Jason’s speech had worked. At least he considered it to have done so. None of the three actually made any promises but on the other hand none of them spoke up in contradiction or conflict. At the carefully choreographed press engagements the three were circumspect as to comment outside the remit Jason had set down. Even the supposedly confidential therapy sessions did not report back that any of the three voiced concerns as to theories, suppositions or conclusions over events beyond their individual experience. Both Ryan and Joanne, the therapists reports said, would need more visits to be sure but were coping well with the trauma. Adam had a classic case of PTSD and would require regular sessions for some considerable time. None of the three would however benefit from removal from the workplace.
In private things were different. Independently of each other, the three began asking questions.
Alan wanted to know who the K’gozi was and were there any more like him out there. Putting bullets into his body had been hugely satisfying. Alan wanted more than revenge, he wanted justice for all the workers that had been killed in cold blood. He wanted justice for all his associates who had been killed in hot blood.
Alan called Richard Vere.
Ryan wanted to know why Vere had held off so long once he had a sufficient force to attack the camp and taken so long to make contact. Ryan wanted to know who was pulling the strings that got so many people killed.
Ryan called Richard Vere.
Both had listened as Vere answered their questions in the four days and nights they were together post escape. Neither had posed the questions they were going to ask now. The questions and explanations in the jungle had centred around the botched rescue, the escape plan and exit to civilisation. They had learned of the survivors in camp and Vere’s tracking of the group that they still didn’t know the identity or aims of. These ‘insurgents’ as Vere described them. Both Adam and Ryan would have preferred to call them bastards. They had listened as Vere told them about the government troops and the incompetent and arrogant Major in charge of them, of how they had been caught on the hop by the insurgents. “I saw no evidence that scouts, piquets or hunting parties discovered the troops presence. That doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Clearly they knew exactly where the troops were and laid their plans accordingly. It also tells me that at no time did they know of our presence.”
“How?” Ryan had asked.
“Obvious.” Richard had answered. “If they had so much as an inkling we were there, even though there were only six of us they would have tried to take us out as well.”
Ryan had conceded the point.
In the interim, Richard too had been making enquiries. After all he’d done, Forward Oil had cancelled his contract but at least they had paid it off. With time on his hands he’d picked over what little his team had gleaned during the operation. He took his guys on a trip back to both campsites to pick up weapons, packs and personal effects, in fact any item that may lead to an understanding of who these people were. They had already picked through the pockets of the dead and found nothing of interest save how young as a group the boys were and how little they had. There were no cell phones, no books, no letters, not so much as a photograph. The K’gozi of course was different. He had a smartphone on his body. Unfortunately one of Ryan’s bullets had put paid to gleaning anything useable from it.
The weapons were more revealing, not genuine AK47’s but as well as the ammunition Chinese copies, with only the unused RPG’s being of Russian origin. In itself that was not unusual in this part of the world.
Back in Pretoria Richard did two things, firstly he gave the smart phone pieces to an old friend who had links to Mossad and then got in touch with a former colleague who was a researcher on insurgent groups in Africa.
It was an old picture but there he was in an old ZANU photo. The story ran that when Zaire became the DRC not everyone got what they wanted and ZANU fractured.
Milton Zakosi had formed a fraction within a fraction. Umayaleyo Osezantsi Icandelo 21 of the Zaire Zoluntu Intlangano Ngen Kululenko. The southern command section 21, of the Zaire People’s Freedom Organisation.
In other words a gang of brainwashed kids led by merciless self-centred thugs.
It still didn’t explain what they were doing this far off of their patch. The operation had taken a lot of planning and preparation. Those camps didn’t just spring up, nor did the supplies stocked there come out of thin air. The only rational explanation Richard could come to was that Occidental were specifically targeted and that’s what he told Adam.
Ryan was a little more difficult to give answers to.
Richard was honest about it. “Knowing how the land lay was always going to be difficult. I went after you guys because even though it wasn’t in my remit it was the right thing to do. My contract was with Forward Oil and they only continued to honour it because their man was among the hostages. When he got killed I neglected to tell them. Initially we didn’t actually catch up with you guys for seven days and by then it was obvious that we couldn’t just get Rob Greggson out; it would have to be all of you. That in itself posed a dilemma. Making some form of contact put both you and us at risk. We knew that by that time the ZINK boys had already murdered two of your number and a third was dead of disease. Any change and they might have done exactly what they tried during the fire-fight with the government troops. Killed the lot of you.”
Ryan got it. He was going to ask what ZINK meant when Richard carried on.
“I admit to a foul up at that time. We had a chance and missed it. In retrospect we would not have got away with everyone. Zakosi would have come for us and we could not have held off his numbers.”
“Zakosi?” The line was good but feint and Ryan thought he’d misheard.
“Milton Zakosi. I thought I’d told you. I know I told Adam.”
“All right. That’s the bad guy, the K’gozi?”
“That was him. And the entire time he outnumbered me.”
“Outnumbered me too.” Ryan said. “Didn’t stop me having the bastard.”
“And you did well, but that was a risk you could decide to take. I was not in a position to do so.”
“What was stopping you?”
“Instructions from higher up.”
“And you were in regular contact with them?”
“And they told you to hold off.”
“Unless you guys made a break for it or were in clear danger of death.”
“Any idea why?”
“None that make sense.”
“Ones that don’t?”
“Either they knew or suspected their man was dead or that there was a bid out that would cost Occidental.”
“You’re right. That doesn’t make sense.”
Her phone rang. It was an international call, unsurprisingly not Mike. In the three weeks she had been back he hadn’t called once. The temptation to call him had for a while been strong. Joanne could have done with some comfort, but in retrospect maybe Mike wasn’t the one. In her time in captivity her phone had died. She had left it in her bag in the mobile cabin as it didn’t have any signal anyway. On recharge and back in civilisation the call history showed nothing. Mail from the office but that was it. No calls, no text, nothing personal.
The call was a number she didn’t recognise. Joanne took it anyway.
“Hi Joanne.” It was Ryan. That voice had grated just two months ago now it made her heart skip a beat. “I’m going back.” He said.
“It’s closed down Ryan. There is no going back.”
“To Nigeria this time. Adam’s off to Canada.”
“You got his number?”
“Sure. But we’re meeting up this week-end before we go.”
“That a last minute thing?”
“It’s not. That’s why I’m calling.”
“How long have you been planning this one?” It was a dig and she knew Ryan got it.
“Just since I got my contract. I’m flying across to Luton on Saturday. Adam’s coming down on the train. We’re staying over Saturday night, maybe Sunday.”
“I’ll come up, even stay over.”
“That’d be good.”
The hotel wasn’t up to much, a classic airport hotel, small but functional rooms and a breakfast bar. Weather excepted, not much different in many ways to the coastal hotel in Africa and in reality lacking that je ne sais quoi. When Joanne checked in neither Ryan or Adam had arrived. If they were going to talk privately it was going to have to be either in one of the bedrooms or a conference suite. There was no way Joanne could afford a suite but she did manage to secure a small meeting room for the afternoon only. “We’ve a wedding in the main room this evening.” The deputy manager told her. “So you need to be out by five or you’ll be trapped.”
Adam was in first, his train from completely the opposite direction as hers but catching the shuttle from the Parkway just as Joanne had done. Adam looked tired. The emotional toll had been harder for him than the physical depravation. Since she had last seen him he had put weight back on in the form of muscle. That tone could not hide the hurt in his eyes. Joanne gave him a hug, something they had not done during the entire time of their captivity.
Adam broke the bond. “I need to check in.” He told her.
“I’ll get the coffee.” Joanne returned, releasing him reluctantly. She too needed the comfort. It had been the first hug since they had parted in London a fortnight ago.
His bag secured in his room Adam returned to the foyer and Joanne took him and the coffee into the meeting room.
“How are you holding up?” Joanne asked.
“I’m good.” He responded. “Even the shrink says so.”
“You find them any use?” She queried.
“No, not really. You?”
“No.” Joanne responded. “I know how it’s supposed to work and for me it doesn’t. They listen, and in you talking they think you will work it out for yourself.”
”Is that it?” Adam said.
“Supposed to be. I did my working out long before any of Jason’s little snitches got to talk to me.”
“Jason’s little snitches?”
“Those conversations are confidential.”
“That’s bollocks. I know they’re supposed to be but they’re not. My shrink at the very least has reported back things I have said.”
“How do you know that?”
“Told a deliberate lie to see if it was getting back. Said I was raped as well. Sure enough I got an extra medical checks.”
“It’s worse than that. The whole thing is a lie.”
“You should hear what Ryan says.”
“You both should hear what I have to say.”
Joanne had set up like it was a proper meeting. She’d prepared a power point and projector. Alan and then Ryan when he arrived just told it straight.
“So what do we do?” Alan asked.
“I don’t know about you guys.” Joanne told them. “But I’m in the mood to slap it in his face.”
“There’s no proof.” Ryan put in. “It’s just Vere’s word.”
“I have proof.” Joanne said. “Not for all you’ve told me, but the stuff I found.”
“Can we get an in to Forward Oil?” Adam queried. “That would corroborate Richard and might bring some evidence we could use.”
“To what end?” Ryan asked. “It’s all well enough that we know, and that helps us cope but what would it change?”
Deflated, Joanne agreed. “Probably nothing.”
“At the very least it would show they were culpable.” Adam offered. “And that would bring better settlements for the families of the dead.”
They were not just in the office, they were in his office. All three of them. Jason swore to himself, but concealed it with a smile as he entered. “Good morning.”
Alan and Ryan nodded. They were not up on office etiquette and not minded to courtesy. “It’s morning Jason.” Joanne responded. “Not sure how good it is.”
A brave face, Jason decided. “Nice to see you three together again. Any particular reason to see you here bright and early on a Monday morning?”
“It’s our last fling.” Ryan told him. “I’m off on Friday, Adam’s flying out Wednesday. Thought we’d take the chance on a last word.”
“Sounds final.” Jason returned.
“Oh we know Joanne is going to be a pain in your arse for ages. Like I said, maybe the last chance for us two to hear your side.”
“My side?” Jason questioned tentatively.
“We have fourteen points.” Adam said. “Somehow that sounds familiar, but.”
“Let’s have them then.”
“Some are statements, some are questions.” Joanne said as she handed over a typed sheet.
Jason looked up after reading the text. He had huffed and shrugged as he read it.
“Did you know?” Joanne started. “Did you know that the data was already there?”
“No.” Jason answered.
“Is that a lie? Is that as big a lie as not knowing of any ransom demands?”
“No, there is no lie. I, no, we were not made aware of any previous data, I was not in receipt of any ransom demand.”
“You could run for president.” Ryan said.
“What do you mean?”
“I see it on you.” Ryan told him. “You lie like a politician.”
“I found it in the files.” Joanne said, almost like it was an afterthought. “When I was comparing data I looked up historical information and there was too much of it. Data from shoots we hadn’t conducted. It didn’t take much to compare that to USGS overlays to realise where it had come from. It was there all the time and you knew but you still sent an entire team out to do it again.”
“That would make no sense.” Jason replied.
“Yes it would. Jason, you told me quite categorically that we’re a ‘boots on the ground’ company. It’s where we make our money. Just producing data for Forward isn’t profitable enough. We have to carve up the jungle in the name of profit.”
“Caught in a lie.” Adam commented. “And one leads to another. It didn’t twig before. The K’gozi told us the grizzly had conceded to pay for our release. He thought it some sort of code and I thought it was just his mistake. Couldn’t be just a mispronunciation could it? Grizzly and Gresley, easy to get mixed up. Maybe it was Sir John Gresley. Should I ask him?”
Jason buckled. “Maybe that wouldn’t be a wise Idea.”
“Because it’s true?” Adam returned.
“Because it’s contentious. Just like our government we can’t be seen to be giving in to terrorism, but yes there were negotiations and they were tetchy.”
“Tetchy?” Ryan queried. “What do you mean, tetchy?”
“I wasn’t part of it but I do know that an under the table joint offer was made for eleven hostages.”
“Forward and Occidental. Eleven million dollars US between us.”
“Before the government raid.”
“Before the bloody idiots botched it.”
“I don’t think they did.” Ryan said. “In fact I’m bloody sure they didn’t. We were there and the K’gozi had a plan. It wasn’t a lashed up plan either. Richard Vere will testify to that. I’ve heard the recordings and read the transcripts.”
“Recordings and transcripts?” Jason queried hesitantly.
“Every satellite call he made was on memo, just in case. He kindly sent me the file.”
“You wouldn’t.” Jason started. He had coloured up.
“Give you a copy?” Ryan opined. “Not yet.”
“We might need this for court.”
Jason sat back. “You’re not serious.” It was a statement.
“We don’t get honesty and it might have to go that far. I think you forget what we’ve been through.”
Jason breathed. “You came out of it. I realise it was traumatic but you survived.”
“Have you ever seen blood?” Joanne put in. Jason gulped. He knew what was coming next. “Have you ever been covered in it so you stink.” She continued, her voice calm. “Have you ever smelled bodies burning? Bodies of people who just minutes ago were alive. Have you ever seen the life ebb out of someone? Someone real with a real life, someone you know.” She now acquired a harsher tone. “Have you ever been seen the bullets rip people apart? Have you ever watched in horror as they jerk like a landed fish? Have you ever stared down a still hot gun barrel and been so afraid your bowels turn to ice?” The questions were rhetorical. “Let me tell you Jason fucking Tully, I’ve been there, we’ve been there. So until you’ve been there don’t ever fucking patronise me with your platitudes about trauma.”
Joanne drew a breath. Jason had coloured even more.
“So Jason Tully.” Joanne was on a roll. “I know, we know and you know this company fucked up big time. You lied and you’re still lying. Be a man and admit it you knew all along about the data. You were scamming Forward Oil and looking for a way to scam them even more. Then they threatened to pull the plug and you went into overdrive. Sending me was just a cover up. Your little nightmare suddenly got a reprieve when some incredibly bad characters turned up to kidnap the team. Did you put the ZINK or whoever they were up to it? Someone did because it was well off their stomping ground and wasn’t either a two bit or off the cuff operation. It was well planned, well supplied, well organised and for us, well deadly. I read somewhere that even in the First World War only one in ten soldiers died. Well think on, fourteen out of seventeen of us didn’t come home and that doesn’t include those who were killed at the operating base. It’s not a good survival rate.”
Joanne sat back. Jason breathed.
“That it?” Adam asked. “No bloody comment?”
Jason cleared his throat. “I can’t.” He started. “I can’t ever change what happened. I can tell you categorically that at no time have I or to my knowledge anyone in or associated with this company contracted mercenary activities. I have never heard of, what did you call them? ZINK? We did have a plan and that plan did not involve getting people killed. I admit we were in the process of doctoring data. That’s as far as any misdirection has or was intended to occur.”
“I know this is going to sound like passing the buck, but all our information and communication came through Forward Oil. If you want more you will have to go there.”
“So let’s just go through these points again.” Joanna said.
“Occidental knew there was previous data and hid that from Forward. You just admitted that.
Occidental made a lot of money from seismic survey in jungle conditions. We know that to be true.
Occidental knew that Forward Oil were going to pull the plug if readable data could not be gained. We know it was the case and you implied it to be true. Can you admit that now?”
“It’s true.” Jason agreed “and yes we were planning to substitute old data but your next point is a definite no. That whole affair has been a complete disaster. I confess that our relationship with Forward Oil is at a conclusion but reaffirm that this outcome was never our intention.”
“So Ryan, want to talk us through this next one?” Joanne offered.
“I already did.” Ryan answered. “Easily a day before they moved out the K’gozi, Zombie or whatever his name was had his lieutenants in for a big pow-wow. They knew. How they knew I don’t know. Richard Vere says it wasn’t good scouting, nor was it poor field craft on the part of the government troops. He says they were well trained, well disciplined and well led. He says they were betrayed. I believe him.”
“It wasn’t us.” Jason told Ryan. “It couldn’t have been. We simply did not know detail. Everything was being handled by John Hagman at Forward Oil. Only after that debacle did Sir John make personal contact with the despicable Zomboto fellow. We were shocked to the core that so many of our people had been killed. Sir John stepped in to try and make sure that at least the last four got out alive. It was his money he was laying down, not company funds.”
“Can we speak with him?”
“Not today, and in the timings you have I doubt it. I can and will however get a meeting with Joanne set up and she can convey the outcome to you guys. Would that work?”
“Your other questions are possibly valid, but I can’t give you answers as I simply don’t know.”
Ryan looked him square in the eye. Jason’s colour had gone but he was not pale. Ryan accepted that as of now he was not lying and said so.
“So what now?” Joanne asked.
“I think that’s it.” Adam said. “We’re never going to get anything out of Forward. It has to be what it has to be and I, maybe all of us have to live with that.”
Ryan nodded. “I agree. We’re done here. Sorry about taking your time Mr Tully and thanks for the eventual truth.”
“Does it help?” Jason asked.
“Yes.” Adam returned. “It helps to know we weren’t just sold down the river.”
Of course Joanne wasn’t going to just leave it there. She was on a phase back into work, it should have meant she went to work three mornings a week. In reality that meant she was there all the time. The phase back did however give her the leeway to say goodbye to Adam and Ryan, see them off at the airport. For Ryan it was Heathrow, Adam flew from Manchester. Neither should have been tearful. Both were. A month in somebody’s close company does not automatically make them a lifelong friend. Over a month had gone by since the end of their ordeal, longer than the ordeal itself, but in that time a bond had grown that no amount of time would break. It was in a way a strange bond for it had only matured in the last week or ten days of captivity. The time when only four of them were left alive. Even that thought brought back memories of Alan. Joanne hadn’t seen him die but she had felt the fury of the blasts and could picture his demise. She had witnessed enough burned bodies for the mental image to stick.
Jason was as good as his word and got Joanne time with Sir John. Even after sharing the flight back to Europe Joanne had some trepidation. Did she really expect to get anything from him?
Not the board room this time, but up to the top floor and Sir John’s office.
Not only did Sir John ask her in, he came to the door with an effusive welcome.
“Come in Joanne. Come in.” He greeted her and ushered her into one of a pair of very comfortable high backed leather chairs. He seated himself in the opposite number and offered her coffee or tea. Joanne took the option of coffee, stipulating that due to her post incident regime it must be weak.
Sir John nodded his head in acquiescence and instructed his secretary accordingly.
“Now Joanne,” He opened. “Tell me how you’re feeling.”
“I’m OK.” Joanne answered. “Really I am.” Joanne had been thinking about her response to the inevitable question for a while. She could palm most people off but if there was half a chance of Sir John being open then she had to be as well. “If you’d asked me a month ago I‘d have had to admit it was bad.” She continued. “I was, and I am sure everyone was on a low ebb. We were always hungry. Sleep was difficult so even though there was nothing to do we all were constantly tired. There was a stream you could splash your face in but you couldn’t strip off. There was no way I was going to anyway so that meant no real means of washing our bodies or clothes so we went dirty. There was no way of cleaning our teeth and I don’t know about everyone else but my teeth all felt loose. Then the fight happened. It was at one and the same time hope and fear. I thank god, no, I thank Ryan for making the move or I am convinced we would all be dead. Then coming back into the camp to find everyone but us four shot dead, executed, was,” She paused, looking for the right words, “Making something that was already unbearable even worse.”
“What you’ve been through, my girl, is unconscionable. Completely beyond our understanding.” He consoled.
“But then,” Joanne continued. “In an odd way it got better.”
“Better?” Sir John queried.
“Yes, it was like suddenly we realised it couldn’t get worse so we learned to live with it, and the onion boys started to treat us differently, as if instead of being pawns we had become a valuable commodity. We didn’t get to wash more or get better food but at least we felt we weren’t going to be killed at random any more. Then to cap it, along came Mr Vere and an escape plan. If anything can pull you out of the doldrums it’s an escape plan.”
“Capital. Just capital.” Sir John agreed. “Now young Jason Tully advises me that there are a number of things that require me to speak to you about. Firstly is your schedule. It appears that you have chosen to disregard your phased return to work programme. It does not please our resources people or our insurers that you are ignoring their advice. If we need to review this arrangement then we should do so. Not simply do as you see fit.”
Joanne felt silly. That it took Sir John to bring this up was embarrassing.
“Now, young lady. I am also appraised of all the issues you, Ryan Lithgow and Adam Tomes brought to Jason’s attention.”
“Let me say right at the outset that although I understand your misgivings and confusion I am outraged and insulted that any of you, and you in particular can even contemplate that this company could or would indulge in plans, negotiations or activities that would imperil lives.”
Joanne sank into her chair in the face of this assault.
“But.” Sir John said. Joanne held her breath. “I will tell you that we would and did conduct negotiations against all our better intentions in order to secure your safe release.”
“And that’s it?”
“Quite what do you mean by ‘and that’s it?”
Joanne sat forward. “Sir John. We know for a fact that you as you say, negotiated for our release. What I don’t know is how long that was going on. At what point did you first make contact. Was it before the seven were killed? Was it even before Paul Philpot died?”
“I don’t know of Mr Philpot.” Sir John responded. “And accordingly I can’t answer that question. “I will say that I made all efforts from an early point to make headway. You will understand that it took a few days to really understand what was going on. We did not know who had taken you and therefore had no means to make contact. It was simply a case of wait for them to get in touch.”
“That’s not what I was led to believe.” Joanne told him. “Richard Vere told us that he was in daily contact with you.”
Sir John pursed his lips. “Not true. I am led to believe that a daily update was received by this company and I got periodic updates but I did not speak more than once with Mr Vere. Even then the information obtained on a regular basis was only as to how many survivors there were and their general condition, not even who they were.”
“But you knew who we were. You had the pictures.”
Sir John eased himself within his seat. “I was at one time, and one time only afforded pictures albeit by a circuitous route and then only eleven of the seventeen people to which we were initially appraised. I also confess that at that time we also knew of the six deaths that had occurred prior to the release of the photographs. Our information as to who the dead were was also scant. We had descriptions only and were guessing until the pictures came. We could then interpolate from our lists and it was a relief because we could not be sure until that point that the female reported dead was not you.”
It had not occurred to Joanna that Rebecca could have been mistaken for her. Rebecca was long haired with a Latin complexion. She was about to question the description when Sir John continued.
“You were gone.” He said, “For three weeks before we got those pictures together with a ransom demand. Despite instruction from the government and advice to the contrary I immediately made attempts to gain contact with your captors. This was not a straightforward exercise, the contact was through Forward Oil, who in turn were instructed by their government not to deal with terrorist organisations.”
“So how did you negotiate?” Joanne queried.
“As I said,” Sir John responded. “It wasn’t straightforward.”
Joanne was temporarily at a loss. Sir John had at a stroke ceased to be informative. “But you did get to speak to the K’gozi in the end?”
“The K’gozi?” Sir John queried. “I have no idea who that might be.”
“We know of your communication. He spoke of you by name.”
“I spoke to a representative of a group calling themselves the Movement for Oneness in West Africa. This fellow referred to himself as Mr Smith. I did not hide behind any epithet. Your Mr K’gozi may have referred to me, but I did not speak to him.”
“Representative to representative.” Joanne mused. “No wonder nothing happened.”
Sir John breathed in hard.
“Miss Fletcher.” He said, all familiarity gone. “I do understand your perspective, however it is coloured by lack of comprehension. When I told you the negotiation for your life was difficult I was
not understating the situation. I personally guaranteed a considerable sum of money for your release.”
“I didn’t mean any disrespect Sir John. And I do understand that it may have been difficult for you. I assure you it was considerably more difficult for me.”
“And Joanne, It is that factor alone that has conditioned this meeting, but I believe there is nothing more for us to discuss.”
Richard stood. “Patrick.” He was expecting the meeting. He’d received the text some hours earlier and driven down to Jo’burg. Patrick could be like that, it was part of the world he inhabited, an ad hoc meeting in out of the way places. Not that the Johannesburg Hilton was out of the way. Out of Richard’s way maybe.
Patrick sat. It was obvious that he’d already checked out the location. “I have friends who are not very happy with you.”
“You’d not be the first.” Richard responded as he too sat.
“These are however not about to shoot you.” Patrick said. He palmed a memory stick. “You told me the ‘phone belonged to an Islamic terrorist.”
Richard was within a heartbeat of correcting Patrick. What he had actually said was that it was possible there could be an ISIS connection.
“The entire contents are on that stick. I do have a copy but our friends with skullcaps advise that there is only one reference of interest to them. I sincerely hope you are not so disappointed.”
“You didn’t want coffee then?” Richard asked.
“It’s terribly bitter here.” Patrick answered and was gone.
“I suppose I’d better say thanks.” Richard said to no one.
The phone rang. It wasn’t a common occurrence but he always kept it in his chest pocket anyway. You couldn’t leave anything of value lying around these days. It took a moment to dig it out. “This is Ryan”
“Hello Ryan. This is Richard.”
“Richard?” Ryan had to think and then the penny dropped. “Oh yes, Richard. Got you now. How’s things?”
“I’m fine. I’ve got some work next month. And you?”
“Can’t be not working that long. Nigeria now. Same deal.”
“You keeping well?”
“I’m over it. No night sweats, no issues.”
“Sounds good. You’re in Nigeria. It could happen again.”
“I got a gun.”
Richard laughed. “I remember the AK’s. Maybe I’d better come and give you some lessons.”
“That’s a bit over the top but you’re welcome to drop by any time.”
“Can’t do it right now. I’ve got something for you. Too big for e-mail. How do I get it to you.”
“That’s a good one. What is it?”
“A USB memory stick. It has some stuff you will find very interesting.”
“Send it to Joanna. That’s the best.”
“Do you have a home address? I wouldn’t want to send it to her workplace.”
“It’s that bad?”
“Some of it would be a concern.”
“I’ll get an address and call you back if that’s OK.”
“That will work.
A small jiffy bag was waiting on her front door mat along with reminders to pay bills. That the bag was postmarked from Pretoria in the Republic of South Africa made it instantly more interesting that the letter from the electricity company. Inside was a 32TB USB memory stick. “Great.” Joanne thought to herself. “Now would be a useful time to have a computer.”
A personal computer was something Joanne had never thought she’d need. There were immense mainframe servers at work. Even at University she’d made do with an I-pad, and then only for writing her dissertation. The Uni had computers with big servers as well. She even dragged the bloody I-pad out of the cupboard it had spent the last four years in. It was of course completely dead. An hour spent finding the charger and connecting it then the expectation of some form of life finally rewarded only to find when the stick was plugged into the adapter that the programmes were incompatible. It was clear that six separate files were there, one an audio file, another a word file and four that she didn’t recognise. Joanne’s I-pad ran I-files, numbers, pages and keynote. That in its self had been a bugbear as her dissertation was submitted in both printed and e-format. The pages e-format had almost lost her the degree. There were two solutions, either to take the stick to work and play it there or to obtain a device that would play it.
‘Got it.’ She texted Ryan. ‘It’s a USB stick. Can’t open it so take to work.’
“God no.’ He texted back within minutes. ‘Richard says it’s incriminating.’ Go to a café or something.’
The guy who was on the pay desk, long haired and decidedly nerdy looking enough to have been the owner of the place had noted that Joanne was struggling and walked over to see if he could help.
“You’ll need to,” The nerd leaned over to take her mouse. “Open it with Android.” He selected applications and scrolled down.
“Not many people have this on their systems.” He told her. “Common as muck on phones and tablets but not on computers. Looks like this all came off a ‘phone as well, but.” He clicked a few more times. “This is an old version.” He looked at her sideways. “Is this legal?”
Joanne looked back at him, her face open. “Perfectly.”
He raised an eyebrow but said nothing more, going back to his pay desk.
The unrecognised files were a complete contact list, call and text records plus unbelievably, e-mail. The contact and call lists were just numbers and the text and mail were in hindsight predictably unreadable. Unreadable to Joanne or any non-speaker of what Joanne took to be one of the thousand or so African languages. Joanne opened the audio file to hear the same language in multiple voices, one of which was instantly recognisable and sent shivers down her spine. Milton Zakosi, the former K’gozi clearly felt the need to record his phone conversations. She listened to half a dozen conversations before giving up. Joanne knew that the K’gozi had spoken both French and English but nothing in these recordings was spoken in a European language.
The first activity on the phone had been just a year ago. Joanne had seen the actual device in the K’gozi’s hands and knew that even though it was a smart phone it was definitely not this year’s model.
Remembering that she flicked back through the file options and even at the first picture in the images section wished she hadn’t. Incongruous in a suit and tie and taken in a hotel foyer, the face was instantly recognisable. The first photograph the K’gozi had taken was a selfie.
She flicked through the images, African streets, warehouses, crates containing guns and supplies. His small army of fighters on a training ground, clearly before being armed and then again still just a bunch of boys but proud and haughty with combat uniforms and guns. She could pick them out, the ones she had got to know by sight and even some by name. M’longwe, thin and wiry, maybe in his late teens or early twenties but already bitter and twisted and with a mean streak. Dead either in the bomb blast and confirmed by Ryan’s gun. The haughty and untrusting Pepele, with a dark face, dark eyes and a dark heart. Dead too, killed at the river ambush. Young Zidane most likely less than fourteen and dreaming of emulating his footballing namesake. Joanne didn’t know if he was dead and half hoped he wasn’t. Offoto, lazy, cunning and confirmed dead. She had seen his smouldering corpse as they escaped the camp. At the time it hadn’t fully registered but it was clear in her mind’s eye now. The group leaders Moboko, Zakame and N’gome plus half a dozen others that she knew Ryan would be able to put names to and all killed. All faces she had come to hate and be glad of their demise.
Then came the most hurtful pictures. Alan, Ryan, her, Adam and all the others, all dishevelled all gaunt and with sunken, haunted eyes. Seeing their faces brought them back to her. Sean, Pete, Rebecca, Tom, George, Rob the American, Harry, Mark and Mark, and Mike. She was in tears as she scrolled through the images.
The nerd came over again.
“You OK?” He asked.
“No.” Joanne admitted. “I mean yes, I’ll be OK.”
“You know these people?” The nerd asked. In the few frames he saw he too had recognised the hopelessness in the faces.
“Knew.” Joanne answered. “In the past tense.”
“Something happened?” The nerd half queried.
“They’re dead.” Joanne told him. “That’s all you need to know.”
“All of them?”
As her coat brushed the keyboard the next picture scrolled up. It was of her as she went at gunpoint back into the tent. Clear in the picture were the others all huddled under the canvas and guarded by alert, Kalashnikov armed irregular militia led by the ugly and evil looking Zakame. The picture spoke a thousand words. Joanne did not need to explain a thing.