The right hook was clean and sent him straight to the ground. “Damn all youse wee shites,” Hennessy said. Jack tasted salt, as blood gushed from his nose into his mouth. The Scot had a hell of a punch.
They had burnt Abebe that afternoon. A funeral pyre of dried wood was hastily built on the outskirts of the village, so his remains wouldn’t rot in the African heat, or be scavenged by digging carnivores. It went up fast, and was gone within an hour. The villagers banged drums and sang while their kin’s ashes disappeared into the wind. The whiff of burnt meat drifted across the plain to the shooting party, who watched from a distance. When only smoke and burnt grass was left, earth was thrown onto the patch, to prevent the bush alighting further.
The Africans slowly wandered back to their huts, ignoring the white ghosts as they passed. Lesida was the last to leave with Mosi, the new man of the house at her side. She cradled her baby, head proudly high, then stopped and turned to face her husband’s murderers. The howl she released was of grief and vengeance, a stream of words they did not understand, but all knew her meaning.
It was a curse, that Hennessy took to heart. “I’ve had enough,” he told Jack. “I’ve taken enough money these years, but I’m not gonna have their blood stain my hands anymore. I’ll clean this up, as always, but this is the last time. I’m gone, no matter how much they offer.”
Money would buy the natives off, the Scot arranged that much. It was not white bullets that killed the native, Leo the great hunter had saved the village from a man-eating lion. For repeating that lie, tongues biting back the truth, the villagers would finally get the clean water they needed.
He spat on the ground at Jack’s feet. “Youse. Youse were meant to be the bait, not bring anyone else into it.” His lip curled, and his fist clenched. “No-one does their job properly anymore.”
Then the punch came and Jack was on the ground, a Hibernian mask of conscience-striken fury looming above. Jack didn’t think he’d stop, blame had to find a home, but a light breeze stirred and Hennessy subsided with it’s calm. He looked across the plain, fists relaxing, then turned, shook his head and stalked off. That was the last Jack would see of him.
“You should know better than to mess with a drunken Scotsman, old chap.” Toby and Blake’s shadows passed over him, then Toby held out his hand and hoisted Jack to his feet. Their glamour had faded with the guilt of the morning, tans drained, Blake tear stained and hollow eyed. She scratched at her arm nervously.
There was a stammer before she regained her composure a little. “It wasn’t my shot that killed him,” Blake said. “I didn’t do that, I didn’t want to do that, I hope I didn’t… I’m not a… it was Leo, it’s always been him.” Toby put his hand on her elbow gently, but she shook him off, eyes locked on Jack, willing the baitman’s agreement. It was the first time she had adressed him directly. Jack didn’t reply.
The little princess wasn’t used to that. “We’re not all here because we want to be, some of us have to be,” she said, then turned with a hair flick and strode away, kicking dust in her wake.
Toby turned to Jack. “She’s right you know Mr… I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your surname? Ah well, doesn’t matter, does it?” He smiled. “I guess none of us find it that easy to break free of our circles. Some of us are here to make money, some of us because we owe money, or worse.”
They stared at each other, Toby’s sly eyes probing Jack for a tell. Neither wanted to reveal too much, both had their secrets. They’re not your friends, the mantra returned, they always look down. Toby handed Jack a handkerchief. “Wipe your face, his lordship wants you to join him for supper.”
Jack took the offering, but it didn’t help him feel any cleaner. “I’m not hungry,” he said.
“Understandable, but it’s not about the food.” Toby smiled. “Sometimes it’s just about doing what you’re told, until you don’t have to anymore. Ralph’s already there, he’s going back with the lion. Poor drunk not built for this anyway, but I’m staying with Blake, and you. Someone has to look after Leo, don’t they?”
“That’s why you’re staying?”
His smile curled at the corner. “Maybe I just want to see what happens next.”
TO BE CONTINUED . . .
THIS IS THE FIFTEENTH CHAPTER OF ORIGINAL ADVENTURE SERIAL PROTECTED SPECIES.