Queen of Diamonds

Written in collaboration with Jennifer Carrick, Queen of Diamonds is a Teen Fiction adventure set against the backdrop of the trade in blood diamonds. The story follows orphaned Nala as she discovers the truth about her father's death and the real identities of her adopted parents...

To be published autumn 2016

CHAPTER ONE

The sun was setting. The dying rays transformed the African sky into a rosette of red, white, blue and gold but the evening was still warm and so the man decided to write his final letters of the day in the garden.

He disconnected his lap top computer from the wall socket in the room of his home that served him as an office and walked through the sitting room of the neat, white painted bungalow to the veranda. He sat himself at one of the cast iron patio chairs and placed his computer on the matching table. Insects were beginning to buzz around the veranda lights but here, close to the mountains, mosquitoes were few and did not carry malaria.

The man ignored the aerial display of moths and fire flies and switched on his machine. He inserted a disk into the drive and opened the first file. He read the neatly spaced words and figures three times and each time his frown became deeper.

“Daddy you promised to read another chapter of Poirot with me!” said a voice from behind him.

The man turned to see his fourteen year old daughter clutching a battered copy of an Agatha Christie murder mystery. He smiled indulgently.

Not now darling,” he said as kindly as he could, “I’m working.”

“But you promised,” the girl insisted.

“When I’ve finished,” replied the girl’s father with equal insistence. He looked at the girl intently, trying to show his will was stronger than hers. It was a battle he could easily lose.

The man guessed his daughter had developed a ghoulish passion for the adventures of Ms Christie’s fictional detective because, like her mother, Monsieur Poirot was Belgian.

The man’s daughter had inherited the angular features of her European mother, but the girl’s chestnut coloured skin, deep brown eyes and hair as black as the equatorial night belonged to him. The eyes were pure African, full of strength and defiance and backed by the stubbornness of a girl who was not yet a woman.

“Just give me an hour,” said the man, hoping for a truce.

“OK but no more,” she replied with the glow of victory.

The girl disappeared into the bungalow. The man sighed. He was missing his wife more and more. He should never have brought her to Africa to die an early death from one of the thousands of diseases that thrived in the jungle air. The doctors said it was septicaemia, blood poisoning, contracted through a tiny cut in her finger.

In Europe the poison could have been neutralised easily but in West Africa, where hospitals were few and medicine reserved for those with the right political connections, a simple cut could prove fatal. His company had offered to fly the man’s wife home for treatment but by the time the arrangements had been made it was too late. Helene had simply slipped away to a better place.

Sometimes the man thought her death was a punishment for his own stubbornness at refusing to find a job in Europe and insisting he brought his young family back to the country of his birth. But he had been young and full of ideals; he had dreamed of bringing wealth to his impoverished homeland by exploiting the country’s natural resources. He had a degree in mining from an American University and he had no difficulty in finding a job with one the dozens of mining companies with operations in Africa.

Six years ago he had returned to his homeland to take up the post of mine manager for a large South African company. Though the mine was deep in the bush and far from the civilisation of the coastal capital his wife, even with a child to look after, had come willingly.

Helene had loved the sense of adventure and danger a life in Africa promised; if only she’d known just how dangerous Africa could be perhaps she would have had second thoughts. The man blamed himself; to persuade her it was the best choice for their future, he had painted a picture of lush garden of full of all the colours of nature. He had promised Helene that it would be so different from the drab grey tones of his wife’s home in Northern Europe.

Since her death the man had felt guilt growing with each day and to compensate he had spoilt his daughter. He knew it, the girl knew it too, but he could not help it. She reminded him so much of the woman he had loved so deeply.

The computer made its annoying chime that meant it needed attention or it would shut down. The man punched a key and was about to begin typing when he heard the noise of vehicles grinding up the road towards the mining complex that he and his daughter called home.

The man rose from his chair with a puzzled look on his face. This far into the bush, visitors were rare and unheard of after dark. Even more suspiciously, he was not expecting the supply convoy until Friday.

The man walked to the gate in the ten foot high chain link fence that surrounded the bungalow. The mine manager’s home had been built away from the main compound on a low hill above the river that oozed its way through the broad valley. The miners dug for minerals found in the hardened mud of the old river banks and a short, narrow track, just wide enough for his four wheel drive vehicle, dropped away from the bungalow to another gateway in a similar fence.

The second fence surrounded the main compound that sprawled over the flood plain below. Beyond the huts and sheds that housed the miners and their equipment, the man could see half a dozen pairs of headlights snaking up the valley road towards the mine. The man reached for the walkie-talkie clipped to his belt.

“Are we expecting anyone Johnny?” he asked the security guard over the radio. The man was nervous. Normally there would be a full platoon of government soldiers protecting this valuable national resource but the soldiers had gone; they had been sent 40 miles away to investigate reports a rebel raid. Now there was only Johnny to guard the gate.

“No sir,” said a disembodied voice from the radio. The man cursed.

“OK break out the rifles, I want everyone who can carry a gun to be armed,” replied the man. “This looks like trouble.”

A klaxon sounded in the compound and in an instant, men were scurrying towards the mine’s armoury. The man turned and ran back to the bungalow. He snatched up the laptop without breaking his stride and ejected the disk in a single movement but his further progress into the house was blocked by the large figure of a woman.

“Missy,” the man yelled at the housekeeper, “Take my girl into the safe room and stay there till I say it’s all right. You know the drill.”

“Yessir,” said the housekeeper, without questioning the order.

Like many modern houses built for well-off people in rural Africa, this bungalow was built with all its rooms surrounding a central chamber of reinforced concrete. The only door to the chamber was of hardened steel that could withstand the blast of a bazooka. The chamber was always stocked with bottled water and tinned food so it could withstand a short siege until help arrived. The presence of a safe room was considered more essential than running water in this part of the war torn continent.