Bobby summoned a small smile. "Do you see their eagerness, the joy on their faces? For a day they are free of docility and fear." He paused, then finished softly, "Were I to die right now, Marissa, I would die a happy man."
His faintly autumnal tone reminded Marissa of the gray flecks she had begun to notice in his hair, the deepening grooves in his face that betrayed that he was not only older than she, but suffering from an exhaustion he tried to conceal from the others. She grasped his hand more tightly.
For a mile they walked at the head of the Asari along a dirt road forged by PGL repair crews between mangroves and palm trees, the orange glow of flaring gas lighting their path. Then Bobby stopped abruptly.
Marissa followed his gaze. At a fork in the road ahead, three silhouettes hung from the thick branches of a tree, specters in the devils light.
Turning, Bobby held up his hand. The marchers fell quiet, save for cries of shock from those who saw what Bobby saw. "Wait here," Bobby told Marissa.
But she did not. Together, they moved toward the tree, stopping only when the three shadows became corpses. As Bobby held up his cigarette lighter Marissa saw that strangulation had contorted their faces and suffused their eyes with blood. All were Luandian; all wore denim shirts bearing the letters PGL.
Her stomach constricting, Marissa turned to Bobby. Tears shone in his eyes. "Now what will happen to us?" he murmured.
A stirring in the grove of palms behind the corpses made Marissa flinch. The figure of a large man emerged, followed by three others. As the men stepped into the light, Marissa recognized the familiar uniform of Luandian soldiers and saw their leaders face.
Instantly she felt herself recoil: though she knew him only by the patch over his right eye, by reputation Colonel Paul Okimbo was a mass murderer, a rapist, and, the survivors of Lana whispered, insane. Okimbo wore the eye patch, it was said, to conceal a walleye and, bizarrely, to evoke the Israeli general Moshe Dayan. Stopping beside the hanging bodies, he trained his remaining eye on Bobby, then Marissa, letting his gaze linger.
Facing Bobby, he said, "This is your work, Bobby Okari."
"No," Bobby answered. "Not mine, and not ours."
Okimbo emitted a bark of laughter. "So you say. But soon you will face the justice of Savior Karama."
Marissa watched Bobby exert the full force of his will to meet Okimbos stare. A spurt of anger broke the colonels impassivity. "Unless the Asari withdraw at once," he snapped, "there will be consequences. Some will die."
Feeling the dampness on her forehead, Marissa saw the sheen of sweat on Bobbys face. With palpable reluctance, he answered, "As you say. But this will not end here."
"Of that you can rest assured," Okimbo responded with the flicker of a smile. "I know two hundred ways of killing a man, and more men than that who deserve to die."
To Marissa, the silence that followed felt suffocating. Involuntarily, it seemed, Bobby looked from Okimbo to the corpses, hanging with eerie stillness in the dense night air.
Seeing this, Okimbo placed his hand on the back of the body nearest him, idly shoving it toward Bobby as though propelling a child on a swing. As the dead man slowly swung between them, Okimbo said softly, "For you, hanging will do nicely."
Excerpted from Eclipse by Richard North Patterson
Copyright @ 2009 by Richard North Patterson
Published in 2009 by Henry Holt and Co.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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