Max Gaston Gerlache stood from his desk and walked over to the lifeless fireplace looking up at the handsome lion trophy mounted over it, the King of the jungle silenced in a display of eternal rage. His commander and closest adviser Captain Leon Rogers stood to the side of the desk in a patient silence awaiting Gerlache’s response to the news he just received.
Even in the hot temperatures of the Congo Leon Rogers always demanded perfection in his appearance as a man of military honor, today was no different and he was dressed in his full white uniform awaiting the list of guests the men were to see.
“When was the last communique from your guards in that region?” asked Gerlache, bringing his hand up to his face wiping off the sweat from his black mustache.
“Six days Jonkheer. Reinforcements have been dispensed two nights ago.” promptly replied Rogers.
“Our English guests are not to be informed on this difficulty. It is bad enough we do not have an answer for the destruction of the ivory stock, broken contact with two of our fields can greatly affect current and future backers. This will not please the King. ”
Gerlache turned and looked at Rogers, he walked back to the desk and lifted a crystal decanter poring himself a drink.
“We need to keep this information to ourselves and remedy our troubles immediately. Along with the hired guns I want you to check on the field in the northern front. Show my guests the operations there and after that you will go and destroy whoever or whatever is massacring my stock in the east.” said Gerlache taking a big gulp from his drink.
“What of the British business men? They are to come with us on this hunt?” asked Rogers.
“Of course not.’ scoffed Gerlache. ‘ After arriving at the fields have one of your men escort them back to the grounds here to conclude our business. One of your white men Leon, I do not want these potential associates to think we are leveled with savages.”
“Are you confident in this transaction? Is it completely necessary at this present time? and Englishmen of all?” asked Rogers.
“With the destruction of the southern field I have a depleting supply of slaves. This could not only be beneficial in the long term for me but the King as
well. We need him to be satisfied with the activity to justify the cost.”
There was a knock at the door, Gerlache called for the person to come in and a servant entered with head slightly bowed to not make eye contact with Gerlache or Rogers, it was obvious in keeping distance from Captain Rogers who he truly feared in the room.
“Jonkheer there are two men waiting downstairs.” said the servant.
“You may bring them in.” replied Gerlache.
The servant stepped out and a few minutes later two men entered the room standing side by side in front of the open door.
“Hello Gentlemen, I am Max Gerlache, this is my head of security forces Captain Leon Roger of the Force Publique.”
One of the men was a little under 6 feet tall and had jet black hair but a thin grey mustache and beard. His Khaki jacket was buttoned fully and tucked into his khaki pants which were also tucked into his spotless boots. The man had one pistol attached to his belt and a rifle slung over his arm.
” I am Allan Selous, former of the British Army.” he confidently stated walking over to the desk and reaching out to shake Gerlache’s and Roger’s hands.
The other man was taller -a little over 6 feet- with broad shoulders, short black hair and a thick black beard. He wore a khaki vest over a white shirt loose from his pants. Rogers noticed when looking the man over that he held two pistols on his belt, a knife and a large rifle on his back with the strap across his broad chest. He observed that the man’s boots were dirty with experience, even seeing what might have been dried blood.
” Phillip Percival.” he said with a booming voice not making any motion to shake hands.
“Now that we all are acquainted let us get down to the business of the day. Both of your reputations precede you and I am in need of your services. I have a situation in my elephant fields with a beast killing off my herds, your expertise is required to prevent further destruction to my valuable ivory stock.” said Gerlache.
“How many killed Gerlache?” asked Phillip.
“Jonkheer!” chided Rogers.
Phillip Percival looked at Captain Rogers with a sharp gaze, he was not the type of man to be scolded but these were paying customers and would avoid disrespect to secure a decent contract.
“My apologies, Jonkheer.” he said looking at Gerlache ignoring the stare from Rogers.
“No need Mr. Percival. I have had 8 destroyed: 5 females and 3 bulls.”
“What condition of the bodies? Any identifiable claw marks or teeth marks to place your predator?” asked Allan.
Gerlache and Rogers looked at each other, Gerlache then walked around behind his desk and stood holding the back of his chair.
“That is a little more complicated. Your task is the both of you accompanied by Captain Rogers will escort two clientele out to a rubber field, from there the Captain will bring you to the ground to observe the bodies.”
“I was under the impression this is a hunting engagement, not nursemaids for rich business men to safari in the forest.” said Phillip.
“I have acquired your services for your ability with the gun and knowledge of the jungle. One of these requirements is for you to bring safe passage for business partners of mine from my homestead here to one of my fields, from there you will then be on your pursuit. If there is a grievance say it now so I could find someone -possibly cheaper- to perform the same task in the necessary time.”
“No objection Jonkheer.” said Allan, Phillip nodded in consent.
Rogers went over to one of the book cases pulling out a rolled-up map, he walked back over to the desk unraveling it for all to see. On the map was the full display of Gerlache’s land, the area they were on clearly marked with circles and names portraying different fields and elephant heard locations accompanied with numbers and other key identification markers that did not matter to the hunters.
“You will be traveling along this route to the field located here, from that point Rogers knows the destination and navigation to where the heard was slaughtered.” He pointed on the map tracing the line they would be traveling.
Allan looked at the map with intense scrutiny, after a few seconds of reading names of areas as well as rivers he was partially familiar with a specific point struck out and he pointed half the distance on the line that Gerlache said they would be traveling.
“This is pretty close to an unexplored region of dense forest, perhaps we should seek Weaver’s assistance for that specific area.” recommended Allen.
“Haggard has been dead for some time now lad.” Phillip explained.
“I don’t mean Haggard. His daughter haunts that area as her territory, she could be useful in identifying the beast that is preying on your stock, Jonkheer.”
“That is out of the question.’ echoed Rogers angrily. ‘I will not seek council from some savage woods woman.”
“That’s not just some savage, that is the daughter of Haggard Weaver.” defended Allen.
“I have no care for her help, regardless of who her father may have been. I shed no tears for the death of a barbaric man or his despicable spawn.” huffed Rogers.
Phillip Percivall stepped up to Captain Rogers positioning his hand close to his pistol, when standing face to face the height difference was staggering as well as Phillip’s sheer size comparably. Rogers steadied his hand close to his knife handle and waited for Phillip to make the first move.
“I give respect to Jonkheer Gerlache as is due him since I am a guest on his soil. Make no mistake that the honor is afforded to you Rogers. Haggard Weaver earned his reverence and respect in this land, if I hear another word of contempt out of your mouth for him we will have words between us, understood?” Phillip said with a steady bellow that silenced everyone in the room.
Both men stared at each other, Rogers displaying lack of intimidation but refused to entice the likes of Phillip Percival. Captain Rogers had his reputation as a man of cruelty but Phillip had notoriety as the ‘great white hunter’, Rogers was not ready to test his quick American temper especially without a pistol on hand.
“My good men let us cool our tongues with a drink and tired our minds with a hearty meal. I have hired the likes of you on both your bravery and professionalism and can see that it is well spent.” Gerlache said breaking the tension.
Phillip stared at Rogers in the eye a few more seconds then turned and looked at Gerlache ignoring the continuous gaze from Rogers.
“You three shall leave tomorrow with our anticipated guests. I would be honored for you to walk around and enjoy my grounds, my servants are at your beckoning and can arrange most things of your desire.”
“Thank you Jonkheer Gerlache.” said Allan.
“Much appreciated sir.” added Phillip.
There was another knock at the open door, the four men looked as a different servant entered the room with his head bowed.
“Jonkheer, there is a caravan of eight men approaching the western village.”
“That must be the English fellows from South America.” he said with a forced smile.
“Please gentleman I implore you to enjoy the rest of your day so I may attend to other matters. I will see you at dinner.”
Both Phillip and Allen nodded in agreement before leaving the room, they were intercepted outside the office by two servants who brought them to their rooms.
“Rogers, let us not antagonize the hired men with rifles, shall we?” Gerlache said.
Before Captain Rogers could respond Gerlache lifted his hand in a dismissive manner signaling for him to leave the room. With a slight semblance of hurt on his face Captain Rogers clicked his heels saluted Gerlache then did an about facing leaving the office.
As the group approached Gerlache’s land Mitch was amazed by the vast size it encompassed. When they first entered the beaten road leading out of the forest to the village built for Gerlache’s domestic staff he at first thought it was a large tribe of natives, as they drew more in to the area he could see the larger presence of the estate as well as the main house looming on the top of the overlooking hill. Mitch was marveled that such architecture could be constructed in what felt like a secluded region deep in the center of Africa, it was a two-storied white building with a small attic that had a dormer window under the crimson roof. The first floor was lined with arching pillars around the front porch with tables and chairs, the second floor had a porch on two sides with large French doors.
Mitch reminded himself he was present to marvel over Gerlache’s luxurious lifestyle, his duty was to observe and document the slaves that made his operation functional.
Making mental notes of the living conditions around him he began taking accounts of how many individuals he saw and what their lifestyle and physical appearance was like and log them into his diary later when he was alone.
Men, women and children alike hustled about in unfit clothing that clung awkwardly to their bodies as they hurried past the large group. They worked in the blistering sun their backs arched carrying heavy buckets of water or pushing and pulling carriages filled with baskets of food all centering around the main house. Mitch commented that they appeared to be in squalor but Michael reminded him how it was nothing of the hellish conditions that the government officials explained in their briefings and the pictures they were shown in the office.
Monroe elaborated that though they were possibly treated better than the slaves in the field even the individuals who worked on Glerache’s home were in constant fear of reprimand and knew that the swift hand of Force Publique was always nearby.
He also advised on observing physical deformities, sharing with Michael and Mitch the horrible forms of reprimand the Africans faced due to disobedience or lack of work results.
Mitch desired to speak to one of them to get a better feel but Monroe intensely objected, he said that even attempting to communicate with one of the servants would raise suspicion, especially among the other slaves. Constant terror and unease destroyed any form of unity, the masters encouraged informing for favors or rewards resulting in disloyalty among them.
The route they followed bisected a much larger road packed with dead grass, this appeared to be the major avenue that crossed with all routes through out the area.
“This is where our communication must stop and I will begin my part as your menial servant.” said Monroe.
They looked at him wanting to display some sort of appreciation for the man they made strong acquaintance with but knew that it would be inappropriate and heeded Monroe’s instructions.
“From here you both walk ahead at a distance, we will carry the rest of the supplies ourselves. When we get close to the main house the six of us will be stopped by staff and prohibited from entering the main house. From there we will be brought to the area designated for servants and stay until you return to retrieve us.”
Mitch looked at Monroe with distress hoping to object to the idea of Monroe and the other men being far from hand.
“Will that not put you in danger?” asked Mitch.
“Do not worry for us. You both may very well be in the greater of danger.” Monroe said placing his hand on Mitch’s shoulder.
“That is not especially comforting.” Michael said.
“Keep your attention directed at the task, before you know it you will be sipping tea on a Royal Mail Service back home.”
“Even less bolstering Monroe.”
Monroe could see the tension arising in Michael and Mitch, Monroe thought of a suitable anecdote that may help the men with their troubles.
“There are many times as a proxy for Parliament that I find myself at odds and hard for courage. Whenever tribulations arise I bring my thoughts back to rainy days in England. I remember studying as a boy at my desk, looking out the window at the cold rain. Though my parents were white my skin is black in an unwelcoming adopted land, I perceived the feeling home. Remember the cold rain, hold it and soon enough you shall be there.”
When Michael and Mitch were escorted into the house by one of Gerlache’s servants they were brought into what they assumed was the Trophy Room.
A large suite with French doors that opened to a table in the center and two elegant sofas positioned opposite from each other.
An enormous elephant head stared towards the door from the far end wall with crossing ivory tusks under it, a stuffed male lion was positioned on it’s hind legs to the left of the elephant head and a ferociously positioned tiger on it’s hind legs to the right.
Decorated all over the room were other types of trophies such as zebras, gazelles, and a water buffalo along with random fowls attached to the walls. In one of the corners near the entrance was a mounted cheetah and a rhinoceros head placed directly over the center of the doors facing toward the elephant. .
They both sat on the same couch in silence amazed and eerily uncomfortable in what felt like a strange homage to death and dominance of Africa’s native animals.
A short time later the doors swung open and Gerlache entered, he looked older and tired compared to the photo they were shown from the dossier back in England. Gerlache wasn’t wearing a hat and his graying hair was parted back, he still had his black mustache and wore a dark navy suit with a gold sash across his chest.
“I am sorry that I have kept you waiting, I am Jonkheer Gaston Gerlache.The both of you must be spent from your long trip. May I offer you a drink?” said Gerlache.
Gerlache looked at the servant standing at the door and told him to bring in a tray of the finest spirits in the house.
“Jonkheer Gerlache I would like to thank you for the gracious hospitality. I am Michael Allen proprietor for the Peruvian National Company and this is Mitch Alpert my Chief of Operations.”
“Just a fancy word for bookkeeper.” Mitch said to the amusement of all.
“I hope your journey was not trying? I would have liked to meet you closer to the boat but I am afraid my relations in Lagos are uncertain.”
” Our journey was pleasant and without issues Jonkheer. We arranged for a group of servants to assist us on the trip, unfortunately Lagos is a free area so we had to pay a higher expense than of normal occurrence, but that is why I brought Mitch of course.”They all smiled leaving Michael and Mitch feeling more at ease.
“That sounds very pleasing.” replied Michael.
“Michael I understand you are in the rubber trade out in the west. With the information you shared through telegraph it is obvious you operate a profitable enterprise at the smaller end. Would it be proper to assume this is to keep disclosure from the Americans?”
“That is correct Jonkheer, I am autonomous of Parliament. I have kept my capital dealings very scant on British mainland with smaller vestments in boutique businesses to refrain from catching unwanted attention from Her Majesties greedy government hands.” explained Michael.
“That is quite understandable.” Gerlache said lifting his glass for a sip.
” I have a growing work force of slaves with only so much land to cultivate. I can always expand but that may bring undesired inquiry. My company’s ideal position is to keep the extraction at it’s current size but expand with the resources on hand in other directions.”
“We may be able to help each other Michael. Restrictions placed on the slave trade in Africa from greedy hands have caused limitations on source of labor.
“Perhaps we could strike an agreement on shipment of labor from the west.”
“That would be acceptable. How many slaves do you currently have in the field at this time?” asked Michael.
“I have 4,000 slaves working in my fields not including those in the ivory herds or on my land here.” replied Gerlache.
“How much yield of rubber do your fields produce?” asked Michael.
“Combined my fields produce over 11 tons a year of mid to higher grade quality.”
“How many slaves do you need to keep above abatement to continue productivity?”
“I lose 200 a year due to variables, not factoring offspring incorporated yearly once they reach working age. I would prefer strong and reliable work force. I have heard though that the South American slaves are not as obedient and more aggressive than the Africans.” said Gerlache.
“I do not foresee that as an issue, I have the Force Publique as my arms in the field. ”
“Mitch do you have an input considering logistics?” Michael said crossing his legs with drink in hand.
“We need to see figures on transportation cost, for instance which port would be suitable for entry point? Numbers would have to be calculated for depreciation during freight.” Mitch was astonished at himself, these were people he was talking about as if they were livestock.
“All the intricate numbers can be discussed later when we conclude the purchase. What would you require on your end?” asked Gerlache.
“Other than proper payment I am interested in your quality of rubber trees. I was told of their exquisite standards which could be beneficial to increasing my profits out west. If I can increase the grade of substance my trees output, I would be able to charge a higher price to my buyers.” said Michael.
” You will be escorted by my Security Chief Captain Leon Roger and two of Africa’s finest sportsman.” Gerlache waited to see if his attempt at assurance persuaded his guests.
“My servant boys will show you to your individual rooms and is at your attendance for anything you require. “
“I am concerned for the well being of Monroe and the men we hired.” Mitch said with distraught.