TALLER THAN TREES

TALLER THAN TREES

by Roger Young

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ISBN-13: 9781496961082
Publisher: AuthorHouse
Publication date: 12/19/2015
Pages: 772
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.70(d)

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Taller Than Trees

Book Two


By Roger Young

AuthorHouse

Copyright © 2015 Roger Young
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4969-6108-2


CHAPTER 1

Queenstown,
DAY SEVEN
Monday, 30th March 1914


With a sense of coming showdown Willoughby examined the padlocks of the decoy cells next morning. All three had been prised off; with a crowbar to judge from the twisting of the metal, and expertly, in that no one in the Duty Hut heard anything.

He gave the ground outside the same attention: three, all shod, who also probed the living quarters including his own bedroom. Hard to say who was luckier he'd slept elsewhere: these were determined men, and he slept lightly and was armed. The wizards were important: Bahadur did not like losing them.

Queenstown was about to show its teeth: at last.

A smile touched the corners of his mouth. Long ago, he had reduced the possibilities to two: either would he be transferred, or Queenstown make a move towards reversion: the only doubt was which would happen first. The affray with Moreton-Brown made transfer likelier ...

Now, it didn't look as though it was.

Willoughby had no heart of grace for criminals. Rewards for morally correct behaviour were on every side; yet these it was, specifically, he sought to plunder. That he did was thus his conscious choice: he was a crook because being so was what he actually preferred. Queenstown, a largely criminal community and also violent, with a plain and practicable rule by which to live and benefits as easily seen as goods on one its own stalls, would therefore probably revert, or try to; and Muldoon, however he had held them checked so far, could do little to prevent it.

With this in mind he considered his position. It was a crux, and care was needed for the next move: also, he was limited by time.

After breakfast, he summoned his three native police.

"I want a volunteer to take a note to Bahadur, the Indian."

A moment's hesitation, then Washaya stepped forward.

He saw him go and settled back to wait. It was his first and probably last case in Queenstown, a depressing thought; but while he was in charge he would do what should be done, and that was that. Right now, much depended on this interview: what happened then was up to his successor.

"Just watch your step, that's all ..." he warned him in an undertone.


Muldoon's thoughts were similar: too, they were attended by a looming sense of doom. Also he was feeling less than well, having something of a hangover; but while on that score his equanimity was undisturbed, his old 'biological division', thought safely in abeyance, had returned to bother him again.

Sheep and wolves. Macaluso was leaning on Carducci: word was out that the polite, well-spoken Plinio would pay for certain kinds of help. There was no cause for rivalry as each catered for a different class of customer; but ... Macaluso was a wolf.

Chan had been lucubrating. One of his self-betrayals (and even the most conscientious operator has them), a certain window lighted after half-past midnight, meant he was hatching some skullduggery; and last night it was bright till after three.

Bahadur, worsted in the matter of the garbage-gang, had made no contact and evinced no word since then: a bad sign in itself.

Patel had been observed unloading a hundredweight of flat-iron strips. Reinforcement for something: but where, and why? unless violence were somewhere near envisaged.

And Peres, losing all his beer. From his own perspective it was satisfying enough: liquor in the town was his, Muldoon's affair, and he'd viewed unlovingly the Pork'n-beano's bid to muscle-in. Had he not been busy he'd have done no less than Moreton-Brown, and left a few cracked heads into the bargain, as a warning and a ...

His arm slowed its elliptic swing along the counter. Damn! The habit of force was as difficult to lose as force of habit. No doubt Willoughby would be called in to remind them all one day, how soon dictated by how short their memories or their tempers were, but ...

Sheep and wolves.

His eye went to the square, where last night's exodus to Bulawayo and the early lull were being used in general repair. Since the New Rule had whipped the carpet from beneath their feet (predictably the stranger's note was marked 'What's the Salicacean Principle, for God's sake?' and answered, as predictably, 'No Force / No Fraud, perhaps?') they'd all been sprawled together in a heap: now, as they hurriedly reformed, their differences were sharper.

Queenstown had a peculiar variety of sheep. Dan Jones, Falk, Lucas, Elliot, young Harker, Perkins, all vociferous, were very different to the Orloffs and Kinsellas, Grunewalds, Nuncarrows and Carduccis of the flock. Sometimes he wondered if the former were sheep at all, or simply wolves without the guts (or with too much sense) to shed their wool. Oakshot and Macaluso, who sometimes sided with them, though for reasons purely tactical were certainly no sheep; and the odd word here, an action there (for instance when they joined Dan Jones' attempt to have Kate Royle and Chan evicted from the town on grounds of 'public good' when it was well-known that the public found their goods and services exceptional) made him sure of it. The sole distinction was, their kind preferred to run in packs whereas his, Muldoon's, were loners ...

Whatever; while they shook off the dust and settled down to wait and watch and the real sheep resumed their trade and grazing, it was these, these pseudo-sheep whose ranks the Principle had most upset. Perkins and Lucas had had a slanging match in his bar with half a dozen others. It wasn't clear what their objection to the New Rule was; and when, getting drunk and stuck into each other, it was even less so. Macaluso had been heard in blazing argument with Falk (their enterprises were second rate, which was all they had in common: Falk, and his seedy hotel, Jones and his meagre store were typical), and he wondered why, and how a pseudo- sheep like Falk would deal with an attack by one of Macaluso's kind. Oakshot's butchery was doing well, too well for him to criticise what had occasioned it, and his attitude to former cronies was becoming cool...

And Dan Jones' domestic bliss had certainly received a knock! Muldoon chuckled. At that very moment his wife was finishing a tidy line of chairs and tables in the forecourt of their store, each with a bucksail parasol, cheap and cheerful, while a neatly painted sign read 'Niobe's Tea Shoppe', serving both to chide her husband's lack of enterprise and publicise it, too.

The which, since this was an investment, should take care of further letter-writing on his part. Maybe. Profit didn't always seem to be a motive for the pseudo-sheep, which made them unpredictable and even dangerous; for where a person's motives were uncertain, so was anything he did or might do ...

"Thar she bloooows!"

Muldoon jumped. "Belay that!" Off guard, it irritated ...

"It's Bahadur! He's slipped his bleedin' trolley!"

"What!"

Even as he heard the roar of rage and ran, Muldoon was aware of the silence from the square: then he was between the doors, to the edge of the verandah and staring at the scene in front of him.

The space had just been cleared up by his garbage-gang; and perhaps his failure had unhinged the Indian for the beating he was giving some poor muntu was ... maniacal! He had a shotgun and was using butt and barrels, while his victim reeled from blow to blow, head tucked into his shoulders, holding up his arms, spitting blood and uttering faint cries. The Indian pursued him, screaming hate: a blow landed, the black man fell: Bahadur jumped in, kicking furiously...

Yet from the scores around there came no remonstration: jerkily, Muldoon was following the action. Was it that Bahadur was armed? Or that his five gang-members, ranged behind, deterred assistance? No: the Indian had seized an object and was waving it aloft ...

"Go you home and tell your master: I, Bahadur, spit on him!" He hurled it down, stepped back, brought up the shotgun and blew it into nothing in a squall of dust. The crowd scattered.

Now frantic, Muldoon was pushing his way through. That object ... was a red tarboosh – which meant the man now staggering away, kicks and blows still raining on him – was a policeman!

Bahadur's gun was upright on his shoulder. "See!" he screamed at the assembly. "No one cross Bahadur! No one!" He waved a piece of paper. "The police want to see me! See what I do? I do the same to you!" He jerked the crutch-slack of his trousers in a gesture of obscenity. "I know your 'no force' rule. It's stupid! With me it cannot work! I challenge him! I challenge the police! I challenge all of you!"

Reassertion of authority: no one moved or spoke.

Muldoon, and everyone, was well aware that police are the arbiters of force within society, its rightful, sole executors. Which is why they don't readily come to a policeman's aid; which is why, if he should be attacked and killed, his killer dies as well, by execution: the only kind for whom the penalty of death is automatically reserved.

Tacit knowledge: and in Queenstown it was now expressed.

Wherefore they waited, while Bahadur strutted and abused them and the injured black watch dragged himself to Camp.

Waited ... not for long.


"Bahadur!"

A dozen yards away the voice was level: in the silence, deathly. The Indian half-turned: his men drew closer. One swished a riding-crop from whose worn tip a steel core protruded.

"Who are you! What you want!"

The words bullied but the tone did not; for it was clear, also from the stillness of those watching, who this figure was as well as what he wanted; and Bahadur knew, too, because it was his way of life, and life itself, that unless he was lucky or extremely careful, this Who and What was ...

The man in uniform made no reply and the Indian turned fully. He gave a muted order and his gang spread out on either side, hands sliding beneath their clothes. Curved blades appeared: they started to approach. The shotgun began its downward swing ...

And then with terrifying suddenness the scene reversed.

A crash of sound, a stab of flame: Bahadur's gun was blasted from his shoulder, breaking his fingers and eliciting a howl of pain. The single shot was followed by a roar of gunfire as the trooper dropped into a crouch, fanning the hammer of his weapon; and before they could react, scatter, charge or use their knives, his gang were hit, shots directed at their legs that spun and slammed them groundwards in a burst of fire and smoke so fast it seemed they went down simultaneously.

Their leader remained standing. As he tried to drag the shotgun up the other was upon him. His revolver swung: Bahadur's jaw was heard to crack; then he, too, was in the dust, his scruff was seized, the trooper bent, a riding-crop, its steel core gleaming, appeared from nowhere in his hand –

And the retribution started.

He struck deliberately and steadily, arching with each blow, delivered with full force along the back from where he grasped the collar to the buttocks, to the crook behind the knees. He stood upon the shotgun, imprisoning the wrist; and while Bahadur struggled, screaming, while his men grovelled, clutching at their splintered limbs, while the onlookers, pale and tense kept motionless, he struck ... and struck ... and struck ...

Great strength was in Bahadur's frame. His shirt was cut to bits: from across his shoulders to his thighs, his back was running blood; yet fighting, biting, writhing, cursing, he continued to resist. Once he managed to break free: instantly a boot slammed home, doubling him up. Grimly, the trooper took a fresh grip and the flogging recommenced.

Not until the shrieks subsided, till he slumped face-downward in the dust, did the avenger cease.

He stood up, letting fall the quirt.

And then, when they might have thought the matter ended and the ghastly business done, he knelt, flung him over; and seizing and twisting the 'kerchief at his throat and his trousers at the crutch, yanked the feebly-moving body to his chest, then to arms' length overhead, rising to his full height underneath.

Step by step he bore him, through the ranks of his downfallen cohorts, up the steps of his front porch, where, bracing himself and with a last, vast effort, he hurled him through the window of his store.

The explosion of smashing glass, the thud of the descending body, the clattering of displaced objects, died away. The trooper turned; and at the same deliberate pace, reloading, hands scarlet to the tunic-cuffs, returned to where the wounded five drew back with rising terror.

"Mr Muldoon!"

"Sir!"

"See these men get medical attention. Then I want them," a finger travelled in an arc, "their wives, children, all effects, horses, carts, everyone and everything, out of here in half an hour. None is to return to Queenstown, ever, or for any reason." His voice was harsh. "See to it!"

"All out. Aye aye, sir!"

The policeman set off down the road towards the Camp.

Not till he was out of sight, did anybody stir or try to speak.

Willoughby had not yet finished.

He ordered his horse saddled, then summoned the wizards from the Duty Hut. They were manacled. He signed them to their knees.

"This is the blood of your master."

He twisted back the head of each in turn, smearing his gory palm about the mouth and nose until the man gasped and nodded, acknowledging that he had tasted it.

He mounted. "Up, and come with me."

Shackled, too, the trio followed at the end of a long riem, along the road that led to Queenstown's native township.

They walked with heads bent, their chains rustling and clicking. People passing stopped, then fell in line behind till by the time the column reached the settlement, four score or more comprised its silent number.

"Where is your house?"

The oldest isanusi pointed. A box of vestas was thrown down. "Destroy it."

The man wavered.

"If I do it, you will be inside."

The thatch burned quickly, ascending in a cone of flame. Objects popped and crackled: one exploded and presently the roof collapsed.

Then the second wizard's hut was burned; and then the third.

They returned to the first.

"Push down the walls," the trooper ordered.

He sat on his big horse, black against the high, bright sun. The butt of his great whip glinted at the pommel.

"Push down the walls." he said to the second and third wizards.

Watched by everybody in the whole Location, the tyrants reduced all signs of occupation to a heap of ash.

Willoughby addressed them.

"What you do is wrong. No wizards will be in this town again."

He turned his horse, and with the three behind continued to the bush upon the other side.

They walked until the footpath faded and they were crossing open land. At the edge of a rivulet Willoughby reined in, regarding his exhausted captives, waiting, hopeless, for their fate.

He looked for a long time, then threw down a key.

"Free yourselves, and give the irons to me."

Accomplished, then:

"Go back to your kraals in the Reserve. Remain there till you die. Do not practise sorcery again."

They rubbed their wrists and ankles; then one spoke:

"Lord, what we do is all we know."

"Then you shall learn new ways."

"Who will teach us?"

"Your eyes, your ears, and that inside your heads, will teach you."

The older shifted.

"Lord," be said frankly, "We think you are the greater wizard. Therefore, we ask that you teach us."

Willoughby watched while furtively the speaker wiped the blood-flakes from his mouth.

"Very well," he said at length. "As you are doctors, of a sort, you shall be taught to heal the sick. You will return with me to town. At the Clinic, you will live and work. At the end of one full year, each will produce twenty men, or women, or children, who will tell me of your healing powers and rejoice to speak your names. And the next year you will produce another twenty; and the next. At the end of three years you are free to go your ways."

The eldest bowed.

"Lord, that is a terrible punishment."

"And if within that time, or after it," the trooper was still cold, "anyone shall look on you with fear or hate, I shall serve him as I served Bahadur: my little gun will speak and he will dwell forever in the land of snakes.

"Go now to the river," he pointed. "Bathe, cleanse yourselves, take off your ring-kops, your dress, every trace of your profession. As naked as you came into the world, shall you return."


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Taller Than Trees by Roger Young. Copyright © 2015 Roger Young. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
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