Now, the ratel at the bottom of our pit wasn’t a fully-grown member of the species. Matter-of-fact, looking back, I’m pretty sure he was a bit more sullen than other ratels we had run across, and might have had a bit of a sneer, so he was most probably a teenage ratel.
Anyhoo, Chris and I had concocted a complicated plot to extract our ratel using a banana tree trunk, four innertubes, a chicken and a peanut sack, when Brigadier-Captain Azikiwe showed up.
Brigadier-Captain Azikiwe was one of those annoying little gits who constantly has a finger up, testing the breeze. No matter who was in power, Azikiwe had always been one of his most loyal subjects. In other words, he was a complete toady, lick-spittle and yes-man. The only convictions he had ever carried were in his criminal record. Thoroughly irritating little suck-up.
In addition to his other charming attributes, Azikiwe was a bit of a bully. Since he was alarmingly small, the only safe targets were those smaller than him.
Which would normally include Chris and myself, unfortunately, 1) We were the offspring of Chief Jim, the Big Boss of the Plant, major source of bribes for a struggling Nigerian Army Officer/Civilian Junior Minister of Gummint (depending on who was in power that month); and 2) We really didn’t give a damn.
Which, near as I can tell, was the reason that Azikiwe barely tolerated us.
Mom, on the other paw, asserts that the Brigadier-Captain actively loathed us, and was entirely due to the Famous Phydeaux Lunch Incident.
Phydeaux was our Yard Frog. He was also a West African Giant Frog, which meant he was about the size of a small terrier. He lived under a rock in one of the flower beds and was responsible for outside varmint control.
On the Lunch Incident Day, Phydeaux had decided to nosh on a juvenile Ball Python, who held opinions most firm about the matter. The debate wound up under the house, which was a decided no-no for Phydeaux, due to his habit of singing the froggy version of “Henry the Eighth, I am, I am” in the wee hours of the morning, and when under the house, directly under Mom’s pillow.
So, to prevent the execution of the stated promise of “Frog Jambalaya”, Chris and I scooted under the house to extract Phydeaux.
Now, you may not know that Ball Pythons get their name from their habit of rolling up into a tight ball to avoid predators. Junior had done this exact thing, and was fortunate in that as big as Phydeaux was, the balled-up python was just a wee smidgen bigger than Phydeaux could get into his maw.
We got there as the frustrated frog was rolling the snake about, trying to get a thumb into the coils to unwind the munchie, to no avail. We separated snake and frog, causing Phydeaux to retreat under a beam to sulk.
Hoping to take Phydeaux’s one-track little amphibian mind off of lunch, Chris grabbed the snake and backed out from under the house. And there, standing proud in the garden decked out in a crisp khaki uniform absolutely dripping with yards of gilt, was Brigadier-Captain Azikiwe, come to pay his respects and hint gently that he was more than happy to give any orphaned bribe money a good home.
Chris, seeing a handy adult, and not wanting to waste a perfectly good snake, promptly grabbed the paw that Azikiwe had regally extended, dumped the snake into it, said, “Hold this!”, slapped Azikiwe’s other paw onto the top of the snake-ball and dove back under the house.
You know, the last thing one would expect to find in a West Africa native is a snake phobia.
Anyhoo, Chris and I managed to coax the sulking Phydeaux out from under the house, only to discover that the person to whom Chris had entrusted the snake had apparently decided to take a nap, face-first, right on our lawn.
This, in and of itself, was nothing surprising. Several of Mom and Dad’s friends had been found in an identical state on Saturday mornings, although they were usually on the carpet, so we really didn’t think too much of it.
We did, however, want our snake back. After lifting and checking various limbs and pockets, and rolling the unconscious Brigadier-Captain over, it became apparent that the snake either wasn’t present on the carcass, or that the Azikiwe had hidden it somewhere even we couldn’t find.
Getting a bit frustrated, Chris poked and prodded the Brigadier-Captain into semi-consciousness and immediately demanded, “Oy! What about our snake, then?”
Brigadier-Captain Azikiwe stared at us for a moment, and then looked at Chris, shrieked like a girl and dashed pell-mell for the street.
Good riddance, I say. Although we never did discover what the hell he did with our snake, the bastard.
Anyhoo, back to the current story. We have a ratel in a pit. We have Brigadier-Captain Azikiwe in all his smarmy glory. Can it get any better?