I have done some traveling to the tropics and became infatuated with the climate and the terrain of rain forests. I went to Costa Rica, to the Bahamas and later to Indonesia. These travels inspired this book.
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River of Gold, River of Blood
By John R. Pickett
Trafford PublishingCopyright © 2016 John R. Pickett
All rights reserved.
The river flowed lazily, making its way down the broad riverbed. Jorge sat in the pilot's chair, guiding the boat toward the center, and watched for obstacles. He had the engines running at a fast idle to keep the boat flowing forward in the water so that the rudders would control the direction of movement. The boat proceeded down the river so monotonously that Jorge was very near to dozing off completely. He swatted a mosquito that attempted to feast on the back of his neck. This woke him up, and he became more alert. He raised his head to look past the front of the boat, out into the river. It was late in the afternoon, and the shadows were getting long. Jorge knew that soon the sound of animals chirping, croaking, or whistling would soon fill up the dusk. But there was no sound now. The heat of the day was receding.
He heard a loud thump. It came from below, down on the deck. The hull of the boat is a square-bottomed box with a sloping flat panel that, pulled up, served as the bow; when lowered, it served as a ramp onto which forklifts and trucks and wheelbarrows rolled in and out of the boat to load and unload. Across the rear of the boat, Jorge stood on a raised deck that allowed him to see easily over the sides of the boat. He stood at a pilot's console with a helm, a steering wheel that looked much like one commonly found in a truck or any other large powered vehicle. The engines purred beneath his feet, rotating the propellers under the boat.
He heard another loud thump. He thought he heard also a sharp report from a somewhere, away on the riverbank to his right. The report was so far away that he hardly noticed.
The boat was not cluttered with goods at this time. He was returning to the port city, having sold most of his merchandise, and now the deck was bare with only a small pile of loading pallets and a few wooden crates. Jorge swatted another mosquito and looked over the boat. He looked down to the deck and noticed about two inches of water swishing around under the traction mesh and the corrugations in the metal. It occurred to him that two inches of water is no cause for alarm, but the deck was dry just a while ago, and he wondered why two inches of water was sloshing around on the floor of his boat now.
Another loud thump broke the monotony of the engines. This time, Jorge heard the report sharply to his right. He jerked his heard to the right and scanned the bank quickly. He was fully 150 yards from the bank and all he could see was the silhouette of trees and brush growing at the waterline. He turned further to the right and looked up the bank behind him. He saw a faint puff of smoke in the distance. The air was moving the smoke down the river, so he only had a vague idea where it originated.
Another loud thump cracked the air. This time the bullet hit the side of the boat near the stern, and Jorge heard it sharply and was startled.
"Shit! What in the hell?" Jorge left the wheel and stood at the side, cursing and staring at the puff of smoke that was drifting over the water near the far bank.
Another loud thump sounded as another bullet pierced the hull of the boat. Jorge heard the report from the far bank and also the sound of a small chunk of metal bouncing around the inside of the boat. Jorge looked down to the deck. The water had risen to about a foot deep toward the rear of the boat, and as he glanced around, he noticed the boat was floating lower in the water, and slower too.
"Shit!" he shouted, turning to the helm. He pushed the throttle levers forward, and the engines roared and they both accelerated, but they sounded labored, pushing against the slow travel of the boat.
Another bullet crashed against the side of the boat, ricocheting off the top rail. Jorge instinctively ducked, crouching behind the helm. He reached up and pushed the throttles all the way forward, and the engines raced faster.
He spun the helm and headed the boat to the far bank to his left. Jorge raised his head up slightly and turned back, facing the trees and the puff of smoke.
"You motherfuckers! Damn you!" he screamed over the roar of the engines. He glared at the place in the trees with a hateful scowl.
The boat was traveling faster now. Jorge looked down below and noticed the depth of the water had increased a few inches. The boat was plowing the water now, and the water inside the boat tended to move toward the stern, making it plow deeper in the water. Jorge didn't bother looking back now. His eyes searched for a place to beach the boat. The current carried him further down the river as he approached the opposite bank. There were no beaches or shallow banks. The place he reached had straight dropping banks in a small inlet, but the water was shallow. The engines became flooded with water and were spraying from the belts and pulleys as the engines died. Quickly, the silence dominated his ears. The boat drifted, nosing down river as it came to a stop. The bottom of the hull made a soft rasping sound and came to rest in the sand.
Jorge stood at the helm. He looked down and noticed the water level was only a few feet below his own feet. He looked at the bank. It was not high. He could get up on dry land easily. He turned and looked across the river. He had traveled downstream for a while since the shooting. He could not recognize the place and he could not find the spot where the smoke had arisen. This pleased him slightly. He grimaced.
Soon Jorge noticed a caving feeling as he realized that he was now reduced to traveling on foot. He was grounded for the first time in a long while. Jorge automatically decided to get moving. He would go downriver and get some help to repair his boat and maybe he would find out who shot his boat. He had to take action. He was stranded otherwise.
He left the boat, descending by the boarding ladder that consisted of U-shaped iron bars welded to the stern. He waded in the water and climbed the bank. He walked up the slope until he came to a sandy one-lane road.
He walked down the road with his shirt draped over his shoulder. He remembered there was a small town near the river and a small dwelling not far from the river. He did not remember the distance, being that he had never had to walk the route ever before. The road was long, but he knew that civilization existed just a few miles further. When it got dark, he slept under a tree where the ground was softer. There was no traffic on this road. He could tell that the road was used but not very often. The day wore on and turned into two days. Jorge got hungry. He carried some jerky and a bottle of water. They didn't last too long even though he tried to conserve. He could have been a little better prepared when he left the boat, but he was in a slight panic. He expected to be miles downriver by now.
He walked all that day and noticed that the road looked a bit more traveled now. He knew he was approaching the place in the road where it turned up the slope and went to town. He remembered the place because he had stopped there before because there was a landing and a sloping beach but no town. The town was a couple of miles from the river.
Sand. Only sand, no rocks, and chuckholes. The road for the last few miles was sand as far as the toes of his boots happened to penetrate. Jorge actually walked along the side of the road for the last few hundred yards or so because the ground was much softer and it didn't make his ankles and legs so tired. His feet and legs were tired. He had a few miles to go before he reached La Casa Blanca, as he jokingly referred to the white cinder block house in the jungle. Most houses in the tropics are green, pink, blue; lots of orange, yellow, purple, brown; seldom, plain white. The house that he sought was at a stopping point on the river, where he always felt welcome, and he usually visited the place on his run up the river and sometimes stopped there on his run back down the river. Jorge knew the house sat a few hundred yards from the river, and there was a convenient sandy bank on which to park his boat. At this point in time, he was not concerned about a safe place to park his boat. He was concerned about trouble, and he knew that a couple of miles down the road, there was this familiar house and Maria and who knows who else lived there.
Maria was a ten-year-old girl the last time Jorge saw her. He had stopped there a few times during the last year to buy gas, to use the telephone, to top off his tanks with gas when times were better, and always to get a meal no matter how meager. He knew if he approached the place after dark, he probably wouldn't be unduly harassed or turned away, and he knew there would be food and civilization.
"Hola muchacha! Es Jorge!" He was laboring across the road. Music and voices were emanating from the house, and Jorge hoped he wasn't too late for some food and a place to sleep for the night.
"Ya, maje, como esta. Mira!" Maria didn't like to be in the house when company, especially men, was around. They expected her to fetch this and serve them that, mostly liquor, and always there was some argument as to how much was remaining and whose liquor was whose. She liked to sneak out and breathe the night air and allow the guests to serve themselves. She was playing with an iguana and she wanted somebody to see the new trick.
The iguana saw Jorge arriving and it skittered into the brush. Jorge came walking up to Maria, trying not to breathe too loudly.
"Que tal, muchacha? Hay comidas todavia?" Jorge was hungry and he got to the point quickly.
"Si! En la cocina, quedo un poco." Maria was bored and really didn't want him to go inside. "Voy a traerte la comida Esperate aqui."
Jorge wondered who was in the house that Maria didn't want him to see. He sat on a three-legged stool in the front yard. He couldn't tell by the conversation inside whether Maria had announced his arrival. She soon arrived with a wooden bowl of rice and veggies and chicken. Not really hot, like freshly cooked, but it only lasted about fortyfive seconds anyway. While picking his teeth with a blade of grass, he began to peruse Maria's vast array of local awareness and casual observations. They talked for few minutes.
"Hay una fiesta? Adentro?" Jorge waved his head toward the house. He could hear more than three male voices inside. He heard one man speaking a few words quickly, followed by several voices laughing and snorting.
"Hombres." Maria took on a very bored look on her face. "Mi papa y clientes y amigos."
Jorge had seldom seen her papa during his previous stops. Maria's mother was also absent, but there was always Maria or some other young member of the house to point to a telephone or sell gas. The sun was starting to go down, and the air became a little cooler. Maria motioned for him to go into the house. She was getting cold and planned to go in the back door to her room. Jorge decided to walk on into the front door of the house. The clientes were sufficiently drunk, and some of the household would recognize him and there would not be any tension or trouble. The front door was open. He strolled in.
"Hola señor. Y que? Quien es?" He caught one man's attention. "Soy yo, Jorge. Me recuerdas?" Jorge showed no hostility, just a dusty traveler with tired feet and an aching back.
"Jorge! Tienes licor?" The man that Jorge guessed was El Papa spoke softly, and everyone in the room hushed to let him speak. Jorge rounded slowly and reached into his shirt and produced a full half-pint of American scotch.
"Por supuesto, muchachos." Jorge planted himself in a nearby couch and soon he was surrounded and listening to the latest jokes and the local gossip of the neighbor woman up the road. He didn't catch all the jokes and he decided the gossip about a people that he didn't know is not nearly as interesting as the gossip of a people that he had actually met. The only problem was that he had very few acquaintances in this locale, but everyone recognized him as though he was an old friend in the neighborhood.
Jorge was an American entrepreneur who had come to Central America when he was old enough to know better. After his last American lover threw him out, he sold all his stuff and bought a boat and hauled mining supplies up the Orinoco River or the Amazon or any one of the large rivers or tributaries that were navigable. He made a living. The last relationship really did a job on Jorge. He wanted to leave the whole world and he almost succeeded.
A tall, lanky man who was on the far side of the room came lurching in from the kitchen with a tumbler, nearly full, of a colorless cloudy substance. It is customary to take what you are offered as a guest.
Oh god! Jorge thought. I'm going to have to drink the local guaro just to have a dry place to sleep. It had the long tenacious consistency of mucus and the taste of alcohol and limes. Jorge, tired and desperate as he was, downed the whole mess in one choking, continuous, multisegmented retch. He handed the glass back empty. Jorge had been through this before but he could not remember when. The night became a parade of shadows and voices and a soft place to land.CHAPTER 2
The morning sun was not where Jorge had planned it to be. He rolled over and hid his face in a shadow made by his hat. He rolled over twice and hid behind a large couch. He tried to resume sleeping but he was waking. He blinked his eyes open and then he shut them with a vengeance, but he could no longer ignore it. It was daytime.
"Queres cafe, muchacho?" The old man was sitting in the sun in a large chair at the far side of the room. He had the gnarled looks of a man who had spent his time working under the sun but the time-worn looks also of El Senor. It was a lot to take in, through the bleary, cloudy, leaden sleep from which Jorge was emerging. He arose and found a chair to fall into and looked at El Papa.
"Si," Jorge replied.
"I am Hector Rodriguez. It is very good to see you again, Jorge. You must have some breakfast." The old man spoke slowly. Jorge could not tell if he really knew English well.
"Soy Jorge Smith. Yes. Thank you," Jorge replied. "Donde esta tu bote?" Papa was speaking in clear, separate syllables so that the gringo could understand him. Jorge did not want to deal with his recent loss at this time. "Where is your boat?" he asked again in English.
"Abajo del rio! Donde esta Maria?" Jorge wanted Maria to translate for him because he knew his limitations in Spanish. He didn't know if El Papa understood English too well or not.
"Maria. Ven aqui!" Papa shouted.
Maria entered the room. Jorge related his story to her in English, and she began shouting the story to El Papa, how Jorge arrived last night and had only one pint of liquor and needed a place to sleep and she stated that she knew nothing more. Jorge looked frustrated. He sat up in his chair and began talking to him and her.
"Tell your papa that my boat is on the bottom of the river, about two days' walk from here." Jorge looked her in the face. Maria relayed this to Papa, and he snorted.
"Borracho!" Papa exclaimed with a with a smug smirk.
"No, no, I wasn't drinking. No cerveza. Nada!" Jorge was trying to talk with his hands. "Someone shot at the boat and made it sink."
Maria's eyes widened a little as she listened to him. Papa's eyes also widened. He looked worried and puzzled. "Que pasa, gringo?" Papa was very attentive now.
"I was coming downriver back to town, like always, and I rounded a big bend, staying in the main channel. I heard a lot of gunfire far away, and then the boat started leaking and it sank." Jorge opened his hands, palm upward. Maria repeated what he had said in Spanish to Papa.
"Carajo! Quien!" Papa became upset and started shouting at Jorge and Maria. He stood up from his huge wicker chair and began pacing the floor in front of the window. Maria looked at Jorge, worried.
"Where did this happen? Did you see anybody?" she asked.
"I was about thirty miles upriver when they shot the boat. I didn't see anybody. I have been walking for almost two days." Jorge was now trying to think of what kind of help to ask him for. "Do you think I could get a car to come out here and take me back to town?"
Maria spoke to Papa, and he asked her something. She turned to Jorge. "Jorge, who do you think it could be, shooting your boat?"
"I don't have any serious enemies. It could be hijackers or thieves. I don't really know." He looked thoughtful for a minute. "Ask him if he has any ideas. Has there been any trouble around here that he has heard about?"
Jorge was hoping to hear about a couple of vandals, of an irate farmer or something manageable. Anything but jungle war. Maria translated, and Papa was mumbling.
"Guerrillas? Ladrones?" Jorge asked.
Papa shook his head. "Nada," Hector stopped pacing and gazed out the window.
Just then, one of the women of the house brought two cups of rich coffee with milk and sugar.
"Desayuno," she said as she turned and went back to the kitchen. Several members of the household were serving themselves at the large butcher block table in the entrance to the kitchen. Jorge and Maria went through the line.
Papa remained at the window, studying the road that runs past his house.
Excerpted from River of Gold, River of Blood by John R. Pickett. Copyright © 2016 John R. Pickett. Excerpted by permission of Trafford Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
ContentsChapter 1: The Retreat, 1,
Chapter 2: Morning, 11,
Chapter 3: Good Fellas, 24,
Chapter 4: The Alcalde, 38,
Chapter 5: The Angel, 51,
Chapter 6: Lazarus, 67,
Chapter 7: Nightlife, 73,
Chapter 8: Clues, 89,
Chapter 9: The Mission, 97,
Chapter 10: Revelations, 105,
Chapter 11: Departure, 110,
Chapter 12: Port City, 114,
Chapter 13: Bad Fellas, 131,
Chapter 14: Visitors, 134,
Chapter 15: Renegades, 146,
Chapter 16: Dinner, 151,
Chapter 17: Encounters, 163,
Chapter 18: More Encounters, 179,
Chapter 19: Open Season, 194,
Chapter 20: Family Counsel, 199,
Chapter 21: They Depart, 205,
Chapter 22: Accommodations, 210,
Chapter 23: Just Business, 221,
Chapter 24: The Search, 228,
Chapter 25: More Business, 235,
Chapter 26: Savages, 246,
Chapter 27: Octavio, 257,
Chapter 28: Domesticity, 267,
Chapter 29: Captured, 270,
Chapter 30: River Gold, 277,
Chapter 31: Merida, 281,
Chapter 32: Blood in the Water, 293,
Chapter 33: Fire in the River, 307,
Chapter 34: Deadly Questions, 314,
Chapter 35: Interlude, 327,
Chapter 36: The Journey, 336,
Chapter 37: Rough Encounters, 343,
Chapter 38: Dark Visions, 357,
Chapter 39: Shadow in the Night, 362,
Chapter 40: Life on Land, 379,
Chapter 41: Walking Wounded, 390,
Chapter 42: Life and Death in Paradise, 394,
Chapter 43: The Boat, 409,
Chapter 44: Exodus, 420,
Chapter 45: Trials and, 430,
Chapter 46: The Escape, 441,
Chapter 47: Pit Stop, 447,
Chapter 48: The War Council, 456,
Chapter 49: Run Swift, Run Red, 463,
Chapter 50: Merida Revisited, 474,
Chapter 51: Civilization, 483,
Chapter 52: More Revelations, 488,
Chapter 53: Going Home, 499,
Chapter 54: Showdown, 505,
Chapter 55: Loose Ends, 517,
Chapter 56: More Loose Ends, 524,
Chapter 57: Ultimate Tests, 531,
Chapter 58: Final Liberation, 537,
Chapter 59: Changes, 541,