Authors: James S. Gardner
Tags: #Suspense & Thrillers
Also available as a Trade Paperback
First Kindle Edition © Copyright 2009 James Gardner.
All Rights Reserved
Requests for information should be addressed to:
Pennington Publishers, Inc.
PO Box 740020 Boynton Beach, FL 33474
Cover and Interior Design: Donald Brennan
eBook Conversion: Donald Brennan / YakRider Media
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording or any other, except for brief quotations in printed reviews, without prior permission of the publisher.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, incidents, and places are the product of the author 's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
would like to thank my editors: Barbara Gardner, Michael Takiff, Tad Knutsen, John Jolley, Mary Cole and Lisa Burns. Special thanks to my agent, Marianne Strong. I'm grateful to some great raconteurs who must remain anonymous because of political uncertainties in Zimbabwe. I owe special gratitude to some good friends who were very supportive: Bill Flaherty, Bob Barrett and Eileen and Joe Cornacchia.
blowfly clung to the underside of a leaf on a red-hot poker tree. The weaverbird perching on one of the tree's orange flowers, cocked its head to identify the insect. The bird tried to dislodge the insect by pecking, but the blowfly held fast.
It was time for the blowfly to seek out the carrion that would sustain its maggots. If the female started its search too early, it would have to fly through hungry jungle birds. If the fly waited for darkness, it risked being eaten by white-bellied bats. The weaverbird gave up on the blowfly, hopped off the flower and onto an adjacent twig where it caught a purple butterfly in its beak. After smacking the butterfly on the twig, the bird swallowed it and flew away.
A gentle wind from the Congolese mountains carried an odor. Sensory cells on the blowfly's antennae detected decaying flesh. The blowflies spiraled up through the canopy of mahogany and ironwood trees. The insect's harmonic hum hushed the rainforest. The silence spooked a colobus monkey; she tucked her baby under her belly and climbed higher in an ebony tree. A bongo antelope stopped browsing to investigate the stillness. The only sound was the hiss of a waterfall. Below the swarming insects there were pink orchids and yellow flowered creepers suffocating thorny fruit trees and fig palms. Flocks of brown honey guides and yellow-throated bee-eaters took to the air. For the birds, the smell of death meant a meal of blowflies.
Some flowers secrete a scent of rotting carrion to attract insects for pollination. This time the blowflies would not be fooled into pollinating tropical flowers. Nor would they stop to feed on chimpanzee or mountain gorilla dung. The flies swarmed over the top of the crab-wood trees and stands of bamboo. Red-breasted starlings and wattle-eyes picked them off by the thousands, but their numbers were overwhelming.
The insects followed the scent to a clearing. There were eight gas-bloated human corpses. The female blowfly landed on a man's eyeball, crawled across his face and disappeared into his ear. After depositing her eggs, the insect exited the man's ear canal and landed on the woman's face lying next to him.
A man wearing a white smock leaned down and pulled back a tarpaulin covering a woman's body. Her pink toenails indicated a recent pedicure. Her trimmed pubic hair was fringed in razor stubble. He uncovered the rest of her body. The nipple of her left breast was missing; it showed evidence of a human bite. The bullet that ended her life had entered her left temple, damaging the optic nerve, leaving one eye open and one closed. The man trapped the blowfly in a test tube as the insect crawled out of the woman's nose. He sighed and corked the glass tube, labeled “Calliphoridae—from female cadaver number 5.”
Graham Connelly jumped out of his mud spattered Land Cruiser and ran into the undergrowth, where he vomited. He emerged from the bushes embarrassed. Ian Laycock handed him a surgeon's mask that had been soaked in camphor.
“I say, old boy, not feeling well today, are we?”
“What the hell's going on here? Why haven't these bodies been taken someplace where they can be cooled down?” Graham asked, wiping his mouth.
“Don't blame me. The Ugandan military has taken control of the situation, which means nobody's in control. This should put a crimp in Uganda's ecotourism. Here's a list of the dead ones.” Ian handed the list to Graham. “We're having trouble identifying the bodies. I've rounded up the victims' passports, but we can't match them up. The hyenas have been busy. Why do they always chew off the faces? It looks like all of the women were raped. Bloody savages. Here's my report. Any questions, before I head back to Kampala?” Laycock asked, handing him the report.
“Who's the geek collecting the bugs?” Graham asked, blowing into his cupped hand. “Dr. Malcolm Rutherford. He's a forensic entomologist from Nairobi. Very well informed, our doctor. Did you know that these bug doctors can identify cadavers' DNA taken from the digestive tracks of maggots? You're not going to be sick again, are you?” Laycock asked, grinning. Graham nodded no, but was unconvincing.
Lycock retrieved a pinch of ostrich biltong from the breast pocket of his khaki jacket and stuffed the dried meat into his mouth. He chewed and rolled it from one cheek to the other, and then gulped down the gristle like a pill. He walked over, twisted a thorn off of an acacia bush and used it to pick his teeth.
“Jesus, bon appétit. How can you eat?” Graham asked, nodding at the bodies. “I wonder if there's anything in this world that could ruin your appetite. Give me your report. There's nothing I can do here. Embassy Security Chief was supposed to be an adventure. I never thought it would be like this.”
“My friend, you missed Rwanda,” Ian began. “This is a garden party compared to what the Hutus did to the Tutsi population. Eight hundred thousand Afros killed in one hundred days. The bodies were so thick on the roads that we had to drive over them. They made the most dreadful popping noises. And let's not forget what's going on in the Darfur. That's what I call proper family planning.”
“Ian, you're a wonderful humanitarian, a real credit to our Queen. What about the missing American?”
“Nothing as of yet,” Laycock answered. “The dead ones include six Americans and two Brits. A French woman, the safari guide, and his Ugandan tracker are all being treated at the clinic in Kasese. The Afro's name is Peter Gono. He took one hell of a beating, but it looks like he'll make it.”
“We need to make sure the proper authorities notify the families before the BBC gets on to this. The American woman who survived, what's become of her?”
“She's been taken to the American Embassy in Kampala. They tell me she's related to some VIP in the States.”
“You're sure her husband is missing?”
“Yes, but what do I know? I work for British intelligence.”
“British Intelligence! There's a lovely oxymoron.” Graham smiled at his own joke. When Laycock spoke it was around another mouthful of biltong.
“Very funny. You should try your comedy on the telly. See you back in Kampala. Don't lose the report, it's my only copy. Are we still on for Sunday?”
“Wouldn't want a minor international tragedy to get in the way of our golf match, now would we? See you on the first tee at nine bells. I need two more shots,” Connelly insisted.
“You're a thief. I'll give you the strokes, but you're buying lunch.” “Done. See you Sunday.” Laycock didn't answer. Instead, he raised his hand in acceptance and waved goodbye.
Connelly studied his friend in the rearview mirror. Ian Laycock had worked in Africa for almost thirty years. The military coups, the famines and the genocidal lunacy had changed him. Britain's influence on the continent had dwindled to little more than pomp and ceremony, which meant Africa, had become a cemetery for Foreign Service careers.
Connelly found his friend's disparaging remarks about Africans odd, given the fact he was living with a Ugandan woman. Laycock's wife, like many Europeans, had not liked Africa. She returned to England, and as her visits became less frequent her husband took a black mistress. When his wife stopped visiting all together, Laycock's arrangement became permanent. It was a common but frowned upon indiscretion.
Connelly drove down the mountain road away from the carnage. Halfway down, he passed a line of military vehicles heading in the opposite direction. Christ, now you show up, he thought. Closing the window didn't lessen the stench. He pulled over and picked up Laycock's report.