Also by Richard Dooling
 Critical Care
Copyright(C) 1994 by Richard Dooling
 All rights reserved
 Printed in the United States of America
 Published simultaneously in Canada by HarperCollinsCanada Ltd
 First Edition, 1994
 Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
 Dooling, Richard.
 White man's grave / Richard Dooling. - 1st ed.
 p.   cm.
 1. Americans--Travel--Africa, West--Fiction.  2. Missing persons--
 Africa, West--Fiction. I. Title.
 PS3554.O583W45  1994   813'.54--dc20   93-37427CIP
 Permissions acknowledgments

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    For my mom,

    for my big brother, Lahai Hindowa,

    and in memory of Pa Moussa Gbembo

    The fiend in his own shape is

    less hideous than when he rages

    in the breast of man.


    Young Goodman Brown


    White Man's Grave


    ....Chapter 1

    Randall Killigan was a senior partner in the biggest law firm in Indianapolis, chairman of its bankruptcy department, and commanding officer when his firm did battle in federal bankruptcy court. Being the best bankruptcy lawyer in Indianapolis kept him happy for a month or two, but then he wanted to be the best bankruptcy lawyer in the Seventh Circuit, which in the federal court system comprises the states of Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin. Illinois contained Chicago and the biggest obstacle to his fame, because it was swarming with excellent bankruptcy lawyers operating out of huge law offices that serviced national and international clients whose bankruptcies made the front page of The Wall Street Journal. It would be a few years before Randall could scorch the earth in enough Chicago bankruptcy courts to make his name synonymous with commercial savagery in the Seventh Circuit, but he was working on it. He was building a national bankruptcy practice from a home base in an unremarkable midwestern city, working out of Sterling & Sterling, a partnership and professional corporation consisting of only 240 lawyers, most of whom were beholden to Killigan for the work he sent them.

    He had the thin but shapeless body of a middle-aged desk jockey and courtroom general who burned most of his calories exercising his adrenal glands. Randall learned early in life that the best-paying jobs were often the most stressful ones, so he taught himself not only to endure stress but to enjoy it. Before long, he developed a craving for it, the way other people craved caffeine or nicotine. But then (at least according to his wife) he went too far and became a stress junkie -- living a life that was devoid of meaning or excitement unless he was mainlining stress, arguing on behalf of a client who paid him and his firm millions in fees to confirm a Chapter 11 plan of reorganization.

    Randall lived and breathed the Bankruptcy Code, and intimidated anybody who crossed him by quoting it chapter, section, and verse. The famous biologist James Watson lived and breathed the problem of DNA until the structure of the double helix was revealed to him in a dream. Descartes nodded off and discovered the order of all the sciences in a dream. The nineteenth-century chemist Friedrich August Kekule von Stradonitz dreamed of a serpent swallowing its tail and woke up to discover the closed carbon ring structure of the benzene molecule. When Randall Killigan slept, he dreamed sections of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code, and woke up to discover money--lots of it--eagerly paid by clients who had insatiable appetites for his special insights into the Code.

    He tilted back in his leather recliner and spun around for a corner-office view of downtown Indianapolis, revealing a banner of computer paper Scotch-taped to the back of his chair, where emblazoned in four-inch bold type were the words KING OF THE BEASTS. Randall's protege, the young Mark Saplinger, had hung the beast banner as a joke, after one of Randall's most notable victories; Randall had left it there. His desk and three enormous worktables were scattered with trophies from proceedings gone by: logos and tokens from companies he had reorganized under Chapter 11, gifts from especially grateful bank officers in the form of paperweights engraved with his name and maybe the date of a dispositive hearing. Immediately to his right, the head of a huge stuffed black bear was mounted on the lid of a metal wastebasket. Randall had killed the bear in Alaska on a bankruptcy retreat with the boys and the lone female associate, Liza Spontoon. The bear's eyes stared up at the ceiling, the jaws were open, the white fangs gleamed, and, best of all, the thing ate paper.

    Randall hated paper, which was why he glowed when Mack appeared and discreetly placed a hard copy of the lift-stay motion in the Beach Cove case somewhere on the back forty acres of Randall's partner-sized desk, so it would be handy if Randall needed it during his conference call.

    "Get that out of here," Randall said, pointing first at the document, then at the computer screen, where the same document was already displayed in white letters on a blue field.

    As a rule, paper contained either worthless information or valuable information that was effectively useless and unretrievable until it was stored on a computer's hard disk. His associates all knew that memos to Randall were sent by E-mail. Randall had and E- mail macro that, every hour on the hour, intercepted any memo to his terminal exceeding 6,000 bytes, or about the length of one single-spaced typewritten page. The macro automatically opened such memos, then time- and date-stamped them with the following message:

    Your memo to this terminal was returned unread because it was excessively verbose. Save your prolixity for our opponents in federal district court. In the future, check your E-mail menu screen and be sure that your memo contains fewer than 6,000 bytes of information before sending it to this terminal.

    . RPK

    Before the conference call, Randall was due to meet with the creditors in the WestCo Manufacturing case, who were waiting for him to down the hall in one of the Sterling conference roms.

    "Do you want the memo on debtor-in-possession financing for the WestCo meeting?" asked Mack.

    Randall shook his head in exasperation and pointed at his notebook computer. The kid was loyal and hardworking, he thought, but needed reminding.

    "I'll fetch the battery packs, master," Mack said with a grin, and slipped back out.

    Mack filled a place in Randall's solar system that belonged to his only son, Michael Killigan, who, instead of going to law school after college, ran off and joined the Peace Corps, and was now stationed in a country whose name Randall could never remember: Sierra Liberia, or Sierra Coast, some blighted range of snake-infested hills in West Africa, full of nothing but swamps and bush villages and naked Africans living in mud huts with no running water or electricity. For some reason, Michael Killigan chose to live there too. Trying to be his own man, Randall figured, rebelling in the shadow of a giant, looking around for footsteps that were closer together than the mighty strides of his old man. He let the kid go, hoping that a couple months of sweltering in a shack, together with the attentions of a few colonies of intestinal parasites, would have his son back at home and eager to take the law school admissions test before the year was out.

    Eighteen months later, Michael had sent home a photograph of an African village girl in a headwrap, and the youthful insurrection threatened to become a permanent revolution. The camera shot was of her head and bare shoulders, with a piece of bone or horn or a large fang on a leather string around her neck, and a big toothy smile for the camera. When Michael had come home on medical leave with a case of meningitis, Randall reasoned with him, then begged, threatened, bribed, even ordered him to stay, all of which did nothing but afflict his son with the selective deafness so often seen in the offspring of desperate parents. Michael had returned to Africa as soon as he could walk.

    Randall had dictated a long letter to his son. Choosing his words with a lawyer's caution, he warned him that, while two years in the Peace Corps could be viewed as a character-building experience, three years might cause resume problems: a flag indicating a possible lack of ambition, the appearance of shirking responsibilities, a professional demeanor that might be rough around the edges because of lingering reverse culture shock, a concern that reentry may have been incomplete. When he read his words on paper, Randall concluded that his son would screw his head on straight and come home; it was still in his correspondence drawer.

    So, instead of having his son at his right hand, Randall made do with the eager young Saplinger, an associate who distinguished himself by sleeping on the floor of the document room for two weeks running during the confirmation hearings of the Marauder Corporation case.

    Expecting Mack to appear with the computer battery packs he needed for the meeting, Randall was annoyed when, instead, one of the firm's messengers walked into his office bearing a package of some kind.

    "What the fuck is that?" Randall asked, grabbing and tilting a cardboard box held together with fuzzy twine and addressed in black marker to "Master Rondoll Killigan."

    "UPS," the messenger said, unruffled and apparently accustomed to Randall's spontaneous profanity. The messenger read from the receipt, "Freeport, Sierra Leone. Some place in Africa."

    Randall tore the twine off, opened the box, removed several wads of newspaper packaging, and found a black bundle of tightly wrapped rags the size of a small football, with a two-inch hollow red tube made out of some kind of porous stone or mineral sticking out of the apex.

    "What the fuck?" Randall looked up and found his office empty, and was quite annoyed that the messenger had left before he could give the box back to him or yell at him for bringing it into his office in the first place. No not. Nothing. Just a black bundle from Africa.

    Randall had less and less time for nonbankruptcy irritations and intrusions into his professional life. His first thought was that he must have an employee somewhere to whom he could hand this object, with instructions to figure out what it was, where it came from, who sent it, and what he was supposed to do with it, nut nobody came to mind.

    The thing had a distinctly sinister appearance; it looked like a dark, petrified egg, laid by some huge, extinct bird of prey. He figured the blood-colored spout and found it was mounted or sewn securely into the parcel's interior. He dropped the thing into the box of wadded newspaper and dusted his fingers over it. A foul smell emanated from it, and he was afraid to unravel the rags, which were held together with some kind of pitch or glue. He uncrumpled one of the newspaper wads and found it was a page of the Sierra Leone Sentinel, published in Freetown.

    He considered feeding the whole mess to his bear, then reconsidered, set it on the floor under his desk, and resolved to call his wife at the first opportunity to see if Michael had said anything about sending back any African artifacts. Maybe it was just another rattle or drum for his collection. But -Master Rondoll?- That did not fit.

    Mack appeared with the batteries. Killigan grabbed his custom made 586 notebook computer and slipped a CD-ROM disk containing the entire annotated Bankruptcy Code into one slot, fed the battery into another slot, and headed out the door and down the hall.

    The attorneys representing all the major creditors in the WestCo Manufacturing case had arrayed themselves around a conference table, with their associates sitting demurely behind them, notepads and pens at the ready. The table was studded with notebook computers, briefcases, pitchers of ice water, notepads, cellular phones, and glasses fogging in the sunlight pouring in from the bay windows. Randall took his place at the head of the table and prepared to divide the spoils of WestCo Manufacturing among the lawyers for the various classes of creditors.

    In primitive societies, the dominant male of the tribe apportioned the kill according to the skill and valor of the members of the hunting party. As far as Killigan was concerned, nothing much had changed for twentieth-century man, except that the weapons had become rules -- complex and abstract rules -- and the warriors were now lawyers. The kill was relatively bloodless (except for the occasional unhinged, atavistic client who showed up now and again on the six o'clock news dragging a lawyer around in a noose of piano wire attached to a shotgun). In Randall's hands, the U.S. Bankruptcy Code was a weapon, anything from a blazing scimitar to a neutron bomb, depending upon how much destruction he was being paid to inflict on his client's adversaries. International corporate behemoths -- like West Co -- were weakened strays bleeding money, suffocated by debt, and falling behind the pack, where they could be picked off, dropped in the crosshairs of Randall's scope rifle, and plundered like carcasses rotting in the sun.

    But bankruptcy law went far beyond the hunt, for the kill was always followed by brutal, expensive combat among the contending classes of creditors. Sure, passions ran high at Troy when Agamemnon took Achilles' beautiful sex slave for himself, but a bondholder who's being asked to take out-of-the-money warrants instead of principal plus interest at 14 percent is something else. Blood and gore. Section 1129 of the Code coyly referred to as "plan confirmation," but when things went awry every bankruptcy lawyer in the country called the process "cram down," and for a good reason. After months or years of acrimonious, adversarial proceedings, one supreme warrior eventually emerged with a plan of reorganization, which he crammed down the throats of the vanquished creditors, so the spoils could be distributed to the victorious.

    As far as Randall was concerned, he might as well have stood at the head of the table smeared with the grime of warfare, reeking of smoke, streaked with blood, and blackened with powder burns. For months, he had stood in crowded courtrooms with other lawyers who were waiting for him to look the other way so they could blindside him with a nightstick. If he dropped his guard for a moment, if he took one case too many, if he failed to take every precaution, mistakenly trusted an associate with a crucial issue that turned out all wrong, forgot to have an associate check the computer services for the newest controlling case, missed a filing deadline, made only one important mistake. . . he could look up from counsel's table just in time to catch a poleax in the solar plexus. Some ruthless mercenary who had been studying Randall's techniques for years would step on his throat and show him the face of victory -- all fangs and war paint, screaming with laughter. If he stumbled once or twice, he could always recover and retake the high ground. But if he ever actually fell . . . Too terrible to think about. They would be on him like hyenas, ripping him apart and drinking his blood before he could draw another breath.

    The meeting went well enough. Only the bondholders were in a position to make trouble for him, and they were represented by a lawyer in a toupee who was afraid of Randall. Randall made sure everyone agreed on the deal points, flashed his teeth at the attorney for the bond holders, then headed down the hallway and back to his office, pausing when his administrative assistant stuck her hand out of an inner office and fanned a stack of pink messages commemorating calls that had come in during the meeting. He paused and flipped through them, crumpled one and threw it in the wastebasket, and handed the rest back to the hand, which was still patiently supine.

    "Did Bilksteen call for the Beach Cove conference call yet?"

    "No," she said.

    "Put him through when he does. And enter the rest of these in the to-do with four-thirty time," he said.

    "You've got Mr. Haley and the DropCo unsecured creditors calling at four thirty," she said, scrolling through his afternoon on the screen.

    "N-A-T," he said, walking away from her.

    "That's tomorrow," she called after him. "The next available time is tomorrow."

    "Fine." he said, drifting back into his office. "Call them all and tell them it will be tomorrow."

    At his desk, he switched on his notebook computer, which had been custom-made to his specifications. He had a 586 chip; the other lawyers had only 386s. He had a CD- ROM drive installed containing the entire, annotated Bankruptcy Code, as well as the Bankruptcy Rules and the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure; nobody else had a CD- ROM drive in their notebook computers, because there was no such animal on the market; Randall had paid a technician to build one for him. Battery life? Six hours plus. Let the wanna-bes struggle with their extension cords and their extra battery packs. Hard disk, 340 megabytes, which his paralegal had loaded with every relevant document in each of his cases, including a complete set of the pleadings for each proceeding, which had been scanned by an optical character reader and stored in his computer. He had discovered early in his career that if he worked harder than everyone else and knew more about the Code, the facts, and the case law than anyone else in the courtroom, he would win. And each victory made him that much stronger, because he could then afford more staff and better equipment, state-of-the-art litigation support software, and MIS personnel who knew how much to make it sing with evidence and case law when Killigan needed them.

    Mack appeared.

    "Beach Cove," said Randall, and they both laughed.

    "Should we send Bilksteen to a taxidermist and get him stuffed?" asked Randall. "You could fix his head up as a cover for your wastebasket, like I did with old Benjy here."

    Mack noted Randall's annoying glance at his watch. "I'll tell Whitlow and Spontoon to get in here," he said, referring to the other two associates who were scheduled to participate in the eleven o'clock conference call from opposing counsel in the Beach Cove bankruptcy proceedings.

    The speakerphone buzzed, his conference call was ready, and Mack appeared with the other two Sterling associates in tow.