Mosi-oa-Tunya: The Smoke That Thunders – Prologue

31 Aug

A novel noir, an experiment:  An experiment which may never be completed… As they say…all references to people living or dead or imagined are just that… purely imaginary….

Audio versionMusi-oa-Tunya


A return to Lusaka, Zambia (November 1971)

The BOAC VC10 broke through low cloud and began the final approach into Lusaka International airport.  The aircraft landed, the powerful engines screaming as the reverse power was applied and sped down the runway past the terminal building as the landing was completed, before turning to taxi back and park.  Carver cleared immigration and customs in fifteen to twenty minutes.  It was not hot; more like the temperature of an English summer day in the mid-seventies farenheit.  He walked into the arrivals hall which was not that busy. No other international flights were  expected that afternoon  and the local Zambia Airways flights had departed for the Copperbelt and other points earlier in the day.

Carver spotted James Phiri, heavily muscled wearing a fawn safari suit, standing by a white Peugeot 504 with GRZ government plates.  The car was parked about sixty yards away and Carver made his way over, an overnight bag slung over his left shoulder.  There was no need to travel with anything but a change  of clothes and shaving kit.  Everything he would need  would be provided by Phiri.

“James”  Carver said smiling,  gripping his former colleague’s hand “Good to see you.”  James Phiri smiled, grasped Carver’s right arm as the two men shook hands.  “Yes, it is good to see you back in Lusaka.”

“Unfortunately I won’t have time to take in the sights and pleasures of Lusaka afterwards. “ Carver said drily, easing himself into the back of the Peugeot.  James Phiri climbed into the back of the car after him.  The drive to Lusaka took about 20 minutes.  Not much had changed in the two years since Carver had last been in Lusaka.  The car pulled into the Inter-Continental Hotel on Haile Selassi Avenue and within five minutes the two men were looking carefully at a map of Zambia’s Copperbelt in the North.  The room had been booked in the name of Daniel Musokotwane, a name of convenience, and had been paid for in cash.

The flight the next morning to Ndola, some 170 miles north by air on a Zambia Airways flight, took less than an hour.  Carver and Phiri were met by two Zambians in a new unmarked, but unmistakeably military spec, Landrover.  A six hour drive, most of it off road on bush roads, towards the Zambian border with Zaire lay ahead of them.  Carver and Phiri discussed the details of the strike mission and checked the kit which had been packed ready for them in green bergens.

“So Mungo.”  Phiri said, with a broad smile “Unfinished business to be finished.”

“Yes, indeed. I’m surprised that you found Van Heerden.  I’m even more surprised that he came back. Remind me.  How many of your people did he kill with his mercenaries?”

Phiri’s expression hardened. “Five of my team and twenty-three villagers. They raped five young girls and then  crucified them on trees and bayoneted all five.  Two were still alive, if you can call their agony life, when we arrived in the village.  We were too late to do anything but take them down and ease their pain.  We couldn’t even get them out by helicopter.  They died within half an hour.”

Carver sat back on the bench in the back of the landrover.  “The orders are flexible, I assume, in the event of resistance?”

“Affirmative.  Our instructions are to arrest so he can stand trial, but if we meet resistance we are authorised to return fire. Standard procedure.”

“Ok.  So flexible. You never really did explain…. why me?”

“Van Heerden is a South African national.  He hasn’t been in South Africa for five years.  Put it down to politics. Our problems in the North, with what is now Zaire, are not widely known.  This suits the government. Van Heerden supplied the Zaire military.  It suited their purposes to have instability on the Northern borders, borders drawn up in colonial times without regard for tribal boundaries, as you know, and now he has few friends in Zaire.  The Zaire government has   pulled back on incursive activity and dropped him like a hot potato eighteen months ago.”  Phiri paused and said with a thin smile “Why you?  It is straightforward.   It is straightforward. You know Van Heerden by reputation.  You know the terrain and you were the best CQB man I have ever worked with despite your young age.  I also wanted to give you a chance to see what we tried to do two years ago finished.”

“But I have been away from it for nearly two years.  I’m doing a fucking law degree now for christ sake.  Gone straight.”

Phiri  laughed.  “Yes, Mungo….  so why do you spend hours down at the Knightsbridge Gun Club shooting? I hear that you are still 148/150 on fifteen rounds at 25 metres with a 9mm…..and why are you teaching Kendo? …so you can chop fucking pineapples up at dinner parties as a party trick with your katana?  Is that part of your ‘Rule of law’ degree course?”

“The Knightsbridge Gun Club is simply a shooting club, James…full of fucks from the City who want to play soldiers.”

“Ah.”  Phiri said caustically “A club run by two guys, one ex SAS, the other ex 3 Para, and they teach Police and reservists to shoot? OK… just a gun club for sporting stockbrokers and lawyers, you say… yes OK, bwana, I believe you.”

“Ok… go on.  I’ve got the point with your caustic use of bwana

“One of my London…ah, shall we say ‘friends’,  saw you shooting.  I wouldn’t have asked you to join me if I was not sure of your fitness and capability.  I wouldn’t risk your life, nor would I have put myself at risk.  This is a four, but the two big guys in front, as you know, are there for back up and extraction if required. Only you and I are going in.  Van Heerden is on his own. At worst, he has a goon who is his driver and that guy is not a soldier.  Van Heerden doesn’t even suspect that we know he is in the country, let alone his location. This is an arrest. It is not a Police operation.  It is an  intelligence operation and my director wants me to handle it.”

Phiri  laughed and said, a hard edge to his tone “I was fortunate in going to Tonbridge. I then went to Sandhurst. Our army is still trained by the British.  It is based on British methods. You worked with us for two years after school.  We have only been independent since 1964. Kaunda has control.  There is no opposition.  We now have a one party state. The former vice-president, Simon Kapepwe,  has gone. British and  South African mining interests are still important. Rhodesia is a different problem.  Smith will eventually go.  Who knows what that will bring? I am 10 years older than you. My life is here.  Your life is in Britain, but Africa is in your past. It is in your blood.  And you are here because of that and because of our past together. This is very small, off the radar in Press terms, off the radar in terms of government policy, and not a military priority; but still important enough to deal with quickly at security level.  Van Heerden has to stand trial or make his choice if he puts up a fight.”

The landrover parked up in a copse, three miles from the target location.  Sound travelled long distances in the quiet air in this part of the savannah. Two and a half hours later,  Van Heerden was dead.  Two bullets to the forehead and two to the heart from a CZ 52, a handgun with a high muzzle energy, fired at eight metres,  took Van Heerden down. Death was instantaneous.  Phiri had shouted “Armed Officers. Put your hands up.”  Van Heerden had chosen to draw a handgun from a concealed carry holster behind his back.


Fleet Street, London 2010

Carver sat at his desk in his corner office at a leading London law firm.  He sat back in the wooden late Victorian  chair, lit a Marlboro, a Red Marlboro. Carver always remarked, when asked why he smoked the heavier tar content cigarettes, that Marlboro Lites were for amateurs.  Smoking bans, in so far as they applied to his office, were also for amateurs. It helped that he headed the highest grossing department in the firm and was described in the Chambers Directory as “A leading City rainmaker, a lawyer with a sharp intelligence who cut to the core and then to the quick.” and could largely ignore the memoranda from the managing partner on the matter of Health & Safety laws and smoking bans. His first memo on the matter to the managing partner has been brief:  “Are you really going to grass me up?”. The second and final memo he had to send was terse:  “I refer you to the reply given in Arkell v Pressdram (1971).”

“I’m nearly 62 years of age.” he said, venting his irritation by speaking his thoughts out loud, a technique he often used to focus his thinking.   “I’ve managed to part with two wives on good terms without too much collateral damage. I’ve just had a lucky escape from a woman who wants me to read self improvement books, give up  smoking, give up drinking and become a Stepford husband…or worse, a ‘ life partner’.   I head up the Commercial group.  I should have gone to the fucking Bar where I would, at least, have some independence, and I am bored rigid, bored with law, bored with lawyers and bored with the vacuous greed and vapidity of the lawyers who manage this fucking Panopticon of a law firm.”

Carver stubbed the cigarette out in an ashtray liberated, no doubt, from Quaglino’s years before by a client who slipped it into his coat pocket after a drunken dinner, and called his PA.

“Mungo, what can I do for you?”  Jac asked.  “Time for nosebag?”  Jac came over to London from Australia ten years before, after her graduating in Sydney, and decided to stay.  Carver enjoyed Jac’s enthusiasm and her extrovert no rules approach to life and business.

“Time for nosebag.  Please book me a table for one at any restaurant owned by that fool of a chef who has Tourettes.  I don’t care which one, if he still has more than one restaurant. I want to watch fuckwits and get drunk.”

Jac laughed “Get drunk?  So, you aren’t planning to attend the partner’s meeting this afternoon?”

“Please convey my very best wishes to the managing partner and explain to him that I have to consult with counsel on a matter of extreme sensitivity to the firm at his Chambers… a leading and suitably avaricious Silk.  You had better add  “a matter of great billable value to the firm” for added plausibility.   On second thoughts, forget Chef Tourettes.  He is boring.  I’ll grab a cab in Fleet Street.  Thanks Jacstar.  I will be back tomorrow.”

Carver hailed a cab in Fleet Street and settled back in the seat, replaced the SIM card in his cheap Samsung phone with a SIM card purchased from a corner shop earlier in the day and dialled.

“Mr Ngaleka?”  Carver asked as the call was answered. “Meet me at The Bollo, Bollo Lane, Chiswick in 40 minutes.”

Carver took the SIM card out of the phone, put his Orange SIM card back in and snapped the SIM card he had just used in two. Leaning forward, Carver asked the driver to pull up into a side street on the pretext that he had changed his plans, paid the driver and discreetly dropped the two pieces of the broken SIM card down a drain by the side of the road. Carver walked up Southampton Row towards Russell Square and caught the tube  to Hammersmith, changing to the District Line for Chiswick Park, a short walk from there to The Bollo in Chiswick.

It had been five years since Carver had last used The Bollo.  The decor had changed, but the layout was familiar.  He took a seat at a wooden table outside under an awning with his back to a hedge and waited. A waitress came out.  Carver ordered a glass of house red and paid for it with cash.  Lunchtime trade, as Carver had predicted, was light.   The vantage point outside allowed him to see the road leading up from Chiswick High Street and Chiswick Park clearly.

A silver Mercedes C200 estate pulled up and parked in Ivy Crescent opposite the pub. A well built african, mid-thirties, casually dressed in jeans and a black polo shirt, walked across the road. Carver nodded and Ngaleka walked over and sat down on the bench opposite.  Ngaleka ordered a glass of fresh orange juice and paid the waitress in cash.

The Zambian smiled and said warmly;  the pronounced Zambian accent, rhythm and inflection which Carver knew so well, clear in his speech.  “Thank you for meeting me. The Colonel sends his warm wishes.  He has retired, of course, but he continues to take a keen interest.  He said that you would meet  me if I mentioned ‘Van Heerden’ and used his name.”

“Is your High Commission aware of your presence in London?”

Ngaleka laughed “Yes, of course, but only to the extent that I am visiting London to visit my younger sister who is doing a degree at King’s, which, of course, I am.”

“Van Heerden was nearly forty years ago. Did you work with Phiri for long?”

“For the last three years of his time as director of our Central Africa unit. He retired seven years ago.”

“Give me the location of Van Heerden and the weapon used.  Phiri would have given you that information to ensure that I know you are who you say you are.”

“Chililabombwe, CZ 52.”

“OK, what can I do for you Mr Ngaleka?”

“Bornwall… call me Bornwall, please.” Ngaleka replied, extending his right hand and shaking Carver’s in the warm greeting of friends used by many throughout Africa; a handshake with several movements of the hand and changing grips.

“Mungo” Carver replied with a broad smile.

“We have a small problem. Van Heerden had an illegitimate daughter in 1968. She is the problem. Sheila du Plessis, 42 years of age, Yale summa cum laude (1989), took US citizenship in 1984 through her American mother and renounced her South African citizenship and  passport. CIA (1990-2008), last known location, and we have checked with Langley, was Afghanistan.  We picked up on her in Zambia in 2007 but since then, no trace.”

“And?”  Carver asked.

“Unfinished business.”

Carver lit a Marlboro, sat back and smiled.  “I heard that phrase nearly forty years ago.  James Phiri used it. Are you suggesting that she is a danger to me and James?”

“Yes, I am.”

“But my real name was never recorded in any Zambian military records.  Only James knew my real name and he never used my surname in conversation.  Why am I in any danger?”

“The world has moved on.  Photo recognition software science is fairly advanced.  You have not changed that much.  You are still fit.  You still keep fit. For sure, you are older.  You haven’t even gone grey.   You and James were photographed by Van Heerden’s driver as you left. We now know that he was returning to Van Heerden’s tent on foot, heard the shooting, hid  and saw you both as you left. He took a photograph.  It was Van Heerden’s camera… which the driver carried with him  at all times.  It is slightly blurred, a cheap camera, but, shows you both clearly and armed. The driver, we knew at the time,  was a poor man from Kitwe, hired by Van Heerden to be a driver and cook.  He sold the photograph to Van Heerden’s girlfriend, Sheila’s mother. We received a copy of that photograph by post, postmarked Paris, two weeks ago. Just the photograph, no note. It was addressed to the Head of Military Intelligence, Government of Zambia.  Just that.  No name, no address. It was passed to our unit.”

“Any other information, save for your assessment of the viability of photo recognition software?”

“No. None. It is, however, enough of a risk for me to be here after forty years.  By the way.  I did a run on your law firm’s website photograph using some of this new software.  Picked you up very quickly. OK, I accept that your law firm photograph is recent and the photograph from forty years ago isn’t and is blurred, but while we haven’t made  a trace on that blurred picture yet for you, we can’t guarantee that more sophisticated tools won’t make that link. It is a risk.”

“Yes, I can see that. “  Carver said quietly.  “OK.  Thanks.  I am aware and I will deal. Keep me posted, usual hotmail addy if you hear anything.”

“I’m sorry.  I wish we could do more”

Carver smiled “Give my best regards to James. One of the best men I have ever known. A man, military through and through, but a man who really knew what the “Rule of Law” meant.  A pity that some of our politicians and your politicians don’t.  He gave Van Heerden every opportunity to surrender and stand trial.  Van Heerden chose to draw a weapon and, never forget this, Van Heerden knew how to use it. One Zambia, One Nation

Ngaleka burst out laughing at the use of Zambia’s national motto.  “One Zambia, One Nation, Mungo!  I am proud to have met you.  You are a Zambian… always.”

The two men shook hands warmly and departed on their separate ways.


I wake and feel the fell of dark, not day

I wake and feel the fell of dark, not day.
What hours, O what black hours we have spent
 This night! what sights you, heart, saw; ways you went!
And more must, in yet longer light’s delay.
With witness I speak this.
But where I say
Hours I mean years, mean life.
And my lament
 Is cries countless, cries like dead letters sent
 To dearest him that lives alas! away.
I am gall, I am heartburn. God’s most deep decree
Bitter would have me taste: my taste was me;
Bones built in me, flesh filled, blood brimmed the curse.
Selfyeast of spirit a dull dough sours. I see
The lost are like this, and their scourge to be
As I am mine, their sweating selves; but worse.

Carver sat at his desk in his apartment on the river, just south of Battersea Bridge, and read the words of the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins;  words that he had not read since his youth, a youth lived, in part wasted, in part of benefit,  at a school in the hills of Perthshire. Even then, Carver thought, he lived a life split between personalities he could not reconcile, he could not explain, he did not care to explain.

Sprung rhythm, the single stress of metrical feet, so important in those English literature lessons conducted by a master at the school;  a man the boys nicknamed ‘Harpic’ because he was clean round the bend, gave Carver pleasure – but for the fact that Hopkins was a man of a god, a priest and the young Carver, as in later life, was an atheist.

Carver poured a liberal measure of whisky into a tumbler, the better part of half of a quarter bottle, drank it and lit a Marlboro. The wine, in a tumbler to his left, red from the vineyards of Toscana and not expensive, was more to his taste.

Carver glanced at the twitter page on his iMac and laughed as he saw the latest tweet from a clever young woman whose tweets, surreal, ephemeral, absurd, dark and sharp now flooded his timeline in a flurry.  The tweeter was on a roll and on the gin.

Carvingknife Carvingknife
@xxxxxxxxx On da GINZ, I see!  Good effort.  I may well listen to the Bonzo Dogs later.  It has been a strange day.

Carver ignored the mobile to his right which pinged with messages to alert him to missed calls, many missed calls. It was unlikely that Google would bring up anything of interest on Sheila du Plessis, or at least the Sheila du Plessis Carver was interested in.  It didn’t. The Sheilas du Plessis on Linkedin and Facebook were not former CIA agents and did not graduate summa cum laude from Yale.

Carver laughed out loud and thought that it was probably for the best that his Sheila du Plessis had not graduated egregia cum laude – with outstanding honour.

“It is ironic” Carver mused, speaking to himself  “For a republic, a nation which separated itself from Europe, a country with little ancient history of any global  importance, save for the history they raped from the indigenous Indians who they killed at The Battle of  Wounded Knee and elsewhere and corralled into reserves, should adopt the academic pretensions of haute European academe and use the ancient language of Latin to enoble their educated youth. At least one leading university in the States had a sense of humour – Fordham –  their student newspaper translating  this as “with hysterical praise”, resulting in the university dropping the distinction.”

The wonders of Wikipedia provided this nugget for Carver as he trawled through various social media websites for information.


7 Responses to “Mosi-oa-Tunya: The Smoke That Thunders – Prologue”

  1. ObiterJ September 2, 2011 at 9:09 am #

    I like this – please keep it going. Your writing style creates atmosphere.

    This story took me back some years with mention of the VC10. It was ideally suited to operations at the high altitude and hot African airfields – Lusaka is about 4000ft above sea level. Back in the 1960s and 70s the runways were very short and use fo reverse thrust on landing was essenyial. If I remember correctly, the VC10 had thrust reversers on only the two outer engines. The VC15 had them on all four engines.

    Still in use with the RAF.

    Of course, copper continues to be vital to the Zambian economy and the Chinese have pretty much cornered the market in recent years.

  2. Ken Patterson-Kane January 20, 2012 at 11:31 am #

    Started very well and you seemed to know where you were going but you see to have got writers block, or maybe just too busy with your day job.

    I wait in hope.

  3. Charon QC January 20, 2012 at 1:42 pm #

    Written another 10 chapters… but tying them all together… will start releasing chapters soon !

  4. Laurence Eastham April 28, 2012 at 11:52 am #

    Well I’m intrigued – it was th efamilar place names that drew me in. I guess we are heading for the Zambezi later.
    There seems no limit to your talents

  5. att systems April 29, 2013 at 4:50 pm #

    If some one desires expert view concerning running a blog then
    i propose him/her to pay a visit this website, Keep up the pleasant work.

  6. Globalagogogo July 31, 2013 at 8:59 am #

    Nice – and in many ways witty. Please continue…


  1. The Smoke That Thunders | Charon QC - December 20, 2015

    […] Here are the first Chapters. […]

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