The night air felt good in my lungs when I opened my eyes. I was lying on grass, looking up at stars that showed through rents in the cloudy sky. The dark bulk of the hedge was still there. From its position, it seemed to me that I should be lying on the pavement where Jeff had jumped me, instead of on grass. I puzzled over it for a while, too tired to move. My throat hurt.
It was a couple of minutes before I felt like sitting up. I had been hauled through, or under, the hedge into the field on the other side. I could hear the running water of an irrigation sluice. There was nothing to see. When I stood up, I had no shoes on.
I groped around in the dark until I found them. The insoles had been torn out, and the cuttings were gone. So was everything that had been in my pockets — money, keys, passport, traveler’s checks. He hadn’t left me so much as a cigarette. Even the lining of my coat had been ripped loose.
The hike to the pension put me back into shape, except for the sore throat. I stumbled a little, at first — my legs felt like boiled spaghetti — but pretty soon I was going along good, stepping high and breathing deeply. Where the shadows were dark and nobody could see me, I shadow-boxed to tighten my loose muscles. By the time I reached the gate of the pension garden, I was all right again, except for my throat.
The gate was closed for the night. A hunchbacked concerje, wrapped in a gunnysack, sat motionless on the steps inside. I croaked at him through the wicket until he woke up and let me in.
"Has the big gringo come in?" I asked him. My voice was like a bullfrog’s.
"Fifteen minutes ago."
"Which is his room?"
"The second floor, up the outside stairway. Beyond that I cannot tell you."
"It is enough."
A dim light glowed over the stairway that led to the second floor. It was a shaky thing, added on after the building had been turned into a pension, and it swung under me with each step. I went up heavily and slowly. At the top, there was a short hall with four doors. One, which was open, led to a bathroom. Two of the others, badly fitted in their frames, showed no cracks of light. The third did. I pushed at it.
It swung open. I followed it in, barely catching myself from falling. Jeff, sitting at a table on which all my stuff was spread out, looked up at me, grinning his wolf grin. The belly-gun lay near his hand.
"Well, well," he said. "Junior again. Back for a rematch?"
I blinked at him. He had the cuttings spread out in front of him, and was trying to line them up into some kind of sequence. He looked so pleased with himself that I guessed he hadn’t got far enough along to find out that what he had didn’t mean anything.
I weaved over to the table and reached clumsily for the slips with my left hand. He didn’t bother with the gun. I looked too easy for that. When he stood up to smack me, I hooked a right at his chin, as hard as I could throw it. He went headfirst over the back of his chair and hit the wall. Before he could get up, I landed on his chest and was softening him up with both hands, taking out on him not only the sore throat and spaghetti legs he had left me but all I had put up with from Naharro and his son and his criatura. It didn’t do Jeff any good, but it helped me.
After he stopped struggling, I climbed off and recovered the things he had taken out of my pockets. The cuttings and Naharro’s list I left on the table, but I took the gun. There was a pitcher of water in a basin on a nightstand near the bed. I poured it on him until he sat up and shook his head.
"How did you like the rematch?" I croaked.
He didn’t say anything, just sprawled there in the puddle I had made for him, blinking groggily. I said, "That was just to make us even. Before you try to jump me again, I’m giving you your piece. Naharro foxed me out of the manuscript. I need your help."
It woke him up better than another splash from the pitcher would have done. He said, "What happened?"
"My throat hurts too much to answer questions now. I’ve got a photograph of the parchment in a bank vault downtown. How long will it take you to translate it?"
"A day. Two days. I can’t tell until I see it. But if Naharro has the original..."
"We’ve got to beat him out, that’s all. The photograph is clearer than the original. He’s already translated part of it from those clippings you found in my pocket, but he doesn’t know that I still have a complete print, and he hasn’t any reason to hurry. We can head him off if we work fast."
"Can you get the print tonight?"
"I don’t know. I’m going to try. There’s one other thing. Berrien only had three pieces of the parchment. As far as I could tell, they were right out of the middle of the twelve. They may not be worth a damn, or they may take us somewhere. If we find anything, we split fifty-fifty — but I market the stuff."
Jeff got up and dried his face and hair with a towel before he said anything to that.
"What do you know about marketing it?"
"I know that the government will give us a reward for discoveries — maybe not as much as we could get somewhere else, but enough. I’m not going to try to smuggle it out of the country."
"Leave it to me, then. I’ve got connections in La Paz, in Bolivia. I’ve taken stuff out before, across Lake Titicaca from Puno..."
"We’re not going to take it out, across Lake Titicaca or any other way. I’m telling you now. I don’t want to run up against the government. If there’s anything at all to find, we’ll make a fair piece of change out of it and still be on the right side of the law."
He rubbed the towel over his hair, frowning. I said, "We do it that way or not at all. Make up your mind."
"O.K. But you’re a sucker. Why cut the government in?"
"Because I like to travel around these countries under my own name."
It hit. His lips tightened. He had had another name, once — a name that belonged to a man with better use for a sound knowledge of archaeology and the Quechua language than sharpshooting for odds and ends of Incaic jewelry to palm off on a shady fence like Alfredo Berrien. But all he said was, "O.K. You’re the boss."
He put out his hand. We shook.
"Now I’m going downstairs and use the phone," I said. "Have you got anywhere with the cuttings?"
"Not yet. I was trying to sort them."
"The sequence doesn’t mean anything. Naharro’s translations of the batch you found in my pocket are on that sheet of paper. The slips that were in my shoes haven’t been translated yet. Go to work on them while I see if I can wake up the bank."
It took me four phone calls to get hold of the bank manager at his home. He had already gone to bed and didn’t like being waked up by a bullfrog croaking at him over the telephone. The vault had a time lock, anyway.
Jeff was scowling at Naharro’s list of translations when I got back to his room, comparing it with the slips that had been translated. He shook his head as I came in.
"Naharro foxed you in more ways than one. These are all sour. Nobody living can tell you what most of these words are without seeing the context. He’s put this one down as campo, open field, but it can mean a closed patio, or even a closed room. And this one means ’south,’ nothing but ’south.’ He’s put it down as ’west.’ "
"He was stringing me along until he could get hold of the parchment himself. He knew what I had even before I showed up in Arequipa. Cornejo is his son."
"How did you find that out?"
"By busting into Naharro’s house to get the manuscript back from him, and having Cornejo run me out with a gun just before you jumped me."
"Uh, huh. That’s why I never heard his name. I knew Naharro had a son, but he sent him to college in the States and I never ran into him. Who is the phony nurse — a daughter?"
"A criatura. Her mother gave her to Naharro when she was a kid."
"I wouldn’t mind having a criatura like that myself." Jeff grinned admiringly. "I suppose Naharro planted her on Berrien so she could tip him off whenever Berrien got onto something good. He must have been stealing stuff right out from under Berrien’s nose. I told you he was a fox."
"Or a snake. That’s a dirty way to do business."
"The whole racket is dirty business. It’s the only way you can play it. The minute you sink a spade into a burial mound without a permit from the government, you’re outside the law. From then on, it’s cut-throat."
"Why not get a permit, then?"
"You don’t know Peru. No, we’ll pay a little fine when the time comes — after we get the stuff."
He was in good humor, now that he was on the right side of the manuscript. Even the mouse I had planted under his eye didn’t seem to bother him. He rubbed his hands and went back to work with the cuttings, correcting or qualifying Naharro’s translations first. He didn’t have Naharro’s reference books and didn’t seem to need them. Occasionally a word would stump him, but he put it aside and went on to the next, saving the doubtful one until he could study it in context.
I watched him for a while, yawning. I had had a full day. He finally said, "I’ll be working on these all night. Why don’t you go back to the hotel and get some sleep? One of us has to get up early and find out when the train leaves for Cuzco. I can work on your prints on the train, and it won’t hurt to let Naharro know you’ve pulled out — say, for Lima, or some other place that isn’t Cuzco."
"It’s an idea. I’ll see you in the morning."
I started for the door. Without looking up from his work, he said, "How about my gun?"
"I feel safer with it."
"Safer from what?"
"Get one of your own, then."
"I like yours."
I left him with that to think over and went down the rickety staircase and out through the dark garden to where the hunchbacked concerje crouched in his gunny sack, shivering with cold, by the gate. He would sit there all night, every night, to earn five or ten soles a week — unless he was another criatura, and got only the rice for his belly and the gunnysack to keep himself warm. I wondered if he knew that his ancestors had worn golden crowns and called themselves sons of the sun.
It surprised me to see Raul in the cantina at the hotel. Julie was with him, still sober, as far as I could tell, which was even more strange. That they were together didn’t mean anything, because two people like that would come together like two raindrops, wherever they met. But Raul should be having more important work to do than buying limonadas for a gringa.
I realized that he was there to keep an eye on me, see what I would do next. That made it easy. I told the clerk that I was leaving the next day for Mollendo, by train, and to call me early. As I slunk past the cantina, I was careful not to meet their eyes.
Julie laughed at my beaten-down look, a loud, long, mocking laugh that followed me up the stairs.
Copyright © 1949 by David Dodge, copyright renewed 1976 by Kendal Dodge Reynoso.