My flight to Nairobi and then the border crossing into Burundi overland from Tanzania had been uneventful. The usual absurdities at the border, including the customs inspector leafing through my passport while holding it upside down as he waited to be bribed, went some ways to helping me re-acclimatise to Africa.
As is the usual, Black Horse would not know the specifics of how I would accomplish the task, and they would operate to the pre agreed protocols we had contracted for.
The Economics First Minister of Burundi was Michael Njabo. He was having a bad day. I knew that before he did. He needed to arrive at the meeting with the Chinese trade delegation and discuss the only thing that mattered to him, money, and he was running late.
I watched from a cafe across the street as Steve’s Black Horse Group security guys struggled with Njabo’s driver to get his armoured limo started. As I had planned for, the Black Horse guys brought up the second minister’s car as a replacement and Njabo and his personal aides got in after screaming at the hapless African drivers. The commandeered lesser replacement limo screamed off with Njabo and his entourage following a Black Horse Range Rover security detail.
One of Steve’s team chiefs, Dan Henson, as arranged, tweaked something in the engine compartment in the disabled primary limo and it suddenly started. Henson hustled Buka, the second minister, and his aides into it and closed the door.
Buka was a fat, arrogant bully who had no qualifications for his role except the tribal connections of his uncle. There was no contracted security for the second minister. As an Assistant Economics Minister, he rated only a traffic cop on an old Suzuki motorbike as an escort. The car screeched out of the car park and onto the road and the cop, after stalling his bike once, raced off after him with the siren blaring and one blue light flashing lamely.
I pulled out a small Chinese made copy of a Motorola walkie-talkie transmitter from my rucksack. My cover here as a surveyor would explain having a commercial radio transmitter especially considering how unreliable local West African phone networks are.
I turned it on, set it to channel 12, and pressed the send button. Two thousand metres away, the signal was picked up by a receiver and a switch on a solenoid initiated and sent a 1.1 volt charge to an Atlas electrical blasting cap. This, in turn, detonated the 500 grams of Chinese made Semtex located where I had placed it the night before, above the rear trans-axle. The trans-axle created a tamping effect and forced a large percentage of the explosion up and into the vehicle. The limo’s armour plating would actually work against the occupants rather than protecting them as it would briefly contain the blast inside the vehicle.
I finished my coffee as the boom echoed through the streets and a small mushroom cloud formed in the warm dusty air above the city. I walked back to my hotel ignoring the street vendors offering everything from fake Rolexes to organ transplants. In front of my hotel I saw two army vehicles collide with an ambulance as they rushed to the scene. The army captain was waving a pistol around but his sunglasses where so dark that I wasn’t sure he could see anything well enough to shoot at.
In the hotel bar, the barman set down a glass of Carlsberg, and I was reminded of the famous bar scene in Ice Cold in Alex as I watched through the window as soldiers pushed the broken ambulance out of the way and then screamed off. I lifted the beer and muttered in salute to John Mills: ‘Worth waiting for’.
The next day, I had coffee at the same cafe. I had been going there all week. If I had bailed after the hit, it may have drawn the notice of even the most inept investigator or intelligence officer. And there were plenty of those around.
The coffee was wonderful. So was the lead article in the morning newspaper. Buka, his three aids and their driver were vaporized by the force of the explosion. The police escort was blown off his bike and broke his hip in the fall. His bike crashed into a market stall which caused the financial ruin of the stall owner who took his frustrations out on several of his wives that afternoon and was now under arrest.
Njabo named his brother-in-law as the new second Minister of Economics even before the flames of Buka’s car were put out. I smiled to myself on my gift to humanity and the resulting payday.
I checked out of my hotel as scheduled, ignored my pre-booked Air Burundi flight to Nairobi and hitched a ride to Luanda in an ancient Russian Antonov 22 transport aircraft which ran a scheduled cargo service across central Africa. I slept on a nylon aircraft seat next to a crate marked ‘Machine Parts’ in Cyrillic letters which looked suspiciously like the crates used to transport RPGs. Unlike recent BA flights, I didn’t get seduced by the flight attendant, who was also the flight engineer and called Marko. I did get a warm bottle of Castle beer, though.
From there, I flew to Marrakech on TAP, the Portuguese national carrier, and as far as I could tell, there were no anti-tank rockets on board that flight. The old military axioms of ‘Do unto others and move out of the area,’ and ‘never go out the same door you came in,’ were observed.
I checked my bank account and was pleased but not surprised to see a deposit in the expected amount had been made from a bank in Belgium. Later that day, an email from Black Horse Group forwarded to me by a proxy email account invited me to a meeting in Marrakech.
Steve was sitting at a table on the sidewalk outside of a coffee house. I noticed two of his people and probably another one who I didn’t know, across the street. Steve stood up and offered his hand as I approached his table. He looked well. His skin tone was burned-in rather than Club Med and he had that odd, indescribable heightened sense of animation and self confidence that elite soldiers seem to give off to each other.
“That was a nice job on Buka. Just the thing we needed to prompt that useless prick Njabo to sign off on our security upgrade. He thinks someone’s after his fat ass and the bomb was meant for him,” he said.
“Glad you’re pleased. Any comebacks?”
“No, none. Buka wasn’t mourned and several rebel factions are tripping over themselves to take credit for the public service of taking him out,” he said.
“Sounds like the right guy was blown up,” I said.
“There aren’t any wrong guys to blow up, Jeff.”
“How do you know it wasn’t one of the opposition groups who did the job?” I asked while looking around the street.
“Dan Henson spotted you two days before the event at a cafe across the street,” Steve grinned. “He set up some night vision recording gear on the vehicles but we didn’t see you deliver the rig to the car. I can’t believe the cameras missed something as big as you. Besides that, the boo boos who are trying to take the credit for the bombing are dumb as fuck, and couldn’t blow up a balloon let alone a car.”
“Glad you’re pleased. I see your two usual gunboats travelled up with you. You guys here on other business or a corporate fun day in Marrakesh? ” I asked.
“Alan and Tony. We’re off to Germany to look at some kit we may be interested in. Tony used similar kit when he was at Taunton with 40 Commando. Besides, Alan and Tony are fun guys,” he said, smiling.
“They look it. Tony was 40 Commando? Never knew that. It explains his glazed look. Just can’t get the help these days, Steve,” I smiled back. “Who’s the third guy on over-watch, next to the news stand across the street, cheap Ray-ban knockoffs?”
Steve leaned back and smiled, nodding to himself. “Good spot. I didn’t think you’d clock him. Once recon, always recon.”
“Just like you, brother. Legio Patria Nostra,” I said as I stood up. I pointed to the briefcase I had set down next to my chair and said, “Speaking of which, a message from Dave, he sends his regards. I checked it for a bomb, but I know you’ll check it again. Bombs are a chronic problem in Africa these days, I hear.”
Within the hour, I had a response from Steve to send back to Dave on cooperating in central Africa. He was willing to talk. I also had another job, this time working again for Steve’s Black Horse division but in Sierra Leone.
I was tired of Africa and bored with flights. Once more, I boarded a scheduled cargo aircraft, this time for Sierra Leone where KZ was getting on with their new security project with the Ministry of Mineral Resources. KZ was there on a UN mandate to attempt to upgrade the Ministry’s own security team which consisted of a group of murdering bullies. Local murdering bullies. Steve wanted to replace KZ’s local murdering bullies with his own Black Horse local murdering bullies.
I bought five Russian F1 hand grenades in a bar and fitted one out with a zero time delay booby trap fuse. It fit nicely under the accelerator pedal of a KZ owned Range Rover and exploded when a driver stepped on it and dislodged the safety spoon. The blast destroyed the Range Rover, killed the driver and three local security thugs. If they had survived, I would have recommended a booby trap awareness course for them, at a very reasonable price.
Steve’s reaction to KZ creeping in on his business was going to get their attention. The profile Dave had prepared for him showed him exactly how much of his trouble was KZ inspired and he was hitting back. Business was booming.
I flew back to Marrakech, changed to a proper aircraft and was asleep when we landed at Heathrow. I cleared customs and passport control with the usual indignities. I felt out of place as I was one of only a few passengers who weren’t trying to smuggle a donkey or a crate full of ducks through customs.
England was cold, even for early December. The rental car was an upgrade and no extra cost. I got home in two hours. After a long shower, I drank a beer while watching Sky News. The recorded rugby matches would have to wait.
I picked up the phone, dialled Donna’s number and hung up after it switched to voice mail. Donna and I probably deserved each other. Neither of us was ever around when the other needed them. I took two aspirin and washed it down with the last of my beer and went to bed. Even killers got headaches, I reasoned.