“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 plane arrives , or head down by boat as soon as we are ready.”
Moses wrinkled his brow as he also considered our options . “We cannot depend on the pontoon crew getting going early enough,” he said.
“But If we go by boat as soon as we are ready we catch them with a sneak operation while they are sleeping.”
“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 interfere.”
We sat staring at the fire..
“Hippo lodge is about thirty kilometers downstream. If we motor slowly we should average ten clicks an hour. We will drift as we get close so they don’t hear our approach. It should take three hours to get there.”
Moses nodded his agreement.
“We can land upstream and pole into shore. 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. 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.
We will split the chalets between us, starting with those closest to their chitenge. They will be the most likely occupied. Initially we can listen outside for sounds of breathing or snoring. Those two Latins are in their late 40s, at some stage they will make sleep noises.
If after twenty minutes we haven’t figured out Precious’s chalet,we will go in to check.
You can pose as a night watchman.” I grinned as I said, “You look unsophisticated enough for that role.”
“If one of the Latins wakes, 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.”
“I see you haven’t lost your ability to give a good pre-operational briefing.” Moses smiled at me.
“Listen my old buddy,” I said, “maybe our lives are not on the line this time, but my career for the rest of my life may depend upon the success of this operation”.
I went on with the briefing.
If you find precious, immediately identify yourself. Shine a flashlight on your face so that she can recognize you quickly. If we are checking separate chalets, give a low whistle like a reedbuck so that 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 could upset her. She may even resist us,. 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 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 take the boat back up to where I first stopped to let you off. I will wait for you there.
Either way, once all of us are in the boat, we will motor up to the rapids. If things go smoothly and it is still not fully light we will wait for good light. I don’t want to take the chance of hitting a rock in the rapids in the dark and breaking a propeller.”
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 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 quizzically. “When are the others leaving? Also tomorrow morning?” he asked.
“You are a dog after all!” I exclaimed in mock surprise.
Even though neither of us were feeling particularly jovial, I couldn’t resist the chance to tease him.
“Is the scent of a bitch in heat more important than sleep?”
I grinned at his scowl.
“But no,” I said, “Apparently they are only leaving the day after tomorrow. So you will still have a chance to howl at the moon.”
It was pitch black as we drifted silently past our own lodge. The quarter-moon would only be rising around the time we got to Hippo. There was no need to rouse suspicions. Who knew if Mustafa and the Latins had satellite phones.
Once we were beyond the silent lodge I hauled on its chord to start the boat’s engine. Aided by the flow of the current, our progress was thankfully uneventful. The only time we used our flashlights was while we were swept through the rapids below 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 about a few times by some of the biggest of the monsters beneath the surface.
But, as planned, the sliver of the moon showed half a finger above the horizon as we approached our destination. The outline of its structures were barely distinguishable in amongst the obscuring shapes of trees and bushes at the river’s edge.
Cutting the engine I used a long punt pole to edge the boat towards the shore. 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 in the mud of the river bank.
“Good luck.” I called quietly, as Moses silently felt his way up the steepness and disappeared into the shrubbery and darkness.
It seemed ages before a double flash flickered downriver. The signal that all was clear. There was no night watchman. Pushing the boat into the current, and once again using the pole, I guided the boat down to where Moses waited. He pulled the tether to set it so the boats nose held against the small jetty.
Moving stealthily I joined him on the lawn above the dock. The moon was now slightly higher making it easier to move around.
I was familiar with the lodge. Its chalets stretched out downriver. “I’ll take the first,,” I whispered.
Moving quietly to a position 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 mouthed theatrically 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.
Cat like, Moses moved back. “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 checking 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 somebody to come along with coffee for these clowns”.
The door open with a soft Creek as 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.”
The figure of a woman startled awake as I reached under the tentlike net and gently shook her shoulder.
“Precious,” I whispered urgently. “It’s me, Gidi.”
I pointed the beam of my flashlight on my face so that she could recognize me.
The figure responded with a short sharp screen.
Instinctively I quickly cupped my hand over her mouth.
“Be quiet.” I ordered. “There is a lion outside.” I was thinking fast “you need to pack and come with me and I don’t want to upset the animal.”
I lowered the beam of the flashlight onto her face. I could not suppress my sharp intake of breath
“Ohh shit.” I exclaimed.
There was both fear and anger on the face of a strange woman.
She blinked blindly in the brightness of the flashlight as she raised her hand to block its beam.
“Who are you?” She exclaimed loudly.
“I’m sorry, ” I said, I have the wrong person, I was looking for Precious.”
The sound of her screen and her loud voice must surely have woken the dead,let alone anybody else slumbering in the pre-dawn stillness .
“Do you know her?” I queried quickly.
“Of course I do.” The stranger retorted with annoyance.
“Do you know which chalet she’s in.” I asked. “I am the assistant manager here and only got in last night. Which is why we have not met. I apologize again for disturbing you.”
I was thinking quickly. I hope my explanation would calm her down.
The strange woman looked at me suspiciously, then pointed down the line. “The second chalet along.”
“Thank you.” I muttered as I darted out of the doorway into the night.
“Dammit.” I hissed to Moses. “That wasn’t precious. There Isn’t supposed to be anyone here except the two Latins and her. But there is.”
With a flick of my hand I indicated for him to follow. “Come on let’s get to her before the stuff hits the fan. She is this way.”
Both of us ran across the lawn to the second chalet along. Without knocking I opened the door. There was no need for a flashlight.
Precious was already sitting up in bed with the bedside light on.
“What the heck are you doing here?” She asked in wide eyed surprise.
There was no longer the need to tell her to be quiet.
“we have come to take you back before you get kidnapped.” I said urgently.
“What are you talking about?” Precious said in disbelief.
“I’m serious.” I said trying to make myself sound the same. “Your Latin friends are not who you think they’ll. They are not your friends. They are trying to lure you away so they can hold you hostage. We’ve come to get you away.”
“You are crazy,” precious’s voice was rising in indignation, I could see the stubbornness starting to appear at her edges.
Things were getting out of hand. At this juncture Moses stepped into the room. .
“You to!” Precious exclaimed in surprise.
A male voice came from not far away, “is everything okay?” It had a Spanish accent.
“Really?” 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.”
The voice called again from the next chalet, “is everything okay?”
Damn I mentally muttered to myself, the scream of the woman in the first chalet must have woken everybody. I froze with my arm outstretched and finger spread in front of me to indicate for her not to move as I tried to think how to handle the situation.
“Tell him everything is fine.” I whispered to her.
She called back “Yes it’s all okay.” But added softly, “I think.”
I raise my eyes skyward and made a pleading gesture to the heavens. “Precious, let’s get the fuck out of here quickly.”
I tried to convey the urgency and seriousness in the quiet intensity of my words. A new expensive looking backpack was propped up against the side wall of a wooden closet.
“is this yours?” I asked and without waiting for a reply, I grabbed items of clothing on the shelves and started to stuff them into the bag.
“Nice bag.” I quipped.
“What are you doing?” She asked angrily.
“I’m packing your bag so that we can get the hell out of here.”
It was a mistake. I should’ve known better, Precious was subservient only when it suited her as a ruse to get what she wanted. She was Mushala’s daughter. She didn’t take to being pushed around.
“Hang on.” She said. “I’m not going anywhere until I’ve spoken to Melody , Alex and Luis.”
“Who the heck is Melody?” I asked. “Why do you have to speak to her?”
“She is my cousin, and she is coming with me.”
“Oh my God,” I burst out in restrained frustration looking at Moses.
He shrugged back at me.
“Why the hell is she coming with you?”
Precious’s expression had turned into an angry pout.
“She is coming because Alex and Louise suggested that she be a companion.”
I had to think quickly. It was pointless trying to argue with her. .
Clearly the new woman had put a serious spoke in the wheels of my plan,, as well as the alternate plan of creating a distraction and whisking her away if the men woke and interfered.
I had to rapidly think of something new. Rescuing two women was a different beast.
Glancing at the new backpack a glimmer of an idea came to me. There was no time to waste.
“Okay.” I said. “Hang on for a minute. I need to speak to Moses..”
I gestured for him to follow me outside.
“Blood he hell.” I exploded under my breath. “Those bastards are going to kidnap both of them. I bet her cousin also has mining rights.”
“What are you going to do about it?” he asked.
Without hesitation I said. “We need a drastic change of plans.” I added, “As you said, with deception we will make war. We will go after the logistics.”
“Okay.” Moses looked at me quizzically. “What do you mean.”
“I will distract precious and get her out of the chalet for a few minutes..” I spoke fast. “when she is out I want you to go back in and grab all of her clothing and toiletries. Specially look for her passport, and stuff them into that backpack.”
“Then waht?” Moses asked.
“The chalets have back open air shower enclosures. Drop it over the wall outside.”
“While I’m still distracting precious, come out, then go around the outside of the chalet.
Pick up the backpack and take it down to the rivers edge. Do this quietly, carefully and as fast as possible. But also make sure nobody sees you.”
“What is the point?” He said.
“You will see.” I replied. “I will then try to get Precious to have Melody come out and join us.
When she does do the same thing with her stuff. I’m pretty sure I saw the same sort of backpack in her room.”
Stirring sounds came from the chalet where the man’s voice had emenated.
“Once you have this done, come back and join us, and we can start the next phase.”
The male voice again came from the next chalet. “What’s going on? Do you need help?”
There was no time to lose. Going back into her room I saw that Precious had changed into jeans and a T-shirt.
“Precious.” I said ,”Your friends are getting suspicious. It isn’t going to take long for him to come across to see what’s happening.”
“So what?” she pouted.
“I need a few more minutes to convince you. Can you go across and get your cousin to join us in the chitenge? I think the coffee should be ready by now. I heard the kitchen staff talking.”
She shrugged somewhat reluctantly, but she turned and walked across to Melody chalet with me following. Barely breathing with the tension, mentally urging her to hurry up and not get distracted, I had to resist physically pushing her along at a faster pace.
As Precious entered her cousin’s chalet I glanced back to see Moses slip into her chalet.
I stood outside listening to the two woman speaking in low tones. Seconds and minutes seem to drag by. The sound of their voices became more emphatic and strident.
“Damn!” I thought to myself, what of her cousin was as stubborn and strong-willed as precious.
I moved to the door and without entering I spoke in at them.
“Precious, tell her that it is urgent. I need to speak to you both before your friends join us.”
An annoyed “Okay, okay.” Came back out the door.
After what seemed an eternity precious reappeared followed by her cousin.
I muttered a quiet “good morning” to the other woman as I led the way up to the chitenge.
It was getting lighter. It had taken longer than I had anticipated and her protestations louder than I had hoped.
As I prepared cups of coffee I looked down across the lawn at the chalets. I glimpsed Moses entering Melody’s chalet. So far so good. I could always depend upon my Sgt..
It wasn’t with a moment to spare. A second later a man walked out of the door of the chalet further down the line.
The figure, a short stocky man wasn’t in a hurry. I saw him stop and light a cigarette. Keep it that way buddy-boy I thought to myself.
Shielding the furtive flicks of my eyes towards the chalets from the two woman, I continued to prepare the cups of coffee.
I spoke hastily. “Your two friends are foreign gangsters trying to get your mineral rights to the area around our lodge.”
I saw a look of incredulity Passover melody’s face.
“These men are dangerous. I think they are trying to lure you out of the country so that they can hold and put pressure on you to sign away you mineral rights.”
“Don’t talk rubbish.” Melody spoke to me in disbelief.
The stocky figure was walking across the lawn towards the the chitenge when behind him I saw Moses come out of melody’s chalet.
“Okay,” I said. “I’ve told you what I think is going on here, and now I have to get out of here before these two friends of yours tried to get in my way as well.”
I turned and walked as fastt as I could across the lawn towards the chalets, leaving the two woman in confused disbelief.
Hurrying past the stocky dark-haired man, he looked at me coldly as I nodded him a good morning.
I beckoned to Moses.
“Come on. Let’s get going.”
The last few meters to the boat dock were done at a jog.. Getting away before the woman told the dark squat man what I had said to them was now essential.
“Quick.” I called out to Moses. “Untie the boat. We have to get out of here fast.”
I hauled on the starter line, and gun the engine to pull us back out into the river’s current.
“Where did you put the backpacks?” I called out above the noise of the revving engine.
“Right below each chalet” he shouted back. Flicking the engine into forward gear, I swung the nose of the boat downstream
to lineup with the chalets.
I could now see the bright olive green of the two bags tucked into the weeds at the edge of the river.
Nudging the boats nose to graze the river bank, Moses grabbed each pack and pulled it aboard.
Ttwisting the throttle full open we were at a plane as we headed back upstream parsed the dock.
The two woman and the man was standing at the top of the bank as we hurtled by beneath them.
Above the noise of the engine I could hear their shouts. “Those are our packs! He has taken our backpacks.”
Seconds later came the familiar thump of a weapon being fired and the crack of its bullet breaking the sound barrier over our heads.
“That bastard is shooting at us,” I shouted to Moses.
There was another overhead snap of a bullet , followed by a third But the skimming boat was putting distance between us and the shooter. At this range with a handgun the chances of him hitting us were slim. Nevertheless I was glad when a few hundred yards later the vegetation of the bend in the river hit us from view.
I eased back off the throttle to let the nose of the boat drop down off its plane. All I needed now in the dimness of the dawn was for the propeller to hit a rock and have us drift back downstream.
“Sheeesh!” I exclaimed, I’m getting too old to go around rescuing damsels in distress.
“But you just letf them behind.” Moses eyed me with faint suspicion.
“Don’t worry old buddy.” I said, “The ingredients are in place. Now we’ll let that Latin pair do sum of the cooking.”