The Swamp (Part 18)

Rodriguez sat at the back of the boat, trying not to throw up again. He was green with seasickness and wished he had never set foot in the fishing boat. He had brought along two of his men, both guards at the Campamento Central, who were lazily scanning the sea with binoculars every few minutes. Rodriguez did not seriously think they would find anything but they had to make the effort at least. The ocean was so God damned vast. What chance did he stand of finding that tiny piece of shit fishing boat, especially since they were at least one week behind Hendricks and, apparently, some teenaged girl too?

He got up quickly and puked over the side. A gust of wind and salt water blew most of the vomit back in his face. Luckily he didn’t have much left in his stomach, still he felt embarrassed and when one of his men tried to help him he swatted the man’s hand away violently. He grabbed an old towel from under one of the stern benches and wiped his face. It stank of rotting fish and he almost gagged again.

Rodriguez was a short man, like most of his Panamanian compatriots, and black as night. He was built solidly, however, and even though he rarely exercised, he could beat most guys that fucked with him, especially the taller ones. He wore his hair short and sported a thin black mustache over his large upper lip that looked like it was drawn with a defective Etch-a-Sketch.

Fuck that asshole Blandon, he thought. This was all such a fucking waste of time. There’s no way that Hendricks made it out of the swamp alive. He didn’t care what the witnesses said, they were wrong. Hendricks was either dead or totally lost somewhere in the jungles of Coiba. It was only the threat of sending Rosella out there that made Rodriguez rent the boat from one of the local fishermen.

He hated boats and fishing and anything that had anything remotely to do with water, including bathing. Rodriguez’s B.O. was legendary, even in a place as stinking as the Campamento, where men were allowed to shower only once every few months. Rodriguez had body odor that was somehow alive. Prisoners could smell him coming from ten feet away. It was some sort of glandular problem, but Rodriguez was oblivious to it, though inexplicably pieces of soap would sometimes appear in his room or lying on his bunk.

He knew Hendricks well from the prison, and he hated him as he had hated few prisoners before him. It was the God damned enormous pride of the man. No matter what Rodriguez did to him, Hendricks always made him feel like a piece of shit that was stuck on his shoe, less than nothing.

He had hated the stuck up American from the moment they brought him in and Rodriguez had made it a top priority to break the smug motherfucker, make him beg for mercy, as he had with others before him.

But no matter what he did to him, Hendricks never begged, never whimpered, never broke. Hell, the man was a rock. He never showed any emotion at all, just took everything that was done to him with the same indifferent look on his face. This infuriated Rodriguez even more, but the more awful he made life at the Campamento for Hendricks, the more admiration that Hendricks garnered from his fellow inmates. They had never seen someone stand up to the guards like this gringo did and very soon the word spread.

When the Warden’s SKY TV box broke, it was Hendricks who volunteered to fix it and damn if the fucking gringo didn’t make it even better than it was before. He even taught the Warden how to get more channels than he thought possible.

And then when Rodriguez thought that things could get no worse he was totally blindsided when the Warden took Hendricks under his wing, letting him work in the air-conditioned main house, cleaning up and fixing things around the house. It was rumored that the Warden spent long afternoons conversing with Hendricks. Rodriguez had never even been invited to step foot into the big house. Word came down from the Warden soon after that Rodriguez was not allowed to discipline Hendricks without permission and that drove Rodriguez absolutely bat-shit crazy.

When Hendricks strolled so casually past him and into the swamps a week ago he silently rejoiced because he figured that Hendricks was committing suicide and doing Rodriguez a big favor. Hendricks’s disrespect and disdain for Rodriguez had started to spread to some of the other inmates. He had hung a couple of offenders from their ankles just to make a statement and now that Hendricks was surely dead in the jungle things would get back to normal quick.

Things were quiet for a while after that but since Hendricks had walked off, the strangest thing had occurred. Far from writing him off as dead, most of the inmates were secretly placing bets that he would somehow survive.

This pissed off Rodriguez even more and when the Warden called him in and told him to go find the escapee he tried to argue that it was senseless to risk their own lives in the jungle for a prisoner who was more than likely already dead.

But the Warden silenced Rodriguez with a wave of his hand. As Chief Guard he was in charge of all the prisoners and the Warden reminded him of his responsibility in no uncertain terms. Find Hendricks and bring him back, and quick. The Warden’s satellite TV was on the fritz again and only Hendricks knew how to fix the fucking thing. It was either bring Hendricks back or don’t come back at all.

Rodriguez spent the next week going to many different villages around the coast, asking if they had seen the gringo. He was about to go back to the prison empty-handed when the news came in about the stolen boat. Now he was out here in the water, sick to his stomach and being hounded by the Warden and that fat pig Blandon. Imagine threatening him with that motherfucker Rosella.

Fuck Blandon and fuck Rosella, though not to his face of course. Rodriguez knew all he had to know about Ignacio Rosella, Blandon’s bodyguard. Rosella had been Noriega’s chief interrogator during the seventies, before the U.S. invasion. “El Mecanico”, they called him, “the Mechanic”, because of his preference for power tools when torturing prisoners. No, Rodriguez certainly did not want to learn anything new first hand.

Jefe, there’s a boat in the water up ahead!” shouted one of the guards. Rodriguez jumped up and snatched the binoculars, searching in the direction that the guard was pointing. He saw the tiny boat, at this distance just a speck in the ocean but it had to be it.

“That’s it. That’s our boat! Hurry up, let’s get over to it quick!” he ordered the captain, who pulled back the throttle on the twin outboards. The twenty foot fishing boat surged forward through the still ocean.

Now I’ll get him, thought Rodriguez. I’ll bring him back to the Campamento and fuck with him like he’s never been fucked with before. Rodriguez would be the big hero now. No, he thought, he had better kill the fucker. What if he escapes again? He had to think of how he could kill the gringo before they got back to the Campamento. Plus no fucking way was he going to take that white motherfucker back to his cushy air-conditioned job with the Warden. Fuck that.

Hendricks had to die and that was that.

to be continued

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