The Senator steps out of the SUV and into the Tanzanian dusk, posing with his hands on his hips and a winning smile that teases out the slightest hint of crow’s feet around his eyes as he admires the broad savanna.
“By God, this is just beautiful,” he declares, his press officer circling the car, snapping photos with an iPhone. “A man could get used to a life of adventure out here, couldn’t he?”
“Yes, Sir,” the press officer agrees, though he’s been too busy checking email and news to admire much of the scenery at all. Where The Senator is the model of Olympian stature and detachment, befitting the scion of a wealthy political family, the press officer is small, frail, and constantly on edge, harried by tasks large and small.
The Senator’s driver and security guard emerge from the SUV, while an identical vehicle pulls up behind them, disgorging another small entourage that fussily lays out a blanket, tripod, and high-powered rifle with scope, one on top of the other. They are parked on a small rise near a shallow, muddy lake in the Serengeti, surrounded by clumps of stunted trees. Their Tanzanian guide scans the area with his binoculars until he finds what he was looking for.
“There,” he says, pointing.
The senator takes the binoculars with a grateful smile and looks for himself. “Sure enough,” he agrees. “Good job, Akida. Should I get ready now?”
Akida speaks into his walkie-talkie and waits for a reply.
“Not yet. Soon.”
“Sure thing, Boss,” says The Senator, giving the man a friendly pat on the back. “Let me know when it’s show time.” He pulls out his Blackberry and idly scrolls through the latest football scores and standings from the States, clucking and shaking his head.
“The Chiefs lost again,” he says. “Third loss in a row. Can you believe it?”
“Yes, Sir,” says the press officer mechanically, checking his own news. “I mean, no, Sir. It’s a damned shame.”
“Well, there’s hardly any need for profanity now, is there?” says The Senator, frowning.
“No, Sir. Sorry, I was a bit distracted by the latest numbers from Florida. They’re still close.”
“Not now. We can talk shop later.”
A half hour later a voice squawks in Swahili from Akida’s walkie-talkie, and Akida nods.
“Great,” says The Senator, putting the Blackberry away as his press officer readies the iPhone. The Senator kneels on the blanket beside the rifle and pauses. “Will you all please join me in a moment of prayer?”
The low chatter among the entourage quiets, and those who can speak English bow their heads and clasp their hands, while those who don’t clumsily follow their lead.
“Dear Jesus,” says The Senator, his eyes lowered and closed tightly, “We thank you for this beautiful day and for watching over this expedition. I pray that you will guide my hands, that my aim will be swift and true, and that you will continue to bless my endeavors as you always have. In your holy name we pray, Amen.”
“Amen,” the others mumble.
The sun is setting behind their backs, and to the east, near the lake, a rhino herd mills in the open. The Senator lies in a comfortable prone position and grasps the rifle, left eye closed and right eye gazing into the scope. He swivels the rifle slowly to the right until he sees the telltale plume of dust Akida had promised.
“There,” he says. “I’ve got you.”
He gently pulls the trigger. The rifle recoils with a sharp crack, and his first target falls. He quickly selects another and then another, watching the bullets strike home, each one accompanied by a small cheer from his entourage. When the last of the targets falls, he stands up and accepts the effusive handshakes and backslaps good naturedly, as if he’s just hit a home run in the World Series.
“Thanks, guys. Couldn’t have done it without you. What say we go down there and collect our trophies now, shall we?”
The porters gather up the blanket, tripod, and rifle, and the drivers steer the SUVs down another bumpy trail.
“Would you look at that,” The Senator says softly as they finally come to a stop. He is slow getting out of the vehicle, the press officer following again with the iPhone.
The rhinos have fled, and all that is left behind is a battered jeep lying on its side. Half a dozen dead poachers and their rifles lie strewn around it, scarlet stains on the chests of some and the ruined remains of heads on the shoulders of others. They are young and dressed in a mix of faded camouflage, t-shirts, and baseball caps.
The Senator poses next to the wreckage with a grimace, first holding the rifle in both hands, and then propping it on his shoulder as if he’s just wandered out of the brush on a foxhunt. When the business is over, he hands the rifle back and turns to watch the fading orange glow behind the low ridge where he fired the shots.
“Odd thing killing a man,” he muses.
“You have some regrets, Sir?”
“No. Not really. They were the bad guys, and this will play well with a lot of different constituents back home, won’t it? It’s a win-win for everyone.”
“Yes, Sir. I’ll write a letter thanking the Tanzanians for the permit and the assistance.”
The Senator nods. “Send one to Hornsby, Inc. as well. Tell them the prototype smart bullets were amazing and they’ve got my support for the contract.”
“Will do, Sir.”
“Great,” says The Senator, surveying the scenery one last time. “Now let’s get back to the hotel and have a few cold ones, shall we?”
The press officer nods, publishes the photos and video to Facebook, and by the time the first pint glasses are raised in toast, The Senator’s polls have already begun to rise.
Born in Texas, reared in Wisconsin, and deposited in Northern Virginia, Eric Atkisson indulges in fiction writing, photography, and history as his preferred means of self-medication.
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