Mount Dragon

Mount Dragon by Douglas Preston

Book: Mount Dragon by Douglas Preston Read Free Book Online
Authors: Douglas Preston
quickly. The figure rose with a curse, slamming the keyboard cover shut.
    â€œBrent,” the face called. “Are you there?”
    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 vehicle’s 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.
    â€œHow you doing, Rod?” Scopes said wearily, turning to face the camera on the end table.
    â€œThe weather sucks.”
    â€œRaining here too,” Scopes said.
    â€œYeah, but you haven’t seen rain until you’ve—”
    â€œI’ve been waiting three days to hear from you, Falfa,” Scopes interrupted. “What the hell’s been going on?”
    The face broke into an ingratiating smile. “We had problems getting gas for the trucks. I’ve had a whole village out in the jungle, at a dollar a day per person, for the last two weeks. They’re all rich now, and we’ve got fifty-six baby chimps.” He grinned and wiped his nose, which only served to smear more mud across his face. Or maybe it wasn’t mud.
    Scopes looked away. “I want them in New Mexico in six weeks. With no more than a fifty-percent mortality rate.”
    â€œFifty percent! That’ll be tough,” Falfa said. “Usually—”
    â€œYo, Falfa!”
    â€œExcuse me?”
    â€œYou think that’s 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.”
    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. “Hunter mans!” Falfa was saying in pidgin. “You cover up dat beef, you hear? For every beef dat ee go die, hunter mans get dashed out one shilling.”
    â€œNa whatee?” came the response from outside the Range Rover. “Masa promise de dash of—”
    â€œDo it.” Falfa snugged the window shut, locking out the man’s complaints, and turned to Scopes with another grin. “How’s that for prompt action?”
    Scopes looked at him coldly. “Piss-poor. Don’t you think those chimps need to be fed, too?”
    â€œRight!” 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.
    â€œIs everything all right, Mr. Scopes?” the figure asked.
    Scopes gestured toward the keyboard. “The keyboard is broken.”
    The figure smiled ironically. “I take it Mr. Falfa finally checked in.”
    Scopes laughed, rubbing his unruly hair. “Correct. These animal collectors are the lowest form of human being I’ve encountered. It’s a shame the Mount Dragon appetite for chimps seems

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