A Choice of Nightmares

An old friend brings the team a new case that takes them to central Africa and into extreme danger.
Rating: PG13
Words: 44,000

Chapter 1

“Tell him he has nothing to be afraid of,” Colonel Madari said, in French, to the soldier who was acting as translator. The soldier spoke in Swahili to the man sitting opposite Madari. The man’s dark face was deeply lined, telling of many years working out in the sun. He began to speak and the soldier translated.

“His name is Carama, he is the head man of the village of Kizi. He heard about you, the man with the blue hat. That you will listen…”

Madari glanced at his blue United Nations beret on the hatstand. He caught the smile on the face of Lieutenant Bennett who stood by the desk. She seemed to find it amusing that Madari was known in the surrounding countryside as ‘M’sieur chapeau bleu’.

“Go on, Mr Carama.”

“He says two of the men from the village went to the town of Mushara, to trade their crops. They got involved in a protest about taxes and were arrested and taken away by the police. They did not return home for many months. When they did they had scars and injuries. They would not speak of what happened to them in the prison.”

Lieutenant Bennett was looking serious now, making notes as the man told his story.

The soldier translating stopped as Carama broke off talking and looked down. There were tears shining in his eyes. He said something quietly.

“They are not the same men they were.” The soldier translated. “In the night, often, they scream.”

Madari closed his eyes briefly, then he spoke. “Ask him if we may visit his village and talk to the two men. And, if they will permit it, that our doctor examines them.”

A brief exchange in Swahili, then the soldier said, “Yes, he will allow you to come to the village. He wants to thank you, for listening to him.”

“That is my job here. Tell him we will come in a few days.” He turned to Bennett. “You have the location?”

“Yes, sir.” She said, in her strong Australian accent. She was checking a map of the area. “It’s not easily accessible though. Will take about two days to reach.”

“Sir, he says there’s something else.” The soldier was translating again. “He doesn’t know if you can help with this, but no one else will.”

“What is it?”

“He says in the last few months three children have disappeared from the village. Two girls and a boy. They searched everywhere for them, but they have vanished.”

Madari glanced sharply at Bennett and she frowned. Madari turned back to Carama.

“Tell him we have had similar reports from elsewhere. It is being looked into.”

“He thanks you, sir.”

“All right, see that he is taken back to his village safely. Give him any supplies he needs to take back with him. And, Sergeant, get full details about the children who vanished.” He stood up and Carama did too. “Thank you for bringing me this information about what happened to your men, sir. I am sure it will assist my investigation.”

They shook hands, then Carama and the soldier left, leaving Madari and Bennett alone. Madari walked to the window and looked out into dense, dark jungle. He folded his arms.

“Can we honestly say it’s being looked into?” Bennett asked. Now they were alone she spoke in English. “The kids…”

He looked over at her. “I have reported it.”

“The local authorities are doing nothing. The UN says it will send a team to investigate ‘when resources are available’.” Her voice rose, in anger and frustration. “That’s not worth a zack to these people!” He looked away from her, didn’t answer.

“Colonel, that makes a dozen children that we’ve heard have vanished over the last year. And who knows how many more we haven’t heard about…”

“I know!” He snapped, turning back to her. Then he took a deep breath, spoke more calmly. “Karen, I know. But I have no authority to investigate that.”

“Someone has to do something.” She persisted.

“I know.” he repeated, more slowly. He frowned and stroked his beard, a new habit to go with the newly grown beard. It was true that he didn’t have the authority. But it was also true, as Bennett said, that someone had to do something.

Then he smiled. Well he knew somebody, several somebodies, who would do something. And who had never been overly concerned about being authorised.

“Lieutenant, do you think you can coax that satellite telephone into working?”

She took on a look of injured pride. “It does work, sir. Those other times were just…”

“Yes, yes. I would like to make a call. Also I will need to speak to the Brigadier when he returns.”

“Yes, Colonel. Um, where do you want to make a call to, sir?”

“Los Angeles.”


A gunshot made Face gasp and jerk awake. He looked around, wild-eyed.

“Sorry, Face.” Murdock said, passing him, going to sit down. “Didn’t realise you were sleeping.”

There hadn’t been a gunshot; Murdock had banged the door of the railway compartment as he came back in. Face ran a hand through his hair. It was damp with sweat from the oppressive heat and humidity. He got to his feet and went to the window, needed to clear his head of the memory of a dark shape reaching for him.

“Don’t open that, we’ll get soaked.” Hannibal said. Rain lashed hard against the window. Face felt queasy so went to sit back down on the seat that was a mass of patches and darns.

Sometimes, he wondered why he’d thought it was a good idea to go back to the old job. Times like this he wondered especially hard. He could be in his beautiful home in LA, a cool sea breeze caressing his skin. Instead he was on a slow train in Zaire in the rainy season.

“If you can possibly hold it then I’d really advise against using the bathroom.” Murdock said. Face groaned with disgust. He turned to look out into the corridor of the train.

A skinny goat was staring in at him. It was all black expect for its face, which looked like a sun-bleached skull in comparison. It stared directly at Face, who felt uncomfortably like a zoo exhibit under its gaze. Then a tall African woman came up behind the goat and chivvied it on down the corridor, shouting at in French.

“What the hell is Madari doing in darkest Africa anyway?” Face groused. He looked out of the window at the jungle the railway line was cut through. It was just barely visible through the driving rain. Face grimaced. “I mean this isn’t exactly his type of terrain.”

“I told you, Face.” Hannibal said, his voice patient. “He’s doing some work for the United Nations. An investigation for some committee.”

“The Committee against Torture, which is part of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.” Murdock reeled off.

“What he said,” Hannibal agreed. “A bit of UN work looks good on an officer’s resumé these days.”

“Don’t they torture people any place civilized?” Face muttered as a man walked past the compartment with a basket full of live chickens on his back.

“Well, no, Face. I think not torturing people is kind of one of the definitions of civilized,” Murdock pointed out.

“Yeah.” BA said, with a scowl at Face. Face sighed and leaned back in his seat. He looked at his watch. It was eight a.m.

“How much longer are we on this train?”

“Till three.” Hannibal said.

“Another seven hours?” Face groaned. It had already taken them four days to get this far.

“Er, no, three in the morning, not the afternoon.”

“Oh fantastic. This is your fault,” he said, turning on BA. “We could have hired a helicopter in Kinshasa, but no…”

“No choppers!” BA snapped.

“Fine, we’ll just spend the rest of our lives on this damn train then.”

“Face,” Hannibal said, in a conciliatory tone. “You’re jet-lagged. Get some sleep. In fact we all should. Though better set a guard to watch our stuff.”

“I’m not so tired,” Murdock said. “I’ll take first watch.” He drew his legs up under himself and pulled a book out of his pocket.

“Okay,” Hannibal said as he and Face and BA tried to get comfortable enough to sleep. “Wake us for lunch.”

“Yeah, I’ll have the Chicken a la King and a bottle of chilled Chablis.” Face said. Well he could dream.


The train arrived, two hours late, at a station in a town on the edge of the jungle. It was five in the morning and still dark, but the station was jammed with people and animals and goods. People getting on and off the train, yelled at each other in any number of different languages. Babies howled, goats bleated, chickens flapped and squawked. A small hoard of porters, anxious for tips, squabbled over the team’s luggage as the Americans got off the train onto the wooden platform.

Rain still poured down. The team ran to stand under an awning over a vegetable seller’s stand. They scanned the chaotic platform for any sign of Madari, couldn’t spot him.

“I really hope he got that telegram with our arrival details.” Hannibal said. Then a white man wearing a green uniform with lieutenant’s insignia and a light blue beret pushed his way through the crowd towards them. He was holding an umbrella over his head, but it offered little protection against the tropical rain.

“Are you the A-Team?” He called, in an Australian accent. At their nods he said, “Follow me!”

They followed him as he hurried away. The victorious porters carrying their luggage followed them. The Australian led them inside the station. It was an old building and was starting to become dilapidated. They went into the stationmaster’s office and Madari stood up from a battered sofa to greet them with a broad smile.

“My friends.” He embraced Hannibal. “It is so good to see you.”

“Faris. Keeping dry I see,” Hannibal said. The Australian officer who had brought them in was dripping wet, despite his umbrella.

“Hey, Colonel, like the beard. Very macho.” Murdock said with a grin as teasing as Hannibal’s as he shook hands with Madari. “Is that to compensate for the pretty blue hat?”

“You know, I hoped you would give me at least ten minutes before you started about the hat.” Madari said. He sighed dramatically. “I should have known better.”

“It’s a very fetching colour.” Face said, and almost sounded sincere.

“Fetching.” BA said. “Yeah, that’s the word I was trying to think of.” He giggled.

“If you’re all quite finished,” Madari said, with mock severity. “Let me introduce my second in command here, Lieutenant Geoffrey Ritchie, of the Australian Army.” They all greeted Ritchie. The Lieutenant was blonde and husky, with a deep suntan.

“Mr Ritchie, would you please go and round up Lieutenant Bennett and the men.” Madari ordered. Ritchie saluted and departed, optimistically putting up his umbrella again.

“There’s food over here,” Madari waved a hand at some covered plates on a table. “Cold I’m afraid, but once we get back to the lodge you’ll get a hot meal. And some rest, you must be exhausted.”

“Not so bad,” Hannibal said. “Got some sleep on the train.”

Face wanted to snap ‘speak for yourself’ at Hannibal. When Face had slept it had been uneasily. Between the heat and the dreams…

“I’m anxious to get more details about the case.” Hannibal said. They didn’t have many so far. Hannibal had told the others that the phone call, almost a week ago now, had been short and the connection had been appalling. He’d got the salient facts; disappearing children, authorities not acting, Madari’s location and, Hannibal’s all time favourite words, “like to hire the A-Team.”

“Nice to have you as a client again, Faris.” Hannibal said as Madari handed out hot coffee. He winked at Face. “We love repeat business.”

“Ah,” Madari said. “Well, I am not actually the client…”

Chapter 2

Outside the station two big white Land Rovers with UN markings waited. Several African men in blue helmets bustled around them, loading supplies and the team’s luggage. They were supervised by a young woman, in uniform. Her brown hair was plastered to her head by the rain. Her blue beret was stuffed in a back pocket.

Face gave her the old Faceman once over, estimating her measurements in his head. Could be presentable he thought, after some attention from a stylist, a colourist, a beautician and almost certainly, Face guessed, a waxing technician. Nice body though, lean and strong looking. That toned, gym-body look was becoming popular in Hollywood.

“Get that gear stowed, you rotten buggers!” She shouted at the men as her CO and the team approached.

“Lieutenant,” Madari said, sounding a little pained.

“Sorry, sir,” she grinned at him. “But you gotta keep these bastards under the thumb or they’ll piss off down the grog shop soon as you take your eye off them.”

“Er, quite.” Madari turned back to the team, “Gentlemen, this is Lieutenant Karen Bennett, also from Australia. Lieutenant, this is the A-Team.” She saluted and grinned at them.

“Pleasure. Call me Karen.” While Madari and the team got into the Land Rovers Bennett finished supervising the loading. After a few minutes of climbing around on top of the vehicle, checking the items on the roof rack were secure, Bennett got into the driving seat.

“Hang on, fellas, it’s a bumpy ride.” She called back to the passengers. They moved off. She hadn’t been kidding about the bumpy ride.

“You must be the young lady I heard shouting ‘I don’t bloody believe it, we’re connected!’ when I answered my phone a week ago.” Hannibal said, with a fairly good crack at the accent.

“That’d be me, yeah.” She admitted, grinning.

“Okay, Faris,” Hannibal said. “Let’s hear about the client.”

Madari turned in the front passenger seat to look back at the team.

“Of course. His name is Brigadier Drummond. He is retired from the British army and owns a safari lodge a few miles from here.”

“A safari lodge?” Face was surprised. “This doesn’t seem like a very touristy area.”

“It attracts the more adventurous traveller,” Madari said. “For the wildlife. In the dry season of course.”

“That’s where you’re staying?” Murdock asked.

“Yes. The UN is renting the lodge as my HQ.”

“Tell us about that.” Hannibal said. “About your mission here.”

“I’m on secondment to the United Nations,” Madari explained. “Running an investigation into reports of torture in prisons and by police in this area. I’m currently gathering evidence from local people.”

“What about the missing kids?” BA asked. “Where do they come in?”

“Well, in my position the local people come to me about all kinds of things, looking for help. Mostly I can only report their complaints or problems, my authority is limited. But we started to get reports of missing children brought to us.” He frowned. “The disappearances seem to be increasing in frequency and are happening over a wide area. I reported it, but well, it seemed no-one was exactly rushing into action.”

Bennett gave a snort that implied she agreed with that assessment. Madari glanced at her and then back to the team.

“But if I hired you, even with my own money, as a private individual, the government could say I was exceeding my authority and stop co-operating with my mission, even throw us out of the country. I can’t risk that.” He looked serious. “The local authorities here are torturing people and I have to prove that and help to get it stopped.”

Hannibal nodded his understanding, spoke again. “And the Brigadier…”

“Is simply a concerned local resident, who has decided to hire you.” Madari affected an innocent look as if it was of course pure coincidence that he happened to know the people the Brigadier was hiring.

“Right.” Hannibal smiled. “We never agreed to pay you commission, did we?”

“An oversight I am regretting.” Madari answered. “Ah, we’re coming to a particularly bad stretch of road I’m afraid. It’s been partly washed away by flood water. You may want to hang on.”

After a teeth rattling few minutes they emerged onto a slightly better section of road.

“Blimey,” Bennett said. “Lucky we didn’t get bogged there. Was up to my arse in mud.” She had handled the heavy vehicle well though. Face smiled to himself. If he should decide to try a few of the patented Faceman moves he’d better make sure his attentions were welcome. He’d like to go home with the same number of limbs he’d arrived with.

Bennett looked in the rear view mirror. “Ritchie got through okay too. Thought we might have to haul him out.” She seemed a little disappointed that she wasn’t having to get out the tow rope to pull her countryman out of the mud. In the mirror she caught Face looking at her and winked at him. He flashed a smile back. Oh yeah, he was definitely on the right track with her. This trip might be more fun than he’d expected.

Reluctantly he turned his attention back to Hannibal who was speaking to Madari.

“So do you have any leads about the kids? I mean I hope so, or this could be a long job.”

“We have better than that.” Madari answered. “We have a suspect.”


It had almost stopped raining by the time they drove up to the gates of the safari lodge two hours later. Only a fine drizzle still fell. An African man stood in front of the closed gates. He was lounging, casual looking, smoking a long clay pipe. He had a rifle slung on his back.

“Wotcha, Sarge.” Bennett called, leaning out of the window. “You opening the gates, you lazy drongo, or you just going to stand there smoking all day?”

‘Sarge’ grinned and turned to open the gates.

Madari gave the team a shrug as Bennett drove the Land Rover inside. “It’s the Australian method apparently.” He said, sounding baffled. “They get along with people by continually insulting them.”

“Hey, no need to explain,” Murdock said. “Me and BA have based our relationship on the Australian method for years.” He smirked at BA who glowered back at him.

Face looked up at the lodge as they parked on the paved area outside of it. Any hopes he’d had that this was a modern safari lodge with all the fittings of a five star hotel were dashed. The building was somewhat forbidding, nineteenth century, made of dark grey stone. The windows were small. It formed a stubby L shape around two sides of a square paved area. Various small, more modern looking buildings filled the other two sides.

“Adventurous travellers indeed.” Face muttered as he climbed out of the Land Rover. “They’d have to be.”

The man from the gate had followed them in and was looking them over with an assessing stare. He was tall and muscular. Tiny raindrops glittered like glass beads on his short-cropped hair. Face, Murdock and even Hannibal got little more than a glance, but his eyes widened at the sight of BA.

“This is Sergeant Abasi, he’s in charge of the lodge security force.” Madari said. He nodded to the man. “Sergeant.”

“Colonel.” Abasi’s voice was deep and slow. He looked back at BA again. BA nodded an acknowledgement to his fellow sergeant.

“Let me take you to meet the Brigadier.” Madari said.

“Yeah, the old fossil is dying to meet you.” Bennett said. She turned away and started yelling at the blue helmets to get the jeeps unloaded.


Whatever else might be said about the lodge, such as dark, old fashioned, oppressive, it could at least be said that it was dry.

The team, showered and changed into fresh clothes, were enjoying the dryness in a sitting room, that was panelled in oak and decorated with the heads of various examples of the local wildlife. Madari, Bennett and Ritchie, also freshened up, were there too.

Face glanced at Bennett. Dry Bennett was a definite improvement on the waterlogged figure of before, even if the dry clothes were an unflattering uniform and her dry hair was scraped into a pony tail. Face noticed that Ritchie seemed to like the change too, he glanced at her often.

“Of course it’s all photography now. No one shoots anything with a gun any more, just a camera. All the animals are protected.”

The man speaking stood in front of a fireplace, that looked as if it had not been lit since Queen Victoria’s reign. Even so he stood with his hands behind his back as if warming them by a roaring flame.

This was their client. Brigadier Drummond, the ‘old fossil’. He was stocky and in his sixties. His hair was grey and thin, but he still sported a bushy handlebar moustache. His cheeks and nose were rosy and he had an air of just having come in from a windswept parade ground. Face could see Murdock studying him very closely, no doubt for material for a future flight of fancy.

“How’s Kahil?” Hannibal asked Madari as a young African woman offered around a tray with glasses of sherry on it.

“Oh, he was fine last time I spoke to him, about a month ago.” Madari said as he waved a hand, turning down the proffered sherry.

“Seems odd to see you without him.” Hannibal commented, with a smile.

“Well, I had to leave someone I can trust in charge of my unit at home.” Even so his eyes looked a little pained.

“Right.” Drummond said, after downing his sherry in one gulp. “Down to business. Now, Colonel Smith.” He looked at Hannibal. “Colonel Madari already told you about what’s been happening.”

“He did. And he said you have a suspect.”

“Indeed. Fellow name of Sefu. That means ‘sword’ in Swahili.” He snorted. “I’ll wager that’s not the name his mother gave him.”

“What’s his story?” Hannibal asked.

“He’s a bandit.” Madari said. “His men intimidate and steal from villages, rob travellers, poach animals for skins and…”

“A bandit and a gangster.” Drummond said. “Turned up here a few years ago trying to threaten me. The old protection racket, you know.”

“What did you do?” Face asked.

“Had Abasi toss him out on his ear,” The Brigadier said. “He’s lucky he didn’t get a taste of my old elephant gun.” He reached back, without looking, to the huge shotgun mounted over the fireplace and patted the barrel.

“If he’s moved on to kidnapping kids he’s going to wish he did.” Hannibal promised. “What makes you think he’s behind it?”

“His men have been reported near the scene of several of the disappearances.” Madari said. “Sometimes even spotted with a child.”

“What’s he doing with the kids?” Murdock asked.

“Selling them to people traffickers most likely.” Bennett spoke up this time. “Then they’d get smuggled to Europe or the Middle East to be used as domestic servants. Well, if they’re lucky that’s what happens. If they aren’t…” Her voice went quiet. “You don’t want to think about what else they might end up doing.”

BA’s fist slapping into his other hand made them all look at him.

“Where do we find this guy?” He growled. Face, sitting beside BA, glanced at him. BA always wanted to get right down to business.

“Well, that’s where you come in,” Drummond said. “Chap has an armed camp some place in the jungle, no-one knows where. Got a lot of men now too. He was just starting out when he came here. Only had a handful of men, no match for my lads. Different story now. That’s one reason the local authorities don’t go after him. He could have an army out there.”

“One reason?” Face asked. “What are the others?”

“Bribes.” Ritchie said, looking bored.

“Ah, right.”

“Okay, any ideas on the location of his base? It’s a big jungle.” Hannibal said.

“Well, if I were investigating this,” Madari said, “which of course I’m officially not.”

“Of course not.” Hannibal grinned.

“If I was, I’d follow his men home.” Madari finished.

“And where do we find his men?” Hannibal asked.

“Well tomorrow you’ll find some of them in mass.”

“Mass?” Face said, surprised.

“Very Romish country this.” Drummond said.

“Some of his men are known to go to church in a town near here.” Bennett said. “And it’s Sunday tomorrow. You could follow them back to their base. That won’t be easy…”

“Nothing is ever easy.” Murdock said. “If it was it wouldn’t be any fun.”



Out of nowhere.

One second Face stood there, triumphant, with the bad guy’s magnum in his hand. Next second that terrible noise and a feeling like being punched in the gut.

Then falling.


The shot echoing around his head. Blood on his hand. On his shirt. Didn’t see that guy.

Face sat up in bed, gasping. The shot still echoed in his head. He fumbled for the bedside lamp and the sudden light banished the images of the dream. He looked at the clock. Almost two in the morning. Face groaned, pushed off the bed covers and got up. He was too hot and felt as if he were choking. He dragged on a robe and went out of his room.

The corridor was cooler than his room. He stood in the doorway, breathing deeply. It was unusual for him to dream of that moment. When he dreamt of Villa Cuchina he almost always dreamt of lying on that kitchen floor. The smells of garlic and blood mingling. Getting colder and colder. Not the moment of being shot. He hugged himself, arms protecting his long ago healed stomach.

A sound down the corridor made him look up. He stepped back just inside the door of his room, not feeling up to explaining to anyone what he was doing awake at this time of night.

Bennett emerged from the door of a room that Face had been told was Madari’s. She didn’t see Face, went off in the other direction around the corner. Face lifted his eyebrows. Well there was an interesting tidbit of gossip. He couldn’t help feeling a little bit of disappointment though. Looked like the old Faceman moves wouldn’t be getting an airing after all.

Face went back into his room and closed the door. He hoped he would manage to get back to sleep.

They had a busy day planned tomorrow.

Chapter 3

Face stood in the main entrance of the lodge drinking coffee. He looked out at the jungle, just beyond the wall that surrounded the grounds. Strange sounds, hisses, rattles, screeching animal cries, came from the dark interior. As the morning sun started to hit the canopy the night’s rain steamed off the trees.

Face hated jungles. And calling them “rain forests” was no help. They were still full of… memories.

He shook himself and turned away from the dark trees. Instead he watched the men moving around the yard in the dawn light. On one side were about fifteen blue helmeted soldiers and Lieutenant Ritchie. On the other, twenty men and Sergeant Abasi. Brigadier Drummond’s “lads”, the lodge security men. They wore no uniforms but they carried automatic weapons and to Face’s knowledgeable eye they handled them expertly.

The security men called across to the blue helmets now and again, sometimes in French, sometimes in what Face assumed was Swahili. Face smiled at the parts he understood as the security men tried to get a rise out of the soldiers. But Ritchie kept his men quiet as he inspected them.

“They have developed something of a friendly rivalry.” It was Madari’s voice from behind Face. Face glanced over his shoulder to see Hannibal and Madari approaching. “The Brigadier and I are quite happy to encourage that of course.”

“Keep them all on their toes.” Hannibal said. “Morning, Face.” He frowned. Face knew his lack of sleep was showing on his face.

“Hey.” Face greeted them with a nod and a smile.

“Your blue helmets aren’t local boys?” Hannibal asked, turning back to Madari.

“No, they are from Cameroon.”

“They look good.” Face said. “So do the Brigadier’s men.”

“Drummond’s men are all former soldiers.” Madari said. “He has them well trained and disciplined.” Hannibal nodded, pleased with that, since these were the men they’d been taking with them today, into possible trouble.

“In fact.” Madari smiled a little. “As a visiting commander perhaps you would care to inspect the two units?”

“You know what.” Hannibal grinned. “I think I’d like to do just that.”

When Murdock and BA showed up a half hour later they found Face still standing by the door. In the yard the two units were lined up on parade. Ritchie and Bennett stood with their men and Abasi with his. Drummond and Madari accompanied Hannibal as he stalked along the lines, with a cigar clamped in his teeth and a stern expression on his face

“What’s Hannibal doing?” Murdock asked, around a mouthful of toast.

“Enjoying himself.” Face said. “Though specifically, right this minute, I think he’s pretending to be MacArthur.” BA scowled and muttered. Murdock grinned and finished his toast. Hannibal stopped to inspect the rifle of one of Drummond’s men.

Face’s eyes strayed across to the UN contingent and caught Bennett’s eye. She smiled at him then snapped her eyes front again.

“I think Karen likes you.” Murdock said, smirking

“What are we, in high school?” Face asked.

“She luurrves you.”

“Fool.” BA snapped and stomped off back to the dining room.

“Maybe she prefers someone else.” Face said.

“Not Ritchie boy,” Murdock said. “He’s after her, but she’s not interested.”

“Murdock, how do you think you know all this?”

“I can just tell.” Murdock said, a smug look on his face.

“Women’s intuition?” Face said, teasing.

“Well, I am in touch with my feminine side.” Murdock claimed, scratching his stomach through a couple of shirt buttons.

Keeping his voice quiet Face said, “I think she’s hooked up with Madari.”

Murdock made no attempt to keep his laughter quiet and people glanced at him.

“I saw her coming out of his room very late last night.” Face said. Murdock just smiled and shook his head.

“Not a chance.” He insisted.

“Okay, Murdock, I bow to your women’s intuition. But I know what I saw.”

They were silent for a few moments, then Murdock stepped a little closer to Face spoke quietly.

“How come you were awake very late? You don’t look like you slept much.”

“Just jet lag.” Face said, with a shrug. “What? Stop looking at me all concerned. I’m fine.”

A shrieking sound in the jungle made him flinch.

“I want some more coffee,” Face said, turning to go back inside. He could feel Murdock’s concerned look following him all the way to the dining room.


“What time’s Mass?” Hannibal asked Drummond as they approached a small town. Drummond, Hannibal and Face were in a jeep being driven by Sergeant Abasi. Another jeep followed, carrying Murdock and BA and two of Drummond’s men. Bringing up the rear a small truck carried another ten of the men. The rest were back at the lodge.

“Ten o’clock.” Drummond said. “Already started. You actually want to go into the church?”

“Might as well,” Hannibal said. “See if they’re there.”

A few minutes later the three vehicles parked in the town square. A church made of white stone took up most of one side.

“Okay, just us, and you, Brigadier, and the sergeant I think,” Hannibal said. “The rest of you wait for us out here. Keep a low profile for now. We’ll just stay at the back and see if you can spot them,” Face knew that even Hannibal didn’t like to start trouble in a place of worship.

Face was surprised by the refreshing coolness inside the stone building. Abasi dipped his fingers in the holy water and crossed himself. Face did the same. Drummond looked at Face surprised.

“You just blending in or are you actually a left-footer?” He asked in a quiet voice.

“Er… yes?” Face answered, confused.

The priest was saying Mass in French. The church was full. Hannibal’s party slipped into the back row. Drummond and Abasi studied the congregation and exchanged whispers and nods. When the worshippers started singing a hymn Drummond turned to Hannibal, whispered to him.

“They’re here. Can’t spot Sefu himself, but there’s some fellows who are definitely his men.”

Hannibal nodded. “Good.” He looked at Face. “Is there much more of this to go?”

“No, it’s nearly over.”

“Then let’s get outside.”

They retreated back into the square and lurked by their vehicles. After a final hymn the people began to stream out of the church.

“There.” Drummond said. “Those chaps.” he pointed at a group of young men, about twenty of them. They were rough and hard looking. Several of them lit up cigarettes as they left the church. They talked and laughed in loud voices. As they crossed the square they shouted out rude sounding remarks to any young women they saw. Most people gave them a wide berth.

“Where are they going?” Hannibal asked. They passed a couple of jeeps and battered Land Rovers, waving to two men standing by those vehicles and headed off to a building across the square.

“Would I be right in guessing that’s what Lieutenant Bennett would call the ‘grog shop’?” Murdock asked.

“A bar?” Hannibal said, shook his head. He puffed on his cigar for a moment. “When will they come out of there do you think?”

“Ce soir.” Abasi said with a shrug.

“Tonight?” Hannibal scowled. “It’s not even lunchtime yet. No, I can’t be having that. Better things to do. And I don’t want to have to follow them home in the dark.”

“So what do we do?” Face asked, suspecting he already knew the answer.

“We go in there and roust them.” Hannibal said.

“Roust them. Right.”

“Brigadier, fetch the rest of your boys.” Hannibal took his gloves out of a pocket and pulled them on. “This…” he said. “Could be a classic.”


They almost got into a fight before they even got into the bar, when Hannibal suggested the Brigadier stayed outside.

“You think I can’t handle myself?” Drummond demanded of Hannibal.

“Well, at your age…” Hannibal said.

“My age?” Drummond’s face was flushed and his moustache quivered. “My age, sir? And how old are you, Colonel?”

“That’s different,” Hannibal said. “I’m…”

“Hannibal!” Murdock interrupted Hannibal before he made things worse by saying ‘I’m still in shape.’ “Come on, I’ll bet the Brigadier’s been in more bar room brawls than I’ve had electric shock treatments, let’s just get on in there.”

They walked into the bar. Hannibal leading, his team following and the Brigadier and his men following them. Abasi brought up the rear and stayed standing by the door.

Sefu’s men were sitting around laughing raucously. They went quiet when Hannibal’s platoon came in. They knew trouble when they saw it.

Hannibal nodded to his men and they waited by the bar while Hannibal himself walked up to the biggest, meanest looking man in the group of thugs. Hannibal stood regarding the man for a moment. The man glowered back at him, a questioning expression on his face.

“You know,” Hannibal said. “You’re so ugly that when you were born I’ll bet the midwife slapped your mother.”

Face, playing his part, gave his usual ‘we’re gonna die’ groan.

Hannibal was somewhat surprised that there was no reaction from the man or any of his friends. They just looked puzzled.

“Je ne parle pas anglais, m’siuer.”

“Ah, you don’t speak English, huh? Okay.” Hannibal said, “Vous êtes si…” he began than realised he had no idea of the French for ‘midwife’. “Aw, forget it.” He gave up on the verbal and did the one thing that could start a fight in any bar in the world, whatever language they spoke. He knocked over the man’s drink.

Within seconds, fists, chairs, tables and men were flying. No one pulled a gun, they didn’t have time. The barman ran out of the building and across the square.

Only ten seconds after the first punch was thrown one of the thugs left the bar via the window, head first. Another quickly followed, landing on his colleague. BA and Abasi had formed a tag team that reminded BA of the good old days with the Hulkster. Abasi tossed them to BA and BA tossed them out of the window. A small heap of thugs soon began to form under the window.

Hannibal had to admit to being wrong about the Brigadier, he could handle himself pretty well, though he was quickly red in the face and winded. Didn’t have the stamina, but he had a mean right and took out a couple of thugs before he got pushed over a table and stayed down. Murdock at once stood over him and dealt out punches to any bad guys who came near.

The big ugly guy Hannibal had started the fight with recovered from the Colonel’s punches and pounced on someone he thought was easier to handle. Face soon proved him wrong with an elbow in the stomach followed up with a knee in the face.

It was all over in about two minutes. Sefu’s men, the ones BA hadn’t thrown out of the window, were lying around groaning. Hannibal was glad to see Murdock helping Drummond to his feet and that the client seemed well. None of the security men were hurt. They were good fighters, Hannibal had observed. And not just as individuals, they worked well together to shut down the thugs. He grinned and got out a cigar.

“Nice work, fellas. Très bon.” He was rewarded with smiles all around.

BA straightened up his gold, which had become a little disarranged. Abasi gave him a grin and held out his hand. BA shook it.

“Très bon, Baracus. Not bad. Not bad.” BA nodded and said “yeah” in a gruff tone.

Then one of the security men who was watching out of the door called out, “Police!”

Chapter 4

The men in the bar scattered. The ones still unable to run were the only ones arrested.

A few minutes later Hannibal and his men watched Sefu’s men getting into their vehicles.

“Looks like they aren’t going to bail out their pals who got hauled off.” Hannibal said. “Okay, get aboard and follow them. Give me the binoculars, we can’t get too close.”

The men going home to lick their wounds were easy enough to follow. Only once they got off onto a very bumpy road through the jungle did it get harder.

“I don’t understand.” Drummond said, sounding baffled. “This road doesn’t go anywhere. At least nowhere you can get a vehicle. It comes to a dead end in another mile or so.”

He was right. The road ended at the remains of an old building that looked to have been deserted for a century. The vehicles could get no further, but there was no sign of the enemy. Hannibal frowned.

“Okay, everybody out and take a look around.” Hannibal said. “They didn’t fly off into the sky, they must be around here somewhere.”

It was Face who found it. Tire tracks. They led into what appeared to be thick undergrowth, but was actually something else.

“A gate?” Hannibal said. A half dozen of the men lifted the “gate” and moved it aside. It was simply a barrier made of vegetation and when moved aside it revealed a track, wide enough for a Land Rover.

“Nice, Face.” Hannibal said.

Face smiled. He hadn’t lost all of his old skills it seemed. But he wasn’t looking forward to what came next. To going in there.

“Right, we’re staying on foot.” Hannibal said. “And everybody stay quiet.”

The track went on for a half mile and opened into a clearing. Hannibal’s squad didn’t move into the clearing, because it was occupied. Several jeeps and Land Rovers, including the ones they’d followed here, stood around, parked up. There was also a small wooden building, barely more than a shack. As they watched, a man came out of the shack, smoking a cigarette and drinking from a tin mug. The vehicles were guarded.

“It’s a parking lot.” Hannibal said. “Question is, where’s the camp?”

“It can’t be too far away.” Face said. “People won’t want to tramp far through the jungle to get to their cars.” He knew for sure he wouldn’t. The surroundings were starting to get to him. The noises. The damp heat. The smells.

“Then we need to pick up the trail of our friends. Everybody spread out. Back here in fifteen minutes.”

They met up again as arranged and followed one of Drummond’s men. He had found a well worn path leading north away from the “parking lot”.

“Great.” Hannibal still kept his voice quiet, wary of the nearby guard. “Okay, we can’t just stroll along here in case we meet anyone coming the other way. We’ll have to go parallel to it. I’ll need a couple of good trackers on point. Fa…”

Abasi called out softly to the security men and a couple of them came forward.

“Trackers,” he said. “The best.”

Hannibal was never one to turn down local expertise, but he had most faith in his own people.

“Face, BA, you’re with them.” He looked at Abasi. “My trackers. The best as well.” Abasi nodded. “Rearguard please, sergeant.” Abasi saluted and went off to get in position.

“Murdock,” Hannibal said, “stick close to me and keep an eye on the trackers. Okay, let’s move out.”


And now it was really starting to get to Face. His feet were in Africa but his head was right back in the first jungle he’d ever gone into. And had believed he’d never come out of. The weight of his rifle on his back, the heat, always the heat, the humidity. And the bugs. He always forgot how bad the bugs were. All of it took him right back there.

A voice behind him not speaking English made his heart start to race and the word ‘Charlie’ leap into his mind. He had to take a deep breath and remind himself he was in Zaire, not Vietnam, and the foreign language he heard was French, and came from allies not enemies.

“You okay, Face?” BA asked, coming up beside Face. He had that same concerned look Murdock had that morning.

“Yeah, just concentrating.” He wiped the back of his hand across his forehead. Over the clicking and whirring animal sounds he thought he could hear the choppers…

Jesus, Face prayed. Not here, not now, I’ve not had a flashback for ten years. I will not make a fool of myself in front of these men. I will not. He rubbed his forearm with his other hand, even scratched it a little with his nails. Physical sensations, he thought. Anchor my head in the present. He looked up, wanting to see the sky, see there were no helicopters, but the high, dripping green canopy obscured the blue.

“Drop back, Lieutenant.” BA said quietly.

“Huh?” Face looked at him startled. Then he got angry suddenly. He kept his voice quiet as per orders and it came out as a furious hiss.

“Since when do you give me orders, Sergeant?” And then he hated himself for speaking to his friend that way. BA didn’t rise to the tone and Face saw the genuine concern in his eyes.

“You need a break. Go get some water.” BA’s voice was quiet, no one but Face could hear him speak. Face’s anger drained away.

“Yeah, okay.” Face said. BA was smart. Smarter than him anyway. BA had work to do and he couldn’t keep an eye on Face and do his job at the same time. Face dropped back from point. Well he needed a drink of water anyway.


The trail was almost a mile, and not an easy mile though the thick undergrowth. But as last they came to the camp. It was in a clearing in a slight dip in the ground and they looked down into it spread out beneath them.

“Damn.” Hannibal whispered.

It was big. At least a dozen wooden barrack like buildings stood beneath the trees. They looked hastily constructed, poor quality workmanship. But each of them was big enough to house at least twenty men.

“He’s been recruiting.” Drummond said.

There was no fence around the base, so Hannibal knew that meant there had to be patrols. They couldn’t stand around here for long.

He checked the base with the binoculars. There were a lot of men. At least one hundred and fifty by his estimation. There were women there too, carrying around washing and baskets of food. Even a few small children ran around.

“He’s well set up here.” Hannibal muttered. He handed the glasses to the Brigadier, to see if he could spot Sefu.

“No, sorry.” Drummond said after a while. “But I’ll bet that building in the centre is his house.”

“Agreed,” Hannibal said, “Think that’s the armoury to the left of it?”

“The roof is tarred.” Drummond said. “Got to keep their powder dry. Yes, Colonel, I’d agree.”

Hannibal turned to Murdock, but he was already drawing out a sketch map of the camp on the pad they’d brought along for the purpose.

“Armoury.” Murdock said, writing it on.

They moved back once they’d got as much information down as they could and made their way back to their vehicles.

“He’s got a lot of men.” Hannibal said, in a musing voice, as they drove off. The team were sitting in the truck, with Drummond and Abasi and a few of the security men. The rest were in the jeeps.

“Maybe he’s got career ambitions.” Murdock suggested. “Planning on getting that promotion from bandit to warlord.”

“Very possibly.” Hannibal said. “And for that he needs weapons. And to get weapons he needs cash.”

“I wonder how many kids he has to sell to raise the price of a crate of M-16s?” Face asked. That silenced everyone for several minutes as they bumped off the jungle road onto the paved one and set out back towards the lodge.

“He’s got too many men for us.” Drummond said, after a while. “I’ve got a few more men, who usually only work during the tourist season. I can get them, will take a few days. But that still only brings my lads up to a strength of about thirty. The UN boys aren’t allowed to interfere.” He shook his head. “We’ve not got enough for an attack.”

“We’re used to being outnumbered.” Hannibal said.

“Not by this much.” Face said. Hannibal just rested his chin on his hands for a while, a thoughtful expression on his face.

We could just take out the top boy.” Drummond said, “he has to leave the camp sometime. We could grab him…”

“And there’s probably a half dozen guys waiting to take his place.” Hannibal said. “That would barely slow them down. We need to break up this operation for good and for that we need more men. More fighting men. Anyone got any clues where to find them?”

“Everywhere.” It was Abasi. He’d sat in silence as the officers talked, smoking his pungent smelling pipe. He put it down now as they all turned to him. “For many years there has been fighting. Many men have been soldiers. Every village.”

“Weapons?” Hannibal asked.

“Many. Most old and dirty. But rifles can be cleaned.”

“We’d need ammunition.” Face said.

“I’ve got a lot of ammunition.” Drummond said. “Just had a delivery. Various kinds, for my men.”

“And I’m sure Face can rustle us up some more.” Hannibal said, smiling. He was starting to look much happier. “You think we can persuade these men to join us, Sergeant?” He asked Abasi.

“To fight a man who steals our children?” Abasi said. He knocked the ashes out his pipe, didn’t say anything else.

“I’ll take that as a yes.” Hannibal said. He glanced at Face who took his cue and produced a cigar.

“Fellas,” Hannibal said, settling back against the wall of the truck, puffing the cigar. “We’re going to raise an army.”


“And you knocked out six men, Brigadier?” Bennett asked.

“Might have been seven, my dear, lost count you know.”

They were just finishing dinner, during which they’d told Madari and his officers about what they’d discovered and what they had planned, and then spent the rest of the time listening to Drummond’s description of the bar fight. It seemed to have been the most fun he’d had in years.

Port was brought to the table and cigars were lit up. Murdock was cracking nuts, apparently just for the hell of it, he wasn’t eating any of them. Bennett didn’t seem to have heard of the tradition of the ladies retiring when the gentlemen moved on to port and cigars. She settled back with a glass of port herself and encouraged Drummond to describe the best bits of the fight again. She was smiling and Face wondered if she made him tell it enough times he would eventually have taken out a dozen men.

A young African woman who had been serving them finished clearing up and left. Face chivalrously jumped up to hold open the door for her. She glanced shyly at him and he smiled. When he came back to the table, the conversation seemed to have moved on to military method in general. Drummond had just stated that drill was the foundation all military discipline. Madari had agreed and, out of sheer contrariness, Face suspected, Hannibal had disagreed. It looked like being a long argument. A fog of smoke from the cigars already hung over the table.

Face felt the need for a little fresh air. He excused himself and left the room. He found a sitting room, that had a ceiling fan running and was deliciously cool. He lounged back on a sofa with a sigh.

He almost dozed off sitting there but was snapped out of it by the door opening. Bennett came in. She was out of uniform, wearing a white cotton shirt and black trousers that showed off her lithe figure very nicely.

“Oh, hi, Face,” she said, appearing to be surprised to find him here. Face had played that one often enough to know it was an act.

“Hi, Karen. Got tired of the military talk?”

“No, I don’t mind that stuff.” She laughed. “But the atmosphere was getting a bit thick with those cigars. Do you mind some company?”

“Of course not.” Face said and patted the seat beside him on the sofa. She came and sat down. “So how many men did the Brigadier take down in the fight at the last telling?”

She laughed again. “Oh, pretty much all of them, I reckon. Sounds like the rest of you were just the audience.”

Face laughed too.

“So, how many men did you take out?” She asked. Face at once had to resist the urge to inflate the figure.

“Two. Would have been more of course, but it was all over pretty quick.” She had just moved a little closer to him. Oh hell, Face thought. He was getting vibes from her and he really wanted to respond. But he couldn’t stop thinking about what he saw last night.

“I’ll bet you were great.” Bennett said. “You’ve got this smoothie front, but I think you’re really tough underneath. A real soldier boy.” She touched his arm, supposedly feeling his muscles for how tough he was. Supposedly. Then her hand slid across his chest and moved up to stroke his neck.


“Face.” Her voice was quiet, the slight harshness of her accent softened as she moved closer, leaned in and kissed him.

His reaction was instinctive, his arms went up and around her. It took a long moment for him to regain control. When he did he put his hands between them, on her arms, pushed her back.

“Karen, I’m sorry. I…” He groaned at the thought of what he was turning down, but a man had to have principles. Anyway Hannibal would kill him.

“What’s wrong?” She asked, surprised.

“It’s just, well, Colonel Madari is a friend of mine, I don’t want to… ” Bennett frowned at him looking baffled.

“What does the colonel have to do with it?” She asked, then smiled. “I think I only have to ask his permission if I want to get married. And you’re pretty fanciable, Face, but I wasn’t thinking of proposing just yet.”

“But aren’t you…you know, with…” Face stopped. Bennett wore a totally astonished expression. Oh hell, he thought, Murdock had been right. Face had taken a very firm grasp of the wrong end of the stick. Her eyes widened and then she laughed heartily.

“You thought I was shagging the colonel?” Face cringed a little and she laughed some more. “Where the hell did you get that idea from?”

“Um, last night, I saw you coming out of his room pretty late.” Face explained, feeling like an idiot.

“Oh, that. We were just talking.”

“At one-thirty?”

She shrugged. “I don’t think he sleeps well.”

“And don’t you sleep?” Face asked, starting to relax. She had moved away a little, now he just had to manoeuvre her close again. And if she liked guys who didn’t sleep he had a little insomnia for her right here.

“Yeah, but I like to talk to him. He’s an experienced officer, I’ve learnt a lot from him.”

“You’re obviously very dedicated to your career.” Face said. That could be the way to go with her, he thought. He inched closer. She was shaking her head, still chuckling.

“The colonel! He’s old enough to be my dad.”

Face decided not to mention that he and Madari were about the same age. He’d already nearly talked himself out of a good thing.

“Sorry, Karen, I got the wrong idea.” He put on his best contrite expression. Full puppy dog eyes

She smiled at him, then to his alarm she suddenly scowled and withdrew from him.

“Wait a minute,” she said. “Is that how you think a woman officer gets on? By sleeping with her C.O.?”

“What? No, no, of course not.” Face said, a desperate edge to his voice as he felt the situation slipping away from him. I’m losing it, he thought. It’s all gone. The old Faceman he ain’t what he used to be.

“Dammit!” She stood up, “I keep thinking that one day I’ll meet one who’s different, but no, you blokes are all the same.” As Face stood up she stretched up to her full height, but she was only five six to his five eleven and this seemed to infuriate her even more. “This…” she patted her shoulder, then grimaced when she realised she didn’t have her uniform on, so had no shoulder boards to point to. “…my insignia means ‘lieutenant’ just the same as yours, you know.”

“I know…”

“You know, eh?” She looked at him for a moment. Face tried the contrite look again. “Naw.” She said eventually. “You don’t know. Right. I’m going to bed.” She turned, then turned back for a moment. “Alone!” Then she was gone slamming the door.

Face sat down with a groan. From now on he promised himself the only women in uniform he would go anywhere near would be nurses. Civilian nurses.

Chapter 5

The yard outside the lodge was abuzz with activity in the early morning light. Face watched it all with a big mug of coffee in his hand. The night had been filled with fire fights. Gunfire rattling and stuttering, bouncing around his skull. He couldn’t even remember seeing much in the dreams. They were nearly all sound. His dreams of Vietnam were almost always about the camps, but dreaming about battle instead was in no way a relief.

Hannibal stood with Madari and Drummond as they all made final arrangements. Drummond’s men were all heading off to their home villages and anywhere else they knew there were fighting men, who might be persuaded to join them. Drummond himself was going to pick up supplies and to beg steal and borrow any vehicle he could lay his hands on. He estimated his men could round up about fifty more soldiers. All these men would need to be fed and transported.

“You could take Face with you, if you want.” Hannibal offered, “he’s very good at the ‘beg steal and borrow’ routine.”

Drummond looked at Face, who gave him the old Faceman smile. The Brigadier did not seem that impressed.

“Um, no, I think I’ll manage.” Drummond said. Face’s smile snapped off at once.

Madari’s men were loading all four of their Land Rovers. The UN contingent was heading to the village of Kizi to question two men about the torture allegations Madari was investigating. Since Kizi was a village that had also lost children Hannibal had decided to tag along and do some recruiting for his army.

When the Land Rovers were fully loaded Madari called out orders to his officers and men.

“Let’s go fellas.” Hannibal called to his team.

Face waited until he saw which car Bennett got into and got into a different one. He found himself travelling with three soldiers, Murdock and an officer he hadn’t met before.

“Good morning, sir.” The officer was an African man, aged about thirty. He wore Captain’s insignia, with a medic’s patch and a pair of wire frames spectacles. “I am Dr Elimu. I am pleased to meet you.” He spoke very formally, shook the hands of Face and Murdock.

“Where have you been hiding?” Murdock asked the doctor as they set off.

Elimu looked a little puzzled. “I have not been hiding, Mr Murdock. I was away picking up medical supplies, I got back very late last night.”

Face vaguely remembered hearing a vehicle arriving and some voices in the yard somewhere around two.

“Ah,” Murdock said, smiling. “Well good to meet you anyway. Don’t mind us if you want to get your head down and catch some shuteye. Sleep.” he added the last word as the doctor looked at him questioningly. “Same goes for you, Face.” Murdock added.

Face frowned at him, ready to take offence, but he couldn’t argue. He felt as if his brain was full of cotton wool and he was no use to anyone that way. He arranged a blanket from the back so that it supported his head and then closed his eyes. Not that there was a chance he would get to sleep on these bumpy roads.


“Lunch, Face!”

Face woke to see he and Murdock were the only people still in the Land Rover, which was parked up by the side of the road.


“Lunchtime, come and get it.” Murdock jumped out. Face followed him, but, while Murdock headed straight for the food, Face went over to Hannibal, who was standing eating a sandwich.

“Everything on schedule?” He needed to look as if he was paying attention. After his lame display yesterday he wanted Hannibal to see that he was still on form.

“Yeah. Faris says we’ll likely be driving until lunchtime tomorrow and then we’re on foot. If the rain keeps off and the roads are okay that is. Otherwise it’s anybody’s guess. Go get some food.”

As Face nodded and turned away Hannibal spoke again, his voice quiet.

“Face? You okay? You look tired.”

“I’m fine.” Face’s voice was instantly reassuring. “Just hard to sleep with this heat you know.”

“It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity.” Hannibal said, with a smile and Face nodded, smiling back. Hannibal looked happier and that made Face feel better. Face went to get some lunch.


Another jungle. South America. Colombia. Another gunshot. The shot that took off Dan Collins’ head. The body falling. Face not even seeing it hit the ground as he fought to get at the man with the gun. Screaming. His rational mind gone. Brain full of red fire and boiling blood. The shot echoed even now. Even now as he sat up in the Land Rover with a cry, no words, nothing rational, just a shout of denial.

“Face?” Murdock sat up, a dark shape in the night. He fumbled around and turned on the light. Face flinched away from it, covered his eyes. The two of them were sleeping in one of the Land Rovers. The rest of the company were in tents, but Face had not trusted the tents to be waterproof and preferred to stay in the car. Murdock had decided to join him.

“Are you okay?” Murdock put a hand on Face’s shoulder and Face didn’t shrug it off. The touch was welcome. And when Murdock moved his hand, in small circles, it helped to banish the horrible images from the dream.

“Wanna tell me about it?” Murdock asked.

“It was just…” Face stopped, startled, as someone knocked on the window. Murdock rolled it down. Lieutenant Ritchie peered in.

“Everything okay? I heard…”

“It’s fine,” Murdock said, hastily. “Was a bug in here the size of a DC3, is all. We’re fine.”

“Right.” Ritchie glanced at Face and Face tried his best not to look as pathetic as he felt. “Okay, goodnight.”

Murdock rolled the window up again. He went to switch off the light.

“Can you leave it on for a minute?” Face hoped his voice didn’t sound too pleading.

“Okay, but we’ll attract every bug for miles around and some of those babies really are huge.” Murdock left the light on and turned back to Face. “Okay, you were saying?”

Face sighed. Why was Murdock so easily sidetracked when you wanted him to focus and yet at other times so inconveniently single minded?

“Just a nightmare, Murdock. Nothing special. Let’s go back to sleep.” He lay down again.

“About ‘nam?” Murdock persisted, he lay propped up on an elbow looking at Face.

“No. About Colombia. Collins.” Face put a hand up to his face, covering his eyes.

Murdock grimaced. “Yeah. I still have dreams about that sometimes myself.”

They were both silent for a few moments.

“You’re not really sleeping at all are you?” Murdock asked.

“I think it’s the climate.” Face said. He took his hand away from his eyes. “It’s too like…” He didn’t go on.

“And it’s the dreams. Every night?”

Dammit, how did Murdock know? He always knew.


A large moth landed on the window. It crawled around, trying to find a way past the barrier to the light that hypnotised it. Face watched it for a while.

“Murdock.” Face said eventually.


“I just have this weird feeling.”

“Tell me.” When Face hesitated he went on. “Face, I’m all about weird. You’re not going to freak me out whatever you say.”

“I think I’m going to die here.”

The words seems to hang in the air for a moment, like frozen breath. Then Face laughed. An awkward sound that had nothing to do with humour. Murdock didn’t laugh. Face sat up and Murdock followed him. “Stupid huh?”

“No.” Murdock said. “But… Okay, that did freak me out a bit.” He looked worried and Face instantly wanted to take back what he’d said. “You think you’re having premonitions?” Murdock asked.

“No, of course not.” Face said, gave another forced laugh. “It’s the jungle. It’s getting to me. I always hated the damn jungle. You know that.”


“Maybe in the morning I’ll ask that doctor for some sleeping pills. That’ll fix me up.”

“You hate taking sleeping pills.” Murdock said, still looking worried. “You say they make you feel sick and sometimes even see things.” Then he smiled. Face didn’t think the smile was very sincere. It seemed more that he was trying to break the awkward mood. “Now you know I have the team monopoly on seeing stuff that isn’t there. I don’t want you horning in on my action.”

“Just some mild stuff. For a couple of nights.” Face promised.

“Well, if you see Billy say ‘hi’ from me.” Murdock said.

“I will.” Face reached up and turned off the light. They lay down and in the darkness Murdock moved closer to Face and rested an arm across Face’s chest. He didn’t say anything. With the reassuring weight of Murdock’s arm around him Face went to sleep.


At lunchtime the next day they got as near to Kizi as they could in the vehicles.

“We will eat and then start our trek,” Madari ordered. He passed a hand through his sweat damp hair. The Arab looked as uncomfortable as Face felt. The humidity must really bother him Face thought, after the parched climate he was used to. But he and Face weren’t the only ones suffering. Everyone seemed beaten down. It hadn’t rained for hours now and the air felt as heavy as a blanket pressing down on them all. Face was surprised to see BA with very little gold around his neck. BA had to get very hot and tired before he left the gold off.

Murdock had been sticking close to Face all morning, watching him closely in the car. So Face was actually a little relieved when Murdock went off to talk to Hannibal for a while. Face sat with his back against the Land Rover and ate his food, enjoying a moment alone.

“Hi, you want a banana?” It was Bennett. She handed him the fruit with a slightly apologetic smile on her face.

“Thanks, Karen.” Face said, accepting what he could see was a peace offering. He smiled up at her. A sincere smile, not the Faceman Smile.

“Face.” She hesitated, then spoke again. “Um. I’m sorry I got in a strop with you like that.”

“That’s okay. I’m sorry if I offended you.”

She smiled, looking relieved, and came and sat down against the side of the Land Rover beside him.

“No worries.” Bennett said. “You didn’t know.” She drank from a water bottle. She was quiet for a moment then went on. “It just bugged me, ’cause I get that sort of thing all the time. People think that’s the way a woman officer gets herself promoted. And that makes it hard to get people to take you seriously.” She frowned. “That git Ritchie doesn’t take me seriously. Colonel Madari doesn’t.”

Face was surprised. “I thought you liked the Colonel.”

Bennett shrugged. “I do. But he doesn’t take me seriously.”

“I don’t think he’s used to working with women officers,” Face said.

“Are you?” She asked.

“Well… um… nurses and doctors. I knew this major in ‘nam, head nurse, she was…”

“Medics are different.” Bennett said.

“Right.” Damn, Face thought. What she said was true and there really wasn’t anything Face could say to make it any better.

“It’s just…” She shrugged. “There’s always this question blokes seem to be asking when they look at me. Why does a girl join the army?”

“Why did you?” Face asked. She frowned, looking irritated for a moment.

“What makes you think it was for any different reason than you did?”

“You mean to say your fiancée ran off and became a nun too?” Face said, feigning surprise. She went from frowning to staring.

“Okay, well maybe not exactly the same reasons.” She admitted after a moment. She shrugged again. “I just wanted some choices in life, you know. A choice other than, do I marry a sheep farmer or an opal miner?”

Murdock came up. He looked at them, speculative, gave a sly smile.

“Do you want me to get lost?” He asked.

“No, Murdock. That’s fine.” Bennett said, gave a wry grimace. “I was just telling Face all my troubles.”

“Ah. Yeah, people do that.” Murdock said. “He’s just got that look.”

“For my sins.” Face said.

“I was just saying how hard it is to get people to take me seriously.” Bennett said.

“Oh, I know how you feel.” Murdock said. “No-body has ever taken me seriously.”

“I wonder why.” Face said.

“But they will. One day.” He grinned, disturbingly. “When the frog people finally reveal their plans. Then they’ll wish they had listened to me. Oh yes…”

Bennett stared at Murdock until he switched off the wild look and grinned.

“Murdock.” Face said. “Knock it off. You’re not helping.”

“Yeah he is. He’s making me laugh.” Bennett said, returning Murdock’s grin.

“Then my existence has been worthwhile.” Murdock said, bowing theatrically to her. “Hey, I came to say Faris is making some of that scary Arab coffee of his. You want some?”

“‘Scary’ coffee?” Face asked.

“It scares me.” Murdock said. “Last time I drank some I had X-Ray vision for three days.”

Face rolled his eyes. “Sure, Murdock, go get us some scary coffee.”


After lunch they started to load up packs to trek the last few miles to Kizi. Face smiled at Bennett as she filled up a pack until it probably weighed more than she did and then had to unload a lot of it and distribute the contents to other people. She tries a little too hard, he thought.

“Everyone has everything they need?” Madari asked surveying his people and the team. “Lieutenant Bennett, you have the camera?”

“Yes, sir.” Face had noticed she made sure to hang onto that, whatever else she gave to other people to carry.

Madari hitched his pack higher on his shoulders, setting the copper pan he used to brew his ‘scary’ coffee swinging on its long handle.

“Ritchie, on point. Move out.” Madari ordered. Ritchie led them down an established track into the jungle. A soldier walked with him, carrying a machete. The rest of them followed behind in pairs or single file.

Face caught up to Bennett and fell into step beside her.

“What’s the camera for?” He asked.

“To take pictures of any injuries or scars the people who’ve been tortured have. To go with the Colonel’s reports.” She explained.

“Ah. That can’t be easy to do.”

“It’s pretty horrible, yeah.” She agreed. “Some of the stuff people have had done to them…” She shook her head. “It makes you wonder how much of a sick bastard someone has to be to even think up these things, never mind actually do them to someone.”

“Yeah.” Face said. Said nothing else.

Bennett glanced ahead to where Hannibal and Madari walked together. Face followed her gaze. Hannibal was talking and grinning and Madari was laughing. Hannibal was probably relating some crazy story, Face guessed. A tale of one of the team’s past exploits, with more artistic flourishes in the telling than even Murdock was capable of.

Bennett’s voice broke into Face’s thoughts. It was quiet, so only Face could hear her. “Face, has the Colonel been tortured?”

He glanced at her sharply and took a moment to realise she meant Madari not Hannibal.

“Those scars he has on his hands. Like…”

“Yes.” Face snapped. He couldn’t talk about… that. Not here, not here in the jungle. “Can we change the subject?”

“Oh. Okay.” She withdrew from him a little. He forced himself to smile at her.

“Tell me about home.” Face said, moving onto safer ground. “You’re from the Outback?”

“Yeah. Dry as a Pommies armpit, spiders that can kill you just by looking at you…” She sighed, wistfully. “I miss it.”


As the light began to fade there was some debate about whether to push on the last couple of miles to Kizi. The people in the village might be somewhat inconvenienced by a hoard of soldiers arriving in the evening. It could be more diplomatic to camp outside for the night. They were still debating when Ritchie called from up front.

“Someone coming towards us, sir.” Cautious, he unslung his rifle, but then lowered it.

On the path ahead of them, alone in the gathering darkness, was a small girl.

Chapter 6

The soldiers and the girl stared at each other for a moment. She looked about five and was dressed only in a torn and dirty orange pinafore.

Ritchie smiled at her and spoke in French. “Bonjour, êtes-vous perdus?” He said, asking if she was lost. The child looked as if she was about to speak, then she caught sight of one of the soldiers who was carrying a machete. She screamed, a brief, high, shriek then ran off the path into the trees.

“Catch her!” Madari shouted at his men. Everyone ran, dropping their packs and spreading out into the jungle from the point the girl had vanished.

Face crashed through the undergrowth, then got hold of himself, controlled the sense of urgency and began to move more slowly. She was probably hiding, he thought. And she was small enough to squeeze into a very tight space. People would be amazed at how tiny a space a kid could get into. He heard the others calling out in French and Swahili to each other and to the girl, telling her not to be afraid.

“I’ve got her!” It was Murdock’s voice. Face turned and headed for the sound. He found Murdock kneeling by a tree that had a hollow in it. Bending down, Face could see the girl curled up inside the hollow. Her eyes were wide and scared. “Hey, honey,” Murdock said in a cajoling voice. “Come on out now. Uncle Murdock won’t hurt ya.”

“Good work, Murdock.” Hannibal appeared behind them. Others arrived as Murdock still talked to the girl. She showed no sign of moving.

“Lieutenant, you try.” Madari ordered Bennett. She took off her beret and took Murdock’s place, started talking in French to the girl. And in a moment her persuasion worked. The child crawled out of her hiding place and threw her arms around Bennett’s neck. Bennett stood up, picking her up and making general soothing noises.

“She’s terrified.” Face said.

“Yeah.” BA was looking as if he’d like to find who had made the little girl so afraid. Over Bennett’s shoulder the child looked at the others and when her eyes met BA’s he smiled at her. But his face fell as she gave a cry of terror and wriggled in Bennett’s arms to get away. Bennett shushed her.

“Doctor.” Madari ordered. “Check her please. Her feet…” She had no shoes on, only a pair of white ankle socks and they could all see the blood stains on the socks. But she wouldn’t let Doctor Elimu anywhere near her. Although he was a very un-threatening looking man to Face’s eye the child shrieked when he came near. After a moment he backed off and she stopped screaming.

“Let me try something.” Face said. He stepped closer and although she looked cautious she let him get near and then let Bennett hand her to him. She settled in his arms, clutching him tight. “Doctor, give Lieutenant Bennett your gear,” Face said. Face sat down, sitting the child in his lap. Bennett took the doctors kit.

“I’ll need some water.” Bennett said as she started to carefully remove the bloodstained socks. Murdock handed her a water bottle. The doctor hovered, and the child watched him nervously.

“She is frightened of other Africans.” Face heard Madari say quietly to Hannibal, “but she’ll let Europeans close to her.”

Face started talking to her, in French, hoping she understood. Like Ritchie he asked if she was lost and she shook her head. He looked her over for a moment and spoke to Hannibal and Madari who had moved a little closer. The girl tolerated their nearness, though looked up at them suspiciously as they towered over her.

“She’s dirty,” Face said. “But it’s fresh dirt. She’s got cuts and scrapes, but also fresh, like they only happened over the last few hours.”

Bennett nodded in agreement. “Other than that she looks well cared for, healthy.”

“She must be from Kizi.” Hannibal said. “She’s too young to have come very far on foot, alone.”

“Ask her what her name is.” Madari said to Face. Face did and for the first time she spoke.

“Kibibi.” Her voice was tiny, even Bennett could barely have heard.

“Kibibi.” Face said to the others, then bent over her, said, “Êtes-vous de Kizi?”


“Yes, she’s from Kizi. Guys, give me a minute. She seems okay with me, back off a little, let me talk to her.” Face felt as if he was making a contribution for the first time in days as the others nodded and moved away. He turned to Kibibi again and smiled to himself. The Faceman charm wasn’t usually applied to ladies this little. He started talking softly to her.

In a few minutes Bennett had finished cleaning and dressing Kibibi’s feet and Face stood up. He handed Kibibi to Bennett again and went over to the other officers. Face looked very serious.

“She told me bad men came to the village last night. Her father pushed her out of the back window and told her to run. She… she saw things while she was hiding. Things she won’t tell me about.” He looked at their shocked faces. “I think we’d better get there real quick.”


They covered most of the last couple of miles very fast. Probably faster than was wise. More than one man took a nasty fall in the darkness. Then a few hundred yards out from the village they slowed and moved more cautiously. Face had carried Kibibi on his back for most of the fast trek, BA carrying Face’s pack in one hand. Now as they approached the village Face transferred the girl into his arms, because he knew he was going to have to hide her eyes.

Kizi was in a clearing, by the side of a fast moving narrow river. A small number of houses and huts stood in the clearing, perhaps twenty in all. There was no smoke from cooking fires visible.

They walked right into the village without a challenge or any reaction and it was at once clear why. The village was dead. Bodies lay scattered everywhere. No one spoke as they walked into the centre of the settlement. Face turned Kibibi’s face into his shoulder, so she could not see.

There were vultures. That was the worst part for Face. He had to resist the urge to turn and run. He held on tighter to the girl. Several large ugly birds squabbled over a number of the bodies. The live humans walking in on their feast didn’t seem to bother them. Not until Hannibal drew his handgun and shot one of them dead. The other birds squawked and shrieked and flew off clumsily.

Then everyone stood very quiet for a moment, looking around. Face became aware of a sound that hadn’t even registered before. A pen full of goats was bleating, loud and urgent. The noise was horribly incongruous.

After a moment Madari gathered himself and called out in French, asking if anyone was here, if anyone was alive. His voice had a note of pleading in it. Hoping for a miracle. There was nothing to be afraid of any more, he said. He was with the United Nations. He would protect them. His voice caught and he stopped. No answer came.

“In Swahili please, doctor.” He ordered. As the doctor repeated his C.O.’s assurances Madari said to the rest “Search. There could be someone hurt and unable to respond.” They spread out. Flashlights went on and men checked the buildings. Face stayed standing with Madari, holding onto Kibibi. Neither man spoke. Face realised the child had gone to sleep. She must be exhausted, he thought.

When the others arrived back they all looked very grim. No one had found any survivors. Hannibal was the first to speak.

“Suspects?” He asked, starkly. “What about the local authorities? Don’t like the idea of these folks talking to you, Faris, reporting the torture. So they send a few boys round for some intimidation and things get out of hand?”

“It is possible,” Madari said, non-committally.

“Or our boy, Sefu? Same motive, heard they reported the missing kids to you, didn’t like that.”

“But that would be crazy.” Ritchie said. “They’d have to know this would bring down more trouble than it was worth.”

“Something like this isn’t planned Mr Ritchie,” Hannibal said. “It just… happens. A hot headed guy maybe goes for a weapon. Or someone moves when they were told to stand still. The gunfire starts and next time anyone takes a breath…” He gestured around him.

They all fell silent again. The penned goats still bleated loudly, a plaintive note to their cries.

“What’s the matter with those damn goats?” Ritchie snapped.

“I think they need milking.” Murdock said.

“All right.” Madari said, after a moment. “Mr Ritchie form a burial detail. See if you can find their burial ground. It will be somewhere away from the river.” Ritchie saluted and picked out six men. BA volunteered and went with them.

“Doctor, Lieutenant, we must document the scene. Lieutenant, bring the camera.” Bennett looked apprehensive at that, but saluted too and put her pack down to get out the camera.

Madari ordered the rest of the men to set up their camp-site outside the village. And to deal with the goats. Their noise was setting everyone’s teeth on edge. It was like a lament.

“I’ll come with you, Faris, if that’s okay,” Hannibal said. “Murdock, help with the camp-site, get some food on. Face look after the kid.”

They all split up to their tasks. It was going to be a very long night.


They couldn’t bury the bodies until dawn, because they had to wait for enough light to photograph them. In the early morning light Bennett went around taking the photographs. Madari and Hannibal walked with her. And as she finished each one Ritchie’s burial party took the body away.

Once that was over a line of bodies lay beside the graves Ritchie’s team had dug. They were wrapped in sheets taken from the now empty homes. There were thirty six bodies. Old people and tiny children among them. It was very quiet now. Two of Madari’s unit, the sons of farmers back home, had milked and fed the distressed goats and the animals were finally silent.

“These people didn’t have a chance.” Hannibal said quietly to Face and Murdock as everyone approached the burial ground. “Mostly gunshot and machete wounds. Some had their heads bashed in.”

Face flinched. Didn’t want to think about it. He looked down at Kibibi, sleeping in his arms. Murdock had suggested he left the girl behind at the camp-site with a soldier to guard her. But Face wanted her to be here, even if she slept through it. In fact it was probably better if she did sleep. But she should be here.

Face stood and watched, the only one not to help lift a body into a grave.

When they were done Madari stepped forward. He cleared his throat. His voice wasn’t loud, he sounded tired, but it carried in the breathless still air.

“I regret we cannot make all the preparations proper to the faith and customs of these people. Circumstances force us to act with haste. But I promise all of you that what happened here will not be buried. We will see that the murderers of these innocent people receive justice.” Nods of approval greeted his speech. “If anyone wishes to say anything please, do so now.” No one stepped up to speak. Madari stepped back beside his officers, bowed his head and closed his eyes. Ritchie waited for him to give the order to fill in the graves.

As they stood by the open graves it started to rain. Large drops pattered on the shrouded bodies.

“Quickly.” Ritchie snapped at his men. They set to work with the shovels and began to fill in the graves before the rain turned the earth to mud. Those not wielding shovels stood with the rain pouring down onto them and simply waited. Face was the first to turn and walk away, realising the rain was no good for the child. At the camp-site he took her into a tent, sat her on a blanket and was about to bundle her up.

“She should get out of those wet clothes first.” Bennett’s voice came from behind him. Face turned to look at her. She was very pale. Rain ran down from her hair over her eyes and cheeks.

“Oh, right.” Face said. “Maybe you should do that.”

“Okay.” She came into the tent and knelt down. “You’d better get out of here.” Her voice was tight and very controlled. She wanted him out and not just so she could look after the girl. Face knew when someone wanted, needed, to be alone.

He left, found his own tent and went inside. He sat down crossed himself and closed his eyes. A few minutes later he heard someone else come into the tent. Sounded like Murdock. Face kept his eyes shut. After a moment he crossed himself again and opened his eyes.

“Hey.” Murdock said softly.

“Hey.” Face said.

“You okay?”


Murdock looked at him narrowly, then seemed satisfied.

“We’re leaving once the rain stops. Hannibal says to get some rest until then.”

Face nodded. No-one but the child had slept last night. He lay down on his bed roll and was asleep in seconds.


It was obvious what he would dream of.

But like a record skipping it was a repeat of the same scene over and over. Walking into the village. The vultures. Hannibal’s gunshot as he killed one of the vile scavengers. That was when it skipped back to the start again, walking into the village, the vultures, the gunshot. Over and over, until he woke. Not gasping or screaming for a change. Simply opened his eyes to look up at the tent fabric over him, heavy with the rain that still poured down on it. Face wondered if it was the dream that had woken him at all or just a rumble of thunder.

The humidity and heat was stifling in the tent. He sat up, looked over at Murdock who lay curled up on his side, still fast asleep. Face needed air and slipped outside. The camp-site was quiet. A few of the soldiers stood around on sentry duty. Face saw BA standing by the tent Face had left Bennett and Kibibi in. BA stood, rigid, paying no heed to the rain. Face walked up to him.

“You standing guard?”

“Yeah. The L.T. went to…” he looked slightly embarrassed for a moment. “Um, answer a call of nature.” He frowned. “I don’t like her being in the trees with this lightning goin’ on.”

“Good point.” Face said. “She been gone long?”

“A while.” BA said and his frown said it was a while longer than he was happy with.

“I’ll go check her out.” Face said. He went the way BA pointed.

He found Bennett quickly. She didn’t hear him coming as he still instinctively moved silently. She was sitting with her back against a tree and her face buried in her hands. Face could hear her quiet sobs above the noise of the rain. For a moment he considered just turning around and going back, leaving her be. But he couldn’t do that.

“Karen,” he said, quietly. She gasped and looked up at him, a little wildly.

“Face, I…” She made a visible effort to pull herself together. “I didn’t hear you.”

“Sorry. Didn’t mean to sneak up. Um, you shouldn’t sit out here under a tree, there’s lightning about.”

She shrugged. “There’s a million trees. I’ll take the chance.”

Face came and sat beside her. “Me too then.” He said. She looked at him. Her eyes were red and sore. Face put his arm around her and she didn’t object, leaned against him.

“I suppose now you’re thinking ‘well this is why they don’t take her seriously.” She said after a moment. “Going off to have a cry when things get tough.”

Face was surprised at her words.

“Karen, you handled yourself well today. You kept it together and did your job.”

“Not keeping it together now, am I?”

“So what? Who says you have to? What makes you think the colonel isn’t sitting in his tent right now, crying his eyes out?”

She gave a tiny smile through her tears. “Which colonel, yours or mine?”

“Either.” Face shrugged. He squeezed her shoulder. “Karen, I’ve seen guys as big as BA cry over sights like that. In fact BA too.”

“In Vietnam?”


“It’s not like I haven’t seen bodies before.” Bennett said after a few minutes of silence. “But soldiers, you know, not defenceless civilians, women and kids..”

“I know. It’s different.”

They fell silent again. Then she looked up at a flash of lightning and a rumble of thunder.

“We’d better go back. That’s getting closer.” She said. They both stood. To his surprise she hugged him quickly, then stepped back, looking embarrassed. “Thanks, Face.”

“No worries,” Face said, with a smile, imitating her accent, trying to make her smile. “You feeling better?”

“Yeah.” She sniffed a bit. “Yeah mostly.”

“Good. Because today you cry, but tomorrow you go back to work. You heard what your colonel said.”

“About the murderers being brought to justice?”

“You want to help make that happen, don’t you?”

“Oh yeah.” Her face hardened. She looked fierce and dangerous. “Too bloody right I do.”

Chapter 7

The rain came down solidly all the rest of the morning. After lunch Madari ordered them to strike camp anyway. They would have to move now if they wanted to get back to the vehicles before nightfall. He dismissed any suggestion of waiting until morning to leave.

The trek back to the Land Rovers was silent and grim. Kibibi had to be carried and would only tolerate the westerners and Madari, she still refused to let any African near her. Face could see that it was almost breaking BA’s heart to see a child afraid of him.

They made it with barely a half hour of light left. After a cheerless cold dinner everyone bedded down for the night. The rain went on. The tents’ ability to keep out water was tested and found wanting. Several people opted to stay in the Land Rovers. Not very comfortable, but dry.


Face expected the bad dream now. He wondered if he had ever had any other kind. Surely he used to dream about good things? Women, he definitely remembered dreaming about women sometimes.

They were all slack that day.

Hannibal turning his back on Clayton, BA and Face paying too much attention to Hannibal’s quips and not watching the defeated man closely enough.

Murdock yelled, ‘Watch out, Colonel!’ And the shot.

Again Face simply awoke from the dream without a cry. Rain drummed on the roof of the Land Rover. Face sighed and shifted a little, trying to get more comfortable. He realised a small hand was holding his, Kibibi slept beside him. Murdock lay on Face’s other side, long recovered now from the gun shot wound that had come so close to killing him that day. He still had a scar.

Face couldn’t remember a day that had felt longer than that one. Or colder. Not the weather, but cold inside. He’d gone numb from the second it happened and just clicked into automatic pilot. The only thought in his mind being to save Murdock. Only later once they’d got Murdock to a hospital had Face allowed the feelings in. And he’d had to excuse himself and go to the bathroom so he could throw up. The feelings hit him physically, all the fear, all at once, like a medicine ball in the gut.

Automatic pilot was what he’d done today, he knew. Because he had to, otherwise he’d have just turned away and ran screaming from the horror. And then he was no use to anyone. Face looked at Murdock again and then to the front of the car. He could see a dark shape he knew was Madari in the front passenger seat. Though he mostly let Face, Bennett or Murdock look after Kibibi, Madari still stayed close to the girl. She was officially under his protection now. He slept curled up and restless.

I’m safe here. Face thought. I’m with Murdock. The Land Rover beside this one has Hannibal and BA in it. I’m safe. In the darkness he let the feelings in slowly and at last wept silent tears for the people they had buried today.


The rain came down as if the weather had something to prove. After not raining for a day and a half it seemed to be making up the deficit by raining for several days straight. Water came out of the sky in torrents, the road surface turned to liquid and the Land Rovers had no chance. One would get bogged down and another would get bogged down trying to tow it out. Face was sure they pushed the vehicles most of the distance they travelled on the first day of the journey.

By the end of that day no-one had any dry clothing and it was impossible to dry what they did have. Meals seemed to consist primarily of rainwater. When night fell putting up the tents was impossible. The rain continued.

The second day was worse.

They arrived back at the lodge the day after that. It was late in the morning when they drove into the yard and practically fell out of the vehicles. The Land Rovers were unrecognisable, completely covered in mud. For now they left them there and went inside, desperate to be out of the rain.

The Brigadier and Abasi and a tall African woman were standing in the lobby talking. They stared at the returning soldiers in astonishment. Men dropped packs and guns and some of them simply sank to sit on the floor, exhausted.

“Good god!” The Brigadier exclaimed. “You lot look bloody awful!”

“Thank you, Brigadier Obvious.” Murdock muttered. Face just wanted to run upstairs to his room, rip off his clothes and get in the shower before he gave in to the urge to claw all his skin off. But he waited patiently as Madari related what they had found at Kizi. The Brigadier, Abasi and the woman looked utterly horrified. When Madari mentioned Kibibi the woman at once scooped the girl up. “Cher pauvre,” she said. Kibibi didn’t protest. She had started to overcome her fear of her own people as her initial shock receded and now showed no fear of the woman.

“Gentlemen,” Drummond addressed the team. “I don’t think you’ve been introduced to my housekeeper, and also the Sergeant’s good lady. Far too good a lady for a rouge like him.” Abasi just smiled at the affectionate dig.

“Madame Abasi.” Hannibal said, bowing his head.

“Please call me Eshe, m’suier Colonel. I speak English. Now you foolish men have all stood here talking for quite long enough, get to your rooms, I will see there is plenty of hot water, I will have food sent up and the beds turned down.”

Face could have kissed her as she started to chivvy them all like children to get to their rooms.

As they all began to climb the stairs, wearily, Madari spoke to Bennett.

“Lieutenant, once you are rested, I’ll need those photographs developed as soon as possible.”

She visibly flinched at his words and Face saw him look at her with concern.

“If you prefer I could have someone else…” Madari began, his voice gentle.

“No!” She snapped. “I can do it! I’ll do them later this afternoon. How many copies?”

“Two, thank you, Karen. But, please, rest first.”

“Right.” She almost ran on ahead of them all up the stairs.


An hour later Face lay on his crisp clean bed sheets. He’d had what he was sure was his longest shower ever, to wash mud from what seemed like every inch of his body. As he lay there he became aware of something his brain had been too numb to recognise before.

The whole house smelled of baking bread. He knew they baked bread fresh here in the kitchen, but at this time of day? And so much of it? And then he remembered.

Hannibal’s army. Despite his fatigue he almost jumped off the bed and hurried to the window, which looked out into the yard.

He wasn’t sure what he expected. Neat rows of tents perhaps, shiny vehicles, lots of men. In the event he was disappointed. There were some vehicles, a truck, jeeps and a couple of decrepit looking Land Rovers. No tents. No men. Of course it was still raining heavily, they must all be inside. Well he would ask at dinner how the recruiting was going. Right now he was nearly sleep-walking.

He managed to stay awake long enough to eat a simple lunch of soup, cold meat and cheese and delicious fresh baked bread that Eshe Abasi brought in herself. Kibibi followed the housekeeper, already apprently very attached to her. The girl ran to Face and hugged him and he picked her up.

“Seems you’ve made a new friend, Madame.” He said.

“Poor scrap.” Eshe said, setting out Face’s lunch. “What is to be done with her?”

“I think that’s up to Colonel Madari for now,” Face said.

“Ah. Well he will decide for the best, I am sure.” She finished setting out the food and called to Kibibi to come with her. But for a moment the girl hung onto Face.

“It’s okay,” he told her, in French. “She’ll take care of you. I’ll be here if you want to see me.”

The girl said something in reply that was a little too fast and idiosyncratic for Face’s St Tropez French. He looked questioningly at Eshe.

“She said you look like an angel. Like the ones in her book.” Face blushed at that.

“Merci,” He replied.

She chattered again, still too fast. Face grinned. “I’m sorry, I could understand her before, but she wasn’t talking much then and not as fast.”

Eshe looked serious. “She asked if you are going to find the bad men.” Face wiped his smile off at once and looked at Kibibi very seriously. In careful French he replied to her.

“Yes. We will find the bad men.”

Eshe translated for her again, though Face got most of it this time.

“My friends are gone.”

“I promise you, Kibibi. We will get the bad men.”

She nodded, her big eyes were serious. Face kissed her on the forehead then handed her over to Eshe. She leaned tiredly against the woman’s shoulder.

“She needs rest.” Face said.

“You too, m’sieur. And your soup is getting cold.” She walked out carrying Kibibi.

Face ate his food then fell onto his bed.


He had no dreams, slept too deeply for that. He was woken by someone knocking at his door. Groaning Face fumbled for the clock by his bed. In the dim light the luminous display showed the time as nearly six pm. The knock came again.

“Okay, okay,” Face called, getting up and dragging on a robe. He went to the door and turned on the light. For some reason he expected to find Murdock there, but it was Bennett.

“Oh, hey, Karen, something wrong?”

“No.” Her voice sounded strained. “Can I come in?”

“Um, okay.” Face let her in. “You okay? You don’t look as if you’ve slept yet.” She was pale and had very dark circles under her eyes. Her hands were trembling.

“I’ve been developing the photographs.” She said.

“Oh. Didn’t the colonel tell you to get some rest first?”

“Tried that, couldn’t sleep. Anyway, he needs them for his report.”

“I’m sure he would have waited until morning.”

She shrugged. She had been looking around the room but now she looked at Face, intently.

“Karen, if you want to talk about all this…”

“No. No talk.” She moved fast and was in his arms, pressed close, kissing him desperately. “Please.” She gasped. “Please. Make it stop.”

He understood. There was only one type of feeling that made this much pain go away.

“Okay, okay. If you’re sure?” God, was he trying to talk himself out of it again? But there were rules, she was pretty strung out right now and he didn’t want her to regret this later.

She pushed him down on the bed. Yeah, Face thought, as her hands pulled away his robe. She was sure.

Chapter 8

Bennett was gone when Face woke again. It was close to eight now, time for dinner. His appetite was almost non-existent, but Face thought he’d better show himself. Besides he needed to find out what was happening with the recruiting.

Pay attention, he told himself sternly as he got into the shower for the second time that day. Hannibal needs you. Get your eyes open and your brain in gear, Lieutenant.

Dinner was an interminable seeming affair where the clock was the loudest noise in the room. Most people toyed listlessly with their food. Even the Brigadier was affected by the mood of the others and his usual stream of military anecdotes didn’t make an appearance. Face felt sorry for the poor girl serving them, as she winced nervously at every sound she made with the plates and cutlery.

After dinner the brigadier reported that he’d arranged for a couple more trucks to come to the lodge for the assault. They should have been here by now, but roads all over the surrounding countryside were washed away or blocked by mudslides. For the same reason only a few of his men had returned so far, with recruits or promises of recruits. The elements were against them and Hannibal’s army was so far a very poor force of about thirty five men.

“I’ll inspect what we have in the morning.” Hannibal said. He did not sound optimistic. He stood up. “In think we all need an early night.”

As they left the dining room Bennett came close to Face, spoke quietly.

“Thanks.” She said. “For before. Just for… well, thanks.”

“If you wanted to come back to my room again…” he cringed, thinking that sounded very crass. “Just to talk…”

“Thanks, but you were right before, I need to rest. I think I will get to sleep now. Good night.”

They parted ways to their bedrooms.


Face had no nightmare, because he couldn’t get to sleep. Despite his exhaustion he just lay staring into the dark. He wondered if he was afraid to sleep. Afraid of what his brain would serve up to him that night.

About two thirty he gave up. He got out of bed and dressed, in jeans and a tee-shirt. Perhaps he would find something to read downstairs. Or he could just prowl around. He thought about waking Murdock and talking, but that seemed unfair. He should let the man sleep. Face went out of his room and headed towards the stairs.

He was not the only one prowling around. Face met Madari coming up the stairs, a jug of water in his hand. He was fully dressed too, casual Arab style, in a knee length shirt and wide legged trousers.

“Face.” He said with a nod, looking slightly surprised. “Not sleeping?”

“Not sure I want to,” Face said and Madari nodded as if he understood that.

“I was just making some coffee,” he said. “Would you like to join me?”

Face hesitated, not sure he was up for a late night talk with Madari. He liked the man well enough and they had a mutual respect, but Madari was Hannibal’s friend really. On the other hand that coffee he made… The clincher was the look in Madari’s eyes. He tried to hide it, but behind the shields he put up around himself he looked suddenly very lonely.

“Sure.” Face said, “Sounds good.” He followed Madari into his room.

Rooms, plural, as it turned out. As the C.O. Madari had been given a suite and had a comfortable sitting room. Two leather chesterfield sofas faced each other across a low table. A larger table, doubling as a desk stood under the rain streaked window that looked out over the yard. Books and papers, pens and pencils were scattered on it.

Madari moved an embroidered screen in the corner to reveal a small cabinet with a camping stove set up on top of it. A coffee pan, an ibrik, Face remembered it was called, was sitting beside the stove.

“We’re certainly not going to sleep if we have much of that coffee,” Face said, sitting down. Madari hesitated as he reached for the tin of ground coffee.

“I suppose we could have tea,” he suggested. “Or there may be some decaffeinated coffee in the kitchen.” His disgusted expression gave such a clear indication of his opinion of decaffeinated coffee that Face smiled.

“No, the scary coffee will be fine, thanks.”

As Madari brewed the coffee Face noticed an airmail envelope on the table between the sofas. He recognised the handwriting.

“Letter from Kahil?”

“Yes, it came while we were away.”

“Always nice to get news from home.”

“Yes.” There was that bleak, lonely look again.

Madari poured the coffee into two small cups and brought them over on a tray. Face took his and Madari sat down on the sofa opposite from Face.

“I started to write a reply,” he nodded at some pieces of blue letter paper on the table, covered in Arabic writing. “I wrote about what we found at the village. But then I stopped. It may be hard for him to hear about that. His family were killed in almost the same circumstances.”

“Yeah.” Face said. He knew the story, Jahni’s father had made a lot of trouble about his son being unjustly imprisoned. One night some soldiers came to his home to suggest that he should keep quiet. After the soldiers left the neighbours found the family’s bodies. Madari had a far away look on his face, and Face gave him the moment, didn’t say anything more. They both sipped their spiced coffee.

“What’s going to happen to Kibibi?” Face asked after a few moments, breaking the silence.

Madari snapped back to the present. “I will make enquiries to see if she has any relatives willing to take her in. Otherwise I can hand her over to the authorities, to be cared for in a state children’s home.” He didn’t look too happy at the prospect. “I’m told they are not pleasant places.”

Face could imagine.

“Or there is a Catholic orphanage not far from here. If there is a place available I’m sure the nuns would take her in. Doctor Elimu has been there, he said the children seem well cared for.”

“That sounds good.” Face nodded. “It’s sisters, by the way, not nuns. Nuns are the enclosed one, sisters are the ones out in the world.”

“Really? I did not know there was a difference.”

Face shrugged. “No reason you should. Even most Catholics don’t. But when you get raised by them, then you do.” He smiled a little wryly. “Not that I think I count as a very good Catholic any more.”

“I’ve noticed you wear a cross sometimes though.” Madari said. Face’s hand went automatically to the small gold crucifix around his neck.

“Well, this was a gift.” He said.

“Ah. But you have not lost your faith entirely?”

“No. I still… well there’s still something there. Habit, maybe. Brainwashing even. I don’t know. But something.”

Madari nodded. “I think I understand. I… well, I cannot call myself a good Muslim. I barely practice, and yet…” He went silent.

“What?” Face prompted. Madari looked at him, then shook his head.

“No, it is foolish,” he said.

“Hey, I listen to Murdock all day, nothing you can say can come close.”

Madari smiled a little, then became serious again. “I have seen much that has tested my faith, but I have seen one thing that made me believe there is something beyond what we normally see. Something… supernatural.”

“Supernatural?” It seemed an odd choice of words. “You don’t mean spiritual?”

“No.” He went silent again. Eventually he spoke, quietly, so Face had to lean forward to hear him. “During my… interrogation…” he never said ‘torture’ Face noticed, when talking of his own experience. “One day I saw my tormentors for what they really were. As if I could see what was inside them.”

“What?” Face asked, his own voice hushed.

“Demons.” Madari said softly. “They were demons.”

Face shivered and shrank back a little in his seat. After a moment Madari gave a forced laugh.

“Of course it must have been an hallucination. But still…” He looked away and shook his head. “I have never been able to dismiss it as such from my mind.”

Face nodded. He’d had hallucinations that were more real than reality, so he understood that.

“I wonder if you can be a soldier for very long and still believe in a merciful god?” Face said.

“It is difficult.” Madari agreed. “When you see children massacred…” He went on talking but Face suddenly wasn’t listening. The word ‘children’ had flicked a switch in his brain and something was clear that had been a jumble of pieces before.

“My god,” he whispered. “She told me, she told me and I didn’t listen…”


“Faris, can I see the photographs Karen took?” Face asked. Madari looked astonished.

“Of the bodies?”

“Yes. It’s important.”

“Of course. My report is here.” Madari rose and Face followed him over to the table by the window. Madari opened a folder that held papers and an envelope, slid a stack of pictures out of the envelope.

“Can I lay these out on here?” Face said, starting to pile up the other papers and books on the table. Madari helped him, until they were all stacked up out of the way. Face laid out all the pictures of the bodies. It was a gruesome display, but he made himself look at them closely. Madari watched him, curious and dubious looking at once.

I’m right, dear god, Face thought. I’m sure I’m right. He started to separate the pictures into groups. He made a stack of all the adults and put it aside. Then he sorted the pictures of the children into two groups. Madari was staring at him as if he was mad, but Face ignored that.

“Faris,” Face said, “tell me if something strikes you about the children.” At Madari’s aghast look he added. “Apart from them being dead I mean.”

“Apart from that?” he still hadn’t looked down at the pictures. Face had to make him look, had to make someone else see this, so he knew he wasn’t going crazy.

“Tell me about their ages.” Now Madari looked at the pictures, the two groups Face had put them into. He looked both baffled and repelled, but he concentrated and then he frowned.

“They are all either very young, or they are teenagers. As if…” He looked up at Face, the shock of realisation on his face. “They didn’t kill the children, they took them! The ones between these age groups, they aren’t dead, they’ve been taken!”

Face almost sighed with relief. He wasn’t crazy after all.

“Kibibi told me.” Face said, “She said ‘my friends are gone.’ I thought she meant dead, but she didn’t.”

“It makes sense.” Madari said slowly, thinking it through, heading to the destination Face had already reached. He stood there, looking thoughtful. Then he winced and rubbed his stomach.

“You okay?” Face asked.

“A little stomach ache.” Madari said, with a dismissive shake of his head.

Face realised his own guts weren’t that happy either. Great, he thought, now is not the time for a case of the trots.

“Yes, it makes sense.” Madari went on. “The little ones are too young to work, take too much looking after. The older ones could cause trouble and would bring a lower price anyway.”

“So they grabbed all the ones between about six and twelve,” Face said. “And of course the parents must have tried to stop them and… well, we know the rest.”

“It must be Sefu.” Madari said. “He is becoming bolder. We have to act quickly.” His tone became urgent. “We can only hope the bad weather has kept him from moving them, that they are still at his camp.”

“Then we’ll have to hit him soon.” Face agreed. “But we don’t have a lot of men yet…”

“We’d better wake the others, I think we may need one of Hannibal’s plans.” Madari turned away from the table, then suddenly stopped. Face saw the blood drain from his face, leaving him looking grey and sick. Sweat broke out across his forehead and he swayed. Face grabbed his arm to stop him from falling.

“Faris, what’s wrong?”

“Dizzy…” His voice was faint, shaky.

“Let me get you to the sofa…” then Face stopped, let go of Madari and staggered back. The room whirled around his head. His ears buzzed. Through the buzz he heard Madari cry out and saw him fall to his knees clutching his stomach, doubled over.

Pain hit Face like a bullet in the gut. His insides felt as if they were being ripped out. The sudden savage pain knocked him to his knees, a choked cry wrung from him. He grabbed at the table edge for support.

“Faris…” Face gasped. Madari was on his side on the floor now, unmoving. His eyes were closed and his face was drawn and agonised. Face knew he would fall into the same state himself within seconds. He knew they were dying.

Face looked across the room at the door. It might as well have been a mile away. If Face tried to reach it to summon help then their friends were going to find two rapidly cooling corpses in the morning. He tried to yell, but his voice was a croak.

He fell back, banging against the bench with the camping stove on it. Something hit the floor beside him. The ibrik, knocked down from the stove. Face, his vision starting to fade, fighting to stay conscious against the onslaught of the pain, grasped the handle of the pan. The ibrik was heavy. Heavy enough for the only chance Face had of raising the alarm. With the last of his strength he hurled it at the closed window. For a moment he feared it might bounce off. But the glass was thin and the copper pan smashed through it and flew out into the night. Then, as if it had rushed in through the shattered window, Face was engulfed by the darkness.

Chapter 9

When the rain stopped Hannibal moved out of the shelter of the doorway and walked across the yard, lighting a cigar. He checked his watch. Almost three a.m. He really should try to get some sleep. But what he saw when he closed his eyes had already driven him out here. He wasn’t sure he wanted a repeat showing.

He wasn’t the only one still up. A light showed on the second floor of the lodge, near the inner corner of the L shape. Hannibal frowned, looking up at it, trying to reconcile it with the inside to figure out whose window it was.


Hannibal turned at the voice from the shadows behind him. Sergeant Abasi stood in the doorway of the old stable block that now housed the cars. A dull glow came from his pipe.

“On patrol, sergeant?” Hannibal asked.

Abasi shrugged, didn’t answer. He looked back up at the lit window. “Sometimes his light burns all night. Perhaps he is afraid of the dark?”

Hannibal frowned a little at that. “Perhaps I’ll…” he began and then gasped. The window they were watching shattered and something flew out of it. It bounced as it landed in the yard. A glint of copper as the moonlight hit it told Hannibal right away what it was.

“What the hell…?” And then Hannibal took off running, Abasi already ahead of him, into the house, up the stairs. When Hannibal reached Madari’s door Abasi was banging on it and shouting.

“Colonel? Êtes-vous bien?”

“Break it down!” Hannibal snapped.

Abasi put his big shoulder to the door and barged it open. They rushed inside to find Face and Madari on the floor.

Hannibal ran to Face’s side, felt for a pulse at his neck. It was there, though faint and weak. “Face!” He shouted, shaking him. “Face, can you hear me?” No response.

“Sergeant…” But Abasi, who had been bending over Madari, was already on his feet again and running out of the room. Hannibal heard his voice booming “Docteur! Docteur!” Then banging on another door. Hannibal heard doors opening, voices demanding to know what the hell was going on. Ritchie appeared at the door, dressed only in boxer shorts and a robe.

“My god, what…” he began, before he was unceremoniously pushed aside by Abasi to allow Dr Elimu to run in with his doctor’s bag.

“What happened?” The doctor demanded, pulling out his stethoscope.

“We found them like this.” Hannibal said. “One of them broke the window, can’t be more than three minutes ago.” Elimu listened first to Madari’s chest then to Face’s.

“We must get them to my infirmary.” He snapped. The normally very polite tone in his voice was gone. He was in charge now.

“Face!” Murdock fell down to his knees beside Hannibal. “What’s wrong with him?”

“Bring them now.” The doctor said. Abasi bent and scooped Madari up in his arms. BA, who had come in behind Murdock, put Face over his shoulder.

“Stand aside.” The doctor commanded the people starting to crowd into the room. “Let them through.” He rushed out after the sergeants carrying the unconscious men. Everyone followed them.

“My nurses, get them.” Elimu ordered Ritchie.

“I’ll do it,” Bennett said, ran off down the stairs ahead of them.

The infirmary was set up in a room downstairs. The doctor ran in first, snapping on the lights. Abasi and BA followed him with their burdens and laid them on beds. Everyone else piled into the room. The doctor examined the two patients, hurrying between one man and the other. After a moment two African women came running in with Bennett. They pushed their way through the crowd of people and the doctor spoke to them rapidly. They ran to start pulling out equipment.

“I think they have been poisoned.” The doctor said, turning to the breathless and frightened people waiting. “I must wash out their stomachs.”

“Poisoned, how?” Hannibal demanded.

“I don’t know, there’s no time to discuss it now.” He scowled at the crowd of onlookers. One of his nurses had to push through them with an armful of tubes.

Hannibal turned on the crowd of people filling the infirmary.

“Okay, the doc needs room. Everybody get out and let them work.” Hannibal ordered.

Some of the crowd did as he asked and left, including the Brigadier and Abasi. Ritchie frowned at Hannibal and then gave some quiet orders to Bennett and, though she gave an agonized look, she left in a hurry. Hannibal didn’t obey his own order. Murdock and BA glanced at each other and stayed too.

Both patients struggled against the tube the doctor had to put down their throats. The doctor shouted at the team to help him restrain them. As he restrained Face Hannibal had to wonder what horrible memories it invoked in the Lieutenant’s scarred mind. Madari’s struggles were weaker and easily restrained by BA alone. But Face fought more fiercely, desperately.

“Hold him!” The doctor snapped at Hannibal and Murdock, who pinned down Face’s arms. “You!” He shouted at Ritchie. “Hold his legs, now.”

Ritchie did as he was told. As they held Face down and the doctor tried to get the tube in, a couple of the UN soldiers came in. They looked at the scene and at each other and then took up station by the door.

“Docteur.” The nurse monitoring Madari with a stethoscope, called. Elimu glanced back at her, she rattled off a lot of very technical medical stuff in French that Hannibal had no chance of keeping up with.

“Attendez une seconde.” The doctor told her, bending over Face again.

She waited all of a second and then, her voice more urgent she called. “Maintenant, docteur! Son coeur!” The doctor groaned, spoke rapidly to the other nurse and she took over from him.

The doctor moved over to Madari’s bed, listened to his heart and started preparing a hypodermic.

“Hey!” Hannibal snapped. “Hey, what’s going on?” Face still struggled, but the nurse had got the tube in and was securing it with tape. Meanwhile Elimu tore Madari’s sleeve and stuck him with the hypodermic. “Doc!” Hannibal called.

“Hannibal, leave him,” Murdock said. “She’s doing okay.” The nurse was starting the stomach wash. Face’s struggles became weaker. The fear clutching Hannibal’s heart got even colder when he saw the blue tinge to Face’s lips.

“He needs oxygen!” Hannibal snapped at the nurse. He grabbed the oxygen mask attached to a tube by the bed. The nurse snatched it out of his hand, glaring at him.

“Hurry up, doc!” Hannibal called. “Get back over here!”

Then he heard Ritchie snap an order, was briefly aware of the two burly soldiers running over and then his feet didn’t touch the ground again until he was outside in the corridor. Hannibal got a brief glimpse of BA and Murdock looking torn between following him and staying to help the doctor, before Ritchie came out, closing the door behind him. Bennett was out there, pacing up and down. She was dressed, somewhat hastily, and armed. She looked astonished as Hannibal was dragged out. Hannibal pulled free of the soldiers and rounded on Ritchie.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing, Lieutenant?” Hannibal demanded. “Let me back in there!”

“Mr Smith, I know you’re worried about your friend, but I’ll thank you to remember that you are not in command here, not in this HQ, and certainly not in the infirmary. If you don’t conduct yourself properly I will have you removed.”

“You will… You will have me removed? Who the hell do you think you are?”

“I think I’m acting commander of this HQ.” Ritchie said, keeping his cool in a way that was much more infuriating than losing his temper could ever have been.

“Commander? Listen to me, boy, I was leading men in combat when you were in daipers!”

“That’s as maybe, but it doesn’t change anything. Do not try to come back into that room until I give you permission.”

Hannibal didn’t answer this time. For one of the few times in his life, he was speechless. If he judged Ritchie right he would carry out his threat. And there was nothing Hannibal could do about it. In his mind Ritchie was already a red smear on the floor, but he knew if he so much as made a move towards the Lieutenant the two blue helmets would put him on his back.

Ritchie turned on his heel and went back into the infirmary. The two soldiers moved to block the door. Hannibal stood there fuming for a moment, then he went and threw himself into a chair across the corridor. Bennett watched him for a moment and he glowered back at her. Then she also went into the infirmary.


One of the longest hours of Hannibal’s life followed his ejection from the infirmary. He stayed sitting in the chair for about thirty seconds, and then started to pace up and down. He tried to talk his way past the soldiers on guard, but they were implacable. Realising he still had cigars in his pocket he got one out and smoked it intently, still pacing, hands clasped behind his back. His watch was broken, he was sure. The hands just did not move.

At last the door opened and Murdock came out of the room. He looked totally exhausted.

“Murdock?” Hannibal said, not daring to ask a real question. When Murdock gave a weary smile Hannibal’s heart soared.

“Face is going to be okay. Faris too.” He passed a slightly shaky hand through his wild hair. “It was touch and go for a bit. Their hearts were pretty erratic, but they’re both stable now. The doc says that ’cause you got to them so quick then they didn’t absorb a lethal dose of the poison.”

Hannibal’s knees went weak and he had to go back and sit in a chair. Murdock sat beside him.

“My god, Murdock. My god…” he shook his head, couldn’t articulate it any more.

“I know.” Murdock answered. “I know. Too close. Just too close.”

Hannibal cringed a little as the relief chased away the mind filling fear and left room for some other emotions. Like shame.

“I acted like a real jerk in there.” Hannibal said. “Trying to give orders…”

Murdock shook his head. “You were scared, feeling helpless.”

“No excuse.” He sat thinking about it for a moment. “Christ, Murdock, was I making a choice? One doctor, two patients and I tried to tell him which one to treat. Was I saying it’s okay to let Faris die, as long as Face is okay?”

“Of course you weren’t,” Murdock said. Then he looked thoughtful. “Actually maybe you were. Making a choice I mean.” Hannibal looked at him, a little surprised. Murdock raised a hand. “No, of course you weren’t saying it’s okay for Faris to die. If he died you’d go after who did it and make them pay, same as you would if it was Face. But if you had to choose which of the two of them to save, of course you’d choose Face. Doesn’t mean you don’t care about what happens to Faris, just means you care more about Face.”

“But… ranking people – friends – like that.” Hannibal said, “Thinking, ‘This friend’s life is worth more to me than that one.’ That’s kind of… cold.”

“Hannibal, it’s just the way things are. It’s gotta be better to be honest about our emotions, than to pretend we don’t really feel that way and get into all that denial crap.”

Hannibal looked at him for a while. “Murdock, sometimes you’re… worryingly sane about things.”

Murdock gave a deranged looking smile in response. “Hey I didn’t live in a mental institution for ten years for fun you know.” He stood up. “I need to go to the bathroom, and then put some clothes on, because I look like an idiot.” He was wearing boxer shorts and a T shirt with Snoopy on it.

“I’ll be here.” Hannibal said. When Murdock had gone Hannibal sat forward in his chair and put his head in his hands. He was shaking as the tension of the last hour left his body. He stayed like that for a while and only looked up when someone sat down in one of the chairs beside him. It was Bennett. She handed Hannibal a cup of coffee.

“How’s it going, Colonel? Murdock tell you they’ll be okay?”

“Yes. Thanks.” He took the coffee. He smiled sheepishly at her, recalling she had seen his altercation with Ritchie. “Been a long time since I had a strip torn off me by a lieutenant.”

She snorted. “What a prat Ritchie is. You should just tell him to go boil his head. That’s what I do when he’s bothering me.”

“Any chance I can get back in there now?” Hannibal asked.

“Sure,” they stood up and she took him into the infirmary, nodding at the guards to let them pass.

BA stood on guard just inside the door. Face and Madari were now in hospital gowns and under the bed clothes. They were both set up on IV drips and looked horribly pasty and sick. The doctor and the nurses moved around them quietly. The main lights in the room were out and only the lights above the beds were on.

“Doctor.” Hannibal said, going straight up and offering his hand. “I’m sorry I acted the way I did. Please accept my apology.”

“Of course.” Elimu said, shaking Hannibal’s hand. “I understand how frightened you were. Please do not concern yourself.”

“I know that your C.O. had to be your priority,” Hannibal said. The doctor frowned at once.

“Colonel Smith, you misunderstand. I treat my patients according to their clinical needs, not their rank. Colonel Madari’s heartbeat was becoming dangerously erratic. I had to stabilise him. Mr Peck was a little more stable at that moment, I was able to leave him to the care of my nurse for a short time.” He looked unhappy though. Clearly having two critical patients needing his care at the same time had been a severe test for him.

Hannibal looked at Face. He looked awful, but was breathing steadily. Hannibal knew there wasn’t anything he could give the doctor that could come close to expressing his gratitude, even if he had all the money in the world. Instead he just took the young man’s hand again, shook it.

“Thank you, Doctor.”

Elimu smiled through his tiredness. “Just doing my job, Colonel. Now, I would suggest you get some rest. My patients will sleep for some time now, and they will need rest for several days.”

“Have you figured out what the poison was?” Hannibal asked.

“I will have to do tests. I may need to send samples away to Kinshasa. It would help if I had what they were poisoned with.”

“Yeah…” Hannibal said, now the immediate crisis was over he had to start thinking again. He had to figure out who had done this. And he had to, as Murdock said, make them pay.

“BA, you staying here?” Hannibal asked.

“Yeah.” BA said, looking as immovable as the Rock of Gibraltar.

Hannibal glanced at Bennett who was standing beside Madari, her hand resting lightly on one of his. “Then, Lieutenant, would you accompany me?” Hannibal said. She saluted him and followed.

“How were they poisoned?” Hannibal said partly to her, partly to himself as they went up the stairs.

“Something at dinner?” She suggested.

“I can hardly remember what we had for dinner,” Hannibal admitted.

“We had a choice. Pork chops or chicken.”

“Okay, well Face never really liked pork, so I’d guess he had the chicken. We can probably safely assume Faris did too…” They headed towards Madari’s room. Two blue helmets guarded the door.

“I had the chicken too,” she said, “And I’m fine, so it can’t have been that.” At the door of the room she gave an order and the guards let them in. The place was just as they had left it last night.

“Don’t touch anything yet.” Hannibal said. “Okay, what else did we have for dinner? Was there anything that only those two ate and no-one else did?”

“Well, there was ice cream for dessert, I don’t know if either of them had any. Then cheese, nuts…” She shook her head. “Okay to drink, there was white wine, I think Face had a glass, but the Colonel wouldn’t have done. Perrier water, but that comes in sealed up bottles…”

“Coffee.” Hannibal said.

“But most of us had the coffee…”

“No, not at dinner. I mean in here.” Hannibal pointed at the two small cups on the table between the two sofas.

“My god, the Colonel’s own coffee?”

Hannibal nodded and strode over to the cabinet with the stove on it. He picked up the coffee tin and examined the contents

“Brews the damn stuff so strong you’d never taste anything suspicious.” He sniffed the coffee. “Looks okay, smells okay too.” He put the lid back on. “The doc will soon tell us if it’s this. Better bring those cups along.” As Hannibal turned from the cabinet he almost stood on a photograph that was on the floor. He bent to pick up that one and a couple more. They were pictures of the murdered children from Kizi. More of the pictures were laid out on the table by the window. Hannibal looked at them for a moment, puzzled, wondering what Face and Madari had been doing with them. He’d have to remember to ask later. For now he shoved the pictures into a file to protect them from the rain that was blowing in through the broken window.

“Better get that boarded up.” Hannibal said to Bennett.

“Hannibal! Hannibal!” It was Murdock’s voice, from down the corridor.

“In here, Murdock.” Hannibal called. Murdock burst in a few seconds later, pushing past the guards. He looked wild eyed.

“What’s wrong? Is Face…”

“What? No, he’s fine. You have to come quick. We’ve got the poisoner.”

Chapter 10

Hannibal, Murdock and Bennett ran downstairs, Murdock in front. He led them through into the staff areas, the kitchens and store rooms. The place was in an uproar. In a corner of the kitchen Ritchie, the Brigadier, Abasi and the housekeeper, Eshe, were standing looking at someone in a corner. Several other African women, Eshe’s staff, stood nearby, speaking in hushed voices. Some of the security men were standing around, looking tense, a couple of them with their rifles out. A number of the UN soldiers were there too.

Hannibal rushed to the corner and pushed aside Drummond and Abasi to see who they were surrounding. He stared in astonishment. A young African woman cowered in the corner, sobbing. Her eyes were red from what looked like many hours of crying. Hannibal recognised her as the girl who served them at dinner and other meals. He’d barely given her a second glance.

“This is the poisoner?” Hannibal asked incredulous. “You’re sure?” He had to be sure they hadn’t just grabbed a scapegoat.

“She confessed to me.” Eshe said. Her face was thunderous. “The little fool has been seeing a man, one of Sefu’s men. He gave her the poison, told her what to do. Tell them, Dalila.” she commanded the girl. “Tell them what he told you to do.”

The girl whispered between sobs, “Tuez l’Arabe.”

“Kill the Arab,” Hannibal said. There was silence for a moment. “She put it in his coffee?” He held up the coffee can he still carried.

“Yes.” Eshe said. “And now she is afraid she will go to hell. And she is right to be afraid!” The girl sobbed louder.

“Damn bold move.” Drummond said. “To kill a chap from the UN. And his government would be a bit ticked off too. Big man back home I understand.”

“Bold move is right,” Hannibal said. “Bold gesture. Sefu must have heard about people reporting the missing children to Madari, wants to send them a message.”

“So they can see that no-one who tries to defy him is safe?” Eshe said. “If even M’sieur Chapeau Bleu is not safe then who else can be?”

“M’sieur Chapeau Bleu?” Hannibal said. He almost smiled. “He kept that one quiet,” he said to Murdock. He hoped Madari would be well enough for Hannibal to tease him about the nickname as soon as possible.

“What do we do with her?” Drummond asked, gesturing at Dalila.

“Give her to me.” Eshe said. “We will deal with her.” The other women were murmuring dangerously now.

“Erm, no.” Ritchie said, “We’ll need to question her further, I’ll have to place her under arrest.” He knew, as Hannibal did, that Dalila probably wouldn’t be seen again if they handed her over now. “Bennett, take her.” Ritchie ordered. “Find somewhere to secure her and set a guard.”

Bennett took the still sobbing girl away, taking two soldiers with her.

“Right.” Drummond said, his moustache quivered furiously. “No-one tries to kill guests in my house and gets away with it. We need to go and deal with this bastard.”

“Let’s go and discuss it someplace… else,” Hannibal suggested, glancing around at the crowd of people in the room. Sefu had to already know of their plan to recruit men and attack his base. And If he had more than one spy here, then there was no point in broadcasting any more of the details.

“I will bring breakfast to the dining room,” Eshe said, It was fully light now. Almost seven o’clock and the sun was bright.

As they walked to the dining room Murdock said to Hannibal. “Looks like Face was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Innocent bystander.”

“I wonder what he was doing in Faris’ room that time of night anyway.” Hannibal thought about the pictures that had been on the table and scattered around. Why were they looking at those pictures?

“Face hasn’t been sleeping.” Murdock said, “Been having nightmares.”

“And Faris is a chronic insomniac…” Hannibal said. “I guess a few of us weren’t sleeping last night. I’d noticed Face looked tired. Dreams about ‘nam?”

“Various things by the sound of it.” Murdock said. “And he said… oh boy… he said he thought he was going to die here.”

Hannibal’s eyebrows shot up. “What?”

“Yeah. Tried to laugh it off, but I think he was pretty freaked. God. Too close to being right.”

“Much too close.” Hannibal agreed. “I have to go give this coffee to the doctor for tests. Meet you in the dining room.”

In the dining room they sat around the big table, waiting in silence until all the staff who came in with breakfast had cleared out. Bennett rejoined them a few minutes later.

“I’ve put her in a store room. Left two men guarding her.”

“We’ll question her some more later,” Hannibal said. “When she’s a bit calmer. I don’t think we’d get much sense out of her right now.”

“Mr Smith.” Ritchie said, coldly. “She is my prisoner. I will decide when she’s questioned and who questions her.”

Hannibal saw Bennett mouth the words “boil your head”, with an encouraging glance at Hannibal. But there was no sense in getting into a new row with Ritchie.

“Of course, Lieutenant,” Hannibal said, politely, which seemed to knock Ritchie off balance a little.

“I’ve known that girl since she was a nipper,” Drummond said, shaking his head. “Knew her parents. Good people, church going. I still can’t believe she’d do something like this, to betray my trust. I’ve always tried to be good to my staff…” He trailed off still shaking his head. “That’s women for you, I suppose. Start seeing some rogue and all their common sense flies out the window.”

Bennett scowled.

“Seems to work the other way around too.” Hannibal said.

“True, true.” Drummond said, “I once made an awful fool of myself over a girl in Bangalore…”

Detecting an incoming anecdote Hannibal cleared his throat, and quickly said, “The weather looks like it’s improving. Once the roads dry out how soon can we expect more of your men back with their recruits?”

“Three or four days time I’d think.” The Brigadier said.

“Sefu has to know we’re coming now.” Murdock said. “God knows how much that girl heard about our plans and passed on.”

“Then we have two choices.” Hannibal said, “we go with what we have and try a sneak attack, or we wait to gather our forces and make a larger scale attack. But that gives him more time to prepare for us.”

“I’m for waiting.” Drummond said. “I think we can put together a tidy force and stand a better chance.” He gave a wry, resigned smile. “I know you’re used to having everything ‘now’ back home in the states, Colonel, but around here a man learns to do an awful lot of waiting.”

Hannibal nodded in acknowledgement. “Mr Ritchie,” he said, hoping now that his earlier politeness had paid off. “Are you and your men going to be joining us?”

“I…” Ritchie hesitated. Not a good sign. “I will need authorisation.”

“Sefu tried to murder your C.O. and you ‘need authorisation’?” Murdock asked. “I think your men are already loading their guns.”

Ritchie didn’t reply to Murdock’s comment, he turned to Bennett who was scowling at him. “Karen, I’ll need you to try and get through to the office in Kinshasa”

“Right.” She said, “I’ll go get the satellite phone out.” She turned on her heel and left, giving her acting C.O. a very dirty look.

“What’s the actual aim of your assault, Mr Smith?” Ritchie asked. “That will have a bearing on my decision.”

“My aim?” Hannibal said. “Okay, my aim is to go in there and burn that damn place to the ground.” The others looked at him a little shocked. The tone in his voice was almost vicious. He calmed down and went on.

“We draw the men out of their barracks and set fire to the place, destroy any stores they have there. Once the camp is destroyed and they’ve got no food, no ammo, they’ll scatter. They’ll doubtless go off and still cause trouble, but it will be small scale and disorganised.”

“And Sefu himself?”

“Once his men see him defeated he can’t lead them again.” Hannibal said. “Men like him lead by force of personality and they’re only as good as their last victory. Once he’s defeated his life won’t be worth that.” Hannibal snapped his fingers. “Or if we capture him we can hand him over to stand trial.”

“What’s to stop him bribing his way out of custody?” Ritchie asked. “The local officials are corrupt.”

“Corrupt maybe, but I’m sure they can spot yesterdays man just like anyone else.” Hannibal said.


Hannibal put off making his decision until he’d inspected the recruits they had so far. Abasi lined them up in the yard outside.

They were a ragtag bunch, with a variety of weapons, some of which looked as if they didn’t work any more. Many of the men were skinny and underfed looking.

One of the would-be soldiers was more promising than the rest. He carried a very clean looking AR-15, which he handled expertly and he gave the colonel a very snappy salute. There was only one problem with him.

“He’s about fifteen.” Hannibal said to Abasi, standing in front of the youngster.

“He says he’s eighteen.” Abasi answered.

“Well he’s lying.” Hannibal said. The boy was tall, strong looking, but he was quite clearly still a boy. He probably didn’t have a razor in his pack.

“Don’t tell me he used to be a soldier?” Hannibal said, his face twisting in disgust at the thought of child soldiers.

“No, his father was a soldier.”

“Then why isn’t his father here?” Hannibal asked. Abasi exchanged some words in Swahili with the boy.

“His father only has one leg now.”

Hannibal winced. “Oh.”

“He says he knows how to use the rifle. He wants to fight. Two children have disappeared from his village. One of them was his cousin.”

Hannibal looked at the boy for a long time. The teenager stood to attention, eyes fixed straight ahead. Hannibal felt as if he could see the boy’s destiny. One day he would be a soldier. But not today. Hannibal Smith did not lead children into combat.

“No.” Hannibal said eventually. “Tell him to go home to his mother. She needs him more than we do.” He turned away and then turned back to Abasi. “Try to persuade him to leave us the rifle.”

Hannibal went back inside and found Murdock waiting for him in the lobby.

“Any good?” Murdock asked.

“Nope. If we go into battle with that lot we’re screwed.” Hannibal said. He sighed, rubbed his eyes. “We’re going to have to wait, like the Brigadier suggested. Let’s just pray the weather holds. Right, I’m going to sit with Face. I’d like to be there when he wakes up. You coming?” Murdock saluted. His salute wasn’t as snappy as the boy’s had been.


It was almost evening by the time Dr Elimu’s patients began to stir. The day had passed slowly. A few more recruits had straggled in, exhausted from their journeys. Ritchie and Bennett had questioned Dalila, with Murdock sitting in, but they got little from her. She was dumb with terror, either of hell fire, or of her boyfriend’s commander, or both.

BA, after a brief absence to put some clothes on, had stood guard over the infirmary all day. Hannibal and Murdock brought him food and drinks and told him about the plans, when it was clear he wasn’t going any place.

Hannibal stood by the infirmary window, sipping some tea as dusk began to fall outside. It hadn’t rained all day. The sun had been bright and the roads were drying up nicely already. A couple of days of this and they would be in good shape for an assault.

Bennett popped her head round the door, checking on the patients. She smiled at the team and disappeared again. She’d done that several times today. Ritchie was keeping her busy, but she seemed to keep finding excuses to walk past the infirmary and put her head around the door. Hannibal smiled and turned back to watch the sunset.

“Hannibal,” Murdock called, “Faris is waking up.” Hannibal turned to see Murdock had risen from his chair beside Face and now stood over Madari, who was stirring and muttering. Hannibal put down his cup and came over to the other side of the bed. The doctor was there before him, listening to Madari’s heart. He seemed satisfied and stepped back a little.

“Let him wake naturally, but he mustn’t become excited, he’s still very weak.” He started preparing a hypodermic. “A light sedative,” he explained. “He still needs to rest.”

“Kahil…” Madari said, his voice weak, but clearer now. His eyes flickered open. “Kahil…”

“Easy,” Hannibal said, putting a hand on Madari’s shoulder. Madari’s eyes focused on Hannibal, he frowned, looked scared and disoriented. “It’s me.” Hannibal went on. “Kahil’s not here. You remember where you are? In Zaire?” For a moment Madari still looked confused then his eyes sprang wide open.

“Face!” He cried, trying to sit up. Looks like he’d remembered all right, Hannibal thought, all in one go. He was easily able to push Madari back down on the bed, there was no strength in him at all.

“Face is okay,” Murdock said, reassuringly. He moved aside so Madari could see Face in the other bed. “He’s still out, but he’s okay. You’re both going to be fine.”

Madari reached out a shaking hand towards Face, though had no chance of reaching him. Murdock took the hand, squeezed it reassuringly.

“I promise you, he’s okay.” He said.

“Face…” Madari fell back on the pillow, his eyes drifted closed again. The doctor had injected the sedative via the IV tube. “Wait…must…” His voice faded to a murmur. Hannibal leaned closer, listening.

“What’s he saying?” Murdock asked.

“It’s Arabic.” Hannibal said. He frowned. “Sounds like ‘the children’. Saying it over and over ‘the children’.”

“This whole situation must be preying on his mind, poor guy.” Murdock said.

“Yeah.” Hannibal said, straightening up and looking down at Madari. His face was tense, as if he was fighting the sedation. Hannibal shrugged and patted Madari’s shoulder. Murdock was probably right, it was preying on his mind. “Relax, Faris, rest now.”

An hour later they got a repeat performance, this time from Face. He stirred and rolled his head back and forth for a few minutes, and started to call out, in a faint voice.

“Hannibal. Hannibal.”

“I’m here, Face.” Hannibal sat by him and took his hand. “You’re okay, take it easy now.”

“Hannibal!” More urgent now.

Murdock stood on the other side of the bed. He leant over and stroked Face’s hair out of his eyes. BA came and stood at the foot of the bed. The doctor bent over and listened to Face’s chest with his stethoscope.

“Good, good.” he said. “Heart and lungs both good. But again, do not let him become agitated. I will sedate him too once he’s conscious.” He stepped back, started to prepare the injection.

Hannibal looked back at Face and was startled as Face’s eyes opened very suddenly and stared right at Hannibal.

“Hannibal?” He looked around at the others. “BA? Murdock?”

“We’re all here, Face.” Hannibal smiled down at him. He’d not been this happy to hear Face’s voice in a very long time.

“What happened to…” Face started to ask. Then like Madari, he seemed to get the memory back all in a rush. “Oh god! Faris?”

“He’s fine.” Hannibal said, pointing at the other bed. “Look, he’s right there, he’s okay.” Face looked over, wild-eyed, then back at Hannibal. His eyes were still confused, he shook his head a little as if trying to clear it. He turned to Murdock, who smiled at him, then he saw the doctor and the hypo.


“It’s just a sedative Face. You need to sleep.” Hannibal said, “don’t be scared.”

“No!” Face actually managed to sit up, which astonished Hannibal, he’d seemed as weak as a kitten. Even more remarkably he swung an arm, clumsily, and knocked the syringe out of the doctor’s hand.

“The children!” he gasped out, collapsing back down on the bed, panting from the effort. “The children! They took the children! They took the children from Kizi!”

Chapter 11

Face’s words knocked all their plans into a cocked hat. After Face explained and pointed out the photos Hannibal convened an emergency meeting. And he did what he now realised they should have done sooner.

None of them had wanted to question Kibibi too closely before. The child was traumatised and anyway, it was pretty clear to them all exactly what had happened. Or at least they thought it was clear.

So now Hannibal had Eshe bring Kibibi to a quiet sitting room and between the two of them they got the full details out of the girl. By the end of it, as she described how the children were dragged away screaming for their families, Hannibal had to stamp down hard on the tears that threatened to escape him. Eshe made no attempt to hide hers.

Once Hannibal had all he needed he let Eshe take Kibibi away. The housekeeper’s soothing words faded as she left the room carrying the sobbing child. Hannibal lit a cigar. His hands shook a little. He sat for a few minutes, smoking. Their forces were small, their weapons poor. They were substantially out-manned and out-gunned. And time was of the essence. Hannibal smiled just a little. Same old, same old. He stood up and went next door to where the others were waiting.

“This is how it’s going to go down…”


Face woke up and instantly regretted it. He hurt. Everywhere. His toenails hurt and his hair hurt. Everything in between hurt even more. His stomach was a dull roar of pain. Still, at least he felt better than when he’d first woken up the evening before.

He really didn’t want to move, moving made everything hurt twice as much. He lay there for a while, eyes closed, listening to Madari’s voice. That sounded much weaker than normal. Madari was speaking in Arabic and now and again Face caught the name “Kahil”.

Jahni’s here? Face thought. No, that was silly. He opened his eyes, which hurt, and turned his head, which really hurt. Madari was talking on what looked like a phone in a briefcase. Across the room, sitting on the windowsill was Bennett, holding some sort of antenna out of the window. Bright morning sunshine made Face squint painfully.

“Kahil… Kahil? Kahil?” Madari sounded frustrated. Then he sighed and put the handset down. He fumbled it, his hands were shaking. If he was as weak as Face felt then Face was surprised he could even pick it up.

“Did we lose the signal?” Bennett asked getting down from the windowsill. She started to pack up the satellite phone.

“No, he hung up.”

“Kahil a little upset?” Face asked. His voice was terrible; croaky and feeble. Madari and Bennett turned to him, both smiling.

“Face, I am sorry I woke you. Kahil is not pleased about what happened to us, no.”

“So when does he get here?” Face asked, trying to summon up a twinkle, but that hurt too much.

“He doesn’t.” Madari frowned. “I told him he doesn’t need to come down here.”

“Yeah, that’ll work,” Face said. “I mean it’s not like he’s a little over protective of you, or anything.”

Madari sighed, lay back. “I shouldn’t have called him. I just…” He shrugged, and winced. He didn’t go on.

“Had to hear his voice?” Face said. He understood that. At least when he woke his closest friends were around him.

“Well I for one hope he does show up,” Bennett said.

Face frowned, surprised. “You’ve not met him, have you?”

“No,” she said. “But I’ve seen a photo. He’s cute.”

Face and Madari looked at each other, eyebrows raised. “What?” Bennett said. “Don’t tell me he’s not cute. Those big brown eyes. He’s a beaut.”

Face smiled. That was painful too. “Sure. Kahil’s as cute as a barrel full of kittens.” And I feel about as strong as one of those kittens, Face thought. He did feel oddly cheerful though, if light-headed. Relief he supposed. He was alive, Madari was alive. Hannibal was going to sort everything out with those poor kids. Everything was just fine. He looked at the IV hanging over his bed. Wow, he thought, whatever is in there can I get some to take home?

“You jealous there, Face?” Bennett said, quietly giving him a wink and a grin.

Hannibal came in before Face could reply. He looked like he’d actually had some sleep.

“Mornin’ fellas,” he said, cheerfully. “Karen.” He looked at the two patients. “Well you two look better.”

“Must have looked pretty bad last night then.” Face said.

“You could say that.”

Face tried to pour himself some water from a jug on a table at the side of his bed. He quickly gave up on that idea. Even the empty plastic beaker felt like a lead weight. Hannibal came and poured the water, held the beaker so Face could drink. After a few sips Face fell back, exhausted by even that small exertion.

“Thanks,” he said faintly. The doctor came in from his office then and frowned at the new visitor.

“These men need rest, Colonel.”

“I know, I know,” Hannibal said. “Actually, I didn’t come to hang out with the invalids.” He gave a teasing grin. “I came to get Karen.”

“Me, Colonel?”

“Yeah, I’d like to inspect your men again and brief them on the mission. With your permission of course, Faris.”

“Of course. Karen, please give Colonel Smith your full co-operation.”

Bennett snapped off a salute. “I’ll go parade them now. Ten minutes, Colonel, in the yard.”

“Thanks, Lieutenant.” Hannibal watched her go and turned back to Madari. “Your Mr Ritchie is grousing about authorisation. We haven’t managed to get through to anybody in Kinshasa yet.”

Madari sighed. “Mr Ritchie is a good officer, but a little inflexible about procedure. Authorisation would be preferable, but I have some latitude in an emergency situation like this.”

“Anyway.” Face put in. “Hannibal once told me that it’s easier to apologise later than to ask for permission now.”

“Good point.” Madari agreed. Hannibal nodded. Face guessed he was thinking that of course it was a good point. It was one of his.

“Right. Well the doc is giving me the hairy eyeball, so I’d better leave you fellas to your rest; before I get my butt tossed out of here again. See you later.” he patted Face on the shoulder. Face winced. “Sorry.” Hannibal left.


Hannibal picked up BA on the way and found Bennett outside in the yard, the men lined up, ready as promised. This was no play-acting inspection to encourage the men. This was serious. On the other side of the yard Drummond and Abasi were working with the civilian recruits and the security men who had returned so far. Rifles were being repaired, cleaned and tested. No teasing shouts came the way of the blue-helmeted Cameroonians this time.

Hannibal outlined the assault plan to the UN soldiers. He was going to split up the civilian recruits into several groups, each under the command of one of Drummond’s security men. They would draw the enemy out of the camp, hopefully splitting and scattering them through the jungle. They wouldn’t engage Sefu’s troop’s directly, they’d keep them running around looking for an apparent army attacking.

Meanwhile Hannibal’s team and the UN troops would go into the camp itself. They’d split into groups too, One team would find the children, another would go after Sefu himself and the last would split into small teams and attempt to destroy as much as they could, the armoury, the food stores and as many of the barracks buildings as they could.

Hannibal felt encouraged; the soldiers paid close attention and asked intelligent questions. They seemed committed to the success of the mission, and Hannibal felt sure he could rely on them to do what he asked of them. One thing he wanted to make clear though.

“I want Sefu taken alive. I know he tried to kill your commanding officer and, believe me, I understand the temptation you’re feeling to make him pay for that, but try to keep a cool head. I promise you, he will be made to pay.” The men murmured in satisfied tones, nodding their approval.


“What the hell’s going on?” It was Ritchie, striding across the yard from the lodge, looking furious.

“I’m inspecting the men.” Hannibal said. “Briefing them…”

“Well I don’t know how things work in the American army, Mr Smith, but in mine you get permission before you do that.” He stood close to Hannibal, getting up in his face. BA scowled and moved closer to Hannibal.

“He did get permission.” Bennett snapped.

“What, from you?”

“From the colonel,” she said.

“The colonel is not back on duty,” Ritchie said, loud, angry. “Until he is, I’m in charge and I say…”

“Are you going to start about authorisation again?” Hannibal asked, frustrated. Someone needed to learn that out in the field orders from home base were a luxury. You made your own decisions. And just hoped to god you got them right.

“There are rules…”

“Oh, get the stick out your arse, Geoff.” Bennett shouted, sounding as frustrated as Hannibal. “I don’t need authorisation to go rescue a bunch of kids about to be sold into slavery by a bastard who also tried to kill our C.O.!”

Hannibal noticed Drummond heading over to them, a grim look on his face.

“Listen to me, Bennett.”

“Mr Ritchie.” The brigadier said. Ritchie ignored him.

“I’m sure we’d get authorisation if you could get your finger out and get through to Kinshasa on that damn phone.”

“Mr Ritchie!” The Brigadier again, and this time using the parade ground voice. “Dismiss your men, sir.”

“What?” Ritchie stared at Drummond. The brigadier made his voice a little quieter when he spoke again.

“Dismiss your men or I’ll do it for you.” He was right Hannibal thought. As interesting as a full on knock-down drag-out between a couple of officers was for the men, it wasn’t something they should be an audience for. Half the men looked embarrassed, the other half were watching as if it was cabaret.

“Dismiss,” Ritchie snapped at his sergeant, who yelled orders at the men and they marched away back into the lodge. Ritchie turned back to Bennett, who was still fuming. The short break seemed to have given her time to build up a bigger head of steam.

“Have you even heard of the concept of the chain of command, Bennett?” Ritchie asked.

“Have you even heard of the concept of having a backbone?” She retorted.

“Listen to me, I’m in charge when the colonel is incapacitated…”

“He’s awake. He’s the one giving me my orders. He says we go on the mission. We’re going.”

“Which I’m sure would be confirmed if you got through to Kinshasa, which you somehow can’t manage…” Ritchie’s voice turned sarcastic, “despite managing to get through to the Middle East so the Colonel could have a nice chat with his little friend.”

Bennett came very close to hitting him then, Hannibal was sure. He saw her fists clench until the knuckles went white. Hannibal spoke before she did.

“I’d appreciate it if you showed some respect for your commanding officer.”

Ritchie whipped around to Hannibal. He was white in the face now.

“And I’d appreciate it if you explained to me what the hell gives you the right to tell me what to do!”

Hannibal put out a hand to restrain BA as he surged forward. Ritchie looked alarmed for a moment, took a step backwards.

“Tell you what, Ritchie.” Bennett said, sounding a little calmer. “You can stay here and wait for the authorisation to wipe your arse. I’m going to finish preparing the men.” She spun on her heel and marched off.

“Stroppy bitch!” Ritchie growled to himself, though waiting until she was well out of earshot. He marched off too.

We’ve got a real problem there.” Drummond said to Hannibal. Hannibal nodded. They both heard BA mutter, “Officers.”

“She’s got the ability and the guts, he’s got the seniority. Old story. Though first time I’ve seen it with a girl as one of the players.”

“Yeah.” Hannibal sighed.

“She’ll leave him far behind one day. But until then…” he shrugged. “It’s a problem.”

Hannibal wished Madari was back on his feet, then the feuding Australians would be his problem. But for now they were Hannibal’s.

“Excuse me, Brigadier.” Hannibal said. “Don’t let me keep you from your men.”

“We’ll be ready, Colonel.” Drummond said and marched off back to the other side of the yard. Hannibal stood for a few minutes, chewing on the end of his cigar. This called for something he’d been developing his skills at the last couple of years, now he was getting older and kicking ass wasn’t always an available option. This called for diplomacy.

Hannibal went inside. He found Ritchie in Madari’s office, shuffling papers around aggressively. Ritchie gave Hannibal a dirty look.

“What now?”

“I came to give you some advice,” Hannibal said.

“Oh really?”

“Yeah.” Hannibal put his cigar out in the ashtray on the desk. “You’ve got a chance here, Lieutenant, to show what you’re really made of. I’d been planning to put you in charge of one of the teams in the assault. Should I give that to Bennett instead? Because right now your men think that ‘stroppy bitch’ has got more balls than you have and you’re not giving me any reason to think differently.”

“And why do I care what you think, Mr Smith?”

Hannibal shrugged. “Yeah, so you hardly know me. But just this morning Madari told me that you’re a good officer. And I hope your C.O.’s opinion is worth something to you. You going to prove him wrong?”

“I… he said I was a good officer?” Ritchie seemed surprised.

“Yes. And he knows a good officer when he sees one, trust me.” Hannibal said. Ritchie looked very thoughtful. “So do I.” Hannibal went on. “I could give you a list of the good officers I’ve worked with. And I could give you a list of the bad ones. Tomorrow you’ll have a choice of which list you end up on.”

“Colonel… I…I’ve never…” He stopped shook his head, looking down. Hannibal knew right away what he was trying to say.

“You’ve never been in combat?”

“No. Training, simulation. Been shot at from a distance a few times, but not… not what you have planned.”

“Lieutenant,” Hannibal paused, he took out a fresh cigar and lit it. “I met a few of your countrymen in Vietnam. Those bastards drank hard and fought harder. And when they weren’t talking about women they used to talk about Gallipoli and Tobruk and what the Australians had done there. Now are you going to come with me tomorrow and prove what they used to tell me; that nobody fights like a Digger?”

Hannibal saw Ritchie’s jaw set firm. The lieutenant stood up and saluted. Hannibal returned the salute and then turned and left. He smiled to himself. He really was getting the hang of this diplomacy thing.


Just before four in the morning the first hints of dawn lit the horizon. Face had just woken and lay listening to the sound of the troops in the yard as they prepared to leave. A nurse sat at a table, sewing by the light of a lamp. Madari was sleeping.

Face turned as the door opened quietly and Murdock looked in. Seeing Face awake he slipped inside.

“Hey, Face.” Murdock said, almost whispering to avoid waking Madari. “We’re moving out in a few minutes, just looked in to say goodbye.” He sat on Face’s bed. “How are you two doing?”

“Oh fine,” Face said. “Lots of sleep, UN issue drugs and Eshe’s nourishing soup. It’s like a spa.” He did feel stronger than before though. He was able to pick up that plastic beaker when it was a quarter full of water now. “Nothing to do all day but swap war stories. Though if I have to listen to another of Faris’s stories about his grandfather I may bribe the doctor to sedate him.”

“Aw, I love those stories.” Murdock said. Face smiled, he normally did too, after dinner, with a couple of big drinks in him, when the cigars and the tall tales were being passed around. They were just a lot harder to swallow in the sober daylight.

Face squinted at Murdock. “Are my eyes going strange or did something happen to your hat?”

Murdock whipped off the red baseball cap he wore. “I traded it with Karen. Sydney Swans, some kind of football team. Kind of a sissy name though.” He grinned, put the red hat back on. He checked his watch. “Well, I’d better go. You two just relax, eat your soup, and we’ll see you in a couple of days.”

“Okay, Murdock. Good luck.” Face said. “Hey.” he caught Murdock’s hand as Murdock started to turn away. “Be careful, okay?” Murdock nodded seriously. Then he waved to Face, the nurse and the still sleeping Madari and left. In a few minutes Face heard car doors slamming and engines starting up. Then the engine noises faded away to silence. Face closed his eyes and drifted back to sleep.

Chapter 12

Face woke to the clattering of dishes. He’s gone back to sleep after breakfast and now it was lunchtime. Eshe was ladling soup into bowls. Kibibi must still be following the housekeeper around, as she was there too. She had climbed onto Madari’s bed and was chattering to him very fast. From the look on his face he was only getting about half of it. She had his wristband of worry beads in her hand, shaking it to see the amber beads flash in the light and hear them click and rattle.

“Hey. Lunch already?” Face said. He pushed himself to sit up. Kibibi at once slid off Madari’s bed and ran to Face’s. She climbed on a chair and onto the bed, hugged him.

“Affectionate little thing isn’t she?” Face said.

Eshe chased her off the bed, and put a tray on Face’s knees. Ah, we must be getting stronger, Face thought. The soup actually had fairly substantial pieces of meat and vegetables in it, no more broth. Eshe gave Madari a tray and then gave the doctor soup and bread.

“It seems quiet, Madame,” Madari said, “aren’t your staff here?” The infirmary wasn’t far from the kitchens, and yesterday there had been plenty of traffic and bustle.

“They have gone to town, to church. It is the feast of Corpus Christi today. But with only you two, the doctor, the child and the four soldiers to look after I can manage. Oh and…her.”

The four soldiers were UN men Hannibal had left behind to guard the lodge while they were away, Face knew. He assumed “her” was Dalila, the girl who had put them in this state and was still locked up under arrest someplace.

“And of course you have your little assistant.” Face said.

“Yes.” Eshe said. “I shall return soon for your dishes.” She called to Kibibi, who was exploring. The girl emerged from under Face’s bed. She went to Madari and handed him up his worry beads.

“Merci, mon petit.” he said, slipping them back on his wrist and patting her on the head. She followed Eshe out of the room.

The three men ate their soup and then Face and Madari had to watch the doctor jealously as he ate chicken casserole. Not that either of them was strong enough to manage solid food, but Face felt it was in rather poor taste to let them watch him eat. The doctor just ate his lunch, reading their charts, oblivious to their dirty looks.

“If he has dessert I’m going to kill him.” Face muttered to Madari. “Or, well, plan to kill him, sometime after I can stand up by myself again.”

“I will happily join you.” Madari agreed. The doctor looked up.

“Did you say something?” He asked.

“Nothing,” Face said, with his best innocent look. Best not to upset the man with the needles, he decided.

“Actually, Doctor,” Madari said, looking with distaste at the beaker of plain water he’d been drinking from. “I was wondering if I could get some coffee?”

“Coffee, Colonel?” The doctor sounded astonished. “I wouldn’t have thought you’d want coffee ever again.”

“Well, I did mean some without any poison in it.” Madari said, with a touch of sarcasm in his voice. Face grinned.

“I could use a coffee too,” he said.

“Well you’re not having any coffee, either of you.” The doctor said, sternly. “You need to rest.”


“No ‘buts’, Colonel.” He stood up, wiping his mouth on a napkin. “Your caffeine consumption borders on substance abuse. It will do you good to abstain for a few days.”

Madari looked defensive. “I’m an Arab, we like coffee, it’s part of our culture.”

“Well if all Arabs drink as much of it as you, it’s no wonder they are all so touchy and there is so much trouble in the region.”

Madari stared at him. “Well thank you for that fascinating analysis, Doctor.” He said, in an irritated tone. “Perhaps you should write a paper explaining how the Middle East conflict can be solved by switching the Arabs to ‘decaf’?”

The doctor raised an eyebrow at him. “Mr Peck, did he just prove my point?”

“He may have.” Face grinned.

“If you are good and you get plenty of sleep tonight I may allow you to have some tea tomorrow.”

“If I am ‘good’?” Madari piled on as much Royal Guardsman haughtiness as he could manage in his weakened state. It didn’t seem to impress the doctor at all.

“Yes.” The doctor turned to Face who was still grinning. “And you can stop smirking, Mr Peck. You are almost as bad. If I cut you you would bleed espresso. Now rest, that is an order.” He went into his office.

“And I thought he was such a nice young man.” Face said. “Seems to change once he’s got you under his thumb.”

“I do not drink too much coffee.” Madari muttered, darkly. Face gave him a look. “Not for an Arab.” he added, defensive again. “Now my grandfather, he drank a lot of coffee…”

Face lay back on his pillows and closed his eyes. Rest. That was definitely what he needed. As another Old Ahmed anecdote washed over him he slipped back into sleep.


Gunshots. Automatic fire crackling. Face woke with a gasp. Not again, please, not the dreams again. He just couldn’t take it.

Madari was sitting bolt upright and wide-eyed. A book he’d been reading slid from his knees to the floor. Face frowned. How the hell could Madari hear the shots in Face’s dream? And then the shots came again. They weren’t in Face’s head, they were real.

Elimu came running from his office, he ran to the window. The light outside was slanting now, the sun was going down.

“Doctor? What do you see?” Madari asked.

“Nothing…” The doctor said. “I’ll go and see what’s happening.” He ran from the room.

Face and Madari stared at each other. Then a female scream pierced the air, followed by two shots and silence.

“Eshe?” Face gasped. “No…” He pulled off his bed-clothes, put his feet on the floor. Madari did the same and immediately fell over. Face leaned against his bed to stop himself from falling too. He’d been out of bed a couple of times, but with someone supporting him either side. He didn’t think he could stand up alone. Madari was trying to pull himself back to his feet when Elimu ran back in.

“We’re under attack. They just shot the the prisoner, the girl who poisoned you. And the men guarding her.” he looked around wildly. “I think they are coming here. Quickly, you must hide.” He ran to Madari, hauled him up to his feet and dragged him stumbling to a storage closet. He pushed the protesting Colonel inside. Face heard what sounded like some choice Arabic swear words as Madari crashed to the floor with half the contents of the closet falling down after him.

“Hide?” Face said, “we have to…”

“What, Mr Peck? Fight? You cannot even stand up. Please,” he pulled Face over to the closet. “Hide, I will try to get them out of here.” He shoved Face inside and pushed the door closed. Face fell down, partly onto the floor, partly onto Madari, inducing more swearing.

“Quiet!” Elimu’s voice hissed from the other side of the door. Face pulled himself away from Madari, managed to get to his knees. He pushed the door open a very tiny bit, so he could see out into the infirmary. Madari pulled himself up to lean against Face, trying to see out too. Face saw Elimu run to the beds and strip all the bed clothes off them. The doctor ran into his office with them and came back out empty handed.

At that moment the door slammed back and two tall young African men burst in, toting automatic rifles. Elimu gasped and backed away from them.

“Who are you? What do you want here?” He cried, in French. One of them answered in the same language.

“You’re the doctor?” He demanded.

“Yes.” Elimu said. “What do you want?”

“Your patients, where are they?” He looked at the stripped beds. “The Arab, the American, where are they?”

“They died.” Elimu said. Face’s eyes went wide.

“Liar.” The spokesman of the two intruders backhanded Elimu hard, knocking off his glasses. The doctor fell to his knees. Face felt Madari tense up as his officer was struck. “We were told they survived.”

“They did,” the doctor said. Face saw him feeling around on the floor for his glasses, but still staring up at the thugs. “At first. But the poison damaged their livers. They died last night.”

He’s a damn good liar, Face thought. If he didn’t know better he’d believe the doctor himself.

The thugs dragged Elimu up to his feet. “Then show us the bodies.”

Damn, Face thought.

“I can’t, they aren’t here. The American, his friends took him away already, to take him home.”

“And the Arab?”

“He’s been buried.” Elimu said.

“Already? You said they only died last night.”

“He… he was a Muslim. His instructions said he should be buried before sunset.”

Damn, Face thought. And this time it was, damn, this guy’s good.

“Show us the grave.” The spokesman gabbed the doctor by the collar and dragged him out of the room. Face gave them a moment to get out of earshot and opened the door. He sprawled out of it, then tried to get to his hands and knees.

“The doc’s a quick thinker.” Face said as Madari crawled out the closet to sit on the floor beside Face. “Where’s he taking them? If you had died where would we have buried you before sunset.”

Madari grimaced a little at the thought.

“The village. About a mile from here there’s a village. Most of the staff from the lodge live there. There’s a burial ground there.”

“Well I hope there’s a fresh grave in it, or the doc’s in big trouble.”

“We have to go after him, we have to help him…” Madari crawled to a cabinet and pulled himself up on it. By supporting himself against it he could stay standing, but Face could see there was no way he could walk. Face got to the same cabinet and pulled himself to his feet too. That lasted about five seconds, then his knees gave out. Madari grabbed at his arm to catch him, but he had no strength and Face’s weight simply pulled him to the floor. They lay there, both breathing hard.

“Okay, this isn’t going to work.” Face muttered. They were not exactly fearsome warriors the pair of them, lying on the floor, in hospital gowns, unable to stand up unaided.

“Eshe and Kibibi,” Madari said. “We must find them too, if they have been…” he didn’t finish. Face was worrying about the same thing. He lay on his back for a moment, trying to think straight. Then his eyes widened as he realised what the cabinet was that they had been using as a support. It was the drugs cabinet.

A surge of hope helped him get to his feet again, pulling himself up. The cabinet was glass fronted and full of lots of little boxes and bottles. It was also locked. This wasn’t normally a problem for Face, of course, but his lock picks were upstairs, he wasn’t getting at them any time soon. Anyway his hands were shaking. He turned away from the cabinet.

“Move away,” he told Madari, wrapping his arm in a towel. He waited until Madari scooted away a few feet then Face smashed the glass with his elbow. He turned back and pulled pieces of glass out with his hand wrapped in the towel.

“What are you doing?” Madari asked as Face rummaged in the cabinet. Face turned back, a small white box in his hand. He grinned as he sank back down to the floor.

“I’m turning us into a couple of speed freaks.”


“Stimulants. Amphetamines. Get us on our feet. We have to see what’s happened to Eshe and to the doc and then we have to go after Hannibal. If we’re under attack then Sefu must know they’re coming for him. They’re walking into an ambush.” Face filled a hypodermic with the drug. “Now, can you inject yourself or should I do it for you?”

Madari took the hypo and injected himself without another word.

“Er, good,” Face said, filling a second hypodermic.

“I’m not sure this is such a good idea, though,” Madari said as he watched Face inject himself. “Who knows how this will mix with whatever the doctor already has us on? And I don’t do well with strong drugs. I tend to react to them oddly… I see things.”

“Yeah?” Face said. “Me too. You ever get the bugs under the skin one?”

Madari shuddered. “Yes.”

They both gasped and flinched suddenly as the door slammed back. But it was Eshe carrying Kibibi.

“Are you all right?” She cried. “Those men, they killed all the soldiers! They took the doctor!”

“We know.” Face said. “They didn’t find you?”

“We hid. Does this mean they know about the attack on the camp?” She looked agonised at the idea that her husband and the others could be walking into a trap.

“I’m afraid they probably do.” Madari said.

“Mon dieu! What can we do?”

“Well, the first thing you can do,” Face said. “Is get us some clothes.”


A half hour later Face and Madari were preparing a jeep outside. They were both still wobbly, but as Face said they would be sitting down in the jeep, so that would be okay. They were both breathing a little too fast and Face’s heart felt like it was going to pound right of his chest. He felt very strange generally. He kept wanting to giggle.

A few minutes earlier a boy had run into the lodge, from the village, reporting that he had seen four men arrive in a jeep with Dr Elimu. They had gone to the graveyard and then driven off, taking the doctor with them.

“Taking him back to base?” Face said. “As a hostage? Or maybe they just need a doctor to work for them.”

Eshe came out of the lodge with a bag of water bottles and food supplies. She put it into the jeep, scowling at the two men. She had already expressed her opinion that they were insane to even try this.

“Go down to the village,” Madari ordered her, “All of you. Stay there until everyone returns.” He got into the passenger seat, an automatic rifle across his knees. Another rifle and a couple of handguns were on the back seat, along with boxes of ammo and a box of grenades. Face had more bottles of the amphetamines and several hypodermics in his pockets.

Face started the jeep and they drove out of the yard. Eshe, Kibibi and the boy from the village ran to the gate and watched until they were out of sight.

“Hannibal is about fifteen hours ahead of us.” Madari said. “That is a lot of time to make up.”

“But we can move faster than them, they have bigger heavier vehicles.”

“True, but I doubt we can catch up before they get to the camp. What if the trap has already been sprung by the time we get there?”

“Then we’ll have to rescue them.” Face said. He knew that sounded a little crazy. The two of them, could hardly take on one hundred and fifty armed men, no matter how hepped up on speed they were.

“Erm, us? Just us?” Madari sounded highly dubious.

“We’ll think of something.” Face said. The jeep bounced along the rough road. Face glanced at Madari’s grim expression in the fading light. “Cheer up, Faris. Think about…” he grinned as something terribly appropriate came to mind. “Another man who came to this country, to Kinshasa, for a fight, nearly twenty years ago now. He was the underdog and he spent half the fight on the ropes, but in the end he put his opponent out for the count.”

Madari looked at Face with raised eyebrows.

“You’re talking about The Rumble in the Jungle.”

“Yeah.” Face grinned scarily. “Sefu may mean ‘sword’ in Swahili, but think we can make it mean ‘Foreman’?”

“We can try.” Madari grinned back. “And I thought of something else. Muhammed Ali is a Muslim. Now that has to be a good omen of some kind.”

“I’ll buy that,” Face laughed and Madari joined in. They drove on for a few minutes then Madari spoke again.

“You know my grandfather was at The Rumble in the Jungle.”

“Oh, he was not.”

Chapter 13

Hannibal’s unit had hidden their vehicles off the main road, leaving them guarded and were making their final approach to the camp on foot. The sun had set some hours ago and they made their way slowly, by moonlight.

Hannibal was in no rush. He had the attack planned for four in the morning. That gave them plenty of time to get into position.

About midnight they reached the “parking lot” they had found when following the men home. Hannibal wanted to secure this area, to keep the enemy from using any of their vehicles. The small hut had a light showing in the window and music drifted from it. Hannibal estimated there was only one man in there, two at the most.

He sent Murdock, Ritchie, and Bennett around the back, with a few blue helmets, in case there was a back door. Hannibal of course went in the front door. He kicked it in and piled in, BA and Abasi behind him. The two men inside, who had been playing cards and listening to a radio threw their hands up at once.

“Slack, fellas, very slack.” Hannibal said. “Tie these idiots up.” He ordered the sergeants. He strolled to a window that looked out the back. “Murdock?”

“Here, Colonel.” Murdock emerged from the darkness. He tripped on something and muttered, bent to pick it up. It was a beer bottle. “Litter bugs,” Murdock muttered. The ground was scattered with bottles, looked like they just tossed their empties out the back window.

“We’re secured here, Captain.” Hannibal said. “Let’s get back on the move.”

They left behind four men to guard the prisoners and the vehicles and moved towards the camp. It was nearly midnight now.

“Okay, time to split up,” Hannibal said. He would send the “distraction squad” out first, the ones who would take up positions around the camp and draw out as many men as possible, lead them on wild goose chases. He checked at least one man in each group had a watch that was working and they synchronised them.

“0410 is zero hour. When the time comes just go for it.” They nodded and moved off, quickly vanished into the jungle. There was no way to give a signal. They had to rely on timing. They had a few radios, but Hannibal wanted to keep them for the groups going into the camp, who would need closer co-ordination. He also worried that there could be someone monitoring from inside the camp.

“Okay, the rest of us have a little time to kill before we get into position.” Hannibal said. “Mr Ritchie, would you set a guard please. Everyone else, get some rest for a couple of hours.” They settled down, ate some rations, caught some sleep, Hannibal stayed awake for a while, watching the others, then he let himself drift off into a doze.

The gunfire woke him with a shock. Everyone else was scrambling up, reaching for their weapons. Was it one of the distraction teams? Had they run into a patrol? No, too close for that. A man, a UN soldier, who had been on watch, patrolling their perimeter, ran back into the camp. A crackle of automatic fire sounded behind him and he fell forward onto his face, didn’t move.

And then the enemy was everywhere, coming out to the trees, all around them. They were surrounded. It was a trap.

“Drop your weapons!” A stentorian voice bellowed from the approaching enemy.

“Hannibal?” Murdock was at Hannibal’s side, white faced. BA appeared on the other.

“Return fire!” Hannibal yelled.


There was a dog on the back seat of the jeep. Face had first noticed it in the mirror about ten minutes ago. It wasn’t doing anything much, just sitting there, its tongue lolling, looking alert. It looked like some kind of collie cross, but with a lot of miscellaneous in there. Face could even feel its breath on the back of his neck. Of course it wasn’t real. It just looked so…

“Faris,” Face said, slowly. “Is there a dog in the back of the jeep?”

“A dog?” Madari looked around, a little wildly. “No!”

“Right. Good.” Face wasn’t sure if this was good news or bad news. He could still see the dog in the mirror.

“You can see a dog?” Madari said quietly.

“Yeah. It’s the drugs.” It’s Billy. He knew it with unshakeable conviction. It’s Billy. “You getting any effects, seeing anything?”

“Oh… yes…I think so,” Madari glanced at Face.

“You think so?”

“Well, unless you have always glowed like that and I just never noticed before?”

“I’m glowing?” Face said, eyebrows shooting up.

“A sort of golden light.”

Face gave a slightly hysterical laugh.

“I hope I don’t give away our position to the enemy then,” he said.

“No, that would be…” Madari broke off and grabbed at the dash as Face swerved violently, before straightening the jeep out and driving on. “What was that for?” He gasped.

“Didn’t you see? We nearly hit that… moose.” Face realised he couldn’t see any moose in the road in the rear view mirror.

“A moose?” Madari stared at him. “Did I fall asleep and miss when we drove into Canada?”

“Okay, so it wasn’t a moose. It… it must have been some big antelope or something…” Face protested.

“Face, there wasn’t anything in the road.”

“Do you want to drive?” Face demanded, testily.

“No!” Madari snapped back.

“Too right.” Face said. “We’ll be dodging for camels.”

“Camels. Very funny.”

Face glanced in the mirror. Billy was still there. The dog lay down and curled up to sleep. Face wondered how he could be comfortable lying on the weapons. Then realised that he was wondering about the comfort of an animal that wasn’t actually there.

“My grandfather owned a camel once.” Madari said.

“Tell me, is there anything I could say that wouldn’t remind you of an anecdote about your grandfather?” Face demanded. God he was so irritable. That had to be the drugs.

Madari bristled a little, equally irritable. “It wasn’t an anecdote. I just said he once owned a camel.” He shook his head ruefully. “I’ll never forget the look on my grandmother’s face when he came home with it.”

“See, now I’m picturing the look on her face. That’s an anecdote.” Face sighed. “Okay, I’ll bite. Why did he buy a camel?”

“I don’t think he bought it. I think he won it in a card game.”

“He won a camel in a card game?” Face grinned. “I once won a Cadillac in a card game, but never a camel.”

Is this the infamous Cadillac you procured in Vietnam?” Madari asked.

“That’s right. Hannibal told you about that? Yeah, I won it in a game. But that was the easy part. Getting into the game, that was the tricky bit.”


“Yeah. See there was this old German guy, lived in Saigon. Showed up in 1945 with a lot of unmarked gold and a couple of husky blonde fellas as bodyguards, if you get what I mean?”

“And he owned the Cadillac?”

“No, but he was in a high stakes card school with the guy who did. So I decided to ingratiate myself with the German.”

“And how did you do that?”

“Well I may have put it around town that I was the secret grandson of Leni Riefenstahl…”

When it came to anecdotes Face bowed to no-one.

The jeep sped on through the night.


They had tried, but Hannibal had quickly seen that it was hopeless. They were too heavily outnumbered. They had little cover. If they kept on fighting they would all be killed. Several men had already fallen.

Hannibal had surrendered. The bile rose in his throat at the mere thought of surrender. But at least captured then there was hope. Dead there was none.

Now they stood, disarmed, surrounded by armed men. As their weapons were collected on the ground Hannibal had his eye on a tall, well built man who seemed to be in charge. He was grinning with pleasure at the prisoners. Hannibal edged over to Drummond.

“Is that him?” Hannibal asked, nodding at the big man. “Is that Sefu?”

Drummond glanced in the direction Hannibal was looking.

“No. Here comes the lad himself now.” He looked over to where a group of men were walking into the clearing. One of them walked a little ahead of the others, with a long easy stride.

“Him?” Hannibal stared, shocked. Sefu wasn’t a big man, neither tall nor bulky. He looked almost unassuming. Put him in a tee-shirt and jeans and drop him onto a street in LA and no-one would give him a second look. But that wasn’t what surprised Hannibal.

“My god,” he said, “he’s just a kid.” If Sefu was twenty five then Hannibal would eat his hat. Probably younger than that.

“Looked about eighteen when he showed up at my place five years ago,” Drummond said.

“Eighteen?” Hannibal said. He shook his head again. “A god-damn kid.”

“Colonel,” Drummond said. “Do you know what the life expectancy is in this country? About fifty. If a man wants to make something of himself he has to start early.”

“Hell of a way to make something of yourself.” Hannibal muttered.

“Which of you is in command?” Sefu asked. He had a good voice, Hannibal thought. Strong. Good voice for a commander.

“That’s me.” Hannibal said. He stepped forward provoking some of Sefu’s men to get twitchy with their guns. “Colonel Hannibal Smith.”

“Colonel.” Sefu bowed his head a moment, quite politely. “You’re a long way from home, Colonel Smith.”

Hannibal looked around at the jungle surrounding them.

“Actually I feel kind of at home here.”

“You are not at home.” Sefu’s voice went hard. “Your rules don’t apply here.” Then his voice lightened a little again and he gave an almost pleasant smile. “Rich?”


“You’re an American. All Americans are rich are they not? Perhaps you would like to give me some of your money, Colonel Smith?”

“Ransom, huh? Selling kids not bringing in enough income?” Hannibal asked.

“Not nearly enough.” Sefu said, unconcerned by the accusation. “He looked around at his prisoners and then back at his lieutenants. “What do you think? In a few days they will all be happy to come to the bank and transfer all their money to us.” The men grinned and laughed. Sefu walked away from Hannibal, along the line of prisoners. He stopped suddenly and stepped back. He pushed aside Ritchie and Murdock and pulled Bennett out from where she had been standing behind them.

“Leave her alone!” Ritchie yelled.

Sefu twisted Bennett’s arm up behind her back.

“Let me go you bastard! I’ll cut your balls off!” She snarled, but Hannibal could see terror in her eyes.

“Oh, Colonel Smith. You brought me a gift.”

“Touch her and I’ll kill you!” Ritchie again. Hannibal wished he’d shut up. Don’t react to provocation. It was a hard lesson he’d learnt in Vietnam. Don’t give them the advantage over you.

“Perhaps it will not take a few days to persuade you? Perhaps all I have to say is, you give me all your money, or I give her to my men?”

There was a breathless moment.

“Okay.” Hannibal said. Sefu grinned.

“Very good, Colonel. Now, you will come with us back into camp. We know about your other teams out in the jungle. They are being rounded up now.”

“Who betrayed us?” Hannibal asked. “We know about the girl, but she didn’t know anything about tonight’s attack. So who gave you those details?”

Sefu glanced behind him and from among his men a young man stepped forward. Hannibal recognised him at once as one of Drummond’s security men.

“Josef here has the good sense to see where he could make more money. He brought you to me.”

“You ungrateful bastard.” Drummond yelled. “You were starving when I took you in!”

“And I will never starve again.” Josef said.

“You won’t have a chance to.” It was Abasi’s deep voice.

“Ah, Sergeant Abasi.” Sefu said. “I’d forgotten about you for a moment. But only for a moment. I’ve never forgotten you throwing me into the mud and putting your boot in my ribs five years ago. No I have never forgotten that.”

And he pulled out the pistol he wore at his belt and shot Abasi in the chest.


The empty lodge stood silent and dark. There was no-one there to hear the clatter of the chopper blades. No-one to see the searchlight stab down into the yard and the helicopter land.

As the blades slowed a man jumped out. He regarded the dark building suspiciously and drew a pistol from a shoulder holster. Moving fast and staying low he ran to the lodge. The locked door slowed him down only briefly. Once inside he began to search. There were two bodies in the lobby. Soldiers in uniform. They had been covered with sheets. He took an automatic rifle that lay beside one of the bodies and checked the chamber and magazine before slinging it on his back. He took the magazine from the rifle of the other soldier.

He found three more bodies further down a corridor, two more soldiers and a young woman.

Then he found the infirmary. The place was messy and deserted. On one of the stripped beds there was a sheet of paper, a note. He recognised the hand writing. And the note included grid co-ordinates. He picked up the sheet of paper and ran back outside to the helicopter.


“A helicopter?” Hannibal asked.

“Sounds like that’s what this whole thing has been about.” Drummond said. “He’s trying to raise the cash for a chopper. Expecting it delivered any day now and selling those poor mites from Kizi is going to give him the last of the money he needs for it.”

Drummond had been listening to the talk of Sefu’s men while they were all marched into the camp.

“That’s why they’ve taken Murdock away.” Hannibal said. He put his head down. The night had taken several notches downwards.

After Abasi was shot the prisoners had broken into shouts and several of the UN soldiers attempted to grab the guns of their captors. Drummond had dropped to his knees, holding Abasi. Hannibal heard him pleading, his voice cracking. But it was no use.

Hannibal himself had to restrain BA, who at once tried to get at Sefu. Several men trained guns on BA and Hannibal didn’t want to see him join Abasi bleeding on the ground. He watched Drummond run a hand gently over Abasi’s face to close his eyes.