Cause and Effect
"Sir!" I snap to attention as Majeur Dupree marches up, stiff-legged. Gotta love these French officers. I think they tie pieces of lumber to their legs to learn how to do that.
"I have some questions about your report. But first…why is your co-pilot in the officers' tent?" He runs his finger and thumb down the sides of his walrus mustache. "While you are out here washing down my aeroplane?" We both look up in pride at the 1922 Vickers Type 56 Victoria, a British prototype on "loan" to the French Foreign Legion. And I'm her lucky pilot. I've come a long way from barnstorming back in Texas.
"I lost a bet, sir."
He looks me up and down but doesn't say anything. The Legion believes in snap inspections, so I know he's not happy with one of his officers stripped to his waist and covered in—
"And just what might that bet have been?"
"Lieutenant Smithers chewing-gummed a penny to the wall and bet me I couldn't shoot it at five paces."
The majeur raises his eyebrows in surprise. "Non! And you missed? You must have been wearing…how do you say…folds of blinders—"
"Oui, you must have been wearing blindfolders. I've never seen you miss a shot."
"Aw, hell, it's my own damned fault. I upped the stakes. I bet him I could throw my knife at that penny, fast draw my pistol, and shoot the penny before the knife hit it."
"Oui? I see how you missed it, then. That would be an impossible shot. Even for you." He threw his hand dismissively into the air to make his point.
"Technically, I didn't miss, sir." I scratched the back of my head. "I shot the handle of my knife just as the blade sank into the penny." I let out a deep sigh. Ivory splinters everywhere. I'll have to find a new knife.
"Humph." He looks back to the last few drops of red water running out the tail section of the plane. "Red paint?"
I wipe my hands on my trousers and set my water bucket down. This is going to be a long story. "That's not paint, sir. That's blood."
"Blood!" He rushes over to the plane. "Did someone die?"
He sees the claw marks ripped through the main fuselage and tries unsuccessfully to fit his fingers across them. "Capitaine, whose blood is this?"
"No one's, sir. It's goat blood."
"You killed a goat on my aeroplane?"
"Not hardly, sir." I scratch my head again. I'm never gonna get that damned sand out. "One of the tigers did. Maybe both ‘em."
He blinks twice. "Let us move past the fact you were hauling tigers, oui." He looks back at the claw marks. "Why would you put a goat on an aeroplane with tigers?"
"Easier to transport them at once, sir. The tigers were sedated, though. Yes, siree. Didn't want them getting sick back there. Or eating that goat. But when I had to skirt that nasty thunderhead, the drugs wore off. They were tied up—couldn't get the cages through the door—but once I hit that turbulence, the goat got free. And well…" I run my hand over the rips.
"B…but," he stutters, "why a goat, heh?"
"I ran over one of Fazil's on take-off in Tagab."
"You ran over a goat with my aeroplane?" He leaned over to inspect the wheels.
"Yes, sir. That was Fazil's replacement goat."
"And you knew the one you ran over belonged to this Fazil?"
"You recognized a goat while you were doing 120 kilometers per hour?"
"Yes, sir. Well, no, sir. I knew it belonged to Fazil because he and his family keep the airstrip clear."
"That doesn't explain why you—"
"Fazil needed that goat as dowry for his daughter."
"Dowry? So, you are now a maker of matches, oui?"
"Yes, sir. And, uh, what? Uh, no, sir!"
"Hmm." He strokes his mustache again. "So, tell me why the Legion should be worried about Fazil's dowry."
"I promised Shakim a wife for his son. He and his family live out in the middle of nowhere, and there aren't too many options available."
"And you know Shakim because?"
"He loaned me a camel. A wife for his son was the price."
"A camel? What did you need a camel for?"
"To reach the Sheik."
"Why didn't you just ride the motorcycle? It is his anyway!"
"Wrong Sheik. Besides, no roads where he lives."
The majeur stares at me and blinks a few more times. "This was not Sheik Omar Hasan?"
"Oh, no, sir. This was Sheik Ibrahim Mandazi. And let me tell you, those two get along like two coyotes trying to share the last of some roadkill. And before you ask, I absolutely had to visit him; he's the only one who had the…um…explosives I needed to take out the bridge."
"Mon Dieu!" The majeur drops his hands to his sides. "You blew up a bridge? Capitaine Royston, that was not part of your mission."
"That's not entirely accurate, sir. See, my orders were to secure permission for our troops to traverse Sheik Omar Hasan's valley. By any means necessary. The only thing Hasan wanted was two tigers. Nothing else would do."
"The motorcycle was his payment!"
"Someone screwed the pooch on that, sir. Forgot to put gas in it. And there are no gas stations where he lives. The next thing on his list was—"
"A pair of tigers." The majeur rubs his jaw as he stares at the rips in the fuselage. "Why did you have to blow up a bridge, though?"
"The Pakistanis had been making raids into the Punjabi again. In exchange for the tigers, the Punjab wanted the bridge rendered, shall we say, inoperative." I can still hear the ringing in my ears from the rat-a-tat-tat of the Vickers 303 as I mowed down the advancing Pakistanis troops.
The majeur writes a few things down on his clipboard. "That still leaves almost a month unaccounted for."
"Sir, elephants are not a very quick mode of travel."
"Elephants? I thought tigers—"
"How else were we to ride into the jungle?"
The majeur frowns and grimaces. "How, indeed."
"The Punjab don't keep their tigers on the front line, you know."
"Well, of course not."
"They're in the jungle. And they're some wily critters, let me tell you. Have you ever been on a tiger hunt, majeur?"
"Non, I cannot say I have."
"Hmm, well, if you ever get the opportunity, it's a hoot."
The majeur looks around the aerodrome, straightens his tie, and attempts to pull some authority from this whole encounter by flipping to a new sheet on his clipboard. "So, let me see if I got this correct. You fly to Sheik Omar Hasan's. The motorcycle does not have petrol, so he asks for two tigers instead. You fly to India to get them. They won't give them to you unless you blow up a bridge. Only Sheik Mandazi has the explosives you need. You fly to Fazil's airstrip, but you need a camel to get to Sheik Mandazi's because there are no roads. A man named Shakim has a camel, but he needs a wife for his son…and a goat. You go back to Fazil, talk him into marrying his daughter, with a goat dowry, to Shakim's son. You go back to Shakim's, get the camel, and ride it to Mandazi's to secure the explosives. You fly back to India, running over Fazil's goat on take-off, and blow up a bridge. You go on a jungle safari, secure two tigers, acquire a goat somewhere along the way, and deliver the tigers to Sheik Hasan." He finishes scribbling on his clipboard. "Can I assume the mission was a success?"
"Oh, yes, sir. Sheik Hasan said that his valley was your valley."
"Excellent!" He walks up to the nose of the plane. "Have you thought of a name for her yet?"
"Yes, sir. Cause and Effect."
He laughs as he starts to turn away but stops. "Not a woman?"
"Can you think of a woman who isn't as complex as this last mission?"
"Non, I suppose not." He taps his pencil on his clipboard. "Did you ever get that goat for Fazil?"
"Yes, sir. Mandazi gave one up on account it was his tigers who killed the first one. He's one hell of a horse trader, one my daddy would be proud of. Getting him to part with that goat ended up being the hardest part of the mission. That and this field report."
"Well, no one expects the Spanish Inquisition, Capitaine. Carry on."
About the Author
Tom Bont is a United States Navy veteran, has a degree in computer science from Louisiana Tech University, is a licensed pilot, and is a competitive dancer. He lives in North Texas with his family. Married since 1992, he still spends as many hours as he can on the dance floor with his wife. He has three novels and numerous short stories and essays to his credit. You can reach him at www.TomBont.com.