By Sally Ireri & Kevin Rigathi
Doctors & Boxes
Larry was a conman and he was proud of it. He was successful at his trade, as his moderate wealth and lack of convictions exhibited. He just wasn’t particularly good at it. Larry was one of those people with an undeserved and entirely unfair abundance of good luck. His poorly thought out plans and needlessly complicated shenanigans had no right to work, and for his part, he never thought to question it. It never even occurred to him to doubt his own brilliance.
So he prepared for his new, and predictably foolhardy, con with childlike excitement. He straightened his lab coat, centred his stethoscope and placed a paper with illegible handwriting in just the right way so that it was hanging from his pocket. He looked exactly like what he imagined a doctor looked like. He was ready. The only thing left was Sabby, his assistant. He looked up to call out and…
“Sabby?” He managed to say after a short open-mouthed silence.
Sabby, his dear, sort-of-innocent, naive Sabby, was looking like a sum of money he’d be interested in stealing. She was in a floor length turquoise gown that clung to her in all the right places. It was made of some velvety material that seemed to flow like water over her curves when she moved, shimmering discreetly. The dress was constantly teasing, showing you what you wanted in bits, drawing you in closer and closer like…well, like a good con. It was very distracting.
“Do you like it?” she asked, placing a hand on her hip.
“Why are you dressed like that?”
“Because,” she said sighing, “I feel like.”
He liked that about her, she talked back to him. It wasn’t real defiance, that would never do, but as long as she eventually did what he wanted he liked a woman with some fight in her.
“You do realize we’re going for a job not a date.”
“Why can’t it be both?”
“I…” he looked her over again and swallowed, cursing himself for bringing it up “why are you dressed like that?!”
“We’re going to be in the President’s house!” she said exasperated, “What if I get caught wandering around? I need to look like I’m part of the party.”
“Yes,” he nodded, “just checking to see if you’d thought it through without me having to tell you.”
She rolled her eyes and Larry tried not to show his annoyance. Perhaps she was becoming too bold. He had been too nice. Too lenient. He would have to rectify that. After all, when he had found her she had just been a mere hotel acrobat. Without him, she would have never known how to make proper use of her talents. The memory of her performances somewhat dulled his anger and made him smile. The reproach would have to wait. They had work to do.
“Let’s go,” he said.
The guard at the president’s gate was an intimidating man. He stood probably well past six feet tall and had shoulders that could fold a rugby player in half. His permanent scowl was made only more impressive by the scar that ran down his face, starting near his right earlobe and just grazing his jawline. He was a living, breathing embodiment of a danger sign. This, in fact, was why he had been hired without an interview. One look at him and it had been determined that he was born for the job. The assumption had worked out pretty well so far. Unfortunately for everyone involved, no one had accounted for the possibility that he may one day have to make a decision that did not involve the use of force or intimidation. Today was that day.
The guard knew that the event inside was for important people and it was clear to him that important people did not drive beaten down, yellow 1972 Volkswagen beetles like the one before him. However, the man inside the car looked like a doctor. The guard could even see a piece of ruled paper with terrible handwriting scribbled on it in the doctor’s pocket. A doctor indeed and doctors were, by definition, important people. Big men. He did not know what to do.
“Daktari,” he said nodding to the man inside the car.
“Askari,” said the man confidently.
The guard found that he was stumped. What was he supposed to say now? He looked inside the car and noticed a large box taking up the entire back seat.
“What is in the box?” he asked, now on firmer territory.
“My hospital,” said the man.
“But of course. You see…a doctor is a doctor wherever he goes. And a doctor needs a hospital or he is no doctor at all. And so it follows that a doctor must take his hospital with him. Is this not so?”
The guard thought about it and could see no flaw in the logic so he nodded.
“But,” continued the man, “being the observant askari that you are, you may have noticed that this looks nothing like a hospital.”
The guard nodded again for indeed, boxes were not usually hospitals.
“This is because a hospital, just like a church, is not the building. It is what is important in the building. It is the healing and the tools of healing. This box holds everything I need. It is my hospital.”
The guard looked at the box and back at the doctor with a thoughtful look on his face. He did not know what to make of the situation. At last he decided that it was not his place to question the wisdom of doctors. It was common knowledge that doctors knew many things others did not. What else were the many years spent in school for?
“Daktari,” he said and turned to open the gate.
Inside the box was, of course, not a hospital. It was just Sabby displaying the skills that had made her the star attraction when she was an acrobat. The box was big, so fitting in it was no great feat for any flexible person. But to do so for a long period of time and keep her dress and hairdo intact? That took exceptional skill. The box itself was also part of their long running con. Larry would check into hotels and claim the box contained a priceless piece of art and should be stored with the rest of the valuables in the safe room. He would be disguised slightly differently each time, in case the hotels wised up and circulated a description of him. When the management complied, Sabby would climb out, fill the box with actual valuables and then get back in. She was of course limited by space, but her nimble body made it easy for her to cram lots of valuable junk into the box. They were both amazed at how much tourists trusted hotel safe rooms. Larry would then claim some kind of emergency and have to leave. Like most of Larry cons, it had worked more often than it really should have. Also like most of his cons, it led him down a path of ill-considered escalation. Now, bored of hotels, he had decided that the next step was obviously to take this con right up to the most important house in the country.
Larry wondered what Sabby looked like in the box. Even he had to admit that she was impressive at what she did, though his image of what position she’d manoeuvred herself into was probably too provocative to be practical or accurate. He thought of how she wouldn’t let him touch her until they were married, as if that would ever happen, and groaned. This was happening to him more and more often. He was finding excuses to think about Sabby and that was dangerous. He couldn’t afford to…to what? He shook his head. He had a job to do. It would not do to get distracted. He came back to reality to find that he was staring right at the most impressive display of cleavage he had ever seen.
He looked up to see the woman whose breasts he’d been ogling glaring at him. The man standing next to her, probably her husband, looked like he was about to pop a vein on his forehead. How long had he been staring? All he remembered was making his way through the party looking for easy marks. Damn that Sabby for distracting him.
“Ahem,” he cleared his throat and looked at the woman, “you should probably get that checked.”
“What…” her anger faltered and started fading into confusion.
“I shouldn’t say…not without a proper consultation. It could be nothing.” he said. Maybe there was a way he could make money out of this.
“What is it doctor!?” she asked finally noticing how he was dressed.
“Listen, don’t worry. Us doctors, we look at something normal and all the things we read in our giant books come up. It’s not a big deal. It’s just that mark on your left…” he struggled to find the right words, “mammary gland.”
“It could be a birthmark,” he said, “or it could be a genetic symptom of… Ichthyosis.”
“Ich-what!?” Said the maybe-husband.
“Is it serious?” asked the woman.
“Oh no no no. It’s very easily treatable. Just see a doctor when you can. It is nothing that should plague your mind if it is caught at this early stage.”
“I’ve had it since birth…”
“Yes. That’s because it’s a genetic symptom. It shouldn’t be a problem until you’re…” he looked at her and tried to make a safe bet, “until you’re 50.”
“Oh,” she said visibly relaxing and laughing, “I feel so guilty. I thought you were just a pervert yet here you were saving my life. I’m so sorry.”
“Yes,” said the maybe-husband now chuckling.
“Ah, think nothing of it. You know us doctors,” Larry said smiling, “even in the middle of the party we can’t help but start treating people.” He decided against going through with the con.
The couple laughed and made their way to some gathering of people they knew.
“Ichthyosis,” said a voice behind Larry, “very interesting diagnosis.”
Larry turned to see a tall thin man dressed like what he assumed was a lawyer. Who else wore half coats anyway? The man had the oddest facial hair. Thick sideburns that connected right into his moustache in a way that was mildly unsettling.
“Yes, good thing I caught it,” he said. “I’m Doctor Larry Watala. You are?”
“My name is Daniel Thomi,” said the man smiling with a mischievous gleam in his eye, “I’m the president’s personal doctor.”
The Naked Truth
Sabby waited until the suitcase had been placed on the ground and she could no longer hear muffled footsteps. The house staff had discussed where to place the case for a long time and unless their decision had changed somewhere mid-trip, she was in a guest bedroom. Out of the way and unlikely to be visited. Just perfect.
As she climbed out of the box, she marvelled at where she was. She was in the president’s own house about to rob him. It was amazing. Better still, this had all been accomplished by foolishness. Pure and utter foolishness. Larry, bless the poor idiot, was effective because no one could conceive that he was trying to trick them. He was so obviously bereft of any sense that most people believed that if he was trying to pull a fast one on them they’d have seen it coming a mile away. It was this little bit of arrogance that made him such a successful conman. As politicians had proved for millennia, a sufficient dose of confidence without any self-consciousness was an astonishingly good replacement for intellect if you wanted to get ahead. It was why she had chosen him, even if the fool believed it was he that had chosen her.
She opened the door and walked out into the hallway. She didn’t bother with much stealth. If she was discovered she would just pretend to be a drunk guest who had wandered too far. If she struck the right balance between oblivious and imperious, it would serve better than any camouflage. As any guard in a place like this knew, the wives of powerful men are forces of nature best left alone or handled with extreme caution.
The president’s room was easily identifiable for it practically called attention to itself. The positioning was a good hint, right at the centre, but the big ornate doors were the dead giveaway. She made her way to it and leaned against it turning the handle. Taking a moment to make sure no one else was around, for going in there would be slightly harder to explain if she was caught, she slipped in and locked the door behind her. She was smiling, gazing around the sitting room area, until she turned and saw the man in the room watching her.
“Uh…” was all she managed to say.
“Did anybody see you come in?” The strange man asked.
He was a short grandfatherly looking man. She had no idea who he was. Another thief? Probably not. He didn’t look like a guest. His clothing looked expensive but it didn’t say authority, it had more of a uniform feel to it.
“Did anybody see you come in?” he asked again impatiently.
She shook her head unable to talk.
“Not much of a talker, are you?” he said, “Then again, that’s how he likes them. Young, silent and pretty.”
Sabby nodded, trying her best not to look perplexed.
“You’re new to this so I will bring you up to speed. He’ll be here in perhaps,” he glanced at his watch, “an hour. The dressing room is down that corridor but don’t take off your clothes, he prefers to do that. Also, don’t wear him out, make sure you do all the work. He might think he has the energy for it but he’s an old man and he has people to meet afterwards, it won’t do to have him exhausted. I’m sure you know how to lead him while making him think it is his idea.”
She nodded again, feeling like a bit of an idiot. The president had prostitutes? This information was more valuable than anything she could steal. She filed it away. She would find a way to use it later.
“I don’t mean to tell you how to do your job,” said the man leaning close, “and I’m sure you already know this but it’s not about the sex. Your job is to make him feel wanted, desired…feel, feel powerful! No men need reassurance of their power more than those who have the most. He’s the president…but you need to make him FEEL like the president. You understand?”
“Yes,” she said happy to have found her voice again.
“Good,” the man walked to the door but turned before opening it, “Your pay will be with your employers.”
She figured it was best to say nothing.
“It is not as difficult as it seems,” suddenly he smiled and winked at her, “I hear it doesn’t last very long.”
And with that he left. Sabby fell onto a leather sofa and let out a laugh that had a slight edge of insanity in it. That had been close. The adrenaline coursing through her body was making her hands shake. It was a long while before she calmed down and she knew she had wasted precious time. The actual prostitute would be here any second. Or, even worse, the horny president. Now that would be a tricky situation best avoided. It would be better for everybody involved if she was not forced to assassinate the president.
She looked around the room and saw what she wanted almost immediately. The president’s cane. The personal symbol of his power and authority, known throughout the country. It was his unique trademark. She smiled at the thought of how much a government run through fear would pay to hide the fact that the president had been robbed of his most beloved possession. Why,the number of zeroes in that figure was enough to make HER feel like the president.
“And you know what I said?” Said Doctor Thomi, “Lymphocytes!”
He burst out laughing and Larry followed suit. He did not understand but he was well aware that he could not reveal that. His only saving grace at the moment was the fact that the president’s doctor was a bit of a sadist. He enjoyed toying with his patients’ lack of medical knowledge and complete trust in his profession, and he thought Larry was just like him. It would not do to let on that he had not understood a single thing the man was telling him and that he did not see the humour in it.
“So,” said Thomi still chuckling, “would you like to meet the president.”
Larry opened his mouth and shut it. He realized that he did not have any idea which option was safer.
“Oh, shy now are we?” teased Thomi, “Put those thoughts away. You absolutely must meet him, I insist. Let us go.”
Seeing as the decision was already made for him, Larry followed behind Thomi and for the first time realized just how much trouble he would be in if something went wrong. The consequences had never seemed real for he had never seriously contemplated the possibility that things would not go his way. After all, they almost always did. At that thought, he had to actively stop his hands from trembling.
The president was seated in an isolated circle right in the middle of the gathering. The only person next to him was his bodyguard. Everyone else was standing some distance away. Unknown to Larry, it was an unspoken rule that no one stepped within a 2 meter radius of the president unless given permission. Some whispered it was for security reasons. Others, even more discreetly, suggested it was because the president liked the idea of his aura having a repelling effect. If this was true then he must have been pleased because people stood at least 3 meters away, just to be on the safe side.
“Rais!” said Thomi stopping just over two meters away from the president.
The president turned to look at them though he did not seem to see them. He seemed distracted. His lips parted and he drew in air loudly through the gap in his teeth and turned away. For a moment, it seemed like he was going to ignore them but he lifted his hand, still not looking at them, and signalled them closer.
Thomi approached from the president’s right hand side, a privilege few were allowed to exercise for only those in favour could bask in the glory of the president’s right hand. If Larry had understood the honour he was being paid or the trouble that would come his way if he was exposed after that, he would have looked even paler than he did.
“Rais,” said Thomi, “this is Daktari Larry Watala. A very good doctor.”
The president looked at Larry. It was a strange look. The kind of look someone gives a goat they are sizing up and considering if it’s fat enough to slaughter. This went on for nearly a full minute and Larry felt hot and sweaty under his shirt. Eventually the president nodded and turned away. It seemed the audience was at an end.
They were about to walk away when a small elderly man walked up to the president uninvited. The president seemed happy to see him.
“Ignatius,” said the president, “where is my cane. I will have to speak soon.”
The man, Ignatius, bowed and said, “It’s in your room sir.”
“Fetch it for me then.”
“Sir…I thought you would want to fetch it yourself.”
“You fool! Why wou…” The president started irritated when he saw the meaningful look Ignatius was giving him.
The president smiled widely.
“Yes,” he said slowly, “I will get it.”
What happened in the next few minutes would lead to a chain of events so bizarre that only one person would ever dare speak of it again and even then only as a drunken hallucination. It was the greatest Kenyan story never told.
The guests were going about their gossip and empty talk when they heard a high pitched scream come from inside the house. A shocked silence settled over the entire area and was only broken by another scream and a yelled command.
“BRING ME THE DOCTOR!”
All eyes at the party turned to the now uncomfortable Doctor Daniel Thomi for there could be no mistaking that tone. The president was furious. Nobody wanted to be the person the president called for in that mood. But even Doctor Thomi and whatever grim fate awaited him could not command everyone’s attention long for just then, something even more peculiar happened. A naked woman ran out of the house her clothes bundled up under her arm and with nary a moment to waste made her way to the gate, left the premises and disappeared into the distance.
“GUARDS! THE DOCTOR!” Came another shout, “BRING HIM TO ME NOW!”
Daniel Thomi looked around at the other guests who were now pretending not look at him. His expression revealed the question on his mind. ‘What did I do?’ He turned to face the guards coming his way, looked up to the sky and with a scream of defiance he took off following the path the naked woman had set. It was not worth his life to stay and find out why the president was angry. The guards, after a stunned pause, drew their guns and followed right after.
Everyone in the compound was shocked into silence. They collectively realized that it was probably safer to stay completely still until things began making sense again. It wasn’t until the president reappeared that they began to stir. Their head of state hopped out of the house still trying to put on his pants. He suddenly stopped his attempts and pointed…
“There he is! Why has no one caught him?”
Larry realized, to his horror, that he was now the centre of attention. No guards made their way to him because all of them had gone after entirely the wrong doctor. Larry was not usually the best at making on the spot decisions but in one of his rare moments of insight, it occurred to him that he should be running before the guards returned.
“GET HIM!” Yelled the president as Larry took off.
One by one, the guests begun to realize that they were the only ones who the order could be directed at. They stared blankly at each other hoping that someone would volunteer themselves. None did. It dawned on all of them at roughly the same time that they were disobeying a direct order and, in unison, they started to chase after Larry.
A beggar who spent most of his days across the president’s house watched the spectacle wide eyed. First he had seen a naked woman run past him, and he had chuckled at the kinds of parties the wealthy were throwing nowadays. When the screaming well-dressed man had follow right after her he had started to scratch his head in puzzlement. As if that had not been strange enough, large men with guns came soon after and then a man in a lab coat. Last but certainly not least, what must have been at least a hundred people many of them old men past their athletic prime and women hitching up elegant dresses not meant for running in had passed right in front of him at great speed.
Long after they had gone, the beggar picked up the plastic bottle with local brew he had been drinking, took a long hard look at it and tossed it over his shoulder. He had said it several times but this time he meant it. He would never drink again.
Letters & Canes
Sabby had written three letters that day. The first she had left in the president’s bedroom where the cane had been.
Dear Mr President.
I have your cane.
I also know about the others who have…had access to your other cane.
Soon, I will tell you how to pay me and no one ever need know about either of those things.
– The Doctor
She had set out the terms for blackmail, framed Larry and even found space for a filthy joke because why not? She had been curious what would happen when the president read it but there had been no safe way to observe. She had exited the bedroom before anything could lead back to her and had admired the luxurious guest bathrooms until the commotion outside died down. From one of the windows she had been able to watch some of the most important people in the country run after Larry. That more than made up for missing the president’s reaction to her letter.
Her second letter was written for Larry for she had little doubt that he would escape the attempt to capture him. Even being the only man dressed as a doctor at the party and thus the lead suspect, he was simply too lucky to get caught. He would somehow get away and go underground. Eventually he would make his way back to the apartment where he would find this letter waiting for him.
While I have enjoyed our time together, I have to make my leave now.
I know we were to be married my dear but I have had a sudden change of heart. I cannot marry a criminal. I know, I should not have led you on so but sometimes my morals are just as flexible as I am. But now I see. A life of crime is no good for me. It is also no good for you. It is why I took the cane. To save you from yourself. I will destroy it so you never have to face its wicked temptations again.
I would say it in person but the President saw me and so I must go into hiding. Farewell my love. Find your way to the right path. Get out of the horrible box you have put yourself in.
She had toyed with revealing her duplicity but in the end had decided against it. It was all too likely that Larry would eventually find her again and while she was not afraid of him, a chance to swindle him again was not a boon she was eager to throw away. The lie was a poor one but Larry would believe it. After all, the alternative was believing that she had tricked him and his ego would not allow that.
Her last letter was the obvious one. She would state her price for the cane and how to receive it. She didn’t know what she would say yet but she was working on it. As she wrote she wondered what Larry was thinking about.
Meanwhile, Larry had already read Sabby’s letter. He had felt a pang at Sabby’s loss but it was largely overwhelmed by the feeling of relief. He had not been looking forward to backing out on their marriage and this solved his problems quite neatly. It had also given him an idea for a new con, which after how things had turned out, was reason enough to smile.
“Mr President,” said Ignatius, “the thief has sent a demand letter. Two actually.”
“Read them to me.”
“The first reads as such. Mr President, I have your cane. I know you want it back in your room. I also have information I am sure you would rather also never left the confines of your room. Both are easily accomplished. You simply need to follow these instructions. Check into the Centrim Castle Royal hotel in Mombasa any day next week. Leave a bag with 10 million shillings in the hotel vault room. When you check out, the money will be gone and your cane will be in your box. If you try to catch me, you will lose everything. Do not be foolish. Signed, The Doctor.”
“I see,” said the president massaging his temples, “and the second letter.”
“It says. Mr President, I…what?”
“Mr President, I have your cane. If you want to get it back, you have to meet with me on Saturday in Uhuru Park at noon. It should be fairly public at that time. I need you to bring 20 million shillings. If you try to grab me, my assistant, I’m sure you remember her, will not appear afterwards and hand you the cane. This is your only chance to get it back. Signed. The Doctor.”
“What game is that doctor playing!”
“I don’t have the slightest idea.”
“His assistant? What is he talking about?”
“I think he might genuinely be mad.”
“Well, does anybody besides us know the cane is missing?”
“No one else knows.”
“So it would be my word against his? Even – even on the other thing?”
“Too bad for this confused doctor then,” the president smiled, “bring me the other cane Ignatius.”
“Right away sir.”
“Also organize to have someone meet that man in the park. If he shows…I would like to talk to him.”
“Of course sir. Consider it done.”
I’m a student of biochemistry with a to-read list that rivals the amino acid metabolism pathways, i.e., it’s depressingly long. I love them both and I’ll probably go on endlessly about the fascinating stories of the molecules inside us and the characters inside my books unless you stop me. When I’m done with studying, which won’t be any time soon, I want to spend my time in the lab sacrificing mice for the greater good.
I was one of the editors of the last anthology, where I discovered that I also enjoy pointing out other people’s mistakes. This is my first story in a long while and I hope to get around to writing more. It was also my first attempt at writing with someone else.