Me tanner, you jane, p.22
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       Me Tanner, You Jane, p.22

         Part #7 of Evan Tanner series by Lawrence Block
 
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Page 22

  “I see. ”

  “I’m sure you do. ” He beamed. “You have me all wrapped up like a parcel, but I’m really on an equal footing, am I not?” His deep voice echoed in the room. “You’ll get no information from me, Tanner. I’m not easily intimidated. Pain does not move me, threats do not bother me. We will work this all out my way. ”

  “And what’s that?”

  “You will untie me. Now. And you and your little brown girl will wait here while I recover the fortune myself. Then I will return-”

  “Sure you will. ”

  “Why, I still need your help to get out of the country. I could do it without you, but why should I? You already know everything. And we really do need each other, Tanner. With your help I might get into the United States. I suspect I might find your country a good home for my talents. The market for African leaders is crowded now, you know. As a superior African of some wealth, I could have a secure future in America. ”

  “So you would come back on your own, and then the four of us would waltz off together. ”

  “Precisely. ”

  “And we would split the fortune according to plan, and we would all be satisfied. ”

  “There is enough for all. ”

  “Uh-huh. ”

  “So it is settled. Now if you will cut these bonds-”

  “But nothing’s settled,” I said. “I may be crazy but I’m not stupid. Not that stupid, anyway. Even if what you said made perfect sense, I don’t believe you’d stick with it. Your ego wouldn’t let you be equal partners with anyone in anything. ”

  His face hardened. “You will never get the treasure without my help. ”

  “I know. ”

  “And you cannot possibly get my help except on my terms. ”

  “I know. ”

  He frowned. “Then what will you do?”

  “I will get the hell out of this godforsaken country,” I said. “Your treasure can stay here, and so can you. I don’t really care about your fortune. I didn’t come here to get rich, and I don’t really have any use for the money now. I have to get back home and buy a house something like this one, except maybe a little bigger, and without quite so much plastic in it. And then I have to marry a girl named Katin Bazerian and adopt the heir apparent to the throne of Lithuania. Heiress apparent, that is. And then I have to live happily ever after, and I can do that without your bearer bonds and your diamonds and whatever the hell else you’ve got. And without your monumental ego for company, for that matter. ”

  “You will just… just leave?”

  “That’s the idea. ”

  “And the fortune? You will leave it for me?”

  “Right. ”

  “Well,” he said. “That is-”

  “But you probably won’t get much pleasure out of it. Because I’ll leave you here, tied up like this, so that you won’t spoil our exit. And I’ll leave Sheena here, too, because I don’t see how I could get her out of here under the circumstances, and because you’ll need someone to keep you company. And I guess I’ll leave her untied, because otherwise she might starve to death, and I wouldn’t want that on my conscience. ”

  He was staring at me.

  “And whether she’ll have any particular animosity toward the man who sold her down the river, and I do mean down the river, well, I wouldn’t know about that. You’ll just have to see. ”

  I got up and started for the door.

  “Wait,” he said. “Wait. We must talk this over. ”

  Chapter 16

  A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, or so they tell me. It occurred to me now that a journey of not too much less than a thousand miles could have been avoided if I had taken a few dozen well-chosen steps at the onset. For we had indeed come full circle, and the final act of our little drama was being staged in the very cemetery where it all began, and not fifty yards from the grave where I had been buried alive.

  The moon beamed benevolently down upon us, and the stars contributed their conspiratorial winks. Plum, gaily outfitted in Mrs. Penner’s lime green bermuda shorts and burnt orange sleeveless blouse, reinforced this illumination with Mr. Penner’s flashlight. I still had the machete which had belonged to some poor cannibal, and to some rather less fortunate mission field hand before him. It hung from my belt – Mr. Penner’s belt, that is, made suitable for me with a fresh hole courtesy of the belt-hole blade of the Swiss Army pocketknife. And in my hands I held Mr. Penner’s over-and-under shotgun, a weapon in which I had more faith than I vested in the machete and the Swiss Army pocketknife combined.

  Both the flashlight and the shotgun were very sincerely pointed at Knanda Ndoro. He, too, wore some clothing of Mr. Penner’s – a pair of bathing trunks and a pair of beach sandals and nothing else. And he, too, held an implement of Mr. Penner’s – a garden shovel, with which he was opening a grave.

  It was, I felt, an ideal division of labor. Plum, abetted by moon and stars, supplied the light. I served as the security force. And Knanda Ndoro did the retrieving.

  The hole was about three feet deep when he heaved a sigh and leaned on his shovel as if our expedition were a WPA project. “This hardly seems equitable,” he said. “I’m still groggy from that bloody opium, you know. And here you have me doing nigger work. You’ve the soul of a colonialist exploiter, Tanner. ”

  “Did you make Sam Bowman do his own digging?”

  “There was no digging to do. The grave was open. The gravediggers are an odd lot. They seem to work when the spirit moves them. They’d buried some poor bugger, dropped the casket in the hole without shoveling on the lid. I put the treasure in and filled the hole for them. ”

  “With Sam Bowman in it. ”

  “There was room. ”

  Plum trembled involuntarily, and the flashlight beam danced. “You can’t make him sound like a martyr,” Knanda Ndoro went on, chatting pleasantly. “He was no angel, you know. I don’t think you would have liked him at all. ”

  “Dig. ”

  He hefted the shovel, sent the blade biting into the rich black soil. His skin, glossy with perspiration, gleamed in the flashlight’s beam. He wielded the shovel with little visible effort, his muscles rippling beneath the smooth skin, the pile of dirt growing at the side of the hole.

  “A schemer,” he said, talking as he worked. “A plotter, a criminal, and a compulsive babbler. I’ve been an aficionado of Harlem culture for years, Tanner, but your man Bowman told me rather more about it than I cared to hear. I soaked it all up almost in spite of myself. I believe I gave a rather good verbal imitation of him. I may have made mistakes, but you must admit I had the accent right. ”

  “Mmm,” I said agreeably.

  “But then I’m an adaptable sort. I’ve often reflected that this is a test of greatness, the capacity to adjust to adverse conditions and make the best of them. After I was forced to put an end to Bowman, for example, I had to make fresh plans for escaping from the country. I did so. They fell through, a dreadful example of things going wrong. I barely escaped with my life. Without hesitation I headed for the interior. I’ve lived in urban centers all my life, and yet I adapted to the countryside, learned to live off it. When I encountered that white girl and her little band of madmen I didn’t give up and die. Nor did I try to flee. Instead I took command. Some men are born to lead, Tanner, and others are born to follow. True leaders have presence. Even those pitiful savages recognized this, just as they responded to the force of the white girl’s persona. I drilled them into my own private army. I learned their ridiculous dialect. I won their trust. In time I might have used them a steppingstone back to power. At least I toyed with the idea for lack of anything better.

  “Then you turned up, and again I grasped the essence of the situation and looked for a better way. By using you and the child I could return to Griggstown, get clear of the savages. By letting you think I was Bowman I could take advantage of your help. ” The disarming smile. “I can scarcely pretend that everythin
g’s gone completely according to plan. One can never prepare for every possible contingency. And I do have that one flaw of insufficient humility against which I shall have to guard in the future. ”

  “I sincerely hope so. ”

  “You needn’t worry. ” The shovel sank into the earth, the muscles worked, and another load of dirt was transferred from the hole to the pile. “Not everything has gone according to plan,” he went on. “But everything’s worked well enough. ”

  “Then why are you the one with the shovel?”

  “That’s a small point, isn’t it? We’ll all come out of this well enough. ”

  The flashing smile again, and I thought that it was literally disarming – it had the effect of unloading the shotgun even as I clutched it. The man’s presence and force of personality were extraordinary. I had the gun and he had the shovel, but his manner stripped us both of these tools and made us equal partners in an enterprise.

  He fell silent, and the pile of earth grew as the hole deepened. Plum held onto the flashlight and I held onto the shotgun. The shovel sank into the pit, and the Glorious Retriever sighed with satisfaction.

  “Soon,” he said. “I believe I’ve hit it. ”

  “The treasure?”

  He shook his head. “That’s in a metal case. It would make another sort of noise entirely. I think I’ve hit the body. ”

  He dug some more, and it seemed that he was right. The aroma of carrion filled the air. Then the shovel did hit something metallic, and he used the shovel to scrape off dirt. He set the shovel aside, lifted a huge metal lockbox out of the pit, and climbed out after it.

  “Now,” he said, setting the box down. “Now we’ll just – God in heaven!”

  He started at the yawning grave, pointed, and my eyes swung in that direction, and I blinked at the remains of Samuel Lonestar Bowman, wondering what I was supposed to be looking at.

  “Evan, look out!”

  I whirled around, Plum ’s cry ringing in my ears. Ndoro’s foot lashed out, sent the shotgun spinning out of the way, and his huge hands gripped the garden shovel, swinging it like a battle-ax, swinging it at me.

  Chapter 17

  “The rest of it was nothing special,” I said. “Just a matter of procedure, really. ”

  “Procedure. ”

  I nodded. “We had to leave the country, and I couldn’t very well use my own passport, since I was officially dead. Plum went to see the MMM people, but it turned out that they were all in jail. ”

  “Still?”

  “Not still. Again. Elizabeth finally commuted those sentences to life imprisonment, and that gave the junta the chance they wanted to defy her. They had a mass hanging, and when the MMM crowd showed up to protest it, they all wound up in prison. So I had to bribe a freighter captain to get us to Johannesburg. ”

  “ Johannesburg?”

  “Well, I have some friends in Johannesburg. ”

  “And then from Johannesburg you came home. ”

 
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