“Suppose the old man we met yesterday lied to us. Suppose there are fifty soldiers instead of twenty. Who knows but he’s a spy sent out by the Federals!”
“Ha, Tenderfoot, frightened already, eh?” Anastasio Montanez mocked.
“Sure! Handling a rifle and messing about with band-ages are two different things,” Pancracio observed.
“Well, that’s enough talk, I guess,” said Meco. “All we have to do is fight a dozen frightened rats.”
“This fight won’t convince our mothers that they gave birth to men or whatever the hell you like. . . .” Manteca added.
When they reached the outskirts of the town, Venancio walked ahead and knocked at the door of a hut.
“Where’s the soldiers’ barracks?” he inquired of a man who came out barefoot, a ragged serape covering his body.
“Right there, just beyond the Plaza,” he answered.
Since nobody knew where the city square was, Venan-cio made him walk ahead to show the way. Trembling with fear, the poor devil told them they were doing him a terrible wrong.
“I’m just a poor day laborer, sir; I’ve got a wife and a lot of kids.”
“What the hell do you think I have, dogs?” Demetrio scowled. “I’ve got kids too, see?”
Then he commanded:
“You men keep quiet. Not a sound out of you! And walk down the middle of the street, single file.”
The rectangular church cupola rose above the small houses.
“Here, gentlemen; there’s the Plaza beyond the church. Just walk a bit further and there’s the barracks.”
He knelt down, then, imploring them to let him go, but Pancracio, without pausing to reply, struck him across the chest with his rifle and ordered him to proceed.
“How many soldiers are there?” Luis Cervantes asked.
“I don’t want to lie to you, boss, but to tell you the truth, yes, sir, to tell you God’s truth, there’s a lot of them, a whole lot of ’em.”
Luis Cervantes turned around to stare at Demetrio, who feigned momentary deafness.
They were soon in the city square.
A loud volley of rifle shots rang out, deafening them. Demetrio’s horse reared, staggered on its hind legs, bent its forelegs, and fell to the ground, kicking. The Owl uttered a piercing cry and fell from his horse which rushed madly to the center of the square.
Another volley: the guide threw up his arms and fell on his back without a sound.
With all haste, Anastasio Montanez helped Demetrio up behind him on his horse; the others retreated, seek-ing shelter along the walls of the houses.
“Hey, men,” said a workman sticking his head out of a large door, “go for ’em through the back of the chapel. They’re all in there. Cut back through this street, then turn to the left; you’ll reach an alley. Keep on going ahead until you hit the chapel.”
As he spoke a fresh volley of pistol shots, directed from the neighboring roofs, fell like a rain about them.