Closing his eyes, he's aware there'll be no opening them again. His mind dims slowly, and as it does, the boxes stacked in its darkest corners start coming alive. 'TIA' struggles and falls off the top of a stack and with an enormous shudder releases black, which is to say, a feeling of everything all at once in condensed form spreads through the labyrinths of his mind, toppling boxes with labels like 'Doesn't Matter' and 'Forgotten' and 'Later', and what slithers out of them is an overwhelming explosion of all things gone wrong in his miserable life. It hurts to breathe.
But there is Maddy. Sitting intrepidly on top of 'TIA', looking at him with her peculiar smile. He goes to her, feels her cheek against his palm, her fingers squeezing his, her hair brushing against him as she leans in and he can feel her breath on his lips. There is Maddy, staring boldly into his eyes as he takes her clothes off, one article at a time, savoring every moment. Maddy, throwing her head back, her mouth open just enough for him to see the tips of her teeth as he pulls her to himself and bends to taste her lips.
For the first time in his life, he's free to daydream – he is dying, after all. There will never be the consequence of facing disappointment.
Maddy slaps her laptop shut, relishing the sharp snap of it. Causing pain, even to inanimate objects, alleviates her own. She feels sad, she feels furious, she feels like the only thing that would make her feel better would be destroying Van de Kaap. Bringing him down, bleeding him out, leaving him for dead on a cliff.
And she wishes she'd never gone to Africa.
'The pen is mightier than the sword,' she whispers to convince herself that this story needs writing. Solomon is only days away from meeting up with Simmons and she has to pull herself together for it. For him.
Her phone rings and she brushes at the sting in her eyes before grabbing it off a coffee table. A quick glance at the number to save herself from talking to someone she wouldn't want to – and her heart stops. +881, the number starts. Like when Archer had called. The phone drops from her frozen hand and then again, as she fumbles to pick it up and by the time she flips it open, she is in so much panic the caller would hang up that she can't speak.
But neither does the caller. There is only a breath disguised by faint static.
'Hello,' she finally says, voice quivering. 'Hello?'
And then a clatter, a squeak, a voice and another one, bickering out of range. 'Hello,' she says again, 'Talk to me.'
More clattering, and at last she hears a woman's voice. 'Terribly sorry to disturb you, one of the children must've gotten in and was playing with the phone—'
Fury sweeps over Maddy. In her mind's eye 'the children' like vultures scavenging Archer's lifeless body. 'Where. Did you get. This phone?'
'Once again, I am terribly sorry, I don't know how these phones work, perhaps a redial button and you were the last one our patient called. As I said—'
'Listen, ma'am,' the voice on the other end is getting frazzled. 'It won't happen again.'
'No, you don't understand.' Maddy realizes she was digging her fingernails into her thigh and lifts her fingers, one by one. 'What do you mean, your patient? Who?'
'Well, to be honest, we haven't the slightest idea. He was found unconscious three days ago and has not regained consciousness yet. He's not doing too well, I'm afraid to say.'
'But he's alive? You're saying,' here her voice breaks, 'that Danny Archer is alive?'
'I can't confirm who he is, ma'am.'
'You know…you know. Tall, blonde,' the wheels in her mind spin madly. 'A watch with a blue dial plate on his left arm.'
'Yes,' the woman agrees. 'That would describe him.'
'Oh, God.' Maddy covers her mouth with her hand. For the second time within two minutes she cannot find her voice.
'Yes, yes, I'm sorry. I'm just— I—I thought he's, uh… Where are you? Tell me how to find you.'
'I'm sorry, but travel is absolutely impossible in Sierra Leone at the time. From what I've heard, all foreigners have been evacuated. This country is at war with itself.'
'I am not a…regular traveler; the war is not a problem. Just please tell me where he is. I couldn't bear to know that…' She breaks off again and draws in a shaky breath.
The voice on the other end softens. 'I suppose… If you could get to the Bafi bank opposite Bendu, I could ask one of our local Kamajors to lead you. But it would be quite a walk.'
The last words spoken by the woman, a doctor named Helen Stranghof, are to gently remind her that Archer might not live to see her.
But Maddy is determined. And before dawn of that very day, she arranges for Fawaz to meet her in Conakry and squirms restlessly on a plane to Guinea.
Maddy clutches her backpack to her chest, as much for comfort as for certainty that the precious drugs inside are safe. Helen told her to bring as much pain relievers and antibiotics as she could get her hands on, and Maddy got her hands on a lot. She finds it sadly fascinating that Archer's very real wounds are being treated by a spiritual healer. If he is still alive. Maddy quickly chases that terrifying thought away and looks around again. She stands in the middle of nowhere, on a thin strip of tall grass between the river and the jungle, miles away from any large city, but what does that matter? The RUF are everywhere, there is not a riverbank that's not crawling with them. And if they saw Fawaz dipping his Cessna from the sky to land her…
That is something else Maddy does not want to think about. She's not one to scare easily, but standing alone, with no plan and no way back home is, at the very least, disconcerting. Minutes feel like hours and every rustle like an ambush. Wayward thoughts of all the ways in which this exploit might end in disaster flirt with her mind, and she is close to succumbing to her fears when the Kamajor noiselessly appears from the jungle. Not saying a word, he motions for her to follow and slipps right back into the foliage.
She has to jog to keep pace.