DIRK & STEELE
Book 7 - The Last Twilight
Doctor Rikki Kinn is a virus hunter - one of the best - working in the Congo for the CDC. But when mercenaries attempt to kidnap her in order to prevent an investigation into a new and deadly plague, her boss calls in a favor from the men at Dirk & Steele…
The monkeys began dying at dawn. Only the children noticed. They were playing a game of soccer, just within sight of the refugee camp. The river was nearby, the jungle wall thick and hoarse with crying shadows. Birds jammed the air.
The soccer ball was made of cowhide, rough-stitched and brown and stuffed with grass and dried elephant dung. No proper bounce, but it was good enough to kick. The children had been playing since the ﬁrst hint of light in the sky—at least an hour—and they were hungry and sweaty. So hungry, for such a long time, they hardly noticed anymore.
The children were playing on the road. It was ﬂat and dusty. No trafﬁc, though the boys took turns standing on a rock to keep watch. Not for other refugees, but for men carrying guns, or trucks with an unfamiliar shape or growl. Between the ﬁve of them, they owned a whistle, a gift from one of the doctors in the camp. The boy on the rock had it now, held tight in his ﬁst. He was ready to blow the whistle, just in case.
The soccer game got rough. One hard kick, and the ball ﬂew into the jungle. The boys threw up their hands, shouting, pointing ﬁngers. The littlest one was responsible; he was shoved, unwilling, toward the thick brush and towering trees. He protested loudly, tripping over knotted vines, falling on his knees. Smaller than the ferns, or the twisting roots angling out of the ground; swallowed by shadows that radiated a thick wet heat that buzzed with stinging mosquitoes.
You are easy food for a snake, laughed his friends. Watch out.
The child watched. He glanced over his shoulder as the leaves closed behind him, shutting out the dawn light. It would be hours before the sun rose high enough to pierce the upper canopy. Until then, a constant twilight, ﬁt only for leopards and spirits; cries of birds, echoing.
He heard a thud, off to his left. Heavy, like a melon falling. Or a body. He turned to run and his bare foot touched something hard and leathery. The ball. He had been standing beside it the entire time. He scooped it up, still ready to ﬂee, but before he could take a step something fell from the trees in front of him. He screamed.
The other boys crashed through the bush, calling his name. He did not answer them. His attention was on the ground. He pointed as his friends arrived, and all of them fell silent, staring at the twisted body of a monkey sprawled in the dried leaves. A white stripe cut across its brindled forehead, and its tufted ears were yellow. Blood dotted its nose and the corners of its eyes.
The monkey was not alone. Other bodies lay on the ground; little lumps of dark fur that blended well with the shadows. The eldest boy whistled, rubbing his palms against his stomach as he stepped close and touched a limp haunch with his bare toe.
“Still warm,” he whispered.
“This one fell,” said the smallest, still clutching the ball. Another crashing thud, out of sight on their left, made them jump; they looked up and saw shadows swaying unsteadily in the branches, eyes blinking in the forest twilight.
“They are so quiet,” someone said.
“We should go,” murmured another, backing away.
The eldest stooped and picked up the dead monkey by its tail. The boys hissed at him, but he straightened his shoulders and ﬂashed his teeth. “Aren’t you hungry?”
The smallest shook his head. “We are not allowed to take bush meat.”
“It was already dead.” The boy started walking, slinging the monkey over his shoulder. “Come on. If the mondele give us trouble, we will show them this place and prove we are innocent.” His grin widened, and he patted his ﬂat stomach. “We will do that anyway, I think.”
The other boys looked at each other. Another monkey swayed and fell from the tree. It almost landed on top of them. Dead, with blood in its eyes. Like it was weeping.
The children ran from the jungle, calling after their friend who was already racing down the road toward the white tents of the refugee camp. The monkey bounced against his back. Blood dripped from its eyes into the dust, against his calves.
The boy was fast and his legs were long. He had a strong heart, the promise of meat in his belly; the sweet anticipation of seeing his mother smile. For that, anything.
He was dead by sunset.
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Praise for Book 7 - The Last Twilight
”...the lush narrative style that has become Liu’s hallmark will continue to thrill fans and should draw more readers to the fold.”
“Marjorie M. Liu does it again. With her sense of people and place, Liu transports her readers wherever in the world she chooses. With seemingly no effort at all, she manages to keep us there, completely involved in a life-and-death struggle until the last page is turned.”