Authors: Catherine Palmer
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A Whisper of Danger
Copyright © 1997 by Catherine Palmer. All rights reserved.
Cover photograph copyright © 2000 by Paul and Linda Marie Ambrose/FPG. All rights reserved.
Originally published in 1997 as
The Treasure of Zanzibar.
Designed by Melinda
Schumacher Scripture quotations are taken from the
, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons living or dead is entirely coincidental and beyond the intent of either the author or the publisher.
The Library of Congress has cataloged the previous edition as follows:
Palmer, Catherine, date
A whisper of danger / Catherine Palmer.
p. cm. — (HeartQuest) (Treasures of the heart ; 2)
ISBN 0-8423-3886-1 (sc)
1. Inheritance and succession—Fiction. 2. Mothers and sons—Fiction.
3. Zanzibar—Fiction. I. Title. II. Series.
PS3566.A495 W48 2000
Printed in the United States of America
14 13 12 11 10 09 08
7 6 5 4 3 2 1
This book is dedicated to Geoffrey Palmer, my beloved son.
“I asked the Lord to give me this child, and he has given me my request. Now I am giving him to the Lord, and he will belong to the Lord his whole life.”
1 Samuel 1:27-28
on’t store up treasures here on earth, where they can be eaten by moths and get rusty, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven. . . .Wherever your treasure is, there your heart and thoughts will also be.
“Help, help! I’m drowning!” The reed-thin voice faltered. “Somebody save me!”
Jessica Thornton planted her fists on her hips and cocked one eye at the attic door. “Spencer, are you up there?”
“A shark bit through my air hose! I can’t . . . can’t . . . breathe. Aaagh!”
Sounds of gurgling and choking mingled with the dull thuds of Spencer Thornton’s agonized death throes. Jess shook her head.
Drowning. What an awful fate.
“If I can just . . . swim . . . up . . .” Spencer groaned, “up to my boat.”
Trailing a hand on the banister, Jess climbed the steep staircase. “Hey, Captain Splinter, this is your mother speaking. Grab a life buoy, and get yourself down here. I want to talk to you.”
She reached the attic door and leaned against it, listening. From the other side came a loud gasp, a weak moan, and the crash of a heavy object falling onto the attic floor.
“Spencer?” Jess threw open the door. Heart racing, she searched the dimly lit room, gloomy with spiderwebs and the massive, undefined shapes of shrouded furniture. “Splint? Are you all right?”
“The treasure chest!” The voice came from somewhere near the ceiling. “I dropped it back into the sea. That gold is probably spread across leagues of ocean floor by now.” The voice paused, deepened. “Well, you’ll just have to go back for it, Captain Thornton. I’m not leaving the Bay of Bengal without my treasure.”
Jess stepped over a box of broken Christmas balls and squinted. In the faint light coming through a round window in the gable she could just make out the thin body of a boy dangling by his skinny arms from a horizontal collar beam. Legs flailing, he was attempting to haul himself onto the wooden rafter. One end of a vacuum-cleaner hose flopped around his head; the other end was attached with silver duct tape to a football tied to his back.
“I don’t think you realize what you’re asking, Blackbeard,” he growled at his imaginary companion. “It’s a nightmare down there. Sharks everywhere. One of them bit right through the air hose on my Aqua-Lung!” He grabbed the loose end of the vacuum-cleaner hose and shook it. “See this? Cut clean in two. If I weren’t as brave and powerful as I am, I would have died of the bends trying to get back to this boat.”
He threw one skinny leg over the collar beam and pulled himself up to a sitting position. “I don’t care if sharks tear you to pieces, Thornton,” he shouted, his voice now deep and gravelly, the quintessential pirate voice. “I want my treasure!”
“And I want you to get down from there before you fall, Splinter,” Jess cut in. Her son had given himself the nickname when he was too young to pronounce his real name. “I’ve been combing this house for you. How many times have I told you to let me know where you’re playing?”
“Avast!” the boy cried, spotting his mother walking toward him. “A pirate vessel bearing down hard at starboard, Cap’n! She’s coming fast, mates. A good fifteen knots, I’d say. Man the cannons!”
“I need to talk to you about something, Splint.”
“Ahoy, there! Do you come in peace?”
“Then we’ll give you permission to board. Throw the gangplank from your ship to ours and climb across.”
Jess glanced at the wobbly chair her son had indicated. Then she looked up at the dusty, web-coated collar beam.
Ah, the joys of motherhood.
After kicking off her sandals, she climbed onto the chair and hiked up her jeans. She grabbed the beam, swung one leg over it, banged her knee, and nearly toppled over before righting herself.
“Welcome aboard the
,” Spencer said as his mother scooted toward him, her long legs dangling. “Speak your piece, matey. We’ve work to do here, and there’s no time for lollygagging.”
“I’m going to gag your lolly in a minute, Splint.”
Jess studied her son. His violet eyes were the mirror image of her own, but where her hair glistened with red fire, the gold of sunshine danced in his. All arms and legs, he had lost the soft curves that once had made him cuddly. Now he was ropy and thin, with broad shoulders, the hint of a man’s square jaw, and smooth skin stretching across high cheekbones.
Splinter had been gifted with near-genius intelligence, and creativity seemed to ooze from his every pore. Yet he was all boy. Anything dirty, hidden, explosive, or smelly held him in rapt fascination. He spent hours sketching treasure islands and building models of spaceships from paper clips and empty toilet-tissue rolls. If something could be swum in, Splinter swam in it. If something could be climbed on, Splinter viewed it as a personal Everest. He wore holes through his socks, regularly stained the knees of his jeans green, and never had two matching gloves.
“My chest of rubies and emeralds is smashed on the sea floor,” he informed her. “And in case you hadn’t noticed, there are gold coins spread from here to Indonesia. If I don’t repair this Aqua-Lung and get back to work, Blackbeard may feed me to the sharks.”
Jess regarded the broken Christmas ornaments scattered across the attic floor. Rubies and emeralds? She quelled the urge to shout, “That is broken glass! And your feet are bare! And who knows what kind of spiders are up here, and if I have to take you to the emergency room one more time, young man . . .” Instead, she reached out and laid a hand on her son’s leg. “Splinter, we need to talk.”
“What, Mom?” His eyes grew serious. “Is something wrong?”
“I’ve had a letter from someone.” She searched the boy’s face, praying that she could carry out the careful plan she had made to tell her son gently the incredible things that had happened in the past two weeks. “Remember the stories I told you about growing up in Africa?” she began. “About how my father was a professor and my mother died when I was just a little girl? Remember the old African lady who took care of Uncle Grant, Aunt Tillie, Aunt Fiona, and me? Hannah Wambua?”
“You know I’ve always loved Africa, Splinter, even though we live in London now so I can be near my work.” She took a deep breath. “Two weeks ago I got a letter about someone I used to know in Africa.”
“You found my father!”
Jessica’s mouth dropped open. “Oh, Splinter. Where did you get that idea?”
“You told me you met my father in Africa. He was the son of missionaries. You got married to him. You said he didn’t even know you were going to have a baby when he went away. Did my father write a letter to you? Have you told him about me yet?”
Jess stared into her son’s eyes, dismayed at the light of hope burning there. For ten years she had blocked her son’s father out of her mind. As Spencer had grown, she had painted for the child a vague picture of a faceless, ephemeral man who was neither good nor bad, a man who had vanished like the mist on a sunny morning.
It was clear that the boy had mentally connected Africa with his father. Jess would have to blot out that notion. She would do it carefully but firmly. Just as firmly as she always shut the door on her own bitter memories.
“Splinter, honey, the letter was from an attorney. It was about a man I knew after you were born. My old art teacher.”
“Did your art teacher know my dad?”