As if to answer his question, another salvo of the small, deadly projectiles struck the deck of the ship.
“Blowguns!” said Indiana, still trying in vain to penetrate the dark undergrowth on the shore and identify whatever it was protecting. “Someone doesn’t like us very much.” He maneuvered slowly backwards, his face and upper body pressed as tightly against the deck as was possible, as he worked his way back towards the rudder house. They were a good forty or fifty meters from the river bank; even for the nearly legendary Indians using the blowguns, it was too far for an accurate shot. Nevertheless he moved with extreme caution. He knew the tiny, pointed projectiles were covered with poison. A small scratch from one was enough to kill or cripple a man for the rest of his life.
Behind them, the door of the rudder house flew upward, and half of Henley’s mercenary troops spilled forth, storming the deck. Obviously the blowgun attack had not gone unnoticed.
“Get behind some cover!” Indiana cried. “Be careful!”
Three of the four men reacted immediately. Before Indiana had completed his warning, they ducked behind the various crates and equipment on deck and directed their weapons toward the edge of the forest. The fourth, however, acted foolishly, trying to be a hero. He stood high and dug in his heels at the railing of the steamship. He pulled his automatic rifle to his shoulder and let off three shots in quick succession. Indiana could not tell if he hit anything other than leaves and branches of the thick vegetation – but before the echo of the last shot had faded the Bush let loose a whole salvo of tiny, feathered arrows – flying through the air like a sheet - which arched over the river and fell like rain into the river and onto the small boat. Three or four rattled harmlessly on the steel railing and the deck. But one met the upper arm of the mercenary and trembled in his bicep.
The man cried out in pain, recoiling in terror and dropping the rifle as he tore out the arrow with a quick movement. The tiny wound left behind produced very little blood. Nevertheless, the man survived the injury only a few seconds longer. In an instant he stood up rigidly, looking alternatingly at he wound and the tiny finger-long arrow in his hand, and then he took half a step back and began to stagger. His face distorted in pain. He tumbled forward to his knees, and then fell forward. He was dead before the rest of his body impacted the rusty deck.
The three surviving mercenaries furiously directed their fire at the edge of the forest, and at the rear deck a door flew upward and the remaining men of Henley’s private army surged forth.
“What’s the matter?” roared Reuben, the last of the men to come out onto the deck. Henley’s response was lost in the hail of gunfire crackling thought he air, but another swarm of tiny poisoned darts flew forth from the jungle and fell like rain onto the deck, forcing Reuben and his companions to hastily duck and cover.
Indiana finally reached the rudder house and positioned himself where he could crouch to his knees and see the events unfolding as Reuben ducked nearby. Indiana had his gun drawn, but saw no use in using it. He could not hit what he could not see. The edge of the forest seemed as lifeless as ever. Whoever was attacking them, they were masters of disguise.
“Who is it?” Reuben asked in shock.
“Natives,” answered Indiana. “We are in their territory now!”
“Natives?” Reuben delivered and unaimed shot at the riverbank. “I thought they were peaceful!”
“They usually are,” answered Indiana. “I don’t know what is going on. Where is Marian?”
Reuben made a head movement toward the open door behind him. “Below deck. Don’t worry. She is okay.” For a moment his attention was diverted towards movement on the riverbank. He looked more irritated than shocked. “I don’t understand. We were assured the natives in this area were peaceful.”
As if to answer, another torrent of small deadly projectiles pierced the deck nearby. They were better targeted than before, but there was no damage because all of the men had taken immediate cover.
They were no longer firing blindly into the bush, but were waiting to see their adversary before taking a purposeful shot; however they were never met with any visible success. Reuben stared at the shore, spellbound, for several seconds as he waited to get a glimpse of the attackers. He motioned for Indiana to stay put next to the rudder house. The man behind the wheel of the steamship had huddled down in fear, although the tiny projectiles did not have enough force to pierce the window panes.
Indiana observed as Reuben spoke excitedly to the man for a few seconds, gesturing frantically. The chug of the diesel motor softened noticeably as the boat’s speed slowed.
“What are you doing?” asked Indiana stunned, as Reuben slid down next to him. “Are you mad? Why are we stopping?”
“I have to find out what’s going on,” Reuben said seriously. “I don’t understand it.”
“I don’t care,” answered Indiana. “You want to kill us?”
Reuben shook his head. “We were assured these natives were perfectly peaceful,” he said. “Although they are primitive, they are not stupid. They must know that they have no chance against us.”
At that very moment, another rain of tiny arrows fell down onto the boat. One of the tiny arrows missed the FBI agent by centimeters, and he turned visibly pale. Nevertheless he gestured to the helmsman and commanded him to continue slowing down the vessel.
“Stop firing!” he cried to his men. “Don’t fire unless you hear them shooting.”
The men looked confused, and stared disbelievingly at the FBI agent.
However, one after the other they stopped firing, and no longer did they hear any salvo of arrows issuing from the shrubs. The boat slowed continually until it stopped, remaining motionless in its place.
Indy averted his gaze back to the forest edge. He made out some movement here: something stirring there, a shadow nothing more. He closely observed the green was, scanning back and forth. Slowly one, then two, then three and four, and finally more than a dozen: small slim bronze-skinned shapes slowly emerged from the forest. Most of them were naked except for a small loin cloth, and all of them were armed with blowguns longer than they were tall.
“Aymara,” said Reuben. “It is the Aymara. I recognize their feather decorations.”
Indiana watched with confusion. Either Reuben had prepared very well for this expedition, or he was more than the insignificant FBI agent he pretended to be.
Gradually more natives stepped from the forest. Most stared attentively at the steamer floating motionless in the river, but some pointed their blowguns threatingly in their direction, and a few even waded into the water as if they were going to swim towards them.
Reuben studied the silent army – it had increased to at least fifty or sixty men – and remained motionless for several seconds, then he put his pistol back into the holster on his belt and slowly stood up.
“What are you doing?” Indiana asked frightened. “Are you crazy?”
Reuben paid no attention to him. Ever careful, he raised his empty hands up and stretched them out in front of him. Then, standing fully, he slowly made his way toward the railing of the vessel. At least a dozen blowguns followed his movements, but Reuben ignored them and continued. He also ignored Henley’s frantic gestures and the frightened calls of the mercenaries.
Indiana watched with bated breath, staring in disbelief as Reuben approached the railing; both arms lifted up and empty palms facing the shore.
“Helmsman!” Reuben instructed. “To the bank!”
The man behind the rudder hesitated, until Henley finally rose from where he had been crouched and gave him a commanding gesture. The diesel engine roared to life again. A tremor ran through the steel hull of the steamer as it seemed to resist starting the trip again. It took a moment to align the nose toward the bank, and then the ship lurched forward.
“I hope you know what you’re doing, Reuben,” murmured Indiana.
Although he had spoken it softly, the FBI agent had understood his words because he nodded and replied without taking his eyes off the silent natives standing there on the riverbank. “I hope so also, Dr. Jones.” He let out a humorless laugh. “If not, I’ll be the first to know.”
The boat slowed as it approached the bank. The number of natives that had appeared from the undergrowth had increased still, and between the warriors Indiana now discovered that there were children and old persons, and even a few women. And they, too, were armed.
The sight confused him. The South American Indians – especially the tribes that still existed – were not necessarily his specialty, but he knew that the people of the Aymara were not particularly large. They were peaceful and known for their friendly nature. Indiana could only guess as to what could have provoked them enough to attack a passing ship and its crew without warning.
The ship grinded through the maze of overhanging branches and the tangled roots in the shallow water below until it at last came to a tangible halt with a tremble. Some of the natives stepped back, and in spite of the distance between them and the colorful dyes they had painted their faces with, Indiana could see their insecurity and mistrust clearly. Many of the blowguns were pointed directly at them, and he could feel the nervousness from Reuben’s mercenaries. He prayed to heaven that none of them would lose their calm and let off a shot. In spite of their superior firepower, there was very little chance they would be able to defeat so many enemies.
But the danger passed without incident. Reuben remained motionless for a few moments with his hands raised at the railing, and then he very slowly lowered his arms and called a single word in a dialect Indiana had never heard before. At first, it seemed as if there would be no response, but then two or three Aymara stepped aside in order to make room for an old, grizzled man wearing a coat of green and red feathers. He moved with the laborious, shuffling steps of a really old man as he slowly traversed the difficult vegetation, leaning heavily on one side with a twisted stick, and his left arm was supported in a sling made of vines and leaves. And now, Indiana noticed that the old man was not the only one injured – many carried heavy sticks to lean on or wore patches of vegetation and fiber to cover wounds, some of which were fresh and not yet healed. Some even had makeshift splints where their legs had been broken. Nevertheless they had all come to participate in the attack on the boat. What in the world had happened here? thought Indiana, frightened.
The door beside Indiana opened up, and Marian took a half a step onto the deck outside before she noticed the native army. She stopped mid-step. She looked up in fright, and clasped her hands over her mouth in order to suppress a scream.
“Stay where you are!” Indiana said hastily. Reuben also turned and threw Marian a frightened glance.
Restlessness overcame the natives on the shore. Still more weapons were directed at the small ship and its crew, and for a tiny moment Indiana felt the electricity in the air reach a dangerous point. But once again calmness prevailed in front of his very eyes – the natives maintained their calm and along with the mercenaries, everyone kept their nerves. The natives hesitantly lowered most of their weapons. Most of them. Not all of them.
Reuben turned with measured movements back toward the bank and looked at he old native again. From his clothing and the respect garnered by the other Aymara natives, Indiana concluded the old man must have been their chieftain or a medicine man. Despite his apparent wounds and disabilities, the old man maneuvered as close to the edge of the river as possible. The fever and pain in his flushed cheeks had receded, and he stood proudly in front of his people.
Indiana threw Marian an uncertain view, and then slowly stood up from behind the rudderhouse structure he had been using as cover. He was eyed suspiciously by the now fifty to a hundred men who had gathered near the shore, so he followed Reuben’s example and made slow, deliberate and exaggerated movements for all to see. He had holstered his weapon and then made his way slowly to the railing next to Reuben. The FBI agent nodded almost imperceptibly at him to show his agreement, the movement noticed by the old native. The old Aymara alternated his gaze from Reuben to Indiana. His perceptiveness stood in glaring contrast to his flushed and wrinkled face. Finally he said something to Reuben which Indiana did not understand, but it caused the FBI agent to let out a deep sigh of relief. Although concern still registered on the FBI agent’s face, Indiana felt and invisible load had been taken off Reuben’s shoulders.
“What did he say?” Indiana asked.
Rueben hastily shook his head from side to side, and then answered the old native in the same language. Indiana’s respect for the FBI agent had risen throughout the ordeal. Obviously he had prepared extremely well for this journey. Or, whispered a quiet and stubborn voice in his head, Henley and Reuben had not told him the entire truth and they knew much more than they had let on.
Reuben spoke with the natives for several minutes in a strange-sounding throaty dialect that Indiana had never heard before. He then turned back towards the ship and with an arm movement announced: “Put away your weapons. All of them.”
What immediately followed was not something Indiana had counted on. He was surprised when not only Henley but all of the remaining men he had so far suspected were mercenaries obeyed instantly. Quickly and quietly, with no opposition, all of their weapons were placed onto the ship’s deck – not only the rifles but pistols and knives as well. Without a word, Reuben turned his attention immediately to Indiana, who was the only one left standing on deck that had not given up his weapons. Indiana hastily unbuckled the gunbelt with the pistol and held it out in front of him for a second before lowering it to the ground. He kept the bullwhip coiled in his hand. At first, Reuben regarded it disapprovingly but quickly came to the conclusion it was not worth saying something about.
“What happened?” asked Indiana. “Why did they attack us?”
“Later,” Reuben answered quietly. “Please say nothing more about it, Dr. Jones.”
He took another look at the natives on the shore, particularly at the old man, and then quickly swung himself over the railing in a fast but not surprising movement to the natives, jumping down into the river below. Even here, so near the bank, the water was deep – rising almost to Reuben’s chest. He spread his arms to balance as he slowly made his way to the bank and climbed ashore, using the branches and vines overhead to pull himself up to dry land with the natives. Although he came extremely close to some of them, none offered to help him onto the bank. However, none tried to attack him either.
Indiana heard Henley mumble something under his breath, obviously shocked by what he saw, that sounded like “is he nuts?” or something similar. Meanwhile, Marian and the mercenaries slowly moved forward toward the railing, stunned at Reuben’s actions as well.
Reuben spent a lot of time conversing with the old man. Those left behind on board the ship could not understand what the discussion was about as the two men raised and lowered their voices and gestured wildly – apparently the old man was very agitated and very suspicious of them, but Reuben seemed to speak with an angel’s tongue and was eventually able to calm him down. A couple of times during the conversation, Indiana was not sure of the extent of Reuben’s success as the warriors gathered protectively close to their leader, and more than one expressed his displeasure at the presence of the FBI agent. But finally the old man, in a tired gesture, waved the warriors back and appeared to relax again. Reuben turned back to the ship and cupped his mouth so those on the ship could hear and understand: “Dr. Jones! Mrs. Corda! You will come ashore!”
Indiana shot a surprised glance at first with Marian, then with Henley, but something in Reuben’s voice made it clear that now was not the time to ask questions or even discuss the proceedings. With a quick movement he climbed over the railing, held the rusty rails with his left hand and uncoiled the whip in his right. With a single, skillful movement he snapped the whip at the shore, where it wrapped like a lasso around a thick overhanging branch. He then solicited Marian with a small head movement. “May I?”
Marian looked at him completely baffled, and the warriors on the shore stepped back a little in confusion. He could hear them starting to grumble threateningly. “Hurry up,” said Indiana, forcing a smile. There was urgency in his voice. “Before you make them nervous.”
Marian gave an un-approving jerk of the shoulders, then climbed on the outside of the railing and stared with fear at the native army below. Indiana did not give her time to reconsider as he shot his left arm tightly around her waist and pushed off the railing. The braiding of the leather whip protested loudly, but both the whip and the overhanging branch held under their weight as the two swung in an elegant arc down to the bank.
The natives observed Indiana’s unorthodox method of departing the ship with amusement. Marian gave a slight surprised murmur as they loosed themselves from each other almost as soon as their feet touched the safety of solid ground. From the look Reuben shot their way, Indiana could tell he was clearly annoyed.
“Was that necessary?” he asked as Indiana and Marian stepped up next to him and the old man.
“No,” Indiana answered with a smile. “But I really didn’t want to get my feet wet.”
“I believe you have been reading too many Tarzan novels, Dr. Jones,” retorted Reuben, and then he made a silencing gesture when Indiana started to answer. “Enough now. We will follow them.”
“Follow them where?” Indiana asked, doubting.
Reuben pointed. “Their village. It lies about ten minutes from here. They promised not to attack the ship as long as we are with them. For the moment, the chieftain believes we are not part of Ramos’s gang.”
Indiana looked around at the faces of the natives and could tell they regarded them with uncertainty. Something didn’t feel right. He was particularly uncomfortable, and he made it no secret. “What happened here?”
“I don’t know all the details,” answered Reuben honestly. “I do not speak their language very well. But from what I gather, they were attacked three days ago by men who arrived on a ship like ours. They said they had a crippled man with them, whom could not see.”
Reuben nodded quickly. “And they left a lot more dead and injured than we presently see.”
“And at first they thought we were with him?”
Reuben shrugged his shoulders. “I am not sure what they believe, Dr. Jones. But whatever Ramos and his men did, it affected them so badly that they no longer trust any white man. Perhaps we can lessen that distrust by going with them. Or is it too dangerous for you?” he added bitingly.
“No,” Indiana answered. “But I don’t think it’s a good idea for Mrs. Corda to accompany us.”
“Neither do I,” answered Reuben. “However, the chieftain insists on it.”
“How the devil do I know?” Reuben answered sharply. “Ask him.” He gestured toward the chieftain.
He calmed down almost immediately and forced a smile to hide his anger from the natives. “Wait here a moment,” he said quickly. “I must give a few instructions to Henley.”
Marian crowded near Indiana, obviously frightened, as Reuben stepped back toward the bank and the chieftain followed. The natives watched them restlessly, and Indiana tried to appear disinterested by looking left and right, but he was sure his pitiful attempt was not working. He was nervous and had every right to be. None of the Aymara warriors were taller than his shoulders, and most were slim and injured. But there were more than a hundred of them, and Indiana saw bloodlust in their faces. But slowly that façade faded, and was replaced by a nearly childlike curiosity. At first they were hesitant, but slowly they came closer, ever closer, to Marian and him. Finally one of the natives stretched out his hand and groped at Marian’s hair with his fingers. Marian twitched from the contact, but resisted the urge to say something and strike the warrior’s hand aside.
Others soon followed the first curious fingers, and the natives’ murmuring soon became very excited as the natives ran their fingers through Marian’s hair, then groped her dress, and finally began feeling her face. Indiana could see her uneasiness building to a boil.
“Don’t say a word,” whispered Indiana. “Don’t do anything rash.”
He didn’t know whether Marian had understood his words or not or if she had simply become rigid with fright; at least she remained motionless as she was caressed by the native crowd. And Indy felt the gestures of the natives were not hostile. They were just curious, like children, who had never seen or rarely seen a white woman before.
Nevertheless he breathed a sigh of relief as Reuben and the chieftain returned. The warriors retreated when the chieftain shot them a disapproving glance. The FBI agent was no longer alone, as he was accompanied by one of the mercenaries, now without a weapon like Reuben and himself, and he was visibly nervous.
What Reuben had described as ten minutes proved to be a good half-hour walk through the dense jungle, and although Indiana had prepared himself for what was to come, what he saw at the native village came as a powerful blow.
The settlement was in a wide clearing in the middle of the bush, and consisted of at least a dozen large, straw-covered huts with a huge circular rotunda at its center. Or, more precisely, it had once consisted of them. Of what were twelve or fourteen straw hut structures, only three stood. What remained of the rest were charred, skeletal frameworks that the natives had already begun covering with sheets and animal hides. Also the large building at the village center was destroyed as well; its roof was gone and a third of the building’s walls were blackened from an out of control fire. Although it was apparent at least a day had passed, the penetrating smell of the fire still loomed heavily in the air. And there was yet another, worse smell, which Indiana tried to deny at first. But it was a smell he recognized: the stink of burnt flesh.
And then they saw it: at the edge of the forest, near where they had stepped into the clearing, were the corpses of ten to fifteen natives. Some appeared to be uninjured by fire but were riddled with bullet holes; however most of them were terribly burned. And many of them without exception were women, children, and the elderly and exhibited heavy burns. Apparently the warriors rushed the old chieftain to the riverbank to escape the massacre. Indiana exchanged a frightened glance with Reuben, and the FBI agent twitched his shoulders uncomfortably.
“Oh my god,” whispered Marian as they stepped between the Aymara in front of them onto the village clearing. “What happened here?”
Indiana remained silent, but not because the frightening site had lumped the words in his throat – he believed he already knew the answer to the question. Whoever had attacked the village must have proceeded with inhumane brutality. And they had brought with them something more than pistols and rifles.
“This was done by a flamethrower,” said Reuben suddenly.
Indiana nodded silent, with no doubt. The FBI agent rubbed his brow and continued quietly with a dark expression on his face. “I know the trail this weapon leaves behind. But why would they do it?”
“Perhaps they didn’t need a reason,” Indiana murmured. Reuben looked doubtingly at him, but Indiana remembered the hate and blind insanity he has seen in Ramos’s dead eyes.
If Indiana thought he had seen the limits of imaginable horrors mankind could conceive, he realized he was mistaken. Nothing could describe the horror he saw before him. The natives led the three to the rotunda at the village center, and motioned for them to follow through the charred door. As they stepped through, Marian clasped her hand over her mouth to muffle a frightened cry, and even Reuben and his tough companion paled visibly.
The Aymara had brought its severely wounded people into the burnt out shell of a building. There were at least twenty or twenty-five people – men, women, and children – with such terrible burns Indiana wondered how they could still be alive. A terrible smell hung in the air, and it was filled with the sounds of pain-filled moans.
The old native turned to Reuben with a question. Reuben surveyed the terrible seen in front of him for a second, and then looked at Marian.
“Can you help them?”
Marian shook her head intensely. “I’m not a doctor. I don’t know about these things.”
“Can you at least try?” Reuben pleaded. “I don’t know why, but he believes all white women are gifted with such things.” His voice trailed off, and he considered for a second, then turned to question the old man. In turn, the old man hesitated before answering, and averted his eyes in disappointment, then nodded. Reuben turned to the mercenary. “I need you to return to the ship and fetch Henley and two others. You are to bring along the first aid kit and whatever dressing material we have on board.”
The mercenary departed, obviously relieved to dismissed and put the terrible scene behind him, at least for a little while. Marian gave Reuben another pleading view before stepping over to one of the injured children. Indiana saw her hands trembling as she bent down next to the child.
“Ask the old man what exactly happened?” Indiana whispered. “Why did they do this?”
Reuben complied, but it took awhile to reestablish confidence with the old Aymara chieftain. Nevertheless, the conversation was difficult, and it took a very long time to make sense of the connection with the senseless brutality of the attack, but Indiana was gradually able to create a picture of what happened.
The story Indiana heard was both amazing and terrible. They were not the second, but the third ship of white men to pass through the river in the last two days and arrive in the Aymara territory. Stanley’s lead was not as big as they had assumed, and they were definitely on the right path. They had passed this way and continued for another three or four miles before unloading their equipment in a small bay to the north, where about a dozen men loaded it all onto two cross-country trucks. The Aymara had welcomed the men as friendly companions, as was their nature. But then something occurred, which the old man did not want to speak. One of Corda’s companions shot a warrior and had taken the chieftain’s daughter as hostage in order to secure their departure. They released the girl, uninjured, when they realized they were a safe distance away. But the natives became even more distrustful when a second ship full of armed men came up the river and docked at the same place. An argument arose between the Aymara and these men. Once again, the chieftain would not disclose what had caused the argument. The old man was persistent in hiding the reasons for both disagreements. But his time, the men reacted differently. The first group had limited the conflict by doing only what was necessary to secure their safe departure. The second group, Ramos’s group, had answered the conflict with machine-gun fire. Then they used a flamethrower on the natives and killed roughly a quarter of them before storming the village and burning it to the ground. They, like Corda’s group, also took a hostage – the medicine man of the tribe and two younger warriors. These three were still missing, and the chieftain had sent a number of the tribe’s best men to pursue Ramos and his murderous gang to free them.
Indiana shook his head in confusion when Reuben’s report had come to its conclusion. “Something about this story just isn’t right,” he murmured.
“I agree,” answered Reuben. “However he swears it is the truth. Anyway, I believe him. The Aymara are a peaceful people. I cannot believe they would just attack us for no reason.”
“I don’t mean it isn’t true,” Indiana replied. “But I have the feeling he’s hiding something from us.” He made a hand gesture that swept the whole area. “Ramos is a monster, that I know. But even he wouldn’t come in a do such a thing for no reason. Not to mention Corda. Please ask him, what was the dispute between the natives and the white men?”
“I have already,” said Reuben. “He says its taboo and further questioning is forbidden.” He smiled fleetingly, and not very convincingly. “Besides, he pretends not to understand me when I ask him or mention it again. I don’t want to insist and lose all of their cooperation. They believe us about not having anything to do with Corda and Ramos, but they are still distrustful and frightened, which I understand completely.”
Indiana decided to save any further questions for later. Besides, he wasn’t even sure Reuben was giving him the full story, if he knew the man at all. For a moment he was tempted to reveal what Henley had told him on the ship earlier. But he didn’t want to put Reuben’s colleague into a difficult situation – perhaps he would soon find out why they were really here.
Instead, he made his way next to Marian and helped her attend to the wounded. At least he tried. There was not much he could do. He understood very little about medicine and healing practices. He had spent half his life travelling to remote regions of the world, and knew just enough to survive the basics. But when he looked around, there wasn’t a need to set a broken arm or dress a wound. These injuries were far more complicated. It was clear to both him and Marian that very few here would survive their injuries. The site of the twenty-something injured and the dozens more dead outside filled him with a cold rage, which frightened him. Ramos had done more than just kill a few people. The natives would overcome this, he was sure. But afterwards, they would never be the same. And Marian’s face had changed as well. It had transformed from a mask of fear one moment to that of anger and hatred the next.
“I simply cannot understand why anyone would do this,” she whispered.
“Me neither,” Indiana said. “But I will find out. You have my word on it.”
Marian regarded him with large, frightened eyes. “Is this truly Stan’s fault?” she whispered.
“That’s nonsense,” said Indiana.
“It’s his fault,” persisted Marian. “This would not have happened if he hadn’t come here. Or if he had simply given this criminal what he wanted in the first place. I should have made him do so.”
“Nonsense!” Indiana contradicted again, this time more forcefully than before. “You have nothing to do with this, just like me.”
Marian shook her head. Her lips trembled and her face lost color. “Maybe I…I could have prevented it,” she murmured. “I could have talked to him. Perhaps…” she broke off. Her eyes fluttered, and for a tiny moment Indiana thought she was going to lose control. But then she calmed down again.
“Of course. You are right,” she muttered. “Sorry.”
“It’s nothing” said Indiana.
Marian smiled sadly. “I feel so helpless. If only I could help these people.”
“Reuben’s men are bringing medicine and supplies,” said Indiana. “Maybe we can at least help them with their pain.”
“I don’t think so,” answered Marian. “All of this should have never happened. I could have stopped Ramos.”
Indiana pointed at his arm with a tormented smile. Since his jump off the ship, his arm hurt hellishly. “You have already tried,” he said ironically. “I am very glad. Otherwise I might be dead now.”
Marian fought back a smile, but her eyes remained serious, and Indiana saw tears gleam in them. All of a sudden he felt as helpless as Marian, but for a different reason.
I have about 35 more pages translated after this. This post brings the chapters up to the one titled 22 June 1943, of which the additional 35 pages I have comprise. Once posted it will bring the book to about 2/3rds complete. I hope people are still interested in this thread. I know its been YEARS since this project started. I believe JuniorJones has gone on to other projects, so if anyone is willing to step in and translate let me know. I have painstakingly taken his translations and reworded to make the novel read coherently from one voice. I will be willing to do that with anyone else's input as well. My plan is to take the finished product and make it available similar to the Labyrinth of Horus from years back with the original cover art etc.
On a side note due to job etc I am frequently without internet or a computer for up to two weeks at a time.
It was late into the night before they had managed to provide a little help and comfort to the worst of the wounded. But it was just as Indiana had feared – there wasn’t much they could do for these people. At least half of those who Indiana, Marian, and Henley (who had proved to be incredibly adept at such matters) had administered fresh dressing, ointments, and painkillers would die within a few days for sure. Indiana felt even more helpless and depressed than before, and his anger for Ramos and his men deepened to something that the thought had to border on hatred, a thought that frightened him. And at the same time, he tried to understand what would cause those men to do something as vile as this. He knew Ramos was crazy and completely without conscience, but even a madman usually needed a good reason to do something like this, even if it was just to feed his vanity. Perhaps that was what it was.
It was long after midnight when he emerged from the burned rotunda, exhausted, and leaned against the wall near the doorway to take in a long deep breath of the cool oxygen-rich night air. The smell of fire and ashes still clung to his nostrils, but at least the stench of death and pain wasn’t so intense out there. He longed for a strong cup of coffee, or better yet, a shot of whiskey.
With tired, burning eyes he took a look around the clearing. The moon was a thin, pale crescent hanging in the sky, giving off almost no discernible light. But the natives had lit several fires in the village, and light glimmered inside the few huts that remained standing. It was obvious that no one was getting any sleep that night.
After a few minutes he realized that maybe that was an assumption as well. He noticed that most of the fires were lit at the opposite end of the village clearing. The shadows that moved across the trees at the edge of the village moved in what at first seemed a hectic and pointless manner. It wasn’t until he noticed the faint sound of music that he realized there was actually a rhythmic quality to the movements. The music was a quiet atonal music made up of the soft pounding of drums and the plaintive notes of a flute, with the rise and fall of humming from native throats intermingled that seemed to come from a different song. Indiana hesitated. He was tired, and more exhausted than he could remember being in his entire life. And he was well aware that he was being watched by more than one pair of suspicious eyes even though he could not discern any natives near him. But the events at the far end of the clearing had captured his curiosity. And it was more than the scientist in him that wanted to see more. Something told him that the vent was important.
He looked around again, but found that he seemed to be alone despite the uneasy feeling of being watched. After the Aymara had overcome their distrust, they proved to be a friendly and helpful people, to be supportive to them. The chief had no objection to Reuben when he asked to bring his men and equipment off the ship to the village. Yet Indiana had noticed that two or three native warriors always remained close to each white man, nor did it elude him that this warrior was armed and ready at all times to use his weapons. It was not that he did not understand this behavior. He couldn’t bring himself to disapprove it either. But it wasn’t a pleasant feeling knowing that at any second he could find the poisoned end of an arrow in his back.
He banished the thought and walked across the clearing to the firelight and the dancing shadows. The pounding of the drums grew louder. Indiana guessed the dancing shadows to be those of fifteen or twenty Aymara warriors painted with colorful tones, each with a magnificent headdress made of various colorful bird feathers danced around three evenly spaced fires to the beat of the drums. Although the flames were high, they did not put off much light. They also couldn’t be radiating a lot of heat, because standing in the middle of the fire triangle stood the old chief. His lips moved to the music of the drums and flutes, but the rest of his body remained completely motionless, his arms and face turned up to the stars.
As he approached to about ten feet of the fire ceremony, a figure stepped out of the darkness nearby and lifted his arm. Indiana stopped as he saw Reuben. He wanted to say something, but the FBI agent hastily shook his head and motioned for him to remain quiet, then he walked toward the fire. Indiana followed him closer to the dancing natives and the ceremony unfolding.
“What are they doing?” Indiana asked with a gesture to the Aymara.
Reuben shrugged. “I was hoping you could answer that question,” he said.
Indiana again looked attentively at the fire. The natives moved frantically with twitching and choppy steps. Their arms were flailing wildly in all directions. Occasionally they uttered small, sharp cries, mingles with the eerie sound of the music that almost seemed dismal.
“It seems to be some kind of prayer,” muttered Reuben. “Maybe they are begging their gods for help.”
Indiana shook his head. “No, I don’t think so,” he murmured. “This is something else…”
He had seen many native dances, both known and unknown. Some were forbidden and others were solely for the purpose of entertaining white researchers. But this was something different. The music and the song of the natives, which at first seemed independent of each other, had inaudible melodies that combined into what he could only describe as a menacing and aggressive sound. Yet at the same time he didn’t think it was a war dance. “I don’t know,” he said again. “But I think it’s better if we don’t disturb it.”
Reuben looked at him with uncertainty, but after he took another view of the ceremony it seemed to convince him Indiana was right. Maybe it was the sinister specter of the chief standing motionless between the flames that made them uneasy.
They went back. Reuben led Indiana to one of the few still-standing large cabins. The Aymara had cleared it for Reuben’s men and equipment. They were camped at the rear of the building. The first third or so of the room after entering the door had become a makeshift Goods Depot: obviously the ship’s hatches had been stuffed full with cargo. Indiana looked at the stack of crates and closely tied bales for a moment, searching unsuccessfully for any label or writing that might hint at its contents. To his surprise, he discovered something else: along with Reuben’s mercenaries there were two cops who had come along. One of them was stretched out asleep; snoring loudly like there was not going to be a tomorrow. But the other sat at a portable radio that had been set up on a small folding table. He occasionally pressed the telegraph key and listened from time to time, waiting on an answer to come through his headphones.
Indiana exchanged an alarming glance with Reuben. “What’s he doing?”
“We’re getting help from La Paz,” said Reuben. “In an hour or two, seaplanes with some doctors and medication will be here.”
Indiana was silent. Of course Reuben had made the right decision. There were not very many Aymara in the village who had escaped without injury. And they had neither the knowledge nor the resources themselves to give these people the necessary medical assistance they required. But he still did not like the idea. For some reason, he had a sinking feeling Reuben had arranged for more than simple medical assistance. But he kept his concerns to himself. He took one of the folded chairs and opened it, then took a seat at the table. Reuben sat down beside him.
“Are you hungry?” he asked.
Indiana grimaced. After what he had seen in the rotunda over the last few hours, he figured he would never eat again. But his growling stomach quickly changed that notion. He nodded, and Reuben got up. A few minutes later, Reuben returned with a piece of bread and two cans of sardines, which he fumbled with trying to open with a knife. Indiana watched him for a moment before taking the can and knife from him before he cut off a finger or stabbed himself in the eye.
“I want to know what the natives are doing there,” muttered Reuben, while Indiana began listlessly poking around in the fish box. “It’s kind of…” His voice trailed off as he searched for the words.
“Scary?” helped Indiana since Reuben did not finish the sentence.
“Right,” said the FBI agent. He smiled uncertainly. “I thought you were a specialist in these things.”
“What?” said Indiana as he broke off a piece from the bread loaf. “In weird things? Or native dances?”
Reuben smiled dutifully, but his eyes remained cold. “You know, Jones,” he said, “the worst part is to inform you that I am just not sure of you. I still don’t know on which side you stand. Are you here to rescue your friend and help us?”
“I’m here, right?” said Indiana.
Reuben glared at him, but decided against pursuing any further. He watched Indiana for quite a while in silence while he ate. Finally, he continued on a different subject. “I spoke with the chief again,” he said.
Indiana looked at him wordlessly.
“He sticks to his story,” continued Reuben. “Supposedly Ramos and his men opened fire for no reason. That’s all he would tell me. But Ramos won’t get away with it.”
Reuben jerked his head to the police officer, who was still sitting in front of the radio tapping out the Morse code key.
“We’re running around in circles here, Dr. Jones,” he said. “It’s gone beyond simply freeing Mr. Brody and putting Ramos behind bars. That is no longer the only question.”
“I’m afraid you do not understand the seriousness of the situation,” explained Reuben. “Ramos is an American citizen. And he attacked a native village and killed more than a dozen people.”
“And this is something the Bolivian government doesn’t want to see happen,” Indiana suggested sarcastically. “Even if it is only a few natives.”
Reuben remained serious. “Imagine if a Bolivian gangster came to Texas and invaded a small town. We wouldn’t even give them time to sit down. This situation complicates the entire matter.”
“Until now, this was more or less a discrete operation. He smiled briefly when he saw Indiana throw a doubtful look at the police officers. “The police chief of Trinidad…let’s just say he owes me a favor,” he said. “But now he can no longer hide the fact that we are here. Presumably the aircraft coming will bring only a doctor and a few boxes of medication and drugs. But I’ll bet a boat from Trinidad will be right on its tail, probably getting here no later than tomorrow morning. A half-hour later, this place will be crawling with police and possibly military. We have to be gone by then.”
Indiana was not very surprised. On the contrary, what had surprised him was the fact that Reuben allowed them to stay this long to help the natives even though Ramos’ lead had grown by several hours. However, Indiana disagreed.
“That’s impossible. The men are exhausted. You can’t demand a march through the jungle like that out of them now.”
“Says who?” Reuben disputed.
Indiana looked at him quizzically.
Reuben smiled, convinced. He took a quick glance to ensure the police officer still had the bulky headphones on, and then continued in a low voice, almost a whisper. “They are sending two planes, Dr. Jones. I suggest we…borrow one of them.”
“You mean steal,” suggested Indiana.
Reuben made a dismissive gesture. “Call it whatever you want. You know what this is about. I would steal the crown jewels of England if I had to. Can I count on your help?”
“With what? To steal the plane?"
This time Reuben’s anger was apparent. “No,” he answered sharply, and a little louder. “For something like that we have specialists.” He made a motion across the room to the mercenaries. “But the plane is useless to us if we don’t know where we are going. I ask you again to talk to the chief. Perhaps you can convince him that he must tell us the truth.”
“You think he knows where Ramos and Corda have gone?”
“Maybe,” said Reuben with a shrug. “To be honest, it’s our only hope. If we don’t find their trail soon, we might as well turn back.”
“You mentioned before that Reuben brought a truck,” recalled Indiana. “A vehicle like that leaves traces. Especially in the jungle.”
Reuben nodded. “Theoretically, yes,” he said. “But in practicality not so much. The soil here is so dense that not even a tank would leave much of a trail. The jungle is very dense, but not particularly wide. It’s actually only a narrow strip off each side of the river. We know they headed north, but that’s about it.”
“I don’t even speak their language,” said Indiana, back to the subject of speaking with the chief.
“But he speaks ours,” Reuben reminded him. Indiana looked up. Reuben smiled and leaned over and fished into Indiana’s last can of sardines with the jack-knife’s tip. “Like I said earlier – I spoke to him. He speaks very good English, but he preferred to pretend not to understand us at first. The man may be old, but he is not stupid.”
“I can try,” said Indiana. “But no promises.”
“I’m not asking for any,” Reuben said, chewing. Almost casually, he added: “Oh, yeah, there’s something else, too.”
“Marian Corda,” said Reuben. “I think it’s better if she stays here.”
“I’m afraid that once again I disagree,” said Indiana.
“I’m sure. But I can’t take any chances.” His voice was urgent. “Look around you, Jones. What happened here is just a taste of what awaits us. Ramos doesn’t give a damn about a man – or woman’s – life. You really want to expose her to such danger?”
“She won’t stay here,” sighed Indiana, knowing Reuben was right.
“The thing is, she won’t know. We’ll be gone before she realizes what happened.”
Reuben explained that Marian Corda’s motives were still not obvious. He felt as if she were hiding something. Indiana was about to answer when he heard a sharp cry, followed by a surprise yelp and the muted impact of a falling body. For half a second Indiana and Reuben looked at each other in surprise, then they both jumped to their feet at the same time and stormed out of the hut, followed by three or four mercenaries who grabbed their weapons as they ran out the doorway.
Indiana was on top of Reuben’s heels, and he almost bumped into him as the FBI agent stopped suddenly and bent down to a man crumpled on the ground near the door. In the dim glow of the fires in the distance Indiana realized that it was Henley. He was bleeding from a nasty gash over his left eye. he was dazed, but conscious. Painfully he raised his hand and gestured toward the edge of the forest.
Reuben spurted forth. Indiana and the mercenaries followed him, although Indiana had already secretly decided that it would be a fruitless search. In the prevailing darkness, they could get within a few feet of the man who had attacked Henley and not even see him. But suddenly one of Reuben’s mercenaries let out a sharp cry, pointed to the left, and ran around Indiana and the others because he thought he saw a shadow hastily retreat into the jungle.
“Hold it!” cried Reuben. The shadow moved even more hectic and disappeared into the blackness of the forest’s edge, while Reuben drew his pistol and still fired a warning shot.
The shot rang out in the dead of the night like cannon fire. The natives immediately stopped singing, and an unnatural silence momentarily spread over the village. Then came a chorus of screaming, excited by the calling of voices to each other. And suddenly people were hurrying from all directions toward them.
Reuben ignored it once, but ran on. Indiana redoubled his efforts to avoid falling behind. The shadow was now completely gone, but hey heard the breaking of branches and undergrowth emanating from the forest – then suddenly a little scream!
Indiana’s heart gave a startled jump as he recognized the voice. "Marian!"
“Marian,” he shouted. Fear gave him extra strength. He reached out quickly and sprinted past Reuben and his men. He was the first to reach the trees – and almost tripped over a body curled up in the undergrowth. It was Marian. She was trembling as Indiana knelt beside her and faced her. Her skin was as pale as a corpse, her eyes large and dark with fear. At first she seemed to not even recognize Indiana as she jumped back, frightened by him. She buried her face into the palms of her hands, but then Indiana softly spoke her name. The fear raced from her eyes as she recognized him.
“Marian?” said Indiana. “What happened? What are you doing out here?”
Reuben and the others finally caught up. The FBI agent stopped, but the three mercenaries continued and broke splintering through the underbrush. Reuben slowly made his way next to them.
“What happened?” Indiana heard her frightened tone. He tried to reassure her. “I don’t know,” she murmured, bewildered. “I…I wanted to grab some fresh air. I just had to get and. And suddenly…I heard footsteps and people shouting. And then someone came up and knocked me down.”
“A man?” interjected Reuben. “What kind of man? A native? Or a white man?”
Marian shook her head unhappily. “I don’t know,” she admitted. “It all happened so terribly fast. I only saw a shadow.”
Reuben started to ask another question, but Indiana cut him off. “I think she didn’t see anything,” he said. “We should ask Henley. He may have seen more.”
“Maybe not,” said a voice coming up behind them. Indiana and Reuben turned around at the same time and saw the second FBI agent had followed them into the underbrush. He was still pale. The gash over his eye was bleeding profusely, and it seemed serious, but his eyes were clear again. “I didn’t see anything. It was just as she said. I thought I saw a shadow, then I was knocked to the ground.”
“Perhaps one of the natives,” Reuben said. “They are watching us.”
“I’m not so sure,” said Indiana. “They could have easily snuck into the huts in the darkness and attacked us.”
Reuben shot Indiana an uncertain glance, but before he could say anything more Aymara natives came running from the village, and many of them had re-armed themselves and had the same grim expression on their faces as they had when they arrived at the river earlier.
“This can’t be good,” Indiana mumbled.
Reuben turned to see what the commotion was, and when he saw the advancing native he made a soothing gesture with his hands. It wasn’t working. The natives kept coming closer, and the threatening tone in their grumbles was becoming more apparent. Just when it seemed like the natives were ready to attack, the old chief came out of the darkness and motioned for them to remain calm. The warriors stepped back a little to let the chief through, then encircled Reuben, Indiana, and the rest of the group.
Reuben gushed a few hasty words in the native dialect of the Aymara, and the old man replied back in the same language. The he paused as he looked back and forth between Indiana, Marian, and Henley, then thoughtfully moved seamlessly into a slow but almost unaccented English.
“Mr. Reuben, we will talk in your language so your friends know what we say. Why did you shoot?”
“That was just a warning shot,” explained Reuben. He looked and sounded nervous, and one look into the dark expressions on the Aymara confirmed that he had every reason to be. They were on thin ice, and Indiana felt like it was about to crack. Although they had just helped the natives, the distrust among the villagers could not be appeased for long. Perhaps it would never be again.
“A warning shot? Why?”
Reuben pointed to the bloodied left side of Henley’s face. “Someone has attacked and hurt my colleague here. And also Mrs. Corda. Someone was trying to listen in on us, and Henley surprised them.” He hesitated for a brief moment, then bluntly asked: “Was it one of your warriors?”
For a second, the old man glared contemptuously at Reuben. “If we wanted you dead, white man, you would have never set foot in our village.”
“That’s not what I meant,” stammered Reuben nervously. “But it’s-“
“I am sure it wasn’t one of your warriors,” chimed in Indiana. “But maybe one of your people saw something or someone that doesn’t belong here.”
Indiana tried to discern the old man’s thoughts in the silence that followed, but only saw contempt in the old man’s eyes. Finally the old man turned slightly to one of the warriors who had positioned themselves behind Reuben and asked a question in his native language, to which the warrior responded with a head shake and a gesture Indiana surmised could only mean a violent resolution to the situation at hand.
“No one has seen anything,” said the chief. “I have ordered my village to treat you as guests. We do not listen in on what our guests say in the comfort of their quarters.” With an abrupt movement, he spun around to leave.
Chief!” Indiana called after him.
The Aymara stopped. He did not turn around to face Indiana, but he turned his head enough for Indiana to see his icy stare. It was enough that froze Indiana for a second before finally gathering the courage to approach the old man. He stopped as one of the warriors intervened quickly with a threatening gesture of his spear.
“Please, listen to me,” began Indiana. “You have to trust us. We are not your enemies. But the men who did this to your people,” he made a sweeping gesture around indicating the burnt-out huts and wounded villagers, “they are. And the one we have just chased probably belongs to them.”
The reaction on the face of the chief proved that the old man’s deliberations had led him to the same conclusion. Amazingly he remained emotionless, registering no fear or fright at the prospect even though their first encounter with Ramos and his men had almost led to the destruction of his tribe.
“I think they might come back," Indiana continued. "Whatever it is they seek in the jungle, it is likely not to be found. In that case, Ramos and his men will return to find out what you know.”
“The forest is large,” agreed the chief. “And it hides its secrets well.”
“So you know what they are looking for,” persisted Reuben.
The chief did not answer immediately. He did not even look at Reuben. His eyes remained fixed on Indiana. “There are things people should not know,” he replied cryptically. “And there are things that people already know and are better to remember for all time.”
“Ramos will come again,” said Indiana seriously. “He will wipe out this entire tribe if you do not tell him what he wants to know.”
“If it is the will of the gods, then it will happen,” confirmed the Aymara chief. Indiana began to respond, but the old man quickly raised his hand and continued. “It is useless for you to talk further. We would see all white men dead before revealing the secrets of our people to them.”
The openness of the answer surprised Indiana. After the persistent silence from the Aymara all day, he now understood. The old man viewed all white men the same: thieves who come to steal their secrets away. This admission made Indiana realize that this what the old man and his people thought of them as well.
“I understand,” Indiana said. “And I ask you to believe me: I feel the same as you. No man has the right to interfere in the sacred rights of other nations.”
“Then why are you here?”
“Because not everyone thinks like us,” said Indiana. “The man who was here before, and those that followed him, are bad people. Criminals and murderers. They will not rest until they have found what they are looking for. Do you really want your people to endure more suffering?"
The old man smiled. “And you think that will not happen if I tell you what I would not tell them?”
“Maybe,” replied Indiana.
Indiana pointed to the two FBI agents, then with his thumb pointed to himself. “Because we might be able to stop them. And because it’s not fortune and glory that we seek. We seek justice.”
“Justice…” the old man smiled again, and this time it was a melancholy smile. “From your mouth, the words sound different than from your companion,” he gestured to Reuben. “I believe you. I think you are a man of honor. But we vowed to keep the secret.”
Reuben took a step next to Indiana. He wanted to approach the chief, but Indiana grabbed him by the shoulder and shook his head. “It’s pointless to keep asking,” he said. “Let him be. He will not answer.”
Reuben missed the lightning from the stares coming his direction from the old man. He held back whatever was on the tip of his tongue. His lips formed into a thin, angry line. He turned to old man. “Thank you, chief,” he said, holding back whatever had been on the tip of his tongue before. “I promise you, despite everything, we will find the men who did this to your people. And we will punish them.”
Reuben turned back to Indiana. “Have you gone mad, Jones?” he said angrily as the old man and his companions disappeared back into the darkness. “How do you think we will find Ramos? Do you have any idea how big this forest is? The old man was our only chance. You should have asked him with a little more determination.”
Reuben’s face darkened by several degrees, and Indiana sensed the impending outburst so he hastily went on. “I think there is another way.”
Indiana paused for a moment. He wanted to ensure they were alone. He looked around and saw that the natives had left as quickly as they had appeared. His eyes had grown accustomed to the darkness, so he looked around once more to be certain no one else was near. He still had the intense feeling of being watched. Instinctively, he lowered his voice as he answered. “Earlier, when we observed the native ceremony,” he said. “Did you not notice?”
Reuben shook his head, not quite following.
“I think I know which direction to start looking,” continued Indiana.
Reuben looked at him attentively, waiting for a further explanation. But Indiana said nothing. He simply smiled fleetingly, then turned to Marian and escorted her back to the hut.
It was one of those lingering thoughts that wouldn’t go away. Like there was something he was missing, but it was just out of reach. Also, it was no accident he had left Reuben without another word, fuming in anger. He had noticed something odd at the site where the natives had been dancing and conducting their ceremony; something odd especially in the way the chief had been acting, but he was not exactly sure what it was. Nevertheless, he was sure it was an important clue in finding the whereabouts of Ramos and his gang, and he was not going to waste any more time. His subconscious wanted to tell him something, to fill in that something he was missing. It was a familiar feeling. He had the talent of recognizing something of importance. It was just a matter of figuring out what it meant. For at least the next two hours the moment never came where the secret was revealed. They had gone back to the hut that acted as Reuben’s temporary headquarters, and Indiana’s conjecture proved correct – as long as they were in the vicinity of the two Bolivian police officers and the rest of the mercenaries, the FBI agents didn’t bother to pursue the meaning of what he had said to Reuben. They simply pierced him with their angry stares. Indiana always returned the stares with the same acknowledgement, a friendly smile, until he decided to use the remaining time before the arrival of the aircraft to catch some shut-eye that he had been denying his body for far too long.
It was a little more than two hours later when the two flying machines Reuben had been expecting were heard overhead. The sound of the engines overhead generated a nervous excitement among the Aymara, causing them to noisily move about the village. Indiana re-awakened. Startled by the natives, he sat up. At first he though Ramos and his gang had returned to finish the destruction they had started three days ago. But when he heard the low hum of the aircraft engines over the river, he relaxed. It was a half-hour walk to where they would be anchoring in the river. Half-asleep, he remembered why the policemen had used the radio.
Still a little dazed, he turned to wake up Marian, who had lain down beside him on one of the makeshift cots.
She was not there.
Indiana blinked, then rubbed the sleep from his eyes with his knuckles. He looked again, this time much more attentive to the hut and his surroundings. With the exception of a single snoring mercenary, he was alone. Apparently everyone else had heard the airplanes and left the hut already. He jumped up and left the hut with a mixture of resignation and anger. It was still dark but getting lighter outside, and all the fires had been extinguished except for two. The whole tribe seemed to be on its feet, and in the distance he saw Reuben and Henley, who was clearly gesturing to the chief as he tried to explain what was causing the noise overhead. Automatically Indiana scanned the grounds for Marian, but he did not see here anywhere. He was worried, but accepted the fact that after last night’s experience she had to be acting more cautiously now.
When Indiana reached the small group of men with Reuben. He walked straight to the chief, who raised his head proudly. Reuben looked at Indiana with a dark glare. Indiana asked him a question, but Reuben only responded with a rude head movement in the direction of the river.
“The planes are there,” he said unnecessarily. “We should go and meet them. I am sure they could use some help unloading.”
Indiana looked quizzically at Reuben, who responded with an almost imploring glance. Indiana understood immediately. One of the two Bolivian police officers was in earshot of their conversation, as well as three or four of the mercenaries. Indiana realized Reuben was not giving up. Obviously he intended to keep his plan of seizing one of the planes – a plan which Indiana thought was a little crazy – secret. Indiana not only wondered where they were supposed to take the aircraft, but also who was going to fly it. Indiana struggled to control his desire to let Reuben know how crazy he thought the idea was. He held it in until they had left the clearing, and to some degree had penetrated the forest.
Then he voiced his concern out loud. “This is crazy. Are you still going through with this crackpot plan?”
Reuben reacted like a kid who had been caught red-handed doing something wrong, and he hastily looked around in all directions even though it was so dark you could barely make out the proverbial hand in front of the face. “First of all, we have to get the hell out of here,” he said after a considerable amount of silence. The tone in his voice made it clear that Indiana was lucky he answered at all. “If the Bolivian authorities take the lead on this operation, then we will lose all chances of getting Ramos. Not to mention finding Professor Corda.” He threw a sideways glance at Indiana, then added in a lurking tone. “And what about Mr. Brody? Isn’t his life worth a damn?”
Indiana knew Ramos was only too right. But it did not change the fact that Indiana was uncomfortable in his own skin for the part he had to play in the plan. A trek though the Bolivian rain forest for a bad man like Ramos and an armed gang with machine guns and flamethrowers was bad enough. But the idea that they were about to engage in a race with the Bolivian police, or even worse, the Bolivian military, drove a cold chill down his spine. But he kept all of these thoughts to himself, saying nothing else to Reuben about the matter. On one hand, the FBI-man was right. If Ramos felt the slightest hint that he was in danger, he would surely take it out on poor Marcus. Indiana knew that his old friend’s life wasn’t worth a penny to the madman. Indiana would , without hesitation, sacrifice his own life for that of his friend.
It took somewhat longer the darkness to make it back from the village to the river , and as artificial man-made light began to trickle through the brush as they approached the water, they could hear the noise from the aircraft engines penetrating the rainforest canopy. They veered somewhat off the straight path to the river, spreading out from their single file line and approached the two seaplanes in a wide arc.
There were two large, heavy looking machines moored in the water. They looked more like boats with wings than planes, Indiana thought. One of them had already started unloading: a large number of men crowded around the cargo that had been piled upon the shore in the darkness. Indiana saw the occasional pass of a flashlight beam and heard Spanish word fragments as they got closer. Reuben gestured him and the others to remain quiet, and they retreated back into the jungle. The small group crouched in the brush, and Reuben crept back closer to the planes with Indiana following behind. He motioned for Indiana to wait for him, then he cleverly used the surroundings as cover until he disappeared. He was gone for barely a minute before returning. The expression on his face showed he was not only anxious but also concerned.
“Problems?” said Indiana without gloating.
Reuben shot him an angry look. “They are better organized and will be able to respond much quicker than I thought,” he admitted. “Some of them are cops. And I’m pretty sure I heard them mention a third plane is on the way here.”
He stared gloomily past Indiana into void, lost in thought. Then he gave himself a visible shake and turned to one of the men. “Where are the others?”
“In position.” The mercenary pointed down the river. “They are waiting for your signal.”
“Not yet,” said Reuben. “We have to wait. There are at least twenty men.”
“That’s no problem,” said the mercenary. “We have the element of surprise on our side, and -“
“Quiet!” Reuben interrupted him sharply. “I am not going to engage in a firefight with the Bolivian police, you fool! We wait. With any luck, they’ll head to the villager soon and leave behind only a guard or two.”
The man dropped his eyes and withdrew a few precautionary steps. Indiana worked his way a safe distance back into the forest, then leaned against a tree. After a while Reuben, who was now accompanied by Henley, joined him.
Indiana jerked his head toward the seaplanes. “You want to grab that thing, then hope Ramos is nice enough to signal us with light so we know where he is?”
He could see Reuben’s angry glare, even in the darkness. “We’re not as dumb as you seem to think, Dr. Jones,” Reuben replied, offended. “I admit that it would have been much easier if we had brought the chief to talk to them, but there are other options.”
Reuben did not answer but wrapped himself in offended silence. But his colleague, Henley, seemed more accessible. “We have a pretty good idea of the area where Corda and Ramos want to go,” he said.
“And?” They had Indiana’s attention. “How?”
“Well, for example, by the things they have taken,” said Henley, ignoring Reuben’s furious look. “Corda and his men have an off-road truck with them. Not necessarily the ideal vehicle to trek through the jungle with, right?”
“You have a point,” said Indiana.
Henley smiled and shook his head as he lit a cigarette before speaking again. He took a quick drag, then shot a startled glance back towards the river as he threw the cigarette to the ground and stomped it out. “He also has a lot of mountain-climbing gear.”
“Jungle, water, and rocks,” countered Indiana. “There is plenty of each here,” he indicated around him by raising his hands, palm upward, from his sides.
“But not all in close proximity,” insisted Henley. “That narrows their choice of targets quite considerably.” He hesitated a brief moment. Then he lowered his hands to a pack buckled to the belt on his waist. He opened it and revealed a big metal box that appeared to be quite heavy. Indiana saw a scale and several buttons on its front. It also had a wand-like device attached by a cable. “Maybe we can find him with this.” It was a device used to detect radiation.
Reuben drew a sharp breath as he had realized what his partner had revealed, and looked as if he were about to reprimand Henley when Indiana jumped in.
“I know why you’re here. I figured it out yesterday.” Indiana jumped in.Reuben’s eyes narrowed. “How?”
“I am also not as dumb as you think,” said Indiana. “I am quite capable of putting two and two together.” Out of the corner of his eye, he saw that Henley’s initial surprise had clearly turned to relief. Reuben looked rather suspicious. And very upset.
“If you really know why we are here, Dr. Jones, then you must also know how important our mission is. There could be thousands of lives at stake. Maybe even millions.”
“There are some problems with your math. Your life doesn’t count, right?” Indiana asked with a gesture to the mercenaries. “Not to mention Marian’s. And mine. Think about it.”
“At the right place and time, these men you brought along might kill you,” explained Indiana. “I mean, they are mercenaries, right? Men who fight for money can also kill for money.”
“Enough, Dr. Jones,” Reuben said, laboriously controlling his voice. “I strongly advised you and Mrs. Corda to stay behind. You ignored me and came anyway. But if you understood what was going on, then you have no right to blame me now.”
“You know, Ruben,” Indiana replied calmly, in an almost friendly tone. “I haven’t trusted anything you have said from the beginning. And I think I know why. You and your colleague are here because it’s your job. You put yourself in mortal danger for God and country, and not necessarily in that order. I’m here because I still have unfinished business with Ramos, and I have a friend that needs to be freed. But these men,” he swept his hand around indicating the mercenaries, “they are here only for the money. How do you know you paid them enough if they don’t know exactly what you are doing or why you are here?”
“Why don’t you go back there and tell them?” Reuben replied coldly. “I keep asking myself over and over. On which side do you stand, Dr. Jones?”
“On yours,” Indiana replied with the same icy tone. “I’m just not sure if it is really the right one.”
“Quiet!” Henley said suddenly. The urgency in his voice caused Indiana and Reuben to become silent on the spot. They turned around back toward the river. Henley was pointing upriver. Although the dim starlight was not sufficient to see in great detail, they spotted a shadow begin to move. It was a blurred, indistinct spot in the dark, but it moved very slowly. After a few more seconds they heard a gentle lapping of water on the hull of a boat.
“Who’s that?” Indiana whispered.
Reuben shrugged and made a gesture to remain silent. The boat was still too far away to be more than a shadow in the night, but the shadow was far too large to be one of the canoes used by the Aymara villagers. It was also coming downstream, which was the opposite direction from the village.
Even the men who unloaded the second plane had begun to notice the intruder now. They stopped carrying boxes and crates from the fuselage and stopped on the swaying gangplank that connected the fuselage to land. They had turned toward the approaching shadow, then directed the beam from a large flashlight quivering across the river to get a better look at the newcomer.
The light paused for only a second on the shadow before the rapport of gunfire tore through the night. Someone called out, then the flashlight turned over two or three times before splashing into the water below and disappearing.
“What?” Reuben sputtered, startled by the sudden gunfire. The rest of his words were lost as they heard the sound of something crashing into the aircraft fuselage. More screams rang out, and two of the shadowy forms on the gangplank between the bank and the aircraft collapsed and fell into the water.
“Ramos,” shouted Henley. “This has to be Ramos!”
As if to confirm his words, the front of the newly arrived boat began glowing with an unbearably bright orange-white light, followed by a terrible hissing. A sudden arc of flame leaped from the bow of the boat to the forward-most seaplane. At the same time, a machine gun began to pound away. In the flickering light of the flamethrower you could make out miniature geysers as the bullets moved over the water towards the bank of the river where the men who had been unloading the boat began to scatter. A choir of shrill screams of pain and fear filled the air as two or three more figures collapsed. The rest leaped overboard into the water in an attempt to swim to safety.
The airplane burst into flames from the barrage of the flamethrower, the surface of the water transforming into a fiery spectacle that burned so brightly Indiana had to close his eyes to protect them. The explosion created a torrential wave that crashed into the second plane, causing it to momentarily lisp drastically in the water. The gangway broke away from the second flying vessel, spilling some men into the water. Burning flammable gel from the flamethrower spewed forth and ignited, raining down on the second plane now and setting it on fire. The sounds of a second machine gun salvo burst across the water, hammering the body of the aircraft. Suddenly the escape door of the airplane blew open and men poured out of the opening into the water trying to save themselves. The flamethrower discharged again, engulfing the body of the airplane in its fiery lance. A few seconds later the flames penetrated through the hull and made it inside. An explosion followed tearing the plane into pieces. In the brightness of the explosion, Indiana noticed the boat with Ramos and his men approached within thirty to forty meters of their location. Nearly a dozen men from the airplanes tried to get onboard from the river waters, but Ramos, at the nose of the boat, mowed them down in a hail of blood and bullets.
“What are you waiting for Reuben?” Indiana asked. “Tell your men…”
“Not yet,” Reuben cut him off. “Hold your fire!”
They observed quietly as the boat came closer. The burning wreckage of the airplanes lisping in the river provided a scene almost as bright as daylight. The flight crews were nowhere to be seen, and they were uncertain if they had made it out of the melee alive. Survivors of the insidious assault had fled into the jungle’s embrace. Indiana was relieved that the crews had not stayed and attempted to resist Ramos’s onslaught. Even though they had been lightly armed, there was no way they would have survived against Ramos’s mercenaries.
“We have them!” Reuben whispered excitedly. “They are running right into our arms.”
“Hopefully our men will keep their nerves,” murmured Henley nervously. He looked upriver, where Indiana assumed the second half of his small troop was positioned. Obviously Reuben had intended to ambush the airplanes from both sides, hijacking one of the planes and disabling the second so it could not follow. And Reuben’s plan might have worked, had Ramos not been hiding nearby. He must have observed the aircraft as they landed. It’s possible he had even been monitoring their radio communications and knew the schedules of their arrival. He might have even known that the aircraft carried armed troops as well as physicians and aides.
Suddenly Indiana’s attention broke.
“Marian!” he said, suddenly remembering he had not seen her in all of the excitement. “Where is Marian?”
“Still in the village,” Reuben replied, confused. “I thought you left her sleeping in the hut when we left.”
“No,” Indiana answered quickly. “I thought she was with you.”
Reuben’s lips moved in a silent curse. “I knew it was a mistake to bring her along,” he said. “But there is nothing we can do about it now.”
“She’s better off in the village,” Henley interjected quickly. “She’ll be safe there.”
Ramos’s boat slowly inched closer. With the motor off, the pilot gently steered it between the two burning airplanes. Two of Ramos’ mercenaries jumped into the water and guided the boat slowly to the shore with some ropes. The rest of the mercenaries jumped ashore once the boat settled against the riverbank. They formed a loose semicircle, there weapons at the ready. Ramos was the last to leave, stretching out his hands and someone assisted him to the bank. Indiana tried to count how many were there. The flickering shadows made it difficult to tell, but he estimated eight to ten men on the shore and a couple of more behind in the boat. Almost as many men as they had with them, and twice as many as Reuben had estimated.
Indiana began to feel increasingly uneasy. Although he wasn’t scared; he had known it would be dangerous as soon as he saw how ruthless Ramos could be in the burned village. But now it looked like he was getting caught up in the middle of a battle between two groups of mercenaries, and it wasn’t exactly where he wanted to be.
Reuben seemed to be able to read his thoughts. He suddenly turned to Indiana. “You stay here, Jones. This doesn’t concern you. We can handle this.”
The temptation to agree with Reuben was strong. Nevertheless, Indiana shook his head. “I didn’t come with you just to stand back and watch. I’m here to get Marcus.”
Reuben made an annoyed gesture. “Don’t you see? This lunatic probably has more men close by. And they can’t be very far behind, or this first group wouldn’t have made it here so fast. So you do as I say. You should have stayed behind and made sure Mrs. Corda was okay. Don’t interfere.”
Indiana wanted to disagree, but at the same instant he noticed a movement at the edge of the forest, a few steps away from Ramos’s troops. Suddenly a slender figure emerged from the undergrowth. All of them sucked in a gasp of air.
Marian Corda stepped calmly out of the shrubs and looked around. When she saw the group of men in front of her, she turned and headed toward them. It was Ramos’ men. In the darkness she must have thought it was Reuben and Indiana. Before Reuben or any of the other men could prevent it, Indiana stood to his feet and burst out of the underbrush. With a few words he shattered the silence. “Marian! No! That’s Ramos!”
The outburst spun Ramos’s men around. Marion recoiled in the middle of her step, realizing the grave error she had made. Despite the large distance Indiana recognized the fear in her eyes as she realized her mistake. But it was too late. She tried to take a quick step backwards, but two of the men had quickly cornered her, and four of the others had brought their weapons up to point directly at Indiana.
Indiana froze in his tracks when he saw the weapons pointed at him. Three of the goons had already fanned themselves out and began to run in his direction, being sure to keep their movements out of the field of fire of their comrades should they decide to shoot. Indiana admitted to himself that he might have made an error in judgment when he screamed out at Marian. But the insight was a little too late.
Ten seconds ago, his companions would have laughed had he said he wanted to hear Ramos’s voice. But he drew a deep breath now, relieved that Ramos had intervened. Indiana remained rigid, not even daring to lift his hands in surrender. Three men surrounded him and roughly grabbed him at gunpoint, pulling him towards the river bank. As he was dragged past Marian he caught a glimpse of her wide, fright-filled eyes. He could tell she was confused at what was happening. She was surprised to find Ramos and his killers still here.
Indiana might as well have been the blind one, not Ramos, for not seeing what came next. One of the goons grabbed his arm and violently twisted it upwards and behind his back. He groaned with pain as the rotation forced him to double over, when the man cracked his knee into Indy’s throat. Indiana fell helplessly to the ground, in pain and gasping for air.
“Not yet! Please treat our guest with respect, gentlemen.” Ramos said. “He should feel welcomed here.”
A riotous laughter from Ramos’s men answered. A thin, sinister smiled crossed Ramos’s disfigured face. He approached Indiana and stretched out his hand, groping Indiana’s face with his fingertips. “Actually, Dr. Jones, I am surprised to find you here. It is such a small world.”
He stepped aside and made a quick instructing gesture to his men. “Release him!”
The man who had twisted Indiana’s arm, hesitated and shot a disapproving glance at his boss. But a view from Ramos’s uncanny blind eyes caused him to release Indiana and hastily withdraw a half a step. Indiana could still feel the man’s presence nearby, and he could also sense at least three or four weapons still aimed directly at his back. He carefully stretched the kink out of his arm, then raised then above his head, palms outward, to show his hands were empty before he dared to slowly lower them back down. Someone stepped up from behind and roughly tore his whip from his belt and threw it to the ground.
Ramos tilted his head at the sound. “Your famous whip, I presume,” he said, bizarrely interpreting the sound of the whip as it hit the ground. He smiled humorlessly. “Please excuse the rough behavior of my men, Dr. Jones. But I was told that you know how to use this exotic weapon very well. And we wouldn’t want anyone here to get hurt, would we?”
“What do you want?” Indiana asked coarsely.
“Me?” Ramos twisted his face feigning surprise. “Oh, I must be profoundly confused. I thought it was you who came to me?”
“I see it differently,” grumbled Indiana. “But regardless, I would have come to you if you had not stopped me.”
“May I ask why?” Ramos asked in a friendly tone.
“Have you forgotten our last meeting?” Indiana answered. “We had an agreement, remember? I provided you with certain information, and now I am waiting for you to return the favor.”
“I remember,” Ramos responded. “And yes, we did have such an agreement. But then you came with a whole army, which was not part of the deal.”
Indiana was growing tired of the banter. “Where is Marcus?” he asked directly. “What have you done with him? And if something has happened to him, then I swear I will gladly kill you.”
Ramos acted as if he were offended. “What have I done? I ask you, Dr. Jones. What kind of person do you think I am? I am trying to be maintain a civilized conversation with someone who is smart enough to hold a halfway decent conversation in this god-forsaken jungle. You need not worry – Mr. Brody is being well-cared for. I assure you he is okay.”
“Where?” Indiana snapped. His thoughts drifted to Reuben. He was hoping Reuben’s men were encircling them now, so he had to divert Ramos and his gang long enough for them to tighten the noose.
“As I said,” Ramos replied, “Mr. Brody is okay. You will soon have the opportunity to talk with him yourself. But first, a question: where are your FBI friends who you and Mrs. Corda brought along?”
“You are well-informed,” said Indiana.
“My occupation requires me to be informed,” answered Ramos. “However, that is not the answer to the question I asked, Dr. Jones. For your sake – and Mrs. Corda’s – I hope those fools are not planning to try and stop us with a show of force. As you can see, we are quite large.” He swept out his hand indicating the large group of men around them.
“You’re not as safe as you think,” Indiana said, immediately dropping to his knees and falling forward. He rolled and kicked outward with his legs, slamming his feet into the nearest goon. An anguished cry rang out, and a short volley of machine pistol fire ripped into the ground next to his face as the goon inadvertently squeezed the trigger of his gun. Indiana pushed the man back with all the force he could muster, then immediately rolled again and grabbed Ramos’s ankles. Ramos gasped in surprise and flailed his arms, trying desperately to keep his balance, but Indiana tugged again at his legs and the force was too much. At the same time, three of his men rushed forward to Indiana and bombarded him with kicks and punches. Indiana let go as Ramos fell backwards. Ramos desperately grasped for anything to stop his fall. His hands settled on Marian, who was torn out of the goon’s arms who was holding her and she went to the ground with him.
Apparently this was the diversion Reuben and his companions had been waiting for. At the edge of the forest a volley of orange-red flames burst forth from a half-dozen locations. Ramos’s angry cry was drowned in the chaos of the shooting. The shots whipped up earth and mud-fountains around the bandits as they scrambled to comprehend the situation.
“Don’t move!” Rang out a commanding voice. “If you even twitch, you will be shot!”
The surprise was total. In the time Indiana had been speaking with Ramos, Reuben had been able to effectively distribute his small force in a semi-circle in the bushes near the shore behind Ramos’s goons. Ramos’s men, experts at murdering and killing, also seemed to comprehend their dire situation. It was futile to resist an enemy that you can’t even see. Only one of them was stupid enough to raise his weapon and make an untargeted salvo into the darkness of the vegetation and bushes. His resistance lasted less than a second before he was cut down by Reuben’s men.
Indiana pushed himself up from the ground through clenched teeth. His whole body ached from the blows and kicks he had to suffer. Nevertheless he crawled hastily to Ramos, seized him by the shoulders and yanked him roughly to his feet. Ramos gasped and began to lash out. Indiana slapped the man’s blind face with force, then yanked him around and put his arm around the blind man’s neck from behind with such violence Ramos could barely breathe.
“Tell them to surrender!” Indiana demanded.
Ramos struggled painfully for air. He began to fight back it became difficult for Indiana to hold him. “You’re crazy!” Ramos spat, gasping. “If you kill me, you die too!”
“That may be, “Indiana said flatly. “But I swear, you’re coming with me.”
“Put down your weapons!” urged Reuben from the bushes. “You have five seconds before we open fire!”
Indiana pushed himself up even more and increased the pressure on Ramos’s throat. The blind man wriggled in his grip and finally stopped resisting when he was on his last breath.
“Three seconds!” cried Reuben from the darkness. “I am serious!”
Another second ticked by, then another – and then the first of Ramos’s men gently lowered his machine gun to the ground and stood back up, his hands above his head. One after another followed his example. Indiana loosened his grip a little to allow Ramos to breathe. Ramos did not try and fight. Once his lungs had finally filled, he gasped at Indiana. “You’ll be sorry,” he said between breaths. “I wanted to be fair with you. But you have tricked me again. No one cheats me twice in a row. No one!”
The darkness at the forest’s edge suddenly teemed with life as Reuben’s men stepped out from the cover of the vegetation. The two FBI agents followed a few steps behind; Henley with his gun hinged over his elbow while Reuben had not even bothered to draw his weapon.
Indiana looked around for Marian. She too had gotten back to her feet and stood a few steps away. The expression on her face was still full of confusion and fear as she looked around to comprehend the situation. But she appeared unharmed, and when she met Indiana’s gaze she smiled laboriously. Then she looked in Ramos’s face and a shadow flitted across her features.
Indiana was happy she did not have a knife or weapon with her. He backed a step away, pulling Ramos with him as a precaution, and after a second when nothing happened he turned to the two FBI officials. Reuben approached without haste. His expression when he looked at Ramos was neither anger nor triumph; it was more like a scientific curiosity.
“Let go of him, Dr. Jones,” he said.
Indiana obeyed, but remained close behind Ramos in case he tried anything. Ramos had proven that despite the fact he was completely blind, he was perfectly capable of defending himself; a fact Indiana was reminded of by the aches and pains he was experiencing.
“There are two more on the ship,” Indiana said.
“I know.” Reuben turned to Henley and jerked his head toward the small boat. “Take care of it.”
Henley took two men with him to where the boat was docked. Reuben glanced at Ramos’s face for a second before turning to Marian. “That was not very smart of you, Mrs. Corda,” he said with a sigh. “I asked you to stay in the village.”
“I…had heard the commotion,” she defended with uncertain words. “And shots. I wanted to see what had happened.”
“You almost spoiled the entire thing,” said Reuben. “That was the second time you endangered yourself. I cannot keep watching over you like you are a child.”
“I know,” Marian said sheepishly. “I’m sorry!”
“I believe you. But it will do no good if next time there is no one to keep you safe. It was a stupid thing to do – the same for you Dr. Jones,” he added, diverting his gaze to Indiana.
Indy shrugged his shoulders defiantly. “Why? Someone had to distract Ramos and his gang, right?”
A mocking smile twisted Reuben’s lips. “You are right. But you rushed into the situation, and missed being shot by a hair.”
“It was a calculated risk,” Indiana said. “I was sure they would not kill me.” He lied.
Reuben seemed to want to argue, but saw that it would be futile. He turned his attention back to the blind man. “So you are Mr. Ramos,” he said. “I must confess, you are not what I… expected.”
Ramos defiantly pursed his lips. “Who are you?” He demanded.
“My name is Reuben. FBI. I could show you my ID card, but I see it would do no good. So you have to rely on my word.”
“FBI? You have no authority here. This is Bolivia, not America. You have no right to arrest me.”
“That’s true,” Reuben confessed quietly. “So we have a conundrum. Aside from that; we could leave you with the Aymara.”
Ramos did not answer.
“Although I am not so sure leaving you with them is a good idea. What do you think?”
Ramos remained silent, and Reuben stared at him angrily for a few seconds. Realizing the glare was lost on Ramos’s blind eyes, he continued. “I am not so sure the Bolivian authorities will treat you much better,” he continued. “As you said, Mr. Ramos, this is not America. The police in some of these South American countries employ shockingly primitive methods. I am sure you understand what I mean. I’m afraid that I will have to deliver you to them, however.”
Indiana watched Reuben, and was about to ask a question. The FBI agent made a rapid hand movement indicating for him to remain silent. Reuben continued after a short break with a slightly altered tone. “Why did you come back, Ramos? Why this second raid?”
“Why should I answer a single question from you?” Ramos replied defiantly.
“Well, there are several reasons,” Reuben continued. “One, for example, that I keep a gun in my hand aimed at you.”
Ramos laughed without humor. “Then it’s simple: shoot me – if you have the courage.”
“No,” said Reuben. “That would be too easy. I am afraid I must take you in, Ramos. Either to the Aymara or the Bolivian authorities. Unless…"
“Unless what?” asked Ramos, but Reuben did not continue immediately. He let the sentence intentionally hang in the air for several seconds.
“Unless you answer a few of my questions,” said Reuben. “And it would be better if you did not lie to me. Where is Professor Corda? Why are you looking for him, and what is he looking for here?”
Ramos remained silent.
“Think it over, Ramos.” Reuben said urgently. “And do it quickly. The men from that village you invaded are on their way here now. And I am afraid I cannot protect you from them.”
“You wouldn’t even if you could,” Ramos said. “But – are you telling me you will let me go after I answer your questions?"
“No,” Reuben replied seriously. “Certainly not. But maybe you should put some serious thought into the difference between Bolivian and American prisons, Mr. Ramos. It is likely a huge difference for a blind man.”
“No one puts me in jail,” Ramos said confidently.
Reuben ignored his response. “So? What do you think?”
“Leave him to me,” Marian said. Her voice trembled with anger. “I’ll make him talk.”
“Maybe that’s not such a bad idea,” Reuben mused, seeing he was getting nowhere with the man.
Ramos turned his face towards Marian’s voice. “I’ve done nothing with your husband, my dear,” he said. “And nothing to you. I have kept my word, right? You are free. And you, Dr. Jones – “ he turned to Indiana. “You should really think about whether you will leave me with these FBI officials. I give you my word that Marcus Brody dies if I am not back in our warehouse by sunrise.”
Indiana was about to reply, but Reuben interrupted him. “This will not help your situation, Ramos,” he said angrily. “Dr. Jones understands that I cannot consider Mr. Brody’s life. I’m afraid even you do not understand how big this is. It’s bigger than you, Ramos!”
The door on the boat opened in the distance behind them. “There’s no one,” Henley called a she stepped outside. “They must have beat feet into the jungle.”
Reuben frowned and said nothing, but threw a nervous glance over his shoulder into the brush. Indiana was not sure whether it was nerves or reality, but he thought he heard muffled voices of people sneaking closer.
“Decide Ramos,” said Reuben. “I do not promise your freedom. You will spend the rest of your life in prison – but it is up to you whether it will be an American prison or a Bolivian one. And think about your answer well. The people here do not particularly like Americans. And after what you’ve done here, I probably don’t need to tell you what they will do to you.”
“You…You’re not really going to make a deal with this…monster, are you?” asked Marian stunned.
“Are you listening, Mrs. Corda,” said Reuben. “I am just promising to keep him alive, nothing more. If we leave it to the natives and turn him over to them, we might not be able to find your husband.”
Indiana turned his head sharply. The voices and sounds from earlier were getting louder. He was no longer skeptical if they were real or not. Indiana recalled that only eight or ten men had fled into the jungle earlier, but whatever was moving through the undergrowth sounded more like an army.
And it probably was.
“You should probably get reasonable very quick,” Reuben said to Ramos, hearing the sounds as well. He directed his attention over to Indiana. “You take them to the boat, and quickly!”
“What are you going to do?” Asked Indiana suspiciously.
“I am going to get away from here,” said Reuben, “before it’s teeming with crazy natives looking for revenge. He gestured with his head toward the boat. “Hurry up. I will try and stop them somehow. And keep an eye on Mrs. Corda. I need Ramos alive, and I fear she may have other plans for him.”
Indiana nodded, then hurried them all toward the boat. Indiana took the need to watch Ramos seriously, even though logic said that a blind man would be foolish to escape into the jungle alone. Nonetheless, his eyes remained on the man every second of the way to the boat.
They scurried across the swaying gang plank to board the vessel, and Indiana made sure to remain in between Marian and Ramos every step of the way. They huddles into the wheelhouse, and Indiana worked fervently with Henley to get the boat started. Ramos’s men had been disarmed and tied up and were being guarded by the rest of Reuben’s men. They crowded into a room below deck.
Just as the small auxiliary diesel motor revved to life and began pushing them out into the river, the first Aymara emerged from the jungle. Reuben’s attempt to stop the natives had apparently failed miserably, because he was running in giant leaps and it was clearly evident he was fleeing in front of them. The small ship began to shake and move clumsily backwards. At the last moment, Reuben bounded across the gangplank, reached the railing and yanked himself over a hasty movement. He kicked the gangplank away. The closest Aymara fell into the river as the gangplank fell away. Two or three others tried to reach the vessel with a leap, but fell into the river arms flailing. Another made the leap and managed to grab the railing and tried to pull himself up. Reuben gave him a blow to the fingers with the butt of his gun, and the native toppled backwards into the dark waters. They were finally far enough from shore to get sucked into the flow and drive faster out to midstream.
It took the boiler a good half an hour to heat up enough to have enough power to fight the currents for an appreciable ride. The small auxiliary diesel was by no means strong enough to effectively drive the iron boat, so it would be quite a considerable time before they made it to the site. Thankfully it was strong enough to keep them midstream in the river. Reuben had placed two powerful lights on the boat: one at the bow and one at the stern. He kept the beams pointed at the waters, and a few times had revealed floating Aymara that had tried, in spite of the flow, to reach the boat. Reuben fired off a few warning shots at them to deter them from coming closer, and they actually had turned around. But Indiana only breathed a sigh of relief after the ship had finally seemed to settle into its optimal performance, as best as they would get with the small engine, and began to leave Aymara territory. He did not give in to the illusion that they were safe by any means – if not the Indians, the Bolivian authorities would take up their chase. Because Ramos’s men had destroyed the two planes, they had a head start, but it wasn’t very much. Reuben had said himself that a third plane was en route to them, and they was still a radio back on the inoperable planes as well as two policemen who had remained in the village. Their only protection was the darkness.
Reuben’s face was covered by a very worried expression as he closed the wheelhouse door behind him. He was rubbing his hands together, shivering. The night on the river was very cold.
“That was close,” he said.
“I’m afraid that it isn’t over,” Henley added, who had taken the helm, trying to keep the ship in the almost complete darkness in midstream. Now and then he left the headlights flare in the bow. “I don’t think they’ll let us get away so easily. Not after what these criminals did to their people.”
“They will not follow us,” said Ramos. These were the first words he had spoken since Indiana had brought him onboard.
“Why are you so sure?” Asked Reuben, lurking.
“The river here is taboo for them,” said Ramos. They would not come here even if the devil was behind them.”
“No,” murmured Henley, “but they might pursue the devil here!”
Ramos acknowledged this comment with a grimace, but said nothing more. Reuben gave his colleague a reproachful look for silencing the man with his comment, shook his head without speaking, then looked back at Ramos inviting more conversation. It took another second for him to realize how futile that was in front of a blind man. He sighed.
“Okay, Mr. Ramos,” he began. “Goa head and tell me. Why did you come back? Why the senseless attack? And where are Corda and the others?”
“I know as much as you do about the latter,” Ramos said. “Do you really believe I would be here right now if I knew where he was? We lost his trail.”
“You’re lying!” Asserted Indiana. “I think you know very well where Corda is.”
Ramos made a scornful face. “Then why am I here instead of on his trail?”
“I don’t know,” Indiana replied. “And I really don’t care. I am here for Marcus. Where is he?”
“I told you – he is safe. And he will remain so as long as nothing happens to me. And the same goes for you. If you are reasonable, then there is no reason anyone should get hurt.”
Reuben looked at the blind man for a moment, stunned. “I’m afraid you still do not understand your situation, Ramos,” he said with a painstakingly controlled voice. “You have lost. It’s over. You have no chips left. Your threats are useless, and you can make no demands.”
“Are you sure?” Asked Ramos, smiling.
“Completely,” Reuben replied angrily. “And if I haven’t made it clear enough for you, listen to me carefully Ramos: If we can’t find Corda’s track – with or without your help – then there is no reason for me to protect you. And I promise that I will surrender you to either the Aymara or the Bolivian authorities, whoever gets to us first. And I’m afraid the natives seem to have the advantage in that.”
“That would be murder,” Ramos said. “And you’re not the type who commits murder.”
“Murder?” Reuben laughed spurious. “You’re wrong, Ramos. And I am betting my government would think otherwise. What happened an hour ago will provide a lot of excitement for them. They would be very happy to avoid international, diplomatic entanglements as a result of those actions unless there was a good reason for them.”
“Maybe there is a good reason, yes,” Ramos said. “I can imagine a few million good reasons.”
“What do you mean?” Asked Reuben, suspicious.
“What do you earn as an FBI agent?” Asked Ramos instead of answering. “Two thousand a year? Three?”
Reuben’s face darkened further. “I’m not going to bite, Ramos,” he said.
“Nonsense. Every man has his price. Even you.”
“Even if it were so,” Reuben said, masking his anger, “you certainly can’t offer enough.”
“You see, Mr. Reuben, that’s where you are wrong,” Ramos continued. “If we find Corda, then I can pay any price. Can you imagine what it means to be rich? I mean, really rich. Being able to afford anything your heart desires.”
“Save your breath,” said Reuben. “You can’t bribe me. And do you know why? Even if I were on sale – I do not trust you.”
“Oh, you think I would deceive you?” Ramos laughed, shaking his head. “I would not, my word is good. My principles are strong. I would much rather buy a person than kill them. And what Corda has found, it’s so valuable that your price doesn’t even matter.”
“You’re not really buying this nonsense, are you?” Asked Henley.
“Nonsense?” Ramos snorted. “It is not nonsense. I am firmly convinced Corda has discovered El Dorado. If you do not believe me, then ask Professor Jones. He will tell you.”
“El Dorado?” Henley shot Indiana a questioning glance, but Indiana was reluctant to reply.
From his experience, he was not certain Ramos’s assumption was true. And even if it were true, El Dorado would more likely be something other than what the legends say about it.
“Well?” Asked Reuben, waiting for Indiana’s answer.
“I’m…not sure,” Indiana muttered evasively. “There is some evidence that he could be right.”
“But El Dorado is just a legend,” Henley said, confused. “I mean – a myth…” He groped for words.
“People thought Troy was a myth before someone dug it up in a field,” Indiana said with a smile.
“Enough!” Interrupted Reuben impatiently. “As far as I am concerned, he could have found Santa Claus. I am not interested. What does interest me is the whereabouts of Professor Corda and his companions and what they are doing.” He took a step closer to Ramos. “And I am pretty sure you know the answer to both!”
“If that were so, do you think I would have come back to this place?” Ramos replied snidely.
“That brings us back to the issue,” Indiana intervened, “why did you come back?”
“I forgot something,” Ramos said evasively.
“None of your business.”
Indiana wanted to move in and grab the man, but Reuben shot him an admonishing look, shaking his head and moving so close to Ramos that the blind man could feel him. “For a man in your position, Ramos,” he said, “you are pretty brave. I can still give you to the natives.”
“Nonsense,” replied Ramos. “You need me Reuben. You need me more than I need you, because at this moment I am the only man who can lead you to Corda.”
“Oh, I have Dr. Jones for that,” replied Reuben. “Granted – it may take him a little longer, but I am willing to chance it.”
“You think?” Ramos laughed hideously. “Then I am curious: why put up with a criminal like me? You’re bluffing, Reuben. Dr. Jones is at his wit’s end, just like you. Corda has a three day head start. Do you know what three days means in a country like this? It might as well be three months. Or three years.” He laughed again. The look in his blind eyes wandered from Reuben to Henley to Indiana then back. It gave Indiana chills to look into his eyes, and he had the eerie feeling the man could see them in some sinister way. “I’ll tell you something Reuben. We are not that far from him. Less than fifty miles to be exact. But fifty miles might as well be 500 if you don’t know where you are going. You have no chance of finding him unless I tell you where he is.”
“Which you will not do, however,” Indiana suspected.
Ramos made a vague gesture. “Who knows? Maybe we can come to an agreement. I do not want much. Just a fair share.”
“Now you are asking for a ‘fair share’?” Reuben groaned.
“And why not? We are gentlemen, after all. You want something from me – and I want something from you – what could be better than that –“
“That’s enough!” Interrupted Reuben sharply. “I am not going to make deals with a murderer!”
“Haven’t you done so already?” Said Ramos, almost friendly.
Reuben’s frustration was beginning to show, but Indiana calmed him with a soothing gesture. “Wait,” he said. “Maybe we already have what we need…”
He looked contemptuously at Ramos. “And you are no gentleman!”
Both Reuben and Henley gave their attention to Indiana, and Ramos suddenly looked a little nervous. Indiana smiled, though Ramos could not see.
“Fifty miles, you say?”
Ramos did not respond, but Indiana turned with a gesture requesting Henley, who was leaning causally against the rudder and studying Indiana and his colleagues with interest. “I think I know everything we need to,” he said. “Do you have a map of the area?”
Henley nodded and turned without a word to fish out the required map from the mess on the desk at the wheelhouse, while Reuben began to impatiently pace the small area.
“Remember the Aymara dance we witnessed? I think I know what it means,” Indiana answered the unspoken question of the FBI agents. “Although I can’t be certain, but…”
He turned back to Henley and waited until he handed him a crumpled piece of paper, the boat captain’s graphical map of the area. Indiana hastily spread the map across the table at the back of the control room and smoothed it out as best he could. It was dimly lit in the control room, and details were difficult to see. But he quickly found what he was looking for.
“Here,” Indiana pointed with his index finger outstretched in three roughly circular marks at the top of the map, which formed an irregular triangle.
Reuben leaned over his shoulder, studying the map curiously. After a moment he frowned at the map, and looked completely confused. “And?”
“Don’t you remember?’ Asked Indiana. “Think back. The Aymara dance. Three fireplaces, between which the chief had his vision.”
“And?” repeated Reuben.
“This-“ Indiana triumphantly tapped with his index and middle finger on the map, “are extinct volcanoes. I wasn’t sure at first, but now I remember.”
“And you believe what we are looking for –“
“Is in between the three volcanoes,” Indiana led the sentence, “positioned exactly as the chief stood between the fire pits.”
He made sure Ramos had heard the discussion and saw the gangster was becoming frightened.
“But that’s impossible,” protested Henley. “If so, it would have been found long ago. This area-“
“- Is virtually unexplored,” Indiana cut him off.
“But I’m not sure this map is reliable,” Indiana continued. “It was pieced together from a couple of aerial photographs and uses information that isn’t exactly reliable. We have to assume this map is as reliable as Ramos’ last tax return. It would not surprise me at all if no white man has ever set foot in the area.”
Reuben leaned forward again and looked through narrowed eyes at the spot at the top of the map where Indiana had pointed. Between the three groups indicated only green was seen where the cartographer guessed was jungle.
“Fifty miles…” he muttered.
“If the chart is right, more likely eighty or a hundred miles,” Henley said. “And the river bends away from it. We will not get very close by boat.”
“And not by foot either,” said Ramos, intervening. He had overcome his fear and regained his old arrogance. A smile slowly crossed his disfigured face. “You know, Mr. Henley – on one point Dr. Jones is right. The chart is not particularly accurate. Between this river and the volcanoes, there are a few things the map does not depict. Which returns us to our agreement.”
Reuben pierced Ramos with his eyes but said nothing.
“And there is still the issue of Mr. Brody,” Ramos added with a smile. “I must assume you are still interested in retrieving him alive and unharmed.”
“Just as you are interested in getting out of this country alive and unharmed,” Indiana said. The threat in his words was apparent, but Ramos just smiled wider.
“I see that we are capable of finding common ground,” Ramos said. “I suggest you release me and my people and I will tell you where Mr. Brody is.”
“Ha!” Reuben interjected.
It was left at that for the next few hours until the sun came up.
Indiana tried to find a little sleep, but it eluded him. The boat was oppressively claustrophobic, and there was an irritated tension among the passengers, an atmosphere reminiscent of a volcano about to erupt. The boat was moving lazily down the river with its undersized engine, and the jungle was so dense around them it seemed to form an impenetrable wall on both sides of the river. Henley stood at helm, keeping the boat roughly midstream to avoid any further attacks from the shore. On their map the river was little more than a blue line snaking through the country with numerous bends and turns. And despite their relative safety with the armed FBI agents in control, Indiana remained a bit nervous.
He heard footsteps behind him and turned around. Reuben stood behind him, and he could tell by his expression that similar thoughts ran through the FBI agent’s mind. He, too, looked nervous and tired, and something more than the physical fed the core of his exhaustion.
“It feels like we are walking into a trap,” Reuben said after a few moments of contemplation.
Indiana smiled wearily. “I don’t think so,” he tried to assure him.
Reuben sighed. “I wish I had your optimism.”
“It’s not optimism,” Indiana replied. “I have a pretty good sense of when I am walking into a trap.”
Reuben’s response consisted only of a frown and a deep, exhausted sigh as he leaned heavily on the railing and peered into the dark, swirling waters of the river. For a while they were both silent, then Reuben suddenly asked: “How did you know?”
Indiana looked at him questioningly.
“About the volcanoes,” Reuben said, suddenly realizing the ambiguity of his original question. “Is South America your specialty?”
Indiana shook his head. “On the contrary. It was…” He hesitated imperceptibly, just smiled and confessed. “Actually it was pure coincidence. I came across them while going through some of the books in Stan’s house. I came across a map that depicted them. And as I watched the chief and the ceremony last night, it came back to me. That is all.”
Reuben smiled wearily. “You’d be amazed, Jones, if you knew how many great things have been decided by such trivialities,” he said. He laughed softly, but not very humorously. “Being honest, random coincidences makes up at least half our work.”
Indiana was about to make an irrelevant statement in agreement when something caught his attention. He suddenly cocked his head and listened. At he same time, he looked ahead with trepidation.
Reuben looked too, noticing Indiana’s sudden attention on the river ahead.
“What is it?” he asked. Suddenly he no longer sounded tired, and he looked agitated.
Indiana shrugged. “I don’t know,” he murmured. “There…there’s something.”
From the corner of his eye he saw Reuben stiffen and reach for the gun on his belt. But Reuben’s actions were useless, because in that moment he heard it, and understood that the danger ahead could not be handled with a gun.
Through the sounds of the jungle as it gradually awakened with the sunlight and the monotonous chug of the diesel engine came a dull, rumbling thunder; still very far away, but already clear enough to allow the two men to realize what was there: a waterfall or rapids.
Indiana frowned. “This must be one of the obstacles Ramos spoke of earlier,” he said.
“But there was nothing on the map,” Reuben said in a reproachful tone.
“I’ve already told you what I think of those charts,” Indiana replied.
Reuben looked a moment longer, focusing on the sounds ahead, then he shrugged. “It doesn’t matter anyway,” he said. “We can simply go ashore now. Whether we do it now or a couple of miles later. It makes no difference.”
They went back into the wheelhouse. Reuben quickly explained to Henley what they had discovered, and asked him to bring the ship closer to shore and look for a possible berth. Indiana excused himself and went below to wake Marian.
Reuben had assigned the captain’s cabin to Marian since it was the only lockable room with a bed on board the ship. But when Indiana arrived, he found she was not there. The door was open and the bunk was untouched. Marian had found so little sleep over the last few days, especially on this night, so Indiana was surprised that he hadn’t found her sound asleep. He was also confused as to where she could be. God knows the ship was not large enough to go wandering around without being seen. The only other rooms on board were the cubicle which Reuben and Indiana shared, the engine room, and the storeroom where Ramos’ men were being held!
He turned away from the cubicle and headed back to his own cubicle where his few personal belongings were gathered, confused as to Marian’s whereabouts. It was several minutes later before he stepped back out on deck.
Location: Neuchâtel, Switzerland (Canadian from Montreal)
You're doing some amazing & valuable work here, punisher5150, and it's not going un-noticed. Countless times in the past have Raven members wished for the Hohlbein novels to be translated into English and here you are actually doing it. I really appreciate your effort. Hats off!
Wow, that's an amazing work! I really appreciate your efforts, punisher5150. I speak some german, but english is not my main language, so I may try to translate a few pages but I need someone who proofreads them.