Whatever the cause of the alarm, the noise at least had made the giant hyena monster—the ukufa—more guarded. Khamisi used its distraction to reach one of the overhead bridges. He rolled onto the planks, freeing his rifle. Anxiety kept his senses sharp. Terror, however, had shed from him. Khamisi had noted the creature's ambling gait, the soft rattling growl, a few sharp nervous cackles escalating into whoops.
Normal hyena behavior.
Though monstrous in size, it was not something mythic or supernatural.
Khamisi took strength in its flesh.
On the bridge, he hurried along the planks to where it crossed near the boy's tree. He unhooked a coil of rope from his pack.
Bending over the walkway's steel cabling, he spotted the boy. He whistled sharply, a bird call. The boy's attention had remained focused below. The sudden noise above his head made him flinch. But he glanced up and spotted Khamisi.
"I'm going to get you out of there," he called out in low tones, using English, hoping the boy understood.
Below, something else heard Khamisi, too.
The ukufa stared up at the bridge. Red eyes locked onto Khamisi's. Lids lowered as it studied the man on the bridge. Teeth bared. Khamisi read a calculating attention in its focus.
Was this the creature that had ambushed Marcia?
Khamisi would have liked nothing better than to unload both barrels into its smiling face, but the noise of the large-bore rifle would draw too much attention. The estate was already on full alert. So instead, he placed the rifle at his feet. He would need both arms and shoulders.
"Boy!" Khamisi said. "I'm going to toss you a rope. Snug it around your waist." He mimed what to do. "I'll pull you up."
The boy nodded, eyes wide, face swollen from crying and fear.
Leaning over the edge, Khamisi swung the coil of rope and tossed it toward the boy. The rope unfurled, crashing through the leaves. It failed to reach the boy, nesting up in the branches above.
"You'll have to climb to it!"
The boy needed no goading. With a chance to escape, his effort at climbing grew more determined. He scrambled and kicked and got himself up to the next branch. He tied the rope around his waist, shaking it loose from the branches. He showed some skill with the rope. Good.
Khamisi pulled in the slack, bracing it around one of the steel cable posts supporting the bridge. "I'm going to start pulling you up! You're going to swing out."
"Hurry!" the boy called out, too sharply and too loudly.
Khamisi pivoted on a hip and saw the ukufa had noted the boy's renewed movement. It drew the monster like a cat after a mouse. It had mounted the tree and was climbing up, digging in its claws.
With no time to waste, Khamisi began wheeling the rope up, arm over arm. He felt the boy's weight burden the rope as he was lifted free of his perch. Bending to check, he spotted the boy swinging back and forth like a pendulum.
The ukufa did, too, eyes tracking the arc. It continued its climb. Khamisi read its intent. It was planning to leap and snag the boy, like bait on a line.
Khamisi hauled faster. The boy continued to swing.
"Wie zijn u?"a voice suddenly barked behind him.
Startled, he almost let go of the rope. He craned over a shoulder.
A tall, lithe woman stood on the walkway, dressed in black, feral-eyed. Her hair was blond but shaved close to the scalp. One of the senior Waalenberg children. She must have just stepped onto this section and discovered him. She had a knife already in one hand. Khamisi dared not let go of the rope.
Below, the boy cried out.
Khamisi and the woman glanced down.
The ukufa had reached the boy's former perch and bunched up for its leap. Behind Khamisi, the woman laughed, a match to the cackle of the creature below. The planks creaked as she stepped toward his back, knife in hand.
They were both trapped.
Gray knelt at the crossroads. The elevated walkway split into three paths. The left led back to the manor house. The center walkway skirted the forest's edge and overlooked the central gardens. The path to the right simply headed straight off into the heart of the jungle.
Crouched, Gray studied the slant of shadows, comparing it to the pattern he had studied on the LCD monitor. The length and direction of the shadows had offered a general clue to the position of the rising sun in respect to the location of Fiona's imprisonment. But that still left a large swath of estate to cover.
Feet pounded on the walkway, shaking it slightly.
He had encountered two groups already.
Gray shouldered his rifle, rolled to the edge of the walkway, and dropped off its edge. He hung by his arms to the cabling and worked hand over hand to the leafy shelter of a tree branch. A moment later, a trio of guards clattered by overhead, bouncing the walkway. Gray clung tightly, jiggled about.
Once they were past, he used the tree branch to scoot back onto the path. Hooking and swinging his leg over, he noticed a rhythmic vibration in the cable in his hand. More guards?
Flat on his belly on the planks, he leaned an ear against the cable, listening like an Indian tracker on a trail. There was a distinct rhythm to the vibration, audible, like a plucked string of a steel guitar. Three fast twangs, three slow, three fast again. And it repeated.
Someone was knocking out a signal on the cable.
Gray crouched and sidled back to the branching of the walkway. He felt the other support cables. Only one vibrated. It led off along the path to the right, the one headed into the depths of the jungle.
Could it be…?
With no better clue, Gray set off down the right path. He kept pace near the walkway's edge, attempting to keep his tread silent and the bridge from swaying. The path continued to diverge. Gray paused at each crossing to find the cable vibrating in code and followed its trail.
Gray was so focused on the path, that when he ducked under the heavy frond of a palm leaf he suddenly found himself staring at a guard only four yards away. Brown-haired, midtwenties, typical Hitler youth. The guard leaned on the cable handrail, facing Gray's direction. His gun was already rising, as he'd been alerted by the shuffle of the palm tree.
Gray didn't have time to get his rifle up. Instead, still moving, he slammed his weight to the side—not in an attempt to dodge the coming slug. The guard couldn't miss at this range.
Gray struck the cabled handrail, jarring it.
The guard, braced against it, bobbled. The muzzle of his rifle jittered too high. Gray closed the gap in two steps, getting under the rifleman's guard, the pilfered dagger already in his hand.
Gray used the man's imbalance to silence his scream, planting the dagger through the man's wind box, severing his larynx. A twist and the carotid spurted. He'd be dead in seconds. Gray caught his body and heaved it over the rail. He felt no remorse, remembering the guards laughing as Ryan had dropped into the monster's den. How many others had died that way? The body fell in a shushing whisper of leaves, then crashed into the grassy underbrush.