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"The monkeys are so cute."
        "Yeah. Until they kill you."

300 Kilometers

The Monkey

©08 Levite
See Below

Inspired by The Desk's youngest daughter's memory of a 'scary monkey'.

[warning- some scenes may upset some readers. ]


      "Rick, are we still in Brazil?" One of the biologists asked me in French as she wrote some notes.
      It was a reasonable question. We weren't supposed to cross the border from Guyane Francaise, or French Guiana, into Brazil, but in jungles like we were in, that fine broken line on the map wasn't marked on the ground and when the river divided and rejoined and wandered around, it was hard to tell where we were. Between that, the boats being out of gas, not having a map, and the many branches and eddies in the river, we just could not tell where we were until we saw a sign yesterday in Portuguese that said something about the Amapa State Wildlife Commission.
      "I have no idea. Let's just keep going." I answered.
      It had been a really long couple of weeks since our trip upriver began so optimistically.


      We had left the French Guiana village of Camopi and followed the l'Oypock river south until we got to Akoumenay where we met our Wayampi guides. From there we spent several more days in the boats and camping in what one of the guides called a 'green camp' in his language that was half Portuguese and half everything else. From what I could tell the term seemed to mean that everything in the camp, including the food and water, was made from, or served on, leaves.
      Our survey area was the Guyane side of the river from just south of Kagnouma past where another large island split the river in two then up to where the river branched again near Pina. It was a long hundred kilometers and change as the bush plane flew, and half or more that again that in a canoe. To get out we'd go back down to Kagnouma and call for a float plane that would fly us back to civilization.
      Why were we paddling up a river full of malarial mosquitoes only a few weeks past the rainy season?
      There is a one word answer. Monkeys.

      Not long after the blond capuchin was discovered a couple of years ago a dead specimen of a different species of monkey was brought into the seasonal field station in Alicoto. It was nicknamed the 'elf eared capuchin', but the body of the monkey was too decayed for proper classification.
      However, there were some tantalizing film from a video crew that had traveled down the river several years ago that showed what appeared to be several of the monkeys foraging along the river. At the time, nobody thought twice about it, but after the body of the 'elf eared' was brought in people started to believe there was yet another species of monkey that was previously unknown to science.
      Then a university in the US and one in France got interested and put together an expedition to go into the jungle to try to film them again and, if possible, capture a couple of them alive for study.
      That's where I came into the story.
      Since I am black, most people, including most locals, think I was born and raised here, and since that is the path of least resistance, I go with it and don't say otherwise unless I have to. And it has certain advantages to not being thought of as a displaced American even though I have been down here for several years now.
      I used to work for an oil exploration group based in Venezuela. But when the Western countries were being thrown out of the country I moved east on short notice and ended up in Cayenne in French Guiana working as a guide for camera safaris and fishing trips into the interior since there wasn't a large demand for oil rig engineers.
      It was through those excursions that I had met up with the primate biologist Doctor Heather Diamond from San Paulo, Brazil. She had booked several trips into the upper Maroni or the Lawa River tracking down some endangered marmoset monkey that I still think looks like a rat.
      Ms. Heather, she didn't like being called 'Doctor Diamond' because she thought it made her sound old and dull, as the resident expert in monkeys was contacted by the organizer for the expedition, and she called me as her first choice for an expedition manager and guide.

      At first I was worried that this would be one of those 'low impact' trips where the naturalists would want to go in and live 'native' for the duration. But Heather assured me during our first conversation that because of the length of the trip and the thoroughness of the research they were planning on doing, it would be a fully equipped expedition almost to what could be called a safari.
      About two weeks later I met her and Doctor Girard and his assistant Monsieur Martin from the French group and a gentleman with pure white hair who simply introduced himself as 'Gus'. The conversation was typical of every other one I had since I had come here. Official business was done in French and sometimes in English, but when you ordered more coffee it had to be done in Creole. In any case. Heather, Girard and the others spoke English better than I did French, so we fell into the habit of doing most of our work in English.
      Girard immediately began asking me about the area where the dead monkey had been brought out and the others had been filmed. I told them what I knew, and described the ride I had taken up what the people I were with called the Rio Oiapoque up to the general area we were talking about, then the Brazilian groups turned up a fork back into Brazil to an outpost. I described to them places where the hundred meter wide river was running through a tunnel of enormous trees that would sometimes meet overhead. Then I told them about the random thunderstorms that seemed to blow up out of a clear blue sky and either end just as suddenly or last for three days solid and that the river could rise from a normal easy flow to a swirling flood in a matter of minutes. And then there were about nine kinds of fevers that you had to be ready for.
      They said it sounded rather more unpleasant than they had heard. I agreed and went into more detail. I didn't let up at all and emphasized the bugs and snakes and crocs and even cats that will stalk you for days looking for a chance to get close.
      "Ahh yes, the jaguar. They are something to be reckoned with at times." Girard said.
      I agreed.

      One of the other things that I explained to them was that one of the towns they had listed as a possible support site, Pina, had a population of maybe two dozen, most of whom were transient Wayampi or from one of the other tribes. One of their papers said that we could fly into Camopi, I had to tell them that I'd heard that the airstrip was overgrown and hadn't been used recently.
      Gus, with some of that American bravado I had come to learn to only believe about half of, said that wouldn't be any problem.
      During the conversation I noted the things they said we'd be taking with us. There would be a full video crew with several types of cameras. Besides Ms Heather and Dr. Girard there would be three other scientists of various specialties. Monsieur Martin would run the camp life side of things with a helper. Then there would be an armed security detachment and several native bearers. As my mental list grew I began to wonder if there was something else going on besides the search for a new monkey.
      Then it was my turn to ask them why they were mounting such a heavy expedition.
      Heather looked at the others. "I didn't tell him about it."
      Monsieur Martin nodded and spoke with only a slight accent.
      "Mister Rick. I have a tale to tell you that is totally unbelievable, yet, I have seen the evidence, as well as the dead monkey, and I know that it is indeed true."

      I sat in the cafe and listened to his story.

      A French missionary group had been down in the Pina area for some time when they decided to head downriver for supplies. They stopped to wait out one of the nearly daily rainstorms along the river when some of the monkeys started plundering their boats.
      One of the missionaries went to run them off and started throwing sticks and things at the animals and yelling to scare them away.
      Then the head missionary described an actual battle with the monkeys that was actually beyond belief. The monkeys joined together and attacked the humans in a manner that the old man couldn't accurately describe. In the end, the younger man had been killed and the others severely beaten. Besides the people the monkeys had destroyed one of their boats and damaged the other to where they couldn't use it for anything except to carry the dead man downstream.
      When the monkeys left they unloaded most of their baggage, picked up what they needed of what was left, and fled as best they could until they reached help.

      I didn't believe it. I knew that certain species of monkeys can be somewhat aggressive sometimes, but not to the point of an actual attack against a group of people. And certainly not to the point of killing somebody.
      Heather told me that they had proof that included the one boat that had been damaged. Somehow the monkeys had generated sufficient force to rip fixtures off the sides of the reinforced fiberglass hull. The dead man had injuries the size and shape of monkey hands that had broken his bones.
      "You're sure it was capuchin monkeys and not..."
      "Father Hamkin has been here for many years. He knows our monkeys." She answered. "He's the one that brought the sample out."
      I had to cede the point. The old priest was a legend for his work in the darkest reaches of the northern forest with some of the most primitive tribes on Earth.
      "In that case. I'm bringing my guns too." I said thinking about my matched set of 10mm nickel plated pistols.
      "Please do." Gus said.


      The expedition was staged in three parts.
      I worked with Heather on putting together and shipping the scientific gear from Cayenne to St. Georges then on to our forward base at Camopi. Then we had to wait for a radio message back that it had actually arrived. Several of our crates and boxes had been, misdirected in transit, one was never found again. But overall, our plans and efforts worked out fairly well.

      Martin was very impressive with his work to get enough supplies and gear together that our group could not only survive some time in the wild, but live rather comfortably as well. He also arranged airdrops of supplies to be flown in at regular intervals and dropped off at pre arranged points. Something I thought was a wonderful idea but I had some misgivings about as French Guiana is not the most reliable place I know of to pre-arrange anything.
      Senhora Monita was his helper and camp nurse. She was a dark skinned woman who was very pleasant and one of the hardest working women I'd seen in a long time in a country where nobody is ever in a hurry as nothing is really that important. Monita was always doing something and was almost too cheerful when she did it. As she spoke only Portuguese and some other tribal language from Brazil, we didn't say much to each other past my saying "Obrigado" to her whenever she filled up my coffee cup.

      Gus staged his security like the pro he was. As it turned out, Gus had retired twice. The first time as a twenty year FBI man, the second time as a fifteen year corporate security expert. Now he did as he pleased, and at least for now, it pleased him to go into one of the thickest jungles on earth to chase a killer monkey.
      He had a squad of four soldiers of fortune that was going with us. Two of whom added a distinctly German flavor to our already multinational group as one of them spoke absolutely nothing but German and about five words of English. Two of those English words I heard when I offered him a cigarette, "no thanks". One of the guards was one of the toughest looking women I'd ever seen, and I can say for certain that the woman with the dark hair and firm chin hadn't smiled in years. While she did speak English all I'd heard her say until we were well up the river was things like "yes sir".
      They were armed with enough hardware that we could probably overthrow the in country French government had we wanted to, but I know I sure didn't want to end up running this place, so we canceled the revolution.

      All of this was to be transported in an actual fleet of the shallow draft boats that are used all through the interior of South America as the primary transportation on the rivers that lace the area together. Three were older but very substantial aluminum skinned boats which my grandfather would call Jon boats that were all about fifteen feet long. Each one had a slight V to their bow with dents that told the story about how large tree branches liked to float down the river just under the surface. There was one fiberglass boat Gus had flown down for the mission that looked very out of place next to the others. Then there was a mismatched collection of locally made wooden canoes and a couple of other hybrids that may have started out as factory made but had long since been 'altered' for their life here.
      All together we'd leave Camopi with no less than twenty people spread through a dozen boats of various types. We had scientists, soldiers, a priest from the original missionary group, a Brazilian grandmother cook, several photographers, and one professional tour guide- me. Most of the boats and people would be with us to at least our base camp near Kagnouma, but a sizable percentage would be going even further up until we reached Pina where the missionary would stay.
      The plan was for the larger boats to use their gasoline motors to tow the smaller boats and canoes until the river had other ideas. Then those in the smaller craft would have to paddle until conditions improved. We all knew that there were several spots where we'd have to get out and push or pull everything over sandbars and rapids while others stood watch with rifles for crocs and snakes. But fortunately, those were all some distance upriver so we had time to acclimate to the oppressive humidity and the incessant buzz of every insect ever hatched on the continent.

      We had two days in Camopi before we left. As the hotel facilities in the town are all but non-existent, Martin and Monita set up our camp and most of us got used to our travelling facilities.
      As we had our own priest, we had Mass Friday night so we could leave at first light Saturday as scheduled.
      Well, as is the way of things, there was no rush Saturday morning. I had the things in my boat that I knew I'd need, like my thermos of coffee, and the rest of my supplies in one of the canoes that looked like it would stay above water for the most part. And I was sitting in the boat I had been assigned to, the second V-bow, actually fishing with my collapsible rod waiting for the rest of the expedition to get their act together.

      "Catching anything?" Heather asked me. She too had been ready since about six AM.
      "Couple little caribe that didn't know any better."
      She laughed at me. "I know those are piranha."
      "Rick! There you are." Martin called to me.
      "I've been here all morning."
      "Gus is looking for you. He's in there." Martin pointed to the small trading post and restaurant that had become our unofficial headquarters.
      "On my way." I reeled in my line and folded up my pole.
      "He probably wants to assign you a radio." Heather said patting a small GMRS radio hanging on her belt.
      "I don't want a radio."
      "Tough." Martin said.
      I put my rod down and sighed. "I'm going. I'm doing."
      The trading post had been absolutely alive for the last couple of days with our people and an ever increasing assortment of locals who came in to see us and what amounted to our sideshow.
      "Ahh, good." Gus said when I walked in. "Where's your other sidearm? You had two."
      "Packed in a waterproof case. With another two hundred rounds as backup." I said.
      "Good thinking." He eyed the pistol in its holster. "You live?"
      I drew it out and checked the safety, then I ejected the clip and showed him the hollow point rounds. "Ready to party."
      "Very good. An unloaded weapon is useless." He checked off something on the clipboard he had been living with since we had got to town. "We are on channel seven. It is already programmed." Gus handed me an identical radio to the one Heather had with a small bag that contained a headset and the belt clip. They were a new edition of the same heavy duty field radios we had used with the oil company. They had an impressive range and were all but indestructible. And I had heard stories about them still working even while under water.
      I looked at the radio and turned it on then keyed it to talk. "Rick to the world. Radio check." I said into it.
      In a second Girard answered. "Five by five as they say Rick."
      "Roger. Merci beaucoup monsieur." I answered then I clipped it to my belt. "How are we fixed for batteries?" I asked the security man as I tugged on it to make sure it was secure.
      "The ones in there should last the entire trip, but I have enough backups for everybody to change out twice."
      I nodded. The one thing I had learned about Gus was that he really believed in backups. And backups to backups. For instance. Not only did every boat with a motor have a set of oars on board, they also had folding paddles under the seats. Gus believed in being ready for anything.

      Even with the delay we were pushing back from the docks and the muddy bank by nine.
      A dozen or so kids, most of them stark naked, followed us up the river for a couple of kilometers. But then the muddy path along the river got to be a bit much for them and they stopped and headed back to the village.
      Now we were really on our own.

      Each boat had been supplied with water and food for the day, including a generous pile of the fried cheese bread Senhora Monita seemed to make almost constantly so we really didn't need to stop other than for a few minutes every couple of hours to both add recycled coffee to the river and stretch our legs.
      Even with each boat with a motor towing at least two of the canoes, we were making good progress upriver. But even then it wasn't long before boredom became an issue, so I started fishing again, and it wasn't long before I caught something that Martin said could be eaten that night. I nodded and waved and tossed the fish into his boat for him to do something with.
      "I'll catch them my friend. You cook them." I said to him as he laughed at it.

      Then something happened to interrupt my fishing.
      The radios all spoke at once. "Gus to group. All clear for weapons test. Target, that large tree leaning over the river. Fire at will."
      Almost immediately one of the guards opened up with one of their 8mm Czech machine guns laying a burst of fire that should have made the tree think twice about attacking us.
      Within a minute the others were doing the same with Gus firing an actual Kalashnikov at the tree.
      But to their credit, they only went through a couple of bursts with each weapon, then they slung the automatics back onto their backs and drew their sidearms and fired them several times.
      I did likewise. Sighting my pistol in on a broken branch and firing several times. Even from the moving boat, I hit my target with three out of five shots.
      I looked over at a smaller popping sound than what the guards and Martin had been producing and saw Heather firing what appeared to be a 22 or similar small bore pistol at the tree. She seemed to be quite confident with the weapon. When she finished I saluted her and her skill.
      "End test. Safety's ON." Gus ordered when the racket died down. "Report any misfires."
      Nobody had anything to report.

      But then soon enough we were past the wounded tree and back to boredom. I checked my pistol again and replaced the rounds spent from the clip. Then as there was nothing else happening, I went back to fishing.
      Later in the afternoon we were caught in our first rainstorm on the river, but it didn't last long and other than making everything out in the open wet, it didn't do anything to slow us down.


      Our first night on the river was spent in a light camp on a large sandy beach on a slight bend in the river.
      The guards stood guard with one of them sitting watch with one of us in shifts.
      My first night I was paired with the guard that didn't speak English. But he did speak music and we sat and listened to the radio on low and watched the fire and the river and took turns fishing with my pole.
      In the morning Senhora Monita put together our meals for the day as well as a good hearty breakfast and we set out again.
      Today there was minimal delay and we were back on the river about an hour after sunrise.
      But even with the sun up the mist over the river and amongst the trees was so thick there was a couple of near misses with obstacles

      Twenty air miles on the map were easily almost twice that on the river, but our progress was steady and we covered the distance to our first supply drop between Akoumenay and Oscar on schedule. We sat on the bank and watched Gus go through the ritual with the satellite phone, then we waited on the plane.
      This was the first test of his system. If it didn't work here, in civilization's back yard, it wasn't going to work anywhere. Then he would have to rely on his portable HAM radio which he said he'd rather not depend on for routine communication. Gus made his call then switched the radio on his belt to another channel to talk to the plane. He seemed confident that it would all work as designed.
      About an hour after his call we heard a small plane. Then his GMRS radio came to life and he talked to the pilot. Then Gus nodded to the female security guard and she launched a flare.
      A few minutes later the plane swept down over the river for a 'look see' pass, then when it returned they dropped three large bundles into the water with a quite spectacular splash. Several of us went out in canoes and pulled them in. Then we all congratulated Gus on his success.

      Gus's achievement was also our success.
      Besides the scheduled food and fuel the delivery included several newspapers in both English and French, and a few items that we had ordered that hadn't arrived by the time we left. But it also meant that we would be late setting out that day.
      Gus, Girard, and Martin, the three people in charge of the expedition, put their heads together and decided that we'd stay put and wait out what looked to be a good thunderstorm that was brewing ahead of us.
      And it was a good thunderstorm and no mistake.
      Several of our tents blew down and we almost lost one of the canoes that wasn't pulled up on the bank as far as it should have been.
      But after some work, a big fire, and a few sips of the tafia rum that had been smuggled with the gear, we were all no worse for the wear.
      And for the first time since we left I got to actually spend some time with Heather. Although we had been pretty close friends before the expedition, and had dated for awhile. Before we left we both agreed that for the duration of this trip, we'd just be friends. So now I got to tease her about what appeared to be a budding romance between her and two of the guards. Both the American guy and the woman guard seemed to be very friendly with her.
      Heather made it a very clear point that she wasn't here on a date with anybody, and that if I had any plans for us after we got back to Cayanne, that I'd shut up and get her another cup of tea.
      I shut up and got her another cup of tea.

      With the day of rest we had to get up earlier and travel faster to get back on schedule.
      They had allowed five full days for us to get to our target area. That time allowed for various obstructions in the river, storms, and even problems with the boats. So we really weren't behind schedule, but as we progressed up the map Girard had, it seemed like we were.
      Just before Kagnouma the river seemed to turn against us. We had all known about the marsh area where the river winds out of the Tumac-Humac highlands and turns into what we had been comfortably cruising on. But now we were faced with multiple winding channels and currents that seemed to flow in several directions at once.
      "We pick the widest course with the most current and follow it." Girard said over the radio. "Follow our boat."
      We did.
      "Now that is one big snake. To the left on that tree." Martin said over the radio.
      "That is typical green anaconda. I would say it is a young one." Heather answered.
      "I don't want to meet its daddy." I answered looking at the snake sunning itself on the downed tree. I'd seem them before, but this one would be one of the biggest I'd ever encountered in the wild.
      The snake would probably come in at just under eight or nine meters long and probably weighed more than twice what I do as its girth was a meter or more around at its middle. It did lift its head and look at us as we went by, but it didn't move. It was less impressed with us than we were with it.

      The river wound around and at one point I was sure we had doubled back on ourselves, but after a long couple of hours and a lot of watching regular crocs and some narrow nosed caimans watching us, we made it through and were back on the main river heading toward our next stop through a light rain that was just enough to get you damp enough to be uncomfortable.
      At other times a sudden gust of wind would play havoc with the fleet. And there was more than a few close calls between the motor boats and floating logs, and several times where one or more of the canoes would end up swamped when the current acted against us. However, because of the way we all packed and with Gus's insistence on being over prepared, while some of our supplies did end up wet, we didn't lose anything important.

      Now the land just beyond the river banks was rising steadily on both sides. We were coming into the what everybody around here called the Tumac-Humac mountains. But I had been both to the Andes and to Denver in the US Rocky Mountains, so I had seen real mountains and to me, these were highlands and some good sized hills. But not mountains.
      We put in along the bank at Kagnouma and took a prolonged break while we unloaded some supplies for the village that we had brought with us and Gus ordered the next airdrop for the next morning.
      With time to kill we set up the solar shower and everybody took a turn at rinsing off in the lukewarm water. But after several days of ripening, everybody needed it.

      When we walked up to the village we found a few small rough built buildings, one structure of wood and metal, and three people who were somewhat startled to see us.
      One of them began talking in a tribal language that our Wayampi guide spoke a little of. Finally they were able to communicate using a pidgin mix of Creole and their native tongue and a bit of French.
      It took some translation between the priest and the guide for us to learn that the rest of the village, all two dozen or so of them, were off to a burial and wouldn't be back for two or three days, maybe a week, the villagers weren't sure.
      We shared what we had with them, for which they were grateful, then we settled into our camp for the night.

      That night I was paired with the female security guard for a two hour watch at midnight. As had become my custom I got my big flashlight out of my pack and my pole out of the boat. Then after a walk around the perimeter of the camp and stoking up the fire, I stood in one of the boats and fished.
      The one thing I had learned about her so far was that she liked to be alone, and her name was Penelope. But if you didn't want to take a chance of ending up in the river, you called her Peni.
      "Why are you in a boat?" She asked me.
      For the record, those were the first words Peni said directly to me other than, "can I use the salt" at a meal or something similar.
      I turned toward her and nodded to the dark water, "Crocs."
      Peni pointed her flashlight at the rippling water just off the bank and nodded. "Good idea. Those big snakes are probably out there too."
      "Yeah." I agreed with her, and then as she didn't walk away immediately I asked her why she had joined our little excursion.
      "I needed to get out of the country for awhile." She said.
      "Out of the US?"
      "Britain." Peni scanned the bank with her light. "Me and my ex had decided the island wasn't big enough for the two of us. So I told her she could have the UK and I'd find a job elsewhere. This is better than going to Kuwait again." Now she was aiming her light at the trees beyond our camp. "Look."
      I followed the beam with my eyes. Two bright eyes were looking back at us. In another second they vanished.
      "Ocelot." I said.
      "Small cat. Like a miniature leopard."
      "Oh." She continued panning the light over the jungle.
      "So it wasn't a good breakup."
      She chuckled deeply. "The only good thing that came out of it was that she's stuck with her name on the lease for an overpriced apartment in Kensington. Four hundred pounds a month its costing her to be a snob." She saw me trying to work out the conversion. "The high side of about five hundred thirty Euros."
      "Ouch." I said.
      "Utilities are not included." She said in an excellent British society accent.
      "So where are you from?"
      She ran her light across the water. "I was born in Guildford."
      "Never heard of it." I said honestly.
      "No reason you should have. It's just south of London."
      "But you sound like you're from New York or something."
      Now her light was reaching into the trees on the opposite bank. "I lived there for awhile too." Then she walked away.
      I fished some more, and caught a twenty centimeter long fish of some species that I couldn't identify so I threw it in one of the coolers for one of the biologists to identify in the morning.
      Right at two hours later we were relieved by another guard and one of the native guides.

      It was still dark when I woke up suddenly.
      Then I knew why.
      There were voices hollering in several languages, then two gunshots. Followed by more yelling and another shot.
      I grabbed my gun and followed Martin out of our tent. Both of us were in our underwear holding guns and flashlights.
      "der mutter der weg!" The guard yelled in German pointing past the boats, he was holding his leg with a towel. "ein katze!"
      Even not speaking a word of German I understood exactly what he was saying and we ran that way.
      "Jaguar." Gus said as he aimed his machine gun and its mounted spotlight at the jungle. "We must have stopped in its territory."
      "We saw a small cat looking at us earlier." I said. "I thought it was an ocelot."
      "This wasn't a small cat." The security man said. He pointed his light at the ground where several large cat footprints led towards the brush.

      We walked around the camp, then went back to the fire where Senhora Monita was bandaging the wounded guard and talking a mile a minute in Portuguese to a man who only spoke German. But he seemed to understand that she was saying that it wasn't too bad and that he'd be fine.
      Girard looked around. We were standing around eating leftover cheese bread and drinking a hastily made pot of instant coffee. "Well, since everybody's up, what do you say that we go ahead and pull out?"
      We were all for it and as soon as it was light enough to see where the river ended and the bank began, we did just that.
      The story turned out that the guard, whose name was Friedman but they had been calling him something that sounded like 'Freet', had walked away from the fire to look around and walked between two of the tents. He said he almost stepped on the cat that was lying in the shadow along the side of the tent. They were about equally surprised but the cat had faster reactions and swiped at his leg with its claws before it ran through the camp, right past the fire, to vanish along the downstream bank past the boats.
      I vowed to myself to spend less time fishing and more time scanning the shadows with my flashlight.

      My unusual catch from last night was forgotten until we stopped several miles upriver for lunch.
      The biologists pronounced it a subspecies of something I had never heard of. Then they spent some time arguing about whether or not it might be something else.
      At least it provided them with something to do besides complain about having to eat cheese bread again.
      My contribution to the debate was to tell them that whatever it was, it seemed to like glow in the dark rubber worms and I'd try to catch another when I had the chance.


      It was a couple more days up river before we reached Pina. Or at least where Girard and the priest thought Pina should be. Either the village had moved, or we weren't where we thought we were. Or most likely, both were true.
      Since it was getting late we decided to stay there anyway and camp for the night, then pull out in the morning.
      That night I stood my second watch with Peni.
      She was still distant and quiet. She thought I was being paranoid by the way I constantly peered into every shadow with my light. But at the end of our two hour shift she said she had been a little more comfortable knowing there weren't any stray cats in the neighborhood than she would have been otherwise.

      We went on for another day and to where we hoped to find Itousanseng which the missionary told us was a little more permanent settlement of a couple more families than Pina.
      Then when we came around a slight bend, we saw several dugouts and one actual factory made canoe pulled up on the bank. Up the slight hill we could see a thatched building.
      The missionary and one of the guides called out to the house and somebody answered. Girard gestured toward the bank and we all nosed our boats up against the mud.
      Several of the others went ashore to find out where we were. I took a break and stretched my legs walking along the bank and helped pull a couple of our smaller canoes up a little against the wind and rain that was trying to make the day even soggier.
      Then Girard came back with an old man. "This is Itousanseng, the man and the village." The Frenchman nodded to his new friend. "They said Pina is still there, but nobody has been there for awhile so..." He shrugged.
      The old villager, for his part, smiled at us with a few yellow teeth and nodded once in awhile.

      We moved upriver to where the old man had indicated was a good place to pull the boats out and set up what would be our base camp for our treks away from the river toward the low mountains. Once again we put up the privy for the shower and put together several of the other amenities that we usually just left in the boats for overnight stays.
      The first several trips into the hills would be from this camp.
      Two teams of three or four members each would make a brief scouting foray into the jungle from a couple of points along the river. They'd move inland, following animal trails or creeks or even a slight ridge for some distance looking for... Monkey Signs.
      No she wasn't kidding. That's what Doctor Diamond called them. Dr. Girard agreed, as did the other biologist.
      I stopped laughing and tried to become invisible.
      Heather volunteered me to lead her group. Girard thought that was an excellent idea.

      The expedition groups were outfitted as follows. One guide, in the case of Heather's group, that was me. A Biologist, which in my case was Heather. A photographer. And a security guard, in our case it was Freet, the German guard who had been 'cat scratched' and was now claiming, with some expressive German phrases at that, that he was as healthy as he could be.
      Senhora Monita checked his leg and said she didn't see any sign of infection, so he was cleared to go.
      We gathered and checked our equipment and got ready to go. The other group, led by Dr. Girard, contained Peni as security with one of the Wayampi guides, did the same.
      In the morning we got into two of the canoes and headed downriver.

      It was a lot easier, and faster, half coasting down the river until we got to the area Heather said she wanted to check out. I agreed and said we should see if we could pull the boats out under a gap in the trees I could see down a little ways.
      The gap turned out to be a small stream that we could paddle up a hundred meters or so. As we got to the mouth of the stream I had an idea and wrapped a white plastic bag that was in the canoe around a tree limb. Then I called the base camp.
      "Rick to Gus." I said into my radio. It was the first time I had used the thing seriously. Until then we had told each other about crocodiles and waterfalls and some of them asked about what fish I had just caught, or missed catching, as we were cruising along.
      "Go ahead." The radio said clearly even though we were some distance from the camp.
      "We're going to explore up a side stream. I marked it. About five clicks downriver from the village. The stream runs almost due north."
      "Roger." Gus replied.
      Not long after that we listened as Peni reported they were about a kilometer downriver from where we were. They had beached their canoes on a sandbar that we had passed yesterday and were checking out a low cliff just above it. Again the reply was precise and clear.

      We paddled up the stream a good way, then when we ran into a downed tree that blocked the way we went back down until we could find a place where the bank wasn't as steep and we could pull out.
      Almost immediately Heather began scouring likely spots where there was evidence that animals had been coming to the stream to drink. But she didn't see anything overly interesting, nor were there monkey prints.
      I used what I hoped was reasonable hand signs to Freet directing him to watch our backs as I moved upstream slightly while Heather and the photographer did their thing along an animal path.
      Freet said something in German and nodded then moved that way.
      "Thank you Freet."
      "Nein. Herr Ritch. Ich bin Freetd." He said. "Freedt." He repeated trying to be exact.
      "I think he's saying his name is Fred." The photographer said.
      "Ja. Fredt." He said nodding with a big smile.
      "Fred it is." I said.
      "Hi Fred." Heather said.
      "Danke." He said and went to watch his area.
      We moved from there upstream for about a kilometer. But as the land rose ever so slightly, the jungle became thicker and even more impassable. Even the stream was having trouble flowing through. In some places the water was gurgling through a massive tangle of roots and vines. After fighting our way through an endless collection of thorn vines and thorny bushes and so on, all the while keeping an eye out for snakes and quicksand, we gave up and took a break back by the boats.
      There was a place to cross the stream not far from where we were, so we decided to do that and follow that side up a little way and see if we could find anything else.
      "There." The photographer said and pointed.
      We all looked.
      There were several small monkeys in the trees not far up the hill from us.
      "Are they the elf eared ones?" I asked as we watched them watch us.
      "I don't think so." Heather said peering at them through her binoculars.
      We waited for a couple more minutes, then moved on.
      The area we were walking into seemed to be getting marshier as we went. This side of the stream wasn't as steep as the other and the water from yesterday's rain, and the day before, seemed to be taking its time draining away to the stream.
      We pushed on for a bit further, then turned back and headed for the canoes for lunch.

      "Girard to Base." My radio said as I sipped some water after we ate our daily cheese bread. Now don't get me wrong. It was very good fried cheese bread. The Senhora varied the spices and the amount of cheese she put in it. Today's bread even had some dried meat in the mix and more than a little bit of pepper. But it was still fried cheese bread.
      "Go ahead." Martin said in answer.
      "We're heading back. We couldn't go any further inland."
      "Rick to Girard." I said into the radio.
      "Go ahead Rick."
      "We hit a dead end too. We'll meet you at the end of the stream."
      "On our way. Girard out."
      "Copied. Base out." Gus answered.

      We paddled down to where the stream met the river and found a place to wait. I took down my plastic bag and put it where I could find it again. Then the photographer got out of the canoe and took pictures of turtles with Fred watching for snakes and crocs while Heather laid back in the sun and I fished.
      "Ritch Croc!" Fred said suddenly.
      "Big one." The photographer added.
      Heather sat up and looked. I reeled in my line and looked, and sure enough, a big reptile was swimming downstream with its 'V' shaped snout breaking the water just as easily as the bow of our canoes did. But I suspected its large flat sided tail was more efficient than our paddles.
      "That looks like a Crocodile all right. The nose is different than the caimans we saw yesterday." I said.
      Heather nodded as the photographer took a series of pictures of the beast.
      Then I got on the radio. "Rick to Girard."
      "Go ahead."
      "Big old Croc-o-dile swimming right down the middle of the channel heading your way."
      "Thanks for the heads up, we'll watch for him."
      Then in a few minutes we could hear a great deal of whooping and hollering from downriver.
      It was followed by a radio call.
      "You were right Rick. That was one big crocodylus acutus. We got a good estimate of its length at approximately four meters."
      Then in another few minutes their boats came into view and we joined up and paddled back to camp talking about the 'really big croc'.

      Even though we didn't find the elf-eared monkey, the day hadn't been a total waste of time.
      After his first night in Itousanseng, the priest rejoined us in our camp by the river, and he had brought the old man and another villager with him. They were sitting in the camp eating cheese bread and talking to Gus when we returned. And they had a story to tell.
      "They said it was north and east of here. Along a hunting trail they use. Three of the men were coming back when they were attacked by one monkey."
      We all looked at each other. Then Heather asked the obvious question.
      "If they were hunters, they had their hunting weapons with them right? One little...."
      "You don't understand, it wasn't little. And it wasn't one monkey." The priest said. "It was the funeral for two of them that everybody from Pina went to."
      "So it just happened a few days ago."
      "Yes." The priest nodded. Then he went on to explain what the survivor said happened.
      The story was totally beyond belief.

      According to the priest's version, when the hunters came across the monkeys, the animals reacted the way the ones we had seen earlier that day reacted. About half curious and half afraid of them. But then as the hunters tried to shoo them off the trail, the monkeys became defensive and aggressive.
      Then he said things went from bad to worse. The hunters used their spears and blowguns on the monkeys, and the monkeys got together in what the hunter described as a 'fur-swarm' and attacked. The hunter that survived was the furthest one from the point of attack and could evidently run the fastest.

      Girard had his lips tight and his jaw set. "How do we get there?"
      The priest translated it to the old man and the other villager. They actually pointed in different directions, then debated about it, and finally ended up pointing the same way and the old man told the priest what they had come up with.
      "Illouychou can show us. There's a stream not far from here, we can take the boats to where the trail crosses the water. Then he'll show us." The priest said. The younger villager nodded at his name.
      Girard nodded. "We leave in the morning." He looked at Gus. "I don't want to take a chance that there is something to this. We'll take a good security force with us."
      The white haired man nodded. "I'll come with you."
      "I was hoping you'd say that."


      The next morning the team left.
      Girard and Gus were leading, with a biologist and Chris the lead photographer, as well as Fred. With Illouychou as a guide they headed upstream.
      I went with Martin in one of the boats with a motor to tow the two canoes upriver to save them some time and effort.
      The indicated stream was actually a small river and we were able to take them a good ways up it before we felt the water was getting too shallow for the larger boat. We beached on a sandy shore and they took the canoes and paddled upstream. Once they were around the bend, we took the motorboat and did a little exploring of our own further up the l'Oypock river.
      Up here what had been a broad slow moving large river was now down to a fairly fast moving narrower river with some meaningful rapids that became more common as we went. Finally we gave up and headed back to camp.

      Just as we were within site of camp we got a message on the radio.
      "We've reached the trail. We're leaving the boats and heading North with Illoy." The voice sounded like Gus.
      Martin responded to the message and informed them that we were back at camp, which was a lie by about three hundred meters, but it was close enough.
      We told the people at the camp about the rapids we'd gone through and how we'd seen the first actual bedrock we'd seen since we'd started this little trip. Not a dozen kilometers upriver there was a low escarpment that the river crossed in a couple of steps and you could see the country's backbone sticking out in places.
      Then we waited for four in the afternoon when we'd leave to go back and wait for them to come back down the stream.

      Now while we waited for either a radio call or the time to go back to the stream the others surveyed everything from build a better frame and anti-cat fence for our 'other' privy just outside of camp to on the shore to insect species in a square meter of marsh grass and mud.
      I traded off monitoring the radio, fishing, and helping do some maintenance on the boats.
      About three I got some supplies together, and made sure the boat was fueled up, then just before four we left for the meeting place.

      "Girard to base. We're on our way to the rendezvous point."
      "Martin to Girard, we're almost there."
      "Relay a message to the camp. I want to go back to the site tomorrow. Something strange definitely happened and I wish to conduct a full investigation."
      "10-4" Martin said, then he repeated the message.
      Heather answered from the camp and said they'd only been able to understand part of the original message.

      On the way back to camp Girad and the others described how they had found the place where the monkeys attacked the hunters, and the scene of complete mayhem and devastation. Not only had the monkeys killed the two hunters, they had dismembered them.
      "I'm not sure what the villagers had a funeral for, but we found pieces of the men all over the place." Girard said.
      "Small pieces." Gus added. "Tomorrow, I'm taking some sixty-sevens."
      I didn't know what a 67 was, so I asked.
      "NATO issue frag grenades." The security man answered.
      Girard was silent for a long minute then he said something very disturbing. "The men had been literally physically torn apart."
      "By the monkeys." Gus added.
      "By the monkeys."

      We spent the evening looking at the pictures and video and listening to them describe what they had found.
      The oddest part was the tracks in an open bit of sandy soil along the trail and some of the marks and what appeared to be hand prints from the monkeys on tree limbs and some of the hunter's things that the team had found.
      From what Girard could tell, and several of the others agreed with him, and so did I, the tracks made it look like the monkeys lined up side by side to attack the hunters. But how they did it and inflicted the damage they did we couldn't begin to guess. The individual tracks were just about the average size for the species and looked like any of the other normal Capuchin 'organ grinder monkey any of us had ever heard of.
      Several people had bad reactions to the images, especially once what they were seeing was identified and how what was being recorded came to be where it was.
      Girard summed it up. "The monkeys had to intentionally break up the bodies of the men and move these individual pieces to where we discovered them."
      "But that doesn't make sense." One of the biologists said. "Other animals should have either eaten the body parts or carried them away."
      "I agree. But we found sections of fingers and toes in trees and sitting on dead logs and elsewhere. They weren't thrown and probably did not fall randomly. The pieces were placed where we found them, and they did not appear to have been touched since then."
      "Besides ants and flies." Gus muttered half under his breath.
      "Why would the monkeys do this?" Peni asked. She hadn't been bothered as much by the images as one would have expected.
      "Because the villagers hunt monkeys." Gus answered.
      "So it was revenge?"
      "Yes." Girard answered immediately.
      "But how did they overcome trained and experienced hunters who were armed with spears and blowguns and knives?" Gus asked. "That is the question we haven't answered yet."
      "We'll try to answer it tomorrow." Girard said.
      "I believe the camera traps we set will explain why the other animals are leaving the body parts alone." The photographer, Chris, said. "The monkeys are probably still watching the site."
      "We shall see tomorrow." Gus said. "Fred is with us tomorrow, can somebody else take his watch?"
      "I will. I'll do a double." I said.

      There were two reasons I wanted to stay up for awhile. One was I thought my stomach was too upset by some of the images for me to be able to sleep without having a bad dream. That, and I had seen something in the video of the attack site that I thought might indicate how the monkeys had organized their attack, but I wanted to double check before I said anything.
      I sat the first watch with the American guard who spent most of the time with his video game next to the fire. I fed the CD they had burned of the video to one of the laptops that had been charged off the generator and went through it frame by frame.
      In the dark the computer's screen resolution was much better and what I had thought I had seen stood out in good contrast.
      What had looked like individual monkey tracks close to each other was now obviously two monkeys who appeared to be standing and facing each other. But the impression in the sand next to the trail seemed to be too deep for a two kilo monkey to make in the ground unless it had jumped down from some height.
      Instead of being part of the solution, it was another piece of the puzzle.


      The same team that had gone to the site on the first trip made the return visit. Except this time they took extra camera gear and measuring devices and a specialized vacuum cleaner for gathering particulate samples.
      Martin and and the American security guard, Thomas, towed them up to the stream. I didn't go with them because they left at first light. Since I'd stayed up half the night staring at the computer screen, I wasn't exactly up and moving when they were.
      But when I got up I took my theory to Heather and asked her what she thought of my interpretation of the video evidence.
      "Let's see if we can call them." She said.

      We had to relay the call through Martin in the motor boat who was checking another side stream just below the rapids we'd gone through yesterday.
      "Gus thinks you may have something there." Martin relayed back to us. We could hear about half of what Girard had said, but some of it was dropping out, just as it did yesterday. "They're almost to the site. They still haven't seen any monkeys."
      So we sat and waited.

      It was about an hour later.
      It was about an hour later when the most awful sounds I've ever heard erupted from the radio.

      Fred was yelling in German, but the transmission dropped out.
      We heard gunshots as Girard yelled into the radio in French. But it too was broken.
      ".... monkeys.... together.... must be twenty..."
      Now Martin was on the radio from the boat. "We're on our way. Can somebody from base get up here?"
      "We're already moving." I yelled into my radio.
      I was starting the one of the remaining boats while Peni and Heather ran toward it. The other German guard was starting Gus's fiberglass boat while several of the others got into it. Within two minutes of the broken transmissions and gunshots we were racing upriver as fast as we could.
      We left Senhora Monita, the priest, and one of the biologists in the camp.

      We had reached the stream where Martin's boat was pulled out when the American guard said we should all get into the fiberglass boat.
      It was a good idea. It had a shallower draft and the outboard could be raised to glide over obstructions.
      We beached the boat I had been driving next to Martin's and everybody got into the other one. Even with the extra weight the longer and wider fiberglass boat was able to get to within sight of the canoes Girard and the others had paddled up the stream with only minor scraping and grinding along the bottom from time to time. I thought Gus might be upset about the scratches... if he was still in any shape to be worried about the boat that is.
      The guard nosed the boat up against the bank and I tied it off to a tree as the others got out and Heather announced to whoever had a radio on that we were there.
      There was no answer to her call.

      Then we heard an explosion up the hill and back through the trees.
      "Grenade." The guard said.
      We charged up the trail with drawn guns.

      "Heather. Rick. Me and Girard fell back to the south of the trail. Near the rocks. Girard and Illoy are injured." Martin said from the radio. "The monkeys were... I don't even know how to describe what they were doing. All working together holding on to each other. And there were a lot of them, and they were fast."
      "Can you make it down to the boats?"
      "We'll try. If you can cover us. We got separated from Chris and Fred. I don't know where Gus is."
      Then another call. "Das ist Freedt.... Holen Sie bitte ein... doktor..." He sounded weak and in pain.
      Then three quick gunshots rang out from up ahead and to the right, followed by two more.

      We stopped as the trail reached the top of the hill. Every few steps I would ask for a response from Gus and Chris and the others we hadn't heard from.
      Then we stopped dead.
      There were three elf-eared monkeys sitting in the middle of the trail.
      "The monkeys are so cute." Heather said.
      They were holding radios and other gear that Girard and the others had taken that morning. As soon as they saw us they chattered and scampered down the trail and into the trees. But they weren't reacting from fear and I knew they were going to tell their friends that there were more people in the area.
      "Yeah. Until they kill you." I answered.

      "OK. Martin. We're coming. Fred. Where are you?" I said into the radio.
      " scheiss...en.." Fred answered. He sounded a bit stronger, and really angry. "ict kommet du...."
      "He said he's coming to us." The other guard said.
      "OK." I said. Then I had to make a decision. "Martin went that way." I nodded to the south. "The others were over there."
      "We'll go get Martin." The guard and the other biologist said and started toward where we had heard the shots.
      Peni looked from one to the other of us. "I'll help with the injuries. Call if you need backup."
      "OK." I tried to grin at Heather as she double checked her pistol. I'm not sure it was a very sincere smile but she didn't seem to notice. "Where are you going?" I asked the photographer that had come with us.
      "Ya'll." He nodded to me.
      "Let's go." Heather said.
      I released the safety on my own gun and said I'd lead.
      "You're right, you will." Heather said trying to make a joke.
      "I'll do it for a 'Scooby Snack'." I said trying to sound like the famous dog.
      "Sorry fresh out. When we get back to Cayenne I'll buy you a kielbasa at that place by the fountain."
      "You're on." I looked back at the cameraman. "Him too?"
      She glanced at him and he nodded. "Him too."
      "OK." I took a deep breath and turned up the trail.


      I have no idea what I was actually expecting.
      I guess I was expecting dozens or maybe hundreds of half meter long two kilo monkeys all coordinating an attack on us. All I had was a couple of tracks where one monkey was standing on its back feet facing another monkey and Martin's description of them holding on to each other.
      The idea formed that if I saw more than three monkeys together, we were heading for the boats.

      "Heather. Brace yourself." I said as we entered the slight clearing where they had found the remains of the hunters.
      "Chris didn't make it." I said.
      It was the understatement of the week. The monkeys had evidently started doing to him what they had done to the hunters.
      We found his wallet nearly shredded not far from what was left of his pants. I picked up a couple of his IDs and put them in my pocket. There was nothing else we could fo for him.
      "Rickt." I heard Fred from nearby. "Gott se...dank... du."
      "Oh God." Heather said.
      It looked like Fred had gotten away with his life. His shirt had been shredded and he was severely scratched and bruised. But he was alive. But he had also put up a hell of a fight. His pistol was empty and he was still holding his bloodied army issue combat knife.
      We wrapped the worst of his wounds and gave him a bottle of water.
      "Danke." He said gratefully. "Thomas... der photographer." He pointed down the trail.
      "Chris is dead." I said bluntly. "I'll go find Thomas. Did you see Gus?" Fred shook his head. I looked at Heather. "Stay with him."
      Me and the photographer continued down the trail. I had my pistol out and the photographer had his camera out. I'm not sure which of us was more nervous.

      "Rick. Illoy and Girard are on their way to the boats. Me and Peni are coming to meet you." Martin said.
      "OK. We're on the trail where you were attacked. We've got Fred. He's hurt but alive."
      "Roger. Any sign of the others?"
      "Chris is dead. I'm looking for Thomas and Gus now."

      "Over here." The photographer said.
      I thought he had found the body of one of our missing people. Instead he had found dead monkeys.
      Several small elf-eared capuchins had been shot dead. But what was unusual was that four of them were wrapped up in each other's arms in a really odd formation with two clasping each other with their arms and tails while the other two had their legs entwined with the first two. Several other dead monkeys lay nearby.
      "Get some pictures." I said. "I thought I saw something else over there."
      I walked over to the other side of the clearing. There a large explosion had killed many more monkeys.
      Not far from there I found Thomas.

      What struck me was the sheer brutality of the attacks on our people. There was no doubt in my mind that if the monkeys had been able to get to Fred, or even to us, we'd be in the same shape as Chris and Thomas.
      Our people had killed dozens of monkeys. I had tried to keep track of the number of dead animals, but lost count around fifty. But they had also killed two of ours and several others were injured or missing.

      "Gus. Come in." I said to the radio again. The photographer had filled up one memory card and changed to another. We stood in silence while we waited on Gus and the camera to come back to life.
      Martin came up and stood with us. Peni was checking out Fred.
      "Still no sign of Gus, sir." I said to him after a minute.
      "He tried to draw it away from us that way." He pointed into some side brush near where I had found the explosion.
      I looked back at Heather. "You want to come?"
      She looked down at Fred. He indicated that he'd head back to the boats, then the two women started toward us. Both with drawn guns.

      We walked slowly toward the jungle.
      The land here was working its way steadily up into the low rolling hills that ran throughout the area as part of the northeastern end of the Tumac-Humac mountains. From off to one side we could hear water gurgling.
      "He was here all right." Martin said from to my right.
      There was evidence that he had used another grenade against the monkeys. There were dead animals, and pieces of dead animals for several meters in every direction. Even the trees themselves testified to the destructive power of the devices.
      "GUS!" I hollered.
      We stood in silence.
      "This way." The photographer said.
      There were spent shell casings on the ground and you could see where somebody had run through the undergrowth.
      We fanned out through the area. Ever once in awhile we'd find a dead monkey.

      "Martin. Rick." Girard said over the radio. "We're at the boats. Fred's here. He's going to be OK."
      "10-4. No sign of Gus. We're still searching." Martin answered.

      Then we heard chattering.

      "There's one." Heather said.
      "Don't shoot." Martin said. "If they think we're a threat they'll... god."
      "Gus!" Somebody called out.
      I saw something in a tangle of brush and retrieved it. "Here's his AK. And radio."
      Then there were a couple more monkeys. All watching us.
      More chattering.
      "I think we'd better head back to the trail." Martin said.
      "Yeah." I agreed.
      "What are they doing?" Heather said.
      We all looked.
      Two of the monkeys were standing facing each other on a large branch. Another one was standing on the first ones shoulders. Then another animal joined that one on their shoulders. A fifth then stood on top of the top two and began chattering loudly.
      In seconds twenty or more other monkeys began flocking to them and wrapping their arms and tails around each other while others of their kin ran by us and clawed at our legs or were trying to trip us.
      Peni screamed as several of them seemed to drop out of the trees at once on her. She threw off a couple and shot another.
      "Run." Martin said urgently as he swatted a monkey off of her.
      Several of us began shooting at the group of monkeys.
      "Nevermind. He must be dead. Run." Martin said to the rest of us. "RUN!"
      I looked over at the monkeys. Then I ran.

      Where there had been a few monkeys holding onto each other was now a seething mass of furry little bodies all clinging to each other. There must have been a hundred of the creatures all working together to form something that looked like it should be made out of robot trucks.
      The chattering was deafening.
      We sprinted back to the trail just as it crashed through the trees into the glade. I ran through most of my clip trying to stop it.
      "Go GO GO!" Martin said. "You can't stop it by shooting at it."
      "Cute monkeys." I said as I ran alongside Heather.
      "Shut up and run." Heather said. In spite of Martin's warning she fired over her shoulder in the general direction of the monkeys as she ran.

      We were gasping and panting by the time we got to where the canoes and fiberglass boat were drawn out.
      We stopped for a second and caught our breath.

      Then we heard chattering.
      "Go." Martin said.
      "Yes." Girard said starting the motor. "We'll pull the canoe."

      We didn't even talk about it until we were down to where the other two boats were tied up.
      I got in one and the photographer got in the other and we followed the fiberglass boat downriver.
      Evidently Girard had made a decision.
      "Girard to camp. Prepare to pull out."


      Girard had radioed to the camp for them to get ready to leave.
      Except there was no answer.
      "Martin to Senhora Monita. Senohora, Resposta Por favor." Martin said through the radio. "Father John. Can you hear me?"
      Then Heather got into the act, calling her colleague as well. "Jose? Come in."
      Still no answer other than the light rain that had begun falling to add insult to our injuries.
      We tried to get the boats to go even faster.
      I got mine to plane out since I wasn't towing any canoes and was some distance ahead of the others fairly quickly.

      When I saw the camp, or what used to be the camp. I felt a terrible shiver run down my spine. I turned the boat around against the current and stayed in the middle of the river.
      "Monkeys." I said to the radio. "Get your guns out."
      "Where's Monita?" Girard asked.
      "No sign of her or Jose."
      I stayed well away from the bank until the other two boats arrived. Now with everybody together we went ashore and tried to find the others.
      Senhora Monita was alive, but in bad shape under what was left of one of the larger tents. The same couldn't be said for Jose and Father John, but at least their bodies hadn't been dismembered.

      Most of us stood watch. The others gathered up what supplies hadn't been destroyed or thrown into the river by the monkeys. Most of the computers were junk, but we hoped that once we reached St Georges or Cayenne we'd be able to salvage what was on the hard drives.
      Then just as it started to get dark, we heard chattering.
      "Monkeys." Martin called out.
      "Over here too."
      "They're trying to cut us off." Girard said.
      Somebody started shooting. We all followed suit.
      Then they did it again. The monkeys bunched together into a large ball with two legs of monkeys and several 'arms' of monkeys holding onto each other. The arms had hands of individual monkeys being assisted by the arms and tails of others.
      It took a lurching step my way and I realized I was standing there staring instead of taking any constructive action or retreating. I fired several shots at one of its legs which killed the monkeys that made up the leg, but they were replaced by others just as quickly. But it caused a pause that gave me a chance to run for it.
      "COME ON!" Girard shouted at me. "We're leaving."
      "Yes sir." I said and ran along right behind Heather toward the boats.
      She jumped into one of the boats and I shoved it blindly into the river running over one of the canoes in the process. I could hear shooting around me. Something large that the thing had thrown at us splashed just a few feet from our boat.
      "Aim for the legs." I shouted as I climbed into the boat and started the motor.
      "Go Go GO." Martin yelled over the gunfire as his own boat cleared the bank.

      We had managed to salvage a good bit of the supplies, including the medical kits.
      Other things we found in the river.
      My own personal bag turned up on a sandbar some ways downriver. Everything that had been in the large compartment was gone, but the smaller side compartments were intact, although wet, so I did have some of my things. Several other containers turned up in similar manner that had things in them that we could still use.
      It looked like what the monkeys couldn't instantly rip to shreds, they had thrown in the river.
      Tents they had simply torn to pieces, so now we were forced to sleep in damp partially torn up sleeping bags and blankets.
      The only food and clean water we had was what had been in the containers in the boat.
      But the trip downriver was faster than the trip up, so it wasn't as big a problem as it could have been. Everybody thought Pina, or at least where it was supposed to be, was too close and too involved with the 'monkey problem' as we euphemistically called it so we didn't even get close to the shore there and kept moving.

      We made our first substantial camp two days later.
      Senhora Monita and Fred were having a rough time of it sitting in the boats fighting the bugs all the time and Illoy was running a fever. But we had no way of calling for a sea plane as both the satellite phone and the HAM radio had been ruined by the monkeys. Our only hope was to get downriver to one of the larger settlements and have them call out for us. Which meant at least another three days on the river.
      "Our fuel is getting too low to run all three boats for the rest of the trip." Girard said. His own injuries from the monkey attack weren't looking too healthy either.
      "How about this." I said. "Take Senhora Monita and the others and get them out of here. We'll stay in one of the other boats and paddle down until you can get us a ride out."
      Martin looked at Girard. "I think we should. Before they get any worse."
      Girard shook his head. "I don't want to break up the team like that."
      "We're all ready broke up." Peni said sourly.
      "We're out of the monkey's area. We'll keep moving and camp as we can. We'll make it. We've still got our guns." I patted my sidearm. I didn't tell him I was down to exactly one full clip and nine additional rounds. My backup and spare ammo was probably at the bottom of the river.
      To make it fair everybody had their say.
      The next morning, Martin and Girard took the injured people on the fiberglass boat with all the fuel it could hold and headed downriver. Peni had protested, but then we pointed out that several of her deep cuts from the monkeys were becoming infected, she consented to go and look after Fred and Illoy until they got out.

      Each of the other two motors had the fuel they had in their tanks and a little in one of the spare cans. After that, we'd be out. We decided to not run the motors unless we got in trouble and paddled with the current.
      Me and Heather sat in one boat and watched the scenery go by. Now we seemed to have a lot of time to talk where we hadn't since that one night in camp.
      The second day we were behind the other boat by about a hundred meters in the main channel when out of the blue Heather asked me why I hadn't mentioned Peni to her.
      "What about her?" I asked.
      "Don't play dumb, you're not very good at it."
      I shrugged but didn't say anything.
      "She tried to seduce me. Twice. But she didn't get very far." Heather said.
      "Oh?" I paddled and bit my tongue.
      "Not that I wouldn't have minded. I've very open minded that way. But this just isn't the time or place."
      "That's what you told me."
      "See. I don't discriminate against anybody."
      All I could do was laugh and paddle.

      It was around then that the river began to meander and divide and somehow through one of the interminable rainstorms we got separated from the other boat. We were still in radio contact so we just agreed to keep going until we got back to the main channel.
      And then we spent the night in Brazil without really meaning to, but at least it gave us the clue we needed that we were still heading the right way. If we kept Amapa and its Wildlife Commission on our right, we were still heading downstream even when there was no detectable current.
      Through the jungle along our 'detour' we saw some ruined stone foundations and a few statues on mounds that looked absolutely fascinating. But then Heather said with our luck they would be protected by a cursed band of monkeys and we'd have to go through it all again. I agreed and instead of investigating the ancient site, we paddled faster.
      And eventually we met up with the other boat in the main channel of the river.

      Two days later we heard an airplane and I turned my radio back on.
      "Martin to expedition. Respond please."
      "Rick here. Go ahead."
      "We don't see you. Where are you?"
      I didn't see any landmarks, and our flares went with the other supplies to the bottom of the river.
      "OK. We'll circle and see if we can find you."
      There was no place for them to land on the river here, but they did find us and dropped some supplies.

      The next afternoon when we rounded a bend we came bow to wing with the float plane.
      Two hours later we were on the ground in St Georges. Shortly thereafter we were back in the capitol city.


      We gathered in Fred's hospital room in Cayenne for a post mission debriefing.

      First Girard told us that after Martin had dropped us our supplies they had flown up to the 'final mission camp' as he called it and they looked for any sign of Gus.
      "What's worse. You can't tell our camp was ever there. It looked like the monkeys had taken special care to erase every sign of it."
      "How about Illoy's village?" I asked nodded to the native who was sitting next to me just taking it all in.
      "It's still there. But they don't hunt the monkeys. At least they say they don't." Martin said.
      "They must not." I answered.
      "I don't think they do." Girard said.
      Then we had to deal with the people we lost.
      Besides Gus who we still didn't know the fate of, but which I think we could all guess, there was Thomas and Chris up on the trail. Father John and Jose the biologist in the camp next to the river.
      There were those that had been injured. Fred had taken the worst of it as he had broken ribs we didn't know about until he got to the hospital, but he was in fantastic shape and was already being scheduled for physical therapy to get him back on his feet. Senhora Monita had been beaten up pretty badly, but given her age and overall condition, she would take much longer to recover. Peni and Girard had responded well, although Peni was more upset about the scars the wounds would leave than he was. Everybody that had been wounded by the monkeys were taking shots for everything from rabies to some monkey born form of distemper that I had never heard of.

      As far as hard evidence of the encounter.
      We had a lot of good video and still pictures of the scenes on the trail and in the camp that looked like a battle. Those pictures included the double tracks and the monkeys clasping each other.
      But as to the 'monkey monster' itself. All we had was blurry pictures and jerky video and a lot of tall tales.
      "It's hard to get a good picture when you're running for your life." Somebody said.
      "I agree. But what it means is that we have no proof of what happened. I've already been told by the doctor that he's putting down their injuries to an attack by an ocelot or small jaguar." Girard shook his head. "They dismissed any idea that a capuchin monkey did this. I told them it wasn't one, but maybe a hundred. He asked me if we'd been smoking dope."
      I chuckled. "Maybe we should go back. And take the doctor with us."
      Girard looked me right in the eye. "I was planning on doing just that. But without the doctor. Are you in?"
      A cold chill spread from the back of my head all the way down to my toes. I glanced over at Heather.
      She seemed to be shivering too. But in a second, she shrugged.
      "Give us some time to think about it. Besides. She owes me a Scooby Snack."
      "I think I want to hear that story. But some other time." The Frenchman nodded as others said they'd think about it. "Very good. If any of you wish to go back. Call me."
      "Oui Monsieur." I said in very badly accented French.

      Heather and I sat by the fountain and ate our sandwiches, that I had to buy because her ID and things were still in the river.
      The terror of the deep jungle couldn't seem further away even though by air it was only about three hundred kilometers from here to the path where we lost Gus and ran blindly through the jungle from something is totally unbelievable here and now.
      Finally I asked her point blank- did she want to go back down there and confront it again?
      Dr. Diamond thought about it for a minute. "How about this. If my life with you gets too dull, that'd be an option."
      I lifted my drink. "Hear, hear."



The Desk Fiction Collection

[Note: All rights reserved, including the right to further publication. Distributed copies to proofreaders and editors remain property of the author. No infringement of copyright is intended. All persons are fictitious, all geographic places (i.e. the l'Oypock river, the Tumac-Humac Mountains, the Village of Camopi) are actually there or may be presumed from available data. As far as is known at this time, the 'elf-eared' Capuchin does not exist, however, the Blond Capuchin was recently discovered in Brazil to the southeast of where this story is set.
    No Monkeys were killed in the writing of this story.
Email- dr_leftover{~at~}themediadesk{~dot~}com   Selah ]
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