Chapter Seventeen

This entry is part 17 of 36 in the series Bend

Chapter Seventeen

Evidently, the constable didn’t relish the idea of tracking the woman, and would be content to forget about the whole thing.

Who was this woman? Al wondered. Perhaps she was the wife of the killer, or a sister, or some other relative. It could be that she was his girlfriend. She was certainly a woman of mystery.

Al gathered up his belongings and stepped outside. In front of the hotel was a water hydrant. A pipe was sticking out of the ground. On top was a water faucet. Under the faucet was a watering trough, made of wood. Most of the town’s livestock did their drinking here, as well as the human population. Several people with buckets and gourds were lined up waiting to take their turn.

This was the only water pipe Al had seen since he had come to this part of the country. He was curious. An old fellow had just finished filling his pail, and stepped aside. Al decided to speak to him.

“From where does the water come?” asked Al.

The man set the pail on the ground and pointed to high on the side of the mountain. “From way up there, Señor. It is pure North American water.”

“What do you mean, North American water?”

The old man liked to talk. He went on to explain that many years ago, the U.S. Marines had been stationed here. They had been sent to capture the bandit, Sandino.

The water from the river had made many of them sick. They had found a spring, high on the mountain. They dug it out and poured a concrete box, sealing it off from anything that might contaminate the water. Then they piped it down the mountain to right here in front of the hotel.

“No one ever gets sick drinking this water,” the old man grinned.

Al wondered if his father and John Kirkland had been stationed here. He took the picture of Kirkland and showed it to the man.

“Do you know this man?” He asked.

The fellow stared at the picture for a moment, then handed it back. He shook his head.

“His name is John Kirkland. Do you know anyone by that name?” Again, he shook his head. He had never seen this man. Al thanked the man, gathered up his things and headed for the river.

Pio had a small fire going, and breakfast was ready. Nocho was there, grinning from ear to ear. Al took the hundred-cord note from his pocket and handed it to him. He had promised him another five hundred when they returned with the killer. He hoped he would live to pay it.

Nocho thanked him and put the bill in his faded shirt pocket.

When breakfast was done, they pushed the boat into the water and started their journey down the Rio Coco. The river was called ‘the river of no return’. ‘Well, time will tell,’ Al thought. As they drifted down the stream, he could see through some openings on the shoreline. There was always someone standing there, watching, waiting, always a pair of curious eyes, peeking through the bushes. How was he supposed to tell which one was the killer?

Pio had said news travels fast on the river; much faster than they had been traveling. The killer knew that they were coming after him, and he had the advantage. He would lay in wait for them. He had a good rifle, his rifle, and his boots.

This fellow had killed previously, and he would kill again. He must figure out some way to get the killer to come to him, like last night, only he hadn’t come. He had sent someone else. He had sent a woman! He would stop at nothing!

He must figure out some way to outwit the fellow, but how? Surely there was a way. Right now, he could be anywhere behind the screen of the jungle, but where?

Here, the river was wide and the current was slow. They kept the boat as near to the center as possible, keeping out of rifle range the best they could. However, Al didn’t feel too secure. He could hit a man on the head, from either bank! He didn’t know how good a shot the man was. He hoped a damn poor one!

Any second now, there could be the report of a rifle. Would he hear it? If he did, the killer had missed! Then it would be his turn. He had plenty of shells, he could throw a stream of lead. He began to sweat. Barto had not heard the pistol shot. He had felt no pain, he hoped the man would shoot. They would get it over with then, but the shot never came.

For hours, they drifted. The heat was stifling. The glare of the sun on the water was blinding. Al wished he had brought along a pair of sunglasses. The old man, Nocho, knew every bend in the river. He was an excellent guide.

The river was becoming very wide and deep. The current was barely moving. They took turns paddling with the oars.

Nocho explained, “We are approaching the falls. We had better make camp here tonight. The boat cannot go over the falls; it must be carried up a steep trail on the north side, then down to the river below. This is also a good place for an ambush. Your man could be waiting there. We had better be very careful.”

This would be the place that the two soldiers had captured the scar-faced man. ‘He should know that it was a perfect spot for an ambush,’ Al thought.

“Is there a trail around the south bank?” Al asked.

“No. It would be impossible to take the boat that way.”

“Then let’s pull over to the south bank and camp for the night.”

“A good idea. I know a good spot.” He pointed with his finger. “Do you see that big rock sticking up out of the water?”

Al nodded.

“Head straight for that rock. I will try and catch us some fish for dinner.”

Al took the oar and started paddling in that direction. Nocho and Pio were busy attaching some line and hooks to a couple of small bamboo poles. Evidently, Nocho had everything it took to catch fish. Before Nocho got close to the rock, the fisherman landed three big ones. Each would probably weigh two pounds. They were unlike anything Al had ever seen. The fish had huge heads and their teeth in the front reminded him of those of a house cat. Al figured they were probably members of the catfish family. They didn’t look very appetizing, but Nocho assured him that they were very good.

Beyond the rock was a little cove. They pulled the boat ashore into this cove. Nocho produced a big machete and went to work.

The jungle vines were very dense here and lay in thick mats from the waters’ edge to the treetops. Without the machete, they would not have been able to get through. Nocho kept hacking away, and soon had a big hole chopped through the outer layer. He went inside, followed by Al and Pio.

Al was amazed. He felt like he was in a different world. It was almost dark inside the jungle growth. It was like a big room. The walls and ceiling were made of vine and dense foliage. The trees were like giant pillars, holding them aloft. Never before had he seen or heard of anything like this.

Pio and Nocho dragged the boat through the opening. Nocho cleaned the fish and built a fire. In a short time, dinner was ready.

Al couldn’t remember when anything had tasted as good as those ugly fish. He sure would have something to talk about when he got home, if he got home.

For a moment, he had forgotten the scar-faced killer. He had better not let that happen again, one little slip, and he would be a dead man.

Right now, the killer was probably across the canyon and had seen them drag the boat from the river, and watched as they cut their way into the jungle. It was very likely he would come across the river tonight and try to finish the job that he had sent a woman to do earlier.

Al hoped he would. Then this could be finished! He hoped the guy did come. He would be ready for him!

Al began giving orders. Each of the men had a string hammock. They strung them up in a small grove of trees. In each of them, they piled a bunch of dry leaves, and covered the leaves with a blanket.

There would be moonlight tonight, so their trail would be easy to follow and lead the killer straight to the hammocks. But they would not be there! They would be in their blankets, watching, and ready with the guns. They would kill the killer!

He gave Nocho one of the pistols. The old man assured him that he knew how to use it. Pio had the other one. He kept the rifle for himself. They took their positions around the hammocks, and settled down to wait.

Al’s mind drifted back to the woman that had tried to kill him. There was one thing he felt for certain: if he were to meet her again, he would know her. She was branded! The little finger of her right hand was missing. If the bullet had not struck the heavy handle of the knife, Al shuddered, she would be dead, for sure!

He thought of his father who wouldn’t talk much about this country. Al thought he had begun to understand why. One thing for sure, if he ever got married and had a family, he would certainly keep his mouth shut about a lot of things that happened here. No one would believe him anyway!

The night dragged forward. Al hoped the guy would come. They would get this deed done! He would fill the killer full of holes, bullet holes!

And that cock-eyed Judge; several times today they could see a boat behind them, following them. It could have been a few natives, hoping to see the show, but Pio was sure that one of them was the Judge of Quilali. If it was the Judge, why was he on their trail? Was he coming to watch the show? This didn’t make much sense. However, not much on this trip did.

Dawn began to break. It had been a long night for everyone. They crawled out of their blankets and built a small fire. The killer had not come, and it wasn’t very likely that he would attack the three of them in broad daylight. They cooked breakfast and brewed a pot of black coffee.

When breakfast was finished, Nocho asked, “Do you intend to go down the river, Señor?”

Al shook his head. “I have given this a lot of thought. We are waiting for the killer to come here. He is probably over there in those rocks, waiting for us. Let us not become impatient. The Judge didn’t put a time limit on the party. We are still alive, and I intend to keep us that way. We will play a waiting game. Sooner or later, he will make a mistake and we will get him.”

Nocho nodded. “Maybe tonight, he will come.”

Al agreed. “Yes, maybe tonight he will come!”

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