The fat fox waits by the right rabbit hole.
— Tilok proverb
They came up the river at thirty miles per hour, Sam at the bow of the twenty-five-foot boat, watching the mud brown Yavari River disappear beneath him. Even a quarter-mile distant, the giant trees that created the highest layer of jungle canopy seemed immense. It bore no resemblance to the conifer forests of northern California. Here, one experienced layers upon layers of green, things growing up and down the enormous trees, things flowering, things sprouting, things dying in a never-ending cycle witnessed by few and understood by no one.
Sam’s party had come down the Amazon from Iquitos to the Yavari and from there up the Yavari and finally to Angamos, where they refueled before proceeding toward the black water of the Galvez River. Two hours later, they were forty miles up the Galvez.
Sam waved for the guide Javier to stop.
Grady announced her intention to use this opportunity to run into the jungle and pee. Yodo, a big Japanese man whose body was about halfway between a sumo wrestler and a pro fessional basketball player, with a round cherubic face and hair drawn back tight to a smidgen of a pigtail, followed at a discreet distance. At the moment his job was to protect Grady, and he was a man who took his job seriously. Javier grabbed a small fishing pole and some chicken bits for bait and proceeded to pull in piranha and toss them in a plastic tarp.
Sam called the office on the sat phone. They connected him to Jill.
“Where are you?”
“Not far from Bowden’s. About ten miles downstream.”
“Well, you may want to hurry. We have word that a boatload of white men is headed up the Tapiche, one of them traveling under a French passport. I’m convinced that Girard is really Gaudet. Figgy says he’s not so sure. The Tapiche would be the back way to the Galvez if somebody didn’t want to be detected. They could walk from the Tapiche near where it joins the Blanca. That would take maybe two or three days.”
“Damn.” Sam consulted a map of the region.
“The spooks are getting their Brazilian general friend to turn ‘Big Eye’ in your direction. Nothing yet.”
“I sure didn’t expect this.”
“Neither did we.”
“I have Grady. I can’t go all the way back to Angamos. And even if I did, I can’t just drop her off on the beach. I’d have to leave Yodo and the guide as well.”
“All true. But Grady can fight.”
“Yeah,” Sam said without enthusiasm. He could handle dying in a firelight with Gaudet, but he wasn’t sure he could deal with watching Grady being tortured. There was a con spiracy of feminine minds in the bowels of his company. They believed in women in combat and he couldn’t quite admit that he did not, so he flirted with it, allowing female fighters when he was reasonably certain there would be no fight. So far, he had been right more than he had been wrong, but there was a dead woman to commemorate the oc casion when he had misfigured. It had left a hole in his soul that would never be filled and no amount of ethical reasoning would change that for him. It didn’t feel like normal war, if there was such a thing, when a woman was being abused.
“We could travel with the spotlights and be to Bowden’s in an hour. We’d have to go slower in the pitch dark.”
Jill stayed quiet and Sam thought.
“I’m gonna go. As you say, they should be at least a couple days getting there. We’ll figure out a reception.”
“Okay. We’ll be sitting here with our fingers crossed.”
It took only forty-five minutes to get to the landing, but finding the house was tougher. It was set back a bit in the jun gle and the palm thatch roof came down low over the porch, so at night it blended with the jungle. Sam led the way up to the porch and found a note written in Spanish. Javier ex plained that Mr. Bowden had gone off with a Matses girl to locate a group of criminal intruders headed to the Galvez from the Tapiche. They went into the house and found hand made furnishings and a shortwave radio. Sam found a sheet of paper on the floor. It was another note in Spanish and he handed it to Javier. According to the note, trunks containing notes or papers from Bowden’s work had filled part of this room. The note asked a fellow called Ramos to take the trunks and to use Bowden’s boat in order to deliver them to the scientific group at Pacaya-Samiria and then to have them sent to a professor at Cornell University. It listed a Professor Richard Lyman and his address.
“Obviously, he suspects the men are after his work. Now he’s going after them? Unbelievable,” Sam muttered. Grady and Yodo were standing at his elbow, just behind Javier. “Bowden can’t know what he’s getting into. We’ll put Figgy on the Cornell professor, so we can get to the journals.”
“What now?” Javier asked.
“Go after them. Fast. If it’s Gaudet, Bowden’s a dead man. Unless Gaudet needs him alive.”
“If he’s with a Matses girl,” Javier said, “things may go better than you think.”
A day after the last debacle, Baptiste had another meeting planned with Benoit Moreau that he hoped would go better than the prior. He had just spent a half hour talking to his doctor about AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. Benoit had had a test recently and was clean, but according to the doctor, the results would not be accurate as to AIDS for any recent sexual activity. The woman was a terrible risk for more reasons than AIDS, but the logic of the situation was not taking any toll on his loins, only his brain. Even though it was more dangerous than trying to strangle a Paris whore, he couldn’t abate his desire nor could he reason with it. He had never even really considered being unfaithful to his wife because in the area of intimacy he was paranoid. And he was a Catholic from a Catholic family, even if it was more in name than in deed.
For the paranoid, such as Baptiste, sleeping with Benoit would be a terrifying dance with chance. He pondered whether she might claim rape and retain some of his semen to prove it, and he obsessed over that one. Other problems in life did not have this effect on him. Figuring all this out took an incredibly large chunk of time and a bigger chunk of emotional energy. Asking the questions made him feel de meaned. He supposed that is what Benoit Moreau had in mind.
If he didn’t obtain Benoit’s help, he was placing all of his hopes in Rene’s race against the Americans to find Bowden first. That wasn’t a good enough bet.
Before he went to see Benoit, he had a meeting with the admiral. Waiting outside the office at the end of the line was agonizing. He wanted nothing more than to get it over with and get on with Benoit. It took about five minutes to get his turn. Sitting in front of the admiral, he concentrated on remaining calm and unflappable.
“How are we doing with Benoit?”
“I think I’m getting closer.”
“‘Closer’ is not your assignment. The minister is on my tail, and the prime minister is calling me every day. I’m making things up to say-things that sound like real pro gress. We need success, and we need it now.”
“Our man is in with the Americans. Rene’s in the field. We have good men in New York. We’re in a good position,” Baptiste confirmed.
“So the Americans have to wipe our ass. Don’t misunderstand, it was smart to get in with them. But we have to beat them, not catch their crumbs. As for Rene… you know my feelings about him.”
The admiral took a drink of his very black coffee. “I know that this American, Sam, is well connected.” Baptiste wondered if his boss was nervous. They both were familiar with the rumors surrounding Sam. Few knew him, but nobody claimed he was anything less than shrewd. “Do you really think Newton or Rene can outmaneuver him?”
“So far, we are clean. I’m waiting for a full report from both.”
The admiral nodded, his eyes distant. “I wish we could play rough with Benoit Moreau, but she knows too many politicians. Carnal knowledge, I mean. Even in prison she gets more favors than a round-heeled laundress.”
“I did not know this. She has it good?”
“She’s behind bars-but aside from that, they treat her like someone would be treated if there were a steady stream of discreet inquiries from parliament. If you get my mean ing.”
“No wonder it is hard to bribe her,” Baptiste affirmed.
“You’re talking about the job offer?”
“Yes. She has not bitten.”
“On the job or your cock?”
“I would never-“
“Of course you wouldn’t. Make sure you don’t. Maybe I should talk to her. Discreet inquiries or no, she’s still in a cell. The work deal should appeal. Go see her again, and if she says no, then I will see her. If you have to promise her a possible pardon, then do it. It won’t be possible anytime soon, but she won’t know that. Whatever it takes to get her cooperation is what you should do,” the admiral stated.
Baptiste swallowed and nodded. Indeed.
“The admiral wants to come and see me, doesn’t he? He’s looking for excuses.” Benoit Moreau gave Baptiste a level stare when she said it, and for some strange reason he wanted with all his soul to give in. He wanted to be in league with her, to be her partner and confidant, even her subject. There was a strange titillation to it. Somehow she knew what he wanted better than he did. So strange. But he was not ready to accede to her demand for sex. Not yet.
“My boss wants the job done.”
She smirked. “I’m so grateful you don’t actually believe that. Okay, let’s do a test. You pick up the phone and call Admiral Larive and ask him if he would like to see me. Just a simple question with me listening. We can share an ear piece.”
“I can return you to your cell. I can find an excuse to throw you against the wall. Break your ribs, knock your teeth out-and you just don’t get it.”
“Knock my teeth out. Go ahead. Great career move.”
“What the hell do you want?”
“I will deal either with you or your boss. Which will it be?” Benoit challenged.
“Let’s talk about the deal. You go to work. You get out of here for the day, every day. You help us and we make your life a lot better.”
“Okay. It will be your boss. I will make your deal and take care of the admiral myself. When I am in my new office, I will ask him to come and see me. I will tell him all my secrets and you will be rewarded because you made the deal.”
“You will never seduce him.”
“Then that is not your concern. Besides, I said nothing about seducing him. Let’s make the deal.”
“The deal is, you go to the lab starting tomorrow. As long as we like your cooperation, you keep going. That’s the deal. And on your first day there you will tell me everything you know about Chaperone,” Baptiste explained.
“That is not the deal. A deal is a negotiation. That was no negotiation.”
“You are a criminal. The French government does not negotiate with criminals. They impose conditions. You will not see the admiral and we will not be manipulated.”
He was angry and knew he shouldn’t do what he did next, but he could not lose face now. He yanked her from the chair, dragged her to the door, and threw her out of the office so that she tripped in her chains and landed hard on the linoleum. The guards looked mystified and a little nervous. She looked up with pure superiority and he knew he wouldn’t like whatever she was about to say.
“If the Americans get Chaperone before you do,” she whispered, “you will look like an idiot.”
He kicked the door shut and felt for a fleeting moment as though he had reclaimed his manhood. Then her words sank in and he knew that she knew.
The place was a green-leafed steam bath. In some places the visibility in the beam of the flashlights narrowed to a few feet. Dawn had just arrived, revealing highland jungle: terra firma. It actually tended to have thicker foliage than the low land jungle because it was not underwater for six months out of the year. There was no visibility above to the sky even in the daylight except in natural openings and thin spots in the forest canopy. GPS signals were often weak, maybe one good satellite signal and one faint. In the rare clearings five good satellite signals were common.
Sam was getting the hang of this jungle, although navigating was extraordinarily difficult. Javier managed to walk generally in the appropriate direction according to the intermittent GPS readings, but it was obvious that they traversed nothing like a straight line, making the journey longer than the map would indicate.
Sam used a GPS to find the approximate coordinates of a spot on the Tapiche closest to Bowden’s house. As they went, they meandered, looking for the sign of a small group of men. They traveled into the early afternoon and then looked for a natural opening in the canopy and once again used the satellite phone. Sam noted that he had a good signal. He di aled and got his office on the line and soon was talking to Jill.
“Where are you?”
“About twenty miles from Bowden’s as the crow flies. We’ve been wandering, looking for a sign. We’ll go no farther toward the Tapiche, unless you guys know something we don’t.”
“Give me your latitude and longitude.”
Sam gave it.
“Yeah, we have you. We are almost sure you have bad company.”
“I don’t know if you want the particulars or just the conclusions.” She was referring to Big Brain, which must have correlated far-flung data to make the conclusions.
“What do you have?”
“We have Girard and company traveling to Brazil, then into your area. We have a confirmation of that from French intelligence as communicated to Figgy.”
“Why is French intelligence mucking around in our business?”
“Just trying to be helpful, I guess.”
“So Gaudet or whoever it is didn’t come through Lima?”
“For some reason they flew from Manaus to Iquitos. We have confirmed they hired a boat in Iquitos, went up the Ucayali. We have six bodies leaving the Tapiche on foot.”
“That from Big Eye?”
“Yeah, the on-foot part.”
Big Eye was a surveillance system built at the urging of the United States by Raytheon for the Brazilian government at a cost of about $1.4 billion and consisting of nine hundred listening posts, five airborne jets, and three remote sensing aircraft. From a height of 33,000 feet and a distance of 125 miles, the radar systems could detect a human being under cloud cover on the forest floor. Brazil had not yet consented to share Big Eye information with the United States, but the CIA viewed that issue as a diplomatic technicality. Some how U.S. spooks had hotwired the thing, and since Sam’s project was of some interest, they ran a data pipe over to Big Brain, which did its usual voracious data guzzle.
“You could be watching any six people. You don’t know they came in a boat, right?”
“Right. Could be Matses people returning from a rare trip to Requena. Maybe European types on holiday. But I doubt it. What are the chances?”
“How close are they?”
“Very close. Under a mile. And there is a lone somebody even closer and another single a little farther away.”
“Natives probably. Especially one of them-from the way he moves. Fast.”
The sat phone’s connection fizzled.
Sam told Javier what he knew. The guide nodded and they began making a slow circle, using their flashlights. Staring at the forest floor, they walked for what seemed an hour in constantly widening circles. Since they were not paying at tention to natural pathways, they had to claw their way through tangles and vines, which were dripping with ants. Even seeing the ground was difficult at times.
“I found them,” Javier said at last, surprising Sam, who hadn’t even realized that Javier had disappeared and traveled some distance.
“Six pairs of shoes.” They all gathered around and looked. In the soft mud next to a small deep river of black water- that no doubt ran into the Galvez-the imprints were obvious. “By now they could be several miles distant.”
“Next clearing we’ll try the sat phone and find out.”
Nothing about the trek was as Sam had envisioned. Most significant, of course, was the fact that they were now following six pairs of shoes, one of which might be Devan Gaudet’s. From this fact flowed many other unanticipated eventualities, such as Sam’s decision to stalk these killers, which added the prospect of a deadly encounter. Walking in the same general direction as the six men, they would not lit erally follow each footstep because the process of tracking over a leaf-littered jungle floor would slow them down. Instead, they would travel on their own and make sure they located the track every fifty feet or so; failing that, they would backtrack to the last-known location and try again.
Sweat poured down Sam and the heat baked through him. For reasons he couldn’t quite grasp, he was drawn to this place, perhaps to the utter wildness, and so it seemed was Grady, although there was no hiding her physical discom fort. Perhaps the anticipation of meeting Michael Bowden kept her going. Yodo never seemed to feel much of anything about his surroundings. He was pretty close to immune to environmental influences except when someone was trying to kill him or one of his charges.
They tried not to use machetes to cut a trail because it made noise and left a memoir of their passage and, more sig nificantly, because to actually chop enough to do any good required great effort and much time. So they slithered past everything they could, all the while unable to imagine how any human without a GPS could find anything or anyplace in this jungle-ever. They came upon a toppled tree that opened a vine-tangled spot in the forest that was maybe thirty or more feet across. In this stretch of jungle the open space seemed like a mall parking lot.
As they made their way across the opening, Sam glanced down and saw something protruding from the base of a small tree. He stopped to retrieve an arrow, which no doubt missed one lucky monkey. Grady stepped around him, apparently walking on automatic. Just as she was looking for a likely spot to re-enter the green wall, Sam noticed a brown face with interesting tattoos around the mouth. He stared at two brown eyes. The young man’s body was partially obscured by foliage, but his face was clearly exposed. His hair fell below his shoulders. The fellow seemed to be naked above the waist. He was quite thin and Sam wondered if he saw hunger in the eyes.
Neither Sam nor the native moved. There was a wicked- looking, stone-tipped arrow about fifteen feet from Sam’s nose and it was poised for release, but it was not aimed at Sam. Grady was standing immediately in front of him, so it was her forehead that would take the shot.
Very slowly Sam put a hand on her shoulder and gently eased beside her, and then around her, all the time watching the native’s eyes. It took a full minute to make the switch.
The arrowhead wore a deep red stain that was smooth and had a sheen like fiberglass. That would be a neurotoxin made with excretions from a dart frog (Grady’s research had indi cated it was the Matses version of curare and more effective) and mixed with various venoms.
“If I need mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, it’s your job,” he whispered, unable to resist the wisecrack.
“You can count on me.”
“Tell him we’re friends,” Sam told Javier.
Javier spoke Spanish, but the man appeared not to under stand.
“He isn’t so wild he doesn’t speak Spanish, is he?”
“He looks Matses and he is in Matses territory. In these parts the Matses speak Spanish,” Javier said.
Moving very slowly, Sam removed a knife on a string from his pocket and demonstrated the folding and unfolding of the blade and then hung it over a branch. Doing his best to look at ease, he stepped back, signaling for Yodo, Grady, and Javier to move back as well. Grady needed no encourage ment. The gesture of giving the knife was called atraccao and meant luring. Early contact with pure jungle natives was normally accompanied by the presentation of gifts. With luck he would win reciprocity and more contact.
There was good muscle in the young man’s shoulders even if the cheeks were slightly gaunt. Sam noticed a slight relaxing across his chest and the hand came forward, slowly reducing tension on the bowstring. As Sam watched the man, their eyes locked. The native was watchful. I am a friend, Sam repeated in his mind as if it were a mantra. Then, I want to hunt with you. Sam now saw three hairlike wood strands protruding through the man’s nose-the “cat whiskers” characteristic of the Matses. Around the man’s mouth was a tattoo.
The cat man put his bow to his side and studied the knife. He opened and closed it with familiarity; Sam was sure that Cat-man had seen others, perhaps even owned one. Sam sensed that the man wished to make a return gift.
“Tell him that I am traveling, so I cannot carry any gift that he might wish to give.”
“Good thinking,” Javier said; then he tried to communicate that idea in Spanish.
“He doesn’t understand. He doesn’t speak Spanish. The Matses have their own language, but they all speak some Spanish. That’s not all that’s weird. Normally, the women wear the nose whiskers unless it’s a special deal, and the men are dressing for dinner, so to speak.”
Reaching under his shirt, Sam removed his braided rawhide necklace with the gold locket. He opened the locket, walked forward three paces, and in the beam of a flashlight showed Cat-man a picture of his grandfather Stalking Bear. Cat-man studied the picture for a moment, then ran his fingers over it before turning his attention back to Sam.
Sam slowly squatted and cleared away leaves and vines on the forest floor until he came to dark soil. He waited a minute and then began patting the ground in a ritualistic fashion and smoothing it. When he had smoothed a three-foot-square area, he stopped. The native stepped out from behind the bush that had partially hidden him, squatted down, cleared the leaves and vines over a similar size square, patted the ground smooth, then stood next to the patch and stomped his feet. Then he stepped back.
Sam took a stick and drew a winding line in the ground, then drew a number of intersecting smaller lines. He was intending to depict the Yavari River and its tributaries, as well as the Blanca, Tapiche and Ucayali. If he were local Matses, the man would know the geography. Sam stood and stomped on the ground, then pointed with the stick at the crude lines, attempting to indicate their current location between the Galvez and the Tapiche and their direction of travel toward the Galvez. Then he pointed at the sky low on the horizon and circumscribed an arc to the opposite horizon. He pointed to a spot on the Tapiche and made two full arcs, indicating two days’ journey.
“For him it wouldn’t take two days,” Javier said.
Cat-man took the stick, went to his own square, and drew a river system similar to the Yavari, then drew what looked like a mound and made two arcs with his arm for two days. Then he put a round mark on the map and stomped his feet.
“That explains it,” Javier said. “It would take us at least three days to get where he is indicating. Maybe more. It looks like he’s saying he’s from the Brazilian refuge. Probably Rio Lobo. Totally unusual because they don’t cross over the border just to hunt or wander around.”
“Why is he alone?” Sam asked. “I would think they would hunt in groups.”
“They would not come over here just to hunt.”
“Fala Portuguese? ” Javier asked.
“A minha lingua e Portuguese.”
“There is your answer. He speaks Portuguese. I don’t speak much.”
“Interesting challenge,” Sam said.
“Tu nao deves de estar aqui.”
“What’s he say?”
“Something like… that we are trespassing here. I will say that I know the people of San Jose.”
“Ask for his help in following the white men.”
“Too complicated,” Javier said.
“Eu consiou uma mulher dos Matses neste lado do Yavari e ela e muito boa e ela vai ser a mulher,” Cat-man said.
“What’s he say?”
“Something about a woman. Maybe he’s over here courting a wife.”
Sam opened the locket and once again showed him Grandfather’s picture.
‘Tell him this man was my grandfather.”
“I know the word for father.”
“That won’t work.”
“Because I need the force of the truth. I want to take him back to the sandbar.”
“Vamos ao rio,” Javier said.
Pointing, Sam indicated that Cat-man should lead the way back in the direction Sam had come. The group went a couple of hundred feet through the jungle and Cat-man stopped. Without waiting, Sam kept going and broke through the jun gle onto the sandbank of a Yavari river tributary. On the river bar there were the footprints of the six booted men.
“Do you know the words for my son?”
Sam said the words. Then he took Cat-man’s arrow and pantomimed a man being shot, falling to the ground, and dying. Again he said the words: “Meufilho.” Then Sam took Cat-man’s hand gently and clasped it to his chest. “Meufilho,” he said.
“Your son was killed by the men we are following?” Javier asked.
“Yes. That is the truth.”
Cat-man opened the gold medallion hanging around Sam’s neck and took another look at Grandfather.
Sam pantomimed following the tracks in the sand. Again he repeated the pantomime of his son’s death. Without any other communication Cat-man started off after the six men. Intermittently as they walked, he pointed out a footprint or two. It appeared to be a cautious, disciplined group they were following; they didn’t leave signs like normal civilians would.
Now the men they followed were not far and Sam knew they were confident, even overconfident. He wondered if they could be beaten.
It occurred to him then that there was something not good about using Cat-man and his skills. No reasonably certain recipe had yet been found for bringing indigenous peoples into the modern world without bringing them onto welfare rolls to stagnate until they died. Cat-man was already in the netherworld between his natural state and civilization. An experience like this would carry him farther from his roots, if it did not kill him outright. But Sam balanced that against his desperate need to find and stop six men bent on harming and probably killing Michael Bowden and likely many others. All he could do was hope this walk through the jungle would not bring harm to Cat-man.
Sunlight came down through the top layers of the forest in cascades that exhausted themselves before they hit the ground and were gobbled by the largest leaves in the world, soaking up the rays and breathing in the carbon dioxide and exhaling oxygen-the lungs of the earth. Sam had read that the Amazon basin produced 40 percent of the world’s oxygen and pumped out 20 percent of the earth’s flowing fresh water. It was late afternoon under the thick of the jungle canopy and in spots Sam couldn’t even discern if the sky was overcast or clear.
Yodo followed behind Grady, who walked behind Sam, Javier at his shoulder; Cat-man led the way. After they had walked a half hour with Cat-man barely studying the ground, they came to one of the tributaries of the Galvez. It looked to be nearly seventy or eighty feet across and on its near bank stood a half circle of abandoned huts. Matses often made small fishing camps, such as this one, which they’d leave when the fish stopped biting or the floodwaters came.
This camp had one unique feature: dead tribe members lay between the huts. It was astonishing because the bullet holes indicated they were killed by westernized people, and it was almost unheard of for ciudadanos to sneak up on na tives. Devan Gaudet, if it were indeed his work, never ceased to amaze Sam. It was, however, apparent that not all of the natives in the village had been killed. There were five bodies and, judging from the huts, there could have been as many as fifty in the group. Two of the bodies were prepubescent girls. Three were young women; none were men. The men had probably been away fishing; perhaps others had escaped. It mystified Sam that Gaudet would allow his men to slaughter natives, especially before his main mission was complete. The young women had obviously been tortured, probably raped, so Gaudet would have watched while his men distracted themselves from the discomfort of the jungle. Sam had a hunch that a man like Gaudet would not free his baser instincts in front of his men. He might watch, but he wouldn’t participate. For that, he would need to be alone.
Could this really have been purely for his troop’s morale?
Grady began to retch. Sam quickly pulled her away.
“It’s him, isn’t it?”
“We don’t know. If I thought he would get here this quickly, I would have left you home.”
“I hate that bastard. Evil isn’t a big enough word”
Cat-man displayed no emotion and made no attempt to communicate. He seemed as immune to the smell of death as to the muggy air.
Sam kept his arm around Grady as they skirted the huts, following Cat-man to the place where the killers had exited the fishing camp. Within a couple of minutes they were deep in the jungle.
Sam noticed a new purpose in Cat-man’s stride as he slipped more quickly through the vines and undergrowth, but still he left no visible record of his passing.
At nightfall they hadn’t yet caught up to the group. Cat-man came to Sam and pantomimed sleep for the group and continued tracking for himself.
“When Matses go to town, they will walk all day and hunt at night. Cat-man wants to move at his pace and find the bastards. He’ll come back for us when he locates them… would be my guess,” Javier said.
It took twenty minutes of machete work to create an opening large enough for five hammocks in the thick jungle. Cat-man set about gathering fruit and within twenty minutes had a pile large enough for everybody to get a good taste if not a full meal. Then he hung his hammock and left.
“They aren’t like you and me. They see in the dark,” Javier said. “He’ll find those gringos fast, and they’ll never see him.”
“Don’t suppose he’d tie them up for us?” “I don’t think so. Cat-man understands guns.” Everybody but Cat-man had a rain slicker to pull over them to provide minimal protection from any night time rain, which was fairly likely even at the end of the so-called dry season. It also helped with squirmy things that might be falling or unreeling on spider silk from above. Around them the vines and undergrowth were thick and full, so that in the soft camp light it appeared that the machetes had created four walls. There were heavy fragrances, some like rotting eggs, some like whore’s perfume. Sound emanated from every di rection. There were many sorts of noises: rustling of branches and leaves; a steady intermingled chorus of frog sounds that were bass violas; singing sounds that were the cricket violins; birds that sang melodious and flutelike; raucous birds that squawked and chirped, chief among them the horned screamers, also known as donkey birds, that sounded like a jackass at hell’s gate; there was a clicking sound like those made by street rappers; and finally the eerie calls of howler monkeys, similar to the big, breathy hiss of a mountain lion or a child instructed by his mother to make quieter monster sounds.
Sam could tell that this jungle cacophony wasn’t Grady’s favorite night music. He stepped away to take a leak and reached into the zippered pocket of his jungle pants, where he found a pack of cigarettes. He didn’t smoke, he reminded himself. And it could be dangerous if they were being stalked. He squatted down facing a large tree and cupped it in his hands. Just a few puffs. He took three deep drags, put out the smoke, and returned to camp.
“There is a certain primitive flavor to this place. So much life and so much death all jammed together,” Grady said.
“You know you wouldn’t have said that when I first met you.”
“Do I make you proud?” She laughed. “All that college?”
“Funny thing,” Grady said. “With all these damn smells something reminds me of cigarettes.”
“Probably something like a tobacco leaf” Sam said.
Grady turned to Javier.
“Do you smoke?”
“No. Maybe there’s been a fire nearby.”
“Let’s get some sleep,” Sam said.
After a few minutes Javier stepped over to Sam.
“The exact truth is not always important?”
“The truth is always important,” Sam muttered. “Full dis closure is another matter…”
It was something of a puzzle to get four hammocks hung in their small hole in the foliage. Ultimately they ended up with Sam’s hanging over the top of Yodo’s. Finally they all managed to slither onto their hammocks, pulled on their mosquito netting, and doused the lights. Sam was falling off to sleep when he felt Grady reach for his hand. He patted it in what he deemed a fatherly touch and whispered that everything would be fine. He could sense that the slaugh tered natives and the image of Gaudet were haunting her. But she still seemed to cope. That was up until the jaguar screamed and shortly thereafter a rather large snake came down one of the trees. First they heard it and then Grady’s flashlight lit the beautiful mottled skin.
“I’m sleeping with you in your hammock.”
“It’s not big enough.”
“Oh yes it is.”
She brought her slicker and slipped rather neatly beside him, even getting under his mosquito netting. It took a little doing to get both slickers over the top of them. Anna, being Grady’s aunt, would probably understand about the single hammock. In fact, if anything happened to Grady, Anna would have his ass.
With Anna had come Grady, a wild and beautiful young woman whom Sam had salvaged from drugs and a booming occupation as a stripper. It had been one of those family interventions, where Sam had swooped in, paid Grady to leave the club, and delivered her to a Tilok Native American spiri tual leader who happened also to be a psychologist-and Sam’s mother. Grady graduated from his mother’s drug counseling with honors.
Using her formidable powers of persuasion, Grady had talked her way onto the staff of Sam’s business, and lately her smiles and the way she flashed her eyes were stirring his soul. There was a freshness to her youth and an exuberance about her that dug deep in a man. When at work in his offices in LA he noticed that he looked forward to chatting with her in the morning on his way through the office complex. But the side of him that he inherited from Grandfather made sure that he never crossed the line.
He didn’t really know if his feelings were limited to the sort of affection that a man has for a niece or a daughter, or if maybe it was something more unsettling. On most days, when he and Anna weren’t arguing, he realized that he had something special with Anna and that helped him with Grady. Just as significant, he knew that a forty-two-year-old man would take something from a twenty-year-old woman the minute she committed herself to him, and it was some thing that he could not give back. The way he figured, to love Grady would be to let her go, and if he didn’t love her, he had no business taking her. Mentors do not have sex with the mentees, he advised himself as he put a fatherly arm around her shoulders and clenched her hand.
“Thank you,” she whispered. Then after a minute or so: “Sam?”
“Do you believe Gaudet’s in this jungle?”
“I guess my gut is starting to tell me that he is. If he is, he won’t touch you. I promise.”
She moved closer.
The sleeping arrangement made him uncomfortable. And it got worse. The hammock was too narrow and he spent the night rearranging her so as to maintain decorum. None of it seemed to bother her; she just kept on sleeping and moving.