Excerpt: Scoundrel's Daughter
Book One: The Victorian Brothers
It couldn’t possibly get any hotter or more desperate, Jack Temple thought as the son of the Bahisi chief yanked the ropes tighter around his wrists. Jeering women and children had gathered around, and the village witch doctor pranced in circles around them, shaking a rattle made of lions’ teeth in one hand, while he screeched incantations.
Distracted, the chief’s son didn’t notice when Jack turned his hands back to front before being tied. Jack managed to keep a small space between his hands so the twine would be easier to slip off. It was his only hope of getting himself and O’Neill out of this mess.
Christ, he was getting too old for this!
The warrior jerked Temple against a tall, wooden stump that stood upright in the center of the village and tied him to it. Sweat poured from his forehead, running into his eyes, and he was powerless to wipe it away.
Unfortunately, sweat was the least of his worries.
When the drums began their ominous beat and the warriors started dancing, Jack knew that trouble had just begun.
“Where in hell is Alastair Bright?” O’Neill muttered. Jack could feel the older man twisting his arms against the ropes that tied them to each other’s backs. If Bright did not return and mount a rescue effort, O’Neill and Jack were certain to die. Miserably.
On the other hand, anything Bright managed would have to be nothing short of a miracle. They were outnumbered at least twenty to one, and that was counting only the men. Looking at the people gathering around him, Jack knew he wouldn’t want to have to do battle against any of the women, either.
His eyes burned with the blistering heat while his head pounded with whatever drug they’d poured into him earlier in the day. His tongue felt thick, and it stuck to the roof of his mouth, to his teeth. Half-naked men and women swayed before him, their colorful figures becoming blurry as the drug took effect.
Even so, Jack’s wits were still at least somewhat intact. He might be slow, but he wasn’t dead yet, and he had no intention of departing the land of the living without a fight. Even as the Bahisi people waved their rattles and bangles threateningly before him, he actively worked to get free.
Twisting his hands to loosen his bonds, he forced himself to keep his focus, to ignore the witch doctor’s pointed taunts and the sharp spears carried by each of the warriors.
“Kizushi! Majiza! Wauaji!” sputtered the prancing, brightly painted man. He was naked except for a bright red sash tied around his waist and wide armbands made of leopard fur. His legs and chest bore bright slashes of paint, intricate patterns of blue and white contrasting with his black skin.
“What’s he saying?” O’Neill croaked. Jack’s old friend never learned any of the local languages of the exotic places they traveled. He hired the bearers and sailors and managed to procure lodgings, food and medical services when necessary – always using a kind of pidgin-English that somehow got him by.
“He says the tribal gods are angry that the Kohamba figure was taken.”
“Yes, but we don’t have it, do we?” O’Neill said petulantly.
“No, Bright’s got it,” Jack replied.
“And it didn’t belong to the Bahisi tribe anyway!” O’Neill’s voice was an angry rasp. His words were beginning to slur, but they were still tinged with the indignation of an idealist.
“You want to clarify the situation for them, O’Neill?” Jack said through gritted teeth. “Tell them that we came into deepest, darkest Africa only to photograph the powerful Kohamba, but that one of our party decided to steal it?”
“Can’t we?” O’Neill asked desperately. “After all, it was Alastair Bright who double-crossed us and took it. And the statue belongs to the Mongasa tribe, so -“
“So the Mongasas should be the ones to kill us?”
“Kill us?” O’Neill sounded even more panicky than before. “They m-mean to kill us?”
Jack loosened his tongue and tried, unsuccessfully, to moisten his lips. For all the miles they’d traveled together, O’Neill was painfully naive. “When all this hoopla is over – the drums, the chanting – they’re going to torch the brush at our feet and burn us.”
“Christ, sir!” O’Neill cried. “We’ve got to do something! How long will the dancing last?”
“I don’t know,” Jack replied. “But I’m working on these bindings around my wrists. You might want to do the same.”
“Then what?” O’Neill asked and Jack could feel him struggling frantically to yank his hands free. “We’re surrounded by an entire village of naked heathens! They have spears! And knives!”
“I don’t have a plan yet,” Jack replied with as much calm as he could muster. “Go easy on the bindings, O’Neill. Use your fingers and see if you can feel a rough edge on this stump that we can use to cut the ropes.”
“All r-right, all right,” O’Neill said, and Jack could feel the man’s hands moving less frantically than before. He didn’t think it would be possible to saw through the ropes in such a short amount of time, but the task would give O’Neill something to think about while Jack got his own bindings off.
And then what?
Jack squinted his eyes against the painful light and looked around him. Their situation was as hopeless as any he’d ever been in. If they managed to escape their bonds, they’d have to get out of the village. Once out of the village, they would be in jungle so deep, they’d be lucky if they traveled a mile without being attacked by wild animals or captured by another hostile tribe.
Damn Alastair Bright!
Jack should never have trusted him. The man called himself professor, but Jack now knew he was a charlatan – certainly he was no academic man of any reputation.
It seemed like years since Jack had met Bright in a tavern on the isle of Unguja. Jack’s instincts had warned against trusting the man, but he hadn’t been able to get around the Englishman. Bright was the one who’d learned the location of the Mongasa tribe from a slave working on a Persian steamer out of Mombasa. Bright was the only white man who knew how to find the village of the Mongasa people, where the tribesmen most certainly kept the obsidian carving of their god, Kohamba.
Jack hadn’t been able to resist going on the expedition deep into Njiri territory. Few white men had ever ventured so far into the jungle, and even fewer had returned. Enough, however, had spoken of the Kohamba Legend, to pique the intense interest of archaeologists and explorers all over the Western world. Jack Temple had not been immune.
“The ropes won’t budge, sir,” O’Neill said, his voice edgy with panic, but thickly drugged. “If you have any other ideas, you might share them with me now.”
Jack was out of ideas beyond catching Alastair Bright and beating him to a pulp. When he got out of this mess, he was going to hunt the man down and flay him within an inch of his life. Then he was going to take the Kohamba from him and see it returned to the Mongasa tribe.