I sat in the dusty, sweltering, miserable excuse for a bar, grimacing between sips of too-warm beer. Flies buzzed above my head, ignoring my occasional attempts to wave them away. I was thoroughly dejected, soaking in my sweat and failure.
Nearly five weeks previously, I had arrived in the Congo, equipped with a modified Mauser double-barrel, fifty grand in good old US currency, and an iron-willed determination to bring down the Big Five. The buffalo and the lion had both been surprisingly easy, and the leopard had given me an enjoyable stalk before I finally cornered him in a thick but isolated copse of trees.
The elephant . . . I smiled briefly at the memory. It had required several sizable bribes just to secure a narrow window of opportunity, but I had ended up staring down a young bull, just fully grown, short-tempered and feisty. For a long moment we had both stood our ground, two apex species facing off in the pre-dawn twilight.
The bull had tossed his head, showing his tusks in challenge. I knew that he was about to charge, that the two heavy shells in my Mauser were all that stood between me and death. Center-of-mass shots wouldn’t stop a headlong charge, wouldn’t drop the beast quickly enough to save me. I needed to pierce the skull, needed a perfect shot.
The long moment ended. The young bull dropped his head and charged. The rifle rose to my shoulder and barked once, twice.
I needn’t have bothered with the second shot. The first round was dead center, hitting the elephant directly between the eyes. I had stood my ground and watched as the beast slowly and ponderously collapsed before me.
Now, seated in the filthy bar, I still felt a small twinge of regret. I hadn’t needed the second shot. If I had trusted my gut, had held back, I would have been able to count myself among the true elites, those that had brought down the largest big game animal in the world with a single shot. But that small regret withered and wilted in the heat of my current rage.
I had vanquished four of the Big Five. Only the rhinoceros stood between me and victory. But here, I had hit a wall. My contacts were of no help. Bribes had failed, or had only led to dead ends. Even my acquaintances among the poachers had merely shrugged their shoulders. “They are too rare,” they had told me. “Too many guards, and the punishment for trying is death. It cannot be done.”
The hell with that. I still had better than half of my cash remaining, and I refused to give up. Finally, a tip from a back-alley Nambian gang member had led me here, to this miserable excuse for a watering hole. I had been told to look for a man who went by Jarrod, who had one blind eye, who smiled too often. “He is a crazy man,” the Nambian had told me from the shadows. “He is touched by the creeping madness, and half of what he speaks are lies. But he claims to know where the rhinos are, and has sold the horns before. He is your best shot. He was my only shot, I thought, but I didn’t share that with the gangster.
Two beers later, Jarrod finally arrived. He entered quietly, but I knew him as soon as I saw his face. His right eye was a milky white, with a bright blue iris. No dark pupil seemed to be present; there was merely a disc of blue floating in the surrounding whiteness. An idiot’s grin was painted across his gaunt features. His lanky frame moved easily through the maze of rickety and broken chairs as he headed directly towards me. He dropped into the chair across from me, stared into my eyes, and giggled.
Continue with part two!