margrave, wilkinson and mercer resigned themselves to searching the area where hawkins had been murdered.
they began walking back the half mile to the jeep that they had left at the beginning of the road where the murder had taken place. ashley had insisted on their leaving it there and walking to the spot, so as not to drive over any possible tracks or evidence.
"look here," margrave announced, "there is no need for us all to come back here. mercer can round up a couple of boys and i will come back with them to do your bloody search."
he turned to ashley, who was keeping up rather a brisker pace than the others cared for, eager though they might be to return to the hotel bar . "i suppose you wish to be present for the search?"
"why of course."
"er - i am acting chief of police, you know," wilkinson put in, but he, margrave and mercer know it was only for show.
"happy to do it, old chap," margrave answered. "after all, i am deputy commissioner."
"deputy commissioner", as they all, including ashley, knew, was a largely meaningless title. the "commissioner" was a remote figure in nairobi. or was it cairo?
basically they all just muddled along. they knew what they had to do - the ones of them that had anything to do - and they did it as best they could, when they were sober enough.
"thank you, " wilkinson told margrave. they were approaching the jeep.
"of course," margrave addressed ashley, " you agreed we are going to have a bit of refreshment before we come out here again."
"why of course," ashley replied graciously. he had won his little victory. "we can have luncheon if you like."
they reached the jeep. margrave got behind the wheel and they headed back to the hotel, with the sun blazing overhead in the blue sky.
wilkinson, who managed the hotel and lived in it, had gone up to his room for his afternoon nap.
mercer had gone back to the plantation . three natives that he had assigned to aslhley's search had come up the road and were waiting for margrave and ashley outside the hotel, beside margrave's jeep.
inside in the bar, margrave was attempting to try ashley's patience by lingering over "one more drink."
when he finally finished it, he announced, "the sun is pretty high, i guess we can have one more."
"you can have one more, if you like," ashley answered. "you are right, we have time - if you have nothing else on your plate."
"hmm. so, how long do you think it will take, once we are out there, i mean?"
"oh, probably no more than an hour. maybe less."
"ah, that's no so bad then." the liquor, which usually made margrave more belligerent, seemed, along with ashley's estimation of the time, to mellow him a bit. "sure you won't have another?"
"no thank you." ashley looked out the window. "i see the boys are here. i think i will go out and explain to them what we will be doing."
margrave snorted. "bloody waste of time. when we get there you will still have to stand over them to make sure they do what you want."
"perhaps." ashley started to get up. "but i don't see that it can hurt."
"you want to talk to the buggers as little as possible. they try their infernal palaver on you, try to get you to go native. like poor mercer."
"oh?" ashley laughed. "i have to say none of you chaps quite struck me as 'going native'."
"ha ha! yes, the poor devil is quite under the spell of his black woman." margrave took another sip of his drink. "and, by god, they say the black woman is one of the leaders of the rebels."
"you don't say." suddenly ashley's whole demeanor changed. "you don't say. that is very interesting. i'd like to hear some more about this, if you please."
margrave flushed. he had not expected ashley's reaction and some of his natural bellicosity returned. "oh, it's just - i'm sure it's just talk, you know. you know how chaps talk out here, just from boredom, really. probably nothing to it."
"all the same, it's talk i would like to hear." ashley sat back down. "we take this sort of thing very seriously. very seriously indeed." he rapped his forefinger on the table. "i would like to hear the details of this so-called talk."
"i'm sure it's nothing, really."
"i'll be the judge of that."
the first thing mercer did after getting back to the plantation was assign three of the workers to the detail of helping ashley in his quest of the bullet.
his first thought was to assign the three laziest and incompetent ones he could find.
no, he thought, that might look suspicious.
he compromised. he found tam, his young second boss, and ordered him to take paul and jojo, the two laziest scoundrels on the plantation, and report to margrave and ashley at the hotel.
"it's hot walking, boss. can we take the truck?"
again mercer hesitated. if he made them walk it would give him time, but would it not arouse ashley's suspicions? at best, it would not look very cooperative.
"get martin to drive you over," he told tam.
"will he come back and pick us up?"
"maybe. probably." mercer wondered if tam could sense his nervousness. of course he showed no signs of noticing anything.
he dismissed tam with a nod and watched him head off in search of paul and jojo.
he walked into the shade where his house was, and entered.
jeanette was sitting beside the window sipping tea.
she took one look at him. "what is the matter now?"
"i think the jig may be up. we - i - may have to make a run for it."
jeanette did not seem perturbed. "really? why don't you tell me about it?"
sabine stopped typing. it was late at night. there was a bit of fog outside.
the room seemed quiet without the click-clack of the old typewriter.
it was almost time for helga to arrive. sabine wanted to make sure she got in her request to go for a walk as soon as the sun came up.
sabine had no compunction about using her cozy relationship with helga to her own advantage in small things. surprisingly, none of the other princesses seemed to mind, though some of the guards thought it was amusing.
there was a knock on the door. sabine recognized it as mara's knock, not helga's.
she got up and opened the door. it was indeed mara.
"hello there." mara stared directly into sabine's eyes, the way she always did. "helga couldn't make it."
"so i see."
"mind if i come in?"
"please." like most of the other girls, sabine found the politeness of the guards amusing. "will helga be around later?"
mara came in and sat on sabine's bed. "maybe. why, don't you like my company?"
sabine kept a straight face. "no, i just wanted to ask her something."
"helga's been pretty busy. and if you don't mind my saying so, because i know you and her are such good buds, she's been kind of bitchy lately."
sabine just nodded.
"i think - just think, mind you," mara continued, "because i don't really know anything, that something is going down."