"Battling" Barney Calhoun in
by "Doc" R.B. Danby
Chapter Four - To Escape the Warlord
And, since as a youth he'd once spent a summer herding logs down river in New Brunswick, he didn't figure riding a croc would be much worse than riding a log.
He whipped off his dinner jacket and snapped it upward, just as the two valves of the trap came together, pinching the jacket between them. Then, muscles in his arms bulging, Barney hauled himself from the water, praying to whatever gods still had a soft spot for his misbegotten hide that the fabric would hold.
It did. At least for the moment.
Teeth gritted, muscles straining, Barney suspended himself above the river as crocodiles snapped hungrily at his heels.
He was safe for the moment, but he knew he could not keep himself here forever. Eventually, his grip would loosen, his muscles would buckle under the strain, and he would plunge back into the river -- and the scaled death that awaited him there.
And if he died? He would leave Arlene Wentworth at the mercy of a corrupt warlord, unable to rescue her father who was at the mercy of cultists farther up the river. Nor would he solve the mystery of why Lo Phat had done this. The warlord had spoken of a million pounds. How? What about their expedition was worth that?
What had Arlene not told him?
He grunted as a spasm in his left arm almost sent him back into the water.
As if sensing his weakness, the crocs snapped with greater frenzy below.
* * *
ARLENE WENTWORTH SHIVERED in a dingy back room of the floating casino, aware without trying it that the door was locked. She had been stripped down to her slip while coarse, male hands had roamed over every curve and contour of her supple body. But they had not found what they were looking for. Namely, the small jade figurine that she was transporting up the Yinga river.
This whole expedition had become a nightmare, she thought, biting her lower lip. Barney Calhoun, fed to crocodiles, herself a prisoner of an unscrupulous warlord, lost in the jungles of the island nation of Maroon. And she was no closer to reaching her father and accomplishing her goal. Not that that seemed all that pressing, considering the direness of her current predicament.
Right now, simply staying alive would be a challenging enough task.
Suddenly the door burst inward, and Lo Phat stood there, decked out in his appropriated general's uniform, his broad girth filling the door, his dangling mustache twitching like two parallel fishing lures. He did not appear pleased.
Arlene shrunk back against the hard, wooden boards of the far wall.
"Well, my dear, you're a clever wench, I'll give you that. But now my patience is at an end," he growled, stepping into the room and closing the door behind him. "Where is the figurine?"
The question took her sufficiently by surprise that for a moment she forgot her peril. "What?" she demanded, suddenly seeming almost as outraged as the warlord. "It's on the boat."
"No, it is not. It was not on your person, nor was it on the unfortunate Mr. Calhoun. It is not anywhere. But by God, you will tell me where you have hidden it-" He started forward, hands out-stretched.
Arlene yelped and dragged a chair clumsily before her, like a lion tamer facing an unruly lion. "I thought that isn't why you've kidnapped me -- that you regarded it as petty change almost."
"Indeed I do. But I did not get where I was by tossing aside even petty change." With a swing of one thick hand, he sent the chair skittering across the room. "Where is it?"
"I don't know!" she yelled. "Don't you see? You out-smarted yourself. Calhoun must have hid it; he must have worried you'd try and steal it if he left it on the boat. And now he's dead and neither of us have it." For just a moment, her fear slipped away and it sounded for all the world as though she were chastising her captor.
Lo Phat noted the tone, nor did he appreciate it. "Be very careful, my dear. I need you alive...but only just. Do not try my patience." He turned to go.
"And do you need my virtuousness, warlord?"
Lo Phat stopped, then slowly turned around, his eyes narrowed suspiciously. "What?"
Arlene Wentworth was not so much leaning against the wall, as she was draped across it. She bent one leg, pressing her bare foot against the wall, her knee hooking the hem of her slip, exposing the slender calf of her other leg. She inhaled slowly, her breasts swelling against the flimsy fabric.
"What's your game, woman?"
"Game?" she asked innocently. "If you have to ask, then I guess the rumours I've heard of Lo Phat are true," she said, though, in fact, she had never even heard of the warlord until just a few hours ago. "That he prefers young boys."
Lo Phat's jaw dropped open, then his brow knitted in a furious scowl. "If you think being my paramour will safeguard your life...you're probably right." The corpulent kingpin lurched forward and gathered the slender Englishwoman up in his arms, his wet lips closing about her ear, then nuzzling her neck. She cooed encouragingly as one of his big hands clumsily worked inside her underclothes and squeezed a firm, young breast.
Lost in his passions, Lo Phat barely registered the lamp that cracked against his head, sending him dumbly to one knee. He reeled there for a moment, dazed, then looked up just in time to see Arlene bring the remains of the broken lamp down upon his face. He slumped heavily to the floor, unconscious.
Tossing aside the remaining shard of the lamp, Arlene smoothed her slip primly, then padded barefoot to the door. She hesitated, then pried it open. The hall beyond was deserted. Clearly the big warlord had not felt threatened enough by the Englishwoman to come with guards.
His mistake, she thought as she slipped out into the hall. She peered over the railing and looked down upon the main floor of the casino, games of chance continuing, albeit somewhat subduedly. After, the gamblers had seen two men thrown to crocodiles and a woman -- herself -- hauled off to they-knew-not-what fate. It was enough to dampen anyone's enthusiasm.
Where to go and what to do were the questions paramount on Arlene's mind. Barefoot and dressed only in an undergarment, she could hardly just lose herself in the thick of gamblers down on the main floor. She looked around and spied another room, the door ajar. Beyond was a window. Aware Lo Phat might recover at any moment, she hurried into the room and peered out the window. She was in luck! Just as she recalled from when they had first approached the floating casino, there was a balcony encircling the upper level.
Her slip tore as she flung one leg over the sill, then she was outside, the tear up to one hip hardly of paramount concern. She turned and barely stifled a scream as she came face to face with a ghost.
"You're dead!" she exclaimed.
Barney loomed before her, soaking wet, water pooling at his feet. "Not quite, princess," he gasped, clearly exhausted. "But almost. I was able to haul myself out of the water, until the crocs got bored and swam back to sun 'emselves on the shore. Them I slipped back into the water -- gentle, not making the splash I did the ffirst time -- and swam away. Even then, one of the beggars -- uh, excuse me, one of the crocodiles -- came after me. I barely made it out of the water in time. Then I came looking for you." He looked her over, seeing her half-clothed, dishevelled state. "Are you--? Did he--?"
"I'm fine, Mr. Calhoun. Just a few bruises, and those mainly to my dignity. I left Lo Phat unconscious in one of the upper floor rooms. But how are we going to get out of here?"
He grabbed her hand and started back the way he had come. "The Lucky Anne's still moored out front."
"Lo Phat's searched it already, looking for the jade figurine."
"Good. Maybe that means there won't be anyone there. Hopefully he's left my two sailors tied up -- I don't figure Lo Phat for the kind to kill a couple of hired hands when they'd probably be willing to sign on with him given half a chance. Where's Dr. Rashad?"
She shook her head. "I think he must've lost himself in the confusion."
"Good for him." Suddenly Barney stopped, snapping his fingers. "Hellfire," he cursed. "The figurine! I almost forgot."
"Yes," said Arlene, eyes suddenly bright. "Where is it? Lo Phat looked everywhere for it."
"Not everywhere." Barney grinned. Then he frowned, serious. "I've got to go back for it."
"Back? To the casino? I don't understand? Never mind. As much as I hate to say it: forget it. We're barely likely to get out of this as it is."
"No can do, princess. Didn't you tell me if you didn't return it to the people who worship it, that they'd kill your father? We might as well turn around and go home if we can't retrieve it."
Arlene looked down. "Of course. You're right."
"You head off to the boat. If the coast's clear, get on board. I'll be along in a jiffy." So saying, he turned and ran off.
Barney found the window Arlene had exited from, and through there he made his way to the hall and, after a quick search, found the room with Lo Phat. Unfortunately, he also found a pistol in Lo Phat's hand as the fat man was struggling to his feet.
"Mr. Calhoun," growled the warlord, clutching the back of his head gingerly with his free hand, "you are a survivor. Just like your lady friend. Next time I'll have to feed you to the crocodiles myself. Pity I can't do the same for that damned seductress."
"And why not?" asked Barney, hands spread in surrender. "What's all this malarkey about a million pounds?"
"You really don't know? No, of course you wouldn't. Then let me enlighten you before you die. Arlene Wentworth happens to be heir to one of the largest private fortunes in the British Isles. The ransom Farnsworth and I will get--"
"Who do you suppose alerted me to her worth? He's covering all his bets. He helps Miss Wentworth mount her little expedition and then he tipped me to her true market value. Either she reaches her destination, or I capture her en route -- either way, he wins. The man's even more mercenary than am I." Suddenly, Lo Phat's eyes brightened. "Now, be so kind as to tell me where the damned figurine is."
Barney pursed his lips, then shrugged. "It's in your damned pocket, you damned bastard. I slipped it there when I hugged you. (Chapter Four, remember? ~ the Supreme Plasmate) I figured it was the one place you'd never look."
Lo Phat stared at him dumbly for a moment, as if unable to believe his ears. Then slowly he reached down and felt in one of the pockets of his jacket. Quickly, then, he drew forth a little wrapping of oil-skin. Instinctively, his gaze dropped to his hand...
And Barney pounced. He swung his fist with all his might and cracked the warlord across the cheek. Lo Phat snarled, tumbling back into a small table which splintered under his massive weight. The figurine went flying, as did the gun.
Barney leapt for the figurine, then whirled, even as Lo Phat had retrieved the gun. Without a moment's hesitation, Barney again flung himself at the warlord, and this time they both went down in a heavy heap, cursing and grunting, hitting and gouging, each trying to be the possessor of the deadly instrument.
Suddenly it was pinned between Barney's rock hard stomach and Lo Phat's voluminous belly, but still their sweaty, clawing hands struggled for it.
Abruptly a deafening shot boomed within the little room and both men stiffened -- one from surprise, the other from death.
After a moment, Lo Phat slumped lifeless to the floor.
Stunned, Barney staggered to his feet. Then, slipping the figurine in his own pants' pocket, and taking gun in hand, he raced for the hall. Already he could hear the clopping of heavy feet as Lo Phat's armed mercenaries raced about, trying to pinpoint the source of the gunshot. Outside, he spied men at the end of the hall and he raised the gun, firing a couple of shots. The bullets went wide, but it was enough to send the men diving for cover. Then Barney darted into the other room and threw himself through the window. He hit the balcony, rolled, and came to his feet running.
He was alone, with only another couple of bullets left to him, surrounded by armed mercenaries whose boss he had just killed. He could think of better circumstances to find himself in. But, for the moment, he had surprise and speed. And in moments, he would have escape.
He rounded the corner and skidded to a halt. He peered over the side where, moments before, The Lucky Anne had been moored down below.
The boat was gone!
Previous episode: Casino of Death
Next episode: Jungle Drums
The Bat-Men of the Yinga River is copyright 2001 by the author.