17: Ghosts in the mist

They crept forward slowly, parting the huge jungle fronds to get a better view of the gorillas. Up in the Congo highlands, clouds topped the peaks, and the white ghosts trod carefully so as not to disturb their potential prey. It was afternoon, but a morning dew permanently coated the leaves and branches, the air thick with brackish humidity.

There were eight in the family they could see. Hugely muscled, black furred, lazily palming each other in the thick grass. A mother nestled her infant, as a human would. A bull rose twice the size of the others, sheer strength defining his leadership, and would occasionally glance in the direction of the white ghosts, to acknowledge, but was not disturbed by, their presence. No-one attacked these magnificent animals in the dense foliage of their mountain home. No-one dared.

“That’s the one,” said Leo.

The shooting party of Leo, Toby, Blake, Jack and two valley guides were not armed, this was just a reconnaissance trip from their base camp further down the mountain. Indeed, Blake had hinted that Leo’s desire for an ape in his collection may be extinguished if he watched them in their natural habitat. Hope in one hand, shit in the other, thought Jack, see which fills up first.

Nevertheless, watching the peaceful, loving creatures it was astounding to think anyone would want to murder them. What glory could there be in the extinction of a peaceful herbivore? Especially one so closely related to our own species, unless that was the point. He still struggled with the spin Leo could conjure to justify such a crime, until the delusional heir explained.

“We found an injured baby that had been bitten by a snake, and made the well-intentioned mistake of taking it back to base for urgent medical attention. Unfortunately, it’s cries brought the rampaging Kong father to our camp, where it took the lives of two natives, and was about to crush a valiant doctor’s skull with one powerful fist, before a bullet took his. He loved his own too much, and that was his downfall. Luckily, the child fully recovered, and now happily resides in Hyde Park Zoo.” Well, there you go, thought Jack. Illogical, irrational, and 100% Leo.

The journey there had been easier for Jack after his promotion. Leo had even lent him some of his wardrobe, a jacket, some spare shirts and trousers, all in the colonial attire of the heir’s beloved Victorian adventurer theme. They were the same height and build, and the threads fitted well.

“You could be brothers,” said Toby.

Leo almost withdrew the loan, before he laughed the comment off. “Doubtful,” he muttered.

At first Jack had travelled up front with the three aristos, now that Ralph and Hennessy’s seats were spare, until Toby had politely taken him aside for a quiet chat, and was relegated to the rear. Despite the veneer of friendly banter, he was still the baitman, and staff were like the animals they hunted, it was best not to anthropomorphise them too much, lest the bullet’s aim be spoilt. That suited Jack too, respectful acrimony worked both ways.

Now, he crouched with his employers as they watched the gentle primates, casually plotting their murder. The apes were at one with their jungle environment, timeless in peaceful comfort, while the shooting party sweated and shifted uneasily, their incongruous garb alien to their surroundings, as were any notions of decency modern society had failed to instil in such a protected species.



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