Back Cover info:
©Beneath the Ceiba Tree by Justine John
Africa 1972. Ed and Charlie, two successful English confectionary company executives, are travelling at night along a dirt track towards Accra, the capital city of Ghana. They have a gun in the car for protection. After a loud and scary tyre blow-out, they are terrifyingly ambushed by a robber desperate for money. Both men are panic struck and in the following seconds a resounding gun shot is heard and the robber suddenly drops down dead. But which of them killed their attacker, Ed or Charlie? They are too shocked to talk about it in the dark together – and as they flee the scene after burying the body under a mystical ceiba tree – they swear to each other to secrecy, forever, both believing they are loyally supporting the other, but are they?
England 1997. Ed and Charlie’s lives have changed dramatically, both with wives, Judy and Michelle respectively, and children. An unexpected, additional death reveals unbelievable facts, leading to the two wives travelling together, to Africa to unearth the unthinkable truth of what lays beneath the ceiba tree.
A tension-packed, phycological thriller, with unexpected twists and turns about love, guilt, honesty and the devastation secrets can bring. A truly fast-paced, page-turner, which will keep you guessing until the end.
The hot, African night and the dirt road were illuminated by the bright moon but the Land Rover’s head lights had dimmed so the two men had to feel around to find the wheel jack. Charlie shone the torch on the front wheels. Thankfully, only one front tyre was completely flat. They had driven over something sharp that was for sure. They didn’t dare go back to find out what – it wasn’t important. They simply needed to change the wheel as quickly and quietly, as possible. It was approaching 10pm. Charlie and Ed had driven for hours from Adjeiki – through the heat of the day, passed parched mud-hut villages where scrawny youngsters in dirty t-shirts chased the car like dogs. They waved madly, calling and shouting. The men had negotiated deep, rutted, bumpy, once-muddy terrain and were looking forward to reaching the tar sealed road closer to the city. They were tired, sweaty and achy – and Accra was still more than a hundred miles away. The last thing they needed was any delay. The meeting at the cocoa farm had gone well, but they ran late, not wanting to reject the warm hospitality of the farmer and his family, who were thoroughly excited by their unusual guests’ arrival. They were being collected early tomorrow morning for their flight home, and Charlie hadn’t packed yet. There was a strange scent in the dry, humid air of melted rubber mixed with the warm vegetation and an unusual aroma from a nearby ceiba tree. Bush crickets sang and two bats flew overhead, disturbed by the loud explosive bang and engine pop following their loud dirt skid.
They both knew about the gun, but only Ed thought of it at this moment. Kobi had shown them how to shoot it, should they need to. It was well known that white men would have money. Ed took the gun out of the glove compartment and placed it on the bonnet, near the bottom of the windscreen, so he, or Charlie could grab it easily if they needed to.
“Thanks, that’s better,” said Charlie as the torchlight appeared.
“And, in case we need it,” I said slowly, so as not to worry him, “the gun is on the bonnet.”
“Okay, Columbo,” Charlie smirked. “Help me get these nuts undone, they’re pretty solid.”
Working together, we soon swapped the wheel in a matter of minutes. Both of us were pretty fit and strong. Charlie was thinner than me though – I probably drank more beer – and he cycled more. We were both members of the local cycle club, and I was about to say something about the route planned for next month, when there was a sudden movement from the bushes on the side of the road. A man jumped through the undergrowth – actually holding a gun – and pointing it at us. He was shouting something in African, but then screamed at us in English.
The light was so bad that I shone the torch in his face and saw his sweaty chocolate skin shining and the whites of his eyes, which were filled with rage. His checked shirt was ripped at the collar and I wondered, with surprising clarity, why I noticed.
I moved backwards and came into contact with the car so suddenly that I dropped the torch and it rolled away into the shrubs, but remained on, illuminating the greenery. As I stepped forward to follow it, the man moved in front of the car. I thought about the gun but couldn’t reach it without an obvious movement, which could be a fatal mistake. Charlie was to my right, pinned against the passenger door. I could see him holding up his hands – he could reach the gun maybe – or had he already? It was too dark to see.
“Give me your money,” the man shouted with a thick accent. “Money. Now.”
And suddenly, there was an explosion so loud it shook my body and rang in my ears and the black man fell to the floor. Charlie must have got the gun, I thought. I wanted to look at him to see what had happened but my body was frozen with fear. The black man hit the hard ground, writhing helplessly and then suddenly did not move at all; his gun lay by his head. He must be dead.
Ed was sometimes a bit of a girl, and if it wasn’t for his beautiful wife, Judy and how tactile they were with each other, I would wonder if he was gay. He was certainly effeminate. But it didn’t detract from his clever and mathematical mind. He was a genius in so many respects. We couldn’t have done this deal without his forecasting, and his knowledge of cocoa farming, and I admired him completely. He was opening doors for us both with the chocolate factory investment – it was risky but could bring wealth to us – as well as its owner and the local farmers. The risk however, was not as big as being on the side of a dirt road, in the middle of a country we don’t know in the dead of night. I could sense his nervousness as he told me he’d put the gun on the bonnet, but it was probably a wise move. He was careful like that always checking facts.
God knows what we’d driven over, but now the spare wheel was installed we could continue with this godforsaken journey. I was about to get in the passenger side – Ed had said he’d drive the rest of the way – when there was an almighty crashing sound and I turned to see a local man with a gun. I almost wanted to laugh, but then the fear transferred, like a shot, from his eyes in the torchlight to my body and I thought I would shit myself. Ed dropped the torch and as the man moved around in front of the car, I put my hands above my head. He was hollering something, demanding money. But a moment later a gun fired and he was silent as he fell. Ed, thank God. You, beauty! I thought. He must have picked the gun up from the bonnet – what a hero. But something stopped my trail of thought as I watched the local’s body writhe on the ground before it became still. The headlights illuminated the blood as it seeped out of his mouth to form a small but growing puddle. Who could have heard? Would this attract attention? We needed to get out of here fast. But first – what do we do about the body – would Ed be arrested for murder? Would I be an accomplice? With that unthinkable idea, a plan came to mind and I found I could speak again.
“Ed, we need to bury the body. And fast …”