Excerpt of The Constant Gardener by John Le Carre
(Page 4 of 13)
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Woodrow was already at the door. "And you've told nobody?"
"Not a soul."
"Have the police?"
"They say no. But they can't answer for Lodwar and I shouldn't think they can answer for themselves."
"And Justin's been told nothing as far as you know."
"Where is he?"
"In his office, I assume."
"Keep him there."
"He came in early. It's what he does when Tessa's on a field trip. Do you want me to cancel the meeting?"
Aware by now, if he ever doubted it, that he was coping with a Force Twelve scandal as well as a tragedy, Woodrow darted up a back staircase marked Authorized Staff Only and entered a glum passage that led to a closed steel door with an eyehole and a bell button. A camera scanned him while he pressed the button. The door was opened by a willowy redheaded woman in jeans and a flowered smock. Sheila, their number two, Swahili speaker, he thought automatically.
"Where's Tim?" he asked.
Sheila pressed a buzzer then spoke into a box. "It's Sandy in a hurry."
"Hold for figures one minute," cried an expansive male voice.
"Coast now totally clear," the same voice reported as another door burped open.
Sheila stood back and Woodrow strode past her into the room. Tim Donohue, the six-foot-six Head of Station, was looming in front of his desk. He must have been clearing it, for there was not a paper in sight. Donohue looked even sicker than usual. Woodrow's wife
Gloria insisted he was dying. Sunken, colorless cheeks. Nests of crumbling skin below the drooping yellowed eyes. The straggling mustache clawed downward in comic despair.
"Sandy. Greetings. What can we do you for?" he cried, peering down on Woodrow through his bifocals and grinning his skull's grin.
He comes too close, Woodrow remembered. He overflies your territory and intercepts your signals before you make them. "Tessa Quayle seems to have been killed somewhere near Lake Turkana," he said, feeling a vindictive urge to shock. "There's a place called Oasis Lodge. I need to talk to the owner by radio."
This is how they're trained, he thought. Rule one: never show your feelings, if you have any. Sheila's freckled features, frozen in pensive rejection. Tim Donohue still grinning his foolish grin -- but then the grin hadn't meant anything in the first place.
"Been what, old boy? Say again?"
"Killed. Method unknown or the police aren't saying. The driver of her jeep had his head hacked off. That's the story."
"Killed and robbed?"
"Near Lake Turkana."
"What the hell was she doing up there?"
"I've no idea. Visiting the Leakey site, allegedly."
"Does Justin know?"
"Anyone else we know involved?"
"One of the things I'm trying to find out."
Donohue led the way to a soundproofed communications booth that Woodrow had never seen before. Colored telephones with cavities for code lozenges. A fax machine resting on what looked like an oil drum. A radio set made of stippled green metal boxes. A home-printed directory lying on top of them. So this is how our spies whisper to each other from inside our buildings, he thought. Overworld or underworld? He never knew. Donohue sat himself at the radio, studied the directory, then fumbled the controls with trembling white fingers while he intoned, "ZNB 85, ZNB 85 calling TKA 60," like a hero in a war film. "TKA 60, do you read me, please? Over. Oasis, do you read me, Oasis? Over."
A burst of atmospherics was followed by a challenging, "Oasis here. Loud and clear, mister. Who are you? Over" -- spoken in a raffish German accent.
Copyright © 2001 by David Cornwell.