The hut had no door, so Phil Hamm knocked on one of the door posts. Maribelle had seen him coming out of the corner of her eye, anyway. She turned. He stooped to peer inside.
“You girls up for a little hike?” he asked. “The locals say there’s something you might want to see.”
“And what is that?” Judith asked.
“Evidence, of a sort,” Hamm said. To Maribelle: “Bring your camera.”
They were ready a couple of minutes later. Hamm waited for them by the truck.
“I thought we were walking?” Maribelle said.
“We’ll go as far as we can in the truck,” Hamm said. “Hop in.”
A half-dozen village men climbed into the truck bed, joining the two that had come out with them to begin with; Maribelle still didn’t know these latter men’s’ names.
Once more Hamm was driving. Maribelle didn’t want to make Judith sit next to him so she sat between the two. Hamm’s name suited him. He smelled like a hunk of meat that
had been left out in the heat for a few days. Maribelle tried to keep her head turned away from him.
“What are we going to see, anyway?” Maribelle asked.
“African buffet,” Hamm answered with a grin. The wind blowing in through the driver’s window drove a heavy dosage of the spoiled meat smell up Maribelle’s nostrils, so she looked away and asked no more questions. The truck began to bounce and shake. The motions drove Maribelle into Hamm. Judith’s elbow in her side felt almost as uncomfortable as her rubbing against Hamm’s sweaty arm. Maribelle feared she’d start to smell like him.
Hamm braked and put the truck in park, killed the engine. The cloud of dust that had pursued the vehicle since they left the village caught up to them, rolling over them, coming in through the windows. Judith sneezed.
“Everybody out,” Hamm said, sliding out the door.
Before them waited an ocean of yellow-brown grass, as high as the truck’s windows or its side mirrors. The wind caused the grass to sway this way and that in wide swaths, as if the invisible hand of God were stroking it. The sky was a deep, unblemished blue. Maribelle squinted in the glare. There were no clouds.
“The ground here is like a washboard. We’d bust our shocks tryin’ to drive over it,” Hamm said. “You ladies stay in the middle. Let the waggin’ train protect you.” The group of men were already surrounding them. “There’s lions up the wazoo out here.”
Back home in the States, in civilization, Maribelle might have bristled at the implication of sexism in Hamm’s instructions. Maybe. But out here she was content to go along with what he said. Besides, the men had the guns, at least three of them did, not counting Hamm. The others carried spears or sticks. Maribelle got her camera ready.
“Over there.” Hamm pointed. Maribelle saw several black specks floating in the air ahead to their left.
“Are those vultures?” she asked.
“Yes, dear,” Judith answered.
“X marks the spot,” Hamm said.
The grass swallowed them. Maribelle, short as she was, could scarce see over it. She felt thankful that the villagers, at least, were tall. Maybe they could spot any threat coming. She wouldn’t have a chance.