Thanks to the Hip and Knee Doctor for editing assistance
Note from Jake Rivers:
This is my sixth semi-annual "invitational." The initial one was based on the Statler Brother's song, "This Bed of Rose's." The second used the Marty Robbins El Paso trilogy: "El Paso" "El Paso City " and "Faleena." The third had stories based on the various versions of "Maggie May" or "Maggie Mae." The fourth invitational was based on any Country & Western song and the fifth on songs by Merle Haggard.
The current invitational is based on any song written or performed by Willie Nelson.
Pancho was a bandit boys
His horse was fast as polished steel
Wore his gun outside his pants
For all the honest world to feel
Pancho met his match you know
On the deserts down in Mexico
Nobody heard his dying words
That's the way it goes
All the federales say
They could have had him any day
They only let him hang around
Out of kindness I suppose
Lefty he can't sing the blues
All night long like he used to
The dust that Pancho bit down south
Ended up in Lefty's mouth
The day they laid poor Pancho low
Lefty split for Ohio
Where he got the bread to go
There ain't nobody knows
Lefty Torrensen was the tallest man in town. Actually, the town wasn't that big, but it was growing. Lefty and his partner Malcolm, started the Hachita Mercantile three years ago. The copper mines were booming and the traffic on the El Paso and Southwestern was getting heavier every day. Lefty's real given name was Niles. He got his nickname when he was sixteen years old and lost his arm in a threshing machine back in Ohio. That was when he decided that he no longer wanted to be a farmer.
Malcolm and Lefty pooled their money and ended up in Hachita. It was a gamble but they were both willing to take it. The West was growing and Lefty was ready to be a part of it. New Mexico wasn't the prettiest place in the world, but he could see his future there.
His future included Hilda. While Lefty's yellow hair was thin and wispy, Hilda's tresses were thick and golden. They had been together since childhood and were destined to be together forever. They were planning on at least five children and Lefty was anxious to get started.
The El Paso and Southwestern was due in at noon. There was only one passenger car on the train and today there was a special passenger. Lefty converted the whole second floor of the Mercantile into living quarters to share with his new bride-to-be. In a few years he would have the new house ready just outside of the town limits. Actually, it wasn't a town yet, but if things kept booming it was sure to come.
Malcolm was just the opposite of Lefty. He was short, with a dark complexion. His most outstanding feature was his jolly nature. Since he worked well with the customers, Lefty left most of the selling to him. Malcolm was making space for the new merchandise that was also arriving today. Everybody was waiting for the shipment of lanterns and kerosene. There would be the usual cases of canned food, sacks of beans, sugar, and flour. Malcolm was also hoping to see the tools he had ordered over two months ago. There were less than twenty kids in town, but Lefty insisted that Malcolm order a batch of penny candy.
Hilda was now a certified teacher, and the children were looking forward to her arrival, almost as much as Lefty was. The only learning that they got up to this time was from the local minister.
"Lefty, that train is not going to get here any faster if you keep checking the clock every five minutes."
"Sorry, Malcolm. I am having a hard time concentrating. All I can think about is Hilda. I just hope everything goes as planned. The minister is ready to perform the marriage this afternoon, and Mister Jennings is going to have enough brisket ready to feed the entire town tonight. It has to be perfect. She's waited this long and came this far. It just has to be perfect."
"You still have two hours to go. I can finish here without you."
"That's Okay. It's better if I keep busy, even if that damn clock is running slow."
Malcolm had to laugh at that. Niles didn't make jokes too often, and when he did they were usually very subtle.
Pancho Gomez waited patiently for the train to leave Columbus. He only had six men with him, but there were never any guards on the freight trains. The freights carried a little mail, but never any money. The food and equipment was of no use to him, nor were the empty hopper cars. The best he could hope for was a few passengers in one car who might have a little money or jewelry.
A small pile of railroad ties was all it took to stop the train. The crew never offered any resistance. That way nobody ever got hurt. They looked in all of the boxcars and found nothing of interest.
Pancho boldly entered the passenger car. He was taller than most of his compadres, and far more flamboyant. The gun belt that held his silver .45 also had a large silver buckle. His black shirt had silver buttons, and around his hat was a silver band. There were only six people in the passenger car. Pancho said a few words to some of his men and they proceeded to collect all of the valuables from the victims. Pancho stood by, staring at the most beautiful creature he had ever seen. She had hair like the afternoon sun and a complexion that looked like ivory. She looked at him in the eyes and never blinked or wavered. One of his men approached her, but Pancho waved him away.
Hilda watched as the banditos entered the car. There was nowhere to run to and no place to hide. All she could do was sit and wait. She quickly decided that she would give up anything she had with no argument just to get it over with. Seeing Lefty again was the most important thing to her. The leader of the group stopped in front of her. His stare was meant to intimidate her and she knew it. Her pride would not allow her to give in. She returned his glare with a defiance that Pancho was unaccustomed to.
Women fell at his feet. He never met a girl who did not immediately want to be with him. He had never met a girl like Hilda.
In ten minutes, it was all over. Six men waited on horseback for Pancho to join them. All six stared in disbelief as he came out of the train car carrying Hilda over his shoulder, kicking and screaming. He threw her across the front of one of the mounted men and slapped the rump of the horse. Minutes later, Pancho and his group where across the border in Puerto Palomas, with a furious Swedish hellcat. It was the biggest mistake Pancho would ever make.
It took the train crew twenty minutes to clear the tracks. This was the first time anyone had ever been hurt during one of these encounters. Actually, Hilda wasn't hurt but the abduction was clearly unacceptable.
Malcolm sat on the porch of the mercantile watching Lefty walk towards the train station. The jacket was too small for him and the starched collar forced him to walk like he had a broom stuck up his butt. Lefty carried a small bouquet of wild flowers that he had paid some of the children to gather for him. The payment was, of course, in hard candy. The train was usually late, but today it was later than normal. Malcolm could see Lefty pacing nervously from a hundred yards away. After all of his years of waiting, it was odd watching him get excited about a few minutes.
Things got a lot better as Lefty saw the stream of smoke from the wood burner appear in the distance. He straightened his coat and stood proud and erect as the engine passed the depot to the water tower. Lefty strained to look through the windows, but could not see the love of his life. He never noticed the brakeman/conductor walking up to him with a somber look on his face.
"Yes. I am Niles Torrensen. I am here to meet Miss Olsen. I don't see her."
"I am afraid that I have bad news Mister Torrensen."
"She didn't get on the train? What happened?"
"No. She got on in El Paso. Everything was fine until we got just outside of Columbus."
"What do you mean? Where the hell is she?"
"The train was robbed."
"Was she hurt?"
"No. It's worse than that. She was taken by the leader of the robbers: banditos actually."
"We can't be certain, but they were headed towards Puerto Palomas."
"Who was it? Does he have a name?"
"Pancho Gomez. There was no doubt. It was Pancho."
From across the street, Malcolm could sense that there was a problem. He rose from his chair intending to walk over to see what was going on, but stopped when Lefty flung down the bouquet of wild flowers and started back to the Mercantile. By the time he reached the store, Lefty had torn off his starched collar and removed his coat. Malcolm stepped aside as Lefty entered the store. He did not say anything. This was not the time for conversation.
In less than an hour, Lefty had changed clothing and gathered together what he needed to rescue his beloved Hilda. Malcolm stood by, waiting to see if there was anything at all he could do. Lefty grabbed some jerky and a canteen of water. He took some coffee and beans, but was not anticipating having time to cook. He finally stopped to collect his thoughts and looked to Malcolm.
"Could you get Jenny ready for me, and make sure you grab a bag of oats?"
As Malcolm walked to the livery, Lefty was headed for the local saloon. No one said a word as he entered. By this time, everyone in town knew what was going on. Lefty walked passed the bar and straight to the piano. He opened the back of the upright and clipped the longest three piano wires off at both ends with the fencing tool that he grabbed before leaving the store. He left as quietly as he arrived.
There were no wagon trails going directly east, so a mule was the best bet. Jenny was old, but steady. He threw his cache bag over the horn and strapped the goose gun on the side. Lefty was not comfortable or skilled with a handgun, but the Remington ten gauge fit him perfectly. The thirty-two inch Damascus barrels could reach out far better than a standard model. Just in case, he dropped a dozen black powder cartridges into his right pocket.
It was dark before he reached Columbus and it was too difficult to continue in the dark. Reluctantly, he built a fire and heated up the coffee and beans. By the light of the fire, he opened up two of the black powder shells and removed the lead buckshot. Using the Sear's Roebuck fence tool he carefully split several of the pellets and fastened them to the last few inches of one of the piano wires. The wires were stiff, but still pliable. He jammed as many pellets as he could with the wire attached back into the shells and resealed them. Guiding the wires down the full length of the barrels, he loaded the shells in the chambers. The wires were long enough that he was able to fastened them together with the extra split lead shot. He didn't need the third wire, but was still glad he had it. Lefty finished the beans and coffee and tried unsuccessfully to get some sleep. He left at early dawn and was waiting at the 13th Cavalry Regiment gate before they opened.
An hour later, an angry Swede stormed out of the Army office with fire in his eyes. The US Government refused to cross the border to help rescue Hilda. The best they could do was to recommend that he contact the Federales when he arrived at Puerto Palomas.
Since there was a trail between Columbus and Puerto Palomas, Lefty decided to get a wagon. The local blacksmith had heard of his neighbor's plight and was more than happy to lend him a small cart. Lefty left to face his antagonist before the noon sun.
Since it was a small village, everyone noticed Lefty's arrival, including the Federales. The two of them were not wearing uniforms, but only tan shirts with patches on the arm designating some type of official status.