The story so far: Shorty Colson, owner of the Cartwheel Ranch was killed by a double-barreled blast of buckshot at his kitchen door one stormy night. As the crew tries to figure out who could have done it, new and surprising facts about the Cartwheel and its denizens begin to surface. Last week’s segment ended with Bushy Bushmiller turning the tables on Pencil and questioning why the old man had put up with his shenanigans over the years. Part 3 of the story begins below.
WHO SHOT SHORTY (Continued)
My ears flamed. I lurched to my feet. The old cowboy shuffled backwards. “Shorty Colson never laid a hand on me, and if he had, I’d have knocked him clear into next year. Shorty wasn’t—that way!”
“Then how do ya account fer the kid there?” Bushy smirked and threw a thumb over his shoulder. Five pairs of eyes turned to focus on Pedro, who sat staring at the ground.
I shook my head. “There’s a better way of going about this than tearing one another apart. Shorty took both barrels to the chest. A double blast from a twelve gauge has a hell of a recoil. Whoever did it oughta have a bruise.”
“It might not be one of us, Pencil,”
pointed out. “And if it is, you sure you wanna know?”
“Maybe not, but I sure as shooting want everybody to know it wasn’t me.” I stripped off my shirt.
“Well, I ain’t got nothing to hide,”
declared. There wasn’t a mark on him either.
After Red John followed suit, Bushy exposed his scrawny chest. No bruises on either one of them. As a man, we swung around to confront Lubell.
“Now wait a minute! I’m a lady. You expect me to bare it all to you bozos?”
“You ain’t seen these particular ones,” she snapped. Nonetheless, she unbuttoned the man’s shirt stretched tight across her torso and pulled it down around her shoulders. “Satisfied, you perverts?”
The arbor fell quiet as we turned to Pedro. Lubell stepped over and put an arm around the slender frame. “You leave her alone!”
After a stunned silence, four masculine voices thundered, “Her?”
Pedro peeked up from under Lubell’s protective arm. “You knew about me?”
“Course I knew, honey. You tried to be almighty careful living with me in the bedroom back of the chow hall, but you slipped up a time or two. Besides, why else would Shorty put you up with the only other woman on the spread?”
The girl pointed at Tex. “I afraid he figure it out. He a woman’s man.”
Lubell sniffed. “If you mean a woman-chasing man, you’re right. But he ain’t no more sensitive than any other male around here. Why don’t you tell us what all this is about?”
I stepped in. “Do you have a bruise, Pedro … uh, ma’am?”
“Consuelo,” she said. “My name, Consuelo. Yes, bruise on mi espalda…my shoulder.” She began to shake. “Dios help me! I…I kill my papa.” She collapsed against Lubell and sobbed.
As she told her story, the tears dried up and a streak of steel emerged. Her mother was a Mexican Shorty got sweet on after his wife passed. Worried about his son’s reaction to a new woman with a baby, he sent her home to Juarez. To the old man’s credit, he acknowledged paternity of their child—at least he sent money regularly.
After her mother died, Consuelo made her way north to the ranch, arriving in the middle of the fall gathering when all of us, except for Shorty, were chasing cattle out of the bush and hazing the animals down to the loading pens.
According to Consuelo, Shorty swore her to secrecy, dressed her up like a boy, and passed her off as a new hand until he figured out how to tell Junior he had a half-Mexican sister. When Consuelo overheard him talking about selling the ranch, she decided to press him to acknowledge her as his daughter.
“I pick a bad time,” the girl said in her soft accent. “Like Lubell say, he drinking bad. But I go anyway. It was mistake. He drunk. Look at me with wild, crazy eyes. He grab me. I get away, but he catch me at the door. He…he say he don’t believe I his hija. Call my mama a bad name and say she swindle him.” The girl broke out crying. “He try to rape me!”
Another thunderbolt out of a clear, blue sky. “Oh, Lord!” Lubell spoke for all of us.
“The dirty old somabitch,” Bushy added. “Musta been drunk outa his skull.”
“So … so,” Consuelo continued between sobs, “I grab big gun he keep in corner of kitchen and try to back out door. I think he stop then, but he grab the cañón … the barrel. Gun go off. I think you all hear and come running. I think whole world hear the big boom, but nobody come. I get up out of the mud and go clean up in my room. Then I cry me to sleep.”
I straightened my spine. “Well, that solves the mystery of who shot Shorty. Somebody better go call the sheriff.”
“The sheriff?” Everybody looked at me as if I were loco.
“Or,” I backtracked, “we can let him do his own sleuthing.” Then with an eye to the future, I mused out loud. “Wonder if Junior will lease the spread to us?”
Well, that’s it. Hope you enjoyed the story. Let me know if the serial thing works. Please let me hear from you.
Next week: We’re back to “who knows” again.
New posts are published at 6:00 a.m. each Thursday.