“Good day to you Callie,” said Chester as he came to a stop.
“Well, hello boys. Where are you off to?”
“We hear that one of the squadrons has located a small band of Villistas not far from here, near the village of Santa Cruz. We can’t miss a chance like that.”
Callie was instantly energized. “Please wait while I get my things.”
She ran off before Chester could protest, grabbed her gear out of the Ford and hurried back.
“It may be a little risky down there, Callie,” warned Chester.
“Good!” she answered, jumping into the back and throwing down a blanket on the camera platform. “All right gentlemen, I’m ready to go.”
Chester started the engine. Lazlo turned around and looked at her.
“You remind me of the women in Hungary - they’re a little crazy, like you.” He smiled broadly and offered her some peanuts.
“Why thank you, Lazlo.”
They approached a rise and stopped. Down in the valley below shots could be heard. Chester stood up and scanned the view with binoculars. “I see our boys, all right. It looks like they are on the chase. There’s too much dust to see up ahead, but I’ll wager the quarry is close at hand. Lazlo, get the camera ready.”
Callie watched as Lazlo went to work. He lifted the camera out of a black case lined with red velvet as if it were a baby. It was a technological marvel, with a square black body and a turret of three cylindrical lenses of shiny silver and gold chrome - the Bell and Howell 2709 35mm motion picture camera.
Lazlo set up a large wooden tripod, which he secured to the car frame with brackets, and several sandbags for stability. He then attached two large circular film magazines to the camera and affixed it to the tripod.
Callie was fascinated by the exquisite craftsmanship of the thing.
“Lazlo, this is so beautiful. I’ve never seen anything quite like it before.”
Lazlo stroked it with pride, as if it were a racehorse. “This is the very same camera that Mr. Chaplin uses. But I am very concerned about all this dust.” He covered it with a blanket and looked back at Chester. ”Okay, camera is ready.”
“Hold on kids. Here we go.”
They caught up with the galloping troops, but stayed back because of the billowing dust. Then the horses turned off to the right and they got a clearer view. The bandits were firing from some low hills.
Callie was writing nonstop.
Near village of Santa Cruz. Troops pursuing Villistas hidden in some hills. About 200 of our mounted soldiers. Hot, with blowing dust. Brown, desiccated land. Pop of rifle fire. Our boys are gathering. Some have dismounted and are returning fire. The energy in the air is electric. This is the real thing!
Chester stopped the car and jumped in the back. Callie had to stand up to make room.
“Okay, Lazlo. Get a wide shot of the scene. And then close up on the horsemen. Get one of them rearing up.”
Lazlo cranked with his left hand and swiveled the tripod with his right, as he panned the battle scene. Suddenly, the cavalry charged toward the hills, pistols firing.
Chester jumped back into the front and moved the car down the road a few hundred yards, parallel to the action. The bandits broke for their horses and took off across the plain.
“Get footage of the bandits Lazlo!” Chester yelled as he increased speed. Callie was hugging the tripod to keep it steady.
The bandits split into separate groups that went in opposite directions.
“Uh-oh,” said Callie. “They’re coming our way, Chester.”
Chester kept driving.
“Chester!” she yelled.
“Don’t worry,” he shouted. “They’ll see our camera. They won’t bother us.”
Callie quickly pulled her Colt out of the suitcase and loaded it.
The bandits, about ten of them, were heading for the road at an angle that would cross directly in front of them. The Army troops were in hot pursuit, firing intermittently.
Lazlo was cranking the Bell and Howell for all he was worth.
Chester was hunched over the wheel like a race car driver.
Callie watched them approach, like an ominous storm growing bigger by the second. One of the bandits in front had his pistol drawn and began firing. Bullets whizzed over their heads.
Chester swerved in surprise. Callie bit her lip, took careful aim, and fired off a quick shot, knocking the bandit backwards off his mount. The cavalry thundered by soon after.
The car slowed to a stop. The soldiers and bandits disappeared over a rise. Hot dust and silence settled over the car and its occupants.
Chester fell limp against the seat. Lazlo finally pulled his face away from the camera. “I heard a shot in the car,” he said.
Callie shyly held up her gun and shrugged.
“You?” said Lazlo. “I saw someone fall. It was a fine shot.” He slowly collapsed into a crouch. “Oh my, it’s very hot, isn’t it?” he said, with a dry swallow.
Chester turned around. “Miss Masterson, I am indebted to you for such quick thinking. You may have saved our lives. Funny, they’ve never shot at us before.” He furrowed his eyebrows into a hurt expression.
Callie wiped the sweat from her forehead. “I’d love to take credit, but I think our troops being right on their tail had a lot to do with it.”
Lazlo sat down and took a drink of whiskey out of a flask. He offered it to Callie. “Thanks, Lazlo.” She took a swallow, grimaced and coughed. “Whoo! My goodness, I think that did the trick.” She handed it to Chester, who was staring at her gun.
“Where did you learn to shoot like that?”
Callie arched her back and put out her arms to stretch. “Oh, back in Comanche Springs, my Daddy taught me how to hunt before I was ten years old. I didn’t really ever enjoy the hunting part, but I’ve always liked the feel of a gun in my hand. Isn’t that the strangest thing?”
Chester took another swig of whiskey. They all just sat there, sweating, grit between their teeth, contemplating the silence of the primeval landscape. The wind rose up and whined like a mournful song.
Chester looked up. “Someone’s riding this way.”
Callie grabbed her gun. Lazlo took his camera and put it in the case.
“It’s okay,” said Chester, peering through binoculars. “It’s just a horse.”
The rider-less pony trotted right up to the car, confused, and moved a little distance away.
Callie got out and approached the uneasy animal “He must have belonged to that fellow who shot at us. Hi there, sweetie. Are you an orphan now?”
The horse backed away, unused to hearing English.
She held out her hand. “Yo soy tu amigo.” He twitched his ears at the sound of his own language. He let her come closer, and she stroked his head
“He might not be used to women,” said Lazlo.
“Well then, I’ll just do this real slow.” Pobrecito. Está bien.
Vamos a ir a buscar algo de comida”
She took the reins and moved to his left side, still stroking him, talking softly, then put her foot in the stirrup, and eased herself into the saddle.
“Well done, Callie,” said Chester.
“I told him that we’re going to get him some food.”
“That’s one of Villa’s for sure,” said Chester. “He looks half-starved. You just made a friend.”
“I’m going to ride this little guy back to the camp.”
Chester started the car. “We’ll follow you, Callie. I’m sure not about to let you ride alone out here.”
Callie checked the saddle - an empty leather scabbard and a faded blanket tied on the back.
The horse was a tough little paint, with a solid black chest and face, except for a white stripe that ran from forehead to nose. His hindquarters were white and his tail a solid black. He was in rough shape, had been ridden hard, but the bright eyes told her that he was an intelligent animal.
“Let’s go get you some grain and water, boy. C’mon!” The horse broke into an easy trot. Callie found herself a horse and was jubilant to be living some unspoken fantasy from her childhood. Even the horse perked up with this strange new rider on his back.
Chester drove slowly behind, while Lazlo pulled out a harmonica and began to play Hungarian folk songs.
Callie rode a little way ahead through the quiet desert and thought about everything that had already happened to her since getting off that train in Columbus, all by pure chance. Out here, life was intensified - the heat, the sun and the wind, the poverty and cruelty, all of it took its toll on a person, but it also made her tougher. She had felt a force building inside of her since Villa’s night attack, and she didn’t want to lose it. That sense of physical self-reliance she had as a kid, but somehow had lost in the city, had come back to her, and she felt like she could take on anything and get through it.
And riding this Mexican pony in the middle of the Chihuahuan desert and the Mexican Revolution, was the best place she could possibly be.
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