Night of Knives

Night of Knives
Jon Evans
Fiction, Action & Adventure, Mystery & Detective, Sus-
pense, Technological, Thrillers
“Jon Evans” “Night of Knives” thriller Africa Congo Uganda Zim-
babwe technothriller action adventure travel

Part 1

“I think something’s wrong,” Susan says.
It takes some time for the words to trickle into Veronica’s mind. She is
too busy breathing to pay much attention to anything outside her body.
Her lungs feel on fire, her feet are alive with blisters, her mind is lost in a
fog of exhaustion. She doesn’t even think to wonder why they have
stopped until she registers the concern in Susan’s voice.
Veronica lifts her head, looks around, tries to re-engage with the
world. It seems like they have been trekking forever in this damp heat,
up this steep and muddy trail. They are still in deep jungle. Montane
rainforest, technically, but it feels like jungle, in the most alien and for-
bidding sense of the word. There is a reason this is called the Impenet-
rable Forest. The vegetation here is so violently, densely fecund that even
the greenery has greenery: roots and branches are covered by moss,
vines hang on vines, the boulders that dot the trail look like verdant hil-
locks. Leaves and ferns glisten with water from recent rain. Birds chirp,
monkeys hoot, water burbles, clouds of pure-white butterflies flutter
through the damp air. Only a few shafts of light fall through the massive
canopy trees into the dense thickets below.
Ahead of them a walkie-talkie emits a burst of static, followed by a
half-dozen sentences in some African language. Their guide holds the
walkie-talkie close to his ear. In his other hand he holds his
ciously curved machete. He looks carved out of ebony, short and power-
fully built. After a pause he pushes his radio’s red TALK button and
speaks in a slow and careful voice. Veronica can’t remember his name.
Something biblical.
“What happened?” she asks Susan. “Why did we stop?”
The blonde British girl shrugs. “I don’t know. I think he saw
something. On the ground.”
Veronica looks down and sees nothing but mud and underbrush. But
then she is a city girl, while their guide has spent decades tracking goril-
las through this rainforest, he can probably deduce volumes from a
broken twig she wouldn’t even notice. She had total faith in him when

they departed park headquarters, he seemed so tough and self-assured.
Now his voice sounds uncertain.
She looks around at the others. The Canadians, Derek and Jacob, are
about ten feet away. Derek stands erect, breathing easily, his lean and
muscled body already ready for further exertions. She can see the dragon
tattoo coiled around his left bicep. Veronica has hardly admitted it to
herself, much less anyone else, but Derek is the real reason she is here.
Jacob is beside him, his pale, lanky, goateed form doubled over with
hands on knees, gasping for air. Veronica feels sorry for him, but also
grateful that she is not their foursome’s weakest link. Susan looks like a
model, willowy and fine-boned, and Veronica expected her to wilt like a
fragile flower; but it seems she’s tough, too.
The rest of their gorilla group is far enough behind to be invisible, but
Veronica can hear the rustling of the hanging vines and underbrush as
they catch up. The Brits appear first, Tom and Judy, slow and portly and
middle-aged but surprisingly durable. They look like they’re still enjoy-
ing themselves. Diane and Michael behind them do not. The two fiftyso-
mething Americans are thin but not fit, and Diane in particular looks
haggard. The Ugandan guards bring up the rear, two men in camouflage
uniforms with scary-looking rifles slung over their shoulders.
“What’s this then? Elijah finally call for a tea break?” Tom asks, hoarse
but cheerful. Elijah is their guide’s name, Veronica remembers. “Why
start now, just when we’re having so much fun?”
“We don’t know yet.” Susan too is British, but her clipped upper-class
accent is entirely unlike Tom and Judy’s broad syllables. “He saw
something on the ground.”
“Gorilla dung?” Judy asks, excited.
Susan frowns. “I don’t think so.”
“Then what?”
Elijah’s walkie-talkie crackles with new life, and everyone goes quiet.
“What’s the story, mate?” Tom asks, when the disembodied voice falls
Elijah shakes his head. “Silence, I beg you. Give me silence.”
His low singsong voice is hypnotic. They obey. Elijah turns in a slow
circle, peering intently into the jungle, so dark and overgrown it feels al-
most more like a cave than a forest. The idea makes Veronica uneasy.
She doesn’t like confined spaces.
Veronica glances back at the guards in time to see them exchange a
tense glance. A tendril of anxiety slithers into her gut and begins to tight-
en into an icy knot. Susan was right. Something is wrong.

Elijah completes his rotation, considers a moment, and says quietly,
“We must turn back.”
It is Michael, outraged, who breaks the silence. “What? No. We can’t
go back now.”
“You may return tomorrow.”
“No. Out of the question. We have to go to Kampala tomorrow, we’ve
got a flight the next day. We are absolutely not going back now. We’ve
already climbed an hour, we’re already here. They can’t be far away
now. You said it would only be an hour.”
“Really, Michael, if he thinks it’s better -” Diane begins, looking like she
wishes she had never come to Africa.
He cuts her off. “We paid four hundred dollars each, for a full hour
with these gorillas, and we’re going to stay here until we find them. You
can bring these other folks back tomorrow. My wife and I need to see
Veronica winces. She hates being around Americans like Michael, the
ugly tourists who give her country a bad name. Elijah is wholly respons-
ible for their collective well-being, in this jungle literally on the edge of
civilization, and Michael is berating him like he would a dishonest taxi
driver. He reminds Veronica of her ex-husband Danton at his worst. She
wants to shout at him but knows it wouldn’t improve the situation.
Elijah doesn’t answer directly. Instead he barks out something in an
African language, and both guards unsling their rifles. Michael takes a
step back, eyes wide, as if they might respond to his demands with
Elijah says, “We go back, all of us, now.”
“What’s going on? Poachers?” Derek sounds icily calm.
“Yes, poachers,” Elijah agrees quickly. “Now
The group turns around and begins to retrace their trail, moving fast,
any remaining reluctance snuffed out by the sight of readied weapons.
They move through silence, the birds and monkeys have all ceased their
chatter. Veronica is right behind the guards. She can see the tension in
their muscles, and feel her heart thumping rapidly inside her ribcage.
She tells herself that nothing will happen, this has nothing to do with
her. Just poachers hunting gorillas, they won’t come after tourists, and
even if that were to happen, they have two armed guards with them,
they’ll be fine.
She jumps as the silence is broken by a loud
from somewhere
within the jungle. It sounds like the breaking of a sturdy branch. Veron-
ica thinks she might have seen a camera flash. One of the guards

twitches, slips on the mud and falls face-first only a few feet ahead of
“Stop!” Elijah shouts. He sounds alarmed now. Frightened. “Fall down!
Fall down, all of you!”
None of them obey. Veronica turns to stare at him, unsure that she
even heard him correctly:
Elijah’s eyes are wide and he is wav-
fall down?
ing his arm violently as if miming a falling tree. He grabs Jacob by the
shoulder and actually shoves him to the ground. Beside him, without
further encouragement, Derek drops gracefully into a push-up position.
Tom, Judy, Michael and Diane, closer to the guards, stand frozen in
Veronica turns back towards the fallen man. An awful notion has
birthed in her mind. The world seems to be moving in slow motion. His
uniform is now thickly stained by a dark liquid, and he is twitching er-
ratically, like some kind of broken machine. The other guard seems to
have disappeared into the jungle.
“Down!” Derek shouts. “Everyone get down!”
The fallen guard’s breath is fast and shallow, blood is seeping from his
torso into the dark mud beneath him. Back at park headquarters, only an
hour ago, Tom and Judy started talking to him, and he told them
proudly he had five children. Veronica knows she should try to help
him. She is the only person here with medical training. But she doesn’t
Another hollow
erupts from the jungle, louder and closer than
the last, from where the other guard disappeared. It is followed quickly
by two more, even louder, even closer. Veronica slowly starts to back
away from the fallen guard, telling herself it’s too late, she can’t do any-
thing for him. Then she sees movement in the greenery beyond him, less
than ten feet away, and she freezes again.
A levelled rifle emerges from the jungle, held by a short and wiry man
dressed in rubber boots, ragged khaki shorts and a black Tupac Shakur
T-shirt. His face is marked with vertical scars. His gun is aimed directly
at Veronica, she can look right down the dark eye of its barrel.
Foliage rustles like paper as other intruders advance through the shad-
owed jungle all around. The pungent scent of gunpowder fills the air.
Veronica stares disbelievingly at the gunman before her, as if he might
be a hallucination. She feels very cold.

The intruder stoops to take the fallen guard’s rifle. He is so close Veron-
ica could take a single step forward and touch his hand. She feels para-
lyzed, barely able to breathe. He takes the weapon and stands back up,
waiting for something.
Veronica forces herself to move, to turn her head and look at the oth-
ers. There are more intruders among them, she can’t tell how many but
the jungle seems alive with motion, there must be at least eight or ten.
Most look similar to the man who stands an arm’s-length away from her,
but two of them are much smaller, like children. All of them are armed.
Banana-shaped ammunition clips protrude from their battered wood-
and-iron rifles.
Two of those weapons are pointed at Elijah. He and the rest of the gor-
illa group seem to have turned into statues. The one exception is Derek,
who as Veronica watches draws himself up slowly from his push-up po-
sition into a tense crouch. His eyes dart in all directions, as if looking for
an avenue of escape, but one of the smaller intruders watches him care-
fully, keeps his weapon aimed straight at Derek’s heart.
She hears a slithering sound behind her and turns to see two more in-
truders dragging the other guard out of the jungle by his legs. His limp
arms trail behind him like loaves of bread. His face is masked with drip-
ping blood and somehow distorted, Veronica can’t make out exactly
what happened to it and doesn’t want to.
She knows she should be terrified, but she feels more horror than fear.
She is not yet frightened for herself, not in her blood and bones. So far it
is all too dreamlike, too strange, surreal and silent. It feels like everyone
is playing a part, going through motions scripted for them long ago.
Surely this performance will soon be over and everyone involved will go
back to their regularly scheduled lives.
The guard lying before her stops breathing. It is nothing like a movie
death scene, it is far more stark and simple.
One of the intruders speaks. She can’t see his face, he is aiming his gun
at Elijah, keeping his back to Veronica. The words are in an African

language. Elijah hesitates. He looks thoughtful. Then he pushes the red
TALK button on the walkie-talkie and begins to speak quickly. About
ten words in he is silenced by a loud burst of gunfire like a whole string
of firecrackers going off.
Veronica closes her eyes involuntarily against the bright flashes. When
she opens them again Elijah lies dead or dying on the ground, his rag-
doll body torn by a dozen wounds. It takes her a moment to understand.
He was told to put down the walkie-talkie, or maybe to tell it reassuring
lies, and instead he told park headquarters what was happening, and
was killed for it.
The man who spoke to Elijah, and then murdered him, starts barking
new orders. He sounds angry, thwarted. Veronica cries out with pain
and dismay as the intruder standing above grabs her arm and half-drags,
half-leads her to their leader. The rest of the gorilla group is similarly es-
corted, arranged into a rough line, then forced onto their knees in the
damp undergrowth.
None of them dare to resist. This doesn’t feel unreal any more. It feels
very real and very immediate. It feels like they are all about to die.
Veronica doesn’t know what to do, she can’t think, she feels weak and
sick, like she has the flu. Her mind seems stuck in neutral, unable to
“We have money,” Michael says weakly. He pulls his money belt out
and tugs open its zipper with fumbling fingers. “You can have it. Amer-
ican passports. Everything. You can have it all.”
The intruders’ leader takes two quick steps towards him and kicks him
in the stomach like a soccer player taking a free kick. Michael doubles
over and makes gagging noises. Money spills from his hands. Diane be-
gins to shriek, but tentatively, she is panting for air and can’t get enough
air in her lungs to really scream, and when the man who kicked her hus-
band turns menacingly towards her, she chokes and falls silent.
There are men behind them now. Veronica feels strong hands on her
arms, dragging them behind her back, pulling them together. Then she
feels rope against her wrists. A bolt of panic surges through her. She will
be utterly helpless, she has to do something – but there is nothing to be
done. The rope tightens, is knotted. Hands fumble at her waistband. She
fears she is going to be stripped and gang-raped right there, but she is
soon released. The man goes on to Jacob beside her. He too looks sick
with terror.

“It’s going to be okay,” Derek murmurs to her. He manages to sound a
little like he means it, even though his arms too have just been bound be-
hind him.

” the leader hisses at him, pronouncing it the French way.
Derek nods, but it’s a nod of acceptance, not submission. Veronica is
glad she is beside him. He seems to radiate strength.
Soon they are all bound, and all connected by lengths of yellow rope
tied to their belt loops, a poor man’s chain gang. Veronica wriggles her
hands and tugs her arms, but the knot on her wrists is tight and secure,
there is no escape. The position of her arms is uncomfortable and her
shoulders have already begun to ache.

” the leader says, and then in accented English, “We go. We go

He begins to pull them to their feet. Veronica dares to look directly at
him for the first time. He is big even for Africa, over six feet tall and
broad-shouldered. His cheeks are marked with vertical scars. What was
once his right eye is now an empty crater of scar tissue. His face is drawn
into a tight expression, as if he is in pain. Like the rest of his men, he car-
ries a gun on his back and a
dangling from his belt; unlike them,
he also bears a looped-up whip that makes him look a little like a black
Indiana Jones.
Once they are all on their feet, he and three of his men begin to lead
their roped-together prisoners off the trail and into the underbrush.
Derek is at the front of the chain, and Veronica second. The other four
abductors follow, leaving the three dead men behind. One of the small
men acts as navigator, guiding everyone else through the opaque jungle.
He’s maybe four feet six, but he has a goatee. It takes Veronica a moment
to understand. Not a child. An adult pygmy. His features are finer than
the larger men, his skin is lighter, and he marches barefoot through the
jungle. The trail he leads them along, if it is a trail, is entirely invisible,
but somehow they avoid the worst of the tangled vines and dense under-
growth, and the men in front rarely have to use their
* * *
Veronica remembers sitting in her Kampala office and reading Wikipe-
dia articles about the Impenetrable Forest, just after she accepted Derek’s
invitation to come along on this weekend expedition. According to Wiki-
pedia, pygmies used to live here, until the Ugandan government ex-
pelled them in favour of the jungle’s more lucrative denizens, the

gorillas. Now the pygmies are the lowest of Uganda’s low, despised and
dispossessed. She remembers how hearing Derek’s voice made her a
little dizzy and lightheaded, when he called and invited her to come. The
memory is so vivid it is almost like she is actually back in Kampala.
She tries to drag herself back to the present, but her mind is buzzing
like a insect trapped in a jar, constantly ricocheting in new directions,
bouncing again and again off the sheer terrifying enormity of what just
happened. Nobody speaks as they move westwards, along the ridge in-
stead of up it. It isn’t as physically difficult as climbing, but the muddy
ground is slick and uneven, especially when they cross little streams, and
keeping her balance is a real challenge with her arms tied behind her
back. Veronica never appreciated before how much her arms contributed
to walking. Her legs are already tired, and soon she is sweating and
breathing hard again. The exertion clouds her mind, but in a strange way
also makes it easier to think, absorbs some of the white-noise panic that
at first drowned out any coherent thought.
They are travelling west, towards the Congo border. That makes awful
sense. This national park is right on the Uganda-Congo frontier, and the
eastern provinces of the Congo are among the few places on earth with
no real government, home to a civil war that began almost a decade ago
and still simmers despite the presence of UN peacekeepers. These men
must have come from that land of lawless anarchy to capture white tour-
ists. The thought gives Veronica hope. Even if rescue doesn’t arrive,
these men will want to ransom their victims, that is why they have been
captured and not simply killed and looted. She is helpless, but at least
she is valuable.
Ahead of her, Derek slips on mud; and as he turns to right himself, he
twists his head and mutters to her, “We need to slow down and mark the
trail. Pass it on.”
He keeps walking, a little slower now. Veronica understands. It will
take at least half an hour for a rescue party to get from park headquarters
to where they were ambushed. Then their rescuers will have to follow
this hidden pygmy route through dense jungle. That will take time and
luck; they need to help with both.
She waits a few moments; then she too feigns a slip and fall, a feint
that nearly becomes the real thing, and uses her recovery to whisper the
message to Jacob. She hopes he understood. She hardly needs to tell Ja-
cob to slow down, his breath is already ragged, and the rope connecting
their belts keeps tugging her back. She suspects Michael and Diane, fur-
ther back, are in worse condition yet.

The leader stops and turns to his captives, hand on the hilt of his
. ”
” he says angrily. “Fast. Fast.”
Veronica knows she shouldn’t speed up, but sheer physical fear pro-
pels her. Derek alone ignores the angry exhortation, and she nearly
bumps into him. The leader drops back, grabs Derek by the collar of his
shirt, and pulls him along for a little while. Derek has to scramble to
keep his feet. He is released with a warning look. At first he continues at
this faster pace; then, by degrees, he begins to slow down again. Veron-
ica follows his lead.
After a while they are all told to stop. A man walks along the line of
prisoners and pours a few swallows of water into the mouth of each
from a big two-litre plastic bottle that once contained Coca-Cola. Then
the march resumes. Her shoulders hurt, the rope is beginning to chafe
her wrists, and she is helpless against the jungle’s swarming, buzzing in-
sects, her exposed skin is already mottled with itching bug bites.
Soon they reach a wide and shallow stream. The pgymy leads them
straight into the water and then uphill, along the stream. Veronica
winces. She has read about this kind of thing in books. The water will
wash their tracks out of this muddy streambed and make pursuit almost
impossible, they won’t even leave a scent to follow.
Derek manages to reach into his back pocket with his bound hands
and unearth his wallet. He slips and falls into the water – and in doing
so, tosses his wallet into the shallows at the edge of the stream.
Veronica’s heart lifts. If rescuers find it they will at least know to go up-
stream. Derek bounces up quickly from his contrived fall, and looks
down to the ground as he keeps walking, ignoring their captors’ leader’s
one-eyed glare.
A few minutes later, the other pygmy runs up alongside the chain of
prisoners. This second pygmy holds Derek’s dripping wallet. The one-
eyed man takes it without even breaking stride, the second pygmy
rushes back to his position at the back of the column, and Veronica
groans aloud with dashed hope.
They crest the ridge, and soon afterwards turn back to the right, head-
ing west again. The sun is now high above them. Its light is mostly swal-
lowed up by the canopy trees, but the heat is growing intense. Behind
her Jacob is lurching more than walking, wheezing with every breath.
The one-eyed leader rounds on them again. “Fast! Fast!”
They speed up a little, but he still looks unhappy. Then, as they are tra-
versing a particularly steep stretch, Jacob slips on something and falls.
He slides far enough down the slope that Veronica and Susan, his

neighbours in the human chain, are pulled to the ground, and Derek and
Judy beyond nearly follow. Jacob lies gasping in a cluster of huge ferns
until two of their captors pull him forcefully to his feet.
The one-eyed man considers Jacob a moment, expressionless, then mo-
tions them all to continue. Jacob manages to stumble along further. It is
Diane who falls next, second to last in the chain. She lies weeping in the
mud, doesn’t even try to get up. The one-eyed man stalks over to her.
“Up,” he commands. “Up!”
“I can’t.” Diane looks up at her tormentor. Her face and bottle-blonde
hair are smeared with mud and tears. Earlier Veronica thought she was
maybe fifty. Now she looks older. “Please, for God’s sake, I just can’t.”
“Let her go,” Michael says desperately. He too seems to have aged ten
years in the last half hour. “You don’t need her. Take me and let her go.”
The one-eyed man ignores him. He stoops towards Diane, grabs her
bound wrists, and lifts. Veronica winces. Diane screams with new agony
as her shoulders wrench in their sockets. Somehow she manages to
scramble to her feet.
“You see?” the leader says. His alien accent sounds half French, half
African. “Yes you can. Yes you will.”
For a second Veronica crazily imagines him as a power-of-positive-
thinking public speaker, and almost giggles. Then he starts to pull
Diane’s shirt off her.
“No,” Michael says, his eyes wide. “No, please, that’s not necessary.
We’ll go fast. I promise.”
Again he is ignored. Diane’s shirt is pulled up her waist, over her
head, and back along her bound arms, revealing a pale, wrinkled body
and a white sports bra. The one-eyed man’s hand drops to his belt and
draws out his
“No!” Michael starts forward – but another man, the one in the Tupac
Shakur T-shirt, casually grabs Michael’s arms from behind, holding him
back, and then stoops, reaches between Michael’s legs, and squeezes his
testicles hard. Michael gasps, his body contorts like he has been shocked
with a thousand volts. The man keeps squeezing and twisting, his face
expressionless, a man doing an undesirable but necessary job. Michael
drops to his knees, whimpering pathetically, writhing helplessly, lost in
agony, his wife forgotten. His eyes are completely white, the pupils have
rolled back into his head.
Veronica stares with horror as the one-eyed man severs Diane’s bra
with his machete. Diane’s weeping intensifies into a kind of breathless
ululation. He replaces his
and unfurls his whip, made of some

kind of thick leather cut into a helical shape, like a stretched-out phone
cord. Another of his men takes a position in front of Diane, forces her
down onto her knees and forehead, then lifts up her arms as far as they
will go, exposing her back. The whip whistles through the air and
smacks into Diane’s upper back. The impact doesn’t sound that forceful,
but it wrenches a howl of amazed agony from Diane’s throat, a cry more
animal than human. Her whole body arches and writhes, instinctively
and futilely seeking escape, her legs scrabble feebly at the ground as the
whip pulls back and immediately strikes again, catching the scream in
Diane’s throat, reducing it to a series of choking whimpers.
Derek steps up behind Veronica, close enough to touch, and she starts
with surprise. He murmurs, “On the front of my belt, there’s a Leather-
man. Try to get it and pass it back to me. Not now. We’re being
Veronica turns and looks, sees the little leather pouch on Derek’s belt,
and the pygmy guide watching them carefully. She turns back in time to
see Diane and Michael released. Michael crumples headfirst to the
ground as if kowtowing. The one-eyed man coils up the whip, restores it
to his belt loop, steps forward to the moaning, weeping heap that is Di-
ane, grabs her by her hair and pulls her back upright. As she staggers to
her feet Veronica momentarily sees that two red lines have been carved
across her back. Both are already dripping blood along their length.
“Fast,” the leader warns her, “or I give you more. Ten, twenty, fifty.
Diane, sobbing for breath, does not respond, but the one-eyed man
seems satisfied. He nudges Michael’s face with his muddy rubber boot
and commands, “Up.”
Michael obeys with a moan. His lined face is wet with tears. The one-
eyed man walks back up the chain of prisoners. He nods at Tom and
Judy, as if with approval. He stops in front of Susan for a moment, grabs
a handful of her blonde hair, carefully inspects her chiselled face. Susan
is rigid with terror. After a moment the man smirks and moves on to
“Fast,” he warns him.

” Jacob agrees breathlessly. ”

J’ai compris.
The one-eyed man raises his eyebrows. ”

Tu parles francais?

Un peu.

Veronica is next. She looks away as he approaches, but doesn’t move.
She tells herself, be nondescript, don’t make him notice you, be the gray
woman, the girl who isn’t there. But when he reaches out to touch her

face, she instinctively recoils, takes a step away. His expression darkens.
He grabs a handful of her hair and twists so hard that she whimpers and
tears fill her eyes. He pulls her head back savagely, traces the fingers of
his other hand down her cheek. They feel like sandpaper. He is smiling.
She sees to her horror that his incisors have been filed into sharp points,
like a vampire.

Les sauvages Congolaise,
” Derek says scornfully. ”
Les betes d’Afrique.
Vraiment, les Belges avaient raison.

Immediately Veronica is released. The man spins towards Derek, fin-
ishes the movement by punching him in the stomach. Derek falls back-
wards to the ground, groaning loudly, crumpling into a ball. The one-
eyed man stoops, grabs Derek’s wrists, and pulls him painfully back to a
standing position. Veronica knows he took that punch for her, spoke up
as a distraction.

” the one-eyed man warns him. ”
” Then he
Je suis pas stupide,
Je te vois.
turns to the others. “Fast. Fast,
You understand? We
vous comprenez?
have no need of you all. You go fast now or you die.”

Jacob’s scream is brief but bloodcurdling, a high-pitched wail torn from
his throat. He fights for freedom, his whole body thrashing, his face a
twisted animal mask, but the men on either side are too strong for him,
they hold him down. The one-eyed man draws the whip back with a cas-
ual and graceful movement. Veronica closes her eyes tightly, she doesn’t
want to look. She is close enough to feel the slipstream as the whip snaps
through the air. Jacob howls four more times.
Then Derek says, sharply, “No!”
Veronica opens her eyes. Jacob’s head has been pulled back by one of
the pygmies, and the one-eyed man has his
to the lanky
Canadian’s throat, pressing hard enough that a blood trickles from the
line of contact. Veronica knows it won’t take much more force to punc-
ture Jacob’s jugular vein. Derek’s every muscle is taut as he stands beside
her, he looks like he wants to throw himself at the one-eyed man.
“Please,” Jacob gasps, his body perfectly still. “Please, no, don’t kill me,
please, I’ll be fast, I won’t fall down, I promise. Please, I swear to God,
After a long moment one-eyed man withdraws the
, leaving a
thin line of blood behind. Reluctance is evident on his face. Jacob fights
his way to his feet. Derek relaxes a little.
“No more stops,” the one-eyed man hisses.
He angrily waves them onwards. The endless march resumes. Veron-
ica trudges painfully onwards. She doesn’t doubt the one-eyed man is
now ready, even eager, to kill anyone who slows them down.
Her shoulders are burning with agony, she is sure that by now they
have actually been damaged. They aren’t really walking that fast any
more, they physically can’t, but no matter how fast she inhales she just
can’t get enough oxygen, this air seems almost too thick and damp to
breathe. A crippling headache has grown behind her eyes. At least the
blisters that line her feet have finally gone numb.
She doesn’t want to die here. That is all she can focus on, the only
thing that gives her strength. Maybe she will be killed when they reach

their destination; maybe they will do things to her so terrible she will
wish she had died on this march; but right now, it seems like the worst
thing in the world, the most awful possible fate, to be murdered and left
to rot here in this jungle.
What worries her most are her legs. She can’t help thinking about the
time she witnessed the home stretch of the Los Angeles Marathon, saw
runners collapse less than half a mile from the end of the race because
their legs simply stopped working. She thinks she may not be far from
that point. She is limping badly, her left leg is cramping painfully, and
her right leg worries her even more. It doesn’t exactly hurt, but she
doesn’t think it can physically last much longer. Soon it will buckle be-
neath her and she will no longer be capable of walking.
At some point they stop for a water break. She can’t remember how
long it has been since the last one, time seems to have warped and
melted like that famous Dali painting. She looks up and her heart wilts.
Through the curtain of canopy trees she sees the sun directly above
them, obscured by a few fast-moving clouds. It’s only noon. She won’t
make it to nightfall, not even close. Beside her, Jacob looks even worse
than she does, confused and dazed. His eyes seem to have lost the ability
to focus.
“I can’t make it,” Veronica says dully.
Derek turns to her. Even he looks drained now, but his voice is still
strong. “Yes you can. It won’t be much further. We must be over the bor-
der by now. You’ll be fine.”
She tries to laugh but it comes out as a whimper. “I sure don’t feel
“You will be. I promise.”
She manages a sick caricature of a smile. “Thanks.”
“Breathe deep, into your belly. It helps.”
She nods and tries to follow his advice. After a few dozen inhalations
it occurs to her that the water break should be over, the one-eyed man
should be harrying them onwards. She looks around. Their abductors
are staring warily into the sky, and there is a faint sound in the distance,
odd yet familiar.
“Helicopter,” Derek breathes, and as he speaks, she too recognizes the
The one-eyed man issues a curt command. Someone grabs Veronica
from behind and pushes her down. She doesn’t need much encourage-
ment to lie face-down, taking her weight from her tortured feet is bliss.

The mud is smooth and damp on her cheek, the earth smells rich and full
of life.
The helicopter noise grows until it is directly overhead. Veronica
wants to just stay where she is and rest, but she makes herself roll to her
side and look up. The aircraft is flying low over the jungle, almost dir-
ectly overhead, hanging in the sky like a huge white insect. The letters
UN are written in blue on its side. She wonders if it is a regular flight
from the peacekeeping mission in the Congo, or if it is searching for
them. That’s possible. Eight abducted Western tourists will be big news,
worldwide headlines.
She tries to hope, but she knows the helicopter won’t see them. From
above this jungle looks like an opaque sea of green. But it’s at least a sign
that maybe someone is trying to rescue them. Maybe a group of park
guards and Ugandan soldiers is trying to follow their trail right now.
Maybe the rescue mission has pygmies too. Maybe they’ll be here any
moment now. If only they could somehow signal the helicopter, start a
fire or something. There is a cigarette lighter in the half-empty pack of
Marlboro Lights in the side pocket of Veronica’s cargo pants. She can feel
the pack against her leg. She should have told Derek, he could have got-
ten it out, like he told her to get his Leatherman. But it’s not like they
could start a fire with these damp ferns and dripping vines anyways.
The helicopter drifts across the sky. Its noise diminishes. After a few
minutes the prisoners are dragged back to their feet. Veronica whimpers
as she is forced to start walking again. Her legs and lungs feel a little
stronger, but her headache has grown so vicious it’s making her dizzy,
and the blisters on her feet have come back to life and are singing with
renewed agony. If only she had broken in her new hiking boots before
coming to Africa. If only they had not been kidnapped.
* * *
Veronica has given up any hope of this journey ever ending, she fo-
cuses now only on getting through the next few steps, and then the next
few, and then the next. She seems to be losing sensation in her legs, but
that must be a good thing, because the sensation is mostly pain. Her
shoulders keep getting worse, and she is starting to feel pins and needles
in her hands. Worst of all is her thirst. They are never given enough wa-
ter. The vicious pain behind her eyes is almost blinding now. She is
vaguely aware this is probably from dehydration. Behind her Jacob is
moaning with every breath.

They stumble forward in a collective stupor. Veronica slips and falls
several times on the uneven ground, all of them do, but they are all quick
to get up as soon as possible. Even in the abyss of their exhaustion they
know that tardiness will be met with torture or murder.
Eventually she becomes vaguely aware of a noise like a sighing wind
sweeping across the jungle. At first she thinks the drops of water on her
face are windblown, but they keep coming, faster and harder, and when
she looks up, she sees that the whole sky is dark and full of rain.
It takes less than a minute for this rain to turn into a hammering trop-
ical downpour, falling in thick ropes from the canopy trees, reducing the
earth to muck. Veronica is grateful for it. She cranes her neck back and
lets the delicious water drip down her throat, easing her thirst. Better yet,
it is slowing their progress considerably, they move no faster than a
crawl as they slip and stumble onwards through the rain and the mud.
Slowly her head begins to clear a little. Her drenched clothes chafe un-
comfortably, and the wet rope on her arms is painful, a ring of blisters
has erupted around her wrists. She realizes their abductors’ sense of
tense urgency has vanished; they are now laughing and joking with one
another as they herd their captives onwards. Veronica moans with com-
prehension. No one will follow their trail across this melting earth; no
helicopter can fly through this torrential storm. The rain has erased any
chance of pursuit and rescue.
Jacob falls again. It takes him some time to struggle back to his feet,
with shaking muscles and unseeing eyes. Diane is still half-naked, her
shirt still clumped around her wrists, she has been like that all day. She
limps mindlessly onwards, her face blank, like she is no longer really
here in any way that matters. Michael behind her stares out at the world
as if all he can see is ghosts.
The trail changes, becomes wide and flat and well-worn. The trees too
are different, they are all the same kind now, peeling brown trunks from
which clusters of enormous tear-shaped leaves erupt like frozen green
fireworks. Furled purple flowers dangle obscenely from the tops of the
trunks, and tight clumps of bananas hang beneath the leaves. A banana
plantation. They have left the wild Impenetrable Forest and entered the
settled lands of the eastern Congo. If it makes any sense to call this land
of blood and bullets ‘settled.’
The rain begins to dissipate. Bolts of brilliant sunlight shine through
rents in the dark clouds. The trail leads them up a steep ridge. They are
allowed to climb it at their own slow pace, but they are not allowed to
stop, and the gruelling ascent reduces Veronica to desperation; by the

time she finally reaches the summit, she is groaning with every painful
step, wobbling on both legs. At the top the one-eyed man calls a halt.
Veronica blinks tears from her eyes and tries to catch her breath. The
plantation ends at the ridgetop, and she can see westward for several
miles, across undulating hills partitioned into a madman’s checkerboard
of brown and green, cultivated plots and stands of banana trees. None of
the plots are large; this is subsistence farming. She sees a few figures
moving in the distance, working the fields. In the distance a tin roof glit-
ters in a shaft of sunlight. Much closer, on the downslope of the ridge,
stands the most basic human structure she has ever seen, a misshapen
one-person hut made of heaped mud and leaves.
The one-eyed man waits inside the plantation’s treeline, watching the
sky carefully, listening. Then he hustles them further onwards. The trail
leads between fields of some knee-high, grassy crop. A little past the
mud igloo they veer into the fields, down and then along the base of a
steep and stony incline that eventually becomes a sheer rock face punc-
tuated by a pale waterfall. They are led up to and then straight through
this curtain of water. Veronica has no strength left with which to be sur-
prised. She barely feels herself getting wet again.
There is a cave behind the water, a stone chamber the size of a ball-
room. The light that filters through the water is dim and flickering. The
cave is carpeted by unstable rocks the size of grapefruits, and Veronica
falls almost immediately, bruising her hip. She struggles desperately
back to her feet. The captives are led stumbling to the back wall. There is
nowhere left to go, but Veronica stands uncomprehending for a long
time, dazed and soaked, before she begins to understand that their awful
journey is over, that this cave is their destination and their prison.
* * *
The gunmen sit in a tight circle near the waterfall. The eight captives
sit in line near the back wall of the cave, as far from their abductors as
possible. At first Veronica focuses on regaining her breath and strength.
Her shoulders still hurt enormously, there is an odd crawling sensation
all down her arms and hands, and her wrists have been chafed bloody
by the wet ropes wrapped around them, but none of this matters com-
pared to the sheer bliss of being able to sit in one place without standing
or walking.
Eventually she recovers enough to wonder and fear what comes next.
She looks warily at their captors. They too sit slumped on rocks,

exhausted and triumphant. It doesn’t look like anything is going to hap-
pen anytime soon.
On top of all her other agonies, she is direly hungry. She has two
Snickers bars in her cargo pants, but no way to get them, unless –
“Derek,” she murmurs. They are all still roped together, he is perched
on a rock only a few feet away.
He twitches as if roused from a trance. “Yes?”
She hesitates. Maybe eating now isn’t such a good idea. Maybe the
candy bars will be needed more later. And bringing them out now will
raise the issue of whether she should share them. On the other hand,
she’s sure at some point they’ll be searched, and she doubts she’ll be al-
lowed to keep her Snickers then. “I’ve got two chocolate bars in my
pants. The side pocket, left side. Can you -”
He nods. She stands with a grunt, moves over to sit next to him, brings
her leg against his hands. Her khakis are soaked, and torn in a dozen
places. He reaches into her pocket, produces a Snickers bar, strips it
quietly of its wrapper, and lifts his bound arms up behind him as high as
he can. She bends over, keeping her body between the treasure and their
abductors, and grabs it with her mouth. Derek turns around to face her.
She offers him the other end, leans her face towards his. He takes the
other end of the chocolate bar in his mouth, bites it in half. It is almost a
They chew meditatively. It is the most delicious thing Veronica has
ever tasted. On the other end of their group, Michael and Tom are with
some difficulty redressing Diane in her crumpled shirt. Jacob has almost
passed out where he sits. Susan and Judy are speaking, quietly, but there
are tears streaming down Judy’s broad cheeks.
“We should give the other one to the others,” Derek says quietly.
She nods.
“Can you get my Leatherman?”
They twist their bodies again, arranging themselves so her hands can
reach his belt. Her fingers are clumsy, it takes her a few attempts to open
the button and pull out the multi-tool, but she manages to palm it.
“They’ll search us eventually,” he murmurs. “Hide it under a rock.”
She nods, selects an appropriately dark hollow, and with some diffi-
culty squats down and deposits the Leatherman there. Derek nods with
approval as she sits back up on her rock. The tool is invisible to the casu-
al eye.
There is a roar of delight from their African abductors. Veronica turns
and sees that one of the pygmies has just entered the cave, carrying four

large bottles of Primus beer in a woven basket. He speaks to the one-
eyed leader in a dispassionate voice, conveying a message, as the beer is
passed around. The leader frowns, dismisses the pygmy with a contemp-
tuous wave, and looks over to his prisoners.
Veronica freezes as his eyes fix on her, and then move to Susan. A long
moment passes. Then the one-eyed man gets to his feet, walks over to the
prisoners, and stops in front of the British girl. Susan stares down at the
ground, as if pretending he doesn’t exist. She is trembling. All conversa-
tion has ceased.
The one-eyed man grabs Susan by her hair and pulls her wincing to
her feet. Then he draws out his
, severs the ropes that connect
Susan to Judy and Jacob, and begins to drag the blonde girl away, to-
wards the waterfall. Veronica stares in horror. There is nothing they can
do. She knows she will be next.

“No!” Derek shouts, leaping to his feet. “No! Leave her alone!”
The one-eyed man stops, a little surprised.
“Come on, we have to stand together,” Derek says urgently to
She hesitates a moment; then she too stands and starts to shout, “Let
her go! No! You let her go now!”
Tom and Judy join in, bellowing and screaming, their voices surpris-
ingly strong. Veronica grabs Jacob’s shoulder and tries to pull him to his
feet. His eyes open and stare blearily at her.
“He’s taking Susan away, we have to stop him,” she hisses.
The message gets through, and Jacob lumbers to his feet. The one-eyed
man begins to walk away, pulling Susan with him, but Derek leads
Veronica and Jacob in pursuit, gets in front of him and blocks his path,
and starts to shout again: “No! Let her go! You let her go, you can’t have

,” Susan hisses to the one-eyed man, and Derek switches to
French too: ”
” Then Veronica joins in
Laissez-lui, maintenant! Maintenant!
the shouting, and so does Jacob, also in French. Tom and Judy add their
voices, and look like they would like to come join them, but Michael and
Diane refuse to get up.
The one-eyed man looks annoyed and perplexed by this cacophony of
protest, as if confronted by buzzing mosquitoes. He looks over to the
other Africans. They seem bemused, but also amused, and they do not
seem eager to put down their beers and back him. He frowns for a mo-
ment. Then he releases Susan, grabs Derek by the throat and pushes him
up against the wall of the cave, pulling Veronica along partway. He is
amazingly strong.
Derek chokes for air, tries to kick and writhe out of the hold, but to no
avail. The one-eyed man closes his other hand into a fist and slams it
three times into Derek’s midsection, and once into his face. Blood begins
to seep from Derek’s nose. Honour satisfied, the one-eyed man lets his

victim drop to the rocky ground, and turns to Veronica. She quails – but
all he does is shove her away, back towards the inner wall of the cave.
She and Jacob manage to half-carry a stunned Derek back to the oth-
ers. The one-eyed man retakes his position with his men, grabs a bottle
of beer, and drinks deeply. Derek drops heavily onto a rock, stunned,
barely able to sit without falling. Veronica leans towards him and looks
carefully into his eyes. To her relief his pupils seem undilated; he has not
been concussed.
Susan sits beside them, keeping Derek between her and the Africans,
looking as if she might shatter at any moment. She asks, hesitantly, “Are
you all right?”
Derek manages a smile that’s mostly wince. “I’ll live. I think. We have
to stick together. We can’t let them divide us.”
“They’re not going to kill us,” Veronica says, reassuring herself as
much as anyone else. “We’re worth too much. They’ll ransom us.”
“Not necessarily,” Jacob says quietly.
Everyone looks at him. Veronica is surprised he is making any contri-
bution to the conversation at all. Jacob’s face is still pale with exhaustion,
both his voice and his whole skinny body are trembling, the back of his
T-shirt is dark with blood that has leaked from his whip wounds – but
his eyes are steady, and he no longer looks faint. He looks angry.
He says, in his faintly nasal voice, “The reason we had guards today
was six years ago a bunch of
came into the park and cap-
tured fourteen tourists. They eventually murdered eight. The English
speakers. They let the French go.”
Susan’s grip on Derek tightens. Veronica swallows. Everyone here is a
native English speaker, although it seems Derek, Jacob and Susan can
also get by in French.
Derek shakes his head. “No. If these guys came intending murder we’d
be dead already. They didn’t march us all the way here for fun. I think
Veronica’s right. Ransom.” He takes a breath. “But I also think if
something goes wrong they won’t hesitate to cut their losses.”
“Meaning… ” Veronica’s voice trails off.
“Meaning killing us all,” he says grimly. “So our job is to try to make
sure nothing goes wrong. I’ve been thinking this over all day. Escape, I
don’t think that’s a realistic option. Sorry. We’re too far from anything,
we stand out too much. Even if we got away somehow they’d track us
down too fast. There’s no sense even trying, we’d just piss them off. But
we do know people are looking for us. That chopper was flying too low
for anything else. We need to keep our eyes out for opportunities to

signal where we are, and to take any that come up, if we can do so
Veronica stares at him. The whole lower half of his face is covered
with blood, but his voice is clinical, as if he is discussing business object-
ives, not their very survival.
“What?” he asks.
She shakes her head. “You just – how can you be so calm?”
“I’m not. I’m a security professional, I was in the military, I’ve seen ac-
tion before. You learn to suppress your panic reflex, that’s all. I’m just as
scared as you.”
Veronica doubts it.
Jacob says, “They’ve got phones.”
Everyone looks at him, surprised.
Susan asks, “Phones?”
“Guy over there has a cell phone, I saw it when we got up just now. He
was reading a text message or something on it.”
“It can’t actually work. Not out here,” Veronica says.
“It’s not impossible. I work at Telecom Uganda, their competitors
provide service in the Congo too, with reasonable coverage from what I
saw. And radio’s a weird medium. If we’re anywhere near a town, there
might be pockets of service around.”
“But I thought – how do they have cell phones here? I thought there
wasn’t even any government.”
“There isn’t,” Derek says. “But there’s still a lot of money out here, and
there’s not exactly a war any more. Just good old-fashioned anarchy. The
UN keeps a pretty good lid on the cities, but we can’t expect them to
march out here looking for us. It’s probably some local warlord’s territ-
ory, they’d start a firefight if they came in.”
“Do you think that’s who sent them?” Veronica asks. “The local
“I have no idea.”
“The point I was trying to make,” Jacob says waspishly, “is that if we
can get our hands on one of their phones, we can use it to call for help.”
Derek frowns. “Remember that mud igloo we passed? This is the
middle of buttfuck nowhere. I seriously doubt phones work anywhere
near here.”
“Doesn’t matter,” Jacob persists. “They have them because they work
We get a phone somehow, we write a text message, it goes in
the outbox, they recover the phone, they go to town or wherever, and the
message gets sent as soon as they walk into signal range.”

There is a pause as the others absorb this.
“Not bad,” Derek concedes. “But it’ll be hard to grab one long enough
to write a text. Probably the second most valuable thing these guys own,
after their guns.”
“Anybody got a better idea?” Jacob asks.
Nobody does.
“Okay. So keep your eyes open for their phones,” Derek says. “But re-
member that priority number one is to make sure nothing goes wrong.
We don’t necessarily want army troops finding us and storming this
cave. The best way out of this is to be traded for a big bag of US dollars.
Until then we have to stick together and make sure they don’t abuse us.
We should go join the others.”
Veronica realizes she, Derek, Susan and Jacob have instinctively
formed a tight group, a little apart from the other four. This makes sense,
their foursome drove from Kampala together, Derek knew each of them
before they came here, and they are all in their late twenties and early
thirties, whereas the others are one or two decades older – but all eight of
them need to be a single indivisible group. They get up and move across
the cave, assemble into a rough circle.
“Love what you’ve done with the nose,” Tom says mordantly to Derek.
“Thanks. I always thought it was too straight. Is everyone okay?”
“We’re fine,” Judy says, meaning Tom and herself. “I may never want
to walk another step again as long as I live, but otherwise fine. But Diane
Diane doesn’t look good. She is sitting slumped on the floor, her back
to the wall, breathing shallowly, her head lolling, her eyes unfocused.
“She needs a doctor,” Michael says to Derek. His voice is hoarse. “Tell
them that. Tell them we’ve got money at home, lots of money, we’ll get
them whatever they want. We have to get her to a doctor. If they just
give me a phone I can get them half a million dollars.”
“I’ll tell them,” Derek says. “When I think they’ll be receptive. That’s
not now.”
Michael looks like he wants to be furious but can’t muster the energy.
“Listen, you son of a bitch -”
“Come on, man,” Jacob interrupts. He points out the line of blood on
his neck. “Don’t kid yourself. You think they give a shit about us? They
came this close to cutting my throat out there. They would have if I
couldn’t have made it. There’s probably no doctor inside a hundred
miles anyways. Best case, we’re all going to be here for days, probably
weeks. Don’t start making trouble now. You’ll just make things worse.”

Look at my wife. Look at her. She might, she might
be dying here. You have to go tell them to get help. You have to go tell
them right now.” But Michael’s voice sounds hollow, like he knows in his
heart that Jacob is right, pleading with their captors will be useless.
Veronica kneels next to Diane and examines her closely. The wounds
on her back have clotted, blood loss couldn’t have been that severe. She
doesn’t look dehydrated. Marathon runners sometimes die from hy-
ponatremia, the opposite of dehydration, but that’s clearly not the prob-
lem either.
“She’s in shock,” Veronica says. “Does she have a heart condition?”
Michael shakes his head. “No. Always been healthy as a horse.”
“Then it’s probably not cardiogenic. Just psychological shock and ex-
haustion. I think she’ll be better once she rests.”
Better but not healed, Veronica doesn’t say; psychological shock often
leads to post-traumatic stress disorder, and she has a nasty feeling there
will be plenty more trauma to come before any of them get out of this.
“Are you a doctor?” Judy asks.
“A nurse. I used to work in an ER.”
Michael seems reassured. Veronica doesn’t tell him she hasn’t prac-
ticed for seven years.
A figure breaks through the curtain of the waterfall, a strong man car-
rying a woven thatch basket strapped to his back. The cave fills with
clanking noises as the basket is emptied. The one-eyed man takes a
length of chain in his hands, stands, and turns towards the captives. He
is smiling. Veronica shivers.
* * *
They start with Derek. First they take his shoes, watch, belt, and cam-
era, his little day pack, and everything in his pockets. Then they wrap a
length of chain tightly around his ankle, seal it with a small steel pad-
lock, and run the other end through the fist-sized natural hole in an ob-
long rock the size of a watermelon. Susan is next to be stripped of her
possessions, which are piled with Derek’s near the waterfall. Both the
chains looped through the anchor rock are fastened to a large padlock,
its hasp almost too big for the fingernail-sized links. The locks and chains
are rusting but solid.
Veronica is next. She rises to her feet as the one-eyed man approaches,
tries to be cooperative. She doesn’t resist as he searches her roughly, not
even when his hands squeeze and linger on her breasts and crotch. She

tells herself at least he’s only touching her through her clothes. She tries
to pretend she isn’t really there, that this is happening to someone else.
Her pockets are emptied. Her second Snickers bar is taken. She wishes
she and Derek had eaten it instead of saving it for the others.The cigar-
ettes in her cargo pants are soaked, useless, and Veronica feels a sudden
and powerful pang of regret that she hadn’t smoked them. She would
maim for a cigarette right now.
When he removes her belt he discovers the Celtic knot tattooed onto
the small of her back, and traces its lines with his rough fingers. She
stands motionless until he begins to probe beneath her waistband, then
she pulls away and turns around, ready to shout and fight back at last –
but he is already crouching before her, wrapping a chain around her left
ankle, pulling it tight, locking it with one of the little steel locks. It won’t
impede circulation, but she knows it will chafe her skin raw, and there’s
no way she will get her foot loose. The other end of the chain, which is
about twenty feet long, joins Derek’s and Susan’s chains on the big pad-
lock. Veronica sits back down on her rock and stares dully at her new
chain anklet. At least they have all been chained together, they will not
be dragged away one by one. It is thin consolation.
Soon they have all been attached to the anchor rock, and the big
chromed padlock is snapped shut. No key is in evidence. Veronica is
thirsty again, and desperately hungry. She watches as all their posses-
sions are collected in two jute sacks. At least she managed to hide
Derek’s Leatherman. That’s something. Maybe Derek can pick or smash
the lock and lead them all to escape. Maybe he’s Superman and he can
just fly them all out of here.
The one-eyed man produces his
and everyone tenses; but he
uses it only to cut free their arms. The relief is acute. Her shoulders still
feel wrenched in their sockets, and her hands are still full of weirdly
damped sensations, but Veronica thinks, as she flexes her wrists, that
maybe the damage isn’t permanent after all. It feels strange, almost un-
natural, to be able to hold her hands in front of her body again.

A demain
,” the one-eyed man says, after freeing Derek last; and he
leads the rest of the Africans out through the waterfall, leaving the cap-
tives in the cave.
“What does that mean?” Michael whispers.
Jacob translates: “See you tomorrow.”
The cave faces westward, and the red light of the setting sun shimmers
gloriously in the waterfall, like flowing stained glass. It seems wrong
that anything here should be so beautiful. The temperature is dropping

with the sun. Veronica isn’t cold exactly, not yet, but she is uncomfort-
ably aware that all her clothes are still soaking wet.
No one speaks for a long time. Veronica doesn’t know what to say or
do. Nothing in her life has prepared her for this situation.
“Come on,” Derek says eventually. “Let’s move this rock to the middle
so we’ve got more space.”
He and Jacob manage to carry it from the wall into the middle of the
cave. By the time they have finished, the glistening red orb in the water-
fall has been cut in half; they are almost on the equator here, and the sun
sets with amazing speed.
“Any more bright ideas?” Michael demands of Derek, inexplicably
Derek shakes his head coolly. “Not today. I think we should just follow
your wife’s example.” Diane has moved from shock straight into a nearly
comatose sleep.
Michael glares back for a moment, then goes back to his wife, slumps
to a sitting position beside her and covers his face with his hands. Veron-
ica walks over to the waterfall and drinks deeply, the anchor rock is just
close enough now for that. She hugs herself as she backs away from the
water. She is now officially cold. Maybe she wouldn’t be with dry
clothes, but that’s a moot point. The darkness is now almost absolute, ex-
cept that their captors have set a fire on the slope just outside, and the
flickering firelight radiates through the waterfall;. Even if they were to
somehow escape their chains, they are being watched; even if they some-
how escaped their watchers, they are countless miles from anything they
know. Derek is right. There will be no escape. There is only the hope of
ransom or rescue.
“I’m cold,” Veronica says.
Susan nods. “So am I.”
Derek says, “We should huddle together. All of us, for warmth. At
least until we dry. And, shit, we have to clear rocks to make space, I
should have thought of that earlier.”
Veronica doesn’t like this intimation that Derek is mortal and makes
mistakes. They labour in the dark at some length, groaning from their
many agonies as they stumble and bump into one another, until they
have finally cleared a flat patch of ground big enough for them all to lie
Veronica stays close to Derek, almost instinctively. When they all
lower to the ground and tentatively pull each other close she is between
him and Jacob. Derek’s back is to Veronica, his arms are around Susan,

who is sobbing quietly. Veronica feels angry, and jealous. She wants
Derek’s attention and his strength. She tries to tell herself it doesn’t mat-
ter, this is about warmth, they have to all stay together. Susan needs him
more than she does, and anyways being jealous here is totally ridiculous.
She hugs Derek tightly and presses her face against his strong back. Ja-
cob, behind her, is more tentative, and she reaches back to pull him
closer against her. His long, lean body is bony and uncomfortable. The
stone floor and the ankle chain are painfully hard.
“It’s going to be okay,” Derek murmurs.
Susan sniffles a bit, then announces through tears, “It better be.”
Everyone tries to laugh.
“I mean it,” Derek continues, louder. “We’ll be okay long as we stick to-
gether. And I think we will. You guys have held up really well. ”
“You were amazing too,” Susan says. “You are amazing.”
“This isn’t the worst thing that’s ever happened to me. Top ten, maybe,
but not even top three, not yet. Makes it easier.”
“It’s easily the worst thing that’s ever happened to me.” Susan is on the
verge of tears again.
Veronica feels Derek tighten his arms around Susan, and hears him
whisper to her, “Things will look better in the morning. I promise.”
Veronica closes her eyes and hopes he’s right.

For a long moment Veronica doesn’t understand what she is doing lying
on a stone floor pressed between two other bodies. Then memory jolts
her like a thunderbolt and she moans with terror, instantly wide awake.
She hurts seemingly everywhere: badly blistered feet, cuts on her legs,
a big bruise on her hip, a pulled calf muscle, aching shoulders, skinned
wrists, chafed ankle, headache, hunger, thirst, stiffness everywhere, an
overall feeling that she has been hit by a freight train. At least her clothes
are now mostly dry. The cave is dark. She has no idea how long she has
slept. Jacob, Derek and Susan seem asleep, albeit uneasily. She hears but
can’t make out soft, frightened whispers from Tom and Judy. Veronica
wants to lie where she is and sleep for days, and she is so exhausted that
despite the hard, cold, uneven stone floor she probably could, but she
needs to pee. At least she isn’t dehydrated.
Just getting to her feet feels like climbing K2, but somehow she man-
ages. Her right calf won’t flex at all, she can barely walk, but that hardly
matters, the chain on her left ankle keeps her from going more than
twenty feet from the anchor rock. She isn’t sure where to go, but she has
to go somewhere, so she limps near the waterfall. Her chain clanks
bleakly behind her, as if she’s the ghost in a ghost story. She doesn’t want
to pee so close to the others, but tells herself they can’t afford niceties like
personal embarrassment anymore, and anyway the white noise of the
waterfall swallows up the sound.
Veronica drinks from the waterfall, soothing her throat. The water
feels cool and clear. She hopes it is also clean, that no upstream village
dumps dead animals or feces into the water. Dysentery is all she needs
right now. Maybe she shouldn’t drink from it, but she already did last
night, what the hell. She feels her way back to her slot between Jacob and
Derek, lies laboriously back down, and starts to cry. It feels like an invol-
untary physical reaction, like sneezing. She can’t stop, she starts weeping
more violently. Derek wakes up and rolls over to face her.
“Sorry, I’m sorry,” she bleats.

“It’s okay,” he mutters, and reaches out for her, wraps his arms around
her, holds her close as she sobs against his shoulder. She tries to relax in-
to his arms and let her exhaustion carry her back into sleep. It doesn’t
seem to work, she is not conscious of having fallen asleep, but somehow,
when she next opens her eyes, the cave is filled with filtered dawn, the
sun is on the rise, and others are up and moving.
The ceiling of the cave is barely high enough to stand, and except near
the waterfall, it is so dark she has to squint. Veronica moves as close to
the light and the water as she can, as quickly as she can, heedless of the
pain in her strained muscles. Being buried alive has long been her
greatest fear. Yesterday she was too exhausted to react to her surround-
ings, and fear of imminent death trumped claustrophic anxiety, but now
just the thought of being in one of the dark corners of this cave makes
her dizzily lightheaded and a little nauseous.
Once they have moved from lying on stone to sitting on a rock there is
precious little to do. Jacob mutters, “I’m hungry,” and there is general
agreement. Otherwise everyone seems dazed and disinterested, too
weak for conversation. Diane seems better, she’s at least ambulatory, but
she doesn’t speak and her eyes are wide as a child’s.
“You have to tell them to get me a phone,” Michael says, breaking a
brooding silence. “I’ll get them money. Tell them I can get them a million
dollars if they let us go.”
Veronica wonders if the
in question means all of them, or just Mi-
chael and Diane.
“I will,” Derek says. “When they come.”
“I can do it fast. I can transfer fifty thousand dollars today, over the
“What makes you think they’ll let you go once they have the money?”
Jacob asks.
Michael flinches. “What – why wouldn’t they?”
“Wrong question. Why
Nobody has an answer.
The waterfall noise changes as two men push through its flowing cur-
tain. One of them is the muscled one-eyed man. They other they have not
seen before. He is even taller than Jacob, at least six foot six, he reminds
Veronica of basketball players she has met. The cave is not quite big
enough for him and he has to stoop. He wears sneakers, black shorts,
and a ragged blue T-shirt too small for him, and he walks with a pro-
nounced limp. The one-eyed man carries a plastic bucket full of some
pale pastelike substance, and a jute sack holding a half-dozen spherical

things about the size of human heads. Veronica freezes in place as it
dawns on her that they might actually be human heads. Both men carry
lashed to their belts.
“Good morning,” the tall man says, putting down sack and bucket. His
accented English is soft-spoken and Veronica has to strain to hear him
over the waterfall. “My name is Gabriel.”
“I can get you money,” Michael bursts out. “Give me a phone and I can
get you a million dollars if you let us go.”
Gabriel examines him curiously. “What is your name?”
“Michael Anderson.”
“You are a rich man, Mr. Anderson?”
“Yes I am,” Michael says. “And I’m ready to make you rich too.”

C’est vrai?
The Bible says it is harder for a camel to pass through the
eye of a needle than a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Michael stares at him. “Don’t you want money?”
“Of course I want money. But please, how is it you would give it to
“I can do a bank transfer today, for fifty thousand dollars, I can do it in
ten minutes if you give me a phone -”
Gabriel half-smiles. “Do I seem like a man who has an account at a
Swiss bank? Please, Mr. Anderson. Be sensible. Who will negotiate the
arrangements? Who will transform the numbers in your bank account in-
to dollars that I can hold? Such a magical transformation. Like water into
wine. Who will bring me those dollars? Where will we meet? How will
my safety be guaranteed? Are these arrangements that you can make
today, in ten minutes, Mr. Anderson?”
Veronica is relieved, listening to him. He doesn’t talk like a brutal
thug. He talks like an educated, reasonable man.
“I’ll find a way,” Michael says. “I’ll work with you. We can make these
arrangements together.”
“Thank you. But I prefer to work with professionals. Please, all of you,
do not be afraid. Put your minds at ease. There is a long history in my
country of trading tourists for money. Laurent Kabila, the lamented fath-
er of our president, he did this often when he was a fighter in the bush,
like me. Today no tourists come to Congo, we must seek them out in
Uganda, but the principles remain the same. Please. I will negotiate ar-
rangements with your governments, not with you.”
Veronica takes a deep breath and lets herself look away from the sack
full of headlike objects. She feels a little steadier. They will be ransomed.
Everything will be fine. Or at least survivable.

“That all sounds terrific,” Derek says. “But there’s something you need
to understand.”
Gabriel looks at him.
“Our governments will insist on verifying our well-being before they
pay you one dime. And if we’ve been abused, they will come down on
you so hard you won’t know what hit you. Kabila kidnapped his tourists
last century. The world is different now. You kidnap some Americans
and Brits and Canadians, and then you ransom us unhurt, fair enough,
you’re not worth chasing down. But you hurt us again and you will die.
That animal tried to rape her last night.” He indicates the one-eyed man
and Susan. “He pulls any of that shit again, he uses that whip again, any-
thing happens to us, even if it’s not your fault, even if one of us gets sick,
then you and all your men will fucking die. Is that clear? Do you under-
stand that?”
Veronica is awed by the intensity and casual certainty of his voice.
Gabriel seems less impressed. “What is your name?”
“Derek Summers.”
The tall man nods. “I see. Mr. Summers. I have no intention of harming
you. But not because of your ridiculous threats. For two other reasons.
One is that I know you white people are like cut flowers, so weak that
from only a little injury you wilt and die. The other is because I am not
an evil man. None of us are. You called this man an animal. I know that
is what you think of us. All Congolese, maybe all black men, we are all
animals to you. I want you to think of this. I studied physics once, at a
university. I travelled to Europe. Now my country is in ruins, my family
is dead, I must fight and kill only to survive. That is why we have cap-
tured you. That is why we must have the money you will bring. Only to
survive. This man Patrice, my friend, this man you call an animal, he was
once the finest drummer in Nord-Kivu, maybe the finest in all the
Congo, and though I doubt you know this, we Congolese are famous
through all Africa for our music. He lost his music when he lost his eye,
in battle, saving my life. He lives every day with terrible pain from those
wounds. Crippling pain. Pain that would reduce you to an animal, I
promise you that. But he is a man still. He is the most brave and most
strong man I know. I want you to think of this the next time you call him
an animal. You will not be harmed by my men, none of you, unless you
bring it on yourselves. But if you do I will have no mercy. Because I
think no better of you than you do of us. Is that clear, Mr. Summers? Do
After a moment Derek says, quietly, “Yes.”

Gabriel nods to Patrice, who draws his
. Veronica freezes, as
Patrice reaches into the sack – and pulls out a pineapple, which he cuts
into a dozen fragments, wielding the machete with a craftsman’s mech-
anical grace. The smell makes Veronica’s mouth water and her stomach
“You see,” Gabriel says, as Patrice arrays the wedges on a flattish rock
and begins to chop up another pineapple. “When you are here we treat
you well. If there is trouble you will have yourselves alone to blame.”
* * *
Tom reaches his hand into the plastic bucket, withdraws another
baseball-sized dollop of
, stares at it with a wrinkled face, and an-
nounces, “This is the worst bloody Club Med I’ve ever been to.”
Everyone laughs. It sounds almost like real laughter. Gabriel has kept
his word, they have not been harmed further, and their bellies are at
least half-full. The pineapples were so deliriously delicious that Veronica
now feels almost well-disposed towards Patrice. But eating this
, a
kind of banana pounded to the consistency of underdone mashed pota-
toes, is like chewing wet cardboard.
“You think the food is bad, wait ’til the activities begin,” Derek says,
“Everybody up for the sunrise flagellations!” Jacob adds.
“I’m definitely not going to tip the staff.” Diane’s voice is quavery, but
they are the first words she has spoken since entering the cave, and
everyone laughs uproariously with relief.

can be good,” Susan says from her seat next to Derek. She
sounds oddly defensive. “This just hasn’t been cooked enough. And it
usually comes with a sauce.”
“Tell Nigella, not me,” Tom says around a mouthful. “This is one taste I
promise you I will never acquire. Rather have a bucket full of Vegemite.
Well, let’s look at the silver lining. A few weeks here and we’ll finally get
our slender figures back.”
“Great,” Jacob said. “I’ll just start thinking of this as a whips-and-chains
fat farm. We could probably market it when we get back home. People
would pay for the experience.”
Judy takes a bite and her face wrinkles. She makes herself chew and
swallow, then turns to Susan and asks, amazed, “You actually eat this
back in Kampala? By choice?”

Susan looks around uncertaintly. “Not Kampala. The camp where I
work, near Semiliki. There’s Western food if you like, but I try not to eat
differently from the refugees when I’m there. I think it’s patronizing, it
reinforces the barriers.”
“Could do with a few more barriers at the moment,” Tom says drily.
“Do you speak the language?” Michael asks Susan.
She hesitates. “Not really. There are so many of them around here, it’s
mad. In Zimbabwe there was only Shona and Ndebele. Here, I expect
there’s a dozen languages within a hundred miles. I can speak some
Swahili. A little Luganda, not much, I’ve only been here eight months. I
think the pygmies were talking Swahili to the men when we came here,
but the men were speaking something else, not Luganda.”
“Kinyarwanda?” Derek asks.
“I don’t know. I wouldn’t recognize it. But I don’t think they’d speak
that around here.”
“They would if they were interahamwe.”
“If they were interahamwe I rather think we’d all already be… ”
Susan’s voice trails off.
Michael asks, “Interahamwe?”
Derek looks at him like he just failed to recognize Kurt Cobain’s name.
“You’ve heard of the Rwandan genocide?”
“Of course.” Michael sounds a little insulted.
Susan says, “The interahamwe were the ones responsible.”
Derek frowns. “Responsible’s a big word. Ordinary Hutus did most of
the killing. But it was the interahamwe militias who organized it. It’s a
Rwandan word, means ‘let us strike together.’ When the genocide was
over, after Kagame took over the country, a million refugees ran away
into the Congo. Specifically right here, North Kivu province, right next
door. Remember those volcanos we saw in the distance on the drive into
Bwindi? They’re right on the Uganda-Rwanda-Congo triple border. Any-
way, most of the refugees went home eventually, but the hardcore in-
terahamwe, the real genocidists, the mass murderers, they stayed.
There’s still supposed to be about ten thousand of them in eastern
“And you think these might be interahamwe?” Michael asks.
Derek hesitates, then shrugs. “Probably not. Susan’s right. We’d all be
dead already. These guys are probably exactly what they seem. A local
warlord doing a fundraising drive with us as the poster children.”
“He seems like an okay guy,” Jacob says.

Derek’s laugh has no warmth in it. “Do me a favour. Don’t get all
Stockholm syndrome on me. Sure, he talks pretty. But let’s hope real
hard we never have to find out just how nice he actually is.”
* * *
After breakfast Veronica sits by the waterfall and does what she can
for people’s injuries. Her one tool is the plank of cheap purple soap Gab-
riel brought. She uses it to wash assorted cuts, bruises, blisters and whip
wounds. Jacob and Diane shudder and groan as Veronica soaps their
flayed skin. Diane once again doesn’t seem like she’s all there, her eyes
stare into the distance. There’s no clean fabric for bandages; all she can
tell them is to try to keep the wounds clean and dry until they scab over.
Tom has somehow sprained a wrist, and Veronica ties his T-shirt around
it tightly for support. Michael is still walking gingerly, but he doesn’t ap-
proach her, and Veronica knows his swollen testes should be fine in a
day or two without help.
When finally done she rinses blood from the soap. On impulse she
sticks her head through the waterfall. Outside, the water plunges into a
small pool that becomes a burbling creek, wending its way through little
patches of beans and millet until it reaches a stand of banana trees. The
ashen remains of a fire lie on a rock beside the pool. Two guards sit
nearby, carrying
but not rifles. Veronica thinks they were part of
yesterday’s kidnapping crew. They leap to their feet when they see her
head emerge from the water, and one begins to shout in French. She re-
coils, frightened. The two guards storm in after her, yelling sternly but
not angrily.
“In case their body language was somehow unclear,” Jacob says drily
after they depart, “they said we weren’t supposed to go outside.”
Veronica swallows. Her knees are weak from the confrontation.
For a long time nobody says anything. Veronica wishes somebody else
would talk. She can’t do it herself. All the words in the world seem to
have fled from her mind. Instead all she can think about is everything
that might go wrong at any moment. If Patrice comes storming in drunk,
murder and rape on his mind. If they are discovered, their location re-
ported by some curious local child, and Gabriel decides to cut his losses
before the UN arrives. If he is unable to make contact with their govern-
ments before interahamwe enemies come and take his prisoners for
themselves. If the ransom exchange goes terribly wrong and ends in

gunfire. If there is cholera in the water. These all feel like very real pos-
sibilities, far easier to imagine than returning to safety.
Jacob speaks deadpan into the silence: “Well now. I suppose you’ve all
been wondering why I’ve asked you here.”
The laughter that follows is giddy to the point of hysteria.
“What you don’t realize,” he continues, his voice rigid, “is that this is
the casting call for the world’s newest and ultimate reality show. It’s
called Survivor Congo, and the big twist this season is we’ve replaced
‘getting voted off the island’ with ‘getting your fucking head chopped
off.'” More laughter, not as loud. “Of course some of you will have to
make ultimate sacrifices, but Jesus, people, just imagine the ratings

“Do I get a million dollars if I win?” Derek asks.
“No. You win
not getting your fucking head chopped off.

The laughter that follows is now thin and nervous.
“Sounds fair,” Derek agrees. “See, this is why I invited Jacob to Africa
in the first place. Black comic relief.”
“It’s not really the right continent for racist jokes,” Jacob shoots back.
“You thought they were funny in high school.”
“That was a character. And a highly satiric one. Who I did only once.”
Derek smiles. “Because DeShawn nearly beat the living shit out of
“Discretion is often the better part of comedy.”
Veronica interrupts their repartee. “You two went to high school
Jacob nods. “Twenty years I’ve known this guy. High school, uni-
versity, now here. His fault I’m here in the first place. Talked me into an
eighty percent pay cut to work for some friend of a friend of his. I still
can’t believe I actually signed up.”
“Sure, it’s all my fault,” Derek says darkly. “Salesman of the century,
that’s me. Sand to the Bedouin, Africa to Canadians.”
“I want my money back. You’ll hear from my lawyers.”
“What? Why? I promised you exotic adventure. If this doesn’t qualify I
don’t know what does.”
Jacob snorts. “Teach me a lesson. Jungle accommodation with a water-
fall and a sunset view, you said. The company of beautiful women. A
long walk through lovely rainforest with expert guides, culminating
with quaint local rituals involving big fucking whips and machetes. Yep,
definitely should have read the fine print.”
Their humour is forced, but everyone manages a smile.

“No, really, my own fault I’m here,” Jacob says bitterly. He takes a
deep and shuddering breath. “I keep thinking maybe this is a dream, and
when I wake up tomorrow we’ll be back in the park, or maybe in Kam-
pala, and I’ll say, hey, guess what, you’ll never believe this dream I just
“Yeah.” Veronica knows the feeling.
“These last few weeks already, most mornings I wake up and can’t be-
lieve I’m in Africa in the first place. That was already surreal. This is
even crazier. It’s like I’m playing a video game inside a dream or
“You’ve just been here a few weeks?” Susan asks.
Jacob nods.
“Me too,” Veronica says softly. “Just a month.”
Judy asks her, “You came as a tourist?”
Veronica shakes her head. “I was working with this HIV research
“We were supposed to fly home tomorrow,” Diane says. “They took
our tickets. It isn’t fair. We’re philanthropists. We would have been home
Veronica sympathizes. She too probably would have been going home
soon. Her month in Kampala has taught her that Africa isn’t for her: too
foreign, too chaotic, too poor, too intense. She was probably just weeks
away from leaving. It doesn’t seem fair that now she is trapped in this
awful place instead.
Michael says angrily, “I grew up poor, you know. I paid my own way
through college. Now we give money to churches, orphanages, minis-
tries all over the world. There are dozens of African children who rely on
us to survive. Hundreds. We travel all over the world to inspect our
good works and make sure our money isn’t wasted. That’s why we were
here. We don’t deserve this. We just don’t deserve it.”
Susan looks like she wants to say something, but doesn’t.
Jacob shrugs. “It’s like Clint Eastwood says. Deserve’s got nothin’ to do
with it.”
“We would have been home tomorrow,” Diane repeats, as if she can
make it come true by saying it often enough.
Judy says, “You never think it will happen to you, do you? You always
think this is the kind of thing that happens to other people. We’re just
tourists. Uganda was so lovely. We travel every year, never had a
moment’s trouble before.”
“We should have gotten married,” Tom says, very seriously.

Judy half-laughs, half-sobs. “You’ve been saying that for fourteen
He takes her hand gently. “We get out of this, darling, first thing, I’m
going to make an honest women of you at last.”
“Fourteen years?” Veronica asks.
Tom explains: “It’s been a very long engagement. Like that French film
with whatshername from Amelie. I used to be a coal miner, up near
Leeds, Jude here was a hairdresser. A month after we started going out,
we were both sacked, on the same day. Fourteen years ago next month.
The very next day we put our heads and bank balances together, started
a delivery service. Nowadays we’ve got eleven vans, forty employees, it’s
a real going concern. But starting up shop was such a bloody bother we
never found time to officially get married.”
As Veronica listens, she begins to feel a slippery looseness deep in her
guts, a faint cramp. She swallows nervously. Just a little dyspepsia, she
tells herself. You ate too much too fast. That water you drank was clean.
You can’t be sick. Not now.
“Every year we talk about it,” Judy says, “and every year we decide
we’d rather spend the time and money travelling.”
Tom rolls his eyes. “She decides.”
“Come on, love. You’ve said yourself every trip’s been better than a
wedding. You hate weddings.”
“I’d rather get married than eat
“Fair point,” Judy concedes, and everyone chuckles.
“It’s really not that bad if it’s prepared correctly,” Susan protests, but
she too is smiling.
Silence falls, and with it, the almost-cheerful mood darkens again.
Eventually Tom says to Susan, “What’s your story then,
What are you doing in Africa?”
“Me?” Susan looks around awkwardly, discomfited by their collective
attention. “Not half so romantic as yours. I used to be an actress. Not a
very good one, I don’t think. I went to all the right courses, did a few
little roles in provincial tours, a few film walk-ons, but it never really
happened for me. Fame. Success.” She shrugs. “Then five years ago I
came to Kenya for what was supposed to be two weeks, to help teach
local theatre groups how to put on AIDS awareness plays. The slums
there, the way people live, I’d never seen anything like it. I’d never even
imagined. And it’s so
The waste. The fucking
of it all.
Their government stealing their money, and the money that’s supposed
to go to them, just outright stealing it plain as day, thieves and

murderers, killing their people in a dozen different ways, and all of them
propped up by our governments, our aid organizations, we’re helping to
kill them too.” Susan glares at Michael and Diane as if they are person-
ally responsible for Africa’s poverty. Then she seems to come to herself,
and her face softens again, her voice becomes shy and hesitant. “I’ve been
here ever since. Working at places I can believe in. Refugee camps,
mostly. The aid industry mostly makes Africa worse. But in the camps I
can make a difference.”
“Did the people at the camp know you were coming to see the goril-
las?” Derek asks.
Susan considers. “I told a few. The authorities must already know
we’re all missing, they took our passport details when we entered the
Derek nods as if that wasn’t quite what he was asking.
“How long have you been in Africa?” Tom asks Derek.
Derek too looks a little uncomfortable answering questions. “Almost a
year now.”
“You were in the service, you said? You’ve seen action?”
“Yeah. In Bosnia. I was a so-called peacekeeper. Ten years ago now.
Private security, since. Iraq a couple years ago, working for Blackwater.
Then Thailand before I came here. Beaches and girls. Probably should
have stayed.”
“What you should have stayed in was university.” Jacob turns to the
others. “This guy was supposed to do a triple major in politics, philo-
sophy and economics, while I did computer engineering. We were going
to found a startup once we graduated. The dot-com boom was just start-
ing. We would have been millionaires. But loser-boy here had to go and
change his major to drugs and girls.”
Derek smiles and quotes, “Never let your schooling get in the way of
your education. So I dropped out.”
Jacob clears his throat skeptically.
“No, I did. How many times have I told you this? You can check U of
T’s records. I officially withdrew a whole day before they would have ex-
pelled me.”
“And then you joined the army and went to Bosnia? Why?” Veronica
asks, trying to ignore her increasing intestinal discomfort.
Derek says, as if it is all the answer the question requires, “I was
A hush falls over the cave. Nobody seems to have anything else to say.
Veronica tries not to think about the slithering uneasiness in her belly, or

about how many things could go wrong with their ransoming. She tries
to think back to happier times. But those were too long ago to come into
focus. She can’t tear her mind away from being afraid; every time she
tries to distract herself there is a sudden reminder: the tightness of her
ankle chain, a groan from Diane, and Veronica gasps weakly as she re-
members where she is, and her stomach writhes and twists anew. She
feels like she is slowly sliding into a dark whirlpool that will swallow her
“I’m sick,” she mutters. There is no longer any denying it. Her guts are
lurching and roiling with illness, she can’t hold out much longer. She
rises weakly to her feet. “Shit. Fuck. I’m sick.”
“What is it?” Derek asks, concerned.
“Just a stomach bug,” she insists. “I’ve got to … I’m sorry.”
She grabs the empty
bucket and stumbles as far away as pos-
sible; only twenty feet, thanks to the chain. The others look studiously
away as she squats over the bucket. Knowing that this could be cholera
or dysentery, could actually kill her in a matter of days, somehow
doesn’t dull the humiliation. At least there doesn’t seem to be any bleed-
ing, at least not yet.
“I don’t feel well either,” Jacob groans.
“Oh, Jesus,” Michael says, panicky. “This is all we need. Tell them we
need a doctor. Go tell them!”
Derek stands. He looks grim. “I’ll try. But Jacob’s right, they’re not go-
ing to care. Even if they did there’s probably nothing they could do.”

Veronica spends the next three days in a haze of sickness, sometimes
groaning weakly, sometimes staggering back to the toilet bucket.
Between bouts of illness she lies on the ground and waits to die or get
better. They seem like equally desirable options. At least she is not alone
in her misery, Jacob is afflicted too. The others are unaffected: they are
more travelled, or have been in Africa longer, and are thus less vulner-
able to exotic stomach bugs.
Veronica soon begins to feel that she has been sick and chained to a
rock in this cave for months. It doesn’t take long for a routine to develop.
They are woken by the shimmering dawn, rise, and try to shake off their
stiffness. Derek actually does calisthenics every morning. The two
guards outside are changed. An expressionless teenager comes in laden
with pineapples and
, and takes out the toilet bucket; and then
nothing else of note happens until dusk, when the guards are changed
Veronica is vaguely aware that the tension and tedium would be ex-
cruciating if she were well. She watches blearily on both occasions that
Derek ventures outside the waterfall to ask about Gabriel, and is chased
back in with more shouts. She listens as the others speculate anxiously
and endlessly about what’s going to happen. But mostly she just lies
there, weak and wretched.
After the first night they don’t actually need each other’s body heat,
but they still sleep huddled up against another. They need each other’s
closeness. Veronica understands now why solitary confinement can be
such an awful punishment. Being alone isn’t so bad by itself; but being
alone in a prison, facing a dozen grim futures – she would lose her mind.
Things are bad enough as is. Veronica is almost grateful for the illness
that keeps her mind mercifully fogged. Lucidity is the last thing she
wants right now. What she wants is to close her eyes and go into a coma
until one way or another this is all finally over.
She is aware, even in her fugue state, that Derek and Susan are now
spending almost all their time within touching distance of one another.

Veronica wishes he was spending his time with her instead. It isn’t jeal-
ousy, not really. It’s simply that being near Derek lightens her feeling of
On the third day Veronica manages to rouse herself enough to inspect
the others’ wounds. They don’t look good. The whip wounds on both Ja-
cob and Diane are growing inflamed and filling with pus, clear signs of
infection. Veronica doubts their systems will be able to fight off the infec-
tions unaided; Jacob is young but sick, Diane is old and weak, their en-
vironment is filthy, and neither is getting enough food. It won’t be long
before blood poisoning and gangrene become real concerns.
On the afternoon of the fourth day, Veronica lies half-conscious, barely
aware of a background conversation. It is a sudden transition to silence
that rouses her. She looks up. One of their abductors has entered the
cave. Veronica recognizes him as the first one she saw, emerging like a
shadow from the jungle. Now instead of a rifle he carries a small steam-
ing kettle and something wrapped in a piece of cloth.
The captives watch him tensely, as they might a wild animal, a leopard
or a cobra. He makes his way straight for Veronica. Michael and Diane
back slowly away. Derek takes a step forward. Veronica watches wide-
eyed as the man kneels beside her. She can see the vertical tribal scars on
his face. He puts down the kettle and a small cracked cup, then uses his
free hand to make wriggling motions in front of his belly, and mimes
drinking from the cup. She stares at him, slowly comprehending. He re-
peats his motions.
“OK,” she says slowly. “Yes.
I understand.”
His smile reveals that he is missing several teeth. He puts down the
rag and unwraps it, revealing a pineapple-sized clump of steaming plant
matter, various grasses and barks mixed together and recently steeped in
boiling water. He mimes cutting himself, then putting the plants on the
cut. Veronica nods and repeats her understanding. Their abductor smiles
goodbye, stands, turns, and departs.
“Medicine,” she says. “They brought us medicine.”
She and Jacob drink as much of the bitter tea as they can stand; then
she applies the poultices to his and Diane’s infected welts. She wonders
if the herbs actually work or if they’re just a totem for the placebo effect.
Either way it’s better than nothing.
She sits with her back against the wall of the cave. Jacob lies on his
stomach beside her. They watch the shimmering curtain of the waterfall
in companionable silence. After a while Veronica realizes that, placebo or

no, she does feel more alert and less sickly. She feels almost like she has
woken from three days of sleep.
Jacob echoes her thoughts: “I think I feel a little better.”
Veronica looks down at herself. Her skin is caked with dust and mud.
She wonders how much weight she has lost in the last few days. Her
belly seems to have retreated into her body, leaving taut skin behind. She
hasn’t been this thin since her modelling days. Jacob’s long body, folded
into a crosslegged position beside her, has gone from skinny to outright
gaunt. His hair and goatee are half mud.
At length she says to him, “You know, one thing you’ve never ex-
plained, why are you here?”
“I got kidnapped.”
She gives him a look. “I mean Africa. Derek asked you to come, but
why did you say yes?”
“I came for the waters.”
She smiles and quotes back: “What waters? We’re in the desert!”
“I was misinformed.” He considers a moment. “He happened to call me
at a weak moment.”
“Weak how?”
“I turned thirty.”
“Oh. Yeah. That can be weird.” Veronica knows that all too well.
“And I had just broken up with my long-term girlfriend. We didn’t
even like each other any more, we were just staying together by default,
you know? Momentum. That and neither of us wanted to have to look
for someone new.” Jacob shrugs. “We finally broke up and I suddenly
realized I’d basically spent the last ten years watching movies and play-
ing video games. Some other guys I graduated with, they moved to Cali-
fornia, a couple of them are internet millionaires now. And I’m a lot
smarter than them. I used to think that mattered, being smart. But it
doesn’t. Not if you never do anything with it. I had a good job, but what
for, right? I realized had never actually done anything. Then Derek calls
and says this is the land of opportunity. A whole continent leapfrogging
land lines, new cell networks everywhere. And I figured, even if I miss
the brass ring, at least I’ll have gone and lived in Africa, right? At least
I’ll have done something more with my life than work and play World of
Warcraft. So he found me a job at Telecom Uganda, at a mere eighty per
cent pay cut. The grand plan was, I’d work there a year, figure the lay of
the land, meet some funders, then we’d start a company here, try to
build an empire.” He shakes his head. “Now I just want to not die. How’s
that for perspective?”

“Yeah,” Veronica agrees.
“I must sound like a jerk, eh? You came here to help starving AIDS
orphans and here I am talking business opportunities.”
“You don’t sound like a jerk,” Veronica said truthfully. “And honestly,
I didn’t really come here for the orphans. I came because my whole life
went to shit. Basically this was as far away as I could find.”
Jacob visibly decides not to ask for details. She likes him for it.
“I got divorced,” she says eventually. “From a guy I should never have
married in the first place.”
Veronica falls silent. She doesn’t want to talk about it. Even now, even
here, the hurt is still too fresh, that she devoted seven years of her life to
Danton, abandoned her career and let her whole life fall into orbit
around his, only to be discarded like used Kleenex when she turned
thirty. Now that they’re over it’s almost like those seven years never
really happened, like she somehow jumped from twenty-four to thirty-
one overnight. That Rip van Winkle feeling was part of why she came to
Africa. To start her life over, leave all her mistakes behind.
“I thought the hardest thing was going to be not being rich,” she says.
“Funny, isn’t it. My ex was rich. Very. I never knew exactly how rich, he
wouldn’t tell me, but double-digit millions, at least. Inherited, he was an
only child. I grew up poor, in Buffalo, my dad was on unemployment
half the time and my mom was an artist, and even when I met him, I
mean, I was doing OK, I was a nurse, I was even doing a little modelling
too, that’s how I met him, but it was still San Francisco, I was sleeping in
a bunk bed. Then all of a sudden I moved to a mansion, got used to
spending, I don’t know, probably like a thousand dollars a day. I mean,
that was nothing, I wouldn’t even think about it. You get used to it. Be-
lieve it or not. Seven years of that and then, boom, divorce. I never
missed him. Not for a fucking moment. I thought the hard part was go-
ing to be being poor again. Now here I am. Like you say. How’s that for
“You didn’t get half, eh?”
She shakes her head. “I signed a pre-nup. I should have known right
then, huh? But I thought it was really his mother who was insisting.
Then I think he was worried it wouldn’t stand up, so he … he did some
shitty things when we got divorced. Even before we separated. Private
investigators, shit like that. Whatever. Doesn’t matter now. So I came
here, got a job at this NGO I used to do fundraising for when I was a
trophy wife, all full of big plans to reinvent myself, start a school for
nurses, do something admirable. But I was about to give up that too. It

was a crazy idea anyways, starting a college all by myself. And Africa,
it’s just too much, I can’t live here.” She sighs. “Never mind. None of that
seems to matter much now, does it.”
Jacob nods quietly.
* * *
Veronica looks across the cave at Derek, sitting crosslegged next to
Susan, and thinks of their first meeting, at a party at the French embassy.
Incredible to think it was only ten days ago.
If she hadn’t been at that party she wouldn’t be here now, and she
hadn’t even wanted to go. Her three housemates were all attending, and
Veronica been looking forward to having the house to herself for once. It
wasn’t easy adjusting to having roommates again, not after spending
seven years as the reigning lady of a multimillion-dollar estate. But Bern-
ard, the local managing director of HIV Research Africa, the NGO where
Veronica worked, had made it clear he expected to see her at the em-
bassy party, and so she found herself that night sitting with Belinda,
Linda and Diane on the verandah of their shared house, a sprawling,
musty colonial relic decorated with Persian rugs and mahogany fur-
niture, waiting for their driver to arrive.
The unkempt grounds were surrounded by a high wall topped by
broken glass, and an armed
guard watched the gate around the
clock. Kampala was not a particularly dangerous city, but Veronica was
always grateful for his presence. He seemed to keep the real Africa out-
side. The real Africa was filth, beggars, anarchic shantytowns, cratered
streets, teeming poverty, fat corrupt bureaucrats; a place where
everything was ugly and shabby, and nothing worked. Their rickety
house was filled with dust, cobwebs, balky plumbing and uncomfortable
furniture, but it still felt like an oasis, a sanctuary in a sea of chaos.
The car that came for them was a rusting, dented Suzuki with seats
made mostly of duct tape. HIV Research Africa was small and poor,
hired local drivers because it couldn’t afford the customized SUVs and
full-time chauffeurs that most African aid organizations boasted, but
Veronica couldn’t complain. No one else had offered her a job. What she
did for them was largely makework. Her reports could easily have been
written in France or America rather than Uganda. She was in Africa only
because Bernard had known Veronica when she was rich, and took pity
on her when she fell from that state of grace.

The Suzuki bumped along Kampala’s dark and uneven streets, with
Veronica in the back seat pressed between Belinda and Diane, both siz-
able women. She couldn’t help but think wistfully of the private jets, lim-
ousines and Ferraris in which she once rode. Arrival at the embassy was
a great relief. The stone-walled complex, adorned with sculptures, paint-
ings, and several tricolour flags, was crowded with well-dressed people
sipping champagne. More than half the guests were white, and Asians
outnumbered Africans. The servants and guards were of course all black.
Beef, chicken, and South African
sausage were served up from
a big propane barbeque, a colourful salad washed with boiled water was
mostly ignored, and every guest in sight held a cold bottle of Nile or Bell
She had been in Kampala only three weeks but more than a dozen of
the faces she saw were familiar. It was a city of millions, but expats lived
in a tiny bubble: their own well-guarded homes and workplaces; a few
dozen cafes, bars, hotels and supermarkets where they mingled; and
drivers to carry them between the islands of their neo-colonial ar-
chipelago. Africa was only a backdrop, they didn’t really live in it at all.
Veronica couldn’t shake the feeling that not much had changed from
the colonial era. Half of the guests were NGO workers ostensibly here to
save Africa from its misery, but they were still white people living like
kings in an exotic land on the pretext of uplifting the locals. Only the jus-
tification had changed, from moral and religious conversion to aid and
economic development. But from what Veronica had seen, most African
aid benefited aid workers a lot more than the Africans.
She was making polite conversation to a half-drunk Brit named Simon
when she heard a South African voice cut through the babble of conver-
sation: “What I wonder is if Africans are even capable of love. I’ve never
seen it, not here. I’ve seen them spend their lives shagging like bonobos,
I’ve seen them leave their babies to die by the side of the road without
shedding a tear, but I’ve never seen love.”
Veronica excused herself soon afterwards, found her way to a corner
of the yard, looked around, and wondered what she was doing here, at
this party, in this city, on this continent.

,” a smooth male voice said, and a hand
Excuse-moi, mademoiselle
touched her shoulder from behind. ”
Est-ce que je te connais
He was tall, lean and muscular, with deep blue eyes, a sardonic smile,
and a Chinese dragon tattooed around his bicep.
“I’m sorry,” she said, “I don’t –
je ne parle pas francais
“No? I thought for sure you were French.”

“Not me. Born and raised in Buffalo.”
“Surprised to hear that. American women don’t usually look like you
do.” He seemed totally relaxed, a small smile playing on his lips.
She couldn’t resist. “What do I look like?”
He took a moment to inspect her. Veronica felt herself starting to blush
and commanded herself to stop. This was ridiculous.
“Casually stylish,” he said. “At home wherever you may find yourself.”
She couldn’t help but laugh. “I’m sorry, but that’s
not me.”
He inclined his head. “If you say so. I’m Derek.”
“Veronica.” After a moment she asked, “What do you do?”
“I’m a security consultant.”
“What does that mean exactly?”
“I’m afraid in part it means avoiding specific answers to that question,”
he said, smiling ruefully. “I’m sorry. I don’t mean to be rude.”
“No, not at all,” she said quickly.
A tall, thin, awkward-looking man with a goatee stepped up to Derek
and muttered something in his ear.
“My friend Jacob,” Derek said to her, and she and Jacob shook hands.
“I’m sorry, we have to take care of something. To be continued?”
Veronica smiled, shrugged. “Sure.” Not really expecting it to happen.
But half an hour later, there Derek was again, at her side with a full
glass of champagne to replace her just-emptied one. They spent most of
the rest of the night in conversation. She went home giddy. When he
called her a few days later to invite her out to a weekend in Bwindi there
were butterflies in her stomach for the first time since she was a teenager.
But Veronica knew at the same time it was crazy to be thinking about
him. She would have to go home soon. The only thing she had really
learned from her month in Africa was that she couldn’t live here, not
even in the expat bubble. She just wasn’t tough enough, not any more.
* * *
“I always wanted to come here,” Veronica says softly, ending the lull.
Jacob blinks, looks back to her.
“Even when I was a kid. I saw The African Queen on TV once and I
wanted to be a nun here like Katherine Hepburn. Then I read Out Of
Africa. When I graduated I applied to come here as a nurse with Doctors
Without Borders, but they turned me down. I mean, of course they did, I
had no experience, but I was devastated. I was going to join the Peace
Corps, but you can’t control where you’re assigned. I didn’t want to end

up in India or Peru. I wanted to come here.” She half-laughs. “So I finally
made it here. And I hated it.”
Jacob doesn’t ask why. She supposes the reasons to hate Africa are
“I should have come when I was younger. I bet I would have loved it
then. When I moved to San Francisco we hitchhiked all the way, me and
my friend Rebecca, Buffalo down to Mexico, then back up the coast.
We’d sleep outside, go days without showering, get in cars with strange
men, we wouldn’t care. Then in SF I was a real wild child, drugs, parties,
go to bed at three, wake up at six and report to the ER. I was tough, back
in the day, I could handle anything. Believe it or not.”
“I don’t doubt it,” Jacob says.
“Yeah. Well. Not any more.”
Veronica thinks of the Ugandan guard who bled to death not five feet
away from her, the day they were taken. If that had happened seven
years ago Veronica would have rushed to his aid immediately, no matter
what else was going on, she would have at least tried to save his life.
She’s a nurse, that’s her job, her duty, to help the sick and wounded. In-
stead she just stood there, stunned and useless, while he bled to death.
“I’ve been thinking about how long they’ll have to keep us here,” Jacob
says. “Assuming everything goes right. Let’s just assume that for the
Veronica swallows. “Yes. Let’s.”
“I figure at least a few weeks. Probably a more like a month.”

“Sorry. But Gabriel has to reach civilization, contact our embassies,
show proof we’re here and still alive, negotiate terms, make ransom ar-
rangements. I’ve been here long enough to know nothing in Africa hap-
pens fast. Plus the whole time he has to be paranoid about them tracking
him back to us. It’ll probably be days before -”
Jacob falls silent for a moment as several figures step through the
“Shit,” Jacob mutters. “I was just going to say, before we even see him
Gabriel is instantly recognizable by his height. He is accompanied by a
figure wearing a pale hooded robe that looks Arabic, not African. Veron-
ica sits up with surprise, her weakness momentarily erased by adrenalin,
and begins to pull her shirt back on. The others too stir and turn towards
their visitors. Gabriel looks cold and distant. Veronica can’t see the other
man’s face at all through the shadow of his hood.

“Stay where you are,” Gabriel instructs them.
They obey. The hooded figure inspects each of them in turn. He seems
to take a particular interest in Derek. When the hooded man comes near
Veronica she tries to watch him carefully without looking directly at
him. His robe is wet from the waterfall, and she can see through his half-
fallen hood – actually a headscarf – that despite his dress he is dark-
skinned, ethnically African not Arab.
“How are things going?” Derek asks Gabriel, his voice controlled. “Is
there anything we can do to help?”
“Quiet,” Gabriel orders, distantly, as if instructing someone else’s dog.
The man in the robe finishes his inspection, and their visitors depart.
It is Jacob who breaks the silence. “Well. That was unexpected.”
“That was not good.” Derek’s voice is grim. “That was very not good.
That was a dishdash.”
“A what?”
“Dishdash. What he was wearing. An Arab robe.”
“He was black, not Arabic,” Veronica says.
“Exactly. Ethnically African, culturally Arabic. Pretty small group of
people fit that description, almost all of them in the Horn of Africa,
which happens to be a thousand miles away over some of the nastiest
terrain on earth. So what the fuck is this joker doing in Central Africa?
And what the double fuck is he doing looking at us?”
Veronica realizes that the anger in his voice is masking fear. For the
first time since their abduction, Derek sounds frightened.
“Maybe he’s a trusted third party,” Michael offers. “An arbitrator. To
verify that we’re okay and help both sides negotiate.”
“Maybe. And maybe he is the other side.”
Veronica blinks. “What does that mean?”
“I mean maybe Gabriel isn’t trying to ransom us back to governments.
Maybe dishdash man was here to inspect the goods he’s about to buy.
“Us?” Tom asks, puzzled and alarmed. “Why would he be buying us?”
Derek’s smile is mirthless. “Why indeed. What kind of Arabic-influ-
enced organization would want to purchase a group of captured
Veronica doesn’t understand. Neither does anyone else, except maybe
Susan from the look on her face.
Then Jacob says, stunned, “No fucking way.”
“I look like I’m joking?”
“How would he even have made contact?”

“Lot of Islamic influence in this region,” Derek says. “Idi Amin conver-
ted and got a lot of money from Arab states while he was butchering
Uganda. Muslims went untouched. There are mosques and Muslim
schools everywhere over the border, nice places, well-funded, well-re-
spected. Join Islam, join a strong community, get a quality education for
your children, become middle class. Powerful incentive. Especially if
you’re anti-Western to begin with.”
Veronica still doesn’t get it. He’s right about the Muslim influences,
certainly. She remembers the mosque in Fort Portal, a city they passed
through on the way to the Impenetrable Forest; its gleaming green min-
arets were so much cleaner and better-built than the rest of that chaotic
town, the mosque looked like it had fallen from a different world. She re-
members the Muslim primary school in Butogota, the nearest town to the
national park. But what kind of Muslims would want to ransom Western
tourists, why –
“Oh my God,” The bolt of awful realization jolts Veronica up to a sit-
ting position. She feels like she is going to throw up. “No. You can’t be
“They’re definitely active in this region,” Derek says. “I know that for a
fact. And it wouldn’t be the first time in Africa. Far from it. This is where
they started. August 1998. Bombs go off at the American embassies in
Kenya and Tanzania, killing hundreds, mostly Africans. For most people
it was the first time they ever heard of Osama bin Laden.”
Diane gasps. Michael and Tom start with appalled understanding. The
name hangs in the air.
“You can not be serious,” Veronica repeats dully.
“What do we do?” Judy asks quietly.
Derek takes a deep breath. “Not much we can do except hope I’m
Veronica lies back down and tells herself this can’t be happening. The
African Arab is just an intermediary. Derek must be wrong. They are not
about to be sold to Islamic terrorists.

Men appear outside, half a dozen, their silhouettes warped by the shim-
mering curtain of the waterfall. When they enter Veronica recognizes
them as their jungle abductors. Two of them hold rifles; the others have
dangling from their belt. They are led by Patrice.
The one-eyed man produces a key, undoes their chains, withdraws
them from the anchor rock, then reattaches them to the big padlock so
the captives remain yoked together by their ankles. The others go among
them, grabbing their arms and pulling them to their feet without niceties.
It all happens very quickly. Veronica allows herself to be pulled along
after Patrice, through the waterfall, out of the cave. The sudden sunlight
is blinding.
They are led down along a muddy trail that winds through ragged
plots of farmland worked by women, children, and a few old men, all
barefoot and dressed in rags. Some are half-crippled by injury; others
have misshapen goiters erupting from their necks. Some wield hoes with
big metal blades that look rusting shovel heads. The rest use sticks and
bare hands. All watch amazed as the white captives are led through their
fields like cattle being taken to slaughter. The occasional buildings are
mud huts with misshapen walls and unevenly thatched roofs. Only a
few scrawny goats and chickens are visible.

Vous voyez
,” Patrice says. He sounds angry. “You see.”
Veronica is too caught up in her own misery to sympathize with that
of these strangers. Her strength has ended, she is only able to walk be-
cause Derek is holding her up. They stagger to the bottom of the hill, to a
broad, flat bean patch where Gabriel and the dishdash man stand as if
waiting for a bus. The dishdash man holds a white telephone as big as a
brick; it looks like a cell phone from the 1980s. The word
is em-
bossed on its plastic shell.
“You see,” Gabriel says to them, indicating the fields around them, and
their wretched inhabitants. His voice is serious, as if he is imparting
great wisdom. “This is my home. This is where I grew. Once there was a
school and a church. Now they are ashes. The jungle has grown over the

roads that once led here. We cannot grow enough to feed ourselves. We
have no money for the market. We are too far from the roads to trade, we
have no gold or gasoline to smuggle. We would leave our ancestors’
land, but there is nowhere to go. Even the pygmies live better than us.
We must have money. We must be strong. We have no choice. It is
strength or death. You understand?” He sounds almost guilty.
The captives stare at him dully. He nods shortly, as if he has explained
everything, and looks up to the western sky. Patrice produces lengths of
mudstained yellow rope and begins to go among the captives, binding
their arms behind them as he did in the jungle. Veronica cries out as the
rope tightens on her scabbed wrists, but she doesn’t resist. There doesn’t
seem to be any point. Her fate seems preordained.
Once they are roped together again, into two groups of four, their
ankle chains are removed and piled beside Gabriel. The man in the dish-
dash walks among the captives, examining them carefully, as if looking
for flaws. Veronica’s shoulders and wrists are hurting again, she wishes
their chains had not been replaced by ropes.
She hears a faint and familiar noise, the distant buzz of an approach-
ing helicopter. Hope soars in her heart as she thinks of the UN helicopter
they saw. But the buzzing aircraft that crests the hill, moving straight to-
wards them like some gigantic June bug, is painted black, not UN white.
As the helicopter nears its noise becomes incredible, deafening. Its ro-
tors are like smeared halos. Crops ripple as it passes low above the
fields, and the wind it generates is gale-force, Veronica has to lean for-
ward to stay upright as the helicopter stoops and lands in the bean field
before them. The rotor wash crushes the nearby plants flat.
A watchful part of her mind notes the aircraft’s streaked and peeling
paint, the fading Cyrillic letters stencilled on its nose. The pilot is a white
man, unrecognizable behind a helmet and bulky radio headset. The pas-
senger compartment is occupied by three rusting metal benches. A man
in a dishdash, holding one of the rifles with wooden handles and curved
ammunition clips – a Kalashnikov, according to Derek – sits alone in the
back row.
The engine noise abates to a dull roar. The man with the Thuraya
phone shakes hands formally with Gabriel. Then he produces a pistol
from his billowing robe. The captives are pushed up onto the helicopter,
forced to sit on the two front metal benches. The two dishdash men sit
behind them. Veronica is between Jacob and Derek in the foremost
bench. She feels dizzy, and not just from sickness, or the powerful smells
of rust and gasoline. This all feels so unreal.

The engine roar intensifies, swells into a pounding howl that seems to
drown out all possible thought. Veronica tries to brace her legs against
the steel wall in front of her. Her muscles have no strength in them. Then
the aircraft lurches like an earthquake, they rise with sickening speed,
and Veronica barely manages to lean over before vomiting onto the rust-
ing floor.
She feels a little better when she sits up straight again. The aircraft
pulses with the beat of its engine, rattling her bones inside her body, pro-
voking all her wounds and blisters anew, and the wind blowing through
the helicopter’s open sides and broken windows is freezing, but at least
her head has cleared somewhat. Beneath them the Congo is a rolling
green carpet. They are flying northwest, low to the ground, following the
contours of the hills and valleys. When they crest the hills, she can see
the snowcapped Ruwenzori mountains to their right, their peaks mostly
hidden by a dense curtain of crowds; and further south, behind and to
the right, the jagged Virunga volcanoes. Under other circumstances the
panoramic view would be exhilirating.
They fly over tiny communities, clusters of mud huts hidden in the
valleys of these rolling hills, connected by a network of red dirt trails like
capillaries. Once they cross a larger road, big enough for two-way traffic,
but only a few burnt-out wrecks are visible. Then for some time there is
nothing, an endless, undifferentiable ocean of green hills carved by
winding, silvery rivers. Only the occasional tin roof winking in the sun-
light, or the sight of a canoe in a river, indicates that the land beneath
them is at all inhabited. Veronica remembers reading that three million
people have died in the lands below them over the last ten years, victims
of civil war and anarchy. It is a terrifying thought.
The helicopter follows the path of a river that cuts its way through
steep and rocky gorges, a gouged scar in the dense green jungle. They fly
over a series of whitewater rapids and waterfalls until they reach a steep
river gorge with a floor that looks like an anthill, a broad swathe of red
populated by hundreds of little black dots. There is nothing green left in
this sheer-walled valley, it is little more than a swampy, fissured field of
red mud and water-filled craters. Beyond this ravine the whitewater
As they grow closer the dots resolve into men. Few look up towards
the helicopter. Most are busy working in the riverbed. Others shoulder
enormous burdens and climb laboriously up the side of the gorge, in a
single-file line that reminds Veronica even more of ants, ascending

dizzying switchbacks to the wide, narrow ribbon of green on the over-
looking cliff. An airstrip, paralleling the edge of the ravine.
The timbre of the engine changes, and the helicopter begins to descend
to the airstrip. A battered wooden building with a tin roof perches
between the grass runway and the nearly sheer rock face. There is a
satellite dish beside it. Some kind of settlement has grown on the other
side of the airstrip, a collection of tentlike shelters, most of them little
more than primitive tepees, canvas or plastic sheets draped over cut
branches. Tendrils of smoke rise from open fires.
There are people moving amid the settlement. None pay much atten-
tion to the incoming helicopter. The landing is much smoother than the
takeoff until the final shuddering transition from airborne to earthborne.
After the engine shuts off Veronica’s ears keep ringing with its noise.
Momentum keeps the rotors spinning.
The pilot detaches his headset, revealing a ragged beard and shoulder-
length dark hair. He disembarks and walks to the sagging, weather-
beaten wooden building. The gunmen sitting in back stay where they
are, waiting for something. Boys begin to stream onto the runway, hoot-
ing and shouting with mocking triumph, boys armed with guns or
or both. Most are in their teens, but some look no older than twelve.
Most are shirtless. Their eyes are wide and bloodshot. Dozens of them
throng around the helicopter, waving their weapons in the air, pretend-
ing to shoot at their new captives, poking with gun barrels at those sit-
ting on the sides of the benches.
Veronica looks beyond their homicidal welcoming committee, hoping
for some reprieve. She sees a huge machine gun fed by long chains of
bullets, and two rocket launchers, gleaming bulbous cones sprouting ob-
scenely from tarnished tubes of dark metal, propped up against a big
wooden crate. The ground is strewn with yellow plastic jerrycans, metal
pots, empty bottles, coils of wire, charred bits of wood, unidentifiable
debris. A few lean, feral-looking dogs prowl the open places. A scatter-
ing of older men sit and stand amid the shelters, dreadlocked men in
their twenties and thirties, lean and strong, wearing rubber boots, red
bandannas, necklaces of bones and bullets,
and rifles. They ob-
serve the airstrip with cold, flat expressions that make Veronica shiver. It
is like staring into a nest of rattlesnakes. The exuberant frat-boys-gone-
psychotic aggression of the teenagers is almost charming compared to
the silent, predatory menace beyond.
Beside her, Derek says, his voice raw, “I’m sorry. I don’t think we’re
going to get out of this.”

Three men emerge from the wooden building: two in dishdashes, and a
smaller man dressed neatly in hiking boots, jeans and a blue button-
down shirt. The hollering teenagers fall silent and back away from the
helicopter as these men approach. The smaller man wears glasses. His
face is lined, his hair is beginning to go gray, but he is still trim and fit.
Except for the little fur pouch hanging on a gold chain around his neck,
he looks like a middle manager on casual day, would fit neatly into any
Western street scene.
Veronica sees Derek start suddenly, as if remembering something. He
says something that sounds like “euthanasia.”
One of the two men in dishdashes is black, short but hugely muscled,
like a professional wrestler. The other is lighter-skinned, Middle Eastern.
He shouts to the men in the back of the helicopter in a guttural language
that must be Arabic. Veronica moans when she hears this. It feels like fi-
nal confirmation that Derek’s worst-case scenario is somehow, unbeliev-
ably, exactly what has happened. They have been seized by Islamic
Derek turns to Veronica and demands in a shaking, angry voice, “Was
it you?”
She stares at him. He has gone pale, every muscle in his face is taut, he
is trembling. She isn’t even sure she heard him correctly in the wake of
the deafening helicopter noise.
He says, louder, though she can still hardly hear him, “You fucking an-
swer me. Did you set me up? Was it you?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Veronica manages, totally
“Don’t you lie to me.”
“I’m not lying. I don’t -”
“Did your husband send you?” he demands.
“What are you talking about? I’m not even married.”
“You were. To Danton DeWitt. Did he send you?”

Veronica gapes at him. The world seems to spin around her. She has
never spoken Danton’s name to Derek or any of her other fellow cap-
tives. “How – how do you even know who he is?”
“Did you know he was involved? Is that why you came to Africa?”
“Involved in
” she bleats.
Derek looks at her, then back to man in glasses outside the helicopter,
who has withdrawn something metal and plastic, something familiar,
from his shoulder bag. The device is so out of place it takes Veronica a
second to identify it as a small handheld videocamera. He puts it to his
eye and records as the black men in dishdashes grab the white captives
and half-lead, half-drag them away from the aircraft. The Arabic man
stays where he is, holding a curved and gleaming
. Veronica thinks
of the American hostages taken in Iraq, captured by insurgents and be-
headed alive. She feels dizzy again.
The air smells of wet decay. The ground of the airstrip is not so much
grass as dense weeds cut to ankle height, furrowed in places by muddy
tire marks. Dozens of gunmen surround them in a circle several rows
thick, like an audience for a particularly good street performer. The Ar-
abic man steps up to the roped-together line of captives. Veronica, who
is at the front of the line, freezes as he lifts his
. He cuts her free.
Then he cuts loose Derek behind her, grabs him by the back of his neck,
shoves him roughly to a point about ten feet away from the others, and
gives his
to another man in a dishdash, the one who looks like a
“This is a setup,” Derek shouts to Jacob, the words spilling out of him,
talking as fast as he can. “This was never a random kidnapping, this is a
fucking execution. Islamists and interahamwe, working together, that’s
exactly what I was here to investigate, someone set me up -”
The Arabic man punches him in the stomach. Derek falls to his knees
on the airstrip, doubled over, the wind knocked out of him, gasping for
air. Then the massive bodybuilder man lifts his
high and brings it
down in a glittering arc so fast Veronica doesn’t even have time to
scream. Blood spurts from the back of Derek’s neck and he collapses onto
his belly. His attacker drops to one knee and his
rises and falls
again, and then a third time. Veronica can’t scream, none of them can, it
is too awful, she can barely breathe. Derek’s head rolls forward from his
body, leaving a ragged, bloodsoaked discontinuity at his neck. Blood
gouts onto the weeds. Veronica’s mind reels, but she can’t look away. It
feels almost like there is something wrong with her vision, not with
Derek, like if she looks hard enough she will see his head above his

shoulders, rather than the pale knob of his severed spine set in crimson
flesh and torn flaps of skin.
Somebody grabs the back of Veronica’s neck, pulls her around, leads
her past the helicopter, across the airstrip, towards the edge of the gorge.
She is vaguely aware that the faint animal keening she hears is coming
from her own throat. The others are dragged behind her. The middle-
aged man with the camera finishes his close-ups of Derek’s beheaded
corpse and comes up beside her, walking sideways, filming their stag-
gering march like some kind of demented tourist. The Arabic man walks
on their other side, in view of the camera. Veronica wonders if they are
going to be thrown off the edge of the gorge. It seems very likely, but she
doesn’t struggle. She feels like she has been strapped into a runaway
train, has lost even theoretical control over anything that happens to her.
Derek is dead. They actually cut his head off. Veronica knows intellectu-
ally she should try to fight, to run, but the idea seems ridiculous, she is
helpless, escape is hopeless. It is easier to just detach herself from what is
happening, to watch as if from a great distance, as if she is just a tempor-
ary passenger in this body.
There is a trailhead at the edge of the cliff, a narrow and treacherous
path that zigzags and switchbacks down the steep and rocky slope to the
muddy gorge below. Veronica is thrust onto the trail so hard that
without her arms to right herself she very nearly overbalances and falls
to her death. Instead she falls and scrapes her right leg bloody. She gets
up and immediately begins to descend the trail, she needs no encourage-
ment, all she wants is to get away from the horror she just witnessed.
The valley floor below has been reduced to a swamp of red mud
gouged into hills, mounds, fissures and craters. At least a hundred men
are labouring here, digging from the riverbed, dumping muck into what
looks like giant wooden bathtubs, pouring water into those tubs with
buckets, sifting through what remains. Others hold whips and
and move among the workers, watching hawklike. Veronica sees a small
group of armed men at each end of the gorge, where violent rapids be-
gin. The base of the other side has been so hollowed out that the massive
cliff above now forms a slight overhang. A ragged wooden shelter has
been built in its shadow.
Veronica’s feet squelch into wet mud. She has finally reached the bot-
tom of the gorge. She looks up and back. The other captives are a minute
behind her, still roped together, forced to move at the pace of their slow-
est member, probably Diane. The three men in dishdashes follow them,

as does the small man in glasses. The videocamera swings on a strap
from his shoulder as he navigates the steep trail.
The gorge is maybe a hundred feet across. Work near her has slowed
or stopped as both labourers and overseers turn to watch their pale-
skinned visitors. Veronica takes two deep breaths. Then she starts to run.
She doesn’t think she has much of a chance, but she has to try, they’re go-
ing to kill her.
The mud sucks at her feet, it’s more a stumbling jog than a run. She
angles towards the river, avoiding the nearby workers. Nobody seems to
react for what feels like a long time; people stare but do nothing, as if she
is a crazy person on the street, best avoided. Then she finally hears
shouts from up above, and some of the overseers, the men carrying
whips, move to intercept her. But they are too late, she has reached the
main flow of the river. She dives into it with all the strength that remains
in her legs. It is shallower than she hoped, only waist-deep, with a bot-
tom of mixed mud and gravel, but it flows fast enough to carry her past
the first two overseers before they reach her.
She tries to kick and paddle, to accelerate downstream. It’s hard to
keep her head above water with her arms tied behind her back. Nobody
seems to have jumped after her. She distantly remembers reading some-
where that most Africans can’t swim. Then she remembers why, it’s be-
cause their lakes and rivers are infested with crocodiles, but never mind
that, she’ll worry about four-legged predators once she gets away from
these two-legged ones. She twists her body and lifts her head and catches
a glimpse of the four gunmen at the end of the gorge, stationed just be-
fore the river plunges over a rocky cliff. The spray from the rapids bey-
ond rises above their heads. She remembers seeing the valley from
above, how it was bracketed on both sides by fierce whitewater. If the
rapids don’t get her then the crocodiles and the Congo jungle probably
will, but at least this way she has a chance, however small. She knows
she won’t be followed, it’s like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, no
one who didn’t absolutely have to would go into these rapids.
The roar of the water quickly becomes thunderous, the river sweeps
her downstream faster than she expected, the current is accelerating. She
has to writhe for every breath, she can’t hold a steady position. One of
the gunmen steps into the river and reaches out to catch her. Veronica
curls into a ball. He grabs at her – and her foot pistons out into his crotch.
He lets her go immediately and sits down comically, clutching himself,
and then her stomach lurches as the river sweeps her over a six-foot drop
and into a deep, violent cataract of churning whitewater.

Veronica is flung in one direction, then pulled in another, scraped
painfully along a painful wall of rock, forced suddenly downwards, and
pinned on her back against the river bottom by a relentless jackhammer-
ing flow of water that feels like a wall. She can’t break free, the water is
far too strong, she isn’t even sure which way is up. All she knows is that
she is trapped and she is running out of breath.
Don’t panic,
she tells herself.
If you panic you’re dead.
Her arms are be-
hind her. That’s something. She grabs at the darkness and her fingers
close on sharp rock. She tries to pull herself sideways, crabwise, instead
of fighting the full brunt of the current. She isn’t strong enough, not even
close, she exerts all her remaining strength and succeeds in shifting her-
self only an inch – but this is enough to break the equilibrium. Suddenly
she is torn from the watery prison and catapulted back up to the surface,
just long enough to grab a breath before she is dragged back into the
river. Its power is overwhelming, she is like a feather in heavy surf, the
notion of fighting for any kind of control is laughable. She will go where
the water takes her. Veronica curls into a ball and hopes for the best. Se-
conds later her head slams into solid rock and everything goes dark.

The world is bouncing up and down. No: she is bouncing up and down.
Her head hurts beyond description, it feels as if it has been split open,
like a coconut. Veronica opens her eyes and is a little amazed to find they
still work. She is hanging upside down, draped over the shoulder of
some strong but dangerously thin man. They are climbing an uneven
scree of rocks and tangled bushes. Her head is level with his thighs.
Veronica opens her mouth and throws up weakly all over the back of his
legs. He doesn’t even break stride. His ankle is marked by a ring of scar
tissue. She wonders dizzily if he was the one who found her, if he drew
her from the water and saved her life, or if she clawed her way onto dry
land herself, semiconscious. She can’t remember. She feels physically
broken, a rag doll barely strong enough to breathe, but she doesn’t feel
dazed, her mind isn’t rattled, her thoughts are sharp and her memories
intact up to the moment her head hit rock.
Watching the world upside down is a queasy and headache-worsen-
ing experience. She keeps her eyes closed during the journey. She can tell
the man carrying her is near the edge of his endurance too, his muscles
are quivering. Finally he stops, drops to her knees, and dumps Veronica
ungently onto mud.
She opens her eyes and her heart sinks. She is back in the gorge, in the
shadow of the overhanging cliff. There is another man in front of her,
standing above her, holding something. The little man in glasses, filming
her with the videocamera. A hand grabs Veronica’s hair and pulls her up
to her knees. She moans, her voice weak and hoarse. She does not resist
as someone behind her wraps a rusting chain tight around her neck and
locks it with a battered brass padlock. Maybe thirty feet away, in the
ragged wooden structure at the base of the cliff, the other captives
huddle, watching aghast.
The man with the camera approaches her, zooming in.
“Fuck you,” Veronica says dully, and tries to spit at the camera.
The man behind her, the muscular man who killed Derek, pulls hard
on the chain around her neck. She falls onto her back, gagging. Three

men in dishdashes stand around her. One kneels behind her head, hold-
ing her chain. Another sits on her legs, pinning them. The third, the
Arab, draws the
from his belt. Veronica hears herself moan. The
cameraman films the Arab as he poses dramatically, then lowers the
blade to Veronica’s throat. She feels the cold metal against her skin. The
mud is soft and damp beneath her. She can’t breathe.
“Please, no,” she whispers.
The camera turns to her. The
rises into the sky. The Arab tenses,
waiting like a home-run hitter ready for a fastball. Veronica starts to cry.
This can’t be happening. This can’t be the moment of her death.
“No, please,” she weeps. “Please, I don’t want to die. I’ll do anything
you want. You can do anything you want to me. Just please don’t kill me,
please, anything you want, anything, just please don’t kill me, please,
Her voice dissolves into wracking, incoherent sobs. The cameraman
grunts, a satisfied sound. The Arab lowers the
. The man on her
knees gets off, and the man behind her gets up and yanks on the chain he
holds, pulling Veronica brutally to her feet. Veronica is led like a dog
over to the structure where the others huddle. It covers a space about
twenty feet by ten, made of thick branches lashed together by vines,
roofed by a ragged patchwork of canvas and plastic tarpaulins. Two
plastic buckets sit by the cliff wall.
Veronica collapses to the ground. She can’t stop crying. Her head hurts
and when she puts her hand to her face she discovers her head is half-
covered in dried blood. Jacob comes to her, takes her in his arms, holds
her wordlessly. The others too have been leashed, and then padlocked to
a huge cinderblock half-sunk in mud. Veronica’s chain is added to the
tangle. Then the men in dishdashes and the cameraman walk away, back
towards the trail that climbs to the airstrip.
Veronica holds Jacob tightly, like a frightened child. Judy sits next to
them. She too has been crying. She puts her arms around Jacob and
Veronica, and then Tom joins their communal embrace. Michael and Di-
ane stay back. It takes a long time before Veronica’s sobs peter out into
At length Veronica whispers, “What happened to Susan?”
Jacob shakes his head. “They took her away.”
Slowly they disentangle.
“I wish I knew where we were,” Tom says sadly. “I’d just like to know
where I was.”

Veronica thinks it a very strange sentiment, but Judy nods her
“I can tell you exactly where we are,” Jacob says bitterly. “The heart of
fucking darkness. The perfect storm of bad guys. The guys with guns are
interahamwe. The ones in dishdashes are terrorists, probably fucking Al-
Qaeda, for real.”
“Interahamwe?” Judy asks. “Are you sure? Some of them are teenagers.
The Rwandan genocide was eleven years ago.”
“I saw Derek’s face. He wasn’t guessing. He
the guy with
glasses, he knew him. But you’re right, not the kids. The interahamwe
are the older ones with dreads. Ran away from Rwanda ten years ago
and been killing their way across the Congo ever since. The kids must be
local recruits. Probably taken away after their parents were murdered,
raised by monsters. But the ones in dishdashes, speaking Arabic? They’re
not interahamwe. The Muslims were the only group in Rwanda that
participate in genocide. It’s perfect, when you think about it. The
terrorists have money, weapons, international connections. The intera-
hamwe have muscle and places like this.” Jacob waves at the scores of
men working in the red mud around them, digging and sluicing and sift-
ing. “They run these slave-labour open-pit mines, fucking fifteenth cen-
tury technology, then smuggle what they get to the Islamists who sell it
in the Middle East. I figured this was a gold mine at first, but I’ve been
looking at what they keep, and it’s not gold. I think it’s coltan.”
He sounds as if he thinks it matters that he has figured out who has
captured them and what is being mined here.
“Coltan?” Tom asks.
“World’s most efficient heat conductor. Used in cell phones, PlaySta-
tions, advanced electronics. Eighty percent of the world’s supply comes
from the Congo. Shit, I’ve
chips that had to use coltan in the heat
sinks, I’ve written it down as a requirement in the specs. Never even
thought about where it came from.” Jacob looks around. “Hell of a way
to find out. Karmic payback or something.”
“Look,” Judy says suddenly, straightening up and pointing.
Everyone looks to the trail that leads up to the airstrip. Susan is at its
base, being led across the gorge by the Arab man. She walks like a sleep-
walker, hunched over in a kind of dazed shuffle, dragged along like a re-
calcitrant pet. The men in dishdashes follow. There is blood around
Susan’s mouth, and she no longer has a bra on beneath her torn T-shirt.
They Arab man attaches Susan’s chain to the cinderblock. She
crumples to the ground, her face slack and her eyes unfocused. Veronica

wonders distantly why she hasn’t yet been raped herself. Maybe she
looks too wretched to bother with. Maybe they just wanted the blonde
girl first and are saving Veronica for later.
Judy goes over to Susan, tries to hold her, somehow comfort her.
Susan recoils from the contact as if Judy is some kind of loathsome in-
sect. Judy hesitates, then returns to the others.
The Arab man produces a key and begins to unlock chains from the
cinderblock. Veronica tenses as Michael and Diane are detached from the
“No,” Diane says, frightened. “No!”
The strongman who killed Derek takes the end of their chains and be-
gins to pull them away.
“You’re not taking us anywhere,” Michael says like a petulant child. He
grabs his chain and Diane’s and tries to pull them free. “No. We’re stay-
ing. We’re staying here. Don’t be stupid. I can get you money. I can get
you a million dollars.”
The man with the camera barks an order. Another dishdash man takes
from the Arab, walks up to Michael, and unceremoniously
thrusts the weapon into the American’s stomach. Veronica gasps. Mi-
chael lets go of the chains and grunts as if with mild surprise. The blade
doesn’t penetrate very far, only a few inches,
are designed for
slashing not thrusting, but Veronica knows that’s enough to perforate the
Michael stares disbelievingly down at himself as the blade is with-
drawn and blood gouts forth. Diane begins to scream. The strongman
yanks hard on their chains, choking her silent and pulling Michael to his
knees. Then he has to scramble to his feet again as he and Diane are for-
cibly dragged away from the wooden shelter, across the ravine. The cam-
eraman and the other men in dishdashes follow. The trail of blood Mi-
chael leaves behind glistens in the sun.
On the other side of the gorge he collapses like a toy whose battery has
run out. The other prisoners stare, silent and aghast, as the Americans
are carried up the trail that ascends to the airstrip.
“I just want to go home,” Veronica whispers, but no one seems to hear

“They won’t come for the rest of us yet,” Jacob says thoughtfully, in his
slightly nasal voice, as if proposing a solution to an interesting puzzle.
“Not today. They’ll want to maximize the media coverage. They have
enough now to make a big splash, they’ll want to draw it out as long as
“Media?” Judy asks.
“That’s why we’re here. That camera. It’s like those hostages in Iraq.
Al-Qaeda doesn’t just kill the people they grab, they kill them
on video
And not for Taliban’s Funniest Home Videos. For CNN. Bet you a mil-
lion dollars the footage from that camera will be edited and released to
Al-Jazeera sometime this week. They know what they’re doing. Dead
bodies are a story that runs once. Live hostages have legs.”
“Then we’ve got a chance,” Tom says desperately. “People are looking
for us. They could have tracked the helicopter. They might know we’re
Jacob shrugs. “I doubt it. Everyone gets around by air in eastern
Congo, they have to, there aren’t any roads. I’m thinking, if they couldn’t
find us at Gabriel’s, they won’t track us down now. Maybe that’s why
they kept us there for a few days, let the trail cool down. Or maybe Gab-
riel decided to renegotiate his price after he grabbed us. Either way, I
strongly doubt anyone knows we’re here.”
Veronica sags to the ground, defeated. There is no out, no escape from
the terrorists. Sometime in the next few days, maybe later today, they
will all be killed. She will be beaten and gang-raped and murdered with
Then Jacob says, “But maybe we can tell them.”
After a communal moment of silent surprise, Tom asks, “How?”
“That satellite dish up there. All I need is five minutes alone with it. Or
with that Thuraya satphone of theirs.”
“Up next to the airstrip?” Tom shakes his head, and his chain rattles.
“Might as well be in Timbuktu, mate. Unless you have a way to get loose
of these bloody chains.”

Jacob has no answer. The hope that briefly flowered in Veronica’s
heart quickly wilts. She turns and stares dully at the river. The workers
are keeping their distance from the white prisoners, the nearest team of
men is a good hundred feet downstream, digging near the riverbank,
filling hand-woven baskets with red mud. They are desperately gaunt,
they remind Veronica of Holocaust pictures, but they work ceaselessly
under the sharp eye of their whip-wielding overseer. Veronica can’t be-
lieve she is in this horrific place. She can’t believe a place like this even
“They didn’t even leave us guards,” Jacob says. “Nobody’s watching
us. They’re overconfident. There has to be some way out of here.”
But nobody has any suggestions.
“Look on the bright side,” Tom says to Jacob. “You’re Canadian. They
might let you go. Not us, not her, but maybe you.”
“Derek was Canadian.”
“Yes, but he… ” Tom hesitates. “I thought he said he was set up.”
Jacob nods slowly. “Yeah. He did.”
Veronica blinks. A memory creeps through her despair and into her
pounding head. Derek’s last words, shouted to the others:
This was never
a random kidnapping, this is a fucking execution. Islamists and interahamwe,
working together, that’s exactly what I was here to investigate, someone set me
up –
And before that, in the helicopter, even more mystifying:
Was it you?
Did your husband send you? Danton DeWitt. Did he send you? Did you know
he was involved? Is that why you came to Africa?
“This isn’t coincidence,” Jacob says. “Derek gets kidnapped by the
same people he was investigating? No way that happened at random.
He was set up. We all were. Someone knew he was going to Bwindi and
wanted to stop him before he found something.”
“Investigating for who? Who did he work for?” Tom asks.
Jecob hesitates. “Private security consulting company called Azania. It
was just him and his partner, guy called Prester. Doesn’t really matter
now. We’re here. He’s dead. The why stopped being relevant a while
Veronica opens and then closes her mouth. She wants to tell them he
mentioned Danton’s name, but Jacob is right, it doesn’t matter any more.
Still, the question nags at her. She never mentioned Danton to Derek at
all. She certainly never mentioned her ex-husband’s full ridiculous name.
So how did Derek know it?

Could Danton have been involved with terrorists? No, the notion is ri-
diculous, laughable, obviously false. Danton is not a nice man, their di-
vorce proceedings made that abundantly clear, but thre is no way he
supports Islamic terrorists. It’s true that he has African connections – it’s
even true, in a roundabout way, that Veronica is in Africa thanks to
those connections – but Danton is a commodities trader, not some kind of
international terrorist financier. She shared his life for seven years. She
ought to know.
She can’t come up with any answer that makes sense. Her head hurts
too much to think clearly. Anyways it doesn’t really matter. Derek is
already dead. She will join him soon. Veronica almost wishes they would
come right now and get it over with. She is so weak and miserable, her
head hurts like her skull has been fractured, her ears are actually ringing
with the pain, and her skin is riddled with innumerable other gashes and
bruises and blisters, an inescapable, discordant symphony of pain. In
many ways the end will be a mercy. Maybe she should try to find some
way to finish it herself, suicide as a final act of defiance, a way to avoid
whatever they will do to her before they kill her.
Veronica wonders who will really grieve when she is dead. Her par-
ents, of course. They are old and frail, they married late and had her late
in life, she is their only child, the shock of it might kill them. Nobody
else. After marrying Danton she drifted slowly away from all of her
The daylight begins to fade. They hear and briefly see the helicopter
fly away. A boy with a gun brings them a bucket of rice. They eat in si-
lence, except for Susan, who doesn’t eat at all. The rice is dirty and un-
dercooked, and Veronica doesn’t feel the least bit hungry, but she forces
herself to eat nonetheless. She wonders why their captors are bothering
to feed them at all. Maybe so they won’t be too weak to scream and plead
when they are executed.
At least her sickness has abated. A small mercy, if a mercy at all. It was
easier to deal when her mental acuity was sapped by sickness. This end-
less gruelling fear is crippling, both mentally and physically, her stom-
ach muscles cramp violently every time the image that has conquered
her mind recurs: herself forced to kneel on the red river mud, naked and
bloody and violated, as a man in a dishdash stands above her, a machete
in his hand. That is what will happen to her soon. Not a nightmare but a
Then Susan says, quietly, “It’s not over.”
Everyone turns to stare at the blonde British girl.

She says, “Derek gave me something.”
* * *
“He gave it to me in the cave,” Susan says, looking down at the
Leatherman multi-tool in her hands. “They never… they never bothered
to search my clothes.”
Tom shrugs indifferently. “Lovely. What do you intend to do with it?
Have a go at stabbing them all to death?”
“No,” Jacob says sharply. “She’s right. We can use it.”
“These locks.” He fingers the little brass padlock on his neck.
“You can pick locks?” Judy asks.
“What I had in mind was more brute force and ignorance.” Jacob
reaches for the Leatherman. Susan gives it to him. He opens the multi-
tool’s handles and snicks out one of its blades. “Look at this hacksaw
blade. Derek was showing it off to me last week. Hardened steel impreg-
nated with diamond dust. Should be able to cut right through brass.”
“Then what?”
“Go up to the dish, call for help, run like hell, and hope the good guys
find us before the bad guys do.”
“Not much of a plan,” Tom says doubtfully.
“Anybody got a better idea?”
Nobody does.
“He could have broken out any time,” Veronica says, amazed. “Even
back in the cave.”
“Sure,” Jacob says. “Once. But then what? Run for it? They would have
caught him. He was waiting for opportunity, but it never knocked.” He
looks up to the top of the canyon. “We have to make our move as soon as
it gets dark.”
The first stars have already appeared in the sky. Down the length of
the gorge, the slaves are beginning to cluster and huddle in little groups;
apparently they sleep out on the mud. Most of the overseers are climbing
back up to the airstrip, leaving only a skeleton crew of overnight guards
at either end of the gorge. No one is paying any attention to the white
prisoners, they aren’t part of this ecosystem. A dim hope begins to flicker
within her.
They sky reddens and darkens. It doesn’t take long. At these equatori-
al latitudes night falls as suddenly as a stage curtain. Soon the strip of

velvet darkness above is stuffed full of stars. Veronica can clearly see the
gossamer ribbon of the Milky Way stretched across the night sky.
“All right,” Jacob says. He threads the hacksaw blade into the hasp of
the padlock at his neck, and smiles thinly. “You know, if this actually
works, it’ll be the greatest customer testimonial of all time, eh? My
Leatherman got me out of the clutches of homicidal terrorists! Don’t you
leave home without it!”
No one else smiles. Jacob begins to work, holding the padlock with
one hand, sawing rhythmically with the other. It doesn’t take long before
he begins to tire and slow. Veronica can’t help but resent him a little for
it. She feels like Derek, if he were still alive, would have cut through all
their locks in a matter of minutes.
The rasping noise of metal biting metal seems very loud, she is
frightened that someone will hear it, but nobody intrudes. Veronica
waits tensely as the minutes drag by. She is very tired, she cannot re-
member a more draining day, but she is too nervous to sleep. Instead she
lies on her back and stares up at the stars. She never realized how beauti-
ful they could be. She promises herself, God, the Tao, whoever is listen-
ing, that if she gets out of this somehow, she will pay more attention to
the beauty of the world, she will appreciate every golden moment of the
rest of her life.
She falls into a dazed and trancelike state until a brief clatter of metal
brings her back. “Got it,” Jacob mutters triumphantly, breathing hard as
he detaches his chain, then hands the Leatherman over to Tom. The
portly British man seems stronger and works faster than Jacob, but Judy
takes so long that Veronica actually falls asleep.
“Come on,” Jacob says, prodding her awake. “Your turn.”
Veronica looks around wildly before coming to her senses. It is almost
pitch dark. The others are all free. She takes the Leatherman in her fum-
bling fingers, remembering how she freed it from Derek’s belt. The
memory is somehow comforting, steadying. She inserts the blade into
the lock at her neck and begins sawing back and forth. At first it doesn’t
seem to bite at all, and she begins to fear the hacksaw has worn smooth,
but then it catches on the brass, rasps loudly as it begins to abrade and
then to cut. Her forearms and biceps are already cramping. She switches
arms, then switches back. Soon she has to rest between arms. A small
eternity seems to pass, but when she pauses to inspect her work, only a
shallow notch has been carved into the brass.
“What time is it?” she asks the darkness.
“No idea, love,” Judy says. “They took our watches.”

Veronica swallows. “If it starts getting light, go without me.”
“Don’t say that. Get back to it.”
She obeys. Her muscles fall into a rut of sawing. She is getting clumsy
now, keeps stabbing herself with the end of the hacksaw blade, and
though it is dull she draws blood from her neck at least once, can feel it
dripping slowly down her skin. Her mind seems to retreat from herself,
take a few paces back to observe, and she almost bursts out in giddy
laughter. Here she is in a slave-labour mine, sawing at her chain, about
to attempt a desperate escape: a situation so wrong, so ridiculous, so not
the kind of thing that happens to people like her, that she has to bite her
tongue not to laugh.
The moment passes. Veronica has to close her eyes and grit her teeth
against the pain in her arms. She tries to belly breathe, as if this is some
kind of demented Lamaze class. But there seems to be no more strength
left in her. She is about to ask someone for help when suddenly the hack-
saw blade breaks free and the lock swings open.
Veronica’s arms feel about to fall off, she can barely pull the chain
from her neck, she is panting as if she just ran a marathon. But it feels so
good to be free.
* * *
The starlight is not enough to navigate across the gorge. They have to
crawl like animals, feeling their way through the mud. The river water
feels very cold, and when they climb out the other side Veronica starts to
shiver. As if she didn’t have enough problems already, now she has to
worry about hypothermia.
It takes ages to locate the trail that leads up to the airstrip. It seems un-
guarded. Veronica supposes the last thing escaped slaves would do is
climb to the interahamwe settlement above. Somehow they manage to
ascend the treacherous switchbacks out of the gorge without tumbling to
their deaths. It helps that they crawl. Veronica has to; her legs are too
weak to climb. At least the exertion keeps her warm.
The trail seems endless, she feels like Sisyphus, doomed to climb until
the end of time – and then suddenly she crests the cliff edge and sees the
airstrip spread out before her, and above it a half-moon hanging in a can-
opy of stars, shedding enough light to make out even distant shapes.
Veronica remembers the equatorial full moon from a couple of weeks
ago, fat and radiant; remembers standing on a hilltop in Kampala with

her housemate Brenda, reading a newspaper by moonlight just to prove
that it was possible. It feels like remembering a past life.
She forces herself back to the present. Red embers are visible on the
other side of the airstrip, in the interahamwe settlement, where
something is flapping in the warm night wind. Veronica is glad of the
wind, it swallows other sounds. Along the cliff edge to their left they see
the wooden building, and beside it, looming in silhouette, the pale arc of
the satellite dish.
“We have plenty of time,” Jacob mutters. “It’s just past midnight.”
“How can you tell?”
“Astronomy. The stars rotate around Polaris during the night, they’re
like a clock. Come on.”
The satellite dish is mounted on a metal pole set in the earth. Three
metal arms project from the lip of its pale bowl, holding a small box at
their apex a few feet above the dish. Three cables run from this box into
the wooden building. The dish is mounted near the edge of the gorge, on
the edge of an overhanging cliff. Jacob looks around as if something is
“What’s wrong?” Veronica whispers.
Jacob says, low-voiced, “We need power. There must be a generator, or
batteries.” He touches one of the cables that leads to the wooden build-
ing, so old and weatherbeaten that its planks sag towards the ground.
They look at one another.
“It’s not like we have a choice,” Susan says.
She pulls open the single misshapen door as gently as possible. The
one-room space beyond is obviously used mostly for storage; the walls
are lined by piled bags, boxes, jerrycans, tools, and random debris, loom-
ing shadowed and mysterious in the moonlight. There is a desk in the
middle of the room, and on it a laptop computer. Jacob walks in and be-
gins to feel around. After a moment Susan joins him.
“Wish we had a light,” Jacob mutters under his breath. “Maybe turn on
that laptop –”
“Here,” Susan says. “Look. There’s a phone.”
Green monochrome light blooms inside the hut, emanating from the
clamshell cell phone Susan holds. Jacob kneels beside a tangle of wires,
plastic and metal at the edge of the room.
“Here we go,” he says triumphantly. “Car batteries. Must be seriously
jury-rigged. But it will do if there’s any juice left.”

He takes up two wires. A spark flickers between his hands, then an-
other, and another; then three more, with longer pauses between; then
three more, in quick succession.
“What are you doing?” Tom asks.
“Turning it off and on again.”
“That’s all? That’s our signal?” Veronica feels betrayed.
“Morse code,” Jacob clarifies. “I’m doing some SOSes. Then I’ll tell
them what’s happening, our names, everything.”
“Them who?”
He hesitates. “Hard to say. The NSA is supposed to pick up every
satellite signal on Earth, and they should be looking for us. Also the
satellite company might pick up on it, lots of guys who work there are
ham-radio types, they’ll know Morse code when they see it, and they
probably have the lat-long coordinates of this dish. I never said this was
guaranteed. But it’s a chance.”
Veronica doesn’t complain. Some hope is infinitely better than none.
She goes back around the building, just to be sure, and when she sees a
little green LED winking on and off above the dish, her heart soars. It
seems incredible that they can communicate across the world with noth-
ing but that box full of electronics, the ceramic dish below, and the few
stacked car batteries inside the building.
Susan joins her, still holding the terrorists’ phone, now folded and
dark. They wait in silence. A long time seems to pass before Jacob
emerges from the building.
“OK,” he says shakily. “Might as well stop, I’m getting too sloppy.”
“What do we do now?” Tom asks.
“Run. And pray.”
* * *
Jacob staggers with every step, and in the growing predawn light
Veronica can see his face and arms are covered with blood and muck.
She supposes she looks much the same. The world has begun to swim
dizzily around her. Her throat is as dry as desert rock, she aches for wa-
ter. She keeps having to reach for branches and tree trunks to steady her-
self. Luckily there is no shortage of those, and she has been pierced by so
many jungle thorns in the last few hours that she has almost stopped
feeling their white-hot bites. Behind them, Tom, Judy, and Susan trudge
mechanically onwards through the thick and trackless African bush.

“I don’t understand why they keep biting me,” Jacob groans. “I can’t
possibly have any blood left.”
Veronica says, “We all have malaria by now. Guaranteed.”
“Ten-day onset time. If we’re still alive in ten days I will treat cerebral
malaria as a cause for rampant celebration.”
They reach another thicket so dense it is practically a wall. Veronica
wants to go around, but murderous gunmen are surely on their trail
already, and they have decided to continue due east no matter what, for
fear of going around in circles. She groans, covers her head with her
arms, and forces herself into the bush.
The vegetation around here isn’t like Bwindi. This soil is too stony to
support huge canopy trees. Instead, low palms and vine-covered leafy
trees stand above an amazingly dense underbrush of ferns and grasses,
which in turn conceal creeper vines or thorn bushes that seem to reach
out with stealthy fingers to grasp at passing ankles. The trees block out
most but not all of the sun’s dawning light. They have heard a few
rustles of animals fleeing their noisy approach, and once something
small and slimy, probably a frog, bounced off Veronica’s arm, but there
have otherwise been no signs of animate life. Unless she counts mosqui-
toes. Their ceaseless buzzing and biting threatens to drive her mad.
“Hey,” Jacob says wonderingly. He has stopped walking and is staring
up into the air. “You guys hear something?”
“Yes,” Tom grunts. “Mozzies.”
“No. Listen. I think I hear a plane.”
Everyone stops and looks into the sky. Veronica realizes he’s right, not
all the buzzing is insectile, there’s an airplane approaching – and sud-
denly it flashes past, white as a cloud, half-obscured by palm leaves,
maybe a thousand feet above the ground. They glimpse it just long
enough to register its odd shape. Its wings seem very long and narrow
for its body, and two wide struts extend downwards from its tail, like a
bipod support.
“Holy shit,” Jacob breathes, his voice full of hope and wonder.
“What is it?” Judy asks.
“Predator. Unmanned airplane. US military. They found us. They must
have got the signal. They fucking found us.”
Hope erupts like flame in Veronica’s heart. Rescue is on the way.
“We should signal,” Tom says, “build a fire or something -”
Jacob shakes his head. “No. They’re not the only ones looking, remem-
ber? No point bringing them all the way here just to take pictures of us
all getting shot. Just keep running and hope they find us first.”

They push onwards. Just as Veronica begins to think they can’t make it
through this thicket, they will have to turn back and go around, her foot
lands unexpectedly on smooth, bare dirt. It is only a foot wide, but it is
unmistakeably a trail, marked with prints of bare human feet.
“Do we follow it?” Judy asks. “Or do we keep going east?”
Everyone looks to Jacob. He hesitates, then decides, “There’s a camera
on that Predator. They won’t see us in the bush, but they might on this
path. We’ll stay on it until it flies over again.”
They proceed north along the path. It is so much easier than fighting
their way through the thorns and vines of the jungle, but even so Veron-
ica doesn’t think she can stay on her feet much longer. Her legs are start-
ing to feel like they did on the deathmarch from Bwindi, increasingly
less responsive to her mind’s commands. She wonders if maybe it would
be best to split up. Together they must be easy to track. Alone maybe at
least one would get away or be rescued. It makes sense, like a kind of
preemptive triage, but she doesn’t want to be the one to suggest it. She
doesn’t want to be alone out here.
The black men with rifles who rise up from either side of the trail ap-
pear so suddenly and unexpectedly it is like they just winked into exist-
ence, were beamed down from some Star Trek spacecraft. There are six
of them, in rubber boots and ragged khaki uniforms. When she sees
them Veronica’s legs give way with shock, and she half-falls backwards,
sits hard onto the ground. She feels frozen inside, like her lungs and
spine have turned to ice. It’s over. They have lost.
But the black soldiers do not seem eager to kill or capture. Instead they
stare at the five filth-smeared white people for a moment, then begin to
speak excitedly to one another in soft words that sound unlike any Afric-
an language Veronica has yet encountered. It slowly occurs to her that
their uniforms are nothing like the crimson headbands and bullet neck-
laces of the interahamwe.
She looks around, confused. The others sway on their feet, looking as
dazed as she feels.
Then one of the gunmen says, in strangely accented but understand-
able English, “Everything is OK. Everything is a hundred percent. We
come to help you.”
“Who are you?” Jacob asks, his voice rasping.
The man says, as if it explains everything, “From Zimbabwe.”
* * *

The Zimbabwean soldiers mutter to each other in low voices, tense but
not frightened, as they move along the trail. Veronica doesn’t understand
what they are doing here, but she supposes right now that doesn’t mat-
ter. It takes all of her concentration just to keep pace with the soldier
half-carrying her. The trail has led them into another banana plantation,
and the waxy leaves around them rattle in the wind. They stop every so
often for one of the soldiers to shout into a massive old radio that looks
like something from a Vietnam movie. It distantly occurs to Veronica
that it might actually have seen service in Vietnam, and then been
donated or sold to Zimbabwe as surplus. Whatever its provenance, it
doesn’t seem to be working.
When her legs finally collapse it is like it is happening to somebody
else; she watches the ground rise to meet her as if she is riding in an air-
plane. Rough, strong hands grab and lift her. She wonders if this is what
shock feels like, or if maybe she is dying, if all her life’s strength has fi-
nally been spent.
She emerges from something between a daze and a blackout just as the
trail opens into a hilltop clearing dotted by a few dozen thatched mud
huts with sagging walls. Goats and chickens pick their way along the
narrow dirt paths that connect the huts, run through the small agricul-
tural patches that surround the hill, and disappear into the bush all
The village itself seems empty of humans; but in the bean field beneath
the hill, there is a huge helicopter, painted khaki, covered with bulbous,
streamlined projections. This ultramodern vehicle seems wildly out of
place here, as if it has travelled in time, is taking part in an invasion of
the eleventh century by the twenty-first. There are men milling around
the bean field, a few white men in military fatigues and body armour,
and many black soldiers in ragged khaki. The helicopter is embossed
with an American flag and with the words AIR AMBULANCE.
The sight of the American flag is like a jolt of electricity, makes
Veronica’s heart soar with the most intense joy she has ever experienced.
She has never been so happy to be American. America has reached
across the world to save its daughter. She can barely move, but she feels
alive again, alive and triumphant.
Two men in civilian clothes, a wiry black man with dreadlocks and a
tall gray-haired man with an acne-scarred face, supervise as she and the
other survivors are strapped onto stretchers and lifted into the heli-
copter. A man with a red cross on his camouflage uniform stoops beside
her and begins speaking to her in a Southern accent. She can’t make out

what he says, partly because the engine roars to life beneath them, partly
because her mind has lost its ability to comprehend. It doesn’t matter.
She is safe now. She has been rescued. She can let herself go. The rotors
of the helicopter begin to spin, and Veronica feels like her mind is spin-
ning with them, corkscrewing up into the blue sky and the dark void
beyond, losing all awareness of the world and time.

She wakes to bliss. There are sheets over her body, pillows beneath her
head, and her body is free of pain for the first time in recent memory. It
feels like floating in a warm bath. She rolls onto her side, keeping her
eyes closed, trying to draw out this deliriously wonderful daze as long as
possible – but there is something against her arm, some kind of thin
plastic tube. She tries to push it away but it seems stuck to her wrist. In
fact it feels stuck
her wrist.
Veronica opens her eyes, alarmed. She is in a room decorated with
wicker furniture, a big TV, a ceiling fan, and a leopard-print blanket. It
looks like a hotel room except for the wheeled cart next to her bed and
the IV drip in her arm. She doesn’t understand where she is or why. Her
memory is a jumbled collage of nightmare images, blood and slaves and
feral teenagers with dead eyes, chains and guns and
, Derek’s
severed head, their desperate escape through thickets of thorny bush.
Recollection trickles slowly into her muzzy brain. She lifts up her
blanket and peers beneath. Somebody has dressed her in a hospital robe.
Her numberless wounds have been treated and dressed with white
gauze bandages, although several are already dark with seeping blood.
She feels oddly dissociated from her body, like it used to belong to
someone else. Veronica puts her hand to the side of her head and feels
fresh stitches. It doesn’t hurt. She’s drugged, she realizes distantly; that
IV is overflowing with analgesics, maybe even morphine. Which is fine
by her.
She lies in bed for a long time before deciding to mount an expedition
for the TV remote control. It lies tantalizingly close, on a table not ten feet
away. Sitting up is hard. Swinging her legs over the side of the bed is
harder. Standing up is nearly but not quite impossible. She grabs the IV
rack and uses it as support as she shuffles dizzily across the room.
Through the window she sees daylight and palm trees. She wonders
where she is. Maybe she’s been flown back to America and that’s Miami
outside. She could look, but the window seems so far away. The TV will

tell her. She harvests the remote control and is on her way back to bed
when the door opens.
“Well, aren’t you a lively one,” the plump, middle-aged black woman
says cheerfully. She wears an army uniform and speaks with an Americ-
an accent.
“Where am I?” Veronica asks.
“You’re safe. I’m your nurse, my name’s Irene. Let’s just get you back
to bed.” She helps Veronica back to a horizontal position. “How are you
“I feel great,” Veronica says enthusiastically. “What are these drugs?”
Irene laughs. “The works. Analgesics, antimalarials, vitamins, miner-
als, we’ve put together a real party cocktail for you. You just sit tight. I’ll
be back right away. They’ll be glad to know you’re awake.”
She leaves without explaning who
are. Veronica turns on the TV.
The entertainment selection consists of CNN, some French equivalent of
the Discovery Channel, a softcore porn channel, and a very strange,
cheaply made black-and-white movie which seems to be about genies
who appear out of thin air and shower African crowds with money.
Clearly she’s still in Africa, some French-speaking nation. The third time
she flips to CNN she sees Michael and Diane’s faces onscreen above the
words BREAKING STORY. Veronica nearly screams before she realizes
they aren’t ghosts, they are actually the subject of the piece.
The anchorwoman says, “Mr. Anderson and his wife were millionaire
philanthropists who had come to Uganda to tour the missions and
orphanages they funded. CNN has learned that earlier today, America’s
special forces, aided by a local militia, mounted a dramatic assault on the
terrorist headquarters in which dozens of terrorists were killed. The US
government reports that all the other hostages have been safely rescued
and are being treated in an undisclosed location. In a related story, well-
known video-sharing web site YouTube has agreed to remove the videos
of these hostages that were uploaded to their site, several of which are
already among their most-viewed videos ever, but copies are still re-
portedly widely available on similar sites worldwide. Some of these
videos portray the beheadings of Mr. and Mrs. Anderson, and of Derek
Summers, a Canadian citizen.” Derek’s picture appears onscreen. “CNN
has elected not to show any footage filmed by terrorists and we call on
other news organizations to join us in this decision. Up next, sports and
Derek’s face is replaced by that of David Beckham. Veronica switches
off the TV and stares at its dark screen. Her head is starting to hurt, both

inside and out, and her blistered feet too; but at the same time, her mind
is beginning to clear. She almost wishes it wouldn’t. She can hardly be-
lieve what she just heard.
The door opens and two men enter. One is white, tall, lean, and
middle-aged, with graying hair, a badly acne-scarred face and jewel-blue
eyes. He looks like he has spent most of his life working outside. He
wears nondescript jeans and a T-shirt, and holds a small metal briefcase.
The other man is black, small, slim and strong, with dreadlocks cascad-
ing down his back, late thirties or early forties, dressed in black jeans, a
Diesel T-shirt, North Face hiking boots, a diamond earring, a golden
necklace and a chunky gunmetal watch. Veronica remembers vaguely
that both these men were on the rescue helicopter.
“Miss Kelly,” the white man says. “Are you well enough to talk?”
“I guess.”
“Good. My name is Strick. I work for the State Department.” His
clipped voice has a military cadence. “This is Prester. He was Derek
Summers’s colleague.”
“Pleased to meetcha,” Prester says, in a laid-back American accent.
Strick sits on a chair beside Veronica’s bed, then opens his briefcase,
withdraws a small electronic device, and places it the bedside table. His
scarred face and icy blue eyes are mesmerizing. “We’d like you to tell us
everything that happened in your own words. Mr. Rockel has told us his
version already. Then we have some pictures we’d like you to look at.”
“Mr. Rockel?”
“Jacob,” Prester clarifies.
Veronica nods, hesitates, stares at the voice recorder.. She isn’t sure
what to say. Prester sits across the room on a wicker chair, watching
Strick cues her, “Just begin at the beginning. You were in the Bwindi
Impenetrable Forest, and -”
“No,” Veronica interrupts. “I don’t think that’s where it started. Did
you find Derek’s body?”
Strick nods slowly.
“We found all of him,” Prester says softly. “The Andersons too. They
put their heads up on stakes by the airstrip.”
Veronica groans and closes her eyes. She opens them again in time to
see Strick staring at Prester.
The black man shrugs. “You want me to candycoat it? After what
they’ve been through I think we owe them the whole truth.”

Veronica says, “He was set up. Derek. It started before we ever got to
Bwindi. He was in Uganda to investigate links between terrorists and in-
terahamwe, wasn’t he? That’s what he said, just before he died. It
couldn’t have been coincidence they kidnapped him.” She hesitates a mo-
ment. “And it wasn’t coincidence he invited me. He thought my ex-hus-
band was involved.”
Strick blinks with surprise, and Prester says incredulously, “Your

“Danton DeWitt.”
The name appears to mean nothing to either of them.
“When did he tell you all this?” Strick asks.
“Right before – before he died.”
“What did he say? What were his exact words?”
She recounts what she remembers. When Strick asks what happens
next, she tells them of her desperate flight into the river valley, her es-
cape into whitewater, how she was knocked out.
“We saw,” Strick interrupts, when she gets to the part of them holding
her down and threatening her life.
It is her turn to stare with surprise. “You

“The whole world saw,” Prester says. “YouTube and the like. The
greatest video hits of your abduction got uploaded from a Malaysian In-
ternet cafe. Current theory is the terrorists who grabbed you emailed the
footage to their buddies in Malaysia via that satellite dish you signalled
with. Ain’t the twenty-first century a kick? And guess what, you were a
hit. Not a blockbuster, not exactly front-page news, but solid middle-
page coverage around the world, and four of the top forty YouTube
videos of all time.”
“Prester,” Strick says. “This is a debriefing, not a gossip session.”
Prester rolls his eyes but shuts up.
Strick says to Veronica, “That was the only time Derek mentioned your
ex-husband’s name.”
“And minutes later you suffered a severe head injury.”
“No,” she says, knowing where he’s going with this, “I mean, yes, but it
wasn’t like that -”
“I understand you’re an ER nurse. So I don’t need to tell you how con-
cussions can jumble the memory.”
“Derek said Danton’s name,” Veronica insists. “I’m sure of it.”
“What exactly does your husband do?”
“Ex-husband. He’s a commodities trader.”

“I see. Where?”
“Legally, Texas, but really he divides his time between New York and
Marin County.”
“And do you have any other reason to believe your
was in-
volved in your abduction by Islamic terrorists and an interahamwe mili-
tia?” Strick’s voice is rich with disbelief.
She swallows. “No.”
She wants to argue, but at the same time, she knows he’s right, it
doesn’t make any sense at all. There’s just no way Danton would ever
have conspired with Islamic terrorists. So why did Derek suggest he was
involved? How did Derek even know his name?
Strick nods, jots down a few words, and says dismissively, “We’ll look
into it. As for Derek being targeted, yes, obviously. Hard to say who by.
Advance bookings are required to see the Bwindi gorillas. Any number
of people could have known. Now please, Miss Kelly, go back to the be-
ginning and tell us just what you experienced personally.”
Veronica decides she doesn’t like Mr. Strick at all. But he works for the
State Department, he is the voice of authority, it is his job to avenge
Derek. She accedes to his request and tells him everything that
happened. It seems to take a long time.
“I don’t understand,” she says when she finally reaches their rescue.
“Zimbabwe’s a thousand miles south of the Congo. They don’t even
share a border. So what were Zimbabwe soldiers doing there?”
It is Prester who explains: “Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s president, he sent his
army here to back Kabila against the Rwandans back in ’99. After Kabila
won he let the Zimbos stay, smart move seeing as how he was in no posi-
tion to kick them out, and granted them some seriously large land con-
cessions. General Gorokwe, the guy who helped get you out, is the per-
sonal overlord of a chunk of real estate the size of Delaware. And he
sends most of the money he’s squeezing out of the Congo back to
boss, Mugabe, who these days needs every hard-currency penny he can
get. It’s all very feudal around these parts, case you hadn’t noticed. Any-
ways Gorokwe volunteered his troops to help out the Special Forces.
Good thing too. They’re jungle vets, they know the territory, we prob-
ably couldn’t have extracted you without them.”
“Yes, thank you,” Strick says sharply to Prester. He turns back to
Veronica, reaches into his briefcase and withdraws a black binder. “We’d
like you to look at these pictures and tell us if you recognize anyone.”
Veronica takes the binder. Prester walks over to look over her
shoulder as she flips through it. The pictures are headshots of candid

moments, blown to 8×10 size, often taken from across the street or across
the room, some of them almost too blurry to be useful. There are no la-
bels or captions, only a number in the top corner of each page. All the
subjects in the first half of the book are black men. She stops about a
third of the way through.
“That’s him,” she said. “That’s the leader, in the glasses, the one who
had the camera.”
“You’re sure?” Prester asks sharply. “You’re absolutely sure?”
She says, “Yes.”
Prester and Strick look at one another. Then Strick announces to the
voice recorder, “Miss Kelly has identified figure number 31 as the leader
of their abductors.”
“Who is he?” Veronica asks.
“Please continue,” Strick says.
She doesn’t. ”

Who is he?
Prester and Strick exchange a look. Then Prester says, in a low voice,
“His name is Athanase Ntingizawa. He was one of the chief architects of
the Rwandan genocide.”
Veronica remembers Derek starting with recognition, and saying
something like “euthanasia.”
“Please continue,” Strick repeats.
Veronica turns the pages of the photo book. The second half of the
binder is populated by Arabic men, but the terrorist who held a
her throat is nowhere to be found. She goes through the binder again,
slowly, double-checking, before returning it.
“You got them, right?” Veronica asks. “They’re all dead?”
Prester shakes his head.
“But – they got away? CNN said -”
“Yeah. I saw. CNN said dozens dead. Which is true. But not Athanase,
not the Arabs, none of the senior interahamwe. Just kids with guns. The
real bad guys got away to play another day.”
Strick is staring angrily at Prester.
Prester shrugs. “Never mind. What do you care? You’re going home. I
think we’re done here, right?”
“Very,” Strick says curtly. He snaps his briefcase shut and stands up.
“Get some rest, Miss Kelly. We’ll explain your options when you’re more
fully recovered.”
By the time it occurs to Veronica to ask what he means by
, or
where exactly she is right now, they are already out the door.

Veronica disconnects her own IV. She knows when the drugs wear off
she will start to hurt all over, but she wants to be able to think clearly
again. She fights her way back to her feet and shuffles to her window.
Her room is on the second floor of a walled and gated hotel complex
screened by palm trees. A half-dozen military-drab Land Cruisers and
Hummers are parked in its gravel parking lot. Two white soldiers in
American uniforms guard the gate. She hears aircraft above, both air-
planes and helicopters, a near-constant buzz of aerial traffic.
Irene comes in while she is on her feet.
“Just can’t keep you down, can we, hon?” she asks. “Those poor feet of
yours need a few more days off, you ask me.”
“Later,” Veronica says. “Do you have any clothes?”
Irene purses her lips. “Suppose we can track some down.”
“Could you? I can’t stand hospital robes.”
“All right, will do.” But she doesn’t move. She just looks at Veronica.
“What is it?” Veronica asks.
Irene says, “Don’t know if this is the right time. I’m not really trained
for this kind of thing. But, listen, hon, we have specialists coming here to
take care of you. We have a highly trained trauma counsellor, and anoth-
er who specializes in counselling victims of sexual abuse. I’m sorry, hon,
but I have to know, what did they do to you?”
“To me?” Veronica half-laughs. “Nothing.”
Irene looks at her skeptically.
“No, really. They, I think, they raped Susan. The British girl. But me, I
mean, they weren’t exactly friendly, they put a fucking leash on me, and
a machete to my throat, but physically, honest, I got out okay. Just what
you see, cuts and bruises and blisters, and I was sick, I’ve probably lost a
lot of weight, but I wasn’t, nothing awful happened.”
“Sounds pretty awful to me.”
“It’s over now. I don’t want to see any counsellor. I’m fine.”
“I’ll ask you again when you’re sober.”
“I’m fine,” Veronica repeats. “Could I just get some clothes?”

“I’m on it, hon.” Irene leaves quickly.
Veronica ventures into the bathroom. She wants to shower, but the
idea of climbing in and turning on the water seems horrendously diffi-
cult and complex right now. There are a pair of flower-patterned slippers
inside. She decides to try to go for a walk before the drugs wear off.
* * *
The door opens to an exterior walkway that connects the rooms, like a
motel. She’s glad she’s in a decent buttoned-up hospital gown, rather
than a cheap backless one. There is a soldier at the end of the walkway,
and she freezes in place, afraid she is violating some rule, but he just
nods to her stiffly. He looks Latino and about nineteen. A small strip of
tall ferns and palm trees grows just outside, and through them she can
see some large body of water. It isn’t the ocean, there are no waves.
She proceeds down the walkway until she reaches a covered patio full
of tables and chairs. All are deserted except one table heaped with
scrambled eggs, fresh fruit, French bread, and coffee. Jacob is sitting
there, his tall, gaunt body folded into a small chair, dressed in a hospital
robe and bandages like hers, eating like he is trying to win a contest.
Veronica’s stomach lurches with desire.
He waves her over without stopping eating. She joins him and the next
several minutes are devoted to food. At one point a formally dressed
waiter comes up the stairs that lead to the patio and refills their coffee
and orange juice.
“Where are we?” Veronica asks, when the ravenous void in her gut has
been sated, for the moment.
Jacob points northwards. “Pretty sure it’s Goma, from the lake and
those volcanoes.”
Veronica looks and sees jagged mountains rising into the sky above a
ramshackle city, the same mountains they saw from the helicopter, a few
days ago. She remembers looking at the Michelin map of East Africa as
they drove from Kampala to Bwindi, less than a week ago; remembers
Derek pointing out the Congolese city of Goma, right on the Rwandan
border, a hundred miles south of the Impenetrable Forest, nestled
between vast Lake Kivu and the towering Virunga volcanos. It feels like
a memory from long ago, from her childhood.
“Makes sense,” Jacob says. “Goma’s the headquarters of the UN peace-
keeping mission. Probably the safest city in the whole Congo. Not that
that’s saying much.”

“No.” Veronica looks at the armed guards at the hotel gate. “I think
we’re pretty safe here though.”
“Yeah. They can’t let us get abducted twice. Just imagine the
“Have you seen any of the others?”
“No. I think they’ll be in bed another day or two. They’re older. Except
Susan, and she… ” His voice trails off.
Veronica nods. “Did they offer you a trauma counsellor too?”
He nods. “I told them no.”
“Me too. I don’t know.”
“I read a study once they did of World Trade Center survivors. Those
who went to analysis and counselling and joined survivors’ groups and
made cathartic art and so on were still totally screwed up three years
later. The ones who just sealed it off and didn’t talk about it and moved
on were fine.”
Veronica nods. “Yeah. It’d be like picking at a cut before it’s even
scabbed over.”
They sit in silence for a while.
Then Jacob says, “I’m going to find them. Whoever did it, whoever set
him up. I’m going to find them.”
Veronica looks at him. She doesn’t know what to say. She would dis-
miss it as bluster, but Jacob doesn’t seem like a blusterer, and he sounds
serious. She settles on asking, “How?”
“There are ways.”
She doubts it. But he has reminded her of one nagging question. “Did
Derek ever tell you why he invited me along?”
“No. Why?”
“I don’t know exactly. But -” She hesitates. Maybe she shouldn’t tell Ja-
cob, shouldn’t add fuel to his already burning desire for vengeance.
“But what?”
Veronica decides she owes him the truth. He’s a reasonable, logical
man. Once he recovers from this period of shock he’ll surely come to his
senses, do the reasonable thing and go back to Canada. “On the heli-
copter, right after he saw Athanase – did Strick and Prester come to you
“Yeah. They debriefed me. I knew Prester already, he was Derek’s
partner, I met him in Kampala. What happened on the helicopter?”
“Derek got all… weird… and asked me if it was me who set him up.”
“If it was
” Jacob asks incredulously.

“Yeah. And when I said it wasn’t, he asked about my ex-husband. He
said his name. Danton DeWitt. I’d never told him or any of you about
Danton, not by name.”
Jacob stares at her.
Veronica continues, “He must have known before he ever invited me
to Bwindi. Probably before he ever met me. I think, I think maybe that’s
he met me. We were at a party, he seemed to, like, single me out.”
She grimaces. “I thought he liked me. Now I think it was because he
knew I was Danton’s ex-wife.”
“Danton DeWitt,” Jacob repeats. “Tell me about him.”
“There isn’t much to tell. He’s not interesting. He’s rich, he was born
rich. He’s a commodities trader. He is involved in a lot of African charit-
ies, his mother was born here. That’s kind of why I’m here, I got involved
in them, and then after the divorce I sort of talked one of them into
bringing me over. I’m sure they ran it by him first. He probably okayed it
because he didn’t want me around. Too embarrassing.”
“Did you tell Strick and Prester?”
“Of course. But they don’t believe me. They think it was my head in-
jury, my memory got messed up. But it wasn’t. He said Danton’s name,
I’m sure of it. But listen, I promise you there’s no way Danton is involved
with terrorists. There’s just no way. Derek must have made some kind of
Jacob says, “We’ll see.”
Footsteps click up the stairs that lead to the patio, and Irene appears,
holding a big bundle of clothing.
“What’s this? Flying the coop?” she scolds them gently. ” I brought you
clothes, but I’m not giving them to you until you’re back in bed where
you belong.”
Feeling a bit like a high-school student caught cutting class, Veronica
shuffles guiltily back to her room. Jacob is two doors over. Pain is begin-
ning to gnaw at her from a dozen places. She lowers herself wearily back
to bed, turns on CNN, and lets sleep wash over her again.
* * *
When she wakes up Veronica doesn’t know how long she has slept,
whether it has been hours or days. The light and TV clock tell her it is
late afternoon. She hurts almost everywhere, inside and out, but she feels
a little stronger too, the food helped. She decides to get dressed. When

she strips off her hospital grown she sees her body has shrunk amaz-
ingly, she has lost at least ten pounds in only a week.
The clothes Irene brought are ill-fitting but better than nothing. She
dons the slippers and shuffles back outside. No one is in sight on the
walkway or the deck. Stairs lead downwards, and she descends them
with the banister’s help. At their base, a leopard-skin rug awaits, com-
plete with head and jaws. Beyond is the small, clean hotel lobby. The
sign on the desk indicates that this is the
Hotel VIP
. The young and well-
dressed woman behind the desk watches her with undisguised curiosity.
Jacob sits on the couch near the main entrance, reading a thin, cheaply
printed French-language newspaper.
“Hey,” Veronica says. “What’s news?”
“Hard to say. This is two months old, and my French isn’t great. From
what I can tell it’s mostly complaints about how the elections aren’t
worth the paper the ballots are printed on.” He puts down the newspa-
per. “Prester’s going to take me to an Internet café to check mail and
make some phone calls. The lines here aren’t working, some technical
glitch. Want to come?”
She nods and sits next to him. They don’t speak, but their silence is
companionable. After what they have been through together she feels
closer to Jacob than to any of the friends back in America she has known
for many years.
She wonders who she should call. Her parents, she supposes. She
hasn’t been spoken to them much for years now, since her marriage. Her
aging ex-hippie parents hated Danton, took her wedding as a slap in
their face. When the divorce hit she couldn’t bring herself to go to them
for support. It would have been too much like admitting they were right
all along, and she had just crumpled up and flushed away the prime of
her life. She tried to leave everything behind when she went to Africa, in-
cluding her family, but they’re still her parents, they must be deathly
worried about her, and right now it feels like they’re the only people in
all the world who might care what happens to her.
Prester appears at the entrance, jangling keys in his hands. He doesn’t
look enthusiastic about Veronica’s presence, but accedes to her company
and leads them out into the parking lot. Two jeeps full of American sol-
diers are waiting for something, along with the two guards at the gate.
Prester leads Jacob and Veronica to a green Mitsubishi Pajero. The Amer-
ican soldiers nod at Prester and swing open the hotel gate, and they ad-
vance into the streets of Goma. To Veronica’s amazement, the two jeeps
of soldiers roll out behind them. A military escort.

The Hotel VIP is an island of luxury in a sea of poverty. They turn
onto a boulevard divided by a wide grassy meridian strewn with trash
and plastic bags, occupied by vendors selling airtime cards, cigarettes,
and avocados big as grapefruits. They share the potholed road with
trickling streams of ragged pedestrians, hordes of cheap motorcycles,
battered cars, less-battered SUVs, and a few angelically white UN jeeps.
The high walls of the estates on either side are topped by barbed wire
and broken glass. Curiously, Veronica doesn’t feel overwhelmed by the
in-your-face poverty, the way she always did in Kampala. It doesn’t
seem so bad compared to what she’s seen in the last week.
She sees a helicopter pass above, heading south, towards the lake. The
sun has disappeared behind the high bluffs to the west. The boulevard
ends at a large roundabout surrounded by big colonial-era buildings that
claim to be banks, a post office, and the Hotel du Grands Lacs, but whose
shambolic, half-collapsed appearance make Veronica doubt they func-
tion at all. The roundabout also boasts a brightly coloured Vodacom
store with glossy new ads and posters advertising new SIM cards for two
US dollars.
“Dollars?” Jacob asks, pointing out Vodacom as they pass. “Not
Prester says, “It’s a dollar economy. You only use francs for small
As Veronica stares out the window she begins to realize Goma is not
quite the wretched wasteland it first seemed. Its buildings are low
battered concrete, mostly unfinished, but some these drab shells contain
flashy boutiques selling stuffed toys or designer clothes. The streets
throng with pedestrians: gangs of skinny teenagers selling gasoline from
yellow jerrycans, men in sharp suits, young women with basins full of
goods on their heads and babies strapped to their backs, elegantly
dressed women hiding from the sun beneath rainbow-coloured parasols.
A man chatting on a brand-new Razr cell phone is surrounded by street
urchins playing soccer with a ball made of rags. It is a surreal mélange of
hypermodern and postapocalyptic, but it’s not near as overwhelming as
it would have been just a week ago. In fact the idea of going out and ex-
ploring this urban maelstrom would actually have some appeal, if she
were stronger.
There is an Internet café next to the shuttered marble building that was
once a post office, when the Congo was a nation-state in more than
name. Shrivelled beggar women nursing malnourished infants hiss at
Veronica, Jacob, and Prester as they enter. One jeepful of soldiers

remains outside; the others enter and take up stations at the door. The
other customers look up briefly, then go back to their work. Detachments
of armed men are apparently not unusual here. The café’s fifty com-
puters are named after the US states, and CNN plays on TVs in the
corners. Veronica is glad to see neither she or Jacob is onscreen.
The bored young woman at the counter wears Parasuco jeans, a Ver-
sace shirt, and diamond earrings. Her entire right eye is obscured by a
milky cataract. Veronica writes down her parents’ phone number and
goes into a tiny phone booth. A minute later the phone rings, and when
she picks it up, her mother is on the other end.
“Hello,” Veronica says. “It’s me. I’m fine, I’m safe.”
“Veronica?” her mother gasps. “Oh, Veronica, oh thank God, oh thank

Their conversation is brief. Her mother’s voice is difficult to decipher,
partly because it is tinny and faraway, partly because she starts weeping
almost immediately. When her father takes the phone he too is crying.
Their voices are frail, and Veronica knows it isn’t just the connection. Her
parents have grown not just old but feeble, fragile. She hasn’t talked to
them much in the last seven years. Maybe it happened then and she
didn’t notice. Maybe it happened this week, and the catalyst was the
very public kidnapping and presumed murder of their daughter. Veron-
ica has to cut the conversation short, she can’t bear it. She puts down the
phone feeling like a miserable failure as a daughter and a human being.
When she emerges from the phone booth, Prester gives the one-eyed
girl a five-dollar bill, and she returns four filthy hundred-franc notes. He
offers to them to Veronica. “Keep ’em. Souvenir.”
They return to Jacob, who is sitting at the computer labelled IOWA.
“Have a seat, check your mail, but make it fast,” Prester says quietly. “I
want to be out of here in five minutes.”
“What for? We just got here.” Jacob looks upset.
“We need to talk. In private. Without them listening.”
Veronica stares at Prester. “Them who?”
“Strick and his boys.”
“Talk about what?”
“Five minutes,” he repeats.

The Pajero, followed by the two Jeeps, drives along a crowded road, past
vegetable and cigarette stalls, until the street commerce suddenly ends
and is replaced by – nothing. The road opens into a vast blasted field of
jet-black rubble. A few shattered, burnt, half-buried skeletons of houses
emerge from the dark landscape, as do, unexpectedly, a few bright new
half-constructed buildings. Men with picks chip languidly away at
ridges and shoulders of the black rock. The field is littered with neat
piles of shadow-coloured stones the size of watermelons; the walls going
up around the new houses are made of those stones, mortared thickly to-
gether. In the pinkish sunset light the whole scene seems eerily unreal.
“What is this?” Jacob asks, astonished.
Prester halts his vehicle in the middle of this strip of wasteland that
runs through the heart of Goma like an inky river, all the way to Lake
Kivu, severing the city into two halves. It is wider than a football field.
To the left, the waterfront is dominated by a massive, black-walled com-
plex surrounded by a rickety collection of crude huts where women sit
mending fishing nets. Further inland, the rusted remains of several
dozen vehicles lie jumbled like children’s toys. The wide strip of jagged
black continues inland towards the nearest mountain: a huge, looming,
flat-topped presence maybe fifteen miles north. A plume of cloud rises
from the edge of its summit.
“Mount Nyiragongo,” Prester says, pointing at the mountain. “You’ve
read your Tolkien? Four years ago Mount Doom went boom.”
Veronica understands. That isn’t cloud above the mountain. It is
smoke rising from a live volcano. Four years ago it erupted, disgorged a
red river of lava that cut this city in two and cooled into the field of black
rock around them.
“Let’s go for a walk,” Prester says. “But first, do me a favour, go
through the pockets and seams of your new clothes, check your slippers,
everything, see if you find anything hard and metal.”
Jacob stares at him. “What is this?”
“Humour me.”

Jacob begins to feel along the seams of his clothes. Veronica does the
same. Neither of them find anything.
“Maybe I’m just being paranoid,” Prester says. “Maybe not. Bet there’s
something in the car.” He chuckles. “Which totally makes my day, it’ll
piss Strick off no end to know we talked but not know about what. Come
on. Walk with me.”
First he goes over to the Jeeps that have stopped behind them, and ex-
plains that they’re going for a short walk; then he leads Veronica and Ja-
cob over the uneven, night-dark terrain. Veronica has to walk slowly and
carefully in her thin slippers. Jacob at least has sandals. The vast field of
black lava with the blue lake beyond, all limned in crimson sunset light,
is beautiful in a stark and inhuman way. The workers are packing up
their picks and departing. They walk about two hundred feet inland, to
the piled mound of rusting vehicle carcasses that emerge like dinosaur
bones from the solid lava.
“Goma’s one tourist attraction,” Prester says. “The car graveyard. Lava
came spilling down, ran right through and blew up all the gas stations,
picked up all these cars and for some reason dumped them all here.
There’s probably dozens more underneath.”
“What’s that big compound by the water?” Jacob asks.
“MONUC headquarters. The UN peacekeeping mission.”
As if to underscore his words, the gates to the complex open, and three
huge white UN vehicles, an armoured personnel carrier followed by two
oil tankers, begin to climb towards them along the road carved into the
lava field.
Prester offers them cigarettes. Veronica accepts. Prester lights up and
looks around as if he is staring into a parallel dimension. Veronica shud-
ders minutely as the smoke abrades the back of her throat, and again as
the nicotine hits.
“So why did you drag us out here?” Jacob sounds a little exasperated.
Prester takes a long drag from his cigarette and says, distantly,
“Sometimes I think this whole country is cursed. First the Belgians, then
Mobutu, now sheer fucking anarchy. Even nature. You see the lake?
Pretty, ain’t it? That’s Rwanda across the bay there. See that hotel? That’s
where they planned the genocide. Well, that pretty lake builds up vol-
canic gases inside, and every thousand or so years they blow, suffocate
everything within a hundred miles, then wipe it all clean with a tidal
wave. Could happen any moment if there’s an eruption beneath the lake.
Would kill two million people in ten minutes.” He shakes his head.
“Some ultra-badass witch doctor must have cast the spell to end all spells

on the whole Congo watershed. We had one hope, Lumumba, fifty years
ago. But the CIA took care of him in a hurry.”
“We?” Veronica asks curiously. “I thought you were American.”
“Kinda. I was born here. Kinshasa anyways, the capital, not that it’s
really the same country, that’s a thousand miles west, there aren’t even
any roads there from here. But we moved to New York when I was
“What brought you back?”
Prester sighs. “I used to deal on the Lower East Side. Had to do it to
pay my way through Columbia. Just little stuff at first. Then more and
bigger. Then one day I had to get out, and all America was too fucking
small. Came back here, never even got my degree. That’s me in a nut-
shell. I’ll spend my whole life two credits short of the Ivy League. Ain’t
life a joke?”
“Hilarious,” Jacob says curtly. “Why are we here?”
Prester favours him with a dark look. “You got somewhere else to be?”
“I’m just wondering if you have a point.”
“I’ll get there when I get there. I’m doing you a fucking favour, man. I
shouldn’t be talking to you at all.”
Jacob looks unconvinced.
“Prester,” Veronica says the name slowly, remembering something.
“Prester John was a king, wasn’t he?”
Prester blows a smoke ring. “That he was. The legendary king of a fab-
ulous Christian nation hidden deep in the dark continent. A kingdom of
peace and love where the roads were paved with ivory and gold. Never
existed, of course. But a whole shitload of crazy motherfuckers came
here to look for him. And just look what they found instead.” He waves
his arm to take in all of the country around them. “Found and founded.
Genocide and civil war. About four million dead untimely in the last
twelve years, between Congo and Rwanda.”
For a little while he and Veronica smoke in silence.
Jacob asks, “And now you work for the US government?”
“No no no. Bite your tongue, wash out your mouth. Not for. With.
Independent contractor. Professional go-between. Protocol man. Human
bridge between the Congo and America, providing that invaluable extra
edge of local knowledge, cultural understanding, and most important of
all, connections to everyone who’s anyone. Least that’s what it says on
my business cards. Azania was a two-man shop. Me the protocol guy,
Derek the security expert.” Prester hesitates, and his voice drops. “We

had real clients. Mining companies. But mostly, in practice, for real? Me
and Derek were a deniable front for the CIA.”
The three letters seem to echo.
“You wouldn’t believe all the shit going down out here nowadays,”
Prester says. “The new race for Africa is on. America, Britain, France, Ch-
ina, Russia, the Saudis, the South Africans, there’s a whole new twenty-
first century Great Game going on, and everybody wants to win. That’s
the thirty-thousand foot view. Sounds romantic, don’t it? But zoom in
close enough and what you see on the ground is a whole lot of people
getting very fucking dirty.” He smiles sardonically. “The funny thing is,
Strick thinks I’m one of them. He will be so pissed that I’m talking to you
in camera. But Derek said you were his best friend.” He turns from Jacob
to Veronica. “And if you were faking it when they put that panga to your
neck, then you deserve all the Academy Awards ever made. So what the
hell. Let’s spread a little home truth around for once.”
“What truth?” Veronica asks.
“Ay, well, there’s the fucking rub.” Prester drops his cigarette and
grinds it out beneath his heel. “Derek was set up. You know that. He
knew too much. But what did he know? Not that terrorists were working
with interahamwe. They went out of their way to make that very public
themselves, didn’t they? Told the whole fucking Internet. No, what
Derek knew was that one of our bosses, one of our real bosses, in Charlie
Indigo Alpha, was covering up a small mountain of smuggling money.
Just imagine. An American intelligence officer raking in profits from
illegal cross-border trading by
Working hand in hand with
Athanase Ntingizawa, Captain Interahamwe himself. Definite first-ballot
member of the all-time bad-guy hall of fame, even before he jumped into
bed with Al-Qaeda. Bit of a resume stain if that comes out, you know?
The kind of thing that might drive the officer in question to some seri-
ously extreme extremes, in order to sweep all the blood back under the
carpet. Like cutting a deal with Athanase to murder the guy investigat-
ing the smuggling.”
Veronica opens her mouth and shuts it again. She can’t believe she’s
hearing this, especially not here in this surreal place. She feels like she’s
in a movie, like some director is about to shout
Jacob says, “You mean Strick?”
“No. Strick is many shitty things, but on the take is not one of them.
He’s an asshole but a clean one. All God and country and ramrod up his
ass. No, it’s gotta be some shark in a suit further up the food chain.
Someone in Kampala, in the embassy. That’s all I can tell you, I don’t

have any names.” He looks at Veronica. “But you had one for me, didn’t
you? Danton DeWitt.”
“Danton’s not in the CIA,” she says shrilly. “This is ridiculous.”
“No. He’d be the outside partner. I looked him up today. Commodities
trader, right? Legal smuggler, in other words. With lots of holier-than-
thou charitable interests in this here dark continent, right? And an Old
Rhodey mother? Makes sense to me.”
“No,” she insists. “Danton’s not … he’s a selfish prick, but he’s not
He wouldn’t have worked with monsters like that. No. It’s not possible.”
“I bet he didn’t know,” Prester says softly. “That’s how it works around
here. You don’t ask where the diamonds and the gold and the coltan and
the timber came from. You don’t ask where your good buddy got all
those dollars, or why he needs all those guns and
and whips. You
don’t ask how many slaves died and how many women got raped and
how many children got press-ganged. You don’t want to know.”
Veronica shakes her head. “No. I still don’t believe it. Danton wouldn’t
get involved with this.”
“Yeah? You think he’s too goody two shoes? That surprises me. His
daddy made all the money, didn’t he? I’ve met lots of spoiled rich kids,
and none of them ever struck me as particularly lawful good.”
“No. You don’t understand. Danton wouldn’t do it because he’d think
it was beneath him. He already has money. What he wants is to be a big
shot. Smuggling gold or whatever in Africa would be too small-time for
him. Too pathetic.”
A moment of silence hangs over the apocalyptic wasteland.
Then Jacob says to Prester, intently, “What else do you know?”
Prester shrugs. “That’s all I got. The good is oft interred with their
bones. So let it be with Derek. He kept his whole life close to his vest.”
“So what do you expect us to do now?” Veronica demands.
“Do? Nothing. Quite the opposite. The whole reason I’m telling you
this is to keep you out of trouble. I heard you talking earlier, on the
patio. I’m warning you. Don’t do it. Don’t go poking around wondering
what happened to him, or what your ex-husband was up to. Not even
when you get back home, and definitely not here. This cover-up added
up to at least six corpses already. Once you’ve gone that far it’s real easy
to add two more. And you ask me, our terrorist friends are far from fin-
ished. You know what was in the phone that British girl picked up in
their camp? Cell-phone numbers for two hundred Western NGO work-
ers in Congo and west Uganda.”
Jacob sucks in breath sharply.

“Yeah. We figure they were going to try to lure them into ambushes,
capture more hostages. We should be able to stop that, but I expect
they’ve still got plenty up those long sleeves. So you go home. Leave the
intelligence to the professionals, be glad you’ve still got your heads on
your shoulders, and don’t go asking anyone any awkward questions.
You are way out of your league here. Clear?”
Neither Jacob nor Veronica answers.
“I’m sorry. He was a good man. He loved Africa. And not in that let’s-
fix-it way most white folks get when they come here. He loved it for
what it is. More than I can say.” He takes one last look around the lava
field. “Come on, let’s head back. Be dark soon. Strick’s made arrange-
ments for you both to fly out tomorrow, collect your shit in Kampala,
then fly back to New York. First class, on the government dime. Enjoy
the ride. I figure you’ve earned it.”
* * *
Veronica can’t sleep. Partly because she can’t find any position that
doesn’t aggravate one or more of her blisters and bruises and wounds.
Mostly because she can’t stop thinking.
Veronica knows she should go home. It is the right thing to do, the
safe thing. The idea of staying is crazy. She can be on an airplane out of
Africa tomorrow. But an airplane to where? She has no idea where home
is any more. The black hole that was her marriage consumed her career
and most of her friends. The whole point of coming to Africa in the first
place was to forge a whole new life for herself.
Eventually she gets up and goes for a walk, makes her way down the
walkway to the patio, careless of the pains that stab through her feet. A
warm breeze wafts through the night air. Occasional airplanes groan
along the flight path directly above the hotel. To the north, a livid crim-
son glow hangs in the night sky, emanating from the summit of volcanic
Mount Nyiragongo; red light burning from a sea of molten rock seething
within an open crater. Prester was right when he called it Mount Doom.
She supposes she should feel miserable. She’s gone through unspeak-
able horror, been wounded and traumatized, and now she’s supposed to
abandon her new life. But standing here, in this surreal, cinematic place,
breathing the night air of Africa, Veronica feels strangely jubilant. She
came so close to death that every breath now seems a precious gift. She
feels as if some kind of shell has been burnt away from her, leaving her
lighter and freer, even younger. The downward spiral of her life during

the last year, the divorce, her return to relative poverty, her inability to
cope with life in Africa – these things all seem so trivial now. She’s
young and healthy and alive. That’s all that matters. Not a divorce from
a man she never really loved.
Danton. Derek thought, and Prester thinks, that her ex-husband was
somehow involved in her abduction; that he was the partner of a corrupt
American intelligence agent in the Uganda embassy who knew that the
interahamwe smugglers were harbouring Islamic terrorists, and who
ordered the capture and murder of Derek, and anyone unlucky enough
to be with him in Bwindi, before Derek discovered too much. But the
more Veronica thinks about that theory, the more it sounds both crazy
and wrong. There’s just no way Danton would have been involved in
anything like that. Either Derek was just plain wrong about Danton – or
there’s something else entirely going on here. But what could that pos-
sibly be?
She shakes her head angrily. It shouldn’t matter what Danton is doing.
He’s not supposed to be part of her life any more. Seven years of her life
wasted, and now these seven days of horror, and the awful death of a
man she could have fallen in love with. Except it seems even Derek was
only interested in her because she was Danton’s ex-wife. It feels like
that’s all she will ever be for the rest of her life. Especially if she goes
back to America.
Veronica can’t think of any reason to go back to America. There’s noth-
ing waiting for her there. It would feel like surrender. She came to Africa
to reinvent herself. Just because she went through one awful week of tor-
ment doesn’t mean she has to abandon that dream and go home to
whatever squalid life awaits her in America. She can stay here now, she’s
sure of it. Life in Kampala will be a breeze after this week. She’s taken
the worst Africa can throw at her, and she’s still standing. She doesn’t
have to give up now just because everybody assumes she will. That’s just
another reason not to go.
* * *
The sun has not yet risen over Rwanda when Jacob and Veronica ar-
rive at the helipad just outside peacekeeping headquarters. Strick shakes
their hands goodbye while the bored-looking Indian UN soldier inspects
their orders.
“Don’t take this the wrong way,” Strick says, “but I don’t ever want to
see either of you again. Go home and don’t come back.”

He turns and walks away before they can respond. The Indian officer
hands them back their paperwork. Veronica was surprised to receive ac-
tual military orders, on an A4 sheet with her name and new passport
numbers printed beneath official UN and MONUC logos, along an offi-
cial UN boarding pass, a brand-new passport good for one year, a first-
class British Airways ticket from Kampala to JFK via Heathrow, and five
new twenty-dollar bills in an envelope labelled “per diem.”
“Wait,” the Indian soldier says, and directs them to a gaggle of troops,
all of them Indian too, sitting crosslegged in the shade of the nearest big
white helicopter. Jacob and Veronica join them. Strick drives away in his
Jeep. Two soldiers in a blue beret appear with a plastic bag full of still-
and a samovar full of sweet Indian
. They eat and
drink gratefully. The soldiers look at them sidelong but do not otherwise
interact with them. Veronica supposes she and Jacob must look some-
what grotesque; her head is still bandaged, and they are both moving
stiffly and covered by scabbed-over cuts and scrapes.
Eventually an officer stands and begins to bark loud orders in Hindi.
The Indian peacekeepers climb in and begin to strap themselves into the
fold-down seats around its cargo area. After a few confused moments
Veronica and Jacob join them. The seats are surprisingly comfortable.
The cargo space is full of all manner of boxes, crates, and bags, enough
for a small truck, all tied down with netting. There are about forty pas-
sengers. Only a few seats are left folded up and unoccupied.
“I wish we could have said goodbye,” Veronica says. They tried, but
Tom, Judy and Susan were still under sedation.
Jacob nods.
“Are you going back to Canada?”
“I’m not going back either.”
He looks at her, surprised. “Why not?”
“Because I don’t want to.”
Jacob doesn’t say anything.
“Are you still going to try to find out who did it? After what Prester
He says, simply, “Yes.”
The pilots are the last to board. Doors are closed, interior lights come
on, the engine shudders into life, and the big chopper’s two rotors begin
to spin. A peacekeeper gives Veronica and Jacob earplugs. Even with
them it is soon too loud to think. The rotor above them becomes a trans-
lucent blur.

The world wobbles for a moment, and then the ground falls away.
Veronica’s stomach lurches, but after the first few dizzying moments, the
flight is surprisingly stable. The sides of the helicopter are open and she
can see Goma to the north, divided by the jet-black lava field that snakes
in an unbroken line up to smoldering Mount Nyiragongo. On the other
side lies placid Lake Kivu. Veronica thinks of what Prester said about the
tons of lethal gases trapped in that lake, how it too is a killer. She is glad
to be leaving. She reaches out and takes Jacob’s hand, and he squeezes
hers comfortingly.
They fly north, between two of the spectacularly jagged Virunga
peaks, and over a sea of rolling hills. At one point they pass right over a
particularly deep and dense patch of green, and Veronica sucks in breath
sharply. Beyond the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest a red lacework of roads
begins. The helicopter continues east above the roads and emerald hills
of Southern Uganda, and then across the huge blue expanse of Lake Vict-
oria, so vast that water is all they can see in every direction for some
time. It takes them about an hour to reach Entebbe.
Kampala’s airport is an enormous field of tarmac dotted by buildings,
airplanes, and vehicles. They land on the military side of the airfield, and
the helicopter powers down. The soldiers allow Veronica and Jacob to
disembark first. Strick told them that a Jeep would take them to customs
and then Kampala, but nobody seems to be waiting for them.
“Military efficiency,” Jacob mutters. “Hurry up and wait.”
They sit in the shadow of the huge helicopter and watch their fellow-
passengers file across the tarmac to one of the long, low buildings on the
periphery. Peacekeepers walk and drive up to and around the helicopter,
load and unload cargo. They hear the white-noise scream of a jet taking
off on the other side of a huge hangar. Veronica feels like an ant who has
found her way into the innards of some vast and incomprehensible
At length she says to Jacob, “Listen. I don’t think you should get any
more involved in this.” She knows he doesn’t want to hear it, but feels
like she has to try. “Prester was right. It’s too dangerous. You’re not,
you’re not trained for this. Think about it. I mean, rationally. You’re an
engineer. All this crazy stuff, spies, Al-Qaeda, smugglers, war criminals,
genocidal killers – I mean, no offense, but honestly, Jacob, what do you
think you can really do except get yourself in more trouble?”
He smiles darkly. “More than you might expect.”
It sounds like empty bravado. Veronica shakes her head and looks

“More than anyone expects, now that Derek’s gone.”
She blinks and turns back. “What do you mean?”
Jacob says, “I mean there’s a reason Derek asked me to come to
Uganda. Just like there was a reason he invited you to Bwindi. I’m not
here just because he wanted my smiling face around. I’m here because he
knew what I can do.”
“What can you do?” Veronica asks, curious despite herself.
A Humvee pulls up beside them, driven by an Asian man, maybe
Filipino, in a military uniform.
“Tell you what,” Jacob says. “Come by my place sometime and I’ll
show you.”

Part 2

Veronica wakes to clammy heat. The power has gone out, the balky gen-
erator in the basement has once again failed to automatically kick in, and
the ancient air conditioner set in the window beside her mahogany bed
is silent. Kampala is a kilometre above sea level, but it’s right on the
equator, and the mid-morning heat and humidity are oppressive. Her
sheets are damp with sweat.
She feels enervated, all she wants to do is lie where she is, but she
makes herself stand up and walk to her bathroom. The floorboards creak
beneath her feet. It has been five days since her return to Kampala, but
her legs are still wobbly, and when she looks in the mirror her body is
still covered by purple and yellow bruises. At least the cuts and scrapes
on her face have diminished from scabs to blemishes.
She brushes her teeth with bottled water and cools down with a quick
shower. When she emerges she feels much better, almost good enough to
go into work, but Veronica decides against it. Maybe tomorrow, for half
a day. Maybe not until her face is fully healed. Bernard told her she
could have as much time off as she wanted.
Bernard also told her that journalists have been calling for her, and a
British tabloid has actually offered money for her story. The notion re-
pulses Veronica. It would feel like blood money, and people who pay for
a story will tell lies to make it better. The offer wasn’t even for very
much. She supposes the gory details are already available on YouTube
for free, and besides, most Westerners don’t much care about anything
that happened in Africa.
Downstairs the maid is mopping the kitchen’s tiled floor. Veronica can
never remember her name. The maid smiles but keeps a respectful dis-
tance as Veronica starts the generator, makes coffee, takes some bread
from the bridge, and goes out to the verandah. Their
waves at her, and she waves back. At least the servants are treating her
normally again. Her housemates have reacted to her return with awk-
ward and increasing discomfort, as if Veronica might have contracted
some hideous and hyper-contagious disease in the Congo, become a

carrier of Ebola virus. Twice she has walked into the living room and
caught Belinda, Diane and Linda speaking in whispers.
Veronica sees a huge marabou stork standing by the hedges in the
corner of the property, feeding on something. Kampala is infested by
hundreds of these storks, carrion eaters with eight-foot wingspans and
sharp beaks the size of meat cleavers, standing on spindly legs to nearly
half Veronica’s height. Their scab-encrusted heads and the huge gullets
of pink flesh that dangled from their throats make them look obscenely
diseased, like pigeons grown to gargantuan proportions by a mad scient-
ist who didn’t care about cancerous side effects. But they keep Kampala
relatively free of refuse. Like those birds that clean crocodiles’ teeth.
Veronica has a sudden image of a dozen marabou storks feeding on
Derek’s headless corpse, and turns away.
After breakfast she lights a cigarette and considers the day ahead. The
heat makes her weak and listless. Maybe she will just sit in the house and
watch satellite TV all day, again. She feels like she should go somewhere,
do something; but the idea of arranging for a driver seems hideously
complex and oppressive, and their house is too far from any destination
to walk, at least in her current condition. Maybe she could walk to
Makerere University, but there’s really nothing there to do, and everyone
will stare at her.
Veronica returns to the living room, switches the television on, and
turns up the volume to drown out the generator. She channel-surfs
between CNN and BBC World for some time, paying little attention until
she flips to CNN and sees the graphic behind the news anchor has
changed to a picture of Osama bin Laden inside the outline of the Afric-
an continent. The caption says: AL-QAEDA IN AFRICA.
“Last week’s Congo hostagetaking may have been only the opening
skirmish in a new front on the war on terror,” the pretty Asian woman
says. “Several jihadist web sites have reported that Osama bin Laden’s
Al-Qaeda network has claimed responsibility for the attacks. Meanwhile,
American special forces, aided by Zimbabwean soldiers, are in hot pur-
suit of the terrorist leaders who escaped last week’s dramatic rescue of
five Western hostages. Three other hostages were murdered before the
rescue. CNN today has an exclusive interview with General Gideon
Gorokwe, the Zimbabwean general who commands the allied force. Ni-
gel Dickinson has the story.”
The picture cuts to two men in comfortable chairs. One is a grizzled,
ponytailed white man in khaki, the other, presumably General Gorokwe,
is built like a heavyweight boxer and dressed in an expensive suit. He

looks relaxed and comfortable. The décor behind them is blandly ex-
pensive, like a room in a luxury hotel.
“This is General Gideon Gorokwe,” the white man says to the camera.
His accent is British. “A general in the Zimbabwe army whose soldiers
have been based in the Congo for years. Last week, after Al-Qaeda kid-
napped eight Western hostages and took them into the Congo, General
Gorokwe volunteered to help American forces track them down, and his
soldiers were instrumental in their rescue. He did this even though Gen-
eral Gorokwe, like all senior Zimbabwe government and military fig-
ures, is under American sanctions that specifically prevent him from
travelling to or trading with America or Europe. General, let me just be-
gin with some background. Our viewers may be wondering, why exactly
are your soldiers in the Congo in the first place, a thousand miles away
from home?”
“Of course, Nigel, and thank you for this opportunity,” Gorokwe says
with a smile. His voice is warm and powerful, his mild accent almost ar-
istocratic. “As your know, the Congo has been wracked by civil strife for
many years. We came here as peacekeepers.”
“You volunteered your soldiers to help America fight Al-Qaeda even
though you personally are specifically targeted by American and
European sanctions. That’s a surprising decision. Could you explain your
“I would hope the reasons are obvious.” Gorokwe seems slightly sur-
prised. “It’s true my country has been the victim of American and
European sanctions, but the fight against terror is everyone’s fight
around the world, far more important than whatever differences we may
have. I see it as my moral duty to help America in this war. And I per-
sonally hope also to show Americans that Zimbabwe is not your enemy
and these sanctions are the result of a misunderstanding. I studied in
America, at the University of Michigan. I admire America. I am a friend
to America. And I truly believe Zimbabwe and America can be great
friends as well.”
“What does your President Mugabe think about all this? He has re-
peatedly condemned America in his speeches.”
Gorokwe’s face clouds slightly. “I have not yet consulted with him.
He’s presently away at a summit in China, and my command here is
quite independent. But I’m sure he would agree that we cannot allow the
scourge of Islamic terror to spread into Africa.”
“Thank you, General. For CNN, this is Nigel Dickinson.”

Veronica wants the interview to continue, she’d like to hear more from
the man who was so instrumental in her rescue, but CNN switches back
to the anchor desk and a new story about military deaths in Iraq. Rest-
less, Veronica turns off the television and wanders back out to the
Veronica wonders if staying in Kampala was such a good idea after all.
She feels like her Congo ordeal should have been followed by ceremon-
ies, press conferences, ticker-tape parades. Maybe it would have been, if
she had flown back to America. She could have been a guest on morning
shows and Larry King, big-name newspapers would have hounded her
for interviews, she might have had to hire a press agent. America loves
its victim-survivors. And she’s still wounded. Her cuts have scabbed
over but there’s plenty still wrong with her. Surely what she needs most
right now is rest and recuperation, a long vacation in a secure, comfort-
able place.
No: what she really needs is a time machine. A giant REWIND button
for her own life. She would go back a long way, if she had one. Eight
years. It would be so good to be twenty-four again, to live as if life was
an adventure and the world her playground, to live fearlessly, as if she
had forever in which to undo whatever mistakes she might make. When
she was twenty-four Veronica believed it was better to regret something
you had done than something you hadn’t. Now she knows better.
She was a better person when she was twenty-four. Hard to admit but
true. Not just tougher, but also kinder, more forgiving. Then for seven
years Veronica spent money without knowing or caring where it came
from, had her bed made and most of her meals prepared by servants,
lived in a world where inconveniences are outsourced. It made her lazi-
er, weaker, more selfish, less understanding, shade by incremental
shade. She didn’t even notice it happening until she was suddenly ex-
pelled from that world. Now when she looks at herself she hardly sees
the girl she used to be at all. Though maybe she’s come back a little in the
last two weeks. Maybe that’s the only good thing to have come out of the
When she was twenty-four the world seemed so full of opportunity, a
cornucopia of possibilities. Now Veronica feels like she only has one or
two chances left to get her life right. If Africa doesn’t work out, she
doesn’t know what she’ll do. She supposes that’s why Derek made such
an impression on her, even though she hardly knew him. It wasn’t just
that he was dashing and handsome, there was something about him that

hinted at an opportunity to get things right at last, some fairytale notion
of falling in love, for real this time, and living happily ever after.
Her cell phone rings. She looks at it, doesn’t recognize the number,
“Veronica? How are you?”
“Oh, hi,” she says, surprised, recognizing Jacob’s faintly nasal voice.
“Fine. You?”
“Pretty good. You busy?”
“Not really.”
“Want to come over? I’ve got something you might be interested in.”
She hesitates, not sure if she wants to see Jacob and be reminded of
Derek. “I’m kind of stranded today. No driver.”
“No problem. I’ll send mine.”
After a pause she says, “OK. Sure.” She can’t hide in her house forever.
Jacob’s driver is a quiet, bespectacled middle-aged man with a pot
belly named Henry. His vehicle is a sightly dented but clean Toyota.
Veronica wishes she had a driver of her own. During her marriage she
travelled everywhere in luxury automobiles. Danton had a Jaguar and a
chauffeur, a Ferrari, a Lamborghini. He loved driving hyperpowered
sports cars, and so did she, it was one of the few things they had in
Their route takes them through downtown Kampala’s densely packed
warren of shops, hotels, banks and government buildings, all perched on
the most central of the city’s seven hills. The Sheraton Hotel looms atop
this hill. On the other side of downtown they pass the concrete-walled
complex of the US Embassy: the workplace, if Prester was right, of the
person ultimately responsible for what happened to them in the Congo,
a traitor conspiring with terrorists for his or her own gain.
Then along the Jinja highway and through the vast shantytown that
surrounds Kampala, thousands of tiny, misshapen wooden huts leaning
drunkenly on one another, their tin roofs patched with garbage bags and
weighed down by rocks. Children play soccer on narrow, uneven dirt
roads, women sell food from cloths laid out on the muddy ground, men
sit or lean in the shade, doing nothing, as if waiting for a messiah to
come. When Veronica first came here it seemed an abyss of misery, but
witnessing the Congo’s real wretchedness has opened her eyes to its
merits. Most shantytown inhabitants do not live in interminable suffer-
ing. Some do – refugees, AIDS orphans – but most are just poor. Very
poor, desperately poor, and with little hope of ever being wealthier, but
it’s still much better than life in the Congo.

The New City complex stands on a hill above the shantytown like a
mirage in a desert. Henry continues past this gleaming, modern shop-
ping mall into a leafy and exclusive suburb. Jacob lives in an apartment
complex that wouldn’t look out of place in the West, except for its guard-
post and barbed-wire fences tastefully hidden by bushes and trees. His
look at her curiously. They’ve probably never seen such a dire-
woman before. It isn’t until she’s at the door to Jacob’s
apartment that she begins to wonder why he invited her.

Jacob says, “These are all of Derek’s phone calls.”
He looks from the computer screen to Veronica. Her expression is hard
to read; the half-healed cuts on her once-perfect face make her look like
an extra in a zombie movie. Jacob supposes he still resembles an acne-
scarred teenager himself. At least his goatee conceals the worst of the
He wishes he’d cleaned up his apartment a little before she came over.
It’s a nice enough place, two bedrooms all to himself, but it isn’t really
ready for guests. His bedroom is strewn with scattered clothes and
books, and the rest of the place is devoid of furniture except for his com-
puter desk and a couple of chairs. The white walls are bare, the kitchen
cabinets are empty, and most of his possessions are still piled in suitcases
and toiletry bags. He doesn’t even have bookcases yet: dozens of science-
fiction novels and technical texts sit in stacks on the carpeted floor of his
computer room.
Jacob looks back to his computer, and to the Google Map of Uganda
on its screen, a map half-covered by little orange and red balloons that
serve as place markers. Red outnumbers orange by a wide margin. Most
are clustered in Kampala, but there are a fair number out west, near the
Congo border, and a few orange balloons scattered in other places as
“Red is Derek,” he explains, “orange is the other participant, if they’re
on Mango.”
“Where did this come from?” She sounds more perplexed than
“Oh.” Jacob realizes he has been remiss in providing context. “Derek
had a Mango cell phone. Mango is a division of Telecom Uganda. I work
for Telecom Uganda and have admin access to their databases. And the
reason they hired me is there isn’t much I don’t know about mobile com-
munications systems. This is what I’ve got so far. Would have been more,
but I spent my first three days back basically fully zoned out.”
Veronica nods with understanding.

Jacob switches briefly to a black window full of orderly rows and
columns of text. “The records of every call Derek ever made or received,
including,” he points at columns on the screen, “the other number in-
volved in that call, Derek’s location, and if the other participant was also
had a Mango phone, their location as well. I converted this data to XML
and plugged it into a Google Map.

Et voila.
“Location? You can actually track cell phones? I thought that was just
in movies.”
“No, you can, for real. What happens is, we record which base stations
handled the call, and the signal strength they got from your phone. Base
stations are the cells, the fixed antennas your phone talks to. We know
their exact location. So if three or more were in range, we can triangulate
a phone to a single patch of real estate.”
“How close can you get?”
“Well, it varies.” Jacob decides not to get into too much detail.
“Depends on how many base stations and how far apart. Error margin is
probably somewhere from forty metres in downtown Kampala to half a
kilometre in rural areas. It’s not quite like the movies, you can’t actually
track individuals, because the closer you can get, the more densely popu-
lated the real estate, they got lost in the crowd. But you can get a pretty
good idea of their general vicinity.”
“And you have names too? You know who he called?”
“No. Unfortunately. Mostly. If they’re actual Mango subscribers, yes,
but almost every phone in Uganda is prepaid, not subscription. But I bet
if we look hard enough at this list we’ll find some interesting stuff.”
“This is why Derek brought you to Africa,” she says slowly.
“Exactly. To track the call records of whoever he was interested in.”
“You really think you can find out who set him up from this?”
“There’s a lot more I can do than just this. But it’s a good place to start.
Retrace his steps, work out who he’s been talking to.” Jacob switches
back to the Google Map. “Red is where Derek was during the call, orange
indicates the other person’s location, if it was a Mango-to-Mango call. I
can’t track people on other networks.”
“So that red marker up at the Congo border means Derek was out
He nods. “Yeah. Good example. Let’s take a closer look at that.”
He scrolls over and zooms in. One red and one orange balloon, both
labelled with question marks, float over the Semiliki district, right up
against the Congo border a good three hundred kilometers north of

Bwindi. Jacob clicks on each marker and examines the call data that pops
up on the side of the screen.
“He was there three weeks ago,” he reports. “Or at least his phone was.
And this orange one there, this other number, it’s Mango too, he called it
repeatedly over the last month.”
“Prester said there was a smuggling ring,” Veronica remembers. “From
the Congo to Uganda. And Semiliki’s right near the border.”
“What do the question marks mean?”
“Geographical uncertainty. If there’s only two base stations in range of
a phone, then you can only track it to one of two locations, where their
circles of coverage meet. But Semiliki is way out there. Only one base
“So we can’t tell where exactly he or the other phone was.”
“Probably not. Unless – let me check.” Jacob switches back to the black
window full of text, and opens up an SSH connection to Telecom
Uganda’s master database server. His fingers rattle with machine-gun
speed over his keyboard as he composes a moderately complex database
query, calling up the exact details of all calls involving Derek made near
He runs the query. Telecom Uganda’s servers ponder the question for
a few seconds; then rows of numbers begin to scroll rapidly down across
the screen. Jacob persuses them. After a moment he grunts with surprise.
Both the handsets in question, Derek’s and the other one, were used far
enough away from Semiliki station that their signals regularly arrived
twenty microseconds out of sync from their allotted timeslot. That’s
something. Radio waves move at the speed of light: three hundred thou-
sand kilometres per second, aka six kilometres per twenty microseconds.
There’s no way to work out the handsets’ direction from the station when
they were used, but Jacob knows they were exactly six kilometers away.
He relays this information to Veronica, and adds, “Semiliki’s a small
town, more like a village, there’s nothing else out there. And the base
station’s right in town. So what was Derek doing that far out?”
“Maybe that’s the smugglers’ hideout?” Veronica suggests tentatively.
“Maybe Derek went out there, and that’s how he found out too much?”
Jacob frowns. It sounds a little too neat. “Maybe. I don’t know. It’s not
like a secret terrorist cell would have called up a white boy and invited
him out to come look at their operation. Tell you what. Let’s take a look
at what’s out there.”

Jacob launches Google Earth. A new window opens up on his com-
puter screen, and within it an image of the world as seen from orbit. He
copies and pastes data from the other window, instructing the software
to traverse the six-kilometre loop around the coordinates of the Semiliki
base station. Veronica murmurs with surprise as the image zooms in to-
wards the earth, as if the window was a camera on a falling satellite.
The virtual eye in the sky swoops downwards from orbit, towards
Africa, into Uganda. They see roads, forests, clouds over the bristling
Ruwenzori mountains south of Semiliki, the blue expanse of Lake Albert
to the north, the gray grid of Fort Portal. The virtual camera levels off a
few thousand feet above ground and begins to fly in a tight loop. Jacob
smiles at Veronica’s surprise.
“This is the six-kilometre radius around Semiliki base station,” he ex-
plains. “What you’re seeing are real recent satellite photos, stitched to-
gether automagically into a single landscape. Pretty cool, eh? It’s like
having your very own Pentagon war room, for free.”
Hilly terrain scrolls past, and is interrupted by what looks like a wide
red scar in the green earth, a blotchy discontinuity several square kilo-
meters in size. The resolution is too vague to see details, but within the
red smear, oblong green and gray shapes are arranged in vaguely geo-
metric patterns that suggest human habitation.
“What’s that?” she asks.
Jacob freezes and peers at the display. “Must be some kind of town.
Weird. Deeply weird. It looks way bigger than Semiliki, but it’s not on
any of the maps. Let’s do a quick web search on latitude and longitude
and see what we get.”
He launches a web browser.
“Fast connection,” Veronica observes. “Mine’s really slow.”
“Yeah. There’s no fiber link to east Africa yet, everything’s through
satellite, it’s a pain in the ass, high latency. But this computer has a DSL
connection to the hub, and I’ve given my personal data the highest prior-
ity on their satellite link. Making this literally the fastest Internet connec-
tion in Uganda.”
He goes to and types in the geographical coordinates of
that mysterious settlement near Semiliki. Dogpile delegates the request
to all of the world’s major search engines, and assembles the collective
results into a single list. The first entry is entitled
UNHCR Semiliki
“UNHCR?” Jacob asks, perplexed.

“I know that one.” Veronica leans forward, interested. “United Nations
High Commission for Refugees. It must be a refugee camp. Didn’t Susan
say the camp she worked at was in Semiliki?”
“Did she? But that’s not Susan’s number.” Jacob doublechecks. “No.
She’s not on Mango. This is another phone. Someone else at that camp.”
“Someone else.” Veronica considers. “Maybe Susan knows who. Maybe
Derek didn’t invite her to Bwindi just because she’s blonde and pretty.
Maybe she was a lead.”
“Huh.” Jacob leans back instinctively to think, winces as the pressure
causes the five whip wounds on his back to flare up, and hunches for-
ward again. He closes his eyes and tries to arrange all the facts swim-
ming in his mind, order them into some logical sequence. “OK. So Derek
was investigating a smuggling ring and rumours they were connected to
terrorists. He invites you and Susan to Bwindi because he wanted to
make friends and sound you out, Susan because she worked at the camp,
you because of Danton.”
“Where else?” Veronica asks. “Where were his other calls? Where in
Jacob switches back to the map full of balloons, and zooms in on the
Google street map of greater Kampala. There are markers almost every-
where in the city, both red and orange, but a few dense clusters stand
“This is here,” Jacob says, indicating a little cluster on the east side of
the city. “Calls to my phone. This is Derek’s apartment, by the Sheraton.”
A dense clump of red near the center of town. “And here’s his office.” A
thick cloud of red and orange to the north. “Those orange markers in his
office, that other number, that must be Prester.”
“What about this?” Veronica asks, pointing at a pile of orange markers
a little south of downtown, between the Sheraton and the taxi park.
“No idea. They’re all the same number. Not Prester, not the Semiliki
number, someone else.” He checks back against the raw data. “He started
calling that number three months ago, and he’s been calling them ever
since, a couple times a week. What do you think that means?”
“I don’t know. None of this makes any sense to me.” She looks at him.
“Why are you showing me all this?”
He hesitates. “I thought you’d be interested.”
“I am, I guess. But why not take it to Prester or the US Embassy or
something? Or did you already?”
“No. We can’t do that.”
She blinks. “Why not?”

“Think about it. Derek was set up by someone he was working for. Or
with. I take this to the wrong person, they find out what I can do, they’ll
cover their trail and I’ll just be getting myself into more trouble. I go to
the Canadian or British embassy, they’ll just pass the word on to the
USA. The real reason I’m showing you is because you’re the only person
I know I can trust.”
Veronica shakes her head. “You’re being paranoid. I’m sure Prester or
Strick –”
“You know what Derek was doing in the last couple months before we
got grabbed? Investigating Prester.”
Veronica stares at him.
“Yeah. Some big boss in the CIA, I don’t know who, Derek never told
me details, found out there was something rotten in the state of Uganda
and sent Derek to investigate. When I got here Derek had me track
Prester’s phone calls. And in the last week before we went to Bwindi,
you know what? He had me tracking Strick’s calls too.”
“But – no. Not Prester.” Veronica thinks of what he said to them in
Goma, in the lava field. “He told us what was happening. He was trying
to help us.”
“Or he was telling us what he wanted us to believe. Plus a few things
we would have figured out or found out by ourselves anyways, but we
heard them from him first, so it looks like he’s a good guy. And while
he’s at it he just so happens to warn us to stop poking around and get the
hell out of Africa for our own good. Just like Strick. They both wanted us
“Maybe because they want us safe,” Veronica points out.
“Maybe not.”
“They don’t even like each other.”
“They’re intelligence professionals,” Jacob says. “They know how to
seem like something they’re not.”
“You sound totally paranoid.”
“Only the paranoid survive.”
“Come on,” she objects. “This is crazy. I mean, even if you’re right, like
you say, all you’re doing is just getting yourself into more trouble. You
want to know what I think? I think you should stop playing Sherlock
Homes and go home.”
“He was my best friend,” Jacob says sharply. “Someone set him up.
And us too. Someone
him, someone he was working with. I’m
not just walking away.”
A long moment of silence passes.

“You seriously think Prester and Strick might be working with Al-
Qaeda,” Veronica says, putting as much incredulity into her voice as she
” I doubt whoever it is knew their smuggler friends were in bed with
Al-Qaeda until after we were taken. And now they’ll be extra desperate
to cover their tracks. Maybe it’s just one of them. Maybe neither and
Prester was telling the truth, it’s somebody at the embassy.” Jacob
pauses. “Derek thought your ex-husband was involved. There might be
something there.”
“Like what?”
“I don’t know,” he admits.
“Did Derek tell you about Danton?”
“No. All he told me was what phone numbers he wanted information
for. He wouldn’t give me details, he said it wasn’t safe.” Jacob spits out
the last few words angrily. “If he’d told me, maybe I would have seen it
coming. Or at least now I’d know what he knew.”
“Or whoever set him up would have found out you knew too much
too,” Veronica points out. “And you would have been number two on the
chopping block.”
Jacob pauses. She’s right. Derek’s secrecy may have kept him alive.
“So what are you planning to do?” Veronica asks.
“What we need is evidence,” he says. Veronica raises her eyebrows
skeptically at the
. “Once we’ve got hard actual evidence of who it was,
then we can go to the embassy, take it straight to the ambassador, make
it public.”
“You really think you’ll get hard evidence out of this?” She points to
the computer screen. “Tracking a bunch of phone calls?”
“I think we’re finding lots of stuff out already.”
“Stuff that doesn’t make any sense.”
“It will eventually,” he says confidently. “We just have to be methodic-
al. Gather data, make a hypothesis, test it against the evidence, repeat
until understanding is attained. The scientific method. It’s cracked prob-
lems a lot harder than this one.”
Veronica shakes her head, unconvinced. “Jacob, you want to know
what I think, you should just go home. Maybe both of us should.”
Jacob pauses. He can’t help but wonder if she’s right. Living in danger,
investigating mysterious conspiracies – that was Derek’s line of work,
not his, he’s just a techie, of unusual ability to be sure, but he’s no swash-
buckling superspy. It’s true he came to Uganda to help Derek, and it was
exciting knowing he was really working for the CIA, it felt like a big,

wonderful adventure, like being in a movie, a supporting character to
Derek’s starring role. But Jacob never dreamed he might find himself in
real danger. Until Bwindi. Until it turned into a horror movie.
The safe thing to do is to stop investigating and hope the authorities
can find Derek’s killer. But he can’t turn his back on the murder of his
best friend. It wouldn’t be right. It wouldn’t be
. Jacob has al-
ways thought of himself as someone who would do the right thing, in
extremis. He supposes most people do. But most people never actually
have to find out. He does, and right now. His whole life, quiet and ordin-
ary until now, has in a way just been a prelude to this. What he chooses
to do now is the measure of who he is. And if he fails, if he gives up and
goes home, he will feel that shadow hanging over him for the rest of his
life. He has to at least try.
Jacob tries to think of some way to convince Veronica to stay and help.
He can trust her. He doesn’t want to have to deal with this alone. And if
Derek was right, Veronica’s ex-husband is somehow involved in all this.
But no brilliant insight or debating tactic that might convince her comes
to mind.
Veronica’s gaze drifts back to Jacob’s computer, to the Google Map full
of markers that indicate where Derek placed and received his phone
“Wait a minute,” she says, sitting up straight, suddenly alarmed.
He blinks. “What?”
“That terrorist phone Susan picked up. By the satellite dish. Remember
what Prester said? It had two hundred phone numbers for Westerners in
Congo and west Uganda.”
Jacob nods. “And?”
“So they could track those phones like you tracked Derek’s calls, right?
He hesitates. “If they had access to the databases, yes. But like I said,
the higher the geographical precision, the denser the population. You
can’t locate specific individuals, they inevitably get lost in the crowd.”
“Not in Africa. Not if they’re white and the rest of the crowd is black.”
Jacob opens his mouth but says nothing at first. She’s right. The in-
dustry truism that cell phones can’t be use to track down their owners is
in this case false. White people stand out in Africa, especially rural
Africa, like pink paint on black canvas.
“You think they’re planning to –” He shakes his head. The idea is too
huge to accept all at once. “You think Al-Qaeda are going to try and hunt
down all those people. Using their cell phones. That’s, no, that’s crazy.

How would they get access to the databases?” Jacob answers the ques-
tion himself. “Oh, no. Holy shit. Through their partner in the CIA.”
They stare at one another.
“Derek thought whoever was he investigating had an in at a phone
company,” Jacob says. “The first thing he did was have me make sure
Mango was safe for him to use, check that nobody else was tracking his
“We have to tell someone,” Veronica says. She looks shaken.
“Don’t panic. Not yet anyways. It’s just a theory. And I’m sure the
powers that be have thought of it too by now.” Though Jacob is not at all
sure of this. “We don’t have any evidence. And I still can’t believe a CIA
agent would work with Al-Qaeda.”
“They would if they were being blackmailed,” Veronica suggests.
“Help track these phones or we reveal how you were the smuggler who
set up the kidnapping and murder of your own agent plus two other
Jacob nods slowly.
“Two hundred people. A lot of them, like Peace Corps types, out in
rural areas, totally on their own. My God, they’ll kill them. Or take them
hostage first, like they took us. We have to do something. We have to go
to someone.”
He shakes his head. “With what? We have zero evidence. Just theory
and supposition. And go to who? If we pick the wrong person, if they
find out we’re chasing their trail and I was working with Derek all
along…” He hesitates. “They might come after us. They probably would.
Whoever it is, they’re not fucking around, we know that already.”
Veronica swallows. “So what do we do?”
Jacob looks back at the computer screen and considers. “There’s still
too many unknowns. We might just be jumping at shadows here. I say
we try to find out more before we do anything.”
This time Veronica lets the
pass unchallenged. “How?”
“Go back to plan A. Retrace Derek’s steps, find out what he knew.” Ja-
cob points to the cluster of orange markers on the map near Kampala’s
taxi park. “I’d like to know who this is, for starters. Must be a friend of
Derek’s, they talked a couple times a week, every week. Frequently im-
mediately before or after calling the number in Semiliki. What do you
say we go pay them a visit?”
Veronica looks at him uneasily.
“Come on,” Jacob says. “Downtown Kampala, broad daylight, a friend
of Derek’s. It’s not dangerous in the slightest. I promise.”

Downtown Kampala is an area of wide, scarred boulevards intersected
by narrow side streets, clogged by choking squalls of traffic and dense
clouds of pedestrians, lined by a dizzying array of African commerce:
nyama choma
street-meat braziers,
motorcycle taxis, newspaper
hawkers, bakeries, bookstores, Internet cafés, pharmacies, stationary
shops, cell-phone stores, fast-food stalls. The grassy meridians of the
boulevards are fenced by ankle-high barbed wire. Huge concrete mono-
liths rise above the retail level, banks and government buildings. Posters
advertise Sleeping Beauty cosmetics and Celtel phones.
“I guess this is it,” Jacob says, looking up at the rotting concrete stairs
that lead upwards beneath the hand-painted sign HOTEL SUN CITY,
then down to the hiptop computer in his hand, and the tiny Google Map
of Kampala on its screen. He can’t imagine why Derek would have had
anything to do with this place, but according to the hiptop’s GPS receiv-
er, the Hotel Sun City is the real-world establishment that best overlaps
the cloud of orange dots that correspond to Derek’s twice-weekly calls to
a handset located this region.
Jacob closes the hiptop’s clamshell case and looks around. His shirt is
already damp with sweat. The street they are on is one of the busiest in
Kampala. Buzzing pedestrian traffic, aggressive sidewalk vendors, pro-
truding metal signs, dangling vines of casually strung electrical cables,
and occasional stands of bamboo scaffolding combine to make walking a
careful business. The opposite side of the boulevard, across a churning
river of smog-belching traffic, is occupied by Kampala’s central taxi park,
a gargantuan and mindnumbingly busy triangle of dirt occupied by hun-
dreds if not thousands of
, East Africa’s ubiquitous minivan
shared-taxis, and their associated passengers, drivers, vendors and as-
karis. On reflection Jacob can think of two advantages to this location:
anonymity and quick getaways.
“All right,” Veronica says doubtfully. “Let’s take a look and get this
over with.”

Jacob follows her up the cracked and uneven stairs, and despite the
uncertainty of their situation, as he climbs he can’t help but be distracted
by Veronica’s trim, swaying hips. He’s half-amused at himself, half-
pleased that life is coming back to him; he hasn’t thought about sex since
the Congo, but clearly he is recovering fast, and Veronica is easily the
most beautiful woman he’s ever spent an extended amount of time with.
Not that he has any illusions anything is going to happen between them.
He’s a geek; Veronica is a former model who married a multimillionaire.
Jacob is ruefully aware that he is way out of her league.
They ascend to a glassed-in security box manned by a woman who
awards them a hostile glare.
“We want to see a room,” Jacob improvises, “we might stay here
The receptionist frowns suspiciously and passes him a key. “Number
307. Ten minutes.”
They advance into the hotel’s labyrinthine interior. It’s much bigger
than it looks on the outside, six stories tall and occupying almost the
whole block. The interior arrangements are gloomy and bizarre: a half-
dozen interior stairways connect only two or three stories apiece, hall-
ways terminate at doorless walls, benches and chairs sit in dark alcoves.
Water drips from leaky pipes. Except for themselves the halls are eerily
empty. Jacob is reminded of
They glance into Room 307 out of curiosity. It’s barely big enough for
its rickety bed. There are roaches on the filthy floor and the even filthier
mattress. The mosquito net is full of holes. The shower is a nozzle set in
bare concrete, the toilet has no lid, and there isn’t even a light, just a
bundle of torn wires protruding from a hole in the roof beside a fan that
doesn’t work.
“I sure hope it’s cheap,” Jacob says, appalled. He can’t imagine any less
desirable place to stay in Kampala. Even a shantytown hut would be bet-
ter than this.
Veronica closes her eyes. She is breathing hard.
He looks at her. “You okay?”
“Fine,” she says without opening her eyes. “I just don’t like tight
“Oh.” A few seconds pass. Jacob doesn’t know what to say. “Maybe
you should wait outside, or -”
“I’m fine. It’s no big deal.” She takes a deep breath, opens her eyes,
looks around again and shakes her head. “Look at this place. Why would
Derek -”

“I have no idea. And not just once. A couple times a week for six
months.” He hesitates, then draws out his hiptop again. It doubles as a
phone. “One way to find out.”
“You’re going to call them?” Veronica looks around nervously. “I don’t
know if that’s such a good idea.”
Jacob understands her reluctance. He doesn’t particularly want to
make contact with anyone here either. This rotting wreck of a hotel feels
like the kind of place where people die. But if they turn back at just the
implication of danger they’ll never uncover the truth. He tells himself to
think of this as a test, like an obstacle in a video game.
“It’s just a phone call,” he says, trying to convince himself as much as
Veronica, and he dials.
After three rings a woman answers in a breathy voice. “Hello?”
“Hello,” Jacob says. “Hi, um, who am I speaking to?”
“My name is Lydia.”
“Hello, Lydia. Where can I find you?”
“The Hotel Sun City, darling. Room 211. Come by any time.”
Jacob blinks with surprise. “Room 211. OK. I, I guess I’ll be there soon.”
He hangs up and looks at Veronica. “Well. That was easy.”
“Too easy.”
“Come on. It’s broad daylight. She sounded harmless.”
Veronica reluctantly acquiesces. They find their way to Room 211 after
a few missteps. Jacob stops in front of it and looks back at Veronica. He
is nervous now. She’s right, this is too easy. She shrugs but says nothing.
He takes a deep breath and knocks on the door.
The woman who answers the door is tall and remarkably beautiful, ex-
cept for her oddly bloodshot eyes. She makes Jacob think of Iman, the
model. She is heavily made up, with braided hair, in high heels, a leather
miniskirt, and a form-fitting long-sleeved tiger-striped shirt. The room
behind her is relatively clean, and empty but for a shabby bed. It smells
of perfume.
“Lydia?” Jacob asks.
The woman nods. She seems surprised to see them.
“I just called.”
“Yes. How did you get my number?” Her voice is low and doesn’t
sound Ugandan, the accent is more French.
“From Derek.”
Lydia’s face flickers. Then she smiles broadly. “Oh yes. A naughty man
who likes
naughty girls. Girls like me. But I’m sorry, I don’t enter-
tain couples.” She frowns at Veronica.

“Oh,” Jacob says. Embarrassed understanding floods into his mind.
“Oh. Right. I’m sorry. I think there was a misunderstanding. We should
be going.”
“Perhaps you should. Today is very busy for me. I don’t like having
my time wasted.”
Lydia closes the door. Jacob retreats hastily, and Veronica follows. He
can feel his face burning.
“I guess that explains it,” he says, speaking quickly. “Maybe we
shouldn’t have, uh, shouldn’t have pried. I mean, into his private life. I’m
surprised. But I guess, you know, it was hard for him to maintain
healthy relationships, with his lifestyle, and I’m sure he’s hardly the first
guy to move to the Third World and let himself go a little, and he was in
Thailand before he came here, I’m sure after a little while it’s just
“Normal?” Veronica asks. She sounds amused despite herself.
“Well, not actually normal, but I can see, not see, but I can imagine
how after a while it would seem that way, I mean, if you live an abnor-
mal life,” he flounders. “Let’s just go home, okay?”
They are at the top of the hallway that leads to the bulletproof recep-
tion desk when Veronica suddenly stops walking and says, “Wait a
Jacob stops too. “What?”
“Her eyes.”
“What about her eyes?”
“She wasn’t hung over. Those weren’t burst capillaries. Those were
. Kaposi’s sarcoma.”
“AIDS,” Veronica says softly. “Late-stage. She’s very sick. Probably
“AIDS? And – and Derek was sleeping with her?”
“That’s what I’m wondering.” She pauses. “Any chance he was HIV
Jacob shakes his head, astonished. “No. He had a bag of his own blood
in his fridge, for transfusions, so he wouldn’t get HIV if he had to go to a
hospital here.”
“Then he wouldn’t have been having sex with a prostitute with
Kaposi’s sarcoma, would he? He would have known. She must have oth-
er lesions on her too, it wouldn’t just be her eyes, that’d be very unusual.”

“I wouldn’t have thought Derek would ever have slept with a prosti-
tute at all.” Jacob isn’t sure exactly how true this is. Derek never exactly
treated women respectfully, and he spent a year in Thailand, world cap-
ital of prostitution, just before coming to Africa. But at least he never
talked about it.
Veronica turns around. “We let her get rid of us too easy.”
* * *
“My rule for couples has not changed in five minutes,” Lydia says. Her
voice is cool and distant, but Veronica sees wariness in her eyes.
“We’d like to ask you some questions about Derek.” Veronica indicates
Jacob. “He was Derek’s best friend.”
Lydia frowns. “He has never spoken to me of any friends.”
“What did he speak to you about?”
“I think it is time for you to go.”
“We’re not going anywhere until you start talking.”
Lydia takes a step back and begins to close the door. Jacob jumps for-
ward and interposes himself before it closes.
“If I raise my voice my protectors will come running here in two
minutes!” Lydia says sharply. “With knives and guns! They will -”
Jacob says, “Derek’s dead.”
Lydia stops in mid-expostulation and stares at him as if slapped.
“Haven’t you heard?” Veronica asks, amazed. “It’s been all over the
news. Especially here. TV, newspapers, everything. He was one of the
tourists kidnapped in Bwindi and taken into the Congo. So were we. We
were with him.”
Lydia shakes her head faintly. “I do not read the newspapers.”
“But he should have called you by now, shouldn’t he?” Veronica
guesses. “Doesn’t he call you every week?”
Lydia says nothing, but her expression is confirmation enough.
“I’m sorry,” Jacob says gently. “It’s true. He’s gone.”
After a moment she asks, desperately, “If you say you were his friend –
then what was the name of the girl who gave him his tattoo?”
“Selima. In Sarajevo. She died the next day. There was a picture in his
Lydia stares at Jacob and Veronica as if they are not just messengers
but avatars of death. Then she sags backwards and sits down hard on the
bed. Veronica sees for the first time how frail and sickly she is, how

Veronica enters the room. Jacob follows her and starts to close the
door, but she grabs it before it shuts, it’s bad enough being in this tiny
room with an open door – bad, but Veronica doesn’t feel in danger of a
panic attack. She’s too intent on what she’s doing, they’re so close to find-
ing out something important, she can feel it.
“You did something for him, didn’t you?” Veronica asks Lydia, in the
soft voice she used with anxious patients when she was a nurse. “Not
sex. You were a friend. You did him favours.”
Lydia doesn’t answer.
“We’re his friends too. We’re trying to find out who was responsible
for his death.”
“What will I do?” Lydia asks plaintively. “What can I do?”
“Was he supporting you?”
She laughs bitterly. “What do you think? Who else would have? I am
illegal, from the Congo. I have no family here. I am too weak to work, I
am dying. I have no clients any more, everyone can see I am sick. Derek
brought me the new medicines, but it is too late for me, they don’t work
for me. He paid for this room, for my food, my life, everything. Without
him I have nothing. I will die alone on the rubbish heap.”
“We’ll take care of you,” Jacob says. “Trust us.”
“Trust you.” She sounds like she wants to spit.
Veronica says nothing.
When Lydia eventually speaks there is an awful resignation in her
voice, as if she knows these are her last words. “He kept another room
here. He came twice a week. He pretended that he came for me. Some-
times he brought his computer, but it is not there now. Yesterday I
looked to see if he had come. It is almost empty now. A mobile phone,
some papers.”
“A secret office,” Jacob breathes. “No kidding. Let’s go see this cell
“And papers,” Veronica says.
Jacob nods perfunctorily, as if paper is only an antiquated

“It’s a Mango phone,” Jacob reports happily, as he types on his computer
and interprets the results that scroll across his screen. They have taken
the fruits of their investigation – a wrinkled notebook and a cheap Nokia
phone – back to his apartment. “Activated three months ago. Involved in
a very small set of calls. None to me, none to Prester, none to that refugee
camp, no overlap whatsoever with calls from his other phone. He made
sure this one was totally separate. Calls to a Celtel number in Jinja, and
get this, to a bunch of international numbers. Tanzania, Kenya, Zimbab-
we, and the USA. Virginia area code. He received calls from the Zimbab-
we number too. Those were the only incoming calls.”
Veronica stops leafing through the spiral-bound notebook. “Prester.”
She shows him the notebook. The front and back pages are empty; but
a single page of enigmatic point-form notes is hidden in the middle,
written in a close, spiderlike hand.
“That’s Derek’s writing,” Jacob confirms. “Know it anywhere.”
The single sheet of scribbled notes says:
-Prester? Langley thinks yes
-plausible: method, motive, opportunity
-plus he’s long-term consultant to Kisembe
-$50 mil exports, “negligible” production, one conclusion
-Coltan too
-Ultimately minority owned by Selous Holdings – D.
-Who is Zanzibar Sam? R. says arriving Kampala in a few weeks
-Need second-source confirmation – wait on L.
-Zanzibar – connection to Muslim world – Arab gold buyers in Congo
-interahamwe smuggling unquestionable, Islamists only hearsay
-Western connection likewise, likely through deniable cutouts
-Freeze bought-off locals’ bank accounts, see who they call?
-Need. Hard. Evidence.

“It’d be nice to find something that actually answers more questions
than it asks.” Veronica gloomily rereads the notes for the third time.
“Zanzibar Sam? D and R and L? Kisembe? Langley?”
“We’ll make sense of it,” Jacob reassures her. “We just have to be meth-
odical about it. The scientific method.”
Veronica frowns. This doesn’t feel anything like science to her. It feels
more like trying to assemble a jigsaw puzzle with most of the pieces
missing, without even knowing what it’s meant to represent.
“Langley,” Jacob says, rereading the notes. “Of course. That one I
know. Langley, Virginia. CIA headquarters.”
“How do you know?”
“I watch a lot of movies. Kisembe sounds like something we can
Google.” He opens a web browser, types, reads, nods. “A Ugandan gold
mine. Which Derek thought was being used to hide gold smuggling.
Minority owned by Selous Holdings.” He types again, and frowns.
“Which is not Googleable. Maybe on Edgar, or some other financial data-
base -”
“No,” Veronica says suddenly. “No, you won’t find anything. Selous is
based in the Cayman Islands.”
Jacob turns and stares at her. “How do you know?”
“Because I remember Danton talking about it. With business associ-
ates. At dinners and conferences. It was one of – I don’t know if it was
his, exactly, but it was a company he was involved with.” She stares at
scrawled next to
D for Danton. That D is her con-
Selous Holdings.
nection to Derek, the reason he invited her to Bwindi, the reason she was
abducted, the reason she is here.
“L for Lydia?” Jacob suggests. “Maybe she knows more than she’s
“I think she would have told us,” Veronica says faintly. She feels dizzy.
“I guess there’s a lot of Ls out there. Don’t suppose you got Mister
Strick’s first name, back in Goma?”
She shakes her head. She feels warm fury beginning to burn inside her.
Danton. This is all his fault. Their kidnapping, her week of horror,
Derek’s death, whatever the terrorists are plotting now – none of this
would have happened if it wasn’t for her ex-husband’s squalid, criminal
“Wish we knew when this was written,” Jacob muses.
Veronica takes a deep breath and looks back at Derek’s notes with new
resolve. After a moment she says, “Does it really matter? Never mind all

the complicated stuff. He was set up by whoever was making money off
the smugglers. Look. First name on the sheet. First word. Prester.”
Jacob inclines his head slowly. “Yeah. Yes, it all makes sense. Derek
gets sent here to look for evidence that Al-Qaeda are working with in-
terahamwe, smuggling stuff in from the Congo. Then he starts suspect-
ing his new partner is working with the smugglers too. That explains
why he sets up a secret office in the Sun City. He went out to that
refugee camp because that’s where the smuggling happens. He makes
some international calls from the Sun City and finds out that your ex’s
company is taking the gold and coltan, pretending they mined it here
legally, and exporting it. With the help of some high-up Ugandans, see
that last line? ‘Bought-off locals?’ And remember how Prester said his
other clients were mining companies?” He shakes his head angrily. “Fifty
million a year. That’s a lot of money. Plenty of profits for everyone. Ex-
cept the Congolese slaves, and who gives a fuck about them, right?
Derek gets too close, Prester finds out, and gets his interahamwe friends
to grab us all in Bwindi. Maybe he knew they were best friends forever
with Al-Qaeda, maybe not. Anyway they outsource it to
Gabriel and Patrice and company. It all makes perfect sense. Prester. It
was all Prester all along.”
Veronica thinks of Prester in Goma, of the genuine grief in his voice
when he talked about Derek. Suddenly she isn’t so sure. It feels like
they’re forcing together two pieces that don’t quite fit. “Except there’s no
“It’s all circumstantial,” Jacob admits. “But it all points his way.”
“Yes, but – I don’t know. I don’t think Prester is the type.”
What do you know about the type?”
She smiles bitterly. “I was married to one, remember?”
Jacob doesn’t say anything.
“Maybe we should go to Strick,” she suggests.
“No. For all we know Strick is in on it too. Even if he isn’t, like you
said, we don’t actually have any evidence yet. All we have is a hypothes-
is, now we have to test it. We need hard data before we can go to the au-
thorities. Something inarguable. Like he says here. Hard evidence.
“Proof? How?”
He says, “Prester has a Mango phone.”
* * *

“I can’t believe you can do this,” Veronica says.
Jacob shrugs. “A cell phone is just a two-way digital radio. The service
provider controls the software. I have admin access to the service
provider’s systems. We can do pretty much anything we want.”
“But even when it’s not turned on?”
“Oh, it’s on. It just looks off. From now on, when Prester pushes the off
button, his screen goes dead but his phone stays active. It’ll burn through
juice faster than a phone that’s really off, he’ll have to recharge it more
often, and the battery might stay warm. But the new Razr has good bat-
tery life and heat sinks, he probably won’t even notice. His own fault for
having a flashy new phone, really. I don’t think I could do this to an old
phone, their OS can’t handle it.”
Veronica shakes her head wonderingly.
“It’s voice-activated, too,” Jacob explains. He seems very proud of the
surveillance software he has uploaded to Prester’s cell phone. “Basically
it comes to life when it hears something loud enough to understand.
Otherwise it would chew through the battery in just a few hours, and
we’d have to sift through endless junk. There’s enough junk as is.”
That much is true. They have already spent most of an hour listening
to Prester flirt with a girl at the post office, order a coffee somewhere,
discuss Arsenal’s Champions League prospects with an opinionated
Chelsea fan, and complain to Uganda Online about DSL failures: not ex-
actly the stuff of thrilling espionage stories.
“I looked up Derek’s calls from his secret phone,” Jacob says. “The ones
to Tanzania were actually to Zanzibar. It’s like a province of Tanzania,
but it’s all Muslim. His notes talk about Zanzibar Sam, and Zanzibar as a
gateway to the Islamic world. I figure this Zanzibar Sam is the link
between the interahamwe and Al-Qaeda.”
“Makes sense.”
“Yeah. Almost everything makes sense. Almost.”
“What doesn’t?”
Jacob says, “Zimbabwe.”
Veronica looks at him, confused. “Zimbabwe? What do you mean?”
“It just keeps popping up. Derek’s calls to and from Zimbabwe. Those
were the only calls he received on that phone. Those soldiers that res-
cued us, and their general. Susan used to work in Zimbabwe. And
Danton’s mother was born there, right?”
“Sort of. It was called Rhodesia back then.”
Veronica tries to remember what she knows about Zimbabwe. Until a
decade ago it was wealthy and prosperous nation, by African standards.

Then its president, Robert Mugabe, went crazy and threw out almost all
its white landowners, their farms were ruined and disused, the violence
stopped tourists from coming, and Zimbabwe’s economy nosedived.
Now it has the lowest life expectancy in all of Africa.
“Maybe it’s just coincidence. But it’s kind of weird. I was thinking of
calling that number there, seeing who answered.”
“You think that’s a good idea? What are you going to say to them?”
“I don’t know. Now that Prester’s back I figure we should wait on him.
He’s our best bet for a breakthrough.”
A long silence falls.
“I went to the Speke Hotel for a beer last night,” Jacob says. “Start won-
dering about what this place was like when Amin was in charge. I read
about him before I came here. He ran the whole country into the ground.
You couldn’t even get candles or light bulbs, so almost everything was
dark at night. And in the day they didn’t have air conditioning, so they
kept all the windows open in the government buildings. They’d torture
people to death every day there, and the windows were open, they had
to be, otherwise it was too hot to torture. People sitting in the fancy ho-
tels across the street, diplomats and mining executives and journalists
and so on, they’d hear the screaming, and they’d just keep on eating their
lunch. Crazy, eh?”
Veronica grimaces.
“The more I know about this continent, the crazier it gets. Have you
actually gotten to know any Africans? I mean, personally?”
She thinks a moment. “No. Not really. Lots of expats and NGO work-
ers. I live in a bubble. We all do. There are lots of Africans at work,
they’re big on local hires, but I don’t really talk to them.”
“Did you notice Henry has a furball dangling from his rearview mir-
ror? Like fuzzy dice. He says it’s
, magic, a fetish, keeps the car safe.
And he’s a Jehovah’s Witness. I figure, OK, basically no formal educa-
tion, ignorant cultural superstition, right? But these African guys at
work, they’re Western-educated, university degrees, super-smart. I star-
ted talking to them about it, and they got all weird. Like scared. Changed
the subject, walked away.”
“Athanase had a little fur pouch around his neck,” Veronica
“Derek said it was a big deal around here. Black magic and witch doc-
tors. No one talks about it to Westerners, but it’s a huge, huge influence.
And tribes too, tribal politics, their tribe matters to them a lot more than
their country. Why shouldn’t it, it was Europeans who mapped out their

borders, right? Derek said a lot of the things that apparently don’t make
sense in Africa, at least to our eyes, are actually down to black magic and
tribal politics.”
“Yeah, well, he’s dead now, isn’t he?”
Eric stares at her.
“Sorry. I don’t want to talk about Derek. I know you were his best
friend. I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay.”
“I hardly knew him, right? I shouldn’t care.” Veronica sighs, decides to
confess. “I had this monster crush on him. I didn’t even want to admit it,
not even to myself, but, like, the morning after I met him, I woke up with
part of my mind imagining our future together. That kind of crush. You
know what I mean?” Jacob nods. “Like he was the man I should have
married. It was crazy. I’m sure it was just, I don’t know, rebound, psy-
chological reaction to divorce, whatever. But it felt like he was all I ever
should have wanted in the first place.”
Jacob shrugs. “Well. If it’s any consolation, he was a great guy, but I
never thought he treated his girlfriends particularly well. Actually he
was kind of an asshole to women. Sorry.”
She doesn’t say anything.
“I knew him since I was eleven. We were the two biggest geeks in juni-
or high. We used to spend every lunch hour playing Dungeons and
Dragons. Just the two of us, because no one else would talk to us. We
were best friends the whole way through high school. Even in uni-
versity, even when he got into drugs and flipped out, we still hung out
all the time. He even got me laid. Quite a feat back in those days.”
“I can imagine,” Veronica says without thinking.
Jacob laughs good-naturedly. “You have no idea.”
“Then he went to Bosnia?” she asks, interested despite herself.
“Yeah. He must have barely passed the physicals. But when he came
back he’d turned into, like, a Superman action figure. All muscle. Like
you saw.” Jacob pauses. “He was different when he came back. I don’t
know. Haunted. But we were still friends. I don’t know if we would have
been if we had met then for the first time, but we had momentum, you
know? So we stayed pretty tight.”
Veronica nods.
“And it was cool being friends with him. I’d brag on him all the time,
my adventurer best friend working in all these crazy places. Haiti, Thail-
and, Iraq, then here. The last five years, we didn’t see each other much,
he didn’t get along well with his folks, he’d come back to Canada maybe

once a year. I was so looking forward to coming out here and hanging
out with him. I was kind of sick of living vicariously, you know? This
was supposed to be my big adventure. It was going to be so great. And
, he’s gone. If he’d gotten cancer or something there would at
least have been some warning, you know? It feels like he’s not supposed
to be gone. I keep half-thinking like somehow he actually faked his death
and he’s going to pop up any moment with a big grin on his face and tell
me the whole story.”
Veronica can’t think of anything to say.
The computer speakers come to life. Both of them twitch with surprise,
lean towards Jacob’s laptop and listen intently. The sound quality is
claustrophobic and muffled, like that of an accidental pocket-call from a
cell phone, and further blurred by engine noise from some kind of
vehicle, so Prester’s voice wavers between clear and indistinct:
“Just got back into … halfway from Entebbe … tomorrow night …
Yeah … No shit. Well, I’m ready to bring in Zanzibar Sam. Tonight? Usu-
al time and place, then. Cheers.”
The computer goes silent.
“Zanzibar Sam,” Jacob mutters. “Tonight.”
“It sounded like he’s on the phone.”
“I think he was. But not his Mango phone. We would have heard it
loud and clear. All his calls are now conferenced to and recorded on this
computer. He’s got another phone. Like Derek did.”
“Half the people where I work have more than one Ugandan phone,”
Veronica points out.
“It’s not uncommon,” Jacob concedes. “Three different networks here,
three different coverage maps, phones are cheap, if you travel a lot it
makes sense to have one of each. That’s true. But how does he know
about Zanzibar Sam?”
“Maybe Derek told him.”
“If Derek told Prester everything, why did Derek have a secret office?”
Veronica doesn’t have an answer for that. Maybe Jacob is right and
Prester is guilty of Derek’s death. But it’s still hard for her to reconcile
that possibility with the way Prester talked in Goma.
“We should take all this to the embassy,” she says. “Let them handle
“Take what?” Jacob sounds exasperated. “What do you want to do, go
knock on their door and say, listen, we happen to think that two of your
CIA agents are actually smugglers who had Derek killed, and are now
being blackmailed by Al-Qaeda into helping them kill two hundred

Western NGO workers. And by the way, Veronica here thinks her ex-
husband is in on it too. Oh, but you know what, all we have for proof is a
bunch of Derek’s scribbled notes, a few cryptic phone records, and a
whole lot of speculation. Can you just drop everything and arrest Prester
and Strick right now, pretty please with a cherry on top?” He shakes his
head. “I seriously doubt they’ll listen. Even if they did, there’s no way
Prester and Strick wouldn’t find out, we’d have shown our hand for
nothing, they’d hide their tracks. I mean, if they actually are corrupt. We
don’t actually know that, you know. We don’t know anything. We just
“But it makes sense.”
“To us. I seriously doubt we can convince anyone else with what we’ve
Veronica considers. “Where’s Prester now?”
Jacob flips to a Google Maps window that displays a single red marker
on a map of Kampala; Prester’s current location. “His office.”
“Is anybody else there?”
“Nobody with an active Mango phone. That’s all I can tell you.”
“But he didn’t sound like he was with someone.”
“No,” Jacob admits.
“When he goes out, we should follow him.”

“What do you want to do, wait around until he happens to speak
clearly into his phone that he’s the guy who set up Derek? If this Zanzib-
ar Sam guy really is some kind of Al-Qaeda terrorist contact, the em-
bassy will probably have his picture. Remember that binder full of Arab
faces? I bet they’ll start taking us seriously once we can pick him out of a
lineup. Unless you can make Prester’s phone take his picture for us.”
“I probably could trigger his camera phone remotely,” Jacob says
thoughtfully. “Interesting.”
“But you wouldn’t know when to do it, unless you were watching.”
“No. But – were you just listening to what you were saying?
terrorist contact.
You want to go following a guy like that? You and me, in
Kampala, where we happen to stand out like Michael Jordan at Albinos
Anonymous? Stop me if I’m wrong, but weren’t you the one not long ago
at all who wanted to give up and go home because this was too
“We have to do
. We’re talking about two hundred lives in
danger here. At least. And as far as we know nobody else even suspects.”
She thinks of the NGO workers in the Congo and western Uganda,

digging wells, installing solar panels, providing medical care. “I’m not
talking about endangering ourselves. This is Kampala, not the Congo.
We’ll stay in busy places, we won’t take any chances, no dark alleys. But
if we can’t take what we’ve got to the embassy, then we have to get more
evidence ourselves.”
Jacob reflects. “I suppose that is actually logical. Insane, maybe, but
“If we can actually see Zanzibar Sam, even from a distance, then we’ve
got something.”
He nods slowly. “Fair enough. And now that you mention it, this does
sound like the perfect time to break out my digital SLR and telephoto

The rest of the day passes slowly. Prester, or at least Prester’s phone,
does not leave his office. He has a few conversations on his Razr, most of
which deal with a complicated contract for a pilot project to mine dis-
solved methane from Lake Kivu, a venture that doesn’t appear to have
anything to do with Derek or Al-Qaeda or interahamwe. From what
Veronica can gather, officials in Kinshasa and Goma have raised many
objections to the proposal, most of which are actually coded demands for
bribes that must be paid before the project can proceed.
She and Jacob quickly grow bored. Veronica passes the time reading
an oddly fascinating science-fiction book called
Lord of Light
. In the early
evening she has Henry take her to New City, where she buys sandwiches
and a bagful of snacks from the huge Game supermarket. She spends a
good hour just wandering around Game, revelling in its towering, well-
lit racks full of First World products. She never imagined when she came
to Africa that an air-conditioned supermarket could ever seem so
Jacob spends the afternoon working on a way to make Prester’s Razr
take a picture with its onboard phone, and then upload it to Jacob’s com-
puter, without Prester ever noticing. He is utterly lost in his technical
world, seems unaware of Veronica’s presence. She has never seen any-
one so engrossed. She has certainly never experienced anything like it
herself; even when she worked as a nurse, it was more a question of do-
ing the rounds, filling out forms, and responding to crises and demands,
rather than embarking on projects of her own. She wonders what it
would be like to be so absorbed by her work.
It is amazing what Jacob can do. Veronica wonders how many other
people would be capable of these feats, tracking calls, reprogramming
phones, using someone else’s cell phone as a remote camera. Probably
very few. No wonder Derek wanted Jacob on his side. She is in the pres-
ence of a kind of modern-day wizard.
The sun is setting, and Veronica is about to propose that they call it a
day, when Jacob’s computer bleeps a warning sound. He blinks, looks up

from the online technical documentation he is studying, and switches
windows to the Google Map of Prester’s phone.
“He’s on the move,” Jacob reports.
Veronica looks outside. It will be dark soon. She hadn’t really con-
sidered the possibility of following Prester at night. But they have a car,
as long as they stay distant, they should be fine. “All right. Let’s go find
Jacob nods and grabs his hiptop.
“You take that everywhere,” she observes.
“Not to Bwindi. Figured a disposable phone would be fine there. But
almost everywhere, yes. Don’t leave home without it.”
“I thought that was the Leatherman.”
“I’ve got that on me too. Souvenir. And you never know, it might come
in handy again.”
Veronica frowns. “Let’s hope not.”
* * *
“No, wait, go back,” Jacob orders, looking up for just a moment, then
back to his hiptop’s shining screen. He soon realizes it’s almost useless;
none of the real-world roads around him appear on the online map.
Kampala wasn’t planned or surveyed, it just grew. “The other way.
“I have no compass, sir,” Henry says. “You must give me roads for
“I can’t. According to this map, we’re in the middle of empty
“Go straight and then left,” Veronica tells Henry.
“Thank you.”
They turn off a paved boulevard onto a wide dirt road without elec-
trical power; neither town nor shantytown, but a region between. The
buildings here are low and lit by flickering candles. The Toyota’s head-
lights briefly illuminate shadowy figures walking or standing along the
road. The dirt thoroughfare is pitted and rutted, scattered with entropic
debris and pools of stagnant water. A few piles of organic trash have
been set by the road to burn. The last line of street lights dwindles be-
hind them, and Jacob begins to feel uncomfortable. He is on the verge of
suggesting they turn around when Veronica says, in a relieved voice,
“That must be it.”

in question is an island of light in the sea of darkness; a large
property illuminated brightly from within, surrounded by a wooden
fence. Cars ranging from rusting matatus to gleaming black BMWs are
parked on the streets and in vacant lots all around. Thatched roofs ar-
ranged in a U-shape sixty feet square are visible within the wall, and the
open gate reveals a thronging crowd of Africans beneath those largely
open-walled roofs. It’s some kind of outdoor nightclub, half the people
inside are dancing ecstatically, giving themselves totally to the music.
Nearly everybody is holding a bottle or a cigarette or both. The babble of
conversation is audible a hundred yards away, mixed with the thumping
beats and lilting melodies of African music. Four burly men at the gate
watch carelessly as people pass in and out. Others congregate at the
nyama choma
grilled-meat stand.
Henry pulls to a stop about a hundred feet away and looks around to
be sure all the doors are locked before he switches off the lights. “This is
a place for bad people,” he says, worried. “The men who come here are
drinkers and fornicators. Ganja smokers. They have closed their eyes and
ears to the Lord’s message. They have no discipline, no restraint.”
“Sounds like my kind of place,” Jacob jokes.
Henry looks at him with sad disapproval. It is like being glared at by a
priest. Jacob wants to apologize but decides to just shut up. Henry al-
ways makes Jacob a little uneasy. He’s still not accustomed to having a
servant, and being called “Mr. Rockel” by an older man.
“Can you hear anything from his phone?” Veronica asks.
Jacob frowns. “Doubt it. It should turn on by itself if it picks up any us-
able audio. The software’s not perfect, but I’m guessing there’s too much
background noise in there… ” He taps at his hiptop, and the car sud-
denly fills with loud, muddy music. Jacob quickly turns it off. “Nope. He
could recite Kublai Khan at maximum volume and we wouldn’t pick it
up. We won’t get anything from in there unless he actually uses his Razr.
Maybe not even then.”
“Yeah. We can’t follow him in there. Not surreptitiously. We’re prob-
ably the only white people within half a mile. Well, maybe we’ll get
lucky and he’ll develop a hankering for
.” Jacob produces his
nyama choma
Canon Rebel camera and a long lens from his backpack, assembles them,
lowers his window just enough to insert the lens, and peers through the
viewfinder at the nighclub. It’s hard to make out individuals amid the
constant motion. He sees a few men with dreadlocks, but none are Prest-
er. He’s short for an African, next to invisible in a crowd like this.

“Is there enough light to take a picture?” Veronica asks.
“I don’t know. The window works as a poor man’s tripod, that helps.
Let’s see.” He sets the camera to its maximum ISO level, takes a test shot,
and examines the resulting image. “Hey, that’s actually not bad. Good
enough to recognize faces.”
Jacob goes back to surveying the crowd through the telescopic lens. It
feels like he is in a movie, but at the same time he feels coolly confident,
ready for anything, as if he has been training his whole life for this pur-
suit of Al-Qaeda down dark African alleys. Maybe he has: maybe every
movie, book and video game he’s ever seen, read and played has honed
his instincts and his strategies, maybe this is the triumphant advantage
of having lived a Western pop-culture youth, that all the ten thousand
made-up adventures he has seen and lived on screen and page have pre-
pared him for this real one better than any formal training ever could.
“Can I see?” Veronica asks after a few minutes.
She has to lean over him and press her body against his to get a decent
view, and when she does, Jacob goes still. She is amazingly warm. It feels
like a long time passes before she withdraws from the camera and sits
back in her seat.
“I guess we wait,” Veronica says.
Time passes. Jacob wishes he had thought to bring a jacket. By day,
Kampala’s equatorial heat is oppressive, but the night air is cool.
“Lot of mosquitoes out here,” Jacob says, slapping at his shoulder.
Veronica produces her pack of Marlboro Lights. “Don’t worry. I’ll
smoke them out.”
“Can I have one?”
She looks at him. “I didn’t know you smoked.”
“I may as well start. We’ve got bigger problems than lung cancer.”
It feels like sucking air from a car’s exhaust pipe, he hacks and coughs
on the first couple of puffs, but Jacob keeps going, although he stops in-
haling. Soon his fingers are tingling and he feels a little sick.
* * *
“Veronica,” Jacob whispers. He puts his hand on her shoulder and
shakes her, gently at first, then firmly. “Veronica, wake up.”
She gasps and sits up, eyes wide, alarmed. “What is it?”
“It’s okay. You fell asleep. He’s outside.”

Prester has emerged alone from the fray of the nightclub, and is buy-
ing a skewer of grilled meat from the
nyama choma
stand. Veronica, Jacob
and Henry watch intently. When Prester goes back inside Jacob groans
and slumps back into his seat.
“Jesus,” Veronica mutters. “I never knew following someone could be
so boring. How long have we been here now?”
Jacob checks his hiptop. “Almost five hours.”
Henry says, unexpectedly, “The patient in spirit is better than the
proud in spirit.”
Jacob blinks. “Says who?”
“Ecclesiastes, chapter seven, verse eight.”
“Wait,” Veronica says. “He’s coming out again,”
This time Prester keeps walking, and disappears into the night. Jacob
and Veronica are still considering their options when Prester’s familiar
green Mitsubishi Pajero emerges from the darkness and drives right past
the Toyota. Jacob yanks the camera away, and he and Veronica crouch
down in the back seat as Prester’s headlights sweep over them.
“Do you think he saw us?” Veronica asks.
“No,” Henry says.
She and Jacob exchange glances.
“All right,” Jacob decides. “I’ve always wanted to say this. Follow that
* * *
Prester drives back to the paved road and turns left, away from down-
town. Jacob is relieved to be back among street lights. They enter a quasi-
industrial zone of warehouses and car repair shops, properties fenced
with barbed wire or concrete topped with broken glass, some guarded
or dogs. Then, when the road forks, Prester bends left where
all the other traffic goes right. The left-hand fork is paved but has no
street lights.
“Turn our lights off,” Jacob orders. “Keep following.”
Henry hesitates a moment before obeying. Jacob is glad he had Henry
drive. Henry was born in Kampala, he must know the city like the back
of his hand, surely he won’t allow them to drive into disaster.
“Where does this road go?” he asks.
Henry shakes his head. “I do not know.”
Jacob winces and looks down at his hiptop. The map is utterly blank.

“He is slowing down,” Henry says softly. He is leaning forward and
squinting in order to see the road ahead of them.
“Keep back,” Jacob says. “Don’t let him see us.”
Prester’s lights begin to bounce and jostle. Seconds later they feel the
smooth pavement beneath them end, the Toyota begins to rattle violently
along rutted dirt. In the moonlight Jacob sees shacks strewn haphazardly
alongside the road, closed and dark as coffins. He hears the snarl of a fer-
al dog as it leaps out of their way. They are in the shantytown. Jacob
knows the smart thing to do is to retreat. This isn’t just shady, this is out-
right dangerous. But they are so close.
“I don’t think this is a good idea,” Veronica says nervously. “We should
go back.”
“I think the lady is right,” Henry quickly agrees.
Jacob hesitates, then capitulates. “Yeah. Fuck. OK, let’s turn -”
“Behind us!” Henry says sharply.
Jacob turns around. Another set of headlights is roaring up behind
Ahead of them, Prester’s Pajero stops and begins to reverse towards
“Oh, no,” Jacob breathes. The moment of awful realization is like an
abyss opening up beneath his feet, like the moment he looked into the
Bwindi jungle and saw men with Kalashnikovs emerge. “It’s a trap.”

“Turn around, turn around!” Jacob cries out.
Veronica can hardly breathe. Her lungs feel trapped in an icy cage.
“There is no room,” Henry says.
He’s right. This dirt path is only a single lane wide, the shacks here are
too close together. The vehicle behind them is big, another SUV. Prester’s
Pajero stops twenty feet away. They have been boxed in.
“Call the police,” Veronica says hoarsely.
Jacob picks up at his hiptop, then stares at it, disbelieving. “No service.
How the fuck? We’re in range, we’ve got to be.”
They hear doors open on the vehicle behind them.
“The Lord Jesus will shelter and guide us,” Henry’s voice is low and
strained. “Holy Jesus, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our
“Run,” Veronica says, “we have to run.”
Jacob looks at her helplessly. “Where? How?”
Prester gets out of the Pajero and walks slowly back towards the
Toyota. The gun in his left hand shines darkly in the headlights of the
vehicle behind them. Veronica feels paralyzed. She can’t even turn her
head to look at Jacob.
Prester bangs on the car window beside her with his gun, so hard that
he almost breaks the glass. “Out of the car.
There are two hard men
with Kalashnikovs right behind you. If you don’t do this my way, you
do it their way. Your call.”
After a second Veronica forces herself to move, reaches out with a
trembling hand, unlocks the door.
Prester yanks it open and orders, “Out.”
Veronica obeys. She is trembling, wobbling on her legs, she feels like
she hardly has the strength to stand. She half-expects to be pistol-
whipped or killed on the spot – but Prester just gapes at her. Jacob fol-
lows her out and takes a step forward past her, half-interposing himself
between Veronica and Prester.

A long moment passes. Prester stares at them like he’s never seen
white people before. Then he demands, “What the fuck?”
Veronica and Jacob don’t know how to respond. Prester looks into the
vehicle, sees Henry. “Who’s this?”
“My driver,” Jacob says weakly. “Henry. He doesn’t know anything, he
doesn’t have anything to do with this.”
“Anything to do with what? Why are you following me?”
Veronica realizes they should have come up with some kind of cover
story, some explanation, however thin. Now she can’t think of anything
but the truth.
“Give me a fucking answer. Who put you up to this?”
“Nobody,” Jacob says, startled into the truth. “It’s just us.”
Veronica gives him an alarmed look. Jacob just admitted that no one
knows where they are or what they are doing, and that no help is on the
way. His face falls as he realizes the same thing.
“Holy shit.” Prester’s expression brightens with understanding. “Holy
shit, you thought it was me, didn’t you?”
They don’t dare answer.
“You think I set Derek up.” He shakes his head wonderingly. “You
fucking idiots. This is why I told you to go home. You stupid fucking
amateur-hour morons.” Prester starts to laugh. It’s a relieved laugh, not a
mocking one, and after a moment Veronica allows herself to smile with
the hope that Prester is actually not a bad guy, she and Jacob are not ac-
tually about to die.
“I should have known,” Prester says, and now he sounds amused and
confident. “You drive right up to the club and think no one will notice a
white couple just down the street with a camera big enough to choke a
crocodile. Then you think I won’t notice you following me. Turning your
lights off in the middle of the road. Jesus. And I was actually worried.
What a fucking joke.”
He calls out to the SUV behind them, speaking mostly in an African
language, but Veronica hears the word “jammer.” A moment later Jacob’s
hiptop, still sitting in the back seat, bleeps with approval. Prester digs
out his phone and dials. Jacob freezes; and as Prester speaks, again in an
African tongue, his own voice emerges from the hiptop, it’s like listening
to him on a surround sound system. Prester stops talking, lowers the
phone, and stares at Jacob.
“We, um, we bugged your phone,” Jacob says apologetically.
“No shit.”

“Let me just get that.” Jacob dives back into the Toyota just long
enough to switch off the hiptop. Prester finishes speaking into his phone,
hangs up, and examines Jacob and Veronica again, this time more
“Sorry,” Veronica says. “I guess we were wrong.”
After a moment Prester says, “Come on. Follow me. Let’s go get a beer.
We need to talk.”
* * *
The bar he takes them to was once a house, and might still be used for
accommodations, Veronica isn’t sure. Men and women sit on rickety
chairs and couches, stand in the kitchen, or loiter on the barren dirt out-
side the building, drinking and smoking. Dreadlocks and rasta caps are
overrepresented among the crowd, and reggae music pumps through air
thick with the sweet smell of marijuana. The chief distinction between
this and a house party, from what Veronica can tell, is that the pretty,
bare-bellied young woman who walks around distributing beers and
joints collects money from their recipients. When they enter, Prester hugs
the hostess familiarly, exchanges complicated handshakes with a half-
dozen other men, purchases three beers and two joints, and then leads
Veronica and Jacob to a small room upstairs.
The walls are of barren, splintered wood, the only furniture is a low
table and a half-dozen torn cushions. The windows are empty of glass
and a low babble of conversation filters up from the yard. Prester mo-
tions them to sit, cracks open the Nile beers with his teeth, and stations
them around the table. Veronica doesn’t like how close the walls are, but
the open windows make the room tolerable.
“Your driver’s going to sit it out?” he asks.
“He’s not part of it. He’s a Jehovah’s Witness,” Jacob says.
“Yeah. And he’s just your driver, not a actual human being, right?”
Jacob blinks.
“You want to get yourselves in deep shit, go right ahead, but if he’s not
part of it, you should have left him out. He would have died just like you
if you’d actually been right about me.”
Jacob wordlessly acknowledges Prester’s point. Prester lights up a
joint, takes a drag, and offers it to them. Jacob declines. Veronica does

“Derek was investigating you,” Veronica says, after she finally exhales.
She ignores Jacob’s glare. Prester has proven himself trustworthy. “We
found his notes.”
“Really? Where? How?”
Jacob explains his cell-phone wizardry and their expedition to the
Hotel Sun City.
Prester nods slowly. “I’m impressed. Yeah. Somebody at the embassy
is making millions off smuggling, and either Langley really thinks it’s
me, or whoever it is decided I was the perfect fall guy. Which is true.
Criminal record, complicated history, nobody’s going to believe I’m pure
as the snows of Kilimanjaro, you know? Which I actually am, not that I
expect even you to believe. It’s like Saddam and the WMDs, the more
they don’t find anything, the more they assume I’m hiding something
big.” He shakes his head, half-appalled, half-amused. “I need to be cor-
rupt in order to be less suspicious. It’s so tragic it’s almost hilarious. So
they sent Derek to investigate me. I knew that. But instead he found out
something else.”
“Don’t know exactly. He never trusted me. Or anyone. I gathered, from
what he let slip, probably to see how I’d react, he was looking for some
guy named Zanzibar Sam, who he thought was the connection between
the Arabs and the interahamwe. Sound familiar?”
Jacob hesitates, but Veronica has decided to tell Prester the whole
truth. He had them at his mercy and let them go; that’s good enough for
her. “Yes. It’s in his notes.”
Prester takes a swig of his Nile and a puff from the joint. Then he says,
“”The Arabs who come to the Congo, all the ones I’ve met, they come for
gold. Locals pan gold from rivers up by Bunia, just like the Old West,
complete with shitloads of bad guys with guns. Ever see Treasure of the
Sierra Madre? Bogart. Great movie. Arabs come here, buy gold for a
hundred bucks an ounce, then get it overland to Zanzibar or Sudan,
cross to Yemen or Dubai on a dhow, sell it at market rates. Which last I
checked were well north of five hundred an ounce. Damn fine profit
margin, especially if you happen to cut out customs. But the locals,
they’ve got cell phones, they’ve got the Internet, they know the price of
gold. So as you might imagine you get some tension between them and
the Arabs. So a lot of the Arabs start working with local warlords to keep
the labour in line. People don’t complain so much about being underpaid
when the buyer has a gun to their head. Marx and Mao can tell you all

about it. All control of the means of production comes out of the barrel of
a gun.”
“What about the UN peacekeepers?” Jacob asks.
Prester almost laughs. “Something like one peacekeeper for every hun-
dred square miles around eastern Congo, and most of them stay in town
and don’t get out much. Can’t say I blame them. They have about as
much influence on day-to-day life in eastern Congo as the Kinshasa gov-
ernment does. Which is to say, very fucking little. Shit, I shouldn’t need
to tell you guys this, you were
one of those mines.”
“Don’t remind us,” Veronica mutters.
“Trouble is, seems the CIA is now half-convinced that
the connec-
tion between Al-Qaeda and Athanase. Same mistake you made. They’ve
got dozens of spooks and Special Forces in the Congo right now, looking
for the bad guys. I should be with them. I’m the fucking local expert. But
instead I find myself persona not particularly grata. Who needs me when
you’ve got General Gorokwe, right?” He grimaces. “That lucky bastard
should do very well for himself out of this. Current Washington policy,
when fighting in unstable nations, is to find sympathic local strongmen
like him and use them as an instrument. If the instrument in question
isn’t a complete idiot he comes out smelling of roses and Old Glory and
thousand-dollar bills. Karzai in Afghanistan. Chalabi in Iraq, until he got
too greedy. And now Gorokwe in the Congo. A week ago he was an evil
general from a pariah nation. Today he’s a peacekeeper and a valuable
ally in the war on terror, he’s been shaking hands with high-level diplo-
mats and getting shipments of all manner of shiny new guns to hunt and
kill Al-Qaeda. And the interahamwe if they happen to get in the way,
not that anyone really cares about them, they’re yesterday’s bad guys.
My suspicion is the general sees no real reason to hurry the job.” Prester
finishes the joint. “But never mind him. It’s my own future I’m worried
about. So I spent the last few days looking for Zanzibar Sam myself, try
to clear my name. This whole deal has made me start to seriously won-
der about my future. I mean, it’s fun playing James Bond, but it’s a lot
less fun when you suddenly find out M and Q and Moneypenny are sud-
denly lining up to stab you in the back. I don’t want to spend the rest of
my life dealing with this kind of bullshit. If all you do is use people and
be used, you forget how to have friends. I know a million people here,
some of them real big men, it’s not ego when I tell you I’m a serious play-
er. I can make a phone call and have someone killed or have a briefcase
full of cash delivered. But you know how many real friends I have? Zero.
No room for ’em. Beginning to think that calls for a certain re-

examination, you know? Whole new lifestyle, maybe. Whole new life.
Prester falls silent. For the first time since Veronica met him he looks
old, there are lines graven on his face. She realizes his eyes are red not
just with smoke but with sleep deprivation, he’s been awake for a long
time, maybe days.
“Very moving,” Jacob says, “but what does it have to do with us?”
“With you.” Prester considers. “That remains to be seen. But for one
thing,” he looks to Veronica, “I found out a little something about your
“The same. He, or at least somebody by his name, flew into Kampala
yesterday, first class of course, checked into the Sheraton’s presidential
suite. Kind of a funny time to take a vacation in Uganda, don’t you
think? Unless, of course, you just found out that you and your CIA
smuggling partner are being blackmailed by Al-Qaeda to cooperate with
them or be revealed as having conspired with genocidal war criminals to
smuggle slave-labour minerals out of the Congo. Nasty moral dilemma,
that. Assuming you have any morals.”
Veronica stares at him. She doesn’t know what to say or think.
“Do you think it might be Strick?” Jacob asks.
Prester rolls his eyes. “No. That’s the one thing I am certain of. Strick is
a prick, but he is not dirty. I’ve worked with him for years, I would
know. And he’s not senior enough to have gotten away with this. No, it’s
somebody higher. Some suit in the embassy.”
“OK. And Zanzibar Sam?”
“Zanzibar Sam, I learned at the club, tonight, from an extremely fuck-
ing scary man, and for a painfully large fee, Derek was all wrong about.
It’s not a person. It’s a package. Zanzibar
, plural. And they’re sup-
posed to arrive in Kampala tomorrow, for one night only, before being
shipped off again the next day.”
“Where to?”
“I have no idea. But would I ever like to know. The what it is, and the
where it’s going, and especially the who it’s going to. And you know
what else? I’m actually glad you two lost your minds and decided to stay
and play Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. I’m beginning to think you
might be able to help me out.”

“These are expensive,” Jacob says, looking at the two iPod-sized lozenges
of black metal on the desk in his study, sitting beside a metal box as big
as a toaster that bristles with electronic apparati and LCD screens. “The
GPS trackers are five hundred US each. If I don’t get them back inside a
week I’ll have to pay for them myself. And the spectrum analyzer’s more
like ten thousand. That’s like half my annual salary here.”
“If we get the evidence, those most high will cover your expenses, I
promise,” Prester says. “They’ve got plenty of black-book discretionary
slush funds.”
“Why don’t we just go to the embassy now?” Veronica asks. “We must
have enough to convince them something’s going on. They’ll listen to all
three of us.”
Prester shrugs. “I doubt it. Take it from me, put not your faith in the
American intelligence services. They’re not much sharper than any other
batch of bureaucrats, and they’re already half-convinced I’m the bad guy.
But even if they do listen, then what? We don’t even have a name. All we
know is Derek got set up by somebody in the chain of command. If they
find out we’re poking around, they’ll pull the plug, and poof, we got
nothing but conspiracy theories and a cheese omelette on our face. We
need names, dates, pictures, verifiable evidence. With any luck these
little toys will help get us that tonight. Without … well, there’s always
plan B. Your ex.”
Veronica frowns. She doesn’t want to crash Danton’s hotel and start
demanding answers. She came to Africa to get away from her ex-hus-
band and everything he represents. She doesn’t want to see him ever
again, not unless and until she has the advantage. She can’t even really
imagine what that would be like. Danton always has the advantage.
That’s what it means to be rich.
“Shouldn’t be necessary,” Prester says reassuringly, reading her face.
He seems more cheerful today, and more rested. “Tonight should be
plenty. Even if we can’t plant these trackers, your amazing little number
harvester should be highly helpful.”

“It’s not just a number harvester,” Jacob objects. “It’s a full-feature GSM
spectrum analyzer. Practically a mobile base station. And it doesn’t actu-
ally register cell-phone numbers. Just handset and SIM card IDs, and sig-
nal strength. We can only get the numbers of Mango phones.”
“Mango or Celtel or MTC.”
“Celtel and MTC are whole other companies. I don’t have any access to
their database.”
“Celtel is minority owned by a CIA front,” Prester says casually. “And
we got an MTC engineer on our payroll too. There’s a reason Derek re-
cruited you to work at Telecom Uganda. Same reason we both got
Mango phones once he started getting suspicious. It’s the only cell com-
pany here we hadn’t wormed our way into yet.”
Jacob stares at him.
“More things under heaven and earth, son.” Prester is considerably
shorter than Jacob, and Veronica doubts he is more than five or ten years
older, but right now the diminutive seems appropriate. “You’re playing
in the big leagues now. So don’t get sloppy. Now what’s the range on
your precious spectrum analyzer?”
“Maybe a hundred metres.”
“OK. Should be ample. You’ve only got two GPS trackers?”
“That’s all I could manage.”
Prester frowns. “Well, we’ll make do. With luck whoever’s smuggling
these Zanzibar Sams won’t have more than two vehicles. Strong magnets
on these, right? All I have to do is put them somewhere on the chassis
and they’ll stay there, even on bumpy African roads?”
“Not a problem.”
“They text their coordinates how often?”
“It’s configurable. Right now every ten minutes.”
“And if they don’t have a cell signal?”
“They store their locations in local memory, timestamped, and send
them all in one burst the next time they get into coverage.”
“Good.” Prester nods and turns to Veronica. “I need him with me, but
you can sit at home.”
She hesitates, then shakes her head. “No. I want to come with you.”
“Danton might be there.”
“Not likely.” Prester considers. “But not impossible. Seeing as how we
have no idea what exactly these Zanzibar Sams are or why somebody
seems to think they’re so important.”
“Are you sure you know where they’re going to be?” Jacob asks.

“For the price I paid I better fucking not be led astray. But no, I’m not
sure. People like this, you’re never sure until the time comes.” He looks
at his watch. “Which is all too soon. Let’s saddle up.”
* * *
Prester navigates his Pajero through a huge market of rickety wooden
stalls, colourful pyramids of vegetables, dangling carcasses of meat,
bowls of spices, sacks of grains, and all the world’s cheap clothing and
plastic crap. They crawl slowly through the market’s clogged streets, and
then through ten minutes of grimy shantytown, as the sun hides itself
behind the western hills.
“Shouldn’t we wait until dark?” Jacob asks from the back seat.
Prester shakes his head. “We’ll stand out more if we wait too late. Not
much traffic in this area after sunset. Besides, I want to get the lay of the
Veronica is riding shotgun, which in this vehicle is the left-hand seat;
Ugandans theoretically drive on the left, and this Pajero came from
Japan. She looks around at the shantytown and winces when she sees a
child with a large goiter bulging from her throat. All it would take to
cure that girl’s goiter is a little iodine.
Every day this ramshackle sea of desolation expands further into the
green landscape around Kampala, swollen by unemployed
, the
Ugandan name for disaffected youths and families who stream in from
poor rural villages to this city that offers them neither work nor shelter –
but it doesn’t seem as bad to her as it once did. Veronica understand now
that most Africans, even in shantytowns, are not trapped in relentless
disaster and tragedy. They build houses, raise families, hang out with
their friends, visit the big city, work when they can, play music, drink,
gossip, and basically live normal, recognizable lives. But what they lack,
desperately, is health care and education. If Veronica could actually fund
and build a school for nurses here, it would help, it would make a real
They finally reach Kampala’s small industrial belt of warehouses and
repair yards. Here the foot traffic streams back towards the shantytown,
tired men walking home after a hard day, and Prester has to nose the Pa-
jero upstream through this human river like a salmon seeking spawning
grounds, until he finally says, “Here.”
There is a scrapyard the size of several football fields ahead and to
their right. It looks like a muddy parking lot hit by a massive artillery

shell and left to rust, littered with the rotting hulks of cars, motorcycles,
and other unidentifiable machinery, surrounded by a chainlink fence
topped by a single strand of barbed wire. In its center there stands a
single wide, low building, basically a hollow concrete block. Clusters of
rebar sprout like some kind of steel vegetation from its roof. The yard’s
only visible inhabitant is a bored-looking watchman sitting behind the
main gate, which is locked with chains and padlocks.
Prester drives past the yard without slowing down, until they have
gone over another small rise; then he stops the car in front of a motor-
cycle repair shop. Ditches full of plastic bags and rotting trash cut
through the vacant lot of gouged mud across the street. The few Africans
still on the road look at the Pajero curiously, then move on, hurrying
back to the market and the shantytown houses beyond. It is apparent
that this quasi-industrial zone is largely deserted come nightfall.
“Any phones around?” Prester asks.
Jacob examines the screen on the spectrum analyzer. “Just ours.” Then
he digs out his hiptop and taps at it briefly. “But there’s a Mango phone
alive inside that scrapyard.”
“That so? How convenient.”
“We should get closer. The analyzer isn’t in range.”
Prester says, “Wait until dark.”
The sun falls over the horizon. It takes only a few minutes for the
darkness to deepen into night. The few street lights that work shed
barely enough light to see the outlines of the buildings around them. As
they wait, Prester reaches inside his shirt collar, withdraws a little pouch
of pale leather that hangs on the golden chain around his neck, and
twirls it absently between his fingers. It has been sewn shut with silver
“What’s that?” Veronica asks.
Prester looks down at the pouch as if he hadn’t noticed it. Then he
says, calmly, “The little finger of a stillborn child.”
She stares at him.

” Jacob asks, incredulous and revolted. “You actually believe in
that black-magic shit?”
“I live here. I can’t afford not to.”
“But – come on. You’re an educated man.”
“And you’re a tourist. More things under heaven and earth, like I said.
You’d never believe some of the things I’ve seen.” Prester takes a deep
breath and tucks the pouch back under his shirt. “Never mind. We’re
wasting time. Let me just go over the plan again. The objective here is to

collect information, not get in trouble. I’m going to find a place to park
which is both secure and has a view of the yard. You will call me if you
see something I need to know about. My phone is on silent.” He
doublechecks this. “You two will stay in the vehicle, no matter what.
You’re not trained for this and I’ve got enough problems without
babysitting. I’m going to station the analyzer by the gate, close enough to
harvest their numbers when they come out, then go into the yard and
put trackers on their vehicles. If something goes wrong, just get the fuck
away and call for help, either the police or Strick, depending on what’s
happened. Is that all clear?”
Veronica nods, wide-eyed.
“Clear,” Jacob rasps.
“Good. Let’s do it.”
He turns the Pajero around and drives back past the scrapyard. Their
headlights cast long, distorted shadows from the ruined machines
sprawled on the vast field of fissured mud. There is a light on inside the
building in the heart of the yard, and two vehicles are parked outside, a
white Land Cruiser and a black Mitsubishi pickup. Neither was there
when they passed by before. The scene is eerily postapocalyptic, like a
night shot from
. Veronica is beginning to wish she’d told Prest-
Mad Max
er she didn’t want to come. It’s far too easy to imagine being killed here
by terrorists.
The watchman at the scrapyard gate looks at them with disinterest as
he is lit by their headlights. Prester drives back over the hill, then
switches off all the Pajero’s lights, U-turns, goes off-road across cratered
mud, and parks in a vacant lot atop the ridge that overlooks the
scrapyard, almost level with the roof of the yard’s single building. The
street lights are distant and they can barely see more than silhouettes.
“That analyzer ready?” Prester asks.
Jacob checks. “Yes. Scan-and-record mode.”
Prester takes it and orders, “Stay.”
Then he steps out of the vehicle, closes the door by leaning on it slowly
so as not to make any sound. Veronica sees him get about twenty feet
down the ridge, heading towards the scrapyard gate, before he disap-
pears into darkness.
“No problem,” Jacob says, trying to be reassuring. “He’s not doing any-
thing really risky. Just one lousy askari. No big deal.”
A long slow silence passes. Veronica and Jacob watch the scrapyard
like hawks. She blinks and squints at the black pickup. She can’t tell for
sure, the light is too dim, but did something just move?

“Did you see that?” she asked. “By the pickup?”
“There it is again.”
“I don’t see anything.”
“It’s there,” Veronica insists. “Something moving. In the pickup, in the
“Maybe it’s him. Putting the trackers on.”
“It’s too soon, I don’t think he could have gotten there that fast – oh
shit. Call him, call him!”
“What is it?” Jacob asks, reaching for his hiptop.
But it is too late. Before Jacob can dial, the two lethal-looking guard
dogs leap out of the pickup truck and charge towards a ruined truck,
howling for blood. Then Veronica sees motion near the truck carcass.
Someone running from the dogs, pelting towards the scrapyard fence. It
must be Prester. He’s not going to make it.

Jacob takes a deep breath. He doesn’t want to intervene. He wants to run.
But Prester has a problem, and Jacob has a solution. “I’m going out
there,” he says, and opens the door. “He won’t make it. I can help.”
He takes a second to close the car door quietly behind him, no sense
advertising their presence, then he draws out his hiptop and rushes
down towards the fence. The dogs howl for blood. Behind Prester’s flee-
ing form, light spills out of the scrapyard building as a door opens. The
ground is ridged and uneven and twice Jacob stumbles and nearly falls.
Several men advance from the open door into the scrapyard. At least one
is holding a rifle. Jacob slows halfway long enough to push the right but-
tons on his hiptop, it takes maybe three seconds but that seems like an
eternity, the dogs are right on Prester’s heels. Jacob sprints towards the
fence, holding his hiptop above his head as if to announce its presence to
the world. Prester’s almost at the chainlink barrier, but he can’t climb
over barbed wire, and the slavering dogs have almost reached him –
– but then Jacob reaches the fence, and the dogs come within range of
the repellent sounds his hiptop is projecting at maximum volume in fre-
quencies only canines can hear, like an anti-dog whistle. Their howls wilt
into whines, and they slacken their pace and slink away, back into the
shadows. Prester and Jacob come to a halt across the fence from each
other. Jacob sees the GPS trackers in Prester’s hand, and his heart sinks.
Prester didn’t even have a chance to plant them, this was a total failure.
“They’re coming,” Jacob hisses, meaning the men behind Prester. They
have guns and at least one flashlight, he can see a beam of light stabbing
at the scrapyard wreckage as the men approach the fence. Their eyes
won’t have adjusted to the dark yet, but Prester is on the wrong side of a
chainlink fence topped with barbed wire, Jacob has to stay close to him
in order to keep the dogs away, and they have maybe twenty seconds
before the gunmen discover them. He can’t think of any way to get Prest-
er out.
Headlights blink into life behind Jacob.

He turns and waches, amazed, as the Pajero accelerates downhill to-
wards the scrapyard fence, its engine roaring, its undercarriage rattling
and clanking against unseen obstacles on the uneven ground, until it
slams into the fence with enough momentum that three fenceposts come
straight out of the ground and the chainlink folds backwards. The
Pajero’s horn bleats briefly at the moment of impact, then drives right
over the flattened chainlink and barbed wire into the scrapyard, and
keeps going straight.
The broken shell of what was once a boat looms up in its headlights.
As far as Jacob can tell Veronica never even touches the brakes. The Pa-
jero plows into the ruin of the boat with a loud
and carries it
somed distance across the yard before both vehicles come to rest. Light
from one still-functional headlight blazes off the boat’s torn and twisted
fiberglass hull, illuminating the accordioned metal of the Pajero’s hood
intertwined with the wreckage of the boat.
Jacob and Prester both sprint to the new gap in the fence. When they
meet, Prester grabs the hiptop from Jacob’s hands, hisses “Be right back,”
and disappears into the scrapyard before Jacob can protest.
He thinks Prester has gone crazy, there are men with guns in there, al-
beit distracted by Veronica’s dramatic entrance. Jacob looks over at the
Pajero for a moment and hesitates. She needs help, but if he goes to her
aid he’ll expose himself to the gunmen. Before he can decide what to do,
the Pajero door opens, and he sees Veronica’s lithe form stagger away
from the vehicle and into the darkness.
* * *
Veronica trips on a rut and falls falls hard to the hard-packed dirt, her
hands and knees scrape painfully against the ground but then she is up
again, still moving. A rattling fusillade of gunfire echoes in the distance,
some kind of automatic weapon echoing across the scrapyard. She keeps
sprinting across the moonlit yard, half-expecting to be shot dead within
seconds. She can’t believe everything has gone so wrong so fast. She can’t
believe she actually drove the Pajero through the fence into the
scrapyard instead of following Prester’s instructions and fleeing to the
embassy for help. She feels dazed, her forehead smacked into the middle
of the steering wheel when the Pajero slammed into the fence, rattling
her consciousness, but she thinks she’s more or less OK, no concussion.
She’s just lucky the fence didn’t stop the car, she should have taken two

seconds to put on her seat belt. On the other hand those two seconds
might have been crucial.
No more shots come. She hears shouts, in the middle distance, baffled
and alarmed voices calling out in some language that is not English. Her
eyes adjust enough to see something looming ahead of her, the mangled
remains of some kind of vehicle. Once past it she comes to a halt and
looks back. No one seems to be chasing her. She crouches, hiding behind
the wreckage, and examines her palms. They are raw and bleeding
slightly but not too bad. Her jeans are torn but saved the skin on her
knees. She is grateful she didn’t fall on any shards of glass or metal.
Veronica hears barks and moans under her breath. She had forgotten
about the dogs. She hears motion and voices, but none seem to be com-
ing near. Her eyes slowly re-adjust to the night. She has taken cover be-
hind a matatu that appears to have gotten into a stomping match with
Godzilla. Veronica squats there for a good thirty seconds, staring out
around the corner of the wreckage, trying to see what’s going on, before
she becomes aware of the two sets of pale eyes staring up at her from be-
neath the ruined vehicle.
She jumps back and very nearly screams. It takes her a heart-thumping
moment to realize there is no immediate danger. There are two children
huddled under the wrecked matatu. They are very small, certainly less
than ten. They stare wide-eyed at Veronica. She wonders for a moment
what kind of game they are playing. Then she understands: they live
here. This heap of torn metal is their home. She puts her fingers to her
lips, hoping the symbol is universal. The children wriggle their way
deeper under the wreckage, out of sight. She can hear their fast,
frightened breaths. Veronica looks around and wonders with something
like horror how many more of the scrapyard’s hulks of twisted steel
serve as homes for AIDS orphans.
She hears a loud clank of metal on metal in the distance, and a few mo-
ments later, another. Veronica, beginning to hope that the men and dogs
will not pursue her, scuttles to the other side of the matatu wreckage and
peers out. There are a half-dozen men around the Land Cruiser and the
pickup, watching warily, weapons ready, on guard. One of them holds
the two growling guards on leashes. The pickup has been loaded with
two big metal boxes that look like coffins. As Veronica watches, the men
climb into the two vehicles, the engines roar to life, and the Land Cruiser
and pickup truck roll slowly away, to and through the now-open
scrapyard gate; turn to the right, away from central Kampala; and vanish
into the night.

After a few more breaths Veronica dares to stand up and look around.
Then Jacob cries out, from maybe a few hundred feet away:
She hesitates to answer, but no one and nothing reacts, the scrapyard
appears empty. Even the askari by the gate is gone. “What? Where’s
“He’s right here,” Jacob says hoarsely. “They shot him.”
* * *
Prester lies on his side, in a shining, swelling pool of his own blood. It
is so dark Veronica can hardly see him. Jacob stands helplessly over him.
Veronica pushes Jacob aside, drops to her knees beside Prester and
checks his airway. He’s unconscious but still breathing.
“Get the first-aid kit,” she snaps at Jacob.
“First aid? Where is it?”
“The back of the Pajero. Go!”
While Jacob is gone Veronica strips Prester’s shirt off and uses the light
of her phone to inspect him. The ends of his dreadlocks are soaked in
blood, as his little leather fetish-pouch. His breath is shallow and la-
boured. The entrance wound below his left shoulder blade is relatively
innocuous – but as Prester breathes, little bubbles rise from the center of
the dark stain spreading across his chest from the exit wound, and
Veronica goes cold with dismay. Those bubbles are the classic symptom
of an open pneumothorax, better known as a sucking chest wound.
“Call for help!” she shouts into the night at Jacob. “And bring a
Prester at least had the good sense to crawl into a little ditch before he
passed out. Veronica lifts his arms and legs up onto the lip of this ditch,
above his heart, so that more blood will flow to his head and upper
body. She ransacks her mind for how to treat a pneumothorax, and re-
members: tape something non-porous and airtight over the wound, leav-
ing one corner unsealed to allow trapped air to escape. Some kind of
plastic square would be perfect. She digs into her money belt and pro-
duces a credit card.
“Hurry!” she almost screams.
Jacob stumbles into sight, holding the first-aid box. “I couldn’t find a
“Fine,” she says, popping the box open, opening gauze and tape. “Did
you call for help?”

“There’s an ambulance on the way.”
“Good.” She tapes the exit wound, using her credit card to seal it off,
bandages the entrance wound, and then stacks gauze on top on his chest
and tries to apply pressure. It isn’t easy with him on his side, but they
can’t risk changing his position, his neck or spine might be damaged. She
works quickly, old reflexes re-emerging, it’s been seven years since she
worked in an ER but her hands have not forgotten. Veronica’s finger is
pricked by a damp splinter of bone from a shattered rib. She winces and
hopes Prester isn’t HIV positive. His blood loss is serious but not critical,
not as bad as the guard who died at her feet in the Bwindi jungle, the
man Veronica didn’t even try to help. Unlike him Prester at least has a
“What shot him? A handgun or a rifle?” she asks, after sucking at her
pricked finger and spitting out the blood.
“I think a rifle.”
“Is that bad?”
“Rifles are high velocity. They tumble in the wound, they have much
higher energy transfer, you get indirect trauma, you can get small entry
and exit wounds either side of a massive wound cavity, he could fucking
die on us any second. It isn’t a good sign he’s unconscious.”
“I don’t know it was a rifle for sure. After you crashed through the
fence, he ran back out, grabbed my hiptop, and went back in. I guess he
figured they were distracted and wanted to take the chance to plant the
“Fucking idiot,” Veronica mutters.
“Yeah. We’re lucky they were even more scared of us than we were of
them. Prester was conscious when I got to him, he said something to me.
I’m not sure exactly what. I think he said – it doesn’t make any sense, but
I think he said, ‘The Sams are Igloos.'”
Veronica almost releases the pressure bandage. “Igloos? What does
that mean?”
“You got me.”
“Take your shirt off.”
“What?” Jacob asks, amazed.

Take your shirt off.
He obeys.
“Now hold down this pressure bandage. Firm but not crushing. I’m
going to tape it down to make it easier.”

Jacob obeys. Once the gauze is half-taped in place – it’s a sloppy job,
with all the blood, but it should at least help prevent the bandage from
slipping away – Veronica drapes Jacob’s shirt over Prester’s torso, then
takes her own shirt off and uses it to cover his midriff. The night is cool,
and blood loss saps body heat with dangerous speed. She considers try-
ing to cut down on the blood loss with indirect pressure, pinching shut
the major blood vessel that’s feeding the wounded area, but it’s been so
long since she’s practiced she can’t remember the details of the proced-
ure, and she has a vague memory it might make things worse not better.
“OK,” she says. “I think that’s all we can do for him. Now we just wait.
And hope the ambulance gets to us before whoever shot Prester decides
to get curious and come back here.”
But neither the ambulance nor the gunmen reach the scene before the
police arrive. Veronica has never been so glad to hear howling sirens.
* * *
“Please, I don’t understand,” Jacob says wearily. “What are we under

The big policeman looks at him as if his question is senseless. “You are
under arrest,” he repeats.
“I don’t think they need a charge,” Veronica mutters through clenched
teeth. Her eyes are closed and she is breathing hard. Her claustrophobia,
Jacob supposes.
“Oh, the charge!” the policeman says, understanding at last. “Your
charge will be determined later. Before you go to a judge.”
“We have the right to call our embassies.”
“Yes, yes. After you are charged. I will see you tomorrow.”
The policeman leaves and closes the door behind him. Jacob and
Veronica look at each other. She reaches out and takes his hand, clutches
it so tightly it’s almost painful. He squeezes back in what he hopes is a
reassuring manner.
“It could be worse,” she says, as if trying to convince herself. “We could
be in the real jail. I think I would have gone batshit in there.”
Jacob nods. That would be worse. Much worse. They passed through
the jail on the way in; lightless, overcrowded cages so crammed with
men that some had no room in which to lie down or even sit, cells that
stank of vomit and diarrhea, fear and despair. Some of the prisoners
were naked. All looked slumped and listless, uninterested in their

visitors. Jacob supposes they don’t get enough food, that’s one way to
keep your prisoners weak.
The cage in which they now sit is inset into a small room with cinderb-
lock walls, a brick floor and a barred window. The ceiling is so low that
Jacob has to stoop. The air is painfully stuffy and smells almost as bad as
the jail. A number of disturbing stains smeared across the cage’s rusting
walls make Jacob suspect that Ugandan interrogation techniques have
not advanced much, ethically speaking, since the days of Idi Amin; but
at least they have the room to themselves, and are being treated with dis-
tant courtesy. He doesn’t want to imagine what their fate would be if
they were black and Ugandan.
“At least they gave us something to wear.” Jacob looks down at his T-
shirt, which says FOR AN AIDS-FREE GENERATION, obviously a bulk
donation from some Western aid organization. It actually fits him fairly
well, but Veronica’s is several sizes too large. He searches for any other
silver lining, something cheerful to say. “Nice driving back there, by the
“You think Prester will make it?”
She takes a deep breath and visible forces herself to think. “I think he’s
got a good chance. The ambulance people actually seemed pretty on the
ball.” By the time the police drove them away from the scrapyard Prester
had been carried into an ambulance.
“They’re a private service, they contract out to the police for emer-
gency calls.” Jacob’s first job for Telecom Uganda Uganda was the prior-
itization of ambulance cell-phone service on the Mango network.
“They’ll have to fly him out. He needs a real hospital.”
“Will they? I don’t know if he’s even an American citizen.”
Veronica blinks. “But – but he works for the CIA.”
Jacob shrugs. “So did Derek, and he was Canadian. Deniable front,
that’s what Prester said, remember? They hire non-Americans as a cover.
They might just cut him loose.”
“Shit. What about us?”
“I don’t know.” He considers saying something comforting, but de-
cides to go with the truth. “But I think we might be staying here for a
Veronica’s face tightens. Jacob wishes he could help her somehow but
doesn’t know how. He supposes holding her close is exactly the wrong
thing to do.

A minute later the door opens, and the big policeman comes back in,
leading a lean, gray-haired white man with a scarred face.
“All right,” Strick says. He sounds disgusted. “Let’s get you two out of

Entering the American embassy is like teleporting back into the First
World, into an office complex occupied by some moderately successful
business. Everything is clean, new, imported from the USA.
It takes five minutes to get past the security gauntlet of razor wire,
concrete barriers and guard posts. Strick parks, leads Jacob and Veronica
into a side door, up a staircase and into a meeting room dominated by an
elliptical wooden table surrounded by big office chairs. One wall is a
large whiteboard. The other three are lined with folding plastic chairs,
maybe thirty in all. A sleekly designed conference phone sits in the
middle of the table. Strick reaches over, pushes a button on that phone,
sits down, and motions for them to do the same.
Once they are all seated Strick says, his voice controlled, “This is the
part where you tell me everything. And don’t you dare fucking leave
anything out.”
Jacob thinks back to what Prester said:
Strick is a prick, but he is not
dirty. That’s one thing I am fucking certain of.
He begins to tell the whole
story. Veronica chimes in from time to time. Strick listens without asking
questions. Jacob thinks his expression softens slightly as they tell their
“I hope you still have those airline tickets,” is all he says when they are
They nod.
“Being full-fare first-class tickets, they’re good for a year after pur-
chase. I can’t actually make you use them tomorrow. But I very strongly
suggest it.”
“And then what happens?” Jacob asks.
“And then we take care of things. It’s a matter of priorities. There are a
lot of innocent lives at risk. The first thing we do is take care of Al-Qaeda
in the Congo. We can put our own house in order later.”
“What if they’re planning something?” Veronica asks. “What if they’re
blackmailing whoever set up Derek to help them?”

“We’re well aware of that possibility and we’re taking measures to en-
sure that doesn’t happen.”
“What measures?” Jacob demands.
Strick fixes him with a cold stares. “Classified measures.”
“Classified my ass,” Jacob says, his anger finally bubbling over. “You
aren’t well aware of shit, and you aren’t the least bit interested who set
up Derek, or you wouldn’t be hearing about all this from us. This is in-
sane. You’re telling us to go away? You should be asking us for help. I’ve
found out more sitting at my computer than you have with the whole
American intelligence budget behind you. Derek was murdered by one
of you. By someone he was working for. But you don’t actually want to
find out who it was, do you? All you want is to use your pet Zimbabwe
general to clean up in the Congo, collect the hosannas, then make your
own problem go away before it makes you all look bad for not having
noticed, this whole fucking time, that one of your own guys was in
league with terrorists and genocidists. Never mind that they might be
planning something in the meantime. The important thing is to keep
your dirty laundry private, isn’t it? You’re nothing but a useless
Strick recoils slightly, as if he has just been slapped. He looks at Jacob
for a long moment. Then he says, in an oddly gentle voice, “I know he
was your friend. But you have to let go.”
“No, actually, I don’t.”
“Let me tell you a story.”
Jacob opens his mouth to say he doesn’t want to hear it. Veronica kicks
him in the shin. He looks at her and subsides.
“I knew a woman once,” Strick said. “A Kurdish woman. I was there
on duty, this was between the gulf wars. We were going to be engaged.
That is, we were engaged, but it was secret. We couldn’t tell anyone.
Then one day she disappeared. I didn’t take it seriously for the first
couple of days. I thought she’d come back. It wasn’t the first time. She
had a history. Fits of madness. I guess you’re not supposed to call it that
any more. Madness. She was younger than me. Sometimes it hits women
in their twenties. Especially trauma survivors. Her family was all
murdered in the eighties.” He takes a deep breath. “But this time it wasn’t
madness. She told her cousin, he told her uncle, they took her away and
killed her. Honor killing. So-called.”
Jacob and Veronica stare at Strick.
“I could have gone after them,” the gray-haired man says. “I could
have had my revenge. I wanted to. But it would have ruined everything

both of us had worked for. And what good would have come from it?
What good would have come?”
They have no answer.
“So I let her go. You want to help. You want to know what happened
to you and your friend. I respect that. But I’m sorry. You can’t. Let it go.
Leave it to the professionals. Don’t interfere. No good will come of it.
People like you, well-meaning amateurs, you can’t do good here, not in
Africa, the place isn’t built for it. The harder you try, the more you fail.
You almost died tonight, both of you. Please. Go home before it’s too
* * *
Strick gives them a car and driver to take them home.
“Maybe he’s right,” Veronica says to Jacob, as they sail through
Kampala’s empty streets. “It sounds like they’ve got the whole Al-Qaeda
angle under control. Maybe we should just go.”
“Maybe we should. But I’m not going to.”
“Why not?” she asks, frustrated, and still a little angry at him for losing
his temper at the embassy. “I mean, honestly, what do you hope to get
out of it? You really think you’re going to get enough evidence to put
somebody in jail? Here? With all this complicated mess? Come on.”
“I’m going to find out who it was.”
“And then what?”
“That is the what.
Maybe I won’t do anything,
I just want to know.
maybe that won’t be possible. I understand that. But I want to know who
and why. And I want them to know that I know.”
“That’s crazy.”
“You think so? Then you better get on the plane tomorrow.”
“Maybe I will.”
He looks at her with an opaque expression. “I hope you don’t. I really,
Veronica, I really hope you don’t. But I have to see this through, you un-
derstand? He would have done it for me. And we’re close. Can’t you feel
it? We’re so close.”
“Close? What do you mean, close? We don’t have anything.”
Jacob digs his hiptop out of his pocket.
“I thought Prester took -” Veronica says, and falls silent when she sees
the blood, Prester’s blood, smeared on the device’s plastic carapace and
LCD screen.

“He did. I found it next to him, he must have dropped it. I thought
they’d take it from us in the jail, I suppose the cops here are more honest
than I figured. Brutal but honest. Or maybe only with white people. Or
maybe just incompetent. They didn’t even take the Leatherman.”
Jacob cleans the hiptop with the lip of his shirt and begins tapping
away at its tiny keyboard. Veronica wonders what it says about Jacob
that he picked up the hiptop before she even got to Prester. Is it a credit
to his presence of mind, that he remembered to do it between calling for
help and tending to the victim? Or was it the first thing he did?
Jacob spends the rest of the drive back to his apartment typing into
and staring at the glowing hiptop. He grunts with surprise a couple of
times. Veronica doesn’t try to initiate conversation, she just stares out the
window. It is past midnight and the main streets of Kampala are entirely
deserted, as if some plague has wiped out every inhabitant but for them.
“I’ll call you tomorrow,” Veronica says, when they reach Jacob’s apart-
ment complex.
“No,” Jacob says sharply. “Come in for a moment. I’ll get Henry to
drive you home.”
“No, Jacob, he’s sleeping, he’s a human being, you can’t just treat him
as -”

Come in.
She looks at him. His face is pale and deadly serious. “Okay.”
The driver is content to let them go together. Jacob’s sleepy askaris
wave them through.
“What is it?” she asks, as they walk up to his apartment door.
“Let’s go in.” Jacob hesitates. There is a strange and wild look in his
eyes. “No. Actually, on second thought, let’s go sit on the lawn.”
“What? Jacob, it’s midnight, this isn’t -”
He grabs her hand. “Follow me.”
She allows him to lead her into a dark corner of the groomed lawn that
surrounds his apartment. He tugs her down to sit beside him on the
grass, shifts over until their legs are actually touching, leans over to her
and puts his head so close to hers his chin is on her shoulder. At first she
doesn’t know how to react. Then she realizes he isn’t making a clumsy
pass. This is something else.
“They called Strick,” Jacob whispers. She can feel his lips brush against
her ears, but he is so quiet she can hardly hear him.
“What?” she asks, not understanding but instinctively whispering

“You remember I said there was a Mango phone in that building? One
of theirs. A phone belonging to one of the men who shot at us. That
phone called Strick’s number before I called the ambulance.”
When Veronica understands the implication of that she starts as if
shocked by a thousand volts.
“It’s Strick. He’s on their side. He’s the smuggler. He’s the guy who set
up Derek. He’s the one working with Al-Qaeda.”
“Oh my God.”
“And there’s something else. Good news. We’re getting messages from
one of those GPS trackers. Prester managed to tag one of their vehicles.
That must have been when they shot him.”
“After,” Veronica says softly, thinking of the exit wound in Prester’s
chest. “When he was getting away. He was shot from behind.”
“For all we know Strick was actually in the building.”
She shakes her head. “I saw all the men there. They were all black.”
“Well, he’s involved somehow, he has to be.”
For a second Veronica wonders if Jacob is inventing all this just to
keep her from leaving, or whether it’s some sort of paranoid fantasy – but
no, this isn’t the sort of thing that men like Jacob lie about, it is falsifiable,
at least in theory, he’s talking about facts not interpretations, it would
never cross his mind that she doesn’t know enough about the technology
to prove or disprove his claim no matter how many screens full of num-
bers he showed her and patiently explained. He isn’t crazy, and he
wouldn’t lie. Not to her. She knows that. She trusts him.
“Where is it going? The tracker?”
“Shh. Quiet as you can. West. Towards Semiliki. The refugee camp.”
“You think they’ve bugged us?”
“I think we can’t be too careful. Especially when Strick finds out we
didn’t get on the airplane tomorrow.”
Veronica swallows. He is taking it as a given. And maybe he is right.
She is starting to feel angry, a warm and soothing rage deep inside.
“We should go to Semiliki first thing in the morning,” he whispers.
“No,” she says.
“But –”
“Second thing. There’s something else I have to do first.”

Of course Danton is staying in the Sheraton. Kampala arguably has one
or two finer hotels, but none more central, and Danton must always be at
the center of things. The staff at the Sheraton recognize Veronica, she
comes here for lunch at least weekly. She doesn’t need to ask what room
he’s in. The presidential suite, the penthouse. Nothing less would be ac-
ceptable to her ex-husband.
The elevator opens onto a narrow hallway covered by leopard-pat-
terned carpet, overseen by framed explorers’ maps and sketches of
nineteenth-century Africa, and by a pair of mounted elephant tusks. Two
security guards stand on duty. Four mahogany doors lead out from the
hallway. Veronica steps out, not allowing herself any hesitation, and de-
mands, “Which door for Mr. DeWitt?”
The guards look at her a moment. Her face is almost healed from her
Congo ordeal, the scabs have flaked off, the bruises are fading back into
healthy flesh, and she is a well-dressed white woman. They aren’t about
to challenge her.
“This way, madam,” one says, and opens the door for her. She enters
the suite’s antechamber, basically another hallway with a closet. Veron-
ica closes the door behind her and opens the one ahead without knock-
ing. Her hand is trembling slightly. Danton is sitting and reading the In-
ternational Herald Tribune by a huge window with a magnificent south-
ern view that extends all the way to the blue expanse of Lake Victoria.
He is of average height but thick and wide, built like a pit bull, he lifts
weights religiously. His pot belly has grown since she last saw him, his
hair has thinned, and his face is grizzled and stubbly. He wears khaki
slacks and a vest of many pockets as if he is about to go on safari, it
makes him look ridiculously colonial, all he needs is a pith helmet. She
recognizes his Ecco shoes.
“Jesus,” he says, amazed, he nearly drops the newspaper.
“No. Just me.”
Veronica doesn’t know what else to say. She tries to resurrect the rage
she felt last night, but all she feels is horribly out of place, awkward,

embarrassed. She shouldn’t have come. This was a terrible mistake. He
still has all the power.
It only takes Danton a moment to readjust. “I heard what happened, of
course. I’m glad you’re okay. But Veronica, if there’s something you want
to see me about, you should call ahead. You should call Julia. I’m on a
very busy schedule, I really don’t have time to chat.”
His mention of Julia reawakens Veronica’s rage. Julia is one of
Danton’s personal assistants. It was Julia who informed Veronica that
Danton had decided to divorce her. He couldn’t even be bothered to tell
her himself.
“I’m sure you’re very busy,” Veronica says. Her voice sounds shrill
even to herself. “Is there trouble with Selous Holdings? Out at the
Kisembe mine? Is Athanase giving you some kind of problem?”
Danton’s expression doesn’t waver, and it is that which convinces her
she’s right. If he actually didn’t know what she was talking about he
would have reacted somehow. “I’m sorry, I don’t understand.”
“Did you know I was in that group, in Bwindi? Did you know and go
ahead and say it was okay anyways?”
He blinks with surprise at the accusation, and she realizes no, he
hadn’t known. But that doesn’t mean he wasn’t responsible. It’s like
Prester said. He didn’t know because he didn’t want to.
“Veronica, I don’t know what you’re talking about, and I don’t think
you do either. It’s time for you to go. You should go home. You’ve been
through a traumatic experience and I think your mental health has
suffered -”
“You’re fucking right I have. Being married to you.”
“Veronica, please. Don’t make me call security. Don’t make me humili-
ate you like that.”
“Oh, come off it. You can’t wait to humiliate me. You never could.
Seven years and you throw me out like a, like a used condom.”
“I’m not going to waste my time justifying myself to you. You know
what I think?” Danton sounds angry now. “I think you knew all along
you were infertile. You knew and married me anyways.”
The accusation is so outrageous Veronica can’t find the right words to
“So don’t you come to me talking about things you don’t understand.
You’re not getting any more money from me. You’ve gotten more than
enough already. Seven years of the high life is more than most women
like you get. Plus alimony for life. You should count yourself lucky.”

You piece of shit. You
” She can’t believe
piece of shit.
she used to tell this man she loved him, that she slept beside his hairy,
walruslike body most nights for seven years and told herself she didn’t
mind his snoring, didn’t mind the carelessly indulgent way he treated
her, as if she was more pet than wife, didn’t mind the selfish, mechanical
way he fucked her on the rare occasions he was roused to sex. She can’t
believe she once hoped to bear his child. She wants to walk over and
smash his face, crush his testicles, gouge his eyes out.
Danton’s face hardens. He reaches for the phone on his coffee table.
“They’re blackmailing you, aren’t you?” she asks. “The terrorists. Black-
mailing you and Strick. What are they making you do? What do they
Danton freezes. Then he turns and stares at her as if he has actually
noticed her presence, in a way he never has before, as if he is really look-
ing at her for the first time ever. Veronica realizes she just made a mis-
take, maybe a terrible one, in her effort to score a point and make him
feel something. She shouldn’t have given away what they know.
“You don’t know what you’re doing,” Danton says quietly. “If you keep
playing with fire, you will get burned alive.” He pushes a button on his
phone, waits only a moment, of course his call is answered immediately,
all his calls are answered immediately.
“Get over here,” he says to the phone. “I have a security situation.”
“You can’t do it,” Veronica says. “Whatever they want you to do.
People will die. Innocent people. God knows how many. You have to
turn yourself in.”
Danton looks at her, considering. For a second she wonders if he’s go-
ing to allow her to depart.
Then he says, “You know why I’m here, Veronica? To
save lives
. I sup-
pose I might as well try to save yours too. You should be grateful. I’m
giving you one last chance. Stop interfering and go home. Today. No
one’s going to warn you again.”
* * *
“To save lives?” Jacob asks, puzzled. His hands falter in mid-gearshift
and the Toyota nearly stalls. He isn’t accustomed to piloting a right-
hand-drive stick-shift. “That’s what he said? I mean, even if he’s lying -”
“There’s no if about it.”
He decides not to argue the point. “Fine, but it’s kind of a weird lie to
tell, don’t you think?”

Veronica shrugs.
“You didn’t find out anything else?”
She hesitates. “Not really. I think he might suspect we know about
Jacob starts. “What? How?” If true, it’s disastrous. The element of sur-
prise is almost the only thing in their favour.
“Just his attitude, his face when he said he had friends in the US
“What were his exact words?”
She shrugs. “I don’t remember. I was too wound up.”
Jacob frowns. There’s something about her body language. “You didn’t
give anything away, did you?”
“I don’t know. I don’t think so. But, I mean, we were married. He’s
supposed to know me pretty well. Maybe not though. He never paid that
much attention to me.”
“He never paid attention to you?” Jacob asks incredulously.
“Not after we got married. The way he saw it, his wife’s job was to im-
press his friends, keep him warm at night, run the occasional errand,
bear his children and acknowledge his supremacy. Not someone to have
a meaningful relationship with.”
“Jesus. Why did you stay?”
She sighs. “I don’t know. I mean, for a long time I really believed he
loved me, in his way, he was just distant and hard-working and re-
served. The lies we tell ourselves. And… you know, being his wife was
the good life. Villas, penthouses, yachts, private jets, expense accounts,
beautiful people, amazing parties. He went away on business a lot and it
was all mine. I guess on some level I must have known what I really was.
And I guess I was okay with it. It was his idea to get a divorce.”
“He dumped you? Why?”
“I can’t have children. Endometriosis. I didn’t know, whatever fucking
conspiracy theory he wants to believe. You know what I think? I think
when we found that out, he decided right then, that day, that moment,
he would divorce me when I turned thirty. I’m pretty sure he hired a
personal trainer to try to seduce me. He was worried the pre-nup
wouldn’t hold up in court. He definitely hired a private investigator to
take pictures of me taking drugs. They were in the divorce papers I got
served with two weeks after my thirtieth birthday.”
After a moment Jacob says, angrily, “Well, you’re almost lucky.”
“Lucky?” She half-laughs. “How you figure?”
“You deserve a lot better than him.”

They drive on in silence for a while through the breathtaking Ugandan
countryside. Rolling hills drift past, thick green vegetation laced with
red-dirt roads, maybe half of it occupied and farmed. All colours are bril-
liant under the searing equatorial sun. Everything seems airbrushed, too
vivid to be real. Even the cultivated areas are beautiful, geometrically
patterned fields cut by shining irrigation ditches, dun-coloured
cattle with scimitar-shaped horns thick as elephant tusks, little clusters of
round bamboo-and-mud
in the shadows of tall trees. The ugly
towns they pass through are like scars on a supermodel’s face; brutal
concrete shells and wooden huts in fields of filth-strewn dirt, as fur-
rowed and uneven as a frozen ocean, littered with piles of bricks and
clumps of filth.
The road is good, but there isn’t much traffic. A few private cars; a few
of what Derek called NGO Assault Vehicles, white 4WDs with logos
painted on their doors and six-foot radio antennae attached to their front
bumpers; one bright red EMS Postbus; and dozens of sixteen-seat
hurtling past in both directions, with toppling mounds
of baggage roped precariously to their roofs, stopping without warning
anywhere and everywhere to absorb and disgorge passengers. Spike
belts and yellow metal barrels indicate the police roadblocks that are ubi-
quitous on all African highways. To Jacob’s relief, all the police wave
them on without inventing some traffic transgression and demanding a
Jacob remembers what he wanted to tell Veronica. “Derek’s phone
rang this morning. His other phone. The one from the Sun City.”
She blinks, looks at him. “Who was it?”
“That number in Zimbabwe.”
“Did you answer?”
“No. They didn’t leave a message.”
Veronica shakes her head. “This doesn’t make any sense. Zimbabwe,
Danton, Strick, Al-Qaeda, interahamwe, Zanzibar Sams that are actually
Igloos, it’s like something out of Lewis Carroll, none of it makes any
“It does to someone.”
“Why are we even going to this camp? What are we possibly hoping to
“Understanding,” Jacob says sourly.
“You really think we’ll find something?”
“Susan works at this refugee camp. That’s why Derek brought her to
Bwindi. He visited this camp, and made phone calls to someone else

there. Whoever shot Prester is going to this camp. Whatever’s going on,
it’s all going on there.”
“And we’re driving straight into it. And we know from that phone
Susan picked up that they were already planning some kind of attack in
western Uganda.”
Jacob shrugs, annoyed. He’s not going to back out now. He’s already
made that perfectly clear. “You want to get out and take a matatu back to
Kampala, go ahead.”
He waits tensely while Veronica thinks.
At length she says, “No. I want to know. But first thing we do is go to
Susan, make sure someone knows we’re there. And we don’t do any-
thing crazy. We definitely don’t go back over the border. I’m not going
back into the Congo.”
Jacob half-smiles, relieved. “Yeah. Been there, done that, got the
bloodstained T-shirt. No more Congo. It’s a deal.”
* * *
They stop for lunch in Fort Portal, a small collection of low, dusty
buildings in the foothills of the cloud-wreathed Ruwenzori mountains.
The town’s two significant buildings were the local tribal chief’s hilltop
castle, which looked like a modern Western university building, and the
town mosque. Veronica sees that mosque and thinks of the Arab man
who held a
to her throat. She, Derek, Susan and Jacob stopped in
Fort Portal for lunch on the way to Bwindi, at the same hotel where he
parks now, the Ruwenzori Travellers’ Inn. She opens her mouth but
leaves her protest unspoken. No sense running away from memories.
And they know the food here is good.
They eat beef stew with rice and chapatis. Outside, peasant farmers
walk rusting bicycles used for cargo; each supports four or five beer-keg-
sized bundles of bananas fresh off the tree. A group of women obviously
from Kampala, wearing bright clothes and mobile phones on lanyards,
their hair cut fashionably short or braided with purple highlights, pass
through the more soberly dressed local foot traffic like swans through
ducks. Their amused-by-hicksville expressions are the same as those of
New Yorkers in Iowa.
“I’m thinking of calling Zimbabwe,” Jacob says, after tapping at his
hiptop for a bit.

“That number Derek used to call. The one that called him this
“Why?” To Veronica it sounds like asking for trouble.
“It seems like it’s all going down at this camp, doesn’t it? Any informa-
tion we can get before going there might help.”
“What if whoever it is is on the other side? What if he figures
something out and calls them to warn them?”
“He can’t,” Jacob says. “Unless they’ve got a satellite phone.”
“I thought there was cell service up by the camp.”
“There is. But only a single Mango base station, the other networks
don’t reach it at all. Probably half the reason Derek got me my job. I just
disabled incoming calls and texts via that base station for every phone
but yours and mine.”
“What? When?” Veronica asks, amazed.
“Just now, when you were ordering.”
“But – Jacob, that’s a refugee camp. People’s lives could be in danger.”
“Right now I’m more worried about our lives,” he says sharply, and
then in a softer voice, “It’s no big deal. Outgoing calls still work.”
“Huh.” Veronica shakes her head. Jacob’s abilities, and their ramifica-
tions, continue to astonish her. “OK. I mean, yeah, I’m sure curious, so
why not. What the hell. Let’s call Zimbabwe.”
Jacob starts to dial, then looks around. “Once we’re back in the car.
“Be funny if the call didn’t work,” Veronica says sourly, once they have
paid the bill and returned to the Toyota. “Half my international calls
from here never get through.”
Jacob smalls. “Not me. All my calls are flagged as highest priority …
Here we go.” He taps at his hiptop, switching it to speakerphone, and
she hears the doubled rings of a phone call to England or a former Eng-
lish colony; then the click of an answer.
“Hello?” asks a plummy English voice that sounds both eager and
Veronica looks at Jacob and realizes he has no idea what to say.
“Hello?” the voice repeats, more wary this time.
She takes the initiative: “We’re returning your call from this morning.”
A brief pause. “And with whom exactly do I have the pleasure of
“My name’s Veronica Kelly. I’m with Jacob Rockel. We were friends
with Derek.”

She ignores Jacob’s appalled stare. There’s no point in complicated lies
and evasions. The truth may set them free; even if it doesn’t, lies won’t
do them any good.
“Veronica and Jacob,” the voice says doubtfully. “I seem to recall from
YouTube that you were with him in the Congo.”
“I called this morning to speak to his partner. Prester.”
“I’m sorry,” Veronica says, “Prester isn’t available. He’s, he’s been shot.”
“Shot? I see. An accident? Or an act of malicious intent?”
She pauses. “Intent.”
“By whom?”
“We’re not sure exactly. That’s what we’re trying to find out. We
think,” Veronica says, flinging caution to the wind, “it has something to
do with the Zanzibar Sams, which are actually Igloos.”
After a long pause the voice says, “I think we may have a bad connec-
tion. Could you repeat that?”
“Zanzibar Sams, which are actually Igloos.”
“Ah. No, the connection is fine. What in God’s name are you talking
“We’re not really sure,” Veronica admits. “We thought you might
“There are two of you there?”
“Yes,” Jacob contributes.
“And why did you think I might know?”
Jacob answers, “We have access to cell-phone records. We know Derek
called you, and you called him, repeatedly, over the last few months.”
“Mobile phone records. I see. Who do you work for?”
“Telecom Uganda.”
“That’s not what I mean,” the voice says, a little testy. “Why do you
have this phone? Why are you involved in this? Why are you even still in
“I was his best friend,” Jacob says. “Who exactly are you?”
A long silence. Veronica is afraid the man will hang up.
Eventually he says, grudgingly, “Let’s just say Derek and I were in
some ways compatriots.”
“What did he call you about?” Veronica asks. “We know he was invest-
igating a smuggling ring. We think he found out someone American was
involved, not Prester, and that’s who arranged for him and the rest of us
to be abducted.”

After another pause, the man acknowledges, “That was what I under-
stood as well. From inferences. He told me very little directly.”
“Very little like what?” Jacob asks, exasperated.
“Pardon me, Mr. Rockel, if that is actually your name, but why should
I tell you anything? How am I to know under what auspices you ac-
quired this phone?”
Jacob hesitates. “You can’t.”
“Precisely,” the voice says. “Pleasure talking to you.”
“Wait,” Veronica says. “Why did you call? What did you want to talk
to Prester about?”
Another long pause. “I suppose the question itself is harmless. I called
to ask for Derek’s professional next of kin.”
“Excuse me?” Jacob asks, befuddled.
“Either you really are an amateur or you play the part well. I mean the
name of whoever has inherited Derek’s work. I have something for him
or her. My more official request seems to have become lost in a bureau-
cratic labyrinth, and I thought I might speed up the process a little.”
“I’m sorry,” Veronica says, “we don’t have any idea who that might
“Wait,” Jacob says desperately. “You’re saying you have something
meant for Derek? What is it?”
“What kind of information?”
“Now that would be telling,” the man says, amused. “Goodbye.”
* * *
The road from Fort Portal to Semiliki weaves through the lush green
hills of western Uganda, past misty crater lakes, placid villages, tiny
roadside markets, vast tea plantations, a cement factory, and eleven mil-
lion banana trees. Sometimes the road is wide and paved, well-signed,
with painted lane markers and roadside gutters to carry away rainy-sea-
son overflow; sometimes it is well-worn red dirt; sometimes it is heavily
potholed asphalt, far worse to drive on than dirt. They stop in Semiliki
for gas, Snickers bars and Cokes, and for Veronica to take the wheel. By
the time they finally see the sign that says UNHCR SEMILIKI beside an
otherwise unremarkable road of pitted laterite, the sun is low above the
western hills.

“Are we even sure this is the right road?” Veronica asks, as Jacob pro-
duces and consults his trusty hiptop.
“I’m sure the tracker is that way. Right now I’m not sure of much else.”
Veronica takes a deep breath. It occurs to her that UNHCR Semiliki is
miles away from civilization, home to numerous white NGOers, and
very near the Congo border. They already know Al-Qaeda are planning
attacks on western Uganda. This camp, so close to Athanase’s smuggling
route, will certainly be at the top of their list. And maybe they’ve just
been waiting for the Zanzibar Sams to arrive before they strike.
But it’s too late to back out now. She grips the wheel and the gearshift,
puts her feet to the clutch and gas pedal, and steers the Toyota towards
the refugee camp.

The red dirt road is terrible, carved with more craters and ravines than
the surface of Mars. It takes thirty bumpy minutes to drive the eight kilo-
metres to the refugee camp. Entrance is barred by a pair of concrete
guard huts and a steel bar across the road, manned by uniformed
Ugandan soldiers, and for a moment Jacob is worried they will simply be
denied access and sent back; but when he invokes Susan’s name, the sol-
diers’ faces clear with recognition, and they raise the bar to allow the
Toyota access.
UNHCR Semiliki is an encyclopedia of suffering, a tent city of misery
in a small valley surrounded by steep and largely denuded hills. A half-
dozen brick buildings cluster in the middle of the settlement. The camp
proper boasts a smattering of thatched mud huts. But most of its thou-
sands of shelters are blue plastic or green canvas tarpaulins stretched
over frames made of tree branches. Whole families live in each. A few
roads radiate out from the brick buildings at the center of the camp, but
in the anarchic wedges between those roads, the tents are packed so
densely that there is rarely enough room for more than two to walk
abreast. There are people everywhere, the camp seems flooded with
them, some well-kept and clean, most dressed in rags. A few goats and
chickens pick their way through the dirt. Jacob wonders what they eat;
the ground throughout the camp is entirely mud, even weeds have been
trampled to death. He doesn’t want to even imagine what the camp is
like in rainy season.
There are more women than men, and amazing numbers of children.
A few have the distended bellies that said
. Many children,
and a few adults, turn and wave, smiling hopefully as the Toyota passes.
Others stare with lifeless eyes. A few look angry, hostile. Jacob hears
snatches of French through the open window. The air holds a stale,
faintly rancid smell of smoke and filth. He sees a huge tent beneath
which a teacher teaches mathematics to several hundred children, in the
failing red light, with no aids but chalk and a single blackboard. He sees
and smells a long, low, filthy building labelled LATRINE, its wrecked

door hanging open like a broken jaw. Old women lug yellow jerrycans
full of water, and others queue to fill theirs from rusted taps that pro-
trude from the ground. Pots boil over open-pit fires next to wood-and-
canvas shelters.
The brick buildings with tin roofs in the middle of the camp seem like
an island of peace and civilization. Here the soft background chatter of
the refugees is drowned out by the hum of multiple generators. Veronica
parks the Toyota at the end of the row of cars in front of another guard
hut, populated by a half-dozen Ugandan soldiers. Jacob wonders if these
soldiers, and those by the gate, are intended more to protect the refugees,
or to keep them in the camp and under control. He wonders how effect-
ive they would be against Athanase’s veteran interahamwe force.
“Susan Strachan, please, can you direct us to her?” Jacob says to the
soldier who comes to investigate.
The soldier nods and leads Veronica and Jacob between two of the
permanent buildings to a large shade structure made of metal struts and
a green plastic ceiling. Several dozen desks are arranged underneath it,
adorned by lights and laptop computers connected to a central generator
via an interwoven tangle of power cords clumped on the dirt floor like
old spaghetti. It is like some kind of surreal parody of an open-concept
office plan. Susan sits at a desk crowded with papers near the edge of the
tent. When she sees Veronica and Jacob her mouth literally drops open
with astonishment.
“Surprise!” Veronica says, trying for enthusiasm.
“Bloody hell,” Susan manages. “What are you two doing here?”
“It’s a long story,” Jacob says. He wishes they had gone to Susan earli-
er, before she left Kampala. He’d intended to, but then events overtook
them, he’d forgotten all about her and the Semiliki refugee camp until he
saw where the tracker was going. “You have a moment?”
Susan shakes her head, still amazed. “I suppose I must, for you two.”
Veronica says, seriously, “In private.”
Susan opens her mouth and then closes it again. “I see. Yes.” She
stands up. “In that case, let’s take a walk.”
* * *
Susan leads them out into the camp, onto a road leading away from
the gate. The long fingers of clouds above are reddening with sunset.
Refugees cluster and watch as if Veronica, Jacob and Susan are A-list
celebrities. It occurs to Veronica that just a month ago she would have

been far too intimidated by this camp and its densely packed tragedies to
go out and walk among the refugees like this.
A cloud of children surround and follow them, crying out for largesse:
“One pen!” ”
” ”
” “Give
Donnes-moi d’argent!
Un bic, monsieur, madam, un bic!
me money!” “What is your name?” ”
” Despite the
Quel est son pays?
children’s entreaties, Susan and Jacob act like they are on a stroll through
an empty field. Veronica tries to do the same, but it isn’t easy.
“How are you?” Jacob asks.
“I’m well enough, I suppose,” Susan says. “It’s good to be back here. It’s
the right place for me. I don’t think I’ll leave anytime soon. Why are you
“We were abducted because somebody wanted Derek dead. We’re try-
ing to find out who.”
Susan comes to a halt and turns to stare at Jacob. “That’s mad.”
“No, it’s not,” Veronica says. “We’ve found out a lot of things.”
“But what are you doing

“Somebody brought something to this camp last night,” Jacob says.
“We don’t know. But there’s a tracker on it, we can find it, we don’t
need you for that. We need to know, have you seen anything? Anything
that might imply there’s some kind of smuggling going on between this
camp and the Congo?”
Susan considers. “I couldn’t tell you. It’s not like this place is tightly
policed. Look around, it can’t be. There are tribal gangs in the camp.
Some mornings we find bodies. Not from natural causes. But nobody
ever saw anything. Nobody ever dares bear witness. People disappear all
the time. Some run away to find a job. Some never existed in the first
place. False identities to get extra rations. Some go back to the Congo,
yes. That’s where most of these people are from, you know. They ran
away from the civil war, and now there’s nothing left to go back to. But a
smuggling ring? It’s possible. I don’t know.”
“Derek invited you to Bwindi for a reason,” Jacob says.
She twitches with surprise. “What reason?”
“There’s someone else in this camp that he’s been in touch with. Derek
even came here, a month ago. Did you see him then?”
Susan looks astonished. “No.”
“Did he talk to you about that at all?”
“No. I thought, he met me in Kampala, he invited me, I knew he knew
I worked here, but he never asked me anything.”
“Me neither,” Veronica says. “I guess he never got the chance.”

“Have you seen any American visitors here lately?” Jacob asks. “Have
you heard anything about General Gorokwe? Do Zanzibar Sams or
Igloos mean anything to you?”
Susan shakes her head three times, increasingly perplexed.
“All right. Shit. Well, never mind.” Jacob looks at his hiptop. “We’re not
far from that tracker. Let’s take a look before it gets dark.”
Susan looks nervous. “Maybe we should wait. I should ask some other
Jacob shakes his head. “It’s less than a thousand feet away. In fact,” he
says, turning back towards the center of the camp, following the direc-
tions on the hiptop’s screen, “it’s right back in the middle there.”
He leads them at a quick walk back towards the brick buildings, al-
most bowling over two children surprised by his sudden direction shift.
Veronica follows closely. Susan trails behind. Jacob rounds the corner of
one of the brick buildings and comes to a sudden halt so fast Veronica
nearly bumps into him.
The black pickup from last night is there, parked in another row of
vehicles, most of them white four-wheel-drives. Its cargo bed is empty.
Jacob rushes over to it, drops to his knees, reaches beneath it, and de-
taches the GPS tracking device that has clung magnetically to the under-
side of the pickup.
“Where did this come from?” Jacob demands, indicating the black
vehicle, as Susan arrives.
“Oh, the pickup,” Susan says, as if everything suddenly makes sense.
“Let’s go back to my desk. I’ll find someone who knows.”
* * *
“The bureaucrats in New York don’t believe what I’m doing is particu-
larly valuable, so I don’t qualify for a wall,” Susan says, leading them
back to her desk inside the shade structure. “They think perpetuating
what you see here is more important than building a way out. Mail, bus
services, mobile phones, the Internet, connections to the rest of the
world, we can’t have those, can we? Because then they might use them,
and stop needing UNHCR, and we
can’t have that. You soon
find that the first priority of almost every aid organization in Africa is to
perpetuate their own necessity, actually helping people is decidedly sec-
ondary. And the Ugandan government doesn’t want these dirty Con-
golese refugees anywhere near the rest of the country either. So I got
pushed out here. Not that I mind having a view, but in the rainy season,

when the wind blows, we all have to huddle in the middle or we get
soaked. I’m sorry. You don’t care. Do you want some food? A cup of tea?
We’ve even got a few solar showers.”
“I just want to know where that pickup came from,” Jacob says.
“Yes, of course. Lewis!” she calls out.
The same guard who escorted them to Susan walks over. He looks
about nineteen. “Yes, Miss Sloan?”
“That black pickup. Did it arrive last night?”
“No, Miss Sloan. This morning. I was at the gate myself.”
“What was in it?” Jacob asks eagerly.
Lewis looks at him, surprised. “Nothing. It’s a new vehicle for the
camp motor pool. We did not requisition any supplies.”
“You’re sure? There weren’t any big metal boxes in the back?”
“I am quite certain.”
“Shit,” Veronica says. “Too late. They’re gone.”
She and Jacob exchange dejected looks.
“I suppose you’re spending the night,” Susan says. “I’ll rustle you up a
tent and a couple bedrolls. Oh, and a flashlight. Remind me to show you
where the latrines are. And you must be hungry. The canteen will be
serving for another hour or so.
, I’m afraid.”

,” Jacob says dourly. “Can’t wait.”
* * *
The tent is perched on the thin strip of no-man’s-land between the ad-
ministrative buildings and the refugee camp proper. It is small and be-
draggled, and the sleeping bags are motheaten, but Veronica supposes
she can’t complain, not when she is literally surrounded by tens of thou-
sands of refugees sleeping in even more uncomfortable shelters. She
doesn’t feel hungry or tired yet, she’s too keyed up from the day, but she
knows she will after half an hour of inaction.
“Are you going to be okay in there?” Jacob asks, worried.
She looks at him without comprehension for a moment, then realizes
he’s referring to her dislike of tight spaces. “Oh. Yeah, no problem. Tents
are fine. Don’t ask me why.”
“Oh.” He looks baffled. “Well, I guess it’s irrational by definition,
A little annoyed by that, Veronica stoops and tosses her day pack into
the tent, then stands, looks up at him and says, “We should go eat.”
“Not yet.”

He disappears into the tent without another word, taking the flash-
light with him. It takes his gangly body a moment to negotiate the door-
flaps. Veronica looks around. She is dimly lit by the electric lights of the
central buildings and the open flames that dot the refugee camp. Mos-
quitoes are buzzing everywhere, she’s glad she brought insect repellent,
and the background hum of conversation in the distance is ever-present,
like static. Veronica doubts she has ever been in a more densely popu-
lated patch of real estate that didn’t involve skyscrapers.
She follows Jacob inside. Being in a tent, lit by flashlight, feels like be-
ing back in summer camp, when she was a teenager, when the world
seemed bright and full of promise. Jacob has unpacked and turned on his
breadbox-sized spectrum analyzer, has both it and his hiptop out, and is
examining the readouts on their respective screens.
“Did that thing get anything useful from the scrapyard?” Veronica
Jacob, studying his hiptop, shakes his head. “A few phones. None
Mango except the one I already knew about.”
“What are you doing?”
“Checking the GPS record. They didn’t go over the border. The pickup
went offroad just before the turnoff to the camp, at about six this morn-
ing, stopped there for twenty minutes, then came back.”
“So they’re gone,” Veronica says.
“Maybe not. I don’t think they would have crossed the border by day.
They would have waited until tonight. Probably the middle of the night,
a few hours yet.”
“You want to go back out there now? I – no. No. Absolutely not. Jacob,
we agreed, we wouldn’t do anything crazy, and going out to where these
things are hidden in the middle of the night all by ourselves is crazy.”
“That’s not what I want to do right now. I want to find Derek’s
“Who?” she asks.
“The other phone signal from this refugee camp, remember? Whoever
it was that Derek came to visit. Wasn’t Susan. Somebody else. Somebody
here. Maybe they know something.”
“I thought you said you couldn’t track locations out here. Only one
base station.”
“Right. That’s why I brought this.” Jacob taps the spectrum analyzer
like he’s petting a good dog. “It acts like a portable base station all by it-
self. It also boosts the signal from the existing station, which allows my
hiptop to connect over GPRS to Kampala and the Internet, which is

pretty amazing all by itself, if you think about just how deep in the
middle of nowhere we are right now. I just checked the central database
to see if Derek’s contact’s phone is here and active. Guess what? Yes it is.
Somewhere in this camp, right now.”
“Great. How do we find it?”
He pets the analyzer again. “We get this within a hundred metres of
that phone, close enough to triangulate its location.”
“So let’s go take this puppy for a little walk.”
* * *
Veronica leads the way with their flashlight. Jacob carries the heavy
and cumbersome signal analyzer, and has strapped on his day pack as
well, full of other equipment. They walk in a slow circle around the
camp’s administrative center. Nobody asks them what they are doing;
nobody else is out and about. He isn’t surprised. Outside of major cities,
Africa lives on a dawn-to-dusk schedule.
The spectrum analyzer picks up plenty of cell phones within its range,
almost all of them Mango, but none are the phone that Derek called.
Soon they are back at their tent and the analyzer is running low on
power. Jacob wishes he had thought to charge it fully before leaving
Kampala. He brought both a hand-crank recharger with him, but they
don’t really have time for either.
“No good?” Veronica asks.
Jacob shakes his head.
“Maybe it’s not in the camp. We didn’t know exactly where that phone
was, right? We just know it was six kilometres from the base station.”
“Right. But everything else six klicks out is just bush. It has to be here.
Nothing else makes any sense. Let me make sure it’s still alive.” Jacob
puts down the spectrum analyzer and logs on to the Kampala master
database server with his hiptop, via that same base station. The GPRS
connection is painfully slow, but he’s only sending and receiving text;
once connected it doesn’t take long to establish that the phone in ques-
tion was active and six kilometres from Semiliki base station as of fifteen
seconds ago.
Veronica turns to look at the overcrowded sea of refugees. Most of the
fires are dying down now, the camp is mostly darkness.
Jacob nods. He’s thinking the same thing. “It’s out there. Let’s go find

Veronica hesitates.
“Nothing’s going to happen to use. We’re
. We can shout for
help. There are soldiers, they’ll hear us. We’ll be fine. Anybody asks,
we’re just going for a walk. Come on.”
She reluctantly accedes. They venture out into one of the roads that ra-
diate out from the centre of the camp. Veronica keeps her flashlight
aimed at the road, which is remarkably clean. Jacob supposes there’s no
such thing as debris out here. These people have so little that every rag
and scrap is valuable.
Occasionally he sees people sleeping out in the open beside of the
road. Their eyes gleam in the light and they stare at him and Veronica
but do not react. Some of them are children sleeping alone. They seem to
Jacob like ghosts, somehow, insubstantial, so unrooted to the world that
he can almost believe that after he walks past them they will actually
cease to exist.
The camp doesn’t actually end, it just bleeds into scarred plots of
scraggly-looking farmland, and the number of visible goats and chickens
slowly increases. Veronica and Jacob decide not to cut through the in-
habited wedges; instead they return to the center and try another of the
eight radial roads, moving quietly, whispering to one another, as if
something terrible might awaken. He knows it’s ridiculous but he can’t
shake the feeling.
Midway down the third road Jacob’s spectrum analyzer suddenly
bleeps. Veronica starts as if at a gunshot. Jacob crouches over its screen
excitedly. They’ve made contact. The cell phone in question is within
Jacob goes forward twenty paces along the road, slowly rotates, goes
back another twenty paces, and repeats, studying the analyzer the whole
time. Radio is a weird and unpredictable medium and it isn’t easy to
work out where the signals are coming from, but they seem to get
stronger to the south. He walks off the road and into the densely popu-
lated shelters, holding the analyzer ahead of him as if it’s a gigantic com-
pass. Veronica follows.
The shelters are so tightly packed together that Jacob has to be careful
where he steps so as not to tread on a person or a structural support. The
refugees around them begin to come to life, a soft hum of surprise radi-
ates out from Jacob and Veronica as they make their way through the
settlement. People sit and kneel up and stare at the two white people
they pick their way through the shelters, they have a murmuring audi-
ence of hundreds, maybe more. Jacob pretends not to notice, but he is

breathing fast now, and the hairs on his neck are prickling, all this atten-
tion is eerie and maybe dangerous, they won’t have time to yell for help
if these refugees decide to jump them and take all their things, but they
can’t go back now. His arms are aching, and the analyzer’s battery monit-
or is flashing red.
Suddenly the signal strength begins to dwindle. Jacob stops and ro-
tates until it regains its strength, then walks in the new direction until the
signal diminishes again. They slowly spiral inwards until Veronica puts
her hand on Jacob’s shoulder to stop him and he looks up from the
analyzer’s screen.
“That tent,” she says.
It is the only actual tent within fifty feet, made of ancient, much-re-
paired canvas, leaning drunkenly on sagging poles. Its door hangs open,
the zippers are broken. Veronica stoops and aims the flashlight inside.
Jacob crouches beside her. There is a man sleeping within, lying diagon-
ally on the uncushioned floor, and a small pile of belongings beyond.
“Excuse us,” Veronica says tentatively, aiming the light at the man’s
His eyes open and he immediately sits straight up, shading his face
with one hand, reaching instinctively into his small pile of possessions
with the other. He is short, compact, and muscular, with a broad nose,
low forehead, deep-set eyes, and very dark skin, almost like some big-
oted caricature of an African. Jacob guesses his age at thirtyish.
After a second he utters something curt, half-question, half-demand.
His voice is gravelly, his eyes and face are flat, expressionless. Jacob
doesn’t understand his language.
“Excuse me,” Veronica says soothingly, and aims the flashlight at her-
self for a second, then at Jacob stooping next to her. “Can we talk to you
for a moment?”
The man says nothing.
“Do you have a mobile phone in there?” Jacob asks, wondering if the
man understands English at all.
“No. No phone. Why do you come here?” His voice is hostile. His ac-
cent is French, which makes sense, most of these refugees are from the
Veronica looks helplessly at Jacob. He hesitates, then realizes what he
should have done some time ago: he puts the analyzer down on the dirt,
pulls out his hiptop, opens it, and simply dials the number of the phone
they seek. A second later the bundled clothes that serve as the man’s pil-
low begin to vibrate, subtly but unmistakably.

The man’s expression hardens. He rises from his seated position into a
crouch, ready for action. Jacob flinches and puts his hand on Veronica’s
shoulder, about to pull her away.
“We’re friends of Derek,” Veronica says quickly. The man’s expression
flickers, he knows the name. “I’m Veronica, this is Jacob. What’s your
He answers, eventually, “Rukungu.”
“Rukungu. Hi. It’s nice to meet you. Can we come in and talk?”
After another long, wary moment Rukungu says, “No. I will come
* * *
“Where is Derek?” Rukungu asks, when they get back on the road.
He turns towards the perimeter of the camp. Veronica and Jacob fol-
low. She tries to think of a way to break the news gently.
Jacob says, “Derek is dead.”
Rukungu’s pace doesn’t even falter. “How?”
“He was abducted. We were too. Taken into the Congo. He was killed
by Al-Qaeda and interahamwe.”
“It was all over the news,” Veronica says lamely. In this refugee camp
the rest of the world might as well not exist.
“How did you find me?”
“I was Derek’s best friend,” Jacob says. Veronica winces at this avoid-
ance of the truth.
“Derek said he told no one about me. No one.”
Jacob hesitates. “He didn’t. We followed your phone.”
Rukungu looks at him and says nothing.
Veronica says, “We need your help. We need to know what’s going
“I will speak only to Derek.”
“You can’t. I’m sorry. Derek is dead.”
“Then I will speak to no one,” Rukungu says flatly.
“We’re trying to find out who killed him. Who was responsible,” Jacob
says. “I was his best friend.”
“So you say,” Rukungu stops and turns on Jacob, steps into his person-
al space, moving so suddenly that Veronica takes an alarmed step back.
He looks ready for violence. “But how can I know this is the truth?”
Veronica can’t think of any way to break the tense silence that follows.

Then Jacob smiles, as a light bulb visibly goes off in his mind. “I’ll
show you.” He reaches for his hiptop. “Look.”
Rukungu looks suspicious but grudgingly circles around to look as the
much taller man punches buttons.
“This is us at university,” Jacob says. “At a Nirvana concert, six months
before Kurt Cobain killed himself. Twelve years ago now.”
Veronica leans in, curious despite herself, and sees a picture of a two
kids barely out of their teens; one is tall and skinny, the other shorter and
pudgy, with unkempt hair and sallow skin. She recognizes both, but
only barely.
“This is Derek?” Rukungu asks, and his voice echos her own
“Yep. And this is him when he got back from Bosnia.” Jacob pushes
keys, and then Derek appears again, still young but trim and muscular
now, she can see the man he will become within his not-quite-fully-
formed features. His dragon-tattooed arm is around a slender redhead.
“And here’s us in Thailand, a few years ago. Not my most flattering pic-
ture, but hey.”
It’s true: Jacob is lying on a beach, pale and pasty and rail-thin, staring
up at the camera with bloodshot eyes. Derek is beside him reading a
Martin Cruz Smith novel.
“I was badly hung over. His then-girlfriend took it. Then they broke up
while I was there, it was awkward.”
Rukungu looks at the pictures, then at Jacob, not quite convinced.
“Come on,” Jacob says, exasperated. “What do you want, a notarized
statement? We were best friends for twenty years. Ask me anything.”
The African man asks, “Do you know Lydia?”
Jacob looks at Veronica, surprised, then back to Rukungu. “You mean
the, the lady in the Hotel Sun City?”
“Yes. Yes, the Sun City. Is she still there? Is she well?”
“Sure. We saw her last week. We gave her money, I’m sure she’s fine.
But, I mean, you know she has… ”
“Yes,” Rukungu says shortly. “I know. Is she still strong?”
“Strong enough,” Veronica says gently. “Do you know her?”
He doesn’t answer.
“Is that why Derek was taking care of her? Because you asked him to?”
“She could not come here.”
“Why not?”

“There are
here who know her.” He uses the word like an
epithet. Veronica doesn’t know what it means, and from his expression
neither does Jacob.
“What did you do for Derek?” Veronica asks, “Why are you here?”
Rukungu looks at her, then at Jacob, and comes to some decision, “I
was waiting for Derek. He said there would be a transfer this week, and
he would come. I was to take him to bear witness. He was right. Tonight
is the new moon. There will be a transfer.”
“How do you know?” Jacob asks.
“Because I was one of them.”
“One of who?”
Rukungu looks at Jacob as if the question is stupid. “One of Athanase’s
Veronica sucks in breath sharply.
“I can take you to the transfer,” Rukungu says. “It is not too late. It will
happen at midnight.”
“No,” Veronica says quickly. “No, it’s too dangerous.”
“There will be no danger. I can take you to a place where they do not
see us. But you can see them. You will see everything.”
Veronica looks at Jacob. She wants him to say no.
“You trusted us,” Jacob says. His voice is quiet but Veronica can sense
his excitement. “We ought to return the favour.”

Jacob, Veronica and Rukungu march through the night. When Jacob
shines his flashlight around them he sees that these hills above the
refugee camp have been stripped bare of trees, ravaged by the demand
for firewood and arable land. The resulting erosion has obviously eaten
away from the soil; jagged rocks protrude with increasing frequency as
they climb the steep slope. Jacob wonders if rainy-season landslides will
soon threaten the camp itself. The trail they follow leads them through
tiny, ragged, and ever less fertile plots of farmland.
Rukungu moves slowly but unstoppably, and carries the spectrum
analyzer as if it is a balloon. Veronica is beginning to wheeze. Jacob too is
soon exhausted, his muscles have not yet recovered from the Congo, and
this climb is gruelling. He forces himself to continue on weak and rub-
bery legs, aiming the flashlight straight down on the ground, to illumin-
ate the ground on which they walk. He wonders if its light is visible from
below. At least it is a good flashlight, a small but durable Maglite that
shows no signs of darkening.
“I have to stop,” Veronica pants. “I can’t make it all the way up without
a break.”
“Me neither,” Jacob gratefully seconds.
Rukungu turns to them. “Go slow. Softly, softly. But do not stop.”
They follow his advice, take smaller steps. For a while it works. Then
both lungs and legs begin to burn again. Jacob is on the verge of de-
manding another halt when Rukungu stops on a flattish patch. While Ja-
cob and Veronica catch their breath, Rukungu kneels beside a large
boulder, carefully thrusts his hands beneath, and withdraws a dusty
“What’s that for?” Veronica demands nervously.
“For making a path. Come.”
“Five minutes,” Jacob grunts.
Rukungu nods. Jacob turns off the light and focuses on his breath.
Eventually the stars stop swimming in the sky and fix in one place. He is

ravenously hungry, he wishes they had stopped long enough to eat,
right now he would devour
as if it was made of chocolate truffles.
“What time is it?” Veronica asks Jacob.
He consults his hiptop. “Ten.”
She turns to Rukungu. “How much further?”
“Myself, thirty minutes. With you, I think one hour.”
They continue, leaving the farming plots behind; the slope has become
too steep and stony to eke out any crop. There is no longer any trail, they
have to improvise their route through bushes and rocks. Jacob is glad the
refugees have cut down all the trees for firewood or construction. Thick
forest would take hours to climb through.
When they finally reach the crest of the ridge the night is so dark they
see nothing of the hills around them at all, nothing but the distant glow
of the few electric lights in the camp’s administration center. At least the
mosquitoes are now few.
“There is a road,” Rukungu says, pointing downwards, away from the
camp. “Past the road there is a river. Past the river is the Congo.”
Rukungu takes the flashlight and begins to lead them downhill. Jacob
follows uneasily. They are placing an enormous amount of trust in this
man they just met. He could take the light and leave them and they
would probably never find their way back. He could turn on them with
and kill them both. Jacob supposes if Rukungu were going to
do these things he already would have. Somehow this is unconvincing
He is beginning to wish he had declined Rukungu’s offer. He hadn’t
quite realized it would mean marching for hours through barren African
wilderness in the moonless dark. And now that it’s actually happening,
the idea of spying on a rendezvous between smugglers and Al-Qaeda on
the very border of the Congo, with no recourse if something goes wrong,
seems completely insane.
he thinks to himself.
Well, you always wanted your big adventure,
ture, noun. Long periods of tedium interspersed with brief moments of terror.
Except Jacob has learned this Devil’s Dictionary definition is incomplete:
in real adventures, the tedium is usually coupled with total physical ex-
haustion, and the terror never really goes away, it’s always there in the
background, gnawing at him like sandpaper.
“Look,” Rukungu says softly.
Jacob looks. Lights in the distance, headlights, bouncing up and down,
the road is clearly as bad as that leading into the camp. Rukungu

immediately switches off the Maglite. The vehicle rounds a gradual
curve until it parallels the ridge they just crossed.
“We must hurry,” Rukungu says. “This torch is too bright.”
He gives Jacob back the flashlight, produces his Nokia phone, and
uses its screen to light their way down the ridge. Veronica follows, with
Jacob behind her, using his hiptop as light. They follow a narrow path
that seems to have barely worn its way into the thick trees and bushes.
Jacob twice sees footprints too small to be Rukungu’s. Prints left by a
child’s feet. Or a pygmy’s. The vegetation here is thin, Rukungu doesn’t
need to use his
. Jacob wonders why he brought it, then. Maybe for
self-defense. Maybe this isn’t as safe as he promised.
As they descend, the vehicle pulls offroad and stops, almost directly
beneath them. They are only a few hundred feet away now. Jacob’s
muscles are taut, almost cramping with fear and adrenalin. He has to
force himself to breath slowly, quietly.
The vehicle’s engine switches off, its doors open, and Rukungu stops
so suddenly that Veronica almost collides with him.
“What is it?” Veronica whispers.
“You are very loud. We must wait for more noise.”
“From where?” Jacob asks, low-voiced.
“The other vehicle.”
“We’re almost in range of the analyzer,” Jacob says. “Just twenty
metres closer.”
Jacob doesn’t argue. Ahead of him Veronica is breathing fast. Jacob
reaches out and takes her hand. She squeezes back tightly. Then Jacob
lets go, shrugs his backpack off as silently as he can, and kneels. He
gently opens his pack, withdraws camera and lens, and begins to as-
semble them by touch, working slowly and gently. His heart is thumping
but his hands are steady. He remembers soldering circuit boards togeth-
er, back in university, he was always good at that. Twice he slips slightly,
metal clicks against plastic and Veronica inhales sharply, but Jacob isn’t
worried, they’re surely far enough away that the men in the vehicle can’t
hear anything. Those men are speaking, conversing in low voices, but he
can’t make out any words or even the language.
“They come,” Rukungu mutters.
Jacob looks west and sees two more headlights in the distance.
Rukungu says, his voice so low Jacob can barely hear him, “You must
be silent. Absolutely silent. No light.”

He begins to move further downslope. Veronica takes a deep breath
and begins feeling her away along the path too. Jacob follows, but he
can’t move quickly with the camera, and soon she and Rukungu have
disappeared into the darkness ahead.
* * *
Veronica’s outstretched hand touches something warm and she almost
gasps before identifying it as Rukungu. He is crouched behind
something, a rock outcrop. Beyond a dirt slope drops maybe twenty feet
to the road, lit by the approaching headlights. Veronica huddles next to
Rukungu. At least the outcrop, plus the low trees and bushes on this
stony ridge, should screen them from view. She can smell cigarette
smoke. They are almost directly above where the first vehicle is parked.
The men there are smoking, she can see their incandescent red dots of
their cigarettes. Veronica badly wants one herself.
The second set of headlights wash over the first vehicle, a matatu like
any other. Four men loiter around it, standing or leaning against the
vehicle, smoking and waiting. They could be the same men Veronica saw
last night in the scrapyard, she can’t be sure. Light reflects from the white
matatu onto the second vehicle as it pulls in alongside. It is big, blocky
and angular – a Humvee. Its doors open and three men emerge. Veronica
squints. The headlights are aimed away, and the diffuse light isn’t
enough to recognize faces, but one of the men is small but built hugely,
like a bodybuilder. Veronica shudders. It’s him, she can’t recognize his
face but she’s sure of it; there, only fifty feet away, stands the Al-Qaeda
terrorist who beheaded Derek.
The two groups of men engage in a brief and businesslike discussion.
Veronica does not understand their language. She wonders if Rukungu
does. If so he makes no obvious sign of it, just watches patiently.
Veronica is suddenly aware of someone on her other side. She
twitches, turns her head, and is relieved to see Jacob kneeling next to her,
holding his camera with zoom lens attached. He rests it cautiously on the
edge of the outcrop, aims it down at the two vehicles and seven men,
and pushes the button. Veronica stiffens, but no sound or light emerges
from the camera, Jacob must have switched it to some kind of stalker
The smokers below carefully crush their cigarettes beneath their feet.
Then the short, wide man who killed Derek opens the back of the

Humvee, revealing a forest of yellow jerrycans. All seven men begin to
move the jerrycans out onto the road. Veronica can smell gasoline.
Jacob leans over to whisper gently into her ear. “I read about this.
Gasoline smuggling. That gas actually got trucked in through Uganda in
the first place, but there’s no government in Congo, so no taxes, so the
price there is so much lower it’s cheaper to bring it back in from the
Congo than to buy it in Ugandan gas stations.”
Veronica doesn’t care and wishes Jacob didn’t either. She wants to
snap at him to focus. This isn’t a time to be interested in the economics of
smuggling. This is exactly the kind of knife-edge dangerous situation he
promised they wouldn’t get into.
Below them, the rear doors of the matatu are opened. Veronica
breathes in deeply as she sees the two coffin-sized metal boxes within,
the same boxes she saw on the pickup last night. She sees something
written on them, stencilled letters she can’t quite make out. Jacob returns
to his camera. The metal boxes are heavy, it takes four men to carry each
from the matatu into the Humvee. Once they are loaded, the bodybuild-
er and two other men get back into their vehicle and drive away, head-
ing west again, towards the Congo. Veronica watches their taillights dis-
appear. She feels relieved but also disappointed. They are safe, but they
haven’t learned anything new. She was expecting something more im-
portant, more decisive.
The four men from the matatu load the vehicle with jerrycans. Jacob
reaches out to adjust the zoom. The camera lens extends outwards –and
knocks loose a pebble that rattles loudly down the rock outcropping.
Veronica freezes as one of the men below turns around to stare at the
unexpected noise. Her skin tingles with acid electricity, her heart fills her
throat. The man stares into the darkness for a second, then says
something and points, directly at them. The others stop working and fol-
low his lead. She feels like they’re staring straight at her. She couldn’t
breathe even if she dared.
Then Rukungu opens his mouth and an inhuman sound emerges, a
warbling, high-pitched animal noise, some kind of mammalian chitter.
The men below visibly relax, and one chuckles. Veronica starts to breathe
again, shallowly and silently. The man who pointed at them is the last to
turn away. He goes to the matatu’s passenger-side door and gets into the
vehicle. The last few jerrycans are loaded, the rear doors are slammed
The passenger door opens again and the man emerges with a flash-
light in his hand. Veronica’s heart convulses again as he shines it into the

darkness. She crouches lower, as do Jacob and Rukungu crouch lower,
all three are fully obscured by the rock outcrop.
But Jacob’s camera is still perched the rock, its lens aimed straight at
the man with the flashlight.
Veronica closes her eyes. They won’t see it, she tells herself. It’s too
Then she hears a surprised and outraged shout, and an icy fist
clenches at her gut.
“Run!” Rukungu orders.
Jacob grabs the camera and sprints noisily back up the trail. More
shouting erupts below. Veronica stays where she is, hunched over, she
feels paralyzed, like a rabbit caught in headlights, until Rukungu shoves
her so hard she almost topples over. It breaks the spell. She too turns and
rushes uphill, stumbling on the uneven ground, in the darkness she can’t
make out the path. She hears Jacob running above her and deliberately
turns diagonally away. They’re better off splitting up.
Then she hears the firecracker noises of gunfire behind her, an auto-
matic weapon. She throws herself to the ground, heedless of the the
thorns and branches that claw at her face and arms. The gunfire contin-
ues briefly. Then she hears running noises from below. They are follow-
ing. Veronica considers trying to flee, but she’ll make too much noise,
they’re too close, and they’re faster and stronger. Best to hide and hope.
She curls up in a ball and looks behind her, down the ridge. Two lights
are coming up the path. She is less than twenty feet away from the trail,
not near as far away as she hoped. She can see the face of the man hold-
ing the first flashlight, the form of the second man behind him, and the
rifles they carry. They rush right past her, pursuing Jacob; but the other
two-man team, with the second flashlight, is climbing much more
slowly, and examining the ground as they come. Both hold drawn
Veronica stays rigidly still and silent. She wants to run, to leap to her
feet and scramble away, but it is too late now. She can’t bear to watch,
she wants to close her eyes, but doesn’t let herself, she needs to know
what’s happening. She tries to tell herself that she will be fine, that some-
how this will all be over soon.
The two men with pistols veer off the path, straight towards her.
Veronica twitches with dread. She has to hold her breath to keep herself
from moaning with terror. Their light is aimed at the ground, they are
studying that circle of illumination carefully. They are thirty feet away,
maybe less, they will see her in seconds.

Light flickers from up the ridge, light like a gunshot, but there is no
sound. The two men following her turn to look. There is another flash,
and another, they seem to be coming every two seconds. The men speak
briefly. Then they return to her trail. They heard her, she realizes too late;
they noticed somebody stopped running after the gunfire. They know
she is close to the path.
Light from their flashlight washes over her. She cringes away as one of
them exclaims triumphantly, and suddenly they are both standing over
her, aiming their light directly at her face, speaking to one another in sur-
prised tones. Veronica curls into a fetal position. All she can see of them
is that they wear jeans and leather boots, good quality, these men aren’t
poor. One stoops, grabs her arm, pulls her roughly to her feet.
“No,” she says weakly, knowing there’s no use in fighting back, trying
to resist by going limp, like a child. “No. Let me go. Let me go.”
She makes a pathetic attempt to pull away. In response the pressure on
her increases, her arm is pulled behind her back and forced upwards un-
til she cries out from the pain. Her shoulder feels like it is on the verge of
dislocation. Veronica is hyperventilating, panting like an animal. It is all
she can do not to stumble and fall as her abductors march her back to
their vehicle.

Her captors are laughing now, exchanging eager banter. They propel her
across the road and shove her hard against its wall of the matatu, she
gets her free hand up just in time so that it instead of her face absorbs
most of the impact. Then that arm too is grabbed and forced painfully
behind her back. She is dragged alongside the matatu and bent headfirst
over its hood. She kicks out feebly, tries to wriggle free, but it is no use,
and then her arms are forced higher, agony arcs through both her
shoulders, and she screams.
Her arms are allowed to lower a tiny amount. Veronica stops trying to
resist, she just lies there numbly, moaning, her arms held behind her
back, the matatu’s hood against her face. Its engine is still warm from the
drive. A single powerful hand pressing down on her arms keeps her
pinned face-down. Her captors discuss something. She doesn’t under-
stand their words, but she gets the idea that one of them is arguing in fa-
vour of something, and the other is reluctant, but eventually gives in.
Moments later something metal touches her temple. She swivels her
head instinctively so she can see what it is. A gun, a pistol, held to her
head. The second man fumbles with the zipper of her jeans. Veronica
tries to think of something to say to make them stop but the only sounds
emerging from her mouth are helpless animal grunts. She tries to fight
but there is too much weight on her; the more she tries to wriggle free,
the more her shoulders howl with pain.
The button pops free. She whimpers as her jeans and underwear are
yanked down to her knees. She hears a loud grunt, then, and unexpec-
tedly, some kind of warm, thick liquid splashes over her lower back, and
the flashlight that has illuminated her goes careening into the night. The
hand on her wrists and the gun against her head pull suddenly away. As
Veronica reflexively stretches out her arms, releasing her tortured
shoulders, she hears a horrible gurgling sound, and then a man falls
right on top of her, his whole weight pushes her into the hood for a mo-
ment before he rolls limply away, leaving her free.

Veronica stands, turns, and screams again. In the dim light of the
fallen flashlight she can see there is blood everywhere, blood all over her
legs and lower body, and two men lie dead at her feet. A third stands in
the darkness, she can’t see his face but the
in his hand is wet with
blood. She instinctively turns to run, but her jeans trip her up and she
falls hard on one of the bodies. Veronica scrabbles away, clumsily
pulling her jeans and underwear back up, gasping with shock and hor-
ror. The third man picks up the fallen flashlight and illuminates himself.
It is Rukungu.
“Be silent,” he hisses.
Veronica somehow manages to get to her feet. She is shaking so viol-
ently that she has to lean on the matatu to steady herself.
Rukungu inspects her. “Are you wounded?”
She shakes her head.
“The other men will return. They have Kalashnikovs. We must run, not
Veronica takes three deep breaths, recovers enough of her self-posses-
sion to stand unsupported. “Yes. Okay. I’ll follow you.” Her voice sounds
foreign to herself, an old woman’s voice.
* * *
By the time Veronica and Rukungu begin their descent back to the
refugee camp, his water bottle is empty, her throat aches with thirst, her
head hurts and she is dizzy with exhaustion. Her adrenalin has drained
away, she is covered with the blood of two dead men, all she wants is a
Gatorade and a shower and a warm bed. She forces herself to keep
marching onwards after Rukungu. Going downhill requires less effort
but more attention, and she staggers frequently. Every step causes both
her shoulders to pulse with dull pain, but she doesn’t think there’s any
serious damage or dislocation, both her arms seem to work fine, they just
“Veronica,” a cautious voice calls out. “Rukungu.”
Veronica stops, amazed. Rukungu aims the flashlight and picks out Ja-
cob, seated slumped on a big boulder, covered in dirt. Veronica sways
with relief. He’s okay. He got away. She finds the strength to rush up to
him and hug him.
He hugs her back clumsily. “Are you okay?”
“Fine.” She manages a smile. “Lot better than I look. How’d you find

She is not terribly surprised when he holds up his trusty hiptop. “GPS.
I backtracked to our route up, recognized this rock.”
She looks down and realizes this boulder he is sitting on is the same
one beneath which Rukungu’s
was hidden. She also sees Jacob’s
water bottle, still half-full. She grabs it, takes a few deep swigs, and
passes it to Rukungu, who finishes it.”
Jacob says, “I had to dump my camera. I turned on the flash and put it
on automatic, threw it downhill, they went after it instead of me.” Veron-
ica nods; those were the flashes she saw. She’s impressed by his presence
of mind during a crisis, but then she’s seen it before, in the Congo. There
is an iron core beneath Jacob’s geeky exterior. “Had to leave the spectrum
analyzer too. That’s fifteen thousand dollars down the drain.”
“You’re alive.”
He smiles. “Good point. Cheap at the price.”
“Never mind the pictures. We got away.”
“Oh, I’ve still got the pictures, I took out the memory card before I
tossed the camera. What happened to you?”
“Two of them got me.” Veronica turns to look at Rukungu, who waits
silently a little distance away. “He killed them.”
“What do we do now?” Jacob asks.
“I think we should go. Just go, right now. They’ll know we went back
to the camp. Rukungu messed up their matatu, they’ll be stuck there for
awhile, but I think we should get out of town before they call for help.”
“They probably already have – oh, right. I blocked incoming calls at
this base station. Maybe they called Kampala for help, but they can’t
have called anyone local. See, I’m a genius.”
Veronica smiles wryly. “I never doubted it.”
“All right. Let’s get the hell out of Dodge.”
* * *
Veronica and Rukungu wait on the road that leads to the gate while Ja-
cob returns to the administrative center for the Toyota. She can’t be seen
there covered in blood, and while Rukungu has restored his
to its
hiding place, he too might provoke unwelcome questions. She wonders
what Susan will think of the sudden disappearance following their sud-
den appearance. They’ll have to send her a text message or something,
try to explain.

Headlights bob and jostle down the road from the camp. Veronica
breathes with deep relief. She was worried the soldiers wouldn’t allow
Jacob to depart by night. The Toyota pulls up beside them. Veronica
opens the passenger door – and Rukungu opens the back door behind
She stops and looks at him, surprised. “Are you coming with us?”
Rukungu looks betrayed. “Derek said he would take me back to
Jacob looks like he wants to protest, but the man just risked his own
life to save Veronica’s, she isn’t about to argue. “Fine.”
They both get in. Jacob gives her a Snickers bar with a ta-da! flourish.
She groans with desire, rips it open, then hesitates, breaks it in two, and
gives half to Rukungu, who accepts it without a word. She suddenly re-
members sharing a Snickers bar with Derek in the Congo, in that cave
behind the waterfall. Their one almost-kiss. It is like remembering a
high-school boyfriend.
There’s a blanket in the back seat, and Veronica drapes it all over her-
self and checks the mirror. Fortunately there’s hardly any blood on her
face, and a little spit clears it off. She and Rukungu pretend to sleep,
which is not at all difficult, as Jacob drives up to the gate. The gate
guards are initially reluctant to allow them to depart, and demand to see
all their ID cards. Jacob first claims they have lost their ID, and must rush
to a sudden emergency in Kampala; when that fails, he offers them a
– meaning “little gift,” or more loosely, “bribe” – of two fifty-
kutu kidogo
dollar bills. The restrictions on who may exit UNHCR Semiliki are sud-
denly relaxed and the Toyota waved through. Veronica suspects Jacob
overpaid; this is a refugee camp, not a prison.
“You can wake me up in an hour or so if you need me to drive,” she
says as they bump down the roller-coaster road that leads away from the
camp. She doesn’t really mean it. Veronica just wants to close her eyes
and wake up in civilization. It is too easy to imagine obstacles that might
leap into their path: road disasters, mechanical problems, more gunmen.
They are in wild lands on the very edge of civilization and anything
could go wrong. All she wants is to get safely away from the Congo bor-
der to Fort Portal.
When Veronica finally opens her eyes again, woken by the dawn, she
sees, to her piercing relief, that that is exactly what has happened. She
would never have believed that the sight of this dirty, dusty town would
be so welcome. She feels like a passenger on the last helicopter out of

* * *
“You should sleep,” Veronica says.
Jacob shakes his head. “There’s an Internet cafe down the road. I want
to go see what we’ve got.”
They are back in the restaurant at the Ruwenzori Travellers’ Inn.
Veronica feels almost alive again: freshly showered, dressed in clean
clothes, at least halfway rested, and there is a plate of toast and a cup of
of Nescafe on the checkered tablecloth before her. Jacob sits opposite her.
“When was the last time you slept?” she asks.
“Don’t worry about me. I’m used to all-nighters. As you can see.” He
indicates the trilogy of caffeine before him: his own Nescafe, a cup of
‘African tea’ – English Breakfast steeped in boiled milk – and a cold bottle
of Coke. “Maintaining productivity while sleep deprived is key to hacker
credibility. I feel like I’m back in university.”
Veronica looks at him suspiciously.
“Really, I’m fine. While you were showering I texted Susan, told her
we had to head back to Kampala because you were malarial, and I
turned on that base station again. Let me just finish these and we’ll go
see if they’ve opened. Their hours say they opened half an hour ago, but,
you know, Africa.”
“Where’s Rukungu?”
Jacob shrugs. “Up in his room, I guess.”
The Travellers’ Inn is under construction, half the building is blocked
off by sheets of canvas hanging on two-by-fours, they were only able to
annex two rooms when they checked in. It was somehow wordlessly un-
derstood by all of them that Veronica and Jacob would take one and
Rukungu the other. The reasonably comfortable rooms cost ten dollars a
night and boast balconies that look onto the cloud-capped Ruwenzori.
The bathrooms are a little primitive, but to Veronica’s joy, soap was
provided and the hot water seems everlasting.
“He said he was one of Athanase’s men,” Veronica says. Jacob nods.
“Do you think that means he was … ”
“I don’t know. But he’s old enough. And it would explain why he’s so
good at killing people. Does it matter?”
Veronica doesn’t answer. She owes the man upstairs her life. But she
can’t shake the awful suspicion that Rukungu is interahamwe, that he
participated in the Rwandan genocide, massacred helpless innocents,

women and children, just for belonging to the wrong tribe. Surely that
has to matter.
“Rukungu’s the least of our problems,” Jacob says. “He’s the only per-
son other than Prester we know for sure is on our side.”
“How do we know that?”
“Because if he wasn’t we’d be dead right now, wouldn’t we?” Jacob fin-
ishes his coffee, drops five thousand shillings on the table, and picks up
his Coke bottle. “Let’s go.”
* * *
The Internet cafe is small but clean. Its six monitors are hidden be-
neath a big glass table, tilted up towards the user. Jacob ignores the mon-
itors and drops to his knees next to the nearest computer. The nursing
mother who runs the cafe watches him curiously as he peers at its cara-
pace. To his relief there is a USB port. These machines are old but not
Veronica sits down at the next computer over.
“Don’t log into your email,” Jacob cautions her. “Strick might be look-
ing for us, they could conceivably track your Internet use to Fort Portal.
And keep your phone off, don’t make any calls. I’m pretty sure Mango is
safe, I monitor who accesses that system, but no sense pushing our luck.
And calls to anyone else would definitely be trouble.”
He reaches into his pocket, pulls out the memory card rescued from
his camera, and folds it in half, revealing a USB connector. He plugs the
card into the computer and sits at the computer.
“How much trouble do you think we’re in?” Veronica asks uneasily.
“I don’t know. Maybe I’m being paranoid. Maybe we’re actually on the
run. Whoever those guys were last night, they have high-level connec-
tions, and it won’t take too much asking around the camp to find out
who came to visit and then suddenly disappeared. Strick probably
already knows what happened.”
“Well, maybe it was worth it. Let’s see what we’ve got.”
The first few pictures are fuzzy and useless, blobs of orange light out-
lining vaguely human shapes and the white blur of the matatu, and Ja-
cob fears the worst. Then they began to resolve into much better, in-focus
shots. He grunts with relief as he scrolls through the pictures. About
thirty are usable.

“Go back through them,” Veronica says when he is done. “There’s one
in the middle. Back a couple. There!”
Jacob nods. “Good eye.” This is the only in-focus shot where the short
but immensely muscular man is turned towards the camera with his face
lit. He taps at Photo Viewer’s magnifying-glass icon, zooming in, pans
up to the face.
“That’s him,” Jacob says dully. “That’s the guy who killed Derek.”
“Fucker took his dishdash off for this job. Wonder why. There was one
shot after this -”
He scrolls a few pictures forward, to a moment when the metal boxes
are in the Humvee, but the doors have not yet been closed, and a flash-
light is being shined on their coffin-sized shapes. Jacob taps the magnify-
ing glass again, three times, to maximum zoom, and pans right over to
the boxes. The writing on them is too blurry to read, and Veronica
groans – but when Jacob zooms out one step, the four largest figures sud-
denly condense into something readable, if mysterious:
“Looks like Greek,” Veronica says, perplexed.
“Or Russian. Cyrillic. Let’s get Google to translate.” It takes Jacob a
little while to find the characters in a form that can be pasted into
Google’s online form. “Here we go. Means
in Russian.” Jacob
shakes his head, mystified. “Needles in a haystack, eh? Seriously big
ones if they need boxes that size to carry them.”
Veronica says, “Wait a minute. What’s the phonetic translation?”
“The phonetic? Why?”
“Is it Igloo?”
Jacob brightens, nods. “Wikipedia should have a cross-reference page.”
They have to wait a few seconds, the Internet connection is slow, worse
than a phone line. “Here we go. Bingo. You’re almost a genius. Not Igloo,
. Whatever that means. I guess we can Google and see -” He switches
back to Google, types igla, and hits return.
“International Gay and Lesbian Aquatics,” Veronica reads the first res-
ult aloud. “Somehow I don’t think that’s it.”
“No. But look, here’s Wikipedia. ‘9K38M Igla-1, which has the NATO
reporting name SA-16 Gimlet.'”
He clicks on the second link. The page loads. As Jacob reads, his eyes
get very wide.
“‘The 9K38 Igla is a Russian/Soviet man-portable infrared homing
surface-to-air missile,'” Veronica reads aloud, softly. “Oh my God.”

Jacob feels dizzy. Zanzibar Sam. SAM. Surface to Air Missile. The
enormity of this discovery is far beyond what he expected. “Holy fucking
of them. Look at this picture, they’re not that big, there must
have been probably four in each of those boxes.”
“Oh my God,” Veronica repeats.
“This is a big deal. This is a really big deal. If those are going to the ter-
rorists -”
“Going? They’re
They’ve got them. They’re in the Congo
“They can shoot down helicopters with those. Or airplanes. Smuggle
them into Kenya or back to Entebbe and blow up whole airliners full of
tourists. Al-Qaeda on the loose with two boxes of man-portable anti-air-
craft missiles. I’d say that’s pretty fucking close to a worst-case scenario.”
She says, “We have to tell someone.”
“Yes. Of course. We have real evidence now, pictures of missiles being
smuggled. And Prester saw them too.”
“Let’s show these to Rukungu, see if he knows anything. He might re-
cognize some of these guys.”
“Good idea. Then we better get some rest. Long drive ahad of us. Back
to Kampala and straight to the embassy. Sooner we tell the whole fuck-
ing world about this the better.”
“Strick’s at the embassy.”
“Not for long,” Jacob says grimly. “Not by the time we’re done.”
* * *
“Yes,” Rukungu says tersely, looking at the hypermuscled man on the
computer screen. “I know this man.”
Veronica looks at Rukungu and wonders what he’s thinking. When
she knocked on his door and entered his room he was standing on the
balcony, staring at the Ruwenzori mountains. The bed was mussed, and
there was water on the shower floor, but otherwise there was no sense
that his room was occupied. She wonders why he didn’t even collect his
possessions before leaving the refugee camp. As far as Veronica can tell
he has his clothes, his phone, his rubber boots, and nothing else in this
“Who is he?” Jacob asks.
“His name is Casimir. He is from Rwanda.”
Veronica blinks. That wasn’t the answer she expected. “He’s Muslim?”

Surprise flickers across Rukungu’s face. “No. No Muslims are with the
“He came with the Arab man, right? He and his three friends? Maybe
earlier this year?” Jacob asks.
Rukungu looks at Jacob, perplexed. “No. Casimir has been with
Athanase for many years. Since we left Rwanda. There are no Muslims.
The only Arab who comes to Athanase is a man who comes to buy gold.
That man has no religion but money.”
Veronica looks away.
That’s all the confirmation
Since we left Rwanda.
she needs. Rukungu is interahamwe, a mass murderer.
“That doesn’t make sense,” Jacob says, puzzled. “Your buddy Casimir
here is the guy who killed Derek. Chopped his fucking head off with a
machete. If he’s not Muslim, why was he wearing a dishdash? Are you
totally sure this is him?”
“This is Casimir. I have no doubt. I have known him for twelve years.”
Veronica frowns. “Then why was he in a dishdash?”
Jacob reflects. “Maybe for TV. Maybe they didn’t have any real terror-
ists handy who were willing and able to swing the
, so they dressed
up the big interahamwe guy for the camera.”
Something about his phrasing nags at Veronica. She tries to figure out
what it is exactly, but it won’t come to her.
“Figure it out later,” Jacob says. “Let’s sleep on it. I’m beat. And we
should keep a low profile anyways. I saw a couple other white folks
earlier, but we still stand out too much. I vote we stay here until
Rukungu looks from one of them to the other, looking perplexed. She
supposes they’re speaking too quickly for him, his English is good but
slow, every sentence is carefully thought out before he speaks.
“And just hope Strick doesn’t find us before then?” Veronica asks.
“I think he’ll figure we’ve gone straight back to Kampala.”
She stares at him. “You think? That’s the best you can do?”
Jacob shrugs. “Sorry. I’m all out of guarantees.”

Veronica is bored and frightened. There isn’t anything to do in their hotel
room, no TV, not even a Gideon Bible to read. Jacob sleeps peacefully on
the queen-sized bed beneath the wobbling blur of the ceiling fan, but
Veronica feels too wired for sleep. She wants to go out and explore the
streets of Fort Portal, but she doesn’t dare. She allows herself to go to the
balcony, listen to the chatter and watch the bustle on Fort Portal’s main
drag, and look southwest, past rolling hills covered with banana trees, to
where the otherwise blue sky is occupied by thick clouds clinging to the
Ruwenzori, entirely covering the so-called Mountains of the Moon. But
even this radiant view eventually grows boring. She wishes she had
thought to bring a book from Kampala.
She sighs, lies down on her side of the bed, closes her eyes, tries to
make herself sleep. It doesn’t seem possible. She should be tired, yester-
day was truly draining and she only slept a few hours in the car, but she
feels much too keyed up to fall asleep. If not for Rukungu she would
have died last night. And they’re still a long way from safe.
She opens her eyes, rolls onto her side, and looks over at Jacob. He
looks peaceful in his sleep, like a little boy. She wonders if he’s as
frightened as her. Probably not. To some extent Jacob seems to be treat-
ing all this as some elaborate game, an intellectual challenge to over-
come. He’s working on the assumption that he’s much smarter than their
antagonists, and therefore safe. The assumption is probably true, but
Veronica isn’t at all sure about the conclusion. It is amazing however
what Jacob can do with just a few pieces of electronic equipment. His
hiptop is like Batman’s utility belt.
Jacob shifts a little, opens his eyes and looks at her blearily, his subcon-
scious must have noticed he was being watched. She smiles. He reaches
out a long arm and pulls her close to him, and she lets him, fits her body
against his, puts her head on his shoulder and holds him tightly. He
grunts with sleep satisfaction and closes his eyes, and she does too, and
they lie there for some time. He is warm and comfortable, and

comforting. Veronica’s breath and heartbeat begin to slow down in time
with his. She dozes.
When she opens her eyes she isn’t sure how much time has passed; the
room is still full of sunlight, but not as bright. Jacob has gone to the bath-
room. He returns to bed and this time it is she who reaches out for him.
They nestle together again, this time with their eyes open, their faces
close to one another. Neither of them speak. Veronica’s feels Jacob’s heart
pounding as he lifts his hand, reaches out a trembling finger, touches
and traces the line of her cheek. When she does not pull away he leans
forward and kisses her. She closes her eyes.
They kiss for a long time before he dares to slip his hand beneath her
shirt. At first she isn’t sure she wants this. He senses her hesitation and
pulls back. A minute later she decides, and pulls her shirt off herself. He
fumbles awkwardly with her bra strap before it finally opens. Veronica
moves on top of him, feeling his long, lean body beneath hers as his
hands and lips come to her breasts. She pulls away long enough to pull
his shirt off too, and presses herself against him, luxuriating in the bliss
of skin on skin. She stays on top. The sex is slow at first, tender, unhur-
ried, but gradually becomes urgent and passionate, and she loses herself
in it, forgets everything but pleasure.
Afterwards they lie naked together, both limned in sweat. Jacob looks
a little stunned and Veronica has to keep herself from giggling. She feels
irrationally giddy, like a teenager.
“I don’t know about you, but I feel
better,” she says, stretching
He laughs. “Me too.”
“It’s kind of been a while.”
“Me too.”
They lapse into silence. Jacob rolls onto his elbow and looks her
closely, as if inspecting her. Then he reaches out and touches her very
gently, running a still-tentative hand up and down the curves of her
body. She murmurs appreciatively.
He says, wonderingly, “I honestly never thought I’d ever sleep with
anyone as beautiful as you.”
“Aw. You’re going to make me blush.”
“I suppose I should have brought condoms, eh?”
She almost laughs again at his concerned expression. “Funny how you
didn’t think of that in the heat of the moment,” she mock-scolds. “They’ll
throw you out of the Boy Scouts if you don’t watch it.”
“Actually, they kicked me out for hacking into their computers.”

“Oh. Well, anyways, I think we’ve got much bigger things to worry
“True. Until tomorrow anyways.”
“When did you want to leave?”
Jacob thinks. “After it gets dark.”
“Good.” She snuggles up against him, puts her open palm on his damp
chest, feeling his breath and heartbeat. “That gives us time for more.”
* * *
Jacob reminds himself that his life is in real danger and he should not
feel giddily triumphant. But it’s hard not to grin as Veronica walks naked
from the bathroom back to the bed and curls up in his arms again. She’s
addictive, he can’t stop looking at her, can’t stop running his hands all
over her perfect body, hardly believing she’s allowing him to do so.
“Mmmm,” she says, arching her back at his touch. “I almost wish we
could stay here longer.”
“Me too. But we can’t. It’s hard for us white folks to hide in Africa. If
they’re looking for us, I think they’ll find us pretty soon. Maybe tomor-
row. I was thinking we should call Prester.”
“What for?”
“We know he’s on our side,” Jacob says. “And he seems to know every-
one in Kampala, he can give us some names to go to for help, if there’s
any trouble.”
“If he can even answer. If his phone’s in his hospital room. Or if he
isn’t… I mean, we don’t know his condition.”
Jacob digs his hiptop out of his jeans pocket. “Worth a try though.”
“You sure they can’t track that?” Veronica asks worriedly. “Or my
He smiles. “Good thinking. But no. I’ve erased all traces of our phones
from Telecom Uganda. We’re invisible.”
Jacob dials Prester. His phone rings five times but there’s no response.
He tries again; same result. “His phone’s on, but he’s not answering.”
“Can you track him? Where is he?”
“I can track his phone.” Jacob connects to the Telecom Uganda master
switching database and runs the shell script he’s written that plots a
Mango phone’s current location on a Google Map. He peers at the
hiptop’s small screen. “Huh. That’s weird.”

“According to this, Prester’s phone is in the middle of nowhere. An
empty space on the map about fifty K north of Kampala.”
“What does that mean?” she asks.
“I have no idea.” Jacob sits up crosslegged on the bed, peering down at
his hiptop. “Google Earth won’t work on this. I could maybe get some
satellite photo. Or, no, wait a minute. That idea you had.”
“What idea?”
“About triggering his camera phone remotely. Let’s see if that code I
wrote actually works.”
Jacob has tested the software in question, but not in a real-life situ-
ation, so he is very pleased when the hiptop’s screen begins to fill with a
picture silently taken by Prester’s phone, at Jacob’s behest, and then sent
over Uganda’s cellular network. It’s a blurry picture, the victim of a lossy
compression algorithm, but Jacob can make out a table lamp, viewed
from below, and wooden slats above, arrayed circularly like spokes in a
wheel. Prester’s phone must be lying flat on some table with the camera
lens aimed up.
,” Jacob realizes aloud. One of the circular huts that dot
Uganda’s landscape, wooden or bamboo frames filled with mud.
are usually found in tourist camps.
? He should be in a hospital,” Veronica says, shocked. “He
was shot in the chest two days ago, he has a perforated lung. What’s he
doing in a

“I don’t know. He’s not answering.” Jacob hesitates. “Wait a second.”
He sets Prester’s cameraphone to take a picture every half-second for
the next twenty seconds, then dials its number again. If there’s anyone
there, maybe they’ll at least look at the phone to see who’s calling.
It takes a full minute for each picture to be uploaded from Preser’s
phone and downloaded to Jacob’s hiptop. The first three contain nothing
unusual. But the fourth displays a familiar face.
“Oh, no,” Jacob says, as the new picture fills his hiptop’s screen. “Oh,
Veronica sits up quickly, grabs his arm, looks, and gasps. The picture
that has been taken is a somewhat warped view of Strick, viewed face-on
from below.
“They got him,” she whispers.
“Maybe they just got his phone. Let’s see.”
They wait anxiously. Seconds crawl by. The next picture is also of
Strick, but this time a white-haired white man with a thin face is looking

over Strick’s shoulder. Jacob has never seen him before. Neither has
Three similar pictures later, they finally get a partial shot of the
phone’s surroundings. It’s on an angle, and blurry, the phone must have
been in motion when the camera fired, maybe it was being put back on
the table. Light streaming from an open window drowns out almost all
the rest of the picture. But this light clearly illuminates, in one corner of
the frame, a dark-skinned wrist handcuffed to a metal bedframe, and a
few loose cables of dreadlocked hair.
“No,” Veronica says. “Oh, no. That’s him. That’s Prester.”
Jacob nods grimly. “And they think he knows where we are.”
“Oh my God. What do you think they’re -”
“I think I don’t want to know what they’re doing to him,” Jacob says
harshly. He shakes his head. “Sorry. Shit. We have to get to the embassy
as soon as it opens. That’s all we can do.”
* * *
The darkness outside their car is almost perfect. There are no street
lights on Ugandan highways, and almost no night-time traffic. Earlier
they drove through a swarm of tiny flies as dense as fog, and then a
hammering tropical downpour, lightning flickering around them two or
three times a second, illuminating the ghostly silhouettes of roadside
and tin-roofed huts. Now the clouds have cleared and the pale
skein of the Milky Way is visible in the moonless canopy of countless
stars above. They pass through dusty villages so quiet by night that they
look deserted, across tumbling rivers that glitter in the headlights. There
are only a few roadblocks, and the police who man them seem tense and
nervous, as if whoever drives by night carries the devil as a passenger.
Jacob and Veronica are waved past without inspection.
They stop for Veronica to relinquish the wheel. Both she and Jacob are
exhausted, but neither can sleep. As they resume their motion Veronica
looks over her shoulder at Rukungu, lying sprawled across the Toyota’s
back seat, sleeping like a baby. She thinks of what she has read about the
Rwandan genocide in which he participated.
There were eight million people in Rwanda, seven million Hutu and
one million Tutsi, when the Hutu leaders decided to murder all the Tut-
si. The weapons of choice were clubs and machetes. In the cities, intera-
hamwe death squads hunted door-to-door, killed whole families in their
homes, dragged them out to be executed in public, stopped carloads of

Tutsis at roadblocks and slaughtered them on the spot. Children proudly
told passing death squads where their neighbours were hidden. Doctors
invited them into hospitals to murder their patients. As the weeks of
genocide progressed, order Hutus increasingly eliminated the middle-
man, killed their Tutsi acquaintances themselves and moved into their
houses. In rural areas Tutsi were hunted down like vermin, hunting
parties went out every day to find the “cockroaches” hidden in fields and
forests, slaughtered man and woman and child alike. Tutsi women, fam-
ous for their beauty, were usually gang-raped before they were
The survivors of the first few weeks congregated in caves, churches,
schools, stadiums, with no food, no water, no hope. Some tried to flee to
cities not yet affected, but genocidal bloodlust spread inexorably through
the nation like a virus. The slaughter at some of the sanctuaries lasted for
weeks. Massacring people by hand is hard work. Sometimes, too ex-
hausted to actually murder those trying to escape, the killing mobs just
severed their victims’ Achilles tendons, then came back to finish the job
in the morning. Dogs and crows multiplied, fed on the countless bodies
that littered the nation’s streets and fields.
Meanwhile, every government official, every radio host, called for the
completion of the genocide. “Exterminate the cockroaches,” they said.
“Wipe them out. Every one of them. To your work, all of you. The graves
are not yet full.”
Athanase was one of those leaders, one of the chief architects of the
genocide. Rukungu was a member of one of the interahamwe death
squads who spearheaded the genocide. Veronica wonders how old he
would have been at the time. Late teens, maybe. She wonders how many
women he raped, how many children he murdered, both in Rwanda and
afterwards, when the interahamwe were finally driven out into the
Congo, where their campaign of murder and rape continued. Probably
dozens. Maybe hundreds. Any reasonable person would call him a mon-
ster. But she owes him her life.
* * *
Jacob and Veronica wait in the same embassy meeting room where
they talked to Strick. Veronica’s eyelids feels like anvils, and she is not so
much sitting as drooping on her chair. They drove all night across half of
Uganda to get here, taking turns at the wheel, and then fought their way
through Kampala’s rush hour to drop Rukungu off at the Hotel Sun City.

But they made it. If they’re safe anywhere in Africa, it’s here in the U.S.
Jacob reaches out and takes her hand, lifts it to his face and kisses it.
She smiles back absently. Part of her is already wondering if this sudden
relationship is going to make any sense when the extraordinary circum-
stances that threw them together are gone. She squelches that notion. She
will worry about the future next week. This week she will pretend the
future never existed, she will just enjoy being alive.
The door opens.
“My name is Julian,” says the man who enters. He’s in his thirties, with
a square jaw and a crew cut. “I’m the assistant deputy head of mission.”
Jacob says, “We need to speak to the ambassador.”
Julian shakes his head. “The ambassador isn’t in today, he’s at a cere-
mony in Jinja, his schedule is fully booked for the whole week. I’m sorry,
I know you said it’s urgent, but I’m as good as you’re going to get on
such short notice.”
“Does Strick work for you?” Veronica asks.
Julian looks sour. “Gordon Strick works at this embassy for the State
Department. He does not report to me.”
“What about Prester?”
Julian blinks. “Who?”
“He worked with our friend Derek,” Jacob says. “For Strick, indirectly.
He was shot the night before last.”
“Is he an American citizen?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Then I wouldn’t know anything about him. Please. We’re wasting
each other’s time. Why are you here?”
Jacob and Veronica look at one another. She nods.
“All right.” Jacob speaks in a clipped, factual, voice, an engineer report-
ing on the data. “We have proof, we have pictures of Russian surface-to-
air missiles being smuggled into the Congo last night.” He puts down a
CD-ROM he burned at an Internet cafe before coming to the embassy.
“We have physical evidence that Derek Summers believed a company
run by Veronica’s ex-husband Danton DeWitt was involved with this
smuggling ring, there’s a scan of his notes on that CD, you can check it
against his handwriting. Derek said just before he was executed that he
was set up, and he accused Danton being involved. We have telephone
records, also on that CD, strongly implying that Mr. Strick and Athanase
Ntingizawa were conspiring to smuggle goods from the Congo and

Uganda, and photos showing that Strick has since kidnapped and tor-
tured Prester.”
Julian stares at Jacob.
“We also have beliefs and conclusions we’ve drawn, but I want to
stress that what I’ve told you so far isn’t just suspicion, there’s evidence
on that CD, hard evidence.”
“Christ,” Julian says, in a very different tone of voice than that in which
he began the conversation.
“In particular, we believe that Al-Qaeda has been blackmailing Strick
into giving them material assistance for an attack they are planning in
the very near future.”
“Wait,” Julian says, holding his hands up as if a wall is about to fall on
him. “Wait, slow down, please.”
Jacob falls silent.
“I need to go get my boss,” Julian says. “Stay right there. I’ll be right
He all but scampers out of the room. Veronica and Jacob look at one
“Well,” she says, “at least they’re taking us seriously.”
Less than a minute later the door re-opens and a thin man in his fifties
enters the room. The white-haired man’s skin seems unnaturally pale,
and even his facial features are thin, seem slashed into taut skin. He is
the same man they saw yesterday, in the picture taken from Prester’s
camera phone. His appearance is surreal, it’s like he has stepped out of
that picture into real life.
“I’m Dr. Murray,” he says, “the chief of mission here. I understand -”
Then he recognizes them and suddenly falls silent. Veronica gapes at
the white-haired man. For a heartbeat he is no less surprised to see them,
his eyes widen and his step falters, but he quickly recovers his posses-
sion and continues smoothly, “Mr. Rockel. Miss Kelly. I wasn’t told it
was you. We’re all so glad you’re safe after what happened.”
Jacob and Veronica are too stunned to speak.
“Is something wrong?” Dr. Murray asks. His voice is like warm silk.
“No,” Jacob manages. “No, we’re just very tired, we drove all night to
get here.”
“Drove from where?”
Jacob flashes a panicked look at Veronica. She doesn’t know how to re-
spond. Her mind is whirling. It doesn’t seem possible that this Dr. Mur-
ray is in league with Strick and Al-Qaeda. But there’s no other

explanation. Yesterday he was in the same room as Prester’s phone, a
room where Prester was handcuffed to a bed, those are established facts.
“From the border,” Jacob says haltingly. Veronica supposes there’s no
point in hiding that now. They just admitted everything. “Near Semiliki.”
“Indeed. And what were you doing there?”
After a long moment Jacob begins to tell the story, speaking slowly,
starting back in the Congo, expounding on irrelevant details while leav-
ing out as much as possible. Veronica realizes he’s stalling, playing for
time. They have to do something. Murray already knows they know too
much. They have to get out of here.
“Where’s the bathroom?” Veronica interrupts.
“Just down the hall,” Dr. Murray says absently, his thin face rigid with
Veronica slips out of the room and closes the door behind her, dizzy
with exhaustion and panic. She walks down the hall, barely aware of the
world around her, walks right past the bathroom and has to double
back. She’s thankful it’s empty. Veronica sits in a stall, locks the door,
covers her face with her hands, and tries to think.
Her gut tells her to run, to escape and leave Jacob behind. Murray
won’t allow them both to leave. He’ll think of some reason to have them
arrested, their evidence will be destroyed. She has to get out before he
calls security, once he does that it’s all over, the US embassy is probably
the single most secure building in all of Kampala. Jacob knows all this.
He wants her to escape right now, without him, she is sure of it.
“Jacob, I’m sorry,” Veronica whispers aloud.
Then she gets up and walks fast out of the bathroom, heading for the
exit. She passes an Asian woman holding a folder of papers. She reaches
a T-junction, turns left – then stops and turns back towards the junction.
For a moment she stares at the little red fire alarm hanging on the wall
there. Then she walks back, looks around to ensure no one is watching
her, reaches out and pulls the alarm. It is harder than she expected, she
has to use much of her strength before the little lever pulls free. A single
moment of silence passes. Then a siren begins to whoop.
Veronica quickly scuttles away. About ten seconds pass. Then doors
begin to open up and down the corridor, and people begin to stream out,
most of them white and well-dressed, wearing resigned or irritated ex-
pressions, most holding papers and cell phones and Palm Pilots. She
joins the throng as they file sedately out of the building into the parking
lot, then makes her way inobtrusively over to Jacob’s Toyota. Now if
only Jacob can find a way to get away, and surely he will think of

something, he probably has some embassy-escape function on his hiptop

“Come on, let’s go,” Jacob says urgently, behind her, and Veronica sags
with relief. Saved by American fire-safety standards.
They dive into the Toyota. He reverses out, they have to move slowly,
their path is blocked by the fringes of the crowd. Veronica looks around,
afraid Murray will suddenly loom out of the assembled masses, but he is
nowhere to be seen. The office workers around them make way for the
vehicle. Then they are at the security gate – and they are waved past. This
security system is built to keep terrorists out, not white people in, and
Dr. Murray doesn’t yet know that they know he’s conspiring with Strick.
“How’d you get away?” she asks.
“Halfway out I said I’d left my hiptop, ran back before he could say
anything, found another set of stairs. But he got the CD.”
“I’ve got other copies. Online and off.”
“I can’t believe it. Not just Strick, but the deputy chief of the embassy.”
“They were both smuggling,” Jacob says grimly. “And now they’re
both being blackmailed.”
Veronica nods, but somehow that doesn’t sound quite right. Would a
man like Dr. Murray actually have met with Athanase, and put himself
in a position where he could be blackmailed, if he had Strick to do the
dirty work for him? And Danton too? Any two of them, maybe, but all
three – it doesn’t sound right, it feels like a jigsaw piece that doesn’t quite
fit. But it must be true. What other reason could there be for Murray,
Strick and Danton to conspire?
“They’ll be looking for us,” Jacob says. “We have to get out of here.”
“Entebbe. The airport. We have to get out of the country before they
can find us.”
* * *
He has just turned onto the Entebbe highway when his hiptop rings.
Jacob puts it to his ear for a moment, listens. “Are you sure?” he asks.
Then, in a taut, brittle voice, “All right. Thank you. It’s a misunderstand-
ing, Henry. Don’t worry. It will all be cleared up soon.”
He hangs up. Then he pulls the Toyota over to the side of the highway
and brakes so hard the tires screech and Veronica is thrown up against
her seat belt.

“What is it?” she demands.
“That was Henry,” Jacob says, his voice weak. “He says the police just
came to his house. You and I are wanted for the murder of John
Katumbi, aka Prester John, whose body was apparently discovered in
my apartment.”
Veronica feels like she is falling. “Oh my God.”
“They’ll have notified the airport. We can’t fly out.”
She thinks a moment. “We have to drive to the border. To Kenya.”
“There’s a half-dozen police checkpoints on the Jinja highway alone.
And that’s on a normal day. Probably twice that when they’re actually
after someone. We’re lucky he called before we reached one on this road.
The police have cell phones, they’ll broadcast our descriptions via text
message. A runaway white couple isn’t exactly hard to find in Uganda.”
“Can’t you do something about the broadcast?”
Jacob hesitates. “Not if it’s already gone out – but maybe.”
He grabs his hiptop, tries to log in to Telecom Uganda’s master data-
base server – and stares at the words LOGIN FAILURE. He retries, typ-
ing his password very slowly and carefully. Same result.
“They locked me out,” he says dully. “Maybe last night, maybe just
now. Prester must have told them what I could do. I never put in a back
door. I should have, of course I should have, but I never thought I’d need
it, I just never imagined we’d find something this big. What a fucking
I am.”
“It’s okay,” Veronica says.
“No, it’s not. We have to turn our phones off, all of them. I made them
invisible but if they look hard they’ll be able to reverse that and track us.
Take the battery out too. Just to be sure.”
She nods quietly. Cars whiz past in both directions as they remove the
batteries from their cell phones. Veronica feels like they are rearranging
the deck chairs on the Hindenburg. She wonders how long before a po-
lice car passes and notices the two white people pulled over on the
“How can they do this?” Veronica asks. “How can they make the
Uganda police come after us?”
“Because they have friends in high Ugandan places. Remember what
Danton wrote about bought-off locals?” Jacob takes a deep breath. “This
is bad. This is extremely bad. If the police find us, no way we live long
enough to tell our story to anyone who cares. We’ll be shot trying to es-
cape or something. Like Prester.”
“Then what can we do? Where can we go?”

Jacob shakes his head. “I have no idea.”

Jacob stares out at the Kampala-Entebbe highway, stretched before them
like a black ribbon laid across Uganda’s green hills, and tries to think of a
way out. No solution is apparent. Despite the equatorial heat he feels
cold, his heart is thumping, panic is threatening to swamp his mind like
a tsunami, wash it clear of all reason.
Veronica reaches out and takes his hand. He squeezes it tightly. There
must be a way out. There has to be, for Veronica’s sake, he got her into
this mess, he has to get her out. This is a solvable problem, it has to be.
“Lake Victoria,” he says. “Maybe we can charter a boat to Tanzania.”
“There are police at the port. They’ll be looking for us.”

“Maybe the Canadian embassy? Or the media?”
He considers. “No. Embassies don’t help you when you’re wanted for
murder. They’ll just turn us over and promise to visit in jail. Media, by
the time we convince anyone we’re not crackpots it’ll be too late. We
have to get out of the country first.”
“At least we’ve got our passports.”
Think outside the box, he tells himself. But this box seems like an ines-
capable cage. “OK. We have to get out of Uganda. We’ve got passports.
Maybe five hundred dollars cash. Clothes. Cell phones we don’t dare
turn on. A car that will get us exactly as far as the next police checkpoint.
Nobody we can trust.” He shakes his head and sags back in defeat. “I’m
sorry. We’re fucked. There’s no way out.”
Veronica says, “Rukungu.”
Jacob blinks. They dropped Rukungu off at the Hotel Sun City this
morning, just after arriving in Kampala. As far as Jacob was concerned
the man then ceased to exist. “What about him?”
“We can trust him. Lydia too.”
“Great. An interahamwe murderer and a refugee hooker dying of
AIDS. I’m sure they’ll be a big help. What do you want to do, hide in that
hotel forever?”
“It beats sitting here.”

Jacob can’t argue with that. A potential hiding place isn’t much, but it’s
something. Maybe with time to concentrate he can think of a way out.
They have until tomorrow morning at the latest. Then their faces will ap-
pear on the front page of all Kampala’s newspapers. He puts the Toyota
into drive, eases it into a U-turn, and heads back towards Kampala.
* * *
Something moves in the corner of Veronica’s vision, and she starts, but
it’s only a cockroach scuttling across the bathroom floor. Jacob lies on the
bed next to her. His eyes are closed but she can tell by his breath that he’s
awake. She looks around the tiny room, at the holes in the wall, the
shredded mosquito net dangling from fan that doesn’t work above the
thin torn mattress on which they sit, the mattress beneath which they
found Derek’s notes and secret second cell phone less than a week ago.
She starts breathing hard again, feels herself break out in sweat, this
room is too small, too much like a coffin, she feels a desperate, fluttering
need to escape, to get out by any means necessary, she feels a panicky
scream begin to build up in her gut.
Veronica closes her eyes and tries to make herself breathe slowly and
deeply, to think of anything but the tight confines of this room. It
shouldn’t be hard. There are so many other fears to focus on. It feels like
they’re up against some kind of enormous machine, a steamroller that
will annihilate them for the sin of accidentally getting in its way. She
tries to tell herself that the walls closing in are the least of her problems,
but it doesn’t help, her heart keeps thumping erratically, like a
frightened bird in her ribcage.
“We should never have stayed,” she says angrily, trying to displace her
fear with rage. “We should have gone home like Prester told us, like
everyone told us. Jesus, this is so crazy. We didn’t do anything wrong.
How did we wind up hiding in this shithole?”
Jacob doesn’t answer.
“If they’ll find us they’ll kill us, won’t they? They’ll actually kill us. This
is so fucking crazy. We were so stupid. We should have gone home.”
“Well, we didn’t,” he says harshly, opening his eyes. “Yes, we should
have. Yes, it’s my fault, is that what you’re getting at? I don’t know what
to say. I’m sorry.”
“Your fault?” Veronica looks at him, astonished. “What are you talking
about? You didn’t make me do anything.”
Jacob shrugs. “It feels like my fault.”

She changes the subject. “How long has it been?”
“Hours. Look. It’s almost dark out.” He gestures to the single cracked
window, covered with gunk, that faces a sheer concrete wall.
“We can trust them. They won’t tell on us.”
“No. They’ll just take our money and run.”
Lydia and Rukungu have taken Jacob and Veronica’s ATM cards and
gone to the downtown Barclays to withdraw as much money as possible.
They didn’t dare go themselves and risk discovery. Driving into Kam-
pala, finding a place behind the Sun City to park, and sneaking into the
hotel was terrifying enough.
“I don’t think so,” Veronica says.
“I don’t see why they wouldn’t. She’s a hooker. He’s a sociopath.”
“He’s not a sociopath. He saved my life. He didn’t have to.”
“He’s a mass murderer.”
“That was a long time ago. I’m sure he came to Kampala for Lydia. I
wonder what their story is.”
Jacob smiles mordantly. “Oh, you know. Same old cliché. Boy meets
girl, boy commits genocide, boy loses girl.”
She winces. “That’s not funny.”
“That’s Africa.”
“I don’t think he’s a sociopath. I think he’s, he’s repented.”
“I think he’s using us, just like he was using Derek, and we’ll never see
him again.”
She shakes her head. “What do we do if you’re right?”
Jacob has no answer. Veronica lies back on the bed, closes her eyes and
tries to think. Something has been bothering her since the embassy, a
mental itch that won’t go away, a vague but nagging notion that they
have misunderstood something vital.
The idea that Danton, Strick and Dr. Murray conspired to smuggle
gold and coltan out of the Congo, and are now being blackmailed by Al-
Qaeda – the more she thinks about it, the less it makes sense. Veronica
would have sworn that Danton would never have gotten involved in
something as sordid as African smuggling. Prester was totally convinced
that Strick was not corrupt. And the idea of Danton, Strick and Dr. Mur-
ray, smart and cautious men, all being so careless as to leave evidence
that could be used to blackmail them – it just seems unlikely.
She thinks of the expression on Danton’s face when he said he came to
Uganda to save lives. She was married to him for seven years, and she
knows he meant it.

She thinks back to Rukungu telling them that the man who killed
Derek wasn’t Al-Qaeda, wasn’t even a Muslim, was one of Athanase’s in-
terahamwe thugs dressed up in a dishdash, and furthermore that the
only Arab among the interahamwe was a trader with no religion but
Veronica opens her eyes wide.
“Jacob,” she says.
He looks at her.
“Tell me something,” Veronica says slowly. “How do we know, how
do we actually
, that there were ever any terrorists?”
Jacob stares at her. “What are you talking about? You mean in the
“But – we saw them.”
“No we didn’t. We saw three black men in dishdashes. One of whom
we now know was just one of Athanase’s men. And one Arab guy who,
if you think about it, never actually did anything except pose for the
Jacob considers, remembers. “True. But why would Athanase pretend
to be working with Al-Qaeda?”
“Maybe because Strick and Danton and Dr. Murray told him to.”


“I don’t know,” she admits. “Maybe I’m wrong. But something about
all this just doesn’t seem to make any sense.”
“They don’t benefit from a fake Al-Qaeda scare. Nobody does.”
“No.” Veronica sighs. She should have known the idea was too crazy
to be true.
Then Jacob says, thoughtfully, “No, wait. That’s not actually true.
There is one guy who did very well off our abduction, isn’t there?”
She looks at him.
“Our friend from Zimbabwe. General Gideon Gorokwe. Remember
what Prester said? A couple weeks ago he was an evil general from a
pariah state. Today he’s getting weapons, meeting with American diplo-
mats, he’s a valuable ally in the war on terror.”
“Right,” Veronica sits up. “Maybe Gorokwe invented fake terrorists to
get American support. Maybe he and Athanase were in cahoots.”
Jacob shakes his head. “No. Sorry. If Al-Qaeda aren’t really in the
Congo, then what’s with the surface-to-air missiles?”
“Maybe they’re for Gorokwe.”

“What does he need them for? More to the point, why did Strick want
to get them to him? Why would Danton and Strick and Dr. Murray get in
bed with Gorokwe and Athanase?”
Veronica can’t think of any answer. She tries to imagine what could
bind her multimillionaire ex-husband, a senior American diplomat, and
a CIA agent to an interahamwe warlord and a Zimbabwean general, and
“To save lives,” she says, repeating her ex-husband’s words. “That’s
why Danton said he was here. He actually said it like he meant it.”
“Yeah? Whose lives?”
She shrugs. “He does donate a lot of money to Africa. Mostly to Zimb-
abwe, his mother was born there. Until last year, when Mugabe threw
out most of the NGOs and stopped accepting money. So I guess that’s
one way Danton might be connected to Gorokwe. But I don’t see how
you save lives with surface-to-air missiles. I mean, he’s deluded enough
to believe you can, if you kill the right person.”
Jacob considers that a moment. Then he stiffens.
Veronica looks at him curiously. “What?”
“Holy fucking God.”

“Kill the right person,” he repeats. “Think about it. If you’re right, if
this was all a plot to get Gorokwe Western support. After you did that,
who would you want to kill?”
She shrugs, uncomprehending.
“Mugabe,” he says. “The President of Zimbabwe. They’re going to
shoot him down and have Gorokwe take over with American support.”
They stare wordlessly at one another for what feels like a long time.
Then Jacob half-laughs. “Jesus. You’ve got to give them credit for
thinking big, don’t you? And we thought this was about a few smugglers
and terrorists. They’re gunning for their own fucking
. The pres-
ident of Zimbabwe dies in a mysterious plane crash, shot down by mis-
siles. Russian missiles, smuggled in from Zanzibar, made to look like
they’re going to Al-Qaeda in case they get intercepted en route. Nice
touch. Good attention to detail. And then the USA, aided by nudges
from Agent Strick and Dr. Murray on the ground, plus rich Mr. DeWitt
and his paid lobbyists, naturally throws its support in the inevitable suc-
cession battle behind noble General Gorokwe, who they think so very
highly of ever since he rescued American hostages from those nasty Al-
Qaeda terrorists. Nobody’s going to care that those terrorists never

existed, not after the fact, Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction never
existed either. It’s elegant. It’s fucking

“It makes sense,” Veronica says softly. “It makes everything make
“And Derek was about to find out. So they abducted us, killed him,
and made it all look like the work of the terrorists whose nonexistence
Derek was about to discover.” Derek laughs bitterly. “And we thought
Strick and Murray were corrupt. Oh no. It’s much worse that that.
They’re fucking idealists. I bet this was never Gorokwe’s idea. I bet they
chose him. Danton’s the money, he’s involved so they don’t have to sell
arms to Iran or whatever. First they found their figurehead, then they
rigged events to make sure the American government lined up behind
him. And now that he’s a staunch ally of course the USA will support
Gorokwe once Mugabe’s gone and he seizes power. This isn’t even a
coup. This is regime change.”
A long silence falls over the room.
There is a knock on the door. Both of them flinch.
“Who is it?” Veronica asks hoarsely.
Lydia’s voice answers. “It is us, Rukungu and I.”
Veronica sighs with relief, gets up, and pulls open the loose, rusting
bolt that holds the door shut. Lydia and Rukungu enter the room and
she closes the door behind them.
“The machines gave us a million shillings,” Lydia says, as if she still
can’t quite believe their mechanical largesse.
Rukungu reaches into the black Adidas bag he carries and deposits a
thick wad of Ugandan money on the bed beside Jacob. Veronica does a
quick mental calculation. About five hundred US dollars. That leaves
them with about a thousand in cash.
“You will give us a card?” Lydia asks nervously.
“One of them,” Jacob agrees. “Mine. There’s ten thousand dollars in
that account, about twenty million shillings. You can take out maybe half
a million a day. But they’ll be tracking it. Make sure you never use it in
the same bank twice in the same month, and if the machine eats the card,
you turn around and walk away fast.”
Rukungu nods seriously. “I understand.”
“Nobody followed you? You’re sure?”
“No one followed us. You are safe here. We took great care.”
“And you’re really going to drive us?” Jacob sounds like he can’t quite
believe this to be true.

“We have agreed. But we are refugees. We have no papers. The police
will stop us.”
“That’s fine,” Jacob pats the brick of money beside him. “This is Africa.
Who needs ID when you’ve got money? You better go get your things
ready. We leave in fifteen minutes.”
Rukungu takes Lydia’s arm and leads her out of the room. Veronica
breathes a little easier when they are gone. It was too crowded with four
people crammed into this little space.
“This theory of ours,” Jacob says to her. “It’s testable.”
She blinks. “Testable how?”
“We still have one phone we can use.” Jacob digs into his pocket and
produces a candy-bar-sized Nokia. “Derek’s secret phone. The one he
used here. The one he called Zimbabwe with. It’s safe to use, nobody else
knows its number, they can’t track it to us. Or even if they can we’ll be
gone before they get here.”
“Who do you want to call?”
Jacob puts the Nokia on speakerphone and dials a number from its
memory. Three sets of doubled rings echo through the little room. Then
a familiar voice replies. “Yes?”
“Is this the man with no name?” Jacob asks.
“He and I might be connected in some way. Jacob Rockel, I presume?”
“And is Veronica Kelly there?”
“Fascinating. Forgive me, I don’t normally try to ask awkward ques-
tions, but this time I just can’t help my curiosity. Are you aware an Inter-
pol alert went out earlier today calling for your arrest?”
After a moment Jacob says, “We weren’t aware, but we’re not
“We didn’t do it,” Veronica says desperately. “We’ve been set up.
We’ve been framed.”
“Of course you have.”
“We’re calling you for confirmation,” Jacob says.
“I see. Confirmation of what precisely?”
“The information you had for Derek. The information he called you to
get. Did it pertain to General Gideon Gorokwe?”
After a moment the voice says, “You don’t seriously expect me to an-
swer that.”

“Derek called you to ask about Gorokwe, didn’t he? Because he
thought Gorokwe was involved with interahamwe smugglers. And then
when you found out Gorokwe was helping the Americans chase the in-
terahamwe, and their so-called terrorist allies, you thought this was
strange, so you called to ask about it, didn’t you? That was the real reas-
on you called. You wanted to ask Prester because Derek had already let
slip he wasn’t a suspect any more.”
“It’s an interesting supposition,” the man says carefully. “Let’s go back
to your use of the words ‘so-called,’ if we may –”
Jacob says, “We need to talk to Mugabe.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Robert Mugabe. The president of Zimbabwe. We need to talk to him.”
“Right. As you do. You don’t want much, do you? I’m sorry, Mr. Rock-
el, but if you think I can put you in touch with our oh-so-esteemed pres-
ident, you are barking up not just the wrong tree but frankly a rather
poisonous one.”
“Can you tell us someone who
get us in contact?”
The British man says, acidly, “Even if I could, to be perfectly honest, I
don’t think I would. But it’s a moot point. Mugabe’s in China for some
totalitarian tete-a-tete. He won’t be back until next week.”
“Good,” Jacob says. “Then there’s time.”
“Time for what?”
Veronica opens her mouth to explain. Jacob shakes his head. She looks
at him. He reaches out and covers the phone’s mouthpiece.
“Getting out of Uganda isn’t enough. Not with Interpol after us too.
Kenya won’t be any better. Nowhere will. Every customs officer and po-
liceman in Africa is looking for us. You understand?”
Veronica just stares at him. She feels overwhelmed, like she’s been
struck by a slow-motion tidal wave and has only just begun to tumble.
“Then what do we do?”
“This guy was a friend of Derek’s. He might help us. But we have to
meet him in person, show him what we’ve got, we can’t convince him
over the phone.”
She nods.
“I’m waiting,” the voice says drily.
Jacob removes his hand from the mouthpiece. “We’ve been framed. If
they catch us, if we get caught anywhere in Africa, they won’t prosecute
us, they’ll
us. These murder charges won’t stick, they’re just an excuse
to grab us.”
“How tragic. And why exactly has this come to pass?”

“Because we’ve found out something about General Gorokwe. So-
mething serious. Something that could affect, that will affect, the entire
future of Zimbabwe.”
“How very melodramatic. What?”
Jacob says, “We’ll only tell you in person.”
After a moment the voice says, incredulously, “I beg your pardon?”
“We’ve got evidence. You won’t believe us without that. We need to
show you.”
“Mr. Rockel, I am not about to come to Uganda to visit a pair of
wanted murderers.”
“Then we’ll come to you. If you don’t believe us then, you can do
whatever you like, turn us over to Interpol, whatever.”
“You can’t be serious.”
Jacob says, “We’re dead serious. We need to get to Zimbabwe as fast as
we can.”
A long pause follows. Veronica is jittery. It feels like minutes are critic-
al now, like the Ugandan police or even military might track them down
at any moment.

” she bursts out. “Prester was our friend. They tortured
We didn’t do it,
him to death. That’s what they’ll do to us if they catch us. Please. You
were Derek’s friend. There’s no one else. Help us.

When the man eventually speaks his voice is full of reluctance, but
there’s a tinge of curiosity as well. “Tell you what. I’ll do this much. If
you actually do come here, I’ll meet with you. I won’t promise anything
more than that. Get yourselves to Livingstone, in Zambia, near the bor-
der. Give me an email address, one that can’t be traced to you, and I’ll
send you details of what to do once you arrive. I promise I’ll listen to
you. No more than that.”
“Get to Zimbabwe?” Veronica asks. She feels betrayed. This sounds
like the next worst thing to no help at all. “How?’
“As to that,” the stranger says, “I’m afraid you’re on your own.”
* * *
Jacob has lost all track of time. It feels like it has stopped, like he and
Veronica have been and will be forever crammed into this dark and ill-
fitting pocket of space. The air stinks of gasoline, his head feels like it is
being crushed in a vice. Even with the spare tire moved to the back seat
there’s barely room for them both in the trunk of the Toyota. Jacob lies
curled in a painfully hunchbacked position, his left leg has gone half-

numb, and metal protrusions stab him every time they go over a bump,
which means several times a minute on the good stretches of road. The
trunk is open only a crack, enough to let in a little air. Veronica shudders
in his arms and moans with every exhalation, as if experiencing a terrible
nightmare, but she is awake. It took a visible effort of will for her to get
into the trunk at all, and this journey will occupy five hours at least. Ja-
cob has no idea how many of those hours have passed. Time has no
meaning in this stinking darkness.
The timbre of the engine changes and the vehicle slows down. Jacob
sees flashes of light outside. Another police checkpoint.
“Quiet,” he whispers into Veronica’s ear. He isn’t sure she can really
hear him at all any more, her rational mind seems to have fled, leaving
behind a terrified child – but then she stiffens, stops whimpering and
starts breathing silently again. He squeezes her tightly. Her face is damp
with tears.
“It’s going to be okay,” he whispers.
He hears Rukungu’s voice, and that of other men, the police. They
hold each other closely, muscles tense with fear, breathing through their
mouths, until the conversation finally ends and the Toyota accelerates
forward again. A few minutes later they turn sharply to the left and be-
gin to move along a bumpy dirt road. Jacob’s head groans, he feels like
his whole body is shaking apart, his bones and muscles are being unknit
by the endless, violent rattling. In one of the rare moments of calm that
follow he wishes he could just hit his head and be knocked unconscious.
He is so dazed he doesn’t realize the Toyota has come to a stop until
the engine switches off. A minute later the trunk lid yawns open, usher-
ing in a blissful wave of cool night air. Rukungu has to bodily lift Veron-
ica to freedom, and Jacob too needs his help to emerge from the trunk.
He falls back against the vehicle, next to Veronica, both of them so
shaken they can barely stand.
“Where are we?” Jacob manages.
“Suam,” Rukungu says. “Near the border. It is almost dawn.”
Lydia offers them water. They drink greedily. Jacob looks around. One
horizon is limned with light, outlining a huge mass to the southeast:
Mount Elgon, on the Uganda-Kenya border. The Toyota has stopped be-
side a wide dirt road. In the distance, maybe a kilometre away, a single
gas lamp illuminates a few wooden buildings and
. As Jacob’s
head clears and its ache fades away he slowly begins to realize they are
on the brink of success. This border post is so remote there is no phone
service, no way for the guards to know he and Veronica are fugitives.

Not that Kenya is safe. They have to go overland all the way to Zimbab-
we, across half of Africa, before they approach anything like safety. But
this is a start.
“Is there anything to eat?” Veronica asks.
Lydia produces a packet of tasteless biscuits and a huge avocado that
Jacob halves and sections with Derek’s Leatherman. He has never eaten a
finer breakfast in his life.
“We cannot cross with you,” Rukungu says. “We have no papers.”
Jacob nods.
“Do you want us to stay?” Lydia asks.
Veronica shakes her head. “No. You don’t want to be seen with us.”
Rukungu says, “Then we will go.”
Jacob looks at him. In the predawn light he can see Rukungu and Ly-
dia only in silhouette, in outline. He has never felt so grateful to anyone.
They didn’t need to take the enormous risk of spiriting Jacob and Veron-
ica out of the country. He supposes they did it for Derek, really, but he
doesn’t know why they are so loyal to the memory of his best friend. He
doesn’t really know anything about them: where they are from, how they
met, how they were parted, what Rukungu did in Rwanda and in the
Congo in the years after, how Lydia came to Kampala, why and how
Rukungu came to betray Athanase to Derek – all these are mysteries. All
Jacob knows is that he owes them his life. He wishes there was time to
inquire, to try to understand; he wishes he had cared and asked about
their stories before. He had the opportunity. But they were just Africans,
he didn’t really care. And now it is too late.
“Thank you,” he says inadequately, and puts out his hand.
Rukungu and Lydia shake it, formally. Veronica hugs them both good-
bye. Then Jacob shoulders the little pack that contains all the possessions
he has left in this world, takes Veronica’s hand in his, and leads her to-
wards the border, towards the dawn.

Part 3

Veronica says, “Where there’s smoke there’s fire.”
Jacob half-smiles. “Except here.”
The pale plume rising into the sky half a mile away, seen over the trees
that line the road, looks exactly like smoke from a big fire. Even the dis-
tant noise sounds like something far away burning furiously. High
above, the noon sun is surrounded by something Veronica has never
seen before: a perfectly circular rainbow.
She takes a moment to appreciate the beauty, then takes a deep breath
and looks back down to earth. No sense delaying any longer. “All right.
Let’s go.”
The road that carried them the ten kilometres from Livingstone to the
border ends at a chainlink gate. A series of other fences steer the small
queue of pedestrians into a squat building labelled ZAMBIA
EMIGRATION. Beyond this checkpoint, a metal bridge about three hun-
dred feet long traverses a steep-walled gorge.
Jacob takes her hand as they wait, holding the small day packs that
carry all their remaining worldly possessions. “Almost there.”
Veronica forces a smile. This is their fourth border in four days. She
knows in theory the line is good – busy officials are likely to hurry them
along, bored ones are dangerous – but the anticipation is always worse
than the crossing itself. Assuming of course that they don’t get caught. A
fate more likely to happen here than anywhere else. The tiny posts where
they entered and exited Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania were so far from
modern networked civilization it will likely take months for those im-
migration officers to learn that Jacob and Veronica were wanted fugit-
ives, but this is a major transit nexus. When Veronica sees computers
beyond the building’s glass-fronted wickets, her stomach tenses and she
starts to breathe fast.
“Those won’t be connected to anything,” Jacob says quietly into her
ear. His voice is reassuring, but his hand is clammy. “They’ll only know
if they call in our names. They won’t do that unless they get suspicious.
And they won’t get suspicious. There’s nothing suspicious about us.

Nobody’s even dreaming that we’d come down here. Just stay cool and
we’ll be fine. If you’re shaking, just pretend you’re sick or something.”
The line edges forward. They begin to near the uniformed immigra-
tion officer. Veronica can’t believe she’s here, doing this, sneaking across
a border, hoping to escape an Interpol warrant. It doesn’t feel real. Noth-
ing about their epic journey across half of Africa, in the hundred hours
since they escaped Uganda, has felt particularly real.
Sunset at the Kenya-Tanzania border, watching clouds of winged ter-
mites erupt from a mound the size of a small house, with snow-capped
Mount Kilimanjaro looming in the distance beyond. Their roller-coaster
early-morning flight to Dar es Salaam, followed by a panicky taxi ride to
the railway station, arriving only ten minutes before the departure of the
weekly train to Zambia. A young woman moving along the length of the
train at one of its many unscheduled stops, selling live locusts, a local
delicacy, from a red plastic bowl. Ghostly stick-figure men and women,
more like shadows than humans, standing beside the tracks and staring
as the Tazara train rolled through the desiccated, drought-blasted hills of
southwest Tanzania.
“Passport,” the immigration officer says.
Now that she is at the front of the line, in the moment of truth, she
feels inexplicably calm and relaxed; her breath has slowed, her muscles
have loosened. Maybe she has just run out of adrenalin. Veronica pro-
duces her passport and passes it over with steady hands. It seems
strange that so much rests on that little blue booklet, that her ability to
pass between nations is determined solely by the words and pictures
within. The Zambian officer stamps it and hands it back without even
looking at her name. Jacob receives the same treatment. Veronica’s legs
are weak with exhaustion and relief as they walk out of the immigration
post. Only one more border post to go, and it should be the easiest of all.
When she steps onto the bridge she gasps aloud at the sudden sight of
gargantuan Victoria Falls. The majestic curtain of water to her right, the
source of that towering plume that is not smoke, tumbles over a four-
hundred-foot cliff into a gorge that curves sharply before passing be-
neath this bridge. Amid the whitewater below she can see little inflatable
blue-and-yellow rafts: tourists rafting the mighty Zambezi. They look
like children’s toys. More tourists, all white, some looking distinctly pale
and nervous, cluster around the bungee-jumping booth midway across
the bridge. Veronica half-smiles as she passes. After her last few weeks,
bungee jumping seems about as nervewracking as a stroll through a
flower garden. She wonders whether she’s grown tough or just numb.

There is another lineup to enter Zimbabwe. Veronica is taken aback;
she thought this was a pariah state. From the voices and accents most of
these would-be adventure tourists are are British, Australian and South
African, with a sprinkling of Europeans. Two immigration officers are on
duty. To Veronica’s relief one is a woman. Yesterday’s email from their
only hope, their still-nameless contact in Zimbabwe, told them to go to
the woman on duty.
They have to fill out forms before presenting their passports. Jacob’s
hands are now shaking from tension, it takes him three attempts to
legibly complete a form, and this makes Veronica nervous too, surely
this is exactly the kind of thing they look for, Jacob’s face looks pinched
and he is sweating heavily, he might as well be wearing a SUSPICIOUS
CHARACTER T-shirt – but no one seems to notice. The woman takes
Veronica’s passport and thirty dollars cash, reads her name, hesitates a
moment, then gives her a knowing look through the glass. Veronica
doesn’t move. The woman smiles slightly, smooths a very modern visa
sticker onto one of the passport’s last virgin pages, stamps it, hands it
back, and waves her on. Jacob rejoins her as they walk into Zimbabwe.
“We made it,” she says giddily.
He does not share her euphoria. “We have forty dollars cash left, and
we can’t use cards. If our man with no name doesn’t show, we’re
* * *
According to the email, they are meant to meet him outside the nearest
Total gas station. A long road winds from the bridge up towards the
town of Victoria Falls, past empty fields of dry bushes and grass. They
pass little gaggles of white tourists, and a few men selling yoghurt
drinks, before they reach a remarkably modern strip mall that boasts a
tourist information office, souvenir shops, and the green-and-blue logo
of Standard Chartered Bank. A massive and apparently brand-new
hotel/casino complex built to First World standards is just opposite.
Veronica is amazed: isn’t Zimbabwe supposed to be a wretched, danger-
ous place?
“There,” Jacob says, pointing at a red sign. “Total.” He pronounces it
the French way, stressing the second syllable.
She looks. Like all gas stations, Total has a big board which displays its
prices. But this station’s board says

No one is waiting for them outside. The little shop within the station is
named La Boutique: its windows are cracked and the door hangs open as
if broken. When they enter, the attendant, a young man reading some
kind of photocopied book, stares at them as if customers are an unheard-
of innovation. The shelves are covered with dusty containers of motor oil
and spark plugs, and there are two large Coca-Cola fridges, both empty.
“No Coke?” Jacob asks, disappointed.
“Do you know where I can get some?”
The young man shakes his head. “No Coke anywhere.”
They retreat from this empty shell that was once a gas station. Veron-
ica is more shocked by the absence of Coca-Cola than that of gasoline.
She stops between the gas pumps, which are actually rusting from lack
of use, digs into her cargo pants and produces her last pack of Marlboro
“What the hell,” she says to Jacob’s questioning look, “how often do
you get to smoke in a gas station, right?”
He shrugs and takes a cigarette. She looks around. The elaborate
casino complex is almost entirely deserted, weeds are growing in its
lawns. Two of the souvenir shops are closed. There are no vehicles mov-
ing on the street.
A small boy approaches from across the street and asks, “Change
They shake their heads in unison.
The boy looks around furtively, then whispers, loudly, “Are you Jacob
and Veronica?”
They stare at him. Eventually Jacob says, “What if we were?”
“You go down to Vic Falls Park. You go to jungle there.”
The boy scurries away before they can interrogate him.
“I guess he wants to meet in private,” Veronica says.
Jacob nods. “There was a sign for Victoria Falls Park just after the
They retrace their steps to this sign and follow a narrow concrete path
away from the road, towards the falls. Veronica wonders what the boy
meant by
. It is already apparent that Zimbabwe, like southern

Zambia, is a dry country of brown grasses, wiry bushes, termite mounds
and thorny trees, nothing like verdant central Africa.
A fat ranger at a guardpost informs them that admittance to the park
will cost twenty of their last forty US dollars. Veronica tries to negotiate,
but the ranger just stares at them stonily. Eventually she shrugs and
pays; what choice do they have?
“I guess we can get money from the ATMs here if we really have to,”
she says as they advance through the turnstile. “Or a credit card
“I think Zimbabwe’s been cut off from the global banking networks.
Hyperinflation and failure to make payments, or something.”
Veronica winces. If this meeting with their mysterious stranger doesn’t
pan out they will be out of both money and options.”We should have
gotten money in Livingstone.”
“Then they’d know we were there, and they’d figure out we were com-
ing here. We have to stay completely off the grid. No cards, no phone
calls, no international flights.”
They advance into forested parkland along a path of cracked and
broken concrete slabs. The roar of water grows as they advance, until
suddenly the forest opens and they see the falls’ entire length edge-on.
They are a full half-mile across. A rainbow shimmers amid the whitewa-
ter as the mighty Zambezi plunges endlessly over a sheer cliff. In the dis-
tance, the gorge bends sharply to the right, towards the bridge. The air is
thick with ambient water.
“Look,” Jacob says, pointing to the right, to the lip of the gorge oppos-
ite the falls. There is a small patch of deep green vegetation where the
spray is densest. Surrounded by dry grasses, it looks like an oasis in the
They follow the paths along the dry side of the gorge and into a whole
new ecosystem: palm trees, huge ferns, intertwining vines, leaves so
dense they block out the sun. It reminds Veronica uncomfortably of the
Impenetrable Forest. The concrete slabs in this bizarre patch of jungle are
drenched with the perpetual spray, they have to pick their way carefully
past mud and puddles.
The man waiting for them is tall and athletic, mid-twenties. His arms
are ropy with muscle, his high cheekbones are carved into a statuesque
face. His head is so closely cropped it is almost shaved, and his skin is
very dark. His movie-star looks are marred by a sickle-shaped scar on
his left cheek. He wears jeans, a red T-shirt, and a denim jacket.

Something about him, his watchful readiness, reminds Veronica of both
Derek and Rukungu.
“Jacob Rockel, Veronica Kelly,” he greets them. His accent is African;
this is not the nameless man from the phone. “Are you alone?”
After a nervous moment Veronica admits, “Yes.”
“My name is Lovemore. Please, wait.”
Moments later another man, short and white and tubby, emerges from
the path that brought them here. He wears jeans, a T-shirt, muddy boots
and a battered leather rucksack, and walks with a slight limp. A shock of
brown hair and a dense pepper-and-salt beard adorn a shrewd, profess-
orial face that has seen maybe fifty years.
“Terribly sorry for all this cloak and dagger guff,” he says with a self-
deprecating grin, shaking their hands casually. “Mostly childish non-
sense, if you ask me. But we’re living in interesting times here in Zimb-
abwe, have to dust off a few of the old tricks. Our esteemed government
seems to feel the need to keep an eye on harmless old me.”
“You’re who we talked to on the phone?” Veronica asks warily.
“The very same. Lysander Tennant, at your service, in the flesh. You’ve
met my driver and minister without portfolio.” He nods towards
Lovemore. Then his face hardens, and his voice, while remaining cour-
teous, turns curt. “Now then. I don’t mean to be unwelcoming, but you’ll
understand, I can’t be found harbouring international fugitives without
bloody good reason. I really shouldn’t be talking to you at all. I’m here
only out of that which killed the cat, and a certain morbid loyalty to our
dear departed Derek. So you’d best think of this as a job interview. I’ll
give you five minutes. What happened in Uganda? What do you have
for me?”
Jacob looks at Veronica.
She shrugs – what choice do they have? – and says, curtly, “General
Gorokwe is going to assassinate Mugabe with surface to air missiles.”
Lysander’s stony face is wiped away for a moment by sheer
amazement. Then it returns and he says, skeptically, “Really. And why
would he do a silly thing like that? He wouldn’t have a hope in hell of
taking charge afterwards.”
Jacob says, “He thinks he does. He has American support. This whole
thing was an American plan from the start. Gorokwe is just their
plan?” It takes a few seconds for Lysander to digest
those words. He looks at Lovemore, who is listening intently. “That’s –

no. That’s ridiculous. They wouldn’t, nobody could be that stupid. That
would be madness. Sheer bloody madness.”
But this time he doesn’t sound dismissive. He sounds worried.
“Maybe so,” Veronica says, “but that’s what they’re doing.”
“They who? The White House? You can’t possibly expect me to believe
“No. A few diplomats and CIA agents who faked that Al-Qaeda scare
in the Congo so that the US government would line up behind Gorokwe.
Now that he’s a friend of America, they’ll back him to take over when
Mugabe dies. I know it sounds crazy. But that’s why Derek died, that’s
why Prester died, that’s why we got kidnapped in the first place, that’s
why they’re after us now. They’re going to shoot down Mugabe first
chance they get and try to install Gorokwe as president.”
Jacob adds, “We have evidence.”
Lysander looks from one of them to the other for what feels like a long
time. Then he looks at Lovemore, who nods, slowly.
Lysander says, reluctantly, “I suppose you’d better show me.”

Entering the grounds of the Victoria Falls Hotel feels like walking into
the nineteenth century. This elegant relic of colonialism boasts musty
hallways, mahogany doors, faded paintings of great British explorers,
ancient maps of BOAC air service to Africa, a smoking room walled with
books, and high tea service. Even the furniture in Lysander’s room looks
like something from the set of a Jane Austen movie. His modern Toshiba
laptop looks terribly out of place on a rolltop mahogany desk.
Jacob and Veronica wait tensely as Lysander and Lovemore go
through the contents of Jacob’s CD for the third time, watching the
Toshiba’s screen intently, as if there might be a hidden message within.
Veronica realizes for the first time that actually they have very little evid-
ence. Incomprehensible matrices of telephone and GPS records; some
blurry, night-time photos from Jacob’s camera; a few more from Prester’s
Razr phone, and their own testimony – all of which could easily have
been faked.
Lysander turns from one of the night shots to Veronica. She braces
herself for an interrogation: but instead he says, wonderingly, “He was
the one who held you down. I saw it on YouTube.”
Veronica blinks and looks more closely. It is the photo of Casimir, the
musclebound interahamwe who murdered Derek. She remembers how
he pulled her choking to the ground, and held her while the Arab put the
machete to her throat. “Yes.”
Jacob says, “He killed Derek.”
Lysander frowns. “I never saw that. YouTube didn’t host that, it was
on more prurient sites. Easy enough to find if you wanted, and appar-
ently millions did, but not I.”
Veronica doesn’t have anything to say to that.
“If what you’re telling me is actually true, and please note I’m not say-
ing I’m fully convinced yet, but if it is, then … ” Lysander shakes his
head, appalled. “Then this is one of the most horrifically stupid ideas in
history. I want Mugabe gone as much as the next rational man, but
Christ almighty, there’s not a lot of happy precedent for shooting down

airplanes carrying African presidents. The Rwandan genocide was
sparked when President Habyarimana was shot down. That’s a million
dead. The president of Burundi was with him, and that civil war
hasn’t ended. There’s another quarter million. Mobutu was supposed to
be dead dictator number three on that flight. God knows what would
have happened if the paranoid bastard hadn’t changed his plans, but we
know the wars after he finally did buy the farm killed three million
more, and counting. You’ve seen what happened to eastern Congo. Then
there’s Mozambique, Samora Machel shot down by the South Africans,
deny it though they try. I don’t know how many people died, nobody
does, but I do know that civil war took them back to the bloody Stone
Age, they didn’t even have matches or soap by the time it finally ended.
You only blow up the big man if you don’t have enough support for a
. Because once he’s gone all his jackals start fighting for the
scraps. There’s an old African proverb, when the elephants fight, the
grass gets trampled. Well, I know Zimbabwe a long sight better than any
starry-eyed American, and I ‘m telling you, never mind trampled, an as-
sassination right now could start off a bushfire that would burn the
whole bloody country.”
After a moment Jacob says, cautiously, “You sound like you believe
“No. I sound like I think I can’t afford not to. But this isn’t proof, what
you have here, it isn’t even evidence, it’s barely circumstantial. I was
wondering why you hadn’t gone to the media if you were for real. Now I
know. If I take this to my superiors they’ll laugh me out of the room.”
Veronica says, “I don’t mean to pry, but who exactly are your superi-
ors? The British?”
“If you don’t mean to,” Lysander says curtly, “then don’t.”
Veronica falls silent, her face reddens, she feels like she’s committed
some unforgivable faux pas.
“If you’re here to mislead me, if you’re really part of that smuggling
ring like Interpol says, believe me, you have come to the wrong place,”
he continues. “This has become a country where people disappear. Espe-
cially in this last month. Important people, powerful people, have begun
to disappear. People have started whispering about death squads work-
ing for Mugabe. Make no mistake, you’d do far better to turn yourselves
in than to come here and try to deceive me.”
Jacob says, “We’re not lying, and you know it.”
“What I think I know or don’t know doesn’t matter right now. The
question is, what can I prove?”

Jacob looks like he wants to say something, but Veronica, sensing that
this is the key moment, shoots him a look, and he shuts up. Lysander
looks at Lovemore.
“I certainly understand the appeal of assassination,” Lysander mutters.
“It’s not as if anyone supports Mugabe but his cronies. He’s lost the plot,
his wife’s a hyena, and his government’s a kleptocracy. But consider
Amin, consider Bokassa, consider Mobutu. Consider the fact that our
fine upstanding General Gorokwe is happy to conspire with the likes of
Athanase. Then consider what I found out for Derek. That the general
was profoundly involved in the Gukurahundi massacres of the early
eighties. Zimbabwe’s own little micro-genocide, twenty thousand dead.
There’s no actual surviving proof, but the men who told me are reliable
sources. He’s a genocidist himself. Gorokwe could easily be ten times
worse than Mugabe.”
“And that’s if it’s a bloodless coup,” Lovemore says grimly.
Lysander nods. “Exactly. If this does happen, if Gorokwe actually pulls
the trigger, then love him or hate him, we’d best all start praying
everything goes exactly according to his plan. Because God only knows
how big a bloodbath this will set off if it goes wrong.”
After a second Veronica asks, “So what do we do?”
Lysander’s frown deepens. “We, is it? I suppose it is. Very temporarily.
Very well. We go back to Harare tonight. That’s the capital, the big city.
I’ll report from there, ask Vauxhall for assistance, call in all my favours.
Mugabe’s due to fly back from China in four days. We’ve got that long to
try to find out where they are, what their plan is, and how to stop them.”
He shakes his head. “Interpol fugitives. Surface to air missiles. Bloody
hell. I need a drink.”
* * *
“I’m afraid we’re going to have to take the train,” Lysander says, as
they sit in the hotel’s gardens, eating scones, sipping Earl Grey, and
watching the glorious view of sunset over Victoria Falls. “We can’t take
the chance of your names on flight records, they might be keeping an eye
out for you, and I don’t have any friends in the local airport. In Harare or
Bulawayo I could get you documents, but not here. No choice but the
overnight train.”
“That sounds fine,” Jacob says. “We took the train from Dar es Salaam
to Zambia.”

Lysander smiles wryly. “I think you’ll find today’s Zimbabwe Rail-
ways to be considerably less luxurious.”
Veronica winces. The Tazara train that took them into Zambia was
anything but luxury. “Aren’t there any buses?”
“Good heavens, no. Nobody’s going to waste petrol on a ten-hour
drive, not in this country. You do realize petrol – I’m sorry, gasoline – is
not legally available for sale anywhere in this country?”
“Why’s that?” Jacob asks, amazed.
“Various reasons. One is that the government has no foreign exchange
with which to buy it. Another is that they fix petrol’s price so low that
stations can’t afford to sell it. But the real reason is that there’s big money
in the black market, and most of it goes to government cronies. Unfortu-
nately their distribution networks are as dubious as they are. Here in Vic
Falls we’re right near the border, there’s plenty of supply. And Harare’s
black market is apparently inexhaustible. But in much of the country
right now there’s no petrol available no matter how many US dollars you
wave in the air. They simply don’t have it.”
“So what do they do?” Veronica asks.
Lysander shrugs.
“We use oxcarts as ambulances,” Lovemore says unexpectedly. “We
travel from Harare to our home village to attend a funeral, and we must
remain for weeks because there is no petrol to carry us home. In the
countryside now, in the bush, we no longer live in this twenty-first cen-
tury. We have returned to the nineteenth.”
A plump bowtied waiter brings them the bill. At first Veronica thinks
it must be some kind of misprint: the total scrawled on the bottom of the
slip of paper is more than a million dollars. But Lysander nods absently,
digs into his pack, comes up with two wads of pink notes as thick as a
deck of cards, each wrapped in a rubber band. He drops one wad on the
table and adds a handful from the other. Each note is labelled
“What’s the exchange rate?” Jacob asks, equally stunned.
Lysander smiles thinly. “At the government rate, which nobody uses,
about twenty-five thousand Zim dollars to one US. At the black-market
rate, more like a hundred thousand. Seven years ago it was twenty to
Jacob whistles.
“In Zimbabwe the last seven years have been very educational,”
Lovemore says. His voice stilll sounds completely serious, but Veronica
sees a hint of a sardonic smile. “Every man on the street has become an
economics master. Every housewife can give lectures on the perils of

hyperinflation and the importance of foreign exchange. We have become
so knowledgeable, and so hardworking. Every day we hustle, we work
so hard. We have no choice. Because every day we wake up knowing all
the money we have will soon be worth nothing.”
“Half the adult population’s fled the country,” Lysander says. “To
South Africa, Botswana, Zambia. The money they send home is the only
thing that keeps half this country alive. And the other half is starving, or
dying of AIDS, or both. And we used to be the breadbasket of Africa, we
used to feed our neighbours.”
“What happened?” Veronica asks.
He sighs. “Mugabe went mad, is what happened. He was a perfectly
good leader for a long time, by African standards. He was practically en-
lightened. Then seven years ago he and his thugs, his so-called war vets,
most of them weren’t even born during the civil war here, they started to
invade all the white-owned farms and drive out the whites. That viol-
ence erased the tourism industry overnight, the expulsion of most of the
good farmers wiped out all the crops, and the Zim dollar collapsed.
We’ve been lurching from crisis to crisis ever since. Bad to worse. AIDS,
corruption, drought. This country’s like a rock rolling downhill towards
a cliff. And if you’re right, we’re in danger of going into the abyss as soon
as this week.” Lysander stands. “Come on. Let’s get to the station in case
tonight is a night of miracles and the train actually departs on time.”
* * *
It is fully dark by the time a rusting train wheezes to a halt and its
doors open to accept the hundreds of passengers that clog the Victoria
Falls railway platform. A few are middle-aged businessmen with enorm-
ous amounts of luggage in tow, but most are dressed in ragged clothing
and carry very little. There are no other white people: it seems those
tourists who dare to enter Zimbabwe at all go no further than Victoria
Lovemore leads Veronica and Jacob through the crowd and onto the
train. Its interior is stained gray linoleum and tarnished metal. Naked
wires protrude from holes in walls, and the cracked windows are
jammed permanently open or shut. They pass a rusted, filthy bathroom.
Their first-class berth has four bunks covered with torn blue upholstery,
a rusting fold-out table, and a sink that doesn’t work. One of the two
fluorescent lights overhead is dead; the other flickers like a strobe light.
Cockroaches crawl in the dark corners. Lysander was right, this makes

the battered Tazara rolling stock that carried them to Zambia look like
the Orient Express.
“Well,” Veronica says gamely, “at least it’s cheap.”
Their tickets cost the equivalent of three US dollars apiece, at the
black-market rate. The cramped size of the berth makes her a little un-
comfortable, but its window is stuck half-open, that helps, and compared
to the five harrowing, endless hours she spent locked in the trunk of a
car, on their way to the Ugandan border, this is the Taj Mahal.
“Where’s Lysander?” Jacob asks.
“Seeing Innocent,” Lovemore says. “The train conductor. He’s a friend.”
Lysander appears shortly after, along with a middle-aged black man
wearing glasses and a cheerful smile. Innocent shakes hands briefly with
Veronica and Jacob, then speaks briefly with Lysander and Lovemore in
an African language. After another round of handshakes he disappears
down the corridor.
“Happy coincidence he’s on duty,” Lysander says with a satisfied
smile. “Foreigners are supposed to show passports to get tickets, and I’d
rather not have your names on record. For the purpose of this journey
you two are honourary Zimbabwe residents.”
“You speak the language,” Veronica says. “I’m impressed.”
Lysander waves self-deprecatingly. “Not really. I grew up speaking
Shona, that’s the majority language here, but Innocent speaks Ndebele.
Lovemore’s fluent but I can barely get by.”
She looks at him. “Grew up speaking Shona?”
“Oh, I was born here. Zimbabwe passport, quite useful, I can’t be ex-
pelled. British passport too, of course. We moved to the UK when I was
young, because of the civil war, and I didn’t come back until the nineties.
To study wild dogs, of all things. Then I started buying and selling art
around the country, mostly just as a sideline, to help finance my re-
search. There’s wonderful art here. Then when it all started to go wrong
the embassy chaps realized I might be useful. A few heartstring-tugging
appeals to God and Queen and country, and here I am, on her majesty’s
secret service, in a very quiet and unofficial way.”
Veronica smiles, mostly with relief. Obviously he has decided to trust
Lysander looks around. “Back when it was Rhodesian Railways, or
even ten years ago, these were proper trains, first class meant wood pan-
els and luxury, they brought you food and bedding, they departed on
time. Now you count yourself lucky to leave at all.”
“What happens if the train doesn’t go?” Jacob asks.

Lysander shrugs. “Usually it eventually does. But if there’s a break-
down here tonight, we’ll have to try to fly tomorrow. It’ll be a big risk,
but we’ll have to take it, no time for anything else.”
They wait anxiously. Almost an hour passes before the train finally
lurches into motion. After a bumpy first few minutes the lurching and
shuddering smooths into a kind of soothing rattling, and they celebrate
departure with beer and cigarettes.
Then Jacob and Lysander climb into their upper bunks. Lovemore
simply lies down on the bunk opposite Veronica, closes his eyes, and is
asleep in less than a minute; he doesn’t seem to even notice the cold
breeze from the open window. Veronica puts on three layers of shirts
and two of socks, and folds her small pile of remaining clothes into a pil-
low. Jacob leans down and switches out the light. She takes his out-
stretched hand for a moment. Then she leans back and closes her eyes.
She is very tired, and for the first time in longer than she wants to re-
member, she feels safe. It takes only moments for the train’s rocking mo-
tion and white noise to lull her too into deep sleep.
* * *
There is a hard hand on her shoulder, shaking her awake. Veronica
comes halfway out of her deep sleep and opens her eyes to flickering
fluorescent light. For a bad moment she doesn’t know where she is or
why, she doesn’t recognize the bearded man standing over her, or the
two black men flanking him. She pushes his hand away violently. Then
her mind’s gears stop grinding and begin to mesh. Lysander, the British
spy. She is in Zimbabwe, on a train. The other men are Lovemore and In-
nocent the train conductor. They can’t have reached Bulawayo, the train
is still moving, and it is still night.
“What’s going on?” she asks, in a ragged voice.
“I’m afraid it seems we’ve got a bit of a problem,” Lysander says, but
she knows immediately from his voice that it’s a great deal worse than
that. “There are soldiers on the train. I’m afraid they’re looking for you

“This is crazy,” Jacob mutters. “How can they possibly know we’re here?”
“They must have had someone watching in Victoria Falls,” Lovemore
Innocent says something in a husky voice.
“The train stopped at an army base, just now,” Lovemore translates.
“Other nights the train passes through without stopping, he has never
before seen them signal for a stop. The soldiers embarked there.”
“Is it so bad if the army gets us?” Jacob asks. “I mean, we’re trying to
save their president’s life. If we can just convince them -”
“No,” Lysander says. “Not just any army base. The Fifth Brigade. The
same unit I’m told Gorokwe served in, during the Gukurahundi. The
Matabeleland massacres.”
Jacob groans. “Shit. His old army buddies. And we walked right into
“We have to hide,” Veronica says. She looks around for a place to hide.
Beneath the berths? The luggage compartment above? Both are too obvi-
ous, they’ll be found in seconds. But there is nowhere else. Do they have
time to flee down the corridor and try to find some hiding spot else-
where on the train?
The question is answered before she can ask it. A metal door slams
and loud voices fill the corridor outside, only two or three berths away,
barking orders. The soldiers are in their car. Veronica’s heart begins to
pound, she feels her breath begin to quicken, her lungs seem squeezed
half-shut, she feels cold, her skin feels stretched too tight – but she has
now grown almost accustomed to her body’s fight-or-flight reaction, and
this time her mind does not shut down, she can still think clearly. She
never imagined that fear for her life might grow so terribly familiar.
“Only one way out,” she says quietly.
All eyes turn to the open window.
* * *

There is a little table set into the wall immediately beneath the win-
dow. Lovemore crouches on that table, facing into the car, grabs the top
of the window frame, extends his head and shoulders into the night –
then ducks them back in as a wooden pole goes past, less than a foot
from the window. To Veronica’s relief it does not go past particularly
quickly. The train’s locomotive is old and slow, they probably aren’t
moving more than twenty miles an hour. But that’s plenty fast enough to
break your neck if you hit the ground the wrong way.
The soldiers’ voices are closer now, the next berth over. Innocent went
out to try to stall them, but it doesn’t sound like he’s having much luck,
their voices sound hostile, angry. Veronica checks to see that their door is
still locked by its single metal bolt. Lovemore tries again. His hands
leave the window frame and find some purchase above, his legs straight-
en and levitate away from the table, and then he is gone. Jacob climbs
awkwardly up onto the table.
A fist hammers on their door and a voice shouts a demand.
“Hurry,” Lysander says, so quietly Veronica can barely hear him.
Jacob, clumsier and less athletic than Lovemore, manages to contort
himself so his gangly body extends out of the window. Then he slips, his
foot gives way and he starts to fall, it seems to be happening in slow mo-
tion, Veronica’s heart convulses as Jacob begins to topple away from the
window– and a muscular, dark-skinned hand reaches down as if from
the heavens, catches a flailing wrist, steadies him.
The soldiers at their door resume their hammering and shouting, and
this time they don’t stop.
“They say they’re going to break it down,” Lysander murmurs ur-
gently into Veronica’s ear as Jacob pulls himself or is pulled up and out
of the window. “You go. I’ll stay.”
She looks at him, alarmed.
“They’ll be awfully suspicious if they find an empty berth locked from
the inside. Fear not. I know how to handle these people. I’ll be fine.” He
tries to smile.
Something hits the door so hard that the bold that holds it bends back-
wards slightly.
“All right, all right!” Lysander shouts, and the cacophony on the other
side of the door falls silent for a moment. “Just give me a moment to get
He nods to her. Veronica realizes she doesn’t have time to argue. She
steps up onto the table, trying to be quiet, holds the side of the window
frame and sticks her head outside. No oncoming poles are evident. She

looks up and sees the heads and arms of Jacob and Lovemore, on top of
the train only a few feet above her. She reaches up towards them, each
takes an arm, and the two men lift her up like a rag doll. Jacob’s contri-
bution is almost irrelevant; Lovemore is phenomenally strong and all but
singlehandedly pulls her up and onto the roof.
For a moment she lies on her belly, breathing hard, cold iron against
her face as the train rattles and vibrates beneath her. Then she carefully
pulls herself up to her knees and looks around. The roof of the train is
trapezoidal in cross-section, two slight slopes on either side rising to a
flat walkway down the middle. They are moving through a vast field of
dry grasses lit by the hanging crescent moon. The stiff wind and the
rocking, lurching motion make it hard to keep her balance even on her
knees, she has to reach out frequently to steady herself. The wind and
the churning train-sounds drown out all else, she can’t hear what if any-
thing is happening to Lysander in the berth below.
Veronica wishes she had taken the thirty extra seconds to to collect her
day pack and its contents. She has nothing left but her clothes, her shoes,
her passport in her money belt, cigarettes and lighter in one of her cargo
pants’ side pockets, useless cell phone and Leatherman in the other, and
her empty wallet in her back pocket. She supposes it’s better than noth-
ing. She pulls out her phone, intending to turn it on and check the time.
Jacob grabs her. “Don’t,” he says. “No phones, never, not in this
She understands and replaces it in her pocket. She supposes it doesn’t
matter what time it is. They have to wait up here until they are safe,
however long it takes. Maybe all the way to Bulawayo.
* * *
Veronica is freezing, the icy wind is relentless, she can’t stop shivering.
Jacob kneels behind her, his arms wrapped around her, but his limbs too
are cold and she can hear his teeth chatter. Lovemore, apparently in-
sensate to the frigid wind, stands like a surfer atop the the moving train,
peering down its length.
Veronica wonders if the soldiers have fully searched the train by now,
if it might be safe to go back in and hide in a warm corner. But of course
they can’t. Better to risk hypothermia than a firing squad.
Lovemore crouches back down and says, conversationally, “Once I
was on a train that struck an elephant near here. We are not far from
Hwange park. The elephants have grown too many for the park, there is

not enough food there, so many forage outside. Perhaps this one was old
and did not hear the train. Or perhaps it was curious. Nothing troubles
an elephant. They are slow to learn fear.”
Veronica stares at him. That is a potential hazard she had not even
considered. “Really? What happened?”
“It died.”
“I mean, to the train.”
Lovemore shrugs as if that hardly matters. “The lead car derailed.
There were many injuries.”
After a silent minute Lovemore stands back up and sights down the
train again – but this time he drops immediately back into a crouch, one
hand on the slippery metal beneath him. He looks like an NFL lineman
waiting for the ball to be snapped, peering forward, muscles taut, ready
for action.
“What is it?” Jacob asks.
“Someone else on the train. On the engine car.”
Veronica stiffens and turns to look. The high moon sheds enough light
that she can see motion at the end of the train, near the engine. Oncom-
ing motion. She can’t tell how many.
“Soldiers,” Lovemore says grimly. “They have seen us.”
Veronica looks back down the length of the train. The gaps between
the cars are narrow enough for the surefooted to step across. The several
men in the distance make their way slowly but inexorably along the
train, towards their quarry. Their attempt to hide has failed.
She looks out at the field of darkness through which they move, and
takes a deep breath. She can’t stop shivering. “I guess we’ve got no
* * *
There’s a little ridge at the rim of the roof, maybe an inch high, just
enough for Jacob to hold on to as he worms his way sideways over the
edge, half-slipping, half-dangling, until he is literally holding on by his
fingertips. Veronica gasps as a wooden pole flashes past the train, but it
isn’t quite close enough to knock Jacob off.
The soldiers are only three cars away now, and closing fast, they seem
to have gotten the knack of leaping over the gaps between cars.
“Don’t think about it,” Jacob says. She can barely hear him, she isn’t
sure whether he’s talking to himself or giving her advice. “Just go. Try to
land on your butt and roll.”

Then his hands vanish and he disappears into the night. The rattling
train drowns out any sound of impact. Veronica stares at the space
Jacob’s hands just occupied. He might already be dead.
“Hurry!” Lovemore says urgently.
She nods, drops to her hands and knees, and begins crawling towards
the edge of the train. The slippery metal is rocking precariously beneath
her and when she nears the edge she switches to belly-crawling. Veron-
ica grabs the ridge and slowly, agonizingly, works herself over the edge
of the train, it isn’t easy to do without falling, especially when the train
itself is shaking violently back and forth, and wooden posts keep flash-
ing past.
She hears shouts over the grinding noise of the train, and when she
looks up, she sees that the half-dozen soldiers are now only one car
away, and running towards them. Sudden desperation lends Veronica a
gymnast’s speed and grace. She swings her whole body down at once,
catches herself by her fingers as her legs and torso fall down the outer
wall of the train. Her shoulders squawk with pain but she manages to
hold on. Lovemore is already sliding and scrambling to the edge beside
her. Veronica lifts her feet so they are flat against the wall of the train,
then uses her legs to propel herself back, away from the train, into the
darkness. For a moment she hangs weightless in the air. It feels like

“Jacob,” Veronica says, her voice frantic. “Jacob, wake up, please. Please,
you have to wake up. Jacob,

Jacob’s world is pain. He is shaking. No, he is being shaken, someone’s
hands are on his shoulders, pushing and pulling. Veronica’s hands. He
opens his eyes, and his mouth too, to complain. It is night and he can
barely make out Veronica’s face as she kneels over him. There are tears in
her eyes. A glittering curtain of stars hangs above her. He lies on a bed of
rough earth and jagged stones, poorly cushioned by grass as dry as sand-
paper. He can’t remember why.
“Wha’s going on?” Jacob manages.
Veronica takes a deep, relieved breath, then says, “They’ve stopped the
train down the track, I don’t know how exactly, but we heard shots.
They’re coming. We have to go.”
There is a black man standing beside her, a man with a gun in his
hand, watching silently, a man Jacob feels like he knows. He searches his
mind and finds a dim memory of a train, a vague notion that they are be-
ing chased. He gets up. He feels like he is watching himself stand, a wit-
ness rather than a participant; he observes with admiration as his limbs
coordinate to draw his battered body up into a gravity-defying bipedal
configuration, and his muscles fight to keep him there. He has new
bruises aplenty, but nothing seems torn or broken. His head has taken at
least some of the impact of the fall. Jacob takes a single step and sud-
denly comes back to himself. It feels like imploding. He falls to his knees
and throws up, his abdominal muscles cramp with agony as he retches
and shudders. Veronica kneels and hovers over him, holding his
shoulders lightly with nervous hands.
“I’m fine,” he manages to say. “It’s okay. I’m back.” Then he is throwing
up again. But when it is finally over he does feel stronger, as if he has
purged himself of some weakness, left nothing but animal vitality. He
can feel pain across a frightening amount of his body, but it is like he
feels it through a cushion, he is aware of it but unaffected. Jacob staggers
back to his feet and looks around. The lights of the train are dimly visible

about a kilometre down the track. They are in a field of dry waist-high
grass. About a hundred feet from the railway track he can see a sparse
forest of withered, leafless trees silhouetted by moonlight.
“What do we do?” he asks Veronica and Lovemore. He remembers
Lovemore again, remembers dangling from the edge of the train and let-
ting go. He supposes he suffered a concussion in the fall. He feels physic-
ally capable again but his mind is like scrambled eggs, he is in no shape
to make any decisions. At least they were right that the soldiers would
not follow, the train wasn’t moving too fast but nobody would throw
themselves from it who didn’t actually have to.
She says, “We run.”
“I’m sick of running,” he says petulantly.
“If you have a better idea I’d love to hear it.”
Jacob looks back to the train and tries to make his brain work. He can
see motion in the dry grass beside the tracks. Soldiers coming after them.
If he can see them, beneath this hatefully bright moon, then they can see
him, and hiding in this drought-shrivelled grass will never work.
“OK,” he says. “Maybe we can lose them in the trees.”
But either their motion stands out too sharply in the moonlight, or one
of the soldiers has preternaturally good night vision. They can’t have
nightvision goggles, Jacob thinks loopily, they don’t have any money for
that, it would take a whole backpack full of Zimbabwe dollars to buy a
single pair, and besides the country is under sanctions, no military tech-
nology sales allowed, that’s why Gorokwe has to smuggle his missiles in
from Russia – but whatever the reason, every time he looks over his
shoulder, the rustling motion of the soldiers is a little closer.
Jacob is too unsteady on his feet to sprint, Lovemore is now moving
with a definite limp, and Veronica is bruised too; the best they can do is
jog. Their heavy footsteps rustle loudly, cutting through the slight whis-
pers of the dry grass in the night wind. Even in pitch black the soldiers
might be able to track them by sound. Ahead of them an open savannah
of arid grass and trees stretches on to the moonlit horizon. Behind them,
the soldiers are less than half a kilometre away and closing fast.
* * *
“I think we’re fucked,” Jacob gasps.
Veronica says, “Do you have any money? Zim dollars?”
Jacob finds the question so bizarre he almost stops in his tracks. “What
do you want to do, bribe them?”

“Just tell me!”
“Yes. A million.” He changed ten US dollars yesterday, at the hotel.
“Give me.”
She stops. He follows suit, and, unable to imagine what she wants
with it, pulls out his wallet and passes over the fifty pink twenty-
thousand-dollar bills, cheap paper printed only one one side. Veronica
has something metal in her hand. Her Zippo lighter. She touches its
flame to the wad of money.
“No, they’ll see it,” Jacob says, still utterly baffled.
“Let them.” When the flame has taken a secure hold of the wedge of
bills, Veronica simply stoops and puts them down on the ground. There
is a thick mesh of dead grass beneath those arid blades still waving in the
air. This carpet of dry vegetation catches fire almost immediately. Jacob’s
eyes widen as he understands. Drought as a weapon.
The heat of the surging flames begins to warm him. Over the crackling
sounds of the fire he hears dim cries of dismay from the pursuing
“We must run faster,” Lovemore says.
Jacob doesn’t need to be told twice. The night wind is coming from the
train tracks, the fire will follow them. He turns and sprints. Veronica and
Lovemore run behind him. A bright glow is already emanating from be-
hind them.
When Jacob next looks over his shoulder the burgeoning bushfire is
already several metres across, growing towards them in a wedge shape,
fanned by the wind. Two anorexic trees are already aflame. He can’t see
the soldiers through the firelight and thick smoke. Jacob supposes that’s
a good thing. He just hopes they can outrun the bushfire.
Lovemore soon passes him, running fast despite his awkward, painful
limp. Veronica follows behind. Jacob is gasping for breath with every
step, and both his legs and lungs are cramping when they unexpectedly
run across a dirt track that cuts across this desolate grassland. It is only a
few feet wide, but it is a sign of civilization, and more importantly it
could act as a firebreak.
He stops on the road and doubles over. It takes him a few seconds be-
fore he can even manage to gasp, “I need to rest.”
“All right,” Veronica says.
Lovemore advises, “Keep on walking.”
“Who are you, Johnnie Walker?” Jacob grunts, but he obeys.
A minute later he has recovered enough to take in their surroundings.
The dirt track runs east and west as far as he can see. To the north,

towards the train tracks, the approaching red-and-yellow glow has de-
voured almost the entire horizon. To the south, barely visible on the ho-
rizon, the ground leads up to odd rounded silhouettes protruding from
the earth.
“What are those?” Jacob asks.
Lovemore glances. “Koppies.”
“Excuse me?”
“Big rocks, granite boulders. Very common in Zimbabwe.”
Veronica says, “Should we take the road?”
Jacob takes a deep breath. He wants to, it would be so much easier
than crossing the rough and grassy ground, but – “No. The fire will burn
right up to it. If it doesn’t cross. And they’ll come looking for us in the
morning. We have to keep running as long as we can.”
They set out again. Jacob makes it as far as the looming koppies before
he collapses and can go no further. Veronica and Lovemore too are near
the end of their strength. They pass a wordless and delirious night on the
hard, cold ground between two of the massive boulders, all three of
them clinging tightly to one another for warmth, lapsing only occasion-
ally into sleep, as the bushfire rages and burns in the distance, much too
far away to warm their shivering bodies.
* * *
“I feel like the Tin Woodsman,” Jacob croaks, as Veronica and
Lovemore help him to his feet. They have to support almost all his
weight. His muscles are powerless. His joints feel like they have rusted
into place. If it was warmer he would try to insist on sleeping longer, but
the unforgiving cold of the hard ground and predawn air has seeped in-
to his whole shivering body, invaded every aperture in his clothing, and
made the suffering of motion seem less awful than the suffering of inac-
tion. The cold night makes him irrationally angry. Africa is supposed to
be warm, everyone knows that. But Zimbabwe is two thousand kilo-
metres south of the equator, and its vast central plateau a thousand
metres above sea level.
“You’ll feel better when we start moving,” Veronica says.
She doesn’t sound confident. He can’t blame her. Standing makes him
dizzy, he has to lean on Lovemore or fall. His hands are covered by a
mixture of dirt and his own dried blood, he half-skinned them when he
fell from the train. He looks around. The dawn illuminates a few trees
growing at unnatural angles from clefts in the smoothly rounded

koppies. Beyond this bizarre cluster of house-sized boulders, which look
like they have been dropped onto this grassland from outer space, the
ground climbs southwards through more grassland. To the north, the
kilometre-wide belt demarcated by the railway and the dirt cart track has
been reduced to a still-smoking plain of black ash that continues east and
west as far as Lucas could see.
They start south. Walking is a struggle. At first he has to lean on
Lovemore. But after a few minutes, despite or perhaps because of the
pain in his blistered feet, Jacob’s head begins to clear and unexpected
reservoirs of strength reopen. He thinks he might even be able to run
again. For a short distance.
“Do you think they’ll come after us?” he asks.
“Yes,” Lovemore says.
“They haven’t yet.”
“Perhaps they were also waiting for dawn. Perhaps they went to get
new orders. But they will come after us.”
“Where can we go?” Veronica asks.
Lovemore says, simply, “Forward.”
They walk on in silence. Lovemore moves steadily forward, and
makes no complaint, but Jacob sees his face is taut with pain and realizes
his limping leg is badly injured. At least Veronica seems to have sur-
vived the fall from the moving train relatively unscathed.
He imagines himself far away, in his favourite bar, the Duke of
Gloucester on Yonge Street back in Canada, telling his story to a rapt
audience. Maybe then it will all seem worth it. What Jacob has learned
about adventure is that it is wonderful only in retrospect; at the time, it’s
unspeakably awful. He never wants to have another adventure again.
All he wants is to be back home. He limps onward, propelled by that vis-
ion. If they can just get out of Africa they will be safe, the Interpol
charges will never stick.
The sun rises and warms them. They follow a shallow dry watercourse
for awhile, snaking its way up and south. Around them the world is a
vast tawny field of dried grass dotted with koppies and clumps of trees.
It is bleak but starkly beautiful. Here the trees at least are green, there
must be some subsurface water left. Jacob wonders if they can somehow
dig for it. His throat feels like it is cracking with thirst. But whatever wa-
ter is left beneath this parched soil must be buried deep.
“All Zimbabwe prays for rain,” Lovemore says, in a rasping voice.
“Last year’s rainy season did not even begin. If the drought continues… ”
He leaves the sentence unfinished. “These are hard times.”

About an hour past dawn they come across what was once a fence.
The posts still stand in the ground, stretching towards the horizon to
their left and right, but the three strands of rusted barbed wire that once
connected them have fallen in so many places that what remains is more
the idea of a fence than an actual barrier. The dried grass beyond has a
different character, more geometric, and there are ragged patches of
ground covered by the withered remains of different vegetation.
“Tobacco. This was a farm, once.” Lovemore sounds worried. He stops
walking and looks around warily.
Jacob looks at him, confused. “What’s wrong?”
“An abandoned farm means war vets. War vets mean trouble.”
Veronica shrugs helplessly. “You got somewhere else to go?”
She keeps walking forward. After a moment Jacob joins her. They have
nowhere else to go, and little strength left, and his thirst has turned from
an ache into a fiery need. Eventually Lovemore follows too.
They keep going, crossing rolling hills for about twenty minutes be-
fore coming across the remains of a tractor trail. The tread marks in the
dried dirt look like a paleontological discovery.
“It feels like the end of the world,” Veronica says in a near-whisper,
“like there’s no one else alive.”
They follow the trail past a few rusted pipes that are all that remain of
what was once an advanced irrigation system. After the withered fields
they pass into a huge orchard of dead orange trees, where branches flut-
ter and whisper eerily in the light wind. When they crest a ridge on the
other side they see a copse of silver-leafed eucalyptus trees, and in their
midst, buildings: a big house and two barns, near a pool of muddy
sludge created by damming a local stream.
There are a dozen other shelters, round mud huts with wooden skelet-
ons and raggedly thatched roofs, along the gravel road that runs
between the barns and up to the house. Smoke rises from several of
them. Clothes hang from a line stretched between two eucalyptus trees.
Jacob sees sudden darting motions near the back of the house; children,
running through the weed-strewn garden decorated with faded old lawn
furniture. Plots of hand-tilled land surround the two barns. The gravel
road runs from the house down through a kilometre more of dead farm-
land, in which a few dangerously lean cattle and maybe fifty goats graze,
before it merges with a road that is dirt but for two paved strips barely
wide enough for tires. The road was lined by fallen power and telephone
“War vets,” Lovemore says, in the same way he might say

They stand watching for a moment. Then Jacob says, his voice rattling
in his parched throat, “I guess we go say hi.”

The children see them as they descend the gentle slope, and by the time
they reach the house, the unexpected visitors have attracted a crowd of
more than fifty people. About a dozen are adults. Their once-bright
clothes are ragged and faded; several of the smaller children wear no
clothes at all. A few of the adults looked dangerously thin. Some of the
men carry hoes and big sticks, but Veronica is almost too exhausted to be
afraid. If these people attack them, so be it. But she doesn’t think they
will. They look more to be pitied than frightened.
“Hello,” she says, as loudly as she could manage, and holds her hands
up in the universal we-come-in-peace gesture.
Lovemore greets the crowd that faces them in an African language.
Shona, Veronica supposes. After a brief pause the eldest man answers.
His voice is clear, but he is so thin and weak that he has to lean on anoth-
er man, and there are visible sores on his face. He and the several other
gaunt adults are dying of AIDS. Veronica guesses there are more in the
house and the shelters, too weak to come see their visitors.
Lovemore pauses in conversation with the eldest man to update Jacob
and Veronica. “I told him we got off the train to look around when it
stopped, and it left without us.”
“Are you sure that was a good idea?” Jacob asks, keeping his voice
very low. Veronica supposes on one level that’s sensible, English is the
country’s official language and some of them might speak it, but it also
makes them look suspicious. “If they hear the army’s looking for people
from the train –”
“Where else would we have come from?” Veronica asks, making a
point of speaking normally. “I don’t think it matters. I don’t think they
exactly keep up with current events out here.”
“She’s right,” Lovemore says. “That road no longer goes anywhere, it
leads to a bridge that broke two years ago. They say they must take an
oxcart twenty kilometres to reach the nearest taxi stop. He says they’ll
take us if we pay a good price.”
Veronica winces. “And we burned all our Zim dollars.”

Jacob says, “I’m sure even here they understand US dollars. But we’re
down to our last ten bucks.”
Lovemore says, “I have American dollars. Not many, but enough.”
The elderly man declaims something loud and rhythmic.
“What was that?” Veronica asks.
“He invited us to eat with them.”
Veronica’s throat is aflame with thirst, and her stomach quickens at the
thought of food.
Jacob hesitates. “Can we trust them? They’re war vets. What if they…”
“What? Poison us? Don’t be ridiculous,” Veronica snaps, exasperated.
“They’re not the enemy. They’re just people. If they wanted to come after
us they’d just do it now. And I don’t think I can talk much longer if I
don’t get something to drink. Tell him we accept.”
Lovemore nods and speaks to the old man in Shona.
A crowd of children follow them as they continue to the house, which
is in a half-rotted state, almost devoid of furniture and used largely for
storage. The large ground-floor room off the entrance is inhabited by
rusting tools and half-deflated cornmeal sacks marked by the depreda-
tions of vermin. There is obviously no power or running water any more,
and without those, Veronica supposes African shelters are preferable to a
big European-style house. Food is still prepared and washed on the
kitchen’s counters and sinks, but the cooking is done on an open fire in
the back garden outside the kitchen. The dining room is dominated by a
magnificent mahogany table, probably too big to have been removed
from the house. The homemade wooden stools that now surround the
table are crude but sturdy. Veronica wonders what the upstairs are like,
if the bedrooms are used for anything or have simply been abandoned.
She greedily accepts a pot of tea and metal cup and promptly burns
her tongue, unable to wait to quench the edge of her thirst. She drinks
four more cups before her body’s sharp need for water begins to dull and
awareness of her surroundings return.
The room is full of people, most of them children, sitting on the stools
and the floor, or leaning against the walls. Women bustle in the kitchen.
Lovemore talks in laconic Shona with the war vets’ patriarch and two
other men. The children surround Veronica and Jacob, clustered around
and under the table. A few of the more daring reach out to touch them
before jumping back and giggling. Veronica smiles at them awkwardly.
At least they do not have the distended bellies of the ill-fed, and their
eyes are bright and lively. She wonders how many of them were born

with HIV. According to Lysander more than one in three adult Zimbab-
weans has the virus.
The meal is preceded by a woman who circles among the diners with a
bar of soap and pitcher of water; Veronica uses most of a pitcher to wash
her hands. The food, which Lovemore calls
, is ground cornmeal
garnished with tomato sauce and salt; a little like
, only better. It is
brought in from outside in a huge serving bowl, dished out onto metal
pans, and eaten with one’s right hand. It isn’t much, but Veronica de-
vours two platefuls and is ready to give the house three Michelin stars
when she is done.
“When do you think the army will get here?” Jacob asks.
Lovemore frowns. “It depends on how they search. Perhaps this after-
noon. Perhaps as late as tomorrow, with the broken bridge.”
“And then they’ll know where we’re going.”
Lovemore considers. “These people may not speak. They too have
been betrayed by the government. When they came here and took the
property from the whites, Mugabe and the war-vet leaders promised
them they would keep the power running, they would build schools and
clinics, there would be taxi services every day, they would be given
seeds and farming tools. Then the leaders went away and nothing
happened. Now they have been abandoned. They say they don’t want to
stay. But they don’t have any money or anywhere else to go. They are
victims as much as anyone else.”
A very bold little girl, about six years old, leaps up into Jacob’s lap. For
a second he freezes, he doesn’t know what to do, and Veronica sup-
presses a chuckle. The girl puts her arms around Jacob and her face
against his chest. After a moment he drapes an awkward arm around her
shoulders. The girl says something Veronica doesn’t understand, and
much of the room laughs, including Lovemore.
“She said you smell funny and you should take a bath,” Lovemore
says, smiling.
Jacob chuckles. “Not a bad idea.”
“I don’t think we should use their water,” Veronica objects. “They don’t
have much. They’ve already done a lot for us. And we don’t have time.”
Jacob nods. “Ask him when we can take the oxcart.”
Lovemore and the old man bargain in a good-natured way, as the rest
of the room chuckles and catcalls along, until Lovemore puts his hands
up in mock-surrender and speaks a word of agreement. Veronica has no-
ticed Lovemore seems much more at ease speaking Shona than he does
when he speaks English: it’s almost like he has two different

personalities, one relaxed and amused, the other serious and intense. The
old man, who looks pleased, speaks to a man in his thirties, who gets up
and leaves. Lovemore turns to Jacob and Veronica and says, “We will
pay them thirty dollars. His son is going now to ready the cart.”
A woman enters with a chipped bowl full of some small yellow fruit.
Its taste is tart and sweet and it serves as a perfect dessert. Lovemore’s
eyes light up and he grabs an entire handful. The girl on Jacob’s lap is ob-
viously also an aficionado; Jacob and Veronica slip her a few extra and
are rewarded by a gap-toothed smile.
“How many of them are sick?” Veronica asks, wondering if this girl
contracted HIV from her mother at birth. Or even by other means. She
has heard that a widespread African belief that sex with a virgin cures
AIDS has led to a horrific rise in child rape.
Lovemore shakes his head. “I can’t ask. No one speaks of it. Even in
the cities we don’t speak of it, we don’t get tested, we don’t want to
know. But in the cities at least we have food. Here it is worst of all. The
sick cannot work the fields, so then there is hunger, and hunger makes
the sickness even worse.”
Veronica winces. A vicious-circle death spiral.
Jacob asks Lovemore, “Have you been tested?”
He frowns and admits, “No.”
The patriarch’s son returns to the dining room. Their ride is ready.
The whole community follows them out to the gravel road. The cart
creaks, and rusty nails protrude from its wood, but it looks solid enough.
The bull attached to it is another matter; old, so gaunt that its ribs are vis-
ible, walking with slow, fragile steps. Incentive will clearly not be a prob-
lem – the driver holds one end of a cord lashed into a miniature noose
around the bull’s testicles – but Veronica wonders how much longer the
beast can work before it simply falls over dead.
Lovemore produces thirty US dollars from an inner pocket. The old
man examines the bills closely, smelling them and rubbing them
between his fingers, before declaring them acceptable. Veronica, Jacob
and Lovemore take their positions behind the driver, the same man who
readied the cart. There is a moment of heartbreaking comedy when the
girl who sat on Jacob’s lap climbs up with them. She is pulled away de-
jected by a teenager who explains something apologetically to Lovemore
before taking the little girl away.
“Her father died last year,” Lovemore translates.
Veronica nods wordlessly. Jacob looks stricken. The driver flicks the
reins, the gaunt bull begins to walk, and the car starts to creak and jostle

forward. Veronica turns around and looks at the little girl with the gap-
toothed smile. She isn’t smiling now. Her eyes are big and full of tears.
She watches Jacob depart like he was her last hope in all the world.
Veronica tries to stop herself from wondering what will happen to the
little girl. Nothing good will come of that.
* * *
The old bull trudges across Zimbabwe’s sunburnt fields, past ruined
fences and clusters of koppies. The dirt track is a thin line stitched into a
canvas of golden hills. Occasionally they rattle across dry watercourses
on bridges made of planks. Dark morning clouds cluster in the sky, but
dissipate as noon approaches. The cart bumps and wobbles uncomfort-
ably, and the planks they sit on are old and splintering. The sun is in-
tense. Veronica wishes they had some sunscreen, especially for Jacob, his
skin is very pale and he’s already in rough shape, victim of concussion
and exhaustion. Their driver, whose name they do not know, does not
speak, seems almost to be in a trance. Veronica tries to follow his
Out of nowhere Lovemore says, contemplatively, “My father was born
near here.”
Veronica looks at him. He does not seem particularly inclined to add
to the statement, so she asks, “But not you?”
“No. I grew up in the east, the Vumba, the highlands near Mozambi-
que. The country is different there, very green. My father went east to
work in the mines, and met my mother there.”
“Where are they now?”
“Dead,” he says. “My father in the civil war, he fought for Mugabe, he
was a true war vet. My mother of sickness, last year.”
Veronica doesn’t ask which sickness. “I’m sorry.”
He shrugs. “We all die. They had good lives.”
“So you grew up out east?”
He hesitates. “When I was twelve I came to Bulawayo to live with an
uncle. Then to Harare for university. I met Lysander there. After uni-
versity I went back to the Vumba. I worked at a tourist lodge there. Then
the crisis began, and there were no more tourists, no more work any-
where. I left the country. Many of us have, hundreds of thousands. Most
to South Africa. I went to Botswana.” Lovemore smiles wistfully, the first
flicker of real emotion Veronica has seen on his face. “Into the desert, the
Kalahari. I lived with the Bushmen there, the San, for two years. I

learned from them how to hunt, how to live off the land. I wanted to be-
come a licensed guide, to make money from tourists. Rich tourists leave
big tips in hard currency, they give you gifts, they invite you back to
their homes in Britain and America. And you are outside, in the bush,
among the animals, doing the things I love. Guiding is the best job a man
can have, for me. But they do not like Zimbabwe men in Botswana. Not
at all. There were problems. There was a woman.”
“There always is,” Jacob interjects, smiling.
“There was terrible trouble.” Lovemore reaches up unconsciously and
touches the scar on his cheek. “Two men died. I was nearly killed. I can-
not go back to Botswana. I had to return to my country. I was lucky I
found Lysander. In Zimbabwe today, even someone like me, a university
graduate, must have a second job, a hard-currency job, or a relative who
sends forex from abroad, only to survive. You have seen.”
Veronica nods. “We have seen.”
Their conversation lapses. Veronica tries to picture what Zimbabwe
was like ten years ago, when it was one of the most advanced countries
in Africa, full of hope for the future. It’s difficult to imagine.
The sun is directly overhead when she sees power lines about a mile
away. A road; and a chance that soldiers will be there waiting for them.
Not much they can do if so. Veronica hopes their long detour has taken
them away from the army’s search zone.
There is a single building where the dirt trail, deeply furrowed with
many cart tracks, meets the paved one-lane road. There are no soldiers in
sight. In fact there is nothing else in sight; no other buildings or vehicles,
no people. It reminds Veronica a little of Hopper’s famous Mobilgas
The building is a combination general store, post office, and taxi shel-
ter. It has a neon sign in its window, and just inside its door there stands
a gleaming fridge adorned with the Coca-Cola logo. The fridge holds
plenty of Fanta but no Coke. No one is inside but the store’s proprietor, a
paunchy man sitting on a stool behind his modern cash register. He
looks suspiciously at Lovemore, Jacob and Veronica as they enter. Bright
posters advertising Peter Stuyvesant and Madison cigarettes hang on the
walls, as does, surreally, a surfing poster from South Africa. A paper
sign taped above an empty desk indicates that the post office is open
Mondays and Fridays. The shelves are barren in patches, but still sell a
wide assortment of crisps, chocolates, toiletries, canned foods, bread and
sacks of rice and cornmeal.

The man behind the counter frowns at Lovemore’s offer of US dollars.
Eventually he agrees to exchange Zim dollars, but only at the official
government rate printed in the week-old Zimbabwe Herald he digs out
from beneath his desk. They buy chocolate and Fantas, for themselves
and for their driver, but when they emerge from the store the cart is
already gone. If Veronica squints she can see a disappearing dark
smudge where the cart track climbs back into the fields.
“No Milo chocolate,” Lovemore looks with some disappointment at the
Snickers in his hand.
“Is that good?” Jacob asks.
Lovemore looks at him as if he just asked if water was wet. “Don’t you
have Milo chocolate in Canada and America?”
Jacob and Veronica admit they don’t. Lovemore shakes his head sadly
at their deprivation and bites gloomily into his Snickers. They sit down
outside, in an open-walled shade structure made of metal legs and a can-
vas top. Between bites, Lovemore explains that the store owner said a
taxi – the word means here what
does in Uganda – to Bulawayo
will soon arrive. From Bulawayo there is a bus to Chitungwiza, a town-
ship only miles from Harare. There they should be safe, at least for now.
The taxi will come from the east, but they watch the west. Not that
there is anything they can do if they see soldiers approaching. Veronica
feels much stronger than she did at dawn, but she knows she has no
more long pursuits left in her, and Jacob and Lovemore are in worse
shape yet.
The taxi comes before the army. Its white exterior is mottled with rust,
its windshield is covered with spiderweb cracks, and its roof supports a
toppling pyramid of baskets, boxes and sacks, all secured with fraying
yellow rope. Lovemore is prepared to pay twenty American dollars
apiece for their seats, but there is no need, only twelve of its sixteen
spaces are inhabited.
Veronica squeezes herself into the back row, which she shares with a
tall man in a shirt and tie, a gaunt teenage mother with two infants, and
a fat woman in bright robes, all of whom seem entirely incurious about
their new fellow-travellers. Jacob takes the seat in front of her, which
folds into the minibus’s single aisle. Its mechanism is broken and he has
to sit at an angle, crammed next to three lean men in dirty clothes.
Veronica can smell gasoline. The tiny storage area behind the back seat
contains two full yellow jerrycans. She hopes they don’t crash.
They drive for an hour, dropping off and picking up a few passengers
in empty fields en route, before merging onto a heavily trafficked and

potholed two-lane road. Here their driver accelerates until he is driving
as if on speed and pursued by the devil, overtaking slower traffic from
both sides. They zoom past roadside vendors selling jars of wild honey
and bowls of bushfruit. They pass through small towns whose brick
houses and smartly painted stores are beginning to sag and peel. The one
police roadblock is so unexpected that Veronica doesn’t even have time
to be frightened; they are waved through by the time she sees the uni-
forms. She supposes no one was expecting them, or indeed any whites,
to come via taxi.
Her brief impression of Bulawayo is of a city of wide boulevards, de-
partment stores and green parks. The streets are bustling with pedestri-
ans but almost empty of vehicular traffic. The bus station is big and bust-
ling, and the bus they transfer onto creaky but comfortable. It leaves
when full, including a good thirty people standing in the aisle, Veronica
is relieved they came early enough enough to get seats. She sits beside a
window, next to Jacob, just behind Lovemore. By the time it rolls out of
Bulawayo and onto the Harare road, twilight is dissipating into night.
“I thought they’d catch us,” Veronica says wonderingly.
Jacob nods. “We got lucky with that cart ride. And it’s not the whole
Zimbabwe Army looking for us, just Gorokwe’s troops, unofficially.
Lovemore says his supporters are mostly here and in the east of the
country, he doesn’t have much influence in Harare. If we get to Harare
we should be OK.”
“I hope Lysander got out.”
“I’m sure he did. He knows what he’s doing. He’s been here forever, he
has lots of friends here.”
Veronica frowns. She doesn’t think that counts for much here and
now, not with so much at stake. And if Lysander is gone their only
friend is Lovemore. “Let’s hope so.”
Jacob shrugs. ”
I’m beginning to understand the famous
Que sera sera.
African fatalism, you know?”
Veronica does. It feels less and less like she has any influence on the
direction her life will take. She will find out tomorrow whether she will
live another day, whether she will ever escape home, and those answers
will depend on chance and on others, not on herself. But at least she is
still here, battered and exhausted but also alive and free, at least for now.
She closes her eyes and lets the swaying motion of the bus rock her to
* * *

Veronica opens her eyes to the dawn sun through the dew-streaked
window. The first thing she sees is a hand-painted CHITUNGWIZA NO.
1 BUTCHER sign above a dozen bloody carcasses hanging on hooks. As
she watches, civilization slowly grows denser: filthy shantytowns, busy
shopping streets, long rows of tiny brick houses, warehouses and
workshops, open-air markets, all jumbled together like a madman’s jig-
saw puzzle. Ditches full of plastic bags and rotting trash cut through
muddy vacant lots cratered like World War I no-man’s-land. Pools of
dirty water, obviously sewage leaks, molder in culverts and trenches
crossed by improvised bridges made of planks or rusting pipes.
Chitungwiza’s taxi park is a huge dirt field surrounded by barbed
wire. Lovemore, Jacob and Veronica emerge from their taxi, admit they
are going to Harare, and are immediately and not quite forcibly hustled
to another vehicle which then hangs about for forty minutes, waiting to
fill, before embarking on the thirty-minute ride to Harare.
En route, Lovemore says, “Look over there. That is Zimbabwe.”
Veronica looks over and sees a mostly flat field, studded with granite
boulders, strewn with trash, rubble, tufts of grass, and occasional one-
room tin-roofed shacks.
“That was a big commercial farm, maize and potatoes, some tobacco. A
white farmer. Five years ago the war vets came and stole it from him.
After they took the land they started putting up buildings. Little houses,
vegetable gardens, there was a market, all this land was covered with
them, people everywhere. And then, earlier this year, the government,
the same government that put them there, sent in bulldozers and
flattened everything, destroyed everything, threw them all off the land.
Operation Murambatsvina
. That means ‘clean up the trash.’ Thousands of
houses, whole little towns, trading stalls, markets, all over the country,
all destroyed. Because the war vets were becoming powerful. No one is
allowed to be powerful. No one but Mugabe.”
* * *
Harare proper is a strikingly pretty city, well-watered and full of
greenery, its major streets lined by flowering trees that turn them into
purple- and orange-latticed tunnels. The downtown towers are sky-
scrapers, by African standards. The city buzzes with traffic. They reach
Harare’s downtown taxi park at midmorning.

“We made it,” Veronica says, not quite believing her own words, as
they stand in Harare’s central taxi park, stretching their cramped and
battered limbs. Around them the capital’s skyscrapers and shopping
complexes stretch in every direction. The streets throng with traffic, and
pedestrians hustle through the taxi park. Denizens of Harare, in the way
of big-city people everywhere, move much faster than their rural
“Where now?” Jacob asks, yawning.
“Avondale,” Lovemore says, which means nothing to them. “You will
wait. I will seek out Lysander.”
Avondale appears to be a mall full of white people. Veronica finds be-
ing among a white majority, for the first time since she came to Africa, a
little shocking and disturbing. Lovemore leaves them at an Italian coffee
shop that would not look out of place in San Francisco.
“Stay here,” he says. “I will try to find Lysander. If he is gone I will find
his friend Duncan. I will come back and we will take care of you. You
will be safe.”
“How long do you think you’ll be?” Veronica asks.
Lovemore hesitates. “One hour. Not more.”
He limps away.
* * *
One hour falls past, and then a second, and then a third.
The cappuccino is excellent. The peoplewatching is interesting. The
movie theatre, supermarket, fast-food restaurant, ice-cream stall and In-
ternet café in the mall are refreshing and enticing. But as time trickles on-
wards, and Lovemore fails to reappear, a numb dread begins to take root
in Veronica’s gut and then to spread.
After the fourth hour she can no longer tell herself and Jacob that
Lovemore has merely been delayed, that everything in Africa takes
longer than you think, that he has just been held up. She is forced to be-
gin to wonder what they can possibly do if he does not come back at all.
They have ten US dollars and nowhere else to go.
As the fifth hour begins, she dares to say it: “He’s not coming back.
They got him.”
Erid nods wordlessly.
“What do we do now?”
He shakes his head ruefully. “I’ve only got one idea left.”

Harare International Airport is a gleaming white elephant, an empty edi-
fice of marble floors overseen by fading posters of Zimbabwe’s various
tourist destinations and the Big Five safari animals. The woman at the
British Airways ticket window looks very bored. Jacob waits nervously
while his Bank of Montreal MasterCard is processed, but to his great re-
lief the woman returns to the window with two airline tickets.
Their plan is almost pathetically simple. Their last ten dollars bought
them a taxi ride to the airport. British Airways flies overnight to Heath-
row. Their status as Interpol fugitives will doubtless lead to detainment
by British Immigration, but that’s a chance they’re willing to take. At
least they’ll be out of Africa and back in civilization. Arrest might even
be a good thing; the light of publicity will shine on their trumped-up ac-
cusations of homicide, and may even reveal the truth. Their notoriety as
former Congo hostages won’t hurt either.
All they have to do is get past Zimbabwe Immigration and onto the
plane. It’s possible that their names have already been flagged, that they
will be arrested for Interpol’s sake – but the more Jacob thinks about it,
the less likely that seems. Zimbabwe isn’t exactly a poster-child member
of the international community. There’s a good chance they don’t even
receive Interpol alerts. And even if they are arrested by Mugabe’s police,
even that isn’t worst-case; they are, after all, bizarre as it still seems, try-
ing to save Mugabe’s life.
Armed with their tickets, they walk through the cavernous arrivals
hall to a small outdoor observation platform above the runway. There is
no one else sitting at the wrought-iron tables and chairs. They have just
enough money left to order a single Coke from the girl behind the small
snack bar. Jacob hopes there isn’t a departure tax.
They sits and look out on the runway. Jacob’s heart convulses when he
sees a black army helicopter in the distance – but it is flying away from
them. He supposes its presence is normal, this is a military airbase too. It
occurs to him that back in Canada today is Remembrance Day.

The only other craft in sight is a narrow white 727 parked next to the
runway. After a moment a slow smile spreads across Jacob’s face. He
knows this legendary airplane, he remembers reading about its story
with great interest: it once carried sixty South African mercenaries who
stopped here a few years ago to pick up weapons from Zimbabwean co-
conspirators, en route to foment a coup in oil-rich Equatorial Guinea.
The mercenaries were captured, arrested, jailed, and eventually depor-
ted; the airplane remains in legal limbo. Jacob is oddly comforted by this
reminder that he and Veronica aren’t the only Harare Airport passengers
to have been in dire and melodramatic straits.
The glass doors that lead into the airport open. When Jacob sees the
man who murdered Derek step out of those doors, followed by several
armed and uniformed soldiers and then Athanase the interahamwe lead-
er himself, he thinks at first that this has to be some kind of nightmare, a
terrible dream-vision, can’t possibly be reality. He and Veronica stay
seated, frozen by the sheer impossibility of this horror, as the soldiers
and casually dressed interahamwe surround them.
“Jacob Rockel,” Athanase says, smiling thinly. “Veronica Kelly. We
meet again.
Enchantée pour le deuxieme fois
* * *
There is nowhere to go. Even if there was, Jacob is too stunned to
move. One of the soldiers goes behind him, grabs his arms and pulls
them behind his back. Jacob does not resist as his wrists are handcuffed.
All he can do is grunt with disbelief. Beside him Veronica too is
shackled. Both are grabbed by their throats and dragged to their feet. The
snack-bar girl watches with appalled fascination.
The world goes dark and Jacob feels fabric against his face. A hood, his
head has been covered. Blind and handcuffed and helpless, he is
dragged along the airport’s smooth marble floors, then out into the open
air again.
“Up,” a soft voice commands, pushing him forwards. Jacob barks his
shin against the vehicle in front of him before he understands and steps
upwards. Once inside he is shoved down into some kind of bench. A
van, he guesses, with facing benches in the back. The engine is already
running. He doesn’t know where Veronica is. The doors clank shut and
the van begins to move. They don’t go far. Jacob’s handcuffs are very
tight and by the time the van comes to a halt his hands and fingers are
already beginning to prickle.

“Veronica,” he gasps.
“I’m here.” Her voice too is weak and quavering
“No talking!” someone orders.
Jacob doesn’t doubt that rule will be brutally enforced. He remains si-
lent as the van doors open. A soldier grabs a fistful of his shirt and drags
him outside, down onto concrete again. He is walked for a short distance
to a wobbly set of steps. Jacob nearly overbalanced and falls as he climbs
them. He smells oil and metal. Then he is shoved onto another bench
and straps are fastened around his waist and belt.
“Now you are mine,” Athanase croons into Jacob’s ear. “This time we
will not let you go.”
An engine starts up, a very loud engine, and the bench he sat on be-
gins to shake and vibrate as the noise around him grows to earsplitting
levels, and a huge wind begins to blow. He understands what is happen-
ing, it has happened to him before, to him and Veronica both, in the
Congo. They are on a helicopter. His stomach lurches as they lift off.
Then a strong and wiry hand is on Jacob’s throat, squeezing it shut. He
fights for air, struggles to escape the fingers that grip like a vice, but he
can’t move, the handcuffs and safety straps hold him securely. His lungs
sour and burn until it feels like they are filled with acid, he needs to
breathe more than he has ever needed anything before, but it is still im-
possible. Jacob feels himself beginning to slip away from the world. Then
the hand releases and Jacob begins to suck in air again, in long, choking,
rattling gasps.
what we will do to you now,” Athanase shouts into
Jacob’s ear. “Only
* * *
Jacob breathes deeply, tries to steady himself, tries to seal off all his
fear, all emotion, and cage it deep inside his skull, bury it like radioactive
waste and face their coming doom with cold resolve. It doesn’t work.
He’s so frightened he’s nauseous. He finds himself hoping for the heli-
copter to crash. A fiery death would surely be miles better than whatever
awaits them at their destination. At least it would be quick and painless,
and would consume Athanase and the man who killed Derek as well.
The tone of the helicopter’s engine changes. Jacob’s stomach lurches
with trepidation, and then with sickening motion, as the helicopter sinks
from the sky. Its skids suddenly re-encounter the ground, and after a few
dancing thumps they are earthbound again.

The engine is switched off. Someone undoes Jacob’s safety straps and
pulls off his hood. The sudden light is blinding and Jacob has to squint.
At first all he can see is the black interior of the aircraft, and Veronica’s
pale face as she steps off it into the grass that surrounds them. Then he
registers the building looming above the grassy helipad.
It’s no military base: it is some kind of elegant hotel, reminiscent of the
one in Victoria Falls. The main building, two wings in the shape of a
shallow V with a circular hub between, nestles in the shadow of a huge
overhanging cliff. The circular driveway leading up to the main entrance
encompasses a swimming pool and croquet field. A few other buildings
are scattered around like satellites.
Jacob expected some kind of secret military prison, not a luxury hotel.
Maybe Gorokwe can’t be sure of his support on a base. Meaning he
doesn’t have much popular support among the military, which in turn
explains why he is shooting down Mugabe rather than storming his
presidential abode. But it doesn’t really matter where they have been
taken. The outcome will be the same. Jacob can’t imagine any plausible
future in which he escapes Gorokwe’s custody alive.
He is pulled from the bench and propelled out of the helicopter, onto
the grass, towards the hotel. His hands, constricted by the too-tight
handcuffs, have gone almost completely numb, are little more than dead
lumps of flesh attached to the rest of his body. Athanase and Veronica
climb to a stone-floored patio, and then inside through a set of double
glass doors, to wide red-carpeted stairs. Jacob follows, pushed along by
the man who killed Derek. The uniformed soldiers stay by the helipad.
He feels like a death row prisoner marching towards the electric chair.
Every step, every sight is a major event as they climb the stairs and walk
along a plushly decorated hallway, to a doorway with a plaque that an-
nounces, surreally, that the Queen Mother once stayed in this room.
When Jacob sees who is waiting for them within he wonders for a mo-
ment if he is dreaming.
* * *
The high-ceilinged room is decorated with spindly wooden furniture,
expensive but old. A huge window opens onto a stone balcony, beyond
which lies a glorious view of a golf course nestled amid rolling hills and
shining rivers. Jacob doesn’t know the big, powerfully built black man in
a suit standing restless by the window, nor the short, barrel-chested
white man with thinning hair lounging uncomfortably on the sofa in

khaki slacks and vest. But he knows the young, pretty blonde woman in
jeans sitting between them.

” he blurts, startled out of paralyzing fear by sheer amazement.
She looks sadly at him and Veronica, and slowly, Jacob begins to
“This wasn’t supposed to happen,” Susan says. “None of it was. I’m
sorry.” She pauses. “No, I’m not. I
it. Nobody was supposed to get
hurt except Michael and Diane, and they deserved it. I regret anybody
else got hurt. But I’m not sorry. We’re trying to save lives here, millions
of lives, two whole countries. I regret that people like you keep getting in
the way. But we can’t let you stop us.”
Jacob looks over to Veronica. She does not even seem to be listening.
Instead her gaze is fixed on the man on the couch. Jacob deduces that
must be her ex-husband. Danton DeWitt. And the man by the window
who looks like a heavyweight boxer –
“General Gorokwe, I presume?” Jacob guesses.
He smiles absently, as if addressed by a child. “Very good.”
Jacob shakes his head, as if to dislodge loose pieces of thought within.
He looks back to Susan. “What did Michael and Diane do?”
“The so-called philanthropists?” Her voice drips sarcastic rage. “Where
to begin? Those
they funded were like fundamentalist slave
camps. They were such good Christians that they bribed officials to des-
troy whole shipping containers of condoms that had already gone to
Uganda. God knows how many thousand people got AIDS as a result.
What happened to them was too good for them.”
“Right. And how about what happened to Derek?” Jacob feels a futile
fury begin to burn within him. “Let me guess. He came to you at the
camp and started asking questions about the smuggling going on there.
Not knowing you were part of it, because who would ever guess that
looking at a pretty blonde girl like you, right? And then, what, you in-
vited him to come to Bwindi? Or just planted the idea? And you made
sure there were slots available in Michael and Diane’s gorilla group.
Then when you grabbed us you made it look like they were going to
rape you, just so we wouldn’t suspect anything.”
Susan smiles thinly. “Actually Patrice was taking me outside to give
me better food. I was quite annoyed with you all for saving me.”
“Yeah? You hid it well. But of course you’re an actress, aren’t you. And
a lot better than you admitted. Shit, you deserve an Oscar. No wonder
we got out so easy, with you to lead the way. Then we show up at the
refugee camp and say hi, we take a few pictures of buddy here,” he

indicates Derek’s muscled killer Casimir, “taking custody of your shiny
new missiles, and the very next day, Prester is tortured to death and
we’re fugitives from justice. I should have fucking known.”
“Like she says, we regret it,” Danton says. He sounds angry. “But you
were warned often enough to leave well enough alone.”
“Listen to yourself,” Veronica spits out. “‘Leave well enough alone.’
How many people have you killed already? How many? Elijah and the
guards, Michael, Diane, Derek, Prester. How many more we don’t know
about? How many murdered?”
Danton shakes his head. “Wrong question. How many more will die
here if Mugabe doesn’t go? Haven’t you seen what’s happened to this
country? It’s starving. It’s dying. We’re saving it. And I’m sorry, but you
can’t change the world without hurting someone. I wish you could, but
that’s the choice you have to make, to make a real difference. Someone
always suffers from change. You have to choose to shed a little blood in
order to save a lot.”
“Right,” Jacob says. He nods at Athanase and Casimir. “And that’s why
you’re working with these two. Because they’re the experts on blood. On
fucking genocide.”
“What would you rather have?” Susan asks. “Them in the Congo,
killing and destabilizing, where there’s already four million dead in the
civil war, or in quiet exile here in Zimbabwe after Gorokwe takes over?”
“Oh. Oh, I see. Of course. That’s what’s in it for them. You’re their re-
tirement package. Athanase here is wanted for
crimes against humanity
and you’re his fucking pension plan. You have to play nice with him or
he’ll tell the whole world everything about you, so if you win, you’ll put
him and his people up in a nice little villa here for as long as he wants.
He committed a fucking holocaust and you’re putting him out to
“What now?” Veronica asks, looking directly at Danton. “What are you
going to do to us?”
A long silence hangs over the room; long enough for Jacob’s rage to
begin to dissipate.
“Nobody’s going to touch you. I promise you that,” Danton says to
Veronica. “But I can’t say the same about your boyfriend.”
Jacob swallows. He feels very cold.
Danton stands and walks over to Jacob. “You need to tell us where
your evidence is.”
“I don’t have any.”

“Not on you, no. You gave your CD to Lysander, and he gave it to us.”
Jacob winces. “But you have more, don’t you? Backed up online. I’m sure
you do, you must, you’re a technical professional. Ready to be sent out
automatically if you don’t log in to a certain web site, maybe? A dead
man’s switch?”
“No,” Jacob lies. “Nothing like that.”
“You really need to tell us the truth now,” Danton warns. “We’re not
playing games. We can’t afford to. You’re going to tell us. The easy way
or the hard. Up to you.”
Jacob stares into Danton’s face, then looks at their other enemies, at
Gorokwe, Susan, Athanase, Casimir. He thinks of the little girl at the
ruined farm. He thinks of Derek on that airstrip in the Congo, remem-
bers how his best friend’s head rolled forward from his body after
Casimir’s third and final stroke of the
He remembers holding
Veronica close in the Ruwenzori Traveller’s Inn.
Jacob makes a decision, takes a deep breath. “There’s nothing to tell.”
Danton and Susan look dismayed. Gorokwe and Casimir look
Athanase smiles, showing his teeth, and croons, ”
” Meaning,
On va voir.
we shall see
The last Jacob sees of Veronica is her stricken, alarmed face as
Athanase and Casimir drag him out of the room where the Queen Moth-
er once slept.
* * *
Jacob is shivering as if with malaria, he feels like he is about to lose
control of all his body, too weak from fear to struggle as they half-drag
him to the end of a long corridor. He knows what’s going to happen. But
he also knows that the result will be the same regardless. They will kill
him. Probably Veronica too, but definitely him. He knows too much. He
will die here in this hotel. The only thing left is to not tell them anything
– because Danton is right about his dead man’s switch.
He tries to tell himself it doesn’t matter how he dies.
The room at the end of the hall smells vile. There is something big and
bloody hanging from its ceiling. It takes Jacob a moment to recognize it
as a human form. The man’s wrists are tied to a rope dangling from a
hook in the ceiling originally intended for a light. The ankles are at-
tached so a similar but longer rope, so that the man hangs diagonally
over the bed, at something like a forty-five degree angle. Blood oozes

from burn-blackened flesh all over the body, a Rorschach-like stain has
formed on the beige carpet beneath. The man’s face and genitals have
been almost entirely burnt away. Jacob can see the bone of the
Athanase picks up a bloodstained steak knife from the bed and sticks
it into the body, as if impaling a piece of meat on his plate. It is not until
the man wriggles a little, and a rattling breath emerges from his throat,
that Jacob realizes he is still alive. Then he sees, and recognizes, the
clothes piled in the corner of the room. Jacob wants to scream but can’t
breathe, can’t move, can barely stand.

” Athanase says conversationally. ”
Tu lui connais, je crois,
Ici c’est

“No,” Jacob moans.
Athanase produces a Zippo lighter much like Veronica’s, idly flicks
open and ignites it, then claps it shut again. He smiles. “He was a strong
man, but he told me everything. You are not strong. Perhaps you would
like now to reconsider your silence.”
Jacob closes his eyes. “There’s nothing to tell.”

” Athanase says. He sounds genuinely pleased. ”
Casimir, tue-le et
descend-le. On va recommencer avec le Canadien.”
Jacob opens his eyes and watches Casimir strangle Lysander, or what
is left of Lysander, with his own belt. It seems a mercy. The dead man is
lowered to the ground, and removed from his bonds. Then Casimir turns
to Jacob.
He tries to fight, but he is weak and handcuffed, and Casimir is incred-
ibly strong. One punch to his solar plexus, followed by a kick to his
testicles, and by the time Jacob can think of anything other than breath
and agony, he is bound to the same ropes that held Lysander, and
Casimir is hoisting him up. The hook that holds him doesn’t even
wobble as his feet leave the ground. Casimir ties the rope off around the
leg of the bed, anchoring Jacob, leaving him hanging diagonally in
Athanase takes the steak knife and begins to cut Jacob’s clothes away.
Jacob closes his eyes and tries to pretend he isn’t there. As Athanase
works he makes a point of cutting his victim, the knife rips into Jacob’s
skin, tearing into his ankles, the insides of his legs, his stomach, his
armpits, and despite his best attempts he jerks and moans. Soon he is
dangling naked and bleeding from the ceiling.
Then he hears the Zippo flick open again.

“Please,” Jacob begs, opening his eyes, abandoning all hope and all
stoicism. He begins to weep. It is hard to breathe, his voice is so weak he
can hardly hear himself. His shoulders already feel like they’re slowly
being pulled out of their sockets, and blood drips from a dozen shallow
but agonizing cuts onto the floor below him. “Please, no, please.”
“Tell me everything.”
“Please. There’s nothing to tell. Please, God, no, please.” He is no
longer addressing Athanase, but there is no God, no merciful God would
allow a life to come to this, would ever have created beings capable of
suffering so much physical pain. It already feels like almost more than he
can bear, just from his shoulders and the cuts, and he knows it has really
not yet even begun.

” Athanase smiles and ignites the Zippo. ”
On va voir.


“And what do you intend to do with her?” General Gorokwe asks.
His voice is low, powerful, accustomed to command. Veronica looks at
Danton, wide-eyed, awaiting the answer, trying to look as pitiful as pos-
sible. She hates him with every cell of her being, but right now her only
hope is his forbearance.
“Nobody touches her,” Danton orders. “She was my wife.”
Susan says, “We can’t let her go.”
“I’m not talking about letting her go.”
“We can’t
let her go. Even after it’s over.”
Danton says, “We’ll worry about that when it’s over. She won’t be a
problem until then.”
“She doesn’t have to be a problem at all,” Gorokwe says.
“No. She was my wife. You’re not giving her to those monsters.”
“It doesn’t have to be Athanase. It can be quick and painless. Only say
the word and you will never see her again, it is as simple as that.”
But Veronica isn’t worried. She knows what Danton is like when
someone tries to argue with him after he has made up his mind.
“I said
,” he repeats, in a tone of voice all to familiar to her, petulance
more than anger, as if perhaps the problem is just that he has not been
heard correctly until now.
“We don’t even know what she knows,” Susan says.
“Rockel will tell us.” Danton considers Veronica. “But I’ll talk to her.”
Veronica looks meekly at the floor rather than aim her venomous gaze
at him.
“In private,” Danton says archly.
Susan and Gorokwe look at one another. Eventually Gorokwe nods.
Both of them stand and depart the room. As they reach the door Veron-
ica sees Susan put a familiar hand on Gorokwe’s back. It is the touch of
an intimate, a lover. She remembers Susan saying that she lived in Zimb-
abwe before she came to Uganda.
“I told you to go home,” Danton says, when there is no one in the room
but the two of them. “I gave you a second chance.”

Veronica looks around for a weapon. He is a strong man and her arms
are cuffed behind her, but this is the only chance she has. Maybe he has
handcuff keys on him. Maybe she can kill him, free herself, burn down
the hotel or something, liberate Jacob and escape. It doesn’t seem particu-
larly likely but it seems like all the hope she’s got.
“Who else did you talk to?” Danton asks. “We know Prester. Who else?
Who got you to the Uganda border?”
“What are you doing?” she bursts out. “You stupid asshole. What the
fuck are you doing? Trying to prove yourself? Trying to show the world
you’re not just some useless rich kid, you’re as good as your daddy?
What the fuck are you
He is so taken aback by her unexpected verbal assault that he actually
recoils. Then he says, “Don’t you understand? Do you still not under-
stand? We’re saving Zimbabwe. And half the Congo. We’re doing a great
thing here. You’re getting in the way of something wonderful.”
“Something wonderful. Murder, civil war, you’re in bed with man who
committed genocide. What’s going to happen to Jacob? What are they
doing to him right now?”
“I’d worry about yourself, if I were you, not your new boyfriend.”
“I’d worry about yourself if I were you too. You think I’m the only one
who knows too much? You really think you’re going to get out of this
country alive after they shoot down Mugabe? Don’t you see? Once
they’ve gone and spent your daddy’s money you’ll be totally fucking
Danton’s face flickers, and she realizes she has just given away how
much she knows – but she almost doesn’t care, it’s worth it to have
scored a point.
“We know they’re not trustworthy,” he says quietly. “We know Gorok-
we is volatile, he’s a good man but he needs a short leash. We know
Athanase and his men are monsters. We’ve made arrangements. They’ll
be taken care of when it’s over. And in turn they know that if I disap-
pear, certain revelations will come to light all around the world. I’ve
made video recordings, copied documents, everyone will be exposed.
I’m the opposite of expendable. They know that.”
“A short leash, huh. Looks to me like you’re the one on it.”
“No. And don’t judge the general. You don’t know him. He’s a good
man. Brilliant, too. Unpredictable, volatile, but he wants an African
renaissance more than anyone, and he’s the one man who might actually
make it happen.”
“Or so he’s convinced you.”

“This isn’t about me,” Danton snaps. “Or the general. This is about
what we do with you. And about trying to save your boyfriend’s life be-
fore it’s too late. If you tell me right now everything there is to know
about his evidence, his backups, I’ll go down that hall and stop what’s
“I don’t know anything, he never told me,” Veronica says, and she sees
as she says it that Danton knows it is the truth.
“So. Too bad for him.”
Danton picks up the phone. Veronica knows this is her last chance, she
has to rush him now – but she has no weapon, no chance of victory, the
idea is too ridiculous, too pathetic. She just sags into a chair and listens
as he orders soldiers to the room to escort her away.
In the distance she hears a scream, muffled but soul-curdling. Veron-
ica moans loudly in response, she can’t help it. She knows it is Jacob. She
knows they are torturing him. When they are finished they will kill him.
There’s nothing she can do, no way to stop it. He shrieks again, several
times in quick succession, they’re like sounds from a nightmare, animal
and desperate. But she can’t even try to convince herself that this might
be a nightmare. Nothing has ever felt so awful and so real.
Danton winces. “He has to just tell them. He will. He has to do it now.”
She stares at her ex-husband with genuine horror. “Look at yourself.
Listen. How can you do this? What are you doing?”
He stares at her for a long moment. In the distance Jacob screams like a
Danton looks down to the floor and says, softly, in the boy’s voice he
used when they murmured in bed together, when they were married, “I
don’t even know any more. I swear, I never knew it was going to be like
this. It wasn’t supposed to be like this. I’m sorry. But it’s too late now.”
She can’t think of anything to say.
Danton says, “I’m going to get you out of here. Eventually. I promise.
Nobody’s going to touch you.”
* * *
Two burly men in plainclothes march Veronica down the velvet-car-
peted stairs to the huge, vaulted main entrance, where she learns that
this is the Leopard Rock Hotel. Behind her Jacob has gone silent. She
hopes he just told them everything. It doesn’t even matter whether their
evidence gets out. There wasn’t much to it anyways. She should have
tried to explain that to Danton.

Two soldiers wait behind the reception desk. Gorokwe’s troops have
obviously taken over the whole property. After a brief Shona conversa-
tion she is propelled outside, down the circular driveway, and into a
parking lot crowded with military Jeeps and black Mercedes and BMWs
with opaque windows and no license plates. She is still handcuffed. The
hands on her arms are firm but not crushing. Danton told the men who
have taken her into custody several times that nobody was to touch her,
no matter what. She supposes she should feel grateful.
She is hustled into the back of a black Mercedes. One man drives, the
other sits beside her, the doors are locked. The road out of the Leopard
Rock climbs upward, winding around the huge cliff that looms above the
hotel, through dense forest on either side, very different from the dry
plains of central Zimbabwe. These must be the eastern highlands near
Mozambique that Lovemore described.
The route they take snakes through rippling ridges of steep, folded
hills and valleys, covered by grassy plains and rainforest and shot
through by tumbling rivers. The only signs of life come from clusters of
crude wooden shelters whose denizens stare sullenly at the passing
vehicle. Countless red dirt tributaries extend from the main road into the
After a long descent they skirt a busy city, Mutare from the signs,
climb around a huge koppie and back up into hills that seem more raw
and rugged. Several times the road winds along the base of sheer forty-
foot precipices. They pass a few slopes covered by burnt bare ground
and sparse trees, with fire-blackened trunks jutting from the ground like
fence stakes. They pass through a military checkpoint, and then another.
Veronica supposes they’re going to some kind of military base where she
will be imprisoned.
She doesn’t really believe she will ever be released. Maybe that’s what
Danton intends right now, in a sudden burst of guilty morality, but he
will eventually come to realize that his own interests are best served by
Veronica’s death. And it seems likely Gorokwe will take matters into his
own hands if necessary. Either way her imminent death feels as good as
foreordained. She supposes she will probably at least outlive Mugabe,
they have bigger things to worry about than her right now. She will live
long enough to be a loose end, and then she will be tied up. She almost
wishes they would just get it over with now.
The faded sign on the fence topped with barbed wire says REZENDE.
The gate is guarded by two bored-looking soldiers. The gravel parking
lot is occupied by Jeeps, white vans, and a few yellow Caterpillar

industrial vehicles. Beyond, a complex of low and battered buildings is
set into the side of a steep and rocky hill. Outside the fence, a dozen gar-
gantuan heaps of yellow dirt, like termite mounds fifty metres high,
loom above the scrub brush and trees.
The car doors open. Veronica emerges willingly, no sense resisting
now, and is led past broken windows to a kind of courtyard where
weeds grow through cracked concrete and patches of gravel. A generator
buzzes somewhere inside the largest nearby building. Here a half-dozen
armed soldiers guard what looks at first like some bizarre Rube Gold-
berg contraption. Four metal legs support a roof of corrugated tin over a
massive piece of machinery festooned with gears, wheels, and pulleys.
This machinery in turn holds a big metal cage directly above a hole in
the ground. The cage is about three metres by two, the hole slightly lar-
ger. Four rusting chains dangle into the corners of the abyss. It takes
Veronica most of the walk across the parking lot to figure out that the
hole is a mineshaft, the contraption above an elevator, and the huge piles
of yellow dirt are heaps of processed and discarded ore. This is a semi-
abandoned mining complex. She thinks of the open-pit coltan mine in
the Congo.
The men lead her to the cage and pause long enough to chat a little
with the soldiers, she can’t understand the words but can tell that they
are asking about her, and are amused by the answers. Eventually the
conversation ceases and the cage is opened, its whole wall hinges in-
wards, and Veronica begins to understand exactly where she will be
“No,” she says weakly, staring at the cage door as if it is a fanged jaw
that might devour her. Her heart begins to pound. Being buried alive has
always been her greatest fear. “No, please. Put me somewhere else. Not
down there. Please.”
The men exchanged amused smiles as they pull Veronica inside. She
groans weakly. The cage is just high enough to stand upright. Its floor is
rusted sheet metal. A strong, hot updraft rises from the pit beneath.
The door clangs shut. One man lights the paraffin lamps that dangle
from hooks on the ceiling. Veronica feels dizzy, her skin is damp with
sweat, it takes all her will to keep the trembling seed of terror within her
from flowering and conquering her mind and and body. Then the gener-
ator noise hits a new register and the cage lurches suddenly downwards.
Veronica almost falls to her knees.
They continue to descend, a little more smoothly. The chains at the
corners clank loudly as they rise. They fall into darkness, lit only by

lamplight. The air grows steadily warmer. It feels like sinking into hell.
Like being buried alive.
“No,” Veronica moans. There is a roaring sound in her ears and her
whole body fills with a electric tingling. She can’t get enough air, there is
a painful tightness in her chest as if her lungs have been squeezed shut.
She closes her eyes, sags down the cage walls to a sitting position with
her arms wrapped around her knees, and tries to forget where she is, to
just focus on breathing, on not passing out.
An eternity seems to pass before the panic attack subsides. When it
does Veronica feels completely exhausted, like she has just run a mara-
thon, but at least she can think and breathe again – although she can still
feel the panic lurking darkly in her mind, a crouching, howling beast
ready to spring and savage her again.
Warm air blows up the mineshaft past them, wind from the center of
the earth. Veronica opens her eyes. They fall past a dark opening in the
sheer stone walls, an abandoned corridor like an open mouth. There is a
faint glow from below. Veronica looks up. The mouth of the mineshaft
has shrunk to a tiny dot, like a single pixel in a computer screen. The
sight nearly triggers another attack.
One of her escorts pulls a cord that dangles from a corner of the roof.
A cable runs up one of the chains that holds the cage, some kind of sig-
nalling mechanism. Their descent slows to a crawl as they approach an
opening in the stone walls around them, lit by flickering lamplight. The
man pulls the cord twice as the cage grows level with the opening. They
come to a halt about two inches below the lip of the opening. Gaps
around the edge of the sheet-metal floor reveal that the mineshaft contin-
ues below.
The corridor is about as big as the cage itself, eight feet wide and six
high. Its walls and ceiling are sheer whitewashed stone. Narrow rail
tracks begin at the edge of the mineshaft and continue down the corridor
into darkness.
“He says we must not touch you,” one of her escorts says, the first
words that have been directed to her. He sounds darkly amused. “Very
well. We follow orders. None of us will touch you.”
The other pushes her in the back, ungently. “Go.”
Veronica has no choice, she starts down the corridor. The two men fol-
low. One carries a paraffin lamp. The stone ceiling grows lower, and
Veronica has to stoop to keep her head clear. Pipes and cables run along
the ceiling, rusted and in several places severed. She hears murmuring
voice. They reach a little alcove where an old wooden desk stands

beneath a dust-covered sign warning that SAFETY IS EVERYONE’S JOB.
A half-dozen soldiers with rifles are here, seated on crude wooden
stools, chatting quietly. After a brief conversation four of them stand to
join the procession.
They continue into the mine, soldiers in front, then Veronica, then the
two men in street clothes. The soldiers’ boots echo hollowly on the stone
floors. Other, smaller passages intersect this one, and connecting shafts
ran diagonally upwards and downwards, covered by grids of old wood,
presumably to stop rockfalls. They pass two small passages entirely
blocked by rubble. In several places the ceiling is supported by wooden
pillars with bases carved into sharp points.
The faintly drafty air is dense, hot and dusty. The lamplight is dim and
flickering. At first the only sounds are occasional drips of water, distant
noises, which she took to be miners working with hammer and
chisel. Then Veronica begins to hear voices, so distant that she wonders
at first if they are her imagination. They pass a large chamber with
whitewashed walls, where two more armed soldiers sit on a wooden
Veronica turns her head to look, then suddenly stops walking and
stares. She knows the two gleaming coffin-shaped boxes stacked behind
those soldiers, close enough that she can read their etched Cyrillic letters.
The Iglas, the missiles, the weapons that will assassinate Mugabe.
Her guards shove her onwards hard enough that she stumbles. When
she looks back she sees them glance curiously into that chamber them-
selves. Her mind whirls as she continues on and the voices grow louder.
It makes sense that they’re here, it’s hard to imagine a more secret or se-
cure hiding spot than half a mile underground, and probably very few of
Gorokwe’s men know what is in those boxes and why. Maybe even her
two escorts don’t know that Mugabe will be shot down the day after to-
morrow. Maybe she should tell them, maybe they will find a burning
patriotism within and try to save their country from bloody ruin – but
that doesn’t seem likely, and anyways it’s too late, they have stopped in
front of a wall of rusted iron bars.
The metal grille is set into the walls and ceiling, blocking the corridor
completely. It has been crudely but firmly welded together, blobs and
seams are visible. The door in the middle of the cage is chained securely
shut. An unsettling chorus of dull, hoarse voices emanates from behind
the iron bars: dozens of voices, maybe more. The air stinks of filth and

A man grabs her wrists and unlocks her handcuffs. The guards turn to
the bars. Two of them point their rifles inside; the other two activate
flashlights and aim them inside. Veronica gasps with horror. Her first
impression is of a solid mass of naked human misery. There are maybe
sixty men inside, crammed into a space maybe thirty feet square. When
the lights come on they fall silent and shrink back from the guns, press
themselves against what look like metal walls in the middle of the cham-
ber. All are black, naked or stripped to their underwear, covered in dust
and filth, many with bleeding or swollen faces.
“None of
will touch you,” murmurs the man behind her. She knows
by his voice that he is smiling.
Each of the soldiers with flashlights opens one of the cell door’s two
padlocks. She is thrust forward into the black hole, surrounded by scores
of other prisoners who stare at her with slack, unreadable expressions as
the door is resecured behind her. She tries not to hyperventilate, she can’t
afford to, there isn’t much oxygen in this air, and it might set off another
panic attack, she’s close enough already.
The floor is flat cracked concrete. The jagged walls and ceiling are
marked with odd striations. The metal wall-thing in the middle of the
chamber is a row of metal lockers that barely fit under the low ceiling.
Their familiar appearance is surreal. A water pipe runs from the corridor
ceiling into and along the other side of the room, where it feeds several
head-high nozzles, all dark with rust. She sees and feels a ventilation
shaft, a sighing draft carrying hot air from a metal grille in the floor dir-
ectly in front of her to another in the ceiling.
The flashlights are switched off.
“Have a nice day,” a guard advises her mockingly. The men who
brought her here walk away. Their boot-sounds and lamplight diminish
down the corridor, leaving Veronica in darkness.

The air is so hot and stuffy, the stench so vile, that at first it is almost im-
possible to breathe, Veronica just stands gasping in the darkness as a sur-
prised and speculative murmuring arises all around her. There is noth-
ing she can do. Obviously the men who brought her expect her to be at-
tacked by her fellow-prisoners. Maybe she should beg for mercy, or
maybe that will show weakness; maybe she should try to act the haughty
untouchable white woman, or maybe that will just provoke them. She
reaches into the pocket of her cargo pants for her Leatherman, at least
they didn’t search her, at least she can try to defend herself, not that that
will mean anything if they all rush her –
“Veronica?” a loud voice says, a familiar voice. “Veronica Kelly?”
She gasps. “Lovemore?”
A babble of Shona conversation breaks out. Then suddenly there is a
strong hand on her arm. She flinches, but Lovemore’s voice says, “It’s me.
It’s all right.”
She doubts that very much. “What are you doing here?”
He speaks in a low voice, into her ear. “We must be quiet. The guards
speak English. Sometimes they listen in the dark. They captured me in
Harare. They don’t know I was with you, or they would have killed me.
They only know I was a friend of Lysander’s. They said they captured
him. Have you seen him?”
She shakes her head, then remembers he can’t see her even though
their faces are almost close enough to touch. There are men all around
her now, using all the available space, she feels limbs pressed against
hers, it is weirdly like being at a rock concert. “No. But I saw the missiles.
They’re just down the hall from here.”
“Izzit?” Lovemore considers. “So close.”
“Who are all these other men?”
“Hostages. These are sons, brothers, uncles of powerful men. The wo-
men and children are in another cell. When Mugabe is gone Gorokwe
will try to use them in negotiations to take power. I don’t believe it will
work. I don’t believe men in power care more for their sons and brothers

than their power. I think there will be war. And it will happen as soon as
Mugabe returns, before word of these kidnappings reaches him.”
Veronica remembers Lysander’s warning:
Important people, powerful
people, have begun to disappear. People have started whispering about death
“The day after tomorrow,” Veronica says. “If Lysander was right. We
have to try to get out of here.”
Lovemore grunts. “The mice voted to bell the cat.”
Veronica leans towards Lovemore and whispers into his ear, “They
didn’t search me. I’ve got tools.”
He stiffens. “What tools?”
“A Leatherman. A phone. A lighter. Some cigarettes. My wallet, my
money belt, they even left me my passport.”
“Izzit,” he breathes. “Then maybe, this ventilation shaft -”
He takes her hand and raises it upwards. The ceiling is low enough
that she can easily touch its uneven surface. She feels her way along it,
guided by the wispy air currents from below, until she finds the place
where they disappear, a two-foot-square rusty grate in the ceiling. It is
set solidly into the rock that surrounded it, appears to have been welded
in place like the iron bars that blocked the main entrance. They’ll clearly
never get through that.
The shaft slopes down at about a thirty-degree angle, the grille in the
concrete floor is three feet over from its counterpart on the ceiling.
Lovemore has to talk men into moving off it. Veronica kneels to the
ground. She can feel the hot air rising, looking into the shaft is like facing
into a weak hair dryer. She grabs the metal bars and pulls. This grille is
as solidly set in the concrete floor as its counterpart in the stone ceiling.
She would need a real hacksaw, not the Leatherman. Brass padlocks are
one thing; inch-thick metal bars are entirely another.
“Sorry,” she says. “No good.” She casts about for ideas. “Maybe we can
rush them, next time someone comes in. There’s like sixty of us, just four
of them.”
“No,” Lovemore says, and he sounds alarmed. “Four men with Kalash-
nikovs? They will not hesitate to shoot.”
“Then what?”
“They don’t plan to kill us. Not all of us. They bring us water some-
times, enough to live. We must wait for opportunity.”
Veronica frowns. She feels certain they’ll be waiting forever. But he’s
right, there’s no breaking out of this prison, not with what they have.
“Will these other men help? Have you told them what’s going on?”

He hesitates. “No. I fear one might be a spy. And they may help, but
not with violence. These men are wealthy, educated. They have been
beaten and tortured, they are weak and frightened. They will not risk
“What -” Veronica swallows. “What did they do to you?”
“I have suffered worse.”
“They’re torturing Jacob.”
After a moment Lovemore says, “If they will torture a white man, then
they will kill him.”
“I know.”
* * *
Veronica sits beside Lovemore with her back to the uneven rock wall.
She feels rubber-limbed, overpowered by lassitude and despair. She
vaguely wonders just how little oxygen there is in this air. The cell is
sardine-packed but the rest of the men find a way to give her a little ex-
tra space. She is ashamed, now, that she thought they would attack her.
Most seem to speak good English, and several have asked in halting
voices who she is and why she is here. Her terse answer – that she is
American, and she made an enemy of General Gorokwe – seems enough
to satisfy their curiosity. Most of the cell’s inhabitants seem too enervated
for conversation. The absolute darkness is matched now by eerie silence.
It occurs to Veronica that, in a perverse and bloody way, she has al-
most succeeded at what they set out to do when they left Victoria Falls.
She knows where the conspiracy is based, she knows where the missiles
are, she knows the details of Gorokwe’s plan, that he almost certainly in-
tends to shoot down Mugabe when he lands in Harare the day after to-
morrow. There’s only one small problem. It’s almost funny, but she can’t
The longer she sits the more she feels acutely aware of the half-mile of
solid rock above her, as if she can feel its gravitational pull. This cell feels
more and more like a mass coffin. She starts to tremble, and her breath-
ing grows strained again, her heart begins to lurch, she can feel another
panic attack on the verge of eruption, there is a faint humming in her
ears –
No, not just in her ears, not just an artifact of her brain. Veronica can
actually feel the air throbbing with a low hum on the edge of human
hearing. Her panic is dissuaded for a moment by surprised curiosity.
“What’s that?” she whispers.

Lovemore sits up a little straighter, then says, “The lift. Some trick of
acoustics. They are coming.”
The wait, listening intently. Soon they hear the dim rhythmic slapping
of rubber boots on stone. Lamplight flickers in the tunnel outside, and
the iron grid of bars begins to gleam. The sight of the cell makes Veron-
ica moan, it’s easier coping in the darkness, but she steels herself, makes
herself sit up, pay attention, and ignore the gibbering panic in the back of
her mind. This might be important. The guards are coming, and a new
man not in uniform is with them.
As the guards aim their weapons at the crowd, and unlock the doors,
the newcomer begins to shout out a short phrase. He repeats it several
times before Veronica realizes it is a name. Slowly a man emerges from
the mass of prisoners and, shivering with fear, approaches the door. He
is escorted outside. Gorokwe’s man says something in Shona and a
ripple passes through the crowd.
“He says this man’s father has agreed to the general’s terms,”
Lovemore whispers, “and so he is being released.”
Another name is called out. This time half-a-dozen men step forward.
Veronica smiles despite herself. Gorokwe’s man calls out a question, and
apparently only one man answers it correctly. The others slink back into
the mass. The selected man steps towards the open doorway, to freedom.
Gorokwe’s man issues a curt command. The guards don’t hesitate. The
guns’ muzzle flashes are much brighter than the lamplight, and in that
enclosed space the gunshots are incredible, deafening. Veronica sees
dark blotches appear as if by magic on the body of the man at the door,
sees him twitch as if dancing, then collapse to the concrete floor like a
shop-window dummy. He scrapes spastically at the ground for a few
seconds, and then he is still. The floor beside him is badly scarred, one of
the bullets struck the concrete floor and gouged a deep rut surrounded
by a web of cracks and chips of concrete.
Veronica can barely hear Lovemore’s translation of the words that fol-
low. “This man’s family would not negotiate.”
Nobody makes any sound at all, it is like everyone has gone mute.
Gorokwe’s man walks away, bearing the light with him. In the dwind-
ling lamplight Veronica sees blood seeping from the body in the corner,
filling and flowing down the cracks in the concrete floor.
* * *

Veronica is shocked, numb, half-deaf, utterly drained, and so over-
whelmed with terror and desperation that she can barely feel anything
else at all; but as she stares at the cratered floor beside the dead man, a
idea flickers to life in her mind.
She forces her way through the silent crowd of prisoners to the grid of
bars that cover the ventilation shaft in the floor, kneels down and feels
with her fingers. It’s true that these bars are set in concrete. But that stray
bullet revealed something about this concrete: it is weak, old, and flak-
ing. And only about an inch of it grips the grille.
Veronica draws out her Leatherman, unfolds its hardened steel, selects
its sharp awl, grabs the tool in her fist, and stabs it hard into the ground
at the edge of the metal grate. There is a loud
. She feels at the con-
crete with her finger. A chip as big as her thumbnail has broken free.
“Lovemore,” she says, suddenly feeling strong again, rejuvenated by
sudden hope. “I think I’ve got something here.”
* * *
The other prisoners are doing their part almost too well: their loud
babble is giving Veronica a headache. She can barely hear the sounds as
Lovemore stabs the Leatherman again and again at the floor between the
two of them. The noise and utter darkness is dizzying, disorienting. It
takes her a few seconds to realize he’s stopped.
She reaches out to survey the damage. The concrete around the edges
of the grille has been reduced to less than half its initial depth, and flakes
cover the nearby floor. Her hands encounter Lovemore’s fists, wrapped
around the iron bars, pulled as hard as he could. Veronica adds her
strength to the effort. They gasp for air, but the grille doesn’t move.
“Not yet,” Veronica groans.
“Harder,” Lovemore insists. “Use your legs.”
She does, she pulls with all her might, as he does the same – and with a
so loud Veronica fears the guards might have heard, the grate pulls
free. The high-volume conversation around them dwindles for a moment
as the prisoners realize what has happened; then the noise swells up
again, this time with a jubilant tone.
Veronica feels around inside the now-open shaft. It is walled by un-
even rocks, and its thirty-degree angle will make it difficult to descend,
but they have no choice. She takes a deep breath. She has never wanted
to do anything less than to descend into this dark, narrow, slanted pit
with no known bottom.

“We can’t all go,” she says.
“They know. I have spoken with them. We will go first. Perhaps some
of them will follow later, but they are not eager to go deeper into the
Veronica certainly understands that: she’s not exactly eager herself.
But it’s that or throw herself on Danton’s eventual mercy. If she can just
get out of this mine, according to Lovemore they’re near the Mozambi-
que border, she can get out to there and seek help from someone, maybe
get to South Africa, to the civilized world. Even being captured on an In-
terpol warrant will be better than this.
It occurs to her that maybe, just maybe, if they do somehow manage to
escape this abandoned mine, it might not be too late to stop Gorokwe, to
blow the whistle before Mugabe is murdered. Maybe she can turn
Danton’s weakness into a fatal error. By imprisoning her instead of
killing her they have brought her into the vulnerable belly of the beast.
Now she knows where the missiles are, and when the assassination will
happen. If only that when was not too soon – but it is. Less than forty-
eight hours. She’ll be lucky to even get to a phone in that time, much less
make somebody believe her. But she has to try. If they assassinate
Mugabe, if Lysander was right, soon afterwards all Zimbabwe will erupt
in a civil war that might kill hundreds of thousands. She can’t really
wrap her head around what that means, the sheer scale of the disaster
beggars the mind; but Veronica thinks of that little girl who tried to ride
with them on the oxcart, and tries to imagine a city full of little girls like
that, all of them dead.
* * *
Descent into the slender ventilation shaft is awkward. The walls of
rough-hewn rock are full of sharp stony protrusions; they serve as ledges
and handles, but also jab and scrape. It is steep enough that initially
Veronica props herself up with a foothold or handhold at all times,
rather than risk sliding down the sharp rocks into Lovemore beneath
her, and maybe sending them both tumbling to their deaths. She eventu-
ally settles on lying on her belly, allowing the grip of her body on the
stones to keep herself from falling, and worming her way down in re-
verse. At least the ongoing physical effort helps to keep panic at bay. The
air is thick with dust dislodged by their passage, and she has to breathe
through her shirt. She seems to be moving faster than Lovemore, her feet

keeps connecting with his hands. Of course he is weaker: he was beaten
and tortured before being left to languish in that nightmarish cell.
They have the Leatherman, her phone, her money belt and wallet, her
cigarettes and lighter. It isn’t much. Veronica turns on the phone only
once while downclimbing, after half an hour, when the voices above are
no longer audible. Green light blooms from its screen, enough to illumin-
ate a narrow shaft continuing both up and down without any visible
end. The sight is so horrifying she immediately switches the phone off
and has to bite her lip until it bleeds to forestall another panic attack.
Veronica decides not to think about where she is, or about the future,
near or distant. The present is all that matters, and in it she is climbing
down. The future does not exist.
It gets steadily warmer as they descend, and her sweat-soaked hands
begin to slip off the rocks. She is already desperately thirsty. At least
there is a draft, hot air rising past them. She can’t imagine where that air
is coming from.
A small eternity seems to pass before Lovemore grunts, “Floor.”
She follows him down to a flat surface that seems unnatural after their
long descent. Lovemore is doubled over, panting for breath. This worries
Veronica more than she lets on. Going down is easy compared to climb-
ing up, and they might have descended as much as a kilometre below
ground level. At least they haven’t been intercepted.
She checks her phone. Nine PM. Somewhere up above, night has
fallen. They have thirty-six hours to try to avert a bloody civil war, and
all they’ve succeeded in doing is going deeper into this mine with no
idea how to get out. It’s not going to happen, Veronica realizes, they’re
not going to be able to get the word out and save Mugabe, she doesn’t
even know who to call. She and Lovemore have to focus on saving
The phone’s LCD seems incredibly bright in the absolute darkness of
the mine. Its pale green glow illuminates another corridor with inset rail
tracks, almost exactly like the level above. Veronica supposes there isn’t a
whole lot of room for originality in mine design.
“No signal?” Lovemore asks, with the ghost of a smile.
“Very funny.”
Veronica realizes she can look around at this corridor’s low ceiling and
narrow walls with something like equilibrium. Maybe her body has run
out of the enzymes and chemicals required to manufacture a panic at-
tack. Maybe this mine has served as involuntary exposure therapy. After
the ventilation shaft this tight corridor seems almost spacious.

Lovemore’s face and body are streaked with blood. He is wider and
thicker than her, was less able to keep clear of the sharp stones of the
shaft walls. None of the cuts are serious, but they worry her all the same,
the opening and descent of the shaft seem to have consumed all of his
strength reserves, he looks worryingly frail and feeble.
“What do we do now?” she asks, and her voice is more frightened than
she had intended.
Lovemore says, “We must walk into the wind.”
She blinks. “But – no, the wind’s coming from below. We have to go up
“I know something about mines. My father was a miner. They are built
with ventilation circuits. As we go deeper, it becomes hotter.” She nods,
wondering how deep they are right now, how close to the Earth’s molten
mantle. “Hot air rises, any schoolboy will tell you. This creates a pressure
imbalance that brings cooler air down from somewhere else, somewhere
outside. All we must do is keep walking into the wind, to the source of
that air.”
It sounds good. As long as their escape isn’t discovered, or the air
doesn’t get unbreathable, or the heat unbearable, or the climb up to the
surface isn’t too much for them, or the exit isn’t blocked. There are so
many ways to fail. But at least they have a plan.
“How are you feeling?” she asks.
She sees his teeth but can’t tell if he’s smiling or grimacing. “I will be
Veronica isn’t at all sure of that. “Let’s rest a little longer.”
“We have no time.”
“Five minutes won’t make any difference.”
“With this air perhaps it will.”
He has a point. The air is now so thick and hot it feels like breathing
through a cigarette. If they stay too long at this level oxygen deprivation
might become a real issue, like altitude sickness in reverse. And heat ex-
haustion is unquestionably a danger.
“All right,” she says. “Let’s get going.”
They advance into the draft, much fainter in this wide corridor than it
was in the shaft, but still noticeable. Everything looks green in the
phone’s LCD light. Walking fast is a relief after slowly worming their
way down the endless shaft in darkness, but she has to slow down for
Lovemore, who is limping. At one point he bumps his head painfully on
the ceiling; afterwards he walks on exaggeratedly bent knees. They reach
an intersection with an equally wide and high corridor, but one without

rail tracks. They stand there a moment, unable to determine from which
direction the stronger draft comes.
“The tracks must go to the main elevator shaft,” Veronica says. “We
can’t go up there. Let’s try the other way.”
Lovemore nods. He is now breathing with every few steps he takes, as
if running rather than walking. They continue down this corridor, mov-
ing with new hope; the wind is stronger here, and noticeably cooler.
The corridor ends at a metal grille set in stone. Beyond the grille, a cir-
cular shaft six feet across rises at a forty-five-degree angle towards the
sky. Cool air hurtles down into the mine. Veronica thinks she tastes wa-
ter in the air. It’s a way out – except for the solid metal grate that bars
their way.
She examines this obstacle. It is not like the ones up above that were
welded in place. This one has two halves separately seated in the stone
walls; in the middle, their flat metal edges overlap and are bolted togeth-
er. She unfolds her Leatherman and sets to work. Lovemore sits with his
back to the corridor wall and concentrates on breathing.
There are only four narrow bolts. Two come out easily once she
scrapes the rust off. The third requires a great deal more effort. But the
fourth, near the bottom, will not budge, despite Veronica’s increasingly
frantic efforts. It appears to have rusted in place.
,” she pants, staring at the grate. One rusted nut. That is
all that stands between them and the path to freedom. But it will not
“There must be stairs,” Lovemore said hoarsely. “In case of some dis-
aster. There must be stairs.”
“If we can find them. Maybe they’ve been blocked. Or that exit’s
locked. And they’ll probably take us right to Gorokwe’s troops. Fuck.
One fucking nut.”
“The top of this shaft may also be walled off.”
She winces. He’s right. She stares venomously at the offending
hexagonal hunk of metal. Then she reaches up to the top of the grate.
Her previous removal of three bolts allows the two halves to pull away
from each other and create a little vee of space, just enough to wedge her
fingers into. She pulls as hard as she can. Even with this leverage it
doesn’t feel much different from trying to rip an iron bar apart with her
bare hands.
Veronica threads the fingers of her other hand into the grate, and then
climbs up onto it, placing both her feet flat against the metal bars, sup-
porting herself with her hands. She pushes with all the strength of her

legs. At first nothing happens. Then there is a groaning sound – and then
an unexpected
– and suddenly the grate is open and Veronica has
to flail about to avoid falling off as metal rattles on the floor. She hoped
she might loosen the rusted nut; instead she has torn it right off its bolt.
“Marvellous,” Lovemore wheezes.
She drops back to the ground and pulls the two halves of the grate
apart wide enough that she can squeeze between them. Then she looks
up the wide ventilation intake shaft and wishes it wasn’t so steep. They
could maybe walk up a thirty-degree incline, like that they descended.
This forty-five-degree shaft will have to be climbed with both hands. It
will take them hours to reach the surface.
She says, “Maybe there’s another way out, but I’m thinking this is the
only way we might actually escape.”
“It’s a long way up.”
“Do you think you can climb all the way?”
Lovemore looks at her a moment, then says, softly, “If I must, I will.”
“I’m sorry,” Veronica says. “I think you must.”

“Lovemore,” Veronica croaks. “Look.”
He doesn’t react.
“Look.” She grabs at him clumsily. “Up.”
His head slowly turns upward, towards the distant blotch of … not
light, exactly, but a different shade of darkness than what they have been
moving through for hours.
“What is it?” he asks dully.
“I think it’s the outside.”
At least the air is clean up here. That has been the only good thing
about the climb. Their ascent has been far longer and more gruelling
than Veronica expected. Her muscles are near collapse, her toes are
covered in blisters, the skin on her hands has been ribboned by sharp
rocks. Her blood- and sweat-wet fingers keep skidding away from hand-
holds. This slanted six-foot-square shaft is far more dangerous than the
smaller one they descended. Veronica’s feet have slipped off footholds
once, and Lovemore’s twice. All three times they barely avoided tum-
bling to their deaths, and survival cost them several deep cuts. Her thirst
is burning, ravenous, and the pebble she sucks on has ceased to help, the
inside of her mouth feels as dry as paper. Lovemore seems in even worse
condition. He has almost ceased to engage with the world.
“We’re almost there,” she promises him. “Just a little farther.”
“You go.”
“You first.” She wants to be below him in case he faints.
He sighs, takes two shivering breaths, then forces himself to resume
his upward progress. Veronica climbs behind him. She is only dimly
aware of her external pain. It pales next to her all-consuming thirst.
When she looks up next the blotch seems hardly larger. She wants to
, she tells herself firmly.
You can’t spare the moisture
Just climb. This
will be over soon and you will forget this nightmare ever happened.
Climbing a forty-five degree slope is equally unlike rock climbing and
walking erect; it requires locomotion on all fours, like an animal. Veron-
ica tries to climb like a monkey. It actually seems to help a little. When

she looks up next the the blotch is noticeably larger, and definitely a
paler shade of black than its surroundings. She remembers with
something like despair that the exit is probably blocked by a grate, as at
the other end of the shaft. If it has been welded in place she doesn’t know
what they will do. Lovemore certainly doesn’t have enough strength to
climb back down. Veronica doubts she does either.
Nothing they can do about it now. Above her, Lovemore is moving
faster, proximity to the surface seems to have lent him new strength.
“It’s open,” he grunts when they are only a hundred feet away.
She refuses to believe him, refuses to hope. But it’s true. The shaft
leads straight into open air. It isn’t until they reached the edge that they
realize why; the exit is in the middle of a sheer rock wall, directly above
a wide river. The moon is clouded but there is enough light to see the
boundary where the cliff meets the river twenty feet below. They can
hear and smell the rushing water beneath them. Water. She has to hold
herself back from simply throwing herself into the river and drinking
“What do we do now?” Lovemore asks.
Veronica thinks a moment. There aren’t a whole lot of options.
“We rest, get some strength back,” she says. “Then we jump. It doesn’t
look shallow.” She has no idea what shallow water looks like in dark-
ness, but saying it makes her feel better. Than a horrible idea occurs to
her. “Wait. Are there crocodiles?”
“No,” Lovemore says. “In the Zambezi, the Limpopo, yes. But not
She sighs with relief.
“But I cannot swim.”
She stares at him. “Really?”
“I’m sorry. I never learned.”
“Well. We can’t climb back down. I was a lifeguard once.” She thinks
back to when she watched children in the neighbourhood pool when she
was sixteen. Not exactly the same as supporting a full-grown man in a
powerful river at night. But she has no choice. “Just trust me and don’t
panic, and I’ll keep you up.”
After a second Lovemore says, “I trust you.”
“Good.” Veronica looks at the water. She knows she should wait, gath-
er her strength. But she doesn’t think there’s much left to gather, and she
is overcome by a blinding urge to just get this over with. “Fuck it. Follow

She steps back down the shaft, lowers herself like a sprinter on blocks,
then takes a stumbling running jump into the river. The fall is so terrify-
ing she almost screams.
But the water is deep and cool and deliriously refreshing. Veronica is
drinking from it even before her head breaking the surface. She has to
pull away and remind herself not to drink too much too fast.
“Hurry!” she cries, floating in the strong current, trying to stay near the
shaft entrance.
She is almost too successful; Lovemore nearly falls directly onto her.
He comes up spluttering and thrashing, panicked despite her warnings,
grabs Veronica’s arm with a vicegrip and drags her head down below
the waterline. His body is convulsing like a landed fish, pulling them
both deeper into the river. Veronica kicks as hard as she but barely man-
ages to get her head above water for another breath.
She fights to free herself but he is far too strong. Veronica gives up the
struggle and allows him to pull her closer, wraps her other arm around
him so she holds him from behind, and kicks again, with all the strength
left in her legs. Their heads emerge from the river again for a few
seconds. Lovemore is still thrashing uncontrollably.
“Calm down!” she orders him.
They fall back into the water. Then Lovemore goes limp, and his vice-
grip on her arm loosens. Veronica grabs him in a bearhug and pulls them
back up above the waterline. It isn’t easy treading water for two,
Lovemore is dense with muscle, but she manages.
“Sorry, sorry,” he coughs.
“It’s okay. Just hang loose.”
She can’t tell if the rushing sound ahead indicates rapids or a waterfall,
but she knew they don’t want to find out. They swim clumsily for the
shore opposite the mine. The river shallows into a pebbly bed, and they
stumble onto rocky land. Above them she could see the outlines of trees
against the clouds; thick, untracked African bush.
“Free,” Veronica says, almost disbelievingly, and collapses to the
* * *
Now that her thirst is gone Veronica is bitterly aware of her hunger,
and of the blisters, cuts and scrapes that cover seemingly her entire body.
She tries to imagine what it would be like to be safe, well-fed and pain-
free. It seems like an impossible dream.

Ahead of her Lovemore fights his way through the trackless bush. He
staggers with every step, but Veronica isn’t worried about him like she
was in the mine. Freedom and water seem to have given him back some
strength. She follows wearily in his steps. Branches slap at her face, her
soaked shoes squelch noisily on the slippery underbrush. She hopes they
are moving east.
“What is it?” she asks, when he stops.
“A footpath.”
She has to squint to see it in the moonlight, a thin dirt path.
“There are many who live now in these hills,” Lovemore says. “They
come from the cities, they lose their homes to sickness or Operation
Murambatsvina and they come here to live in the bush, as their grand-
parents did.”
“Do we follow it?”
The trail is narrow, uneven, and often impeded by roots and branches,
but it’s much better than fighting their way through dense forest.
Veronica’s breath grows ragged and her mind fogs with exhuastion, but
she doesn’t let herself stop, until Lovemore comes to a halt so sudden she
almost collides with him.
“What is it?” she asks.
“Be silent,” he whispers. “Look. Up that
Veronica follows Lovemore’s gaze up to a tall, leafy tree that over-
hangs the path. There is something on one of its uppermost branches,
she can’t quite make it out in the dappled shadows, but she knows im-
mediately, on some instinctive level, that she doesn’t want to be any
closer to it.
“Leopard,” Lovemore says softly. “They leap on their prey from
The tawny shape is immediately above the path. “You mean if we kept
walking –”
“More likely it is just sunning itself. It is very rare for them to attack
His actions are not near as confident as his words; he takes her hand
and leads her in a wide semicircle around the predator. Veronica looks
over her shoulder as they return to the trail, just in time to see the leo-
pard stand and stretch with malevolent grace, and her breath freezes in
her throat, but after stretching it lies back down again.
They continue, fuelled by adrenalin. The path leads upwards and then
opens without warning onto a wide dirt road. To their left the sky is just

beginning to shine with the dawn. To their right, the road crosses a
wooden bridge, leading back towards the mine.
“That way to Mozambique,” Lovemore says, looking east, to where the
road skirts a sheer ten-foot cliff.
“Does this road go to the border?” she asks.
“It goes near. Afterwards there are trails.”
“Let me guess. It’s like this all the way. Steep hills and cliffs.”
She sighs. “Can we get there before they follow us? Do you think
they’ll track us?”
“Is Mozambique where you want to go?”
She is taken aback by the question. “Where else?”
Lovemore considers. Then he says, “Yes. You must go east. You must
escape. But I will go back to the mine.”
“To the
Are you crazy? What for?”
“To try to stop them.”
“What? How?”
“I don’t know,” Lovemore says. “But I know they have made a mistake
in bringing us here. They have brought us like vipers into their heart. We
know they will attack tomorrow, we know their missiles are in that
mine. Maybe I can find a weapon, and find the stairs into the mine. I
must try. There will be war. Mugabe must go, but not like this. So many
will die. There are so many already close to death. I must at least try.”
Veronica tries to find the right words. “I understand. I know what you
mean, I’d want to try too if we had any chance at all. But please, don’t be
crazy. They’ve got guns, we’ve got nothing, we’re on our last legs here.
We can’t stop them. It’s too late, we don’t have time. Mugabe’s flight is
probably already in the air.”
“You go to Mozambique,” he says. “Escape. Tell the world.”
“I don’t think I can get there without you.”
“I’m sorry. I can’t go with you. I can’t leave my people.”
Veronica looks east, along the road that has been blasted through the
hillside and curls beneath a sheer granite cliff. Then she looks west, to-
wards the mine.
“We’ll go and see,” she offers. “If it looks like we can do something, we
will. Maybe I can help. If not, if it just looks useless, we go to
Lovemore looks at her for a long moment before he acquiesces.
* * *

The intersection where the dirt road meets the paved road seems
deserted. A faint mist has risen here, making the hills around them seem
ghostly, unearthly. Down the main road, they can see, half-lost in the
mist, the edge of the chainlink fence surrounded by the yellow mounds
of discarded ore. They make their way cautiously, staying to the
shoulder of the road, ready to leap into the bush at the slightest sound,
but the hills are silent, not even a bird sings.
From the base of one of the great heaps of dirt they can see the low
buildings and gravel parking lot of the mine. Four men guard the main
entrance. Veronica and Lovemore are as far away from them as possible,
and it’s too misty to see well, but she thinks they are all carrying rifles.
Otherwise the complex is deserted. The fence seems to be in good repair
and surrounded by barbed wire everywhere.
“Your Leatherman,” Lovemore says to her.
She looks at him. His breath is still ragged. “What are you going to do?
Climb the fence, cut the wire, walk in and challenge Gorokwe to a duel?”
“The mineshaft. If we can destroy the elevator –”
“It’s guarded,” she says. “Even if you do, there’ll be stairs out some-
where, and they’ll be guarded too. You can’t stop them.”
“I must try.”
She shakes her head. “No. I won’t let you do it.”
“Please. Give me the Leatherman. You go to Mozambique and tell the
world everything that has happened. Please, Veronica. So many could
die. Think of Rwanda. Imagine if it was your country. I must
After a moment she swallows, nods, surrenders the Leatherman. He
limps to the fence, and begins to climb. Veronica doesn’t move. She looks
out at the gate guards. They haven’t noticed anything yet. Lovemore
sways and almost falls as he climbs the fence, and its rattle as he rights
himself seems to carry a terrifyingly long way, but the guards do not re-
act. Once at the barbed wire he hangs on with one hand and begins to
saw with the other. It looks awkward and incredibly difficult.
After only a short time he stops to rest. When he looks around and
sees Veronica his eyes widen and he makes a shooing gesture. She stands
up reluctantly. Then she looks past Lovemore and quickly drops back
down to her belly. He turns and sees: the guards have noticed him. Two
of them are coming.
Lovemore drops down from the fence, doubles over and assumes a
hunched-over posture with his arms dangling right down to the ground,
and runs away with a strange leaping gait. Veronica thinks he must be

hurt, but once the mound of dirt is between him and the guards, he
straightens back up, motions to her to follow, and rushes into the bush.
She runs after him, but not far – he stops just far enough into the bush
to be invisible, then moves along the bushline. His whole body is glisten-
ing with sweat, his breath is ragged, but he moves with grace. Veronica
follows. He stops when they can see the guards again, walking across the
parking lot. Their rifles are at the ready but they seem more suspicious
than hostile.
Lovemore drops to his knees, takes a few deep breaths, opens his
mouth, and emits a loud, nasal ooking that echoes across the misty hill-
side. Veronica is so startled she nearly cries out. It does not sound like a
human noise. Then he beats the bush around him with a kind of epileptic
rhythm, and ooks again.
The guards stop walking, and peer carefully in their direction. After a
brief discussion, they turn back to the gate.
“Baboon,” Lovemore explains. “Very common.”
She nods.
“We can’t enter the mine now.” His voice is grim, defeated. “They will
be watching carefully, to shoot and kill the baboons.”
She nods again. “I’m sorry. We have to go to Mozambique. At least we
can escape, and get the truth out.”
He doesn’t argue. They stand and begin to walk again, moving back
through the bush.
“Do you all know how to make perfect animal noises?” Veronica asks
as they emerge onto the dirt road, thinking of Rukungu at the refugee
camp. “Is it part of the standard African grade-school curriculum or
“No. I learned in Botswana, from the San. They live in the wild.”
She supposes Rukungu too has lived in the wild, in the untamed
Africa she has hardly seen at all herself. Veronica suddenly wishes she
had at least seen the gorillas in Bwindi before was kidnapped. Living in
Kampala it was easy to forget just how wild Africa is, full of baboons,
crocodiles, elephants, leopards like the one they saw just now, perched
on that tree branch above the path, waiting for prey to pass beneath –
Veronica’s eyes widen. She stops, turns and looks back to the paved
road that winds its way through steep hills.
“Wait,” she says. “I have an idea.”
* * *

Veronica stands shivering beside the paved road that winds its way up
to the mine. The sun has risen, but it does not penetrate the thick mist
that seems to have emanated from these hills. She tries to breathe hard,
to warm herself up, but all her reservoirs of inner strength seem ex-
hausted, the cool damp air seems to be sucking the heat directly from her
blood. It isn’t even that cold but her teeth begin to chatter. She looks
around for Lovemore, but he has disappeared into the bush. She sud-
denly wants a cigarette, but they were soaked by the river. Her Zippo
will still work, she considers trying to warm herself with it, but rejects
the idea as futile.
Then she hears an engine in the distance. She straightens up. Her heart
begins to pound, and her teeth cease to chatter. The vehicle is coming
from below, moving towards the mine. She waits to see what it is. In the
mist she can only see a few hundred feet, down to where the road meets
a dirt tributary and then bends around the base of a sheer forty-foot cliff.
If it’s a Jeep full of soldiers, then that does them no good – but no, it’s a
white hatchback, and the driver is unaccompanied by any passengers,
it’s almost perfect. A 4WD would be better, but this is hopefully good
enough, and it’s probably the best chance they’re going to get.
Veronica takes a deep breath. Then she walks out into the middle of
the road and begins to wave her arms at the driver, hopefully signalling
him to stop. She feels a little ridiculous.
The hatchback, a Suzuki, stops in front of her. Veronica stays where
she is a moment, then sinks down to the ground, feigning a dramatic
swoon worthy of a nineteenth-century novel. In her current state physic-
al collapse is not hard to fake. After a moment the door opens and the
driver steps out to investigate, amazed by the sight of a filthy and blood-
streaked white woman lying in the middle of the road. Veronica moans
loudly, hoping to cover any sound, as Lovemore steps out of the road-
side foliage behind the man.
Despite his injuries and exhaustion Lovemore moves fast and catlike,
the Leatherman gleaming in his hand. The driver senses something and
turns to face him, but too late. The multi-tool’s metal blade sinks into the
man’s gut. The man gasps with amazed shock. So does Veronica; this
wasn’t part of the plan. Lovemore withdraws the blade. The driver lifts
his arms pathetically to protect his face, and opens his mouth to cry out,
but as he does so, Lovemore takes a quick step forward, ducking under-
neath and then into the man’s upraised arms, and as their bodies press
together, Lovemore finishes his motion by reaching the blade up and in-
to the other man’s throat.

For a moment the two of them seem frozen together, locked in place.
Then Lovemore steps calmly away, and the driver claps his hands to his
neck to try to staunch the pulsing fountain of blood. Veronica thinks
with distant horror of Derek’s murder. Lovemore grabs the man and
pulls him off the road and into the woods as he topples to the ground.
There is blood everywhere, so much blood Veronica can almost taste its
rich iron scent.
“Hide the blood,” Lovemore snaps at her. “Cover it with dirt.”
She numbly follows the command while he hides the body in the
bush. A minute later he is back on the road, wearing the man’s trousers.
They are too short for him.
“You said you weren’t going to hurt them,” she says helplessly.
“We can’t afford the danger. He went through the checkpoints. He
must have been going to the mine.”
“How can you know that? The road goes past the mine too. How can
you be sure?”
“Get in. Please. We have no time.”
* * *
Getting the Suzuki hatchback up the steep dirt road is easy enough.
Getting it through the twenty feet of bush that leads up to the cliff is sur-
prisingly not too difficult either. The ground is rocky enough that the ve-
getation here is mostly bush, trees big enough to stop its progress are
few and far, and in first gear the Suzuki’s tires are more than equal to the
uneven dirt and underbrush. All the same Veronica is glad Lovemore is
As they pass through the bush there is a sudden rustle of motion up
above them, and Veronica leaps with alarm as a series of loud nasal
snorts echo through the air – but it is only a small family of monkeys, ex-
pressing their displeasure at this human invasion before they move
away. Veronica smiles ruefully.
When they reach the top of the overlook, about fifty metres square of
cracked but flattish rock, the seething sun in the eastern sky is beginning
to burn away the early-morning mist. Lovemore halts the Suzuki at a
suitable-seeming location, hidden from where the asphalt road winds
directly beneath the cliff.
“You really think this might work?” Veronica asks, breathless.
Lovemore says, simply, “I don’t know.”

The more she thinks about it the more she dares to think that they ac-
tually have a chance. A single and desperate chance, but that’s much bet-
ter than no chance at all. Their capture has brought them into the heart of
the conspiracy, and because of that, because of Danton’s mercy, they
know enough to be dangerous. They know where the missiles are, and
they know they will leave today and be taken west, to Harare Airport,
where Mugabe will touch down in less than twenty-four hours.
But most of all, their enemies are hamstrung by their secrecy. General
Gorokwe may command hundreds or even thousands of troops, but
Veronica is certain that the number of people who know exactly what is
meant to happen to President Mugabe today is very small. Gorokwe,
Susan, Danton, Athanase, Casimir, a handful of faraway Americans; per-
haps a few more trusted lieutenants; and no one else. No one but herself
and Lovemore. And Jacob and Lysander, if they are alive. In her secret
heart she doubts it.
Veronica is no longer cold. She is burning with rage and anticipation.
Maybe their escape has already been discovered, maybe they are already
being hunted, maybe they will soon be recaptured and killed, but right
now she doesn’t care. Right now this solitary hope of vengeance, or
justice, or both, seems worth any price.
* * *
The road beneath describes a U-shape around the cliff face. From one
end of the U, they can see for a few hundred metres to the east, towards
the mine. At the other end, the cliff is sheerest, and the road runs closest
to the wall of rock. Lovemore watches from the cliff edge while Veronica
waits beside the Suzuki.
She hears an engine, and tenses – but it is coming from the other direc-
tion. She looks down on the road and sees a share-taxi, a pale minivan
stuffed with people, climb laboriously up the road beneath them, then
round the U and disappear. Moments later Lovemore stands up – but
then shakes his head and drops back down again, and a nondescript
gunmetal Toyota, not nearly big enough to hold the missiles, drives past.
Then Lovemore stands up again, and this time he starts back towards
the Suzuki; and as he steps away from the cliff, he nods meaningfully.
Veronica hears an engine. No, two engines. And Lovemore is holding up
two fingers.
“Shit,” she mutters under her breath. She had hoped for only one car.
That would make sense. They are on a clandestine mission to assassinate

a president, what are they doing driving in a convoy, have they never
heard the phrase
covert operation?
But apparently there are two vehicles.
Veronica takes a deep breath. Her stomach is suddenly tight and
squirming. The Suzuki’s engine is already purring, and its gearshift rests
in neutral. She kneels next to its open door, reaches inside, pushes the
clutch down with one hand, and guides the stick into first gear with the
other. Lovemore coming around the car and crouches in front of her,
peering over the cliff edge.
“Say when,” Veronica hisses.
The approaching engines grow louder and clearer as they round the
bend. Surely she has to do it now, now, any longer will be too late, they
will get away, and this is their only chance. Every instinct screams at her
to go, tells her that Lovemore doesn’t know, he’s waiting too long, he
can’t judge how much time it will take, she has to trust her own gut, not
his –
Veronica makes herself wait for Lovemore’s signal. He can see and she
“Now,” he breathes.
She releases the clutch as smoothly as she can. The Suzuki shudders
but lurches successfully into first gear, leaves Veronica and Lovemore
behind as it crosses the few feet to the edge, then noses over the the cliff
and unceremoniously disappeares.
A half-second later an almighty
erupts from the road, followed
by the ear-torturing scraping sounds of metal and concrete; a less loud,
but somehow satisfying, crumpling
; and then another, and then a
short, oddly rhythmic series of bumping noises. It is all over by the time
Veronica and Lovemore poke their heads over the cliff edge to see.
It is immediately apparent that their four-wheeled missile has missed
its target.

As far as Veronica can tell from the skid marks and trail of debris, the
falling Suzuki smashed nosefirst into the road about ten feet in front of
the black Land Rover. The Land Rover hit the carcass of the Suzuki, then
skidded across the road and away from the cliff, taking the Suzuki with
it, until both collided with a big tree and their intermingled remains
bounced halfway back onto the road again. Whatever vehicle was fol-
lowing the Land Rover collided with this mangled wreckage, spun off
the road, and tumbled down the steep slope, scraping and flattened a
rough trail through the vegetation and small trees beneath the road be-
fore disappearing into denser bush. The third collision knocked the
Suzuki and Land Rover back to the edge of the road, which, amazingly,
is still navigable, although dusted with shards of twisted metal and
broken glass. The air above this debris is warped with sizzling heat.
Veronica stares amazed and triumphant at this field of wreckage and
fragments. It reminds her a little of the scrapyard in Kampala. She can
smell oil and seared metal. It’s hard to fathom that she and Lovemore
caused all this destruction themselves, just by sending a small car over a
forty-foot cliff. It looks like a bomb has gone off. There is something
beautiful about it. She has a new and sudden understanding of the allure
of wanton destruction.
“We must go down,” Lovemore says. “We must be certain.”
Veronica knows it is dangerous, but part of her actually wants to in-
spect her demolition handiwork in greater detail. They scrabble back
through the bush to the dirt road and down to the asphalt. The naked
blade of the Leatherman glints in Lovemore’s fist. He cleaned it after
killing the Suzuki’s driver, but it is still spotted with blood.
The Land Rover is upside down, and crumpled on all sides, but sur-
prisingly intact. She doesn’t recognize the driver, or the uniformed man
in the passenger seat, both of whom lie motionless. But the two men in
the back are Casimir and Athanase. They were not wearing seat belts.
Blood flows freely from their heads, jagged bone protrudes from
Athanase’s arm, and they lie slumped together on the ceiling of the

inverted Land Rover, but Veronica can tell by the movement of their
chests that both are still alive.
She walks around the vehicle. The tank has ruptured, and gasoline is
trickling out from the Land Rover and down the slope, forming little
pools and rivulets. Its occupants are lucky nothing has struck a spark.
The smell of oil is intense. The back window is intact, and Veronica sees
two shining metal containers within, etched with Cyrillic inscriptions.
She looks up at Lovemore. Then, almost in slow motion, her hand dips
into a side pocket of her cargo pants, and emerges holding her Zippo
He nods. They back away from the ruins of the Land Rover to the shel-
ter of a nearby tree. She sees Casimir, the man who murdered Derek, be-
gin to stir within, to disentangle himself from Athanase. Veronica ignites
the flame of her Zippo and tosses it gently, underhand, towards the
shimmering pool of gasoline just outside the Land Rover’s ruptured gas
It’s not like Hollywood, the vehicle does not explode, but the gas goes
up immediately with a loud
. Heavy, black smoke billows up,
quickly obscuring the Land Rover. Even at this distance the fire is sear-
ingly hot and after only a few seconds they have to move further away.
It occurs to Veronica that there are missiles full of high explosive within
the Land Rover. She wonders if fire alone will be enough to set them off.
“We have to hurry,” she says. “Come on.”
She leads Lovemore down the bush, following the trail of flattened
bushes and broken trees. The vehicle is a black BMW, and it must have
tumbled, it lies propped at a 45-degree angle against a big tree with its
tires in the air. It is not as battered as the Land Rover, and all its win-
dows are intact. Veronica supposes they’re bulletproof. All its air bags
have deployed. Again she doesn’t know the driver, but she recognizes
Susan in the passenger seat by her long blonde hair, now bloodstreaked.
The passenger door is a dented concavity. There is no one else in the car.
One of the back doors has crumpled shut, but the other has been opened.
“Gorokwe,” Lovemore says.
Veronica says, “Danton.”
“They will have weapons.”
“Do you want to go?”
“No. We will never have another opportunity like this.”
He opens the driver’s door. The driver twitches and groans. Lovemore
thrusts the Leatherman up through the driver’s ribcage, into his heart.
This time Veronica doesn’t protest; she just watches as Lovemore draws

a gleaming pistol from the driver’s belt and turns to look at her. She nods
and wonders where he learned to kill.
There are no trails apparent anywhere in this bush, just thick bushes,
tangled branches, tall grass and trickling rivulets. Perfect territory for
hiding. Impossible territory for finding anyone. But Danton and Gorok-
we don’t have much of a head start, and they must still be dazed from
the collision, they can’t be that hard to find. Veronica and Lovemore stop
and listen. They hear nothing but the morning wind through the
“I learned tracking from the San, but that was in desert,” Lovemore
says in a low voice. “I don’t know if I can follow them in this bush.”
“We don’t need to,” Veronica says, as understanding dawns. “We just
need to think like them.”
He looks at her. “What do you mean?”
“They’re not bush people. They won’t try and escape through the
forest. They know they’ve been attacked, so they’ll run away for a few
minutes to get away from the car, but then they’ll go back up to the road
and carjack the next vehicle that comes along. Just like we did.”
“Yes,” Lovemore says.
He gives her the Leatherman. Veronica is amazed by how steady her
own hands are as she takes it. She looks over at Susan’s slumped form;
abandoned by Danton and her lover the general, left here to die. Veron-
ica considers for a moment. Then she turns and follows Lovemore.
They climb diagonally through the thick bush, moving towards the
road and away from the fiercely burning Land Rover. Veronica supposes
the missiles aren’t going to explode, or they would have by now. Military
explosives probably need some kind of electronic trigger or something to
blow up. Her adrenalin rush is beginning to wane, and she is weak, ex-
hausted, and covered with cuts and blisters. Lovemore is limping slowly
again, and twice he slips and staggers, but she is moving slower yet, he
is a good thirty feet ahead, almost out of sight. Veronica opens her
mouth to call on him to slow down.
Then a loud
echoes through the bush. For an instant Veronica is
taken back to that moment in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. But this
time she knows what the sound is: a gunshot, very near. Lovemore jerks
forward, and droplets of blood fly through the air as he falls to the
ground – but he hits rolling, and as the second shot is fired, from just be-
hind and to the left of Veronica, he disappears behind a thick bush.
In her dazed weakness she is too slow to react. A long, strong arm
wraps around her neck from behind. She whimpers as searing metal is

pressed up against her head, a gunbarrel hot from recent use. An African
voice, General Gorokwe’s voice, orders her, “You drop the knife or you
* * *
Veronica chokes for air, tries to look around. Gorokwe’s forearm
across her throat is so tight that she can barely move her head, but out of
the corner of her eye she sees Danton, crouched behind a tree. His eyes
are wild, he is panting like a dog, and one side of his face is covered with
rivulets of blood, he suffered a head injury in the crash.

Drop it,
” Gorokwe orders.
She briefly considers trying to stab him, but he’ll shoot her, her only
value right now is as a human shield. She lowers her arms – then lobs the
Leatherman into the bush towards Lovemore, rather than drop it for
Danton to use.
Gorokwe grunts with anger and slams the base of his gun into the side
of Veronica’s head. She actually sees stars, her knees buckle, only his arm
tight around her throat keeps her upright. She can’t breathe, he’s crush-
ing her windpipe, the world around her is going hazy. She doesn’t even
have the strength to struggle. When he loosens his grip long enough for
her to draw a single rattling breath she slumps halfway to the ground be-
fore he catches her and draws her back up, this time holding her under
her arms instead of around her neck.
Gorokwe shouts out something in Shona. Veronica suspects it is a
threat to kill her if Lovemore does not show himself. Lovemore does not
respond. Her head hurts like fire. Gorokwe’s legs are both between hers,
she can’t kick backwards at his groin. She could try stamping on his feet,
but he will just kill her if she becomes too much of a problem. Instead
she just lets herself go limp and closes her eyes to slits, pretending to
have been knocked out by that blow.
Gorokwe grunts and moves forward towards where Lovemore disap-
peared, muscling Veronica’s deadweight along with him, keeping her
body before him. The general advances slowly into the bushes, following
Lovemore’s blood trail, keeping Veronica before him, holding her easily
with one arm, his strength is incredible.
There is no sound except for Gorokwe’s footsteps on the slippery un-
dergrowth. Veronica hopes Lovemore had the presence of mind to set
some kind of ambush, to double back on his trail – but it doesn’t seem

likely, he is clearly bleeding badly, his wound is serious, and he was
already weak.
Something rustles in the bush not far ahead. Veronica manages to keep
herself from tensing. The concussion makes it very easy to feign uncon-
sciousness. She looks at the noise, hoping it is a bird or a monkey, but
she can’t see anything move, and that means it must be Lovemore. He’s
maybe twenty feet away. If he shoots, he’ll almost certainly hit Veronica
and give away his location, maybe he’s a crack shot but he’s badly
wounded, he won’t hit Gorokwe except by freak chance.
Veronica, still hanging like a rag doll, gives the thumbs-up sign in
what she hopes is a surreptitious way, and hopes Lovemore
Two shots blast out from the forest, two flashes from only about
twenty feet away. The sounds are overwhelming but Veronica was half-
hoping for them; she manages to keep hanging limp. Nothing happens.
Either Lovemore missed entirely or he never intended to hit.
Then Gorokwe reaches his gun out over Veronica’s shoulder, aiming at
Lovemore, and Veronica finally goes into action.
She grabs his gun arm with both hands, shoving it upwards as he fires.
The recoil ripples through her as she bites into his bicep as hard as she
can and twists her own body towards him. She feels herself snarling like
an animal. As his blood fills her mouth she manages to rotate her body
further so her legs are between his, and as he fires again, again into the
air, Veronica brings her knee up as hard as she can. Gorokwe grunts and
folds forward into her. She doesn’t resist, she falls backwards and pulls
him with her, so they both topple into the bush, and the gun goes off a
third time right next to her head. Then he punches her with his free arm
so hard that she can’t help but let him go. He is kneeling on top of her,
aiming the gun at her face, and she is stunned, she can’t move.
Then the general’s whole head snaps hard to the side, and blood be-
gins to gout from it, and he goes limp and falls off her.
Lovemore lurches into view, holding his gun with one hand. The oth-
er, soaked in blood, is clamped over his stomach. He keeps the gun
aimed at Gorokwe’s fallen body.
“It’s okay,” Veronica manages. “It’s over. He’s dead.”
She doesn’t need to check for the absence of a pulse. There is a gaping,
dripping exit wound in the side of the Gorokwe’s head.
Lovemore drops to his knees. Veronica sits up. She is almost deaf in
one ear, and her head hurts. She gingerly disentangles Gorokwe’s

weapon from his fingers, thinking of Danton, they can’t leave it lying
around. Then she turns to Lovemore. “Keep pressure on it. Let me see.”
She reaches around behind him and feels with her fingers. He stiffens
and groans as she touches the ragged edge of the exit wound. Of course
she shouldn’t have done that, her hands aren’t clean, but it hardly mat-
ters now, his wounds are already filthy. She puts down Gorokwe’s gun,
pulls the general’s shirt off, and ties the bloody rag around Lovemore’s
waist. It isn’t much but it will have to do.
“Keep pressure on,” she instructs him. “Both front and back. If you
don’t lose too much blood you’re going to be fine. It’ll hurt like hell but
you’ll be OK, we should have time to get you to a hospital.”
He nods weakly.
“Can you get up to the road?”
“If I must.”
She picks up Gorokwe’s gun again and walks back into the bush.
Danton is where she left him. He stares at Veronica wide-eyed as she
She smiles thinly, keeps the gun trained on him, keeps her distance.
“Expecting someone else?”
His jaw works but no words come out.
“What’s the matter, Danton? Everything not going according to plan?
Does it seem like all of a sudden your daddy’s money really doesn’t mat-
ter so much?”
“Please,” he manages.
“Please what?”
“Please don’t shoot me. I let you go. I told them not to touch you. All I
wanted was to save lives.”
“That’s such a lie,” she says, furious. “Being rich wasn’t good enough,
you wanted to be powerful, you wanted to be a big man. That’s all this
was ever about.”
“Maybe you’re right. But I wanted to help people, I really did. I
thought we would help people. It just all started going wrong somehow.
I didn’t know how. I wanted to get out but it was too late, don’t you un-
derstand? I couldn’t get out. They would have killed me. I was a prisoner
just like you.”
“Where’s Jacob?” she asks.
“I’ll talk. I’ll talk to CNN, the New York Times, whoever, I’ll tell every-
one everything. I’ve got names, dates, Veronica, you won’t believe who’s
involved in this. It wasn’t just me, it was never my idea, they came to me
for help. I’ll testify against them all.”

“We don’t need your testimony,” Veronica says. “Remember what you
told me? ‘Certain revelations will come to light. Everyone will be ex-
posed. I’m the opposite of expendable.’ You remember saying that, when
you were fucking gloating?”
“Please,” he begs. “Don’t do this.”

Where’s Jacob?
“Please. I’m sorry. He didn’t talk. Not until it was too late. I didn’t
want to, I said we should let him go. I’m sorry, Veronica, I’m so sorry.
Please. You won’t do this. I know you won’t do this. You’re a good
“That was before I met you,” Veronica says bitterly.
She aims the gun at her ex-husband’s heart and pulls the trigger.

“She’s awake,” a woman says.
“Ms. Kelly?” a man’s voice asks.
She opens her dazed eyes to a well-kept hospital room. Everything is
clean and white. She is connected to an IV and a vital-signs monitor, one
she recognizes, an old DRE model she used to work with in San Fran-
cisco General. There are two black women in nurse’s uniforms standing
attentively near the bed, and a tall, handsome, white-haired white man
in a sharp suit.
Veronica struggles for some memory to connect her to this scene and
fails. “Where am I?”
“Johannesburg,” the man says. “Milpark Hospital. You were
medevac’d here last night from Mutare. You probably don’t remember
that, I’m told you were under sedation for the better part of three days.”
“What – what happened?”
He gives the nurses a look. They reluctantly depart.
Veronica lifts her head, almost all she can manage right now, and
looks around. “Wait. Where’s Lovemore? What happened to Lovemore?”
“He’s next door.” The man grimaces. “They threw him in as a kind of
sweetener, I suppose. It took no end of negotiation to get the two of you
out of there. At first they were going to hang you.”
“Hang me? For – for

“Attempted assassination. But then, luckily for you, a series of rather
embarrassing files began to turn up at BBC and CNN and Al-Jazeera, it’s
been the lead story for a good two days now and shows no signs of stop-
ping. You can see it for yourself after I leave. Although I suppose you
already know the whole story, don’t you?”
She starts to shake her head and quickly thinks better of it. “Not all of
“We’re still amazed ourselves. After that, I guess Mugabe decided you
didn’t quite fit into all the international outrage, and it was in his best in-
terests to jump on that bandwagon rather than keep pointing the finger
at you. Or maybe he’s just grateful you saved his life. It still wasn’t easy

to get you out of there. Back-channel negotiations and briefcases full of
money, not that you ever heard me say that, because of course we don’t
negotiate with fascist dictators.”
Veronica tries to remember what happened. She remembers shooting
Danton, that actually happened, it wasn’t a dream. She remembers wait-
ing by the side of the road with Lovemore, both of them shivering in the
warm sun, barely conscious. She remembers the pickup truck that ap-
peared on the road, full of sturdy labourers with picks and shovels, and
the way they lifted her so gently into the back of the truck, as if she
might break. After that, nothing. They must have taken her to hospital in
Mutare. She hopes they took Danton’s wallet from her, there were hun-
dreds of US dollars within.
“Who are you?” she asks.
“Stanton. Deputy chief of mission at the embassy here.”
“Okay. What’s going to – what happens next?”
“Nothing, until they’re ready to discharge you. Doctors say that won’t
be for a few days yet. You don’t need to make any decisions until then.”
* * *
“Veronica,” Lovemore says.
His voice is weak but clear. His torso is swaddled in bandages but oth-
erwise he looks fine. Veronica still feels weak and dizzy when she walks,
and she’s still recovering from exhaustion, the concussive blow to her
head, and the multitudinous little wounds she suffered during their es-
cape from the mine, but she can feel herself regaining strength with
every passing hour.
“Lovemore. Good to see you. How are you?”
“The doctors here are excellent.”
“They should be. Johannesburg, world capital of gun violence, they
must have plenty of practice. Maybe I should try to get a job here. I’ve
gotten some good gunshot experience in the last -” she calculates, and is
amazed by how little time has passed since that day in Bwindi – “few
Lovemore doesn’t answer.
“What are you going to do when you get out?” she asks.
“I have no passport. I expect they will send me back to Zimbabwe.”
“Do you want to go back?”
His face clouds. “No. I would stay in South Africa if I could. There is
hope here.”

“Is that so. How about Uganda?”
“I’m going to go back to Uganda.” Veronica was not certain of this un-
til this moment. “I’m going back to Kampala. I’m going to start a school.
A nursing college. I bet I could work something out where you could
come with me.”
“I don’t know anything about Uganda.”
“It’s a good place. Or it can be. There’s hope there, anyways, definitely.
And I’m sure I can scare up enough money to start up a school. I bet the
US government will be willing to help. And anyways a certain notoriety
never hurt any fundraising. Heck, I can sell my story to the British
tabloids. Whatever. It won’t be easy, I’ll need help, but after this last
month, you know what, I bet it’ll seem like a piece of cake.”
After a moment Lovemore says thoughtfully, “Pygmies.”
Veronica blinks, caught off guard. “What?”
“That’s what I know of Uganda. There are pygmies there. I’ve heard
they know the jungle as the San know the desert.”
“Yes, I guess so.”
He says, “I would like to see them.”
She smiles. “Well. I think that can be arranged. Is it a deal?”
They shake hands very seriously.
“You don’t want to go back to America?” Lovemore asks. “In Zimbab-
we there is nothing for me. There is no hope. But I thought there was
everything in America.”
Veronica hesitates. She imagines going back home, back to a world of
shopping malls, freeway traffic, Internet dating, air conditioning, office
jobs, mortgage payments and parking meters. The idea repulses her. If
she goes back the rest of her life will seem hollow and plastic, a vacant
How ironic that Africa is called the dark continent. Even the sun here
is so much brighter.
“Not for me,” Veronica says thoughtfully. “Not any more. I think what
I want is here.”

“There you go,” Veronica says. “Home sweet shipping container. But you
can’t beat the view.”
“You certainly can’t,” Tom says, amazed. “That’s the bloody Nile down
there, isn’t it?”
“It is indeed. You can swim in it, there’s a trail that goes down, but
watch the currents. There’s a Class Five rapid around the bend.”
“Worse than the one you went through at the mine?” Judy asks.
Veronica chuckles. “I don’t know and I have no desire to find out.”
“And this is your school?” The British woman looks around at the
cleared half-acre plot surrounded by thick greenery. A dozen metal ship-
ping containers surround a single one-story wooden building. A Land
Cruiser and a Pajero are parked by the red dirt road that leads south to
Jinja proper.
“Welcome to the Jinja School for Nurses,” Veronica says. “You
wouldn’t believe how much cheaper it is to have a shipping container
delivered than a classroom built, and really, they’re almost as good. One
real building for headquarters, five classrooms, three students’ quarters,
one staff quarters, the ablution block next to the well there, one for stor-
age, and our house,” she points out in turn. “We’ve got thirteen students
enrolled already, but only four staying here, handy for you, leaves one
container free as a guest house. Five of them actually live in Kampala
and commute here every day, ninety minutes each way. They get
Sundays off but you’ll see them all tomorrow.”
“You’ve built all this one year,” Judy says, impressed. “No, less, it was
one year today we were rescued, and I gather it you were quite busy foil-
ing dastardly plots for the first month of that!”
Veronica smiles sheepishly as Tom and Judy laugh.
“We were so sorry to hear about Jacob,” Judy says, suddenly serious.
“And such a pity about Susan too. So hard to believe.”
Veronica can’t find it in herself to feel any sympathy for Susan. “More
of a pity about Dr. Murray. You know he came back to Africa after he
was acquitted? He’s in Nairobi now? It was all his plan, I think. And
Strick only got ten years. They let him plea bargain so he wouldn’t tell
secrets in public. They both should have gotten death.”
A brief, awkward silence falls.
“But what you’ve done here,” Tom says, looking around, “it’s bloody
amazing, it really is. Can’t have been easy.”

“It’s a lot of work,” Veronica sighs. “There’s so much left to do. The
well isn’t up to much, we need to start piping water up from the river,
but for that we need more power, and the solar panels barely keep us go-
ing. Jinja has good reliable power, there’s a hydro station just south
where the Nile meets Lake Victoria, but you wouldn’t believe the hoops
you have to jump through to get connected. Then the Internet, we’ve got
it over a mobile-phone card right now, it works but it’s so slow, almost
useless for classes, we have to get a satellite dish. And we want to paint
all the containers with different murals, start a garden, get more medical
equipment, we’ve got barely enough, get more teachers, we’ve only got
two right now, so I’m teaching classes even though I haven’t practiced in
eight years, the students keep catching me making embarrassing mis-
takes, and of course fundraising, we’ve gotten some good publicity but
we still spend half the time not knowing where our next shilling is com-
ing from, and then the government wants to
us –” She stops. Tom and
Judy are laughing again. “What?”
“It’s just all so familiar,” Judy manages. “You sound just like we did
when we were starting the business.”
“Bollocks,” Tom says cheerfully. “She sounds like we did just last
week. It’s good to be busy, isn’t it?”
Veronica blinks, a little surprised, she hasn’t really had time to think
about it. “I suppose it is. But listen, drop your bags off, take a shower, it’s
a solar heater so the water’s really only warm in the day, we’ll go down
to the river and have a beer, then after lunch we’ll take you into Jinja, it’s
a lovely little town, much nicer than Kampala.”
“That sounds like a cunning plan.” Tom picks up their bags.
“To the honeymoon suite, husband!” Judy orders.
“Bloody hell,” he mutters with mock frustration. “I knew I shouldn’t
have married you.”
“Too late now, innit? Get those bags inside, husband. Chop chop!”
They disappear chuckling into the shipping container.
Veronica walks over to the ablution block. “Is the shower working
again?” she calls out.
Rukungu appears in the door. “Yes.”
Both his voice and his face are devoid of all expression. Veronica
pauses. She doesn’t know what to do about Rukungu. Since Lydia’s
death he has seemed more automaton than man. She feels guilty for
making him work, the more so since he works like a horse without com-
plaint. But it’s probably best for him to keep busy. “Maybe you could
start digging out the garden, then?”

She expects an dull yes, but Rukungu hesitates, looks thoughtful.
“What is it?” she asks hopefully. This is more life than he’s shown in
“The place you chose for the garden,” he says eventually. “It is not a
good place. The soil is bad. The sun is wrong.”
“Well – yes, maybe so. I’m not a farmer. Where do you think?”
He glances to the southeast corner of their property.
“Wherever you think is best,” she says. “Were you a farmer?”
“When I was young,” Rukungu says quietly.
He walks away to the southeast. Veronica watches as he kneels and
begins to dig with his hands, crumble the dirt between his fingers, in-
spect the soil. She still knows very little about Rukungu’s past; she hasn’t
wanted to ask, and he hasn’t wanted to tell. Maybe one day.
She enters the ablution block to wash her hands, and catches sight of
herself in the mirror above the sink. She sees lines on her face around the
corners of her mouth, the beginnings of wrinkles. Well, at least they’re
smile lines. There are far worse fates. She of all people ought to know.
Veronica walks outside and sees a familiar figure appear on one of the
several bushtrails that lead onto their property. He holds a bulging jute
sack. She jogs up to him and kisses him.
“You’re back already,” Lovemore says, smiling. He reaches down,
picks her up, continues with Veronica in his arms.
“Did they have everything?” she asks.
He nods to the sack dangling beneath her. “Pineapples,
, and Mrs.
Katumba’s hot sauce. I don’t know why you want to serve this to our
guests, we can get chicken or beef in Jinja –”
“Oh, they’ll get a kick out of it,” she reassures him. “Trust me.”
As Lovemore carries back towards their home, Veronica looks around
at their land, at their school, tries to imagine it through Tom and Judy’s
eyes, as if she is seeing it for the first time. She is not disappointed.
“I like this,” she says thoughtfully. “This is a good place. I like it here. I
like who I am here. Do you know what I mean?”
He nods.
“Good. Then let’s stay forever.”
Lovemore raises his eyebrows. “Forever is a long time.”
Veronica smiles. “We’ll see,” she says. “We’ll just see.”

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