Last story ended after Yves shot Mombé and the rangers killed his poaching tribe.
“Can we get this Land Rover to work, to get back in time?” Yves asked.
The captain called one of his rangers. The man opened the hood, peeped inside, searched with his fingers and fiddled with the wires. It took him fifteen costly minutes but it didn’t work.
“Look in Mombé’s pockets or his tent there,” Yves suggested. “He may have kept the keys himself.”
They found them in a small plastic toilet bag next to his filthy mattress.
“Did anyone keep my rifle case?” Yves asked. The captain ordered one of his men to get it from the place where they’d been hiding.
The same man drove Yves and Pierre back to their base, where they found the Highlander waiting. Close to eight in the morning and still an hour drive.
Patrick’s Cessna stood ready to go. Everything was working according to plan. Seemed like one of his many missions accomplished.
By eleven o’clock, they landed at Bangui airport, as scheduled. Jean-Baptiste drove them in the Minister’s SUV. But he didn’t take the Avenue des Martyrs that led to the ministry and went left to the Avenue de l’Indépendance.
“Where are we going?” Yves nerves went on full alert.
“To the Minister’s residence,” answered Pierre, grinning, looking at him.
Yves didn’t understand. “The agreement was that I would get my money at the Minister’s office.”
“The Minister changed his mind,” Pierre said, coolly.
“How did you learn about that?” Yves asked.
“Jean-Baptiste just told me at the airport.” Pierre stared ahead of him and didn’t elaborate.
Yves wished he’d kept his rifle case with him in the event he had to flee, but the job finished, he had stored it in the back of the SUV. Big mistake. But his pistolet MAT 49 rested safely in the holder under his fatigue.
They drove past the French Embassy and several luxury residences, probably rented out to foreigners of international agencies or inhabited by members of the higher ranking political class. Jean-Baptiste stopped in front of a wrought iron gate of a large property surrounded by high concrete walls, topped by razor wire and spikes.
“The Minister’s home?” Yves asked.
“Yes,” Pierre said.
A guard inside holding an AK-47 opened the gate. They drove in and parked in front of a free-standing garage. Jean-Baptiste guided them through a side door of the house into an immense living room, fully furnished with sofas and long chairs, looking out on a terrace and a sprawling swimming pool.
The Minister rose from a long chair on the terrace, put on his colorful gown and slid into his sandals.
“I heard Mombé is gone,” he said, his face not revealing a trace of emotion. “Let me take you to my office.”
Yves followed him, but his instincts told him something wasn’t right. Still, he wanted his money. He stayed behind Pierre, on his guard. The Minister went through the front door, turned left to a large building at the side of the compound and opened its sliding door. His office?
“Come inside, and have a look,” the Minister said, smirking, closing the sliding door. Pierre stood beside him, grinning.
Yves stood looking at a hangar chock-full of tusks displayed on the floor, as well as AK-47 and other arms. Mombé had been a rival. Reason why they didn’t want a French army sniper. Either they wanted him as an accomplice or they wanted him out of the way, and neither was an option. He grabbed his Mat 49 and shot Pierre in the head. Pierre slumped on the floor right in front of the Minister. The Minister froze, tried to flee, but Yves warned, “You stay right here, Monsieur le Braconnier. You tell Jean-Baptiste to bring my money or you’ll be gone, too. I have Legionnaire friends here and you know it.”
The Minister yelled for Jean-Baptiste. Yves hid his pistol in his fatigue. Jean-Baptise arrived, staring baffled at dead Pierre.
“Bring the money,” the Minister ordered.
“Alone, and no tricks” Yves added.
Jean-Baptiste left, puzzled, and came back later with the same type of brown envelope Yves had received in the plane, but much larger.
“Open it,” Yves said, “show it.”
Yves reached into the envelope holding his pistol aimed at the Minister. The Euros were neatly bundled in packs of one hundreds.
“Count them aloud showing me the inside,” Yves said.
Jean-Baptiste did as told and by the time he reached fifty, Yves ordered him to stop. He grabbed the envelope.
“Shut the hangar and bring the car,” Yves said. When the SUV stopped near him, he said to Jean-Baptiste, nudging his pistol in the Minister’s side, “Open the back of the SUV.” He took out his rifle case with his left hand. “Close it,” Jean-Baptiste did. Yves pushed the Minister onto the front seat. “To Sofitel,” he hissed, and sat in the back. “No false moves.”
The SUV drove past the guard who opened the gate, seemingly unaware of what had happened as the hangar was out of his sight. Arriving at the Sofitel, Yves told Jean-Baptiste to leave him the SUV’s keys and to come with him and the Minister to his room. “Don’t say a word, just smile. I keep my pistol aimed at you from my pocket.”
The receptionist in the lobby smiled at the Minister and Jean-Baptiste, who remained stoic, and rushed to push the elevator button for them. He didn’t seem suspicious.
Carrying his rifle case and the envelope in one hand, Yves elbowed his two hostages friendly inside with the other, thanking the receptionist. On the fourth floor he pushed them into his room, and locked the door behind him. He offered the Minister the only chair at the small desk and sat on his bed, keeping his weapon ready.
“Never double-cross a Legionnaire,” he said. “You stay here until I’m gone. If you try to come after me, I’ll inform the French Embassy of your tusks.”
Jean-Baptiste stared at him, his eyes full of hate. The Minister had a mocking expression on his face, as if he didn’t believe what was happening to him. Yves took his duffel bag, put the envelope in it, and closed it. He knifed the telephone cord, left, locked the door behind him, slid his pistol into its holder underneath his fatigue, took the elevator down, passed through the lobby without looking at the receptionist and went for the SUV. Knowing he had little time, he drove to the fishermen’s site at the Oubangui River where he’d gone a few years before. Three fishermen were sitting at the riverbank beside their pirogues, smoking and chatting.
“Take me across the river to a safe place,” he said to them. He held the SUV’s keys in the air and pointed to it. “Yours.”
When he walked onto the opposite shore, he was sure they would be looking for him at the airport or on Bangui’s exit roads, as few would figure he’d fled across the river into the DRC, even though it was a favorite escape route for overthrown presidents and other threatened high officials.
Two weeks later, another set of rebels overtook Bangui, in a never-ending battle over diamonds and territory. The Minister and Jean-Baptiste probably fled or succumbed. The rebels would find the tusks, fight over them, and kill more poor elephants. If he’d stayed with the Foreign Legion, he would most likely have been sent there again to keep locals from slaughtering each other. Useless. Better enjoy a few weeks at the Côte d’Azur.
HIT MAN ARRIVES
The airplane coming from Douala, Cameroon, shuddered, swayed and bumped while landing in a thunderstorm and hit the runway hard. The pilot scoffed that his poor landing was typical for the Boeing 737.
At the Bangui M’Poko airport terminal, Yves Bret, a lean brown-haired athletic man, and other passengers stumbled down a shaky metal stair truck, carrying their cabin bags, in pouring rain. Drenched, they stood in line for two operating immigration boots, in steaming heat, cooled by slowly moving ceiling fans. Their luggage bobbled soaking wet on a worn-out conveyor band.
A tall white man wearing a South-African ranger hat stood waiting in the arrival hall. Yves recognized him from the picture he’d sent.
“Pierre Lamont,” he said in French. “I’ll take you to your hotel. The Minister will receive you at 2:00 this afternoon. Your luggage is being taken care of.”
He meant Yve’s special case with his Remington XM sniper rifle inside that couldn’t go through customs.
Yves was casting himself as a reporter for a French paper sent to the Central African Republic to investigate the slaughter of elephants for contraband ivory sales, but his real mission was to kill a Sudanese rebel head who led his bands in this gruesome trade. Yves was known to be quick and efficient.
Yves’ parents were French-Algerian, nicknamed “pieds-noirs” (black feet) in France. Many of them fled to France after the French-Algerian colonial war that ended in 1962 with Algeria’s independence. Yves was five when he saw his parents shot by Algerian soldiers when they were trying to flee. An uncle of his with many children of his own took him to France but had put him in an orphanage in Toulouse. Yves had grown up as an angry young man and joined the French Foreign Legion in the hope he would be sent back to Algeria to kill as many Algerian soldiers as possible but it never happened. Because of his steady hand, excellent vision and bravery he was selected to become an elite sniper and served in Bosnia and Kosovo in 1994 and in the Central African Republic in 1996. Burned out as an army sergeant, he deserted because the money wasn’t good enough and he became a contract killer for a French crime syndicate, before offering himself free-lance. His work in the crime syndicate had made him ruthless and his handlers knew they could count on him.
His nick-name was Hit Man.
Deep in his heart he knew his parents would never have approved of his life. He cherished their picture his uncle had left him and kept it in his wallet. He’d shown it once to a girlfriend at secondary school in Toulouse, thinking he was in love with her, but as soon as she found out he was a “pied noir” she’d left him. After that incident, he always felt inferior approaching a French girl. His parents were from reputable families in Algeria, but in France he felt rejected and second class.
He had many kills behind him. Even though he knew that one day he would be killed himself, he had remained fearless, as he had nothing to lose, no family to speak of, no woman, and except the occasional pute, no real friends.
Pierre led him outside around the corner of the terminal to a small office to collect his special case. A man in casual dress handed it to him, unopened. Pierre drove him to the Sofitel, situated on a hill overlooking the idyllic Oubangui River that went all the way to Brazaville. The Democratic Republic of the Congo bordered the other side of the river. If anything went wrong in Bangui, he was set to flee somewhere down the river, using a fisherman’s pirogue.
At 2:00 p.m. he sat in a plastic leather chair in the Interior Minister’s anteroom, paneled with local tropical woods. A Central African national entered, dressed in a civil suit and tie. “Jean-Baptiste,” he introduced himself. Sitting opposite Yves, he went into complete silence, reading a magazine published by the Minister’s political party, not even looking at him. At the moment Yves wanted to break the ice to find out who he was, the hefty wooden door of the anteroom opened and a male assistant asked him to follow him into the Minister’s office. He got up, as did Jean-Baptiste.
The assistant assigned Yves a seat in front of the Minister’s desk, which shone empty of any clutter or even a smidgen of dust, then disappeared again through another heavy wooden door. Jean-Baptiste remained standing behind him. Yves assumed he was an aide of the Minister. The large office featured several wide windows looking out on the yard around the ministry, shadowed by half-dead-looking baobab trees.
Suddenly, the Minister entered and briskly sat at his desk. His broad face, dark eyes, and bald head painted an unscrupulous image. He held a ballpoint pen in his thick fingers and tapped it in a continuous rattle on a notebook full of black nervous scratches on the cover. Without small talk, the Minister said, “My assistant, Jean Baptiste, will take you to the airport later this afternoon. A small airplane will fly you and Monsieur Lamont to the north-east near the Sudanese border, about one hour and a half from here. Monsieur Lamont will give you information about your target in the plane. A driver will take you to the target area. I will expect you back here tomorrow morning at 11:00 a.m., mission accomplished, to receive the rest of your fee.”
“In Euros please, cash,” Yves said, staring at the Minister.
The Minister nodded, rose, and without further looking at Yves, exited the office through the same door.
Jean-Baptiste signaled Yves to come with him, walked to a grey Toyota Highlander in the parking lot in front of the Ministry, and drove him back to his hotel, saying he would pick him up one hour later.
In his room, overlooking the swimming pool, Yves sighted a few white women sunbathing, their bras off, and wearing minuscule thongs. A surge of lust shot through him. But, unfortunately, he had to change into military fatigue. He opened his duffel bag and got dressed for work, then inspected his Remington, gave it another cleaning, checked the trigger housing, magazine charger and optical scope, and shut it carefully back into its case, together with the night vision goggles he might need. He stuck his loaded pistolet mittrailleur MAT 49 he’d kept from the army in his inner pocket, in case he got double crossed, as was often the case in bandit land. From his previous experience as a “Legionnaire” in the Central African Republic in 1996, this was a necessary precaution.
Jean-Baptiste was sharply on time. He drove Yves to Bangui airport in less than fifteen minutes, passed through a heavy iron gate and stopped at a one-story office building. A couple of small planes stood parked aside.
“Monsieur Lamont is inside waiting for you, with the pilot,” he said. “Bonne chance. I’ll be here tomorrow morning as of ten to take you to the Minister.”
Inside the office, Pierre, also dressed in military fatigue, shook Yves’ hand and introduced him to the pilot as “Monsieur Yves, journaliste.” The pilot smirked, his eyes fixing Yves, probably thinking that someone in military fatigue didn’t look like the usual journalists he flew to the bush. His name was Patrick, he said. Square shoulders, average height, dark curly hair, rugged features. Yves guessed he was from the south of France.
The pilot guided them to his plane, a two-engine Cessna, and loaded their small bags into the shoot. Pierre sat with the pilot; Yves took a back seat.
The plane was fully equipped with a satellite system. Patrick started the engines, revving them up one by one, and punched in his beacons on the satellite board. Then he rolled to the runway, communicated with the tower and took off, heading north-east.
Underneath, the crowded patches of small corrugated roofed homes disappeared fast. Pierre reached into his brown leather shoulder bag, took out a brown envelope and handed it to Yves.
“Enclosed are the details. Take a good look.”
Several photographs of the Sudanese rebel leader showed up. Mombé Mwamba was his name. Tall, dressed in military fatigue, cap and boots, Ak-47 over his shoulders. His gangs, all heavily armed, operated in the Nyata-Ngaye zone, where bush elephants still roamed along the border with Sudan, near the Chinese-built road to Khartoum. Smugglers would ship the ivory to China’s new rich customers.
Jeune Afrique, Paris
Many elephants had been killed already lower down in the Zémongo reserve, also along the Sudanese border. Battles with poachers had been unsuccessful in stopping the assaults. Killing their leaders helped but not for long. But it gave the rangers, fighting to preserve wildlife for fauna and tourism, some time to regroup and strengthen their troops to pursue the unrelenting poachers with renewed vengeance.
Rangers were heavily armed as well. Their commander said it was outright war, but Mombé had always escaped into the bush when they attacked. A meticulous sharpshooter was needed to enter his camp to kill him before launching an attack. So that’s why they’d hired him? But why not get some sniper from the French army in Bangui? Would’ve been a lot cheaper. Was the Interior Minister averse of French meddling? Didn’t seem clear. He would ask Pierre when they were alone.
On arrival, a driver would take them to a rangers’ base. From there they would move through the savanna to track the poachers whose camp had recently been located.
He heard the pilot talking over his radio. The aircraft banked to the right, slowly descending.
”Birao,” Patrick announced.
Below, Yves spotted a small dirt landing strip. A bluish terrain SUV with a white roof stood waiting. Was it with him Patrick had communicated? The pilot made a brief circle, approached and touched down.
TO BE CONTINUED