"That is was," Homer said grimly. "Now, go see if you can find my lads, will you? This joker is going to fall right into our laps. It's going to be interesting to find out who hates the idea of African development so much that they're willing to commit assassination."
But it didn't work out that way.
Isobel found the other teammates one by one, and they came hurrying up from different directions to the support of their chief. They had been a team for years and operating as they did and where they did, each man survived only by selfless co-operation with all the others. In action, they operated like a single unit, their ability to co-operate almost as though they had telepathic communication.
From where he lay, Homer Crawford could see Bey-ag-Akhamouk, Tommy-Noiseless in hands, snake in from the left, running low and reaching a vantage point from which he could cover one flank of the ancient adobe mosque. Homer waved to him and Bey made motions to indicate that one of the others was coming in from the other side.
Homer waited for a few more minutes, then waved to Bey to cover him. The streets were empty at this time of midday when the Sahara sun drove the town's occupants into the coolness of dark two-foot-thick walled houses. It was as though they were operating in a ghost town. Homer came to his feet and handgun in fist made a dash for the front entrance.
Bey's light automatic _flic flic flicked_ its excitement and dust and dirt enveloped the wall facing Crawford. Homer reached the doorway, stood there for a full two minutes while he caught his breath. From the side of his eye he could see Elmer Allen, his excellent teeth bared as always when the Jamaican went into action, come running up to the right in that half crouch men automatically go into in combat, instinctively presenting as small a target as possible. He was evidently heading for a side door or window.
The object now was to refrain from killing the sniper. The important thing was to be able to question him. Perhaps here was the answer to the massacre of the Cubans. Homer took another deep breath, smashed the door open with a heavy shoulder and dashed inward and immediately to one side. At the same moment, Abe Baker, Tommy-Noiseless in hand, came in from the rear door, his eyes darting around trying to pierce the gloom of the unlighted building.
Elmer Allen erupted through a window, rolled over on the floor and came to rest, his gun trained.
"Where is he?" Abe snapped.
Homer motioned with his head. "Must be up in the remains of the minaret."
Abe got to the creaking, age-old stairway first. In cleaning out a hostile building, the idea is to move fast and keep on the move. Stop, and you present a target.
But there was no one in the minaret.
"Got away," Homer growled. His face was puzzled. "I felt sure we'd have him."
Bey-ag-Akhamouk entered. He grunted his disappointment. "What happened, anyway? That girl Isobel said a sniper took some shots at you and you figure it must've been somebody at the meeting."
"Somebody at the meeting?" Abe said blankly. "What kind of jazz is that? You flipping, man?"
Homer looked at him strangely.
"Who else could it be, Abe? We've never operated this far south. None of the inhabitants in this area even know us, and it certainly couldn't have been an attempt at robbery."
"There were some cats at that meeting didn't appreciate our ideas, man, but I can't see that old preacher or Doc Smythe trying to put the slug on you."
Kenny Ballalou came in on the double, gun in hand, his face anxious.
Abe said sarcastically, "Man, we'd all be dead if we had to wait on you."
"That girl Isobel. She said somebody took a shot at the chief."
Homer explained it, sourly. A sniper had taken a few shots at him, then managed to get away.
Isobel entered, breathless, followed by Jake Armstrong.
Abe grunted, "Let's hold another convention. This is like old home town week."
Her eyes went from one of them to the other. "You're not hurt?"
"Nobody hurt, but the cat did all the shooting got away," Abe said unhappily.
Jake said, and his voice was worried, "Isobel told me what happened. It sounds insane."
They discussed it for a while and got exactly nowhere. Their conversation was interrupted by a clicking at Homer Crawford's wrist. He looked down at the tiny portable radio.
"Excuse me for a moment," he said to the others and went off a dozen steps or so to the side.
They looked after him.
Elmer Allen said sourly, "Another assignment. What we need is a union."
Abe adopted the idea. "Man! Time and a half for overtime."
"With a special cost of living clause—" Kenny Ballalou added.
"And housing and dependents allotment!" Abe crowed.
They all looked at him.
Bey tried to imitate the other's beatnik patter. "Like, you got any dependents, man?"
Abe made a mark in the sand on the mosque's floor with the toe of his shoe, like a schoolboy up before the principal for an infraction of rules, and registered embarrassment. "Well, there's that cute little Tuareg girl up north."
"Ha!" Isobel said. "And all these years you've been leading me on."
Homer Crawford returned and his face was serious. "That does it," he muttered disgustedly. "The fat's in the fire."
"Like, what's up, man?"
Crawford looked at his right-hand man. "There are demonstrations in Mopti.
"Mopti?" Jake Armstrong said, surprised. "Our team was working there just a couple of months ago. I thought everything was going fine in Mopti."
"They're going fine, all right," Crawford growled. "So well, that the local populace wants to speed up even faster."
They were all looking their puzzlement at him.
"The demonstrations are in favor of El Hassan."
Their faces turned blank. Crawford's eyes swept his teammates. "Our instructions are to get down there and do what we can to restore order. Come on, let's go. I'm going to have to see if I can arrange some transportation.
It'd take us two days to get there in our outfits."
Jake Armstrong said, "Wait a minute, Homer. My team was heading back for Dakar for a rest and new assignments. We'd be passing Mopti anyway. How many of you are there, five? If you don't haul too much luggage with you; we could give you a lift."
"Great," Homer told him. "We'll take you up on that. Abe, Elmer, let's get going. We'll have to repack. Bey, Kenny, see about finding some place we can leave the lorries until we come back. This job shouldn't take more than a few days at most."
"Huh," Abe said. "I hope you got plans, man. How do you go about stopping demonstrations in favor of a legend you created yourself?"
Mopti, also on the Niger, lies approximately three hundred kilometers to the south and slightly west of Timbuktu, as the bird flies. However, one does not travel as the bird flies in the Niger bend. Not even when one goes by aircraft. A forced landing in the endless swamps, bogs, shallow lakes and river tributaries which make up the Niger at this point, would be suicidal.
The whole area is more like the Florida Everglades than a river, and a rescue team would be hard put to find your wreckage. There are no roads, no railroads. Traffic follows the well marked navigational route of the main channel.
Homer Crawford had been sitting quietly next to Cliff Jackson who was piloting. Isobel and Jake Armstrong were immediately behind them and Abe and the rest of Crawford's team took up the remainder of the aircraft's eight seats. Abe was regaling the others with his customary chaff.
Out of a clear sky, Crawford said bitterly, "Has it occurred to any of you that what we're doing here in North Africa is committing genocide?"
The others stared at him, taken aback. Isobel said, "I beg your pardon?"
"Genocide," Crawford said bitterly. "We're doing here much what the white men did when they cleared the Amerinds from the plains, the mountains and forests of North America."
Isobel, Cliff and Jake frowned their puzzlement. Abe said, "Man, you just don't make sense. And, among other things, there're more Indians in the United States than there was when Columbus landed."
Crawford shook his head. "No. They're a different people. Those cultures that inhabited the United States when the first white men came, are gone." He shook his head as though soured by his thoughts. "Take the Sioux. They had a way of life based on the buffalo. So the whites deliberately exterminated the buffalo. It made the plains Indians' culture impossible. A culture based on buffalo herds cannot exist if there are no buffalo."
"I keep telling you, man, there's more Sioux now than there were then."
Crawford still shook his head. "But they're a different people, a different race, a different culture. A mere fraction, say ten per cent, of the original Sioux, might have adapted to the new life. The others beat their heads out against the new ways. They fought—the Sitting Bull wars took place after the buffalo were already gone—they drank themselves to death on the white man's firewater, they committed suicide; in a dozen different ways they called it quits. Those that survived, the ten per cent, were the exceptions. They were able to adapt. They had a built-in genetically-conferred self discipline enough to face the new problems. Possibly eighty per cent of their children couldn't face the new problems either and they in turn went under. But by now, a hundred years later, the majority of the Sioux nation have probably adapted.
But, you see, the point I'm trying to make? They're not the _real_ Sioux, the original Sioux; they're a new breed. The plains living, buffalo based culture, Sioux are all dead. The white men killed them."
Jake Armstrong was scowling. "I get your point, but what has it to do with our work here in North Africa?"
"We're doing the same thing to the Tuareg, the Teda and the Chaambra, and most of the others in the area in which we operate. The type of human psychology that's based on the nomad life can't endure settled community living. Wipe out the nomad way of life and these human beings must die."
Abe said, unusually thoughtful, "I see what you mean, man. _Fish gotta swim, bird gotta fly_ —and nomad gotta roam. He flips if he doesn't."
Homer Crawford pursued it. "Sure, there'll be Tuareg afterward … but all descended from the fraction of deviant Tuareg who were so abnormal—speaking from the Tuareg viewpoint—that they liked settled community life." He rubbed a hand along his jawbone, unhappily. "Put it this way. Think of them as a tribe of genetic claustrophobes. No matter what a claustrophobe promises, he can't work in a mine. He has no choice but to break his promise and escape … or kill himself trying."
Isobel was staring at him. "What you say, is disturbing, Homer. I didn't come to Africa to destroy a people."
He looked back at her, oddly. "None of us did."
Cliff said from behind the aircraft's controls, "If you believe what you're saying, how do you justify being here yourself?"
"I don't know," Crawford said unhappily. "I don't know what started me on this kick, but I seem to have been doing more inner searching this past week or so than I have in the past couple of decades. And I don't seem to come up with much in the way of answers."
"Well, man," Abe said. "If you find any, let us know."
Jake said, his voice warm, "Look Homer, don't beat yourself about this. What you say figures, but you've got to take it from this angle. The plains Indians had to go. The world is developing too fast for a few thousand people to tie up millions of acres of some of the most fertile farm land anywhere, because they needed it for their game—the buffalo—to run on."
"Um-m-m," Homer said, his voice lacking conviction.
"Maybe it's unfortunate the _way_ it was done. The story of the American's dealing with the Amerind isn't a pretty one, and usually comfortably ignored when we pat ourselves on the back these days and tell ourselves what a noble, honest, generous and peace loving people we are. But it did have to be done, and the job we're doing in North Africa has to be done, too."
Crawford said softly, "And sometimes it isn't very pretty either."
Mopti as a town had grown. Once a small river port city of about five thousand population, it had been a river and caravan crossroads somewhat similar to Timbuktu, and noted in particular for its spice market and its Great Mosque, probably the largest building of worship ever made of mud. Plastered newly at least twice a year with fresh adobe, at a distance of only a few hundred feet the Great Mosque, in the middle of the day and in the glare of the Sudanese sun, looks as though made of gold. From the air it is more attractive than the grandest Gothic cathedrals of Europe.
Isobel pointed. "There, the Great Mosque."
Elmer Allen said, "Yes, and there. See those mobs?" He looked at Homer Crawford and said sourly, "Let's try and remember who it was who first thought of the El Hassan idea. Then we can blame it on him."
Kenny Ballalou grumbled, "We all thought about it. Remember, we pulled into Tessalit and found that prehistoric refrigerator that worked on kerosene and there were a couple of dozen quarts of Norwegian beer, of all things, in it."
"And we bought them all," Abe recalled happily. "Man, we hung one on."
Homer Crawford said to Cliff, "The Mopti airport is about twelve miles over to the east of the town."
"Yeah, I know. Been here before," Cliff said. He called back to Ballalou, "And then what happened?"
"We took the beer out into the desert and sat on a big dune. You can just begin to see the Southern Cross from there. Hangs right on the horizon.
Bey said, "I've never heard Kenny wax poetic before. I don't know which sounds more lyrical, though, that cold beer or the Southern Cross."
Kenny said, "Anyway, that's when El Hassan was dreamed up. We kicked the idea around until the beer was all gone. And when we awoke in the morning, complete with hangover, we had the gimmick which we hung all our propaganda on."
"El Hassan is turning out to be a hangover all right," Elmer Allen grunted, choosing to misinterpret his teammate's words. He peered down below. "And there the poor blokes are, rioting in favor of the product of those beer bottles."
"It was crazy beer, man," Abe protested. "Real crazy."
Homer Crawford said, "I wish headquarters had more information to give us on this. All they said was there were demonstrations in favor of El Hassan and they were afraid if things went too far that some of the hard work that's been done here the past ten years might dissolve in the excitement; Dogon, Mosse, Tellum, Sonrai start fighting among each other."
Jake Armstrong said, "That's not my big worry. I'm afraid some ambitious lad will come along and supply what these people evidently want."
"How's that?" Cliff said.
"They want a leader. Someone to come out of the wilderness and lead them to the promised land." The older man grumbled sourly. "All your life you figure you're in favor of democracy. You devote your career to expanding it. Then you come to a place like North Africa. You're just kidding yourself. Democracy is meaningless here. They haven't got to the point where they can conceive of it."
"And—" Elmer Allen prodded.
Jake Armstrong shrugged. "When it comes to governments and social institutions people usually come up with what they want, sooner or later. If those mobs down there want a leader, they'll probably wind up with one." He grunted deprecation. "And then probably we'll be able to say, Heaven help them."
Isobel puckered her lips. "A leader isn't necessarily a misleader, Jake."
"Perhaps not necessarily," he said. "However, it's an indication of how far back these people are, how much work we've still got to do, when that's what they're seeking."
"Well, I'm landing," Cliff said. "The airport looks free of any kind of manifestations."
"That's a good word," Abe said. "Manifestations. Like, I'll have to remember that one. Man's been to school and all that jazz."
Cliff grinned at him. "Where'd you like to get socked, beatnik?"
"About two feet above my head," Abe said earnestly.
The aircraft had hardly come to a halt before Homer Crawford clipped out, "All right, boys, time's a wasting. Bey, you and Kenny get over to those administration buildings and scare us up some transportation. Use no more pressure than you have to. Abe, you and Elmer start getting our equipment out of the luggage—"
Jake Armstrong said suddenly, "Look here, Homer, do you need any help?"
Crawford looked at him questioningly.
Jake said, "Isobel, Cliff, what do you think?"
Isobel said quickly, "I'm game. I don't know what they'll say back at AFAA headquarters, though. Our co-operating with a Sahara Development Project team."
Cliff scowled. "I don't know. Frankly, I took this job purely for the dough, and as outlined it didn't include getting roughed up in some riot that doesn't actually concern the job."
"Oh, come along, Cliff," Isobel urged. "It'll give you some experience you don't know when you'll be able to use."
He shrugged his acceptance, grudgingly.
Jake Armstrong looked back at Homer Crawford. "If you need us, we're available."
"Thanks," Crawford said briefly, and turned off the unhappy stare he'd been giving Cliff. "We can use all the manpower we can get. You people ever worked with mobs before?"
Bey and Kenny climbed from the plane and made their way at a trot toward the airport's administration buildings. Abe and Elmer climbed out, too, and opened the baggage compartment in the rear of the aircraft.
"Well, no," Jake Armstrong said.
"It's quite a technique. Mostly you have to play it by ear, because nothing is so changeable as the temper of a mob. Always keep in mind that to begin with, at least, only a small fraction of the crowd is really involved in what's going on. Possibly only one out of ten is interested in the issue. The rest start off, at least, as idle observers, watching the fun. That's one of the first things you've got to control. Don't let the innocent bystanders become excited and get into the spirit of it all. Once they do, then you've got a mess on your hands."
Isobel, Jake and Cliff listened to him in fascination.
Cliff said uncomfortably, "Well, what do we do to get the whole thing back to tranquillity? What I mean is, how do we end these demonstrations?"
"We bore them to tears," Homer growled.
They looked at him blankly.
"We assume leadership of the whole thing and put up speakers."
Jake protested, "You sound as though you're sustaining not placating it."
"We put up speakers and they speak and speak, and speak. It's almost like a fillibuster. You don't say anything particularly interesting, and certainly nothing exciting. You agree with the basic feeling of the demonstrating mob, certainly you say nothing to antagonize them. In this case we speak in favor of El Hassan and his great, and noble, and inspiring, and so on and so forth, teachings. We speak in not too loud a voice, so that those in the rear have a hard time hearing, if they can hear at all."
Cliff said worriedly, "Suppose some of the hotheads get tired of this and try to take over?"
Homer said evenly, "We have a couple of bully boys in the crowd to take care of them."
Jake twisted his mouth, in objection. "Might that not strike the spark that would start up violence?"
Homer Crawford grinned and began climbing out of the plane. "Not with the weapons we use."
"Weapons!" Isobel snapped. "Do you intend to use weapons on those poor people?
Why, it was you yourself, you and your team, who started this whole El Hassan movement. I'm shocked. I've heard about your reputation, you and the Sahara Development Project teams. Your ruthlessness—"
Crawford chuckled ruefully and held up a hand to stem the tide. "Hold it, hold it," he said. "These are special weapons, and, after all, we've got to keep those crowds together long enough to bore them to the point where they go home."
Abe came up with an armful of what looked something like tent-poles. "The quarterstaffs, eh, Homer?"
"Um-m-m," Crawford said. "Under the circumstances."
"Quarterstaffs?" Cliff Jackson ejaculated.
Abe grinned at him. "Man, just call them pilgrim's staffs. The least obnoxious looking weapon in the world." He looked at Cliff and Jake. "You two cats been checked out on quarterstaffs?"
Jake said, "The more I talk to you people, the less I seem to understand what's going on. Aren't quarterstaffs what, well, Robin Hood and his Merry Men used to fight with?"
"That's right," Homer said. He took one from Abe and grasping it expertly with two hands whirled it about, getting its balance. Then suddenly, he drooped, leaning on it as a staff. His face expressed weariness. His youth and virility seemed to drop away and suddenly he was an aged religious pilgrim as seen throughout the Moslem world.
"I'll be damned," Cliff blurted. "Oop, sorry Isobel."
"I'll be damned, too," Isobel said. "What in the world can you do with that, Homer? I was thinking in terms of you mowing those people down with machine guns or something."
Crawford stood erect again laughingly, and demonstrated. "It's probably the most efficient handweapon ever devised. The weapon of the British yeoman. With one of these you can disarm a swordsman in a matter of seconds. A good man with a quarterstaff can unhorse a knight in armor and batter him to death, in a minute or so. The only other handweapon capable of countering it is another quarterstaff. Watch this, with the favorable two-hand leverage the ends of the staff can be made to move at invisibly high speeds."
Bey and Kenny drove up in an aged wheeled truck and Abe and Elmer began loading equipment.
Crawford looked at Bey who said apologetically, "I had to liberate it. Didn't have time for all the dickering the guy wanted to go through."
Crawford grunted and looked at Isobel. "Those European clothes won't do. We've got some spare things along. You can improvise. Men and women's clothes don't differ that much around here."
"I'll make out all right," Isobel said. "I can change in the plane."
"Hey, Isobel," Abe called out. "Why not dress up like one of these Dogon babes?"
"Some chance," Isobel hissed menacingly at him. "A strip tease you want, yet.
You'll see me in a haik and like it, wise guy."
"Shucks," Abe grinned.
Crawford looked critically at the clothing of Jake and Cliff. "I suppose you'll do in western stuff," he said. "After all, this El Hassan is supposed to be the voice of the future. A lot of his potential followers will already be wearing shirts and pants. Don't look _too_ civilized, though."
When Isobel returned, Crawford briefed his seven followers. They were to operate in teams of two. One of his men, complete with quarterstaff would accompany each of the others. Abe with Jake, Bey with Cliff, and he'd be with Isobel. Elmer and Kenny would be the other twosome, and, both armed with quarterstaffs would be troubleshooters.
"We're playing it off the cuff," he said. "Do what comes naturally to get this thing under control. If you run into each other, co-operate, of course. If there's trouble, use your wrist radios." He looked at Abe and Bey. "I know you two are packing guns underneath those _gandouras_. I hope you know enough not to use them."
Abe and Bey looked innocent.
Homer turned and led the way into the truck. "O.K., let's get going."