To say that Adilia and the crew were surprised when Al and John Kirkland came walking up the trail would be an understatement. Today was truly a day of many surprises.
Before they left the rocks above the falls, they had gone over their story once more. This seemed to be the only way out for both of them, and they could see no harm in fabrication.
They had recovered the broken gun, and exchanged shoes. Al had a pair of dress oxfords in his suitcase. He would exchange the hobnail boots for them as soon at they returned to their camp.
The gun and the boots would be proof that they had caught up with the scar-faced killer. He had left them on the bank when he had attempted to swim the river, just before he had gone over the falls.
Adilia, Pio, and Nocho believed the story. The big brother looked a lot like him, but the telltale scar was not there. Lots of brothers looked alike, such as the stepbrothers of Adilia, Barto and Todo.
The big hunt was done. The only thing left was to wonder if the judge would believe the story. Tonight, they would make camp on the riverbank. In the morning, they would start the long journey up the Coco River.
Adilia doctored Al’s cuts and scratches. He put on a clean shirt and socks, and the pair of dress oxfords. He felt much better.
They gathered wood, built a small fire and put on a pot of beans. Nocho and Pio went fishing, Adilia did a washing, and Al and John gathered more wood and built a bonfire.
Several times, they went over the story they would tell the judge. It went like this:
They had followed the scar-faced killer to this river. Nocho had predicted correctly. The man would be waiting at the falls. Al had gone through the jungle and crossed the river above the falls. He had come up behind the fellow and taken him by surprise. The man had gotten careless. He was watching the boat below. He had taken off his boots and was soaking his feet in the water; the rifle was out of his reach. He had leaned it against the rock.
Al had demanded that he surrender. The man had chosen to try and escape. He dove into the river and attempted to swim across; he had gone over the falls to his certain death below.
It was at this time that John Kirkland, the killer’s brother, had come running up. He had also seen the man go over the falls.
This was Al’s story. Kirkland also had one to tell.
He and his brother lived far up the river, back in this land, which was claimed by both countries. The brother’s name was Jim; they looked quite a bit alike. Jim was two years older and had a big scar on his face.
He had heard about his brother being in trouble with the law. He had come down the river, hoping he would surrender.
He had been too late. He had arrived just in time to see him go over the falls.
They had the story well rehearsed. They hoped the Judge would believe it.
There were many questions Al wished to have answered. Number one, “Tell me about our mother’s cousin John.”
“Didn’t your father tell you?” John asked.
Al shook his head. “Father was always very secretive about his past down here. He told me many times, ‘some day I will tell you all about it,’ but that day never came. He was accidentally killed when a tree fell on him.”
John grinned. “My father told me many tales about them; I guess they lived a very adventurous life.”
“More so than us?”
“Damned if I know. I guess a little bit of it rubbed off on us. ‘Like father like son,’ so the saying goes.”
“Who was my mother John?” Al asked. “I was little more then a baby when she passed away.”
“Her maiden name was Arana. My mother and your mother were the daughters of the minister of defense. They were his only children.”
“Was it somewhere around here where they settled?”
Kirkland nodded. “When they were chasing the bandit, Sandino, around the country, they made several trips up and down the Coco. Quite by accident they discovered the secret entrance to this river. About a days travel above here is a pretty little valley. There they built a couple of houses. They cleared land and planted corn, beans, rice and many other vegetables. There was lots of gold in the creek. Every day they panned for gold. They brought in oxen to help them. They built a school house too.
Father was quite content to spend the rest of his life here. Your father wished to return to the United States. He took his share of the gold and headed north. He and your mother were in Prescott, Arizona, by the next time Father heard from him.”
Al lifted the lid on the bean pot and added some water. Evidently his father had got out of here with quite a lot of gold. That spread in Arizona had cost him plenty. He had one more question. “Do I have any more relatives down here?”
John Kirkland bowed his head, and for a moment he remained silent. Then he slowly raised his head and spoke softly. “I might just as well bring you up to date on everything. My mother passed away almost a month ago. My father and my twin sisters were murdered three weeks ago.
After mother died it was very lonesome up there. Father decided to change our name and move into the city. This was no place for two beautiful young girls like my sisters. They were sixteen on their last birthday.
We were all very excited about starting a new life in the city. We had a lot of gold buried under our house. More then one man could carry. We put it into leather bags and prepared to leave. We had an old mule that would carry the gold. He was grazing in the back pasture. I went after him. I guess I was gone about an hour. It was too late by the time I returned.” Big tears were running down his cheeks. For a minute he sat there staring into the fire, then he continued.
“Father lay there dead, cut to pieces with a machete. My sisters were gone and so was the gold. I buried my father and followed the trails of those devils. There were three of them.
On the second day I found the bodies of my sisters on a gravel bar. I buried them and followed the tracks. I lost them for a while. Then I met a fellow that had camped with three men on the trail. They had been drinking and boasted about a large amount of gold they had found.
This fellow I met knew one of the men and where he lived. He told me where I could find him. I went to his cabin. It was late at night and the man was sleeping. Part of the gold was lying on a table beside him. I killed him. I did it with my bare hands! Before he died he told me the names of the other two.”
The big man buried his head in his arms. Great sobs shook his body. A moment later he continued; “I painted that scar on my face and went after the other two. They put up a fight. I killed them and recovered the gold. I buried it in a safe place and started up the river. I was taking my boat around the falls when I was captured. I guess you know the rest of the story.”
There was one thing that still puzzled Al. Maybe John could give him an answer.
“That night at Quilali you were tied up in the back room. Someone pried the bars off the window and cut the ropes. I got all the credit for that job; but it was not me. Who was it John?”
Kirkland shook his head. “You got me there. The man had a handkerchief tied around his face and he didn’t say a word. He cut the ropes and I got out of there. By the way, thanks for the loan of the boots and the gun.”
“Don’t mention it. Oh yes, there is something else that puzzles the hell out of me. A few nights ago, above the falls on the Coco, someone had a gun in my back. A shot came out of the darkness and the man lay dead behind me. Was he a brother to the two men?”
Kirkland slowly shook his head. “Sorry Al, but it wasn’t me that time either.”
“Someone saved my life and I would like to thank that person.”
“Yeah, and I would like to thank that guy the turned me loose that night.”
“A lot of strange things have happen lately. Many unbelievable things! I hope the Judge swallows our yarn about the scar faced killer going over the falls.”
The fire was burning low. Al had picked up some wood out of the pile and tossed it on the fire. It flared up suddenly lighting up the surroundings. They had not heard him come up behind them, nor did they have the least idea how long he had been standing there. But there stood the Judge of Quilali with his arms folded.