I met Arnold Bollinger in a slightly seedy hotel bar, I had wandered inside more to escape the blistering heat than in the pursuit of alcohol.
A sombre faced man sat alone at the corner table, the only one with available chairs.
“Excuse me would you mind awfully if I shared the table with you?” I asked him.
“No, please join me sir,” he replied, “I hate drinking alone, and I could really do with the company on this sad day.”
He rose and offered his hand, “Arnold Bollinger sir.”
“Bernard Romford sir.” I replied, shaking his hand firmly. “Sad day sir?” I enquired, as I sat down.
“Yes sir, a very sad day. I have just attended the funeral of my best friend, Reginald Pollock.”
“Oh my!” I said, slightly taken aback. “How did he die?”
“Attention to detail sir, that's what killed the poor chap, or lack of attention to detail to be more precise. Please sit awhile with me sir, and you shall hear the story.”
Mister Bollinger sat back in his chair, and began...
“I first met Reggie thirty seven years ago sir, in the army in Eighteen ninety nine, at the start of the Boer war. There we were, two young tigers, barely out of our teens, newly commissioned. We fought many battles and skirmishes together. Saved each others lives on more than one occasion, I can tell you.
One time we were on a scouting mission, Reggie, myself, and a dozen infantrymen. We were about to set up camp when there commenced a loud thrashing and trumpeting from the bush. I told the men to post guard, Reggie and I would investigate. We stole quietly through the trees until we came to a rather large clearing with a sturdy tree in the centre of it. Attached to the base of said tree was a length of steel wire, a snare sir, laid by damned blasted ivory poachers, the other end of which was wrapped around the foreleg of a baby elephant.”
Bollinger paused for a moment or two, and his eyes took on a blank stare as his mind's eye returned him to the clearing.
“The poor animal was thrashing and dragging at the wire in vain attempts to free itself, losing more blood as the wire bit deeper. I was for shooting the animal to end its pain sir, but Reggie would have none of it, he always had a special rapport with animals, he had no fear of them you see, and they could sense this. He approached the elephant and talked soothingly to it for a few minutes, rubbing its trunk gently, eventually the animal calmed, and he led it nearer to the tree, which enabled him to remove the snare. A nasty looking wound ran full circle around the poor beasts foot. Talking quietly to the animal all the while, Reggie took his medical kit from his pack, and the elephant stood docilely whilst Reggie applied salve to the wound. The animal stared into Reggie's eyes for several moments, and then wandered off through the trees.”
“Over the next few months we saw the animal on several occasions, easily distinguishable from the other infants by the vivid white scar round its leg, on these occasions Reggie would call out to it, the creature would separate from the herd and amble over to spend a few minutes nuzzling up to him, you see sir, an elephant never forgets a friend, or indeed an enemy for that matter.”
“After the war we left the army to seek our fortunes here in Africa, through the years we travelled the length and breadth of this great nation, doing many different things sir, diamond and gold prospecting, bodyguarding, we made rather a large amount of money as mercenaries here and there too.”
“Last week we were commissioned to seek out and … er... discourage a particularly troublesome team of ivory poachers who were operating in the district. We located the elephant herd, and tracked it as we waited for the poachers to show up. Three nights ago we were hidden in the scrub about fifty yards from the herd, and a rather large bull elephant appeared, he had got our scent and was walking towards us, I thought we may be in danger sir, I reached for my rifle in order to defend myself but Reggie motioned for me to be still. He stood up, and I watched with horror as he laid down his rifle, and started walking slowly towards the massive animal, all the while talking soothingly to it, and then sir, I noticed the vivid white scar that circled the animals front foot.”
“I called to him to come back... he wouldn't listen sir....”
“Reggie walked right up to the towering beast, the elephant stood calmly whilst he reached up and gently stroked its trunk.....”
“After a minute or two the elephant lowered its massive head, slowly wrapped its trunk around Reggie's waist, it lifted him high into the air, then savagely slammed him into the ground with tremendous force.......”
“I watched sir, frozen in shock and disbelief as it lifted the scarred foot, placed it on top of his head, and squashed his skull like a grape.... like a grape sir!"
“The animal then slowly wandered back to the herd without so much as a glance in my direction.”
“I brought poor Reggie's body back here over his horse sir. If only he had paid attention to detail, He would have noticed as I had, that the old snare scar was on the elephants left forefoot...”
I looked at him, not really understanding the point he was making....
“Sad to say Sir,” Bollinger continued. “The baby elephant who's life he had saved all those years ago had been snared by its RIGHT foot.”
©2010 Stephen. J. Green.