They stopped at a small farm about half an hour later, near a small village, and the driver left and went inside the farmhouse. He never gave a reason. Ten minutes later they were driving through trees again, leaving the fields and towns behind. It was slow progress now, with the rain pounding down in sheets. The old truck limped along, distressed noises coming from the engine as the big tires sank several inches into the thick mud of the road.
The driver was starting to look distinctly nervous, darting glances left and right, like he expected to see a Sandinista patrol materialize out of the rain any minute.
Frank didn’t let on he’d noticed, but all the same he sat up a little straighter, squinting into the rain. “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”
He was thinking that if there were any bad guys out there, it would be damn hard to see them in this rain, especially if they were in camouflage. Dammit, the spooks back at the camp had said they weren’t likely to run into government forces if they took this road…
Jack kept his tone light, but Frank saw his hands reach for his gun, long fingers playing with the safety catch. “I’m thinkin’ our buddy here knows something we don’t, and it ain’t good news.”
“I’m thinkin’ we’re gonna crash into a tree if he doesn’t start lookin’ at the road,” Frank said, then switched to Spanish, turning to the driver. “Why did we stop back there?”
It was a couple minutes before he got an answer. The truck lurched, swerving to the side as the driver hit the brakes. “State Security police passed through that village yesterday,” he told them flatly. The two Americans looked at each other, alarmed. “You will get out. Now.”
Jack’s eyebrows shot up. “Ah… excuse me?” The man just looked at him. “You’re supposed to take us within five miles of the contact point. Or you don’t get paid. Remember?”
The three guys in the back were glancing at each other nervously, as the driver growled, “Get out.”
Jack and Frank looked at each other, and Jack gave an imperceptible shrug. They’d be less visible off the road and on foot, anyway. Even if they did get soaked through. “Have it your way, amigo.”
And so they grabbed their packs out of the back, wrapped themselves in their rather pathetically thin ponchos, and slipped silently off the road and into the forest.
For the next few hours they stayed just off the road, close enough to follow it without being seen. It wasn’t easy going, ducking wet branches, thick mud sucking at their boots with every step. The trees overhead blocked some of the rain, but it wasn’t long before they were wet through in spite of the ponchos.
“Well this was a smart idea!” Jack shouted over the noise of the rain.
Frank shook his head. “What, you mean walking the rest of the way?” Hell, he thought, by the time we get to the town we’ll be so covered with mud nobody’ll see we’re Americans. “Not like we have a hell of a lot of choice. Or did you mean coming to this wonderful little vacation spot in the first place?”
“I thought this was supposed to be the dry season!”
“I don’t think I want to see the rainy season,” Frank said unnecessarily. They walked on for a while in silence, concentrating on moving forward and avoiding the various trees, vines, and wet tangled undergrowth. Both of them were shivering by now, heads bowed against the rain, wondering how many miles they had to go to get to the next town.
After a moment Jack looked up. “Ethelred,” he announced, just loud enough for Frank to hear him.
“What do you think?”
It took Frank’s tired brain a couple seconds to recognize the conversation they’d abandoned hours ago. “Somehow I don’t think that’s the kind of name Sara has in mind.”
Jack grabbed his arm, pulling him out of the way of a swaying tree branch. “No, what do you think it means?”
“Oh, for cryin’ out loud.” He squinted ahead of them into the misty gray trees, recognizing Jack’s attempt to keep them both focused on something besides how soaked and muddy and exhausted they were, and tried to think of something reasonably creative. “Maybe it doesn’t have a meaning. Maybe somebody made it up and thought it sounded pretty.”
Jack sounded disappointed. “Aww, come on, it has to mean something.”
“Yeah, I think you’re right,” Frank retorted, putting out a hand to lean against a convenient tree for a two second breather. “I think it means ‘son of the village idiot.’”
“Oh, very funny.”
“Hey, I try.” The sky through the trees seemed to be getting darker, whether from the clouds or approaching nightfall he couldn’t tell. “Am I seein’ things, or are we getting close to the end of these trees?”
“We’d better be,” was Jack’s only response. Then, a few minutes later, in a perfectly innocent tone, “You think there’s a name that means ‘my dad’s best friend is a loser’?”