HIT MAN KILLS HIS PREY
After landing, Patrick left the engines running. “I’ll pick you up by nine tomorrow morning,” he said. “If you aren’t here I assume you won’t come. The driver knows how to contact me, just in case. Be careful.”
Yves and Pierre unloaded their bags and walked to the SUV while Patrick taxied away, paused for a moment, then took off.
The driver took their bags, but Yves held on to his rifle case.
They reached the camp by nightfall, driving partially over dirt roads and through savanna grass. The driver also did not stay and said he would pick them up between seven and eight the next morning when they were expected to return from their expedition.
Pierre led Yves to the captain. All his twenty rangers roaming around in the base were fully armed uniformed soldiers. At 2.30 in the morning they would move through the bush to the rebel camp in Soudan, where Mombé had been spotted, and attack at the slightest emergence of daylight. The border between the Central African Republic and Soudan was invisible in this area. Only the road to Khartoum had small customs offices. First, Yves would focus on Mombé, kill him, and then the rangers would take care of his men. They’d confiscate whatever catches of ivory they could find, and pile it up for transport to their main base. Yves asked Pierre how the rangers would find their way in the dark. To his utter surprise they all had night goggles.
“The rangers battling the poachers are an elite group,” is all that Pierre said. Yves found this peculiar, but dropped further questions. It was to his advantage that the rangers were combat ready, whatever the motive.
The captain took Yves to a small tent where he spent a few uncomfortable hours. Insects bit his neck and cheeks and he kept slapping himself. About two thirty, Pierre entered and told him the captain was assembling his men.
“One question,” Yves said. “Why hire me for this job and not a sniper from the French army base in Bangui? They must know these rangers, perhaps even train them.”
“The Government doesn’t like the French,” Pierre said. “Come, we must go.”
Yves didn’t like the way Pierre brushed off his question, but at this point it didn’t make a difference.
They waded through high grass in pairs. Rangers up front used their machetes to cut away a path, but did so as silently as possible. After an hour walk, they stopped. The stench of rotting flesh filled the air. One ranger flashed his torch on the ground and they saw the speared carcass of an elephant, tusks removed. The elephant’s head was riddled with bullets.
Yves felt disgusted. His crime syndicate dismembered dead rivals, but elephants? All of a sudden he felt good about killing Mombé.
Moving the team forward some 50 yards in fresher air, the captain halted and sent out two scouts to check out Mombé’s camp and recommend a suitable shooting spot for Yves.
After half an hour they came back and talked in an indistinguishable language to the captain. Pierre and Yves joined him. The scouts had identified Mombé’s camp but there were guards. A large tree stood at the edge from where Yves could aim, but an SUV was parked underneath watched by a guard.
The captain selected two of his men to accompany Yves to eliminate the guard. One of the two scouts would lead the way. The captain handed Yves his flare gun to warn them if he got in trouble or when he had eliminated Mombé, which would be the signal to attack the camp. He ordered Pierre to stay behind as he wanted to limit as much as possible the chances of the advance team being detected.
Yves left with the three men in the dark and struggled for some fifteen minutes through high savanna grass and bush, until the scout raised his hand. Yves could see the curves of some tents and the shape of the roof of an SUV underneath an acacia tree. A guard stood leaning against the vehicle, his AK-47 resting beside him on the ground. The only way for Yves to climb that tree would be to kill the guard without a sound. He designated one of the rangers with a signal of slicing his neck. The ranger understood and left. A few minutes later he heard a soft gurgle, then silence. They kept huddling down in the grass, waiting for the ranger to return, hoping the gurgle had not alarmed anyone in the camp. Yves looked at his watch. Four thirty. Soon, dawn would break.
The ranger came back with a mean grin on his face, carrying the AK-47 as a trophy. Yves assembled his rifle from its case, slid the magazine in place and left, leaving the case with the scout. Ducking to stay covered, he arrived at the acacia tree and climbed up as high as he could. He counted several small tents. Mombé should hopefully be holed up in one of them. Two guards stood outside one, probably his. He adjusted his telescope and waited.
After five minutes which seemed hours, he heard mumbling and saw movements in one tent. Yves held his Remington ready. Two shirtless men came out of a tent and went to relieve themselves. Others followed. When would they discover that one of the guards had disappeared? There was no time left. First thing they would do was look at the SUV and then spot him right above and he would be toast. Where was Mombé? Was he or was he not in the camp?
Pearls of sweat formed on his forehead. The horizon was lightening up making him visible and when it would get brighter the poachers would shoot him out of the tree like a monkey. And if he didn’t shoot his flare gun, the rangers would attack the camp as soon as daylight broke, whether he’d shot Mombé or not, thinking he’d been caught or was dead.
A half-naked man came out of the tent where the two guards were keeping watch and went to the same place to relieve himself. It was Mombé. Yves aimed and shot him twice in the head. For a moment Mombé kept standing, then doubled over and fell forward. His guards, who’d given him his privacy, didn’t notice. Yves shot the flare gun twice and let himself almost fall from the tree, keeping his Remington in one hand but dropping the flare gun.
Immediate confusion reigned in the camp. Poachers frantically went for their rifles and looked around to shoot, but by then Yves had fled. Next, the rangers attacked and Yves heard loud shooting from all sides. Hiding in the high grass, he couldn’t see anything, but the fight lasted at least fifteen minutes. Then it became awfully quiet. Slowly, Yves moved up just enough to see what had happened. He came out of his hiding and walked into the camp. The rangers were walking amidst at least a dozen dead bodies.The surprise attack had been fully successful but the captain had lost two of his own. Yves shook his hand. “Bien fait,” he said. “It worked.” Pierre came along and shook his hand, too. One of the rangers photographed Mombé’s body.
Together with the captain, Yves and Pierre inspected the remainder of the camp. The captain pointed him to a heap of tusks stored for transport.
PHOTO TONY KARUMBA, AFP
“The booty,” he grumbled, shaking his head.
TO BE CONTINUED