The white clothed round table was laid for supper on the plain with Royal Doulton plates, ivory handled Lagouile knives and an array of food already lukewarm in the dusk. There was a bowl of bean salad coleslaw and a silver platter piled high with hunks of singed steaks, chops and hunks of flesh that buzzed with flies. Leo didn’t seem to notice, he sat alone, chewing his meat in voracious gulps, refilling his plate before it was empty, lest any go to waste.
He poured Jack a glass of Boekenhautskloof Semillon when he sat down. “Glad you could join us. Help yourself, there’s plenty to go around. I’m hungry as a horse, and you’ll need your strength up for the next stage.”
The sweet wine tasted sickly to Jack’s plebeian palate. He took a steak with a dollop of slaw to show willing, although he could still smell Abebe’s burnt flesh floating across the plain, and the singed meat reminded him of that. When he cut into the flesh, the blood oozing onto the plate made him nauseous, while Leo tore at his with greedy animalistic hunger.
“We’re continuing then,” said Jack.
Leo looked mock aghast, coughed and slurped more wine. “We most certainly are. Look, everyone’s upset about what happened, and it is terrible, it really is, but the villagers will be well looked after and compensated for their loss, and we will proceed. It was always going to be a tough tour, dangerous and bloody, but that’s what real adventures are.”
“It was unfortunate the beast we tracked found the village, but even the best hunter can’t always second guess an animal. It rampaged, and we were just that bit too late catching it before it took it’s prey. Lions really are man-eaters, and who knows how many more lives would have been lost if we weren’t there. We saved people last night, just not all of them.”
IT TAKES BIG SHOULDERS TO ADMIT A MISTAKE
It wasn’t just a story to Leo, he really did believe it. The heir was a fantasist, as those who spent too many years surrounded by yes men catering to their every whim often are. It takes big shoulders to admit a mistake. Unfortunately, being wrapped in a protective layer of delusion doesn’t broaden those shoulders, it only thins the skin. Leo was in world of his own, shielded from the truth of his flaws by sycophants, being rich enough to afford it.
“Obviously, it’s a shame to lose Ralph and Hennessy, but someone has to make sure the lion gets back home in one piece. Besides, I’ve known Ralph most of my life, and he’s never been much cop at anything really, just not made of stern enough stuff. As for Hennessy, well that’s been brewing a while now, getting a little bit too big for his boots I’m afraid. Drunk Scots may have their uses, but they’re not as handy as they think. Me, you and Toby can fill his role in our sleep, we really don’t need them.”
With his right hand man gone Leo needed a replacement, so the baitman was getting a promotion. Jack wasn’t a fantasist, he knew who and where he was. He was a man fallen as low as possible, who’d lost all he loved, desperate for revenge against those thieves he blamed, and Leo was his chance for that.
“No,” said Jack. “We don’t need them at all.”