INSPECTOR MAX FITI had great significance in a place that had little. He was the head of police in Ketanu, a small town in the Adaklu-Anyigbe District of Ghana's Volta Region. All he had was a small police station as ragged as a stray dog, two constables, and an old police vehicle that ran erratically, but when there was trouble, people turned to Fiti.
Case in point: Charles Mensah, a fortyish man with a painfully thin body and a bulbous head like a soldier termite, had just come into his office this morning to report his sister missing.
"When did you last see Gladys?" Fiti asked.
"Yesterday afternoon, around three," Charles said. "Just before she left for Bedome."
"She went to Bedome? To do what?"
"You know she's a volunteer with the Ghana Health Service AIDS outreach. She goes to different villages to teach and so on." "Aha, yes."
The village of Bedome was east of Ketanu on the other side of the forest.
"When she didn't come back home yesterday evening," Charles continued, "I thought it was strange, so I rang her mobile and left a message. She never called back and I started to get worried, so then I rang Timothy Sowah, the director of the AIDS program, and he said he too had been unable to reach her on the mobile."
"Maybe she went to another village where the reception is poor?" Fiti suggested.
"Mr. Sowah told me Bedome was the only place she was scheduled to visit," Charles replied.
"Are you sure she actually got to Bedome? I mean, not that I'm saying something bad happened on the way, but-"
"I understand what you mean, Inspector. I got up early this morning-I couldn't sleep anyway-and I went to Bedome to check. Everyone told me yes, that Gladys had been there yesterday and she had left some time before sunset to go back to Ketanu." True, less than twenty-four hours had passed, Fiti reflected, but he agreed this was all very troubling. Gladys Mensah was a serious girl- reliable, solid, and smart. And beautiful. Very, very lovely indeed. So, yes, Fiti took this seriously. He jotted some notes on a legal pad, sitting slightly sideways because his rotund belly prevented him from pulling up close to his desk. Fiti was approaching the half-century mark in age, and most of the weight he had recently been gaining had gone to his midsection.
"Something else I want to tell you," Charles said. "Maybe it's nothing, but while I was on my way to Bedome this morning, I spoke to some farmers who have their plots near the forest. They told me that while they were working yesterday evening, they saw Samuel Boateng talking to Gladys as she was on her way back to Ketanu."
Inspector Fiti's eyes narrowed. "Is that so?"
He didn't like the Boateng family much. Samuel, the second oldest boy, was a ruffian who had once stolen a packet of PK chewing gum from a market stall.
"Have you asked Samuel or his father about it?" Fiti said.
"We don't speak to the Boatengs," Charles said tersely.
Fiti pressed his lips together. "Don't worry, I'll go and see them myself."
EFIA WAS A TROKOSI, which meant that she belonged to the gods. Eighteen years ago, her uncle Kudzo beat a man to death with a branch from a baobab tree. Over the next several months, bad things began to happen to the family: crops failed because of drought, Efia's mother had a stroke, and a cousin drowned in a river. Everyone in the family panicked. Even though Uncle Kudzo had been imprisoned for his crime, it appeared the gods were punishing the family for what he had done. This was the only reasonable explanation for the...