"Whose car?" Woodrow demanded wildly -- fighting now, rejecting the whole mad concept -- who, how, where and his other thoughts and senses forced down, down, down, and all his secret memories of her furiously edited out, to be replaced by the baked moonscape of Turkana as he recalled it from a field trip six months ago in the unimpeachable company of the military attaché. "Stay where you are, I'm coming up. And don't talk to anyone else, d'you hear?"
Moving by numbers now, Woodrow replaced the receiver, walked round his desk, picked up his jacket from the back of his chair and pulled it on, sleeve by sleeve. He would not customarily have put on a jacket to go upstairs. Jackets were not mandatory for Monday meetings, let alone for going to the private office for a chat with chubby Mildren. But the professional in Woodrow was telling him he was facing a long journey. Nevertheless on his way upstairs he managed by a sturdy effort of self-will to revert to his first principles whenever a crisis appeared on his horizon, and assure himself, just as he had assured Mildren, that it was a lot of utter nonsense. In support of which, he summoned up the sensational case of a young Englishwoman who had been hacked to pieces in the African bush ten years ago. It's a sick hoax, of course it is. A replay in somebody's deranged imagination. Some wildcat African policeman stuck out in the desert, half loco on bangi, trying to bolster the dismal salary he hasn't been paid for six months.
The newly completed building he was ascending was austere and well designed. He liked its style, perhaps because it corresponded outwardly with his own. With its neatly defined compound, canteen, shop, fuel pump and clean, muted corridors, it gave off a self-
sufficient, rugged impression. Woodrow, to all appearances, had the same sterling qualities. At forty, he was happily married to Gloria -- or if he wasn't, he assumed he was the only person to know it. He was Head of Chancery and it was a fair bet that, if he played his cards right, he would land his own modest mission on his next posting, and from there advance by less modest missions to a knighthood -- a prospect to which he himself attached no importance, of course, but it would be nice for Gloria. There was a bit of the soldier about him, but then he was a soldier's son. In his seventeen years in Her Majesty's Foreign Service he had flown the flag in half a dozen overseas British missions. All the same, dangerous, decaying, plundered, bankrupt, once-British Kenya had stirred him more than most of them, though how much of this was due to Tessa he dared not ask himself.
"All right," he said aggressively to Mildren, having first closed the door behind him and dropped the latch.
Mildren had a permanent pout. Seated at his desk he looked like a naughty fat boy who has refused to finish up his porridge.
"She was staying at the Oasis," he said.
"What Oasis? Be precise, if you can."
But Mildren was not as easily rattled as his age and rank might have led Woodrow to believe. He had been keeping a shorthand record, which he now consulted before he spoke. Must be what they teach them these days, thought Woodrow with contempt. How else does an Estuary upstart like Mildren find time to pick up shorthand?
"There's a lodge on the eastern shore of Lake Turkana, at the southern end," Mildren announced, his eyes on the pad. "It's called the Oasis. Tessa spent the night there and set off next morning in a four-track provided by the lodge's owner. She said she wanted to see the birthplace of civilization two hundred miles north. The Leakey dig? He corrected himself. The site of Richard Leakey's excavation. In the Sibiloi National Park."
"Wolfgang provided a driver. His body's in the four-track with hers."
Copyright © 2001 by David Cornwell.
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