The Last Heart of Darkness, Part II

Part I.

The effect of Jarrod’s approach was disconcerting.  The bar was nearly empty, and I was the only one present with a skin color lighter than charcoal.  Still, I hadn’t seen him look around once at the rest of the bar, or even pause to let his good eye adjust to the gloom inside.  He merely continued to stare at me, occasionally letting out another giggle.
I was the first to talk.  “I heard your name from the Sandline mercenary outfit,” I said.  “I was told that you would be able to arrange for me to-“
“Yes, I know what it is you want,” Jarrod interrupted, still grinning wildly.  “You want to conquer, to stare into the eyes of the wild.  You want me to take you to my special place, to face the beasts.”
Even his speech was disjointed, off-putting.  “Rhinos,” I said clearly. “I want to shoot a rhino.”
The man’s grin didn’t diminish  “Yes, the great horned ones,” he replied.  “They are there.  When the price is paid, I shall take you to them.”
“And how much will this cost me?”
To my surprise, Jarrod merely shrugged, looking unconcerned.  “Ten thousand,” he said.  “Yes, ten thousand for my services as your guide.  If we stay longer than a fortnight, maybe it will be more.”
This whole setup seemed wrong.  It was too easy, too out in the open.  Jarrod didn’t seem worried about the laws he was breaking, about the security forces that we would have to evade.  “Five thousand up front,” I said, feeling cagey.  “The rest will be paid only after I’ve gotten my kill.”
Once again, all I received was a shrug.  “Good, good,” he said.  “We will leave tomorrow, before dawn, yes?  Simply meet here, I will be outside.”  And as quickly as that, Jarrod seemed to lose all interest in the conversation.  He turned his manic grin on the bartender, who brought him a mug of something dark and foul-smelling.  He didn’t even look up when I left the bar.
That evening, I debated whether I should even show up the next morning.  Jarrod’s disinterest in money suggested that I wasn’t in danger of being robbed.  Perhaps this was a sting, the government trying to ensnare poachers in a web of trickery.  In the end, I decided that the reward was worth the risk.  Nonetheless, I resolved to remain ever alert and cautious.
*
The next morning, Jarrod was waiting for me when I showed up, pack and rifle slung over my shoulders.  His white-toothed smile gleamed in the twilight.  His hand was outstretched, waiting.
I grudgingly handed over the five thousand dollars that I had promised him up front.  Jarrod took the envelope and tucked it away, only pausing briefly to look inside and verify its contents.  “One more,” he said to me as he secreted the envelope away.  “One more, and then we will go!”
A few minutes later, our third party member arrived.  We could hear him crashing through the undergrowth well before he emerged into view.  I sized him up with distaste.
The other man, clearly another hunter, probably stood close to six and a half feet tall, and I guessed that he weighed close to three hundred pounds.  He wore camo pants and a once-white t-shirt, stained with unidentifiable grime and stretched tight across his stomach.  A Remington bolt-action was slung across his back, but I also noted the M1911 semi-automatic pistol strapped to his hip.  Some hunters carried a pistol to finish off wounded targets.  I preferred to simply not miss with my shots.

“Aw right!” the man greeted us loudly.  American, from his accent; somewhere in the south.  The model of what every true hunter hated.  Loud, crass, and relying on overkill instead of skill.  I gritted my teeth and gave the slightest of nods in reply.  He seemed not to notice.  “Let’s go get us some goddamn rhinos!” he nearly shouted, hefting a meaty fist.

Jarrod didn’t seem put off by the other man’s demeanor.  On the contrary, he was happy to accept another envelope of payment.  “Yes, yes, let us go,” he cried out in return, smiling broadly.  “Come.  Follow.  We have a long path to walk, and you do not want to be lost.”  He smiled even more broadly.  “No, do not get lost on this path.”

Turning lightly on one heel, Jarrod took off into the dense forest.  Hoping that I wasn’t walking into disaster, I followed, with the American bringing up the rear.

Continue with part three!

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