Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Chapter 12: Taking stock

Daise came wondering into my office about two hours later. She looked a lot better; her hair was washed and her face was scrubbed clean. She also seemed to be lot calmer. I was on the phone, and I wave her towards the guest chair.

"Hi Daise," I greeted her when I had put the phone down, "sleep well?"

"Yes thank you. In fact, I haven't slept that well in a long time. Was that Sgt Major Dhlamini?"

"Yes. How did you know?"

"I guessed. It was kind of easy though because you use a different voice when you speak to him. Sort of your 'command voice'. You don't tell him what to do, or ask him, you just say 'This is going to happen.' and everyone knows that they had better do whatever they have to do to make it so."

"And how did you know it was the Sgt Major and not someone else?"

"I noticed when you spoke to him last night, that you both have a deep affection for each other. It comes through in under-tone of what you say."

"Scary," I laughed.

"What's been happening? I can see in your eyes that you are still furious about what I told you. When you laugh, it doesn't as far up as that."

"The short version is that Alina will be on a plane in a few hours and she will get here the day after tomorrow. I..."

I couldn't continue. I was interrupted by a screech of excitement.

"She is coming here?"

"Yes, the flight is booked and she should board soon. I spoke to her earlier."

Daise jumped up from the couch and sprang into my lap, wrapping her arms around me and planting a very happy kiss on my mouth. Before that could get too interesting, she pulled back and said "Thank you, thank you more than I can tell you."

I spent a few seconds just enjoying this bundle of very sexy woman squirming on my lap, then said "It's my pleasure."

Daise suddenly seemed to realise where she was and what she was doing, because she blushed beet-red and stiffened up a bit, then it was if she had made up her mind and she relaxed again. She turned her face up to mine and pulled me down towards her. I was a little conflicted, as I didn't want to have gratitude too mixed up in this, but I had been wanting to kiss her perfect mouth since I had first seen her walking into the arrivals hall at the airport.

I bent down further and our lips met gently at first. I nibbled at her lower lip opened my mouth to allow her tongue to slip in. We kissed like this, with tongues invading each other mouths, for some time. I was getting more and more aroused but pulled back with a conscious effort.

"Wow," I said, "let me try to catch my breath."

"Mmm," Daise said dreamily, her eyes still closed, "I have wanted to do that since I first saw you in the airport."

"You too?" I laughed. "I could do a lot more of that, but I think we have to focus on a few other very important things first."

"What could me more important?" Daise asked with an arch look.

"Well, staying alive mostly."

"I don't know how you say such funny things with a straight face."

"Unfortunately in this case, it was easy because I was being entirely serious. I told Alina to dump her phone and go straight to the airport once she has a visa. She isn't even going back to your apartment for a tooth-brush. I am concerned that the two of you will be traced. I meant to ask you, is there someone that you could trust to go to your apartment and collect anything there of sentimental value and post it to you here?"

"Yes, I have a friend from the college. I can ask her."

"Ok, that is the first thing we must do. I will give you an address where she can send it. It is at the kwaMashu township post office. Sgt Major Dhlamini will arrange for it to get picked up. There is no way that anyone from any Russian crime syndicate could trace a parcel from there to where we are now. Nothing I have done so far will stop them tracing us, but some things I have done will slow them down a bit. In the mean-time, I want to start preparing for the worst case scenario; if we have to defend ourselves."

"Ok, what are you planning?"

"Have you ever used a fire-arm?"

"No. I have never felt the need."

"I think we will start with that. At the very least, I need you to be familiar with a few weapons so that you can handle them safely around the house. In addition to that, you should be able to use one to defend yourself."

"I will do what ever you tell me to about this Rupert. You are my only hope."

"No. I'm not. You are family to me now and part of the Regimental family as well as my natural family. Sgt Major Dhlamini is going to be like a cousin to you."

"Are you serious?"

"Not really. We think of the Regiment as family though. That's what I meant. We look after each other; watch each other's backs; help out where we can."

"Oh. Ok. I wasn't sure for a moment there."

"No problem. Here, let's get some things and head out to the shooting range."

I opened my gun-safe and considered the weapons I had there. At first I was only thinking about the hand-guns, then I figured that I may as well push out the boat a little and I reached in and grabbed the sporterised Lee-Enfield .303 rifle.

I showed Daise how to open the bolt and check that there were no rounds in the breech or the magazine; how to uncover the scope lenses and how to work the safety. That was enough information to suffice until we got to the range.

"Is this a sniper's rifle?" Daise asked, pointing at the scope.

"No. It is accurate out to a thousand meters and deadly at about eight hundred in the right hands, so some might consider it a sniper's weapon. Snipers rifles are usually built for the purpose, like the Russian sniper rifle; the Draganov. This is a combat rifle that has had a few changes made to it such as adding the scope and a few other bits and pieces. It's a very old actually, made in about 1914 and it is called an 'Emily Mark One'."

"Emily?" Daise asked, puzzled. "Why does a gun have a woman's name?"

"It's not a gun," I answered with a small grin, "it's a rifle. A gun is a large artillery piece or a naval cannon. 'Emily' is actually M.L.E., which stands for Magazine Lee-Enfield. A man called James Lee designed one part, and some problems with the first version were fixed at a place in England called Enfield. The 'Magazine' part of the name is because it has this ten round steel magazine to hold the rounds."

"Oh, OK. I don't understand the difference between what is a gun and what isn't. I can see that there is a lot to learn."

"Actually, you don't have to know any of this to use it, so don't worry about it. This rifle is very simple to use, you put the 'bullets' in here, and then you pull back this handle, push it forwards, and pull the trigger. Whatever you are pointing at you will hit. The skill is to know how to point to make sure it hits what you aim for. Everything else is just vanity and pretension."

"I thought we were going to have smaller weapons?"

"That's next. Here, let me show you."

I briefly considered the Czechoslovakian knock-off Luger 9mmK, but decided that while it was a very nice little concealed back-up weapon, and might make a nice lady's firearm, I didn't like the seven round magazine or the performance of the .380 round. I hauled out both of my Vektors, and showed Daise the SP1.

"This is the weapon I was thinking of for you. It is manufactured here in South Africa and is a nice tough weapon. It's also a 9mm, but the parabellum, which is a longer cartridge that makes it more effective. The weapon is slim so it will be easier for you to hold and to carry. What is really nice though is that you can carry it with a round loaded and the weapon ready to shoot, what is called 'locked and cocked', and it is still pretty safe. My handgun is almost exactly the same as yours, except it is called the SP2 and it has a bigger 'bullet'."

"Is it safe for me to hold it?"

"Sure. Always make sure you keep your finger off the trigger here unless you intend to shoot, and always treat it as if it is loaded and ready to shoot. I will show you the details on the range."

I packed all the weapons along with extra ammunition into the Land Rover. The rifle went into a special lock-box I had commissioned that replaced the top of the one wheel-well.

"There's one stop that I think we should make before we go to the range," I told Daise.

"What's that?"

"It's a shop called 'Cape Union Mart'. It is supposed to be a supplier of outdoor equipment, but I want to take you there so you can shop for some clothes."

It wasn't long before we pulled into the Hillcrest Mall parking lot, and were standing in the shop. I took Daise to the clothing racks and pointed out what I had in mind. She was ecstatic at the quality of the clothing. I liked getting things from there because they were generally of a much higher standard than the normal shops, usually pure cotton or specific blends of fibres designed to handle the conditions that they were designed for. The clothing was about ten to twenty percent more expensive than the equivalent items elsewhere, but worth every cent because they lasted three times as long and were twice as comfortable.

Once we had a range of long pants, shorts and shirts for Daise, I spent some time with her selecting a pair if hiking boots that would be durable and comfortable, as well as a number of pairs of woollen socks. Wearing them in the heat was sometimes a pain, but it was offset by the real pain of blisters and sore feet going without would cause.

I threw in a bottom of the range hand-held Garmin GPS and some decent sun-glasses; ones that wouldn't distort her vision on the range.

On the way out of the mall, I stopped at the Cell-phone shop and bought three cell-phones that ran Windows Mobile. If the trouble that I was expecting was going to arrive, then we would need communications that could not be tied to us in any way and traced or eavesdropped on. These phones could connect to the internet at relatively high data speeds, and I knew that I could then run software on them similar to Skype, but with a tough encryption option so we could speak securely.

We made one final stop for food. Daise said she didn't mind spicy, hot food, so we grabbed some peri-peri chicken takeaway from Nandos.

It took us just fifteen minutes to get to the Hammarsdale Shooting range. Sgt Major Dhlamini was waiting for us; sitting in his Toyota bakkie parked next to the WWI vintage tank at the entrance to the range.

"Howzit Njabulo. Are you well Sgt Major?"

"I am well, Major. Miss Daise, are you well?" he asked ritually.

Daise looked at me. I nodded at her encouragingly.

"Yes thank you Sgt Major. It's good to see you."

The formalities over, I hauled out the keys to the farm-style gate and opened it up. Sgt Major Dhlamini drove through and I moved my Land Rover through and closed up behind me. When I was back in the Land Rover, we drove through the dust kicked up by the Sgt Major's bakkie. When we pulled up at the pistol combat range, the Sgt Major was standing at the door to the storage shed while the three guys that had been on the back of his bakkie ferried the targets out and started setting them up.

"Who are they?" asked Daise.

"Two riflemen and a corporal from the Regiment," I answered her, "they work for the Sgt Major."

While they were setting up the range, I got out all the weapons I had brought with us and laid them out on a counter in the shade of a corrugated iron roof.

"Do you have the ammo Sgt Major?'

He just pointed, and I saw two 5.56 ammo-cases that had been dragooned into service. They were on the floor under the counter. I bent down and checked the contents, and was happy to see that the one was half full of .303 rounds for the Lee-Enfield and the half was filled with 9mm Parabellum. A quick glance in the other ammo-case showed it to be full of 9mm rounds.

I looked up at the Sgt Major, "From the usual place?"

He didn't answer, just rolled his eyes. He didn't say it, but I still heard it as if he had, "Of course, what do you think I am? An officer?" I just grinned at him.

Once the range was clear, I gave Daise a pair of ear-protectors and then proceeded to give her the full briefing on range safety and on the safe handling of a firearm. Once I had been through that, I made sure all the weapons were either stowed or safe on the counter, then we all walked the range while I showed Daise how it was laid out.

"This is a combat shooting range. There are a number of ways that you can go through the course, but you will see that most people follow one particular route; where the grass is worn down." I showed her how to use the obstacles for cover; how to move between the obstacles and how to shoot from behind cover. I started seeing her eyes were getting a bit glazed, so I figured that was enough theory.

I had just announced lunch time and passed out the food we had bought, when my cell rang.

"Rupert, Hello?" I said as I answered the phone.

"Hello Rupert, it's Alina. I just wanted to tell you I am safely in Amsterdam. I am checked in to my flight to Cape Town."

"Thanks Alina. Let me know just before you take off, so I know you have made it onto the plane. Would you like to speak to Daise?"

"Yes please."

I handed Daise the phone, and while she walked away jabbering in Russian to Alina, the rest of us tucked in to the peri-peri Nandos chicken.

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