'What is it about Lake Tele?' I said, as we wrapped up in our crackly army tarpaulins, after a supper of fried fish at a cafe table in the little hotel garden. 'Why does everyone say it's dangerous? What does Pangou think we're going to be killed? Why can't he tell us about it?'
'No idea,' said Lary, arranging the bottle of Johnny Walker Black Label, the plastic tooth-mug and the Penguin edition of Mark Twain's Roughing It on his bedside chair 'But if you take my advice – and it's not my business – I would ask that Marcellin Agnagna about it. It's just an instinct, it's just a hunch I have, but if you let on to that creep that your real aim is Lake Tele, that that's your primary objective and that you intend to work your way round to it from the north – he won't go with you, he'll find some excuse. He's frightened of something. Tell him at the last possible moment. That's my advice.'
'What do you mean – not your business?'
'It's not my problem,' said Lady, with an enormous grin. He turned his back on me, propped himself up on his elbow, and, with his left hand, poured himself a long gugle of whisky. 'If you're going up the Motaba almost to its source, walking right across the watershed and then expecting to find a dugout in the middle of nowhere waiting just for you' – he took a big gulp from the tooth-mug – 'a dugout, I guess, with a personalized greeting card from God stuck on it – you know the kind of thing – "Dear Redso, every hair on your head is numbered and of course there's a mansion up here with your name beneath the doorbell-push-button but, in the meantime, here's a celestial canoe, old boy, just because you're such a jolly good chap, such a pukkah English pig-sticking pervert, oh yes, Redso, and I nearly forgot, I'm sending jobs with wings to drop in a few supplies and lift you out when you break a leg" – you won't get anywhere near Lake Tele inside three months.'
'Jobs with wings?'
'Of course we'll find a canoe.'
'Yep. Everybody knows. East of the Motaba, you can hardly hear yourself speak for flapping wings. It's neon-lit with flashing haloes.'
'Quite. But I have to get back. My students will be waiting. I'm telling you now – three months is all I can spare. And I feel I've had three years of this already.'
'I'm sorry. It'll be different, the moment we start travelling.'
'You know what I'll do? If I ever see Heathrow again?'
'I'll get down on my knees like the Pope – and I'll kiss the sucking tarmac. And then I'll start right in on those nice men from Customs.'