Part 24

First, breakfast turned out to be excellent. The good-yet-possibly-mad-doctor fancied himself a chef, or at least had saved enough culinary materials for special occasions.

Thick-cut salami, local produce (roots and greens) he had traded with nearby villagers for with some amazing dressing drizzled over, smoked river fish, a shared bottle of Orangina, and a type of zesty flatbread he had concocted.

There wasn’t much to go around, but days of granola and oatmeal and trail mix had our palates leaping for anything else.

Second, we found out who Enzo had been waiting for.

As our group (minus Heléne) sat and conferred to one side, the doctors took to the shaded, makeshift balcony.

We had been half-heartedly going over the pros and cons of following up on this possible fool’s errand and whether or not to keep going after Ava, and if there were any useful leads left, even with the possible (modest) riches the doctor could provide when Manocarci came stumbling in.

You must go to the back laboratory and remain there, now, he said. He furrowed his brow as he said this but didn’t rush us. Now, please. I will collect you after.

Lena approached him from behind, looking a fair bit more aged, perhaps a little rounder, fuller, apprehensive. You too ma cherie, he told her. All of you. Please, it will not be long.

Graham understood almost immediately. He glanced at the automatic at his hip, holstered since early last night. He turned and collected his rifle from the main entryway. The doctors looked at him and Enzo shook his head no.

The rest of us, still weighing the sudden shift, shuffled off across the makeshift boardwalk and into the branch-and-plastic-sheeted lean-to a few yards away.

Looking back, Lena was hugging the big man with a rare passion. I started to ask Graham what we were doing, but he only put his fingers to his lips. He gestured twice for Heléne to come over, waited for her, then swept us behind the colourful bath curtain into the somewhat cooler interior. The snap of his holster opening shook me and Três, sounding too loud in the mid-morning fugue.

What- I started to say, before being shushed again. Within a few moments, Graham had looked over the interior, checked the makeshift windows, looked at the back rock wall, noticed the rat holes along the bottom, and the propped open roof hatch. Shaking his head, he said, Only move when I tell you. If I need to. Walk, don’t run if you have to, and be very quiet. I’ll be right behind.

Três grabbed my elbow and pulled me back towards a drafting table, next to a microscope and incubator. She risked saying a word: fazendeiros. Farmers. Not the good kind, I think.

Lena stood as close to the houseward window as Graham allowed, her palm high on her chest. I couldn’t tell if she knew about this part of Enzo’s dealings, feeling thick-headed for not seeing it before. There was some sort of bargain or protection or hopefully mutual respect between this black sheep of a scientist and the local unknowns. He had been waiting to speak to them but we arrived first.

We waited, and all I could think of was why cancer, why not HIV, or any superflus, or anything else, why not something else equally unbelievable.