Disclaimer: The characters of Xena and Gabrielle are the property of
Universal Studios and Renaissance Pictures. No copyright infringement is
intended. The characters and events in the Journeys Series are the creation
of the author.
As always a good deal of credit has to go to Lisa, Inga and Susan, my
beta readers and friends, who work hard on these stories with me. Special
thanks to Karen and Sharon for their medical expertise.
Warning: This story is alternative fiction. Please do not read on if
you are under age or if such material is illegal in your end of the swamp.
You can contact Anne Azel at <email@example.com>
or visit the Anne Azel's World web site at <www.jes.com.au/~azel>
Anne's books are also available through <http://rapbooks.biz>
Sarah woke to a sensation of the pleasant soreness between her legs
and the lingering scent of sex. She sighed contentedly. It had been a night
of rediscovery and of passion that had not been easily satisfied. She rolled
over meaning to pull Alex close. The other half of the bed was empty. Sarah
flopped back on the bed with a groan. Just like that infuriating woman
to love and leave her. She didn't have time to warm to this unfair argument,
however, because her dark thoughts were interrupted by the rattle of china.
The flap of their tent was unzipped and a graceful jean clad leg slipped
through. It was followed by a tray brimming over with dishes and that was
followed by the rest of Alex. "Good Morning, Lover. I thought breakfast
in bed would be nice."
Sarah smiled and tried to brush her blond hair into order. "I thought
you'd loved and left me."
Alex looked shocked. "As if." She leaned forward and dropped a kiss
on Sarah's head.
"Mmmm, thanks. You pour some of that life saving coffee while I freshen
up. I can't think why but I didn't sleep a wink last night." Sarah rolled
out of bed and headed for their bathroom. Alex's sexy laugh followed her.
Alex took the opportunity to slip outside once again. When Sarah returned,
Alex was standing there with a huge self-satisfied grin on her face and
a bunch of flowers in her hand that she had stolen off a table in the dining
tent. Beside her the table was set for breakfast for two. Sarah walked
over, took the flowers from Alex's hand and reached up to kiss her lover
long and hard. "You are definitely a keeper."
Alex smiled and held the chair for Sarah with dramatic flair. "I hope
so." She dropped a kiss on the golden head before going to take her own
Alex had a thousand questions. When could Sarah wrap up her research and come back to Canada? Did she want Alex to put out some feelers for jobs in Yellowknife for her? What colour did she want their bedroom painted? Did she want her own dog team or could they share?
Did she need money for plane tickets? Could they have a joining ceremony?
But she said nothing and tucked into her breakfast with a wide happy smile
on her face. Sarah had to make her own decisions and Alex couldn't push.
She had learned this the hard way.
"George is going to wonder what happened to us," Sarah snorted.
"I talked to him and told him we wanted a morning off. He has promised
to take us looking for a leopard this afternoon. If we get a sighting then
I'll have seen the big five: The leopard. elephant, lion, rhino, and Cape
Sarah laughed. "Don't tell me you have come down with a case of the
Alex looked at her with thoughtful eyes sparkling with happiness. "Yeah,
I guess I have. At least I can see how Africa could get under your skin
and you'd have to keep coming back." She sat in thoughtful silence for
a moment. "Here you feel somehow close to your roots, alive...it's hard
Sarah nodded. "Many of us feel that way. I would stay but Africa is
not where I belong. There is no real future here for me and I am very much
afraid that there are very dark times ahead for this marvellous continent.
I hope I can come back and visit many times because I do have the African
disease. Still, I would be foolhardy to believe that I could make a life
here, especially now. There is great social and political unrest brewing
all over this continent. AIDS, poverty, drought and famine, corruption,
lack of education and development; the old colonial countries are crumbling
under the strain. Africa is not safe."
Alex nodded sadly. She felt Sarah's pain. In just a few days, she had
come to see a little bit of why one could fall in love with the continent.
A change of topic was needed. "I got up early and phoned through to the
hospital in Nairobi. Our patient came through the surgery okay and is in
serious but stable condition. It is early days yet because infection will
be a big concern but he does have a chance."
Sarah's troubled eyes softened and she reached over and squeezed Alex's
hand. "I'm glad. Now tell me a bit about your life. A girl wants to know
what she might be getting into, you know."
Alex smiled and launched into a rather disjointed description of her
life in the north of Canada. It was heavy on factual content and rather
light on description but Sarah could read between the lines and realized
that Alex had found a place that she belonged.
Sarah found herself getting excited about the opportunities and challenges
of a life in the north. There was certainly potential for anthropological
research if she could find a job up there. She would need to look into
possible research grants and send off some resumes and see what developed.
This decision to look into the possibilities of a job in Yellow knife cheered
her. For some months now, she had been harbouring a growing depression.
She knew her work in Kenya was almost over and yet she had no clear options
for the future. Late at night, when one is vulnerable to such thoughts,
she would realize that her chance at happiness with her soul mate had failed,
her research was nearly complete, and she was too different a person to
go home. Then the roots of her depression would spread and form a lump
in her throat. The escape of sleep was always far away.
Now here was Alex offering her a chance to reclaim the happiness of
their early days together and promising her a life that was full of happiness
and challenge. Did she dare risk it? Did she want it for the right reasons
or just for the security of knowing what lay ahead for her?
"What are you thinking?'
Sarah looked up into a pair of beautiful blue eyes full of love and
concern. She hadn't realized that she had fallen silent, lost in her own
thoughts. She smiled. If Alex had really changed, yes, this was what she
wanted. What she had always wanted and she was going for it. "I was thinking
that if we did live together we'd need a cat too, to keep all those dogs
Alex smiled broadly as she got up and came around the table to scoop
Sarah up into her arms. "I will do my best to make you never regret giving
me a second chance. I know I can do that with you as my partner supporting
me." Alex carried Sarah to bed and it was late in the morning when they
stood under the shower together washing off their love making with fragrant
body soap and kisses.
After a leisurely lunch under the shade of a big rain tree, they met
George by the jeep. This time they headed towards the rocky up-crops to
the south-west of the park and not out onto the grasslands. The going was
rough and they bounced along slowly. Every once in a while, George would
stop the jeep and look around, checking the nooks and crannies for tell
tale signs of activity. "The leopard is very shy and blends so well into
the terrain that they are very hard to see," he explained.
Their afternoon was not wasted while they searched. They saw warthogs
comically running with their tails straight in the air. "It helps them
find each other in the tall grass," Sarah explained. There were also Kudu
grazing, hyenas lounging around their dens, savannah baboons picking up
seeds in a swampy meadow, and little furry rock hyrax scampering about
on the rocks.
It was in the late afternoon that George pointed to vultures circling
in the sky over a high ridge of rock. "The leopard has made a kill out
on the plains and has now brought it home to eat." Carefully, George manoeuvred
their Land Rover up the rocky slope to the west and they bumped along the
top of the ridge to a small copse of old trees.
George stopped the jeep and pointed. There ahead of them on a twisted
tree, they saw the dead body of a Common Duiker, a small deer-like creature,
draped over a long, horizontal branch. "The leopard is a nocturnal animal
and very sly and sneaky. They will hunt cows, goats and even village dogs
if food is short and will stay in a developed area long after the lions
and herd animals have moved on," George explained in a whisper.
There was a rustle in the branches, and out stepped the leopard into
plain view. It slunk confidently along the branch, dug its claws into the
wood like a cat and had a big stretch. Then it settled down in the shade
on a branch just above where its kill hung. Its coat was a rich mixture
of gold, tan, and beige with an elaborate pattern of rust and black spots.
Lying on its belly with its paws draped over each side of the branch, it
looked for all the world like a stuffed children's toy. But when its head
turned and cold, gold flicked eyes stared straight into Alex's lens, she
shivered. For all its beauty this animal was a lethal killer.
Alex snapped a good many pictures. George chuckled. "We are lucky, Mama
leopard does not very often show herself for the tourists." Happy, tired
and feeling very successful, they headed back to the camp to wash and change
After a leisurely dinner and evening, the women returned to the tent.
Alex carried with her a bottle of chilled white wine. In the tent, she
turned down the lantern and lit candles, then she slipped in a Melissa
Etheridge CD on her player. A rough, smoky voice crooned softly into the
African night. Alex pulled the cork on the wine and offered the bottle
to Sarah with a sexy, challenging smirk.
The anthropologist took the bottle and lifted it to her lips, taking
a long, hungry drink. Alex moved in to kiss away the sweet wine on her
lips, then took the bottle from Sarah and downed a good deal of it holding
it with one hand while the other encircled the woman she loved. Their
moved against each other swaying to the music, Sarah's sex hard against
Alex's leg. They shared the bottle of wine getting heady and mellow as
they danced. Slowly, clothes were discarded and they danced naked teasing
and tantalizing each other with rhythmic need. The music stopped. Their
dance went on until Alex carried Sarah to bed and their bodies became one
in an ancient dance of passion.
In the small hours of the morning, Alex lay wrapped around Sarah her
face nuzzled into Sarah's soft hair. "I love you."
Sarah turned in her arms and the kiss that followed was long and tender.
"I love you too."
"Sarah, I don't want to live without you in my life. If you want, I'll
relocate to Kenya or anywhere you feel you would like to continue your
work. I want us to establish a home together."
Sarah smiled and teased. "I thought you had a home."
Alex pulled her close. "It's a house. Home is where you are."
Sarah pulled back and looked deeply into Alex's eyes. "Are you happy
Her lover squirmed a little. "Yes, I am happy there. I like my work
and the people. I'll never get rich but every day is a new adventure and
challenge. It would be hard to give up my dogs," she added with a self
"Then I think we should try it there. See if I can find meaningful work
and be happy. Are you willing to take that chance, Alex?"
Alex leaped out of bed in excitement "Do you mean it? You and me, a
home, in Yellowknife?"
Sarah laughed, delighted at Alex's excitement. "We could give it a try."
"Yes!" yelled Alex, waking up any nearby tourist who had planned to
sleep the night through and dancing stark naked around the tent in glee.
She ended with a Tarzan swing from the pole onto the bed and into Sarah's
waiting arms. "So how about you show me how you really feel?" Sarah laughed,
and Alex proved herself up to the challenge.
Some hours later, they had crawled out of their bed blurry-eyed and
contented. While Alex organized her camera equipment, Sarah went over to
the small office hut to see if James had brought the binoculars for her
to give to Margaret. Sure enough the night clerk handed over a black leather
case. It was unusually heavy. Sarah placed it on the counter and tried
the latch. It was locked. They must be a very valuable set of field glasses,
Sarah surmised, and hoisting the strap over her shoulder, she went to met
Alex and George.
George bounced the Land Rover through the dark African night to the
river crossing. There they piled out, Sarah shouldering the binocular case
once again. "I think James has rock samples in here. They must be some
sort of special set of field glasses. I tried to have a peak but the case
Alex followed Sarah out of the jeep. "Do you want me to carry them?"
"No, that's okay."
With difficulty, they climbed down a steep embankment in the dark to
the river's edge. A boatman waited to take them across the river. They
climbed into a small, flat bottomed punt and the man pulled the river ferry
across hand over hand on a rope slung from one side of the river to the
other. "You be careful, Misses. The hippos are out of the water and feeding
The women called their thanks, and scrambled up the mud bank on the
other side and walked down a forest path to where the balloons were being
made ready. The air was fresh and cool and laden with the scent of new
grass. Their path had been thoughtfully lined with candles. Sarah took
Alex's hand and they walked along enjoying the romance of the candle light
as a silvery moon set in the west. Dawn light broke and just barely illuminated
the massive balloon that was being unfolded in a near by field. "This is
the largest hot air balloon in the world. It can carry sixteen people in
a basket with four compartments. Our trip is about an hour long and when
we touch down there will be a champagne breakfast waiting for us."
They let go of each other's hands as they emerged from the forest trail
into the opening where dark figures highlighted by the massive propane
flames scurried about, some getting the hot air inside the balloon, others
waiting nearby for their chance to board.
"Ahhhh, here are the last two! Hi Sarah, what kept you? It's almost
five o'clock sleepyhead."
Alex could feel more than see Sarah's blush in the dark. "There is lots
of time yet, the balloon is only half inflated. Alex this is Brad. He is
a fellow Canadian from Alberta and will be piloting our balloon."
Alex extended her hand. "Hi Brad. You are a long way from home."
Brad laughed. "What can I say. There was a strong easterly blowing that
day and I have wanderlust. The next thing I knew, I was working in Africa.
Let me introduce you to the rest of the passengers flying today. This is
Mr. And Mrs. Lee from Singapore and Senator and Mrs. Cardale from Pennsylvania.
And the others are members of Senator Cardale's staff. I'll let him do
Hellos were said and the group spent their time exchanging stories about
their experiences while they watched the massive and colourfully striped
balloon slowly rise in front of them. The Lees had been at a game camp
for almost a month photographing for a wildlife magazine. The Cardales
were on a trade mission to Kenya and had stolen a few days from their work
to over night at one of the camps. "I told Roger that I would never forgive
him if he brought me to Africa and I didn't get to see a lion in the wild,"
Lorna Cardale laughed.
It was a congenial party that boarded the large wicker basket and drifted
slowly up into the dawn sky. There below them the Masai Mara spread out
like a green carpet in all directions. The muddy river twisted and turned
across the landscape and from their silent, floating observation deck,
they watched hippos wading back into the river after a night of foraging
and crocodiles lumbering up on the banks to warm in the morning sun. A
lone Cape buffalo bleated his rage as the shadow of the hot air balloon
drifted overhead and herds of zebra and wildebeest quietly grazed on the
thick grasses. A pair of waterbuck stood alert, aware of the pride of lions
"It is unlikely they will be attacked," Sarah reassured Lorna Cardale.
"The lions do not like the thick mane of hair around their necks." A herd
of Thomson's Gazelle nearby were far more vulnerable, Sarah knew.
Alex stood close beside Sarah, leaning over the side and watching colourful,
exotic birds lift from the forage of the forest they were now passing over.
Elephants could be seen feeding on the leaves and bark below. Out of the
corner of her eye, she noted the silent group of men and women that accompanied
the Cardale's. Some of them were clearly civil servants others, however,
had that watchful, serious look of security personnel. Cardale was more
than a Senator on a trade mission, Alex decided.
There was no sudden revelation just the slow dropping of pieces into
place. A ball of ice formed in Alex's gut as she looked down at the binocular
case that swung on Sarah's hip. Clues one by one fell into place: the recent
terrorist events in the area, Phillips' interest in what Sarah knew, the
search of their room, the letter of warning, the fact that the balloon
trip was booked well in advance and that Phillips knew Sarah would be on
the flight as would the Cardales. Phillip's sudden windfall and retirement,
and the request for Sarah to carry the heavy, locked binocular case on
"It's the binocular case," Alex gasped and saw the realization in Sarah's
eyes before her partner glance dropped to the case danging from her shoulder.
A small Cessna gained on them, the plane's motor disturbing the silent
flight. Sarah looked up. A radio controlled bomb could be ignited from
the safe distance of a trailing plane and the pilot would become an innocent
witness to the sudden explosion aboard the balloon. No doubt a leak of
one of the propane tanks that fuelled the balloon's flame would be blamed.
Sarah pulled the strap from her shoulder and hefted the case to drop it
over the side. No wonder the case had been locked!
Alex had also noted the plane and come to the same realization. She
grabbed the case from her Sarah's hands and tossed it as far as she could
away from the balloon. A split second later, the world exploded in a ball
of flame and smoke. Alex heard the wicker shattering and pain shot like
small arrows through her legs. The floor dropped out from under her and
she was falling. Then with a gut wrenching lurch and an agonizing explosion
of pain a rope coiled around her leg stopped her fall. She hung upside
down spinning madly as the damaged balloon wove erratically across the
sky over head. She head Sarah scream her name in terror.
Rhythmic beats of pain shot through the knee entangled in the rope and
blood poured to her head. Alex gagged. Then she fought for control as she
strained to catch a sight of the basket. Fear tightened like a vice around
her heart. What had happened to Sarah? Twisting wildly, she caught a glimpse
of the basket. There was a gaping, blackened hole in the compartment that
Sarah and Alex had once occupied. In panic, she struggled to reach up and
grab the spinning rope from which she dangled. Each time she did, pain
shot through her making her dizzy and sick to her stomach. The world below
her spun around crazily. She fought for control as she realized just how
dangerous a situation she was in. What if Sarah had fallen? Tears of fear
ran down her face, not for herself but for Sarah.
"Alex, don't struggle!" came the strained, worried voice of the woman
she loved. "We are going to try to pull you up. The end of the rope is
dangling just to your right. Try and grab it in case the rope tangled around
your knee lets go."
Now knowing that Sarah had not fallen, Alex went still, relief pumping
common sense through her. She looked around, saw the end of the rope and
after several attempts was able to grab it and tie the rope around her
waist. Her knee hurt like hell. The sudden jerk that had broken her fall
had probably popped her joint. Blood too ran down her legs and dripped
on her face. The exploding wicker had shot needles of cane into her flesh.
Was Sarah hurt she wondered?
The explosion had blown Sarah backwards into the compartment that held
the Lees. They had, despite their shock, the presence of mind to grab her
and stop her from toppling out the far side of the basket. She was in pain.
Her wrist was swelling and at an unusual angle, and her legs were cut but
she struggled to her feet and screamed Alex's name.
"She is down there, dangling from one of the anchor ropes," Mr. Lee
had reassured her, politely but firmly holding on to Sarah with one hand
as he pointed with the other.
Then the Cardale group had taken command. While the pilot fought for
control and looked for a safe place to land the damaged and leaking balloon,
they made sure the Senator, his wife and the other passengers were secure.
Sarah, now calmer, looked over the side and yelled instructions to the
thrashing body being dragged through the sky by a length of rope wrapped
around her leg. To Sarah's relief. Alex stopped wiggling and after a few
attempts managed to grab the rope and wrap it around her waist.
Slowly the security personnel aboard, hoisted Alex by her leg to the
damaged basket. Each jerk upwards was agonizing. Sweat and blood dripped
into Alex's eyes and she was shaking from head to foot with shock. With
a moan of pain, Alex bumped up the side of the listing and damaged basket
and willing hands pulled her inside the Lee's section of the basket. "Careful,"called
Brad, "keep the weight as evenly distributed as possible."
Sarah watched as some of Cardale's people hoisted Alex to safety. The
agonising seconds seemed to be hours. The world below Alex spun crazily
with the erratic flight of the damaged balloon. Alex was like a rag doll
held by a leg by a careless child and dragged along. Sarah's heart beat
wildly in fear. She could hear Alex's gasps of pain and it made her feel
sick. As soon as willing hands pulled Alex into the basket, Sarah wrapped
her one good arm around her lover. The doctor was white and in obvious
pain. "Are you okay?"
Alex reached up and touched Sarah's blood splattered face to give herself
time to steady her voice. "Buggered up my knee. Other than that I'm just
cuts and bruises. What about you?"
"Broke my wrist, I think, and the same cuts and bruises. The wicker
was just like razor blades."
With a grimace of pain, Alex righted herself and examined Sarah's arm
and the cuts on her legs. She nodded, "Yeah, it is broken. Some of these
cuts need attention. There is embedded cane."
"I got a first aid kit here, doctor, Would it help?" Brad asked. They
were close to the ground now, just clearing the forest. If he could keep
them up a bit longer he might be able to get them in sight of the landing
area. Then they would be spotted for sure and a truck would be dispatched
immediately. "One of you take my walkie talkie and see if you can raise
Margaret at the landing site. She's the woman who is catering our champagne
breakfast. Let her know we are in trouble and are going to land just a
few miles south of the forest and north-west of her position."
The first aid kit was passed to Alex by Mrs. Lee and one of the Senator's
people radioed through to Margaret. She promised to send out a truck immediately
and to radio through for a medical helicopter pick-up.
Alex, using slats from the damaged basket, managed to splint Sarah's
wrist and get it in a sling. Then she sprayed some disinfectant on Sarah's
cuts and scrapes. The job was difficult in her present condition but the
familiarity of her job helped to settle her nerves and keep her mind off
her pain. Sweat trickled down her cheek and a quick look at her leg revealed
a knee now turning multicoloured and swelling quickly. Once she had made
Sarah as comfortable as she could, she tried her best to immobilise her
own leg before they landed. Finally, Mrs. Lee took over the job and made
Alex as comfortable as she could.
Brad looked around with concern. "This is going to be it, guys. Sit
down on the ledges and hold on to the handholds, this is going to be a
hell of a landing." Mrs. Lee wrapped her arm around Sarah and wedged her
between her own body and the basket wall. Her husband did the same for
Alex as neither woman could successfully brace themselves for the landing.
Brad fought to steady the basket. "Nine feet, five, three, two, termite
mound!" Smashing into one of the mounds was like hitting concrete. The
basket shuddered, lifted over the top, and bumped down the other side.
It lifted again, bounced twice and then came to rest on its side. Sarah
tasted blood, having bitten through her lip to stop from screaming. Alex
slumped half out of the basket groaning in pain.
The next few hours were nightmarish as the women waited for rescue and
then had to endure the slow, bouncy ride by Land Rover through the tall
grass to the nearest place were the medical helicopter could make a safe
landing. The others did their best to make them comfortable. Margaret had
the men set up garden chairs for them and used two of the canvas stools
that the other breakfast guests were using as foot rests for them. Mrs.
Lee brought them tea but they declined the various offers of food content
just to sit at the end of the low table and watch the others eat. No one
did justice to the fine breakfast that Margaret's company had prepared.
They were all pretty shaken by their near escape from a certain death.
When the Senator walked over with his coffee cup to see how they were
doing, Alex used the opportunity to ask some questions. "That bomb was
meant for you not us, I am sure. You want to tell us why. I think we have
a right to know." The Senator frowned with concern yet his public face
was securely in place. Alex didn't think she was going to get much from
"I owe you a great debt of gratitude. As an American Senator, I understand
that one can be in danger by those within our own country frustrated by
the slowness of the system or by countries who resent our foreign and international
business policies. I have accepted that. What I have never accepted is
a possible threat against my wife or children. Thank you for what you did.
I love my wife very much.
"I can't tell you much other than I am on a trade mission here in Kenya.
Naturally, there are those in favour of that deal and others not. There
will be an investigation I assure you. Naturally, we want to keep this
as quiet as possible for the time being. Media coverage at this time of
delicate negotiations would not be good. I know I can count on you ladies
to understand. Canadians have always been good friends of the United States."
A few more pleasantries were exchanged and the Senator, having done his
duty, went back to sit with his wife.
"Do you think he knows the name of the capital of Canada? Or even the
name of our Prime Minister?" Sarah snorted in annoyance as she watched
him walk away. She was in pain, and shock was making her feel out of sorts.
"Probably not," Alex chuckled, trying to get her knee in a more comfortable
position. Margaret had packed a bag of ice around it and that was helping
to control some of the pain and swelling but Alex was still very uncomfortable.
"After all Bush didn't know the Prime Minister's name when he was running
for President and Gore thought that Canada's capital was Toronto."
Sarah laughed regaining some of her better spirits. "Well, just as long
as we are really good friends because I certainly wouldn't want them as
They had been holding hands not caring at all what the others thought.
Alex looked at their interlocked fingers and gently rubbed her thumb along
Sarah's good hand. "How the broken flipper?"
Sarah grinned. "Is that medical talk, doctor?" She looked down at the
broken wrist now splinted
and sitting on a bag of ice on a pillow in her
lap. "It doesn't hurt as much as it did but I'll be very glad to have it
seen to and find some place to curl up with you."
Alex licked her lips and tried to express how she felt. "I...I thought
you might have fallen. I was in a panic trying to turn so I could see if
you were still in the basket. I have never been so scared. If anything
happened to you...I...." Alex gave it up, swallowed hard and looked at
the horizon while she blinked her tears away.
Sarah wanted to wrap Alex in her arms and hug the daylights out of her
but that sort of moving was out of the question so she settled for giving
Alex's hand a squeeze. "You gave me a hell of a scare too. Mr. Lee had
a hold of my shirt. I think he thought I was going to go over the side
after you." Her smile faded into seriousness. If I thought I could have
helped you, I would have."
Their eyes met and shared the silent messages that only lovers understand.
Alex leaned over and kissed Sarah's cheek. "I love you."
"I love you too."
Finally the medical helicopter arrived, its huge blades creating storm-tossed
grass sea around them. They were flown onto Nairobi for medical treatment.
Sarah's wrist was put in a cast and Alex knee was pulled back into alignment
and some of the fluid drained off. Although in considerable pain, Alex
had been lucky. The ligaments had not been torn nor the bones damaged.
Several days later, she was able to hobble out of the hospital on crutches
with Sarah at her side.
Investigation officials from all countries involved also made it difficult.
The bomb had been seen as a botched terrorist attempt to assassinate the
American Senator who was reported to have ties with the CIA. Sarah had
borne most of the questioning and debriefing because she had been released
from hospital almost immediately and because she had been carrying the
binocular case. Alex too had been questioned and in return had asked a
good many questions but had got no answers. If anyone knew where or who
Cattlemen and Phillips were they weren't saying. Nor did the story make
the press. There was simply a small paragraph the day after the bombing
that an explosion on board had resulted in a high air balloon doing an
emergency landing. The article reported there had been no serious injuries.
It was two very tired and disgruntled women then that returned to the
room Sarah had got at the Norfolk Hotel. Alex lay on the bed, her knee
propped up with a pillow. Sarah lay quiet beside her curled into the nook
of Alex's arm. "I'm sorry,"she sniffed. "I wanted this trip to be memorable,
not one you wanted to forget."
Alex kissed the golden head under her chin gently. "It has been memorable,
I have you back in my life. I am just sorry that we are not going to be
able to enjoy the sights and sounds of Africa as you had planned because
of my knee injury."
They held each other close, sharing warmth and sympathy for a few minutes,
then Sarah sat up. "I have an idea. Let me go see if I can work it out."
She dropped a quick kiss on Alex's cheek, rolled off the bed and headed
off on her mission. Alex took the opportunity to take a pain pill and doze
Sometime later, Alex woke to the sound of the shower running. A shower
would be good if she could share it with Sarah, she figured. The shower
at the hospital had always left a lingering scent of disinfectant. She
eased herself off the bed and hobbled with great difficulty on her crutches
over to the bathroom door and poked her head around the corner. "Is there
room for one more?"
Sarah pulled the glass shower door back. "What are you doing up?"
"I have to shower or I'll start to smell and mould over in a few days.
I can't possibly shower alone, I need someone to prop me up."
Sarah raised an eye brow in disbelief at this argument. "You could have
"You could invite me in."
"No. You might slip. Go back from where you came and if you are very
good I'll help you with a bath later on so you don't mould over on me."
The glass shower door closed over firmly. Alex hobbled forward and wrote
on the steamed glass with a finger, carefully reversing the letters so
that Sarah could read them, 'I love you anyway.' Then she struggled back
to the bed relieved really that Sarah had not taken her up on her request.
Her knee hurt like hell.
Sarah dried herself awkwardly with the cast on her arm. She had covered
it in a plastic bag and felt a bit like a robotic creature as she struggled
to dry off places not easily reached. Slipping into one of the hotel's
towels, she went to smooth the ruffled feathers of her less than clean
She found Alex reading a book in bed with her knee again propped up
on pillows. "Would you like help with that bath now?"
"No. I have decided not to wash again while I am here, to get even,"
Alex muttered from behind her book.
Sarah snatched the book away playfully and looked down at her injured
lover. "You are not sleeping with me then! I'll go run the bath while you
get undressed and then I'll help you into the tub. If you are really good
I'll even help you out again."
"And if I am not?"
Sarah smiled wickedly. "Then you can stay there until the water cools
and your skin wrinkles and turns blue, my prune."
"You are a woman without mercy," protested Alex, making a sudden grab
of Sarah and hauling her onto the bed. "Ouch!"
"Serves you right," Sarah stated, then continued more gently, "Are you
Alex got her leg situated properly on the pillow again. "Yeah. I forgot
that mattresses bounce. I need attention and I also need to know what you
have been up to."
Sarah kissed her attention-starved lover. "I was only gone half an hour
and you were asleep when I got back."
"I lost three whole years with you. I am emotionally scared. It will
probably take years of serious cuddling to get me over it," Alex protested
Sarah laughed and kissed her silly lover. "You are impossible. I decided
that if you had to lie here much longer you would probably go stark raving
mad and start writing backwards on steamy shower doors and going on strike
and refusing to wash so I thought I'd better find something for you to
Alex looked worried. "You didn't sign me up for the French Foreign Legion
"I considered that but they only take men. Nope, I opted for exile."
"What! Ouch!" yelled Alex, sitting up suddenly. She didn't want to be
"Take it easy, my grumpy one," sighed Sarah, gently pushing Alex back
down again. "You and I are going to have a little R&R at the Victoria
Falls Hotel in Zimbabwe."
"Yes!" Alex smiled. "How did you manage that?"
"I used your credit card," joked Sarah, with an evil smile. Alex pulled
Sarah in for a little payment in kind before her bath.
It was actually a week before Alex could get around well enough that
they were able to leave. Even so, Alex quietly suffered through the flights
to Harare and onto Victoria Falls, or Maramba, as it is more properly called
in Zimbabwe. It was worth it though; the old Victoria Falls Hotel was a
Built at the turn of the century the hotel had played host to the famous
and royal for a hundred years. The halls were lined with black and white
pictures of those famous visitors. On the way to their room overlooking
an inner garden courtyard, Alex stopped to read an invitation from the
then Princess Elizabeth and her sister Margaret to attend a ball in honour
of the Royal family's visit. The room that Sarah and Alex had been assigned
was large and comfortable and although sporting all the modern conveniences
it had a simple Victorian charm.
Alex lowered herself onto the bed and Sarah came over and helped her
swing her leg up. "How are you doing, Lover?"
Alex nodded but her eyes were closed. "Good, I am just glad to be here
with you. How is your wrist?"
"The cast is a bit of a nuisance but other than that I am okay." Sarah
kissed her partner's forehead and left her to rest. She went down through
the main lobby of the hotel and out on to the terrace. Ahead of her the
mist from the falls a mile away rose high into the sky in a long belt.
Sarah had pointed it out to Alex from the plane as they flew in. The falls
were so big that the mist could be seen sixty miles away. The African name
for the falls was Mosi oa Tunya or the Smoke That Thunders. She wandered
down into the gardens, content to spend an hour or so relaxing by the pool
before she went to get Alex for low tea.
Sarah had been terribly upset about the attack especially because a
friend had betrayed her and she might have been responsible for the deaths
of all those people if it had not been for Alex's quick thinking. Th thought
of losing Alex after her lover had returned to her life was just too painful
to consider. It made her realize that their time together was precious.
They had already lost three years. Sarah blinked back a few tears and swallowed
hard. This was silly. Alex had not died, none of them had.
A sigh still escaped her lips. She had to admit to herself that she
had also been upset because with the cast on her lower arm and Alex's knee
messed up, their romantic reunion had been somewhat curtailed. Coming here
had been a great idea, however. They could relax and enjoy one of the wonders
of the world before Alex had to go back. That thought made Sarah shiver.
She didn't want to be parted from Alex again even if it was only for a
little while. She knew she needed to put in a few more months in Kenya
before her research was done.
Alex couldn't stay, she knew. As it was, Alex had been worried about
phoning the retired doctor who was filling in for her at the hospital and
caring for her dogs. He had been very nice about the delay but Alex was
still feeling awkward about the two week leave becoming an entire month.
The end of next week, Alex would have to fly back to Canada. It would be
like losing her all over again. It was going to be a hellish few months.
Her thoughts moved on to more pressing issues. What was going on? Did
Phillips put the bomb in the case or someone else? Who wanted the Senator
dead and why? It was unlikely that Phillips was working alone. There was
just too many damn questions and no answers. Sarah sat morosely in a lounge
chair by the pool, so deep in her thoughts that she was only barely aware
of those around her. It was only because the man turned suddenly and hurried
out of the pool area behind a high cedar hedge that caught Sarah's attention.
The hair was dark now and combed differently. The safari suit had been
shed in favour of tourist shorts and shirt. He was wearing glasses too
yet there was something about his build and movements...no it couldn't
be. Sarah frowned and shook her head. It would be foolish not to be alert
just in case this wasn't over. She would talk to Alex.
"Hey sleepy-head," Sarah whispered, a few hours later as she gently
kissed her lover.
"Mmmm, nice. What time is it?"
"About four. Are you going to take me to low tea?" Alex laughed and
Sarah raised an eyebrow in surprise. "What's so funny?"
"Me, Alex Aubin, the kid from the wrong side of the tracks, having low
tea at the Victoria Falls Hotel. How'd have thought it. You know, I was
voted to be the kid most likely to be in jail for crimes against humanity?
Sarah folded her arms and looked down at her lover with a knowing smile.
"And I bet you were proud of it."
"Hey, attitude was everything in my old neighbourhood. Are we going
to have watercress and cucumber sandwiches and cups of Indian tea to wash
it down with?"
"I hope not. They usually serve smoked salmon, cream cheese with herbs,
and a duck pate on sandwich fingers, and of course, a great assortment
of pastries and petit fours. It comes on a three tiered china serving plate."
"Oh boy, this sounds good. Where are my crutches? Don't stand between
me and my petit fours, whatever they are."
Sarah rolled her eyes. "Small, fancy, iced cakes."
"I knew that," stated Alex, struggling to her feet and heading off the
"Sure you did."
"Okay show off, why is it called a low tea if it was for the upper class
then? I bet you don't know that," came the challenge from the bathroom
where Alex was washing her face.
Sarah leaned on the door frame with a cocky nonchalance. "Am I not an
anthropologist? Do I not study cultures? In the Victorian Age the rich
had low tea at four because it was served at a coffee table - a low table.
Around eight or nine they would have their meal. The poor couldn't afford
the luxury of an afternoon snack. They had a simple high tea or dinner
at around five or six o'clock. It was a high tea because it was served
at a dinner table - a high table."
Alex limped over and took the toothbrush out of her mouth, giving Sarah
a minty peck on the lips. "My partner is a genius."
"Your partner is hungry so hurry up," grumbled Sarah with a laugh and
went to sit on their verandah while Alex finished getting ready.
A half hour later found them on the wonderful Victorian terrace overlooking
the gardens, sipping tea and enjoying the pretty and delectable sandwich
fingers. Alex picked up the pot to pour their tea. An evil glint came into
her eye. "Why do we put milk in tea?"
Sarah grinned back cheekily. "I don't. But the custom comes from colonial
times. When the British lost their hold of the colonies in the Far East,
they were no longer able to import the mild Chinese teas of which they
were very fond. They had to use Indian tea instead, which was much darker
and stronger. It was then that the practice of putting a spot of milk in
the tea to give it a milder taste came into use."
Alex frowned. "I will catch you on something."
"No you won't." Sarah ran her fingers through her hair nervously. "Listen,
this is going to sound really nutty but...nah, never mind."
"I thought I saw James Phillips. I mean his hair was dark and he was
dressed like a tourist and I only really saw him for a second as he walked
away..." Sarah's voice faded as she realized how incredible her information
Alex rubbed her chin thoughtfully. "He had to have gone somewhere. He
couldn't have easily taken a big international flight without being noticed
but it would be much easier to move from one African country to another
on local flights. This would be a pretty nice place to hang out until the
heat was off. Then he could slip into South Africa and from there travel
"So you don't think I am crazy?"
Alex smiled. "Oh you are crazy alright. Look who you hang out with."
Sarah pulled a face at her. "It is likely you made a mistake but you might
not have. It wouldn't hurt to be on guard and keep a look out."
Alex took a sip of tea and continued. "While I was in hospital, I asked
the investigating officials a lot of questions and got no answers. Was
it Phillips who set up the terrorist attack or was he used by Cattleman?
For that matter, were they working together?"
Sarah played with her napkin absently as she considered. "It was general
knowledge that Phillips had or was working for Intelligence. I guess I
figured seeing he had asked me to carry the binocular case that he was
a traitor who had gone over to the other side."
"That was my initial reaction too but now I am not so sure. Where is
Cattleman and why wouldn't anyone answer my questions about him? If Phillips
has been with Intelligence all these years, why would he sell out now?
And why is no one talking? Why were we told to keep our mouth's shut? Someone
tries to blow an American Senator to bits and it doesn't even make the
news. What the hell is going on?"
Sarah nodded her agreement. "I think if we knew why our room was searched
and who sent us that warning, we'd be able to fit the pieces together."
Alex looked miserable. "The sooner you are out of here the better. I
hate like hell the thoughts of going back to Canada without you. Somehow
you have managed to get caught up in some very nasty business."
Sarah reached over and gave Alex's hand a reassuring squeeze. "Phillips
or someone used me as a mule to carry that bomb. My usefulness as a sucker
is over. I am safe enough."
The next few days the women relaxed and recovered in the luxury of the
fine old hotel. Alex bought a cane elaborately carved with African animals
and with a brace on her knee was able to walk about a bit without the use
of her crutches. Their love making was a little restricted by their injuries
but no less passionate. They were wonderful days and a perfect way to end
Alex's trip to Africa.
It was on their fourth day that Sarah once again caught sight of Phillips.
They had taken a taxi the short distance up the road to the little tourist
town to reduce Alex's walking time. Alex was just carefully manoeuvring
herself out of the back seat of the old Toyota when Sarah grabbed her with
her good arm. "Over there,"she muttered, rolling her eyes in the direction
she wanted Alex to look.
Alex turned and her eyes met Phillips'. He smiled wearily and headed
towards them. "Get back into the car. We need to talk."
"I don't think so,"growled Alex, looking around for a way to escape
if they needed to.
"The bar then - I'll buy you a drink. Let's just get off main street,"
fretted Phillips. "This is all very awkward. I shouldn't be talking to
you. Why you have ended up here I have no idea. Unless... Just come on."
Phillips turned on his heel and scurried across the road to an open air
bar under an old gum tree.
Alex looked at Sarah. Sarah's eyes followed Phillips' retreating form
with anger. Then they turned and met Alex's. "It seems safe enough if we
watch our drinks. I want to hear what the bastard has to say." Alex nodded
in agreement and they headed over.
Phillips had ordered three beers and a glass of tomato juice. He stood
when the ladies arrived. "I think this conversation will go a lot smoother
and quicker if you just hear me out."
"Alright, but you'd better talk quick and have some damn good answers,
because Alex and I are really looking forward to seeing you behind bars."
To keep her hands busy so she didn't hit Phillips, Alex poured tomato
juice in Sarah's and her own beer. Phillips shuddered and took a sip of
his own clear, warm malt. "Why do the English drink their beer warm?" Alex's
sudden off topic question caused Phillips to blink in surprise.
Sarah, however, did not even look up from stirring her beer and tomato
with a tea spoon. "It is a different brewing process. North Americans prefer
lagers which are beers that are fermented from the bottom. This produces
a beer that is more flavourful when chilled. In Europe, ales are preferred.
With an ale, the fermenting takes place at the top. The result is a beer
that tastes better when it is served at cellar temperature. That is three
out of three - not that I am keeping score. Now James, we'd really like
to know why you tried to kill us," finished Sarah, with a clear edge to
her voice. Alex unconsciously fingered her cane. She was just looking for
a reason to batter Phillips with it.
"I didn't, although, I will admit that I tried to use you. The case
you were carrying was to be passed by you to Margaret. That was the signal.
The Senator would then ask to see the binoculars and remove the cheque.
I was asked for my assistance in a certain operation, you see. The Senator
is here to try and peddle used military equipment to organizations which
other government agencies might not want to get those weapons. I was hired
to make sure the guns got to the right people rather than the wrong."
"Sure," Alex muttered sarcastically, her grip tightening on her cane.
"That was an awful careless 'operation'. It damn near killed us both."
Phillips looked up into stormy, cold eyes. "The case, when I packed
it, contained a pair of binoculars and a certified cheque for two hundred
thousand American dollars. A down payment on a shipment of guns, grenades
and ammunition that the Senator was to use his influence to obtain."
Alex leaned across the table aggressively."Well, it didn't bounce -
Sarah put her hand on her lover's leg to calm her down. She too was
having trouble swallowing this story but she wanted to keep Phillips talking.
The more he talked the greater chance of seeing a mistake in his account
and maybe getting some real answers. "So what went wrong?"
"I don't know. A double, double cross, I suppose. The group I represent
had managed to convince the Senator's people that we were the group he
was supposed to be being with. I delivered the case to the Camp the night
before your flight. I can only assume whoever sent you the letter of warning,
knew of our plans to make a deal with the American and booby trapped the
"Why? If they wanted to make a deal with the Senator too, why blow him
up, and why jeopardize the operation by warning me off ?"
"The plan had been compromised. If the Senator talked, their organization
might suddenly find themselves in a difficult situation. If the Senator
died he couldn't talk. If he lived he'd be less inclined to talk knowing
the possible consequences. Why were you warned? Because it is Cattleman,
Sarah, and he has a soft spot for you."
Sarah felt Alex's muscles tighten with tension under her hand. Alex's
voice was raspy with anger. "You've got a smooth answer for everything,
Phillips frowned. "I am being unusually open. I am a desperate man.
I need leads to who needs the weapons and why. I might be running out of
time. I want those guns going to the group I represent."
"Well don't expect us to help you! Damn it James, I trusted you, called
you a friend, and you almost got us killed. Alex only survived by luck.
If..." Sarah's voice broke and she swallowed not able to finish the sentence.
Her lips were thin and pale. She had been scared as hell when they were
hoisting Alex back into the basket. She pushed her glass away in disgusted
and stood. "We won't help you." Alex struggled to her feet beside her.
Phillips stood too and backed up a few steps. He smiled almost sadly.
"But you might already have. He or one of his comrades might have seen
us talking and now believes that we are conspiring against him. That will
force his hand."
Alex teeth grated in anger and frustration. "You're a bastard, Phillips."
The man chuckled. "No, no, just a chap who would like to retire comfortably,
at all costs." Phillips turned and hurried away. The women watched him
threading his way up the dusty street until he disappeared around a corner
of a grimy stucco building.
"What now?" Alex finally sighed.
Sarah frowned in annoyance. "I don't think he told us the whole truth,
if any. We just go on with our original plan and refuse to play their game.
There isn't much else we can do. It sounds like the Senator was here to
make an arms deal with one group, then Phillips' bunch somehow managed
to cut in on that deal. The Senator must have thought he was still dealing
with the first organization. I wonder how many groups are there after those
guns and why they want them? I think somehow we got ourselves involved
in a very nasty business. "
"Look, Sarah, let me buy you a ticket to Canada. We could be on the
next plane out."
The anthropologist shook her head. "I have put in three years here.
I am not throwing that time away by not finishing my study properly. And
I am not going to let the likes of Phillips scare me off."
Alex took Sarah's arm and looked at her with anxious eyes. "Sarah, this
is a very dangerous game. Don't be so stubborn. You could end up molding
in an African prison for a crime you didn't do, or worse, you might end
up dead. I can't go back to Canada and leave you in such danger."
Dark green eyes flashed like cold emerald and Sarah pulled her arm free
of Alex's hold. "Don't try to run my life Alex." The doctor grated her
teeth but said no more.
They spent the rest of the afternoon doing the stores in the town. Gradually,
their interest in the exotic and beautiful African wares lessened the tension
between them. The tourist shops sold everything from crudely carved wooden
animals to elaborate reproductions of ancient spirit masks, delicately
carved ostrich eggs, crocodile skin shoes and purses, and amazing jewellery
of semi precious stones or more expensive pieces of gold, diamonds, and
emeralds. At one of the larger government tourist stores, Alex bought a
number of carved masks, much to Sarah's surprise.
"How are you going to get this all home?"
Alex looked up from signing a traveller's cheque. "They are going to
ship it for me. I want our home to reflect just as much your interests
Sarah blinked in shock, then gave Alex a big hug. "You are one in a
million." That spontaneous thanks sent a warm wave of contentment throughout
Alex's being and helped eradicate some of her anger about the meeting with
Phillips. Sarah loved her and thought she was one in a million. Alex couldn't
help but smile.
Sarah looked up into Alex's eyes. They looked almost a light grey in
the store light. "I'm sorry I bit your head off back at the bar. I know
you were only worried about me. Thanks for caring."
Alex smiled softly and gave Sarah's back a reassuring rub. "I was getting
all controlling again. You know the situation here a lot better than I
do. I trust your judgement. All I ask is that you be very careful."
In a much more contented mood, the women hailed a taxi for the short
distance back to the hotel. Alex knee was throbbing and she told Sarah
that she was looking forward to washing the dust off and putting her leg
up for awhile. Sarah smiled. She found her cast hot and uncomfortable and
had every intention of sharing both the shower and the bed for an afternoon
A long lazy afternoon settled into evening. Sarah dropped a kiss on
Alex's lips tasting their love making on her lips, "I love you."
Alex idly combed her fingers through the curls of Sarah's sex. "Love
Sarah snuggled down close. "Try not to worry. I'll be back in Canada
in a few months. Everything is going to be alright here and with us."
Alex nodded but there was no conviction in her eyes. "I have only four
more days here. The thought of leaving you behind hurts like hell."
"I know, love. We were meant to be together. We always have been."
Alex took Sarah's hand and kissed her fingers. "What did you think of what Phillips had to say?"
Sarah sighed in thought and flopped back on to her pillow. "Some things
struck me as unusual. First, it doesn't seem logical that the Senator would
be making an arms deal without the consent of the government. So if we
assume that the government had sent Cardale, then Phillips has to be working
for someone or some government that doesn't want those guns sold to the
Alex propped herself up on one elbow and looked at Sarah with interest.
"So what do you think?"
Sarah shrugged. "World powers are fair weather friends. Kenya is an
old British colony. The terrorist attacks against the American embassies
indicates a sympathy towards some extremist causes by groups working in
Kenya. The US might want to supply weapons to organizations opposed to
such extremism where Britain might see that as a threat to the stability
of the region."
"That would explain why the bomb on the hot air balloon ride was kept
quiet and why no one would answer our questions. Quiet subversive activities
are one thing, an open disagreement between world powers is quite another,"
Sarah nodded. "Of course, it could be another group entirely. Phillips
might be telling the truth but he might not. I plan just to stay out of
"What if Cattleman does show up?"
"I still plan to stay out of it," Sarah stated firmly. "Come on, Lover,
get dressed. I need food."
Several days went by with no sight of either Phillips or Cattlemen.
The girls, caught up in enjoying their time together, tried to put the
whole unpleasant incident behind them and focus on the time they had left
before they needed to part again for a few months. Alex was surprised then
when one morning Sarah slammed into their room looking worried and upset.
Sarah flopped down onto the couch. "I just saw the Cardale group arriving
while I was down buying a paper. And guess who was with them?"
Alex limped out of the bathroom. "Phillips?"
"Cattleman?!" Alex exclaimed.
Sarah nodded. "All dressed up in a suit and looking very serious and
conservative. Alex, he looked right at me and walked on as if I wasn't
"Are you sure it was him? Did you get a really good look?"
"It was him alright. Damn! Now what?"
Alex came over and gingerly lowered herself onto the couch. " Now nothing.
We stay out of it. Agreed?"
Sarah leaned over with a smile and kissed Alex's cheek. "Agreed."
It wasn't five minutes later when the phone in their room rang. Sarah
answered it. "Hello."
"Hi Sarah. It is John Cattleman. I saw you down stairs...actually, I
had been told that you were staying here. I'd like a chance to talk to
you. Can I come up to your room?"
Alex had seen the change in Sarah's face and had got up to come to her
side. Sarah held the phone so they both could hear. "Let me guess. You
want to tell me that Carsdale is here to make an important arms deal and
that is either to or against your favour. You didn't set the bomb that
nearly killed us, and seeing as you are sure there are no hard feelings
perhaps Alex and I wouldn't mind being the suckers in yet another hair
There was a second of surprised silent and then John's voice, soft almost
humorous, came through the line again. "Let me guess. You have had a meeting
with James Phillips."
"Didn't you already know that?" Sarah asked sarcastically.
"Yes, I knew. Do you want to hear my version of the truth?"
Sarah looked at Alex. The taller woman shrugged. "Okay, but not up here,
down in the lounge in ten minutes."
"That is rather public."
"There or nowhere."
John sighed in frustration. "Very will, the lounge in ten minutes."
Sarah put the phone down and shivered. Alex pulled her against her chest,
wrapping Sarah in a protective embrace. "You sure you want to hear him
Sarah turned in Alex's arms and kissed her lover gently. "Equal time
I guess. I am curious to hear his version. I just don't want to get caught
up in anything. It looks like Phillips was right. Our drink with him brought
"Maybe, maybe not. He might have been coming anyway. He certainly had
been warned that the three of us were here. That he came anyway rather
indicates that he had other business here besides us. Otherwise, why come
looking for trouble?"
"Good point. Well come on, Doctor, let's go find out what the other
team has to say."
The main lounge of the Victoria Falls Hotel opened out through a row
of French doors onto the terrace that overlooked the gardens. It was a
large, bright room decorated with over-stuffed chairs and sofas in pastel
flower motifs. These were accented by a large fireplace and a wonderful
assortment of antique wooden tables.
Cattleman stood as the women entered. "Sarah, Alex, I am relieved to
see you looking so well. I have been worried. Please." He indicated three
chairs that had been pushed around a small coffee table. "I have ordered
"Did you also order a bomb?" Sarah asked bluntly.
"No. I knew awhile ago that the secrecy around the arms deal had been
compromised and at that time I called off the transaction and sent a warning
"You sent the warning?"
"Yes. I was aware that Phillips was dogging you and there had to be
a reason for that. I suspected that he was involved in some way with the
arms deal but I didn't know how. I searched your room in Nairobi but couldn't
find anything to tie you to Phillips. Still, I felt I couldn't take the
chance so I called off the contact I had planned with the Senator and waited
for someone to make a move."
Alex was using about all the self control she had to stay in her seat.
She was royally annoyed by the run around Cattleman and Phillips had been
giving them. "So you ordered the guns from Carsdale and planned to use
Sarah as an expendable decoy. Then you got cold feet at the last minute
and decided to blow up all the evidence including a friend."
Cattleman waited to answer as the waiter approached and set down a lovely
bone china tea set on a silver tray. Once the tea was poured and the waiter
had left again, Cattleman looked directly at Alex. "I didn't set the bomb.
Nor did I originally order the arms. I would really like to know who did
though. I would certainly have liked to cut into that deal and buy those
arms to make sure they didn't fall into hands that might use them against
the present government."
Sarah snorted and flopped back in her chair with annoyance. "Look, one
of you set that bomb."
Cattleman's dark eyes left Alex and looked at Sarah with worry. "I thought
it was Phillips. He recently decided to retire and I was wondering on what.
Those in his profession," Cattleman emphasized this word with contempt,
"don't usually retire, they make a mistake or are pulled from the field
because they can't do the job anymore."
"Why would the British want the arms? That doesn't make sense," Alex
asked, her voice cold and strained.
Cattleman played absently with his teaspoon. "I think Phillips was doing
some moonlighting, maybe for the local white farmers. They are damn nervous
about what they have seen happening in Zimbabwe."
"So Phillips made the arms deal using his government contacts for a
private interest group here in Kenya and when he realized you knew about
it, he covered his ass by giving me a bomb to carry instead of a cheque?"
"No, I think it was more complex than that," Cattleman stated, settling
back in his chair and crossing his ankles. He felt less stressed now, realizing
that Sarah and her friend were prepared to hear him out. He had to be very
careful how he handled this. He needed the women to co-operate.
Alex looked murderously at him. She was about to start throwing furniture
in a minute. She didn't like this feeling of Sarah and her being in danger
with no control over the situation one bit. "So suppose you tell us what
is really going on," she hissed.
Cattleman looked uncomfortable. He didn't really want to share too much
information but he also realized that it was necessary to some extent to
set this all up right. "I think a third party is involved. Someone with
ties to the fundamentalist movement that is sweeping Northern Africa. Phillips
and I were both trying to cut into the action, thinking erroneously that
we were playing against each other. All along it was someone else trying
to broker a deal. Nor were our efforts secret, except from each other.
Someone knew that we were trying to cut in and set us both up for a very
nasty and embarrassing political situation."
"Not to mention our deaths," Alex growled.
Sarah reached out and put her hand on Alex's arm. The touch calmed her
as much as her partner. "Why are you telling us all this?"
"I need a lead. I need to know who else would have known you had booked
the balloon flight on the same day as the Senator."
Sarah laughed. "You lot are unbelievable. You are not going to get anywhere
with this. Anyone at the camp would have known. Paul and the others in
Nairobi would know as well as anyone working for the hot air balloon company.
It could have been one of hundreds of people. What I will tell you is that
Alex and I want to be left alone. We will not help you, Phillips, or anyone
else with this mad game."
Cattleman smiled and felt the tension leave his body. He had what he
wanted. Only one question remained. "Does anyone know you are here?"
Sarah nodded. "That too is common knowledge. I made the booking through
our Nairobi office, of course, and the people at the camp knew. Why?"
Cattleman stood. "I thank you for hearing me out. I hope not to have
to bother you again. I would warn you again though, be on your guard. Too
many people know you are here. You might not believe this but I am very
relieved to see you both recovering so well from your accident."
"It wasn't an accident, John," Alex corrected with a quiet, dangerous
voice. "It was attempted murder."
Cattleman's dark eyes met hers. "Then heed my warning. Be careful. Good
A shiver ran through both woman and Sarah reached for Alex's hand. "Damn,
he scared me a lot more than Phillips."
Alex gave Sarah's hand a gentle squeeze. "Yeah, me too. But I think
we made it quite clear that we were out of this game."
Cattleman walked across the inner court yard and up through the main
lobby. Once outside, he made his way down the road to the railway station.
The Blue Train from South Africa would not be here for another two hours.
Only one man sat reading a news paper in the waiting room. Cattleman went
over and sat beside him. Phillips folded his paper and put it down on the
empty chair on the other side of him. "Well?"
"I think the ladies have baited the hook. All we need do is wait," Cattleman
stated. He didn't feel as confident or as impersonal as he hoped he sounded.
This was a long shot and one that could put two innocent women in great
danger. He was not very happy about the odds of success nor was he happy
about having to throw in his lot with Phillips.
Phillips nodded and stood, stopping to shake down his pant legs. "Don't
let it bother you, old man. Once it starts to bother you, you only have
two choices: the bottle or the bullet."
"How do you think he'll hit first?"
Phillips looked up into worried eyes. Cattleman had the intelligence
and skills but he got far too emotionally involved. "He'll go for Sarah
first. She is an easy hit and he has to make sure she doesn't make the
connection to him. Once he pops Carsdale, he knows he has to go on the
run. Still, we'll try to cover all the bases with the people we have got."
Cattleman nodded and the two men went their separate ways.
"Why do women wear high heels and men don't?" Alex asked, as she rubbed
suntan screen into Sarah's back. They had just had a morning swim and were
relaxed by the pool enjoying their last few days together.
Sarah laughed. "Now that is a scary picture! Fashion is illogical. However,
there are patterns. Women's clothes over the ages have kept them in a submissive
role. Corsets, tight skirts, long dresses make us vulnerable and easily
controlled. You'll note whenever women's rights come to the forefront,
women's styles become more masculine. There is also business manipulation.
The shorter tops and skirts of today save manufacturers millions of dollars
in fabric. Heels first appeared in Europe in Medieval times. They allowed
prostitutes to be seen in the crowded streets. But heels were used at far
earlier times in other cultures. For example, in China..."
"Forget it," Alex cut in with a laugh. "You win."
Sarah chuckled. "Do you think your knee is strong enough to try and
walk along the falls this afternoon?"
Alex put the top onto the lotion and leaned back in her chair. "You
Victoria Falls is where the might Zambezi River spills over into a deep
gorge. It is the longest span of water falls in the world at 5,594 feet
and has one of the deepest drops at 328 feet. At full flood 143 gallons
of water per minute crash in a continuous veil to the river below and the
spray shoots over 1,500 feet into the air. Alex knew all this from reading
the various tourist booklets but nothing prepared her for the sheer, wild
beauty of the location or the incredible power of the Falls as it literally
cascaded by her face. Standing soaking wet at Devil's Cataract, the bronze
statue of David Livingstone not far away up the path, Alex could understand
why the explorer had written in his diary: "Scenes so lovely must have
been gazed upon by Angels in their flight."
Sarah smiled, wiping her wet hair back from her face. "It's one of those
things you just have to see to believe."
"I'll say." The two women walked slowly along the sand path that was
the only concession to tourism. Victoria Falls is just as natural today
as it was in 1855 when Livingstone first saw it. There are no guide rails
and no sidewalks. When the sand path ran out, they walked over rock worn
flat by time on the very edge of the gorge. Only a few hundred feet away,
across the other side of the gorge, the Falls poured in a solid sheet.
Alex raised her voice over the thunder of the water. "This is amazing."
"I knew you would like it."
Carefully, they made their way along the wet and slippery rocks, glad
of the rain coats the hotel had given them. Almost blinded with the spray
and deafened by the sound, they were nearly on top of the man before they
"Hello Sarah," he called out, blocking their path.
Sarah smiled with delight. "Paul Na-tana! What are you doing here?"
A gun raised from under his raincoat. "I've come to say good bye." Alex
dived at Sarah and together they rolled across the rocks and through puddles.
The misty world around them cracked and echoed with gunfire.
They had come to rest in a small hollow. The firing had stopped. Alex
whispered into Sarah's ear. "Don't move. Stay quiet." Then cautiously she
raised her head and looked around. Nothing but white mist and black rock.
Her heart seemed to pound as loudly as the falls. She wiped the spray from
her face and tried to shield her eyes with a hand. Now she could make out
Paul's still form sprawled on the rock.
"You okay?" Sarah whispered.
"I'm alright. See anything?"
Alex shifted a bit so that Sarah was no longer under her. "Paul's body
is lying over there. But there was more than one gunman. Down!" A shadowy
silhouette had emerged from the spray and stood looking down at the body.
Then he looked up and around. "Sarah! Alex! It's John Cattleman. It's
okay. It's safe now."
"What do you think?" Alex whispered.
Sarah nodded. "I think John told us the truth - at least as much as
he could. We can trust him." Alex nodded and the two women helped each
other up as John limped over to them. Blood oozed down the side of his
"You two okay?"
"Better than you by the look of it," Alex answered, "There were more
than two guns."
Cattleman nodded. "Phillips. He's over there. Na-tana got him. He's
dead." Sarah put her head against Alex's shoulder and Alex gave her a hug
before she gave Cattleman first aid.
Alex and Sarah stood off at a distance watching Carsdale and this group
load into a bus to take them to the airport. It had been a traumatic twenty-four
hours. They had got up early and watch as the plain wood coffin carrying
the body of James Phillips had been loaded on the train bound first to
South Africa and then on to his final resting place in England. After years
of faithful service, he had taken that one last gamble and lost.
Cattleman was the last to board Cardale's bus favouring his sore leg.
"It looks like Carsdale won't make a deal on this trip," Sarah observed.
"Cattleman is sticking to him like glue."
"I'm not too sure. Cattleman might cut a deal for the Kenyan government
after all. The U.S. would be hard pressed not to agree when they have been
caught making deals behind a friendly nation's back. And if Cattleman doesn't
get his deal, I am sure there will be another time and another people willing
to accept Carsdale's offer."
Sarah nodded. "Third World countries are safe battle fields for world
powers who escalate local issues to strengthen their own spheres of influence."
Alex gave her lover a gentle hug. "The world is so interconnected on
so many levels now that no country is immune from the impact of events
in another. Carsdale didn't know he was dealing with terrorists. He thought
he was selling weapons to a group wanting to restore a more democratic
government to the area. Phillips thought he could work it so that the guns
ended up in the hands of the white colonials who want to protect their
farms, and Cattleman wanted to cut in to get the guns for his nation. They
were all playing into the hands of the fundamentalists who were playing
one off another."
The bus pulled away as the women watched. They turned and headed back
into the hotel.
"Thanks for not giving up on us. Thanks for being here. Thanks for making
a home for us."
Alex smiled down at the woman she loved. Sarah looked pale and tired
but happy. "It is me that owes you the thanks for giving me a second chance.
Having you back in my life is going to make all the difference."
A few days later, Alex had boarded a plane on the first leg of her trip
back to Canada. Saying good bye had been hell. Sarah had watched the plane
until it was only a tiny speck in the sky, tears rolling down her face.
For the next few months she worked frantically to finish her study. It
was a melancholy time. She had come to know the Masai not as people to
be studied with scientific objectivity but as family and friends. Her years
had taught her a respect for their rich culture and proud traditions. Africa
had changed her. Here she had gained the maturity and confidence of an
adult. No matter where her life took her, a part of her soul would always
belong to Africa. The good byes had been painful and when she headed out
to her plane it was only the thought of her lover waiting impatiently in
Canada and a research grant approved for her in Yellowknife that prevented
her from succumbing to the African disease and staying.
Some months later, Alex crawled between sheets warmed by the woman she
loved. "You're cold!" came a groan of protest.
"I've been out feeding the dogs. We have a heavy frost this morning."
"Come here let me warm you up." Alex snuggled close and leaned over
to kiss her partner softly. "I love you Sarah."
Hands reached up and pulled her closer still. "Show me just how much
for the rest of our lives."
Outside, the first soft, fluffy snow flake drifted to the warm ground below, melted, and ran down onto the multi-coloured lichen that clung to the rocks. More followed. Life moved on.