Prologue “The government is advising everyone to stay indoors. We repeat… ….
” The roar of the storm drowned out the screams of the woman in labour as she lay on the kitchen floor of her house in a small suburb of Victoria, the capital of Saint Mary, a tiny dot in the Caribbean Sea. She dared not go upstairs to the bedroom for fear that the roof might not withstand the onslaught being dealt upon it. The hurricane had caught the island by surprise and when her waters broke the radio was advising everyone to remain inside. “Winds gusting to one hundred and forty miles per hour…” it crackled in the background, inaudible above the terrifying sound of the tempest. Her husband was frantic with worry seeing his wife in distress, and felt helpless to assist or relieve the pain she was in. “I’m going to get the doctor!” he yelled. The incessant banging of the corrugated galvanised roof sheeting against the wooden rafters above them was deafening. “No… don’t go outside, it’s too dangerous!” she panted, sweat beading on her forehead. “He’s just down the road, we can make it!” He struggled against the front door being battered by the vengeance of the storm outside of their little two-storey house and made his way out into the violence that was nature that evening. The rain lashed at him relentlessly as it hurtled horizontally past. Lightening illuminated the scene of the man battling to keep on his feet as he picked his way slowly towards the doctor’s house. Inside the woman shouted in agony as the contractions came closer and closer together, signalling the impending arrival of her baby. Suddenly there was a deafening screech above her as the roof sheeting was torn from the house followed by a sound like an explosion as the roof structure gave up its grasp and was thrown asunder. The lights went out, plunging her into darkness. The galvanised roof sheeting spun through the air before scything its way back to earth, and to her husband. Like a depraved guillotine it flashed through the air and caught the father to be a full blow in the neck, killing him instantly. In stark contrast to the roaring maelstrom a tiny, fragile, baby’s cry was heard.
Chapter One January - thirty two years later Gatwick Airport, North Terminal, 7:00am Monday January 8th. On this cold, dark, damp and dreary morning a smartly dressed and immaculately groomed young man of colour sat in the departure lounge in front of a cappuccino and The Daily Telegraph, waiting to be summoned to a further waiting zone and then to board his flight. He had been up since 4:00 am, had stood in what seemed like an interminable queue to check in his luggage and was wondering through a tired mind and gritty eyes if this whole venture was a grand mistake. It had all begun with a call from his friend and work associate back in November. "I've a job for you," Kevin had said, "let's go for a pint and I'll give you the details." The young man lived in a one-bedroom loft situated on the third floor of a terraced Victorian building on a quiet street that was lined on both sides with tall and ancient trees, on the outskirts of Chiswick, West London. He loved his flat, and the road it was on. It was a quaint backwater with a small parade of shops opposite: a butcher, a hardware shop, a launderette, and a café, all of which could be viewed through the tree branches from his living room windows. It felt like it hadn’t changed since the war, or even earlier. He was prone to sitting and staring out of this window, gazing blankly down at the comings and goings of people as they went about their affairs. The leisurely, unhurried way in which business was conducted on this little stretch of commerce was soothing, and a million miles away from the hustle and bustle that typified the high streets of central London. This part of Chiswick was separated from the more hectic parts of town by the feed road to the motorway, itself a strip of noisy madness, filled with deafening lorries being chased by angry cars. Here, however, he had easy access to the river Thames which afforded pleasant walks along the footpaths that lined the banks of the river, and many splendid pubs. His name was Jack Delisle, and as he kept himself, so he kept his flat: immaculate. A true metrosexual, he had a passionate dislike for dirt and disarray, and anything that might cause either. On Kevin’s invitation Jack had left his abode and set off to the pub allocated for the event. It was 8:00pm, dark and wet, and the streetlights reflected orange off of the concrete pavement, whilst in the distance the passing cars' tires hissed on the shining tarmac of the road. He would have happily stayed at home on such a night, comfortable on his settee immersed in a paperback novel, the aromas of supper drifting in from the kitchen whilst he enjoyed a suitably
cosseting glass of wine. Still, this was the promise of work, and heaven knows he was in need of that, so off he went. Pulling his collar up around his ears and chin, and with the cold stinging his cheeks, he wandered off towards the river and the pub. At the end of the road the commerce stopped and all the buildings became houses and flats. A mixture of terraced, semi-detached and detached homes of differing eras, and purpose built flats of the 60's, the architecture was of many ages and styles but one common thread held them together: the glow from their windows. At first glance this appeared flat, but at closer inspection it was three dimensional, revealing a glimpse of the domestic life inside where fireplaces ablaze illuminated a person or two, sometimes an entire family, all of whom were oblivious to Jack outside in the wet and cold on his solo journey. A lone grey figure in a cold, grey streetscape. Jack was an architect and had worked with a progressive and highly successful practice in central London. Successful, that is, until it was discovered that the sole partner of the practice was living and spending well beyond the means of the fee income generated by those who worked for him. The result was that the accountants moved in and dictated the running of the business. This in turn had stifled the free-flowing creative process they had thrived on, and replaced it with accountability for all things right down to the toilet paper, proving too much for Jack who left to hang up his own shingle. Initially the work had come in thick and fast as past clients were happy to assist in establishing Jack's enterprise. It had surprised him just how enthusiastic they had been about his foray into the world of the self-employed. People are basically good, he decided. Unfortunately, as good an architect as Jack was, and he was very good indeed, his marketing skills were crap and as a result the workload had waned and Jack had found himself designing the occasional loft conversion and house extension. Even this meagre trickle had dried up, and like so many of his ilk he was struggling to make ends meet. The good people had vanished and been replaced by a bunch of disinterested strangers. The prospect of work from Kevin was, therefore, attractive. Kevin was also self-employed, as a quantity surveyor. Unlike Jack, however, Kevin's venture was a success. They had been friends for many years, some of them sober, and Kevin was Jack's number one fan and would put Jack forward to clients whenever possible. This was one such occasion. Passing under the railway bridge Jack saw the muddy puddle and the approaching van too late. With an expression of bored indifference the van driver sped the vehicle towards the pool of grime and the hapless Jack. Forced to press up against the cold mosscovered stone wall of the bridge he tried to shield himself from the inevitable. A wave of thick, muddy, cold filth rose from the van's
tires and engulfed his left side whilst his right side was liberally smeared with the moss and black soot that had collected undisturbed on the stone wall for years. "Bloody shithead!" yelled Jack at the fast receding van. He stood there, water dripping from his clothes, hands and face, with the stench of the filthy water and detritus from the bridge invading his senses. He brushed at his coat sleeve. This would need drycleaning first thing tomorrow. As for his trousers and shoes, he would have to deal with them before he went to bed. His first instinct was to go home and bathe, but as the pub was in view and not too far away he turned and trudged, with wet feet, toward it. The inn that was his destination was on the banks of the Thames and had been a drinking establishment for over 100 years. A solid red brick building, it had managed to maintain the air of a bygone era. It was alleged that Dick Turpin drank there, but this was probably apocryphal. The general ambience made it a much-loved haunt of local and visitor alike, and having changed hands many times before it had been bought recently by a London brewery that specialized in 'real' ale with a penchant for re-vamping pubs by putting sawdust on the floors for that ‘genuine’ olde worlde pub feel. Although not to the liking of all of the regulars the changes had done nothing to dampen the pub’s patronage. Named The Black Swan the layout inside was simple and comprised one large rectangular room with a low ceiling and a central, elongated island bar. A fireplace stood to one end of the room and a door leading to the toilets was at the other. There was a balcony along the length of the building overlooking the river, but this was utilised only in the summer months. The walls were painted brown over raised Anaglypta wallpaper, the ceiling was off-white and the floor that was once carpeted was now covered in sawdust. Glasses and beer mugs hung from a dark wooden pelmet above the bar, behind which a mirrored centre console housed bottles of spirits, some upturned and stuck into glass optics. "What the hell has happened to you?" asked Kevin as Jack slouched uncomfortably through the door. "Some twat in a van soaked me under the bridge," replied Jack. "Argh. Two pints of 'Old Wallop' please Stu," said Kevin to the barman as Jack set off to the toilets to get off some of the filth that was now drying uncomfortably on his skin. As part of the re-vamp the brewery had given their ales bizarre names: 'Old Wallop' was the every day quaffing bitter; 'Strumpet Special' a stronger brew popular with rugby fans after a match at nearby Twickenham; and 'Santa's Hades' a lethal bottled beer, as strong as scotch and sold only in December. Kevin took the drinks over to the fireplace, where a freshened up Jack joined him. “You washed your hair in the toilets?” asked Kevin, amazed. This
latest display of tidiness and dexterity surpassed anything his fastidious pal had accomplished before. Jack chose to ignore this comment and stood close to the fireplace so that his clothes could begin to dry out. This in itself produced its own discomfort as his trousers began to harden as if sprayed with cement. He felt that bending his knees, if this were in fact possible, would snap the trouser legs in half, and a walk home in improvised shorts was not an idea he cherished. "What's this job then?" asked Jack. "Remember Mustafa?" replied Kevin. Jack nodded. Dorioush Hassam, whose father was Iranian and mother Scottish, was nicknamed Mustafa Fortune by dint of his having no discernable regular occupation, but nevertheless he lived the high life. He was a sometimes client of Kevin's and would pop up now and then with development schemes which he did not fund, but from which he reaped substantial financial reward. No one ever got a straight, or at least believable, answer as to where the money was coming from, so most had given up asking. What was important, however, was that he paid the fees, and promptly. As a result he was a mainstay of Kevin’s practice. "Well he's got a house to build in the Caribbean, and given your birthplace, you are the number one candidate to design it for him." "I may have been born in Saint Mary, but I left when I was a baby and have never even visited the place since. I hardly think that that qualifies me as an expert in West Indian architecture." "Actually, the project is in Saint Mary. Mustafa has done his research, and because you were born there you won't need a work permit,” replied Kevin. "What?” exclaimed Jack. “You mean he wants me to go there? Why? Surely I can design the house here?" "Not really. It's no ordinary house, more of a palace, I think, and he has told the client that he has the best architect with local knowledge who will be on site to supervise the entire building process. You know Mustafa, “tell them what they want to hear, and worry about getting it done later”. Anyway, interested?" "Shit. I dunno. I guess so. Can I think about it?" asked Jack standing uncomfortably, in no small part because his underpants had now hardened like a plaster cast around his privates, making any perambulation dangerous at best. "Well he's in London next week and wants to see us on Wednesday at my office, so you've got a couple of days. But really, it will be perfect for you. You know that you are brilliant and, lets face it, a tropical house is just like an English house but with more windows." "What time Wednesday?" "9:00 am," said Kevin. “Isn’t Saint Mary hot, third world and full of bugs?” “Oh get a grip. That’s Australia.”
"Bollocks. This is your strangest yet, Oldcorn. Anyway, my round," and with that Jack walked, as stiff legged as a knight in shining armour, to the bar praying that his brittle underpants wouldn’t shatter and emasculate him en-route. Wandering home Jack turned things over in his mind. True he was born in the Caribbean, the only child of a white Englishwoman and a black West Indian. Jack's dad was the result of many generations of mixed unions and had a dark complexion, European features and curly hair, rather than the tight helix of the pure Negro. Jack himself was lighter in skin tone than his father, giving him an almost universally acceptable, and in certain circles unacceptable, countenance. Being of colour had had its advantages, and at university many of the girls were charmed by Jack’s exotic good looks and flashing dark eyes. As a result Jack had been courted rather more than he deserved, and he usually obliged. These trysts were often preceded by a game of poker by way of breaking the ice, and it became known as 'poke-her' among the female fraternity. Jack was pleased to note that his prowess was well received and that the ladies were not left disappointed. But this new venture worried him: he had not been to the West Indies since his birth and had no knowledge of the place, he had a flat with a mortgage to consider, and then there was the question of Estelle. Mind you, she had gone to work in New York because: 1) that was where she was from and 2) Jack would not 'commit' as she put it. 'Commit?' For God's sake, he was only thirty-two years old after all. They had met through work. She was in Europe broadening her creative horizons and was working as an interior designer with one of the larger city firms. Her father was a successful and very wealthy businessman in New York, and Estelle, who did not want for much, took luxury and the finer things in life for granted. She had short blond hair, an equine nose, slim figure, long slender legs and large soft blue eyes that shone with enthusiasm and burned with a 'let's do it now' intensity. At once they enjoyed each other's company, and would talk for hours about all manner of artistic trivia. She was enchanted by London, and she enchanted Jack with her North American take on life, and her enthusiasm for all things, great or small. The fact that she afforded them the opportunity to do what the city had to offer helped as well. They went to every West End play, knew every restaurant and wine bar in London worth knowing, and fell in love. Bliss. Then Estelle dropped the bombshell: they should live together; he should come to New York and meet Daddy; they could set up in business together. The enthusiasm had gotten out of control. At that point Jack's fervour waned, and he began to panic. What had been a joyous rollercoaster ride, where he couldn't wait to see her, where each togetherness was an adventure, suddenly seemed a chore. A waiting for the answers to her questions of their future, his feeble
dodging of the situation, the resulting sulks and silences, and sometimes the rows. In the end she said that she had had enough, pronounced him to be 'Sydney Sad Shag' and returned to the States in a harumph. She had given him back the white gold dolphin pendant and chain he had bought for her. It was, in fact, the only love token he had ever bought. And now she had gone. Estelle was the first real involvement of any depth he had had, and her leaving had made Jack lonely, a feeling he was not used to, had not experienced before, and was not comfortable with. Sure there had been a string of affairs in his past, but they were all transitory, or at least they were to Jack. The fact that he broke a few hearts along the way hadn’t occurred to him to be of any consequence. He freely admitted that he was a shallow man when it came to women. All he had wanted was a bedmate, preferably a tidy one, and he had assumed that that was all they wanted too. Someone to go to parties with, someone who would sleep over now and then. Someone who had her own apartment and didn’t want to move into his. Jack liked having his flat to himself. He liked knowing that carefully placed and arranged furniture and other articles that found their way into his life would remain where they were so carefully placed. He did not like finding shoes thrown carelessly in the living room. Everyone knew that shoes were to be removed at the front door, and placed neatly on the shoe rack situated right there for that express purpose. Or at least they should. After all, the dirt and filth of the streets and pavements and wherever else one had walked was on the soles of shoes, and no one in their right mind would want that brought into their house. Quite often Jack had two or even three relationships going at the same time. Why his friends had got married remained a mystery to him. But Estelle was different. Being with her had chased away his want for other women, and Jack had gotten out of the routine of meeting, flirting and bedding, a sport in which he previously excelled. So here he was, short of work, short of money and short of a social life. She had packed her bags and kissed him off. Why she had to go eluded him, but gone she had. So that was that. Except that he did miss her. That laugh, those talks, the sex, and those eyes (oh man, those eyes) and last but by no means least the eating out. “Oh screw Estelle!” he said as he entered his flat to run a bath and thaw out his encrusted body. He knew deep down inside that this was bravado, and that he would give anything to see her again.
Chapter Two Wednesday arrived and Jack had to catch the packed commuter train into London. God how he hated this journey. It involved smelly dirty trains crammed full with smelly dirty people, and he always wanted to disinfect himself afterwards. He had moved his place of work to a rented studio a short walk from his flat four years ago, and he had not missed working in Central London at all. Kevin had suggested on many occasions that Jack move his drawing table in with them, and this was probably sound business sense, sharing clients and all, but daytime London was a filthy place to Jack and he was not interested. On arriving at Waterloo he went down into the bowels of the earth the got onto the tube. It was packed with indifferent people with indifferent expressions on their indifferent faces all purposely staring at nothing, avoiding strangers’ gazes with practiced aplomb. The only problem was that someone had farted and the stench was horrific. Ready to vomit Jack noticed that no one showed any acknowledgement of the flatulence whatsoever. Not even a nostril twitched. He wanted to shout "Who shit?" but didn't. 'No wonder you buggers survived the blitz, your probably just ignored it' he thought to himself. Eventually Jack reached his destination and bolted from the tube station into the fresh air outside like a rat from a drainpipe. He stood on the pavement and took a deep breath – of diesel fumes from a passing bus. “Shit, I hate London,” he coughed, and set off to keep his appointment with Kevin. The two of them were inseparable friends and had been for years, but they were totally different characters. Kevin was adept at sports and had played most everything for his school and played it successfully. Jack on the other hand was always the last to the finish line and was usually obsessing about the mud on his socks. Kevin’s business was a success and he was reaping the financial rewards. Jack was struggling to afford his one bedroom flat. Kevin had married his first and only girlfriend. Jack would have slept with her and her sister at the same time. Kevin was easy going and confidant and his friendship with Jack was as assured as his love for his wife. They were truly closer than brothers. Kevin's offices were on the top floor of a three storey building on the corner of Oxford Street and New Bond Street. The ground floor was given over to retail and the first and second floors were offices whilst the third was a haven of pigeon shit. It was a neglected loft high above London’s busy streets. As the building belonged to a client of Kevin's and they considered the third floor to be commercially useless he had secured it for a peppercorn rent. He then set about renovations on a shoestring. The result was that the walls and ceilings were whitewashed and the carpet tiles were the cheapest
available. The only expense was the conference room that was separated from the main office space by glass blocks. The big problem was the carpet tiles, as they were made of pure nylon and produced enough static electricity to light a house. Jack entered and wandered over to the receptionist, a petite pretty woman in her early 30's named Jane, who also happened to be Kevin's wife. "Hello there sweetie," she said to Jack, "long time no see. Fancy a coffee?" "Please, Jane. That journey was the pits," he replied taking out the tube of antibacterial cleansing hand gel that he kept in his pocket for these eventualities, and wiping his hands. "Poor thing. They are in the conference room. I'll bring it in." "Thanks." Jack turned and walked to the closed conference room door. Through the glass blocks he could make out the distorted images of Kevin and, with his back to Jack, Mustafa. Jack reached for the door handle. 'Crack!' "Bollocks!" shouted Jack as he received the short sharp stab of static electricity. Mustafa and Kevin looked up. "Morning Jack. Come in," said Kevin. "Good to see you again Jack. You look like you have put on a bit of weight. Must be all those pork pies and beer you get in the suburbs,” said Mustafa. The gap in his teeth emphasized his lisp, and each sibilant whistled as he spoke. Jack grimaced. "Nice to see you too Dori, how's tricks?" 'You condescending twat,' he thought to himself. "Tricks are fine. You know, we try to keep the wolf from the door and all that. Mind you I think that that old wolf is getting rather angry nowadays,” said Mustafa, which made no sense to Jack whatsoever. Mustafa was fond of quoting jumbled adages and the result was usually total nonsense. He was a short well-groomed man in his early thirties and balding. He had broad shoulders, an olive complexion and wore a very expensive lightweight olive green suit. Mustafa was always passing through London from a more exotic and warmer locale. The pen and cigarette lighter on the table in front of him were gold and by Cartier. His cigarettes were Dunhill and his watch was the ubiquitous gold Rolex. "Sit down Jack. I have a very exciting proposition for you." Jack sat opposite Kevin and Mustafa and the latter began to explain the project in as much detail as he was prepared to, and in a fashion that only he was capable of. "Do you know what the birds do in the winter? They fly south to the warmth, to sunnier places than dreary old London. Clever old birds. Well I know one such bird. He's a sheikh; you know why they call them that? Because when you sheikh them, money falls out." Jack cringed inwardly but kept a frozen smile on his face which
he hoped portrayed interest in the topic and an appreciation of Mustafa's humour. "Our sheikhy bird has bought a piece of land on Saint Mary and wants a winter home built there. It's just eight acres on the beach, poor fellow. My heart bleeds." "How did you manage to get the job?" asked Jack, instantly realizing that he had: 1) interrupted Mustafa in mid flow; and 2) asked the sort of question Mustafa hated to be asked. "Good question Jack. I like a person who wants to know where the butter on his very nice bread sandwich is coming from. But what does it matter so long as the sandwich is buttered?" answered Mustafa curtly. Jack shut up. Mustapha continued. "As I was saying before Jack here decided to get bogged down in boring technicalities, our sheikhy bird wishes to have his winter roost built and has entrusted me with the job. I have set up a company called ‘Fandango’ and you Jack, you are our senior architect. It is important that my name is not on any correspondence so everything will be through Kevin here. I have also found the contractor on the island who will build the house. The best there is I'm told. All there is, more likely. The costs will be negotiated through Kevin so you don't have to worry your pretty little head over that Jack, just design and build the ruddy thing." This all had a familiar ring to it. Mustafa's projects were usually anything but transparent. Poor Shieky-bird was being served for thanksgiving dinner. Best not to think about it thought Jack. Still, with Kevin as the go-between things should be fairly straightforward. Ish. Jane brought the coffee, and details and logistics were discussed. The design brief was presented scribbled on a small note pad that Mustafa pulled from his top pocket. Fandango had rented a house in Saint Mary which was to double as Jack’s office. It was obvious to Jack that Mustafa had already decided that he was the man for the job and that this meeting was but a formality. After a short haggle about fees, during which Mustafa had tried his usual profit share pitch and which Jack had refused knowing full well from past experience that profit realized and profit admitted to were two very different animals indeed, Jack agreed to the undertake the project. Mustafa rose to leave explaining that he had other meetings to attend in London and then had to fly to Paris that evening. Putting on his cashmere coat that was hanging on the coat stand by the door, he reached for the handle. 'Crack!' "My Lord!" exclaimed Mustafa, "You are going to kill someone one of these days, Kevin." Passing Jane on his way out he said "Good bye my dear, keep the young man in check," and reached for the door. 'Crack!' This time the spark was visible. "Holy mother of God!" and he was gone.
Chapter 3 So here was Jack at 7:00am on Monday, January 8th on route to Saint Mary via Barbados via Gatwick Airport, North Terminal. Jack's flight was announced quietly on the TV monitors hung around the departure lounge. He stood up, picked up the case he had packed that was small enough to be allowed onto the aircraft, tucked the newspaper under his arm and wandered off along with 200 others to board his flight and settle himself into his seat by a window, second class, near the wc’s at the rear. The jumbo jet charged unstoppably and with unimaginable force down the runway pushing its passengers into their seats. Tilting back it rose into the air, slowly at first then with greater authority, freeing itself from the sticky grasp of the earth. Jack gazed absentmindedly out of the window at the view below. The diminishing buildings, the increasing lengths of roads and the minute cars all suddenly disappeared as they burst through cloud. Then all was white. Suddenly the same view but with smaller details re-emerged for a moment then was gone again. Drops of condensation formed on the outside of the window and sped diagonally across the Perspex and a dazzling bright blue sky emerged. Below them was a solid mass of thick white cloud while all else was as sunny a day as the best summer could offer. The motion outside receded and as the pilot eased back on the throttles an introspective peace and calm enveloped the cabin as the passengers began to make themselves comfortable. Some picked up a paperback novel purchased to help pass the time on this trans-Atlantic dash while others researched the glossy magazines advertising expensive holiday destinations, duty free cosmetics and alcohol that the airline had placed in the pocket on the seat back in front of them. Jack picked up his portfolio and studied the notes he had made of the design brief he was given: ‘Informal but sufficiently impressive to let visitors know the owner's wealth without being like a Danish brothel,' as Mustafa had put it. Jack assumed that the Danes had brothels but he had no idea what one would look like. 'Five guest bedrooms, master bedroom suite, two children's bedrooms, nanny's accommodation, cinema, gym, pool, extensive entertaining facilities. Must be self sufficient for water and electricity if necessary.’ He put down the portfolio and studied the in flight magazine instead, resigning himself to his trans-Atlantic sojourn. Daydreaming, Jack considered what had led him to this point. After his father had died his mother had returned to England to raise her boy alone. She had never re-married and to Jack’s knowledge she had kept herself apart from that side of life. Although his mother had not spoiled Jack, he was certainly indulged and when he had gone to say goodbye she did not take the news well. Her distress upset him and Jack was wracked with a feeling of guilt. He didn’t live with his
mother but he called in on her regularly at weekends and he knew that she enjoyed these visits immensely. He was her only child and to her he was still her baby. He tried to justify his decision by telling himself over and over that he couldn’t live his life for his mother. After all she wasn’t infirm. She was actually a very sprightly woman in her mid sixties with many friends and an active social life of her own. But none of this helped erase the feeling that he was abandoning her. "I can't believe you have decided to go to go back there,” she had said. "Oh Jack. I thought that you were happy here. Will I see you again?" "Don't be silly, of course you will. Hell, I'm only off for a year or so to build a house. And I'll be back on holiday twice a year." “No you won’t. You’ll fall in love and decide to stay on the island, I know you will.” “Now that is ridiculous. Of course I won’t, and you know it.” “I know nothing of the sort. All I know is that my baby is leaving home and I don’t know when I’ll see him again.” By now she was in tears. Jack knew that the harrowing events surrounding his birth was another reason his mother was so upset at his going to St. Mary. Jack hugged his mother and tried to placate her but it didn’t work. Eventually she said: “Well if you are going you’d better go.” He agreed with this observation and left her on her doorstep, hanky in hand, tears on her cheeks. Eight hours, three gins, two meals, a film watched and some musing later, Jack arrived in Barbados. It was mid-afternoon and the scorching heat of the air made taking the first few intakes of breath outside of the plane difficult. The atmosphere was scented with tropical vegetation and jet fuel. It was a heady mix that Jack found not unpleasant and it underscored the fact that he was now in a very different part of the world. He entered the airport with its slender perforated concrete roof beams, diagonally spanning tall and willowy octagonal columns that supported the five acres of concrete roof panels above, all of which gave the feeling of being in a grey cathedral. He was ushered into the departure lounge for a one-hour wait. This afforded him time to shave and freshen up before he boarded a twin-engine turboprop DeHaviland 'Dash 8' leased and run by Air Mary, for the final leg of his journey, a short hop across the Caribbean Sea. Jack was to be met at the other end by Mary Hines, the estate agent who had sold the land. Victoria Airport in Saint Mary had no runway lights so the flight had to be undertaken in daylight hours. As a result Jack
arrived at the small terminal building with its red corrugated galvanised roof and peeling white painted walls, just before sunset. He and a handful of others walked off the plane and into the building through the doorway that had the word 'ARRIVALS' hand painted on the wall above it. Inside and behind a red line painted on the concrete floor there were two wooden rostrums, and behind each was an immigration officer resplendent in khaki uniform. When it was Jack's turn he crossed the line and presented his passport to the official who, after a short perusal, welcomed Jack to St Mary and handed him back his passport, duly stamped. Jack then wandered beyond to the baggage collection and customs section of the room. There were no conveyor belts, no TV screens proclaiming which scrimmage area to wait at and no red or green exits to negotiate once one had one's luggage. Instead Jack's and the other passenger's bags were brought into the room by two porters and dumped in a pile in the centre of the floor. As Jack approached the pile one of the porters asked him which of the bags were his, and once informed the porter carried the suitcases to a low wooden counter behind which stood another khaki clad official, this one being rather portly. Looking away, and without speaking, the customs officer tapped one of Jack's bags. "Open this?" ventured Jack. The officer turned and stared at Jack, tapping the bag again which Jack took to be confirmation in the affirmative. Jack opened the suitcase and after a cursory rummage the officer dismissed Jack with a wave of his hand. Jack rearranged the contents of the suitcase neatly and wondered if the man was a mute, or worse, didn't speak English. In any event the porter collected Jack's cases and they walked out through the double doors that led to the world outside. A concrete porte-cochere stood in front of the main entrance affording departing passengers some protection from the weather when they got out of their taxi to go to the check in area. Arriving passengers were not afforded any such luxury and Jack and the porter emerged onto the pavement in front of the narrow one-way road that was the entrance and exit of the airport. Between them and the main road beyond was the car park, behind which a hill, covered in tropical green bush and trees, rose steeply. The light was getting dim and the grey mantle of night was beginning to settle around the island. Lights from houses could be seen dotted here and there up the hillside and the air was full of the sound of the short shrill 'bleeps' of tiny frogs. The atmosphere was hot and humid, mixed with the sweet heady fragrance of tropical flowers. Jack was finding it hard to breathe. He was hot, tired and hungry, and was really looking forward to a bath and to getting into some cooler clothes. A man sitting on a low wall that retained the car park on the other side of the road put up his hand and shouted in what sounded like a parody of an American accent:
"Taxi, buddy?" Jack shook his head. "No thanks" he replied. At that moment a woman with a rounded curvaceous figure wandered out from the car park and down the short flight of steps that were to the taxi driver's right. She was dressed in dark tailored trousers and a light blue short-sleeved cotton shirt. She had purposefulness to her stride and walking up to Jack she enquired "Mister Delisle?" Her face was as round as the moon and her complexion that of milk chocolate. Her hair was a mass of dark ringlets that sat like a fluffy swim-cap around her scalp, accentuating the shape of her head. She was about five feet four inches tall and Jack guessed that she was in her mid thirties. "Yes,” replied Jack. "Hi, I'm Mary Hines," she said putting out her hand to shake his. Her accent was soft and when she smiled her eyes, large and dark, lit up. She had a gap between her top front teeth that added a gentleness to her features. Jack shook her hand, which was soft and padded, almost like a baby's. "I hope you had a nice flight. My car is in the car park, and the hotel is jus' down the road." She beckoned to the porter to follow and led Jack to her car, an old white Toyota Corolla. The porter put Jack's cases in the boot and Mary tipped him what Jack assumed to be the customary amount, but judging by the look on his face the porter was obviously expecting more. "’Night Mistress" he said and wandered back towards the airport building, stopping to chat to the taxi driver. They drove out of the airport and followed the main road down hill through a small and rundown semi-industrial area, the sort of area that seems to accompany airports throughout the world. They crossed a little bridge over a drainage culvert and were into open countryside. The dusk light was short lived and the night was now inky black and moonless, the sky dusted with stars. The road was narrow and unmarked with neither cat's eye nor sidewalk to delineate it. Mary drove like a thing possessed throwing them right and left as the Toyota swooped around the narrow bends, rocketed along the straights, and bounced violently over the numerous potholes in the road. Jack thought he was going to die, and for sure that he was going to be sick. He was amazed and thankful that they did not pass another vehicle, cyclist or pedestrian, for he could not see how that would not end in disaster. To his dismay and horror he realised that he had not put on his seat belt and neither had the driver. Mary, in the meantime, was oblivious to the terror stricken state her passenger was in and was informing Jack that she would pick him up at the hotel at 10:00am the following morning after he had recovered
from his journey. She would take him to the job site and to his house and to meet Todd Wilson, the contractor. If there was anything more he wanted to see or do he had only to ask. She punctuated her conversation with hand gestures and at times she would look at Jack as she spoke, taking her eyes off of the road which only added to his panic. Jack was too petrified to speak and was concentrating with all his might on the road ahead, his right foot pressed firmly on the floor of the car, his fists clenched and his eyes bulging in concentration. Although he was not a religious man Jack nevertheless felt that this might be an appropriate time to pray. After what seemed like an eternity, but was in fact only a short while, they approached the entrance of the hotel. It was a steeply sloping asphalted driveway that was framed by two curved walls, each painted pink and lit by a single bulb hidden in a scooped out recess in the walls themselves. The name "Frangipani Bay Hotel" was cast in relief below each bulb. Mary turned the car down the driveway. On their left was a wellkept garden with mown lawns bordered by flowerbeds planted with tuber roses and lady of the night, perfuming the night air. Low level lights illuminated fragrant frangipani trees, their white propeller shaped flowers adding to the bouquet. On the right was a car park in which a handful of vehicles stood. Ahead of them was The Frangipani Bay Hotel: a horseshoe shaped building, the arms of which flanked a swimming pool, with the beach and sea beyond. The façade was two storeys tall split longitudinally by the cedar shingle clad roof of an open walkway. In the centre stood the front entrance, an arched opening lit by a copper chandelier suspended on a chain. The building was painted pink like the entrance walls except for the slender steel columns supporting the walkway roof, which were white. The floor of the walkway was tiled in red terracotta. The hotel was in ten acres of garden with ancient and gnarled mahogany trees interspersed with tall and spindly casuarinas, their spiky leaves whispering in the wind, and all was surrounded by a soft, springy lawn. Here and there smaller frangipanis with pink and white flowers added their spectacular scent to the atmosphere. When they pulled up outside of the front door of the hotel Jack had never felt so relieved in his entire life. The noisy ‘bleeps’ of tiny frogs was everywhere. Jack stood and looked about him and took in a deep breath of the warm, fragrant night air, and was soothed. The office/reception/souvenir and essentials shop was in a separate, small building off to the left. Measuring twelve feet square it was bisected by an unpolished counter, on which stood a small rotating display stand containing postcards showing views of the island. Onto the walls behind were shelves stocked with suntan lotion, film and toiletries. Jack followed Mary to the counter where a middle-aged woman was sitting reading a paperback novel. She looked
up as they entered. "Good night," Mary greeted the receptionist, who nodded in reply. "This is Mister Delisle. He has a reservation." The woman looked at a large blue covered exercise book open on the desk in front of her, its pages dog-eared and discoloured with use. She scribbled in it with a ballpoint pen, picked a key off a rack on the wall behind her, rose, and exited the building through a door to her left, muttering as she did so. "Hole on," she said before disappearing. A moment later she appeared at the entrance to the shop. "Come," she said as she turned and walked toward the hotel entrance. Mary and Jack followed the woman past the entrance to a small room in which a man in his 60's and with dark black skin was sitting on a fold-away aluminium chair, dozing. "Room 150," said the woman handing the key to the man who started from his slumber, took the key and, smiling at Jack, rose rather painfully to his feet. "Suckle will show yuh to yuh room," she said and turned to return to her novel. "Thank you," said Jack. Having carried out her allotted task Mary bade Jack farewell: "I will see you tomorrow," she said. Suckle showed Jack to his room and opened the door for him before returning for the bags. Jack entered the room that was, to his delight, air-conditioned and smelled clean. Like most hotels it was comprised of a short corridor leading to the bedroom and off of which was the bathroom and closet. The furniture was comprised of a double bed, armchair, a round table and credenza, all of stained timber. On the credenza was a tray on which a kettle, packets of coffee and tea bags were placed. A mirror hung on the wall behind. Brightly coloured curtains with a tropical floral pattern framed sliding doors that led to the pool area outside. The room was very clean and the airconditioned air felt wonderful after the clammy heat of outside. Jack was desperate for a shower. It had been a long, dehydrating day and he knew that his skin would be like brown paper by now. Suckle appeared with Jack's bags and put them on the floor by the bed. Jack gave him an American five-dollar bill that the old man took smilingly. "Tank yuh bass," he said as he left. Although it was only 8:00pm local time by Jack's clock it was midnight and he had been up since 4:00am that morning. As Mary's driving had stayed his appetite Jack decided to forego dinner and showered, shaved once more, covered himself liberally with body lotion and got into the bed, which was blissfully comfortable, and fell soundly asleep. Tomorrow would be another day.
Chapter Four Jack was awakened by the distinctive sound of a telephone ringing, but not a telephone he recognised. This disparity began to confuse his half-awake mind and on opening his eyes he surveyed the room and realised that he had no idea where he was. Trying desperately to organise his thoughts he reached over to the noisy 'phone and picked up the receiver. "Hullo?" he asked with a gruff voice, an indication that it too was still half asleep. "Good mornin' sah, dis is yuh early mornin' call," replied the 'phone in a female West Indian accent. Still dazed Jack replied, "but I didn't ask for an early morning call." "No sah, Miss Hines, she organise it fuh you. She say to remin' you that she gine collec' you at ten dis mornin’. She also say she want you to have some breakfas' as you all got nuff to do today." "Thanks," said Jack wondering what ‘nuff’ was. Then the memories of yesterday and the last few weeks flooded back into his mind. Oh God, that drive from the airport! Putting the receiver on its base Jack rolled over and dozed off to sleep. He awoke and looked at his watch. It was ten past twelve. He sat bolt upright with a start. 'Shit', he thought to himself in a sudden panic. Mary Hines! Crap, she must be waiting in the hotel lobby, or maybe she got fed up and left. He glanced over at the electric clock on the bedside table. The numerals 8:10 shone bright red from its black face. Then it dawned on him that he had neglected to turn his watch back to local time. He took it off and adjusted it to ten past eight o'clock, got out of bed and went into the bathroom to shower, shave and prepare for the ravages of a tropical day. Dressed in Ralph Lauren shorts, polo shirt and leather sandals, Jack opened the patio doors and stepped out into the warmth of the Caribbean morning. The heat hit him like a sauna and he struggled to get his breath. The day was already vibrant and sunny. Under a clear blue sky the twittering and cawing of birds had replaced the incessant noise of the frogs of the evening before. He wandered out into the pool area and looked around. He was surrounded on threesides by the pink walls of the hotel. The rooms on the second floor opened onto a continuous balcony that overlooked the pool. This in turn formed the roof of the patios off of the ground floor rooms, on which stood small round plastic tables with chairs to match. Between the pool and the beach beyond was a bar and concrete barbecue pit, in front of which were tables and chairs for the outside dining area, which for the moment at least, was not in service. The chairs were tipped up and leaning against the tables and that entire section was
roofed, the structure being supported by what looked like telegraph poles. A solitary couple lay in swimsuits on lounge chairs beside the pool, she was reading a glossy magazine while he slept. Jack wandered toward the sea. The beach was of finely grained white sand and Jack’s feet sank into it. He bent down and scooped up a handful, letting it pass through his fingers like an hourglass. It was cool and gritty and Jack watched as it flowed back onto the beach. He looked around, brushing his hands together to dislodge any residue. The sea was a calm blue expanse with the horizon clear and sharp, deep blue against the lighter blue sky. In the middle distance a large and imposing sailing boat was moored, its white hull contracting against the deep blue of the sea. Closer in, a speedboat with the words ‘SKI ‘N PARASAIL’ emblazoned along its side in bright orange letters tilted gently back and forth with the sea. The beach extended in both directions, following the gentle arc of the bay, hundreds of yards of perfect Caribbean beauty. It was deserted, a fact that Jack found incredible. In France a beach of considerably less magnificence would be heaving with the local populace. Maybe it was a bit early, he thought. He took a deep breath and turned and walked toward the hotel for breakfast, stopping at one of the chairs en route to dust his feet of sand and clean his hands with disinfectant gel. He entered the large open reception room in the middle of which was a seating area with two mahogany settees and two armchairs to match. In the midst of this was a coffee table on which were a few brochures advertising local activities. Harsh square foam cushions covered in a predominantly red tropical floral print graced the dark woodwork of the furniture. The floor was laid with large red clay tiles and the walls were painted white. Exuberant, colourful oil paintings depicting local scenes hung here and there. There was no ceiling as such, just the exposed timber structure with tongue and grooved boarding above, all stained dark to match the furniture. Two fans dangled from the beams, their rusted and pitted blades rotating lazily. Ahead the open windows let in a gentle, sweetly scented warm breeze. In the wall to the left were two swinging doors that led to the kitchen and to the right was a mahogany bar behind which a man, in his thirties, stood putting things in order. Jack wandered over and enquired where breakfast was being served. "Tru deh," came the reply as the barman pointed to a door to the left of the bar. "Thanks," said Jack, and following the directions given he walked into the dining room. Decorated the same as the reception the room was furnished with round wooden tables and wooden chairs with upholstered seats. A few of the tables were set for breakfast and these had a small glass vase containing a red hibiscus placed in the centre. Apart from one other businessman the room was empty. Jack
chose a table with a single place setting and sat down. Moments later the waitress, a young black girl in her teens with a beaming smile, came and asked him what he wanted for breakfast. Jack looked around but could see no menu. "What is there?" he enquired. "We got heggs, corn flakes, juice, bacon, toas', coffe an' tea," she announced proudly. Jack told the girl that he would like orange juice, scrambled eggs and coffee. Nodding she turned and scurried out of the room. He looked around and spotted a small pile of local newspapers on a table by the door. He wandered over and brought one back to his table. The newspaper was small and thin, the size of a supplement that accompanied some of the daily papers back in England. The headlines told of some wrongdoing of the government, or at least as alleged by the opposition party. Inside were opinions offered by those local inhabitants of Saint Mary motivated enough to be bothered to write. Of concern this day was: homosexuality and the church; a view on an argument the local taxi drivers were having with the police; and one very bizarre piece of advice being offered to students: to keep away from members of the opposite sex as this would interfere with their studies. Jack wondered if the author had read the bit about homosexuality and the church. The piece even went as far as to recommend that students listen to classical music as this was complex and would exercise the brain which in turn would increase their ability to learn. A little further in was a page dedicated to world news: the war in Iraq, remarks by an European prime minister, and the like, then a page of cartoons and finally sports, mostly cricket and offering opinions as to why the captain of West Indies should be sacked, but also containing coverage of a local basketball match. The girl returned with a tray on which was Jack's breakfast, just as he had ordered but with the addition of bacon and toast. Jack ignored this amendment and tucked in, and it was delicious. He finished his breakfast and returned to his room to unpack and freshen up before Mary came to collect him. She arrived at ten o'clock precisely, which was not the punctuality he had heard was usual for these climes. He was waiting in the reception area and as Mary wandered in she looked Jack over. Her facial expression betrayed the fact that she found his appearance comical. Jack let it pass, assuming that she had not seen properly tailored and coordinated summer-wear before. They wandered out to the car and Jack noted that it was untidy, with file folders thrown haphazardly into a plastic laundry basket on the back seat. This had overflowed and papers were scattered on the floor behind the driver’s seat. Jack got in and fastened his seatbelt, dusting off the seat before he did so. Mary observed this procedure with curiosity. She was not used to a man who was so neat and tidy. This Englishman was
definitely different to the local men she knew. To begin with he was so incredibly well groomed. His haircut was perfect, his fingernails were clean and shaped, his skin was smooth and even, and he smelled nice. He seemed shy, she thought. On the way to the hotel last night he was very quiet, almost jittery. Maybe he would loosen up after a while. He was certainly nice enough looking though. They set off at a brisk pace towards the piece of land that was to be Jack's project, a place called Crystal Point. Mary was particularly proud of this sale. She had been working on it for the past three years. Everyone had told her that she was wasting her time and that no one would be interested in land that far from town. The costs of putting in water and electricity and a proper access road would be too high. The land was not saleable, simple so. She knew that they were wrong of course, and that the market for such a promising site lay outside of Saint Mary with rich foreigners. The land had come to her attention after the death of its owner: a local merchant who had taken the site many years before as settlement of a debt that he knew would never be honoured in cash. Mary had approached the lawyer who was executing the will and asked if she could have the commission to sell. The family had agreed, as none of them were interested in keeping the land, and should Mary be able to rid them of it she would also rid them of the land tax it attracted. And who knows, there might be some financial gain for them, however small. As it turned out the financial gain was considerable, certainly by local standards. Mary had advertised the site on the Internet, as she knew that this would reach a worldwide audience. It had taken time and she had had to place it on a number of different web sites, but eventually her persistence and faith had paid off. A man by the name of Dorioush Hassam had contacted her, and the land had been purchased by a company called Fandango. Although there was some haggling, he had agreed to pay one million Eastern Caribbean dollars, an unheard of amount for real estate in Saint Mary. Her commission had startled her employer, but what could he say? Mary had not only made this sale, she had invented it. She was by far the best real estate agent on the island. What they didn’t know was that Dorioush had already converted the value of the land to two million US dollars, making a profit of eight hundred percent. The car sped along the bumpy twisting and pot-holed country road and Jack thought it better to look out of the side window at the view, rather than out of the windscreen at the virtual reality ride that that provided. Agriculture was everywhere. Fields of tall green sugar cane were interspersed with ploughed furrows planted with low growing sweet potato, cabbage and okra. The canes blocked out any view beyond the verges. Saint Mary was not a mountainous island, and the flat planes on the west coast and gentle rolling hills of the centre were ideal for sugar cane that had once been the major money earner for the population. Due to the rise of cheaper beet sugar the
industry had suffered however, and fields that were problematic to harvest were being ploughed up and turned to pasture. The centre of the island had become a patchwork of fields and were it not for the variety of trees one could be looking at England. The only area that had not been planted was the rugged east coast with its tall cliffs and constant salt-laden winds blown in from the Atlantic Ocean. The rainy season had not long passed and the vegetation was a verdant deep tropical green. The parched brown of the dry season would come later in the year. As they continued on their journey there would be the occasional blast of horns, Mary's and that of an oncoming vehicle, followed by a violent swerving of both automobiles to avoid collision. At one point the deep rhythmic thumping of bass heralded the presence of a minivan, stuffed like a sardine can with seated and standing passengers, following a mere two inches behind Mary’s hurtling Toyota, and impatient to get past. The mini-van driver found a stretch of road, fifty yards long and approaching a blind bend, and decided that this was his opportunity to overtake. He drew alongside as the bend shot toward them, but Mary gave no quarter. Side by side the two vehicles sailed around the bend, assuring certain death to anyone coming in the opposite direction, and to themselves. Jack felt that he was going to be sick. He was too stunned to utter even a terrified grunt. In horror he watched as they rounded the bend, the mini-van gaining ground and eventually passing them out. Mary kept talking through all this. Jack, however, was far too petrified to hear. What the hell was he doing here being driven by this lunatic woman? He turned his attention again to the side window. The road on which they were travelling led inland and rose steadily, providing an ever-increasing view of the countryside and the Caribbean Sea. The land tumbled gently down to the coast. From this distance the sea was a calm deep blue, constant and flat, and a number of shades darker than the iridescent sky it reflected. Closer to shore strips of light bluish-green could be seen, while further out the horizon was as sharply drawn as if cut with a knife. Between them and it lay a quilt of land, dark green lines of trees defining the fields of grass and cane. The tranquil beauty of it eased Jack’s despair a little. They passed through villages consisting of a church and a few small wooden houses, roadside bars and corner shops. The roofs were predominantly corrugated galvanised sheeting, the walls were unpainted, and the ambience was of impoverished shantytowns. As there were no pavements, adults and children alike milled about on the road. Although their progress though these villages was more leisurely, Mary had the habit of blowing the horn to alert pedestrians to her presence. They came to a crossroads with an old stone church and Mary turned the car left down hill and toward the coast. The road narrowed and was so bumpy that even she had to slow down and Jack could once
again look out of the windscreen. Eventually the paving gave out all together and the road became a track not wide enough for two cars to pass. The vegetation was dense and tall on both sides and grass grew down the middle where tyres had not worn it away. Then it stopped abruptly in front of a seemingly impenetrable wall of trees and bush. "This is it,” said Mary opening the door and getting out. Jack followed suit. They were standing at the end of a narrow dirt track looking at a tangle of bush and trees. On closer inspection a small corridor had been scythed through this wall and it was toward this that Mary walked. "I had Thomas clear a way through yesterday," she said, proceeding toward the path with Jack in tow. The earth below their feet was sandy and pocked with crab holes, the largest of which could swallow a tennis ball. Jack soon realised that he was dressed entirely inappropriately for the task at hand. Sand got into his sandals and the stiff abrasive vegetation scratched painfully against his legs whilst branches whipped at his face and arms. The trees were tall and old and some of them dead, their bark long since stripped to reveal the bone-white skeleton of timber beneath. Everything was covered by a vine that reached up and over the tallest tree. The bushes were waist high and dense. ‘What would possess anyone to buy this?’ he wondered. After three hundred agonising yards they reached their destination and, stumbling out into the open, Jack was in for a shock. Nothing had prepared him for this. They were standing on a sandy beach looking directly out to the sea across a shallow reef. Instead of a bay they were on a promontory, gazing at a panorama of the ocean. In the distance a fishing boat went lazily about its business, a small lonely object in an expansive horizon. The shore in front of them was rocky and not suitable for bathing, but the water was beautiful and pure. Every hue of blue and green intermingled, and where it met the sand it was transparent, the lapping waves making a special soothing sound. The reef did not extend beyond one hundred yards in any direction and further along the beach the seabed was pure white sand. "Oh wow," he said in awe, brushing off the pieces of vegetation that had stuck to his clothes and hair, and reaching into his pocket for a comb. "Nice, nuh?" replied Mary. "We used to come here with friends when I was a girl, and camp out and bathe. Sweet fuh days," she said dreamily, taking a deep breath of the fresh sea air. Jack wandered over to the gently lapping waves and looked into the water. Among the coral darted small iridescent fish whilst a bright red crab sat harvesting something minute off the surface of a rock. The water was so clear that the grains of sand could be counted. He turned to look back at the site. It was densely wooded and covered in bushes. A ground cover sporting flat, hand sized
leaves encroached the furthest down the beach towards the ocean. “Sea Grape,” Mary informed him, "it bears a fruit like a grape so I guess they called it after that." "I'll need to get it cleared so that the site can be surveyed," said Jack, "do you know where the boundary marks are?" He wiped away the sweat that was forming on his brow. Man it was hot. "No, but they were established during the sale. I know the surveyors. We can call them and they will point them out to you if you want. Todd Wilson is going to organize the clearing of the bush." Todd Wilson was the contractor Mustafa had sourced. Jack had been told the name and that he was from New York, but very little else. Mustafa, not being one to leave anything to chance, would have chosen this cog in the machine carefully, and it would be a dead cert that Mr Wilson could be trusted to bend the rules to suit. "We can go to him next, when you’re done here," continued Mary. Jack looked around some more trying to get a feel for the place. Once the site was cleared of bush and there was a survey done he could set to work, but for now he was just trying to absorb the surroundings. He stood there looking, contemplating, deep in thought, his right hand on his chin, and his left one under his armpit. Rodin would have been in awe. He stepped back to get a different perspective, put his foot into the water among the rocks, lost his balance and fell backwards into the sea with a splash. "Oh fuck it!” he spluttered. He picked himself up and stood there in the water, his perfectly tailored shorts soaking wet and torn in the seat, his hand scratched and bleeding from the coral, his sandals wet, gritty with sand, and uncomfortable. The salt water made his hand sting. As he picked his way delicately back to the beach he looked across at Mary who seemed as if she was crying. She didn’t try to conceal her mirth and was laughing so enthusiastically that tears rolled down her cheeks. “Woo hoo hoo!” she guffawed. “Oh rass Jack, oh rass,” as she slapped her thigh. Despite the discomfort of wet shorts, wet sandals full of sand and the stinging hand, Mary’s enjoyment of the incident was contagious and he began to see the humour of it all. “You can laugh,” he said, “I’m the one who is going to shitty up your car.” “Oh rass,” came a rather more serious reply. “Come, let’s walk the site.” Together they walked the length of the shore, now and then venturing into the vegetation when Jack felt that he saw something of interest. Mary was curious to know what process his mind was working through. “What are you thinking?” she asked. “I’m trying to get a feel for where the living areas should be, what you would want to see from the living room, bedrooms and so on.
Also how the site will work with the house. This place is so amazing that I’m spoilt for choice.” “Oh.” Jack continued with his contemplations whilst Mary tagged along in silence. Eventually, and to Mary’s relief, Jack had seen enough for the time being. “O.K. Let’s go meet this Mr Wilson,” he said and they set off through the dense undergrowth once more to the car, “but we need to go via the hotel so that I can change.”
Chapter Five Todd Wilson’s office was situated in the grounds of an old sugar plantation in the hills towards the centre of the island. The estate had changed hands many times becoming smaller with each transaction. The present owner had fifty acres and had put this to the cultivation of vegetables and flowers. Renting out the various buildings that came with the property provided additional income. The entrance to the estate was on a right-angled bend in the road that skirted a lake used for irrigating the crops. The recent rains had filled the lake and the fields that surrounded it were burgeoning with produce. They drove into the courtyard of the three hundred year old plantation, the asphalt paving of which was in desperate need of renewal. In the centre stood a huge breadfruit tree, its green cannonball fruit left discarded and broken on the ground. Two single storey buildings stood either side with whitewashed walls and red corrugated steel roofs. One had been converted into a one-bedroom cottage; the other was Todd’s office. Further away and separated by low well-trimmed hedges and manicured lawns was the main house. A large box of a building, it stood two storeys tall with parapet walls and hooded shuttered windows. The building that was Todd’s office had thick rubble walls and flagstone floors. Basically furnished and with white painted walls there was a simple functionality about its use. This building did not boast of its occupant's importance or wealth and Jack found it pleasantly reassuring. Todd appeared at the door. He stood 6'3" tall, a slender white man in his mid fifties with thinning grey hair, a hooked nose, broad shoulders, ready smile and a very distinctive New York accent. He greeted Mary with an enthusiastic kiss on the cheek and Jack with an enthusiastic shake of the hand. "Jack Delisle! It’s so good to meet you man, come in and sit down, how the hell are you?" he enquired as if he were an old friend, putting his long, lanky arm around Jack's shoulder and leading him and Mary into his office. The office was small, air conditioned and furnished with a desk, two filing cabinets, and two armchairs for visitors. Todd sat behind the desk, Jack and Mary in front. "I hear you're from the island," said Todd "I was born here but we left when I was a baby,” explained Jack, "my father was from here but my mother is English," he added, for no good reason. "Do your folks come back?" "No," said Jack. “My father is dead and my mother loves England. How long have you been here?" he enquired of Todd as much to move the topic of conversation away from himself as for actual interest. "Me? I came here thirty years ago with Shell. I was project
engineer. They were looking for oil but didn't find any. I found my wife though and when they pulled out I stayed," replied Todd leaning back in his chair. He looked very comfortable, very at one with his situation in life. "Do you go back to the 'States?" asked Jack. "Yup, two or three times a year. I still do some business in New York. Have you seen the site yet?" "We’ve just come from there," said Mary, "Jack has some work that needs doin'." Not for the first time Jack noticed that Mary left the ‘g’ silent at the end of her words. "Shoot," said Todd. "Well I need the site cleared of bush, but not the trees. I also need a level survey, all on CAD if possible." "No problem," said Todd getting up, "a survey has been done already," and opening one of the filing cabinet's drawers he picked out a drawing and handed it to Jack. "You can keep that. We can get the land cleared tomorrow. What else?" They discussed the need for Jack to find out what building materials and skills were available locally, how the building process would proceed, and other matters relating to the project. After an hour they were finished with their discussions and had agreed to hold another meeting in a few days time when Jack had gotten up to speed. Todd would also take Jack on a tour of the construction world of St Mary. They said their goodbyes to Todd and left. It was now midday and they were hungry. "Shall we have lunch before I take you to your house?" enquired Mary. "That sounds good to me,” replied Jack. "Ever had a ‘buss up shot’?" "No." They headed towards the town and pulled off the main road onto an unpaved boulevard separated into two lanes by a central reservation in which were planted a few sad looking small trees, most of which were dead from neglect. "The same oil people started this road," said Mary, "but when they pulled out it stopped and no one has ever finished it." They turned off the road into the driveway of a small single storey house and parked on the grass under a tree. There were a few plastic tables with chairs placed outside the building at which a handful of locals were having lunch and chatting. They walked into a small room in which a cash register resided on a desk and two short oblong tables with plastic chairs, like those in the garden, were placed in front of a serving hatch in the wall at the other end. To the right of this hatch was a doorway in which hung a beaded curtain. They sat at the table nearest to the hatch. "It’s too hot for outside," said Mary, and then she turned and
called to the hatch, "Hi Gloria". A voice came from the room behind: "Hello Mary sweetheart. What you want today? Is the architec' from England you got wit you?". "Yes darlin’. Got shrimp?" "Yes, we got strimp. You want two?" "Yes dear, buss up shots. And two Cokes, please," said Mary. Then as a sudden afterthought she asked Jack: "You OK with Coke?" Jack nodded. Very soon a middle aged Indian woman appeared at the hatch and passed two plates out to a young black girl who had come through the beaded curtain. "I'll be wit you soon sweetheart," called the woman and disappeared from view. The girl brought the plates and placed them in front of Mary and Jack. Then she went back to the hatch and returned with knives and forks wrapped in paper napkins, two glasses with ice and two bottles of Coke. These she opened with a bottle opener that was attached to her apron by a piece of string. "Enjoy your lunch," she said and returned to her duties behind the curtain. The 'strimp buss up shot' was a shrimp curry served with a thin wheat bread that was roughly torn by hand and set on the plate next to the curry. "You can eat it with your fingers like so," said Mary, tearing off a piece of the bread and using it to scoop up some of the curry, "but you can also use your knife and fork if you want," she added with her mouth full. Jack smiled. He liked Mary and her matter of fact approach to life. A little rough around the edges he thought, but that gave her a charm of her own. The driving needed some work though. One thing Jack did not do was eat with his hands, and as he was not going to start now he accepted the offer of cutlery. The buss up shot was delicious. The curry was spicy but not too hot, the gravy rich and creamy and the 'strimp' fresh and succulent. All the flavours were complimented by the bread that he noted had a dusting of ground chickpeas on it. "Oh, that is lovely," he said, also with his mouth full. When they had eaten the Indian woman walked up to their table, wiping her hands on her apron. "You like my buss up shot then?" she enquired rhetorically picking up the empty plates cleaned of all traces of food. Mary introduced them. "Jack Delisle this is Gloria DaSilva. Gloria, Jack." Jack went to get up but Gloria put a hand on his shoulder and pushed him gently back down. "Nice to meet you Jack," she said shaking his hand. "Now you find a good place to eat lunch you mus' come here often. Is not jus'
buss up shot and roti we do, but people like the strimp when we can get it." Her voice was soft and her Trinidadian accent gave her intonation a lyrical lilt that Jack found very pleasant and somewhat hypnotic. "It was fabulous thanks," replied Jack, the bubbly Coke causing him to burp. "Excuse me!" he said in embarrassment. "Is nice to see a man enjoy his food. I hear you building a big house up at Crystal Point. That's a beautiful spot. How soon will it start?" "Yes it is. We should be starting work in about a month," said Jack, realising that he was the subject of local curiosity and wondering if he should be discussing the project or not. Still he couldn't see any need for secrecy and he was pretty sure that most of the locals knew of the project by now. Small communities tend to have an active grapevine. "An who going to buil' it fuh you?" continued Gloria. "Todd Wilson." "That old crook?" exclaimed Gloria, her outburst taking Jack by surprise. "Chu. Still I suppose he able. Mind you watch him though Jack, he is half a criminal," she continued. "Gloria DaSilva, stop frettin' the man! Come Jack I have to take you to your house. How much Gloria?" said Mary. "Fifteen dollars sweetheart." Jack insisted on paying for lunch and soon they were back in the car headed for the house Mustafa had arranged for Jack. "What did Gloria mean about Todd Wilson?" he enquired. "Todd Wilson has, how should I put it? a different view on business than most. Not that he's the worst that there is around, but he’s sharp." ‘Well he's met his match in Mustafa’ thought Jack. ‘He's so sharp he'll cut himself one of these days.’ "So he's not to be trusted?" "I’m not sayin’ that." “What are you saying?” “Nothing.” “Oh.” Jack let it drop. The house that Mustafa had rented for Jack was situated in the southwest corner of the island a mile inland and elevated from the sea. It was in a compound of houses originally built by the oil company for their staff when there was the prospect of oil off the coast. The oil did not materialise in sufficient quantities to merit the continued presence of the company and the compound had been sold off to locals. They arrived at the entrance of the development that comprised of two curved red painted walls with a cattle grid between, and drove in. The surface of the road was pocked with potholes. To their left were bungalows, not large or imposing, and most in need of some
repair or refurbishment. The gardens were kempt but sparsely planted indicating that their need was not high on the priorities of their owners. In the driveway of one was a speedboat on a trailer, a monstrously fast looking sleek brute of a boat, considerably more imposing than the bungalow behind it. It occurred to Jack that one was held out of necessity while the other was kept out of choice. The name 'Tomorrow Maybe' was painted large and bold on its stern. In front of these houses, and to Jack's right, was open land that he presumed was house plots not yet built upon. These had been kept mown and a large skateboarding half pipe constructed of timber and plywood stood to one side. Beyond that was open countryside descending gently down to the sea in the distance. At the end of the estate was a small roundabout, poorly planted and surrounded by seven houses, six identical with one larger one at the end. These houses differed from the others in two ways: they were smaller; and they were in a better state of repair. Mary drove up to the house next to the larger one. It was a plain rectangular building with no architectural embellishments at all. They got out and walked over to the front door passing a small, low lean-to structure in which stood a petrol engine with the word “Honda” written on its tank. “What’s that?” he enquired. “Your generator,” said Mary as she produced the keys from her handbag and let them into the house. The front door led straight into the main living area of the house: a rectangular room that served as kitchen, dining room and lounge. The walls were painted white and a brown ceramic tile that he had not seen since the 1980’s, covered the floors. The furniture in the room was all varnished wood with green cushions. The kitchen was defined by a tile covered counter with cupboards above, in front of which stood three wicker-seated stools. On the other side of the room were sliding French doors that led out onto a patio. To the right a corridor led to two bedrooms and two bathrooms. Ceiling fans hung in every room. Although the house had been cleaned it would definitely benefit from a thorough going over thought Jack, and it was also very hot. "We just need to get the 'phone line sorted, but you can move in as you’re ready," said Mary opening the sliding doors and letting in a welcome breeze. Jack walked onto the patio outside. The view that presented itself was one of peaceful tropical beauty. To the right the countryside sloped gently away towards the sea in the distance. To the left was a densely wooded area and nestled in the trees was a large, old house with cream coloured walls and a cedar-shingled roof, silver-grey with age. The windows were adorned with bell shaped hoods and slatted shutters, painted a pastel green. "Where's that?" asked Jack.
"Delisle Hall," replied Mary. "You're kidding." "No. The Delisles have been here for generations. You’re probably family." "Yeah right. My dad was a black man who did not come from wealth," said Jack. “You never know,” said Mary. She showed Jack the rest of the house explaining that the generator would need starting in the event of a power cut, frequent on the island, and that there was a water tank for when the water was cut off, also a frequent occurrence. He decided that he would move in tomorrow and get started with the task in hand. Driving back to the hotel Jack couldn’t help but think about Delisle Hall and the fact that his family name had been here on this island for generations. He had never thought of it before but now he realised that it was logical. It made him curious for his father’s past and he decided that whilst he was here he would investigate. They batted their way along the bumpy potholed road, the car leaving terra firma over the more severe undulations. The road was cut through the fields of cane whose razor sharp grassy leaves and bamboo-like stalks rose a full eight foot high reaching perpendicularly towards the sky. Coming in the opposite direction was a small yellow scooter ridden by a black man of slight build clad in jeans, t-shirt, sandals and a yellow helmet. His right hand flicked the handlebar accelerator aggressively causing the engine to rev in a series of ‘vim, vi-vim, vim, vim, vi-vim’ noises. As he did so the scooter wobbled violently left and right and its progress resembled that of a Mexican jumping bean on crack. As the scooter came into view, lurching this way and that, Mary flashed her lights and waved out of the window. The rider took his left hand off of the handle bar and waved back. This rash move caused the scooter to veer right into the path of the galloping Toyota. Jack’s eyes opened so wide he felt that the eyeballs might fall out and land dangling on his cheeks. He stamped his feet on the floor in front of him in the vain hope of finding a control mechanism of some sort. Mary, however, continued as if nothing was happening. At the last moment the scooter shot off to their right and flew past them in a yellow blur. Jack spun round to see the scooter leave the road at speed and disappear into the cane field. “SHIT!” he exclaimed his heart thumping so hard he felt that he could chew it. “That’s Robert,” explained Mary “But he’s just shot into the cane field” “Oh that sort of thing happens to him all the time. He’s real crazy.” As they drove on to the hotel Jack promised himself that tomorrow he would rent a car.
Chapter Six - February Three weeks had passed since the scooter had vanished into the cane field, and Jack was getting established in his new abode. He had cleaned the house from top to bottom but it didn’t feel like home and he was not happy. He was finding the heat intolerable and had spent the past nights lying on his bed under an inadequate fan with a glass globe light in its centre. When the fan was on, a little gold chain that dangled from the motor tapped against the globe making an incessant ‘ping ping’ noise. The faster the fan the more frenetic the ‘ping ping’. As a result Jack had kept the speed of the fan down which in turn meant that it provided almost no breeze at all. So he was hot. The mosquitoes also troubled him which, if they were not biting, were buzzing passed his ears making a noise guaranteed to annoy. He had a large economy size can of bug spray beside his bed and one in every room of the house. He had spotted a cockroach scuttling across the floor of the kitchen on his first day and it had paralysed him with fear and disgust. Along with his compulsive tidiness Jack had always had a complete phobia about insects. Disgusting, filthy and frightening, they were the things of his childhood nightmares and they remained to torment him in adult life. And Saint Mary was full of them. Black hard-back beetles that flew in and crashed into the walls to lay on their backs buzzing and spinning around in a vain attempt to right themselves and fly off again only to crash into another wall. Strange green beetles shaped like a bishop’s hat that stank if you troubled them. Long, armoured millipedes that marched with a thousand tiny legs across the floors and up the walls. And many, many more. All of these he sprayed with bug spray, sweeping up their dead carcasses the next morning. Then there was the constant barking of the neighbourhood dogs that seemed to serve no purpose other than to whip themselves up into a communal frenzy, making sleep very difficult to come by. As if this wasn’t enough Jack had been awakened this morning by the sound of gushing water and a terrifying face at the window. Startled, he had jumped out of bed, his heart pounding, to be confronted by a cow looking lazily into his bedroom whilst pissing and chewing on his garden shrubs. He had had enough of Saint Mary and missed Chiswick and his flat desperately. His mother had nothing to fear. He could never love this island, he was sure of that. His work provided a welcome diversion from his surroundings and Jack launched himself into the task earnestly, intent on getting the house built and himself home as soon as possible. Todd Wilson had cleared the land and the design was taking shape. The outline planning permission allowed for a single dwelling unit whose height
must not exceed the tree line. With a distinctly Polynesian feel to it the house comprised of a series of buildings in a serpentine line linked by a covered timber walkway, partially surrounding a swimming pool on the west elevation facing the sea. The main entrance to the east was approached by way of a small bridge over a lily pond. Jack retained as many trees as possible as he wanted to get the feeling that the house was a part of the beach and its surroundings, like a tree house. The entire building would be single storey with the exception of the master bedroom that was to be above the children’s bedrooms and would have the best of the views from its balconies. The south west end of this line of buildings was given over to the staff accommodation, laundry, chef’s office, and housekeeper’s office, separated from the owner’s private areas by the main kitchen. Off this kitchen were the dining room and dining pavilion, both of which led onto a lanai which overlooked the pool. Separate from this was the living room, then continuing northeast were three bedroom suites each with its own terrace facing the pool. Behind these and separated by the timber walkway was the theatre, gym and nanny’s accommodation. Finally, to the northeast, was to be the master bedroom building, downstairs of which contained two bedroom suites, a living room, dining room and kitchen, whilst upstairs the master suite had balconies on three sides that would provide shade and spectacular views throughout the day. When Jack finished this sketch outline he would e-mail it to Kevin for approval and comment by the client. Once this was done he would meet with Todd Wilson to discuss materials, build-ability, programme and the like. He was tired; he had been working at the computer solidly for the past week. He walked out onto the balcony and looked at the view. His gaze drifted over to Delisle Hall. As usual the house seemed very still and bereft of any signs of life. The only hint of occupation was at night when a few lights shone through the trees, and occasionally when he thought he heard a distant bellowing coming from that direction. To the right of Delisle Hall grass meadows gave way to cane fields and in the distance a dark green line of trees formed a border between the land and the blue ocean beyond. There was not a sound. It was supremely peaceful and he had to admit it was also beautiful. Estelle kept invading his thoughts and not for the first time he considered calling or e-mailing her. He knew how to contact her as she had e-mailed him not long after arriving in New York. Jack had been too stubborn to reply, a decision he frequently regretted. He knew what she wanted and he wondered if living with her would not be the right thing to do. Maybe after he had finished the house he would call her. Perhaps even go to New York en-route to London. He rubbed his eyes and stretched. He wanted to get out of the
house and go for a drink somewhere, but he didn’t know anywhere. He wandered over to the ‘phone and considered calling Mary. Then he thought better of the idea and walked over to the fridge, paused, then went back to the ‘phone and called Mary’s office. “Hi,” he said. “Hello Jack,” came the reply, “you’ve been very quiet lately, workin’ hard? Any problems?” “No problems. I was just wondering if you would like to go for a drink?” “Sure. I’ll be done here in half an hour or so.” “I could come by and pick you up but you will have to give me directions.” “No need, I’ll call round by you in, say an hour and a half?” “That would be great. See you then.” Jack showered, shaved and changed and sat on the balcony looking out at the sunset, something he had done every night since moving into the house. It was one aspect of the island he did enjoy. He watched as the burnt orange ball of fire touched the blue horizon turning the sea in front of it crimson and the sky pink leading into red. Beyond this the sky was a dark rich blue. Small clouds caught the fiery hue and cast it down to the earth below. Little bats left their upside down perch and darted about chasing and devouring insects, their shapes silhouetted against the sky in the short lived dusk. ‘If this were a painting you would not believe it,’ he thought to himself. He watched the colours move and change tone as the sun disappeared from view. For a short while the colours were vivid and strong, but then they faded and the blue re-emerged. This time it was accompanied by a single bright star. Then the blue turned darker and darker still as the night came and more and more stars appeared. It was their time. Hidden all day by the ever present and overpowering sun the night belonged to them, and to the small frogs and crickets that began their noisy cacophony. The sound of the doorbell jolted Jack from his reverie. It was Mary, and her presence lifted his spirits. She was wearing a brightly coloured floral patterned dress and looked remarkably different to her work persona: happy, relaxed, and, thought Jack, actually attractive. Not attractive in a straightforward pretty way, nor in a sophisticated model like way, but in a comfortable, infectious, make you happy, make you warm inside sort of way. Her smile beamed. “Good evening Mr. Delisle,” she said with pretend formality. “Well good evening to you, Miss Hines,” replied Jack, not hiding the pleasant surprise she presented, “you look stunning,” he added. “Why, tank you Massa,” she replied in mock subservience, “you ain't so scruffy yourself. Where do you want to go tonight?” “Not a clue. How’s about I drive and you direct?”
“O.K. Bas.” Following Mary’s directions they drove north along the coast for about five miles. Eventually they turned from the pitch black of the road and down a steeply sloping driveway at the end of which a handful of cars were parked on a grass lawn under a small grove of coconut trees lit by yellow sodium lights. Jack pulled up next to the closest vehicle and, getting out, he walked around to open the door for Mary. The land sloped down to the beach and the sound of lapping waves could be heard in the distance. Apart from this and the everpresent frogs all was silent. In front of them was a building that served as a house, bar and restaurant. It stood two storeys high on the landside and three storeys high on the lower beach side. A flight of concrete stairs clung to the side of the building and led to a closed door at the top, illuminated by a single bulb. The whole atmosphere was foreign and somewhat foreboding to Jack and he wondered if this was such a good idea after all. Mary led the way up the stairs and they entered a small uncrowded bar, the main decorative theme of which was the ocean and fishing. Unlike many similar bars, however, this one was not over done with the clutter of postcards, foreign currency, photographs of the staff partying, etc. Instead the décor was simple and tasteful. Pale yellow timber clad walls, unpolished wooden floor and a pickled close-boarded ceiling provided the backdrop for a few carefully chosen pieces of driftwood, glass balls enmeshed in rope, embalmed fish and seaside prints of the region. There were half a dozen patrons sat at the bar, and four others at one of the tables. The barman and owner was a portly white Canadian who sported a bushy handlebar moustache and lived in the accommodation downstairs. Another expatriate who had fallen in love with the island, married a local girl and stayed after the company who brought him here had finished its business and left. As they entered, a man with a markedly purple complexion, possibly from years of too much sun but also possibly from years of too much rum, got up from his bar stool and announced, very loudly: “Miss Mary! How you doin’ migirl? Lord yu’ lookin’ pretty as arse tonight girl,” and he opened his arms in invitation of an embrace. Mary smiled and wandered over to him, kissing him on the cheek. “So this is the young are-chi-tek’ frum Englan’ we bin hearing ‘bout?” he continued, his broad smile revealing two missing teeth, one either side of his two front teeth. “That’s right. This is Jack Delisle. Jack this is Sonny Bowen.” Chuckling, the man proffered his hand to Jack. “Nice to meet you milad. Only hope you ain’t related to the Delisle’s round here, all as mad as France. As crazy a bunch of fuckers as God punched arseholes in, eh Mary?” “He is a Delisle from here,” said Mary, giving Sonny a stern
look. “Oh, forgive me milad, I’m sure you are the exception to the rule, as they say. Not been ‘round them long enough to get contaminated, eh Mary? Ha, ha,” and with that he shook Jack’s hand. “What will you be having to drink?” he asked. Jack opted for a beer, Mary a scotch and soda. “I hear you’re designin’ a house on Crystal Bay. Beautiful spot, beautiful spot, but the sand flies, oh God, them poor fuckers will get skin’! Nuh true Mary? Them people mus’ be glad enough that they sell up in deh. Ha ha.” He gave her a knowing look implying that these foreigners had no idea what they were dealing with. Mary chose to ignore the remark as she also chose to ignore his profanities. If Jack had wondered what had happened to the dialect of the pirates of old he now knew. It was alive and well and housed in a purple man with few teeth. “Yes, it’s a spectacular spot, very beautiful. I hadn’t noticed any sand flies though,” responded Jack. “That’s because you aint bin there at sunset milad. Sand flies and mosquitoes, Lord have his mercy, eat you raw they will.” The barman brought the drinks. “Cheers milad,” said Sonny. “Cheers,” they replied. At a nearby table a group of men were discussing, loudly, a recent disagreement between the prime ministers of two of the islands. “He would have to have been drinking to say that!” exclaimed one. “Don’t be a jackass,” responded the other, “he was right to say what he did, them arrogant fuckers need taking down!” “So what business are you in, Sonny?” asked Jack. “Sonny is our local import agent,” said Mary, “if you want something brought in, go to Sonny. Speaking of which, when are you getting my television out of the port?” “Tomorrow, maybe.” “For God’s sake Sonny, its been a week already,” she responded, clearly exasperated. “Things tek time, m’dear, but doesn’t fret, I’ll sort you out tomorrow, first ting, ha ha. You would like that nuh?” and he gave Mary a lascivious wink. “I would rather have a root canal, Sonny.” Jack was quite impressed by her put down. Perhaps sensing that he had overstepped the mark Sonny wandered over to the mêlée at the table to add his fifty cents worth, leaving Mary and Jack alone. “He’s quite a character. Got a colourful turn of phrase,” said Jack. “Sonny? He’s a dirty cuss bird, but he’s O.K. So tell me, how’s
the house coming?” she enquired with genuine curiosity. “Not bad. I’ll have the preliminary design completed in a few days, and once the client approves it I’ll submit it for planning.” “I would like to see it if you wouldn’t mind showing it to me.” “Of course. I’d love to,” said Jack, flattered by her interest. “You should take it to the planning department in person,” advised Mary, “it will likely get through quicker that way.” “You like Saint Mary?” she added after a short pause. “Well, to be honest, no. I find it too hot.” “And this is the cooler part of the year,” said Mary, “you will get used it after a while, your blood is too thick, that’s all.” “Ah, I’m glad there’s an explanation, I thought it was because the temperature was 86 degrees.” “Well,….. that too,” said Mary with a laugh. Their conversation went from Jack, his past and how he came to be here, to Mary. Locally born and named after her birthplace she had lived on the island girl and woman. Apart that is, for a four year spell when she lived with an aunt in east London. During this time she attended technical college and studied estate management. Unable to remain in England she had returned to Saint Mary, much against her will. Mary loved England and were it not for their draconian immigration laws she would be there now. The argument at the table had moved on to cricket via American foreign policy but had remained as vehement and as vociferous as before, with many a swear word bursting forth. During a short respite Sonny wandered back over. “Let me get this,” offered Jack, and ordered the three of them a drink. “You’ve not been to the Apostles, eh, milad?” enquired Sonny. “Uhm no,” replied Jack wondering what Sonny was talking about. “Mary, we will have to take this lad to the Apostles.” “True. But he’s only been here a few weeks,” replied Mary. “Milad, you are comin’ to the Apostles,” and with that Sonny picked up his drink and wandered, a bit wobbly, back to his argument. “The Apostles?” Jack asked Mary. “Oh, they are a group of four islands to the north of Saint Mary, just before the reef. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Mark is the biggest and a lot of locals have their holiday houses there. The others are small deserted islands where people go and picnic.” “Sounds idyllic.” “It really is. By the way, do you want to eat here? They make a very good curry conch.” The thought of eating a large sea mollusc whose empty habitat could be bought on the beaches and roadside for five dollars appalled Jack. “Why don’t we eat at my place instead? I don’t think I’m up to sea snail just at the moment.”
“O.K.” replied Mary, laughing, “but I insist that this Englishman try some someday, after all, it’s your birth right.” “Birth rights are over estimated, especially where food is concerned,” replied Jack. They stayed and chatted for a couple of hours and Jack’s homesickness began to lift. Mary was easy company and whilst he really didn’t want to be in Saint Mary he began to feel that he might just last the year. The drive home seemed to take a lot less time than the outward journey and before long they were standing in Jack's kitchen. “I see you’ve been cleaning. This house is spotless, and smells real sweet,” remarked Mary. Jack was gratified at her observation as he had washed, scrubbed and disinfected the house to within an inch of its existence. No roach droppings were to be found. Anywhere. “No Scotch I’m afraid, but I have wine, both red and white,” he said. “A glass of red wine would be perfect,” replied Mary, “can I help?” “You can stay and keep me company.” Leaning against the breakfast bar Mary remarked, “It’s nice to watch a man cook.” Jack felt a tingle of pride mixed with self-consciousness. He prepared a simple meal of slow roasted pork chops with pears braised in white wine, and once everything was in the oven the pair wandered out onto the veranda and gazed out into the darkness. All was black except for the lights of Delisle Hall. “I have to admit, this place is peaceful,” remarked Jack, “in London there is no real darkness. The street lights and houses see to that.” With that the lights of Delisle Hall went off, as did the lights in Jack’s house. “What the..?” said Jack. “Power cut Jack. We get them here all the time. You need to start the generator.” “Ah,” replied Jack, and he turned and felt his way out of the front door as if playing ‘blind man’s bluff’. He fumbled about and found the rubber grip attached to the piece of chord leading to the engine of the generator and gave it a hearty tug. The engine turned but did not start. Jack pulled again with the same fruitless result. He pulled again, and again, each time feeling that Mary must be noticing his inadequacy with this mechanical pain in the arse. A light appeared over his shoulder and shone on the generator. Jack turned around and saw Mary standing behind him holding a small torch. She leant over to the generator and opened a valve, which in turn allowed petrol to get from the tank to the engine.
“Try now,” she said. Jack gave a manly pull of the chord and the engine sprang to life, flooding the house with light. ”I didn’t do this in Boy Scouts,” confessed Jack, sheepishly. Mary laughed. “You are too sweet,” she said. They walked back into the house, now lit, and were met by the aroma of dinner. Crap though he might be at things mechanical, Jack was an excellent cook. “Thank God the oven’s gas,” he said. The power came back on after about an hour, just as they sat down to eat. "You say these power cuts happen a lot?" asked Jack. "The government switch off parts of the island to keep their oil costs down. This is delicious, you have hidden talents Jack." They ate and chatted about this and that, places they had been to, favourite films, books and food. Mary wanted to hear all Jack could tell her about England and the meal and conversation was eased down by two bottles of wine. Afterwards they took their glasses out onto the veranda. Mary put her arm around Jack and before either of them thought too deeply about it they were kissing. The kissing led to groping, and the groping led to the bedroom. Mary made love the way she drove; it was a wild ride. Spent, tired and hot, they lay on the bed, bathed in sweat. “Jack, put on the fan, I am going to boil.” Jack was going to boil too. He stood on the bed and reached up to the gold chain hanging from the fan. That was when he noticed the small black switch on the fan’s motor casing. He pushed this up and pulled the chain three times in quick succession, setting the fan to its fastest speed. The blades began to rotate but in the opposite direction to normal pushing the air up instead of down. Jack lay down next to Mary and watched the blades speed up. Suddenly, the dust that had adhered to the top of the blades over many months broke loose. It was then that he realised that this was the one place he had neglected to clean. The movement of the air being generated by the now speeding blades hurled the dust around. Dust was flying everywhere. Thumb sized grey chunks of it were floating in every direction. The room looked like a snow globe recently inverted and large plumes of dust descended on Jack and Mary, adhering to the sweat that covered their bodies. “Oh rass!” screamed Mary sitting up and spitting out dust that had fallen into her mouth. It was in her eyes, her hair, and stuck to her skin. Jack began to sneeze. “Atchoo. Bugger! Atchoo. Atchoo.” Mary ran into the bathroom as Jack stood on the bed to switch the offending fan off. Before he could get to it however, it switched itself off, along with the lights.
Another power cut. Generators could be heard starting in the distance, but inside the house remained in darkness. Jack took a step forwards, but it was a step in the wrong direction and he walked off the bed and came crashing down onto the floor banging his elbow painfully on the tiled surface as he did so. “Oh, bugger me. Atchoo. Atchoo.” “What the rass? You OK Jack?” came Mary’s voice in the darkness. “Yes. I guess so. Atchoo.” “Good, ‘cos I’m gone. If I don’t get this nastiness off me soon, I’m going to burst out in boils,” and Jack heard Mary walk carefully out of the room, wearing what he had no idea. Soon he heard her car engine start and with a screech of tires she was gone. The lights came back on as suddenly as they had gone off and Jack surveyed the dusty mess the room was in. He got up and went into the bathroom turning the fan off at the switch on the wall by the door as he did so. His elbow was throbbing and a painful lump was developing. Jack showered and wandered into the other bedroom and lay down on the bed and with a final “Atchoo, bugger it,” he went to sleep.
Chapter Seven - March The island hadn’t seen rain in any appreciable quantity since early January, and the once green landscape was now a light brown tinderbox. The only remaining greenery were the fields of cane, and these were being harvested by both mechanical means and by hand with rows of black labourers bent double, machetes scything through the tough bamboo-like stalks. In some areas fires had been started that spread ferociously through the tall canes. Cracking and hissing the flames sent thick black smoke billowing into the sky carrying with it finger like ash that danced in the hot air eventually to fall silently on the verandas and patios of the houses below. The design was complete and Jack had e-mailed the drawings to Kevin for forwarding on to the client. The only revisions that came back were the requirement for two further bedroom suites and a bar in the pool, which itself was to be made larger. Jack added a new block to the south of the outside dining pavilion to house the bedrooms and placed a bar in the now enlarged pool, accessed by a small timber foot bridge. He added a pergola for good measure. With these modifications complete the plans were approved and Kevin was organising to come to Saint Mary to negotiate the contract sum with Todd Wilson. Although outline planning permission had been granted it was subject to a number of conditions, and following Mary’s advise Jack decided to take the plans to the Chief Town Planner in person to show that these obligations were satisfied. The planning Department was in the Government buildings in the heart of Victoria, Saint Mary’s capital city, home to the island’s cathedral, careenage, open air market, offices, banks and shops. The roads were old and potholed. Parked cars lined the open drains that formed a border between the patchwork of tarmac and the uneven concrete pavements. Within these drains filthy water trickled through a green slime that gave off a rich, foul stench. A handful of people went about their business but the city was not bustling. Litter strewn alleys branched off from the High Street and the buildings were in need of repair and repainting. Victoria was a sad place neglected through lack of funds and interest. The few bars and restaurants that were there closed their doors at the end of the day. There was no nightlife. In the midst of this, and looking jarringly out of place, stood the brightly painted and modern shop front of a South African furniture retailer ubiquitous in the islands. Inside the shop staff, bored by the absence of customers, stood chatting on the ‘phone or to each other. The day was hot and airless. Walking along the pavement with a purposeful stride was a young, fat, white woman. Dressed in a long white t-shirt and black leggings she looked like a penguin with a mission. She held the hand of a little boy with one hand whilst in
the other was a handbag that swung back and forth as she strode. Jack was walking in the opposite direction, a roll of drawings under his arm. He was so engrossed in trying to locate the Planning Office and not to step in anything unpleasant that he didn’t notice the approaching woman. Their paths crossed just as Jack spotted the sign on the door: “Government Offices”. He turned and in so doing walked right into the oncoming woman, who’s handbag caught him a direct and very hard hit in the testicles. With an exhalation of air Jack folded and landed on the pavement like a sack of potatoes, sending the drawings and documents rolling into the gutter. The woman turned and gave him a look of contempt as if he was some sort of pervert, and marched off. Feeling sick and filthy Jack picked himself up and slowly and with much care retrieved the documents from the gutter. Fortunately there was not much water, but the drawings were damp and stained, and smelt none too pleasant, but at least they were still legible. With legs apart he walked over to the door and entered the building. Inside was a musty smelling lobby with an old wooden desk behind which sat an old black gentleman listening to the cricket commentary on an old transistor radio. In front of him was an open exercise book in which were drawn lines forming columns, and in these were written the names and times of those who visited the occupants of the building. A staircase against the wall to the right led to the floors above. “Good mornin’. Name?” he enquired of Jack, peering inquisitively through horn-rimmed glasses, the faded frames of which had gone out of style in the fifties. “Jack Delisle,” came the answer in a frail voice that even Jack didn’t recognize. The man scribbled carefully in the book forming each letter meticulously, the way he was taught at school. “Who the body is yuh seein’?” “The Chief Planning Officer.” More slow scribing. “Upstairs ‘pun de fourf floor, de door pun de lef.” ‘Oh God, not four flights of stairs, not with these balls,’ thought Jack. “Thanks,” he whispered. And he slowly began the painful ascent to the fourth floor. He arrived nauseous and faint at the door with the sign “Planning” on it. On entering the bare, timbered office he was confronted by a plump female secretary discussing somebody’s business on the ‘phone. The computer screen behind her scrolled the message: “I 2 bless to be stress.” “Uh huh, and chil’ when I tell you iggorant? Hole on,” and she cupped her hand over the receiver and looked up at Jack. “Can I help you?” she asked with a smile.
“I have an appointment asked rhetorically. The woman pointed to a “Go tru,” she said and “Yes chil’, and if she lookin’ dogs. Uh hum.”
to see the Chief Planning Officer?” he door on her right, and smiled returned to her conversation. ugly? Lorse woman, I dun see better
Jack entered the office and was confronted by a middle aged black man in a khaki shirt that was somewhere between a shirt and a jacket, and khaki trousers. He shook Jack’s hand and motioned for him to be seated, which Jack did by perching delicately on the edge of the wooden chair, being careful not to get his testicles into contact with anything hard. The office was old and smelt of dust. A rusty fan whirled overhead but didn’t seem to provide any noticeable relief from the heat. Jack laid the stained drawings on the desk and opened them. Then he reached into his pocket and retrieved the tube of antibacterial cleansing gel and cleaned his hands. “You Bernard’s boy?” asked the man, referring to Jack’s father. “Yes. You knew him?” asked Jack taken aback. This was the first time he had met anyone, bar his mother, who knew his father. No one in England did, not even Jack himself. His knowledge began and ended with an old photograph his mother had of their wedding, and with what she had told him. “Played cricket with him, as a lad. Great all rounder, and a wicked fast bowler as I recall. Only the good die young, as they say. How’s your mother?” “She’s good, thanks.” Jack was lost for words. So his father was a good cricketer. When they were friends he and this man would have been younger than Jack was now. The smiling face on the old photograph emerged large and clear in Jack’s mind’s eye. He imagined the willowy, sinewy bodied young man charging across the cricket pitch to release a fearsome bowl full of spin and bounce, to the dismay of the hapless batsman. “What happen’ here?” enquired the Town Planner looking at the stains on the drawings and bringing Jack back to reality. “I had a bit of an accident and they fell into the gutter. I can plot off fresh copies for you.” “That won’t be necessary. Now, let’s see,” and he began to scrutinize the plans. They discussed the drawings for twenty minutes with questions on distances from boundaries, building heights, tree preservation, sewer treatment, water storage and the like being asked and answered. The conversation then drifted back to Bernard Delisle and his cricketing exploits. After another half an hour the Planner opened the top drawer of the desk, produced a rubber stamp, and approved the plans.
Their business over Jack thanked the man and made a painful descent from the building. Jack returned home and after a soothing shower he lay down on his bed. The potholes and the tough suspension on the Pajero had done nothing to calm his nether regions. He had taken a couple of Panadol and was dozing on his bed when the ‘phone rang. It was Sonny. “Pup pup. What’s happenin’ milad? You sound sleepy.” “Oh, I was just having a rest. I’m not feeling too bright.” “Well milad, there’s only one thing for that. Come by and fire one,” said Sonny inviting Jack for a drink. Sonny owned the boat ‘Tomorrow Maybe’ and lived a small number of houses away. Jack had been there a few times and noted that while Sonny’s house was comfortable and clean, it had not had much money spent on it. ‘Tomorrow Maybe’, on the other hand, was lavished upon and was pristine. Sonny spent most of his spare time doing something to the engines or to the boat itself. His wife, Phyllis, a gentle, quiet, woman with a light brown complexion busied herself cheerfully in the background. Her boys, for they had two, were her life, and seemed destined to remain so as they showed no desire to leave home, much less the island, even though they were in their early twenties. Like their father, their love and understanding of life was Saint Mary. The world beyond was not a place they had any intention of visiting. It belonged to misguided souls who drove themselves mad with work and ambition rather than just enjoying themselves. Strong and athletic, they spent their time taking pleasure in the physical side of being that this island, and the tropics, had to offer. For work they helped their father and they would no doubt take over the business when the time was right. Theirs was a harmonious cohesive family, and Sonny’s home was a welcoming, relaxed venue that Jack was fond of visiting. The painkillers were working so he got up, shaved, and went over. Sitting on the veranda with a rather stiff rum and coke he told Sonny of his day. “Lord boy. That is rough. I got hit in the stones by a cricket ball once when I was younger. Hurt like piss, and swole up big big big, like so,” and he formed the size with his hands, which, if true, put Sonny’s injured testicles on a par with those of a prize bull. “The doctor had to drain off the water with a needle. I tell you, I was real frighten’ that my bird wouldn’t set after that. But the good Lord has kept me shottin’.” Jack was relieved to hear that his bird would once again set, and that he would be shottin’ in the not too distant future. The needle bit was a bit concerning though. “So yous gots Planning eh? Very good. When you gine start?” continued Sonny. Jack explained that Kevin was flying down the next day and that
once negotiations with Todd Wilson were tied up they would break ground. “You must bring him to Brigand Bay on Sunday. It’s the long weekend and we gine have a beach party.” Mary had mentioned to Jack that she and others traditionally went to Brigand Bay for the Bank Holiday, and had asked if he would like to go and bring Kevin. Jack had accepted. “I know. Mary has organised for us to come along.” “Proper,” said Sonny and he fixed them both another rum and coke. Sonny and Jack talked and drank and Jack stayed for supper, eventually wandering home a bit the worse for wear, but feeling no pain which was bliss.
Chapter Eight The next day Jack collected Kevin from the airport. It was good to see his old friend again, and although they exchanged e-mails almost daily, there was much to catch up on. Jack had forgotten how pallid white people could be, and the sight of Kevin was a shock. He was almost translucent he was so pale and this together with his curly red hair gave him the appearance of being anaemic. Jack on the other hand, had become quite dark, and the contrast between the two was acute. One tall and well built very white man with a short slender black man. The journey to Jack’s house was spent with nonstop chatter. Kevin was eager to hear of all of Jack’s experiences, and of the island. They sat on the veranda, the warm evening air soft and fragrant, the light fading. They had a lot of work to go through over the next few weeks but that could wait. Kevin sat easy in his chair surveying the surroundings, his ever-present smile illuminating his face. Jack reflected that he had never seen Kevin without that smile, or at least very infrequently. “Got your essentials,” said Kevin. He was referring to a list of cosmetics that Jack had asked him to bring which were not to be found on the island, and which Jack could not imagine living without. He cared for his skin and his hair and that required special creams and lotions, not just the ordinary stuff available locally. “The house design is fantastic, by the way. Mustafa says SB was blown away.” SB was the nickname used by Kevin and Jack for Mustafa’s ‘Sheiky Bird’ client. “Thanks,” said Jack “Oh, and Jane’s pregnant,” said Kevin. “No shit! That’s great man, congratulations.” “We want you to be the Godfather,” he continued. Jack faltered for a second. He felt immensely proud and touched by this invitation. “I’d love to man. Shit, that would be great, thanks,” he said, his chest feeling full with the honour his friends had just bestowed on him. “Don’t thank me yet, you’ll have all of the Godfatherly duties to perform.” “What are they?” “I don’t know. Teach him to sing gospel,” said Kevin in fun. “Not possible Dude. Everyone knows white people got no rhythm. This calls for something better than rum though. How ‘bout a margarita?” “On the button ‘bro.” The two sat and drank wildly strong cocktails until late, reminiscing old times and filling in the details of newer ones.
Kevin and Jane lived in Islington in a large three storey terraced Victorian house. Four storeys if you counted the basement. Kevin loved physical exercise and would ride his bicycle to work rather than take the underground or bus. He belonged to a local gym which he frequented three times a week. His real passion however, was rock climbing, and he and Jane would go to Wales and stay with her parents for the weekend, where Kevin would take to the hills. “What do you think to this?” he asked handing Jack a photograph. It was a picture of a small thatched cottage, smoke rising gently from the chimney, the sort of picture you would find on a box of chocolates or old-fashioned birthday card. “Very nice. What is it?” “A cottage in Wales. We’ve just bought it. It’s not far from Jane’s parents but closer to the mountains. We figured that with the baby and all we couldn’t keep staying with them, so we looked around and found this. We’ll use it for the weekends and holidays. Its got three bedrooms so you can come and visit.” “So long as you don’t want me to climb any sodding mountains.” Jack’s ideal would be returning from a warm, cozy pub to a cheery welcome from Jane and a hearty home-cooked meal, prepared, of course, on the faithful old aga. “Business must be doing well, then.” “Yup. Trent Developments have given us three shopping centres in the south of England, and there are seven more planned for next year alone. I’ve had to take on more staff. I tell you things are really heating up back home. You really should move in with us you know. Once you are there I’m sure our clients will use you.” “Yeah, I know,” replied Jack. They had had this conversation many times before and he knew Kevin was right, and that he should move into Central London to be where all the action was. Anyway, that was a thought for the future. Right now he felt very happy indeed and very pissed. Kevin’s company had lifted his soul. Tomorrow they would be hung over, but what the hell. The next day a bleary eyed duo met Todd Wilson on site. The house footprint had been set out and a JCB was digging test pits to determine the ground water level while a handful of men stood around watching. Once water was found, Todd would step forward and lower a tape measure into the hole, recording his measurements on a drawing. “Four feet,” he said to Jack, “the tide is in at the moment so it should get lower. The pool might have to be shallower than ten feet though. Do you think they’ll accept eight feet?” Jack hadn’t considered this aspect when he designed the pool. “Dunno. I’ll ask though.” After inspecting the site they went to Todd’s offices and began discussing how the contract would be run. Kevin would return as required to agree the value of the work completed, and the monies
would be wire transferred to Todd’s accounts, some in Saint Mary, some off shore. Two valuations would be submitted to Fandango, one showing a 15% main contractor’s discount and one without. The former figure would be paid to Todd Wilson, the latter would be submitted to SB along with Mustafa’s 20% mark-up. As SB’s budget was known the next week would be spent concocting a contract sum to suit. This would not be a problem as the budget exceeded the realistic cost of the works: Mustafa had seen to that. Kevin then tabled a contract document which was discussed in some detail. Eventually Todd appeared happy and he and Kevin, who was acting on behalf of Fandango, signed it. With the contract endorsed the meeting was adjourned. Following a leisurely lunch at Gloria’s, the pair took their leave of Todd and went on an ‘island tour’ (as driving around and taking in the views was known). This also involved a few stops at the colourful roadside rum shops en-route, a ‘hair off the dog’ as it were. The island had three very different feels to it: the tranquil and picture postcard beauty of the west coast; the gently rolling hills of the interior; and the dramatic east coast with its rough seas, rocky cliffs and constant, salty sea breeze. And everywhere there were fields of sugar cane. Set among this were tiny wooden houses propped precariously on rocks or stacks of un-bonded concrete blocks, some times huddled in small villages, other times alone, perched treacherously on the hillside. Some were freshly painted vibrant, bright colours while others were in such a state of dereliction that it was a wonder anyone could live there. In stark contrast stood the large stone plantation houses, hundreds of years old and approached through avenues of majestically tall Royal Palm trees, planted as land marks before the days of paved roads and road signs. In between were the more modern houses, most designed by their owners with no particular style or influence. “So this is where your dad was from, eh? Pretty damn nice,” said Kevin. “Mmm. It has its charms I suppose. I met someone who knew Dad.” “No kidding. And?” “Apparently he was good at cricket.” “You must take after your mother’s side of the family then.”
Chapter Nine Sunday came and Mary arrived, dressed in shorts and t-shirt over her swimsuit and sporting an old-fashioned white cotton hat. She carried a colourful plastic beach bag in which was a towel and other requirements for the beach, and two large empty plastic Coca-Cola bottles. They were getting ready to set off to Brigand Beach and cool boxes were packed with food and drink. “What’s with the empty bottles?” enquired Jack. “Coconut water!” exclaimed Mary with a glint in her eyes, “you can’t have a picnic without coconut water!” The day was beautifully clear with a gentle breeze. Only a few white clouds hung in the sky, although there was talk of a storm coming that evening. Kevin was getting acclimatised and was a shade or two pinker than when he first arrived. Jack too had become accustomed to the heat. “You got sunblock and a hat?” enquired Mary, “’cos out there at Brigand you will burn that pretty white skin. It’s plenty hot and there isn’t much shade.” Kevin confirmed that he had both and that he would not be removing his t-shirt in any case. They set off in Jack’s Pajero and headed to the southeast corner of the island, over the baking hot asphalt roads, the car radio blaring, and a party spirit in their souls. “Pull up over there,” said Mary pointing to a little Suzuki van parked on the side of the road with its back door open. Behind the van stood a large pile of green coconuts and a small trestle table with a machete and funnel resting on it. A small black man was sitting in the shade under a tree in the verge of the road. They pulled up behind the pile of coconuts and the man got up and wandered over. Mary got out of the car and gave him her two empty bottles. The vendor picked up the machete and swung it into one of the coconuts, the blade biting into the fibrous shell and adhering it to the nut. He then flicked the nut into the air, caught it deftly in his left hand, and with a lightning fast swipe of the machete sliced a chunk out of the top. He spun the coconut around and sliced the top again. After the fourth time the top of the coconut was removed exposing the inner shell, its four soft dimples uncovered. The man dug the tip of the machete into one of these soft spots and water spouted into the air. He dug another hole in the nut, placed the funnel into the neck of the bottle standing on the table and inverted the coconut into the funnel so that the water drained into it. He then set about another coconut. The entire procedure had been one coordinated movement like a dance or juggling act, performed without pause or intermission. Jack and Kevin were mesmerized at his dexterity and the apparent sharpness of the machete. On inspection Jack could not see any
missing fingers, or visible scars, which would surely be the result if he had missed the coconut and caught his hand instead. With both bottles filled Mary paid the man and returned to the car. She deposited the bottles and went back to the vendor returning with two coconuts, cut in half, and they set off once more. Digging into her bag she handed a spoon and a coconut half to Kevin. “Scoop out the flesh,” she said, doing so herself with the other half and feeding the white flesh to Jack. Kevin did as he was told. “Oh man, that is delicious.” “Coconut jelly! It’s full of iron. Good for a fella,” she said with an impish grin. Brigand Beach, located below a tall cliff and sprawling a mile long and a hundred feet wide was a blindingly white stretch of coral sand approached by a small cart track. They had to walk around a bluff and over a shallow reef to get to it. The sea was active with tall breaking waves, and transparent turquoise in colour. Beyond the breakers and some distance out was a reef, its presence obvious by the foam that was left as the waves broke over it. Beyond that the sea was a dark royal blue. Sonny and his family were already there as were groups of other people, each having claimed their own patch of beach and laid it out with coolers, umbrellas, barbeques, chairs and towels. Sonny had set up a charcoal grill made from a small steel drum cut in half lengthways. This was supported on a cradle of reinforcing steel and a sheet of expanded metal lathe formed the grate. Red flames, almost transparent in the bright sunlight, rose from the coals below. “Got to get the fire proper, nuh Jack? Got some pork to cook up, milad. This is Kevin?” said Sonny. Jack made introductions while Mary went over to Phyllis who was laying out a table with finger food. Jack and Kevin put the cooler they had been carrying next to Sonny’s. His two boys, large athletic lads in their twenties, were in the sea, body surfing in the waves. Further down the beach a couple were playing bat and ball. More people arrived, all laden with food and drink. A tall white Englishman in his sixties accompanied by a younger, stocky black man with soft rounded features joined them. They were carrying fold up tables and chairs and a large umbrella. Montagu Goodenough, the Englishman, and Decourcey Ducellier, his friend, had arrived. Montagu, the owner of the Frangipani Bay Hotel, was slim with hooded eyes set under thick bushy brows either side of a large hooked nose. Decourcey was forty-five, five feet eight inches tall and had the physique of a weight lifter. He was a local artist and his bright and exuberant oils graced the walls of the hotel. Although his paintings were not yet hung on the walls of the Tate, they had found their way into other galleries and private collections around the world and commanded a hefty sum. When he painted on a monumental
scale the results were remarkable, but those were usually the reserve of commissions. Montagu was from a fabulously wealthy family but was considered to be the black sheep because he would not conform to the family way. However, being the only son of the eldest son, Montagu was the largest shareholder by far and this gave him colossal status within the ‘family firm’. The ‘firm’ included farms in England and Scotland, a merchant bank of international standing, and a chain of department stores ubiquitous in the high streets the length and breath of the British Isles. Most of his cousins were titled, MPs or Lords, but Montagu had declined a knighthood on the grounds that the world had recompensed him enough. His peers, both in the family and in the city, annoyed him and he delighted in the power of having the casting vote for any decision of importance they had to make. In the business centres of London, New York, Paris and Tokyo he was both loved and despised, and he couldn’t care less which. He was considerably more intelligent and quick witted than most, and could, and frequently did, buy any one of them before breakfast. The Frangipani Bay Hotel was kept in the condition it was because that was how Montagu wanted it. He could easily afford to build the most fabulous resort on the planet, but then ‘they’ would want to frequent it. The pain in the arse lackeys with a million or so to their name who thought they were special. No thank you. Saint Mary was Montagu’s home, and he liked it that way. If you want to rub shoulders with the city money then go to Mustique. That was his point of view. “We’ve been so looking forward to meeting you,” said Montagu approaching Kevin with an outstretched hand. “That’s very kind,” said Kevin, “but I think you are mistaking me for Jack. He’s over there,” and he gestured in Jack’s direction. “Dear boy, so sorry, do forgive me. And you are?” “Kevin Oldcorn, an associate of Jack’s.” “I’m Montagu.” They shook hands and Montagu made his way over to Jack. Decourcey followed. “I’m Decourcey,” he said smiling whilst he shook Kevin’s hand, “I wonder if I could ask you to help me bring a cool box from the car?” His voice was soft and his accent was pure Oxford English. “Certainly,” replied Kevin, and they walked back to Montagu’s Range Rover. The cooler in question was the largest one Kevin had ever seen. “Jesus, that’s a small coffin,” he said. “I know, and it’s a quite heavy I’m afraid.” The two of them manhandled the cooler down to the beach to where Montagu had set up the tables and umbrella. “Pup, pup! Here come de white people food,” said Sonny as Decourcey and Kevin set the chest down on the sand. “Quite Sonny. Nothing for an ignorant red-man like you,” replied
Decourcey. “I hear you skipper,” Sonny replied, “what’s youse got today?” “Well, chef’s done us proud. There’s crab backs, salt cod fritters, rice paper rolls, flat bread pissaladieres, and griddled eggplant with feta, but you will have to griddle the eggplant first.” “Very good,” said Sonny, “what does that all mean in English?” Ignoring him Decourcey continued, “oh and goats curd and lentil salad to go with your pork, and for afters we have mango tart and sour sop ice cream.” “You have got to be joking,” said Kevin. “Absolutely not dear chap. One thing Montagu does insist on is good food, and wine of course.” “No wonder it was so heavy.” “Youse now eatin’ with the great and the good milad,” said Sonny, “you ain’t tasted nothin’ till youse ate Decourcey’s food, let me tell you. And that’s a fuckin’ fact, nuh so Decourcey?” “I don’t know why you insist on crediting me with the culinary expertise, dear boy, because Chef does it all.” “True, but as I ain’t see no chef, it’s you that gine get de credit.” The sun beat down fiercely and the drink and conversation began to flow whilst Sonny started to cook. The pork hissed on the hot grate and fragrant grey smoke lifted into the air. People mingled between groups and the air was a mixture of ozone and salt blown in from the sea, all combining Sonny’s barbequed pork to make a heady aroma. In between the drinks and conversation Jack, Mary and Kevin ventured into the water and bobbed up and down with the swells. Kevin attempted body surfing one of the breakers without success. Sonny’s boys came over and introduced themselves as Bruce and Barry Bowen. Kevin asked if they would show him how to body surf and they obliged willingly. The three of them moved toward the shore to where the waves would be more properly formed. Skilfully spotting the right wave with the right shape and the right size, they waited until the precise moment, which was just as the current began to pull them out to sea, and pushing off with their feet, began to swim hard. The wave then took over, picked them up and propelled them forward toward the beach with such an overwhelming force that to capitulate would be certain folly. From the shore all that was visible were their heads and shoulders suspended in front of the foaming wave. For the participants the ride was like flying. They had control of direction both left and right but not forward, and they were soaring on the sea. When they arrived at the beach Kevin sprang to his feet. “That was awesome!” he exclaimed, and Bruce and Barry knocked fists with him. Dashing back out to Jack and Mary, Kevin grabbed Jack’s wrist. “Come, you have got to try this,” he shouted. His eyes were on
fire. Kevin was wired. ‘Oh bollocks,’ thought Jack. This sort of situation never ended good. Bruce and Barry arrived and joined in the coaxing. “Come man. Yuh gine love it,” said Barry. Mary had a wicked glint in her eye. “Go along,” she said giggling. Much against his better judgement Jack followed the boys. At the designated spot they stood in a line looking back at each wave as it approached. “Nope,” said Bruce and they bobbed over a passing swell. The next one came. “Nah,” said Barry derisively, as if that one in particular was an insult to surfers. Then it came. Jack saw it forming in the distance. A linear bump in the water larger than the others and getting bigger as it got closer. By the time it reached Mary it was seven feet high and growing. A vertical wall of water. “Yes!” shouted Bruce. “Yes!” echoed Barry. “Yes!” exclaimed Kevin. “Oh shit!” bleated Jack. The wave arrived and sucked them back removing the sand from under their feet and lifting them up. “NOW!” yelled Barry. They launched themselves off, swimming for all they were worth, each fragile body being pulled up and enveloped by the huge force of the water. All, that is, except for Jack. The sight of the wave made him want to pee. The problem facing him was that the bloody thing was about to break and was too big to just bob over. It was going to kill him, he knew that. Half-heartedly he threw himself at the mercy of Mother Nature only to succeed in being picked up and bowled over, tumbled along the seabed and having sand forced into every orifice he had, and some he didn’t know existed, his shorts ending up around his ankles. Grasping for something to stabilise himself and stop the turmoil proved fruitless. The force he was dealing with was immense. Eventually it stopped and he was spat out onto the beach. He got to his feet, naked, spluttering and dazed, to the applause of everyone on the shore. Pulling up his shorts he staggered towards Sonny’s barbecue, Decourcey’s feast, and, most importantly, the bar. Mary followed in tears of laughter. By the time he reached Sonny, Mary had caught up and wrapped her arms around his shoulders kissing him on the neck. “Pup pup. The surf’s up, eh milad? I figures yous need a little soother. How about you, Mary sweetness?” “It’s OK Sonny, I’ll get it,” said Mary still laughing. And she went and fixed them both rum and coconut water. They sampled Decourcey’s finger food and it was fabulous, just
as Sonny had foretold. Jack looked at Mary and wondered. Here she was, seemingly uncomplicated, her face illuminated, her smile bright. She delighted in his ineptness and did not hide it, but it wasn’t in any way cruel. She laughed with him and not at him, and if anything she made him feel that he could make other men wish that they were as crap at all things physical as he was. “Where’s Montagu?” asked Mary. “Gone for a walk. He loves walking,” replied Decourcey. “Aren’t you going to go for a swim?” enquired Jack. “Can’t, old love. Never learned how, never wanted to. And I think you’ve just confirmed my apprehension.” “Oh,” said Jack. It seemed odd that someone from an island like this could not swim. The sea was everywhere after all. But then again from Decourcey’s accent he had obviously lived a long time in the United Kingdom. An impromptu game of beach cricket was taking shape and the three of them were called over to join in. There were no teams as such, you just batted until you were bowled, run or caught out. Bowling to the women was restricted to underhand and any catches had to be with one hand. Advantaged by this handicap Mary proved tenacious at the wicket and scored twenty runs before being caught out in spectacular fashion by Kevin, who, although he fell over as he was running backwards into the sea, managed to keep his hand with the ball in the air, rather like the ‘Lady in the Lake’. Jack fared less well and was dispatched in quick time by Barry whose speed of bowling was ballistic. Decourcey was a surprise contestant and wielded a cricket bat with as much finesse as he did a paintbrush. It mattered little how hard Barry and Bruce launched the ball at him, Decourcey seemed to have all the time in the world to dispatch it where and how he fancied. Eventually in an attempt to get him out a new rule was introduced: the batsman had to make a run with every ball, regardless. Even so Decourcey was not an easy victim. In the end Kevin managed to get to his stumps whilst he was half way down the pitch and Decourcey was out. “You haven’t played for the West Indies, have you?” asked Kevin in admiration. “No dear boy, but I was approached by Yorkshire while I was at university.” When the food arrived it was fabulous. The sea, sun and exercise had sharpened everyone’s appetite and they ate with gusto and approval. Along with the pork, Sonny grilled butternut squash, fish and chicken. There was potato, rice, pasta and green salads, buljol and a fiery cucumber pickle. It was a feast for kings. They ate their fill after which some dozed, some walked, and others swam. By the end of the afternoon they were all salty, sun burnt and
tired. When they got home Jack cooked a simple supper while Mary and Kevin showered and changed. The trio sat on Jack’s balcony and watched the sun set. The predicted storm was passing to the north of the island and the sky in that direction was deeply dark and foreboding. Every now and then a streak of lightning would split this darkness, but it was too far distant for the sound of the accompanying thunder to reach them. The further south they looked the lighter the clouds got, and directly in front of them there were two distinct levels of cloud a few hundred feet apart. Although the sun could not be seen, the red hue it cast was caught between these layers of cloud giving the top a dark pink luminescence while the bottom remained a light grey. It was like looking up at an enormous conch shell. Jack looked at Mary, her eyes and smile contrasting against her perfect dark complexion. The smile in her eyes was captivating and he reached across and squeezed her hand.
Chapter Ten - April “T’ RASS WI’ DAT!” boomed the small grey haired white gent in the middle of the room, loud enough for all to hear. During a series of meetings Kevin and Todd Wilson had agreed the contract sum and scope of works. To keep things simple Kevin split the costs into stage payments, making measurement of the works as executed unnecessary. As long as the drawings and scope did not alter, the contract sum would remain. Any changes would be priced and agreed upon before that work commenced. Any items Jack had not yet detailed were covered by provisional sums and would fall into this category. Todd had requested an advanced payment before work started. This was agreed to by Mustafa and the money was wired accordingly. With the building works about to start Todd had arranged a cocktail party at his home before Kevin departed for London. It was in Todd’s house that they now stood, listening to the tirade. “LISTEN GUNNER, AGRICULTURE IS ESSENTIAL, ESSENTIAL I SAY, TO ANY COUNTRY. IT NOT ONLY PROVIDES STABILITY AND EMPLOYMENT, BUT AESTHETICS. IT IS MADNESS, MADNESS I SAY, TO PLOUGH UP PERFECTLY GOOD AGRICULTURAL LAND FOR DEVELOPMENT.” The man was talking, or rather shouting, to Darnley Chrichlow, the Town Planner Jack had visited previously. The volume of speech was at odds with his stature, for he was a short, bow legged, slender man in his late sixties and did not look at all like a man with a megaphone voice. He was Sir Dennis Adelbert Delisle, commonly known as ‘DAD’ and the current incumbent of Delisle Hall and the plantations that had been in the Delisle family since the 1640’s. DAD was the largest landowner outside of the government. A farmer, planter and constant meddler in the affairs of state. He frequently wrote vociferously to the papers if some decision was made that he disagreed with, and he seemed to disagree with all of them. He was a tireless workaholic, slept four hours a night and had only one regret in life: that he was unable to father children. His long-suffering wife, Lady Deidre Delisle, or ‘DD’, hailed from Jamaica and was also from a prominent West Indian family. In contrast to her husband she had a soft soothing voice with an almost musical lilt. Her eyes were gentle and always smiling and set in a round freckled face framed by wavy grey hair cut in a bob. She wore very little make up and made no attempt to disguise the wrinkles a lifetime in the sun had afforded her. She did, however, sport some very fine and large diamonds. She was calm where he seemed to be constantly on a mission, every muscle in his face and body taught, every movement and step urgent. It was DD who came forward to Mary. “Mary darlin’, how are you?” she enquired as they greeted each other with a kiss on the cheek, “you look lovely.” “Thank you,” replied Mary, and Jack agreed that she did in fact
look lovely. She was dressed in white slacks and colourful Sea Island cotton top and had her hair relaxed so that it fell in ringlets around her face. “And you must be Bernard’s boy we’ve been hearing so much about. Nice shirt,” continued DD turning to Jack, the words flowing like a song. Jack wore a brightly patterned red and green shirt that Mary had bought for him, and as she wanted him to wear it tonight, he had. He wasn’t sure about the shirt though, and he wasn’t sure how to take the compliment. “This is Jack and his associate Kevin Oldcorn, fellows, this is Lady Delisle,” said Mary. “DD, please. It’s so nice to meet you. How is your mother, Jack?” Once more Jack was taken aback by the fact that these people, people he had never met, knew his parents. It really hadn’t occurred to him, or at least he hadn’t given it any thought, that his father had a history, a life. “She’s very well, thanks,” he replied. They discussed Jack’s mother for a while, and then the house at Crystal Point and Kevin’s involvement, what they collectively thought of Saint Mary, and so on. After a while DAD wandered over. “So this is the cricketer’s son. Good to see you boy. DAD Delisle. Your mother well?” he enquired in a quieter voice than before, “boy, that’s quite some shirt.” Jack winced and explained that his mother was indeed well. “Listen Gunner, I have some things I want to discuss with you. Call me to arrange a time please.” “Uh, sure,” replied Jack rather taken aback. “Good, I appreciate it. Come DD, I want to talk over that thing with, oh shite, what’s her name, you know, the ugly American woman with the horses.” “Agnethe Glatved.” “Yes, that’s the one. What kind of a rass hole name is that? Excuse us everybody,” and he led DD away. Turning to Mary Jack asked, “what would DAD want to see me about?” “Oh, I dunno’, he probably has some scheme or plan he wants your opinion on. Let’s go outside.” They wandered out onto an expansive timber floored balcony that overlooked the garden. In the dimming light the sea could be seen in the distance. The house was large and fragmented, comprising of separate units joined by covered walkways. The bedrooms and bathrooms were housed in one unit, the living room, where they were now, dining room and kitchen were in another, and the library, den and media room in a third. The guest cottage occupied the final one. It was entirely constructed of timber and a dark brown river stone imported from St.
Vincent. The furniture and décor was American, modern, and predominantly white. The garden was lit with small hidden lights that illuminated the trees and flowerbeds. Torches whose flames danced in the night breeze lit a path that led to the poolside gazebo that housed a bar and barbeque next to the swimming pool, where more people were chatting. “This is none to shabby,” said Kevin as they took in the scene. The full moon lit a swath of silver light on the sea in the distance. A waiter passed with a tray of drinks and they helped themselves. “Pup pup. I see youse all with the great and the mighty,” said Sonny wandering over. “Lord boy, that shirt pretty as rass bosie, like a Christmas tree. Nice tho’.” By now Jack really wished that he hadn’t worn the shirt. “We were admiring the spread,” said Kevin, “there’s obviously money to be made in construction here.” “Yes, but whose?” “Pardon?” asked Jack. “Don’t quote me, but they say Mr. Wilson turned up here with his equipment on a barge. He was working on a couple of big projects on one of the larger islands and wasn’t paying his bills. Before the bailiffs could ketch he, he load up mek a ‘big foot move’. Or so it is alleged. Lef’ the people there to pay all the suppliers and subcontractors twice. One smart bitch, eh?” Jack and Kevin looked at each other. Todd Wilson had just been paid two hundred and fifty thousand US dollars as an advanced payment on the house. Surely he wouldn’t just abscond, the contract sum was fifty million, but Kevin would have to keep a very close eye on subcontractors’ and supplier’s payments. Hell, he was no stranger to this, it happened all the time in the UK, but never the less he would let Mustafa know. “BULL SHIT,” Sir Dennis’s dulcet tones could be heard in the distance. “He’s a character,” said Kevin. “DAD? Mad as France. All them Delisles. Bunch of interbred fuckers. Sorry son, no offence. Rich as piss tho’. In all fairness he’s a nice old soul. Bought so much land from people ‘bout here who could not mek it work, he mus’ own half the island. But Lord have his mercy, he cannot put a lock on that mout’ of his.” Todd Wilson wandered over. “Hey guys. Come, there are some people who want to meet you. Wow! Nice shirt Jack,” and he led Jack and Kevin away from Mary and Sonny and down to the pool area. They approached Darnley Chrichlow who was in conversation with a tall handsome black man who was introduced as Dr. Jefferson Lashley, the head of the Coastal Conservation Unit, a government department with extreme powers. An Island Scholar he had been educated in one of America’s finer universities and on return to the island had risen
rapidly through the ranks of the Civil Service. He had particularly wanted to meet with Jack and Kevin as he had certain concerns regarding the construction works. “Boy, you stand out in a crowd” he said to Jack. Then he continued in a more serious tone: “You see, Jack, the reef at Crystal Point is very important, and extremely sensitive to its environment, as are all reefs. Any plumage caused by the construction works will cover the reef, and kill the coral. Also, contaminated water pumped into the sea will cause problems. That’s why I’ve asked Todd here for a method statement and to notify us when any pumping is to be carried out. We need to monitor the purity of any water that gets into the sea, so we will be assigning one of our engineers to the task. We have a lab that can do the testing.” “Jefferson, relax. I’ll make sure that all necessary precautions are taken,” said Todd. “I’m sure you will Todd. But if you don’t I will have the site shut down,” replied Dr. Lashley, and he locked eyes with Jack to make sure his point had been understood. It had. The conversation drifted onto lighter matters and Jack looked around to see where Mary was. Would she notice if he took this bloody shirt off and spend the rest of the night barebacked? For sure this seemed to be a less embarrassing option. He spotted her chatting with Montagu Goodenough, Decourcey Ducellier and a couple of others he had not met. She appeared rapt in conversation and oblivious as to his whereabouts. He was concerned about Todd Wilson. Dr. Lashley obviously didn’t trust him and Sonny’s news didn’t exactly instil confidence. This had the makings of a long contract and he wished that Kevin wasn’t leaving him to it. The sight of Honey Cole broke his thoughts as she meandered leisurely over to the group of men. Honey sported an evenly tanned complexion, long flowing sunbleached blond hair and a figure that could haunt men’s dreams. She was wearing a light flowing silk dress, the neckline of which held her breasts delicately. She was quite clearly not wearing a bra. Her walk was carefree and confident. She looked a million bucks and she knew it. Jack and Kevin were mesmerised. By the time she reached them Jack noticed that Mary had materialised at his side. Not that oblivious he realised. “Mary, sweetheart, you have to share, you know. You mustn’t keep all the goodies to yourself, that’s selfish. Hi, I’m Honey. Love that shirt. It’s so distinctive,” she purred and offered a pretty and delicate hand with a little diamond bracelet around the wrist. Kevin and Jack both tried to grab it at the same time causing Honey to giggle and Mary to bristle. “Jack Delisle, this is Honey Cole, your landlord’s daughter. This is Kevin Oldcorn, here from London to work on the new house at Crystal Point,” she said frostily. The boys both gave a ‘Pleased to meet you,’ and continued to
stare. “Honey, where is your fiancé?” asked Mary, pointedly. “Oh, he’s off island, buying some part for his boat,” Honey replied, dismissively. “Kevin, you can be my chaperone, as we seem to be the ones who are solo. Come, get me a drink, and tell me all about yourself,” and she put her arm through his and led Kevin off to the bar, who went without a fight. Mary led Jack off in the opposite direction. “Landlord’s daughter?” enquired Jack. “Milton Cole owns the group of houses you’re in. They live in the one at the end. Your neighbours,” replied Mary, coldly. Sensing that Honey Cole was not a safe topic of conversation Jack turned back to Todd Wilson and voiced his concerns to Mary who responded: “Well, he’s certainly charming but I don’t know. The thing is, people about here love to make talk about every-body else, so as they say, ‘believe ten percent of what you see, and nothing of what you hear’”. Reassured a little by this observation Jack relaxed. The evening passed pleasantly with Mary introducing Jack to many of the guests, all of whom were pleased to meet him, complimented him on his shirt and asked about the big house to be built at Crystal Point. Lots of offers of help and services were made and by the end of it all Jack had completely lost track of who did what. Kevin was not seen again until the guests were starting to leave. Todd wanted them to stay on a while longer and a small group remained: Sonny and Phyllis, Montagu and Decourcey, Darnley Chrichlow, and Jefferson Lashley. They were sitting chatting when Kevin got up and disappeared off to the bar. He returned a few minutes later with a tray of full shot glasses, a cork and a lighter, which he put on the table. “When Jack and I were lads,” he said with a smile, holding everybody’s attention, “we used to play a game at this time of the evening. Tonight’s game is called ‘Hi Harry’.” He explained the rules which were: initially everyone was called Harry and would greet each other with “Hi Harry,” to which the response was, “Yes Harry”. The first person would then say, “Tell Harry “Hi Harry,’’” referring to the person on the left of ‘Harry’. This would proceed clockwise around the group until someone made a mistake at which point they would have to drink one of the cocktails in the shot glasses and would be branded by the cork, which was burnt at the end producing a spot of soot on the person’s face. Thus branded this Harry now became ‘One Spot’ and the greeting would be ‘Hi One Spot’ or ‘tell One Spot’ etc. The name changed as more spots were added. ‘Two Spot’ ‘Three Spot’ etc. “What’s in the glasses?” enquired Decourcey. “Affirmative Action,” said Kevin, and bending over at the waist his hands behind his back he picked up one of the glasses between his teeth, knocked his head back and swallowed the contents in one gulp.
“Vodka, cognac and orange juice,” and he winked at Jack. “Oh rass hole,” said Sonny and the game commenced. The first to reach one spot was Montagu. With glee Decourcey jumped up, got the cork, blackened it with the lighter and stamped Montagu’s forehead. “Ouch, that’s still hot.” “Oh, yes, it’s best to let the cork cool off first,” said Kevin. The next to go was Jefferson. Kevin administered the spot. “Hold on,” said Montagu, slurring his words a bit, “I can’t see the fucking spot,” which indeed was hard to see as Jefferson was nearly as black as the soot. With that Montagu got up and went into the kitchen, returning with a saucer containing a white liquid and a cloth. He dabbed the cloth in the liquid and anointed Jefferson on the cheek with a white splodge. “Soft Scrub,” he said with pride, and plonked himself back down. The game continued, the spots grew, white on the black, black on the white, and they got steadily drunk. All, that is, except for Kevin and Jack who had played this game often and knew the score. “Hey Tosspot,” said Todd to Mary. “Tosspot?” enquired Kevin, laughing, “you mean two spot. Here you go,” and he handed Todd his fourth shot. The Affirmative Actions drunk Kevin made up a batch of Alabama Riot: Southern Comfort, peppermint schnapps, vodka and lime juice. “You, poky hole, tell whatever the France he is dey, “Hello,”” said Sonny. He then stood up, drank a shot, belched, anointed himself for the tenth time with the cork, staggered out onto the balcony and proceeded to pee off the edge into the garden. The evening ended in chaos. Todd, Montagu and Decourcey had passed out, Darnley threw up into an ice bucket and feeling a bit better went to drive home only to fall asleep in his car before he could start the engine; Jefferson stripped off naked and jumped in the pool in an attempt to clear his head, then staggered out, found the guest cottage open and collapsed soaking wet onto the bed. Jack and Kevin, having remained relatively sober, drove home with Mary. “Excellent party, Dude,” said Kevin in the car. Jack laughed, “it’s funny how Sonny can’t say ‘four’ without it becoming ‘fuck’.” “I know, ‘Hi fuck spot,’” and they both laughed until the tears ran down their cheeks. “Next time I think ‘Fuzzy Duck’ is called for.” “It would be rude not to. What about Honey Cole?” he enquired. Jack glanced at Mary who was hunched over in her seat, fast asleep. “She’s a bit of a goer, that one. Very dangerous I reckon,” he said. “But decorative.” “God, I’ll say.”
Chapter Eleven The next day Jack took Kevin to the airport. Saying good-bye to his friend reinforced his homesickness, and he really wished he was getting on the ‘plane with him and leaving this island with its heat, stinking gutters, mosquitoes and crazy inhabitants behind. “Its been a slice, pal,” said Jack. “It certainly has been, Stanley. Give Mary a kiss for me when she recovers. She seems really nice. Are you two…?” “Oh, I dunno. You know how it is.” “Not really. Still got a thing for Estelle?” “Yeah. Life’s a bitch eh? See you in a month bro, and tons of love to that sexy wife of yours.” When Kevin had checked in, Jack returned to the house. He got on the ‘phone to ascertain the damage done from the night before. His first call was Sonny. “Feelin’ a bit rumfulled today milad. Proper gent that Kevin. The boy knows his drinks. When’s he comin’ back? He got to come to the Apostles,” said Sonny enthusiastically. “In about a month. Yes he’s a walking cocktail shaker that one.” Obviously no damage done there. Next he called Todd Wilson. “Man what a party. I’ve got naked government officials in the guest cottage; sick all over the place; the bar stinks of piss. I think Sonny must have missed the garden.” So no damage there either. He then dialled Montagu. “Hello dear boy. Thoroughly entertaining. Decourcey isn’t speaking to me today. He’s had a reaction to the Soft Scrub and come up in lumps. I suppose it doesn’t help that I keep calling him ‘twelve lump’. He says I’m an insensitive old white bugger, but he’ll come round in a day or two.” As he didn’t know Darnley Chrichlow or Jefferson Lashley well enough Jack left those to chance. He wandered onto the veranda and looked over at Delisle Hall. It was then that he remembered DAD’s request, so he went back inside and called. “Hello. DAD Delisle speaking.” The words were shouted down the ‘phone line and Jack had to pull the receiver away from his ear abruptly. “Hi. It’s Jack Delisle.” “Jack? No son, there’s no-one called Jack here, you must have the wrong number.” “No. I mean…” but DAD had hung up. Jack redialled. “Yes? DAD Delisle speaking.” “Sir Dennis this is Jack Delisle we met at Todd Wilson’ house last night and you asked me to call you,” he said in a rush so as not
to get cut off again. “It’s DAD, please. What a coincidence Gunner, someone just called looking for you but they didn’t leave a name. What can I do for you?” “You asked me to call and arrange a meeting.” “I did?” “Yes, you said that you had something to discuss.” “I did?” Jack heard someone in the background. It sounded like DD. “Oh yes the cottage. When can you come over son?” “Whenever suits you.” “Well, let’s see. Tuesday week eight o’clock in the mornin’ sharp. That can work for you?” “Sure.” “Good, Gunner, I appreciate it,” and with that he hung up. Jack wandered out onto his balcony and looked around. To his left he could see the Coles’ garden. It was laid entirely to lawn and in the middle of it was Honey. She was lying on her stomach on a towel, sunbathing topless. Her head was resting on her folded arms and although her face was pointing in Jack’s direction she seemed to be asleep, but it was hard to tell as she was wearing sunglasses. Suddenly she rolled onto her back, picked up the bottle of sun cream which lay next to her, put some of its contents into her hands and slowly massaged the liquid into her breasts and stomach. Although the scene was delightful and might have been for his benefit, Jack felt like a peeping tom, so he turned and went back inside. He had a lot of work to do on the house so he might as well get started. Jack was disrupted from his labours by the sound of the doorbell. Time had passed swiftly, and he realised that the sun was setting. He got up and opened the door. It was Honey. She wore a short cotton dress and very little else. “Hello Jack I just thought that I’d come and see that you are comfortable and to see if there is anything I can do.” “Very comfortable thank you. Please come in. Can I get you a drink?” Honey drifted into the room. “I’ll have a glass of white wine if you’ve got,” she purred and floated over to the chair and sat down, the flimsy dress barely reaching half way down her thighs. Jack got two glasses of wine, gave one to Honey and sat down on the settee opposite. Honey got up and sat next to him. “No need to be so formal Jack,” she said resting her hand on his knee, “Kevin told me that you are a brilliant and talented architect. Is that true?” “Kevin is prone to exaggeration but I do my best,” replied Jack trying to concentrate.
“And I bet your best is very good indeed,” she said while staring Jack in the eyes, “I’d like to see it sometime,” and she rubbed Jack’s leg gently. “Sure,” he sputtered in a high-pitched squeak. “You OK?” “Yes thanks,” he coughed, “the wine just went down my wind pipe. I’ll be fine.” Honey kept caressing his leg. “You need to relax Jack. Come, show me the house designs.” “Uh..sure” he said, his head spinning. He was no stranger to flirtation but this was so full on he was taken completely by surprise. They got up and went to the table where Jack’s computer was located. He sat down and started to show Honey the drawings of the house explaining what was what as he went along. Honey stood behind him and laid both of her hands on his shoulders. “You have lovely shoulders,” she said, giving them a massage. “The design is incredible, and Kevin was right, you are talented.” Then as suddenly as she turned it on she turned it off. “But I gotta go sweetness, dinner with the grandparents. You need to take care being here all alone. All work and no play and all that.” Honey wandered over to the telephone. “I tell you what. I’m going to programme my number into the phone. Any emergency just press M1. Anything at all you need, just call.” Honey finished fiddling with the telephone and walked over to the door. “Remember Jack, anything at all. Ciao.” And with that she was gone. Jack sat back and took a large gulp of wine. His senses were reeling. “My God,” he said and then started to laugh.
Chapter Twelve – May Work on site had begun in earnest and Todd Wilson was keen to get out of the ground before the rains came in June. The site had been cleared of all dead and unwanted trees and bush and an access road of crushed limestone had replaced the cart road. Large quantities of dead sand had been excavated exposing the clean sand below upon which the house would be built. Sheet piles had been driven around the area that was to be the pool and two pumps worked vociferously driving the water away and into the drainage channel on the site boundary, their blue hoses writhing back and forth as the water coursed through them. In order to placate Jefferson Lashley these hoses pumped from inside perforated steel drums embedded in the sand and wrapped in black geotextile fabric that was there to filter out sediment and leave the water clean. A Caterpillar excavator sank its toothed bucket into the sand effortlessly pulling up the material and depositing it in a heap adjacent to the hole it was forming. Two Bobcats were picking this up and scurrying off to the entrance of the site to dump their payload into a stockpile to be used at a later date as fill under the floor slabs. Todd’s site offices were converted from two forty foot long steel containers set down forty feet apart. Between these spanned a corrugated metal roof forming an open ended shed. Steel benders had set up their benches in this workshop and rods of reinforcement, cut to length and bent to shape lay in neat piles on the perimeter, waiting to be wired together and put in place, then to be covered in concrete. The site was a noisy bustle of activity and Jack was relieved to see the rapid progress that was being made. He and Todd had produced schedules showing when design information was required and when materials had to arrive on the island so as not to delay the works. Jack had separated this into various professions: structural engineering, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, plumbing, interior design, landscaping and architecture, and had sent a list of information required with dates to the parties concerned. Everyone was in place with one exception: the interior designer. Whilst Jack was autonomous in his design the final touches were to be left to an interior designer appointed by the client. Given the lead times for certain items, marble in particular, this was giving Jack cause for concern and he had emailed Kevin urging Mustafa to appoint the individual. Two weeks came and went in a busy flurry and on Tuesday morning Jack’s computer reminded him of the appointment with Sir Dennis. At 7:45 am precisely Jack set off to Delisle Hall. An avenue of majestic mahogany trees marked the turn off from the road to the estate. The unmade and well-travelled driveway ended at a large ornate wrought iron gate supported by two magnificent
coral stone columns turned black with age. Jack got out of his car and looked for a doorbell or intercom of some sort. There was none. “Hello,” he shouted but no one answered. He tried again, then twice more, but all to no avail. “Bollocks,” he said aloud and opened the gate. As no dog ran out and no alarm sounded Jack drove in and closed the gate behind him. He followed the winding driveway until he approached an elegant Colonial Georgian house that was Delisle Hall. The narrow drive widened in front of yet another wall but this one had an arched entrance in the middle. Jack parked the car got out and walked through the portal. A path of broken stone laid as crazy paving and flanked on both sides by ancient and gnarled lignum vitae trees bisected a formal lawn. It led to two pairs of Doric columns in the centre of a veranda that ran the width of the house. Behind this veranda stood seven pairs of tall louvered doors and above them on the second floor were seven sash windows. The central pair of doors differed from the others in that, instead of louvers, they had etched glass panels. To the right of these was a doorbell. Jack pushed the button and after a little while a short black woman in her sixties and wearing a white dress and cap like a nurses uniform, opened the door. She was standing in a hallway that ran the entire depth of the house ending in two doors identical to those at the front. These were open and afforded a view of the garden beyond. “Hi, I’m here to see Sir Dennis,” said Jack. “Hol’ on, please,” answered the woman and she turned and walked down the hall and disappeared from view. After a while she returned. “The Mistress beg you come,” she said, and she bade Jack come in. Mahogany floorboards contrasted against white painted walls and the air was rich with the scent of beeswax polish. Off to the right was a large dining room in which stood an expansive mahogany table flanked by sixteen matching chairs. A large ornate crystal chandelier hung from the centre of the ceiling. In the corners of the room were three sided glass-fronted cabinets containing silver and porcelain. On the other side of the hall was a large living room furnished with antique mahogany tables and upholstered wingback chairs. Against the end wall stood a semi-circular mahogany cabinet on which stood a large silver trophy, above which was an oil painting of a horse. As Jack carried on further down the hall he noticed that on the left was another living room, as large as the previous but less formal, and in place of the trophy stood an imposing rear projection television, jarringly modern in an otherwise antique atmosphere. He saw that to the right of this room the hall opened onto a staircase and beyond this were the more domestic and private rooms. The maid led Jack through the second living room and through a doorway on the right. This led into a library half the size of the living room. She bade him sit on an armchair and left.
Jack looked around. He liked the feeling of the house and its cleanliness appealed to his senses. Antique mahogany glass-fronted bookcases filled with old books and papers lined the walls. Jack walked over to survey the contents: ancient diaries, collections of letters, parliamentary papers and the like. A journal dated 1805 caught his eye. He opened the bookcase and removed the tome. It was the journal of a M. Descart Delisle, and was a history of the Delisle family to that date. It told of the first Delisle to arrive on the island, Jacques Delisle, a privateer and thug. Carrying a letter of marque, a special commission from the French court, Jacques was spectacularly successful in launching attacks on the Spanish fleet laden with gold and silver en route to Spain. In gratitude the French king settled on him one thousand acres of the more fertile land on Saint Mary, along with the same number of slaves from the local Indian population. Jacques’ son, Francois continued this tradition of legalised piracy and lost his leg in one of the skirmishes, becoming known to the Spanish as pie de palo or Timberleg. He led a fleet of ten French ships and sacked and looted Spanish towns capturing Santiago in Cuba and forcing its inhabitants to flee inland to Bayamo. Eventually he raided Havana and burnt it to the ground when the authorities proved unwilling or unable to pay a ransom. “He must have been a pleasant individual,” said Jack out loud. “You find that interesting?” Although DD’s voice was soft and melodic, Jack was startled. “Oh…yes. I’m sorry I was being nosy.” “Don’t apologise, DAD would be thrilled that someone was interested in the history of the Delisles. We have quite a collection, as the house and estate has always been in the family.” “History fascinates me, I must admit and documents like these are irresistible,” said Jack. “Well you’re a Delisle too you know. Any time you want to, jus’ come over and browse. No need to call, Victorine will let you in.” “That’s very kind. Thank you, I’ll take you up on that offer.” “Good,” said DD, “would you like some tea?” and she called the maid. “Vicky, bring some tea please. Jack, please sit down. Now, what can I do for you?” “Um, I’m here to see Sir Dennis, he asked me to come over to discuss something.” “He’s in Jamaica. It’s the flat racing season there and he’s buying a horse from Agnethe Glatved, an American breeder. I’m going to join him there on Thursday. Then he’s off to California to discuss business with some Americans. He’ll be gone a month.” “Oh,” said Jack somewhat nonplussed by the facts that DAD was off the island after making an appointment to see him and that DD didn’t seem to find it untoward. The tea arrived and was served by Victorine. “Whilst you are here Jack I wonder if you wouldn’t mind lookin’
at somethin’ for me. We have a coach house that we are thinkin’ of convertin’ into a two bed roomed guest cottage. Maybe you could tell us if you think it’s feasible?” “Sure,” said Jack remembering that this was what DAD had said that he wanted to discuss, and that DD had told him so. She was obviously as absent-minded as her husband. After they finished their tea DD led the way through the back of the house past the kitchen and out of the back door to a paved courtyard, at the far end of which stood the coach house. It was a large rectangular structure built of coral stone blocks with walls three feet thick, and stood two storeys high with a steeply pitched roof clad in red painted galvanised sheeting. Behind the coach house the land sloped steeply away into a gully full to capacity with tall trees of many varieties. They crossed the courtyard and walked through the large arched entrance that had been designed to accommodate a horse drawn carriage. Jack surveyed the inside. Ancient mahogany timbers formed into trussed rafters supported the roof twenty feet above the ancient stone floor. No nails or screws had been used and wooden dowels and flawless carpentry joined the timbers. “My God,” said Jack, “this is quite something.” Then pointing to the floor he added, “look at these slabs. I wonder where they came from?” “You think it could work?” asked DD, “I don’t want to lose the old feelin’ of the place.” “Oh, absolutely. This will convert beautifully,” he said not disguising his admiration for the building. “Oh good,” said DD, “would you be prepared to design it then?” “I would love to,” he replied. Jack was thrilled that he had just received a commission. There was no greater thrill than getting a new project, and this one had been handed to him on a plate. He couldn’t believe his luck. “Wonderful. Well you come and go here as you please. Now if you don’t mind I have to go into town.” Jack shook DD’s hand and said that he would return to measure up the coach house and DD reiterated her invitation for him to use the library whenever he pleased, and left. Jack departed the tree filled gardens of Delisle Hall and drove to the site to see what progress had been made. When he arrived the place was like the Marie Celeste: completely deserted. His heart sank and he began to panic. What was going on? After such a promising start why had everything come to a halt? It wasn’t lunchtime and even if it were the workmen would be here. Had Todd done a runner? In the distance Jack could hear the rhythmic thumping of the pump, but there was no sign of its operator or anyone else. Standing alone and solitary on the hard white marl access road ahead of him was a Bobcat
mini excavator. “Hello,” he shouted but no one replied. Jack wandered over to the Bobcat and peered inside the cab. The vinyl-covered driver’s seat was flanked by two control levers. Jack climbed in through the front of the machine over the lowered bucket and sat down. A padded bar was raised above his head and when he pulled it down it secured him in place like the bar on a roller coaster. He took hold of the levers, the grips of which were contoured to fit his hands and housed buttons and knobs to control various aspects of the apparatus. He felt like Luke Skywalker. Pushing and pulling the handles he wondered what it would be like to drive the machine, as he had frequently wanted to. It was then that he spotted the key up by the roof on the left, amongst a collection of knobs. Jack reached up and turned it and instantly the little contraption burst into vibrant and noisy life. Jack settled back in the seat and smiled. “Vroom!” he said out loud as he pulled at the levers. The effect was both instant and alarming. The Bobcat leapt forward and sideways at the same time the front wheels leaving the ground momentarily only to bounce back down then up again throwing Jack to and fro in his seat. The frenetic motion was transferred through Jack back into the control mechanisms of what was now a bucking bronco. This spastic dance became more and more exaggerated, the little machine leaping and twirling, bouncing first forward then back, first left then right, the front wheels leaping higher and higher into the air. All the while Jack was hanging on to the levers for dear life, unable to control the uncontrollable and fully in the knowledge that his erratic movements were the cause of his present predicament, which was about to come to a roaring climax. In a final balletic movement the Bobcat spun on its axis, reared up into the air and came to rest on its stern, all four wheels spinning furiously in the air and the engine blaring. Jack was now looking straight up into the sky, wide eyed and terrified, but at last the mad dance had stopped. He released his white-knuckled grip from the controls and very slowly leaned upwards and, turning the key, switched the contraption off. He raised the bar and, extricating himself, he walked quietly but shaken back to his Pajero, glad not to have had an audience to that awful incident. He got into the car and drove home where he would call Todd to find out what was going on. Had he gone to the site of the excavation that was to become the swimming pool he would have seen the skulls, but as it was he didn’t. The maid who answered the ‘phone said that Mr Wilson was off island for a week. Jack slumped into his chair fearing the worst. He poured himself a glass of wine and tried to think. It was then that he remembered that the pump was still working and that the Bobcat was left on site. If Todd was going to do a runner he wouldn’t leave
equipment behind and he wouldn’t leave the pump on. No, there had to be a logical explanation. He had no alternative but to wait until tomorrow.
Chapter Thirteen The next day Jack returned to the site to find Baptiste, the foreman, and a handful of workmen standing looking at an excavator loading a truck with excavated sand. In the background the pump thumped on endlessly. “Hi Baptiste,” said Jack. “Good mornin’ Mister Delisle,” Baptiste replied. “What’s going on? I came here yesterday and the site was deserted. Where is everyone?” enquired Jack. Baptiste pointed to a tree where in the crook of one of its branches lodged a human skull. “Holy shit! What is that?” asked Jack, startled at the sight of the human remains. Baptiste laughed. “We dig up about forty skulls so far, and nuff bones. Is a plague pit, I think. In the old days the plague would kill off nuff people, and they woulds bury dem far away from where people would live. De fellas say they ain’t comin’ back ‘till we done, ‘cos dey don’ want no plague,” and he laughed again. “But you can’t catch the plague from old bones, surely?” asked Jack, not at all sure if he should now be breathing in the air which was probably awash with spores of the Black Death. He could almost feel the affliction spreading throughout his body. “Truthfully? I ain’t know, some folks say you can, some say no. But I never hear ‘bout nobody catchin no plague from no bones. But the fellas worried ‘bout de duppys.” “The what?” “Duppys. What you English call ghosts.” “People think that there are ghosts here just because we found some bones?” Jack wasn’t so keen on this news. It was the sort of thing that put clients off. Luckily SB wasn’t here and was unlikely to hear about this. “Some of the fellas say they ain’t tekkin home no duppy” and he laughed again “because dey believe dey gine follow you iffin dey gets the chance.” “But you don’t believe in duppys, I mean ghosts, do you?” Jack asked. “Truthfully, I ain’t know ‘bout no duppy, but Mash-up, who drive de Bobcat say a duppy vex ‘fuh bein’ dig up, and he tek up de Bobcat and put it ‘pun its back. Mash-up ‘ain’t comin’ back.” “The Bobcat?……” began Jack but then he thought ‘oh shit’ and shut up. “What about the rest of the men? Will they come back?” “When we dig up all de bones, most of de fellas gine come back. Doesn’t fret, we gine get de house buil’, we’s jus a likkle hol’
back, is all. But I ain’t know where we gun fin’ a next Bobcat driver.” “Will that be a problem?” “Truthfully? I figure so,” and for once Baptiste was solemn. ‘Great,’ thought Jack. This was just what he needed. If they couldn’t get the labour what was he to do? Feeling defeated, and as there seemed to be little he could do to assist matters, he left Baptiste to his task and drove over to Delisle Hall to get started on the plans for the Coach House. Equipped with a digital camera, tape measure, pen and paper he measured the coach house and photographed it from all angles inside and out. He sat and marvelled at the construction and the detailing of the stone arches above the door and windows. The galvanised sheeting was obviously a recent change and Jack wondered what the original covering would have been. Looking at the timbers he noticed that some had writing carved into them and he concluded that they had come from a ship. Something wasn’t right though, and he was puzzled. The coach house was considerably older than the main house. In fact the servants quarters, which were a number of smaller single storey buildings split into individual non-connecting rooms almost like a barracks and which stood adjacent to the coach house, were also more modern. He wandered over to the house and Victorine showed him to the library. Looking out of the window Jack saw one of the gardeners mowing the croquet lawn, a large rectangular expanse of grass beyond which stood a grove of mahogany trees, their trunks and branches bent over towards the west, fashioned by the prevailing easterly winds. To the left stone steps led down to a tennis court beyond which, and some distance off, a huge copse of bamboo rustled gently in the breeze. All was peaceful and serene like the laziest of summer days in the English countryside. Jack turned his attention to the contents of the bookcases and settling into a large leather armchair he resumed his reading of M. Descart Delisle’s journal. The Caribbean islands were a battlefield with Spain, France, Portugal and England fighting bloody wars to gain supremacy over the lucrative trade the region had to offer. Saint Mary fell into British hands as a result of one such brawl. Such was the English fear of Francois Delisle that an assault was made on Delisle Hall during which a cannonball smashed through the front door, decapitating the guard standing there. Francois and his men escaped to the hills in the centre of the island and threatened to raze everything to the ground, causing more damage than the country was worth, unless negotiations were held between him and the invaders. The result was that he was allowed to keep his lands but had to surrender his fleet, and all future trade was to be carried out under the offices of the King of England. It was at this point that the Delisles turned from
plunder to agriculture. Initial attempts were made at growing tobacco, indigo, bananas and arrowroot, with varying degrees of success and failure. Labour for these enterprises was provided for by the local Indian slaves, a description of whom Jack found fascinating: “ They are very active men and apt to learn any thing. The men very broad shouldered, deep breasted, with large heads, and their faces almost three square, broad about the eyes and temples, and sharp at the chin, their skins some of them brown, soma a bright Bay. Their women have very small breasts, their hair black and long, a great part whereof hangs down upon their backs, as low as their haunches, with a large lock hanging over either breast, which seldom or never curls. Clothes they scorn to wear, especially if they be well shaped; a girdle they use of tape, covered with little smooth shells of fishes, white, and from their flank of one side, to their flank of the other side, a fringe of blue Bugle; which hangs so low as to cover their privates.” The early efforts at farming proved not to be profitable however, and the Delisle fortunes began to dwindle. In desperation attention was turned to sugar cane, as sugar was extremely rare and valuable in Europe, and a new era of undreamt of wealth dawned. With sugar came the need for a large labour force. Much more than the local Indian population could provide. It was through this need that the Delisles began to import Negro slaves from Africa by the thousand. An account of them read: “The men are very well timber’d, that is broad between the shoulders, full breasted, well filleted, and clean leg’d and many hold good with Albert Durers rules, who allowed twice the length of the head, to the breadth of the shoulders, and twice the length of the face, to the breadth of the hips, and according to this rule these men are shap’d. But the women not; for the same great Master of Proportions, allows for each woman, twice the length of her own head to the breadth of the hips. And in that, these women are faulty; for I have seen very few of them, whose hips have been broader than their shoulders, unless they have been very fat. The young maids have ordinarily very large breasts, which stand strutting out so hard and firm, as no leaping, jumping, or stirring, will cause them to shake any more than the brawn of their arms. But when tey come to be old, and have had five or six Children, their breasts hang down below their Navels, so that when they stoop at their common work of weeding, they hang almost down to the ground, that at a distance, you would think they had six legs.” Jack laughed out loud at this observation. Then he wondered: was this when and how his African ancestors had arrived on the island, taken prisoner by an African prince and sold into slavery? He read on. It seems that both the men and women Negroes were excellent
swimmers and divers, and a spectators sport was devised where a Moscovia duck was released into the largest pond and the slaves commanded to swim and take the duck. To give the duck a chance, and to prolong the sport, they were forbidden to dive. “In this chase there was so much pleasure, to see the various swimmings of the Negroes; some of the ordinary ways, upon their bellies, some on their backs, some by striking out their right leg and left arm, and then turning on the other side, and changing both leg and arm, which is a stronger and swifter way of swimming, than any of the others: and while we were seeing this sport, and observing the diversities, of their swimmings, a Negro maid, who was not at the beginning of the sport, and therefore heard nothing of the forbidding them to dive, put off her petticoat behind a bush, that was at one end of the Pond, and closely sunk down into the water, and at one diving got the Duck, pull’d her under the water, and went back again the same way she came to the bush, all at one dive. We all thought the Duck had div’d: and expected her appearance above the water, but nothing could be seen, till the subtilty was discovered by a Christian that saw her go in, and so the duck was taken from her. But the trick being so finely and so closely done, Mister Richard beg’d that the Duck might be given her again, which was granted, and the young girle much pleased.” ‘Mister Richard’ was Francois’ grandson, a bright young man who had been sent to Cambridge University and had returned to assist in, and eventually take over, the running of the plantation. It transpired that Mister Richard took a shine to the maid and she bore him a child, a mulatto boy. The boy carried the name of Delisle and because of his parentage he and his mother were brought into the household service where he eventually became a coachman. Jack looked up and realised that the sun was setting. He put back the volume, bade Victorine goodnight and left with the ghosts of the pirates, planters, and most strongly the Negro maid, alive in his mind. He wondered if she was his ancestor and if the remains of any of them had now been dug up in the plague pit? A feeling of connection was beginning to form deep inside Jack. What was it DD had said? ‘You are a Delisle too?’ He had never given any thought to this side of his family and he had always considered himself to be English. The thought, or realisation, that there was something else, something exotic and romantic to his past, was exciting. An e-mail from Kevin was waiting for him when he got home. Mustafa had appointed the interior decorator. With a frisson of surprise he read on to learn that Mustapha had chosen Estelle, and that Jack was to send her the drawings and finishing schedules as soon as possible. He sat down heavily, his pulse racing. Seeing her name brought back a flood of emotions he had forgotten. He could almost feel her
in his arms; almost smell her hair. He took a deep breath, pulled himself together and went to shower and change, before setting off to meet Mary for dinner at the Frangipani Bay Hotel.
Chapter Fourteen - June The house at Crystal Point was progressing at a steady and rapid pace. The floor slab was cast and the walls were getting higher, defining the rooms as they did so. Gangs of masons worked tirelessly cementing concrete block upon concrete block, and as their weekly pay was calculated on the number of blocks laid, they set to their task with gusto. Once the blocks reached six courses high their hollow cores had to be filled with concrete and reinforced with steel, to ensure the structural integrity of the wall. Jack had insisted that a maximum of six courses of block was all that was permitted to be laid before this was done. One gang that was progressing particularly fast, much faster than the others in fact, was led by a fearsome looking mason named Grandison. Shirtless, with a deep black complexion and a muscular sweat-bathed body which looked as if it had been hewn from black granite, Grandison was an imposing and intimidating sight. Dark, staring, wild eyes and a flat wide nose sat above a muscular jaw framing a tight-lipped mouth that never smiled. Jack inspected the work as he normally did and noticed that the blocks laid by Grandison’s men were now ten courses high and devoid of any concrete filling. "Grandison," he said, "these top four courses will have to come off and the cores filled with concrete." Grandison glared at Jack and returned to his work ignoring the instruction. "Grandison," repeated Jack, "you will have to take down the top four courses and fill the cores with concrete." This time Grandison did not even bother to look up, choosing instead to ignore Jack altogether. Baptiste walked over and stood by Jack. "Dem blocks got to come down Grardison. Mista Delisle is de archytec an iffin he say is not right, is not right." "Ain't nuttin wrong wid dees blocks an nuffin aint comin down," hissed Grandison angrily, the muscles in his jaw bulging and twitching. Baptiste made a sucking noise between his teeth and walked away. Jack decided to reason with Grandison even though the sight of the man was threatening. Grandison stood six feet two inches tall. His muscular body was smeared with splodges of grey cement and bathed in sweat and he was glowering at Jack, his eyes burning and his jaw set firm. "There is nothing wrong with the blocks as such but they don't have any concrete in them and we need concrete to make the wall strong," said Jack hoping that the man would see reason. "Ain't nuffin wrong wid dees blocks an nuffin ain’t comin down," repeated Grandison firmly. Baptiste reappeared holding a sledgehammer. He walked over to
the offending wall and swung the heavy steel head into the blocks sending shattered pieces of concrete flying. He proceeded along the wall smashing blocks as he did so. "De blocks come down now. So fill up de holes wit concrete as Mista Delisle say." Grandison exploded, and for two minutes the men stood face to face shouting at each other, their words coming too fast for Jack to understand what they were saying. Large though he was, Baptiste looked no match for Grandison and Jack feared that the confrontation was about to degenerate into violence. Eventually Grandison stormed off hurling abuse and threats at Baptiste as he did so. “Yuh gine dead! Yuh hear me? Yuh gine dead!” he roared, punching his pointed forefinger at Baptiste. “Well that’s one way to handle it I suppose,” said Jack. “Grandison is alright, but sometimes his head ain’t so good, like now,” replied Baptiste. “You worried about his threats?” “Me?” asked Baptiste incredulously, “I ain’t ‘fraid for no Grandison.” Jack was not convinced by Baptiste’s brevity, and felt for sure that this situation had further to run. Indeed in the weeks that followed Grandison would glower narrow eyed at Baptiste, all the time muttering to himself. As for Baptiste, he showed no concern whatsoever and continued with his work as if nothing had happened.
Chapter Fifteen The unfolding storey of the DeLisle family was a welcome diversion from the goings-on of the site, and Jack found the reading compelling. Not permitted to remove the documents from their library home Jack was obliged to visit DeLisle Hall regularly, a task he enjoyed rather too much, and settling down with a cup of tea and slice of banana bread made by Victorine was becoming a habit. He opened M. Descart Delisle’s journal and immersed himself in the past. The failure of the Treaty of Amiens had plunged England into war with France and fleets of warships set sail from mainland Europe and marauded across the Atlantic intent on wresting the prize possessions nestled in the clear Caribbean waters from their English owners. In St. Mary, a large French force was sighted off the island and threw the populace into panic. Once the bloodthirsty crew of the armada spilled from its belly and made landfall it was certain to overpower the might of the planters and merchants. There was nothing else for it. A risky and desperate measure was proposed and such was the real and imminent danger that faced them that it was agreed upon unanimously. The Negroes would be armed with pikes and staves. For three long days and nights they waited and watched, fearful of the terrible fate unleashed by violence ‘sans frontiers’ which would befall their women and children, as more and more ships appeared over the horizon. Then they spied the English flotilla, and a bloody sea battle unfolded before them, one grander in scale than any had imagined possible. Ships were set ablaze and blasted by cannonball. Thousands of men were slaughtered, their blood colouring the water with plumes of crimson visible from the shore. Those that were alive on hitting the sea were quickly dismembered and devoured by schools of hungry sharks, frenzied by the scent of gore. Eventually the tide turned against the aggressors and what remained of the French fleet fled only to be pursued and dispatched by their emboldened adversary. Thus was St. Mary spared from invasion. But also thus was the white population of St. Mary thrown into grave danger. The Negro slaves had been instructed by their masters to surrender the pikes and staves they had been issued with. The same pikes and staves that their masters trusted they would employ to protect them from an enemy visible off the coast. But not all were prepared to oblige and a plot began to form of a revolution. A revolt against the ‘Massa’. A chance to free themselves from enforced servitude, a chance to break the chains of slavery. The plans were drawn up at night in dark secret rooms and disseminated to the trusted and true. But that was not enough. For the plot to succeed there was need of many. Many to overpower. Many
to kill. The word had to be spread beyond the periphery of the known agitators and sympathisers. And thus it was that the young coachman learned from his mother of the impending storm. And from there his father, Mister Richard, was told of the plot. Being forewarned, the revolution was averted before it began, and the perpetrators were hung in Victoria’s main square. How the white man had been alerted to the danger was not known, but anger and resentment boiled high in the heart of one young man whose father had swung from the gibbet that hot afternoon in St. Mary. He was sure the breach had come from the half-breed coachman who lived in ‘the house’, and he was intent on revenge. To kill him as he wanted so to do would be too good for the mulatto, but die he must. A plan of poetic justice formed in the mind of the grief stricken orphan. The half-cast would be killed by his white ancestors. Yes that was it. He would be killed by the very people he betrayed his black kinship to save. The simplicity of the plot made him dance with joy and expectancy. The mulatto had a girlfriend, a beautiful child of the village. A girl that no man ventured near for fear of reprisals from ‘the house’, for they knew her lover had fearful powers. He would kill this girl and blame the bastard child of the planter of her murder. He would implicate the half-breed by planting a personal item at the scene. Getting the button from the coachman’s jacket proved easy. He waited until the carriage pulled up in the town and the coachman stepped down to open the door for his mistress. Clumsily bumping into the coachman, he cut the button from the coat, and begging a thousand pardons he bowed and stole away, his prize clutched tightly in his hands. And so on one moonless tropical night, a beautiful African girl, sixteen years of age, perished at the hands of a young man driven to madness by the sight of his father, with tethered hands, swinging from the end of a rope. Placed in her grasp was a button from the coat of her lover.
Chapter Sixteen - July When Mary had told Jack that they were in the coolest time of the year, all those months ago, she was not joking. It was now July, and although the rains had come they had come sparingly and the island was still and hot. Jack had had an air-conditioner installed in his bedroom, so at least he was able to sleep at night. The days, though, were very hot and muggy. He had arranged to go to New York to see Estelle to go through the soft finishes, furnishings and the like, and was a bag of mixed emotions. He knew that once he saw Estelle again he would be overwhelmed by emotions. He had had a lump in his chest since he first learned of her involvement in the project. But he felt guilty and torn by the thought of betraying Mary this way. But then again Mary was so enigmatic and he wasn’t sure what she felt about him. He was confused, worried and elated all at the same time. The house at Crystal Point was now known locally as ‘Duppy Manor’. The teller of the tale touted the case of the upturned Bobcat as irrefutable evidence to any sceptical or disbelieving audience. After all, what natural event could have caused such a heavy machine to simply flip up onto its back? Certainly not an earth tremor, because no one on the island had felt anything, and surely they would have. No, it had to be a duppy, and not just any ordinary duppy, but a poltergeist, the type that could move things. There was one of these in Barbados, people said, in a family crypt called the Chase Vault. In this instance lead coffins were picked up and flung about the burial chamber, the occupants being dumped unceremoniously on the ground, and the coffins discovered up-ended and in disarray. Now St Mary had a bad duppy at Crystal Point, worse even than the one in Barbados. Parents would tell misbehaving children that if they didn’t change their ways, they would carry them to Duppy Manor, where construction equipment, big and heavy, ‘flew ‘bout like paper in de wind’. Suitably terrified, the poor little souls would stay awake all night, certain that a bulldozer was flying through the air, ready to drop on their house at any minute and squash them all in their beds. Jack had unwittingly started a legend. The rainy season brought with it a real menace however, and one far scarier than a Bobcat throwing duppy. It was called the hurricane season, the time of year when storms formed off the coast of Africa and meandered across the Atlantic, growing in size, anger and ferocity, tearing down all in their path should they venture over any of the small islands in the chain. Jack had read an account of their destructive powers at Delisle Hall.
“The havoc which met the eye contributed to subdue the firmest mind. The howling of the tempest; the noise of descending torrents from clouds surcharged with rain; the incessant flashings of lightning; the roaring of the thunder; the continual crash of falling houses; the dismal groans of the wounded and dying; the shriek of despair; the lamentations of woe; and the screams of women and children calling for help on those whose ears were now closed to the voice of complaint, - formed an accumulation of sorrow and of terror too great for human fortitude, too vast for human conception.” It was estimated that this event had claimed 4,326 lives. Miraculously Delisle Hall had withstood the fury that nature had unleashed. But worse was to come. A second storm followed within two weeks of the first. “From about two o’clock till day broke, it is impossible to convey any idea of the violence of the storm; no language of mine is adequate to express sufficiently its horrors. The noise of the wind through the apertures formed by it, the peals of thunder, the rapidly repeated flashes of lightning (more like sheets of fire), and the impenetrable darkness which succeeded them, the crash of walls, roofs, and beams were all mixed in appalling confusion, and the whole house shook to its very foundation; and whether this last effect was produced by the force of the wind, or by an earthquake, supposed by many to have accompanied the storm, I am unable to decide; but the rents and fissures which are visible in the massive walls of this building, would lead one to suppose that the latter cause only could have produced them. About this time, two o’clock, finding that the house was giving way, my staff, myself and servants, together with some unfortunate persons who had escaped from the neighbouring huts, took refuge in the cellar, where we remained in perfect safety, thank God, until the day dawned: had we continued in the rooms above-stairs, or indeed in any other part of the house, there was little doubt our lives must have been sacrificed, from the ruinous appearance presented in the morning” It explained the disparity in the ages of the house and the coach house. Delisle Hall was destroyed in a hurricane and had been rebuilt on the same site. The threat of hurricanes aside, Jack was having a problem with the air-conditioners for the house at Crystal Point. They could not be found.
Chapter Seventeen Lars Jorgensen was the plumbing sub-contractor, a blond Scandinavian, twice divorced and living with a local lass who seemed prepared to put up with him. He had a sandy complexion that showed the signs of too much time spent in the sun, and a laid back, easygoing disposition that Jack found particularly annoying. He had arranged to meet Lars on site to discuss the problem with the airconditioning units, which had failed to turn up in Saint Mary. The carpenters needed the grills to be able to build the carcassing to accommodate them, and this was delaying the construction of the ceilings. This in turn would delay the laying of the floors, which delayed the joinery and so on. The house was now roofed, and efforts were being concentrated on the internal non-structural elements as well as the external drainage. “You said the units would be here two weeks ago, Lars. What is the problem?” asked Jack. “I dunno’ man. They said they had shipped them from the States over a month ago.” Lars was relaxed, and offering no assistance whatsoever. He seemed bemused by Jack’s agitation and impatience. “You brought the shipping documents?” Lars nodded, “uh huh.” “Good. Let me have them.” Lars handed a crumpled, folded and stained bunch of papers to Jack. They had evidently been tossed onto the floor of his truck, and had a black boot print on them. Jack took the papers and unfolded them, shaking out pieces of grit as he did so. He was going to give them to Sonny for chasing up. “Now, talk to me about the sanitary fittings. What information are you waiting for?” “Nothing, man.” “Good. So it’s all on order.” “Nearly.” “NEARLY?” yelped Jack, “what the fuck do you mean ‘nearly’?” “Hey Jack, calm down man, you’ll do your blood pressure no good at all. I’ve got it under control, I just need to pull it all together, you know what I mean? I mean the information is on the drawings and schedules, man, I just need to put it all together. It is not a problem Jack.” “It is a fucking problem, Lars. Those units come from Europe, and will take time to ship. I don’t want to tell the client that he has to pay airfreight because his plumber couldn’t get his finger out of his arse. Christ almighty.” Jack had been warned that Lars was not the most reliable of people, but his workmanship was supposed to be the best on the island. As he appeared to be the only game in town, Jack had
reluctantly gone along with Todd Wilson’ suggestion and hired him. Todd had also suggested that Lars be employed and paid directly by Fandango, as he would only add his ten percent if Lars came under the wing of Wilson’s company. Jack did not like this scenario at all, and told Mustafa so, but Mustafa smelt money and liked the idea. The ten percent that Todd Wilson would have added on would still be added on, and SB would never know. Now Jack was feeling that his initial misgivings were justified. Lars’ lack of urgency was driving Jack crazy, and his work was now causing a bottleneck on site. “Put it together today Lars. We must have that equipment ordered by tomorrow.” “No problem.” This last comment did not give Jack any reassurance, but what else was he to do? Jack left Lars and went to see Sonny. “Pup up. What’s happenin’ me lad?” Sonny was in his boat, fitting a new radio. Jack told him about the air conditioning units and handed him the papers. “You’ll not be getting these in a hurry,” said Sonny. “What? Why’s that?” “Because it says here that the units were shipped on the Corvesa, and the Corvesa doesn’t come to Saint Mary.” “What do you mean? How could they be put on a boat that’s not coming here?” Jack was beginning to feel physically sick. Ordering new units would cost time, and a hefty deposit had been paid on the original units. Untangling this mess was going to be a nightmare. “Because half the fuckin’ idiots yuh get in the States don’t know where St. Mary is. Hol’ on,” and he got out of Tomorrow Maybe and walked into the house, returning with a cut sheet listing the shipping in the region for the next six months. “Yup, the Corvesa docked in Barbados two weeks ago, and then went on to Trinidad. After that it goes on to Venezuela, then back to Florida. Hol’ on,” and he went inside the boat. Agitated, Jack paced around the boat. Two propellers on shafts jutted out underneath at the rear, and at the front, three portholes graced each side, oval and sleek and framed in gleaming stainless steel. It was a 37 foot Sunseeker sports fisherman, and was as clean as a whistle. At the stern a small stepladder led to a teak bathing platform which Jack climbed onto and peered inside. Two white bucket seats faced aft, behind which and to the right was the helm. In the middle steps led down to a door that in turn led to the cabin below. Sunny was sitting in the galley talking on his mobile ‘phone. Turning to Jack he said, “she sweet, nuh?” “Really nice,” replied Jack, distracted by, and concerned about, the missing air conditioning units. “Well mi’lad, your air conditioning units are in Barbados.” “What the hell are they doing there?”
“They got put on the Corvesa instead of the Contessa, which comes here. Anyway I have organised to suit, and the container will be put on the next ship to Saint Mary. They should be here in a week, but you will have to pay demurrage to the port authorities in Barbados for the time they were there, before they will let them go,” said Sonny. “How much will that be?” “I ain’t know, but they gine fax an invoice here. Shouldn’t be much tho’.” “Thank you Sonny, you saved my life. I owe you one.” “That’s all right mi’lad, you can buy me a drink sometime.” “I had best get back to the site, see what the fuck else can go worng.” “Fair enough. Jus’ mind the duppys don’t pelt your arse out to sea. Ha ha!” and he grinned a toothless grin. The next morning after breakfast and a cup of coffee, Jack rang Lars’ office. There was no answer. Thinking that he might be working from home, Jack called there. Lars’ girlfriend said that she had not seen him since the previous morning, and that if Jack did find him he was to tell him a few choice words from her. Jack called Todd Wilson, but was told that Todd was off island and would not be back for a week. Jack sat back in his chair. This was ridiculous. If he didn’t get the air conditioning units and the sanitary appliances here and installed, the construction process would grind to a halt. From her e-mails Estelle had done a sterling job on the hard finishes, and the marble flooring was on the high seas. Turkish workmen were booked to come and lay it, and they had a finite period in which to work, after that another mansion called and they would be off. And why the hell was Todd Wilson off island? Jack wandered over to Sonny’s house. Sonny was not there, he had gone into town to get a part for his boat, but should be back in an hour or so. So he walked back to his house, feeling totally frustrated and helpless, and with an urge to do some damage to something, anything. Instead he called Mary. “Lars? You lookin’ for Lars, and he ain’t been seen for twenty four hours? Hol’ on, I coming to collect you,” and with that she hung up. Jack waited, sure that Mary’s good intentions would bear no fruit, and were just there to placate him, but a drowning man grasps at straws. Mary arrived and blew her car horn to summon him. Come, we got some finding to do,” she said as Jack got into her car, and they sped off like Batman and Robin. To Jack’s chagrin, Mary drove straight to a rum shop. The car had barely stopped before Mary hopped out, sprinted into the rum
shop, sprinted out again and sped off once more. It was rather like a Formula One pit stop. “He ain’t there,” she said. Then it dawned on Jack. “Lars is a drunk?” he asked, wondering how this could get worse. “You didn’t know?” asked Mary, concentrating on her rally cross dash to the next probable watering hole. “He has been dry for a while, but when somethin’ sets him off he disappears for a few days, weeks even.” “Oh crap. Even if we do find him, he’ll be no bloody use.” Jack saw the end of the world as clearly as if the Saviour was standing before him. A drunk plumber, poor workmanship, the entire project held up. And that bastard Wilson had engineered it so that Lars was not his problem. In fact, Lars was a blessing because, as the plumbing was sure to be late, he had the perfect excuse for delays in his own work, and additional costs in putting things right and making alterations to accommodate Lars. Bloody Lars! Jack began to feel a hatred for the Scandinavian lush, a rage was building up inside. He imagined the scenario: no one was going to be sympathetic to his plight. ‘Sorry Mustafa, but the plumber is a total piss head.’ ‘But you employed him directly, you numb nuts!’ Jack’s imagination was getting the better of him. They passed three more rum shops, but no Lars. Jack was beginning to despair. Eventually they pulled up in front of ‘Pinkerton’s Hideway, and English Pub’, a wooden house converted into a small bar, and run by a middle aged man from Cumbria with a deeply lined, sour face, and a countenance and disposition to match. “Oh, good, looking for Lars are yuh?” he asked. There, on a bar stool at the far end of the counter, sat Lars, his head resting on his folded arms on the bar, not asleep, but not awake either, one hand holding a half empty glass. Rage reached flash point in Jack and he flew across the room, diving at Lars with outstretched arms, grabbed him around the neck, sending the bar stool flying and him and a befuddled Lars onto the dirty wooden floor. “Just a fuckin’ moment, that’s me stool yous throwin’ ‘bout. Christ, has no one got any decorum anymore? What’ll you have, Mary luv?” asked Pinkerton. “Coffee, please, Pinky. How long’s he been here?” replied Mary, and she sat on a bar stool while Pinky went over to the filter machine and poured both himself and Mary a cup. “Since yesterday morning, drinking steadily. That the architect chap you’re seeing? I can see why you don’t bring him ‘round here? Is he always like this?” Mary looked over at Jack, who was astride Lars, doing his best to strangle him. “You drunken Scandinavian bastard! Get those fucking units ordered! Get sober! Get the fucking work done! DO YOU HEAR ME?” Jack
yelled at the now purple Lars, then let go of his victim and rolled over onto the floor next to him, exhausted, and wondering if he should just burn everything down, return to England and just have done. “Hey Mister ‘got-to-have-it-all-now-man’ person. What’s up?” coughed Lars. “What?” asked Jack, startled that Lars had even spoken. “Mister ‘got-to-have-it-all-now-man’ person. You’re a real pain in the arse, man! You need to chill, man.” Jack looked across at the bleary eyed and dishevelled mess of a man and realised that Lars was out of his depth. He could not take the strain of even ordering equipment on time, a simple enough task for most. His rage faded into hopelessness. “Oh, shit. Come on, get up,” he said standing up and offering Lars his hand. Lars took it and Jack pulled him to his feet. “Look, Lars, I’ll do the ordering and all the paperwork and stuff, but I do need you to install the bloody equipment. Can you manage that?” puffed Jack in as gentle a tone as he could muster, but which came out as resigned frustration. Lars stood still staring at the floor. Suddenly he straightened up and looked Jack in eyes, and Jack braced himself for an emotional thank you. “Of course I can, fucking ‘mister-got-to-have-it-all-now-man’. What you think I am, useless?” and with that Lars staggered out into the mid-morning sunshine, swayed back as the daylight hit him, farted, and wandered off. Jack went over to Mary and plonked himself onto the bar stool next to hers. “I give up, I really do,” he said. “Jack, this is Pinkerton, or Pinky. He owns the bar,” said Mary. “How do,” said Pinky, “don’t worry about Lars, he’s a bit odd, totally unreliable, really fuckin’ useless, and his work is crap, whatever they say. Coffee?” “Please,” said Jack, beyond caring anymore, and feeling filthy and unsettled from his roll on the floor. Christ, he needed a sauna, massage, manicure, pedicure, facial, haircut and shave. But no, this was not to be. Here he was, sat with some lunatics in a tatty bar in the West Indies. How bad could life be? They sat and chatted for an hour while Jack composed himself. Pinky was another piece of driftwood that had washed up on these shores, saw more in the island than he saw in back home and had stayed. Or maybe he saw less, for there was an underlying melancholy emptiness to Pinky. Jack tried to envision him in his hometown somewhere in the mountainous wilderness of northwest England. But he couldn’t, so he gave up. He just wanted a bath and to get out of these soiled clothes. After Mary dropped Jack at his house she went back to work, leaving him to shower and settle down to the task of collating all
the information he required to order the equipment. He had serious doubts about Lars, and this worried him a great deal. Maybe he should get another plumber. But everyone except Pinky was telling him that Lars was the best there was. Christ, what must the others be like? He’d have that bastard Wilson though, that was for sure.
Chapter Eighteen Unable to concentrate and to settle his frayed nerves Jack drove back to the relative sanctuary of DeLisle hall to delve once more into the unfolding saga of the island’s past. The news of his lover’s demise sent the young coachman crazy with grief, and his instinct was to rush to the village and wreak revenge on the perpetrators of this hideous crime. His mother, however, had heard tell that it was her son who was accused of the felony and that there was not only evidence to that fact, but also a witness to testify to his guilt. Being the resourceful woman she was she led him out of the plantation under cover of darkness and hid him in the hills beyond. There he stayed whilst she brought him food and water when it was safe to do so. She also let a rumour slip that he had stolen away on a fishing boat and was living secretively on a neighbouring island. Knowing that this was not a sustainable state of affairs the coachman’s mother turned to his father for help. This was fraught with danger as the Master’s new wife was not happy with the presence of a bastard child and his mother living in the house, and would be only too pleased if the gallows were beckoning for the boy. This would also give her an excuse to rid the household of the mother: the purveyor of bad blood. When Mister Richard heard the news that his son was both innocent and on the island he was delighted. The thought of the lad being tried for murder and executed had haunted his soul and bedevilled his nights. He quizzed the boy’s mother for any information she might have. The case against the boy rested solely on the evidence of the witness, a slave of the plantation, and on the presence of the button found in the girl’s hand. Things did not look good. Silencing the witness would cause conjecture and Mister Richard had enemies enough who would see his bastard child executed. There had to be another way. After a sleepless night Mister Richard sent his secretary to Victoria to the government offices. His purpose was to purchase the freedom of a slave named Jamal Quashire. This was not an uncommon happening as landlords often bought the freedom of their favourite slave. Initially reticent, the official granted the slave’s freedom as his name was not on the list of wanted men and was not that of the coachman, who carried the name of DeLisle. What the official did not know was that although the boy was known as DeLisle he had been christened Jamal Quashire at the insistence of his mother, who had mistrusted the passion of the white man as being a transient thing, and so had named him from her tribe. As it transpired her mistrust was not justified, just fortuitous.
On bringing the boy from hiding Mister Richard declared him a free man and in accordance with the laws of the land the evidence of a slave against a free man could not be taken in a court of record. The case was therefore dismissed and Jamal returned to his position in the household.
Chapter Nineteen – August New York, New York. So good they named it twice. They should have named it a dozen times the way Jack was feeling. Here he was, in New York, in a yellow cab, with Estelle, en-route from JFK airport to her apartment, and he was ecstatic. For some mad reason he had worried that he might have forgotten what she looked like, might not recognise her. What then? What if she didn’t recognise him? Would he just go back to Saint Mary? But he needn’t have feared. He spotted her through a sea of strangers, her face so familiar, yet changed. She was still a beauty, but her style had altered, become more sophisticated, or maybe Jack had been in the bush too long. Either way it was fantastic to see her again, and yes, for sure, this time he would not let her get away. “You look different, Jack,” she said. “I do? How so?” “Less groomed, you even have a little stubble, didn’t shave on the flight?” as she rubbed a finger against his cheek. It was true. Jack had relaxed his routine. It seemed less necessary or relevant in Saint Mary. “Sorry, ‘bout that.” “Don’t be, it suits you.” Estelle seemed a little ill at ease but Jack figured that it was to be expected really; after all they had split up a year ago and not seen each other since then. She lived in a loft in Soho, right in the heart of the artistic, vibrant centre of town. The living space was enormous, and the work Estelle had done on it took Jack’s breath away. It was modern, chic, classy, and very expensively decorated. “My God! Look at this. Sure puts an attic in Chiswick in its place,” he mused aloud. “Jack,” said Estelle, sternly. “No, sorry, I didn’t mean it that way, honest. I’m impressed, I really am. You have done an incredible job here. I love it. Sorry.” That night Jack cooked. Estelle loved his cooking, and he enjoyed cooking for her, especially now in a kitchen fitted out with the best equipment available. They had a candle lit dinner in New York, in Estelle’s loft, and Jack felt happier than he had ever felt in his life. Although they didn’t make love, to Jack this was fine. He would work on their relationship really hard this time around. No way was he going to give up on her this time. He put the thoughts of Mary, that kept creeping up on him from time to time, away. Estelle’s studio was in her apartment, and in the days that followed they worked on the soft furnishings, choosing materials, colours and themes, and visiting suppliers and agents. Everyone knew her, respected her, and was thrilled to see her. Estelle was the
queen of the interior decorating world of Manhattan. The house at Crystal Point was being adorned, and in spectacular fashion. When they were not working they went out on the town. The best bars and restaurants, the latest shows and off Broadway theatre productions, they did them all. It was the things they used to do in London, but now it had an edge. This was Estelle’s city, she was known and loved, and she was sharing it with Jack. He was the tourist, she the guide. One thing that was disconcerting, however, were the ‘phone calls and text messaging on her mobile. When Estelle took these she moved a little distance from Jack and spoke with short, polite, clipped phrases to the person who had called. Quite often when they were in her apartment she would disappear into her bedroom for an hour at a time. Jack reasoned that she had her own life now, but given time they would come together again, he was sure. Two weeks passed in a heartbeat, and Jack was to leave the next morning. Instead of him cooking, Estelle insisted in ordering out. The meal arrived and was laid out in the kitchen. The table was set, the candles lit, the wine chilled. A solitary white rose, bought by Jack, brightened a vase in the centre of the setting. He had been planning Estelle’s visit to Saint Mary, and was now anxious to know when she would come. It was a bit odd that she had avoided answering the question each time it was asked, but he had swept this aside using the excuse that she was a busy person, the excuse she gave him, in fact. He was like a child who had been promised a toy and was eager to get it. The thought of leaving gave him butterflies and made him nervous and sad at the same time. He didn’t want to go, though he knew he must, and the thought of it frightened him, an emotion he considered irrational. They sat and ate, but Estelle was distant, and this was making Jack more nervous. She wouldn’t look at Jack in the eyes, and kept making polite, bland conversation. Something was bothering her, he could see that. Maybe it was sorrow at his departure. That made sense, but that was what he wanted to discuss, her coming over to Saint Mary. By the main course he could take it no more. He leaned over and held her hand. “What’s the matter sweetheart?” That was the drop of water that broke the dam. Estelle burst into tears. “Shit, what is it? Hell, Estelle, what’s the matter?” he asked in desperation, the environment around him changing rapidly. Little did he know how much of a change he was in for. “Jack, oh Jack. I’m sorry honey, but I have to tell you something,” she was now looking at him in the eyes, hers moist with tears. “Shit darling, what is it.” “Jack, I’m engaged.” “You’re what?” Jack felt that he had been sucker punched in the
stomach. “Engaged.” It was a bolt from the blue, a slap across the face, a kick in the nuts, and Jack understood for the first time what the term ‘gut wrenching’ meant. His appetite went; in fact he thought he might be sick. “But..” he stammered. “I know, and I’m sorry, I really am. I never thought that I’d see you again, after London and all, so I got on with my life. It wasn’t easy, Jack, not at first, but I managed. Eventually I stopped crying long enough to see daylight again. I met Rock, and fell in love. But then Mustafa called and asked if I would accept the commission, and I thought of you, and the good memories of us flooded back, and I said yes. I thought we could start again, pick up the pieces and make it like it once was. I didn’t mean to lead you on Jack, I promise.” “But we can start again, surely. These two weeks have been, well, brilliant.” He was grasping at straws now. He knew deep inside that it was over, and what all the whispered ‘phone calls and text messaging was about. “Oh Jack, I wish it had been, but it hasn’t. I’m so sorry darling. Will you be all right?” “Oh, me. Yes of course. I just need to get my head around this, that’s all. I kind of fell in love with you again, I mean, well I was always in love with you, you know that.” “Do I? If you were I wouldn’t have left London. Jack, you have never taken anyone seriously.” “I’m serious about you now.” “I know, but it’s too late, I’m sorry.” “Who’s Rock?” Jack hated him instantly. After all, what kind of a fucking name was ‘Rock’ for god’s sake? People with that name didn’t exist outside of Cartoon Network, surely. He could imagine him now, thick as two short planks with an irritating, supercilious smile constantly on his face. Built like a brick shit house. An all American muscle bound twat. “He’s a stockbroker.” “Not really your style, surely? Pin stripe suit, corporate mentality, not a creative bone in his body.” “Actually it’s none of your fucking business Jack.” “O.K. I’m sorry. Shit, is this really the end?” “I’m afraid so,” and with that she squeezed his hand. They spent the rest of the night in silence, and although Estelle wanted to come with him to the airport, he said no. No point in prolonging the pain. He was no good at farewells anyway.
Chapter Twenty – September Mary had a problem. She had a secret that she didn’t want Jack to know about. Not that she was ashamed of it, she just knew that many men were put off by these things. She liked Jack a lot and she didn’t want to frighten him off. Another problem was that bitch Honey Cole, who clearly had eyes for Jack. Then again Honey Cole had eyes for all men, even though she was engaged. Mary knew Honey would stoop to any depth to spoil things between Jack and her. What to do? Tell him about her son or not? The child’s father was a local married man with whom Mary had had an affair. He had promised to leave his wife and marry Mary. Promised, that is, until Mary became pregnant. Then it was a whole different story. Then it was all a mistake. Then he loved his wife and his family. But don’t worry as he would pay for the abortion. Abortion? I think not! When she had told him that she was going full term he had nearly fainted. But he would support the child never the less. He would pay her ‘cock tax’, as child support was known locally, but it would have to be done secretively. Mary told him to take his cock tax and shove it up his arse. She no longer wanted him and she certainly did not want his money. Furthermore she did not want him near the child, ever. Relieved, he had agreed to her wishes. Mary’s son was being raised by the boy’s aunt because of Mary’s full time job. It was a symbiotic arrangement that worked extremely well. Mary’s sister had three children of her own from three different fathers, none of whom lived with her or supported her. The income Mary afforded them allowed her son’s aunt and cousins to be housed, fed and clothed. In return her son had a warm friendly household to grow up in and at the weekends he stayed with his mama. Not a bad situation, but one that Mary was sure could frighten Jack away. She had asked Jack to pick her up at her office at midday and was being quite mysterious about a site she wanted to show him. When he collected her she had a cooler and a basket with her, but still wouldn’t say where they were going. The day was glorious with a scattering of wispy white clouds in a bright blue sky. A gentle, warm breeze blew in from the north east, as they drove toward the north of the island, eventually turning off the main road and onto a cart track that twisted back and forth down the steep hillside, ending at a tiny beach set amidst the rocky coast. Jack stopped the car and they got out. The sea was a transparent turquoise. Mary pointed at it. “Look,” she said, “turtle.” Jack followed her gaze to the gentle swell of the water, but could not see anything.
“Wait,” she said. Then suddenly the head of the turtle bobbed above the water and Jack could see the dark shape of its body below the surface. A gulp of air and the creature resumed its graceful under water meanderings, turning this way and that, allowing the swell to glide it along, all in aimless, relaxed movements. “Wow,” was all he could muster. “Come,” said Mary, and she led Jack along the little stretch of sand to the low rocky shoreline beyond. They climbed onto a little path no more than two feet wide, perched on top of the shallow cliff, and followed this north. To their right the ground rose steeply to the greater cliffs beyond, covered in dense vegetation. To the left was the sea, and on hitting the rocks the swells threw up spumes of salt spray, wetting Jack and Mary below the knees. Suddenly the steep incline flattened out, and the high cliffs receded and ringed a plateau, forming a large bowl. The whole area was covered in a dense ground cover, with thick dark green leaves, giving the appearance of a lawn. The backdrop of the mighty vegetation covering the tall cliffs, the rocky shore and the dazzling beauty of the sea with its gently rolling swells and occasional noisy bursts of spray was breath taking. Here and there the sea had undermined the little cliff and found its way to an opening in the rocks further inland, a blowhole. Here the spume would erupt in a great spout accompanied by a muffled whooshing sound. Mary put down the basket, took out a blanket, spread it out on the ground, and sat down. Jack put down the cooler and sat next to her. “This is my spot, Jack. This is where I come when I need to catch myself. Nobody here but me and the turtles. Too sweet. If I could ever afford it, you could build me a house right here.” “You own this?” gasped Jack, truly impressed. “Nah! This belongs to the government. The Yankees had wanted to put a navy base about here when the Cuban missile crises was goin’ on, so the government bought up the land. But nothing got built, thank the Lord. Come.” And with that she got up and walked to the northern end of the bowl. They climbed a rocky mound and looked down. At the bottom of a sheer drop was a small beach, the only access to which would be by the sea. Behind them was Mary’s spot, spread out and tranquil, with the lone blanket, basket and cooler left deserted in the middle. Jack looked out to sea. In the water below lay the dark shape of a canon, abandoned many years previous. He tried to picture the wars and bloody skirmishes that had defined this part of the world in the past. Four-masted square-riggers, filled with murderous opportunists, cannons at the ready, sailing off this very spot on which he was standing, intent on pillage and plunder. It was hard to imagine that this calm landscape, this indescribable beauty, was once the scene of such barbarism. But there below in the sea was a reminder, an object
that might have killed innocent citizens, an object that was nowadays used as a garden ornament. “What are you thinking about?” asked Mary prodding Jack in the shoulder. “Oh, just something I read at Delisle Hall,” replied Jack. “Come, tell me about it over lunch.” She took his hand and together they wandered back to the blanket. “You could imagine how sweet it would be to live here Jack? You could ‘cock up you two foots, let the wind blow through yuh arse and let the rest of the world go do as it want’ as they say around here,” she said en-route. Jack took a deep breath of the ionised sea air and nodded. He was still numb from Estelle’s news, still knotted up inside, still depressed. Being with Mary lightened the load and brightened the gloom that had become his days. Mary had prepared a picnic of buljol, a dish of diced salted cod, onions, cucumber, tomato, avocado and sweet pepper, flavoured with herbs and spiked with lime juice and hot peppers. This was accompanied by salt bread, a locally baked bun tastier than any western hamburger bun, with a slight sweetness to it which was at odds with its name. This was washed down with Mary’s homemade rum punch. They sat on the blanket and Mary poured the drinks. The innocuous tasting concoction relaxed Jack from head to toe. “So, Jack, what’s the problem? I can tell that something’s eating you up,” asked Mary. “What do you mean?” “Well you’ve been so quiet, I know something has got to be wrong.” “Oh, it’s Lars,” said Jack telling a half truth. He couldn’t say that Estelle was preying heavily on his mind. Since his departure from New York, Estelle had been the professional New York designer to the hilt. She had moved on and he hadn’t, and that was what was getting to him. It was over and he had to get used to it. So instead of the truth he recounted the story of the air conditioners. “Wullah! You mean to tell me that Sonny has actually done something to save somebody time?” “Yes, why?” asked Jack bemused by this outburst. “You don’t think he named his boat Tomorrow Maybe for nothing? It is the most appropriately named vessel in these waters. Sonny could put off what needs to be done today for ever. It took a month for him to get my hi-fi out of the port.” Jack laughed, “well he came good this time.” “Now tell me about Delisle Hall,” said Mary handing Jack a plate of buljol and salt bread. Jack recounted what he had read and what he wondered and Mary listened intently. Then she lay back and gazed at the sky, the rum
inducing a peaceful relaxation in her soul. “Well Jack, it goes to show that we all got here somehow: black, white, Chinese and coolie. It really doesn’t matter. All that matters is that we are here. This is our land, this little rock. It doesn’t belong to any one of us more than the other.” “So you don’t subscribe to the ‘Back to Africa’ movement, then?” “Back to where? You a jackass or what? Do you? You are half a nigger even if you talk like a Limey.” “No,” laughed Jack, “actually I’ve never really thought of it. Not like the American Europeans who harp on about their ‘mother country’.” “I would go back to England,” reflected Mary. “Really, why?” “I don’t know, up there feels real proper, even if the weather is real stink.” Jack laughed, “they say the grass is always greener.” He looked across at Mary, here in her place, and the pain of losing Estelle eased. He loved the way his sorrows and problems lessened at the sight of her, how the briefest of conversations calmed his spirit and put everything in its right place. He leaned across and embraced her. They made love right there, in the open, in the sunshine, in Mary’s place, and it was beautiful. That evening Jack wanted Mary to stay over but she declined as she had an appointment early the next morning to show an overseas client a house. He cooked supper and opened a bottle of wine and they sat on the balcony of his house, watching the sunset and chatting. Talking to Mary came easily to Jack and her company was refreshing and uncomplicated. She put no demands or expectations on him and neither did he on her. They had become good friends, good friends with benefits. Maybe life wasn’t so bad after all. They arranged to meet for a drink at Pinkys in two days time and Mary left.
Chapter Twenty One Jack awoke later that night in need of a pee. There was no moon and the room was as dark as pitch. He stumbled out of bed and made his way to the bathroom, not putting on the light, as that would wake him up. He fumbled for the lavatory seat and plonked himself down, closing his eyes as he relieved himself. That’s when he felt it, the needle sharp pincers sinking into his toe. Instinctively Jack raised his foot and grabbed for it, and felt something run across his hand. “SHIT!” he yelped as he jumped up and scrambled to the light switch. The initially blinding light illuminated the creature, a full six inches long, dark brown and with rows of hard, pointed legs. The centipede scurried across the floor and up onto the wall where it stopped. Jack almost died on the spot. “FUCK! I’ve been bitten, I’ve been bitten!” he screamed hysterically. He ran out into the living room, and grabbed the ‘phone. “FUCK, FUCK.” He was desperately trying to think of the emergency number but all that came to his mind was 999. The pain in his toe sank deeper into the bone and grew in intensity. The hideous image of the centipede was burned into his psyche; his worst childhood nightmare had come true. The monsters of his dreams did exist after all, and one had come for him, and the bastard had gotten him. His heart was pounding and sweat poured from his brow. Jack felt he was going to pass out, and then the monster would crawl down off the wall and eat him for sure. “Shit I’m going to die,” he whimpered, almost in tears. He pressed the one dial button Honey had set in the ‘phone and stood looking at his toe waiting to see a trail of poison flow up his leg to his heart, as surely it must do. Terrified he glanced toward the bedroom door for signs that the creature was coming for more. He heard the phone on the other end of the line ring. “Oh God, oh God, hurry up!” he pleaded. “Hullo,” a sleepy voice answered the phone. “I’ve been bitten by…by a thing. Oh God, I’ve been bitten. It’s huge! It hurts. And it’s still here,” he blurted out into the receiver. “Jack? Jack? That is you?” “Yes, yes. And I’ve been bitten by a massive thing.” “Jack, hol’ on, I’m coming over,” and with that the line went dead. Jack unlocked the front door and went to the linen cupboard and got a towel to wrap around himself. His shorts were in the bedroom, and he was not going back in there. Moments later Honey Cole walked in, dressed in a light cotton slip and carrying a bottle of tablets.
“Where is it?” she enquired. “Bathroom,” blubbed Jack. Honey walked down to the bathroom and spied the centipede, still on the wall. She removed one of her mules and with a deft flick of the wrist smashed the creature’s head into the wall, leaving a dark smudge. The body writhed and thrashed as if alive, and Honey scooped it into the toilet and flushed it away. “That was a big fella. Don’t worry, I’ll have Rentakill come and spray the compound tomorrow,” she said. Returning to Jack, she walked over to the tap and poured a glass of water. She opened the bottle of tablets and told Jack to take two. “Antihistamine,” she said. Jack did as he was told, relieved to have someone in control of a situation he had no control of. Tomorrow, he thought, he would call Mustafa, resign, and get to fuck out of this God forsaken island. Back to London, where huge many legged beasts don’t walk up in the night and bite you. He was sitting on one of the wooden dining chairs, eyes wide, with a lost and panicked expression on his face. “You all right darlin’? Where did it bite you Jack?” asked Honey with a soft and gently soothing voice. Jack looked at her pitifully and lifted his foot which hurt like hell. “On my toe,” he said pathetically. Honey knelt down and took his foot in her hand. Either side of his second toe was a small hole, the puncture wounds of the centipede. “Cuh-dear, that must be so painful,” and she slid her hand up the inside of Jack’s thigh and under his towel. Jack’s erection was immediate and the cover afforded by the towel was breached exposing him in all his glory. “My, my, the centipede is not the only big fella about these parts,” she said admiringly, and lifting her slip she stood up and mounted him. Sex with Honey was very different to sex with Mary. Honey was slow, deliberate and totally absorbed in her own pleasure. She played Jack like a fisherman with a catch, reeling him in when it suited her, giving him slack to recover, only to reel him in again. When it was over she kissed him on the forehead and whispered “Mary is a lucky bitch,” and then she left. Before he returned to bed Jack sprayed the entire contents of a Baygon tin in the bedroom and bathroom. Nothing, but nothing was going to live in there, probably not even Jack. The next morning he awoke abruptly and sat bolt upright in his bed, the events of last night flooding into his memory. He wondered if he had dreamed it all, but no, his toe was definitely sore. He scrutinised the room carefully searching for anything resembling a
centipede. Apart from Jack the room was bereft of life, the insecticide had seen to that. He leaned over the edge of the bed and looked underneath. Nothing. He got up and peered into the bathroom. It was clear. He went in and showered which was when he remembered the other events of the evening before. “Oh my God, Honey!” Jack laughed and began to relax. At least she knew now how to keep away the monsters. To be extra sure though he would still use a whole tin of Baygon at bedtime.
Chapter Twenty Two Crystal Point was proceeding well, but the presence of the drainage ditch was not acceptable to Jack. Consequently he had asked the engineer to design a covered concrete box culvert that he could disguise with landscaping. The base had been poured as had the walls, and out of these spikes of reinforcing steel stuck vertically skyward, waiting to be bent over and incorporated into the cover slab. Jack and Baptiste walked over to inspect the work. It was being undertaken by Grandison and his gang. Although Baptiste would greet Grandison with ‘’Mornin’ Grandi’ the latter would not reply preferring to glower at Baptiste instead. Baptiste climbed onto the wall and stood between the protruding steel rods. “Grandison, yuh gine need to clean off de rus’ from these before yuh ben dem over, hear?” he said. Then it happened. Baptiste lost his balance on the wall. Looking for a place to jump to he launched himself across the box culvert aiming to land on the wall on the other side. But the culvert was too wide and he fell chest down onto the steel rods of the other wall. One of the rods pushed straight into Baptiste’s chest and through a lung. Baptiste had his hands on the wall holding himself up, the searing pain making consciousness a struggle. He knew instinctively that if he let himself down he would die and he was correct, for the bar was a mere quarter of an inch from his heart. Sweat poured from his brow and his arms began to shake with the strain. Grandison leapt from the area where he was bending the steel for the cover of the culvert and sped toward Baptiste. He stood next to the impaled foreman and carefully placed his arms around him. With a deep inhalation of breath he lifted Baptiste slowly off of the steel. Then picking him up as if he were a child he carried the wounded man to the house and lay him carefully down on the concrete slab of the entrance. He then walked slowly back to his work. Jack called an ambulance on his mobile and knelt by Baptiste’s side. His shirt was soaked in blood and his face was wracked in pain. He grabbed Jack’s hand and looked him in the eye. “Iffin’ I die…..” “You are not going to die, Baptiste,” interrupted Jack, “the ambulance will be here shortly,” but Baptiste had passed out. Jack felt sick. Was he dead? What was he supposed to do? He felt totally unqualified for the situation he was in and his inadequacy terrified him. What if a simple routine or act could now save Baptiste’s life, and what if he died because Jack didn’t know what to do? Then Jack noticed that Baptiste was breathing, so he just sat next to him and
held his hand. It felt like an eternity before the ambulance arrived and Baptiste was taken off to the emergency ward of the hospital. The men all stood discussing the event and the site had effectively ground to a halt. “OK everybody, Baptiste is going to be alright, but we need to finish the house, so get back to work,” said Jack feeling sick and exhausted, his voice coming out thin and ineffectual. Nobody moved. “Yuh ain’t hear de man?” boomed a voice behind Jack, “he say get back to work.” Jack turned and saw it was Grandison. The men returned to their tasks and Jack studied Grandison’s face. There was gentleness there in the eyes, but it was well hidden. “Thank you,” he said. “No problem,” said Grandison softly and he turned to go back to the steel-bending shed. Jack called after him, “Grandison.” “Yes sir?” came the reply. “I am going to need your help here while Baptiste is gone.” Grandison nodded and turned once more to his work, and Jack was sure that he saw him smile. Jack called Todd Wilson and explained the situation and arranged to meet him at the hospital.
Chapter Twenty Three – October Having finished the plans for the cottage, Jack went to Delisle Hall with them. DD was not there and as Jack did not want to leave the plans to be looked at without his being there to explain them, he decided to return with them another day. On his way out he bumped into Sir Dennis. “Good to see you Gunner, glad you could make it. Come, I have something to show you.” Jack couldn’t understand how DAD imagined that he had come to see him, as he had not called ahead or made an appointment. Still he followed the old gent to his car. They left the house through the front door onto the driveway where DAD’s black Range Rover was parked, and got in. “Want you to see something, Gunner” said DAD, and they set off north along the coast road. DAD was silent and seemed deep in thought, as if troubled by something. Jack decided to break the ice. “Fascinating history of your family you have in the library.” “Glad you think so son. DD told me you were interested. What have you read so far?” Jack recounted the story of the coachman. “A very important person that coachman. He went on to marry a ‘poor white’ girl. You know what one of them is?” Jack confessed that he didn’t. “It wasn’t just the Negroes who were poor in those days. No sir! There were poor white people too. Very poor. Ten and twelve people living in a one-roomed hut scratching out a living as best they could. They were brought over as indentured slaves and managed to survive their indenture only to find that they had nothing.” “Well,” he continued, “Mr Richard’s outside child, the coachman, married a poor white girl from the north of the island and they had a son, a brilliant young man. Being the man he was, Mr Richard sent the boy to England to be educated in Cambridge. He studied law. When he graduated he returned to St Mary but his father died before he got here. On Mr Richard’s death the family wasted no time in disowning
the lad. He arrived with nothing, not even a colour to belong to.” There was a silence and Jack wasn’t sure if he was supposed to say anything or not. But then DAD continued. “That man became an advocate for the rights of free blacks to be treated the same as any free man. To be able to vote, to be elected to the House of Assembly, serve as jurors and as vestrymen. Well, as you can imagine, this angered a number of the white population and he was brought before a magistrates court and charged with treason and found guilty.” “Shit,” said Jack, incredulously. “Quite so. Shit. Utter shit. Anyway he was pardoned by the King of England and eventually got the constitution changed. He was a great man, and you, Jack, you are a direct descendant.” “You are taking the piss,” Jack scoffed. “I don’t know what that means, but I am deadly serious. You have greatness in your blood Jack. Always remember that.” Jack didn’t know what to say, he was numbed by this news. Eventually they turned inland and the road rose sharply winding its way uphill. Either side were fields of grass with black and white cattle and shaggy brown cows grazing lazily in the mid-morning sun. The rolling countryside could have belonged to Cornwall or Devon, except for the palm trees dotted here and there. A mile inland DAD stopped the car in front of a wooden gate in the fence that separated the road from the fields. “Open that for me Gunner, please.” Jack got out and opened the gate and Sir Dennis drove onto the field. They drove on over the bumpy fields, climbing all the time. “All this is Delisle land, son,” said DAD, “all of it.” He went silent, his brow furrowed and his facial expression one of concern. Jack wondered what was troubling the old man as they skirted deep gullies heavily wooded with ancient tall trees, dark green against the lighter shade of the grass, and drove through patches of sinuous brush whose branches scratched at the paintwork of the Range Rover, all the time climbing higher into the centre of the island. Eventually DAD stopped the car and they got out. The air was cooler here than at Delisle Hall and the view was breathtaking. Jack looked around. To his left he could see the deep blue Atlantic Ocean with its breakers forming a bright white line against the shore. To the right was the lighter blue calm of the Caribbean Sea. The white foam against the eastern shore was replaced by a blue-green band of sea. Both coasts were visible from the one standpoint! And in between the countryside rolled in a green patchwork, up and down tumbling its way down to meet the sea. The sky was a brilliant blue with a scattering of white fluffy clouds. In the distance could be seen the faint outline of the Apostles. “Wow,” exclaimed Jack. “Well, what do you think Gunner?” asked Sir Dennis.
“Very beautiful. Very beautiful indeed.” “The Americans want to make it into a golf course with a hotel and villas and spa.” Sir Dennis’s tone was almost sarcastic. “And you don’t?” “Those jackasses in government think that development is good for the island,” replied DAD. Jack recalled the outburst at Todd’s party. “My family has owned this property for four hundred years, son. Actually, our family. We’ve tried most crops here but sugar was the one that was profitable. Unfortunately the market just isn’t there anymore so I’ve turned to milk and beef cattle and sheep. We produce 70% of the milk on the island. Did you know that?” he asked not looking at Jack, but at the land in front of him. Jack didn’t know that, but he had the feeling that Sir Dennis was being rhetorical, so he didn’t answer. “The problem is,” continued DAD, “imported milk and beef from the other islands is making ours uneconomical. Our wages are too blasted high compared to Trinidad and the other larger islands. Every year we make a tremendous loss. Tremendous” he added for emphasis. “We tried cotton but that was worse as it takes more labour. I have lobbied those idiots in government and told them that we need to protect our local produce, but the Prime Minister has signed into Caricom and says that free trade within the region is necessary for regional prosperity. Blasted idiots won’t see that all the trade is imported and nothing is being exported. Tourism is all they want. Hotels and golf courses.” Jack could sense that there was a great deal of sadness in Sir Dennis. Present custodian of a four hundred year old legacy, he had been unable to sire an heir, and despite all his efforts he was being forced by economic pressures beyond his control to sell a huge swath of his estate. He also had the feeling that the government would not want to assist in fostering the continued prosperity of a four hundred year old dynasty that had built its wealth through the exploitation of slave labour. “Anyway son, the Yanks have made a proposal and I have accepted. A famous architect is designing the golf course and they have a hotel operator designing the hotel, but I have control over the clubhouse.” He turned and faced Jack and looked him in the eyes, “I want you to design it, son. It’s Delisle land and it’s only right that a Delisle should design it. I am naming it the ‘Francois Delisle’ course after the first Delisle to start agriculture on this land.” Jack was stunned. He didn’t know what to say. Dad and DD hardly knew him much less his work, yet first DD wanted him to design the coach house and now DAD the clubhouse. It was all too much to take in. “I…I’d love to, yes please. Thank you very much.” “Good news, son, good news,” said DAD smiling at last, “I was worried you might not want to do it, but I am very delighted that you
have accepted. Very delighted. Let me show you the plans.” DAD went back to the Range Rover and produced a laminated plan of the golf course with areas allocated to the clubhouse, hotel, villas and residential plots. They were standing where the clubhouse was to be, the highest point with the best view. “I have insisted that this where the clubhouse will be Jack. Those damned Yanks wanted to put the hotel here but I refused. The ‘Francois Delisle’ golf course clubhouse will stand right here at the highest point on the Delisle Estate.” ‘Man could I do a number on this,’ thought Jack. He looked around and took a deep breath absorbing the entire surroundings through his lungs, eyes and ears. They got back into the car and drove the course with Sir Dennis pointing out the various locations, now animated and enthusiastic. On the way back DAD surprised Jack once more. “You know son you should stay here in St Mary. Stay and make a difference as your forefathers did. It’s in your blood, son. You come from greatness, from people who believed passionately in their fellow man and in justice. Had he not been taken from us prematurely your father would have become Prime Minister one day. Absolutely no doubt about it. Saint Mary may not be London, son, but this is a beautiful island with beautiful people and you could do a lot worse in your life. We need our talented children to return and help to build the island. Every university graduate we have produced has emigrated to Canada, the States or England. How can a country develop and grow when that happens?” Jack listened to DAD and his words sank in. It was easy to believe the old man because everything he said he said with so much passion and conviction. When they parted company DAD shook his hand and said, “think about it, son. I am deadly serious in what I have said.”
Chapter Twenty Four The next day Sonny called. “Pup pup,” he said, “looks like somethin’ tekin’ shape me lad.” “Taking shape? What do you mean?” “Yous got internet?” “Yes.” “Well look ‘pun the satellite. Hole’ on, I comin over.” Sonny arrived and logged Jack’s computer onto the Atlantic High Resolution Loop of Intellicast.com, a weather monitoring web site. “See that?” he said pointing to the screen, at a large red mass, midway across the Atlantic, turning slowly on its axis and moving west towards the Caribbean, “that is getting organise.” “What does that mean?” asked Jack. He had a feeling that this was not good news, and Sonny was making him nervous. “Is turnin’ into a hurricane me lad. Yesterday it was a depression, now is a storm. See how it’s rotating? Soon enough you will see a hole in the centre. That will be the eye. Then you know it’s a hurricane.” “Will it hit Saint Mary?” asked Jack not liking the sound of this one bit. The tales of the horrifying events of past hurricanes were still fresh in his mind, and his mother’s accounts of the day of his birth and his father’s death were a nightmare. “Well boy, is south of we now and theys always go north, but deys a high pressure in the Atlantic holein’ it down, so is look so.” “What do we do?” “Keeps an eye on it and mek sure yous got nuf food and water and whats not.” “What’s whats not?” “What?” “You said ‘food and water and whats not’. What’s whats not?” “Do what? Yous bin wukkin’ too hard boy.” Jack let it pass as he felt he was losing the plot. “Iffin it stop as a storm is no big ting, but iffin is form an eye den watch out ‘cause our arse could be grass.” “Does St Mary get hit often?” asked Jack, a loose feeling forming in his bowels. “Not since 1979 when David come through and mashed up everything”. Hurricane David! He recalled his mother’s account of that storm. How the windows had blown in allowing the howling wind and torrential rain to rampage uncontrollably through the house they were living in. His father had had to smash the windows on the other side of the building to allow the pressure to equalise and prevent the roof from blowing off. The rain came in with such force that his parents had
huddled under a window as the deluge blasted past over their heads. The eye of the storm had passed directly over the island and in this calm birds were trapped, unable to land, and doomed to perish from exhaustion. This brief respite allowed for only minor repairs, and once the eye had passed the fury resumed, this time from the opposite direction. The devastation wrought by the ferocity of nature was strewn all over the island. Entire houses were missing while others had their roofs blown off complete with the structure. Boats were thrown up onto the shore, or vanished altogether, torn from their mooring. People with limbs severed by flying sheets of corrugated iron were carried off to the hospital by whatever means their friends and family could muster. The power was gone, the water was gone, and the death toll was high. When David hit Saint Mary she was a category two storm. In those days there was no Internet, so the inhabitants of this tiny rock were caught off guard. It was the day Jack’s father had been killed, and the day Jack was born. Jack was not sure that knowing what was going to happen was going to make the experience any the less horrific. For sure he would stock up on food and water and even on ‘whats nots’. And he would definitely keep an eye on the developing storm. Over the next few days the conversation on everyone’s lips was the storm. To Jack’s horror an eye did form and the bloody thing had even been given a name: Arlene. The first storm of the season, and it was headed straight for Saint Mary. The high-pressure area to the north was not moving and this was holding Arlene’s course down. Jack and Mary were sitting in the bar of the Frangipani Bay Hotel talking with Decoursey and Montagu, who had invited them for dinner. “Do you think Arlene will miss us?” asked Jack. He couldn’t believe the size of the system that had developed out at sea. Its spread was three hundred miles. It positively dwarfed the islands that it was heading toward. It had strengthened into a category two already and still had five hundred miles to cover before it reached them. At its current progress of fourteen miles per hour it would be with them tomorrow night. “It’s going to go north,” said Mary, “they always do. You know what they say, ‘God is from Saint Mary’.” “Well God forgot that point in ‘seventy-nine’ my dear. David left a frightful mess,” said Montagu. “You were here then?” “I arrived in ‘seventy-three’ and bought this land. The hotel had been open for two years when it was all but levelled.” “I agree with Mary,” said Decoursey, “every year they go to the north of us.” “What will you do?” Jack asked Montagu, who had first hand experience after all. “Board up dear boy. After David I had shutters made for the
windows and doors. We’ll put those up and hope for the best.” “Does my house have shutters?” Jack asked Mary. “I don’t know Jack but don’t fret, hurricanes never ever hit here.” “That’s because you are too young to remember my dear. But you are right in so much as they are rare. However the island has been hit in the past, and with devastating consequences, and they say we are due another one,” said Montagu. Jack knew only too well about past destruction. Apart from David, he had read all the accounts at Delisle Hall. And speaking of which, the original building which was sure to have been substantial was destroyed by a hurricane. What chance did his little house have? “Montagu, you are an old worry-wart,” said Decoursey, “come, let’s order dinner. Chef has made the most scrumptious lobster chowder with foo-foo. You must try it Jack.” “Sounds lovely” said Jack, preoccupied with the thought of the hurricane. “What did you make the shutters from?” he asked. “Jack relax, it’s going north!” said Mary with emphasis and beginning to lose her patience. They walked through to the dining room and sat at their table. “Plywood,” replied Montagu. “OK you two, no more talk of hurricanes. It can’t come here because I’m having my exhibition next week.” “Of course,” said Montagu, “you will be coming, won’t you?” Jack and Mary exchanged glances. They had been sent invitations to Decourcey’s exhibition two weeks ago, as had everyone else on the island, but Jack had forgotten all about it. He wasn’t even sure he could find the invitation. It was to be held at the hotel, as it was every year. “Wouldn’t miss it,” he replied, “when is it again?” “Next week Thursday,” replied Decoursey, hurt that Jack obviously had forgotten. They dined and Decourcey was right, the lobster was delicious. It was washed down with a suitable Sancerre which Montagu insisted on choosing, as he was not just the owner, he was the sommelier as well, and justly proud of the hotel’s cellar. Jack started with a heart of palm salad and he finished off with a mango mousse. Mary chose the callaloo, a crab and greens soup, with pineapple fool for desert. The meal was very West Indian and excellent. That night Jack slept fitfully. He had checked the computer when he got home and to his dismay Arlene was still on course, still large, still menacing, and had strengthened to category three. He rose early in the morning and checked again. Horrified he saw that it had strengthened overnight and was now a category four storm promising unbelievable damage to Saint Mary. It had stayed stubbornly on course, the promised northern track had not materialised. There was e-mail in his inbox. It was from Kevin.
“Hi bro. Just seen on the news that a massive hurricane is headed your way. Are you all prepared? Where will you sit it out? Jane sends her love and says to be safe. So do I buddy. Take care. Kevin.” The ‘phone rang, and the sound of it made Jack jump. It was his mother who had seen the same news report and was frantic. Jack did his best to calm her down saying that buildings today were designed for this eventuality and that he was all prepared and boarded up. He told her that he remembered her accounts and that he knew what to do. He knew to allow the pressure to equalise if a window broke by opening a window on the opposite side or the roof would be blown off. He also knew not to go outside because of flying debris. And not to think it’s over if it suddenly gets calm as that might be the eye. By now his mother was crying. She had lost her husband in a storm, and Jack was all she had left. And now a hurricane was coming to claim him too, her precious son. “I wish you hadn’t gone there Jack, I really do,” she sobbed. Jack was in total agreement with that statement. “Mum it will be all right, honest. This house is like a bunker, and I have a water tank and generator, and whats nots, so I’ll be OK.” When they hung up Jack felt like crying himself. The sound of the doorbell startled him. It was Todd Wilson with two carpenters who Jack knew from the site. The carpenters bade Jack good morning and he replied likewise. “Hey man, thought you might need a hand in boarding up” said the lanky American. “This sucker looks like it’s gonna get us this time. Man, are we in for a blow.” Jack wondered how Todd could be so nonchalant. Todd had brought a small truck with half-inch thick plywood sheets stacked in the back. “You guys start with the windows,” he told the men, “got a coffee, Jack?” “Sure,” said Jack relieved to see Todd and the assistance he was offering, “what about your houses?” “I have built in steel roller shutters and the guys have already sorted themselves out. Those people in wooden houses will go to one of the schools or churches which are acting as shelters.” They looked at the computer while they drank their coffee. The visible picture of Arlene was truly awesome. A large white disc of cloud swirling around a small and distinct hole, the eye. “Holy shit!” exclaimed Todd, “that is one big mother.” “When do you think it will hit us?” asked Jack. “Tonight, at this rate.” “Will it be bad?” asked Jack somewhat pathetically. “Well, it depends. Hurricane force winds extend one hundred fifty miles from the centre. That’s seventy-five miles in each
direction. It only has to pass eighty miles away for it to miss. Plus it might weaken during the day, they tend to do that. The other good thing is that it is travelling fast, so if it does hit it will be quick. Most of the damage is done by the rain, and when a hurricane is goin’ slow, it can do a lot of damage. One thing’s for sure though, some poor soul’s gonna get hit by it.” As the men boarded up the house Jack observed Todd Wilson. Here was a man who thought nothing of defrauding people of their money in the name business, but was still there to help out a person in his time of need. He had seen to it that the men had been taken care of and was now ensuring that Jack was safe. A likeable rogue indeed. You could and couldn’t trust him all at the same time. The men finished and Todd said he was going to the site to secure anything that he could and advised Jack to bring in any plant pots or furniture and the like. Jack elected to follow Todd to the site. He felt a sense of duty, and he was a lot happier now the house was boarded up, although he was still very apprehensive. At Crystal Point Jack, Todd and the men busied themselves securing what they could in the containers, and made sure that all windows and doors were bolted shut. Eventually the house would have hurricane shutters but these had not been installed yet. They were motorised and operated by a computer link-up to allow the owner to secure his residence from whichever part of the world he happened to be at the time. Now, however, they were in a factory in Texas. Jack returned home in the afternoon and busied himself with the task of moving anything that could be blown about by Arlene. Todd’s prediction that the storm would lessen was not realised and it was now a howling category five behemoth, as bad as they got, and promising total destruction. Catatonic with fear, and not wanting to be alone, he walked over to Sonny’s. He noticed that the neighbouring houses were in differing stages of readiness. Some, like Jack’s, were boarded up completely, others only partially, while some had crosses of masking tape across their windows and patio doors. Sonny’s was one of the partial varieties. “Pup pup,” he greeted Jack. He and his sons had secured ‘Tomorrow Maybe’ with ropes tied to steel stakes that they had driven into the ground with a sledgehammer. “I see yous all prepared. Very good. Come have half a fella.” Jack accepted Sonny’s offer of a drink and the two of them sat on Sonny’s balcony as the sun began to set in the most exuberant of crimson displays that Jack had ever seen, a factor of the storm no doubt. The air was very still and breathless. “It’s hard to believe that just out there all hell is breaking loose,” said Jack, his apprehension evident in his voice. “And soon to be here,” replied Sonny matter-of-factly. His apparent lack of concern was reassuring and Jack began to feel that he might be being a bit melodramatic. But the stories he had heard
and read nagged at him and the knot in his stomach returned. Jack’s mobile rang. It was Mary and she was clearly distressed. “Jack, were all going to die! Is a category five, and is right on us,” she blurted hysterically. “But you said it would go north,” replied Jack somewhat cruelly. “That was Decoursey!” she shouted down the ‘phone. “Are you boarded up?” he asked. “Yes,” she replied, and Jack could hear that she was crying. “Hey. Listen. I am here at Sonny’s, and he isn’t boarded up or anything. He says it will be fine, maybe a bit of a blow and some rain, but nothing to worry about. Just stay indoors until it’s over. We’ll all be fine, honest,” he said, trying to be soothing, but not believing a word. “You really think so?” asked Mary, sounding a bit calmer. “Of course.” “OK then, I’d better go. Call me tomorrow?” “Count on it sweetheart,” said Jack. It was the first time Jack had called Mary by such an endearing term, and in the face of the impending danger he felt very much in love with her. He stayed and chatted with Sonny but the conversation was staccato and disjointed. Despite his bravado Sonny was distracted and concerened. Eventually the wind began to pick up, with gusts swaying the trees to and fro. “Pup pup. Here she comes,” said Sonny. As neither of them knew how quickly things would develop Jack decided it was time to head back to his house. When he got in he went immediately to the computer. He could not believe his eyes. Arlene had not only shifted to the north but had diminished back to a category one storm. The eye was on track to pass eighty miles north, and as the hurricane force winds now extended forty miles, they would be spared the brunt of the brute. Saint Mary was subjected to strong tropical storm force winds that night with gusts recorded as high as ninety miles per hour. The port took a severe beating from the tidal surge and many trees blew down. Some houses were lost and many damaged. Two people died, one from drowning the other from a heart attack, but overall the island was spared. “You see,” said Mary the next day, “I told you it would go north.”
Chapter Twenty Five – November It was November and Independence Week, as the seven days surrounding the actual day that the tiny island achieved independence from England was known. Although the official public holiday was only Independence Day itself, the local inhabitants were in the habit of taking the whole week off. It was carnival time in Saint Mary. There were parades, street parties and regattas. Church services, house parties and casual gatherings of friends. The island was alive with colour, noise and excitement. The children were off from school and the teen-agers had their parties to go to. Independence week also signalled the end of the hurricane season, and a worry was lifted from the minds of the locals. It had been an active season but apart from the glancing blow from Arlene they were spared. Others in the region had not fared so well and relief efforts were still under way in Dominica, one of the islands hardest hit. Kevin was over from England and he, Jack and Mary had been invited to join Sonny at his house on the spit of sand that was named Saint Mark, one of the Apostles, an outlying group of coral Cayes set in a beautiful blue-green sea. Work on the house at Crystal Point was ahead of schedule despite the debacle with Lars, and Baptiste’s accident. Lars had not returned to the site and Jack had not seen him since that day at Pinky’s bar. Todd Wilson had used the occasion to his full advantage. He had procured another plumber and claimed that the costs would be more. After all, the new incumbent would have to inspect Lars’s work to ensure that it was satisfactory and this would take time and money. All of these delays would require additional resources on the site and overtime working, incurring yet more expense. None of this was Todd Wilson’ fault, of course, as Lars was employed directly by Fandango. Mustafa had been had and he was not best pleased. He could not round on Jack as Jack had warned him off from this arrangement at the outset. No, Mustafa’s greed had got in the way and he was pissed. Todd Wilson would get his, of that Jack had no doubt. The final payment would be very difficult for him to obtain, but what else was new? Mustafa was nothing if not resourceful, however, and had managed to pass on the additional cost to SB by claiming that the plumber had died by stepping on a Lion Fish whilst on a picnic. ‘A tragic accident that could have been avoided if only he had worn tennis shoes.’ As Lars was the best he was hard to replace, but as Mustafa wanted only the best for SB he had brought in a new tradesman from another island whose workmanship was every bit as good as Lars’s. Alas this diligence came at a price. And so it was that Sheiky Bird got shafted once more. They were gathered at the Cruise Club, a rundown establishment in a beautiful sweeping bay. Comprising of an old plantation house and ten acres of land, it had been procured by a group of locals back
in the ‘fifties with the sole purpose of being somewhere for them to moor their boats, and after a day on the seas, to drink rum. In the old days the bedrooms were brought into service for those too drunk to go home. These rooms had also served as a local for clandestine affairs, many of which were now well known but only spoken of in whispers. As time passed the club was opened to others on the island that needed boatyard facilities, and the bedrooms became offices. More members meant more subscriptions and the Cruise Club was able to finance the building of boat sheds, a sail locker, changing rooms, and even a beach bar. Its members would spend their time tending to their crafts and lavishing various extents of loving care on the boats. The same care was not lavished on the buildings however, and ‘patching up’ rather than replacing was very much in evidence. Together they stood with Sonny and Phyllis on the beach, dressed casually in swimsuits and t-shirts, each with a bag or small suitcase packed for the weekend. It was early morning and the air was soft and fragrant with a gentle north-easterly breeze. The stillness of the previous months had subsided with the arrival of the trade winds. The sky was cloudless and the sea before them was calm and transparent. ‘Tomorrow Maybe’ lay moored some little distance away from the shore, one of many shining white boats, both large and small, motor and sail, all pointing into the wind, the mild swell causing them to bob gently up and down in unison. Bruce and Barry, Sonny’s sons, had wandered off to get the tender, a small wooden boat that was to carry them all to ‘Tomorrow Maybe’. It was stored in the boat shed, and the barefoot lads picked it up and carried it to the beach as if it were weightless, which it obviously wasn’t. They then fetched the small outboard engine that was clamped with others onto a rack, also in the boat shed, and secured it to the transom of the little vessel. Once the tender was launched the boys loaded it with the bags and, along with Sonny, they motored out to the bigger boat. Bruce, the younger lad, returned on his own to pick up the passengers whilst his father and brother prepared the boat for the journey to Saint Mark. He assisted them all into the precarious little craft with a strong but gentle hand. Once they were all seated, somewhat squashed together, he pushed the boat out to deeper water, and with an athletic and deft movement, much at odds with his size, he vaulted over the stern and into the boat. With one strong pull on the starter rope the little outboard burst into life and they motored slowly out to ‘Tomorrow Maybe’. When they got there Bruce held onto the larger boat while Barry assisted the others aboard. The tender was then secured to the red plastic buoy to await their return, and they set off with Sonny at the helm. Phyllis disappeared below while Jack, Kevin and Mary clambered around onto the deck at the bow, getting used to the movement of the boat and taking in the view of the island. Sonny gunned the engines and Tomorrow Maybe lifted her bow and charged through the water
throwing white spumes of wake to her sides as she did so. The three clung onto the rails as the wind blew back their hair. Looking down, the water was a transparent light blue and the coral outcrops on the seabed below could be clearly seen as they flashed below the surface, the sun casting silver streaks on the sea. They were exhilarated and excited all at the same time, and as one they all inhaled deeply of the fresh sea air. As they motored along the shoreline Jack was trying to see if he could recognise anywhere, but it all looked different from this vantage point. Then he saw Crystal Point. The house, although partially hidden by the trees, was quite discernable. He got the attention of the other two and pointed to the site. They stood there in silence for a moment, just taking in the view. After a while the boat lowered her snout and slowed to a steady five knots. They looked back to see what was happening. Barry and Bruce, each with a fishing rod in their hands, were feeding line out into the water. When they were done they placed the rods into two stainless steel cylinders set in the deck and gave the lines a hefty tug. The reels screamed in reply. A slight adjustment of the reels, another tug, another scream, and the boys were satisfied. They left the rods in their holders, bending gently against the taught transparent strands of nylon that disappeared into the wake forming behind them, and went forward to join their mother. Sonny shouted for Jack to come aft. “Come and steer the boat milad” he said. Jack sat on the barrel backed pedestal captain’s seat and took the wheel. Sonny pointed out the bearing on the compass that Jack was to keep to and stood by his side for a while. Satisfied that Jack was proficient in his appointed task Sonny left and went below. Jack looked up and saw Kevin looking back at him, camera at the ready. “Cap’n Birds Eye,” he said aloud, grinning as he took the snap. The course they were on took them north along the coast, and while they were in the shelter of the island the water was calm and a transparent turquoise. As they passed the northern tip of the island the sea turned a dark fathomless blue with large swells. The boat rode up the waves and slammed back down the other side. Jack was finding it difficult to remain on course and was feeling very uneasy at the helm. Sensing this Sonny reappeared by his side, but seemed satisfied that all was well. “When we gets a little further out, the sea gine flatten a little,” he told Jack, “just keep goin’ as you are now. Youse doin’ real good.” In the far distance of the horizon Jack could make out the faint outline of The Apostles. Suddenly one of the reels screamed as the rod bent and shook and the line went flying out to sea. Bruce was there in a flash and grabbed the rod, adjusted the reel and started to reel in the catch. “Kevin,” he shouted, “come, sit down here. Dis one fuh you.”
Kevin handed the camera to Mary and went back and sat in the seat that faced aft. Bruce strapped him in and placed the rod in a cylindrical holder between Kevin’s legs. Kevin took hold of the rod and began to turn the handle on the reel which gave a lot more resistance than he expected. Suddenly the reel screamed again as the fish took off. “OK,” said Bruce, reeling in the other line, “let him go for a moment then bring him in again.” Sonny told Jack to pull the throttles back and the boat slowed to a crawl. Kevin continued his battle with the catch. He reeled in when able, only to lose ground again as the fish took off once more. The struggle between Kevin and his quarry continued in this vein for a full twenty minutes. His arms were aching and his hands tired and sore, but he was not going to give in. No sir, Kevin was having too much fun for any thoughts of capitulation. Eventually, and what seemed an eternity later, he began to prevail and the distance between the fish and the boat grew less. Suddenly the fish flashed into the air, a glistening silver sheath of muscle and sinew thrashing its tail in a desperate bid to free itself of its captor. A cheer went up from those on board. “Holy…” said Jack. “Kingfish,” said Bruce. He had taken the gaff hook, a lethal looking pointed crook of steel mounted in a wooden handle, from a locker under one of the seats. “Bring she in slow, Kevin” he said. Kevin tried to do what he was told and drew the kingfish alongside the boat. His muscles in his arms were burning with the effort of holding the rod and he had to put his entire body weight behind it to hold the fish in one place. Bruce leaned over with the gaff, but the fish was not done for yet. With a flash of its tail it dived, sending the reel screaming again. Kevin held on tightly to the rod and reeled in again, his right arm feeling like it wanted to fall off. The fish reappeared and this time Bruce was ready. With one deft movement he sank the point of the hook deep into the belly of the fish sending a plume of crimson blood into the water, and hoisted the beautiful sea creature into the boat. It lay there, thrashing about, staring at its victors through large, black pebble-like eyes, the lure that had betrayed it protruding from its mouth, its barbed tail embedded in the fish’s bony lip. Barry delivered two swift and hefty blows to the fish’s head with a wooden club, putting an end to its suffering. They stood and looked at it, lying there in all its shining beauty. “Well done milad,” said Sonny, “that feller gine eat sweet this weekend. Jack, the next one’s yours. Press on milad.” Jack pushed the throttle levers forward gently and ‘Tomorrow Maybe’ picked up the gentle pace once more. Bruce lifted up one of the seats and placed the catch inside then turned and cleaned up the blood from the deck while his brother put the lines once more into
the water. They continued on their way and Jack began to feel at ease with the boat. As Sonny had predicted they passed through the rough waters close to the main land and into the more gently rolling swells of the Caribbean Sea. In the clear blue sky above a few small white clouds were blown lazily along. He felt very happy, and the veil that Estelle had placed him under was lifting. Jack looked back at the outline of Saint Mary sitting like an emerald in a sapphire blue setting. The gentle motion of the boat and the deep burble of the engines mingled with the sea air to create a deeply relaxing ambience. Jack looked around him. Kevin, Mary and Sonny’s two boys sat on the deck by the bow chatting while Phyllis was sitting on a bench at the rear, ensconced in a paperback novel. To their left, a little distance off, the pure white sails of a yacht shone dazzlingly against the deep blue of the sea. Jack pointed it out to Sonny. Phyllis looked up from her book. “It’s ‘Barefoot Too’, Montagu Goodenough’s yacht.” Sonny added, “a Swan 113, milad. A millionaire’s yacht if ever there was one.” Jack gazed at it. It certainly was big and elegant. Its blue hull capped by acres of bleached white sails set firm and solid with the wind. It was a beautiful sight on this idyllic sun soaked day. “Who’s that?” shouted Kevin, pointing behind them. They turned and saw a large white cabin cruiser in the distance, bobbing up and down, throwing white clouds of spray from its hull as it did so. From their standpoint the movements appeared small but there was no doubt that the vessel was travelling very fast indeed. “‘Got To Have It’, DAD’s boat, and in a real hurry as usual. Can’t go nowhere peaceful, that man,” said Sonny. They continued about their business, glancing back every now and then as ‘Got To Have It’ drew closer and more discernable. She was a fifty-seven foot long Bertram, a sport fisherman with fly bridge. Large, luxurious, expensive, and very powerful. The boat was skimming across the sea like a stone, occasionally rearing off the top of a swell and slamming into the water below, sending huge flumes of white spray into the air. Her presence on the water was the exact opposite of ‘Barefoot Too’. ‘Got To Have It’ was getting its passengers to their destination in as short a time as possible, as if being on the water was a chore and not to be endured if avoidable. ‘Barefoot Too’ on the other hand, was there for the pleasure of being there. For them arriving would almost be an anticlimax. Jack looked back and it seemed that the Bertram was on the exact same heading as ‘Tomorrow Maybe’. Having not helmed a boat before Jack felt anxious at the prospect of being passed by another boat, especially one so large and travelling so fast, and he wished that someone else had the wheel, but he didn’t want to appear a wimp by voicing his concern.
“What side will he pass us on?” he asked nervously. “That, my son is a good question. You never know with that madman,” replied Sonny. As ‘Got To Have It’ continued on its galloping progress toward ‘Tomorrow Maybe’, Jack and the others began to pay it more heed. Their occasional backward glances became more frequent and lasted longer until finally all eyes were on the approaching boat. Eyes peeled, they searched for a sign of its intended course but none was forthcoming. It was headed straight for them. The sounds of its twin Caterpillar diesels could now be heard clearly above ‘Tomorrow Maybe’s’ engines. “Barry, call them on the radio,” shouted Sonny. But Barry was ahead of his father and was already speaking into the hand held microphone. “’Tomorrow Maybe’ to ‘Got To Have It’, come in please. ‘Tomorrow Maybe’ to ‘Got To Have It’, come in please. We have out lines. Repeat; we have out lines. Please alter your course.” But the radio remained silent. Visibly concerned, Sonny turned and took the helm, much to Jack’s relief. They all stood motionless, riveted to the spot and staring in horror at the approaching boat, prancing and leaping in the water as it charged angrily at them. Jack’s heart was pounding and his mouth dry. Mary had come aft and clutched his hand. “Daddy! There’s no-one at the helm!” yelled Bruce. The Bertram was now two hundred feet behind and bearing down on them at a horrifying speed, the deserted bridge clearly visible. “Rass-hole!” said Sonny, “hole’ on” and he opened the throttles of ‘Tomorrow Maybe’ to maximum and turned the wheel to port as far as it would go. The reaction was instantaneous and with a deep growl from the engines the boat reared up and shot off to the left. The Bertram flew past them missing their transom by six feet, fouling and snapping the fishing lines as it did so, catapulting one of the rods into the air. A huge wave of water from its bows swept over the boat drenching the cockpit and everyone in it. They stared in disbelief as they saw Sir Dennis sitting and chatting with Agnethe Glatved in the back of ‘Got To Have It’. The two of them looked up and waved. “Mad shite has the fucking boat on auto-pilot!” bellowed Sonny as he grabbed the radio. “’Got To Have It’, are you mad? You could have killed us all. Put that autopilot off and steer the god-damned boat. Do you hear me, ‘Got To Have It’? Attention all boats. ‘Got To Have It’ is on autopilot on its way to St. Marks, be alert.” But Sir Dennis did not hear for the radio was by the helm and he was not. Everyone else on the water that day did hear though, and that, in due time, would be a problem for Sir Dennis. For the moment, however, he was contentedly on his way to Saint Marks without a care in the world. Jack turned his attention from the fast receding boat and looked
at Mary. She was in tears from fright, trembling and sobbing at the same time. He held her tight and kissed her forehead. “That was close,” he said with a thin and shaky voice. He looked around at the scene that a moment before had been one of peaceful enjoyment. Bruce was stroking his mother’s hand, Barry was dealing with the remaining fishing rod and Sonny was at the helm, his face set in fury, eyes on fire, his complexion an alarming crimson. He looked as though his head could explode at any moment. Sonny was ready for a fight and the Lord have mercy on his opponent. Kevin was standing alone, wide eyed and mouth agape. No one was saying a word; they were all stunned. Eventually Sonny broke the silence. “Bruce and Kevin, fix us up a drink. That mad fucker might have nearly killed us but we still has some fishing to do,” he looked over to Phyllis, “you’se allright darlin’?” he asked. Phyllis let go of Bruce’s hand and wandered over to Sonny and gave him a kiss. “Iffin’ you hadn’t move us out de way, Lovey, I figure we would all be dead by now. That man should not be allowed on the water.” “Doesn’t worry precious, I gine fix up his arse proper. Jus’ watch.” No one doubted for a moment that Sir Dennis now had a battle on his hands. “Lemme get some patties” said Phyllis, and giving Sonny another kiss she turned and walked shakily to the galley. Whilst Bruce and Kevin reappeared with rum punch for all, Phyllis brought out the patties. These were small, semi-circular pies encased in a crumbly, yellow pastry, the delicate flavour of which Jack and Kevin had not encountered before. They were filled with minced beef seasoned with onion, garlic, hot peppers, tomato, turmeric, cumin and ginger, and the overall result was a fabulous, melting, savoury treat. The patties and punch performed their magic, and soon everyone’s spirits were elevated, the strain of the recent occurrence lifted, like a shoulder massage undoes a muscle knotted by tension. Barry fetched another rod and set both with bait and they resumed their earlier composure. They caught another kingfish, two barracuda and a very spectacular Spanish mackerel. Jack reeled in one of the barracuda, while Barry and Bruce took care of the rest. Life was not so bad after all, but Sonny was not going to forgive this incident, not for shite. When they finished fishing and all lines were in Sonny opened up the throttles and they charged over the water towards their destination. That was when the moment Jack would remember forever occurred. He was standing at the bow with Mary, holding onto the railing and taking in the view when he saw them. They appeared out of nowhere, moving as fast as the boat but with considerably less effort and much more grace. At first it was two, then three, and eventually four dolphins that appeared at the bow. Initially they swam just below the surface of the water, their dark shapes blurred by the
shimmering facade above them. Then they began to leap out of the sea, plunging headlong back in with a gentle splash, to begin again. As they appeared out of the water they looked at Jack and Mary, and they could swear that they were smiling. Their presence was noticed by all in the boat and it lifted their spirits. They all laughed and marvelled at the beauty and grace of these incredible mammals.
Chapter Twenty Six The Apostles were a small group of Cayes of which Saint Mark was the largest and the only one with any buildings on it. It was a slender spit of an island, fringed on all edges by dazzling white sand beaches enveloping a green strip of sea-grape, casuarinas and coconut trees, and short succulent ground cover growing down the middle. It was a thousand feet wide at its widest and one mile long, tip to tip. The houses that were there were all congregated in a long line along the east coast. Unlike Saint Mary, Saint Mark was protected from the ravages of the fearsome ocean swell by a reef seven miles offshore, and the water that surrounded it was calm on all sides. The east coast faced the reef and the prevailing wind, and for those reasons it was favoured by those who had built their retreats there. Few fences or gates separated the houses, and what greenery there was was confined to the fleshy leaved ground cover. Only the hardiest of vegetation could survive here. There was little shade and the sun beat down mercilessly, only to be reflected back up by the sand and sea. The ground was punctuated by crab holes and the sand would, on occasion, be blown up by the ever-present easterly breeze, stinging the eyes and skin of the unprepared. In front of each house, and jutting out into the clear bluegreen sea, was a jetty made from the rough grey wood of the pimento tree, impervious to the corrosive nature of the salt water. At the end, these jetties were formed into circles, producing salt-water swimming pools known locally as kraals. Here the inhabitants could swim without fear of attack from shark or barracuda, as the columns of wood were placed no more than three inches apart allowing the water through, but keeping the fish out. Attached to some of these kraals, and facing out to sea were low level platforms built just above the surface of the sea, from which a person could sit and be launched off on water skis. It was to Sonny’s kraal that ‘Tomorrow Maybe’ was moored. Not even the presence of the dolphins calmed Sonny down and once the boat was tethered he set off at a brisk pace to DAD’s house, to make his annoyance abundantly, and colourfully, clear. Walking more leisurely down the jetty, Jack marvelled at what he saw. There were no shops or community facilities of any sort, just a row of houses, weather beaten and welcoming. At its highest the island stood no more that ten feet above sea level and the horizon was visible though two hundred and seventy degrees. The sky was enormous, a gigantic blue dome that reached down to the water at his feet. The sea was so clear as to be improbable. In the distance out to sea the faint white line of the reef contrasted against the dark
blue of the ocean that lapped gently against the sandy shore they were walking toward. A group of small wading birds ran up and down the beach, just avoiding the waves, plucking small crustaceans from under the sand as they did so. “What are those?” asked Kevin. “Nitties,” replied Mary. Jack’s thoughts wandered back to the journals in Delisle Hall. Saint Mark must have played a part in the pirate’s battles and plunders of the past. He imagined a rowing boat full of ‘scurvy knaves’ making their way under cover of darkness to this beach to bury a chest full of Spanish gold and silver, or to maroon some poor hapless soul who had run foul of their treacherous deeds, leaving him to starve and be driven mad by the sun. His bleached bones would be buried in the sand by the passage of time. The very emptiness of the island excited Jack, made his heart jump and raised his adrenaline level It was a new experience for him and Jack felt like he was turning feral. This effect seemed to be common among all of them as each had a new spring in their step and a smile of expectancy on their face, their eyes alive with anticipation. This was not a place for shoes, time keeping or hang-ups, the island screamed freedom loud and clear for all to hear. Sonny’s house was a single storey wooden structure raised into the air on concrete columns ten feet high. This form of construction was common to all the houses as the flatness of the island made it vulnerable to flooding from high sea swells occasioned by the frequent storms of the region. Its design was simple but functional. The core of the house was a large kitchen and dining area into which all the other rooms opened. There were three bedrooms, one bathroom and a large balcony, half of which was roofed. There was running cold water but no electricity. The stove and fridge were fuelled by bottled gas and the water was held in a ‘vat’ in the back yard. This circular vessel was also on stilts and stood slightly higher than the house affording some water pressure due to gravity. As it contained rainwater gathered from the roof the water was not for consumption without first being boiled. The exterior clapper boarding of the house was painted blue, bleached and faded by the sun. The floors were smooth but unfinished timber boarding, and the walls were painted white, while the corrugated galvanised roof was red. As Sonny and his family had been out to St Marks the day before and had brought provisions, the house was ready for its owners and their guests. Phyllis showed Jack and Mary to one bedroom and Kevin to another. The boys would sleep either on the boat or the balcony, as they chose. By the time Sonny returned the sun had begun to set. Bruce and Barry had filleted the fish and what was not marinating in a bowl was in the fridge. “What did DAD have to say for hiself?” enquired Phyllis.
“Foolish old arse says he wasn’t so close to us as to be dangerous, that we’s ‘overreacting’, the usual shite. Anyhows, I’se gine fix his rass, jus’ watch and see. Bosie, I ain’t gots a drink, and that can’t be right. Come Jack, le-we gets the barbecue goin’. We’s gots some fish to cook up.” When the night arrived, Bruce and Barry lit gas lamps, illuminating the rooms with an atmospheric, shadowy light. Outside of the house all was dark except for the red glow of the barbecue, giving glimpses of Jack’s and Sonny’s faces. The stars formed a dense canopy overhead. “My God, isn’t this something?” said Kevin to Mary. “Proper,” she replied. “We have a place in the countryside of Wales and it gets this dark there too with as many stars. Look, quick, make a wish,” he said, as a shooting star carved a silver line though the sky. “I love England,” said Mary. “You serious?” “Yes of course.” “But here is so beautiful, so incredibly beautiful.” “I guess, but England is proper. Everything to do, everything to see, everything in the shops. Proper.” “Well, all I can say is that I think here is proper, really proper. Shall we go and see what the chef’s are up to?” “I guess. You cook?” “Not me,” said Kevin laughing, “I could burn water. Jack, on the other hand, now there’s a man who can cook.” “You all go back a long way?” “For ever. We were best mates at school, and from there on, really.” “He’s kinda cute.” “Jack? He’s the best there is.” They ate and drank their fill at the plastic table the boys had set up in front of the house. Only the gas lamps and the dying embers of the barbecue illuminated them as they sat under the stars in the inky blackness of the night. Jack looked up and noticed one of the stars blinking as it moved slowly across the sky. “What’s that?” he asked. “Satellite,” replied Bruce. The alcohol, food, sea air and company made Jack feel very happy indeed, and for once he wasn’t feeling the loss of Estelle. Bruce and Barry set off for the boat, and after clearing everything away the rest of them went to their beds, exhausted and content.
Chapter Twenty Seven Jack was awoken by Mary. It was still dark, and she was out of the bed, dressed in a sarong and holding two towels. “What’s the matter?” he asked, sleepily. “Shhhhh,” she cautioned, “come” and she gave Jack her hand. He got up, put on his shorts, and followed her as she led the way out of the house. They tiptoed their way over the floorboards trying not to disturb the others from their sleep. Outside the night was not as dark as before as the moon had risen, and although it was not full it afforded enough light for them to pick their way through the undergrowth and across to the other side of the island. “Where are we going?” he asked. “For a swim.” They made their way through the sea grapes and onto the deserted beach beyond. Arriving at her chosen spot, Mary discarded her sarong and walked naked into the sea. Jack followed suit. The water was cold against his skin and it woke him up instantly. “This is nice,” he said with a shiver, “what time is it?” “Just before sunrise,” she replied, “a very special time.” Even in this half light Jack could see the sparkle in her eyes. She was like a child sharing a very special secret. He swam up to her and they embraced. Then slowly in the open darkness they made love, assisted by the gentle motion of the waves. They got out of the water and, hand in hand walked leisurely along the deserted beach, bare as nature had intended. As the dawn broke the sky began to lighten, and the gentle blue illumination brought previously hidden details into clarity. The sea, the sky, and the vegetation behind the beach became distinct, their towels and discarded clothes appearing on the sand. Jack looked at Mary, at her unclothed body standing next to his, at her plump round breasts, soft flat belly and curvaceous hips. He felt very naked, which he was, but he also felt very alive and very liberated. He wanted this moment to go on forever, for everyone else on the island to be gone leaving just the two of them to share this Eden she was showing him. She returned his gaze and smiled. Jack was entranced. Then he wondered: was she smiling because she loved him? She had never said that she did, but why should she? Maybe she was smiling because of the moment. It was then that Jack realised that he had never stopped to figure Mary out, to give her due consideration. She was just there, ready to accompany him for a drink or for dinner, to be a friend if he so wanted, a lover every now and then. She was so easy to be with. But he knew nothing of her private life, where she lived, or with whom. He’d never asked and she had never volunteered any information. Maybe she had a boyfriend, or even a husband, and Jack was just a pleasant diversion. Suddenly the thought of Mary with another man stabbed him in the guts and caused him to
panic. What if all of this was as casual to her as it had been to him? He dreaded the thought. He didn’t want to share her with anyone, he wanted to be her special someone. He took solace in the fact that she had shared private snippets of her inner self with him: her beach, and this early morning swim. Maybe she cared, he certainly hoped so. Something in his eyes must have given him away, for she asked: “Are you all right?” “Uh? Oh, yes,” he replied, coming to his senses, “I was just, well, it’s just so.. Can we do this again tomorrow?” “Of course,” she giggled, “come, race you back,” and with that she set off, running down the beach. Jack sped after her and caught her up just before they reached the towels. Laughing and out of breath they stood there, looking into each other’s eyes, Jack desperately searching for a sign. Mary gave him a quick, soft kiss on the lips and put on her wrap. Jack put on his shorts and they walked hand in hand, back to the house. “Pup-pup,” said Sonny, as they approached. He was dressed just in a pair of faded white denim shorts and was busying himself with cleaning out the barbecue. “Been for an early mornin’ dip, has we? Nothin’ on God’s good planet nicer. Iffin I could only gets her arse out of de bed I woulds do the same.” Mary wandered over to him and gave him a fond kiss on the cheek. “Mornin’ Sonny,” she said ruffling his hair, and she wandered off into the house. Sonny looked at Jack and smiling, he winked. Jack hoped like crazy that he was right.
Chapter Twenty Eight After a refreshing cold shower Jack offered to help Phyllis with the breakfast. She accepted his offer without hesitation and left Jack to concoct what he could with what they had, which was plentiful. He fried up a feast, his heart fuller than it had had been in a long time, but it was also a heart that was slightly troubled. When the boys arrived from the boat they all settled down to eat. “What’s on today?” asked Kevin. “Well, you could fetch more coffee,” replied Jack. “Got you covered ‘bro,” and he went into the kitchen and brought the percolator from the stove. “You ever water-skied?” asked Barry. Kevin’s eyes lit up. “Brilliant! No I never have, but I would love to.” “Excuse me, but wunna needs to clean up here and lets yous food go down first,” said Phyllis sternly. The boys smiled. “No problem, Mummy,” said Bruce, and Phyllis melted. That her sons adored her as much as she adored them was obvious. Although they paid her only the minimum requisite amount of attention, they were respectful to her wishes, and not for the first time Jack observed the close harmony of the Bowen family. He could see that if anyone were to threaten their parents Bruce and Barry would kill them without a second thought. It was so different from his fragmented family. True, he was ostensibly freer than they, living his life as a solo agent as he did, but he wondered if they didn’t have it right after all. It was all a bit odd. Jack cherished his freedom, his independence from others. The closest anyone had gotten was Estelle and what a disaster that had been. But then again, maybe it was a disaster of his own making. Whatever it was, being in their company gave him a sense of belonging and made him feel good inside. After seeing to Phyllis’s requirements they gathered at the end of the kraal where Bruce and Barry had rigged ‘Tomorrow Maybe’ for water skiing. Standing on the wooden jetty, its boards turned grey by the sea and sun, Jack looked out at the expanse of crystal blue and green water around him that stretched to the horizon. It was as calm as a pond and its purity pervaded his being, captivating his soul. Kevin was the first to go and was sitting on the platform, skis and life jacket on, holding the wooden handle of the ski rope in his hands. Sonny was at the helm of the boat and Barry stood at the stern making sure that all was well. Bruce had given Kevin instructions on what to do and what not to do. “Keep yuh arms straight. Do not pull yuh hands to yuh chest. We gine start off slow so don’t worry. When we turn keep inside the wake. If yuf feel like going outside the wake, go right across, don’t stop ‘pun it. Ready?” Kevin’s eyes were on fire. “Yup.”
Bruce signalled to his father to go and Sonny opened the throttles gently. The rope snaked through the water and went taut. A bit more throttle and Kevin lurched forward, leaving the platform. For a moment he rocked back and forth and it seemed that he would fall, but he kept his arms stiffly out in front of him as he was told and as Sonny added more speed Kevin stood upright and they were off. “Yeoh, muh bruddah!” exclaimed Bruce punching the air with his fist. “I don’t believe it,” said Mary, “his first attempt and he’s stayed up.” “Oh, I do,” replied Jack, but there was no venom in his voice. They watched Kevin and the boat grow smaller, then turn and come closer again. Sonny took him on an elongated elliptical course. As Kevin’s confidence grew he began to turn from side to side, keeping within the bounds of the wake thrown up by the boat, safe in the relatively flat, aerated water generated by the props. Then he decided to cross the wake, and went for it. Unfortunately he forgot Bruce’s instructions, and took the turn without conviction. Barry was waving furiously at him to get out of the wake, but Kevin was now fighting to stay up, and couldn’t look at Barry. He had one ski on one side of the wave and the other ski on the other side, both moving in different vertical directions at once, and pulling themselves apart at the same time. The problem was exacerbated by the fact that there was more than one wave to contend with. The audience looked on with clenched teeth, awaiting the inevitable. Then, with a determined look in his eyes, Kevin leaned back and turned both skis towards the open water. He shot out of trouble spot and was free, skimming across the unblemished ocean like a pro. “I don’t believe it,” said Mary, applauding. “Oh, I do,” said Jack, clapping also. “Yeoh, mah man!” exclaimed Bruce, “wooh, wooh.” When Kevin was finished, the moment Jack was dreading arrived. It was his turn. Bruce adorned him with the heavy skis and life jacket and sat him down on the platform. The same good advice was given but Jack was too petrified to listen. He held the rope’s handle in clenched, white-knuckled fists and struggled to keep the skis pointing in the same direction. ‘Why were they so bloody heavy and cumbersome?’ he asked himself. “Ready?” asked Bruce. Jack gulped and nodded. He was anything but ready, and truthfully he would never be ready for this. The boat’s engines growled and the rope began to straighten. Then it went taut and pulled Jack off the platform, and straight onto his face. Not having the sense to let go Jack was dragged a few yards until Sonny stopped. His skis came off and floated close by. Thankfully the life jacket kept him afloat and the right way up. Bruce dived in and retrieved the skis, bringing them over to Jack who would really have been happy
to give up right now. But after an undignified fight with the skis they were re-established on Jack’s feet. Bruce fetched the rope and fed it through the skis and handed Jack the handle. “Don’t lean forward,” he said, “and keep yuh arms straight.” Jack glanced back at Mary and the look on her face told him that she was enjoying the spectacle immensely. He knew that it was not his ineptitude she was laughing at, but rather the comedy of the situation. There was no hurt or malice in her entertainment. She waved and blew him a kiss. The boat burbled into life and Jack watched as the rope unfurled once more. This time, however, he got up. He could not believe it, he was standing up, on water skis, in the ocean, behind a moving boat. Shit man, after just two attempts he was skiing. He looked at Barry who was giving him the thumbs up, and he knew that on the kraal they would be cheering. Then the boat rode a swell and this translated into a bump that Jack had to ski over. The change in direction threw him off balance and in an attempt to get it back Jack made the Cardinal mistake of pulling his hands to his chest. Almost immediately his feet shot out from under him and he fell backwards crashing into the water and losing both skis again. The boat circled and drew alongside. Jack told Barry that he had had enough. He knew deep down that he would not improve upon what he had already achieved, and although it was thrilling for a moment, he really didn’t want to continue. He hoped that he wasn’t going to encounter a barrage of the ‘but you must’ type of bullshit that people who know how to do something insist upon those who don’t. He needn’t have worried. Barry took the skis into the boat, and with an immensely powerful arm hoisted Jack in also. They dawdled back to the kraal and Bruce and his mother stepped into the boat. Now it was Mary’s go. “Bet you can’t improve on that,” said jack thinly. “For a first time that was proper. I don’t know why you gave up,” she replied. Barry passed her two skis, but they were not the skis Jack had just used. One of them had the customary bridge and heel restrainers while the other had an additional bridge restraint behind, and in line with the others. While Mary adorned herself, Bruce went and prepared the small tender that was tied to the jetty. Not many words were spoken, apart from courtesies such as ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ and Jack had the distinct impression that they had all done this many times before. Mary sat on the platform, but unlike the others she did not wear the life jacket, just her one-piece black swimsuit. She waved Sonny forward herself. This time the boat’s acceleration was more dramatic. And Mary launched off the platform into a perfect stance. She took one hand off the handle and swept the hair out of her eyes. “Shit,” exclaimed Jack. “She’s done this before,” said Kevin with a huge smile on his
face. Then the variations in the skis became apparent. Mary lifted her right leg and with a deft flick of the ankle divested herself of the ski. She then placed her foot into the vacant bridge restraint of the remaining ski, and there she was, slaloming. Bruce followed behind in the little tender and retrieved the discarded ski. ‘Tomorrow Maybe’ sped across the water with Mary in tow. She was a marvel to behold, carving huge walls of water from her solo ski as she muscled into tight turns. When it came to the wake she simply ‘popped’ it by crouching down on her approach and snapping her legs straight when she hit the waves. The result sent her flying, to land again on the other side. Jack was more than impressed, he was amazed. He was also totally in love. Could this balletic gymnast really be Mary? Christ, who was this woman? He sat transfixed at the site of her hurtling to and fro, sometimes on the water, sometimes in the air, and was completely in awe. Then it was Bruce and Barry’s turn. They sat on the platform together, and had on only one ski each. Like Mary they forwent the protection of the life jacket. Their physiques were strong with deep muscle definition, their powerful arms and fists dwarfing the wooden handles. They nodded at their Dad and ‘Tomorrow Maybe’ set off at a furious rate catapulting his sons into action. Jack noticed that one rope was shorter than the other and wondered why. His question was answered when Bruce darted across the wake and ducked under Barry’s rope whilst Barry shot across to Bruce’s side. They zigzagged to and fro effortlessly weaving a double helix of foam in the water. Then Bruce did something astonishing. Darting far out to the left, he turned and barrelled in toward the boat, crouching down and skimming across the water at an alarming speed. The sound of his solo ski slapping the water was audible above the noise of the boat’s engines. They held their breath in anticipation. Surely he could not duck under his brother’s rope at that speed. On reaching the wake he snapped his legs straight, and like Mary, he popped the wake, but his flight was higher, so high he flew over the head of his brother landing with an effortless splash the other side. Then Barry returned the favour. They hopped and skipped over and under each other’s ropes, swapping positions as they went, and the audience was mesmerised and thrilled. Then Barry grabbed the rope and began to reel himself in toward the boat. When he was ten feet away he let go, and sank up to his ankles in the water before the rope tightened again and hoisted him violently back into action. Then Bruce did the same thing, and then they both did it. Kevin and Jack were enthralled. They laughed out loud, applauding every stunt. But more was to come. The reception they were getting was spurring the performers on, and they intended to give their spectators more. The expression on their faces was one of unadulterated joy; they were like the dolphins that had joined them on the last leg of the trip to
Saint Mark. Their immense physical strength allied with the coordination and agility of youth allowed them to make each manoeuvre seem effortless. Looking at each other the brothers gave a signal; a countdown only they knew. What came next took Jack and Kevin’s breath away. Even Mary, who had seen it many times in the past, was jubilant, and grabbing Jack’s arm tight, she hopped up and down in anticipation. He took his gaze off of the performance and looked at her. Her eyes were ablaze, and she was biting her bottom lip. There was so much pure joy in her face, it burst out into the air around her. Jack found her intoxicating. “Look. Look!” she implored, tugging at his arm and pointing to the skiers. Jack looked. As they sped passed the kraal, the boys somersaulted simultaneously out of their skis in perfect unison and landed on their bare feet. Sonny gunned the boat faster and the lads skimmed across the sea barefoot, throwing up walls of water seven feet high. Mary, Jack and Kevin cheered and applauded enthusiastically. Then Bruce threw himself onto his back, and spun like a break dancer. When he righted himself Barry did the same, not to be outdone by his brother. Sonny steered the boat in a large arc and returned past the kraal, at which point Bruce and Barry let go of their tethers and sank gently into the ocean, a mere ten feet from the platform they had started from. They swam over to their skis, floating gently nearby, and returned to the kraal. The display was over. After lunch Kevin wanted to do more skiing. He was hooked and Jack knew that this would be added to his list of athletic pastimes. By the time he saw his pal again Jack was sure that he would be leaping over the heads of partnering skiers, barefoot. Bruce and Barry asked if Jack and Mary wanted to come along, but they turned down the invitation, as did Sonny and Phyllis, so the boys and Kevin set off on their own. Sonny and Phyllis went for a nap, while Jack and Mary decided to explore the island. The sun blazed in a cloudless sky, and the sea was a stained glass window of every imaginable combination of blues and greens. They walked along the eastern shoreline from Sonny’s place heading north, as his was the southernmost property. The houses varied in style and size, depending on the owner’s financial situation and taste, but they all had one thing in common: they faced the sea. Some were fenced with rickety wooden palings erected to corral the owner’s dog or child when they visited, the paint peeling and stained by rusting nails. Others, like Sonny’s, were uncontained, accessible from all sides. The very transient nature of the use of the island precluded crime, and most of the houses were never locked. The only real threat would be from the sea by a modern day pirate. But what would he steal? Some weather
beaten furniture? A hammock? No, Saint Mark was a place where locks were not required. But neither was this a location for the faint hearted or lazy. The ravages of the salt air were evident on all of the buildings. The climate was so inhospitable that stainless steel rusted, plastic hinges gave their vulnerability away through corroding ferrous pins, paint lasted but a few months before it faded and peeled, coming away from walls in large brittle flakes that curled up towards the sky. It was evident that is, until they reached DAD’s house. Here, in the midst of a shanty village stood a house larger, more luxurious, and better maintained than most in Saint Mary. It was built on an arc with a balcony shaped like a grand piano lid sweeping out in front, supported on a single flared column like an upturned trumpet. The grassed lawns of the garden were surrounded by a block wall, painted white. “Caruso” sported a generator, air-conditioning, hot and cold running water, a satellite dish and high-speed Internet connection. One need never know that they were on an idyllic coral atoll set in a perfect tropical ocean if they were staying here. Tethered to the krall stood ‘Got To Have It’, equally as detached from the feeling of sailing as the house was from the feeling of ‘Desert Island’. A few hundred yards off shore lay ‘Barefoot Too.’ Her sleek lines, glistening blue hull and white topsides, together with her very size made a breathtaking site that caused Jack to stop and admire. The main sail was properly put away in a blue canvass cover that adorned the boom, and every inch of the yacht was crisp and tidy perfection. “Wow, won’t you look at that,” he said, “if that was DAD’s house back there, what must theirs be like?” “They don’t have one. Least not on Saint Mark. When you have a boat like that, what do you need a house for?” Mary had a point there. ‘Barefoot Too’ would undoubtedly be luxury personified on the inside. “Do they sail it themselves?” “Nah. Well sort of. Got a skipper called Boo. But Montagu likes to helm. Boo gets to do all the pieces Montagu doesn’t want to do.” “Boo?” “Yeah, Boo. I don’t know his real name. Everyone calls him Boo.” “Oh.” They walked on, hand in hand, the sand beneath their feet giving way to leave behind footprints which lasted only until a gentle wave erased them and returned the beach to its former untouched beauty. Small flocks of nitties ran back and forth with the sea, occasionally taking flight in unison, darting low over the water to land further along the beach and begin their dance once more. The northern tip the island had been sliced off from the rest by a hurricane some years past and a narrow stretch of water separated the two. Jack and Mary waded across, and although the depth did not exceed waist height, a strong current flowed through the little channel making the voyage
deceptively difficult. On the other side was a one-acre patch of sand with a handful of coconut trees and sea grape bushes in the centre, fringed entirely by beautiful white sand. They walked to the very tip. The stunning Caribbean ocean was omnipresent, and for three quarters of his view there was only the horizon. Jack’s senses reeled. He took a deep breath and looked around in awe. He was at the end of the world. He was looking at the planet earth from the space shuttle. He was standing on the top wing of a bi-plane in flight. “Holy Moses!” he exclaimed, “just look at this!” And then it happened. It just came over him like a wave, overpowering him. He didn’t mean to do it; he just couldn’t help it. The unfathomable beauty of this place brought with it a deep sense of loss for the father he had never known. This was his island, his love, his life. Jack could feel his presence like an all consuming embrace and he burst into tears. “Oh shit Jack, what’s the matter?” asked Mary, somewhat startled by this outburst. “I don’t know,” replied Jack, sobbing like an idiot, “I’m sorry, I’m all right, honest,” but he just could not stop blubbing. Real tears were running down his cheeks. This was insane, and Jack’s embarrassment wa`s acute. “Cuh dear Bosie, come here,” said Mary sympathetically, and she put her arms around him. Jack laid his head into her cleavage, “maybe you’re homesick,” she said soothingly. “No, I don’t think so. I mean I was, but I’m not at the moment.” “Then maybe it’s here. This place is too primitive for you?” “No. I think it’s totally beautiful here, really.” Jack was feeling better, the coddling he was receiving was working wonders, but he felt very foolish never the less. “Then maybe it’s the girl in New York.” Jack’s body stiffened. He sat up and looked at Mary in astonishment. He had never once mentioned Estelle’s name, or even her existence. When he went to New York he said it was on business, that was all. How could she know? “What?” he asked. “Well you’ve been sad and miserable since you’ve got back, so its gotta be a girl that’s done this.” “I, er, well, I, ahem. What?” “Oh, cuh-dear Jack, I don’t mean to make you feel uneasy. It’s all right. If she broke your heart you’ve got to feel it. Maybe you should call her and see if you could make up. Bring her down here.” Jack did not like the way this was panning out at all. Mary was fishing, he was sure of that, and it made him feel awkward and apprehensive. Taking his love life in his hands he decided that some honesty might be the best policy here. “Well yes, there was someone, but that is all in the past. It was nothing really, and certainly not why I was…, well, you know. I
think it is the stress of work. That’s it, the stress of work. Anyway I’m fine now.” “Well good. Let’s go for a swim.” Mary seemed relieved at his revelation, and Jack was in turn relieved by her relief. Estelle was not mentioned again, and judging by Mary’s manner the incident had never happened. Jack was perplexed. He wanted to talk to her, ask her about her feelings towards him, but he felt unsure of himself. He was afraid of her reply, or that she might be frightened off, the way he was frightened off by any girlfriend who had got too serious in the past. He wondered again if she had boyfriend, fiancé, or even a husband. He had never enquired into her private life, and knew only the amount she had volunteered. He didn’t even know where she lived. Whenever they spent the night together it was always at his house. It was from his house that they set off when they went anywhere, as Mary always drove over. He looked at her beaming face bobbing up and down in the water. “What you staring at?” she asked. “Nothing, just you.” “Just me is nothing? Right!” and with that she dived under the water. Jack could see her approaching and tried to get away, but Mary was too fast and accomplished a swimmer. She reached him and pulled his shorts down. Then she emerged, laughing, and splashed water in his face. “You!” Jack spluttered, pulling up his shorts. Mary screamed and swam off with Jack in hot pursuit. He reached her and pulled her underwater. They stood there laughing and panting. “Come, let’s walk around the rest of island now you are feeling better.” Jack was indeed feeling better. His heart was full and he knew that he was in love. They got out and continued their gentle stroll along the beach. The west side of Saint Marks had no houses and was just beach and hardy seaside plants facing the ever-present ocean and distant horizon, under an enormous sky. The wind whispered through the trees and the sun baked the salt onto their skin. Jack looked up at the green fronds of the palm trees highlighted against the intensely blue sky above. They stopped and he picked up a flat piece of coral that had been abraded down to the size of a biscuit by the perpetual motion of the sea. He threw it into the ocean, and it skipped across the surface a few times before losing momentum and disappearing below the waves, to be abraded some more and eventually becoming grains of beautiful white sand. “Four,” said Mary, and she looked around for a stone to skim. Finding the right one she leaned back and pelted it across the sea. The stone danced over the surface at speed. “Ten,” she said triumphantly. “OK. Watch this,” said Jack taking up the challenge. He threw another with all his might. The stone hit the water with force but at
too steep an angle, and it leapt into the air and splashed back into the water with a ‘sploosh’.” “One,” said Mary, laughing. Then she asked, “how much longer before the house is finished?” “Oh, four months, all things being equal. The owner wants to be in for Easter, so we have to be done by Mid April.” “And then you’re going back to England?” “I might,” said Jack. ‘Maybe that’s it’ he thought. ‘Maybe she doesn’t want to get too attached because she knows that I’ll be leaving.’ “Mind you, DAD wants me to design a clubhouse for him, but it will depend on a deal going through with some Americans, and that could take ages.” “Oh,” she replied, and catapulted another stone across the water, “twelve.”
Chapter Twenty Nine Two days later Bruce and Barry had planned to take “Tomorrow Maybe” outside of the reef to fish for marlin. Kevin was up for it, but Jack and Mary declined. The boys were setting off at dawn and Jack did not want to miss out on their early morning swim, which had become a ritual. Instead he and Mary took the little tender and headed off to Jon’s Caye, a tiny blob of sand on the huge reef that protected Saint Mark from the ravages of the sea. Bereft of any vegetation this minute island was once owned by a man named Jon who had misguidedly decided to build a house on it. Before he could complete the project however, a tropical storm had laid waste his hard work and all that was left was the foundations. A mere acre of sand, Jon’s Caye was perched right on the reef. Its western shore was caressed by the gentle sheltered sea, whilst to the east the reef dropped vertically many fathoms, and the ocean was deep blue, sporting large swells, the tops of which broke producing foaming ‘white horses’. Mary drove the little boat onto the shore and together they pulled it out of the water and up the beach. They were going snorkelling for crayfish, or at least Mary was. Jack was going to spectate. Exposure to the unfiltered sun of these islands over the past few days had darkened his skin considerably whilst bleaching his hair, and Jack was beginning to look like a beach bum. Mary found it very appealing. She found herself getting very attached to this funny Englishman with his fussy ways. “You look good, roughed up a bit, Jack,” she said. Jack had to admit that he enjoyed not preening himself every minute of the day. He had no choice; there was not even a barber on Saint Mary, much less anything else. A year ago he could not imagine letting his appearance get out of control as it now had. Donning mask and flippers, and with Mary holding a spear gun, they floated gently along the calm side of the reef. The water was shallow, only fifteen feet deep, and the coral rose almost to the surface. The sea was warm and transparent and the visibility was infinite. Fishes of every hue and size darted to and fro among the multi coloured and faceted coral. The beauty of it was indescribable. Jack followed Mary’s lead and they drifted slowly with the gentle current. Suddenly Mary stopped and patted Jack’s arm. He looked to where she was pointing and there on the sand below, between two towering heads of coral, a bright red crayfish was picking its way along the ocean floor. Mary swam closer, and took aim with her spear gun. The rubber strands of the gun released their pent up energy and the steel shafted spear burst forth and skewered the crayfish, pinning it to the seabed and throwing up a cloud of sand in the process. “Whoo,” exclaimed Jack into his snorkel. Mary picked up the
spear with crayfish attached and they swam back to shore and deposited their quarry into the boat. “You are fantastic, like someone from a James Bond movie. Jinx, or Pussy…” but the look on Mary’s face stopped Jack mid flow, but still he was impressed by the seemingly never-ending talents Mary possessed. “Thank you. We’ve got to get more though, for the big cook up tonight.” Today was Independence Day and Saint Mark would be alive with folk who, although they didn’t have a house there, were in possession of a boat. It was a huge open beach and house party, a time when friends who hadn’t seen each other for the year renewed acquaintances and those who saw each other all the time kept the fires of friendship burning. Everyone played their part and brought food and drink, both in copious quantities. By the time Jack and Mary got back there were dozens of boats there and more could be seen on the horizon heading their way. Beach picnics were already underway and music from boom boxes mingled with the sounds of voices and laughter and could be heard floating on the wind. Whilst some people waterskied others sat on their boats, drink in hand, and waved to Mary and Jack as they passed. The day was clear and blue and green and the sun was blisteringly hot. The atmosphere was one of carnival and festivity, a realisation of a long anticipated celebration. Back at Sonny’s house Kevin and the boys had returned with the fruits of their labours, two yellow fin tuna and one enormous marlin. The latter had taken half an hour to reel in and had used up all of the line on the reel more than once, necessitating them to put the boat in reverse and charge backwards after the receding sea monster, engines roaring as the controller of the rod reeled in as much line as possible, and as fast as his aching wrists and arms could go. Once this was accomplished the fight resumed, the one hundred and fifty pound fish doing battle with a mere fifty pound breaking strength line. But this was allied to the wit and determination of man, who eventually prevailed. It had taken the three of them to manage the feat, and they were tired and exhilarated by their accomplishment. Jack observed his best friend. The sea and sun had turned his hair into a mass of ginger curls and his skin a dark red-brown against which his blue eyes blazed. It was infectious the way that Kevin was so alive and lived so much for the moment. The fish had been gutted on the boat, their entrails discarded into the ocean to be devoured by the denizens of the deep. Bruce and Barry were now preparing their catch for tonight, cutting large succulent fillets and marinating them in limejuice, olive oil, garlic, herbs and white wine. Mary set about cooking the crayfish in a fragrant broth of celery, fennel, chillies and herbs, the basis of a salad. The kitchen was alive with industry and good humour. Sonny appeared with two beers and handed them to Kevin and Jack,
instructing them to come and help him set up the tables and barbecue. Their chores completed the two friends went out to the kraal and sat on the low platform, their legs in the water, fresh cold beers by their sides. “Man, what a place,” said Kevin, looking out across the crystal waters at the distant horizon. “I know. It’s amazing, isn’t it? How’s Jane doing?” “Pretty good thanks. The baby’s due next month, so I’ll have to miss out on January’s valuation.” “That’s OK, I’ll handle that.” “What are you doing for Christmas? If you are coming over we’d love you to stay with us.” “But what of the baby?” asked Jack. “Hell, you’re the Godfather, you can’t miss its first Christmas. We’ll be in Wales, so there’s plenty of room. What do you say?” “Well I guess I ought to visit Mum, and it would be nice to get away for a while.” “Brilliant, you’re officially booked into Hotel Boyo. What’s the story with you and Mary? If you’d like her to come too it’s not a problem.” “I wish I knew. I’ll think about it.” “Well, whatever, just make sure you get your black arse over there.” “You!” exclaimed Jack, and he pushed his pal into the water. That night the moon was full, bathing everything in a silveryblue, ghostly illumination. The sea was dotted with the lights of boats casting golden stripes on the water that danced over the ripples to the beach that itself was ablaze with bonfires and barbecues. The air was heavy with the fragrant smoky aromas of cooking, and music and laughter abounded. People mingled and chatted, danced, floated from fire to fire, greeted old friends, and made new acquaintances. Almost everyone Jack had met was there, Todd Wilson, Montagu and Decourcey. Even DAD and DD wandered over to Sonny’s, and the earlier disagreement seemed forgotten. Bruce and Barry were with their posse, a group of twenty-somethings, and when not on the shore they flitted from boat to boat in the little tender. The party would not end that evening and it was a tradition among some to stay up and watch the sun rise on the beginning of a new year of independence from England. The fact that the significance of the day was lost on most of the revellers did not detract from the enthusiasm they put into it. Someone by a bonfire was waving at them so Jack and Mary wandered gently over. By the time they realised it was Honey Cole it was too late. “Hello Mary darling,’” said Honey. “Hi Jack,” she added with a knowing voice. “Any more centipedes darling? Don’t you dare go and
get Rentokill in.” Mary flashed Jack a stare that turned his heart to ice. “Mary, how’s Thomas?” continued Honey. It was Jack’s turn to look quizzical. “He’s fine, thank you. Come Jack, we mustn’t keep the others waiting.” And with that they wandered back to Sonny’s house, with a sinking feeling in their hearts that stormy weather lay ahead.
Chapter Thirty – January A year had come and gone since Jack had first ventured to the Caribbean and yet to him it seemed so much longer. On the flight back to the island he had thought of its inhabitants and particularly of Mary whom he was longing to see again. He had asked her if she wanted to accompany him to England for Christmas but she had declined the invitation saying that she always spent the day with her family. Jack had spent Christmas week with his mother and was only too happy to leave and head to Wales, but then felt guilty for doing so. Jane had given birth to a beautiful baby boy on the twelfth of December and she and Kevin had named him Jack after his Godfather, Kevin’s closest and oldest friend. They had a wonderful time together and Jack had insisted on being the chef de cuisine as a way of contributing to the proceedings. Jane and Kevin had accepted the offer willingly as it gave Jane a welcome break and more time for the baby. It also meant that she didn’t have to rely on Kevin’s culinary skills that were truly awful. For their New Year’s Eve dinner Jack went all out. He wanted to do something very special for this couple that loved him sufficiently to name their child after him, and for the pal he had had from boyhood and whose friendship meant more to Jack than anything he could imagine. That evening they dined on slow-roasted spiced Welsh salmon fragrant with coriander seeds, black pepper, cream and kaffir lime leaf and served with caviar and chilled Russian vodka. This was followed by an olive-crusted backstrap of Welsh lamb with couscous salad that contained green beans, flat-leaf parsley and caper berries, accompanied by a bottle of cabernet sauvignon. They finished with a chocolate raspberry dessert cake with a glass of chilled Baumes de Venise. Because of baby Jack Jane did not partake of the alcohol but sipped a small glass of wine spritzer and made it last the evening. The weather outside of the cottage was bitterly cold but dry. Despite the temperature Jack and Kevin stepped out to have a cigar and glass of brandy. Later the three friends welcomed in the New Year and toasted the health and prosperity of baby Jack. Now back in St. Mary Jack was catching up with post and e-mails. Estelle was arriving in a week’s time to view the house and firm up on her choice of furniture and fittings. She believed in taking measurements on site rather than relying on drawings. The past had shown her that drawn information was not always reliable. She would stay at the Frangipani Bay Hotel. Jack sat back and thought for a while. What would it be like seeing her again after the bombshell she dropped in New York? Would he be able to control himself? He didn’t know why but he felt angry toward her. It was stupid and immature he knew, but it was there nevertheless.
‘Oh well, you’ll just have to get over it’ he thought to himself. Anyway tonight he was seeing Mary who was coming over for dinner at his insistence, so Estelle could go hang. He had brought back a gift for her and he was eager to present it tonight. He had missed Mary whilst he was away, and found himself sitting quietly thinking of her, remembering her smile and how she made him feel inside. The existence of Thomas had yet to emerge in their relationship and Mary had found that the longer she left it the harder it was to tell Jack. He had not questioned her after Honey’s indelicate comment and she was relieved. As for the centipede, Mary had a damned good idea that something had transpired between the two of them. Honey was a complete slut after all, and loved to let you know that she had been there. Why she had to have every new man that came around, Mary could not fathom. At first Mary was not sure if she would forgive Jack but after deliberating through Christmas, during which time she missed him terribly, she decided she would. He had been insistent that she came over for dinner tonight and she was delighted at the prospect. They sat and had a drink on the balcony before dinner and Jack presented Mary with her present. A collection of cosmetics from an exclusive shop in London that had cost him a small fortune. She was visibly thrilled and that made Jack feel good. After dinner they went to bed and both prepared to devour the other with lust. Once in bed, however, Mary could stand it no longer. “Jack I have a son,” she blurted. Jack stopped dead in his tracks. “Pardon?” was all he could muster. “I have a son Jack. A three year old boy named Thomas.” “Oh. That’s who Thomas is. And the father?” asked Jack. He was dazed by the news. He understood that Mary had a life before he met her, but he wasn’t expecting this. His stomach felt tight and knotted, and Jack felt trapped. “He left the moment he found out that I was pregnant,” continued Mary. “Oh,” was all he could muster but the look in his eyes betrayed his fear and panic. Mary had been here before, had heard that ‘oh’ before, and had seen that look before, and it sickened her. She had sworn off relationships because of it, but somehow with Jack she had not been able to help herself. She got out of bed and put on her clothes. “Where are you going?” asked Jack. “Home Jack. I’m sorry, but with me you get a package: me and Thomas. I don’t blame you, I blame myself. I haven’t been fair. I should have told you before, but I was scared you would bolt. I’m also cross with myself because I hid the truth from you, and that’s not fair on Thomas. He’s a beautiful boy, Jack, and I love him
dearly. So I’m going home to my boy which is where I belong.” And with that Mary left.
Chapter Thirty One A week later Jack collected Estelle from the airport and drove her to the hotel. As Decourcey and Montagu wanted to meet her, they were invited to dinner that evening. Estelle held their attention with an ease that was amazing, even to Jack after all these years. By the end of the meal Montagu had asked her to accept a commission to renovate the hotel, an invitation that Estelle said she would consider. But for all of Estelle’s charms Jack could not keep Mary from filling his thoughts and throughout the evening he was distant and preoccupied, smiling wanly at anyone who was talking to him at the time. A kid! Shit she had a kid! Wow that was heavy. But then again so what? It was Mary he liked and he felt sure that he wouldn’t feel different when he met Thomas. But it was a tie, a restraint, and a responsibility. The knot in his stomach had not gone away, and Jack had nibbled at his food, moving it around the plate absent-mindedly. “You OK Jack?” asked Montagu, “you haven’t said a word all evening, and you’ve hardly touched your food.” “Mary’s got a son,” he replied without thinking. A quiet fell over the table and all eyes turned to Jack. It was Decourcey who broke the silence. “Actually Mary is the mother of my godson”. “Thomas is your godson?” asked Jack incredulously. “Absolutely. Have you not met the dear boy? Felt sure you would have,” said Decourcey, lying. Mary had begged him not to spill the beans before she had done so. Estelle smiled and lent over and squeezed Jack’s hand. “Poor Jack. Frying pan into the fire, eh?” With that remark Jack made his excuses, said his thank yous and went home. He had a rough enough week ahead of him with Estelle here. He knew how hard she worked and that they would be toiling from dawn to dusk, but that would be a diversion at least. Mary couldn’t sleep for thinking about Jack. He hadn’t called all week. She had also heard of the American interior designer who was here working on Crystal Point. They were seen together all week and those people who knew Jack were speculating on their relationship. Well, thought Mary, if he has gone back to her it’s better now than later. But she missed him none the less. Tonight would be another night when she cried herself to sleep. Jack and Estelle had accomplished what she had come to the island to achieve. On paper every room was decorated and Jack had worked feverishly on the design changes she requested. There had been telephone calls and e-mails to Mustapha that in turn produced more
revisions and fine-tuning. The pair were exhausted. “Jack, as it’s my last night, take me to dinner,” she said. They went to Gulliver’s, a small seafood restaurant located in a little yacht marina on the northwest of the island. Housing only a handful of tables, this little auberge catered to the visiting yachtsmen who came this time of year, and was closed during the summer months. Their table was on a wooden deck on the water’s edge lit by small lanterns that reflected in the dark sea beyond. The only sound was the lapping of the little waves and the occasional clanging of the rigging on the yachts as they rolled gently from side to side. “Wow, this is quite a gem,” remarked Estelle, “how did you find this place?” “You get to know everywhere on the island after a while,” replied Jack, flatly. “Let’s eat, I’m starving,” said Estelle, trying her hardest to lighten the atmosphere between them, but it was an uphill battle. Jack remained solemn and distant. They ordered their meal and conversed with small talk until Estelle asked: “You happy here Jack?” “Um, I guess so. I mean it’s not permanent or anything and there are a lot worse places to be. Why do you ask?” “Oh I don’t know. It just seems to suit you here, like you belong, that’s all. Tell me about Mary.” Jack stopped and looked at her, trying to guess what the reasoning was for the question. “She’s the real estate agent who sold the land, that’s all.” “Bull shit! That’s not all and you know it. The fact she has a son has freaked you out hasn’t it?” Jack sighed, “I guess so.” Estelle held his hand and looked him in the eyes, “listen Jack, stop being so afraid to commit yourself to someone. Give it a try for God’s sake. Don’t lose this opportunity. You clearly are in love with this girl, and from what I’ve heard she loves you back. That is a rare and beautiful thing, Jack.” It was at that moment that Mary walked into the restaurant. She recognised Jack’s back instantly, and was floored by the site of the attractive girl holding his hand and staring into his face. So it was true then. Upset, Mary turned and left.
Chapter Thirty Two Estelle went back to the States and Jack busied himself on site. Grandison had been promoted to foreman and it was a position he took to with gusto. Although Baptiste was back at work, Grandison refused to let him do anything strenuous. The landscaping was well underway and from the outside the house looked complete. Inside was a hive of activity as the finishes and fixtures were being installed. Everything was taped and sealed to prevent damage, and outside boots were forbidden for fear of damaging the floors. Jack was at his busiest ensuring that every detail was properly executed, and was becoming a tyrant. Carpenters and painters were made to redo work that did not meet with his satisfaction, and hardly a day passed without an argument erupting over some condemned work or the other. One glare from Grandison soon silenced the detractors, however. Subcontractors were everywhere. In the kitchen, banks of plate warmers were being set into a wall whilst Sub Zero freezers were commissioned on the other side. The home theatre equipment was being hooked up in the projection room. Outside the pool was being tiled with small blue mosaics. Everywhere was bustling with tradesmen. Jack toured the house. He was pleased with the result. He walked up the stairs to the master bedroom suite, which was complete and ready to receive furniture. He wandered out onto the balcony and looked out at the sea. It was so beautiful and tranquil it gave him pause from the frenetic reality of finishing a house, and he began to take stock. A strange feeling of belonging was taking a hold of him, here on this tiny madcap island. He thought of his ancestors and the horrors they must have endured. He thought of the coachman’s son, and Sir Dennis’s words. He thought too of the genuine warmth with which he had been received, and the kindness he had been shown here, by people he did not even know. It was all so far removed from the impersonal existence that was life in London. He gazed out at the horizon for a few minutes and, refreshed, turned back to the task in hand. Jack wanted to call Mary, but wasn’t sure what to say. She hadn’t called him in over three weeks, and he was missing her. He was missing her so much that he ached. So much that he couldn’t eat, and sleep only came fitfully. That night he sat on his balcony and watched as the setting sun turned the small wispy clouds a luminescent orange. He watched as a flock of sea birds flew silently past, their shapes silhouetted against the iridescent blue sky of the evening. He wondered what the island looked like through their eyes as they peered down on the darkening, verdant tropical landscape below them. He watched as the bats appeared and performed their acrobatic aerial dance, a frenzy of motion more convoluted than the most severe roller coaster ride. He watched as the sun disappeared behind the razor line of the blue grey horizon and the sky turned crimson. The moon appeared and cast its cold light upon the water
turning the ocean into a silver mist behind the dark shape of the trees that stood behind Delisle Hall. He could stand it no more. He got up and called Mary. She answered after just a few rings: “Hello.” “Hi. It’s me, Jack.” “Oh. I didn’t think I was going to hear from you again,” but her tone wasn’t cold or dismissive, it was warm and encouraging. “I know. I’m sorry.” “Who is the girl you were with at Gulliver’s?” Jack faltered and a sudden fear gripped him, a fear that, whilst he was innocent, he might be judged guilty, and thereby lose Mary forever. “That’s the interior designer, Estelle,” he said, his mouth dry with panic. “You looked very cosy. Are you two an item?” “We were, once upon a time, in England,” replied Jack, too frightened to say anything but the truth. “And now?” “And now she’s engaged to an American, in New York.” “Oh.” Mary sounded relieved. “ Why have you called Jack?” “I want to meet Thomas.” There was a silence on the ‘phone for what seemed like an eternity. Finally Mary spoke, “well I’d better come over and we can discuss it then.”
Chapter Thirty Three – March It was March, and the dry season was upon them. The rains had stopped in January and Saint Mary was brown and thirsty. The once tropically green landscape was now a tinderbox covering of dried spiky grass, thinning to reveal the cracked baked earth beneath. The season was not without its beauty however and the bougainvillea was in full bloom with its brightly coloured paper like flowers giving a dazzling display almost everywhere one looked. Crystal point was nearing completion and Kevin was due to arrive on Friday to agree the final account. Jack had done a final inspection and Todd Wilson was attending to the inventory of remedial and unfinished works. It was four in the morning on Monday when Jack was awakened by the call. At first he didn’t recognise the female voice on the other end of the line. She was very upset and crying, and she knew him, for she called him by name. But he couldn’t comprehend what she was saying. “Jack, oh God Jack, he’s dead. Jack, he’s dead,” she sobbed. “Whose dead? Who..” and then he realised that he was talking to Jane. “Jane, whose dead?” he asked, a knot forming in his stomach. “Kevin. Jack please come. Kevin’s dead.” Unable to help himself Jack began to cry. “What do you mean? How?” he asked. “He was out hill climbing and they found him at the bottom of a ravine. Please come Jack. Kevin’s dead.” “I’m on my way love,” Jack could hear voices in the background, “Jane, who’s there with you?” “Mum and Dad.” “Jane let me talk to your dad, please.” Jane’s father came onto the line, his voice trembling and solemn. “It’s a terrible thing Jack, terrible. Kevin went out climbing yesterday afternoon and didn’t return. The search and rescue found him this morning, he’d fallen fifty feet and broke his neck.” “Oh shit,” said Jack dissolving into tears. This couldn’t be happening, not Kevin, not his best friend, not now when he had a new baby son. Composing himself as best he could he continued, “I’ll be on the next flight.” “Bless you son.” There was no more to say, so no more was said. Jack sat on his bed and wept. The sorrow permeated every pore of his being. He didn’t know what to do. He didn’t even know if he was capable of doing anything at all. Nevertheless he got up, showered and dressed. He had to wait until the travel agent was open before he could book a flight, so until then he just sat on the balcony, shocked, hollow and disbelieving, occasionally breaking down into tears. Eventually he
got up and packed a small suitcase for the journey to England. His entire body felt drained, his mind was numb, nothing made sense. After a while he called his mother and explained that he was coming home, and why. He wasn’t sure if he would return to Saint Mary. Fuck the house, fuck Sheiky Bird, fuck Mustafa. Nothing mattered any more. It had all lost its relevance in that one telephone call. Kevin was dead. Those bright enthusiastic eyes were to be seen no more, and the world had suddenly become a dark and miserable place. Jack sat with Jane and her parents in the front row of the crematorium, looking at the coffin perched on a conveyor belt in front of small curtains through which it would pass, never to be seen again. The proceedings happening around him were a blur, and the moment he was dreading was approaching, the moment when the coffin passed through those curtains and Kevin would be gone forever. Jane had asked him to deliver an eulogy to the congregation, as he was Kevin’s very best friend, and he dreaded that too. He didn’t know if he was capable of speaking about Kevin without breaking down. How do you say, ‘I loved him, and now he’s gone,’ to an audience who all loved him and felt the same loss? His loss was so deeply personal, and he knew that theirs was too. The attendance at the crematorium was greater than it could house, which was a testament to the regard that Kevin was held in by those whose lives he touched. Those who could not come inside stood in the memorial gardens in the clear, cold morning. The spring flowers were beginning to show. Kevin had died when the magnolia was in bloom. When the coffin started to move forward Jane screamed and put her head into her hands. Jack tried to comfort her by putting his arm around her shoulder. She leaned on him and sobbed loudly. “Oh God, no,” she wailed. The tears flowed down Jack’s cheeks in a torrent. When it came his time to talk Jack got up to the rostrum. He needn’t have worried about his speech. The grief was so palpable, so real, that if he had recited, ‘Diddle diddle dumpling, my son John,’ he would have brought the house down. He ended his eulogy by saying from the heart, “he was, simply and honestly, the nicest man I have ever known,” and with that he wept. At the wake afterwards Jack kept close to Jane and she was glad for that. There was a gentle tap on his shoulder and he turned around to see Estelle. She looked stunning, but her face showed that she too had been crying. Jack hugged her and they both wept. “Jack, this is Rock, my husband.” Jack stiffened, suddenly remembering that she was married. So there it was, his life had changed beyond recognition. His exgirlfriend was married and had moved on, and his best friend was dead.
“Pleased to meet you,” he lied as he shook Rock’s hand. Actually he couldn’t care less if he met him or not. “Pleasure’s all mine buddy. Estelle’s told me all about you,” Rock replied. Jack observed Rock. He was clean-shaven, handsome and muscular, but had a look in his eyes that Jack took an instant dislike to. It wasn’t jealousy, he knew that. He just did not like the man. And he felt that he wasn’t right for Estelle. But what the hell, this was not his business, and she was grown up enough to make her own decisions. “That’s nice,” he replied, “she’s never once mentioned you.” Sensing that this was going nowhere good Estelle bade Jack farewell and the two of them left. Jack had remained in England for another week when Mustafa called and begged him to go back to Saint Mary and finish the job, which he reluctantly agreed to. He arrived to a warm and comforting reception. Everyone was sympathetic to his loss and made him feel wanted and at home, an experience he was not expecting. A God fearing people who frequented church, they had organised a memorial service for Kevin, and had waited for Jack to return before holding it. It was an uplifting event with song and prayers and many a kind word being said about the deceased. Jack was the focal point of their sympathy and concern, and he could feel that it was genuine, and it comforted him greatly. Mary was discreet and supportive, and never once mentioned their future plans, leaving Jack to come to his own voluntary conclusion, and the cards to fall as they would.
Chapter Thirty Four Crystal Point was ready to be furnished. Containers lined the car park in front of the house and Estelle was there from New York to supervise her creation. If the workmen thought Jack was a tyrant, they had seen nothing yet. Barking instructions at men who were accustomed to wielding a pickaxe, she insisted that they be careful with expensive chairs and artwork, and put the fear of God into their hearts. Bodecia had met her match. Beds were assembled, paintings were hung, drapes were put up, and tables and chairs were placed with precision next to expertly located rugs. When it was finally completed the result was amazing. Studying their work, Estelle and Jack walked the length and breadth of their project, making sure that every last minute detail was covered. The white walls contrasted with the dark timber of the cathedral ceilings, and the bamboo floors set off the Polynesian furniture perfectly, while views of the pool and the Caribbean Ocean was ever present through the open arches of the walls. It was a lush and tranquil tropical idyll, and the pair was justly proud, and exhausted. They sat on the lanai overlooking the pool and opened a bottle of champagne, a toast to a job well done. “So Jack, what now?” “Wish I knew.” “It suits you here, you know. It’s strange, but somehow I feel that this is where you should be.” Jack looked at her. Just how intuitive could the woman be? “I get the same feeling myself, sometimes, but then I think, …. oh I don’t know.” “Take my advice honey, stay and give this place a chance. London is not for you.” “What about you?” enquired Jack. “Oh, I guess we’ll become the typical New York career couple, too busy to have kids, a country home in Rhode Island, that sort of thing.” “Is that what you want?” asked Jack. “Hey, I’m kidding, I’m sure that we will be lousy with kids and domestic mayhem in no time,” laughed Estelle. But her brevity did not convince Jack. The time had finally come for the handing over of Crystal Point. Jack made his last inspection of the house and satisfied that all was in order, he e-mailed Mustafa to that effect. Mustafa would notify the client and settle matters with Todd Wilson. Jack was not to worry about that. Jack knew full well what this meant. Now that the house was complete Todd could whistle for any outstanding money he was due, especially after the problems of Lars. But Jack was certain that Todd would not be foolish enough to relinquish the house unless paid in
full. They had arranged to meet in Todd’s office where Jack was to pick up the keys to Crystal Point, an event that Jack was certain would not happen. To his amazement however, Todd not only handed over the keys but when Jack told him that Mustafa would deal with him directly over final payment he said, “sure”. Something was going on, Jack was convinced of that. Either these were the wrong keys or Mustafa had gotten to Todd in some way. He called Mary and the two of them drove to the house. They approached the cedar gates and Jack pressed the button on the remote control. Silently the gates opened. So far so good. They drove down the cobble stone drive and parked in front of the lily pond. They walked over the cedar bridge to the covered entrance and Jack put the key in the lock. It turned and they entered. They surveyed the house thoroughly. The pool was clean and the pump working, the lights and air-conditioning worked, everything worked. Jack could not understand it. Todd must know that he was about to be screwed, surely. He shared his disbelief with Mary. “Well, when thief thief from thief, God laugh, as they say here,” was her reply. She had been a great comfort to Jack since Kevin’s death and she had not left his side. She had even spent every night at Jack’s house, and he liked having her there, she was no intrusion. She had been his friend and support, and Jack, although still grieving, felt relaxed and at peace with her. They locked up and left the house. The owner’s representative would be arriving the following day to pick up the keys from Mary’s office. SB would spend his first night at Crystal Point a week later. Jack’s job was done and DAD’s golf course was taking its time to materialise, so it was time to think about going home. Sonny persuaded him to take a month off and stay in Saint Mary. It seemed like a good idea as the weather in England was still grim and Jack felt he could benefit from a break. He and Mary were lovers once more and now that he had met Thomas the three of them spent a lot of time together, picnicking on Mary’s beach, going for walks or just generally hanging out. The boy seemed to take to Jack instantly and the affection he showed was genuine. Jack did not want to leave them and that scared him. He was also beginning to think about the ancestors he had read about at Delisle Hall and of DAD’s words on their trip over the hills of the proposed golf course. He felt a sense of belonging here. It was nothing that he could put his finger on but it was tangible enough. He had made friends and they were real friends. Maybe the ghosts were pulling at him too. Oh but this was ridiculous. Once he was back in England this would all be forgotten. He would get back into the old routine. ‘The old routine,’ what the hell was that? Everything back home seemed so foreign now and damp and cold and grey, and lonely. It was eight o’clock at night when Jack’s ‘phone rang. Mary answered it.
“It’s for you,” she said, “something about water.” “Water?” said Jack taking the ‘phone. On the line was SB’s personal assistant. Crystal Point was without water. Jack couldn’t understand this as he and Mary had checked every tap on the property just the other day and all worked perfectly. But SB was spitting flames and Jack was to come over immediately and put matters right. A call had also been put in to Mustafa who was in Florida on business. Jack and Mary drove to Crystal Point. The house and garden were illuminated in their theatrical beauty. SB’s PA was a powerful looking man of Middle Eastern origin in his early forties and he greeted them at the door. Sure enough the house was bereft of water. Jack walked outside to the main stopcock. It was on. He checked the level in the water tank, which was there to act as a reservoir in the event of a water shortage, and it was full. He was at a loss. Then his cell-phone rang. On the line was Mustafa and he was annoyed. “What’s going on Jack? You told me the house was ready.” “It was.” “Then where’s the blooming water Jack? How can a house be ready without water? Do you consider a house ready without water, Jack?” “I’ll call Todd Wilson and see if he has any ideas,” Jack replied. And he ended the call. Todd Wilson did indeed have some ideas. “It’s a matter of money Jack,” said Todd in a relaxed languid tone, “tell Mustafa to call me.” Jack called Mustafa and relayed the message. The ‘phone went silent. Then he heard Mustafa swear before hanging up. Jack explained to the PA that the contractor was dealing with it and that the water would soon be on. And with that he and Mary left. Todd Wilson had seen the writing on the wall and had acted accordingly. Jack smiled, this was not a regular occurrence, and as Mary said: “when thief thief from thief, God laugh.” He must surely be laughing now, and maybe Kevin was with him enjoying the spectacle.
Chapter Thirty Five Jack, Mary and Thomas spent much of the next weeks at Mary’s Beach. DAD had called to say that the deal with the Americans was getting closer and was Jack still interested in designing the clubhouse. He could do it from England if he wanted so long as he came back for the construction. Jack said he would think about it. He began to think about a lot of things during those few weeks, mostly about his future. Kevin’s death had made Jack feel mortal. His pal had been taken from this world well before his time. Before he had had the opportunity of being a father. Before he could grow old. But Kevin had never wasted any of the time he had had on earth. He lived every minute to the fullest. He took every ounce of fulfilment that opportunity had afforded him and he lived the short time that was allocated to him to the best extent that he was capable of. Jack had a choice. He could return to Chiswick and to his flat and his struggle to find work or he could remain here on this tiny island with its mad inhabitants who did little more than live for the enjoyment of life. He could panic and bolt, as he had done in the past, and live a lonely insular existence, or he could take a chance on fulfilment with Mary and Thomas. The latter he knew would require him to give up some of himself, require him to be responsible for others, require him to care. One course of action was returning to a life he knew and understood, but a life he felt he didn’t want any more. The other was an unknown, and the prospect of it frightened him. Standing on the sandy beach Mary looked at him and asked the question he had become unsure of, “you going back to England Jack?” He looked over at her, her usually smiling face now serious and sad. He knew that he would miss her, hell he missed her now, all of the time. He stood up and walked over to the seashore and picked up a flat stone. He stood there silently, feeling the presence of the ghosts of those who had gone before him, standing beside him. Looking to the sky he saw the white trail of a jet leading away from Saint Mary, away from all he had come to know and love in these past months. He turned to Mary and said, “T’ RASS WI’ DAT!” and he skimmed the stone over the water. “Fifteen.” The End