Dark fell quickly and without contest during late winter in Matamoros. Striding across an alley ripe with urine and decay, Ranger J.T. McCutchen leaned against an adobe wall. Once situated, he stilled his breathing and listened for the echoing voices of the three men he’d tracked to this unmarked cantina. Soon he heard a familiar chorus buoyed into the night air by shots of cloudy mescal.
“La cucaracha, la cucaracha, ya no puede caminar porque no tiene, porque le falta marihuana pa’ fumar.”
It was a revolutionary verse, one he had heard before. Unclear about the reference to marihuana, he knew the song to be sung often by Poncho Villa supporters. The following verse could indicate something important about the men he sought.
“Cuando uno quiere a una y esta una no lo quiere, es lo mismo como si un calvo en calle encuentra un peine.”
It was nonsense, a farce. Something about unrequited love being as ridiculous as a bald man with a comb. No matter, he hadn’t suspected these men were Villistas anyhow, nor the rivaling Huertistas. The actions of Villa and Huerta only mattered to him when they spilled across the border, which after three years of revolution was happening more often.
These were most likely simple bandits, cattle rustlers, but he hadn’t followed them across the border for a good night kiss. He sniffed the air, the end of his nose curling. As he eyes adjusted to the scant light, he spotted a crate of rotting cabbages across the way. Covering his nose with his crook of his elbow, he breathed deep.
It seemed unlikely he’d take the men into custody without bloodshed. For a second he regretted not jumping them before they reached town.
Realizing the singing had stopped, he instinctively reached for one of his Colt .45 Flat Tops. The crunch of a boot on gravel sparked the silence. He spun to confront it, but for the first time during his ten years of service with the Texas Rangers, he was too slow. The business end of a shovel struck his brow, his skull compacting with the force of the blow. Popping lights blinded him. Spasming, he dropped his .45.
Strange, but he thought first about the condition of his hat, rather than his head. He listed and would have fallen, but another attacker shoved him hard against the adobe wall. He smacked the back of his head against the mud brick, bracing himself and wondering where his hat had gone. His vision rolled left and right as if he pitched on a boat.
“Un rinche solitario. Usted debe haber permanecido el hogar, el diablo tejano.”
McCutchen steeled himself against the coming onslaught. Bloodshed was a certainty now, most likely his own. “Wherever I’m standing is my home, you dirty Mexican bastard.”
With that a fist shot out of the shadows, connecting with his jaw. Briefly he thanked God for the support of the adobe wall. Stay on your feet, he thought. Reaching beneath his duster with his left, he drew his second Colt Flat Top. Now or never. Before he could focus and aim, the shovel swept back into view. As the shovel smashed into his hand, he forced off a round early. Then he forgot about God altogether.
“¡Dammit, el tiro híbrido yo!”
A din of angry voices rattled in his head like bees in a tin can before a fury of blows broke against him. Desperately he tried to whistle, to call, anything, but his jaw had swollen shut. He covered his face the best he could. Finally someone pulled him from the wall and threw him to the ground, where a boot to his temple ended the nightmare.