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the Literary Expression of Battlefield Touchstones
ISSN 1542-1546 Volume 03 Number 03 Summer ©Jul 2005

Of Hunters and Jackals
excerpted from The Butcher and the Calf

          A gray dawn came windy and warmer. Up in the barn and wrapped in an army blanket, Philip sat huddled against the high wall of the loft. Looking out the trap-window with his Zeiss field glasses, in the early morning light he saw the flat brown expanse of clearing north of the farmhouse and misty line of the forest beyond. Nothing had happened since he sent Kyle and Lawson back to get some sleep. The watchers were still in the wood. He could see them now, faces red beneath their peaked, green-streaked camouflage caps, drinking from a steaming thermos. Philip did not know who they were but wished he had some of whatever it was they were drinking.

          Although the temperature was rising, the damp Pennsylvania night air had chilled him to the bone. Stiff, hungry, tired, and above all, wary, he was ruing his decision to have only four men along on this job. Events were spinning out of control, starting with Lawson's insubordination, the too-pat discovery of Nadya, with Jean-Pierre ailing, with Kyle a monumental pain in the ass, and now with this pair in the trees. They were not dressed like the terrorist he had knifed above the gorge, but they had weapons and who knew what tricks Saladin was up to? One mistake and they would never leave these miserable hills.

          He was still looking out when he heard a sharp knock on the closed doors. Startled, he turned and glanced down. He heard the doors grate open and saw a shaft of light cut in, saw two figures slip in, then heard Lawson say searchingly, "Lucas?"

          Covering Lawson with his AR-23 Colt, Philip groused, "What is it?"

          "Perched, eh?" Lawson said looking up. "What news of our shadows?"

          "They're still sitting. What is it?" he asked, suspicious.

          "I have the bitch here."

          "I see her."

          "She's taking fits. Insists on talking to you. Kyle nearly strangled her. She claims it's important." Lawson sounded skeptical.

          "You handle it," Philip said. He did not want to be bothered.

          The girl walked forward toward the ladder. "Can I come up? This is for you alone."

          Philip glanced out the window and then down at her. "Come slowly."

          She gingerly climbed the rickety ladder and saw Philip on the wooden catwalk beside the window, carbine in the crook of his arm. She crept over and sat cross-legged in front of him. He could see her full lips and high Chechen cheekbones clearly in the morning light.

          "You won't need that," she pointed at the gun. "I'm not what you think."

          "What are you?"

          "What would you like me to be?"

          "I'm in no mood for riddles. Say your piece and get out."

          She reached over and gently drew the blanket closer about his neck. "Do you want to make love?" she suddenly asked.

          "Here?" He was looking hard at her and liking what he saw.

          "Not here," she smiled. "Here would be difficult. But not impossible."

          He said nothing.

          "Last night. When the old man told that awful story. I felt sorry for a frightened and wounded little boy running through Algiers."

          "Save your sorrow. You're going to need it."

          "I'm not blind," she said. "I see the way you look at me."

          "So what?" he said defensively.

          "Don't you want me?"

          "No," he lied.

          "Why? Because my face is all bruised?"

          "If I wanted you that would not mean anything."

          "Have you made love with many women?"

          "What is that to you?"

          She shook her head. "You can't imagine what it's like with Saladin, how degraded women are. I want to help you, Philip, and I think I can. But I have to be very careful."

          "You want to help me, do you?" he said angrily. "You flatter yourself, girl. I wouldn't trust you if you sprouted wings and a halo."

          Suddenly she flung her arms around him and clung to him, and, grappling to free himself, he felt her breath on his neck, and the round safe softness of her breasts, and then he was holding her and kissing her, her hair thick in his fingers, and he held her tightly and kissed her a long deep kiss until they fell onto their sides and lay quietly looking at one another.

          She whispered, "Why didn't you let Kyle kill me last night? Saladin would've had me shot."

          "That's the difference between him and me. And there's one other difference."


          "When this is over I will be alive and he'll be dead."

          "You're a strange one," she told him and kissed his lips.

          "Because I believe in my work?"

          "Because you haven't turned killer. Those men out there. They're not with Saladin. I know."

          He sat up. "How do you know, Nadya?"

          "I know. It's what I came up here to say. That, and about Lawson."

          "What about Lawson?"

          "I guess it doesn't much matter. He didn't hurt me." Kissing him a short hard kiss on the mouth, she backed away and scampered lithely down the ladder.

          As she came out Lawson stepped up behind and jerked her aside. Agitated, he shoved her against the wall.

          "What are you doing?" he demanded, gaunt-faced, unshaven, and scowling. "Your orders are to help me delay him until the plane arrives, nothing more. We'll kill the two in the house, but not before we use them to get rid of those spies in the trees. I'd as soon kill Lucas too, and the hell with taking him alive to Saladin. I can't figure why Saladin wants him so badly anyway."

          "Lucas scares you, doesn't he? And get your greasy paws off me!" She squirmed loose from him.

          "I hate him and this country," Lawson said thoughtfully. "But I'll handle him. It's you who scares me. Last night you were one of us. What's changed?"

          "Maybe me. And maybe it goes farther back than last night." She paused. "It's true Saladin left me here to help you. But I've changed my mind."

          "Listen, whore," he hissed. "Playing both sides means death. Forget Lucas. Haven't you laid down for enough men?"

          "Not laid down for as many as you," she said coldly. "Saladin told me all about you, how he found you rolling in the gutters of Gaza with your little Fatah boys. We had a good laugh."

          "Close your mouth, whore," he said, then drew his pistol and put it to her cheek.

          She laughed at him. "Don't try to frighten me with that. You need me if you hope to collect your thirty pieces of silver. Imagine the agonies Saladin will give you if I'm harmed." She whirled defiantly and headed for the farmhouse. Cursing, Lawson holstered his pistol and rushed after her.

          Fidgeting up in the loft, Philip pondered what the girl had told him. For an unknown reason he felt she spoke the truth. He lifted his field glasses and panned the timber. The green colony of pines was overhung with mist. He swung the glasses and realized that the watchers were gone. He cast off the blanket, backed down the ladder, and hurried out the barn and crossed the hundred-yard clearing to the house.

          The others were already astir. Though the fire had burned out Philip felt warm after the loft. Jean-Pierre and Lawson were at the table and Kyle was hunched in a corner beside the hearth, sitting atop a sleeping bag. Holding a carbine, he was gently caressing it with an oiled gun-cloth.

          The girl was seated on the floor with her back to the black iron stove. Her jacket hung open and Philip immediately noticed the swell of her breasts against the khaki tunic she wore. All of them looked up when he came in. Only the girl smiled.

          "Any news?" Jean-Pierre said.

          "How's the chest?" Philip asked him, looking out the window.

          "Very well. Do not concern yourself." From his voice Philip could tell that the Algerian was still suffering.

          "Our shadows have vanished," Philip said. "We have to avoid trouble at all costs. Kyle, how long for you to go get the jeep and bring it here from where we stashed it?"

          "A couple of hours maybe. And by the way, we should just kill those two."

          "No," Philip said, and Lawson watched him.

          "Why not?" Kyle said accusingly. "Why the hell not?"

          "Don't start anything with me, Kyle," Philip growled. "Don't."

          "Well, then," Kyle said, "to avoid them we should all leave. The woods are a good place to disappear."

          "And a good place to get bushwhacked."

          "Bad things can happen in two hours, if we wait," Lawson cautioned.

          Philip nodded. "Go get the jeep," he ordered Kyle. "We'll wait for you. Come quick. And if you sight anybody keep well away."

          "What do you tell me that for? You think I want to get greased?"

          "How much ammunition is left?" Philip asked him.

          "Plenty. Enough to defeat Genghis Khan and Attila the Hun combined."

          "Go," Philip said.

          Kyle threw on his parka, took his rifle and left by the back door.

          Again Philip looked out the window and saw nothing. He went to the table, sat on a barrel and put his hand on the shoulder of Jean-Pierre. "Feel up to standing sentry, old one?"

          "I'll go," Lawson offered.

          "Surely," Jean-Pierre said ignoring Lawson, and put on his coat and brown knitted cap. "I am quite fit."

          "Don't stray far," Philip called as the Algerian went out.

          "I could've gone," Lawson said. "Just because we've had differences doesn't mean I'm not part of the team."

          "I want to help too," the girl said. "I know how to use one of those," pointing to a rifle.

          "That I believe," Philip said sourly.

          Outside, Jean-Pierre was near the barn when he saw the three emerge from the pines. Quickly he ducked behind it. They were wearing camouflage coats and caps and each had a weapon slung over his shoulder. As they approached, walking abreast, the Algerian placed his rifle aside and shuffled out, stoop-shouldered, to meet them, an idiotic grin widening over his face.

          When they saw him they stopped, one man unslinging a submachine gun. Jean-Pierre shuffled on. He came up to the one with the gun until its short ventilated barrel touched his chest.

          "What is this that blunders down the throat of a machine?" the man grunted, and Jean-Pierre was shocked to hear his French accent. The Algerian, his own accent still thick after all these years, stuck out his tongue, pointed to it, shook his head and made gurgling noises in his throat.

          "A mute," a second man said. "And from his looks an imbecile. Are you deaf? Can you hear?" the man shouted.

          Pointing at his ears and indicating that he could indeed hear, Jean-Pierre continued to grin crazily.

          "Where are the others? Inside?" the third one asked. All three were big, tall, and mean-looking.

          Jean-Pierre tossed his head toward the house, put fingers to mouth and made a chewing action. Continuing the pantomime, he lifted both hands to the sides of his head, opened his fingers to form antlers, and tapped the submachine gun with his knuckle.

          "Hunting, is it?" the second man said.

          "Nous apprendrons si c'idiot ment," he told the others, and Jean-Pierre, pushing out his lower lip, heard: "We will soon learn if this old lunatic is lying."

          "Lead us inside," the first man said poking Jean-Pierre in the ribs with his weapon.

          Hunched over like an arthritic, the Algerian slowly shambled toward the farmhouse.

          As they approached, the door opened and Philip came out on the porch coatless and without his gun belt. "What's wrong?" he asked excitedly. "Are you all right, Papa? Why do you have a gun on my father?" He was unsure what Jean-Pierre was up to.

          "This mute is your father?" the first man asked doubtfully, and hearing the accent Philip realized Jean-Pierre was concealing his own.

          "If you're here to rob us," Philip said, "you are out of luck. We have little money."

          "We are not bandits. Can we come in?" the man holding the gun asked suspiciously.

          "Why not?" Philip said. "Come ahead."

          Entering, Jean-Pierre's eyes moved to where the equipment had lain. He saw the sleeping bags, haversacks, and scoped Remington rifles. Everything else was gone.

          Frowning indignantly, Lawson snapped, "What's the meaning of this, who —"

          "Shut up," the submachine gun man said. He looked about and then wandered slowly through the farmhouse. His comrades waited for him in silence. Returning, the first man commenced to examine the Remingtons.

          "Papa is okay," Philip said pointedly. "They know he's unable to speak and haven't harmed him." He asked in friendly fashion, "What can we do for you fellows?"

          "We ask the questions," the one checking the rifles said. "You are hunters?"

          "Yes," Philip chuckled. "Trying, anyhow. That pretty young lady is my fianc‚e. And the good-looking one there is my buddy, Al. We were out late last night. Truth to tell, we're lost and can't find our car," he said sheepishly. "So we spent the night here, built a fire and everything."

          The first intruder picked up a rifle and sighted through its scope. "A good gun," he said. "For the bringing down of elephants, that is. Are there elephants in the hills?"

          "We need all the help we can get," Lawson said as if embarrassed.

          The intruder put the Remington down and strode suddenly, menacingly, up to Philip. "Where is your license to hunt?"

          In answer, Jean-Pierre went over to him, grinned, gurgled, pointed to the sacks and whacked him on the rump.

          "Get back, you old goat," the man snarled and slapped Jean-Pierre across the face with his open hand, leaving a wide red blotch. The Algerian stumbled backward and then sat down on a barrel before the table. He reached slowly beneath his coat and slipped the safety off his Browning 9mm pistol.

          "Sure we have licenses," Philip said. "Papa was only trying to tell you."

          "Show me."

          "I don't mind, but first I need to know your authority."

          "Here is my authority," the man lifted his weapon.

          Philip moved back a step and raised his arms. "Hey, we're not poachers. You're forest rangers, right?" Whatever they were he knew they were not forest rangers.

          The man's lips twisted into a wan facsimile of a smile. "We," he said, "are warranted agents of the government of France and come at the behest of your Homeland Security Department. We are pursuing a terrorist wanted in Paris and are informed that he is operating in this area. Perhaps you are that terrorist."

          "Us?" the girl suddenly leaped up. "We live in Lancaster. My God, terrorists? We have to get home, Phil. This is too frightening!"

          "I'll get the licenses right away," Philip said. He went and dug into a haversack wondering why they had waited till now to show themselves. And why three instead of two? He came back flaunting the licenses, which had their photographs on them.

          The intruder examined the documents in silence. "There is no paper for you," he told the girl.

          "Why would there be?" she said. "I don't hunt."

          The man was staring at her. "Those are interesting clothes."

          "Do you like them?" she said, brightening and batting her eyes at him. "I bought them in Saks Fifth Avenue especially for this trip."

          The submachine gun man watched her simper and then shrugged. "All appears normal," he said and handed back the papers. "One thing. Where is the other who was with you?"

          "Out, hunting," Lawson answered. "We were hoping to cook a stew."

          "Cook it somewhere beyond these mountains," the third intruder warned.

          "Right," Philip said. "Now you've cautioned us, we'll go immediately. Thank you very much."

          As the three started out, the second man said to the first, "Je pense il a tort les permettre vivre. It is a mistake to let them live. With twenty-five million hanging in the balance."

          "No, Maurice," the first said. He glanced at his watch. "We meet the others in one hour to locate and remove the American unit. We cannot risk a disturbance here. These are harmless insects, they pose no threat. Allons."

          From the window Philip watched them go. "They bought it," he said, relieved.

          "French," Lawson said to Jean-Pierre. "Could you make it out?"

          Jean-Pierre laughed bitterly. "If you believe that fable of French agents, you believe Saladin is a social worker. If General Wilkes informed France of our mission — and he had every reason to, since Saladin has murdered scores of French Jews — Paris would never send operatives. These three plan not to advance the cause of justice but to collect the bounty on the terrorist. They will liquidate the American unit to prevent any but themselves from capturing him. We have just been very fortunate."

          "They're mercs, then?" Lawson said.

          Jean-Pierre sneered. "Not mercenaries. Scavengers. Pickers of bones. They are jackals."

          "We're moving out," Philip said. "I hope we can avoid a fight. God help Kyle if he runs across them. But that's his problem. We have ours, which is getting out of here before they discover their error and come back firing."

          He opened the grate of the stove and hurriedly began removing the weapons he had stashed there. Lawson went into the hearth and lifted the ammunition boxes up from under a pile of ashes and took the RPG and carbines out from where they were wedged in the chimney.

          "How can I help?" the girl asked.

          "Cross your fingers," Philip said, as he buckled on his pistol, "and hope we don't have to fight."

          "We could take them," Lawson said.

          "Could we?" Jean-Pierre said grimly. "I know these French bastards only too well. There will be more than those we saw. They hunt in packs and are skilled assassins. And only three of us."

          "Four of us," the girl said.

          Grabbing a Colt, Philip turned and tossed it to her. "You said you could use one of these. You might just get your chance."

          Jean-Pierre shook his head doubtfully, disapproving.

          "I know, I know," Philip waved a hand. "But you said it yourself: they're qualified men. And I have me an unbreakable appointment with Saladin."

          "But —" the Algerian began.

          "No buts, ami. Besides," he patted his pocket, "I've still got the clip."

by Christopher S. Baldwin
... who is a transportation director interested in history, with numerous cultural and political articles published in The American Spectator, National Review, Chronicles, The Leading Edge, and elsewhere. His short stories have appeared in literary magazines; and while Night of the Barbarian is making the rounds with publishing houses, this story is excerpted from his second novel, The Butcher and the Calf, a book in progress. His work has previously appeared in this magazine, where he is also a contributing editor.

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