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