Ah Puch paused, his hand resting on the door handle of the next car. From the landing it appeared at first to be another passenger car, but steel-backed window facades revealed someone wanted a freight car to appear as if it carried human lives. The two men tensed. The ruse meant the car carried cargo considered more precious than human life. This had to be the one.
The metal door grated open an inch at a time. Both men remained clear of the opening until the gap grew large enough to skinny through. Chancho glanced at Ah Puch. No angry voices came from inside. They heard nothing over the pulse of the rails beneath them and the wind whipping past.
There was no point in peeking inside. It would take several seconds for their eyes to adjust to the darkness, and under the circumstances, caution would come across as guilt. Chancho shrugged. Removing his sombrero and crushing it up against his chest, he swung around Ah Puch and slipped through the narrow opening without a sound.
Once on the inside he crouched low in the darkness. Immediately he felt Ah Puch settle in behind him. Senses heightening, he waited for his eyes to make the adjustment. The scent of decay crowded him, like a muggy open air market after a rain. Dust motes swam in the slice of light pouring through the opening. Chancho couldn’t detect any threatening noise, nothing other than the expected rocking of the rails and the closeness of cargo squeaking against its restraints.
Ah Puch placed a quick hand on his shoulder. Chancho tilted his head and closed his eyes. Finally, less than a few meters away a pattern distinguished itself from the rhythm of the rails. A regular breathing, verging on snoring, rose above the din.
At a disadvantage in the relative dimness, Ah Puch slid the metal door slowly shut. Swallowed up in complete darkness, Chancho groped along the floor for his bearings. Identifying an isle through the cargo, the two men slipped further into the middle of the car until a safe distance from the sleeping guard.
“He can’t be the only one.” Chancho squatted with his back against a wooden crate and focused his eyes intently into the blackness where he knew Ah Puch’s face should be.
“At least one more at the other end.”
“What are the chances they’re both asleep?” Finally Chancho’s eyes seized on the cumulative traces of light seeping through holes where bolts had gone missing. Distinguishing the outline of his friend, he continued. “Right. So what now? I was expecting to sweet talk our way to this point.”
“Find the gold. We have to confirm its exact location.”
“Right.” Chancho pivoted his head slowly trying to discern the best path to take through the stacks of crates surrounding them. He stopped when Ah Puch gripped his shoulder.
“Don’t worry. We’ll probably still need to sweet talk our way out of this.”
Chancho grinned. He could see Ah Puch’s ironic smile perfectly in his mind’s eye—a reminder to both of them that they were doing what they loved. “I’ll see you back here in ten minutes.” He squeezed Ah Puch’s arm. “If the devil don’t get me.”
As he turned from his friend the train shimmied along another rough patch of rail. Groping in the dark for balance he gripped something leather—leather and unsecured. Rather than stabilizing himself he fell backwards, pulling the object with him. Only when the object jerked suddenly from his grasp did he realize he had been holding a boot.