"He's the intrepid hunter, a killer too prolific. What happens when magic meets madness?"
"Five cheetah hides and some ivory." Troy Halbard flicked the ashes from his home rolled cigarette and took a deep drag. Smoke boiled from his mouth and nostrils as he asked, "How much?"
"That depends," returned Montoya, his African accent heavy on the vowels of his English. "How much ivory?"
"Mmmm. Ain't much of a market for white gold these days."
"Bullshit. If anything, the price is going up."
"Yeah, you right about that. The price is going up all the time. In Asia. In South America. But the price is going down on this continent, in this country, in this city. I say seven fifty for the lot."
Troy smiled, took another drag from his butt, and cast a sardonic glance toward the red rimmed western sky. The stink of Mombassa was thick in his nostrils. Slums like sharply angled tumors rotted beneath the sunset, blotted out the horizon and the hidden treasures of its farthest distances. Where darkness insidiously consumed the world, Africa's roasting plains prepared for a long, dark night. But the city would not sleep. It would continue festering on a non-stop schedule. People like Troy and Montoya were its disease, greed its infection.
"It sounds like you're trying to low ball me, Montoya. You think that's smart?"
The black man smiled wide and broadly. Several of his teeth were missing, while many of the ones that remained were capped in gold. "Hey, what you gonna do, Halbard? Huh? You in the city now, and the city ain't the bush. You powerless here, man."
Troy's skeptic smile didn't fade, but his eyes waxed icy and mean. The big man took a small step and leaned forward so Montoya could better hear his softly spoken words. "So you're saying I should take what I can get and keep quiet. That it?"
"Hey, it sounds like good advice to me."
Troy grunted appreciatively. "You know I never liked you, Montoya. And I don't like doing business with you, either. You're petty and miserably stupid. Dealing with a stupid man is like rubbing up against a dung heap; pretty soon, some of it's going to rub off."
Montoya only grinned in the face of his adversary's insult. "Like I said, what you gonna do, Halbard? I'm the only business in town, now that Arygoppo is dead. Seven fifty, take it or leave it."
"That's all you have to say, then? You're going to be a hard dick on this one?"
Troy leaned back again, and spoke in a normal tone of voice, loud enough for Montoya's cronies to hear. "Alright. Let me get a drink and think it over."
"You know where to find me, white man."
The poacher's smile broadened. "Yeah. I know where to find you, black man."
Montoya raised his nose sharply and somebody moved to open a gate in the ramshackle slat fence that surrounded their little wrecking yard. The yard was filled with loot ranging from poached tusks to heavy assault weapons to silk dresses, all sorted and neatly stored beneath the leaning roofs of pavilions and dilapidated shacks. Tall, thin, mean looking men reclined in the shadows, betrayed only by the flare of their smokes or the occasional shifting of their shadowed forms. Each one had an automatic weapon near to hand, and some carried hand grenades in webbed bandoliers.
Once the gate rattled shut behind him, Troy turned left and preceded along the length of a cluttered alleyway. Dodging frightened rats and piles of human offal, the poacher slipped easily and quietly from one pool of darkness to another, as was his unconscious habit of movement. Behind him, a spider shadow scurried less cautiously to follow.
Halbard considered Arygoppo's death as he walked. The old man had been a good business partner, and the closest thing to a friend that Troy had known. From a youth, Arygoppo had worked the black market, specializing in the rarities of Africa that the greater world was so desperate to possess. Through a combination of bloodless ruthlessness and good luck, the old man had risen to the pinnacle of his trade to become the sole source of Mombassa and a good portion of the east coast. Arygoppo had been a powerful, well respected man, but he was of an older, more civilized generation. He had come of age in a time when there had still been true wilder places left in Africa, before the parks and preserves. Once, there had been plenty of game to be had, and no need to murder for mere scraps. Times, like men, changed, however, and usually for the worse.
Some years ago Arygoppo had taken Montoya under his wing, much like a father will a son, with intentions that the prodigy should inherit the kingdom. But Montoya was no fit son for the old man. Troy had often said as much, though the old man refused to listen.
When news of his friend's death reached him, Halbard broke off a profitable hunt to make the trip to Mombassa. He wanted to find out for himself the truth of things. If Arygoppo had died innocently, then so be it. The prince and heir apparent should rightfully fill his place to set the market's price. But if not, if Arygoppo had died in a coup d'etat, then Troy had vowed to be the old man's avenger.
After his brief introductory conversation with the new king, and their subsequent commercial debate, Halbard had seen and heard enough to be convinced. Things had turned out too perfectly for Montoya. Had he waited out his time of fledgling, he would have owned only what the old man offered up. In killing Arygoppo, he owned it all, instantly. And he didn't seem to mourn his loss, as a good son should. The clincher had been Montoya's low ball bid. It was a kick in the face, a direct snub. Those hides, with the ivory, would fetch ten times what been offered when they were sold on the end market. Troy thought two thousand would have been a fair price. He might have taken fifteen hundred with no hard feelings. But never seven fifty. Seven and a half wasn't enough to cover the wear and tear on his 'Rover, not to mention gear and provisions for another hunt. Montoya was attempting to exercise his power, to rid himself of Arygoppo's old patrons and further cement his grip on the territory by bringing up a crew of his own.
When Troy passed a recess in the brick wall of crumbling warehouse, he ducked into its shadows and sucked in a deep breath. Across the alley, a mongrel bitch sat on its haunches and cocked its head curiously. Halbard cursed silently, realizing that the dog's actions would be enough to betray his ambush to a wary hunter. Troy might have dashed back into the street, but time ran out. The spider shadow was rasping closer and closer, its movements the sounds of footsteps on gravel. Halbard hoped his stalker was city born and bred, then raised his gloved hands in a ready posture.