They didn’t have to open the hood to surmise what they would encounter beneath, but they did anyway. The scorched wires, slagged chips, and smoldering components that greeted their gaze confirmed what the rising smoke had already told them: that this vehicle would never travel under its own power again. Letting the hood slam shut on its ruined lifters, they moved to inspect the interior. From the fire-blackened center storage console and still-hot glove compartment they extracted respectively, among other items of newly-made rubbish, two lumps of blackened and seared equipment: their respective police spinners. As Cardenas let the now useless lumps fall to the wet ground, Hyaki leaned one massive hand on the composite frame of the ruined vehicle and gazed glumly at the surrounding greenery.
Slogging around to the back of the 4X4, Cardenas manually dropped the tailgate. “Can’t talk, so we walk. We’re a lot closer to the entrance to the Reserva and the Ciudad Simiano than we are to Progresso. Besides, I didn’t come all this way to go back.”
“I didn’t come all this way to get filthy dirty and soaked to my new skin, either, but at least it’s not cold.” Bending over alongside his friend, Hyaki began gathering those meager supplies that had survived the vehicle’s brief but intense internal conflagration. Their luggage, containing most of their clothing, gear, and their reserve spinners, resided unharmed back in the room they had rented at the Posada Progresso.
Making a face, Cardenas contemplated the cloud-filled sky. “Wait until tonight. At this altitude, even the jungle gets cold.”
“Thanks for apprising me of that fact,” Hyaki responded mordantly. “Frankly, I would have been happier dwelling in ignorance.”
THEY HAD MANAGED TO COVER LESS THAN A couple of kims when the rain resumed. Munching on the whole grain and fruit snack bar that constituted half his surviving rations, Hyaki glumly planted one foot in front of the other, his bare arms crossed over his chest. A small bottle of water bobbed in one pants pocket. Anticipating an afternoon arrival at the Reserva, they had brought little with them in the way of provisions.
At least they did not have to worry about conserving water. Though it added notably to their discomfort, the cool rain sufficed to slake their thirst. Save for their cupped palms, they had nothing to collect it in except their clothing, which was soon soaked through. Like almost everything else they had brought with them, their rain-repelling slickers had perished in the blaze that had consumed the doomed 4X4. In this dejected fashion they plodded grimly forward, wet and unhappy, waiting to hitch a ride that never materialized.
“Not many tourists up this way.” Cardenas tried to identify a small, bright red bird that was pecking at some fruit on the lower branches of a nearby tree. “La Amistad isn’t Monteverde or Corcovado.”
“It isn’t Nogales, either.” The shoes Hyaki had chosen were comfortable for walking—when they were dry. He glanced back the way they had come. “Surely a supply truck or ranger cruiser has to make regular runs along here?”
“I’m sure they do.” The Inspector leaped carefully over a deep, water-filled pothole. “Those feleons would avoid them. I guess we don’t look like rangers.” He looked over at his partner. “Some good comes out of everything. Maybe next time the survivors will think twice before trying to jump the first 4X4 that comes along.”
“I wish they’d thought about it this time.” The big man grimaced. “I need a steak.”
“Pretend you’re a twentieth-century urban beat cop.” Bending, Cardenas scooped up an arm-long length of fallen wood and tossed it toward his friend. “Here, have a nightstick.”
Hyaki swatted it aside, sending bark and droplets flying. “I’d rather have a beefstick. On a couple of fresh tortillas.” He glanced up at the lowering sky. “It’s getting dark.”
Cardenas squinted skyward. “Maybe the rain will go down with the sun.”
“You really think that?” So hopeful was the sergeant’s tone that Cardenas did not have the heart to tell him otherwise.
Surprisingly, the rain did let up as the light faded from the world. It did not come to an end completely, but instead was transformed into a clinging, all-pervasive mist. At the same time, the temperature actually rose as night descended. The result was an increase in cloying humidity that canceled out any benefit they might have enjoyed from the cessation of the rain.
Enough light lingered to show the track ahead of them branching off in three directions. Installed at the tripartite junction was a first-rate weatherproofed road sign, newly stamped and finished, that had been knocked sufficiently askew to render the directions imprinted thereon as useless as tits on a boar hog. Tired and discouraged, both men looked for a place to camp.
“Can’t go on in the dark,” Hyaki pointed out unnecessarily. The past couple of hours of heavy slogging had convinced him that the mud beneath their feet was imbued with a life of its own, and was deliberately crawling over his ankles and up his legs. “Wish I smoked.”
“Why is that?” Cardenas was hunting for a tree with enough of a leafy overhang to provide some added protection from the weather.
“Because then I’d have a lighter, and we could make a fire.”
“Don’t be too hard on yourself. Look around.” The Inspector indicated the sodden rainforest. “Where would you find anything to burn?”
The big man considered their rapidly darkening surroundings. “This isn’t my style, Angel. I’m used to chasing nins and baggerags through the back streets of Agua Pri and Sonoyta. Wilderness survival is way down on my resume.”
“Mine also,” confessed Cardenas as he began to gather fallen leaves to construct a makeshift mattress. “Maybe like you said, somebody will come by. If not, we’ll resume hiking tomorrow.”
Pulling his second and last snack bar from a pocket, Hyaki flashed it at his friend and made a face. “At least there’s no need to worry about breakfast. It’s already cooked. Not that I wouldn’t prefer a couple of breakfast burritos, with cheese and chorizo and sour cream and maybe a side of—”
“Shut up,” Cardenas snapped at him. “I don’t have to intuit the rest.”
Thankfully, the rain did not resume as they sat down next to one another beneath the ample bole of a big cecropia to wait for morning. With exhaustion compensating for the lack of a bed, they slept surprisingly well in spite of their saturated clothing.
Nor did they have to worry about oversleeping.
Cardenas awoke to a crawling sensation the likes of which he had experienced only once before, twenty years earlier while engaged in a stakeout in a rattrap of a motel in the worst part of Tucson. Those legs had been larger, but the sensation was the same.
Leaping to his feet, ignoring the stiffness in his bones, he began slapping and swatting at himself. His awakeners fought back with stings and bites. Fortunately, few had slipped beneath his outer clothing. With hands and face most at risk, he concentrated on those first.
Hyaki blinked sleepily, then gaped at his afflicted friend. “Tell me the tune you’re dancing to, Angel. I could use a—” The sudden realization that he had also become unwilling host to a sample of the uninvited sent him rocketing to his feet.
Together, they hopped and flailed at the ants that had invaded their clothing. Cardenas knew all about stimstick abusers, and crunch masters, about life on, above, and under the Strip. Living in the vastness of the Sonoran Desert had not prepared him to deal with the tropics. Had he been more versed in local ecology, he would have known that trees of the genus Cecropia are usually home to a varied assortment of tropical ants who live on and within them, and who do not take kindly to uninvited visitors.
It took twenty minutes of slapping, flicking, and inspecting before both men were reasonably confident they had rid themselves of their tiny but ferocious guests. They were now wide awake—and tired again.
Resignedly, Cardenas started forward down what he hoped was the right road, given the unhelpful angle of the single road sign. Wisps of damp fog clung to the treetops. Hidden birds hollered haunting cries. Within the canopy, unseen residents had commenced their morning commute. If their spinners had not been fried in their barbecue of a 4X4, the two federales could have called for a ride.
“How far do you think it is to the park boundary?” Hyaki found himself wondering if the anticipated ranger station was located on the edge of the Reserva, or deeper within.
Cardenas shuffled along beside his mountainous companion. “I don’t remember from the map. Didn’t pay much attention to it. Left it to the car’s navigation system.”
“My navigation system is sputtering.” The sergeant gazed longingly into the rainforest, envisioning bananas hanging ripe and heavy from beckoning branches.
The image notwithstanding, he was as startled as his partner when the three uakaris landed in front of them. Both men halted in shock. With their bright, pinkish-red, hairless faces and long white fur, the dog-sized simians resembled nothing so much as a trio of downsized yetis. Adding to the visitors’ astonishment was the realization that each of the newcomers carried a simple but undeniably efficient-looking knife and a small backpack.