At last dawn was breaking. It had been a long night and there had been no disturbances. The water bucket was still setting on the rock, the line stretched tight. Everyone got out of bed and pulled on their shoes. Other then shoes, they had gone to bed fully clothed. They had been ready for the scar-faced killer.
At the trading post they had bought some eggs and smoke cured ham. They had ham and eggs for breakfast, and a pot of steaming black coffee.
The sun had not yet come up when they were once more floating down the river. The current was quite slow. The river was deep and wide. The men took turns at the oars to speed up their progress.
About an hour passed. Just ahead of them on the north was a big canyon. Down this flowed another river, said Nocho.
They paddled over closer to the north bank and drifted slowly down the stream. Dense growth obstructed their vision. It was impossible to see through it.
“There is a passage through there somewhere,” said Nocho. “Keep your eyes open.”
They drifted on; soon the canyon was behind them. They had missed it. They turned the boat around and started back. Going very slow and inspecting every foot of green wall. Suddenly Pio was pointing up and across the river. “Look! A boat!”
All eyes turned in that direction. Sure enough there was a big one. It was coming down the river. Pio took hold of a vine and stopped the boat. Al picked up the rifle and waited. As the boat drew nearer they could see that that it was quite a large craft, and in it were six people. It surely wasn’t the man for whom they were looking. The boat passed on by.
Once more they were looking for that opening. There seemed to be a slight current coming from under the vines. Then Nocho was pointing. “Look there it is!”
Just ahead was a small opening, just big enough for the boat to pass through. Pio and Nocho picked up the paddles and in a few seconds they were through the dense foliage. They had come out in the middle of the channel. The river was wide at this point and looked quite deep. To the right of them was a wide sandy beach. Al told them to pull over there.
He jumped out, his rifle ready. He could see no one, neither was there a boat in sight. Pio and Nocho dragged their outfit out of the water and begin looking around for wood to build a fire. Adilia started making some sandwiches.
Al was watching Nocho as he walked up the beach. Every few steps he would stop and look around and sniff the air. Suddenly he stopped and looked down at the ground. He turned around and motioned for Al to come to him.
Al moved slowly as he walked up the sandy beach, his eyes searching for anything that might move. In seconds he was standing beside Nocho who was pointing down to the sand. There were fresh prints of hobnail boots! His boots!
Once more Nocho was sniffing the air. “Smoke. I smell smoke.” Suddenly he pointed, “There.” A few more yards up the beach were several stones arranged in a small circle. Some charred wood was in the center; smoke came curling up.
“He was here only minutes ago,” said Nocho. “He has probably gone up the river.”
Here there were lots of boot tracks. Also they could see where he had drug the boat ashore and put it back in again. There was only one way the man could have gone, and that was up river.
They could see up stream for a quarter mile. He must have gone around the bend. The boat was nowhere in sight.
“He will go to the falls.” Said Nocho. “Beyond the bend in the river are falls, like the ones on the Coco, only smaller.”
“Then he must pull his boat up a trail to get above the falls?”
“Yes and quite a ways above. There are many big rocks in the river.”
“Then it would be a good place for an ambush?”
“Perfect! Many years ago we prospected this river for gold. I have been back and forth on that trail many times.”
“Which side of the river do you take the boat over the falls?”
“This side. There is also a trail going up on this side of the river.”
“How about the other side?”
Nocho shook his head. “When I was here before there was none. There would be no need for a trail on both sides.”
“Then we have a choice of going up the river in the boat or the trail on this side. Either way he will have us covered, isn’t that correct?”
Nocho nodded. “If only there was another way.”
“The guy is waiting there for sure. I would bet my last dollar on that! He left the trading post one full day ahead of us. If he were trying to escape he would be long gone, don’t you think so?”
“He has been here for a full day waiting. Why else would he be here?”
“He knows we are after him and he has picked a perfect spot to make a stand. And do you know something? I am sort of glad. One way or another it will soon be done.”
“I know what you mean man.”
“Lets go back to the boat and see if we can come up with a bright idea?”
They walked back to where they had beached the boat. Pio had a small fire going, Adilia had made some sandwiches. She walked up to Al, her eyes wide and bright. “What did you find?”
“He left here only minutes before we arrived. No doubt he heard us coming and pulled out just ahead of us. Nocho says there is a waterfall in the river beyond the bend; a perfect place for an ambush. We figure he is waiting there.”
“Oh darling! You must be very careful! Don’t be in a hurry!”
“I won’t sweetheart. But I think the time has come for me to take action. How about a cup of coffee? We are going to sit down and see if we can come up with a plan.”
They put their bedrolls on the ground and sat down.
Al closed his eyes trying to think clearly. The scar-faced killer had all the advantages. He was now in his own territory and probably knew this part of the country like the palm of his hand. He had a deadly little rifle and probably was an expert when it came to using it.
If there was only some way to get above the guy so that they could come up behind him and take him by surprise? What about getting up on the other side of the river? Was it possible to go up on that side even if there wasn’t a trail? He would get Nocho’s opinion.
“Are you sure there is no trail on the other side of the river?”
“I cannot be sure, but I would guess no. However I am sure there will be many animal trails. They wander up and down the river and come there to drink.”
“What’s the matter with walking up an animal trail?”
Nocho Smiled. “It isn’t as easy as it sounds. Animals squeeze through very narrow places. There will be low hanging vines and bushes with thorns that will tear you to pieces. Also there are many poisonous snakes and wild pigs, not to mention El Tigre.”
Al nodded, “Sounds like a winner. He probably won’t be expecting a guy from Arizona to come that way. So the sooner I get started the better. I can see no other way, can you?”
Nocho shook his head. “I guess it is the only way. I will go with you.”
AL shook his head. “Thanks pal, but this I must do by myself. But, before I leave, there are a number of questions I would like to ask you. How far above the bend in the river are the falls?”
“The bend in the river is about half way.”
“How do I know when I come to the falls?”
“Listen for the roar of the falling water.”
“What should I take besides my rifle?”
“By all means take the machete. You would never make it without it.”
“Anymore good advice?”
“Yes, take it easy. Do not fight the jungle, if you do, you will not win. Don’t forget that!”
For several minutes the two men made the final plans. Once again, Nocho proved his worth.
Al gave them final instructions. “Give me about thirty minutes start on you. Then all of you get into the boat and paddle slowly up river. Take your time. Don’t get in a hurry. When you pass the bend in the river he will be able to see you. At that distance he won’t be able to count the number of people in the boat. We want him to think we are all there. Keep going back and forth across the river, this will keep him confused I hope. And do not under any condition get within rifle range of the falls!”
Al kissed Adilia tenderly. “I will see you soon sweetheart.”
Here eyes were bright but she did not cry. “I will pray for you.” She said softly. “Do what you must do, I will wait for you.”
Nocho rowed him across the river. He jumped out of the boat, waved them goodbye, and headed for the jungle.