Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Rough Justice by Suzanne Perazzini

“Jack, where the hell is Logan? Why didn’t he turn up? I wandered around that bloody airport like a lost soul for an hour.”

“Calm down Niki,” my boss said.

I had stormed into Jack’s office frustrated and angry and had plunked my rear end down on his table. He was being very understanding considering my bad manners. I looked down at his frowning face and was worried to see his fifty years etched in the creases around his eyes. Jack never looked his age. His deep determination was always overlaid by boyish optimism, making him ageless - one of us.

He got up and closed the door, but not before I saw the misery on Eddie’s and Jenna’s faces in the main office. A tremor moved over my skin and I pivoted around to stare at Jack as he sat behind his desk, lacing his fingers together.

“Niki, please sit down. In the chair.”

Wiping my suddenly sweaty hands on my trousers, I slid off the desk and sank down into the soft folds of the armchair against the wall.

“What’s happened to him?” I whispered.

Jack looked down at his lap and shook his head.

“We don’t know. His camp was ambushed by poachers and they’ve found everyone else’s bodies but his.” He looked up, his face darkly shadowed. “It’s not looking good, Niki. I’m sorry.”

A great pit opened in front of me threatening to suck me into its shadowy depths. I placed my hands beneath my legs to still their trembling and breathed deeply, expanding my stomach but I could feel despair settling in for the long haul. Suddenly, I sat forward on the edge of the sofa.

“But he was due back home today. He wouldn’t have been at the camp – that’s why they can’t find him.”

“Niki, the camp was attacked four days ago which was well before he was to leave. The message just got through to us.”

I stood up, my brain in overdrive as it tried to fight beyond the shock and absorb the news. To keep the blood pumping to my vital organs, I started pacing the wooden floor of Jack’s office. I looked at the African Wildlife Preservation Society logo painted on his door and felt Logan had become one of the endangered species we studied. He was alone somewhere in Zambia and I needed him home with me. Three months apart and I ached for his touch. I knew I functioned perfectly well without a man, but he was more than that – he was my colleague and my friend and my lover, so I felt his absence in many ways at many times of the day.

I skirted around the edge of the pit, watching it waver in and out of focus as I fought to stay upright. Nine years together – nine years of deep love. Why hadn’t I felt anything, a premonition or something that would have warned me? I swirled on Jack.

“Get me to Zambia now! He’s not dead because I would sense it. We can’t give up on him without a fight.”

Jack ran his hands through his grey hair, tugging at its ends in distress. “Niki, give it a few days. They’re looking for his body now. We’ll hear soon.”

I slammed both hands down on the desk in front of him. “And what if he’s alive and needs our help? They’re looking for a body not someone who could be holed up somewhere or who’s been kidnapped. Give him a chance by letting me go.”

Jack stood up and walked around his old leather-topped desk. He placed his hands on my shoulders and looked into my face. “Niki, I know this is hardest on you, but I don’t think tearing over there is the answer.”

Annoyed, I shook off his hands. “And what would you do if you were me? Sit here in New Zealand and wait for news of his death or would you go and try to find out what happened?”

I knew I had him. His shoulders went limp, the tension easing from the muscles around his eyes. “You’re right. I would be on the next plane. You’re quite right. I wouldn’t give up without a fight.”

I spun towards the door. “Can you call in some favors and get me on the next flight out? I’m going home to pack.” I looked back and saw Jack nod.

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