Chapter Nineteen

This entry is part 19 of 36 in the series Bend

Chapter Nineteen

A short time later they were cooking breakfast. Al had bought eggs at Talpinecci this morning. They would have ham and eggs. There was certainly no shortage of ham.

Nocho and Pio had skinned one of the younger pigs. They made some choice cuts, sprinkled salt over part of it and wrapped it in grass. “It will keep for several days.” Said Nocho.

Al was feeling good this morning. Somehow the battle with the pigs had helped relieve the tension. For the last several days and nights he had been under quite a strain. Now he felt much better.

He had hoped to do some big game hunting while down here. But these wild pigs, he didn’t know such a creature existed. There were wild pigs in Arizona, but they were nothing like these monsters. Waree, Nocho called them.

Nocho was frying some thick ham steaks. He was wearing his toothless grin. “The wild pig is the most dangerous animal in the jungle,” he said. “But also the best to eat!”

There was one thing for certain. Today they must move their camp. Dead pigs were lying around everywhere and soon the bloated bodies would begin to spoil. Flies were coming by the millions. Giant buzzards circled overhead. Soon the stench would be awful.

The noise of the shooting would have carried across the river. If the scar-faced killer were over there he would have heard it, what would he think? Al tried to put himself in the killers place. If he heard a lot of shooting across the river, what would he do? He would damn sure be curious to say the least.

Maybe the killer would think we were fighting amongst ourselves? Also he might think were fighting some hostile natives. If he heard the pigs squeal he would know we were fighting for our lives. If we didn’t show ourselves he might figure the pigs had gotten us? He might come take look.

All night Al tried to figure a way to lure the man across the river. A little extra bait…maybe the shooting would do the job? He would see buzzards circling overhead. He would know something had died. Maybe he would come over to take a look. He would probably not come in the daylight. He would wait until night, and then row his boat across. Al hoped he would.

Once again tonight they would be ready for him. Al remembered what Pio had said about the tiger when he had shot the deer and hung it in the tree. “On the third night the tiger will come.” Well tonight was the third night, they would be ready.

He walked down to the bank of the river taking care not to be seen. Where would be the most likely place for the man to cross? If he were in his place where would he come ashore?

About a quarter of a mile above them was a sharp bend in the river. He could cross there without being seen from here. Tonight would be another moonlit night. If the man decided to make the crossing he would paddle up river, then paddle across. At least Al had come to that conclusion. He walked back to camp. He explained his theory to Pio and Nocho. They were in full accord.

Nocho led the way slashing at the jungle vines with his machete. Al and Pio followed dragging the boat and carrying their provisions. Their progress was slow. The day was hot and humid. Sweat ran off them in streams, but they kept going. Al couldn’t help but think how good a cold beer would taste right now.

It was late in the afternoon when they passed the bend in the river. Nocho chopped an opening through the dense foliage and they looked out. Here the river had a sandy beach. Several boulders were sticking out of the sand. They were big enough for several people to hide behind. It was a good place for an ambush if he came across at this point.

They cooked a good meal and then spread their blankets on the ground. Two of them slept while the other stood guard. The day wore on. When darkness came they were well rested. They went to the beach and took up their positions behind the big boulders. The sandy beach was about a hundred yards long. Nocho was behind a rock at the upper end, Pio was in the middle, and Al at the lower end.

Then, once more came the long wait. Many strange sounds come from the jungle. There was a lot. There was a lot more then the usual tonight. Al thought the frogs and crickets were making a lot of racket. They seemed to being tune with each other. A low flying bird swooped down and caught a fish or a frog and went sailing away screaming, daring the others to try and take it away from him.

The night wore on. The moon rose higher and higher until it was straight overhead. Then slowly it began to sink into the West. If the man were going to come, it would be soon. Perhaps he was not over there. They had only assumed that he was waiting on the trail.

The moon was about to disappear over the edge of the jungle when Al heard a faint sound, like the dipping of an oar in the water. He listened closely; there it was again!

He strained his eye; he could see it, it was a small paddleboat and it was going up stream on the opposite side of the river! Suddenly it turned into the current and was coming directly toward them! He checked the rifle… He was ready.

Then the moon went behind a cloud. No longer could he see the boat, but he could hear the dipping of the paddle. It was coming closer, much closer… Al began to sweat, suppose he wasn’t the killer, just someone going for a moonlit ride? He couldn’t open fire and find out later. He prayed for the moon to come out from behind the cloud. If only he could just get a glimpse of the person in that boat.

The noises of the paddle ceased. He heard the boat hit the sandy bank about fifty feet above him. He could hear it being dragged up on the sand. The moon was slowly coming out from behind the cloud. He could hear footsteps on the sand. Suddenly a dark figure darted past him and vanished behind a big boulder just a few feet below.

Now the moon was out from behind the cloud. Al trained the rifle on the boulder. Whoever was there was trapped. He could call for Nocho and Pio to get below and there would be no escape. But before there was any shooting he must make certain.

He spoke; “You behind the rock, come out with your hands up!”

There was no movement or sound. Al tried once more. “If you are not a wanted killer you have nothing to fear! Come out from behind the rock!” Al could hear a faint noise behind him. Probably Pio. He would send him around the back of that rock. Something hard and round was pressed into the center of his back. A strange voice whispered, “Drop the gun!”

Al froze; no doubt the cold steel in his back was the muzzle of a rifle barrel. There had been two of them! The decoy was behind the rock; the killer had a gun in his back! He had no choice; the gun fell from his hands.

“I am going to kill you,” rasped the voice behind him. I am going to break your back. Maybe you will live a few days but you will die! When I count to three I will pull the trigger! One,…

Al knew he must act fast. He must spin around and attack. He wouldn’t just stand there and be shot down!

“Two,…”

A rifle shot shattered the silence. No longer was the cold steel in his back. Al spun around to see the man sinking to the ground. The gun fell from his hands, blood was pouring from a hole in the side of his head. He was dead before he hit the sand.

From behind the rock came a dark figure making a mad dash for the boat. Al’s gun was lying there somewhere in the grass. No time to look for it now! His hunting knife was in the scabbard on his belt. He drew it and took after the running figure. He would use the knife! With every stride he was gaining. Then the figure tripped on a vine and went sprawling in the sand. The toe of Al’s shoe caught the same vine and he went tumbling down beside the other person. For a second he was stunned by the fall. Evidently so was the other party because they didn’t move. The knife had left from his hand. He crawled over to the figure; his hands would do just as well! The figure was lying on its stomach face down. Al rolled the body over and reached for the throat as he planned to strangle the life out of this one!

There was a brief struggle. Al was much stronger and he was on top, his hands reached for the throat. Suddenly he froze as there laid a beautiful girl! Here eyes were filled with terror, her lips were slightly parted and blood was running down her chin.

Al was horrified; if he hadn’t dropped the knife she would be dead by now. He staggered to his feet. There laid the beautiful girl that had come across the river at Quilali! He bet over and helped her to her feet. She was trembling with fear. There was a wild look in her eyes.

“Who are you?” Al’s voice was hoarse. “Don’t be afraid, I will not harm you.”

The girl did not answer. She put her hand to her mouth. Blood was seeping from her cut in her upper lip. Pio and Nocho came running over with their pistols drawn. They had expected to see the scar-faced killer. Here stood a beautiful frightened girl.

Pio stared at the girl for a moment and he turned to Al. “She is the one that rode the pony across the river at Quilali. What is she doing here?”

Al shook his head, “ That is what I am trying to find out.” He turned to the girl, “My name is Al Mackey. Who are you?” There was no answer.

Several minutes ago, in the moonlight, he had seen a boat go up river then come across. It looked like only one person was in it. Maybe she was in no way connected to the man that had the gun in his back, the man lying over there with a bullet hole in his head. Maybe she had been out for a moonlit boat ride and had come ashore to rest.

He had threatened her with a gun, had chased her with a big knife in his hand and about choked her to death! No wonder the girl was terrified.

She was wearing boots, slacks and gay colored cotton blouse. The back of the blouse was ripped. The buttons torn from the front, blood was dripping from her chin. Al was horrified to say the least. He jumped to conclusions! He might have killed her! Under his breath he cursed the Judge, the killer and the whole damn country!

He turned to Pio, “There is a medicine kit in my bag, go get it. This girl has been hurt!” Pio was off on the run.

Al glanced at his watch; it was six thirty. In another half hour dawn would break. In a matter of minutes the moon would disappear behind the mountain. He must apologize to this girl; beg her forgiveness. He stepped up close to her and took both her hands in his. There was a small bandage on her right hand; he examined it closely. A feeling of horror swept over him. The little finger on her right hand was missing!

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