The silver back Patriarche, the Old One, raised his massive head and peered down the hillside through the underbrush where he’d been grazing. He’d heard the sound trucks made before. It meant something bad would happen soon. He looked to his left and right at the fifteen mountain gorillas that now constituted his troop. There used to be more, nearly twenty. One or two had drifted away to form new groupings, but most had fallen to the ravages of the creatures who now drove up in their noisy, smelly machines. He would have to move again. When his bipedal cousins arrived, the ones who dug in the earth and hunted his kind, it would be unwise to linger. Now he must make his third move in as many months. The area he could comfortably control had become smaller with each of these moves and he would soon be crowding the neighboring troop and that could lead to a different sort of conflict.
He took inventory of his family. The young male who would someday pose a threat to his leadership was not in sight. He called out. Heads jerked up, some from dozing. No response from the male. Patriarche lumbered off his haunches and shuffled toward the sound of the engines. Then he heard the crack of the rifle and the scream of the missing male. He turned and signaled for the others to follow him. They would go higher and deeper into the forest.
The coltan miners had arrived.
# # #
It had taken more money in bribes than he’d planned to spend to cross the borders from the Congo into Zambia and thence into Botswana. His cash supply had dwindled. Border guards wanted stable currencies—Euros, Pounds, or Dollars— always in short supply in these parts. Money changers charged exorbitant fees for them. And then, Botlhokwa’s man had been especially greedy. Somehow he’d imagined with the connection to the ranger that there would be free, or at least cheap, access to the park. He wouldn’t worry about that now. He’d pass the costs along to his sponsors in any case. It just angered him that this person had taken advantage of the cause. Different arrangements must be made before the next run.
He’d managed to slip through the fence where he’d been told without incident, and now bounced along in the dark with only night vision goggles to show him the way. He wondered what he’d allowed himself to commit to, how many more times he’d have to make this or a similar trip to some other river, some other alien outback. Fanaticism was one thing, practicality quite another. He steered through the bush with caution. Jungles he knew. The bush might be similar, but in the challenges it presented it was different, or so it seemed to him.
He kept his eyes on the GPS device he’d been provided, steer- ing toward the coordinates set earlier. When the device emitted a gentle beep he braked and shut down the engine. With the motor off, he lowered the windows to allow air to circulate. It was hot and humid in the Chobe National Park. Perhaps there would be rain. He’d heard of the drought in the country. Everyone had. It constituted one of the reasons he sat alone in the middle of the game park in the early morning hours. He adjusted his night vision goggles and surveyed his surroundings. His view was defined by the infra-red signatures, the glowing shades of green that merged into form from the darkness and then passed by him as if underwater. A few gazelle drifted by in the dark, grazing with a larger herd of kudu. Bright emerald points marked their eyes. They seemed skittish. A predator must be close by. As if on cue, a pack of hyenas, ghost-like in the green glow, drifted into view. The kudu wheeled and faced them, heads lowered, horns shining in the dim light. The pack hesitated. Should they risk a slashing and possibly lethal foray against those horns, or not?
The crack of the rifle scattered the animals in all directions. The driver of the Land Rover never heard it. By the time the sound of the report would have reached his ears the projectile, traveling at something like fifteen hundred feet per second, had reduced the left side of his skull to wet confetti. The right side, that facing the shooter, bore only a small but very ugly entry wound. The impact knocked him sideways. His arm pressed the horn button and it continued to wail until a late model Toyota Land Cruiser pulled along side. Its driver alit and looked in the truck, staggered back with a curse, and waved his companion out of the second vehicle. He shoved the body away from the steering wheel. The arm fell away and the horn went silent. The second man stepped from the passenger side, glanced into the truck, and saw the body. He too, cursed. Then he walked to the rear of the Land Rover, removed four large bundles which he transferred to the Toyota, and slammed the rear closed. His partner released the hand brake on the Land Rover and the two of them shoved it forward. It gained momentum and rolled down the gentle grade toward the water. Satisfied it would go far enough—hopefully into the river itself—they brushed their footsteps away with a frond from a nearby bush, backed, turned, and drove away.
The Land Rover with its corpse came to rest in a shallow wash several hundred meters down the track.
# # #
Andrew Takeda had the Hi-Lux in gear and had started toward his contact when he heard the shot. He froze, foot pressed against the clutch and brake pedals, and still positioned behind the stand of acacia where he’d parked while he waited for the delivery from the Congo. He watched as the new Toyota SUV drove up and two men alit, watched as they unloaded the Land Rover, watched as they drove away. Who? No, not who. What sort of person disliked this particular mission so much they would kill an innocent man and destroy material that could heal and restore the planet? He waited until they were well away, reversed and drove off in a different direction.
This was not good.
# # #
Yuri Greshenko had never struck Leo Painter as one to gush. His checkered past had taught him caution in his speaking. Caution with a capital C—taciturn hardly covered it. Yet he waxed ecstatic on this bit of sporting news.
“Why? Because it’s the biggest sports event in the world, Mr. Painter. Bigger than the Super Bowl and your World Series combined. Bigger even than the summer Olympics. That’s why. It’s an opportunity for us that will not come again in years, maybe ever. The bookings are pouring in.”
“Which means what, exactly?”
“Money. There will be millions of people flooding into South Africa for the football—”
“You mean soccer.”
“Everywhere in the world, it’s called football except in the USA, Australia, and maybe New Zealand, but that’s not the point. If we can finish the hotel and the casino in time, you could have a very big payday. The hotel at least.”
“The event is in South Africa and it involves soccer fans—” “Football fans.”
“Okay, football fans. I’ve seen some of those fans on television. I’m not sure I want a gang of drunken thugs from Manchester or Spain piling into my casino and wrecking the place.”
“Those are not the only people who are attending, I do not think, and if they do, they will not be the ones interested in flying north to the Chobe for relaxation at a high-end hotel and casino. Think about this instead—Sheiks from Dubai, oil men from Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, capitalists, autocrats, communists even, all with a great deal of money to spend. There is a rumor that some Koreans will be in the Okavango, plus movie stars, celebrities, and the beautiful people.”
“The what? You read too many magazines, Yuri. Beautiful People? I have yet to discover anything beyond the physical that could fairly be described as beautiful about any of them, and even the physical bit is a stretch for some.”
“Nevertheless, these people will attend the matches. There is a limit to how much time the super rich will rub shoulders with the hoi polloi. Then they will be interested in our Chobe International Lodge and Casino. We can put large screen televisions in the gaming room and make book on the matches.”
“If you say so. It’s not exactly a sport that plays well in the States.”
“Your USA team is in the mix. They could be a sleeper. They very nearly defeated Brazil earlier. Think of the possibilities.”
“Brazil? I should be impressed by that? What is significant about nearly defeating Brazil?”
“Brazil is consistently the top team in the world, or nearly so. Yes, to give them such a close match is an important measure of the quality of a team.”
Leo Painter sighed. He’d fixed his plans for the hotel and casino firmly in his mind. He had established a time line and saw no reason to alter it. Responding to this business meant changing things. He had stepped down as the president and CEO of Earth Global precisely because he wished to avoid this sort of hurry-up pressure. He no longer trusted his health, his heart in particular, to manage the stress of running the second largest mining and energy company in the world. He was content to serve as its chairman of the board, draw down an obscenely large compensation and benefits package, and dabble in projects like the hotel he was building on the Chobe River in northern Botswana. Putting himself into another high stress situation did not hold any appeal for him what-so-ever. Money, as his wife reminded him almost daily, was not everything. She was wrong, of course, but one recent near death experience convinced him that he might, in fact, have accumulated enough. Still as they say, money is money.
Yuri Greshenko was seven years younger, and had a concomitant energy reserve. Leo no longer tried to keep up with him. He thought it must have something to do with Yuri’s being born and raised in Siberia. Leo had visions of that vast land, youths trudging to school through waist deep snow, fighting off large bears or wolves, and being disciplined by steely eyed school masters in uniforms with billed caps and looking remarkably like Tom Courtney in Dr. Zhivago. Greshenko had tried to disabuse him of this picturesque but hopelessly romantic notion, but Leo clung to it. He preferred his history to be colorful and Hollywood, thank you. The real stuff was too depressing. Charlton Heston was Moses and if Oliver Stone wanted to give Jack Kennedy a pass, what was the harm in that?
“I think we should get more crews on the job. At the rate we’re going there will not be enough rooms. The labor market is very good here. We can do it.”
“Can they pour concrete, set footings? We need experienced people.”
“Our problem is not with the locals, Leo. Of course we can get that kind of labor. The problem is whether our Finnish module suppliers can manufacture and ship the rooms faster.” The hotel and casino had been designed to allow a quick and efficient build. Greshenko, calling on one of his myriad and, Leo thought, suspect connections, had discovered a firm in Finland that prefabricated rooms and suites for cruise ships. The modules were delivered completely furnished with en suite bath and were slipped into a steel framework. Plumbing and wiring were modular and accessible through a single back panel. They could just as easily be bolted into place on a permanent framework on land. The design/build team had easily reconfigured the ship modules to accommodate single and two room units. They arrived weekly at the Cape Town Container Terminal to be off-loaded and carried by truck to Kasane and thence to the Lodge.
“Absolutely. And also investors, Leo, new, foreign investors. We can make money and we can acquire partners. The government will be happy to see new and diversified investment in the country. If a nation has its foot in the door, so to speak…” “Okay, okay, I get it. You talk to the Finns, I’ll talk to the construction crew. We’ll explain all this to the Board and Travis Parizzi after the fact. Send him the bill. What’s he going to do, fire me?”