Two gun shots brought a sudden end to the violence.
“La prisa, el Villistas está viniendo. ¡De nuevo a la hacienda! ¡Viva Huerta!”
Men scurried down the darkened alley echoing the refrain, “¡Viva Huerta!” But the man who gave the orders paused at McCutchen’s body, limp and lifeless. He holstered his gun before stooping to pick up a single Colt .45, the second smothered by the Ranger’s body.
“¡Rápidamente!” He followed the others leaving a stillness behind.
Filthy water trickled down the center of the alley mixing with McCutchen’s blood. A black cat pounced from a stack of crates, chasing cockroaches past where he lay face down in the dirt. An hour later a slumped, old lady exited the cantina carrying a table cloth full of rags slung over her shoulder like a sack. So diminutive was her stature, the bundle settled behind her knees. When she turned, there in her path lay the rinche.
“Ay, dios mio,” the lady whispered as she bent to check for a pulse. Her wrinkled face, round eyes peering from deep furrowed caves, was dark and ruddy like blood and chocolate. She straightened, then scuttled away muttering to herself, her sack still over her shoulder.
Thirty minutes later she returned with two goats dragging a litter. Grunting she rolled his upper body into the makeshift basket of rope and clicked her tongue. The goats obediently tugged the limp body of the Ranger, cowboy hat now resting on his chest, to her house on the edge of town. Without slowing they pushed through the heavy fabric hanging over her doorway.
Glancing over her shoulder, the old woman followed them in. Amidst the stillness a chill settled into the trough of night beneath winking stars. Moments later the goats reemerged to scavenge next door for scraps of garbage.
Slits of greasy light poured into the street from around the curtain door. Inside, the bent lady wrung a rag into a basin of water. Humming to herself, she dabbed crusted dirt and blood from the Ranger’s face. Unconscious, he rested upright in the basket of the litter. In the flickering light of an oil lamp the woman crossed herself in the Catholic manner while growing more rhythmic in her tune.
She lifted McCutchen’s eyelids. His eyes had rolled back into his head. She bent close to his face to block the wavering light. His eyes and the corner of his mouth twitched. She pulled down on his chin to open his airway and listened intently as his breath came in raspy, labored draws punctuated with irregular shudders. Finally she massaged his face and neck before feeling again for his pulse.
Instead of beating slow as it should, it increased in tempo, his muscles tensing. Nimbly she jumped onto the bed and rummaged on a high shelf tucked under the thatched roof. On finding a small bowl of crushed leaves she returned to McCutchen’s side. Transferring flame from the lamp to the leaves, she breathed it briefly to life before allowing the fire to turn to smoke.
She placed the Ranger’s hat on his forehead draping a wet rag over its brim to cover his entire face and chest. She sat close to him, holding the bowl, allowing the smoke to rise alongside his neck up into the tent she had created. At first the Ranger snorted and coughed, but as she kept the smoke rising steadily with her breath his quaking muscles relaxed.
“Ah, marihuana sagrada.” Sacred marijuana.