The ScienceAnd blog

By George F. Hart



George F. Hart


George Hart was born in 1935 in Yorkshire, England and obtained his Ph.D. in Geology from Sheffield University. He was the first western geologist to work at the Academy of Sciences of the USSR on a long term basis after Stalin’s death [1960-61]. He then went to Johannesburg, South Africa as a NATO and then Anglo-America Research Fellow, where he often spent weeks in the African bush. He emigrated the USA in 1966 and other than another year in the USSR [1973-74] for the US Academy of Sciences spent 27 years based at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge as a Professor of Geology and Geophysics; and, Director of Research of the Louisiana Geological Survey. Between 1983 and 2000 he made frequent visits to India under the sponsorship of the Smithsonian Institution, spending an accumulated total of 2 years exploring that country. He has traveled extensively throughout the world including Britain, Norway, Sweden, Finland, USSR, France, Germany, Belgium, India, Nepal, Tibet, Australia, Botswana, Republic of South Africa, Swaziland, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Brazil, Guatemala, Mexico, Canada, and the USA. In addition, he has worked on projects from Antarctica, Tanzania, China, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Congo, South West Africa, and Pakistan. With numerous scientific works to his credit George Hart has now completed his first novel: The Makarikari Idol is based on some of his experiences in Africa. Resemblance to actual people is purely fictional. Many of the characters in this book are based upon real people although their characterization is purely fictional: Ken, Tony, Pete, Edna, Credo, Ray and Joker enjoy my imagined-you. I love you all and will never forget the time we spent together in the magnificence of southern Africa.

For Antony, James, and Vaughan, who made my life worthwhile.

If only my eyes could speak”.

In the beginning.........

BIOCHEMISTS at the University of California at Berkeley conclude that all humans are descended from a woman who lived in Africa 200,000 years ago, the British journal NATURE reported Wednesday. The scientists studied the genes of 147 women worldwide, constructing a genetic family tree. Other scientists say we can’t assume the evolution of DNA is a constant.

USA ToDay, January, 2nd, 1986.


We made the journey from Jo’burg to Zeerust uneventfully and comfortably, the Land Rover doing a steady 50 mph. It was after dark before we arrived at De Rust Farm. The Whitfield’s were waiting for us and were overjoyed to see their nephew Ian after his 5 years in the States studying with me at Louisiana State University. It brought back old memories to us all. It was 1966 when I last visited the Kalahari, and a lifetime ago. Ian Dickie had been with me then. A safari to see the beauty of the African continent in a place essentially unspoiled by man: before he spoilt it. Tony Cessford, another of my ex-students had found signs of diamonds in the river beds of the Kalahari in the early sixties, and I knew this was leading to extensive production and the inevitable invasion of civilization. Also, the war in South West had penetrated the Okavango: the biggest swamp on earth, lying smack in the middle of the Kalahari; and, the Makarikari Pan was now a game preserve, with it’s accompaniment of tourists.

But old man Whitfield had not changed, except he was now 82. An original frontiersman, a farmer, and a hunter. A pharmacist by training and philosopher by vocation, old man Whitfield knew the Kalahari and it’s tribes like most of us know our local shopping Mall. Nowadays he spent much of his time on his hobby as an amateur toxicologist. His studies had made him an authority on poisonous animals and indeed he was one of the worlds leading expert on collecting and breeding poisonous spiders.

A day traveling in Africa, even on good roads, is tiring and we were all glad to turn-in early after a hot thick brew of Kenyan Highland coffee. I woke before dawn and as I lay on my bed contemplated the last few months and wondered if Credo’s oral tribal history was correct in its detail. He was, after all, the hereditary Witch Doctor to the Zulu Nation.

It was now late October and John had found me in May during the last week of classes.

CHAPTER ONE: In the beginning.


It was not a big lioness, but then it did not need to be very large to kill one of the people. M’ko held his hunting stick tightly with both hands as Aar grasped a scraping stone and crouched next to the rocks. M’ko motioned her back further into the little overhang where the fire smoldered. The lioness readied and, even more frantically, he signaled her to get further in.

‘Over the fire’ he gesticulated.

As Aar jumped the lioness sprang. M’ko yelled, more in defiance than fear, and thrust upwards as the beast twisted its head to get a bite on his neck. He avoided her killing hold but as the spear pierced the animals left shoulder it twisted again and grabbed his left fist and then his right forearm in its cavernous mouth. He yelled in pain as the animals full weight pushed him backwards onto the fire. The searing pains on his back sent his adrenalin flowing even faster. He roared at the pain and with almost super-erectus strength pushed upwards, squeezing from under the lioness, which still retained her grip. The beast was now in the embers. She roared in pain letting go of him in the process. He scuttled backwards and as he did so Aar took her scraping knife and scooped the smoldering ashes upwards into the animals face. It reeled in shock. She yelled and jumped forward. The beast leaped backward, startled. It stood quite still, looking at them curiously for a moment, then it finally turned quickly and ran away.

‘Eeeee, Haaa, Ha, Ha, Ha’ they uttered with joy.

M’ko and Aar decided to move higher up the rock cliff that night. They found a crevice and built a barricade of boulders and limbs to seal off the entrance. The lioness would stalk them once more if she had not satisfied her hunger by nightfall. Aar applied a soothing mixture to M’ko’s blistered back. Fortunately his garment was a thick antelope skin and had protected most of his body from the fire. It was that night in the small cave that their first-born was conceived.

When they returned to their village by the mighty Ko’ongo … the river of the people … they shouted from afar about their adventure. About their encounter with the cat. About how Aar chased it away. In admiration their people gathered around, some reaching out to touch M’ko’s wounds. They listened and nodded knowingly for they were hunters and fishermen and knew the ways of the predators. On the open plains, where the big cats hunt as a pride, M'ko and Aar would not have survived. Their lioness was an inexperienced huntress and had merely stumbled on them by accident whilst wandering away from the rest of her pride. Nevertheless, to survive an attack by a cat was no minor thing and gave much to boast about. Their status rose amongst the people because of their encounter.

M’ko was glad when the girl-child was born because it was believed to be a good omen amongst the people for the first born to be a female. The name Maa was settled on when M’ko first saw Aar with the babe. He pointed to himself and spoke his name and then at his woman and spoke hers. Aar smiled, nodded and tried to say the names together. They laughed and M’ko said ‘Maa’ and waved his hand in finality. Little did the world realize that the slight mutation that had occurred in M’ko’s sperm cell as he struggled in the fire with the big cat, and which became implanted into Aar body that might, was to spawn a change in the people so vast that a new species would erupt.

The simplicity of life in the fishing village by the mouth of the mighty river was a peaceful and stressless environment in which Maa could grow and mature. She was neither strong nor tall. She was, however, thoughtful. By the time she was twelve she had already made many innovations in the village, and her imaginative art work was much admired by the people.


By the time Maa died at the age of 73 she had 3 daughters, 12 sons and 143 grandchildren. The whole tribe had moved to the Etosha Pan where they lived by a permanent water body. The tree-of-life had been carefully extracted from the earth and taken south where it was transplanted in a grove in the center of an old kimberlite diamond pipe. Her eldest daughter Yaanee became the tribal Shaman and her eldest son the Chief of her people. Maa herself learned the ways of Nature and passed this knowledge onto her people. Her knowledge of other animals and plants and their use in combating aging and disease was prodigious. She taught her people how to plant edible plants around their dwellings and how to cross-breed them to produce better yields. It was these discoveries that allowed the population to increase as food became plentiful. Perhaps her greatest gift was the tree-of-life: the medicine tree which she had developed during her wanderings in the Great Southern Desert. The greatness of the tree-of-life lay in the properties of its berries and seeds. Ground into a powder and taken with food the berries and seeds retarded aging. The people could live out their normal life span with continuous youthful vigor. When Maa died at the age of 73 she looked no older than she did at the age of 35.

Despite all efforts no new plants ever grew from the seeds of the tree-of-life: its longevity and properties were due the fact that it was sterile. With time its whereabouts became a secret only guessed at by the new-people, and only known to the Shaman of the tribe that hugged the banks of the Ko’ongo, where the people had returned after Maa's death in the Etosha Pan. By the time that 10 generations had past the new-people had spread well beyond their encampments on the banks of the Ko’ongo, but every 12 years the new-people would return to the banks of the river to worship at the statue of Maa which had been carved out of a small limb taken from the tree-of-life. She was the goddess of creation, with golden eyes of the lion and conical breasts tipped with nipples of green emeralds. A necklace of her seeds, encased in a in a sheath of Kudo hide, adorned her throat and she kneeled with her legs apart in a position of acceptance. He hand bent upwards to the sky and held a wooden platter garnished with her berries. The tribal Shaman distributed berries and seeds he had collected from the tree-of-life during his periodic pilgrimages to the secret place in the south but he only revealed its location to his trusted apprentice who would accompany him during his later years of life. The new people would take back to their villages the berries and seeds and blend the special mixtures that would keep the them looking young and healthy.

With the new knowledge that Maa had given the people and the influx of her genes into the population her species quickly differentiated themselves from the old-ones. Her descendants spread to the south: from the Ko'ongo and the Etosha, to the Okavango and the Makari-Kari and then beyond the great desert of Ka-lahari: passing both west and east the secret grotto where the tree-of-life still lived but never knowing its location and remembering it's powers only in their stories. To the east they moved onto the high plains and down the mighty Zaam’b River. To the north they populated the huge eastern valley, and the mighty forests fringing the Great Northern Desert. By the time that a hundred generations had passed Maa’s offspring had crossed the Great Northern Desert and had moved out of Africa into Southern Europe and along the coast of Arabia to the plains of India, Indonesia and China. The lioness and the fire had transformed humankind: the old people were no longer and the new people dominated Earth. Maa was only a tribal memory and the tree-of-life entombed in the myths and legends of the people.


The legendary sea-going vessel swaying lazily under Hanna’s feet was crafted in solid cedar wood. He looked to the north and then the south gazing thoughtfully at the Pillars of Hercules, and then westwards as the great Atlantic Ocean began to open before him. He sucked in the salty breeze and felt the powerful adrenaline run through his entire body. He felt good. He felt powerful. He felt in command of his own destiny.

His last trip had been north to the Isles of the Britons and Celts but today he turned south to the land of the Negros. Shunning the barren shores to the east he continued around the great bulge of Africa to the Coast of Gold: to seek the riches he hoped would bless him and his family for generations to come.

When he retired to his cabin he pulled out the sharp brass pen, mixed some ink and started to write on the wooden block using the 22 magic signs of his people. He was recording his track, and would do this every day because he knew the immense value of the written word. His arrangements of the 22 letters that were the peoples first alphabet would allow others to follow in his footsteps. After he had finished he gave thanks to the small stone idol of his god - El – and then ate alone in his cabin dreaming of the wealth he hoped would be his at voyages end.


This was now his third trip from the land of Phoenicia and this time he was commissioned to circumnavigate the huge land of Africa to seek a sea route to India and China. But – circumstances were to change that plan as he traversed the southern tip of Africa and was struck by the mighty waves of the southern ocean that swirled around the Ice Continent. Seas he had never imaged – the height of 10 men – rose the in front of him and threatened to smash his cockle-shell vessel to pieces. But the El-Chicon was no ordinary vessel – her drop down outriggers stopped he capsizing and she slid like a sled on snow down the steep slope and up and over the over side at speeds that were incomprehensible.

When he finally pulled his vessel back north he was around the Cape of Africa and, although battered and damaged, had retained his full crew and had an intact hull to his vessel. With damaged sail he drifted more than sailed northwards, hugging the coast until he came to a great river of shelter: the Zaam-b where he met the descendents of the new people. The size and whiteness of the Phoenicians provided the new arrivals with an interesting status: bearers of wisdom and knowledgeable of different skills they were embraced by the tribal shamans. Always keen to learn new ways the shamans exchanged their wisdom with the newcomers and so Phoenicia learned of the tree of life, from which the legend of the fountain of youth grew.

The wealth he returned with in gold diamonds and precious stones eventually led to the stories of King Soloman's Mine and Hanna's status as the greatest explorer of all of the Phoenicians became its own legend. His writings in the script of his people, and the maps of the migration of the old and new people culled from their myths and legends, were all recorded in the 22 magic signs of Phoenicia. Maa was the mother of El proclaimed Hanna on his return and carved her legend into the stone of the temple he built to his god.



“The gaps in the evolutionary sequence leading to Homo erectus are simply a consequence of how the remains of organisms are preserved in the terrestrial environment”, I was saying as the bell rang, and the class began it’s usual noisy exodus.

“Hang on a second, I’ve a couple of more points” I shouted jovially. The class settled back down and was even quieter than before: hopefully I would finish quicker if they kept quiet.

“When we look at the next stage in the evolution of mankind we see that because of the sparsity of sediments of an age between 400,000 and 100,000 years the transition from Homo erectus to Homo sapiens also is poorly represented. Actually, most of the partially preserved skulls are of the erectus type. We don’t see the transition.”

“Except for my cousin Billy, of course”, I concluded.

The class laughed at the humor and clattered and babbled out of the auditorium.

“Great lecture Yellow jacket”, a voice said softly from behind; and I momentarily froze. My old code name was known by but a few: and as they say in the movies some of them are the bad-guys.

“You blew it Georgie boy. You tensed. Bang your dead”.

This time I recognized the undisguised voice and as I spun around exclaimed

“John Ward! You old bugger.” I exclaimed.

“You owe me a beer ... I pulled you out just in time!” as he laughed and opened his arms. We hugged one another in the hallway. I had not seen John for ages, since our time in Russia together.

“What brings you here? God it must be 15 years.”

“Seventeen”, he said matter-of-factually.

“Anywhere we can have coffee and chat?”

“Yeah…sure. I’ve finished lecturing for the day.”

A faint smiled creased his sun tanned face, “I know. And semester ends next week.”

I turned slowly and stared at him momentarily. He was grinning.

I invited John to the Faculty Club for lunch and as we walked across campus, he chirped on about incidentals and I began to have a sneaking suspicion that this was not a casual visit. John was CIA.

“That was an excellent crab meat sandwich”, John stated with satisfaction.

“Wait ‘til you taste the Pecan Ice Cream Sundae”, I said with an exaggerated licking of lips.

“It’s better than Michele’s in Springs”.

“Do you still go to Colorado each summer to teach bush craft”, he responded.

“Field geology, not bush craft. I’m a geologist not a merc”, I protested.

“Ump. I wouldn’t have guessed”, he said teasingly.

“So! What are you doing with yourself this summer”, he asked.

“Nothing exciting. I’m trying to finish a book on the fossils of southern Africa. I’ve got a year sabbatical leave so don’t have to be back on campus for another 15 months after next week”.

“Excellent!”, John almost spat out.


“Georgie boy how would you like to go back to Africa for a while. All expenses paid of course. I....We need your help”.

I was taken by surprise. John was a specialist, a historian by training, who overtly held jobs as Second Scientific Attache at US Embassies but covertly was the CIA contact man in whichever country he was stationed. Put another way he was a master spy and also a guy you did not mess around with. He’d clearly known about my sabbatical leave and probably equally clearly knew every other damn thing I had been doing in the last year or so.

“We Kame Sabe”, I said suspiciously and looking him straight in the eyes.

“We Johnnie boy”, I repeated, questioningly.

“It’s an interesting deal.” he said.

“Look. It’s to do with your old friend Credo Mathlongo”.

“Credo”, I exclaimed.

“Whats Credo got to do with it.”

“O.K. This is strictly confidential. If your interested. Yes?”.

“Interested yes!” I exclaimed.

“Great.......and no commitment yet, of course. Right?”.


John went on to explain in great detail some of the events that had happened since I had last seen Credo. Credo had written a couple of books in the early sixties setting down on paper for the first time oral tribal history as committed to memory by the hereditary line of Witch Doctors of the Zulu Tribe. For this he was guilty of a crime: the secrets of the tribe must only be handed down orally but Credo had feared the tradition would stop with his generation. With the political stirring in southern Africa the Zulu Histories might even be lost forever. An assegai in the ribs, or a bullet in the brain, could remove the whole tribal history in a very short time. So he had written it down. He had disappeared shortly after his final book was published. In his books Credo outlined the origin of the Bantu tribes from Maa the golden eyed Goddess of Creation and the Tree of Life. Of the beginnings at Taba-Zimbi, the iron mountain, and the fleeing of MA to Ka-lahari where she was finally entrapped by the Tree of Life at Makarikari. Of the birth of the first people and the subsequent origin of the Bantu: first the Bushmen and Pygmies and then the other tribes. All this and more Credo had written down in his book “Indaba, My Children”; and, all this I knew better than most people for I had known Credo during my early career in Africa. He had been an assistant to Ray Dart my colleague at the University of Witwatersrand and had used my laboratory as a work area whilst he wrote his manuscripts. His books were a wondrous source of African oral history and had received deserved awards. A fascinating man in his own right, but as a hereditary Witch Doctor a man to be respected for other reasons. The western mind understands little of the power of such men.

John finally grabbed my attention when he said: “Credo believes the Tree of Life really existed and the first statue to the goddess MA is still intact”.

“What?” I almost shouted. And then dropping my voice, repeated my question.

“The statue exists? It should have rotted ten thousand years ago. Nothing made out of wood continues to exist in Africa more than seventy years” I exclaim with certainty.

“Unless that wood is from the Tree of Life”, John countered.

“Huh.”, I said dropping my jaw and looking dumbfounded. I knew what John did and that the organization he worked for were a bunch of sane, sensible men. I knew that John was telling me what he considered a fact.

“Jesus! The stories the Ancients wrote about the ageless tribe they encountered might be true.” I whistled in a deep breath and as I exhaled said slowly.

“A tree that never grew old, bearing the fruit of everlasting youth. The Tree of Life, the Fountain of Youth.”

John saw my enthusiasm and made his power play.

“We’d like you to find it”, he said.

“Think of it my friend a statue carved 100,000 years ago out of a wood that resists all known decay processes. An artifact of momentous significance to the people of Africa and indeed the whole world.”

“’ve got my attention! O.K.....O.K....shut up. I need to think!”.

John fell silent.

George closed his eyes, cupped his fingers around his brow, and bent his brow. Immobilized he thought about Johns last statement for a full minute.

Finally, he spoke. Quietly, firmly and slowly he said “OK John. Details? Details and... what’s the kicker? Uncle Sam isn’t a well known philanthropist”.

“It’s PR”, John responded brightly knowing he had won.

“Find the statue and give it to the nations of Africa. Simple and very effective if you want to influence the primitive mind”.

I ruffled. “John. Africa and Africans are not primitive. They are different cultures but in their own environment successful and highly adapted. We could take a lesson from most of the tribes. At least before White Bwana got into the act.


I flew up to Colorado Springs at John’s request that weekend. The purpose was to plan the expedition but I knew that with John Ward involved things could not possibly be as simple as the wolf explained it to the sheep. Nevertheless, it was a hell of an opportunity.

Elizabeth Bloem was a small strong framed woman in her late thirties. Her light blue eyes contrasted with her black hair, cut short above her ears, and her dark tawny skin. However, they were laughing eyes that twinkled mischievously as she spoke. Her most noticeable feature was her nose. A nose that a Lamarckian geneticist would clearly say suggested her ancestors were prize fighters.

As she gripped my hand and introduced herself I thought I heard a faint Irish accent. Stepping back slightly she pulled on her lower lip as she looked me up-an-down. She nodded, and in response to my unasked question said “Nama”.

“Nama”? “Khoin?” I asked.

“Yap.” she replied. My father was a genuine Hottentot. Mother was a field botanist from the States.”

The Khoisan-Khoin or Hottentot were an original race that lived in South Africa when the Dutch landed in 1652. They were not black but small, white to yellow skinned people. The Nama were one of several Khoi Khoin tribes. Most of them had interbred with other groups including the white settlers and only a few real Hottentot still existed deep in the Namib Desert of South West Africa.

“Elizabeth Bloem” I mused aloud.

“Oohum, interesting surname.”

“Yawp” she responded.

“Not related to Jan Bloem”, I asked already suspecting the answer.

“Yawp”, she replied once more.

I nodded in appreciation. Jan Bloem had been the head of the half-breed tribe called the Koranna and a leader of the Bergenaar - the Mountain Men - a marauding hoard who pillaged half of southern Africa in the early 1800’s. They had been a constant threat to the other tribes and as powerful a band of horsemen as the Cossacks from the steppes of Russia.

“This girl has good genes”, I thought.

“I was born in Koebus”, Liz continued. “After local missionary school I moved to Jo’burg for my degree in botany. Dad died in eighty-three and we moved to my grandparents’ home here in The Springs in eighty-five after I finished my graduate work in chemistry at Wits.” Wits - the University of Witwatersrand is the premier university in southern Africa, located in Johannesburg. I knew it well, as it was the place where I had my first research institute.

“Dr. Bloem works over at Fort Carson, with the Rangers”, interjected John.

She smiled as John’s remark got even more of my attention.

“Teach ‘em how to survive on bugs, grubs, and flowers”.

“And how to make and use hand weapons”, John again interjected.

“Oh.”, I said as I sat down. I smiled as I looked again at Liz.

Koebus lay east of the diamond town of Oranjemund and north of the Orange River, in the Namib Desert. The Nama, or what was left of them, lived in the Valley of Stones, a bleak barren area at the base of the Rugterveld Mountain Range.

“Yes”, I thought once more, “this is some tough female”.

“Glad we’re on the same side.” I responded and we all laughed and settled down to plan our expedition.


I met the third member of our group the next day and it was another surprise. Danny Echelon was known as Inoawka, in Africa. He was the snake man. The only real white witch doctor recognized by the tribes. British by birth he had taken the money the British army gave it’s veterans upon demobilization and booked a passage on the Windsor Castle, of the Cunard Line. Landing at Cape Town, with nothing particular in mind but to see Africa, he began to walk Cairo! Living off the land, and supplementing his income by collecting and selling poisonous snakes for their venom, he was transformed to the Witch Doctor status in eastern Transvaal. He had been asked to remove a Black Mamba, which had taken to sunning in a tree at the gate of a local native Kraal....much to the chagrin of the local Matabele. The event turned into a spectacle with most of the locals turning up to see what happened. The Mamba is the most lethal of the African haemotoxic snakes and the bush African is scared shitless of snakes anyway. Danny’s ‘show’ was well publicized and well attended. Unfortunately, although in the long run fortunately, the snake bit him. Knowing he would be dead in three minutes Danny grabbed the snake behind it’s neck and bit it’s head completely off. He apparently yelled “You die you bastard”, as he passed out. Unaccountably, he survived. That was it! The local tribesmen who had witnessed the event forever lived in awe, and since that time he has been regarded as a very powerful magic man indeed. It played right into his eccentricity. I first met him a couple of years after the miracle. I was working in the eastern Kalahari with a group of students, when he came walking over a sand dune. He walked straight up to us and said, very politely: “Do you have the time please”. Upon receiving an answer and without other words he said “Thank you” and wandered off over the next dune. We just gazed in amazement after him. We were 150 miles from nowhere deep in the Kalahari. Later I met Danny in Jo’burg when a reporter friend of mine interviewed him for a news article. This time he was more vocal and I liked him instantly. Danny knew the tribes and tribal history better than most. But he was as crazy as a loon. Although without academic credentials he was one of the foremost herpetologists in the world. He still lived regularly in a cave in the region west of Jo’burg around Taba-Zimbi. His wife Gloria, a nurse, kept a home in Jo’burg. Gloria decided to retreat to city life after their honeymoon, which consisted of a 1,200 mile hike in the desert living on grubs, weeds, and “anything that moved” she had told me. As I said Danny was a bit of a nut case by conventional western standards.



Liz, Danny and I got down to our immediate problem of deciding where to start. Danny was to work on a detailed summary of the Zulu oral history, and particularly the early migrations, while Liz and I went to visit a friend of mine in New Orleans who might be able to help us work out what the idol should look like.

We arrived in New Orleans late in the evening and Joker McKenzie was there to meet us. Joker and I had known one another in Africa and purely by chance had renewed our acquaintance when I had lived in the French Quarter during a study leave from LSU. Joker was from Jo’burg and ran a Curio store on Royal Street called the Barrister’s Gallery. He was an encyclopedia of knowledge on carved African art.

I got my first hint of trouble immediately after entering his car.

“Well what’s all this fuss about wooden Goddess’, Prof! Whole bloody world seems interested all of a sudden. “Crazy bloody Arab came in and bought every one I had”.

“Made a bundle off that stupid biddy”, he grinned maliciously.

Elizabeth’s brow wrinkled as she turned toward him. She paused for a brief moment but said brightly

“Well as I’m sure you know African art is really popular these days. I hope you made a good profit”.

She continued, “I don’t know if George told you but my interest is in trying to make a real likeness of MA, as the ancients envisaged her”.

“Same as bloody camel jockey”, Joker responded, nodding his head.

This time Liz jolted visibly.

At the Corn Fence Hotel Liz detained Joker for a moment as I carried the bags into the lobby. Looking through the mirror next to the check-in desk I saw them chatting vigorously. Joker was nodding. As I turned he was shaking Liz’s hand and moving quickly towards his car.

“Hey”, I shouted.

“Where the hell are you going”

“Sorry. Sorry. Got to go. See you tomorrow. Early. La Madeline’s. 9.00 am. TTFN!”

I looked at Liz but she was not forthcoming.

“TTFN”, she queried.

“Ta Ta For Now. Old British radio code” I chuckled as I remembered Wilfred Pickles’ comedy half hour from my childhood.

“A private smile”, I said and nodded towards the rooms. I wanted to talk but she made excuses.

“I’m tired.”, and she was gone.

Sleep was difficult. Joker’s news was bringing up some nagging questions, and stirring up some deeply buried memories. It was too much of a coincidence that someone else should be interested in wooden idols of this particular type. It smelled of a John-Ward-type-of-coincidence. What really was going on? Who was this Arab?

The noise of the incoming call in the next room awakened me. It was about 2.00 am. Shortly afterward I heard a door open and close.

“Shit. She’s leaving”, I cursed as I sprung out of bed, adrenaline pumping and immediately becoming alert. It’s incredible how the mind can suddenly switch personalities when realization set’s in. Fortunately, old ways die hard. My black running suite was next to the bed and in a moment I was dressed. As I slipped on the black cushion soled shoes I glanced out of the window. Liz was leaving to the right towards Canal Street. I quickly left the hotel and silently moved after Liz. I smiled and thought

“Gene Audrey rides again.” Gene Audrey was John Ward’s code name.

Liz continued straight on. I suddenly knew where she was headed: the Barrister’s Gallery. I ran quickly round the next block. I could not approach Joker’s place head-on for I’d be seen. In the Quarter some buildings are easily accessed from the roof tops. You can move from building to building quickly and safely if you know how. Clear a metal gate, take a side alley, and shin-up an old stairway. Then climb a caste-iron drain pipe. Try it at your own risk! I was on top of Joker’s building as I heard the door bell ring below. I easily forced the top window and entered silently. As I did so, I could hear voices below. Not loud but speaking very fast.

“What’s going on woman”, Joker was saying.

“I called. I called everyone. You're darn right. Every bloody statue is being bought up. It’s crazy. What in hell's name is going on lady?”.

“I don’t know”, she said firmly.

“Don’t know. Don’t know. You gotta do better than that” Joker almost snarled.

“One store was broken into and one dealer was beaten-up. So what’s going on.”

I could see them both clearly now as I look down from above. They were standing in the middle of a group of life-sized Indonesian carvings. Surrounding them were drums, masks, and a basket holding spears. Joker was gesticulating and looked worried. Liz was smiling and calm.

“O.K. O.K. So something strange is going on. But the painting your artist friend did of MA. Where is it. Can I see it?”

“It’s behind you”, he replied.

She turned quickly and her nose flared, nostrils spreading like owl’s eyes. I thought she was about to overreact but she kept calm.

“That’s what you think MA looked like”.

“Spent three years researching that for Annie Bennett”, Joker replied.

“That’s MA, alright”.

I was crouching at the top of the stairs leading up to the second floor and could not see directly below me but at that moment I heard a soft click coming from below. I turned cold as I realized that someone else was in the room. Whoever it was, they were up to no good, and I reacted to their next movement.

“Watch out. Behind you Liz” I screamed as I pushed a large drum over the stair railings.

There was a sharp pop and Joker screamed. Then another pop, pop, pop and all hell broke loose as the glass front door was blown out. Liz had grabbed a spear and threw it. A scream followed. I started pushing everything available over the rail onto the enemy below. The pop, pop, pop was coming my way now and as I retreated I saw Liz drag Joker out into the street. Two figures followed but not before they had grabbed the painting from the wall. One stumbled and moaned as the other pushed him through the shattered doorway. Liz’s spear throwing had caused some grief.

I retreated back the way I had arrived and as I moved into the main street a hiss came from the darkness of a shop doorway. It was Liz. She was covered in blood. Joker’s blood!

“He took a bad hit. In the neck. Get an ambulance quickly.”

Hoping the Barrister’s Gallery was now empty I ran in and quickly dialed 911. The “My name is Dr. George Hart” bit always gets quick medical attention on the assumption that I am a physician. Miraculously, I heard the siren in the distance even before I got back to Liz and Joker. Joker was lucky that night. The bullet had clipped his jugular and Liz had saved his life by pushing her thumb into the hole and gripping the sides of the artery with her first two fingers. It’s the kind of first aid you only learn on the battle field. So Joker lived. He was comatose from loss of blood to the brain but the doctor expected him to recover completely.

We had found, then lost, the first clue to a puzzle that was now getting very messy.


John appeared three days later. Mainly to clean things up with the local sheriff's office. It seems our incident was reported in the local news as “Vandalism on Royal Street”.

John’s people connected the Arab, one Ali Shaeed, to the Crescent Star Trading Company of Jordan, and were following the trail. Apparently CSTC owned a lot of real estate throughout the world with apparently big connections to Iraq.

He did bring a bit of other interesting news. Apparently, a member of the Jordanian trade delegation had entered a New York hospital with a large stab wound in his chest, and a very sick cardiovascular system. His body was blue and bloated with poison and the ulcerated wound looked as if someone had poured hydrofluoric acid over it. After a few hours he had died: seemingly to avoid the terrible pain he was in.

Liz penned a note to Joker reminding him to clean his spears of spider poison before selling them to the general public.

Evenings in New Orleans - even in June can be very pleasant. The food is undoubtedly amongst the best the world has to offer and the local inhabitants as friendly and interesting. It can be a very dangerous place if one unwittingly gets into a bad situation. We were on the veranda of Ruth’s Restaurant overlooking Jackson Square. The sun was setting and the mosquitoes were beginning to come out.

At the moment John was being very evasive. The most I was getting from him was a stupid grin. Liz just sat quietly and smiled as usual.

“Let’s go inside and talk while we eat”, Liz suggested. “I’m getting a little peckish”.

John offered to get a table and while he was away Liz leaned over and said

“You know he can’t tell you”.

“The water is getting deep, Liz. If this really is a survival situation I need all the information I can get!”

She stared me down and finally said calmly.

“We don’t want any more near misses like the other day.”

I sucked air through my teeth in the way that always annoyed my wife.

She chuckled and grinned.

“Oh! Frustrated are we”, she teased.

Suddenly her face acquired a grave mask. Her mouth twisted, half opening on the right side, as if to smile. Gently but in an almost mechanical voice, she said

“You saved my life the other night. Amongst my people that begins a sacred bound. I won’t forget that quirk of fate and it has a reason.”

Her voice reminded me of my old professor...Leslie Moore...whose fatherly advice I had followed with success throughout my early career. We sat silently, in the dim light amongst the evening diners, and her dusky face seemed to glow as it reflected the yellow and blue of the surrounding lights. It was monolithic as if hewed out of grey basalt...rigid...angular...but with a touch hinting something deep. Beware...yes it was expressing a warning signal. Like all father-figures it was signaling “I’m in control. I’m in control”, and there was potential terror lurking underneath that facade. Terror for the nonbeliever. Terror for the enemy.

As she spoke her face gave away what her voice could not.

I smiled a secret thought.

She broke the spell.

“I’ll fill you in over supper. Tonight!”

A moment of pause and then a broad grin spread across her Hottentot features as she observed realization move across mine.

“The puppeteer not the marionette”, I whistled.

She laughed at that.

“Or maybe it’s the marionette pulling the strings of the puppeteer”, she said cryptically.

I merely laughed. I was now aware that Liz was in charge of the project not John. John was the facilitator as he always had been and the link with the secret side of our government. But Liz - Liz was the mastermind behind our future expedition and I wanted to know all about it. Especially, I wanted to know, why the government would go to so much trouble to retrieve an archaeological relic.

So the real reasons for the safari were lain on the table that evening at Ruth’s: or maybe they were not. I would trust John Ward with my life, as I had done twice before in Russia, but I knew I could not trust him to tell me the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Liz I was not yet sure of. In any case by the time we had finished our second single malt scotch: a fine Glen Morangie, the dust had cleared and I saw my role; the expedition leader - get in and get out alive and if possible retrieve the Makarikari Idol. But where should we start? That was the real question that the evening posed.



June was the month of brainstorming and planning. John had made our travel arrangements for early July and contacted us only to check up on our needs. Meanwhile, we moved our base to my home in the Front Range above Boulder. Isolated on 35 acres but only 23 minutes to town and 45 to the Denver Airport it was ideal. I had taken a sabbatical from teaching and designed and built the home myself with a young builder, Ben Carnes. It was fire proof and bullet proof with a steel roof and built-in bomb shelter. Defensible from the south, with a good kill-zone, and protected by an assortment of specially designed sensors in a triple peripheral envelope it was relatively safe from both intruders and listening devices. In addition, there were a few built-in but nasty tricks only I knew about. An ideal retirement home for a Professor and his wife: a wife who was safely and conveniently visiting her sister in England.

Danny, Liz and I settled in easily.

Contact with Credo was Danny’s immediate task. His sources in South Africa located him in London and John arranged Credo’s transportation to Colorado. Credo had an encyclopedia of knowledge on African culture and history. Highly intelligent and erudite, and a born storyteller. Physically he was a small sinewy man with Xhosa rather than Zulu - like features and eyes looking slightly inward suggesting some bushman ancestry. He was the kind of African who could pass easily in a crowd, whether in Houston or Durban. However, when his quite voice spoke the flow of information was mesmerizing. Time spent with him was always time when I learned: about human nature, local customs and the offerings of the environment at hand: from medicines to food to poisons. We spent hours quizzing him about anything that pertained to the historic movements of the original I dol to the Goddess Ma. Like the Arc of the Covenant it had a historic record: albeit oral but just as prone to error in retelling as written history.

Credo explained that the Zulu oral history believed that Ma was carved in the distant past from a limb off the tree-of-life.

“Our people believe that the tree-of-life had been growing since the beginning of our time”.

“When was the beginning?” asked Danny quietly.

“Almost 6000 generations” replied Credo.

I made a quick calculation: with three generations in a century I calculated the age to be some 200,000 years.

“That’s the correct time-frame” I said seriously as Credo continued.

“It is a small statue of the goddess kneeling. She is about 5 hands high and holds a bowl above her head. Her breasts are as spears and have triple scars on them”.

“Triple scars?” echoed John questioningly.

“A form of decoration used by some tribes” explained Elizabeth.

“It’s often done during the initiation ceremonies to womanhood” Liz bared her left arm to the shoulder and showed her armpit to reveal a small open circle with an open triangle at one end. There was a dot in the center. “I have them on both arms” she noted. “It didn’t hurt....just a little bloody and a sting when the salt was rubbed in: to scar the tissue”.

John grimaced!

“Where is the tree-of-life?” asked Elizabeth.

Credo chuckled “I wish I knew! Legend says in the water, on an island, somewhere in the old empire to the west”.

“What of Ma” continued Elizabeth.

“Ah! She escaped from the Tree-of-life and fled to Taba-Zimbi before she gave birth to the first people in Old Kalahari”

“The bushmen and pygmies”, said Danny.

“Yes, and then the second people moved outwards to populate our lands”

“and Ma” interjected Elizabeth.

“Who knows? Did she remain or did she go with one of the tribes. Certainly her likeness traveled with them. But our history has it that the goddess stayed frozen in the wood from which she was made and was eventually reunited with the Tree-of-life where she carried his seed”.

“What did you say? Carried his seed....what does that mean?” said Liz excitedly.

“Who knows?” laughed Credo.

We listened and questioned Credo for the next few days and learned much about tribal history but little more to lead us to our goal. Eventually John whisked Credo away once more, taking Danny with him, and Liz and I were left pondering our next move.


In Colorado Springs John and Danny were digging deeper into Credo’s knowledge in the hope of finding more clues. They were on Jose Muldoon’s back patio when they first noticed the three Arabs observing them. They were initially noticed because of their incongruous appearance. Bright beach shirts, straw hats and dark sun-glasses: like a soft drink ad from the 1970’s. When they finally noticed they were being scrutinized they averted their eyes, paid their bill and left. Later John observed they pick up our trail again, following us as we walked into the park.

“Lets split up and meet around the corner outside the Lotus Eater Boutique” John said and accordingly they moved off in different directions. The Arabs split with a tail each for John and Danny and, with another Arab appearing from a doorway, two for Credo. Meeting around the corner John nodded and said “well now we know the Arab brotherhood is back in the game. Crescent Star Trading Company of Jordan is my guess. Let’s get out of here!”

As they returned to the guarded cabin up Little Fountain Creek opposite Fort Carson John noticed that the two Ranger guards were nowhere to be seen. The cabin had been ransacked and when John tried to call the Ranger Commander for some additional backup he found the telephone lines had been cut and the emergency transmitter smashed.

John hit the panic button which setup the peripheral security screen but was too late as the sirens and lights immediately switched off - the periphery already was compromised. John hit a second button, which sent a single rocket straight out of the chimney stack. “Let’s move it” shouted John. “Out the back. Over the stream. Go!” he screamed at Danny and Credo.

As he moved towards the door John pulled an Uzi from under his left armpit. He swung it upwards and sent a burst shattering the patio door and the security light on the stream side of the cabin. Grabbing Credo he pushed him ahead of himself. “Crouch low” he ordered and they moved outside. With a deafening wam-bang a stun grenade went off but they were already partway down the bank and shielded from its effect. “Keep moving” whispered John as they cleared the stream and headed up the small gully.

“They are going to shoot carefully – they want Credo alive – that's why they used a stun gun shell”, John exclaimed.

By now the signal flare had exploded into a triple red blue red sequence of bursts. Hopefully within a minute Liz’s Rangers would be airborne. But John, Danny and Credo had to survive for about 5 minutes.

“Wait for me at the cliff” John said as he turned and took up rear guard behind a boulder. Danny and Credo moved up the gully and heard the shots as they reached the small cliff. They were covered by the rocks of the gully but to climb the 6-10 foot of the cliff would expose them to the opposite bank.

Meanwhile sporadic fire was coming from the bank.

“They are splitting and moving up and downstream” yelled John.

“You have to go. It’s Credo they are after - get him out. Go when I yell. I’ll cover you. Once they get into position it’ll be all over. Go. Go! Now!” he screamed and stepped out from behind his protection. Danny noticed John now had two weapons. The Uzi was joined by what looked like a 357 magnum. John started to blaze away at the opposite bank and Danny and Credo moved. Credo was like a mountain goat and made the top before Danny had hardly started. As Danny scrambled upwards he heard John grunt and turning as he crawled over the top of the rock saw him fall into the rushing waters of the stream below the rock ledge they had used to cross.

They did not look back.

“To the right” Danny instructed, and then further commands until they were quickly about a quarter of a mile from the fracas. Later he told me he remembered the field training that I had so pitilessly drilled into him during one of our earlier exploits. “Up the ridges and down the valleys so you can stay found. That way you will always get home”. Well Danny had wanted to get lost, not found, and had headed down the ridge on the sheltered side and as soon as he could had moved up the first valley. He repeated this maneuver periodically and eventually ended up on the north side of a ridge in a small mining tunnel: essentially lost, of course. The voices of the Arabs had continued for a short while but Danny and Credo remained in hiding all night as Danny had been taught. As dawn broke they heard the calls of the Rangers and came forward. They were soon airlifted to the safety of Fort Carson.

John had drifted downstream for about mile to the main road before he had crawled out of the water and sought help. He had taken two bullets in the left shoulder and upper arm and was badly but not critically wounded. After a week he was moved back to Washington and Danny and Credo were secreted off and disappeared completely. Later I learned that even John did not know where they were. “They said they had an idea how to locate the idol” John said. “Our people lost trace of them in Salisbury, Zimbabwe”.

John sent us more news about our Arab friends. They had apparently entered the country at New York and then flown by private plane to Jeff-Co airport outside of Boulder. The leader was one Ali Shaheen, an Egyptian biochemist who worked for the Iraqi government. His bio’ after leaving Egypt was pretty tight but informed sources suggested he was involved with biological weapon development. So what was he doing involved in this caper I asked myself? If I could answer that question I would be a step closer to discovering the mystery of the Makarikari Idol. A mystery neither John nor Elizabeth had come fully clean about, but, so far, had involved at least one death.


I: The Phoenician Riddle

The Matebele physician was large and he heaved himself creakily out of the armchair as he continued to look at Credo. His brow wrinkled and in a soft voice, full of conviction, he said.

“I’m aware of the danger old friend but my family owes so much to you. Of course I will help. But …” and he looked at Danny with a steady gaze and puckered his lips.

Danny smiled and silently moved to the door. He turned, grinned and looked at the physician named Mfutu as he moved through the passageway and gentle closed the door behind him.

Mfutu the physician and State Archaeologist, wasn’t smiling and tapped his index finger on the table.

“The evidence all point to the Phoenicians and the Zimbabwe Ruins”, he said in one breath.

“Precisely! I do not know where the stone texts are buried – or even if they still exist – they could have been pillaged long ago. I seem to remember ...” he paused a while… “yes I do remember! The precise location is said to be known by the June Sun-god”.

Credo ummm’ed but made no retort at all.

Mfutu said “I think that is easy to figure out! Yes? But the precise spot to stand?”

Credo stood illuminated by the orange glow in the room as the setting sun cast its beams through the slit window.

“Yes, I understand. We need to find the slit through which the raising sun of the June Solstice shines a single beam”, Credo voiced in explanation.

“Precisely” breathed Mfutu.

The Greeks named the country and people living on the coast of ancient Syria Phoenicians. After 1,200 BC the power of the people living in Mesopotamia began to decline and the coastal seafaring population began to prosper as they traded throughout the Mediterranean. The Phoenicians traded with Greece – especially in a purple dye used to color cloth. This dye was painstakingly extracted from a local Molluscan shellfish called Murex. Because the word Phoenix in ancient Greek meant purple-red the seafaring traders became known as Phoenicians. As the Phoenicians colonized the Mediterranean shores they became the dominant traders and by about 1,000 BC they sailed outwards beyond Gibraltar to extend their trade. Their legendary vessel was crafted from solid cedar wood, which enabled them to sail into the Atlantic Ocean, and theirs was the knowledge of the value of the North Star. The Phoenicians reached to shores of the Isles [Britain and Island] to the north; and, ‘Hanna the Navigator’ visited the Gold Coast of Africa as far south as the Gulf of Guinea. Perhaps more important was that the Phoenicians gave the world the magic signs – the 22 letters that formed an ancient alphabet- later becoming the Greek and Roman alphabet. They penned their navigation direction on papyrus and made permanent records of those things they considered of greatest importance by engraving stone tablets.

Mfutu said “The bringing of the magic signs to West Africa allowed the legend of Ma to move from oral history to written history.” It was written history that Mfutu and Credo were talking about! The discovery of the ancient texts could lead Credo and Danny to the secret of Ma.

“But what were the texts written on” asked Credo. “If they were papyrus or even clay tablets they would have surly eroded by now”.

Mfutu let out a loud laugh. “No! No!” he yelled. “Gold!”.

“Gold” repeated Credo.

“Yes Gold. The special religious texts were pounded into gold sheets that were then placed onto a wet clay slab. The slab had high gypsum content and was mixed with wax and various pigments. It was a kind of copying process. The gold imprint could be used over and over again to make many copies. The most revered copy was the one clay slab that still retained the gold layers. It is this master copy that we need.”

“Gold” Credo said with a laugh. “Gold is inert. It would have maintained itself though the ages Silver and Bronze would decay but not gold. The biggest danger is that it was pilfered by grave-robbers a long time ago”.

“No!” stated Mfutu. “Highly unlikely because what we know is that the members of the secret society that protected the Idol and the texts committed suicide after the tablets were buried. This is in the myths and legends of the Matebele people. I know. I am not only Matebele. I am the high chief Witch Doctor of the Tribe. You know me as that Credo!”

Credo nodded “Yes I know. I know that you are the container of the Matebele oral history. I know how we Zulu’s share a common history in our deep past.”

“The deep past … yes but not the dark past” said Mfutu.

“Hanna is known to have taken the cult of the goddess Ma back to Phoenicia, along with her sacred Idol, when he visited the Congo. This was around 500 BC! The cult was a secret society even then in Phoenicia. When the Phoenician city-states began to falter around 290 BC, the secret society decided to flee to what they regarded as their origins. They took the statue of Ma and the texts back to Africa, to the Etosha Pan, where Ma was buried. They followed the ancient route that the expedition sent by Pharaoh Necho II, in 600 BC, used to circumnavigate Africa. They went up a great river on the East Coast – almost certainly the Zambezi and built a stone fortress and temple from which they continued to trade and prosper, what is now certainly the Zimbabwe Ruins. My god it fits! We know their myths and legends speak the truth! We know how the myths of the texts at Zimbabwe came about and we know how to find them.”

“Danny! Danny!” shouted Credo.

Danny entered as Credo said in a hushed tone “We’ve done it! We’ve done it! Together we know where the clues to find the statue are hidden and maybe the statue itself”.

I: The Zimbabwe Ruins

The Zimbabwe Ruins are still a mystery. Some believe they were built by the Phoenicians and others by the Arabs, but they were probably part of the ancient civilization of the early indigenous African population. This population had traded with both the Phoenicians and the Arabs. The Ruins are essentially a stone walled fortress within which are a series of buildings.

The first week of July Liz and I flew to Bulawayo on British Airlines and from there by land Cruiser to Gwelo and Fort Victoria, where we hoped to meet up with Credo and Danny. I hadn’t been to Fort Vic for many years and it had clearly changed since becoming independent in 1982[???]. I hoped some of my old contacts would still be around.

Once settled into the Victoria Hotel Elizabeth we set out to find Credo and Danny and I decided to phone my old friend Ken Waddle, a dealer in rare and exclusive merchandise. A former Professor of Archeology at Tulane University, he had originally trained as a mathematician and then became Professor of Poetry at Peking University. His time in China had been preoccupied with studying archaeology. He left on a coastal trading vessel as Mao Tse Dung entered the city. The five, 40 foot, containers that accompanied him were full of ancient artifacts. His research publications on this material earned him world recognition as an expert on early Asian and Middle Eastern languages, ancient trade routes, and the myths and legends of ancient explorers. In addition, when he eventually sold the collections, he became independently wealthy. He lived in Fort Victoria because he loved Africa and its people. Needless to say he had continued investigating the ancient world and I hoped he could help us to unlock the mystery of the migration of the Goddess Ma.

Ken invited Liz and I for supper the next evening. Credo and Danny had not surfaced but rumor had it that they were somewhere in the south. However, they had sent a detailed encrypted report on what they had found out from Mfutu.

Ken had not changed. With a tall strong torso, blonde hair and steel blue laughing eyes he looked more like a professional sportsman than an academic. In his youth he had broken a number of national swimming records and I could see by his broad shoulders and easy gait that he was still very fit. His hobbies were golf and cooking wild game. I don’t know about his golf but if it was anything like his cooking he must be a heck of a player.

We ate at Ken’s table for the next five nights! In doing so we were educated about the ancient trade routes of southern Africa, of the Phoenicians and their supposedly hoard of gold and treasure, and of the seed-of-immortality. When we showed Ken our information gleaned from Credo’s visit with Mfutu, Ken was delighted.

“God this is fun!” he giggled.

“Here is what I think”, he said with authority.

“The Semites were the people that the Phoenicians came from – more or less”, he said with a snigger.

“The supreme God was El, which simply translated into English from the Hebrew means god with a big ‘G’, or, a little “g” is you wish”, he said looking sideways at me.

“El was the father of mankind and according to the tablets of Ugarit [around 6000 BC] his wife was Asherah. Now Asherah also refers to a sacred tree or wooden statue. It seems to me…”, he continued, “that when Ma was discovered she was represented as a wooden statue worshiped from the Congo to the southern tip of Africa, and perhaps was the deep origin of the goddess Asherah. Most importantly she was believed to be the bringer of the ‘Tree of Life’ and the mother of humankind. She was the natural wife of El. To the Phoenicians who accompanied Hanna she was it!”

“Therein lays the reason for a secret society: it was the matriarchal lineage as opposed to the patriarchal lineage of humankind. The followers of El would be in great conflict with the followers of Ma. They transported the Cult of Ma from Africa to Phoenicia and kept their society a secret to avoid the wrath of the followers of El. Then when things began to blow apart in the Mediterranean they upped and ran with their god, texts and followers,” “Blood and sand” Ken exclaimed. “What a breakthrough”.

“It does provide a reason for the ancient texts describing the legends of Ma and the point of her origin.” I interjected.

“Yes!” Ken almost purred. “Yes, indeed.”

“We need to move”, said Elizabeth Bloem, who had been very quietly listening until now.

“Yes” I said. “In a minute”.

“No I mean now – move” she screamed in a whisper, simultaneously pulling out her 357 magnum and rushing through the back door. We all followed without a sound and within minutes there was loud explosion as a hand-grenade came through the window and shattered the room.

”Bugger!” exclaimed Ken. “My Nubian pottery … those bloody bastards smashed my Nubian pottery”.

We heard the door being kicked in and shouting in Arabic. At this point Elizabeth quietly opened the door on our side and rapidly fired three shots. The bangs were deafening. She moved inside in combat position and then hissed. “O.K. get back in here”.

Upon entering I saw three bodies – all with a part of their head blown away. The mess was a bloody one but I had no time to study it as Elizabeth ordered “Check the outside – be careful there is probably someone out there”.

Ken hit a wall switch that flooded the outside with light and we moved into the courtyard. By this time Ken had thrown me a 12 gauge shot gun with an extended cartridge holder and he had his 470 elephant gun. As we went outside a car started up and raced towards the entrance to Ken’s compound. He took careful aim and fired. As he jolted backwards from the rebound of the bullet, the fleeing car exploded in flames.

“Hell everyone knows to put a steel plate over the rear of your petrol tank”, he commented. “Bloody amateurs! They shouldn’t have messed up my pots!”. He shouldered his gun and calmly walked into the house.

“Damn” I heard him exclaim. “What a bloody mess”.