On long tanned legs Annja Creed ran through the hard-wood forest. Rays from the sun hanging precariously above the great mountains slanted like pale gold lances at random between the boles. They caressed her sweaty face like velvet gloves as she ran through them.Despite sweating in the heat, she breathed normally, dodging thicker stands of brush, crashing through the thinner ones. Late-season insects trilled around her and in sporadic spectral clouds tried to fly up her nose and into her mouth. The birds chattered and called to one another in the trees. The woods smelled of green growth and mostly dried decayed vegetation, not at all the way she imagined a true rain forest might smell, lower down in the Amazon basin proper. Up in the watershed of the Amazon's tributary the Rio MaraÑÓn, in eastern Peru, the early autumn was drier and cooler, the growth far less dense.Her heart raced as much as any person's might have after running at high speed for over two miles, up and down steep ridges. It had little to do with the exertion, though.She ran for her life.DAYLIGHT CAME LATE and evening early to the smallPeruvian village of Chiriqui. The sun had rolled well past the zenith. Though shadows weren't yet very long, it wasn't far from vanishing behind the tree-furred ridge to the west when the blast of a diesel engine ripped the calm air.Beyond the ridge loomed the mighty peaks of the Andes themselves, looking close enough to topple and crush the little village into its dusty hillside, their blue tinge hinting how far away they really stood. The hills were mostly covered in patchy grass, dry as the hot Southern Hemisphere summer ended. Stands of hard-wood forest rose on some of the heights, interspersed with tough scrub.Chickens flapped their wings in annoyance and fled squawking as a big blue Dodge Ram 2500, battered and sun faded, rolled into the small plaza in the midst of the collection of a couple of dozen huts. A tethered spider monkey shrilled obscenities and ran up a pole supporting a thatch awning as the vehicle clipped the edge of a kiosk and spilled colorful fruits bouncing across the tan hard-packed dirt. The owner remonstrated loudly as the vehicle stopped in a cloud of exhaust and dust.Men began bailing out of the truck's extended bed. Men dressed in green-and-dust-colored camouflage who carried unmistakable broken-nosed Kalashnikovs and grenades clipped on their vests like green mango clusters.They were gringos, unmistakably, who towered over the small brown villagers. The vehicle sported a powerful Soviet-era PKS machine gun mounted on a roll bar right behind the cab.The people of Chiriqui knew better than to call attention to themselves when such visitors came to town."Gather 'round," the apparent leader commanded in clear butnorteamericano-accented Spanish. He wore a short-sleeved camo blouse, a similarly patterned baseball cap atop his crewcut red head, and carried a black semiautomatic pistol in an open-top holster tied down his right thigh like a movie gunslinger.Unlike people familiar with such things only from watching television from the comforts of their dens, the villagers knew well the difference between semi and full automatic.The villagers stared, more as if their worst nightmares were coming true than from any lack of comprehension. Because, of course, that was exactly what was happening. The gringo soldiers with their hard faces grinning mean white grins spread out in pairs with rifles at the ready to enforce their leader's command.IN THE RELATIVE COOL of her hut Annja Creed sat straining to read by the light coming in by dribs and drabs through gaps in the hardwood-plank wall. A bare bulb hung by a frayed cord perilously low over her head at the table on which she had spread the ancient book. It was unlit. The people of the village of Chiriqui had already done more than enough for her; she had firmly but with effusive thanks refused their oArcher, Alex is the author of 'Solomon's Jar', published 2006 under ISBN 9780373621200 and ISBN 0373621205.