Kepa held up his hands.
“Look, mutilak, we don’t want any trouble,” said Kepa with his broken English as he backed away and turned to go the other direction. As he turned he nearly walked into Donny McCowen, who towered above him, his sinister sneer highlighted by the moonlight bathing his face.
“If you didn’t want trouble,” growled Donny, “then you should have stayed in your own damn country.”
Before Kepa could respond, Donny’s fist flew and hammered him in the stomach. Kepa immediately fell to his knees. Kepa could hear Donny’s friends laughing behind him.
“Kepa!” exclaimed Maite as she crouched next to him. She then glared up at Donny. “Leave him alone.”
“At least one of you is man enough to stand up for yourselves.” He spat in the dirt. “You damn foreigners come here, ruin our lands with your damn sheep.”
Donny then crouched in front of them both. “Get him out of here,” he said in barely contained rage. “I don’t want to see his ugly face around here again. And if I find any of his sheep on our land, I’ll kill him and all of his sheep.”
Donny stood up. His boot flew and connected with Kepa’s cheek.
“Kepa!” screamed Maite as Donny waived to the two other men.
“Come on boys. Let’s go.”
Maite helped Kepa to his feet, blood flowing from the cut that ran across his cheek. She pulled out a handkerchief from her purse and cleaned up his face as well as she could.
“Let’s get you back to the Noriega and clean that up.”
Kepa looked at her. “I guess it’s not just De Lancre we have to worry about,” he muttered.
Maite shook her head. “You need to be careful. Who knows what he’s capable of.”
“I have a good guess,” replied Kepa.
As they made their way into the Noriega, they found the bar still crowded with more than one table hosting a game of mus. The room filled with murmurs as the players noticed Kepa’s bloody face. Maite led Kepa to the bar and asked for water and ice. As she began cleaning off the blood with a wet napkin, Juan Jose left his game and approached them.
“What happened?” he asked.
“I had a nice chat with one of the local cowboys,” replied Kepa with a shrug.
“One of those McCowens, I’ll bet,” said Juan Jose. “They’re always causing trouble for us.”
“You know them?” asked Maite.
“Most of us know them,” said Juan Jose, waving his hand to indicate the other men in the room. “The cattlemen around here hate us, and the McCowens are the worst. They think all of the land is theirs, even the forest land. More than a few of us have been threatened with our lives if we didn’t leave ‘their’ land. They shoot the sheep too, and burn our camps.” He shook his head. “I’m sorry you met him on your first day.”
“I’ve dealt with worse,” said Kepa dismissively, trying to deflect the unwanted attention.
Juan Jose grabbed Kepa’s shoulders. “Don’t be a fool!” he said, his voice rising. “Those men are dangerous, some of them are killers. Don’t think you’re safe. We’ve lost more than one friend to the cattlemen.”
“I’m sorry,” replied Kepa. “I didn’t mean to make light of them. I’ll be careful.”
“Ondo,” said Juan Jose as he returned to his game.
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