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A Choice of Nightmares
Summary: A friend brings the team a new case that takes them to central Africa and into extreme danger. This is part of the Qumar series. Follows Tightrope Walk and is set in 1993.
Disclaimer: I don't own the A-Team, I don't make any money from this.
A Choice of Nightmares
"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?"
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 resume 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..."
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.
"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.
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.
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!"
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."
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."
"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.
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.
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." He 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.
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 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.
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."
"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."
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