From the author of the national bestseller A Small Death in Lisbon and The Company of Strangers comes Wilson's compelling first novel, never before available in the United States. Bruce Medway's existence as a fixer and troubleshooter had been tough, but never life-threatening until he crossed paths with the mighty Madame Severnou. His life becomes even more complicated by his search for a missing fellow expat, Steven Kershaw. Against a backdrop of political disruption and endemic official corruption, Medway pursues the elusive phantom of Kershaw.
Instruments of Darkness powerfully evokes the atmosphere, politics, and people of West Africa. With Medway's ironic voice, flashes of humor that may recall Raymond Chandler, and unforgettable characters, this compulsively readable thriller is the beginning of a remarkable series.
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ROBERT WILSON is the author of numerous novels, including The Company ofExcerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Tuesday 24th September
There were a few worse places to be in the world than outside warehouse 2 in Cotonou Port, but I couldn't think of them. Moses and I were on our haunches in 105 degrees and-it felt like-200 per cent humidity. I was losing weight and patience.
Berthed on number 2 quay, in air crinkled by the heat from the baked concrete, was the Naoki Maru. It was a 14,000-tonner dry cargo ship with a rust problem and an Oriental crew who leaned on their elbows at the ship's rail, waiting. Waiting to discharge my client's 7000 tons of parboiled rice from Thailand which was going to be sold to Madame Severnou, who I was waiting for to come and give me the money. Above us, on the roof, a couple of vultures were waiting for someone to make a mistake crossing the road. A driverless fork lift stood outside warehouse 3 with a pallet of cashew nut sacks a metre off the ground waiting to put them down. I could see the driver, waiting and doing some sleeping on some sheanut sacks in the warehouse. We were all waiting. This is Africa where everybody has mastered the art of waiting. Waiting and sweating.
The sweat was tickling my scalp as it dripped down the back of my head. I could feel it coursing down my neck, weaving through my chest hair, dribbling down my thickening stomach and soaking into the waistband of my khaki trousers so I knew I'd have a rash there for a week. I wasn't even moving. The dark patches under my arms were moving more than I was. I looked down at my hands. The sweat hung in beads off my forearms and dripped down my knuckles and in between my fingers. Christ, even my nails were sweating. I looked at Moses. He wasn't sweating at all. His black skin shone like a pair of good shoes.
'Why you no sweat, Moses?'
'I no with a woman, Mister Bruce.'
'You do sweat then?'
'Oh yes please, sir.'
I had a newspaper in my hand called the Benin Soir which always came out the morning after the 'soir' looking unshaved, hungover and ready for nothing. I opened it and scanned the pages. There was nothing but smudged newsprint and black and white photographs of African people on black backgrounds. I tried to get some breeze from turning the pages.
I turned the last page and folded the paper in half. I was going to start fanning my face, which is what most people use the Benin Soir for, when I saw an almost readable item in the bottom left-hand corner with the heading: Tourist Dead. Cotonou had never had tourists and now the first one had died.
The article told me that a girl called Françoise Perec, a French textile designer, had been found dead in an apartment in Cotonou. There was a paragraph that finished with the word sexuel which I couldn't read at all and I didn't need to. A police spokesman said that it looked like a sex session that had gone too far. I wondered how a policeman could tell that from a dead body. Is there such a thing as an ecstatic rictus? A drop of my sweat hit the page. I folded the newspaper and used the Benin Soir how it was meant to be used.
I was beginning to gag on the smell of hot sacks, stored grain and crushed sheanut when a pye-dog strayed out of the warehouse shade. It wasn't the healthiest pye-dog I'd ever seen. It definitely wasn't anybody's pet dog. It had the shakes. I could count its toast rack ribs and it needed a rug job. Its nose hoovered the ground. Out of the corner of my eye I saw one of the crewmen leave the ship's rail. The pye-dog moved in tangents. It stopped, clocked round a spot as if its nose was glued to it and then moved on. The crewman bounced down the gangway. There was a flash of light from his hand. He was carrying a cleaver.
Moses had pushed up his sunglasses and was frowning at the way things were developing. Inevitability was in the air. The pye-dog, its diseased hindquarters shaking, the crewman, his stainless steel cleaver glinting, closed on each other. The sun was high. There were no shadows. The instant before they met, the dog looked up, aware of something. The survival instinct wasn't operating too well inside that pye-dog. He looked right. The crewman came from the left and took the dog's head clean off with a single blow.
There was no sound. The dog's fallen body twitched with brainless nerves. The crewman picked up the dog's head and held it trophy high. The men at the rail burst into cheering and clapping. Moses threw off his Mr Kool act and was up on his feet, eyes rolling in horror, and pointing.
'Must have been a Chinese,' I said, before Moses could get anything out.
'Why he kill the dog?' asked Moses.
'He eat him?' Moses was shocked.
'You eat rat. He eat dog,' I said, trying to balance the horror of foreign cuisine.
'Dog eat dog,' said Moses, laughing at his own joke, '...and I no eat rat. I eat bush rat and he no rat rat.'
'I see,' I said, nodding.
The crewman put the dog's head down and picked up the body which he tucked under his arm. The legs still twitched in memory of birds chased and rubbish investigated. He bent down again and picked up the head by an ear. He walked back to the ship. The dog's tongue lolled out of the side of its mouth. Its wall eyes bulged out. A dark patch remained on the concrete of number 2 quay.
'He go eat him!' Moses confirmed to himself as if it were a fair thing to do.
'Hot dog,' I said without smiling, knowing that Moses would roar with laughter, which he did. My best lines fall on deaf ears, my worst are a triumph. I think I satisfy his anticipation.
'Here we go,' I said, standing up.
Moses turned and saw the group of hadjis heading our way. Al hadji is the title given to a Muslim who has been to Mecca. Before air travel it must have been a big deal to have been a West African hadji. Now they charter planes and a grand will do the job. These boys have got money and Allah on their side and a long line in horseshit.
They looked quite something, for a bunch of businessmen, dressed in their floor-length robes, their black skins against the light blue, green, burgundy and yellow cloth, their heads bobbing underneath multi-coloured cylindrical hats. In another world they could have been showing a summer collection. Here they meant business. They were going to hassle me for the rice which wasn't mine to be hassled for. I reached for my cigarettes. They weren't there. I gave up last year. That's why I put on the weight. It all came back.
I heard an expensive engine. A grey Mercedes with tinted windows stopped with a squeak in between me and the hadjis. An electric motor lowered the window. The hadjis huddled together so that the car's occupant must have seen seven sweaty faces pressed into the frame of the window. One of them took out a hanky and wiped his brow.
Some African words came from the back seat of the car. The words sounded like they could move some sheep around. They had the hadjis rearing back. The group moved as one, turning and walking back to the port entrance. The window buzzed back up. One of the hadjis fell back to get a stone out of his Gucci loafers.
The Mercedes swung round to where Moses and I were standing. The driver, anthracite black, was out of the car almost before it had stopped. He opened the rear door and looked as if he might drop to one knee.
I got a short blast of air-conditioned cool and with it came Madame Severnou. All five foot of her and another nine inches of sculpted deep green satin which sat on her head but could just as easily have made it to a plinth in the Uffizi. At six foot four I could put a crick in her neck, but as Madame Severnou knew, size wasn't anything.
'Bruce Medway,' she said, as if tungsten would melt in her mouth. She held out a small coffee-coloured hand encrusted with gold rings and jewels.
'Madame Severnou,' I said, taking her hand and thinking, this is one of the few occasions you put twenty grand into someone's hand and get it back. 'How's business?'
'Very good. I've been in Abidjan...Ali!' she shouted, withdrawing her hand and checking it to make sure she hadn't slipped a grand or two.
The driver, who had been standing to attention by the boot, opened it on cue. He took out the double bedsheet which had been drawn into a sack like laundry. Moses opened the boot of my smacked-up Peugeot estate and Ali dumped it on top of the tool box and spare tyre.
'What did you say to the hadjis?' I asked Madame Severnou.
'I remind them I am the seller. They know it but they forget sometime.'
Madame Severnou was petite from the waist upwards but downwards was the market mamma bottom, a bargaining tool not to be messed with. This meant that she didn't walk, she waddled, and the bottom did what the hell it liked. She waddled over to the Peugeot. Moses backed off. She turned to me and said: 'Six hundred and thirty-six million CFA. I hope you have some friends to help you count it. Not much of it is in ten thousand notes.'
She held out her hand and I put an envelope in it which she tore open. Her eyes flickered for a fraction of a second.
'This is a non-negotiable copy,' she said with an edge to her voice that I could feel against my carotid.
'It is,' I said.
'It's no Monopoly money in here!' she said, pointing at the boot. 'Ali!' she roared, whipping the air with her finger. Ali lunged at the laundry.
'Moses,' I said in a voice made to steady the thin red line. The boot came down and Ali was lucky to get away with his fingers still on.
'I'll count it and give you the original tomorrow,' I said to Madame Severnou. The ground frosted over between us but we both started at the two vultures which dropped down beside the dark patch where the pye-dog had been killed and broke Madame Severnou's concentration. She turned back to me.
'I give you six hundred and thirty-six million CFA and you give me a piece of paper.' Her voice came fully loaded. I said nothing. The look she gave me thudded between my e...
"About this title" may belong to another edition of this title.
Book Description HarperCollins, 1995. Book Condition: Very Good. First Edition. Ships from the UK. Former Library book. Great condition for a used book! Minimal wear. Bookseller Inventory # GRP86316178
Book Description Collins Crime. Hardcover. Book Condition: Very Good. 0002325217 shelf wear. Bookseller Inventory # BB0018602
Book Description Harper Collins - Harpercollins, London, 1995. Hard Cover with Dust Jacket. Book Condition: Good, Ex-Library. Dust Jacket Condition: Very Good. 1st Edition. Crime thriller, set in Benin. Author's first novel. Jacket by Peter Sutton. BOOK:- Library rebind, i.e. not original boards; binding is sound, no loose pages; FFEP has ink name & "Withdrawn" stamp; date stamp on copyright page; RFEP has three ink names; rear pastedown has small library sticker & ink initials; uniform page browning. JACKET:- Intact with price (£14.99 net); edgewear & edge creasing; "V" chipping to spine hinge corners; tattering of the spine heel; 5mm tear at top front flap hinge corner; 3mm tear at 7 o'clock on front panel bottom edge; small rectangular label ghost at top of rear panel; uneven abrasions across the spine heel and surrounds, caused by label removal; small tape removal abrasions on the flap edges (two on each); water stain on the spine heel interior & surrounds, does not show through; some line indentations on the panel surfaces, but no rupture. Scan on request. Bookseller Inventory # 011869
Book Description Harper Collins - Harpercollins, 1995. Hardcover. Book Condition: Good. Dust Jacket Condition: Good. 1st Edition........ UK hardback first impression. Good only with heavy page tanning and some spotting to edges and prelims. The jacket is unclipped with some nicks and rubbing to top of spine and at foldovers. Harper Collins - Harpercollins 1995. Book. Bookseller Inventory # 11475122063
Book Description London: HarperCollins, 1995, London, 1995. Hard Cover. Book Condition: Good+. Dust Jacket Condition: Very Good. First Edition. Hard Cover. Good+/Very Good. First Edition. Ex-Library. 8vo - over 7¾" - 9¾" tall. with usual library markings, stamps, remnants, etc. Hinges reinforced with tape (library practice). Some lightish tanning to paper. Tight clean text pages. DJ (not price-clipped) is in usual library type plastic protector - looks very nice. Authors 1st book and is scarce. Ex-Library. Bookseller Inventory # 000547
Book Description HarperCollins, London, 1995. Hardcover. Book Condition: Fine. Dust Jacket Condition: Very Good +. First Edition. True first British edition of the author's first book. A VERY SCARCE title! A FINE book in VERY GOOD PLUS jacket ( small 1/4" chip to bottom of front jacket panel ; one tiny closed tear to top of same and rubbing to top of spine) . Bookseller Inventory # NRNFD038
Book Description HarperCollins [Harper Collins], London, 1995. First Edition. First Edition. SIGNED by the author on the title page. The author's first novel, introducing '"fixer" Bruce Medway, with jacket art by Peter Sutton.Spine ends lightly bumped, and the usual uneven tanning to the page edges, with light shelfwear to the jacket extremities, else Near Fine and unread in a Near Fine dust jacket.Scarce signed. Bookseller Inventory # 127931