Kwei Quartey Book Club
November-December read is The Missing American. The club will meet on Google Meets on December 17, 1 PM Pacific. If you are falling behind, you can take a peek at my "cheat sheet" blogs. That way, you can keep up.
The Missing American | Cheat sheet #1 | Pages 11-100
A lone gunman on a rooftop assassinates presidential hopeful Bernard Evans-Aidoo, shooting the politician in the head during a raucous rally.
Chapter Two--One day earlier
James Akrofie, Ghana's Inspector General of Police (IGP), which is the top police rank in the country (albeit a civilian post) pays a visit to the head of state, President J.K. Bannerman, to present a Blue-Ribbon Commission report on corruption in Ghana and how it can be eliminated. The President is very pleased, but at the same time there is disquiet over the challenge that Bernard Evans-Aidoo poses to Bannerman as the General Election approaches.
Nii Kwei is a "sakawa boy," i.e. he makes a good living by internet fraud supposedly backed by supernatural powers, some of them based on rituals set by a fetish priest. A college graduate in political science, Nii's degree was useless in finding him employment. Now he's well off and able to afford a fine Range Rover. Nii came to this fortune via a long-lost friend, Isaac, who mentored Nii and showed him the ropes of internet fraud. In turn, Nii Kwei now mentors a young man called Bruno.
Nii Kwei drives north of Accra to Atimpoku, where he visits his fetish priest, Kweku Ponsu, who prefers the term traditional priest. Nii comes to pay Ponsu's professional fees out of the sums earned through sakawa. Because the amount is disappointingly small, Ponsu concludes that the gods are displeased with Nii, whom he instructs to bring two chickens for sacrifice and the hair and panties of a white woman at the next visit.
Nii goes to The Republic, an Accra night club frequented by white expatriates and students from the US and Europe. After trying and failing to lure a young white woman away from her trio of friends Nii goes home alone and frustrated.
The following morning, he is thrilled to receive a call from an American divorcée called Susan Hadley. She's a university professor with whom Nii had a sexual relationship when Hadley taught at the University of Ghana on a visiting professorship four years ago. Now that she's returned on a short stay in Accra, she invites Nii to her hotel room, where they have some wild, steamy sex. Nii asks Susan for a lock of her hair to remember her by.
Emma Djan is a constable in the Ghana Police Service (GPS). It's a poorly paid job, but Emma has long wanted to be a police detective like her late father. She works at the same Criminal Investigation Department (CID) that her father did, but alas, she hasn't been chosen to join the Homicide Division as she wanted. She is stuck in the slow, infinitely boring Commercial Crimes Unit, where she has unsuccessfully asked her boss, Inspector Kuma, if she could transfer to Homicide. Today, out of the blue, Kuma calls Emma into his office at the close of business and, to her delighted surprise, tells her that she is to meet with Deputy Commissioner of Police (DCOP) Cleophus Laryea to discuss her possible transfer to Homicide.
Laryea tells Emma that, having heard from Kuma that she's a diligent worker, he's willing to transfer her as long as Commissioner Andoh, the Director General of the GPS, okays the move. Emma will need to interview with him, however. As the head of CID, Andoh wields ultimate power, and Emma is terrified at the prospect of meeting him face to face. Her heart in her mouth, she meets the boss in his office. Andoh gropes her with the implied message that if she wants a new position in Homicide, she'd better have sex with him. He attempts to rape her, but she narrowly escapes. Outside, traumatized, she faints on the sidewalk before summoning the strength to return home.
The following day, Andoh has told both Laryea and Kuma that Emma had backstabbed them and Andoh orders her fired. Laryea reluctantly obeys and calls Emma to his office for the formal dismissal. At the last minute, something occurs to Laryea: He has a friend who runs a detective agency eponymously named Sowah Private Investigators. Would Emma be interested? She responds, yes.
As tasked, Nii Kwei delivers the panties and lock of hair to Ponsu, who makes a sacrifice of the chickens to the gods, and then takes a fearful Nii to a cemetery as part of the ritual. Nii has to bury the head of one of the chickens in the soil next to a grave. Ponsu promises that as a result, Nii will see incoming earnings multiply several-fold.
January 18, Washington, DC
Gordon Tilson, an ex-bookstore-owner, lost his Ghanaian wife, Regina, to cancer thirteen years ago. Gordon had met her in Ghana while he was in the Peace Corps. She became pregnant with him and delivered their first- and only-born child, whom they named Derek. Gordon now spends time on a Widows & Widowers Facebook support group, where he is helping people go through the trauma of losing a spouse. He has been friended on the site by a Ghanaian woman called Helena Barfour, who recounts the loss of her husband, David. Helena appears gorgeous in her profile photo, and something about her reminds Gordon of his long-lost Regina. Enchanted, he and Helena spend hours chatting online and occasionally Skyping. Then tragedy strikes Helena when her younger sister, Stella, is in a bad vehicle crash and is now fighting for her life in intensive care. The cost of an ICU stay in Ghana is proportionately as high as in the US, and there is no national health coverage. Helena now has to produce some up-front fees and then ongoing staggering expenses for the daily ICU stay and even intravenous fluids and medication, which Helena must go to local pharmacies to procure. Gordon immediately offers to pay Stella's quickly mounting medical fees. He isn't hurting for money, having sold his bookstore for a tidy sum.
Derek, now forty-three, pays his dad a visit as is customary once a week. They have a short chat.
Gordon attends a luncheon event at Ghana's Embassy to the US, where he sees old friends, many of them influential politicians and dignitaries. He also meets an attractive Ghanaian woman called Josephine and strikes up a conversation. Josephine is the wife of James Akrofie, Ghana's IGP. Gordon's excitement meeting this lovely woman comes to a climax when Josephine gives him her phone number both in DC and Ghana, where she will return soon. She has two daughters with her husband James.
Gordon stops by the house of his old friend Casper "Cas" Guttenberg, an ex-investigative reporter for the Washington Observer. A chain smoker, Cas lives alone in DC. Gordon feels somewhat sorry for him, since Cas hasn't written anything of note recently and is fading as a freelancer. Gordon tells Cas about his online exchanges with Helena, to which Cas responds with enthusiasm.
Emma, who now has a part-time job at the Accra Mall, pays a visit to her stepbrother Bruno. He lives in a rough part of town and when she finds him, he's smoking marijuana with a bunch of friends, one of whom is Nii Kwei, who, Emma notes, is dressed flashily and adorned with gold chains and bracelets. When Bruno says he's going to work alongside Bruno in an "internet business," alarm bells go off in Emma's mind, since she's quite savvy that Nii Kwei's style of dress is typical of sakawa boys. Emma begs Bruno not to become Nii's partner, but Bruno points out that, with Ghana's unemployment rate being what it is, his chances of finding work are slim. So, what is he supposed to do?
On the eve of Josephine's departure, Gordon prepares a traditional Ghanaian meal for her, relying on his memories of cooking in Ghana years ago. They talk over dinner, Gordon learning that Josephine's son, Kwame, who is autistic, lives in an institution in the UK. It would be difficult to take care of him in Ghana, where few autism institutions exist. Josephine is hurt that her husband James never talks about their son, nor does he ever visit Kwame. Her other regret is that she had a child out of wedlock about whom James knows nothing. Josephine sent the child to another region where her sister raised the child. Josephine keeps all this a profound secret. After dinner, she and Gordon get comfortable and find themselves in Gordon's bedroom having passionate sex.
January 26, Washington, DC
Josephine heads back to Accra from London after seeing Kwame at the institution. As she waits for her flight in the business class lounge, she's keenly aware of how blessed her life is with her husband in such an elevated position. It's in large part to this that James and Josephine are able to fund Kwame's continued stay in the UK.
Josephine returns home to Accra and to James. As they discuss politics, she expresses anxiety that some of the perks that come with James's position as IGP, e.g. the ability to fly to England to see Kwame, might unravel under J.K. Bannerman's new anti-corruption measures. Still feeling guilty of "scurrying Kwame away to the UK" Josephine considers the theoretical possibility that their son might come home to Ghana someday when care of people on the autism scale improves to international standards. James dismisses this, reminding Josephine that the care Kwame receives at the UK home is the very best.
When Derek drops by Gordon's house, he doesn't at first locate his dad, so he goes up to his bedroom. His father's desktop has a screen open to the Widows & Widowers page and Derek reads a good amount of Gordon's interactions with Helena, which include talk of his sending her money. Familiar with scams out of Ghana and Nigeria in particular, Derek is alarmed. Over coffee, Derek confronts his father about what's revealed on the computer screen. He asks who Helena is and casts doubts on whether she is who she says she is. Gordon bristles at Derek's concerns and at one point even accuses him of being racist. They part on rocky terms.
To his horror, Derek gets a message on his phone from his father, who says he must do what "his soul tells him" to do--go to Ghana to meet Helena in person. He has already left. Derek frantically tries to reach him on the phone, but unsurprisingly, Gordon doesn't pick up. Derek calls Cas to find out if he knows anything about Gordon's abrupt departure. Cas more sanguine about it than is Derek, thinks Gordon should be given a chance, and who knows? Helena might be a real blessing and a new lease on life. Derek emails his dad a conciliatory message, wishes him well, but tells him to take great care.
February 15, Accra
Gordon, filled with excitement and anticipation, arrives in an Accra that is now built up and developed in places he no longer recognizes. He tries unsuccessfully to reach Helena as he's picked up by the Kempinski Hotel shuttle. Once in his hotel room, he tries again to reach Helena, but his calls and texts go nowhere.
Three days after Gordon has left, Derek receives an email from him with assurances that everything is fine in Ghana and that he's met Helena. He says they're having a "wonderful time getting to know each other," but he doesn't have a picture of her "yet." Derek finds this suspicious. Helena would have been the first that Gordon would have wanted to show off. Worried, Derek googles "Gordon Tilson, Ghana," to find out if perhaps there are any relevant news items. Although Derek finds nothing amiss in Ghana involving Gordon, he's led down the rabbit hole to the world of internet scammers, their hapless victims, and the strange phenomenon of sakawa .
After five days, Gordon finally calls Derek to confess there is no Helena and that he lied to Derek about meeting her.. He admits that he has been well and truly had, and now he feels like a fool. Gordon believes he can get a flight back to Washington DC after the weekend on the following Monday or Tuesday.
Gordon pours out his woes and self-recrimination in a long email to Cas, who responds sympathetically and advises his friend not to be so hard on himself. Surprisingly, Cas suggests Gordon not return immediately and at least have a vacation while he's in Ghana. It wouldn't hurt. The following day, Cas has a "proposal": having studied some of the sakawa scams at length, he has concluded that the reason why so few of them are caught is that the European or American targets never travel to Ghana or Nigeria to get the scammers prosecuted. Cas sees Gordon's presence in Ghana as a rare opportunity to find the culprit and shame him all the way to prison. Cas also suggests Gordon report the case to the police and why not to that woman, Josephine, he met at the Ghana Embassy--isn't her husband high up in the police service? After sleeping on it, the next morning Gordon decides he'll take up Cas's suggestion to have a two-week vacation in Ghana.