Betrayed – A John Cobb Adventure

1897 – Darkest Africa
Barely daring to breathe John Cobb remained as silent as was humanly possible. Just below him, around twelve feet or so down the slope, the headhunters stalked past. They looked left and right eager to spot the ‘white devil’ who had so far eluded them. Their glistening, dark, black bodies contrasted with the white, elaborate war paint, and in-your-face head dresses. They were not trying to blend in to the surroundings. They were at war.
Maintaining his position John watched them pass. All the time the hammer was back on his .45LC Colt New Frontier revolver, ready to deal more death. John Cobb let out a measured sigh of relief when they kept moving and disappeared from sight. He waited a moment or two before dragging his five foot nine, well-muscled frame up, and struck out perpendicular to the route taken by the Hrutsi Headhunters.
With just about all his equipment abandoned in his hasty flight, he at least still had his trusty six-shooter. It was another close call for the adventurer, cum treasure-hunter, cum explorer. But he had no complaints. That was par for the life he chose to lead. As always after one of his duels with death John briefly reflected on his life so far.
John Cobb was born thirty years back in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Growing up he enjoyed all the normal experiences the kids in his outlying, almost rural neighborhood got up to. John was however different in one way. He was a voracious reader. And not just anything mind you. He read and literally studied everything he could get his hands on about explorers and treasure hunters. By the time he was sixteen he could stand it no longer and just had to see the world. He joined the army and waited to be shipped off to one exotic destination or another. After three years he was still in the US having only traveled as far as Mexico courtesy of the army. Frustrated he got an honorable discharge and hopped a train for New York. There he signed on to work on a trans Atlantic steamer bound for the mysterious coast of Africa, the dark continent. There was no shortage of work for a former soldier on the dark continent. With the interior still wild and wooly in parts he was soon hiring himself out as protection to all manner of expeditions. From engineers, to prospectors, to European aristocrats on vacation, to dubious treasure hunters, he protected them all.
John had not done the work long before he found he wanted to do his own exploring. Myths and legends abounded about what lay in the deep dark dangerous forests and jungles. The mere thought sent his pulse racing. Going it on his own, he met with mild success and mild failure. At any given time John had a meager savings and a small amount of essential equipment. There was no place he really called home as he traveled from fledgling settlement to fledgling settlement, as work dictated.
Stopping at a small stream which trickled through the dark, dank, canopied jungle, he sipped some water and doused his sweating head and face. He ran his fingers through his short jet black hair and sighed. The relief was momentary as the humidity took over in seconds.
The snap of a twig, not far off, made him spin and draw the powerful handgun from it dark brown leather holster strapped to his hip. John scanned the foliage. A flash of red feathers let him know the Hrutsi had picked up his trail again. He cursed their legendary tracking abilities. A long slim spear arced out the dense vegetation and John rolled to his left, as the deadly projectile buried into a tree inches from Johns previous position.
Instantly John was up as a war cry reverberated through the jungle and the first Hrutsi headhunter came into view. He burst out the bush all blood and thunder and drew back his arm to hurl his precious spear at the intruder. John was already backing up and extended his arm at the threat. The Colt roared and the warrior pitched backwards, as the heavy lead head from the long cartridge .45 smacked into his face and exploded out the back of his head. The spear dropped before it was able to be thrown.
John turned and sprinted, crashing through the luscious jungle cover, intent on staying alive. Another spear thudded into a tree near to him as he passed. Suddenly he was in a small clearing with long grass. As fast as his legs could carry him he covered it, and knowing they would get a bead on him once they broke cover, he turned and backed up as fast as he could, watching for a target. Two warriors broke cover and spied him. Working the double action on the revolver he fired three times. His first shot slammed into one of the warrior’s chest dropping him. His second shot was wide and the second warrior let fly with his spear. John fired the third, dropping him and then side stepped the lethal spear before crashing back into the bush.
He was not following a path and had only a vague compass direction idea that he was going in the right direction. Already his limbs were feeling leaden. He however knew to stop now meant death and so adrenalin fueled his actions.
The ground suddenly gave way as it sloped down a steep decline to a river valley. John, unable to see it due to the dense foliage, lost his footing and tumbled. He had the presence of mind to clutch tightly to his precious handgun as he bounced and slammed down the slope. Luckily before he had gained too much momentum, he connected a sturdy tree that slowed him. Grunting as the air was driven from his lungs, John went into a controlled, slip and slide descent the rest of the way.
Reaching the bottom he willed his battered and bruised body to its feet. He knew that the territorial lands of the Hrutsi ended on the other side of the broad body of water which was the unnamed river that lay in front of him. However it was a river of hippo’s and crocodiles, both of which were notorious man killers. Scanning the shore on both sides he saw none and decided to risk it. Holstering the Colt he dived in and swam for all he was worth. He could hear the war cries of the headhunters in the distance and hoped they were still negotiating the decline and had as yet no target to hurl their spears at.
Panting he hit ground on the opposite bank and began wading out the river. He glanced back to see a few Hrutsi on the bank watching him. They knew the range was too extreme to get him and they were not known as swimmers. Grinning with fatigued satisfaction he continued to wade out the river.
A swirl of water and just a glimpse of a reptilian tail, and John knew he was in trouble. An adolescent seven foot crocodile had targeted John as its next meal. Almost out the water John dived for the bank while drawing his six-shooter. The beasts jaws snapped shut, scrapping his calf and tearing his trousers. John rolled onto his back and brought the revolver to bare in a two fisted grip. The croc launched again and John fired the last two rounds in the cylinder. At point blank range he could not miss.
The first punched into its gaping maw, and as it thrashed, the second drilled into the soft the underside of its neck. The croc thrashed and rolled around in the river shallows, churning up the mud, before lying still as it died.
John was already out and reloading the Colt. He ejected the spent shells and reloaded, slipping in his last prized six rounds. He let out a deep breath as he made his way away from the bank of the river. It was still a long trek to Cuvette.
***
Smiling with genuine joy Lyn Walker watched the wide eyed native children gleefully accept the gifts of clothes and food, and then rush off back to their mud-hut homes to show surprised parents.
“Honestly what difference is that going to make to their lives?” yawned Jeffery Walker as he watched his attractive wife dish out more items of food and clothing to some more excited youngsters.
“What do you mean Jeffery?” frowned the mature, slim, fair haired, beautiful aristocrat, “Having food in their little tummies and warmth tonight I would say makes a big difference.”
Jeffery shook his head and sighed. While his wife was stunning and totally dedicated to him and their marriage, she did have one flaw that really irked him. She simply could not pass up an opportunity to help the downtrodden. It was totally unbefitting her station. From homeless commoners to stray dogs, she helped them all. Both their estates in Essex and in Normandy had more than enough staff due to her employing everyone who came asking, and enough pets to stock a zoo as anything brought to them was adopted.
Jeffery had however put his foot down when it came to children. There was no adopting there. If they were not going to have children the natural way, then there simply would be none. In ten years of marriage they had tried but without success. That fact had certainly put a strain on the marriage but Lyn’s dedication had pulled them through.
“It’s only a temporary solution precious,” he explained, “Now they won’t want to work. They will just come back tomorrow begging for more.” Lyn simply shrugged.
“It’s enough to know I’ve helped for now,” she smiled and pecked a kiss on her frustrated husbands cheek, “It’s not as though we can’t afford it.”
Jeffery smiled and nodded. It was however a forced smile. Lyn could not have been further from the truth. On the surface the two aristocrats were doing just fine. While the Walker family had never been the most affluent nobles, the marriage to Lyn de Gous had been a major boon. The de Gous’s were very well to do and had connections all over Europe. Initially the family had frowned when the then twenty-four year old Lyn had announced her plans to marry the little known Jeffery Walker. With her sister and step siblings already married off and well established, the family finally gave their blessings to the union.
With the marriage to Lyn, Jeffery acquired the resources to her two estates in Essex and Normandy. Although they remained in her name, as her husband, he did most of the administering. Both were lucrative assets and he exploited them. The combination of Jefferies reckless administration, wanton gambling, and a string of mistresses, the estates were both placed in heavy debt. Lyn had no idea. It was the debt which had led to his rather hasty trip to the Belgium Congo for a ‘safari’.
His real reason for being there was between him and the imperial German leadership. Lyn had been surprised but excited by the seemingly spontaneous actions of her husband. While totally opposed to the idea of hunting, she did not raise her objections. It was not her place to. Within a week they had boarded a steamer in Southampton, bound for Africa.
Jeffery glanced at his pocket watch. He had an appointment to keep. It was the whole reason for his being there.
“Please excuse me my love,” he smiled again and drained his gin and tonic, “I must go and finalize arrangements. You will be alright here?” Lyn smiled another of her radiant smiles.
“Let’s go,” she replied, “I’m quite finished here. I think I will return to the hotel and lie down for a while.”
The African heat had sapped her strength. Her delicate English constitution was most unused to it. Lyn paid the porters who had carried the packs of goodies the short distance from the market of Cuvette to the edge of town. Opening her parasol she took her husband’s arm and began strolling back to the hotel. They kissed and parted when they came to a local watering hole called Espri-de-Corps. Jeffery headed inside and Lyn continued on to the hotel.
***
“You’re late Codger,” muttered the unshaven, sweaty and overweight Englishman sipping on a pint of the dark stuff. He used Jefferies public school nickname indicating the two went back some time. The forty year old Aristocrat removed his solar tope and ran a hand through his sweat-plastered, thinning, light brown hair.
“Good to see you too Shooter,” replied Jeffery returning the compliment, as he dropped the solar tope on the table and flopped into a comfy, leather, high back chair. Both men were roughly the same age.
“I must say I was a little surprised to get your letter,” admitted Shooter, “I didn’t take you for that sort of fellow.”
“And what sort is that Shooter,” asked Jeffery as he indicated to a servant for a pint of Guinness too.
“The sort of fellow who went in for ‘revolutions’,” smiled Shooter as he took another sip.
“I would appreciate it if you didn’t announce it to the world,” smiled Jeffery with warning in his eyes, as he glanced around to see if anyone had heard what his loud mouth friend had said. No one paid them particular attention.
“Relax Codger,” chuckled Shooter, “God you are still so uptight when you know you shouldn’t be doing something. Just like in the regiment” Shooter was referring to the days when the two of them served in their respective families regiment, The Queens Westminster Rifles.
“And you are still so casual when it comes to matters of great importance,” muttered Jeffery, “I hope I am not making a mistake with you.”
Shooter, whose real name was Rodger Woodward, had befriended Jeffery while in the regiment. The fat man was ever the schemer, ready to take a short cut whenever it was possible. He eventually left the regiment when he was implicated in some missing supplies. Shooter then traveled around before settling in Africa where he conducted dubious deals of an illegal nature. He had long since been cut off from his influential family.
“Well now old chap,” grinned the sweaty fat man, “It doesn’t look like you have much of a choice.” Jeffery knew he was right.
“I’ll have everything you need,” confirmed Jeffery, “Just make dam sure you are at the appointed rendezvous. I can’t wait there long without looking suspicious.”
“Cheers,” smiled Shooter by way of confirmation and threw back the last of his stout.
Jeffery finished his pint rather hastily and nodded to Shooter, before standing, grabbing his hat and leaving. The pint on an empty stomach made him slightly giddy. Since agreeing to this arrangement he had neither slept nor eaten well. With nerves chewing at him he made his way back to the hotel. He went straight for the hotels storage rooms and his numerous sea trunks, loaded with ‘safari’ gear. After making sure he was alone he unlocked one of the trunks and gazed at the contents as if to assure himself it was all there. He absentmindedly ran a finger over the metallic finish of the Maxim, tripod mounted machine gun therein. Quickly he slammed it shut and locked it, checking twice it was secure. Despite the cool interior he was sweating profusely. He left and quickly sent a telegram to Berlin.
***
“I am sure there’s an interesting story behind this, but just tell me you have it,” begged the balding man as he stood up from his writing desk.
John Cobb stood in the doorway to the small bungalow, his clothes mostly in tatters, a weeks growth on his face and an empty Colt strapped to his side.
“I think I should tell you the story first,” grimaced John as he limped over to his business partner’s liquor cabinet and adopted a full bottle of Bushnell’s fine Irish whiskey, “It’s a pretty good story.”
“John please,” sighed Carter, “Just tell me.”
John popped the lid and took a long hard pull. The fiery liquid burned down his throat all the way to his empty belly.
“That’s the shit,” smiled John.
He reached into his hip bag and tossed Carter a dull glassy pebble slightly smaller than a golf ball. He then sat down and pulled back the flap of his trousers where the croc nibbled on him. Dousing the angry looking scratch he bit down and had another pull of the scotch. It rapidly went to work and dulled his senses.
“It’s beautiful,” gasped Carter as he rubbed the uncut diamond in an attempt to see its sparkle.
“So we still looking at $5000.00 split two ways?” asked John removing his wrecked boots.
“Yes,” confirmed Carter, “Do you need to do that here?”
He scowled and pulled up his nose. John ignored him. For the time being this was home. He had a room just off the bungalow and a store room around the back. It was still only temporary for the nomad.
“Make the deal,” groaned John as he stood, “I’m going to get cleaned up.”
“Don’t be too long,” warned Carter, “There’s someone who wants to meet you.”
“Who?” asked John suspiciously. He had made a few enemies over the years and did not want to run into some of them.
“An English fella from the Continental Hotel,” frowned Carter as he tried to recall details, “The name was Walker. He’s looking for a guide for some safari he’s going on.”
“Babysitting,” snorted John, “Alright I’ll meet him. Give me an hour.”
***
“Mr. Walker?” inquired John Cobb as he approached the table indicated to him by the head waiter of the Continental restaurant.
“Mr. Cobb I presume,” smiled Jeffery as he stood and offered his hand. John shook it.
“Maam,” he greeted Lyn.
“My wife, Mrs. Walker,” introduced Jeffery.
John smiled politely and shook her hand. She was a stunningly attractive woman in her thirties and John almost forgot himself. She smiled politely back at the ruggedly handsome young man a few years her junior. She detested the American accent and was not too pleased when her husband said he was to be the safari guide.
He was well built with that outdoors look and dressed in casual trousers and a white button up shirt, with the sleeves rolled up. She could see he had recently shaved and was almost sure she detected a hint of liquor on his breath.
“Please take a seat,” offered Jeffery, “We were just about to order.”
“Go right ahead,” replied John seating himself, “I unfortunately just ate, but thanks.” After several days of practically living off the land, eating a square meal was the first thing he did after getting out the bath.
“That’s a shame,” smiled Jeffery, “A drink perhaps?”
“A shot of bourbon thanks,” informed John. Lyn smiled to herself. Jeffery nodded to the black servant who took their order and left.
“Mr. Cobb,” began Jeffery.
“Please call me John,” grinned John, “My father is Mr. Cobb.” Jeffery nodded with a slight smile.
“John,” he continued, “I am looking to go on safari into the deep north. I hear you are the man to speak to.”
“What you looking at bagging?” asked John.
“Oh the usual,” responded Jeffery with a shrug, “Antelope, lion, tuskers, Hippo. You know the usual.”
“Well I can set up something for you on all that except the tuskers,” confirmed John, “I don’t hunt elephant.”
It related back to an incident when John first arrived in Africa and was hired to go on an elephant hunt. He hadn’t yet shot one when, for reasons he still could not explain, a huge bull elephant had come to his rescue. His rifle jammed and he was facing down a huge male lion when the bull elephant arrived and chased it off. It regarded John with one of its huge brown eyes and then slowly sauntered off. Being by nature just a little superstitious John vowed there and then never to hunt the majestic beasts again.
“No problem,” agreed Jeffery quickly, “Forget the elephant, just do the rest.” John raised an eyebrow. It was very unusual for a rich snob to come all the way to Africa and so nonchalantly turn down an elephant hunt.
“Are you sure?” asked John.
“Yes positive,” nodded Jeffery, “How soon can we leave?” John took a deep breath. The man sure was in a hurry.
“If I rush, it can be done in a couple of days,” he confirmed.
“Do it,” ordered Jeffery and offered his hand as a confirmation of the deal.
“Don’t you want a price first?” asked John amused by the man’s casual attitude.
“You have a good reputation Mr. Cobb. I mean John,” explained Jeffery, “I trust you will give me a good deal.”
“Then we have a deal,” agreed John shaking the man’s hand. He took the shot of bourbon and threw it back.
“Wonderful,” sighed Jeffery sounding very relieved.
He smiled at his wife and squeezed her hand. She smiled back. She had not followed the conversation. Her thoughts were preoccupied with how she was going to deal with seeing all the dead animals.
“If you’ll excuse me then I’ll begin my preparations,” John stood and shook both Jeffery and Lyn’s hand before leaving.
Exiting the hotel restaurant he looked around for Sophie. Not having developed a taste for the local stock, John was restricted to dalliances with the relatively small amount of Europeans in the colonies. Sophie was most often at the hotel. Her father, a prominent Belgium businessman, owned the place and was horrified to learn his daughter was spending time with John. For starters he was twelve years her senior, secondly he was of no great breeding and finally he was a yank. He forbid the headstrong young woman, risking he would only push her away. He kept a weary eye out for the rough adventurer. John spotted her and went over.
“Hello beautiful,” he winked as he strolled past her. The attractive dark haired teenager broke into a broad smile and turned looking for her father.
“Bonjour,” she whispered and watched him go, her little heart beating wildly. She had many suitors but it was the one her father rejected that did it for her.
***
Listening and glancing left and right, John raised the Martini-Henry .450 to his shoulder. Letting the rifle go with his left hand so that it was still firmly into his shoulder, he waved with his other hand for Jeffery to come forward. Jeffery, sweating like pig, cautiously advanced from behind the American. He had only caught a glimpse of the spotted pelt before it disappeared into the thicket.
“It’s just up ahead,” whispered John, “Are you ready?”
Jeffery flicked the safety off the Lee Metfield and nodded. John acknowledged and stepped forward. There was a brief rustle of vegetation and the leopard burst out, mere yards ahead of them and leapt.
“Shoot!” yelled John as he tracked the predator. Next to him Jeffery panicked and fired blindly, missing the beast completely. John stroked the trigger of the deadly Martini-Henry and the rifle bucked. The big leopard jack-knifed in mid air and dropped, stopping inches from John’s feet, dead.
“Oh strewth!” gasped Jeffery as he started to get up after he had fallen over after the shot.
“You ok?” asked John as he breach loaded another powerful .450 round into the Martini-Henry.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been that scared,” admitted the aristocrat still sweating, but dusting himself off.
“It’s a pity you didn’t get this one,” muttered John as he toed the dead cat with his boot, “They are quite elusive and this is a big one.”
“Right now I honestly don’t care,” stated Jeffery still taking deep breaths to calm down.
The man puzzled John. He seemed so eager to get going on this Safari that he was willing to cut any corners and pay any price. Yet when they got out into the bush he seemed less than keen to kill anything. John had hastily set up a safari using his contacts. Mrs. Walker was going to come along so he hired extra ‘comfort’ porters that he normally would not. It basically meant that he had real cooks along instead of getting the porters to do the cooking. Mr. Walker had quite a bit of luggage, at least two sea chest more than what anyone could need, decided John. But he was paying so John just hired more porters. In total he had ten porters for the three of them, not counting his head porter, Bosise.
Bosise was the only porter John trusted to have armed, having worked with him on numerous occasions in the past. They had built up a good working relationship over the years. When John was away from camp with the client, Bosise remained at camp ready to deal with any situation that might arise.
John called for some of the porters who had accompanied them from the camp, just to carry kills. Two young men quickly tied up the dead leopard and strung it between a pole which they hoisted on their shoulders. As was their custom they began to sing, a deep, melodious and repetitive tune, in their native tongue. John understood most of it having picked up a working knowledge of a fair number of languages since coming to Africa.
The troop made their way back to camp. They had been on the move for four days and Jeffery cared more about distance covered in a day than getting in any hunting. To date he had only shot one Impala and a Gnu. John on the other hand had three Impala and now the leopard. Jeffery would be paying for all as was the deal. John only shot if Jeffery missed.
At camp Lyn greeted them. The safari had chugged along at a slow and steady pace to accommodate Jeffery and Lyn who both walked very slowly and tired quickly. Despite the days on the trail she still looked ravishing. She was particular about her appearance and made the best out of the basic facilities. She had even hauled along a folding canvas bath which she used every day. It was set up in her tent for privacy.
“Wow that is impressive,” she exclaimed trying to sound excited for the benefit of her husband. She too noticed he was suddenly less than charmed about going out hunting. She had resolved to lift his spirits.
“John got it,” admitted Jeffery as he handed over his rifle to Bosise who also cleaned and maintained the weaponry. John shrugged and smiled as he also handed over his Martini-Henry.
“It was close,” he told her, “Either one of us could have nailed it.” Her face dropped in disappointment but she put on a smile.
“Next time Jeffery,” she said and hugged him. He returned the hug and went to pour himself a gin and tonic. He whistled while he prepared it.
“I’ll make sure he gets something tomorrow,” resolved John, out of earshot, as he unbuckled his belt and hung his six-shooter, in its holster, over a camp chair. He started unbuttoning his shirt.
“Thank you,” whispered Lyn, “I think he may have planned this whole thing too hastily. I don’t think it’s what he expected.”
John removed his shirt and tossed it over the chair with the Colt. Lyn gasped at the muscled, but scarred torso. She averted her eyes and turned, embarrassed, away from the liberal American. He didn’t notice and poured water into a washbasin, prepared for him.
“So what made Mr. Walker decide a safari was what he wanted?” asked John as he splashed his face and chest, “He doesn’t come across as the outdoors kinda guy.”
“I err honestly don’t know,” admitted the pretty, high society Englishwoman still looking away from the half ‘naked’ younger man. John scrubbed away the dirt and sweat with soap.
“Do you think he wants to head back already?” suggested John as he rinsed the soap off.
“Maybe,” she shrugged, “I’ll ask him tonight.” She went over to where Jeffery was relaxing on a camp chair sipping his drink as porters started the fire for the evening.
John toweled off and watched her go. Dam he thought. That Jeffery was one lucky SOB. He was rich and he had a gorgeous wife. John was not above having an affair with a married woman if the opportunity was there, but he would never mix business and pleasure. She was a clients wife and thus off limits. He was surprised to hear they had no kids. If he was married to her, he thought, he would have bedded her so many times it would be physically impossible for her not to have been pregnant in the first year! He sighed at the thought.
***
“Let’s camp here,” suggested Jeffery looking around. John, his rifle resting across his shoulders also looked around.
“I wouldn’t recommend it,” frowned John as he realized they were on the inside bend of a fast flowing river, “If it’s raining up in those mountains then we could get the river rising faster than we can break camp.”
“The other side?” queried Jeffery.
“Ok,” shrugged John, But we will need to head a mile or so upstream where we can cross. There’s a narrow gorge with a swing bridge.”
He was finding Jeffery to be quite eccentric. He had passed up hunting the previous day to cover more ground, and now wanted to camp when they might as well just push on as there was not enough time left to hunt anyway.
John nodded to Bosise who spoke English and understood what was going on. Barking orders to the porters they began marching upstream to find the swing bridge.
When Lyn had asked Jeffery if he wanted to return to Cuvette, he rejected the idea vehemently. He was adamant he wanted to press on. Lyn was happy to accommodate him and did her best to lift his spirits. Jeffery stopped her and simply told her he was too tired. That night he tossed and turned continually.
John let Bosise lead the way so that he could drop back and bring up the rear. It allowed him to casually spend time with the slower moving Walkers, and Mrs. Walker. He had put all thoughts of making any moves on her out his head even before they left town. Still he sure enjoyed the view.
“I would strongly recommend we spend a day or so in this area,” suggested John to Jeffery, “This particular area is known to have a few rather unique animals, like the mountain gorilla for instance.”
“That’s fine,” panted Jeffery, “Once we make camp we can spend even a few days here if need be.”
John took a deep breath and let it out. This was a turn up for the books. Now suddenly he didn’t want to rush off at first light.
The troop began a steady climb, following the course of the river which would lead eventually to the top of the gorge and the bridge. Third from last was Jeffery, panting and sweating as he kept up with the back porter. Second last came Lyn. She was dressed in a light white cotton top that was plastered to her skin. In places it was a little revealing, but John said nothing. She also wore unusual knee length trousers which John had never seen a woman wear. They were however practical and high lace up boots completed her to the ground.
Of the aristocrats John had accompanied all over Africa, she was the least like one. Take the clothes for instance. He had seen ladies all decked out, looking like they were heading to a social event, rather than on safari. Lyn was practical and didn’t seem to care what one thought of her for it. She also did not seem to mind going it on foot instead of being carried around on a sedan chair like other ladies he had been on safari with. And she never seemed to complain. John guessed that the continual walking must be quite a strain for her, but she bore any complaints silently and stoically. Despite himself John found it difficult to draw his attention away from her firm shapely rear that was conveniently almost at eye level for John most of the time as they climbed to the top of the gorge. At one point the spray of the river, crashing over its bed of rocks, made footing treacherous. The porters took it slowly and methodically lest they drop something and feel the wrath of Bosise.
Just as Lyn was getting her footing on a particularly steep point she slipped and tumbled backwards. She screamed. John, who was behind her, steadied himself and caught her firmly. Luckily he had slung his rifle to climb better and had both hands free. Jeffery spun around.
“Are you alright?!” he gasped. John swallowed hard as he felt her flat trim midriff where he had caught her. He made sure she was on her feet and let go.
“You ok?” he asked as well. Lyn took a deep breath and forced a smile.
“Yes, thank you,” she replied and adjusted her solar tope which had nearly fallen off.
The sheer terror she had felt when she lost her footing was unlike anything she had ever experienced. All she saw as she dropped was a glimpse of the raging torrent of water that was the river. While she could swim, an accident as a child had damaged her one lung and she was advised never to swim again. In that second she wondered if she would die. Suddenly strong, steady, but gentle hands had her and she was safe. For the moment she was in his arms and up against his muscled body, she felt a surge race through her. Her pulse quickened and she almost felt light headed. It was most unbecoming of a lady to feel that for another man she decided and put it behind her.
Without further incident they reached the swing bridge and one by one the porters crossed carrying the gear. John was last over and was glad to see the bridge was still in such good nick. Once across they trekked back down river to the bend in the river.
“It really is quite beautiful here,” noted Lyn in almost a whisper. The camp site was on the safe side of the bend and where the body of water was quite calm. It was also broad and surely deep. Behind them loomed a dark and densely packed jungle.
“I suppose it is,” mused John. Having been in Africa so long he often took for granted how beautiful it could be.
She glanced at the hard American and then looked away as she almost felt she lingered too long. John had spotted her watching him out the corner of his eye and smiled to himself.
With practiced efficiency and under the harsh eye of Bosise the porters set up the camp. Soon firewood was collected and a fire was going. The evening meal preparations started and Lyn took her bath. John wished like hell he was a mosquito in her tent. Later they gathered around the fire as supper was being served.
“I’ll get up early tomorrow and see what tracks I can find,” offered John, “This area is rich in game.”
“You do that John,” sighed Jeffery as he leaned back in his comfy canvas camp chair and polished off his second G&T.
Now the man was totally relaxed instead of being on the edge all the time. John did not get the British. After supper Jeffery went and checked the luggage before turning in, a little on his ear.
“Well I am glad he is looking more relaxed,” stated John, “Tomorrow will make up for this trip.”
“It’s really not your fault Mr. Cobb,” smiled Lyn. Her smile practically lit up the campsite and he was mesmerized, “Thank you for making such an effort. I know Jeffery must be one of your most difficult customers.” John laughed and stood heading to some crates.
“Mrs. Walker,” he began, “You two have been a piece of cake compared to some of the characters I have had to baby-sit. And please call me John.” He scooped out a bottle of Wild Turkey whiskey and grabbed a couple of glasses.
“Babysitting? Is that what it is to you, John?” she queried raising an eyebrow and sporting an almost naughty smile.
“Err, no,” responded John quickly, “I was referring to some of those difficult clients I have had to deal with. Man, you practically have to spoon feed them their meals. You two are no problem!” He smiled awkwardly having been caught out by the attractive classy woman. He hoped he had covered himself.
“What you got there?” she asked changing the subject for him.
“American whiskey. You want some?” he offered holding up the glasses.
“My father is a connoisseur of fine Scotch,” she told him, “I enjoy one once in a while. He says the Americans can’t make a decent whiskey.”
“Ouch,” grimaced John in mock pain, “Care to make up your own mind?” She nodded and he poured two glasses.
“Cheers,” she raised her glass.
“Cheers,” he replied and the two held each other’s gaze just long enough to make it an awkward pause. John broke it by throwing back his shot. Lyn sipped hers feeling a little embarrassed.
“So how does an American end up in darkest Africa?” she asked, trying to gloss over their moment.
“Adventure really,” admitted John, “This place is still so wild and untamed. I love it.”
“And are you married?” she continued and then wondered if he might read something into the question.
“Ah no,” he told her, “Its hard finding a woman who can handle my lifestyle.”
“I can believe that,” she nodded and sipped her whiskey.
“I have given up trying to figure your husband,” admitted John, “I would say he’s just eccentric. You, I haven’t given up trying to work out. Why are you roughing it on safari?”
“My husband is my life Mr. John Cobb,” she told him, “I support him in everything.”
He nodded. They spoke further on a few topics before Lyn called it a night and turned in. She slipped into her most revealing night-gown which she bought in Paris, to surprise Jeffery but he was already fast asleep. John crashed in his tent soon after she left.
***
All of a sudden it went quiet. John woke and raised his head from his camping cot bed. The buzz of insects and abundant commentary from the creatures of the night were all missing. Something was not right. Normally the sudden silence indicated the presence of a predator. One of the porters would be on watch to alert everyone. Nevertheless John slipped out of bed and pulled on his breeches.
He was about to slip on his boots when the boom of a shotgun shattered the extreme quiet. Then all hell broke loose. Another boom rang out. John cursed and grabbed his weapon belt and drew the deadly powerful Colt. He peeked out the tent flap to see a porter face down near the fire with a spear in his back. Porters ran in all directions screaming and shouting. Bosise shouldered his double barrel shotgun and blasted away with both barrels into the darkness. More screams tore through the night. Staying behind cover he scanned for targets and reached back for his Martini-Henry.
A ripping sound made him spin around, just as a black face poked its head through the hole it had just torn in the back of his tent.
“No you don’t,” he muttered and fired the .45LC at point blank range. The head snapped back and was gone. Then there was a woman’s scream. Lyn!

Both Jeffery and Lyn had almost fallen out of bed in shock as the first gunshot burst through the night’s silence.
“What the hell?” mumbled Jeffery still half asleep, “Stay here,” he ordered Lyn who was wide eyed and beyond words.
Two more blasts from the shotgun roared and both instinctively ducked. Jeffery poked his head out the tent and saw the chaos. He spotted his rifle leaning up against a crate where he had left it. He darted out in his long night-gown, sprinting as fast as he could across the camp site. A loud scream of a woman made his blood run cold. Lyn!
Lyn pulled the covers up and peered out the mosquito netting to see if she could make out anything through the tent flap. A loud rip made her jump as the back of the tent was torn open and two strapping black spearmen stepped through. They were on her in a flash hauling her out of her mosquito netting. Lyn screamed but it did not deter them they carried her to the hole they had made.
“Hey!” yelled John as he lined up the bigger of the two would be kidnappers.
They paused only momentarily to glance back at John who was in the tent entrance. Dressed just in his breeches with his suspenders hanging loose at his sides, he was bare-chest and bare foot, with the weapons belt slung over a shoulder. He fired, drilling the man through the throat and dropping him. The other one threw Lyn to the ground and hefted up his spear. John switched targets and fired again, pitching this one back out the tent as the solid 200 grain lead head tore through his chest.
“Are you ok?” asked John frantically as he went to her and helped Lyn to her feet. Except for the slip of a Parisian night-gown, she was almost naked. She covered up self consciously.
“I’m fine, I think,” she replied shaking.
“Lyn!” screamed Jeffery as he burst into the tent. Initially he was confused when he saw John standing there with his hand still on Lyn. Then he saw the bodies.
“Stay with her,” ordered John, “And shoot anything that pokes its head in this tent, except me, understand?” Jeffery nodded and hugged his wife, who hugged him back. He raised his Lee Metfield .303 and watched both entrances.
John stepped out the tent to see two muscled dark skinned warriors assault a porter. The man went down screaming. John fired twice dropping both. He scanned for more targets and saw one huge attacker hoisting up one of the supply crates. He fired hitting him in the side. The big man stumbled and dropped the crate, but didn’t go down. Knowing he was empty John popped out the spent shells and reloaded.
Before he could finish a wild eyed warrior came charging over screaming and brandishing a short stabbing spear. John side stepped him and cracked him alongside the head with the open handgun. The pistol-whipped warrior ploughed into the dirt and slowly started to rise. John finished reloading, flicked the cylinder shut, and plugged the dazed tribesman with one to the head.
Bosise pulled off another two barrels of his 12gauge, dropping fleeing attackers. John strode over and dropped one more as he ran across in front of the deadly American.
“Any more?” he asked Bosise in his native tongue. The big man shook his head as he slammed two fresh buck-shot cartridges into the shotgun and snapped the breech shut.
“I will check the losses,” rumbled the loyal retainer and moved off still scanning for any that were still lurking. John collected his Martini-Henry and holstered the Colt New Frontier.
“Don’t shoot its me!” called John at the entrance to the Walkers tent.
“Come in,” called Jeffery sounding shaky.
“All ok in here?” he asked stepping in. Both Walker’s nodded.
“Does this sort of thing happen a lot?” asked Jeffery still ashen faced and clutching his .303.
“Not often,” admitted John walking over and flicking the safety on, on the .303 still in Jeffery’s hands, “But every now and then. Most of the native tribes don’t appreciate the intrusion into their lands.”
“It’s not their land anymore,” noted the typical Englishman, “It now belongs to the Belgium crown.”
“I don’t think they accept that,” mused John, “I’m going to check on the damage. Good night.”
Both Walkers bid him good night and he left. Lyn thought long and hard about what could have happened had John not arrived. He had saved her life. For the remainder of the night she did not sleep much or dream of her husband.
***
“You’re the boss, but I have to state that personally I would advise against it,” warned the American adventurer as he finished cleaning his revolver.
“Listen to him my love,” pleaded Lyn sitting opposite her husband and holding his hand. She was still quite shaken from the previous evening and desperately wanted to leave. Jeffery had worry etched all over his face. He sighed.
“I want to stay and that is my final word on it,” he announced and stood, pacing a little way away. He rubbed his chin and ran his hands over his head. Clearly he was concerned for their situation. Why then was he being so stubborn, wondered his loving wife?
“If we’re going to stick around then maybe you should look at carrying one of these,” suggested John to the vivacious and cultured noblewoman. He rolled the full cylinder and flicked it shut, holding up the weapon to her.
“I don’t like guns,” she stated flatly, “No thank you.”
John shrugged and holstered it. The sum total of the damage from the previous night was three porters dead and two with minor wounds. The wounded and two others snuck out of camp just before dawn and fled. So they were down to three porters plus Bosise. No significant supplies went missing. In return they buried eleven native tribesmen. A few more got away carrying wounds for sure.
“So is there anything you want to tell me?” asked John as he checked his own double barrel 12gauge shotgun he had hauled out. It was not a weapon suited for hunting, but in the close confines of the jungle it was ideal for anti-personal.
“About?” queried Lyn confused, “Oh thank you for what you did. I do appreciate it.”
She smiled awkwardly as her mind seemed to wander to thoughts of the American more than she would have liked.
‘Sorry what?” frowned John. He had not been thinking about her rescue, “Oh I was talking about your husband. Is there anything you two are not telling about this little trip?” Lyn blushed and looked more ravishing if that was possible.
“What do you mean?” she asked composing herself.
“Look here,” sighed John as he stood, “I thought your husband was just eccentric, but now I think he’s either stupid or suicidal. It’s going to very dangerous here. Those were Kabanga warriors we faced last night. They wont take that bloodied nose we gave them last night very well. You can be sure the survivors are telling the rest of the tribe just what happened and believe me they will be back. And Mr. Walker wants to stay!?”
Jeffery Walker had wandered down to the river and so was far out of earshot. Lyn Walker looked down. The American was right and she had no idea why Jeffery didn’t want to leave. She had no answer for him, but she had a strange feeling that all was not right.
“I honestly don’t know why he is being the way he is,” whispered a worried wife, “It is so unlike him.” John regarded her and decided she was more concerned for the situation than John was. It was probably because she knew John could handle himself if things got really tight. She must be wondering how much protection he would offer if it got really bad.
“I had better see if, now that we’re staying, Mr. Walker wants do a bit of hunting,” John strolled over to where Jeffery was standing at the river’s edge staring down river.
***
“So do we leave today?” asked John trying to remain calm with his insane client.
“We’ll see,” muttered Jeffery aware of the annoyance building in his safari guide, but ignoring it, “Maybe.”
John sighed and left Englishman to his thoughts. For two days after the attack, they had remained encamped. Bosise had to keep a careful eye on the last three porters or they would have run off already. John was worried Bosise himself might decide this was too much. What really infuriated John was that Jeffery didn’t even want to hunt. He just wanted to stay in camp and spent his time sitting at the river’s edge shooting back G&T.
John strode the few yards to the camp itself and looked at Bosise and shook his head. The big man looked disappointed. Both were used to individual idiosyncrasies of the various clients they had escorted into the wilds, but none had turned out to be this bad.
“I’m sorry,” said Lyn with a pained expression. She had been unable to get through to Jeffery and could detect the strain it was putting on the client relationship with John.
“Don’t worry about it,” he shrugged and accepted a steaming cup of joe from one of the porters.
“I heard the drums last night,” she told him. He nodded.
“It’s going to be exciting tonight,” he chuckled dryly. She shivered in fear.
“My dearest!” called Jeffery as he strode quickly away from the river’s edge, “I know you must be terribly bored all cooped up here in camp. How about a nice stroll up river?” Lyn’s face lit up. She was bored and it was just what she needed.
“That sounds marvelous!” she exclaimed, “Let me get my hat.”
“John would you mind escorting my wife?” asked Jeffery.
“Aren’t you coming too?” queried Lyn, her excitement fading fast.
“Not right now, but maybe later. Please I insist that you go,” stated the Englishman. He was looking quite agitated.
“Ok,” whispered the devoted wife, feeling just a little depressed. She stood and picked up her solar tope and put it on.
“John?” Jeffery looked at the rather surprised American.
He did find this Englishman weird to the point of annoyance and was glad to get out for a while. Plus he was not going to turn down the opportunity to spend some alone time with Mrs. Walker.
“Whenever you are ready,” smiled John shouldering the shotgun and grabbing a belt of shells.
“I am ready,” she muttered and walked off. It slipped her depressed mind to even kiss her husband goodbye but he didn’t notice and was heading back down to the river. John quickly gave Bosise instructions and followed the stunning older woman out of camp.
***
“Well you took your bloody time Shooter,” growled Jeffery as the small riverboat steamer touched the bank of the river.
“Getting nervous I wasn’t coming Codger?” smiled the overweight ‘businessman’.
“I have been here for more than two days with my wife and the guide thinking I had lost my mind!” exclaimed Jeffery as he watched the fat man make his way off the boat via a gangplank thrown into place by some of the rough characters on board.
The steamer, Calais, measured just on thirty feet in length and besides Shooter, there were two other dubious looking crew. Jeffery thought they looked French or possibly even Corsican.
“So where is it?” grinned Shooter as he clapped his hands and rubbed them together.
“It’s in the first sea chest,” explained Jeffery pointing it out, “The rests in the other one.”
“Hey what’s this then?” Shooter stopped and glanced back at his crew who were raising rifles. Bosise had picked up his shotgun and was spying out the new arrivals. John had only been gone minutes.
“Relax he works for the guide,” explained Jeffery, “Friends,” he pointed to Shooter and himself, “Friends ok?” he repeated and Bosise nodded lowering the shotgun. Jeffery and Shooter went over to the sea chests.
***
For the first bit they walked in silence. Lyn did not even appear to be looking at the scenery. The only scenery John was gazing at was the gorgeous, trim example of female perfection next to him.
“So where exactly do you stay in England?” asked John trying to strike up a conversation.
“Mostly at the Estate in Essex,” she told him, “But recently we have spent a bit of time in London at the townhouse.”
“I hear the weather is pretty bad over there,” continued John attempting keep things going.
“It does rain quite bit,” she admitted with a slight smile, “It never gets as hot as this.”
“I must say I have been impressed with the way, you especially, have handled this heat,” complimented John, “I have seen men from other European countries not do half as well.” She smiled at the compliment. She had not had one from her husband in a while.
“Thank you,” she responded shyly. Johns mind raced for more polite compliments.
“And by the way,” he continued, “Thanks for not complaining. You won’t believe what babies some people are when they are put in the bush.”
She smiled again. Was he coming on to her she wondered? She had been suppressing certain thoughts that had popped up in her mind since meeting the rugged, charming American with the athletic body.
“Oh no,” she sighed as she looked down at her right boot. The stitching had come loose around the toe and she could make out her sock.
“Well this is a first in my experience,” chuckled John, “I have never ever seen or heard of a woman out walking her boots!” She gave a broad smile at the badly disguised compliment.
“I do have a spare pair at the camp,” she told him.
“Are they brand new?” he asked. She nodded. John grimaced, “We might have to work them in or you are going to get major blisters if you walk too much in them right away.” She nodded accepting the Americans advise and the two returned to camp after a very short walk.
***
“So er…where is the American?” asked Shooter as his crew secured the two sea chests on board the Calais.
“He’s taking the wife for a stroll to get them out the way while you were here,” explained Jeffery, “When I saw the smoke from your chimney stack I hurried them off. You hadn’t even rounded the bend in the river.”
“Impressive,” noted Shooter, “But tell me, are you a hundred percent happy with that character all alone with your wife?”
“Why?” asked Jeffery looking confused.
“That fellow has quite a reputation here in the Congo,” began Shooter, “Apparently he is a real charmer!” Jeffery snorted derisively.
“I trust my wife,” he stated confidently. Shooter just shrugged.
“So they must be quite far off by now,” he guessed.
“Don’t worry they are far enough away,” assured Jeffery, “Now just make sure this gets to the Malakhi tribe and you show them how to use it, as well as the rifles.”
“Codger old buddy,” smiled Shooter maniacally, “Do you have any idea what will happen if I even show my face over there again?”
“What are you talking about?” frowned Jeffery.
“There is the little incident of some missing tribesmen I happened to trade into slavery for a rather lucrative sum,” grinned the fat man, “I won’t be going anywhere close to their tribal lands.”
“So just how do you plan to get them the Maxim and the rifles?” asked Jeffery getting annoyed, “The Germans are not going to want to hear about any delays. This is a major component of their plans. No dangerous local uprising means, no take-over bid. Do you understand?”
“Perfectly,” admitted Shooter, “I just don’t care. This baby is going to fetch a far higher price with some of my contacts than what you and your Hun friends can pay me.”
“You bastard!” yelled Jeffery as he realized the double-cross.
“What’s all this?” shouted John as he and Lyn arrived back in camp and spied the strangers. Bosise rattled off what had transpired in his native tongue.
“Jeffery?” quizzed Lyn, as she approached Jeffery.
“Bloody hell,” cursed the aristocrat.
“Far away hey Codger?” noted Shooter with a raised eyebrow, “Oh well I prefer no loose ends.” He drew a Mauser ‘broomhandle’ and shot Jeffery right in the chest twice. Jeffery stumbled and dropped shocked, and Lyn screamed.
“Goddammit!” cursed John and raised his shotgun.
As he fired he realized the range was too much for the scatter gun as the pellets dispersed harmlessly by the time it reached the boat and its crew. The two crewmen had rifles up in a flash and fired. One round tugged the bottom of John’s shirt sleeve as it whizzed past, while the other slammed into Bosise. He staggered and gave John a quizzical look. Another round hit him in the chest and he dropped.
John scrambled forward and dived Lyn to the ground as both rifle men then took bead on them. John picked her up and dived with her through one of the tents so as not to give the shooters a target. They however continued to fire and rounds ripped through the tent and into the jungle beyond.
Lyn was still screaming so John clamped his hand over her mouth and dragged her deeper into the jungle and out of sight. The wiz of a round breathed past his ear. Another collected him in the forearm. He bit down and grimaced, not making a sound as he shoved Lyn behind a largish tree trunk and still clamping her mouth with one hand, he drew the trusty Colt with the other.
“Shhh,” he ordered in a whisper. Teary eyed and her mind reeling she did as he said. She just looked up at the focused, intense man leaning over her.
John raised his head slightly and peered fractionally around the tree. The two crew men cum gunmen were already at the edge of the jungle scanning with their rifles for John and Lyn.
“Well go in after them!” ordered Shooter as huffing and puffing he arrived.
“Sacre Bleau!” exclaimed one, indicating he was French, “You are mad Shooter! We are not going into a jungle after Cobb. He could be anywhere!” The other crew member nodded. Both were aware of John’s deadly reputation and were thus weary.
“Oh bugger it,” swore Shooter, “Let’s go. I have buyers waiting.” He stomped off back to the river steamer. The two gunmen backed off watching the jungle for any movement, their MAB 7.5mm bolt action rifles at the ready. Once back on the Calais, they setup the Maxim.
“It is ready,” the taller of the two gunmen told Shooter.
“Give it a test,” he grinned as he hauled out a green bottle of gin, “Wreck the camp and shred that jungle.”
Shooter took a deep swig of the neat gin and grimaced as it went down. The gunman nodded and squeezed down on the machinegun’s firing mechanism. The Maxim cycled and with a deafening eruption it spat several hundred rounds into the camp and the surrounding forest. It was unparalleled carnage by the time the Frenchman had finished.
“Mondiue!!” exclaimed the shooter as he wiped his brow and surveyed the devastation.
“Beautiful,” whispered Shooter and took another swig. With that they cranked up the gangplank and the steamer pulled away.
***
“Son of a bitch!” muttered John as he raised his head again and spied out the Calais chugging off down river.
He was aware of the invention of the ‘machinegun’, but it was the first time he had seen it in action. It was unreal. “Are you ok?” he asked Lyn as he remembered he was holding her down, covering her.
“Jeffery!” she sobbed and struggled to get up. John let her go as the steamer was already out of sight.
Lyn ran back into camp and momentarily was taken aback by the destruction around her. She made straight for the still form of her husband. She dropped next to him.
“Jeffery,” she cried, “Speak to me Jeffery!” Jeffery Walker opened his eyes briefly. His life blood was slowly sinking into the damp sand of the rivers edge.
“Forgive me,” he coughed, “I made a very…..big mistake.”
“Don’t speak. Save your strength,” he told him but Jeffery shook his head. He knew he was done for.
“I wasted our money and had to …. make a deal with ……deal with the Germans,” he coughed and more blood trickled from his mouth, “They would have paid me enough to cover my debts. I’m so……so sorry.” He went limp as his tenuous grip on life slipped. Lyn broke down and cried her heart out.
John held both hands to his head as he scanned the trashed campsite. The body of his friend and head porter, Bosise, lay not too far away. Equipment and supplies lay riddled with bullet holes all over the place. He shuddered to think how this would affect wars in the future. Near the water’s edge he saw Lyn holding the lifeless body of her husband to her. John shook his head. What had that fool been up to? It had cost him his life and almost that of his wife. John left her to grieve as he picked through the remains for useful equipment and supplies.
Lyn felt a piece of her die, as though an entire section of her heart was torn from her chest and thrown into the river. Her reason for being was gone. Bewildered she sat in the mud and blood, clutching her husband’s body.
“Mrs. Walker,” interrupted John. She turned her vacant tear stained face to the American, “I know you are having a lot to deal with right now, but we really need to go. We need to put as much distance between us and the Kabanga that are going to be coming. We don’t have the ability anymore to withstand them. We need to go.”
“You go,” she whispered, “I no longer have a reason to live.”
“Bullshit!” stated John bluntly. Lyn was snapped out of her semi daze by the curse, “One doesn’t live for others but with others. You still have your entire life left to live for yourself. I’m not going to get into the why’s and what’s of your husband’s demise, but you must know that it was as a direct result of the risk he took with yours and his life on whatever took place here today. Deal with it later, but we must move now!”
Lyn blinked and took in the directness of the confident American. She realized that her husband’s peculiar actions since deciding on the trip to Africa were because of what had gone on there and then. She thought about what he had said. She shivered involuntarily. Suddenly she felt very alone. At the most significant crossroads in her life since agreeing to marry Jeffery, Lyn Walker knew she had to make a decision whether to go on or give up.
“I must bury my husband first,” she told John and took a deep breath and stood.
John nodded and grabbed a shovel from salvaged equipment. He helped her dig a grave and then dug another for Bosise. They laid the two men to rest and after a quiet moment of contemplation, they set off. It was past noon. John had gathered the supplies he could but it wasn’t much. In fact it amounted to some water-bottles, a compass, dried food, a blanket, some general gear, and ammunition for the shotgun and the Colt.
Lyn had washed most of the blood and mud off and changed into a fresh set of clothes, including the boots. John had dressed his flesh wound on the forearm and grabbed what clothes had not been shot up. They walked in silence with John setting a fast pace. Lyn kept up despite the pain in her feet from the new boots.
When darkness fell John selected a camp site. He set up the one blanket they had without holes in it as a rough lean-to. He dished out some of the dry rations as he dared not make a fire. Lyn winced in pain as she removed her boots and gasped when she saw the condition of her feet. John looked over.
Ah hell,” he muttered as he saw the bloody and blistered feet, “That’s not good.” He went over and examined the feet in the near darkness.
“I’ll be fine,” she told him stoically.
“No you won’t,” he told her, “These wounds need dressing or they could turn gangrenous, and then you will die.” She shrugged indifferently. John hauled out the only bottle of Wild Turkey to survive. She raised her eyebrow as if to say: ’Is this the time to be drinking?’
“It’s to clean the wound,” he explained as if reading her mind, “Now brace yourself, it will sting’” he warned.
She bit her lip and nodded. John doused her feet in whiskey. She let out the tiniest squeak as she bit down and took the pain. Only when it subsided a little did she realize she had dug her nails into John’s shoulder as the pain surged through her. Embarrassed she removed her hand from his shoulder. John said nothing.
“It’s going to be tough tomorrow,” he noted, “You can’t walk on these.”
“How then,” frowned Lyn still dealing with the pain.
“We’ll make a plan,” promised John with a smile.
Emotionally and physically drained, Lyn went to sleep soon after. John began his vigil, knowing that it would be a while before he would be able to sleep again. His record was four days, but he was practically a zombie by then. He took a deep breath and checked his weapons before settling down.
***
“Oh crap!” cursed John as he glanced out the window of the small mission station.
“Language Monsieur!” scolded the Belgium priest, although he was aware of the situation. John ignored him and ran to the front door of the building. Already those in the courtyard outside were rushing around in panic.
“We must secure this door!” yelled an Englishman who had earlier introduced himself as Willard Brookes. He was some sort of professional big game hunter and had stopped in at the mission station for supplies.
John nodded as they ushered the last remaining people inside and then together pulled the doors shut and started sliding heavy furniture up against it. The Kabanga warriors closed the distance from the jungle edge to surround the little mission station in a couple of minutes.
After spending the first night under the stars, the two had made for Cuvette at dawn. Initially Lyn had tried to walk but it was just too painful. With no time to waste, John carried the slightly built attractive widow in his arms. Even though John was fit and well built, and Lyn was light, it didn’t take long for John to start taking strain. Their pace slowed as John became more and more weak. The lack of sleep also didn’t help.
On day three they crossed tracks belonging to Kabanga warriors. They had managed to circle around in front of the two. The Kabanga were not stupid and realized the two were headed to Cuvette and were trying to cut them off. It was only a matter of time before they picked up the trail and then it would all be over. John had no option but to abandon the idea of Cuvette and make for the next closest settlement, the Jesuit Mission Station. It was in fact closer but more out of the way.
After two days the supplies were gone and John was a dead man walking, but they had made it. Lyn was handed over to the priest and his staff and John crashed. He woke a full 24 hours later to find Lyn well tended to. The priest assured him she would only need a couple of days to recover. The problem came almost two days later when a war band of Kabanga warriors emerged from the jungle still on the two’s trail. The nurses, staff, visitors and locals all crammed into the stone building of the mission station and waited as the warriors, shield and spears rattling, surrounded the place.
“What now?” asked a panicked Brookes.
“We sit tight,” stated John as he went from window to window, pushing through the throngs of bodies packed inside, securing each one as he went. He was terribly relieved to note that the mission station had a slate roof and not a thatch one. At least they wouldn’t be burned out.
“We need to make a run for in,” concluded a Belgium man who appeared to be some sort of botanist.
“Run where?” queried John, “You got almost twenty Kabanga warriors out there.”
“Make that one less,” noted Brookes from his position at one of the front windows. He had his powerful double barrel 8gauge in hand, “One just ran off back into the jungle,” he told them.
“Son of a ….,” John stopped himself realizing where he was. The warrior running off was no doubt a messenger that would alert the rest. This was bad. He went to check on Lyn.
“Did they find us?” she asked with a worried expression on her face, sitting up in her hospital bed. John nodded and sat on the edge of her bed. Unconsciously he took her hand. She didn’t resist.
“They may have found us but they haven’t got us yet,” he smiled and patted her hand gently. She gave a slight smile at his defiance.
“You must really be regretting taking this job,” she looked away embarrassed at how much trouble had been brought Johns way by the actions of her late husband.
“Not really,” grinned the rough outdoorsman, “I like to take things in context. Sure we’re in a bit of a bind, but hey, at least the company is first class!”
He patted her knee which was under the blanket, and stood, gathering up his shotgun and winked as he left her in the infirmary. She blushed at the rush of her pulse when the young man touched her. Here she should be mourning her husband, not making eyes at the next man to show interest in her.
***
Giving them both barrels John sent several sizeable pellets of double-0 buckshot ripping into the front rank of advancing Kabanga. He stepped back behind the cover of the wall next to the window and reloaded.
Wounded and dying Kabanga screamed in agony while their blood thirsty companions leapt over the dead and dying and tried for the umpteenth time to force open the barricaded door of the mission.
John leaned around the corner and let rip once more. The scattergun bucked twice as more Kabanga went down under a hail of lead pellets. The last two remaining Kabanga of this wave stoically remained to struggle with the heavy door. John reloaded and gave them another barrel and they went down. Back behind cover he reloaded the one barrel.
He was dangerously low on ammo. He only had a handful of shells for the shotgun and slightly more for the Colt. He had managed to make his meager ammunition supplies last for two days. He had only fired when he was assured of a hit and he selected his targets carefully. Try as they might the Kabanga had been unable to dislodge the defenders from their stone ‘fortress’.
The only other gunman in the mission, Brookes, had stupidly leaned too far out to take a shot and took a spear for his troubles. He lasted the night but died in the morning despite the best efforts of the nurses. John used up the 8 gauges ammo first before going back to his shotgun.
A day after the Kabanga’s sudden arrival another twenty odd warriors made an appearance. That brought the total to around fifty. With the reinforcements there they attacked. Heavy firepower drove them back initially but hardly dampened their resolve.
By his estimates, John reckoned there were about twenty Kabanga dead and another ten seriously wounded. That left around another twenty still fighting fit and who knew how many on the way. He was also concerned that a Belgium Army patrol which was always on time was an entire day overdue. When the priest told him of the patrol that came to drop off supplies and check on the mission, he had breathed a sigh of relief. Now he was worried again.
Glancing out the window he watched as the Kabanga regrouped, dragging wounded, just outside of effective range for a scattergun. How he wished he had his Martini-Henry now. The Kabanga would have to be in the jungle and out of site to be safe. He cursed quietly.
“Are you ok?” asked the now familiar voice of Lyn Walker.
John turned around and took in the refined beauty of the woman approaching him. She was dressed back in her traveling clothes and was almost fully recovered from her injuries. She had tied her hair back to be practical and was looking stunning.
“Ok for now,” he smiled, “I just wish that dammed army patrol would get here.”
Lyn offered him a cup of water. After just two days of the siege the supplies were still looking fine. He accepted and thanked her.
“Who were those men who killed Jeffery?” she asked at last. Lyn had not spoken of the incident since it happened and John was relieved to hear her address the issue.
“Well I don’t know for sure,” admitted John, “but I did hear one of the crew call the fat guy Shooter. I have heard of a gun-runner, slaver, contraband dealer called Shooter. I never met the man but I hear he’s British and pretty ruthless.”
“He mustn’t get away with it,” sighed Lyn with a thousand yard stare as she painfully remembered her husband.
She knew he was flawed and she suspected a good few other things, but she was a dedicated wife and chose to overlook these things. She did love him as much as she understood the concept.
“A man like that lives beyond the law,” noted John, “Out here in Africa the law is not strictly applied like back in England.”
“So men can murder and not face the consequences?” she frowned.
“Hell no,” responded John with grim determination, “There’ll be justice. I’ll see to that.” He was not going to just forget about the murder of Bosise either.
“Your justice?” queried Lyn. She did not believe in revenge, she trusted in the letter of the law and that course of justice.
“It may just come down to letting this Shooter get away with it or taking the law in my own hands,” shrugged John, “Whatever happens he aint getting away with it.”
There was a definite element of the charismatic American that did scare the young widow. It was his close association with death. As far as she could see, he had lived with it so closely for so long that its presence was his constant companion. Killing and the prospect of killing came as naturally to him as breathing did to others. He hardly batted an eyelid or missed any sleep after gunning down some faceless would be attacker. She wondered just how many men he had killed. Already she had lost count in the short time she had known him. In a way, deep down, she did revel in the knowledge that Jeffery’s murderer was sure to meet his end, but she also knew it was wrong. The sound of hoof-beats approaching caught their attention.
“What’s all this then?” grinned John as he expected to see the Belgium army patrol come galloping into view.
A volley of rifle reports cracked and the remaining Kabanga warriors scattered. Some went down from the firing, but most scrambled into the cover of the jungle. Five horsemen reigned their steeds, and dismounted. They were not dressed in military uniforms but they were heavily armed. More trouble wondered John as he raised his shotgun and motioned Lyn to stay back. She complied also wondering what was going on.
“Father Matisse!” called out an older man with a neat full beard as he approached the mission station. He was dressed in practical but fine quality clothes and high leather riding boots. In hand he carried a bolt action rifle with ammunition belts across his chest. A handgun also rode on his hip.
“Marquis de Brugge?” answered the priest as he pushed forward to the front door, “Open it,” he told John. John did as he was told. The priest, all smiles walked over and embraced the man.
“I thought we were too late!” beamed the Marquis looking relieved.
“You almost were,” exclaimed the man of the cloth.
The other four men had also dismounted and were looking around as though covering the area. One of the men looked like a younger version of the Marquis and one was a native. The other two were Europeans in their mid twenties.
“We came as soon as we heard from the patrol,” explained the Marquis as the rest of the people filed out the mission station.
“What about the patrol?” asked John slinging his shotgun and approaching the man.
“Here is the reason we made it through the past two days,” smiled the priest, “John Cobb, this is the Marquis de Brugge of the Flaeness.”
“How do you do?” said John offering his hand.
“A pleasure,” responded the Marquis shaking his hand, “The patrol stopped at my estate a few days back to say they had been recalled to the south. Apparently some trouble down that way. They asked me to just stop past and check up on things here. We bumped into a Kabanga war party on the way here and suspected the worst.”
“You have an estate near here?” queried John rather surprised.
“I have several estates here in the Congo,” admitted the Marquis, “I prefer the African climate to back home in northern Belgium.”
Throughout colonial Africa nobles from European countries bought massive tracts of land and farmed it. For the most part it was extremely lucrative for them.
“Well I must thank you for your timely intervention,” smiled John, “It was looking quite bleak!” The old man grinned. He then noted Lyn exiting the mission and raised his eyebrows. John spotted this.
“May I present Lady Lyn Walker of Essex,” he announced remembering all her facts at the last second.
“Lady Walker it is a pleasure,” gushed the old Marquis as he removed his hat and kissed her hand.
He introduced his son and his loyal retainers in turn. She smiled and was not surprised by his actions, having been in polite company her entire life.
“Marquis de Brugge. How nice to meet you,” she responded coolly.
“So what brings you to Africa?” he asked being as debonair as he could.
“My husband and I were on safari,” she explained and watched his face drop when he heard she was married.
“Oh and where is your husband,” he asked composing himself.
“He was murdered a few days ago Marquis by a man calling himself Shooter,” she informed him.
“I’m shocked,” gasped the Marquis, “I know of this Shooter and he is indeed a bad apple. You look like you have been through quite a bit. Allow me to offer the hospitality of my estate.”
“Thank you,” smiled Lyn.
***
John guided his borrowed stead into Cuvette. Alongside him rode Lyn quite comfortable on her bay mare. Lyn Walker was an experienced equestrian having been riding since he was old enough to walk. It was expected of her breeding to know ones way around horses. John was less secure atop the temperamental beasts. He had done enough riding in his life to be competent but preferred to have his feet firmly on the ground.
Marquis de Brugge’s son Jerome and his manservant Sydney had accompanied Lyn and John all the way to Cuvette in case they encountered any trouble and to take the horses back. Marquis de Brugge had been fantastically hospitable. He laid on every convenience for the two at his impressive estate and provided them with horses when they were ready to go. John found out that the Marquis was single and suspected he was doing all in his power to impress the gorgeous young noble born widow. Lyn reacted with polite indifference and gave no indication she was in any way interested.
After handing the horses over, they went straight to the telegraph office where Lyn notified her family and then the two went over to the local garrison to report the matter. The garrison commander Captain Jayson, was horrified at the news of the demise of Lord Jeffery but at the same time was not surprised.
“This does explain some things,” he told the two of them in his plush office overlooking the main entrance to Cuvette.
“What things?” asked John accepting a cigar from the Belgium army officer.
“Well we’ve had to fleece our troops here to support troops to the south,” he explained, “It seems the Germans have been building up their forces on the Togo border and it is making the crown very nervous. Now I am getting reports of a massacre at an ivory trading post to the north. Details are sketchy but it seems a machine gun was used and that a small fortune in ivory was taken.”
“I know a few ivory traders,” admitted John, “Their operations are normally very well organized and always heavily armed. Someone wanting to raid a trading post would need one of those Maxims. I have seen what they can do.”
“It seems this Shooter has gone north seeking his fortune,” grimaced the Captain, “I will have to wire for troops to deal with this individual. Unfortunately I don’t have the resources at the moment to deal with him.”
“If you don’t move now then I’m afraid you won’t catch him,” noted John, “If he has taken a trading posts full of ivory then he is just going to move it north and to Cote O’Voir. There he can flog it no questions asked.”
“Monsieur Cobb,” sighed the Captain, “I simply cannot move with what I have at the moment.” John understood and they finished telling the captain what they knew.
***
They left the captain and Lyn checked into the local hotel again. Her family would wire her funds soon.
“What happens now?” she asked John as she collected her key. There was no need for a porter as she had no luggage.
“Well I’m going to go and make preparations to travel north,” he told her, “If I wait for the army the trail will be cold and Shooter gone.”
“So you’re going after him,” noted Lyn. John nodded. “Please be careful. I don’t want anyth…..,” she stopped herself as she realized what she was saying. There was no denying the feelings she had developed for the hard man. Brazenly he took her hand.
“Caution is my middle name,” he told her with an almost naughty smile. He squeezed her hand gently and turned to leave.
“Will I see you again?” she blurted out and he stopped and turned.
“When this is over I will find you,” he promised, “Then what happens will be up to you my lady.” Grinning like a schoolboy he left. Lyn felt her heart skip a beat.
***
Striding back across town John was feeling quite good about himself. He had been able to keep his lecherous side in check and not taken advantage of a vulnerable woman. Had he tried he was sure he could have bedded the attractive Englishwoman. He was still deep in thought when a gunshot rang out. It was a rifle and it sounded like it came from the garrison. John ran over. Guards were on edge and seemed very confused.
“What was that?” asked John as he was one of the first there.
“Stay back!” ordered one and lowered his rifle.
“Easy there,” calmed John as he backed up. There were no more shots but there was a fair amount of commotion inside that he could see. An officer came running up to the guards.
“Don’t let anyone it,” he ordered, “The captain has just been shot!” John was more than a little shocked.
“What happened?” asked John, “Is he ok?” The officer was already leaving but turned and looked back.
“No sir he is not ok. He is dead,” he turned and was gone. What the hell wondered John? He pushed through the small crowd and headed back to his lodgings.
***
“John you’re back!” exclaimed Carter as John wearily trudged into the bungalow.
“Yeah I’m back,” muttered John, “And I’m getting ready to leave again.”
“You shouldn’t work so hard,” chuckled Carter, “That’ll be three operations on the trot. Take some time off.”
“This isn’t an op,” noted John as he raided Carter’s liquor cabinet again, “This is personal.”
“Sounds serious,” frowned Carter no longer laughing, “What’s going on John?”
“The safari was a disaster Carter,” explained John, “Jeffery Walker is dead and so is Bosise. That piece of shit Shooter gunned them down. Seems he was doing an arms deal with Mr. Walker and things went sour. I only just got Mrs. Walker back safely.” Carter’s face was drained of blood.
“Shooter?” he gasped, “That British aristocrat?”
“Don’t know,” shrugged John taking a long swig of the Bushnells, “I hear he’s an Englishman but I never met the prick so I don’t know for sure. All I know he is using a machinegun he got off Jeffery to shoot up an ivory trading post to the north and that’s where I’m going. I want payback!” He took another swig.
“Shooter’s not in the north old boy,” swallowed Carter, “He’s in town. I saw him this morning.”
“What?” coughed John spitting some of the fine amber liquid onto the floor in surprise,” Are you sure?”
“I’ve known Shooter for years John,” explained Carter, “His real name is Roger Woodward. He is English and I don’t trust him as far as I can throw him. He told me he just sold some merchandise to a contact up north and that was ready to take a holiday to celebrate.”
“Where’s he staying?” growled John dragging open a drawer on the desk and fishing out a box of .45LC cartridges.
“Careful John,” warned Carter knowing Johns short fuse, “He had some rough characters with him.
“Two Frenchmen, I know,” muttered John, “Now where is he!?”
“He’s at the Espirit de Corps,” Carter told him, “Don’t even think about it John!”
“I never do,” muttered John as he stormed out.
Making sure the Colt was loaded he shoved the rest of the rounds into his ammo belt and crossed the street, heading to the seedy tavern.
“Where’s Shooter,” scowled John as he scanned the common room for patrons.
“He left half an hour or so ago,” informed the barman as he wiped down the counter.
“Where’d he go?” asked John forcing himself to remain calm.
“Didn’t say,” shrugged the man, “Heard him say to one of his crew that it was time to tie up loose ends.”
Johns mind raced. Lyn! He turned and sprinted out making straight for the hotel. John realized that the people who knew about Shooters involvement here in town were himself, Lyn, Carter and the Captain. The captain was dead already. Bursting into the lobby he hauled ass down the corridor to her room. He had seen the number on her key and so did not need to waste time asking. He thumped on the door.
“Lyn open up its John,” he called. There was no answer. “Lyn open up!” he yelled.
“Sir if you are looking for Mrs. Walker I’m afraid she left,” mentioned a black cleaner woman, in fluent French, who was pushing her cart past the room.
“When?” gasped John. He had only just dropped her off.
“You just missed them,” she noted still speaking French but clearly understanding English.
“Them?” John raised an eyebrow and switched to his passable French.
“She and two gentlemen,” she told him.
“Which way did they go?” he asked frantically.
“I didn’t see sir,” replied the wide eyed cleaner as John became agitated. He cursed so hard she blushed as he sprinted off again. Yes she understood English alright.
***
“Carter we got problems,” announced John as he entered the bungalow.
He was about to elaborate when he realized Carter was just staring straight ahead. John reached for his Colt as he caught movement to his left. He dropped as a gunshot rang out. It was so close he felt the warm wash of air kiss the back of his neck. John brought the six shooter to bare and fanned the hammer, wild west style in the general area of the movement. The spray of lead found a target with a least one shot. With a grunt a body slumped to the ground.
John swung open the cylinder and reloaded as fast as he could. He then approached the fallen assassin. The man coughed and groaned. John kicked the revolver next to him away. He pulled back the hammer on his Colt and trained it on the man.
“Don’t move asshole!” he ordered. The assassin looked up and John recognized him as one of the crew from the Calais. John could see he had hit him in the leg and the gut and he was in obvious pain.
“I need a doctor,” he coughed, “Please!” John placed a boot on his neck and pressed.
“Where is she you insect?” he demanded, “Tell me or I will surely kill you now!” The man squealed and choked.
“Shooter took her to the Calais,” he managed to get out. He knew better than to annoy the American. His only hope of surviving was to give John what he wanted.
“Thanks,” muttered John and holstered the Colt.
He gave a short stomp on the man’s neck. With a sickly crack the neck broke and the man was dead. John rushed out the bungalow and back into Cuvette and the docks.
“Where’s the Calais?” he demanded grabbing a dock worker by the shirt. The surprised and frightened man stared at the wild eyed American, “Shooters boat! Where is it?”
“It left sir,” babbled the young black man in fair English.
“Which way?” he demanded again.
“Upstream,” confirmed the native.
“Was there a woman onboard?” the young black man nodded. John let him go and glanced around the docks for transport.
***
“Sacra Bleu Shooter,” sighed Pierre, “Why not just shoot this bitch and be rid of our last loose end?” Pierre kept his hand on the wheel as the Calais steamed up river at full speed.
“Pierre, my frog legs eating little friend,” grinned the fat Englishman, “You don’t have much vision do you know that?” Pierre shrugged.
“You are making it complicated,” he muttered.
“Not really,” noted Shooter, “You took care of the captain, Gustav has ambushed Carter and Cobb, and we have the woman. Sure we could kill her now and dump her overboard but then her body could be found. If her body is found then questions will be raised and the note we made her write and leave in her room will mean nothing. It needs to look like she decided to leave and then disappeared. And she will disappear once we sell her to my slaver contacts in the north. In addition we make a bit of extra cash. Vision Pierre, vision!”
Pierre just shook his head. He liked to keep things simple and as far as he was concerned this wasn’t simple. He also didn’t like leaving Gustav behind, but they needed someone to keep his ear to the ground to see if they missed anyone.
Pierre glanced through the glass panel into the Calais’s small cabin. The Englishwoman was tied hand and foot and laid out on the bed. Seeing her there all helpless stirred certain urges in the hired gun. He wondered if Shooter would allow him some quiet time with her. He was sure the fat Englishman was going to have his own time with her. She was by far the most gorgeous woman either man had come across in Africa.
Lyn lay still and listened to the water rush past and hit against the hull of the river steamer. She had been taken by surprise in her hotel room and forced to pen a note to whom it may concern saying she was leaving for Nairobi. She was then taken out the back of the hotel and down to the docks. It was all done so quickly she didn’t have time to think what she could do. Plus the men threatened to kill her if she made a scene. Now she was heading to who knew where. A tear rolled down her cheek as she felt very alone.
***
“Come on my pretty,” slobbered Shooter, “If you struggle it will just hurt!” He struggled to peel Lyns top off as she fought like a demon to resist the bigger stronger man. In truth he got more excited when they struggled.
“Never!” screamed Lyn as she scratched the fat man’s face.
He grinned as the pain stimulated him. For two days they had steamed up river. Now as they lay moored to the bank, they were a day away from a small unknown trading post where anything went. It was Shooters favorite stop over. Anything money could buy was for sale, and more. He would get a good price for a white woman there. First he was going to sample the merchandise.
Shooter pushed her flat and tore at her breeches. Lyn kicked and screamed for all she was worth. Outside Pierre grinned as he pressed his face to the glass and watched. Drooling the pervert had his member in his hands while he watched. His voyeurism turned out to be his downfall. Cold steel touched the back of his neck.
“Don’t even breathe,” threatened John with ice cold menace. Pierre froze as his blood ran cold. How did the American sneak up on him? How did he find them?
John had commandeered another steamer from a local who agreed to take John up river there and then for a steep fee. By pushing into the night they had made up time and when they saw the lights of the Calais that evening, John had ordered the man stop and then slipped into the croc infested river and silently swam up to the boat. Pierre was so busy with self gratification he didn’t notice the American slip on board. John glanced through the glass and saw Shooter and the now naked Lyn. He snapped. He pulled the trigger and blew half of Pierre’s head right off at point blank range.
Shooter almost had a heart attack at the sound of the gunshot. He rolled over and grabbed Lyn to him. John strode into the cabin as the fat man drew a wicked blade and held it to her throat.
“I’ll slit her throat I swear it!” threatened Shooter as he backed up holding the petrified naked noble woman to him.
“No you won’t,” announced John calmly.
“Don’t try me boy!” yelled Shooter, “I will do it!”
“You can’t,” stated John evenly, “You’re dead.”
He fired the Colt and drilled the fat man between the eyes. Brain matter splattered all over the inside of the cabin as the round exited out the back of his skull. He was stone dead before he slumped to the cabin floor. John holstered the cannon and took Lyn into his arms.
“I prayed you would come,” she cried as the emotions overwhelmed her.
“Nothing on earth could have stopped me,” he told as he held her breath-taking, naked form tightly to him.

Epilogue.
After returning to Cuvette and notifying the authorities, Lyn Walker made her way back to England. There she tidied up her estates and brought them back from the brink of bankruptcy, by selling off the London townhouse to cover the debts. She then made sure that there were the right people managing her affairs before she returned to Belgium Congo. There she purchased a sizable estate near Cuvette. She was back in Africa just in time for the birth of her first son, so that her new husband could share in the experience. She and John named him Alexander Bosise.

This post was submitted by Trent.


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