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.
“So, Jacobi, tell me what I don’t know.”
I was taking the track slowly and keeping within a short distance of the cars behind me. The road was little more than a dirt track, and in places, there were almost un-navigable ruts. We would not have got a truck down this road.
He looked sideways at me. “You know as much as I do.”
“That’s not possible. I know nothing. You set this up. Tell me about the leader of this group. Is he the heard of his own militia group?”
“An area commander of a larger group spread out across the top of the Republic, bordering onto Sudan. They get their guns and other military hardware across that border. Where we’re going, it’s their main camp in this location.”
“How many men will be here?”
“Twenty, thirty. Sometimes they train new recruits.”
“Those militia back there, were they his people?”
“I don’t know.”
“I think you do, Jacobi. And I think if you want to come out of this alive, you might consider giving me all the facts. If they were his men, there could be ramifications if they don’t report back, especially if he was expecting to add to his payday.”
“Even if they were, there’s no communication lines out here. They would have to report back to the camp first. And then there’s the possibility with all the money they were supposed to collect, there might be a detour. It’s why I think they asked for 10,000 rather than the 5,000. The commander was going to take a cut. Loyalty only goes so far in these places.”
“No likely surprises?”
“None that I’m aware of. You killed them all anyway. Dead men do not get up, walk back to come and inform.”
No, they didn’t.
A mile to go I saw the rear car stop for a few seconds and Monroe and Stark get out and disappear into the bush. The chances were they could walk through the bush faster than we could drive on the track, and beat us there.
And, then, the checkpoint was in sight, a pair of empty petrol drums with a piece of wood across the road, each end resting on a drum. Behind the barrier were three men, one I presumed to be the commander, the other two, guns at the ready, his guard. Behind them was a clearing with several buildings and to one side several huts that might belong to some villagers. There were a truck and two Toyota tray utilities parked to one side.
All in all, I could see about ten men.
When I reached the barrier, I stopped but left the engine running. Just before we arrived, I gave the order to hide the hand weapons. It was risky going in unarmed, but the chances were they’d take the guns if we were wearing them. This way, if we needed them, there was a slight chance we might be able to retrieve them.
Both Jacobi and I got out. I left my door open. Jacobi closed his.
“Sergeant James, I presume.” Good English, beaming smile, friendly manner.
“I think I know how Dr. Livingston felt. I am he.”
A puzzled look for a moment, then the resumption of good nature. He didn’t understand the nuances of British history in Africa.
There was no handshake, none was expected. Jacobi stepped forward. “I assume the packages are here, and in good condition.”
“Of course. I assume that you have brought the exchange material.”
“We have. Now, if we can just park these cars, we can get on with the exchange.”
“In a hurry, Jacobi? Somewhere else to be?”
“Yes, as it happens. I’m a busy man, as you are aware.”
Politeness disappeared from his face as quickly as the sun sometimes went behind a cloud.
The commander looked over towards a hut just back from the road, one I hadn’t seen from the car because it was hidden by a grove of bushes. Two men came out.
“Move the barrier.”
As they did, he said to me, “Tell your men to get out of the vehicles and come slowly up the track. My men will bring the vehicles into the camp. Tell them also not to make any sudden or suspicious moves, or there will be trouble.”
A glance back showed another four of his men, also armed, appearing out of the bush towards the driver’s side of the cars.
I’d brought the radio and gave them the instructions the commander had given me.
Five minutes later we were standing outside one of the huts, the cars were parked neatly in a row, and each of us had been frisked as I thought we would. The four who acted as drivers were now our guards, not with weapons trained on us, but they could be very quickly.
The commander waited until the guards at the checkpoint had replaced the barrier, then came striding towards us. I could see he was counting heads and seemed perplexed by the time he reached us.
“There are men missing. Where are they?”
© Charles Heath 2019-2021