The Old Farmhouse
The Old Farmhouse

If He Should Lose His Own Soul
by Jan Luthman

A full-length book in sixteen weekly instalments for grown ups


Instalment 16

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Chapter forty eight

Fireworks and Guy Fawkes Day had been banned that year, to no-one's surprise. As a consolation, the British School added an extra day on to half-term. Julie said she'd take Lucy and Annie to AMEN beach for the morning. One of Lucy's ninth birthday presents had been an enormous inner tube from GTE's shipment of tyres; she was itching to try it out.

"Funny how we still carry on as normal," Julie emptied a handful of cold drinks out of the fridge into the coolbox, "Even though most of the children's Ngombian friends at school have got uncles or fathers in hiding, or jail," She closed the coolbox lid, "Or who've been executed."

James was rummaging through a pile of papers. He hummed absently.

Julie emptied Annie's bucket of its Saturday horde of pebbles, sandy shells, dried seaweed and a crisply dead crab, filling it instead with a pair of waterwings.

"Most families have left, so classes are tiny, yet the school still opens every morning at eight. The timetable still has Art and Arithmetic and English and Games, and we still pin the children's drawings and essays on the classroom walls."

She groped around behind the fridge where she'd tidied away Lucy's and Annie's spades the previous weekend.

"It's only us old-stagers who are still here," Julie dragged the spades out from their dusty lair, blowing a wisp of grey fluff off her nose, "I suppose in a way Ngombia had become home for us, and we can't believe it's gone."

James carried the coolbox out to her car; Julie followed with the buckets and spades.

"Will you be arrested again, today?" She asked.

James shrugged,

"Probably."

Julie stood up on tiptoe to kiss him goodbye.

"Take care, won't you?" She asked him.

James slid his arms around her waist, and squeezed.

"You were right," He spoke into her hair.

"What about?"

"It's time to go home."

"You mean..?"

"Mmm," He waved the papers in front of her, "Charles and I are cashing in our chips; we’re leaving the table."

"But how?" Julie was confused, "Why? I don't understand."

James told her of Aloysius' forebodings.

"The party's over," He concluded, "It's time to go."

Julie's face lit up like a soft pink lantern: she glowed. Her little sigh of relief was barely audible, but it came from the very depths of her heart. She slid her arms up around his neck and rested her head against his chest.

"Thank you," Was all she said.

"Welcome, Mr Davidson."

Dipstick hadn't changed a bit: long, thin and oily, he still looked as if he dwelt in dark places. Only now he wasn't Manager of Foreign Transactions; now he was The Manager of Ngombia National Bank. James trusted him even less than before.

"What can we do for you today, Mr Davidson?"

Oily servility oozed from between Dipsticks' clinging, wringing hands. James tried not to look at them.

"I have some corporate documents for your action."

"Ah yes," Dipstick delicately accepted the thin sheaf of papers.

"I think you will find them all in order," James was fighting to stay calm.

"I'm sure they will be," Murmured Dipstick.

They ought to be, thought James, Aloysius himself had drawn them up.

"I notice," Dipstick was riffling through the pages, "You wish to transfer substantial funds overseas; to the UK."

James blinked; he had never thought of the U.K. as 'overseas'; just 'home'.

"These are indeed very substantial sums," Dipstick repeated, his greasy unctuousness now touched with a tinge of unease, "We will need to ensure that everything is correct."

"Of course," James was determined not to let anything ruffle him, "Your thoroughness is appreciated."

"Perhaps you could check back later?" Suggested Dipstick.

"How much later?"

"An hour?"

"I'll wait."

James sank into one of the green, fake-leather chairs that stood in the foyer of the bank. On the coffee table next to him, a copy of the morning paper lay open at the cartoon page. He folded the paper right way out and glanced at the front page headlines.

"Oh, shit," He said.

The crudely printed headline was at least three inches high:

TREASON!

Underneath, in slightly smaller letters, was the message:

CORRUPTION WILL BE ELIMINATED!

His face frozen, James scanned the front page story.

"Minister Gbandulo charged with high treason,....bribery, extortion, theft of the people's money....dastardly plot foiled...tireless efforts of Stanley Livingston, loyal protector of the people.....control of the Ministry of Agriculture has been placed in the trustworthy hands of the Presidential Office."

Things were already unravelling, and with terrifying speed, but there was nothing James could do: he folded the paper and sat back to wait.

"Mr Davidson?"

Clammy handed, James pushed himself up out of the green, sweat-slippery chair. Dipstick was trembling slightly.

"Your papers are in order."

James had known they would be; he wondered why Dipstick was so anxious.

"However," Dipstick was still trembling; why was the man so nervous? "Mr Davidson, you may not be aware that certain restrictions have been imposed by the authorities."

James stared: he realised suddenly that Dipstick wasn't trembling with nervousness; he wasn't trembling at all. Dipstick was quivering; quivering with excitement. The slimy little toad was almost hugging himself with suppressed glee.

"Tell me," Said James, ice-cold, "Just what are these restrictions?"

Dipstick licked his already shiny lips.

"As of today, Mr Davidson, the Peoples' Emancipation Committee has decreed that companies may remit funds overseas only to pay for goods supplied."

"Naturally," James didn't bat an eyelid, "That is the purpose of this transfer."

Dipstick gave a tiny half-bow of acknowledgement.

"In which case, Mr Davidson," He purred, "I am sure you would be able to provide Bills of Lading and Customs documentation evidencing delivery of the goods in question."

"Of course," James voice betrayed nothing, but he knew he was beaten, "I'll arrange for the papers to be collected from my office."

Nathaniel was waiting outside in the car as James came down the steps outside the bank.

"We're going back to the office," James clambered in and pulled the door shut, "But, first, we have an important visit to make."

The receptionist at the presidential office nodded James straight in; she’d been told he might be arriving.

Livingston looked up as James strode in:

"You appear agitated, Mr Davidson."

"I think you know why."

"Please tell me."

"My bank advises me that your office has forbidden the transfer of funds outside Ngombia."

"Not forbidden, Mr Davidson, restricted. Transfers of currency may still be effected for approved imports, but money cannot be sent out of the country just on demand."

"Why the sudden change of heart?"

"Money is a fascinating thing, Mr Davidson," Livingston was cleaning his fingernails with an ivory-handled paper knife, "It is the lifeblood of a nation; it goes round and round, carrying with it the oxygen for trade."

James listened patiently; Livingston beckoned him to sit down.

"A responsible government cannot allow its country to be bled dry," Livingston glared at James, "By those who would behave like vampires; leaving the rest of us with just an empty corpse."

Livingston didn't care the slightest whether or not Ngombia became a corpse, only about making sure that he didn’t become one himself. If AAA's funds had left the country, and the PEC had found the coffers bare ……. He shuddered at the thought.

"It would have been better," Livingston breathed deeply, slowly, forcing himself to remain calm, "To have consulted my office first on such a major financial matter."

"Of course, Mr President."

"However," Livingston relaxed, becoming suddenly more placatory, "However, despite the necessary restrictions on transfers of funds overseas, there are naturally no objections to disbursements of any size within the country."

Oh, sure, James thought bitterly, of course there weren't. Bribes would continue to be paid, as always.

"I trust the picture is clear," Livingston had regained his composure and was leafing through the papers scattered across his desk, "Should you wish to contact me, my secretary can arrange an appointment."

There would be no need, the picture was crystal clear; James’ fortune was stuck, immobilised in Ngombia, and there was nothing he could do about it. Livingston had demonstrated precisely who had the real power. Wordlessly, James turned and left, boiling with impotent fury, numb with helpless disappointment.

Nathaniel drove back to AAA's office in nervous silence; in the rear seat, James sat and brooded, oblivious to the heavy thud of the wheels as they thumped into the foot-deep potholes that had become so much a part of Tuehville's road system.

The sergeant and his accompanying private were waiting for James in his office; both were clearly ill at ease.

"Boss?" The sergeant was clutching the barrel of his ancient Lee-Enfield rifle, twisting it back and forth, the brass-plated butt smearing grease in dull brown streaks on the carpet. This was clearly a very low-level deputation, no more than messengers.

"Yes, Sergeant," James wondered why the man should be so nervous, "What can I do for you?"

Behind the sergeant, James saw the private lean over and rest his rifle against the office photocopier. The soldier straightened and stood uneasily, hands clasped awkwardly in front of him, cracking his knuckles anxiously.

"Boss," The sergeant continued, "Colonel Yakpowolo said you should please come right now."

'Please'! A relic of a forgotten language. James felt a prickle of apprehension. Who the devil was Colonel Yakpowolo? And what kind of scheme was he plotting?

"Sure," Said James, "Shall we use my car?"

He knew full well that the two soldiers would have no transport of their own. To reach his office, they would have had to commandeer a taxi. He wondered if it were the army's growing unpopularity that had caused the two men's unease.

With his two uniformed passengers on board, James drove to the ministry without interference. Aware that he would not have them with him on the return, James took care to park some distance away from the building, out of sight of the sentries and their arbitrary parking fines.

Colonel Yakpowolo was looking at the pictures in a colour brochure from a supplier of military equipment; he did not look up.

"You Davidson?" He asked.

"Yes, Colonel," Said James.

A particularly dramatic picture caught the Colonel's attention.

"Dammit!" He sucked loudly through his teeth.

James waited whilst the Colonel examined the picture from several angles.

"Davidson."

"Yes, Colonel."

"You understand traffic rules?"

"Yes, Colonel,"

"You know military vehicles have priority?"

"Yes, Colonel."

James tried to remember if he'd failed to give way recently; he couldn't think of an incident.

"Davidson," Yakpowolo tried again, "You got blue car, with white roof?"

James froze. Without explanation, he knew instantly, with terrible clarity, what was coming.

"My wife has."

Yakpowolo was unmoved.

"Maybe your wife doesn't understand traffic rules."

"What happened?"

"Your car had an accident with a military vehicle on official business."

James tried desperately to remain calm.

"Was anyone hurt?" He asked.

"Everyone is in AMEN hospital."

"Everyone?" Said James.

"All your family."

James felt nothing. Reality had vanished.

"O.K., you can go." Colonel Yakpowolo was looking at the pictures again.

But James had gone.

Alan Dempster was waiting in the tiny hallway of AMEN clinic: his face was haggard.

"James, I'm desperately sorry," He put his hand out and gripped James by one arm, "Listen," He went on, "There is very little time, and there is no way to change what has happened, or pretend that things might be different."

Suddenly, it was cold; so very, very cold.

"An army truck pulled out to overtake a pulley-pulley bus, straight in front of Julie. There was no way for her to avoid it; the earthworks and machinery along the roadside hemmed her in; she couldn't escape."

Alan's hold of James' arm was almost ferocious in its strength. "The children died instantly, James. Julie is still alive, but she has massive internal injuries."

Just like that.

The world went silent; from an enormous distance, James heard Alan's voice.

"You know what our facilities are, James. We have no anaesthetist, no proper intensive care unit, and only a tiny bloodbank. Major surgery is simply not possible, and there is nowhere else to go. Julie is sinking, James, and I cannot save her."

James was freezing.

Slowly, his hands slid up his arms, feeling for comfort, feeling for warmth. The walls of the little hall were incredibly far away, as if at the wrong end of a telescope. He stood there, not moving, not speaking, his arms wrapped round him to protect himself from the terrible cold, all alone in the middle of nowhere.

"Come with me," Said Alan, "I'll take you to her."

Numb, unseeing, James felt himself being guided along the corridor towards the little ward next to the operating theatre. The walls leapt and leered at him twisted distorted evil. Tiny details stared at him, magnified with terrible clarity. The tear in the dusty brown mosquito net; the lightswitch by the door, one of its screws missing; the patches of flaking, peeling paint beside the window. James tried to resist, to slow his feet, to think; the world was rushing by, and he couldn't stop it.

Julie lay in the bed by the window. Alan steered James gently across the room.

"She may regain consciousness, James, but it will be only temporary. She's not in any pain, I've seen to that."

Alan's grip slackened and he let go of James's arm,

"I'll take you to see Lucy and Annie later," He said quietly, "Right now, it's Julie who needs you, and I think you should stay."

James stood by the bed; silent. Alan backed away soundlessly.

"I'll leave you alone, now. If you need me, just ring the bell on the table; I won't come back unless you do."

There was a plain wooden chair beside Julie's bed. A hundred years ago, in another life, when he was five, at his first school, James' teacher had had a chair like that. He wondered if she'd mind him sitting on it now.

He stood by the bed, looking down at Julie. Her face was swollen and discoloured, and a crudely stitched gash ran across her forehead. Her fair hair was matted with dried blood. Around the base of her neck, faint dark red smears showed where the nurse had tried to clean her up. A plastic tube led from her arm to the bottle of dark red plasma hanging above: the bottle was half-empty.

James sat down on the plain wooden chair. He couldn't think of what to say, so he just held her hand.

It might have been minutes, it could have been hours later, when Julie stirred. Her head turned, just a little; she struggled to open her eyes, glazed with drugs and shock. She smiled; lopsided, sleepy.

"How was the office?" Her voice was whisper soft.

James held her hand, and started to tell her, but her eyes were beginning to close again. In a panic, he sought desperately for words, terrified that she might go whilst he sat silent and uncaring. He didn't know what to say. So he sat beside her, and he told her about all the things that they had done together; and all that she had meant to him. He held her hand, and he told her what he'd felt that winter night so long ago, and how she had made him happier than anything else in the world. All the things he'd wanted to tell her that day when Spring was handing over to Summer and Annie was born, but couldn't say the words, but now he could. And when he told her it was real and it was now and he loved her so much he knew he would burst. He didn't know if she could hear, but he didn't stop; there was so little time, and so very much to say.

Once, during the rest of that afternoon, Julie floated slowly back to the surface.

"Lucy?" Her eyes were anxious, "Annie?"

James could hardly hear her.

"Don't worry," He held her hand tightly, "They're waiting for you."

There was no need to say more.

Julie gazed gently at him, her eyes filled with enormous sadness.

"Oh, James" She whispered, "Oh, James," Her eyes were very soft; she was slipping away again, "We do love you. Don't be lonely."

At half past four, Julie stopped breathing. The room was silent. A cockroach ran up the wall, stopping near the bedrail, its feelers waving. Outside, the shadows of the palms were lengthening and blurring. From far away came the sound of surf breaking on the beach.

She would be just in time for tea, he thought.

It was sunset when Alan came back. James was sitting by the bed, Julie's hand still in his. Through the window, far away to the west, the evening sun sank slowly onto Mount Erskine and bled silently into the sea. Within moments, it was dark.

Chapter forty nine

Alan was professionally detached; for that, at least, James was grateful. He could not have coped with sympathy.

"James," Alan sat behind the battered, careworn desk with its dusty clutter of papers, pamphlets and medical samples, "There is no delicate way of putting this, but there are several things you have to think about, and soon. First, the only morgue in the country is out of order. The refrigeration equipment has broken down, and there's no hope of repair in the foreseeable future."

"In this climate," Alan’s mouth tightened just a fraction, "Bodies start to decompose very quickly."

"Don't worry," James interrupted, "I'll be shipping them home a lot faster than that."

"I'm afraid it's not that easy," Alan was almost bristling with unease; James could feel it. "You can't just ship bodies out of Ngombia as you please. Even before the present situation, it took ages to process an export permit."

"Documentation fees," James smiled grimly, "I know all about them."

"Yes, James, I'm sure you do, but there's more than fees involved."

The new regime, explained Alan, was almost paranoid about its negative image overseas. It had collected a lousy international press over the barbarity of the coup, and shipping out the bodies of a white family killed by a military vehicle was precisely the sort of story guaranteed to stoke up emotions.

"I've already talked to the ambassador on the phone earlier this evening," Alan told him, "And he thinks the chances of an export licence are zero."

"Surely there's someone he could talk to? There must be some way of negotiating a compromise."

"Before, James, yes. But not now. The new regime has still not been officially recognised, so the ambassador cannot negotiate with anybody." Alan grimaced, "I think you know that's a particularly sensitive issue with him."

"So what am I supposed to do? What are you suggesting?" James's voice had gone flat; he sounded almost bored.

"I'm suggesting," Said Alan, "That you might like to consider leaving your family with us here at AMEN. We have a small cemetery next to the chapel. Most of us are dedicated to serve our natural lives here. All of us knew you and Julie and your children; we would be very happy to look after them for you."

"But what about Julie's parents? What am I supposed to tell them? How do I explain that I can't ship their daughter's body home, and they can't come out here for her funeral?"

"You tell them the truth, James."

James withdrew into silent thought; he stared, unseeing, through the window at the palm trees and sea beyond. An age passed. At last, he spoke.

"If I had been the American ambassador," James said slowly, almost as if to himself, "There'd have been a way."

"Yes, James," Alan acknowledged, "There probably would; high office usually carries influence. But," Alan leant forward, his hands clasped together before him on the desktop, "You are not the American ambassador."

"No," James spoke quietly, too hurt for bitterness, "I'm not, am I?"

"And neither are you the first man in history who's had to bury his loved ones in a distant land." Alan paused, then added gently, "AMEN cannot bring back your wife and children, James, and we cannot remove your grief, but we can offer you the comfort of a Christian burial and the prayers of friends."

He stopped, and reached out to touch James's arm,

"Tonight, try and get some sleep. Tomorrow, we can visit the churchyard together. There are some very pretty places that you might like for them."

But James already knew exactly which spot he wanted. Enough sun for the grass to grow; enough shade to shelter the flowers; and you could always see the sea. It was a good choice, said Alan, Julie would approve. Yes, said James, she did.

Before he slept, James telephoned home; his own parents first. Amazingly, he was able to get through to the U.K. almost straight away. He had thought the conversations would be incredibly difficult, but they weren't; just utterly unreal.

Julie's father displayed the stoicism he'd so often seen in other military families, and had prayed he'd never need for himself.

"You see it happen a lot on active service overseas," He said, "Young chaps get blown to smithereens. Nothing to send home, nothing to bury, never a chance to say farewell. See it all the time; never think it will happen to one of your own family. Cognitive dissonance, that's what they call it."

And he understood.

"Always more difficult for the chap with the decisions. Sometimes there is no choice. Do the best you can; then try not to blame yourself."

There was only one request.

"Julie was all we had; would you be able to take some photographs of where she and the children are buried? Her mother would like that."

Joseph Waywoh had been the carpenter at AMEN for as long as anyone could remember. For almost half a century he'd crafted the pews for all who worshipped, the furniture for all who dwelt, and the coffins for all who were buried at AMEN. The old carpenter's faith was as absolute and unshakeable as it had been the day he'd left Sunday School, and he knew it to be his responsibility to ensure that those who went to meet their Maker travelled in appropriate style.

"See, boss," Joseph beamed at James, innocently and happily proud of his hours of patient, caring toil, "Your family going to be pleased when they get to Heaven. All God's children going to smile when they see them come."

James was touched by the old man's simple sincerity. He still felt utterly unreal; trapped within a silent play in which he had no part. Yesterday, he'd gone to the office, and Julie and Lucy and Annie had been setting off for a picnic on the beach. He could not believe that today was different, that yesterday's reality would not return. He ran his fingers carefully over the three coffins, feeling the honest wood and craftsmanship. He was alone; later, he would be lonely too; that was the new reality.

James' hand paused; from far, far away, distant voices and memories stirred.

"I don't like thunder."

"Night times can be really scary."

"Promise you'll always be there?" Lucy squeezed his hand earnestly, "Being alone is horrible."

"Joseph?" There was a cloud over James' face.

"What's wrong, boss?" Joseph looked at him anxiously.

James smiled.

"Nothing, Joseph. The coffins are beautiful; my family would be very proud of them. I just want to ask you a special favour."

"Yeah, boss?"

"Could you make one big coffin for all three?"

"One big one? For all three? But, why boss?"

James put his hand on the old man's shoulder.

"When you were a young man, Joseph, and you had small children, do you remember how they would be scared at night by themselves?"

Joseph nodded; that was long ago, very long ago, but he remembered. "Yeah, boss. They were lonely. Sometimes, they cried for their mother."

The memories stirred again.

Annie burrowed up against Julie, snug and warm.

"Promise you'll never, ever not be here when it's night and there's a storm."

"I promise."

"Joseph," James gazed intently at him, "I don't want my children to be lonely."

"I understand, boss," There was wisdom, unlettered wisdom, and great kindness in the old man's eyes, "Your family going to be together for always."

James specially asked that nobody should wear black. AnD no-one did. Men wore ties with their short-sleeved shirts; those wives who were still in the country wore their light summer dresses. The service started at nine, after the dawn humidity, before the heat of the day. The December sunlight glittered off the sea, and the palm fronds lifted in the morning breezes. Christmas would soon be here, and nobody thought it the slightest bit odd that they sang 'Away in a Manger' at a funeral; twice; once to each tune.

Afterwards, after the service and the internment, James stood in silent thought by the graveside as his friends left. There was a gentle touch at his sleeve. He turned, and stared in disbelief.

"I'm so very sorry, Mr Davidson."

Aloysius Sharman and Charles Nyamplu stood before him.

"A final farewell," Aloysius’ eyes were full of immense sympathy; he seemed much older than James remembered.

"Yeah, man," Charles shuffled his feet awkwardly, desperately unsure of what to say, "I'm real sorry."

It was an act of extraordinary bravery for the two of them to be there; James was profoundly touched.

"Thank you," He said, "Thank you both very much indeed."

They stood in silence for a while. Suddenly, Charles could stand it no longer.

"Dammit!" He exploded, "The good guys ain't supposed to lose; how could God let such a thing happen?"

James smiled crookedly.

"Maybe," He said quietly, almost as if he were speaking to himself, "Maybe He feels awkward."

For the rest of the day, James sat beneath the palms, close by the patch of raw, freshly turned soil, and Joseph's simple, sturdy, wooden cross. Joseph had told James that his brother was carving three stone crosses, with a name on each one. They would be big ones, said Joseph proudly, as big as James's family. James stayed throughout the afternoon, staring out to sea; remembering.

In the evening Alan came and sat beside him. They sat in silence, surrounded by the sound of the crickets and the surf on the beach.

"There's some supper on the table," Said Alan, "If you'd care to join us."

"Thank you," Said James, "I'd like that."

They walked together along the shore, the light of Alan's open doorway guiding them home.

It was two weeks later that Jonathan Swift drove out from the embassy to AMEN mission. He parked by the beach, and walked the last few hundred yards to the small clump of palm trees. Underneath them, next to the three new stone crosses, James sat alone. He was planting Periwinkles. Behind him, little tufts of just-sown carpet grass sprouted from dark brown patches of damp sandy soil. A bucket, half full of water, stood beside him. Jonathan stopped close by and leant against the cemetery wall, looking out to sea.

"I had a meeting this morning with Major-General Livingston," He said.

James lifted a mug of water from the bucket and poured it carefully into a small hollow scooped in the ground. He didn't look up.

"The People's Emancipation Committee extend their sympathies to you in your bereavement."

James placed a Periwinkle cutting in the damp hollow and covered its base with earth.

"The Emancipation Committee also suggested that you might be happier in your home country with your own family."

James carefully watered the soil around the Periwinkle; he put the mug down beside it and sat back on his heels.

"My family is here," He spoke tonelessly, still not looking up.

"James," The agitation in Jonathan's voice was apparent, "Please try to appreciate the situation. The Committee are terrified of a possible counter-coup, and sees you as a potential link. They believe you and your partners will want revenge, and that you have nothing to lose."

James looked up, shielding his eyes against the sun.

"So what am I supposed to do?" He asked.

"The Committee has said," Jonathan’s face was expressionless, "That, if you will agree to leave quickly and quietly, they will guarantee you safe passage and waive all formalities at the airport."

There were four Periwinkles still waiting to be planted; James gathered them up and rose slowly to his feet.

"What does 'quickly' mean?" He asked.

Jonathan cleared his throat.

"Livingston's secretary gave me your ticket," He said, his fingers twisting in agitated discomfort, "I have it with me: it’s made out for the twenty-fourth."

The twenty-fourth; the day after tomorrow; Christmas Eve. James stared at the flowers around the feet of the three crosses. He stood, silent, for several minutes.

"There's not really anything more of mine that they can take, is there?" He asked quietly.

At dusk the following day, Nathaniel dropped James at AMEN beach.

"Come for me here at eight o'clock tomorrow morning, please Nathaniel."

James watched the car drive off; it wallowed over the ruts of the dirt road with the weight of his luggage. Much more was already at the airport. The house was empty; he’d packed everything. The airline had assured him there would be ample capacity.

He turned, and walked up the slight rise to the little cemetery. Tonight belonged to him and his family.

At ten minutes to eight the next morning, James saw the car creep carefully along the track by the shore. Nathaniel had risen at dawn to wash it by the stream, and was determined there would be no dirt on it when he arrived. He halted the car next to James and clambered out, anxiously rubbing the dustprints of his fingers from the gleaming door.

"Thank you, Nathaniel," Said James, "Thank you very much. The car looks like new."

Nathaniel's stiff unease relaxed; he grinned, happy at James' recognition, and opened the rear door.

James stood for a moment and looked across to AMEN's small, carefully tended clinic. Early morning sun slanted across its corrugated roof and a small flock of hens scratched at the red-brown soil between the palms and hibiscus. He watched as Joseph the carpenter hobbled, bow-legged, out through the clinic door and began to sweep the verandah, the twigs of his broom scratching methodically across the bare wooden floor.

"Nathaniel?"

"Yeah, boss?"

James held out a slim white envelope.

"When you come back, please give this to Dr Dempster."

"Sure, boss."

Nathaniel took the envelope and tucked it inside his tunic.

James smiled slightly to himself; how had Livingston phrased it exactly? 'We have no objections to disbursements of any size within the country'. So be it: Charles had co-signed the cheque the previous evening and, once Nathaniel handed it on to Alan Dempster, James’ share of AAA would belong to AMEN. And Alan would use the funds wisely, of that James was sure. There would be enough to light a world of small candles.

Ill-gotten gains, he thought, given instead to people who really needed them: Julie had got her wish, after all.

He slid into the rear seat and closed the door.

Nathaniel accelerated gently up the narrow laterite track that led away from the sea, towards the main highway. Small plumes of powdery red dust began to climb and twist behind the car. James turned in his seat and stared through the rear window, unblinking, back to where the three crosses stood. Julie's in the middle, the two smaller ones either side. He stared as the dusty haze slowly thickened, drawing a churning, red-brown veil over everything. He stared, unable to see, unable to turn away, as the car rumbled on over the washboarded track.

He stared and, for just a second, the swirling clouds thinned.

Through the palm trees he could see them, silhouettes against the sea. Little Lucy on the left, tiny Annie (always Annie, never Anne) on the right, Julie in the middle. Arms outstretched, they were holding hands.

------o------

The End

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