"Are you leaving the hotel?" Tayib asked.
"No," said Wingate. "What makes you think that?"
"I just wondered, sir ... you said goodbye."
"I'm always saying goodbye, Tayib. I'm a soldier. It's an occupational reflex. I'm going to take a nap now. Please see to it that I'm not disturbed."
"Of course, sir. Have a nice nap, sir."
For a long while after he returned the phone to its cradle Wingate sat motionless on the bed. He picked up the thermometer and returned it to its pouch. Then he lifted the rucksack and carefully emptied its contents, including the thermometer he'd just placed into it, on the floor. He searched through the pile on the floor, searched every pocket sewn into the rucksack.
He was looking for his service pistol which he had in fact left behind in Addis Ababa in the haste and suddenness of his departure from Ethiopia.
He searched every corner of the room; under the bed, beneath the mattress, through drawers and wardrobe; he searched everywhere. But the pistol which he was convinced he'd seen and cleaned only a few days ago was nowhere to be found. He'd heard of a thriving black market in small arms and weapons in the City of the Dead an ancient and sprawling graveyard, known also as the Cemetery of the Living, which housed not only dead Cairenes but hundreds of thousands of the destitute who lived in and amongst its monuments and burial chambers. He wondered if one of the cleaners had come upon the pistol and stolen it to boost the pittance of a take-home pay they received for the gruelling work they did and the long hours they were required to put in. But it didn't make sense that someone would steal a pistol and yet leave untouched all the cash he routinely left lying around the place.
He picked up the phone and began to dial the operator. Perhaps Tayib could help him come to the bottom of this little mystery of the missing pistol. The operator came on and Wingate began to ask to be put through to the front desk. Then he changed his mind.
As he put the phone down, Wingate's eyes fell on a hunting knife he'd picked up a year earlier in a market in Khartoum. He'd long given it up for lost, but it had lain all this time where he had thrown it on the day he bought it: in the rucksack whose contents now lay on the floor before him. He picked up the knife and went into the bathroom. He reached into his shaving bag and pulled out a tube of strop paste, squeezed a pinch into the palm of his hand and carefully worked it into the leather front of the strop hanging by the mirror. After he had thoroughly stropped the knife, he stood by the mirror, raising his chin so he could see the whole of his neck. He rubbed his fingers through his beard, as if he was about to shave it off.
Then, with all the strength he could summon, he plunged the knife into his neck. It sliced through flesh and tendon. As he proceeded to slaughter himself, with blood gushing out, he suddenly remembered the door. The door. He turned round, and with the knife firmly stuck to his windpipe, and parts of his brain beginning to die for lack of oxygen, Wingate went out of the bathroom. He reached the door and turned the key in the lock.
Satisfied, he headed back into the bathroom to finish what he had started. Standing in front of the mirror, he pulled out the knife, passed it to his other hand, and slashed at his jugular vein from another angle. Blood spurted out smearing the mirror. Wingate began to choke.
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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