After retrieving the packs he and Jack had left at the edge of the forest, Frank had been escorted to the contra camp, somewhere in the dense jungle.
It was pitch black once they left the open fields, and he was concentrating too hard just to keep up with the comandante to be paying much attention to the direction they were traveling. He would have a hard time finding his way back to town on his own.
There were maybe thirteen men in the unit, all of them between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five, except for the one boy who came to the house with Joaquin. Most of those who were awake looked nervous, or sleepy, and it was clear none of them had seen action before.
They greeted the wounded American with mixed reactions. Some were exuberant, apparently thinking that he was just the first of many Americans who would be coming to sweep the Sandinistas out within the month. Some were concerned, offering him the most comfortable place to sleep and a swig of whiskey to dull the pain, which he had to refuse. And some were suspicious, and had no desire to associate with him at all.
Joaquin introduced them all quickly, and Frank knew the names they gave him were no more close to being accurate than the one he’d given them. Some went by Pablo or Pedro or Juan, while others chose more colorful pseudonyms like the Snake or the Eagle or the Hawk. And a few picked American names-there was a Mike, and a Bob, and the youngest boy went by Charlie.
They all went to sleep after that, except for one man who was leaning against a tree on watch. Frank couldn’t sleep, though, so he lay on the ground and stared at the leaves overhead until Joaquin woke up just before dawn.
Charlie was picked to lead Frank back to the town. The kid wasn’t very happy about this assignment, and he wasn’t speaking to Frank much except to warn him of rough spots or sudden turns in the trail, which were hard to see in the predawn gloom.
“Look, don’t you think maybe you should send somebody a little older?” Joaquin had just raised an eyebrow at this suggestion. “He’s what, fourteen? He’s a child, for God’s sake. What the hell’s he doing here, anyway?”
He hadn’t meant for the kid to overhear him.
Joaquin’s terse answer echoed in his mind, as he struggled to keep up with his guide. “He is an orphan. Both his parents were killed in the war, almost a year ago.” For once his face had lost that usual barely concealed scorn, and his tone was bleak. “Where else can he go?”
There wasn’t time to think about that now. He had enough to think about, trying to keep up with the kid when it felt like someone was twisting a knife in his side with every breath he took. With three thousand American dollars, the whole of his and Jack’s emergency cash, in his back pocket and a 9mm shoved into the waistband of his pants, he was going to get his friend out of that jail. Somehow.
Maybe the cops will be sensible, and just take the money and let us go quietly, he thought. Knowing it was unlikely. With the kind of luck he and Jack usually had…
Think positive, Cromwell.
Charlie’s footsteps were practically silent, as the boy moved quickly ahead of him like a slender shadow. Every now and then he’d glance back, and wait a few seconds for the American to catch up. It was nearly an hour before they reached the edge of the jungle, and by this time the sun had risen.
Fog lay heavy on the open fields between them and the town, clinging to their clothes with a chill dampness, but Frank knew that once the sun was a little higher it was going to be a hot and sticky day. He was already sweating just from the fairly slow walk through the forest, and he hoped like hell this little business transaction would go smoothly and let him and Jack be on the trail back to Honduras by nightfall.
Charlie looked at him, his face clearly visible now in the sunlight, his eyes carefully blank, and Frank nodded. I’m all right, he thought, but he didn’t have the breath to spare to say it. Hang on, Jack. He stared ahead at the fog-shrouded outlines of the houses. We’re comin’. We’re gonna get you out of there. Don’t you worry.