'No!' Ben was almost shouting. 'What the fuck do you think
will happen to us if we interfere?'
Jack looked at David, saw his own thoughts and fears wheeling
through his friend's eyes, the space between them, the time
it would take to cross the road. He sat down. 'Christ!' he
ground his feet into the dirt below him, beetles cracking like
eggshells under his heels.
David stood for a few seconds staring at the policemen, then
shook his head and sat down too. They opened their beers and
drank them without saying anything. The policemen eventually
stopped and walked off. A woman came and knelt by the
bleeding man, crying and shouting at the empty road. They finished
their beers and headed upstairs to their rooms.
The next day they drove across dusty dirt roads, bumpy and
bone-rattling, the tall weeds bordering them on both sides,
trees rising out of the sea of grass like themasts of sinking ships.
The land was flat, the mountains always shimmering on the
horizon. Their heads raged with pain, last night's beer barrelling
through their skulls. Trucks laden with people and clusters
of jerry-cans passed them every hour or so, men and women
strapped to the roofs like wayward luggage. The passengers
waved and they waved weakly back, smiling though the locals
weren't. Every now and then an army truck screamed by laden
with scowling soldiers, whipping up dust and rocks, heading
north. They passed small villages, all identical, a circle of mud
huts by a stream and nothing more. They ate peanuts and
crackers and cheese squeezed out of a tube like toothpaste. The
sun sank somewhere in the west, blazing the mountains red like
a caul stretched over the rim of the world.
The landscape began to close its arms around them. They
found themselves climbing through high valleys and twisting
ravines, the jungle almost imperceptible in its embrace until, all
at once, they noticed it was there, right above and to all sides of
them and they couldn't remember how the land had changed
so quickly or when.
They passed a village of burning huts just before the light
finally died, thick black plumes of smoke emerging like serpents
from their roofs. An eerie stillness in the air. They drove
a little faster and didn't say a word to one another.
Dark came suddenly, not like back home with its languorous
twilight, but like a switch being flicked one minute they
could see the mountains and fields, the next only the tunnel of
white illuminated by the car's headlights as if they were carving
out the road from the darkness itself.
They stopped at a place where the road widened and
switched on the in-car light, spreading the map out across elbows
'We won't make it,' Jack said, looking at the multicoloured
squiggles, the distance they still had to cover before reaching
David sighed, turning his face away.
'What's up with you?' Jack snapped, the tension of the day
making itself felt in his voice.
'I just wish you'd stop being so negative. Just for once.'
Jack stared out into the night. 'You want to try driving another
six hours in this? 'He felt bad as soon as he said it and saw
the hurt look on David's face.
'What are our options?' Ben asked, diplomatic as ever,
though Jack could sense a tremor of unease in his voice.
'We can camp here,' Jack replied, looking around at the dark
bush, then back down at the map. He lit a cigarette and traced
the small lines like capillaries branching out from the main
road. 'Or there's what looks like a short cut.' He pointed to a
thin ribbon of red that veered out towards the left. 'We passed
the turn-off about fifteen minutes ago.'
A Man Called Intrepid author dies aged 89(Dec 03 2013) William Stevenson, a journalist and author who drew on his close ties with intelligence sources to write two best-selling books in the 1970s, A Man Called...