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"Not long ago I called a jaguar for a doctor from Beaumont, Texas, and that bugger came 25 yards away. The doctor shot and missed, so we went farther into the bush and I called another one, this time a big male, and he walked up so close that the doctor was too scared to pull the trigger. So the jaguar ran away and I called him back again, and you could feel the vibrations from his answering calls, real quick and anxious, getting faster till he was almost on top of us, and he was going ooh-ooh-ooh all together, in quick bursts. One of my men shot him for the doc."
"It must be frightening," I said.
"To the hunters, yes," Vasquez said, "but not to me. Not after 30 years of doing it. One night I called a cat for a guy, and the cat got closer and closer, answering me, and then pretty soon we heard the same sound from the opposite direction. There were jaguars coming at us from both sides! The man dropped his gun and ran to my Land Rover and drove off and left me there. Never saw him again. Another time I called a jaguar in too close, and he jumped at me, and I fell flat, and the cat went right over my head. I could smell his breath. Thank God he kept going. So did I."
"I hear you're a snake man," I said, "and you have magic powers."
"You hear a lot of things," Vasquez said in that same reedy voice. "I use certain medicines, herbs, to keep the blood from clotting after a bite, and I have a suction tube that connects to my manifold and sucks poison from the wound, but that's not snake magic, that's just common sense. The things I do, they only appear to be magic. I can tell you all kinds of things about the jungle and the forest, but it's not magic."
"Then what is it?" I asked.
"It's simple intelligence and lots of practice and knowing how to put things together. Suppose you and I go deep into the jungle and we can't even see the sun and we have no compass. Well, we just look at the vines! The first turn on a vine will always be east, because a vine is a sun-searching plant, and the first turn is always in the morning direction of the sun.
"If there are no vines we look at the pines. The trade winds have leaned them to the southwest. Or if you have no pine trees and no vines, then you check the spiders. All spider webs in the jungle go in the same direction because the spiders don't want the silhouette of their webs to be seen, or else they'll never catch a fly. So you plot the direction of one web when you start hunting, and the rest of the day you can tell direction by the others. Is that magic? No, it's just common sense."
I changed the subject sharply, perhaps too sharply, as it developed. "What's this about your being charged with murder three times and a white horse rescuing you?" I asked.
Jackie Vasquez waved his hand airily, as though this was beneath discussion, and turned to his companion. "Would you like a Guinness, baby?" he said.