Lagos, Nigeria. Summer of 1968. The war in Biafra is in full swing. Ethan Whittmore is a Captain of the Royal Marines, training government troops in support of the Nigerians. When he learns of his brother's disappearance, a doctor with the Red Cross, he takes it upon himself to find his brother, dead or alive. His efforts will lead him through the Nigerian jungles and rainforests amidst a bloody civil war. What lays at the end of the road though will be more than just an unexpected surprise and lots of broken promises…
"The writer has a wonderful skill with words, painting a picture so well, that you could almost taste the bad whiskey. And the plot is fairly interesting as well, delving into war with grit and determination. Well worth the read..."Amazon Reviews
"I liked the book, both for the story and the ideas. It addresses mainly to a readership who likes meaningful adventure stories. Story unfolds easily, keeping the reader in suspense, and the plot changes come rather smoothly, yet sometimes suprising. Details and descriptions are of the right volume and detail and give just the information needed for the total comprehension of the story.
Deeper meaning, at least the way I got it, deals with the vanity of war and all that comes with it. Various thoughts and ideas are projected through simple and short dialogs of the starring characters, and the reader can just stick to the words and miss the underlying bitterness of who and why started the civil war in Nigeria, as well as the war in general, playing death games against mostly innocent people."Amazon Reviews
"I found this book very pleasant to read. You get quite early in the read that something is off with some of the characters, but the story provides enough twists and turns to keep you well immersed in it and interested. I recommend it, if nothing else for the touching depiction of brotherly love that keeps the protagonist rushing head first into a deadly serious situation with no interest for his personal safety and well being."Barnes & Nobel Reviews
The sisters stood motionless, following the example of the mother superior, who was looking at the band of marauding bandits with contempt that bordered on hate.
Another rover passed through the gate. It braked badly and skid for a few feet on the courtyard dirt. Ten more men, slightly yet markedly better fed, better equipped. Some wore sunglasses, some berets and caps. Ethan noticed a big brute of a man sitting in the co-driver’s seat. Once everyone else had jumped off the rover, he stepped out. He was wearing spotless combat fatigues as if they had just been pressed. He wore the insignia of a Major. It was a good thing he didn’t seem familiar at all.
“That’s their leader; if we get to him, the rest will follow,” he said to Nicole who was eying the bandits with seeping, fervent anger. She did not answer; she gave Ethan a sharp accusing look and simply turned away. The next moment she vanished inside the impromptu hospital room.
Ethan called after her, but she ignored him. It was at that point when he attracted the attention of one of the armed men, who pointed his rifle at him and shouted something incomprehensible; it sounded like Igbo but not a dialect Ethan could understand clearly.
Ethan put his hands up and grinned like an idiot, trying to look the part of a mildly insignificant, completely harmless fool of a journalist. The armed bandit was still aiming the rifle at him, shouting incoherently, looking back and forth nervously. Ethan thought it could be he was asking ’should I shoot him?’; it could be he was asking ’can I shoot him?’. It would’ve made little difference had that been the case though.
The burly man was overlooking the sisters with one hand cradling a short-barreled AK-47; the paratrooper version. In his hands, it looked little more than a large handgun. He motioned with his free hand and half a dozen men fanned out two by two’s, going inside the rooms and halls on the west side of the monastery.
The rising heat added to the tension; Ethan was sweating. He was hoping Ludwig had gotten everybody out in time; more people would mean more problems to solve. He was also hoping Nicole wasn’t thinking of doing anything stupid. Stupid tended to pile on stupid and that had a propensity to make people end up dead or worse.
He was searching for a sight of her, but to no avail; for the first time the thought entered his mind that perhaps she was already running away. It wouldn’t help him much, but it wouldn’t make things harder either.
Ethan’s self-appointed guard had stopped shouting; now he was grinning, showing a cave of a mouth. He was still aiming his gun though and Ethan thought it was time to make his move. He shouted, “Look, Press!” and pointing at his Leica he reached with the other hand at his vest’s chest pocket, fumbling for the press pass.
The guard instantly drew back the AKs loading arm carefully, waiting for Ethan to make the mistake of flinching. For a bunch of ragtag bandits, they exhibited quite the streak of a rather unexpected professionalism; stupid nervous people with guns would’ve shot him dead. Ethan glanced at the leader who was quietly coming his way, while the rest of his men loitered near the sisters pointing guns and casting leery glances. That man, Ethan thought, was probably the sole reason why these wretches behaved themselves almost like soldiers.
The leader approached Ethan gracefully, making sure his insignia was prominently visible. He silently reached at Ethan’s vest pocket and pulled out his press pass, signed and stamped by the IPA and the UN in one of the British embassy’s cultural attache’s offices. The leader took a look at it and read aloud with a thick, grossly cacophonous accent:
“Richard Owls. London Times. Lost?” he asked with a grin that showed perfect white teeth and more than a couple of gold casings.
“Just doing a story,” replied Ethan and added “Major, sir,” with an afterthought, hoping to feed the man’s ego. Indeed he smiled when he heard the rank and offered Ethan his press pass back. He took a quick look around him, the sun glinting off his black Ray Bans. Whoever the man was, he was turning in a profit, Ethan thought. When he spoke again, he wasn’t smiling anymore:
“I’m a moody person. Lost two men on the way. Why are you here? What’s so important about nuns?”
Ethan didn’t have a very hard time faking intimidation. The man was imposing enough. Reminded him a bit of his friend James, only without the redeeming qualities. He replied with some difficulty, trying to find the words:
“The missionary work... Taking care of people in the middle of a war. Their stoic manner; really good press back home. Good press anywhere, really. Takes the focus away from the British involvement, too. Wins points with my editor.”
The brute looked at him as if examining a weird kind of exotic fly; it was a distant, focused stare. “Politics, journalists. Same shit, eh?” he said suddenly and laughed out loud all alone, his laughter echoing faintly in the relative silence of the monastery courtyard.
“Just doing my job, Major, sir,” replied Ethan with a faint smile, his eyes still trying to steal a glimpse of Nicole; she must be really gone, he thought.
The sisters were huddled close together, as if waiting for a verdict on them. The mother superior was eying him and the leader of the bandits intensely. Maybe she was thinking of doing something stupid herself. That would complicate things right when he was trying to achieve a sense of rapprochement, if anything like that could be achieved with the likes of these people.
“I’m no major, Dick. I’ll call you Dick. No Major Yuembe anymore. I’m King, King Yuembe!” shouted the so-called Major, triumphantly raising both arms in the air. He fired off a couple of shots, eliciting a response of wild gunfire in the air from his men who cheered and eyed the sisters with venomous stares. They looked barely able to hold themselves; another example in forced discipline. He laughed heartily once more, before settling down his gaze towards Ethan again. Ethan pitched the idea of the story he had been working on in his mind:
“I think you’d make the perfect story, really. I could show the world your living conditions, the way you’re defending your freedom. Add a bit about your back-story, where you came from, what made you quit the army. It’d be a fantastic piece, a world first,” Ethan said and aimed the camera at Yuembe. He took on a haughty pose like a model, indeed the kind of self-gratifying stance photographers tend to think is fit for nobility portraits. The camera clicked and Ethan rolled the film a couple of times, taking a few more shots. Then Yuembe yanked the camera off its straps suddenly and Ethan felt his plan wasn’t working the way it should.
“I’ll keep that film. I like pictures; but I don’t like the publicity. Understand?”
Ethan nodded, frowning warily. He replied carefully:
“No problem. I can see it could hamper your activities; I can do a text piece only, full page with stock photos or something,” he said, insisting on trying to stroke the man’s ego. He knew it wouldn’t work when the man took the film out of the camera, tucked it inside a pocket and then just threw the camera away, breaking the lens. He then asked Ethan, edging his face closer to his the way a boxer might before a fight:
“You think we are freedom fighters?” he said through almost clenched-shut teeth. Ethan’s frown became a deep, long furrow. Looking distraught and casting glances around him, he seemed completely at a loss. To complete the show, he said weakly:
“Well, of course.”
Yuembe broke down in laughter and said something in that dialect Ethan couldn’t quite get. All the men laughed along in earnest, pointing at Ethan like a freak exhibit. Maybe writing up a story wouldn’t hold, but the stupid journalist ploy still had something in it. Just maybe, Ethan thought to himself.
Some of the men that had been searching around the monastery called out, grabbing Yuembe’s attention. They had found the caravan’s Rovers and supplies. Yuembe and his men exchanged a few words from a distance, more like shouts. Then he picked a few of them by eying them alone, motioned with a hand and another half a dozen men left their guns behind. Soon they started loading the crates bearing the sign of the Red Cross first onto their own trucks.
The mother superior was talking with some sisters in a low-keyed voice; they seemed somewhat relieved. It was beginning to look like the bandits would simply loot what they could and leave. Organised and disciplined as they seemed to be, they were nothing more than dangerous, cruel thieves.
Yuembe then took out a camouflage-patterned handkerchief and wiped the sweat from his brow. He took off his glasses and wiped the lenses as well; his round black eyes were big and calm, the eyelashes almost delicate. They belonged to a man who should’ve become an artist or a doctor, maybe even a priest. In any case, they didn’t look like the kind of eyes that belonged to a professional lethal parasite.
That grin of his gave him away; Ethan had seen that grin once too many. He knew even himself had sported such a grin at times past. The thought disturbed him and for a minute he was out of character, looking grim and serious all of a sudden. Yuembe saw the change on his face; he was instantly intrigued. He looked at Ethan from head to toe, scanning him slowly, measuring him up. He asked him then, hands around his waist, the Ray Bans dangling from his chest pocket:
“You do not approve? Wouldn’t look good on your story?” he said and then made a motion in the air with his free hand, stopping at the mention of each word like showing off a neon headline sign: “Former Nigerian Army Major Pillages Monastery.”
Ethan simply shook his head. Yuembe went on with what he had in mind:
“I am not a man of the press, like you. But I know what spices up a story,” he said, winked and nodded towards the sisters who were still clutching their rosaries. Some of them were praying on their knees, some of them were simply staring at the men who guarded them straight in the eyes, as if they thought shame alone could turn them away.
“Major, there’s nothing more to gain here other than those sacks of rice, those crates of medication and the canned food. That’s all there is,” Ethan said, thinking he should at least try and reason with the man, even though he seemed to be toying with ideas that went beyond looting.
“Been here long enough, Mr. Owls? Are you sure that’s all? Maybe you and I have different taste in things,” Yuembe said with a devilish grin and then barked an order.
Half a dozen men complied and went inside the eastern blocks of the monastery. Pretty soon, one of them shouted back from the impromptu hospital. Another one was holding a vest with a red cross painted on it. Some groggy voices and malformed protests were put down after a few slaps and kicks laid the patients back on their beds for good.
Yuembe shouted back more orders, looking pissed off; veins shot out from his temples and neck. He didn’t seem to care about the red cross or the infirmary and the people inside. That was good; it mean Ludwig and his people were probably safe and not a moment too soon. Probably Nicole as well. He had thought she might help him sound more convincing, but she was still nowhere to be seen. Maybe she’d have been a problem anyway, Ethan thought.
His thoughts where cut short when he suddenly heard a shout from one of Yuembe’s men and then saw bloodied pieces of skull bounce off a door, the rest of the bandit’s body slumping against it a flick of an eye later, when the gunshot was heard. A high velocity rifle. Though a familiar sound to Ethan, he had been more than just surprised to see its effects so vividly at that point.
Everyone froze still; it was the sisters panicked shrieks and loud prayers that roused everyone back into frenzied random activity. Ethan hesitated; if someone had stayed behind trying to be a hero, should he go all out and take a shot at Yuembe right now? What about the sisters? They were completely exposed. No, he decided he couldn’t risk their lives.
Yuembe aimed his AK nervously at Ethan and shouted at his men infuriated. They quickly aimed their guns at windows and doorways, covering their comrades; a couple of them grabbed the sisters by force one by one and started to tie their hands together.
A few of the sisters tried to resist, spitting and kicking furiously. Yuembe’s men used the AKs stocks like clubs; the nuns suffered. A few cracks were heard; bones were broken. The mother superior’s proud facade had collapsed; she was now begging the men in whatever dialect ran through her tongue, with what few words she knew. Their captors seemed to enjoy their work, smiling as they heard the wailings and sobs of the hapless sisters. Yuembe shouted at the top of his lungs:
“Come out now and I won’t hurt the sisters. I’ll let you and them live, just as soon as I get what I came for. You and I both know I want the-”. His voice became little more than a gurgle as his head exploded violently, pieces of shrapnel from his skull flying away in all directions. His body fell backwards from the overwhelming force of the bullet, the AK falling off his limp hand on the ground with a thud.