Night of Knives - By Jon Evans Page 0,2

aimed directly at Veronica, she can look right down the dark eye of its barrel.

Foliage rustles like paper as other intruders advance through the shadowed jungle all around. The pungent scent of gunpowder fills the air. Veronica stares disbelievingly at the gunman before her, as if he might be a hallucination. She feels very cold.

Chapter 2

The intruder stoops to take the fallen guard's rifle. He is so close Veronica could take a single step forward and touch his hand. She feels paralyzed, barely able to breathe. He takes the weapon and stands back up, waiting for something.

Veronica forces herself to move, to turn her head and look at the others. There are more intruders among them, she can't tell how many but the jungle seems alive with motion, there must be at least eight or ten. Most look similar to the man who stands an arm's-length away from her, but two of them are much smaller, like children. All of them are armed. Banana-shaped ammunition clips protrude from their battered wood-and-iron rifles.

Two of those weapons are pointed at Elijah. He and the rest of the gorilla group seem to have turned into statues. The one exception is Derek, who as Veronica watches draws himself up slowly from his push-up position into a tense crouch. His eyes dart in all directions, as if looking for an avenue of escape, but one of the smaller intruders watches him carefully, keeps his weapon aimed straight at Derek's heart.

She hears a slithering sound behind her and turns to see two more intruders dragging the other guard out of the jungle by his legs. His limp arms trail behind him like loaves of bread. His face is masked with dripping blood and somehow distorted, Veronica can't make out exactly what happened to it and doesn't want to.

She knows she should be terrified, but she feels more horror than fear. She is not yet frightened for herself, not in her blood and bones. So far it is all too dreamlike, too strange, surreal and silent. It feels like everyone is playing a part, going through motions scripted for them long ago. Surely this performance will soon be over and everyone involved will go back to their regularly scheduled lives.

The guard lying before her stops breathing. It is nothing like a movie death scene, it is far more stark and simple.

One of the intruders speaks. She can't see his face, he is aiming his gun at Elijah, keeping his back to Veronica. The words are in an African language. Elijah hesitates. He looks thoughtful. Then he pushes the red TALK button on the walkie-talkie and begins to speak quickly. About ten words in he is silenced by a loud burst of gunfire like a whole string of firecrackers going off.

Veronica closes her eyes involuntarily against the bright flashes. When she opens them again Elijah lies dead or dying on the ground, his rag-doll body torn by a dozen wounds. It takes her a moment to understand. He was told to put down the walkie-talkie, or maybe to tell it reassuring lies, and instead he told park headquarters what was happening, and was killed for it.

The man who spoke to Elijah, and then murdered him, starts barking new orders. He sounds angry, thwarted. Veronica cries out with pain and dismay as the intruder standing above grabs her arm and half-drags, half-leads her to their leader. The rest of the gorilla group is similarly escorted, arranged into a rough line, then forced onto their knees in the damp undergrowth.

None of them dare to resist. This doesn't feel unreal any more. It feels very real and very immediate. It feels like they are all about to die. Veronica doesn't know what to do, she can't think, she feels weak and sick, like she has the flu. Her mind seems stuck in neutral, unable to move.

"We have money," Michael says weakly. He pulls his money belt out and tugs open its zipper with fumbling fingers. "You can have it. American passports. Everything. You can have it all."

The intruders' leader takes two quick steps towards him and kicks him in the stomach like a soccer player taking a free kick. Michael doubles over and makes gagging noises. Money spills from his hands. Diane begins to shriek, but tentatively, she is panting for air and can't get enough air in her lungs to really scream, and when the man who kicked her husband turns menacingly towards her, she chokes and falls silent.

There are