Cherry Smack

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Kelly (Part I)

“I got an old school pal, Derek he’s an investigative journalist working out of the Congo, into some very edgy stuff. He’s got a lead on some very illegal activity and he wants us to film it,”

“What’s the team?”

“Derek interviews. I’ll direct you’ll be on camera and we need a Boom Op,”

“Boom Op?”

“Soundie, we use them on location.” Jimmy looked blank. “Do you know anyone that can hold a pole?”

Jimmy rang Kelly before departure and offered up the role. He broke straight into it, offering it up as consolation to the infomercial.”

“Let me get this straight. I didn’t get the infomercial, that’s all over? Now you want me to drop everything and meet you in the Congo?”

Jimmy shook his head slightly apprehensive. “Yeah pretty much, that’s right.”

“Okay Jimmy I trust you.”

She bunked college and agreed to meet them out there after prep.


The flight was rough, the food distinctly French. “What are we filming exactly?”

“Don’t know till Derek calls but the DRC is very unstable, many parts are lawless. Whatever it is I can guarantee it will be full on.”

They touched down in N’djili, DRC. Jimmy caught a blast of heat as he stepped onto the air stairs. The sky was perfectly blue, the heat intensely penetrating. They jumped on a transit bus heading inland toward the hotel. On the outskirts, crop workers sowed manioc and sorghum in lush green fields. They weaved in and out of bustling villages, past patchy green sand buffs along the Congo River to the city, Kinshasa, King Leopold’s claimed land. First they hit the squatting zone; tin-roofed concrete-block houses. Side paths were littered with trash, children playing in mud streets discounting the all-pervading stench of raw sewage. Parliament and the President’s Palace crept up slow, looming with intent. High rises and Imperialist brick buildings lined the way leading to a procession of 100ft bronze statues of fallen rulers. President Lumumba, one arm raised uplifting in a Mandela like pose and the incumbent Mobutu a much maligned tyrant and puppet of the west.

They checked in to a Novotel. Jimmy took a shower and gazed out the window overlooking the neighbouring orange grove. Working in Africa smacked deeply of the old colonial past; living a life of lawn tennis and garden parties, working alongside NGOs and Ambassadors. He could not believe his luck. He went from scrounging an existence to a life he could only dream of.

They mingled with a large film crew making a film about renowned anthropologist Dian Fossey. The crew were staying at the same hotel. Peter got chatting with Rob Gore the Director. He was in need of escape so invited them out to shoot GV’s in his downtime.

“So you’re waiting for the SP? Reminds me of when I started out, covering crazy shit to get noticed. Be careful, up in the mountains it’s a war zone. The rules don’t apply.”

“What about here?”

“We stick out like a sore thumb. It’s hard to do anything under the radar. Tread carefully. Remember this is Africa they do things differently here.”

“Have you had any trouble?”

“A little, you start snooping, digging up shit on people around you it draws attention. We had the head of the Military, Colonel Ikolo round yesterday creating problems, pulling shit out of thin air. He stopped us filming. He said we didn’t have the right permits, £30k to shoot per day and he wants us to stop filming, fucking cunt.”

“What did you do?”

“Phillipe, our fixer paid him off and it all went away. They’re all looking for handouts, it’s curious.”

“How do you mean?”

“At first you think they’re on the level, that there’s a problem, but it’s code. They can’t ask for a bribe outright, instead there’s a problem, red-tape, simply code for I want money.

“What if you don’t have any?“

“Beware, they are fucking scary and will threaten to off you, chop chop like that. Some have disappeared so watch yourself.”

Peter waited in his room for Derek to call via satellite phone. At exactly 1.30 pm it came. He ran through the details and managed to scribble his coordinates down just before the line went dead. Peter convened with Jimmy on the rooftop bar.

“What’s the gig?”

Ghost Guns. Derek’s made contact with three brothers. They make guns from scratch; 1911 handhelds, the Marines use them. They got the templates. They’ve been doing it for years from a hideout.”

“Who do they make them for?”

“The US mainly. Gangsters love them because they can’t be traced. You buy a gun from a back room, it could have been used in a murder. The Police catch you, you go down for murder. They don’t care, that’s one less crime to solve. Ghost guns are completely blank, no serial number, no history. They sell them here for $50. After they’re shipped to Miami they fetch up to $2000. Worth a lot of money.”

“When do we start?” He chucked him the keys.

They piled into a minivan and drove deep into the interior toward North Kivu.

“You nervous?” asked Peter.

“About what?”

“Rob’s little pet talk. it didn’t put you off? We are going into the mountains.”

As always Jimmy just went with the flow. “Nah, I can take it.”

“Good it may get a bit hairy.”

Truth was Jimmy ran scared like the rest but ultimately believed no matter how many times he came close he’d always find a way out. It simply was not his time.

They stopped at the base of a beaten path, slammed the kit into a holdall and climbed up a steep incline to a hilltop cabin.

Derek was a posh kid from Peter’s old Grammar School, a tall man who bore a marked resemblance to Klaus Kinski. He sat in a wicker cheer, smoking hard, knocking back banana beer;

“The plans changed. The Police were moving in so the brothers relocated. I was with them when you called. We were intercepted by Militia. I just managed to get away, told them I worked for the BBC; lucky I carry my old ID card. I said I had a camera crew and I would film their plight.”

“Ok when do we leave?” said Peter.

“We’re not leaving.”

“Sorry?”

“I know you came all this way but it’s not worth it,” He said packing up.

“You’re fucking kidding right?”

“No I’m fucking not, now we’d better go. Trust me now is not the time to argue, when they realise what I’m up to they’ll come looking.”

“Why didn’t they come back with you?”

“I don’t know, maybe they left a cake in the oven, just leave it.” Peter stood bitchin, unconvinced, waiting for a proper explanation. “They’re only grunts, believe you me once they get back to camp their commander will go ape. You got a million, half a million? Your folks sell their farm maybe? They are Militia, we are rich westerners, they will kidnap us and if we don’t cough up we’re dead, do you understand. Now let’s move before it’s too late.”

“What about the gun makers?” asked Jimmy.

“Why the concern?”

“Their fate could have been ours,”

“Very good. You got a survivor there Pete. Don’t worry they’ll be okay won’t they Pete?” Peter was silent, deflated racking his brains for an alternate plan.

”Yeah Derek’s right as long as they’re useful they’re alive.”

“And if they are no longer useful?”

“They’re dead.”

“Count yourself fortunate, like you said their fate could be ours,” said Derek.

“Do we tell the Police when we get back?” said Jimmy.

“What are they gonna do? said Peter.

“Indeed,” agreed Derek.

They heard a commotion, yelling then the crack of gunshots. First one, then a volley. One of the brothers had escaped. Derek could see him in the distance running toward them, falling over himself, stumbling downhill through the trees.

“Shit move it.”

They flew out the back door and raced down the hill back to the minivan. Jimmy carried the equipment. Once they had cleared sight, Derek stopped and looked back to see what was happening.

“It’s Luc.”

“What are you doing?” said Peter.

“Get your camera.”

“Fuck.” He ran on and grabbed Jimmy.

“We’re on.”

Jimmy looked on in dismay but saw little choice but to follow orders. He pulled out the camera and held it up following the ricochets and tree splinters, all the while remaining hidden in the undergrowth.

Peter whispered. “I’m going back up. If something goes wrong, run.”

Luc ran crouched down amid a hail of bullets. He made for the cabin and dived in.

“Come out and you can live,” Yelled the Commander.

Fire came back. Luc had found a loaded 1911 he stashed for emergencies. The Militia had him pinned down. Derek moved up and threw a message wrapped round a stone through the window. Luc crawled across on his stomach, read the note waited for a lull and looked out the back window. Derek beckoned him across.

“When he comes out run like hell. Start the van and leave the doors open.”

Luc went to climb through the window but was shot. He fell back onto the floor.

Derek looked on desperately. “No.”

“They’re coming. We got to go.” cried Peter.

Peter grabbed Derek and pulled him down the hill as he looked back. They slipped down past Jimmy as he kept filming. Peter motioned him to leave it and follow. They clambered back into the van and took off at speed before they were spotted.

“He’s okay.” said Jimmy passing back the camera to Derek.

He rewound it the tape and looked through the view finder. He saw Luc being carried back to camp. “Lucky beggar. He’s still alive.”

They drove back exasperated, coming down off the rush.

“You do stuff like this all the time?” asked Jimmy.

“No, I’ve been working on this story for two years, following leads, gaining their trust. When you’ve invested so much time you take the risk but now we have nothing.”

“Can we build on the footage?” asked Peter.

“No, what we got footage of, a fire fight? We need the whole story. That’s why I hung back. If he had made it we could have picked up the story.”

“You hung back for the story. I thought you were trying to save him,” said Jimmy.

“He was trying to save the story,” laughed Peter. “You are fucking insane you know that?”

“I carry the weight of my conviction. Two years down the fucking drain and you’re upset?”

They were shattered and bedded down at the Novotel for the night. Peter stayed up wrestling with his decision to leave the studio. He was ambivalent, on the one hand tinged with regret on the other hopefully optimistically, holding out for a solution. He still had his freedom and was intent on using it. He racked his brain in search of a quick fix. There remained one possibility, although he thought it too tame for the Derek’s maverick tastes, he had to try. He invited Derek to meet Rob Gore over breakfast and consider an alternative. They gathered round a table in the courtyard. The waiter placed a basket of bread rolls and Danish whilst Jimmy decanted piping hot coffee from the urn.

“We’ve been filming for three weeks and courted a lot of attention; you know what with the Circus being in town. We came across a hunting pack, a French outfit. They call themselves Formidable, a very secretive mob. They hunt officially for legal Big game, but in reality they shoot anything that moves. Our tracker says they plan to hunt Gorillas,”

“So it’s a front?” said Derek.

“Exactly, they have free reign. Officials are bought off to look the other way.”

Derek looked on dismissive. “Mmm, very interesting but fact is three hundred Gorillas are killed every year, mostly by the locals for bush meat. No-one really cares,”

“Francois Boutillion is with them.”

Derek bucked up. “Stone the crows, are you sure?”

“Yes. Absolutely sure.”

“Well that changes everything.”

It came as news to Peter too. Francois was a huge Hollywood A-lister. He arrived overnight and was spotted in a beige ticking safari suit. It wasn’t a cutting edge story, more a tabloid scoop but given the lack of alternatives they jumped on it.

Jimmy collected Kelly from the Airport and rushed to a bash thrown by the Swedish Ambassador on the Hotel grounds. A steel band played in the forecourt. Drinks and hor d’oeuvres were served on silver platers by uniformed waiters. Jimmy hired a tuxedo and Kelly borrowed a sequined gown Jimmy laid on from the Fossey wardrobe. They caught Rob discussing supposed murderer of Dian mid-conversation.

“The poacher was framed, everyone knows it wasn’t him. You ask the people. What do you think Jimmy?” asked Rob.

“Definitely, why on earth would a poacher hang himself? They’re not exactly the guilt ridden type are they? Anyway your fixer Phillipe, let it slip, says it’s common knowledge.”

Derek interjected. “Rumours all too often turn fiction into fact. You need facts not here-say.”

“Well, we believe it goes all the way to the top, but the minute you speak they close ranks. Someone knows and we are going to find out who,” said Rob.

“I think we best leave it there. The walls have ears gentlemen,” suggested the Ambassador.

Jimmy led Kelly away to the bar. “I’m flipping out. I can’t believe you know these people.”

“It’s just the way things are here. You see that girl over there, Irish, an IT geek. She’s nothing back home; here she heads a government department earns £2k a week, lives in a villa with servants and a cleaner. It’s a different world, but here, it’s normal.”

“Who’s the Director?”

“Rob Gore, he gave us the lead. He’s supposed to be some big-time Director from Hollywood, worked with Niche once. Says he took the job because he wanted to tell the story, saw it as an artistic challenge. He’s a nice guy but rumour is on the wagon, washed up and this is all he could get.”

“He hides it well.”

“He started as an actor.”

“What about you? When you called I thought it was over, now look. Who would have thought?”

“You wouldn’t have said that yesterday. You should have seen us.”

Jimmy seized a platter of passing crudités. Kelly grabbed the wine and they

slipped to a quiet corner. He calmly explained what happened.

“Holy crap.”

“Don’t worry it’s all history.”

“Is this Derek guy on the level?”

“He’s something else let me tell ya.”

“Sounds nuts.”

“Fierce, a hairs breath from suicidal in my opinion, Peter’s not much better.”

“Certifiable?” asked Kelly snapping a breadstick.

“Desperate to succeed.”

“I know that feeling but seriously why would you risk your life?”

“It’s an obsession. He believes in it so strong nothing else matters.”

“Is he on some kind of glory hunt?”

“Maybe, still I’m glad I’m here. It beats 9 to 5.”

“l know it’s great. We’re getting paid to go on Safari.” She sipped her glass of Merlot. “How do you manage to land these gigs?”

“It leads on,” he said tugging on a Gitane.

He rose to his feet and took her hand leading around the grounds, past the tennis courts and playing fields.

“What?”

“Something Simon said. Saying yes always leads on. He was right,”

“Simon from school?”

“Yeah. Saying yes and a touch of desperation actually,”

“You have some good friends.”

Jimmy smiled in fond reflection. “Yes I do, I’m lucky.”

”You know Simon’s with Lucy now, they’re getting engaged?”

Jimmy choked on his wine. “You sure you got the right bloke? I thought it was casual?”

“It was. She’s got a bun in the oven.”

Jimmy was eager to divert attention worried he had blown Simon’s cover. He offered a toast. “To Simon and Lucy.”

Jimmy stayed up all night with the fixer, Phillipe off the Fossey crew shooting craps against a wall with some locals. He went straight from the game to work, loading kit into the Minivan. As a parting gesture Phillipe slipped him some Jazz, MD cut with Speed. He popped one in and washed it down with vodka.

Jazz my friend, very cool combo. The Speed keeps you awake then the MD kicks in and boom.”

“Boom?”

“Yeah, it gets a bit crazy.”

“Crazy good?”

“Mostly, it varies don’t worry you should be back by then.”

“Oh good, thanks, a time bomb. I wish you’d told me before I took it.”

They clambered into the van and trekked deep into the interior on safari to pick up Formidable’s trail. On the way they stopped at a picturesque beauty spot for water. A stream of African village kids appeared. They gathered round, giggling, whispering into each other’s ears. It fell silent, then broke spontaneously singing a tribal incantation. Jimmy and Kelly closed their eyes bathing in sweet resonance. They tilted their heads up, light in the clouds. Upon closing they vanished into the mist; casting a spell, captivating the most cynical of minds. Kelly looked at Jimmy and squeezed his hand tight.

The tracker hung out of the back, walkie-talkie crackling receiving information from spotters on where the animals were last sighted. Suddenly he stopped and pointed. They followed his naked line of sight with binoculars and way in the distance on a ridge they could see a tree and behind that a small moving dot. It was their first sighting. They drove furiously up and round to the hill crest, walked a few yards, to see a baby Giraffe splitting thorns from an Acacia tree. They stood in awe watching as it moved gracefully through the savannah only feet away. The tracker signalled to the group, pointing out Formidable creeping forward through the scrub. Kelly ran back to the minivan and sounded the horn to spook it. A shot rang off in the distance.

“What are you doing?” yelled Derek.

“It’s a baby?”

“Exactly.” The calf escaped. “Shit, fuck,” He threated exasperated. “I call the shots round here. You got that?”

Derek’s callous disregard for the infant upset her. She was no shrinking violet but refused to stand idle and witness such depravity for his sake. She questioned if she had the stomach for it.

They sped past herds of Wilder beasts and pulled up at Lake Edward on the water’s edge. The mountains cast still reflection broken by black herons trailing feet, seeking lift. The tracker pointed out crocodiles in stealth mode, motionless, eyes above the surface. Beyond that a bloat of hippos, some bathing others fighting, attacking other hippos.

The speed kicked in sudden, Jimmy started running his mouth, offering Kelly support. “I don’t get it?”

“What?” asked Derek.

“Taking on a croc with a blade, I’d respect that, but with a gun where’s the sport in that?”

“They are hunting in the wild, out witting their prey.”

“From two hundred yards with a scope?”

“I didn’t say I agreed. Anyway what if the animal were hunting you? How would you feel then?”

Just then, a few feet away on the shoreline, a crocodile lunged from nowhere and grabbed an Impala by the throat, suffocating it in the shallows. It struggled bucking and thrashing while the others ran away. The tracker said not to be nervous as the ’Hippo is to be feared more than the crocodile.’ Jimmy was not thrilled with either prospect and began questioning his ranking in the food chain. He tried not to let on but The MD had kicked in premature. The tracker warned them. ‘Better not get too close, they can spring out of the bushes.’ Suddenly he noticed they were surrounded by bushes and scoped them with satellite accuracy. The thrill of the Giraffe was shifting to ever present danger. He looked back toward the van, calculating if he had enough time to make the run. The trees above had vultures or condors; a big scary line of Hitchcock’s Birds preparing for attack. A condor flew out from the bushes as if spooked. Right behind him he could spot the jaw of a gapping crocodile, swelling in size but not getting bigger, a puzzling contradiction holding him petrified. He put on his sunglasses to conceal his anxiety.

The bushes rustled. “It’s them,” exclaimed the tracker.

A shoot rang out clearing the landscape of danger. A group of men in matching safari suits stepped out from behind. Derek and Peter held back, filming from a distance. Jimmy went across with the others.

Francois, a handsome rugged man, approached Kelly smiling, leading the pack.

“Enchanté.”

“We caught you on the ridge before near the Giraffe,” said Kelly.

“Yes, magnificent wasn’t it.”

“Why did you shoot?”

“We are hunting game we go where the hunt takes us.”

“It was a calf, you’re murderers.”

“We have a license and will use it anywhere we feel fit.”

“Like Virunga maybe?” implied Jimmy.

He smiled and tipped his hat. “Good day to you sir.”

They walked back to their jeep and drove off. Peter and Derek raced over “Tell me you got the audio?”

Kelly held up the recorder from her side pack. “Of course.”

“Thank you.”

“So I’m forgiven?”

“You made the right call this time. You got lucky but don’t let it happen again. Like it or not you two are now part of the story, in front the camera. We leave for Virunga tomorrow.”

The Virunga Mountains was home to many families of Mountain Gorilla. They trekked deep into the interior in a capable 4x4 and arrived at base camp in the early hours. They were accompanied by two well equipped Army Rangers.

“What’s the guns for?” asked Kelly.

“Poachers, it’s all show. The authorities know this will wind up on TV and want to look legit,” whispered Peter.

“I’m surprised they’re letting us film. They may be implicated,” said Kelly.

“They’re going to make an example of them.” said Derek. “We are political pawns my dear. Mobutu hates the west. When the news breaks it will go global, with the white man cast as the Villain. It’s too good to resist.”

They traversed the red earth terrain pass straw huts and local tribesman to the base of the Virunga Mountains. The tracker began clearing a path, chopping through the undergrowth as they began their ascent. He checked in on his radio trying to locate the family. The tracker sniffed faeces hidden in the earth. ‘We’re close.’

They hit a clearing, ground to a halt and were told to get down. Behind, the bushes swayed. Jimmy turned round to discover a female climbing gracefully through the thicket behind. Kelly tapped him on the shoulder; he turned back and in front sat the entire family; two females, two babies and a magnificent Silverback. They gazed transfixed as they groomed each other only meters away; privileged to peak into this mysterious world. The babies came across, drawn in curious. Without warning the Silverback ran straight at Jimmy. He stopped a few feet away scowling, beating his chest then turned away and walked back. Jimmy was panicked but had nowhere to go as his back was against a tree. The tracker waved Jimmy to the side and the Silverback returned, walking straight past, merely inches away.

“You blocked his way. That’s his path,” the tracker explained.

The family followed the Silverback round and the second baby stopped to play with Kelly, he was inquisitive, warm and trusting. It felt no different from playing with her Sister’s new-born. She looked into his fuzzy little face and felt protective, nurturing. He climbed up her arms as she reached out.

A shot cracked, then another. The first baby ran toward his mother and fell. A third shot bought the mother down, shot through the head. She fell to the ground silent. The second baby ran over shrieking with Kelly in hot pursuit. Kelly was tossed aside by the Silverback. Jimmy ran across waved his arms yelling to distract him. He came bounding over intent on stomping out any threats. Before he could strike a forth bullet bought the Silverback down. The rangers quickly dragged Kelly and Jimmy out of harm’s way and radioed for help.

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