The Soul That Perishes
It took about an hour for them to cover most of the trail back through the jungle, but it was clear the rebels were traveling nearly as fast as they were and Steve feared that the trail was being read. They came within earshot of the plane and could hear voices raised and shouting.
"They beat us here," Catava whispered, panting from his exertion.
Steve motioned to Danny and they separated to opposite sides of the area.
The rebel leader was standing over Carlos who lay sprawled on the ground insisting Catava was dead and that the body had burned. The leader did not believe him.
Raphael was lying in a pool of blood, Danny's pistol in the hands of one of the commandos who along with the other four members of his band were spread out across the small site as their leader strutted before the survivors.
The leader focused on Pedro and fired off a series of threatening questions, waving the rifle around. "You want me to kill them? You are a priest; you do not lie. Where is Catava?"
Pedro fearfully spread his hands. "He is not here. These people are weak and injured. Do you think Carlos would ever have left the side of Catava? Most of the passengers from our flight burned in that plane." He pointed to the blackened hulk. "May God rest their souls. Perhaps you can look for this Catava in there."
The leader gave him a slow side-wise glare, trying to decide if he should believe him. "Catava has no use for you," he muttered to Carlos in Spanish. "Now you like the others of our people - useless to him and abandoned. Where is he? Huh?" He kicked Carlos backward to the ground and continued to stomp on him over and over as the man cried out in pain.
Steve glanced over at Catava who held Steve's gun. Catava glanced back, fury burning in his eyes. Good, maybe there is loyalty in him to someone. Steve looked across the clearing, unable to see Danny. There are four automatic rifles and Danny's revolver amongst the six rebels. Steve wrestled with the strategy of shooting or waiting longer. He wished he could see Danny.
The leader had stopped kicking Carlos mostly because he was tired. He leveled his rifle on Carlos to fire, but when the shot sounded it was from the gun in Catava's hand and the leader suddenly pitched over. The rebels began screaming and shouting, firing their weapons randomly as Pedro tried to scramble away. Montalvo and a rebel both reached the fallen leader's rifle at the same instant, Montalvo losing the race. The rebel shot him. Steve and Danny stepped out from opposite sides. Catava charged into the chaotic scene, screaming in fury as he came firing the pistol until it clicked repeatedly, out of bullets, but he had managed to shoot and wound the man who had just shot Montalvo. Leaving the automatic on the M16 turned off, Danny stepped forward into view as one of the rebels leveled his weapon on Pedro who was diving for Esteban. Danny aimed at the rebel, squeezed the trigger and the gun jammed. The rebel accurately assessing Danny as a greater threat than the priest, swung his weapon towards him, already firing. Steve jumped forward and dropped the man with a single shot. The two remaining would-be assassins fled into the jungle.
An eerie noisy-quiet settled over the group. Catava's victim lay on the ground moaning; the baby was crying; but the sounds seemed muffled compared to the gun blasts before. And the shots had frightened away any birds and creatures for the moment.
Catava bent over the wounded rebel shouting at him and demanding where his friends were hiding and who they were.
The man murmured some kind of response that did not satisfy the ambassador who waved the empty gun threateningly in the man's face.
"Catava," Steve snapped. "Let him be. See to your friend Carlos."
Catava gave a nod and stepped back, recognizing that for the moment he needed Steve's good graces. He moved over to Carlos. Pedro scooped up the crying baby. Steve checked both Montalvo and the rebel he'd shot. They were both dead. As he rolled over the rebel he noticed a machete in the man's belt. Recalling Danny's words earlier, he took the sheathed weapon.
Danny paused to inspect the jammed rifle - it was hopeless. He emptied the few rounds of ammunition from it, tossed it aside and picked up the one that had nearly killed him moments before. He turned as Steve extended the large knife and, with a small grin, gave a nod. The machete could be more useful than two rifles.
"You came back," Pedro said in surprise to Steve.
"You all must come with us right now," Steve told him. "The rebels will be back and they'll be ready for us."
"How can we travel?" Pedro asked. "Look at us." He waved a hand across the scene. It was a valid point.
Steve doubted Carlos could travel. Don, had never regained consciousness. Should we just leave him? There was a baby they would have to carry - and it would cry. He hesitated.
Danny had heard the conversation. "We can fortify ourselves here, but then what? They will just keep coming back. We no longer have enough people to send a few and still protect everyone. We killed two of their men the first time, two here. You think they will forget that?"
"Three," Steve remarked, as he stooped to check on Catava's victim who had become ominously silent. "If we're caught on the trail we won't stand a chance."
Danny wiped the dirty sweat from his forehead. "Search team?"
Steve glanced at Catava who was still crouched next to Carlos. How desperately will his people search for him? Have they already written him off and moved their loyalty to the next most powerful figure? And he recalled that Catava had called their pursuers the FARC earlier. "Catava, who are these people hunting you?"
Catava glanced up at him. "They are a group of hoodlums that are trying to overthrow our system of government."
That response was well rehearsed, Steve thought. "Who are they?"
"FARC. Las Fuerzas armadas revolucionarios de Colombia."
Steve did not think he needed a translation but glanced at Danny. "The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia," he muttered. "We don't know how long before the rebels return with reinforcements, but they will come. The better organized they are, the greater threat."
"Communists," Catava declared as though that said it all, then added. "You Americans, they are your enemy, too."
Color rose in Danny's neck and he suddenly blurted angrily. "I don't give a flying shit about their politics or yours! We're not part of this game, Catava. These wounded people, that little baby are not part of your game. The innocent shouldn't have to pay while you fight over real estate." He stormed angrily away.
There was a moment of stunned silence. Steve had not seen Williams upset often and in this kind of explosive rage never.
Catava, the only one who seemed unflustered by the action gave a quizzical look. "What is this real estate?"
Pedro cleared his throat and glanced around, trying to get back to the task at hand. "And what of Don? Do we carry him."
"We leave him," Steve said tensely, still trying to absorb the moment before.
"Leave him!" Pedro seemed aghast. "What if he should awaken?"
"Those that can survive come now or we all die," Steve insisted. There is no room for negotiation here as much as I wish there was.
Pedro glanced at Carlos and Phillippi. "What of them?"
Phillippi called to the young priest. "I am dying, Father. Do not die for me. Allow me to die for you and enter into God's presence."
Steve made no comment, but thought, Phillippi understands. Perhaps he can make this young idealistic priest see the light.
Danny, having withdrawn from the group was routing through clothing in luggage, one thing there seemed no shortage of, and was creating a sling of sorts to carry the baby. He was trying to calm himself, surprised at his own outburst and now not willing to face anyone. He wanted to stay out of this conversation. Leaving the weak behind was correct, but it was painful to admit and as long as he could stay away from the discussion he would.
"Catava, you go," Carlos whispered, "but do not leave me alive for them to find. Kill me please."
"No!" Pedro intervened. "You must not!"
Catava glanced at the priest. "I know it is a sin, Father, but I see no other way. If the rebels get him, they will torture him. Better to die painlessly now. God will understand."
Pedro, panicked, turned to Steve. "Stop him. Surely you need every bullet we have! Carlos, you must be able to travel. We can give you a little time."
Catava glanced from Steve to Danny, the former gave no indication of response, the latter looked away still ignoring the topic. "Carlos is like a son to me. I need one of you to do this," Catava pleaded.
Danny ignored him, still intent on the baby harness.
Steve glanced at Danny, then Catava. Killing someone in cold blood was not something he wanted to consider, either. "Catava, is there any chance he can travel? He needs to try."
Catava turned back to Carlos. "Yes, you must try, my friend." He knelt down next to Carlos again encouraging him to attempt to get to his feet.
Danny finished tying knots and crossed over to Pedro. "Here, try this on. Carry the baby as long as you can. Steve and I need to be free in case we are attacked."
Pedro nodded. "I understand. I will carry him all the way if need be." Between them, they managed to slide Esteban into the snug fitting sling against Pedro's chest. For the moment, Esteban quieted, the closeness consoling him. "We must find food for him," Pedro commented.
Danny sighed. "Fresh out of wet nurses and goats, Pedro, but if I see any, you'll be the first to know." He approached Steve. "Help me get Phillippi into the plane where he will be more comfortable."
Steve wanted to take him aside, ask if he was all right, ask what in hell had happened a few minutes ago, but Danny's look was one that suggested he would not have replied if asked and Steve decided to allow the moment to pass - for now.
Between them, they lifted the dying man. Phillippi courageously attempted to conceal his agony, but it was clear he was suffering as they lay him on some arranged cushions out of the sun amongst the twisted metal.
Catava stepped up into the gapping opening in the fuselage of the craft. "It no use. Carlos " He stopped talking, his voice choked with emotion.
Steve motioned Danny. "Let's get him in here, too."
Carlos was a large, muscular man. Moving him inside the craft was difficult and exhausting. Both Steve and Danny were panting and soaked with sweat by the time they had complete the task. There was no question but that Carlos could never have handled the trail. "Mi muerte. Ahora," Carlos begged, gripping hold of Danny's arm.
He gently pulled free. "En el tiempo."
Steve and Danny stepped out of the plane back into the daylight where the slight breeze against their skin was mildly refreshing even in the high humidity.
"We need to be getting on," Steve commented.
"Just a second," Danny replied and taking the prized machete stepped away from them into the jungle.
He was gone about five minutes that Steve counted off impatiently, beginning to wonder how long it would take the rebels to regroup. Now they have a lot to be motivated about. They hated Catava before for whatever reason, he's now killed their leader, we've killed four others of their group. They will be out for vengeance and blood.
At last Danny returned with two sections of stalk and a collection of leaves. He handed one stalk to Pedro. "Aqua de sipio," he commented taking the other stalk to Phillippi and Carlos. Each of the stalks contained about two cups of water. He carefully gave each man something to drink, then pressed the small, dark leaves into Carlos' hand.
"¿Qué?" Carlos murmured.
Danny leaned close to him and spoke quietly into his ear in stuttering Spanish.
Steve knew the hushed sentences were not on his account, he didn't know the language anyway. So much for instructions to the bathroom, Steve thought. For the flash of an instant he wondered if Danny would ever trust him. He pushed the thought away.
At last Danny straightened. "He wants to see the priest before we leave."
Pedro nodded, paused for a moment before entering the craft, genuflected, then knelt by the dying men who were about to be left behind. "Per istam sanctan unctionem et suam piissimam misericordiam, indulgeat tibi Dominus quidquid."
Steve gritted his teeth. Now we will need to wait for these men to pray one more time with Pedro. He did not like the further delay, but could understand it. He could faintly hear the litany and the Latin prayer.
"He praying for them?: Danny murmured quietly.
"Sacrament of Extreme Uncion," Steve answered uncomfortably, "or as close as he can get to it. For them - and us."
Pedro knelt beside each man, took the confessions and prayed. At last he rose with a quiet. "El Dios la bendiga."
"Carlos, try to stay alive, my friend," Catava encouraged his bodyguard. "We will send back help quickly."
Carlos merely nodded, tightening his grip on the small leaves in his hand.
As they started away from the wreck Steve commented to Danny. "What did you give him?"
"Herbs," he replied in one word.
Steve wanted to ask what kind of herbs but decided he would not have wanted to know the answer any more than Danny would have wanted to admit it. "We need the most direct route out of here," he said instead.
Danny nodded, machete in hand. "We can make our own trails now."
"We must go to the river," Catava supplied. "The sun to our faces and downward."
Steve paused and exchanged glances with Danny. "Won't the rebels be expecting that?"
"Expect or no. The only way," Catava replied.
"What about over the mountain?" Steve asked gesturing in the opposite direction. "Does that take us back towards Bogata?"
Catava's eyes widened, the sweat glistening on his skin making him appear more desperate than he was. "Too risky. River at the bottom of both ridges. We do not know which ridge we hit. Second ridge - we just make it harder. Long climb up, long climb back down."
"We were still gaining altitude - probably we hit the first ridge," Danny suggested.
The four of them stood for a moment, each wanting to make the decision and take the lead, but uncertain that his comrades would follow. "You all Americanos - we vote," Catava decided diplomatically. "How say each? I vote to the river."
Steve did not hesitate. "The mountain."
Pedro glanced at Danny hoping he would speak first. When he did not Pedro said quietly. "The baby is getting weaker. Maybe he is sick. The river."
Danny glanced from Catava to Steve, feeling the piercing glare of his superior's gaze. No doubt Steve wants me to cast a vote with him. Then we are in dead-lock. Does he see that? But I think Steve is right. Maybe there is more than right to be considered. "The river," he murmured, wincing internally.
If Steve was disappointed or angry it did not show. "The river it is," he agreed.
Danny passed close to him and whispered. "The baby is sick."
Steve wished Danny had not felt a need to explain himself, but at the same time wished he would - and that he would be honest. I wanted to bring him here to help establish a better working relationship. We have hardly accomplished that. He saved my life when he could have run, but now he sides with the others. I don't understand him. I wish I did not need to. I have never worried about understanding Kono or Chin. I always knew what to expect from them, and they from me. There was none of this guesswork.
Danny stared ahead into the dense jungle growth, sweeping the machete back and forth as necessary to clear the path. He wanted to be consumed with the task of blazing the trail, keeping alert for the rebels or snakes, but his mind would not go beyond the drama of voting against McGarrett. I should have agreed with him. He was right. Why didn't I? Would Pedro have changed his mind? Would Catava have given in? Would we still be standing back there trying to make a decision? He stopped to hack repeatedly at an unyielding branch. It was good therapy. We left those men back there to die. It would be good if I could make myself believe that they will some survive and a rescue party will find them. He could still recall the look on Carlos' sightless face when he had given him the leaves and told him what they were. Peace - he was at peace. I had given him back the control of his life - the control to end it if necessary. What peace can there be in dying?
"We need some rest and shelter for the baby," Pedro suggested.
Danny nodded and, although his arms were weak from the constant beating of branches, he turned to chop some large leaves from the banana tree close by that Steve and Catava wove into a kind of roof that was completed just as the rain began in a torrential downpour. They huddled under the shelter of leaking banana leaves as the darkness closed in around them. There would be no fire to keep away the wild animals or provide comfort. They were all soaked to the skin, tired and uncomfortable. Esteban cried fitfully with a whiney moan that sounded unhealthy. He moved less and less and had not wet a diaper since they had left the plane site.
"He is growing weaker. We must find something to feed him," Pedro said urgently. He had been attempting to drizzle water into the baby's half-open mouth, but Esteban made no effort to suck or swallow.
"At daylight we can try to give him some of the banana," Danny suggested. "But they aren't ripe. I don't know how good it will be for him."
Steve wondered what else daylight would bring. The jungle blackness was nearly total. They could not even see each other inches away let alone an attacker. Hopefully their hunters would be as blind as they. Leaving Pedro to huddle with Catava and Esteban beneath one shelter of woven leaves, Steve and Danny wove a second several yards away. Then, sitting back to back, each with a rifle in hand, they prepared to stay awake another night and keep watch.
"Steve has told me wonderful things about you," MaryAnn provided with a smile.
Chin returned the polite handshake, doubting Steve would ever have mentioned him at all. It is just something to say, he thought and felt sorry for her. MaryAnn was clearly less confident than Clara and the worry showed in her eyes.
The final occupant was an elderly gray-haired man in priest's frock. Father Ramonee shook Chin's hand quietly and explained he was awaiting word on a young priest who had been aboard the flight. "Many of the families are waiting in the other room," he explained. "They are - much less reserved about their grief. The airline thought it wise that we Americans wait here."
Chin had no opinion, and not familiar with South American responses, just nodded. "Any news?"
"There are several search teams on foot, two planes and an American helicopter have looking by air - but the jungle is so dense," the priest shook his head. "Like needles in a haystack. The last known position of the plane is in very rugged and difficult to access area."
Chin gave a single nod. Expression of emotion wasn't high on his list either and he chose to keep the pain inside, away from these near strangers and away from his conscious thought. He poured a cup of coffee since tea seemed to be unavailable. It was very strong; he assumed coffee drinkers would have liked it. Steve would have liked this. He always made Navy Coffee, strong and black. The secretary always added water to hers to weaken it. Kono adds milk. Danny used to add milk and sugar, but somehow over the last year had started drinking it black like Steve. He was always trying to make an impression on Steve, although he would have denied it. And he did not want to make this trip. Chin caught his thoughts. I'm thinking about them like they are dead. They aren't dead.
Clara gave him a knowing smile. "You've had a long trip, Chin."
He gave a stiff nod.
She patted the soft couch. "Sit down. Tell me all about your family. How are the children doing? And your wife?"
Gratefully, he did just that. The news on eight children would give all of them some time to adjust to each other. Both Father Ramone and Maryann listened as though this was the most important news of their lives. And perhaps for the moment it was: News of the living and of life beyond these dusty walls and pain that could for however briefly stop the thoughts of intolerable waiting and fear.
After Chin finally ran down, Clara beamed proudly. "They sound so wonderful! You have a beautiful family." She glanced at Maryann. "You'll have a family like that one day."
Maryann managed a soft smile. "I don't think I shall have eight children."
Clara gave a small giggle. "God gives us the little brood he wishes, isn't that so, Father?"
Father Ramone gave a nod. "That he does, Ma'am."
An executive from the airline stepped through the doorway and all four of them rose, hope in their eyes. The man's expression was tense. "The teams have done all they can for today. Night has fallen. The sky is overcast. Perhaps tomorrow."
"I intend on going on to Bogata," Chin declared.
The executive did not even blink. "Out of the question."
"I want to go to Bogata," he repeated firmly.
"The flights have been stopped until we find the plane and determine why it crashed," the executive said in deliberate patience.
"You have shut down the airport?" Chin asked.
"The airline has stopped service temporarily," the man replied. "We are doing all we can to find your friends," he said as though he had said this many times lately.
Chin sat back down amongst the others. "I am going to Bogata," he repeated.
"You can't," Maryann said quietly. "I tried to get them - but " She shook her head.
Chin glanced from her to Clara to Father Ramone. "The airline isn't flying but there must be other planes."
Maryann blinked, not following him.
"We have money," Chin motioned towards Clara, "we have the language," he pointed at Father Ramone. "There must be a pilot here somewhere who would like to earn a few US dollars."
Ramone gave a knowing smile. "Yes, of course."
Danny and Steve each dozed occasionally, but were too wet and uncomfortable to drop into sleep. Each could feel the heartbeat of the other at his back, each movement of muscle, every breath taken. It was an unusual experience for neither was of the intimate nature. Each was being forced to consider the other as a living, breathing being with personal thoughts, feelings - apart yet so much alike.
"We need to make the river tomorrow," Danny murmured finally.
Steve wondered if Danny had been looking for a way to start conversation. "It may not be the end, but just the next step. The FARC is likely to patrol that river."
"You thought we should take the mountain," Danny answered.
Has this been on his mind? "Yes, I did. I still do. But that is no longer an issue, Danno. We are where we are." He wanted to sound open and accepting. I really want to shake him to his boots for not getting them to take the mountain with me. We might have been rescued by now if we'd gone over the mountain.
"Catava would have fought us. We need him."
"Need him? He needs us," Steve remarked.
He could feel Danny turn slightly. "Really. So we could have had both his militia and the FARC gunning for us?"
Steve was silent for a moment. "We would have dealt with it."
Dealt with it? Like we are dealing with it now? Attempting to survive half by luck, half by chance? Danny remembered the fear of hiding and running, fear a vehicle on the road, a child who appeared in the brush, anything that moved
Danny shifted his hips on the uncomfortable ground. "You did your time in the Navy, right Steve?"
"Yes," he replied, mildly surprised at the sudden personal question.
"Spend all of your time at sea?"
"All over actually," he replied. "I worked for Naval Operations. We were at war in Korea. I was there for a time." I suspect he is going somewhere with this, but where?
"Ever have your unit cut off?"
"Yes." His response was quiet. Steve remembered the freezing cold night that had taken the lives of two of the six members of their squad. One stepped on a land mine - an instant death. The other died of exposure. The other three died in the firefight that erupted with they were ambushed the next day. The Marine unit set to help them had never arrived... I know of the feeling of being alone, the feeling that help will not come - the feeling that I will survive by my own wits. The fear that I will survive, but alone "You are not the only one that has ever faced a tough spot, Danno. The team members trust each other even if it doesn't turn out like you want."
"I wouldn't know anything about that," he answered bluntly. "Command betrayed us, the nationals betrayed us, we betrayed our commander, then we betrayed each other." He hesitated, then impulsively pushed his usual stoic caution aside. As the drizzling tropical rain spattered on the knitted banana leaves, he told of how Tom Banks had died; how Kevin Reuter and he had fought their way out of Mexico; how Reuter had spent most of the time trying to weave a careful story that would protect him once they returned to the states. "Neither of us knew whose shot killed Tom or the civilians. But Reuter was determined it wasn't him. He claimed it over and over until I was pretty sure I'd killed Tom. Firing into the dark - not even seeing what I was shooting at - I did not know. I could not know." He paused. "In the end Kevin was telling a review board I killed Tom. He did not know that operations had already investigated the incident. Sent one of their best." He gave a half chuckle. "They sent Marten Camp, the guy who enlisted me. It was Reuter's bullet that killed Banks."
At the mention of Camp's name, Steve had perked up.
"But - I've always wondered." Steve could feel Danny's deep sigh against his back. "You'd have to know Camp. Things always turn out the way he wants them to. I have always wondered if he reported the truth."
I do know Marten Camp -- better than Danny thinks. And he is right - Camp will never reveal the truth if it makes him look bad.
Danny hesitated, took another slow deep breath that Steve could feel as well as hear. "You, everyone thinks it gets easier the longer you're in -- but it just gets harder. I was trained to kill. Guess I never lived up to my potential. I've always known that there might come the day came real close a time or two in hand-to-hand. But you know who you are fighting then. No mistakes. The idea of blindly firing away and possibly hitting the innocent I never want to feel that way again."
Steve's mind with fitting the pieces together that had been a mystery to nearly two years: Reluctance to trust his partners; refusal to use a firearm even when close combat was riskier; most importantly, a lack of faith in his superior. "We are a team this time, Danno," Steve commented. He could feel another emotional sigh through his back. "We will stand together. You can count on it."
"I know, Steve," His tone, if it lacked conviction, contained hope.
end Part 3
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