The rarest of prey
Mr. Chastel stood with a drink and looked out the window as darkness was falling. There was an impressive view out over Ipanema beach from the large hotel suite, but he was too preoccupied to appreciate it. He impatiently checked the watch on his wrist. Almost eight. The man was supposed to arrive any minute now. He loosened his tie as he heard the footsteps of his assistant coming up behind him.
“Mr. Chastel? Sorry to disturb you, sir, but I need a couple of signatures. It is the letter for Mr. Stevens, in Tokyo.”
“Of course, Jenny.” He took the paper and quickly signed it. “Now Jenny, as mentioned, I will not be available the next four or five days. If there is news regarding that China business tell Mr. Hansson that I will deal with it when I am back and he is not to sign anything!”
“Yes, sir. Understood! I will be here. I will also make arrangements for Mrs. Chastel when she arrives.”
“Thank you, Jenny.” There was a knock on the door. Jenny looked at him and he nodded. “Yes, if you please, Jenny.” She went out to the vestibule. A hotel employee stood outside in the hallway; a large bulky man in a suit behind him.
“This gentleman is here to see Mr. Chastel.”
“Please come in,” Jenny said and showed the man inside. The vestibule was larger than most people’s apartments but the man did not look impressed.
“This man is here to see you, sir.”
“Thank you, Jenny. That will be all for now.”
“Yes, sir,” she said and disappeared into one of the adjacent rooms.
“My assistant,” the man said as he shook the stranger’s hand. “I am Jean Chastel.”
“I am Marius.”
“It is a pleasure to finally meet you, Marius,” Mr. Chastel said as he made a sign for the man to sit down. Marius was muscular, with short hair and a neck like a bull. Probably ex-military. He didn’t look comfortable in his suit. “Can I offer you a drink?” Mr. Chastel asked.
“Yes, please. Quite an impressive place. Great view.”
“Yes, it is nice, isn’t it?” Mr. Chastel said as he poured the drink.
“So, Mr. Chastel.”
“Call me Jean, please. Ice?”
Marius shook his head. “No, thank you. So, Jean. Are you all set for tomorrow?” Mr. Chastel looked at the stranger’s hands as he handed him the drink. They were strong and powerful; a farmer’s hands.
“Yes. Yes, I should think so,” he said as he sat down across from the stranger.
“That’s good. This meeting doesn’t need to take long, sir. I just always find it best to meet face to face before we start. Since I am here, let me quickly go over the plan with you.” Mr. Chastel leaned forward in his chair. “I take it that you have hunted big game in Africa or other places?” Marius asked.
Jean Chastel nodded. “Yes, several times. All the big five and a lot of plains game. I have hunted pretty much all kinds of large game across the world.”
Marius nodded. “Most of our clients are like that; experienced hunters who want to try the ultimate in hunting. Now, concerning the hunt itself, it is actually not that different from an assisted big game hunt anywhere else in the world. Only the quarry,” he said and smiled. “There is nothing like it, I can tell you that.” He took a sip of his drink and nodded in appreciation. “Nice whiskey.” Mr. Chastel agreed. It was a 20 year old single malt and his personal favorite. “Our job is to get you as close as possible to the target, and to cover your back in the process,” Marius continued. “We are largely doing it the way you would hunt a leopard. Setting up blinds, trying to pick the right spot. Stalking is really not possible in an urban environment. Regarding the quarry, we have a couple of nice targets identified. But, I have to warn you, they are hard to get. There is a reason why they have stayed alive for so long.” Mr. Chastel nodded and smiled. “It’s important to remember when we are in the blind to keep the noise down. Just like when hunting leopards! However, unlike when hunting leopards, getting spotted may result in things getting very messy very quickly! If for any reason there are problems, we will try to let you have the first shot, but we can’t always promise that. Sometimes things move very quickly. It’s a bit like hunting a matriarch elephant when you have to get in the middle of the herd. Once the matriarch is down, there is no way of knowing how the other elephants will react. Same here.” Mr. Chastel nodded again. “So, this is the plan. Tomorrow at around noon I will pick you up and take you to a guesthouse. It is a discrete location from where we can easily go and come as we wish without drawing too much attention to ourselves. You will stay there for the duration of the hunt. Once you are done, we will take you back to this hotel. You might want to leave excess luggage here. I am afraid that it will be somewhat more basic than here, but not worse than any decent hunting camp in Africa.”
“That all sounds good,” Mr. Chastel said. “I am looking forward to it. Where will the hunt take place?”
“Well, we are going to be operating in the Rocinha Favela. It’s a good area. Many gangs and many targets. We hunt hard, and with a bit of luck we should get you a nice trophy. You haven’t paid us for just taking a low-level guard or street mugger. We are hoping that you will get a chance at a high level gang leader.”
“Very good!” Mr. Chastel smiled and took another sip of his drink.
“What kind and caliber of gun will you be using, if I may ask?”
“I got a 416 Rigby; double rifle.”
Marius nodded. “Good choice! I used one myself back in the old country. Can stop a charging elephant in its tracks! We can also provide guns if you want, but most likely we are looking at 50 - 80 meter shots. Rocinha is very build up so it’s rare to have longer shots than that and a 416 Rigby should be just fine for that.” Marius finished his drink. “Any questions?”
Mr. Chastel just shook his head. “No questions. It all sounds very good.”
“Great. I will pick you up from here tomorrow at noon.”
Marius stopped the car in front of a small non-descript house. The ride from the glitzy streets of Ipanema had taken less than half an hour and they were now a few hundred meters inside the Rocinha favela.
“Here we are!” he said to Mr. Chastel as he turned off the engine. “Villa de Caça!”
They quickly got inside with their bags. The main room of the house was small and basic, dominated by a rustic dining table. There were three large men waiting for them. All had the same hardboiled look as Marius and all were wearing combat fatigues.
“Meet the team,” Marius said and waved with his hand towards the three men. “This is Fernando, Mike and the ugly one there is Pedro.”
“Pleasure to meet you, sir,” Pedro said.
“They will watch our backs and make sure we all make it back out in one piece,” Marius said with a smile. “Isn’t that right boys? Otherwise you don’t get paid!”
“Yes, that’s the only reason any of us would look after you, that’s for sure!” Mike said and the men laughed. The atmosphere in the room was relaxed and Mr. Chastel instantly felt at ease in their company.
“And here we have the most important person,” Marius said as an old man came in from the kitchen. His face was weathered and though he was of a small and skinny stature, he gave a definite impression of not being one you messed with. “May I introduce you to Frank? He is the caretaker of this guesthouse, and he will make sure you are comfortable while here.”
The old man nodded and smiled. “Welcome, sir. If there is anything you need, don’t hesitate to ask.”
“Alright, now that we have gotten all the formalities out of the way, why don’t you get yourself organized?” Marius suggested. “Your room is the first one there. I will be in the room next door with the others. Let’s start in 15 minutes?”
“Sure!” Mr. Chastel nodded and grabbed his bags.
“He is cool,” Marius said in a low voice after Mr. Chastel disappeared into his room. ”Experienced hunter. I don’t expect any problems.” The men nodded.
“That’s good. Always nicer when they are solid,” Pedro said.
Mr. Chastel was lying flat on his stomach next to a low wall. The sun was baking down on him and the cement roof was hot as an oven. The sweat was running down his back like rivers. Marius reached over and touched him on the shoulder.
“If you look up over the wall you can see pretty much all of Rocinha. But careful! We don’t want to get spotted.” Mr. Chastel cautiously lifted his head up and peeked over the edge of the low wall.
“It is so densely built up,” he said as he put his head back down.
“Yes, that’s Rocinha for you. It’s a real challenge. Some 100,000 people living on three square kilometers. It smaller than most hunting farms,” Marius grinned. “All these small narrow alleys and the shacks easily being two or three stories high makes it hard to get a clear shot. We often spend months trying to establish some good places to hide before a client comes out.” Mr. Chastel wiped the sweat off his forehead but could not stop it from dripping down. “Don’t worry,” Marius said. “Tomorrow morning when we start for real, we will be inside. This is just to give you a feeling for the area.”
Once back in the guesthouse they sat around the table. Frank served some cold beers.
“Alright,” Marius started. “So now you have a bit of an idea of what the area looks like. We will go in an old unmarked car as far as possible. After that we walk. Once we get out of the car, we have to move quickly and try to avoid being seen. If we draw attention to ourselves, it can spell trouble. We will as much as possible use narrow passageways to get to the blind. We have to leave early, when there are the fewest people around. So we start from here at three am!”
Mr. Chastel nodded. “That’s fine. You just let me know how you want to do it.” It wasn’t often Mr. Chastel took instructions from anyone.
“Another thing,” Marius said as he put down his empty beer bottle. “The rule is that you can take all the photos you want, but none of us. So please do be careful. Also, as you know, hunting and photography rarely go hand in hand very well so let’s concentrate on the hunting. We are happy to take photos of you with your quarry, as long as you realize the potential problems it could present for you. We generally recommend you only take a photo of the quarry itself without you in it. It’s easier to explain should you ever need to.” He lifted his empty bottle and Frank disappeared into the kitchen.
Mr. Chastel nodded. “I understand.”
“Have you thought about what kind of souvenir or trophy you would like if we are successful? We can get you pretty much anything, but it will be your own responsibility to get it home. That we can’t help you with. We had a client last year. He took the whole head and as far as I know made it back home with it, though I have to admit I don’t know how he did that.” Frank put another round of beers on the table.
“I thought that aside from the photos, I would like some kind of token. Whatever the man has. No body parts.”
“Alright. We should be able to handle that. So, that’s all settled,” Marius said as he distributed the beers around the table. “Saúde! To a successful couple of days!”
The next morning they moved quickly through Rocinha’s labyrinth of narrow streets and alleys. How they didn’t get lost, Mr. Chastel didn’t know. It was a little past three am and there was no sign of life anywhere but the team took no chances. Mike was leading, ten meters in front of them, always quickly checking that the coast was clear before turning a corner. Pedro made up the rear. They hardly looked inconspicuous with their automatic weapons on the ready but still managed to move undetected through the dark alleyways. Mike stopped in front of a small steel door. It was quickly opened and they quietly made their way up the narrow wooden stairs. The stairs squeaked under their weight. At the top was a flimsy wood and glass door.
The room was small and bare. Aside from a couple of old garden chairs placed by the glassless window and a small table there was nothing in the room. The long narrow window had torn curtains hanging down. It prevented anyone looking in but still allowed for a good view of what went on outside.
Pedro stayed out the back, keeping an eye on the stairs. The other two guards sat down in the back of the room. Mr. Chastel noted how they remained alert. They were clearly not any ordinary run of the mill armed guards.
“Make yourself comfortable,” Marius said in a low voice as he dropped down in one of the chairs. We got about two hours before sunlight.”
Mr. Chastel rested in his chair until the grey dawn slowly started breaking. He could start to make out the features of the buildings in front of him. Their place overlooked a group of houses and an alley, which continued up towards the Alto Boa Vista neighborhood, further up the mountain.
“If you look down to the right you can see a small square,” Marius whispered. “It’s not more than 25 or 30 square meters. It’s a boca as they call it here. A place where the drug dealers hang out. Behind it, half hidden by the yellow house you can just make out the alley leading up the hill. That’s where he will most likely come from; if he comes that is.” Mr. Chastel looked at the small square and then up the alley. It wasn’t more than 50 meters away. “We got quite a few places like this all across the neighborhood,” Marius said. “We rarely use rooftops because of the steepness of Rocinha. It’s hard to avoid being spotted by someone higher up and then there would be trouble really quick. It’s also unbearably hot lying on one of those, as you experienced yesterday.”
Mr. Chastel quietly opened his gun case and quickly assembled his gun.
“That is a fine double rifle you have there. Beautiful engravings,” Marius noted with admiration.
“Thank you. It’s a Holland and Holland.”
“That is a truly amazing weapon. I have seen a couple in my time in the old country, but they are rare to find these days.”
“I have a nice selection at home. I have been collecting ever since I was young, but I find that I prefer this one. It has never let me down and I am very comfortable with the way it handles.”
“You don’t use a scope?”
“No, not for short distances.” Mr. Chastel took out two large cartridges and dropped them into the chambers. He closed the lock with a muffled “click” and leaned the gun up against the wall in front of them.
They sat in silence and observed as the neighborhood slowly started waking up. Here and there people were moving around in the alley below them. Marius studied each person in his binoculars. Mr. Chastel moved a bit in the chair and it squeaked. Instantly he froze. Marius smiled.
“Don’t worry, these guys are not leopards! It’s fine to talk,” Marius whispered. “Just keep your voice down. We don’t want to draw attention to ourselves.”
“Do you hunt year around?” Mr. Chastel asked as Marius took a break from scanning the area with the binoculars.
“In April it’s impossible to hunt. It rains too heavily for anyone to venture outside and it’s too hard to identify the right target. The chance of mistake is too high. But aside from that we hunt whenever it suits the clients.” They sat and watched two young men with automatic weapons appear. They stood on a corner of the square. They were smoking and chatting to people who were walking by. “Low level guards,” Marius noted. “They keep an eye out for police and rival drug dealers. They are a dime a dozen.”
“You don’t target low level gangsters?” Mr. Chastel asked.
Marius shook his head. “It wouldn’t make a difference. For each you shoot there are hundreds ready to join up. Its easy money and for most there is little else to do. If you are looking for a way out of the favela it’s either drugs or prostitution. We do have some of our colleagues on the police force who get frustrated with all the crime and try to sort things out themselves, or in small groups; shooting or abducting any drug dealer they can find. It makes them feel better but does little to solve the problem.”
“Isn’t that the same with the senior ones?”
“Not quite. The smart gang leaders know that they have to keep a low profile, otherwise they get it. They make sure their men behave. Those we leave alone. The ones who kill police, or engage in shootouts, they end up on our list. Its natural selection in an advanced form.” A young man in a polo shirt walked up to the boca. “Buyer!” Marius whispered. “He is shopping before the weekend. Probably deals in his own neighborhood. We also get a lot of a college kids with their rich parents. They are the main market for all these guys in here.”
The hours passed by. There was a steady stream of people moving up and down the alley, but none of them caught Marius’ interest. Fernando in the back started rummaging through a small bag. He took out a couple of packages wrapped in foil. He handed two to Marius.
“Here,” Marius whispered as he passed one to Mr. Chastel. “It’s a Bauru, a traditional Brazilian sandwich. It will fill you up.”
They sat and ate in silence. The room was warm and the sandwich lay heavily in the stomach. Mr. Chastel had difficulties staying awake as hours passed and nothing happened.
Suddenly there was movement down on the square. Mr. Chastel couldn’t tell what it was, but from Marius’s sudden reaction, it was clear something was happening. He saw the guards on the square jump up, and almost stood as if to attention when a man came down the alley. The newcomer stopped and chatted with the guards. The atmosphere in the small room suddenly became very tense. Mr. Chastel lifted his rifle up to the shoulder, while Marius studied the newcomer through the binoculars.
“No!” Marius said after having carefully studied the newcomer. “He is a low level lieutenant.” He put his binoculars down. “Frankly, if it was your last day here, I would go for him, but as we still have time, I think we can do better.”
They sat and watched as the newcomer smoked and joked with the two guards. He were there for about an hour or so before he moved on. The sun had disappeared behind the mountain and lights started to shine out of the houses higher up on the hill.
“I don’t think we are going to have any luck today. Let’s pack it up and head out,” Marius said.
As they pulled up in front of the guesthouse Marius turned and said. “Well, here we are. Let’s hope for better luck tomorrow! Now, let’s go in and see what Frank has prepared for us.” The table was already set as they came in. “Frank has been working his magic again. What do we have here?” Marius asked as he lifted the lid on one of the pots.
“Sit down, sit down,” Frank said as he put a round of cold beers on the table. “Food is ready. Hope you like it.”
“Tell me if you ever had a better meal in a hunting camp!” Marius said with a grin as he piled up the barbequed meat on his plate. They were all hungry and didn’t talk much during the meal. Afterwards, they sat, relaxed and full, with a beer. “The only thing missing is a camp fire,” Marius said. “Otherwise, it leaves nothing to be desired. Well, these guys wouldn’t know anything about that,” he continued with a grin and nodded to the other three. “They are all city boys who have never been in the bush! Only the urban jungle!” The others laughed at his teasing.
“Few people in Rio brag about being a farm boy!” Mike said.
“Frank! Can we have some more beers?” Pedro shouted.
“Way ahead of you,” Frank answered as he came out from the kitchen with another round. The drinks did them good and released the build-up frustration of spending a day in a small room without even seeing a possible target. Frank made sure that there was a constant flow of cold beer. Mr. Chastel could feel the alcohol started to go to his head.
“Tell me, if you can, how does it work? I mean with the police and all that,” he asked.
“The police?” Marius smiled. “First of all, we are all pedigree police officers! Rio’s finest! These three gentlemen who are looking after us are from the military police. I am from the regular police force. So, not to worry! No one interferes in the business of their colleagues.” Mr. Chastel had noticed the “OIF” tattoo on Mike’s arm and guessed that the careers of his new acquaintances might be a bit more colorful than they let on. “Secondly,” Marius continued, “the hefty fee that we charge you for this experience is split three ways. One is for us. The second is the cost of setting it all up, you know, the people we have to pay in the favela and that kind of thing. The last part is for the fund.”
“The fund?” Mr. Chastel asked.
“We have a fund that supports the widows and children of the police officers killed by these bastards. We lose almost 200 colleagues every single year! Do you know how many fatherless children that is? Every year!” Marius slammed his bottle onto the table. He clearly felt the effect of the beers too. “I tell you, the ones we hunt are the scum of the earth. Shooting them is no more than shooting some problem animal. They are like diseased dogs, all of them!” He took a second to collect himself and calm down. “Anyway, the fund means that our colleagues are very unlikely to interfere with our work. They know that it’s for a greater good.”
“They know their own families might benefit from it one day,” Mike said. The mood in the room was solemn. Frank cleared away some of the empty bottles.
“Well, I might retire,” Marius said. “We got another long day tomorrow.”
Mr. Chastel left the window in his room open to let in the cool night air. Off in the distance he could hear the occasional sound of gunshots. They were out there, that was for sure.
All too early came the gentle knock on the door. “Senhor? Senhor Chastel? Breakfast is ready.” Mr. Chastel turned and looked at his alarm clock. Three am. He had a slight hangover. Marius was already at the table, piling up a couple of steaks on his plate.
“Will need this today,” he said with a grin. “Did you sleep alright?”
“Yes, I did, thank you.”
“Did you hear the helicopters?”
Mr. Chastel shook his head. “No, I didn’t. I heard shooting but no helicopters.”
“The police is conducting raids in the northern part. They are clearing out some low-level drug dealers who have set up shop too close to the rich neighborhoods. That’s good news for us. That means the people we are after are more likely to move around.” Mr. Chastel sat down and grabbed a cup of coffee. “Is everything to your satisfaction here?” Marius asked between large bites of beef.
Mr. Chastel nodded. “Yes, thank you. Everything is fine. Good food and a comfortable bed!”
“Yes, Frank takes good care of everything. He is an old hand. He used to be on the force, but had to leave. Running our Villa de Caça is his retirement plan.”
“We are trying a new spot today,” Marius said as they got out of the car. “Let’s hope we have more luck here.”
The new place was not that different from the other one. A narrow staircase leading up to a bare room with a couple of chairs and a window overlooking a desolate slum; the underbelly of Rio.
“What do you normally do, when you are not hunting?” Marius asked as they sat and waited for dawn to arrive.
“I am the executive director of a multinational pharmaceutical company. Based in London, but hardly ever there. I travel most of the time. Whatever little free time I have I normally spend hunting. And yourself? How did you end up doing this kind of work?”
“Well, I grew up on a farm. I am a South African by birth, in case you haven’t guessed. I hunted a lot with my old man when I was a kid. Joined the military when I was 18 and got into the Special Forces. We used to hunt SWAPOs terrorists. Tracked them down whenever they crossed the border. There is nothing like it, as you are discovering now. Anyway, after I left the service, I started organizing big game hunts; buffalo, leopards. Any of the big five. I led one of the biggest safari companies in South Africa until the country went to the dogs. Once they let Mandela out of jail I packed up and left. That’s how I ended up here. They offered me a job with the police so I joined the force. That’s more than 20 years ago now. Haven’t regretted it for a second.”
“Don’t you ever miss South Africa?”
“I do miss the bush. The smell and the sounds, especially the grey dawn; you know just before the sun rises up over the horizon. That I miss that every single day.”
“But not the hunting?”
“Not really, to tell you the truth. I started to have problems with it. You know leopards. They are my favorites. They are truly magnificent animals. The power and confidence that just radiates from them. It started to really hurt me to hunt them. I felt more and more sympathy for them. It just wasn’t the same anymore.” Mr. Chastel kept silent. Marius never took his eyes off the alleys below while he spoke; always scanning and keeping track of everything that went on. “You know it would really bother me whenever I had a client who would put in a bad shot and the leopard would disappear into the bush. Even if we found it quickly, just the thought that it suffered. It was hard for me. In the end, it took out the joy of hunting them. Buffalo and the rest, I never cared much for but leopards, for me they are special.” Marius smiled. “There just wasn’t enough good hunters, such as yourself.”
“And this business?”
“Ah, yes. Well, after a couple of years on the force I both got frustrated that we couldn’t put the bad guys away, and also found it hard to make ends meet on a policeman’s salary, you know with a family and all. So, I decided to put my experiences as a professional hunter from the old country to good use. Didn’t take me long to get a team together.” He turned towards Mr. Chastel and smiled. “The rest is history as they say!”
The sun was high above them and the room was getting unbearably hot. Marius stayed alert and constantly scanned the area while Mr. Chastel was half asleep in his chair.
“Boss,” Fernando whispered. “We got company.”
“Oh kak!” Marius quickly jumped up. Pedro and Mike were already up, their guns pointed at the door. “What’s the situation?” Marius whispered.
“It’s a guard. He is coming up the stairs,” Fernando answered in a hushed voice.
“Armed?” Fernando nodded. “Is he alone?” Marius asked as he made a signal to Mr. Chastel to grab his gun.
Fernando nodded again as he stared out through a small hole in the door. “But there might be more outside. If he comes in estamos fodidos!” he whispered and gripped his gun tighter.
“If we have to leave, we have to leave fast!” Marius instructed Mr. Chastel. “You have to keep up, understand? Pedro and Fernando will lead. You stay close to me and Mike will cover our backs. When we start running you shoot anyone who has a gun, but we don’t stop. Don’t stop to aim, don’t stop to reload. Just shoot and run!” Mr. Chastel nodded, his mouth dry from tension. They could hear the steps squeak as someone slowly walked up the stairs. Fernando took a step back and raised his assault rifle. The footsteps were now right outside the door. No one in the room dared breathe. Slowly, the door handle started to turn. Fernando’s finger started squeezing the trigger. Marius waved his hand and shook his head. Mr. Chastel’s hands were shaking so hard he had problems keeping his gun pointed at the door. The handle turned and they could hear the man pushing against the door. It was locked. He pushed harder. The small lock squeaked under the pressure, once, twice. Mr. Chastel could feel his heart pounding in his chest. He looked at the others. The sweat was running down their faces and their knuckles were white from gripping their guns so hard.
“Ready, guys, ready!” Marius whispered. “Shoot, and then we run!” Mr. Chastel was seized by an overwhelming feeling of panic and fought hard to keep his self-control. Suddenly, they heard a step squeak. Mr. Chastel looked at Marius, trying to understand what was happening. There were more squeaks. The guard was leaving! No one dared to speak or even breathe until they heard the door at the bottom of the stairs slammed shut.
“Puh!” Fernando let out a sigh of relief as he lowered his gun.
“Wow! That was a close one!” Marius said. “Well handled, boys!”
“What the hell was he doing here?” Pedro asked.
“Who knows? Just curious? Maybe he thought he saw something. Who knows?” Marius said.
“I could do with a drink,” Fernando said. Mr. Chastel nodded, his hands still shaking.
Marius noticed and smiled as he slapped him on the back. “You did well! If you keep your cool like this all the time, there won’t be any problems!”
After the dinner back at the house, the others excused themselves, leaving Mr. Chastel alone at the table with Marius.
Frank came in to clear the table. “Anything I can get you gentlemen?”
“Maybe a last beer before bed time?” Marius asked Mr. Chastel.
“Sure.” Frank put a couple of bottles on the table and disappeared out into the kitchen. “Tell me,” Mr. Chastel said after taking a sip of his beer, “have you ever had any problems when doing these type of hunts?”
Marius shook his head. “Nothing we couldn’t handle. We had one client once where it went belly up. He got his quarry alright, but we hadn’t realized that half the gang was assembled there so they opened up on us. The client got hit and we had to get him to a hospital. It got quite messy but we managed. The client survived. He was actually more upset about not getting to take his trophy home than he was about getting shot,” Marius laughed. “We have had one or two journalists that somehow heard about us and started asking questions, but dealing with journalists is not a problem in this country. Anyone asking questions end up getting dumped in Jardim Gramacho like all other trouble makers.” They could hear Frank rummage around in the kitchen as they finished their nightcap.
“What is the story with Frank?” Mr. Chastel ask. “I notice that he looks like someone you don’t want to cross.”
“That’s a good way to describe Frank. He has put a few away in his days that’s for sure. He used to be on the force, like his father before him. Family tradition really. Both his sons joined the force, followed in his footsteps. He lost both of them too, right here in Rocinha, not more than a year apart. That’s them over there.” Marius pointed to a small alter with an image of the Virgin and the pictures of two young men in police uniforms. A couple of candles were burning next to the photos.
“Did they ever catch the guys who did it?”
Marius shook his head. “No! We don’t even know for sure who it was.”
“So why did he have to leave the force?”
“Well, he decided to take the law into his own hands. Nothing wrong with that. Several of us are doing that now and then. Frank went after a couple of gangs, which he thought was behind the killing of his sons. He showed no mercy and was feared like the devil by them.” Marius laughed. “If he had continued that way he would have solved Rio’s drug problem all by himself in a few months.”
“He shot a dealer who turned out to be the son of an influential politician. It created a real stink. There were enough of us who covered for him to avoid any prosecution but he had to leave the force; lost his pension too. Once he heard about our little arrangement he volunteered to run the guesthouse for us and has done so ever since.”
The third day was uneventful. No possible targets and nothing but slum dwellings to stare at all day while stuck inside a small stuffy room.
“Well, that’s hunting,” Marius said as they got back to the guest house. Mr. Chastel nodded as he went into his room to change.
“He is a good sport about it,” Fernando said.
The lack of luck weighed heavy on everyone’s mind. The atmosphere at the dinner table was gloomy and no one spoke much.
“Tomorrow, let’s go back to that place where we saw that lieutenant on the first day,” Marius suggested. “I think it is our best chance.” Mr. Chastel nodded.
“Drink?” Mike asked Mr. Chastel.
He shook his head. “No thanks. Not really in the mood tonight. I think I might retire for the night.”
“Sure. We start tomorrow morning same time as usual,” Marius said.
They were in place well before the sun’s ray started heating up the tin roofs that stretched as far as the eye could see. The guards showed up at the Boca a little after sunrise. It was the same two as the other day. They were easy to recognize, wearing the same clothes. They were leaning casually up against the wall, with the guns in their hands, smoking and talking. A few hours went by. Marius seemed tense, carefully studying the face of everyone who passed by, eager to find a suitable target. They watched as a man came out through an open door in the yellow house next to the alley.
“Well, I be damned,” Marius said. “They are using the yellow house now.” He studied the man intensively though the binoculars. “Yes, that’s one.” he said. The others in the back of the room got up and looked down at the boca. “It’s the lieutenant we saw the other day. I say take him,” Marius said. Pedro nodded.
“The one in the blue t-shirt?” Mr. Chastel asked.
“Yes, that’s him.”
“Alright.” Mr. Chastel lifted up the heavy gun and put it to his shoulder. They heard the muffled click as he pushed the safety off.
Marius sad with the binoculars glued to his eyes, studying the lieutenant intensively. “Whenever you are ready,” he said.
Mr. Chastel took a deep breath and let the gun’s iron sights rest on the chest of the man in the blue t-shirt. His finger started to slowly squeeze the trigger.
“Wait! Wait!” Marius’s voice was hushed as he gently put a hand on Mr. Chastel’s shoulder. “Don’t shoot yet.”
Mr. Chastel looked at him confused. “What is it?” he asked as he automatically put the safety back on.
Marius did not respond. “What is it?” Mr. Chastel asked again. A person was coming out from inside the yellow house.
“That’s Carlos!” Marius turned and looked at Pedro behind him. “It’s fodendo Carlos”
“What?! Carlos?” Pedro asked.
“Yes! It’s Carlos,” Marius whispered. “Fokken hoer! We finally found you.”
Mr. Chastel knew enough Afrikaans to understand the meaning of the insults Marius sneered through his teeth.
“Feio Carlos,” Fernando whispered from the back of the room.
Marius nodded and turned his attention back to Mr. Chastel. “See the guy in the white shirt, with the gold chain?” he whispered. “That’s your man. He is the biggest drug dealer in Rocinha and a cop killer. We have been trying to get him for years. Shoot when you are ready!”
“Do you want a backup shot?” Pedro whispered.
Marius hesitated for a second. “No, it’s alright. Mr. Chastel will handle it nicely, I am sure. Carlos is going to get smoked!” Mr. Chastel took a deep breath. They could see his finger slowly squeeze the trigger. Every man in the room was silent and watched without breathing. It seemed like an eternity before the massive blast from the heavy rifle shook the small room. Marius didn’t flinch. He kept his binoculars focused on Carlos.
“You got him! Congratulations!” he said as he slapped Mr. Chastel on the back. “It was a clean kill. Right in the chest! He dropped like struck by lightning.”
“Congratulations, man! That’s one hell of a score!” Pedro, Mike and Fernando were busy high fiving each other and Mr. Chastel.
“Guys!” Marius interrupted them. “Focus! Get to work. Secure the trophy! We can celebrate when we get back to the house!”
“Yes, sir!” With their guns at the ready the three men quickly stormed out of the small room and down the stairs. The other gang members had run off as soon as Carlos collapsed on the ground and were nowhere to be seen. Mr. Chastel and Marius waited for a few minutes before they heard a whistle. Marius leaned a little out the window and could see Fernando standing by Carlo’s body giving a thumbs up.
“It’s clear. Let’s quickly get down there. Got your camera ready?” The men had quickly organized Carlos’ body so that he sat leaned up against a wall. They had put a gun in his hand.
“I found it in his trouser pocket. Makes for a better photo,” Pedro said with a grin.
“Alright, let’s get the photos taken,” Marius said while he continuously scanned the surroundings, his gun at the ready. The normally bustling alley was deserted.
“They are all hiding,” Mike said, but Mr. Chastel didn’t hear. He was busy taking photos.
“Done?” Marius asked. Mr. Chastel nodded. Pedro bent down over the body and removed the gun and the heavy gold chain. “Alright guys, let’s get out of here!”
“Congratulations,” Marius said again once they got back to the guesthouse. “Frank, let’s have some drinks. We are going to celebrate and we have earned it. You will never guess who it was that Mr. Chastel got!”
Frank smiled politely
as he put a tray with drinks glasses on the table. “You managed to get one?”
“Not just anyone, Frank. He got Carlos!” Pedro said.
“Carlos?” Frank asked in disbelief.
“That’s right! Carlos got smoked!” Mike said with a grin.
Frank stood for a second and just starred at Mr. Chastel. Then he stepped over and shook his hand. “Congratulations! Congratulations, sir! You have my outmost respect!”
“Yeah, that guy has at least twenty officers on his conscience if not more. He and his fucking gang has started more shootouts than any other in all of Rochina. They have probably killed more people with their stray bullets than with the damn drugs they are selling,” Marius said as he dropped down on a chair.
The drinks were flowing as they all sat around the table, excited and relieved. Carlos’ gun and heavy gold chain lay on display on the table amongst the empty bottles. They took turns to admire the blood stained gold chain.
“That was a well-placed shot! I have seen experienced police sharpshooters who would have done a lot worse,” Marius said.
“It wasn’t an easy shot either. With that angle, it’s difficult. It can play tricks on you,” Pedro joined in.
Mr. Chastel smiled and looked very pleased with himself. He had been on enough hunts to know how the professional hunters always talked up the hunt afterwards. How it had always been a difficult shot, a special trophy and an overall outstanding performance by the client. He knew it and he didn’t mind at all.
“Let’s have some more drinks,” Mike called.
Marius went into his room and came back with a bottle. “This is a whiskey I have been saving for a special occasion! I think tonight warrants it!” Frank had cooked up a storm and the bottle of whiskey went around again and again.
“Bam, bam, bambambam.” They could hear heavy shooting in the distance.
“Now it starts,” Pedro said. “It will go on all night, I can tell you that.”
“Bam, bam, bam.”
“It’s the gangs moving in on Carlo’s territory,” Marius said and poured another round of drinks. “They are going to kill more low level members in 24 hours than the police can manage in a month.”
“Yes! By tomorrow evening, all the members of his gang will either be dead or have joined one of the other gangs, and his territory divided up between them,” Mike said.
“Listen to that one,” Fernando said with a grin. “They have pulled out the heavy guns. That’s a 50 caliber! Got to be the Amigos de Amigos’ gang. They are the only ones who have one of those.”
“There was never any love lost between Carlos and Amigos de Amigos. They are not going to miss the opportunity to making short work of them, that’s for sure!” Mike said. The other guys around the table laughed and nodded.
“Saúde!” Marius raised his glass. “To a hunt like none other! A well-placed shot and one hell of an experience!”
“To a good deed!” Frank said.
The others nodded. “Yes, to a good deed!”
It was late before Mr. Chastel finally stumbled into bed.
The next morning Marius drove Mr. Chastel back to his hotel.
“Thank you,” Mr. Chastel said and shook Marius’s hand as they stopped outside the hotel. “That was an amazing experience. Never tried anything even remotely like it!” He smiled and passed a well-padded envelope to Marius. “A little something for you and the others,” he said.
“I will make sure they get their share,” Marius said with a smile. “I am glad you liked it and I hope to see you here again, Mr. Chastel.”
Mr. Chastel nodded. “I hope so too.” He turned and walked up to the entrance of the hotel with the heavy gold chain in his pocket.
The doorman came and took his bags. “Welcome back, sir. Let me help you with those.”
Thomas Kring July 2023