"So you haven't heard from her since when?" he asked.
"Tuesday when I drove them to the airport. What is this, Sandy? If Arnold's with her she'll be all right. She'll do what she's told."
"Do you think they could have gone on to Lake Turkana, she and Bluhm -- Arnold?"
"If they had transport and felt like it, why not? Tessa loves the wild places, she has a great regard for Richard Leakey, both as an archaeologist and as a decent white African. Surely Leakey's got a clinic up there? Arnold probably had work to do and took her along. Sandy, what is this?" he repeated indignantly.
Delivering the death blow, Woodrow had no option but to observe the effect of his words on Justin's features. And he saw how the last remnants of Justin's departed youth drained out of him as, like some kind of sea creature, his pretty face closed and hardened, leaving only seeming coral.
"We're getting reports of a white woman and an African driver found on the eastern shore of Lake Turkana. Killed," Woodrow began deliberately, avoiding the word "murdered." "The car and driver were hired from the Oasis Lodge. The lodge's owner claims to have identified the woman as Tessa. He says she and Bluhm spent the night at the Oasis before setting out for the Richard Leakey site. Bluhm's still missing. They've found her necklace. The one she always wore."
How do I know that? Why, in God's name, do I choose this moment to parade my intimate knowledge of her necklace?
Woodrow was still watching Justin. The coward in him wanted to look away, but to the soldier's son it would have been like sentencing a man to be executed and not showing up for his hanging. He watched Justin's eyes widen in injured disappointment, as if he had been hit from behind by a friend, then dwindle to almost nothing, as if the same friend had knocked him unconscious. He watched his nicely carved lips part in a spasm of physical pain, then gather themselves into a muscular line of exclusion turned pale by pressure.
"Good of you to tell me, Sandy. Can't have been pleasant. Does Porter know?" Porter was the High Commissioner's improbable first name.
"Mildren's chasing him up. They found a Mephisto boot. Size seven. Does that figure?"
Justin was having difficulty coordinating. First he had to wait for the sound of Woodrow's words to catch up with him. Then he hastened to respond in brisk, hard-won sentences. "There's this shop off Piccadilly. She bought three pairs last home leave. Never seen her splash out like that. Not a spender as a rule. Never had to think about money. So she didn't. Dress at the Salvation Army shop. Given half a chance."
"And some kind of safari tunic. Blue."
"Oh she absolutely hated the beastly things," Justin retorted, as the power of speech came back to him in a flood. "She said if I ever caught her wearing one of those khaki contraptions with pockets on the thighs I should burn it or give it to Mustafa."
Mustafa, her houseboy, Woodrow remembered. "The police say blue."
"She detested blue" -- now apparently on the verge of losing his temper -- "she absolutely loathed anything paramilitary." The past tense already, Woodrow noticed. "She once owned a green bush jacket, I grant you. She bought it at Farbelow's in Stanley Street. I took her, don't know why. Probably made me. Hated shopping. She put it on and promptly had a fit. 'Look at me,' she said. 'I'm General Patton in drag.' No, sport, I told her, you're not General Patton. You're a very pretty girl wearing a bloody awful green jacket."
He began packing up his desk. Precisely. Packing to leave. Opening and shutting drawers. Putting his file trays into his steel cupboard and locking it. Absently smoothing back his hair between moves, a tic that Woodrow had always found particularly irritating in him. Gingerly switching off his hated computer terminal -- stabbing at it with his forefinger as if he was afraid it would bite him. Rumor had it that he got Ghita Pearson to switch it on for him every morning. Woodrow watched him give the room a last sightless look round. End of term. End of life. Please leave this space tidy for the next occupant. At the door Justin turned and glanced back at the plants on the window sill, perhaps wondering whether he should bring them with him, or at least give instructions for their maintenance, but he did neither.
Copyright © 2001 by David Cornwell.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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