Cotopaxi Mountain, Ecuador.
6:33 am . . .
We see people. Not the people we were expecting, though.
I’m not sure who called who, or witnessed who, or warned who, but there are eight guys here waiting for us. They look familiar.
Juan snorts, “Los pinchégringos de ayer . . . en el bar,” Juan says under his breath. He’s still got his machine gun on his back, he drops the bags to the wet morning grass, not yet reaching for his weapon.
These are the same goons that escorted father Pete into the bar at Hotel Antonio when he was making his thinly veiled threats.
Mercenarios, I say with tired disappointment.
I hope he’s got a plan, because I sure don’t. I still have a pistol on my side, its comforting weight pulling at my waist. Thing is though, I know I can’t reach it before these guys cut us down. And then there’s the harsh reality that I’ve never actually fired a gun.
These guys have guns. They’re most likely used to using them. And even though they aren’t pointing them at us, they’re anxious to use them. Out here in the middle of nowhere, with just the wind to tell the story . . . we’d disappear and that would be that.
I don’t know the play, here.
One of the catholic mercenaries steps a few paces forward, “I’ll be needing all of your equipment, please.” At least he’s polite about his armed robbery.
I explain to them, We can’t do that. This is all property of the World Health Brigade. Not ours to give. You guys understand, right?
He looks uneasy in his suit, this guy. Like when you put sweaters on your pets and they squirm around uncomfortably. This guy would probably rather be wearing camis, a toga, or maybe even a pink dress. Anything but this black thug suit that makes him look like he doesn’t have a neck.
“I’m not asking you,” he commands. “ . . . I’m telling you. We’re going to be taking all of your equipment. Once we’ve established that none of your film, tapes, or recordings of the area are viable we will give you your equipment back and the church will pay for any damages as a result of our handling of your equipment.”
Are you serious? Did you have to memorize all of that just for this?
He narrows his meaty eyes at us. But I’ll take it as a yes.
“I’m not going to ask again,” he says, repeating the tough guy phrase that everybody seems to be saying these days. His men begin to shuffle, putting their hands in the kinds of places that guns usually linger. Their jackets look just a bit less itchy than their trigger fingers and shifty eyes.
Juan, I ask, what’s our move?
And Juan’s got this half-grin on his otherwise expressionless face. “Yack,” he says. “Tu sabes cuál es mi color favorito?”
“No,” I answer delicately. “I don’t know what your favorite color is.” And I’m not really sure what his angle is. What the hell is he . . . oh.
Then I see several glowing red dots floating around beefcake’s chest. They kind of shake and vibrate, crossing each other occasionally as they paint his upper chest a glowing red. Death dots. He’s marked for lead.
Meathead looks down his muscled chin at the dots the lasers are making and he very slowly and respectfully lifts his hands. He calmly explains to his stout friends to do the same.
8 catholic mercenaries.
16 hands in the air.
And silently, without warning, Mr. Green, Mr. Blue, and Ricky appear from the brush wearing these coats that have all sorts of green and brown burlap strips and strings, netting, and bits of indigenous vegetation woven in to the clothing.
They’re dressed like plants . . . shrubbery with machine guns.
Foliage packing 9mm., full-metal-jacketed, plus-P ammunition.
This is nature with an attitude.
Without words the men are searched, disarmed, and placed face down in the rock-laden grass while their hands were zip-tied behind their backs. And while all of this is happening, I’m sitting back wondering if they would let me borrow one of these guys to re-perform our earlier experiment.
Juanito made it 11 seconds.
Juan sees me considering this, my eyes speculative, and he says, “No, Yack.”
He’s right. I can’t become these men. I’m supposed to be fighting evil, not adding to its net effect.
Mr. Green turns, pulling the hood off of his head, and I see his nearly white, blue eyes. They look vacant and dangerous, again. He lowers his voice, “We picked these dickheads up on a conference call, planning to discourage our investigation. We’ve been here for hours.”
“We’ll drop them off at the nearest local police station, and have them investigated for a few days, at least until we sort this all out.”
“Para Juanito!” Juan says.
Ricky looks at me quizzically, shakes it off, and then says, “You’re going to be interested in what we found out.”
Good, I say. Because we didn’t see a thing. We killed a beetle, but that’s about it.
“This place is dead, Jack. Billtruck confirmed that last night when the satellites did their pass. But this isn’t the only site on the mountain.”