American Drifter – Heather Graham, Chad Michael Murray

Maybe he was a crazy man. The old woman watched him watch the fountain, staring as if entranced, entirely unaware of the busy flow of humanity moving through the crowded streets of Rio de Janeiro. Dressed in khakis and a T-shirt, he carried a backpack, as did so many of the americanos who came to travel the rain forests and small towns of Brazil. Their American dollars could still buy much; they could drink and play easily in the cities surrounded and secreted by the jungle-like growth of the countryside. This one seemed to be different; there was something about him. He was shaggy like the others; his hair was too long and his face was scraggly with an untrimmed beard. Beneath that untrimmed beard, though, was a beautiful face, well formed, and eyes that were a gentle blue, nice against the tawny gold color of his hair. Something about him touched her. He didn’t come to the fountain to pop open a beer, inhale it and toss down the can. He didn’t light up a cigarillo or pull out a bag of marijuana—as some did here, heedless of the foot traffic. He stared at the fountain with awe and appreciation, as if it were an oasis in the desert. The fountain … yes, it was special. Tio Amato had built it years ago, but had now forgotten it, other than to see that the water kept flowing and once a year it was cleaned. While fairly new in the old city, the fountain and the sculpted cherubs and elegant goddess statuary that surrounded its center hinted of Greek artisans, and the water flowed pure and free. In the center there was a giant obelisk.

It seemed phallic, but then Tio Amato was a man much impressed with his own sex, so that did not matter. Or maybe it did; maybe to Tio Amato it was like the pride and youth and sex he thought he would keep forever. Maybe, in his mind, it was like the heat of Brazil and the beat that could stir so much of the country. The water was a gift to the people, and the children of the neighborhood came there to play. They were young and innocent, free from the cares of money and hard work. They didn’t care about class distinction; they didn’t mind that they shared the fountain’s waters with one another. Not unless their mommas or nannies pulled them away. Yes, Tio Amato kept the fountain flowing; it was his contribution to the neighborhood where he had been born, where his “enterprises” had made him rich, where his massive casa sat, and where he could reign as the king. But no matter why Tio Amato had built it, the fountain was good. It was a strange picture of wild beauty in the rush and hubbub of the city.

It was bordered by a little patch of scraggly trees and a bench where she could sit and feel the breeze without the heat of the sun. As she watched, she felt a kinship with the young man. She had seen many such a man in the city, many that looked like him, some speaking to themselves, others sitting with vacant eyes, cups before them. Sometimes they begged; sometimes they did not. They were weary and their eyes were dead while their bodies still lived. For several moments, this man stared at the fountain with the same dead eyes. Then he dropped his backpack and began to shed his clothing. She thought that she should speak then, and tell him that she was there and that the rush hour of humanity that thronged the mornings of Rio was about, but she held silent. Carnaval was coming to Rio de Janeiro; the city was insane with visitors of all nationalities, rich and poor, black and white, native and other—and yet, among them, she thought that there was something special about this man. He hadn’t come to Rio to use the city.

He had come to be a part of it. He was ragged and dirty and possibly one of the craziest men here. Something in him had broken, she could see that. But he also made her think of something pure. His love for the fountain had a touch of the fantasy seen in a child’s eyes. So she sat silently. Naked, he stepped into the fountain. He lifted the water and sent it high, sparking as it lit into the air. He laughed and began to move, dancing, as if offering up homage to a god on high. She smiled.

He was much more beautiful than any other man she had seen come to the fountain. She was glad that she hadn’t spoken; for an old woman, it was a strange moment of joy to watch the movement of his supple young body. He played in the water, savored the feeling of it, and delighted as he frolicked there beneath the sun. But soon, she noticed a certain car winding through one of the side streets to the square. She rose from her seat in the shade and moved forward. “Senhor, Senhor, come out now, you must come now. He is coming. Tio Amato is coming!” she said. She spoke English, but not well. He paused and turned to look at her, frowning as if he couldn’t comprehend her words.

“Senhor, Senhor, come out now; if it is Tio Amato he will hurt you, or see that you are hurt. If it is only his men … they will hurt you worse. They will force you out, they will be cruel. Please, come out.” She hurried toward him with her shawl, heedless that the precious piece of clothing might be ruined, and wrapped it around his shoulders. “Come … come.” He stepped out of the fountain, looking at her. She wished that she were young and beautiful, but he smiled, and he seemed to like the many wrinkles that crisscrossed her face. “Thank you, senhora; gracias.” He carefully returned her shawl and reached for his clothing.

“This is the city. It is Tio Amato’s neighborhood. The law here is different. The law is what the rich men say the law should be.” “But it’s beautiful,” he told her, reaching for his backpack and throwing it over his shoulder. “The fountain is beautiful. And you are beautiful. Thank you.” “I am old,” she said, flushing as she straightened his shirt, as she would have done for one of her niños, her grandsons. “You must be careful.

You should be back in your country. What are you doing here?” “Senhora, I’m stronger than I look,” he told her. “And I’m here because … I must be.” A look of pain crossed his face, quickly replaced by a smile. “I have done my duty, and now I’m here.” She saw something in his eyes, and she felt as if his soul was damaged, though she didn’t understand at all. “I’m looking for something,” he said. “What is it?” He shook his head. “I have to keep looking.” “You should go home,” she warned.

“Maybe I am looking for what makes a home, senhora.” The car that she knew to belong to Tio Amato was wending its way through the busy morning foot and automobile traffic. The driver must have slammed his fist on the horn because a loud blast disrupted the heat of the day. “Go, please,” she said. “I will see you again, senhora.” He turned and headed down a side street, joining the throng of humanity, as she made the sign of the cross over her chest, praying silently. God keep him, she thought, for only God could watch over fools and crazy men. And the lost. CHAPTER 1 River Roulet knew the strange whistling sound—it was far too familiar. The sound heralded the arrival of a bomb.

His body instantly flinched as his natural instincts for survival set in. The bomb fell. The earth shuddered and exploded into a violent storm of debris. Men screamed and missiles seemed to hurl around the dusty desert landscape. The missiles were men—and body parts. He felt himself breathe; he hadn’t been hit. His hearing was numbed and he was blinded for several seconds and then the debris began to clear. He saw them—the woman and child—standing atop a small rise in the dry and brittle landscape far beyond the bombing. They were there … a distant blur in the distance, as the mist of dust and dirt began to clear. He struggled to stand, to warn them there was danger, but they were gone, and when he looked around, he was alone in a sea of death.

He let out a hoarse cry. And he woke himself up from the nightmare that plagued him far too often. There was no desert around him; the air was rich, his surroundings verdant with the foliage that grew in profusion on the outskirts of the city of Rio de Janeiro. For a moment, he lay shaking, trembling. He took a deep breath, fighting the confusion that made it seem as if the mist from the imagined explosion had crept into his mind when he first awakened from the dream. War was behind him; he had come to Brazil to explore what was beautiful and different in nature, far from the past and far from memories of the past. The battle was over; he had let go of everything except that which he could carry on his back. There was no regimen to be followed, there wasn’t anything he owed to anyone, and his days were now free; he’d vowed to forget the bombs and violence that had plagued the years gone by. He’d had a glorious bath in the fountain—something he could manage because it was Brazil—and the morning stretched before him with a magnificent sun overhead, a touch of cool moisture in the air, and this new world to be explored. For a moment, he felt a sharp pain in his head.

The dream awakened memories; memories he didn’t want to have, memories he had come here to lose. They were there somewhere, he knew, at the back of his mind, but if he pressed his temple between his thumb and forefingers, the threat that they would erupt in full subsided. The past seemed to tease. It would return in the nightmares, but if he awakened, if he pressed the nightmares back, nothing bloomed into truth in his mind. He’d come here to bury the horrors that had gripped him, to begin anew. He forced himself to feel the ripple of the breeze and hear the lilting, tinkling sound of the nearby stream as water danced over pebbles and rocks. The pain faded. He’d slept under the canopy of the jacaranda trees; the earth had been soft enough and it had been good to sleep in the open, but tonight, he’d head to the hostel owned and managed by Beluga, the massive African-Brazilian he could count as one of his few real friends in the Rio de Janeiro area. Beluga’s place was outside the city, surrounded by foliage and rich farmland. It was a beautiful place to sketch, and a pleasant place to stay.

He paused for a moment to take in the quiet. He loved Rio at any time of the year, and it was particularly hectic now that Carnaval grew near. The city felt supercharged. The horns blaring in the busy streets were enough to deafen. No matter—samba bands vied with them now at all hours of the day and night. Being here right now, where the jungle retained a tenacious hold, he could hear the sound of the leaves rustling as birds swept by. It was a nice change. Just as Beluga’s would be nice tonight. River rose and stretched, shaking off the remnants of the dream. He paused for a minute and listened again to the sound of the jungle that encroached upon the city.

As he looked up, a parrot took flight and soared over the trees; he wished he knew more about the birds and other creatures here, but he had time to learn. He had all the time in the world. Rio de Janeiro was wonderful—one of the most wonderful cities on earth. On the one hand, it was massive, with a population of more than six million of the world’s most diverse people—twelve million in the larger metropolitan area. While Portuguese was the primary language, people could be heard speaking any language known to man. They were black and white and every shade in between. River thought that was one of the things he loved most about Rio and Brazil—the diversity of people and the way that skin tones and backgrounds had become so multitudinous that only the very rich or incredibly snobby ever noticed any difference between white, brown, black, or red—or any color in between. Two things were incredibly important in Brazil: samba and soccer. Not that there weren’t worldclass museums and theaters and concert halls. But the people loved their soccer teams and their music.

Samba schools were everywhere. And, at any time, when music could be heard through an open doorway, people might be seen dancing in the streets—practicing their newest moves. And the streets were constantly filled with that music beneath the ethereal shade of the mountains, the blue skies, and the deeper blue seas. The city was magic and River loved it, from the beaches of Ipanema to the jungle forests that encroached upon the city. This was Rio. While acceptance of just about anything was the general rule, it was still a country where there were the very rich; there were the very poor. It was true that money could matter; that the rich could consider themselves a bit more elite. But when Carnaval neared, there were the very rich everywhere, and the very poor everywhere, and it seemed that then, it didn’t matter so much. There were also the tourists—who did not know the bairros, or neighborhoods, of the city. There were big city buildings, skyscrapers that touched the clouds.

And there were farmers on the outskirts still tilling their fields as if the land had never seen the arrival of big business. Rich tourists might go to many of the big balls, but even they knew that the Carnaval was really in the streets. Carnaval had been celebrated in one way or another since the eighteenth century; first, it was taken from the Portuguese Festa de Entrada, or Shrovetide festivals—always a day to enjoy before the deep thought and abstinence of Lent. In later years, the Rio elite borrowed a page from the Venetian Carnavale and introduced elaborate balls. The majority of the people were not the elite— they had their own festival in the street and it was more fun, and soon, even those who were very rich wanted to play on the street, as well. The bands were magnificent: the samba was done on the walks and boulevards, and performers were everywhere. There were so many wonders to be seen in Rio. But the greatest wonder of Rio was still to come, and one could feel the pulse of a city that was filled with natural beauty and joy. As in most cities, there were neighborhoods, and if you stayed, if you became part of the people, you knew the little fountains and the mysterious trails into the jungle and the special places where, in the midst of that twelve million people, you could be alone. He was glad that he hadn’t come just for Carnaval.

He had come to explore. To know and understand the people. Reaching into his pack, he drew out his map of Brazil. He loved to study the map and read the guidebooks on the country. It was huge and he intended to see a great deal of it, beyond Rio, at his leisure. Later, he’d talk to Beluga, and see what Beluga had to say about the wonders to be seen when he started traveling again. He set his finger on the map, circling Rio de Janeiro and São Paolo, thinking that he might travel to the Southwest. Or, perhaps, he’d head inland to see the wonders of Brasília, the planned city that now housed the federal capital. The country was massive; there were so many places he could go. River gathered his belongings, shouldered his knapsack, and headed toward the sound of water.

The picture that met his eyes was beautiful and peaceful; wildflowers grew haphazardly next to water that glistened beneath the sun. The sound of children’s laughter drifted from downstream, closer to the city. He splashed cold water on his face, dug in his bag for his toothbrush, and cleaned up. He was hungry. There was an open-air market just down the hill and he could find all kinds of delicious things to eat there. The walk, he thought, was as beautiful as all else. He knew that a lot of Americans considered Brazil an exotic place—but one to visit, not a place to stay. It was true that here the middle class was slim; people tended to be very rich or very poor. But it cost nothing to look at the wild profusion of foliage and trees, breathe in the air, and feel the warmth of the sun. There was a noise up ahead.

Without thinking, River paused. He didn’t know what made him refrain from moving forward, but some instinct kicked in. Now a splash. On the road ahead where a little bridge crossed the river. He moved off the path, climbing up the foliage- and tree-laden hill that rose next to the river to see what had given him chills. Carefully, he moved to a jagged crest and looked down. There was a car on the bridge—a black car like the one that had approached the fountain the day before. The trunk was open. River had the feeling that something had just been taken from it. And thrown over the bridge.

Three men were out of the car, looking over the wall of the little cement bridge. They were all big, muscled, and wearing almost identical blue jackets. All looked to be somewhere in their late thirties or forties, dark-haired, heavy-set. Paid thugs? From his vantage point, River could see the water—but not what had been thrown into it. The river was fast-moving, churning in little white waves and bursts. It seemed the men were looking at something, or for something—and that they were satisfied by what they saw. A fourth man rose from the backseat of the car; he was about six feet tall with dark wavy hair and a lean, muscled build, dressed in a suit that even at a distance appeared to be designer apparel. He looked strong, impressive, even; but when he turned slightly, River felt there was something in his face that kept him from being attractive when he should have been very handsome with his dark hair and well-honed physique. There was a twist to his mouth and a hardness in his eyes. It seemed like cruelty was stamped into his features.

Tio Amato? he wondered. The drug lord who ruled much of the city? He’d never met the man and looks could be deceiving, he knew. The three thugs approached what appeared to be their leader and spoke in hushed tones that River couldn’t begin to hear. Then they returned to the car, which promptly revved into gear and continued over the bridge. Carefully, River shuffled back down the hillside and walked to the bridge, to the point where the men had looked over the water. He saw nothing. Nothing but water, white-tipped as it rushed over stones, beautiful beneath the sunlight. He stepped back, still puzzled, still uneasy. His eyes flickered to where his hands had touched the concrete wall. There was something there.

Tiny droplets of liquid, in a burned crimson color. Blood? He didn’t touch it, but he stared at it. He felt something curling inside him. Was it blood? Could the man who considered himself lord of Rio kill—and dispose of bodies in such a manner? He debated telling the police what he had seen. But he was an American. For all he knew, the police could be on Tio Amato’s payroll as well. Furthermore, he wasn’t sure what he could really say. These men were on the bridge. I think there are blood spots there now? Had he seen the man kill anyone? Had he seen a body? No, and no. He stood still for a moment, debating.

Maybe someone as bad—or worse—had been killed. No, that was rationalizing a lack of action. But would he be believed by the authorities—or by anyone—if he tried to tell them what he had seen? And even if he was believed, would it matter? He had no proof. There was no one else here. He had no video. Nothing. After a moment, he decided that he would tell Beluga what he had seen; Beluga had been born here and had never gone far. He’d know the lay of the land. Beluga would know what to do. CHAPTER 2 As River debated, a middle-aged woman with a few children at her side, carrying a straw bag of market purchases, walked by him on the bridge.

He smiled at her. Somehow, she set his mind at ease. Mouthwatering aromas filled the air; River had reached the market. Fresh-fruit vendors were the first he saw, and then stands where all kinds of meat sizzled on grills or skewers. He bought a mango first, pulled out his Swiss army knife to peel away the skin, and bit right into it, enjoying the sweet, succulent taste and fibrous texture. Brazil offered a wide variety of cultures and their cuisines—the natives had made good use of fish and the abundance of the land, while Africans brought as slaves had contributed with various spices and the Portuguese had brought in their love for meat and cheese. At his next stop, he bought a bundle of chouriço, seasoned sausages, and at another stand, salgadinhos, delicious little cheese buns. Though River was capable of surviving on very little, he happened to be fairly flush at the moment. For some reason, he had good luck at the track. He knew how to pick a horse, even though he didn’t know how he knew how to pick a horse.

He just could, and it paid off. He could buy himself an expensive suit or designer jeans—he just didn’t want to. He liked his appearance; it allowed him to get to know the country and the people. He preferred the countryside and the rainforest and the outskirts of the massive city to the concrete jungle and civilization. Rio was cosmopolitan, but, somehow, it also had a way of holding on to what was old and natural and good. With plenty to eat, River wandered the market; a lot more than food was sold at the many stands placed haphazardly, as if by a child, on the clearing that bordered the city streets. Even here, Carnaval was in the air. Music competed from a number of boom boxes and iPads with speakers. Samba competed with the American top forty and ballads and even the Brazilian national anthem, “Hino Nacional Brasileiro.” Children kicked soccer balls through the aisles; busy vendors either admonished them sharply or just shook their heads in dismay.

Tourists were abundant—they’d found the market. Handsome men flirted with young women—and old. Flirting, River had learned, was complimentary here. He smiled as he saw a charming young man tease a middle-aged woman. She laughed, enjoying his words. He passed a stand of leather goods and negotiated the price of a new belt, the vendor pretending he spoke no English and River pretending that he believed him and using his broken Portuguese. It was while he was trying on this new belt—with comments of approval from the vendor and his wife —that he heard the whining. Along the same jagged aisle, busy with locals, tourists, and children, there was a stand where a man sold trinkets and jewelry. His display of goods was covered by a glass dome; obviously, he thought that his goods were precious. Maybe they were.

The goods didn’t draw River’s attention; the dog did. He saw the creature that had made the pitiful noise; a large, bone-thin hound of some kind, with German shepherd thrown in. The man was busy extolling the virtues of a necklace to a customer. River bent down to pet the dog. He was starved, but a beautiful creature, the best of genetics combined. He had massive brown eyes, a long shaggy coat that couldn’t quite hide his bones and, in the midst of it, a beautiful shepherdshaped face that might have graced the best of the AKC competitions. The dog seemed friendly, despite the fact that he was starved and had probably been abused. River crouched low, close to the dog, and reached into his bag for one of the chouriço sticks he had purchased. The dog lapped it up eagerly, wagged his tail, and bathed River’s face with a slew of sloppy kisses. River laughed, then started as the owner screamed at him.

He rose; the man was speaking so quickly that he couldn’t follow his Portuguese. “It’s all right,” River said in English. “I just gave him a chouriço … just a bit of food.” The man continued to rant at him. Then he kicked the dog. The creature yelped in pain. River stared at the man, feeling his temper start to burn. He’d gone to war; he’d met the enemy in hand-to-hand combat and he had killed because he’d had no choice. He’d never purposely lifted his hand against another to do harm of his own accord. He was ready to change that mantra.

This guy deserved the vicious kick he’d given the dog. With significant effort, River controlled the impulse to step forward with his fists flying. Hitting the man wouldn’t help the dog—and he might wind up in a Brazilian jail. But neither could he leave the abused animal. In a flash, he pulled his Swiss army knife from his pocket and slit the piece of rawhide tying the dog to the stand. The owner lurched forward, but River grabbed the makeshift leash first and fled. In seconds, he was flying through the crowded pathways that led through the market, the dog excitedly running at his side. People jumped out of his way as he ran, but still he almost plowed into a woman who sold brightly colored blouses in a kiosk near a jewelry stand. He could hear the man screaming behind him. Cursing, raging about River being a thief, urging others to stop him.

But no one did. People made way for him. He thought that the man would keep coming after him, but he stayed with his stand. His jewelry was more important to him than his beaten dog. River kept running anyway, until he cleared the market, turning onto the dirt road that led to Beluga’s hostel. There was a copse of trees there just before another bridge that crossed the river. He ran with the dog until he reached it, then paused at last, breathless. He looked at the dog. The dog looked at him and wagged his tail. It was a big tail.

“Well, I’m glad you’re happy. Now I’m a thief!” River muttered, though he kept his voice light. His back against a tree, he sank to the ground, trying to catch his breath. The dog began to slather his face with his tongue again. “Okay, okay! Let me get into the bag—I have more food. You poor thing; you are just a beautiful pile of bones.” He fed the dog slowly, afraid that after starving for so long, the dog would choke and vomit if he ate too fast. When the chouriços ran out, he went for the salgadhinos until those were gone too. “What do I do with you?” River mused, petting the dog. “I guess you’d be a good-enough companion, huh? You need a name.

” He paused. “I’ll call you Convict, since I may have just become one, if that bastard really cares about you. So, Convict, what do you think? Do you like that name?” He didn’t know if the dog understood him—especially since he was speaking English and the dog had probably learned any commands in Portuguese. But Convict barked happily, his fan of a tail flying again. “We’ll head to Beluga’s. What do you say?” Convict barked. River removed the biting chain from around the dog’s neck and walked a few paces experimentally. To his relief, Convict kept pace, pausing now and then to inspect and sniff at a tree or a bush— and doing what dogs did. After stopping at the stream for Convict to drink, the two of them started uphill, on the dirt-andstone road that would take them to the hostel. When at last the ground plateaued River spotted his destination on the outskirts of the clearing.

It was composed of three buildings: Beluga’s own little house; the barn—though there were no horses anymore; and what Beluga called the longshed—it housed up to twenty guests a night. Beluga’s house was whitewashed, one story and two rooms, with planters that always seemed to offer flowers in a variety of colors at both windows. The longshed was whitewashed as well, with a funny little Lshaped add-on where Maria, Beluga’s housekeeper, lived and worked. The kitchen was there too. Sometimes, the sounds of Maria making coffee in the morning were a bit loud in the shed—but that was all right. Travelers were supposed to be up, drinking that coffee, and on their way—or paying for a second night’s stay. The barn, where River sometimes slept, was to the right of the shed. River always thought it touching that—as with Beluga’s own little house—Beluga kept flower beds around the shed and the barn. Beluga loved flowers. To see him smile when he touched one was something that made everyone else smile as well, those giant hands of his so delicate as he gave a rose petal a gentle brush.

Beluga worked the place himself, alone except for Maria, a tough but kind widow who had lost her husband and two of her children in a flood, but still lived with her faith intact. She had salt-andpepper hair and had obviously been very beautiful in her youth, though time had brought wrinkles to her face and a thinness to her body. Beluga’s property sat on a little hillock with lots of land surrounding it, plenty of space for Maria to hang her laundry in the sun and for Beluga to keep a gathering of ragtag chairs where he could sit and puff on a cigar, sip his coffee or brandy. As River approached, Convict in tow, he saw three backpackers ambling away and Maria coming out of the longshed with a bundle of laundry. Beluga was helping her with the work, hanging sheets on the line. He looked up and frowned as River walked toward him. He was a massive, broad-shouldered man, six-four or -five and muscular. “No dogs, you know that.” “I had to take him, Beluga. He was being beaten and starved.

” Convict sat politely looking at Beluga and wagging his tail. “I can see the starved part,” Beluga said. “Still, he’s a dog. No dogs. You keep him out here. Besides, I don’t know if I have a bed for the night.” “I didn’t know you started taking reservations,” River countered. Beluga rolled his eyes and went to hang another sheet. “Want some help?” River offered. Beluga shrugged.

River shifted out of his pack and went to hang a sheet. “So where did you get the dog?” Beluga asked. “At the market. Come on, Beluga, look at him! He’s a great dog. Obedient and affectionate. And not prissy—I wouldn’t have come here with a prissy little dog, I would have known much better,” River teased. “This is a manly dog. And I had to. The guy kicked him—because he was mad at me for being decent to the poor thing and feeding him. I really had no choice.

Honestly—anyone half human really didn’t have a choice.” Beluga kept working in silence. Then he paused when he went to pick up another sheet. “Probably old fat José. He’s been through a few dogs. Thinks they’ll protect his jewelry—half of it’s fake—and then when they want to be fed, he beats them. Did you hurt José?” River wasn’t sure if Beluga was hopeful that he had hurt the man or just worried that he might have done so. “No.” Beluga hung the sheet and went and sat down in one of the lawn chairs. Convict went to him, shyly, wagging his tail.

“You’re a big boy, you stand tall!” Beluga said, patting the dog. Convict set his nose on Beluga’s lap. “No, no, none of that. You’re not staying here.” But he kept petting the dog. River grinned. It hadn’t taken long; Beluga could say what he wanted, but he had already been befriended by the dog. But that was Beluga. He was truly a gentle bear of a man, not at all pretty—he had a really crooked nose and his eyes were too small. But River had seen him find a way to help people by pretending they’d paid enough or telling them that a three-for-onenight special was going on when he knew they were really broke.

Better not to say too much at the moment about the man, the market, or the dog. River sat next to Beluga and pulled out his drawing pad. He didn’t know why, but Beluga liked to watch him draw—he thought that River was good. Every once in a while, River thought he was okay himself, but he didn’t draw to become a great artist. He drew scenes because he enjoyed drawing, and if he could capture the essence of something that was beautiful or that intrigued him, it was incredibly satisfying. Once, he’d drawn Beluga, and the sketch was one of his favorites; he was really proud of it. The man’s immense size—and his gentle nature—had somehow come through, along with the character lines in his face and the innate wisdom in his eyes. Sometimes, Beluga told River that he’d take a few of the drawings in lieu of cash when he wanted a bed for the night. River hadn’t wanted any kind of a trade, though, for his likeness of the man. That had been his gift to Beluga.

Now, he had something to convey. River began to sketch the scene at the bridge that morning. He made broad strokes to create the Brazilian scene, the sky, the jagged hilltops, and the mountains beyond. He drew in the foliage and then the bridge with the men standing on it, looking downward, and the man he assumed to be Tio Amato standing by the car, waiting. He could picture Tio Amato’s face in his mind’s eye, and the drawing became more detailed as he drew him in. Beluga watched him.

.

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