El Soldat… el soldat… el soldat
The burnt-out ruins of the big cathedral sat like a large empty shell on eight plots of land, fenced around by high walls with two separate gateways. The main gateway was a pair of big brown painted double gates opening out directly onto the Maiduguri-Bama road while the second gates opened out onto a wide street in the residential neighborhood behind the church: all the residents had, of course, fled the neighborhood and the entire place was devoid of life.
Only days ago, the cathedral had been a thing of beauty and pride to so many indigenous Catholics, but now it was a burnt-out ruin. It had been the very first thing the Boko Haram Islamic terrorists who hated Christians and all western ways, had swooped on when they captured that part of the town.
The old priest and two nuns who refused to flee like all the rest of the people in the area did as the insurgents advanced, had been beheaded right there in the church.
The rotting corpse of the old priest and its severed head were being feasted upon by scavengers right there in the open courtyard while the bodies of the nuns were in a prayer chamber of the parsonage, a one-story building directly to the rear of the cathedral building. The awful smell of their rotting corpse attracted Alex straight to the large room and he found their beheaded corpses lying in dark pools of caked blood on the tiled floor, the two severed heads in different corners. Flies in their thousands were buzzing all over the rotting corpses while other vermin, including rats now too fat and sluggish to run off at human approach, had their share. The torn robes on the two women strongly suggested that they had been raped, probably severally, before being gruesomely murdered. One of the heads was still fairly intact and Alex felt a terrible bitterness in his heart when he saw how young and innocent the face was. The other detached head had a face that had been partly eaten up by the vermin, but the hair was very visible and it was graying at the edges.
The other four men couldn’t stand the horrible sight or smell of the nuns’ bodies in the prayer chamber and so kept their distance, but Alex had seen too many of such before to allow it bother him too much. He promised himself he would give them some form of a burial if he got even half a chance, then went off to check the rest of the rooms in the parsonage.
The bus was now parked securely out of sight in the large space between the rear of the cathedral and the front of the one-story parsonage where it couldn’t be seen from either of the two gates. The high fence enclosing the large compound guaranteed security if not more cover and the locked gates to the rear of the compound was the alternative escape route, the bus was parked close to it and ready. Out front, the big double gates stood wide open like it had been when they arrived.
Coordinating their operation over the radio earpiece, the experienced soldiers did a clean security sweep of the entire compound.
The entire church had been completely destroyed and the magnitude of the havoc wrecked was mind-bending.
The large cathedral itself was a total write off. Its roof was gone, completely consumed by the fire, but the blackened walls still stood intact. All the large glass windows had been smashed, even the metal doors had been deliberately damaged to some extent or burnt to a black color. The entire interior of the cathedral was completely bare now and on the blacked tiled floors were huge piles of cold ash and large stubs of charred polished wood, the remains of all the furniture and dedicated items which had adorned the church. Everything, all the big tables and big throne-like chairs at the holy altar, all the dedicated furniture and instruments, even the long, heavy hardwood benches for the congregation, they had all been piled up together in places and set ablaze right there in the cathedral. The terrible inferno from all the burning piles of hardwood had risen high to consume the roof and,
subsequently, the whole cathedral itself. The few areas of the building left untouched by the fire showed clearly that the church had been a freshly painted brown and yellow structure before the insurgents struck.
The large marble pulpit at the altar and other statues had been knocked down and destroyed completely. Only the two heavy iron offering boxes seemed intact, but their locks had been broken open and their contents looted.
The parsonage had been set ablaze too, but most parts of it had somehow survived to show that it had been looted first. All the nice furniture and home appliances, even the beds and the rugs on the floor were gone and the place was bare. The other detached building, a low building of several rooms, had been razed to the ground completely and nothing was left of it.
The security sweep was complete in a few short minutes and, finding nothing else of interest, the five men took up positions in the cathedral to wait for the terrorists to arrive. Rufai and Samuel somehow managed to salvage some things that passed for chairs and set them up in one of the clear areas in the middle of the empty cathedral, using one of the empty iron offering boxes as a table. Alex joined them after he detailed the Sergeants to lookout duty and they all sat quietly, waiting.
The steel briefcase was right there on the offering box before them and also there was the expensive black leather document folder Rufai had been carrying since they left the safe house. Alex had asked him about it once and the reply had been that it was very important documents requiring the girl’s urgent attention so he never bothered about it again.
“Christ! What a horrible crime in the name of religion!”
exclaimed Samuel suddenly, shaking his head and looking around again. He was deeply shaken by all what he had seen. “If I get my hands on any of the Muslim bastards and the imam teaching them these things before I leave this godforsaken state, I will so torture them.”
Rufai bristled at once. “I take great offense to that remark,
Lieutenant. I’m a Muslim and I certainly don’t live my life like this at all. I co-exist peacefully with Christians and the world in general. Many millions of other true Muslims will tell you the same thing. These Boko Haram animals are not Muslims, they are just criminals and ignorant souls being led astray by crazy zealots who feed them lies and evil ideas under the cloak of Islam” Rufai angrily waved a hand around. “The sick bastards who did these things have no idea what real Imams are or what true Islam is for that matter, what they know is a piece of igneous rock in Sambisa forest that gives them holy power and a crazy leader that tells them what to do which includes killing thousands of good Muslims as well, most of them innocent women and children, or haven’t you noticed?”
Samuel kept his big mouth shut.
Alex stared at him. “It’s a good thing you didn’t make such talk with lots of other Muslims around. Try not to do such again while you are up here in the north because it’s a very sensitive issue that will get even ordinary market women very angry and very quickly. These terrorists are nothing but criminals, period. Their attacks are not limited to Christians alone but reach out to everyone great and small. What you are seeing here is nothing compared to what I saw at a big mosque in Maiduguri two years ago. They bombed the place while it was in full prayer session and the resulting fires destroyed half the houses on the street. Over fifty people died that day with countless others injured, some permanently disfigured. The victims were all Muslims, men, women, and children, not one was a Christian,”. Alex glanced at his watch then back at Samuel “You may just get your wish to lay hands on some of them, they should be showing up any minute from now.”
“You really think they will come in numbers?” asked Rufai.
“They will definitely come in numbers,” replied Alex, stressing the word. “Most likely upward of a dozen men for a show of strength. When they get here none of you must show any sign of weakness, all our lives may depend on it. Be very watchful and alert, be like you are ready to swing into action in a second but still very calm and controlled. Keep your eyes fixed on them at all time, guns at the ready but pointed at the floor. Be silent and let me do all the talking, follow my leads and we’ll be fine.”
“What if we are not fine?” asked Samuel. “What if the bastards start trouble or try to double-cross us? That seems to be what they are really good at.”
“Hopefully, they won’t do either of the two, but if they did, then we are in big trouble because we’ll be outnumbered five to one at first, and then more of them will quickly come rushing in to make it ten to one. The odds will just keep growing on us from there and even so, we’ll still have to get the girl back and fight our way out of here somehow. It’s in our best interest that this transaction gets successfully concluded the first time because there won’t be a second chance.” Alex stared hard at the two men. “There can be no mistakes on our part.”
In the silence that followed the earpiece in Alex’s ear came to life.
“We’ve got serious company on the way, two vehicles,” came Garko’s voice urgently and they all heard him, their earpiece coms were all on the same channel.
Alex was already on his feet and running for the stairs
The two Sergeants, armed with the binoculars, were on lookout duty up in the church’s two-story high tower. The structure was part of the cathedral itself and it commanded a good view of the entire vicinity, including the immediate area around the church, both gateways, and the street behind. The tower was one of the reasons Alex had chosen the church, it also offered an advantageous firing position if there was a gunfight.
Very alert and watchful, the Sergeants had been at their post for less than fifteen minutes when Garko’s hawk eyes picked out some movement in the far distance to the south of the Maiduguri-Bama road
“Hey, Joe” Garko waved frantically. “Come take a look.”
Across at another wide window in the small tower room, Efosa had the binoculars glued to eyes, looking in the opposite direction, up the road towards Bama. He lowered the binoculars at once and hurried over to take a look.
Garko pointed and Efosa focused the binoculars, took a good look.
“Two Jeeps, both coming very fast,” said Efosa. “It’s them, call it in quick.”
Garko already had his hand to his earpiece. He called it in.
Alex ran up the stairs two at a time and in seconds, was in the tower room.
“What kind of vehicles are they?” he demanded at once, hurrying over to join the two men at the window.
“Jeeps,” said Efosa stepping away and handing Alex the binoculars.
Alex put the binoculars to his eyes and took a good look at approaching jeeps.
The lead jeep was a brown Cherokee and behind it came a black Toyota Helix pickup truck packed to overflow with armed men in military camouflage uniforms and masks. Alex focused the binoculars on the Cherokee and adjusted the magnification settings of the lens as he tried to see in through the dark windows which were all rolled up closed. He tried hard but couldn’t see a thing, nonetheless, he was sure that El Soldat and the girl were in that Cherokee. He moved the binoculars back to the Helix again, its cabin was fully packed with men like its open back. All the men wore masks, some red and others army camouflage in color.
They were all battle-tested men, thought Alex grimly and jerked his head quickly at the Sergeants. “Check the street out back and the road out of town,”
The Sergeants hurried to the other windows and Alex continued his watch on the rapidly approaching vehicles.
“Clear,” called Garko, looking up the empty road towards Bama.
Efosa took a minute longer as his sharp eyes scanned the houses along the street to the back of the church. He thought he saw some movement somewhere far up the street, but then it was gone and didn’t occur again.
“Clear over here too,” he called finally.
The Sergeants moved back to join Alex.
“It’s them, isn’t it?” asked Efosa.
“Don’t know for sure, but it will be clear soon enough,” said Alex still watching the approaching vehicles through the binoculars.
The two jeeps came racing up the road at top speed, swung into the filling station and came to a halt a short distance from the low building.
“It’s definitely them,” said Garko.
“Yes,” said Efosa.
Alex said nothing as he kept watching the vehicles in the distant filling station through the powerful lens of the binoculars.
The armed men leaped down from the Helix pickup truck and spread out around the Cherokee Jeep in good military formation, fifteen of them not counting the driver. A powerfully built big man who had leaped out of the front passenger seat of the Helix seemed to be in charge, shouting out orders left and right. Two armed men hurried for the low building and as they disappeared inside, the rear right-side passenger door of the Cherokee Jeep jerked open and an impressive figure climbed easily out.
This man was tall and well built, almost the same size as the big man. He wore a neat military camouflage uniform and shiny black boots, but no mask, the red cloth that was the mask was tied loosely around his neck in Arab style, and his only armament was a pistol in a side holster. He had on dark sunglasses and his features, his curly hair and the pale-yellow color of his skin, gave him away easily as an Arab.
Holding the binoculars to his eyes and watching closely, Alex smiled a hard smile.
“And there you are finally, my elusive friend,” he said softly under his breath.
The two men re-emerged from the low building and one of them shouted something, then made a vigorous ‘no’ gesture with his arm towards the big man now standing with the Arab by the Cherokee Jeep.
The Arab’s hand dived into his pocket, got out a phone and began to dial.
In a second the phone in Alex’s pocket rang.
Holding the binoculars fixedly to his eyes with one hand, Alex got out the phone with the other hand and put it to his ear.
“Yeah?” he answered calmly, watching El Soldat carefully through the binoculars. It was a very rare sight which he found very pleasing indeed.
“Is this some kind of a bad joke?” yelled El Soldat angrily, waving his arm wildly around. “You’re not at the filling station.”
“No, I’m not,” replied Alex calmly. “I chose a more secure location to wait so as to avoid meeting anyone else but you. We are in the burnt-out cathedral two hundred yards up the road, the white cloth we came in with will be waved in a window of the tower now. Please do come and take your money off my hands, we’ve been protecting it long enough.”
Alex saw El Soldat jerk around and look in their direction. He nodded to Garko, who held the white cloth at the ready as pre-planned. Garko thrust his arm out through another window and waved the white cloth vigorously in the air.
The line went dead at once as El Soldat cut the call and got back into the Cherokee. His armed personal bodyguard who had gotten out of the front passenger seat of the Cherokee got quickly back in too and the big man hurried for the Helix even as he shouted commands around.
His men were already running for the pickup jeep.
Alex threw the binoculars over to Garko, who caught it perfectly.
“Keep watch, particularly up the road towards the town, but stay out of sight at all times,” he said and gestured to Efosa as he hurried for the stairs. “Come with me.”
The two jeeps pulled quickly out of the filling station and came racing up the road to the desolate church. They swung in through the wide-open gates, drove right up to the burnt-out cathedral and came to a halt in a cloud of dust in front of it.
The big metal double doors of the cathedral were intact and they stood wide open like the main gates. The entire compound was dead quiet, no one was in sight and nothing moved anywhere except for the handful of vultures that had been lazily feeding on the decaying corpse of slain priest to one side of the compound. Frightened by the abrupt arrival of the two jeeps, the ugly birds took swiftly to the air, rising high and away into the sky.
The armed men leaped out of the Helix pickup truck with their Ak-47 rifles at the ready and spread out protectively around the Cherokee Jeep. Two men hurried for the cathedral, ran up the sweeping stairs and went in through the big double doors which stood wide open. They took one look at the four armed men inside and hurried back out to report.
“They are here. Four of them in plain sight, but there could be more” reported one of the men in fluent Arabic to their commander.
The commander was the big man and his name was Tariq, aka the Executioner. He was El Soldat’s right-hand man and second-in-command. A big powerfully built man in his thirties who enjoyed a good beheading show anytime, Tariq could hack off two heads at once with just one powerful blow of his big machete and never missed an opportunity to show off these skills. He did it at least once a week.
Tariq stepped over to the rear door of the Cherokee and got it open. El Soldat climbed out into the early morning sun and adjusted his neat uniform as he looked around.
“There are four of them in plain sight inside the church, but there could be more” reported Tariq in fluent Arabic.
El Soldat grunted as his anger increased. He glanced over at his bodyguard standing on the other side of the jeep, having got out of the front passenger seat again.
“Bring the girl,” he snapped at the man and strode off for the open double doors of the church.
The armed terrorists surrounded him protectively at once, following.
The bodyguard slung his rifle over his shoulder as he stepped over to the rear door of the Jeep on his side and jerked it open. He reached in and dragged out a hooded figure in a long green robe.
( el el el el el el el el el el )
Even with the head covered, the figure was clearly a woman and her hands were bound together in front of her.
The well-built bodyguard dragged the woman roughly along by the arm as he went after El Soldat.
More armed men surround them protectively.
To Be Continued…
CONTINUE READING >>>>> CHAPTER 12
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