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The International Writers Magazine: Spy Fiction

Our Man in Africa
Mark Cunliffe

The jeep bounced along the dirt road sending Harry up from his seat and back down again with a crash. His stomach was not happy about this. Over in the drivers seat, Roddy Duncan AKA ‘Our man in Africa’ guffawed happily as public school boys were want to do at the sight of suffering. Not that Harry didn’t like him, the country probably needed more men who would charge into the valley of death armed only with a tooth pick, and Harry was glad Roddy Duncan was a man of that ilk. As long as he was around, Harry wasn’t required to do the charge. He’d have a lie in that day.
"Not long now dear boy" Roddy bellowed over the jeep’s engine and the howl of the dusty winds as it zipped past them.
"Good" Harry managed to reply; in-between gulps to keep the BOAC in flight meal down.
He had been in Africa for an hour now, the old man had told him this was a one-day job and Harry was most definitely thankful for that.

It was a simple job. Harry was representing the department in a business matter between themselves and a group that the department favoured to have control of the township. This group were very nice as the old man and Roddy kept telling him, very loyal. It was imperative that a group that was very nice and very loyal got into power rather than a group who were KGB financed.

But, as Harry pondered on the flight over, just how nice and loyal can revolutionaries actually be? And if we needed to keep this place ‘on side’ then why the hell did we give them independence in the first place?
Harry was a field agent who knew every aspect of The Cold War but this continent was too hot, he was a Berlin boy at heart. These questions were too hard, and like Africa, another person’s problem. But as a favour to Ross, the old man, he was diversifying. After all it was a quick in and out deal.

Finally the jeep stopped outside a small township of crumbling brickwork and dead dogs. Roddy jumped eagerly out and whipped off his sunglasses to take in the vista. Harry stepped awkwardly from the jeep and gave his NHS spectacles a clean. The sweat was dripping into his eyes, making him feel like he was in a sauna. His blue striped shirt was slick with sweat and he could feel a trickle run down to the small of his back. Roddy slapped him on said back and motioned Harry to walk with him. If horses and Harry sweat, and men perspire, then it was the female of the species and an old African hand like Roddy Duncan who glowed.
"We’ll have no bother here Harry old boy, just straight in and out, Manu Bobi, he’s our man, will be very agreeable to our terms I’m sure, and he’ll be most pleased to see a representative from London" Roddy explained.
"I should have worn my union jack underpants then" Harry said drolly.
"No Carnaby Street will be fine" Roddy replied running a hand across Harry’s rolled up shirtsleeve
"You must be joking!" said Harry "On my pay grade? This is Marks and Sparks mate"
"Well the hair is Carnaby, I thought the ah, ‘whistle’ matched?"
Harry ignored Roddy’s jovial attempt at his own Cockney accent. Like fingernails down a blackboard it grated. Harry ironically tugged his forelock before answering, "The old man thinks it’s in need of a cut too"
"Damn right" said the short back and sided Roddy Duncan not entirely humorously. Harry smiled inwardly; the day this man gets home leave will be a revelation if he thinks he is a longhaired hippy. An hour later, and Harry was grateful for the water Bobi offered. Not only was the heat getting to him, but the heated atmosphere in the room was beginning to get to him too. They had been bartering backwards and forwards with no clear sign of either side agreeing to the deal. Bobi was younger than Harry expected and he said so, but Bobi’s reply was as priceless as the locally mined diamonds; "Please, do not judge the number of birthdays I have had, judge the life and experience I have had between them" and Harry could see in his big white eyes a wisdom that only a man growing up in harsh realities could ever attain.

Now those eyes flashed more wisdom as he spoke with arms outstretched "Gentlemen, we have been here now for some time and have yet to reach an amicable agreement. I fear that we may never do so. Maybe my people and I should just accept the guns from our American friends and continue our struggle with their help alone?"
Roddy shot Harry a look that said one thing; do something. Harry sighed and reached into his breast pocket for his cigarettes. Finally he pulled several out and offered them round to the Africans. "Gitanes, they’re a French brand" he said by way of explanation. The assembled men smoked them and remarked on their quality whilst jovially discussing the French mercenaries who were ‘pissing in the river upstream’ Harry wasn’t sure if they were speaking literally or figuratively, but settled for both just in case.

"Sixty percent of the funds now, forty percent after you can prove to Col Ross and I in London that you have control of the area" Harry suddenly broke the silence and gave Manu Bobi the dead eye that he would used to reserve for poker in the barracks back in his army days. He just hoped the old man would condone his offer. Out of the corner of his poker face he could see Roddy wasn’t so sure.
Bobi narrowed his eyes and raised his head a little looking Harry up and down. Finally he spoke; "And a degree, to be a leader I must have an education."
"Certainly," said Roddy.
"From your Oxbridge University," Bobi said,
"Naturally, where else?" Harry butted in before Roddy would point out the error.

Bobi’s dark features broke into a gleaming smile and he slapped his palm outstretched across the table "Deal!" he boomed as Harry took his hand "Let us take what is rightfully ours and beat these red communist funded bastards! I look forward to it!" he said laughing heartily. Harry sighed with relief. Right now the only thing he looked forward to was his flight into London airport and the grey wet weather that awaited him.

It was a similar grey wet day that Harry stormed into Ross’ office some two months later without an appointment and waving that morning’s newspaper at the old man.
"Sit down Palmer" said Ross calmly after Harry had yelled out a ‘would you care to explain this sir?’
The old man made a show of slowly finishing what he was writing before replying to Harry’s thunderous query. Finally he raised his head up and looked at the fuming younger man.
"I take it you are referring to the Manu Bobi business in Africa?"
"I bloody well am," Harry said, "Like, why sir, have we got white mercenaries putting him to death on the front page of the bloody newspaper?"
Ross sighed. "It came to our attention that Bobi’s men were not sharing our concerns one hundred percent. In short, they were riddled with communist sympathisers. It was only a matter of time before they overthrew Bobi and took control, leaving that region back in the same bloody mess it was that I sent you to solve two months back, so we unofficially sent a unit in run by one Col Faulkner-"
"To kill the innocent Bobi, who you paid to run the region." Harry interrupted. "An innocent man sir put to death by British mercenaries on your orders." he added.
"Time was short, Palmer, we couldn’t provide full identity and therefore immunity of Bobi and his faithful to Faulkner and his men" Ross explained.
"So they didn’t even know who they were executing…marvellous" Harry said incredulously.
"It’s Africa, Palmer, you can never change it. This deal went awry for us, we could not be sure that Bobi would survive a coup against him, not after fighting such a successful coup two months previously. It was expedient to scratch it all and start again."

Harry was about to say something when the old man stopped him short; "Orders from ‘C’ Palmer," he said and pointed a finger to the ceiling. The floor above was the domain of ‘C’ the head of MI6 and power plays were a daily game to him as much as crosswords were to Alice, Ross’ administrator. "Neither you nor I are in the position to question the orders of above" Ross completed.
Harry bit his lip and forced down the bitterness and anger he felt inside him. "So what happens now?" he finally said quietly.
"Duncan find another underdog to take Bobi’s place, we feed the press that this was the right decision, that Bobi was a tyrant and had to go and thanks to Faulkner and the noble village folk who are loyal to democracy, go he did" Ross summarised.
"The end," Harry said sarcastically
"No Palmer," Ross spat angrily "It is not the end, it’s never the end. The game continues as it always bloody well will"
There was nothing more to be said. Slowly Harry got to his feet, fastened his raincoat and made to leave.
"And where are you going?" Ross called after him.
"Berlin," Harry called back "Finland…Latvia…The Goldhawk Road…somewhere I can bloody understand!" and with that he was gone, leaving the door wide open
©  Mark Cunliffe November 2007

An Honourable Act
Mark Cunliff's spook story

Harry trudged bitterly up the marble steps of the imposing house and pressed the buzzer. It was gone eleven at night, he was tired and his feet hurt.

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