“Chili powder?” Standing in the open door of the armored freight car the general scrutinized the two Rurales anew.
Chancho relaxed. If the general had intended to throw them underneath the moving train, he wouldn’t have dismissed everyone but Guzman. “Even the Guardia, despite our reputation, know when to kill,” he shrugged, “and when to simply spice things up.”
Obregón barked an abrupt, high-pitched laugh. He shook his head and turned serious. “You still insist on petting your horses, or will you stay out of my way?”
Lengths of track clacked past them. Chancho felt the effects of waining adrenaline on his muscles. “General. You’ve had time to discuss the matter with your officers. I’m positive they have not provided you with a satisfactory scenario for today’s events.”
“I do not need my officers’—”
Chancho continued, “What you need is a means to deliver your cargo to Corpus Christi. I can give you what you need.”
“You two are chapping my hide. If I wanted Rurales to drive my train—” the general stopped himself.
“Four Rurales will not help much in a shootout with Villa’s cavalry, not while we are sitting ducks. But there doesn’t need to be a shootout.”
Obregón nodded impatiently, “Go on.”
“There is an alternate track, an abandoned rail running parallel for twenty kilometers. It is long enough to bypass the Villista ambush.”
“Villa is not so stupid to choose a place that could so easily be—”
“It accesses an old silver mine, abandoned over 15 years ago. Goes through some rough country. Most of Villa’s men were only children when it was in use. As you know, Villa grew up in Chihuahua. They don’t know it exists. Did you?”
The general quipped back, “And you?”
“I grew up here, and again, it is my job to know everything about Coahuila. We rode the entire length of it only two months ago. It is old, but functional. You will barely need to slow down.”
“Indeed.” Obregón rubbed the nub of his amputated arm, hidden high in his sleeve, through the dense material of his uniform.
“You cannot continue as you are. Your train will be derailed and torn apart.” Chancho tilted his head. “You cannot go back and wait.”
As if it were simply impossible for the general to consider advice from Rurales, he turned to the weary soldier standing beside Ah Puch. “Guzman?”
“If these men are telling the truth about the alternate track, it would be our best option, sir. Plus,” he half-grinned, half-snarled, “it would humiliate Villa.”
Chancho cursed himself silently for not thinking of that himself. Guzman had turned out to be helpful after all.
The general nodded. “And if they are not telling the truth?”
Guzman turned his gaze toward Chancho. “Then we use them as shields against Villa.”
“Very well. While I appreciate the suggestion, I’m afraid they’re right about our options. If they are lying about the alternate track we will indeed kill them, but we will not fight Villa today. It will be inconvenient, but reinforcements could arrive by tomorrow morning at the latest.” Obregón turned toward Chancho. “Now tell me where to expect the signal for this alternate track. Then Guzman will escort you to see your horses, where I will expect you to stay until you are called upon.”
Chancho and Ah Puch both nodded.