The plastic explosive lay next to him on the front seat, neatly bundled in pink happy birthday wrapping paper. Stirling rested his bush hat on top of it, and drew up to a line of cars and buses waiting at the border to cross into the Congo. He gave the package no thought. It was perfectly obvious, which made it perfectly safe. The short-bonnet truck vibrated and rattled and his hands shook as he lit a cigarette. He wound down the window and felt the mid-morning heat settle around the truck.
A drop of sweat ran to the tip of his nose. It had been hot since sunrise and was getting hotter. The exchange was scheduled for before dawn, but he’d gotten a puncture and had spent hours by the side of a dark road fighting to get the wheel off.
He tapped the ash out of the window and saw a group of children running towards him with hands outstretched and wide smiles.
“Sweets, sweets!” they chorused.
Stirling smiled and spoke in Swahili to them.
“I have sweets for you, if you can get me across the border faster.”
They looked at one another and then the tallest boy stepped forward in a torn brown shirt and red shorts.
“Me, I know who can help you,” he said.
“Okay. Go and get them then.”
“No, first sweets!”
Stirling leaned down, pulled out some lollies from a packet and dished them out to happy faces. The kids pushed forward and swarmed around, yelling with hands outstretched to grab the sweets as they fell. The tallest boy stuck a sucker in his mouth and ran barefoot away from the truck.
The kids played and danced next to the front tyre while Stirling took a long drag on his cigarette and shifted his weight on the sticky brown leather seat. He looked down the line of cars to the Angolan customs in their blue uniforms. They weren’t inspecting much of anything. Stirling had chosen this border crossing because it was hot and crowded at this time of day, and he thought the guards would be lethargic. Angolan customs were nonchalant, and even more relaxed if they were bribed. It didn’t normally take much.
He sat alone in the truck and the diesel engine chuntered hypnotically. It was sweltering. Stirling felt the rivulets of sweat slide down his back, and it reminded him of being in the back of a chopper over the mountains of Afghanistan. He closed his eyes and shook his head when the flashback came to snap himself out of it and stay in the present, but it was no use.
In his head, he was back there, and felt vertigo as the helicopter careened, flying fast and low, eighty feet off the ground. It dipped and shook, and Stirling stared dead ahead as the noise and vibrations rattled up his spine. It was hot, and in body armour, like sitting under a blanket in the sun. The inside was spartan. Cracked cyalume sticks gave the hull a radiation green glow and the deck was covered in grease and sand. The taste of aviation fuel sat at the back of his throat.
The men around him were wedged together on the floor. Their bodies sagged as they relaxed their muscles against the weight of the gear. No one spoke. Even if they had, the zshh-zshh-zshh of the rotor-blades drowned out any sound.
He snapped himself back with a big breath in, and realised his heart was pounding. Stirling concentrated on his breathing and loosened his grip on the steering wheel, and colour flowed back to his white knuckles. He could feel the spring under the seat pressing into his backside and his old wounds ached. He wriggled to find some relief. He’d spent months in pain on his back in a hospital bed, unable to move, uncomfortable and sore.
* * *
And there he was once again, on his back in the intensive care ward, while a crisp white nurses’ uniform leaned over his bed and whispered, “Wake up, sailor, we don’t want you to die.”
She murmured something else, but there was a dinner bell ringing next to his ear and he couldn’t make it out clearly. He reached out to pull her closer and his hands clutched at empty air.
It was the first thing he remembered after getting knocked unconscious during the battle. Like a bolt latching, he opened his eyes and looked at the nurse standing there. She smiled at him.
“Where am I?”
“You’re back home now. Try not to move, darling. You’re in Queen Elizabeth Hospital. You were shot,” she said and straightened the bedsheet.
“You were shot trying to save another soldier, do you remember? You have a severe concussion and you’ve been in an induced coma for some time.”
He touched side of his face. His head was wrapped and eye covered over with bandages. He tried to remember. The ringing in his ears sounded like the helicopters in-bound. He caught snippets, moment of events, like a dream. He remembered the explosion, and the injured trooper on his shoulder. He remembered running, and how, after a thousand yards he’d slowed and stumbled. The casevac helicopter kicking up dust, like it was the surface of the moon, and running head down, his face against the gusting sand.
A crewman had run out to meet them. He’d shouted, but Stirling couldn’t hear him over the wind and rotors and his own breathing. He’d sprinted hard, and his stomach squeezed and released as the soldier bounced up and down. And, he remembered the feeling of getting hit in the back with sledgehammer. The punch from the bullets knocking him forward, and how he'd put his arm out and tucked in his chin to break the fall, like a boxer stepping into a punch, his face hit the dry riverbed with the weight of the trooper on his neck.
“What happened to him?” he asked the nurse, and winced at the pain.
“You saved his life. He’s in a room down the corridor.”
“Do you remember what happened?” she asked.
“I remember getting hit – where’d they get me?”
“Well, you were quite lucky, your body armour took most of the rounds. But your pelvis is cracked, that’s why you’re so sore. Not to worry, we will look after you.”
He spent the next few months recovering from the bullet wounds and later, he was moved to a Defence Rehabilitation Centre and given a sparse single quarter with a single bed covered in a bright blue duvet. The room had rough grey industrial carpet with laminate furniture, a desk, wardrobe and wash basin in the room. He sat on the edge of the bed and read a letter from his grandmother, while tough coil springs from the old mattress pressed into his wounds. He read:
My move is: Nf3
We missed you at Gramps’s funeral. I am so glad you are recovering well ...
There was a chess board on the desk and he moved the Knight. He’d been playing, via correspondence, with his grandmother since the hospital. She thought it would help with his recovery and critical faculty, and she was right. There was a knock and the door swung open. Stirling looked up from the board and moved to stand, pushing himself up from the bed.
“Hello, Colonel,” Stirling said.
“Sit, please,” Colonel Rob said. He was a stocky man, shorter than Stirling, with pale freckled skin. He wore the sand coloured beret. He had been ginger once, but the hair on his temples was thinning and grey. He had a thick neck and pale blue eyes that stared at you like he was trying to make out a shape in the dark.
“That was a hell of a thing you did out there, Hunt.”
“Thank you, Colonel.”
“I wanted to drop by and see you, see how you were doing.”
“I am going well, Colonel, stronger every day.”
The Colonel pulled the desk chair out and sat down. Stirling sat back on the bed.
“Have you thought about what you will do, Hunt?”
There was a pause.
“After your rehab. Did you have a job in mind?”
“Back to the Regiment?” Stirling offered hopefully.
The Colonel shook his head. Stirling looked down quickly and back up at the Colonel. He opened his mouth to speak, but closed it again. The Colonel leaned forward.
“If it was up to me, you would stay in the Regiment,” he said softly.
Stirling’s eyes darted over the Colonel’s face.
“Come and see me when you are mobile, I will make sure you get something interesting at Forces Command.”
“An office job?”
“You’ve had your time in the field, Captain Hunt. You were incredibly effective and you’re a hell of an operator. One of the best. But it’s time to be effective somewhere else now.”
“Thank you, sir. But, you know that isn’t me.”
“You look frustrated, Hunt.”
He felt frustrated. The only thing keeping him sane and enduring the inane was the thought of getting back on the front line. They sat and looked at one another for a moment.
“Let me try again,” the Colonel said. “In my experience there are only a few reasons people join up. One, they need the money and have no prospects. Two, for some like myself, it’s expected. A family trade. Third, the glory hunters who fight for Queen and country. Which one are you? What’s driving you Hunt?”
Stirling thought a moment.
“My father was a Selous Scout and fought in the Bush War against the communists.”
“Rhodesia,” the Colonel said, stone faced.
“So, a family trade. What does he think about all of this?”
“I don’t know, Colonel. My parents were killed before I was sent away, to England.”
They sat in silence again. Stirling wondered if this man knew that he’d watched his father bleed to death when he was a boy. Or that they had found his mother’s mutilated body, charred and disfigured in a nearby dump.
“I only have one clear memory of my father, aside from the night he died. We would go out shooting with the rifle he gave me. He would say, ‘know – really know – what you are going to do before you do it’. And, ever since, I have tried to. And not only when it comes to shooting. I joined the Marines to learn how to do it.”
“Do what, Captain?”
“Whatever was required, sir. Whatever is needed to get the job done. Just to know that I won’t allow what happened to my parents to happen to anyone that I care about. Does that answer your question?”
The Colonel nodded slowly and took a more fatherly tone.
“Let me be clear, for all you have done – and we owe you a lot – you are your own worst enemy. I’ve never known anyone who acts with so little regard for their own self-interest. And I think you are still trying to live up to the expectations of the idea of a man you will never see again,” the Colonel paused. “I know you won’t stop until it’s killed you. But bury your demons, son. Bury them deep. Move on.”
“I can’t do that, Colonel. I made them a promise.”
“Well then,” the Colonel looked solemn, “follow your father’s advice, and know what you are going to do.”
The Colonel put his hand out, Stirling gripped it.
“Oh, I have something for you. They’ve given you this.” The Colonel pulled out a blue felt covered box. Stirling clicked it open and read the note. In recognition of an act or acts of conspicuous gallantry during active operations against the enemy. He closed the box and set it down.
“This must be what old dogs feel like,” Stirling said and half-smiled, “on a one-way trip to the vet.”
The Colonel watched him and he looked wounded.
“I’ve always known you as a stoic, Hunt. Don’t look so pained.”
He moved to the door then stopped and turned back.
“You look well, Stirling. Fighting fit. Better than I expected considering ... If it were only up to me,” he opened his arms apologetically. Stirling nodded and felt like he had been hit in the gut; the blood ran from his face.
And that was it. Thanks for your service, goodbye.
Stirling sat with his head in his hands. His career was over. He was lost in his own thoughts. He didn’t know how long he sat there, and didn’t hear the door swing open again.
“Um, Mr Hunt?”
Stirling looked up. A man who looked like Churchill’s grandson stood in his room. The first thing Stirling noticed was the shine of his shoes. The second, how his lower jaw jutted forward and loose double chin rolled over his starched collar under a double breasted pinstriped suit.
Stirling stood up. “Who are you?”
“I am a friend, Mr Hunt, a friend.”
“Well, whatever you are selling, I’m not buying. I have life insurance, thanks.”
“Ah, well, where you’re going you might just need a little more. What do you say? Hear me out and I will be out of your hair, two shakes of a lamb’s tail.”
Stirling sat down, “Okay, I’m all ears.”
“Do you mind if I sit?”
Stirling gestured to the chair and the man sat down and crossed his legs. He looked at Stirling, breathing through his mouth, until Stirling cleared his throat and looked away uncomfortably.
“Have you ever wondered why your family were murdered?”
Stirling narrowed his eyes. Who the hell does he think he is, he thought and wondered about this bulldog of a man sitting in front of him.
“They were murdered during a farm invasion in Rhodesia. A heinous crime. But not an uncommon one, unfortunately.”
“We say Zimbabwe now, don’t we?”
“Do we?” Stirling replied.
“Tell me, Mr Hunt. Suppose you wanted to murder someone, do you think a good way would be to make it look like something more ordinary, more mundane?”
“Mundane?” Stirling repeated. He was angry. “I’ve had about enough of this,” and moved to get up.
“It wasn’t a farm invasion, Mr Hunt. It was an assassination. Wouldn’t you like to know who is responsible for killing your parents?”
Stirling calmed, and sat back down.
“I’m listening,” he said.
“Ah, buying what I am selling now, are we, Mr Hunt?
“Maybe. Why are you telling me this?”
“How would you like the opportunity to take revenge, hmm?” He slid a black-and-white photograph across the desk and Stirling looked at it. “Do you recognise this man? You may have seen him before. The night your father died?”
Stirling shook his head. He couldn’t be sure. He had seen someone that night. A man in a balaclava. But he only remembered the eyes. Pale, opaline green eyes. That man had pulled a bloody panga from his father’s back.
“Maybe, maybe not.”
“That is a picture of Aslan Kabazanov from the early nineties. Aka, the Scorpion. Ex-Colonel in the KGB, and current Chechen warlord involved in every vice from arms dealing to sex trafficking. And, the man responsible for killing your parents.”
Stirling looked at the picture again, more closely. He shook his head, and looked up.
“Who the hell are you?”
“So sorry, how rude. Please allow me to introduce myself. I am Gerald D. Soames, Secret Intelligence Service, but please, call me Gerry.”
What the hell is MI6 doing here?
Soames perched himself on the edge of the chair, still breathing through his mouth.
“Do you have some kind of identification?” Stirling asked.
“No, I don’t,” Soames said with a half-grin, jaw jutting forward.
“So how do I – “
Soames cut him off.
“So, what’ll it be, Captain, a cushy desk job at headquarters? Or, do you want to come and work for me and bring down one of worst organised crime threats to Her Majesty’s Government, and more importantly, avenge your parents?”
“You want me to be a spy?”
“If that is what you want to call it, we say covert operative. But, what we call it doesn’t matter. What we really want is you, and for you to be yourself; with an ulterior motive. You will need to become very good at pretending to be someone else, while being yourself – do you understand?”
“No cover story?”
“Cover? You will be hiding in plain sight, my boy. You already have the best cover for this mission. We will send you in as a mercenary. Wounded ex-war hero, honourably discharged, becomes a gun runner in west Africa and falls in with the wrong crowd. What’s not to love?”
“Smuggling guns in Africa?”
“Initially, yes. We need you to rock the boat. Step on some toes. And, we can arrange a supplier as a starting point.”
Stirling nodded along, deep in thought. Planning. Soames could see it on his face.
“But, understand this is a black op, Hunt. It is all real, not make believe. No one is ‘in on it’. It’s real and if you do this willingly, you are alone. Off the books. Plausible deniability. We aren’t coming in with the cavalry to get you if you get into trouble. You can check in once a week with me or not at all. Officially you do not work for MI6, and we will not help you. Confirm to me that you understand.”
“I understand,” he said. “And training?”
“Training? Why, what more training do you want, Hunt? Her Majesty’s Government has already invested enough in you. Weapons, covert ops and self-defence expert, you were the naval boxing champion, if I am not mistaken? You speak three languages. And, you were born in Africa. Have I missed anything?”
Stirling shook his head. Soames pinched his flabby neck between forefinger and thumb and pulled at the skin.
“No, my boy,” he said thoughtfully. “Usually, recruitment like this takes time. And, if you choose to accept this mission, when you are healed, you are heading to Angola. In the meantime, we can help you prepare, and use your rehabilitation wisely. You will study, plan and prepare. Once in country, we can give you some help to get started, make some introductions, point out the way, but once you are there, there you are. On your own. Understand?”
Stirling sat very still with the tinnitus ringing in his ear, and looked through Soames, as his mind moved through the consequences step-by-step, like the moves on a chess board.
“Is there a file?”
“Just the photograph for now,” Soames said.
But it was grainy and taken from far away.
“There, in the middle,” he said and waved his finger. “Beret and sunglasses, from the Chechen war.”
Stirling studied the picture again and searched the recess of his mind. He had no clear image of this man. He didn’t remember him. But he knew he hated him.
“Will he know who I am?”
“Our intelligence says not,” Soames said. “So, what’ll it be, yes or no?”
Stirling felt he was pushing for an answer.
His mind strayed to the day he buried his parents. It was a wet day. He’d stood in a dark suit. The misty rain had seeped through, and stuck the fabric to his skin. He’d placed a wreath, and leaned it against the headstones. There was so much to say, and also nothing. And the anger never left.
He’d just stood there with his head bowed, saying nothing, looking at the slabs of stone, until long after the other mourners had gone inside for sweet tea and triangular sandwiches. He’d sworn then that he would find out who killed them, and do something about it.
This was his chance. He knew his destiny lay on the continent of his birth; and of his parents’ death.
What place isn’t home, if it isn’t where your dead are buried?
“Does this operation have a name?” Stirling asked.
“Eostrix. An owl that eats scorpions, apparently. The green slime are swots like that,” Soames replied.
“Okay, Mr Soames. Yes, I’ll do it.”
After Soames left, he made his move, and castled his king. His grandfather had been the chess champion of Rhodesia at one time. And his grandmother had beaten him on occasion, as she’s subtly mentioned in a letter, while politely challenging him to a match. They’d played several games over the months. He sat at the desk, rejuvenated, and wrote a reply to her.
My move is: 0-0
Wonderful news. I hope to see you soon, I’ll be back in Africa much sooner than we’d thought ...
The day after his discharge, he gained a berth on a cargo ship headed for the west coast of Africa, his passage negotiated in exchange for providing maritime security on board. After weeks on the lookout for pirates, Stirling arrived in Luanda, the capital of the old Portuguese colony in Angola.
The country had been ravaged by a civil war, but was rich in minerals and unexplored tropical jungle. The price of oil boomed and Luanda had become the Geneva of Africa. And Stirling set out on his mission to put himself between the Government, organised crime and the private security sector. The exact place those looking to profit from misery could be found.
* * *
He finished his cigarette and mashed it on the dashboard. The tall boy appeared, put his hands to his mouth, whistled and waved Stirling forward.
“Good boy,” he said and the old diesel engine pulled him past the row of parked cars and buses. Each was full of people, some with luggage on the roof, some with cages of chickens or livestock. Everyone stared at the truck and some spat. He pulled up opposite the sentry post with a boom gate across the dirt road and the brakes whined as he came to a stop. The border guard stepped out from his hut and flopped his beret on top of his fat round head. Stirling leaned out window and looked down.
“Russian, or English?” the guard asked.
“English please, chief.”
The border guard looked surprised.
Stirling handed him his passport and a bit of paper and the inspector flicked through it.
“Cigarettes?” he asked, looking at the passport.
“No,” Stirling said.
“What then?” the inspector asked.
“Medical supplies for the Christian Mission in DRC.”
“Where is it?” the inspector asked.
“Kinshasa. That paper tells you,” Stirling said. It was a typed letter on official looking headed paper. Stirling was sure the border guard couldn’t read it.
“Show me,” the guard said, moving to the back of the truck. Stirling climbed down and unhinged the tailgate and it dropped with a bang. He climbed onto the flatbed and opened the first wooden box and held the lid open for the inspector.
“See?” Stirling said, “Only bandages and plasters.” He didn’t mention that the other crates were full of rifles and grenades and covered over with the medical supplies. The guard gave the box a cursory look and took out a handkerchief to dab the beading sweat from his face and neck.
“It is very hot,” he said and gestured outside. Stirling watched him. They were doing the customary dance around one another now. Stirling saw a glint in his eye and the corner of his mouth turn up slightly.
“But, we are so very thirsty,” the guard said and wrinkled his eyebrows like a puppy.
“Yes, it is very hot,” Stirling agreed solemnly. “If it might help our situation here, I have soft drinks in the truck … maybe a cold Coke for you and your colleague?”
The inspector grinned.
“I suppose we have a deal,” Stirling said. “After you,” and ushered him off the back of the wagon.
* * *
He drove past the guard hut and the inspector took a sip of Coke and beamed his African smile. Stirling waved at them as he crossed into the Congo.
“Thank you very much, gentlemen.”
He felt good. The first score in his new life was just down this dusty track, if he could survive the heat.
Northern Angola was sparse and empty. The Congo was like going back in time, and almost unchanged from the time of Dr Livingstone.
Stirling kept one eye on the gravel path as it came bouncing up in front of him, and pulled out a neatly folded map, open to the grid squares he needed. He checked his watch and position and calculated it in his head. Kinshasa was two-hundred and five miles away. On this bumpy, badly graded road he would do an average of thirty miles hour: that meant a seven-hour drive.
* * *
He had run out of jingles and snippets of pop songs to hum and checked his watch. He’d only been going for an hour. It felt like at least two. He exhaled in forceful boredom and drummed both hands on the steering wheel and looked out at the thick tunnel of green bush around the truck.
Stirling flicked on the radio and it hissed. He took his eyes off the road to tune it and when he looked up from the orange needle there was a man with an AK-47 rifle standing in the middle of the road. He thought for a second about just driving him over, but the rebel lifted the rifle and pulled the trigger.
He jammed his foot hard onto the pedal. He felt the rusted brake drums clamp and the wheels locked as the shot zipped over the roof. The truck skidded on the gravel and Stirling felt the cargo shift. There was a quiet moment as the dust drifted, and then like vultures around a carcass, rebels were around the truck pointing soviet-era rifles and screeching at him to get down and get out.
He ducked out of sight and stuffed the map and a compass in his cargo trousers. He grabbed a small revolver from the glove box and tucked it into his crotch and broke the key off in the ignition. One of the rebels pulled open the driver’s side door and barked at him.
“Get down, climb down now!”
“Okay-okay!” Stirling put his hands above his head and sat up. The rebel was wild-eyed from khat and Stirling saw needle scars on his arm. The drug-crazed ambusher stepped back from the door, pointed his rifle and shouted in a heavy west African accent.
“Move you maggot, get outta da truck, get down. Now!”
Stirling slid out, making deliberate and slow movements. He didn’t want to give them any more reason to kill him than they already had. He was in trouble and the adrenaline kicked in. His breathing was shallow and the fear crept up the base of his skull and stuck in his throat. He stood next to the cab with his hands next to his head. The rebel spat at him and grabbed him by the front of the shirt, Stirling didn’t resist. He pulled him and kicked Stirling on the back of his leg. He fell forward onto his hands and knees and felt the heat of the sun on his back and the warmth of the dust under his palms.
A shadow moved over his hands in the dust. He looked up and squinted at another rebel’s face. He wore cheap mirrored aviators and had blotches of pink skin in places, like he had been burned, or born disfigured. He was obscured by the glare of the sun. The man pulled a lit cigarette from his mouth and exhaled the smoke through gritted teeth. He held it forward and offered it to Stirling.
“No thanks,” Stirling said. “I’ve just quit.”
The rebel shrugged.
“Dis may be your last chance,” he said. “So tink careful.”
The other ambushers climbed into the truck and threw equipment out of the cab. Stirling flinched as the pink birthday present of plastic explosive hit the ground.
One leaned out from the rear and shouted in Congolese French, “Nous avons les fusils!” We have the guns.
The rebel leader stood in front of Stirling and scoffed.
“You see? You are a stupid man.” He spoke slowly and with the same accent as the others. “Coming alone into Congo,” he shook his head and tutted.
“This cargo is for the big man in Kinshasa,” Stirling said trying to sound ominous. The rebel sucked his brown teeth.
“Il dit qu’ils sont quelqu’un d’important,” he said loudly to the others and they all laughed. He looked at Stirling again.
“I don’t think they are worried who it is for. You think I work for myself?” he asked rhetorically and twisted his arm so Stirling could see the “LRA” brand on his shoulder. The scar tissue was raised and blotched. Stirling realised he was getting ripped off by the same people he was supposed to be selling the shipment to.
“You’re Lord’s Resistance Army? This cargo is for Joseph.”
“Cold Killer, regarde le,” the rebel said to the man behind Stirling. “This is Cold Killer. If you move, he will kill you.”
The rebel leader walked past him. Cold Killer looked at Stirling with a depraved grin and dried snot on his lip. His eyes were a watery yellow, a sure sign of malaria. He jabbed Stirling in the temple with his AK-47 and Stirling looked at the ground in submission and clenched his jaw in frustration.
“I am not going to die here,” he said under his breath.
“Hey, you, English! Where da explosive?” the rebel leader shouted from behind him. He came up and grabbed Stirling’s face.
“I only ask once, English.” His lips opened in a sly grin, relishing this part.
“Where da explosive!?” He let go of Stirling’s face and slapped him across the jaw. Stirling felt the burn of the strike on his cheek and stared blankly straight into the mirrored lenses.
“I am going to kill you,” he said matter-of-factly through gritted teeth.
The rebel laughed and removed his sunglasses. Stirling saw he had a long scar across one eye, it was creamy white and blind.
“No, English.” He shook his head, “I am going to kill you. Right now.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out two clear plastic vials. “You see? I am going to scoop up your blood and get a promotion. Climb the corporate ladder, eh?”
He laughed and looked at Cold Killer and said, “Hey, wena, tue-le maintenant.”
Cold Killer cocked his rifle.
“Say your prayers,” the leader grinned. Cold Killer pressed the rifle into Stirling’s temple.
“Yes, yes. I want to say my prayers. Please,” Stirling said.
Cold Killer looked at the rebel leader, unsure.
Stirling lifted his hands in front of his face in prayer and started, “Our Father, who art in heaven …”
The rebel leader’s laugh boomed, Cold Killer shouted in Stirling’s ear and jabbed him in the temple. In one action, Stirling brushed the barrel past his head with the back of his hand and reached into his crotch for the revolver. Stirling saw the yellows of the savage eyes widen as he squeezed the trigger. The front of Cold Killer’s neck exploded and he dropped his rifle to plug the hole with both hands. The gore seeped through his fingers as he choked on his own blood.
The gunshot echoed around them and off the truck and the trees, and the birds took flight. As the sound died away, Cold Killer dropped and gurgled his last breath into the dirt. Stirling was up quickly. He grabbed the pink wrapped box and a clump of the rebel leader’s Afro in the other hand and yanked him yelling to the cover of the thicket on their flank.
“Déglingue le! Déglingue le!” Shoot him! he screamed at the others as Stirling dragged him to the cover of the bushes. The rebels yelled back and fired a volley over Stirling’s head.
“They don’t want to shoot you,” Stirling grunted as he pulled the man away. He stopped at the edge of the bush and turned back to face the truck.
“But I do …” he said into his ear. “Who set me up?”
“Déglingue le!” the rebel shouted again to his men. They looked at one another. Stirling put the revolver to his temple. “Déglingue le!” he screamed desperately.
Stirling closed one eye and turned his face away and pulled the trigger. The blood splatter hit him on the cheek and neck, and the body fell into the grass.