Mission Mozambique – Excerpt

The rhythm of walking soothed Andy’s muscles and took the tension crick out of his neck. It was good to be out of Maputo and doing what he did best, striding on his long legs down a trail in the bush. On the first uphill climb, his old knee injury gave one click, and Andy made a wry face, remembering Nick’s comment about how long ago his SAS days were. He speeded up the pace just a little, and the knee relapsed into a docile silence. The clouds had completely vanished and the sun shone down, making a deep pool of shadow at Andy’s feet as he reached a hand back over his head and grabbed his bush hat from the top of his rucksack. The hat had a wide brim, which shaded his eyes and the back of his neck. He could hear Nick plodding along behind him and Andy settled into his long distance stride, hoping the beautiful sunshine would dispel his slight feeling of unease

At the first village, really just three huts next to a parched corn field, Andy pulled his picture of himself and Samuel Macane from his pocket and held it out. The boy, probably a teenager, but short for his age, took the picture and studied it. He motioned for Andy and Nick to wait, then he ran across the corn field to a tiny fourth hut on the far side. A wrinkled man and a doubly wrinkled woman came out of the hut, yawning. The old man scratched his short hair and nodded as the boy spoke. His rheumy eyes stared across the corn at Andy, then he said something to the boy in a low voice. The boy ran back to Andy and stood at attention, waiting. Andy pointed at himself in the picture, then patted his chest over his heart and waved up the trail, telling the boy to go. The boy grinned, spun on his heels and set off at a run, the photo gripped in his grimy fingers.

Andy and Nick walked the rest of the day. They skirted another village as dusk was falling, and walked a bit farther while Andy searched the terrain. He leaned against a tree and pointed at a bare patch, sufficiently off the trail, with some large rocks at one end, enough to provide cover from the rear. „How about we bed down up there, mate?“ he asked. Nick stood just below him, with his backpack dropped at his feet. There was a film of sweat on his hollow cheeks, but otherwise he looked fine. Andy had waited for him to complain about the pace, but he never had. The skinny, wiry ones were always like that.

Nick smeared the sweat around on his face. „Whyn’t we go back to that village?“ His eyes shifted from side to side.

„They’ll think they have to cook for us. And make us sleep in one of their huts.“ The rustle of rats around village hut walls was still vivid to Andy, even after nearly ten years, and the stinging smoke which seared your eyes and made you cough all night long.

„It’s better’n up there. There’s fucking animals out here.“ Nick twitched at his T-shirt, pulling it away from the sweat on his stomach.

Andy laughed, then regretted it. Nicks face clamped into an expression of bitter spite. „Oh yeah,“ he snarled, „I know. The fucking SAS.“

„Sorry, mate. I just laughed because last time I was out here I didn’t hear any animals at all. It’s been a long time since I’ve heard a lion roar at night,“ Andy added wistfully.

„Fucking lions, huh?“ Nick gathered a great gob in his mouth and spit it on the ground.

„I’m going back there.“ He picked up his backpack and slung it over one arm.

„Oh alright.“ Andy turned around and headed back to the village. They’d have to eat Sudza, and let the children touch their skin and pull their hair. But he wasn’t going to sleep in a hut. He’d roll his sleeping bag down by the fire outside, and the hell with the mosquitoes.

Nick lay on top of his sleeping bag in the crowded hut. It was smokey, but he was used to smoke, and the niggers smelled ripe, but it was just one night. He snickered quietly to himself. It was pretty fucking clever to make the SAS guy think he was a wimp. In fact, Nick wasn’t all that keen on sleeping with the wild animals, but it didn’t hurt to give the Sergeant the idea he was really scared. The less the Great Sergeant thought of him, the less he would watch him. And just a minute alone with Samuel Macane was all Nick wanted. Then they’d see whether Sergeant Andy could catch him in the bush.

Nick went over his instructions. Shoot Macane. Go to the safe house in Beira. Not the government house they’d set up for Andy to take Tad, but the little one down that alley, the Colonel’s special place. Probably he wouldn’t even have to worry about Sergeant Jagger tracking him in the bush. Once the guerrillas found Macane dead, they’d probably kill Andy and Tad just for good measure.