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Death in Zanzibar
By M. M. Kaye
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 1983 M. M. Kaye
All rights reserved.
The heavy brocade curtains stirred as though they had been blown by a breath of wind, and a billowing fold touched the corner of the dressing-table and overset a small bottle of nail varnish.
It was a very slight sound, but it woke Dany; jerking her out of an uneasy dream in which she had been hurrying down a long lonely country road in the sad fog and drizzle of an early autumn, clutching a small sealed envelope and listening to the drip of rain off the unseen hedges and the footsteps of someone who followed close behind her.
She had caught brief glimpses of this person when she stopped and turned, and once it had been Mr Honeywood with his narrow, dry, solicitor's face and his small dry disapproving cough, and sometimes it had been a large hearty woman in tweeds, striding through the wet mist, or an Oriental; a dark-faced man wearing flowing white robes and a fez — or was it a turban? But none of them had any right to be following her, and she dare not let them overtake her. It was vitally important that they should not overtake her ...
The bottle fell over and Dany awoke.
She sat up in bed shivering in the aftermath of nightmare, and was momentarily surprised to find herself in an unfamiliar room. Then the dream receded, and she remembered that she was no longer in her great-aunt's house, but at the Airlane Hotel in London.
Yesterday, in Market-Lydon, it had been misty and damp; as though autumn were already far advanced. But here in London on this September morning it still seemed to be high summer, and although it was very early and the city was as yet barely astir, the sky beyond the open window was clear and bright.
The curtains that had been closely drawn last night were now partially open, and the pale light of early morning, filtering into the room, showed a clutter of cardboard boxes, air-weight suitcases, tissue paper, and the new lizard-skin bag that was Great-aunt Harriet's parting present and which contained, among other things, a brand new passport.
Dany had checked over all the impedimenta of foreign travel late last night, and now all she had left to do was to buy a beach hat, a sun-suit and something for air sickness, and to introduce herself to her step-father's sister, Mrs Bingham, whom she had so far never met but who had been staying since yesterday in the same hotel and was also travelling out to Zanzibar on a Zero Zephyr of the Green Zero Line.
London, Naples, Khartoum, Nairobi. Mombasa, Tanga, Pemba, Zanzibar —
Dany shivered again. A shiver of pure delight that ended unexpectedly in a quiver of unease: a sense of disquiet so sharply urgent that she turned quickly, half expecting to find someone standing behind her. But nothing moved except the curtains billowing idly in the dawn wind, and of course there was no one there. And no one watching her! It was only the effect of that silly dream about people following her ...
* * *
Dany Ashton had left school almost a year ago, but this was her first taste of freedom, for despite the fact that, as her mother's daughter, she might have been expected to have led an erratic and entertaining existence, her life had hitherto been a remarkably sheltered one. Her mother, currently Lorraine Frost, was a notable beauty who collected and discarded husbands in a manner that would have done credit to a film star, and Dany, her only child, was the daughter of her first husband, Daniel Ashton.
Lorraine had never been maternally minded, and Daniel Ashton, explorer and big-game hunter, had been more interested in such things as the Lesser Kudu and the upper reaches of the Amazon than in fatherhood. He had met his death at the hands of an unenlightened and excitable tribe of South-American Indians when Dany was three years old, and Lorraine had promptly married Dwight Cleethorpe, an affable millionaire from Chicago, and handed her small daughter over to the care of a maiden aunt, Harriet Henderson.
Mr Cleethorpe, whose hobbies were golf and deep-sea fishing, had not lasted, and there had been three more step-fathers in rapid succession, the latest of whom was Tyson Frost, the novelist. But none of them had taken more than a passing interest in their step-daughter, and Lorraine's visits, though exhilarating, were always brief and did little to disturb the even tenor of life at Glyndarrow, the large red-brick house in Hampshire where Dany's Great-aunt Harriet lived in cosy Edwardian seclusion while the world passed her by.
Great-aunt Harriet disapproved of Progress and the Post-War World. She had also disapproved strongly of this visit to Zanzibar, but had been unable to prevent it since she was not the child's legal guardian, and moreover her great-niece had suddenly displayed an unsuspected streak of independence.
Dany had been wildly delighted at the prospect of going to this outlandish spot where Tyson Frost owned a house, and she had not only paid no attention at all to her great-aunt's warnings, but had flatly refused to spend the three nights in London under the roof of an elderly relative, or to be accompanied there by Twisdon, Great-aunt Harriet's austere and aged maid.
Chaperones, declared Dany, were as dead as the Dodo, and she was perfectly capable of looking after herself: or if she were not, the sooner she started learning, the better. In any case, Lorraine had advised her to stay at the Airlane, as there would be half a dozen other people there who were also bound for Zanzibar and the house-party at Kivulimi, and who would be travelling on the same plane. Her fellow-guests were Tyson's sister, Augusta Bingham and her friend and companion, Miss Bates; the Marchese di Chiago, who raced (but whether horses, dogs, cars or yachts was not disclosed); Amalfi Gordon, a close friend of Lorraine's, and her fiancé Mr Holden — American and something to do with publishing — who intended to get married on the eve of departure and thereby combine business (discussing terms for a new Tyson Frost novel) with pleasure in the form of a honeymoon in Zanzibar. And finally, Mr Holden's secretary, Miss Kitchell. One or any of these people, wrote Lorraine airily, would be sure to keep an eye on Dany.
'If she means Mrs Bingham or Miss Bates, then possibly they will do so,' said Aunt Harriet, frigid with disapproval. 'But what if it should be this Marchese? I cannot think what has come over your mother. It all comes from living abroad: foreigners are notoriously lax. And no one could approve of Mrs Gordon! There was an exceedingly unpleasant rumour going round that she had — — Well, never mind. But she is not in my opinion a suitable companion for any young girl. Besides, she has been married and divorced several times already.'
'I don't see that you can hold that against her,' said Dany with a somewhat rueful smile. 'What about Lorraine?'
'That is quite different,' said Aunt Harriet firmly. 'She is your mother — and a Henderson. And I do wish you would not refer to her as "Lorraine". You know how much I dislike it.'
'Yes, Aunt. But you know how much she dislikes me calling her anything else.'
Aunt Harriet shifted her ground: 'It's a very complicated journey. I understand that the Green Zero Line only fly as far as Nairobi, and that you would have to spend a night in an hotel there, and take another aeroplane on the following day. Anything might happen. There have been race-riots in Nairobi.'
'Yes, Aunt. But Lorraine — I'm sorry; Mother — says that Tyson's secretary, Nigel Ponting, will be meeting the plane there, so I shall be quite safe.'
'Ponting ... Yes. I have met him. He came here with your step-father two years ago. You were at school. A most affected man. More like a dancing master than a secretary. He minced and giggled. Not at all a reliable type, and I did not take to him.'
'I'm sorry, Aunt.'
Old Miss Henderson had been compelled to give up the unequal struggle, and Dany — naïve, romantic, eager — had left for London unchaperoned, taken a room with a private bath and balcony at the Airlane, and indulged in an orgy of theatres, shopping and freedom.
She had also had a commission to execute for Lorraine, who had asked her to call on Tyson's solicitor, Mr Honeywood, in Market-Lydon in Kent, to collect a document that Tyson would like her to bring out for him. 'This is the address,' wrote Lorraine. 'It's his house, not his office, as he's more or less retired now. I do hope this won't be an awful bore for you, darling, and of course the person who should really be doing this is Gussie Bingham, or that hearty girl-friend of hers, as they live practically on his doorstep. But Tyson says Gussie is an unreliable gossip with a memory like a sieve, and so he would far rather you did it. I do hope you won't mind, baby? Tyson has written to Mr Honeywood and told him that you'll call for it on the afternoon of the twelfth, between three and four, and that he's to have it ready for you. You won't forget, darling, will you?'
Dany had duly gone down to Kent, though as she had wanted to fit in a cinema in the afternoon as well as a theatre that night, she had rung up Mr Honeywood and changed the time to eleven-fifteen in the morning instead. That had been yesterday. And now it was the last day: really the last day. Tomorrow she would be flying eastward — to Zanzibar!
Ever since Lorraine had married Tyson Frost, Dany had dreamed of going to Zanzibar. She had ransacked the local library and spent her pocket-money on books about the island: Princes of Zinj, Isle of Cloves, and a dozen others. Books that told the saga of the great Seyyid Saïd, Imam of Muscat and first Sultan of Zanzibar. And of such things as the underground wells whose waters were said to come from far inland in Africa, the haunted palace of Dunga and the sacred drums of Zanzibar, the vast legendary treasure buried by Seyyid Saïd in Bet-el-Ras; the horrors of the slave trade and the pirate raids, and the witch-haunted island of Pemba, home of devils, djinns and warlocks.
Europeans were not permitted to hold land in Zanzibar, but long ago Tyson's grandfather — that rowdy, roving, colourful adventurer, Emory Frost — had done a service to the great Saïd, and his reward had been the lease of a house, Kivulimi, for a period of a hundred and fifty years. Tyson's visits there were irregular and brief, but as this year happened to be the seventieth anniversary of Emory's death, and he intended to write a book based upon the life and times of that fabulous character, he had descended upon Kivulimi, complete with wife, private secretary and an assortment of guests. And Dany's dream had at last come true.
'Then I'll go sailing far, off to Zanzibar — though my dream places seem — better than they really are ...' Dany slid out of bed, crooning a snatch from a song that had been popular when she was in the fourth form; and as she did so something moved at the far side of the room and she started violently and bit her tongue. But it was only her own reflection in the looking-glass, and she made a face at it, and going to the dressing-table, picked up the new lizard-skin bag and rummaged through it for a slip of paper on which she had written down the time that the bus for the Airport left the Terminal. It did not seem to be there, and she was about to try one of the drawers when she remembered that it was in the pocket of the camel-hair coat that she had left in the ladies' room on the previous evening, and forgotten to retrieve. She would have to remember to fetch it after breakfast.
Once again something made her jump nervously; a soft slapping sound in the corridor outside that she identified a moment later as the morning papers, dropped by a page-boy whose feet had made no sound on the thick pile of the carpet. She could not understand why she should be so ridiculously on edge this morning; she had never previously been given to nerves. Perhaps this curious feeling of tension was something that everyone experienced when they first realized that they were entirely on their own? If so, she could only hope it did not last long! Giving the page-boy a minute or two to leave the corridor, she crossed to the door. Tea would not be arriving for at least another hour and a half, and she might as well fill in the time by reading the papers.
The corridor was silent and empty, its lushly carpeted length punctuated by white and gold doors, numerous pairs of freshly polished shoes and a varied assortment of daily newspapers. Dany stepped out cautiously and picked up her own selection, the Daily Dawn. And as she did so her eye was caught by the heading of a column: 'Man Murdered in Market-Lydon'.
She opened the paper and stared at it, frowning. Market-Lydon ...? Why, that was where she had been yesterday! The little town where — —
There was a sharp click immediately behind her and she whirled round. But it was too late. The draught had blown the door shut behind her and she was locked out in the corridor.
Dany dropped the paper and pushed futilely at the door. But it possessed a spring lock and remained blandly impervious to her efforts, and she turned from it to stare helplessly up and down the silent corridor. There was, fortunately, no one in sight, but she could see no sign of a bell either; and even if there had been one she could hardly use it when the chances were that it would be answered by a man.
For the first time Dany regretted the purchase of that diaphanous and far too expensive nightgown. Nylon and lace might be enchantingly frivolous, but its purpose appeared to be to reveal rather than conceal, and she was only too well aware that to all intents and purposes she might just as well be naked. Why, oh why had she flung away those sensible, high-necked and sacklike garments of white winceyette that Aunt Harriet had considered to be the only suitable and modest night wear? If only — —
It was at this inopportune moment that footsteps sounded on the staircase that led into the corridor some twenty feet from her door.
Despite the heavy pile of the carpet the footsteps were clearly audible and noticeably uneven, and they were accompanied by a male voice singing in a blurred undertone the same song that had recently been running through Dany's head.
'"I want to go away — be a stowaway,"' announced the gentleman on the staircase, '"Take a trip, on a ship, let my troubles — —" blast!' The singer stumbled noisily on the stairs, and something — possibly a hat? — bounced down them.
Inspiration born of despair descended upon Dany, and snatching up the fallen newspaper she retired hastily behind the front page of the Daily Dawn just as the owner of the voice reached the top of the stairs and turned into the corridor.
He proved to be a tall, dishevelled young man in formal evening dress, wearing his white tie several inches off centre, and carrying a gaily coloured balloon and a large and fluffy toy cat with a pink ribbon round its neck. His dark hair was in a state of considerable disorder, and quite apart from his undeniably festive appearance he possessed an indefinable air of what an earlier generation would have termed 'rakishness'.
He stood for a moment or two swaying slightly and looking vaguely about him, and then his gaze alighted upon Dany.
'Well, say!' said the young man, saying it in an unmistakably transatlantic voice: 'what do you know about that!'
He advanced until he was level with her, and then as the full beauty of her situation dawned upon him he gave way to immoderate mirth, and stood before her laughing his head off, while Dany glared back at him like an angry kitten, scarlet cheeked, helpless and infuriated.
'Be quiet!' hissed Dany, 'you'll wake everyone up! Do you know what time it is?'
'"Three o'clock in the mor ... ning, I've danced the whole night through!"' carolled the young man, throwing his head back and giving it everything he had got in a blurred but pleasing baritone.
'And you look like it!' said Dany in a furious whisper. 'But it's nearly six now, and I want to get back into my room. Don't just stand there laughing! Do something! Get me a pass key — anything! Can't you see I'm locked out?'
'I can,' said the young man. 'And let me tell you that I haven't seen anything better in days. No, sir! It's a pity that your taste in newspapers didn't run to a smaller sized sheet, but who am I to carp and c-cavil? Let's face it, it might have been The Times. Not, le' me tell you, that you look like a dame who reads The Times. No, I sh'd say — —'
'Will you be quiet?' demanded Dany frantically. 'And if you aren't going to help, go away! No — no, don't do that! For goodness sake get me a pass key.'
Excerpted from Death in Zanzibar by M. M. Kaye. Copyright © 1983 M. M. Kaye. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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