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Missionary Stew
     

Missionary Stew

4.0 1
by Ross Thomas, Roger Simon (Introduction), Roger L. Simon (Introduction)
 

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Missionary Stew follows political fundraiser Draper Haere on a quest to uncover the secret behind a right-wing coup in an unnamed Central american country. Haere seeks the information in order to get dirt on his boss's opponent in the 1984 US Presidential election. Haere's pursuit of the truth repeatedly puts Haere's life in danger, as the powers-that-be

Overview

Missionary Stew follows political fundraiser Draper Haere on a quest to uncover the secret behind a right-wing coup in an unnamed Central american country. Haere seeks the information in order to get dirt on his boss's opponent in the 1984 US Presidential election. Haere's pursuit of the truth repeatedly puts Haere's life in danger, as the powers-that-be stop at nothing to keep the episode buried. Along the way, Haere carries on an affair with the wife of his candidate and enlists the aid of Morgan Citron, an almost-Pullitzer winning journalist who has recently been released from an African prison where the prisoners where fed human flesh--the titular missionary stew. Together Citron and Haere face up against cocaine traffickers, Latin American generals, corrupt US officials, and Citron's estranged, tabloid-publisher mother.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“It's good to see the world again through Ross Thomas' cool, clear gaze.” —Los Angeles Times

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780312327064
Publisher:
St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
03/08/2004
Edition description:
REV
Pages:
288
Sales rank:
1,266,281
Product dimensions:
5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.68(d)

Related Subjects

Read an Excerpt

Missionary Stew


By Ross Thomas

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 1983 Ross Thomas
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-8169-9


CHAPTER 1

He flew into Paris, the city of his birth, on a cold wet November afternoon. He flew in from Equatorial Africa wearing green polyester pants, a white T-shirt that posed the suspect question have you eaten your honey today? and a machine-knitted cardigan whose color, he had finally decided, was mauve.

The articles of clothing, possibly Oxfam castofffs, had been handed to him out of a green plastic ragbag by Miss Cecily Tettah of Amnesty International, who had apologized neither for their quality nor their fit. The mauve sweater must have belonged to a fat man once — an extremely tall fat man. Morgan Citron was a little over six-one, but the sweater almost reached mid-thigh and fitted his emaciated 142-pound frame like a reversed hospital gown. Still, it was wool and it was warm and Citron no longer cared greatly about his appearance.

It was in a cheap hotel room near the Gare du Nord that Citron had been born forty-one years ago, the son of a dead-broke twenty-year-old American student from Holyoke and a twenty-nine-year-old French army lieutenant who had been killed in May during the fighting at Sedan. Citron's mother, obsessed with her poverty, had named her son Morgan after a distant cousin who was vaguely connected to the banking family. Citron was born June 14, 1940. It was the same day the Germans rolled into Paris.

Now on that wet, cold November afternoon in 1981, Citron went through customs and immigration at Charles de Gaulle Airport, found a taxi, and settled into its rear seat. When the driver said, "Where to?" Citron replied in French: "Let's say you have a cousin who lives in the country."

"Ah. My country cousin. A Breton, of course."

"He's coming to Paris."

"But my cousin is poor."

"unfortunately."

"Yet he would like a nice cheap place to stay."

"He would insist upon it."

"Then I would direct him to the Seventh Arrondissement, in the Rue Vaneau, Number Forty-two — Le Bon Hotel."

"I accept your suggestion."

"You've made a wise choice," the driver said.

When they reached the Peripherique, Citron confided further in the driver. "I have a diamond," he said.

"A diamond. Well."

"I wish to sell it."

"It is yours to sell, of course."

"Of course."

"You know anything of diamonds?"

"Almost nothing," Citron said.

"Still, you have no wish to be cheated."

"None."

"Then we shall try Bassou and you will tell him that I sent you. He will give me a commission. A small one. He will also give you a fair price. Low, but fair."

"Good," Citron said. "Let's try Bassou."


Three days before, Citron had watched in the early-morning African hours, already steaming, as Gaston Bama, the sergeant-warder, brought in and ladled out the famous meal that eventually was to help drive the Emperor-President from his ivory throne.

Bama was then an old man of fifty-three, corpulent, corrupt, and slow-moving, with three chevrons on his sleeve that testified to his rank, the same rank he had held for seventeen years. For nearly all of the past decade he had been chief warder in the section d'etranger of the old prison the French had built back in 1923, long before the country was an empire, or even a republic, and still then only a territory of French Equatorial Africa.

The foreigners' section was in the small, walled-off east wing of the prison. That November it held not only Morgan Citron, but also four failed smugglers from Cameroon; a handful of self-proclaimed political refugees from Zaire; six Sudanese reputed to be slavers; one mysterious Czech who seldom spoke; and an American of twenty-two from Provo, utah, who insisted he was a Mormon missionary, although nobody believed him. There were also three rich young Germans from Dusseldorf who had tried to cross Africa on their BMW motorcycles only to break down and run out of money a few miles outside the capital. Because no one had quite known what to do with them, they were clapped into prison and forgotten. The rich young Germans wrote home every week begging for money and uN intervention. Their letters were never mailed.

It was largely because he was bilingual in French and English that Morgan Citron had been elected or perhaps thrust into the position of spokesman for the foreign prisoners. His only other qualification was his gold wrist watch, a costly Rolex, that he had bought in Zurich in 1975 on the advice of a knowledgeable barkeep who felt that gold might be looking up as an investment. Just before the Emperor-President's secret police had come for him in his room at the InterContinental, Citron had slipped the watch from his left wrist and onto his right ankle beneath his sock.

That had been nearly thirteen months ago. Since then he had traded the gold links in the expansion band one by one to Sergeant Bama for supplementary rations of millet and cassava and fish. Infrequently, no more than once a month, there might also be some red meat. Goat, usually. Elderly goat. Citron shared everything with the other prisoners and consequently was not murdered in his bed.

There had been thirty-six links in the watch's gold expansion band originally. In thirteen months, Citron had parted with thirty-four of them. He knew that soon he would have to part with the watch itself. With his gold all gone, Citron was confident that his term as spokesman would also end. If not drummed out of office, he would abdicate. Citron was one of those for whom political office had never held any attraction.

Sergeant Bama watched as the skinny young private soldier put the immense black ironstone pot down near the bench on which Citron sat in the shade just outside his cell.

"There," Sergeant Bama said. "As I promised. Meat."

Citron sniffed and peered into the pot. "Meat," he agreed.

"As I promised."

"What kind of meat?"

"Goat. No, not goat. Four young kids, tender and sweet. Taste, if you like."

Citron yawned hugely, both to express his indifference and to commence the bargaining. "Last night," he said, "I could not sleep."

"I am desolate."

"The screams."

"What screams?"

"The ones that prevented me from sleeping."

"I heard no screams," Sergeant Bama said and turned to the private soldier. "Did you hear screams in the night? You are young and have sharp ears."

The private soldier looked away and down. "I heard nothing," he said and drew a line in the red dirt with a bare toe.

"Then who screamed?" Citron said.

Sergeant Bama smiled. "Perhaps some pederasts with unwilling partners?" He shrugged. "A lovers' quarrel? Who can say?"

"They went on for half an hour," Citron said. "The screams."

"I heard no screams," Sergeant Bama said indifferently and then frowned. "Do you want the meat? Four kilos."

"And the price?"

"The watch."

"You grow not only deaf in your old age, but senile."

"The watch," Sergeant Bama said. "I must have it."

Citron swallowed most of the saliva that had been created by the smell of the meat. "I will give you two links — the last two — provided there're two kilos of rice to go with the meat."

"Rice! Rice is very dear. Only the rich eat rice."

"Two kilos."

Sergeant Bama scowled. It was as excellent bargain, far better than he had expected. He changed his scowl into a smile of sweet reasonableness. "The watch."

"No."

Sergeant Bama turned to the private soldier. "Fetch the rice. Two kilos."

After the private soldier left, Sergeant Bama squatted down beside the ironstone pot. He dipped his right hand into its lukewarm contents and removed a small piece of meat. He offered the piece to Citron. For a moment, Citron hesitated, then accepted the meat and popped it into his mouth. He chewed slowly, carefully, and then swallowed.

"It is not goat," Citron said.

"Did I say it was goat? I said kid — young and tender. Does it not dissolve in your mouth?" "It is not kid either."

Sergeant Bama peered suspiciously into the pot, fished out another small piece of meat that swam in the brownish liquid, and sniffed it. "Pork perhaps?" He offered the piece to Citron. "Taste and determine. If it is pork, you will not have to share with the Sudanese, who are Muslim."

Citron took the meat and chewed it. "It is not pork. I remember pork."

"And this?"

"This is sweet and tough and stringy."

Sergeant Bama giggled. "Of course. How stupid of me." He clapped a hand to his forehead — a stage gesture. "It could only be monkey. A rare delicacy. Sweet, you said. Monkey tastes sweet. There is nothing sweeter to the tongue than fresh young monkey."

"I've never tasted monkey."

"Well, now you have." The sergeant smiled complacently and looked around. The other prisoners were seated or squatting in the shade, none of them nearer than six meters, awaiting the outcome of the negotiations. When the sergeant turned back to Citron, the scowl was again in place and a harsh new urgency was in his tone. "I must have the watch," he said.

"No," Citron said. "Not for this."

Sergeant Bama nodded indifferently and looked off into the hot distance. "There will be a visitor this afternoon at fifteen hundred," he said. "A black woman from England who is a high functionary in a prisoners' organization with a rare name."

"You lie, of course," Citron said, wiping a thin film of grease from his mouth with the back of his hand.

Sergeant Bama looked at him and shrugged. "Believe what you wish, but she will be here at fifteen hundred to interview the other foreign scum. It is all arranged. You, of course, will be transferred to the isolation block and thus will miss the black Englishwoman. A pity. I am told she is a marvelous sight. Of course ..." The sergeant's unspoken offer trailed off into an elaborate Afro-Gallic shrug.

"The watch," Citron said, understanding now.

"The watch."

Citron studied Sergeant Bama for several seconds. Over the sergeant's left shoulder he could see the private soldier approaching with a big pot of rice. "All right," Citron said. "You get the watch — but only after I see the black Englishwoman."

He was surprised when the sergeant agreed with a single word: "Good." Sergeant Bama rose then and turned toward the other prisoners. "Come and eat," he called in near English, adding in rapid French, which not all of them could follow: "We want you fat and sleek for when the black Englishwoman arrives."

The prisoners rose and started filing past the pots of meat and rice. The sergeant presided over the meat, the private soldier over the rice. The sergeant used a gourd ladle to dish meat into the prisoners' plastic bowls.

"What's this shit?" the young Mormon missionary asked.

"Monkey," Citron said.

"Oh," the Mormon said, hurried away with his food, sat down in some shade, and ate it quickly with his fingers.


Miss Cecily Tettah, who worked out of the London headquarters of Amnesty International, had been born on a large plantation in Ghana just outside Accra forty-two years before, when Ghana was still called the Gold Coast. After the war she had been sent by her cocoa-rich father to London to be educated. She had never returned to Ghana, never married, and, when asked, usually described herself in her splendid British accent as either a maiden lady or a spinster. Many thought her to be hopelessly old-fashioned. The few men lucky enough to find their way into her bed over the years discovered not only a magnificent body, but also an acerbic wit and an excellent mind.

Still a handsome woman, quite tall with graying hair, Miss Tettah, as she rather primly introduced herself to almost everyone, had been granted the use of Sergeant Bama's tiny office to interview the foreignrisoners. She sat behind the plain wooden table, a thick file open before her. Citron sat in the chair opposite. Cecily Tettah tapped the open file with a pencil and looked up at Citron with wide-spaced, bitter-chocolate eyes. She made no effort to keep the suspicion out of either her tone or gaze.

"There is no record of you," she said, giving the papers in the file a final tap with her pencil. "There're records of all the others, but none of you."

"No," Citron said. "I'm not surprised."

"They claim you're a spy, either French or American. They're not sure which."

"I'm a traveler," Citron said.

"I had an audience with the Emperor-President this morning." She sniffed. "I suppose that's what one should call it — an audience. He has agreed to release all of the foreign nationals — all except you."

"Why not me?"

"Because he thinks you're a spy, as I said. He wants to see you. Privately. Will you agree?" Citron thought about it and shrugged. "All right."

"Not to worry," Cecily Tettah said. "We'll get it sorted out. Now then. How've they been treating you?"

"Not bad. Considering."

"What about food? You look thin."

"There was enough — just barely."

"Today, for instance. What did they feed you today?"

"Meat and rice."

"What kind of meat?"

"Monkey."

Cecily Tettah pursed her lips in approval, nodded, and made a note. "Monkey's not bad," she said. "Quite nutritious. Almost no fat. Did they feed you monkey often?"

"No," Citron said. "Only once."


The Emperor-President's anteroom was an immense hall with no chairs or benches and a once magnificent parquet floor now ruined by cigarette burns and boot scars. The room was crowded with those who wanted to petition the Emperor-President, and with those whose job it was to prevent his assassination.

There were at least two dozen uniformed armed guards, plus another dozen secret police. The secret police all wore wide gaudy ties and peered suspiciously out at the world over tinted Ben Franklin glasses. The guards and the secret police stood. The threadbare petitioners sat on the floor along with a host of preening sycophants, a squad of sleepy-looking young messengers, and a pair of Slav businessmen in boxy suits who spoke Bulgarian to each other and tried to look forbidding, but whose wet friendly eyes betrayed their optimistic salesmen souls.

Citron also sat on the floor, his back to the wall, guarded by Sergeant Bama, who amused himself by shooting out his left wrist to admire his new gold Rolex. The sergeant smiled at his watch, then scowled at Citron.

"You will be alone with him."

"Yes."

"Do not lie about me."

"No."

"If you lie, then I might have to reveal what was in the morning pot. There are those who would pay well to learn its contents."

"Monkey," Citron said, knowing it wasn't.

The sergeant smiled a quite terrible smile that Citron felt he might remember for years. "It was not monkey," Sergeant Bama said.

"Last night," Citron said. "The screams. They sounded like children's screams."

Sergeant Bama shrugged and gave his new watch another admiring glance. "Some got carried away."

"Who?"

"I will not say." He glanced around quickly, then leaned closer to Citron. The smile reappeared, even more awful than before. "But you helped destroy the evidence," he whispered and then giggled. "You ate up all the evidence."


Citron stood throughout his audience with the Emperor-President, who sat slumped on the throne that had been cleverly crafted in Paris out of ebony and ivory. Citron thought it looked uncomfortable. He also thought the Emperor-President looked hung over.

"So," the Emperor-President said. "You are leaving us."

"I hope so."

"Some say you are French; some say American. What do you say?"

"I was both for a time. Now I'm American."

"How could you be both?"

"A matter of papers."

"Documents?"

"Yes."

"Ahhh."

The Emperor-President closed his eyes and seemed to nod off for a moment or so. He was a chunky man in his early fifties with a big stomach that bounced and rolled around underneath a long white cotton robe. The robe resembled a nightgown, and Citron thought it looked both cool and eminently practical. The Emperor-President opened his eyes, which seemed a bit inflamed, picked his nose, wiped his finger somewhere on the throne, and then beckoned Citron. "Come closer."

Citron moved closer.

"Closer still."

Citron took two more steps. The Emperor-President looked around suspiciously. They were alone. He beckoned Citron with a single finger. Citron leaned forward until he could smell last night's gin. Or today's.

I wish to send a secret message to the Presidents of France and the United States," the Emperor-President whispered. "No one must know. No one." He waited for Citron's reply.

"I'm not sure," Citron said carefully, "how soon I will be seeing them."

The Emperor-President nodded his big head, as if that were exactly what he would expect a spy to say. "My message is brief. Tell them — tell them both that I am ready for reconciliation — on their terms."

"I see."

"Can you remember that?"

"Yes. I believe so."


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Missionary Stew by Ross Thomas. Copyright © 1983 Ross Thomas. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Ross Thomas is ranked as one of the very top thriller writers by his fellow authors, and his readers loudly agree. Two Edgar Awards, and other prizes, only complement the abundant praise that Thomas has received.

Thomas died in 1995, and since then all but one of his twenty-five novels have gone out of print. This should never have happened to the man of whom The New Yorker has said "Very few...are as consistently entertaining...even fewer can match him for style and power." Minotaur is proud to remedy this situation by reissuing Thomas's novels. So start reading, and prepare to join Ross Thomas's legions of admiring fans.

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