The Gunslinger’s Companion

The Gunslinger's Companion by Michael De Stefano features historical fiction revolving around the Depression.Excerpt: One particularly hot and humid Sunday morning, that was where he was headed, when he found himself fascinated by the folks shuffling into the Blessed Juan Diego de Guadalupe Roman Catholic Church.

Pablo stumbled upon this scene on many a Sunday morning; although, this morning one family in particular garnered most, if not all of his attention. There was nothing extraordinary or exceptional about this family—only a husband and wife with their three children. Neither were they typical. Despite the bustling crowd, Pablo managed to examine them without a moment’s digression as they made their way to the church. He sensed that he knew the family well. As for the father; he had seen this man’s face a thousand times over the span of thousands of days, and yet they had never met—not even a passing glance on the street. It was only the image that the man portrayed that Pablo recognized—an image of desperation and of the hopelessness that accompanies the endless toil in the life of a migrant—the image of a trapped man in an unforgiving world and whose spirit was long ago crushed. The man’s legs were still sturdy, his hands strong, but for how much longer? As Pablo observed, deep within the man’s dark brooding eyes was the look of one who long ago surrendered. Pablo grew up toiling right along men just like this—the look in their eyes was irrevocably etched in his memory. This man had that same look. Pablo suspected that he and his family were migrants—or worse, were among the woe begotten that society pretends not to see—the ones who prefer to remain in shadow, but on Sunday morning, for the love of God, will come forth.

The man’s wife was typical of a woman of her circumstance, in that, for the sake of her children, she smiled and pretended. Inside, though, was where she hid all her suffering, as the daily ritual of survival had all but worn away her once abundant resolve. The two boys, who Pablo placed at age six and eight, walked with a lilt—their youth served as an effective shield to deflect any misery launched in their direction. As for the girl; she was too old to lose herself in ignorance, and yet too young to lose all hope. She was stuck somewhere between the heart that her father wore on his sleeve and the smile that her mother routinely learned to force. One thing was for certain; Anna Maria Lopez was the most beautiful creature that Pablo Cordero had ever laid his eyes upon. With a luxurious sea of shiny, black hair ending at the small of her back, and the warm, radiant glow of skin that belied the harshness of her days, Anna Maria Lopez walked with poise—her willowy form seemed to glide amid the others who merely stepped their way toward the church. To his surprise, Pablo discovered that he was standing inside the Blessed Juan Diego de Guadalupe Roman Catholic Church as he unwittingly followed the glorious creature.

Never before had Pablo set foot inside a house of worship. Although he considered himself to be a man of God and of the Bible, he never sought a specific religious denomination. He had no idea what it meant to be Catholic, Protestant, or any other religion. His pathway to God was without distinction.

Pablo sat in the pew right behind the Lopezes. He took his eyes away from Anna Maria long enough to gaze upon the impressive architecture of the grand Roman Catholic structure. In the past four years, Pablo worked on one edifice after another in the town of Brownsville. In doing so, he gained a fair amount of knowledge of materials, what they cost, and how they were acquired. However, he had never worked with materials of the likes with which the church was comprised. This left him wondering, with whose dime was the ornate palace built?

Pablo sat behind Jorge Lopez to better gaze upon the profile of his beautiful daughter—the slope of her delicate nose, the corner of a soft and remarkable eye—an eye which thus far hadn’t noticed its captive admirer.

Despite his fascination, Pablo made every attempt to hone in on the priest, whose voice was bouncing off the walls and raining down from the dome. He found the acoustics anomalous and took some getting used to. At last, he allowed the priest’s words to reverberate throughout the church without any effort to try and bring them to his ears. While the words washed over him, he allowed himself to become lost in the face of one so beautiful. He wished to remain in perpetual reverie, conjuring thought after thought of how he and the glorious creature could spend a warm Sunday afternoon. However, in the course of his reverie, his eyes drifted away from Anna Maria, traveling to Jorge Lopez, before resting on his wife, Martina. It was while observing the woebegone couple that Pablo was transported back to the dusty plains of the Midwest and wheat belt, where he planted and harvested under an unforgiving sun for what amounted to slave wages. He shuddered to contemplate circumstances that would send him back to those hot, dusty plains. At once, he shifted his eyes to revisit the lovely Anna Maria.

Along with her impeccable posture and her proud chin, there was an elegance to Anna Maria Lopez that made her standout from all others—including those, who according to their attire were of a much higher station. Pablo couldn’t imagine Jorge or Martina Lopez possessing such traits, even before their spirits were broken. Like Dolci Cordero, Anna Maria Lopez was a delicate stem at the end of which bloomed an exquisite flower trying to survive in a harsh and barren land. When gazing at Anna Maria, Pablo conjured images of his mother—the lustful way men ogled her—their vulgar advances. He wondered what might have this magnificent creature, who sat between her pretending mother and slumping father in a house of worship, been forced to do against her will. He dismissed the abhorrent thought before it ever had the chance to fester into something he couldn’t bear.

Pablo was jolted from his reverie when realizing that the priest’s voice ceased reverberating off the walls and ceiling. All went quiet, save for the soft murmuring that ran throughout the church, along with the shuffling of feet. He looked away from Anna Maria to view a congregation, which began shaking hands with one another. “Peace be with you,” they were all saying when shaking hands with those within their immediate proximity. Pablo found the ritual curious, but pleasing. Then Jorge Lopez turned toward Pablo and offered a hand. Jorge didn’t notice Pablo’s brief hesitation, during which, and with some reflection, he examined the man’s knurly appendage. When the two brought their hands together, Pablo was surprised to discover that his own hand was equally rough and calloused. “Peace be with you,” said Jorge Lopez.

Pablo returned the sentiment, though Jorge’s eyes remained downcast throughout their brief exchange.

To Pablo’s delight, Anna Maria, too, offered him her hand. He was embarrassed about his hand’s condition and prayed that the girl wouldn’t be too repulsed by his touch. Should she in any way recoil, he feared the dream of a tender touch and affectionate words spoken on a warm Sunday afternoon would be over before it could begin. He received Anna Maria’s hand as if it were a delicate flower whose petals he dare not bend. “Peace be with you,” she said, smiling demurely at one who looked back with admiration.

Pablo Cordero tried to imagine a day in the life of Anna Maria Lopez, whose demure smile launched him into a hyper-romantic notion that he already knew her, and furthermore, would one day soon and to her delight, swoop down from up on high and rescue her from a life of endless toil. Pablo and Anna Maria would stroll the town of Brownsville at sunset before wandering into Abercrombie’s Drugstore for a bag of hard candy. Just as Pablo had on many a days past, Anna Maria would find the candy a delight. Next they would stroll along the river on the boardwalk. There, Pablo would mention with a hint of pride, that he and his friends had built the strong and sturdy structure on which aspiring young lovers walked hand-in-hand along the Rio Grande on moonlit nights. It would only be natural for Anna Maria to be curious about Pablo’s friends. He would oblige, naturally, but would omit the “Dirty” in Jack Doyle, the “The Prick” in Frankie Donato, the “Fat Fuck” in McGinn, and that Lefty Carson was simply another lefthander. At dusk they would board the last ferry for Matamoros on their way to Bagdad Beach. There they would share their first kiss and remain in a warm and loving embrace until the tip of the rising sun cast its first rays on the Gulf of Mexico.

Seemingly out of nowhere appeared four men. Two were making their way down the center aisle of the church—the other two the side aisles. Each was holding firm to a long stick which fastened to a basket. To Pablo’s astonishment, the men stopped at each pew and dangled the baskets in the laps of folks, some of whom Pablo could easily determine were Brownsville’s less fortunate citizens. Pablo raised a curious brow. This wasn’t the God of which Josiah Walton spoke. Yet, people were reaching for their purses for whatever they could spare, or for whatever was expected—Pablo had no way of knowing which. Finally the basket arrived at the pew where sat the Lopezes. Before the basket made it to where it dangled in Jorge Lopez’s lap, Pablo alertly seized his hand.

“Sir,” he said, “I respectfully ask that you allow me.”

Jorge Lopez glared at Pablo. How dare you assume that I need your charity, was the message that flashed in the man’s otherwise brooding eyes. For a moment, Pablo thought he had made a huge miscalculation in his judgment and that Jorge Lopez was about to make a scene. Then he looked once again into Jorge’s eyes. There was no mistake. Pablo had seen those eyes too many times in the past.

“Sir.” Pablo leaned forward to whisper into Jorge Lopez’s’ ear. “I have no one in this world. No one to look after. No family to feed.”

It wasn’t Pablo’s intention to make Jorge Lopez feel inadequate, or himself to appear heroic in the presence the man’s beautiful daughter. His motive was pure—the gesture discreet, yet it didn’t escape Anna Maria, who in turn flashed the same demure smile as when Pablo earlier took hold of her hand. Meanwhile, Martina Lopez pretended not to notice the subtleness that transpired.

Mass ended and the parishioners of the Blessed Juan Diego de Guadalupe Roman Catholic Church spilled into the street. With eyes dissecting the crowd, Pablo kept the Lopezes in sight and followed them, but at a distance. Occasionally Anna Maria glanced back. When doing so, evident was her same demure smile and a twinkle in her eye. Charmed beyond hope, Pablo smiled in return, pretending to mosey along incidentally in the same direction. All at once he was feeling clumsy, inspired, and foolish. When seeing Anna Maria’s twinkling eye, he was Pablo Cordero…heroic lover. In the seconds that elapsed between the backward glances, he was a stalker lurking in shadow, and whose intentions were clear to all those whom he passed along the way. He wondered where and when the journey would end, but more importantly, how.

Jorge Lopez trudged onward with downcast eyes, while Martina Lopez pretended not to notice her daughter’s backward glances at the young man who she knew was following her. When at the northwest limits on town, Pablo found it most odd that the Lopezes walked such a distance to attend a church service. It was there that Anna Maria once again glanced back at Pablo. This time her smile and the twinkle were gone. In their stead was a look that portrayed sorrow and regret. Step after step after block after mile, Pablo followed the Lopezes, only to have his spirit crushed by one telling glance. It came quite unexpected and he wanted to run up to Anna Maria, seize her by her arms, and cry, “What did that look mean? Why, after all this, did you dash all hope?” In his own hyper-romantic mind, Pablo had gone far beyond the point of hello. Though, crushed as his spirit might have been, he continued trailing after the Lopezes.

Soon the road turned to dirt, and along with the journey it ended at Mortimer’s farm—a farm whose chief cash crop was cotton. Anna Maria turned back for what she knew in her heart would be the last look at a young man who thought so much as to follow her. Her downcast eyes were more telling than mere words. Now you know, my dear Prince, the squalor in which I live—the truth of my wretched existence. Before no one else could I feel so ashamed. It would be my wish to see you again, but I know that I never will. That was the message that Anna Maria sent Pablo, which he received loud and clear. Then Pablo watched as the Lopezes disappeared into their ramshackle dwelling.

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Reviews:

Gunslinger’s Companion (Historical Fiction)

By Michael De Stefano

ISBN #978-1937769307

NTD www.bloddredshadow.com

Price $14.50

238 Pages

Rating 5-Stars

“Reminiscent of Steinbeck and Caldwell. The story of migrant workers in America, and a family’s desperate journey during dangerous times.”

The story begins when a family leaves Mexico before a civil war starts in their country, only to be enmeshed in America’s War Between the States. It follows the families as they experience suffering, rape, and a living hell in their adopted land, where evil begets them along their journey. The story focuses on Pablo Cordero, as he struggles to survive in a failing economy among violent people. Born of migrant parents working the wheat harvest across America, the hard men who follow the wheat crops can be cruel and uncaring of who they hurt.

Even though the story skips around, returning to past times, then back to the present, the author keeps the reader entertained. Pablo invents fantasies to tell his daughter and granddaughter, to cover up the harsh times. He tells them of sunrises and sunsets on Bagdad Beach in Matamoros, Mexico, and how magical the event is. What befalls them on their journey will make a strong man cry. Pablo holds on to his faith, though his life is the suffering of Job, never blaming God for his miseries. The reader will laugh at his humor, and then cry at his many losses. This is a novel reminiscent of Steinbeck and Caldwell, and should be read with a light heart for a gentle man and his family’s plight. The characters will mesmerize the readers. Highly recommended.

Tom Johnson, Echoes Magazine

The Gunslinger’s Companion is a well written, poignant story about a courageous man’s struggles for survival in bleak circumstances. It is also heartwarming. After the sad and untimely death of his mother, he was left totally alone at a tender age and meets an array of colorful characters that restore his faith in mankind and become lifelong friends. The reader travels along with Pablo Cordero, falls in love with him, and at every step of the way marvels at his resiliency and ability to make needed decisions to prevail. His beloved granddaughter inherits that same resiliency and courage. The novel educates the reader by presenting a vivid picture of early Americana and life for those living and working in the dust bowl. This is an easy book to recommend. Five Stars ~ Fidelity (Amazon reviewer)

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My Reaction: {I received an e-copy to help facilitate this review- opinions are 100% my own}

This is a heartfelt story of the life of Pablo Cordero, a strong man dealing with life’s hard blows. He deals with some very hard blows in life, the witnessing of his mothers rape, death of those that surround him, and the overall struggles of life during the time. We watch as he overcomes all, becoming a man that has endured.

While story jumped back and forth at times, I enjoyed how connected you feel to the time. You become a witness to his very life, every emotion, and every triumph. As a reader history comes alive within the pages.

Reviewer: Danelle Johns of Our Wolves-Den

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The Gunslinger’s Companion by Michael De Stefano
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Gunslinger’s Companion by Michael De Stefano is a 2014 Night to Dawn Magazine publication. I was provided a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

This is a fascinating account of Pablo Cordero’s life beginning when his family flees Mexico to avoid the impending civil war. Beginning life in America proves to be ironic when the civil war breaks out between the states.
As Pablo travels to Kentucky with his granddaughter, the absolute light of his life , he begins to recall his past and how it has led him to this point in his life.

Pablo witnessed a good many terrible things in his life and at such a tender age. But, we don’t hear a lot of “poor me”. Pablo works the wheat fields to make a living and the men he works alongside are often cruel. But, Pablo does meet some really great people along the way who help him stem his anger and bitterness.

Now, Pablo must become a parent to his granddaughter because of the danger her mother is in. Anna Maria will grow into a strong woman that has the will and strength to take care of things no one else will. I think readers will like her more than any other character. I did like Pablo’s history, but I wondered about the way he treated his daughter when she fell pregnant and then when he appeared to understand what was happening to her that made her beg him to take Anna away, why he didn’t defend her, I’m not really sure. That was one of those things that sort of nagged at me especially after Pablo had witnessed the cruelty men could dish out to women.
Regardless, the history has a very authentic feel to it and it was easy to envision the land, the people, the joys the pain, and thankfully what looks like a new sort of life for Anna.

This book is not a sugar coated, watered down version of history. If you have issues with rape and violence then be prepared for some uncomfortable moments.
The book is written with a literary style prose and the author does a great job of blending the time periods without confusing the reader.
If you enjoy family sagas and want to read something other than the usual topics featured in historical fiction, then you should try this one out.

This one gets 4 stars. ~ Julie’s Reviews

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