Dirk Krugar tugged at the blanket around his shoulders and held his hands out towards the fire that crackled merrily in the centre of the cavern. Its bright light sent the shadows dancing around the walls, and were it not for the cheery grin of the British soldier sitting opposite him, the cold beer at his side and the smell of sausages cooking, Dirk may have been slightly unnerved. His companion, who had learned was called Dave, grinned and prodded the fire expertly with a stick, sending a shower of sparks drifting into the air. Dirk smiled.
"So, let me get this right, there are no crocodiles down here?"
Dave wrinkled his brow.
"Not strictly true, chum. There is a crocodile..."
"I thought you said..."
The soldier laughed and waved his hands.
"...but she's stuffed."
"Why do you have a stuffed crocodile in what is meant to be a Crocodile Pit of Death (1)?"
"Allow me to demonstrate."
He thrust a nearby torch into the fire and its tip blazed into life. Standing, he motioned to Dirk to follow him. The two men left the warm, arid confines of the cave and back into the main chamber with its underground river. Dave led the way, his heavy footfalls making noisy splashes as he waded through the water into the darkness. As they moved further away from the cave and its fire, the light slowly receded and the darkness began its slow exorable creep towards both men until it surrounded them completely, held at bay only by the blaze of Dave's torch. Eventually the soldier came to a halt in front of a large, metal door that was set into the cave wall. He indicated the handle to Dirk.
"Go on - it's open. You go in."
Puzzled, the Boer stepped forward and grabbed the handle, pulling the door towards him. It creaked open on rusty hinges and he peered inside, straining his eyes to see what was within. As his vision acclimatised to the gloom he let out a little gasp, put his hand to his mouth and staggered backwards, releasing his grip on the handle as he did so. The door swung shut, giving Dirk one last look at the gigantic crocodile within before it clanked shut. Dave laughed and clapped Krugar firmly on the back.
"She looks pretty realistic, yeah?"
"Shit - I thought it was real! It's massive! Why? Why have you got it there?"
Dave smiled, his face looking like that of a rather jolly demon (2)in the flickering torchlight.
"Well, Himself upstairs needs to believe that we've got fierce crocs down here, so I bought this one off a couple of Tswana hunters, had it stuffed and brought here. When He asked to see the crocs I’d bought fir His pit I took him down here in the same dim light and let him see what you’ve just seen. Pretty damn, scary huh?"
Dirk nodded and pointed back down the tunnel.
"It is, but do you mind if we go back to your camp fire? I'm still bloody freezing from thrashing around in the water like I was being eaten and I could really do with those sausages and my beer."
"If you don't mind me asking though, why did you spend all that money on a dead, stuffed croc when you could have bought a live one?"
"Are you kidding? Capturing and transporting a live croc is hard enough, but keeping it fed down here and looking after it? No thanks! I find it's a lot easier for everyone if the boss simply believes he's got crocs to feed his enemies to. That way he's happy, I don't have to deal with man-eating, killer reptiles and any 'crocodile maintenance' money that gets fed my way - pardon the pun - accrues a nice amount of interest in my bank account (3)."
By now the two men were back at the cave and Dirk wasted no time on squatting down by the fire and warming his hands again. Dave extinguished his torch in the river outside and prodded the sausages experimentally with a stick. He gave a grunt of satisfaction (4)and turned them over. Dirk took another swig of beer before jabbing his bottle in Dave's direction.
"The one thing I don't get is why you don't get found out. Isn't there a risk that the Brigadier runs across someone who he believes has been chomped by his pets?"
Dave grinned and started to rummage in a bag behind him.
"I thought you'd ask that. It's simple really. For one, the boss is a toff. And he's mad. Most toffs barely acknowledge the existence of their social inferiors", he waved a hand over his shoulder at Dirk, "no offence intended."
"None taken I'm sure."
"The fact that he's mad means it's dead easy to play the 'you must be mistaken, sir' card. But my secret weapon is this..."
He triumphantly wrenched something from his bag and waved it in front of Dirk. The Boer cocked his head to one side and looked quizzically at it. Whatever it was that Dave was holding had all the appearance of a small, dead rodent.
"No you great lummox. It's a false beard. You wear it; you'll look like someone else completely."
He smiled wryly.
"Did you not notice how many men upstairs had suspiciously bushy looking beards?"
"To be honest - I wasn't paying them that much attention. I was trying, instead, to concentrate on prostituting my nation to yours."
Dave held up his hands defensively.
"Whoa there my friend! This war is not my fault..."
Dirk waved his bottle apologetically.
"I know, I know..."
"...in fact, as I was saying, did you notice how many of the soldiers upstairs were sporting rather odd facial hair?"
"Yup - there's a whole underground army forming right under the Brigadier's nose. You're not the only one who wants this war to finish, my friend."
He threw the beard at Dirk and picked up a plate upon which he unceremoniously heaped four sausages. With his other hand he placed a knife and fork on the plate and handed the ensemble to the Boer who was busy examining the facial hairpiece he was now holding.
"No problem. My plan is this - I figure if we get rid of the nutter at the helm, a saner mind might be more amiable to pursuing a negotiated solution, rather than bothering with things like crocodile pits, insane Colonels and concentration camps."
He held out his bottle.
Dirk clinked his against Dave's.
"Now get those sausages eaten and let’s get you measured up for your uniform..."
1. He made a point of clearly pronouncing the capital letters.
2. Truth be told, all demons are fairly cheery. They've got good reason to be. If you're in Hell but not being tormented for eternity it stands to reason that you can commit pretty much any sin you want and get away Scot free. Given how much fun a lot of sins can be, this is a pretty good reason to be cheerful. In the armies of the Damned it's the vampires who are the miserable ones. They have some kind of contractual obligation to be whiney, angsty and tormented. This, naturally, makes them very popular with teenage girls, and Hell likes nothing more than damning souls at a tender age. It also makes them extremely media friendly and Hell also like mass audiences being drawn in and entranced with one of their creations. Most demons find this very amusing. Especially when the PR boys dream up tripe like “Twilight”.
3. Dave was saving up for his own orchard. He liked to brew cider, but unfortunately the apples in South Africa didn't seem to suit his ancient family recipes. Nonetheless, the stuff that he distilled here was very popular with the artillerymen. Not just because it could send a grown man into a nigh on comatose state after two glasses, but a keg of it was simply excellent for cleaning the breeches of the really big guns with.
4. This type of non-verbal communication is common to all situations involving men, fire and dead animals. Just take a look at the guys clustered around the barbeque next time you're at one. An entire group of men can stand around for hours, beers in hand, staring at meat blackening over dancing flames, pausing only to grunt in approval as whoever is in charge of the barbeque flips the burgers. Ladies - don't attempt to understand this. It's a primal thing. We used to do this when we killed mammoth. Now we're chained to desks. We're simply getting in touch with our inner cave men. It’s our equivalent of all that fuss you make over childbirth. As if it hurts that much. We know you’re just getting in touch with your primal selves. That's cool too. (5)
5. Light of My Life – it goes without saying that if you’re reading this that last paragraph really, really was a joke. Please put down the scissors...