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
    Paperback:
    Nov 2001, 576 pages

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"Nothing more we can do for you, old boy?" Donohue asked, with peculiar solicitude, still staring down at him with his sick, shaggy eyes. "Little glass of something?"

"Thank you. Not at present."

They knew, Woodrow told himself in fury as he returned downstairs. They knew before I did that she was dead. But that's what they want you to believe: we spies know more about everything than you do, and sooner.

"High Commissioner back yet?" he asked, shoving his head round Mildren's door.

"Any minute."

"Cancel the meeting."

Woodrow did not head directly for Justin's room. He looked in on Ghita Pearson, Chancery's most junior member, friend and confidante of Tessa. Ghita was dark-eyed, fair-haired, Anglo-Indian and wore a caste mark on her forehead. Locally employed, Woodrow rehearsed, but aspires to make the Service her career. A distrustful frown crossed her brow as she saw him close the door behind him.

"Ghita, this one's strictly for you, OK?" She looked at him steadily, waiting. "Bluhm. Dr. Arnold Bluhm. Yes?"

"What about him?"

"Chum of yours." No response. "I mean you're friendly with him."

"He's a contact." Ghita's duties kept her in daily touch with the relief agencies.

"And a chum of Tessa's, obviously." Ghita's dark eyes made no comment. "Do you know other people at Bluhm's outfit?"

"I ring Charlotte from time to time. She's his office. The rest are field people. Why?" The Anglo-Indian lilt to her voice that he had found so alluring. But never again. Never anybody again.

"Bluhm was in Lokichoggio last week. Accompanied."

A third nod, but a slower one, and a lowering of the eyes.

"I want to know what he was doing there. From Loki he drove across to Turkana. I need to know whether he's made it back to Nairobi yet. Or maybe he returned to Loki. Can you do that without breaking too many eggs?"

"I doubt it."

"Well, try." A question occurred to him. In all the months he had known Tessa, it had never presented itself till now. "Is Bluhm married, d'you know?"

"I would imagine so. Somewhere down the line. They usually are, aren't they?"

They meaning Africans? Or they meaning lovers? All lovers?

"But he hasn't got a wife here? Not in Nairobi. Or not so far as you've heard. Bluhm hasn't."

"Why?" -- softly, in a rush. "Has something happened to Tessa?"

"It may have done. We're finding out."

Reaching the door to Justin's room, Woodrow knocked and went in without waiting for an answer. This time he did not lock the door behind him but, hands in pockets, leaned his broad shoulders against it, which for as long as he remained there had the same effect.

Justin was standing with his elegant back to him. His neatly groomed head was turned to the wall and he was studying a graph, one of several ranged around the room, each with a caption of initials in black, each marked in steps of different colors, rising or descending. The particular graph that held his attention was titled RELATIVE INFRASTRUCTURES 2005-2010 and purported, so far as Woodrow could make out from where he stood, to predict the future prosperity of African nations. On the windowsill at Justin's left stood a line of potted plants that he was nurturing. Woodrow identified jasmine and balsam, but only because Justin had made gifts of these to Gloria.

"Hi, Sandy," Justin said, drawing out the "Hi."

"Hi."

"I gather we're not assembling this morning. Trouble at mill?"

The famous golden voice, thought Woodrow, noticing every detail as if it were fresh to him. Tarnished by time but guaranteed to enchant, as long as you prefer tone to substance. Why am I despising you when I'm about to change your life? From now until the end of your days there will be before this moment and after it and they will be separate ages for you, just as they are for me. Why don't you take your bloody jacket off? You must be the only fellow left in the Service who goes to his tailor for tropical suits. Then he remembered he was still wearing his own jacket.

Copyright © 2001 by David Cornwell.

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