The Eye Of The Tiger [047-142-066-4.9]
By: Wilbur Smith
Category: Fiction Historical Adventure
Harry Fletcher, a man with a chequered past, now makes an honest living
as a charter skipper fishing in the magnificent Indian Ocean. Until
suddenly men from a world he has put behind him plunge him once more
into a deadly game. And he must play – for an unknown prize against
undeclared odds – by the rules of violence and death which he once
practised as an art. For of one thing he is certain: to fail is to die….
Last printing: 05/28/02
`;2:+’ ISBN: 0-2670-107-8366-1
“TIGER! TIGER! burning bright In the forests of the night …
In what distant deeps or skies Burnt the fire of thine eyes?”
It was one of those seasons when the fish came late.
I worked my boat and crew hard, running far northwards each day, coming
back into Grand Harbour long after dark each night, but it was November
the 6th when we picked up the first of the big ones riding down on the
wine purple swells of the Mozambique current.
By this time I was desperate for a fish. My charter was a party of one,
an advertising wheel from New York named Chuck Mcgeorge, one of my
regulars who made the annual six-thousand-mile pilgrimage to St. Mary’s
island for the big marlin. He was a short wiry little man, bald as an
ostrich egg and grey at the temples, with a wizened brown monkey face
but the good hard legs that are necessary to take on the big fish.
When at last we saw the fish, he was riding high in the water, showing
the full length of his fin, longer than a man’s arm and with the
scimitar curve that distinguishes it from shark or porpoise.
Angelo spotted him at the instant that I did, and he hung out on the
foredeck stay and yelled with excitement, his gipsy curls dangling on
his dark cheeks and his teeth flashing in the brilliant tropical
The fish crested and wallowed, the water opening about him so that he
looked like a forest log, black and heavy and massive, his tail fin
echoing the graceful curve of the dorsal, before he slid down into the
next trough and the water closed over his broad glistening back.
I turned and glared down into the cockpit. Chubby was already helping
Chuck into the big fighting chair, clinching the heavy harness and
gloving him up, but he looked up and caught my eye.
Chubby scowled heavily and spat over the side, in complete contrast to
the excitement that gripped the rest of us. Chubby is a huge man, as
tall as I am but a lot heavier in the shoulder and gut.
He is also one of the most staunch and consistent pessimists in the
“Shy fish!” grunted Chubby, and spat again. I grinned at him.
“Don’t mind him, Chuck,” I called, “old Harry is going to set you into
that fish.” “I’ve got a thousand bucks that says you don’t,” Chuck
shouted back, his face screwed up against the dazzle of the sun-flecked
sea, but his eyes twinkling with excitement.
“You’re on!” I accepted a bet I couldn’t afford and turned my attention
to the fish.
Chubby was right, of course. After me, he is the best billfish man in
the entire world. The fish was big and shy and scary. Five times I had
the baits to him, working him with all the skill and cunning I could
muster. Each time he turned away and sounded as I brought Wave Dancer in
on a converging course to cross his beak.
“Chubby, there is a fresh dolphin bait. in the ice box: haul in the
teasers, and we’ll run him with a single bait,” I shouted despairingly.
I put the dolphin to him. I had rigged the bait myself and it swam with
a fine natural action in the water. I recognized the instant in which
the marlin accepted the bait. He seemed to hunch his great shoulders and
I caught the flash of his belly, like a mirror below the surface, as he
“Follow!”screamed Angelo. “He follows!”
I set Chuck into the fish at a little after ten o’clock in the morning,
and I fought him close. Superfluous line in the water would place
additional strain on the man at the rod. My job required infinitely more
skill than gritting the teeth and hanging on to the heavy fibreglass
rod. I kept Wave Dancer running hard on the fish through the first
frenzied charges and frantic flashing leaps until Chuck could settle
down in the fighting chair and lean on the marlin, using those fine
fighting legs of his.
A few minutes after noon, Chuck had the fish beaten. He was on the
surface, in the first of the wide circles which Chuck would narrow with
each turn until we had him at the gaff.
“Hey, Harry!” Angelo called suddenly, breaking my concentration. “We got
a visitor, man!”
“What is it, Angelo?”
“Big Johnny coming up current.” He pointed. “Fish is bleeding, he’s
I looked and saw the shark coming. The blunt fin moving up steadily,
drawn by the struggle and smell of blood. He was a big hammerhead, and I
called to Angelo.
“Bridge, Angelo,”and I gave him the wheel.
“Harry, you let that bastard chew my fish and you can kiss your thousand
bucks goodbye,” Chuck grunted sweatily at me from the fighting chair,
and I dived into the main cabin.
Dropping to my knees I knocked open the toggles that held down the
engine hatch and I slid it open.
Lying on my belly, I reached up under the decking and grasped the stock
of the FN carbine hanging in its special concealed slings of inner
As I came out on to the deck I checked the loading of the rifle, and
pushed the selector on to automatic fire. “Angelo, lay me alongside that
Hanging over the rail in Wave Dancer’s bows, I looked down on to the
shark as Angelo ran over him. He was a hammerhead all right, a big one,
twelve feet from tip to tail, coppery bronze through the clear water.
I aimed carefully between the monstrous eyestalks which flattened and
deformed the shark’s head, and I fired a short burst.
The FN roared, the empty brass cases spewed from the weapon and the
water erupted in quick stabbing splashes. The shark shuddered
convulsively as the bullets smashed into his head, shattering the
gristly bone and bursting his tiny brain. He rolled over and began to
“Thanks, Harry,” Chuck gasped, sweating and red-faced in the chair.
“All part of the service,” I grinned at him, and went to take the wheel
At ten minutes to one, Chuck brought the marlin up to the gaff,
punishing him until the great fish came over on his side, the sickle
tail beating feebly, and the long beak opening and shutting
spasmodically. The glazed single eye was as big as a ripe apple, and the
long body pulsed and shone with a thousand flowing shades of silver and
gold and royal purple.
“Cleanly now, Chubby,” I shouted, as I got a gloved hand on the steel
trace and drew the fish gently towards where Chubby waited with the
stainless-steel hook at the gaff held ready.
Chubby withered me with a glance that told me clearly that he had been
pulling the steel into billfish when I was still a gutter kid in a
“Wait for the roll,” I cautioned him again, just to plague him a little,
and Chubby’s lip curled at the unsolicited advice.
The swell rolled the fish up to us, opening the wide chest that glowed
silver between the spread wings of the pectoral fins.
“Now!” I said, and Chubby sank the steel in deep. In a burst of bright
crimson heart blood, the fish went into its death frenzy, beating the
surface to flashing white and drenching us all under fifty gallons of
thrown sea water.
I hung the fish on Admiralty Wharf from the derrick of the crane.
Benjamin, the harbour-master, signed a certificate for a total weight of
eight hundred and seventeen pounds. Although the vivid fluorescent
colours had faded in death to flat sooty black, yet it was impressive
for its sheer bulk – fourteen feet six inches from the point of its bill
to the tip of its flaring swallow tail.
“Mister Harry done hung a Moses on Admiralty,” the word was carried
through the streets by running bare-footed urchins, and the islanders
joyously snatched at the excuse to cease work and crowd the wharf in
The word travelled as far as old Government House on the bluff, and the
presidential Land-Rover came buzzing down the twisting road with the gay
little flag fluttering on the bonnet. It butted its way through the
crowd and deposited the great man on the wharf. Before independence,
Godfrey Biddle had been St. Mary’s only solicitor, island, born and
“Mister Harry, what a magnificent specimen,” he cried delightedly.
A fish like this would give impetus to St. Mary’s budding tourist trade,
and he came to clasp my hand. As State Presidents go in this part of the
world, he was top of the class.
“Thank you, Mr. President, sir.” Even with the black homburg on his
head, he reached to my armpit. He was a symphony in black, black wool
suit, and patent leather shoes, skin the colour of polished anthracite
and only a fringe of startlingly white fluffy hair curling around his
“You really are to be congratulated.” President Biddle was dancing with
excitement, and I knew I’d be eating at Government House on guest nights
again this season. It had taken a year or two – but the President had
finally accepted me as though I was island-born. I was one of his
children, with all the special privilege that this position carried with
Fred Coker arrived in his hearse, but armed with his photographic
equipment, and while he set up his tripod and disappeared under the
black cloth to focus the ancient camera, we posed for him beside the
colossal carcass. Chuck in the middle holding the rod, with the rest of
us grouped around him, arms folded like a football team. Angelo and I
were grinning and Chubby was scowling horrifically into the lens.
The picture would look good in my new advertising brochure – loyal crew
and intrepid skipper, hair curling out from under his cap and from the
vee of his shirt, all muscle and smiles – it would really pack them in
I arranged for the fish to go into the cold room down at the pineapple
export sheds. I would consign it out to Rowland Wards of London for
mounting on the next refrigerated shipment. Then I left Angelo and
Chubby to scrub down Dancer’s decks, refuel her across the harbour at
the Shell basin and take her out to moorings.
As Chuck and I climbed into the cab of my battered old Ford pick-up,
Chubby sidled across like a racecourse tipster, speaking out of the
corner of his mouth.
“Harry, about my billfish bonus-” I knew exactly what he was going to
ask, we went through this every time.
“Mrs. Chubby doesn’t have to know about it, right?” I finished for him.
“That’s right,” he agreed lugubriously, and pushed his filthy deep-sea
cap to the back of his head.
I put Chuck on the plane at nine the next morning and I sang the whole
way down from the plateau, honking the horn of my battered old Ford
pick-up at the island girls working in the pineapple fields. They
straightened up with big flashing smiles under the brims of the wide
straw hats and waved.
At Coker’s Travel Agency I changed Chucks American Express traveller’s
cheques, haggling the rate of exchange with Fred Coker. He was in full
fig, tailcoat and black tie. He had a funeral at noon.
The camera and tripod laid up for the present, photographer became
Coker’s Funeral Parlour was in the back of the Travel Agency opening
into the alley, and Fred used the hearse to pick up tourists at the
airport, first discreetly changing his advertising board on the vehicle
and putting the seats in over the rail for the coffins.
I booked all my charters through him, and he clouted his ten per cent
off my traveller’s cheques. He had the insurance agency as well, and he
deducted the annual premium for Dancer before carefully counting out the
balance. I recounted just as carefully, for although Fred looks like a
schoolmaster, tall and thin and prim, with just enough island blood to
give him a healthy all-over tan, he knows every trick in the book and a
few which have not been written down yet.
He waited patiently while I checked, taking no offence, and when I
stuffed the roll into my back pocket, his gold pince-nez sparkled and he
told me like a loving father, “Don’t forget you have a charter party
coming in tomorrow, Mister Harry.”
That’s all right, Mr. Coker – don’t you worry, my crew will be just
They are down at the Lord Nelson already,” he told me delicately.
Fred keeps his finger firmly on the islan’s pulse. “Mr. Coker, I’m
running a charter boat, not a temperance society. Don’t worry,” I
repeated, and stood up. “Nobody ever died of a hangover.”
I crossed Drake Street to Edward’s Store and a hero’s welcome. Ma Eddy
herself came out from behind the counter and folded me into her warm
“Mister Harry,” she cooed and fussed me, “I went down to the wharf to
see the fish you hung yesterday.” Then she turned still holding me and
shouted at one of her counter girls, “Shirley, you get Mister Harry a
nice cold beer now, hear?”
I hauled out my roll. The pretty little island girls chittered like
sparrows when they saw it, and Ma Eddy rolled her eyes and hugged me
“What do I owe you, Missus Eddy?” From June to November is a long
offseason, when the fish do not run, and Ma Eddy carries me through that
I propped myself against the counter with a can of beer in my hand,
picking the goods I needed from the shelves and watching their legs as
the girls in their mini-skirts clambered up the ladders to fetch them
down – old Harry feeling pretty good and cocky with that hard lump of
green stuff in his back pocket.
Then I went down to the Shell Company basin and the manager met me at
the door of his office between the big silver fuel storage tanks.
“God, Harry, I’ve been waiting for you all morning. Head Office has been
screaming at me about your bill.”
“Your waiting is over, brother,” I told him. But Wave Dancer, like most
beautiful women, is an expensive mistress, and when I climbed back into
the pick-up, the lump in my pocket was severely depleted.
They were waiting for me in the beer garden of the Lord Nelson.
The island is very proud of its associations with the Royal Navy,
despite the fact that it is no longer a British possession but revels in
an independence of six years’ standing; yet for two hundred years
previously it had been a station of the British fleet. Old prints by
long-dead artists decorated the public bar, depicting the great ships
beating up the channel or lying in grand harbour alongside Admiralty
Wharf – men-of-war and merchantmen of John Company victualled and
refitted here before the long run south to the Cape of Good Hope and the
St. Mary’s has never forgotten her place in history, nor the admirals
and mighty ships that made their landfall here. The Lord Nelson is a
parody of its former grandeur, but I enjoy its decayed and seedy
elegance and its associations with the past more than the tower of glass
and concrete that Hilton has erected on the headland above the harbour.
Chubby and his wife sat side by side on the bench against the far wall,
both of them in their Sunday clothes. This was the easiest way to tell
them apart, the fact that Chubby wore the three-piece suit which he had
bought for his wedding – the buttons straining and gaping, and the
deep-sea cap stained with salt crystals and fish blood on his head –
while his wife wore a full-length black dress of heavy wool, faded
greenish with age, and black button-up boots beneath. Otherwise their
dark mahogany faces were almost identical, though Chubby was freshly
shaven and she did have a light moustache.
“Hello, Missus Chubby, how are you?” I asked. “Thank you, Mister Harry.”
“Will you take a little something, then?”
“Perhaps just a little orange gin, Mister Harry, with a small bitter to
chase it down.”
While she sipped the sweet liquor, I counted Chubby’s wages into her
hand, and her lips moved as she counted silently in chorus. Chubby
watched anxiously, and I wondered once again how he had managed all
these years to fool her on the billfish bonus.
Missas Chubby drained the beer and the froth emphasized her moustache.
“I’ll be Off then, Mister Harry.” She rose majestically, and sailed from
the courtyard. I waited until she turned into Frobisher Street before I
slipped Chubby the little sheath of notes under the table and we went
into the private bar together.
Angelo had a girl on each side of him and one on his lap. His black silk
shirt was open. to the belt buckle, exposing gleaming chest muscles. His
denim pants fitted skin-tight, leaving no doubt as to his gender, and
his boots were hand-tooled and polished westerns. He had greased his
hair and sleeked it back in the style of the young Presley.
He flashed his grin like a stage lamp across the room and when I paid
him he tucked a banknote into the front of each girl’s blouse.
“Hey, Eleanor, you go sit on Harry’s lap, but careful now.
Harry’s a virgin – you treat him right, hear?” He roared with delighted
laughter and turned to Chubby.
“Hey, Chubby, you quit giggling like that all the time, man!
That’s stupid – all that giggling and grinning.” Chubby’s frown
deepened, his whole face crumbling into folds and wrinkles like that of
a bulldog. “Hey, Mister barman, you give old Chubby a drink now.
Perhaps that will stop him cutting up stupid, giggling like that.”
At four that afternoon Angelo had driven his girls off, and he sat with
his glass on the table top before him. Beside it lay his bait knife
honed to a razor edge and glinting evilly in the overhead lights.
He muttered darkly to himself, deep in alcoholic melancholy. Every few
minutes he would test the edge of the knife with his thumb and scowl
around the room. Nobody took any notice of him.
Chubby sat on the other side of me, grinning like a great brown toad –
exposing a set of huge startlingly white teeth with pink plastic gums.
“Harry,” he told me expansively, one thick muscled arm around my neck.
“You are a good boy, Harry. You know what, Harry, I’m going to tell you
now what I never told you before.” He nodded wisely as he gathered
himself for the declaration he made every pay day. “Harry, I love you
man. I love you better than my own brother.”
I lifted the stained cap and lightly caressed the bald brown dome of his
head. “And you are my favourite eggshell blond,” I told him.
He held me at arm’s length for a moment, studying my face, then burst
into a lion’s roar of laughter. It was completely infectious and we were
both still laughing when Fred Coker walked in and sat down at the table.
He adjusted his pince-nez and said primly, “Mister Harry, I have just
received a special delivery from London. Your charter cancelled.” I
“What the hell!” I said. Two weeks without a charter in the middle of
high season and only a lousy two-hundreddollar reservation fee.
“Mr. Coker, you have got to get me a party.” I had three hundred dollars
left in my pocket from Chuck’s charter. “You got to get me a party,” I
repeated, and Angelo picked up his knife and with a crash drove the
point deeply into the table top. Nobody took any notice of him, and he
scowled angrily around the room.
“I’ll try,” said Fred Coker, “but it’s a bit late now.”
“Cable the parties we had to turn down.”
“Who will pay for the cables?” Fred asked delicately.
“The hell with it, I’ll pay.” And he nodded and went out. I heard the
hearse start up outside.
“Don’t worry, Harry,” said Chubby. “I still love you, man.”
Suddenly beside me Angelo went to sleep. He fell forward and his
forehead hit the table top with a resounding crack. I rolled his head so
that he would not drown in the puddle of spilled liquor, returned the
knife to its sheath, and took charge of his bank roll to protect him
from the girls who were hovering close.
Chubby ordered another round and began to sing a rambling, mumbling
shanty in island patois, while I sat and worried.
Once again I was stretched out neatly on the financial rack. God how I
hate money – or rather the lack of it. Those two weeks would make all
the difference as to whether or not Dancer and I could survive the
off-season, and still keep our good resolutions. I knew we couldn’t. I
knew we would have to go on the night run again.
The hell with it, if we had to do it, we might as well do it now.
I would pass the word that Harry was ready to do a deal. Having made the
decision, I felt again that pleasurable tightening of the nerves, the
gut thing that goes with danger. The two weeks of cancelled time might
not be wasted after all.
I joined Chubby in song, not entirely certain that we were singing the
same number, for I seemed to reach the end of each chorus a long time
It was probably this musical feast that called up the law. On St. Mary’s
this takes the form of an Inspector and four troopers, which is more
than adequate for the island. Apart from a great deal of “carnal
knowledge under the age of consent” and a little wife-beating, there is
no crime worthy of the name.
Inspector Peter Daly was a young man with a blond moustache, a high
English colour on smooth cheeks and pale blue eyes set close together
like those of a sewer rat. He wore the uniform of the British, colonial
police, the cap with the silver badge and shiny patent leather peak, the
khaki drill starched and ironed until it crackled softly as he walked,
the polished leather belt and Sam Browne cross straps. He carried a
malacca cane swagger stick which was also covered with polished leather.
Except for the green and yellow St. Mary’s shoulder flashes, he looked
like the Empire’s pride, but like the Empire the men who wore the
uniform had also crumbled.
mr Fletcher he said, standing over our table and slapping the swagger
stick lightly against his Palm. “I hope we are not going to have any
Sir I prompted him. Inspector Daly and I were never friends – I don’t
like bullies, or persons who in Positions of trust supplement a
perfectly adequate salary with bribes and kick-backs. He had taken a lot
of my hard-won gold from me in the past, which was his most unforgivable
His mouth hardened under the blond moustache and his colour came up
quickly. “Sir,” he repeated reluctantly.
Now it is true that once or twice in the remote past Chubby and I had
given way to an excess of boyish high spirits when we had just hung a
Moses fish – however, this did not give Inspector Daly any excuse for
talking like that. He was after all a mere expatriate out on the island
for a three-year contract – which I knew from the President himself
would not be renewed.
Inspector, am I correct in my belief that this is a public place – and
that neither my friends nor I are committing a trespass?”
That is so.” Then Am I also correct in thinking that singing of decent
songs in a public place does not constitute a criminal act?”
Well, that is true, but, – Inspector, piss off I told him pleasantly. He
hesitated, looking at Chubby and me. Between the two of us we make up a
lot of muscle, and he could see the unholy battle gleam in our eyes. You
could see he wished he had his troopers with him.
“I’ll be keeping an eye on you,” he said and, clutching at his dignity
like a beggar’s rags, he left us. Chubby, you sing like an angel,” I
said and he beamed at me.
“Harry, I’m going to buy you a drink.” And Fred Coker arrived in time to
be included in the round. He drank lager and lime juice which turned my
stomach a little, but his tidings were an effective antidote.
“Mister Harry, I got you a party.”
“Mister Coker, I love you.” “I love you too,” said Chubby, but deep down
I felt a twinge of disappointment. I had been looking forward to another
“When are they arriving?” I asked.
“They are here already – they were waiting for me at my office when I
“They knew that your first party had cancelled, and they asked for you
by name. They must have come in on the same plane as the special
My thinking was a little muzzy right then or I might have pondered a
moment how neatly one party had with, drawn and another had stepped in.
“They are staying up at the Hilton.”
“Do they want me to pick them up?”
“No, they’ll meet you at Admiralty Wharf ten o’clock tomorrow morning.”
I was grateful that the party had asked for such a late starting time.
That morning Dancer was crewed by zombies. Angelo groaned and turned a
light chocolate colour every time he bent over to coil a rope or rig the
rods and Chubby sweated neat alcohol and his expression was truly
terrifying. He had not spoken a word all morning.
I wasn’t feeling all that cheerful myself. Dancer was snugged up
alongside the wharf and I leaned on the rail of the flying bridge with
my darkest pair of Polaroids over my eyes and although MY scalp itched I
was afraid to take Off my cap In case the top of my skull came with it.
The island’s single taxi, a “62 Citroin, came down Drake Street and
stopped at the top end of the wharf to deposit my party- There were two
of them, and I had expected three, Coker had definitely said a party of
They started down the long stone-Paved wharf, walking side by side, and
I straightened up slowly as I watched them. I felt my physical distress
fade into the realm of the inconsequential, to be replaced by that gut
thing again, the slow coiling and clenching within, and the little
tickling feeling along the back of my arms and in the nape of the neck.
One was tall and walked with that loose easy gait of a professional
athlete. He was bare-headed and his hair was pale gingery and combed
carefully across a prematurely balding pate so the pink scalp showed
through. However, he was lean around the belly and hips, and he was
aware. It was the only word to describe the charged sense of readiness
that emanated from him.
It takes one to recognize one. This was a man trained to live with and
by violence- He was muscle, a soldier, in the jargon. It mattered not
for which side of the law he exercised his skills – law enforcement or
its frustration – he was very bad news. I had hoped never to see this
kind of barracuda cruising St. Mary’s Placid waters- It gave me a sick
little slide in the guts to know that it had found me out again. Quickly
I glanced at the other man, it wasn’t so obvious in him, the edge was
blunted a little, the outline blurred by time and flesh, but it was
there also – more bad news. “All this, and
“Nice going, Harry,” I told myself bitterly.
a hangover thrown in.”
Clearly now I recognized that the older man was the leader. He walked
half a pace ahead, the younger taller man paying him that respect. He
was a few years my senior also, probably late thirties.
There was the beginnings of a paunch over the crocodile skin belt, and
pouches of flesh along the line of his jawbone, but his hair had been
styled in Bond Street and he wore his Sulka silk shirt and Gucci loafers
like badges of rank. As he came on down the wharf he dabbed at his chin
and upper lip with a white handkerchief and I guessed the diamond on his
little finger at two carats. It was set in a plain gold ring and the
wrist watch was gold also, probably by Lanvin or Piaget.
“Fletcherr he asked, stopping below me on the jetty. His eyes were black
and beady, like those of a ferret. A predator’s eyes, bright without
warmth. I saw he was older than I had guessed, for his hair was
certainly tinted to conceal the grey. The skin of his cheeks was
unnaturally tight and I could see the scars of plastic surgery in the
hair line. He’d had a facelift, a vain man then, and I stored the
He was an old soldier, risen from the ranks to a position of command. He
was the brain, and the man that followed him was the muscle. Somebody
had sent out their first team and, with a clairvoyant flash, I realized
why my original party had cancelled.
A phone call followed by a visit from this pair would put the average
citizen off marlin-fishing for life. They had probably done themselves a
serious injury in their rush to cancel.
“Mr. Materson? Come aboard-” One thing was certain, they had not come
for the fishing, and I decided on a low and humble profile until I had
figured out the percentages, so I threw in a belated ” – sir.”
The muscle man jumped down to the deck, landing softfooted like a cat
and I saw the way that the folded coat over his arm swung heavily, there
was something weighty in the pocket. He confronted, my crew, thrusting
out his jaw and running his eyes over them swiftly.
Angelo flashed a watered-down version of the celebrated smile and
touched the brim of his cap. “Welcome, sir.” And Chubby’s scowl
lightened momentarily and he muttered something that sounded like a
curse, but was probably a warm greeting. The man ignored them and turned
to hand Materson down to the deck where he waited while his bodyguard
checked out Dancer’s main saloon. Then he went in and I followed him.
Our accommodation is luxurious, at a hundred and twenty-five thousand
nicker it should be. The air, conditioning had taken the bite out of the
morning heat and Materson sighed with relief and dabbed again with his
handkerchief as he sank into one of the padded seats.
This is Mike Guthrie.” He indicated the muscle who was moving about the
cabin checking at the ports, opening doors and generally, over-playing
his hand, coming on very tough and hard.
“My pleasure, Mr. Guthrie.” I grinned with all my boyish charm, and he
waved airily without glancing at me.
“A drink, gentlemen? I asked, as I opened the liquor cabinet.
They took a Coke each, but I needed something medicinal for the shock
and the hangover. The first swallow of cold beer from the can
Well, gentlemen, I think I shall be able to offer you some sport.
only yesterday I hung a very good fish, and all the signs are for a big
run–2 Mike Guthrie stepped in front of me and stared into my face. His
eyes were flecked with brown and pale green, like a hand-loomed tweed.
Don’t I know you? he asked.
“I don’t think I’ve ever had the pleasure.”
“You are a London boy, aren’t you?” He had picked up the accent.
“I left Blighty a long time ago, mate,” I grinned, letting it come out
broad. He did not smile, and dropped into the seat opposite me, placing
his hands on the table top between us, spreading his fingers palm
downwards. He continued to stare at me. A very tough baby, very hard.
“I’m afraid that it is too late for today,” I babbled on cheerfully. “If
we are going to fish the Mozambique, we have to clear harbour by six
o’clock. However, we can make an early start tomorrow-” Materson my
chatter. “Check that list out, Fletcher, and let us know what you are
short.” He passed me a folded sheet of foolscap, and I glanced down the
handwritten column. It was all scuba diving gear and salvage equipment.
“You gentlemen aren’t interested in big game fishing then?” Old Harry
showing surprise and amazement at such an unlikely eventuality.
“We have come out to do a little exploring – that’s all.”
I shrugged. “You’re paying, we do what you want to do.”
“Have you got all that stuff?”
“Most of it.” In the off-season I run a cut-rate package deal for scuba
buffs which helps pay expenses. I had a full range of diving sets and
there was an air compressor built in to Dancer’s engine room for
recharging. “I don’t have the air bags or all that rope. “Can you get
“Sure.” Ma Eddy had a pretty good selection of ship’s stores, and
Angelo’s old man was a sail-maker. He could run up the air bags in a
couple of hours.
“Right then, get it.”
I nodded. “When do you want to start!”
“Tomorrow morning. There will be one other person with us.”
“Did Mr. Coker tell you it’s five hundred dollars a day and I’ll have to
charge you for this extra equipment?” Materson inclined his head and
made as if to rise.
“Would it be okay to see a little of that out front?” I asked softly,
and they froze. I grinned ingratiatingly.
“It’s been a long lean winter, Mr. Materson, and I’ve got to buy this
stuff and fill my fuel tanks.”
Materson took out his wallet and counted out three hundred pounds in
fivers. As he was doing so he said in his soft purry voice, “We won’t
need your crew, Fletcher. The three of us will help you handle the
I was taken aback. I had not expected that. “They’ll have to draw full
wages, if you Jay them off. I can reduce my rate.”
Mike Guthrie was still sitting opposite me, and now he leaned forward.
“You heard the man, Fletcher, just get your niggers off the boat,”he
Carefully I folded the bundle of five-pound notes and buttoned them into
my breast pocket, then I looked at him. He was very quick, I could see
him tense up ready for me and for the first time he showed expression in
those cold speckled eyes. It was anticipation. He knew he had reached
me, and he thought I was going to try him. He wanted that, he wanted to
take me apart. He left his hands on the table, palms downwards, fingers
spread- I thought how I might take the little finger of each hand and
snap them at the middle joint like a pair of cheese sticks. I knew I
could do it before he had a chance to move, and the knowledge gave me a
great deal of pleasure, for I was very angry. I haven’t many friends,
but I value the few I have.
“Did you hear me speak, boy?” Guthrie hissed at me, and I dredged up the
boyish grin again and let it hang at a ridiculous angle on my face.
“Yes, sir, Mr. Guthrie,” I said. “You’re paying the money, whatever you
I nearly choked on the words. He leaned back in his seat, and I saw that
he was disappointed. He was muscle, and he enjoyed his work.
I think I knew then that I was going to kill him, and I took enough
comfort from the thought to enable me to hold the grin.
Materson was watching us with those bright little eyes. His interest was
detached and clinical, like a scientist studying a pair of laboratory
specimens. He saw that the confrontation had been resolved for the
present, and his voice was soft and purry again.
“Very well, Fletcher.” He moved towards the deck. “Get that equipment
together and be ready for us at eight tomorrow morning.$ I let them go,
and I sat and finished the beer. It may have been just my hangover, but
I was beginning to have a very ugly feeling about this whole charter and
I realized that after all it might be best to leave Chubby and Angelo
ashore. I went out to tell them.
“We’ve got a pair of freaks, I’m sorry but they have got some big secret
and they are dealing you out.” I put the aqualung bottles on the
compressor to top up, and we left Dancer at the wharf while I went up to
Ma Eddy’s and Angelo and Chubby took my drawing of the air bags across
to his father’s workshop.
The bags were ready by four o’clock and I picked them up in the Ford and
stowed them in the sail locker under the cockpit seats. Then I spent an
hour stripping and reassembling the demand valves of the scubas and
checking out all the other diving equipment.
At sundown I ran Dancer out to her moorings on my own, and was about to
leave her and row ashore in the dinghy when I had a good thought. I went
back into the cabin and knocked back the toggles on the engine-room
I took the FN carbine from its hiding-place, pumped a cartridge into the
breech, set her for automatic fire and clicked on the safety catch
before hanging her in the slings again.
Before it was dark, I took my old cast net and waded out across the
lagoon towards the main red, I saw the swirl and run beneath the surface
of the water which the setting sun had burnished to the colour of copper
and. flame, and I sent the net spinning high with a swing of shoulders
and arms. It ballooned like a parachute, and fell in a wide circle over
the shoal of striped mullet. When I pulled the drag line and closed the
net over them, there were five of the big silvery fish as long as my
forearm kicking and thumping in the coarse wet folds.
I grilled two of them and ate them on the veranda of my shack. They
tasted better than trout from a mountain stream, and afterwards I poured
a second whisky and sat On into the dark.
usually this is the time of day when the island enfolds me in a great
sense of peace and I seem to understand what the whole business of
living is all about. However, that night was not like that. I was angry
that these people had come out to the island and brought with them their
special brand of poison to contaminate us. Five years ago I had run from
that, believing I had found a place that was safe. Yet beneath the
anger, when I was honest with myself, I recognized also an excitement, a
pleasurable excitement That gut thing again, knowing that I was at risk
once more. I was not sure yet what the stakes were, but I knew they were
high and that I was sitting in the game with the big boys once again.
I was on the left-hand path again. The path I had chosen at seventeen,
when I had deliberately decided against the university bursary which I
had been awarded and instead I bunked from St. Stephen’s orphanage in
north London and lied about my age to join a whaling factory ship bound
for the Antarctic. Down there on the edge of the great ice I lost my
last vestige of appetite for the academic life.
When the money I had made in the south ran out I enlisted in a special
service battalion where I learned how violence and sudden death could be
practised as an art. I practised that art in Malaya and Vietnam, then
later in the Congo and Biafra – until suddenly one day in a remote
jungle village while the thatched huts burned sending columns of tarry
black smoke into an empty brazen sky and the flies came to the dead in
humming blue clouds, I was sickened to the depths of my soul I wanted
In the South Atlantic I had come to love the sea, and now I wanted a
place beside it, with a boat and peace in the long quiet evenings.
First I needed money to buy those things – a great deal of money – so
much that the only way I could earn it was in the practice of my art.
One last time, I thought, and I planned it with utmost care. I needed an
assistant and I chose a man I had known in the Congo.
Between us we lifted the complete collection of gold coins from the
British Museum of Numismatology in Belgrave Square. Three thousand rare
gold coins that fitted easily into a medium-sized briefcase, coins of
the Roman Caesars and the Emperors of Byzantium, coins of the early
states of America and of the English Kings florins and leopards of
Edward III, nobles of the Henrys and angels of Edward IV, treble
sovereigns and unites, crowns of the rose from the reign of Henry VIII
and five-pound pieces of George ill and Victoria – three thousand coins,
worth, even on a forced sale, not less than two million dollars.
Then I made my first mistake as a professional crimina I trusted another
criminal. When I caught up with my assistant in an Arab hotel in Beirut
I reasoned with him in fairly strong terms, and when finally I put the
question to him of just what he had done with the briefcase of coins, he
snatched a .38 Beretta from under his mattress. In the ensuing scuffle
he had his neck broken. It had been a mistake. I didn’t mean to kill the
man – but even more I didn’t mean him to kill me. I hung a DON’T DISTurb
” sign on his door and I caught the next plane out. ten days later the
police found the briefcase with the coins in the left-luggage department
at Paddington Station. it made the front page of all the national
I tried again at an exhibition of cut diamonds in Amsterdam, but I had
done faulty research on the electronic alarm system and I tripped a beam
that I had overlooked.
The plain clothes security guards who had been hired by the organizers
of the exhibition rushed headlong into the uniformed police coming in
through the main entrance and a spectacular shoot-out ensued, while a
completely unarmed Harry Fletcher slunk away into the night to the sound
of loud cries and gunfire.
I Was half-way to Schiphol airport by the time a ceasefire was called
between the opposing forces of the law – but not before a sergeant of
the Dutch police received a critical chest wound. I sat anxiously
chewing MY nails anddrinking inumarable beers in my room in the Holiday
Inn near Zurich Airport, as I followed the gallant sergeant’s fight for
life on the TV set. I would have hated like all hell to have another
fatality on my conscience, and I made a solemn vow that if the policeman
died I would forget for ever about my place in the sun.
However, the Dutch sergeant rallied strongly and I felt an immense
proprietary pride in him when he was finally declared out of danger. And
when he was promoted to assistant inspector and awarded a bonus of five
thousand crowns I persuaded myself that I was his fairy godfather and
that the man owed me eternal gratitude.
Still, I had been shaken by two failures and I took a job as an
instructor at an Outward Bound School for six months while I considered
my future. At the end of six months, I decided for one more try.
This time I laid the groundwork with meticulous care. I emigrated to
South Africa, where I was able with my qualifications to obtain a post
as an operator with the security firm responsible for bullion shipments
from the South African Reserve Bank in Pretoria to overseas
destinations. For a year I worked with the transportation of hundreds of
millions of dollars” worth of gold bars, and I studied the system in
every minute detail. The weak spot, when I found it, was at Rome – but
again I needed help.
This time I went to the professionals, but I set my price at a level
that made it easier for them to pay me out than put me down and I
covered myself a hundred times against treachery.
It went as smoothly as I had planned it, and this time there were no
victims. Nobody came out with a bullet or a cracked skull. We merely
switched part of a cargo and substituted leaded cases. Then we moved two
and a half tons of gold bars across the Swiss border in a furniture
In Basie, sitting in a banker’s private rooms furnished with priceless
antiques, above the wide swift waters of the Rhine on which the stately
white swans rode in majesty, they paid me out. Manny Resnick signed the
transfer into my numbered account of one hundred and fifty thousand
pounds sterling and he laughed a fat hungry little laugh.
“You’ll be back, Harry – you’ve tasted blood now and you’ll be back.
Have a nice holiday, then come to me again when you’ve thought up
another deal like this one.”
He was wrong, I never went back. I rode up to Zdrich in a hire car and
flew to Paris Orly. In the men’s room there, I shaved off the beard and
picked up the briefcase from the pay locker that contained the passport
in the name of Harold Delville Fletcher. Then I flew out Panam, for
Wave Dancer cost me one hundred and twenty-five thousand pounds sterling
and I took her under a deck load of fuel drums across to St. Mary’s, two
thousand miles, a voyage on which we learned to love each other.
On St. Mary’s I purchased twenty-five acres of peace, and built the
shack with my own hands – four rooms, a thatched roof and a wide
veranda, set amongst the Palms above the white beach. Except for the
occasions when a night run had been forced upon me, I had walked the
right-hand Path since then.
it was late when I had done my reminiscences and the tide was pushing
high up the beach in the moonlight before I went into the shack, but
then I slept like an innocent.
They were on time the following morning. Charly Materson ran a tight
outfit. The taxi deposited them at the head of the Wharf while I had
Dancer singled up at stern and stern and both engines burbling sweetly.
I watched them come, concentrating on the third member of the group. He
was not what I had expected. He was tall and lean with a wide friendly
face and dark soft hair. Unlike the others, his face and arms were
darkly suntanned, and his teeth were large and very white. He wore denim
shorts and a white sweatshirt and he had a swimmer’s wide rangy
shoulders and powerful arms. I knew instantly who was to use the diving
He carried a big green canvas kitbag over one shoulder. He carried it
easily, though I could see that it was weighty, and he chatted gaily
with his two companions who answered him in monosyllables. They flanked
him like a pair of guards.
He looked up at me as they came level and I saw that he was young and
eager. There was an excitement, an anticipation, about him, that
reminded me sharply of myself ten years previously.
“Hi,” he grinned at me, an easy friendly grin, and I realized that he
was an extremely good-looking youngster. “Greetings,” I replied, liking
him from the first and intrigued as to how he had found a place with the
wolf pack. Under my direction they took in the mooring lines and, from
this brief exercise, I learned that the youngster was the only one of
them familiar with small boats.
As we cleared the harbour, he and Materson came up on to the flying
bridge. Materson had coloured slightly and his breathing was raggedy
from the mild exertion. He introduced the newcomer.
“This is Jimmy,” he told me, when he had caught his breath. We shook
hands and I put his age at not much over twenty. Close up I had no cause
to revise my first impressions. He had a level and innocent gaze from
seagrey eyes, and his grip was firm and dry.
“She’s a darling boat, skipper,” he told me, which was rather like
telling a mother that her baby is beautiful.
“She’s not a bad old girl.”
“What is she, forty-four, forty-five feet?” “Forty-five,” I said, liking
him a little more.
“Jimmy will give you your directions,” Materson told me. “You will
follow his orders.” “Fine,” I said, and Jimmy coloured a little under
his tan. “Not orders, Mr. Fletcher, I’ll just tell you where we want to
go. “Fine, Jim, I’ll take you there.”
“Once we are clear of the island, will you turn due west.”
“Just how far in that direction do you intend going?” I asked.
“We want to cruise along the coast of the African mainland,” Materson.
“Lovely,” I said, “that’s great. Did anybody tell you that they don’t
hang out the welcome mat for strangers there?”
“We will stay well offshore.” I thought a moment, hesitating before
turning back to Admiralty Wharf and packing the whole bunch ashore-*
“Where do you want to go – north or south of the rivermouth?” North said
Jimmy, and that altered the proposition for the good.
South of the river they patrolled with helicopters and were very touchy
about their territorial waters. I would not go in there during daylight.
In the north there was little coastal activity. There was a single crash
boat at Zinballa, but when its engines were in running order, which was
a few days a week, then its crew were mostly blown out of their minds
with the virulent palm liquor brewed locally along the coast. When crew
and engines were functioning simultaneously, they could raise fifteen
knots, and Dancer could turn on twenty-two any time I asked her.
The final trick in my favour was that I could run Dancer through the
maze of’off-shore reefs and islands on a dark night in a roaring
monsoon, while it was my experience that the crash boat commander
avoided this sort of extravagance. Even on a bright sunny day and in a
flat calm, he preferred rhe quiet and peace of Zinballa Bay. I had heard
that he suffered acutely from sea sickness, and held his present
appointment only because it was far away from the capital, where as a
minister of the government the commander had been involved in a little
unpleasantness regarding the disappearance of large amounts of foreign
From my point of view he was the ideal man for the job.
“All right,” I agreed, turning to Materson. “But I’m afraid what you’re
asking is going to cost you another two-fifty dollars a day – danger
“I was afraid it might,”he said softly.
I brought Dancer around, close to the light on Oyster Point.
It was a bright morning with a high clear sky into which the stationary
clouds that marked the position of eacch group of islands towered in
great soft columns of blinding white.
The solemn Progress of the trade winds across the ocean was interrupted
by the bulwark of the African continent on which they broke. We were
getting the backlash here in the inshore channel, and random squalls and
gusts of it spread darkly across the pale green waters and flecked the
surface chop with white. Dancer loved it, it gave her an excuse to
flounce and swish her bottom.
“You looking for anything special – or just looking?” I asked casually,
and Jimmy turned to tell me all about it. He was itchy with excitement,
and the grey eyes sparkled as he opened his mouth.
“Just looking,” Materson interrupted with a ring in his voice and a
sharp warning in his expression, and Jimmy’s mouth closed.
“I know these waters. I know every island, every reef. I might be able
to save you a lot of time – and a bit of money.”
“That’s very kind of you,” Materson thanked me with heavy irony.
“However, I believe we can manage.”
“You are paying,” I shrugged, and Materson. glanced at Jimmy, inclined
his head in a command to follow and led him down into the cockpit. They
stood together beside the stern rail and Materson spoke to him quietly
but earnestly for two minutes. I saw Jimmy flush darkly, his expression
changing from dismay to boyish sulks and I guessed that he was having
his ear chewed to ribbons on the subject of secrecy and security.
When he came back on to the flying bridge he was seething with anger,
and for the first time I noticed the strong hard line of his jaw. He
wasn’t just a pretty boy, I decided.
Evidently on Materson’s orders, Guthrie, the muscle, came out of the
cabin and swung the big padded fighting chair to face the bridge. He
lounged in it, even in his relaxation charged- with the promise of
violence like a resting leopard, and he watched us, one leg draped over
the arm rest and the linen jacket with the heavy weight in its pocket
folded in his lap.
A happy ship, I chuckled, and ran Dancer out through the islands,
threading a fine course through the clear green waters where the reefs
lurked darkly below the surface like malevolent monsters and the islands
were fringed with coral sand as dazzling white as a snowdrift, and
crowned with dark thick vegetation over which the palm stems curved
gracefully, their tops shaking in the feeble remnants of the trade.
It was a long day as we cruised at random and I tried to get some hint
of the object of the expedition. However, still smarting from Materson’s
reprimand, Jimmy was tight mouthed and grim. He asked for changes of
course at intervals, after I had pointed out our position on the large,
scale admiralty chart which he produced from his bag.
Although there were no extraneous markings on his chart, when I examined
it surreptitiously I was able to figure that we were interested in an
area fifteen to thirty miles north of the multiple mouths of the Rovuma
River, and up to sixteen miles offshore. An area containing perhaps
three hundred islands varying in size from a few acres to many square
miles – a very big haystack in which to find his needle.
I was content enough to perch up on Dancer’s bridge and run quietly
along the seaways, enjoying the feet of my darling under me and watching
the activity of the sea animals, and birds.
In the fighting chair Mike Guthrie’s scalp started to show through the
thin cover of hair like strips of scarlet neon lighting.
Cook, you bastard,” I thought happily, and neglected to warn him about
the tropical sun until we were running home in the dusk. The next day he
was in agony with white goo smeared over his bloated and incarnadined
features and a wide cloth hat covering his head, but his face flashed
like the port light of an ocean-goer.
By noon on the second day I was bored. Jimmy was poor company for
although he had recovered a little of his good humour he was so
conscious of security that he even thought for thirty seconds before
accepting an offer of coffee.
It was more for something to do than because I wanted fish for my dinner
that when I saw a squadron of small kingfish charging a big shoal of
sardine ahead of us, I gave the wheel to Jimmy.
“Just keep her on that heading,” I told him and dropped down into the
cockpit. Guthrie watched me warily from his swollen crimson face as I
glanced into the cabin and saw that Materson had my bar open and was
mixing himself a gin and tonic. At seven hundred and fifty a day I
didn’t grudge it to him. He hadn’t emerged from the cabin in two days.
I went back to the small tackle locker and selected a pair of feather
jigs and tossed them out. As we crossed the track of the shoal I hit a
kingfish and brought him out kicking, flashing golden in the sun.
Then I recoiled the lines and stowed them, wiped the blade of my heavy
bait-knife across the oil stone to brighten up the edge and split the
kingfishs belly from anal vent to gills and pulled out a handful of
bloody gut to throw it into the wake.
Immediately a pair of gulls that had been weaving and hovering over us
screeched with greed and plunged for the scraps. Their excitement
summoned others and within minutes there was a shrieking, flapping host
of them astern of us.
Their din was not so loud that it covered the metallic snicker close
behind me, the unmistakable sound of the slide on an automatic pistol
being drawn back and released to load and cock. I moved entirely from
instinct. Without thought, the big bait-knife spun in my right hand as I
changed smoothly to a throwing grip and I turned and dropped to the deck
in a single movement, breaking fall with heels and left arm as the knife
went back over my right shoulder and I began the throw at the instant
that I lined up the target.
Mike Guthrie had a big automatic in his right hand. An old-fashioned
naval .45, a killer’s weapon, one which would blow a hole in a man’s
chest through which you could drive a London cab.
TWO things saved Guthrie from being pinned to the back of the fighting
chair by the longheavy blade of the baitknife. Firstly, the fact that
the .45 was not pointed at me and, secondly, the expression of comical
amazement on the man’s scarlet face.
I prevented myself from throwing the knife, breaking the instinctive
action by a major effort of will, and we stared at each other. He knew
then how close he had come, and the grin he forced to his swollen
sunburned lips was shaky and unconvincing. I stood up and pegged the
knife into the bait chopping board.
“Do yourself a favour,” I told him quietly. “Don’t play with that thing
behind my back.”
He laughed then, blustering and tough again. He swivelled the seat and
aimed out over the stern. He fired twice, the shots crashing out loudly
above the run of Dancer’s engines and the brief smell of cordite was
whipped away on the wind.
Two of the milling gulls exploded into grotesque bursts of blood and
feathers blown to shreds by the heavy bullets, and the rest of the flock
scattered with shrieks of panic. The manner in which the birds were torn
up told me that Guthrie had loaded with explosive bullets, a more savage
weapon than a sawn-off shotgun.
He swivelled the chair back to face me and blew into the muzzle of the
pistol like John Wayne. It was fancy shooting with that heavy calibre
“Tough cooky,” I applauded him, and turned to the bridge ladder, but
Materson was standing in the doorway of the cabin with the gin in his
hand and as I stepped past him he spoke quietly.
“Now I know who you are,” he said, in that soft putty voice.
“It’s been worrying us, we thought we knew you.”
I stared at him, and he called past me to Guthrie.
“You know who he is now, don’t you?” and Guthrie shook his head.
I don’t think he could trust his voice. “He had a beard then, think
about it – a mug shot photograph.”
“Jesus,” said Guthrie. “Harry Bruce!” I felt a little shock at hearing
the name spoken out loud again after all these years. I had hoped it was
forgotten for ever.
“Rome,” said Materson. “The gold heist.”
“He set it up.” Guthrie snapped his fingers. “I was sure I knew him. It
was the beard that fooled me.”
“I think you gentlemen have the wrong address,” I said with a desperate
attempt at a cool tone, but was thinking quickly, trying to weigh this
fresh knowledge. They had seen a mugshot – where? When? Were they law
men of from the other side of the fence? I needed time to think and I
clambered up to the bridge.
“Sorry,” muttered Jimmy, as I took the wheel from him. “I should have
told you he had a gun.” “Yeah,” I said. “it might have helped.” My mind
was racing, and the first turning it took was along the left-hand path.
They would have to go. They had blown my elaborate cover, they had
sniffed me out and there was only one sure way. I looked back into the
cockpit but both Materson and Guthrie had gone below.
An accident, take them both out at one stroke, aboard a small boat there
were plenty of ways a greenhorn could get hurt in the worst possible
way. They had to go.
Then I looked at Jimmy, and he grinned at me.
“You move fast,” he said. “Mike nearly wet himself, he thought he was
going to get that knife through his gizzard.”
The kid also? I asked myself – if I took out the other two, he would
have to go as well. Then suddenly I felt the same physical nausea that I
had first known long ago in the Biaftan village.
“You okay, skipper?” Jimmy asked quickly, it had shown on my face.
“I’m okay, Jim,” I said. “Why don’t you go fetch us a can of beer.”
While he was below I reached my decision. I would do a deal. I was
certain that they didn’t want their business shouted in the streets. I’d
trade secrecy for secrecy. Probably they were coming to the same
conclusion in the cabin below.
I locked the wheel and crossed quietly to the corner of the bridge,
making sure my footsteps were not picked up in the cabin below.
The ventilator there funnels fresh air into the inlet above the saloon
table. I had found that the ventilator made a reasonably effective voice
tube, that sound was carried through it to the bridge.
However, the effectiveness of this listening device depends on a number
of factors, chief of these being the direction and strength of the wind
and the precise position of the speaker in the cabin below.
The wind was on our beam, gusting into the opening of the ventilator and
blotting out patches of the conversation in the cabin. However, Jimmy
must have been standing directly below the vent for his voice came
through strongly when the wind roar did not smother it.
“Why don’t you ask him now?” and the reply was confused, then the wind
gusted and when it cleared, Jimmy was speaking again.
“If you do it tonight, where will you-2 and the wind roared, ” – to get
the dawn light then we will have to Then entire discussion seemed to be
on times and places, and as I wondered briefly what they hoped to gain
by leaving harbour at dawn, he said it again. “If the dawn light is
where-” I strained for the next words but the wind killed them for ten
seconds, then ” – I dont see why we can’t–2 Jimmy was protesting and
suddenly Mike Guthrie’s voice came through sharp and hard. He must have
gone to stand close beside Jimmy, probably in a threatening attitude.
“Listen, Jimmy boy, you let us handle that side of it. Your job is to
find the bloody thing, and you aren’t doing so good this far.”
They must have moved again for their voices became indistinct and I
heard the sliding door into the cockpit opening and I turned quickly to
the wheel and freed the retaining handle just as Jimmy’s head appeared
over the edge of the deck as he came up the ladder.
He handed me the beer and he seemed to be more relaxed now. The reserve
was gone from his manner. He smiled at me, friendly and trusting.
“Mr. Materson says that’s enough for today. We are to head for home.”
I swung Dancer across the current and we came in from the west, past the
mouth of Turtle Bay and I could see my shack standing amongst the palms.
I felt a sudden chilling premonition of loss. The fates had called for a
new deck of cards, and the game was bigger, the stakes were too rich for
my blood but there was no way I could pull out now.
However, I suppressed the chill of despair, and turned to Jimmy.
I would take advantage of his new attitude of trust and try for what
information I could glean.
We chatted lightly on the run down the channel into Grand Harbour.
They had obviously told him that I was off the leper list. Strangely the
fact that I had a criminal past made me more acceptable to the wolf
pack. They could reckon the angles now. They had found a lever, so now
they could handle me – though I was pretty sure they had not explained
the whole proposition to young James.
It was obviously a relief for him to act naturally with me. He was a
friendly and open person, completely lacking in guile. An example of
this was the way that his surname had been guarded like a military
secret from me, and yet around his neck he wore a silver chain and a
Medic-alert tag that warned that J.A. NORTH, the wearer, was allergic to
Now he forgot all his former reserve, and gently I drew small snippets
of information from him that I might have use for in the- future. In my
experience it’s what you don’t know that can really hurt you, I chose
the subject that I guessed would open him up completely.
“See that reef across the channel, there where she’s breaking now?
That’s Devil Fish Reef and there is twenty fathoms sheer under the sea
side of her. It’s a hangout of some real big old bull grouper. I shot
one there last year that weighed in at over two hundred kilos.”
“Two hundred-” he exclaimed. “My God, that’s almost four hundred and
“Right, you could put your head and shoulders in his mouth.”
The last of his reserves disappeared. He had been reading history and
philosophy at Cambridge but spent too much time in the sea, and had to
drop out. Now he ran a small diving equipment supply company and
underwater salvage outfit, that gave him a living and allowed him to
dive most days of the week. He did private work and had contracted to
the Government and the Navy on some jobs.
More than once he mentioned the name “Sherry” and I probed carefully.
“Girl friend or wife?” and he grinned.
“Sister, big sister, but she’s a doll – she does the books and minds the
shop, all that stuff,” in a tone that left no doubt as to what James
thought about book-keeping and counter-jumping. “She’s a red-hot
conchologist and she makes two thousand a year out of her sea shells.”
But he didn’t explain how he had got into the dubious company he was now
keeping, nor what he was doing halfway around the world from his sports
shop. I left them on Admiralty Wharf, and took Dancer over to the Shell
Basin for refuelling before dark.
That evening I grilled the kingfish over the coals, roasted a couple of
big sweet yams in their jackets and was washing it down with a cold beer
sitting on the veranda of the shack and listening to the surf when I saw
the headlights coming down through the palm trees. The taxi parked
beside my pickup, and the driver stayed at the wheel while his
passengers came up the steps on to the stoep. They had left James at the
Hilton, and there were just the two of them now – Materson and Guthrie.
“Drink?” I indicated the bottles and ice on the side table.
Guthrie poured gin for both of them and Materson sat opposite me and
watched me finish the last of the fish.
“I made a few phone calls,” he said when I pushed my plate away.
“And they tell me that Harry Bruce disappeared in June five years ago
and hasn’t been heard of since. I asked around and found out that Harry
Fletcher sailed into Grand Harbour here three months later – inward
bound from Sydney, Australia.”
“Is that the truth?” I picked a little fish bone out of my tooth, and
lit a long black island cheroot.
one other thing, someone who knew him well tells me Harry Bruce had a
knife scar across his left arm,” he purred, and I involuntarily glanced
at the thin line of scar tissue that laced the muscle of my forearm. It
had shrunk and flattened with the years, but was still very white
against the dark sun-browned skin.
“Now that’s a hell of a coincidence,” I said, and drew on the cheroot.
It was strong and aromatic, tasting of sea and sun and spices. I wasn’t
worried now – they were going to make a deal.
“Yeah, isn’t it,” Materson agreed, and he looked around him elaborately.
“You got a nice set-up here, Fletcher. Cosy, isn’t it, really nice and
“It beats hell out of working for a living,” I admitted. Or out of
breaking rocks, or sewing mail bags.”
“I should imagine it does.”
“The kid is going to ask you some questions tomorrow. Be nice to him,
Fletcher. When we go you can forget you ever saw us, and we’ll forget to
tell anybody about that funny coincidence.”
“Mr. Materson, sir, I’ve got a terrible memory,” I assured him.
After the conversation I had overheard in Dancer’s cabin, I expected
them to ask for an early start time the following morning, for the dawn
light seemed important to their plans. However, neither of them
mentioned it, and when they had gone I knew I wouldn’t sleep so I walked
out along the sand around the curve of the bay to Mutton Point to watch
the moon come up through the palm trees. I sat there until after
The dinghy was gone from the jetty but Hambone, the ferry man, rowed me
out to Dancer’s moorings before sun-up the following morning and as we
came alongside I saw the familiar shape shambling around the cockpit,
and the dinghy tied alongside.
“Hey, Chubby.” I jumped aboard. “Your Missus kick you out of bed, then?”
Dancer’s deck was gleaming white even in the bad light, and all the
metal work was brightly burnished. He must have been at it for a -couple
of hours; Chubby loves Dancer almost as much as I do.
“She looked like a public shit-house, Harry,” he grumbled.
“That’s a sloppy bunch you got aboard,” and he spat noisily over the
side. “No respect for a boat, that’s what.”
He had coffee ready for me, as strong and as pungent as only he can make
it, and we drank it sitting in the saloon.
Chubby frowned heavily into his mug and blew on the steaming black
liquid. He wanted to tell me something. “How’s Angelo?”
“Pleasuring the Rawano widows,” he growled. The island does not provide
sufficient employment for all its able, bodied young men – so most of
them ship out on three-year labour contracts to the American satellite
tracking station and airforce base on Rawano, island. They leave their
young wives behind, the Rawano widows, and the island girls are justly
celebrated for the high temperature of their blood and their friendly
“That Angelo’s going to shag his brain loose, he’s been at it night and
day since Monday.”
I detected more than a trace of envy in his growl. Missus Chubby kept
him on a pretty tight lead – he sipped noisily at the coffee.
“How’s your party, Harry?”
“Their money is good.”
“You not fishing, Harry.” He looked at me. “I watch you from Coolie
Peak, man, you don’t go near the channel you are working inshore.”
“That’s right, Chubby.” He returned his attention to his coffee.
“Hey, Harry. You watch them. You be good and careful, hear.
They bad men, those two. I don’t know the young one – but the others
they are bad.”
“I’ll be careful, Chubby.”
“You know the new girl at the hotel, Marion? The one over for the
season?” I nodded, she was a pretty slim little wisp of a girl with
lovely long legs, about nineteen with glossy black hair, freckled skin,
bold eyes and an impish smile. “Well, last night she went with the blond
one, the one with the red face.” I knew that Marion sometimes combined
business with pleasure and provided for selected hotel guests services
beyond the call of duty. On the island this sort of activity drew no
“Yes,” I encouraged Chubby.
“He hurt her, Harry. Hurt her bad.” Chubby took another mouthful of
coffee. “Then he paid her so much money she couldn’t go to the police.”
I liked Mike Guthrie a little less now. Only an animal would take
advantage of a girl like Marion. I knew her well. She had an innocence,
a child-like acceptance of life that made her promiscuity strangely
appealing. I remembered how I had thought I might have to kill Guthrie
one day and tried not to let the thought perish.
“They are bad men, Harry. I thought it best you know that.”
“And don’t you let them dirty up Dancer like that,” he added accusingly.
“The saloon and deck – they were like a pigsty, man.”
He helped me run Dancer across to Admiralty Wharf and then he set off
homewards, grumbling and muttering blackly. He passed Jimmy coming in
the opposite direction and shot him a single malevolent glance that
should have shrivelled him in his tracks.
Jimmy was on his own, fresh-faced and jaunty.
“Hi, skipper,”he called, as he jumped down on to Dancer’s deck, and I
went into the saloon with him and poured coffee for us.
“Mr. Materson says you have some questions for me, is that right?”
“Look, Mr. Fletcher, I want you to know that I didn’t mean offence by
not talking to you before. It wasn’t me but the others.” “Sure,” I said.
“That’s fine, Jimmy.”
“It would have been the sensible thing to ask your help long ago,
instead of blundering around the way we have been. Anyway, now the
others have suddenly decided it’s okay.” He had just told me much more
than he imagined, and I adjusted my opinion of Master James. It was
clear that he possessed information, and he had not shared it with the
others. It was his insurance, and he had probably insisted on seeing me
alone to keep his insurance policy intact.
“Skipper, we are looking for an island, a specific island. I can’t tell
you why, I’m sorry.”
“Forget it, Jimmy. That’s all right.” What will there be for you, James
North, I wondered suddenly. What will the wolf pack have for you once
you have led them to this special island of yours? Will it be something
a lot less pleasant than penicillin allergy?
I looked at that handsome young face, and felt an unaccustomed flood of
affection for him – perhaps it was his youth and innocence, the sense of
excitement with which he viewed this tired and wicked old world. I
envied and liked him for that, and I did not relish seeing him pulled
down and rolled in the dirt.
“Jim, how well do you know your friends?” I asked him quietly, and he
was taken by surprise, then almost immediately he was wary.
“Well enough,”he replied carefully. “Why?”
“You have known them less than a month,” I said as though I knew, and
saw the confirmation in his expression. “And I have known men like that
all my life!
“I don’t see what this has to do with it, Mr. Fletcher.” He was
stiffening up now, I was treating him like a child and he didn’t like
“Listen, Jim. Forget this business, whatever it is. Drop it, and go back
to your shop and your salvage company-” “That’s crazy,” he said. “You
“I understand, Jim. I really do. I travelled the same road, and I know
“I can look after myself Don’t worry about me.” He had flushed up under
his tan, and the grey eyes snapped with defiance. We stared at each
other for a few moments, and I knew I was wasting time and emotion. If
anyone had spoken like this to me at the same age I would have thought
“All right, Jim,” I said. “I’ll drop it, but you know the score.
just play it cool and loose, that’s all.”
“Okay, Mr. Fletcher.” He relaxed slowly, and then grinned a charming and
engaging grin. “Thanks anyway.”
“Let’s hear about this island,” I suggested and he glanced about the
“Let’s go up on the bridge,” he suggested, and out in the open air he
took a stub of pencil and a scrap pad from the map bin above the chart
“I reckon it lies off the African shore about six to ten miles, and ten
to thirty miles north of the mouth of the Rovuma River. -”
“That covers a hell of a lot of ground, Jim – as you may have noticed
during the last few days. What else do you know about it?”
He hesitated a little longer, before grudgingly doling out a few more
coins from his hoard. He took the pencil and drew a horizontal line
across the pad.
“Sea level.” he said, and then above the line he raised an irregular
profile that started low, and -then climbed steeply into three distinct
peaks before ending abruptly, ” and that’s the silhouette that it shows
from the sea. The three hills are volcanic basalt, sheer rock with
“The Old Men-” I recognized it immediately, you are a long way out in
your other calculations, it’s more like twenty miles offshore-”
“But within sight of the mainland?” he asked quickly. “it has to be
“Sure, you could see a long way from the tops of the hills,” I pointed
out as he tore the sheet from the pad and carefully ripped it to shreds,
and dropped them into the harbour.
“How far north of the river?” He turned back to face me.
“Offhand I’d say sixty or seventy miles,” and he looked thoughtful.
“Yes, it could be that far north. It could fit, it depends on how long
it would take ” He did not finish, he was taking my advice about playing
it cool. “Can you take us there, skip? I nodded. “But it’s a long run
and best come prepared to sleep on the boat overnight.” “I’ll fetch the
others,” he said, eager and excited once more.
But on the wharf he looked back at the bridge.
“About the island, what it looks like and all that, don’t discuss it
with the others, okay?”
“Okay, Jim,” I smiled back at him. “Off you go.” I went down to have a
look at the admiralty chart. The Old Men were the highest point on a
ridge of basalt, a long hard reef that ran parallel to the mainland for
two hundred miles. It disappeared below the water, but reappeared at
intervals, formirig a regular feature amongst the haphazard sprinkling
of coral and sand islands and shoals.
It was marked as uninhabited and waterless, and the soundings showed a
number of deep channels through the reefs around it. Although it was far
north of my regular grounds, yet I had visited the area the previous
year as host to a marine biology expedition from UCLA who were studying
the breeding habits of the green turtles that abounded there.
We had camped for three days on another island across the tide channel
from the Old Men, where there was an all-weather anchorage in an
enclosed lagoon, and brackish but just drinkable water in a fisherman’s
well amongst the palms. Looking across from the anchorage, the Old Men
showed exactly the outline that Jimmy had sketched for me, that was how
I had recognized it so readily.
Half an hour later, the whole party arrived; strapped on the roof of the
taxi was a bulky piece of equipment covered with a green canvas dust
sheet. They hired a couple of lounging islanders to carry this, and the
overnight bags they had with them, down the wharf to where I was
They stowed the canvas package on the foredeck without unwrapping it and
I asked no questions. Guthrie’s face was starting to fall off in layers
of sun-scorched skin, leaving wet red flesh exposed. He had smeared
white cream over it. I thought of him slapping little Marion around his
suite at the Hilton, and I smiled at him.
“You look so good, have you ever thought of running for Miss. Universe?”
and he glowered at me from beneath the brim of his hat as he took his
seat in the fighting chair. During the run northwards he drank beer
straight from the can and used the empties as targets. Firing the big
pistol at them as they tumbled and bobbed in Dancer’s wake.
A little before noon, I gave Jimmy the wheel and went down to use the
heads below deck. I found that Materson had the bar open and the gin
“How much longer?” he asked, sweaty and flushed despite the
“Another hour or so,” I told him, and thought that Materson was going to
find himself with a drinking problem the way he handled spirits at
midday. However, the gin had mellowed him a little and – always the
opportunist – I loosened another three hundred pounds from his wallet as
an advance against my fees before going up to take Dancer in on the last
leg through the northern tide channel that led to the Old Men.
The triple peaks came up through the heat haze, ghostly grey and
ominous, seeming to hang disembodied above the channel.
Jimmy was examining the peaks through his binoculars, and then he
lowered them and turned delightedly to me. “That looks like it,
skipper,” and he clambered down into the cockpit. The three of them went
up on to the foredeck, passed the canvas-wrapped deck cargo, and stood
shoulder to shoulder at the rail staring through the sea fret at the
island as I crept cautiously up the channel.
We had a rising tide pushing us up the channel, and I agreed to use it
to approach the eastern tip of the Old Men, and make a landing on the
beach below the nearest peak. This coast has a tidal fall of seventeen
feet at full springs, and it is unwise to go into shallow water on the
ebb. It is easy to find yourself stranded high and dry as the water
falls away beneath your keel.
Jimmy borrowed my hand-bearing compass and packed it with his chart, a
Thermos of iced water and a bottle of salt tablets from the medicine
chest into his haversack. While I crept cautiously in towards the beach,
Jimmy and Materson stripped off their footwear and trousers.
When Dancer bumped her keel softly on the hard white sand of the beach I
shouted to them.
“Okay – over you go,” and with Jimmy leading, they went down the ladder
I had rigged from Dancer’s side. The water came to their armpits, and
James held the haversack above his head as they waded towards the beach.
“Two hours” I called after them. “If you’re longer than that you can
sleep ashore. I’m not coming in to pick you up on the ebb.”
Jimmy waved and grinned. I put Dancer into reverse and backed off
cautiously, while the two of them reached the beach and hopped around
awkwardly as they donned their trousers and shoes and then set off into
the palm groves and disappeared from view.
After circling for ten minutes and peering down through the water that
was clear as a trout stream, I picked up the dark shadow across the
bottom that I was seeking and dropped a light head anchor.
While Guthrie watched with interest I put on a faceplate and gloves and
went over the side with a small oyster net and a heavy tyre lever. There
was forty feet of water under us, and I was pleased to find my wind was
still sufficient to allow me to go down and prise loose a netful of the
big double-shelled sun clams in one dive. I shucked them on the
foredeck, and then, mindful of Chubby’s admonitions, I threw the empty
shells overboard and swabbed the deck carefully before taking a pailful
of the sweet flesh down to the galley. They went into a casserole pot
with wine and garlic, salt and ground pepper and just a bite of chilli.
I set the gas-plate to simmer and put the lid on the pot.
When I went back on deck, Guthrie was still in the fighting chair.
“What’s wrong, big shot, are you bored?” I asked solicitously.
“No little girls to kick around?” His eyes narrowed thoughtfully. I
could see him checking out my source of information.
“You’ve got a big mouth, Bruce. Somebody is going to close it for you
one day.” We exchanged a few more pleasantries, none of them much above
this level, but it served to pass the time until the two distant figures
appeared on the beach and waved and halloed. I pulled up the hook, and
went in to pick them up.
Immediately they were aboard, they called Guthrie to them and assembled
on the foredeck for one of their group sessions. They were all excited,
Jimmy the most so, and he gesticulated and pointed out into the channel,
talking quietly but vehemently. For once they seemed all to be in
agreement, but by the time they had finished talking there was an hour
of sunlight left and I refused to agree to Materson’s demands that I
should continue our explorations that evening. I had no wish to creep
around in the darkness on an ebb tide.
Firmly I took Dancer across to the safe anchorage in the lagoon across
the channel, and by the time the sun went down below a blazing horizon I
had Dancer riding peacefully on two heavy anchors, and I was sitting up
on the bridge enjoying the last of the day and the first Scotch of the
evening. In the saloon below me there was the interminable murmur of
discussion and speculation. I ignored it, not even bothering to use the
ventilator, until the first mosquitoes found their way across the lagoon
and began whining around my ears. I went below and the conversation
dried up at my entry.
I thickened the juice and served my clam casserole with baked yams and
pineapple salad and they ate in dedicated silence.
“My God, that is even better than my sister’s cooking,” Jimmy gasped
finally. I grinned at him. I am rather vain about my culinary skills and
young James was clearly a gourmet.
I woke after midnight and went up on deck to check Dancer’s moorings.
She was all secure and I paused to enjoy the moonlight.
A great stillness lay upon the night, disturbed only by the soft chuckle
of the tide against Dancer’s side – and far off the boom of the surf on
the outer reef. It was coming in big and tall from the open ocean, and
breaking in thunder and white upon the coral of Gunfire Reef The name
was well chosen, and the deep belly-shaking thump of it sounded exactly
like the regular salute of a minute gun.
The moonlight washed the channel with shimmering silver and highlighted
the bald domes of the peaks of the Old Men so they shone like ivory.
Below them the night mists rising from the lagoon writhed and twisted
like tormented souls.
Suddenly I caught the whisper of movement behind me and I whirled to
face it. Guthrie had followed me as silently as a hunting leopard. He
wore only a pair of jockey shorts and his body was white and muscled and
lean in the moonlight. He carried the big black .45, dangling at arm’s
length by his right thigh. We stared at each other for a moment before I
“You know, luv, you’ve just got to give up now. You really aren’t my
type at all,” I told him, but there was adrenalin in my blood and my
“When the time comes to rim you, Fletcher, I’ll be using this,”he said,
and lifted the automatic, “all the way up, boy,” and he grinned.
We ate breakfast before sun-up and I took my mug of coffee to the bridge
to drink as we ran up the channel towards the open sea. Materson was
below, and Guthrie lolled in the fighting chair. Jimmy stood beside me
and explained his requirements for this day.
He was tense with excitement, seeming to quiver with it like a young
gundog with the first scent of the bird in his nostrils.
“I want to get some shots off the peaks of the Old Men,” he explained.
“I want to use your hand-bearing compass, and I’ll call you in.”
“Give me your bearings, Jim, and I’ll plot it and put you on the spot,”
“Let’s do it my way, skipper,” he replied awkwardly, and I could not
prevent a flare of irritation in my reply.
“All right, then, eagle scout.” He flushed and went to the port rail to
sight the peaks through the lens of the compass. It was ten minutes or
so before he spoke again.
“Can we turn about two points to port now, skipper?”
“Sure we can,” I grinned at him, “but, of course, that would pile us on
to the end of Gunfire Reef – and we’d tear her belly out.”
it took another two hours of groping about through the maze of reefs
before I had worked Dancer out through the channel into the open sea and
circled back to approach Gunfire Reef from the east.
it was like the child’s game of hunt the thimble; Jimmy called “hotter”
and “colder” without supplying me with the two references that would
enable me to place Dancer on the precise spot he was seeking.
Out here the swells marched in majestic procession towards the land,
growing taller and more powerful as they felt the shelving bottom.
Dancer rolled and swung to them as we edged in towards the outer reef.
Where the swells met the barrier of coral their dignity turned to sudden
fury, and they boiled up and burst in leviathan spouts of spray, pouring
wildly over the coral with the explosive shock of impact. “Then they
sucked back, exposing the evil black fangs, white water cascading and
creaming from the barrier, while the next swell moved UP, humping its
great slick back for the next assault.
Jimmy was directing me steadily southwards in a gradual converging
course with the reef, and I could tell we were very close to his marks.
Through the compass he squinted eagerly, first at one and then the other
peak of the Old Men.
“Steady as you go, skipper,” he called. “Just ease her down on that
I looked ahead, tearing my eyes away from the menacing coral for a few
seconds, and I watched the next swell charge in and break – except at a
narrow point five hundred yards ahead. Here the swell kept its shape and
ran on uninterrupted towards the land. On each side, the swell broke on
coral, but just at that one point it was open.
Suddenly I remembered Chubby’s boast.
“I was just nineteen when I pulled my first jewfish out of the hole at
Gunfire Break. Weren’t no other would fish with me – don’t say as I
blame them. Wouldn’t go into the Break again – got a little more brains
Gunfire Break, suddenly I knew that was where we were heading. I tried
to remember exactly what Chubby had told me about it.
“If you come in from the sea about two hours before high water, steer
for the oentre of the gap until you come up level with a big old head of
brain coral on your starboard side, you’ll know it when you see it, pass
it close as you can and then come round hard to starboard and you’ll be
sitting in a big hole tucked in neatly behind the main reef. Closer you
are on the back of the reef the better, man-” I remembered it clearly
then, Chubby in his talkative phase in the public bar of the Lord
Nelson, boastful as one of the very few men who had been through the
Gunfire Break. No anchor going to hold you there, you got to lean on the
oars to hold station in the gap – the hole at Gunfire Break is deep,
man, deep, but the jewfish in there are big, man, big. One day I took
four fish, and the smallest was three hundred pounds. Could have took
more – but time was up. You can’t stay in Gunfire Break more than an
hour after high water – she sucks out through the Break like they pulled
the chain on the whole damned sea. You come out the same way you went
in, only you pray just a little harder on the way out –,”cos you got a
ton of fish on board, and ten feet less water under your keel. There is
another way out through a channel in the back of the reef But I don’t
even like to talk about that one. Only tried it once.”
Now we were bearing down directly on the Break, Jimmy was going to run
us right into the eye of it.
“Okay, Jim,” I called. “That’s as far as we go.” I opened the throttle
and sheered off, making a good offing before turning back to face
“We were almost there, damn you,” he blustered. “We could have gone in a
“You having trouble up there, boy?” Guthrie shouted up from the cockpit.
“No, it’s all right,” Jimmy called back, and then turned furiously to
me. “You are under contract, Mr. Fletcher!
“I want to show you something, James, and I took him to the chart table.
The Break was marked on the admiralty chart by a single laconic sounding
of thirty fathoms, there was no name or sailing instruction for it.
Quickly I pencilled in the bearings of the two extreme peaks of the Old
Men from the break, and then used the protractor to measure the angle
“That right?” I asked him, and he stared at my figures.
“It’s right, isn’t it?” I insisted and then reluctantly he nodded.. ”
“Yes, that’s the spot,” he agreed, and I went on to tell him about
Gunfire Break in every detail.
“But we have to get in there,” he said at the end of my speech, as
though he had not heard a word of it.
“No way,” I told him. “The only place I’m interested in now is Grand
Harbour, St. Mary’s Island,” and I laid Dancer on that course. As far as
I was concerned the charter was over.
Jimmy disappeared down the ladder, and returned within minutes with
reinforcements – Materson and Guthrie, both of them looking angry and
“Say the word, and I’ll tear the bastard’s arm off and beat him to death
with the wet end,” Mike Guthrie said with relish.
“The kid says you pulling out?” Materson wanted to know. “Now that’s not
right – is it?” I explained once more about the hazards of Gunfire Break
and they sobered immediately.
“Take me close as you can – I’ll swim in the rest of the way,” Jimmy
asked me, but I replied directly to Materson. “You’d lose him, for
certain sure. Do you want to risk that?”
He didn’t answer, but I could see that Jimmy was much too valuable for
them to take the chance.
“Let me try,” Jimmy insisted, but Materson shook his head irritably.
“If we can’t get into the Break, at least let me take a run along the
reef with the sledge,” Jimmy went on, and I knew then what we were
carrying under the canvas wrapping on the foredeck.
“Just a couple of passes” along the front edge of the reef, past the
entrance to the break.” He was pleading now, and Materson looked
questioningly at me. You don’t often have opportunities like this
offered you on a silver tray. I knew I could run Dancer within spitting
distance of the coral without risk, but I frowned worriedly.
“I’d be taking a hell of a chance – but if we could agree on a bit of
old danger money” I had Materson over the arm of the chair and I caned
him for an extra day’s hire – five hundred dollars, payable in advance.
While we did the business, Guthrie helped Jimmy unwrap the sledge and
carry it back to the cockpit.
I tucked the sheath of bank notes away and went back to rig the tow
lines. The sledge was a beautifully constructed toboggan of stainless
steel and plastic. In place of snow runners, it had stubby fin controls,
rudder and hydrofoils, operated by a short joystick below the Perspex
There was a ring bolt in the nose to take the tow line by which I would
drag the sledge in Dancer’s wake. Jimmy would lie on his belly behind
the transparent shield, breathing compressed air from the twin tanks
that were built into the chassis of the sledge. On the dashboard were
depth and pressure gauges, directional compass and time elapse clock.
With the joystick Jimmy could control the depth of the sledge’s dive,
and yaw left or right across Dancer’s stern.
“Lovely piece of work,” I remarked, and he flushed with pleasure.
“Thanks, skipper, built it myself.” He was pulling on the wet suit of
thick black Neoprene rubber and while his head was in the clinging hood
I stooped and examined the maker’s plate that was riveted to the
sledge’s chassis, memorizing the legend.
Built by North’s Underwater World.
5, Pavilion Arcade. BRIGHTON. SUSSEX.
I straightened up as his face appeared in the opening of the hood.
“Five knots is a good tow speed, skipper. If you keep a hundred yards
off the reef, I’ll be able to deflect outwards and follow the contour of
“If I put up a yellow marker, ignore it, it’s only a find, and we will
go back to it later – but if I send up a red, it’s trouble, try and get
me off the reef and haul me in.” I nodded. “You have three hours,” I
warned him. “Then she will begin the ebb up through the break and we’ll
have to haul off.”
“That should be long enough,” he agreed.
Guthrie and I lifted the sledge over the side, and it wallowed low in
the water. Jimmy clambered down to it and settled himself behind the
screen, testing the controls, adjusting his face-plate and cramming the
mouthpiece of the breathing device into his mouth. He breathed noisily
and then gave me the thumbs up.
I climbed quickly to the bridge and opened the throttles. Dancer picked
up speed and Guthrie paid out the thick nylon rope over the stern as the
sledge fell away behind us. One hundred and fifty yards of rope went
over, before the sledge jerked up and began to tow.
Jimmy waved, and I pushed Dancer up to a steady five knots. I circled
wide, then edged in towards the reef, taking the big swells on Dancer’s
beam so she rolled appallingly.
Again Jimmy waved, and I saw him push the control column of the sledge
forwards. There was a turmoil of white water along her control fins and
then suddenly she put her nose down and ducked below the surface. The
angle of the nylon rope altered rapidly as the sledge went down, and
then swung away towards the reef.
The strain on the rope made it quiver like an arrow as it strikes, and
the water squirted from the fibres.
Slowly we ran parallel to the reef, closing the break. I watched the
coral respectfully, taking no chances, and I imagined Jimmy far below
the surface flying silently along the bottom, cutting in to skim the
tall wall of underwater coral. It must have been an exhilarating
sensation, and I envied him, deciding to hitch a ride on the sledge when
I got the opportunity.
We came opposite the Break, passed it and just then I heard Guthrie
shout. I glanced quickly over the stern and saw the big yellow balloon
bobbing in our wake.
“He found something,” Guthrie shouted.
Jimmy had dropped a light leaded line, and a sparkler bulb had
automatically inflated the yellow balloon with carbon dioxide gas to
mark the spot.
I kept going steadily along the reef, and a quarter of a mile farther
the angle of the tow line flattened and the sledge popped to the surface
in a welter of water.
I swung away from the reef to a safe distance, and then went down to
help Guthrie recover the sledge. Jimmy clambered into the cockpit, and
when he pulled off his face-plate his lips were trembling and his grey
eyes blazed. He took Materson’s arm and dragged him into the cabin,
splashing sea water all over Chubby’s beloved deck..
Guthrie and I coiled the rope then lifted the sledge into the cockpit. I
went back to the bridge, and took Dancer on a slow return to the
entrance of Gunfire Break.
Materson and Jimmy came up on to the bridge before we reached it.
Materson was affected by Jimmy’s excitement. “The kid wants to try for a
pick up.” I knew better than to ask what it was.
“What size?” I asked instead, and glanced at my wristwatch. We had an
hour and a half before the rip tide began to run out through the break.
Not very big-” Jimmy assured me. “Fifty pounds maximum.”
“You sure, James? Not bigger?” I didn’t trust his enthusiasm not to
minimize the effort involved.
“I swear it.”
“You want to put an airbag on it?”
“Yes, I’ll lift it with an airbag and then tow it away from the reef.”
I reversed Dancer in gingerly towards the yellow balloon that played
lightly in the angry coral jaws of the Break. “That’s as close as I’ll
go,” I shouted down into the cockpit, and Jimmy acknowledged with a
He waddled duck-footed to the stern and adjusted his equipment. He had
taken two airbags as well as the canvas cover from the sledge, and was
roped up to the coil of nylon rope.
I saw him take a bearing on the yellow marker with the compass on his
wrist, then once again he glanced up at me on the bridge before he
flipped backwards over the stern and disappeared.
His regular breathing burst in a white rash below the stern, then began
to move off towards the reef Guthrie paid out the bodyline after him.
I kept Dancer on station by using bursts of forward and reverse, holding
her a hundred yards from the southern tip of the Break.
Slowly Jimmy’s bubbles approached the yellow marker, and then broke
steadily beside it. He was working below it, and I imagined him fixing
the empty airbags to the object with the nylon slings. It would be hard
work with the suck and drag of the current worrying the bulky bags. Once
he had fitted the slings he could begin to fill the bags with compressed
air from his scuba bottles.
If Jimmy’s estimate of size was correct it would need very little
inflation to pull the mysterious object off the bottom, and once it
dangled free we could tow it into a safer area before bringing it
For forty minutes I held Dancer steady, then quite suddenly two swollen
green shiny mounds broke the surface astern. The airbags were up – Jimmy
had lifted his prize.
Immediately his hooded head surfaced beside the filled bags, and he held
his right arm straight up. The signal to begin the tow.
“Ready?” I shouted at Guthrie in the cockpit.
“Ready!” He had secured the line, and I crept away from the reef, slowly
and carefully to avoid up-ending the bags and spilling out the air that
gave them lift.
Five hundred yards off the reef, I kicked Dancer into neutral and went
to help haul in the swimmer and his fat green airbags.
“Stay where you are,” Materson snarled at me as I approached the ladder
and I shrugged and went back to the wheel.
“The hell with them all, I thought, and lit a cheroot but I couldn’t
prevent the tickle of excitement as they worked the bags alongside, and
then walked them forward to the bows.
They helped Jimmy aboard, and he shrugged off the heavy compressed air
bottles, dropping them to the deck while he pushed his face-plate on to
His voice, ragged and high-pitched, carried clearly to me as I leaned on
the bridge rail.
“Jackpod” he cried. “It’s the-‘ “Watch id” Materson. cautioned him, and
James cut himself off and they all looked at me, lifting their faces to
“Don’t mind me, boys,” I grinned and waved the cheroot cheerily.
They turned away and huddled. Jimmy whispered, and Guthrie said, “Jesus
Christ!” loudly and slapped Materson’s back, and then they were all
exclaiming and laughing as they crowded to the rail and began to lift
the airbags and their burden aboard. They were clumsy with it, Dancer
was rolling heavily, and I leaned forward with curiosity eating a hole
in my belly.
My disappointment and chagrin were intense when I realized that Jimmy
had taken the precaution of wrapping his prize in the canvas sledge
cover. It came aboard as a sodden, untidy bundle of canvas, swathed in
coils of nylon rope.
It was heavy, I could see by the manner in which they handled it – but
it was not bulky, the size of a small suitcase. They laid it on the deck
and stood around it happily. Materson smiled up at me.
“Okay, Fletcher. Come take a look.”
It was beautifully done, he played like a concert pianist on my
curiosity. Suddenly I wanted very badly to know what they had pulled
from the sea. I clamped the cheroot in my teeth as I swarmed down the
ladder, and hurried towards the group in the bows. I was halfway across
the foredeck, right out in the open, and Materson. was still smiling as
he said softly. “Now!”
Only then did I know it was a set-up, and my mind began to move so fast
that it all seemed to go by in extreme slow motion.
I saw the evil black bulk of the .45 in Guthrie’s fist, and it coming up
slowly to aim into my belly. Mike Guthrie was in the marksman’s crouch,
right arm fully extended, and he was grinning as he screwed up those
speckled eyes and sighted along the thick-jacketed barrel.
I saw Jimmy North’s handsome young face contort with horror, saw him
reach out to grip the pistol arm but Materson, still grinning, shoved
him roughly aside and he staggered away with Dancer’s next roll.
I was thinking quite clearly and rapidly, it was not a procession of
thought but a set of simultaneous images. I thought how neatly they had
dropped the boom on me, a really professional hit.
I thought how presumptuous I had been in trying to make a deal with the
wolf pack. For them it was easier to hit than to negotiate.
I thought that they would take out Jimmy now that he had watched this.
That must have been their intention from the start. I was sorry for
that. I had come to like the kid.
I thought about the heavy soft explosive lead slug that the .45 threw,
about how’it would tear up the target, hitting with the shock of two
thousand foot pounds.
Guthrie’s forefinger curled on the trigger and I began to throw myself
at the rail beside me with the cheroot still in my mouth, but I knew it
was too late.
The pistol in Guthrie’s hand kicked up head high, and I saw the muzzle
flash palely in the sunlight. The cannon roar of the blast and the heavy
lead bullet hit me together. The din deafened me and snapped my head
back and the cheroot flipped up high in the air leaving a’trail of
sparks. Then the impact of the bullet doubled me over, driving the air
from my lungs, and lifted me off my feet, hurling me backwards until the
deck rail caught me in the small of the back.
There was no pain, just that huge numbing shock. It was in the chest, I
was sure of that, and I knew that it must have blown me open. It was a
mortal wound, I was sure of that also and I expected my mind to go now.
I expected to fade, going out into blackness.
Instead the rail caught me in the back and I somersaulted, going over
the side head-first and the quick cold embrace of the sea covered me. It
steadied me, and I opened MY eyes to the silver clouds of bubbles and
the soft green of sunlight through the surface.
My lungs were empty, the air driven out by the impact of the bullet, and
my instinct told me to claw to the surface for air, but surprisingly my
mind was still clear and I knew that Mike Guthrie would blow the top off
my skull the moment I surfaced. I rolled and dived, kicking clumsily,
and went down under Dancer’s hull.
On empty lungs it was a long journey, Dancer’s smooth white belly passed
slowly above me, and I drove on desperately, amazed that there was
strength in my legs still.
Suddenly darkness engulfed me, a soft dark red cloud, and I nearly
panicked, thinking my vision had gone — until suddenly I realized it
was my own blood. Huge billowing clouds of my own blood staining the
water. Tiny zebrastriped fish darted wildly through the cloud, gulping
greedily at it.
I struck out, but my left arm would not respond. It trailed limply at my
side, and blood blew like smoke about me.
There was strength in my right arm and I forged on under Dancer, passed
under her keel and rose thankfully towards her far waterline.
As I came up I saw the nylon tow rope trailing over her stern, a hight
of it hanging down below the surface and I snatched at it thankfully.
I broke the surface under Dancer’s stern, and I sucked painfully for
air, my lungs felt bruised and numb, the air tasted like old copper in
my mouth but I gulped it down.
My mind was still clear. I was under the stern, the wolf pack was in the
bows, the carbine was under the engine hatch in the main cabin.
I reached up as high as I could and took a twist of the nylon rope
around my right wrist, lifted my knees and got my toes on to the rubbing
strake along Dancer’s waterline.
I knew I had enough strength for one attempt, no more. It would have to
be good. I heard their voices from up in the bows, raised angrily,
shouting at each other, but I ignored them and gathered all my reserve.
I heaved upwards, with both legs and the one good arm. My vision starred
with the effort, and my chest was a numbed mass, but I came clear of the
water and fell half across the stern rail, hanging there like an empty
sack on a barbed-wire fence.
For seconds I lay there, while my vision cleared and I felt the slick
warm outpouring of blood along my flank and belly. The flow of blood
galvanized me. I realized how little time I had before the loss of it
sent me plunging into blackness. I kicked wildly and tumbled headlong on
to the cockpit floor, striking my head on the edge of the fighting
chair, and grunting with the new pain of it.
I lay on my side and glanced down at my body. What I saw terrified me, I
was streaming great gouts of thick blood, it was forming a puddle under
I clawed at the deck, dragging myself towards the cabin, and reached the
combing beside the entrance. With another wild effort I pulled myself
upright, hanging on one arm, supported by legs already weak and rubbery.
I glanced quickly around the angle of the cabin, down along the foredeck
to where the three men were still grouped in the bows.
Jimmy North was struggling to strap his compressed air bottles on to his
back again, his face was a mask of horror and outrage and his voice was
strident as he screamed at Materson.
“You filthy bloody murderers. I’m- going down to find him. I’m going to
get his body – and, so help me Christ, I’ll see you both hanged,” Even
in my own distress I felt a sudden flare of admiration for the kid’s
courage. I don’t think it ever occurred to him that he was also on the
list. “It was murder, cold-blooded murder,” he shouted, and turned to
the rail, settling the face-plate over his eyes and nose.
Materson looked across at Guthrie, the kid’s back was turned to them,
and Materson nodded.
I tried to shout a warning, but it croaked hollowly in my throat, and
Guthrie stepped up behind Jimmy. This time he made no mistake. He
touched the muzzle of the big .45 to the base of Jimmy’s skull, and the
shot was muffled by the neoprene rubber hood of the diving-suit.
Jimmy’s skull collapsed, shattered by the passage of the heavy bullet.
It came out through the glass plate of the diving mask in a cloud of
glass fragments. The force of it clubbed him over the side, and his body
splashed alongside. Then there was silence in which the memory of
gunfire seemed to echo with the sound of wind and water.
“He’ll sink,” said Materson. calmly. “He had on a weight belt – but we
had better try and find Fletcher. We don’t want him washed up with that
bullet hole in his chest.”
“He ducked – the bastard ducked – I didn’t hit him squarely-”
Guthrie protested, and I heard no more. My legs collapsed and I sprawled
on the deck of the cockpit. I was sick with shock and horror and the
quick flooding flow of my blood.
I have seen violent death in many guises, but Jimmy’s had moved me as
never before. Suddenly there was only one thing I wanted to do before my
own violent death overwhelmed me.
I began to crawl towards the engine-room hatch. The white deck seemed to
stretch before me like the Sahara desert, and I was beginning to feel
the leaden hand of a great weariness upon my shoulder.
I heard their footsteps on the deck above me, and the murmur of their
voices. They were coming back to the cockpit.
“Ten seconds, please God,” I whispered. “That’s all I need,” but I knew
it was futile. They would be into the cabin long before I reached the
hatch – but I dragged myself desperately towards it.
“Then suddenly their footsteps paused, but the voices continued.
They had stopped to talk out on the deck, and I felt a lift of relief
for I had reached the engine hatch.
Now I struggled with the toggles. They seemed to have jammed immovably,
and I realized how weak I was, but I felt the revitalizing stir of anger
through the weariness.
I wriggled around and kicked at the toggles and they flew back. I fought
my weakness aside and got on to my knees. As I leaned over the hatch a
fresh splattering of bright blood fell on the white deck.
“Eat your liver, Chubby,” I thought irrelevantly, and prised up the
hatch. It came up achingly slowly, heavy as all the earth, and now I
felt the first lances of pain in my chest as bruised tissue tore.
The hatch fell back with a heavy thump, and instantly the voices on deck
were silent, and I could imagine them listening.
I fell on my belly and groped desperately under the decking and my right
hand closed on the stock of the carbine.
“Come on!” There was a loud exclamation, and I recognized Materson’s
voice, and immediately the pounding of running footsteps along the deck
towards the cockpit.
I tugged wearily at the carbine, but it seemed to be caught in the
slings and resisted my efforts..
“Christ! There’s blood all over the deck,” Materson shouted.
“It’s Fletcher,” Guthrie yelled. “He came in over the stern.”
just then the carbine came free and I almost dropped it down into the
engine-room, but managed to hold it long enough to roll clear.
I sat up with the carbine in my lap, and pushed the safety catch across
with my thumb, sweat and salt water streamed into my eyes blurring my
vision as I peered up at the entrance to the cabin.
Materson ran into the cabin three paces before he saw me, then he
stopped and gaped at me. His face was red with effort and agitation and
he lifted his hands, spreading them in a protective gesture before him
as I brought up the carbine. The diamond on his little finger winked
merrily at me.
I lifted the carbine one-handed from my lap, and its immense weight
appalled me. When the muzzle was pointed at Materson’s knees I pressed
With a continuous shattering roar the carbine spewed out a solid blast
of bullets, and the recoil flung the barrel upwards, riding the stream
of fire from Materson’s crotch up across his belly and chest. It flung
him backwards against the cabin bulkhead, and split him like the
knife-stroke that guts a fish while he danced a grotesque and jerky
little death jig.
I knew that I should not empty the carbine, there was still Mike Guthrie
to deal with, but somehow I seemed unable to release my grip on the
trigger and the bullets tore through Materson’s body, smashing and
splintering the woodwork of the bulkhead.
Then suddenly I lifted my finger. The torrent of bullets ceased and
Materson fell heavily forward.
The cabin stank with burned cordite and the sweet heavy smell of blood.
Guthrie ducked into the companionway of the cabin, crouching with right
arm outflung and he snapped off a single shot at me as I sat in the
centre of the cabin.
He had all the time he needed for a clean shot at me, but he hurried it,
panicky and off-balance. The blast slapped against my ear drums, and the
heavy bullet disrupted the air against my cheek as it flew wide. The
recoil kicked the pistol high, and as it dropped for his next shot I
fell sideways and pulled up the carbine.
There must have been a single round left in the breech, but it was a
lucky one. I did not aim it, but merely jerked at the trigger as the
barrel came up.
It hit Guthrie in the crook of his right elbow, shattering the joint and
the Pistol flew backwards over his shoulder, skidded across the deck and
thudded into the stern scuppers.
Guthrie spun aside, the arm twisting grotesquely and hanging from the
broken joint and at the same instant the firing pin of the carbine fell
on an empty chamber.
We stared at each other, both of us badly hit, but the old antagonism
was still there between us. It gave me strength to come up on my knees
and start towards him, the empty carbine falling from my hand.
Guthrie grunted and turned away, gripping the shattered arm with his
good hand. He staggered towaids the .45 lying in the scuppers.
I saw there was no way I could stop him. He was not mortally hit, and I
knew he could shoot probably as well with his good left hand. Still I
made my last try and dragged myself over Materson’s body and out into
the cockpit, reaching it just as Guthrie stooped to pick the pistol out
of the scuppers.
Then Dancer came to my aid, and she reared like a wild horse as a freak
swell hit her. She threw Guthrie off balance, and the pistol went
skidding away across the deck. He turned to chase it, his feet slipped
in the blood which I had splashed across the cockpit and he went down.
He fell heavily, pinning his shattered arm under him. He cried out, and
rolled on to his knees and began crawling swiftly after the glistening
Against the outer bulkhead of the cockpit the long flying gaffs stood in
their rack like a set of billiard cues. Ten feet long, with the great
stainless-steel hooks uppermost.
Chubby had filed the points as cruelly as stilettos. They were designed
to be buried deep into a game fish’s body, and the shock of the blow
would detach the head from the stock. The fish could then be dragged on
board with the length of heavy nylon rope that was spliced on to the
Guthrie had almost reached the pistol as I knocked open the clamp on the
rack and lifted down one of the gaffs. Guthrie scooped up the pistol
left-handed, juggling it to get a grip on it, concentrating his whole
attention on the weapon and while he was busy I came up on my knees
again and lifted the gaff with one hand, throwing it up high and
reaching out over Guthrie’s bowed back. As the hook flashed down over
him I hit the steel in hard, driving it full length through his ribs,
burying the gleaming steel to the curve. The shock of it pulled him down
on to the deck and once again the pistol dropped from his hand and the
roll of the boat pushed it away from him.
Now he was screaming, a high-pitched wail of agony with the steel deep
in him. I tugged harder, single-handed, trying to work it into heart or
lung and the hook broke from the stock. Guthrie rolled across the deck
towards the pistol. He groped frantically for it, and I dropped the gaff
stock and groped just as frantically for the rope to restrain him.
I have seen two women wrestlers fighting in a bath of black mud, in a
nightclub in the St. Pauli district of Hamburg – and now Guthrie and I
performed the same act, only in place of mud we fought in a bath of our
own blood. We slithered and rolled about the deck, thrown about
mercilessly by Dancer’s action in the swell.
Guthrie was weakening at last, clawing with his good hand at the great
hook buried in his body, and with the next roll of the sea I was able to
throw a coil of the rope around his neck and get a firm purchase against
the base of the fighting chair with one foot. Then I pulled with all the
remains of my strength and resolve.
Suddenly, with a single explosive expulsion of breath, his tongue fell
out of his mouth and he relaxed, his limbs stretched out limply and his
head lolled loosely back and forth with Dancer’s roll.
I was tired beyond caring now. My hand opened of its own accord and the
rope fell from it. I lay back and closed my eyes. Darkness fell over me
like a shroud.
When I regained consciousness my face felt as though it had been scalded
with acid, my lips were swollen and my thirst raged like a forest fire.
I had lain face up under a tropical sun for six hours, and it had burned
Slowly I rolled on to my side, and cried out weakly at the immensity of
pain that was my chest. I lay still for a while to let it subside and
then I began to explore the wound.
The bullet had angled in through the bicep of my left arm, missing bone,
and come out through the tricep, tearing, a big exit hole. Immediately
it had ploughed into the side of my chest.
Sobbing with the effort I traced and probed the wound with my finger. It
had glanced over a rib, I could feel the exposed bone was cracked and
rough-ended where the slug had struck and been deflected and left
slivers of lead and bone chips in the churned flesh. It had gone through
the thick muscle of my back – and torn out below the shoulder blade,
leaving a hole the size of a detni tasse coffee cup.
I fell back on to the deck, panting and fighting back waves of giddy
nausea. My exploration had induced fresh bleeding, but I knew at least
that the bullet had not entered the chest cavity. I still had some sort
of a chance.
While I rested I looked blearily about me. My hair and clothing were
stiff with dried blood, blood was coated over the cockpit, dried black
and shiny or congealed.
Guthrie lay on his back with the gaff hook still in him and the rope
around his neck. The gases in his belly had already blown, giving him a
pregnant swollen look. I got up on to my knees and began to crawl.
Materson’s body half-blocked the entrance to the cabin, shredded by
gunfire as though he had been mauled by a savage predator.
I crawled over him, and found I was whimpering aloud as I saw the icebox
behind the bar.
I drank three cans of Coca-Cola, gasping and choking in my eagerness,
spilling the icy liquid down my chest, and moaning and snuffling through
each mouthful. Then I lay and rested again. I closed my eyes and just
wanted to sleep for ever.
“Where the hell are we?” The question hit me with a shock of awareness.
Dancer was adrift on a treacherous coast, strewn with reefs and shoals.
I dragged myself to my feet and reached the blood-caked cockpit.
Beneath us flowed the deep purple blue of the Mozambique, and a clear
horizon circled us, above which the massive cloud ranges climbed to a
tall blue sky. The ebb and the wind had pushed us far out to the east,
we had plenty of sea room.
MY legs collapsed under me, and I may have slept for a while.
When I woke MY head felt clearer, but the wound had stiffened horribly.
Each movement was agony. On my hand and knees I reached the shower room
where the medicine chest was kept. I ripped away my shirt and poured
undiluted acriflavine solution into the cavernous wounds. Then I plugged
them roughly with surgical dressing and strapped the whole as best I
could, but the effort was too much.
The dizziness overwhelmed me again and I crashed down on to the linoleum
I awoke light-headed, and feeble as a new-born infant.
It was a major effort to fashion a sling for the wounded arm, and the
journey to the bridge was an endless procession of dizziness and pain
Dancer’s engines started with the first kick, sweet as ever she was.
Take me home, me darling,” I whispered, and set the automatic pilot. I
gave her an approximate heading. Dancer settled on course, and the
darkness caught me again. I went down sprawling on the deck, welcoming
oblivion as it washed over me.
it may have been the altered action of Dancer’s passage that roused me.
She no longer swooped and rolled with the big swell of the Mozambique,
but ambled quietly along over a sheltered sea. Dusk was falling swiftly.
Stiffly I dragged myself up to the wheel. I was only just in time, for
dead ahead lay the loom of land in the fading light. I slammed Dancer’s
throttle closed, and kicked her into neutral. She came up and rocked
gently in a low sea. I recognized the shape of the land – it was Big
We had missed the channel of Grand Harbour, my heading had been a little
southerly and we had rim into the southern-most straggle of tiny atolls
that made up the St. Mary’s group.
Hanging on to the wheel for support I craned forward. The canvas-wrapped
bundle still lay on the foredeck – and suddenly I knew that I must get
rid of it. My reasons were not clear then. Dimly I realized that it was
a high card in the game into which I had been drawn. I knew I dare not
ferry it back into Grand Harbour in broad daylight. Three men had been
killed for it already – and Id had half my chest shot away. There was
some strong medicine wrapped up in that sheet of canvas.
It took me fifteen minutes to reach the foredeck, and I blacked out
twice on the way. When I crawled to the bundle of canvas I was sobbing
aloud with each movement.
For another half-hour I tried feebly to unwrap the stiff canvas and
untie the thick nylon knots. With only one hand and my fingers so numb
and weak that they could not close properly it was a hopeless task, and
the blackness kept filling my head. I was afraid I would go out with the
bundle still aboard.
Lying on my side I used the last rays of the setting sun to take a
bearing off the point of the island, lining up a clump of palms and the
point of the high ground – marking the spot with care.
Then I opened the swinging section of the foredeck railing through which
we usually pulled big fish aboard, and I wriggled around the canvas
bundle – got both feet on to it and shoved it over the side. It fell
with a heavy splash and droplets splattered in my face.
My exertions had re-opened the wounds and fresh blood was soaking my
clumsy dressing. I started back across the deck but I did not make it. I
went out for the last time as I reached the break of the cockpit.
The morning sun and a raucous barnyard squawking woke me, but when I
opened my eyes the sun seemed shaded, darkened as though in eclipse. My
vision was fading, and when I tried to move there was no strength for
it. I lay crushed beneath the weight of weakness and pain. Dancer was
canted at an absurd angle, probably stranded high and dry on the beach.
I stared up into the rigging above me. There were three black-backed
gulls as big as turkeys sitting in a row on the cross stay. They twisted
their heads sideways to look down at me, and their beaks were clear
yellow and powerful. The upper part of the beak ended in a curved point
that was a bright cherry red. They watched me with glistening black
eyes, and fluffed out their feathers impatiently.
I tried to shout at them, to drive them away but my lips would not move.
I was completely helpless, and I knew that soon they would begin on my
eyes. They always went for the eyes.
One of the gulls above me grew bold and spreading his wings, planed down
to the deck near me. He folded his wings and waddled a few steps closer,
and we stared at each other. Again I tried to scream, but no sound came
and the gull waddled forward again, then stretched out his neck, opened
that wicked beak and let out a hoarse screech of menace. I felt the
whole of my dreadfully abused body cringing away from the bird.
Suddenly the tone of the screeching gulls altered, and the air was
filled with their wing beats. The bird that I was watching screeched
again, but this time in disappointment and it launched itself into
flight, the draught from its wings striking my face as it rose.
There was a long silence then, as I lay on the heavily listing deck,
fighting off the waves of darkness that tried to overwhelm me. Then
suddenly there was a scrabbling sound along-side.
I rolled my head again to face it, and at that moment a dark chocolate
face rose above deck level and stared at me from a range of two feet.
“Lardy!” said a familiar voice. “Is that you, Mister Harry?”
I learned later that Henry Wallace, one of St. Mary’s turtle hunters,
had been camped out on the atolls and had risen from his bed of straw to
find Wave Dancer stranded by the ebb on the sand bar of the lagoon with
a cloud of gulls squabbling over her. He had waded out across the bar,
and climbed the side to peer into the slaughterhouse that was Dancer’s
I wanted to tell him how thankful I was to see him, I wanted to promise
him free beer for the rest of his life – but instead I started to weep,
just a slow welling up of tears from deep down. I didn’t even have the
strength to sob.
“A little scratch like that,” marvelled Macnab. “What’s all the fussing
about?” and he probed determinedly.
I gasped as he did something else to my back; if I had had the strength
I would have got up off the hospital bed and pushed that probe up the
most convenient opening of his body. Instead I moaned weakly.
“Come on,- Doc. Didn’t they teach you about morphine and that stuff back
in the time when you should have failed your degree?”
Macnab came around to look in my face. He was plump and scarlet-faced,
fiftyish and greying in hair and moustache. His breath should have
“Harry, my boy, that stuff costs money – what are you, anyway, National
Health or a private patient?”
“I just changed my status – I’m private.”
“Quite right, too,” Macnab agreed. “Man of your standing in the
community,” and he nodded to the sister. “Very well then, my dear, give
Mister Harry a grain of morphine before we proceed,” and while he waited
for her to prepare the shot he went on to cheer me up. “We put six pints
of whole blood into you last night, you were just about dry. Soaked it
up like a sponge.”
Well, you wouldn’t expect one of the giants of the medical profession to
be practising on St. Mary’s. I could almost believe the island rumour
that he was in partnership with Fred Coker’s mortician parlour.
“How long you going to keep me in here anyway, Doc?”
“Not more than a month.”
“A month!” I struggled to sit up and two nurses pounced on me to
restrain me, which required no great effort. I could still hardly raise
my head. “I can’t afford a month. My God, it’s right in the middle of
the season. I’ve got a new party coming next week!”
The sister hurried across with the syringe.
“- You trying to break me? I can’t afford to miss a single party-” The
sister hit me with the needle.
“Harry old boy, you can forget about this season. You won’t be fishing
again,” and he began picking bits of bone and flakes of lead out of me
while he hummed cheerily to himself. The morphine dulled the pain – but
not my despair.
If Dancer and I missed half a season we just couldn’t keep going.
Once again they had me stretched out on the financial rack. God, how I
Macnab strapped me up in clean white bandages, and spread a little more
“You going to lose some furiction in your left arm there, Harry boy.
Probably always be a little stiff and weak, and you going to have some
pretty scars to show the girls.” He finished winding the bandage and
turned to the sister. “Change the dressings every six hours, swab out
with Eusol and give him his usual dose of Aureo Mycytin every four
hours. “hree Mogadon tonight and I’ll see him on my rounds tomorrow.” He
turned back to grin at me with bad teeth under the untidy grey
moustache. “The entire police force is waiting outside this very room.
I’ll have to let them in now.” He started towards the door, then paused
to chuckle again. “You did a hell of a job on those two guys, spread
them over the scenery with a spade. Nice shooting, Harry boy.”
Inspector Daly was dressed in impeccable khaki drill, starched and
pristine, and his leather belts and straps glowed with a high polish.
“Good afternoon, Mr. Fletcher. I have come to take a statement from you.
I hope you feel strong enough.”
“I feel wonderful, Inspector. Nothing like a bullet through the chest to
set you up.”
Daly turned to the constable who followed him and motioned him to take
the chair beside the bed, and as he sat and prepared his shorthand pad
the constable told me softly, “Sorry you got hurt, Mister Harry.”
“Thanks, Wally, but you should have seen the other guys. Wally was one
of Chubby’s nephews, and his mother did my laundry. He was a big,
strong, darkly good-looking Youngster.
“I saw them” he grinned. “Wow!”
“If you are ready, Mr. Fletcher,” Daly cut in primly, annoyed by the
exchange. “We can get on.” “Shoot,” I said, and I had my story well
prepared. Like all good stories, it was the exact and literal truth,
with omissions. I made no mention of the prize that James North had
lifted, and which I had dumped again off Big Gull Island – nor did I
tell Daly in which area we had conducted our search. He wanted to know,
of course. He kept coming back to that.
“What were they searching for? “I have no idea. They were very careful
not to let me know. “Where did all this happenr he persisted.
“in the area beyond Herring Bone Reef, south of Rastafa Point.” This was
fifty miles from the break at Gunfire Reef. “Could you recognize the
exact point where they dived?” I don’t think so, not within a few miles.
I was merely following instructions.”
Daly chewed his silky moustache in frustration.
“All right, you say they attacked you without warning,” and I nodded.
Why did they do that? – why would they try to kill you? “We never really
discussed it. I didn’t have a chance to ask them.” I was beginning to
feel very tired and feeble again, I didn’t want to go on talking in case
I made a mistake. “When Guthrie started shooting at me with that cannon
of his I didn’t think he wanted to chat.” “This isn’t a joke, Fletcher,”
he told me stiffly, and I rang the bell beside me. The sister must have
been waiting just outside the door.
“Sister, I’m feeling pretty bad.”
“You’ll have to go now, Inspector.” She turned on the two policemen like
a mother hen, and drove them from the ward. Then she came back to
rearrange my pillows.
She was a pretty little thing with huge dark eyes, and her tiny waist
was belted in firmly to accentuate her big nicely shaped bosom on which
she wore her badges and medals. Lustrous chestnut curls peeped from
under the saucy little uniform cap.
“What is your name, then? I whispered hoarsely. “May.”
“Sister May, how come I haven’t seen you around before?” I asked, as she
leaned across me to tuck in my sheet.
“Guess you just weren’t looking, Mister Harry.”
“Well, I’m looking now.” The front of her crisp white uniform blouse was
only a few inches from my nose. She stood up quickly.
They say here you’re a devil man,” she said. “I know now they didn’t
tell me lies.” But she was smiling. Now you go to sleep. You’ve got to
get strong again.”
“Yeah, we’ll talk again then,” I said, and she laughed out loud.
The next three days I had a lot of time to think for I was allowed no
visitors until the official inquest had been conducted. Daly had a
constable on guard outside my room, and I was left in no doubt that I
stood accused of murder most vile.
My room was cool and airy with a good view down across the lawns to the
tall dark-leafed banyan trees, and beyond them the massive stone walls
of the fort with the cannon upon the battlements. The food was good,
plenty of fish and fruit, and Sister May and I were becoming good, if
not intimate, friends. She even smuggled in a bottle of Chivas Regal
which we kept in the bedpan. From her I heard how the whole island was
agog with the cargo that Wave Dancer had brought into Grand Harbour. She
told me they buried Materson and Guthrie on the second day in the old
cemetery. A corpse doesn’t keep so well in those latitudes.
In those three days I decided that the bundle I had dropped off Big Gull
Island would stay there. I guessed that from now on there would be a lot
of eyes watching me, and I was at a complete disadvantage. I didn’t know
who the watchers were and I didn’t know why. I would keep down off the
sky-line until I worked out where the next bullet was likely to come
from. I didn’t like the game. They could deal me out and I would stick
to the action I could call and handle.
I thought a lot about Jimmy North also, and every time I felt myself
grieving unnecessarily I tried to tell myself that he was a stranger,
that he had meant nothing to me, but it didn’t work. This is a weakness
of mine which I must always guard against. I become too readily
emotionally bound up with other people. I try to walk alone, avoiding
involvement, and after years of practice I have achieved some success.
It is seldom these days that anyone can penetrate my armour the way
Jimmy North did.
By the third day I was feeling much stronger. I could lift myself into a
sitting position without assistance and with only a moderate degree of
They held the official inquest in my hospital room. It was a closed
session, attended only by the heads of the legislative, judicial and
executive branches of St. Mary’s government.
The President himself, dressed as always in black with a crisp white
shirt and a halo of snowy wool around his bald pate, chaired the
meeting. judge Harkness, tall and thin and sunburned to dark brown,
assisted him – while Inspector Daly represented the executive.
The President’s first concern was for my comfort and well-being.
I was one of his boys.
“You be sure you don’t tire yourself now, Mister Harry. Anything you
want you just ask, hear? We have only come here to hear your version,
but I want to tell you now not to worry. There is nothing going to
happen to you.”
Inspector Daly looked pained, seeing his prisoner declared innocent
before his trial began.
So I told my story again, with the President making helpful or admiring
comments whenever I paused for breath, and when I finished he shook his
head with wonder.
“All I can say, Mister Harry, is there are not many men would have had
the strength and courage to do what you did against those gangsters, is
that right, gentlemen?”
judge Harkness agreed heartily, but Inspector Daly said nothing.
“And they were gangsters too,” he went on. “We sent their fingerprints
to London and we heard today that those men came here under false names,
and that both of them have got police records at Scotland Yard.
Gangsters, both of them.” The President looked at judge Harkness. “Any
“I don’t think so, Mr. President.”
“Good.” The President nodded happily. “What about you, Inspector?” And
Daly produced a typewritten list. The President made no effort to hide
“Mister Fletcher is still a very sick man, Inspector. I hope your
questions are really important.”
Inspector Daly hesitated and the President went on brusquely, “Good,
well then we are all agreed. The verdict is death by misadventure.
Mister Fletcher acted in selfdefence, and is hereby discharged from any
guilt. No criminal charges will be brought against him.” He turned to
the shorthand recorder in the corner. “Have you got that? Type it out
and send a copy to my office for signature.” He stood up and came to my
bedside. “Now you get better soon, Mister Harry. I expect you for dinner
at Government House soon as you are well enough. My secretary will send
you a formal invitation. I want to hear the whole story again.”
Next time I appear before a judicial body, as I surely shall, I hope for
the same consideration. Having been officially declared innocent I was
Chubby and Mrs. Chubby came together dressed in their standard number
one rig. Mrs. Chubby had baked one of her splendid banana cakes, knowing
my weakness for them.
Chubby was torn by relief at seeing me still alive and outrage at what I
had done to Wave Dancer. He scowled at me fiercely as he started giving
me a large slice of his mind.
“Ain’t never going to get that deck clean again. It soaked right in,
man. That damned old carbine of yours really chewed up the cabin
bulkhead. Me and Angelo been working three days at it now, and it still
needs a few more days.”
“Sorry, Chubby, next time I shoot somebody I’m going to make them stand
by the rail first.” I knew that when Chubby had finished repairing the
woodwork the damage would not be detectable.
“When you coming out anyway? Plenty of big fish working out there on the
“I be out pretty soon, Chubby. One week tops.”
Chubby sniffed. “Did hear that Fred Coker wired all your parties for
rest of the season – told them you were hurt bad and switched their
bookings to Mister Coleman.”
I lost my temper then. “You tell Fred Coker to get his black arse up
here soonest,” I shouted.
Dick Coleman had a deal with the Hilton Hotel. They had financed the
purchase of two big game fishing boats, which Coleman crewed with a pair
of imported skippers. Neither of his boats caught much fish, they didn’t
have the feel of it. He had a lot of difficulty getting charters, and I
guessed Fred Coker had been handsomely compensated to switch my bookings
to him. Coker arrived the following morning.
“Mister Harry, Doctor Macnab told me you wouldn’t be able to fish again
this season. I couldn’t let my parties down, they fly six thousand miles
to find you in a hospital bed. I couldn’t do that – I got my reputation
to think of.”
“Mr. Coker, your reputation smells like one of those stiffs you got
tucked away in the back room,” I told him, and he smiled at me blandly
from behind his gold-rimmed spectacles, but he was right of course, it
would be a long time still before I could take Dancer out after the big
“Now don’t you fuss yourself, Mister Harry. Soon as you better I will
arrange a few lucrative charters for you.”
He was talking about the night run again, his commission on a single run
could go as high as seven hundred and fifty dollars. I could handle that
even in my present beatenup condition, it involved merely conning Dancer
in and out again – just as long as we didn’t run into trouble.
“Forget it, Mr. Coker. I told you from now on I fish, that’s all” and he
nodded and smiled and went on as though I had not spoken.
“Had persistent inquiries from one of your old clients! “Body?
Box?” I demanded. Body was the illegal carrying to or from the African
mainland of human beings, fleeing politicians with the goon squad after
them – or on the other hand aspiring politicians trying for radical
change in the regime. Boxes usually contained lethal hardware and it was
a one-way traffic. In the old days they called it gunk running.
Coker shook his head and said, “Five, six,” – from the old nursery
rhyme: “Five, six. Pick up sticks.” In this context sticks were tusks of
ivory. A massive, highly organized poaching operation was systematically
wiping out the African elephant from the game reserves and tribal lands
of East Africa. The Orient was an insatiable and high-priced market for
the ivory. A fast boat and a good skipper were needed to get the
valuable cargo out of an estuary mouth, through the dangerous inshore
waters, out to where one of the big ocean-going dhows waited on the
stream of the Mozambique.
“Mr. Coker,” I told him wearily. “I’m sure your mother never even knew
your father’s name.” “It was Edward, Mister Harry,”he smiled carefully.
“I told the client that the going rate was up. What with inflation and
the price of diesel fuel.”
“Seven thousand dollars a trip,” which was not as much as it sounds
after Coker had clouted fifteen per cent, then Inspector Peter Daly had
to be slipped the same again to dim his eyesight and cloud his hearing.
On top of that Chubby and Angelo always earned a danger money bonus of
five hundred each for a night run.
“Forget it, Mr. Coker,” I said unconvincingly. “You just fix a couple of
fishing parties.” But he knew I couldn’t fight it.
“Just as soon as you fit enough to fish, we’ll fix that.
Meantime, when do you want to do the first night run? Shall I tell them
ten days from today? That will be high spring tide and a good moon.”
“All right,” I agreed with resignation. “Ten days” time.” With a
positive decision made, it seemed that my recovery from the wounds was
hastened. I had been in peak physical condition which contributed, and
the gaping holes in my arm and back began to shrink miraculously.
I reached a milestone in my convalescence on the sixth day.
Sister May was giving me a bed bath, with a basin of suds and a face
cloth, when there was a monumental demonstration of my physical
well-being. Even I, who was no stranger to the phenomenon, was
impressed, while Sister May was so overcome that her voice became a
husky little whisper.
“Lord!” she said. “You’ve sure got your strength back.”
“Sister May, do you think we should waste that?” I asked, and -she shook
her head vehemently.
from then onwards I began to take a more cheerful view of my
circumstances, and not surprisingly the Fcanvas-wrapped secret off Big
Gull Island began to nag me. I felt my good resolutions weakening.
“I’ll just take a look,” I told myself. “When I am sure the dust has
They were allowing me up for a few hours at a time now, and I felt
restless and anxious to get on with it. Not even Sister May’s devoted
efforts could blunt the edge of my awakening energy. Macnab was
“You heal well Harry old chap. Closing up nicely another week.” “A week,
hell!” I told him determinedly. Seven days from now I was making the
night run. Coker had set it up without trouble – and I was just about
stony broke. I needed that run pretty badly.
My crew came up to visit me every evening, and to report progress on the
repairs to Dancer. One evening Angelo arrived earlier than usual, he was
dressed in his courting gear – rodeo boots and all – but he was
strangely subdued and not alone.
The lass with him was the young nursery grade teacher from the
goverriment school down near the fort. I knew her well enough to
exchange smiles on the street. Missus Eddy had summed up her character
for me once.
“She’s a good girl, that Judith. Not all flighty and flirty like some
others. Going to make some lucky fellow a good wife.”
She was also good-looking with a tall willowy figure, neatly and
conservatively dressed, and she greeted me shyly.
“How do, Mister Harry.”
“Hello, Judith. Good of you to come,” and I looked at Angelo, unable to
hide my grin. He couldn’t meet my eye, colouring up as he hunted for
“Me and Judith planning to marry up,” he blurted at last. “Wanted you to
know that, boss.”
“Think you can keep him under control, Judith?” I laughed delightedly.
“You just watch me,” she said with a flash of dark eyes that made the
“That’s great – I’ll make a speech at your wedding,” I assured them.
“You going to let Angelo go on crewing for me?”
“Wouldn’t ever try to stop him,” she assured me. “It’s good work he’s
got with you.”
They stayed for another hour and when they left I felt a small prickle
of envy. It must be a good feeling to have someone – apart from
yourself. I thought some day if I ever found the right person I might
try it. Then I dismissed the thought, raising my guard again. There were
a hell of a lot of women – and no guarantee you will pick right.
Macnab discharged me with two days to spare. My clothes hung on my bony
frame, I had lost nearly two stone in weight and my tan had faded to a
dirty yellow brown, there were big blue smears under my eyes and I still
felt weak as a baby. The arm was in a sling and the wounds were still
open, but I could change the dressing myself.
Angelo brought the pick-up to the hospital and waited while I said
goodbye to Sister May on the steps.
Nice getting to know you, Mister Hairy.”
“Come out to the shack some time soon. I’ll grill you a mess of
crayfish, and we’ll drink a little wine.”
“My contract ends next week. I’ll be going home to England then.”
“You be happy, hear,” I told her.
Angelo drove me down to Admiralty, and with Chubby we spent an hour
going over Dancer’s repairs.
Her decks were snowy white, and they had replaced all the woodwork in
the saloon bulkhead, a beautiful piece of joinery with which even I
could find no fault.
We took her down the channel as far as Mutton Point and it was good to
feel her riding lightly under my feet and hear the sweet burble of her
engines. We came home in the dusk to tie up at moorings and sit out on
the bridge in the dark, drinking beer out of the can and talking.
I told them that we had a run set for the following night, and they
asked where to and what the cargo was. That was all – it was set, there
was no argument.
“Time to go,” Angelo said at last. “Going to pick Judith up from night
school,” and we rowed ashore in the dinghy. There was a police
Land-Rover parked beside my old pick-up at the back of the pineapple
sheds and Wally, the young constable, climbed out as we approached. He
greeted his uncle, and then turned to me.
“Sorry to worry you, Mister Harry, but Inspector Daly wants to see you
up at the fort. He says it’s urgent.”
“God,” I growled. “It can wait until tomorrow.” “He says it can’t,
Mister Harry.” Wally was apologetic, and for his sake I went along.
“Okay, I’ll follow you in the pick-up – but we got to drop Chubby and
Angelo off first.”
I thought it was probably that Daly wanted to haggle about his pay off.
Usually Fred Coker fixed that, but I guessed that Daly was raising the
price of his honour.
Driving onehanded and holding the steering wheel with a knee while I
shifted gear with my good hand, I followed the red tail lights of
Wally’s Land-Rover rattling over the drawbridge and parked beside it in
the courtyard of the fort.
The massive stone walls had been built by slave labour in the
mid-eighteenth century and from the wide ramparts the long
thirty-six-pounder cannon ranged the channel and the entrance to Grand
One wing was used as the island police headquarters, jail and armoury –
the rest of it was government offices and the Presidential and State
We climbed the front steps to the charge office and Wally led me through
a side door, and along a corridor, down steps, another corridor, more
I had never been down here before and I was intrigued. The stone walls
here must have been twenty feet thick, the old powder store probably. I
half expected the Frankenstein monster to be lurking behind the thick
oak door, iron studded and weathered, at the end of the last passage. We
It wasn’t Frankenstein, but next best. Inspector Daly waited for us with
another of his constables. I noticed immediately they both wore
sidearms. The room was empty except for a wooden table and four PWD type
chairs. The walls were unpainted stonework and the floor was paved.
At the back of the room an arched doorway led to a row of cells.
The lights were bare hundred-watt bulbs hanging on black electrical
cable that ran exposed across the beamed roof. They cast hard black
shadows in the angles of the irregularly shaped room.
On the table lay my FN carbine. I stared at it uncomprehendingly.
Behind me Wally closed the oak door. “Mr. Fletcher, is this your
firearm?” “You know damn well it is,” I said angrily. “Just what the
hell are you playing at, Daly?”
“Harold Delville Fletcher, I am placing you under arrest for the
unlawful possession of Category A firearms. To wit, one unlicensed
automatic rifle type Fabrique Nationale Serial No. 4163215.”
“You’re off your head,” I said, and laughed. He didn’t like that laugh.
The weak little lips below his moustache puckered up like those of a
sulky child and he nodded at his constables. They had been briefed, and
they went out through the oak door.
I heard the bolts shoot home, and Daly and I were alone. He was standing
well away from me across the room – and the flap of his holster was
“Does his excellency know about this, Daly?” I asked, still smiling.
“His excellency left St. Mary’s at four o’clock this after, noon to
attend the conference of Commonwealth heads in London. He won’t be back
for two weeks.”
I stopped smiling. I knew it was true. “In the meantime I have reason to
believe the security of the State is endangered.” He smiled now, thinly
and with the mouth only. “Before we go any further I want you to be sure
I am serious.”
“I believe you,” I said.
“I have two weeks with you alone, here, Fletcher. These walls are pretty
thick, you can make as much noise as you like.”
“You are a monstrous little turd, you really are.”
“There is only one of two ways you are going to leave here.
Either you and I come to an arrangement – or I’ll get Fred Coker to come
and fetch you in a box.”
“Let’s hear your deal, little man.”
“I want to know exactly – and I mean exactly – where your charter
carried out their diving operations before the shoot out.” “I told you –
somewhere off Rastafa Point. I couldn’t give you the exact spot.”
“Fletcher, you know the spot to within inches. I’m willing to stake your
life on that. You wouldn’t miss a chance like that. You know it. I know
it – and they knew it. That’s why they tried to sign you off.”
“Inspector, go screw,” I said.
“What is more it was nowhere near Rastafa Point. You were working north
of here, towards the mainland. I was interested – I had some reports of
“It was somewhere off Rastafa Point,” I repeated doggedly. “Very well,”
he nodded. “I hope you aren’t as tough as you put out, Fletcher,
otherwise this is going to be a long messy business. Before we start
though, don’t waste our time with false data. I’m going to keep you here
while I check it out – I’ve got two weeks.”
We stared at each other, and my flesh began to crawl. Peter Daly was
going to enjoy this, I realized. There was a gloating expression on
those thin lips and a smoky glaze to his eyes.
“I had a great deal of experience in interrogation in Malaya, you know.
Fascinating subject. So many aspects to it. So often it’s the tough,
strong ones that pop first – and the little runts that hang on for ever.
This was for kicks, I saw clearly that he was aroused by the prospect of
inflicting pain. His breathing had changed, faster and deeper, there was
fresh colour in his cheeks.
“—of course, you are at a physical low ebb right now, Fletcher.
Probably your threshold of pain is much lowered after your recent
misadventures. I don’t think it will take long.”
He seemed to regret that. I gathered myself, tightening up for an
“No,” he snapped. “Don’t do it, Fletcher.” He placed his hand on the
butt of the pistol. He was fifteen feet away. I was one-armed, weak,
there was a locked door behind me, two armed constables – my shoulders
sagged as I relaxed.
“That’s better.” He smiled again. “Now I think we will handcuff you to
the bars of a cell, and we can get to work. When you have had enough you
have merely to say so. I think you will find my little electrical set-up
simple but effective. It’s merely a twelve-volt car battery – and I clip
the terminals on to interesting parts of the body-” He reached behind
him – and for the first time I noticed the button of an electric bell
set on the wall. He pressed it and I heard the bell ring faintly beyond
the oaken door.
The bolts shot back and the two constables came back in.
“Take him through to the cells,” Daly ordered, and the constables
hesitated. I guessed they were strangers to this type of operation.
“Come on,” snapped Daly, and they stepped up on either side of me.
Wally laid a hand lightly on my injured arm, and I allowed myself to be
led forward towards the cells and Daly.
I wanted to have a chance at him, just one chance. “How’s your mom,
Wally? I asked casually.
“She’s all right, Mister Harry,” he muttered embarrassedly.
“She get the present I sent up for her birthday?”
“Yeah, she got it.” He was distracted as I intended.
We had come level, with Daly. he was standing by the doorway to the
cells, waiting for us to go through, slapping the malacca, swagger stick
against his thigh.
The constables were holding me respectfully, loosely, unsure of
themselves, and I stepped to one side pushing Wally slightly off balance
– then I spun back, breaking free.
Not one of them was ready for it, and I covered the three paces to Daly
before they had realized what I was doing – and I put my right knee into
him with my full body weight behind it. It thumped into the crotch of
his legs, a marvellously solid blow. Whatever the price I was going to
have to pay for the pleasure, it was cheap.
Daly was lifted off his feet, a full eighteen inches in the air, and he
flew backwards to crash against the bars. Then he doubled up, both hands
pressed into his lower body, screaming thinly – a sound like steam from
a boiling kettle. As he went over I lined up for another shot at his
face, I wanted to take his teeth out with a kick in the mouth – but the
constables recovered their wits and leaped forward to drag me away. They
were rough now, twisting the arm.
“You didn’t ought to do that, Mister Harry,” Wally shouted angrily. His
fingers bit into my bicep and I gritted my teeth.
“The President himself cleared me, Wally. You know that,” I shouted back
at him, and Daly straightened up, his face twisted with agony, still
“This is a frame up.” I knew I had only a few seconds to talk, Daly was
reeling towards me, brandishing the swagger stick, his mouth wide open
as he tried to find his voice.
“If he gets me in that cell he’s going to kill me Wally!”
“Shut up!” screeched Daly.
“He wouldnt dare try this if the President—2 “Shut up! Shut up!” He
swung the swagger stick, a side, arm cut, that hissed like a cobra. He
had gone for my wounds deliberately, and the supple cane snapped around
me like a pistol shot.
The pain of it was beyond belief, and I convulsed, bucking involuntarily
in their grip. They held me.
“Shut up!” Daly was hysterical with pain and rage. He swung again, and
the cane cut deeply into half-healed flesh. This time I screamed.
“I’ll kill you, you bastard.” Daly staggered back, still hunched with
pain, and he fumbled with his holstered pistol.
What I had hoped for now happened. Wally released me and jumped forward.
No,” he shouted. “Not that.”
He towered over Daly’s slim crouching form and with one massive brown
hand he blocked Daly’s draw.
“Get out of my way. That’s an order,” shouted Daly, but Wally unclipped.
the lanyard from the pistol’s butt and disarmed him, stepping back with
the pistol in his hand.
“I’ll break you for this,” snarled Daly. “It’s your duty-”
“I know my duty, Inspector,” Wally spoke with a simple dignity, “and
it’s not to murder prisoners.” Then he turned to me. “Mister Harry,
you’d best get out of here.”
“You’re freeing a prisoner-” Daly gasped. “Man, I’m going to break you.”
“Didn’t see no warrant,” Wally cut in. “Soon as the President signs a
warrant, we’ll fetch Mister Harry right back in again.”
“You black bastard,” Daly panted at him, and Wally turned to me.
“Get!”he said. “Quickly.”
It was a long ride out to the shack, every bump in the track hit me in
the chest. One thing I had learned from I the evening’s joliffications
was that my original thoughts were correct – whatever that bundle off
Big Gull Island contained, it could get a peace-loving gentleman like
myself into plenty of trouble.
I was not so trusting as to believe that Inspector Daly had made his
last attempt at interrogating me. just as soon as he recovered from the
kick in his multiplication machinery which I had given him, he was going
to make another attempt to connect me up to the lighting system. I
wondered if Daly was acting on his own, or if he had partners and I
guessed he was alone, taking opportunity as it presented itself.
I parked the pick-up in the yard and went through on to the veranda of
my shack. Missus Chubby had been out to sweep and tidy while I was away.
There were fresh flowers in a jam-jar on the dining-room table – but
more important there were eggs and bacon, bread and butter in the
I stripped off my blood-stained shirt and dressing. There were thick
raised welts around my chest that the cane had left, and the wounds were
I showered and strapped on a fresh dressing, then, standing naked over
the stove, I scrambled a pan full of eggs with bacon and while it
cooked, I poured a very dark whisky and took it like medicine.
I was too tired to climb between the sheets, and as I fell across the
bed I wondered if I would be fit enough to work the night run on
schedule. It was my last thought before sun-up.
And after I had showered again and swallowed two Doloxene painkillers
with a glass of cold pineapple juice and eaten another panful of eggs
for breakfast I thought the answer was yes. I was stiff and sore, but I
could work. At noon I drove into town, stopped off at Missus Eddy’s
store for supplies and then went on down to Admiralty.
Chubby and Angelo were on board already, and Dancer lay against the
“I filled the auxiliary tariks, Harry,” Chubby told me. “She’s good for
a thousand miles.”
“Did you break out the cargo nets?” I asked, and he nodded.
“They are stowed in the main sail locker.” We would use the nets to deck
load the bulky ivory cargo.
“Don’t forget to bring a coat – it will be cold out on the stream with
this wind blowing-”
“Don’t worry, Harry. You the one should watch it. Man, you look bad as
you were ten days ago. You look real sick.”
“I feel beautiful, Chubby.”
“Yeah,” he grunted, “like my mother-in-law,” then he changed the
subject. “What happened to your carbine, man?”
“The police are holding it.”
“You mean we going out there without a piece on board?”
“We never needed it yet.”
“There is always a first time,” he grunted. “I’m going to feel mighty
naked without it.”
Chubby’s obsession with armaments always amused me. Despite all the
evidence that I presented to the contrary, Chubby could never quite
shake, off the belief that the velocity and range of a bullet depended
upon how hard one pulled the trigger – and Chubby intended that his
bullets go very fast and very far indeed.
The savage strength with which he sent them on their way would have
buckled a less robust weapon than the FN. He also suffered from a
complete inability to keep his eyes open at the moment of firing.
I have seen him miss a fifteen-foot tiger shark at a range of ten feet
with a full magazine of twenty rounds. Chubby Andrews was never going to
make it to Bisley, but he just naturally loved firearms and things that
“It will be a milk run, a ruddy pleasure cruise, Chubby, you’ll see,”
and he crossed his fingers to avert the hex, and shuffled off to work on
Dancer’s already brilliant brasswork, while I went ashore.
The front office of Fred Coker’s travel agency was deserted and I rang
the bell on the desk. He stuck his head through from the back room.
“Welcome, Mister Harry.” He had removed his coat and tie and had rolled
up his shirt sleeves, about his waist he wore a red rubber apron. “Lock
the front door, please, and come through.”
The back room was in contrast to the front office with its gaudy
wallpaper and bright travel posters. It was a long, gloomy barn. Along
one wall were piled cheap pine coffins. The hearse was parked inside the
double doors at the far end. Behind a grimy canvas screen in one corner
was a marble slab table with guttering around the edges and a spout to
direct fluid from the guttering into a bucket on the floor.
“Come in, sit down. There is a chair. Excuse me if I carry on working
while we talk. I have to have this ready for four o’clock this
I took one look at the frail naked corpse on the slab. It was a little
girl of about six years of age with long dark hair. One look was enough
and I moved the chair behind the screen so I could see only Fred Coker’s
bald head, and I lit a cheroot. There was a heavy smell of embalming
fluid in the room, and it caught in my throat.
“You get used to it, Mister Harry.” Fred Coker had noticed my distaste.
“Did you set it up?” I didn’t want to discuss his gruesome trade.
“It’s fixed,” he assured me.
“Did you square our friend at the fort?”
“It’s all fixed.”
“when did you see him!” I persisted, I wanted to know about Daly.
I was very interested in how Daly felt.
“I saw him this morning, Mister Harry.”
“How was he?”
“He seemed all right.” Coker paused in his grisly task and looked at me
“Was he standing up, walking around, dancing a jig, singing, tying the
“No. He was sitting down, and he was not in a very good mood “It
figures.” I laughed and my own injuries felt better. “But he took the
“Yes, he took it.”
“Good, then we have still got a deal.” “Like I told you, it’s all
“Lay it on me, Mr. Coker.”
“The pick up is at the mouth of the Salsa stream where it enters the
south channel of the main Duza estuary.” I nodded, that was acceptable.
There was a good channel and the holding ground off the Salsa was
“The recognition signal will be two lanterns – one over the other,
placed on the bank nearest the mouth. You will flash twice, repeated at
thirty-second intervals and when the lower lantern is extinguished you
can anchor. Got that?”
“Good.” It was all satisfactory.
“They will provide labour to load from the lighters.” I nodded, then
asked. “They know that slack water is three o’clock – and I must be out
of the channel before that?” “Yes, Mister Harry. I told them they must
finish loading before two hundred hours.”
“All right then – what about the drop off?”
“Your drop off will be twenty-five miles due east of Rastafa Point.”
“Fine.” I could check my bearings off the lighthouse at Rastafa.
It was good and simple.
“You will drop off to a dhow-rigged schooner, a big one. Your
recognition signal will be the same. Two lanterns on the mast, you will
flash twice at thirty seconds, and the lower lamp will extinguish. You
can then off load. They will provide labour and will put down an oil
slick for you to ride in. I think that is all.”
“Except for the money.”
“Except for the money, of course.” He produced an envelope from the
front pocket of his apron. I took it gingerly between thumb and
forefinger and glanced at his calculations scribbled in ballpoint on the
“Half up front, as usual, the rest on delivery,” he pointed out.
That was thirty-five hundred, less twenty-one hundred for Coker’s
commission and Daly’s pay-off. It left fourteen hundred, out of which I
had to find the bonus for Chubby and Angelo – a thousand dollars – not
I grimaced. “I’ll be waiting outside your office at nine o’clock
tomorrow morning, Mr. Coker.”
“I’ll have a cup of coffee ready for you, Mister Harry.” “That had
better not be all,” I told him, and he laughed and stooped once more
over the marble slab.
We cleared Grand Harbour in the late afternoon, and I made a fake run
down the channel towards Mutton Point for the benefit of a possible
watcher with binoculars on Coolie Peak. As darkness fell, I -came around
on to my true heading, and we went in through the inshore channel and
the islands towards the wide tidal mouth of the Duza River.
There was no moon but the stars were big and the break of surf flared
with phosphorescence, ghostly green in the afterglow of the setting sun.
I ran Dancer in fast, picking up my marks successively the loom of an
atoll in the starlight, the break of a reef, the very run and chop of
the water guided me through the channels and warned of shoals and
Angelo and Chubby huddled beside me at the bridge rail.
Occasionally one of them would go below to brew more of the powerful
black coffee, and we sipped at the steaming mugs, staring out into the
night watching for a flash of paleness that was not breaking water but
the hull of a patrol boat.
Once Chubby broke the silence. “Hear from Wally you had some trouble up
at the fort last night.”
“Some, I agreed.
“Wally had to take him up to the hospital afterwards.”
“Wally still got his job?” I asked.
“Only just. The man wanted to lock him up but Wally was too big.”
Angelo joined in. “Judith was up at the airport at lunch time.
Went up to fetch a crate of school books, and she saw him going out on
the plane to the mainland.”
“Who?” I asked.
“Inspector Daly, he went across on the noon plane.”
“Why didn’t you tell me before?”
“Didn’t think it was important Harry. “No, I agreed. “Perhaps it isn’t.”
There were a dozen reasons why Daly might go out to the mainland, none
of them remotely connected with my business. Yet it made me feel uneasy
– I didn’t like that kind of animal prowling around in the undergrowth
when I was taking a risk.
“Wish you’d brought that piece of yours, Harry,” Chubby repeated
mournfully, and I said nothing but wished the same.
The flow of the tide had smoothed the usual turmoil at the entrance to
the southern channel of the Duza and I groped blindly for it in the
dark. The mud banks on each side were latticed with standing fish traps
laid by the tribal fishermen, and they helped to define the channel at
When I was sure we were in the correct entrance, I killed both engines
and we drifted silently on the incoming tide. All of us listened with
complete concentration for the engine beat of a patrol boat, but there
was only the cry of a night heron and the splash of mullet leaping in
Ghost silent, we were swept up the channel; on each side the dark masses
of mangrove trees hedged us in and the smell of the mud swamps was rank
and fetid on the moisture-laden air.
The starlight danced in spots of light on the dark agitated surface of
the channel, and once a long narrow dugout canoe slid past us like a
crocodile, the phosphorescence gleaming on the paddles of the two
fishermen returning from the mouth. They paused to watch us for a moment
and then drove on without calling a greeting, disappearing swiftly into
“That was bad,” said Angelo.
“We will be drinking a lager in the Lord Nelson before they could tell
anyone who matters.” I knew that most of the fishermen on this coast
kept their own secrets, close with words like most of their kind. I was
not perturbed by the sighting.
Looking ahead I saw the first bend coming up, and the current began to
push Dancer out towards the far bank. I hit the starter buttons, the
engines murmured into life, and I edged back into the deep water.
We worked our way up the snaking channel, coming out at last into the
broad placid reach where the mangrove ended and firm ground rose gently
on each side.
A mile ahead I saw the tributary mouth of the Salsa as a dark break in
the bank, screened by tall stands of fluffy headed reeds. Beyond it the
twin signal lanterns glowed yellow and soft, one upon the other.
“What did I tell you, Chubby, a milk run.”
“We aren’t home yet.” Chubby the eternal optimist. “Okay, Angelo.
Get up on the bows. I’ll tell you when to drop the hook.”
We crept on down the channel and I found the words of the nursery rhyme
running through my mind as I locked the wheel and took the hand
spotlight from the locker below the rail.
“Three, Four, knock at the door, Five, Six, pick up sticks.” I thought
briefly of the hundreds of great grey beasts that had died for the sake
of their teeth – and I felt a draught of guilt blow coldly along my
spine at my complicity in the slaughter. But I turned my mind away from
it by lifting the spotlight and aiming the agreed signal upstream at the
Three times I flashed the recognition code but I was level with the
signal lanterns before the bottom one was abruptly extinguished.
“Okay, Angelo. Let her go,” I called softly as I killed the engines. The
anchor splashed over and the chain ran noisily in the silence. Dancer
snubbed up, and swung around at the restraint of the anchor, facing back
down the channel.
Chubby went to break out the cargo nets for loading, but I paused by the
rail, peering across at the signal lantern. The silence was complete,
except for the clink and croak of the swamp frogs in the reed banks of
In that silence I felt more than heard the beat like that of a giant’s
heart. It came in through the soles of my feet rather than my ears.
There is no mistaking the beat of an Allison marine diesel. I knew that
the old Second World War Rolls-Royce marines had been stripped out of
the Zinballa crash boats and replaced by Allisons, and right now the
sound I was feeling was the idling note of an Allison marine.
“Angelo,” I tried to keep my voice low, but at the same time transmit my
urgency. “Slip the anchor. For Christ’s sake! Quick as you can.”
For just such an emergency I had a shackle pin in the chain, and I
thanked the Lord for that as I dived for the controls.
As I started engines, I heard the thump of the fourpound hammer as
Angelo drove out the pin. Three times he struck, and then I heard the
end of the chain splash overboard.
“She’s gone, Harry,” Angelo called, and I threw Dancer in to drive and
pushed open the throttles. She bellowed angrily and the wash of her
propellers spewed whitely from below her counter as she sprang forward.
Although we were facing downstream, Dancer had a fiveknot current
running into her teeth and she did not jump away handily enough.
Even above our own engines I heard the Allisons give tongue, and from
out of the reed-screened mouth of the Salsa tore a long deadly shape.
Even by starlight, I recognized her immediately, the widely flared.
bows, and the lovely thrusting lines, greyhound waisted and the square
chopped-off stern – one of the Royal Navy crash boats who had spent her
best days in the Channel and now was mouldering into senility on this
The darkness was kind to her, covering the rust stains and the streaky
paintwork, but she was an old woman now. Stripped of her marvellous
Rolls marines – and underpowered with the more economical Allisons. In a
fair run Dancer would toy with her – but this was no fair run and she
had all the speed and power she needed as she charged into the channel
to cut us off, and when she switched on her battle lights they hit us
like something solid. Two glaring white beams, blinding in their
intensity so I had to throw up my hand to protect my eyes.
She was dead ahead now, blocking the channel, and on her foredeck I
could see the shadowy figures of the gun crew crouching around the
three-pounder on its wide traversing plate. The muzzle seemed to be
looking directly into my left nostril – and I felt a wild and desperate
It was a meticulously planned and executed ambush. I thought of ramming
her, she had a marine ply wooden hull, probably badly rotted, and
Dancer’s fibreglass bows might stand the shock – but with the current
against her Dancer was not making sufficient speed through the water.
Then suddenly a bull-horn bellowed elecamically from the dark behind the
dazzling battle lights.
“Heave to, Mr. Fletcher. Or I shall be forced to fire upon you.
One shell from the three-pounder would chop us down, and she was a quick
firer. At this range they would smash us into a blazing wreck within ten
I closed down the throttles.
“A wise decision, Mr. Fletcher – now kindly anchor where you are,” the
Okay, Angelo,” I called wearily, and waited while he rigged and dropped
the spare anchor. Suddenly my arm was very painful again – for the last
few hours I had forgotten about it.
“I said we should have brought that piece,” Chubby muttered beside me.
“Yeah, I’d love to see you shooting it out with that dirty great cannon,
Chubby. That would be a lot of laughs.”
The crash boat manoeuvred alongside inexpertly, with gun and lights
still trained on us. We stood helplessly in the blinding illumination of
the battle lights and waited. I didn’t want to think, I tried to feel
nothing – but a spiteful inner voice sneered at me.
“Say good-bye to Dancer, Harry old sport, this is where the two of you
There was more than a good chance that I would be facing a firing squad
in the near future – but that didn’t worry me as much as the thought of
losing my boat. With Dancer I was Mister Harry, the damnedest fellow on
St. Mary’s and one of the top billfish men in the whole cockeyed world.
Without her, I was just another punk trying to scratch his next meal
together. I’d prefer to be dead.
The crash boat careered into our side, bending the rail and scraping off
a yard of our paint before they could hook on to us.
“Motherless bastards,” growled Chubby, as half a dozen armed and
uniformed figures poured over our side, in a chattering undisciplined
rabble. They wore navy blue bell bottoms and bum-freezers with white
flaps down the back of the neck, white and blue striped vests, and white
berets with red porn-poms on the top – but the cut of the uniform was
Chinese and they brandished long AK.47 automatic assault rifles with
forward-curved magazines and wooden butts.
Fighting amongst themselves for a chance to get in a kick or a shove
with a gun butt, they drove the three of us down into the saloon, and
knocked us into the bench seat against the for’ard bulkhead. We sat
there shoulder to shoulder while two guards stood over us with
machine-guns a few inches from our noses, and fingers curved hopefully
around the triggers.
“Now I know why you paid me that five hundred dollars, boss,” Angelo
tried to make a joke of it, and a guard screamed at him and hitt him in
the face with the gun butt. He wiped his mouth, smearing blood across
his chin, and none of us joked again.
The other armed seamen began to tear Dancer to pieces. I suppose it was
meant to be a search, but they raged through her accommodation wantonly
smashing open lockers or shattering the panelling.
One of them discovered the liquor cabinet, and although there were only
one or two bottles, there was a roar of approval. They squabbled noisily
as seagulls over a scrap of offal, then went on to loot the galley
stores with appropriate hilarity and abandon. Even when their commanding
officer was assisted by four of his crew to make the hazardous journey
across the six inches of open space that separated the crash boat from
Dancer, there was no diminution in the volume of shouting and laughter
and the crash of shattering woodwork and breaking glass.
The commander wheezed heavily across the cockpit and stooped to enter
the saloon. He paused there to regain his breath.
He was one of the biggest men I had ever seen, not less than six foot
six tall and enormously gross – a huge swollen body with a belly like a
barrage balloon beneath the white uniform jacket. The jacket strained at
its brass buttons and sweat had soaked through at the armpits. Across
his breast he wore a glittering burst of stars and medals, and amongst
them I recognized the American Naval Cross and the 1918 Victory Star.
His head was the shape and colour of a polished black iron pot, the type
they traditionally use for cooking missionaries, and a naval cap, thick
with gold braid, rode at a jaunty angle upon it. His face ran with
rivers of glistening sweat, as he struggled noisily with his breathing
and mopped at the sweat, staring at me with bulging eyes.
Slowly his body began to inflate, swelling even larger, like a great
bullfrog, until I grew alarmed – expecting him to burst.
The purple-black lips, thick as tractor tyres, parted and an
unbelievable volume of sound issued from the pink cavern of his mouth.
“Shut up!” he roared. Instantly his crew of wreckers froze into silence,
one of them with his gun butt still raised to attack the panelling
behind the bar.
The huge officer trundled forward, seeming to fill the entire saloon
with his bulk. Slowly he sank into the padded leather seat. Once more he
mopped at his face, then he looked at me again and slowly his whole face
lit up into the most wonderfully friendly smile, like an enormous chubby
and lovable baby; his teeth were big and flawlessly white and his eyes
nearly disappeared in the rolls of smiling black flesh.
“Mr. Fletcher, I can’t tell you what a great pleasure this is for me.”
His voice was deep and soft and friendly, the accent was British upper
class – almost certainly acquired at some higher seat of learning. His
English was better than mine.
“I have looked forward to meeting you for a number of years.”
“That’s very decent of you to say so, Admiral.” With that uniform he
could not rank less.
“Admiral,” he repeated with delight, “I like that,” and he laughed. It
began with a vast shaking of belly and ended with a gasping and
straining for breath. “Alas, Mr. Fletcher, you are deceived by
appearances,” and he preened a little, touching the medals and adjusting
the peak of his cap. “I am only a humble Lieutenant Commander.”
“That’s really tough, Commander.”
“No. No, Mr. Fletcher – do not waste your sympathy on me. I wield all
the authority I could wish for.” He paused for deep breathing exercises
and to wipe away the fresh ooze of sweat. “I hold the powers of life and
death, believe me.” “I believe you, sir,” I told him earnestly. “Please
don’t feel you have to prove your point.”
He shouted with laughter again, nearly choked, coughed up something
large and yellow, spat it on to the floor and then told me, “I like you,
Mr. Fletcher, I really do. I think a sense’of humour is very important.
I think you and I could become very close friends.” I doubted it, but I
“As a mark of my esteem you may use the familiar form when addressing me
– Suleiman Dada.”
“I appreciate that – I really do, Suleiman Dada, and you may call me
Harry.” “Harry,” he said. “Let’s have a dram of whisky together.” At
that moment another man entered the saloon. A slim boyish figure,
dressed not in his usual colonial police uniform but in a lightweight
silk suit and lemon-coloured silk shirt and matching tie, with
alligator-skin shoes on his feet.
The light blond hair was carefully combed forward into a cow’s lick, and
the fluffy, moustache was trim as ever, but -he walked carefully,
seeming to favour an injury. I grinned at him.
“So, how does the old ball-bag feel now, Daly?” I asked kindly, but he
did not answer and went to sit across from Lieutenant Commander Suleiman
Dada reached out a huge black paw and relieved one of his men of the
Scotch whisky bottle he carried, part of my previous stock, and he
gestured to another to bring glasses from the shattered liquor cabinet.
When we all had half a tumbler of Scotch in our hands, Dada gave us the
“To lasting friendship, and mutual prosperity.” We drank, Daly and I
cautiously, Dada deeply and with evident pleasure. While his head was
tilted back and his eyes closed, the crew man attempted to retrieve the
bottle of Scotch from the table in front of him.
Without lowering the glass Dada hit him a mighty openhanded clout across
the side of the head, a blow that snapped his head back and hurled him
across the saloon to crash into the shattered liquor cabinet. He slid
down the bulkhead and sat stunned on the deck, shaking his head dazedly.
Suleiman Dada, despite his bulk, was a quick and fearsomely. powerful
man, I realized.
He emptied the glass, set it down, and refilled it. He looked at me now,
and his expression changed. The clown had disappeared, despite the
ballooning rolls of flesh, I was confronting a shrewd, dangerous and
utterly ruthless opponent.
“Harry, I understand that you and Inspector Daly were interrupted in the
course of a recent discussion,” and I shrugged.
“All of us here are reasonable men, Harry, of that I am certain.” I said
nothing, but studied the whisky in my glass with deep attention.
“This is very fortunate – for let us consider what might happen to an
unreasonable man in your position.” He paused, gargled a little with a
sip of whisky. Sweat had formed like a rash of little white blisters on
his nose and chin. He wiped it away. “First of all, an unreasonable man
might watch while his crew were taken out one at a time and executed. We
use pickaxe handles here. It is a gruelling business, and Inspector Daly
assures me that you have a special relationship with these two men.”
Beside me Chubby and Angelo shifted uneasily in their seats. “Then an
unreasonable man would have his boat taken in to Zinballa Bay. Once that
happened there would be no way in which it would ever be returned to
him. It would be officially confiscated, out of my humble hands.” He
paused, and showed me the humble hands, stretching them towards me. They
would have fitted a bull gorilla. We both stared at them for a moment.
“Then the unreasonable man might find himself in Zinballa jail – which,
as you are probably aware, is a maximum security political prison.”
I had heard of Zinballa prison, as had everyone on the coast.
Those who came out of it were either dead or broken in body and spirit.
They called it the “Lion Cage.
“Suleiman Dada, I want you to know that I am one of nature’s original
reasonable men,” I assured him, and he laughed again.
“Iwas certain of it,” he said. “I can tell one a mile off,” then again
he was serious. “If we leave here immediately, before the turn of the
tide we can be out of the inshore channel before midnight.”
“Yes,” I agreed, “that we could.”
“Then you could lead us to this place of interest, wait while we satisfy
ourselves as to your good faith – which I for one do not doubt one
moment – you and your crew will then be free to sail away in your
magnificent boat and you could sleep tomorrow night in your own bed.”
“Suleiman Dada – you are a generous and cultivated man. I also have no
reason to doubt your good faith,” – no more than that of Materson and
Guthrie, I silently qualified the statement – “and I have a peculiarly
intense desire to sleep tomorrow night in my own bed.”
Daly spoke for the first time, snarling quietly under his little
moustache. “I think you should know that a turtle fisherman saw your
boat anchored in the lagoon across the channel from the Old Men and
Gunfire Reef on the night before the shooting incident – we will expect
to be taken that way.”
“I have nothing against a man who takes a bribe, Daly God knows I have
done so myself – but then where is the honour among thieves that the
poet sings of? I was very. disappointed in Daly, but he ignored my
“Don’t try any more of your tricks,”he warned me.
“You really are a champion turd, Daly. I could win prizes with you.”
“Please, gentlemen.” Dada held up his hands to halt my flow of rhetoric.
“Let us all be friends. Another small glass of whisky – and then Harry
will take us all on a tour of interest.” Dada topped up our glasses, and
paused before drinking again. “I think I should warn you, Harry – I do
not like rough water. It does not agree with me. If you take me into
rough water I shall be very very angry. Do we understand each other?”
“Just for you I shall command the waters to stand still, Suleiman Dada,”
I assured him, and he nodded solemnly, as though it was the very least
The dawn was like a lovely woman rising from the couch of the sea, soft
flesh tones and pearly light, the cloud strands like her hair tresses
flowing and tousled, gilded blonde by the early sunlight.
We ran northwards, hugging the quieter waters of the inshore channel.
Our order of sailing placed Wave Dancer in the van, she ambled along
like a blood filly mouthing the snaffle, while half a mile astern the
crash boat waddled and wallowed, as the Allisons tried to push her up on
to the plane. We were headed for the Old Men and Gunfire Reef.
On board Dancer I had the con, standing alone at the wheel upon the open
bridge. Behind me stood Peter Daly, and an armed seaman from the crash
In the saloon below us, Chubby and Angelo still sat on the bench seat
and three more seamen, armed with assault rifles, kept them there.
Dancer had been looted of all her galley stores, so none of us had
breakfasted, not even a cup of coffee.
The first paralysing despair of capture had passed – and I was now
thinking frenetically, trying to plot my way out of the maze in which I
I knew that if I showed Daly and Dada the break at Gunfire Reef they
would either explore it and find nothing – which was the most likely for
whatever had been there was now packaged and deposited at Big Gull
Island – or they would find some other evidence at the break. In both
cases I was in for unpleasantness – if they found nothing Daly would
have the very great pleasure of connecting me up to the electrical
system in an attempt to make me talk.
If they found something definite my presence would become superfluous –
and a dozen eager seamen would vie for the job of executioner. I didn’t
like the sound of pick-handles it promised to be a messy business.
Yet the chances of escape seemed remote. Although she was half a mile
astern the three-pounder of the foredeck of Dada’s crash boat kept us on
an effective leash, and we had aboard Daly and four members of the goon
I lit my first cheroot of the day and its effect was miraculous, almost
immediately I seemed to see a pinprick of light at the end of the long
dark tunnel. I thought about it a little longer, puffing quietly on the
black tobacco, and it seemed worth a try – but first I had to talk to
Daly,” I turned to speak over my shoulder. “You had better get Chubby up
here to take the wheel, I have got to go below.” why? he demanded
suspiciously. “What are you going to do?”
“Let’s just say that whatever it is happens every morning at this time,
and nobody’else can do it for me. If you make me say more, I shall
“You should have been on the stage, Fletcher. You really slay me. V
“Funny you should mention that. It had crossed my mind.”
He sent the guard to fetch Chubby from the saloon, and I handed the con
“Stick around, I want to talk to you later,” I muttered out of the side
of my mouth and clambered down into the cockpit. Angelo brightened a
little when I entered the saloon, and flashed a good imitation of the
old bright grin, but the three guards, clearly bored, turned their
weapons on me enthusiastically and I raised my hands hurriedly.
“Easy, boys, easy,” I soothed them and sidled past them down the
companionway. However, two of them followed me. When I reached the heads
they would have entered with me and kept me company. “Gentlemen,” I
protested, “if you continue to point those things at me during the next
few critical moments you will probably pioneer the sovereign cure for
constipation.” They scowled at me uncertainly and as I closed the door
firmly upon them I added, “But you really don’t want a Nobel prize – do
When I opened it again they were waiting in exactly the same attitudes,
as though they had not moved. With a conspiratory gesture I beckoned
them to follow. Immediately they showed interest, and I led them to the
master cabin. Below the big double bunk I had spent many hours building
in a concealed locker. It was about the size of a coffin, and was
ventilated. It would accommodate a man lying prone. During the time when
I was running human cargo it had been a hidey hole in case of a search –
but now I used it as a store for valuables and illicit or dangerous
cargo. It contained at the present time five hundred rounds of
ammunition for the FN, a wooden crate of hand grenades, and two cases of
Chivas Regal Scotch whisky.
With exclamations of delight the two guards slung their machine-guns on
their shoulder straps and dragged out the whisky cases. They had
forgotten about me and I slipped away and returned to the bridge. I
stood next to Chubby, delaying the moment of take-over.
“You took your time,” growled Daly.
“Never rush a good thing,” I explained, and he lost interest and
strolled back to stare across our wake at the following gunboat.
“Chubby,” I whispered. “Gunfire Break. You told me once there was a
passage through the reef from the landward side.”
“At high springs, for a whaleboat and a good man with a steady nerve,”he
agreed. “I did it when I was a crazy kid.”
“It’s high spring in three hours. Could I run Dancer through?” I asked.
Chubby’s expression changed. “Jesus!” he whispered, and turned to stare
at me in disbelief.
“Could I do it?” I insisted quietly, and he sucked his teeth noisily,
looking away at the sunrise, scratching the bristles of his chin.
Then suddenly he reached an opinion, and spat over the side. “You might,
Harry – but nobody else I know could.”
“Give me the bearings, Chubby, quickly.”
“It was a long time ago, but,” sketchily he described the approach, and
the passage of the break, “there are three turns in the passage, left
right then left again, then there is a narrow neck, brain coral on each
hand – Dancer might just get through but she’ll leave some paint behind.
Then you are into the big pool at the back of the main reef. There is
room to circle there and wait for the right sea before you shoot the gap
out into the open water.”
“Thanks, Chubby,” I whispered. “Now go below. I let the guards have the
spare whisky. By the time I start my run for the break they will be
blasted right out through the top of their skulls. I will signal three
stamps on the deck, then it will be up to you and Angelo to get those
pieces away from them and wrap them up tightly.”
The sun was well up, and the triple-peaked silhouette of the Old Men was
rising only a few miles dead ahead when I heard the first raucous shout
of laughter and crash of breaking furniture below. Daly ignored it and
we ran on over the quiet inshore waters towards the reverse side of
Gunfire “Reef. Already I could see the jagged line of the Reef, like the
black teeth of an*ancient shark. Beyond it the tall oceanic surf flashed
whitely as it burst, and beyond that lay the open sea.
I edged in towards the reef, and eased open the throttles a fraction.
Dancer’s engine beat changed, but not enough to alert Daly. He lounged
against the rail, bored and unshaven and probably missing his breakfast.
I could distinctly hear the boom of the surf on coral now, and from
below, the sounds of revelry became continuous. Daly noticed at last,
frowned and told the other guard to go below and investigate. The guard,
also bored, disappeared below with alacrity and never returned.
I glanced astern. My increase in speed was slowly opening the gap
between Dancer and the crash boat, and steadily we edged in closer to
the reef. ” I was looking ahead anxiously, trying to pick up the marks
and bearings that Chubby had described to me. Gently I touched the
throttles, opening them another notch. The crash boat fell a little
Suddenly I saw the entrance to Gunfire Break a thousand yards ahead. Two
pinnacles of old weathered coral marked it, and I could see the colour
difference of clear sea water pouring through the gap in the coral
Below there was another screech of wild laughter, and one of the guards
reeled drunkenly into the cockpit. He reached the rail only just in time
and vomited copiously into the wake. Then his legs gave way and he
collapsed on to the deck and lay in an abandoned huddle.
Daly let out an angry exclamation and raced down the ladder. I took the
opportunity to push the throttles open another two notches.
I stared ahead, gathering myself for the effort. I must try and open the
gap between Dancer and her escort a little more, every inch would help
to confound her gunners.
I planned to come up level with the channel, and then commit Dancer to
it under full power, risking the submerged coral fangs rather than test
the aim of the gunners aboard the crash boat. It was half a mile of
narrow, tortuous channel through the coral before we reached the open
sea. For most of it, Dancer would be partially screened by coral
outcrops, and the weaving of the channel would help to confuse the range
of the threepounder. I was hoping also that the surf working through the
gap would give Dancer plenty of up-and-down movement, so that she would
heave and weave unpredictably like one of those little ducks in a
One thing was certain: that intrepid mariner, Lieutenant Commander
Suleiman Dada, would not risk pursuit through the channel, so I could
give his gun layer a rapidly increasing range to contend with.
I ignored the alcoholic din from below, and I watched the mouth of the
channel approach rapidly. I found myself hoping that the seamanship of
the crash boat’s crew and commander was a faithful indication of their
Suddenly Peter Daly flew up the ladder to confront me. His face was pink
with anger and his moustache tried to bristle its silky hairs. His mouth
worked for a moment before he could speak.
“You gave them the liquor, Fletcher. Oh, you crafty bastard.” “Me?” I
asked indigriantly. “I wouldn’t do a thing like that.”
“They’re drunk as pigs – all of them,” he shouted, then he turned and
looked over the stern. The crash boat was a mile behind us, and the
distance was increasing.
“You are up to something,” he shrilled at me, and groped in the side
pocket of his silk jacket. At that moment we came level with the
entrance to the channel.
I hit both throttles wide open, and Dancer bellowed and hurled herself
Still groping in his pocket, Daly was thrown off balance. He staggered
backwards, still shouting.
I spun the wheel to full right lock, and Dancer whirled like a ballet
dancer. Daly changed the direction of his stagger, thrown wildly across
the deck he came up hard ill against the side rail as Dancer leaned over
steeply in her turn. At that moment Daly dragged a small
nickelled-silver automatic from his side pocket. It looked like a .25,
the type ladies carry in their handbags.
I left Dancer’s wheel for an instant. Stooping, I got my hand on Daly’s
ankles and lifted sharply. “Leave us now, comrade,” I said as he went
backwards over the rail, falling twelve feet, striking the lower deck
rail a glancing blow and then splashing untidily into the water
I darted back to the wheel, catching Dancer’s head before she could pay
off, and at the same time stamping three times on the deck.
As I lined Dancer up for the entrance I heard the shouts of conflict in
the saloon below, and winced as a machinegun fired with a sound like
ripping cloth. – Barrapp – and bullets exploded out through the deck
behind me, leaving a jagged hole edged with white splinters. At least
they were fired at the roof, and were unlikely to have hit either Angelo
Just before I entered the coral portals, I glanced back once more.
The crash boat still lumbered along a mile behind, while Daly’s head
bobbed in the churning white wake. I wondered if they would reach him
before the sharks did.
Then there was no more time for idle speculation. As Dancer dashed
headlong into the channel I was appalled by the task I had set her.
I could have leant over and touched coral outcrops on each hand, and I
could see the sinister shape of more coral lurking below the shallow
turbulent waters ahead. The waters had expended most of their savagery
on the long twisting run through the channel, but the farther in we went
the wilder they would become, making Dancer’s response to the helm just
that much more unpredictable.
The first bend in the channel showed ahead, and I put Dancer to it. She
came around willingly, swishing her bottom, and with only a trifling yaw
that pushed her outwards towards the menacing coral.
As I straightened her into the next stretch, Chubby came swarming up the
ladder. He was grinning hugely. Only two things put him into that sort
of mood – and one of them was a good punch up. He had skinned his right
“All quiet below, Harry. Angelo’s looking after them.” He glanced
around. “Where’s the policeman?”
“He went for a swim.” I did not take my attention from the channel.
“Where is the crash boat? What are they doing?”
Chubby peered across at her. “No change. It doesn’t seem to have sunk in
yet – hold on, though2 his voice changed, yes, there they go. They are
manning the deck gun.$ We drove on swiftly down the channel, and I
risked a quick glance backwards. At that instant I saw the long streak
of white cordite smoke blow like a feather from the three-pounder, and
an instant later there was the sharp crack of shot passing high
overhead, followed immediately by the flat report of the shot.
“Ready for it now, Harry. Left-hander coming up.”
We swept into the next turn, and the next round fell short, bursting in
a shower of fragment and blue smoke on one of the coral heads fifty
yards off our beam.
I coaxed Dancer smoothly into the turn, and as we went into A another
shell fell in our wake, lifting a tall and graceful column, of white
water high above the bridge. The following wind blew the spray over us.
We were halfway through now, and the waves that rushed to meet us were
six feet high and angry with the restraint enforced upon them by the
walls of coral.
The guncrew of the crash boat were making alarmingly erratic practice. A
round burst five hundred yards astern, then the next went between Chubby
and me, a stunning blaze of passing shot that sent me reeling in the
backwash of disrupted air.
“Here’s the neck now,” Chubby called anxiously and my spirit quailed as
I saw how the channel narrowed and how bridge-high buttresses of coral
It seemed impossible that Dancer would pass through so narrow an
“Here we go, Chubby, cross your fingers,” and, still under full
throttle, I put Dancer at the neck. I could see him grasping the rail
with both hands, and I expected the stainless steel to bend with the
strength of his grip.
We were halfway through when we hit, with a jarring rending crash.
Dancer lurched and hesitated.
At the same moment another shell burst alongside. It showered the bridge
with coral chips and humming steel fragments, but I hardly noticed it as
I tried to ease Dancer through the gap.
I sheered off the wall, and the tearing scraping sound ran along our
starboard side. For a moment we jammed solidly, then another big green
wave raced down on us, lifting us free of the coral teeth and we were
through the neck. Dancer lunged ahead.
“Go below, Chubby,” I shouted. “Check if we holed the hull.”
Blood was dripping from a fragment scratch on his chin, but he dived
down the ladder.
With another stretch of open water ahead, I could glance back at the
crash boat. She was almost obscured by an intervening block of coral,
but she was still firing rapidly and wildly. She seemed to have heaved
to at the entrance to the channel, probably to pick up Daly – but I knew
she would not attempt to follow us now. It would take her four hours to
work her way round to the main channel beyond the Old Men.
The last turn in the channel came up ahead, and again Dancer’s hull
touched coral; the sound of it seemed to tear into my own soul. Then at
last we burst out into the deep pool in the back of the main reef, a
circular arena of deep water three hundred yards across, fenced in by
coral walls and open only through the Gunfire Break to the wild surf of
the Indian Ocean.
Chubby appeared at my shoulder once more. “Tight as a mouse’s ear,
Harry. Not taking on a drop.” Silently I applauded my darling.
Now for the first time we were in full view of the gun crew half a mile
away across the reef, and my turn into the pool presented Dancer to them
broadside. As though they sensed that this was their last chance they
poured shot after shot at us.
It fell about us in great leaping spouts, too close to allow me any
latitude of decision. I swung Dancer again, aimed her at the narrow
break, and let her race for the gap in Gunfire Reef.
I committed her and when we had passed the point of no return, I felt my
belly cramp up with horror as I looked ahead through the gap to the open
sea. It seemed as though the whole ocean was rearing up ahead of me,
gathering itself to hurl down upon the frail little vessel like some
“Chubby,” I called hollowly. “Will you look at that.”
“Harry,”he whispered, “this is a good time to pray.”
And Dancer ran out bravely to meet this Goliath of the sea.
It came up, humping monstrous shoulders as it charged, higher and higher
still it rose, a green wall and I could hear it rustling – like wildfire
in dry grass.
Another shot passed close overhead but I hardly noticed it, as Dancer
-threw up her head and began to climb that mountainous wave.
It was turning pale green along the crest high above, beginning to curl,
and Dancer went up as though she were on an elevator.
The deck canted steeply, and we clung helplessly to the rail.
“She’s going over backwards,” Chubby shouted, as she began to stand on
her tail. “She’s turtling, man!”
“Go through her,” I called to Dancer. “Cut through the green!”
and as though she heard me she lunged with her sharp prow into the curl
of the wave an instant before it could fall upon us and crush the hull.
It came aboard us in a roaring green horror, solid sheets of it swept
Dancer from bows to stern, six feet deep, and she lurched as though to a
Then suddenly we burst out through the back of the wave, and below us
was a gaping valley, a yawning abyss into which Dancer hurled herself,
falling free, a gut-swooping drop down into the trough.
We hit with a sickening crash that seemed to stun her, and which threw
Chubby and me to the deck. But as I dragged myself up again, Dancer
shook herself free of the tons of water that had come aboard, and she
ran on to meet the next wave.
It was smaller, and Dancer beat the curl and porpoised over her.
“That’s my darling,” I shouted to her and she picked up speed, taking
the third wave like a steeplechaser. Somewhere close another three-pound
shell cracked the sky, but then we were out and running for the long
horizon of the ocean and I never heard another shot.
The guard who had passed out in the cockpit from an excess of Scotch
whisky must have been washed overboard by the giant wave, for we never
saw him again. The other three we left on a small island thirty miles
north of St. Mary’s where I knew there was water in a brackish well, and
which would certainly be visited by fishermen from the mainland.
They had sobered by that time, and were all inflicted with nasty
hangovers. They made three forlorn figures on the beach as we ran
southwards into the dusk. It was dark when we crept into Grand Harbour.
I picked up moorings, not tying up to the wharf at Admiralty. I did not
want Dancer’s glaring injuries to become a subject of speculation around
Chubby and Angelo went ashore in the dinghy – but I was too exhausted to
make the effort, and dinnerless I collapsed across the double bunk in
the master cabin and slept without moving until Judith woke me after
nine in the morning. Angelo had sent her down with a dinner pail of fish
cakes and bacon.
“Chubby and Angelo gone up to Missus Eddy’s to buy some stores they need
to repair the boat,” she told me. `They’ll be down soon now.”
I wolfed the breakfast and went to shave and shower. When I returned she
was still there, sitting on the edge of the bunk. She clearly had
something to discuss.
She brushed away my clumsy efforts at dressing my wound, and had me sit
while she worked on it.
“Mister Harry, you aren’t going to get my Angelo killed or jailed, are
you?” she demanded. “If you go on like this, I’m going to make him come
`That’s great, Judith.” I laughed at her concern. “Why don’t you send
him across to Rawano for three years, while you sit here.”
“That’s not kind, Mister Harry.” “Life is not very kind, Judith,” I told
her more gently. “Angelo and I are both doing the best we can. just to
keep my boat afloat, I’ve got to take a few chances. Same with Angelo.
He told me that he’s saved enough to buy you a nice little house up near
the church. He got the money by running with me.”
She was silent while she finished the dressing, and when she would have
turned to go I took her hand and drew her back. She would not look at
me, until I took her chin and lifted her face. She was a lovely child,
with great smoky eyes and a smoothly silken skin.
“Don’t fuss yourself, Judith. Angelo is like a kid brother to me.
I’ll look after him.”
She studied my face a long moment. “You really mean that, don’t you?”
“I really do.” “I believe you,” she said at last, and she smiled. Her
teeth were very white against the golden amber skin. “I trust you.”
Women are always saying that to me. “I trust you.” So much for feminine
“You name one of your kids for me, hear?”
The first one, Mister Harry.” Her smile blazed and her dark eyes
flashed. That’s a promise.”
They do say that when you fall from a horse you should immediately ride
him again – so as not to lose your nerve, Mister Harry.” Fred Coker sat
at his desk in the, travel agency, behind him a poster of a beefeater
and Big Ben – “England Swings’, it said. We had just discussed at great
length our mutual concern at Inspector Peter Daly’s perfidious conduct,
though I suspected that Fred Coker’s concern was considerably less than
-mine. He had collected his commission in advance and nobody had put his
head in a noose, nor had they almost wrecked his boat. We were now
discussing the subject of whether or not our business arrangement should
“They also say, Mr. Coker, that a man with his buttocks hanging out of
the holes in his trousers should not be too fussy,” I said, and Coker’s
spectacles glittered with satisfaction. He nodded his head.
“And that, Mister Harry, is probably the wiser of the two sayings,” he
“I’ll take anything, Mr. Coker. Body, box or sticks. just one thing, the
cost of dying has gone up to ten thousand dollars a run – all in
“Even at that price, we’ll find work for you,” he promised, and I
realized I had been working cheaply before.
“Soon,” I insisted.
“Very soon,” he agreed. “You are fortunate. I do not think that
Inspector Daly will be returning to St. Mary’s now. You will save the
commission usually payable there.”
“He owes me that at least,” I agreed.
I made three night runs in the next six weeks. Two body carries, and a
box job – all below the river into Portuguese waters. The bodies were
both singles, silent black men dressed in jungle fatigues, and I took
them far south, deep penetrations. They waded ashore on remote beaches
and I wondered briefly upon what unholy missions they travelled – how
much pain and death would arise from those secret landings.
The box job involved eighteen long wooden crates with Chinese markings.
We picked up from a submarine out in the channel, and dropped off in a
river-mouth, unloading into pairs of dugout canoes lashed together for
stability. We spoke to no one and nobody challenged us.
They were milk runs and I cleared eighteen thousand dollars – enough to
carry me and my crew through the offseason in the style to which we were
accustomed. More important, the intervals of quiet and rest were
sufficient to heal my wounds and give me back my strength. At first I
lay for hours in the hammock under the palms, reading or sleeping. Then
as it came back to me, I swam and fished and sun-baked, went for oysters
and crayfish – until I was hard and lean and sunbrowned again.
The wound healed into a thickened and irregular cicatrice, tribute to
Macnab’s surgical skills, it curled around my chest and on to my back
like an angry purple dragon. In one thing he had been correct, the
massive damage to my upper left arm left it stiff and weakened. I could
not lift my elbow above shoulder-level, and I lost my title in Indian
wrestling to Chubby in the bar of the Lord Nelson. However, I hoped that
swimming and regular exercise would strengthen it.
As my strength returned so did my curiosity and sense of adventure. I
began dreaming about the canvas-wrapped package off Big Gull Island. In
one dream I swam down and opened the package – it contained a tiny
feminine figure, the size of a Dresden doll, a golden mermaid with
Sister May’s lovely face and a truly startling bosom, the tail was the
graceful sickle shape of a marlin’s. The little mermaid smiled shyly and
held out her hand to me. On her palm lay a shiny silver shilling.
“Sex, money and billfish–2 I thought when I woke, “-good old
uncomplicated Harry, real Freud food.” I knew then that pretty soon I
would be going for Big Gull Island.
It was very late in the season before I could prevail on Fred Coker to
arrange a straight fishing charter for me, and it turned sour as cheap
wine. The party consisted of two overweight, flabby German
industrialists with fat bejewelled wives. I worked hard for them, and
put both men into fish.
The first was a good black marlin, but the party screwed down on his
stardrag, freezing the reel while the fish was still green and crazy to
run. It lifted the German’s huge backside out of the seat, and before I
could release the stardrag for him, it had my three hundred dollar rod
down on the gunwale. The fibre-glass rod snapped like a matchstick.
The other member of the party, after losing two decent fish, panted and
sweated three hours over a baby blue marlin. When he finally brought it
to the gaff, I could hardly bring myself to put the steel in, and I was
too ashamed to hang it on Admiralty. We took the photographs on board
Dancer and I smuggled it ashore wrapped in a tarpaulin. Like Fred Coker
I also have a reputation to preserve. The German industrialist, however,
was so delighted by his prowess that he slipped an extra five hundred
dollars into my avaricious little paw. I told him it was a truly
magnificent fish which was a thousand-dollar lie. I always give good
value. Then the wind backed into the south , the temperature of the
water in the channel dropped four degrees and the fish were gone. For
ten days -we hunted far north but it was over, another season was past.
we stripped and cleaned all the billfish equipment and laid it away in
thick yellow grease. I pulled Dancer up on to the slip at the fuelling
basin and we went, over her hull, cleaning it down, re-working the
temporary patches I had put on the injuries she had received at Gunfire
Then we painted her until she glistened, sleek and lovely, before we
refloated her and took her out to moorings. There we worked
lackadaisically on her upper works, stripping varnish, sandpapering,
re-varnishing, checking out the electrical system, re-soldering a
connection here, replacing wiring there.
I was in no hurry. It would be three weeks before my next charter
arrived – an expedition of marine biologists from a Canadian university.
In the meantime the days were cooler, and I was feeling the old glow of
good health and bodily well-being again. I dined at Government House,
sometimes as often as once a week, and each time I had to tell the full
story of the shoots out with Guthrie and Materson. President Biddle knew
the story by heart and corrected me if I omitted a single detail. It
always ended with the President crying excitedly, “Show them your scar,
Mister Harry,” and I had to open the starched front of my dress shirt at
the dinner table.
They were good lazy days. The island life drifted placidly by.
Peter Daly never returned to St. Mary’s – and at the end of six weeks,
Wally Arorews was promoted to acting Inspector and commanding officer of
the police force. One of his first acts was to return to me my FN
This quiet time was spiced by the secret tingle of anticipation which I
felt. I knew that one day soon I was going back to Big Gull Island and
the piece of unfinished business that lay there in the shallow limpid
waters – and I teased myself with the knowledge.
Then one Friday evening I was rounding out the week with my crew in the
bar of the Lord Nelson. Judith was with us, having replaced the flock
that had previously gathered around Angelo on Friday nights. She was
good for him, he no longer drunk to the morbid stage.
Chubby and I had just begun the first duet of the evening and were
keeping within a few beats of each other when Marion slipped into the
I put one arm around her shoulders and held my tankard to her lips while
she drank thirstily, but the distraction caused me to forge even further
ahead of Chubby in the song.
Marion worked on the switchboard at the Hilton Hotel. She was a pretty
little dan with a sexy pugface and long straight black hair. It was she
whom Mike Guthrie had used for a punch-bag so long ago.
When Chubby and I straggled to the end of the chorus, Marion told me,
“There is a lady asking for you, Mister Harry.”
“At the hotel, one of the guests, she came in on this morning’s plane.
She knew your name and everything. She wants to see you. I told her I
would see you tonight and give you the message.”
“What is she like?” I asked Marion with interest. “She’s beautiful,
Mister Harry. Such a lady too.”
“Sounds like my type,” I agreed], and ordered a pint for Marion.
“Aren’t you going to see her now? ” With you beside me, Marion, all the
beautiful ladies of the world can wait until tomorrow.”
“Oh, Mister Harry, you are a real devil man,” she giggled, and snuggled
a little closer.
“Harry,” said Chubby on my other side, “I’m going to tell you now what I
never told you before.” He took a long swallow from his tankard, then
went on with sentimental tears swimming in his eyes. “Harry, I love you,
man. I love you better than my own brother.”
I went up to the Hilton a few minutes before midday. Marion came through
from her cubicle behind the reception desk. She still had her earphones
around her neck.
“She’s waiting for you on the terrace.” She pointed across the vast
reception area with its emaz Hawaiian decor. “The blonde lady in the
She was reading a magazine, lying on her belly on one of the reclining
sun couches, and she had her back to me so my first impression was of
masses of blonde hair, thick and shiny, teased up like the mane of a
lion, then falling in a slick golden cascade.
She heard my footsteps on the paving. She glanced around, pushed her
sunglasses up on top of her head, then she stood up to face me, and I
realized that she was tiny, seeming to reach not much higher than my
chest. The bikini also was tiny and showed a flat smooth belly with a
deep navel, firm shoulders lightly tanned, small breasts, and a trim
waist. Her legs had lovely lines and her neat little feet were thrust
into open sandals, the nails painted clear red to match her long
fingernails. Her hands as she pushed at her hair were small and shapely.
She wore heavy make-up, but wore it with rare skill, so that her skin
had a soft pearly lustre and colour glowed subtly on her cheeks and
lips. Her eyes had long dark artificial lashes, and the eyelids were
touched with colour and line to give them an exotic oriental cast.
“Duck, Harry!” Something deep inside me shouted a warning, and I almost
obeyed. I knew this type well, there had been others like her – small
and purringly feline – I had scars to prove it, scars both physical and
spiritual. However, one thing nobody can say about old Harry is that he
runs for cover when the knickers are down.
Courageously I stepped forward, crinkling my eyes and twisting my mouth
into the naughty small boy grin that usually dynamites them.
“Hello I said, “I’m Harry Fletcher.”
She looked at me, starting at my feet and going up six feet four to the
top where her gaze lingered speculatively and she pouted her lower lip.
“Hello,” she answered, her voice was husky, breathlesssounding – and
carefully rehearsed. “I’m Sherry North, Jimmy North’s sister.”
We were on the veranda of the shack in the evening. It was cool and the
Wspectacular sunset was a display of pyrotechnics that flamed and faded
above the palms.
She was drinking a Pimms No. I filled with fruit and ice one of my
seduction specials – and she wore a kaftan of light floating stuff
through which her body showed in shadowy outline as she stood against
the rail backlit by the sunset. I could not be certain as to whether or
not she wore anything beneath the kaftan – this and the tinkle of ice in
her glass distracted me from the letter I was reading. She had showed it
to me as part of her credentials. It was a letter from Jimmy North
written a few days before his death. I recognized the handwriting and
the turn of phrase was typical of that bright and eager lad. As I read
on, I forgot the sister’s presence in the memory of the past. It was a
long bubbling letter, written as though to a loving friend, with veiled
references to the mission and its successful outcome, the promise of a
future in which there would be wealth and laughter and all good things.
I felt a pang of regret and personal loss for the boy in his lonely sea
grave, for the lost dreams that, drifted with him like rotting seaweed.
Then suddenly my own name leapt from that page at me, ” – you can’t help
liking him, Sherry. He’s big and tough-looking, all scarred and beat up
like an old tom cat that’s been out alley-fighting every night. But
under it, I swear he is really a softy. He seems to have taken a shine
to me. Even gives me fatherly advice!-” There was more in the same vein
that embarrassed me so that my throat closed up and I took a swallow of
whisky, which made my eyes water and the words swim, while I finished
the letter and refolded it.
I handed it to Sherry, and walked away to the end of the veranda.
I stood there for a while looking out over the bay.
The sun slid below the horizon and suddenly it was dark and chill.
I went back and lit the lamp, setting it up high so the glare did not
fall in our eyes. She watched me in silence until I had poured another
Scotch and settled in my cane, backed chair.
“Okay,” I said, “you’re” Jimmy’s sister. You’ve come to St. Mary’s to
see me. Why?”
“You liked him, didn’t you?” she asked, as she left the rail and came to
sit beside me.
“I like a lot of people. It’s a weakness of mine.” “Did he die – I mean,
was it like they said in the newspapers?” “Yes” I said. “It was like
“Did he ever tell you what they were doing out here?”
I shook my head. “They were very cagey – and I don’t ask questions.”
She was silent then, dipping long tapered fingers into her glass to pick
out a slice of pineapple, nibbling at the fruit with small white teeth,
dabbing at her lips with a pink pointed tongue like that of a cat.
“Because Jimmy liked and trusted you, and because I think you know more
than you’ve told anyone, also because I need your help, I am going to
tell you a story – okay?”
“I love stories,” I said.
“Have you heard of the “pogo, stick’T she asked. ,, it’s a child’s toy.”
“It’s also the code name for an American naval experimental vertical
take-off all-weather strike aircraft.”
“Oh yes, I remember, I saw an article in Time Magazine. Questions in the
Senate. I forget the details.”
“There was opposition to the fifty million development allocation.”
“Yes, I remember.”
“Two years ago, on the 16th August to be precise, a prototype “pogo
stick” took off from Rawano airforce base in the Indian Ocean. it was
armed with four air-to-surface “killer whale” missiles, each of them
equipped with tactical nuclear warheads—-”
“That must have been a fairly lethal package.”
She nodded. “The “killer whale” is designed as an entirely new concept
in missiles. It is an anti-submarine device which will seek and track
surfaced or submerged naval craft. It can kill an aircraft carrier or it
can change its element air for water – and go down a thousand fathoms to
destroy enemy submarines.” wow I said, and took a little more whisky. We
were talking heady stuff now.
“Do you recall the 16th August that year – were you here?”
“I was here, but that’s a long time ago. Refresh my memory.”
“Cyclone Cynthia,”she said.
“God, of course.” It had come roaring across the island, winds of 150
miles an hour, taking away the roof of the shack and almost swamping
Dancer at her moorings in Grand Harbour. These cyclones were not
uncommon in this area.
“The “Pogo stick!” took off from Rawano a few minutes before the typhoon
struck. Twelve minutes later the pilot ejected and the aircraft went
into the sea with her four nuclear missiles and her flight recorder
still aboard. Rawano radar was blanked out by the typhoon. They were not
it was starting to make some sort of sense at last. “How does Jimmy fit
She made an impatient gesture. “Wait,” she said, then went on.
“Do you have any idea what the value of that cargo might be in the open
“I should imagine you could write your own cheque give or take a couple
of million dollars.” And old bad Harry came to attention, he had been
getting exercise lately and growing stronger. Sherry nodded. `The test
pilot of the “pogo stick” was a Commander in the US Navy named William
Bryce. The aircraft developed a fault at fifty thousand feet, just
before he came out through the top of the weather. He fought her all the
way down, he was a conscientious officer, but at five hundred feet he
knew he wasn’t going to make it. He ejected and watched the aircraft go
She was speaking carefully, and her choice of words was odd, too
technical for a woman. She had learned all this, I was certain – from
Jimmy? Or from somebody else?
Listen and learn, Harry, I told myself.
“Billy Bryce was three days on a rubber raft on the ocean in a typhoon
before the rescue helicopter from Rawano found him. He had time to do
some thinking. One of the things he thought about was the value of that
cargo – and he compared it to the salary of a Commander. His evidence at
the court of inquiry omitted the fact that the “pogo sticd” had gone
down within sight of land, and that Bryce had been able to take a fix on
a recognizable land feature before he was blown out to sea by the
I could not see any weakness in her story – it looked all right – and
“The court of inquiry gave a verdict of “pilot error” and Bryce resigned
his commission. His career was destroyed by that verdict. He decided to
earn his own retirement annuity and also to clear his reputation. He was
going to force the US Navy to buy back its “killer whale” missiles and
to accept the evidence of the flight recorder.”
I was going to ask a question, but again Sherry stopped me with a
gesture. She did not want her recital interrupted. “Jimmy had done some
work for the US Navy – a hull inspection of one of their carriers – and
he had met Bryce at that time. They had become friends, and so Billy
Bryce naturally came to Jimmy. Between them they had not sufficient
capital for the expedition they needed to mount, so they had to find
financial backers. It isn’t the kind of thing you can advertise in The
Tftm, and they were working on it when Billy Bryce was killed in his
Thunderbird on the M4 near the Heathrow turn-off.”
“There seems to be some sort of curse on this thing,” I said.
“Are you superstitious, Harry?” she asked, looking at me through those
slanted tiger eyes.
“I don’t knock it,” I admitted, and she nodded, seeming to file the
information away before she went on.
“After Billy was dead, Jimmy went on with the project. He found backers.
He wouldn’t tell me who, but I guessed they were unsavoury. He came out
here with them – and you know the rest.”
“I know the rest,” I agreed, and instinctively massaged the thickened
scar tissue through the silk of my shirt. “Except of course the site of
We stared at each other.
“Did he tell you?” I asked, and she shook her head.
“Well, it was an interesting story.” I grinned at her. “It’s a pity we
can’t check out the truth of it.”
She stood up abruptly and went to the veranda rail. She hugged her arms
and she was so angry that if she’d had a tail she would have switched it
like a lioness.
I waited for her to recover, and the moment came when she shrugged her
shoulders and turned back to me. Her smile was light.
“well, that’s that! I thought I was entitled to some of the rewards.
Jimmy was my brother – and I came a long way to find you because he
liked and trusted you- I thought we could work together – but I guess if
you want it all, there’s not much I can do about it.”
She shook out her hair, and it rippled and shone in the lamplight. I
“I’ll take you home now,” I said, and touched her arm. She reached up
with both arms, and her fingers locked in the thick curly hair at the
back of my neck.
“It’s a long way home,” she whispered, and pulled my head down, standing
on her tiptoes.
Her lips were very soft and moist, and her tongue was thrusting and
restless. After a while she drew back and smiled up at me, her eyes were
unfocused and her breath was short and fast.
“Perhaps it wasn’t a wasted journey, after all?”
I picked her up, and she was light as a child, hugging my neck, pressing
her cheek to mine as I carried her into the shack. I learned long ago to
eat hearty whenever there was food, because you never know when the
famine is going to hit.
Even the soft light of dawn was cruel to her as she lay sprawled in
sleep beneath the mosquito net on the big double bed. Her make-up had
smeared and caked, and she slept with her mouth open. The mane of blonde
hair was a tangled bush and it did not match the triangle of thick dark
curls at the base of her belly. I felt repelled by her this morning, for
I had learned during the night that Miss. Sherry was a raving sadist.
I slipped out of the bed and stood over her a few moments, searching her
sleeping face in vain for a resemblance to Jimmy North. I left her, and,
still naked, walked out of the shack and down to the beach.
The tide was in and I plunged into the cool clear water and swam out to
the entrance to the bay. I swam fast, driving hard in an Australian
crawl, and the salt water stung the deep scratches in my back.
It was one of my lucky mornings, old friends were waiting for me beyond
the reef, a school of big bottle-nosed porpoise, who came flashing to
meet me, their tall fins cutting the dark surface as they steeplechased
over the swells. They circled me, whistling and snorting, the blow,
holes in the tops of their heads gulping like tiny mouths and their own
huge mouths fixed in idiotic grim of pleasure.
They teased me for ten minutes before one of the big old bulls allowed
me to get a grip on his dorsal fin and gave me a tow. It was a thrilling
sleigh ride that had the water creaming wildly about my chest and head.
He took me half a mile offshore before the force of water tore me from
It was a long swim back, with the bull dolphin circling me and giving me
an occasional friendly prod in the backside, inviting me aboard for
another ride. At the reef they whistled farewell and slid gracefully
away, and I was happy when I waded ashore. The arm ached a little, but
it was the healthy ache of healing and growing strength.
The bed was empty, and the bathroom door was locked. She was probably
shaving her armpits with my razor, I thought. I felt a flare of
annoyance, an, old dog like me doesn’t like his routine disturbed. I
used the guest shower to sluice off the salt and my annoyance receded
under the rush of hot water. Then fresh but unshaven and hungry as a
python, I went through to the kitchen. I was frying gammon with
pineapple and. buttering thick cuts of toast when Sherry came into the
She was once more immaculate. She must have carried a complete cosmetic
counter in the Gucci handbag, and her hair was dressed and lacquered
into its mane and fall.
Her smile was brilliant. “Good morning, lover,” she said and came to
kiss me lingenngly. I was now well disposed towards the world and all
its creatures. I no longer felt repelled by this glittering woman. The
fine mood of the dolphins had -returned and my gaiety must have been
infectious. We laughed a lot over the meal and afterwards I took the
coffee pot out on to the veranda.
“When are we going to find the pogo stick?” she asked suddenly, and I
poured another mug of strong black coffee without answering. Sherry
North had evidently decided that a night of her company had made me her
slave for life. Now I may not be a connoisseur of women, but on the
other hand I have had some little experience – I mean I’m not exactly a
virgin – and I didn’t rate Sherry North’s charms as worth four killer
whale missiles and the flight recorder of a secret strike aircraft.
“Just as soon as you show me the way,” I answered carefully. It is an
old-fashioned feminine conceit that if a man pleasures them with skill
and aplomb, then he must be made to pay for it. I have long believed
that it should be the other way around.
She reached across and held my wrist, the tiger’s eyes were suddenly big
“After last night,” she whispered huskily, “I know that there is a lot
ahead of us, Harry. You and I, together!
I had lain awake for hours during the night and reached my decision.
Whatever lay in the package was not an entire aircraft, but probably
some small part of it – something that identified it clearly. It was
almost certainly not either the flight recorder or one of the missiles.
Jimmy North would not have had sufficient time -to remove the recorder
from the fuselage, even if he had known where it was situated and had
the proper tools. On the other hand the package was the wrong shape and
size for a missile, it was a squat round object, not aerodynamically
It was almost certainly some fairly innocuous object. If I took Sherry
North with me to recover it, I would be playing only a minor card from
my hand – although it would look like a major trump.
I would be giving nothing away, not the site of the crash at Gunfire
Reef, nor any of the valuable objects associated with it.
On the other hand, I would be beating the tall grass for tigers.
It would be very instructive to see exactly how Mademoiselle North
reacted, once she thought she knew the site of the crash.
“Harry,” she whispered again. “Please,” and she leaned closer.
“You must believe me. I have never felt like this before. From the first
moment I saw you – I just knew-” I roused myself from my calculations
and leaned towards her, assuming an expression of simple-minded passion
“Darling, I began but my voice choked up, and I enfolded her in a bear
hug, feeling her stiffen irritably as I smeared her lipstick and ruffled
the meticulously dressed hairstyle. I could sense the effort it required
for her to respond with equal passion.
“Do you feel the same way?” she asked from the depths of my embrace,
smothered against my chest, and for the fun of watching her play the
role she had assigned herself, I picked her up again and carried her
through to the frowsy rumpled bed.
“I will show you how I feel for you,” I muttered hoarsely.
“Darling,” she protested desperately, “not now.”
“Why not? “We have so much to do. There will be time later – all the
time in the world! With a show of reluctance I set her down, although
truthfully I was thankful for I knew that on top of a huge breakfast of
gammon and three cups of coffee, it would have given me heartburn.
It was a few minutes after noon when I cleared Grand Harbour, and swung
away south and east. I had told my crew to take a day ashore, I would
not be fishing.
Chubby looked down at Sherry North, sprawled bikiniclad on the cockpit
deck, and scowled noncommittally, but Angelo rotted his eyes
expressively and asked, “Pleasure cruise?” with a certain inflection.
“You’ve got a filthy mind,” I scolded him and he laughed delightedly, as
though I had paid him the nicest compliment, and the two of them walked
away up the wharf.
Dancer romped down the necklace of atolls and islands until, a little
after three o’clock, I ran the deep-water passage between Little Gull
Island and Big Gull Island, and rounded into the shallow open water
between the east shore of Big Gull and the blue water of the Mozambique.
There was enough breeze to make the day pleasantly cool, and to kick up
a white flecky chop off the surface.
I manoeuvred carefully, squinting over at Big Gull as I put Dancer in
position. When I hit the marks I pushed a little upwind to allow for
Dancer’s fall-back. Then I cut the engines and hurried down to the
foredeck to drop the hook.
Dancer came around and settled down like a wellbehavedlady.
“Is this the place?” Sherry had watched everything I did with her
disconcerting feline stare.
“This is it,” and I risked overplaying my part as the besotted lover by
pointing out the marks to her.
“I lined up those two Palms, the ones leaning over, with that single
palm right up on the skyline, see it?”
She nodded silently, again I caught that look as though the information
was being carefully filed and remembered. “Now what do we do?”she asked.
“This is where Jimmy dived,” I explained. “When he came back on board he
was very excited. He spoke secretly with the others – Materson and
Guthrie – and they seemed to catch his excitement. Jimmy went down again
with rope and a tarpaulin. He was down a long time – and when he came up
again, it started, the shooting!
“Yes,” she nodded eagerly, the reference to her brother’s death seemed
to leave her unmoved. “We should go now, before someone else sees us
“Go?” I asked, looking at her. “I thought we were going to have a look?”
She recognized her mistake. “We should organize it properly, come back
when we are prepared, when we have made arrangements to pick up and
“Lover,” I grinned, “I didn’t come all this way not to take at least one
“I don’t think you should, Harry,” she called after me, but already I
was opening the engine-room hatch.
“Let’s come back another time,” she persisted, but I went down the
ladder to the rack which held the air bottles and took down a Draeger
twin set. I fitted the breathing valve and tested the seal, sucking air
out of the rubber mouth, piece.
Glancing quickly up at the hatch to make sure she was not watching me, I
reached across and threw the concealed cut-out switch on the electrical
system. Now nobody could start Dancer’s engines while I was overboard.
I swung the diving ladder over the stern and then dressed in the cockpit
– short-sleeved Neoprene wet suit and hood, weight bek and knife, Nemrod
wrap-around face-Plate and fins.
I slung the scuba set on my back and picked up a coil of light nylon
rope and hooked it on to my belt.
what happens if you don’t come back?” Sherry asked, showing apprehension
for the first time. “I mean what happens to me?”
“You’ll pine to death,” I told her, and went over the side, not in a
showy back flip but a simple use of the steps, more in keeping with my
age and dignity.
The water was transparent as mountain air, and as I went head down I
could see every detail of the bottom fifty feet below.
It was a coral landscape, lit with dappled light and wondrous colour. I
drifted down to it, and the sculptured shapes of the coral were softened
and blurred with sea growth and restless with the sparkling jewels of
myriad tropical fish. There were deep gullies and standing towers of
coral, fields of eel grass between, and open stretches of blinding white
My marks had been remarkably accurate, considering the fact that I had
been only just conscious from blood loss. I had dropped the anchor
almost directly on top of the canvas package. It lay on one of the open
spaces of coral sand, looking like some horrible sea monster, green and
squat with the loose ropes floating about it like tentacles.
I crouched beside it, and shoals of tiny fish, zebra-striped in gold and
black, gathered around me in such numbers that I had to blow bubbles at
them and shoo them off, before I could get on with the job.
I unclipped the nylon rope from my belt, and lashed one end securely to
the package with a series of halfhitches. Then I rose to the surface
slowly paying out the line. I surfaced thirty feet astern of Dancer,
swam to the ladder, and. clambered into the cockpit. I made the end of
the line fast to the arm of the fighting chair.
What did you find?” Sherry demanded anxiously.
“I don’t know yet,” I told her. I had resisted the temptation to open
the package on the bottom. I hoped it might be worth the sacrifice to
watch her expression as I opened the canvas.
I stripped my diving gear and washed it off with fresh water before
stowing it all carefully away. I wanted the tension to eat into her a
“Damn you, Harry. Let’s get it up,” she burst out at last.
I remembered the package as being as heavy as all creation, but then my
strength had been almost gone. Now I braced myself against the gunwale
and began recovering line. It was heavy, but not impossibly so, and I
coiled the wet line as it came in with the old tunny fisherman’s wrist
The green canvas broke the surface alongside, sodden and gushing water.
I reached over and got a purchase on the knotted rope, with a single
heave I lifted it over the side and it clunked weightily on to the deck
of the cockpit – metal against Wood.
“Open it,”ordered Sherry impatiently.
“Right away, madam,” I said, and drew the bait-knife from the sheath on
my belt. It was razor sharp, and I cut the ropes with a single stroke
Sherry was leaning forward eagerly as I drew the stiff wet folds of
canvas aside, and I was watching her face.
The greedy, anticipatory expression flared suddenly into triumph as she
recognized the object. She recognized it before I did, and then
instantly she dropped a curtain of uncertainty over her eyes and face.
It was nicely done, she was an actress of skill. Had I not been watching
carefully for it, I would have missed the quick play of emotion.
I looked down at the humble object for which already so many men had
been killed or mutilated, and I was torn with surprise and puzzlement –
and disappointment. It was not what I had expected.
Half of it was badly eaten away as though by a sandblasting machine, the
bronze was raw and shiny and deeply etched. The upper half of it was
intact, but tarnished heavily with a thick skin of greenish verdigris,
but the lug for the shackle was intact and the ornamentation was still
clear through the corrosion – a heraldic crest – or part of it – and
lettering in a flowery antique style. The lettering was fragmentary,
most of it had been etched away in an irregular flowing line, leaving
the bright worn metal.
It was a ship’s bell, cast in massive bronze, it must have weighed close
to a hundred pounds, with a domed and lugged top and a wide flared
Curiously I rolled it over. The clapper had corroded solidly, and
barnacle and other shellfish had encrusted the interior. I was intrigued
by the pattern of wear and corrosion on the outside, until suddenly the
solution occurred to me. I had seen other metal objects marked like this
after long submersion. The bell had been half buried on the sandy
bottom, the exposed portion had been subjected to the tidal rush of
Gunfire Break, and the fine grains of coral sand had abrased away a
quarter of an inch of the outer skin of the metal.
However, the portion that had been buried was protected, and now I
examined the remaining lettering more closely.
wnl “Mere was an extended V or a broken W followed immediately by a
perfect “N” – then a gap and a whole V; beyond that the lettering had
been obliterated again.
The coat of arms worked into the metal on the opposite side of the
barrel was an intricate design with two rampant beasts – probably lions
– supporting a shield and a mailed head. It seemed vaguely familiar, and
I wondered where I had seen it before.
I rocked back on my heels and looked at Sherry North. She was unable to
meet my gaze.
“Funny thing,” I mused. “A jet aircraft with a bloody great brass bell
hanging on its nose.”
“I don’t understand it,” she said.
“No more do I. I stood up and went to get a cheroot from the saloon. I
lit it and sat back in the fighting chair. “Okay. Let’s hear your
“I don’t know, Harry. Truly I don’t.”
“Let’s try some guesses,” I suggested. “I’ll begin.” She turned away to
“The jet aircraft turned into a pumpkin,” I hazarded. “How about that
She turned back to me. “Harry, I don’t feel well. I think I’m going to
“So, what must I do?”
“Let’s go back now.”
“I was thinking of another dive – look around a bit more.” “No,” she
said quickly. “Please, not now. I don’t feel up to it.
Let’s go. We can come back if we have to.”
I studied her face for evidence of her sickness: she looked like an
advert for health food.
“All right,” I agreed; there was not really much point in another dive,
but only I knew that. “Let’s go home and try and work it out.”
I stood up and began rewrapping the brass bell.
What are you going to do with that?” she asked anxiously.
“Redeposit it,” I told her. “I am certainly not going to take it back to
St. Mary’s and display it in the market place. Like you said, we can
always come back.”
“Yes,” she agreed immediately. “You are right, of course.”
I dropped the package over the side once more and went to haul the hook.
On the homeward run I found Sherry North’s presence on the bridge
irritated me. There was a lot of hard thinking I had to do. I sent her
down to make coffee.
“Strong,” I told her, “and with four spoons of sugar. It will be good
for your seasickness.”
She reappeared on the bridge within two minutes. “The stove won’t
“You have to open the main gas cylinders first.” I explained where to
find the taps. “And don’t forget to close them when you finish, or
you’ll turn the boat into a bomb.” She made lousy coffee.
It was late evening when I picked up moorings in Grand Harbour, and dark
by the time I dropped Sherry at the entrance of the hotel. She didn’t
even invite me in for a drink, but kissed me on the cheek and said,
“Darling, let me be alone tonight. I am exhausted. I am going to bed
now. Let me think about all this, and when I feel better we can plan
“I’ll pick you up here – what time?” “No,” she said. “I’ll meet you at
the boat. Early. Eight o’clock. Wait for me there – we can talk in
private. just the two of us, no one else – all right?”
“I’ll bring Dancer to the wharf at eight,” I promised her.
It had been a thirsty day, and on the way home I stopped off at the Lord
Angelo and Judith were with a noisy party of their own age in one of the
booths. They called me over and made room for me between two of the
I brought them each a pint, and Angelo leaned over confidentially.
“Hey, skipper, are you using the pick-up tonight?” “Yes,” I said. “To
get me home.” I knew what was coming, of course. Angelo acted. as though
he had shares in the vehicle.
“There’s a big party down at South Point tonight, boss,” suddenly he was
very free with the “boss” and “skipper’, “I thought if I run you out to
Turtle Bay, then you’d let us have the truck. I’d pick you up early
I took a swallow at my tankard and they were all watching me with eager
“It’s a big party, Mister Harry,” said Judith. “Please.”
“You pick me up seven o’clock sharp, Angelo, hear?” and there was a
spontaneous burst of relieved laughter. They clubbed in to buy me
I had a disturbed night, with restless sleep interspersed with periods
of wakefulness. I had the dream again, when I dived to the canvas
package. Once more it contained a tiny Dresden mermaid, but this time
she had Sherry North’s face and she offered me the model of a jet
fighter aircraft that changed into a golden pumpkin as I reached for it.
The pumpkin was etched with the letters: wnl It rained after midnight,
solid sheets of water, that poured off the eaves, and the lightning
silhouetted the palm fronds against the night sky.
It was still raining when I went down to the beach, and the heavy drops
exploded in minute bomb bursts of spray upon my naked body. The sea was
black in the bad light, and the rain squalls reached to the horizon. I
swam alone, far out beyond the reef, but when I came back to the beach
the excursion had not provided the usual lift to my spirits.
My body was blue and shivering with the cold, and a vague but pervading
sense of trouble and depression pressed heavily upon me, I had finished
breakfast when the pick-up came down the track through the palm
plantation, splashing through the puddles, splattered with mud and with
headlights still burning.
In the yard Angelo hooted and shouted, “You ready, Harry?” and I ran out
with a souwester held over my head. Angelo smelled of beer and he was
garrulous and slightly bleary of eye.
I’ll drive,” I told him, and as we crossed the island he gave me a
blow-by-blow description of the great party from what he told me it
seemed there might be an epidemic of births on St. Mary’s in nine
I was only half listening to him, for as we approached the town so my
sense of disquiet mounted.
“Hey, Harry, the kids said to thank you for the loan of the pick-up.”
“That’s okay, Angelo!
“I sent Judith out to the boat – she’s going to tidy up, Harry, and get
the coffee going for you.”
“She shouldn’t have worried,” I said.
“She wanted to do that specially – sort of thank you, you know.”
“She’s a good girl.”
“Sure is, Harry. I love that girl,” and Angelo burst into song, “Devil
Woman” in the style of Mick Jagger.
When we crossed the ridge and started down into the valley I had a
sudden impulse. Instead of continuing straight down Frobisher Street to
the harbour, I swung left on to the circular drive above the fort and
hospital and went up the avenue of banyan trees to the Hilton Hotel. I
parked the pick-up under the canopy and went through to the reception
There was nobody behind the desk this early in the morning, but I leaned
across the counter and peered into Marion’s cubicle. She was at her
switchboard and when she saw me her face lit up in a wide grin and she
lifted off her earphones.
“Hello, Mister Harry.”
“Hello, Marion, love,” I returned the grin. “Is Miss. North in her
Her expression changed. “Oh no,” she said, “she left over an hour ago.”
“Left?” I stared at her.
“Yes. She went out to the airport with the hotel bus. She was catching
the seven-thirty plane.” Marion glanced at the cheap Japanese watch on
her wrist. “They would have taken off ten minutes ago.”
I was taken completely off-balance, of all things I had least expected
this. It didn’t make sense for many seconds and then suddenly and
sickeningly it did.
“Oh Jesus Christ,” I said. “Judith!” and I ran for the pickup.
Angelo saw my face as I came and he sat up straight in the seat and
I jumped into the driver’s seat and started the engine, thrusting the
pedal down hard and swinging in a roaring two-wheeled turn.
“What is it, Harry?” Angelo demanded.
“Judith?” I asked grimly. “You sent her down to the boat, when?”
“When I left to fetch you.”
“Did she go right away?”
“No, she’d have to bath and dress first.” He was telling it straight,
not hiding the fact they had slept together. He sensed the urgency of
the situation. “Then she’d have to walk down the valley from the farm.”
Angelo had lodgings with a peasant family up near the spring, it was a
“God, let us be in time,” I whispered. The truck was bellowing down the
avenue, and I hit the gears in a racing change as we went out through
the gates in a screaming broadside, and I slammed down hard again on the
accelerator, pulling her out of the skid by main strength.
“What the hell is it, Harry?” he demanded once again. “We’ve got to stop
her going aboard Dancer,” I told him grimly as we roared down the
circular drive above the town. Past the fort a vista of Grand Harbour
opened beneath us. He did not waste time with inane questions. We had
worked together too long for that and if I said so then he accepted it
Dancer was still at her moorings amongst the other island craft, and
halfway out to her from the wharf Judith was rowing the dinghy. Even at
this distance I could make out the tiny feminine figure on the thwart,
and recognize the short business-like oar-strokes. She was an island
girl, and rowed like a man.
“We aren’t going to make it,” said Angelo. “She’ll get there before we
At the top of Frobisher Street I put the heel of my left hand on the
horn ring, and blowing a continuous blast I tried to clear the road. But
it was a Saturday morning, market day, and already the streets were
filling. The country folk had come to town in their bullocks, carts and
ancient jalopies. Cursing with a terrible frustration, I hooted and
forced my way through them.
It took us three minutes to cover the half mile from the top of the
street down to Admiralty Wharf
“Oh God,” I said, leaning forward in the seat as I shot through the mesh
gates, and crossed the railway tracks.
The dinghy was tied up alongside Wave Dancer, and Judith was climbing
over the side. She wore an emerald green shirt and short denim pants.
Her hair was in a long braid down her back.
I skidded the truck to a halt beside the pineapple sheds, and both
Angelo and I hit the wharf at a run.
“Judith!” I yelled, but my voice did not carry out across the harbour.
Without looking back, Judith disappeared into the saloon. Angelo and I
raced down to the end of the jetty. Both of us were screaming wildly,
but the wind was in our faces and Dancer was five hundred yards out
across the water.
“There’s a dinghy!” Angelo caught my arm. It was an ancient
clinker-built mackerel boat, but it was chained to a ring in the stone
We jumped into it, leaping the eight foot drop and falling in a heap
together over the thwart. I scrambled to the mooring chain. It had
quarter-inch galvanized steel links, and a heavy brass padlock secured
it to the ring.
I took two twists of chain around my wrist, braced one foot against the
wharf and heaved. The padlock exploded, and I fell backwards into the
bottom of the dinghy.
Angelo already had the oars in the rowtocks. “Row,” I shouted at’him.
“Row like a mad bastard.”
I was in the bows cupping my hands to my mouth as I hailed Judith,
trying to make my voice carry above the wind.
Angelo was rowing in a dedicated frenzy, swinging the oar blades flat
and low on the back reach and then throwing his weight upon them when
they bit. His breathing exploded in a harsh grunt at each stroke.
Halfway out to Dancer another rain squall enveloped us, shrouding the
whole of Grand Harbour in eddying sheets of grey water. It stung my
face, so I had to screw up my eyes.
Dancer’s outline was blurred by grey rain, but we were coming close now.
I was beginning to hope that Judith would sweep and tidy the cabins
before she struck a match to the gas ring in the galley. I was also
beginning to hope that I was wrong – that Sherry North had not left a
farewell present for me.
Yet still I could hear my own voice speaking to Sherry North the
previous day. “You have to open the main gas cylinders first – and don’t
forget to close them when you finish, or youtil turn the boat into a
bomb.” Closer still we came to Dancer and she seemed to hang on tendrils
of rain, ghostly white and insubstantial in the swirling mist.
“Judith,” I shouted, she must hear me now – we were that close.
There were two fifty-pound cylinders of Butane gas on board, enough to
destroy a large brick-built house. The gas was heavier than air, once it
escaped it would slump down, filling Dancer’s hull with a murderously
explosive mixture of gas and air. It needed just one spark from battery
I prayed that I was wrong and yelled again. Then suddenly Dancer blew.
It was dash explosion, a fearsome blue light that shot through her. It
split her hull with a mighty hammer stroke, and blew her superstructure
open, lifting it like a lid.
Dancer reared to the mortal blow, and the blast hit us like a storm
wind. Immediately I smelled the electric stench of the blast, acrid as
an air-sizzling strike of lightning against iron-stone.
Dancer died as I watched, a terrible violent death, and then her torn
and lifeless hull fell back and the cold grey waters rushed into her.
The heavy engines pulled her swiftly down, and she was gone into the
grey waters of Grand Harbour.
Angelo and I were frozen with horror, crouching in the violently rocking
dinghy, staring at the agitated water that was strewn with loose
wreckage – all that remained of a beautiful boat and a lovely young
girl. I felt a vast desolation descend upon me, I wanted to cry aloud in
my anguish, but I was paralysed.
Angelo moved first. He leapt upright with a sound in his throat like a
wounded beast. He tried to throw himself over the side, but I caught and
“Leave me,”he screamed. “I must go to her.”
“No.” I fought with him in the crazily rocking dinghy. “It’s no good,
Even if he could get down through the forty feet of water in which
Dancer’s torn hull now lay, what he would find might drive him mad.
Judith had stood at the centre of that blast, and she would have been
subjected to all the terrible trauma of massive flash explosion at close
“Leave me, damn you.” Angelo got one arm free and hit me in the face,
but I saw it coming and rolled my head. It grazed the skin from my
cheek, and I knew I had to get him quieted down.
The dinghy was on the point of capsizing. Though he was forty pounds
lighter than me, Angelo fought with maniac strength. He was calling her
“Judith, Judith,” an an hysterical rising inflection. I released my grip
on his shoulder with my right hand, and swung him slightly away from me,
lining him up carefully. I hit him with a right chop, my fist moving not
more than four inches. I hit him cleanly on the point below his left
ear, and he dropped instantly, gone cold. I lowered him to the
floorboards and laid him outcomfortably. I rowed back to the wharf
without looking back. I felt completely numbed and drained.
I carried Angelo down the wharf and I hardly felt his weight in my arms.
I drove him up to the hospital and Macnab was on duty.
“Give him something to keep him muzzy and in bed for the next
twenty-four hours,” I told Macnab, and he began to argue.
“Listen, you broken-down old whisky vat,” I told him quietly, “I’d love
an excuse to beat your head in.”
He paled until the broken veins in his nose and cheeks stood out boldly.
“Now listen – Harry old man,” he began. I took a step towards him, and
he sent the duty sister to the drug cupboard.
I found Chubby at breakfast and it took only a minute to explain what
had happened. We went up to the fort in the pick-up, and Wally Andrews
responded quickly. He waived the filing of statements and other police
procedure and instead we piled the police diving equipment into the
truck and by the time we reached the harbour, half of St. Mary’s had
formed a silent worried crowd along the wharf. Some had seen it and all
of them had heard the explosion.
An occasional voice called condolences to me as we carried the diving
equipment to the mackerel boat. “Somebody find Fred Coker,” I told them.
“Tell him to get down here with a bag and basket,” and there was a buzz
“Hey, Mister Harry, was there somebody aboard?”
“Just get Fred Coker,” I told them, and we rowed out to Dancer’s
While Wally kept the dinghy on station above us, Chubby and I went down
through the murky harbour water. Dancer lay on her back in forty-five
feet, she must have rolled as she sank – but there was no need to worry
about access to her interior, for her hull had been torn open along the
keel. She was far past any hope of refloating.
Chubby waited at the hole in the hull while I went in. What remained of
the galley was filled with swirling excited shoals of fish. They were in
a feeding frenzy and I choked and gagged into the mouthpiece of my scuba
when I saw what they were feeding upon.
The only way I knew it was Judith was the tatters of green cloth
clinging to the fragments of flesh. We got her out in three main pieces,
and placed her in the canvas bag that Fred Coker provided.
I dived again immediately, and worked my way through the shattered hull
to the compartment below the galley where the two long iron gas
cylinders were still bolted to their beds. Both taps were wide open, and
somebody had disconnected the hoses to allow the gas to escape freely.
I have never experienced anger so intense as I felt then. It was that
strong for it fed upon my loss. Dancer was gone – and Dancer had been
half my life. I closed the taps and reconnected the gas hose. It was a
private thing – I would deal with it personally.
When I walked back along the wharf to the pick-up, all that gave me
comfort was the knowledge that Dancer had been insured. There would be
another boat – not as beautiful or as well beloved as Dancer – but a
In the crowd I noticed the shiny black face of Harnbone Williams – the
harbour ferryman. For forty years he had plied his old dinghy back and
forth at threepence a hire.
“Hambone,” I called him over. “Did you take anybody out to Dancer last
“No, sit, Mister Harry.”
“Nobody at all?”
“Only your party. She left her watch in the cabin. I took her out to
“Yes, the lady with the yellow hair.”
“What time, Hambone?”
“About nine o’clock – did I do wrong, Mister Harry?”
“No, it’s all right. just forget it.”
We buried Judith next day before noon. I managed to get the plot beside
her mother and father for her. Angelo liked that. He said he did not
want her to be lonely up there on the hill. Angelo was still half doped,
and he was quiet and dreamy eyed at the graveside.
The next morning the three of us began salvage work on Dancer. We worked
hard for ten days and we stripped her completely of anything that had a
possible value – from the big-game fishing reels and the FN carbine to
the twin bronze propellers. The hull and superstructure were so badly
broken up as to be of no value.
At the end of that time Wave Dancer had become a memory only. I have had
many women, and now they are just a pleasant thought when I hear a
certain song or smell a particular perfume. Like them, already Dancer
was beginning to recede into the past.
the tenth day I went up to see Fred Coker – and the moment I entered his
office I knew there was something very wrong. He was shiny with nervous
sweat, his eyes moved shiftily behind the glittering spectacles and his
hands scampered about like frightened mice – running over his blotter or
leaping up to adjust the knot of his necktie or smooth down the thin
strands of hair on his polished cranium. He knew I’d come to talk
“Now don’t get excited please, Mister Harry,” he advised me.
Whenever people tell me that, I become very excited indeed.
“What is it, Coker? Come on! Come on!” I slammed one fist on the desk
top, and he leapt in his chair so the goldrimmed spectacles slid down
“Mister Harry, please-”
“Come on! You miserable little grave worm–2 “Mister Harry – it’s about
the premiums on Dancer.” I stared at him.
“You see – you have never made a claim before – it seemed such a waste
to-” I found words. “You pocketed the premiums,” I whispered, my voice
failing me suddenly. “You didn’t pay them over to the company.”
“You understand,” Fred Coker nodded. “I knew you’d understand.”
I tried to go over the desk to save time, but I tripped and fell- Fred
Coker leapt from his chair, slipping through my outstretched groping
fingers. He ran through the back door, slamming it behind him.
I ran straight through the door, tearing off the lock, and leaving it
hanging on broken hinges.
Fred Coker ran- as though all the dark angels pursued him, which would
have been better for him. I caught him at the big doors into the alley
and lifted him by the throat, holding him with one hand, pressing his
back against a pile of cheap pine coffins.
He had lost his spectacles, and he was weeping with fright, big slow
tears welling out of the helpless shorts sighted eyes.
“You know I’m going to kill you I whispered, and he moaned, his feet
dancing six inches above the floor.
I Pulled back my right fist and braced myself solidly on the balls of my
feet. It would have taken his head off. I couldn’t do it – but I had to
hit something. I drove my fist into the coffin beside his right ear. The
panelling shattered, stove in along its full length. Fred Coker shrieked
like an hysterical girl at a POP festival, and I let him drop. His legs
could not hold him and he sank to the concrete floor.
I left him lying there moaning and blubbering with terror and I walked
out into the street as near to bankrupt as I’d been in the last ten
Mister Harry transformed in a single stroke into Fletcher, wharf rat and
land-bound bum. It was a classic case of reversion to type – before I
reached the Lord Nelson I was thinking the same way I had ten years
before. Already I was calculating the percentages, seeking the main
chance once more.
Chubby and Angelo were the only customers in the public bar so early in
the afternoon. I told them, and they were quiet. There wasn’t anything
We drank the first one in silence, then I asked Chubby, “What will you
do now?”and he shrugged “I’ve still got the old whaleboat— It was a
twenty-footer, admiralty design, open-decked, but sea-kindly. “I’ll go
for stump again, I reckon.” Stump were the big reef crayfish. There was
good money in the frozen tails.
it was how Chubby had earned his bread before Dancer and I came to St.
“You’ll need new engines, those old Sea Gulls of yours are shot.”
We drank another pint, while I worked out my finances – what the hell, a
couple of thousand dollars was not going to make much difference to me.
“I’ll buy two new twenty horse Evinnides for the boat, Chubby,” I
“Won’t let you do it, Harry.” He frowned indignantly, and shook his
head. “I got enough saved up working for you,” and he was adamant.
“What about you, Angelo?” I asked.
“Guess I’ll go sell my soul on a Rawano contract.”
“No,” Chubby scowled at the thought. “I’ll need crew for the
They were all settled then. I was relieved, for I felt responsible for
them both. I was particularly glad that Chubby would be there to care
for Angelo. The boy had taken Judith’s death very badly. He was quiet
and withdrawn, no longer the flashing Romeo. I had kept him working hard
on the salvage of Dancer, that alone seemed to have given him the time
he needed to recover from the wound.
Nevertheless he began drinking hard now, chasing tots of cheap brandy
with pints of bitter. This is the most destroying way to take in
alcohol, short of drinking meths, that I know of.
Chubby and I took it nice and slow, lingering over our tankards, yet
under our jocularity was a knowledge that we had reached a crossroads
and from tomorrow we would no longer be travelling together. It gave the
evening the fine poignancy of impending loss.
There was a South African trawler in harbour that night that had come in
for bunkers and repairs. When at last Angelo passed out cold, Chubby and
I began our singing. Six of the trawler’s beefy crew members voiced
their disapproval in the most slanderous terms. chubby and I could not
allow insults of that nature to pass unchallenged. We all went out to
discuss it in the backyard.
It was a glorious discussion, and when Wally Andrews arrived with the
riot squad he arrested all of us, even those who had fallen in the fray.
“My own flesh and blood, Chubby kept repeating as he and I staggered arm
and arm into the cells. “He turned on me. My own sister’s son.” Wally
was human enough to send one of his constables down to the Lord Nelson
for Something to make our durance less vile. Chubby and I became very
friendly with the trawlermen in the next cell, passing the bottle back
and forth between the bars.
When we were released next morning, Wally Andrews declining to press
charges, I drove out to Turtle Bay to begin closing up the shack. I made
sure the crockery was clean, threw a few handfuls of mothballs in the
cupboards and did not bother to lock the doors. There is no such thing
as burglary on St. Mary’s.
For the last time I swam out beyond the reef, and for half an hour hoped
that the dolphins might come. They did not and I swam back, showered and
changed, picked up my old canvas and leather campaign bag from the bed
and went out to where the pick-up was parked in the yard. I didn’t look
back as I drove up through the palm plantation, but I made myself a
promise that I’d be coming this way again.
I parked in the front lot of the hotel and lit a cheroot. When Marion
finished her shift at noon she came out the front entrance and set off
down the drive with her cheeky little bottom swinging under the mini
skirt. I whistled and she saw me. She slipped into the passenger’s seat
“Mister Harry, I’m so sorry about your boat. We talked for a few minutes
until I could ask the question.
– “Miss. North, while she was staying at the hotel, did she make any
phone calls or send a cable?”
“I don’t remember, Mister Harry, but I could check for you.
“Sure,” she agreed.
“one other thing, could you also check with Dicky if he got a shot of
her?” Dicky was the roving hotel Photographer, it was a good chance that
he had a print of Sherry North in his file.
Marion was gone for nearly three-quarters of an hour, but she returned
with a triumphant smile.
“She sent a cable on. the night before she left-” Marion handed me a
flimw copy. “You can keep this copy,” she told me as I read the message.
it was addressed to: “MANSON FLAT 5 CURZON STREE7 97 LONDON w. j and the
message read: “CONTRACT SIGNED RETURNING HEATHROW BOAC FLIGHT 316
SATURDAY.”There was no signature.
“Dicky had to go through all his files – but he found one.” She handed
me a six-by-four glossy print. It was of Sherry North reclining on a sun
couch on the hotel terrace. She wore her bikini and sunglasses, but it
was a good likeness.
“Thanks, Marion.” I gave her a five-pound note.
“Gee, Mister Harry,” she grinned at me as she tucked it into the front
of her bra. “For that price you can take what you fancy.”
“I’ve got a plane to catch, love.” I kissed her on the little snub nose,
and slapped her bottom as she climbed out of the cab.
Chubby and Angelo came out to the airport. Chubby was to take care of
the pick-up for me. We were all subdued, and shook hands awkwardly at
the departure gate. There wasn’t much to say, we had said it all the
As the pistonengined aircraft took off for the mainland, I glimpsed the
two of them standing together at the perimeter fence.
I stopped over three hours at Nairobi before catching the BOAC flight on
to London. I did not sleep during the long night flight. It was many
years since I had returned to my native land – and I was coming back now
on a grim mission of vengeance. I wanted very much to talk to Sherry
When you are flat broke, that is the time to buy a new car and a
hundred-guinea suit. Look brave prosperous, and people will believe you
I shaved and changed at the airport and instead of a Hillman I hired a
Chrysler from the Hertz Depot at Heathrow, slung my bag in the boot and
drove to the nearest Courage pub.
I had a double portion of ham and egg pie, washed down with a pint of
Courage while I studied the road map. It was all so long ago that I was
unsure of my directions. The lush and cultivated English countryside was
too tame and green after Malaya and Africa, and the autumn sunshine was
pale gold when I was used to a brighter fiercer sun – but it was a
pleasant drive over the downs and into Brighton.
I parked the Chrysler on the promenade opposite the Grand Hotel and
dived into the warren of The Lanes. They were filled with tourists even
this late in the season.
Pavilion Arcade was the address I had read so long ago on Jimmy North’s
underwater sledge, and it took me nearly an hour to find it. it was
tucked away at the back of a cobbled yard, and most of the windows and
doors were shuttered and closed.
“North’s Underwater World” had a ten-foot frontage on to the lane.
It was also closed, and a blind was drawn across the single window. I
tried without success to peer round the edge of the blind, but the
interior was darkened, so I hammered on the door. There was no sound
from within, and I was about to turn away when I noticed a square piece
of cardboard that had once been stuck on to the bottom of the window but
had fallen to the floor inside. By twisting my head acrobatically, I
could read the handwritten message which had fortunately fallen face up.
Enquiries to Seaview, Downers Lane, Falmer, Sussex. I went back to the
car and took the road map out of the glove compartment.
It began to rain as I pushed the Chrysler through narrow lanes.
The windscreen wipers flogged sullenly at the I spattering drops and I
peered into the premature gloom of early evening.
Twice I lost my way but finally I pulled up outside a gate in a thick
hedge. The sign nailed to the gate read: NORTH SEAVIEW, and I believed
that it might be possible to look southwards on a clear day and see the
I drove down between hedges, and came into the paved yard of an old
double-storeyed red-brick farmhouse, with oak beams set into the walls
and green moss growing on the wood-shingle roof. There was a light
I Parked the Chrysler and crossed the yard to the kitchen door, turning
up my collar against the wind and rain. I beat on the door, and heard
somebody moving around inside. The bolts were shot back and the top half
of the stable door opened on a chain. A girl looked out at me.
I was not immediately impressed by her for she wore a baggy blue
fisherman’s jersey and she was a tall girl with a swimmer’s shoulders. I
thought her plain – in a striking manner.
Her brow was pale and broad, her nose was large but not bony or beaked,
and below it her mouth was wide and friendly. She wore no make-up at
all, so her lips were pale Pink and there was a peppering of fine
freckles on her nose and cheeks.
Her hair was drawn back severely from her face into a thick braid behind
her neck. Her hair was black, shimmering iridescent black in the
lamplight, and her eyebrows were black also, black and boldly arched
over eyes that seemed also to be black until the light caught them and I
realized they were the same dark haunted blue as the Mozambique current
when the noon sun strikes directly into it.
Despite the pallor of her skin, there was an aura of good and glowing
health about her. The pale skin had a lustre and plasticity to it, a
quality that was somehow luminous so that when you studied her closely –
as I was now doing – it seemed that you could see down through the
surface to the flush of clean blood rising warmly to her cheeks and
neck. She touched the tendril of silky dark hair that escaped the braid
and floated lightly on her temple. It was an appealing gesture, that
betrayed her nervousness and belied the serene expression in the dark
Suddenly I realized that she was an unusually handsome woman, for,
although she was only in her mid-twenties, I knew she was no longer girl
– but full woman. There was a strength and maturity about her, a deep
sense of calm that I found intriguing.
Usually the women I choose are more obvious, I do not like to tie up too
much of my energy in the pursuit. This was something beyond my
experience and for the first time in years I felt unsure of myself.
We had been staring at each other for many seconds, neither of us
speaking or moving.
“You’re Harry Fletcher,” she said at last, and her voice was low and
gently modulated, a cultivated and educated voice. I gaped at her.
“How the hell did you know that? I demanded.
“Come in.” She slipped the chain and opened the bottom of the stable
door, and I obeyed. The kitchen was warm and welcoming and filled with
the smell of good food cooking.
“How did you know my name?” I asked again.
“Your picture was in the newspaper – with Jimmy’s,” she explained.
We were silent again, once more studying each other.
She was taller even than I had thought at first, reaching to my
shoulder, with long legs clad in dark blue pants and the tops thrust
into black leather boots. Now I could see the narrow waist and the
Promise of good breasts beneath the thick jersey.
At first I had thought her plain, ten seconds later I had reckoned her
handsome, now I doubted I had ever seen a more beautiful woman. It took
time for the full effect to sink in.
“You have me at a disadvantage,” I said at last. “I don’t know your
“I’m Sherry North,” she answered, and I stared at her for a moment
before I recovered from the shock. She was a very different person from
the other Sherry North I had known.
“Did you know that there is a whole tribe of you? I asked at last.
“I don’t understand.” She frowned at me. Her eyes were enchantingly blue
under the lowered lashes.
“It’s a long story , , .
“I’m sorry.” For the first time she seemed to become aware that we were
standing facing each other in the centre of the kitchen. “Won’t you sit
down. Can I get you a beer?”
Sherry took a couple of cans of Carlsberg lager from the cupboard and
sat opposite me across the kitchen table.
“You were going to tell me a long story.” She popped the tabs on the
cans, and slid one across to me, then looked at me expectantly.
I began to tell her the carefully edited version of my experiences since
Jimmy North arrived at St. Mary’s. She was very easy to talk to, like
being with an old and interested friend. suddenly I wanted to tell her
everything, the entire unblemished truth. It was important that from the
very beginning it should be right, with no reservations.
She was a complete stranger, and yet I was placing trust in her beyond
any person I had ever known. I told her everything exactly as it had
She fed me after dark had fallen, a savoury casserole out of an
earthenware pot which we ate with home-made bread and farm butter. I was
still talking but no longer about the recent events on St. Mary’s, and
she listened quietly. At last I had found another human being with whom
I could talk without reserve.
I went back in my life, in a complete catharsis I told her of the early
days, even of the dubious manner in which I had earned the money to buy
Wave Dancer, and how my good resolutions since then had wavered.
It was after midnight when at last she said: “I can hardly believe all
you’ve told me. You don’t look like that – you look so,” she seemed to
search for the word, “wholesome.” But you could see it was not the word
“I work hard at being that. But sometimes my halo falls over my eyes.
You see, appearances are deceptive,” I said, and she nodded.
“Yes, they are,” and there was a. significance in the way she said it, a
warning perhaps. “Why have you told me all this? It is not really very
wise, you know.”
“it was just time that somebody knew about me, I suppose. Sorry, you
were elected.” She smiled. “You can sleep in. Jimmy’s room tonight,” she
“I can’t risk you rushing out and telling anybody else.”
I hadn’t slept the night before and suddenly I was exhausted. I felt as
though I did not have the strength to climb the stairs to the bedroom –
but I had one question still to ask.
“Why did Jimmy come to St. Marys! What was he looking for?” I asked. “Do
you know who he was working with, who they were?”
“I don’t know.” She shook her head, and I knew it was the truth.
She wouldn’t lie to me now, not after I had placed such trust in her.
“Will you help me find out? Will you help me find them?”
“Yes, I’ll help you,” she said, and stood up from the table.
“We’ll talk again in the morning.”
Jimmy’s room was under the eaves, the pitch of the roof giving it an
irregular shape. The walls were lined with photographs and packed
bookshelves, silver sporting trophies and the treasured brica-brac of
“Me bed was high and the mattress soft.
I went to fetch my bag from the Chrysler while Sherry put clean sheets
upon the bed. Then she showed me the bathroom and left me.
I lay and listened to the rain on the roof for only a few minutes before
I slept. I woke in the night and heard the soft whisper of her voice
somewhere in the quiet house.
Barefooted and in my underpants I opened the bedroom door and crept
silently down the passage to the stairs. I looked down into the hall.
There was a light burning and Sherry North stood at the wall-hung
telephone. She was speaking so quietly into the receiver, cupping her
hands to her mouth, that I could not catch the words. The light was
behind her. She wore. a flimsy nightdress, and her body showed through
the thin stuff as though she was naked.
I found myself staring like a peeping Tom. The lamps light glowed on the
ivory sheen of her skin, and there were intriguing secret hollows and
shadows beneath the transparent cloth.
With an effort I pulled my eyes off her and went back to my bed.
I thought about Sherry’s telephone call and felt a vague disquiet, but
soon sleep overtook me once more.
In the morning the rain had stopped but the ground was slushy and the
grass heavy and wet when I went out for a breath of cold morning air.
I expected to feel awkward with Sherry after the previous night’s
outpourings of the soul, but it was not so. We talked easily at
breakfast, and afterwards she said, “I promised I’d help you; what can I
“Answer a few questions.”
“All right, ask me.”
Jimmy North had been very secretive, she did not know he was going to
St. Mary’s. He had told her he had a contract to install some electronic
underwater equipment at the Cabora-Bossa. Dam in Portuguese Mozambique.
She had taken him up to the airport with all his equipment. As far as
she knew he was travelling alone. The police had come to the shop in
Brighton to tell her of his murder. She had read the newspaper reports,
and that was all.
“No letters from Jimmy?”
“No, nothing.” I nodded, the wolf pack must have intercepted his mail.
The letter I had been shown by Sherry’s impostor was certainly genuine.
“I don’t understand anything about this. Am I being stupid?”
No.” I took out a cheroot, and almost lit it before I stopped myself.
Okay if I smoke one of these?”
“It doesn’t bother me,” she said, and I was glad, for it would have been
hell giving them up. I lit it and drew in the fragrant smoke.
“It looks as though Jimmy stumbled on something big. He needed backing
and he went to the wrong people. As soon as they thought they knew where
it was, they killed him and tried to kill me. When that didn’t work they
sent out someone impersonating you. When she thought she knew the
location of this object, she set a trap for me and went home. Their next
move will be a return to the area off Big Gull Island, where they are
due for another disappointment.”
She refilled the coffee cups, and I noticed that she had applied make-up
this morning – but so lightly that the freckles still showed. I
reconsidered the previous night’s judgement – and confirmed that she was
one of the most beautiful women I had ever met, even in the early
She was frowning thoughtfully, staring into her coffee cup and I wanted
to touch one of her slim strong-looking hands that lay on the tablecloth
near my own.
“What were they after, Harry? And who are these people who killed him?
she asked at Last.
“Two excellent questions. I have leads to both – but we will tackle the
questions in the order you asked them. Firstly, what was Jimmy after?
When we know that we can go after his murderers.”
“I have no idea at all what it could be.” She looked up at me.
The blue of, her eyes was lighter than it had been last night, it was
the colour of a good sapphire. “What clues have you?”
“The ship’s bell. The design upon it.”
“What does it signify?”
“I don’t know, but it shouldn’t be too hard to find out. I could no
longer resist the temptation. I placed my hand over hers. It felt as
firm and strong as it looked and her flesh was warm “But first I should
like to – check the shop in Brighton and Jimmy’s room here. There might,
be something we can use.”
She had not withdrawn her hand. “All right, shall we go to the shop
first! The police have already been through it all, but they might have
overlooked something. “Fine. I’ll buy you lunch.” I squeezed her hand,
and she turned it in my grasp and squeezed back.
I’ll take you up on that,” she said. and I was too astonished by my own
reaction to her grip to find a light reply. My throat was dry and my
pulse beat as though I’d run a mile. Gently she removed her hand and
“Let’s do the breakfast dishes.”
If the girls of St. Mary’s could only have seen Mister Harry drying
dishes, my reputation would have shattered into a thousand pieces.
She let us into the shop the back way, through a tiny enclosed yard
which was almost filled with unusual objects, all of them associated
with diving and the under-water world – discarded air bottles and a
portable compressor, brass portholes and other salvage from wrecked
ships, even the jawbone of a killer whale with all its teeth intact.
“I haven’t been in for a long time,” Sherry apologized as she unlocked
the back door of the shop. “Without Jimmy-” she shrugged and then went
on, ” – I must really get down to selling up all this junk and closing
the shop down. I could re-sell the lease, I suppose.”
“I’m going to look round, okay?”
“Fine, I’ll get the kettle going.”
I started in the yard, searching quickly but thoroughly through the
piles of junk. There was nothing that had significance as far as I could
see. I went into the shop and poked around amongst the seashells and
sharks” teeth on the shelves and in the display case. Finally I saw a
desk in the corner and began going through the drawers.
Sherry brought me a cup of tea and perched on the corner of the desk
while I piled old invoices, rubber bands and paper clips on the top. I
read every scrap of paper and even rifled through the ready reckoner.
Nothing?” Sherry asked.
Nothing,” I agreed and glanced at my watch. “Lunchtime,” I told her.
She locked up the shop and by good fortune we stumbled on English’s
restaurant. They gave us a secluded table in the back room and I ordered
a bottle of Pouilly Fuisse to go with the lobster. Once I recovered from
the shock of the price, we laughed a lot during the meal, and it wasn’t
just the wine. The feeling between us was good and growing stronger.
After lunch we drove back to Seaview and we went up to Jimmy’s room.
“This is our best bet,” I guessed. “If he was keeping secrets, this is
where they would be.” But I knew I had a long job ahead of me. There
were hundreds of books and piles of magazines – mostly American Argosy,
Trident, The Diver and other diving publications. There was also a
complete shelf of springback files at the foot of the bed.
“I’ll leave you to it,” Sherry said, and went.
I took down the contents of a shelf, sat at the reading table and began
to skim through the publications. immediately I saw it was an even
bigger task than I had thought. Jimmy had been one of those people who
read with a pencil in one hand. There were notes pencilled in the
margin, comments, queries and exclamation marks, and anything that
interested him was underlined.
I read doggedly, looking for something that could remotely be linked to
Around eight o’clock I began on the shelf that held the springback
files. The first two were filled with newspaper clippings on shipwrecks
or other marine phenomena. The third of them had an un-labelled, black
imitation leather cover. It held a thin sheaf of papers, and I saw
immediately that they were out of the ordinary.
They were a series of letters filed with their envelopes and stamps
still attached. There were sixteen of them in all, addressed to Messrs
Parker and Wilton in Fenchurch Street.
Every letter was in a different hand, but all were executed in the
elegant penmanship of the last century.
The envelopes were sent from different parts of the old Empire – Canada,
South Africa, India – and the nineteenth century postage stamps alone
must have been of considerable value.
After I had read the first two letters, it was clear that Messrs Parker
and Wilton were agents and factors, and they had acted for a number of
distinguished clients in the service of Queen Victoria. The letters were
instructions to deal with estates, moneys and securities.
All the letters were dated during the period from August 1857 to July
1858 and must have been offered by a dealer or an antique auctioneer as
I glanced through them quickly, but the contents were really very dull.
However, something on the single page of the tenth letter caught my eye
and I felt my nerves jump.
Two words had been underlined in pencil and in the margin was a notation
in Jimmy North’s handwriting.
However, it was the words themselves that held me. “Dawn Light.”
I had heard those words before. I wasn’t sure when, but they were
Quickly I began at the top of the page. The sender’s address was Ia
“Bombay’, and it was dated 16th Sept.
My Dear Wilton, I charge you most strictly with the proper care and safe
storage of five pieces of luggage consigned in my name to your London
address aboard the Han. Company’s ship Daurn Light. Due out of this port
before the 25th instant and bound for the Company’s wharf in the Port of
Please acknowledge safe receipt of same with all despatch.
I remain yours faithfully, Colonel Sir Roger Goodchild. Officer
Commanding 101st Regiment Queens Own India Rifles.
Delivery by kind favour of Captain commanding Her Majesty’s Frigate
The paper rustled and I realized that my hand was shaking with
excitement. I knew I was on to it now. This was the key. I laid the
letter carefully on the reading table and Placed a silver paper-knife
upon it to weight it down.
I began to read it again slowly, but there was a distraction. I heard
the engine noise of an automobile coming down the lane from the gate.
Headlights flashed across the window and then rounded the corner of the
I sat up straight, listening. The engine noise died, and car doors
There was a long silence then before I heard the murmur and growl of
voices – men’s voices. I began to stand up from the table.
Then sherry screamed. it rang clearly through the old house, and cut
into my brain like a lance. It aroused in me a protective instinct so
fierce that I was down the stairs and into the hall before I realized I
The door to the kitchen was open and I paused in the doorway.
There were two men with Sherry. The heavier and elder of the two wore a
beige camelliair topcoat and a tweed cap. He had a greyish, heavy lined
face and deepsunk eyes. His lips were thin and colourless.
He had Sherry’s left hand twisted up between her shoulder-blades, and
was holding her jammed against the wall beside the gas stove.
The other man was Younger, and he was slim and pale, bare-headed with
long straw-yellow hair falling to the shoulders of his leather jacket.
He was grinning gleefully as he held Sherry’s other hand over the blue
flames of the gas ring, bringing it down slowly.
She was struggling desperately, but they held her and her hair had come
loose as she fought.
“Slowly, lad,” the man in the cap spoke in a thick strangled voice.
“Give her time to think about it.”
Sherry screamed again as her fingers were forced down remorselessly
towards the hissing blue flames.
“Go ahead, luv, shout your head off,” laughed the blond. “There isn’t
anybody to hear you.” “Only me,” I said, and they spun to face me, with
expressions of comical amazement.
“Who,” asked the blond, releasing Sherry’s arm and reaching quickly for
his back pocket.
I hit him twice, left in the body and right in the head, and although
neither shot pleased me particularly – there was not the right solidness
at impact – the man went down, falling heavily over a chair and crashing
into the cupboard. I had no more time for him, and I went for the one in
the cloth cap.
He was still holding Sherry in front of him, and as I started forward he
hurled her at me. It took me off-balance and I was forced to grab her,
to save both of us from falling.
The man turned and darted out of the door behind him. It took me a few
seconds to disentangle myself from Sherry and cross the kitchen. As I
barged out into the yard he was halfway to an elderly Triumph sports
car, and he glanced over his shoulder.
I could almost see him make the calculation. He wasn’t going to be able
to get into the car and turn it to face the lane before I caught him. He
swerved to the – left and sprinted into the dark mouth of the lane with
the skirts of the camel-hair coat billowing behind him. I raced after
The surface was greasy with wet clay, and he was making heavy going of
it. He slid and almost fell, and I was right behind him, coming up
swiftly when he turned and I heard the snap of the knife and saw the
flash of the blade as it jumped out. He dropped into a crouch with the
knife extended and I ran straight in without a check.
He didn’t expect that, the glint of steel will stop most men dead.
He went for my belly, a low underhand stroke, but he was shaky and
breathless and it lacked fire. I blocked on the wrist and at the same
time hit the pressure point in his forearm. The knife dropped out of his
hand and I threw him over my hip. He fell heavily on his back, and
although the mud softened the impact I dropped on one knee into his
belly. it had two hundred and ten pounds of body weight behind it and it
drove the air out of his lungs in a loud whoosh. He doubled up like a
foetus in the womb, wheezing for breath, and I flipped him over on to
his face. The cloth cap fell off his head and I found that he had a
thick shock of dark hair shot through with strands of silver. I took a
good handful of it sat on his shoulders and pushed his face deep into
the Yellow mud.
“I don’t like little boys who bully girls I told him conversationally,
and behind me the engine of the Triumph roared into life. The headlights
blazed out and then swung in a wide arc until they burned directly up
the narrow lane.
I knew I hadn’t taken the blond out properly, it had been a hurried
botchy job. I left the man in the mud and ran back down the lane. The
wheels of the Triumph spun On “the Paving of the barnyard and, with its
headlights blazing dazzlingly into my eyes, it jumped forward, slewing
and skidding as it left the Paving and entered the muddy lane. The
driver met the skid and came straight at me.
I fell flat and rolled into the cold ooze of a narrow open drain that
carried run-off water through the tall hedge.
The Triumph hit the side a glancing blow and the hedge pushed it
slightly off its line. The “nearside wheels spun viciously on the edge
of the stone coping of the drain inches from my face, and mud and a
shower of twigs fell on me. Then it was past.
it checked as it came level with the man in the muddy camel-hair coat.
He was kneeling on the verge of the road and now he dragged himself into
the Passenger seat of the Triumph. Just as I crawled out of the drain
and ran up behind the sports car it pulled away again, mud spraying from
the spinning rear wheels. In vain I raced after it, but it gathered
speed and tore away up the slope. I gave up, turned and ran back down
the lane, groping for the keys of the Chrysler in my sodden trouser
pockets, and realized I had left them on the table in Jimmy’s room.
Sherry was leaning in the open doorway of the kitchen. She held her
burned hand to her chest and her hair was in tangled disarray. The
sleeve of her jersey was torn loose from the shoulder.
“I couldn’t stop him, Harry,”she gasped. “I tried.” “How bad -is it?” I
asked her, abandoning all thought of chasing the sports car when I saw
“I’ll take you to a doctor.”
“No. It doesn’t need it,” but her smile was lopsided with pain.
I went up to Jimmy’s room and from my travelling medicine kit I took a
Doloxene for the pain and Mogadon to let her sleep.
“I don’t need it, she protested.
“Do I have to hold your now and force them down?” I asked, and she
grinned, shook her head and swallowed them. “You’d better take a bath,”
she said, “you are soaked,” and suddenly I realized I was sodden and
cold. When I came back to the kitchen, glowing from the bath, she was
already whoozy with the pills, but she had made coffee for us and
strengthened it with a tot of whisky. We drank it sitting opposite each
“What did they want? I asked. “What did they say? “They thought I knew
why Jimmy had gone to St. Mary’s. They wanted to know.” I thought about
that. Something didn’t make sense, it worried me.
“I think-” Sherry’s voice was unsteady and she staggered slightly as she
tried to stand. “Wow! What did you give me?” I picked her up and she
protested weakly, but I carried her up to her room. It was chintzy and
girlish, with rosepatterned wallpaper. I laid her on the bed, pulled off
her shoes and covered her with the quilt.
She sighed and closed her eyes. “I think I’ll keep you around,”she
whispered. “You’re very useful. Thus encouraged, I sat on the edge of
the bed and gentled her to sleep, smoothing her hair off her temples and
Stroking the broad forehead; her skin felt like warm velvet. She was
asleep within a minute. I switched off the light, and was about to leave
when I thought better of it.
I slipped Off MY own shoes and crept in under the quilt. In her sleep
she rolled quite naturally into my arms, and I held her close.
It was a good feeling and soon I slept also. I woke in the ”
dawn. Her face was pressed into my neck, one leg and arm thrown over me
and her hair was soft arid tickling against my cheek.
Without waking her, I gently disengaged myself, kissed , her forehead,
Picked up my shoes and went back to my own , room. It was the first time
I had spent an entire night with a beautiful woman in my arms, and done
nothing but sleep. I Puffed up with virtue.
The letter lay upon the reading table in Jimmy’s room where I had left
it and I read it through again before I went to the bathroom. The
pencilled note in the margin B Muse. 6914(8)” puzzled me and I fretted
over it while I shaved.
The rain had stopped and the clouds were breaking up when I went down
into the yard to examine the scene of the previous night’s encounter.
The knife lay in the mud and I picked it up and tossed it over the
hedge. I went into the kitchen, stamping my feet and rubbing my hands in
Sherry had started breakfast. “How’s the hand?” “Sore,” she admitted.
“We’ll find a doctor on the way up to London.”
“What makes you think I’m going to London?”she asked carefully, as she
“Two things. You can’t stay here. The wolf pack will be back.”
She looked up at me quickly but was silent. “The other is that you
promised to help me – and the trail leads to London.”
She was unconvinced, so while we ate I showed her the letter I had found
in Jimmy’s file.
“I don’t see the connection,” she said at last, and I admitted frankly,
“It’s not clear to me even.” I lit my first cheroot of the day as I
spoke, and the effect was almost magical. “But as soon as I saw the
words Dawn light something went click-” I stopped. “My God!” I breathed.
“That’s it. The Dawn light” I remembered the scraps of conversation
carried to the bridge of Wave Dancer through the ventilator from the
“To get the dawn light then we will have to–2 Jimmy’s voice, clear and
tight with anticipation. “If the dawn light is where- Again the words
repeated had puzzled me at the time. They had stuck like burrs in my
I began to explain to Sherry, but I was so excited that it came tumbling
out in a rush of words. She laughed, catching my excitement but not
understanding the explanations.
“Hey!” she protested. “You are not making sense I began again, but
halfway through I stopped and stared at her silently.
“Now what is it?” She was half amused, half exasperated. “This is
driving me crazy, also.”
I snatched up my fork. “The bell. You remember the bell I told you
about. The one Jimmy pulled up at Gunfire Reev.”
“Yes, of course.”
“I told you it had lettering on it, half eaten away by sand.
“Yes, go on.”
With the fork I scratched on the butter, using it as a slate.
“- w N L-.” I drew in – the lettering that had been chased into the
“That was it,” I said. “It didn’t mean anything then – but now-“Quickly
I completed the letters, “DAwn LIGHT’, And she stared at it, nodding
slowly as it fitted together. “We have to find out about this ship, the
“It should be easy. We know she was an East Indiaman there must be
records – Lloyd’s – the Board of Trade? She took the letter from my hand
and read it again. “The gallant colonel’s luggage probably contained
dirty socks and old shirts-“She pulled a face and handed it back to me.
“I’m short of socks,” I said, Cherry packed a case, and I was relieved
to see that she had the rare virtue of being able to travel light. She
went down to speak to the tenant farmer while I packed the bags into the
Chrysler. He would keep an eye on the cottage during her absence, and
when she came back she merely locked the kitchen door and climbed into
the Chrysler beside me.
“Funny,” she said. “This feels like the beginning of a long journey.”
“I have my plans,” I warned and leered at her.
“Once I thought you looked wholesome,” she said sorrowfully, “but when
you do that–2 “Sexy, isn’t it?” I agreed, and took the Chrysler up the
I found a doctor in Haywards Heath. Sherry’s hand had now blistered
badly, fat white bags of fluid hung from her fingers like sickly grapes.
He drained them, and rebandaged the hand.
“Feels worse now,” she murmured as we drove on northwards, and she was
pale and silent with the pain of it. I respected her silence, until we
were into the suburbs of the city.
We had better find some place to stay,” I suggested. “Something
comfortable and central.”
She looked across at me quizzically.
“It would probably be a lot more comfortable and cheaper if we got a
double room somewhere, wouldn’t it?”
I felt something turn over in my belly, something warm and exciting.
“Funny you should say that, I was just about to suggest the same.”
“I know you were,” she laughed for the first time in two hours.
“I saved you the trouble.” She shook her head, still laughing. “I’ll
stay with my uncle. He’s got a spare room in his apartment in Pimlico,
and there is a little pub around the corner. It’s friendly and clean –
you could do worse.”
“I am crazy about your sense of humour,” I muttered.
She Phoned the uncle from a call box, while I waited in the car.
“It’s fixed up,” she told me, as she climbed into the passenger seat.
“He’s at home.”
It was a ground-floor apartment in a quiet street near the river.
I carried Sherry’s bag for her as she led the way, -and rang the
The man that Opened the door was small and lightly built. He was
sixtyish and he wore a grey cardigan, darned at the elbows. His feet
were thrust into carpet slippers. The homely attire was somehow
incongruous, for his iron-grey hair was neatly cropped as was the short
stiff moustache. His skin was clear and ruddy, but it was the fierce
predatory glint of the eye and the military set of the shoulders that
warned me. This man was aware.
“My uncle, Dan Wheeler.” Sherry stood aside to introduce us.
“Uncle Dan this is Harry Fletcher.”
The Young man you were telling me about,” he nodded abruptly. His hand
was bony and dry and his gaze stung like nettles. “Come in. Come in,
both of you.) “I won’t bother you, sir-” it was quite natural to call
him that, an echo of my military training from so long ago, “I want to
find digs myself. Uncle Dan and Sherry exchanged glances and I thought
she shook her head almost imperceptibly, but I was looking beyond them
into the apartment. It was monastic, completely masculine in the
severity and economy of furniture and Ornaments- Somehow that room
seemed to confirm my first impressions of the man. I wanted as little to
do with him as I could arrange while seeing as much of Sherry as I
“I’ll pick you up in an hour for lunch, Sherry,” and when she agreed I
left them and returned to the Chrysler. The pub that Sherry recommended
was the Windsor Arms, and when I mentioned the uncle’s name as she
suggested, they put me in a quiet back room with a fine view of sky and
television aerials. I lay on the bed clothed, and considered the North
family and its relatives while I waited for the hour to run by. Of one
thing only was I certain that Sherry North the Second was not going to
pass me silently in the night. I was going to keep pretty close station
upon her, and yet there was much about her that still puzzled me. I
suspected that she was a more complicated person than her serene and
lovely face suggested. It was going to be interesting finding out. I put
the thought aside, sat up and reached for the telephone. I made three
phone calls in the next twenty minutes. One to Lloyd’s Register of
Shipping in Fenchurch Street, another to the National Maritime Museum at
Greenwich and the last to the India Office Library in Blackfriars Road.
I left the Chrysler in the private parking lot behind the pub, a car is
more trouble than it is worth in London, and I walked back to the
uncle’s apartment. Sherry answered the door herself, and she was ready
to leave. I liked that about her, she was punctual.
“You didn’t like Uncle Dan, did you?” she challenged me over the lunch
table and I ducked.
“I made some phone calls. The place that we are looking for is in
Blackfriars Road. It’s in Westminster. The India Office Library. We will
go down there after we’ve eaten.”
“He really is very sweet when you get to know him.”
“Look, darling girl, he’s your uncle. You keep him.”
“But why, Harry? It interests me.”
“What does he do for a living – army, navy?” She stared at me.
“How did you know that?”
“I can pick them out of a crowd.”
“He’s army, but retired – why should that make a difference?”
“What are you going to try ” I waved the menu at her. “If You take the
roast beef, I’ll go for the duck,” and she accepted the decoy, and
concentrated on the food.
The India Office Archives were housed in one of those square modern
blocks of greenish glass and airforcenue steel panels, Sherry and I
armed ourselves with visitor’s passes and signed the book. We made out
way first to the Catalogue Room and thence to the marine section of the
archives. These were Presided over by a neatly dressed but stern, faced
lady with greying hair and steel-rimmed spectacles.
I handed her a requisition slip for the dossier which would include
material on the Honourable Companys ship Dawn Light and she disappeared
amongst the laden ceilings high tiers of steel shelving.
It was twenty minutes before she returned and placed a bulky dossier on
the counter top before me.
“You’ll have to sign here,” she told me, indicating a column on the
stiff cardboard folder. “Funny!” she remarked. “You are the second one
who has asked for this file in less than a year.”
I stared at the signature J.A. Nard, in the last space. We were
following closely in Jimmy’s footsteps, I thought, as I signed’RICHARD
SMITH, below his name.
“You can use the desks over there, dear.” She pointed across the room.
“Please try and keep the file tidy, won’t you, then.”
Sherry and I sat down at the desk shoulder to shoulder, and I untied the
tape that secured the file.
The Dawn light was of the type known as the Black’wall frigate,
characteristically built at the Blackwall yards in the early nineteenth
century. The type was very similar to the naval frigates of that period.
She had been built at Sunderland for the Honourable English East India
Company, and she was of 1330 net register tons. At the waterline her
dimensions were 226 feet with a beam of twenty-six feet. Such a narrow
beam would have made her very fast but uncomfortable in a stiff blow.
She had been launched in 1832, just the year before the Company lost its
China monopoly, and this stroke of illfortune seemed to have dogged her
Also in the file were a whole series of reports of the proceedings of
various courts of inquiry. Her first master gloried in the name of Hogge
and on her maiden voyage he piled the Dawn Light on to the bank at
Diamond Harbour in Hooghly River. He was found by the court of inquiry
to be under the influence of strong drink at the time and stripped of
“Made a pig of himself,” I observed to Sherry, and she groaned softly
and roled her eyes at my wit.
The trail of misfortune continued. In 1840 while making passage in the
South Atlantic the elderly mate who had the dog watch let her come up,
and away went her masts. Wallowing helpless with her top hamper dragging
alongside, she was found -by a Dutchman. They cut away the wreckage and
she was dragged into Table Bay. The Salvage Court made an award of
In 1846 while half her crew were ashore on the wild coast of New Guinea
they were set upon by the cannibals and slaughtered to a man.
Sixty-three of her crew died.
Then on the 23rd September, 1857, she sailed from Bombay, outward bound
for St. Mary’s the Cape of Good Hope, St. Helena and the Pool of London.
“The date.” I placed my finger on the line. “This is the voyage that
Goodchild talks of in the letter.”
Sherry nodded without reply, I had learned in the last few minutes that
she read faster than I did. I had to restrain her from turning each page
when I was only three-quarters finished. Now her eyes darted across each
line, her colour was up, a soft flush upon her pale cheeks, and she was
biting her underlip.
“Come on,” she urged me. “Hurry up!”. and I had to hold her wrist.
The Dawn Light never reached St. Mary’s – she disappeared. Three months
later, she was considered lost at sea with all hands and the
underwriters were ordered by Lloyd’s to make good their assurances to
the owners and shippers.
The manifest of her cargo was impressive for such a small ship for she
had loaded out of China and India a cargo that consisted of.
364 chests of tea 494 half-chests of tea 101 chests of tea 618
halfchests of tea 577 bales of silk 26 boxes various spices 72 tons on
behalf of Messrs Dunbar and Green.
65 tons on behalf of Messrs Simpson, Wyllie & Livingstone.
82 tons on behalf of Messrs Elder and Company.
4 tons on behalf of Col. Sir Roger Goodchild.
6 tons on behalf of Major John Cotton.
2 tons on behalf of Lord Elton.
2 tons on behalf of Messrs Paulson and Company.
Wordlessly I laid my finger on the fourth item of the manifest, and
again Sherry nodded, with her eyes shining like sapphires. The claim had
been settled and the matter appeared closed until, four months later in
April, 1858 the East Indianian Walmer Castle arrived in England,
carrying -aboard the survivors from the Dawn Light.
There were six of them. The first mate, Andrew Barlow, boatswain’s mate,
and three topmast men. There was also young woman of twenty-two years, a
Miss. Charlotte Cotton, who had been a passenger making the homeward
passage with her father, a Major in the 40th Foot.
The mate, Andrew Barlow, gave his evidence to the Court of Inquiry, and
beneath the dry narrative and the ponderous questions and guarded
replies lay an exciting and romantic story of the sea, an epic of
shipwreck and survival.
As we read I saw the meagre scraps of knowledge I had scraped together
fit neatly into the story.
Fourteen days out from Bombay, the Dawn Light was set upon by a furious
storm out of the south-east. For seven days the savagery of the storm
raged unabated, driving the ship before her. I could imagine it clearly,
one of those great cyclones that had torn the roof from my own shack at
Once again Dawn Light was dismasted, no spars were left standing except
the fore lower mast, mizzen lower mast, and bowsprit. The rest had
carried away on the tempest and there was no opportunity to set up a
jury mainmast or send yards aloft in the mountainous seas.
Thus when land was sighted to leeward, there was no chance that the ship
might avoid her fate. A conspiracy of wind and current hurled her down
into the throat of a funnel-shaped reef upon which the storm surf burst
like the thunder of the heavens.
The ship struck and held, and Andrew Barlow was able with the help of
twelve members of his crew to launch one of the boats. Four passengers
including Miss. Charlotte Cotton left the stricken ship with them, and
Barlow, with an unlikely combination of good fortune and seamanship, was
able to find a passage through the wild sea and murderous reefs into the
quieter waters of the inshore channel.
Finally they ran the boat ashore on the spindrift smothered beach of an
island. Here the survivors huddled for four days while the cyclone blew
Barlow alone climbed to the summit of the southernmost of the treble
peaks of the island. The description was completely clear. It was the
Old Men and Gunfire Reef. There was no doubt of it. This then was how
Jimmy North had known what he was looking for – the island with three
peaks and a barrier of coral reef.
Barlow took bearings off the sea-battered hull of the Dawn Light as she
lay in the jaws of the reef, swept by each successive wave. On the
second day the ships hull began to break up, and while Barlow watched
from the peak, the front half of her was carried up over the reef to
disappear into a dark gaping hole in the coral. The stern fell back into
the sea and was smashed to matchwood.
When at last the skies cleared and the wind dropped, Andrew Barlow
discovered that his small party were all that survived from a ship’s
company of 149 souls. The others had perished in the wild sea.
To the west, low against the horizon, he described a low land mass which
he hoped was the African mainland. He embarked his party in the ship’s
boat once more and they made the crossing of the inshore channel. His
hopes were fulfilled, it was Africa – but as always she was hostile and
The seventeen lost beings began a long and dangerous journey southwards,
and three months later only Barlow, four seamen and. Miss. Charlotte
Cotton reached the island port of Zanzibar. Fever, wild animals, wild
men and misfortune had whittled away their numbers – and even those who
survived were starved to gaunt living skeletons, yellowed with fever and
riddled with dysentery from foul water.
The court of inquiry had highly commended Andrew Barlow, and the Han.
Company had made him an award of E500 for meritorious service.
When I finished reading, I looked up at Sherry. She was watching me.
“Wow!” she said, and I also felt drained by the magnitude of the old
“It all fits, Sherry,” I said. “It’s all there.” “Yes,” she said.
“We must see if they have the drawings here.”
the Prints and Drawings Room was on the third floor and a quick search
by an earnest assistant soon revealed the Dawn light in all her
She was a graceful three-masted ship with a long low profile. She had no
crossjack or mizzen course. Instead she carried a large spanker and a
full set of studding sails. The long poop gave space for several
passenger cabins, and she carried her boats on top of her deckhouse aft.
She was heavily armed, with thirteen black-painted gunports a side, from
which she could run out her long eighteen-pounder cannon to defend
herself, in those hostile seas east of the Cape of Good Hope across
which she plied to China and India.
“I need a drink,” I said, and picked up the drawings of the Dawn Light.
“I’ll get them to make copies of these for us. “What for?” Sherry wanted
-The assistant emerged from her lair amongst the piled trays of old
prints and sucked in her cheeks at my request for copies.
“I’ll have to charge you seventy-five pence,” she tried to discourage
That’s reasonable I said.
“And we won’t have them ready until next week,” she added inexorably.
“Oh dear,” said I, and gave her the smile. “I did need them tomorrow
The smile crushed her, she lost the air of purpose and tried to tuck her
straying wisps of hair into the side frames of her glasses.
“Well, I’ll see what I can do then,” she relented.
That’s very sweet of you, really it is and we left her looking confused,
My sense of direction was returning and I found my way to El Vino’s
without trouble. The evemning flood of journalists from Fleet Street had
not yet swamped it and we found a table at the back. I ordered two
Vermouths and we saluted each other over the glasses.
“You know, Harry, Jimmy had a hundred schemes. His whole life was one
great treasure hunt. Every week he had found, almost found, the location
of a treasure ship from the Armada or a sunken Aztec city, a buccaneer
wreck–? she shrugged. “I have a built-in resistance to believing any of
it. But this one-” She sipped the wine.
“Let’s go over what we have,” I suggested. We know that Goodchild was
very concerned that his agent receive five cases of luggage and put it
into safe keeping. We know that he was going to ship it aboard Dawn
Light and he sent advance notice, probably through a personal friend,
the captain of the naval frigate Pandker.”
“We know that those cases were listed on the ship’s manifest.
That the ship was lost, presumably with them still on board. We know the
exact location of the wreck. We have had it confirmed by the ship’s
“We only do not know what those cases contained.”
“Dirty socks,”she said.
“Four tons of dirty socks?” I asked, and her expression changed.
The weight of the cargo had not meant anything to her.
“Ah,” I grinned at her, “it went over your head. I thought so.