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Authors: Larry Johns

Tags: #Adventure, #Thriller

Place of Bones (17 page)

BOOK: Place of Bones
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He considered checking his watch, but disregarded the notion. Any movement at all, he knew, would more than double the volume of perspiration his body was already enduring. He felt a droplet loosing its grip on his right eyebrow and he silently willed it to hang on, or, if it couldn’t manage that, then to find a channel other than into his eye. But it was not going to hang on. He could feel that. So he eased his head to one side, just that split-second too late. The droplet slid across his closed lid and dispersed among the hairs of the lash. He felt the salt sting as it found his eye.

He tried to bear it; to blink the eye clear. But it was no good. Every blink seemed to draw more sweat. It was like acid in an open wound and the tears began to stream. He lifted an arm and the effort of it, even in the short time it took for the arm to reach his head, brought a fresh onrush of sweat from every pore. And the hand-wipe did more harm than good, the hand being as sweat-drenched as the eye. Augarde cursed vilely and sat up sharply, flicking his head from side to side in an attempt to be rid of the torment. He reached down and felt for a drier edge of the course blanket. At last, gasping for breath, and literally awash with perspiration, he managed to clear the eye.

He remained motionless until the flow was back to something like normal levels. He saw in the gloom the propped-open door of the cabin, and for the second time since dusk, he debated whether a battle with the flies and mosquitoes was preferable to the battle with the wet, oven-like air inside. He chose to remain where he was. Slowly, he eased himself back down to the sodden blanket and lay there, sweating, listening to the sounds of the night; the soft drip-dripping of the condensation, a muted cough from the ranks of Mylar tents behind the cabin, and the soft whine of the generator...

Then he remembered

The sound that had woken him - the soft squeak of the fly-screen door closing. He glanced over at Bjoran’s bunk but could see little of it - the loom of the “pits” light, fifty yards away and to one side of the cabin, was barely sufficient to cast shadow, let alone be a visual aid to objects not directly in line of sight.

The nocturnal Swede would have wandered out, looking for something to occupy his mind. Nights were a pain, for both men. Augarde would have to sleep, or try to, in the flickering of Bjoran’s candle and the rustle as the Swede turned the pages of one or other of the three Western paperbacks he had brought with him. Bjoran, on the other hand, would have to suffer Augarde’s pleas for the candle to be snuffed out and for him to
Get some sleep!

He, Bjoran, Augarde assumed now, was off roaming the camp, looking for mischief. It would not be beyond the man to roust out some of his section and take them for a run out along one or other of the tracks, simply to fill time.

The minutes passed.

Suddenly, something came into Augarde’s mind. It was to do with Bjoran and the prisoners in the ammo store. He could not pin it down exactly, but something fell into place. Augarde concentrated. It was Bjoran’s earlier interest in the fate of the Chinese and the pilot. Something about...

Augarde sat bolt upright, his discomfort forgotten. “Jesus Christ!” he breathed, “You wouldn’t...would you?




Karen McCann lay in bed listening to the sounds of
night. They were vastly different to those heard by Augarde. The ambient temperature, also, was vastly different. There on the open veldt it was quite chilly, with no humidity at all. Away in the distance, a dog barked. She heard it, vaguely, but it did not register. Her entire concentration was centered upon a particular group of sounds; those of Ryan, in the bedroom next to hers, as he tossed and turned restlessly in
effort to get to sleep.

And Karen McCann was appalled.

Ryan was a self-confessed 47 year old! He was balding slightly, with the beginnings of a pot belly that he made no effort at all to draw in. He smoked at least two packs of cigarettes a day and his breath smelt like a chimney.

What appalled Karen so much was that she had actually wanted
him to make advances that evening after the card game. Isa had gone to bed and the two of them had sat on the veranda talking about the world in general. She had not asked her usual questions, and for the simple reason that she had not wanted to. She had been happy, more than happy, to sit there drinking wine in the cooling night air, talking about nothing, and everything. And Ryan knew so much about everything, had visited almost every part of the world, and done a million things. The more they were alone together, the more the feelings grew.

God! she thought, as she lay there listening to the creaks of his bed, how could she even
such thoughts, feel such...such longings, towards a man that old. 47 was
But she wanted him. She could not help herself. She wanted to feel his arms around her. Strong arms, experienced arms. Not the fumbling, feeble groping of a mere
but the practiced foreplay of a grown man. She wanted to wrap herself around him and force him deep into her body. She wanted him to moan words that only a grown man would know.

As a trainee nurse she had been made aware of the patient/nurse syndrome, where the patient will invariably fall in love with one or other of the nurses. Perhaps that was it, she attempted to persuade herself, clinically, practically. Perhaps there was more truth in that old cliché than she had credited.

Through the thin wall she heard him cough once, and the bed creaked again. And so the feelings flooded back, reaching deep inside her, as deep as she wanted,
, him to be. She looked out at the moonlit night and tried to force the thoughts away, but it was no good. Her breathing became heavier as she visualized in her mind’s eye Ryan’s body above her, his lips on hers, his tongue lapping hers, his hands, gentle yet forceful, exploring every inch of her. As the vision grew ever more real she felt the warm wetness seeping from her. She was almost exploding. Unconsciously, her own hand slid down her stomach, feeling for the ache that could no longer deny. She spread her legs and delved deeper, moving her fingers the way a lover would, her hips rising and falling and gyrating. Her other hand was on her breasts now, toying with rock-hard nipples. She squeezed until the pain made her cry out. The ecstasy built and built until, suddenly, in a kind of orgasm she had never dreamed possible, her world changed forever.




When Augarde woke me I was in the middle of a dream about a crocodile and a fairy, a nonsensical thing that kept my thoughts pretty well scattered as we made our way to the ammo store. I came fully awake quite sharply.

The two guards were as dead as men with deeply cut throats could be. In the glare of Augarde’s torch they lay as they had fallen, almost on top of one another, their wounds gaping obscenely, like segments cut from ripe melons, in and around which the flies were already gathered in force. Their eyes were still wide open, glinting in the harsh light, mouths forming the final cry that had no way of sounding. Their life blood lay beneath them like pools of melted tar. The door of the ammo store stood open.

“There can only be fifteen or so minutes in it, colonel,” Augarde hissed quietly. Like me, he was dressed only in his under shorts. “When the penny finally dropped I came straight here. And this is how it was.”

I nodded. My head was now pounding from the effort of dragging myself from a sleep that had never been deep enough, and I was alive with running sweat. I had felt better. Crazily, I wished that what I saw in front of me, plus the reason for it, would turn out to be part of the dream about crocodiles and fairies. I knew it was not. I also knew that I had to slide my mind into the situation with some kind of purpose, stack up the pro’s and cons before I shot off at a tangent. It wasn’t
Bjoran’s work. The first thing I did as Augarde stood waiting for instructions, was to listen, and hard, forcing my hearing out beyond the surrounding noise of the cicadas and the bullfrogs and the soft, muted grumblings of snores and coughs from the nest of Mylar tents, out through the steady rain of dew from the trees. But there was nothing. No racing engines. Nothing. Two things came into my mind then, and in no particular order of merit. I chose the closest to my mouth. “How many pickets are out tonight?”

Augarde raked some phlegm from his throat and spat it into the darkness. “Four, I reckon, sir. As usual. Two on each track.”

Not a desperately pertinent point, when I came to think about it. They would probably all be asleep in any case. Though it was on the cards now that at least two of them would not be in a position to wake up again. I moved on to the next thought. “Go check the transports. See what’s missing. Oh, and wake captain Vryburg while you’re at it.”  I added, “As quietly as you woke me.”

“And Brook?”

“No.” To get to Brook’s cabin he would have to negotiate some of the tents, and all it needed was one pair of sleepless eyes to see him, and for their owners to realize that all was not as it should be, and we would be knee-deep in excitable mercenary soldiers. I was having trouble handling small numbers, big ones were out of my league right at that moment. “Leave him. Just Piet Vryburg.”

He padded off, the torch shaded and held low to the ground. I waited. And I listened some more. Augarde had said fifteen minutes, and I was prepared to believe him. Would the jungle swallow up the noise of an engine that quickly? And surely to God we would have heard it fire up in the first place! Which left me...where? I really did not know.

Less than sixty seconds later the loom of Augarde’s torch came bobbing towards me through the murk. Piet was naked and his voice was as croaky as the bullfrogs.

“Shit!” he grated, as the light picked up the bodies by the open door.

“Right,” I agreed. Then to Augarde,”Transports?”

“The truck is still there, sir.”  And why not?  The truck had a start-up like a tank. “So is your jeep. Over by the pits. But I don’t see the other one anywhere. Shall I check the other perimeter?”

When he mentioned the first jeep I relaxed a little, because I had forgotten that Kimba had been chauffeured out to the landing area and that second jeep brought back in, in readiness for tomorrow’s move. Then I remembered, and was relaxed no more. Even so, it still didn’t figure. We
have heard a jeep start up. Or, someone would have. You don’t start jeeps in the middle of the night and hope to get away with it. “Well, you can check.”

Augarde padded off again. Piet said what I had just been thinking. “We would have heard a jeep start up, Robbie.”

I just grunted.

He added, “So they’re still around someplace.”

I shrugged. “I doubt it. Would

Piet chuckled mirthlessly. “Has the answer got to be rhetorical, too?”

I smiled grimly, trying to piece the possible sequence of events together in my mind. The two dead guards were definitely coin of Bjoran’s realm. A cut throat was one thing; a near severance of the head was something else again. That took dedication. Bjoran’s kind. Then I had something. “

Piet said, “I was just thinking that myself.”

“So he had help.”

“Had to.”

Then I had the rest of it. “Damn!  That makes Bjoran and at least one other. Plus the pilot and the doctor and the girl. Hell, they’re manhandling the jeep out along the track. With that many on the job they could almost do it at the run...” More thoughts snapped through my brain. The radio in that second jeep was one of them. But Piet took that one from my mouth.

“They’ll use the radio if they get a chance, Robbie.”

Augarde came back. “It’s not there, sir.”

I did not think it would be. I don’t know how I did it, feeling as I was, but I got all the ends together in the “action” part of my brain. “Right, first things first. Piet, you get onto the SSB. Switch to Luang’s frequency. If you hear one peep over the air, jam it! Do 

anything into the mic. Sing, if you like. But blast it out. Full power. The SSB has got the weight over the jeep’s radio, by a long way. Whatever happens, Luang must not understand what’s being said to him.” I did realize that it was the middle of the night, but it was on the cards that Luang would have someone listening out round the clock. Unlike the South Africans, Luang had said he could be contacted at all times. To Piet, I added, “And make damned sure that Kimba’s briefed over the W/T.”

Piet charged off. Augarde now. “Get a weapon, sergeant, and join me at the other jeep. No! Get two, no time for mine now. And plenty of clips. Double!” I was shouting, but now it no longer mattered.

By the time I threw myself behind the jeep’s wheel there were several figures stepping out of the tents. I ignored them, reaching for the ignition. Then I heard it, an instant before I turned the key, the sound almost but not quite merging with the harsh buzzing of the insect life that swirled around the floodlight over the pits - the unmistakable whine of a revving engine, out to the west.

“You bastards!” I spat at nothing in particular. I turned the key and the engine burst into life.There was Augarde, haring over the open space, his bare arms full of weapons and clips. I rammed the lever into gear and the jeep leapt forward, stalled, and jolted to a messy halt on the slippery mud. I cursed and yanked the choke out as Augarde leapt in beside me. I fired up the engine for a second time. Now the area was alive with black, naked and half naked bodies. I eased my foot off the clutch and we skidded in a half circle, ending up more or less aimed at the west track. The wet surface mud was like a skidpan. I flicked on the headlights and caught the first glimpse of the red marker paint.

Brook appeared momentarily in the headlight beam, then was gone. I yelled, “To captain Vryburg! My cabin!” Then we were arrowing into the tree tunnel.

“I heard it,” Augarde yelled in my ear, still sorting out the weaponry.

“So did I. Quarter of a mile. No more!”

We roared through the glistening jungle.




Piet Vryburg let out a grunt of relief as he heard the jeep’s engine burst into life. He had the Single Side Band radio switched in at full power and was flicking through the pages of McCann’s notebook. He was still searching for the correct page when Brook burst into the cabin. Over his shoulder, Vryburg called, “Get a radio, Brook!”

Brook, panting for breath, said, “Pardon, sir?”

At last Vryburg found the page. He checked the frequency and spun the tuning dial. “A radio, dammit!  A transistor. Anything. Is there one?”

“A radio, sir?”

The man had every right to be confused, Vryburg knew. But he had no time of niceties. “Yes, dammit to hell! A radio. I want some noise. Have you got a bloody radio?”

Brook’s mind snapped into action at last. He did not know what it was all about and could not even begin to guess why the South African would be asking for a radio, nor why he should want some
Especially since he was standing in front of something a hundred times better than a portable radio. But he knew he had to move. “I have one in my cabin, sir.”  He turned and leapt down the steps. As he ran through the gathering crush of milling, equally confused men, he called, “Corporal Zwekki! To me!” Brook guessed that his immediate subordinate would be somewhere in the crowd. And he was. As Brook snatched up his Sony portable from the sill of his cabin, the man appeared in the doorway.

“Here, sarn.”

Corporal Amos Zwekki was a semi-albino. Born and raised in Libreville, he had experienced all the worst effects of the various mercenary wars, at a certain stage of which he had found himself homeless and parentless. He had become a mercenary in Angola. He liked the life. And with seven years of education beneath his belt he spoke English well enough and was fluent in French.

Brook shouted, “Get the other section leaders together.” He pushed past him and into the night. “And sort the men into some kind of order.” He hesitated long enough to add, “And get the floods turned on. Let’s have some bloody light on the subject!”

At the, Piet Vryburg was listening intently. Brook bounded up the steps and into the cabin. Vryburg said, “Find some music. Loud stuff!”

Brook, still utterly unable to follow the man’s line of reasoning, nevertheless put his mind to the task. He knew that his small set would only pick up three stations clearly, due to the nature of their surroundings and the distance from any kind of
habitation, and these only on short wave. The BBC World Service could be good in certain atmospheric conditions and at certain times, whilst The Voice of Islam was good only in cloudless conditions. Radio Moscow could always be relied upon. Brook tried that first. There was a discussion in progress. He quickly ran the dial to the Arabic frequency and was rewarded by what he termed “jangle music” Vryburg took the set and placed it next to the S.S.B. microphone, one ear still cocked to the vacant carrier wave

BOOK: Place of Bones
2.86Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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