Três was the first to break the silence by asking if anyone was hungry. I almost started translating for our apparent host, but stopped myself as Lena looked over and shrugged.
We did bring some gourmet dried everything, I said, smiling at the woman who looked like she didn’t really think about eating that often. Graham cleared his throat and shifted from foot to foot, looking mostly at the tent canvas. I mean, unless the mess setup around here is better, I added.
It isn’t, said the ant woman. But go, your little friend is rubbing her arms like she’s very much cold, or maybe thinks of my friends taking rides?
Graham led the way out and we observed Lena’s small habit of touching each case near her on the way out, mumbling away. Mostly scientific names, taxonomy. Camponotus this. Azteca that.
It took some doing, but we assembled a table and some food, even if it was early afternoon. Most of the straggling researchers and their aides gave us a wide berth. While we ate, I noticed someone had setup a small stereo, but all the CD cases around it were empty or plain crap (Kenny G? Are you shitting me?). My travel phone didn’t have space for much music, and I generally don’t carry a player on me, despite appearances.
After a bit of sitting and trying to piece together more of the ant-woman, Graham nudged at me. His look said it was time for business.
So Wilson and Ava came here a few weeks ago? What were they looking for? Why does no one else want to talk about them? Why are you the only one that they made friends with?
Heléne looked distracted, staring at the nearby trees; she probably had either excellent or terrible vision, I couldn’t tell. She snapped out of it only to say, Well they did start the fire.
Três looked up and said, quite eloquently, What? Then looked around at the lack of any firesign.
Not here, Lena continued. But word spreads, oui. Also I am sure Wilson, dog that he is, stole a few things here and there. There were more médecins here last month, and they had the drugs, and oops, they go missing. And I wonder who could be behind it. They were supposed to be used with the tribes hurt or sick up by Docteur Manocarci.
Sounds like a piece of work, Graham said.
Another doctor? I said.
Oui and yes, she answered. Un espèce de chien. Not the doctor. No, I helped because of Melanie. You call her Ava, but she gave me that name. I could see her eyes, shining and bright. She wanted to help up north, but I told her there was only one lone man out there. And lots of trouble. Locals and les indigènes, oui?
No one else is out there? Why? I asked.
How much trouble, Graham said, sitting up.
Três started to say something, but got up and pulled out one of those small fold-out magnifying lenses.
No funding, the doctor answered. Not for his kind of recherche. She stood up as well, much more interested in Três now.
Doctor, if you don’t mind, Graham started.
Well yes I do mind, but if you want to go hike to a mixed up tribes studied to death by anthropologists and then abandoned when men with cheap guns started to show their faces, go ahead, what do you have there? She looked at no one when she responded.
Três had hunched down away from the tables and was crouched, slowly moving away.