Our hero knows he’s in serious trouble.
The problem is, there are familiar faces and a question of who is a friend and who is foe made all the more difficult because of the enemy, if it was the enemy, simply because it didn’t look or sound or act like the enemy.
Now, it appears, his problems stem from another operation he participated in, and because of it, he has now been roped into what might be called a suicide mission.
The next stretch of road was from Aba to Nagero, the gateway to the Garamba National Park. This was a road where we would have to be more careful because it was possible, now we were off the main road, even though it was designated a highway, or perhaps that was a little too optimistic since it had a number N26, which ran into the R240 at a place nominally named Faradje, but did have a place to stay called the Residence Robert Ball.
I guess I missed that.
Beyond Faradje the road was a little more intense, but something else that worried me, there was more scope for us to be ambushed. To be honest, I had expected trouble for the last 100 kilometers, but trucks and people were plentiful enough to keep any surprises away. Now, that element of safety had gone and for quite some distance now we’d been moving slowly, and everyone was on alert.
My fears were not misplaced.
We’d hit a rather rough patch and had to slow down, and coming into a creek crossing the road narrowed, and the trees came down to the side of the road, providing any would-be attacker plenty of cover. I had been considering how I would arrange an ambush when, suddenly the car in front stopped suddenly, and we, caught unawares, slid almost into the back of them.
My other radio crackled, Monroe was reporting in. “Houston, we’ve got a problem.”
A flooded creek that was impassable, or a rockfall. There had been one of each so far, but both had been relatively easy to negotiate.
Then she added, “A gentleman in army gear with a gun. He’s brought a few friends to the party.”
“Real army, or…”
“The or, I think. Some of his ‘men’ are, well, not men.”
A local militia. Ahead I could see several more of the ‘soldiers’ filtering down to cover each of the vehicles until a real soldier stopped near ours, gun aimed and ready to fire.
“Send in our guide and get him to sort the matter out.”
No one was asking us to leave the vehicles yet, so this might but just a ‘request’ for a passing fee. Jacobi had said this might happen once we left the mainstream roads. I had hoped, the Garamba National Park is internationally known, all roads in and out would be ‘protected’. Perhaps that was only for convoys protected by Government troops, a service we had to forego due to the nature of our business.
Five minutes passed, then the next update.
“Jacobi is going now. We’ve finally got past any possible misunderstandings. Good thing he knows the language.”
Mindful of where the soldier covering us was standing and his line of sight into the car, I said into the other radio, “Mobley?”
“Where are you?”
“About a k behind you.”
“Stop. Park, and approach on foot. We have a small problem, about 10 militiamen have stopped us at a choke point.”
“Done. I will be there shortly. Take them out?”
“Get a position and standby.”
Forward of us little was happening. I could now see Jacobi and the group commander standing to one side of the lead vehicle, talking. Jacobi was gesturing, and the soldier was looking defensive.
Seconds dragged by like they were minutes.
Davies came back to life. “Why have we stopped?”
“There isn’t meant to be a checkpoint here, is there?”
Before we started out Davies had hidden a sidearm under her seat, in a place where I had hoped would not be checked by the border officials. They had made a cursory scan in the front of the car but hadn’t seen it. Now she had reached down and had it in her hand, at the same time making sure she had eye contact with the militiaman on her side of our car.
Our personal detail had doubled in the last minute or so. I had just watched Jacobi return to the lead vehicle, get in, but leave the door open.
The radio crackled again. “They want five thousand US dollars, and we can proceed.”
“We got five thousand.”
“Jacobi says two should do it.”
“Give it a go.”
I watched and waited as it took a few more minutes before Jacobi, with a bulky envelope, got out of the car and walked towards the soldier.
Showing we had money and were willing to hand it over might lead to further demands, particularly if the soldier though he was being disrespected. It all depended on Jacobi’s negotiating skills.
Mobley reported in. He had a position where he could see the men at the head of the convoy.
I spoke into the radio to the others, “Has everyone got a clear shot on their covering guards, just in case this goes sideways.”
“They’re not exactly soldiers,” I heard Barnes say.
“But they’ll shoot to kill you all the same. Unfortunately, we’re on a mission-critical timeline here, and whilst I don’t like it, it’s going to be one of those at all costs decisions.”
A series of ‘ready’ came over the radio.
Several more minutes passed, and more animated conversation between Jacobi and the commander, then Jacobi returned to the car, minus the envelope.
Was it successful?
Monroe. “Seems he wants ten thousand now. Orders?”
“Negotiations are over.”
Several shots rang our, taking down the three men at the front of the convoy in quick succession, the signal for the others to take out their guards almost simultaneously. It was a miracle none of the guards got a shot off, but, then, they were standing a little too close for their own good.
Five minutes later we were back on the road, the militiamen having their arms removed, and removed from sight, just in case anyone came looking for them. It might be a forward group from the kidnappers, looking for some extra cash, or, if the negotiations had dragged on, looking to take the ransom and then demand another when we turned up empty-handed.
Whatever had happened, it was over.
Ten minutes later Mobley had re-joined the convoy behind me.
© Charles Heath 2019-2020