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BY DOUGLAS PRESTON AND LINCOLN CHILD
A PREVIEW OF GIDEON'S SWORD
AN AUDIO PREVIEW OF GIDEON'S SWORD
TWELVE YEARS AGO
Several dusty canvas tents circled a beaten area shaded by a grove of old musasa trees, their branches spreading like emerald umbrellas over the safari camp. A thread of smoke from a cooking fire twisted up through the cover, carrying with it the tantalizing scent of burning mopane wood and roasting kudu.
In the shade of the central tree, two figures, a man and a woman, were seated in camp chairs on either side of a table, drinking iced bourbon. They were dressed in dusty khakis, long pants and sleeves, protection against the tsetse flies that came out in the evening. They were in their late twenties. The man, slender and tall, was remarkable for a cool, almost icy paleness that seemed impervious to the heat. The coolness did not extend to the woman, who was lazily fanning herself with a large banana leaf, stirring the thick mane of auburn hair she had loosely tied back with a bit of salvaged twine. She was tanned and relaxed. The low murmur of their conversation, punctuated by an occasional laugh from the woman, was almost indistinguishable amid the sounds of the African bush: the calls of vervet monkeys, the screech of francolins and chattering of fire-finches, which mingled with the clattering of pots and pans in the kitchen tent. The evening chatter was underlain by the distant roar of a lion deep in the bush.
The seated figures were Aloysius X. L. Pendergast and his wife of two years, Helen. They were at the tail end of a hunting safari in the Musalangu Game Management Area, where they had been shooting bushbuck and duiker under a herd reduction program granted by the Zambian government.
"Care for another sundowner?" Pendergast asked his wife, raising the cocktail pitcher.
"Another?" she replied with a laugh. "Aloysius, you wouldn't be planning an assault on my virtue, would you?"
"The thought never entered my mind. I was hoping perhaps we could spend the night discussing Kant's concept of the categorical imperative."
"Now you see, this is exactly what my mother warned me about. You marry a man because he's good with a rifle, only to find he has the brains of an ocelot."
Pendergast chuckled, sipped his drink, glanced down at it. "African mint is rather harsh on the palate."
"Poor Aloysius, you miss your juleps. Well, if you take that FBI job Mike Decker's offering, you can drink juleps day and night."
He took another thoughtful sip and gazed at his wife. It was remarkable how quickly she tanned in the African sun. "I've decided not to take it."
"I'm not sure I'm ready to stay in New Orleans with all that it entails--the family complications, the unpleasant memories. And I've seen enough violence already, don't you think?"
"I don't know--have you? You tell me so little about your past, even now."
"I'm not cut out for the FBI. I don't like rules. In any case, you're all over the world with that Doctors With Wings outfit; we can live anywhere, as long as it's close to an international airport.
"Don't bring me to Africa and quote John Donne. Kipling, maybe."
"For me?" Pendergast asked, switching to English.
"From the district commissioner."
Pendergast shot a glance at his wife, then removed the note and unfolded it.
"I don't like the sound of that," said Helen Pendergast, looking over her husband's shoulder. "What do you think this 'nasty business' is?"
"Perhaps a photo tourist has suffered the amorous advances of a rhinoceros."
"That's not funny," Helen said, laughing all the same.
"It is rutting season, you know." Pendergast folded the note and shoved it in his breast pocket. "I'm very much afraid this means our shooting safari is over."
He walked over to the tent, opened a box, and began screwing together the battered pieces of an aerial antenna, which he then carried up into a musasa tree and wired to an upper branch. Climbing back down, he plugged the wire into the single side-band radio he had placed on the table, turned on the unit, adjusted the dials to the correct frequency, and sent out a call. In a moment the irritated voice of the district commissioner came back, squawking and scratchy.