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BLACK  OPAL

 

by

Jimmy Brook

 

                    "The fire of the earth that man so often dreams of

                       and schemes of, is often a fire that can burn

                       in a way not expected."

 

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CHAPTER ONE

 

Rain was lashing down. In the gloom against the wooden veranda post, a momentary glare showed the face of a man as he lit a cigarette. Then it was gone, nothing left to betray his presence.  The noise on the galvanised roofing, was constant. A continual drumming, with veils of water, falling straight down, all along the front of the building. Guttering was not a priority in such an outpost of humanity.

 

Not a light out there, only palm trees and exotic shrubbery close by, quickly blending into a blackness. It was this man's turn, tonight, to stand out here, and wait. As it was every night this week. The moisture got into everything, even the cigarette he was smoking. It spluttered, and died. He hurled it out into the Night.

 

There was one consolation on these occasions. No mosquitoes. No drone to distract your brain. Still that would come, when the rain eased. And it would. Daylight would be a relief, but it would also bring the heat. Sometimes one became wetter in the humidity, than just standing in the falling cascade of water.

 

Suddenly he stiffened. It was definitely something. A fleeting movement; felt it. Now nothing. He watched, but only saw vague watery shapes of vegetation, through the rain. Visibility was poor, only a few dozen metres at the best. Nothing.

 

He straightened up, and turned to walk the length of the veranda. A ritual he employed to keep the damp out of his bones. In that same instant, he saw it again. A tree moved. He moved his body as close as he could to the post, in a slow movement. A full minute passed. His eyes started to swim, as he stared into the blackness. Then it was real. A figure, crouching, moved from the blackness, and crossed through two large rain puddles, leaving short lived ripples. Tell tale signs, if one is there in that microsecond of their existence, to observe such. He was. The figure climbed up on a drum and heaved his lithe body out of sight, through the opening at the side of the shed. In this tropical climate, windows paid little part in a building, especially one that housed a generator and fuel drums.

 

The observer, reached down and removed a .45 revolver, from a hip holster. The cover was never buttoned down. Snakes were fast, and you had to be just as fast. Pulling his wide brimmed hat down hard, he quickly stepped off the boards into the mud and slosh, that once was a path. The rain masked any noise he made, but there would have been little. Years of living in extreme conditions, and a need to survive, had taught him well.

 

He walked quickly to the side of the shed, and stood listening against the wall. He knew he wouldn't hear much in the rain, but a single word coming to his ears, was all that was needed, to tell him that he had missed the other shadow. Silence.

 

The rain was easing. Every muscle of his was taunt, as he took slow, deliberate steps towards the opening. He should have crossed to the brick building to the right of the veranda, and woken the others. But he didn't. By that time the intruder would have vanished, to come again perhaps, and succeed in his purpose.  A scraping sound reached his ears, and the noise of a falling object, maybe a spanner, hitting the floor. He froze mid step, revolver aimed at the opening.

 

A small, quiet banging, muffled. He raised his head to the bottom sill, and slid a hand up the side, feeling for the switch, he knew was somewhere here. He couldn't find it. Moving to the side, he cautiously stood up, and put his arm inside. The rain stopped, and he cursed inwardly. He would lose the cover of noise. Some frogs started up a rapid croaking.

 

His fingers slid over the industrial switch. With the revolver pointed at the opening, and his heart pumping so loud, he felt it must give him away, he started to pull down on the toggle.  Pain. A violent push on his shoulders, and he was forced on to the window ledge, winding him. His finger, on the trigger, lost control, and a loud explosion followed. The flash only added to his spinning head. A cry from inside the darkness of the room, as small sinewy hands grabbed his shoulders and yanked him backwards and into the mud. A light appeared, then others, off to his right. Yelling. Next minute, the opening was framed by a black shape, that crouched there, momentarily like an ape, framed for an exhibition. Then a sound behind him, and he instinctively rolled, as a heavy object hit the ground where he was only a

split second ago. Voices growing louder.

 

The shape jumped, stumbled, but quickly regained it's stance. One arm was hanging down and the other, he couldn't see it in the Dark.

 

Then the sound of running feet, and he was left alone. Water seeped into his clothes, and his ears, and his ribs ached. A torch shone into his face, and he screwed up his eyes, against the intrusion.

 

"You alright?" A gruff voice he couldn't place.

 

"Think so." Then a hand grabbing his, and pulling him upright.

 

"What happened? Saw the tail end of somebody disappearing into the jungle.”

 

The voice took on a familiar tone, and Rory Mason struggled to his feet, one hand on his chest. The other should have held a weapon, but didn't. Matt had a torch in one hand, and a machete‚ in the other.

 

Someone materialised from the bushes behind him. It was Spikey, the other worker at the site. "Gone. Never catch him in this.”

 

His cockney accent sounding out of place, in the surrounding darkness, as it competed with a chorus of frogs and insects and other indistinguishable sounds of the night.

 

Rory took the torch, and peered into the opening of the shed.

 

"One was in here," he yelled. "Bastard. Had a mate outside.  Didn't see him.”

 

He found the switch, and pulled down on it. A feeble light, high up in the gabled roof, pushed the darkness into the corners. A lizard, scurried across the floor. "Christ." He withdrew his body, and ran around to the door. The other two, followed.

 

The bolt was thrown back and he ran in, stopping at the generator. It wasn't running, the diesel motor, silent on it's concrete block. It never was run at night, to save fuel. The batteries, a row of wet cells on the shelf at the side, satisfied their requirements.

 

At the base of the generator, three sticks of dynamite were lashed together and forced into one of the windings. There was a long fuse, and on the floor, a cigarette lighter.

 

"Very crude, but effective." Matt's voice echoed in the metal building. It's drawl betrayed the Australian's origin. "This would have wrecked the geny, and without it, no dredging. What Happened?”

 

"Standing on the veranda, as usual. We thought we might have problems, as you know, but you never think it would happen. Saw someone head for the shed, out of the bush, and go in the window." Rory was looking at the dynamite. He withdrew it from the machinery, pulled out the fuse, then looked at Matt. "Smart. Thought he was alone, and catch him. Had someone outside. He pushed me against the frame, and then dragged me down into the mud. Tried to mash me with something, but I rolled just in time.”

 

His chest was aching, and he needed a cigarette. Probably not a good combination, but what the hell.

 

"Heard the shot," said Spikey.

 

"My gun?" and Rory headed for the door. He was back in a minute, holding a dripping weapon. "Lucky. Flew out of my hand when I fell back. I think I could have winged one, the one inside.”

 

Some blood was found on the sill, but even in daylight, it would be unlikely to see any in the dripping foliage.

 

"Police were right, after all," said Matt, "didn't believe them at first. Europeans aren't exactly welcome in this country. Well not up in the highlands, anyway. Malaysians like them in the cities, for business reasons. I suppose we're tolerated, 'cause no local would waste his time pulling tin out of the river.”

 

Rory laughed. "Still wouldn't surprise me if it was the police behind it. Ahmed wasn't smiling the other week, when we picked up the diesel, and drove straight past his truck. Nothing moves in Asia unless it's greased.

 

"Tell that to the company." Matt spat on the floor, and walked outside.