On this day, Rebecca Bates killed twenty-five lions with a single arrow. To her credit, she did not premeditate it. But once she had known about it, she did not regret it much either.
Most people have a purpose in life, if only to survive from day to day. Above mere survival, some would pursue happiness, whether at the expense of others or not. Only a previous few serve someone or something greater than themselves, be it ones child, a cause, the common good, or the whole planet - at their own expense. So, in this scheme of things, where does one place Rebecca's current purpose in life, which was to bag the BIG-5 - the leopard, the buffalo, the lion, the rhino and the elephant?
Up to two months before, her general purpose was to hunt every huntable African species, and have at least one head from every species adorning her trophy-room wall. Last time she looked, three of the four walls were crammed full of animal heads, from duiker to monkey to jackal to hunting dog to hyena to boar to ostrich to wildebeest to zebra to elan to hippo to giraffe. At the centre of the back wall was a cheetah, surrounding which being its prime prey species - the impala, the Thompson's gazelle and the Grant's gazelle, among others. But the front wall was blank. This wall, she has reserved for the Cape buffalo, the leopard, the lion, the rhino and the elephant - her now desperately desired BIG-5. All in all, these constituted only her African trophy room. There were two more in her vast basement, one for Asian animals and the other North American animals.
The primest of the prime specimens, these. No compromise there, thank you. An elephant, for example, the tusk length record was 3.264 meters (10 ft 8.5 in), and weight-wise it was 102.7 kg (226 lbs 7oz). She was well aware that due to uncontrolled ivory poaching and the previously unregulated trophy hunting, such behemoths no longer existed, that the second echelon tuskers were disappearing fast, and that the average tusk size had been declining by as much as 1.5 pounds per year in recent years. But she was not going to accept any elephant that was not the largest for its space and time. As wild spaces shrank, time pressed upon her an overwhelming sense of urgency. She must have the last of the big tuskers before they were eliminated from the face of the Earth. She must be the last of the Great White Hunters, and a female one at that!
To further distinguish herself from her pining peers, she had set a certain criterion for her achievement. She would take the Big-5 down, one by one, not with a high-powered big-bored rifle, but with her 75-pound compound bow. It started with nothing more profound than a dare when she watched a TV-show on women bow-hunters. At first she just wanted to join their rank. But gradually, she began to want to outdo some of them, then all of them. She took up archery in earnest. Measuring just 5'3 and 120 lbs, she could hardly draw a 40 lb bow at first. The African bow hunting rule stipulated a minimum draw weight of 70 lbs for the Big-5 - especially the rhino and the elephant. So she put herself through a rigorous body building program. When she landed in Africa for the third time two months before, she was a sleek and muscular 140. And with her shining blonde hair and icey-blue eyes, she was the mythological huntress Diana personified, or so she saw herself, although culturally this would be inconsistent with her having "accepted Jesus Christ as her personal savor", as defined and imposed by her evangelical and tyrannical father.
Subsequent to Rebecca's BIG-5 expedition, a woman named Shannon Stone, who eventually became the Vice President of a ten-thousand-members-strong group called the Global Anti-Hunting Coalition (GAHC, as in "We will, we will, GAHC YOU!"), published a blog series titled [The 12 Most Vile] female trophy hunters of the time. Rebecca Bates was the second. She did not make top spot because it was occupied by one Sarah Palin.
Back to Rebecca meanwhile, to claim her Big-5, and to fully savour every tiniest nuance of the chase, Rebecca had set aside two months. Now, into the second, she had bagged a gaur-sized Cape buffalo and a lioness-sized tom leopard. No doubt these were the finest of the fine specimens, and each chase was a thrill and a half, but she could not fully concentrate on them even when the hunts were in progress. To her, they were the tokens of Big-5, mere steps to her goal, two means to three ends - her lion, her elephant and her rhino. She found herself somewhat robotic while firing three arrows into the buff, no more animated than while target shooting. And the leopard, well, the challenge was in locating one, and it was not her doing, but that of her somewhat handsome hunting guide Travis Waltrip. When it came to shooting it, she even felt a tinge of contempt for the animal, for being the least of the Big-5. She had her field-dresser and skinner bring her the buffalo head and the leopard pelt, then matter-of-factly called the taxidermist to come and pick them up, and that was that.
Since then, for five days now, she had Travis drive her to the far corners of the vast hunting concession, looking for the king of kings. In all, they found ten adult-sized males, three with voluminous blonde manes, who were the males of the nearer AAH pride, three with equally voluminous black manes, who were the males of the farther GXR pride, and four younger non-territorial not-yet-prided males called the GOF (Gang of Four). Travis identified the three blonde males as Achilles, Agamemnon and Hector of the AAH pride which comprised seven lionesses and twenty four cubs of various ages from two months to over two years. The GOF had been evicted from a third pride about a year before. As was the lion's way, the GOF roamed from territory to territory, making incursions and leaving calling cards in the form of their scent charged urine, thereby checking out the strengths and vulnerabilities of the pride males occupying those territories. Though they had indeed tested the formidable AAH, they had steered a wide berth from that kingdom. There were weaker prides to target, with older lions. But they were never far away either. At night, Rebecca could hear their roaring contests, which sent thrills up and down her spine. By and by, she found herself losing interest in the GOF, and even when she dreamed, it was about the big blonde Achilles.
Still, for the last four days, she had patiently glassed AAH, minutely examining each - their relative sizes, their mannerisms, their blemishes or lack thereof, even their facial features. Especially their facial features. She would want none but the handsomest and most majestic adorning the front wall of her trophy-room back home. Having seen the AAH, nothing an iota less would do.
Day before yesterday, she had firmly made up her mind. Achilles was hers, and not even Agamemnon and Hector combined could shake her from this her new obsession.
Yesterday, she spent the entire day watching Achilles alone. When Agamemnon and Hector crossed his path, they were but a blur. Only Achilles stood crystal clear in her eyes. She had fallen in love.
Meanwhile, Travis had merely sat by while she did her interminable telescopic scrutiny of what he took to be the entire AAH pride, lionesses, cubs and all, plus the occasion glimpses of the GOF, without asking a single question, while surreptitiously admiring her curvy form obliquely from behind, and day-dreaming his own manly dream of romantic victory and sexual conquest. This was somewhat excusable, at least in his own mind. He's been out here in this wilderness for eight straight months, and client after client had been big fat bankers or lawyers or politicians, or else the odd hitherto surviving drug lord. Women-wise, they had been nubile mistresses hanging on to the trunks of their money-trees, or dumpy and fretful wives trying to sexify themselves with their name brand safari suits. Besides, with Rebecca shelling out $1250 per day for his just being there, she could take all the time in the world indulging in her inexplicable distant lion-scrutiny to her heart's desire. Then came the evening and the obligatory camp fire, and in the sensual flicking of the flames, her desire was revealed.
"Travis darling, bring me another cup that lethal brew of yours, will you?" she crooned.
"Nothing would give me greater pleasure, Ms. Bates," said he, almost jumping to his feet.
"Are you really that easy to please, Travis? Anyway, now that tomorrow shall be the day, you may address me as Rebecca."
"I will be your servant to the end, Ms... uh... Rebecca. Your wish is my command," he said, while placing the second cup of strong coffee into her manicured yet powerful hands.
"And my desire is my wish."
He raised one eyebrow dramatically. "And what might your ladyship's desire be?"
"Not so fast, Mr. Casanova. I'm referring to the lions at the moment."
"Oh, but of course," he replied awkwardly, while regrouping with a touch of professionalism. "So, you have selected your quarry?"
"Indeed I have. Indeed I have," she murmured, as if confessing to the fire.
"Who has captured your desire? Which lion, I mean."
"Achilles. He's the one. He is mine."
"Whoa. No no. Sorry Rebecca, he is out of bounds."
"And why not?" She cast him a sidelong glance, which became a steady stare.
"He is the poster boy in my website and my show piece to all clients. His purpose in life is to entice them to cross the seven seas. Once they have set foot on this land, his task is done. It will be other, lesser, lions that will take the bullet, or arrow, as the case may be."
"Ah, you have hit the nail on the head, with one word."
"'Lesser'. I want nothing that can be so described. I want the very best. I'm glad you concur on which one this refers to."
"I'm truly sorry, Rebecca, but Achilles is not to be touched. How would the leader of the Gang of Four be? He is one magnificent specimen of the much sought after dark-maned variety."
"Nope. Achilles it has to be, or the hunt is off."
Travis tried, but could not maintain contact with her piercing eyes, and let his gaze drift down to the one of the crackling imported logs. "Look, I'll have to consult my senior partner on this," he mumbled weakly.
"Well, well, so you're not man enough to call your own shot?"
"Alright, let's approach this from another angle, an angle I'm sure you can appreciate. Everything has its price. So, tell me what Achilles' price is."
"One moment, please." He stood up much more stiffly than before, walked over to the main tent and entered it. Moments later, he ambled back, and said, "Mr. Hawthorn said that he would required three times the fee."
"See? There is no such thing as not-for-sale."
"I will pay you double. Fifty grand. Plus five for you to keep."
"I'm sorry, Rebecca, three times $25,000 is $75,000."
"Fifty grand plus five, and I will throw in myself for the night. Take it or leave it," she said, without a hint of passion in her voice.
Minutes later, the sounds of the wild African night was polluted somewhat by those of human origin, emitted from Rebecca's tent to be exact, vocal, but non-verbal. Even so, the great orchestra of nature was dominated by the lions. The sound was awe-inspiring and horrific. The lions had taken down a large animal, which Travis said to be a giraffe by the sound of it. And the hyenas were the uninvited and unwanted guests to the feast, which lasted till dawn.
In the mid-morning, from about a mile out, they spotted Achilles resting in the shade of an acacia tree, alone. Travis tested the wind and said that they were at a cross-wind to Achilles. He guided Rebecca down wind, then made a stealthy tangential approach. At about a hundred yards, she halted Travis, who had his rifle on low-ready.
"Wait here," she ordered.
"I can't do that," he protested.
"You're gonna have to." And with this, she began to advance towards the sleeping lion, bow not drawn, but arrow nocked.
Travis hurriedly assumed a prone position on a slight rise, and kept the cross hair of his scope on his chest. With his other eye, he saw Rebecca approach Achilles in much the same manner as that of a lioness approaching a zebra herd. At forty yard or so, she stopped, stood up erect, drew her bow, took careful aim, and launched the arrow right through Achilles' massive torso. The lion gave a surprised roar, lept to his feet, fixed Rebecca with his fiery eyes, then charged head long with a hurricane in his mane. Rebecca cradled another tri-bladed arrow, and was midway through drawing her bow when a barrage of three shots came from Travis' rifle, which brought Achilles a crumpled heap twenty feet in front of her, enshrouding her with a red cloud of savannah dust.
She stood staring at Achilles for a long moment while Travis charged down the rise at a run. When he had come within striking distance, she delivered to his cheek a resound slap.
"See what you've done!" she scream at him. "You ruined this hunt for me! I wanted to kill him MYSELF!"
Within days of Achilles' demise, the Gang of Four invaded the AAH pride, crippled Hector, evicted Agamemnon, exterminated all 24 cubs thus terminating the AAH line, and claimed the seven lionesses for themselves for their own genetic propagation.
She might have felt a fleeting pang of regret when later she heard about the cubs, but cubs were worthless to trophy hunters anyway. She saw them as accepted bilateral damage in her quest to mount the magnificent head of Achilles towards immortalizing her BIG-5 wall.