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LAY YOUR HEAD ON MY PILOSE
The deep Amazon is a wondrous and fearful place. Iâ€™m not talking about Iquitos or Manausâ€”big cities that tourists fly into and out of in less than a week. Iâ€™m talking about the rain forest primeval, where every step looks the same as the next, where giant lianas and buttress roots and fallen trees rise out of the leaf litter to trip you up at every step and where the sweat pours off your body in tiny rivers even if you stand still and donâ€™t move a muscle.
Those whose visits to such places are restricted to watching National Geographic or the Discovery Channel might be forgiven for thinking that in such jungles itâ€™s the big predators who rule; the jaguars and harpy eagles and anacondas. Donâ€™t you believe it. Itâ€™s the insects who are the kings of the green domain. The insects, the arthropods, and the even smaller parasites.
Itâ€™s the small creatures with the many legs and the sucking mouthparts who rule the rain forest, and itâ€™s they of whom visitors should most properly be terri- fied . . .
From the moment his tired survey of the town was interrupted by the glory of her passage, Carlos knew he had to have her. Not with haste and indifference, as was usual with his women, but for all time. For thirty years he had resisted any thought of a permanent liaison with a member of the opposite sex. His relationships hitherto had consisted of intense moments of courtship and consummation that flared hot as burning magnesium before expiring in the chill wash ofboredom.
No longer. He had seen the mooring to which he intended to anchor his vessel. He could only hope that she was mortal.
There were those in Puerto Maldonado who knew her. Her name was Nina. She was six feet tall, a sultry genetic frisson of Spanish and Indian. The storekeeper said she was by nature quiet and reserved, but Carlos knew better. Nothing that looked like that, no woman with a face of supernal beauty and a body that cruised the cracked sidewalks like quicksilver, was by nature â€œquiet and reserved.â€? Repressed, perhaps.
Their love would be monumental; a wild, hysterical paean to the hot selva. He would devote himself to her and she to him. Bards would speak of their love for generations. That she was presently unaware of his existence was a trifle easily remedied. She would not be able to resist him, nor would she want to. What woman could?
There was only one possible problem. Awkward, but not insoluble.
His name was Max, and he was her husband.
Carlos loved South America. One could sample all the delights a country had to offer and move on, working oneâ€™s way around the continent at leisure, always keeping a comfortable step ahead of the local police. So long as depredations were kept modest, the attentions of Interpol could be avoided. They were the only ones who concerned Carlos. The local cops he treated with disdain, knowing he could always cross the next border if he was unlucky enough to draw their attention. This happened but rarely, as he was careful enough to keep his illegalities modest. Carlos firmly believed that the world only owed him a living, not a fortune.
As for the people he hurt: the shopkeepers he stole from and the women and girls whose emotions he toyed with, well, sheep existed to be fleeced. He saw himself as an instructor, touring the continent, imparting valuable lessons at minimal cost. The merchants would eventually make up their modest losses; the women he left sadder but wiser would find lovers foolish enough to commit their lives to them. But none would forget him.
Heâ€™d had a few narrow escapes, but he was careful and calculating and had spent hardly any time in jail.
Now for the first time he was lost, because he had seen Nina.
Nina. Too small a name for so much woman. She deserved a title, a crown: poetical discourse. La Vista de la SeÃ±ora hermosa de la montana y la mar y la selva quemara. The vision of the beautiful lady of the mountains and the sea and the burning jungle. My lady, he corrected himself. Too beautiful by far for a fat, hirsute old geezer like Max who probably couldnâ€™t even get it up on a regular basis. He was overweight, and despite the fact that he was smooth on top, the hairiest man Carlos had ever seen. Lying with him must be like making love to an ape. How could she stand such a thing? She was desperately in need of a rescue, whether she knew it or not, and he was the man to execute it.
They ran a small lodge, a way station really, up the Alta Madre de Dios, catering to the occasional parties of tourists and scientists and photographers who came to gaze with snooty self-importance at the jungle. Gringos and Europeans, mostly. Carlos could but shake his head at their antics. Only fools would pay for the dubious privilege of standing in the midday heat while looking for bugs and lizards and the creatures that stumbled through the trees. Such things were to be avoided. Or killed, or skinned, or sold.
They also grew food to sell to the expeditions. And a little tea, more by way of experiment than profit. But it could not be denied that the foreigners came and went and left behind dollars and deutsche marks and pounds. Real money, not the debased currencies of America Sur. Max saved, and made small improvements to the lodge, and saved still more.
Nina would have been enough. That there might also be money to be had up the Alta Madre de Dios helped to push Carlos over the edge.
Like a good general scouting the plain of battle he began tentatively, hesitantly. He adopted one of his many postures; that of the simple, servile, God-fearing hard worker, needful only of a dry place to sleep and an honest job to put his hands to. Suspicious but overworked Max, always sweating and puffing and mopping at his balding head, analyzed this uninvited supplicant before bestowing upon him a reluctant benediction in the form of a monthâ€™s trial. It was always hard to find good workers for the station because it lay several daysâ€™ travel by boat from town, and strong young men quickly grew tired of the isolation. Not only did this stranger both speak and write, he knew some English as well. That was most useful for dealing with visitors. Max watched him carefully, as Carlos suspected he would. So he threw himself into his work, objecting to nothing, not even the cleaning and treating of the cesspool or the scraping of the bottom of the three boats that the lodge used for transportation, accepting all assignments with alacrity and a grateful smile. The only others who worked for Max were Indians from the small village across the river. Carlos ignored them and they him, each perfectly content with their lot.
For weeks he was careful to avoid even looking in Ninaâ€™s direction, lest Max might catch him. He was friendly, and helpful, and drew praise from the foreigners who came to stay their night or two at the lodge. Max was pleased. His contentment made room for gradual relaxation and, eventually, for a certain amount of trust. Three months after Carlos had been hired, Max tested him by giving him the task of depositing money in the bank at Puerto Maldonado. Carlos guarded the cash as though it were his own.
A month later, Max appointed him foreman.
Even then he averted his eyes at Ninaâ€™s passing, especially when they were alone together. He knew she was curious about him, perhaps even intrigued, but he was careful. This was a great undertaking, and he was a patient man.
Once, he bumped up against her in the kitchen. Apologizing profusely, he retreated while averting his gaze, stumbling clumsily into hanging pots and the back counter. She smiled at his confusion. It was good that she could not see his eyes, because the contact had inflamed him beyond measure, and he knew that if he lifted his gaze to her face it would burn right through her.
Each week, each day, he let himself edge closer to her. A tiny slip here, a slight accidental touch there. He trembled when he suspected she might be responding.
There came a night filled with rain like nails and a suffocating blackness. The lodge was empty of tourists and scientists. Maxâ€™s progress back from town would be slowed. The Indians were all across the river, sheltering in their village.
It began with inconsequential conversation intended to pass the time and ended with them making love on the big bed in the back building, after they shook the loose hair off the sheets. It was more than he could have hoped for, all he had been dreaming of during the endless months of screaming anticipation. She exploded atop him, her screams rising even above the hammering rain, her long legs threatening to break his ribs.
When it was over, they talked.
She had been born of noble blood and poverty. Max was older than she would have chosen, but she had enjoyed little say in the matter. As a husband he was kind but boring, pleasant but inattentive.
He would not take her with him to town because someone had to remain behind to oversee the lodge or the Indians would steal everything. Nor did he trust anyone to do business for him in Maldonado. He had discovered her in Lima, had made arrangements with her parents, and had brought her back with him. Ever since, she had been slowly going mad in the jungle, here at the foothills of the Andes. She had no future and no hope.
Carlos knew better.
He did not hesitate, and the enormity of his intent at first frightened her despite her anguish. Gradually he won her over.
They would have to be careful. No one, not even the Indians, could be allowed to suspect. They would have to wait for the right day, the right moment. Afterward, they would be free. They would sell the lodge, take the savings, and he would show her places she had hardly dreamed of. Rio, Buenos Aires, Caracasâ€”the great and bright cities of the southern continent.
They had to content themselves with sly teasing and furtive meetings upon Maxâ€™s return. They touched and caressed and made love behind his back. Trusting, he did not see, nor did he hear the laughter. Not only was he a cuckold, he was deaf and blind. Carlosâ€™s resolve stiffened. The man was pathetic. He would be better off out of his misery.