Wild Rain

By: Christine Feehan

“I wish we’d waited. I don’t know why we listened to that old man saying today was the best day for travel,” Simon continued, yelling the words in her ear. “First we wait through two nearly clear days because the omens were bad and then on the word of some man with no teeth we just all climb in the launch like sheep.”

Rachael remembered the old man with shifty eyes and great gaps where his teeth should have been. Most of the people they met were friendly, more than friendly. Laughing and always willing to share everything they had, the people along the river lived simply yet happily. The old man had bothered her. He sought them out, talking Don Gregson into leaving in spite of Kim Pang’s obvious reluctance. Kim had nearly backed out of guiding them to the village, but the people needed the medicine and he guarded it carefully.

“Is the medicine worth money to the bandits?” She shouted the question to Simon above the roar of the river. Bandits were reputed to be commonplace along the river systems of Indochina. They had been warned by more than one friendly source to be cautious as they continued upriver.

“Not only the medicine, but we are too,” Simon confirmed. “There’s been a rash of kidnappings by some rebel groups to supposedly raise money for their cause.”

“What’s their cause?” Rachael asked curiously.

“To get richer.” Simon laughed at his own joke.

The boat bumped over the water, jarring them all, shooting sprays of water into their faces and hair. “I hate this place,” Simon complained. “I hate everything about this place. How could you want to live here?”

“Really?” Rachael looked into the jungle as they rushed by. Tall trees, so many blurring together she couldn’t tell one from the other, but they looked inviting. A refuge. Her sanctuary. “It’s beautiful to me.”

“Even the snakes?” The boat pitched wildly and Simon grabbed for a hold to keep from being thrown overboard.

“There are snakes everywhere,” Rachael replied softly, unheard above the roar of the river.

She had been careful to disappear from her home in the States, had planned out each step carefully, with patience. Knowing she was watched, she had gone casually to the department store and paid a huge sum of money to a stranger to walk out wearing her trendy clothes, dark glasses and jacket. Rachael paid attention to details. Even the shoes were the same. The wig was perfection. The woman strolled slowly along the street, window-shopping, picked a large store, changed clothes in the rest room and walked away a good deal wealthier than she had ever imagined. Rachael should have disappeared without a trace right then.

She purchased a passport and identification in the name of a woman long deceased and made her way to a different state, joined a church group on a medical relief tour of the remote areas of Malaysia, Borneo and Indochina. She managed to escape the United States undetected. Her plan had been brilliant. Except it didn’t work. Someone found her. Two days earlier a cobra found its way into her locked room. Rachael knew it wasn’t a coincidence. The cobra had been deliberately planted in her room. She had been lucky to see it before it had a chance to bite her, but she knew better than to depend on luck. Anyone she met could be a paid assassin. She had no choice but to die, and the storm would provide the perfect opportunity.

Rachael was comfortable in a world of deceit and treachery. She knew no other way of life. She knew better than to depend on anyone else. Her existence would have to be solitary if she managed to survive. She kept her face averted from the others, loving the feel of the wind. The humidity should have been oppressive, but she felt it as a shroud, a blanket of protection. The forest called to her with the fragrance of orchids, with the cry of the birds and the hum of insects. Where others cringed at every sound and looked around fearfully, she embraced the heat and the moisture. She knew she had come home.

The boat rounded a bend and headed for the rickety pier. A collective sigh of relief went up. All of them could hear the roar of falls in the distance and the current was increasing in strength. The men worked to maneuver the boat to the small dock. One lone man stood waiting for them. The wind tore at his clothes. He stared into the surrounding forest nervously but stepped onto the shaky muddy platform that served as a landing, raising his hand to catch the rope thrown to him by Kim Pang.

Rachael could see beads of sweat on his forehead and dripping down his neck. His shirt was stained with sweat. It was humid, but it wasn’t that humid. She looked carefully around, her hands automatically reaching for her backpack. She needed the contents for survival. She noted that the man tying off the rope to their launch was shaking, his hands trembling so much he had difficulty with the knot. He suddenly dropped flat, his hands covering his head.

The world erupted into a nightmare of bullets and chaos. Amy’s high-pitched screaming sent birds shrieking out of the treetops, rising upward toward the boiling clouds. Smoke mixed with the veil of mist. Bandits poured out of the forest, waving guns wildly and shouting orders that couldn’t be heard above the roar of the river. Beside her, Simon suddenly slumped down into the bottom of the boat. Don Gregson bent over him. Duncan dragged Amy to the bottom of the boat and reached for Rachael. Eluding Duncan’s hands, Rachael quietly pulled on her backpack and snapped the safety catch around her middle. Kim frantically tried to cut through the rope tying them to shore.