Third instalment! if you wish to catch up on the first two please click on the West Africa Tab above.
The road to the rutile mine was quite good; obviously the firm had reinforced it so the lorries could negotiate the route better.
They had a meeting with the site manager who had, had numerous very public arguments with Anita.
They arrived at the mine as the afternoon was starting to cool and Gabriel Facunda met them at the entrance. They followed his jeep to the mines administrative offices parked the car and took a walk to the most active dredging pond. Gabriel was happy to extol the recent safety record of the mine. He was pleased with the progress made since a horrific incident where 50 workers had died; and how the company was doing all it could to replenish fishing stocks in the ponds left behind after the mining had finished.
A huge house-like structure sat atop a man made pond which dredged the soil to extract the mineral. That was apparently used in paints and even sun screens, due to its light refracting properties. He showed them round the site which was immense and housed a hospital for staff. However standing nearby was a uniformed militia man which unnerved Eli, many of these armed men could be seen stalking the site. Mr Facunda saw Elijah’s concern and brushed it aside; saying this was merely the security staff and not to be concerned.
When the interview began he explained that he had not been in Moyamba district but in Freetown on the night of the murder, he had been attending his daughters wedding and was happy to give a list of guests who could verify this.
He confirmed that he had had numerous debates (as he called it) with Miss Berwick, she accused the mine of polluting the river, but he couldn’t understand why. They were five miles from the river and were very careful, as pollutants such as ammonium chloride and sulphuric acid were used in the refining process. Although he did understand that people were getting sick in the area and a few people had apparently gone mad. It was believed it was something in the food chain, most likely the fish and meant that the EU fisheries funding was under threat. He stated he actually took her accusations very seriously and the company had initiated an external safety audit of their pollutant controls and they had found nothing to suggest the mine was the cause. But Anita wouldn’t leave the mine alone, accusing the company of bribing the auditors, but he assured Elijah this was not true, we are a respectable firm who was honestly trying to do a good job in Sierra Leone.
So what do you think is polluting the river then Mr Facunda?
I don’t know, but there is something strange happening at night in the land adjacent to the river. I left the mine in the early hours of the night two weeks ago, I had paperwork to clear which I am sorry to say I had neglected. Well I was driving on the edge of the sacred land and swear I could see a glow of artificial lights and a roar which sounded like heavy machinery. However it was easily half a mile or so away so it was hard to say and as I am not a member of the secret society I couldn’t be sure that it wasn’t some bizarre ritual. I am an engineer and superstition is so backward do you not think gentlemen?
As they revved up the engine Desmond’s brow ruffled he turned to Elijah and said, ‘I know what you are thinking.’
‘What am I thinking Desmond?’
‘You are thinking I need to investigate the Sacred Land aren’t you?’
‘No, just thinking we go up to the edge of it in the early hours and see if we can hear and see the same thing, that’s all.’
‘Good – as treading on the Sacred Land is likely to end in bloodshed, I am not saying spirits will attack us, simply an angry mob. If we enter the land we need reinforcements Elijah.’
‘We won’t go on the land Desmond not tonight at least, aren’t you curious?’
Desmond stared long and hard at Elijah but did not respond.
That night they both parked at the side of the road where Mr Facunda had told them he had seen the lights and heard the machinery, they waited all night and all they heard was the raucous din of night time insects, the call of monkeys and at one point a bang that seemed to come from faraway and made them both jump. The only lights they saw were fireflies and then the early tendrils of dawn creeping over the hills.
As they drove back to Moyamba they passed the mine and were flagged down by a distraught worker, who hurried them to dredging pond. There lay the body of Mr Facunda, bloated and purple from drowning.
The security team had caught a man they believed did the deed. They said he had been fired earlier and he had given a full confession. It certainly looked no more than a coincidence – finding his death so soon after providing a lead was a concern. But then not much of a lead – they hadn’t witnessed anything to suggest he hadn’t imagined the noises and he said himself that he couldn’t be sure, I mean the guy confessed he was a little sleep deprived; perhaps the noises and light had been a mild hallucination, but still – Eli just couldn’t shake the feeling that it was connected.
Elijah shifted position in the sauna under his mosquito net, he had woken from a strange dream and was unable to get back to sleep his mind whirring with suspicions. Coincidences like that – can they really happen, he wondered to himself. It was the early hours, the sun was just rising and they were getting a few hours sleep before having a day off. Goat stew at Desmond’s village was on the cards and he was thankful for it.
The fan in his room clicked and then slowed down, he jumped up and went to the window, there she was again, not covered in mud this time. He could see her better due to the early light that was making the world appear pink. She was quite stunning, tall, curvaceous and smiling. She motioned for him to follow her but he stood rooted to the ground, thoughts of being trapped never to be seen again. Then the landlord could be heard rounding the house to the generator building, she smiled again and suddenley disappeared into the tree-line.
Elijah un-rooted himself and ran outside – peering into the space she had once inhabited, but she was gone.
Desmond’s mother lived about 10 miles from Moyamba Town in a small village which had mud brick buildings and a small central square,where chillies were laid out drying near the well. Kids were pumping water as they arrived and suicidal chickens squawked in protest as the jeeps wheels scattered them.
In the early evening full of food they were sat around the fire – the talk turned to the sickness that was befalling many people in the district.
‘I think it’s the district councils fault, they spend donor money to build a big water treatment plant when what we need is clean wells, who can’t afford to pay for water. The generators cannot run as there is no money to fund it. Idiots.’ Desmond shook his head.
‘No,’ said his mother, ‘I think its in the food chain, this is not typhoid or cholera this is something else – a poison, Miss Berwick was right, although she was never able to prove it.’
‘As the local doctor Mother, your opinion on local sickness cannot be ignored. But something abnormal is happening, so much sickness.’
‘Ah this is Africa my love, sickness is normal.’
Desmond’s Auntie piped up, ‘What about that man who went berserk and executed his wife with a machete in the middle of the village for all to see, sliced right through her – it was terrible. The thing that made it so terrible is it came out of nowhere, they were such a happy couple, newly married and he was a young man with prospects, really did well from his cocoa crop and made some money on the side harvesting from the palm trees to make poyo. They were doing ok, it made no sense.’
‘They say psychopaths are difficult to predict though more than likely unconnected,’ said Desmond.
They all nodded in the firelight staring for a while.
The following morning the two men washing with warm water warmed by the fire,
‘Desmond there’s something in this poisoning, Anita was investigating it just before she died, surely this is a motive.’
‘I would certainly like to know and I think my mother can help us, she used to be a pathologist in the lab at the Government Hospital in Freetown before the war. Lets talk with her – Mother?’
Desmond’s mother Aminata came over to where they were washing.
‘Would you do us a favour?’ Eli asked
‘Yes if I can, what?’
‘Would you take samples from both the people getting sick and the river?’
‘I will, I would like to know myself what is causing this, there are many things that can make you sick here but it would be good to know for sure what this is. But how will you test these things, Anita could not get effective testing done in Freetown all the tests came back inconclusive or contaminated. Which is strange as all 5 of the separate tests took over a 1 month period had the same result. Anita was livid and felt almost paranoid that someone was deliberately sabotaging her attempts to get to the bottom of it. She used to say just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean their not out to get you.’ Aminata laughed at the irony.
‘How do you know this Aminata?’
‘This is why Desmond brought you here I think, not just for my Goat Stew. I knew Anita well, we had worked together on various health projects in Freetown, I even went with her to Kono and provided the medical report on the boys mining there, what a terrible place.’
‘I see, well I think we need to bypass Freetown then.’
‘Ah Rotifunk Hospital, yes indeed it has an excellent new lab, just completed, if they allow me use of the facilities I would be happy to do the tests myself.’
‘Mother, don’t tell anyone will you I don’t know if this is a true lead or a dead end, but if it is then people may wish to stop you. In fact I think I should stay here with you both to protect you.’
‘And you think that will not draw attention my son…I am an old women who often helps with the sick in the area, would it not be more suspicious to have my son, a policeman from the city, following me around? Don’t worry, my protection is normality and if that fails I am not without allies.’
Elijah felt overwhelmed with the feeling of a small win, finally he had gained another ally and this resulted in him picking Amanita up, squeezing her and spinning.
Desmond laughed, ‘Are you trying to woo my mother Elijah?’
‘Yes – yes I am’ he planted a huge kiss on her cheek and they all started laughing.
Several days later word reached Eli of another brutal murder that had taken place in a village near to the sacred land. The perpetrator was being held by the Chief and Elijah bullied the commandant into letting him go with him to extract the villain. He was interested as the village was close to where the suspicious lights had been seen by the dead rutile manager and his gut felt it was relevant to Anita’s case.
The village was quiet until they reached the Chief’s house, where a group of people were yelling outside – baying for retribution. When the formalities were over the Chief took them to the locked room where a quiet and scared looking man in his mid twenties sat, shaking uncontrollably.
Desmond went in and spoke with the man in Mende for quite some time whilst Elijah sat outside on the verandah with the chief, who told him the sad story of the events of the previous night.
The man had ran out scared witless into the village screaming about demons in his home. The chief and some of the other villagers went into the house and found his 3 children and wife brutally stabbed, blood congealing everywhere. The chief found it hard to believe what he saw, as he knew the man well. He was always hardworking – a good husband and provider for his children, it didn’t make any sense.
When Desmond returned he shook his head in dismay.
He is convinced Eli – it was not his family he killed it was demons with terrible clawing evilness, he doesn’t seem aware of the fact that his children and wife are dead and keeps asking to see his family. He looks sick too I think we need a doctor to look at him, I don’t think he is a well man and not just mentally.
Right well lets take him to Rotifunk Hospital to see your mother whose is also there doing the tests.
The next day they met Amanita. When they arrived she looked upset and quickly shooed them down passed the newly constructed theatres and into a quiet courtyard away from the main building.
‘I found something terrible,’ she shook her head.
‘What?’ They both said in unison.
‘Poison – Mercury, lead and cyanide…in the water, in the fish and most notably in those who are sick. It explains the symptoms, and when I spoke with the Greger about my results he has started testing all patients with symptoms and it is shockingly prevalent – over 200 people – mostly children have tested positive for one if not all of these poisons. However some men have large levels.
‘On this basis I tested your murderer and he has massively high levels of lead in his system, one symptom of lead poisoning is hallucinations…I asked him if he had been in contact with lead, had he been painting or doing anything that would have put him in contact with it and he went quiet and would say nothing more. I didn’t get a chance to speak with him further as the Moyamban Commander whisked him off to prison.’
‘What could cause these toxins to be so widespread?’ Asked Elijah.
‘I don’t know for sure but Greger says the last time he saw this was when he worked near the gold mines in Zimbabwe.’
Desmond looked at his Mother, ‘But there aren’t any gold mines in this area?’
‘None that are official.’
Desmond and Elijah looked at each other.
In the jeep back to Moyamba they both sat silent until Desmond broke it.
‘I hope you know Elijah that this investigation is uncovering things that could be more than damaging to our futures…’
Elijah nodded and the uneasy silence fell again.