Leo Painter is the CEO of Earth Global, a large energy, mining and real-estate development firm. He and his party of company executives are traveling in Botswana to consult with the government of Botswana about accessing their extractable resources.
Sekoa is a male lion who shares with his bipedal enemies, the misfortune to be the bearer of HIV/AIDs. Weakened by the disease, he loses his place as the alpha male in his pride and now, dying and harassed by a pack of hyenas, seeks only a place to rest in peace.
Painter, pursued by his own “hyenas,” only wishes to find a last resting place where he can further his dream: to build a resort/casino on Botswana’s Chobe River.
Their paths cross with tragic consequences as police, a plucky woman game warden, and myriad local authorities, hoteliers, and tribesmen, vie over what happened and to whom.
About the Author
Dr. Frederick Ramsay was born in Baltimore, MD. After the Army, he joined the faculty of the University of Maryland, School of Medicine. He is an ordained Episcopal priest and lives in Surprise, Arizona with his wife, Susan.
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By Frederick Ramsay
Poisoned Pen PressCopyright © 2009 Frederick Ramsay
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe lion blinked and shifted its weight to one side, hoping the dull pain that deprived him of sleep would abate. It didn't.
A pregnant moon painted thin clouds silver as they scudded across a star-splashed sky. This extraordinary beauty, which would cause visitors to catch their breath in wonder, was lost on the lion. The wind shifted. The scent of the nomad, the young male in search of a pride, drifted to him. He blinked and yawned. Tomorrow, at first light, the interloper, who had spent the previous afternoon bellowing challenges at him, would come in, the future of the pride at stake.
The cub lying next to him stretched and yawned, imitating his father. In two years, if he lived that long, his plaintive squeak would become an earsplitting roar. But he might not get that chance. His prospects hung precariously on the strength and ferocity of the old male next to him and that, in turn, teetered dangerously on the cusp.
The guides who led game drives from the hotels in Kasane had named him Sekoa, the Setswana word for invalid, because of his apparent illness. How the other beasts referred to him, if at all, is not known. He shifted his weight again. The pain increased. He let out a ferocious roar; a roar heard as far away as six kilometers and which caused the eyes of the hundreds of species within hearing, to pop open in panic. Males from distant prides answered. The nomad padded away into the bush. It would be only a temporary retreat. In the morning, at daybreak, he would shuffle back, head lowered, shoulders hunched, and determined.
The females had had no success hunting that night but would try again at daybreak. Desperate times call for desperate measures. They lay with their cubs and two older adolescent males within a few meters of Sekoa. Normally they would be separated by several meters, perhaps more, but not this night. Perhaps they sensed his failing health, perhaps not. He ruled an unlucky pride. Disease and inbreeding had reduced its numbers. Probably the reason he'd managed it so long.
The old male had no way of knowing that his body was slowly and inexorably being destroyed by bovine tuberculosis exacerbated by FIV/AIDS, the leonine variant of human immunodeficiency virus, HIV/AIDS, that he shared with those bipedal creatures that alternately feared and admired him. Normally, it would be a benign presence, but his reduced immune system had left him vulnerable to the tuberculosis that daily ravaged his lungs. It was a disease he might otherwise have been able to resist or at least endure. The combination meant that his remaining time as the alpha male of his pride might be numbered in hours, his life in days, perhaps, if he were lucky, weeks.
The only certainty in his existence was that on the morrow, soon or late, he would have to face this young pretender. If, by some chance, he succeeded in driving him off, there would be another after him, and then another. Holding his territory and place had defined his existence since he'd taken the pride from an older lion four years previously. The image of those lurking, waiting males caused him to growl—a low rumble.
If he failed, if he lost the pride, his cubs would be killed to bring the adult females back into estrus. He knew that. He'd done the same when he took over this pride. One of the females, as if her thoughts resonated with his, gathered her cubs closer to her, and licked them with her tongue, an organ rough enough on its surface to scrape raw meat from a bone but soft enough to smooth her cub's fur. The cub batted at her and tried to attack her massive paw. The female swatted it, an act of love.
In the moonlight, Sekoa, the four females, the cubs, and the adolescent males appeared a uniform gray. At daybreak, they would become tawny brown, and on parts of Sekoa's otherwise darker mane, almost orange. But these colors would not register on their functionally colorblind eyes. Day or night, their world was uniform in coloration, bright or dim, but predominantly gray.
His night vision, on the other hand, was near perfect. He swiveled his massive head right and then left. That fact and the moonlight allowed him to assess his surroundings. He could make out a slight rise at his front, leading toward the heaviest growth in the bush. His rival would charge from that direction, using the grade to propel him down and into the grassy patch in front of the sleeping pride. If Sekoa were to stand there, the attacker's momentum would surely knock him off his feet and leave him open to teeth and claws. He would have to find a better place to engage this usurper.
Another sharp stab of pain blocked this intuitive rumination. If he didn't sleep, he'd never have the strength to fight. If he did drift off, he might not wake. He shifted once more and growled in pain and frustration.
* * *
Fifteen kilometers to the east, in a small cluster of rondevals outside Kazungula, the village elders pondered the fate of Lovermore Ndlovu. He had crossed the line. He had acquired a bad reputation. The other young men from the village worked hard at whatever they could turn their hand to. For some it meant gathering firewood, which they would sell on the roadside. Travelers journeying to and from Francistown or Nata would stop sometimes, but most of the sales were local. Or they could work in one of the safari lodges on the Chobe River, work that paid well but was hard to get and not steady. A few of the older girls and boys danced in costume for the hotel guests. Sometimes a tourist from America would tip them as well. The majority of the young men and women made the long walk to school willingly. Education would bring them advancement and open doors. But always, their thoughts and eyes turned south to the capitol, to Gaborone. There they could find good jobs, earn much pula. Each year, a few from the village escaped to the city and came back wearing new clothes and with spending money in their pockets. The cities, Gaborone, Maun, Palapye, were the goal—for all but Lovermore.
He'd slipped across the border from Zimbabwe along with the growing exodus of persecuted Kalanga tribesmen and economically strapped citizens. But Lovermore did not come to Botswana because of persecution or penury. There were certain authorities in Harare who had a keen interest in him, which, in turn, spurred his decision to immigrate and join his cousins among the Ndebele-speaking Kalangans clustered close to the Chobe River, near Kazungula. There he knew he could fit in. And, of course, everyone spoke English with some level of proficiency. He'd met Sami Mokole by chance on the road leading from the ferry across the river into Zambia. They struck up a friendship. Later he moved in with his new "cousin." Lovermore paid for his share of the food with cigarettes he stole from the Chinaman's shop. When Sami left to join his family at their cattle post, Lovermore had to find a new means of support.
It came to him late one afternoon when he stumbled upon a car jack by the side of the road. Some careless traveler, probably a tourist, must have changed a tire and left it by mistake. A jack like that, he thought, could come in handy. After some thinking on the matter, he'd put it to use that night. Tires can be expensive, especially up in the north, away from the cities. The jack, and moonless nights, put him in the used tire and wheel business. A risky business, as the car parks in Kasane were very public, but he had become used to risk-taking in Harare. He borrowed his cousin's roadside shed and painted a new sign—Ndlovu Spares 'n' Wheels. He thought to call his business Bosigogare Tyres—Midnight Tires, but decided it might beg the question and he didn't need that. No mathata.
There were many flat tires produced by the numerous potholes on the sixty kilometers of road between Nata and Kasane. Finding buyers turned out to be simple enough. Always shrewd, he made a point of repainting the wheels lest some previous owner appear and cause trouble. He had a spray can in hand and had managed to start on the first of his latest acquisitions when the old men appeared.
Theft, they declared, was not acceptable. Not for anyone and certainly not for a guest from Zimbabwe. Theft reflected badly on the village. These thefts, they said, must end. They confiscated his jack and the wheels and were taking him to the police when they decided a session in the kgotla following customary law would be in order first. Punishment, in the form of a sound beating, should precede a turning over to the police, they decided. That sort of justice had been taken from them with Independence—a fact they accepted but with which they disagreed strongly. They dragged him toward the kgotla. Lovermore did not fear the thrashing. He had been through that many times. But the thought of police, who would surely deport him, threw him into a panic. He bolted away, zigzagging through the alleys of Kazungula and into the bush across the Kasane road.
Lovermore's bad attitude, the behavior that inevitably got him into trouble, stemmed from a disinclination to listen and learn from those wiser and more experienced than he. The bush, as every young person on either side of the border learned at an early age, was life-giver, and life-taker. It was to be shared. By day, it cautiously belonged to people; at night it absolutely belonged to the animals. Lovermore had missed that last part. His dash into the bush to evade the old men lasted about three hundred meters. It was there he met an immature, still maneless, but very hungry lion recently driven off as it came into sexual maturity by his pride's alpha male.
Lovermore never had a chance.
Chapter TwoDawn. The sun oozed over the horizon, splashing brilliant gold and orange light across the savannah. Nocturnal animals drifted into their lairs. The area's lone leopard crept into its tree, its lurk. She surveyed the ground near her, then closed her eyes for sleep—intermittent sleep. She would open them again throughout the day, swing her head around to be sure, and sleep again. Herds of wildebeest, gazelle, impala, and zebra began to graze northward toward the Chobe River and its promise of water. There, hippopotami and crocodiles shifted their relative positions. The reptiles moved toward shore to bask and wait for an unwary drinker, a potential meal, and the hippos went to deeper water. Birds began their morning cacophony. Sekoa stretched very carefully, conscious of his growing weakness. He would have to stand and defend his range, his pride, and his life, or, wisdom being the better part of valor, he could simply skulk away. In any case, he would have to face this young upstart. He stood. The effort made him roar. The disease that ate at him from within had not yet affected his outward appearance. The roar and his stance caused the nomad to hesitate. Sekoa picked his way around the females, sniffing and acknowledging their presence. They stared stoically into the distance. Their fate, and the fate of their youngest off-spring, hung precariously in the balance.
The young lion paced back and forth ten meters away, gauging the old one's strength. Eventually hormones overcame uncertainty. He charged. Sekoa stood firm. He had enough strength and bulk to repel one onslaught. But he could not counterattack. The young lion realizing that, paused and then trotted forward, jaws open and victory in his eyes.
* * *
Michael lay wide-eyed and awake, seeing nothing. His breathing rattled in his sunken chest. Sweat glistened his face and soaked his pillow. His mother gazed at his emaciated body. Her heart ached. If only ... if only he'd gone to the clinic sooner, if only she'd paid closer attention ... she should have known. She'd watched her husband fade away from the long illness, phamo kate, the disease that has a short name. Until recently, one did not say AIDS. To have done so would have been too direct, too absolute. It had taken her husband, and now it would claim her son as well. Too late to hope for the treatments, the ARV treatments, treatments that had restored Mma Serote's man.
She swallowed the sob that caught in her throat. The clinic doctors had been very angry at her for waiting so long to report Michael. "You should have known," they'd said. "You saw your man die with this."
But she did not know. Michael had hidden it from her. Every day, until the last, he had gone to work at Naledi Super Motor Repairs and Panel Beaters. Mr. Naledi had taken Michael into mechanics training lately. With the influx of so many late-model used Japanese automobiles now, there was not much call for good panel beaters any more. Each evening he came home to work on the old Toyota HiLux, which stood on cement blocks in the court.
"Soon," he'd promised, "I will make it go again, a HiLux cannot be destroyed." He'd added with a grin, "A HiLux is Botswana's Model T." She did not understand what that meant. Something to do with America, she guessed.
"If I can fix it," he'd said, "you will not have to take a combie to work. You will drive your own bakkie. We only needed a little more ..." He didn't finish the sentence but she knew—a little more luck.
Should she have known? Maybe it was because she didn't want to know. Perhaps someone had bewitched her. This same Mma Serote had consulted the diviner. "Who can be so sure about those white doctors," she'd said. She had anointed her man with a potion she bought from the diviner. Mma Serote said maybe Mma Michael had angered someone and they had gone to a moloi, a witch. She shuddered at the possibility.
"Perhaps," Mma Serote had said, "you are not appreciating the customs, are not respecting the ancestors."
Everyone knew Mma Michael had modern notions.
No! She shook her head. She did consider herself a modern woman and had put those old beliefs behind her, but ... why so much bad luck? Another shake of her head. No, Michael had the disease and she did not know it in time. That was all there was to say about the matter.
People called her Sanderson. Her full name was Mpoo Kgopa Sanderson. The naming came from her uncles, one of whom, when seeing the saucy look in her three-day-old eyes, thought kgopa, which means snail, would keep her humble. It didn't. The people of her village called her Mma Michael, but elsewhere, at work, she was just Sanderson, the game ranger.
She left the room to find her daughter. Where was that girl? It was time to make porridge and dress for work. Mpitle should be ready to go to school. Sanderson washed up in the tub just inside the door and sponged her uniform. She would have to see to washing it soon. Perhaps if all went well, she could take it to Ms. Maholo. Ms. Maholo owned a washing apparatus. She would ask her if she could use it.
She worried about her daughter. That boy, that David Mmusi, he was too pretty, too insistent. He might not take the precautions, even though the President himself said everyone should, even though condoms were sold everywhere, at the pharmacy, at the checkout counter at the market, everywhere. Should she ask if he'd been tested? No, that would be overstepping. But, he might be one of those who wished to believe phamo kate came from the spirits, or from witches, or the wind. Many in her village still did. Rra Kaleke said the education brought it on. Before the government started sending just anybody to school, there was no disease. He was very old with wulu, white hair, and was thought to be very wise, but in this she believed him wrong. She would speak with Mpitle. She had lost too much already: her cousins, a husband, and soon a son. No more.
She would put a condom in Mpitle's backpack.
She could not lose another child.
Chapter ThreeFrom his window, Bobby Griswold stared vacantly across Lake Shore Drive at the lake. Automobiles, red brake lights winking, their exhausts billowing white in the chilled air, crept bumperto-bumper working their way north in the late afternoon rush hour. At his back, to the west, a sharp-edged winter sun glittered in a cold, gray sky. In Lake Michigan, low waves lapped along its shore and splashed against concrete abutments. Ice had already formed on some of them. The autumnal equinox had come and gone, and winter hovered just over the border in Canada, waiting to pounce on Chicago with its annual icy fury.
"Dead? What do you mean, you want your stepfather dead? What're you planning to do, shoot him?" Brenda, his wife of a few months, slouched on the sofa sipping a diet Coke.
"I'm just saying ..."
"You're just saying ... what, Bobby? I know Leo is no treat, but he's your stepdad ... why would you want him dead?"
"Leo is so not my stepfather. He married my mother. She died. Now he's married to Lucille and I'm out."
Excerpted from Predators by Frederick Ramsay Copyright © 2009 by Frederick Ramsay. Excerpted by permission of Poisoned Pen Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The American State Department permits Earth Global CEO Leo Painter, his wife, stepson and other executives to travel to Botswana to negotiate with officials to allow his firm to extract minerals. He believes the mineral rich African country will prove profitable for his energy, mining and realty company. However several of his companions believe Leo is too old and ethical sot hey want to push him aside at the firm along with his spouse. He would like to rest but knows a respite means death from the human hyenas stalking him. At the same time, Sekeo the elderly lion once ruled his pride with a strong alpha paw or two. However, he is not only turning weak with age, but suffers from HIV/AID, which compounds his health issues. The younger males want to replace him and challenges are coming all the time. He would like to rest but knows a respite means death from the lion hyenas (or the game ranger) stalking him. With a darker look at human nature than Alexander McCall Smith's genteel "No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency" and Michael Stanley's Detective Kubu police procedural, Frederick Ramsay provides a super parable thriller as the king of the jungle rules fleetingly. The story line is fast-paced but it is the cast especially the parallel Leos who meet their respective Snows of Kilimanjaro Hemingway moments that makes for one of the year's best glimpses at what drives the living. Harriet Klausner