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A Gathering of Strangers

This is the story of Lisa Beck, a newspaper reporter in Capetown at the time her native Namibia regains its independence.   When her father is arrested for the murder of the new Justice Minister, she is plunged into an investigation that endangers her life and leads to romance where she least expects it.  The following is the opening of the novel.




     To her friends in Capetown, the desert of southern Namibia was oppressive, a place to be avoided.

     To Liese Beck, the desert was home.

     As a child, she played hide and seek among the lava rocks with the three Tiwolo boys, children of Papa's black foreman.  In her teen years, she studied in a segregated school to the whip-whip of ceiling fans stirring the hot air.  When at twenty she married Andreas Beck, the pews were filled long before she walked down the aisle holding her father's arm.  Her hands trembled in Andreas's as they sang their vows and lingered over their first kiss as husband and wife.

     Life as a traditional German housewife was easy.  She cooked hearty dinners, sent Andreas off with trays of apple strudel to share with the other clerks at the Labor Ministry, and listened when he came home upset over a difficult case.

     Day after day, she cooked and cleaned in endless repetition until one day she stopped halfway through loading the dishwasher, tossed her apron aside, and called Andreas.  "Come home," she said, "it's time we talked."

     The next morning, with Andreas's permission, she scanned the journalism course listings at the college admissions office.  She chose the advanced news writing course, permission of instructor required to enroll.  "Worth a try," she said to the clerk, who prepared the paperwork.  That afternoon, the professor questioned her about her background across an acre of polished desk.  After a close examination of her writing samples, he jotted his initials on the enrollment card, settled back in his leather chair and said, "Any illusions about getting an A?"

     "You don't give many?"

     He tapped his fingers together twice.  "You get an A, I'll recommend you to any newspaper you choose."

     "One of the locals will be fine."

     "We'll see."  He slid the enrollment card across the desk.  "Good luck, young lady."

     Her first assignment came back with the two top paragraphs exed out and a bold red "It Starts Here" aimed at the third.  She handed it to Andreas without comment.  When he finished reading, he hugged her and said, "Don't worry.  You'll do fine."

     She studied and wrote.  Dinners were late.  Dust accumulated on the coffee table.

     Two days after she submitted her mid-term paper, she listened in surprise to the Windhoek Post editor's gravel voice on the phone.  "Professor thinks you're good," he said.  "Here's your chance to prove it."

     That evening, as she strolled through a haze of small talk at the Post Office Ministry's reception, her dream of a banner headline dissolved to two paragraphs on the back page.  Then she heard the voice of Rolf Reissman, Minister of Mines, familiar from the days he's served as deputy to Papa at the Education Ministry, slurring out a tirade against diamond smugglers.  That was news!  With a secret smile, she slipped her note pad out of her purse.

     She filed the story.  In bed, she spent the first hours of the night staring at the ceiling while Andreas snored beside her.  The next day, she danced into the bank with a check for one hundred rand.

     At semester's end, the professor handed her a sealed envelope addressed to the editor of the Post.  "I hear he needs a good reporter," he said.

     The day after her interview, she sat for the first time at the High Court press table as the judge gavelled to order the trial of a farmer accused of murdering his wife's lover.

     She thrived on her transformation from the anonymous wife of a bureaucrat to reporter courted by politicians.  She'd sit through a session of the Legislature in the morning, interview the mayor in the afternoon, meet deadline with minutes to spare and drive home eagerly anticipating the next day's schedule.

     Andreas listened to her talk about her day, said little about his own, and soon withdrew to the den.  He left for work early and came home late, exhausted when she was still filled with energy.  She bought him a new suit when he was promoted to senior clerk.  He worked harder, as if he were in competition with her.  He became section head.  She hosted a dinner party for him.  He worked harder.

     One morning he called her at the office with a fresh brightness in his voice.



     "There's a reception you must attend tonight."


     "With me," he said.  "I'm the new deputy Labor Minister."

     "You got the job!"  Liese shuffled the work on her desk.  "I'll be there."

     When she had to leave the reception early, he said, "Can't your deadline wait?  This one time please stay."

     It couldn't.

At the next election, he'd run for office, the only promotion left to him.  If he won . . .  How could she cover the Legislative Assembly when her husband was a member?


     One night soon after Andreas's promotion, she came home late and found him sitting at the kitchen table, a steaming towel draped across his forehead, his face pale.

     "What's wrong?" she asked.

     "My head.  The worst headache I've ever had."

     Aspirin didn't help.

     The next morning she persuaded him to see their doctor, who ordered tests.

     When the results came back, the doctor called Liese.  "I want to talk to you and Andreas together," he said.

     The doctor with his round glasses and thick pen motioned them to sit in twin chairs in front of his desk, wide as a moat.  They listened, her hand wrapped in his, as if they were eavesdropping on the doctor's throaty rumble about somebody else.

     "We found a tumor under the hypothalamus."

     For a second Andreas said nothing.

     "Operable?" Andreas asked.

     Liese said, "A specialist?"

     "I talked to three."

     "What about the United States?  There must be someone."

     The doctor inhaled.  "It's too deep.  I'm sorry."

     Andreas's voice, as if from a distance, asked, "How long?"

     The doctor tapped his desk with his pen.  "We can't be sure."

     Then Liese, louder.  "How long!"

     "In a case like this, there are many factors."

     "How long?"

     The doctor shifted his gaze from Liese to Andreas.  "A month.  Who knows, maybe two."

The doctor left them alone.  Andreas took her in his arms.  She savored the warmth of his body.

     They went home, where she winced at each stab of pain he endured.

     The last day he lay on his back in bed, breathing in shallow gasps.

     "Remember me," he said.

     "Forever."  She kissed his cheek, red with fever.  "I'll miss you."

     Andreas closed his eyes.  His chest rose and fell in shudders.  He blinked once and said, "Please sing to me."

     She gave him music and words of love and hope.  He smiled before he took his last breath, a long sigh of loss, and she let her grief carry his soul into eternity.



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