This is the important recruitment scene.
I hope you like it – and itch to find out what happened before and also find out how the story pans out. Notes of interest can be found at the end of the excerpt.
Diego is the circus owner; for the rest, I’ll repeat part of the blurb here, which might help: The gringo town of Conejos Blancos has just hosted the Mexican circus; no sooner do they move on to their next venue when Hart and over thirty desperadoes take over the town – and the adjacent silver mine! The sheriff is slaughtered and many of the citizens are held hostage.
In desperation, two boys escape from the locked-down town.
They recruit seven Mexican circus performers, the Magnificent Mendozas: the troupe comprises Mateo, the leader, and his wife Josefa, both expert knife-throwers; José, younger brother of Mateo, a trick rider who lusts after Josefa; Antonio Rivera, sharpshooter; Juan Suaréz, gymnast and trapeze artist with his companion Arcadia Mendoza, who is also expert with bow and arrow; and Ramon Mendoza, escapologist.
Josefa smiled down at the two boys where they sat on the edge of a narrow bed of furs in the capacious wagon, sipping mugs of coffee. Standing at the entrance flap, Mateo studied them also, stroking his pointed beard. Diego sat opposite them on another bed.
She laid a hand on the shoulder of the freckled lad. ‘Didn’t I see you in Conejos Blancos?’
Lowering his coffee mug, the boy said, ‘Yes, Ma’am. Name’s Emmett – Emmett Rosco– ’
‘The sheriff’s son,’ she said. ‘Yes, now I remember.’
‘I’m Gene, his best friend.’
Josefa studied them both, surprised at their appearance.
Diego growled, ‘Don’t you know you could be in deep trouble, sneaking in without paying?’
Looking glum, the pair nodded.
‘Leave them be, Diego, they’re doing no harm,’ Josefa said. ‘The show’s over.’
‘That may be so, but I’ve a good mind to send these two back to the sheriff. His father will know how to chastise him.’
Emmett’s lips quivered. Something was wrong; Josefa felt it in her bones.
Gene stood and moved protectively in front of Emmett, his face screwed-up. ‘Leave him be! His pa’s dead – murdered on Sunday!’
‘Oh, Madre de Dios.’ Her heart somersaulted and she knelt in front of Emmett. She grasped his shoulders gently. ‘Is this so?’
Tears rimmed his eyes as he nodded. ‘Yes… We escaped to get help – your help,’ he croaked.
‘Escaped?’ Diego echoed.
‘The town’s been taken over by a bunch of desperadoes,’ Emmett said in a quavering voice.
‘And they’re going to rob the mine!’ Gene added. ‘We’ve been walking all night!’
Josefa eyed Mateo. ‘That explains the state they’re in.’ She gestured at their muddy clothes, dirty faces, and tired eyes.
Emmett shrugged off her concern. ‘It doesn’t matter about us, Ma’am. They’ve taken everybody’s guns…’ Then, haltingly, he explained how the town was so swiftly taken over, mentioning the wounding of the doctor’s wife and the murder of the town drunk, Mr Watzman. Between them they enumerated the number of sentries and guards they’d spotted – sixteen plus five leaders. ‘We need your help, Ma’am.’ He delved into his pants pockets and brought out a weighty handkerchief bundle, opened it and displayed many coins. He held them out to her. ‘We can pay.’
‘Yes,’ said Gene. He looked at Emmett, seemingly at a loss to say more.
Emmett said, as though his words were rehearsed, ‘You’re all heroes. We’ve seen how good you are with so many weapons. And I – we – reckon you could whup the bad guys real good.’
Gene nodded vigorously. ‘Yeah, you’re handy with knives, guns and bow and arrows – sure, you could…’
Diego held up a hand. ‘Wait, that’s enough!’ He sighed, adjusted his tight-fitting vest. ‘I sympathise with your town’s plight.’ He pursed his lips. ‘And I’m sorry about the sheriff – I mean, your father… But I have a business to run.’ He was about to say more, it seemed, but stopped and stared at Josefa as she spoke.
‘Mateo, get the family together,’ she said.
Diego shook his head, his jowls wobbling. ‘No, Josefa, you can’t be serious about this.’
She offered him one of her smiles. ‘We’re just going to discuss it.’
A few minutes later, the rest of the Mendoza troupe crowded into the wagon.
Ramon said, ‘Mateo’s told us everything.’
Antonio eyed Emmett. ‘Is Naomi – I mean, Miss Gray – is she all right, son?’
Emmett evaded his piercing deep brown eyes. ‘I don’t know for sure, Mr Rivera, but I think so. She’s being held prisoner in the mine office with her pa.’
Josefa had never seen Antonio look so tense, so angry. He’d never seemed to care a fig for any woman before; he simply used them. But something now in his manner was different. Maybe he was a changed man.
‘I must go,’ Antonio said, casting his gaze on the others. The look was plain enough. Come with me.
Diego grunted in disgust. ‘How can you agree to help those gringos?’ he demanded.
José nodded. ‘We owe that town nothing!’
‘They beat up Ignacio,’ Juan argued.
Arcadia clung to Juan’s arm. ‘And our takings weren’t so hot, either.’
‘It wasn’t the whole town who attacked Ignacio,’ Josefa said, ‘just a couple of drunk miners.’
‘Josefa has a point,’ Ramon said, his tone reasonable. ‘We shouldn’t brand all gringos the same.’
‘Why not?’ snapped José. ‘They do exactly that to us!’
Arms akimbo, Juan said, ‘José is right. Why put ourselves in danger for gringos?’
‘Precisely!’ Diego shouted.
‘Then I will go alone!’ snapped Antonio.
‘No, you won’t,’ Josefa said. ‘I’ll go with you.’ She glanced at José and gleaned pleasure from his disapproval, his face twisting.
‘Where my wife goes, so must I,’ said Mateo, resting an arm on her shoulders.
‘This is ridiculous!’ José barked, glaring at Josefa.
‘You forget,’ Diego said, ‘you’re going up against desperate men – killers. You heard the boy, they’ve murdered two people, shot a woman… When was the last time any of you fired a weapon in anger or killed anyone?’
Ramon cleared his throat, pushed out his chest. ‘We’ve done our fair share of fighting, Diego – before we joined your circus. None of us might like it, but we’ve spilled blood in our defence and that of our loved ones...’
‘This is different!’ Diego snapped.
Mateo shrugged and stroked his moustache, studying Juan, Arcadia and José. ‘I recall my cousin telling me about seven gringos who helped his pueblo against many bandidos.’
Juan laughed. ‘That was just a story.’
‘No, it was true.’ Mateo pulled a gleaming knife from the sash round his waist. ‘Pepe showed me his bullet wound scars,’ He gently touched the blade point to his left arm, the bicep and the forearm. ‘Here and here.’ He jabbed his chest, below the heart. ‘And here… He was lucky to survive. Not all of the gringos survived.’
‘Precisely,’ Diego said again. ‘You would risk your life and the lives of your family – your entire troupe – for strangers?’
‘The two little gringos have offered us much.’
Diego guffawed. ‘Twenty dollars?’
‘Twenty two and forty cents!’ Gene corrected.
Smiling, Mateo returned the knife to his sash. ‘No, Diego, I do not speak of the money they have offered. It’s called faith. These boys have faith in us, my friend.’ He scanned the rest of them and one by one they nodded agreement. ‘Just so.’ Mateo smiled. ‘You go on, Diego. We will catch you up in Colorado Springs.’
‘This is utter foolishness.’ Diego shook his head and made his way to the exit flap. ‘You’re all crazy, but I will pray for you.’
Josefa smiled at the circus owner. He clearly wanted to be angry, but he couldn’t bring himself to be, and she understood this as she looked at the trusting faces of the two boys, Emmett and Gene. They melted all their hearts, she felt sure.
‘But I don’t know what I will do to replace the Magnificent Mendozas!’ Then Diego flung the flap aside and left.
Emmett stood up. ‘Ma’am, I thought all of the circus people would come back to help.’
Mateo chuckled. ‘Sorry, young man, but your rate of pay is not very enticing. You get seven of us – the Magnificent Mendozas. That should be enough.’
Eyes and mouth wide, Gene stared, then said, ‘Seven against twenty-one?’
Mateo nodded. ‘Three-to-one – not bad odds, I think. Your Texas Rangers would be comfortable with these odds, no? Besides, we will have the element of surprise.’
Notes of interest, perhaps.
1. In fact the odds are somewhat greater than three-to-one, but they don’t know that at this stage.
2. I’ve tried not to be too blatant with the allusion to the seven gringos who saved a Mexican village.
3. I’ve attempted to inject humour, pathos and the kindness of strangers.
4. Already implied in the book, José covets his brother’s wife, Josefa, hence the interchange here.
5. Antonio had developed an attachment to Naomi Gray, the mine owner's daughter, hence his concern here.
6. If this were a film, each speech would be short, perhaps no more than two or three lines; in fact, even in a book, the length of a speech should be broken up, to reflect real life. So that's what I've attempted here. The only potentially long speech is Emmett’s, but that is broken up by reported speech, briefly relating the events that the reader is already privy to.
7. Ideally, each character present should contribute to the dialogue or why is he or she there? The downside of that is that giving each character something to say or contribute means that there’s the strong risk of overdoing the use of ‘said’. In this scene I’ve tried to reduce the frequency by using actions tied to speech.
8. Bravery is down-played; no histrionics (well, just a little – ‘not bad odds’).
The Magnificent Mendozas is available now in hardback only.