Read Andreo's Race Online

Authors: Pam Withers

Andreo's Race (18 page)

Was it really only six o'clock this morning that I met Vanessa for the very first time, a meeting that turned out to be too good to be true? I try to wrap my mind around all that has happened since then: the big blowup with my family, the caving event, Raul's and my defection, our sighting of Vargas and his disappearance from this shack before Colque got us up the hill. The Matrimonial Cave discovery and then, regrettably, my fight with Raul. Witnessing the
WANTED
posters going up: Vargas's and ours side by side.
How ironic was that?

If I'd hung around any longer outside the police station, would I have seen Vanessa's photo added? Maybe they're not on to her yet. Then, the day's stupidest
decision of all: biking up the hill and entering this miserable hut on my own. And now here I am, a prisoner as the fugitives escape. And no one has a clue where I am.

My shoulders slump; my eyes sting. Worst of all, Vargas's words keep slapping me in the face:
Vanessa and I, we're proud of what we do. If you could see the looks on the faces of the couples who adopt.… All they wanted was a child to love and care for
.

Someone to love till David came along
, I try to tell myself, but the notion feels petty, childish, ridiculous. Yes, they love me too. They don't really mean to favor David; maybe they don't know they're doing it.
Why have I never admitted that before? And where is my adoptive family at the moment? Did they abandon the race when they realized I double-crossed them?
I didn't mean for them to miss out on the finish. I thought that was what they wanted most. I have no idea how they figured out Raul and I weren't on the road ahead of them, but they acted on it right away. Contacted police. Supplied photos. Are probably crazed with worry and fear for us.
What have I done?

If I get out of this shack, I promise myself, I'll make it up to them. I'll make it up to David too—I'll stop being jealous of him, stop treating him like shit. Even if he doesn't return the favor. I'll make my mother hug me. I'm bigger than her. I smile at that thought. She's not dainty, pretty and fashionable like my birth mother; she's strong and reliable—in every respect except her fear of losing me to unknown birth parents. I'm strong
and reliable like her, and like Dad, right? I'll hug her till she can't remember when we didn't.

My throat closes up again. My eyes sting.

“Well, well, didn't you screw up?”

I blink. Is that really Raul standing dripping wet in front of me, the door wide open, a curtain of rain behind him?

“Raul!” I jump up to hug him. I've never been so happy to see anyone in my life. He tolerates a quick embrace.

He lowers his pack to the floor, where it creates a puddle.

“Where'd you come from? Why are you here?” I ask.

“Followed you—into town and then up here.”

I stare at him. “Dude, you gotta get a life.”

He barely cracks a smile, then starts opening cupboards looking for food. He tosses a can of sardines and two bottles of
chicha
that Jorge managed to miss into his pack.

“They took off, all three of them, in the Jeep,” I tell him.

“I know, and ran out of gas five minutes later.” He smirks and crosses his arms.

“You siphoned their gas?”

“Isn't that what tubes from punctured hydration packs are for? Where were they heading, anyway?”

“Across the border. Out of Bolivia.”

“Which border?”

I blanch and shrug. East or west, Brazil or Chile, I hadn't even thought to wonder. “She wouldn't have told me if I'd asked, anyway. So, are they walking to town? Or heading back here?” I glance nervously at the door.

“They headed west, through thick brush, with a
flashlight. I learned some new Spanish cuss words following them. They kept trying to phone someone, I suppose to come get them, but I don't think they ever got through. They've settled themselves into a big, dry cave a twenty-minute walk from here. Now let's get out of this place before they change their minds about their evening's accommodation.”

We exit the shack hurriedly, slipping the dead-bolt into place.

“Raul, we can't just let them get away.”

“Leave them to the police. The Jeep guy has a gun. We're in over our heads, Andreo. You're lucky they didn't hurt you. Where's your bike and pack? I'll race you to the police station.”

I walk over to retrieve my pack and bike from where I'd hidden them. I clamp my helmet on my head and flick on its light. It illuminates Raul's impatient face, where he waits on his bike. “Raul, they've got a registry of all the babies they ever sold.”

I watch his jaw work back and forth. “Is that why you went into the shack?”

I hang my head.
What am I supposed to say, that I'd still been under the spell of my evil birth mother?
“I wanted a ringside seat to the police arresting them. I didn't mean to actually go inside.”

Raul rolls his eyes at me, then rubs his chin. “I know how we could try to get it from them, safely, if your navigation skills are still in working order.”

“Huh?”

“The map, Andreo.”

I fish the map out of my pack. My parents hadn't needed it to bike to Cochabamba—or so I'd reasoned to myself when I'd taken off with our team's only copy.

Raul points to two penciled
Xs
I don't remember marking. “When Maria and I fooled around on our day off …”

I laugh. He blushes, a rare sight on Raul.

“I mean, when she took me to a couple of caves around Torotoro …”

“Yeah?”

“There was one that joined up with the big cave that they're in now—Caverna Refugio. This
X
marks the big cave, and this one the tunnel. The cave and tunnel join up just like that tunnel did with the big cave back home in Canmore.”

“You mean a tunnel up to a grizzly bear's behind?”

“If that's what you want to call our party of three desperadoes.”

My heartbeat picks up as I consider that. “You're saying there's a secret-passage tunnel up to their lair? We crawl up it, wait till they're asleep and nab the notebook?”

“Something like that. The tunnel joins the big cave through a hole about the size of an air vent. Nothing grown men would notice or try and crawl through, but doable for us.”

“Not even Vanessa would fit?”

Raul sneers. “She might break a fingernail or scuff her heels.”

I smile. Just like something my mother would say. If I had to choose between Mother and Vanessa in a tight situation, my adoptive mother would win, hands down. “So, if two salamanders hang out at the vent, they can see and hear everything without being spotted.”

“Best seat in the theater.”

“But the police. Shouldn't we ride down and inform them?” I ask.

“You already left a message with Colque; he's sure to have phoned them by now.”

“But how will he and the police know where Vanessa and Vargas are if they're not in the shack anymore?”

“I'm way ahead of you on that,” says Raul smugly. “I've already left a note on the Jeep's windshield.”

I shake my head, whip out my compass and hold the map's smaller
X
close to my face. “Andreo's Navigation is at your service.”

CHAPTER NINETEEN

It takes twenty minutes for me to track down the tunnel entrance. We stash our bikes, shoulder our packs and enter. I reflect how nice it is to be out of the rain as we advance through a relatively spacious series of passages. Soon, however, things get tighter, and the ceiling becomes so low that we're forced to tie our packs to our feet and drag them behind us. As we crawl on our hands and knees, our headlamps illuminate interesting patterns of sculpted rock.

“This is cool,” I whisper.

“Yeah,” Raul replies. “Maria knows so many cool caves around here. She's amazing.”

I grin. “So I hear.”

Where the passageway gets even tighter, we drop to our stomachs and elbows and proceed in single file ever upward until we hear voices ahead. Bingo! So this really is the back entrance to Caverna Refugio. We switch off our headlamps and breathe as quietly as we can,
wriggling forward much more slowly and cautiously. Finally, we stop at a slight widening, untie our packs from our feet and lie squashed side by side a safe distance back from the opening, which is marked by the faint light of a lantern across the cavern.

I smell dirt, sulfur, body odor and beer.
Beer?
As my eyes adjust to the dark, I see that directly in front of us, his body half-blocking the vent-size exit, is the reclining figure of the tattooed guard. His deep breathing indicates he's asleep. To his left are two empty plastic bottles of
chicha
. In his lap lies a handgun.

Though I can't see Raul's face in the dark, I can almost hear our heartbeats pick up. It's not too late to slide backward, retreat, abandon this mission. Angling my head a little more, I see Vargas and Vanessa sitting on their suitcase, the lantern beside them. Vargas is holding the record book.

“Burn it,” Vanessa is pleading.

Vargas heaves a big sigh. “I guess we should.” He hesitates. “Our life's work.” He looks at his watch. “Where is he? He said he was on his way half an hour ago.”

“He'll come,” Vanessa says. She leans her head against Vargas's shoulders and closes her eyes. He wraps an arm around her and presses his lips to her cheek.

I feel Raul fidgeting beside me. He's fishing something out of his pack, then inching forward. My mouth falls open as, in the shadowy light, I see him reach out to replace the guard's two empty containers of beer with the two full
ones he took from the shack. He has even opened them for the guard. Seconds later, Raul is back beside me and stuffing Jorge's empties into his pack. My eyes fly to Vargas and Vanessa, but there's no sign they've noticed.

A particularly loud snore from Jorge makes Vargas shout at the guard. “Jorge, wake up. We're not paying you to nap.”

Jorge stirs, slurs a curse or two and sits up straighter. We watch his hand reach for a bottle. We hear him chug the entire beer down, belch and start in on the second. Though I can't see Raul's face, I can pretty much bet he's grinning. While visiting his house, I had often seen him hide beer from his parents. Tonight, he's in reverse mode. We slide backward a few feet for safety's sake and wait. We lie there for what may be minutes or hours. I may even have dozed off myself when I feel Raul's elbow in my side. He leans very close to whisper into my ear, “Get the gun.”

Huh?
I come fully awake. I blanch as I realize what Raul is asking. Looking toward our vent, I see that Jorge has moved his gun from his lap to the cavern floor beside him. He's snoring softly. I reach backward to my pack and feel my trekking pole. Then I unfold it, slide forward as soundlessly as I can and peer across the spacious room. Vargas is slumped against the cavern wall, eyes closed. Vanessa is curled up on their suitcase, head resting on her knitting bag, asleep as well.

I push my pole forward, inch by inch, trying to keep
it steady despite my shaking arm. It reaches the gun, floats over it, eases down to capture it. Slowly, ever so slowly, I slide it back. The second the gun arrives within reach, Raul grabs it and squirms backward at high speed, leaving me within pole's reach of a drunken guard we've just robbed.

Some muffled clicking behind me makes me wonder, terrified, what my crazy friend is doing. When I hear the ping of metal hitting rock, I stare out our hole, thinking we're done for now. But the slumber party remains intact. Then I feel the cold metal of the gun pressed into my hand, which scares me so much I nearly drop it.

“Ease it back,” Raul is whispering as he stuffs bullets from the gun's magazine into his backpack. My teeth are locked together; my nerves are running an electrical current from my jaw to my toes. But I crawl forward as far as I dare, place the gun on the tunnel floor and push it gently forward with my pole. A loud hiccup from Jorge almost gives me a heart attack. I hold my breath as the guard stirs, letting it out again only when he settles back to dreaming. I continue the pole push until the gun is back where it was, then retract my pole and sink into a sweaty mess.

Sometime later I wake to the smell of cigar smoke drifting into Raul's and my cramped hideaway. Raising my head, I see Vargas not just smoking but also flicking his lighter off and on while cradling the yellow notebook in his lap.

“Do it,” Vanessa orders. “Burn it now.”

I'm about to elbow Raul in the ribs when I feel him rise beside me and launch himself out of the vent, right over a startled Jorge. Raul, with the element of surprise on his side, manages to close his fingers over the notebook and wrest it from Vargas's grasp just as it catches fire.

Then everything happens at once. Vanessa shouts, Vargas lunges after Raul and I push my fists and helmeted head full strength into Jorge's backside as he tries to stumble to his feet. Jorge falls heavily, knocking his head on the cave floor. I step out from the tunnel and observe, with a stab of guilt, that he's out cold. Meanwhile, Vargas's heavyset body, no match for Raul's fleet feet, fails to prevent Raul from sprinting to the vent, then dropping the notebook to stamp out the flames and flinging it down our tunnel's length like he's competing in a Frisbee championship.

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