Read Place of Bones Online

Authors: Larry Johns

Tags: #Adventure, #Thriller

Place of Bones (6 page)

BOOK: Place of Bones
8.14Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

An hour later they were still wandering the gardens.

“Perfect terrain for an ambush, sir,” Bluthen was saying. “And you must be right; even a bombing strike on this Kanyamifupa place would not succeed totally. The worst damage Motanga could inflict, being realistic, would be a dispersal.”

Winterhoek flapped a hand in the air. “Besides which, major, of all the current protagonists, only McCann knows precisely where the damned place is. No, Motanga -  plus the British, of course - was  more or less obliged to allow McCann unimpeded access to
some
kind of staging area.”

“Yes, sir. And it would be typical of Aaron Motanga to insist upon something

fairly -
very
- spectacular, in exchange for the Mai-Ntombi Tract concession. The Americans offered vast sums for that; plus God knows what else. And he turned
them
down flat!”

“Quite. So the Brits wave a big stick at McCann’s daughter, which has apparently persuaded him to do something that goes very much against his grain...or why would they need the stick in the first place?”

“Oh, absolutely,” put in Bluthen, very much enjoying the game now.

“So, major...The meat of the matter. What if the Brits no longer had the daughter to wave their stick
at
? What if
we
had her?”

Several seconds passed as Bluthen considered this. There was a certain irony about the possibility that appealed to him. And it was very definitely the kind of positive move he had been waiting to get his teeth into. Then again, he reasoned, where would it get them? What would be the end result? At last he said, “But what would we gain from that, sir? The Brits would lose out, certainly. And probably the Chinese. Though, perhaps,” he shrugged, “only in the short term.” He quickly added, “But that was our original goal anyway. Wasn’t it, sir?”

“As you remark, major...And?” Winterhoek’s tone rose sharply to the question.

Bluthen knew he was missing something, but could not for the life of him think what it was. He sighed, shrugged. Winterhoek clucked his tongue. “Devious thinking, major. I’m always saying that. Now, come along. How can we gain the advantage?”

Bluthen thought hard. He had already realized that Winterhoek was way ahead of him, that their next move would already be mapped out in his mind. This was a game the older man played with those under him. Sometimes it could be downright irritating, others, it could be tutorial. An idea did spring into Bluthen’s mind, but he discarded it. Aaron Motanga hated the new South Africa administration with a passion. None the less, he said, “But Motanga would not deal with us, sir. Not under any circumstances
I
can think of.”

Winterhoek smiled. The man was on the right track, anyway. “Of course Motanga will not deal with us. So, who would?”

“Pardon, sir?”

Winterhoek stifled his exasperation. “Who
would
deal with us...In
Zaire
?”  Now he did not wait for an answer. “Very well, major, I will tell you. Roderick Lumimba would deal with us. Or, at the very least, he would be less of a threat than Aaron Motanga is currently proving.”

Bluthen gave a nervous chuckle. “But Lumimba is in ex...ile.”  The last word was uttered with a pronounced rallentando, plus a suddenly understanding dimenuendo. “You mean...”

Winterhoek nodded briskly. “That is
precisely
what I mean! And if we are quick off the mark we can damned-well achieve it!” His pace quickened automatically; his movement seemed always to be governed by the speed of his current thinking. “I need a safe house in neutral territory. Where do you suggest?”

Bluthen struggled to keep up with his superior, both in pace and mental dexterity. “Ah...We have two I can conjure up on the spur of the moment, sir. One in Kisimiso, Somalia. On the coast. That’s the mid-east transit station. We ran the Kenyan operations from there. It’s rarely used now, of course. A man called Kara-Munte runs it; from our pocket. And we have another in Soroti, north of Kampala. That one was the Uganda forward station; we use it now as a sort of Rest and Recreation base for all Central Africa operations.”

“Run by whom?”

“SAI Central, sir, in a roundabout sort of way. At least, it is debited to Central funds, and is the actual property of Central. But, to
my
knowledge, only
we
use it... Oh, and the East Africa station on the odd occasion.”

“That will be the one, then. Have it cleared and held in readiness to receive one female occupant and a baby-sitter. Ryan is the man for that job, methinks.

“I’ll see to it, sir. I think it’s unoccupied at the moment, in any case. If not, I’ll transfer whoever’s there to Kisimo.”

Winterhoek nodded. “Which also leads me to Vryburg...”

“The second in command?”

“How many Vryburg’s d’you know, major?” said Winterhoek dryly, caught up in the urgency of his plans. “Yes, him. Where is he now?”

“In Uganda, sir. The Chinese have already talked to him.”

Winterhoek grunted. “And now
we
will talk to him. Get a man on it straight away. We do not have to buy the man, after all. We’ll simply use him as a messenger.”  He stopped in his tracks. “But do not make contact until I say so!  I just need a man up there, standing by. And I am to be kept informed both of his movements, and his
intended
movements. Is that clear?”

“Clear, sir,” said Bluthen, though he knew that the latter would not be as easy as the glib delivery of the instruction.

“Good. And while we’re at it, let’s talk about security. I want Brazzaville clamped up tight. As a drum! For a beginning, dispose of Luang’s man.”

Bluthen pursed his lips. “That could mean reprisals, sir. I’m thinking of Reynolds. I’m afraid we are still unable to contact him.”

“You can’t make omelets without breaking eggs, major. Do it!”

As they returned to the French windows Bluthen, yet again, wondered how many generals throughout history had used that term, and how many needless deaths had been caused because of it.

 

 

FOUR

 

Eric Walton was a short, thick-set and a poker-faced individual. His ex-wife had often described him as a stubborn mule, both in looks and disposition. This description, in the latter respect  - the former being little short of a calculatedly unkind dig -  was apt. Except that his ex-wife, the only daughter of a university professor, labored under the mistaken belief that Walton was mulish by nature. He was not. The image was a cloak beneath which he found it easier to do his job, and which all too readily - under provo-cation - adapted to domestic needs. Without the job, he always maintained - if only to himself - he would be quite an easy-going, pleasant sort of man to be with.

At about the time that Jean-Paul Winterhoek was waking from his much-needed sleep, five countries away to the north, Walton was easing his aching shoulders. Then he glanced at his watch. Five minutes more. He looked out the windscreen at the sky. “Red sky night...” he intoned to no-one but himself, “Shepherds delight...” He looked up at the lighted windows of Karen McCann’s second floor flat, and he sighed. What a palsied way to earn a living! And, God! what a tediously boring day; just like yesterday, and the day before, and the day before that!

It would not be so bad, he thought, if he had been told more details of the brief. But here was the S.I.S. “need-to-know” maxim at work. Just keep tabs on her; his control officer had instructed him. Lose her at your peril, and all that rubbish. Later, came the sweetener, you will be told when to take positive action. Whatever that had meant.

It had begun of a promising enough note. But as the days wore on it had proved the height of nothing at all. The girl herself was involved in nothing, she did nothing, she took him nowhere. The kids she knocked around with offered exactly the same fever pitch of excitement.

The girl lived the shallow life of a student nurse. Nothing more, nothing less...How the hell could there be
less
!  Whatever the reason for the assignment, Walton was convinced; it had nothing to do with her, personally. She, then, he reasoned, was a stray end waiting to be pulled in and sewn into the greater scheme of things. It had to be that.

She left her flat on weekdays at 8am and took the bus to the end of Roodenpoort Road. She laughed and gossiped her way up Roodenpoort Road with the other students and entered the gates of the college almost invariably at 8-29. She was seen again at lunchtime, usually eating sandwiches on the lawn. More giggling and gossiping. College got out at 4-30. She would spend a few minutes at the gates, ditto the giggling and gossiping, then she would walk back down Roodenpoort Road to the bus stop. And so back the flat in Jermain Street. Some evenings she spent at home. Others, she and several other girls would go out to one or other of the discos in town. The night before last she had gone out on a date with some pimply-faced South African, and there had been a kiss or two on the steps afterwards. All riveting stuff.

Yesterday evening, she and her two flatmates had bussed over to Springs, where they had seen one of the “Terminator” films at the Odeon. This evening she was up there in the flat listening to Madonna tapes. (Walton had placed a bug up there, back in the halcyon days when he thought she might have been into something meaty)   Walton was never very strong on pop music; now he hated it to distraction - especially that blasted Madonna freak! Now, after the umpteenth time through the McCann girl’s most recent addition, he whiled away the long hours inventing filthy end-words to the lines of the songs as they came tinnily out of the receiver’s ‘speaker. All of which, Walton was convinced, was no way to spend the British taxpayer’s money.

He sighed a deep and heartfelt sigh and checked his watch again, as “the voice” droned on in the background. It was now eight-thirty and Clancy, the night watchman, was late again.

Bob Clancey, a thirty-seven year old South African, was an S.I.S. “occasional”, a “sleeper”. And he was Brown’s single concession to the McCann girl surveillance, it having been recognized that Walton had to sleep sometime. Clancey ran a smalltime, one-man detective agency in Johannesburg, and his motivation for accepting the odd back-up job for S.I.S, was money. Hence, his loyalty would always be questionable, and his brief minimal. Walton wondered if it was as minimal as
his.
He had also wondered why, if the girl was so all fire important to something or other, Brown had not seen fit to employ two or three front line S.I.S. field men for the job. His guess - correct, as it happened -  was that such a large scale operation would be akin to hanging a sign around all their necks that read: “Secret and highly important”  Clancey, obviously, was a last resort.

Walton heard Karen McCann’s voice above the hi-fi. “Are you seeing Tony again tomorrow?”

There was a clatter that sounded like plate on plate. So they were doing the washing up. Electrifying. Another voice said, “Well, he did ask...” Walton was not certain who this one belonged to. Both the girl’s flatmates had similar voices, and one of them had gone out somewhere. “But, are you going?” That was Karen again.

“D’you think I should?”

Walton allowed himself to slide limply down the seat. Jesus, he thought acidly, was there nothing else in these girl’s lives but boys, periods and allied pains, and bloody pop music! A man could go spare!

“It’s up to you.”

      Walton hissed, “Of course it’s bloody-well up to her! Who the hell else is it up to?”

Clatter, clatter, croon, croon. “What do you think of him?”

“Oh, he’s all right, I suppose. Not my type.”

The other voice, probably the girl Karen called Petch, sounded dubious. “Not sure he’s mine either.”  Clatter, clatter. “Tea?”

“Please...You should go anyway. You never know.”

Walton glared at the receiver. “Never know what?” Then he saw Clancey’s car pull up under a streetlamp a hundred yards up the street. He nodded appreciatively. Clancey never parked in the same place twice. “You’ll go far, my son,” he said, firing up his engine.

With a sigh of sweet relief he switched his “bug” off.

 

At 12-30pm the following day Walton was double-parked in the busy Alberton Street. It was Saturday and the shoppers were out in their droves. Crowds were always a problem. But, at least, Saturday meant a day without parking tickets. It meant something else for Walton, too. It meant that where it was hardly likely to be a riveting day, it might be a slightly less boring one. The previous Saturday Karen McCann had done several things; she had had her hair done; visited several clothes shops; had coffee with a couple of her buddies in a Wimpy-style bar. She had bought groceries, posted a letter, sat in the park, had an ice cream, then taken the bus home. The highlight of her day had been a date with one of the male students, a boy she called Martin. This hopeful had wined, dined and danced her at the Heaven and Hell disco, getting her back home at the ungodly hour of one-thirty am. He had gone up for a goodnight coffee, had tried it on, had been rejected fairly forcibly - much to Walton’s delight - and had slunk off with his tail between his legs. Walton slept in the car Saturday and Sunday nights, because Clancey refused to work weekends, so he was usually crooned to sleep by “The Voice”  What, he had asked himself many times, had he done to deserve this!

Today, Karen McCann was again at the hairdresser’s. Which, to Walton’s currently jaundiced mind, was another thorough waste of money. She would spend a full 90 minutes in the place, to emerge looking exactly the same as when she walked in. And today, he managed to persuade himself, was no exception. She stepped back onto the crowded street at 12-45.

“You could have done
that
for free, girl,” Walton said aloud, starting his engine, “Five minutes out in a hailstorm...”

The next stop was the DeGroot Street Wimpy bar and a late lunch. Walton parked well up the street, bought some sandwiches from a nearby baker’s shop, and ate them sitting on a kerbside bench under one of the silver birch trees. He hoped she had something out-of-doors planned for them this afternoon; the weather was too perfect to sit in an oven of a car.

Karen McCann reappeared from the Wimpy bar at 3-30. She turned left down DeGroot and headed for the bus station. Walton gripped the steering wheel tighter. “Take the one to the park,” he urged her. “Or the zoo. I could use a nice long walk...”

She took the 790 back to her flat.

 

*

 

Dawn on the Congo River.

A pale and liquid sun rose above the distant, unseen horizon, its warming rays turning the bed of river-mist into a sea of fluffy ice, slowly thinning and revealing the small convoy of ancient river craft passing close to the mud flats that marked the confluence of the Congo and the Zaire rivers; a huge “Y” cut out of the forests. The convoy; three WW2 tugs and a battered, time-ravaged dumb-barge, moved slowly against the stream, the sound of the heavily-silenced diesel engines hardly more than a soft chuntering on the still, acrid-smelling air; barely enough sound to raise echoes from the closest wall of trees that encroached threateningly on the mile-wide, watery meeting place.

 

*

 

I was shattered. I needed sleep desperately, but sleep was not possible. I stood in the prow of the lead tug, my grit-filled eyes flicking rapidly between the water ahead; the fast disappearing bed of mist to my right; and the curtain of moss and creeper that hung in a tangle from the trees aback the nearest mud bank. There! Another eddy! I raised my right arm and the bow swung clear of the shoal, then steadied back on its shore-hugging course. The minutes ticked by agonizingly slowly, as the sun began to burn my right cheek.

Ten minutes later it was almost possible to see the other side of the confluence. But one or two wispy patches of mist remained. Enough, though barely, to confuse an early-riser in the Zaire-side village of Bhomi. I had hoped to have been clear of this, the real danger spot, before sunrise. But some trouble hooking up the dumb-barge had delayed our departure from Loukolela by over an hour - now the chance had to be taken, for there was nowhere within too many miles to conceal the convoy from the fishing craft that would put out from Bhomi as soon as the sun settled in the sky.

Later, the danger passed, I put aside my AK and, for the first time in days, it seemed, I stretched my stiff and aching muscles. The night had been a bad one, where I had been hoping for a cakewalk. But it had been bad for everyone, not just me. And not least for the men who had nothing to do but squat out of sight below the deck coaming as, impossibly, we pursued our upstream course deeper into Zaire.

I sniffed the air. God! Two things never change in the rain forests; the trees and the smell of rot and decay. The air is always pungent, sometimes gaseous, and it always contains within it as much taste as smell. I gathered up a wad of spittle and sent it over the side. The water was almost black, and the froth kicked up by the prop was a dirty grey. I glanced back at the other vessels. They were keeping good station, coping well with the pernickety currents and sudden eddies.

Directly behind me, the closest of them almost touching my legs, in the cargo space forward of the high wheelhouse, sat crouched twenty of my new command; a small sea of as-yet unfamiliar faces, the skin pigment ranging from chocolate-brown to full-blooded ebony. Silent, they were, thoughtful. Clad in jungle-green camouflage fatigues and forage caps, weapons held in their laps as instructed. The whites of forty eyes glinted at me. I nodded at no-one in particular. Every head nodded back at me amidst a growl of acknowledgments. I would get to know some of them later. Some I would probably never even speak to directly.

Aft of the wheelhouse were twenty more men, plus over two tons of crated equipment, the crates all bearing the hieroglyphic scrawl of Chinese characters. So far Luang had lived up to his promise. The equipment I had ordered, right down to the balloons for the radio aerial, was all there. Also, we had gotten out of the Congo unobserved by anyone; the Loukolela landing stage had been deserted.

I glanced up at the wheelhouse and could see the vague shapes of two men; Tony Augarde, one of the three Europeans, and the helmsman. Augarde, an Englishman, seemed competent enough, but it was far too early to make judgments on anyone.

In the second tug were fifty more strange faces, plus several tons of equipment. And it was the same on the trailing vessel. The dumb-barge was strung between them; a seventy-foot monstrosity of riveted steel, little more than a floating hull, whose only serviceable point was that it did actually float. In it was the sheer weight of the equipment and stores - a ten-ton, ex-American army truck plus trailer, the two armed jeeps of similar vintage, the generators, the bales of inflatable Mylar tents, two small portacabins, the vacuum-sealed rations containers, bedding and fly sheets, pots and utensils, the water purifying plant, and everything else a small army needs to survive and fight in the jungle.

Augarde left the wheelhouse and swung down over the rail, his equipment, festooned in true mercenary-style around his body, rattled and clattered as he landed on deck. The dark faces swung on him now, and watched as he picked his way forward through the clutter.

“Sixty kays to the Giri, sir, he reported huskily. His eyes were red-rimmed from the night of intense concentration upon a river that was more sensed than seen, and his skin had a pallid look to it, despite a good tan. He had told me he was a West Country man, though his accent, I had thought, sounded vaguely Canadian. He looked as rough as I felt. He added, “Are we going straight through?”

BOOK: Place of Bones
8.14Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

Other books

Secret of the Slaves by Alex Archer
Full of Money by Bill James
City 1 by Gregg Rosenblum
Vicious Circles by Leann Andrews
The Rogue Not Taken by Sarah MacLean
Nobody's Baby but Mine by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
A Spy Among the Girls by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
Suitable Precautions by Laura Boudreau
The Dance Off by Ally Blake