BY: A. H. SCOTT
Mexico, 1862: Imelda Ignacio is alone, her family gone by the hands of the murdering dog, El Muerto, and his men. Thoughts of this man are always at the forefront of Imelda’s mind. No matter the situation, it is imperative that she be the one to find him and bring him to justice. Living isn’t an option for Imelda until the dead are avenged. But as she pursues the murderer, she learns a hard truth—if you’re willing to kill, you’d better be willing to die.
Walking down the streets of Laredo, guns hung low on her hips, Imelda—on the road to no redemption—is thrust into a life of deceit, survival, and what she calls justice. But where will it end?
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In Laid Hard and Fast by A. H. Scott, Imelda Ignacio has lost her entire family—her parents to Indians when she is just a child, and her grandmother, servants, and family friends to the outlaw El Muerto, who pillaged her grandmother’s hacienda and killed everyone there, when Imelda was away at college. Now, Imelda is out for revenge. Thrust into a life of deceit and betrayal, she searches for the outlaw and his gang, but she may find more than she bargained for.
The book is an exciting tale of life in Mexico in the 1860s, with a ring of truth that makes you feel as if you are right there.
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: Laid Hard & Fast: Imelda’s Story by A. H. Scott is the story of a young woman in Mexico in the mid-1800s. Imelda Ignacio is born into a life of corruption and deceit. Her grandmother, Rosa Sandoval, owns a hacienda in Mexico that is a sanctuary for outlaws, slavers, and other unsavory characters of the times. She also runs a brothel. When her young daughter, Sonora, defies her mother and becomes pregnant by the man she loves and wants to marry, Rosa is furious. She had plans for her daughter that did not include being married to a lowly laborer. After the child, Imelda, is born, Rosa forces Sonora to work in the brothel. Sonora and her husband flee the hacienda, only to be killed by Indians. Imelda is returned to her grandmother and is raised on the hacienda. When she grows up, she is sent off to college, and while she is there, her grandmother and everyone on the hacienda is murdered by the notorious outlaw El Muerto. Imelda is devastated and vows revenge. But how can a young woman achieve justice against a man as terrible and wicked as El Muerto?
Laid Hard & Fast: Imelda’s Story will have you chewing your nails on the edge of your seat from beginning to end.
Fall of 1841:
Rosa banged her black leather whip on her left hip while stroking her pistol on her right. “He’s not good enough for you. I will kill you—” she said, her teeth standing on edge. “—before you take up with the likes of an Ignacio. No, not ever again.
Sonora’s eyes closed.
“This is not what I want for you. Look at you, lying there as though you do not hear me,” Rosa said, staring down at her daughter on the bed. “There are many rich and powerful young men who are more suitable for you, and you choose the likes of that.”
Sonora covered her ears with her hands. This is one way I can drown out your voice, she thought.
“You will settle for a weak and insignificant worthless son of naught. This man is as chewed tobacco juices flowing down the outside of a spittoon.” Rosa’s voice rose to a high pitch. “I work hard to afford you many choices and this is what you give me in return.”
“But, Mama, I love him,” Sonora wailed, lying motionless on the bed, waiting. Her eyes beamed with pride.
Rosa Linda Sandoval shifted her body, threatening. She pounded the butt handle of her whip into her left hand. Sonora watched each movement her mother made with intent. I am just as strong willed as you are, Mama, she thought.
“The Ignacio’s name means nothing here in the mountains of Merida. This Miguel Ignacio will amount to nothing. He is nothing,” Rosa said, slapping the popper of the whip on the foot of the bed.
Sonora stared upward. She counted each speck of adobe on the ceiling and sucked in her breath. All of this is interesting, but it makes not a difference to me. I will marry Miguel.
“This arrangement between the two families emerging would bring shame upon our family’s name,” Rosa said, lowering the whip and pounding the butt handle into her left hand again. “No, this will never be so. I will not give my fortune to such a man.”
“It does not matter, Mama—I love him.” Sonora smiled up at Rosa. “I have never noticed the peaks of the hardened adobe on the ceiling. They look like the mountains that surround the hacienda.”
“You are the only child of my body. I will not see you married to a low life. What are you talking about? You try to distract me with this talk of ceilings and such.” Rosa caressed the thong of the whip to the fall hitch attached to her waist and curled it into a loop. “There is work for you here. You will learn the business. You are my only heir. Someday all of this will be yours. This business is not for such a man to control.”
A single tear rolled down Sonora’s cheek.
Rosa continued. “I must be hard, as you will see why someday. I am the owner of this house and these are my lands.” She waved her hands about the room as though gesturing the vastness of the land she owned and controlled. “I refuse to give it away.”
“Si, Mama. Now you must accept Miguel as my husband.”
“He will never be your husband,” Rosa shrieked.
“I want to marry him. I love Miguel. I want him, no matter the consequences.”
Rose massaged the guns on her hips. “This will stop.”
I am stepping into deep muck, bucking against you. I know the business of this house. This I do not want. I want Miguel more, Sonora thought.
“Love is just a word. What do you know about love? There is no time for such nonsense. I am the law here. Someday, so shall you be the law.”
“Love is much, I think.” Sonora’s voice lowered to a whisper. “I know this is dangerous territory going against your wishes, Mother, but I do love!”
“We will see…after he is gone.” Rosa’s piercing black eyes bored into her daughter. Her eyes looked hotter than the white ambers of coal from the stone fireplace when lit. “Then there will be plenty time for this love as you call it, when the proper man comes along. The right one!”
“I will leave this place.”
“You, my sweet, will never break away from me.”
“I will leave,” Sonora cried. She rolled onto her stomach, weeping. “I am determined to disentangle myself from this seedy lifestyle of yours,” she murmured.
Rosa stood at the foot of Sonora’s bed. Her hands placed on her hips. “I am the land-baroness. I drive a harder bargain than any man living or dead.” Rosa’s eyes softened for a moment. “Tears are a sign of weakness, only strength prevails. I have no time for such female emotions. Each day I prepare for the outlaws and gunslingers who find shelter here at my hacienda. I do not turn them away. If wooden nickels lay, I refuse to let one touch my golden pot of order, I regulate here what is to be. The law is me!” Her lips pursed. “This is the place of refuge for many. You shall see someday. This I rule to be true.” She pulled her whip off her waist, threatening. “If anyone ever thinks differently, they no longer are welcome to return to Merida.”
“No, Mama you cannot turn Miguel out. I am pregnant with his child.”
“What? No, this cannot be so. How could you do this to me?”
“You send him away, I will leave, too.” Sonora cried. “I will die without him.”
Anger flared in Rosa’s eyes. “You are a stupid fool. A child of Ignacio’s, this must not be true. Now I see.” She popped the whip in the air. “How dare you lie with dogs? Now you have his fleas. You think I’m a fool—you will see life as it is. I’ll see to this.”
“Tonto—stupid fool. This is what you are. To do away with Miguel now will bring attention,” Rosa said, rubbing her hands up and down the sides of her holstered guns. “Now you have to marry. You cry now, you do not know tears. You will shed many more tears before the end.” Rosa pulled up the left gun from its secured resting place and twirled it between her fingers. “How foolish are you. You are so much like your father. Neither one of you ever amounted to anything. His death was a pleasure,” she said, ramming the gun back into its holster, storming out of the bedroom.
“Buenos tardes, Madam Sandoval,” Maria said, greeting Rosa with a curtsy from across the room.
“Perhaps I am the fool. I married a Sandoval to keep the lineage strong. He was not of the same bloodline as my grandfather Jesse Cisneros Cordova y Sandoval, and now this daughter of his will bring a nothing into the world.”
There must be something wrong. Better I move back against the wall and give her space, Maria thought.
Rosa looked over at Maria edging up against the wall. “What is it, Maria.”
“Nothing, madam,” Maria said, scuttling down the opposite end of the hallway in deep thought. Whenever madam talks to herself, something big, very big and bad is going to happen. It will be most unpleasant here soon. Madam is most bothered by something. Why must Sonora cause problems and make it difficult for all. Her cries fill the halls, this is not good.
Rosa fingered her holster. She wandered down the hallway in deep thought. Sure, sure the Ignacios are from a long and traditional family of Mexico. They never possessed blue in their blood as we Sandovals. They claim to have fought for freedom from the French and the Dutch. Yet, their estate in the prominent area of the Paseo de Montejo has gone to ruin.
She walked into the parlor, smirking. Had they been smart like my papa—the Ignacios would have prospered from their production of henequen or Verde de Oro. They should have great wealth. Not as rich as me, but they should have a considerable amount of wealth to take their place in the world. And, now, this Miguel has nothing.
A woman in her mid-twenties stopped wiping down the counter of the bar when Rosa entered the parlor. “Señora, is there something you wish?” Jaslin asked.
“They want to take what is mine. I swear I will not have that. They will see,” Rosa whispered. “I do not invest so poorly as they. I do not gamble what I do not wish to lose, and I make sure plenty of alcohol is available for my guests. But this my lips do not touch.” Rosa picked up a bottle of rye whiskey, cut with turpentine from the bar, and swept her hand across her lips. “His family’s inheritance was sold, not stolen.”
“Si, señora,” Jaslin said. She moved from behind the bar.
Rosa’s teethed clicked. “It angers me that my family was not able to procure the Ignacio family’s estates when it was placed on the chopping block. We would have purchased it for a steal many years ago. Whatever happened to those investors? They lied. Did they restore the place back to its original luster? No. This did not happen. My family would have capitalized on the purchase and done more with the Ignacio family’s birth right. And now one of theirs wants my only child. I’ll be damned before I accept this.”
“Is there something you wish,” Jaslin said.
“I will show them what it means to be unfruitful, penniless really,” Rosa said, biting her lower lip. “Sonora is a fool! I will not comfort her. What the hell,” Rosa swore, walking back down the hallway to Sonora’s room. Her body quaked for a moment hearing Sonora’s cries. “She’s a fool.” Rosa’s heart hardened when she opened the bedroom door.
“Mama,” Sonora said, startled. I am afraid of what is to come. You never give up so easily. She shuddered.
“Your life will alter significantly, my dear,” Rosa said, pressing her index finger into her daughter’s chest. She sneered. “Si, most drastically now you have to marry, and now you are with child. You are no longer my daughter. No longer heiress to my money. You are a servant like all the others. You and yours will not touch my money.”
With disquieted terror, Sonora suppressed her sniffles. She rolled over out of Rosa’s reach, watching her mother pace the bedroom. Waiting.
“Your status is that of cleaning rooms while you await the birth of this child. This Miguel Ignacio will stay. He will work as my jack-of-all-trade. Life for you and this curse of a so-called man will be difficult. You are no better than the whores who work for me.”
Sonora eyes widened. “Mama,” she cried.
“You will work, and you will live as I say,” Rosa continued. “This Miguel will do as I say, too, or he will meet with the whip.” Rosa raised her whip from her hip and caressed her pistols. “He has no money and no inheritance. He will give nothing but weak children. This is the life you choose, so I make it as you wish.” She stared down at Sonora huddled in the corner of the bed. “You will see. I give you my word.”
Silent tears rolled down Sonora’s face. Someday Miguel and I will leave this place of horror, she vowed. I will not be under your influence much longer. I will escape this life you brought me into. My father would never have allowed this way of life, had he lived. Your hatred killed father’s spirit, but you will not kill me. I will die before that happens. Me and Miguel will live here until the right moment. Then we’ll go, you will never see us or this child I carry again. I will escape from your hold.
Sonora and Miguel’s child was born five months later, in the summer of 1842. She was christened by the name of Imelda Hortencia Sandoval y Sandoval Ignacio.
Rosa bided her time with diligence and shrewdness.
Rosa summoned Sonora from scrubbing the floors in the main hallway. “You are no longer needed as a wet nurse for your child,” Rosa said. “My granddaughter is no longer a baby. She is many years off the breast.”
“Si, Mama,” Sonora said. Now, I will see your wrath and pay the price for defying you.
Rosa looked over at one of the young girls who entertained one of her guests from across the room. “Kitty,” she called out.
“Si, madam.” Kitty dragged herself away from one of Rosa’s customers. Now what? I was enjoying the evening.
“Kitty, my daughter—um, Sonora—will work with you. Now, that her child is no longer in need. You will teach her the business.”
“Madam!” Kitty said with surprise.
Rosa pushed Sonora toward a reluctant Kitty. “You will teach her how to please our many guests.” Rosa smirked. “Whatever is their need, you understand, Kitty. This will be difficult for you, but I know you will not fail me. And, neither will you, my daughter, is this not true, Sonora?”
Sonora was taken aback. “Mama, you will do this to me?”
“Si, madam, I will teach her well,” Kitty sneered. I never liked you anyways. Miss Prissy princess of the palace, this will be my pleasure. Kitty glanced back in the direction of the man sitting on the divan. “Later,” she mouthed.
Rosa motioned another girl to take Kitty’s place with her guest.
“Why are you doing this?” Sonora cried, reluctant to go with Kitty.
Sonora’s pleas fell on deaf ears. Kitty grabbed Sonora’s forearm and led her past the sitting room.
“I like what I do, and you will too,” Kitty said, yanking Sonora down the hallway. “The work is very rewarding.” Her hand tightened on Sonora’s shoulder. “You will learn quick—we take care of Madam Sandoval’s guests nightly. It is a good job, you see. Si, you will learn quickly.” Her hand slid down to Sonora’s elbow with force. “We’ll go to my room to prepare for the evening. I will not hand feed you if that is what you think. I follow strict orders of Madam Sandoval. I will not play favorites. Besides, I do not want to play nice with you. You have lived a good life. So now you will see.”
Rosa turned toward the women. “You will make sure Sonora entertains as the other girls,” she shouted to Kitty. “And your job is to watch as overseer, understand.”
Kitty turned around and nodded in agreement. I take this with pleasure.
“I love my husband,” Sonora wailed in distress, snorting back tears. “This will not break me.”
Kitty dragged her farther down the corridor.
Rosa turned her back to them.
“What is going on?” Miguel said, walking up on the aftermath of the previous scene.
“And you, Miguel, your work has increased as I state,” Rosa said. “You are a husband and now a papa and will work as I say.” She looked back at the two women heading toward Kitty’s boudoir. “This will be a new world for Sonora, but she will learn well. Your wife is being prepared for tonight’s melee in Kitty’s room.
“Where is my wife going?”
“Your wife wants to play adult. It is time she learns adult business,” Rosa quipped.
“What do you mean?”
“I feel no impunity of loss. This is Sonora and your new life. She will bring in money just like the other women in the house. You shall be the witness.”
“This is low even for you, señora. I have never been disillusioned or surprised by your corruption, but Sonora is your daughter. Do you not care?” Miguel said. “Do you not hear her?”
“Cries are heard here many times. Weeping does not matter. There is strength after tears for some, and there is brokenness for others.”
Kitty’s bedroom door opened and closed with a loud bang.
“She is an innocent to this life,” Miguel cried.
“Your lives will never be the same. This I warned. You will learn never to defy me. So shall she. Do not be concerned of what goes on in Kitty’s room. They will be there for a while. In the meantime, get spittoons cleaned for my guests tonight,” Rosa barked. “Make sure the alcohol bottles are filled. You will take the place of Jorge. He’s dead now. Oh, well, he had it coming for many years. This is a great honor for you, my son-in-law!” she said with pride. “And put out some fresh cards. Ricky will show you where the special cards are kept. We do not cheat here.”
“This is most bad for all,” Miguel yowled.
Rosa eyes narrowed. “Miguel Ignacio, you will learn quickly what it is to take care of a family. Sonora will learn as I learned. You will do as I say or you will die, simple as that.” Her face twisted into a smile. “Or the child—you do not have a choice—understand?”
“Si, I understand. Señora Sandoval—you never accepted me as the husband to your daughter. You brought Sonora into this life, and now you send her off with a whore. You defiled your own flesh. What kind of mother are you?” he whispered.
“You think you knew me before, now you will know me. I do not hear your pleas, nor will I hear Sonora’s.”
“We expected life would change someday, but not to this extreme. Why?” he cried. “My child, your granddaughter, and your daughter are my world. Why do this thing? To prove you are in control? You will never like me, this I accept. But, Sonora, she is pure and clean to your world.” He slumped back against the wall. “I am all done-in with the life here. It is unconscionable what you will do to your own flesh and blood. Sonora will never forgive you.”
“How dare you speak to me in such a tone. Such ill-reproach! Si, you have no manners,” Rosa spat. “You are reckless this day. This I will not take.” She pulled her whip from her waist. “You are nothing. Sonora married nothing. So now she is nothing to me.”
“But she is your daughter.”
“I have no daughter.” Rosa quieted, slamming the whip against the wall.
“I will never be good enough for you, this I agree. But you allow your flesh to become nothing more than a—” His words broke off.
Rosa glared. “What? Nothing more than what?”
“She is your granddaughter’s mother.”
“That is of little consequences. Sonora is a worker just like my other girls.” Her lips curved upward. “She made the bed she is to lay in, and you are the rat who scrimmaged over her flesh. Sonora will suffer just as I have. She will dance in her fancy gown as the others, starting tonight.”
“Our love will grow ever so strong,” Miguel vowed. “You do this thing. There is no coming back. We will endure life here at the hacienda, but hear me. We are not your puppets. Sonora deserves better. Your world will never destroy us,” he said, storming off, defeated.
“Sonora will entertain my guests as I see fit.” Rosa turned her nose up in Miguel’s direction, laughing. “And you my son-in-law will be her keeper. You will watch and make sure nothing happens to my precious daughter.” She lowered her voice. “This, my daughter will do with the grace of a Sandoval y Sandoval.” She stopped short. “This is her heritage.”
Rosa’s contemptuous mockery was known and heard throughout the hacienda. When the house was full of ruffians, Rosa made sure all her guests were well satisfied. She anesthetized herself with a medicinal draught each night Sonora entertained, pretending to be fatigued. She retired early, but everyone knew she was in the house. As though she deliberately wanted to forget the decisions she’d made.
I am not responsible for Sonora’s choices. Rosa glowered in deep thought. I taught her well. But she refuses to learn. No. I am not responsible. Sonora chooses wrongly, this my only child. Now I have a granddaughter to teach. Imelda will learn well. She touched the whip hanging from her bedpost. Or I will use this whip on her when she is of age. Sonora is like dirty tease sitting before the men as the other girls. I won’t make concessions for her. Besides, she brings in good money.
Each evening before Sonora went to work in the dining hall, she placed Imelda in the feathered-down youth bed, kissing her goodnight before heading toward the Red Room.
The red room was no longer used for formal dining. It was now a parlor of entertainment for all of those who came to the hacienda. There were no rules, only the chit chat of delight for anyone who paid the price Rosa commanded. The charge at the hacienda was worthy of the prey though the price was hefty at times, but the protection availed to be more inescapable than the hangman’s noose.
Miguel tried to make his presence known in the evenings, though he was not allowed to protect his wife or any of the other women from overly aggressive guests. His duties were to watch and clean up after the night’s melees and sexual dalliances. Still the men fondled and destroyed Sonora’s dreams, as Rosa’s dreams for her daughter were destroyed by the choices her daughter made in marrying. Sonora and Miguel were caught in Rosa’s nightmare, and their only passage was to submit or death.
By daybreak the house was quiet. Miguel scrubbed-up vomit and piss streams off the walls from drunken men. He scraped tobacco spit from floors and furniture. He swept up the broken glass and refilled the empty bottles with cheap rye and tequila, after he rolled barrels of beer from the cellar. This, Miguel did after he made sure his wife was washed from the night’s filth and tucked securely in their bed.
Every rising of the sun, he would vow to Sonora—as he covered her exhausted body with the best of linen he had purchased when they first married and kissed her tenderly on her forehead before she closed her eyes—they were going to someday escape with their daughter.
Miguel climbed the stairs, exhausted. He was on the alert when he saw the door to his and Sonora’s bedchamber standing ajar. He had not left the door open. He flung back the door. Just then a figure moved in the dark.
“What are you doing here? These are private quarters,” Miguel shouted.
“Thought I might jest sleep here,” the man said. His speech was slurred.
The drunken figure was half nude and mounted on Sonora as she slept, just feet away from Imelda’s bed.
“Get off of my wife, you bastard.” Miguel, enraged, rushed into the bedchamber. He pulled out his machete that he used to cut down vines, which was hooked through the loops of his pants, from its sheath. “I will kill you, you mangy dog.”
Miguel raised the machete over his head and lowered it onto the skull of the intruder, gashing the head of the man where he lay sprawled over Sonora. The man did not have time to react before he died. Miguel pulled the body off his wife. Their bed was soaked with blood.
Sonora awakened with a start. “Miguel,” she whispered.
She stared up at Miguel and the heap on the ground, horrified. With extreme calmness, she gathered herself out of the blood-soaked covers and took the blanket Miguel handed to her.
Imelda whimpered in her sleep.
“Shh, Mama is here,” Sonora said.
Her hand stroked Imelda on the back until the child was comforted. She wiped the blood off her body feverishly without a sound, pulled off the gown, and wrapped herself in the blanket. Imelda squirmed once again in her bed. Sonora hurried across the cold bedchamber’s floor and pulled out day wear. She dressed in silence.
Miguel sat on the edge of the bed, looking down at the heap on the floor.
Tenderly, Sonora gathered Imelda into her arms. “We must go, my husband. Now we escape,” she said. “If we don’t, she will kill us.”
Miguel nodded in agreement.
Sonora pulled Imelda closer to her breast and carried her down the outside stairs of their balcony into the dawn of the early morning.
“Go along, I am right behind you,” Miguel said in an undertone. He crossed the room in deep thought, careful not to make noise. Gathering up Sonora’s blood-soaked gown and throwing the blood-saturated bedcovers onto the floor, he wiped the blood from his machete onto the man’s checkered shirt. Miguel wrapped Sonora’s bedclothes and the dead body in the bedding.
With swift movements like a gazelle and the softness of a doe moving through the thicket, Miguel made his way to the dining room. Pulling down the cords off the drapery that hid the day into night, he brought them back to the room. Binding the body and blood-soaked clothing with the cords, he hoisted the body across his shoulder. He wobbled, forcing his steps down the rear balcony stairs. The dead weight caused Miguel’s muscles throughout his body to fatigue, but the coolness of the morning invigorated his hot skin and brought his mind to a new consciousness.
He dragged the bloodied corpse the last few feet toward the cliff above the sea. He set the bundle in front of his body on the ground. Sonora watched the scene from a distance.
Cooing in Imelda’s ears, Sonora held her child close to her breast. “I prepared this escape many months for us,” she said. “The evil spirits of this place must go.” She stroked Imelda’s cheek. “I knew your father would someday take us away from this horrible place and away from Mother.”
Imelda snuggled closer to her mother.
Sonora had seen to it that a covered wagon was placed over in the avocado orchards behind the hacienda months ago. A traveling trunk was filled and ready, with all the provisions needed for such a night as this, in the bed of the wagon. There was plenty of dry meat, water, and clothing. Why Rosa never moved this wagon before now was beyond Sonora. Rosa must have seen it there. Perhaps, she thought it was to be used for the convenience of her guests.
Sonora looked about her surroundings. “You sleep so well, my darling,” she said, kissing Imelda on the forehead. With caution, she trudged through the tall grasses of the orchards of the hacienda. Imelda stirred in her sleep. “Shush, my darling,” she purred.
In the quietness of the night and with calmed emotions, Sonora carried Imelda toward the covered wagon, placing the child in the makeshift bed of straw she quickly prepared. Imelda’s sleep was not disturbed. The child snuggled down into the straw bed without a whimper. Sonora left the child secured in the wagon and skirted in the shadows of the outbuildings in the direction of the stables.
“A man can be hung for stealing another man’s horse, so I’ve got to be sure that these horses are the ones that I own since long before I married.”
Sonora’s eyes glazed over the horses in the corral. She was vigilant in looking over each horse for the ones that were familiar and careful to select the ones she inherited after her father’s death. Patting the horses about the neck to keep them quiet, Sonora led them out of their corral.
“Mama’s forgotten about you,” she said to the horses. “This is legal. I take the property that belongs to me. With great fortune of the angels and the goodness of God’s provision, we will escape this night of horror.”
Slipping behind the outhouses and other buildings and leading the horses toward the wagon, Sonora saw, from a distance, the silhouette of Miguel dragging something heavy. It was like a dream. Sonora kept a close eye on the windows and doors of the hacienda and the other houses, in fear someone would notice their strange movements. She steered the horses without a sound toward the front of the wagon.
Pushing the body closer to the wall of the sea, Miguel shoved his foot forward, propelling the bundle over the cliff to the waters below. He rushed over to Sonora.
“Sonora,” he said, panting.
“Miguel, please help me harness the horses,” she said.
Bridling the team of horses and securing their harness straps to the wagon tongue was not an easy job. Sonora checked and made sure that their collars and back harnesses were placed exactly right. By the grace of silence and endurance, she and Miguel attached the reins to the head harnesses and stretched them. The reins stretched back to the wagon seat. With both on each side of the horses, they were able to insert the bits into each horse’s mouth and secure the straps behind their ears. It was a blessing the horse were accommodating. Miguel and Sonora attached the driving reins to both sides of the bits and joined the harness tugs, connecting the shafts to attach the team to the wagon.
“This is a positive thing. We leave now. I am ready to be gone far from this place,” Sonora whispered. “See how Imelda sleeps with much comfort. All is a good sign.”
Miguel and Sonora mounted the wagon. If there were sounds, nothing more than natural credence took over their flight. Miguel took hold of the driving reins and led the horses in the direction of the stronghold. In quietness, they stole away under the shadow of a moonless night. The fragrance of the juniper trees succored their fears, as though they were anesthetized. The trees bent their backs, sheltering the terror that Miguel and Sonora felt in their bodies, while driving toward the eye of the keyhole of the estate.
The jacarandas sprawled out their flowers like wings, touching each other as though wreaths of love directed their path.
Apprehension of being delayed by a drunken guest of Rosa’s enmeshed within their thoughts, but no one was in sight. Imelda was cradled in her manger as though nothing had occurred. She slept in peace in the rear of the wagon, never stirred.
Sonora leaned into her husband’s shoulder with the nervousness of a child running away from home for the first time, looking at him with admiration. She loved him with all of her heart. But there was a sense of loss. They drove the team of horses toward their exodus to freedom.
“Mother Mary, pray for us,” Sonora said, crossing her heart in a prayer.
Miguel silently prayed. Protect us.
Adrenalin surged within the two of them. Soft prayers for protection filled the silence. Straight forward they drove, alerted to every sound. Drunken men snored as though filled with laughter. Those awake were too intoxicated to care. This was the way Rosa wanted the men to be—she didn’t have to worry about them. At night, they drank and slept it off until the morning. By day, all was as Rosa fancied. This schemed worked out well for life at the hacienda.
“This would be enjoyable if it weren’t for the threat of being waylaid,” Sonora murmured in a diminutive voice, holding on tight to Miguel’s arm.
He, too, felt as though all life had been drained from them both.
“The joy of liberty is overwhelming. I feel as though my head and body are no longer in bondage. It is strange that the desert land does not terrify me as much as the wrath of Mama,” she whispered, stretching her arms around Miguel’s neck. “I feel sort of jittery, you know, like a rat running across a hot stove.” She shivered. “The thought of Mama coming after us is frightening and enthralling, both being exciting. But when I look at Imelda, I am filled with peace. Miguel, I know this is the right thing to do.”
Anxious, Miguel nodded in agreement. I cannot allow her to hear the uneasiness in my voice. My nerves are on edge not because of what happened in our bedchambers. I know Rosa Linda Sandoval will not give up so easily. She will hunt us down as though we were animals, as well as haunt us.
Sonora laid her head on Miguel’s shoulder and wiggled closer to him. “Our child’s peaceful sleep confirms our flight.”
Finding his voice, Miguel spoke with certainty. “The slop of pigs while we built them up for butchery and the smell of their blood as they squealed when slaughtered no longer frightens me, as long as I have you by my side.”
Sonora smiled up at him, squeezing his arm in assurance.
“This is not the first time I took a human life. I have fought many Indians before, but this time the life taken was justified,” he continued. “We will find the freedom you and our daughter deserve.
“I see I am free, my husband, with you.” Sonora forced a smile and snickered. “I like how the words sound,” she continued. “—with my husband and my child by my side. Our child sleeps so peaceful, so unaware of the night’s work.” She looked back to the rear of the wagon at Imelda. It would have been very bad if my husband had not saved me. What could I do with Imelda so close and asleep if I had awakened? I would have had to give in without a fuss. How can Mother allow such people here? She trembled. I have to dismiss this from my mind. Pretend it never happened. I can smell the breath and sweat of that strange fat man. What if I had screamed?
Imelda squirmed in her sleep.
Sonora sighed with confidence. “I no longer am fearful of what tomorrow will bring.”
“Si,” Miguel agreed.
“And I have no regrets. I shed no tears. There is work to be done, and I am ready for the challenge. Whatever it takes to keep you and our child safe, I will do.” Her voice rose to a high pitch.
Miguel eyed her for a moment with concern. “You are content with this decision?”
“From the terror of my mother—she will never place our daughter in the life that…that—” Her words broke off. “I will kill before Imelda is put into that situation.”
“I understand and agree. We will take Imelda far away to the Americas. Señora Sandoval will never find us. I promise.” Miguel tried to blink back the tears in his eyes and the terror he felt in his heart. “Your eyes are very bright in the dark night.” He tried to smile. I sense her nervousness. I need to relieve the uncertainties that I too feel. He wrapped his arm about Sonora’s shoulder. “I do not grieve the dirt and dust of the trail before us. But the vengeance of Señora Sandoval’s anger I feel deep upon our heads. There is real danger lurking in the rear and in the darkness,” he said.
“I, too, feel the same.”
Miguel’s voice was rigid. “Perhaps she will let us go free.”
“She will never give up.” Sonora lowered her voice. “She will hunt us down like rabid coyotes. But I do not care. She lost me years ago as a daughter when she pushed me into the callous heart of those she protected.” Her voice shook. She clung tighter to Miguel’s arm. “It is a cloudless night and the stars are bright,” she said, looking up at the sky. “The Little Bear in the sky points to the north. This is the way we travel. I have heard of a place in Texas. It will be safe.”
“We will travel by night, after the sun descends to the horizon of nightfall, and sleep by day. The Comanche do not like strangers on their land, but we are prepared,” Miguel said.
Miguel and Sonora rode in the darkness of the night. It was true, at one time, Indians feared fighting at night for they did not know what to expect from their ancestors and they did not want to anger them.
“We are prepared to fight if need be. No matter the hour,” Sonora said. She laid one of the loaded rifles on her lap and was readied with additional rifles and ammunition. She had taken her father’s rifles and handguns from the hacienda weeks prior and had hidden them below the floor panels of the wagon for such a time as this.
With Indians ahead of them and around them on all sides, their choice was uncomplicated. In their eyes, it was less worrisome to fight the Indians than face Rosa with her band of cutthroat guests who cared little for nothing, which Sonora and Miguel felt were to their rear.
“I am sure Mother hired her own lynch men to track us by now,” Sonora said. “But we absconded through the wilderness and now we must try to reach some symbolism of peace and protection, if not for us, for our child.”
“Perhaps she will let us go,” Miguel repeated. I know my mother-in-law will never let go.
“You are foolish sometimes, my husband, to think such thoughts of Rosa Linda Sandoval,” Sonora said. “I pray the Indians have not gone religious.” She looked up at the dark sky and smiled. “We are fortunate that the small renegade parties of Indians that we encountered so far were apprehensive to attack us. They only have bows and arrows against these repeaters and their explosion. And, besides, many of the Indians are not as smart as rumored,” she said, exhaling.
As each new day dawned, Miguel and Sonora unpacked their wagon and allowed Imelda the freedom to run, within their sight, while they relaxed from the night’s drive.
“We no longer have names or a country. We will travel toward the Americas,” Sonora said. She poured Miguel a cup of hot coffee and gave Imelda a plate of beans.
“You must be realistic, Sonora. What do we have to offer in such a place as the Americas?” Miguel said. My mind is unable to sort out the answers for our future in a strange country, and with a child. For a moment, I have forgotten the danger that follows us. I am worried about being able to provide for my family in a strange land.
“We will take the names of Margo and Sam,” she said with pride. “I am filled with joy. We need new identities. Yes, those are America names. We take these names as our own. Imelda will keep her name. She will not understand. Besides, who looks at a young child?”
Miguel nodded in agreement.
“We are three ways from Sunday.”
“You think this is the road we are to travel, Sonora?” Miguel said. I feel uneasy. I have never doubted Sonora before. I have faith she is smart and knows the right thing to do.
“Yes, Sam, you are no longer Miguel. I will practice now. You will practice now.” She giggled.
Miguel grinned with delight. “I am Sam and you are Margo. I think I like this. I love you, Margo. You are like a child when you get an idea in your head.”
When the sun set, the journey of Sam and Margo began afresh with their daughter Imelda. Once again, they loaded up the wagon and headed toward Guadalupe Peak. They crossed the Pecos River, where the water did not run as swift, and west to Abilene. Though the drive was not easy, the fear of being caught and dragged back to the mountains of Merida was worse, and this weighed deeply within their minds.
© 2019 by A. H. Scott
Bonnie Hearn Hill:
“A wild ride…A. H. Scott has created a strong woman you will root for.” ~ Bonnie Hearn Hill, author of The River Below