"The lodge's owner. Surname to follow. Everyone calls him Wolfgang. He's German, apparently. A character. According to the police, the driver's been brutally murdered."
"Who's missing? You said he was in the car with her."
"The head's missing."
I might have guessed that for myself, mightn't I? "How's Tessa supposed to have died?"
"An accident. That's all they're saying."
"Was she robbed?"
"Not according to the police."
The absence of a theft, coupled with the driver's murder, had Woodrow's imagination racing. "Just give it me exactly as you have it," he ordered.
Mildren rested his big cheeks in his palms while he again consulted his shorthand. "Nine-twenty-nine, incoming from Nairobi police headquarters flying squad asking for the High Commissioner," he recited. "I explained that H.E. was in town visiting ministries, due back ten A.M. latest. An efficient-sounding duty officer, name supplied. He said reports were coming in from Lodwar -- "
"Lodwar? That's miles from Turkana!"
"It's the nearest police station," Mildren replied. "A four-track, property of the Oasis Lodge, Turkana, had been found abandoned on the east side of the lake, short of Allia Bay, on the way to the Leakey site. The bodies were thirty-six hours old at least. One dead white female, death unexplained, one headless African, identified as Noah the driver, married with four children. One Mephisto safari boot, size seven. One blue bush jacket, size XL, bloodstained, found on the floor of the car. The woman in her mid-to-late twenties, dark-haired, one gold ring on third finger of left hand. One gold necklace on the car floor."
That necklace you're wearing, Woodrow heard himself saying in mock challenge as they danced.
My grandmother gave it to my mother on her wedding day, she answered. I wear it with everything, even if it's out of sight.
Even in bed?
"Who found them?" Woodrow asked.
"Wolfgang. He radioed the police and informed his office here in Nairobi. Also by radio. The Oasis has no telephone."
"If the driver was headless, how can they know it was the driver?"
"He had a crushed arm. That's why he took up driving. Wolfgang watched Tessa drive off with Noah on Saturday at five-thirty, in the company of Arnold Bluhm. That was the last time he saw them alive."
He was still quoting from notes or if he wasn't he was pretending to. His cheeks were still in his hands and he seemed determined they should stay here, for there was a stubborn rigidity across his shoulders.
"Give me that again," Woodrow ordered, after a beat.
"Tessa was accompanied by Arnold Bluhm. They checked into the Oasis Lodge together, spent Friday night there and set off in Noah's jeep next morning at five-thirty," Mildren repeated patiently. "Bluhm's body wasn't in the four-track and there's no trace of him. Or none reported so far. Lodwar police and the flying squad are on site but Nairobi headquarters want to know if we'll pay for a helicopter."
"Where are the bodies now?" Woodrow was his soldier father's son, crisp and practical.
"Not known. The police wanted the Oasis to take charge of them but Wolfgang refused. He said his staff would walk out and so would his guests." A hesitation. "She booked in as Tessa Abbott."
"Her maiden name. 'Tessa Abbott, care of a PO box in Nairobi.' Ours. We haven't got an Abbott so I ran the name across our records and got Quayle, maiden name Abbott, Tessa. I gather it's the name she uses for her relief work." He was studying the last page of his notes. "I've tried to raise the High Commissioner but he's doing the ministries and it's rush hour," he said. By which he meant: this is President Moi's modern Nairobi, where a local call can take half an hour of listening to I'm sorry, all lines are busy, please try again later, repeated tirelessly by a complacent woman in middle age.
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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