Chapter 17 of Silent Vector

Chapter 17, in which the discovery two bodies means a flight to Cairo

CHAPTER 17

SOME EXPLAINING TO DO

Ulrich Hartmann knew he was in trouble the moment he was not-so-subtly threatened by the King’s African Rifles captain on the road from Mombasa to Voi. Taking the captain’s malevolent advice and returning to Mombasa meant that he would likely return from Kenya empty handed, a prospect he has been trying desperately to avoid.

Once back in Mombasa, he spent nearly 24 hours straight attempting to make some sort of contact with his countrymen. He tried, without any success, to raise them on the supremely unreliable telephone system; he sent half a dozen cables to their various known haunts in Voi; he made a number of discreet inquiries in the city’s European quarter; and he wasted 100 American dollars on a local courier who, after agreeing to deliver Hartmann’s urgent message to Voi at the first opportunity, tossed Hartmann’s sealed envelope in the nearest waste bin and treated himself and six friends to an extravagant evening out all courtesy of Ulrich Hartmann’s expense account.

He plans to spend one more day of searching, calling, and bribing, hoping to catch some tidbit of positive news that he can take back to Moscow with him. One more day alone in Mombasa.

At precisely 7 a.m., he heads out of his room on the second story of the Castle Royal Hotel, down the hotel’s elegant staircase, and into the lobby. He exchanges a half-shilling for a copy of The Daily Nation at the reception desk and walks to the main dining room on the same floor. The dining room is already busy serving breakfast to the hotel’s guests. Hartmann seats himself, and a waiter immediately brings a cup of hot tea. Hartmann waves him off.

“Coffee,” he officiously instructs.

“Of course,” the waiter responds and backs away.

Hartmann unfolds his paper, and what he reads nearly causes him to drop in a dead faint. His coffee comes and the waiter asks if Hartmann would like to order breakfast. Hartmann is so engrossed in the story about the two mutilated foreigners found outside of Voi that he doesn’t hear the question. The waiter discreetly retreats.

Hartmann reads the article a second and a third time. Moments ago he felt ready to take on the day. Now he is already exhausted and in a state of near panic. He takes a moment to gather himself. He wipes the sweat from his brow with his handkerchief, tosses a few shillings from his jacket pocket on the table, folds the paper, tucks it under his arm, slowly stands up, and nearly sprints out of the dining room. He makes a beeline for the concierge in the hotel’s lobby.

The concierge looks up in alarm at the profusely sweating Hartmann.

“How may I be of assistance, sir?”

“I need a ticket on the first flight to Cairo.”