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.
Onboard the plane shortly after it took off, I watched Monroe go to each of the team and give them a folder with their role, and, no doubt, instructions on what they had to do, and to handle the equipment they were assigned. The list I’d seen required a sound technician, a grip, a cameraman, his assistant, the director, the producer, which I took to be Monroe, and a few other production assistants.
None looked happy, and probably already knew what the cover story would be. I didn’t see or hear any objections, each just took their folder and started on their homework.
She didn’t spend much time with Jacobi, just enough to tell him he was going to be the guide. It was a role he was most suited to, and that of local liaison. At least it would explain why he was with us.
After that, she came to see me.
“Was it your idea or Lallo’s?” I asked.
“Lallo’s. I’m as surprised as you, but you have to admit it’s a great cover story.”
“For a group who wouldn’t know one end of the camera from the other.”
“Plenty of time to learn. You don’t have to worry. All you have to do is be perennially bad-tempered and yell a lot. I’m sure you can do that without having me tell you how to.”
“No. probably not. Bamfield said it all the equipment worked.”
“When we take the C4, detonators, grenades, and a few other assorted armaments out it will.”
“You know where the other stuff is,” I said, hoping she understood that it was the diamonds I was talking about.
“Somewhere in one of the boxes. It was best not to tell anyone, so if anything happens, we can’t give it away. We can worry about that once we get past the border. I suggest you get your head down. At least one of us has to be sharp at the other end when we land.”
With that, she went back to her corner, ran her eye over the team now deep in their studies, then looked like she was going to get some sleep.
After a few hours, the enthusiasm to learn had died down, and each of the team members made themselves comfortable. There would be more time to study on the other side of the fuel stop. Everyone on board got what sleep they could, not that it was the best of places in the cargo hold of a C-130. One destination we were all familiar with was that of Djibouti when we would set down to refuel at the airbase there.
It was a half-hour stop, and, as Monroe advised, we didn’t leave the plane. It was best no one knew we were aboard or what we were doing, a feat I thought quite remarkable because if it was my airbase, I’d want to know.
But, as airbases went, it was the same as the rest.
Back in the air, we were heading for Uganda. It was another 6 or 7 hours, so it was a good time to get some more rest before we landed. I had no idea when the next time would be that there would be time for some shuteye.
I’d been keeping an eye on Monroe. She appeared to be the liaison for everything, and had accompanied the pilot to the base tower, most likely to file the flight plan, one of several I imagine, and to report back to Bamfield. It explained why the pilot returned without her, and she didn’t get back until 15 minutes before we were due to leave.
Should I be worried? There wasn’t much point.
After an hour, I went up the back of the plane and sat next to Jacobi. He had been ostracised by the rest of the team; an order given by Monroe for them to leave him alone. He’d been escorted onto the plane by two burly military policemen, and his bag of equipment given to Monroe for safekeeping, so we were sure from the time he left the cell at the black site to getting on the plane he had communicated with anyone.
Even so, I was sure he had been in similar situations before, and he was still alive to tell about it. If he had a plan, whatever that plan was, we would soon find out.
In the meantime, I thought he might have an interesting story to tell, and I had a few hours to kill.
He sullenly watched me come down the fuselage, and then sit next to him, loosely putting what passed as a seat belt on just in case we hit an air pocket. The flight was not as smooth as it might be on a commercial airliner and was certainly a lot noisier.
“Have you spoken to the right people yet?” I almost had to yell in his ear.
Lallo had said he was going to get Jacobi to call his friendly General in the Congo army to smooth the way, and it would be interesting to know under what circumstances Jacobi had explained our arrival at his border. And another to tell the kidnappers we were on our way. Monroe said he had made several supervised phone calls, but not exactly who to.
We had to pray that the General would be among those to also help us locate the targets and, once the exchange was made, assist us in our departure, for a small sum to compensate them for the inconvenience.
He knew why I’d come to see him. “The captors know we are coming, and hopefully before the time limit has passed. They will kill them this time if we don’t get there in time.”
“I’m sure they’d like us to think that, but you know as well as I do they need the ransom for their ongoing operations. Let’s hope it doesn’t come down to plan f which is where they kill us, the hostages, and just take the ransom. Either way, I hate to be the one who is only going to make things worse, but I don’t get to decide what’s right or wrong.”
“It’s how it works out there. Everyone is available for a price. If it wasn’t this lot, it’d be another or another.”
“Or the military, maybe, looking to cash in because the state doesn’t pay them enough. That’s why we’re putting you at the head of the procession. If we’re ambushed, you’ll be the first to go.”
“I admire your lack of faith in me.”
“You haven’t done anything to inspire faith, Jacobi. But so long as you keep your word, and do everything right, I won’t have to shoot you.”
There was no horrified look. He knew the score of being in the ‘Mr. In-Between’ business. He would no doubt get a share of the diamonds for brokering the deal, on top of whatever Lallo offered him, and a cut of the General and his men’s fees for guaranteeing our safety. I guess his business also had its hazards, wasn’t for the faint-hearted, and for those working all sides of the fence, a particularly exciting time.
Generals, soldiers, kidnappers, rebels, practically every man and his dog had an itchy trigger finger.
“It’s not me you have to worry about.”
“I didn’t betray them the last time, and that person was never identified.”
A good point. “Then let’s hope no one else knows we’re coming, or what we’re bringing as ransom.”
He looked at me, a look that told me I thought he might just make a play for the diamonds himself and forget about the targets. It was a very tempting ransom.
“You know how it is. Spies are everywhere.”
“Just make sure you’re not one of them.”
I think I said it with just enough sincerity that he believed me.
“It’s not worth my while, I assure you. Once you’re involved in a double-cross, you cease to be of worth to anyone. I will not be the source of your problems if there are any.”
For a man who’d already been caught out in a raft of lies, there was nothing he could say that would make me trust him. He was going to require an escort once we landed.
I had two perfect candidates for the job. Williamson and Shurl. From what I had observed on the ground before we boarded the plane, and in the plane, they stuck together. I got the impression they knew each other.
After I left Jacobi, I told them what I wanted them to do.
It was the day for sullen responses. They didn’t want to be babysitters. Tough.
Next, I went and visited Mobley, sitting closer to the front of the plane, by himself. Monroe had sat with him for an hour or so before we reached Djibouti, and it had raised a small flag.
I staggered towards him, the pilots deciding to take the rough path through the sky, and almost fell into the seat next to him.
He didn’t look at me the whole time, even when I’d sat down. Was he pretending to ignore me, or had he decided he was above taking my orders?
“I’ve got a few hours to waste so if you think I’m going away forget it,” I said, loud enough to get his attention.
A slight flutter of an eyelid. Not asleep.
“Monroe tells me you’re in charge of this motley crew,” he said, still not looking at me.
“Not because I want to be. I’m not sure what your reason is to be here, and, frankly, I don’t care, but I really don’t want to be here. I wasn’t given a choice. I’m guessing you did from what I’ve been told. We don’t have time to debate the issue. What I want you to do is when we arrive at the base, is hang back, come up with whatever excuse will fly, and give us several hours head start. You’ll be with one of Chiswick’s men. What’s important is to check no one follows us.”
“You think someone might?” A look of almost interest.
“I’m sure of it. There’s no way we will get to the base in Uganda, no matter how far from civilization it is, and not be noticed, or worse, that someone already knows we’re coming.”
“What’s the ultimate rendezvous?”
“Over the border in the Congo.” I passed him a hand-drawn map of the area, from the landing strip to the GPS co-ordinates of the exchange point in the Congo, but not the track that we would be taking, some of which I hoped might be by the river. I think Monroe had given him as much detail of the job as she could, as she probably had all of them.
“Monroe in the loop?”
“She will be by the time we land.”
Eyes closed again; the conversation was over.
Time to have a talk to Monroe.
“Got some good news,” she said when I sat next to her.
“We’re turning around and going home?”
“Where is home?”
It was an interesting question. I’d been bounced around so many airbases, I don’t think I’d had a permanent fixed address from the day I signed up. Was it where I used to live? No point going back, everyone I’d known back then had either moved on or died. Technically I was now an orphan, and unlike others, I had no family of my own to go home to.
“No idea anymore, I’m afraid. So, what’s this good news.”
“We have an exit strategy. Bamfield told me to tell you everything is in place. All we have to do is liberate a plane and we’re on our way home. It’s the reason why Davies is on the mission, Bamfield says she can fly anything.”
“I’ve never heard of a plane called ‘anything’.”
“You know what I mean.”
“Any other details?”
“We’ll know exactly what the score is when we get there. That’s all I know at the moment.”
“Hopefully through the pilot’s last contact with Bamfield. Otherwise, it’s going to be just another boring day at the office.”
© Charles Heath 2019-2021