4:13 am . . .
For the last couple of hours Ms. Josephine and Ricky talked about witch-doctoring and all the natural and supernatural intricacies that entails. I’m not sure, but I think they were discussing the appropriate measurement and application of different types of animals’ bloods for use in their potions.
I shut my eyes until I feel a bumpy runway rolling beneath us. As I squint open my eyes to the darkness I immediately feel a distinctly moist, jungle smell to everything. Flanking the runway on both sides are thick broad-leafed trees and chest-high bushes. There could be a thousand monsters standing less than two feet inside the treeline and you’d never know it until it was too late.
We taxied to a partially covered hangar where two white Hummers were waiting for us. They had big blue crosses painted on the hoods, and the words ‘World Peace Brigade’ painted in glossy black on each side.
“That was my idea,” Mr. Green says. “It’s a lot easier to get around when people think you’re here to save somebody.”
We are, I say to myself as I press my head against the window.
Mr. Green snaps into action collecting his bags full of gear, amassing them near the exit door. As he’s moving about he’s also talking to us.
“If anyone asks questions, we work for a humanitarian aid organization called, The World Peace Brigade. We’re Canadian, not American. That’s important.”
Why not American? I wonder aloud.
His eyes look shifty and uneasy, “Americans, around here, you know . . . they don’t have the greatest reputation. As a matter of fact, there aren’t too many places outside of . . . well . . . the US where Americans are welcome. They’re considered the world police, waging war on almost every continent. Between the military, the CIA, and the DEA, no country is left unsoiled.
“ . . . they kill or kidnap Americans around here.”
Canadian it is, then.
“I’m a big fan of the maple leaf,” Ricky quips.
“I speak French,” Ms. Josephine adds.
Mr. Green nodded as he pulled out a small case from one of his bags and opened it. Inside was a small, pissed-off looking machine gun. The kind of thing Terminators probably keep under their pillows after a long day of exterminating humanity. It couldn’t have been longer than a foot and a half, solid black, with a long magazine that curved forward.
He slung it over his shoulder and then grabbed a smaller black pistol and leather holster which he clipped on to his belt.
I’m not bothered by the guns. Intrigued, maybe. Todd Steele doesn’t go to the bathroom without his chrome-plated .357 Super-Magnum. Mr. Green sees me eyeing the machine gun that’s slung over his shoulder as he puts on a black vest with what looks like an infinite amount of pockets for every conceivable thing.
“Heckler and Koch, MP-five, PDW. Thirty rounds in about three seconds. Really empties a room,” he says as he adjusts the sling. This Mr. Green, he’s the guy who will kill you, no questions asked. He’s the kind of man guns like that were designed for. For him, it’s as useful as my cellphone is to me.
“ . . . let me answer all questions by Police, or other authorities. Matter of fact, all questions in general. If the locals talk, even if you think you understand what they’re saying, defer to me as much as possible. At least until we establish who we’re dealing with.”
I’m dragging duffel bags like bodies to the front of the plane.
“ . . . use the buddy system. Stay in twos. It doesn’t matter if you’re going to the food stand, the bathroom, or the Coke machine . . . always with a buddy.”
There looks to be 12 or 14 bags, and they’re full. Ricky’s got four bags just of his own.
“ . . . don’t, for any reason, accept any gifts from anybody. Do not smoke the local cigarettes, or accept a cigarette from anyone. It’s never just a cigarette.”
Why is that? I ask, not that I even smoke.
He looks at me, “The locals lace the cigarettes with drugs that will leave you paralytic or hooked after two puffs. The joke is: inhale once, you’re high; inhale twice . . . you’re a junkie.”
Okay, so don’t pick up a smoking habit.
Ricky’s handing each of us a small radio. “They work from two to five kilometers, depending on the weather.”
What is that in miles? My brain doesn’t follow metric, yet.
“One-and-change to two-and-change,” Ricky replies.
“ . . . touch base with me every hour on the hour, unless you’re asleep. And then, it had better be when your eyes close, and again when they open.”
Then he looks at us, across a mound of black and olive drab duffel bags and cases. “Is there anything that I need to know in order to do my job more effectively? Remember, I’m here to help you. Not to judge. Think of me as an extension of your will. Anything?”
“We may have to go into the jungle,” Ricky offers. “But we’ve brought all the appropriate clothing and equipment.”
Mr. Green nods.
“Dere may be people tryin’ to keep us from lookin’ around,” Ms. Josephine adds. “Perhaps some people dat claim to be from da church.”
Mr. Green nods as he checks his pistol to make sure a round is chambered. Then pops the magazine out and adds one more bullet, sliding the magazine back into the handle of the gun. That’s what they call the administrative round.
“The church,” he says, “it’s powerful in places like this. In most of South America. Now, anything else?”
I answer, “And . . . we might have to kill some vampires.”
Ms. Josephine and Ricky look at me like I’m retarded, again. Like I’m wearing flip-flops to a wedding.
“Well,” Mr. Green says without a reservation in the world, “you just point out the vampires. I’ll take care of the rest.” He holsters his pistol, now one round heavier than before. And I see in his demeanor, he doesn’t care what it is we’re after. He’ll do his job. Earn his paycheck, no matter how ugly it gets. And it will probably be quite ugly.
“Right, then,” Mr. Green says, taking two duffel bags into his hands, “ . . . welcome to Ecuador.”