Read Six Bullets Online

Authors: Jeremy Bates

Six Bullets (8 page)

BOOK: Six Bullets
Tuesday, December 24, 10:01
Arusha, Tanzania


“When would you
like me to pick you up?” asked the guide,
a native of Zanzibar. He was small, bald, quick to smile, and dressed exactly
how Scarlett thought a safari guide should dress. Khaki shorts, an olive vest
with about twenty pockets on it, and a cotton twill bush hat. He’d met Scarlett
and Sal at Kilimanjaro International Airport forty minutes ago before driving
them to Arusha, the first and last stop of any size before they reached the
lodge atop the volcanic caldera.

“Come back in an
hour,” Sal told him.

Once the guide
wheeled the big Land Rover away into traffic, Sal and Scarlett were immediately
swarmed by a dozen men, each toting the cheapest safari package in town. They
explained repeatedly that they were not interested. The street hawks were by
degrees obstinate, indignant, but finally resigned.

“Good God,” Sal
said, straightening his blazer.

“It’s what they
do,” Scarlett said.

“It’s barbaric.”
He shaded his eyes with his hand against the morning sun. “There should be a
supermarket somewhere nearby. I’ll get the supplies. Why don’t you browse
around and meet back here in, say, thirty minutes?”

Scarlett agreed
and Sal left, waving off a new group of vultures that had descended upon him. Scarlett
took a moment to get her bearings. She was standing at the base of a
white-trimmed clock tower, surrounded by belching trucks, taxis, and an
eclectic mix of locals and khaki-clad tourists. On the drive into the city the
buildings had been rickety wooden things with tin roofs. Here, in the
government district of the CBD, most were concrete, painted various shades of
washed-out white, blue, yellow, and red. Almost all of them were plastered with
gaudy, dated advertising.

She started down
what a street sign announced was Sokoine Road, storing the name away in case
she got lost. She passed tailor shops filled with row after row of sewing
machines and kiosks selling candies and phone cards. Women with perfect
postures balanced fruit or baskets on their heads while men led their cattle
and other livestock. Children played in the alleyways with toys fashioned out
of string and empty bottles. She even spotted a couple native Masai warriors
dressed in their checkered regalia and holding long spears. From somewhere in
the distance came the toxic smell of burning garbage.

All in all,
Scarlett’s first impression of Arusha was that of a tourist-hungry frontier
town—Africa’s twenty-first century equivalent of the Wild West. It was
fascinating and exotic and a little intimidating all at the same time.

On the next block
she came to what appeared to be the central marketplace. A few hundred cages
containing squawking chickens and roosters surrounded the entranceway. Beyond
them, inside the tented structure, the maze of stalls was filled with
everything imaginable. Sandals soled with tire tread grips, colorful cotton kangas,
traditional medicines, vividly colored vegetables, you name it. Some people
were sucking baobab seeds and tamarind-like sweets. Others offered to guide her
around for a private tour, probably looking for a tip. She politely declined.
If she started doling out money, she’d never leave the place in one piece.

While she
wandered up and down the aisles, merchants tried to lure her to their stalls
with shouts of “
” and “Hello friend!”

Scarlett waved,
flashed the smile she usually reserved for the paparazzi, and felt irrationally
guilty for not stopping at each.

Once she did a
big loop and was returning to the main entrance, she paused at a display
selling beads, woodcarvings, and jewelry on which the outline of the African
continent had been painted. She pantomimed a ring around her finger. “Rings?”
she said, to clarify.

The old woman
behind the counter—she must have been sixty-five or seventy, well above the
life expectancy in the country—nodded eagerly. She plucked from her wares not a
ring but an ugly steel pendant with a black string attached to it. She cracked
the thing in half and dropped it in Scarlett’s cupped hands. Scarlett was
surprised to find it housed a tiny compass. She turned left, then right. The
needle spun accordingly. The woman punched 3000 into a calculator, obviously
Tanzanian shillings.

“Do you take
American money?” She pulled a ten from her wallet.

The woman
snatched the bill and tucked it away inside her clothing. She smiled at
Scarlett, revealing a mouthful of crooked and broken teeth. Scarlett smiled
back. Several seconds passed before it became apparent that no change was
forthcoming. She had never been very good at bartering, but that exchange felt
more like highway robbery. Still, the old woman was happy—which she should be.
Ten dollars was likely ten days of wages for her.

Scarlett left the
market and found Sal back at the clock tower. A zippered sports bag was at his
feet. “What’s that?” she asked, pointing to the bag.

“The supplies,”
he said.

“They don’t use
plastic bags here?”

“Guess not. I had
to buy the damn thing.” He nodded toward a small café across the street. “Why
don’t we eat there? Then we’ll be able to see the guide when he returns.”

They got a table
on the patio in the shade of the awning and ordered eggs, coffee, and a platter
of fruit. The coffees came first. While Scarlett was sipping hers—milk, no
sugar—she saw a woman pass in front of the café, carrying two plastic bags
stuffed with groceries. She chuckled to herself.

“You mind
sharing?” Sal said, looking at her curiously. When he saw what had amused her,
his face darkened and he stood.

“Where do you
think you’re going?”

“To get my money

“Please, Sal.
You’re going to go all the way back to the supermarket to argue over a two dollar
bag you bought, or however much it cost?”

“It’s the principle
behind it.”

“If you do, I’ll
mention it during my next interview. They’ll love it—billionaire scrooge.”

Sal hesitated,
but sat back down. Scarlett studied him. What was on his mind? He’d been
gung-ho about this safari, this stage for reconciliation, when they had
discussed it at Cedars-Sinai Hospital. But ever since—back home, where he’d
slept in one of the guest bedrooms, in the car, on the plane—he’d been quiet,
detached even. Was he second-guessing coming on this getaway with her? Having
doubts about the whole process of working things out? Or did his surly mood
have more to do with his work? Perhaps he was more concerned with the Prince
Tower opening than he was letting on. After all, the biggest economic downturn
since the Great Depression wasn’t the best time to be launching a $1.5-billion
hotel with rooms that ranged from $800 to $30,000 a night.

She was about to
ask him this when he leaned back in his chair and said, “You know, I don’t
understand why Western imperialism has gotten such a bad rap.” He was staring
past her to the dirty street, the paint-peeled buildings. “How can advancing
law and order, reforming health and education, implementing a modern economy be
a bad thing?”

“Because it
wasn’t ours to change,” she said. “How would you feel, Sal, if some hotshot
came in and instigated major changes in your company?”

“That would be
impossible, cara mia, since I’m both CEO and chairman

Scarlett smiled
despite herself. His playful arrogance was one of the things she’d missed most
about him during their separation.

“We literally
flattened Japan,” Sal went on. “But look at them sixty years later. They’re the
world’s second largest economy. Look at this place after sixty years of
self-rule. They’ve gone backward. Barely one in ten Tanzanians has electricity
or a flushing toilet. Look beyond this relatively affluent city to the wars and
famine, genocide, disease, human rights abuses, and military dictatorships that
plague nearly every corner of the continent. Did you see the International
Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda? It’s right down the street. We passed it coming

The waiter
returned with their breakfast. Scarlett tried the eggs, which were greasy but
good. She sucked on a piece of pineapple.

“What about
self-determination?” she said. She knew she couldn’t win this argument. One of
Sal’s causes was Africa, just as hers was ending the wars in Afghanistan and

He smiled thinly. “What good is self-determination when your leaders are
corrupt despots? At least when the British sent money to the Colonial Civil
Service, the Englishmen in charge spent it according to design. Contrary to
that, the majority of foreign aid poured into sub-Sahara Africa since the
fifties has leaked back West as capital flight—mainly to the Swiss bank
accounts of the ruling elite.”

“It’s not as
simple as that—”

“No, it’s not,”
he quipped. “What is simple is to blame all of Africa’s problems on
colonialism, apartheid, globalization, multi-nationalism.” He finally turned
his attention to his plate. He cut a slice of egg white and set it atop a piece
of dry brown toast. He cut the toast, speared it with his fork, and stuck the
bite-sized piece in his mouth. “All I’m saying,” he concluded with
uncharacteristic snappishness, “is that things have gone to hell here. The
people of Africa were better off under the British and the French, the Germans
and the Portuguese.”

Scarlett set down
her fork and knife, convinced there was something weighing heavily on his mind,
something that had nothing to do with their marriage. “If you need to get back
to the office, Sal, I understand. We can postpone this safari. I’ll fly back to
LA in the morning—”

“I’m not going
back to the office, and we’re not postponing anything.” He dabbed his lips with
a paper napkin and stood. “Take your time eating. I’m going to stretch my legs.
It’s a three-hour drive to Ngorongoro Crater.”

Scarlett watched
Sal walk down the sidewalk until he disappeared from view. She pushed her plate
away from her, leaned back in her chair, and sipped her coffee thoughtfully.



Damien Fitzgerald spotted
the sign for the travel company, a red-and-yellow
thing that filled the entire second-floor window of a brick building on
Mikocheni Coca Cola Road. He didn’t know why someone would name a road after
Coca Cola. Maybe the city’s first Coke bottling shop used to be on this street.
Or maybe the guy whose job it was to name streets was drinking a Coke when he
got to this one. Fitzgerald didn’t care one way or another. All that mattered
was that he’d finally found the office for Magic Africa Safari.

After landing in
Julius Nyerere International Airport, he’d browsed the Internet for all the
safari companies in Dar es Salaam that serviced Tanzania’s northern safari
circuit. There had been several dozen. The addition of the keyword “luxury”
narrowed the search significantly. He wrote down the telephone numbers and
addresses of the ten most expensive companies. He didn’t think Salvador Brazza
would settle for anything less. It turned out he was right. He hit the money on
the third outfit he called. Yes, Salvador Brazza and Scarlett Cox had booked a
safari with them, the woman on the phone had said. But no, she could not
provide any details. It was prohibited by management.

Bollocks to
thought once more. What was the big deal with giving out some information? It
was just an itinerary he wanted. Was it because Brazza’s wife was a celebrity?
Did she receive special treatment?

Probably. Bloody

So instead of
getting the information he wanted neat and tidy over the phone, he’d been
forced to drive around Dar for the past forty-five minutes, searching for the
travel company. Dar was a big city with a lot of one-way streets and mindless
pedestrians. Needless to say, he was no longer in a very good mood.

He swung the
rented Toyota Land Cruiser to the curb and parked behind an idling meat truck.
He got out, the heat hitting him like a blast from an open oven. It was the
middle of the summer below the equator. He crossed the street and entered a
brick office building. The lobby was small but well-maintained with polished
floor tiles, a potted plant, and an imitation leather sofa. The number between
the Up and Down buttons on the bronze elevator plate read 4. He pressed Up and
waited. The stainless steel doors had a bright annealed finish in which he
could see his reflection. At sixty-one, he was as tall and lean as he’d been at
thirty, if slightly softer around the waist. His graying hair had receded into
a well-defined widow’s peak while white stubble textured his sharp jawline.
Seeing himself now, he thought he looked absurdly how someone in his line of
work was supposed to look. That, of course, was because he knew what his line
of work was. To a stranger on the street, he could just as easily have passed
as a fit university professor, or a lawyer.

A chime announced
the cab’s arrival. He took it up to the second floor. The doors opened directly
into the travel company. A long counter lined with neat piles of magazines and
flyers separated the customer area from the employee area. A WWF poster on one
wall showed a sea turtle swimming in marine-blue water. The caption read:
“Warning: It is
to kill
turtles in Fiji.” Fitzgerald wondered how many East Africans were flying ten
thousand miles away to Fiji to kill turtles.

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