SIPHO, ABBOTT, AND THE SEALs hidden in the basement of the fruit shop had a visual of Allison, supplied from a sniper with night vision equipment on the roof. In their earpieces they listened to a remote feed of the transaction between Allison and the warlord.
It had been two days since Sipho had escaped from the hole in the ground. Through his gloves he could feel some flexibility in his fingers, though his fingertips still bled a little through the bandages. His eyebrow and the lacerations on his back were healing, though, in the humid basement, the salt in his sweat stung as it seeped into his wounds. They had been there for three hours in the airless storage room under the floor. There were two racks of fruit and a shelf with a cutting board and knives. The men took to eating mangos and bananas as the stakeout dragged on.
Their break came when the video feed from the back of the fruit shop showed the woman behind the counter letting someone log in at the laptop, which doubled as the cash register. Sipho confirmed that it was the warlord. They watched him walk back, entering through the narrow door across the street.
The SEALs, wearing night vision goggles, moved out of the basement leaving the door in the floor open. Sipho’s instructions were to stay put—and quiet, until a translation was needed. As a precaution, he reached for a knife on the cutting board and took another knife in the other hand, pressing himself behind the racks at the back of the basement. When he heard the “execute” command in his earpiece, he knew the SEALs were in the building across the street. He heard two, maybe three muted shots. A scuffle. The fruit shop door opened. Sipho could see the business shoes of someone entering.
He heard a woman’s small moan. He crept closer to get a better look. The other pair of feet—they were bare—stood on just the toes.
She moaned louder. An extended muffled scream. Then a blow sent her crashing to the floor.
“Shudup,” the warlord hissed.
The warlord, in his business suit, peered calmly through a window blind into the dark street. He was preoccupied with watching the silent mayhem unfold. Sipho knew that if he did not act quickly he would lose the opportunity to stop the warlord, stop his disregard of life—especially Allison’s—stop him murdering the elephants. The whipping and beating he had endured was a constant reminder of the man’s capability for cruelty. He knew that he still had the advantage of surprise, though that could change in an instant, and when it did he could lose his life.
He crept closer to the trap door, his height level with the back of the warlord’s heels. He was an arm’s length from the warlord’s feet, the man’s business socks and shoes facing away from him. Fueled with the insane logic of hatred and fear he crept closer still, so that if Allison tried anything to save herself, he would intervene—although he had no idea how he would pull that off. This was no time to overthink.
Do it. Now.
With a knife in each fist, the blades pointing inward, he jabbed behind each Achilles tendon, forcing both knives in up to the hilt. He yanked back toward himself. The tendons resisted. He made two quick sawing jabs. The tendons snapped apart. The warlord crumpled onto the floor, emitting a bellow of exquisite rage and agony. As he writhed like a wounded snake, he fired into the trapdoor until he had emptied his magazine. He slid closer as Sipho crouched with his back against the basement wall.
The cries that echoed through the small neighborhood brought in the SEALs rushing in silently, pinning the warlord and gagging him.
Sipho rushed to help Allison up.
“Sipho. Oh, thank God,” she said.
They embraced breathlessly, clutching each other. With her ear on his chest, he knew she could hear his throbbing heart, like a great diesel engine in the hull of a ship, driving them on.
“I thought I lost you,” he said.
As they carried the warlord out of the fruit shop, he glanced back, recognizing Sipho. His gagged face convulsed with rage, though only a muffled bellow erupted. Allison grimaced and shuddered, squeezing Sipho’s hand.
“You survived,” she said. “When I saw him bury you, I thought—”
“I know. And you survived that waterhole.”
“You saw that?”
A SEAL medic helped her onto a field stretcher.
“I’ll catch you up,” said Sipho. “I promise, but you have to go.”
“Thank you, thank you,” she said.
A well of joy flowed out of Sipho as they carried Allison out of the door into the blackness.
Sipho knew the warlord’s pain would be unbearable, but was just revenge for what he had inflicted on the world. It would be months before he would walk, if ever. They had him—a small fish in their net.