And Bananas for All is a story told in six episodes, posted serially by me, your guerrilla host, Cheeseburger Brown.
Related reading: Night Flight Mike, The Reaper's Coleslaw, Simon of Space
Our adventure continues:
The subterfuge was, in a word, hilarious.
Mike watched from a safe distance through his recently purloined field glasses, witnessing a pantomime in which two chimps brazenly approached the camp of four researchers from the National Geographic Society and began performing various antics. One chimp climbed aboard the shoulders of his companion and then the tottering, living totem wobbled around stiffly, the upper chimp offering his hand to shake and pretending to doff an invisible hat.
The researchers were shocked and instantly engaged. They fell over themselves to grab their cameras from their cases, to dangle microphones by the chimps, to jot hurried notes into their books. Mike grinned, knowing what was coming next.
In an homage to a classic episode of Star Trek, the chimps hopped apart and then dragged from the bushes a piece of limestone into which Mike had laboriously carved the words: NO KILL I. The chimps stood on either side of the limestone and slowly, clearly signed over and over again, "Life precious, life precious."
Despite the distance Mike distinctly heard one of the researchers cry out, "Oh my God!"
Mike turned from the field glasses to give Climber a curt nod. "Take your team in."
While the National Geographic researchers were entirely hypnotized by the chimps' apparent plea for interspecies clemency, Climber and his team slunk through the grass with clods of weeds strapped to their heads. Climber slipped inside the equipment tent. A moment later he reappeared and began handing out items one by one to be ferried back by his teammates: four air-rifles and eight boxes of tranquilizer darts.
Climber whistled like a Zuma songbird, then scooted quietly after the team. At this signal the performing chimps seemed to suddenly become bored with the researchers; they simply dropped their hands, turned around, and scampered off into the bush. The researchers looked at each other in surprise and disappointment, then fell to examining the limestone.
The chimps regrouped with Mike by the stream. "Good work," smiled Mike. "Let's have lunch."
Chimpanzees are always enthusiastic about lunch. They pant-hooted in delight and made a headlong dash for the hilltop.
"That was awesome," said Mike to Climber. "Keep it up, and I'll promote you to man."
Climber saluted and then scrambled off after the others.
Mike took a moment to lolligag by the scarecrows. Upon close inspection they wouldn't fool a one-eyed man with cataracts, but from a reasonable distance they were sufficient to give a roving band of rival apes pause. The scarecrows were made of stolen sandbags stuffed with leaves, dressed in fluorescent yellow safety vests; each stood at guard with a long stick in place of a gun. They were connected to the beaters' rope network, and thus could be caused from a remote distance to shimmy and quiver in an aggressive if faintly epileptic fashion.
With Mike's focus diverted to the dinosaurs, they had been forced to resort to semi-automatic defenses such as these to keep the territory clear. There wasn't enough attention to go around.
The days were busy.
Mike hiked up the hill. Preparations were well under way for tonight's daring sortie. For weeks Mike and his troglodyte kin had been waging an unrelenting campaign against the clear-cutting and construction efforts, and as of last night their opponents had upped the ante by dispatching round the clock patrols of security guards armed with guns and machetes, dour-faced skinny black men who smoked Chinese cigarettes and muttered to each other in a guttural, choppy-sounding language Mike couldn't fathom in the least.
He had reasoned that attacking the machines themselves would be a poor strategy. If the men could not work, they would have nothing to do all day but beat the bushes in search of the vandals. Instead, Mike had directed the campaign toward the supplies: by constantly interfering with the flow of food, drink and tobacco, the workers became disgruntled at their employer's failure to contain the situation and their insistence that work continue uninterrupted. So the men worked, and as the days went by they hated their employers more than the unseen saboteurs.
Mike had seen the fat airplanes come in. He knew the men had recently been resupplied. Thus, it was his plan to disrupt their sense of hope at its zenith, to foul the water and steal the food and burn the cigarettes just when the men were about to feel bolstered and relieved. He was optimistic this sudden reversal in fortune would persuade them to rebel against their employers, to initiate a work stoppage.
The only trick would be to incapacitate the armed guards before they could act. Hence, the tranquilizer rifles.
Mike checked on the chimps, overseeing their work. They no longer jingled as they moved, for Mike had long ago figured out how to break their collars. Their identification tags now hung over their hammocks. He took a few moments to roll around in the dirt with the juveniles, then made sure poor Glutton was comfortable, lying in a hammock with a splint on his fractured leg. "Looks like it's healing up nicely," said Mike.
"Itchy," signed Glutton gloomily. "Hungry."
"You're always hungry."
"Itchy," the chimp repeated sullenly.
Mike found a twig and carefully fed it into the dressing, then scratched at Glutton's leg. "Better?"
Glutton closed his eyes and sighed with contentment. "Love M," he gestured vaguely, yawning.
"I love you too, Glutton."
The afternoon aged. The sun began to sink. The voice of the forest slowly changed from daytime sounds to twilight sounds. The suppertime flowers exuded their stink as the dinosaurs' growls quieted one by one. The men laughed and swore and smoked as they parked their vehicles and ambled back toward their camp in the river valley. The new security guards passed them in the dirt-clod fields, but they did not exchange greetings. The two kinds of men were as alien to one another as chimpanzees and monkeys.
The sky was still pink, but the land was in shadow. Mike gave a nod to his troupe. "Let's move."
A tall, lanky security guard with a shaved head leaned on his rifle as he smoked, watching birds flock over the trees. Every few moments he spat in the dirt and shifted his pose. Mike hunkered low in the grass in order to silhouette the man against the sky for a clear shot, then squeezed the trigger: the air rifle barked. The guard grunted, slapped at his thigh, found the dart, then whimpered quietly and folded into an unruly pile.
"Wow," whispered Mike. "That was fast. This stuff must be dosed for rhinos or something."
He slunk along to the next sighting spot while a trio of chimps scampered over the sleeping guard and headed for the nearest supply trailer. The next guard took a little longer to succumb than the first, but within five minutes he had ceased crawling along in the dirt and had rolled over onto his side with his thumb jammed in his mouth, snoring loudly.
The next team headed for the water locker. When a third guard fell, the final team made for the shed where the daytime rations of cigarettes were stored along with the odd bottle of liquor for the foremen. The chimps had already learned to use the liquor to spread the fire, though they often went through four or five boxes of matches before getting a good strike. They tended to break the matches.
Mike was wiggling up to the fourth and final guard when the water locker erupted in a riot of noise: tumbling plastic vats, smashing bottles, hollering chimps. The guard's head snapped over. "Eh!" he called, unslinging his rifle.
Mike fired his own rifle but missed. The guard was running now, bearing down on the locker. Mike scrambled to his feet and beat the ground after him, propelled by worry.
The guard reached the locker and threw open the doors. Mike accelerated. The guard disappeared inside.
Heart hammering in his chest, Mike slid in the mud in front of the locker and sprawled awkwardly to the ground. He flipped himself over and then pawed through the darkness for his air rifle. He looked up just in time to see the guard ejected bodily from the locker, flying over his head in a high arc, then crashing down to the ground with a loud crack of breaking bone.
Two chimps burst out of the locker, roaring.
"Holy crap you guys are strong," breathed Mike with relief.
Suddenly the field was illuminated by rows of floodlights on wooden poles. Grimacing and howling, the chimps threw their hands over their eyes. Mike tried to blink away the throbbing afterimages as a distant klaxon began to ring. The tossed guard was talking quickly into a radio, his repeated cries urgent.
Mike stood up and whistled with his fingers. "Retreat!"
Together the troupe barrelled across the field, making for the far fringes ninety-degrees removed from the actual direction of their home hill -- this was a practiced piece of deception meant to confuse anyone bright enough to try to track their prints the next morning, to lead them astray. This path also took them dangerously close to the territory of their troglodyte rivals and they usually made their approach stealthily. Tonight, however, they dashed aside the leaves and fled in an adrenaline-powered panic.
There were consequences. They were heard.
Mike detected the growl of jeeps in the blazingly-bright field behind them just as the bush ahead shook. Eyes reflected in the dark, and then the night was cut by aggressive howls. One by one Mike's troupe fell from their flight, knocked aside by rival chimps. In the dark the various tussles were a scintillating blur. Mike felt helpless and terrified. He swung his air rifle in vicious arcs, smacking aside the attackers and then shouting to keep them at bay while his kin made their frenzied escapes deeper into the forest.
Mike found himself surrounded by a ring of belligerent chimpanzees, and he considered that he may have just traded his life to save his friends. He took a deep breath and steadied the rifle in his hands, wielding it in a defensive stance as if it were a quarterstaff.
Seconds later, he was alone.
Mike blinked, hearing his assailants rushing away in a froth of leaf-ripping, twig-snapping urgency. "What in the --"
Someone clubbed him across the back of the head with something heavy. Mike dropped to his knees, his vision turning grey. "Crap," he managed to mumble before he dropped on his face...
He came to under the harsh buzz of cheap fluorescents. His head hurt a lot, and the back of his neck was sticky. Mike groaned.
"Baas, he's waking up!"
Mike was sprawled in a plastic chair inside a cramped trailer alongside filing cabinets, two messy desks and a battery of overflowing ashtrays. Three white men and two skinny guards were arrayed around him, their faces hard. One of the white men pushed closer, rolling a toothpick from one side of his lined mouth to the other. "What are you supposed to be then, eh? Some kind of Tarzan?"
Mike blinked, his head ringing.
"Answer me!" the man shouted, then slapped Mike across the face.
Mike was not bound but he was badly outnumbered and feeling not at all well. He thought he might throw up, and decided he might have a fairly serious concussion. With an awful, heavy feeling he recognized that he was on the cusp of re-entering that state he had vowed he never find himself in again: helpless, hopeless, imprisoned at the mercy of men of meagre moral fibre.
He said the first thing that popped into his head: his name, rank, and serial number.
"He's some kind of a soldier, baas," said one of the men.
The one with the toothpick grunted noncommitally. "What the hell is a Chinese soldier doing out here?"
"I'm not Chinese," rasped Mike weakly. "I'm Canadian."
"He sure looks Chinese, baas."
"I'm with the Allies," managed Mike.
"The Allies sent you to sabotage us?" demanded the toothpick man. "What's your mission, Tarzan? You'd better start talking now or you'll find yourself looking down at your tongue on the floor. Got that, doos?"
"Not on an Allied mission..."
"Gunther: give me your knife. This chink gwar needs some persuading, man."
Mike's breathing became quick and shallow. Sweat beaded on his brow. One of the men unsnapped a leather holster at his hip and withdrew a shiny blade that sang as it was freed. Its keen edge winked in the light. Gunther passed the blade to his boss, who spat out his toothpick onto the floor and gave Mike a terrible, cruel grin.
Mike felt a thousand times more dread than he had in the hands of the Allied jackals, for then it was only his own health he feared for. Now, in this new moment, he knew his failure would cost the lives of all his friends. Without Mike's help, they didn't stand a chance against men.
The boss paused in his advance, then cocked his head. The others did, too. Mike heard it: the sound of engines starting up. Machines rumbled and metal clanked.
"...What the hell?"
The engines roared suddenly closer. The boss ducked aside to look out the window but before he got there the entire trailer shook on its cinderblock foundations, rocking dangerously and casting file folders from their shelves in a slurry of hissing paper. The men were knocked off their feet and Mike spilled from his chair.
The trailer was struck again, the long wall denting. The lights went out and the trailer continued to lean, then keeled over completely and crashed down on its side. Furniture and cigarette butts rained to the new floor, battering the guards and the white men who cried out in alarm.
Acting on instinct, Mike threw himself toward the dark corner where he remembered the door to be. He caught its edges and hauled himself up, pushing out to the top of the teetering trailer and getting to his feet.
The flood-lit field was in chaos. Heavy equipment rumbled in all directions, turning in place, swinging their implements nonsensically, changing speeds, stopping and starting seemingly at random. It all began to make sense when Mike spotted Climber hanging out of the cab of a massive backhoe, waving his arms and roaring.
Mike realized that he was being rescued.
In the cabs of the other vehicles chimps were attacking the controls, pulling and pushing levers, tugging on the steering wheels, stabbing buttons with reckless abandon. "Holy crap!" yelled Mike. He jammed his fingers into his mouth and whistled for retreat.
The chimps saw him. With hoots of delight they abandoned their vehicles, leaping off as they continued to move, then scampering across the dirt toward the trailer. Hearing signs of life inside of it Mike jumped down and met them halfway, then coordinated their flight toward the woods. The chimps paused near him, wanting to touch him and coo, but Mike cast off their hands. "Go, go, go!" he screamed.
They went. Mike was about to fling himself after them when he saw that Climber was still inside his vehicle, eyes wide as a fleet of workers ran toward him and began climbing the treads of the still rolling machine. Climber screeched in fright and climbed on top of the cab. He threw bits of gravel at the workers and beat his chest.
"Climber! Jump!" yelled Mike.
The workers turned to his voice. "Shoot him!" called someone, and a dozen rifles clicked as they were cocked. Mike dropped to the dirt a split second before the air resounded with the overlapping cracks of gunfire.
He wormed his way into a ditch and then risked a look back. Climber hadn't been hit: the shots were aimed at Mike. Instead, Climber was grabbed by the leg and pulled down from the cab. He hit the treads hard and was then struck with the butt-end of rifles, forcing him into a large sack which was cinched up tight once he was inside. The workers kicked at the sack until it stopped moving.
Mike felt as if his heart were being ripped from his chest. He was immobilized by pain and horror, but regained his senses as another group of guards starting running toward the ditch he was in with flashlights and guns.
There was no choice to be made except to survive. Mike ran. There were a few more shots fired in his direction, and he heard the leaves tear around him as he tumbled into the cover of the forest. He pushed himself to keep going, reminding himself how many other chimps were counting on his leadership tonight.
Soon the fracas was behind him. With great weariness he plodded up to the hilltop, tears welling in his eyes as he met the gazes of his troupe. "Climber's been captured," he signed with shaking hands. "They took him."
"What do?" the chimps wanted to know. "What do, M?"
Mike sighed. He sat down beside the fire-pit, his head in his hands. The chimps gathered around him, whimpering worriedly. Mike looked up after a long moment. "You guys risked your lives to save me," he said slowly. "So, really, there's only one thing we can do."
Bella nodded seriously. "Plan," she signed.
"Yes," Mike agreed. "You're right, Bella. If we're going to save Climber, we'll need a plan. A really smart one, too."
"M smart smart."
Mike closed his eyes. "I don't feel very smart tonight," he said forlornly.
The chimps closed around him, and lay their hands on his shoulders, on his back, on his legs. They shut their eyes and gently knocked their heads against him, snorting affectionately.
"But I'll think of something," promised Mike. "I swear."