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CHAPTER FIVE: CURIOUS CATS
Cassette 3: 4th January, Hotel Kyla, Middle of Nowhere, Finland
Ah, Nyge, the snow has covered the windows. We are buried alive in this huge, creaking, half-warm, half-frozen place until our loved ones realise we are missing, and send a rescue helicopter. I think someone is trying to poison us. Will we still be here when the snow thaws? And how many of us will be left? But I am being silly. You must be so worried about me. That helicopter will be here soon – I love you and trust you, my dear fiancé.
Meanwhile we prisoners must protect each other. Once Edenfield was safely occupied in the bar, I visited his wife Amanda in her room yesterday. I knocked urgently and rattled her door-handle.
“Mandy – are you there? It's important. I must speak to you. Now.”
I listened. There was some rustling and bumping around. Doors and drawers banged shut. The door opened a little and a very sleepy face blinked at me.
“Aren't you up yet? It's ten o'clock. You've missed breakfast.”
“Is that all you wanted, Masina?” and the door started to close.
“Amanda, let me in. It's important.”
All guests must tread carefully, but in Mandy's room it was difficult to tread. She hangs up her clothes on the floor. There was nowhere to sit. I lifted a silky armful and threw it, in a cloud of talc, lace and perfume, onto the bed, and sat on the armchair. She flopped herself down onto a coat or two and stared up at me.
“Well, what then?”
“Amanda, there is a poisoner among us. Luxury foods keep turning up, and they are spiked with something. We lost Paul to the chocolates, and now Shorty. There must have been something in the fresh vegetables. “
Amanda seemed to have lost interest. She looked down, so all I could see was her yellow curls. She was turning her gold rings round and round on her fingers. She was bored.
“So? It's just bad luck. Vegetables go bad. And Paul ‘s lifestyle was not exactly hygienic. Anyway, what about all that jewellery that you four stole from the hotel cupboard when you were supposed to be looking for Paul? How do you know that's not poisoned? Forget it, Masina. We'll be out of here in a day or two. Where is that helicopter, by the way? Do you think they can see the hotel in all this snow?”
Mandy is good at distracting people.
“Amanda, where did you find those alcopops? Can you be sure they are not poisoned?”
“Oh, the alcopops. That was rather strange. There was a case of them in my wardrobe – but I had never opened it. I don't drink. I expect they were left by the previous guest.”
“Didn't your husband find them, then?”
I looked round. The floor, bed and dressing table were strewn with Amanda's things. A tiny sound system was singing away to itself on the mini-bar. There was no room for the duke here. How did he put up with it? Is that true love? Or is that why he drinks? Mandy paused, and I waited.
“We don't live together. We never have.”
I was puzzled, but could not ask.
“But you are holidaying together.”
“The holiday is part of a reward from party loyalists. He actively supported a bill –“
This was not the childish and clinging Mandy that I knew. I stopped listening and stared at her. Behind her, under the bed, was a pile of books. I leant over and pulled them out. She grabbed and clutched them defensively.
“Politics? Philosophy? Chemistry? Is this you, Mandy?”
“Alright, it's a pose. The generation gap irritates Edenfield and he keeps his distance. I get the glitter and my own life, and he gets a trophy wife. For thousands of years, this is how women have made good marriages. This is nothing new, Masina.”
For the first time she looked me steadily in the eye. I realised I might have an ally here: someone I could trust. There was something I could do in return. I don't know how long Mandy's room will stay tidy, but as I left her she was dancing to her sound system. Not entirely a pose, then.
I found myself walking towards Tracy's room, and very carefully taking off my brooch as I did so. This is the effect of being locked away, Nyge. It's not like me to overreact. So I hesitated and stared at the window at the far end of the corridor. It was now covered entirely with a wall of snow, reflecting white and blue . . . – blue? A few more steps and I saw it properly. Held by the drift against the glass was an old-fashioned blue glass bottle, with ‘NOT TO BE TAKEN' in raised letters along the side. It was corked and contained a dark liquid. If someone is winding us up, they are succeeding. I agreed to be wound up. I turned and went back to Tracy's room.
Here was another person who scuffles and bangs cupboards and doors before answering. Perhaps the unlovely Tracy has a lover. But then a cat screeched and Tracy opened the door just as my grin faded. She had three red claw-marks down her cheek. The door opened wider. The smell of tomcat was not welcoming, but Tracy was trying very hard to be. I went in.
“Sit down, dear, and I'll make you some herbal tea.”
She shuffled her body into the bathroom with the kettle. It was like watching someone drag a mattress around. When the tea came it was yellow and smelt feline.
“Mm, lovely sage and camomile,” she slurped encouragingly, before unrolling backwards onto her bed, somehow finishing in a sitting position and drinking tea the while.
“Oh, let them out, Tracy. It would be kinder.”
She showed a tooth or two. A smile, maybe. Urgent mewing came from the chest of drawers.
“Promise not to tell?” she said.
“Yes, yes. Now let them out. What do you think we're all going to do? Eat them?”
She was still sitting there. I opened the drawer. Tracy dashed forward and, clutching the bundle of ginger fur to her breast, retreated to the far corner of her room. She stood there, possessively stroking the animal. I walked up to her and then I saw.
“Whatever - ?”
She was holding the cat like a babe in arms, except it wasn't a cat – quite. It had an overly-large, ginger-tabby cat's head. From its shoulders came three fluffy ginger front legs with bare, pink human feet, baby-sized. Its ginger tail hung down behind. It smiled. It said, “Mummy.”
“Meet Beatrice,” said Tracy proudly, and she kissed her darling.
Nyge, this story is becoming very silly. I stood there, and thought: I want no more to do with this. Where do we go from here? Just then there was a deep thump from the wardrobe.
“Oh, that's just my hairdryer falling down,” she mumbled. “You haven't drunk your tea. Sit down, Masina. What was it you wanted to see me about?”
At least she was talking to me for once. So I spilled out all my worries about being locked away, poisoners, and people not being what they seemed. Then I bit my tongue and tried not to look at Beatrice.
“So you think the jewellery we found will turn us all into sleeping beauties. She bared her teeth again. Some chance of that in my case.” She laughed. “Look at this. Don't worry – I washed it. I'm nervous too.”
It was a green, finely-carved, jade pendant. I turned it over. It appeared to be covered in fruits, with a little animal hidden among them.
“I thought it was a cat, but it's only a monkey. You can have it,” said Tracy.
Green can be a hypnotic colour, especially if it's semi-transparent with bands of colour that waver when you hold it to the light. As you turned the pendant, the monkey seemed to move among the fruit. Well, the brooch hadn't hurt me – yet. The pendant went in my pocket.
The iron in the wardrobe was now breathing heavily. I remembered the smell of tom-cats. And Beatrice is a girl. And a baby. I looked at my watch. For the first time on this holiday I welcomed dinner time. Yes, I had quite an appetite.
“Yes, you are so slim, Masina. You must feed yourself up. See you in the dining-room.”
And she ushered me hastily from the room. Did I hear growling as I walked down the corridor. No, of course not. That would be absurd.
So, Nyge, I seem to be trapped in a situation which is crying out for me to find out things and deal with things – and I just want to go home. I don't want to think about yesterday any more. I am going to go down to breakfast now, and have a perfectly normal day. The helicopter will arrive and dig us out, and you and I shall have such a wonderful reunion. I live in hope.All my love, your own Thomasina.
Copyright © 2003 LS
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