Monk stared at him.
He waved away the man's concern. But something in Monk's focus suggested that it wasn't just his boss's physical failings that worried him. Was Painter making the right choices? How was his mental status? The doubt touched a chord in himself. How clear was his thinking?
Lisa's hand drifted to his knee, as if sensing his consternation.
"I'm fine," he mumbled—as much to himself as to her.
Further inquiry was interrupted by the room's rug door being shoved open. Sunlight and heat wafted inside. Paula Kane ducked into the dark interior. A Zulu elder followed her in full ceremonial regalia: plumes, feathers, leopard skin decorated with colorful beadwork. Though in his midsixties, his face was unlined, seemingly carved of stone, his head shaved. He carried a wooden staff topped with feathers, but he also bore an antique firearm, looking more ceremonial than functional.
Painter recognized the weapon as he stood up. An old smoothbore English "Brown Bess," a flintlock from the Napoleonic Wars.
Paula Kane introduced the visitor. "Mosi D'Gana. Zulu chief."
The elder spoke in crisp English. "All is ready."
"Thank you for your assistance," Painter said formally.
Mosi nodded his head slightly, acknowledging the words. "But it is not for you we lend our spears. We owe the Voortrekkers for Blood River."
Painter frowned, but Paula Kane filled in the details. "When the English drove the Dutch Boers out of Cape Town, they began a major trek into the interior. Friction escalated between the arriving immigrants and the native tribes. The Xhosa, the Pondo, the Swazi, and the Zulus. In 1838, along a tributary of the Buffalo River, the Zulus were betrayed, thousands killed, their homelands lost. It was a slaughter. The river became known as Blood River. The Voortrekker conspirator of that murderous assault was Piet Waalenberg."
Mosi lifted his old weapon and held it out to Painter. "We do not forget."
Painter did not doubt that this very gun had been involved in that infamous battle. He accepted the weapon, knowing a pact had been forged with the passing of the flintlock.
Mosi settled to the ground, dropping smoothly into a cross-legged position. "We have much to plan."
Paula nodded to Khamisi and held open the rug flap. "Khamisi, your truck is ready. Tau and Njongo are already waiting." She checked her watch. "You'll have to hurry."
The former game warden stood. Each had their own duty to perform before nightfall.
Painter met Monk's gaze. He again read the worry in the man's eyes. But not for Painter—for Gray. Sundown was eight hours away. But there was nothing they could do until then.
Gray was on his own.
"Keep your head down," Gray whispered to Fiona.
They strode toward the guard at the end of the hall. Gray wore one of the camouflage uniforms, from jackboots to black cap, the brim pulled low over his eyes. The guard who had lent Gray the outfit was unconscious, gagged, and hog-tied in a closet of one of the upper bedrooms.
He had also borrowed the guard's radio, clipped to his belt and trailing an earpiece. The chatter on the line was all in Dutch, making it hard to discern, but it kept them abreast of events.
Walking in Gray's shadow, Fiona wore a maid's outfit, borrowed from the same closet. It was a bit large, but it was better to hide her shape and age. Most of the house staff were natives in various shades of dark skin, typical of an Afrikaner household. Fiona's mocha-brown complexion, her Pakistani heritage, fit well enough. She also hid her straight hair under a bonnet. She could pass as native if no one looked too closely. To complete the act, she walked in tiny submissive steps, shoulders slumped, head down.
So far, their disguises had not even been tested.
Word had spread that Gray and Fiona had been spotted in the jungle. With the manor house shuttered down, only a skeleton patrol kept post inside the mansion. Most of the security forces were searching the forests, outbuildings, and borders.
Unfortunately, security was not so thin here as to leave an outside phone line open. Shortly after using Ischke's key card to gain entry back inside the mansion, Gray had tested a few house phones. Access required passing through a coded security net. Any attempt to gain an outside line would only expose them.
So their options were few.
They could hide. But to what end? Who knew when or if Monk would make it to civilization? So a more proactive role was needed. The plan was to first gain a schematic of the mansion. That meant penetrating the security nest on the main floor. Their only weapons were a sidearm carried by Gray and a hand Taser in Fiona's pocket.
Ahead, at the end of the hall, a sentry manned the upper balcony, guarding over the main entryway with an automatic rifle. Gray strode up to the man.
He was tall, stocky, and his heavy-lidded eyes made him look piggish and mean. Gray nodded and continued toward the stairs. Fiona followed at his heels.
All went well.
Then the man said something in Dutch. The words were beyond Gray, but they had a lurid ring to them, ending in a guttural low laugh.
Half turning, Gray saw the guard reach to Fiona's bottom and give it a firm pinch. Another hand went for her elbow.
Wrong thing to do.
Fiona swung to the man. "Piss off, you wanker."
Her skirt brushed the man's knee. A blue spark burned through her pocket and zapped the man's thigh. His body arched back, a strangled noise gargled forth.
Gray caught him as he fell back, still convulsing in his arms. Gray dragged him off the landing and into a side room. He dropped him to the floor, pistol-whipped him unconscious, and began gagging him and tying him up.
"Why did you do that?" Gray asked.
Fiona stepped behind Gray and pinched his butt, hard and sharp.
"Hey!" He stood and swung around.
"How do you like it?" Fiona fumed.
Point taken. Still he cautioned, "I can't keep tying up these bastards."
Fiona stood with her arms crossed. Her eyes, though angry, were also scared. He couldn't blame her for her jumpiness. He wiped some cold sweat from his brow. Maybe they had better just hide and hope for the best.
Gray's radio crackled. He listened hard. Had their attack by the staircase been noted? He translated through the garble, "…ge'vangene…bringing in the main door…"
More followed, but Gray barely heard much past the word ge'vangene.
That could only mean one thing.
"They caught Monk…" he whispered, going cold.
Fiona uncrossed her arms, face concerned.
"C'mon," he said and headed toward the door. He had relieved the downed guard of his Taser and shouldered the man's rifle.