Chickens were crowing and dogs were barking. Dawn was breaking. Al opened his eyes. For a moment he lay there, half asleep, listening to these common sounds. Then, somewhere back in the jungle, the chatter of monkeys brought him back to reality.
He glanced at his watch. Seven o’clock. Time to get up and get going. At seven everything started, and everything stopped. Daylight came at seven, and darkness came at seven. A twelve-hour day and a twelve-hour night, year round. There was no such thing as summer and winter here, only the wet season and the dry season. Now, it was the middle of the dry season, the warmest time of the year.
Al wondered what the wet or rainy season was like. If these last few days were a fair sample of the dry months, he didn’t think he would care to go through the wet ones.
They were close on the heels of the killer. They were only one day behind him, and it was not far to the Caribbean Sea. He was somewhere below, and they would find him.
The trader had given Al a better description of the killer. He was wearing a big white hat and a light blue shirt. The boat he was traveling in was not the one he had taken at Quilali. It was a small one-man boat with a flat bottom. He had probably left the stolen one at the falls where he was captured, and then picked up his own.
“This kind of boat,” Nocho had said, “is used in shallow water. From here on down, the Coco is big and wide, and there are several small rivers that empty into it. Perhaps he lives up one of those. Why else would he need a boat of this kind?”
From here on down, they would take it slow and easy, asking everyone they met. Someone would know him and know where to find him.
They would travel light. He would leave Adilia here, where she would be safe. He turned his head and looked down at the girl beside him. Her eyes were big and wide.
Her little arm stole around his neck, and her voice was low and positive. “Darling, if you have any idea of leaving me here, forget it. A woman’s place is by her man. I am going along!”
Their first argument was over before it had even begun.
They got up and dressed, then went to the trading post. Pio and Nocho were already there, drinking coffee. The trader’s wife cooked a big breakfast of tortillas, ham and eggs, with a big pot of strong black coffee, much like the stuff brewed by the Nigger Woman at Quilali.
Al paid the trader and they were ready to go. Several of the people that had attended the party were there. They would help carry the boat and their belongings down the trail.
They bid the trader and his wife good-bye, and promised to stop on their way back to Quilali.
With the help of the people that had come to see them off, they were soon at the bottom of the trail. Once more, the boat was in the water. As they pushed off, Al couldn’t help but think that they must look like a family going on a picnic.
They had told no one why they were looking for this man. No one had asked. Maybe word of the big hunt hadn’t reached down this far. The big storm had stopped the river traffic.
A lot of things could have happened. There could be another revolution going or an earthquake or a volcano blown up. But one thing was certain; that cock-eyed Judge still had Al’s money and his passport, and the sentence was still in effect.
Al swore under his breath, “Damn the Judge! What a hell of a sentence to pass on a guy.” Just because he had been a little bit negligent and left a rifle and a pair of boots unguarded only for a few minutes. Was that a great crime?
For this he had been sentenced, demanded to kill! That’s what it amounted to anyway. The killer knew he was a dead man if he came peacefully. His only chance was to fight, to kill again. He was good at that.
The sun was bearing down, and the day was clear. As usual on the river, the humidity was high. Sweat dripped from their foreheads.
Ahead of them, on a gravel bar, were a couple of men working to shovel gravel into a sluice box.
Nocho pointed at them. “They are miners, digging for gold. Should we talk to them?”
Al nodded. “Pull into the sandy bank. You go and see them. Nocho; you are a miner and speak their language. Find out what you can.”
They pulled in close, and Nocho waded ashore. For several minutes, he talked to them. Al could see them nodding their heads and pointing down the river.
Nocho came back, grinning his toothless grin. He climbed into the boat. “These men do not know him, but they have seen him many times. Only yesterday he passed by here going down the river.”
They pushed the boat away from the gravel bar. They were floating down the river once more. There was no doubt now that every minute, they were getting closer to their quarry.
Ahead of them, on the right, looked like a deep canyon. Perhaps there was a small river coming down this one. Al took a look at the map. All it showed was the Coco, winding its way toward the sea. The guy that had made this map had probably had only used his imagination. Very few people other than the natives had ever been here. This was disputed territory, and could also be called No-Man’s Land. ‘That would be a better name for it,’ Al thought.
They pulled into the mouth of the canyon. There was a big stream coming down it, but it was full of big boulders, and too shallow for any boat to navigate. The water from the stream looked cool and inviting. They pulled the boat ashore to have lunch and get some exercise.
There was a small trail going up the canyon. Nocho took one look at it, then without a word followed it into the jungle. Al and Pio started gathering firewood. A cup of coffee would taste mighty fine. Adilia started making sandwiches.
“Where did Nocho go?” Al asked.
“He took off up that trail,” said Pio. “I think he is up to something.”
The old man was gone only a few minutes. When he returned there was a big smile on his face. “I know exactly where we are. I have been here previously. It was a long time ago and I was not sure until I walked up the canyon. Come, I will show you.”
They followed him up the winding trail. It went through some thick under brush then out into an open meadow. The stream ran to one side of the meadow, close to a rocky cliff. It was to this cliff that Nocho took them.
“Look,” he pointed at the rocky face of the canyon. They probably would not have noticed if he had not drawn their attention. There, on the rocks, dark with age, were many paintings; also carvings of human faces and many animals. No doubt it was the work of some ancient tribe of Indians.
“This is why I came up here,” said Nocho. “If this were not here I would know that my memory was playing tricks on me. But now I am sure. I can tell you a lot about this country right in this area. I prospected for gold right here some fifty years ago. It has been so long ago that I had almost forgotten. Now it all comes back to me.
They left the paintings and walked back to the fire. Nocho set down on the edge of the boat. The rest of the group gathered close to listen to what he had to say.
“I wasn’t much more then a kid then. I was living in the city. Times were tough. It was hard to make a living. I had a friend that had an uncle that was a prospector. Someone told him that there was a lot of gold in this area. We came here and stayed for a year. I guess I have prospected about every stream in the country since then, so many that they all seem alike any more. But I will never forget the paintings on the rocks. We were camped right here.”
What else do you remember?” Al asked. “Do you recall anything that might be helpful?”
Nocho Nodded. “Yes and I think I know were to find your man.” He picked up a stick and drew a mark in the sand, “This is the Coco. We are right here.” He put an X on the spot. “On down the river about two hours by boat another river comes in from the north. A small flat bottom boat will navigate this one. Such a boat belongs to the man for whom you are looking.”
“That sounds reasonable, what do you suggest?”
“We will stay here tonight. In the morning we will get an early start. Then we will be fresh and alert when we get there. Do you agree with me?”
Al nodded. “I certainly do. We will need all our faculties, that’s for sure.”
“Besides,” Nocho grinned. “Where this streams joins the Coco the fishing is great. By the way, isn’t today Friday?”
Al looked at Pio. Pio’s eyes roved around in search of Adilia. Adilia suddenly went in search of some wood. Al grinned; no one here knew the day of the week. He turned to Nocho.
“It’s Friday alright. Go ahead and get a good mess of fish. We will have the sandwiches for tomorrow. By the way my friend, do you have an extra line with you?”
“Do you wish to go fishing?”
“No I have something else in mind.”
Nocho opened a leather folder. In it were numerous hooks, lines, and leaders. “Help yourself.” He said.
Al selected a spool of nylon line. “This will do just fine. You can have it back in the morning.”
Nocho took his fishing gear and headed for the river. Pio was curious. “What are you going to do with the fish line?”
“I have an idea and you can help me work it out. We are close n the heels of our man. Nocho thinks he lives somewhere up the river, which is only a couple of hours from here. Maybe this guy is getting tired of us following him. He might come up the river tonight.”
“I know what you mean. I have been thinking the same thing. One of us had better stand guard all night.”
“Better then missing sleep, lets put this line to work.”
The plan was a simple one. Al explained to Pio. “We will figure out where were going to sleep. We will string up our hammocks and fill them with dummies. We will rake up a lot of dry leaves to make a soft bed on the ground. Around all this we will stretch the line about a foot off the ground completely around us. Where the line comes together we will tie them to our pots and pans.”
“A great idea lets get busy. Where do we start?”
“There are trees, bushes, and boulders just above us. Why not there? We will get Adilia to help us.”
In about an hour’s time they were finished. The hammocks were hung in the trees. The beds were made behind some thick bushes. The nylon line was stretched completely around the perimeter about a foot above the ground. Where the lines came together was a big round rock about five feet high. They tied the ends of the lines to the water bucket, which contained several tin cups and plates. Al set it down very carefully on the sloping surface. Any small yank should bring it tumbling down to the ground.
Hi grinned, “I guess were finished. I sure can’t see why it won’t work. Maybe we should try it out? Who would like to be the one to trigger it?”
There was a big grin on Pio’s face. “Here comes Nocho with a big string of fish. Let’s just step over by the hammocks and wait for him.”
They stepped carefully over the line and walked over close to the hammocks. Nocho was approaching rapidly, and as usual, was wearing his toothless grin. He was a few feet from them when… Crash! Bang! The bucket and contents came tumbling down! Nocho dropped the fish; the pistol was in his hand. For a moment he stood there bent over in a crouch glaring at the big rock.
He reminded Al of an oil painting he had seen at the big art show in Prescott, Arizona. As he recalled, the name of the painting was, “The Gun Fighter.” There was one thing for certain; the alarm system was working perfectly.