Protected Species

Dawn filtered through the leafy hillside canopy, the game hunter’s campsite somnolent under it’s tranquil filter. Leo had slept by the fire, hugging his silver rifle like a teddy. Jack wasn’t sure if he’d slept or not, the night was spent staring into the flames, their reduction to glowing embers a painful reminder of all he’d lost.

A line from John Donne he’d learnt as a kid, epigraph to a Val Lewton chiller he’d been captured by, floated around his remorseful head. I run to Death, and Death meets me as fast, and all my Pleasures are like Yesterday. He was one of the hollow men, uncaring for his own well-being, joy dried out by a thirst for vengeance, willing an eventual reunion with past love he knew an impossible dream. Nothing but smoke.

He didn’t realise Blake was there until she spoke. “The fool fell asleep with a bullet in the chamber and the safety off,” she said, standing before him holding Leo’s rifle. She stared at Jack as he rose drowsily to his feet, blue eyes colder than any dew, her hands dextrously emptying the bullets, just as swiftly replacing the cartridge with one from her pocket, clicking it into place.

“I know guns. My father made this for Leo, just for today. He’s had a different one made for every hunt, different bullets for every animal he wants.” She weighed the rifle in her hands, almost caressing it.

“Bespoke fitting, ornate detailing, beautiful craftsmanship, best in the world, my father. There’s a difference between making something and buying it, even if it is a special order. Takes real skill to make this, but just luck to afford it. Some people don’t understand that skill, the years of experience, the time it takes to attain knowledge that can’t be bought, the love and pride it brings.” She shrugged. “I even load each gun for Leo, to make sure it’s in working order.”


Blake levelled the rifle straight at Jack’s chest. “What type of bullet do you think is suitable to shoot an ape?” The corners of her mouth curled up, but there was no joy in the smile. “Do you think the animal realises it’s about to die when someone points a funny looking stick at it? Would it know fear as a man does?”

She pulled the trigger, the barrel flashed and the boom ripped the air, startling the canopy above them in a flurry of movement as birds and animals took flight. Leo jolted awake, wide eyed and rolling in the dirt. The native guides shouted, bewildered by this latest white mischief. Jack grabbed his stomach with frantic hands, but found it unbroken.

“Just blanks,” she said. “Like I said, I know guns. Men too.” She turned to her fiancee. “Wake up sleepy head, you’ve got a big day today. I’ll look after this while you have breakfast.”

She marched back to her tent, carrying the rifle. Her job was done, the camp was awake. Staff bustled around to prepare their employers for the day, the fire was relit, coffee brewed, sausage and beans cooked in a pot and fed to them in enamel bowls. Toby looked weary, while Leo brightened up with each minute, the impending excitement of his kill filling him with a youthful energy unshared by the group.

It was no surprise to Jack when Blake refused the climb up to the gorilla’s domain when it was time to leave. If Leo was perturbed his frown was swiftly smoothed by a long kiss and an extravagant crotch fondle. She handed him back his rifle. “Locked, cocked and ready to rock.”

“That’s my girl,” said Leo, waving goodbye as he, Toby, Jack and two Congolese guides began the knee bracing climb back up the mountain for the heir’s next conquest. She avoided Jack’s gaze, and when he started to wonder what bullets their artillery was carrying, caught himself, realising he already knew the answer.

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