Three Dirty Old Men
By Lawrence Kadzitche
The three shadows that formed before him were sinister. They sat in a semi-circle around the fire in the huge graveyard, stinking dirty old men with evil faces and furtive eyes.
“The report, please,” their leader, the worst looking of the three, said.
Phodo glanced at the three faces staring at him expectantly- three cowards who couldn’t do their own fighting but had to hire a killer. “The mission failed, Juju. Gudumu is still alive.”
The two old men sitting on either side of Juju gasped. Juju, his horribly ugly face passive, got up and started pacing up and down the small room.
“You said this job was nothing to you,” he whispered, his back facing Phodo. “You said you were the best in the trade, a perfect killing machine,” he paused and turned suddenly. “How could you fail?” his voice suddenly rose to a shrill. “How?”
“Juju, I did all I could do…”
“All you could do!” spat Juju, his ugly face contorted with anger. “Gudumu is still alive and you call that doing your best!”
Phodo inhaled deeply. “You could have done the job yourselves, why did you hire me?”
Juju stared at the frightened faces of his two colleagues. “Because we thought you were the best. We supplied you with the best weapons available and paid you the highest price on the market. How could you fail?”
“You cheated me. You didn’t tell me how tough my adversary was,” the hired killer said, his face betraying no emotion. “You sent me on a suicide mission.”
“If we thought he wasn’t tough we wouldn’t hired you,” Juju said sarcastically. “Well, tell us what happened.”
The mercenary cleared his throat. “I had no problems locating Gudumu’s house. But when I arrived there all I could see was darkness. I used my charms and managed to see the house. Do you know what happened when I used Juncha’s magic gourd?”
Juncha, a small thin man in tattered clothes, glanced at him with hope.
“Instead of breathing fire, it let out cool foul air and then disintegrated.”
Juncha jumped to his feet. “Look at me, I’m poor as a rabid dog. Do you know where all the fruits of my toil went?” he cried shaking his grimy fist at Phodo. “Towards paying for that magic gourd. And now you say it’s destroyed!”
“Yes,” Phodo replied smugly. “Gudumu blew it to smithereens.”
Juju noted the challenge in the mercenary’s voice. “Leave him alone, Juncha. Let him finish.”
“That frightened me. I took my plane high and circled over the house for some time before making another assault,” Phodo continued coolly. “When I had regained my nerve, I attacked using Mdisha’s magic gourd.”
Mdisha was the oldest of the three, an emaciated little old man with a back that was so bent that he looked like a hunchback.
“Tell us what my hail of fire did,” piped the little man, an evil toothless grin on his wrinkled face.
The shadow of the mercenary faded and formed again, a hulking figure of a man. “No better than Juncha’s fire breather. Instead of the magic gourd producing a hail of fire, it simply produced a hail of flower petals.”
The grin was wiped from the witch’s wrinkled face. “What?”
Phodo chuckled with delight, rubbing his huge hands together. “It produced a hail of beautiful flower petals. The loveliest sight I ever saw.”
Mdisha slumped in his chair, burying his face in his hands.
“Continue, please,” Juju cackled.
“Should I explain what happened to your much touted carpet bomber?”
Juju ignored the jibe. “You heard what I said.”
“What happened to Juncha’s magic gourd really shook me badly. I seriously considered aborting the operation,” went on the mercenary in his smooth voice. “But you know I’m not a man to give up when I still have got a fighting chance.”
“Just tell us what happened,” snapped Juju.
“I brought my plane down and unleashed your magic gourd. It spewed out fire just as you said and everything went to ashes.”
Juju nodded his head with satisfaction. “I knew my beloved magic gourd could not let me down.”
“But it was all an illusion,” Phodo went on as if Juju hadn’t spoken. “When the smoke had cleared, lo and behold, the only thing that was in ashes was your magic gourd.”
Juju leaned across the fire and pointed a dirty finger at the mercenary. “That’s not possible!”
“Not possible? That’s what happened,” sneered the hired killer. “Your big magic gourd is no more, kaput. Destroyed by Gudumu’s powerful charms.”
Juju glanced at Phodo. “You sound as if you admire him.”
“Why not? He beat the three of you, didn’t he?”
The reply brought a frown on Juju’s face. He began to speak but something in the eyes of the mercenary stopped him.
“I had used all the weapons you had given me. Frankly speaking, I was demoralized but not out of the fight. I had lost battles but not the war. This made me determined to win the next round.”
“Is it possible for you just to give us the details without your opinions?”
The mercenary smiled, obviously enjoying himself. “Gentlemen, by now you should realize that I knew that I was against the most formidable enemy I had ever faced. But I had an ace up my sleeve.”
The three dirty old men sitting opposite him simply stared at him.
“The house was fortified against an aerial attack. Can you guess how it could be penetrated?”
No one volunteered an answer.
“By an underground attack. So I landed my plane and transformed myself into a mouse. I burrowed into the ground and made a tunnel up to Gudumu’s bedroom.”
“Ingenious,” Juncha exclaimed.
“But there was still one big problem. The floor of the house was protected against intruders and if I got in I would be dead.”
“How did you get around that problem?” asked Mdisha.
“Simple. The magic would only work against intruders. So what I did was to borrow Gudumu’s feet. Then I got into the room.”
Juju nodded his head, looking impressed.
“I was in seventh heaven. I had beaten him. I jumped up and down as he snored on his bed. All that remained was to finish him off.”
“And why didn’t you finish him?” inquired Juju.
“You must be more stupid than I thought,” snapped the mercenary. “Do you think a man who had defeated all your powerful charms could be taken out that easily?”
“But you had got in. You were wearing his feet. He was asleep. Anyone can kill a sleeping person. It was easy.”
The mercenary eyed him evilly. “But that should have told you that something was wrong. Your hired killer had walked into a trap.”
The three men looked at each other uncomfortably.
“The feet he took from Gudumu were dummies. The sleeping figure, a banana trunk. The hired killer was dead the moment his feet touched the floor. He had been outwitted.”
“Who…who are you?”
“I believe you have guessed by now.”
The three men froze. The formless figure before them faded. Out of darkness formed a scaly figure with needle sharp talons and long canine teeth.
“Hello,” said Gudumu as he leapt at them. .
The three old men began to scream as talons and fangs tore at their bodies.
Then there was the usual silence of the cemetery.