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.
I left the others out the front of the hut in Barnes charge, except for Williamson who stayed inside, feigning illness. If everything went according to plan, a sketchy plan at best, Monroe would slip the diamonds to Williamson, and then melt back into the bush, heading back towards the fork in the road heading to the airstrip. She would then report on what troops were between us and our objective.
I signaled for Davies to join me.
The commander and the man who’d reported to him earlier strode across the compound to a smaller building that might pass as a jail. There was a guard out the front who jumped up and snapped to attention when the commander came up the steps.
“Open the door.”
The guard fumbled with a ring of keys, found the one for the door, and unlocked it.
The commander looked at me. “You may speak to them for five minutes.”
“Alone. You have my word we’ll not try anything.”
He nodded at the guard. “Bottom of the steps. Don’t let them out of your sight.” To me, he pointed to another building about 50 yards away, “I’ll be there, don’t keep me waiting.”
We waited for him to come down the steps and start striding to his office, then went up the stairs, and I knocked on the door. “My name is James, and I’m here with Davies to take you home. We’re coming in.”
I opened the door slowly pulling it towards me, and the odor that came out of the room was that of people who had not been allowed to wash for several days, if not longer. Once the door was fully open and the interior lit, I could see two stretchers and two men sitting up, struggling with the light in their eyes.
At least they were able to sit up.
Our information was they had been captive now for about seven months, and, looking at them, they didn’t seem to appear to badly off. They showed signs of weight loss, and pallid skin, but not to the point of being maltreated or starved.
“Who did you say you were?” The man on the left was about 50ish, grey thinning hair, and I suspect once a lot bulkier than he was now. There was an air of brashness about him, but that would have been beaten out of him long ago. Now he was just a shell of his former self.
“Sgt James, and Lieutenant Davies. Part of the rescue team sent to bring you home. A Colonel Bamfield sent us.”
“You took your time.”
Th either man spoke. Younger, a military type, perhaps the other man’s bodyguard. He had a few scars, so I expect he had offered some resistance and paid for it with the butt of a gun or two.
“We tried once, but it failed. There were not the people who had been holding you at the time though, were they?”
“No. If that was an attempt, they were the people who came to ‘rescue’ us, only it was a means for them to use us for ransom. It’s taken them a while to find the right people. Bamfield you say? Who is he?”
“Runs the military’s operations that the military doesn’t want to acknowledge. We’re here, but we’re not here if you know what I mean.”
The older man shook his head. “It doesn’t matter. What happens now?”
“I go and have another chat with the commander. We exchange gifts, and we leave.”
“You do realize that’s not going to happen,” the military type said with a degree of despondency.
“There are about 50 men here, possibly more, all armed, and all waiting for you to arrive. I expect they’ll take the ransom and then kill all of us.”
“Yes, I had thought that might be the case. But, don’t worry. We have a few tricks up our sleeve. So, gather your belongings, if you have any, and wait for us to come back and get you.”
“Are you going to drive out of here?” The military man spoke again.
“A short distance, yes. There’s an airstrip not far from here, so all we have to do is get there, and we’re halfway home.”
“There’ll be government troops there. It’s used for people coming in to visit the national park and they provide local security. Boroko knows the Captain in charge there, and they have an arrangement. He’ll know what your options are, and you’ll just be walking into a trap.”
That had always been a possibility, but Bamfield wouldn’t send us there unless there was a chance we could use it for our escape. But, what the man was saying was just another wrinkle in a plan that had lots of wrinkles.
“Provided you get a mile from this place before being attacked.”
“All very interesting points,” I said. “But, like I said, pack your stuff and let me worry about the details. Feel free to take in some fresh air while we’re gone. It won’t be long.”
“I’ll stay,” Davies said.
I took a last look at the two, both now struggling to their feet. They might not be in as good a condition as the commander had said. As long as they could cover about half a mile at best, everything would be fine.
I walked slowly back to the hut where Williamson had just emerged, and I went over to him.
He handed me a package that hardly made a dent in my pocket. It was probably the reason why diamonds were used, small, and easily transportable. Gold bars would have been a different, and far more difficult, proposition.
From there, I walked more briskly to the commander’s hut and as I approached he came out.
“Everything in order?”
I pulled the package out of my pocket and handed it to him. “You can check the contents while I wait here.”
A smile, like a cat who swallowed the canary. A nod to a soldier standing behind me, I could hear the weapon being trained on me.
“I guess this is where…”
A second later the soldier crumpled to the ground, a bloody mess where his head had just been. A second raised his gun and suffered the same result.
“Call off your dogs’ commander. I’m sure we both don’t want to see people die needlessly.”
Two hands for a signal to lower weapons.
“Your missing people.”
“Out there, strategically placed. Excellent marksmen too. At the moment they’re showing restraint. It’s up to you how long that lasts.”
He motioned to the guard at the prisoner’s hut to take them to the cars, “Join them, Sargeant James, I’ll be along when I’ve checked the diamonds.”
By the time the two men had joined the rest of the team at the cars, the commander had come out of his office and was walking towards us.
“Three cars, we’ll keep the other. I assume you’re heading towards the airstrip.”
“It’s one of our options. I hear the government had a platoon of soldiers there under the command of a Captain. You might want to warn him we’re coming. You might also want to warn whoever you have in the field between here and there we’re coming.”
“I can’t guarantee your safety once you leave the compound. If there is anyone out there, it will not be my men. We have an agreement remember.”
While we were talking the others had got themselves into the cars and started the engines. Time was of the essence.
We walked down to the barrier, and once again he ordered his guards to remove it.
Once they had the cars drove past and then the last car stopped just the other side, waiting for me.
“I wish you good luck, Sargeant James.”
“Let’s hope the atmospherics don’t interfere with my call to my people. I’d hate to see this place destroyed because of a misunderstanding.”
I hadn’t seen Jacobi since just after we arrived, and he had headed straight to the commander’s hut. No doubt they had a lot to talk about.
I got in the car, and we drove off.
I was half expecting a hail of bullets, but all I could see was the two guards replacing the barrier and the commander standing behind it, arms crossed, still looking like the cat who swallowed the canary.
© Charles Heath 2020