Four horses milled about nervously as a train’s brakes cloaked them in hot steam. Tossing their reins to the others, Chancho and Ah Puch dismounted. Summer had sunk its teeth into the countryside months ago and not yet relented.
“Load the horses as planned.” Through successive waves of heat Chancho strode toward the lead passenger car, intent on reaching it before the train settled to a complete stop. Ah Puch followed close on his heels.
Both men wore the stolid gray and braided silver of the Mexican Rurales, despite the alleged disbanding of the infamous Guardia Rural fourteen months earlier in July, 1914. Chancho straightened his black tie and tipped his sombrero over his brow while Ah Puch slung his carbine over his back, positioning his saber neatly at his hip.
“Who the hell are you? And why have you stopped my train?” The general himself swelled to block their path. The right sleeve of his starched Constitutional uniform ended abruptly at the elbow, looming above Chancho’s head. The empty, cut-off sleeve emphasized the absence of the arm that had been there only five months earlier—until the battle at Celaya.
Chancho wasted no time. “Rurales of Coahuila on special assignment, with information about Villista activity in the area.”
Obregón betrayed his surprise with a subtle twitch of his left brow. “Rurales. Villistas.” He spat out both words. “You still haven’t explained why you presumed to stop my train.” He patted his left hand gently on his holster.
“General, your train would have been stopped one way or the other. The Villistas have disabled the track 30 km north of here.”
General Obregón dismissed them with a quick jerk of his head and disappeared into the train while barking orders. “Seat these men in my private quarters, and tell the engineer to get this damn train rolling.” Two Constitutional infantrymen stood aside in the doorway while Chancho and Ah Puch squeezed past them in time to see the door leading to the adjacent car slide shut behind the General’s backside.
An infantryman crowded Ah Puch roughly until he slipped a dagger from his belt, flipped it around backwards in his grip and touched the tip to the man’s nether region firmly enough to convey his meaning. The man coughed and stood down. Ah Puch grinned crookedly over his shoulder as the two men progressed at their own pace toward the general’s quarters. After the Rurales entered, the nervous infantryman shut the door behind them.
A bead of sweat rolled down the small of Chancho’s back. “Do you think he bought it?”
“He hates the Rurales almost as much as Villa. That’s our advantage. He can’t see past his hatred.”
“Ah, but will he stop the train?” Chancho bounced up and down on the general’s cushioned couch.
Ah Puch shrugged, then stiffened. Heavy boots approached in the corridor. Chancho jumped up from the couch as the general threw the door open violently. “More of your men have boarded my train!”
Chancho didn’t budge. “It is not safe even for Guardia Rural to ride about today’s Mexico in pairs. Two more of my men have loaded our horses.” Obregón opened his mouth to speak but Chancho continued. “We will not be left on the border without transport.”
The general’s fingers twitched. Realizing his mouth was still open, he shut it and narrowed his eyes to slits. Chancho resisted the urge to smile. Mentioning their intention to reach the border and then disembark there had been perfectly played.
“Tell me what you know of the Villistas.” The general moved past them and dropped onto his couch as the train shook and lurched along the tracks.