Excerpt from The Constant Gardener by John Le Carre, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Constant Gardener

by John Le Carre

The Constant Gardener
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  • First Published:
    Dec 2000, 496 pages
    Nov 2001, 576 pages

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"Who saw them leave apart from you? Over."

"Everybody who's awake sees them. Packed lunch, box of water, spare gas, emergency rations, medical supplies. All three of them in the front and Abbott in the middle, like one happy family. This is an oasis, OK? I got twenty guests, mostly they're asleep. I got forty staff, mostly they're awake. I got about a hundred guys I don't need hanging round my car park selling animal skins and walking sticks and hunting knives. Everyone who sees Bluhm and Abbott leave waves bye-bye. I wave, the skin sellers wave, Noah waves back, Bluhm and Abbott wave back. They don't smile. They're serious. Like they've got heavy business to do, big decisions, what do I know? What you want me to do, Mr. Chancery? Kill the witnesses? Listen, I'm Galileo. Put me in prison, I'll swear she never came to the Oasis. Over."

For a moment of paralysis Woodrow had no further questions, or perhaps he had too many. I'm in prison already, he thought. My life sentence started five minutes ago. He passed a hand across his eyes and when he removed it he saw Donohue and Sheila watching him with the same blank expressions they had worn when he told them she was dead.

"When did you first get the idea something might have gone wrong? Over," he asked lamely -- like, Do you live up there all year round? Over. Or, How long have you been running your nice hotel? Over.

"The four-track has a radio. On a trip with guests, Noah is supposed to call and say he's happy. Noah doesn't call. OK, radios fail, drivers forget. To make a link it's boring. You got to stop the car, get out, set up the aerial. You still hearing me? Over."

"Loud and clear. Over."

"Except Noah never forgets. That's why he drives for me. But he doesn't call. Not in the afternoon, not in the evening. OK, I think. Maybe they camped somewhere, gave Noah too much to drink or something. Last thing in the evening before shutdown I radio the rangers up around the Leakey site. No sign. First thing next morning I go to Lodwar to report the loss. It's my jeep, OK? My driver. I'm not allowed to report the loss by radio, I've got to do it in person. It's a hell of a journey but that's the law. The Lodwar police really like helping citizens in distress. My jeep went missing? Tough shit. It had two of my guests and my driver in it? Then why don't I go look for them? It's a Sunday, they're not expecting to work today. They got to go to church. 'Give us some money, lend us a car, maybe we help you,' they tell me. I come home, I put a search party together. Over."

"Consisting of whom?" Woodrow was getting back into his stride.

"Two groups. My own people, two trucks, water, spare fuel, medical supplies, provisions, Scotch in case I need to disinfect something. Over." A cross-broadcast intervened. Wolfgang told it to get the hell off the air. Surprisingly, it did. "It's pretty hot up here right now, Mr. Chancery. We got a hundred and fifteen Fahrenheit plus jackals and hyenas like you got mice. Over."

A pause, apparently for Woodrow to speak.

"I'm listening," Woodrow said.

"The jeep was on its side. Don't ask me why. The doors were closed. Don't ask me why. One window open like five centimeters. Somebody closed the doors and locked them, took away the key. The smell unspeakable, just from the little gap. Hyena scratches all over, big dents where they'd tried to get in. Tracks all round while they went crazy. A good hyena smells blood ten kilometers away. If they'd been able to reach the bodies they'd have cracked them open one bite, got the marrow out the bones. But they didn't. Somebody locked the door on them and left the bit of window open. So they went crazy. So would you. Over."

Woodrow struggled to get his words together. "The police say Noah was decapitated. Is that right? Over."

Copyright © 2001 by David Cornwell.

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