Bill climbed only a short distance before the gorillas’ trail led into one of Visoke’s many ridge-top tunnels of vegetation: three- or four-foot-high openings maintained by the steady passage of animals. He crawled in on all fours, then came to a quick halt. Inside the tunnel, only four or five yards away, a silverback stared down at him with pursed lips, swaying back and forth. Just as Bill was thinking that this wasn’t Stilgar-and that he didn’t look happy-the unknown silverback screamed and charged. Bill knew this was not a bluff and braced for a hit. He never felt the blow, just a warm burning sensation as the gorilla’s giant canines sank into his neck. There must have been more to the tussle, since he was dragged or rolled about thirty feet down into a small ravine. But Bill was knocked unconscious after the bite. When he came to, Nemeye was standing over him. Bwana, uko sawa? No, bwana wasn’t okay and he wasn’t happy. All he knew was that he was lying on his back, his shirt was ripped, and his eyeglasses were missing, And where was the big black truck that ran over him?
Nemeye quickly found the glasses and Bill stomped back to the tourists, who were huddled only thirty yards away. They had heard the gorilla’s scream and commotion, Now they stared in stunned silence as Bill curtly told them the visit was over and that they were all going home. He quickly led the way down the mountain, silently berating himself You’re here as the great gorilla expert and you end up trashed by a gorilla. He felt terrible that he had forced a gorilla to react so violently. After a while, one of the Air France pilots spoke up. Tu sa ignes, mon vieux. Ah, yes. Blood. The neck bite. Adrenaline and shock had erased the memory of the attack, but it all came back as Bill inserted his little finger into a surprisingly deep gash-more than an “inch wide
and nearly as deep. A shallower puncture wound lay just to the other side of the spinal column. The location of the bites made Bill shudder. One of the stewardesses offered him an Air France lemon-scented towelette that stung as he cleaned the wound. The experience began to take on elements of the surreal. As he continued walking, the pain in Bill’s ribs also became much sharper. He began to realize that he was badly hurt.
The return to the Visoke parking area was a blur. A bench seat in one of the tourist vans was cleared to take Bill to the Ruhengeri hospital. The French are never far from their beloved red wine and a bottle was quickly offered as a palliative. Neither alcohol nor the intense nicotine of a Gauloise cigarette, however, could dull the pain of the jarring descent down the fifteen-mile rocky track to Ruhengeri. At the hospital, a doctor first examined the two neck wounds. He then depressed two of Bill’s ribs like piano keys. An X-ray confirmed that the ribs were broken. Bill was given a bed, where he tried to collect his thoughts until an angry nurse yelled at him for lying in bed with his dirty clothes and boots on. The offending items were stripped off and he was ordered to take a shower–down the hall and outside. When the first cold water hit his neck, Bill passed out. He was found unconscious in the shower, then brought back to his bed where he apparently passed the cleanliness test.
When Bill awoke, Pierre Vimont was standing next to him in full evening wear with Claude in a shimmering gown at his side. Pierre had heard of the attack while at a party in Kigali and set a personal record for the sixty-mile drive up the escarpment road to Ruhengeri in the dark. Claude’s pale appearance was probably due more to Pierre’s driving than the sight of Bill and his
bandages, but it was reassuring to see the Vimonts’ faces and concern. Jean- Pierre von der Becke, too, appeared,at the hospital and was pleased to learn that the injuries were not life-threatening. He was also relieved to hear that Stilgar was not the assailant. Bill was increasingly convinced that it must have been Brutus-his old nemesis from the census-who had bushwhacked him in the tunnel. The ambush style of attack fit with Brutus, as did the bright silver hair on his saddle.
Tourism was suspended for the next several days as Jean-Pierre and the guides went back over the trail and surrounding area to determine what happened. They found that Brutus’s Group 6 had indeed moved north to inter- act with Group 11 late on the day before the attack. The extent of flattened vegetation indicated an unusually intense amount of displaying by the silver- backs. The interaction may have continued in vocal form throughout the night, as the two groups had made their nests within one hundred yards of each other. The next morning, Group 11 moved off .to the north, while Group 6 briefly followed our tourist trail before turning west to climb.