"Is something the matter with you, Wingate?"
"Haven't you seen a man with malaria before?"
Mitchell grabbed hold of Wingate by the shoulders and swung him round. "Your room is this way." He guided him in the right direction. "Have you seen a doctor?"
"Yes." Wingate was trying to reach for his key.
Mitchell helped him insert the key into the lock. "May I come into your room for a moment?"
"You may not. Why?"
"I was going to use your telephone to call a doctor."
"I just told you that I've seen a doctor. I'll be fine once I'm rested."
"Look here, Wingate. This is an order. I want you to leave your door unlocked."
"So I can pop in once in a while and make sure you"re all right."
"Why is my welfare so important to you, Colonel?"
"You look pale as death. I want to make sure you"re all right. Then I'm going to have you arrested for rudeness to a superior officer."
Wingate slammed the door shut. As he made to turn the key in the lock, the door pushed open and Mitchell's head appeared in the doorway.
"You"re being quite paranoid, Wingate. I'm not a spy, and I'm not from GHQ."
"Thank you, Colonel."
"You"re welcome, Major. Are you sure I shouldn't call a doctor?"
"I assure you, Colonel, I don't need to be seen by a doctor."
"Very well. Remember I'm only next door. All you need do is tap on the wall and I'll be here in the blink of an eye."
Wingate shut the door. He stood there and waited until he heard Mitchell's footsteps receding. He listened as Mitchell opened the door to the adjoining room.
Then, with painful step after painful step, he groped his way along the wall towards the bed at the far end of the room. He collapsed on the bed, rolled into the sheets and lay groaning with aches shooting through every limb in his body.
After tossing and turning for several minutes, Wingate crawled out of the sheets and reached out to the bedside table and picked up the lone file lying there. He flicked through the sheaves of loosely bound paper. It was a report he had written for General Headquarters on the conduct of the Ethiopian campaign; a furious, hastily written document tinged as much by memories of real and imagined slights as by the fever which was already laying siege on him when he sat down to write it.
Cynicism in this war will defeat us, but it is prevalent in our councils. Righteousness exalteth a nation.
He reached for a pen and began to cross out the second line. Then he thought better of it and decided to retain it.
He reached into his rucksack and pulled out a thermometer. Sucking on it, he went into the bathroom and stood in front of the shaving mirror.
You look pale as death, the irksome colonel had said. The man was right.
He removed the thermometer and read his temperature. That morning it had hovered between 100 and 103; then, before his foolish decision, born of restlessness, to go for a walk in the brutal noon-day heat had brought him to his present misery, the last two tablets of Atabrine had helped lower his temperature. Now it had risen to 104.
Atabrine, he thought, I must get some Atabrine.
He went back into the bedroom and picked up the telephone, dialled the hotel operator and asked to be put through to Tayib at the front desk.
"When's it coming?" Wingate asked when Tayib came on the line.
"Quite soon, Major." He sounded evasive.
"How soon is quite soon, Tayib?"
"Within ... within the hour, sir."
Something in Tayib's voice made Wingate suspicious. He stared at the thermometer for a long while without saying another word.
"Are you there, Major Wingate?"
"Yes, Tayib, I'm here. I was just thinking ..." He lapsed into further thought and then made up his mind. "I was actually phoning to tell you that I no longer need the Atabrine. There's still some left of the dosage you got me yesterday. I'd simply misplaced the bottle. I've just found it; it was under the bed. Thank you, Tayib. Thank you for everything. Thanks to you, the Continental has lived up to its reputation of being a veritable oasis. Goodbye and God bless."
Excerpted from The King's Rifle by Biyi Bandele Copyright © 2009 by Biyi Bandele. Excerpted by permission of Amistad Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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