Mesilla


Mesilla, Robert James Russell       Release Date: September 2015

1863, New Mexico Territory. Shot full of holes and on the run from the relentless pursuit of his one-time friend now intent on retribution, Confederate deserter Everett Root finds himself navigating the brutal desert headed to the town of Mesilla, where he believes salvation lies. But when Everett stumbles on a cache of silver, and a young girl who’s lost everything, he is forced to take stock of his past and his future. Full of sprawling landscapes and wild gunmen, Mesilla is a story of one man’s resolve to rectify the wrongs he has committed and make peace with his place in the world.


 

“In a mounting gush of sumptuous prose, Robert James Russell’s Mesilla scrubs bare the elements of the classic Western—the wounded, questing hero, the damsel in distress, the phantasmal villain in hot pursuit—and reinvents them as existential meditation.”—Matthew Gavin Frank

 

“Robert James Russel’s MESILLA reads like young James Lee Burke–action so sharp readers might as well pull their fingers from the page looking for blood. A fine story of revenge in the old west, salvation hoped for, but not easily achieved.” —Urban Waite, author of The Terror of Living and Sometimes the Wolf

 

“If Albert Camus had written westerns, they might have sounded something like Robert James Russel’s MESILLA. Tough as rawhide, coiled like a diamond back, and spare as the New Mexico desert, this taut novel is as loaded as the Dance revolver its wounded hero wields. Russell is a writer on the rise, with a voice and vision sure to entrance every reader who lays eyes on this book. I’m already pinning away for his next one.” —Peter Geye, author of The Lighthouse Road

 

“A shotgun marriage between classic and revisionist Western, Mesilla sings a hard-bitten practicality and brutal authenticity.” —Emily Schultz, author of The Blondes

 

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Mesilla
Robert James Russell

New Mexico Territory, 1863
A Discovery Made

Deep in the coyote hole Everett Root stood alert with the dented Dance revolver in his blistered hand and breathed heavy as he studied the body hunched over at the end of the tunnel. He waited, candles nearly extinguished and casting long shadows on the rock, and sniffed: no sulfur hanging in the air. No shots fired recently.

Everett rolled the revolver around his index finger and holstered it as if he were some dashing and wily roughrider that had been wrangled into a Wild West Show. He coughed a bit then set his eyes on the heaped body again, scratching his chin. The ache in his leg gathered up again like a fist and he snorted out a dollop of snot from his nostrils. He walked toward the body slow, dragging his hurt leg along the twin timber planks that bridged across the mud and wet recessed puddles in the rock. He braced himself along
the wall and with his good leg kicked the body over so it now lay flat, face looking up at the ceiling: eyes bugged out, tongue swollen and parting thin, blue-tinted lips. He lowered himself carefully to the floor of the mine with a deep grunt and quickly patted down the body, searching for wounds but finding none. Scorpion or rattler, he figured and sat back against the wall, waiting to see if the creature would show itself and he held his breath for good measure then let it out with a long-gestated hiss.

Everett said, “Well shit. Sorry for your luck. Anyways, if you don’t mind, I’m going to hide out here for a bit.”

He unwound a piece of stained-red cloth from around the upper part of his left thigh and he dropped the saturated tourniquet into a soaked pile beside him. He took two fingers and peeled an opening in his trousers that lay dark like cotton flesh and beneath the opening lay a bullet wound that fizzled deep, the opening lipped out as if the skin had been disturbed by some plated tremor deep below. He thumbed at it curiously as if he had
familiarities with human anatomy then recoiled from the shocks of pain that shot back. He coughed and cleared his throat and squinted his eyes at the hole, imagining he could see the top of the stunted round glistening, and he wished he had dug the thing out in San Agustin when he’d had the chance.

He then reached out to the miner’s boots. He sized them up and, too small, felt his way along the corpse, grimacing with hurt. Everett took a smudged hand and turned the man’s head from side to side, gripping it along the jaw with the charm of a grandfather admiring a boy.

“Sunnuvabitch!” He guffawed and looked around for encouragement as if he had hallucinated an audience that likewise enjoyed his clowning and then let the head flop back onto the rock. “From the right angle, you look like my brother Jesse!”

He coughed again and rummaged through the large pockets of the man’s overalls and pulled out a small pocketknife with a pewter handle that it folded back into. He unfurled the blade
which was dinged around most of the edge but the tip still pricked hard into the whorl of his thumb so he collapsed the knife and slipped it into his shirt pocket. Digging further he pulled out first a piece of folded paper that had browned along the edges then a large waxed piece of parchment which he spread out over his lap. In the dim light he examined it and it appeared to be a map of the area with hashes penciled in and around the mountains he was currently in. He didn’t know what the hashes represented but by his best guess they marked failed claims. There was a longer scratch that portended to what might be a homestead a few miles off. He traced his finger along a ridge of the Organ Mountains then down through the scrublands until he hit Mesilla and he tapped it twice as if to make sure it was no phantasm of his mind. The edges of the map flayed and he took his thumbnail and chipped off dry mud from the lower left corner which revealed the words Johnson’s California, Territories of New Mexico and Utah by Johnson and Browning 1860. He stroked his hand over the dulled reds and yellows and greens that covered it and imagined they had been brighter once. Wondered how long
it had been.

He set the map aside when he noticed the claw hammer slung along a leather belt askew at the miner’s hips and he fingered the splintered handle and the iron cheek felt cool against his skin. He then set about unfolding the note and turned it in his hands, fascinated by the theatrics of it, and he held the paper close and squinted at the longhand words. He spotted a thick candle jammed onto an iron rod that had been wedged into the working face near the body, the flame nearly wicked away. Then he angled the paper in such a way that the remaining flicker of yellow light illuminated the page. He licked his lips and ran a hand through his greasy hair and glanced to the entrance of the shaft a ways to his right, waiting again for proof of his solitude. He focused on the extravagant loops staring back at him and enunciated with all the precision he could afford.

My dearest Bob,

I know you ain’t seen me for a while now but I just wanted you to know I’m doing alright.
And I’m really proud of how good things are going for you now that you working the land for the colors.

I don’t know if you forgot or not, but my birthday was last week. And now that I’m fifteen years Ma’s making me work down at William’s store when I can. I’m meant to earn some extra money on account of Pa’s arm being shot off by Mexers. I hope your still planning on saving up to come marry me and build me that house you told me of. And I never did tell anyone what happened between us and I never would. Anyways, I wouldn’t risk getting you in trouble on account of me.

I hope this letter finds you well and I hope you can take me far from here soon and we can live forever together somewhere nice.

With great love,

Charlotte

Everett smiled and carefully folded the note back up and set it aside and exhaled loudly. “You scoundrel, Bob.”

He looked up to the jagged ceiling which sat serrated by erosion and the skilled hands of men and then counted the lateral wooden girts that had been placed at intervals of the shaft that braced the walls. Everett then tried to calculate how long Bob had been working the coyote-hole and his leg resounded with another flirt of sharp hurt and he took the knife out and opened the blade. He looked back to the candle and thought maybe he would try to dig the bullet out now and saw how infection had spread up his thigh and neared his groin, the skin tender and tinged red.

Everett grunted and rested a hand on the rock behind him and rose carefully. He panted for a moment with the knife still poised and he turned toward the body then heard a thunderous recoil echo back from somewhere outside, bouncing off the walls of the mine. He stopped and arched his back and the hair on his neck stood and he pursed his mouth so as not to produce any sound. The reverberation had deteriorated and he couldn’t quite decide if it was thunder or a rifle shot. He thought he had lost him days ago.

He felt his nerves give and his heart raced erratically and he hobbled to the body ignoring any better judgment to rest. He bent down and took the man’s sweat-stained shirt and ripped a thick strip off, cutting the end free with the pocketknife and he tied it tight around his thigh. He winced as he double-knotted the bandage and then he noticed a tin ore bucket resting beneath the candle soaked in shadows.

A bit of rock collapsed near the entrance and he anxiously looked down the angled shaft where it glowed from the midday sunlight and then back to the body. His throat was dry and the new bandage provided a bit of release from the pain as he lurched forward. Then he reached into the dark tin bucket and pulled out a large and blocky hunk of silver ore that glimmered in parts from the candleglow.

Everett took his thumb and scraped dust off the surface and deliberated on the worth of the ore then reached back in to the bucket and pulled out a Colt 1851 Navy. The grip had been worn away and the steel of the frame and barrel had been dulled and tarnished.
He broke open the cylinder and counted two full chambers and then jammed the gun into his belt. He detailed the scene as he lingered and noticed an iron chisel peeking out of a fissured line of rock and an old shovel lying near. Satisfied he had scavenged anything of value from the place, he hopped on his good leg along the planked runners. They creaked and swayed in addled piles of mud as he moved awkwardly and he emerged along the entrance of the cave and pulled his Dance out.

The flat and polished-silver frame sat in contention to the pieced walnut grips and the brass trigger guard glistened in the afternoon sun as he knelt and rested it along the ground next to him in preparation for some ambush he figured was imminent.

He squinted his eyes as they adjusted to the flood of light and surveyed the scrubland: beige and brown hills dotted with olive green coursegrass and juniper and bands of creosote and beargrass that flattened out and continued on until devoured eventually by the horizon and the sky had lit up a brilliant blue as if to mock his predicament.

Everett stood back on his good leg and thumbed the hammer and called out, “George, that you out here? Can’t we stop this, then?” He waited and listened to the wind as it ravaged the mountain slopes and the insect hymns that carried on for miles. “Or am I just talking to my damn lonesome.”

He visored a hand to his brow and searched the shadows of nearby privet yet to bear fruit then slowly stepped onto the graveled slope that ran down to his horse that sat posted where he had left it. He stood tense until he was sure nothing had stirred in the distance, musing that maybe he had been on the run for too long, and he distracted himself from the specters he created by looking at the ore heavy in his hand. He rubbed his forearm against his cheek where sweat beaded and there was dried blood, thick like jam, along his brow. He smiled at the ore and rubbed the surface clean and he began shoveling his way down the steep slope past a bouquet of mesquite.

He reached his Morgan horse and placed the silver ore in a leather haversack that slapped against the animal’s loins and he gripped the horn and pulled himself up with a considerable amount of pain. He took his old frockcoat lying flat along the rear housing and placed it over his shoulders and it hung long and tattered at the cuffs. He then reached forward to a black fur-felt Kossuth whose hat-cord was tied to the front rigging ring and he placed it on his head. He scratched his chin and balled up a wad of phlegm he intended to spit and then a rifle-shot launched past him and struck the gravel slope to his left, casting pieces of stone and dirt to dance like fire embers.

Everett heyawwed and clicked and dug his heels deep, slinking low in the saddle as he fled. He rose up a winding path back into the mountains and looked back only once to see where he was but the glare of the fading sun was strong in his eyes and he couldn’t see his attacker as he raced further into the hills.  
Everett stood back on his good leg and thumbed the hammer and called out, “George, that you out here? Can’t we stop this, then?” He waited and listened to the wind as it ravaged the mountain slopes and the insect hymns that carried on for miles. “Or am I just talking to my damn lonesome.”

He visored a hand to his brow and searched the shadows of nearby privet yet to bear fruit then slowly stepped onto the graveled slope that ran down to his horse that sat posted where he had left it. He stood tense until he was sure nothing had stirred in the distance, musing that maybe he had been on the run for too long, and he distracted himself from the specters he created by looking at the ore heavy in his hand. He rubbed his forearm against his cheek where sweat beaded and there was dried blood, thick like jam, along his brow. He smiled at the ore and rubbed the surface clean and he began shoveling his way down the steep slope past a bouquet of mesquite.

He reached his Morgan horse and placed the silver ore in a leather haversack that slapped against the animal’s loins and he gripped the
horn and pulled himself up with a considerable amount of pain. He took his old frockcoat lying flat along the rear housing and placed it over his shoulders and it hung long and tattered at the cuffs. He then reached forward to a black fur-felt Kossuth whose hat-cord was tied to the front rigging ring and he placed it on his head. He scratched his chin and balled up a wad of phlegm he intended to spit and then a rifle-shot launched past him and struck the gravel slope to his left, casting pieces of stone and dirt to dance like fire embers.

Everett heyawwed and clicked and dug his heels deep, slinking low in the saddle as he fled. He rose up a winding path back into the mountains and looked back only once to see where he was but the glare of the fading sun was strong in his eyes and he couldn’t see his attacker as he raced further into the hills.

To read more look for Mesilla, now available from Dock Street Press.

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Mesilla release date of September 2015

 

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