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In the wilderness of the Gran Chaco, the Quebracho trees rose in gaunt defiance
of the hot, dry wind. Under the trees in a high tangled maze were the quinee pede
bushes, “Old Lady’s Skin” as the Ayore Indians call them, thick with thorns, lying
beneath an aging afternoon sun. High overhead in the hot silence droned the
sunlit speck of a light plane through the endless sky.
. It was only after the funeral and days of mourning, when he and Nancy
tried to settle down again to the routine of life and work, that Paul began to
realize something was very wrong between him and his wife; that she was
becoming to him a silent, cold stranger.
One evening in some exasperation he asked her, “Nancy, is it that you’re
blaming me for what happened?”
She looked up calmly enough from some needlework she was doing, but her “I’
m the one who wasn’t watching him like I should. You’re probably blaming
“No…!” Paul shook his head vigorously. “For heaven’s sake, I would never
do that. You can’t drive yourself crazy with the ‘what if’s.’”
“Well… whether you’re blaming me or not, as far as I’m concerned there’s only
one person who is really to blame for this – and it isn’t you or me.”
“Nancy…?” The surprise and shock on his face was met with a disgust on
hers which spoke volumes.
“So you must realize who it is too,” she murmured. “I knew you would react
like that.” She returned to her work, pulling the thread with savage jerks, and
refused to say anymore.
As Paul sat watching her, a depression began to creep over him. Did he
really, in the back of his mind, realize that God was the one ultimately to
“He is lying on the ground…crying out…because I am greater than he. With my club I wound him in
the head. But his spirit, his life, is still in him. He looks at me…” Quite suddenly Jocai stopped and
stood, transfixed. The pride drained from his face and he stared into the fire as if gripped by a great
The Edigo began to look at one another and murmur; and Fucelli could pick out some of what they
were saying: “The spirit of the man he killed is looking at Jocai from the fire!”
“Nonsense, fool! Jocai isn’t afraid of anyone’s spirit!”
Several seconds later the Chief shook his head as if waking from a trance and began the story
again. But his pantomime was lifeless and tired; and the celebration soon ended among the now
Paul knew those boiling clouds possessed the kinetic energy of an atomic
bomb. Cells of turbulence, high-speed air currents shearing against each other,
would turn Eighty-six Zulu into a spinning piece of wreckage in seconds. He
was not fooling himself. He would not penetrate that front and commit suicide.
"If we can't make it to Filadelfia, we'll just have to land at Paso Moro and let
Campemai take his chances."
"Take his chances!" Fucelli's jaw shot out. "You mean 'die' don't you?"
"Use your head, Fudd! We can't fly through that front!"
“We can at least try, can’t we?” Fucelli could not believe Paul would give up
without even an attempt. “Paul, if we take Campemai back dead, do you know
“I know,” Paul snapped. “I was there, remember? You should’ve realized
something like this could happen when you let Jocai bring in the Pig People!”
“I can’t tell Jocai what to do, for pete’s sake!” Fucelli rasped. “It’s too late now
for hindsight anyway, isn’t it?”
Yes, it was too late, and the men flew on in wretched silence. Their course,
diagonal to the storms, drew them closer to the majestic clouds looming above
their tiny plane. Paul shrank from the coming decision he must make; and his
hands began to visibly tremble.