“And his ability to trust us,” Maribelle said.
“That most of all.”
“But if he did agree,” Maribelle said, “how would we get him back here, to Africa, after we help him escape?”
“As to that,” Judith said, “I hadn’t thought so far ahead.”
As the two women talked, Maribelle had been so interested in the conversation, so busy thinking, that she had ceased to pay full attention to her surroundings. It must have been the same for Judith Mocker, Maribelle figured. Why else would they have both failed to notice the shining eyes out in the deepening darkness beyond the trees, the many, many eyes? How else could they have failed to hear the rustling of the grass as numerous large bodies passed through it, failed to hear anything at all until that first awful cackling-barking of the first hyena?
When they looked away from each other’s faces they found that the hyenas had them surrounded.
Maribelle gasped. “Oh, God!”
Without conscious intent, Maribelle began to count the eyes. Two pairs, four. Another cackling bark. Eight pairs, ten, eleven, twelve.
“How many bullets you got in that gun?”
“Not enough. But if we both fire maybe the report will frighten them away.”
“Pick a target!” Maribelle said. “They’re gettin’ way too close!”
“Perhaps we should warn our friend?”
Maribelle reached out, her hand touching the thick pelt at the creature’s chest. She started to give him a gentle shake but saw that his eyes were open and shining in the close darkness.
“Hyenas!” Maribelle said.
The growl that issued from the creature was far more terrible than the cackling of the hyenas.
“Here they come!” Judith raised her revolver, pointed and fired. The flash lit up the world like a lightning strike, blinding Maribelle. Thunder followed the lightning, so loud it made her eardrums trill like cymbals. Maribelle blinked away the after-image of the flash.
And saw the Blackmane charge.