The Far Western Civil War, Book 1
by P.G. Nagle
“Come on, Lacey!” said Nicodemus, pulling at McIntyre’s sleeve.
McIntyre groaned, his dreams interrupted. “What now?”
“Come on!” insisted Nicodemus in a hushed voice.
Anderson rolled over. “Go to sleep, Nico,” he said in a weary voice. “It’s nearly midnight.”
“Not me,” said Nicodemus. “Captain Graydon’s getting up some fun, and I want to see it!”
“If you’re smart you’ll steer clear,” said Anderson. “Paddy Graydon’s half crazy.”
McIntyre sat up and glanced at Anderson’s dark shape. He had returned from the skirmish exhausted and exasperated with the poor performance of the volunteers. The experience of being under fire seemed not to have changed him, but McIntyre still felt a bit chagrined at having watched it all from safety.
“What sort of fun?” he asked Nicodemus.
“I don’t know, but come on, or we’ll miss it!”
McIntyre threw back his blankets, shivering as he reached for his coat. He shoved his feet into his boots and followed Nicodemus out to the stables, where several of Graydon’s men stood gathered around two old mules.
Some of the men were packing a wooden box with dark shapes that looked like howitzer shells, while others strapped a similar box to the back of one of the mules. McIntyre looked around and saw Captain Graydon watching the operation, the stub of his cigarillo glowing in the night.
“Are those army mules?” asked McIntyre.
“No, they’re old breakdowns. Got ‘em from a farmer up the river,” said Graydon. “Close it up, now,” he told the men, going forward to see that the boxes were fixed to his liking.
As McIntyre watched, a man approached him in the darkness. “Mind if I join the party?” asked the newcomer, with a hint of Alabama in his voice.
“I’m not in charge,” said McIntyre. “Captain Graydon is.”
“Suits me. I like Irish captains.” The stranger offered a hand. “Joe Hall, Dodd’s Company.”
“Lacey McIntyre. This is Will Nicodemus.”
“Come on along,” Nicodemus said, shaking hands. “More the merrier.”
Graydon’s men had finished loading the mules and began to mount up, so the three of them did likewise and followed Graydon’s little troop, with the mules going quietly along, out of the fort and toward the river.
“What’s he going to do?” asked McIntyre.
“Stampede the Rebs’ beef herd,” said Nicodemus, grinning. “They won’t stay long without their grub.”
Hall laughed. “Wish I’d come down to New Mexico sooner!”
“We wish you had too,” said McIntyre, thinking of Canby’s repeated pleas to Governor Gilpin for troops.
They forded the cold, swift river and passed through the picket line. McIntyre’s nape crawled as he realized they were heading straight for the Texans’ camp. He peered into the darkness, straining to see movement, listening for a sound above the muffled tread of the horses.
They advanced cautiously, Graydon waiting for his scouts to report before moving the little party ahead. McIntyre glanced at the ridge above, which that afternoon had bristled with cannon. All was silent.
Graydon circled north and climbed the rise, following a little arroyo to the top of the ridge. Campfires glimmered to the south. Slowly they approached the dark, moving masses of the herds, keeping a sharp watch for guards.
When they were within a hundred yards of the animals, Graydon and a couple of his men dismounted and huddled by the two mules, talking in hushed tones. McIntyre saw a tiny flame spark, and a moment later Graydon aimed the mules toward the herd and slapped their rumps. The animals trotted off and Graydon and his men hurried back to their horses.
“Home,” McIntyre heard him say.
Glad to obey, he urged his pony to a brisk trot as they headed back for the shelter of the arroyo. He was sorry he’d come; if he had known what fate awaited the old mules he’d have stayed behind, but it was too late now. He glanced back, and to his horror saw the mules trotting calmly along behind him.
“Captain!” he said, strangling a shout.
Hall, riding beside him, turned, and said “Shit!”
Graydon’s horse turned, and in an instant the captain had seen the mules. He kicked his horse so hard it reared, and as he clung to its neck Graydon yelled, “Run for it, lads!”
McIntyre jabbed his heels into his pony’s sides and whipped it with the reins, galloping for his life. A shout from somewhere far behind told him the Confederates had noticed them, but it hardly mattered. They would have noticed soon enough, as soon as the fuses ignited the shells in those two boxes.
Graydon’s men were cursing, driving their ponies on while the mules did their best to keep up. Hall let out an insane, laughing whoop beside him as McIntyre stared at the arroyo ahead and prayed he would make it that far.
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P. G. Nagle is the author of seventeen novels and two collections of short fiction, and co-editor of two anthologies. A native and lifelong resident of New Mexico, she has a special love of the outdoors, particularly New Mexico’s wilds, where many of her stories are born.