From his spot on the mats of the death hut, Genius nods towards the doorway and barks, “Out there! Is anyone by the door? Come on, Goddess! Get with it! We don’t have much time.”
Startled by his sharp tone, Amy snaps from her lethargy. She steps to the narrow doorway to look out. Knots of somber murmuring people in groups of four or five gather, several yards away, as if afraid to come too close to the hut.
“Any one close enough to hear us?” Genius asks.
“Well, no.” Amy turns. “But, it’s not like they could understand what we say.”
“No,” Genius agrees. He yanks the arm of the Kidnap Leader. “But, I don’t think our friend, here, wants it known around the village that he understands and probably speaks English.” Genius yanks his arm, again. “Right, buddy.”
The native pulls his arm from Genius’ grasp and rubs his wrist. His wide face pinches for a contemplative moment, then, he sighs and nods.
“Okay. You got me. Yeah, I understand, and speak, English.” He pats the tattoo on his back shoulder. “I’m the leader here of what you would call the local branch of the Brotherhood of the Blood Orchid,” he tells them in precise, unaccented English. Turning to Amy, he tells her, “I was the one who gave the order to get you.”
Amy shifts to put Genius between her and the native. “Why did you want me killed?”
“Ah, mere semantics. My Spanish isn’t as good as my English. We wanted you kidnaped and brought here. The order was meant to ‘get’ you, not ‘kill’ you. “
“Brought here? What for?”
His reply is interrupted by Genius murmuring, “Oh, Sweet Jesus,” as he flops back and splays out on the pile of mats.
“What is it?” Helplessness overcomes her, as she wonders what to do.
Immediately, Genius props himself back up with his arms behind him and looks at the native. “Carlos is your… uncle?”
“He is married to my mother’s sister.”
“And, his job, all along, was to actually get us here safely?”
“And, I screwed that up?” Genius asks. The native forces a grin and shrugs. Genius continues, “He could have told me at the beginning.”
“Would you have come? Would you have let her come?”
Amy spreads her hands. “Will there be some point in this conversation where I’ll begin understanding what you two are talking about?”
The men look at one another, and finally, Genius nods for the man to explain.
“I’m not sure where to start.”
“Start with your name,” Genius suggests.
“I’m not sure you could pronounce my name. Call me Chewie. It was the nickname the Americans gave me, when I was a young boy. They got me hooked on Juicy Fruit, when I worked as a guide and messenger boy for the people who built roads and bridges around here.”
Genius extends his hand. “Hello, Chewie. Your Uncle Carlos knows me as Guillermo, I guess you can call me that, too. This is Amy Lindsay.”
Chewie gives Genius a perfunctory handshake as he stares reverentially at Amy. “The Ah Mah Lin Say.”
“Let’s start with that,” Genius suggests. “When did you discover an American actress was the patron saint or whatever for your village?”
“About two years ago, I was visiting my Uncle Carlos. He showed me a movie, SECRETS OF A CHAMBERMAID.” He turns to Amy. “You wore glasses in the beginning, so I didn’t see it at first. It was quite a shock to recognize you.”
“How did you ‘recognize’ her?”
“At the time, I was the apprentice to our medicine man. I had seen the sacred scrolls, including the legend of the Am Mah Lin Say. I told my Uncle Carlos about the incredible resemblance. I didn’t know he was already planning to bring me into the Brotherhood of the Blood Orchid, the Reformed Branch of the Brotherhood of the Blood Orchid. You see, that was about the time the Chinaman appeared in the jungle. With his dragon.”
Amy asks, “You do know the dragon is a helicopter?”
“I do. But, you must realize, very few of my people have traveled more then a mile or two away from our villages, including the Chief and the Medicine Man. Here, they are the authority. If they say it is a dragon, the people accept that it is a dragon.”
“Which can only be banished by the Ah Mah Lin Say,” muses Genius.
“We have tried to mobilize the people to fight the Chinaman. His followers are few, and we are many, but they have guns. And, he occupies the sacred castle, and to some of my people, including my Chief, that gives him special power and authority.”
“That can only be overcome by the Ah Mah Lin Say,” Amy spreads her hand. “You know I’m not a goddess.”
“Bite your tongue,” Genius interjects.
Chewie smiles. “And, you know there really isn’t a dragon. Even if there were, our plan doesn’t require you to slay it.”
“What does ‘your’ plan require?”
“There really is a holy glass sword. It was supposed to be well hidden in the castle, but the Chinaman found it. Our people have seen it on display. We; my Uncle Carlos, and other members of the Brotherhood, feel that all we need to get our people to come together and defeat the Chinaman is for the Ah Mah Lin Say to retrieve the sacred sword. All the villages will rally around you, and you can lead us into battle to defeat the Chinaman.”
“So, you want me to steal the sword and play Joan of Ark?”
Genius notes, “A role I’d say you were a bit old –.”
“Bite YOUR tongue,” Amy warns.
Genius asks, “Could you answer this question: Why should we believe you? And, why is your Uncle Carlos flying around in General Fu’s fake dragon and burning down villages?”
“That’s two questions,” Chewie points out with a grin. When he sees their seriousness, the grin vanishes. “Uncle Carlos is… how do you say? Undercover. Tales were told of how he… worked on the edges of the law? The Chinaman is ‘blackmailing’ him.”
“A bit hard to prove.”
“No it isn’t,” Amy realizes. “If he were really working for General Fu, why hasn’t he burned down THIS village?”
“He knows about this place?” Genius asks.
“He helped build it many years ago.”
Genius laces his fingers behind his head and stretches out on the mats. Reflection covers his face. Finally, he tells Chewie, “Can you wait outside for a minute.”
“Of course.” His eyes dart towards Genius’ wound. “I’ll go get something to put on that.”
Amy’s forgotten the snake bite. She glances down, and a lump clogs her throat. In the short time they had spoken with Chewie, the small puncture grew to the size of a golf ball and turned a pink, grayish hue. The scratch had a similar color, but was not as large.
Chewie flashes Amy a worried look before ducking out the hut doorway.
“How did you know he spoke English?”
“He laughed, back at the pit, when I made an ‘other white meat’ joke.”
“That was a joke?” Amy’s forced smile fades, as she kneels beside Genius and nods towards his wound. “Bad.”
“Very bad. I’m going to have to go away for a while.”
“Shut myself down. Induce a coma.”
“Can you do that?”
“I have before. Once. It may be my only chance. I took a small dose of venom; good thing I caught only a glancing blow, and it got mostly bone. But, it’s going to spread through my bloodstream, and if I can slow it down, while it loses its strength, the potency might thin out enough not to paralyze my heart and lungs.” He takes hold of Amy’s hand. “I’m afraid that’s going to leave you on your own. I’m not going to be able to slay the dragon and save the damsel. She’s going to have to save herself.”
“I’m not entirely helpless.”
“No, you’re not.” He unconsciously rubs the scar she’d put on the back of his left hand once during fencing practice. He closes his eyes and takes a long deep breath. “Get the sword and get out of there. Don’t take any unnecessary chances.” He opens his eyes. “And, remember, don’t take any crap from them. You’re a goddess, damn it.”
“And, you’re a genius, damn it. You find a way not to die on me.”
“I’ll be here,” he assures her. “I don’t know how good I’ll smell.”
Amy chuckles, despite the lump in her throat. “Quoting AIRPLANE. Always with a joke.”
Genius closes his eyes. He takes another long breath and settles deeper into the mats. “Amy?”
“Letting me love you, pure and chaste, from afar.”
What response is there to that? “Just keeping you in line until Mrs. Genius…”
“Whoever she might be,” they say together.
“… comes along,” Amy finishes.
Genius’ chest rises and falls. And, after several frantic motionless seconds, rises and falls, again.
A soft rap on the door frame heralds Chewie’s return. He cradles a gourd with some gooey, grey concoction that makes Amy’s eyes water even more. She starts to speak to him, then, sees a teenage girl trailing in behind Chewie. Her inquisitive eyes linger on Amy for a moment, then, she kneels at Genius’ side. Chewie speaks to her in low earnest tones and demonstrates how to apply the mixture to the wounds.
Chewie finishes the instructions and stands and takes Amy’s arm to lead her outside the hut. The lights have dimmed, giving the underground village a sense of dusk. Chewie looks around to make certain they are alone.
“The Chief insists we take you to the castle tonight.”
“We have a group going out in a few minutes.”
“A group? For what?”
“The ‘kidnapped’ villagers my Uncle Carlos told you about? The Chinaman is forcing them to work in his fields. Our own people are overseers, so, we ‘rotate’ the workers. The Chinaman and his people are too few to guard them all the time so they don’t notice the different faces. By doing this, our warriors learn the layout around the castle. Every two weeks, we do the change. Tonight is such a night.”
Amy glances back at the death hut.
“Your friend will be given the best care possible, I assure you.”
“He’d better,” Amy warns. “Or, the Ah Mah Lin Say will be very, very angry.” Amy gives the hut one last, lingering look, then, tells Chewie, “Okay. Let’s go get your damned sword.”
“I’ll be damned,” an awed Amy Lindsay whispers.
Thanks to Chewie’s night goggles, she spies the medieval castle springing out of the middle of the jungle. An orchid field a couple of acres wide and sits within a large stone wall, forming an outer courtyard. It ends where another wall rises up to enclose a second, hidden inner courtyard. Amy’s gaze lingers on the back of the castle and its imposing stone wall and high rounded turrets.
“To the right,” Chewie whispers. “Near the corner of the outer wall, there is an escape tunnel.” He turns from where they crouch among the foliage on the ridge and emits a series of whistles. There is a brief rustle, as the two dozen men and women who accompanied them on the six hour trek move off.
Whispering, Chewie tells her that the replacements will work their way around to the south side of the castle, the servants’ quarters. The jungle grows to the edge of the castle on the north and west sides, but is ‘guarded’ by General Fu’s menagerie of dangerous animals. The rear of the castle is a different story. “The Chinaman thinks the Brotherhood is his ally. Uncle Carlos is in charge of castle security. We know exactly where to go, and when.” He lifts the goggles from Amy’s face. “Stay close.”
Within ten minutes, Chewie halts them at the foot of the twelve-foot grassy incline that leads to the fifteen-foot outer stone wall. Signaling Amy to wait, he scrambles up the slope to the corner of the castle’s wall. After aligning himself, Chewie paces off long, measured steps. After a dozen steps, he stops and turns. Dropping to all fours, he skitters down the slope. Three quarters of the way down, he stops and begins feeling around in the grass.
Realizing he is searching for a door or secret latch, Amy scurries to his side. Chewie whispers, “Here.” He pulls something, and several feet up and to the left of them, a soft grinding sound accompanies the upswing of a four-by-four section of the grassy incline. Dim, flickering light, as if from a flame source far down a corridor, crawls down the slope.
“Quickly,” Chewie urges. “It shouldn’t be visible from the castle, but we can’t take the chance.”
Amy scrambles down the slope to the opening. A short set of steps lead downward to a long stone corridor. About sixty feet down the corridor, a single torch clings to a wall. Beyond, complete darkness. She hesitates.
Chewie joins her. “Don’t worry. Uncle Carlos left the torch for us.”
Chewie squeezes through the opening. Amy follows. Chewie waits for her to move past, then, twists an iron ring on the wall. The hatch slowly drops.
The corridor is cooler and dryer than Amy expected. Chewie sets a quick pace, and soon, they are at the torch. Chewie plucks it from the wall, and they continue into the darkness.
Almost out of nowhere, a stone wall blocks their path. Chewie finds another stone ring and twists it. The wall swings towards them. The room is a kitchen, lit by a single yellow light glinting off the highly polished metal surfaces of world-class furnishings.
Chewie waves Amy inside, then, signals for her to wait, while he hangs the torch inside the cave and closes the secret door, which is camouflaged on the kitchen side by a large set of pots and pans that dangle from hooks.
The click of a flipped switch and a sudden explosion of light prompt Amy to drop to one knee. She twists, looking for something to dive behind and choosing the large utility island in the middle of the kitchen.
“No need to hide, Miss Lindsay,” says an unfamiliar voice… a voice a bit high pitched. “We’ve been waiting for you.” Seeing Chewie has made no effort to hide; in fact seems nonplused, Amy stands slowly.
Across the kitchen, holding open a pair of swinging doors, waits a grim-faced Carlos in his green uniform. And, beside him: a small, gaunt Oriental man. Despite his lack of stature, he stands barely five feet tall, and though he wears a thick, inoffensive silk lounging robe, he maintains a strong, commanding military bearing. General Fu.
“A bit early for my liking,” continues the voice. ‘So, forgive me, if I delay the introductions for a more suitable hour.” Fu signals Chewie with a nod.
“Sorry, Miss Lindsay,” Chewie says.
Amy turns to look at him and is unable to avoid his touch, as he reaches for her arm. She feels a brief sting and jerks away. The shiny room begins to swirl out of control, and she feels herself falling, until darkness smothers her.
TO BE CONTINUED