quickly. The figure rose with a curse, slamming the keyboard cover shut.
âBrent,â the face called. âAre you there?â
Scopes walked over to the battered couch, flounced down on it cross-legged, and dragged the computer keyboard into his lap. He typed some commands, then looked up at the vast image on the screen.
The mud-spattered face belonged to a man currently seated inside a Range Rover. Beyond the vehicleâs rain-streaked windows lay a green clearing, a fresh gash in the flank of the surrounding Cameroon jungle. The clearing was a sea of mud, churned into lunar shapes by boots and tires. Scarred tree trunks were pulled up along the edges of the clearing. A few feet from the Range Rover, several dozen cages made of pipe and hog wire were stacked into rickety piles. Furry hands and toes poked from the hog wire, and miserable childlike eyes peered out at the world.
âHow you doing, Rod?â Scopes said wearily, turning to face the camera on the end table.
âThe weather sucks.â
âRaining here too,â Scopes said.
âYeah, but you havenât seen rain until youâveââ
âIâve been waiting three days to hear from you, Falfa,â Scopes interrupted. âWhat the hellâs been going on?â
The face broke into an ingratiating smile. âWe had problems getting gas for the trucks. Iâve had a whole village out in the jungle, at a dollar a day per person, for the last two weeks. Theyâre all rich now, and weâve got fifty-six baby chimps.â He grinned and wiped his nose, which only served to smear more mud across his face. Or maybe it wasnât mud.
Scopes looked away. âI want them in New Mexico in six weeks. With no more than a fifty-percent mortality rate.â
âFifty percent! Thatâll be tough,â Falfa said. âUsuallyââ
âYou think thatâs tough? See what happens to Rodney P. Falfa if more corpses than live bodies arrive in New Mexico. Look at them, sitting out there in the goddamn rain.â
There was a silence. Falfa honked and an African face appeared in the window. Falfa cracked the window a half inch, and Scopes could hear the miserable screams of the animals beyond. âHunter mans!â Falfa was saying in pidgin. âYou cover up dat beef, you hear? For every beef dat ee go die, hunter mans get dashed out one shilling.â
âNa whatee?â came the response from outside the Range Rover. âMasa promise de dash ofââ
âDo it.â Falfa snugged the window shut, locking out the manâs complaints, and turned to Scopes with another grin. âHowâs that for prompt action?â
Scopes looked at him coldly. âPiss-poor. Donât you think those chimps need to be fed, too?â
âRight!â Falfa honked the horn again. Scopes pressed a button, cutting off the video communication, and sat back on the sofa. He typed a few more commands, then stopped. Suddenly, with another curse, he winged the keyboard angrily across the room. The keyboard hit the wall with a sharp cracking sound. A single key, jarred loose, rattled across the polished floor. Scopes flopped back onto the sofa, motionless.
A moment later the door hissed open and a tall man of perhaps sixty appeared. He was dressed in a charcoal suit, with a starched white shirt, wing-tip shoes, and a blue silk tie. Between graying temples, two fine gray eyes framed a small, chiseled nose.
âIs everything all right, Mr. Scopes?â the figure asked.
Scopes gestured toward the keyboard. âThe keyboard is broken.â
The figure smiled ironically. âI take it Mr. Falfa finally checked in.â
Scopes laughed, rubbing his unruly hair. âCorrect. These animal collectors are the lowest form of human being Iâve encountered. Itâs a shame the Mount Dragon appetite for chimps seems