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Gomez was a wanted man because he had killed the wrong man. That’s all there was to it in the end. It was true that the victim, one Alexandro Lopez-Flores, had attacked him in the Cantina de Rosita and that the fight had been fair, or as fair as fights in cantinas go, and that his attacker in fact would not have been dead if he had not slipped on spilled beer, after Gomez hit him with a bottle, and fallen on his own knife instead of driving it into Gomez’s stomach as he had intended. None of that mattered because the dead man had been the only son of the richest family in all New Mexico, which to tell the truth did not say much about New Mexico in 1783.


So it came to be that Gomez had to flee Santa Fe. There was no question about that. Otherwise, he was a dead man. But Gomez had a problem: he did not know where to go. In truth, Santa Fe was small, dirty, wind-blown, and fly-specked, infested with rats and fleas, a place where pigs and chickens wandered the dirt streets. And it was, most of all, poor. Still it was all Gomez, among the poorest of the poor, had ever known. In fact, he had never been any place else, except once, when he was a small boy, to Taos seventy miles to the northeast, but that would be the first place the family and authorities—such authorities as there were at the far geographical limits of the Spanish empire—would look.


So, he rode west, into the vast land of the Navajo, a land of high red-rock mesas, stunted pine and juniper, with the snow-capped Sangre de Cristo mountains over his right shoulder and another range that he did not have a name for looming ahead of him. On the morning he left Santa Fe, in the early fall of 1783, the high desert air had been cool and clear, but as the day passed, the temperature rose. He could see towering thunderheads filled with lightning in the distance, but none came near him, and he saw no sign of water anywhere in the parched land that stretched out endlessly before him.


And so the days went by, one much the same as another. He found water only once, a miserably small spring at the base of a mesa. After that, nothing for what he reckoned was four days. Before fleeing Santa Fe, he had filled four large canteens with water but now, having to share what water he had with the horses, he was perilously low. He, in fact, had two horses and that was part of the problem. One horse—to be sure, not much of a horse but one which he was much attached to—had been his own. The other, the sort of horse a poor man only dreamed of, had belonged to Alejandro Lopez-Flores, who, Gomez reasoned, would have no further use for it. He had also taken Alejandro’s rifle, pistols, knives, and purse, which was quite heavy. In addition, he had tied a bedroll, a large bag of dried beans, and a single pan to his saddle. This represented all he had in the world . . .

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