here so early. But there was a robbery in Green Bluff last night.”
The Sheriff moved to light some candles to cast a flickering light in the kitchen. “You want a cup of joe?” He asked Thomas, who shrugged.
“Sure,” Thomas replied. “Did you hear me? There was a robbery in Green Bluff last night.”
The Sheriff nodded his head as he poured Parker a cup of coffee. He handed the cup to him and replied, “I heard you. But this isn’t Green Bluff. We don’t keep the law over there.”
Parker took a drink from the cup, “I know. But their Sheriff sent us a wire and asked us to be on the lookout for the men who were responsible. He was pretty sure it was The Gonzales Gang.”
The name of the gang caught James off guard, “The Gonzales Gang? Is he sure?”
Parker took another drink from the coffee cup, “He wasn’t a hundred percent sure, but he’s entirely confident that Joaquin Gonzales was there, and wherever he is, Diego, Alejandro, and Santino can be found.”
The names hovered there in the air – heavy. They carried a lot of weight with them. James McShea leaned against the sink basin with his eyes turned towards the floor. His mouth moved silently and Thomas Parker could only watch him. He wasn’t sure what to say and James just shook his head. “I never thought I’d hear those names again.”
“Me neither.” Thomas replied. His mouth was dry. He didn’t want to be the one who had to bring this news to his boss. The Gonzales Gang had been a touchy subject for almost a decade now with the Sheriff.
“It’s been what…Ten years since they killed Robert? Ten years since those bastards put my baby brother in a pine box. To be honest, I thought they all died in Mexico and we just didn’t hear about it.” The Sheriff said in a voice that was barely above a whisper.
Thomas finished his cup of coffee and set it down on the counter. “I didn’t think they’d ever come back into this area again that’s for sure. But Sheriff Caster is pretty darn sure it was them that knocked over the bank in Green Bluff last night. Means I wouldn’t be surprised if they didn’t stop in here sometime in the next day or so.”
McShea scratched at his chin. “Let the Gonzales Gang stop in here. I’m going to put them down.”
Thomas inhaled sharply. This was what he feared. The Sheriff’s own desire for revenge. “Sheriff, Green Bluff would rather we brought ‘em in alive.”
James spun around and looked at Thomas with a fire in his eyes. “I don’t give a God damn. Ten years ago, the Gonzales Gang put nine people from this town into an early grave including my brother Robert. If they are stupid enough to stop into my town again then —.” He trailed off for a moment before continuing, “You can either go make sure Pickett is on the lookout as well, or you can put your badge on my desk at the jail. Either way, I’ve got a bullet for each one of them.”
Joaquin Gonzales was a giant of a man. He looked different than all of his family. They all were short with dark hair, but he was tall with red hair and a thick red hair. If it wasn’t for the color of his skin, people might confuse him for being Scottish. Behind his bulky body, the first rays of the sun were starting to peek through. The bluff is quiet around him and his three brothers. His right hand clutched the bottle of whiskey. He looked down at his brother Diego. “Keep quiet. This is going to burn.”
Diego, the youngest of the Gonzales brothers, turned his head and bit down on the collar of his shirt. Santino dug his fingers into the lower left leg of his younger brother as Joaquin bent forward and poured some of the whiskey into the wound on Diego’s left thigh. Diego growled in pain as the whiskey burned him. Alejandro patted his little brother. “That’s it boy. Let it burn. It’s going to keep it from festerin’.”
“Hand me the needle and thread.” Joaquin said to Alejandro who nodded and immediately handed the eldest of the Gonzales clan a needle and spool of thread. Joaquin didn’t say anything in response as he turned to the small fire behind. Carefully, he pushed the needle into the fire to sterilize it. Pulling the needle back, he looked at Diego and tried to smile. “This should be quick,” he said as he threaded the needle and began to stitch the leg wound closed.
The left leg tried to twitch and the other two brothers did their best to hold him down so that Joaquin could work with as much stillness as possible. Joaquin’s fingers worked deftly; expertly pushing the needle through one side of the wound and out the other, before looping back. His eyes were narrowed and focused.
Diego spit out his shirt collar and groaned into the still air around the four brothers. “Next time. Don’t let yourself get shot.” Joaquin said in a soft voice that made the other two unwounded brothers chuckle. Stepping back, Joaquin nodded. “Finished.”
Diego’s breathing was uneven. “That whiskey burns like hell.”
Joaquin laughed and took a drink from the bottle. “Yes it does. But it kills off infection. Burns it right out of you.”
Diego inhaled deeply as Santino handed him a wrap. “Wrap that around your leg.”
Nodding, Diego did as he was told. Santino crosses to Joaquin and lets his voice lower. “You think Diego is going to be okay to ride?”
Joaquin looked over at the youngest of the bunch and nodded. “Yeah. He’ll be fine. He’s a tough one. Like Pablo.”
Santino‘s voice stayed low so that only Joaquin could hear him. “Pablo died though.”
Joaquin nodded again and took another drink from the whiskey before he screwed the cap back onto it. “But not because he wasn’t tough. Because he was as dumb as an ox. Diego ain’t that dumb. I mean, hell,” Joaquin let his voice rise so all of the brothers could hear him, “We’ve all been shot. We’ve all had to dig bullets out of us. Diego’s just one of the club now.”
Diego looked up at Joaquin and scowled. “I’d rather not be a member of this particular club. It hurt something fierce.”
The three older brothers laughed as Alejandro extended a hand to Diego to pull him to his feet. Diego grunted as he put weight on the wounded leg and Alejandro patted him on the back. “Be thankful it caught you in the thigh. The first time I got shot it caught me in the arm. I thought I’d never be able to use my arm again. A thigh wound ain’t bad.”
Diego lightly shoved his brother in response. “Gettin’ shot is gettin’ shot.”
Alejandro grinned as he stumbled back a few steps. “That it is, little brother.”
Joaquin stepped forward. “Enough horsing around. We gotta get back across the border as quickly as we can. Those boys from Green Bluff are bound to try and track us and I’d rather not get in a gunfight while we’re carryin’ a bunch of gold.”
Santino nodded and put out the fire. “I’ll pack us up.”
Santino began the process of breaking down and packing up their camp. Alejandro started to help him as Joaquin turned his back on his brothers to look down the bluff at the ground beneath them. “They won’t find us. I mean, I doubt they’ll find us. But I want to be safe. And I hate this land, this country, With their flawed sense of justice. They think if you give a man a star to pin on his chest that means he is above everyone else.” He spat down from the bluff and turned to look at his brothers. “That is why we come here and we take from them. Do not let any of you forget. We take from them because they do not appreciate what they have. They took this land from our families. Drove us out. Told us we weren’t welcome here anymore and then they abuse it.” He stopped to reach down and pick up a handful of dirt. Returning to a standing position, he opened his hand to let the dirt fall back to the ground. “They took our land. So we take their gold and we go back to the land they can’t take from us – and we spread that gold out. We give back what should be ours in the first place.”
The other three brothers listened, but they didn’t stop working. They are used to Joaquin rambling on about his dislike of America, his dislike of the towns and the people. His dislike of their law. Joaquin’s fingers tugged at his beard. Santino turned to look at his brother. “We’re ready.”
McShea saw dust clouds rising in the distance and his eyes squinted. There were four horses galloping towards town. His jaw tightened almost instantly and he moved away from the Saloon to the side of the bank across the street so that he was out of view. The horses entered town and made a beeline for the watering hole. None of the men on horseback paid any mind to the people they were passing, it was as if they were hoping that ignoring the other people would mean that they were going to be ignored as well. McShea studied the four men as they rode by. It was them. He was sure of it.
Time had aged the three he recognized, but Sheriff McShea knew it was them. He could feel it in his gut. The giant man with the red hair – the one who had fired the kill shot. The two brothers who did his bidding. The new one. The Sheriff wanted to scream at them. He wanted to fire his gun there in the street, but that was not the way of the law. Law men didn’t shoot men down in the middle of the street. Not like how they shot Robert. Not like that violence. Sheriff McShea moved a hand to the butt of one of the revolvers along his waist. He gripped it tightly as his jaw clenched.
The four men moved into the Number 9 and McShea stepped out from the shadows. He stopped a boy walking past. “Go get Deputy Picket and Deputy Parker. Tell them to meet me here as soon as they possibly can.”
The boy nodded his head and took off running down the street. McShea did not move to cross the street. He did not move from in front of the bank. His eyes were trained on the front door of the Number 9. “Y’all made a big mistake coming back here… A big mistake.”
Alejandro helped Diego onto a stool at the bar. The bartender, an older man named Tom approaches them. “What can I do for you fellas?”
Alejandro glanced up at Tom. “I’ll take a whiskey and water. And do you know where we can find the doctor?”
Tom nodded his head and pointed across the room. “In the corner eating.”
Alejandro turned and nodded towards Santino. Santino crossed the room and approached the Doctor. Doctor Wallace, one of two doctors in town – and the most recent addition to the permanent populace of the town. Doctor Wallace glanced up from his meal. “Yes?”
Santino pulled his hat off his head and held it against his chest. “My brothers and I heard that you were a doctor. Our youngest brother looks to be coming down with an infection. We’d really appreciate it if you took a look at him.”
Doctor Wallace nodded his head and took the last bite of his dinner. After setting his fork down, he stood up and crossed the room back to Alejandro and Diego. Diego had grown even paler. Sweat beads had started to form on his forehead. Doctor Wallace looked at him and turned to Alejandro. “What happened to him?”
Alejandro pointed to Diego’s leg. “He was shot. In a hunting accident. A hunter didn’t see that we were on the trail of the same animal. He,” he gestured to Joaquin, who was standing by the entrance, his eyes focused on the window, “stitched him up best he could.”
The Doctor nodded. “We need to get him upstairs so I can look at him properly.”
Alejandro nodded. “Let’s go Diego.” Diego gingerly slid of the stool and Alejandro stood next to him so that the two of them plus the Doctor could move to a room upstairs. Joaquin turned to look at Santino.
“We’ve got trouble.” Joaquin said in a low voice. Santino moved so he is standing next to his brother.
“What sort of trouble?” Santino asked.
Joaquin motioned to the window, “outside… three men… I’m assuming it’s the Sheriff and his two deputies. They know we’re here.”
Santino swallowed hard. “That mean what I think it means?”
Joaquin snorted and looked to his waist. He slowly pulled out his revolver. It wasn’t the same one he used ten years ago. That one was single action. The gun he held in the Number 9 Saloon was a Colt M1877 Double Action revolver. He looked at the gun and snorted again. “It means get ready for a fight.”
Joaquin turned to look at Tom the Bartender. “Clear the bar, now.”
Tom cocked his head, “And why the hell would I do that?”
Joaquin showed him his gun. “Because, a storm is coming.”
Sheriff McShea checked each revolver one last time. People were exiting the Number 9. “They know we’re coming.” He said to Parker and Pickett.
Each man nodded. “I’d reckon they do.” Pickett said as he checked his own revolver. “How do you want to play this boss?”
McShea turned, “What do you mean?’
“Are we going in guns blazing?” Pickett said, “Or are we going to try to talk them into surrendering.”
McShea spat. “That really depends on them, don’t you think? If they shoot, we shoot back and we shoot until all four of those sons of bitches are dead. If they put their hands in the air and come peacefully, then they can stand trial for their crimes and be hung. I don’t really care which one.”
The two deputies nodded. Parker glanced at Pickett. Pickett glanced back. McShea stared at the Number 9. He inhaled deeply and began to cross the street.
Alejandro had rejoined his two brothers down stairs. He checked his revolvers with shaking hands. Joaquin was at the bar. His hand clutched a pen. He was writing. Without looking up, he started speaking. “Do you know what Bill Hickok did when he thought he was going to die? He wrote letters to his wife. It is said that just before he died, he wrote to his wife. He told her that, ‘My dearly beloved if I am to die today and never see the sweet face of you I want you to know that I am no great man and am lucky to have such a woman as you,’ he knew. He knew death was coming. You could not live the life that he led and not know that.”
“What the hell are you going on about, Joaquin?” Alejandro blurted out nervously.
“I’m not afraid to die today, Alejandro. But I want Maria to know I love her. I want her to know that everything I did was for her and our children. In this country, in this place we are banditos, brothers, outlaws, criminals. They will not remember us fondly. I did not want Maria to remember me as they are going to.” Joaquin folded the paper and placed it in an envelope. He closed the envelope and slid it inside his jacket.
The swinging doors to the Number 9 were pushed open and McShea, Pickett and Parker entered. Their weapons were drawn. McShea spoke slowly, “no one move.”
The three Gonzales brothers raised their revolvers at the three lawmen. Joaquin looked at Sheriff McShea. McShea looked back at him. They held each other’s gaze for a long moment. No one spoke. No one moved. They just stood with guns leveled at each other. “I did not mean for your brother to die all those years ago, Sheriff.”
McShea spat at his feet. “You shot my brother. You sent three bullets into him and then you fled like a God-damned coward.”
“I went home,” Joaquin said in response. “I came here to take what had been taken from my family – from my people. This was our town. We were peaceful people. God-fearing people. And then your lot drove us from our homes. Sent us across the border. I didn’t mean for your brother to get shot that night. It was supposed to be simpler, but people got hurt.”
“It doesn’t matter what you intended. It matters what happened. You killed my brother. You killed dozens of other people. Your hands are soaked with the blood of innocent people. You must be brought to justice.”
Joaquin spat on the ground. “What about your hands? The hands of the people who ripped the land from my people? Where is the justice for us?”
Even though it was entirely unnecessary, Sheriff McShea pulled back on the hammer of the double action revolver. “Just put the revolvers down and no one has to get hurt.”
It was Alejandro this time that grunted and spoke. “Until we are hanging from gallows.”
Santino nodded in agreement. “There will be no justice for us with you.”
Joaquin was the last of the three brothers to speak. “I do not plan on hanging by my neck, sitting behind bars in your prisons, or whatever torture you can think of for me and my brothers.”
McShea grinned. This was what he wanted in a way. He didn’t want a peaceful solution. He wanted something violent. He wanted something primal. He was itching for a fight – something he normally tried to avoid at all costs. But today was different. “Well that’s your call.”
From the balcony above them, Diego shuffled out. He was badly limping and clutched a revolver. Doctor Wallace was trying to pull him back into the room. “You won’t take us!” He cried as he wildly fired a shot that did not come anywhere close to hitting a living target, but instead embedded itself in a support beam.
The gunshot; however, was all the lawmen needed. McShea’s gun raised and fired at the boy. The impact of the bullet into the upper thigh caused Diego to lurch forward into the railing and up and over it. The sound his body made when it collided with the floor below was sickening. Joaquin turned to the body. “Diego, Diego, Mi hermano.”
Diego didn’t move. He didn’t twitch. He was lifeless. Joaquin rested the temple of his revolver against his temple with his back to the law men, “you… You killed my baby brother.”
“And you killed mine you son of a bitch.” McShea snarled. Joaquin spun on his heel. In the midst of spinning, he fired a shot off towards the three lawmen. McShea rolled out of the way while Pickett and Parker ducked behind two columns. Joaquin kneeled behind the bar while Alejandro and Santino flipped tables over to use as cover.
Alejandro rose up to fire just as Pickett moved from cover to fire. Both squeezed off shots. Neither shot was able to find the mark; instead the bullets went wild and embedded themselves into walls. Alejandro fired again and Pickett was barely able to move out of the way of the bullet before it shattered the window at the front of the store. Pickett returned fire, but his shot was low and struck the table Alejandro had flipped for cover. The two men fired again and this time Alejandro’s shot was low, catching Pickett in the thigh but Pickett managed to catch Alejandro in the gut. The impact of the bullet into his leg sent Pickett to the floor while Alejandro fell back into another table; his fingers released the gun and went to press against the hole in his stomach that his insides were pouring out of.
Santino turned to see his brother fall and screamed. He pushed his table away and rose up, and fired shots at the beam Parker was hiding behind. Two bullets embedded themselves in the wood but one managed to find its way through the splinters and into the shoulder of Thomas Parker. Parker howled as searing pain shot through his left arm. He turned around the beam and fired a series of shots at Santino. Santino tried to take cover, but he was too late. Each one of the shots landed and Santino was driven into the side of the bar before slumping to the floor with several bullet holes in his chest.
Joaquin called out from behind the bar, “Sheriff. Are those my other two brothers laying there dead?”
McShea responded. “Yes. It is just you left.”
Joaquin dropped his revolver and started to stand up with his hands and the air. “You call this justice? My three brothers killed.”
McShea saw Joaquin emerge unarmed and slowly rose to his feet. His revolver was still trained on Joaquin’s body. “I call it the closest thing to justice this town is going to see. Now put your hands on the bar.”
Joaquin nodded and rests his hands on the top of the bar. “I really am sorry about your brother.”
Sheriff McShea just nodded as he moved to tie Joaquin’s hands together. “This could have been less bloody. It didn’t have to go down like this at all.”
Joaquin snorted, “Sheriff, when all that is left is how it goes down – it matters. We had to fight. We lost. Get your justice.”
“I will.” The Sheriff replied. “I will.”