‘Why are you standing at the foot of my bed holding a sledgehammer?’ he asked. It was a fair question considering not an hour before we’d been eating squid and drinking cold Leo on the veranda together. What had bought me to this point of madness? To the accompaniment of concert harps played by lithe middle-aged women in knitted cardigans I flashed back two weeks hence to a day when the sky was still azure and the bougainvilleas were bleating forth their gaudy colours. The email rose majestically on the screen like a second sunrise.
‘I represent a major newspaper with a readership of 11.2 billion and I’d like to drive down to Pak Nam Lang Suan to do a feature on you.’
‘Man, these Nigerians,’ I thought. ‘They stop at nothing. Not satisfied with robbing desperate widows of their life savings, now they claim to be journalists. ‘Mbagwe,’ I wrote back, ‘I’m not falling for that one, son. Go take a running jump off a tall giraffe.’ But, after several security checks which included me speaking to the journalist’s mother in New York, it turned out Mgamwe was legit.
‘So, do I come down or not?’ he asked.
‘You paying for the petrol?’
‘Jesus! I could always do John Burdett, you know?’
‘Okay. Don’t get shirty. Yeah, you can come.’
We haven’t got a spare room so I booked him and his personal assistant into the Salt Water View Short Term Beachfront motel just down the coast. I’d never actually seen anyone stay there overnight but you never know if a tour bus is going to break down out front on the very night you’ve got VIP guests. It occurred to me that if all this wasn’t a scam, it was a pretty cool thing so I started to phone around.
‘This big newspaper’s doing a feature on me, with photos. Using my actual name.’
I called all my friends and living relatives, then a couple of dead ones. One call was to Bobby Bristol. Now, Bobby’s a nice chap but it’s rumoured they based Mel Gibson’s role in Conspiracy Theory on Bobby’s actual life.
‘Why?’ he asked.
‘I guess they want to know about my books and understand the man behind the stories.’
‘Oh, come on, CC. Be real. No offense intended here but do you honestly think a serious newspaper’s gonna be interested in your dumb books?’
He’d said, “No offense intended,” but that did little to alleviate the offensiveness.
‘CC, CC, sometimes I can’t believe how naïve you can be. They’re not interested in you as a writer. They’ve got other agendas. They’ve got something deeper in mind.’
‘I haven’t got anything deeper.’
‘I know that and you know that, but that’s not gonna stop them. Oh no. These investigative journalists, they’ll find it even if it isn’t there. They’ll dig up dirt on you and plaster it all over the front page. Bye bye reputation. Nobody’ll ever buy one of your books again. Dead.’
I had a week to let all this ferment. There were omens. It rained every day. Two of the dogs got diarrhea. My favourite hibiscus died. Then they arrived in a big black car like the politburo. They were friendly and funny like serial killers. They asked a lot of questions like the IRS. They didn’t complain about the Salt Water short term like people who knew they wouldn’t have to fill in the guest register. Like people who could be in and out with nobody knowing who they really were. He matched me drink for drink and those sinister questions just kept popping out of him. By the seventh beer I knew Bobby Bristol was right. I couldn’t possibly let these people go home.
And so we come to him asking me why I was standing at the foot of his bed holding a sledgehammer. Luckily, it was then that I snapped out of my paranoia. He’s just doing his job. It’s been a slow news week. Let him live.
‘Cockroach,’ I said and proceeded to smash the floor tiles to buggery.
‘Big one?’ he asked. (Another damned question)
‘Not really,’ I said. ‘But they’re tough little sods.’
‘Well, gee. Thanks.’
I bade him sweet dreams and returned to my room and thought, ‘Whew. That was a near thing’. Before everybody in the world started saying it, my Auntie Rene used to tell me that if something seemed too good to be true, it probably was. Except Auntie Rene had a trick ending. Her version went, If something seems too good to be true, it probably is…unless it isn’t.