"There was nothing I could do."
"Except save your own…skin."
Khamisi heard the unspoken word purposefully left out.
Save your biack skin.
Gerald Kellogg had not been thrilled to hire Khamisi. The warden's family had ties to the old Afrikaner government, and he had risen through the ranks because of his connections and ties. He still belonged to the Oldavi country club, exclusively white, where even after the fall of apartheid much economic power was still brokered. Though new laws had been passed, barriers broken in government, unions formed, business was still business in South Africa. The De Beerses still owned their diamond mines. The Waalenbergs still owned most everything else.
Change would be slow.
Khamisi's position was a small step, one he meant to keep open for the next generation. So he kept his voice calm. "I'm sure once investigators canvass the site, they'll support my course of action."
"Will they, now, Mr. Taylor? I sent a dozen men out there, an hour after the search-and-rescue helicopter found you after midnight wallowing in the muddy water. They reported in fifteen minutes ago. They found the rhino carcass, almost stripped by jackals and hyenas. No sign of the calf that you reported. And more importantly, no sign of Dr. Fairfield."
Khamisi shook his head, searching for a way past these accusations. He flashed back to his long vigil in the water hole. The day seemed never ending, but the night had been worse. With the loss of the sun, Khamisi had waited to be attacked. Instead, he had heard the yip-yip-yip of hyenas and the bark of jackals descend into the valley, accompanied by the furious growls and cries of scuffling scavengers.
The presence of the scavengers had made Khamisi almost believe it was safe to attempt a run for the Jeep. If the usual jackals and hyenas had returned, then perhaps the ukufa had left.
Still, he hadn't moved.
Fresh in his mind had been the ambush that had waylaid Dr. Fairfield.
"Surely there were other tracks," he said.
Khamisi brightened. If he had proof…
"They were lion tracks," Warden Kellogg said. "Two adult females. Just like I said earlier."
"Yes. I believe we have a few pictures of these strange creatures around here somewhere. Maybe you'd better study them so you can identify them in the future. What with all the free time you'll have."
"You're suspended, Mr. Taylor."
Khamisi could not keep the shock from his face. He knew if it had been any other warden…any other white warden…that there would be more leniency, more trust. But not when he was wearing a tribesman's skin. He knew better than to argue. It would only make matters worse.
"Without pay, Mr. Taylor. Until a full inquiry is completed."
A full inquiry. Khamisi knew how that would end.
"And I've been told by the local constabulary to inform you that you are not to leave the immediate area. There is also the matter of criminal negligence to rule out."
Khamisi closed his eyes.
Despite the rising sun, the nightmare refused to end.
Ten minutes later, Gerald Kellogg still sat at his desk, his office now empty. He ran a sweating palm over the top of his head, like shining an apple. The sour set to his lips refused to relax. The night had been interminable, so many fires to put out. And there were still a thousand details to attend to: dealing with the media, attending to the biologist's family, including Dr. Fairfield's partner.
Kellogg shook his head at this last problem. Dr. Paula Kane would prove the biggest thorn in the coming day. He knew the term "partnership" between the two older women went beyond research. It was Dr. Paula Kane who had pressed for the search-and-rescue helicopter last night after Dr. Fairfield hadn't returned home from the day trip into the bush.
Woken in the middle of the night, Gerald had urged caution. It was not uncommon for researchers to bivouac overnight. What got him out of bed was when he learned where Dr. Fairfield had been headed with one of his wardens. To the park's northwestern border. Not far from the Waalenbergs' private estate and preserve.
A search near there required his immediate supervision.
It had been a hectic night, necessitating fast footwork and coordination, but everything was almost over, the genie returned to its proverbial bottle.
Except for one last item to attend to.
There was no reason to put it off any longer.
He picked up the phone and dialed the private number. He waited for the line to pick up, tapping a pen on a notepad.
"Report," came a terse response as the connection was made.
"I just finished my interview with him."
"He saw nothing…nothing clearly."
"What does that mean?"
"Claims to have caught glimpses. Nothing he could identify."
A long stretch of silence followed.
Gerald grew nervous. "His report will be edited. Lions. That will be the conclusion. We'll shoot a few for good measure and end the matter in another day or so. The man, meanwhile, has been suspended."
"Very good. You know what you must do."
Kellogg argued against it. "He's been suspended. He won't dare rock the boat. I've scared him good. I don't think—"
"Exactly. Don't think. You have your orders. Make it look like an accident."
The line clicked off.
Kellogg settled the phone receiver in its cradle. The room stifled despite the chug of the air-conditioning and the slowly turning fan. Nothing could truly withstand the blistering savanna heat as the day warmed up.
But it wasn't the temperature that rolled a bead of sweat down his forehead.
You have your orders.
And he knew well enough not to disobey.
He glanced down to the notepad on his desk. He had absently doodled as he spoke on the phone, a reflection of how uneasy the man on the other end of the line made him feel.
Gerald hurriedly scribbled over it, tore the sheet off, and ripped the page into tiny strips. No evidence. Ever. That was the rule. And he had his orders.
Make it look like an accident.
37,000 FEET ABOVE GERMANY
"We'll be landing in another hour," Monk said. "Maybe you should try taking another nap."
Gray stretched. The low hum of the Challenger 600 jet had lulled him, but his mind still ticked through the past day's events, trying to piece the puzzle together. He had the Darwin Bible open in front of him.
"How's Fiona?" he asked.
Monk nodded back to the sofa near the rear of the plane. Fiona was sprawled out under a blanket. "Crashed finally. Knocked her down with some pain meds. Kid doesn't shut up."