فصل 10

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فصل 10

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CHAPTER TEN

Fever

The storm never came. When Rachel returned in the mid-afternoon, she and Lako went straight to the chief and reported on events in the other village. She spoke to Nate and Jevy. She was tired and wanted to sleep before they discussed business.

Later, she and Nate walked down toward the river, to the narrow bench under the trees. They sat close, their knees touching again.

“Every village has a local doctor,” Rachel said. “He cooks plants and roots to make his medicine. He calls up spirits to help with all sorts of problems. These doctors are my enemies. I’m a threat to their religion. They attack Christians. In a village down the river, I had a small school where I taught reading and writing. It was for the Christians, but it was also open to anyone. A year ago we had malaria and three people died. The local doctor told the village chief that the people were sick because of my school. They were being punished. The school is now closed.

“The parents of the girl who died are Christians. The local doctor said he could have saved the girl, but the parents didn’t call him. He blamed me for her death. And he blamed God. During the funeral today, he began dancing and singing. I couldn’t finish the service.”

Her voice cracked slightly, and she bit her lip. She couldn’t cry in front of the Indians. She had to be strong all the time. But she could cry with Nate, and he would understand.

“I think you should go now,” she said suddenly. “I think I saw a case of malaria in the other village today. Mosquitoes carry it and it spreads quickly. Trust me, Nate. I’ve had malaria twice, and you don’t want it. The second time almost killed me.”

It never occurred to Nate that she might die. If she died, it would take years to settle the Phelan estate. And he admired her greatly. She was everything he wasn’t - strong and brave, happy with a simple life.

“Don’t die, Rachel,” he said.

“You’re a good man. You have a good heart and a good mind. You just need some help.”

“I know. I’m not very strong.”

He had the papers in his pocket. “Can we discuss these?”

She read the will slowly. “Troy didn’t care for his other children,” she said. “I remember the day my mother told me about him. My father had just died. Troy had found me and wanted to visit. She told me the truth about my biological parents and it meant nothing to me. A year went by. He and my mother became friends over the phone. One day he came to our house. We had cake and tea, then he left. He sent money for college. He started acting like a father, and I grew to dislike him. Then my mother died. I changed my name and went to medical school. I prayed for Troy over the years, the same way I pray for all the lost people. I thought he’d forgotten about me.”

He gave her the other legal documents. She read them carefully and said, “I’m not signing anything, I don’t want the money. And I want you to do something for me. Don’t tell anyone where I am.”

This would be a huge news story: HUMBLE MISSIONARY IN JUNGLE SAYS NO TO ELEVEN-BILLION-DOLLAR FORTUNE. The journalists would come to the Pantanal with helicopters and boats to get the story. Nate felt sorry for her.

“I’ll do what I can,” he said.

The chief and some of the villagers came to watch them leave.

“You’re sure we’ll be safe in the dark?” Nate asked.

“Yes. The chief is sending his best men to guide you. God will protect you. Say your prayers. You’re a good person with a good heart.”

“Thank you. You want to get married?”

“I can’t.”

“Sure you can. I’ll take care of the money, you take care of the Indians. We’ll get a bigger hut and throw away our clothes.”

They both laughed. Nate stood to say goodbye, and for a second he couldn’t see. His eyelids began to ache. The joints at his elbows hurt.

Standing ankle deep in water, Nate put his arms around Rachel and said, “Thanks.”

“Thanks for what?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Thanks for creating a fortune in legal fees.”

She smiled and said, “I like you, Nate, but I don’t care about the money and the lawyers. Please don’t come back. Just tell your people you never found me.”

As they moved away, he waved at Rachel and the Indians. At the first turn in the river, he glanced over his shoulder. Rachel and the Indians hadn’t moved.

He was sweating, even though it was cool. His arms and legs were wet. “I’m sick,” he thought.

Jevy noticed him, and after a few minutes said, “Nate, are you OK?”

He shook his head no, and pain shot from his eyes to his spine. “Jevy, I think I have malaria.”

“How do you know?”

“Rachel warned me. She saw it in the other village yesterday. That’s why we left today. I have a fever and I can’t see.”

Jevy stopped the boat and shouted to the Indians. He quickly unrolled the tent. “You will feel cold and shiver,” he said as he worked.

“Have you had malaria?”

“No. But most of my friends have died from it.”

“What!”

“Bad joke. It doesn’t kill many, but you will be very sick.”

Moving gently, keeping his head as still as possible, Nate lay down in the center of the boat. Jevy spread the tent over him and secured it with two empty gas tanks.

The Indians were beside them. Lako asked Jevy what was happening. Nate heard the word malaria. Then they left.

Twice the canoes slowed as the Ipicas discussed which fork of the river to take. Jevy kept their boat 100 meters behind. He couldn’t see Nate under the tent, but he knew his friend was suffering.

Lako was concerned about the American. “What should I tell the missionary about him?” he asked Jevy.

“Tell her he has malaria.”

Nate heard their voices. The fever burned him from head to toe. His skin and clothes were wet. His mouth was so dry that it hurt to open it.

The storm followed them but didn’t catch them. Jevy thought they would find Welly and the Santa Loura by dawn. The Indians were tired and ready to stop. Finally they found a spot and landed.

Lako explained that he’d been the missionary’s assistant for many years. He’d seen lots of cases of malaria. He looked at Nate. A very high fever, he told Jevy. The fever would go away, but there would be another attack in forty-eight hours.

The oldest guide began talking to Lako. He translated for Jevy, telling him to keep in the center of the river. In two hours they would find the Paraguay. Jevy thanked the Indians and followed the moon to the Paraguay.

He arrived at the mouth of the Cabixa an hour after dawn. The Santa Laura was not there. Jevy went to find the owner of a nearby house, who told him about the storm that took away the boat.

“Where did it sink? What happened to the boy?”

“I don’t know,” the old man said. “He may be dead.”

Nate wasn’t dead. The fever went down, and when he woke he was cold and thirsty. He opened his eyes with his fingers. Every part of his body ached. There was a hot rash on his neck and chest.

“Where are we?” he asked Jevy.

“We’re at the Cabixa. Welly is not here. The boat sank in a storm. Can you make it to Corumba?”

“I’d rather just die.”

“Lie down, Nate.”

They left the bank and went on toward Corumba. In the afternoon, they stopped at Fernando’s store. Fernando looked at Nate.

“This is not malaria,” he said, touching the rash on Nate’s neck. “Malaria does not produce a rash like this. Dengue does. It’s similar to malaria-fever, sore muscles and joints, spread by mosquitoes. You need to get him to Corumba as quickly as possible.”

It was almost two-thirty. Corumba was nine to ten hours away.

Nate woke once, but couldn’t see. He woke again and it was dark. He tried to say something to Jevy about water, just a small drink, but his voice had gone.

Rachel lay beside him under the smelly tent, her knees just touching his. He wanted to kiss her on the cheek. “When was your last kiss?” he wanted to ask her.

She was there to stop him dying. The fevers rose and fell. She patted his arm and promised he wasn’t going to die. She tells everybody this, he thought. Death would be welcome.

The touching stopped. He opened his eyes and reached for Rachel, but she was gone.

In Corumba, Valdir called a doctor friend and persuaded him to meet them at the hospital. They raced through town in Valdir’s car, ignoring lights and signs.

“Did you find the woman?” Valdir asked Jevy. “What did

she say?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t really talk to her. I think she liked our friend back there.”

Nate was curled tightly in the back seat, hearing nothing.

The doctor studied the rash, which began at Nate’s chin and stopped at his waist. He was covered with mosquito bites.

“Looks like dengue fever,” he said after ten minutes. Because he was a rich American, Nate got the best drugs in the hospital. The fever dropped a little, the sweating stopped.

“His temperature should tall soon,” the doctor told the nurse. “I’ll see him again early in the morning.”

Nate was sleeping heavily when the nurse took him into a room with five other patients. He didn’t see the open sores, the uncontrolled shaking of the old man next to him. He couldn’t smell the waste.

Like his father, Rex Phelan was good with numbers. He realized that six law firms were doing the same work. Six firms fighting the same fight, each wanting a big slice of the pie. It was time for the family to get together. He decided to begin with his brother T.J.

The two brothers met in secret. Rex began with the Snead story. “This is enormous,” he said. “It could make or break our lawsuit. Snead will say he was the only person with Dad when he wrote the will. He wanted five million, but he only wants half a million now. We’ll find some way not to pay him the rest. We have six law firms, all attacking the same will. And they all expect to get rich when we settle. How much are your boys getting?”

“How much is Hark Gettys getting?” Troy asked.

“Twenty-five percent.”

“Mine wanted thirty. We agreed on twenty.” Troy Junior was proud that he’d made a better deal than Rex.

“Let’s play with numbers,” Rex continued. “Imagine we hire Snead and he says all the right things. The estate wants to settle. We each get-maybe twenty million. Five goes to Hark Gettys. Four goes to your boys. That’s nine, so we get thirty-one. But if we join up, then Hark will cut his fee. We don’t need all these lawyers, T.J.”

“I hate Hark Gettys. Why don’t we fire him and stick with my guys?”

“Because Hark found Snead. This is a nasty business. Hark understands it. If we work together, he’ll take twenty percent. If we can bring in Mary Ross, then he’ll cut it to seventeen-five. Libbigail, down to fifteen.”

“There’s no sense fighting,” Troy Junior said sadly.

“It’ll cost us a fortune. It’s time to make peace.”

Snead arrived for a meeting with Hark Gettys with a contract he’d written himself. Hark signed it and handed over a check for half a million. Snead examined every word, then folded it and put it in his coat pocket.

“What was the old man’s state of mind the morning he died?” Hark asked.

Snead wanted to say the right thing. “He was out of his mind.”

“How much time did you spend with him?”

“Off and on, twenty-four hours a day. I was on call around the clock.”

“Who else did he spend time with?”

“Maybe young Nicolette, the secretary. He liked her.”

“Did he have s@x with her?”

“Would it help the lawsuit?”

“Yes.”

“Then they had s@x all the time.”

Hark smiled. “Look, Mr. Snead, this is what we want. We need to know all the strange things Troy Phelan said and did. Sit down and begin writing. Talk to Nicolette, make sure they were having s@x, listen to what she says.”

“She’ll say anything we need. How much time do I have?”

“We would like to video you in a few days. We’ll hear your stories, ask you questions, then we’ll coach you. When things are perfect, you’ll be ready to talk to the judge.”

Snead left in a hurry. He wanted to put the money in the bank and buy a new car. Nicolette needed one too.

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