"Oasis, this is the British High Commission in Nairobi, I'm passing you to Sandy Woodrow. Over."
Woodrow leaned both hands on Donohue's desk in order to come closer to the microphone.
"This is Woodrow, Head of Chancery. Am I speaking to Wolfgang? Over."
"Chancellery like Hitler had one?"
"The political section. Over."
"OK, Mr. Chancery, I'm Wolfgang. What's your question? Over."
"I want you to give me, please, your own description of the woman who checked into your hotel as Miss Tessa Abbott. That's correct, is it? That's what she wrote? Over."
"What did she look like? Over."
"Dark hair, no makeup, tall, late twenties, not British. Not for me. South German, Austrian or Italian. I'm a hotelier. I look at people. And beautiful. I'm a man too. Sexy like an animal, how she moves. And clothes like you could blow them off. That sound like your Abbott or somebody else's? Over."
Donohue's head was a few inches from his own. Sheila was standing at his other side. All three of them were gazing at the microphone.
"Yes. That sounds like Miss Abbott. Can you tell me, please: when did she make the reservation at your hotel, and how? I believe you have an office in Nairobi. Over."
"Dr. Bluhm made the reservation. Two persons, two cabins close to the pool, one night. We've only got one cabin free, I tell him. OK, he'll take it. That's some fellow. Wow. Everybody looks at them. The guests, the staff. One beautiful white woman, one beautiful African doctor. That's a nice sight. Over."
"How many rooms does a cabin have?" Woodrow asked, feebly hoping to head off the scandal that was staring him in the face.
"One bedroom, two single beds, not too hard, nice and springy. One sitting room. Everybody signs the register here. No funny names, I tell them. People get lost, I got to know who they are. So that's her name, right? Abbott? Over."
"Her maiden name. Over. The PO box number she gave is the High Commission."
"Where's the husband?"
"Here in Nairobi."
"So when did Bluhm make the reservation? Over."
"Thursday. Thursday evening. Radios me from Loki. Tells me they expect to leave Friday first light. Loki like Lokichoggio. On the northern border. Capital of the aid agencies working South Sudan. Over."
"I know where Lokichoggio is. Did they say what they were doing there?"
"Aid stuff. Bluhm's in the aid game, right? That's the only way you get to Loki. Works for some Belgian medical outfit, he told me. Over."
"So he booked from Loki and they left Loki on Friday morning early. Over."
"Tells me they expect to reach the west side of the lake around noon. Wants me to fix them a boat to bring them across the lake to the Oasis. 'Listen,' I tell him. 'Lokichoggio to Turkana, that's a hairy drive. Best you ride with a food convoy. The hills are lousy with bandits, there's tribes stealing each other's cattle, which is normal, except that ten years ago they had spears and today they all got AK47s.' He laughs. Says he can handle it. And he can. They make it, no problem. Over."
"So they check in, then sign the register. Then what? Over."
"Bluhm tells me they want a jeep and a driver to go up to Leakey's place first light next morning. Don't ask me why he didn't mention it when he booked, I didn't ask him. Maybe they only just decided. Maybe they didn't like to discuss their plans over the radio. 'OK,' I tell him. 'You're lucky. You can have Noah.' Bluhm's pleased. She's pleased. They walk in the garden, swim together, sit at the bar together, eat together, tell good night to everybody, go to their cabin. In the morning they leave together. I watch them. You want to know what they had for breakfast?"
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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