She packed her things to catch the seven a.m. train and crawled into bed with her map. Uncertain about her next move, she threw the map on the floor, read a few of Shakespeare’s sonnets, and blew out the lamp.
Callie awakened and sat up. She thought she had heard something - horses, men talking. The clock read 4:01a.m. Had she been asleep that long? She lay back down, closed her eyes, took some deep breaths to relax.
She dreamed someone was playing a bugle, a strange and lovely melody. Silly soldiers, she thought.
Three gunshots ripped through the night. Callie bolted out of the bed and dressed in seconds. She slipped on her boots and was glad she had brought them. She was perspiring, taking short little breaths as she stood in the dark room straining to hear what might come next.
Some men yelling in the distance. She collected her things.
More shots followed the yells, closer now. Her mind raced to devise a plan of action.
Grab the suitcase, but get the gun out first. Try and watch what happens...remember everything...calm down. calm down.
She found the Colt pistol, put it in her purse which was slung across her shoulder, then quickly looked out the window and saw murky figures moving about, some mounted, some not, filling up the dark street, shouting in hoarse Spanish.
She rushed into the hallway. Guests in their robes huddled by a window at the end of the hall, unsure of what they should do. “Get downstairs! Get out of the hotel,” yelled Callie. “Pancho Villa is attacking the town.”
An elderly woman stood at her door and silently entreated Callie to help her.
“Ma’am, where is your suitcase?” asked Callie, rushing up to her.
She pointed behind her. Callie grabbed it and closed the woman’s hand around it. “Would someone please help this lady downstairs? I saw a back exit through the kitchen yesterday. Don’t go out through the front door. Everyone hurry!”
Callie found the fire escape. It descended into a small side alley, but she knew she had to jump the last six feet or so. She leaped off without hesitation, her dress billowing up like a parachute, and landed on her feet. She stashed her suitcase behind some trash cans. She wanted her hands free.
She crept along the wall until she reached the street. Murky shapes moved in the darkness. Callie tried to concentrate on her job, her duty to cover the story, even as a fluttery anxiety began to rise up inside.
The bandits shouted “Viva Villa!” and fired their guns at will.
Windows shattered, startled townspeople yelled, and women screamed. Frantic horses thundered past.
The flash of gunfire briefly illuminated sombrero-clad Mexicans, swearing and shouting, shooting, it seemed, at random. Then she noticed flashes of rifle fire from the direction of the railroad tracks.
“Thank god, the boys from the camp are on the attack.”
Her eyes grew accustomed to the dark and she saw bandits drag people out of the hotel and dreaded what would come next. Shouts of protest mingled with screams of fear, then gunshots at close range.
Moans and pitiful crying as innocent people spent their last moments, bewildered and unprepared for death.
She pressed her body against the cold brick wall and grew queasy at the thought of being taken by the bandits. She embraced the darkness as a hunted animal would.
Someone tried to start his automobile, but he was pulled out and shot.
“Matar a los gringos!” they kept shouting, and Callie crouched down even lower.
“Wait please, I can pay you!” A voice she recognized, he had a room near hers. Someone lit a match so he could write a check, for his life, and the man actually ran off right past her, unharmed.
Remember that one Callie!
Instinct told her she was too close, they might soon discover her.
She took a deep breath and cradled the loaded gun in both hands, then crept along the boardwalk toward the telegraph office. To her amazement Ellie Parker sat at that same window, earphones on, as if this were just another day, except that the window glass was completely shattered.
She wanted to say something, but an explosion sent her reeling.
Flames consumed the hardware store and in seconds the fire spread to the hotel next door. A man covered in flames ran into the street, shrieking.
Dynamite. Are they going to level the entire town?
An eerie orange glow spread out of the darkness and revealed the entire grim scene. Callie saw at least six people dead in the street in front of the hotel. Villistas carried food, clothes, even bolts of cloth out of stores, along with ammunition. Suddenly, machine gun fire erupted in full fury from the tracks, for the bandits were now fully visible, silhouetted against the conflagration.
This enraged them and they fired back every which way, even as they fell in great numbers.
Callie had found scant shelter in the entryway of Miller’s Drugstore. A bullet shattered the window glass behind her, sending shards raining down upon her. She cowered lower, like a trapped mouse in a corner. It was too dangerous to remain and too dangerous to move.
Someone close by was firing at the bandits, someone not ten feet from her. She strained to see. A blond head caught the light.
“Randy? Randy Sharpe, is that you?”
Her young friend took aim with his sturdy Winchester from behind a barrel, like a proper soldier. He looked at her, astounded, his mouth open.
“Miss Masterson? What are you doing there? C’mon! I'll protect you.”
They ran away from the burning chaos, somehow unscathed, into the darkness. They held their guns in front of them, ready for anything. They passed soldiers going the other way toward the action, crossed the road and slid down into the ditch.
For now, they were invisible and safe.
“Randy,” she had to catch her breath, “where’s your mother?”
“She and the other women took the kids to the school building. I wasn’t gonna miss this for nothin‘.”
“Randy you’re never mind. I’m glad you’re here.”
She caressed his dirty face. Little pieces of glass fell from her hair.
“What’s wrong, miss?”
“Oh, nothing. A window fell on me.”
“The hotel was right where they hit. You coulda been -”
“But I wasn’t.” Callie started to choke up, but stifled it with a loud cough.
The thunder of hooves shook the ground as horsed passed just above and clods of dirt peppered them, but they couldn’t tell whether they were bandits or soldiers.
“Whoo! The boys of the Thirteenth are givin’ ‘em what for now.
Listen to them guns. It’s like music!”
Randy’s enthusiasm both reassured and upset Callie. He was only twelve! Now she felt duty bound to get him out of harm’s way and forgot about her own survival.
“We have to avoid the downtown. They’re shooting in all directions. Can you get us to the schoolhouse?”
“Sure thing. Let’s go.”
“Those snakes will hear us coming, right?”
“Hope so," he chuckled.
They made their way along the ditch and ended up somewhere north of the battle. The darkness shimmered with an unnatural glow above the town, punctuated by flames that shot up high into the air.
They crossed a large field and a fleeing animal nearly ran into her.
She let out a scream and grabbed Randy‘s arm.
“It was just an ol’ jackrabbit, ma’am.”
She caught her breath. “I’m fine. Keep going.”
They circled back into his neighborhood. “That’s it, over there. I’ll bet they’re in the basement, so the doors’ll be locked. But I know a window I can jimmy open.”
He managed to climb up on a large ledge and tried to pry open the window. The glow of the fire was so bright there was plenty of light to see by.
Callie knelt by a bush, just below him, and was getting nervous.
She could see horsemen only a few hundred yards away, heading out of town.
Then a lone rider swerved, and headed straight for them.
“Randy, jump down!” she screamed.
A bullet crashed through the window as the boy threw himself into the bush.
Callie turned around and braced herself, bit her lip, gripped the Colt in both hands and fired. The bandit was screaming obscenities and bearing down fast on her.
The bullet tore through his neck. He fell like a rock with a dull thud, directly in front of her. The horse veered away and barely missed trampling the young reporter, and she went rolling in the dust.
She stood up, dazed, clutching the pistol. “I killed him. I killed a man.”
The bandit lay face down, motionless. Callie stared fixedly at the body. Randy limped up to her, eyes wide. “Gosh! Damn nice shot, ma’am.”
Callie bent down and hesitantly put her trembling hand upon the man’s back. “My God, I have sent this man into eternity.”
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