"Battling" Barney Calhoun in
by "Doc" R.B. Danby
Chapter Two - Attack in the Dark
CALHOUN, FORMERLY OF THE tramp steamer Evangeline, paced the deck
of the battered old tug, the Lucky Anne. The boat settled into the
warm, languid waters of the Yinga river with a kind of sullen resignation,
but she seemed to keep out the water, which was the best he could hope
for in the circumstances.
He dragged a hand across his brow, inhaling of the muggy,
tropical air and squinted at the way the morning light blasted the old,
sun bleached wood of the dockside buildings.
Turning, he called some orders to the two burly Chinese
that were acting as his crew. He used the corrupted Mandarin dialect that
was common hereabouts, and which they seemed to speak. At least, they seemed
to understand. He hadn't heard them speak anything, not to him at any rate.
They worked for Daimon Farnsworth III, and he trusted them no farther than
he trusted their creepy British employer.
"Ahoy the boat!"
Startled from his musings, he looked down at the wharf.
A small, immaculately dressed brown-skinned gentleman
stood there, a fez upon his head, a steamer trunk suitcase at his side.
He smiled politely. "Excuse me, sir, is this the expedition that is headed
up the Yinga?"
Barney snorted. "I'm not sure I'd call it an expedition..."
"Please, sir, may I come aboard? I would like to discuss
Barney stared at him for a moment, the man's hopeful smile
never leaving his dark lips. Finally, Barney shrugged. "I can give you
He dragged a hand across his brow, inhaling of the muggy, tropical air and squinted at the way the morning light blasted the old, sun bleached wood of the dockside buildings.
Turning, he called some orders to the two burly Chinese that were acting as his crew. He used the corrupted Mandarin dialect that was common hereabouts, and which they seemed to speak. At least, they seemed to understand. He hadn't heard them speak anything, not to him at any rate. They worked for Daimon Farnsworth III, and he trusted them no farther than he trusted their creepy British employer.
"Ahoy the boat!"
Startled from his musings, he looked down at the wharf.
A small, immaculately dressed brown-skinned gentleman stood there, a fez upon his head, a steamer trunk suitcase at his side. He smiled politely. "Excuse me, sir, is this the expedition that is headed up the Yinga?"
Barney snorted. "I'm not sure I'd call it an expedition..."
"Please, sir, may I come aboard? I would like to discuss a proposition."
Barney stared at him for a moment, the man's hopeful smile never leaving his dark lips. Finally, Barney shrugged. "I can give you five minutes."
"...you must understand," he explained, "that I have spent many years studying what I could of the myths surrounding the Bat-Men of Maroon's interior. Unfortunately, such information has been regretfully on the scarce side. Nor have I ever been able to stir up enough interest to gain financial backing for a serious expedition of my own. Then, when I heard that an expedition was heading up the Yinga, possibly to the very loins from which the legends sprang -- so to speak -- I had to come and offer my services."
"Hold on. How do you know where we're going?"
"I was unaware of it being a secret, sir. There has been much talk of it, at least in certain circles."
Barney frowned. He supposed there was no real need for secrecy, but he didn't entirely like the idea that someone -- Farnsworth, presumably -- was out shooting his mouth off. "Well, I can appreciate your desire to tag along, doc. But this ain't a pleasure cruise, or some namby-pampy field trip. Where we're going there are crocodiles, self-styled warlords, and headhunters. See that bend in the river there?" He pointed. "Beyond that, the Union Jack is just a fancy coloured bedsheet, nothing more -- if you get my drift."
Seth Rashad straightened primly. "I am not in the habit of looking to the British for succor, sir."
Barney grinned. "Alright. I'm Canadian, so I'm not British in the strictest sense of the word, either. All I mean is that where we're going, the law of the land becomes the law of the jungle. I'm already babysitting one young lady. A bookworm -- even a well-intentioned one -- is just one more worry I can do without. Sorry."
"But can you do without my expertise?" countered Rashad. "My years studying the region and its people? The territory? I may indeed be a bookworm, but at least I've read the right books."
Absently, Barney turned as Arlene Wentworth mounted the deck. He let his eyes flare marginally in appreciation as he saw the young Englishwoman, dressed beautifully, if impractically, in a cotton dress. "Are you going to introduce me to your...friend?"
Barney glanced at Rashad who stared at him intently, a begging, eager look in his eyes. Finally, he said, "Arlene Wentworth, Doctor Seth Rashad, he'll be lending us his expertise on this little jaunt."
Rashad fairly leapt from his seat, barely keeping a schoolboy grin from his lips. "Madam," he said, holding out his hand.
Arlene took the proferred hand coldly, her face growing hard.
"True. But we know precious little about where we're headed, either. And he claims to know a fair bit, eh? That makes him useful. Besides, he seems to know a fair bit about us."
She stopped and glared at him. "What does that mean?"
"I mean, why's your buddy Farnsworth telling everyone where we're going?"
"Really, Mr. Calhoun," she chided. "What I told you yesterday in your hotel room is no secret. My father, Edgar Wentworth, the noted anthropologist, travelled up the Yinga on an expedition two years ago. He sent back some minor artifacts-"
"And that jade figurine."
"-and the figurine. Then word came to me that he was being held hostage. That if I did not return the figurine to the cult who worshipped it, they would kill my father." Her pale features blanched visibly. "I'm sorry. I get upset just thinking about it."
He pursed his lips. Last night, Farnsworth had promised him rewards "temporal and spiritual" -- the temporal was the money he'd be paid, while the spiritual was knowing he was doing a good deed. "And I get upset knowing that every mercenary and cut-throat in town knows we're travelling into the jungle with a jade statue valued at five thousand pounds. Hopefully, Dr. Rashad will give us an edge." What he didn't tell her was that he had two, rather more nefarious reasons for accepting Rashad's application to accompany them.
One was that he didn't trust Farnsworth -- he knew too many such "entrepeneurs" in these climes. To Arlene, he was simply a fellow Englishman whose contacts had helped her mount an expedition, but Barney worried he might have another agenda, an agenda to be propogated by his two henchmen that were serving as Barney's crew. Therefore, anyway he could deviate from Farnsworth's proscribed course -- such as by taking on another member of the party that wasn't in Farnsworth's employ -- was a good thing, he felt.
The second reason was more risky. He had been knocked out last night, but by who and why, he didn't yet know. Maybe Rashad himself?
And Arab sailor he had crewed with once told him, "It is better to have a camel inside your tent pissing out, then a camel outside, pissing in."
If Seth Rashad was other than he seemed, it was better to have him where he could keep an eye on him.
"So, buck up, Princess. Where we'e going, there's going to be trouble of some kind. Period. Let's not start it among ourselves before we've even cast off."
After a moment, she smiled sheepishly. "Very well, Mr. Calhoun. I'm in your capable hands."
From somewhere in that impenetrable darkness came the cawing of nightbirds and the occasional screech of a monkey.
It was hot, despite the fact that the sun had slipped away upon its celestial rotation hours ago. The river water thudded hollowly against the hull in a steady, rythmic pattern. Soon, he knew, they should drop anchor, but according to Rashad, who had done a study of the river, it opened up just ahead. He figured it made more sense to halt somewhere where they weren't too close to either shore.
He canted his head. He thought he had detected a heavier timbre to the thud of water against the hull. Was it his imagination? He stepped away from the rail and looked about the deck, lit only by the moon and the light spilling from the pilot's house.
He moved toward the larboard side and peered over the rail. The water was a black abyss, but he could make out nothing untoward. He started to look aft when he heard the pit-pit sound of dripping water right behind him.
He whirled aside a moment before a machete hacked into the rail, swung from behind him. He turned and in the same motion drove a mighty fist into the face of his assailant. The man's feet snapped out from under him and he went skidding wetly across the deck on his backside.
"Fingal's Bones!" cursed the brawny Cape Bretoner.
Another man was upon him in an instant, sopping wet from having swum to the boat. This man was bigger than the first, and the unexpected rush of his attack slammed Barney painfully back against the gunwale. Barney managed to catch each of the man's wrists in either of his hands, and so the two grappled momentarily in silence, grunting and spitting between gritted teeth.
Suddenly the report of a rifle shattered the night and the weight pressing on Barney went limp and he shoved him aside to land heavily on the deck. One of the two Chinese crewmen was standing by the pilot house, a rifle in hand. Barney was about to thank him when he remembered the heavy sound he had heard, which now seemed likely to have been a small boat or canoe bumping along side the Lucky Anne. But if they came in a boat, he thought, why were they wet from having swum?
Obviously they had scrambled up the starboard side as a diversion for companions who were boarding from a small boat somewhere else.
"Aft!" roared Barney, racing past the pilot house toward the rear of the boat even as he heard a woman's scream. "Arlene!" he called. Suddenly the door that led below decks burst outward and a man stumbled out, a writhing young woman in his arms, pale white legs kicking out from beneath her nightgown.
"Calhoun!!!" she screamed.
Barney tore into him like a wildcat, almost taking off the man's left ear with a solid right cross. The man groaned and flung Arlene away to beard this more paramount threat. Like two bears, Barney and his opponent clenched together, grunting and straining, knees aiming for groins, iron hard fists seeking vulnerable points. Dimly Barney was aware of gunshots and more shouts. He had to finish this and help the others, ere it was too late. He reared back his head and smashed his brow against the other man's nose. Hot blood spurted over his face and the impact sent lights bursting in his eyes, but it dazed the other man. Reaching down Barney grabbed the man's thick thigh and hefted, sending him tumbling over the side of the boat.
Dizzily, he whirled.
There was a man sprawled on the deck, and other figures still scrambling about. Clothes and suitcases were scattered violently over the deck, clear indication of a frantic attempt at looting. Arlene was shrieking, once more being absconded with, this time flung over a man's shoulder. Seth Rashad was holding futilely onto the neck of a man twice his size -- a man holding some sort of covered object.
Barney snatched up a discarded pistol and fired, blowing a hole in the leg of Arlene's abductor. The man cried out, then spun, wild eyed, to see Barney leveling the pistol at his face. Barney grinned evilly and, in Mandarin, told him it was his move.
Knowing he was beat, the man shrugged Arlene from his shoulder so that she fell inelegantly at his feet. Then, clutching his bloody leg, he leapt from the deck and a splash echoed from the side a moment later.
The man encumbered by the unwanted weight of Seth Rashad reached back and grabbed the little anthropologist about the neck. He tossed the smaller man aside, but dropped his covered prize in the process. He didn't seem to care overmuch and quickly followed his companion over the side.
Panting, Barney rushed to Arlene. "Y'all right, Princess?" he asked, helping her to her feet.
She rose unsteadily, her blonde curls a wild mane about her head, the girl looking dazed and dishevelled. She looked down at herself, then gave a yelp as she realized her nightgown had been torn and one pale, plump breast quivered in the open night. Barney caught a glimpse of a pink nipple before she hastily covered herself. "I-I'm as well as can be expected."
Barney glanced around. One of his crew was down, holding a bloody arm, but his companion was seeing to him. Meanwhile Seth Rashad was dragging himself to his feet. The little bookworm wasn't much in a fight, but Barney admired his spunk.
"Wh-what was that all about?" asked Rashad.
"Mercenaries working for a local warlord, I figure, eh?" said Barney. "I told you up river things would get rough." But that didn't explain it all, he knew. Their possessions scattered on deck was clear evidence of an attempt at robbery, which didn't surprise him. Word must have travelled about the jade figurine they carried. What he couldn't understand was why they had tried to kidnap Arlene first? Surely the statue would be a priority to any mercenary?
Was there more to the girl than he knew?
Then his eyes fell on the covered object the last mercenary had been carrying. He didn't recognize it as anything they had been carrying, though it would've fitted in either Rashad or Arlene's suitcases. Had the mercenary brought it on board with him? Barney started toward it. Rashad, seeing him, and no doubt equally curious, reached it first and started to heft it.
"What is it?" called Barney.
"I am not sure. It seems to be some sort of cage-" Rashad cried out as he fumbled the covered cage and it slipped from his fingers, hitting the gunwale and cracking open. The covering sheet fell aside and something fluttered off into the blackness of the night.
"What was that?" gasped Arlene. "A bird?"
"It...it looked like a bat!" said Barney.
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