Don and I continued down the trail. At sunset we came to a group of men around a campfire. They were all wearing the Hawaiian shirts and cutoffs of the convict. They were tough-looking, with facial scars and scraggly, dirty hair. One man had a hook for a hand.
I waved, but they just glared at me. Finally, a couple of them waved back, but they weren’t very enthusiastic waves.
I asked if I could join them. After a long pause, a big man that I guessed was their leader said, “Sit.” They were sharing a bottle of a locally-made Scotch called Loch Aloha. I held my nose and took a swig.
They were close-mouthed at first. But gradually I learned that they had formed a gang of outlaws. After several passes of the bottle, they asked me if I had any ideas for crimes they could commit.
I suggested we get some dynamite and blow up some train tracks. When the train came along and derailed, we could break into the mail car and steal any money that was there.
“But if the train derails, couldn’t some people be injured?” said the leader.
“Yeah!” I said, laughing.
They frowned and shook their heads.
“O.K., how about this,” I said. “We counterfeit paleekas.* We could set up a printing press right here in the jungle.”
“But that might undermine the value of the paleeka,” said one man. “My grandfather gets his pension in paleekas.”
I sighed. “All right, what about kidnapping? If they refuse to pay, we cut off body parts from the victim and send them.”
The man with the hook for a hand started crying. The man next to him put his arm around him and comforted him.
I took the last swig from the Scotch and tossed the empty bottle over my shoulder. “That bottle could be recycled,” said the leader.
They broke out a guitar and began singing folk songs. I told a ghost story, but they told me to stop before I got to the end. They said it was too scary.
Some say I betrayed the other fugitives, but that’s not the way I see it.
The next morning I wandered off from the others to find a piece of aloha fruit. I thought, Maybe if I just take a little bite I won’t go completely unconscious.
That’s when I was surrounded by some of Ishimura’s thugs. I demanded to speak to Ishimura’s assistant, the one I had seen in the helicopter. They said he wasn’t with them, that he was busy at the office. What the hell?
I told them that if they let me go, I would tell them where the other fugitives were. They said they weren’t interested in others, just me. Finally I convinced them to go capture the others. They did, but get this: They took me too! So who was really betrayed here?
They marched us off toward the prison. On the way, I felt Don wiggling in my pocket. I took him out, but he kept wiggling. He squirmed out of my hand and rolled down the hill. I went after him, and the guards didn’t seem to notice. I yelled after them, but they didn’t hear me.
I slipped away.
Where am I?
When I woke up, I was lying on a mat in a hut. A fierce-looking man with a painted face and a headdress and a bone through his nose was looking down at me. “Grandpa?” I said. I was still groggy.
The man was gripping my jaw with one hand, turning my head back and forth, examining me. In a language I didn’t understand, he seemed to be saying no.
The beautiful native girl disagreed, arguing yes, yes! Finally, she stormed off in a huff.*
I looked around the hut. On a shelf on the wall, I saw a row of something. Then I realized, They were shrunken heads! These people were headhunters!
I was still pretty groggy, so I fell asleep. But when I woke up I realized again: shrunken heads!
They put me to work as a head shrinker. I enjoyed my time shrinking heads. It makes you feel like you’re actually accomplishing something.
There are several steps in shrinking a head. I can’t describe them, because they are probably trademarked. Also, they never really instructed me. They basically just gave me a basket of fresh heads and said “Go.” They need an apprentice program.
My shrunken heads were apparently not up to snuff, because they kept throwing mine in the “dead-head” pile. In my defense, I think most of the heads they gave me were marginal to begin with.
They moved me from shrinking the heads to just combing their hair. But after a while, they removed me from that too.
They gave me food and water and pointed down the trail. They also gave me a shrunken head, as a going-away gift. It was my friend Don!
*a type of skirt worn by headhunter women