I grabbed a pad and scribbled furiously, 'Boss (stop) Target agreed (stop) Prepare presses (stop) J.'
Normally, I would have been curious about the note that passed hands, almost imperceptibly, between the telegraph operator and the man who accompanied me. Perhaps it was because he read it so indifferently on his way out that my normal curiosity wasn’t piqued. Then again, I was extremely focused on my own good luck.
I hurriedly pushed my note at the operator and ran out the door to where the sleek, powerfully-built man sat very still. He was chewing what I assumed to be gum until he swallowed it. I didn’t know it was the note--or that the note read ‘secure target at all costs spare nothing.’
"Okay, J. Hart, war correspondent, let’s go to work,” he tossed my pack at me as if it was a child’s toy and started walking. I struggled to get it on and to adjust to the added weight while trying to keep up.
I grabbed a small pad and pencil from my pocket, “So, what should I call you? I’ve heard you called many names.”
“Take your pick. I know who I am.”
'Annihilator?’ I scrawled, and then, ‘Black Panther?’
“How can you murder for a living?” I asked matter-of-factly.
“I believe in apple pie and motherhood. I’m a patriot,” his reply came, equally matter-of-fact.
As we entered the jungle, I hurriedly stowed my writing material. My heart was pounding. Before agreeing to let me accompany him on this mission, the highly renowned combat veteran warned me that if I said even one word he would not hesitate to leave me in the jungle, and added that he could not promise to leave me breathing either. He asked me if I understood and if so to respond appropriately. I nodded affirmatively with mouth closed tight and eyes wide open.
“You can come.”
Stepping cautiously now, I tried with little success, to ignore the buzz of the omnipresent mosquitoes drinking my blood and the streams of sticky sweat running into my eyes and down my spine. We walked for several hours, without stopping. My tongue was parched and I was almost incoherent. When he finally halted, I didn’t even realize it and I ran into him. Amazingly, the Black Panther, as I had begun to think of him, appeared rested.
He lifted a small set of binoculars to his face, peered intently at the river and whispered two words, “Bulls eye.”
Then he turned and looked me straight in the eye, “You may want to stay here.”
He headed stealthily toward the river and I followed close behind--very quietly. As we neared the bank, I could see a system of ropes knotted together to form a swaying, and frightening, bridge across the swirling river far below. I thought I heard a baby cry above the roar of the rapidly moving water, but was sure that I couldn’t have. As I crawled on to the precarious bridge, I didn’t trust my eyes either. A rope dangled from a tree branch above the bridge, swaying from the force of its squirming load. The Black Panther reached it quickly, wielded his machete and expertly cut it through in one swoop.
I fell on the swaying ropes and looked down at the raging water below. The baby, with the time bomb tied around its middle, was swallowed up instantly. I closed my eyes and said a silent prayer. The lithe man must have stepped over me. When I opened my eyes, I spied him stepping effortlessly off the swaying bridge. He sat down and waited patiently for me to crawl and grope my way to land.
When I got there he spoke quietly, “Report the story however you want, but if I hadn’t cut that rope you wouldn’t be alive to tell it. Now it’s your turn to play God.” He stood up and walked. I forgot I was thirsty. I didn’t hear the buzzing mosquitoes. I lost track of time.
Upon entering the hut with the telegraph wire and the ancient telephone, I shoved a large bill at the clerk and asked to use the phone. My companion disappeared discreetly without a parting word. After what seemed like an eternity, my call was connected. I heard my boss’s eager voice over the static, “Did you get the scoop, Jewels?”
“Sam, we’ve nailed the Pulitzer Prize. You aren’t going to believe this. Got your pen?"
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