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Authors: Larry Johns

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BOOK: Place of Bones
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“I’m an
American!”
he repeated, his voice now wavering.

I smiled despite everything. It was too bloody ludicrous. I looked at Abbas. “He’s an American, corporal. Does that cut any ice with you?”

Abbas probably could not get the absolute gist of that phrase, but he got its meaning well enough. “I kill Americans for
nothing
, bwana,” he smiled evilly.

I did not remind him that I was one, too. I was about to ask what he would like me to do with the man when the building shook to another explosion and a rolling thunderclap echoed through the corridors. But it had not been a close explosion. A big one, yes, but not that close. The W/T squawked.

“Charlie-One! Charlie-One!”

It was Mahindru’s voice. I lifted the set. “Yes, Baker-One?”

“I have to admit. colonel,” he said, “I had my doubts about hearing your voice again.”

“So did I, Baker-One. What was that last explosion?”

“The hanger out on the field. Looked like a seven-oh-seven. I don’t know if I should add this, but I’m sure I saw stars and stripes on its nose.”

I looked at Hewes, but spoke again to Mahindru. “You were not mistaken, Baker-One. What’s it like out there?”

“Looks like a bloody mess from here, colonel. But that’s not what you mean, is it? Other than that it’s clear. No air traffic on the scope. Not even over Kinshasa International. Not surprising, really.” He added, “You do know that you almost shot me down with some of your building, don’t you?”

I smiled. “Sorry ‘bout that. I was aiming for the hospital. Any signs of military traffic on the roads?”

Mahindru laughed. “This is why you find me so calm, colonel.
Nothing
is moving on the roads!  Not any more. You hit a couple of cars with your impetuous burst of building fire. East is not too bad, but west is an almighty tailback. I’m...wait a bit, Charlie-One, I’m getting something from my partner.” The W/T fell silent.

Hewes said, “That was my aircraft.” He sounded angry but looked scared to death.

I shrugged. “I think you had better get out of here as fast as your legs will carry you, old son.” I nodded around at the litter of bodies. “My men are out there doing what comes naturally to mercenaries. They’re looting. Which includes the robbing of bodies dead or alive.” I turned to Abbas. “Tell the men they’ve got ten minutes. Anyone who doesn’t make that deadline gets left behind .Make sure they know that.”

He nodded and ran out.

Mahindru came back on the air. “Charlie-One!”

“I’m here.” I could easily have curled up and gone to sleep.

“You could have problems after all, colonel.”

I had been wondering when the real problems would start. It had been too damned easy. Or had it? I had probably missed the real fight, sleeping down in the corridor. “Tell me.”

“Baker-Two overflew the airfield to check on the explosion. He reports a large body of men approaching your position from the south. I’m heading there myself.” I heard a chopper pass over the building. “He says there’s something like two, three hundred...Yes, be damned! I see them now! A small bloody army. Two trucks, the rest on foot...Not military...At least, they don’t
look
military. But...hell! Can you believe it? They’re bloody waving at me!”

I grunted. Just like the last time. Goddam patriots come out to put in their three cent’s worth. Mercenaries are girl scouts compared to patriots come out to put in their three cent’s worth. I said, “Come back in and pick us up, Baker-One. And send out that affirmative on the frequency I gave you.”

“Copilot’s doing it now. Coming back in..,.”

I looked at the American. He looked at me, eyes wide and pleading. I raised a finger at him. “You should be dead now. I hope you realize that.” If I had known then what I came to know later, he would have been. He certainly will be should our paths ever cross again. I stepped out of the carnage hall and left him to it.

 

TWENTY

 

In common with most of the Middle East, Africa is a land of the contingency plan. Everyone  with money to salt away has one, even if it consists only of banking one’s hard earned gains elsewhere. The financial houses of Central Africa in particular do a roaring trade in monthly money orders, expatriate and otherwise, from which the post offices also benefit. It was hardly surprising, therefore, that the first expatriates to hear the guns at the Luana Garrison were the first to clear whatever
float
they held in whichever of the Kinshasa banks they utilized. The next stop would be the nearest airline office. It was also hardly surprising that those participants in the yacht race through which Mahindru had led the two helicopters, and whose craft were still keel-under and capable of being steered, would, upon the realization that yet another take-over bid was in progress, moor their expensive playthings on the
Congo
side of the river, then dingy-it back into Zaire to do what had to be done - if they felt they had to.

News of the attack upon the Luana garrison spread amazingly quickly - the man on the hospital roof notwithstanding. Within two minutes of the first shot being fired, the telephone lines out of Kinshasa were clogged. But this did not stop the flow of information on a more international level. One radio message from the French air traffic controller at Kinshasa International Airport, a bare six miles from the scene of the conflict, and well within earshot of at least the grenade explosions, lit a hundred fuses and confirmed electronic surveillance data being picked up by the dozen or so orbiting satellites.

Amazingly, even as Robbie McCann and his section were running through the orchard after the massacre on the football pitch, communist officials in Beijing were asking Chi Luang, in Brazzaville, very searching questions indeed. Luang found himself totally unable to help them.

The truth hit Washington, D.C. only seconds later. And before Aaron Motanga had suffered his final indignity all the interested parties knew what had happened, in varying degrees of detail. Some took the news stoically, philosophically; others screamed their heads off and demanded reasons and explanations.

Seated in front of the radio in the basement of Casa Bianca, some twenty-five miles to the north-east of the Luana garrison, Jean-Paul Winterhoek sagged forward onto his forearms as the tightly-wound tension released itself within him. In an impassioned whisper, he breathed, “Great God alive! We’ve done it!”

Jan Bluthen was too utterly spent to feel anything tangible. He raised the telephone receiver to his ear and spoke to the man waiting in Matadi, on the northern Angola border with Zaire. “It’s done, Mark,” he said simply, tiredly, and he handed the receiver to Winterhoek, who had risen out of his seat.

“Mark...” said Winterhoek.

“Congratulations, sir,” said Mark Reteif, SAI’s political desk coordinator.

“Thank you,” replied Winterhoek with a tight smile. “You may transport Lumimba to Kinshasa straight away. By the time you arrive the Luana garrison will be occupied by his own people.”

“We will take off immediately, sir. Have you any details I can give...” In Matadi, Reteif hesitated yet to refer to Lumimba as president. He settled for a straight mister. “,,,mister Lumimba in the meantime?”

“All we know is that Aaron Motanga is dead, along with certain as yet unidentified members of his staff, plus some one hundred and fifty of his supporters. The rest, including the nullification of Motanga’s
Lion Force
, will be up to Roderick Lumimba himself. He knows this. Major Bluthen has arranged that he be met at the garrison by Joseph Beni, his ex-Chief of Staff. Here, Mark, our entanglement most definitely ends. When you have made your delivery, fly straight here. Good-bye for now.”  He handed the receiver back to Bluthen, who replaced it on its rest.

“And now,” Winterhoek said, moving to the door leading up the ground floor, “I am in need of a quiet stroll in the gardens.”

“And colonel McCann, sir?”

Winterhoek took several deep breaths before replying. “What could we tell him, major?  We do not know ourselves exactly what transpired at Camp-One. I daresay he will inform
us
when he arrives back there himself.” He opened the door and started up the stairs. Bluthen followed.

“I meant...after that, sir.”

Winterhoek paused. “After that, major, we shall see. For the moment, I would be obliged if you would arrange for some tea to be brought out to the patio. We have several hours to wait. Let us use them wisely. To recuperate, Hm?”

 

*

 

In Washington, Conrad Mitchell held one of the telephones in his right hand. He moved that hand closer to the cradle and broke the connection with the index finger. Fighting? In Kinshasa? Was the man crazy or what! There was no-one left
to
fight! The intercom rasped. Mitchell punched the button. “Yes, Molly?”

“Lee Barclay on three, sir.”

“Right.” Mitchell lifted another phone, replacing the first. He depressed a button that would bring in line three. “Yes, Lee?”

“An intercept from RSS, sir.”

Mitchell nodded up at the flag. A fuck-up all round, Abe, he thought. He knew exactly what the
Remote Satellite Sensing
boys had come up with. “Let’s hear it.”

“I quote, sir...
significant heat signatures area Luana airfield. Indicative armed conflict...
Unquote.”

Mitchell sighed. He knew that RSS could home in on a flaring match if they so desired, and this from 300 miles up. So the voice on the other end of the African line was not that of a raving lunatic after all. Mitchell saw a light on the intercom panel flashing urgently; Molly’s way of telling him that the new call was more important than the one currently in progress. He said, “Thank you, Lee. You’d better get on up here.” He hit the disconnect button, then the one under the flashing light. He did not need his secretary to tell him who he was about to speak to.

“Mitchell,” he confirmed, raising his eyebrows at the flag.

“Mitch!” The President. “What in hell’s name is going on? I’ve just received word that - “

“I know, mister president,” Mitchell cut in, “But I haven’t got the nuts and bolts of it yet. The last word I received from Arnold Hewes was that Lauter’s team had completed the run and was on the way in. He called from Motanga’s H.Q. not thirty-five minutes ago. Spoke to him personally.”

“God damn it, Mitch!” spat the president, “You’d better come up with more than that, and pretty damned soon. If anything happens to Arnie...” He let that hang in the ether, then added, “Do we at least know who is fighting who?”

Mitchell was not about to be browbeaten. “One
who
, we do know. That’s the Luana garrison, which
is
Motanga’s H.Q..” He rushed on, “The other
who
, we do
not
know. Not for certain. Our man on the spot received word that two unmarked helicopters, troop carriers, were seen in the immediate area seconds prior to the first shots being fired. I think we must assume that these aircraft were part of the attack, in which case they have to be the ones we discussed earlier...We seem to have missed out by a matter of hours only.”

Silence. Then, “I want details, Mitchell. And I want them fast and furious!” The line went dead.

Mitchell replaced the receiver and flicked the disconnect button. To the flag, he said, “Get your knitting out, Abe. Heads are about to roll. I can feel it in my bladder.”

 

*

 

In London, Sir Roger Allison, Director General of S.I.S., was on the telephone to the Prime Minister. The text and general ambiance of this call was almost carbon copy to the one which had just taken place across the Atlantic Ocean. “...Anything above that, sir,” he was saying, “would be pure speculation.”

“Then, by all means, speculate,” came the PM’s measured reply.

“Well, sir, we are assuming that the attack is under the command of the mercenary McCann, and that he acts,
now
, under the direction of an as yet unidentified third party. I personally am inclined to point the finger at our friend Jean-Paul Winterhoek, though, I have to say, our man on the spot leans towards the Americans. In either case, should the attack succeed in de-seating Aaron Motanga, then we can reasonably expect Lumimba to step back into office. Signs indicate, in fact, that such a move is already taking place, in tandem with the attack.”

“And if it fails?”

“If it fails, sir, then I think we will all of us have taken several steps back from the conditions prevailing at the commencement of our operation. Namely, chaos of possibly catastrophic proportions. I am not a policy-maker, Prime Minister, but if I were asked to state a preference...”

For a moment the Prime Minister declined to implied invitation. Then he said, “Which way would you fall, Sir Roger?”

The D.G. paused. “Given the situation as it stands at present, regardless of reasons and explanations, sir, I would hope for the attack to succeed. Whether South Africa is involved, or not, they would certainly hold an advantage with Lumimba back in power. Perhaps the devil one knows, sir, is in many ways preferable to the devil one does not.”

“I take it, then,” said the Prime Minister, deliberately not responding to the D.G.’s opinion, “that there is absolutely nothing we can do now to sway matters either way.”

“Correct, sir. The situation is currently out of
anyone’s
hands. Except, of course, those of the protagonists themselves. In due course the smoke will clear, as it always does. Until then I can only suggest a watch-and-wait maxim.”


Exactly
back where we started, Sir Roger, if you ask me.”

“From an intelligence standpoint, yes, sir.”

“I see. Very well, sir Roger. Thank you for calling. I will be at this number for the remainder of the day.”

 

*

 

Isa bin Mohammed bin Isa was an Omani Arab, and he positioned this fact in the forefront of his mind as he listened to the not-too-distant sounds of gunfire and grenade explosions from the window of his home on the south-east bank of the Pool Malebo. He was an Arab first, and a member of Aaron Motanga’s advisory council a very poor second. Besides, he had warned the council of the growing support for ex-president Lumimba, in exile in the Sudan; had warned them that the signs here in Kinshasa indicated positive action of some kind. And here it was - action of the most positive kind.

He glanced down the garden at his power boat, a Brooks Caprice, moored to the jetty he had only recently completed. Then he looked out over the sunlit and sparkling waters of the Pool, over beyond the islands of Kole and Lomela and the larger mass of Urugui, over to where the semi-skyscrapers of Brazzaville glimmered whitely through the heat haze, and he wondered if, before the day was out, he would be forced to show a clean pair of heels. For Isa bin Mohammed bin Isa (Isa
son of
Mohammed
son of
Isa) had no illusions. As a foreign advisor to Aaron Motanga, and an out-spoken one at that, he would be high on any rebel “hit list”. The problem was that Isa spoke common sense, and if the council did not appreciate that, there were others who did.

At that moment, Brook’s grenade detonated in the arms store and the sound of the succeeding explosion rolled across the landscape like the approach of doom. Isa’s 28 year old wife, a pretty Bahraini called Miriam, her face a mask of concern, stepped beside him and slipped a beringed hand into the crook of his arm.

“It is bad, is it not.” she said in Arabic.

Isa sighed. Though he had known what was bound to happen sooner or later, he found himself strangely unprepared to accept the inevitable. He replied in the same language. “It only
sounds
bad, habibiti. No need to worry. The army will deal with it.”

Miriam smiled wanly. “You know that is not true. The army is many miles from Kinshasa...at least, the army still loyal to Aaron Motanga is. Have you not been lamenting that fact for some days?”

Isa patted her hand. “There is the Fatunda garrison, Miriam. They must arrive soon.”

“But,” Miriam began. Then she stopped herself. She had been about to say that the loyalty of the Fatunda garrison was in doubt. Isa knew this himself. It had been another bone of his contention, and he would not need reminding of it.

Isa again patted her hand. “It will be all right.”

Minutes passed.

The firing and the explosions finally died. Miriam steeled herself. “Telephone Kharim, habibi. Ask him.”  She knew she was over-stepping the bounds of her Arabic womanhood, but in this instance she felt compelled to do so. Kharim al Thani was the Omani ambassador to Zaire, and a close personal friend. He had access to knowledge beyond that of a member of the advisory council. Miriam felt that her husband was refraining from calling him simply because to do so would be to admit that the situation was serious, thereby giving her real cause to worry. But she could not possibly have been more worried than she was at that moment.

BOOK: Place of Bones
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