Chapter Twenty-Eight

This entry is part 28 of 36 in the series Bend

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Dawn was breaking when the group pushed the boat into the water. Once more, they were floating down the river. The little grass-covered shacks would never be forgotten.

Al had spent a restless night. He could not keep his mind off the scar-faced killer. He had rolled and tossed, as sleep seemed impossible.

Adilia tried to comfort him. She had said, “Why don’t we stay here Al? Nobody will bother us. We will clear a small piece of ground. We will plant corn, beans and rice. There is fish in the river and game in the jungle, and some gold in the gravel bar.” She had drawn herself close to him. “And I will raise you some children. We can be very happy.”

He had kissed her gently. “How many children, darling?”

“Oh, maybe ten, or twelve.”

“Ten or twelve!”

“At least that many, maybe more” she teased.

“That will be plenty, darling.”

And now they were drifting down the river. Al couldn’t see himself spending the rest of his life here on a gravel bar, even if he had this wonderful girl with him. She was all the more reason he should get the hell out of here. She deserved a good life, and he was going to see that she got it.

Nocho and Pio were in the front of the boat with the paddles. They managed to keep it pretty much in the middle of the river, out of rifle range from the back, as much as possible.

Al and Adilia had made themselves comfortable by lying in the bottom, their heads resting on their bedrolls.

Al kept thinking of last night. Ten or twelve kids, she had said. Ten or twelve at least! Well just suppose there were ten, ten kids! Wouldn’t that be something? He kept his eyes closed and tried to imagine what they would look like. Would there be five boys and five girls? No, probably not. It usually didn’t turn out that way. Anyhow, there would be ten kids.

He might have to build a few more rooms. Later, all of them would get married. Each of them would raise a family. In no time at all, they could have at least five each. Their children and grandchildren would all come home on Sunday, The kids would play cowboys and Indians. They would go whooping and hollering around the big house. Let’s see, ten times five is fifty. “Fifty grandchildren!” he shouted.

Adilia sat up, startled. “What did you say?”

Al’s face was dark red. In his mind he had painted a vivid picture. He had let his imagination run away.

“He said fifty grandchildren,” said Nocho.

“Are you planning on raising fifty grandchildren?” asked Pio.

He had better get himself a couple more women if he plans on having so many children and grandchildren.” I knew a guy that had forty kids, he had five women.”

“Forget the fifty grandchildren,” Al growled. “I didn’t say we were going to have fifty kids!”

Adilia smiled sweetly. “We can try, Al darling.”

Al gave her a wolfish grin. “Damn right we can try, every night and every morning. Now everybody shut up and forget about it.” Evidently Al had made his point, the subject was dropped for the rest of the day.

The river was getting very wide, and the current was barely moving. To make better progress, they took turns at the paddles.

“It looks like it’s turning into a lake,” Al remarked.

Nocho nodded. “Yes. Further down, below the lake, the canyon gets very narrow, and there are some very fast rapids in the river.”

Coming into view on the North bank was a village. It consisted of probably forty or fifty bamboo huts with grass roofs. One building was much larger than the rest. It was set off to one side.

Nocho pointed with his finger. “We will go to the trading post.”

They paddled over to the sandy beach and got out. They pulled the boat high on the bank and walked up toward the large building.

If felt good to get up and walk around. They had been in the boat a long time. Al exchanged guns with Nocho. The pistol was better at short range, and the man could be waiting just inside that door.

Al took the lead and stepped inside. ‘When Nocho had called the building the trading post, he had sure given it the right name,’ Al thought. The building was about forty square feet. Tables and benches were scattered around in disarray. On them was piled about everything imaginable. There were fruit and vegetables, bananas, pineapple, coconuts, tomatoes, and many other goods.

One large table was covered with clothing for men. There were hats, shirts, shoes, socks, and many more items. There was yardage goods on another, all cotton and in brilliant colors.

Jaguar skins were tacked on the wall. Cowhides were piled in the corner; some were tanned and some were not. A couple of old broken .22 rifles were leaning against the wall. Everything was for sale or trade.

Off to the right was a bar about twenty feet long, and several small table and chairs were scattered around. This was the dining room.

One quick glance told Al that the scar-faced killer was not here. Several people were in the room. They were mostly women doing their shopping. There were two men at the bar, drinking Pepsi-Cola.

Al stared in amazement. He wondered if it was possible to buy a cold beer. He took Adilia by the arm. They walked over to one of the tables and sat down. Pio and Nocho pulled up a couple of chairs and sat down beside them.

A trader came walking over and stood in front of them. He was short and fat, and had a big black mustache. He gave them a toothy smile.

“Welcome to Little Lake. What can I get you?”

“We are all very thirsty. What do you have to drink that is good and cold?”

“We have Pepsi-Cola, beer and rum, and ice-water…” Al could hardly believe his ears. “Where in the world do you get ice here?”

The trader pointed to the back of the bar. “Señor, if you will look over there, you will see a refrigerator. It came all the way from the United States. It works by burning kerosene. How it does it I do not know, but it is very good. No?”

Al nodded. He couldn’t help but notice that the man had said it was from the United States, not America. The Nigger Woman was a good teacher. He would never forget.

“I’m going to have a cold beer to start. How about the rest of you?”

Pio and Nocho nodded. Adilia ordered Pepsi-Cola. The trader brought the drinks and set them on the table.

“Anything else?” He asked.

“Do you have a couple of cabins we can rent for the night?”

The trader nodded. “Yes, we will get them ready for you.” He walked over to the door, put two fingers in his mouth, and produced a shrill whistle. He walked back inside. “My boy will be here in a moment to help you with your luggage.”

The men took a deep drag from the cold bottles of Victoria. Al thought that surely this was the best beer in the world.

On the far side of the room was the women’s section. Adilia excused herself and went to a long table covered with clothing.

The trader’s boy came inside. He was a cute kid about ten years of age. He would be their helper. Al bought him a bottle of Pepsi, and told him to sit down and enjoy himself. They were in no hurry. Al thought the trader looked dry. He didn’t have to twist his arm to get him to join them in a bottle of beer. He wasn’t the sort of fellow to take a bunch of grass off his own roof!

Al produced the picture Pio had drawn on the board. He handed it to the trader.

“I am looking for this fellow,” Al told him. “Have you seen him lately?” He decided he had better not tell him why he was looking for him, after all, the guy could be a friend of his.

The trader took the picture and studied it for a moment. “A friend of yours?” he asked.

“Could be.”

“There was a fellow that just left here this morning that looked a lot like him. He was here for three days. He came down the river the day it started to rain.”

“Which way did he go?’

“Down the river. Some of my boys helped him carry his boat and bed down the trail. Can’t take a boat over the rapids,” he explained. “It had to be carried about a mile below here.”

“Did you get his name?”

“No, he did not tell me his name nor where he was going, and I am not sure it is the same fellow.”

“How about the big scar above his eye. Did he have a scar there?”

“That’s what puzzles me. This guy always wore a hat pulled down low on his forehead. If there was a scar, I couldn’t see it.”

“What kind of hat was he wearing?”

“A big white one, like that over there.” He pointed to the table with the hats on it.

Al walked over and picked one off the table. “Like this one?”

Al ordered another round, including drinks for the trader and the boy. He handed the picture to Pio.

“Can you put this hat on the guy?” he asked.

Pio grinned. “I will sure try.”

Al walked over to where Adilia was standing. He slipped an arm around her waist. “Find anything you like?”

The girl smiled. “Oh there are so many pretty things. Maybe when we get up to the United States, I can really dress up for you.”

Al looked at the girl beside him. The faded blouse, the worn slacks, the scuffed shoes. Adilia was still the most beautiful girl. Plus Adilia had pride. Naturally, she would like a new dress! What girl wouldn’t! His face began to burn. How stupid could he get! He drew out his wallet and handed her a hundred-cord note.

“Take this sweetheart, and buy yourself something pretty. It isn’t much, but be sure and spend it all. When we do get to the United Stated, I will see that you are dressed like a queen.”

Tears glistened in the girl’s eyes. “I can wait, Al darling. I know the judge took most of your money.

“Take it. I have plenty left. The man we are looking for has been here, but he has gone down the river. Tonight, we have nothing to fear. Tonight, we shall celebrate. Hey, that gives me an idea. Tonight we shall have our wedding celebration! How about that?

“Wonderful darling, wonderful!”

Al walked back to their table. Pio was putting the finishing touches on the picture. He handed it to Al. He gave it a quick look and passed it to the trader.

“It sure looks like him, but I cannot be sure?”

“Did he rent a cabin?”

“Yes, number three. Tonight you will have number two and three.”

“ That’s great,” Al told him. “And I think it is time we moved our belongings up to the cabins.”

The boy jumped up. “I will help you, I will show you the way.”

When they were outside, Al asked the boy; “Where is the number three cabin?”

The boy pointed with his finger. “We only have three that we rent. See them there? The first is number one, the others are numbers two and three.”

Al took off toward the cabins. He had something in mind. The rain had softened the ground. Ordinary footprints would not leave their prints on the trail. But a pair of hob nailed boots certainly would.

As he approached the canons he examined the ground closely. Were those tiny marks from boots? It was hard to tell. Then off to the side in the soft ground was the print of many hobnails. His boot! There was no doubt about it now; the killer had just left here this morning!

It looked to Al like he was coming to the end of the trail. It wasn’t far to the Caribbean Sea. The man had to be in there somewhere.

In the meantime, they would be safe here tonight. He glanced at his watch. It would be dark in an hour. He pulled out his pocketbook. He still had three hundred cord. Probably there would be no place to spend money below here. Might just as well have that party. It might be the last one, so why not make it a good one.? In the meantime he would help with the chores and tell Pio and Nocho about the footprints in the mud.

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