Somewhere in Africa, early 1979
'Leopards? They've a great sense of humour', Phil Danté remarked as he poured his Lion lager into a glass with lime juice in it.
'Animals don't have a sense of humour', replied a very sure Celia Midbury, a London zoologist whose pronouncement that she had come to Rhodesia to study them had brought on Phil's remark.
'Dogs and horses certainly do have a sense of humour. I'm sure cats do as well, but they're more subtle and sadistic about it...like women', Major Hugh Williams retorted.
'Dogs, cats and horses have souls, so I'm sure they've a sense of humour', added his wife Alison. 'And you'll pay for that remark later, my good man!'
'Do you think dogs, cats and horses go to heaven?', asked Dieter, the German born now American university professor who took a sabbatical from his campus in order to become an Intelligence Officer in Major Williams' Rhodesian Light Infantry.
'Heaven would be a hell of a place without them', answered Air Lieutenant Bert Kirkman in his Texas drawl. He was a former US Marine, later a US Army Air Cavalry helicopter pilot in Vietnam and was now a Dakota pilot in the Rhodesian Air Force, 'and I wouldn't want to go there if there were no dogs and horses up there!'
The six of them were sitting around a table in the foyer of Salisbury's Monomotopa Hotel. One didn't sit in a pub in Salisbury, one sat in the foyer of a good hotel to have intelligent conversations on a variety of topics with one's drinks. The Monomotopa, or the Claymore, as it was nicknamed due to its semicircular shape was the international watering hole in Salisbury, the capital of Rhodesia. The Meikles ran it a close second, with the Oasis having a more local flavour. The younger troopies preferred the Coq d'Or where they could try their luck on meeting and dating white Rhodesian women or fist fight troopies from other regiments or the bouncer, where those who dared, never won. Those who wanted to spend the night with a Coloured woman would choose the long bar at the Ambassador or the Golden Dragon, those who wanted to sleep with cheaper African women would go to the Queens or the Elizabeth. The absolute dregs went to the La Boheme with its strippers and notoriety from a 1975 grenade attack.
The 'Mono' was always Phil Danté's first stop on his Rest and Relaxation in Salisbury where he would pop in and see who was in town. There was always someone he knew or knew of who would introduce him to the friends they were with and they'd swap news, jokes and stories, respecting the nation's wartime security regulations where 'spreading alarm and reality' was a punishable offence.
During the mornings and afternoons he would have intimate teas with one or two others, in the evenings he would join the loud circles of what he thought were the world's most fascinating people. There were soldiers of fortune, bush pilots, mercenaries, adventurers, policemen and eccentrics from all around the world. They would be joined by visiting tourists, journalists, missionaries, treasure and big game hunters as well as spooks who would try and pretend that they were one of the former. There were also British, South African and European get rich quick artists, con men and prostitutes who, when finding out they couldn't get their money out of the country would eventually leave. Phil thought wartime Salisbury had the same excitement that the Lost Generation in 1920s Paris must have had. There was always electricity in the air.
Each one of the circle would take their turn in buying a round for the others. The waiters would bring their change in coins, expecting tips that were always granted to them. The bottom of the metal trays carrying the glasses of the drinks were wet and would be placed on the change the waiter provided where they would secretly pick up more coins for a further tip.
When over three different types of drinks were ordered, the waiter's minds would overload and the drink order would be patiently repeated until the waiter repeated the order back successfully.
When Phil entered the foyer that evening he was waved over by his former RLI Commando commander, Major Hugh Williams, an Englishman who had been fighting wars since being with the British Commandos in World War II and was still going strong.
'Now We Are Six', laughed Alison, Hugh's much younger and beautiful wife who was a second generation Rhodie.
She was an air hostess with Air Rhodesia and Phil had the great fortune to see them together again. He knew Dieter from the RLI, though Phil was now an Irregular with the British South Africa Police in Sindala after completing three years with the Commandos. He was introduced to Bert and the visiting zoologist Celia Midbury.
'Why are you so sure animals don't have a sense of humour, Celia?', asked Dieter.
'The "incongruity theory of humour" states that humour arises when there's an inconsistency between what one expects to happen and what actually happens, and as animals can't speak or reason that leaves out puns, irony and twists of fate', Celia lectured.
Alison retorted, 'Kant explained laughter and humour as a response to an "absurdity"; they must laugh at what they see us doing!'
Once Phil heard Immanuel Kant's name he automatically began singing Monty Python's Song of the Australian Philosophy Professors from the University of Woolloomooloo. Celia and Alison joined him singing with the entire foyer of the Monomotopa applauding them at their finish. Celia was ecstatic at being one of the group.
'I'll shout the next round!', Celia laughed.
'Your Strine is bloody good', laughed Phil. 'But I've got to admit that all I know about those philosophers is what's in the song. Australia's not France; we never went in much for philosophy, except for what's written on the walls of the dunny.'
'The only songs the Major knows are God Save the Queen, Bless 'em All, and Call Me Bwana', Alison giggled.
'Call Me What?', asked Dieter.
'Call Me Bwana was a Bob Hope movie set in Africa', laughed a delighted Celia, feeling more at home with her eclectic drinking circle.
Hugh Williams sang the first verse of Bob Hope's song in a pleasing bass voice, then asked,
'Now what's this about leopards having a sense of humour, Danny Boy?'
It was Phil's turn to launch into a 'warie', a portmanteau word combing 'war' and 'story'.
His story began as he met his BSAP Member in Charge who commanded the police in Sindala. The charge room featured bulletins and other pieces of paper and posters posted high and low on the walls covering the bullet holes left where his policemen unsuccessfully clearing their weapons had accidental discharges.
'We've got some int on a group of terrs coming through tonight about...here', the MIC briefed as he pointed at his large wall map of the area.
Phil trained and led African militia to assist the police and protect the local farms. He knew that if the intelligence on where and when the terrorists, or terrs, was a sure thing, the MIC would've sent out a stick or small team, of his regular police or the farmers called up for the Police Anti-Terrorist Unit. Ergo, Phil led the Rumour Response team.
He recorded all the information from the MIC's briefing in his pocket notebook he kept in the front left pocket of his camouflage shirt. He wore a PATU green shoulder patch that featured their initials over a lion's paw print. In the charge room was a satiric version of the emblem on a poster with 'TAPU' over the print of a Security Forces boot print...
'How many Claymores can you give me, sir?'
The American designed plastic semi-circular mine featured 700 ball bearings in front of some plastic explosive that acted like a giant shotgun. Phil was highly familiar with the Claymore from his Vietnam service with the Royal Australian Regiment as well as with the RLI.
'That's it, sir?'
'We're the police, not the RLI. They're bloody hard to come by, Phil. But we'll arm your men with shotguns...and I'm giving you something else.'
The MIC walked Phil over to the window and pointed at one of his African constables standing at attention in the sun near the flag pole that made Phil think of punishment from The Bridge Over the River Kwai.
'He's all yours for the operation. I don't want to see him again until it's over.'
'What's he been up to, sir?'
'You needn't ask, Phil.'
* * *
Phil assembled his militia dressed in their blue denim farm worker boiler suits. They hadn't let him down yet, but this was their first night operation. Constable Gabriel Mushowe was keen to get out of what to Phil was his unknown predicament and was determined to do a good job. Gabriel carried one of the BSAP automatic shotguns, but Phil's militia, who usually carried .303 bolt action rifles with the exception of the lead scout who would carry a captured AKM communist rifle that the terrorists used, were issued single shot Greener Guns that resembled the Martini-Henry of Zulu war days. Phil carried his usual South African version of the Fabrique Nationale Self Loading Rifle that he had used in the RLI as well as in Vietnam. He also carried a radio on his back.
Phil had Gabriel train the militia in the use and quick loading and unloading of the Greener Guns with Gabriel efficiently performing his duties and gaining Phil's thanks and approval. The African constable was beaming with pride.
The precious Claymore did not have the regular detonator issued in the US or Australia, rather, to set the mine off Phil had to touch the wire to one of the batteries used on the back pack radios. He was granted a second radio battery in case the first one didn't work.
The gist of Phil's training and operational orders was that no one under any, repeat, any circumstances was to fire their weapon until he detonated the Claymore, or he fired his FN rifle.
* * *
He deployed his stick after darkness. The area the terrs were said to cross that night was a stream bed on rocky ground. There was a good field of fire and enough concealment for his men.
Usually the metal legs of the Claymore would be stuck in the dirt giving it a firm position, but the rocky ground of the stream bed made it nearly impossible for the Claymore to remain upright. Phil heard it fall several times and he had to slowly crawl out to place the mine back upright.
He thought the chances of the terrorists coming as the intelligence provided were slim and none, but he was glad to give his men some good training in ambush procedures and build up their self-confidence and expertise.
The intelligence turned out to be nearly perfect except for one thing. The terrs came to cross the stream from behind Phil's men...
His men were well concealed and well trained, none of them fired and none of them were detected as six terrorists walked right besides them and nearly stepped on them. Phil was prepared to set off the Claymore to give them ball bearings in their backs when one of the terrs nearly tripped over the wire to the Claymore.
The terr picked up the wire and held the Claymore up to his face.
Phil pressed the wires to the radio battery.
The explosion was loud; everyone repeatedly fired their shotguns into the kill zone. Like Christmas candy, everyone got a piece...
Phil's orders were not to pursue terrorists at night. His men formed a circular perimeter around the kill zone where they counted four and one half terrorists, the latter being all that was left of the terr who held the Claymore up for examination.
Everyone laughed loudly in the Monomotopa circle except a wide eyed and silent Celia who had an incredible look of horror on her pale face, as opposed to her happy tanned companions.
'Didn't you say there was a laughing leopard involved with this?', asked Bert.
'I'm just setting the scene', Phil responded as he went back to his warie.
Everyone except Phil was too excited to sleep.
Once the dawn came up, the flies were in their glory swarming over the floppies, the dead bodies of the terrorists. A search revealed that one of them had a box of biscuits that all his African troops partook in some sort of African communion where Constable Gabriel explained that the men would receive the courage of the terrorists. Phil found himself eating one of the haunted biscuits.
Shortly after the dawn, the MIC himself leading a stick of his regulars carrying FNs and attired in camouflage as opposed to their usual grey shirts, khaki shorts and service hats came out to see the successful ambush and share in the glory. They were accompanied by Sindala's best African tracker who reported that there were not only tracks, but also blood spoor of one terr who escaped.
As there was only one set of tracks from a wounded man, Phil's militia joined the MIC's BSAP stick. The MIC was sensibly cautious.
It was almost noon when they found their prey who was sitting with his back against a tree, but he was missing his face.
The tracker saw the spoor of a leopard who walked by the wounded terrorist sitting against the tree and judged by the tracks that the leopard did not stop or even pause. The leopard coolly walked by, taking one bite out of the terr's face and kept on walking.
'Now, that was one funny, cool cat!', concluded Phil, 'how can you say that leopards don't have a sense of humour?'
Everyone roared in laughter with the exception of Celia.
'Well, the hyenas are laughing!'
Celia stormed out in a manner deliberately designed to impress the entire foyer of the Monomotopa.
'And you're catty with the best of them, Celia!', Alison laughed. 'It's my round, gentlemen! Waiter!'
Author Notes: I am the author of three Extra Dimensional/Ultraterrestial military science fiction novels MERCENARY EXOTIQUE, OPERATION CHUPACABRA and WORK IN OTHER WORLDS FROM YOUR OWN HOME! as well as two travel books THE MAN FROM WAUKEGAN and TWO AUSTRALIANS IN SCOTLAND (all from Lulu.com). I live happily ever after with my wife in paradise (coastal Kiama, NSW Australia).