SUNBIRDDr. Ben Kazin is a brilliant archaeologist. Louren Sturvesant is rich, impulsive, and physically imposing, everything Ben is not. Now, the two men--friends, competitors and partners--are searching for the legendary lost city of Opet, built by an Egyptian culture that reached Africa two thousand years ago, then vanished completely.For Ben, the expedition is a chance to prove a controversial thesis. For Louren, it is a chance to spend millions--and make it all back in gold and glory. But what awaits them is an astounding discovery, a seige of terror, and an act of betrayal that will tear the two men apart and bind them together forever...Hidden beneath water, jungle, and blood-red cliffs is a lost world where two men and a beautiful woman were caught in a furious battle of passions two thousands years ago, but which has begun once again.... WILD JUSTICENo one equals acclaimed New York Times bestselling master, Wilbur Smith, when it comes to international intrigue and heart-pumping adventure. Now he pits a ruthless soldier and a beautiful woman of mystery against an evil genius with the power to hold the world hostage...For One Man, The Message is FearIt begins as a routine trip to South Africa. It ends in a nightmare for 400 passengers taken hostage. The hijacker is a beautiful pawn for an elusive figure-codename Caliph, whose campaign of terror has just begun. And the one man who rescued Flight 070 is the only man who can stop Caliph dead in his tracks.For One Freedom Fighter, The Mission is FearlessHis name is Major Peter Stride, commanding agent of a crack team of anti-terrorist operatives. He's used to doing battle-and winning. But when his help is sought by the mysterious widow of one of Caliph's victims, and his own daughter is kidnapped, Stride plunges into a darker and more personal war than ever before. A war that will take him across the oceans and continents, closer to a shocking betrayal...and closer still to a madman who has the power to destroy the world and who knows Stride's every move- down to what could be his last one....
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St. Martin's Griffin
September 04, 2006
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Excerpt from Sunbird/ Wild Justice by Wilbur Smith
It cut across the darkened projection room and exploded silently against the screen - and I did not recognize it. I had waited fifteen years for it, and when it came I did not recognize it. The image was swirled and vague, and it made no sense to me for I had expected a photograph of some small object; a skull perhaps, or pottery, or an artefact, a piece of gold work, beads - certainly not this surrealistic pattern of grey and white and black.
Louren's voice, tight with excitement, gave me the clue I needed. 'Taken at thirty-six thou. at six forty-seven on the fourth of Sept,' that was eight days ago, 'exposed in a 35 mm. Leica.'
An aerial photograph then. My eyes and brain adjusted, and almost instantly I felt the first tickle of my own excitement begin as Louren went on in the same crisp tone.
'I've got a charter company running an aerial survey over all my concession areas. The idea is to pick the strike and run of geographical formations. This photograph is only one of a couple of hundred thousand of the area - the navigator did not even know what he was photographing. However, the people in analysis spotted it, and passed it on to me.'
His face turned towards me, pale and solemn in the glare of the projector.
'You can see it, can't you, Ben? Just off centre. Top right quarter.'
I opened my mouth to reply, but my voice caught in my throat and I had to turn the sound I made into a cough. With surprise I found I was trembling, and my guts seethed with an amalgam of hope and dread.
'It's classic! Acropolis, double enclosure and the "phallic towers".' He was exaggerating, they were faint outlines, indistinct and in places disappearing, but the general shape and configuration were right.
'North,' I blurted. 'Where is north?'
'Top of picture - he's right, Ben. Facing north. Could the towers be sun-orientated?'
I did not speak again. The reaction was coming swiftly now. Nothing in my life had been this easy, therefore this was suspect and I searched for the flaws.
'Stratification,' I said. 'Probably limestone in contact with the country granite. Throwing surface patterns.'
'Oh bull!' Louren cut in, the excitement still bubbling in his voice. He jumped up and strode to the screen, picked up an ebony pointer from the lectern and used it to spot the cell-like stippling around the outline of what he was pleased to presume was the main enclosure. 'You tell me where you've ever seen geographical patterns like that.'
I didn't want to accept it. I didn't want to make myself vulnerable again with hope.
'Perhaps,' I said.
'Damn you.' He laughed now, and the sound was good for he did not often laugh these days. 'I should have known you'd fight it. You are without doubt the most miserable bloody pessimist in Africa.'
'It could be anything, Lo,' I protested. 'A trick of light, of shape and shade. Even conceding that it is man-made - it could be recent gardens or agriculture--'
'A hundred miles from the nearest surface water? Forget it, Ben! You know as well as I do that this is the--'
'Don't say it,' I almost shouted, and was out of the padded leather chair, across the projection room and had hold of his arm before I realized I had moved.
'Don't say it,' I repeated. 'It's - it's bad luck.' I always stutter when I am excited, but it is the least of my physical disabilities and I have long ago ceased worrying about it.
Louren laughed again, but with the trace of uneasiness he shows whenever I move quickly or unleash the strength of my arms. He stooped over me now, and eased my fingers that were sunk into the flesh of his forearm.
'Sorry - did I hurt you?' I released the grip.
'No.' But he massaged his arm as he moved to the control panel and doused the projector, then turned the wall switch and we stood blinking at each other in the light.
'My little Yiddish leprechaun,' he smiled. 'You cannot fool me. You are wetting yourself.'
I looked up at him, ashamed of my outburst now, but still excited.
'Where is it, Lo? Where did you find it?'
'I want you to admit it first. I want you to go out on a limb for once in your life. I want you to say it - before I'll tell you another thing,' he teased.
'All right.' I looked away and picked my words. 'It looks, at first glance, quite interesting.'
And he threw back that great golden head and bellowed with bull laughter.
'You're going to have to do a lot better than that. Let's try again.'
His laughter I cannot resist, and my own followed immediately. I was aware of its birdlike quality against his.
'It looks to me,' I wheezed, 'as though you may have found - it.'
'You beauty!' he shouted. 'You little beauty.'
It was years since I had seen him like this. The solemn banker's mask stripped away, the cares of the Sturvesant financial empire forgotten in this moment of promise and achievement.
'Now tell me,' I pleaded. 'Where did you find it?'
'Come,' he said, serious again, and we went to the long table against the wall. There was a chart spread and pinned on the green baize. It was a high table, and I scrambledquickly onto a chair and leaned across it. Now I was almost on equal terms with Louren who stood beside me. We pored over the chart.
'Aeronautical Series A. Southern Africa. Chart 5. Botswana and Western Rhodesia.'
I searched it quickly, looking for some indication - a cross, or pencil mark perhaps.
'Where?' I said. 'Where?'
'You know that I've got twenty-five thousand square miles of mineral concession down here south of Maun--'
'Come on, Lo. Don't try and sell me shares in Sturvesant Minerals. Where the hell is it?'
'We've put a landing-strip in here that will take the Lear jet. Just finished it.'
'It can't be that far south of the gold series.'
'It isn't,' Louren reassured me. 'Throttle back, you'll rupture something.' He was enjoying himself tormenting me.
His finger moved across the chart, and stopped suddenly - my heart seemed to stop with it. It was looking better and better. The latitude was perfect, all the clues I had so painstakingly gathered over the years pointed to this general area.
'Here,' he said. 'Two hundred and twelve miles southeast of Maun, fifty-six miles from the south-western beacon of the Wankie game reserve, tucked below a curve of low hills, lost in a wilderness of rock and dry land scrub.'
'When can we leave?' I asked.
'Wow!' Louren shook his head. 'You do believe it. You really do!'
'Someone else could stumble on it.'
'It's been lying there for a thousand years - another week won't--'
'Another week!' I cried in anguish.
'Ben, I can't get away before then. I've got the AnnualGeneral Meeting of Anglo-Sturvesant on Friday, and on Saturday I have business in Z?rich - but I'll cut it short, especially for you.'
'Cut it altogether,' I begged. 'Send one of your bright young men.'
'When somebody lends you twenty-five million, it's only polite to go fetch the cheque yourself, not send the office boy.'
'Christ, Lo. It's only money - this is really important.'
For a moment Louren stared at me, the pale blue eyes bemused and reflective.
'Twenty-five million is only money?' He shook his head slowly and then wonderingly as though he had heard a new truth spoken. 'I suppose you are right.' He smiled, gently now, the smile of affection for a well-loved friend. 'Sorry, Ben. Tuesday. We'll fly at dawn, I promise you. We'll recce from the air. Then land at Maun. Peter Larkin - you know him?'
'Yes, very well.' Peter ran a big safari business out of Maun. Twice I'd used him on my Kalahari expeditions.
'Good. I've been on to him already. He will service the expedition. We will go in light and fast - one Land-Rover and a pair of three-ton Unimogs. 1 can only spare five days - and that's a squeeze - but I'll get a charter helicopter to fetch me out, and I'll leave you to scratch around--' As he talked Louren led me out of the projection room into the long gallery.
Sunlight spilled in through the high windows, giving good light to the paintings and sculptures that decorated the gallery. Here works of the leading South African artists mingled easily with those of the great internationals living and dead. Louren Sturvesant, and his ancestors before him, had spent money wisely. Even now in the urgency of the moment, my eyes were tugged aside by the soft fleshy glow of a Renoir nude.
Louren paced easily over the sound-deadening pile of Oriental carpets, and I matched stride for stride. My legs are as long as his and as powerful.
'If you turn up what we are both hoping for, then you can go in full-scale. A permanent camp, airstrip, assistants of your choice, a full crew, and any equipment you call for.'
'Please God, let it happen,' I said softly and at the head of the staircase we paused. Louren and I grinned at each other like conspirators.
'You know what it could cost?' I asked. 'We might be digging for five or six years.'
'I hope so,' he agreed.
'It could run into - a couple of hundred thousand.'
'It's only money, like the man said.' And again that great bull laugh started me off. We went down the staircase roaring and tittering, each in his own way. Elated and hyper-tense, we faced each other in the hall.
'I'll be back at seven-thirty Monday evening. Can you meet me at the airport, Alitalia flight 310 from Zurich? In the meantime you get your end arranged.'
'I'll need a copy of that photograph.'
'I've already had an enlargement delivered by hand to the Institute. You have got a week to gloat over it.' He glanced at the gold Piaget on his wrist. 'Damn. I'm late.'
He turned to the doorway at the moment that Hilary Sturvesant came through it from the patio. She wore a short white tennis dress, and her legs were long and achingly beautiful. A tall girl with gold-brown hair hanging shiny and soft to her shoulders.
'Darling, you aren't going?'
'I'm sorry, Hil. I meant to tell you I wouldn't be staying for lunch, but Ben will need somebody to hold him down.'
'You've shown him?' She turned and came to me, stooped to kiss me on the lips easily and naturally, with not the least sign of revulsion, and then she stepped backand smiled full into my eyes. Every time she does that she makes me her slave for another hundred years.
'What do you think of it, Ben? Is it possible?' But before I could answer Louren had slipped his arm about her waist and they both smiled down at me.
'He's doing his nut. He's frothing at the mouth and doing back flips. He wants to rush into the desert now, this minute.' Then he pulled Hilary to him and kissed her. For a long minute they were oblivious of my presence as they embraced. They are, for me, the epitome of beautiful woman and manhood, both of them tall and strong and well-favoured. Hilary is younger than he is by twelve years, his fourth wife and the mother of only the youngest of his seven children. In her middle twenties she has the maturity and poise of a much older woman.
'Give Ben some lunch, my darling. I'll be home late.' Louren pulled away from the embrace.
'I'll miss you,' Hilary said.
'And I you. I'll see you Monday, Ben. Cable Larkin if you think of anything special we will need. So long, partner.' And he was gone.
Hilary took my hand and led me out on to the wide flagged patio. Five acres of lawn and dazzling flowerbeds sloped gently down to the stream and artificial lake. Both tennis courts were occupied and a shrieking mob of small near-naked bodies thrashed the water of the swimming-pool to a sun-sparkled white. Two uniformed servants were laying out a cold buffet on the long patio trestle-table, and with a small squirming twinge of dread I saw a half-dozen young matrons in tennis dress sprawled in the lounging chairs beside the outside bar. They were flushed with exertion, perspiration dampened the crisp white dresses and they sipped at long dewy, fruit-laden glasses of Pimms No. 1.
'Come,' said Hilary, and led me towards them. I steeledmyself, trying to draw myself up to an extra inch of height as we moved towards the group.
'Girls - we've got a man to keep us company. I want you to meet Dr Benjamin Kazin, Dr Kazin is the Director of the Institute of African Anthropology and Prehistory. Ben; this is Marjory Phelps.'
I turned to each of them as she spoke their names, and I acknowledged the slightly over-effusive greetings, giving each my eyes and voice, they are my good things. It was as difficult for them as it was for me. You do not expect your hostess to spring a hunchback on you with the pre-lunch drinks.
The children rescued me. Bobby spotted me and came at a run, shrieking, 'Uncle Ben! Uncle Ben!' She flung her cold wet arms around my neck and pressed her sopping bathing-costume to my new suit, before dragging me away to become overwhelmed by the rest of the Sturvesant brood and their hordes of young friends. I find it easier with children; they either do not seem to notice or they come straight out with it. 'Why do you walk all bent over like that?'
For once I was not very good value, I was too preoccupied to give them my full attention - and soon they drifted away, all but Bobby - for she is ever loyal. Then Hilary took over from her stepdaughter and I was returned to the league of young mothers where I made a better impression. I cannot resist pretty women, once the first awkwardness wears off. It was three o'clock before I left for the Institute.
Bobby Sturvesant pours Glen Grant malt whisky with the same heavy thirteen-year-old hand she uses to pour Coca-Cola. Consequently I floated into the Institute feeling very good indeed.
The envelope was on my desk marked 'Private and Confidential' with a note pinned to one corner, 'This came for you at lunch-time. Looks exciting! Sal.'
With a quick stab of jealousy I inspected the seal of theenvelope. It was unbroken. Sally hadn't been into it - but I knew it must have taken all her self-control for she has an almost neurotic curiosity. She calls it a fine inquiring scientific mind.
I guessed she would arrive within the next five minutes so I found the packet of Three X peppermints in my top drawer and slipped one into my mouth to smother the whisky fumes before I opened the envelope and drew out the glossy twelve-by-twelve enlargement, switched on the desk light and adjusted it and the magnifying table lens over the print. Then I looked around at the hosts of the past that crowd my office. All four walls are lined with shelves, and from floor to shoulder height - my shoulder height - these are filled with books: the tools of my trade, all bound in brown and green calf-skin, and titled in gold leaf. It is a big room, and there are many thousands of volumes. The shelves above the books carry the plaster busts of all the creatures that preceded man. Head and shoulders only. Australopithecus, Proconsul, Robusta, Rhodesian Man, Peking - all of them up to Neanderthal and finally Cro-Magnon himself - Homo sapiens sapiens in all his glory and infamy. The shelves to the right of my desk are laden with busts of all the typical ethnic types found in Africa, Hamites, Arabs, pygmies, the negroids, Boskops, bushmen, Griqua, Hottentot and all the others. They watched me attentively with their bulging glass eyes as I addressed them.
'Gentlemen,' I said, 'I think we are on to something good.' I only speak aloud to them when I am excited or drunk, and now I was more than a little of each.
'Who are you talking to?' asked Sally from the doorway, making me leap in my seat. It was a rhetorical question, she knew damn well who I was talking to. She lounged against the jamb, her hands thrust deeply into the pockets of her grubby white dust-coat. Dark hair drawn back with a ribbon from the deep bulging forehead, largegreen eyes well spaced beside the pert nose. High cheekbones, wide sensual smiling mouth. A big girl with long well-muscled legs in the tight-fitting blue jeans. Why do I always like them big?
'Good lunch?' she asked, starting the slow sliding approach across the carpet towards my desk that would put her in position to check what was going on. She can read documents upside-down, as I have proved to my cost.
'Great,' I answered, deliberately covering the photograph with the envelope. 'Cold turkey, lobster salad, smoked trout, and a very good duck and truffles in aspic.'
'You bastard,' she whispered softly. She loves good food, and she had noticed my play with the envelope. I don't allow her to talk to me like that, but then I can't stop her either.
Five feet from me she sniffed, 'And peppermint-flavoured malt whisky! Yummy!'
I blushed, I can't help it. It's like my stutter - and she burst out laughing and came to perch on the edge of my desk.
'Come on, Ben.' She eyed the envelope frankly. 'I've been bursting since it arrived. I would have steamed it open - but the electric kettle is broken.'
Dr Sally Benator has been my assistant for two years, which is coincidentally the exact period of time that I have been in love with her.
I moved aside, making room for her behind the desk and uncovered the photograph. 'All right,' I agreed, 'let's see what you make of it.'
She squeezed in beside me, her upper arm touching my shoulder - a contact that shivered electrically through my whole body. In two years she had become like the children, she didn't seem to notice the hump. She was easy and natural, and I had a time-table worked out - in another two years our relationship would have ripened. I had to go slowly, very slowly, so as not to alarm her, but in that timeI would have accustomed her to the thought of me as a lover and husband. If the last two years had been long--I hated to think about the next two.
She leaned over the desk peering into the magnifying lens, and she was still and silent for a long time. Reflected light was thrown up into her face, and when she at last looked up her expression was rapt, the green eyes sparkled.
'Ben,' she said. 'Oh Ben - I'm so glad for you!' Somehow her easy acceptance and presumption annoyed me.
'You are jumping the gun,' I snapped. 'There could be a dozen natural explanations.'
'No.' She shook her head, smiling still. 'Don't try and knock it. It's true, Ben, at last. You've worked so long and believed so long, don't be afraid now. Accept it.'
She slipped out from behind the desk and crossed quickly to the shelf of books under the label 'K'. There are twelve volumes there that bear the author's name 'Benjamin Kazin'. She selected one, and opened it at the fly-leaf.
'Ophir,' she read, 'by Dr Benjamin Kazin. A personal investigation of the prehistoric gold-working civilization of Central Africa, with special reference to the city of Zimbabwe and to the legend of the ancients and the lost city of the Kalahari.'
She came to me smiling. 'Have you read it?' she asked. 'It's quite entertaining.'
'There's a chance, Sal. I agree. Just a chance, but--'
'Where does it lie?' she cut in. 'In the mineralized series, as you predicted?'
I nodded. 'Yes, it's in the gold belt. But it could, it just could, produce so much more than Langebeli and Ruwane.'
She grinned triumphantly, and bent over the lens again. With her finger she touched the indian ink arrow in the corner of the photo that gave the northerly bearing.
'The whole city--'
'If it is a city,' I cut in.
'The whole city,' she repeated with emphasis, 'faces north. Into the sun. With the acropolis behind it - sun andmoon, the two gods. The phallic towers--there are four, five - six. Perhaps seven of them.'
'Sal, those aren't towers, they are just dark patches on a photograph taken from 36,000 feet.'
'Thirty-six thousand!' Sal's head jerked up. 'Then it's huge! You could fit Zimbabwe into the main enclosure half a dozen times.'
'Easy, girl. For God's sake.'
'And the lower city outside the walls. It stretches for miles. It's enormous, Ben - but I wonder why it's crescent-shaped like that?' She straightened up, and for the first time - the very first wonderful time - she spontaneously threw her arms around my neck and hugged me. 'Oh, I'm so excited, I could die. When do we leave?'
I didn't answer, I hardly heard the question, I just stood there and revelled in the feel of her big warm breasts pressing against me.
'When?' she asked again, pulling back to look into my face.
'What?' I asked. 'What did you say?' I was both blushing and stuttering - and she laughed.
'When do we leave, Ben? When are we going to find your lost city?'
'Well,' I considered how to phrase it delicately, 'Louren Sturvesant and I will go in first. We leave on Tuesday. Louren didn't mention an assistant - so I don't think you will be coming along on the recce.'
Sally stepped back and placing her clenched fists on her hips, she looked at me unkindly and asked with deceptive gentleness: 'Do you want to bet on that?'
I like reasonable odds when I do bet, so I told Sally to pack. A week was too long for the job, for she is a professional and travels light. Her personal effects filled a single small valise and a shoulder-strapped carry-all. Her sketch-books, and paints, were more bulky, but we pooled our books to avoid duplication. My photographic equipmentwas another big item, and then the sample bags and boxes together with my one canvas case made a formidable pile in the corner of my office. We were ready in twenty-four hours, and for the next six days we killed time by arguing, agonizing, squabbling and poring over the photograph which was starting to lose a little of its gloss. When our tensions built up to explosion point, then Sally would lock herself in her own office and try to work on the translation of the rock-engraving from Drie Koppen or the painted symbols from the Witte Berg. Rock-paintings, engravings and the translation of the ancient writings are her speciality.
I would wander fretfully around the public rooms, trying to find dust on the exhibits, dreaming up some novel way of displaying the treasures that filled our warehouse and upstairs store-rooms, counting the names in the visitors' book, playing guide to parties of schoolchildren - doing anything but work. Finally I would go upstairs to tap on Sally's door. Sometimes it was, 'Come in, Ben.' And then again it might be, 'I'm busy. What do you want?' Then I would drift through to spend an hour in the African languages section with my dour giant, Timothy Mageba.
Timothy started at the Institute as a sweeper and cleaner; that was twelve years ago. It took me six months to discover that apart from his own southern Sotho he spoke sixteen other dialects. I taught him to speak English fluently in eighteen months, to write it in two years. He matriculated two years later, graduated Bachelor of Arts in another three, Master's degree in the required further two years - and he is working on his doctorate in African languages.
He now speaks nineteen languages including English, which is one more than I do, and he is the only man I know, apart from myself - spent nine months in the desert, living with the little yellow men - who speaks the dialects of both the northern and Kalahari bushmen.
For a linguist, he is a peculiarly silent man. When he does speak it is in basso profundo which matches well his enormous frame. He stands six foot five inches tall and he is muscled like a professional wrestler and yet he moves with the grace of a dancer.
He fascinates me, and frightens me a little. His head is completely hairless, the rounded pate shaven and oiled to gleam like a midnight-black cannon ball. The nose broad and flat with flaring nostrils, the lips a thick purple black and behind them gleam big strong white teeth. From behind this impassive mask a chained animal ferocity glowers through the eye slits, and once in a while flashes like distant summer lightning. There is a satanical presence about him, despite the white shirt and dark business suit he wears, and though for twelve years I have spent much of my time in his presence I have never fathomed the dark depths beneath those dark eyes and darker skin.
Under my loose surveillance he runs the African languages department of the Institute. Five younger Africans, four men and a girl, work under him and, so far, they have published authoritative dictionaries of the seven main African languages spoken in southern Africa. They have also accumulated written and taped material to keep them busy for the next seven years.
On his own initiative, with just a little of my help and encouragement, he has published two volumes of African history which have raised a storm of hysterical abuse from white historians, archaeologists and reviewers. As a child Timothy was apprenticed to his grandfather, the witchdoctor and historical custodian of the tribe. As part of his initiation into the mysteries his grandfather placed Timothy under hypnosis and taped the entire tribal history on his brain. Even now, thirty years later, Timothy is able to throw himself into a trance and establish total recall of this mass of legend, folklore, unwritten history and magical doctrine. Timothy's grandfather was tried by an unsympatheticwhite judge and hanged for his part in a series of ritual murders the year before Timothy had completed his training and been entered into the priesthood. However, his legacy to Timothy is a formidable mountain of material - much of it palpably spurious, a great deal of it unpublishable as being either too obscene or too explosive, and the remainder fascinating, puzzling or downright scary.
I have drawn on much of Timothy's unpublished material for my own book Ophir - particularly those unscientific and 'popular' sections which deal with the legend of the ancients, a race of fair-skinned golden-haired warriors from across the sea, who mined the gold, enslaved the indigenous tribes, built walled cities and flourished for hundreds of years before vanishing almost without trace.
I am aware that Timothy edits the information he passes on to me - some of it is too secret, the taboos which surround it too powerful to disclose to other than an initiate of the mysteries. I am sure that much of this withheld information relates to the legend of the ancients. I, however, never abandon my attempts to milk him.
On the Monday morning of Louren's return from Switzerland, Sally was so overwrought by the possibility that Louren would veto her inclusion in the preliminary expedition that her company was unbearable. To escape her and to kill the last long waiting hours, I went down to Timothy.
He works in a tiny room - we are a little pressed for space at the Institute, which is congested with neatly stacked pamphlets, books, folders, and piles of loose paper that reach almost to the ceiling - and yet there is room for my chair. This is a long-legged affair like a bar-room stool. For although my legs and arms are regulation size, or better, my trunk is squashed and humped so that from the seat of an ordinary chair I have trouble seeing over the top of a desk.
'Machane! Blessed one!' Timothy rose with his usualgreeting as I entered. According to Bantu lore those of us with club feet, albino pigmentation, squint eyes, and humped backs are blessed by the spirits and endowed with psychic powers. I derive a sneaky sort of pleasure from this belief, and Timothy's greeting always gives me a lift.
I hopped up on my chair, and began a desultory conversation which flicked from subject to subject and changed from language to language. Timothy and I are proud of our talents - and I suppose we do show off a little. There is no other man living, of this I am convinced, who could follow one of our conversations from beginning to end.
'It will be strange,' I said at last in I forget what language, 'not to have you along on a journey. It will be the first time in ten years, Timothy.'
He was immediately silent and wary. He knew I was going to start again on the lost city. I had shown him the photograph five days before, and had been pumping him steadily ever since for some significant comment. I changed into English.
'Anyway, you are probably not missing anything. Another groping for shadows. God knows there have been many of those. If only I knew what to look for.'
I broke off and froze with expectancy. Timothy's eyes had glazed. It is a physical thing, an opaque blueish film seems to cover the eyeballs. His head sinks down on the thick corded column of the neck, his lips twitch - and the goose flesh runs up my arms and the hair on the back of my neck fans erect.
I waited. As often as I had seen it I could never shake off the supernatural thrill of watching Timothy going into trance. Sometimes it is involuntary - a word, a thought will trigger it, and the reflex is almost instantaneous. Then again it can be a deliberate act of auto-hypnosis, but this involves preparation and ritual.
This time it was spontaneous, and I waited eagerlyknowing that if the material was taboo it would be but a few seconds only before Timothy broke the spell with a deliberate effort of will.
'Evil - ' he spoke in the quavering, high-pitched voice of an old man. The voice of his grandfather. A little spittle wet the thick purple lips, '- an evil to be cleaned from the earth and from the minds of men, for ever.'
His head jerked, the conscious mind intervening, his lips worked loosely. The brief internal struggle - and suddenly his eyes cleared. He looked at me and saw me.
'I'm sorry,' he murmured in English, turning his eyes away now. Embarrassed by the involuntary display, and the need to exclude me. 'Would you like some coffee, Doctor? They have repaired the kettle at last.'
I sighed. Timothy had switched off, there would be no more communication that day. He was closed up and defensive. To use his own expression, he had 'turned nigger' on me.
'No thanks, Timothy.' I looked at my watch and slipped off the stool. 'Still some last-minute things to do.'
'Go in peace, Machane, and the spirits guide your feet.' We shook hands.
'Stay in peace, Timothy, and if the spirits are kind I will send for you.'
Standing on the rail of the coffee bar in the main hall of Jan Smuts Airport I had a good view of the entrance to the international terminal.
'Damn it,' I swore.
'What is it?' Sal asked anxiously.
'B. Y. M. - a whole platoon of them.'
'What are B. Y. M.?'
'Bright young men. Sturvesant executives. There, you see the four of them beside the bank counter.'
'How do you know they are Sturvesant men?' she asked.
'Haircuts, short back and sides. Uniforms, dark cashmere suits and plain ties. Expressions, tense and ulcer-ridden but poised to blossom as the big man appears.' And then I added in an unaccustomed fit of honesty, 'Besides, I recognize two of them. Accountants. Friends of mine - have to prise money out of them every time I want a roll of toilet paper for the Institute.'
'Is that him?' asked Sally, and pointed.
'Yes,' I said, 'that's him.'
Louren Sturvesant came out of the doors of the international terminal, the first of the Z?rich flight through customs and immigration, the airport public relations officer trotting to keep pace with him. Two other B. Y. M. a pace behind him on either side. Probably a third taking care of his luggage. The four waiting men broke into smiles that seemed to light the hall and hurried forward in order of seniority for a brief handclasp and then fell into formation around Louren. Two of them running interference ahead of him, the others closing in at either hand. The public relations officer fell back bewildered to the tail of the field, and Anglo-Sturvesant drove across the crowded floor like an advancing Panzer division.
In their midst Louren stood out by a golden curly head, his sun-bronzed features grim in contrast to the artificial smiles around him.
'Come on!' I caught Sally's hand and dove into the crowd. I am good at this. I go in at the level of their legs - and the pressure from this unexpected level cleaves them open like the waters of the Red Sea. Sally ran through behind me like the Israelites.
We intercepted Anglo-Sturvesant at the glass exit doors, and I dropped Sally's hand to crack the inner circle. I broke through at the first attempt and Louren nearly tripped over me.
'Ben.' I saw immediately how tired he was. Pale beneaththe gold skin, purply smudges under the eyes--but a warm smile cleared the fatigue for a moment. 'I'm sorry. I should have warned you not to come. Something has come up. I am on my way to a meeting now.'
He saw the expression on my face, and clasped my shoulder quickly.
'No. Don't jump to conclusions. It's still on. Be at the airfield at five o'clock tomorrow morning. I'll meet you there. I must go now. I'm sorry.'
We shook hands quickly.
'All the way, partner?' he asked.
'All the way,' I agreed, grinning at the schoolboy inanity, and then they swept on by and disappeared through the glass doors.
We were half-way back to Johannesburg before Sally spoke.
'Did you ask him about me? Is it fixed?'
'There wasn't time, Sal. You saw that. He was so rushed.'
Neither of us spoke again until I turned into the grounds of the Institute and parked the Mercedes beside her little red Alfa in the empty car park.
'Would you like a cup of coffee?' I asked.
'It isn't. You won't sleep anyway - not tonight. We could have a game of chess.'
I let us in at the front door and we went through the public rooms, crowded with glass cases and wax figures, to the private staircase that led to my office and flat.
Sal lit the fire and set out the chessmen while I made coffee. When I came back from the kitchen she was sitting cross-legged on a tooled leather pouffe, brooding over the ivory and ebony chessboard. I caught my breath at the fresh dimension of her loveliness that the light and setting presented to me. She wore a patchwork poncho, as brilliantly coloured as the Oriental carpets strewn on the floorabout her - and the gentle sidelighting glowed on the soft sun-touched olive of her skin. Watching her, I thought my heart might burst.
She looked up with those big soft eyes. 'Come,' she said, 'let's play.'
If I can weather the storm of her first lightning, volatile attacks then I can smother and wear her down with pawn play and superior development. She calls it the creeping death.
At last she toppled her king with a little groan of exasperation and stood up to pace restlessly about the room, hugging her own shoulders under the vivid poncho. I sipped coffee and watched her with covert pleasure until suddenly she swirled and faced me with long legs astride and clenched fists on her hips, her elbows tenting the poncho around her.
'I hate the bastard,' she said in a tight, strangled voice. 'A big arrogant god-man. I knew the type as soon as I saw him. Why, in the name of all that's holy, does he have to come with us? If we make any significant discovery, you can guess who will hog all the glory.'
I knew immediately she was talking of Louren - and I was startled by the acid and gall in her tone. Later I would remember it, and know the reason. But now I was stunned and then angry.
'What on earth are you talking about?' I demanded.
'The face, the walk, the flock of idolaters, the condescending air with which he dispenses favours, the immense overpowering conceit of the man--'
'The casual, unthinking cruelty of his presumption--'
'Stop it, Sally.' I was on my feet now.
'Did you see those poor little men of his - shaking with fright?'
'Sally, you'll not talk of him like that - not in front of me.'
'Did you see yourself? One of the gentlest, kindest, most decent men I have ever known. One of the finest brains I have ever been privileged to work with. Did you see yourself, scampering and tail-wagging - God, you were rolling on your back at his feet - offering your belly to be tickled--' She was almost hysterical now, crying, tears of anger running down her face, shaking, white-faced. 'I hated you - and him! I hated you both. He was demeaning you, making you cheap and, and--'
I could not answer her. I stood stricken and numb - and her temper changed. She lifted her hand and pressed it to her mouth. We stared at each other.
'I must be mad,' she whispered. 'Why did I say those things? Ben, oh Ben. I'm sorry. So very sorry.'
And she came and knelt before me, her arms went around my body and she hugged me to her. I stood like a statue. I was cold with fear, dread of what was to come. For although this was what I had long prayed for, yet it had come so suddenly, without a moment's warning, and now I had been thrust far beyond the point of no return, into unknown territory. Sally lifted her head, still clinging to me, and looked up into my face.
'Forgive me, please.'
I kissed her, and her mouth was warm and salty with tears. Her lips opened under mine, and my fear was gone.
'Make love to me, Ben - please.' She knew instinctively that I must be led. She took me to the couch.
'The lights,' I whispered harshly, 'please switch off the lights.'
'If that's what you want.'
'I will,' she said. 'I know, my darling.' And she switched off the lights.
Twice in the darkness she cried out: 'Oh, please Ben - you're so strong. You are killing me. Your arms are - your arms.'
Then not long after, she screamed, an incoherent cry without form or meaning, and my own hoarse cry blended with it. Then there was only the ragged sound of our breathing in the darkness.
I felt as though my mind had broken free from my body and floated in warmth and darkness. For the first time in my life I was completely at rest, contented and secure. There seemed to be so many first times with this woman. When at last Sally spoke, her voice came as a small shock.
'Will you sing for me, Ben?' And she switched on the lights on the table beside the couch. We blinked at each other, owl-eyed in the muted glow. Her face was flushed rosily, and her hair a dark unruly tumble.
'Yes,' I said, 'I want to sing.' I went through into my dressing-room and took the guitar from the cupboard, and as I closed the door there was my reflection in the full-length mirror.
I looked with full attention, for a stranger stood before me. The coarse black hair framed a square face, with dark eyes and girlishly long lashes, a heavy simian jaw and a long pale forehead. The stranger was smiling at me, half shy - half proud.
I glanced down the strange, telescoped body over which I had agonized since childhood. The legs and arms were over-developed, thick and knotted with slabs of muscle, the limbs of a giant. Instinctively I glanced at the bodybuilder's weights in the corner of the room - and then back to the mirror. I was perfect around the edges - but in the centre was this squat, humped, toad-like torso, covered in a shaggy pelt of curly black hair. I looked at that remarkable body, and for the first time in my life, I did not hate it.
I went back to where Sally still lay on the soft monkey-skin kaross that covered the couch. I hopped up, and squatted cross-legged beside her with the guitar in my lap.
'Sing sad - please, Ben,' she whispered.
'But I'm happy, Sal.'
'Sing a sad song - one of your own sad ones,' she insisted, and as I picked out the first notes she closed her eyes. I was grateful, for I had never had a woman's body to gloat over. I leaned forward and as I touched the singing strings, I caressed the long smooth length of her with my eyes, the pale planes and rounds and secret shadows. Flesh that had cradled mine - how I loved it! I sang:
'In the lonely desert of my soul, The nights are long, And no other traveller journeys there. O'er the lonely oceans of my mind The winds blow strong--'
And in a short while a tear squeezed out behind her closed lids for there is a magic in my voice which can call up tears or laughter. I sang until my throat was rough and my picking finger tender. Then I laid the guitar aside and went on looking at her. Without opening her eyes she turned her head slightly towards me.
'Tell me about you and Louren Sturvesant,' she said. 'I would like to understand about that.'
The question took me by surprise, and I was silent for a moment. She opened her eyes.
'I'm sorry, Ben. You don't have to--'
'No,' I answered quickly. 'I'd like to talk about it. You see, I think you were wrong about him. I don't think you can apply ordinary standards to them - the Sturvesants. Louren and his father, when he was alive, that is. My own father worked for them. He died of a broken heart a year after my mother. Mr Sturvesant had heard of my academic record, and of course my father had been a loyal employee. There are a few of us, the Sturvesant orphans. We have nothing but the best. I went to Michaelhouse, the same school as Louren. A Jew at a church school, and a crippleat that - you can imagine how it was. Small boys are such utterly merciless little monsters. Louren dragged me out of the urinal where four of them were trying to drown me. He beat the daylights out of them, and after that I was his charge. I have been ever since. He finances this Institute, every penny of it. At first it was something just for me, but little by little he has become more and more involved. It's his hobby and my life - you will be surprised how knowledgeable he is. He loves this land, just as you and I do. He is caught up in its history and future more than you or I will ever be--' I broke off, for she was staring at me in a way that seemed to pierce my soul.
'You love him, Ben, don't you?'
I blushed then, and dropped my eyes. 'How do you mean that--'
'Oh, for God's sake, Ben,' she interrupted impatiently. 'I don't mean queer. You just proved the opposite. But I mean love, in the biblical sense.'
'He has been father, protector, benefactor and friend to me. The only friend I've ever had. Yes, you could say I love him.'
She reached up and touched my cheek.
'I'll try to like him. For your sake.'