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Authors: Dorothy Dunnett

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The Tropical Issue

BOOK: The Tropical Issue
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Copyright & Information

Tropical Issue


First published in 1983

© Estate of Dorothy Dunnett; House of Stratus 1983-2012


All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the prior permission of the publisher. Any person who does any unauthorised act in relation to this publication may be liable to criminal prosecution and civil claims for damages.


The right of Dorothy Dunnett to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted.


This edition published in 2012 by House of Stratus, an imprint of

Stratus Books Ltd., Lisandra House, Fore Street, Looe,

Cornwall, PL13 1AD, UK.


Typeset by House of Stratus.


A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library and the Library of Congress.


ISBN: 0755131606   EAN 9780755131600




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This is a fictional work and all characters are drawn from the author’s imagination.

Any resemblance or similarities to persons either living or dead are entirely coincidental.


The Dorothy Dunnett Society can be contacted via




About the Author


Dorothy, Lady Dunnett, was born in Dunfermline, Scotland in 1923, the only daughter of an engineer, Alexander Halliday, and his wife Dorothy. Whilst gifted academically and musically, she was not encouraged to further her talents by attending university, and instead joined the civil service in Scotland as an assistant press officer. In 1946, she married Alastair Dunnett, who was at the time the chief press officer to the Secretary of State for Scotland. He went on to become editor of
The Scotsman
newspaper, whilst she later worked on a statistics handbook for the Board of Trade.

After a brief spell in Glasgow, the couple settled in Edinburgh where their home became a centre for hospitality and entertaining, mostly in support of Scottish art and culture. Dunnett had also taken evening classes at the Edinburgh College of Art and the Glasgow School of Art, and from 1950 onwards she established a prominent career as a portrait painter, being exhibited at both the Royal Scottish Academy and the Royal Academy. She was also an accomplished sculptress.

Her interest in writing developed during the 1950’s. Her own tastes took her to historical novels and it was her husband who eventually suggested she write one of her own, after she had complained of running out of reading material. The result was
The Game of Kings
, an account of political and military turmoil in sixteenth-century Scotland. Whilst turned down for publication in the UK, it was eventually published in the USA where it became an instant best seller. Other titles, such as the
Lymond Chronicles
House of Niccolo
series followed and which established her international reputation.

She also successfully turned her hand to crime, with the 
Johnson Johnson
series. He is an eccentric artist, famous for bifocals, and of course amateur detective. All of the titles in the series somehow also feature the yacht ‘Dolly’, despite ranging widely in location from Scotland, to Ibiza, Rome, Marrakesh, Canada, Yugoslavia, Madeira and The Bahamas. There is plenty of sailing lore for the enthusiast, but not so much it detracts from the stories genre; crime. Each of them is told by a woman whose profession explains her role in the mystery and we learn very little about
himself, save for the fact he is somewhat dishevelled in appearance.

Dorothy Dunnett somehow fitted in her many careers and voluntary work, along with supporting her husband’s endeavours, yet still found the time to correspond widely with her readers from all over the world, and was often delighted to meet with them personally. She held the rare distinction of having a Dorothy Dunnett Readers’ Association formed during her lifetime and collaborated with it as much as possible.  A writer who has been described as one of great wit, charm, and humanity, yet whose work displayed toughness, precision, and humour, she was appointed to an OBE in 1992 for services to literature and became Lady Dunnett in 1995 when her husband was knighted. She died in 2001, being survived by her two sons; Ninian and Mungo.



Chapter 1

To most of my clients, bifocal glasses are asthma. All those words are spelled correctly. I looked them up.

Whether they’re in show business or not, most people want to look good, and it’s part of my job to help them.

I can make people look terrible, too, if I have to. I am, you might say, in the conversion business.

A few top names don’t care what they look like at home, or even in public. Johnson is one of that lot.

Johnson wears bifocal glasses. I’m speaking of Johnson the portrait painter. You wouldn’t think Rita Geddes and Johnson had much in common, except that we both paint, in our way, people’s faces.

Wait till I tell you.

The day I met him is fairly easy to remember, because I spent the night in his apartment. In his Mayfair apartment, which he had loaned to a photographer pal who wanted the use of his studio.

The photographer pal was Ferdy Braithwaite. He needed the studio for a photo session with a rich American client. And I had to meet Ferdy there, to fix the client’s face for the photos.

I worked quite a lot with Ferdy Braithwaite. Between us, we made brides look contented and fiancées and graduates pure. When, instead of retiring, he decided to diversify into film shorts, I helped him with screen make-up too.

The camera never lies. Ferdy’s Leica will end up in Heaven, but it’s the bad fire for him and me and Max Factor.

King Ferdy, the photographer with the most subjects. And the most money. And the fastest turnover in crumpet. I called him Ferdy, and he called me Rita.

Behind my back, he called me his Scotch Bird of Paradise. Considering the fees that I charged him, I wasn’t bothered.

I have been in Mayfair, London, before, on jobs for photographers. The penthouse flat of Ferdy’s pal Johnson was in shopping-trolley distance of Asprey’s, Sotheby’s, Hermes, and four shops selling Persian carpets whose names I am not going to look up.

To get into this apartment block, you have to pass a pair of round trees, two lots of armoured plate glass, and a doorkeeper three feet higher than I am, who said, ‘Now then. You don’t want to come in ‘ere, do you?’

‘I’m not desperate,’ I said. ‘But business is business. Seventeen b? Mr Johnson’s studio flat?’

‘Business?’ said the doorkeeper. He followed me through the inner glass doors and into a marble foyer full of contract plants, looking hard at this case I was holding.

‘Goin’ fishing then, are you?’

A security man looked up from behind a counter. The doorkeeper said, ‘This little lady’s brought a fishing-tackle case to do business with 17b. I think we might just take a look at it.’

‘I think,’ I said, ‘that you might just phone 17b and say Miss Geddes is here to see Mr Braithwaite.’

The security man put his newspaper down, and the doorkeeper leaned on the counter. ‘Oh, yes,’ he said. He looked at his chum. ‘She’s goin’ fishing with Ferdy.’

Beginning with my hair, the security man’s eyeballs were punting all over me. It must have been dead dull that morning. Then he pushed his chair back and got up, which made it official.

He said, ‘Have to be Ferdy’s date, wouldn’t it? She’s not givin’ Johnson a whirl after that plane crash an’ all, unless she gives ‘im a ride in ‘is wheelchair. Goin’ to cheer ‘em up, darlin’?’

He held a hand out, and the doorkeeper whipped my case neatly out of my fingers and laid it flat on the desk.

Until he did that, I was quite interested in what he was saying about Ferdy’s pal Johnson and some plane crash.

I never read newspapers, but I know what’s going on. I never miss a news broadcast or the share prices reports. My mother’s two-storey house with double garage has a radio in every room, and three television sets and a video.

As the doorman grabbed my case, I said, ‘Hang on. Is the man in 17b the same as Johnson the painter?’

One of the best-known international figures in the field of portrait painting, the announcer had said. Sole survivor of a private plane crash on the Continent.

The security man was dialling 17b. ‘Thought you knew Mr Johnson,’ he said reproachfully. He spoke into the phone and replaced it. He said, ‘All right. Let’s see inside this one.’

I stared at him. ‘Did you speak to 17b just now?’

‘Come on,’ he said. He tapped the case. ‘Rule of the ‘ouse.’

Rule of the house, nothing. I’m all for security, but this was plain bloody nosiness.

I looked at the doorkeeper. ‘You’ve checked me out,’ I said. ‘I don’t have to show you anything.’

The doorkeeper was feeling great. ‘Cheer old Johnson up, won’t she?’ he said. ‘Fairly jump out of ‘is nightshirt, ‘e will. What’s in the case, then? Whips and handcuffs?’

‘Blood,’ I said sourly. ‘I’ve come straight from the mortuary.’

I can cope with aggro. I can cope with most things. You get fed up with it.

I took the case by the handle. I said, ‘You open it, you pay for it.’

I am four feet eleven inches high, but I could tell without cricking my neck that they were leering.

The doorkeeper jerked the case forward. The security man banged the catch and flipped the lid back. They peered inside together.

That way the blood got them both. A jet of Dark up the security man’s nostrils and all down his collar and uniform front. A jet of Standard circling the doorkeeper’s cap and then sprinkling his suit like a crop sprayer.

A kinky pal fixed up the tubes for me. The release catch is in the case handle. I only flip it if I’m annoyed. The stuff inside is protected by polythene.

I shut the box and whipped it off the desk while the two yobs were still snorting and groaning; dabbing their faces and starting to claw their bloody clothes off.

BOOK: The Tropical Issue
3.03Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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