Jet lag was starting to catch up with him. He drowsed over a delicious lunch of fresh fish, earning Bazu's displeasure. Bazu looked like a wet kitten, fur spiked in outrage, and Leon laughed at him. That made things worse, of course, so when Bazu ordered him out of the kitchen with a dramatic finger, Sefu took him out to a shady porch behind the house, put him down into a hammock, and plopped "that baby" on his chest.
"Aeeshah and Rachel are going to make you a sarong. Bazu is designing it. Ibrahim wears them around the house sometimes."
"Why don't you wear one?"
Sefu rolled his eyes. "I am perfectly comfortable wearing pants, but thank you."
Leon smiled and closed his eyes. The baby snuffled in his sleep, pressing his tiny fists into Leon's chest. Leon could feel the hammock move gently in the breeze, and Charlie settled down next to him and stroked the baby's soft back with one finger. "I like Tiberius."
"I do too. Did you see those butterflies, Charlie?"
"I saw them. It's beautiful here, and this house is full of love. But be careful. There is still the matter of your colleague, drowned and run through with a sword. You need to find out what happened."
"It didn't work out so well when I tried to find out what happened to you."
He could feel Charlie's hand stroking his hair, soft as the wind. "It's time you put that away, Leon. Don't keep punishing yourself over me. You could be happy here."
"We could be happy here. You aren't going anywhere, are you, Charlie?"
The baby gave a faint, sleepy cry that woke them both, and Leon reached out for him, rocked him up and down with a couple of deep breaths. The baby lifted his head a tiny bit, then settled back onto Leon's chest with a sigh. "I wonder if you're getting a tooth," Leon said, letting Tiberius suck on his pinkie.
"I understand you're the only person who can get that beast to sleep." Ibrahim was sitting next to him in a chair, his feet propped up on an ottoman, a netbook open on his lap.
Leon sat up, holding the baby still against his chest. "I thought you weren't getting home until tomorrow!"
"I was homesick," Ibrahim said, and the mocking note in his voice was very clear. "Besides, I wanted to see what you were up to." He held up Leon's camera. "You visited the butterflies. Very pretty."
"You can always give him a job as a nanny if you manage to get WCA kicked out of the country, Ibrahim." The second man was a Brit, with a fair, sun-mottled complexion and thinning sandy hair. The sneer on his face matched the tone of his words. Leon felt the hair on the back of his neck stand up.
Aeeshah came over to him and took Tiberius. She wiped a bit of drool from his chest with a clean diaper. Leon noticed the cautious look she gave the two men sitting on the porch with him. He stood up, feeling the need to be on his feet, and held out his hand. "Leon Davis," he said.
Ibrahim stood slowly and took his hand. "Ibrahim Ag Akhamok."
Now that Leon had met Bazu and Makhammad, he recognized the Tuareg in him--the beautiful cinnamon tinge to his skin and the black hair that was thick and curly. It was tied in a tail at his neck, and unlike Makhammad, he was clean-shaven, with a jaw like a piece of granite and big, liquid eyes, like Bazu. He was older, maybe forty, and he looked like hot sex in a pair of handmade Italian loafers. Ibrahim raised his eyebrows, and Leon dropped his hand, his face flushing. Leon turned to the other man, who didn't get out of his chair.
"I'm Peter Sullivan," he said.
"Leon Davis." Leon turned back to Ibrahim, held out his hand for the camera, and Ibrahim handed it to him. "You could have asked Jelani or Sefu if you didn't trust me," he said.
"I did ask Jelani and Sefu. I like the pictures you took in the fish market."
"Thanks." Leon looked down at his chest. There were random wet marks that could only have come from a drooling baby who had overflowed his diaper. "I need to change. Can we speak later?"
"Of course, Leon. I'll look forward to it." Leon had taken two steps away. "Who's Charlie? You said his name in your sleep."
Ouch. Leon shook his head and turned back to the house. That hadn't gone very well. Score one for the Tuareg.
When he got to his room, he pulled the dirty T-shirt off and then opened his laptop. There was an e-mail from Tim: Leon, you've got a forty-eight-hour window. Most important you find out what Piers was doing. No laptop in his luggage at the embassy.
And another one from Maggie: Leon, double check the day Piers got to Zanzibar, would you? I'm noticing a small discrepancy with the date some of the photos were transmitted. How could he have taken so many wildlife photos, and transmitted them, on the day he was supposed to have arrived in the country? He was not that good. Did he come early? Something's hinky. And why haven't I heard from you?
He closed the laptop down. He'd have to deal with Washington later. Too much information, and it was getting tangled in his mind. He pulled out his memo book and started making a list.
Questions about the photos of the leopard. He put this at the top of the list because it was what brought him to Zanzibar in the first place. Plus the very idea of a WCA reporter not being scrupulously honest--that would be... He couldn't even find the words to describe it. Watergate and Monicagate all rolled into one would be nothing compared to it.
Questions about the alcohol and drugs. This was a very conservative, mostly Muslim community. Even in this house, where there seemed to be an unprecedented amount of personal freedom, Makhammad was clearly very old and very conservative. Leon had seen no alcohol in this house since he'd been here, nothing, not even beer. And the meth-fueled sexual idiocy he'd seen in California? No. Not on Zanzibar.
Questions about the pornographic magazines. Who else had seen them? Why had he brought them here? Piers wasn't gay. What had Sabah said? Boys in handcuffs? Leon bet she hadn't looked very closely. Surely she didn't mean young boys?
Where had he been killed? Who had been with him? Was he murdered, or did he drown by accident? Who had run him through with a sword? Who had taken the body to Stone Town? Did it all have anything to do with Zanzibar? Did it have something to do with Jozani? With WCA?
Leon stared down at the list. "You need to stop taking naps with Tiberius and get to work, my man."
He climbed into the shower and filled the little bathroom with coconut-scented steam again. He loved the way this place smelled. He could see himself using coconut shampoo when he was seventy, trying to remember how Zanzibar smelled. He would never be able to get close, he thought, because it wasn't just coconuts, but the salty air off the ocean and the spices Bazu used in his cooking. And three hundred species of butterflies. They must make the air sweet when they passed. When he came out of the shower, with a towel wrapped around his waist and his hair tangled around his shoulders, Ibrahim was standing inside his bedroom door.
Leon looked over at his laptop on the bed and the memo pad he had left open. Ibrahim saw the look, and his brows moved together in annoyance. "I'm not going through your things, Leon."
"You looked in my camera."
"Oh, well..." Ibrahim raised a lazy hand, brushed this away. "That was nothing."
"Nothing? To look in a photographer's camera, that's like getting a Vulcan mind meld against your will. It's just--"
"A Vulcan mind meld. I thought you guys were Trekkies around here."
Ibrahim laughed, then held out a cream-colored shirt on a coat hanger. "I think Aeeshah is going to prevail. Tiberius is a good, strong name. I brought you a shirt for dinner. And I suppose I should say I'm sorry for looking into your camera without your permission. I hope you will accept my apology?"
"I promise you, I had a reason for doing so. You seem to have made yourself at home here, Leon. The family likes you. I trust their judgment in many things." His gaze was slowly working its way from Leon's toes to his knees, up to his waist and the tangled hair over his shoulders. Leon could feel goose bumps pop up on his stomach, and his nipples tightened. It was an intimate look from a stranger, a handsome stranger, as intimate as a touch.
Leon put an arm across his chest, giving in to some instinct to hide, and Ibrahim smiled at him. "You look like a merman, with your hair wet and tangled like that." Then Ibrahim stared down at Leon's feet again. "It looks like Bazu painted your toenails, my friend. What did you do, fall asleep at lunch?"
"It was jetlag!" Leon stared down at his feet. Each big toenail sported a perfect, bright yellow smiley face.
Ibrahim was laughing softly to himself, and Bazu stuck his pretty face inside the door. "We finished your sarong! Can you try it on? I just have to fit the waist."
Ibrahim pulled up a chair and settled down. "Oh good. Let's have a fashion show! Bazu wants to go on Top Designer."
Bazu gave him an exaggerated eye roll, and Leon wondered if he could just retreat into the bathroom and lock the door. Instead he grabbed a pair of boxers off the dresser, then pulled the shirt Ibrahim had given him off the hanger. "Give me one minute," he said and went back into the bathroom. He pulled on the boxers, ran the towel over his hair one more time, and buttoned up the shirt. That stopped him, and he ran his hands over heavy, sandwashed silk the color of old ivory. When he pushed open the bathroom door, Bazu was standing with his arms folded, holding a comb.
"Sit down, sit down! I'm going to comb out your hair before these tangles dry." Bazu pushed him into a chair, and Leon sent a pleading look across the room to Ibrahim.
"Just let him do it," he advised. "It's easier than having to put up with the pouting when he doesn't get his way."
Bazu smiled sweetly at him. "Your turn is coming," he promised, lifting Leon's mass of hair in his hands. "And I hope it's coming before supper. Leon is going to look so good, you'll have to work hard to keep up with him, an old man like you. Leon, Rachel and Aeeshah found some silk, heavy dark brown silk. They've sewn the sarong with some pleats in the front, so it's comfortable to walk in. I'm still not entirely happy with the tie in the front." He was combing Leon's hair back, gathering it in a ponytail in one fist. "Do we want to leave it loose or make a braid? It's so beautiful, like honey."
"I don't like to leave it loose when I eat. I'm afraid it will fall in the soup."
"We aren't having soup, but as it happens, I saved a piece of the silk from the sarong to use in your hair." He wrapped the silk around the ponytail, left it hanging, then quickly braided it in. "You will look so handsome, Ibrahim will fall in love with you. He falls in love with men sometimes, but so far no one has been able to put up with him full time." Ibrahim was carefully studying the ceiling. "Now stand up, and I'll see if the sarong fits."
Oh God, he's gay! I can't take it.
Bazu wrapped the heavy cloth around his waist, made some small adjustments to the pleats and folds of cloth, and then tied it just off-center. "See what I mean? With these pleats, I think the tie is too informal, but tying is the traditional closure for a sarong. I really want a fitted waist and closures of Velcro." He stood back, chewing on his thumbnail. "I'll have to work on it. Ibrahim, I'm making one for you as well. You remember that silk you brought back from Bahrain? The dark blue with the peacock design? I'm going to make it so the peacock is spreading his feathers across your backside." Bazu's voice was gleeful.
"I can't wait! Have you annoyed Leon enough? Go back to the kitchen, Bazu. I need to speak with him."
"You see how they treat me?" He flung his hands out, eyes raised to the heavens. He had the look of a medieval painting of Christ on the cross. "And they say slavery is dead! I should call the United Nations!"
After he left, Leon studied himself in the mirror. "Thanks for letting me borrow the shirt," he said. "It looks good with the sarong."
"Bazu picked it out. And thank you for letting the boy..."
"He is hard to resist," Leon said. "I can see why you all adore him. How old is he, Ibrahim?"
"He just turned seventeen. He finished school last year, and I am not ready to send him to university. I don't think he's ready for Cambridge, and for sure Cambridge is not ready for him."
"Does he want to be a designer? Maybe one of the good schools in the States, like Rhode Island."
Ibrahim shook his head. "I don't know. Not America. I don't trust him out of my sight. It's not him. He's innocent as a baby. But just look at his face. People will take one look at him, this beautiful boy from Africa, and he'll be sucked into a world where I can't protect him. I haven't decided yet what to do. And he only wants to be a designer this week. Last week he was going to be a great chef. He will get a crush on you and decide to become a photographer. If he does fall in love with you, Leon, don't give in to temptation and touch him. He is still too young. If you touch him, I will run you through with my sword."
Leon blinked as his mind tried to keep up with the sharp edge the conversation had taken. He felt it in his stomach, like he'd been punched with an icy little fist. He listened to Ibrahim's words again. "Do you give that warning to everyone who comes into your home?"
"It's not a warning, I promise you."
The ice in Leon's stomach was turning to acid, and a picture of Piers's face swam before his eyes. He hated this world, crime and victims and perpetrators. "Are you sure you want to tell me that, when the last WCA reporter who came to your house was found dead, having been run through with a Tuareg sword?"
Ibrahim smiled at him, and the smile was as sharp as a razor. "We need to discuss your colleague, but perhaps it can wait until after dinner. Sefu and Jelani have some information to report. The embassy has made a request of Mr. O'Brien that you be allowed to participate officially in the investigation. Did they tell you?"
Leon shook his head.
"You requested to see his personal belongings that were delivered to the embassy. When they looked into his suitcase, they decided they wanted an American on the team looking into his death. And here you already were, in Jozani, in my house, willing and able!"
"Is there anyone looking into his death who isn't connected with Jozani?"
"No." He shrugged, an elegant twist of the shoulders.
"Can I ask you something, Ibrahim?"
"Of course." His voice was very polite, elegant and cultured. As if he had not just threatened murder.
"Is there a reason you think I would take advantage of that child? You don't know me at all, I admit, but I'm a little offended. I mean, I am gay, but I don't think I've given you any reason..."
"No, I don't think so, or you wouldn't be in my home. With a silk bow in your hair." His voice was mocking. He stood up, paced back and forth, and Leon watched him, anxiety twisting in his chest. "I suppose I want you to understand how far I'll go to protect my family." He looked up, and his eyes were as sharp as glass, dark as obsidian. "They are mine to protect."
"Did you stick a sword in Piers's chest because he threatened your family?"
"No. But I could have, easily. If I had found out while he was alive what he was doing, I would have killed him, happily. But I didn't. Now, I suppose I better go put on my skirt so you won't be the only man Bazu dressed for dinner." When Leon started to speak, Ibrahim raised his hand. "Let's talk more after dinner, shall we? Jelani wants to set up a murder board in my office. He reads too many Harry Bosch novels."
Leon followed Ibrahim down the hall, his mind fuzzed out with lust. Ibrahim was gay--and thank you for that information, Bazu, you angel. The sheik, that's what they called him? No wonder. He probably slept with his sword by the bed. So Ibrahim was gay. He looked...experienced. More than experienced. He was a giant walking boner. So what if Leon let himself just... Okay, worst-case scenario? Say it went horribly wrong and he threw up in the middle of it or hyperventilated. He could always leave the country. But a sheik, on the romantic island of Zanzibar! Would he ever in his life again have a chance like this? He was staring at Ibrahim's back and the long curls that were bouncing between his shoulder blades, shiny corkscrews of deep, deep black. Ibrahim turned and hammered him with a look as sharp as steel. Leon gulped, backed up a step. Could the Tuareg read minds?