(…continued from Previous Part)

WHEN SHE OPENED HER EYES: Part 3

CHAPTER ONE

Born into the Bush

When she opened her eyes—this time around—she found out that she wasn’t really in a cave; she was in a hut that was plastered with a clay paste in the inside. She had been carried here by two native men after jumping from Daniel King’s plane which was headed for an impact with the ground. She had landed on her back after the parachute failed to deploy fully since she was too near the ground. The fall had somehow paralyzed her legs and now they couldn’t move or feel anything, no matter how much she pinched them.

The sound of singing mingled with feet stamping the ground told her there was a kind of native, social event coming from outside. Drums thundered and echoed around the bushy country. While male voices boomed, the female voices rose and fell dynamically and more drums thundered.

Then footsteps entered the hut. Two pairs of strong hands grabbed the hide on which she lay and lifted her off the floor; then carried her out in the moonlit yard. She saw a semi-circle of glistening black half naked men adorned with complex necklaces, decorated headgears and colorful necklaces; and the other semicircle was made of similarly decorated women wearing reeds suspended from strings tied around their wings.

They set her on the ground.

One of the women stepped forward, raised her hand and uttered a string of words in her native language. The rest of the dancers responded with a resounding cheer; suddenly, they started another dance, singing and moving rhythmically around her. The dance mesmerized her. She supported herself on her elbows and looked ahead; then discovered there was a huge bonfire at the centre of the yard.

She felt someone grab her shoulders gently: It was big smiling woman. She helped her sit up and placed some soft support behind her back. Then Omari, the tall slim man who had been acting as translator came up and squatted beside her.

“This is a dance to welcome you to our community,” he said.

“Really?” she said. “That is so sweet of you. I really like the dance; I wish I could dance alongside….”

“You have been sleeping for the past seven hours,” he said, looking at her. “After the dance we will have a meal together; I know you are hungry.”

Natty then realized she hadn’t eaten anything since that morning’s breakfast. The thought triggered pangs of hunger but she asked herself, what could I possibly eat here?

Omari seemed to sense her thoughts.

“Don’t worry,” he said, grinning. “You will like it.”

The dancing ended and everybody began to sit down in groups on the grass. The women came out of the nearby huts balancing earthen pots on their heads. They started to serve. One of them approached Natty. She placed beside her a dish made of a gourd cut in half. The dish contained pumpkin stew, potatoes and steak chopped into small pieces; and a wooden spoon immersed in it. The smell of the food made her mouth water.

The food was surprisingly tasty, she noted. That could be because she was hungry though. Deciding to disregard her doubts, she settled back and consumed it heartily.

After the meal, some of the natives came and greeted her courteously. This community was about the friendliest she had ever come across. Omar squatted beside her and motioned towards a group of women stirring contents of an earthen pot that sat on the fireplace.

“They are preparing the herbal mixture for your legs,” he said.

Natty sighed. “You still think the concoction will be helpful?”

“Yes, Natty; you must not lose faith,”

Natty concentrated her gaze on the starry sky. Faith was the only thing she had left, and she had to rely on it. She mustn’t panic. Suddenly, she realized how desperately she wanted that concoction to work: she was hundreds of miles away from a hospital; her spinal cord could be severely damaged and she might never be able to walk again.

Shuddering, she cringed from the thought. This herbal thing had to work!

A Man Had to Do…

After the XLS had roared off into the cold misty morning sky, Robert turned around and regarded King and Abraham.

“Nice pack of hoods you have for pilots,” he sneered.

“What do you mean?” King demanded, narrowing his eyes. “By this evening, she will be aboard the plane headed for the US.”

Robert raised his chin, cleared his throat and said, “It won’t happen. Jay and his friends will crash the kite.”

King reacted as if he had been slapped in the face.

“What did you say?” he demanded, his frame towering above Robert, his eyes turning into small hard beads. Abraham frowned and stared at Robert, whose eyes remained focused on King.

“You heard me, King. They are crashing your pretty kite.”

With lightning speed, King grabbed Robert’s shirt collar and lifted him off the ground as though he were a ten-year old boy. Robert choked and kicked, but King shook him back and forth.

“So, what the hell are you yammering about, kid?” King asked furiously.

Abraham stepped forward and touched King’s powerful shoulder.

“Easy, Daniel. Give the young man a chance to explain his thoughtless statement.”

King hesitated and flung Robert to the ground. Robert landed in a heap, his hand going to his throat. He coughed twice and looked up at King, whose lips were twisted in disgust.

“Last night,” he said hoarsely. “Natty and I overheard them talking … Jay coerced the pilots to concede to his plan …”

“What plan?” King barked, rubbing his lips with the back of his hand.

Robert struggled to his feet. “I am not expecting you to believe this, King. Natty and I knew you’d trust Jay more than your own life and the way you are treating me right now proves it.”

Abraham crossed his arms.

“And why would they do such a stupid thing?” he asked, studying Robert closely.

“To get away with $4.5 million, what else do you expect?” Robert retorted.

“They wouldn’t do it!” King shouted. “The damn plane doesn’t even have parachutes! The only person who insisted to have a chute was that woman, and I gave her one! Who knows? Maybe you helped her come up with a scheme where she would cause the plane to crash so that she could skydive and disappear with the money!”

Robert straightened up and faced King.

“You are demented!” he shot back. “She risked her life by boarding that plane for the hope of reaching her mother! I am hoping she will survive the crash. I know she will. As soon as she lands on the ground safely, she will contact me, and you will have to assume responsibility of flying her to the US—legitimately, or you will never lay your hands on your gems. I don’t care whether you will rip me apart; you either fly her home or our little deal is up in smoke.”

King seemed to hesitate. Abraham turned to him and shrugged.

“Well, I don’t think it would do any damage to investigate his claims,” he said.

King fished out his cell phone and dialed a number. “Mary?” he said into the phone. “I want the original inventory file on my desk at once.”

He hung up, dialed another number and said, “Listen, Peter; I want you to count the chutes in your store immediately. Let me know if any crew member has borrowed any of late. Snap it up!”

Five minutes later, the three men were in King’s executively-furnished office when a short, bespectacled woman entered holding a blue file which she handed to King. After dismissing her, he perused through the file and hadn’t been through a few leafs when the phone on his desk rang. He grabbed it roughly and bawled into the earpiece.

“What have you got?”

“Eighteen chutes,” said the man at the other end of the line. “The record doesn’t indicate anyone borrowing a chute except—well, er … except for the one you took this morning.”

“Thank you, Peter,” King said and hung up; then went back to studying the file. After a minute or so, he lifted his eyes and stared Abraham, his face expressing shock.

“Twenty-two chutes,” he muttered, his face graying. “Twenty-two in the inventory… Peter has eighteen. I took one….”

“Three are missing.” Abraham snapped, an edge in his voice. He turned and looked at Robert. “Can you tell us exactly who was with Jay last night when you eavesdropped on them?” he asked, his eyes suddenly hard.

“We weren’t eavesdropping; we just wanted some air. It was by sheer accident that we happened to be passing outside Jay’s bedroom window when we overheard the conversation. It was Jay, the pilot and his co-pilot and Solomon; but Solomon had already left the room when the rest started plotting about the crash. We had an idea Solomon might not have been part of it.”

“Sons of bitches!” Abraham swore under his breath. “Solomon is a victim too!”

King banged his fist on the table, making the file jump.

“Goddamned idiots!” he snarled, his face a mask of ruthless fury; then grabbed the telephone receiver and dialed control.

“Boniface? How is the XLS doing? I want to know, pronto!” He listened some more and added, “Okay, let me know if anything funny happens.” He then hung up, placed his elbows on the table and put his face into his hands. He remained like that for some time before looking up at Robert.

“You are absolutely sure about it, Robert? No chance you are bluffing?” he asked, sounding desperate.

“I wish I was, Daniel,” answered Robert, a sad look in his eyes. He got to his feet and started pacing up and down the room. “God, I hope my girl makes it. I am not even sure they will let her escape….” “Don’t be so damn pessimistic,” King snapped. He lit a cigarette and sat back to stare at the ceiling while he puffed up rings of smoke. Abraham was standing near the window, staring outside, engrossed in thought.

The three men remained like that for a long moment and when the telephone rang, Robert realized they had in fact been brooding for past one hour. At the shrill sound of the phone, they all jerked and stared at it. Then King grabbed the receiver and pressed it against his ear.

The two looked at him with apprehension. Robert saw his face lose color.

“What the—” he started; then hesitated and said in a weak voice, “No response?” His fists were constantly clenching and unclenching.

Looking at King’s expression, Robert knew the looming catastrophe had been unleashed.

“Keep me posted!” King said without much hope, then slammed down the receiver.

“Did we lose the plane, Daniel?” Abraham asked in a quiet voice. King didn’t answer. Instead, he got to his feet crossed over to the small bar and mixed himself a stiff nasty drink. Robert could see he was trying hard to suppress the fury burning inside of him upon realizing that his most trusted flight engineer wasn’t quite whom King had believed he was. But thinking of Natty in a plane headed for a clash made him so jittery that he immediately regretted having consented to that plan. Had he been crazy? How could he have let her get herself into such a trap!

“We’ve got to follow them!” he blurted with desperation.

Abraham looked at King.

“The boy is right,” he said, jerking his chin in Robert’s direction. “They’ll directly connect you to the plane, and then there’ll be questions to answer. We can’t deal handle the press, Daniel.”

“What makes you imagine that I don’t know that?” he demanded, his face a hideous mask of anger.

Before Abraham could react, the telephone rang again. King snatched it violently and shouted: “You got something?”

He then listened for some time and then replaced the receiver slowly, his eyes on Abraham.

“The plane crashed in Tanzania near the Kenyan border,” he said, barely moving his lips.

If the Lame Could Walk

Natty couldn’t deny that this was the most incredible massage she had ever undergone—if she could call it that. The women were experienced traditional therapists alright. If this wasn’t healing, then it was downright rewarding. They spread steamed herbs on her lower back, covered them with a hot damp towel and then exerted gentle pressure, sending waves of relaxation through her tired aching muscles. The herbs smelt like a mixture of peppermint and something sour.

The silent skilled women repeated the process on her legs and although she couldn’t feel it, she was deeply touched by this humble community that was struggling so much to help her get her strength back. How she wished she could somehow pay it back!

When they were through, they dressed her and lay her on a modified mattress of hay covered with a warm woolen skin. They then waved her good night and left. It all happened like a dream, and she vaguely wished it was so; she hoped that she would wake up in the morning and find out it had been one long mysterious dream.

Natty was woken up by a strong urge to relieve herself. Although she was warm and somehow comfortable, her bladder felt full and threatened to burst any time. When her eyes got used to the gloom, she realized it was a few minutes to dawn, and rays of dim light were entering the hut through the spaces around the make-shift door made of twigs and dry leaves.

She then became aware of a tingling feeling in her legs. The prickling sensation started in her thighs and progressed further downwards to the soles of her feet. For a moment she didn’t think much of it; then suddenly, she realized with a rush of adrenalin that she could feel something in her legs now.

She sat up immediately, her full bladder forgotten. Her heart was thumping with excitement. Did it mean she could regain feeling in her legs now? Taking a deep breath, she concentrated and with some effort, managed to move her toes. She was so thrilled that tears ran down her cheeks. She was getting her legs back!

She lay back, deciding to get some weight off her legs. The tingling became intense for some time and then gradually reduced. When it became bearable, she turned her focus to her right leg and with considerable effort and willingness, managed to bend her knee, lifting the limb off the mattress. She repeated the same for the left leg and before long, both limbs were feeling lighter and far less prickly than before. Either these African women were really good and their herbal therapy could work miracles, or her lucky star was beginning to shine again.

She rolled over and stood on her knees, and then slowly, began to crawl towards the door.

…What a Man Has to Do

Robert trembled with mixed emotions as he paced up and down the office. Suddenly, he stopped and glared at King.

“We’ve got to depart now before things get out of control!”

Abraham eyed him, his face as expressionless as a statue.

“You are right,” he replied, “Except for one little fact: you aren’t going anywhere. Daniel and I will handle the issue and if Miss Norman is alive, our little agreement goes on as before.” He pointed to the door and continued; “Now if you will excuse us, we got a trip to plan.”

Looking at him, Robert realized that this man was as thorough and as ruthless a planner as King, and seemed to be a master of his emotions. Robert decided it wouldn’t make any sense to argue further so he opened the door and got out of the office and into the sun.

He stood basking in the fuzzy warmth of the morning sun for several minutes until Abraham came out followed closely by King. Abraham paused as King approached and stopped beside Robert, rubbing his unshaven chin.

“We’ll get to her, young man,” he said in an agitated voice. “You will stay here; guards in these premises have been instructed not to allow you get outside the gates. You should be comfortable enough here, until we are back. Got it?”

Robert regarded him. “Sure, don’t worry about me,” he said, waving off King’s remarks. “Just find her, Daniel. That’s all I want.”

King nodded and then motioned Abraham towards the airstrip. As the two men walked away, Robert began to say a silent fervent prayer, fighting desperation and clinging onto hope that his precious Natty was alive. It seemed like there wasn’t much else he could do at the moment.

… But desperate times call for desperate action …. There was no way he could sit here waiting.

CHAPTER TWO

Daring the Temperature

Ed O’Connor was a short, squat aero-engineer with a pink face. He was a temperamental man who owed his bad moods to King’s erratic decisions. For some annoying reasons King always seemed to call him to work precisely in the most inconvenient times; if he wasn’t on leave, then he was planning to take his wife for a bright day out.

This particular morning, he was to take his wife out for one such picnic, hoping she would lay off the sour financial grievances she had been harboring all month when his investments faced big-time crises. But Ed had been furious when King had called him from home on his day off, and his wife had been mad. She had firmly insisted that her husband ignore King, but no employee could ignore King and get away with it. When he had consented, his wife had screamed at him with rage and ran off, shutting herself in the bedroom. This had made Ed swear revenge on King some day. How he would do that wasn’t clear but sure as hell he would do it.

Grimly, he picked his suitcase, crossed the avenue and entered the airstrip through the high guarded gates. Reaching his locker room, he changed into his uniform, grabbed his suitcase and headed for the terminal where he met King and the crew members. After King had briefed him on the details of the flight, Ed went out to undertake the usual boring routine, inspecting the plane and making sure it was in perfect shape for flight.


A tall, dark man wearing a red-and-blue uniform labeled “DK AVIATION & CO” and a blue cap came out of Jay’s room and headed for the taxiway, where a sleek silver business jet stood with its door facing the terminal. He was carrying a grey travelling bag and when he neared the plane, a short pink-faced man wearing in a uniform similar to his appeared from the other side of the plane, fidgeting with a notebook and pen. He regarded the dark uniformed man with curiosity, surprise registering in his eyes.

“Hey. Have I seen you before?” he asked, pocketing his notebook.

“Good morning,” said the tall dark man, flashing a rich charming smile. “No, we haven’t met before. James is my name.”

He offered his hand. The pink-faced man shook it suspiciously.

“Call me Ed,” said the pink-faced man. “I don’t remember Mr. King hiring a new engineer.”

“He hasn’t,” said the tall man. “I service his kites from the other end.”

Ed cocked his head. “From Cairo?”

“From Cairo,” his smile held. “I’ll be accompanying Mr. King to Tanzania and later to Egypt.”

Ed frowned. “I wasn’t informed. I was under impression that only five passengers will be aboard—”

“Five passengers?”

“Yes, Mr. King, Mr. Abraham and three crew members,” Ed answered.

Damn it, Robert thought. Three crew members? He hadn’t thought of that. Now his presence was more likely to be detected.

He turned and glanced at the terminal. He could see King and Abraham walking towards the plane followed by three extra men.

“Can I see your ID?” Ed suddenly asked.

Robert felt a chill run up his spine but he managed an apologetic smile. “It’s in the bag,” he said.

“My mistake, I packed it inside with the clothes.” He then made it for the steps.

Ed blocked his way. “I need to see your ID,” he said stubbornly.

Robert glanced once more over his shoulder. King and his companions were approaching. If they did as much as sense it was him in Jay’s uniform, his plans would go up in smoke. He had to get into the plane now.

“Look, Ed, we are wasting one another’s time,” Robert said, and looking at the short man, Robert could see he wasn’t convinced.

“You aren’t who you say you are, are you?” Ed said. The question startled Robert and for a moment, he was dazed. Ed took advantage of his hesitation to hammer home his message.

“You are an impostor,” he declared, staring at him.

Robert hesitated and once more looked over his shoulder. The men had momentarily stopped to shake hands with businessmen coming for their usual flights. Robert felt the tension rise.

“Okay, okay,” he said at last. “I am Robert. My girlfriend was in the XLS that crashed earlier this morning in Tanzania. King has forbidden me to go. I’ve got to!”

Ed regarded him and smiled ruefully. “I can’t let you get in,” he said. “It’s against the code of ethics.”

Robert sighed. His hand went into his pocket and came out with a roll of banknotes. Ed stared at the money and swallowed. The sight of money at this time when his projects had exhausted all his savings hurt his eyes. Robert waved the money at him.

“How about now?” he asked.

Ed hesitated. This man seemed to be financially stable. Perhaps he could squeeze more out of him?

“I wouldn’t change my mind for such a petty sum.”

Robert fished out five hundred-dollar bills and added them to the roll. He handed the money to Ed, who snatched it like a lizard’s tongue zapping at a fly.

“Where the hell do you imagine you will hide?” he demanded nervously, stepping clear of the airstair. “The crew will be all over the freaking kite.”

“In the luggage compartment,” Robert answered, rushing up the steps. Ed followed him up panting.

“What?” he asked sharply. “You will be turned into a block of ice in there!”

“I got myself covered,” Robert said as he entered the plane, indicating the bag in his hand.

Double-Cross

Hughen used his foot to drag the deck chair out of the shade and into the sun. This morning, he was feeling dull and bored sick of living in Abraham’s little hideout waiting for his hands to heal while he knew that no future was waiting for him. He felt bitter to recall the long months he had endured utter humiliation, hiding from Abraham and his hoods, the long hard hours he had endured to recover his diamonds only to wind up holed up in some hideous house. Up to when would he remain in hiding? Would he remain under cover while Abraham waited to enjoy the fortune that he—Hughen—had worked so hard to recover?

He spat with disgust. Of course he wouldn’t hide again. Abraham didn’t know that Hughen had overheard so many of his conversations; that he knew enough to take him away for decades—if he informed the police. If the police learned about the jewels too, he was sure they would appreciate it and reward him! Who knows, he thought, perhaps there will be a future after all! Thinking about it made him even more excited; he felt he couldn’t wait to earn his freedom, his fame and maybe some fortune. Getting up, he entered the house and took the telephone receiver between his cast hands.


The tall, bat-faced police detective Henry David entered Sergeant Larry Mosegi’s office and offered himself a chair. The sergeant was in a foul mood this morning, and Henry had to be careful.

Mosegi gave the detective a sour look and resumed to his absent-minded nail-chewing activity, his thick-lensed glasses giving his eyes a sinister look.

“Got anything this time?” he asked, not expecting much.

The detective produced a sly smile that would have ashamed a fox.

“You wouldn’t believe it, Sir,” he began, making himself more comfortable in the armchair.

“Believe what?”

“A bird presented himself and ratted on Abraham and his gang.”

The Sergeant leaned forward and glared at the detective, his elbows on the desk.

“What are you talking about?” he bowled.

Detective sat back and relaxed; his little smile stuck.

“Abraham and King are after what Norman and Bhekifa stole in that clubhouse vault.”

Mosegi twisted his mouth. “Oh, great news!” he said sarcastically. “I didn’t know that!”

The detective raised an eyebrow. “Not quite, sir,” he said soothingly. “You will flip your lid when you know what was stolen.”

“Oh, I will?” he said indifferently.

“The reputed two hundred year-old Karlsberg Diamonds.” Henry said slowly.

Mosegi’s eyes popped out. “What!” he exclaimed. “The Karlsberg gems? Who came up with such a tale?”

“One of the thieves: Hughen.”

“Really?” Mosegi asked excitedly. “Hughen reported himself?”

“We just recorded his statement.”

The detective then told his boss about how Hughen had carried out the operation and how he had been rescued from hospital. When he was through, Mosegi was wiping sweat from his face.

“Why do I feel like that Hughen guy wants something from us?” Mosegi asked.

“He hopes you will reward him for the info,” The detective replied, smoothing his tie.

“Have him brought here,” Mosegi snapped.

Five minutes later, two cops brought an agitated Hughen into the office. Mosegi got to his feet and grabbed Hughen’s collar.

“Listen, old rat,” he barked. “You are going to prison for stealing the state’s precious jewels.”

Hughen backed away.

“No !” he pleaded. “I was just—”

“Hang that!” Mosegi snarled viciously, throwing him backwards. Hughen crashed onto the bench. He looked shaken and felt cornered. Coming to report this had certainly been a bad idea.

“Please, Sir,” he said in a shaken voice. “I could give you information about why they wanted the stones, and what crimes they are planning to execute.” Mosegi returned to his chair while Detective seemed undeterred.

“Okay, old man,” Mosegi said impatiently. “Shoot. It had better be good!”

Hughen hesitated. It was time to play this right.

“I want to be sure you will let me go if I tell you this; it’s big.”

“Let’s hear it, Chum,” Mosegi said suspiciously. “Then we will decide!”

Hughen sighed and said, “They want to use the money they earn from the stones to control the drugs market on all African coast-lines.”

The officers looked at one another. Mosegi wiped his face and glared at Hughen.

“What evidence do you have? That could be just talk.”

“I have spent enough time in that house to know where they keep their files; I have also recorded some of their conversations. When you see and hear what I got, you won’t need any other evidence.”

Mosegi leaned forward.

“Listen, Hughen,” he said slowly. “You show us evidence enough to bring that gang down, you go free. If this turns out to be a gag, you will be sorry you were born.”

Hughen smiled nervously. “No need to be that hard, boss,” he said. “You will get it alright.“

Mosegi got to his feet and slapped his cap on his head. He nodded at Detective.

“Hughen is taking us for a ride,” he said, and turning to Hughen, he snapped: “Let’s get onto it!”

Glad Impostor

Robert, doubled-up inside the large luggage case, felt the jet hit the tarmac. He stiffened from the little shock and as the plane raced along the runway and eventually slowed to a halt, he lifted the case cover and waited to allow the crew to alight. His muscles tense and aching, he then got out the heavy winter clothing he had put on to make sure he didn’t freeze in the baggage compartment. Hastily, he put the clothes inside the big case. Now clad in the flight engineer uniform, he grabbed his suitcase and stepped into the vacated cabin. He was about to reach the door when Ed came out of the cockpit and gave him a rueful smile.

“You got guts, young man,” he said. “And that woman deserves you.”

“Thank you,” Robert replied and hesitated. “How would you like to earn an extra thousand, Ed?”

The engineer raised his eyebrows suspiciously. “Now what crime do you want me to commit?”

Robert laughed. “Don’t get excited, Ed. I was wondering if you would like to help me look for her.”

“You won’t be needing my help; King had a search party organized,” said Ed, peering out of the window. “He is meeting the local police who will take him to the scene of the crash.”

“He is out there on the airstrip?”

“Yes”

Robert walked to the door and looked outside. He saw Abraham, King and the three men shake hands with some Tanzanian police officers, and then walk towards a waiting black car.

Robert turned to Ed. “I don’t trust those guys,” he said. “I have a feeling I could trust you, though.”

Ed shifted. “I don’t know … I am supposed to stick with the plane till this thing is over before flying on to Egypt around 4.00pm.”

“This thing won’t be over until she is found,” Robert said, and then shrugged. Putting his foot on the airstair, he turned to look at Ed. “Don’t you worry, Ed; I’ll look for local help. I’m double sure I’ll spend far less money, although the two of us could have done great wearing this uniform … the police would naturally think we have been officially assigned the searching task. You have the ID; I don’t.”

Ed hesitated but when Robert continued down the airstair, he followed him hastily.

“Hey, wait!” he said. Robert waited on the taxiway.

“Look,” said Ed as the two began walking towards the exit. “I’ll accompany you but I must be back here in time, get that?”

“Fair enough.”

A uniformed cop looked at them with interest as they approached. He squinted at their uniform and saluted. Robert put on his charming smile and paused.

“Good day, officer,” he began. “My friend and I are part of Mr. King’s crew; would you mind to brief us about the plane crash that happened this morning?”

The cop toyed with his night stick and gestured widely.

“Good day, my friend,” he replied warmly. “My sincere condolences to your colleagues’ families. The jet crashed in the Serengeti National Park near the Kenyan border. As for now, we haven’t been able to establish the cause of the crash but seemingly, no-one survived the crash.” The cop motioned to the gate and continued, “Mr. King and the rest of your crew will be airlifted to the scene of the accident in thirty minutes. They’ve gone for some refreshment I understand. Will you be joining them?”

“Certainly,” Robert lied. “Thanks officer. If you’ll excuse us, we’ll get along. So long.”

“Welcome to Tanzania,” the cop said and smiled.

As the two came through the gate of the small private airstrip, Ed’s phone rang shrilly. He took it out of his pocket and frowned when he saw the call was coming from South Africa. After listening for some time, he placed a hand on Robert’s arm. The two men halted.

“What’s it?” Robert asked when Ed had hung up.

“A friend of mine has just given me the most damning info,” Ed said, his face a mask of confusion and worry. “A warrant of arrest has been placed on King and Abraham. Seems someone tipped the cops and presented red-hot evidence.”

“Really?” Robert said excitedly. “What are the charges?”

“Multiple,” Ed said, staring at the ground. He paused for a moment and then studied Robert’s face. “Drug trafficking! Seems these two swines are the biggest dope barons on the entire African coast!”

Robert frowned. “Who exactly gave you the news? That information couldn’t possibly be out with the public yet?”

“It’s the police sergeant,” Ed said and scratched his head. “He and I are cousins; he is just warning me that Tanzanian police might be instructed to arrest them and fly them back home.”

“Us included?”

“Not necessarily. Listen, we want to be away from this place for now. Now I am without a job for the moment, I could certainly use your thousand.”

Robert grinned. “Hey, don’t feel so bad. I knew these men were hoods, they literally kidnapped me and my girl and detained us in their airstrip premises.”

Outside the airstrip gate was a fairly busy highway that led to Arusha which economically is one of the most important cities in Tanzania. Ed glanced at his watch and then shrugged.

“The only other alternative we have to reach the Serengeti would be to charter a plane in Arusha,” he said. “We can’t drive there in one day: the road is bumpy as hell.” He then made one of his irritated gestures. “But we are going to need visas. I suggest we make a trip to the ministry office, get the visas, charter a plane and fly to the park. From there we will have a tour guide lead us farther into the bush.”

Robert shrugged.

“Sounds like a nice plan!”

Ed hesitated and then squinted at Robert. “It’s gonna cost you. Are you ready?”

“I’m gonna dare it.”

Ed thrust a thumb over his shoulder. “I’m going back to bring my bag.”

Robert watched him hurry back into the airstrip. As he waited by the roadside, his mind went to Natty. Had she survived the crash? Poor darling! What if she was somewhere injured, unable to move and with nobody to help her? The thought turned him sick. He had to find her before Abraham and King did, and together, they would be happy again.


It was past 5.00pm when Robert and Ed landed on the modest runway inside the Serengeti Park. From there, they registered in the tour operators’ hotel and managed to get the manager who briefed them about the XLS plane crash. Since it was about a hundred kilometres from the hotel to the scene of the crash, the manager offered to request a helicopter from the wildlife authorities whose expenses Robert agreed to finance.

Ed was surprised at how much the young man seemed financially equipped for this quest but Robert didn’t explain that during the previous night, Natty and himself had planned everything and put aside some money that Robert would be using in the likely case of a crash.

The two finally boarded the Wildlife Service helicopter, a small jungle-green machine flown by a smiling Tanzanian officer alongside a big uniformed man holding a rifle.

As the chopper roared over the park, Robert was fascinated to see the biggest concentration of game he had ever witnessed. Thousands of wildebeest, gazelle and zebra were scattered over the vast savannah. Occasional prides of lions could be seen stalking in the grassland, while herds of buffalo wallowed in pools of stagnant water. The park was so vast that Robert feared he might not be able to find Natty.

Then he saw the mangled, charred remains of the XLS ahead and felt a chill run through him. The plane had hit a solid hill of boulders and burst into flames.

“Not much was recovered,” said the uniformed officer when he saw shock register on Robert’s face.

The helicopter landed on a small plateau and the men got out.

The scene was surrounded by various people: a few native Maasai people yielding spears, a few forensic pathologist officials wearing gloves and three or four police officers. Several Landrovers were parked on the grass around the scene.

The wreckage was horrifying and Robert felt bile rise in his throat. He felt a reassuring hand on his shoulder and turned to see a cop looking at him.

“I can see you are from the aviation company which owned the plane,” he said soothingly. “I am afraid no-one in the plane survived.”

Robert was still feeling sick but managed to control himself.

“Nothing else was recovered—anything to help identify someone?” he asked.

“Well, just a bag stuffed with a woman’s clothes was thrown clear of the wreckage.”

Robert stiffened to attention. “Really?” he asked. “Any clue how many people lost their lives?”

The cop scratched his unshaven chin.

“Originally we thought they were two, but now it has been confirmed the deceased were four. The pilot and co-pilot, another person seemingly wearing a parachute—but too charred to be recognized; and parts of an extra person, evidently a man.”

“The parachute, how did it look like?”

“The recognizable piece was bright green. Seemingly, the person was wearing a watch.”

Robert turned to Ed.

“That must be Jay,” he said. “Then Natty must have jumped.”

“Who is Natty?” the cop asked sharply.

“The owner of the backpack. She had a parachute on. She must have jumped.”

The cop looked confused.

“If she jumped, why didn’t the others follow suit?”

“I don’t know,” Robert said. Nodding to Ed, he added, “We are going to look for her.” “Hey!” the cop retorted. You can’t just go into the wild like that; you need an appropriate search party organized!”

Robert stared at the cop. “I would appreciate a search party, Officer, but I can’t wait for that. I have to start searching now!”

“But you can’t! It isn’t safe!”

“I will accompany them,” the wildlife officer volunteered, stepping forward. “I am good in tracking.”

“Thank you!” Robert told the wildlife officer.

“However, we can’t start now since it will be dark soon. We can spend the night in Telewa camp a few miles south of here and start early in the morning.”

The cop looked at the tall man holding the rifle and shrugged.

“If you insist. But we will organize for some people to follow you.”

“Thank you Officer,” he said and turned to his two companions. “Shall we?”

CHAPTER THREE

As Robert and the two men flew to the camp, he had no idea that King, Abraham and two of his crew members had landed in Soroa Lodge—just ten kilometers from Telewa Camp where Robert and his companions were to spend the night.

Soroa Safari Lodge was a luxurious den, ranking alongside the likes of Faru Faru. King and Abraham sat on the porch overlooking an exotic swimming pool, observing a golden sunset shimmering through thorny acacia trees.

“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Abraham observed. “I’ve got to admit, I rarely get time for such a treat.”

“You can say that again,” King said and was about to sit back and relax when his phone rang. Seeing that the call was coming from South Africa, he grabbed it and pressed it against his ear, sensing trouble.

“What is it?” he asked impatiently; then frowned and bawled, “How did that happen?”

Abraham looked steadily at him, a highball in his hand, not in the least concerned. He flinched when King finally rammed the cell phone on the wooden table.

“Do you have to do that to such a fine phone?” he asked tightly.

“Don’t be paranoid!” King snapped. “Bhekifa has escaped.”

Abraham sat forward. “He did?”

“Yes! There goes our security for the diamonds.”

Abraham reached for a jar of chocolate bars, took one and stuffed it into his mouth.

“That guy was a bit shrewder than we thought,” he said. “I always sensed he was.”

King turned scarlet with rage.

“Did you hear what I said? He escaped!”

Abraham got to his feet and stood by the pool. King could be a temperamental idiot sometimes, he reminded himself. However, he had to stick to him; his future depended on King’s brilliant organizational and business skills.

“Don’t worry about him, Daniel,” Abraham said after sighing. “Once we have Miss Norman, we will get all we need.”

King stared at Abraham speculatively. One reason why he liked being close to Abraham was because of his endless patience and calm. For once, he knew the old architect was right.

Just then, Ali, one of his crew members appeared from around the lodge, looking excited.

“Mr. King, I have some interesting news.”

King sat up. “Well, don’t just stand there, let us hear it!”

The tall, dark man rubbed his hands. “I came across a Maasai man who said he saw a certain powerfully-built Maasai warrior carrying a white unconscious woman this morning. It seems he carried her across the border through the thicket into the Kenyan side.”

It was King’s turn to be excited.

“Really?” he exclaimed. “Well, that’s great, Ali! Tell us, what else did the man see?”

“Not much, sir, but he has an idea as to where that big warrior came from. He thinks that he may be able to take us there in the morning.”

For the first time since the mission began, King felt a new fulfilling surge of peace.

“That’s fabulous, Ali.” He said. “Well, let’s meet in the morning, and have a good night!”

Abraham returned to his seat, removed his glasses and wiped them with a snow-white handkerchief and then put them back on.

“I knew she was alive,” he said, feeling relaxed. “And fate is handing her right into our hands.”

King flashed his devious smile and nodded.


It was around nine in the morning when Natty, walking slowly and feeling every step, got out of the small hut and stood in the sun. Looking around, she saw it was a yard surrounded by more Maasai manyatta huts. She noticed a small rough bench built into the ground and sat on it, stretching her legs and letting the sun penetrate them. Smoke rose from a few huts, and some children ran to where she sat and gazed at her, giggling excitedly.

A woman came up and politely offered her a container made of a gourd cut in half, half -full of cold skimmed milk. She didn’t want to seem rude so she accepted the drink and sipped some. Despite being bitter-sour, it wasn’t that bad.

For the following one hour, she did all she could to exercise her legs and when he was sure she could walk steadily, she walked around the village greeting the natives. Omar the translator found her in a group of women who were gesturing excitedly and talking to her continuously.

“You can now walk!” he exclaimed. “I told you, now look!”

“Yes, Omar, I feel great! I couldn’t believe it if it wasn’t happening to my own legs!” Just then, a movement caught Omar’s eye. A Maasai man holding a spear came running through the yard towards them.

Looking at him, Omar could swear he wasn’t from this place; he looked like one of the Serengeti pastoralists. What was he doing here?


It was ten in the morning when Robert, Ed and Mtapa the game ranger followed a path that led through the thicket and ultimately reached a clearing that marked the Kenyan-Tanzanian border. Mtapa stopped.

“We are now at the border,” said the ranger. “It’s not allowed to cross here but I got you covered.”

He fished out a walkie-talkie and made a few communications, informing the border patrol that he was helping some people to trace a lost plane-crash survivor.

After the call, he ushered the two men forward through tall grass that revealed a fresh track.

Robert couldn’t help admiring this man’s skill. Earlier that morning, he had successfully helped them locate the exact spot where Natty had seemingly landed. Examining the terrain, he had found some loose buckles and a piece of strap under a huge acacia tree. That had prompted him to turn his head upwards.

There was a piece of bright blue-and-yellow fabric entangled in the thorny twigs of the acacia.

“Her parachute lines snapped when she fell through the tree,” said the ranger.

Before Robert could speak, there came the sound of a disturbed swam of flies from the left. Mtapa used his finger to motion the two men to silence. Holding his rifle ready, he led them around a short bush. What they saw shocked the two South Africans.

A dead buffalo lay on its side, an arrow lodged behind its ear. There was a huge hole burrowed on its belly—obviously by scavenging animals. Near the animal was a defined patch of flattened grass: someone had been lying here for some time.

“This is where she landed. This buffalo must have wanted to attack her, and someone shot it,” the ranger explained.

Robert was intrigued. That meant Natty was alive!

From there, they had followed a track that finally led them to the border.

Presently, the three men walked over a few boulders and arrived at a hill. About half a mile below the hill, Robert could see a cluster of Manyatta huts.

“Your friend must be in that village,” said the ranger.

The Last Showdown

At that exact moment in the village, Omar stared at the running stranger until he came to a stop right beside where she stood with Natty.

The two men talked excitedly for a moment in their ethnic language; then Omar looked at Natty.

“Your country men have come looking for you, Madam,” he said.

Natty felt a sudden surge of excitement. They were here!

“Really?” she asked. “Where are they? Why don’t they come here?”

“They are afraid of being seen around here since they crossed the border illegally. They are waiting near the border.”

Natty felt a sudden suspicion.

“Ask him how they look like; did any of them say their names?”

Omar translated it. The Tanzanian said with some difficulty; “Robert.”

At that, Natty jumped excitedly.

“Oh Robert! He came!”

Omar looked at her sadly.

“Is he your friend? Will you go?”

“Yes, Omar. He is my boyfriend!” She couldn’t contain her joy.

“I will fetch your bag,” Omar said and rushed into the hut.

She said her goodbyes to the small crowd of women and kissed the cute, semi-naked children. When Omar returned with her backpack, she walked with him and the Tanzanian through the bush towards the hill.

“Please give my unending thanks to your lovely community,” she told Omar. “Tell them I will visit soon to stay with them for a while.”

“That will be really nice, Madam! I will tell them.”

The sound a gun being cocked brought them to a sudden halt. The three turned their heads to the left.

Abraham, King and two black men stood in the grass facing them. King had a semi-automatic gun in his hand; its barrel was pointed to Natty.

“Hand over the backpack, Miss Norman,” Abraham said, his eyes glittering ruthlessly behind his glasses. Natty had never seen him looking so savage—even more savage that King.

Natty turned to the Tanzanian, who glanced back at her and darted towards the hill.

King laughed evilly. “Give us the bag, Natty,” he said. “It was so easy to buy the Tanzanian; we knew you would come at the mention of the name Robert.”

“What have you done with him?” she demanded.

“We left him at home and came to look for you, but we have been informed he has escaped. Give us the god-damned bag!”

Natty looked at Omar: he looked absolutely confused.

“Why do you want the bag so desperately?” she asked. “What happened to our little agreement?”

King walked forward and with a move as sudden as lightning, he brought the butt of his gun down on Omar’s head. The Maasai man fell heavily to the ground. Natty screamed and backed away, staring at Omar’s limp body. “There has been a change of plans,” Abraham said. “Daniel and I need to get away, and we need our backpack for that purpose.” He stretched his arm towards her. Natty handed over the bag. King grabbed her arm and pressed the gun barrel on her forehead.

“One more thing,” he said. “Tell me the address of the diamonds’ location. You see, we will just shoot you and dump your body in the Mara River, where crocodiles will do you justice.”

Natty cringed. Looking up at King, she was convinced he wasn’t bluffing.

Then a rifle exploded so loud that for a moment, Natty almost believed she had been shot but when she felt King release his grip and plummet to the ground, she realized someone else had shot him.

Abraham acted fast. He dove into the grass and reached for King’s gun which he snatched, rolled and lifted. Before he could fire at the unprepared ranger, an AK-47 rifle coughed from behind the bushes. The slug caught Abraham between his chest and shoulder. He fell on his back.

Natty saw Robert running towards her, arms outstretched. She ran towards him, her backpack forgotten. The two met in a passionate embrace, spinning joyfully on the grass, and kissed deeply for a long moment.

“Ahem!” the ranger cleared his throat. “When you are ready, we will get going.”

A group of cops approached; one of them was holding a smoking AK-47 rifle.

“You are lucky to be alive, young lady,” said the police inspector, and then turned to the game ranger. “You saved her life, ranger.”

The ranger shrugged.

The inspector turned to one of his men. “Call for backup; have this mess cleared. I’ll help the ranger take these fellows back across the border.”

Natty picked the backpack and walked with the men over the hill and across the border where a helicopter was waiting to fly them to the Lodge.

EPILOGUE

Abraham died before he could reach the hospital but all of King’s crew members were arrested except Ed who was thrilled when Robert tipped him an extra thousand for his company.

Natty and Robert stayed for two more days in Arusha before flying back to Johannesburg where Sergeant Mosegi picked them at the airport and drove them to the police station to have their statements recorded.

After the questioning was over, Mosegi sat back on his desk and shot them a hard look.

“Do you want to tell me about the diamonds right now?” he asked.

Robert glanced at Natty who smiled encouragingly at him. He shrugged and looked at Mosegi.

“Give me a notepad,” he said.

Mosegi pushed a notepad and a pen across the desk. Robert took the pen and scribbled an address; then pushed back the notepad.

Mosegi squinted at the handwriting.

“Upper Downs Hotel?” he demanded. “Is this some kind of joke?”

Robert grinned at him. “Suite number two, next to the main bathroom is a power consumer unit. Unscrew it from the wall. You will find your gems.”

He looked at Natty, hugged her and continued, “None of us will be needing the diamonds anymore; we have one another.” He then turned to the sergeant and said: “We will be staying in Light Hall if you need us.” He led Natty to the door.

“Not so fast!” said Mosegi sharply. The couple stopped and turned back.

“We can’t thank you enough for reinstating the State gems,” he said. “Due to that, your burglary and impersonating crimes will be excused. That aside, there is someone who has been dying to meet you both.”

Natty and Robert stared blankly at him.

Mosegi picked his phone. “Now,” he said.

The door opened and Natty’s mother entered. She looked slimmer but her eyes were bright with joy.

Natty almost collapsed with shock. She stared at her mother who spread out her hands.

“Aren’t you coming to hug me, Nat dear?” Mrs. Norman asked, tears clouding her eyes. Natty ran to her and hugged her tightly, feeling hysteria choke her. They remained like that for a long moment.

“If I knew what amount of danger I was subjecting you to, I wouldn’t have sent you here,” said Mrs. Norman. “I thank God you are alive and well, my child.”

Natty pointed at Robert. “He stood by me the whole time,” she said. “Were it not for him, I couldn’t have done it.” She crossed over to Robert and held his hand.

“Mother, meet Robert; my boyfriend, companion and love.”

Mrs. Norman hugged Robert and said, “Well, well; look where Nat found love! Thanks, Robert, for being there for my daughter. I guess both of you deserve each other.”

“I am overjoyed to meet you, Madam,” was all Robert could manage to say.

Natty studied her mother’s face. “You were discharged from hospital? How is your health, Mom?”

“I will live, dear. The cardiologist thought there was no need to operate on me; I seem to be fine. I feel fine!” She held Natty’s hand and said, “You did right to surrender the gems to the government. All I wanted was to know the truth about your father’s dealings with Abraham.”

“That has been thoroughly investigated, Madam,” said Mosegi, getting to his feet. “We didn’t find any ties linking your husband to drug-trafficking. We found a note hidden in the vault that your daughter overlooked.”

He opened a drawer and handed Mrs. Norman a creased hand-written note:

Dear Nat,

If something happens to me and you successfully recover these gems,

please do me the honor of surrendering them to the authorities.

Be careful because gangs will kill for them.

Love, Dad.

THE END


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