"Battling" Barney Calhoun in
by "Doc" R.B. Danby
Chapter Six - Jungle Drums
It wasn't there now.
What had happened? Had Arlene Wentworth panicked when she heard the shots and assumed the worst -- that he had been killed -- and so, had she cast off without him? Or had she freed the two sailors who manned the boat, only to be taken captive by them? After all, his talk with the late, unlamented warlord, Lo Phat, had confirmed his estimation of Daimon Farnsworth III -- that he was a mercenary scoundrel, playing his own game. And the two sailors worked for Farnsworth.
Whatever the answer, he was unlikely to ever learn it. He was trapped on this floating casino, with heavily armed mercenaries hunting him, and the river infested with crocodiles. There were other boats, boats that had been used to bring the casino's clientele up from the city. If he could get around to the side where they were moored, he might have a chance.
He turned and started to round the corner, when the thunder of footsteps caused him to pull back. Obviously, they had figured out he had escaped to the outside balcony. That way was blocked. He turned and ran in the opposite direction, back the way he had come. But again shouts and footfalls told him his escape was blocked.
He hefted his pistol, with only two or three shots remaining. Not enough to really make a difference.
He peered over the side at the languid river below. There were no crocodiles that he could see, but he knew they lurked just on shore, beyond his sight. And that they had long since learned to associate the sound of a splashing body with the dinner bell thanks to Lo Phat's insidious trap door.
If he tried to swim for it, it was only a question of whether gunfire or crocodile teeth would do him in first.
Suddenly he heard a coughing roar, echoing from everywhere and from nowhere. Then a small motor boat burst out from under the casino itself and arced around, sending a wide spray blooming in its wake. It puttered to a halt below.
"What the--?" He asked, recognizing Seth Rashad in the boat. The little bookworm was obviously more resourceful than he had given him credit for being. Barney perched on the railing, then leapt, even as he heard shouts and the report of a rifle just behind him. He hit the murky, tepid water with a loud splash that would no doubt bring a horde of crocs to investigate. He struck out for the boat, even as the water began to explode around him as bullets were fired his way. He lurched up, half on to the boat, and shouted, "Go! Go!"
Rashad cranked open the throttle and the boat lurched forward even as something clacked noisily at his heels. Barney glanced back to see a crocodile staring at him coldly as it, and the casino, was left behind.
Wearily, he dragged himself fully into the boat and sprawled at Rashad's feet.
* * *
"It wasn't just luck," said Barney absently, watching as the verdant walls of unfathomable jungle trundled past them on either side. "Lo Phat had been alerted to our coming by Daimon Farnsworth, the guy who helped arrange this expedition. Since Farnsworth didn't know you'd joined us, Lo Phat wasn't really expecting you."
Rashad looked over his shoulder, in the direction they had come. The murky river swirled and eddied in their immediate wake, but otherwise the water was still, as though holding its very breath. "Will we be followed?"
"Don't know. But I don't think so, eh? With Lo Phat dead, I think his men have bigger concerns than chasing us."
Abruptly the jungle on either side fell away and the boat burst out into the main, clearer water of the mighty Yinga.
"Which way?" asked Rashad. "Up stream or down?"
"You think The Lucky Anne is continuing on into the interior?"
"If Miss Wentworth is in charge, she's still got her father to rescue, jade figurine or no. And if Farnsworth's two sailors are in charge -- well, Lo Phat said something funny. He suggested that Farnsworth still had an interest in seeing the mission succeed for some reason. So I'm betting, either way, that's where they're headed."
"And the idol? You have it?"
"Idol? That's a funny way of referring to it, but I guess it's accurate." Barney patted his pocket where he had tucked it. "Nearly got me killed, but I got it." Then he eyed the little anthropologist, wondering if he seemed a little too interested in the figurine. "And this is where it's going to stay," Barney said nonchalantly, "until we get to where we're going."
Rashad merely nodded, and Barney couldn't be sure if he was worried for nothing or not.
* * *
Barney wiped a big hand across his sweat streaked brow and squinted against the hard glare of sunlight off the water. He couldn't make out anything -- or anyone -- on board. He fingered the pistol he had appropriated from Lo Phat. During the ride in the little boat he had had time to count the three bullets left in the barrel -- many times. Three, he recalled ruefully, while The Lucky Anne was equipped with plenty more than that in the way of firepower.
"Keep your head down," he muttered.
"You suspect subterfuge?"
"Nyah. I just think things might be a bit fishy."
The bigger boat was taking its time, built more for endurance than speed. In choppy waters, or for long hauls, The Lucky Anne was the place to be, but on the becalmed river, the little boat overtook the bigger one quickly enough.
As they came up close, Barney held his gun tightly, ready for trouble.
Suddenly a figure appeared aft, leaning over the rail.
He heaved a sigh of relief as Arlene Wentworth waved at him, grinning. She was still dressed rather immodestly in her torn slip, but she appeared unharmed and in command of the situation. "You're alive!" she shouted. "I thought you were dead!"
Barney let his gun hand drop and felt himself relax for the first time all day.
* * *
At last he released her and she dropped back to the ground -- he hadn't realized he had lifted her fromm her feet.
He looked at her up and down, from her tangled muss of golden curls upon her head, to the delicate toes of her bare feet. She was dressed in her flimsy one-piece undergarment that had been torn up one side, revealing one creamy thigh all the way to her hip. He licked his lips, but tried to focus on more pressing matters.
"It's time we came clean with each other, princess. According to Lo Phat, you're some kind of rich lady."
She looked away, then back up at him. "You want more money?"
"What? No. Hell, no. But if I'd known I was carting some rich lady up the Yinga, I might've taken better precautions."
"Well, I'm not. Not really. It's my father's money. I'm well looked after thanks to my trust fund, rest assured. But the family fortune rests with my father."
"Lo Phat and Daimon Farnsworth obviously felt they could milk something from you."
"Daimon?" Her eyes went wide, and her mouth dropped open in a little "o". Then a deadly rage fluttered behind her blue orbs. "That unscrupulous bastard. He must have figured that it wouldn't have been hard to get the banks to dip into my trust fund, if I was held captive at peril of my life. The Devil take the man!"
"There's more. Lo Phat seemed to feel that Farnsworth figured on coming out on top whether Lo Phat captured you or not. Obviously, he figures to make a score even if you reach your destination. I figure his men have orders to loot any more trinkets they can find when we get where we're going -- that could be dangerous for us. We're here to appease the locals, not enrage 'em further." Then he thought for a moment and reached into his belt, drawing forth the oil-skin covered figurine. "By the way, I got this."
Her gaze fell to the object in his hands, and she smiled. "You're a wonder, Barney. I had, with some reluctance, written it off as a lost cause." She took it from him, holding it wonderingly in her palms.
"You seem pretty calm about that, princess. Considering we need it to rescue your father. If I hadn't managed to get it back..."
"Of course. You're right." She set the object down on a sidetable. "But I've become so flustered, I haven't been thinking straight. But I'm ecstatic, truly, now that we have it back, now that you're back. And I really should thank you properly."
"Aw, you don't have to thank..." His voice trailed off.
Arlene drew up her tattered slip, slowly exposing the length of her long legs, her hips, her belly, her proud breasts, then on over her head. She bundled the garment in her hands and tossed it aside. She took one confident step forward and laid her hands delicately on his broad chest. "Don't you want to be thanked?" she asked huskily.
Barney didn't really have to think about his answer...
* * *
He delicately curled one of her locks of hair around a finger, savouring the warmth of her soft body next to his.
Suddenly, he stiffened and looked up.
"What is it?" she asked.
He cocked his head. Then said, "Drums."
After a moment, she too heard the steady, pulsing beat of drums somewhere out there in the jungle.
Footsteps outside his door preceded a heavy knocking.
"Mr. Calhoun?" It was Rashad. "Come quickly, sir. We have arrived."
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The Bat-Men of the Yinga River is copyright 2001 by the author.