Me Tanner, You Jane

Page 10

There was no answer.

“Evan, perhaps they are at their prayers.”


I started forward. Plum ’s hand stopped me. “It would not do to interrupt them, Evan.”

“Well, I’ll just see what-”

“Perhaps we should wait until morning.”

“What’s the matter with you?”

Her face was drawn, her lip trembling. “I don’t know. I don’t think we should go in there.”

“Why not?”

“I told you I don’t know.”

“That’s ridiculous,” I said. I called out again in Flemish. I uncurled Plum ’s fingers and took my hand back. I trotted on to the doorway of the nearest and smallest building, calling things out as I went.

There was a buzzing sound, the droning of flies. The door was ajar. I gave it a gentle shove and it swung open. The buzzing got louder. I looked down and saw the flies swarming around the girl’s leg.

The rest of the girl was a few yards away on the right. And past her, scattered here and there around the room, were the others.

Chapter 7

Plum screamed for about three quarters of an hour, pausing intermittently to vomit. She would throw back her head and shriek and wail, eyes rolling, nails digging into palms, tears streaming down face, and then the screams would break abruptly off and she would toss her head forward like a robin bobbin’ along, and then she would throw up. Followed by more screaming.

I couldn’t blame her. I spent a while trying to calm her down, and when that proved impossible I made her as comfortable as she was likely to get while I took a look around the place and surveyed the damage, which was total. When I took a head count, and I wish I did not mean that as literally as I do, I came up with a tally of thirty-four dead, twenty-five women and nine men.

They were not merely dead. Death in itself is chilling to look upon, however inoffensive and antiseptic the form it takes. But these men and women had been torn apart. It was not always possible to tell what belonged to whom.

I had seen this sort of thing before. In war movies soldiers die neatly of invisible wounds, but when I was in Korea death was apt to be messy. I can still remember the sight of a group of fellows who had been playing cards when a shell landed among the four of them. The task of sorting and compiling their bodies for shipment home was largely arbitrary. Like the Belgian priests and nuns and nurses, they had been made a hash of.

Yet this was different. A shell, a bomb, an explosive charge – these are essentially impersonal affairs, and if they make death a messy business they do so with no special malice.

Sheena had acted with malice. The carnage in the three buildings was the work not of a single explosive charge but of uncountable blows with knife and ax and machete, so that each aspect of the outrage had a very personal stamp upon it. All of the bodies had been decapitated, and most arms and legs had been hacked off as well. The women had been separated from their breasts. In similar fashion, the men had been emasculated, but in their case the organs of which they had been deprived were nowhere to be found. Sheena seemed to have taken them along, for reasons I did not care to consider.

I didn’t get sick. I felt the way I do when I drink too much strong coffee, all tightly strung and jittery. I paced from one building to another, stopping to comfort Plum, then moving on again, and I looked at flesh and blood over and over again until it lost its impact. Then I found Plum and took hold of her. She was still hysterical. I held her chin in one hand and slapped her face with the other. She clutched me and gasped and stopped the sobbing and caught hold of herself.

“Come on,” I said. “Let’s go.”


“Let’s just get the hell out of here, that’s all. Back the way we came, I suppose.”


“At least we know the route. We’ll try not to fall in the lion pit or get eaten by the flies. I don’t know how long it’ll take, but the sooner we get going, the sooner we’ll be there.”

“Where? Griggstown?”

“For a starter.”

“But we will be arrested there.”

“Not if we don’t announce ourselves. We’ll get out of the country, don’t worry. You can go to London or come to America or whatever you want.”

“But what about your friends, Evan?”

“My friends?”

“Sam Bowman and Knanda Ndoro.”

I started to tell her that they weren’t my friends, then gave it up as irrelevant. “They’re dead,” I said.

“You have found their bodies?”

I shook my head. “But I don’t give them much chance. The stories they tell about this Sheena are pure understatement. You saw what her gang did here.” She began to go green again, so I hurried on. “If Bowman and the Retriever met up with the White Goddess you could bury what’s left of them in a matchbox.” The image did little for Plum ’s complexion. “And if they didn’t run up against Sheena, then we’ve got even less chance of finding them. It would be a case of not knowing which haystack to look in for the needle. I would say that either they’re out of the country, in which case we can forget about finding them, or Sheena got them, in which case they’ve joined their ancestors. But in either case-”

“We should leave this place.”

“You’re on the right track now.”

She nodded. I thought she was nodding in agreement, and then I saw that her eyes had gone glassy, and she nodded again and started to pitch forward on her face. I caught her. She swayed dizzily and sagged against me. I held onto her.

She said, “I’m all right now.”


“Evan, I cannot go anywhere now. And we do not dare to travel by night. We are not that fine at getting around in jungles to begin with, is it not so? And by night it would be much worse.” She took a breath. “We shall begin our journey in the morning.”

“I think we should go now.”

She raised her eyes beseechingly. “I do not think I could do this, Evan. I am so tired.”

“But if they-”

“I must sleep, Evan.” She blinked rapidly. “We both must sleep. I am sure that you too are exhausted, although it is possible you do not realize it.”

“Oh, I realize it.”

“For you are under strain and may be living on your nerves, Evan, but I know that you need a night’s sleep. You have slept so little since we left Griggstown. Whenever I look at you you are wide awake. I do not think that I have ever seen you sleeping.”

“Oh, I hibernate.”

“What is that?”

“What bears do.”

“Bears? Oh, yes, I know them. They live in Jellystone Park and are friends with squirrels and rangers. I have seen them in the cinema with Mickey the Mouse. They, too, can speak, can they not?”


“But I do not understand what it is to hibernate.”

I explained what it was to hibernate, and that I was joking. I told Plum that I could get by without very much sleep, and we left it at that. My exact condition isn’t precisely a state secret, but it’s something I don’t bring up if I can avoid it. The revelation of my insomnia always leads into a predictable pattern of questions and answers, one I’ve had rather enough of over the years. It is simpler to avoid all that.

Still, Plum insisted, I must need some sleep now. We could not possibly travel all night, nor would it be safe. I didn’t really want to agree with this but I couldn’t avoid it. She was obviously shot, and while I might have been willing to try plodding through the jungle at night on my own, I couldn’t manage it with Plum slung over my shoulder.

But I didn’t like the alternative a hell of a lot. The idea of spending the night in the midst of all that carnage was profoundly unappealing, and the idea of spending any unnecessary time in Sheena’s neighborhood was positively chilling.

The smallest of the three buildings, a combination of chapel and office, was less gory than the other two. I parked Plum outside and did what I could to clear the building of the evidence of the massacre. Yoga has certain techniques for cultivating detachment during the performance of unpleasant tasks. I tried them, and while I couldn’t entirely blind myself to what I was doing, I did manage to get through it.

I found a straw tick and some bed linen from one of the other buildings and fixed up a bed for Plum. I fetched her. She had swung all the way from hysterical to numb, and I had to pick her up and carry her to the chapel and tuck her into her bed. She lay down, then propped herself up on one elbow and scanned the room.

“All gone,” she said.

“What is?”

“The dead bodies. Gone. Good.”

She flopped down and closed her eyes. I sat beside her for a few minutes. Then I got to my feet and walked quietly out of there.

It was growing dark now, the sky darkening rather abruptly as is its wont in that region. I went to the garden to pull some vegetables but stopped myself when I realized that I wasn’t really hungry. We hadn’t eaten anything substantial in quite a while, but somehow the thought of food was in and of itself enough to appease the desire for food. I examined the turnipish root I had pulled and decided that nothing could induce me to eat it. I dropped it and went into the middle building.

I guess it must have been the infirmary. It was hard to say for certain; all three buildings had evidently played mutiple roles, and everything was presently a complete mess. I tried to ignore the corpses and began searching the place without any conscious objective in mind. I was looking for something but it didn’t much matter what it was. The Holy Grail, the Golden Fleece, the Fountain of Youth – any of these would have done.

What I found was a combination of the three. It was a half-gallon jug of pure grain alcohol, medicinal grade, distilled in Johannesburg and certified fit for human consumption. Grain alcohol. Around two hundred proof. Bottled and capped and labeled and, in the midst of the most extraordinary display of destructive power since Nagasaki, remarkably not to say miraculously unbroken.

And I held it in my hand and looked at it, and all at once I knew what it was I had been looking for, and that this was it. The Elixir of Life. The Universal Solvent. The Final Solution.

I found a gallon of bottled spring water and a plastic coffee cup, and I took the two jugs and the cup and went back to where Plum was sleeping. She was tossing restlessly, and I put a hand on her forehead and gentled her into a more restful sleep. Then I filled the coffee cup halfway with alcohol, topped it off with spring water, and drank the result.

It tasted like vodka, which was only right, since that is what it really was. Hundred proof vodka. It burned. It had a hell of a kick to it.

I liked it.

I emptied the cup and filled it up again, this time with a touch less alcohol and a touch more water. I worked on the drink and let my mind unwind and work the knots out of itself. Just what the missionary ordered, I decided, sipping appreciatively.

I closed my eyes. The missionaries, priests and nuns alike, were now either in Heaven or not, depending upon the validity of their basic assumptions, which they were now unfortunately in a position to confirm or deny. Bowman, my more or less fellow agent, was probably dead. So was Knanda Ndoro, the Retriever of Modonoland.

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