Monday, January 4, 2010

Closer To God, If One Would Dance, Chapter IX

Closer To God
If One Would Dance
Chapter IX
The view in front of the train was wide and clear when seen through the huge open space at the back of the engine. It was windy, however, as our speed was about forty-five. Dawn was moments away and visibility was less than a quarter mile, but it was enough.
As we came in toward the area of the station, according to the engineer standing at my side, the track would curve left to head in around the outer edge of the station. He showed me the small radio console that controlled four switches in the yard, the left most of which was the one that, when thrown, would allow us to proceed straight into the yard.
“We’re going in hot,” I said, seeing the buildings of the yard appear out of the morning gray.
“Hot?” he asked, his voice rising an octave.
“There’s nothing there. We can see. Hold the speed,” I replied, keeping my eyes on the tracks, noting how many more spread out further ahead. I slipped another five thousand shilling note from my pocket, this time passing it directly to the man’s squatting wife, who grasped it quickly, smiling again. I saw the track curve away to our left.
“Hit the switch,” I instructed, but the engineer shook his head.
“One more moment. We must give them no time to switch it back.”
The man’s hand hovered over the board. We were only feet from the curve when he eased down on the small lever. I watched the track ahead break and spread, and then we were over it.
“How far to Moi Road?” I asked. Both of us peered intently ahead, not moving our heads to look at one another. If there was something ahead there would be no stopping in time to avoid a collision.
“Kilometer. Minute. Two,” he clipped off, his voice tense, both hands braced to push back on a huge lever rising from the steel floor. I presumed the lever to be the brake, not that it might matter. There were at least twenty cars behind us. The inertia of the train was tremendous. We blew by the yard buildings, one man running out to watch us go by, a look of wonder on his face.
“Better slow this thing down,” I mentioned, as if I knew anything about stopping a train. “Where does the line end?” I asked.
“Used to be the Lakoni ferry, but we don’t go that far anymore. Don’t think there’s any track,” he answered. I recalled that the Lebanese and his family ran a ferry at that location.
The train began to slow, the engineer reaching for a cable that ran along the top corner edge of our small space. I caught his arm.
“No whistle.”
The man returned to his position, gently pushing on his big lever.
Jack saw cars crossing the tracks ahead. A lot of cars for so early in the morning. The intersection had to be Moi. I heard the universal ding ding ding of the railroad alarms signaling, as wooden guards descended to the block the road.
“You’re doing fine,” I said, my voice calm, although I didn’t feel calm at all. Had Burt received and properly interpreted the message? Was there going to be a Pajero waiting, or were we on our own? I punched the auto dial butto for Burt on the cell phone. He answered after the first ring.
“Hot, high and dry,” he said, and then hung up.
It was flight talk. I had not known that Burt was a flier. Hot, high and dry referenced the most dangerous kind of landing for an aircraft, outside of an emergency. If conditions were hot in temperature lift was less across the wing. High meant high altitude. There was less lift in thinner air. Dry finished the description. Dry air had less density than moist air, and ergo less lift. Using the expression as he had, meant that the Pajero was coming in but it was going to be a very risky landing.
“Gee, like I wouldn’t have guessed that,” I said to nobody, the engineer fully taken up with stopping the train. We were moving at about fifteen miles per hour when we approached to within fifty yards of Moi Road. I climbed around the rear guard of the engine, then jumped ten feet down to the slanted earth next to the tracks, using a series of Aikido rolls to minimize damage to my body as I decelerated.
The Pajero pulled around traffic, then came right down the railroad right of way, bouncing to near where I was rising, patting the dust from my shirt and trousers. The train’s air brakes gave off a huge whooshing sound, up and down the sides of the long line of cars. Burt and the Earth Mothers ran toward us from that direction.
Sam jumped from the vehicle and opened the back door. The Pajero was big but it was going to need all of its space for the six of us getting aboard. It would have been much simpler and safer to leave the Earth Mothers behind, but I knew they would have nothing to do with that. Burt and I would have to ditch them when we found some place to stay, and get our act together.
I ran to the passenger side of the vehicle and opened the front door.
Joan smiled down at me.
“What?” I asked, in total surprise and confusion. “What are you…” I began, but got no farther.
“I thought it would be a good idea to provide a little guidance. My ex-husband has had a hand in all this, and its my responsibility to make sure no more mistakes are made and that there’s no more violence.” She slammed the door in my face when she finished speaking. I got in the back.
Wendy was wedged between Burt and I, while the other three were crammed over the back seat into the cargo area. Sam hit the gas and rocketed around in a tight circle, throwing us roughly about the interior of the car.
“Where to?” he asked, looking back with a huge smile, obviously enjoying the driving and our obvious discomfort.
“We need a place out of the way where people won’t think to look,” I said to Wendy.
“The Beach Africa is it. Student hostel. About three hundred shillings a day
and okay. No air conditioning. You get a paraffin lamp and a mosquito net in a banda built for two. We got the sleeping bags though,” she said. “Go North on Moi,” she went on, leaning forward and pointing her finger for Sam to follow.
The wood crossing guards were still down. The engine had come to stop in the middle of the intersection, the engineer having delivered accurately for his money. Sam careened around the barrier, narrowly slipped between several cars and then accelerated in the direction Wendy had indicated. There were no cars in our way, as the barrier behind us blocked them all.
Wendy held to her center position, body wedged between the front seats, instructing Sam as to our direction. I peered over Joan’s right shoulder and grew ever more uncomfortable. We were headed back into the center of Mombasa, which was built on an island. The rail station was close to the center of town.
“Just head north and we’ll hit D eight, the highway and get off island. It doesn’t matter what road we take,” Wendy said.
We crossed another major road. There was little traffic. Sam did not bother to stop for the stop sign, and my worst fears were confirmed. A Maruki four wheel drive drove right past the rear of our Pajero at high speed, narrowly avoiding a collision, before screeching to a halt, and then spinning around to pursue us. Sam hit the gas. There was a sharp crack from behind us. Our windshield turned into biting little chunks of safety glass, and blew inward. European safety glass, not the good stuff used in America, which has a thick sandwich of gooey plastic in the middle, to prevent just such catastrophic failure.
There was a scream from the back at the same time. I turned, with glass pieces cascading from my throat and shirt.
“Helen’s hurt,” Anice stated, loudly, but not in panic. “I think the bullet hit the outside of her arm.”
“Get some material on it and apply pressure,” I instructed, hoping the projectile had not hit bone or an artery. We were in no condition to make for an emergency room, and we were not in a country where there was any decent medical care anyway.
I had not been angry since entering Kenya for the mission. I was not angry when we had been shot at earlier, and I wasn’t mad about the attempt on the train.
Those were the risks that went with the business. Fear I had experienced but not anger. However, I was getting sincerely pissed off that the Aegis people thought it was just fine to fire away at anything that moved.
“Give me the nine millimeter Burt,” I said, pulling the AMT from my pocket. I had one in the chamber and five in the magazine of the little back-up gun. The short barrel, and therefore lower muzzle velocity, would not allow for much penetration of the heavy .45 rounds however.
Burt handed me his gun.
“Loaded to fifty thousand C.P.I., one plus sixteen, “ he said, pushing the butt of the weapon into my open hand, behind Wendy’s back.
I examined the automatic for a brief second. The side of the slide read ‘F.N. 65.’ I knew the manufacturer. Belgian. The gun itself was made in the U.S. I liked that. Burt only seemed to carry American armament. Fifty thousand units of chamber pressure meant that the bullets, one third smaller than the .45 rounds, would launch from the barrel very fast indeed. Penetration was not going to be a problem.
“Take the next right hard, and then slow enough to drop me. Flip around
after a few more blocks and pick me up. Unless I go down. Then leave me and proceed.”
“Yes sir,” Sam replied crisply, veering the vehicle into a ninety degree turn. I loved the Marines. The vehicle slowed as we passed a wall. With the AMT back in my pocket and the FN in my right hand, I operated the handle with my left hand, opened the door, and leaped out. Sam had slowed to the perfect speed for my egress.
I was able to run a few paces and stop, without having to go down and roll out. I pulled out the AMT, flicked the external safety off by pushing it with my right palm, as the sharp little lever was made for right handed use.
The Maturi rocketed around the corner. I stepped to the edge of the crumbling curb holding up the FN. When the SUV was twenty feet away I opened up, shooting at the front glass, then the passenger doors as the car drove by.
I emptied the gun, brought up the AMT and waited. The Maturi slowed to a stop.
I moved into the street and steadied to take down anyone stepping from one of the
four doors, but nothing happened. The car just sat there.
The Pajero braked to a halt next to me. The passenger door was thrown open right at my side. Sam Hill was one hell of a driver, I realized, jumping in.
The door slammed as Sam accelerated us away from the scene.
It had all taken only seconds. My ears rang from the gunfire. The FN had been loaded to the maximum and the vibrations generated had caused some damage to my ears. The AMT was back in my pocket. I handed the used up FN back across to Burt.
“What happened back there?” Joan asked, twisting back to face me, her eyes wide, her lip quivering, but just a little.
“If one would dance, one must expect to pay the piper,” I answered. “Those clowns have been getting away with murder, or at least trying to get away with murder for days. I gave them something to think about.”
Joan turned, giving me her back again.
“Are they dead, the guys in that car?’ she asked.
“I have no idea,” I answered, truthfully. That I didn’t give a damn I kept to myself. Citizens were, after all, citizens, and it did not pay to attempt to bring them into the real world Burt and I lived in world. The Earth Mothers had come into our world for a brief visit and one was already wounded.
I checked the rear cargo area. Only Dingo was visible.
“How’s Helen?” I asked.
Anice spoke from the floor. “She’s got a slice out of her outer left arm, but he bleeding has stopped. A bit of shock. She’s real tired. But its so cool. Helen’s got a bullet wound.”
I rubbed my face, noting the bleeding cut across my right hand when I did.
The safety had cut right into the meat my palm. I had not noticed. The adrenalin of combat had cut the pain receptors and quite possibly the bleeding. Now I had both.
I grimace, clenching the hand to apply pressure. We had to get cleaned up, both Helen and I, before we entered any kind of hostel. Blood gets reported to authorities, and there was going to be some kind of very active investigation over the mess I’d left behind us. Possibly, there were no dead bodies in the Maturi, but I doubted that that was true.
Burt methodically replaced the empty magazine in the handle of the FN, pulled back on the slide, and then seated a round in the chamber. It took him another minute to take out the magazine, squeeze an additional round into the top of it, and then reset it into the automatic. The gun disappeared back into his multi-faceted outfit. He looked over at me. We both communicated the simple fact, it was good to be working with a real professional, without word or expression.
I looked out the window and watched our vehicle pass over the bridge. Mombasa was behind us. My clenched hand shook. I caught the wrist in my left hand, securing it. I wasn’t used to shooting people, and it didn’t feel good, even when the people getting shot had it coming to them in the worst way.
Wind blew with gusto right through the Pajero. I didn’t realize that the vehicle was a different one than the one we’d rented until that moment. How had Stevens and Sam come up with a vehicle of the same type and color? At the Safari hotel we’d lost the driver side passenger window and the rear glass. Either the damages had been repaired in extremely short order or we were riding in a different car. I tucked the information away for later consideration.

1 comment:

  1. "Citizens were, after all, citizens, and it did not pay to attempt to bring them into the real world Burt and I lived in."
    Well, you d i d, Donner! And quite willfully and persistently, too, smug lugger.
    So as you and Burt haven't managed to 'ditch' the Earth Mothers yet, maybe you won't quite ditch us either. Please keep Sam's wheels visibly spinning. As the Agency allows, that is.