Not a book review - but a Shout Out and Excerpt for those readers who might enjoy this war story.
HOUSE OF JAGUAR
By Mike Bond
Mandevilla Press; April 1, 2014
$15.99; 388 pagesISBN: 978-1-62704-010-5
Shot down over the jungle with a planeload of marijuana, Vietnam War hero Joe Murphy gets caught up in the brutal Guatemalan Civil War when he witnesses an attack on a Mayan village by the Guatemalan Army and its CIA “advisors.” Badly injured, he escapes on a nightmare trek through the jungle, hunted by the Army, the CIA, and death squads.
Healed by guerrilla doctor Dona Villalobos, he falls in love with her and tries to save her from the war’s widening horror of insanity, tragedy and death. Caught in the crucible of violence and love, he learns the peaks and depths the human heart can reach, and what humans will do for, and to, each other.
HOUSE OF JAGUAR is based on Bond’s own experiences as a war and human rights correspondent in Guatemala during a peak of violence in the country’s civil war. During his time there, he illegally traveled back and forth from Belize to report on the government-sponsored genocide, while narrowly avoiding the death squads and the army that had killed more than 150 other journalists and more than 200,000 civilians.
MIKE BOND has been called the “master of the existential thriller” by the BBC and “one of the 21st century’s most exciting authors” by the Washington Times. He is a bestselling novelist, environmental activist, international energy expert, war and human rights correspondent and award-winning poet who has lived and worked in many remote, dangerous parts of the world. His critically acclaimed novels depict the innate hunger of the human heart for what is good, the intense joys of love, the terror and fury of battle, the sinister conspiracies of international politics and multinational corporations, and the beauty of the vanishing natural world.
HOUSE OF JAGUAR
by Mike Bond
THE MOSQUITO hovered, settled on his cheek; the soldier raised a hand and squashed it, his rifle clinking on his cartridge belt. “Silencio!” hissed the captain. Another mosquito landed, another; the soldier let them bite.
From far away, beyond the wail of mosquitoes and the incessant chirr of nighthawks, came the snarl of an engine. “Positions!” the captain whispered. One by one the soldiers squirmed forward through wet grass to the jungle’s edge, where the road glistened before them under the rising half moon.
The engine noise came closer, a truck grinding uphill round a curve. The curve coming out of Machaquilá, the soldier decided. Not long now. He fiddled with a scrap of electrical tape wrapping the magazine of his Galil. Wings swishing, an owl hunted over the road.
They won’t be expecting us, he told himself. They won’t be ready and we can kill them quickly and there will be no danger. The truck neared; he tasted bile in the back of his throat; his hands were numb with cold. If you don’t shoot they won’t see your rifle flash and won’t shoot at you.
A beacon steadied on the treetops, fell on the road before him. A single headlight, the truck’s, was coming up the road. He chewed his lip and blinked his eyes to chase away mosquitoes, rubbed his bitten wrist on the breech of his rifle. But if you fire fast and hard you’ll help make sure they die at once and then they can’t fire back.
The truck clattered closer, its headlight jiggling. Everyone will be shooting for the cab, the soldier told himself, so you must shoot into the back. “Hold your fire,” the captain called. Transmission wailing, stockboards rattling, the truck rumbled past and disappeared into the night, just another cattle truck driven too many thousands of miles over bad roads on bad gas. “Silencio,” the captain said. From the jungle a howler monkey screamed like a dying child.
THE AZTEC eased down through five hundred feet, the jungle sliding under the wing like the floor of an immense dark sea. “I hate it when you do this,” Johnny Dio said. “Reminds me of that joke about the secret to safe flying is to avoid the ground.”
Murphy trimmed one aileron, watched the altimeter till it steadied at four hundred, the plane bouncing and banging on rising waves of jungle heat. “It’s so flat here there’s nothing to fear, except the pyramids at Coba.” He slapped Johnny’s knee. “And they’re probably east of us.”
“Screw you, Murph. You know exactly where they are.”
“Unless the Mayans’ve built a new one since we were here last.”
“There could be some kind of goddamn radio tower, TV antenna . . . Even a big tree.”
“That’s why we watch out. You and me.”
“It’s so dark I can’t see a goddamn thing.”
“Just as well. You’ll never know what hit you -”
“Will you cut it out!” Johnny Dio shifted in his seat, fingers drumming his knee, his face glistening in the yellow instrument lights.
“The way you don’t like this, Johnny, you should let me do it alone.”
“My gig,” Johnny sighed. “My money.”
“Mine too,” Murphy said softly, and saw Johnny smile at himself, as if for worrying. That if you had to be doing this, Murph was the one to be doing it with.
“You’re right,” Johnny said, “to be packing it in.”
Murphy stretched, rubbing his back against the seat. “It’s just habit, now. Got all the creature comforts I want.”
“You don’t do it for money, Murph. It’s because you don’t have anything else.”
The glimmer of Chetumal began to bloom to the south; Orion was sinking into the west, Scorpio riding a half moon in the east, the Yucatán below darker than a midnight sea, and the stars shone above like city lights. Murphy rubbed his face, liking the raspy stubble sound, closed his eyes and massaged them with his fingertips, still seeing the instrument panel as if he could watch it directly from his brain, thinking of the lobsters he and Johnny had eaten in Merida - he shouldn’t have harassed the man because they were small – “estan cubanas,” the man had explained. And Tecates. When this was over he was going to come back down to dive, sit on the veranda and drink Tecates, lime and Tecates. He notched the yoke forward, the engine’s pitch deepening in the soggy air, the altimeter sliding down to three hundred, two hundred and fifty. Light widened in the southeast. “Corozal,” he said. “Going under the radar.”
“I swear you like it,” Johnny sighed. “You like this shit.”
The jungle reached up, solid rolling waves of canopies with taller bare ceibas clawing up like drowned skeletons, down to two hundred feet, one hundred and eighty, tipping the wings now between the tallest trees. “One time in high school,” Murphy said, “I was in a class play. Only had to say one word: ‘No’. Can you imagine, I blew it? I got so afraid I’d say ‘Yes’ by mistake, that when the time came I couldn’t remember which it was and said ‘Yes’? Screwed the whole thing up. Or maybe I was supposed to say ‘Yes’ but said ‘No.’ Can’t remember.”
“You’re not the brightest bulb in the box, Murph. Always told you that.”
A great black serpent slithered under the wing, sparkling with starlight. “Río Hondo,” Murphy said. “We’re back in Guatemala.”
“When we get out this time,” Johnny said, “I’m going to bag it too.”
“Figured you were.”
“I really like being with Sarah. She’s easy, she’s amazing. She loves me.”
“All that counts.”
“I really miss the kids, Murph. You were lucky, when you and Pam split, you didn’t have kids.”
“Don’t know what I would’ve done. What’s Diana say?”
“She won’t give them up, but if Sarah and I get married, she’ll let me have more visitations.”
“Fuckin’ world,” Murphy said. The engines steadied, almost hypnotic, the jungle drifting closer, as if the Aztec hung suspended over the slowly spinning globe. Ahead the land steepened into towering ridges of black stone with jungle on their crests. Deeper into a box canyon the plane droned, its echo bouncing off the cliffs that narrowed toward its wingtips. An end wall of vertical stone hurtled toward them; at the last second Murphy slid back the yoke, powered the throttles, and the nose lifted and the saddle swept beneath them and they floated easily into a wide valley under a bowl of stars.
“Fuckin’ cowboy,” Johnny said.
SEVERAL TRUCKS were coming. Not from Machaquilá, but the south. The soldier wiped dew from his barrel with his hand, took a breath and held it, hearing his heart.
Lights brushed the pine tops and darted down the road. Headlights glinted round a curve – two trucks coming fast. The first roared past, a dark Bronco with orange roof lights. Then a Ford pickup with a camper top passed the soldiers, halted and backed off the road onto the shoulder. Two men got out and began to unload something from the back.
Half a mile down the road the Bronco’s brake lights flashed as it stopped and turned. One of the men at the pickup stood with a flaring lantern and began to pull crates from the back. From each crate he took another lantern and lit it.
The men placed a lantern on each side of the road. They ran up the road, stopping in front of the soldiers to drop off a second pair of lanterns, and turned back down the road toward the Bronco with the other lanterns. The Bronco was moving closer; it, too, was dropping off pairs of lanterns.
“DOWN THERE’S Xultún,” Murphy said. “A whole Mayan city - temples, schools, farms, observatories - all drowned in the bush.”
The jungle had flattened, tilting west from the Pine Ridge mountains toward the black defiles of the Río de la Pasión. “Suppose the Mayans knew?” Johnny said. “That it’d die someday, their civilization?”
“Maybe they were smarter than we are . . .”
Johnny laughed. “Can’t lose what you ain’t got.”
“Radar again.” Murphy dropped lower, skimming the trees, slid back the mini-window and the engine roar bounced up at him from the treetops. Little spots danced before his eyes, circles with black centers like the fuselage markings on British bombers. “Petén highway,” he said, nudging the rudder to swing southwest along a narrow dirt road.
“There was a guy,” he said, “in one of their myths, named Utzíl. He got tired of staying home so he wandered south through the desert, found an alligator dying of thirst and carried him on his back to a lake, went on to his enemies’ lands and fell in love with the king’s daughter.”
“Kind of thing you’d do.”
“The king’s soldiers chased the two of them all the way back to the lake. He hid the girl in a cave and the alligator appeared and carried him on his back across the lake so he could get help.”
“Would you watch that fuckin’’ tree!”
“It was five feet under the wing! You want to fly higher, so the radar picks us up and we get A37s all over our ass?”
“So what happened,” Johnny said, after a minute, “to the girl?”
“When they got back the girl had died and he threw himself off a cliff into the water. Lake Atitlán it was, southwest of here . . .”
Black pastures and tin-thatched roofs flitted under the wing, hearth smoke smudging the stars, the distant starboard glimmer of Dolores, the town named Sorrows; he swung west of the road to miss the Army outpost then SSE back over the road at Machaquilá, an Indian name for all Indian things lost, with its wan lamps and vacant streets, a sawmill and scattered tree corpses, the unfinished church gaping like a broken skull, the barracks school by the zipping road; and he banked right, then left, into the cleft beneath the two steep hills that always seemed like tits, ziggurats, like the temples of Tikal, air rushing like a river over the plane’s skin.
No shear now, he prayed, no crosswinds. The yoke was hot, vibrating in his palm, sweat tickling his ribs. He checked the landing gear: all down. “There they are!” Johnny said. Murphy eased the engine into low pitch, dropped the flaps, notched back the throttles, lifting the nose, and flared in a near stall down through the trees toward two rows of lanterns with the rutted road between them.