He had lost a kingdom, but he had gained Texas.
Tacitus King had walked seventy miles across the Llano Estacado. There were stretches of those plains that were just a sea of grass, and parts where water was plentiful and the range gave way to fences and small farms, then villages and towns; and there were stretches too that saw rain less than three days a year, and were dry and desolate. Coming down from the foothills, King had walked across one of those stretches, past white bone and shrub, till his feet hit ruts. These he followed into a town, and the first building there was a tavern, which he entered.
He ordered in Spanish, and the Mexican behind the bar served him in English; and they remained on such terms. A man might be tempted to gulp his water after such a hike across the Stakes Plains, but King ordered whiskey, beer, and water, and sipped them in that order. When he could sit without shaking, he asked for food, and it was brought. Tinned beans, black as sin, and rice came forth in little red clay bowls, and a kind of chili con carne in a shallow dish that was closer to a stew than anything King had encountered before. The Mexican served the corn pone last, still in its cast-iron skillet, and the Texan used it mop up the fiery dregs of the chili.
King asked for the jakes, and the Mexican indicated a darkened corner of the room. Watching the man's eyes, the Texan was careful to unbuckle his sword and leave it propped against his barstool. The Mexican grunted, and went back to cleaning the glasses. No man that carried a sword would leave it behind, not for the cost of a meal, in any case.
When Tacitus King returned, the dishes were cleared, but the glasses remained. He laid a small nugget on the table in front of him, that shined in the morning light. The Mexican scanned the empty room, and without prompting began to refill King's glasses. King drank, and thought, brow furrowed, eyes dark and angry. When he did speak again, it was in English.
"Is there a gunsmith in this town?"
The Mexican hesitated, then shook his head no.
"But there's a man that buys guns?"
A nod. The Texan stretched forth his hand, and the nugget rolled, across the counter. The Mexican had to stop cleaning, and his hand shot out to catch it as it went over the edge.
"Señor Maroto," the Mexican said. "He is a great collector and scholar. A tinkerer, too. He does much business by mail, buying and selling, books and guns."
"What do you know about that?"
The Mexican gave a twitch of the shoulders that suggested a shrug. "Once, perhaps, I was in the army - the Mexican army, before Díaz came to power. Perhaps in those days, I might have considered myself to know something of the pistol and musket, bayonet and dagger. Now, all I know whiskey. It is better that way." He stared at the nugget, which was still in his hand, and then looked the Texan in the eye. "Señor Maroto knows much more about guns than a soldier does about his weapons, and cares more about them."
King nodded and rose, buckling on his sword. "Thanks for the drink..."
"Esteban." The barkeep offered.
"Esteban," King repeated. "Where can I find Señor Maroto?"
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