The woman came with his father’s ringing endorsement; a worshipper and priestess apparently of some sect or another. Pero peered at her strange clothes. “So why do you wear the dead snakes?” He inquired. She made her eyes larger, magnifying the lorry load of mascara she had applied. She reached out with her fingertips hesitantly and tried to touch Pero’s face; batting her hand away swiftly, he reminded her not to touch him.

Pero was not sure about this; voodoo and superstition were not his type of thing. Put him in charge of men or at least a gun in his hand and he would deal with the problem. He took it to his father. He told him of the peasants and their crazy superstitions. His father was less than impressed. “Grow up, be a man.” He went to strike his son; but stopped short as he did not need the press seeing tension within the squeaky clean family.

This priestess was his idea; something to placate his son and his temper. Pero watched as she nailed planks of wood to trees around the base. She started hanging dolls from door knobs; she even made that old cleaner start using a new brush. She was crazy, Pero thought. All this mumbo jumbo, ceremony and ritual. Give him a gun and let him deal with it the way of the warrior; keep the gods where they belong, a long way away from him. This was his world not theirs.

Then she makes Pero wear a dead snake around his neck. It doesn’t look very managerial having a dead animal around your neck, but the smell or the voodoo had calmed Hercules somewhat so Pero acceded for the time being. It did seem to bring him luck; he wore it to a visit with the foreigners, again they were back making more demands of more product and lower prices. Pero chose not to grace them with his kingly presence in the end and passed them onto an underling.

She walked around the soldiers on the base, whispering at some, shouting at others. Most of the soldiers after the initial bewilderment laughed and batted her away, tapping their temples. Pero’s newfound confidence in voodoo began to wane; the soldiers continued to give him the evil eye on parade, but he still hadn’t had an accident up ’til now. Someone had posted a chili pepper with his name on it under the door of his office. He had absolutely no idea what this meant. He consulted with his spiritual advisor and she said it meant he had a temper and the men were worried he was going to lose it with them.

Sounds rational, he thought. Pero had the men assembled.

“My brothers; you are all safe with the CAP. Ki- Colonel Antonio Felipe III Pero is a man of his word; and his word is that you shall all be safe. Under my command we shall achieve great things and no harm shall come to you. I have brought your chilli to prove my word men. I shall eat my temper, swallow the anger and no harm will come of you. Not from your commander Pero.”

Pero took a brief look at the pepper; it was red, red as the devil. It looked hot, but Pero was a man. Pero would eat the chilli pepper and smile. He put it in his mouth and chewed slowly; “it’s good,” he mumbled to the parade sergeant. The men watched as chew by chew the heat of the pepper started to bloom and explode; along with the colour of his face. Some of the soldiers were grinning; some were holding a palm flat towards him. One started laughing quietly, audible in the still afternoon.

Pero tried to grin through the tears when out of nowhere, two hands made out of half cooked sausages grabbed him around the neck and started to choke the life out of him. “Die you evil scrotum of a worm; flea-ridden dog scented donkey member; whore’s old bedspread on which your withered old sow’s c-” Pero could feel himself going blue, when suddenly he was released from the grip and could breathe again. Pieces of chilli dribbled from his mouth as he sat there agape, gasping, sobbing and shouting all at the same time.

A huge fight was going on in front of him but all he could see were blurs from his tear streaked eyes. Eventually he heard a crack then a thud and a groan. They took his assailant off to the stockades and gingerly he got to his feet, spitting out the remnants of the pepper. Chilli red intermingled with blood at his feet. His nose was bleeding but Pero. Pero had dignity. He called for Hercules and mounted up. Trotting to his men he tried to say something, but all that came was garbled so he waved at the parade sergeant and trotted away, tissue held to his nose but poised and dignified upon his steed.

No more than two steps after turning his back, the entire platoon, including the drill sergeant held a palm up to his back. Hercules buckled and once again Pero fell from the saddle to the hard dirt floor. Sprawled on the floor, he turned and saw the platoon; hands held aloft, palms towards him. In unison, to a man they stood silently watching him.

To Chapter Forty-Six – Azad’s Dream

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