Mercenary Black Mamba - Chapter 68
While the old men in power raised their wine glasses in a toast, inside an air-conditioned conference room in Aubagne, the young mercenaries in the burning Sahel showered themselves in blood to pad the resumes of those old men.
Chartres’ hadn’t gotten a single word wrong.
In ant societies, the old ones led and threw their bodies into danger to protect the organization and the young ones. In humans, the old used the organization from the rear and filled their bellies with the blood of the young. Similarly, nothing was wrong with the saying that money and steel would be able to cover most blood up.
The Department of Defence and the DGSE had used three East-Asian strategies, 混水摸漁 (murk the water to fish), 聲東擊西 (sound the east and hit the west), and 抛塼引玉 (use another’s talent to show oneself’s), to place the mercenary group on the sacrificial altar. The old men were satisfied, but Team Ratel fell into an inescapable swamp because of them.
Colonel Philip had flown out of the meeting room and immediately headed towards the Hercules that was waiting to take off. His incompetence had thrown his subordinates into a trap. The old men’s words of how mercenaries weren’t French citizens and should work for their food and pay rang in his ears.
“Ha, those dirty f*ckers!”
Colonel Philip spat in the direction of Aubagne and stepped on the trap.
“Armang, let’s go.”
“You don’t look too well.” First Lieutenant Commander Armang said as he received his bag.
“Of course I’m not happy. I feel as though those old men have given me their fleas. I’m going to go crazy; my entire body has hives.”
“The results weren’t good, I see. But hadn’t you already predicted this?”
“F*ck, my hands and feet are tied, too. They said they’ll throw me in jail if I keep insisting on sending a rescue team.”
“Take a break. You need to decide with a clear head, so as not to leave any regrets.” Armang calmed Philip as he offered him a neck pillow.
The machine passed the runway and lifted gently. Philip buried himself into his seat and closed his eyes.
The words about rank advancement kept ringing around his head. No, he had long thrown it out of his head, but it remained firmly attached to his heart. The dream of any soldier was to hang a star on their shoulder.
“The awarded star is the blood and tears of many subordinates.”
They were the right words, but his conscience shook him. Whether it was during peacetime or wartime, subordinates had to be sacrificed for him to become a general.
“Colonel, you should try this.”
Armang handed him a rectangular box.
“Hm, isn’t this dish called hoe? When did you prepare it?”
Armang threw away the chopsticks that were attached to the wrapper and handed him a fork. On the wrapper, were the words ‘天皇陛下万歳 征壽司’ (The Great Sushi Emperor) in red. If Black Mamba had seen those words, he would have spat fire from his eyes. The two Frenchmen only regarded it as some strange characters.
“I prepared it when it seemed as though you would miss your meal. It’s some portable dish called bento I bought from a Japanese store in Marseilles.”
“Thanks. But why is that Japanese store selling Korean food? Black Mamba told me dishes like these were Korean.”
“The Japanese are good at copying, aren’t they? The Japanese Bar in Brouden street has their girls take orders dressed up as Sophie Marceau.”
“I’ve been to that establishment. Female workers have make-up like Sophie Marceau and are taking orders with their breasts exposed, no underwear. Good enough for just the eyes.”
Philip attempted to switch out thoughts of the smelly old men at the conference with naked women. It wasn’t easy. In fact, Bonipas’ glare only seemed to intensify in his mind.
Philip shoved a hoe into his mouth with a fork and chewed.
“Now that I’m eating raw fish, I remember Burimer. My friend must be bored out of his mind in the Sahel.”
“You’re right. There’s no fish in the desert after all.”
Everyone knew Burimer as the fishing maniac in the legion. He always provided the officers’ and soldiers’ cafeterias with large fish that he had caught that day from the Shari River.
“How’s the taste?”
“Worse than Black Mamba’s. When that guy made it, the fish jumped around in my mouth.”
“He was an amazing guy.”
Armang had met Black Mamba for the first time in the officers’ cafeteria. That had been a new experience. Not even Armang had known that Black Mamba was a call-named mercenary.
That was the day Burimer had caught a large Nile perch and goliath tigerfish from the Shari River. Armang had been surprised at the fish that was over a meter long. And he had been even more surprised at Black Mamba’s knife handling skills.
“Commander, do you remember Black Mamba’s showcase?”
“It’s something I’ll never forget.”
Philip hadn’t forgotten the show Black Mamba had shown in the officers’ cafeteria.
A large fish was set up on the cutting board.
When it flapped, even the cooks were unable to control it and struggled. Burimer had poked Black Mamba’s side. Black Mamba, who had been shaking his head, finally stepped forward.
Even Philip had been interested in how Black Mamba was going to handle the fish.
Black Mamba pulled out his large kukri. He tapped the fish’s head with the blunt end of his knife. The fish had been flapping everywhere but then fainted onto the board, only opening and closing its mouth.
With a swish, the blade moved gently as though it was water. The scales fell in a row from head to toe. No one realized that the blade had altered degrees several times in that single sweep.
Without much knife movement, all the scales had been removed.
With another swish, the fish’s bones were revealed from the back of its head to its tail. Philip held his breath. The gutting had been fearsome. Black Mamba lifted the remnants as though he was ripping off double-sided tape. After flipping the fish, the kukri passed through one more time.
“Wow!” All the onlookers exclaimed.
With two swipes of the blade, the large fish had only its head and bones.
The heart of the fish was behind its gills. Usually, when hoe was made, the gills were separated to poke the heart and drain its blood. For large fishes, even its tail had to be cut to drain the blood because the rawness and taste of the fish decreased the more blood seeped into its muscles.
But because Black Mamba was capable of removing all its flesh at once, that process had been forgotten.
A large slab of raw fish was placed on the board.
The kukri’s blade moved to the point it couldn’t be seen. Thinly sliced hoe piled on the board. Black Mamba, finishing his job, moved away. Even then, the fish without its flesh was still opening and closing its mouth.
Philip’s mouth curved into a smile.
Burimer had used Black Mamba as an excuse to enjoy his hobbies, and Black Mamba used his amazing knife skills as cooking skills. The sea bass that jumped inside his mouth and the sweet and spicy Korean chili paste was a joyful memory, and those old men were trying to steal it.
“It would be nice if Black Mamba returned and sliced all of those bastards’ lips raw.”
“What? What did you say?”
Armang, who had been mixing wasabi into the soy sauce, lifted his head.
“Ah, nothing. Just saying. Armang, take it away.”
“Sorry. I ruined your mood by saying unnecessary things.”
“No. Black Mamba hated Japan the most. Calling them a shameless race. I don’t like Japan either. They mock France’s quality products with their replicas after all.”
“If you look at Asia’s history, they’re worse than the Nazis.”
“The weak are the sinners. Make a special forces list to deploy into the Sahel. I should send at least a hundred. I’m going to see if Team Jesepe is going to chase me all the way to Africa to arrest me. Prepare for immediate engagement upon arrival.”
Philip was planning to greet them by car reinforcements if a helicopter rescue was impossible. At the very least, he wasn’t a coward.
“It’s here. Dig.”
“Are you sure?”
“It doesn’t look as though there’ll be fish.”
Jang Shin and Emil, in suspicious moods, disagreed.
Where Ombuti had asked them to dig, dirt was blowing around.
“Water will come out.” Ombuti crossed his arms and tilted his head.
He needed fresh water to serve his Wakil.
He also had to wash his Wakil’s body that had been covered in unjust blood. Two slaves had been added to support Ombuti’s sudden servitude.
“Dig two meters only!” Black Mamba said in passing.
Jang Shin and Emil, who had been hesitating, began to move. The two took out their shovels that were attached to the pickup and began to dig.
“Those bastards only move when Wakil orders.”
Ombuti smiled satisfyingly at Black Mamba’s back.
When the two became tired, Miguel and Mouris took up the shovels. They took turns digging in pairs until they hit the 30-minute mark. Suddenly, a shout of jubilation was heard.
Wet sand began to appear around shoulder deep.
As always, Ombuti’s talent for finding water didn’t fail.
“How do you find water?”
“I just know.”
At the captain’s question, Ombuti answered shortly. Ombuti’s home was the desert. He had been born in the desert and had wandered the desert for several years.
His eye for finding water pooling regions and veins of underground water channels had grown naturally. Asking him how he found the water was similar to asking Pele if he knew how to head a football.
The team members who were energized began to dig a meter deeper. Water poured out of the ground. A well of around three meters in diameter was made.
“Wow!” The captain also shouted.
He hadn’t seen water for a week after leaving Trident Rock.
They were on the verge of rationing their drinking water, too.
“Wait!” Ombuti grabbed the back of Mike’s clothes as he was about to jump into the water.
“Agreed.” Mike conceded without a word.
Ombuti filled up a four-gallon plastic water bottle before running to the tent.
While Jang Shin and Emil filled up the drinking flasks, the mercenaries, dripping in dirt, began to scratch their bodies without rest.
The sweat that had clung to their bodies during the day froze in the night’s chilly air. The Saharan winds that blew out of nowhere, attached sands and yellow dirt to their skin and mixed it with their sweat.
They, too, were disgusted by their sour smell, but it also called flies and mosquitoes to them. For mercenaries used to the modern era, it was as though they had met another epidemic.
The mercenaries ran into the pool of water, disregarding who went first or last. It was the first bath in a week. They realized, for the first time, that washing one’s body was one of a human’s distinct traits.
Black Mamba rolled around his cot without rest.
Those small scrapes, scratches, and of course the gash across his calf was nothing. Of course, that was Black Mamba’s perspective.
Chui Do Shik had managed to run even with his neck punctured. The scar that he had received by the leopard in Mt. Bang Tae San’s cave had been ripped anew, causing his intestines to leak out. But such injuries were on the level of scratches. Sudden movements taxed him, but his basic movements hadn’t been affected. But he had still become Bellman’s patient and the captain’s concern because of those small injuries.
He hadn’t been able to refute their argument that his comrades’ safety would be ensured by his speedy recovery. Well, he did have to maintain a perfect condition to ensure that his team would be able to escape this hell after all.
Ombuti took off all of Black Mamba’s clothes. He soaked a cloth in water and began to wipe off the blood and sweat.
Suddenly, his nose twinged. He recalled the memory of wiping down Hae Young’s body in the overnight house’s kitchen: the soft skin that smoother than paper, the forest he hadn’t been able to take his eyes off, and her beautiful chest, her bright eyes that looked as though they were soaked.
She was fine. She had to be fine. He had covered himself in blood to find his mother and to be with her. His brain kept repeating those words, but his reaction swept past his nose and appeared in his eyes. Tears pooled around Black Mamba’s eyes.
“Wakil, are you uncomfortable?”
Ombuti’s hands became even more careful. He had mistaken Black Mamba’s reaction as immense pain.
Nothing changed because of the careful hands. Black Mamba couldn’t laugh or cry, so he pounded his chest out of frustration. A fragment of his memory had flown away thanks to Ombuti’s insistence.
“Ombuti. I’ll do it. Just stop!”
Black Mamba finally shouted for the first time.
“Wakil, please do not steal my happiness.”
But he, too, couldn’t find a way to cure the Tuareg warrior of his stubbornness.
Ombuti only left the tent after refilling the 40-liter water bottle twice. Bellman, who had been looking after Chartres, laughed in amusement.
Bellman was also wiping down Chartres’ body with the wrapping cloth. Chartres was always riddled with a high fever. Bellman couldn’t leave his spot.
“Hey, how popular you are. What’s the secret to gaining that old Tuareg warrior’s love?”