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©02 The Media Desk
Knowing the ones that did this to Allied Forces were dead made it a little easier.
I didn't have the thoughts that they were running around free and whole while he was wearing a diaper and sleeping with a sensor that called us if he stopped breathing again.
Centre stayed. And worked with him. Or sat on the back porch and looked at the trees.
I worked my day job. And did some weekend assignments, and pursued the 81's.
And the days passed.
Finally I had to fly to Africa to meet Tom. Or at least I kept calling him Tom.
He had been T-47, Haquann, and Boris983 since I had first contacted him. His email changed almost weekly, sometimes it came from a local Bulletin Board, othertimes it seemed to materialize in my inbox without ever having been sent from anywhere.
Tom. Whoever he was, was good.
I flew into Kenya without incident.
I had a couple of hours to kill before the meeting so I went to try a restaurant promising wild game meat roasted on a spear.
The meal was interesting. Not really good, but interesting. No it did not taste like chicken.
Then I went to the bar. Waiting for him to use my signal of sending me a drink.
It was packed with people from every country on Earth.
I sipped a local beer and listened to a bunch of locals trying to sound like the Beach Boys. Or maybe the Oak Ridge Boys. It was hard to tell.
Finally a waitress almost not wearing a uniform tapped me on the arm and said this drink was compliments of the lady over there. She gestured to an attractive and well-dressed dark brown-skinned woman.
I was expecting a man. She noded and pulled out the empty chair at her table.
I thanked the waitress and left the drink on the counter to carry my beer to the table.
"Can you hear me?"
"Yeah." I said to the man behind me.
"Look at her and answer softly."
"No problem. She's nice to look at." I nodded agreeably to the woman.
The racket in the bar made our words unintelligible to anybody even nearby listening. We were also facing away from each other, making lip reading difficult at best.
"You didn't taste your drink. You don't trust me?"
"Good. I'm gonna leave after the next set. Leave with the girl later. I'll meet you tonight in your room. I'll bring the stuff. You leave in the morning the back way."
"The back way?"
"I'll explain. What I'm going to give you, can't go through customs."
We sat there listening to the very bad band for awhile, they wrapped up a listing version of 'What a Fool Believes', and started to bow off the stage.
Then as my contact went to leave things changed dramatically.
The base player pulled out a weapon that looked very familiar and sent a screaming thunderbolt of energy toward my contact's table.
The room exploded in confusion and noise as the table exploded in fire and splinters. I drew my revolver, dad's .38 and tried to find my target, he was behind the drums looking for his target. It struck me as odd that the sprinklers hadn't gone off, I looked up. The only sensor in the whole room was over the bar. Instead of shooting at the 81, I aimed for the detector.
In an instant, streaming water that tasted rusty added to the melee.
"We're outta here." I said to my contact who had his own weapon out. He nodded. The woman led us out a side entrance carrying her own pistol at the ready.
The 81 saw us and tried to follow us through the crowd.
"So what's your name?" I asked him as we got in his car.
"What do you want to call me?"
"So it's Tom. Hang on."
He drove hard and fast and dangerously through the rural area behind the hotel, finally landing in a collection of shanties and huts, parking the car inside the local version of a haystack.
We sat on guard for an hour in some sort of lean-to that had a spread of tables of trinkets around it. There was no sign of pursuit.
"Well, I guess that plan goes into the sea." The woman said putting her gun in its holster.
Tom nodded. "I'm surprised he waited that long. We've been watching each other for months."
"Who was it?"
"Parlifo. He used to be one of us, but he went freelance years ago, last I heard he was working for several different outfits. Libya, an oil sheik with eyes on a new cartel, a Mafia outfit, anybody with money that can offer him the support he needs."
"So what have you got for me?"
"We'll get it in the morning, I need to sack out for a few hours, even an Deep Man has to sleep once in awhile." He took his sunglasses off to reveal his red eyes.
I drew the .38 by reflex.
"Sorry Hunter, but you'd need a lot more gun than that. We'll be all right here. Get some sleep, tomorrow is going to be a long day." He dropped onto a pile of cloth and rags and was soon asleep.
Evidently one of the advantages of being an 81 is that you can sleep anywhere, anytime, under any conditions. The woman went back to the car and curled up on the back seat. I was left to choose between another pile of cloth or the dirt floor. I picked one, then moved to the other.
"Breakfast." The woman said as I opened my eyes. She handed me a cup of strong black tea and a roll of flat bread with something I did not want identified inside it. It was surprisingly good and filling. "Tom is scouting." She said.
I looked around. A very dark skinned very old woman smiled at me with three teeth. She had evidently made the breakfast. I smiled and nodded as I chewed. Then she vanished.
"My grandmother." The woman said. To my relief she had her own tea and roll of bread.
We ate watched the small village come to life.
Then Tom returned. "Let's go."
We walked back to the haystack garage and got in the car, but now the car had changed, several of the young folk of the village had spent the last hour painting it the ugliest shade of yellow I had ever seen and writing all sorts of advertisements on it. Now it could pass for one of the many more or less legal freelance taxicabs running around the city.
The woman and I sat in the back wearing brand new hand made African tribal shirts and I pointed a camera at something and took a picture every so often. We could be tourists.
Tom drove the long way to where he was going. We passed the capitol building twice and I dutifully took a picture each time.
"No tail." He announced at length. But his route didn't get any less clandestine.
We had to walk some distance to get to our destination.
First we went in a department store, Tom stopped and picked up a couple of shopping bags, then up to the second floor, then by freight elevator to the basement. Through the mechanical room to a passage between the foundation and the city's water and sewer line tunnel. He led us along the pipes for awhile, then into another building, then down to a sub basement where we ducked through a small opening to yet another basement, then another passage beyond, a ladder climbed one wall of the passage. Up we went.
Finally we were there. Tom turned on the one light bulb in the room that protruded from a battered fixture in the wall. We were in a small windowless room so overwhelmed by traffic noise and fumes we ended up writing out what we were trying to say.
Tom produced his treasure from a wooden crate. Three reels of computer tape, some papers, and a shoebox of photos. I just glanced at it as I stuffed it all in a bag.
'Get this stuff to your bishop' he wrote on a paper 'she knows the way'.
'Do we go out the way we came in?' I wrote to ask him as what had to have been the oldest and noisiest truck on the continent rumbled by rattling the room. Dust sifted down from the ceiling.
'no go the other way and get bus out, I will lead them away other way'
He was convinced we would be picked up as soon as we got outside. Tom reached into his pocket and pulled out a weapon very similar the others I had seen, he pointed it at me for a second, then as my life began to flash before my eyes, he handed it to me.
I looked at the thing in my hand, it felt warm to the touch, it was fully charged giving me maybe five or six good shots.
Tom took out another one, the same one he had drawn at the bar, and nodded to us. "Good Luck." He shouted.
The woman, I still didn't know her name, descended the ladder first. She led with her gun, watching for everything. She was good.
Then I went, I nodded to Tom and saluted. He returned it and we went down the passage. I looked back as we rounded a turn to see him running the other way.
We climbed another ladder and emerged from a maintenance entrance of another building into the sunlight. Roughly judging the direction and distance I guessed we must have been inside one of the abutments of the highway bridge nearby. The tunnel led back to the downtown area where we had entered the maze. We walked on, trying to act casual, but ready to shoot it out at the drop of a hat.
As we stood at a corner I saw somebody familiar. It took a minute, then I put it together.
I pulled the woman to me and kissed her forcefully.
"What?" She said in a minute without pulling away.
"One of the guys in the band from the hotel." I gestured with my eyes.
"OK, this way." She said kissing me back.
She was a very good kisser.
Then we walked casually along the street to step into a shop she said she knew.
There we purchased and changed into completely new outfits in the same almost too small dressing room. And I got to try out my Jolson routine in tanface and a headpiece I wouldn't dare call a hat, trying to pass for an Indian, or at least an Arab.
"This is wrong." She said adjusting her new wrap. She undid the top of the cloth and rewrapped around herself leaving one breast exposed. "Now it looks right for that tribe."
I shrugged. It looked right from where I was standing.
Slipping out the back door and into another shop we finally made our way back to the street.
Then we caught a bus.
I got more looks from the good citizens than she did. Some of them smiled at me with amused eyes, but nobody said anything.
Later in a small town we got something to eat and found a room for the night. Everything I had brought to Africa with me, And more importantly; the Bishop's information, was still in that shopping bag. That and I needed a shower. Badly.
The woman cleaned up in a flash and went out.
Now I hate taking a tub bath. I hate it. But here in, well, wherever we were, that was the only option. So I did.
Then I sat and watched a TV older than I am. The choice was two stations. Neither in English. I watched the soccer game and sat with the Baster nearby.
The woman came back in about an hour.
"Undress." She ordered.
I looked at her without moving.
"Tomorrow, we are Al Islam." She said holding up the heavy robes.
"I don't know anything beyond 'Ah salam a lickum'". I said in very bad Arabic.
"I will speak, you are mute." She handed me a card in French on one side, Arabic on the other. "It is the only time I am permitted to speak for my husband."
She showed me how to put on the garments. Finally, very late that night, we fell into separate beds and into a deep sleep.
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