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Romance Adventure

Three degrees south of the Equator, Iquitos was three degrees warmer than my blood on that September afternoon.


After three days on the Gilmar cargo ship, I disembarked, greasy and ripe, onto the bustling Peruvian dock. Three-wheeled mototaxis queued alongside the open air market on Avenue La Marina, their drivers scrambling to scoop up moneyed tourists.


When I saw her there next to the blue-canopied chariot, I wished I’d had a chance to clean off the Amazonian stink that must have encircled me like a cloud. Her long, dark hair glistened like silk in the late summer breeze, drawing my eyes to hers, as she gestured for me to board. She was dressed in modest linen garments that must have once been burgundy, but were now a sun-bleached coral, and fluttered like flags as we zipped towards the city’s downtown.


We exchanged pleasantries, and I learned her name was Adela. “And what brings you to this hemisphere, Noah?” she asked over her shoulder, in surprisingly clear English.


“Archeology,” I said, being intentionally vague. One can never be too careful of swindlers, and her disarming beauty had me on high alert.


“Ah.” Her mahogany eyes were embers in the sunset. “You are interested in the Inca.”


I smiled and raised one eyebrow. “Something like that.”


“International man of mystery!” She returned my smile with high, rosy cheeks.


I’d planned to stay at one of the nicer hostels for a few days while making arrangements. As she pulled up to the entrance, I pulled out some folded bills for the ride. “It’s been a pleasure, Adela.”


Her eyes widened at something over my shoulder. “¡Dios mío!”


Before I could see what had startled her, she gunned the throttle, throwing me against the seat back. “Whoa!” I said. “What’s going on?”


Without answer, she careened down side roads at full throttle, many times taking the mototaxi up on two wheels. I grappled for balance to avoid being ejected. Behind us, men on motorcycles were shouting and gesturing with fists.


“Hang on,” she shouted over the straining motor. My knuckles were white as she wrenched the brakes while wedging into a dark alley. The vehicle fishtailed, then screeched to a stop.


“Now look, Adela, I ….”


“Get down!” she hissed, pulling me onto my side. Our noses were inches apart, so close I could see the golden flecks that enriched the chocolate irises of her wide eyes. On the street behind us, the sound of motorcycles rose, then fell into the distance. Adela sat up and wiped her brow.


“So,” I said, “want to tell me what that was all about?”


She looked sheepish. “I, um, may not — technically — own this vehicle.”


“Who — technically — does?”


“Just a guess, but probably one of those guys chasing us.” One side of her mouth raised, as a smile tried to break through. “I mean, come on, the cojudo left it idling at the market to grab some tamales, so it’s his own fault, right? Anyway, I’m not going to keep it — I just needed the fare. You’re not going to turn me in, are you?” She batted her eyelashes, while slipping the cash I’d given her into a breast pocket.


“One question,” I said. “Are you always this much fun?”


She laughed, and my heart felt like toast being buttered. “Ah, choche, this was nothing.”


“Well then,” I said with a smile, “I guess that cojudo should have been more careful.”


Adela beamed.


***


As night fell, the pregnant equatorial air wasn’t much cooler, but at least the sun wasn’t beating on our backs any more. Still, my desperation to get cleaned up was now directly correlated with my rising interest in this lively local. We’d left the mototaxi there in the alley, and were hoofing it back towards the hostel.


“Have you always lived in Iquitos?” I asked.


“More or less,” she said. “Outside of it, really. I grew up in my abuelo’s cabin in the varzea.”


“So you must know the river pretty well.”


She gave me a toothy grin. “Like the back of my hand.”


“How did you get so fluent in English, if I might ask?”


“Ever since I was a little girl, I have wanted to live in North America. I knew that learning English was going to be my ticket. So I taught myself. I used to menace the tourists with questions, stealing their books and glossy magazines. After they put in the cinema downtown, I’d work all day for admission and just breathe in the language, reciting every line. Got thrown out more than once because I would not shut up.” She sighed. “One day I am going to live in Montana.”


“It’s very beautiful there. Bit colder than Peru though.”


“Oh,” a dreamy look spread over her face, “I would give anything to see the snow.”


We’d walked in amiable silence for a while, when the aroma of chorizo wafted over us from a restaurant, making my stomach grumble. “Hey, let me buy you dinner.”


“You are too generous,” she said, “I did not even deliver you to your hostel properly.”


“Please, don’t think of it as a transaction, but rather … well, just because I’d like to know you. Seems you’re a bit of a thrill-seeker, like me. And I could use the company.”


She accepted, and we enjoyed Tacacho and some local beers at a quiet table. The spicy chorizo and the starchy plantains were a pleasant change from the slop I’d eaten on the cargo ship for the last three days.


“So tell me more about your mysterious archeology,” she said, running her finger around the edge of her beer bottle.


I was intoxicated, and it wasn’t only from the alcohol. As much as I feared double-dealings, I suspected I didn’t need to fear Adela. I reached into my rucksack and withdrew a leather-bound cylinder.


“I traded my Kawasaki for this, from a man in Miami.” I loosened the laces and flattened out the edges. “It’s a map. To a fabled Inca temple called Inti Uturuncu. Many believe the Inca did not settle this far inland in Peru, but I intend to prove otherwise.”


Adela studied the map with an intensity that both awed and unsettled me. “Noah, I recognize many of these landmarks. I have been to many of these places.”


“In that case,” I said, “you simply must be my guide.”


“Oh, no. I could not. I have intruded on you too much already. In fact, I should really leave you alone. It is late, and surely you are tired.”


“Adela, please. You have been nothing but a pleasure. I can’t remember the last time I’ve had such a wonderful day. You would be a perfect guide. You said yourself you know the river, and you recognize these places on the map. I expected my search for a guide to take days. With you, I — we — could begin right away.” She hesitated, so I added, “I can pay you.”


A darkness fell across Adela’s face, and her mouth pressed into a line. “I’m sorry, Noah,” she said, “but I cannot. I must go.” She stood and hurried to the door.


Bewildered by her precipitous exit, I rolled up the map, tossed several bills on the table, and dashed after her. As I pushed outside, I saw Adela being pulled, writhing, into the back of a rusted van.


“Hey!” I shouted, but the van squealed into the night. I jogged for a while in the direction it had taken, despairing over Adela’s capture. Then I remembered we’d left the mototaxi in a nearby alley, and reversed course.


As I plunged into that dark passage, I was surprised to find the vehicle was still there. I revved the motor and circled back onto the streets of downtown Iquitos, gridding through the roads from where I’d last seen the van. Adrenaline-charged and bathed in cold sweat, I jumped every time I heard another motorcycle, fearing the return of the men who’d pursued us before. As the fuel tank spit its last vapor, the motor sputtered to a stop, and I found myself at the curb beside a decrepit warehouse — with the rusted van in the parking lot!


I climbed onto a crate to peer through one of the broken windows. In the center of a cavernous room, under a naked lightbulb, Adela was slumped in a chair, bound with rope. Her captors were nowhere in sight. With great care not to make a sound or impale myself on the glass, I pulled open the window frame and dropped to the dusty floor inside.


Adela had heard my footfall and her terrified eyes locked onto mine. There was a ball-gag in her mouth, and her face was bruised and streaked with tears. She motioned with her eyes to a doorway on my left, where I could hear faint Spanish voices. I hurried to her side, withdrawing my pocket knife to sever her constraints.


As I removed the gag, she whispered, “It is the man from the market. He intends to sell me to recoup the theft of his mototaxi.”


I placed the vehicle’s key and a brown twenty-Sol note on the now-empty chair. “There,” I said. “Now it wasn’t stolen, it was rented. Let’s go!”


I boosted Adela through the window, and then she pulled me up after her, and we sprinted into the shadows, breathless and wild. When we had put ample distance between ourselves and the warehouse, we slowed to a jog, and then collapsed beside a dumpster, panting.


“I cannot believe you came to find me,” she said, looking at me as if I had two heads.


“What was I supposed to do — just dust off my hands and go about my day? Oh, Adela’s probably being tortured — or worse — but hey, it’s not my problem. Who does that?"


She shrugged. “I thought this is what all men do.”


I put my hand on her shoulder. “Not this man.”


She pulled my face against hers and planted a wet kiss on my cheek. “Noah, I am sorry for running off like that. As for being your guide, I have been propositioned for such things before, and it has … always ended badly. What you saw was a learned reaction. After what you did for me tonight, I believe I need not fear you. I would be delighted to guide you on the river. If you will still have me.”


“Nothing would make me happier,” I said, but then an acrid scent billowed up from my shirt. My face soured. “Except maybe a shower.”


Adela laughed again, and again I was buttered. “Allow me to escort you to the hostel, as promised,” she said. “Let’s just say that this,” she waved her hand, “was all just part of the thrill-seeker package.”


***


It was close to midnight when we finally knocked on the hostel door, and obtained a key from the grumbling proprietor. The room was about as meager as I’d expected, but it seemed clean enough. I dug into my rucksack for my toiletries, when a realization tapped my mind.


“The map,” I said. “It’s gone.”


Adela had been thumbing through a Spanish-language magazine on the nightstand, but perked up. “The map to the temple?”


I dumped out the contents of the rucksack and rummaged. “Damn it! It’s not here.”


“It must have fallen out when you came to rescue me. Oh, this is all my fault. Lo siento.”


“Well, I guess this whole trip has been a total bust.” I flopped onto the mattress.


“Maybe not,” said Adela. “Noah, I can guide you to the temple without the map!”


I bolted upright. “Really?”


Adela nodded. “I have an eidetic memory. I can picture the map in its entirety. But — if someone else has found it, they could get to the temple before you. We must go right away.”


My impulse was to head back out the door, but exhaustion had wormed its way into my last reserves, and I yawned. “It will have to be in the morning. You’re welcome to stay here on the bed. I’ll take the floor. But I’ll need to register myself as a biological weapon if I don’t get in that shower.”


Adela pinched her nose and giggled.


What was now four days' worth of rainforest funk swirled down the drain, as I scrubbed myself under the lukewarm trickle that masqueraded as a shower. I felt a sense of rejuvenation that almost qualified as a second wind. But when I got back into the room, Adela had turned down the bedsheet for me, and was herself snoring on the floor. I collapsed onto the mattress and was asleep the instant my head hit the pillow.


***


The calm but insistent Amazon was blonde glass that mirrored the lush canopy on the far side, topped by platinum cumulus clouds. A twenty-foot motorboat bobbed alongside a rickety dock. Adela was negotiating with a man called Diego outside his thatched hut, while the man’s many children whispered and giggled, pointing at the strange man with pale skin and a long, golden ponytail.


When I awoke that morning, Adela had been pressed up against my back in the bed, with her arm draped over my torso. At some point in the night, the floor must have become as unpleasant as I’d feared it would be. I’d lain there for many long minutes, relishing her sleep-scented warmth, before she stirred and apologized profusely for intruding in my space. I did my best to make it clear that it was the furthest thing I could imagine from an intrusion.


As pleasant a companion as she was, though, I was struggling with the amount of control — and trust — I’d afforded her. Even now, she’d insisted on taking charge of the negotiations for the boat ride, over my fervent objections. Being in control was much a more comfortable position for me. She could be conspiring for my untimely demise, for all I knew.


“He agreed,” said Adela, “for fifty Sol. But fuel and provisions will cost extra. His uncle will make the arrangements. We should be able to get on the water within the hour.”


I nodded.


“But there is something else, Noah. He said two men were here at dawn, to commission passage to the same river bank. They departed on his cousin’s boat three hours ago.”


“The map,” I said. “They must have found it.”


Si. And they have a head start,” she said. “We will have to make up time once we get off the river. I know a route that might bring us ahead of them.”


“I trust you,” I said. Those three words echoed in my head, while we loaded up the boat, paid Diego and his uncle, and set off on the water at mid-day. Did I trust her?


I know I wanted to.


While the outboard putted and skipped, Diego’s craft slid upstream through the earthen-scented water, opaque from the cloying, alluvial runoff of the Iquitos varzea. Pink-skinned botos breached and played in the distance, very much like their saltwater cousins of Flipper fame. Adela perched on the bow, face to the wind, eyes closed. Her billowing hair shimmered under the high sun like polished onyx. The quiet moment would be etched in my mind to my dying breath.


The sun was low on the horizon by the time we pulled ashore at the confluence of three tributaries, where the map in Adela’s brain would have us start our trek. After unloading all our gear, I shook Diego’s hand, and he floated away downstream. We were well and truly alone now. In the depths of the Amazon rainforest. The degree to which I now depended on this woman for my very survival made my heart rise a few inches up my throat.


“We should set up the tent here,” she said. “Trust me. We don’t want to be making a lot of noise in there when it’s dark.” She motioned towards the trees.


As if on cue, the distant snarl of a jaguar echoed through the low valley where we’d soon be headed. I began hammering the tent stakes without delay, while Adela rummaged the higher shoreline for dessicated driftwood.


We toiled in silence until at last we could relax by the crackling fire, warming a richly-spiced stew that reminded me somehow of Christmas.


“The map will have taken those men through there,” said Adela, pointing towards the valley. “But we will go there.” She pointed at a steep, rocky cliff. “You climb much?”


“I’ve scaled a hill or two,” I said after a dry swallow. “But not without gear.”


“Follow my lead, and you’ll do fine. If we can clear that summit tomorrow, we’ll be half a day ahead of the others.”


After we ate and cleaned up, we chatted until the glow of the dying campfire painted everything orange. My pulse quickened as I considered how we would soon be pressed together inside a cramped tent. Adela’s shy glances suggested her thoughts were much the same. In the distance, lightning flashed, followed by a slap of thunder several seconds later.


“Guess we’d better get in there,” I said.


“Guess so,” said Adela, blushing redder than the hot embers.


We both moved towards the tent, then stopped to allow the other in first. Then repeated the awkward dance.


Adela groaned. “Enough of this!” She took the front of my shirt in her fists and pulled me against her, mashing her mouth against mine. “There. That’s out in the open, right? Now let’s go to bed.”


She pulled me into the tent and zipped it closed, just as fat raindrops began to pelt the canvas.

December 13, 2021 20:16

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15 comments

K. Antonio
23:07 Dec 19, 2021

Imma comment as I read: -LOVED the first line. - First couple of sentences in and I'm getting Indiana Jones vibes - Thought this line was interesting: "She laughed, and my heart felt like toast being buttered..." - I actually thought that the dialogue was pretty crisp and made sense, it never felt forced or unnatural. - I enjoyed the romance between Noah and Adela, she being a bit wild and extroverted, very go with the flow and exciting, it counterbalanced with Noah's persona. The two characters meshed really well. GOING TO GO TO...

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Jon Casper
10:32 Dec 20, 2021

Hi K! I am so happy for this feedback. I am really proud of that opening line, so it's wonderful that you singled it out. I definitely had some Indy influence, with his career and the overall vibe. Your comments are really thoughtful, and it's inspirational to know that the relationship between Noah and Adela felt natural. Thank you so much for reading and for the kind words!

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Mohamed Sarfan
14:30 Dec 24, 2021

It's Valuable Content. All The Best My Dear Friend; Write More Congratulations

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Jon Casper
14:37 Dec 24, 2021

Thank you for the kind words, Mohamed!

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16:18 Dec 22, 2021

You are the king of sensory imagery! I could feel the tropical breezes throughout the entire piece. For some reason, I would love this written in present tense. It has so much kinesthetic movement anyway, but . . . it calls for immediacy, IMHO. Example: We exchange pleasantries, and I learn her name is Adela. “And what brings you to this hemisphere, Noah?” she asks over her shoulder, in surprisingly clear English.

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Jon Casper
17:29 Dec 22, 2021

Wow! I see what you mean in that one passage. Well, too late to update the post here, but I might just do up a draft in present tense to see what it does for me. Great idea! Also, thank you very much for the compliment! I've never been the king of anything before, but I'll try not to let it go to my head. :D It was much appreciated. So glad you enjoyed it!

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Swan Anderson
04:02 Dec 19, 2021

Hi Jon This is absolutely spellbinding! I had to read it in one "gulp," heart pounding all the way. Love the authentic details and richness of your storytelling. It's sweetly romantic but I didn't quite trust Adela. I guess I'll have to read Part II to find out!

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Jon Casper
11:52 Dec 19, 2021

Hi Swan! Thank you very much for the wonderful compliments. I really appreciate the positive feedback. I'm so glad you enjoyed the details -- Google and I had a wild ride gathering up these details to try to make the story seem authentic. Cheers!

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Eric D.
16:02 Dec 18, 2021

Now heres a romance story I can enjoy, fast paced action packed, incredible characters and exotic locations. Wonderful descriptions of the country and culture and the protagonist was a gentleman and adela was fantastic, really great journey I cant wait to read part 2.

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Jon Casper
18:42 Dec 18, 2021

Hi Eric - thank you so much for the compliments! I'm very glad you enjoyed it. What an honor to read that you're excited about the 2nd part. I really appreciate it!

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Alex Sultan
04:39 Dec 17, 2021

A very enjoyable read, Jon. I like the adventure/thriller aspect of it, while balancing the characters and their relationship - it read a lot like a movie. I really liked the setting you've chosen too, Peru, Incans, all that. The imagery works very well. Mixing in Spanish with the dialogue was also pretty clever. My favourite part was the mototaxi chase - it was short, but very vivid and well written. It sets the theme and pace of the story from the get-go. Here is what I have for notes: “So,” I said, “want to tell me [that] that was all...

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Jon Casper
10:19 Dec 17, 2021

Hi Alex - thanks for the read-through! I'm pleased that you enjoyed the story. I think that it reads like a movie is a good thing, for the style I was attempting. I appreciate the focus you gave it, finding those glaring mistakes. (It never ceases to amaze me that I miss those things after multiple reads.) D'oh! You've told me about the -ly hyphen rule before, and it must not have sunken in yet. Thanks for the reminder! Note, after a little Googling, it looks like it should have been "three days' worth" with the plural possessive. Thanks ...

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Bruce Friedman
22:50 Dec 13, 2021

Beautifully written. Held my interest to the end. Clearly too rich to be contained in one story.

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Jon Casper
23:14 Dec 13, 2021

Thank you so much for the kind words, Bruce. It means a lot to me to get this kind of feedback. So glad you enjoyed it!

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Jon Casper
20:16 Dec 13, 2021

This is a two-part story. I couldn't do it justice in only 3000 words! Check out part two here: https://blog.reedsy.com/short-story/xfjw0a/

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