Chapter Sixteen

This entry is part 16 of 36 in the series Bend

Chapter Sixteen

The body of Barto was fished out of the river, and a search was made for the girl. By backtracking Barto’s footprints they had found her body. She had been badly beaten before being chopped to pieces with a machete.

Al thought about the previous night, the scream of the Death Bird, followed by the screams of the woman. The latter was probably the girl. Pio had said, someone that has heard the bird scream will die before morning. He had been right. The bird was probably the cause of her death. The warped mind of Barto had made the prediction come true.

There was a double funeral and burial. Here the corpses must be buried within twenty-four hours. There were many tears shed for the young woman. This beautiful girl had come to town seeking a husband. She was young and pure and trusted the man that had chosen her. Last night should have been the happiest day of her life. Now she was dead. There wasn’t much said about Barto. The preacher prayed for his soul.

After the funeral Al and Pio went to the hotel. Al must find a guide, someone who knew the country below. Someone he could trust. He suggested to Pio that he go in search of the old man Nocho.

It was almost evening when he returned, but he had found the old man. Nocho was out of rum and almost out of money. He was glad to listen to any proposition. He had spent the previous night at Mama Morales’s house. Mama had several girls working for her. They had been very nice to him. They had also taken his money.

Al explained to Nocho that the mission they were going on was a very dangerous one. That they must bring back the scar-faced killer, dead or alive! Al also explained that the Judge was holding his money until they returned. However he could give him a small advance. Al laid a hundred Cordoba notes on the table. “This I can give you in advance,” he told Nocho. “I will give you another five hundred when we return to Quilali.”

Nocho’s hand was reaching for the money when Al grabbed the bill and returned it to his wallet. “I will give you this in the morning. We will leave at daybreak if we get everything ready.” Al thought that if he gave the old man the money now he would probably never see him again. He pulled out a ten-cord note and handed it to Nocho. “Here is enough to buy you something to eat. I will see you in the morning.”

Nocho grinned his toothless grin. “I will be here.” He got up and headed for the kitchen.

Once more it was bedtime. Pio insisted on taking the first watch. Al took off his shoes and laid them down on the little cot. It was four o’clock in the morning when Pio woke him.

“Everything alright?” Al asked.

Pio nodded. “I will go down to the boat. Again, if someone were to steal it, they would do it at daybreak. I can sleep there as well as here. See you later,” then Pio was gone.

Al slipped on his shoes and sat down on the edge of the bed. The pistol was in his hand. The minutes dragged. “Lord I am sleepy,” he muttered. “Will morning never come?”

There was a pitcher of water sitting on the floor. He poured some of it over the top of his head. Maybe that would help keep him awake. For damn sure he had better stay awake, his life probably depended on it!

But the little bed sure looked inviting. Suddenly an idea came to him. His bedroll was standing in the corner. He walked over and picked it up. Then, being very careful, he placed the bedroll and the pillow on the bed and pulled the covers up over them. He stepped back and surveyed his work. Anyone looking through the window or anyone coming through the door would surely think this was a sleeping man.

The far corner of the room was very dark. He took the blanket and pillow from the other bed and placed them in the dark corner. He laid down facing the door and window. The pistol was in his hand. He lay there waiting and watching, trying to stay awake. If the killer was going to try and kill him, let him come! Now would be a good time. He had baited the trap. He hoped the killer would come as he drifted off to sleep.

Suddenly Al was wide-awake. Something had awakened him. He laid there hardly breathing. The pistol was still in his hand. Very slowly his eyes were becoming accustomed to the darkness. He could see the bunk with the bedding piled under the blanket. There wasn’t a sound. There was no one else in the room. Could he have just been dreaming?

Minutes passed. Then, very slowly, the door between this room and the kitchen began to open. A faint ray of light came through the door into the room. Al cocked his pistol.

The door suddenly burst open and a dark figure came charging through headed straight for the bunk. By the dim light Al could see the right hand raised high and in it was a long knife! The knife was coming down aimed straight at the center of the bunk! Al fired; there was a loud scream. A woman’s scream, he had shot a woman! Then the dark figure made a dive at the window. Al could hear the ripping of the screen. In one mad leap the assassin had escaped.

Al felt sick inside. Had the killer hired one of the girls to stick a knife in him? Dawn was breaking fast. He walked over to the window and looked out, but he could not see anyone. On the window ledge was something dark. He touched it with his finger. It was sticky and red. It was blood!

Al felt like he was going to vomit. What kind of country was this that a man could get a woman to do his killing? He looked at the bunk. The big knife was buried to the hilt in the bedroll. He walked over and stared down at it. If he had been in that bunk, he would now be a dead man.

There was a loud series of knocks on the door. The old woman and the two girls walked into the room. One thing for sure, thought Al, it wasn’t one of them that had tried to kill him.

“We heard a shot,” said the woman. “It sounded like it came from here.”

Al pointed at the knife. “Someone tried to kill me. They would have succeeded if I had been in that bed. I suggest you call the law.”

The woman looked down at the bunk, she turned to the girls, “Go get the constable.” They took off running.

Al bit his lip, he remembered the judge. He should have cleaned up the blood and hid the knife and gotten the hell out of there. But now it was too late. He would probably end up in jail with another sentence passed on him. He should have kept his mouth shut.

The woman retreated to the kitchen. Al went to the corner of the room and picked up the blanket and pillow. He would put them back on the cot. He stood there for a moment, and then laid them back down on the floor. He decided he had better not move anything until the law looked things over. He moved over to the table and sat down in one of the chairs.

His mind drifted back to the states, to his ranch in Arizona. Probably everyone at the ranch thought he was down here having a ball. No one could possibly imagine that he could get himself into such a mess as this!

‘Like father like son,’ he thought. His father had gotten himself into trouble down here. He had even tried to take over the country, him and a guy by the name of John Kirkland. Where was this man Kirkland? He was supposed to be somewhere in this area.

He had been a wanted man. Maybe he still had a price on his head. Probably he had changed his name. A lot of things could have happened. He might even be dead by now.

He wondered about his father. There had been a price on his head also. Was this the reason why he had always refused to talk about his past life down here? Somehow his father had managed to get out and up to the states without getting caught. How had he managed that? And he had taken a wife with him! His father was quite a man. Not far below from where Al stood, the Coco River bordered Nicaragua and Honduras. Perhaps his father had gone up through the country?

If things got any worse here, Al might need to try this himself! If the law here started to give him a bad time, he would put up a fight. He would show them!

There was the sound of voices in the kitchen. The door opened and the constable walked inside. He was of middle age. He was short and fat, and still looked half asleep.

Al had tried to cooperate with the Judge. It certainly hadn’t paid off. This time, he would play the game a bit differently. This time, he would be the aggressor. He addressed the Constable.

“It’s about time you got here! Last night, someone tried to kill me. I was warned that this might happen, so I put my bedroll on the bed and covered it with the blanket.” Al pointed at the blanket and pillow in the corner of the room. “I spent the night there. Along toward morning, someone came charging through the door and stuck a knife in my bedroll, thinking it was me.” He pointed at the knife. “Take a look. I took a shot at the person, but whomever it was jumped right through the window screen and escaped.”

Now, it was broad daylight. The sun was peeking over the jungle.

The constable pulled the knife out of the bedroll. The long blade had a bone handle. Bits of it were scattered all over the bed. The bullet had struck the handle, shattering it. There was blood and also something else. The man reached down and picked up the object. He studied it for a moment, and then laid it down on the bed.

A feeling of horror swept over Al. It was the little finger of a woman!

The man followed the trail of blood to the window. For a moment, he stood there looking out, then, slowly, he came walked back.

“You only blew off her finger.” He said sadly. “It appears that she has gotten completely away.”

Al stood there, dumbfounded. The man bid him good morning and walked out the open doorway.

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