“What in the… Guzman? That you? Dammit, stop playing.” Chancho froze. “It hasn’t been an hour yet. Guzman?”
Chancho cleared his throat while scrambling to his feet. Behind him he could hear Ah Puch shifting his weight, preparing for a fight. He decided on a gravely voice, “Like hell it hasn’t. Get your lazy ass out of bed.”
“Hey!” There was a sudden shifting in the darkness, followed by the sound of a pistol slipping from its holster. “Who the hell are you?”
“Plan B,” Chancho mumbled. Cocking his right leg toward the sound of the guard’s voice, he yanked up on his inner bootstrap while extending the leg into a full kick. The kicking motion fell just short of the groggy guard’s face who flashed his pistol blindly in the dark. But the strap, upon extending into a pull cord, ignited a small explosion in the tip of Chancho’s boot. Among dissipating sparks a cloud of fine powder burst into the guard’s face.
“What in the—” the pistol fired. Whizzing past Chancho’s ear the bullet ricocheted and dug into a wooden crate.
“Chili!” Chancho warned Ah Puch before crashing into a web of hemp rope. He shielded his face from the spreading cloud.
Choking, the guard squeezed off another round. “Santa Maria! It burns!” His pistol clanked to the ground.
Chancho knew the guard had failed to resist touching his face, grinding the chili dust further into his skin. A new voice echoed in the dark.
“Torres? What the hell is going on? Ruiz?”
Peeking from under his sombrero Chancho saw the outline of Ah Puch, crouching two meters away—outside the effective range of the chili. On the edge of the cloud, Chancho felt the sudden urge to sneeze.
The guard who had caught the brunt of it, Torres, continued to choke on every breath. “Intru— intru—” he coughed in between each attempt to sound the warning, unable to string together three syllables without the powder triggering the reflex. Chancho struggled to contain his giddy excitement over how beautifully the chili bomb had incapacitated the man.
“Someone’s in here with us, sir.”
“Ruiz? How the hell did someone get in between us?”
“Dammit, do you know who fired?”
“It wasn’t me, sir.”
Chancho knew the two guards would be forced to act soon, and he and Ah Puch were both exposed to opposite lines of sight in their current positions. Torres was the problem. He occupied the only nook out of sight from the others, and his being at risk elevated the situation. Not only did the two friends need to not die, they had to convince the general the whole thing was a friendly misunderstanding.
Chancho tied a bandana around his nose and mouth, tipped his sombrero low over his eyes and bumped his way toward Torres. He needed to get the incapacitated guard to the front end of the car, where Ruiz had been sleeping, and away from Guzman, their commanding officer. This would keep the scales tipped to their advantage.
Even through the bandana his throat itched with every breath. Locating Torres by his groaning, Chancho kicked the pistol out of the way and tugged him off his cot by both legs. The guard hit the ground with an ooff. As Chancho dragged him kicking and clawing, Ah Puch leaned in close to the guard’s ear. “Now go. That way if you want to live.” Both men pulled Torres up on his feet and shoved him toward Ruiz’s end of the car.
“Torres, that you?”
“Intruders!” Torres finally pronounced the word he had struggled with for several seconds.
“We figured that. Are you alright?”
Having cleared the area of human threat, Ah Puch and Chancho leapt onto the cot and leaned against the outer wall of the freight car above the lingering chili dust. With crates stacked to the ceiling on both sides, they were finally out of sight. “He’ll be fine.” Chancho spoke loudly enough to address the guards. “Chili powder. It burns like hell, but nothing like your mother’s salsa the next morning. You know what I mean?”