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Authors: Robert Wilson

Instruments Of Darkness

BOOK: Instruments Of Darkness
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Instruments Of Darkness

Robert Wilson



This novel is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters

and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the author's imagination.

Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or

localities is entirely coincidental.


77-85 Fulham Palace Road,

Hammersmith, London W6 8JB

The HarperCollins website address is:

This paperback edition 2002

1 357 9 8642

First published in Great Britain

in 1995 by HarperCollinsPublishers

Copyright Š Robert Wilson 1995

Robert Wilson asserts the moral right to

be identified as the author of this work

A catalogue record for this book

is available from the British Library

ISBN 0 00 647985 5

Set in Meridien

Typeset by Rowland Phototypesetting Ltd

Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk

Printed and bound in Great Britain by

Clays Ltd, St Ives plc

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be

reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted,

in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical,

photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior

permission of the publishers.


For Jane


in memory of my father






The French West African currency, the CFA, was devalued in January 1994 from 50 CFA to 100 CFA to the French franc. All financial transactions in this novel are based on the old rate.


Although this novel is set very specifically in West Africa, and its backdrop is the Liberian Civil War, all the characters and events in it are entirely fictitious and no resemblance is intended to any event or to any real person, either living or dead.




    My name is Bruce Medway. I live in Cotonou, Benin, West Africa, along that stretch of coast they used to call the White Man's Grave because it was hot, humid, and full of malaria. It still is, but we don't die so easily now. Air conditioning and quinine have made us smell better and more difficult to wipe out.

    I travelled across the Sahara a couple of years ago and stayed. I knew I wasn't going back before I came. I used to live in London where I made good money in a shipping company. The boredom crushed me, the traffic nearly killed me and the recession threw me out of a job.

    Now I live in this warm, damp hole in the armpit of Africa and it suits me. The house is rented. I share it with Moses, my driver, who occupies the ground floor and Helen, my cook and maid, who lives with her sister nearby and comes in every day.

    I don't make much money. I'd make more without Moses and Helen, but then, cooking and driving in 100 degrees isn't much fun, they need the money, and I like them.

    I've got some work. I collect money for people, some of which is late, more of which is very late and most of which is so late it's stolen. I organize things for people - offices, transport, labour and contacts. I negotiate. I manage. Occasionally I find people who've lost themselves, some of them accidentally, others on purpose. I'll work for anybody unless I know they're criminal or if they ask me to follow their wives or husbands. My clients are mostly expatriates. A lot of them I wouldn't invite back to my mother's, and that's probably why they're here and not there.

    They come here to trade as they have done for the last 500 years. They're a different crowd now - Lebanese and Armenians, Chinese and Koreans, Syrians and Egyptians, Americans and Asians. The Europeans are still here as well, toughing it out with the soggy climate. A lot of them drink too much, some because there's nothing else to do and others because they want to forget why they're here.

    They trade with the Africans and the Africans trade with each other and they all move up and down the coast with the same aim - a fast, hard buck. In Ghana and Nigeria, the old British colonies, the bucks aren't hard and fast. Their currencies, the cedi and the niara, flop about with the price of cocoa and oil. In Togo, Benin and Ivory Coast the French keep a foot in the door of their ex-colonies by supporting the CFA franc (Communauté Financiére Africaine) at fifty to the French franc so that's the hard, fast buck that everybody's after. When they get it, they want more. It's no different to anywhere else in the world.


Chapter 1


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
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.

    'To eat.'

    '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.

BOOK: Instruments Of Darkness
7.43Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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