Chapter Twenty-Five

This entry is part 25 of 36 in the series Bend

Chapter Twenty-Five

Al was awakened by what sounded like pistol shots. He slid off the bed and grabbed the rifle. He motioned for the girl to lay flat on the bed. He slipped on his trousers and shoes before he untied the leather strings that held the door shut. He opened it a crack and peeked out. Pio was standing by the grill putting wood on the fire. “Did you hear someone shooting?” Al Asked.

Pio nodded, “ I am sure it was Nocho. He says there are many wild turkeys up the canyon. He went to see if he could kill one.”

Al breathed a sigh of relief and turned to the girl. “False alarm,” he grinned. “Lets get dressed and go see if we can find something to eat.”

Pio had a pot of coffee on the fire. There was about a dozen bananas lying on the table. These were the green ones that Pio had wrapped in the cloth a few days ago. Now they were yellow and ready to eat.

The girl dished up some cooked rice and added sliced banana, sprinkled on a little brown sugar then added some canned milk. Breakfast was ready.

Nocho came in wearing his toothless smile; there was a big turkey on his back.

When breakfast was over, Al suggested that they get ready to go on down the river. Somewhere below was the killer. They must go after him. Nocho shook his head. “It is better that we do not go today. Notice the dark clouds. Today it will rain for sure. We would not be safe on the river in a storm.”

The clouds were dark. Al had hired this fellow to guide them down the river. So far, he had done and excellent job. At least they were alive. He would not question his judgment now. Besides, another night in the little cabin with Adilia sounded mighty fine.

“You are right,” Al told him. “We will stay here today.” He smiled at the girl. “And maybe tomorrow.”

The big mud oven proved of great interest to Al. He had seen a lot of them at a distance, but this on was the first he had been close to. He looked it over carefully.

It was about four feet high, and about the same distance across. It was round, and the top was rounded off like a huge light bulb. In the center of the top was a hole about an inch in diameter. This was the chimney, a place for the smoke to escape and give it a draft. In one side at the bottom, was a square hole, about one square foot. This was the entrance to the oven.

Today, they would roast the big turkey and bake bread.

Al morning, Pio had been gathering wood. There was a big pile by the log. He began cramming it into the oven.

Nocho began cleaning the turkey; Adilia would make the bread.

Al watched, fascinated. This was certainly a new world for him. He never dreamed that such methods existed. In fact, he had never heard of an oven like this.

He still couldn’t understand how the big thing worked.

The wood was crammed inside. Pio set it on fire. Smoke began to spiral out of the hole in the top.

There was a steel plate that would cover the opening to the oven. Pio adjusted this, giving the fire the right amount of draft. He left the oven on and sat down on a log. For now, his part of the chores was finished.

Al went over and sat down beside him. He pointed with his thumb.

“Pio, I don’t want to appear stupid. But, how in hell are you going to cook anything in there when it’s full of burning wood?”

“Do you not have ovens like this in the United States?”

“We sure don’t. And this is the only one I have ever seen in action. Would you mind explaining how the damn thing works? I guess I could wait and see, but my curiosity is killing me.”

Pio grinned, and started to explain.

“In about an hour, the thick walls of the oven will become red hot inside. We will take a small rake and drag out what is left of the wood and coals. These go into the grill. On the grill, we will heat water and make coffee. Nothing is wasted. Then, we will put the bread and the turkey in the oven. The door will be closed tight, so no cold air can enter. There will be a few sticks of wood left inside. They will make enough smoke to give everything a fine flavor.” Pio licked his lips and grinned. “You will see.”

“How long will it take to cook the meal?” Al asked.

“Probably a couple of hours.”

“If the oven is red hot, won’t it burn everything?”

Pio shook his head. “At first, the bread and turkey will steam. This will cool the oven somewhat. It will still be hot enough to make everything turn a golden brown. Then it will cool down some more and cook everything until it is well done and very tender.”

“Sounds like a winner.”

“You will see, Señor Al.”

Pio had selected the provisions on this trip, and Al thought he had certainly done a fine job. It didn’t seem like they were getting enough at the time, but the man generally knew what he was doing so he’d trust him this time too.

An hour went by. The sky was black, but as of yet, it had not rained.

On the table was turkey. It was lying on its back on a tin platter. Also, there were four big loaves of bread on tin plates. It was now time to put them in the oven.

Al watched, fascinated. Pio removed the metal cover in front of the oven and set it aside. He picked up a long metal rod with a flat piece of iron across the front. With this utensil, he began raking out he remains of the fire, which went into the grill front. Next, the turkey and the bread were pushed far back into the oven. A few smoldering pieces of wood were also put back.

The steel plate was placed in front of the entrance and the hole in the top was plugged. Dinner was now cooking.

Al produced the map and spread it out on the table. Somewhere below here, lived the scar-faced killer. Nocho had seen him pass by many times.

There were no names of any towns close to their current location on the map. He asked Nocho.

“Are there any villages down the river?”

“Yes, there is one, about one day in a boat.”

“Good. When we are ready, we will go there. Probably someone there will know him.”

Again, Al thought of the man named Kirkland. Come to think of it, he hadn’t asked Nocho about this man. He took the picture out of his pocketbook and handed it to him.

“Take a close look at this picture. This man lives somewhere in this area, and I would sure like to find him. He is quite a bit older now, but looks very much the same. Also,” Al grinned, “This one is a friend.”

Nocho took the picture and studied it carefully.

“His name is John Kirkland, if that will help any.”

Nocho handed back the picture.

“I do not know this man, but I have seen him a number of times.”

“Where, Nocho, where?” Al was getting excited.

“I do not remember where or when. But I think it was down the river. Maybe at some time he has gone by here in a boat. I cannot remember.”

Al remembered the fist time he had met the old man. At first, he didn’t have much confidence in him. How things had changed. If Nocho had said he had seen John Kirkland, he had seen John Kirkland! Maybe he would find him yet!

“If you happen to remember where you saw this fellow, be sure to tell me. It is very important.”

The day was getting hot and muggy. There was no sign of a breeze. There were no boats on the river, and no one on that trails. Evidently, all the natives around here thought it was a good day to stay close to shelter.

Al suggested to Adilia that they go swimming. She was in full accord. Pio and Nocho dug up a pair of shorts and went along. They took turns standing guard with the rifle.

Once more, Al felt like a big kid. Adilia was a wonderful playmate. They raced up and down the sandy beach; they dove into the swirling current, and played in the sand. Time passed quickly. It was past noon and still there was no rain.

They went back to the cabins and put on fresh clothes. It was time to open the big mud oven.

Al stood by and watched. First, the oven door was set aside. Pio reached inside with the rake and pulled out a golden loaf of bread, then three more, and then the turkey. It was time to eat.

Al couldn’t remember when food had tasted better. Even Sarah’s Thanksgiving dinners were not better than this. When he got home, if he got home, he was going to build one of these big mud ovens. He wondered if Adilia knew how.

Suddenly, the overcast sky grew much darker. A huge black cloud was coming from the north. It was approaching rapidly, although there was no wind here.

Nocho walked out from under the lean-to. For a moment, he stared up into the sky. Then, suddenly, he came back on the run.

“It’s coming!” He yelled. “Stay under cover, if you don’t want to get wet.”

Al sat down on the log beside Adilia. “I think Nocho’s rain is finally going to get here,” he remarked.

The girl’s eyes sparkled. “There will be many beautiful lights and lots of noise,” she whispered.

A forked streak of flame went shooting across the sky, followed by a tremendous clap of thunder.

Al looked around. ‘This is a flimsy place to take shelter in a tropical storm,’ he thought.

The lightning blazed and at the same time, a violent crash shook the earth.

Adilia jumped to her feet and ran out to where Pio and Nocho were standing, with faces upturned.

Another blue-white flame shot across the horizon, above the mass of jungle, followed by a violent crash.

Long ago, the birds and animals had gone to their shelters. For a few seconds, there wasn’t a sound.

Al took a deep breath of the soft air. The humidity strengthened the scent of the undergrowth. He took a few steps and joined the trio outside. If they were going to stay out here, so was he!

There was deep rumbling in the background and lots of brilliant flashes. Then, the thunder that had been creeping up sprang its ambush. There was a quick flash of light. A big tree a hundred yards down the river split down the middle and came tumbling down, crushing the foliage beneath it. Black smoke came curling up, and the smell of sulfur and brimstone was in the air.

Then, another colossal explosion!

A loud cheer startled Al…another explosion…another cheer. He couldn’t believe his ears. With every clap of thunder, the three people stood there cheering, yelling for more, only to be drowned out by another and another.

This was only a prelude of what was to come. Suddenly, tiny droplets of water blurred the dancing lights. Then, the avalanche came crashing down! Al grabbed Adilia and ran for the cabin. Big drops were coming now, and coming fast. The advancing sheet of water was at their heels!

The big drops of hail were hitting the ground so hard, that it looked like they were bouncing high in the air.

They were in the cabin, and just in time. The rain was pouring down.

Adilia went to open the window and looked out. Her face was flushed from the excitement. She turned to Al.

“Beautiful, wasn’t it?”

Al nodded. “I have seen many thunderstorms in Arizona, but never anything like this.” He was glad that the downpour had stopped the fireworks. He walked over and put his arm around her shoulders. It had been a show that he would never forget. Even the best producers in Hollywood couldn’t put on one like this.

The people here had no movies, radio or television. They depended upon the wonder of nature for entertainment. Al thought that if there had been an earthquake and a big volcano belching smoke and fire today, this show would have really been a big success.

They stood there for a few minutes listening to the drumming of the rain. The fireworks seemed to be over, at least for the present. But now, something new was added: the wind

A big gust hit the cabin. For a moment, Al thought the cabin would be carried away. Water was running across the floor and the ground trembled.

So far, there were no leaks in the roof. Driving rain was coming through the window. Al picked up the shutter and put it in place. The room was as dark as night, and it was only two o’clock in the afternoon. He took the shutter and laid it on the floor. It would be one hell of a long night if he left it in.

The bed was on the opposite side of the room. At least it was dry. He took the girl by the arm and together they walked over and sat down.

The old man had certainly been correct when he said it was going to rain. What if they had been caught out on the river in this storm? Al shuddered with the thought.

Anyhow, the scar-faced killer wouldn’t be out prowling around in this. That was one thing to be thankful for during the storm.

He kicked off his shoes and lay down on the bed. Adilia did likewise, and lay down beside him, her head on his shoulder.

‘Everything as just as it should be,’ thought Al, when this wonderful girl was beside him. When he was finished here, he would take her home with him. When he was finished here.

He hoped that would be soon. Damn the Judge!

The girl was running her fingers through his hair. “Are you alright, darling?” She asked.

“Just fine. I was just thinking. When we are finished here, we will go to my home in Arizona. We will be married there, and have a big wedding. How does that sound to you?”

“Wonderful darling, wonderful!”

“Then I will buy you a new car.”

“A car, just for me?”

“And a lot of beautiful new clothes.”

The girl drew herself close and whispered in his ear.

“And I will bear you many beautiful children.”

For a moment, Al lay there thinking about what a beautiful world it could be, with this girl beside him every night. If that cock-eyed Judge hadn’t passed that ridiculous sentence on him, he would take Adilia out of here tomorrow.

Adilia seemed to read his thoughts. “Everything is going to be alright, darling. I will pray for you.”

He would need all the help he could get. A few prayers might not hurt a bit.

Just who was this girl lying here beside him? She had told him, ‘Sometime, when we are alone and have time, I will tell you about myself.’ ‘Right now should be as good as any,’ he thought.

He kissed her on the cheek. “Darling, you told me you would tell me all about yourself. Don’t you think now would be a good time? I am really curious.”

“There isn’t really much to tell. What would you like to know?”

“I know that you are not a native of this area. Where did you come from? Who were your parents? Just anything that comes to your mind. Take your time, we have lots of it.”

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