“Well, it sounds as though you did everything you could,” said Claire.
“But I felt so helpless.”
“Yes, I’m sure you did.” The other woman’s voice was already impatient. There was dinner scheduled in little more than an hour, with a person from tourism, an assistant minister or whatever who would have an entourage. More names to remember. More charm to distribute in small packets, so she didn’t appear to be trying too hard. Claire said, “If you want to impress his lairdship, you had better shower. I have phone calls to make.”
Ellen thought the dinner was dreadful. Daniel Moye, the tourism deputy, had written novels ridiculing a previous government’s leader. He was stout and white-haired, with tribal scars on his brow. He wore a fine gray suit and a Guards tie. “I had expected to be offered a substantial position in our Cultural Office,” he said. “Tourists don’t come here to read my literary work. They come to visit mountain apes and perhaps see policemen shoot poachers. That’s considered a perfect outing. Tell me the truth: if we gave rifles to tourists, would they shoot the poachers for us? A Russian man offered my son money last dry season if something could be arranged. What do you think, Miss Henry? Mostly the men come from across the border. They’re so poor they will risk everything to obtain a young gorilla, even massacring all the adults in a tribe.”
“Did your son accept the money?” asked Ellen, barely audible.
“He certainly wouldn’t tell his father,” said Mr. Moye. “Would you care for more matoke?”
“No thank you.”
“I’ve never tasted really good matoke,” Mr. Moye said. “Sixty-nine years of feasting on matoke, and I’ve never thought it was done correctly. I was much less critical as an infant, of course. Matoke was matoke. Now I wonder if it’s not one of those things that’s simply hopeless.” Mr. Moye got a mischievous light in his eyes. He said, “Madame, have you ever tried long pig?”
Ellen shook her head, wondering if she had heard the term before. “No, I haven’t.”
“It’s an acquired taste, I’m told. Perhaps a couple of the kitchen help could tell us. In the ancien regime, it was a highlight of state occasions. Again, I’m told this. I was never invited.”
“Do you regret not being invited?” said Claire.
“Perhaps a man should try everything once.” Mr. Moye set down his fork. “If only to recognize the flavor.”
Emboldened by a sip of wine, Claire said, “Ellen saw a man stabbed this morning.”
“Sometimes the people drink too much beer, fight over women,” said Mr. Moye. One of the men in his entourage, who had been grinning through dinner, watched Ellen carefully.
“It was from the train, two men in a car junkyard,” Claire explained. “One of them stabbed the other. That’s it, dear, isn’t it?”
Ellen nodded silently. The memory made her ill.
“One of them was undoubtedly a guard,” said Mr. Moye. “People from the villages come to steal. The government has to protect its property. The question, of course, is whether the guard or the thief was stabbed. That is the key, isn’t it?” He was asking Ellen.
“I don’t know,” she managed to say.
“Certainly it is. It tells us whether justice was done. I will make inquiries. I know the place you speak of. You visited Albert Park this morning, yes?”
“The director invited her.”
“I’m sorry I wasn’t informed. Some of my people could have taken you by car, which is also an interesting trip. With a bit of building out, the facilities at the park could be comfortable for European visitors. I’m certain of it. Did you find any problems?”
“No. The director said he might be able to bring in lions.”
“That would be excellent,” said Mr. Moye.
“He was making fun of you,” Claire said, in the midst of packing, “talking about long pig, about knowing the taste. He was seeing if you think that way. You didn’t make a very good impression.”
“I didn’t know that’s what he was talking about.”
“Where have you been? You’ve probably earned yourself a place in his next novel, the Eurocentric virgin who believes the intellectual eats people. He’s a great satirist, and I must say you’re ideal material.”
Feeling brave, Ellen said, “It’s good that I’m ideal in some respect. Do you think they’ll bring lions into Albert Park, if visitors will come?”
“They might,” said Claire. “But the other thing might bring more people, if Mr. Moye can arrange it.”
The girl’s stare was empty. “Other thing?”
“Letting visitors shoot poachers,” Claire said. She watched her friend from the corner of her eye.
“You’re joking,” Ellen insisted.
“Yes, I’m joking,” said Claire.
They had an evening flight. The train took them past Albert Park. Ellen waited a long time for the car graveyard and in the dusk she saw it, acres of crushed metal, the silt of an entire continent for all she knew, protected by a single man with a knife.
COPYRIGHT (c) 2018 (REGISTERED) JOHN C. BOLAND. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.