Short Story: Pride Among Predators by Denice Penrose


Murder is easy.

The killing I mean. It’s simple. We see it all the time here in the Kruger National Park. Eat or be eaten is the rule. Africa is a dangerous place. I should know: I’ve been doing this for twenty years. 

“Here’s the jeep keys Gerry. Better make sure your rifle is loaded. We’ve had reports of a rogue elephant.”

“Thanks Manus.” I deliberately brush my fingers against his as I take the keys. He flushes, but smiles. He’s young, new. He’ll learn. I’ll make time for him at the end of the tourist season.

Rifle in its case, slung over my back, I walk out of the thatched cool, across stone floors into the African sun. They’re waiting for me, under the canopy, cameras, binoculars and phones in evidence. They’re stacked in layered seats—high enough to give them good views. Looking at the faces, I note Chinese, Nordic blonde, Indian—a microcosm of cultures. I’ll know the others by sunset. 

Môre Julle. That’s Afrikaans for ‘Good Morning,’ I smile. 

Sawubona,” Jabu says. “That’s how we say it in my language.” He flashes an electric smile—his teeth whitened by the contrasting darkness of his complexion.

“I’m Geraldine, this is Jabu. We have a few rules to keep you safe,” I say beginning our usual lecture. I don’t have to think about the words anymore. I outline our route for the day, the animals we’re likely to see, and I watch faces light up. Ah, tourists, my pain, my pay and my pleasure.

Jabu climbs behind the wheel, and starts the engine. “Is your gun loaded?” I ask sotto voice. 

“Always, Gerry, Always.”

We drive out of the gates of Skukuza. Automatically, I begin narrating. “It’s been dry lately, so we’re more likely to spot game along the river, so we’ll be driving along the Sabie River. Our first rest break will be when we get to Lower Sabie.”

As if they know we’re coming for them, the impala begin to put in an appearance,

“Look it’s like a buck. It’s so close.” Ah, an American. “Can we stop to get a photo?”

Jabu looks at me and I nod. Shutters click. Jabu and I share an amused smile—we have a bet on how long it will take for them to go from excitement over a few impala, to ‘it’s just another buck.’ There are well over 130,000 in the park, so my bet is one hour. Jabu thinks it will take three. An hour later he hands over ten Rand (R), as we drive past a large herd of Impala. One of the tourists yawns. So far we’ve ticked off Zebra, Kudu, Giraffe, and a few wildebeest. There are a couple of keen bird watchers, and they’re delighted to see a Hoopoe sitting proudly in a tree, curved insect eating beak in prominent display. A little later, a flock of purple crested rollers fly past.

“When we see big five?” I hand back the R10 to a smiling Jabu. It took longer than usual for that question to come up. As if on cue, a small herd of elephants walks across the road in front of us. There is a frenzy of clicks, and excited chatter. The herd lopes across the road in a ragged line, and down towards the water, a mother and calf encircled. 

“Aw. Look how cute the baby is.”

“Can we move in closer?” 

“This is a safe distance, especially with a calf in the herd. They can flatten the jeep, and outrun you. You don’t mess with them,” Jabu says. They look suitably chastened, but it’s time to reinforce the safety message. “When people are killed here, it’s usually because they get too close to the predators. They forget that these are wild animals. Stay in the jeep, listen closely, and you’ll be fine. 

A few minutes down the road, we pull into a viewing point, close to the river. It sparkles in the sunlight. Reminding everyone to stay in the jeep, I hop out to get the cooler bag. Jabu stands guard, rifle in hand. We hand around cold drinks and water. My hair is damp, sticking to my head under the hat. I shake it out, tie it up again, rub my face with a damp hankie, and reapply sunscreen and sunglasses. Jabu’s shirt is marked by dark sweat patches, and I’m sure mine reflects the same pattern. I drink cold water, and think about long showers. I pour a little water down my neck, my blouse clings wetly. Bingo. I feel his gaze, then look up into dark eyes. He glimpses away, but I see his eyes keep returning to my chest. That push up bra is bloody uncomfortable, but so effective. I stretch, knowing his eyes are on me, beginning to reel him in. The hunter has taken the bait. 

He’s tall, blue eyed, dark haired, nicely toned, his loose shirt hinting at a six-pack as he moves. He’s been quiet so far, a loner. He’s young, just the way I like them. 

The cicadas chirp incessantly, the anthem of the African bush. The heat rises, and the air is still, no breeze stirring. Jabu scans the bushes with his binoculars. I keep my hand on my loaded rifle, but safety on. 

A hippo opens its mouth to yawn. The pocked tracks of a crocodile’s back float along the river’s edge. 

“You’re so lucky living here, seeing this every day.” 

“It is beautiful,” I agree looking him over. With the casual confidence of youth, he’s happy to strike up a conversation. 

“I’m Jamie.” I shake his extended hand. His grip is firm, his hand lingers a little. I smile softly, and he flushes, puts his hand in his pocket. 

“Look, up there,” Jabu says. “I lift my binoculars in a matching gaze. 

“Well spotted! Look up into the lower branches of the tree across the river, the one at 10 o’clock.” I tell them.

Binoculars swing, cameras point, “Where?”

“What is it?” 

“There’s a leopard sleeping in that tree,” I say.

“I see it.”

“Let me see.” 

“There’s a dead impala next to it. It looks so small.”

“The young are easy prey. It’s nature’s way of thinning out the herd, keeping them strong. Leopards drag their kill up into the trees, to keep it from other predators,” I say.

They chatter and look excitedly. Jabu and I check the rest of the area for any more ‘sights’ with one eye alert for potential danger. 

Image courtesy of  romankosolapov

The clicking slows, and binoculars begin to move around again. “Okay, time to go,” I say. 

The groans are soon forgotten when we spot a pack of hyena sleeping under a tree. Two pups suckle softly, and I give my group the spiel—being a walking encyclopaedia comes with the territory.

At Lower Sabie, there’s a rush to the loos. It’s good to stretch my long tanned legs, straighten my shorts. In the staff bathrooms, I freshen up, change my shirt, wash my face and brush out my hair. Blue eyes stare at me in the mirror. My bronzed complexion is still unlined, and I need very little make up. I pull a few blonde tendrils out of the ponytail, tweak my fringe. 

Jabu and I grab lunch in the canteen, while our group raids the gift shop and has their meal. Jamie wanders over to us, backpack slung over one shoulder. He settles in the chair next to me. Jabu smiles, and I shoot him a warning look. 

“That was so cool. I can’t believe we’ve been so close to all those animals,” Jamie says. “Oh, you changed your shirt. That’s smart. I should have brought a spare. It’s so hot,” he says, eyes lingering a little at my top button, which is a little lower than on my other shirt.

I sip my coke, and meet his gaze. His eyebrows raise, and he looks away, swallows. Jabu shoots me a warning look, and I grin wryly. 

“Where do you come from?” I ask, knowing his answer won’t be a surprise. I’ve already placed that Sussex accent. 

“I live in Brighton. I’ve just finished my degree, and I wanted to travel a bit.”

“You’re lucky. Travel is expensive.”

“Yes, but I have some money. It’s my inheritance. My dad died a few months ago.” 

“Is this your first time abroad?”

“First trip to Africa, but we summered in different parts of Europe every year, and one year in New York. Dad says, I mean, said, travel is good education.”

“What does your mother think?”

“No idea. She split before I turned two, and my Dad divorced my last stepmother years ago. I’m all alone in the world,” his lip quivers slightly.

I put my hand on his and smile at him. “You’re not alone.” This time he holds my gaze, smiles. He’s hooked.

“He’s a bit young,” Jabu says softly as we climb back into the jeep. 

“Relax, it’s just a bit of fun.” I flash him a disarming smile, and he shrugs. “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t.”

“That leaves me with a lot of scope,” I reply, knowing he has a few more notches on his belt than I do. 

Jamie makes a point of sitting right behind me, smiling smugly. I give him an encouraging smile. I hand out insect repellent to those who underestimated the mosquitoes, and fresh bottles of cold water. We’re off again. 

We head down towards Crocodile Bridge, and to Berg en Dal. Time and a lot more species pass in the hot sun. The list of ticks grows. Jamie talks, telling me about his degree, and I discover he’s an only child.  I set my sights on him, encouraging him just enough that he knows to continue, but ensuring he can’t monopolise my attention while I’m working.  

Mid-afternoon, we approach my favourite place in the park. It doesn’t look like much at first glance—kopje or rocky outcrop, surrounded by a few sparse thorn bushes. Jabu knows to stop here. 

“Why are we stopping?” Jamie asks. 

“Just a minute,” I say, scanning the bushes. I know they won’t be far. 

“Lions!” The Japanese tourist spots them first, and binoculars swivel, lining up with his pointed finger. 

They’re there, all ten of them. It’s a big group, but they stay here. They know there’s regular food, and good shelter in that kopje. One strolls closer, sniffing the air. She knows me. 

“Wow, she’s so close we could touch her,” 

“Don’t even think about it,” Jabu and I warn together. “They’re not tame. They can kill you with one swipe.” 

Jabu backs up a bit, and we hear a few groans. The lioness returns to her pride, flops down in the shade. 

They snooze in the thicket, only the flickering of ears and tail indicate they are alive. Two cubs squabble playfully by their mother. She ends their game with an indolent paw. These are my lions, my pride. 

“We’ll see better from over there,” Jabu says, moving the jeep again. The male raises his head, stares at us, and yawns. 

 We continue our meandering drive. Even I’m surprised when we spot a rhino. Finally, we wend our way back to Skukuza a little after sunset. Our tourists are tired, but happy, and the Americans leave a big tip. Jamie is last to leave, hovering while I empty the jeep. “Hamba kahle,” I wish Jabu well as he drives off to park the jeep. 

Sahle kahle,” he replies with a wave. ‘Stay well.’

Jamie approaches me. “Can I buy you a drink? He offers. 


I ditch the khaki uniform, wash off the sweat and dust in a long cool shower. I slip into black lace panties and bra, and then pull on a colourful silk wrap dress. The fabric floats and clings softly. Hair dried, and arranged in soft curls, gold sandals, and a spritz of perfume. I’m ready to prowl.  

I’m aware of turning heads as I walk into the bar. Jamie’s jaw drops, then he quickly stands up, wiping his hands on his trousers. 

“Ah. Um. Wow. You look amazing.” 

“Thanks. A glass of chardonnay Jim,” Jim nods and pours. 

“I’ll get that,” Jamie fumbles for his wallet. Jim rolls his eyes at me and shakes his head. “Be nice,” he says. 

“Always,” I laugh, as I lead the way to a secluded corner. Jamie follows. We sit, drink, eat, talk. He’s holding my hand. I smile and slowly reel him in. 

“It’s late,” I say. “Where are you staying?” 

He tells me, and I thank him for the evening, adoring puppy expression turns to hang dog. I kiss him softly. 

“Goodnight.” I can’t be seen leaving with him. 

Surprise turns to delight when I knock on his door a little later. “I’m really not supposed to do this,” I tell him as I slither out of silk, and slip into bed beside him. “It’s not very professional.” 

“I promise I won’t tell,” he says. I know he won’t. What he lacks in experience he makes up for in energy. It’s why I like them young. He’s a quick learner. 

“When will I see you again?” he asks as I leave.  

“How long are you staying?”

“I don’t know— I don’t have any real plans. I can stay as long as I like.”

“I’m not working this weekend. We can meet up then.”

I help out with a cull on Thursday. I’m a crack shot, so I’m always in demand, but it’s not fun. I know we have to do it to manage the populations, but killing these animals is not fun. They are outmatched, and outgunned. 

I pick Jamie up outside the mall in Nelspruit on Friday afternoon, and we head back to Skukuza. “You’ll have to hide, when we go through the gates—I’m not supposed to bring visitors in.” He doesn’t question, and hides in the back of the jeep, and we take the back roads to my chalet. No one is around as we sneak inside. 

“I could lose my job if anyone sees you at my place,” I tell him. “You’ll have to keep hidden.” 

“I’m happy to stay inside with you,” he tells me.

“And inside me?” I say. He has the grace to blush, and then smiles at me. This should be fun, and I have all weekend to teach him how to play.

On Sunday night, when the gates have closed again, and the park is shrouded in dark, I load the jeep, and drive towards Pretporiuskop. The park is mine now, no tourists. The air is warm, the velvet-sky diamond encrusted. The kopje looms in the dark.

As if they knew I was coming, they’re there, waiting. I smile as I see them in the jeep lights. I roll out the bundle, removing the tarpaulin. They walk over, sniff, and paw at their snack. My pride, my partners. I smile as they devour the evidence, my prey.

Murder is easy. Not getting caught, now that’s a bit harder. Tougher still is finding a way of disposing of the body that won’t leave a trail. My method has worked for twenty years.