Sunday, 16 August 2009

3 Murders, 2 Camels, 1 Divorce

Continued from last week.......

Final Installment:

When the call came, to my great relief it was not a stranger telling me they were dead; it was Willie, on a terrible line.
‘Are you ok?’ ‘Sort of.’ ‘Are you hurt?’ ‘Bruised, but happy to be here…in a way.’ ‘Where are you?’ ‘Garissa jail, we’ve been here for a while, but this is the first call they’ve let me make.’ He and Nick hadn’t met the Shifta, but two days after I had flown out, they were ambushed before dawn by a sixteen strong army squad. Willie, Nick and the two guides were tied up and beaten, the poor Somalis getting the worst of it. The soldiers tore their makeshift camp apart. They had no idea what they were looking for, but when they found a defunct BBC pass in Nick’s bag, they accused them of spying - but spying on what? There were no military installations, just bush and bandits. Nick and Willie were held all day being questioned and beaten on the elbows and the soles of their feet. Next morning they were woken up, blindfolded and given a mock execution before the questioning started up again. The soldiers certainly weren’t buying the explanation that two men had voluntarily set out to meet the Shifta - the story was plainly ridiculous – every right minded person avoided them. Maybe they were arms dealers, but they could find neither weapons nor cash. The questions and the beatings continued. At noon, a Landrover arrived carrying the platoon commander, a young army major, who had come to interrogate them. As soon as he arrived the atmosphere calmed a bit and the goons backed off. The major has handed the BBC pass and their papers. He looked at Nick’s passport and said, ‘you’re not by any chance the Della Casa who was held by FRENAMO rebels are you?’ Stunned, Nick struggled to say something and eventually gabbled, ‘ah, no, that was …that was my brother.’ ‘You’re sure of that?’ said the major, looking at him. ‘You see, I studied the case in Political Science at university in Dar Es Salaam.’ Before Nick could think of another unconvincing lie, the major suddenly went very pale, reeled away and puked horribly in the dirt. When he had recovered and composed himself, he explained that he had malaria. Willie asked to be untied so he could dig out was able to offer him our medicine, which established friendly enough relations for them to be untied. In the evening, the young major released the two guides. He said he had half a mind to release them all, but the fact of the camera, the BBC pass, the knowledge that Nick had been hostage in Mozambique all smelled of trouble. Kenya might be being portrayed in some poor light. He decided to hand Nick and Willie over to the police in Garissa. His soldiers would ‘take custody’ of the camels, meaning that poor dear Bila & Makende were most likely killed and eaten. After a long drive through the bush they arrived at Garissa jail, where Nick and Willie were locked in a cell together and left alone for the night. The next morning, the senior officer came in and told them they were in very deep trouble unless they told the truth about what they were doing in the NFD. Once again, they explained that they were hoping to do a documentary on the Shifta. The man brought Willie’s journal out from behind his back and slapped it on the table. ‘We have studied this and we know you were up to something more. What is this ‘masterplan’ you write of?’ Willie told him about the muralist Masterplan, but the officer scoffed at his explanation and left. That night, as they were chatting in their beds about trying to contact the British Ambassador, there was a thud and a series of loud creaks overhead and suddenly a leg appeared through their ceiling. In the hope of gleaning information on the ‘masterplan’ a human ‘bug’ had been crouching in the rafters above their cell. He had lost his balance and fallen through the rattan ceiling. By the time Willie called me, the British Embassy had got involved on their behalf and the police had given up questioning them. Nick had been taken straight to Nairobi International airport and expelled from the country. As an ex-pat resident with a safari business, Willie was in a slightly different position. The Immigration Minister ordered that Willie bring £30,000 into the country or face deportation as well. It was a huge price for a stupid, macho outing. Willie didn’t have that sort of money, but I had a nest egg in shares that had been invested when I was twelve and had been growing slowly ever since. I knew he would he heartbroken to leave the country so, leaving a tiny war-chest, I sold almost all of them, and arranged for a money transfer. A few days later, Willie asked me send receipts to the immigration department, so they would sanction his release. ‘I think they’re going to stay on my case. They’re pissed off they couldn’t pin anything on me. I think they’ll come and search through my papers in Lamu. I want you to go through all my files and throw out anything incriminating? ‘Incriminating? Like what?’ ‘Anything that a paranoid mind could decide was espionage. There’s also some detonator cord from a salvage job in a drawer. Throw that away.’ I went to Willie’s filing cabinet and opened the top drawer. We both had our own cabinets for paperwork, but I had never had any reason to go into his before. I sat down and started going through every file, speed-reading old letters and receipts. There were three drawers filled with files; it took hours and hours. I could find nothing until I reached the back of the bottom drawer and then I found stuff of great significance, but only to me. There was letter after letter addressed to Willie from a man called Mike Hedges. Dated over months and then years, they started neutral, but grew increasing desperate and frustrated in tone. Mike Hedges had sold Willie the entire safari camp on Kiwayu. This constituted an enormous amount of kit, from tents, linen, beds and chairs to cutlery, all the kitchen equipment, dozens of lanterns and sets of china. Willie had never paid for it. I was horrified. Kenya is a very corrupt country and I had met many dishonourable people while living there, but I believed Willie was different. I couldn’t bear what I read; he owed the man thousands of pounds. I was pregnant with this man’s child. I rang the investors in London again and cleaned out what was left of my funds. I never imagined the war-chest would be also gone so soon. When Willie rang again I told him that there was no espionage that in his files, but knew about the camp being stolen. He was livid with me. ‘It’s not stolen!’ ‘well, it is if you haven’t paid for it.' ‘I fully intend to pay.’ ‘But you’ve had that camp for five years.’ 'The money always just goes on other stuff. I told him I had raised the money and to contact Mike Hedges as soon as he got out of jail. We settled the debt, but the shape of the world had permanently changed since reading those letters. Not only were we wiped out financially, but I realised that you can’t buy a sense of honour on someone else’s behalf. I was having a child with someone I was suddenly no longer confident I really knew. If our relationship had sprung some leaks far below the Plimsoll Line, then Nick’s life was heading for utter disaster. Willie’s and his friendship cooled considerably after their arrest. We didn’t go back to England for his wedding, but stayed in touch sporadically before he went to cover the first Gulf War. When Saddam Hussein rolled over so quickly, there were then rumours that the long- suppressed Kurds were planning an uprising in the north and routes into the region were closed. Nick returned to England and made a plan to get into Kurdish heartland of northern Iraq through the mountains of eastern Turkey. Once more he took Charlie Maxwell. More extraordinarily, he took Rosanna too. Despite the Shifta debacle, it seemed that he treated these arduous trips so like holidays that he invited guests. It hadn’t been so very long since we had seen Rosanna; it seemed unlikely she could be clear of such a chronic illness as ME. Maybe, like me, she had decided that joining him was a better option than waiting at home. In late March, the three of them flew to Diyabakir and hired a guide. Within a month they were all dead; killed in a rocky ravine by the guide in a fight over money. The story was pieced together by Royal Marines who recovered their bodies in late May, but no one could be sure of precisely what went so wrong, because although the guide was caught, he never confessed. What is thought to have happened is that during a disagreement the guide shot both men and ran off. There was evidence that Rosanna was alive and stayed at the spot for another night. This gave rise to questions as why she didn’t run away; the shock might have rooted her to the spot, or maybe there was only one way to run and that was the route the guide had gone. Besides, she was on her own in bleak mountains, with no habitation anywhere near, where was she to go? Another theory, according to the time on Charlie Maxwell’s movement activated watch, is that Nick was killed outright in the shooting, but Charlie, while mortally injured did not die immediately. Rosanna stayed with him as he faded, but by the next morning the guide had returned. Unable to escape, he killed her, eliminating the only witness to the crime. Rosanna’s body has never been found. It is presumed the guide threw her into the river. Back at home Charlie’s wife had just found out she was pregnant with their second daughter, something she never had a chance to tell him.