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The Leopard Hunts in Darkness

'The Leopard Hunts in Darkness'

A Novel by Wilbur Smith

-----'The Leopard' is so incredible, I can't begin to even put into words the twists and turns, trials of fear, anger, love, and horror that make this novel one of the very best Wilbur Smith has ever written.

-----Its focus is on a man named Craig Mellow and his adventures as he tries to reclaim the land his ancestors lived on after the wilderness, natives, and Zimbabwe government had reclaimed it as their own.

-----Craig has to go through a legal atrocity to reclaim his land, and his main opponent to the retrieval of it is his one time friend, Tungata Zebiwe, a man whom he would have laid out his life for in the not-so-distant past.

-----Royal were his blood-lines, and kingly still his bearing. Taller than Craig, well over six feet and lean, not yet running to flesh, which was often the Matabele trait, his physique was set off to perfection by the cut of his Italian silk suit, shoulders wide as a gallows tree and a flat greyhound's belly. He had been one of the most successful bush fighters during the war, and he was a warrior still, of that there was no doubt. Craig experienced a powerful and totally unexpected pleasure in seeing him once more.

-----"I see you Comrade Minister," Craig greeted him, speaking in Sindebele, avoiding having to choose between the old familiar "Sam" and the nom de guerre that he now used, Tungata Zebiwe, "The Seeker after Justice."

-----"I sent you away once," Tungata answered in the same language. "I discharged all debts between us - and sent you away." There was no return light of pleasure in his smoky dark eyes, the heavily boned jaw set hard.

-----"I am grateful for what you did," Craig was unsmiling also, covering his pleasure. It was Tungata who had signed a special ministerial order allowing Craig to export his self-built yacht Bawa from the territory in the face of rigid exchange-control laws which forbade the removal of even a refrigerator or an iron bedstead. At that time the yacht had been Craig's only possession, and he had still been crippled by the mine blast and confined to a wheelchair.

-----"I do not want your gratitude," said Tungata, yet there was something behind the burnt-honey-colored eyes that Craig could not fathom.

-----"Nor the friendship I still offer you?" Craig asked gently.

-----"All that died on the battlefield," Tungata said. "It was washed away in blood. You chose to go. Now why have you returned?"

-----"Because this is my land."

-----"Your land-" He saw the reddish glaze of anger suffuse the whites of Tungata's eyes. "Your land. You speak like a white settler. Like one of Cecil Rhodes' murdering troopers."

-----"I did not mean it that way."

-----"Your people took the land at rifle-point, and at the point of a rifle they surrendered it. Do not speak to me of your land."

-----"You hate almost as well as you fought," Craig told him, feeling his own anger beginning to prickle at the back of his eyes, "but I did not come back to hate. I came back because my heart drew me back. I felt I could help rebuild what was destroyed."

-----Tungata sat down behind his desk and placed his hands upon the white blotter. They were very powerful. He stared at them in a silence that stretched out for many seconds.

-----"You were at King's Lynn," Tungata broke the silence at last, and Craig started. "Then you went north to the Chizarira."

-----Craig nodded,"Your eyes are bright. They see all."

-----"You have asked for copies of titles to that land." Again Craig was startled, but he remained silent. "But even you must know that you must have government approval to purchase land in Zimbabwe. You must state the use to which you intend to put that land and the capital available to work it."

-----"Yes, even I know that," Craig agreed.

-----Tungata looked up at him. "So you come to me to assure me of your friendship. Then as an old friend, you will ask another favor, is that not so?"

-----Craig spread his hands, palm upward in a gesture of resignation.

-----"One white rancher on land that could support five hundred Matabele families. One white rancher grows fat and rich while his servants wear rags and eat scraps he throws them," Tungata sneered, and Craig shot back at him.

-----"One white rancher bringing millions of capital into a country starving for it, one white rancher employing dozens of Matabele and feeding and clothing them and educating their children, one white rancher raising enough food to feed ten thousand Matabele, not a mere five hundred. One white rancher cherishing the land, guarding it against goats and droughts, so it will produce for five hundred years, not five-" Craig let his anger boil over and returned Tungata's glare, standing stiff-legged over the desk.

-----"You are finished here," Tungata growled at him. "the kraal is closed against you. Go back to your boat, your fame, and your fawning women, be content that we took only one of your legs - go before you lose your head as well.

-----Needless to say Craig and Tungata didn't get off on the right foot on Craig's return to Africa, and Craig left Tungata's office seething, but he got his chance to get back at his old friend a couple of months later.

-----Craig, his lover Sally-Ann and their new friend Peter Fungabera track a poaching ring to Tungata's doorstep and intercept Tungata in their Land Rover before he completes the pick up of illegal ivory and rhino horn.

-----"Out!" He shouted. "Everybody out!"

-----Behind them the two trucks came to a squealing halt, clouds of dust boiling out from under their double rear wheels. Armed troopers swarmed out of them, rushing forward to club down the two unarmed men onto the gravel of the road. They surrounded the Mercedes, tearing open the doors and dragging out the driver and another man from the back seat.

-----There was no mistaking the tall, wide-shouldered figure. The headlights floodlit his craggy features and exaggerated the rocky strength of his jaw. Tungata Zebiwe shrugged off the grip of his captors and glared about him, forcing them to fall back involuntarily.

-----"Back you yapping jackals! Do you dare touch me?"

-----He was dressed in slacks and a white shirt, his cropped head was round and black as a cannon ball.

-----"Do you know who I am?" He demanded. "You'll wish your twenty-five fathers had taught you better manners."

-----His arrogant assurance drove them back another pace, and they looked towards the Land-Rover. Peter Fungabera stepped from behind the headlights, and Tungata Zebiwe recognized him instantly.

-----"You!" He growled. "Of course, the chief butcher."

-----"Open the truck," Peter Fungabera ordered, without taking his eyes off the other man. They stared at each other with such terrible hatred that is rendered insignificant everything else around them. It was an elemental confrontation, seeming to embody all the savagery of the continent, two powerful men stripped of any vestige of civilized restraint, their antagonism so strong as to be barely supportable to them.

-----Craig had jumped down from the Land-Rover and started forward, but now he stopped before the Mercedes in astonishment. He had not expected anything remotely like this. This almost tangible hatred was not a thing of that moment. It seemed that the two of them would launch themselves at each other like embattled animals, tearing with bare hands at each other's throats. This was a passion of deep roots, a mutual rage based on a monumental foundation of long-standing hostility.

-----From the back of the captured truck the troopers were hurling out bales and crates. One of the crates burst open as it hit the road, and long yellow shafts of ivory glowed like amber in the headlights. A trooper hooked open one of the bales and pulled out handfuls of precious fur, the golden dappled skin of leopard, and the thick red pelts of lynx.

-----"That's it!" Peter Fungabera's voice was choking with triumph and loathing and vindictive gloating. "Seize the Matabele dog!"

-----"Whatever this is will rebound on your own head," Tungata growled at him, "you son of a Shona whore!"

-----"Take him!" Peter urged his men, but they hesitated, held at bay by the invisible aura of power that emanated from this tall imperial figure.

-----In the pause, Sally-Ann jumped down from the Land-Rover and started towards the treasure of fur and ivory lying in the road. For a second she screened Tungata Zebiwe from his captors, and he moved with a blur of speed, like the strike of an adder, almost too fast to follow with the eye.

-----He seized Sally-Ann's arm, twisted and lifted her off her feet, holding her as a shield in front of him as he ducked low and scooped up the discarded rifle from the dust at his feet. He had chosen the moment perfectly. They were all crowded in upon each other. The troopers pressed so closely that none of them could fire without hitting one of their own.

-----Tungata's back was protected by the Land-Rover, his front by Sally-Ann's body.

-----"Don't shoot!" Fungabera bellowed at his men. "I want the Matabele bastard for myself."

-----Tungata swung the barrel of the rifle up under Sally-Ann's armpit, holding it by the pistol-grip single-handed, and he aimed at Peter Fungabera, as he fell back towards the Land-Rover, dragging Sally-Ann with him. The Land-Rover's engine was still running.

-----"You'll not escape," Peter Fungabera gloated. "The road is blocked, I have a hundred men. I've got you at last."

-----Sorry, you'll have to read the book to find out if Tungata can escape and Craig Mellow can save the woman he loves. I'll tell you one thing, you won't be bored while finding out. Zimbabwe is a violent and destroyed land, eager to challenge anyone who attempts to tame it.

-----Rarely do I enjoy a book as much as I enjoyed reading the end of the Ballantyne series. This one is amazing whether you finish the first three or not, and provides a complete and excellent end to a series unequaled by any I've read by any other author (I still liked the Courtney series more than this one).

"The Leopard Hunts in the Darkness" Smith, Wilbur. Fawcett Crest Books. New York, New York. Published 1984.