Does a scared reporter s**t in the woods (Part II)
Having run out of chalk, I was immediately aware that if we ventured any further into the woods, we ran the risk of not being able to find our way back to the hut. I revealed my thoughts to Ravel, but he was totally unperturbed. In fact, he brushed away my cares with a sweeping gesture and pointed forwards. He then appeared to poke both his eyes with two fingers of his left hand before making a stabbing motion over to his left. I raised my hands, palm outwards to indicate that I didn't know what he was trying to say. Upon seeing this gesture, Ravel pointed at the ground before rolling his hands over each other. 'What are you doing?' I asked.
'Shh boss. They are near', whispered my research assistant. 'I am using Bulgarian army sign language for communication in forest. I thought you know it by your hand movements'
'No, Ravel, that is British sign language for 'what the hell are you talking about?'. So where are they?'
'I think they are just a few trees ahead. I will go alone and capture them if you stay here'
'I know you fancy yourself as a bit of a Rambo, Ravel, but I don't see the point of unneccesarily putting yourself at a disadvantage. For one, they might be in trouble and require our help. They might also fight if cornered. Journalists can be dangerous animals if cornered.'
'Journalists are animals boss? Is that English playing with words again?'
'No...look, let's just find them and make sure they are alright. You go first.'
As we moved onwards, I tried to make marks on the forest floor by scraping the heels of my shoes into the soil. There were quite a few leaves lying around, which gave off quite a loud rustling noise as I pawed away, and Ravel had to keep gesturing at me to be quiet. After a few minutes of somewhat non-linear wanderings without any more scraping I was beginning to seriously worry that we had lost our way. Then suddenly I heard a sneeze. Ravel put his hand up, which, despite my lack of training in Bulgarian semaphore, was pretty obviously a sign that we should stop walking. 'Was that a sneeze?' I asked.
'Yes boss. I can see them now. They are walking ahead. Twenty metres. Look, there they are...'
I moved forwards slightly so I could see where Ravel was pointing. Sure enough, two men dressed in army-style camouflaged boilers suits were walking just ahead. 'What now?' I asked quickly, unsure how to continue. I could already feel the adrenalin beginning to take hold.
'We go slowly, boss. Like in Bulgarian forest when we hunt deer, we keep downwind and behind line of vision. They smell us and they flee.'
'Er...sure. But don't you think we should just tell them to surrender?'
'We are taking them prisoner?'
'So we are silencing them like I thought'
'No we are not silencing them. Where do you get these ideas Ravel? We are not soldiers, and we are not hunting deer. We are trying to save two men from wandering aimlessly in the forest. Now stand down and let me take over. That's an order, Ravel.'
'Yes boss', said Ravel, lowering his eyes and taking a deliberately large step backwards
I took another few steps forward, raised my arms, started waving and shouted 'Hey, you two. Over here. It's me, McCrumble!'
The two men spun round on their heels the moment I started shouting. They looked at each other, communicated briefly and began running. Not, as Ravel had predicted, in the direction they had been facing. No. They were now heading at some pace towards us, looking, from what I could see of them between the trees, like they were rather intent on reaching us as quickly as possible.
'I think we go now boss. They are not pleased to see us...'
'Nonsense, Ravel,' I said cheerily, an instant before one of the men launched himself at me with a strangled cry of 'Crumble you f**cking jerk!'. He was quick, but not nearly as quick as Ravel, who grabbed hold of the flying journalist by his collar, swung him away from me and deposited him up against a tree (Pinus strobus). The second man sensibly halted his advance, but then rather stupidly decided he fancied his chances against the Bulgarian, and stood his ground, fists raised, fingers gesturing in a 'come and have a go' style.
He remained upright for 2.5 seconds. He took another 0.5 seconds to hit the ground after Ravel had crouched down and executed a (Bulgarian) textbook style manouevre that involved extending and swinging his right leg whilst supporting himself on his left leg and both hands. The motion of the camouflaged journalist falling over reminded me of how grass falls when cut by a scythe. The noise that followed was more like the sound of a journalist upon discovering he just incurred a fractured tibia.
'You've broken my leg you bastard!', shouted the journalist. 'And you've killed McJohnston!'
'Leg will mend', said Ravel, bending down to examine the state of his victim. 'Other man not dead. I used only medium pressure. He wake up in few minutes with head bruise and bad eyesight for two hours. He right as raindrops. This man correct to say he has broken leg. We carry them back to hut. We mend him there.'
'Christ Ravel. Where did you learn all that?' I asked. A mixture of fear and excitement had gripped hold of me, I was unable to stop speaking quickly and quite prepared to put the boot in myself if necessary.
'It is standard training. I cannot say more boss. Help me get them up. I cannot carry both.'
I lifted the unconscious man up and swung him over my shoulders in a firemans lift. He was quite a bit smaller than me, and would likely have come worse off in a fight if Ravel hadn't been to keen to show off. Ravel hoisted the other journalist into a piggy-back position and told him to hold on tight. Then my number one research assistant actually started jogging further into the forest. 'Where the hell are you going?' I shouted.
'Hut is just half mile this way,' shouted Ravel. 'We make circles. I navigate by trees. Follow me.'
I walked as quickly as I could with my load, wondering, as we made our way through the thick forest, whether the events that had just unfolded were a portent of worse things to come. The context in which I'd placed my research assistant had just been shattered. He was clearly now in charge - something I for which I was totally unprepared. Roles reversed, boundaries blurred. Could I trust him anymore? He'd been pretty keen to track these two men down. My mind went over recent events where Ravel's behaviour had verged on the dangerous or menacing. They were increasing in frequency. And now, here we were, carrying two broken journalists on our backs through a forest. Not towards civilisation, but to a place that no-one in the outside world knew about. What was Ravel planning?
Find out, in the next episode...