by Carole Hall
THERE ARE RUBIES FOR THE TAKING
AS THE BRITISH EMPIRE CRUMBLES.
Given a one way ticket to Kenya by his father and the admonition, “Make something of yourself,” Charles begins work at his father’s friends ruby mine. And secretly plans to steal the jewels of Mother Earth. So does an expatriate Rhodesian Zulu, carried as an infant on his grandfathers back into exile.
Amidst the chaos of the implosion of the British Empire in Africa, the two men meet and begin to plan. Separately. Two sons, one the mine owner, the other a fighter in the six day war to preserve the new state of Israel, both men having fled Nazi Germany just before their parents are executed by the Gestapo for spying. Who will steal the famed Nairobi Bloodstar ruby as it is discovered? The handsome Englishman so he can return home in triumph or the proud Zulu fighting for the newly named country Zimbabwe? And then Charles meets his match, falling in love with the beautiful, intelligent Dutch South African, Erica, fighting her own country’s Apartheid hypocrisy.
So begins a journey of intrigue fraught with unseen twin tragedies, the spiritual revelation of one other and as to where the precious ruby finally finds a home.
Charles Edward Bannister was an unabashed rake in an age of high society dissolute ne’er-do-wells. Tall, blonde and singularly handsome he became a cropper when he most irreverently married a chorus girl following a night of boozy debauchery thereby besmirching the family name. His furious father, Neville, forthwith packed him off on the first ship to Kenya with a stipend of one hundred pounds sterling and the admonition: “Make something of yourself, or don’t bother to show your face in this house again!”
The chorus girl, adequately compensated, marriage annulled and hastily dispensed to a province of her choosing—Spain—was promptly forgotten. Twenty-five year old Charles didn’t mind at all leaving the old sod. The continent of Africa—more specifically Kenya, still a British protectorate, although a State of Emergency had been declared—offered adventure as he searched for fortune—and was home to a legion of rogues, villains and scoundrels. So there was a sense of kinship and camaraderie as to what awaited him when he stepped from the train onto the wooden platform at Nairobi central station and into the equatorial heat of that April afternoon.
“Get out of my way!” The shouted command shattered his drowsy inattention of things around him and turning faced a man some thirty-five years or so and of decided impatience sitting upright in an idling black automobile.
“Sir?” Charles inquired, squaring his shoulders.
“You’re blocking the street, you imbecile!” Definitely a German-accented command.
Damned Kraut, he thought, standing his ground. Sorted this lot out during the last war. We can do it again.
“I suggest you temper your manners and behave like a gentleman, sir! I am not averse to punching you soundly in the nose. I’m hot, tired and not at all amenable to your damnable discourtesy. I’m walking across this street legally. Drive around me, why don’t you? I’m assuming your skill is commensurate with that maneuver. If not, you’ve no business being behind the wheel!”
The two men stared at each other a long blistering minute, dust swirling up from the street, noises raucous and seemingly amplified by the heat. Natives stopped, turning to stare at the two white men. With an oath, the driver swung the car perilously close to the Englishman, then sped away leaving him alone in the street, wondering how he managed to find so many troublesome occurrences.
“Pompous ass!” he muttered, still angry at his intemperate welcome to Nairobi. From his waistcoat pocket, he pulled a white business card.
39 Victoria Court
Nairobi, Kenya. Import-Export
With this card, Charles became assured of a position, a lowly one to be sure, upon presentation of his personage at said offices. The sun beat upon his English brow as he found the address and pushed open the door. He climbed fourteen steps to a dark office smelling of old must and cigar smoke. Weeks of ocean voyage—there was not enough money for a plane fare—had cleared his head of such mundane odors, but here they assailed his nose again.
“May I be of service?” A small balding clerk, besmudged spectacles perched atop a sweaty nose, trousers shining from years of constant wear, stood before him.
“I have an appointment with Mr. Mendelssohn, I believe. The name’s Bannister, Charles Bannister.”
“Sir, Mr. Mendelssohn has yet to arrive back from luncheon. Would you care to wait?” That was the last thing he wanted. Tired, hot, hungry and needing a change of linens he demurred, “Perhaps I’ll return later this afternoon. I’ve just arrived, you see.”
The clerk pondered this. “As you wish. Would you care to leave your card?”
It was an awkward moment. His accelerated departure had precluded the packing of such elementary foibles as business cards. He realized he would need to find a printer at the first opportunity.
“As luck would have it,” he smiled charmingly, “I am temporarily depleted.” Quickly he turned, secured a sheet of paper from a desk and wrote his name in a fine penmanship he was inordinately proud of. Even his father couldn’t write such classic copperplate, he thought with satisfaction. “Here, will this suffice?”
The clerk stared momentarily then smiled. “Why, of course. I should say this is more than adequate, Mr. Bannister. May I take the opportunity to welcome you to Nairobi, sir?”
Before he could answer the outer door swung wide on its hinges and, filling the doorframe, the driver of the black car appeared like a specter.
“Good afternoon, Mr. Mendelssohn. This gentleman just arrived for his appointment with you, sir.” The clerk held out the sheet of paper and hurriedly left the room, closing the door softly behind him.