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She comes out with a tray. Two plates, two fluted glasses, chèvre cheese on a bit of glossy banana leaf, water biscuits. “I’m afraid this will have to do. Anyway, you said you weren’t hungry.”

I spread a biscuit and hand it to her.

“If you feel all right, I was hoping you’d drive me to San Vincente.” She gestures at Bud Wilkins’s pickup truck. “I don’t like to drive that thing.”

“What if I didn’t want to?”

“You won’t. Say no to me, I mean. I’m a terrific judge of character.” She shrugs, and her breasts are slower than her shoulders in coming down.

“The keys are on the kitchen counter. Do you mind if I use your w.c. instead of going back upstairs? Don’t worry, I don’t have horrible communicable diseases.” She laughs.

This may be intimacy. “How could I mind? It’s your house.”

“Alfie, don’t pretend innocence. It’s Ransome’s house. This isn’t my house.”

I get the key to Bud’s pickup and wait for her by the bruised tree. I don’t want to know the contents of the crates, though the stencilling says “fruits” and doubtless the top layer preserves the fiction. How easily I’ve been recruited, when a bystander is all I wanted to be. The Indians put down their machetes and make signs to me: Hi, mom, we’re Number One. They must have been watching Ransome’s tapes. They’re all wearing Braves caps.

The road to San Vincente is rough. Deep ruts have been cut into the surface by army trucks. Whole convoys must have passed this way during the last rainy season. I don’t want to know whose trucks, I don’t want to know why.

Forty minutes into the trip Maria says, “When you get to the T, take a left. I have to stop off near here to run an errand.” It’s a strange word for the middle of a jungle.

“Don’t let it take you too long,” I say. “We want to be back before hubby gets home.” I’m feeling jaunty. She touches me when she talks.

“So Clovis scares you.” Her hand finds its way to my shoulder.

“Shouldn’t he?”

I make the left. I make it sharper than I intended. Bud Wilkins’s pickup sputters up a dusty rise. A pond appears and around it shacks with vegetable gardens.

“Where are we?”

“In Santa Simona,” Maria says. “I was born here, can you imagine?”

This isn’t a village, it’s a camp for guerrillas. I see some women here, and kids, roosters, dogs. What Santa Simona is is a rest stop for families on the run. I deny simple parallels. Ransome’s ranch is just a ranch.

“You could park by the pond.”

I step on the brake and glide to the rutted edge of the pond. Whole convoys must have parked here during the rainy season. The ruts hint at secrets. Now in the dry season what might be a lake has shrunk into a muddy pit. Ducks float on green scum.

Young men in khaki begin to close in on Bud’s truck.

Maria motions me to get out. “I bet you could use a drink.” We make our way up to the shacks. The way her bottom bounces inside those cutoffs could drive a man crazy. I don’t turn back but I can hear the unloading of the truck.

So: Bud Wilkins’s little shipment has been hijacked, and I’m the culprit. Some job for a middleman.

This is my house, Alfie.”

I should be upset. Maria’s turned me into a chauffeur. You bet I could use a drink.

We pass by the first shack. There’s a garage in the back where there would be the usual large, cement laundry tub. Three men come at me, twirling tire irons the way night sticks are fondled by Manhattan cops. “I’m with her.”

Maria laughs at me. “It’s not you they want.”

And I wonder, who was she supposed to deliver? Bud, perhaps, if Clovis hadn’t taken him out? Or Clovis himself?

We pass the second shack, and a third. Then a tall guerrilla in full battle dress floats out of nowhere and blocks our path. Maria shrieks and throws herself on him and he holds her face in his hands, and in no time they’re swaying and moaning like connubial visitors at a prison farm. She has her back to me. His big hands cup and squeeze her halter top. I’ve seen him somewhere. Eduardo’s poster.

“Hey,” I try. When that doesn’t work, I start to cough.

“Sorry.” Maria swings around still in his arms. “This is Al Judah. He’s staying at the ranch.”

The soldier is called Andreas something. He looks me over. “Yudah?” he asks Maria, frowning.

She shrugs. “You want to make something of it?”

He says something rapidly, locally, that I can’t make out. She translates, “He says you need a drink,” which I don’t believe.

We go inside the command shack. It’s a one-room affair, very clean, but dark and cluttered. I’m not sure I should sit on the narrow cot; it seems to be a catchall for the domestic details of revolution — sleeping bags, maps and charts, an empty canteen, two pairs of secondhand army boots. I need a comfortable place to deal with my traumas. There is a sofa of sorts, actually a car seat pushed tight against a wall and stabilized with bits of lumber. There are bullet holes through the fabric, and rusty stains that can only be blood. I reject the sofa. There are no tables, no chairs, no posters, no wall decorations of any kind, unless you count a crucifix. Above the cot, a sad, dark, plaster crucified Jesus recalls His time in the desert.

“Beer?” Maria doesn’t wait for an answer. She walks behind a curtain and pulls a six-pack of Heinekens from a noisy refrigerator. I believe I am being offered one of Bud Wilkins’s unwitting contributions to the guerrilla effort. I should know it’s best not to ask how Dutch beer and refrigerators and ’57 two-tone Plymouths with fins and chrome make their way to nowhere jungle clearings. Because of guys like me, in better times, that’s how. There’s just demand and supply running the universe.

“Take your time, Alfie.” Maria is beaming so hard at me it’s unreal. “We’ll be back soon. You’ll be cool and rested in here.”

Andreas manages a contemptuous wave, then holding hands, he and Maria vault over the railing of the back porch and disappear.

She’s given me beer, plenty of beer, but no church key. I look around the room. Ransome or Bud would have used his teeth. From His perch, Jesus stares at me out of huge, sad, Levantine eyes. In this alien jungle, we’re fellow Arabs. You should see what’s happened to the old stomping grounds, compadre.

I test my teeth against a moist, corrugated bottle cap. It’s no good. I whack the bottle cap with the heel of my hand against the metal edge of the cot. It foams and hisses. The second time it opens. New World skill. Somewhere in the back of the shack, a parakeet begins to squawk. It’s a sad, ugly sound. I go out to the back porch to give myself something to do, maybe snoop. By the communal laundry tub there’s a cage and inside the cage a mean, molting bird. A kid often or twelve teases the bird with bits of lettuce. Its beak snaps open for the greens and scrapes the rusty sides of the bar. The kid looks defective, dull-eyed, thin but flabby.

“Gringo,” he calls out to me. “Gringo, gum.”

I check my pockets. No Dentyne, no Tums, just the plastic cover for spent traveller’s checks. My life has changed. I don’t have to worry about bad breath or gas pains turning off clients.

“Gringo, Chiclets.”

The voice is husky.

I turn my palms outward. “Sorry, you’re out of luck.”

The kid leaps on me with moronic fury. I want to throw him down, toss him in the scummy vat of soaking clothes, but he’s probably some sort of sacred mascot. “How about this pen?” It’s a forty-nine cent disposable, the perfect thing for poking a bird. I go back inside.