Art Adkins
Author & Leadership Instructor
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Mindwalkers - Chapter 40

Chapter 40

The incursion had worked to perfection.  June had landed the Tross with the precision of a surgeon on the Amazon River several miles downstream of the cocaine center they were to hit.  June and Dustin Zane had joined the Navy Seal team for the assault of the drug base.

The heat and humidity were intense and everyone was drenched within minutes of walking through the jungle.  The Lieutenant looked over at Dustin Zane who was holding an assault rifle.  The weapon looked like a toy in his huge hands.  The camouflage clothing the team leader had given him was too small, but they had been the largest they could find on such short notice.

“Sorry about the clothes.  We don’t have many recruits as large as you.”

“No bother.  It’ll work.”

“I triangulated the location of the research lab in Colombia where your friend was held.  I’ve plotted a course I would’ve taken if pursued.  When we’re done here, we’ll go looking for him.”

“I thought your orders were to destroy the drug base and return.”

“Are you and June going to leave this jungle without looking for your friend?”

Dustin Zane paused and stared at the combat man.  “No, we’re not.”

“Didn’t think so.  You’ll need help.  Since we’re here we might as well find your friend.”  Lieutenant Kiesel smiled and slapped Dustin Zane on the shoulder.  “Let’s step it up so we can get to the real business at hand.”

The cocaine depot was not as well guarded as they had been led to believe.  The remote facility had never been assaulted in the past and they had seen no need for guards.  The Seal team made short work of the facility and burned the cocaine.  Once the equipment was destroyed, Lieutenant Kiesel called for support.  Three helicopters from the Colombian military swarmed in.

A short soldier, a colonel by his insignia, disembarked and marched quickly to Lieutenant Kiesel.

“My government protests this incursion into Colombian territory.  You and your men must leave immediately,” said Colonel Torres.

“Hold on, Colonel.  Just following orders.  Seems this here cocaine lab was distributing a lot of powder into the US.”  Before Lieutenant Kiesel could say anything else, the Colonel cut him off.

“I don’t care about your drug problems.  Your capitalist government will have to deal with that.  I do care about my country and its sovereign right to protect its borders.  Now you will have….”  Colonel Torres was cut short.

Dustin Zane stepped forward and grabbed the Colonel by the front of his jacket.  Snatching him almost off his feet, he pulled the Colombian to within inches of his face and he pressed his revolver against the side of his head.

“I’m tired, sweaty and I’ve been bitten by more bugs than I’ve ever seen thanks to this filthy jungle of yours.  We have a friend who is lost out here and we’re gonna find him.  If you try to stop us, I’ll kill you.  Do you comprende?”

The Colombian soldiers reacted when they saw their Colonel with a gun pressed to his head.  The soldiers immediately reached for weapons and so did the Seal team.  It was a stand-off.  June was nearest the second in command and shoved the barrel of his gun against the man’s face.

“I wouldn’t do that if I was you.  We’re just gonna be here for a little while.  Get used to it.”

Lieutenant Kiesel stepped forward and attempted to diffuse the situation. 

“Turn him loose Zane.  He’s no good to us dead.”

Dustin Zane sent the Colonel sprawling to the ground.  Slowly the man climbed to his feet and faced the angry man in front of him.

“You have a lot of nerve coming in here and putting a gun to my head.  I could call in additional troops and wipe you from the face of the jungle.  No one would ever know you were gone.”  Colonel Torres walked back up to Dustin Zane.

“You could try.  I want go peacefully.”  Dustin Zane holstered his revolver.

“A Colt .45?”

“Yup.”

“May I hold it?”

“Nope.  I don’t trust you.”

“Your friend must be important to you.”

“He would do the same for me.  I’m sure you have friends who would do the same for you.”

Colonel Torres gazed off into the jungle for several minutes, his eyes taking on a faraway look.  When he focused back on Dustin Zane there was a hint of sadness on his face.

“Maybe many years ago, but time and power corrupt.  Friendships become political alliances and compromises are made.  The true role of the soldier becomes forgotten so agendas can be met and accomplished. Ideals become watered down and lost.”  Colonel Torres turned to his troops and spoke to them in Spanish.  “Put your weapons down.  Extend hospitality to these men.”

“Thank you,” said June, walking up to join the two men.

“Now where was your friend last seen?” asked the Colonel.

“Let me show you on a map,” replied Lieutenant Kiesel.

Spreading a map out in front of them, Lieutenant Kiesel identified the research laboratory.

“It was hit about two days ago and most everyone was killed.  We believe Slade and another man escaped.  Any ideas on where they may have gone or which route they would have taken?” asked Lieutenant Kiesel.

Colonel Torres studied the map and traced his finger across it.

“There are several possibilities.  This is a very remote part of jungle and sparsely inhabited, except by some remote native tribes.  If it was me I would have tried to make it to the river.  This tributary leads to the Amazon.  Also, moving along the river bank would be the quickest way to travel.  The jungle is all but impenetrable in this area.” 

“How far is that from here?” asked June, studying the map.

“Walking it will take you a week or longer.  But by air we can be there in a few hours.”  Colonel Torres motioned toward the helicopters.

“Can we borrow one?” asked June, smiling at the Colonel.

“I’ll do better than that.  I’ll fly you there.”

“Why?” asked Dustin Zane.

“A man was killed at the research lab.  A man who believed in those ideals you and I spoke of.  He was a man of science, a visionary.  A great man that has been taken from Colombia.  I would like to meet who did that and return the favor.  His name was Juan Domingo and he was a….a friend.”  Colonel Torres stood up as he was speaking.

Without another word, Dustin Zane slipped his Colt .45 free and handed it to the Colonel.  Removing his shoulder holster he passed that over to the Colonel along with his two speed loaders.

“I have another one in our plane.  I always carry two with me.  Consider them a gift.  I was wrong about you.”

“Thank you.  And I may have been wrong about all of you.  We all want the same thing.”

Without another word, Colonel Torres started giving orders to his men and they sprang to carry them out. One of the helicopters would be used to carry the prisoners and most of the Colombian soldiers back to base.  The other two helicopters would be used to scout the area for Slade. 

Piling into the lead helicopter, Colonel Torres motioned for the pilot to take off.  Within seconds they were in the air.  The green expanse of jungle beckoned in front of them.  The ribbon of river curled lazily out of the foliage and the pilot dropped down to within two hundred feet of the water. 

Everyone in the helicopter stared at the banks of the river hoping to see Slade.  It was a long shot, but the only one they had.

                                                 ***************************

Morning had found them on the narrow beach.  Cody had deteriorated during the night.  The fever had worsened and brought a series of chills, wracking his body every few minutes.  Slade could do nothing to alleviate his pain and the feeling of helplessness was overwhelming.    

Waiting on the mist to clear revealed another cause for concern.  Lying on the bank facing them were two large crocodiles, their eyes were riveted on the intruders.  They had not yet determined if the men were helpless, but by their demeanor, it was evident they intended for Slade and Cody to be lunch.  Slade backed away from them.  Escape by the river was no longer an option.  If there were two lying on the bank, there were countless more in the depths of the river.  Slade stared out at the fast moving water and said a silent prayer, acknowledging it had been fortuitous for them to have escaped the crocs while in the water.

Leaving the crocodiles, Slade surveyed his surroundings.  Slade walked along the rock walls looking for a way to escape.  The water had cut deeply into the cliff during flood times, leaving the beach area and the narrow strip of sand.  Boulders the size of a small bus was near the cliff overhang.  Slade estimated it was about eighty feet to the rim of the cliff.  The face of the cliff was peppered with plants attempting to gain a foothold.  Erosion over the years had created small indentures in the rock, but it was still a long way up.  The problem was finding a way out that was not too treacherous.

Sounds behind him.  Slade turned and saw the two crocodiles crawling toward Cody.  Grabbing some of the largest rocks he could, he rushed forward, hurling them at the reptiles and striking them several times.  The crocs retreated, but not all the way to the water.  Slade knew they would become emboldened once they figured out he could do them little harm. 

Slade grabbed Cody and drug him to one of the boulders.  Using some smaller rocks, Slade built some steps so he could access the top.  The flat portion of the boulder was about eight feet in diameter, but it was a good twelve feet off the ground.  That should keep the crocs at bay until he could engineer a way to escape.

It took all of his strength to wrestle Cody to the top of the boulder.  He almost dropped him and had to hang on as tight as he could.  It was not the most comfortable platform, but it was safe.

Resuming his search, Slade started to scour the small spit of land in the hope of finding something he could use as a weapon or a means of escape.  He found neither.  Returning to Cody, he checked him again and felt his forehead.  The man was burning up.  The infection was spreading rapidly and Slade knew he had to get him medical help or he would die.

Leaving the safety of the boulder, Slade approached the face of the rock wall.  There had to be a way of escape.  After carefully studying all possibilities, Slade selected the route most likely to meet with success.  He knew if he fell he would be killed depending on high up he was.  There was also the possibility he could be injured, which would lead to his death as well.  Unfortunately he did not see any other options.

Slade looked back at Cody.  Cody would have to be okay until he returned.

Moving to the face of the rock wall, Slade started to climb.  He was not fond of heights but he was not afraid of them. The physical exertion required to climb was taxing and he found himself exhausted half way up the cliff.  Clinging to the tiniest of projections, Slade leaned against the rock wall and tried to regain his strength.  He could feel his muscles cramping and knew he had to move to survive.  He did not dare look down, but focused on the way up.

Slowly he kept inching his way up the rock wall.  Twice he slipped and almost fell his heart beating so loud he thought it was going to burst from his chest.  The smell of his sweat mixed with the acrid odor of the rock wall and it was less than pleasant.  In some places the rock was brittle from erosion and he carefully had to tug to make sure it would support his weight.  Sometimes pieces would fly off from his hand.

Reaching the top, Slade crawled over the rim and rolled over on his back, flexing his fingers to restore circulation.  His breathing was labored and his chest rose and fell as he filled his lungs with air.  The stench of the jungle came to him and he angled his head to the side.  The cliff was barren of any foliage for about fifteen feet and then the jungle resumed.  A thick mat of vines and trees met his gaze and he could see several monkeys scurrying for safety.  The calls of birds almost drowned out the roar of the river as it swept through the narrow gorge.

Finally able to regain his feet, Slade stared out from his new vantage point.  Even though he was higher than most of the surrounding terrain, the only thing meeting his gaze was jungle.  The green canopy stretched forever.  Following the path of the river with his eyes, Slade saw where it met a larger body of water.  That had to be the Amazon judging by the sheer dimension of the river.  He was several miles away and the Amazon looked impressive.

The rapids lasted for several hundred yards from his present location, before the river resumed its peaceful path to join its bigger brother.  A low mist from the rapids rushing over the rocks hung over the water and occasionally drifted up the cliff.  That would explain the erosion on the cliff face mused Slade.  That and the frequent rains. 

Slade walked back to the edge and looked over at Cody.  His heart almost stopped.  The crocodiles had moved to the boulder Cody was on and had reared up on their hind legs trying to gain access to the top.  Luckily they were not tall enough to reach Cody.  Slade saw some motion near the water’s edge and saw several more of them leave the water and start crawling toward the boulder.

Frantically Slade grabbed some rocks and hurled them down at the crocodiles.  It took him half an hour to drive them back toward the water’s edge, but instead of two, there were eight of them waiting on the free meal.  Slade knew he would have to act quickly.

Running to the forest edge, he started to grab at vines and attempted to pull them free.  Without a knife to cut them he had to focus on the smaller ones.  The larger vines were too firmly rooted and would not tear loose. As he pulled them away from the trees, he piled them up near the rim of the cliff.  Each time he would check on Cody and occasionally hurl a rock at the crocodiles to remind them he was watching.  It was the only defense he had against the hungry reptiles.

Amassing a considerable pile of vines, Slade started to weave several of them together.  He was not sure if his idea would work, but it was his only chance of getting Cody to the top. 

During the next two hours he made repeated trips to the jungle to obtain more vines.  When he was finished he was proud of his work.  Due to the abundance of growth, the vines had been easier to harvest than he had anticipated.  After several attempts he learned which ones he could pull free and use to make his rope.  Not relying on one vine to hold his weight, he wove at least three together.

Securing one end of the rope to a large tree, he tossed the vines over the edge and watched as it spiraled toward the ground.  The rope was longer than it needed to be and several additional feet smacked the ground at the base of the cliff.  Slade grabbed the vines and pulled on them with all his weight.  Leaning against the rope, he moved back and forth in a small arc to test the strength of the vines.  Walking back to the anchor tree he made sure the knot had held.  Satisfied his craftsmanship had passed the test Slade took the vine rope in his hand and approached the rim.

The crocodiles were beginning to crawl closer.  Grabbing some rocks Slade continued his aerial assault and was successful in driving them back once again.  Looking over at the tree, Slade grabbed the vine rope and launched himself over the side.  There was no turning back.

Going back down was faster than climbing out.  The vines held and Slade was able to scurry down the side of the cliff face.  Had it not been for Cody and the fact they were running for their lives, the exercise would have been enjoyable.  Slade dismissed the idea as wishful thinking.

Once again, Slade peppered the crocodiles with rocks, but this time the largest of the reptiles hissed and rushed forward a few feet.  Slade knew his bluffing tactics had come to an end. 

Climbing to the top of the boulder, Slade checked on Cody.  He was still unconscious.  Removing a smaller vine rope from his shoulders, Slade tied it around Cody’s upper chest, looped it under his arms and left about five feet protruding up his back behind his head. 

Pulling Cody to the edge of the boulder, Slade hoisted him over his shoulder and slid down the face of the boulder.  The activity had aroused the crocodiles and they were hissing.  More joined the ones on the beach and they were jostling for position, their attention on the two men.

Hurrying as fast as he could, Slade carried Cody to the base of the cliff and tied the two vines together.  Checking the knot several times, Slade turned to check on the crocodiles.  It would be a race.  Slade had to make it to the top of the cliff rim and pull Cody up before they got to him.  There would be no pausing on the trip this time.

Slade grabbed the vine and started to climb when an idea hit him.  Grabbing as many projectiles as he could carry, Slade turned and ran toward the crocodiles, throwing the rocks as he ran.  One of the younger crocs slid back into the water and it triggered several of the others to do the same.  Grabbing some more rocks, Slade bluff charged them again and more of them moved back into the water.  The more aggressive crocs reluctantly gave up their ground and backed toward the river, but did not go in.  They squared off on Slade and partially opened their mouths revealing their impressive teeth.

Slade hurried back to the base of the cliff and grabbed the vines.  The crocodiles had remained, but he knew they would start their approach again.  Hoisting himself up, Slade climbed as fast as he could.  His breathing was becoming labored and his forearms were on fire.  Several times his feet kicked free from the rock face and he dangled free, the rope-vine the only thing preventing him from falling to his death. 

Gaining the top, Slade pulled himself over the rim and rolled over so he could look back down.  The crocodiles had moved.  They were within twenty feet of Cody.  Not sure if the man posed a danger to them, they were being cautious in their final approach.

Slade jumped to his feet and grabbed the vine.  He needed something to brace his feet so they would not slide.  The rock shelf near the edge was cracked and he was able to wedge the bottom of his boots against the lip.  Leaning back, he pulled on the vine.  The slack was taken out immediately and then it drew taught.  Leaning back, Slade pulled with all his might.  Reluctantly the vine started to inch up in his hands.  His face turned red and veins popped out along his neck and arms. 

Developing a rhythm, Slade would lean forward and walk his hands down the vine rope and lean back.  Several feet of vine would move up. Slade had repeated this process four times when there was a sudden jerk on the vine.  Initially Slade had thought Cody had slipped free and then he felt the jerk again.  It had to be the crocodiles!

One of the smaller crocs had moved within ten feet of Cody when Slade started to pull him up.  When the vine tightened and Cody was drug to a standing position, the croc became alarmed and crawled back several steps.  As Slade continued to haul Cody up the face of the cliff, the croc realized his prey was getting away.  Rushing forward, the young croc leaped and grabbed Cody’s left boot, biting down and holding on.

Falling against the face of the rock wall, the croc was attempting to anchor himself with his tail and claws so he could pull Cody back down. 

Redoubling his efforts, Slade leaned over and pulled as hard as he could.  There was added weight on the vine.  Had Cody become snagged on something?  Sucking in a huge lungful of air, Slade leaned over and pulled again, gaining valuable distance with the vine.  Repeating the process, Slade again pulled and felt the vine quiver and then jerk in his hands.  The vine was almost torn from his fingers and he squeezed as hard as he could.

Time stood still and Slade continued to pull, fighting the resistance on the other end of the vine.

The young croc was totally off the ground, but continued to hold on.  The others had swarmed to him, but were too late.  Cody was out of their reach.  Snapping his tail back and forth, the juvenile crocodile kept trying to wrest Cody free.  Luckily he was only about five feet long or his added weight would have been too much for Slade to bear.  

Clawing against the side of the cliff face, the croc kept trying to brace his feet so he could gain leverage to pull.

The pile of vine rope was accumulating around Slade, but he could not shove it out of the way.  Using his elbows as best he could he cleared a small work place around him so he could continue to pull.

There could not be much vine left.  When Cody’s head popped over the side of the cliff, Slade almost jumped it was so unexpected.  Due to his position, Slade had been unable to see over the side of the ledge. 

The vine started to shake in Slade’s hands and he continued to pull.  Reaching out he grabbed the harness he had constructed for Cody and drew him closer.  Slade could feel Cody’s body shaking and saw Cody’s left leg jerking back and forth.

Cody’s upper body was near Slade and most of the weight had been taken off his arms.  Pulling slower, Slade watched as Cody’s right leg cleared the rim.  Grabbing Cody’s pants, he pulled on his left leg and almost turned him loose when the head of the crocodile cleared the rim hanging onto Cody’s boot.

Freeing his right foot, Slade kicked the croc in the snout several times, but had no luck.  He was hanging on like a bulldog.  Leaning back, Slade grabbed a softball size rock and used it as a battering ram.  Slamming the rock into the head of the crocodile had the desired effect.  After being struck several times, the young croc turned Cody loose and hissed at Slade.  Using his front claws and powerful legs, the croc was trying to gain access to the shelf.

Slade quickly pulled Cody free and rushed back toward the croc.  The croc did not have a good hold on the rock and was frantically clawing trying to gain ground.  Grabbing the largest rock he could carry, Slade rushed the crock, crashing the rock on his legs.  His head was as hard as the rock face and Slade thought the better tactic would be to remove his ability to climb.  The croc’s right leg was knocked loosed from the impact and he dangled by his left leg for several seconds.  Slade slipped down and scooted toward him, kicking him free of the cliff.  The croc arced away from the cliff and Slade could hear him hitting the ground several seconds later. 

Crawling over to Cody, Slade checked to make sure he had not been severely injured.  The croc’s teeth had penetrated Cody’s boot and broken the skin, but that was the least of his worries.  He would need new footwear.  Slade found the thought funny and laughed out loud.  Maybe he was becoming delirious.

Exhausted, Slade rolled over on his back and closed his eyes.  He needed rest.  This was only a small part of the journey to find help and be rescued.  Exciting, but insignificant when viewed in totality of their current predicament.

In the middle of the Amazon jungle, high on a rock plateau, Slade smiled to himself.