Chapter 12

San Miguel del Luna de Domenico is about half as big as its name but its still the cultural and trade center of an area in the Peruvian jungle the size of Kentucky. Tucked between the toes of the foothills of the Ascenscion Cordillera, and almost completely hidden in the jungle, it squats on the muddy banks of the Huramoru River, a feral and murderous stream that feeds into the Amazon so far downstream that no native of St. Mike has ever been there. If you ask a native, he knows that the river comes from the mountains where the gods will kill you if you set foot, and it goes on forever, distance and time being the same thing to him. He’ll tell you that it’s best not to swim in the thick brown water because of all the hungry Piranha. And he will look at you as if to say, what a stupid question, don't you have better things to think about? Saint Mike is too far from the flatlands near the delta for the multinationals to bother trying to grow bananas, and not close enough to the steep hillsides to grow good coca, so the hoods from Cali and Medellin don't give it a second thought. Villagers here content themselves with raising enough chickens to feed both the jungle and themselves, and with keeping the town donkey ambulatory and worm-free. What this little bare spot in the jungle does offer is isolation, and it is Esteban's pied-a-terre. The isolation is so complete that, after we landed the Argosy in the last airport upstream with sufficient runway, it took me and my team another eight days -- two by a broken down convoy of deuce-and-a-half trucks left over from a failed CIA drug interdiction exercise and held together by baling wire and used condoms, four days by flat-bottomed canoes which were poled and nudged up the river by sweating Indians whose eyes never blinked and whose cheeks were distended with coca leaf and, finally, two more days of hacking a trail through the jungle to skirt the falls -- to reach San Miguel. The villagers that watched us struggle into town scarcely paid attention. Their ancient black eyes regarded the sad crew much like their ancestors' must have watched the succeeding waves of European conquistadors whose bones have moldered in the jungle soil. I had been closely watching my people during the trek into Saint Mike, wondering how they

would do in an element this foreign to them. Mona had refused to come along and I had not insisted. She had told me that she was in mortal fear of the natives, and what they would do to her if they ever found out that she had once been a nun. “Let me man the fort here, Cowboy.” she had pleaded. “I don't see how I could do you a bit of good down there.” I left her back home with a promise to bring back a tasty little souvenir. Sal was too obese to fit on the plane, so I left him home, too. I needed Maury back in the states as well, to begin to set up the distribution networks, work on an IPO, and finalize the preparation of the breeding facility.

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