“Is this the same country which people routinely trash when discussing about tourism?” Sam seemed awestruck by the beauty all around.
“Yeah that’s the question running through my head as well.” Ginny had heard the same from her friends back in Auckland.
“From the greenery to the valley, from the wildlife safaris to the unspoilt beaches, this place is paradise rediscovered.”
“Yes it truly feels like. God! They scared us to death while departing. Thankfully we kept our foot down.” Over the last few days, they had realized that this place was nothing like what had been described by their friends.
“Who knows; maybe they assumed that we were going to a concentration camp rather than an adventure trip.” Both of them had a hearty laugh.
Sam and Ginny were not your regular couple who meet in a college and fall in love. They actually never worked in an office at all. Whether it was rock climbing, rappelling, bungee jumping, paragliding or any other adventure sport – both of them were always game for challenges. And it was during one of these adventures that they happened to meet.
“Are you ready to take the plunge?”
“I am really scared Sam. What if the wire snaps in mid – air?” Ginny seemed like a nervous wreck.
“What’s the big deal? Then you will die and your ghost will terrorize me for the rest of my life.” Sam looked at her with a grin writ large on his face.
“I hate you. I am going back.” She almost started to walk back when he pulled her arm.
“Don’t worry. Nothing will happen to you. Have faith in me. It’s just a matter of a couple of seconds and it’ll all be over.”
Sam worked as the lead instructor at the Auckland SkyJump. Though he was educated enough to land up a good corporate job, he never liked the idea of sitting at a desk for 9 hours staring into the computer screen. The fact that this didn’t pay him too well was not a problem as it satiated his adventurous streak to quite an extent.
“I really loved the experience. It felt as though I was flying in the air. Thanks for everything.” She was cheerful and vivacious. But there seemed to be an inner loneliness which her eyes were hiding.
Maybe it was the adventure. Maybe it was the ecstasy of the “SkyJump”. Maybe it was coincidence. But over the next few months they started meeting regularly at adventure spots across New Zealand. And New Zealand being the country it is offered them such spots in plenty.
The love for adventure bonded them together. And slowly but surely Ginny didn’t look lonely anymore. They would talk about their likes, dislikes, growing up and everything which a normal couple do.
“How are you such an adventure freak? I mean you are always ready as if you have grown on this all your life.”
“I wasn’t always like this. My life was filled with a myriad of sorrows. At one point it seemed as though I was a walking ghost.” Ginny became nostalgic hearing him.
“Whoa! Looks like I seemed to have touched a raw nerve somewhere. Are you ok?” He held her hand in his.
“You know Sam; you have given me something of a second life. Whenever I immerse myself in adventure, I feel free; I feel a sense of relaxation. With you I feel a sense of calm, I have never felt ever.”
“I know am too good. But seriously so much praise?” He looked at her with naughtiness in his eyes.
“Why don’t we get married Sam?” She held his arms to bring him closer.
“Marriage? Why do we have to get married Ginny? Aren’t we happy like this? Imagine this; both of us going to places around the world together. Doesn’t that sound amazing? And you would also get a lot of material to pursue your interest as a writer.
“That’s all ok. But I want to feel complete with you. I feel there are too many restrictions right now.”
“Honey! We can live in together. Wouldn’t you love that?”
And so despite her apprehensions, they started living in together. The fact that they didn’t marry didn’t prevent them from expressing their love for each other. In due course, they started living a normal life which the usual couples do.
It was only after a couple of years when they had managed to save enough, did they finally decide to make an adventure trip outside the country. Though it was situated in what many still referred to as the ‘No-Go-Zone” of the world, Ronelia was an epitome of beauty waiting to be discovered.
“Why do you carry your video camera everywhere? Don’t you think it’s an intrusion for us?” Ginny was irritated with Sam’s habit of filming every bit of their trip.
“These are memories to be saved. And that’s what am doing Mademoiselle.”
“What memories? You have video recorded every second of our visits to the Trembula National Park, the journey to Lake Madaro, the white water rafting experience in Illene Falls and what not. If you give it to a tourism agency, they would love to use it. You better not get it into the bedroom.” The sarcasm wasn’t lost on Sam.
“Look at you. You seem to have learnt your way with words. My presence has helped, hasn’t it?”
“You seem to have too much confidence on yourself ‘Mister’. If I had to learn from you, I would have been a disaster today.”
Despite so many years of being together, both of them still loved to pick on each other like the years of yore.
“Anyway, tomorrow is the last day of our trip. After that there will be no camera and no cribbing.”
“No camera? Are you planning to sell it?”
“I am sure you actually want that, don’t you?
“I have a lot more to think about than your stupid camera work. Oh God! These mosquitoes are sucking all the blood I’ve got.” Thieves, Rapists, Murderers, Muggers – they had heard about it all in Ronelia. But the only thing to have troubled them till then were mosquitoes which were there in plenty.
“Yeah even they realize that they wouldn’t be getting such pure blood for a long time.” Sam ran away from the room lest he were to receive a dressing down.
The Makkari Reserve is spread out over an area of more than 1500 kilometers. Along with a number of other animals, all the members of the “Big Five” (Lion, Leopard, Elephant, Buffalo and Rhinoceros) are visible here.
Both of them had booked a package which involved a guide taking them on a one day conducted tour of the reserve.
“Jambo. Habari gani?”(Hello! How are you?) The guide began in Swahili.
“Nzuri” (Fine) All the sessions Ginny had taken in Swahili were finally coming to some use.
“Unasema kiingereza? (Do you speak English?)
“Ndiyo” (Yes) Quickly realizing that Sam was almost beginning to crib, she prevented the discussion from moving into an unknown language.
Being tall and broad chested gave him an intimidating aura. But then, having to deal with animals day in and day out, one would expect the locals to be pretty heavily built.
Overcast conditions with a nice little breeze – the weather was perfect for a game drive. Being a very popular spot for tourists, Makkari always has a huge number of vans taking them in and out each day. Each van can seat a maximum of four but the two of them had taken an entire vehicle for themselves. They wanted to be away from anyone’s prying eyes.
Throughout the day, Sam had noticed the guide staring at Ginny through the rear view mirror. Whenever Sam would notice, the guide would shift his gaze away. Finally, Sam sat in the front seat to avoid this unpleasant situation.
Whenever one of the guides spotted an animal, all the vans converged on the scene like a group of children fighting for a chocolate.
Having sighted what they were looking for, both were coming to the end of a long but ultimately rewarding day.
“Darling, why are you sitting in the front? I want you to come here now.”
“Ok darling. Your wish is my command.”
“Thanks for bringing me here Sam. Before this trip, I never realized that I had such love for animals.” Ginny couldn’t control her happiness.
“I am myself amazed by the beauty around here.”
But just when they had begun talking, their guide interrupted.
“Sir, how do you like this place?”
“Oh! It’s awesome. I have never seen anything like this before. The animals look delighted to move around freely without any cages.”
“Yes. It sure is a lovely place. Don’t you get such kinds of places in New Zealand?”
“How do you know we are from there?” Sam looked a bit concerned.
“Oh don’t worry. I just happened to notice the “Air New Zealand” baggage tag.”
Both of them looked at each other with a confused expression. But rather than think too much about it, they let it go.
By 5pm it had started to get dark and a slight drizzle had begun as well. It’s always said that in Makkari, one shouldn’t stay till it gets too late. It’s really easy to lose one’s way.
But they didn’t need to worry too much since they were with an experienced guide.
“Why are you going deeper into the reserve? Isn’t it too late? The rain is getting heavier as well.” Sam was getting a bit restless.
“Sir, don’t worry. I am taking a shorter route. We will reach faster. You will be at your hotel very soon.”
“Are you sure?”
“Why are you worrying sir? You take rest. I am sure it’s been a really long day for you.”
Just then –
“What are you still recording on your camera? Isn’t it all over? It’s dark now. Leave your video camera for god sake.” Ginny was at her wits end to make him understand.
“Shhhhh!” He came close to her and told her to keep mum. He signalled to indicate that something wasn’t right. Her eyes spoke a lot but she knew that it was not the right time now.
And almost suddenly the car seemed to have broken down. Even after numerous attempts it didn’t budge.
“Is the car ok?”
“Sir, I am just getting down to check.”
And almost immediately he turned around and hit Sam so hard on his face that he was left unconscious. Before she could react, he pounced on Ginny and tried to kiss her. He had an iron like grip on her hands and face.
“You are mine. This is what I wanted all day long. This is the moment I had been waiting for.” The guide seemed a man possessed.
“Leave me you asshole.”
She yelled. She pleaded. She resisted. But to a guy who seemed to have sex on his mind, it was to no avail.
“Get up Sam. Please get up.” He was her only hope of survival.
After a couple of minutes, she realized that the guide was trying his best to get into the back seat.
“Go to hell you perverted son-of-a-bitch.” She hit him hard on the head with her bag and bit his arm with her teeth and ran outside.
But she couldn’t leave Sam alone like this. She had to do something before the guide caught on her. Due to years of experience in adventure sports, both Sam and Ginny were endowed with an athletic body.
“You bastard! You deserve to be killed with this boulder. Show me how you survive this.”
She had found a huge boulder and lifted it with all her might and smashed it on the guide’s head. Believing that he was dead, she ran to the car to wake up Sam. After trying for another ten minutes, he finally woke up in a dazed state.
“Are you ok darling? Where is he?”
“I killed him Sam. I am fine. We have to run away from this place.” Ginny was shivering with fear. But she tried to say as calm as possible.
“But how do we do that? It’s going to be almost impossible to drive.”
“We can contact someone through the walkie-talkie. I am sure someone would be able to hear us.
“Hello. Can anyone hear us? Hello. We are stuck in the Makkari reserve. Hello. Please save us. Can you hear us?”
There was no response from the other end. They were disappointed but kept trying again and again.
“What now Ginny?”
“Let’s drive Sam. There’s no other option. It’s better than just waiting around. We can’t run anyway. Just drive.” Ginny realized that their options were running out.
“Oh freak. This is crazy. The fuel is so low. I am sure this guy made all the plans to kill us.”
Before Sam could react, Ginny zoomed the van ahead at full speed.
Total darkness had set in by then. By no means was it a quiet night. The entire reserve resounded with the sounds of all kinds of animals. All the while Sam tried to contact someone on the walkie-talkie. But it refused to work. And just then, the car came to a halt.
“Sam, I am scared of death. For the first time in my life I can see death in my face. I feel so helpless.” Ginny was almost in tears with fear.
“Don’t worry Ginny. I am sure if we can stay in this van for the night, rescue will surely arrive in the morning.” Sam’s voice couldn’t hide his feelings.
“I really love you Sam. If we don’t survive until tomorrow, I am sure at least your camera will let the people know what we went through.”
“Can you listen to those sounds Sam? I think the lions are here.” Ginny couldn’t take it any longer.
Without saying a word, they sat as quietly as they could lest the animals sense their breath. The sounds were coming closer by the second. And then a rattling sound stopped the recording.
“I am really sorry about your son, Sam’s death.”
“It’s not your fault officer. Sam always loved adventures. He was a brave guy never fearing challenges. Both of them were so happy. Maybe God had something else in store for them.” After a painstaking investigation I was able to track down Sam’s parents and bring them down here. It was necessary for me to get a background of his and Ginny’s life to solve this case.
“I am sure Sam must have not known that his video tapes could prove so helpful. But he deserves kudos as that was our clinching evidence against these crooks. I am sure both Sam’s and Ginny’s souls will rest in peace.” I felt a lump in my throat but then I had a duty to do.
“But we will get our peace only when their bodies are found.”
This wasn’t an ordinary case. It was the third such incident of a couple disappearing in the grasslands in the past 3 months. Knowing that a bad reputation to Makkari could have repercussions for the entire country, I was assigned to this investigation. Having solved numerous such cases, this was another challenge I was game for.
In the earlier incidents, we were neither able to trace the victims nor the guides and not even the vans. It seemed as though the GPS systems installed in the vans had been switched off. The guides had given their aliases to escape any scrutiny. Moreover, they were also hand in glove with the guys managing the reserve.
But it was different this time. We were able to track the GPS system and reached the car in a day. But then we were stunned to find a video camera on the scene. Almost miraculously the tapes were in near perfect condition.
“I hope we can find their bodies. Our teams are trying. But the reserve is so large and full of animals. I am sure you understand the troubles we are facing.”
“We do. Could you take us to the place where the van was found?”
“Sure. I owe you that much not the least because your son helped us uncover the dark secret of these grasslands.”