“We have to get Precious away from those fancy thugs. If we don’t they will get this whole area under their control and kick everyone out. While they are about it they are likely to do serious harm to Precious. She is head strong enough to resist being forced to sign over her mineral rights.”
Moses sat looking at me as I paced back and forth with pent up tension across the fire from him.
“There isn’t time to call in the police, and even then no crime has yet been committed. She is going with them of her own free will. Only we can deal with it.”
“We have taken care of thing so many times in the past. Remember how it was always urgent. We were constantly tired until the shooting started and the adrenalin kicked in. So suck it up old buddy.. Save your sleep for tomorrow. We have work to do.”
“Alan said that Escobar’s men always packed side-arms.” Moses asked calmly, “I would assume those two have iron. What do we do about those?”
“That is a challenge.” I admitted, ” But if we do things right there won’t be any shooting, at least not from us.”
I sat listening to the sounds of the night, with a buzz of adrenaline scratching at the windows of my mind, wanting to burst in with a mixture of anxiety and euphoria.
“The pontoon has shut down for the night. Our options are either wait until morning to cross with a vehicle to get to Hippo Lodge before their charter plane picks them up, or head down by boat as soon as we are ready.
Moses thought for a while, “We cannot depend on the pontoon crew getting going early enough.
if we go by boat we catch them while they are sleeping for a sneak operation.”
“Yes.” I agreed, “The problem is motoring on the river at night with its obstacles. But in reality it is our only option. If we do it right they won’t be able to take advantage of firepower. We can get in close and out before they have a chance to start shooting.”
We both sat staring at the fire..
“Hippo lodge is about thirty kilometers downstream from here.
If we motor slowly we should average ten kilometers an hour. We will drift as we get close to hippo so they don’t hear our approach.
It should take three hours to get there.
We can land upstream. I will stay with the boat and you can move in to do a reconnaissance to check for a night watchman. I doubt there will be. Like here, it is too far out in the Bush for them to worry about human thievery. If there isn’t one you can move down to the dock, flash a light, and I will come in with the boat. Otherwise come back here. We can move in on foot and pick the best escape path before we check the chalets. A half hour should be enough to search.
If I remember they have 6 chalets. We will split them between us, starting with those closest to their chitenge. They will be the most likely occupied. Initially we should do a non-intrusive search. Listen outside for sounds of breathing or snoring. Those two Latins are in their late 40s, at some stage they will make sleep sounds.
If after half an hour we haven’t figured out Precious’s chalet,we will start intrusive searches.
You can pretend to be a night watchman.” I grinned as I said, “You look unsophisticated enough for that role. “
“If one of the Latins wakes you can say you have come to warn that there is a lion on the prowl outside. Tell them to stay inside until you give the OK. But be quick about it. In, out and on to the next chalet before questions can be asked.”
Once we find precious, we need to immediately identify ourselves. Shine a flashlight on your face so that she can recognize you quickly. If we are checking separate chalets, give a low whistle We can converge to help.
As we both know from surprising people in Angola, Initially she will be startled and confused. We will feed her a positive narrative. No telling her that she has been kidnapped in a setup. No saying that she is being rescued. It would upset her even more. She may even resist us, because her tendency will be to go with the two thugs, who she will still believe are her saviors. Our narrative will be there has been a change of plans. Tell her that her benefactors called Mustafa on satellite phones to say the charter will be leaving from Lufupa further downstream. They needed another boat, so we have been asked to farrier down. We can say the two Latins have already departed. Being nice guys, they let her sleep some more while they get things organized at Lufupa. We will urge her to be quick, because it is late. If she still wants her lucky break she must hurry, hurry big time. We will count on a person’s tendency to keep moving towards their hopes. Once we are away we can let her know what is going on.”
“What if things go wrong?” Moses asked. “As we both know, few plans survive the first meeting with the enemy.”
“We will improvise as usual.” I replied. “I will forcibly take her to the boat,. At the same time you should go to the far end of the Lodge where the road heads towards the airfield. Make a lot of noise and shining of your flashlight, to draw attention away from the river. I will then take the boat back up to where I stopped to let you off. I will wait for you to join me there.
Either way, once all of us are in the boat, we will motor about three clicks upstream. If things go smoothly and
it is still not fully light we will wait for good light on the opposite bank. It will be too dangerous going against the flow of the river in the gloom. That will take more throttle,. I don’t want to hit a rock with the propeller and break it. Especially when we go through the rapids at the confluence.
You know the motto, as old as the bible, ‘by deception they made war’. That’s how they got her into this mess, and by deception we will get her out.
Moses poked at the embers of the fire with a stick.
I rose and headed for the water spigot to clean my mug. “”Given the timing allocation, we will leave at one in the morning, which should get us there with enough time to operate in the dark, then have just enough dawn light to allow a fast getaway.
Go and get some sleep. I will check the boat and wake you when it is time to go.”
Moses looked at me. “When are the others leaving? Also tomorrow morning?””
“You are a dog after all!” I exclaimed in mock surprise. Even though neither of us were feeling particularly jovial, I still used the chance to pull his leg. “The scent of a bitch in heat is more important than sleep.”
“But no, apparently they are only leaving the day after tomorrow. So you will still have a chance to howl at the moon.”
The half-moon would be rising around the time we got to Hippo.
We drifted past our own lodge. There was no need to rouse suspicions. Who knew if Mustafa and the Latins had satellite phones. Once well downstream I hauled on its chord to start the engine. Aided by the flow of the current, our progress was thankfully uneventful. The only time we used our flashlights was as we were swept through the rapids at the Kafue – Lunga confluence. We both picked out the big rocks as best we could. With Moses calling out warnings I maneuvered the boat with sharp switches of direction to get between the big surges squeezed up by the boulders. Despite this we were still bumped and knocked about by a few of the lurking monsters beneath the surface.
Sure enough the sliver of the moon showed half a finger above the horizon as we approached Hippo Lodge. Cutting the engine I use the oars to edge the boat towards the shore as we drifted closer. I could barely make out the strut of the lodges decking when I pushed the prow into the bank. Stepping ashore after Moses, I took the tether rope, with its small anchor and set it at the top of the bank.
“Good luck.” I called quietly, as Moses silently felt his way up the steepness and disappeared into the shrubbery and darkness.
Twenty minutes later I saw the double flash downriver. The signal that all was clear. There was no night watchman. Pushing the boat into the current, using the oars, I scold down to where Moses waited. He pulled the tether to set it so the boats nose held against the small jetty.
I then joined him on the lawn in front of the chalets. The moon was now slightly higher which made it easier to move around without flashlights.
I was familiar with the lodge. Its chalets stretched out downriver. “I’ll take the first chalet, I whispered to Moses, you take the next.”
Moving quietly to stand outside a window I listened. After a few minutes a muffled sleepy cough came from within, a man’s cough.
I moved across to where Moses was standing, still and silent in the dark moon shadows next to a window. With his mouth centimeters from my ear he was barely audible as he whispered,, “No sounds.”
“Keep listening.” I whispered back. “I’ll check the next.”
As I listened a faint voice came from the direction of the staff quarters.
“Damn!” Some staff were already up to make coffe. Obviously the guests intended to leave very early.
No sounds came from within the chalet.
Moses moved back cat like. “There is a mug on the table outside the chalet.” he whispered. “It has a tea bag in it. I doubt our thugs are tea- drinkers…. we should risk a check inside.”
The first signs of dawn were on the horizon. Again a faint voice came from the staff area.
“OK, we have to take a chance. We have to speed things up. All we need is some staff member to come along with coffee for these clowns”.
The door open with a soft Creek and he tiptoed inside. I watched from the doorway. A mosquito net drooped down over a bed.
Its white mesh backlit the flashlights beam with the glare hiding whoever was sleeping under it.
Moses panned the light around the room. On the bedside table was a strand of snail shells .
Quickly I moved inside. “I’ll handle this. Go get the boat ready.”
Lifting the net, I shook the shoulder of the figure under the sheets.
Precious startled awake. Momentarily I pointed the being of my flashlight on my face, until I saw her expression of recognition.
At the same time I lifted a finger to my lips.
She loudly exclaimed, “What are you doing here?”
“Shhhh,” I again admonished, “be quiet there is a lion lurking right outside. “
This quietened he surprised grumblings. “What are you doing here?” she asked again quietly, but in an annoyed voice.
“We’ve come to take you to your charter,” I said. “Mustafa got a call from your friends to say that the charter had been changed to leave from Lufupa. He asked if we could ferry you downriver. So here we are.”
“What?” She exclaimed incredulously.
“Precious, we have no time to waste, we must get going. Put on some jeans and a sweater and your shoes. I will pack all the rest. We absolutely have to get moving if you are going to make it in time.”
I started throwing her stuff into a bag, as she reluctantly stepped into the toilet and donned the jeans.
“Where are Luis and Alex?” She asked.
“They already left.” I said as I led her past the first chalet and on towards where Moses was already sitting at the stern of our craft, with the start chord in his hand.
“Your pals were not all that concerned that you make it to them in time.”
“Hey.” Precious said suspiciously as she recognized Moses. “What’s going on? What is he doing here?”
It was getting lighter. It had taken 15 minutes longer than I had anticipated.
A figure stepped out from between the chalets, and walked out onto the lawn towards the river.
“Hey, let me off! Precious exclaimed loudly. “I can see Alex!”
The man stood for a moment, looking towards us in surprise, then turned and dashed back into his chalet.
I shoved Precious into the boat, tossing her bag and the anchor in after her. Above the clatter of the metal hitting the floor I sprang aboard and shouted to Moses, “Let’s get oout of here.”
Precious stood and tried to scramble back out. But Moses gunned the engine to baackk the boat out into mid channel which toppled her backwards to fall into my arms. I held her tight as she tried to scratch at my face. Gone was her friendliness of yesterday in the kitchen.
“Go, Go! I called urgently to Moses, “That son of a bitch will get his heat.”
Precious screamed at us, “Let me out, you idiots!”
Moses flicked the gears to forward and opened up full throttle. There was a familiar snapping sound, followed by an equally familiar thump.
A bullet had broken the sound barrier over our heads, followed a fraction of a second later by the report of its discharge.
Precious struggled to escape my grasp. She tried to pull herself up while making lunges for the side of the boat, as if she intended to jump into the river and swim to the bank. Shit, I thought, she is strong. She angrily slapped at my wrists as I continued to restrain her, while loudly exclaiming what was the matter with us, and what did we think we were doing.
Then there was a second crack over our heads, quickly followed by another. The sounds popped the baloon of her anger.
Unsure of herself she asked, “What is that?”
“Your heros are shooting at us.” I muttered as I ducked lower and pushed her head down.
She stop struggling and looked at me wit big scared eyes.
Moses had the throttle wide open. The boat was skimming ver the water. Every second we were presenting a smaller and smaller target.
I prayed that the river had come up high enough for us to avoid the rocks beneath the surface. A minute later I indicated for Moses to slow down. We were a few hundred meters upstream, and in the dimness of dawn, the likelihood of the shooter hitting any of us with a sidearm was low.
With a trace of fear in her voice Precious asked, “Are you all crazy?”
“Yes!” I said, “I don’t know why we’re doing this for you? Maybe it’s because we like you.”
I smiled at how she flicked her handed me dismissively and pouted her lips.
“Maybe I am too old for all sorts of things.” Then I couldn’t resist adding, “But I am not too old
to go around risking being shot to rescue pretty damsels in distress.”
I couldn’t help laughing to see how she glared at me.