Rogue's March

Rogue's March by W. T. Tyler Read Free Book Online

Book: Rogue's March by W. T. Tyler Read Free Book Online
Authors: W. T. Tyler
ever, is he?” Michaux asked, amused, talking of the President. “Terrified of strikes, foreign guns, Russians, Cubans, and God knows what else. Students now, eh? Is that why he brought back that scoundrel Jean-Bernard de Vaux? Someone told me he’s the President’s bodyguard. Doesn’t trust the Americans now, just his old Belgian mercenaries.”
    Michaux knew Reddish as the President’s shadow during the rebellions, accompanying him on the C-130 flights about the interior. Even during the most bitter days, when the nation seemed merely so much carrion for the UN and the cold war jackals, Reddish had never adopted the bush jackets or safari suits worn by other junketing diplomats or UN civil servants, but always the same drab rumpled seersucker or tropical suits, the coat settled damply about his shoulders like a barman’s jacket.
    â€œNot the President’s bodyguard, Colonel N’Sika’s, the new commander of the para brigade. Where did you know de Vaux?”
    â€œJean-Bernard de Vaux? Here,” Michaux said. “I know him well. An ugly little guttersnipe, straight from the Antwerp slums—a mongrel, that’s what. Clever though; everyone knows that. So now he’s with the para brigade. Bodyguard, you say?”
    â€œAide and equerry to Colonel N’Sika, the commander.”
    â€œN’Sika?” Michaux frowned suddenly, memory gone. “Don’t know him. Where’s he from?”
    â€œThe north. Equateur.”
    Michaux brightened. “Then I wouldn’t,” he declared, relieved. He was no longer physically active, a crippled old crab on the beach; memory was the tide that lifted him away. He drank from the whiskey Reddish had brought him from the capital, smiling. “No, don’t know him. Equateur, you say? No, too much jungle in the blood up there, like Maniema—too dark, too savage.” He laughed.
    He was almost seventy, his thatch of white hair crudely cut, the flesh of his face and neck scarred by the equatorial sun. He had lived in the bush for forty years, surviving fever, isolation, superstition, and disease, the murder and mayhem of the Simba and mercenary rebellions, and now the torpor of an exhausted countryside. The roads were worse now than forty years ago; he couldn’t evacuate his palm nuts to the river or the railhead; the pressing plant, burned by the rebels, hadn’t been reopened. After forty years, all he had for his labors were his crippling arthritis, a derelict palm oil plantation thirty kilometers to the south, and a middle-aged Batatela woman who kept house for him and whom he called his wife.
    â€œThey say the President is in poor health,” Michaux continued, still eager for gossip from Kinshasa. “They say that’s why he hides himself away in the capital—cancer of the throat, I heard. Paralyzed, they say—everything. Is that why he went to Brussels last month, because of this cancer?”
    â€œHealth isn’t one of his problems,” Reddish said, gazing out into the bright, windless African afternoon.
    â€œBut everything else is, eh? The army, the parliament, the cabinet, the Russians, now the students. Is that why he reorganized the paras, with his new colonel in charge? They say the regular army threatened to mutiny in the south.”
    â€œA little misunderstanding, that’s all.”
    â€œThe army and the students fought in the streets, but the national radio tells us nothing. Is that a misunderstanding too?”
    â€œProbably. How well did you know de Vaux?” Reddish persisted, his curiosity stirred. He collected the odd anomalous fact as other men collect pocket pieces, pipes, or books. He knew de Vaux well enough to recognize that some of his information was false.
    â€œWell enough. I knew him here. Why? Has he tried to hire himself out to the Americans? If he has, you’ve got a brass sovereign. Tried to hire himself out to me once.

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