The sitting room of the hotel was modest, completely serviceable without the opulence of high society, yet classy enough that it would discourage low class rabble from lingering on the premises.
The young lady in black sat at a table, a butler poured her a cup of coffee and added cream and sugar.
“Please sit, allow Hector to serve.” The lady asked, her voice more confident in an environment more accustomed to her status in Argentinian society. Even if it wasn’t a private salon, a sitting room was still a sitting room.
“Thank you.” George answered in polite tones. “Allow me to introduce ourselves, I am George Smythe presently on leave from the British Army and my companion is Francis McGowan lately of San Francisco.” Both Francis and George took a seat at the round table, equidistant from each other and their female host. The geometry allowed them to see over each others shoulders, an arrangement that had served them well in much less dignified establishments.
“And I am Maria Salvo de Perez.” The woman said. “My husband was killed in one of the recent robberies, Juan Carlos was his uncle. The banco is a family affair.” Her English was still rough, as if she picked each word with deliberate care.
“We are very sorry for your loss.” Francis replied.
“Thank you.” Maria answered, “But the family honor requires vengeance, not sympathy.”
“Ma’am, we don’t take a job we don’t intend to finish.” Francis drawled, slow and deliberate to help her understand.
“Si, yes. But you are outsiders, you will need help.” Maria’s English was slow, but definitely serviceable. “Pedro may have been borne into a family of bankers, but the Salvo family has many ranches with many gauchos who have volunteered to avenge the death of Carlos’ father.” She paused. “We named our son Carlos after both our grand papas.”
“Madam,” George spoke carefully, “This will not be as easy as herding cows, which is a difficult job on any day.”
“Si, yes.” Maria sipped her coffee. “I came here today to see if you were fighting men, you are. Hector gave me his signal of approval. Men will be sent to kill the bandits with or without you, but Hector thinks it would be best to assist you.”
“Thank you Hector.” Francis drawled. “I’m not against working with a local guide, but I’m suspicious by nature and it seems right suspicious that extra manpower would just fall out of the sky”
“As you should be.” Hector spoke up, the first words the butler added to the conversation. Hector’s accent had a hint of Castilian lisp that George could make out. “But Mr. McGowan, you carry two pistols under that coat, Mr. Smythe here only one. You placed yourselves where you could cover each other’s back. You are in fact the third group of men we’ve interviewed for this and the first group to display even a modicum of readiness to accomplish the task at hand.”
“Awe shucks.” Francis drawled.
“Quite so, Mr. McGowan.” Hector continued, seating himself at the table next to Maria. “Let us get down to business.”
Over the course of the next two hours Hector, Francis, and George discussed various strategies, limitations, and necessities to track down the bandits. Two men could do the job only if they got the drop on the gang, three would be better, but any more than five and the odds of getting close enough undetected started to drop.
The gang had a hideout in the foothills to the northwest and while the area was known, it wasn’t precise. The area had not been yet surveyed, so accurate maps did not exist. Only a local guide would know the lay of the land, and Hector assured the two that he had at least two gauchos who were familiar with the area and handy with a rifle.
Once everything had been discussed, agreed upon, the men shook hands. No contract signed, no paper needed.
The following morning a wagon picked up Francis and George’s luggage from the hotel, and they rode alongside towards a smaller ranch that was geographically closer to the bandit lair. Four days of travel later they arrived.
Before starting the two gauchos, Paco and Jorge, demonstrated their proficiency with the single shot carbine rifles. They were adequate. Francis and George used the range time to familiarize themselves with the Spencer rifles and pistols. The rifles functioned well enough, the ammunition accurate against a human torso out to 450 yards if the shooter could hold steady enough.
But any practice of marksmanship inevitably led to the contest between Francis and George. This time it was with the revolvers.
“Well damn.” George Smythe said in matter of fact tones. “I do believe you are up mate.”
Francis pulled back the hammer on the Smith and Wesson model 3 and lined the front sight blade with the target. The hammer fell with and the thick white puff of smoke belched from the muzzle of the revolver. In the distance the empty green Scots whiskey bottle shattered.
“Bully good shot” George smiled as he reloaded the Beaumont-Adams with stubby .450 Adams rounds. “There may be something to that American lever cocking nonsense when it comes to the accuracy department.”
“Well, our guns work, the boys seem ready to go. Hector wants to tag along with that old shotgun of his to translate for us.” Francis summed up. “Only thing to do is clean ’em, oil ’em, and move out in the morning.”
“And so we shall.” George answered. “Give them hell or die trying.”