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Authors: Larry Johns

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BOOK: Place of Bones
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              My current philosophy was that if I felt like nose-diving a few business ventures then I could afford to do so. So why the hell not?

              That was my short-term philosophy.

              My
long
-term philosophy was anyon
e’
s guess.

              And Komo was a great guy to have along on a directionless wander. His problem - which was also my problem in a manner of speaking - was that he was trying to get somewhere, to achieve something with his life, and he could
n’
t figure out why I was not. To which I could give him no rational answer. In hindsight, I know I should have given that more thought. It's amazing how easy it is to fool ourselves.

              I said
,“
Komo, I should
n’
t have to say this, but here it is, the bottom line on our future activities, W
e’
re going back to Harcourt and take a few days off. Maybe after that w
e’
ll go back after the gold. Then again, maybe we wo
n’
t. For sure not the plains. eh? But whatever we do, w
e’
ll do. And I do mean
we.
That is unless you want to zoom off and do your own thing someplace. In which case
I’
ll stake you for whatever you want. But
I’
d like to have you stick around. Do
n’
t ask me why, because yo
u’
re an ugly black bastard who steals all the good-looking girls without even trying
.

              Komo smiled at last. He nodded
.“I’
s true, boss. You right about that
.

              I grunted, the ice broken at last. But, in truth, all I had done was postpone the inevitable
.“
Right
,
” I said
,“
So ther
e’
s the money. Take six months wages in advance and give yourself a rise while yo
u’
re at it and do
n’
t ask any more stupid questions
.

              He nodded his sage nod
.“
Okay, boss
.
” He handed me back the wallet without going into it. He added
,“
Yo
u’
re a good man, bwana
.
” Komo was selective in his use of that word. It could be a mark of respect, a joke, or an insult.

              I said
,“
Bwana, eh
?

              He nodded, his face all cheery again
.“
All white people is bwana, boss
.

              I said
,“
That shows how much you know about white people, Komo
.

              He pulled a face
.“
There sure ai
n’
t no
black
bwanas, boss
.

              What could I say to that?

              I stopped the Land Rover and we changed seats. I pushed a wad of local currency, Naira, into Kom
o’
s pocket as he let in the clutch
.“
Do
n’
t forget to bank some of it
,
” I said.

              Komo kept this book on how much he was salting away for his rainy day. I added
,“
You coming back to the bungalow with me, or what
?

              He said
,“
Maybe I go see Kandy first
.

              Kandy was a local girl. I never knew her last name. She was Kom
o’
s irregular sex-stop, or was it the other way around? She waited tables down at the Forcados Oil Social Club, which was also one of Ponc
e’
s venues. They had a piano there that refused to die decently. Ponce never played at the big hotels and clubs. They had professionals in those places. We saw a lot of Ponce.             

              I said
,“
Okay
,
” and I pummeled my coat into a pillow, propped it against the window and had a sleep.

              There are a hundred things I can have nightmares about, the kind where you wake up in a cold sweat, shouting something. This time, probably because of the guy with the red hair, it was about The Keetmanshoop Retreat.

              Blast from the past.

              If someone ever writes
:“
A Concise History of Mercenary Warfare in Africa
,
” the Keetmanshoop Retreat will figure prominently.

              There were 78 of us. We had been paid to wipe out the Gemsbok Garrison in Twee Rivieron. Tha
t’
s on the Botswana/Namibia border. Except that someone else had been paid to drop that information in someone els
e’
s lap. Mercenary warfare is busy with such encumbrances. The garrison was waiting for us, fangs drawn and ready. We were blasted to hell and sent packing into Namibia proper. But it did
n’
t end there. The entire garrison, right down to the tea boys, plus a whole bunch of reinforcements that had appeared out of nowhere, followed us over the border. The running battle lasted seven weeks and we were harried this way and that.

              Rietfontain to Aroab.

              Aroab to Narubis.

              Narubis to Naute Dam, in the Fish River canyon, where we tried to make some kind of a stand.

              They sent in helicopter gun ships and fried us.

              We stole transports; trucks, from some mining company and cut west to the Konkiep River, ending up at Witputz. 56 of us now. It was at Witputz that we thought w
e’
d lost them.

              But they showed up again. Now with Namibian troops.

              Our number dwindled to 45.

              We had to leave the wounded behind.

              About that time we heard that our paymasters had pulled the plug and were disowning us. A few of the guys deserted. Just another occupational hazard.

              I offered the rest the opportunity of simply splitting and going our separate ways. No-one else took that option. Pride, I guess. Or sheer bloody-mindedness.

              Anyway, we made it to Luderitz, on the west coast, and scared the hell out of a whole bunch of miners who had somehow gotten mixed in with us right when the opposition called in more air strikes.

              Come dark one night we managed to commandeer some boats and slip south past them. This time we thought w
e’
d really lost them. We abandoned the boats and tried to steal an old Mitchell from an airfield owned by one or other of the mining outfits. By now we were down to below forty, plus some walking wounded. We had to try something pretty desperate, and one of the guys could fly aircraft.

              We almost made it. But one of the Mitchel
l’
s engines started coughing at the wrong moment and we piled up in a sand-drift, which accounted for 10 more dead and a limp that comes back to me in damp weather.

              After a halfhearted firefight with the airstrip guards we stole more trucks and hightailed it east into the Namib desert, eventually arriving back at Witputz. From Witputz for that second time we headed north to Keetmanshoop, where we knew there to be another airport.

              At Keetmanshoop we were decimated, right when we thought we had it made.

              Only seven of us got away in the trucks.

              A long, tired story later, three of us; myself, a Chinese called Wi Yang, and a Madagascan called Kooty, were back in the Fish River canyon. We had left dead and dying and condemned trailing in circles all over the country.

              Kooty called it The Rout of Civilization.

              Chitti, as we called Yang, said it was our just desserts.

              He was a deep man.

              We wintered in an abandoned mining camp a million miles from nowhere, living off lizards and the occasional desert deer and brackish water from an old well. Come spring we were three thin mercenaries.

              Chitti died on the trip north. From what, I do
n’
t know. He just wasted away and died. Three days from start to finish.

              At the Namib-Naukluft Park, which is not a park at all but a waste of sand with the odd rock sentinel, I drove the truck into a salt lake, one of several in that region, and the two of us hoofed it out to Walvis Bay, on the coast.

              My nightmares would often centreon an expanse of sloping sand upon which my feet could find no purchase.
I’
d just keep slipping and sliding, like on ice. Then Mark Travers, who was actually one of the first to die, would be flying this battered old Mitchell straight at me. H
e’
d be laughing. Then, just as the starboard prop was about to hit,
I’
d wake up.

              Usually screaming.

              Komo said
,“
You bin dreami
n
’ again, boss
.

              The air was hot and muggy and we were passing the Wangatto Timber Mills. My shirt stuck to my sweat-drenched skin. I smelt like a mountain bear
I’
d once had an argument with. I nodded over at Komo, thanking him for his observation, then I twisted over and tried to get back to sleep.

              I have this death wish about that particular nightmare.

             
I’
d really like to know if that prop would cut me to pieces.

              I knew it would
n’
t, but was interested to know how the subconscious part of me would handle the crunch.

              Maybe there was something just beyond that spinning, near-invisible prop that I ought to know about.

              This time my sleep was dreamless.

              When I woke up again the rain was coming down in a vertical torrent and Komo was fighting the wheel. We were skidding all over the place. There was never any point in telling Komo to slow down. So I nodded off again.

              This time it was a dream and not a nightmare.

              The guy with red hair was in it.

              So were our two lucky-missing bushwhackers.

              So were a couple of the Keetmanshoop boys.

              The venue was the Fish River Canyon.

              And I was swimming in a lake of dollar bills.

             

 

 

BOOK: Place of Bones
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