The summer had been dry enough to choke greasewood, and the dirt roads in southwest New Mexico were blessed with fine, powdery dust 4 or 5 inches deep. Driving down any of them made for an experience kin to a hurricane hitting a talcum powder factory. My old pickup was covered with the fine powder inside and out from my several trips out to my desert shooting range. I'd been doing some accuracy work with some .44 Magnum handloads using Hodgdon 4227, and it had required multiple trips down several parched, dust-infused roads to get to the range.
As the sun started making its way down the last stretch to the west, I decided I needed to wash the dust out of my mouth and cool down a bit. I headed to the Adobe Deli, southwest New Mexico's premier steakhouse, bar, and desert rat lair. The place was dark and cool inside, and the first sip of cool libation was pure heaven. When my eyes had adjusted somewhat, I noticed an older gentleman sitting at a table on the other side of the room, watching me with a slight smile. His hat was tipped back, and he was nursing a cocktail. He nodded my way, and with a little more eye focus, I finally recognized him.
"Git over here, brother," he said as I approached the table. He stood and gave me a hefty abrazo, then patted me on the back. "Damn good to see you son. You're looking good."
"You too ol' pard," I said. It'd been a while since I'd seen Ezra, but he hadn't changed a bit.
"Sit down here and join me for something cold and wet," he said. Where the heck you been hidin'?"
"Aw, work's been busy," I said. "Been out trying to gin up some good-shootin' .44 Mag loads for a javelina hunt this fall."
".44 Mag?" he said with a grin. "It'll work on 'em, but there ain't no better javelina gun than a Winchester .32 Special you know."
Ezra was a retired lawman, and he knew guns pretty well, but he limited his knowledge to just a few models in a few calibers. Probably good thinking.
"Yep, I popped my share of javelina down in South Texas--and in this New Mexico country, too," Ezra said. "Never had much reason to shoot 'em though, since you can't eat the damned things."
When I attempted to explain to him that javelina were palatable when properly handled and prepared, his laughter caught the attention of several of the Adobe Deli patrons.
"Hell boy, they don't even eat the suckers down in Mexico," Ezra said with another belly laugh. "I heard once javelina tamales were sorta tasty, 'cept you have to drink a whole bottle a mescal to wash the taste outta your mouth."
"But that .32 Special, now that's one heck of a cartridge," Ezra continued, taking a long sip of his amber colored cocktail. "I used that Winchester 1894 carbine for a lot of years as a law officer, and I think it's the best police long gun there is. Ol' Joaquin Jackson was the one that got me to carrying one."
My old friend Joaquin, now retired from the Texas Rangers, was always partial to the Winchester 1894 carbine, but in .30-30 rather than the .32 Special.
"So, Joaquin put you on the '94 for police work, huh?" I asked the old law dog.
"Yep, in .32 Special," he replied. "Oh, I know Joaquin liked the .30-30, but, like I told him, the .32 Special's a lot better."
Ezra took another sip of his drink, then reached with both hands to his shirt pockets, looking for a cigarette, though he'd quit long ago.
"Many years back, I's a chasin' a crook they called 'El Chito' who'd committed a slew of armed robberies over around Las Cruces. One of my old informers told me Chito had hightailed it down to the bootheel when he found I's after him. He had family down near Agua Prieta, Sonora, and I figured he planned to cross over there if it got too hot."
Ezra went on to explain that "El Chito" was somewhat of a gun aficionado and fancied himself as a pistolero, as well as a fair rifleman. He was an avid deer hunter and bragged that he could hit a running deer at several hundred yards with his trusty treinta treinta, his .30-30. Chito, an ex-con, had been caught several times by the authorities for various acts of malfeasance and was generally carrying a gun.
"One of my snitches, ol' Cinco, gave me the scoop on where Chito was hidin', which was a little adobe not too far from the borderline," Ezra continued. "Now Joaquin's choice in the '94 was the .30-30, and Chito's, too. I figured I need somethin' a little meaner. I got to readin' in one of them gun magazines that the .32 Special was pretty close to the .30-30 in ballistics but shot flatter at longer distances. One of my old law dog partners had retired, and I knew he was sittin' on an old '94 in .32 Special. I paid him a visit, and we did a little tradin'. Turned over a real nice Browning High Power that had been slicked up by RoBar straight across for the Winchester. My old pal figured I'd lost my mind."
Ezra stared at his glass a moment, then took a long sip on it. After a lengthy session of throat clearing, he sat back, pondering.
"Well, did you get him?" I finally asked.
The old lawman looked at me suddenly, his mind having been on something else. "No, no I didn't," he said, shaking his head. "I set up on that adobe shack all night. Just before daylight, ol' Chito came out the back door to answer nature's call. Kinda crazy, but he was wearing one of them Panama hats. I hollered at him to freeze when he was at his most vulnerable, if you know what I mean. He fired a shot regardless, so I took as fine a bead I could on that hat."
Ezra looked around the room a minute and grinned. "One thing for sure, the .32 shoots flatter, all right. I momentarily forgot there might be less bullet drop, so I compensated by aiming at the crown of that hat. That's just where that bullet hit, and it was the last I ever saw of ol' Chito. I still have the hat."
"Still have that old '94?" I asked.
"Best varmint gun I own," he replied. "After I learned not to hold high."