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.
04:00 in Africa was an interesting time of the morning, especially after a few hours of intense rain during the night. I could see what the Colonel meant if it had been raining because outside the barracks it was very wet.
Whilst the others appeared to get some sleep, in a much better environment than the back of an aircraft, I lay awake, at first waiting for the sound of the aircraft leaving, and then listening to the rain that started an hour or so later, followed by the sounds that came afterward. It was never silent, and there was always that suspicion of being attacked when you’re at your most vulnerable. I had a weapon ready, just in case.
Outside the cloud cover had gone and it looked like it would be a fine day.
When I did the headcount, I noticed Mobley was missing as agreed, and by the time we had assembled, the cars had arrived. We would be driving ourselves in a convoy behind Monroe and the Colonel, who was no longer dressed in army fatigues, along with Jacobi and one of his guards.
For the trip, we had been supplied with the western notion of jungle wear, safari suits, that identified us not only garrulous visitors, but typical tourists hardly prepared for what was to come. It made a good cover for a group of ‘fools’ making a documentary.
All we had to do was get to the location for the exchange of the hostages reportedly between Aba, a town in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and somewhere on the outskirts of the Park. It was going to be an easy drive from Uganda to Aba, then the situation might change.
I was going to be in the rear vehicle, with Leslie Davies. The more I thought about her being assigned to this mission, it seemed she was here solely for her ability to fly anything with wings. It was the part that was missed on her resume, perhaps for a reason, but whatever that reason was, it would become clear eventually.
We left at 04:05. Monroe had a slight problem starting her car.
Other than exchanging a few words before getting on the plane and then getting off the plane, Davies and I had not spoken. After half an hour of driving in silence, I decided to break the ice.
“What did you do to get nominated for this mission?”
A glance sideways gave me no indication of her thoughts, or what look was hidden behind the aviator sunglasses. I hadn’t seen her smile, or talk to any of the other team members other than a few brief words with Monroe, likely because she was the only other female.
Even then, I didn’t get the impression they were going to be best friends.
“Best you don’t know.”
Her reply came about three minutes after I’d asked, and at a point where I assumed she was going to ignore me.
“Let’s say I’m curious.”
“Curiosity killed the cat.”
“I’m not a cat.”
Another two minutes of silence, then, “Disobeyed a direct order.”
Not as bad as killing your immediate superior because you didn’t like him. And I could sympathize. Some orders were utterly ridiculous.
“Not a bad thing.”
“Not what the court-martial thought.”
I noticed she didn’t use sir. I could live with that.
“In a manner of speaking. You?”
She raised her glasses slightly and gave me a sideways glance.
“In a manner of speaking. Been here before, not that it was for very long, and in a different part of the country, but the powers that be deemed my experience adequate for the mission.”
“I take it the mission isn’t to take pictures of animals?”
It might. Just not the animals you’re expecting.”
It was our lucky day. At the Vurra customs post we were met by a Ugandan official who had been forewarned of our arrival, and whom I expect was well compensated for his work, and after going through a half-hour of paperwork, we were taken to the Congo counterpart with whom Jacobi weaved his magic.
I say lucky because the border crossing was often closed, either because of the weather, the road conditions, or the fact neither country was talking to the other, though it was more to do with the Congo villagers and their dispute over lands that stretched into Uganda.
We arrived with a number of trucks, to join a long line waiting to cross, and included were several United Nations vehicles.
Everyone seemed to take the delays and administrative diligence in their stride.
We were moving again, behind several tracks, almost an hour and a half after arriving. All of the crates of equipment had been opened and inspected, as had our packs, and the raft of documents Monroe had been supplied. She had a satellite phone at the ready in case we needed to make any calls, though I was not sure what Bamfield would have been able to do.
But, after a few tense moments, everyone lost interest in the documentary crew and moved onto the next vehicle.
Jacobi said it was the easiest crossing he’d made.
About a half-hour, after we had driven on our way, then my radio crackled, and Mobley reported in. He had just crossed over and was behind us, and a number of trucks.
I got a strange look from Davies.
“Insurance,” was all I said. “Which no one else needs to know about.”
The road was not exactly in the best of condition in places and having four-wheel drives was a help. The lie of the land was quite flat, and we passed a lot of small villages and curious looks from the villagers. Some parts of the road were quite bad, and we had to drive very slowly, especially where it was damp, but for the most part, it was reasonably dry and the roads were navigable.
Other times, Jacobi said, after the rains, those same roads were impossible to drive on and would often see villagers out trying to help the truck drivers keep moving.
I had expected to run into a number of soldiers, but for the first few hours after leaving the border, there wasn’t a lot to see other than flat land, villages, and people on the side of the road, along with the occasional vehicle, belying the fact it was a major road between the border and a town called Aba, a distance that was measured at about 170 kilometers.
Anywhere else in the world it would have taken about an hour and a half, but here, it was early afternoon and finally on a stretch of reasonable road into Aba. A refuel and we’d be on our way quickly. The first of the kidnappers appointed times was 16:00 hours and I was hoping the roads would get us there by that time.
© Charles Heath 2019-2020