Sunday, January 13, 2019

The Hundredth Lion



From Beneath a Hunters Sky© by John Bascom at Amazon.com

THE HUNDREDTH LION©
by John Bascom
Part I of II


I
've thought of it every day since, but still am not sure exactly what really happened, or why.  After all, who could possibly know?  Other than maybe me.
One who hunts Africa for a living develops an eerie sense of intuition.  As when
following up on a poorly shot nyati in an impenetrable jesse thicket and it is oddly quiet or some­how the breeze is too still or there is that faint, ambiguous aroma.  Yet the seasoned professional hunter, hammered by experience against the anvil that is Africa, inexplicably knows an instant before it happens—the black explosion of the dying buffalo from the thick brush, the terrifying, grunting rush, the breath-sucking close, lowered and twisting horns of the gigan­tic animal that stood impossibly hidden seconds before only feet away.  When the PH anticipates, not the details, but the foreboding sense of the kind of trouble that is about to be thrust upon him.  And it is just such an edgy sixth sense of im­pending though ill-defined mayhem that one experiences when first meeting the rare train wreck of a very bad client.
“Brian Cassidy.”  He stood close and said it loudly, showing his big, professionally whitened teeth in an open-mouthed smile.  His right arm dangled at his side while his left hand touched the hefty digital camera that hung from a strap around his neck.  “So this is the Chewore,” he said with neither admiration nor amazement, but more as if assessing a situa­tion that required his evaluation. 
“Ian Lentos.”  I held out my hand.  “I'll be your PH for the safari.”
The charter pilot had already popped the luggage com­partment hatch and began unloading the gear.  A slightly built young blonde woman pushed the copilot seat forward and slid unaided from the Centurion's cramped back seat, cautiously taking the long step onto the footpad attached to the landing gear strut.  She lowered herself to the ground with all the grace she could muster.
I see this one's not waiting for his buffalo or lion, but has brought his own trophy, I thought.  The wife was easily more than a decade younger than the mid-forties client.  Un­like the makeup-and-hairspray-sculpted wives of some clients, with their carefully crafted good looks, this woman possessed a windblown, bare-skinned natural beauty that was impossible to ignore.
She moved to the left and a half step behind her hus­band, literally in his shadow cast by the high, hot August Zambezi Valley sun. 
“I'm Emily Cassidy.”  She smiled softly while extending her right hand.  Her blue eyes met and held mine in a way that was warm and friendly and nothing more.
“Ian Lentos, Madam Cassidy.  Welcome to Chewore.”  I took her right hand lightly in mine.
“Emily, please…” she said.
We loaded everything in the back of the bush-lorry and headed down the dust-billowing two-track toward the Chenje River tent camp, my client, Cassidy, riding in the cab with me, and his wife up on the padded seat above the open truck bed for the view.
Back at camp the clients settled in before Cassidy and I drove to the range to sight his rifle.
“Take a look at this baby,” he said, handing me his per­fectly engraved, choice-stocked double safari rifle.
I hefted and examined it with feigned interest.  Almost every client during my twelve-odd years of professional hunt­ing has insisted for some reason on showing me his weapon to admire.  I'd seen them all time and again, and the only thing remarkable about his was its pristine, barely used condition as if it had just come from the box.
“Nice,” I said.  “Have you gotten comfortable with it?”
“I had it custom made for me by Blaser.  It's chambered in .458 Lott.  A classic.  None of those peashooter loads.  The stock and engraving are their imperial grade.”
“How does it shoot?”  I was more worried about his marksmanship and experience than the aesthetics of the rifle.
“If you have to ask how much it costs, you can't afford it,” he laughed.
“I'm only too aware of the cost of these doubles,” I said.  “That's why I've had my beat-up Winchester 70 standard bolt action for a dozen years.  All I can afford.”
“I'll guarantee it's more than your house.  When you get to a hundred thousand, just keep going.”
“How well do you shoot it?” I asked.  The rifle was short and massive, well over twelve pounds.  The usual iron express sights on these old-school doubles were topped on his with a long, variable Swarovski scope that cost more than a brand new version of my rifle.
“I've been shooting since I was a boy.  I just got this one and have only had it to the range once.  But I know well enough what I'm doing.”
His three-shot group at a hundred meters was barely passable but not a cause for concern.
“We'll start in the morning by collecting bait for your lion.  We've scouted some nice tracks along the banks of the M'Kunga and Maura.  A few cats were following buffalo spoor up in the hills as well.  We can start after your nyati straight off and use the carcass if we're lucky for meat at a few likely lion spots.  Pick up some impala and chance plains game we come across.  Can't have too much bait.”
We left camp an hour before dawn the next morning, Cassidy and me up front as before with my tracker Levitt and all-around man Marusi back in the truck bed.  It didn't take long for my misgivings about this client to be realized.
We rounded a bend in the track among scattered mo­pani and thornbush when I saw a very nice warthog boar hur­rying stiff-legged and tail erect through the brush.  It was per­haps seventy meters off the trail.  I stopped abruptly and we hopped out.  Levitt handed the big double down to Cassidy.
“Not much meat for lions, but it'll give us some nice meals back at camp,” I said.  I set up the shooting sticks and motioned Cassidy forward.  “Take it when you're comfortable.”
The hog trotted another ten meters and stopped to look back just as the client fired.  The animal dropped immediately and lay kicking wildly.
We rushed forward.  The shot had struck mid-body be­hind the ribs, leaving an ugly gut exit wound.  The warthog continued to thrash on the ground.
“Put another in him,” I said.
The client stood there grinning.  “Would you look at that…”  He was bouncing from foot to foot.
“We need to finish him,” I said.
Cassidy handed me his camera.
“It's set on video.  Take a few seconds of me with the boar before it dies.  This'll be great.”
I pushed it back at him.
“Uraya i ne banga rako,” I said to Levitt in Shona.
He took a folding knife from his pocket, opened it, and carefully slid the long, thin blade deep into the downed ani­mal's chest low just behind its exposed shoulder.  The warthog shuddered momentarily, then was absolutely still.
“Why'd you do that?” Cassidy frowned.
“We take game as quickly and painlessly as possible,” I said calmly.  I thought he might just be simple-minded, but deep down I knew it wasn't true.  “It's just the way it's done.  An unspoken code of conduct here.  It's not only about every­one's safety, but respect for our game animals as well.”  I walked quickly back to the lorry without waiting for Cassidy or his reply.
We spent the remainder of the day taking a few impala and a nice waterbuck bull without further incident.  We used the carcasses to bait several sites where lion tracks had been spotted before the client's arrival.
That evening at camp we enjoyed choice roasted wart­hog loin chops with a good red South African wine.  We ad­journed to the fire pit on the patio to have a final sundowner before retiring for the evening.
Cassidy was regaling everyone—his wife, our camp manager, Sharon and her husband, Jerry, and me—with his exploits of the day.  I noticed when he poured his third vodka and tonic, two-thirds of it alcohol, into a very tall water tum­bler.  I was still nursing my lone three fingers of scotch over two cubes, the ice just about completely gone.  The client's pretty, young wife, Emily, sat back from the fire reading a book, seemingly oblivious to her husband's ranting.
“Get a load of the little princess,” he said sarcastically after he realized she was ignoring him.  “Too good for this crowd.  As long as she has her designer jeans and credit cards, she wouldn't know if she were in Africa or Cincinnati.”
She carefully laid the book on the table next to her, then turned slowly toward her husband and forced a smile.  “You've had quite the productive day,” she said.  “I knew you would.” 
I could tell she was self-conscious.
“My biggest fan when I prod her,” he grinned.  “She's pretty and well behaved when reminded, even if not too smart.”  He laughed out loud.  “Just the way I like them.”
Emily said nothing for several seconds then rose from her chair to leave.  “I believe I'll freshen up before bed.”  She turned and walked into the dark toward their tent with that mesmerizing body motion shared by every magnificent woman.
The camp managers and I shifted uneasily in our seats.  The silence was obvious and awkward.
“We should all probably turn in,” I said at last.  “We'll have an early start tomorrow and try and follow up on that fresh buffalo sign we came across near the second bait site.”
Cassidy drained his drink and headed toward his tent.  Sharon looked at me with rolling eyes and a shaking head be­fore she and Jerry walked off.
I had remained by the fire alone for at least an hour when Emily emerged from the darkness and walked over to the place she had been sitting.
“I'm not going to be able to sleep for a bit,” she said.  “A touch of jet lag.  I came to collect my book.  Reading in bed al­ways helps me drift off, it seems.”
“Of course.  It works for me as well.”
“You two will doubtless have another big day tomorrow.  You'll want to get your sleep, too, I'm sure.”
“Are you all right?”  I'm not sure why I said it and was embarrassed as soon as the words left my mouth.
“Oh, yes…” she laughed unconvincingly.  “He just gets a tad wound up when he's had his drinks.  It's nothing.”
I got up and walked across the patio.  We both waited for the longest moment, not talking but neither making a move to leave.
“You're such a lovely woman,” I said slowly, “…with so much going for you.  I'm sure you know you're remarkably beautiful with an engaging manner.  And in the short time I—the staff here—have spent with you, obviously intelligent and educated.  Why…?”  I stopped myself before completing the thought.
“He's much different in his element back home,” she said, answering my unfinished question.  “He's smart, dy­namic, a leader.  He started a company years ago that has grown to be one of the most successful business software de­velopers in America.” 
I couldn't tell if she was more impressed with or intimi­dated by him.
“Just amazingly driven and capable.  Brian has been featured in Fortune and is a sought-after speaker nationally.”
“So that's enough?”
“We've travelled the world.  He provides everything I need or even want.  And he's very good to me.”
“Most of the time?” I said it with intentional irony.
“Honestly, he drinks like that rarely.  He's just so very excited about all this.”
“Forgive me, but I assume this isn't his first marriage.”  I suppose my three fingers of scotch were having their effect.
“For me it is, but Brian's first didn't work out.  Then we met—before he became successful in business, actually.  It was simply lovers' magnetism between us, I suppose.”  She had a soft, lilting laugh.  “But almost as soon as we met, it was obvious he was deeply in love.”
“With you,” I said, “or with himself?”  The scotch was definitely doing its work.  I was way out of line.
She turned and again walked slowly into the darkness.
After a few steps she paused and looked back over her shoulder.  “Goodnight,” she said without even the slightest hint of irritation.  I thought her soft lips suggested the faintest smile, but maybe it was my imagination.

The next morning Cassidy and I drove the forested hills and riverbanks looking for buffalo sign, but staying far from the areas we had baited with game taken the day before.
“We're after more lion bait right now,” I said.  “We'll go for a trophy later.  An old bull with broken horns or even a fat, barren cow will do.”
After several hours of scouting, Levitt, in the back, tapped the roof of the truck.  We all hopped out and examined the cluster of tracks across the sand road.
“These are quite fresh,” I told Cassidy after conferring with the Africans.  “And there look to be some big ones in this herd.  I suggest we follow up on these.”
The buffalo spoor led us through low swales between the hills, up on the ridge backs, down into stretches of brushy savannahs, and over hills again.  The going was hot and draining, but Cassidy—fit, muscular, and motivated—kept up the hard pace.  A few times we heard bellowing or saw splotches of black drifting well ahead through the jesse wil­lows, but the animals always moved on before we could get a good look.  Finally we worked up close on the herd grazing along more or less in an open area between two jesse stands.
“There's quite a nice bull in there,” I said, looking at the buffalos stretched out before us.  “He's better than simply a bait animal.  It's an old boy and the horns spread beyond forty inches.  The bosses are large and have a lot of character.”
“I see him,” Cassidy said excitedly. 
The animal was no more than fifty yards out and facing us, although clearly unaware of our presence behind a stand of brush.
“Take him when he turns broadside, low, directly in the shoulder.  Your first shot has to be good, so take your time and make it count.”  I set up the sticks.
Cassidy laid his big double .458 in the pocket formed by the crossing tops of the tripod of sticks, aimed carefully, and fired with the massive bull buffalo still facing us.  The animal pivoted at the shot and took off directly away from us.  I was surprised the hunter had not waited for the buff to turn side­ways as instructed, but with a huge, stationery target at only fifty yards it shouldn't have mattered much.
“ A chete atekeshura i.”
“Levitt says it was barely wounded,” I said to Cassidy.
“Yeah,” he replied.  “I intentionally hit it just inside the shoulder so we'd get to stalk a wounded buff, and maybe get him to charge.”
I could barely comprehend what I was hearing.  Still, we had a dangerously injured buffalo to deal with, and there was no time for discussion.  We all rushed forward and Levitt picked up blood spoor immediately.  We trailed the animal for a half hour, carefully picking our way through the jesse thickets into which it had run.  Finally we came upon him standing behind a dense clump of willows, only thirty yards ahead.
“Hit him in the shoulder cleanly,” I said, “or I will.”
Cassidy fired from the sticks and again the bull wheeled and ran.  It was a good shot this time.  I followed in the lead with Levitt then the client behind.  After only a few minutes we heard a loud, low, and long bellow.
“He's down!” I said.
We spotted the buffalo on the ground, lying on its side in an opening between jesse stands.  It was down hard but still moving.  We ran to a position where the prone animal's back was in front of us.  I raised my rifle as a precaution but waited for my client to finish him.
“Shoot between the shoulder blades,” I told Cassidy.
“I want to stand closer while he's moving and have you video me making the kill shot.”  His grin was gaping and ob­noxious.  He had uncased his camera and once again was pushing it toward me.
“Shoot him or I'm going to, even with you in front of me,” I commanded.
Cassidy scowled at me in disgust, turned, and fired into the buffalo's back.  It jerked hard and never moved again.
“For the love of God, did you hear nothing we talked about yesterday?” I yelled.
“That was exciting.”
“You could have gotten any one of us killed!”
“I was hoping he'd charge.  THAT would have been something.  I wasn't worried with my double and all, and you behind me.  What an experience.”
Marusi brought the lorry in, and we winched the huge old bull aboard.  On our way back toward camp, we came upon and collected two old calfless kudu cows, Cassidy taking them with an uncharacteristic clean, single shot each.  I dared to hope things were changing for the better.
Back at camp the skinners quartered the buffalo and kudus.  The Africans and I headed out again with the meat to check all our sites for activity and bait several more lion hides.  Cassidy remained at camp to avoid the menial and unpleasant tasks.  We drove the bush truck back toward the Chenje River compound well after the sun had set.

I missed the sundowners before dinner, but joined everyone around the fire pit afterwards just so the camp managers wouldn't be stuck alone with Cassidy.  He was hit­ting the vodka even harder than the previous evening.
“There's some news, Brian,” I said cheerily, wanting to confirm the next day's hunting plans before he became too al­cohol soaked to remember them.  “Levitt and Marusi went with me to check all the baits while heading out with the fresh meat earlier.”
Cassidy looked expectantly at me but said nothing.
“There's clear sign of lions hitting that one beneath the big acacia on the high bank above the Angwa.  A few very large tracks, too.  I suggest we give it a go first thing.  The boys set up a proper blind atop the little rise about eighty-odd meters out.  But we'll have to sneak in early, at least an hour before first shooting light, if we're to have a chance.  Are you up for that?”
I took his glare to mean “yes.”  He seemed to still be pouting from the words we exchanged about the manner in which he took the buffalo.
“Mr. Lentos,” Emily said after a lengthy, uncomfortable pause in the conversation, “your speech betrays you as a fellow American.  How long have you been here in Zimbabwe?  There must be a story there.” 
I think she simply wanted to distract things from her husband's dismal mood display.
“Everyone calls me Ian.  And I came here as a very young man in my mid-twenties to have some adventure.  Over a dozen years ago.  I was fortunate to be taken under the wing of a greatly respected professional hunter and never looked back.  One doesn't get rich, but it's a rewarding life in many other ways.”
“And have you a family, Ian?” she asked.
“I married a wonderful third-generation English-Zim­babwean girl nearly a decade ago.  We have three children, ages eight to four.  She came from a European immigrant line of farmers here, but that's all over now.  We have a little home on a very tiny ten-acre plot in the southern lowveld area not far up-country from the Limpopo River.  Just a vegetable gar­den and a few sheep.  A very modest place, really, but we love it.”
“Your Ian,” Cassidy cut in, drawing out my name in a way clearly intended to be derisive, “the Great White Hunter, gave me a proper scolding out there today.  Seems I don't shoot fast and straight enough for his standards.”
I turned toward him.  “The biggest part of my job is keeping everyone safe, and that includes correcting practices that aren't up to snuff.  That and making sure the hunt is con­ducted lawfully and ethically.  It's for everyone's benefit, espe­cially the client’s.  It's never intended as a personal affront and mustn't be taken that way.”  I was not about to apologize.
“I'm sure his manly display of superiority only adds to his raw charisma.  Isn't that right, Emily?”
“Brian, is this necessary?”
No one made eye contact with him.  Cassidy was obvi­ously quite drunk.  He stood unsteadily.  “I believe I'll hit the sack so I'll be fresh for our lion hunt tomorrow.  You two,” he nodded at Emily and me, ignoring the camp managers, “enjoy your little conversation.”  He walked off from the patio area swaying as he went.
We sat for a time in an uneasy silence.  The camp man­agers finally excused themselves and headed toward their quarters.  Emily and I were alone.
“I'm so sorry, Ian.”
“It comes with the territory.  It's not the first time I've been set straight by a tipsy and irritated client.  I expected it, actually.”
I doubt she wanted to go to her tent while he was still awake, and I was nowhere near ready for sleep.  We talked by the fire for what must have been an hour or more, her lovely blue eyes reflecting the last flickering light of the dying mopane flames.  About our families, growing up, Africa and a dozen other things, until the conversation faded to silence.  Until I felt embarrassed in her presence, quite sure the inten­sity with which I was drawn to her was all too obvious.  Was emblazoned like a neon sign across my forehead.  
Another hour passed before we finally turned in for the evening.  An hour during which our bond blossomed and my attraction became something very much deeper...

...to be concluded in the second & final installment BELOW
_________________________________________________

NEXT Concluding Installment:  Brian and Ian hunt and find a dangerous and unpredictable lion with unexpected consequences that change everyone's lives.

Read The Hundredth Lion ©  and eighteen other stories of action, adventure and coming of age, available at Amazon.com 

The Hundredth Lion - Part II

From Beneath a Hunters Sky© by John Bascom at Amazon.com

THE HUNDREDTH LION©
by John Bascom
Part II

Continued from Part I previously...

...In the morning my hunter and I drove in the moon­less darkness toward our setup by the Angwa River.  Cassidy seemed to feel absolutely no ill effects from his binge the night before and acted at first as if nothing out of the ordinary at all had occurred.  I couldn't help but admire his recuperative powers.
“This safari couldn't be going more perfectly,” he said with apparent sincerity.  “It's been incredible.  And I'm begin­ning to see your point about not only what game gets taken, but how.
“Africa has a way of renewing one's soul,” I said warily.  “I suppose it's why I stayed.”
“I've been the difficult client, I know.  A thorn in your side.  Let's agree we're both turning a new leaf, and not look back.”
“Everything's good,” I said with false enthusiasm.
“Honestly, I've had a bellyful of that bitch wife of mine, though.”  He looked out his window as he spoke, at the black­ness that revealed nothing.
Somehow I had known his positive mood wouldn't last.
“She seems pleasant enough to me.”  I could feel myself blush and was glad it was dark inside the cab.
“She gave me quite the tongue-lashing when she finally came to bed, you know.  She'll pay for that and everything else when we're home.”  He turned and looked directly at me.  “And I gave her a little taste last night of what's to come.”
“Right now we've got our lion to think about,” I said.  “The sign looked very good last evening.”  I was anxious to change the subject.
“I want one with a huge head and bushy black mane.  I'm having a trophy room built.  Can't wait to pop the first really big boy we see.”
“We're very selective about the cats we take here—to preserve them for future generations.  Fortunately we have a healthy, huntable population now.  Still, they're ecologically quite fragile, despite their strength and ferocity.”
“Wouldn't it be something if one charged!”
“We take only mature males, and never pride lions.  If the dominant pride sire is killed, there is often a disastrous domino effect on the entire group.  The females and adoles­cents are incapable of protecting the others from hyenas, or the cubs from leopards.  And any new male moving in will kill the cubs and drive the young males away, often to die.  If a young lioness resists, say to protect her cubs, she may be severely or even fatally injured.  It could spell the end of the entire pride.  So we're looking for a big male alone or in a bachelor group.  For an old one that's already been forced out by younger and more fit rivals, or one not dominant enough to take over or establish his own pride.”
“Have you had one attack?”
“Most dangerous game, including lions, will run from humans at the first hint.  But as with any creatures, they do not all behave precisely the same.  Occasionally, for reasons I really can't quite explain, the odd lion will charge when threat­ened or wounded.  It's quite rare, though.  Never happened to me.  But the old-timers say one percent—one in a hundred—will do the unexpected.  I'm sure we'll be fine.  If we get on lion, just listen carefully and do precisely as I say.  It's your best chance of taking a nice cat and staying safe.”
We parked our safari truck some two miles downwind of the hide and crept in with stocking feet.  The blind was about six feet square and five feet high constructed from a grid of straight mopane limbs lashed together with vines.  Long, dry yellow hard-grass harvested the afternoon before with ma­chetes from a well-distant glade among the mopanes covered the stick frame.  A door of sticks and grass swung outward in back.  There was a shooting hole eighteen inches square in the front-center, positioned at the level of an aimed gun held by a man sitting on the low log the Africans had put in place.  I sat to Cassidy's right in the corner on a higher log and looked from a properly located peephole at the baits chained to the acacia tree some eighty meters away.  Levitt was behind me and could pop his head through an opening in the roof put there for that purpose.  Marusi had remained back at the lorry.  The wind was perfect and it was completely silent.  We waited for the lions to return.
The far horizon was just showing the first line of faint light when Levitt pulled his head into the blind through his ob­servation hole in the roof and hissed, “Shumba ri kuuya.”
Beyond the acacia tree, the first few cubs rushed clum­sily and unconcerned toward the well-fed-on impala baits chained to its base.  Then the big lionesses appeared, as if magically, from the darkness with their cautious, halting, eyes-searching movements.  When they reached the carcasses, they paused and looked carefully about.  The largest one began tearing hunks of meat from an impala.  There was no sound.
There was no mistaking the huge and majestic form of the male as it emerged from the brush and began its lumber­ing, swaggering walk toward the others, its head swaying, feet padding heel to toe silently, its big shoulder blades moving up and down piston-like as it came confidently forward.  The king of the jungle, I thought.
Even in the dark, its head looked impressively wide, its mane thick and protruding and black.  The lion continued to within ten feet of the feeding pride, paused as though com­pletely bored, and lay down on its belly with front feet ex­tended forward, its rear feet folded beneath its huge hind­quarters as if in a crouch.
I looked away from my peephole and over at Cassidy, who had his gun shouldered and pointed through his shooting port.  His cheek lay along the stock, and he was looking through the rifle's scope.  I could see his hand supporting the forearm trembling.
“It's a pride male,” I whispered.  “No go.  We'll wait 'til these feed out.  Another subservient one may be waiting safely behind.  We might still get a shot this morning.”
At that point the massive lion rose suddenly to his feet and stood glaring at the blind.  His muscles were visibly taut, attention riveted, his weight well forward over his front legs as if preparing to advance.  It was clear he had seen us.
An earsplitting blast shook the blind.  As I glanced re­flexively toward the source of the explosion next to me, the re­coil from Cassidy's big-bore .458 jolted him noticeably back­ward.  From the corner of my eye positioned beside my view­ing hole, I caught the motion of the great lion jerking back hard from the impact of the bullet and slamming down oddly in roughly the same position he had assumed a moment ear­lier, this time both front and back legs extended straight out from his body.  His shaggy mane hung down covering his chest, but even in the predawn I could see a smear of dark liq­uid just off center.  His eyes were wide-open, alert, and still fixed intently on us.
I've seen big animals charge time and again.  A huge bull elephant crashing forward, fast and nimble, through a young mopane stand.  A trapped hippo accelerating from a clump of riverine scrub toward his tormentors, or the iconic wounded, broad, ton-heavy Cape buffalo bursting from jesse willows, propelling his monstrous wide and hulking and long frame from a standing-still start to incredible blinding speed in less than the blink of an eye. 
But nothing I had seen before prepared me for the charge of that chest-shot male lion.  It rose in an incompre­hensible instant from prone on its belly to a blurred, legs churning streak as it closed the hundred yards to our blind in mere seconds with amazing speed and agility and purpose.
I'm told many people, when confronted with a life-or-death threat, experience what I did when that lion charged.  A complete focus only on the menace to the exclusion of the out­side world.  And despite the speed at which the horrible event plays out, a weird sense of viewing things in slow motion, where every step in the unfolding sequence, every movement is clearly seen and later vividly remembered.  I recall his legs driving beneath his body, the wind generated by his rush blowing his mane and whiskers back, his head extended and focused on the shooting port—the spot occupied by Brian Cassidy—and, most vividly of all, that rumbling, raw snarl.
The lion hit squarely in the center of the shooting win­dow, his back legs propelling him in a powerful, final airbornee vault, his front legs fully extended with claws spread.  His claws entered the blind an instant before his face smashed through the opening, exploding the front of the rickety struc­ture in a shower of grass and sticks.  Cassidy fired his second barrel wildly into the air, above the lion's head, just as it crashed through the port and into him.
Contrary to what's seen in the movies and read in pop­ular literature, a lion does not roar when attacking game.  That would only serve to alert then terrify the prey, giving it the motivation and opportunity to effect an early escape.  No, the lion is still and stealthy when taking down its meal. 
But attacking an enemy is another thing altogether.  The roar serves to give voice to the beast's rage, to stir the fighting instinct in his soul, to intimidate and overwhelm his foe.  And as this huge cat gripped and clawed and ripped the back, chest, and shoulders of the hapless and helpless client, of Brian Cassidy—the soon-to-be late Brian Cassidy—as it pre­pared, mouth open, to seize its victim's face, the booming roar shook what remained of the blind every bit as mightily as had the animal's initial impact.
When a client prepares to take dangerous game, I al­ways stand ready with my own rifle shouldered and centered on the animal, safety off, to take a follow-on shot if necessary.  But here, I had not expected Cassidy to fire, and my own weapon, while loaded, was at my side, the safety on.  With the speed at which the lion closed on us, there had been no time to ready the gun and aim through my little viewing window.
As the lion savaged Brian Cassidy, I thumbed the safety off and somehow managed to raise my Winchester 70 near my shoulder in the shattered and still-collapsing blind.  From the edge of my eye, I glimpsed Levitt ejecting himself through the ceiling hatch in the back corner where he had been sitting, ripping it apart as he exited.  The blind was distorted and leaning.  The lion had one claw behind Cassidy's head, the other behind his back in a terrible, tight bear hug as it raked his flesh in frenzied strokes.  With the man and lion inter­twined while rolling about there was no way for me to fire without the bullet clearly going through them both.  I watched, rifle ready, as they tumbled as one until all at once Cassidy was on his back on the ground with the lion straddling him from above.  I had an unobstructed side view of the lion without my client in the line of fire.  I raised the rifle, placing the muzzle directly against the animal's neck in the close, twisted quarters of the wrecked blind.  A round was chambered and the safety off in the firing position.
How long I waited and watched, or even why, I still don't know.  It couldn't have been more than another second or two.  But most deliberately and without any reason I can offer, I held my fire.  At that point a shot would not have hit Cassidy.  In the incredibly brief time I willfully hesitated, the lion placed his gaping mouth over Cassidy's skull and bit down hard.  I distinctly heard the cracking of bone.  Cassidy gave out a sharp, low moan just as his head was crushed in the huge jaws.  I fired into the lion's neck, and it instantly changed from a powerful, magnificent, attacking beast—the king of the beasts, long live the king—to a pile of limp and lifeless tissue.
I yelled to Levitt to go to the lorry, have Marusi bring it up, on the way in to notify camp with the radio in the truck there had been an accident.  Notify Sharon and Jerry to call for a medivac plane, to meet us at the airport.  I pulled Cassidy from beneath the lion and out the back door, by then de­formed and ajar.  I used the towel in my kitbag to wipe blood from his face, to apply pressure.  The most serious wounds were to the head where a tourniquet would be of no use.
“AHhhhh, gaaawwwwd,” he managed a low, gurgling moan.  It was perhaps the most chilling sound I have ever heard.
We put him in the truck bed while Marusi drove, Levitt and I attending the horribly injured man as best we could.  The camp lorry was waiting for us at the dirt airstrip.  Sharon and Jerry had brought some first-aid supplies, some bandages, sterile antiseptic wash, morphine, and antibiotic powder.  We cleaned and medicated and bandaged Cassidy with our limited supplies and modest abilities.  At first, there was an unbeliev­able amount of blood, not in spurts or from a single source, but flowing liberally from his entire head down and beneath his body like one of those fountains at a mall where water flows continuously along a stone face.  By the time the plane arrived and he was loaded aboard, the bleeding had mostly stopped, and he was silent and still.  About an hour later we received word he had been pronounced dead on arrival at the hospital in Harare.
The inspectors arrived the next day for their investiga­tion.  I filled out a detailed report, writing that the client sur­prised me by firing even though told not to, that I had shot as soon as I had been able, but by then it was too late.  That everything had been done to save him.  Levitt had leaped through the roof hole just as the lion hit and saw nothing of what occurred after.  His oral account that the Chief Inspector dutifully recorded was completely consistent with mine.  Marusi testified to the client's defiant and unpredictable be­havior in the field, while Sharon and Jerry reported his unstable outbursts at camp.  I'm not sure of Emily's account, but it must have supported ours as the death was immediately ruled an Act of God complicated by the client's own mistakes.
During the investigation I had not seen Emily, although I heard her crying whenever passing near her tent.  Driving her to the airstrip that final day she looked only at the floor and wept.
“I'm so, so sorry,” I said.
“Puh-lee-lee-leeze, God...”  She could barely be heard through her heaving sobs.  “Please…tell me this had nothing to do with me…”
Her beautiful, previously clear and bright blue eyes were dulled and reddened and swollen.  Tears streamed from them.  Her lovely, smooth face was contorted in pain.
“It was a horrible accident,” I said.  “I'm just so sorry.”  And honestly, I was.
We merely touched hands as she boarded the Centurion, her crying silent once more.

I was scheduled with another client in a few weeks, but cancelled after a fellow professional agreed to fill in.  Back home the rainy season was approaching and I had plenty of chores with which to busy myself.  During the humid, hot summer months I reroofed the house, repaired the stock fences, and hand drove a new borehole for watering our sheep at a field tank.  Summer gave way to fall with a numbing slow­ness.  I spent plenty of time with my wife, Sheila, and our three children.  The approach of April heralded the retreat of the rains and the upcoming Easter holiday.
As a Catholic, I was expected by tradition to go to con­fession at least once each year, during the Easter season.  When I visited the aging white frame church in the little Euro­pean-settled town near our farmstead, the old German priest slid the divider in the confessional open as he had so many times before.  I gave him a brief account of what had happened on the last day of Cassidy's life, on some of the events that had led up to it.
“Zo, vot den iss der sin you vish to confess?” the old man asked at the end.
I thought I had made it clear.  “I failed to protect my client,” I said, probably with obvious impatience in my voice.
“I zee…und vot off der vooman?”
In the Catholic faith, the very act of concealing a serious sin during confession is a greater offense than the suppressed sin itself.  I knew that well.  Still, I said, “Nothing.  She went home.  She was very upset.  My sin is failing in my duty to her husband.  I had a responsibility to be more diligent.  I knew he was unreliable and should have taken that into account.  And I failed to do it.  That is what I am here to confess.”
The month dragged on.  Near the end of April, I went to town to buy a few supplies and stopped by the post office as usual for our mail.  I knew it was from her before I read the return address.  The words on the thick, beige, personal-sized envelope were handwritten in blue ink.  The letters were ele­gantly formed with feminine, flowing strokes and swirls.  I had never seen her writing, but it was unmistakably from her.  And while I had not expected it, had never thought I'd see or hear from her again, I was somehow not surprised.
That evening I sat before the hearth with the last of its mopane fire we built each evening even in the hot rainy season to drive the humidity out.  The kids were asleep, and Sheila was in the bedroom getting ready for bed.  Sheila with her thick, lustrous brunette hair, those beautiful blue English eyes, and soft, white skin.  With her perfectly proportioned, seduc­tively rounded, inviting form.  My best friend, the mother of my children.  Sheila, my confidante, partner, and bedmate.
“Are you coming?” she called to me.  “I'm about to switch off the light.”
“In a moment,” I answered.  “I just want to damp the fire.”
I took the unopened letter from my pocket and stared at it for the longest time.  I touched it to my nose and lips.  My thoughts were of Emily and the brief time we shared.  The scent of her hair and glistening moistness of her lips were brought back.
…and what of the woman?” the priest had said.
I knew I'd be going back to his confessional soon, long before next Easter.  I slipped the still-sealed envelope into the hottest part of the remaining flames and watched as it disap­peared.  Then I closed the damper.
“I'm coming,” I called to Sheila.
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