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.
“Are there? How many should I have?”
The only way he could know there was not a full complement as if he had been told by someone how many people were in our group from the outset. I looked at Jacobi, and he shrugged.
“This is not a good time to be playing games, Sergeant James.”
The guards gripped their weapons a little tighter and looked ready to use them.
“The only one playing games here would be you. It would be irrelevant if I had more or I had fewer people here because you have more than enough to cover us, and then some. But you would agree it would be imprudent for me to put all my eggs in one basket as it were, and yes, there are several others, but they are waiting for me to call them, further down the track. Not to put too fine a point on it, distrust works both ways. We don’t come back, I can assure you, your losses will be bigger than ours. Oh, and a word of advice, don’t go looking for them, not unless you want good men to die needlessly.”
Tough talk, and could get us killed, but I was hoping that until he had the diamonds in his hands, he would humor me. A minute or so passed where I assumed he was making a calculation on what the odds were, then he shrugged. There was merit in what I’d told him. Monroe and Shurl had plenty of ammunition and would have a foxhole that wouldn’t be over-run or penetrated.
“I think you might be right, so let’s not get bogged down in an argument that’s going nowhere. We have what you want, and you have what we want. Let’s go inside and talk.”
Was that a sigh of relief moment? Perhaps. But it was clear he needed us out of the way before his men could search the cars. I was happy to let him think he had the upper hand.
“Lead the way.”
We all filed into the building and sat down around a large table. There were bottles of water out, and we might have drunk from them but I could see the seal had been broken on min so it looked like we would be going thirsty.
The commander drank from his, no doubt as a gesture that the water was safe. None of my people were buying it.
“I’ll kick it off,” I said. “Are our people in good health?”
“Of course. Healthy enough to walk out of here of their own accord. Did you bring the compensation with you?”
“Can I see it?”
“Can I see our people.”
Friendly, and time-consuming double talk. I could see he was waiting impatiently. “All in good time. “Did you have any trouble getting here?” he asked casually. “I heard there were some local militias on the road collecting road taxes earlier today.”
“If there was, we didn’t see any. Smooth run, except for the state of the roads. I hope the road taxes those people are collecting are to fix the roads.”
He smiled. “It is what it is. This is the Democratic Republic of the Congo, not the United States of America. Things are done differently here. We put the people first, and the roads second.”
There was a discreet knock on the door, followed by a cowering man coming into the room and walking up behind the commander. He took a few seconds to whisper into his ear, during which the commander’s expression turned very dark.
I had to assume that they had found all the weapons we had left for them to find, and not done a very close inspection to find those we did not want them to find. It was a bold assumption and could make a difference once we left, and if we were attacked. I was sure that was part of the message the man had relayed to his commander.
The man almost ran out of the building, slamming the door behind him.
The commander looked at me. “Where are the diamonds?”
That was as direct as he could get.
“At this point, that’s for me to know until I’m assured you intend to honor your part of the agreement. Searching our cars for the diamonds tells me you are not a man to be trusted, and, you should have realized in making that discovery, you’re not dealing with fools.”
The dark expression eased, and he tried to look like the man who held all the cards. He probably did, but it would be interesting to see to what extent he would press his advantage. We had nothing to lose, though it didn’t send a very good message to the team that I was willing to sacrifice them. This was after all supposed to be a suicide mission.
“What’s to stop me from just shooting your people one by one until you tell me.”
“The same reason I told you at the gate. You will lose a lot more than I will. Something you might not be aware of is that the people who sent me have control over satellites. You might not be familiar with satellite technology, but be assured that we are being observed, and have been on this little odyssey. It also means that they, sitting in a bunker somewhere in the world, also have access to nasty drones, you know, the sort that leaves craters where villages and settlements once were. This place would not withstand a direct hit, and there would be no one left alive after it. Killing any or all of us will incur wrath you really don’t want to deal with. Put simply, if I don’t drive out of here with my people within half an hour this whole area will become an uninhabitable crater.”
Bamfield had said as one option, not that he could order such a strike, was to threaten them with a drone strike. I hadn’t done that in as many words, but the commander looked as though he got the inference.
“You could do that anyway.”
“I could, but that’s not the way I work. For some odd reason. The people I work for seem to think you might be useful to them in the future, and Jacobi here will be happy to stay and talk about it. Now, the clock is ticking.”
He took a moment, then stood. “Let’s go meet your people then.”
Ⓒ Charles Heath 2020