‘Are you sure about the dates, Dennis?’ Bill asked one more time, holding the telephone to his ear. ‘Okay, keep me posted.’ He put the telephone down.
‘Smith! Get in here!’
‘Where the hell is that fax from NORAD?’ he demanded.
‘What fax Sir?’
‘The fax we were expecting on Monday! The fax I told you to put on my desk when it… oh God!’ he suddenly remembered. Rummaging through the myriad of papers on his desk, Bill cursed his own stupidity. ‘I saw it – it was here, on top of the diplomatic envelope from the South African Consulate.’
‘Are you looking for this, Sir?’ Smith asked, standing up, holding out a wrinkled bunch of papers.
‘Yes! Thank you Smith,’ he said with feeling. Taken aback, Smith started to say something…
‘Well done… now, get the hell out of my office!’
Bill picked up the phone and started dialling.
Scott and Cheryl were having an early breakfast. They had spent the last few days trying to take their investigation to the next, logical level. They had re-interviewed all the witnesses, been back to the father and the orphanage; to no avail. They weren’t any closer to figuring out where Johnny had disappeared to than they were when they first realised the truth of the situation.
They ate in silence, lost in their own thoughts. Cheryl’s phone rang. Swallowing her food, she answered.
‘Cheryl Parker. Oh good morning Bill. Yes, still in Johannesburg – okay – yes – yes – really? That’s very interesting!’ She chatted for a few more minutes, getting increasingly excited as she scribbled in her pad before hanging up. Scott waited expectantly.
‘You’re not going to believe this Scott! Bill has just received a report from one of his agents in Colombia!’ she said, grinning from ear to ear. Scott gave her a blank look, so she explained.
‘You obviously wouldn’t know this, but Bill focuses mainly on the drug kingpins in South America. He typically leaves me to do my own thing as far as UFOs are concerned, and is only taking a personal interest in this case as a favour to your Government,’ she said.
‘Anyways, it turns out that one of the cocaine plantations which they keep a close eye on has just turned up something very interesting indeed!’ She smiled and savoured the moment.
‘Don’t do this to me Cheryl!’
Laughing, she continued, ‘One of Bill’s agents in Colombia has just interviewed a man with a most interesting story to tell; a story about watching the devil snatching his leader out of thin air right in front of his eyes. His agent confirms that eleven men did go into the Amazon five days ago on some secret mission, and only one man returned.
‘The interesting thing here is that the survivor claims to have been led into the jungle by an old Indian man, who in turn, claimed to know of a tribe of white Indians living in the Amazon: the so-called “People of the Sun” – the “Children of the Gods”. They expected to find great wealth and fame, but instead were decimated by some invisible force from the sky.’
‘And how does Johnny come into this?’ Scott asked.
‘Well, this is where it gets interesting. Apparently, these guys attacked a village deep in the jungle, losing a few men, but escaping with a young girl – a young, blonde girl.’
Scott stared at her, ‘A blonde girl in the jungle?’
‘A young, white girl with blue eyes and blonde hair, Scott, and none of them could speak her language.’
‘And you think that somehow Johnny zapped these guys in an effort to rescue the girl? A bit of a leap in the dark, wouldn’t you say? We don’t even know where he is! He could be anywhere.’
‘Let me finish Scott. This witness apparently saw a young, blonde boy he thought to be about seventeen or so, running away into the forest during the attack.’
‘But Cheryl, surely if there’s one blonde child in the village, there must be more?’ Scott interrupted again.
‘Scott, let me finish! Indian males either grow their hair long, or cut it in that unique, pudding-bowl style, I’m sure you’ve seen?’ Scott nodded.
‘Well this boy, and this is where the survivor was adamant, had a western hairstyle – short back and sides! He said he looked like David Beckham! No Indian would ever cut his hair like that,’ she finished triumphantly.
Scott looked at her dubiously, obviously not convinced, so Cheryl played her trump card.
‘Oh yes, I almost forgot,’ she said slyly. ‘Bill did mention one more thing…’ She gave Scott her sweetest smile and batted her eyelids provocatively. He started chuckling, thinking how dearly he would love to take her over his knee and rid her of her insolence.
‘It would seem that NORAD tracked a UFO entering our atmosphere en-route to South America on the very same day that Johnny disappeared. Bill overlooked it somehow, but when the story of the blonde kid emerged, he made the connection and looked it up again.
‘Co-ordinates recorded that it came from the south-east – somewhere in southern Africa. The dates match, the times match, the blonde kid in the jungle matches. Johnny Roberts is in South America, Scott! We’ve found him!’
‘This is incredible,’ he said, ‘I can’t believe it.’ They grinned at each other like two kids on Christmas day.
‘I suppose it’s off to South America with you then?’ Scott said, feeling a tug of disappointment that she was going to be leaving. He had really enjoyed her company over the last five days. He would be sorry to see her go.
‘Me?’ she asked, surprised. ‘We’re both going, and you’re not going to get out of it either. You don’t get rid of me that easily, buddy!’ she said with feeling.
‘Now go upstairs and start packing; we have a flight to catch!’
Scott grinned, ‘Yes Sir! Three bags full, Sir!’
‘Idiot!’ she accused fondly, as he dodged her half-hearted kick at his shins.
They flew the same day, and the following morning they landed at El Dorado International Airport, in the Colombian capital of Bogota. They caught a connecting flight to Aeropuerto Cesar Gaviria Trujillo, the local airport in the city of Inirida, the capital of the department of Guainía, on the eastern border of Colombia.
As they walked out into the arrivals lounge, a man in a tropical shirt, a Panama hat and Ray-Bans approached them. He was tall with sandy-brown hair and fair skin.
‘Doctor Parker? Detective Riley?’ he asked.
‘Yes, that’s us,’ said Scott.
‘Great. I’m Dennis Phillips, CIA,’ he said, shaking their hands.
‘Bill Cummins has brought me up to speed on the investigation, and once we have your luggage, we’ll take a drive out into the country and have a chat with our man.’
They climbed into the car, a black Jeep Cherokee, and headed out of town. Cheryl wanted the details.
‘Dennis, how did this all come about?’ she asked, leaning forward from the back seat where she was sitting.
‘It’s quite simple, Doctor,’ he replied, looking back over his right shoulder while he drove. ‘We keep a keen eye on all the local cocaine producers as a means to control the flow of illicit narcotics into our country. Obviously we have no real jurisdiction here, but the local government knows who Big Brother is and turns a blind eye.
‘The other day I found out through my sources that the head honcho of one of the bigger plantations, and nine of his best men, had left on a mission into the jungle. As you can imagine, I was frantic to find out what they were up to, as these guys don’t leave their plantations unless it is life or death.
‘I had no joy in that regard, as nobody could tell me what was going on, so I had no choice but to sit back and wait. Obviously I considered calling the troops in, but I figured it could wait a few days.’ He glanced back at her.
‘I’m sure glad I did. Two days ago I received a call from my informer and he tells me that one guy, just one, had emerged from the forest; starved and terrified, and that I should come talk to him.
‘Now, obviously Doctor, Detective, I didn’t want to blow my cover, but it turns out that my cover was no more than an illusion anyways, and that they all knew about me – even the leader, Francesco Bahia. I think they enjoy this little game of cat and mouse.
‘Anyways, I went out there and chatted to this guy, Miguel Pereira, and the whole story came out,’ he finished.
‘Bill told me the short version, Dennis. I’d like to hear the long one,’ Cheryl said.
‘I’m sorry Doctor, but I told Bill everything I know; you’ll have to wait till we get there and you can speak to Miguel yourself.’ So for the rest of the drive, Cheryl had to bide her time.
They eventually arrived at the plantation, parked the car, and climbed out. There was a man waiting for them. He was small and thin, with balding, black hair and his toothy grin revealed several missing teeth.
‘This is Miguel, guys. Thankfully he speaks English pretty well; most of them do, so we won’t need an interpreter.’
Bill and Cheryl both introduced themselves with friendly smiles, and were relieved to see that Miguel seemed eager to please. They went to a nearby table that was shaded by trees. Miguel had arranged refreshments and food.
‘Okay Miguel,’ said Cheryl, ‘why don’t you start from the top? Take your time and try to remember everything – no matter how trivial. We have plenty of time.’
Miguel nodded and then began.
‘Well, you see Doctor, this plantation here is having Francesco Bahia as the leader. Below him is Pedro Sanchez. Pedro is always being at Francesco’s side, like a burr. After that is difficult to say who is next, but now is easy,’ he grinned, showing a few broken teeth.
‘Francesco wanted only his best men to go into the jungle with him, and before maybe I was number four or number five, now I am number one!’ He seemed very pleased with himself, and Scott and Cheryl both smiled despite themselves.
‘So you are the boss here now, Miguel?’ asked Dennis, making a note in his pad.
‘Please carry on, Miguel,’ prompted Cheryl.
‘Okay. So Pedro brings an old Indian man here last week and takes him to see Francesco. They talk for some time, and then suddenly the whole camp is running around making ready to hike.
‘I ask Pedro what is going on, and all he says is to make ready to hike in the morning, but once on the trail, I find out. I hear them talking and I understand.
‘This old man is saying that he knows all the tribes in the jungle, but one tribe is special. He says there are white people there from the beginning of time, and that they have pyramids and treasure. I think Francesco maybe did not want to go, but I know Pedro is greedy and he has Francesco’s ear, so we go.
‘For two days we hike and everything is okay. The old man leads us straight to the village. The next morning Francesco orders us to make ready. He says he wants to kill some, but not all, but after we attack, the villagers fight back very hard and some of us are killed.
‘I grabbed one young girl and I think Francesco was pleased with me because all the others did was to kill, but I used my head and brought him a prisoner!’
Miguel still seemed fearful of Francesco, even though his former leader was presumably dead.
‘Miguel, can you describe this girl, please?’ Scott asked.
‘Si. She had blonde hair, just like the old man said we would find. She was white, but she was dressed like the other villagers. We tried to talk – Pedro tried to talk, but she could not understand, and with the Indian guide gone, it wasn’t looking so good.
‘I saw another like her also; a boy running away on the other side of the village,’ he finished.
‘Please tell us everything you can about the boy, Miguel,’ Cheryl prompted, leaning forward.
‘Well, he looked strange because he wasn’t so brown like the girl. You can see that the girl was in the sun all her life and it showed on her skin… how you call it – a tan? But the boy… I could see him from very far away because he was so white, like a ghost.’ Miguel chuckled briefly.
‘Also his hair was not like that of the Indians,’ he continued, ‘you can see it was very short, like a barber, but not like the Indians. The Indians do not know how to cut hair so short – they do not have the scissors.’
Scott and Cheryl looked at each other.
‘It sure sounds like Johnny, Scott.’
‘I wish there was a way to make certain,’ he replied.
‘Miguel,’ he went on, ‘this girl, she didn’t speak at all? The entire time – even when you captured her?’
Miguel stared into space for a moment, and then brightened visibly.
‘When I was grabbing her, she kept shouting something over and over, but it made no sense to me,’ he said.
‘Can you remember what it was?’ Cheryl asked eagerly.
‘Si Senorita. She was saying “Chonirobytz, Chonirobytz, Chonirobytz”. Like I said, it made no sense, but I also couldn’t speak her language,’ he finished with a shrug.
Scott and Cheryl looked at each other in amazement.
‘Oh my God!’ whispered Cheryl. ‘Chonirobytz? Johnny Roberts! She was calling for Johnny!’ She couldn’t believe it.
‘Miguel, this is very good information you are giving us, please carry on.’ Miguel seemed pleased and continued.
‘So we had the girl, and the village was dead, and Francesco was angry because the Indian had run away and four of our men were also dead… and also we had no treasure.
‘Pedro wanted to stay and find the treasure, but Francesco decided it was time to go home. They argued and Francesco gave the girl to Pedro and made him stay behind in the forest. We left him behind and headed home,’ he said.
‘So Pedro had the girl, but you abandoned him in the jungle and went home?’ Cheryl asked, trying to get her facts straight.
‘Si Senorita, we left them both behind, but I heard Pedro beating her just after we left.’
‘That’s awful!’ Cheryl exclaimed, horrified. Scott put a hand on her arm. ‘Please go on Miguel,’ he said.
‘So we walked back the way we came, for the rest of the day. The next morning we were walking and I stopped to pee, so I ducked behind a tree and I was still busy when I heard something was wrong. I looked from behind the tree and all the men were gone; only Francesco was there.
‘He was standing with his rifle and swinging his head from side to side, looking for something. I was about to go help, but just then, he went stiff like a board. He dropped his rifle and started to rise into the air! I decided then it was best to wait a little while and see what was happening.’ Miguel’s bravery knew no bounds.
‘So, Francesco rose into the air, screaming like a woman. He was saying “Diablo, Diablo”, which is like the devil, and I could see that this great man was scared like a girl… that scared me too much. And then he was gone!
‘In front of my eyes, he disappeared, and I was so afraid I could not move. So, I waited until I knew it was safe to move on, and then I ran. I didn’t stop to rest, or to eat, or sleep – I ran until I got here.’
‘So there is nothing else you can add to this, Miguel?’ Cheryl asked, completely fascinated by Miguel’s tale.
‘Senorita, to my eyes, this is what happened, as God is my witness,’ he replied. ‘I have never seen anything like that before in my life.’
‘Tell me Miguel, can you lead us back there?’ Scott asked.
‘Si Senor, no problem – is easy.’ Scott stood up and looked down at Cheryl and Dennis.
‘Guys, I know that I am the lowest in authority here, but given my training and combat experience, can I assume that I will be leading this expedition?’ Both Dennis and Cheryl agreed without hesitation.
After a good night’s sleep, both Scott and Cheryl had recovered from their jet lag, and their internal clocks had been reset. They felt ready for the two-day hike ahead of them. Miguel was good as his word and had effectively taken control of the plantation. He had given them decent lodgings and had ensured that none of the other guerrillas bothered Cheryl when she used the communal shower facilities.
Dennis had declined the offer of accompanying them into the jungle, citing an over-load of paperwork waiting for him at the office. They saw him off with his assurances that he would keep his radio on at all times and would have helicopter support standing by.
They had considered using choppers to get them to the site, but had agreed that it would be too conspicuous and may well scare Johnny away, or worse. A helicopter would never win a stand up fight with a UFO. They also felt that they might overlook clues if they weren’t on the ground, but they did arrange with Dennis that regardless of the outcome, they would be airlifted out of the jungle. So, with spirits high, they set out.
The first day was uneventful and the following evening they camped in a small clearing. Scott motioned Miguel to come over.
‘What happened here, Miguel?’
‘I am not sure what you are asking, Senor?’ Miguel seemed a little uneasy.
‘There has been a fire fight here, Miguel,’ said Scott, holding up a brass cartridge, ‘and unless I am very much mistaken, it wasn’t more than a week ago.’ He held the cartridge to his nose and took a sniff.
‘Still fresh,’ he gave Miguel a long stare.
‘We were attacked here by some Indians,’ he replied simply.
Scott understood. Francesco and his men had done some target practice on the local inhabitants, and Miguel felt embarrassed. He caught the faint whiff of decay and made a decision. ‘We’ll camp further down the trail tonight,’ he said. Cheryl looked like she wanted to argue, but he shook his head and she dropped it. He would explain it to her later – in the morning perhaps. This wasn’t the kind of thing to dwell on as you fell asleep in the jungle at night.
The following morning they set off again, and about an hour later, Miguel held up his hand, squatted down, and signalled them to stop. He had been acting strangely nervous and Scott guessed what was bugging him. He scooted over to where Miguel squatted, peering nervously around.
‘Is this where Francesco was taken?’ he asked quietly.
‘Si Senor. It was just down there.’ He pointed down the slope. They were sitting at the top of a long, gentle slope that was almost devoid of trees. At the bottom, the forest resumed, but from up here, Scott could see that they would have been sitting ducks. Johnny had chosen his battleground well – he was impressed.
‘Come Miguel, the thing that took Francesco is no longer here; we are safe,’ said Scott, sensing Miguel’s resolve wavering. Miguel rose slowly and the three of them made their way down the slope.
Midway down, Miguel stopped again and said, ‘Okay, so this is where Francesco was standing. That tree over there,’ he said pointing further down the slope to the right, ‘that is where I was. From there, I saw the whole thing.’
‘And the other men?’ Cheryl asked.
‘I don’t know,’ he replied. ‘They were there when I left the trail, and when I looked back, they were gone.’ Scott was nosing around and called them over.
‘Have a look at this Cheryl. What do you think?’ He was standing over a patch of grass that was darker than the rest. ‘A scorch mark perhaps?’ he suggested. Cheryl bent over it and ran her fingers through the grass.
‘It could be, Scott, I can’t say for sure.’ Just then, Miguel called and they went over to him. He was slightly further down the hill, about ten feet or so, and was standing directly over an identical patch of discoloured grass.
‘You know, this may well be something,’ Cheryl said. ‘Miguel, how many men were with you?’
‘We were ten men, besides the guide. Four men died in the attack; so there were six left. Then, Francesco left Pedro with the girl, so there were five who were on the trail home.’ Miguel screwed his eyes closed tightly as he battled with the basic arithmetic.
Continuing, he said, ‘So, five men, but I was behind the tree – so four, and then Francesco was taken. So three men went missing,’ he finished triumphantly, beaming at the two of them.
‘So if we can find another scorch mark, then I think it should be pretty clear what happened to them,’ Scott stated. It took less than a minute.
‘I think it’s safe to assume that Johnny literally took no prisoners!’ Scott observed, as they looked down at the scorched grass. ‘Thirteen years old, you say?’
‘Not just any thirteen-year-old, Scott. A very intelligent, resourceful, and it would seem a very focused thirteen-year-old.’
‘How far until we get to the place where Francesco left Pedro?’ Scott asked Miguel.
‘Not so far,’ he replied, ‘tomorrow we will find it, and the village is also maybe an hour from there.’
They continued for the rest of the day, and spent their second night camping under the trees.
Published Titles in the Johnny Roberts Series:
Book Two: Johnny Roberts and the Gods of Eden
Andrew Noble © 2012
Cover artwork: Adam Van Der Riet © 2012
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© 2012 Andrew Noble All Rights Reserved