Coyote and I head north for the border. I’m still broke but I have my pistols and my hat back. That’s what counts. Luke was right about one thing. The hat does smell. But I reckon that’s from being on his ugly head. I’ll dunk it in a river if I ever see one with water in it.
It’s about the middle of the afternoon and I’m coming up on about where the border should be—no one really knows where, exactly, it is, not even the two governments involved—when I see someone familiar in the distance.
This is not a happy occurrence. I don’t want to see him. And he probably doesn’t want to see me. My first thought is to run, but that’ll just make him chase me. He won’t care if I go across the border either. My best bet is to face up and talk to him. We parted on good enough terms last time. Maybe we still are.
I stop, hook my leg around the saddle horn, and settle in to wait. It’s times like these I wish I smoked cigarettes, so I could be casually smoking one when he comes up, maybe blow a smoke ring or two. But I tried them a couple times and they made me sick.
I don’t have to wait long. He’s already seen me and he and his men all come up at a nice, easy lope. His men are as rough looking as ever, scars, tattoos, missing body parts. They’re former criminals, every one of them. Wearing official uniforms doesn’t change that.
The men part when they get close and he emerges from their midst. He’s riding that big chestnut stallion of his. The horse is probably twice Coyote’s height. Coyote hates horses that are taller than him. Well, to be accurate, he hates all horses. But he especially hates tall horses. He lays his ears back and bares his teeth.
“Easy there, brother. Don’t do anything foolish and get me killed,” I tell him in a low voice. To the approaching rider I say, “Afternoon, Colonel Kosterlitzky. What brings you up this way?”
The Colonel looks me over before responding. His dark eyes are piercing and I feel an urge to confess to things I haven’t done. He’s an imposing man—ramrod straight, military uniform with braid on the shoulders, the saber hanging by his side—and widely feared on both sides of the border. The men he and his Rurales set out to catch, they generally catch. Some even survive the trip to prison.
“You survived your journey to the temple of Totec,” he says. There’s almost no trace of Russian accent in his voice. But I can see his Cossack heritage in the way he holds himself, the tone of voice that says he expects to be heard and obeyed.
“It was close a couple times.”
“I see no treasure. I trust the General did not get his hands on it?”
A little chill goes through me, the way he says that. It’s a question, but also a reminder. When last we parted he made it very clear how he felt about the General getting hold of the treasure. Something about personally hunting me down if I let it happen. It seems the General had plans for that treasure, plans that involved revolution and assassination.
“He had his hands on it,” I say. “But not for very long.”
“Can I tell President Diaz that he no longer need concern himself with de la Cruz?”
“What happened to him?”
I remember the last time I saw General Rafael Santiago Dominguez de la Cruz, the things holding him down on that altar. “He ran into some friends and couldn’t get away.”
Kosterlitzky nods. “He was not happy about the mess you made of his hacienda. Was it necessary to use that much dynamite?”
I scratch my cheek. “It seemed like it at the time.”
“I must remember never to invite you to my home, at least not without properly securing you.”
“You have a home?” I can only picture Kosterlitzky out here, riding after the bad guys.
“Of course. Everyone has a home. I am not an animal.”
“A wife? Kids?”
He frowns to let me know I’ve gone too far, that he does not condone such familiarity. I wonder briefly if I will be ‘shot while trying to escape’. Or maybe I’ll get an offer to join the Rurales. The kind I can’t refuse.
“It is not that kind of home,” he says somberly. He looks around. “You seem to have lost your two companions.”
“Or they lost me.” I know I sound bitter when I say it, and I don’t care. I am bitter. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
“I am not interested in hearing. I only wished to know if the young lady was well.”
“Last time I saw her she looked just fine.”
“And now you return to the United States, no?”
Relief goes through me. I think he’s going to let me go. “That’s the plan.”
“Good. It is probably better that you leave Mexico. I am thinking that you cause problems where you go. You have done me a small favor. I would not wish to return it by shooting you.”
“That’s exactly how I feel.” I unhook my leg and pick up the reins. Then something occurs to me.
“There’s a man, name of Ike Clanton.”
Kosterlitzky nods. “I know this name. There was a problem between him and the Earps in Tombstone a while ago. A shootout.”
“You know about that?”
“It is quite famous and Mexico is not the end of the world.”
I guess I should be happy he doesn’t know about my part in it.
“I saw Ike last night, south of here.” One of the Colonel’s impressive eyebrows rises fractionally. “He was selling guns to some Yaqui Indians. Thought you might like to know.”
That gets his interest. The Mexican government has been fighting with the Yaquis for a long time. More guns isn’t something they want the Yaquis to have.
A few minutes later I ride away all smiles. Not only did I earn a few more points with Kosterlitzky, but I shouldn’t have to worry about Ike for a while.
Or ever again.
Go to Chapter 1 of Ace Lone Wolf and the Lost Temple of Totec.