To Die Fur (A Whiskey Tango Foxtrot Mystery)By: Dixie Lyle
“What a place!” declared Jaro, looking around. “You know how to live, Ms. Zoransky, I’ll give you that!”
“Thank you, Mr. Karst,” ZZ replied. “Consuela will be back in a moment to show you to your rooms. Dinner is promptly at six, but we’ll be meeting for drinks in the sitting room at five thirty. If you need anything before then, let Foxtrot know—you all have her number, yes?—and she’ll do her best to meet your needs. Ah, here’s Consuela.”
“Let me give you a hand,” I said.
“No need, no need,” said Jaro. “Me and Ms. Yao and Consuela can manage between the three of us, right?”
“Certainly,” said Ms. Yao. “Although I would like to take this opportunity to say—”
“Come on!” boomed Jaro, grabbing the bags I’d just set down. “Can’t wait to see the new digs!” He charged through the door with Consuela in tow, and after a second a flustered Zhen followed.
“Interesting,” ZZ murmured. “He reminds me of a boat salesman I knew once. Delightful, but only in small doses. Don’t let him run you around too much, dear.”
“I’ll keep that in mind. It’s funny, he’s not at all what I imagined from his emails.”
“No? How so?”
“Well, he came across as very serious. Very dedicated to the wildlife preserve he runs.”
ZZ smiled. “He seems quite passionate to me. A man who takes life in big bites, I’d say. But there’s often quite a difference between someone’s online persona and what they’re like in person; that’s why we have these salons, after all. As good as the Internet is at connecting people, it’s still no substitute for being in the same room as the person you’re talking to.”
“Also, it’s easier to serve drinks.”
“That, too. Speaking of which—”
ZZ’s son, Oscar, was strolling toward us along the path that led from the guesthouse he lived in. Oscar was a paunchy, middle-aged man, with a wide friendly face and a tan he worked on whenever possible. He dressed well, did as little as possible, and enjoyed the occasional drink—in the sense that fish enjoyed the occasional swim. He liked his wine as dry as his wit (which was considerably) and had the ethics of a hungry eel. Despite all this, ZZ loved him; she gave him a generous allowance, did her best to keep him in line, and bailed him out when he got in trouble.
Which, sadly, happened far too often. Oscar was clever, bored, had low moral standards, and lived on a fixed (though impressive) income. Combining these qualities with a steady diet of alcohol tended to produce a variety of less-than-legal plans to fatten his wallet, though I suspected he got more enjoyment out of the scheming itself than any potential profit. If Higgins from the old TV series Magnum P.I. had a boozy, sleazy twin brother, Oscar could have played him with no effort at all.
“Good morning, all,” Oscar said. “I see the guests have begun to arrive. Please tell me they aren’t all vegetarians.”
“Don’t worry,” said ZZ. “Your intake of red meat won’t suffer—though you could do with a salad now and then.”
“As long as it arrives in the company of a tenderly cooked filet mignon, I’ll happily partake. I heard a large truck a while ago, too—does this mean our newest feline resident has also shown up?”
“Go see for yourself,” I said. “He’s quite impressive.”
Oscar nodded. “I believe I will. I’ve always identified with the lion as a personal totem; proud, majestic, fearless…”
“Spends most of his time sleeping?” I added.
“I prefer to think of it as conserving my strength. Good day, ladies.” He turned and headed off in the direction of the zoo.
“He’s in a cheerful mood,” ZZ said. “Keep an eye on him, will you?”
“Duly noted,” I answered.
Next to arrive was Abazu Chukwukadibia, a short, beaming man from Nigeria with curly gray hair, steel-rimmed glasses, and skin as dark as licorice. He wore a tattered, dark-blue suit and a white shirt with frayed cuffs, and carried a single overstuffed duffel bag slung over his shoulder. He walked from the front gate, and I got the impression he’d taken public transit from the airport.
“Hello, hello!” he said as he bustled up. “I am Abazu Chukwukadibia. A beautiful day, is it not?”
“It is,” said ZZ. She introduced herself, stressed that he should call her ZZ, and didn’t embarrass herself by attempting to pronounce his last name. He shook his head when ZZ tried to show him to his room, placing his duffel bag gently on the ground.
“Thank you, but I am fine,” he said. “Has Augustus arrived yet?”
“Yes. He’s just settling in,” I said.
“May I see him, please? I promise to be unobtrusive.”
I glanced at ZZ. She nodded. “That would be fine. Foxtrot, will you show him?”
“I’d be happy to,” I said.
Whiskey, meanwhile, had begun sniffing at Abazu’s dusty shoes. “Whiskey!” I said. “Leave the man alone, will you?”