Chapter One - Kim

 

February 14, 1995

 

     Kim Macomb jostled and bounced around the back seat of the jeep. The African sun, like a ton weight, threatened to press her as flat as the grassland. Wind whipped dark silky strands from her thick braid. She tucked them behind her ear, but it only took a moment for them to whip free again.

 

     In the front seat, her husband gestured as he discussed the future of Zaire with the driver. Kim was grateful that most of their discussion was drowned out by the engine’s drone. She was too miserable to care about anyone else’s future. It was all they’d talked about since leaving the airport moments before the militia shut it down. Like a surreal scene from a 3-D hero movie there’d been people screaming, scrambling, gunfire, yet the three of them escaped unscathed. How did she get here, anyway?

 

     Kurt turned to her and grinned. Her heart leaped in her chest and she smiled back. Beneath the brim of a khaki hat his blue eyes twinkled with excitement. His pale skin, the blight of red-haired people, already showed signs of sunburn. “Hang on. Things are about to get interesting,” he shouted.

 

      They slowed and veered off the highway, bumping along deep ruts that sliced through dense jungle. Every jolt felt like the start of a new bruise. Occasionally Kurt glanced back to check on her, his excitement at realizing his dream never dimming.

 

     She closed her eyes and lapsed into a weary stupor until the jeep lurched to a stop. The engine’s drone was replaced by the buzzing of a fat fly circling her head. She swatted at it and sat up. “What’s wrong?”

 

     “There’s a tree blocking the path.” Kurt pointed. The dirt lane was a thin brown belt cinching tall grasses that spread right and left into a full garment of brush and trees. One large tree with leaves dried and brown lie directly across the road.

 

 

 

 

     “I’ve got a chain we can use to move it,” Uzachi said. His Bostonian accent surprised her again. In a loose white shirt and shorts, Uzachi looked as if he belonged to the land, yet, he was decidedly American. “Reverend Macomb, would you give me a hand?” Kurt jumped out the passenger side while Uzachi unfolded his frame from behind the steering wheel and went to rummage through the luggage in the back of the jeep. “Wouldn’t you know? It’s on the bottom of the heap. This’ll take a while. You may as well get out and stretch, Mrs. Macomb, but stay close.”

 

     Kim hunched her shoulders and threw her hands out, palms up. “Where would I go?”

 

     Uzachi flashed a brilliantly white smile and offered her a hand the color and softness of a well-used baseball glove. Once she was on the ground, he towered over her. He was maybe eight inches taller, while she and Kurt both stood five-five. He returned to the rear, handing bags and boxes to Kurt to stack on the ground.

 

     Kim stretched stiffness away and rubbed at the sore spots on her lean body. She smoothed wrinkles from her pretty pink shirt and tan trousers. Perhaps not the most practical of outfits, but just because she was going to the jungle didn’t mean she had to dress ugly.

Kurt glanced her way, grinned and winked. She smiled back, knowing he appreciated how she looked.

       

     She wandered toward the obstruction. A path of beaten grass skirted the downed tree and some branches had been stripped away. She scrambled on top of the horizontal trunk, wobbling a bit before balance beam training took over. Everything looked better from up there. She stepped the length of it and back, performing a routine she’d used years before in high school competition.

 

     “Kim,” Kurt said. His low tone held a warning.