You read so fast you only take in half of it She pulled a face at me.
“Four tons, my darling girl, is a great deal of something whatever it
“All right,”she agreed. “Figures don’t mean much to me, I admit.
But it sounds a lot.”
“Say the same weight as a new Rolls-Royce – to put it in terms you might
understand,” and her eyes widened and turned a darker blue.
“That is a lot.”
“Jimmy obviously knew what it was, and had proof sufficient to convince
some very hard-headed backers. They took it seriously.”
“Seriously enough to, and she stopped herself. For an instant I saw the
old grief for Jimmy’s death in her eyes. I was embarrassed by it, and I
looked away, making a show of taking the letter out of my inner pocket.
Carefully I spread it on the table top between us. When I looked at her,
she had recovered her composure once more.
The pencilled note in the margin engaged my attention again.
“B. Muse.6914(8).” I read it aloud. “Any ideas?”
“Bachelor of Music.”
“Oh, that’s great,” I applauded.
“You do better,” she challenged, and I folded the letter away with
dignity and ordered two more drinks.
“Well, that was a good run on that scent,” I said when I had paid the
waiter. “We have an idea what it was all about. Now, we can go on my
She sat forward and encouraged me silently.
“I told you about your impostor, the blonde Sherry North?” and she
nodded. “On the night before she left the island she sent a cable to
London.” I produced the flimsy from my wallet and handed it to Sherry.
While she read it, I went on: “This was clearly an okay to her
principal, Manson. He must be the big man behind this. I am going to
start moving in on him now.” I finished my Vermouth. “I’ll drop you back
with your martial uncle, and contact you again tomorrow.”
Her lips set in a line of stubbornness which I had not seen before and
there was a glint in her eyes like the blue of gun-metal.
“Harry Fletcher, if You think you are going to ditch me just when things
start livening up, you must be off your tiny head. The cab dropped us in
Berkeley Square and I led her into Curzon Street.
“Take my arm quickly,” I muttered, glancing over my shoulder in a
secretive manner. Instantly she obeyed, and we had gone fifty yards
before she whispered, why? “Because I like the feel of it,” I grinned at
her and spoke in a natural voice.
“Oh, you!” She made as if to pull away, but I held her and she
capitulated. We sauntered up the street towards Shepherd Market,
stopping now and then to window-shop like a pair of tourists.
No. 97 Curzon Street was one of those astronomically expensive apartment
blocks, six storeys of brick facing, and an ornate street door of bronze
and glass beyond which was a marbled foyer guarded by a uniformed
doorman. We went on past it, up as far as the White Elephant Club and
there we crossed the street and wandered back on the opposite pavement.
“I could go and ask the doorman if Mr. Manson occupied Flat No.
5,” Sherry volunteered.
“Great,” I said. “Then he says “yes”, what do you do then? Tell him
Harry Fletcher says hello?”
“You are really very droll,” she said, and once more she tried to take
her hand away.
“There is a restaurant diagonally opposite No. 97.” I prevented her
withdrawal. “Let’s get a table in the front window, drink some coffee
and watch for a while.”
It was a little past three o’clock when we settled at the window seat
with a good view across the street, and the next hour passed pleasantly.
I found it not a difficult task to keep Sherry amused, we shared a
similar sense of humour and I liked to hear her laugh.
I was in the middle of a long, complicated story when I was interrupted
by the arrival outside No. 97 of a Silver Wraith Rolls-Royce. It pulled
to the kerb and a chauffeur in a smart dove-grey uniform left the car
and entered the foyer. He and the doorman fell into conversation, and I
resumed my story.
Ten minutes later, there was sudden activity opposite. The elevator
began a series of rapid ascents and descents, each time discharging a
load of matching crocodileskin luggage. This was carried out by the
doorman and chauffeur and packed into the Rolls. It seemed endless, and
Sherry remarked, “Somebody is off on a long holiday.” She sighed
“How do you fancy a tropical island with blue water and white sands, a
thatched shack amongst the Palms–” “Stop it,” she said. “On an autumn
day in old London, I just can’t bear the thought.”
I was about to move into a stronger position when the footman and
chauffeur stood to attention and once more the glass doors of the lift
opened and a man and woman stepped out of it.
The woman wore a full-length honey mink and her blonde hair was piled
high on her head in an elaborate lacquered Grecian style. Anger struck
me like a fist in the guts as I recognized her.
It was Sherry North, the First. The nice lady who had blown Judith and
wave Dancer to the bottom of Grand Harbour.
With her was a man of medium height with soft brown hair fashionably
long and curly over his ears. He had a light tan, Probably from a sun
lamp, and he was dressed too well. Very expensively, but as flamboyantly
as an entertainment personality.
He had a heavy jaw and a long fleshy nose with soft gazelle eyes, but
his mouth was pinched and hungry. A greedy mouth that I remembered so
“Manson!” I said. “Jesus! Manson Resnick – Manny Resnick.” He would be-
just the one Jimmy North would find his way to with his outrageous
proposition. In exactly the same way that so long ago I had gone to him
with my plans for the gold heist at Rome Airport. Manny was an
underworld entrepreneur, and he had clearly climbed a long way up the
ladder since our last meeting.
He was keeping great style now, I thought, as he crossed the pavement
and entered the back seat of the Rolls, settling down next to the
“Wait here,” I told Sherry urgently, as the Rolls pulled away towards
I ran out on to the pavement and searched wildly for a cab to follow
them. There were none and I ran after the Rolls praying desperately for
the sight of a big black cab with its top light burning, but ahead of me
the Rolls swung right into South Audley Street and accelerated smoothly
I stopped at the corner and it was already far ahead, infiltrating the
traffic towards Grosvenor Square.
I turned and ambled disappointedly back to where Sherry waited. I knew
that Sherry had been correct. Manny and the blonde were off on a long
journey. There was no point in hanging around No. 97 Curzon Street any
Sherry was waiting for me outside the restaurant.
“What was that all about?” she demanded and I took her arm. As we walked
back towards Berkeley Square, I told her.
“That man is probably the one who ordered Jimmy murdered, who was
responsible for having half my chest shot away, who had them to roast
your lovely pinkies, – in short, the big man.”
“You know him?”
“I did business with him a long time ago.” Nice friends you have.”
“I’m trying for a better class lately,” I said, and squeezed her arm.
She ignored my gallantry.
“And the woman. Is she the one from St. Mary’s, the one who blew up your
boat and the young girl?”
I experienced a violent return of the anger which had gripped me a few
minutes earlier when I had seen that sleek, meticulously polished
predator dressed in mink.
Beside me Sherry gasped, “Harry, you are hurting me!”
“Sorry.” I relaxed my grip on her arm.
“I guess that answers my question,” she muttered ruefully, and massaged
her upper arm.
The private bar of the Windsor Arms was all dark oak panels and antique
mirrors. It was crowded by the time Sherry and I returned. Outside
darkness had fallen and there was an icy wind stirring the fallen leaves
in the gutters.
The warmth of the pub was welcome. We found seats in a corner, but the
crowd pushed us together, forcing me to place an arm around Sherry’s
shoulders, and our heads were close so we could hold a very private
conversation in this public place.
“I can guess where Manny Resnick and his friend are headed,” I said.
“Big Gull Island?” Sherry asked, and when I nodded she went on, “He’ll
need a boat and divers.”
“Don’t worry, Manny will get them “And what will we do?” “We?” I asked.
“A form of speech,” she corrected herself primly. “What will you do?”
“I have a choice. I can forget about it all – or I can go back to
Gunfire Reef and try to find out what the hell was in Colonel
Goodchild’s five cases.”
“You’ll need equipment.”
“It might not be as elaborate as Manny Resnick’s will be, but I could
get enough together.”
“How are you for money, or is that a rude question?”
“The answer is the same. I could get enough together.” “Blue water and
white sand,”she murmured dreamily. ” – and the palm fronds clattering in
the trade winds.”
“Stop it, Harry.”
“Fat crayfish grilling on the coals, and me beside you singing in the
wilderness,” I went on remorselessly.
“Pig,” she said.
“If you stay here, you’ll never know if it was dirty socks I pressed
“You’d write and tell me,” she pleaded. “No, I wouldn’t.”
“I’ll have to come with you,”she said at last. “Good girl.” I squeezed
“But I insist on paying my own way, I refuse to become a kept woman.”
She had guessed how hard pressed I was financially.
“I should hate to erode your principles,” I told her happily, and my
wallet sighed with relief. It was going to be a near-run thing to mount
an expedition to Gunfire Reef on what I had left.
There was much we had to discuss now that the decision had been made. It
seemed only minutes later that the landlord was calling, “Time,
“The streets are dangerous at night,” I warned Sherry. “I don’t think we
should chance it. Upstairs I have a very comfortable room with a fine
view–_2 “Come on, Fletcher.” Sherry stood up. “You had better walk me
home, or I shall set my uncle on to you.”
As we walked the half block to her uncle’s apartment, we agreed to meet
for lunch next day. I had a list of errands to perform in the morning
including making the airline reservations, while Sherry had to have her
passport renewed and pick up the photostat drawings of the Dawn Light.
At the door of the apartment we faced each other, suddenly both of us
were shy. It was so terribly corny that I almost laughed. We were like a
pair of old-fashioned teenagers at the end of our first date – but
sometimes corny feels good.
“Good night, Harry,” she said, and with the age-old artistry of
womankind she showed me in some indefinable manner that she was ready
Her lips were soft and warm, and the kiss went on for a long time.
“My goodness,” she whispered throatily, and drew away at last.
“Are you sure you won’t change your mind – it is a beautiful room, hot
and cold water, carpets on the floor, TV__2 She laughed shakily and
pushed me gently backwards. “Goodnight, dear Harry,” she repeated, and
I went out into the street and strolled back towards my pub. The wind
had dropped but I could smell the damp emanating from the river close
by. The street was deserted but the kerb was lined with parked vehicles,
bumper to bumper they reached to the corner.
I sauntered along the pavement, in no hurry for bed, even toying with
the idea of a stroll down the Embankment first. My hands were thrust
deep into the pockets of my car coat, and I was feeling relaxed and
happy as I thought about this woman.
There was a lot to think about Sherry North, much that was unclear or
not yet explained, but mainly I cherished the thought that perhaps here
at last was something that might last longer than a night, a week, or a
month something that was already strong and that would not be like the
others, diminishing with the passage of time, but instead would grow
Suddenly a voice beside me said, “Harry!” It was a man’s voice, a
strange voice, and I turned instinctively towards it. As I did so I knew
that it was a mistake.
The speaker was sitting in the back seat of one of the parked cars. It
was a black Rover. The window was open and his face was merely a pale
blob in the darkness of the interior.
Desperately I tried to pull my hands out of my pockets and turn to face
the direction from which I knew the attack would come. As I turned I
ducked and twisted, and something whiffed past my ear and struck my
shoulder a numbing blow.
I struck backwards with both elbows, connecting solidly and hearing the
gasp of pain. Then my hands were clear and I was around, moving fast,
weaving, for I knew they would use the cosh again.
They were just midnight shapes, menacing and huge, dressed in dark
clothing. It seemed there were a legion of them, but there were only
four – and one in the car. They were all big men, and the one had the
cosh up to strike again. I hit him under the chin with the palm of my
hand, snapping his head backwards and I thought I might have broken his
neck, for he went down hard on the pavement.
A knee drove for my groin, but I turned and caught it on the thigh,
using the impetus of the turn to counterpunch. It was a good one,
jolting me to the shoulder, and the man took it in the chest, and was
thrown backwards, but immediately one of them was hugging the arm,
smothering it and a fist caught me in the cheek under the eye. I felt
the skin tear open.
Another one was on my back, an arm around my throat throttling me, but I
heaved and pushed. In a tight knot, locked together, we surged around
“Hold him still,” another voice called, low and urgent. “Let me get a
shot at him.”
“What the bloody hell do you think we are trying to do?” panted another,
and we fell against the side of the Rover. I was pinned there, and I saw
the one with the cosh was on his feet. He swung again, and I tried to
roll my head, but it caught me in the temple. It did not put me out
completely, but it knocked all the fight out of me. I was instantly weak
as a child, hardly able to support my own weight.
“That’s it, get him into the back.” They hustled me into the centre seat
of the back of the Rover and one of them crowded in on each side of me.
The doors slammed, the engine whirred and caught and we pulled away
My brain cleared, but the side of my head was numb and felt like a
balloon. There were three of them in the front seat, one on each side of
me in the back. All of them were breathing heavily, and the one next to
the driver was massaging his neck and jaw tenderly. The one on my right
had been eating garlic, and he panted heavily as he searched me for
“I think you should know that something died in your mouth a long time
ago, and it’s still there,” I told him, with a thickened tongue and an
ache in my head, but the effort was not worth it. He showed no sign of
having heard, but continued doggedly with this task. At last he was
satisfied and I readjusted my clothing.
We drove in silence for five minutes, following the river towards
Hammersmith, before they had all recovered their breath and tended their
wounds, then the driver spoke.
“Listen, Manny wants to talk to you, but he said it’s no big thing. He
was merely curious. He said also that if you gave us a hard time, not to
go to no trouble, just to sign you off and toss you in the river.”
“Charming chap, Manny,” I said.
“Shut up!” said the driver. “So you see, it’s up to you. Behave yourself
and you get to live a little longer. I heard you used to be a sharp
operator, Harry. We been expecting you to show up, ever since Lorna
missed you on the island – but sure as hell we didn’t expect you to
parade up and down Curzon Street like a brass band. Manny couldn’t
believe it. He said, “That can’t be Harry. He must have gone soft.” It
made him sad. “How are the mighty fallen. Tell it not in the streets of
Ashkelon,” he said.”
“That’s Shakespeare,”said the one with the garlic breath. “Shut up,”
said the driver and then went on. “Manny was sad but not that sad that
he cried or anything, you understand.”
“I understand,” I mumbled.
“Shut up,” said the driver. “Manny said, “Dont do it here. Just follow
him to a nice quiet place and pick him up. If he comes quietly you bring
him to talk to me – if he cuts up rough then toss him in the river.”
“That sounds like my boy, Manny. He always was a softhearted little
devil.” “Shut up,” said the driver.
“I look forward to seeing him again.”
“You just stay good and quiet and you might get lucky.”
I stayed that way through the night as we picked up the M4 and rushed
westwards. It was two in the morning when we entered Bristol, skirting
the city centre as we followed the A4 down to Avonmouth.
Amongst the other craft in the yacht basin was a big motor yacht.
She was moored to the wharf and she had her gangplank down. Her name
painted on the stern and bows was Mandrake. She was an ocean-goer,
steel-hulled painted blue and white, with pleasing lines. I judged her
fast and sea-kindly, probably with sufficient range to take her anywhere
in the world. A rich man’s toy. There were figures on her bridge, lights
burning in most of her portholes, and she seemed ready for sea.
They crowded me as we crossed the narrow space to the gangplank.
The Rover backed and turned and drove away as we climbed to the
The saloon was too tastefully fitted out for Manny Resnick’s style, it
had either been done by the previous owners or a professional decorator.
There were forest-green wall-to-wall carpets and matching velvet
curtains, the furniture was dark teak and polished leather and the
pictures were choice oils toned to the general decor.
This was half a million pounds worth Of vessel, and I guessed it was a
charter. Manny had probably taken her for six months and put in his own
crew – for Manny Resnick had never struck me as a blue-water man.
As we waited in the centre of the wall-to-wall carpeting, a grimly
silent group, I heard the unmistakable sounds of the gangplank being
taken in, and the moorings cast off. The tremble of her engines become a
steady beat, and the harbour lights slid past the saloon portholes as we
left the entrance and thrust out into the tidal waters of the River
I recognized the lighthouses at Portishead Point and Red Cliff Bay as
Mandrake came around for the run down-river past Weston-super-Mare and
Berry for the open sea.
Manny came at last, he wore a blue silk gown and his face was still
crumpled from sleep, but his curls were neatly combed and his smile was
white and hungry.
“Harry,” he said, “I told you that you would be back.”
“Hello, Manny. I can’t say it’s any great pleasure.”
He laughed lightly and turned to the woman as she followed him into the
saloon. She was carefully made up and every hair of the elaborate
hairstyle was in its place. She wore a long white house-gown with lace
at throat and cuffs.
“You have met Lorna, I believe, Lorna Page.”
“Next time you send somebody to hustle me, Manny, try for a little
better class. I’m getting fussy in my old age.”
Her eyes slanted wickedly, but she smiled. “How’s your boat, Harry? Your
“It makes a lousy coffin.” I turned back to Manny. “What’s it going to
be, Manny, can we work out a deal?”
He shook his head sorrowfully. “I don’t think so, Harry. I would like to
– truly I would, if just for old times” sake. But I can’t see it.
Firstly, you haven’t anything to trade and that makes for a lousy deal.
Secondly, I know you are too sentimental. You’d louse up any deal we did
make for purely emotional reasons. I couldn’t trust you, Harry, all the
time you’d be thinking about Jimmy North and your boat, you’d be
thinking about the little island girl that got in the way, and about
Jimmy North’s sister who we had to get rid of-” I took a mild pleasure
in the fact that Manny had obviously not heard what had happened to the
goon squad he had sent to take care of Sherry North, and that she was
still very much alive. I tried to make my voice sincere and my manner
“Listen, Manny, I’m a survivor. I can forget anything, if I have to.”
He laughed again. “If I didn’t know you better, I’d believe you, Harry.”
He shook his head again. “Sorry, Harry, no deal.”
“Why did you go to all the trouble to bring me down here, then?”
“I sent others to do the job twice before, Harry. Both times they missed
you. This time I want to make sure. We will be cruising over some deep
water on the way to Cape Town, and I’m going to hang some really heavy
weights on to you.” “Cape Town?” I asked. “So you are going after the
Dawn Light in person. What is so fascinating about that old wreckr
“Come on, Harry. If you didn’t know, you wouldn’t be giving me such a
hard time.” He laughed, and I thought it best not to let them know my
“You think you can find your way back?” I asked the blonde.
“It’s a big sea and a lot of islands look the same. I think you should
keep me as insurance,” I insisted.
“Sorry, Harry.” Manny crossed to the teak and brass bar.
“Drink?” he asked.
“Scotch,” I said, and he half filled a glass with the liquor and brought
it to me.
“To be entirely truthful with you, part of this is for Lorna’s benefit.
You made the girl bitter, Harry, I don’t know why – but she wanted
especially to be there when we say goodbye. She enjoys that sort of
thing, don’t you, darling, it turns her on.”
I drained the glass. “She needs turning on – as you and I both know,
she’s a lousy lay without it,” I observed, and Manny hit me in the
mouth, crushing my lips and the whisky stung the raw flesh.
“Lock him up,” he said softly. As they hustled me out of the saloon, and
along the deck towards the bows, I took pleasure in knowing that Lorna
would have painful questions to answer. On either hand the shore lights
moved steadily past us in the night, and the river was black and wide.
orward of the bridge there was a low deckhouse above the forecastle, and
a louvred companionway opened on to a deck ladder that descended to a
small lobby. This was obviously the crew’s quarters, doors opened off
the lobby into cabins and a communal mess.
In the bows was a steel door and a stencilled sign upon it read
“FORECASTLE STORE’. They shoved me through the doorway and slammed the
heavy door. The lock turned and I was alone in a steel cubicle probably
six by four. Both bulkheads were lined with storage lockers, and the air
was damp and musty.
My first concern was to find some sort of weapon. The cupboards were all
of them locked and I saw that the planking was inch-thick oak. I would
need an axe to hack them open, nevertheless I tried. I attempted to
break in the doors using my shoulder as a ram, but the space was too
confined and I could not work up sufficient momentum.
However, the noise attracted attention. The door swung open and one of
the crew stood well back with a big ugly .41 Rueger Magnum in his hand.
“Cut it out,” he said. “There ain’t anything in there,” and he gestured
to the pile of old life-jackets against the far wall. “You just sit
there nice and quiet or I’ll call some of the boys to help me work you
over.” He slammed the door and I sank down on to the life-jackets.
There was clearly a guard posted at the door full-time. The others would
be within easy call. I hadn’t expected him to open the door and I had
been off-balance. I had to get him to do it again – but this time I
would have a go. It was a poor chance, I realized. All he had to do was
point that cannon into the storeroom and pull the trigger. He could
I looked down at the pile of life-jackets, and stood again to pull them
aside. Beneath them was a small wooden fruit box, it contained discarded
cleaning materials. A nylon floorbrush, cleaning rags, a tin of Brasso,
half a cake of yellow soap, and a brandy bottle half filled with clear
fluid. I unscrewed the cap and sniffed it. It was benzine.
I sat down again and reassessed my position, trying to find a percentage
in it without much success.
The light switch was outside the doorway and the light overhead was in a
thick glass cover. I stood up and climbed halfway up the lockers,
wedging myself there while I unscrewed the light cover and examined the
bulb. It gave me a little hope.
I climbed down again and selected one of the heavy canvas life-jackets.
The clasp of the steel strap on my wristwatch made a blunt blade and I
sawed and hacked at the canvas, tearing a hole large enough to get my
forefinger in. I ripped the canvas open and pulled out handfuls of the
white kapok stuffing. I piled it on the floor, tearing open more
life-jackets until I had a considerable heap.
I soaked the cotton waste with benzine from the bottle and took a
handful of it with me when I climbed again to the light fitting. I
removed the bulb and was plunged instantly into darkness. Working by
sense of touch alone, I pressed the benzine-soaked stuffing close to the
electricity terminals. I had nothing to use as insulation so I held the
steel strap of my wristwatch in my bare hands and used it to dead-short
There was a sizzling blue flash, the benzine ignited instantly and 180
volts hit me like a charge of buckshot, knocking me off my perch. I fell
in a heap on to the deck with a ball of flaming kapok in my hands.
Outside I heard faint shouts of annoyance and anger. I had succeeded in
shorting the entire lighting system of the forecastle. Quickly I tossed
the burning kapok on to the prepared pile, and it burned up fiercely. I
brushed the sparks from my, hands, wrapped the handkerchief around my
mouth and nose, snatched up one of the undamaged lifebelts and went to
stand against the steel door.
In seconds the benzine burned away and the cotton began to smolder,
fiercely pouring out thick black smoke that smelled vile. It filled the
store, and my eyes began to stream with tears. I tried to breathe
shallowly but the smoke tore my lungs and I coughed violently.
There was another shout beyond the door.
“Something is burning.” And it was answered, “For Chrissake, get those
It was my cue, I began beating on the steel door and screaming at the
top of my voice. “Fire! The ship is on fire!” It was not all acting. The
smoke in my prison was thick and solid, and more boiled off the burning
cotton kapok. I realized that if nobody opened that door within the next
sixty seconds I would suffocate and my screams must have carried
conviction. The guard swung the door open, he carried the big Rueger
revolver and shone a flashlight into the storeroom.
I had time only to notice those details and to see that the ship’s
lights were still dead, shadowy figures milled about in the gloom, some
with flashlights – then a solid black cloud of smoke boiled out of the
I came out with the smoke like a fighting bull from its pen, desperate
for clean air and terrified at how close I had come to suffocating. It
gave strength to my efforts.
The guard went sprawling under my rush and the Rueger fired as he went
down. The muzzle flame was bright as a flashbulb, lighting the whole
area and allowing me to get my bearings on the companion ladder to the
The blast of the shot was so deafening in the confined space that it
seemed to paralyse the other shadowy figures. I was halfway to the
ladder before one of them leaped to intercept me. I drove my shoulder
into his chest and heard the wind go out of him like a punctured
football. _ There were shouts of concern now, and another big dark
figure blocked the foot of the ladder. I had gathered speed across the
lobby and I put that and all my weight into a kick that slogged into his
belly, doubling him over and dropping him to his knees. As he went over
a flashlight lit his face and I saw it was my friend with the garlicky
breath. It gave me a lift of pleasure to light me on my way, and I put
one foot on his shoulder and used it as a springboard to leap halfway up
Hands clutched at my ankle but I kicked them away, and dragged myself to
the deck level. I had only one foot on the rungs, and I was clinging
with one hand to the lifejacket and with the other to the brass
handrail. In that helpless moment, the doorway to the deck was blocked
by yet another dark figure – and the lights went on. A sudden blinding
blaze of light.
The man above me was the lad with the cosh, and I saw his savage delight
as he raised it over my helpless head. The only way to avoid it was to
let go the handrail and drop back into the forecastle, which was filled
with surging angry goons.
I looked back and was actually opening my grip when behind me, the
gunman with the Rueger Magnum sat up groggily, lifted the weapon, tried
to brace himself against the ship’s movement and fired at me. The heavy
bullet cracked past my ear, almost splitting my ear drum and it hit the
coshman in the centre of his chest. It picked him up and hurled him
backwards across the deck. He hung in the rigging of the foremast with
his arms spread like those of a derelict scarecrow, and with a desperate
hinge I followed him out on to the deck and rolled to my feet still
clutching the life-jacket.
Behind me the Rueger roared again and I heard the bullet splinter the
coping of the hatch. Three running strides carried me to the rail and I
dived over the side in a gut-swooping drop until I hit the black water
flat, but I was dragged deep as the boil of the propellers caught me and
swirled me under.
The water was shockingly cold, it seemed to drive in the walls of my
lungs and probe with icy lances into the marrow of my bones.
The life-jacket helped pull me to the surface at last and I looked
wildly about me. The lights of the coast seemed clear and very bright,
twinkling whitely across the black water. Out here in the seaway there
was a chop and swell to the surface, alternately lifting and dropping
Mandrake slid steadily onwards towards the black void of the open sea.
With all her lights blazing she looked as festive as a cruise ship as
she sailed away from me.
Awkwardly I rid myself of my shoes and jacket, then I managed to get my
arms into the sleeves of the life-jacket. When I looked again Mandrake
was a mile away, but suddenly she began to turn and from her bridge the
long white beam of a spotlight leaped out and began to probe lightly and
dance across the surface of the dark sea.
Quickly I looked again towards the land, seeking and finding the riding
lights of the buoy at English Ground and relating it to the lighthouse
on Flatholm. Within seconds the relative bearing of the two lights had
altered slightly, the tide was ebbing and the current was setting
westerly. I turned with it and began to swim.
The Mandrake had slowed and was creeping back towards me. The spotlight
turned and flared, swept and searched, and steadily it came down towards
I pushed with the current, using a long side stroke so as not to break
the surface and show white water, restraining myself from going into an
overarm stroke as the brightly lit ship crept closer. The beam of the
spotlight was searching the open water on the far side of Mandrake as
she drew level with me.
The current had pushed me out of her track, and the Mandrake was as
close as she would come on this leg about one hundred and fifty yards
off – but I could see the men on her bridge. Manny Resnick’s blue silk
gown glowed like a butterfly’s wing in the bridge lights and I could
hear his voice raised angrily, but could not make out the words.
The beam reached towards me like the long cold white finger of an
accuser. It quartered the sea in a tight search pattern, back and
across, back. and across, the next pass must catch me. It reached the
end of its traverse, swung out and came back. I lay full in the path of
the swinging beam, but at the instant it swept over me, a chance push of
the sea lifted a swell of dark water and I dropped into the trough. The
light washed over me, diffused by the crest of the swell, and it did not
check. It swept onwards in the relentless search pattern.
They had missed me. They were going on, back towards the mouth of the
Severn. I lay in the harsh embrace of the canvas lifejacket and watched
them bear away and I- felt sick and nauseated with relief and the
reaction from violence. But I was free. All I had to worry about now was
how long it would take to freeze to death.
began swimming again, watching Mandrake’s lights dwindle and lose
themselves against the spangled backdrop of the shore.
I had left my wristwatch in the forecastle so I did not know how long it
was before I lost all sense of feeling in my arms and legs. I tried to
keep swimming but I was not sure if my limbs were responding.
I began to feel a wonderful floating sense of release. The lights of the
land faded out, and I seemed -to be wrapped in warmth and soft white
clouds. I thought that if this was dying it wasn’t as bad as its
propaganda, and I giggled, lying sodden and helpless in the life-jacket.
I wondered with interest why my vision had gone, it wasn’t the way I had
heard it told. Then suddenly I realized that the sea fog had come down
in the dawn, and it was this that had blinded me. However, the morning
light was growing in strength, I could see clearly twenty feet into the
eddying fog banks.
I closed my eyes and fell asleep; my last thought was that this was
probably my last thought. It made me giggle again as darkness swept over
Voices woke me, voices very clear and close in the fog, the rich and
lovely Welsh accents roused me. I tried to shout, and with a sense of
great achievement it came out like the squawk of a gull.
Out of the fog loomed the dark ungainly shape of an ancient lobster
boat. It was on the drift, setting pots, and two men hung over the side,
intent on their labours.
I squawked again and one of the men looked up. I had an impression of
pale blue eyes in a weathered and heavily lined ruddy face, cloth cap
and an-old briar pipe gripped in broken yellow teeth.
“Good morning,” I croaked.
“Jesus!”said the lobster man around the stern of his pipe.
I sat in the tiny wheelhouse wrapped in a filthy old blanket, and drank
steaming unsweetened tea from a chipped enamel mug – shivering so
violently that the mug leaped and twitched in my cupped hands.
My whole body was a lovely shade of blue, and returning circulation was
excruciating agony in my joints. My two rescuers were taciturn men, with
a marvellous sense of other people’s privacy, probably bred into them by
a long line of buccaneers and smugglers.
By the time they had set their pots and cleared for the homeward run it
was after noon and I had thawed out. My clothes had dried over the stove
in the miniature galley and I had a belly full of brown bread and smoked
We went into Port Talbot, and when I tried to pay them with my rumpled
fivers for their help, the older of the two lobster men turned a blue
and frosty eye upon me.
“Any time I win a man back from the sea, I’m paid in full, mister.
Keep your money.”
The journey back to London was a nightmare of country buses and night
trains. When I stumbled out of Paddington Station at ten o’clock the
next morning I understood why a pair of bobbies paused in their majestic
pacing to study my face. I must have looked like an escaped convict.
The cabby ran a world-weary eye over my two days” growth of dark stiff
beard, the swollen lip and the bruised eye. “Did her husband come home
early, mate?” he asked, and I groaned weakly. , Sherry North opened the
door to her uncle’s apartment and stared at me with huge startled blue
“Oh my God, Harry! What on earth happened to you? You look terrible.”
“Thanks,” I said. “That really cheers me up.”
She caught my arm and drew me into the apartment. “I’ve been going out
of my mind. Two days. I’ve even called the police, the hospitals –
everywhere I could think of.”
The uncle was hovering in the background and his presence set my nerves
on edge. I refused the offer of a bath and clean clothes – and instead I
took Sherry back with me to the Windsor Arms.
I left the door to the bathroom open while I shaved and bathed so that
we could talk, and although she kept out of direct line of sight while I
was in the tub, I thought it was developing a useful sense of intimacy
I told her in detail of my abduction by Manny Resnick’s trained
gorillas, and of my escape – making no attempt to play down my own
heroic role – and she listened in a silence that I could only believe
was fascinated admiration.
I emerged from the bath with a towel wound round my waist and sat on the
bed to finish the tale while Sherry doctored my cuts and abrasions.
“You’ll have to go. to the police now, Harry,” she said at last.
“They tried to murder you.”
“Sherry, my darling girl, please don’t keep talking about the police.
You make me nervous.”
“Forget about the police, and order some food for us. I haven’t eaten
since I can remember.”
The hotel kitchen sent up a fine grilling of bacon and tomatoes, fried
eggs, toast and tea. While I ate, I tried to relate the recent rapid
turn of events to our previous knowledge, and alter our plans to fit in.
“By the way, you were on the list of expendables. They didn’t intend
merely holding a barbecue with your fingers. Manny Resnick was convinced
that his boys had killed you-2 and a queasy expression passed over her
“They were apparently getting rid of anyone who knew anything at all
about the Dawn Light.”
I took another mouthful of egg and bacon and chewed in silence.
“At least we have a timetable now. Manny’s charter which is incidentally
called Mandrake – looks very fast and powerful, but it’s still going to
take him three or four weeks to get out to the islands. It gives us
She poured tea for me, milk last the way I like it. “Thanks, Sherry, you
are an angel of mercy.” She stuck out her tongue at me, and I went on.
“Whatever it is we are looking for, it just has to be something
extraordinary. That motor yacht Manny has hired himself looks like the
Royal Yacht. He must be laying out close to a hundred thousand pounds on
this little lark. God, I wish we knew what those five cases contain. I
tried to sound Manny out – but he laughed at me. Told me I knew or I
wouldn’t be taking so much trouble.
“Oh, Harry.” Sherry’s face lit up. “You’ve given us the bad news – now
stand by for the good.”
“I could stand a little.”
“You know Jimmy’s note on the letter – B. Mus?” I nodded.
“Bachelor of Music?”
“No, idiot – British Museum.”
“I’m afraid you just lost me.”
“I was discussing it with Uncle Dan. He recognized it immediately. It’s
reference to a work in the library of the British Museum. He holds a
reader’s card. He’s researching a book, and works there often.”
“Could we `;2:+’ get in there?”
“We’ll give it a college try.”
I waited almost two hours beneath the vast golden and blue dome of the
Reading Room at the British Museum, and the craving for a cheroot was
like a vice around my chest.
I did not know what to expect – I had simply filled in the withdrawals
form with Jimmy North’s reference number – so when at last the attendant
laid a thick volume before me, I seized it eagerly.
It was a Secker and Warburg edition, first published in 1963. The author
was a Doctor P.A. Ready and the title was printed in gold on the spine:
LEGENDARY AND LOST TREASURES OF THE WORLD.
I lingered over the closed book, teasing myself a little, and I wondered
what chain of coincidence and luck had allowed Jimmy North to follow
this paperchase of ancient clues. Had he read this book first in his
burning obsession with wrecks and sea treasure and had he then stumbled
on the batch of old letters? I would never know.
There were forty-nine chapters, each listing a separate item. I read
carefully down the list.
There were Aztec treasures of gold, the plate and bullion of Panama,
buccaneer hoards, a lost goldmine in the Rockies of North America, a
valley of diamonds in South Africa, treasure ships of the Armada, the
Lutim bullion ship from which the famous Lutim Bell at Lloyd’s had been
recovered, Alexandra the Great’s chariot of gold, more treasure ships –
both ancient and modern – from the Second World War to the sack of Troy,
treasures of Mussolini, Prester John, Darius, Roman generals, privateers
and pirates of Barbary and Coromandel. It was a vast profusion of fact
and fancy, history and conjecture. The treasures of lost cities and
forgotten civilizations, from Atlantis to the fabulous golden city of
the Kalahari Desert – there was so much of it, and I did not know where
With a sigh I turned to the first page, ducking the introduction and
preface. I began to read.
By five o’clock I had skimmed through sixteen chapters which could not
possibly relate to the Dawn Light and had read five others in depth and
by this time I understood how Jimmy North could have been bitten by the
romance and excitement of the treasure hunter. It was making me itchy
also – these stories of great riches, abandoned, waiting merely to be
gathered up by someone with the luck and fortitude to ferret them out.
I glanced at the new Japanese watch with which I’d replaced my Omega,
and hurried out of the massive stone portals of the museum and crossed
Great Russell Street to my rendezvous with Sherry. She was waiting in
the crowded saloon bar of the Running Stag.
“Sorry, , I said, “I forgot the time.”
“Come on.” She grabbed my arm. “I’m dying of thirst and curiosity.”
I gave her a pint of bitter for her thirst, but could only inflame her
curiosity with the title of the book. She wanted to send me back to the
library, before I had finished my supper of ham and turkey from the
carvery behind the bar, but I held out and managed to smoke half a
cheroot before she drove me out into the cold.
I gave her the key to my room at the Windsor Arms, placed her in a cab
and told her to wait for me there. Then I hurried back to the Reading
The next chapter of the book was entitled “THE GREAT MOGUL AND THE TIGER
THRONE OF INDIA.”
It began with a brief historical introduction describing how Babur,
descendant of Timur and Genghis Khan, the two infamous scourges of the
ancient world, crossed the mountains into northern India and established
the Mogul Empire. I recognized immediately that this fell within the
area of my interest, the Dawn Light had been outward bound from that
The history covered the period of Babur’s illustrious successors, Muslim
rulers who rose to great power and influence, who built mighty cities
and left behind such monuments to man’s sense of beauty as the Taj
Mahal. Finally it described the decline of the dynasty, and its
destruction in the first year of the Indian mutiny when the avenging
British forces stormed and sacked the ancient citadel and fortress of
Delhi – shooting the Mogul princes out of hand and throwing the old
emperor Bahadur Shah into captivity.
Then abruptly the author switched his attention from the vast sweep of
In 1665 Jean Baptiste Tavernier, a French traveller and jeweller,
visited the court of the Mogul Emperor Aurangzeb. Five years later he
published in Paris his celebrated Travek in the Orient. He seems to have
won special favour from the Muslim Emperor, for he was allowed to enter
the fabled treasure chambers of the citadel and to catalogue various
items of special interest. Amongst these was a diamond which he named
“Great Mogul. “ravernier weighed this stone and listed its bulk at 280
carats. He described this paragon as possessing extraordinary fire and a
colour as clear and white “as the great North Star of the heavens’.
Tavernier’s host informed him that the stone had been recovered from the
famed Golconda Mines in about 1650- and that the rough stone had been a
monstrous 787 carats.
The cut of the stone was a distinctive rounded rose, but was not
symmetrical – being proud on the one side. The stone has been unrecorded
since that time and many believe that Tavernier actually saw the
Koh-moor or the Orloff. However, it is highly improbable that such a
trained observer and craftsman as Tavernier could have erred so widely
in his weights and descriptions. The Koh-i-noor before it was recut in
London weighed a mere 191 carats, and was certainly not a rose cut. The
Orloff, although rose cut, was and is a symmetrical gem stone and weighs
199 carats. The descriptions simply cannot be mated with that of
Tavernier, and all the evidence points to the existence of a huge white
diamond that has dropped out of the known world.
In 1739 when Nadir Shah of Persia entered India and captured Delhi, he
made no attempt to hold his conquest, but contented himself with vast
booty, which included the Koh-i-noor diamond and the peacock throne of
Shah Jehan. It seems probable that the Great Mogul diamond was
overlooked by the rapacious Persian and that after his withdrawal,
Mohammed Shah the incumbent Mogul Emperor, deprived of his traditional
throne, ordered the construction of a substitute. However, the existence
of this new treasure was veiled in secrecy and although there are
references to its existence in the native accounts, only one European
reference can be cited.
The journal of the English Ambassador to the Court of Delhi during the
year of 1747, Sir Thomas Jenning, describes an audience granted by the
Mogul Emperor at which he was “clad in precious silks and bedecked with
flowers and jewels, seated upon a great throne of gold. The shape of the
throne was as of a fierce tiger, with gaping jaws and a single
glittering cyclopean eye. The body of the tiger was amazingly worked
with all manner of precious stones. His majesty was gracious enough to
allow me to approach the throne closely and to examine the eye of the
tiger which he assured me was a great diamond descended from the reign
of his ancestor Aurangzeb’.
Was this Tavernier’s “Great Mogul” now incorporated into the “Tiger
Throne of India’? If it was, then credence is given to a strange set of
circumstances which must end our study of this lost treasure.
In 1857 on the 16th September, desperate street fighting filled the
streets of Delhi with heaps of dead and wounded, and the outcome of the
struggle hung in the balance as the British forces and loyal native
troops fought to clear the city of the mutinous sepoys and seize the
ancient fortress that dominated the city.
While the fighting raged within, a force of loyal native troops from
101st regiment under two European officers was ordered to cross the
river and encircle the walls to seize the road to the north. This was in
order to prevent members of the Mogul royal family or rebel leaders from
escaping the doomed city.
The two European officers were Captain Matthew Long and Colonel Sir
Roger Goodchildthe name leapt out of the page at me not only because
someone had underlined it in pencil. In the margin, also in pencil, was
one of Jimmy North’s characteristic exclamation marks. Master James’s
disrespect for books included those belonging to such a venerable
institution as the British Museum. I found I was shaking again, and my
cheeks felt hot with excitement. This was the last fragment missing from
the puzzle. It was all here now and my eyes raced on across the page.
No one will ever know what happened on that night on a lonely road
through the Indian jungle – but six months later, Captain Long and the
Indian Subahdar, Ram Panat, gave evidence at the court martial of
They described how they had intercepted a party of Indian nobles fleeing
the burning city. The party included three Muslim priests and two
princes of the royal blood. In the presence of Captain Long one of the
princes attempted to buy their freedom by offering to lead the British
officers to a great treasure, a golden throne shaped like a tiger and
with a single diamond eye.
The officers agreed, and the princes led them into the forest to a
jungle mosque. In the courtyard of the mosque were six bullock carts.
The drivers had deserted, and when the British officers dismounted and
examined the contents of these vehicles they proved indeed to contain a
golden throne statue of a tiger. The throne had been broken down into
four separate parts to facilitate transportation – hindquarters, trunk,
forequarters and head. in the light of the lanterns these fragments
nestled in beds of straw, blazing with gold and encrusted with precious
and semi-precious stones.
Colonel Roger Goodchild then ordered that the princes and priests should
be executed out of hand. They were lined up against the outer wall of
the mosque and despatched with a volley of musketry. The Colonel himself
walked amongst the fallen noblemen administering the coup-degrace with
his service revolver. The corpses were afterwards thrown into a well
outside the walls of the mosque.
The two officers now separated, Captain Long with most of the native
troops returning to the patrol of the city walls, while the Colonel,
Subahdar Ram Panat and fifteen sepoys rode off with the bullock carts.
The Indian Subahdar’s evidence at the court martial described how they
had taken the precious cargo westwards passing through the British lines
by the Colonel’s authority. They camped three days at a small native
village. Here the local carpenter. and his two sons laboured under the
Colonel’s direction to manufacture four sturdy wooden crates to hold the
four parts of the throne. The Colonel in the meantime set about removing
from the statue the stones and jewels that were set into the metal. The
position of each was carefully noted on a diagram prepared by Goodchild
and the stones were numbered and packed into an iron chest of the type
used by army paymasters for the safekeeping of coin and specie in the
Once the throne and the stones had been packed into the four crates and
iron chest, they were loaded once more on to the bullock carts and the
journey towards the railhead at Allahabad was continued.
The luckless carpenter and his sons were obliged to join the convoy. The
Subabdar recalled that when the road entered an area of dense forest,
the Colonel dismounted and led -the three craftsmen amongst the trees.
Six pistol shots rang out and the Colonel returned alone.
I broke off my reading for a few moments to reflect on the character of
the gallant Colonel. I should have liked to introduce him to Manny
Resnick, they would have had much in common. I grinned at the thought
and read on.
The convoy reached Allahabad on the sixth day and the Colonel claimed
military priority to place his five crates upon a troop train returning
to Bombay. Having done this he and his small command rejoined the
regiment at Delhi.
Six months later, Captain Long supported by the Indian Perty Officer,
Ram Panat, brought charges against the commanding officer. We can
believe that thieves had fallen out, Colonel Goodchild had perhaps
decided that one share was better than three. Be that as it may, nothing
has since given a clue to the whereabouts of the treasure.
The trial conducted in Bombay was a cause c&lyre and was widely reported
in India and at home. However, the weakness of the prosecution’s case
was that there was no booty to show, and dead men tell no tales.
The Colonel was found not guilty. However, the pressure of the scandal
left him no choice but to resign his commission and return to London. If
he managed somehow to take with him the Great Mogul diamond and the
golden tiger throne, his subsequent career gave no evidence of his
possessing great wealth. In partnership with a notorious lady of the
town he opened a gaming house in the Bayswater Road which soon acquired
an unsavoury reputation. Colonel Sir Roger Goodchild died in 187 1,
probably from tertiary syphilis contracted during his remarkable career
in India. His death revived stories of the fabulous throne, but these
soon subsided for lack of hard facts and the secret passed on with that
Perhaps we should have headed this chapter – “The Treasure That Never
“Not on, cock,” I thought happily. “It was – and is.” And I began once
more at the beginning of the story, but this time I made careful notes
for Sherry’s benefit.
She was waiting for me when I returned, sitting wakefully in the
armchair by the window, and she flew at me when I entered.
“Where have you been?”she demanded, “I’ve been sitting here all evening
eating my heart out with curiosity.”
“You are not going to believe it,” I told her, and I thought she might
do me a violence.
“Harry Fletcher, you’ve got ten seconds to cut out the introductory
speeches and give me the goodies – after that I scratch your eyes out.”
We talked until long after midnight, and by then we had the floor strewn
with papers over which we pored on knees and elbows. There was an
Admiralty Chart of the St. Mary’s Archipelago, the copies of the
drawings of the Dawn Light, the notes I had made of the mate’s
description of the wreck, and those I had made in the Reading Room of
the British Museum.
I had out my silver travelling flask and we drank Chivas Regal from the
plastic tooth mug as we argued and schemed – trying to guess in what
section of the Dawn Light’s hull the five crates had been stowed,
guessing also how she had broken up on the reef, what part of her had
been washed into the break and what part had fallen to the seaward side.
I had made sketches of a dozen eventualities, and I had opened a running
list of my minimum equipment requirements for an expedition, to which I
added, as various items came to mind, or as Sherry made intelligent
I had forgotten that she must be a first rate scuba diver, but I was
reminded of this as we talked. I was aware now that she would not be a
passenger on this expedition, my feelings towards her were becoming
tinged with professional respect, and the mood of exhilaration mixed
with camaraderie was building to a crescendo of physical tension.
Sherry’s pale smooth cheeks were flushed with excitement, and we were
shoulder to shoulder as we knelt on the carpeted floor. She turned to
say something, she was chuckling and the blue lights in her eyes were
teasing and inviting, only inches from mine.
Suddenly all the golden thrones and legendary diamonds in this world
must wait their turn. We both recognized the moment, and we turned to
each other with unashamed eagerness. We were in a consuming fever of
urgency, and we became lovers without rising from the floor, right on
top of the drawings of the Dawn Light – which was probably the happiest
thing that had ever happened to that ill-starred vessel.
When at last I lifted her to the bed and we twined our bodies together
beneath the quilt, I knew that all the brief amorous acrobatics that had
preceded my meeting with this woman were meaningless. What I had just
experienced transcended the flesh and became a thing of the spirit – and
if it was not loving, then it was the nearest thing to it that I would
My voice was husky and unsteady with wonder as I tried to explain it to
her. She lay quietly against my chest, listening to the words I had
never spoken to another woman, and she squeezed me when I stopped
talking which was clearly a command to continue. I think I was still
talking when we both fell asleep.
from the air, St. Mary’s has the shape of one of those strange fish from
the ocean’s abysmal depths, a squat mis-shapen body with stubby body
fins and tailfins in unusual places, and a huge mouth many sizes too big
for the rest of it.
The mouth was Grand Harbour and the town nestled in the hinge of the
jaws. The iron roofs flash like signal mirrors from the dark green cloak
of vegetation. The aircraft circled the island, treating the passengers
to a vista of snowy white beaches and water so clear that each detail of
the reefs and deeps were whorled and smeared below the surface like some
vast surrealistic painting.
Sherry pressed her face to the round Perspex window and exclaimed with
delight as the Fokker Friendship sank down over the pineapple fields
where the women paused in their labours to look up at us. We touched
down and taxied to the single tiny airport building on which a billboard
announced “St. Mary’s Island – Pearl of the Indian Ocean” and below the
sign stood two other pearls of great price.
I had cabled Chubby and he had brought Angelo with him to welcome us.
Angelo rushed to the barrier to embrace me and grab my bag, and I
introduced him to Sherry.
Angelo’s whole manner underwent a profound change. On the island there
is one mark-of beauty that is esteemed above all else. A girl might have
buck teeth and a squint, but if she possessed a “clear” complexion she
would have suitors forming squadrons around her. A clear complexion did
not mean that she was free of acne, it was rather a gauge of the colour
of the skin – and Sherry must have had one of the clearest complexions
ever to land on the island.
Angelo stared at her in a semi-catatonic state as she shook his hand.
Then he roused himself, handed me back my bag and instead took hers from
her hand. He then fell in a few paces behind her, like a faithful hound,
staring at her solemnly and only breaking into his flashing smile
whenever she glanced in his direction. He was her slave from the first
Chubby trundled forward to meet us with more dignity, as big and
timeless as a cliff of dark granite, and his face was contorted in a
frown of even greater ferocity than usual as he took my hand in a huge
horny fist and muttered something to the effect that it was good to see
me back. He stared at Sherry and she quailed a little beneath the
ferocity of his gaze, but then something happened that I had never seen
before. Chubby lifted his battered old sea cap from his head, exposing
the gleaming polished brown dome of his pate in an unheard-of display of
gallantry, and he smiled so widely that we could see the pink plastic
gums of his artificial teeth. He pushed Angelo aside when Sherry’s bags
were brought out of the hold, picked up one in each hand and led her to
the pick-up. Angelo followed her devotedly and I struggled along in the
rear under the weight of my own luggage. It was fairly obvious that my
crew approved of my choice, for once.
We sat in the kitchen of Chubby’s house and Mrs. Chubby fed us on banana
cake and coffee while Chubby and I worked out a business deal. For a
hard-bargained fee, he would charter his stump boat with its two
spanking new Evinrude motors for an indefinite period. He and Angelo
would crew it at the old wages, and there would be a large “billfish
bonus” at the end of the charter, if it were successful. I went into no
detail as to the object of the expedition, but merely let them know that
we would be camping on the outer islands of the group and that Sherry
and I would be working underwater.
By the time we had agreed and slapped hands on the bargain, the
traditional island rite of agreement, it was midafternoon and the island
fever had already started to reassert its hold on my constitution.
Island fever prevents the sufferer from doing today what can -reasonably
be put off until the morrow, so we left Chubby and Angelo to begin their
preparations while Sherry and I stopped only briefly at Missus Eddy’s
for provisions before pushing the pick-up over the ridge and down
through the Palms to Turtle Bay.
“It’s a story book,” murmured Sherry, as she stood under the thatch on
the wide veranda of the shack. “It’s make-believe! She shook her head at
the sway-holed palm trees and the aching white sands beyond.
I went to stand behind her, placing my arms around her middle and
drawing her to me. She leaned back against me, crossing her own arms
over mine and squeezing my hands.
“Oh, Harry, I didn’t think it would be like this.” There was a change
taking place within her, I could sense it clearly. She was like a winter
plant, too long denied the sun, but there were reserves in her that I
could not fathom and they troubled me. She was not a simple person, nor
easily understood. There were barriers, conflicts within her that showed
only as dark shadows in the depths of her ocean-blue eyes, shadows like
those of killer sharks swimming deep. More than once when she believed
herself unobserved I had caught her looking at me in a manner which
seemed at once calculating and hostile – as though she hated me.
That had been before we came to the island, and now it seemed that, like
the winter plant, she was blooming in the sun; as though here she could
cast aside some restraint of the soul which had curbed her spirit
She kicked off her -shoes, and barefooted turned within my encircling
arms to stand upon tiptoe to kiss me. “Thank you, Harry. Thank you for
bringing me here.”
Mrs. Chubby had swept the floors and aired the linen, placed flowers in
the jars and charged the refrigerator. We walked through the shack hand
in hand – and though Sherry murmured admiration for the utilitarian
decor and solid masculine furnishings, yet I thought I detected that
gleam in her eye which a woman gets just before she starts pushing the
furniture around and throwing out the lovingly accumulated but humble
treasures of a man’s lifetime.
As she paused to rearrange the bowl of flowers that Mrs. Chubby had
placed upon the broad camphor-wood refectory table, I knew we were going
to see some changes at Turtle Bay – but strangely the thought did not
perturb me. I realized suddenly that I was sick to death of being my own
cook and housekeeper.
We changed into swimsuits in the main bedroom – for I had found in the
very few hours since we had become lovers that Sherry had an
overdeveloped sense of personal modesty, and I knew it would take time
before I could wean her to the standard casual Turtle Bay swimming
attire. However, it was some compensation for my temporary overdress to
see Sherry North in a bikini.
It was the first time I had really had an opportunity to look at her
openly. The most striking single thing about her was the texture and
lustre of her skin. She was tall, and if her shoulders were too wide and
her hips a little too narrow, her waist was tiny and her belly was flat
with a small delicately chiselled navel. I have always thought that the
Turks were right in considering the navel as a highly erotic portion of
a woman’s anatomy – Sherry’s would have launched a thousand ships.
She didn’t like me staring at it. “Oh, Grandma – what big eyes you’ve
got,” she said, and wrapped a towel around her waist like a sarong. But
she walked bare-footed through the sand with an unconscious push and
sway of buttock and breast that I watched with uninhibited pleasure.
We left our towels above the high water mark and ran down over the hard
wet sand to the edge of the clear warm sea. She swam with a deceptively
slow and easy stroke, that drove her through the water so swiftly that I
had to reach out myself and drive hard to catch and hold her.
Beyond the reef we trod water and she was puffing a little. “Out of
training,” she panted.
While we rested I looked out to sea and at that moment a line of black
fins broke the surface together in line abreast, bearing down on us
swiftly and I could not restrain my delight.
“You are an honoured guests” I told her. “This is a special welcome.”
The dolphins circled us, like a pack of excited puppies, gambolling and
squeaking while they looked Sherry over carefully. I have known them
sheer away from most strangers, and it was a rarity for them to allow
themselves to be touched on a first meeting and then only after
assiduous wooing. However, with Sherry it was love at first sight,
almost of the calibre that Chubby and Angelo had demonstrated.
Within fifteen minutes they were dragging her on the Nantucket sleigh
ride while she squealed with glee. The instant she fell off the back of
one, there was another prodding her with his snout, competing fiercely
for her attention.
When at last they had exhausted us both and we swam in wearily to the
beach, one of -the big bull dolphins followed Sherry into water so
shallow it reached to her waist. There he rolled on his back while she
scratched his belly with handfuls of coarse white sand and he grinned
that fixed idiotic dolphin grin.
After dark while we sat on the veranda and drank whisky together, we
could still hear the old bull whistling and slapping the water with his
tail, in an attempt to seduce her into the sea again.
The next morning I gamely fought off a fresh onslaught of island fever
and the temptation to linger in bed, especially as” Sherry awoke beside
me with the pink glossy look of a little girl, and her eyes were clear,
her breath sweet and her lips languorous.
We had to check through the equipment we had salvaged from Wave Dancer,
and we needed an engine to drive the compressor. Chubby was sent off
with a fistful of banknotes and returned with a motor that required much
loving attention. As that occupied me for the rest of the day, Sherry
was sent off to Missus Eddy’s for camping equipment and provisions. We
had set a three-day deadline for our departure and our schedule was
It was still dark when we took our places in the boat, Chubby and Angelo
at the motors in the stern and Sherry and I perched like sparrows on top
of the load.
The dawn was a flaming glory of gold and hot red, promise of another
fiery day, as Chubby took us northwards on a course possible only for a
small boat and a good skipper. We ran close in on island and reef,
sometimes with only eighteen inches of water between our keel and the
fierce coral fangs.
All of us were in a mood of anticipation. I truly do not believe it was
the prospect of vast wealth that excited me then – all I really needed
in my life was another good boat like Wave Dancer – rather it was the
thought of rare and exquisite treasure, and the chance to win it back
from the sea. If what we sought had been merely bullion in bars or coins
I do not think it would have intrigued me half as much. The sea was the
adversary and once more we were pitted against each other.
The blazing colours of the dawn faded into the hard hot blue of the sky
as the sun rose out of the sea, and Sherry North stood up in the bows to
strip off her denim jacket and jeans. Under them she wore her bikini and
now she folded the clothes away into her canvas duffle bag and produced
a tube of sun lotion with which she began to anoint her fine pate body.
Chubby and Angelo reacted with undisguised horror. They held a hurried
and scandalized consulation after which Angelo was sent forward with a
sheet of canvas to rig a sun shelter for Sherry. There followed a heated
exchange between Angelo and Sherry.
“You will damage your skin, Miss. Sherry,” Angelo protested, but she
drove him in defeat back to the stern.
There the two of them sat like mourners at a wake, Chubby’s whole face
creased into a huge brown scowl and Angelo openly wringing his hands in
anxiety. Finally, they could stand it no longer and after another
whispered discussion Angelo was elected as emissary once more and he
crawled forward over the cargo to enlist my support.
“You can’t let her do it, Mister Harry,” Angelo pleaded. “She will go
dark.” “I think that’s the idea, Angelo,” I told him. However, I did
warn Sherry to take care of the sun at noon. Obediently she covered
herself when we ran ashore on a sandy beach to eat our midday meal.
It was the middle of the afternoon when we raised the triple peaks of
the Old Men and Sherry exclaimed, “Just as the old mate described them.”
“We approached the island from the sea side, through the narrow stretch
of calm water between the island and the reef. When we passed the
entrance to the channel through which I had taken Wave Dancer to escape
from the Zinballa crash boat, Chubby and I grinned at each other in fond
recollection, then I turned to Sherry and pointed it out to her.
“I plan to set up our base camp on the island, and we will use the gap
to reach the area of the wreck.”
“It looks a little risky.” She eyed the narrow channel with reserve.
“It will save us a round journey of nearly twenty miles each day – and
it isn’t as bad as it looks. Once I took my big fifty-foot cruiser
through there at full throttle!
“You must be crazy.” She pushed her dark glasses up on top of her head
to look at me.
“By now you should be a good judge of that.” I grinned at her, and she
“I am an expert already,” she boasted. The sun had darkened the freckles
on her nose and cheeks and given her skin a glow. She had one of those
rare skins that do not redden and become angry when exposed to sunlight.
Instead it was the kind that quickly turned a golden honey brown.
It was high tide when we rounded the northern tip of the island into a
protected cove and Chubby ran the whaleboat on to the sand only twenty
yards from the first line of palm trees.
We off-loaded the cargo, carrying it up amongst the palms well above-the
high-water mark and once again covered it with tarpaulins to protect it
from the ubiquitous sea salt.
It was late by the time we had finished. The heat had gone out of the
sun, and the long shadows of the palms barred the earth as we trudged
inland, carrying only our personal gear and a fivegallon container of
fresh water. In the back of the most northerly peak, generations of
visiting fishermen had scratched out a series of shallow caves in the
I selected a large cave to act as our equipment store, and a smaller one
as living quarters for Sherry and me. Chubby and Angelo chose another
for themselves, about a hundred yards along the slope and screened from
us by a patch of scrub.
I left Sherry to sweep out our new quarters with a brush improvised from
a palm frond, and to lay out our sleeping bags on the inflatable
mattress while I took my cast net and went back to the cove.
It was dark when I returned with a string of a dozen big striped mullet.
Angelo had the fire burning and the kettle bubbling. We ate in contented
silence, and afterwards Sherry and I lay together in our cave and
listened to the big fiddler crabs clicking and scratching amongst the
“It’s primeval,” Sherry whispered, “as though we are the first man and
woman in the world.”
“Me Tarzan, you Jane,” I agreed, and she chuckled and drew closer to me.
In the dawn Chubby set off alone in the whaleboat on the long return
journey to St. Mary’s. He would return next day with a full load of
petrol and fresh water in jerry-cans. Sufficient to last us for two
weeks or so.
While we waited for him to return, Angelo and I took on the wearying
task of carrying all the equipment and stores up to the caves. I set up
the compressor, charged the empty air bottles and checked the diving
gear, and Sherry arranged hanging space for our clothes and generally
made our quarters comfortable.
The next day, she and I roamed the island, climbing the peaks and
exploring the valleys and beaches between. I had hoped to find water, a
spring or well overlooked by the other visitors – but naturally there
was none. Those canny old fishermen overlooked nothing.
The south end of the island, farthest from our camp, was impenetrable
with salt marsh between the peak and the sea. We skirted the acres of
evil-smelling mud and thick swamp grass. The air was rank and heavy with
rotted vegetation and dead fish.
Colonies of red and purple crabs had covered the mudflats with their
holes from which they peered stalk-eyed as we passed. In the mangroves,
the herons were breeding, perched long4egged upon their huge shaggy
nests, and once I heard a splash and saw the swirl of something in one
of the swamp pools that could only have been a crocodile. We left the
fever swamps and we climbed to the higher ground, then we picked our way
through the thickets of shrub growth towards the southerrunost peak.
Sherry decided we must climb this one also. I tried to dissuade her for
it was the tallest and steepest. My protests went completely unnoticed,
and even after we had made our way on to a narrow ledge below the
southern cliff of the peak, she pressed on detqminedly.
“If the mate of the Dawn Ught found a way to the top then I’m going up
there too,” she announced.
“You’ll get the same view from there as from the other peaks,” I pointed
“That’s not the point.”
“What is the point, then?” I asked, and she gave me the pitying took
usually reserved for small children and half-wits, refused to dignify
the question with an answer, and continued her cautious sideways shuffle
along the edge.
There was a drop of at least two hundred feet below us, and if there is
one deficiency in my formidable arsenal of talent and courage, it is
that I have no head for heights. However, I would rather have balanced
on one leg atop St. Paul’s Cathedral than admit this to Miss. North, and
so with great reluctance I followed her.
Fortunately it was only a few paces farther that she uttered a cry of
triumph and turned off the ledge into a narrow vertical crack that split
the cliff-face. The fracturing of the rock had formed a stepped and
readily climbable chimney to the summit, into which I followed her with
relief. Almost immediately Sherry cried out again.
“Oh dear God, Harry, look!” and she pointed to a protected area of the
wall, in the back of the dark recess. Somebody long ago had patiently
chipped an inscription into the flat stone surface.
A. BARLOW. WRECKED ON THIS PLACE 14th OCT. 1858.
As we stared at it, I felt her hand grope for mine and squeeze for
comfort. No longer the intrepid mountaineer, her expression was half
fearful as she studied the writing.
“It’s creepy,” she whispered. “It looks as though it was written
yesterday – not all those years ago.”
Indeed, the letters had been protected from weathering so that they
seemed fresh cut and I glanced around almost as though I expected to see
the old seaman watching us.
When at last we climbed the steep chitnney to the summit we were still
subdued by that message from the remote past. We sat there for almost
two hours watching the surf break in long white lines upon Gunfire Reef.
The gap in the reef and the great dark pool of the Break showed very
clearly from our vantage point, while it was just possible to make out
the course of the narrow channel through the coral. From here Andrew
Barlow had watched the Dawn light in her death throes, watched her
broken up by the high surf.
“Time is running against us now, Sherry,” I told her, as the holiday
mood of the last few days evaporated. “It’s fourteen days since Manny
Resnick sailed in the Mandrake. He will not be far from Cape Town by
now. We will know when he reaches there.”
“I have an old friend who lives there. He is a member of the Yacht Club
– and he will watch the traffic and cable me the moment Mandrake docks.”
I looked down the back slope of the peak, and for the first time noticed
the blue haze of smoke spreading through the tops of the palms from
Angelo’s cooking fire.
“I have been a little halfarsed on this trip,” I muttered, we have been
behaving like a group of school kids on a picnic. From now on we will
have to tighten up the security – just across the channel there is my
old friend Suleiman Dada, and Mandrake will be in these waters sooner
than I’d like. We will have to keep a nice low silhouette from now on
“How long will we need, do you think?” Sherry asked.
“I don’t know, my sweeting – but be sure that it will be longer than we
think possible. We are shackled by the need to ferry all our water and
petrol from St. Mary’s – we will only be able to work in the pool during
a few hours of each tide when the condition and the height of the water
will let us. Who knows what we are going to find in there once we start,
and finally we may discover that the Colonel’s parcels were stowed in
the rear hold of the Dawn Light that part of the ship that was carried
out into the open water. If it was, then you can kiss it all goodbye.”
“We’ve been over that part of it before, you dreadful old pessimist,”
Sherry rebuked me. “Think happy thoughts.”
So we thought happy thoughts and did happy things until at last I made
out the tiny dark speck, like a water beetle on the brazen surface of
the sea, as Chubby returned from St. Mary’s in the whaleboat.
We climbed down the peak and hurried back through the palm groves to
meet him. He was just rounding the point and entering the cove as we
came out on the beach. The whaleboat was low in the water under her
heavy cargo of fuel and drinking water. And Chubby stood in the stern as
big and solid and as eternal as a great rock. When we waved and shouted
he inclined his head gravely in acknowledgement.
Mrs. Chubby had sent a banana cake for me and for Sherry a large sunhat
of woven palm fronds. Chubby had obviously reported Sherry’s behaviour,
and his expression was more than normally lugubrious when he saw that
the damage was already being done. Sherry was toasted to an edible
t was after dark by the time we had carried fifty jerrycans up to the
cave. Then we gathered about the fire I where Angelo was cooking an
island chowder of clams – he had gathered from the lagoon that
afternoon. It was time to tell my crew the true reason for our
expedition. Chubby I could trust to say nothing, even under torture but
I had waited to get Angelo into the isolation of the island before
telling him. He has been known to commit the most monstrous
indiscretions – usually in an attempt to impress one of his young
They listened in silence to my explanation, and remained silent after I
had finished. Angelo was waiting for a lead from Chubby – and that
gentleman was not one to charge his fences. He sat scowling into the
fire, and his face looked like one of those copper masks from an Aztec
temple. When he had created the correct atmosphere of theatrical
suspense he reached into his back pocket and produced a purse, so old
and well handled that the leather was almost worn through.
“When I was a boy and fished the pool at Gunfire Break, I took a big old
Daddy grouper fish. When I open his belly pouch I found this in him.”
From the purse he took out a round disc. “I kept it since then, like a
good luck charm, even though I was offered ten pounds for it by an
officer on one of my ships.”
He handed me the disc and I examined it in the firelight. It was a gold
coin, the size of a shilling. The reverse side was covered with oriental
characters which I could not read – but the obverse face bore a crest of
two rampant lions supporting a shield and an armoured head. The same
design as I had last seen on the bronze ship’s bell at Big Gull Island.
The legend below the shield read: “AUS: REGIS & SENAT: ANGLIA’. while
the rim was struck with the bold title’ENGLISH EAST INDIA COMPANY’.
“I always promised me that I would go back to Gunfire Break – looks like
this is the time,” Chubby went on, as I examined the coin minutely.
There was no date on it, but I had no doubt that it was a gold mohur of
the company. I had read of the coin but never seen one before.
“You got this out of a fish’s gut, Chubby?” I asked, and he nodded.
“Guess that old grouper seen it shine and took a snap at it. Must have
stuck in his belly until I pulled him out.”
I handed the coin back to him. “Well then, Chubby, that goes to show
there is some truth in my story.” “Guess it does, Harry,” he admitted,
and I went to the cave to fetch the drawings of the Dawn Light and a gas
lantern. We pored over the drawings. Chubby’s grandfather had sailed as
a topmastman in an East Indianian, which made Chubby something of an
expert. He was of the opinion that all passengers” luggage and other
small pieces would be stowed in the forehold beside the forecastle – I
wasn’t going to argue with him. Never hex yourself, as Chubby had warned
me so often.
When I produced my tide tables and began calculating the time
differences for our latitude, Chubby actually smiled, although it was
hard to recognize it as such. It looked much more like a sneer, for
Chubby had no faith in rows of printed figures in pamphlets. He
preferred to judge the tides by the sea clock in his own head. I have
known him to call the tides accurately for a week ahead without
reference to any other source.
“I reckon we will have a high tide at one-forty tomorrow,” I announced.
“Man, you got it right for once,” Chubby agreed.
Without the enormous loads that had been forced on her recently, the
whaleboat seemed to run Wwith a new lightness and eagerness. The two
Evinrudes put her up on the plane, and she flew at the narrow channel
through the reef like a ferret into a rabbithole.
Angelo stood in the bows, using hand signals to indicate underwater
snags to Chubby in the stern. We had picked good water to come in on,
and Chubby met the dying surf with confidence. The little whaleboat
tossed up her head and kicked her heels over the swells, splattering us
The passage was more exhilarating than dangerous, and Sherry whooped and
laughed with the thrill of it.
Chubby shot us through the narrow neck between the coral cliffs with
feet to spare on either side, for the whaleboat had half of Wave
Dancer’s beam, then we zigzagged through the twisted gut of the channel
beyond and at last burst out into the pool.
“No good trying to anchor,” Chubby growled, “it’s deep here. The reef
goes down sheer. We got twenty fathoms under us here and the bottom is
foul.” “How you going to hold?” I asked.
“Somebody got to sit at the motor and keep her there with power.”
“That’s going to chew fuel, Chubby.”
“Don’t I know it,”he growled.
With a tide only half made, the occasional wave was coming in over the
reef. Not yet with much force, just a frothing spill that cascaded into
the pool, turning the surface to ginger beer with bubbles. However, as
the tide mounted so the surf would come over stronger. Soon it would be
unsafe in the pool and we would have to run for it. We had about two
hours in which to work, depending on the stage of neap and spring tides.
It was a cycle of too little or too much. At low tide there was
insufficient water to negotiate the entrance channel – and at high tide
the surf breaking over the reef might overwhelm the open whaleboat. Each
of our moves had to be finely judged.
Now every minute was precious. Sherry and I were already dressed in our
wet suits with face-plates on our foreheads, and it was necessary only
for Angelo to lift the heavy scuba sets on to our backs and to clinch
the webbing harness.
“Ready, Sherry?” I asked, and she nodded, the ungainly mouthpiece
already stuffed into her pretty mouth.
“Let’s go. We dropped over the side, and sank down together beneath the
cigar-shaped hull of the whaleboat. The surface was a moving sheet of
quicksilver above us, and the spill over the reef charged the upper
layer of water with a rash of champagne bubbles.
I checked with Sherry. She was comfortable, and breathing in the slow
rhythm of the experienced diver that conserves air and ventilates the
body effectively. She grinned at me, her lips distorted by the
mouthpiece and her eyes enormously enlarged by the glass faceplate, and
she gave me the high sign with both thumbs.
I pointed my head straight for the bottom and began pedalling with my
swimming fins, going down fast, reluctant to waste air on a slow
The pool was a dark hole below us. The surrounding walls of coral shut
out much of the light, and gave it an ominous appearance. The water was
cold and gloomy, I felt a prickle of almost superstitious awe. There was
something sinister about this place, as though some evil and malignant
force lurked in the sombre depths.
I crossed my fingers at my sides, and went on down, following the sheer
coral cliff. The coral was riddled with dark caves and ledges that
overhung the lower walls. Coral of a hundred different sorts, outcropped
in weird and lovely shapes, tinted with the complete spectrum of colour.
Weeds and marine growth waved and tossed in the movement of the water,
like the hands of supplicating beggars, or the dark manes of wild
I looked back at Sherry. She was close behind me and she smiled again.
Clearly she felt nothing of my own sense of awe. We went on down.
From secret ledges protruded the long yellow antennae of giant crayfish,
gently they moved, sensing our presence in the disturbed water. Clouds
of multi-coloured coral fish floated along the cliffface; they sparkled
like gemstones in the fading blue light that penetrated into the depths
of the pool.
Sherry tapped my shoulder and we paused to peer into a deep black cave.
Two great owl eyes peered back at us, and as my eyes became accustomed
to the light I made out the gargantuan head of a grouper. It was
speckled like a plover’s egg, splotches of brown and black on a
beige-grey ground and the mouth was a wide slash between thick rubbery
lips. As we watched, the huge fish assumed a defensive attitude. It blew
itself out, increasing its already impressive girth, spread the gill
covers, enlarged the head and finally it opened its mouth in a gape that
could have swallowed a man whole – a cavernous maw, lined with spiked
teeth. Sherry seized my hand. We drew away from the cave, and the fish
closed its mouth and subsided. Any time I wanted to claim a world record
grouper I knew where to come looking. Even allowing for the magniffing
effect of water I judged that he was close to a thousand pounds in
We went on down the coral wall, and all around us was the wondrous
marine world seething with life and beauty, death and danger. Lovely
little damsel fish nestled in the venomous arms of giant sea anemone,
immune to the deadly darts; a moray eel slid like a long black battle
pennant along the coral wall, reached its lair and turned to threaten us
with dreadful ragged teeth and glittering snakelike eyes.
Down we went, pedalling with our fins, and now at last I saw the bottom.
It was a dark jungle of sea growth, dense stands of sea bamboo and
petrified coral trees thrust out of the smothering marine foliage, while
mounds and hillocks of coral were worked and riven into shapes that
teased the imagination and covered I knew not what.
We hung above this impenetrable jungle and I checked my time-elapse
wristwatch and depth gauge. I had one hundred and twenty-eight feet, and
time elapsed was five minutes forty seconds.
I gave Sherry the hand signal to remain where she was and I sank down to
the tops of the marine jungle and gingerly parted the cold slimy
foliage. I worked my way down through it and emerged into a relatively
open area below. It was a twilight area roofed in by the bamboo and
peopled with strange new tribes of fish and marine animals.
I knew at once that it would not be a simple task to search the floor of
the pool. Visibility here was ten feet or less, and the total area we
must cover was two or three acres in extent.
I decided to bring Sherry down with me and for a start we would make a
sweep along the base of the cliff, keeping in line abreast and within
sight of each other.
I a-dated my lungs and used the buoyancy to rise from the bottom, out
through the thick belt of foliage into the clear.
I did not see Sherry at first, and I felt a quick dart of concern stab
me. Then I saw the silver stream of her bubbles rising against the black
wall of coral. She had moved away, ignoring my instruction, and I was
annoyed. I finned towards her and was twenty feet from her when I saw
what she was doing. My annoyance gave way instantly to shock and horror.
The long series of accidents and mishaps that were to haunt us in
Gunfire Break had begun.
Growing out of the coral cliff was a lovely fernlike structure, graceful
sweeps, branching and rebranching, pale pink shading to crimson.
Sherry had broken off a large branch of it. She held it in her bare
hands and even as I raced towards her I saw her legs brush lightly
against the red arms of the dreaded fire coral.
I seized her wrists and dragged her off the cruel and beautiful plant. I
dug my thumbs into her flesh, shaking her hands viciously, forcing her
to drop her fearsome burden. I was frantic in the knowledge that ftorn
their cells in the coral branches tens of thousands of minute polyps
were firing their barbed poison darts into her flesh.
She was staring at me with great stricken eyes, aware that something bad
had happened, but not yet sure what it was. I held her and began the
ascent immediately. Even in my anxiety I was careful to obey the
elementary rules of ascent, never overtaking my own bubbles but rising
steadily with them.
I checked my watch – eight minutes thirty seconds elapsed. That was
three minutes at one hundred and thirty feet. Quickly I calculated my
decompre sion stops, but I was caught between the devil of diver’s bends
and the deep blue sea of Sherry’s coming agony.
It hit her before we were halfway to the surface, her face contorted and
her breathing went into the shallow ragged panting of deep distress
until I feared she. might beat the mechanical efficiency of her demand
valve, jamming it so that it could no longer feed her with air.
She began to writhe in my grip and the palms of her hands blushed
angrily, the livid red weals rose like whiplashes across her thighs –
and I thanked God for the protection her suit had given to her torso.
When I held her at a decompression stop fifteen feet below the surface
she fought me wildly, kicking and twisting in my grip. I cut the stop
fine as I dared, and took her to the surface.
The instant our heads broke clear I spat out my mouthpiece and yelled:
The whaleboat was fifty yards away, but the motor was ticking over
steadily and Chubby spun her on her own tail. The instant she was
pointed at us, he gave the con to Angelo and scrambled up into the bows.
Coming down on us like a great brown colossus.
“It’s fire coral, Chubby,” I shouted. “She’s hit hard. Get her outv
Chubby leaned out and took hold of the webbing harness at the back of
her neck and he lifted her bodily from the water; she dangled from his
big brown fists like a drowning kitten.
I ditched my scuba set in the water for Angelo to recover, shrugging out
of the harness, and when I scrambled over the side, Chubby had laid her
on the floorboards and he was leaning over her, folding her in his arms
to quieten her struggles and still her moans and sobs of agony.
I found my medical kit under a pile of loose equipment in the bows, and
my fingers were clumsy with haste as I heard Sherry’s sobs behind me. I
snapped the head of an ampoule of morphine and filled a disposable
syringe with the clear fluid. Now I was angry as well as concerned.
“You stupid broad,” I snarled at her. “What made you do a crazy,
half-witted thing like that?”
She could not answer me, her lips were shaking and blue, flecked with
spittle. I took a pinch of skin on her thigh and thrust the needle into
it as I expelled the fluid into her flesh. I went on angrily.
“Fire coral – my God, you aren’t an erring conchologist’s backside.
Isn’t a kid on the island that stupid.”
“I didn’t think, Harry,” she panted wildly.
“Didn’t think-” I repeated, her pain was goading me to new excesses of
anger. “I don’t think you’ve got anything in your head to think with,
you stupid little birdbrain.”
I withdrew the needle, and ransacked the medicine box for the
“I should put you over my knee, you-” Chubby looked up at me.
“Harry, you talk to Miss. Sherry just one more word like that and, man –
I’m going to have to break your head, hear?”
With only mild surprise I realized that he meant it. I had seen him
break heads before, and knew it was something to avoid, so I told him,
“Instead of making speeches how about you get us the hell out of here
and back to the island.”
you just treat her gentle, man, otherwise I’m going to roast your arse
so you wish you’d been the one that sat on a bunch of fire coral instead
of her, hear?”
I ignored this mutinous outburst and sprayed the ugly scarlet weals,
coating them with a protective and soothing skin, and then I lifted her
into my arms and held her like that while the morphine smoothed out the
fearful burning agony of the stings and Chubby ran us back to the
When I carried Sherry up to the cave she was already half comatose from
the drug. All that night I stayed by her side, helping her through the
shivering and sweating fever produced by the virulent poison. Once she
moaned and whispered half, in delirium, “I’m sorry, Harry. I didn’t
know. It’s the first time I’ve dived in coral water. I didn’t recognize
Chubby and Angelo did not sleep either. I heard the murmur of their
voices from the fireside and every hour one of them would cough outside
the cave entrance and then inquire anxiously: “How’s she doing, Harry?”
By the morning Sherry had fought off the worst effects of the poisoning,
and the stings had subsided into an ugly rash of blisters. However, it
was another thirty-six hours before any of us could raise the enthusiasm
to tackle the pool again, then the tides were wrong. We had to wait
The precious hours were slipping away. I could imagine the Mandrake
making fair passage, she had looked a fast and powerful vessel and each
day wasted whittled away the lead I had counted upon.
On the third day, we ran out again to the pool. It was mid-afternoon and
we took a chance with the water in the channel, scraping through early
in the flood with inches to spare over the sharp coral snags.
Sherry was still in mild disgrace and, with her hands wrapped in
acriflavine bandages, she was left in the whaleboat to keep Angelo
company. Chubby and I dived together, going down fast and pausing above
the swaying bamboo tops only long enough to drop the first marker buoy.
I had decided it was necessary to search the pool bottom systematically.
I was marking off the whole area into squares, anchoring inflatable
buoys above the marine forest on thin nylon line.
We worked for an hour and found nothing that was obviously wreckage,
although there were masses of coral covered with marine growth that
would bear closer investigation. I marked these on the underwater slate
attached to my thigh.
At the end of that hour, our air reserves in the double
ninety-cubic-foot bottles were uncomfortably low. Chubby used more air
than I did, for he was a much bigger man and his technique lacked
finesse, so I regularly checked his pressure gauge.
I took him up and was especially careful on the decompression periods,
although Chubby showed his usual impatience. He had never seen as I had,
a diver come up too fast so the blood in his veins starts fizzing like
champagne. The resultant agonies can cripple a man and an air bubble
lodged in the brain can do permanent damage.
“Any luck?” Sherry called as soon as we surfaced, and I gave her the
thumbs down as we swam to the whaleboat. We drank a cup of coffee from
the thermos and I smoked an island cheroot while we rested and chatted.
I think we were all mildly disappointed that success had not been
immediate, but I kept their spirits up by anticipating the first find.
Chubby and I changed our demand valves on to freshly charged bottles and
down we went again. This time I would only allow forty-five minutes
working at 130 feet, for the effects of gas absorption into the blood
are cumulative, and repeated deep diving greatly increases the danger.
We worked carefully through the forests of bamboo stems and over the
tumbled coral blocks, exploring the gullies and cracks between them,
pausing every few minutes to map the locations of interesting features,
then going on, back and forth on the legs of a search pattern between my
Time elapse was forty-three minutes, and I glanced across at Chubby.
None of our wet suits would fit him, so he dived naked except for an
ancient black wollen bathing costume. He looked like one of my friendly
dolphins – only not as graceful – as he forced his way through the
thickets. I grinned at the thought and was about to turn away when a
chance ray of light pierced the canopy above us and glinted upon
something white on the floor below Chubby. I finned in quickly, and
examined the white object. At first I thought it was a piece of clam
shell, but then I noticed that it was too thick and regular in shape. I
sank down closer to it and saw that it was embedded in a decaying sheet
of coelentrate coral. I groped for the small jemmy bar on my webbing
belt, drew it from its sheath and prised off the lump of coral
containing the white object. The lump weighed about five pounds and I
slipped it into my netting carrybag. Chubby was watching me and I gave
him the signal for the ascent.
“Anything?” Sherry called immediately we surfaced. Her confinement to
the whaleboat was obviously playing the devil with her nerves. She was
irritable and impatient – but I was not letting her dive until the ugly,
suppurating lesions on her hands and thighs had healed. I knew how
easily secondary infection could attack those open sores under these
conditions, and I was feeding her antibiotics and trying to keep her
“I don’t know,” I answered, as we swam to the boat and I handed the net
bag up to her. She took it eagerly, and while we climbed aboard and
stripped our equipment she was examining it closely, turning it over in
Already the surf was breaking heavily on the reef, boiling into the pool
and the whaleboat was swinging and bobbing in the disturbance. Angelo
was having difficulty holding her on station – and it was time to go. We
had spent as much time underwater as I considered safe for one day, and
soon now the heavy oceanic surf would begin leaping the coral barrier
and sweeping the pool.
“Take us home, Chubby,” I called and he went to the motors. All our
attention was focused on the wild ride back through the channel. With
the flood of the tide the swells came up under our stern, surfihg us,
coming through under our hull so fast that our relative speed was
reversed and the whaleboat’s steering was inverted so we threatened to
broach to and tumble broadside on to the coral walls of the channel.
However, Chubby’s seamanship. never faltered, and at last we shot out
into the protected waters behind the reef and turned for the island.
Now I could give my attention to the object I had recovered from the
pool. With Sherry giving me a great deal of advice that I did not really
need, and cautioning me to exercise care, I placed the lump of dead
coral on the thwart and gave it a smart crack with the jemmy bar. It
split into three pieces and revealed a number of articles that had been
ingested and protected by the living coral polyps.
There were three round grey objects the size of marbles and I picked one
out of the coral bed and weighed it in my hand. It was heavy. I handed
it to Sherry.
“Guesses?” I asked.
“Musket balls,” she said without hesitation.
“Of course,” I agreed. I should have recognized it and I made amends by
identifying the next object.
“A small brass key.”
“Genius!” she said with irony, and I ignored her as I worked delicately
to free the white object which had first caught my attention. It came
away at last and I turned it over to examine the blue design worked on
It was a segment of white glazed porcelain, a chip from the rim of a
plate which had been ornamented by a coat of arms. Half of the design
was missing but I recognized the rampant lion immediately, and the
words, “Senat. ANGLIA’. It was the device of John Company again, part of
a set of ship’s plate.
I passed it to Sherry and suddenly I saw how it must have been. I told
her my vision and she listened quietly, fondling the chip of porcelain.
“When at last the surf broke her back and the coral tore her in half,
she would have gone down by the middle, and all her heavy cargo and gear
would have shifted – tearing out her inner bulkhead. It would all have
poured out of her, cannon and shot, plate and silver, flask and cup,
coin and pistol – it would have littered the floor of the pool, a rich
sowing of man-made articles and the coral has sucked it up and absorbed
“The treasure crates?” Sherry demanded. “Would they have fallen out of
“I don’t know,” I admitted, and Chubby, who had been listening intently,
spat over the side and growled.
“The forehold was always doubleskinned, three-inch oak planks, to hold
the cargo from shifting in a storm. Anything was in there then, is still
in there now.”
“And that opinion would have cost you ten guineas in Harley Street,” I
told Sherry, and winked at her. She laughed and turned to Chubby.
“I don’t know what we would do without you, Chubby dear,” and Chubby
scowled murderously and suddenly found something of engrossing interest
out on the distant horizon.
It was only later, after Sherry and I had taken our swim on one of the
secluded beaches and had changed into fresh clothes and were sitting
around the fire drinking Chivas Regal and eating fresh prawns netted in
the lagoon, that the elation of our first minor finds wore off – and I
began soberly to consider the implications of the Dawn Ijght broken up
and scattered across the marine hothouse of the pool.
If Chubby were wrong and the treasure crates, with their enormous weight
of gold, had smashed through the sides of the hold and fallen free, then
it would be an endless task searching for them. I had seen two hundred
blocks and mounds of coral that day – any one of which could have
concealed a part of the tiger throne of India.
If he were correct and the hold had retained its cargo, then the coral
polyps would have spread over the entire front section of the vessel as
it lay on the bottom, covering the woodwork with layer upon layer of
calcified stone, until it had become an armoured repository for the
treasure, disguised with a growth of marine plants.
We discussed it in detail, all of us beginning to appreciate the
magnitude of the task we had set ourselves, and we agreed that it fell
into two separate parts.
First we had to locate and identify the treasure cases, and then we had
to wrest them from the stubborn embrace of the coral.
“You know what we are going to need, don’t you, Chubby?” I asked, and he
“You still got those two cases?” I felt ashamed to mention the word
gelignite in front of Sherry. It reminded me too vividly of the project
for which Chubby and I had found it necessary to lay in large stocks of
high explosive. That had been three years ago, during a lean season when
I had been desperate for ready cash to keep myself and Wave Dancer
aloft. Not even by stretching the letter of the law could our project
have been considered legal, and I would rather have closed that chapter
and forgotten it – but we needed gelignite now.
Chubby shook his head. “Man, that stuff began sweating like a stevedore
in a heatwave. If you belched within fifty feet of it – it would have
blown the top off the island.”
“What did you do with it? “Angelo and I took it out into the Mozambique
Channel and’gave it a deep six.”
“We will need at least a couple of cases. It will take a full shot to
break up those big chunks down there.”
“I’ll speak to Mister Coker again – he should be able to fix it.”
“Do that, Chubby. Next time you go back to St. Mary’s you tell Fred
Coker to get us three cases.”
“What about the pineapples we saved from Wave Dancerr Chubby asked.
“No good,” I told him, I did not want my obituary to read, “The man who
tried to fuse MK VII hand-grenades in 130 feet of water.”
I was wakened the next morning by the unnatural hush, and the static
charged heat of the air. I lay awake listening, but even the fiddler
crabs were silent and the perpetual rattle of the palm fronds was
stilled. The only sound was the low and gentle breathing of the woman
beside me. I kissed her lightly on the cheek and managed to withdraw my
bad arm from under her head without waking her. Sherry boasted that she
never used a pillow, it was bad for the spine she told me with an air of
rectitude, but this didn’t prevent her from using any convenient portion
of my anatomy as a substitute.
I ambled out of the cave trying to restore the circulation to my limb by
massage, and while I made a libation to my favourite palm tree I studied
It was a sickly dawn, smeared with a dark haze that dimmed the stars.
The heated air lay heavy and languorous against the earth, with no
breeze to stir it, and my skin prickled. in the charged atmosphere.
Chubby was feeding twigs to the fire and blowing life into it, when I
returned. He looked up at me and confirmed my diagnosis.
“Weather going to break.”
“What is coming, Chubby?” and he shrugged. “Glass is down to 28.2, but
we’ll know by noon,” and he went back to huffing and puffing over the
The weather had affected Sherry also. The hair at her temples was damp
with perspiration and she snapped at me peevishly as I changed her
dressings, but minuta later she came up behind me as I dressed, and laid
her cheek against my naked back.
“Sorry, Harry, it’s just so sticky and close this morning,” and she ran
her lips across my back, touching the thick raised cicatrice of the
bullet scar with her tongue.
“Forgive?” she asked.
Chubby and I dived into the pool at eleven oclock that morning.
We had been down thirty-eight minutes without making any further
significant discovery when I heard the tinny clink! clink! clink! –
transmitted through the water. I paused and listened, noticing that
Chubby had stopped also. It came again, thrice repeated.
On the surface, Angelo had immersed half of a threes foot length of iron
rail into the water and was beating out the recall signal upon it with a
hammer from the tool kit.
I gave Chubby the open-handed “wash out” sign and we began the ascent at
As we climbed into the boat I asked impatiently, “What is it, Angelo?”
and in reply he pointed out to seaward over the jagged and irregular
back of the reef. I pulled off my mask and blinked my eyes, refocusing
after the limited horizons of the marine world.
It lay low and black against the sea, a thin dark smear as though some
playful god had drawn a charcoal line across the horizon – but even as I
watched, it seemed to grow spreading wider into the paler blue of the
sky, darker and still darker it rose out of the sea. Chubby whistled
softly and shook his head.
“Here comes Lady C. and, man, she is in a big hurry.”
The speed of that low dark front was uncanny. It lifted up, drawing a
funereal curtain across the sky and as Chubby gunned the motors and ran
for the channel the first racing streamers of cloud spread across the
Sherry came to sit beside me on the thwart and help me strip the
clinging wet rubber suit.
“What is it, Harry?”she asked.
“Lady C,” I told her. “It’s the cyclone, the same one that killed the
Dawn Light. She’s out hunting again,” and Angelo fetched the lifebelts
from the forepeak and handed one to each of us. We tied them on and sat
close together and watched it come on in awesome grandeur, overwhelming
the sun, changing the sky from a high pure blue dome into a low grey
roof of filthy scudding cloud.
We were running hard before her, leaving the channel and flying across
the inner waters to the shelter of the cove. All our faces were turned
to watch it, all our hearts quailed at the sense of our own frailty
before such force and power.
The cloud front passed over our heads as we ran into the bay, and
immediately we were plunged into a twilight world, fraught with the fury
to come. The cloud dragged a skirt of cold damp air beneath it. It
passed over us, and we shivered in the sudden drop in temperature. With
a shriek, the wind was upon us, turning the air into a mixture of sand
and driven spray.
The motors,” Chubby bellowed at me, as the whaleboat touched the beach.
Those two new Evinrudes represented half the savings of a lifetime and I
understood his concern. “We’ll take them with us.”
“And the boat?” Chubby persisted.
“Sink it. There’s a firm bottom of sand for it to lie on.”
As Chubby and I freed the motors, Angelo and Sherry lashed the folds of
the tarpaulin over the open deck to secure the equipment, and then used
the nylon diving lines to tie down the irreplaceable scuba sets and the
waterproof cases that contained my medical kit and tools. Then, while
Chubby and I hefted the two heavy Evinrudes, Angelo allowed the wind to
push the whaleboat out into the bay where he pulled the drainplugs and
she filled immediately with water. The steep wind-maddened sea poured in
over the side, and she went down swiftly in twenty feet of water.
Angelo returned to the beach using a dogged side-stroke with the waves
breaking over his head. By this time, Sherry and I had almost reached
the line of palm trees.
Doubled under my load, I glanced back. Chubby was lumbering after us. He
was similarly burdened by the second motor, doubled also under the dead
weight of metal and wading through the waist-high torrent of blown white
sand. Angelo emerged from the water and followed him.
They were close behind us as we ran into the trees. If I had hoped to
find shelter here, then I was a fool, for we found ourselves transferred
from an exposed position of acute discomfort into one of real and deadly
The great winds of the cyclone had thrashed the palms into a lunatic
frenzy. The sound of it was a deafening clattering roar that was
stunning in its intensity. The long graceful stems of the palms whipped
about wildly, and the wind clawed loose the fronds and sent them flying
off into the haze of sand and spray like huge misshapen birds.
We ran in single file along one of the ill-defined footpaths, Sherry
leading us, covering her head with both hands, while I was for the first
time grateful for the scanty cover given me by the big white motor on my
shoulder for all of us were exposed to the double threat of danger.
The whipping of the tall palms flung from the fiftyfoot-high heads their
cluster of iron-hard nuts. Big as a cannon-ball and almost as dangerous,
these projectiles bombarded us as we ran. One of them struck the motor I
carried, a blow that made me stagger, another fell beside the path and
on the second bounce hit Sherry on the lower leg. Even though most of
its power was spent, still it knocked her down and rolled her in the
sand like a running springbok hit by a high-powered rifle. When, she
regained her feet she was limping heavily – but she ran on through the
lethal hail of coconuts.
We had almost reached the saddle of the hills when the wind increased
the power of its assault. I heard its shrieking overhead on a higher
angrier note, and coming in across the tree-tops roaring like a wild
It hurled a new curtain of sand at us, and as I glanced ahead I saw the
first palm tree begin to go.
I saw it lean out wearily, exhausted by its efforts to resist the wind,
the earth around its base heaved upwards as the root system was torn
from the sandy soil. As it came down so it gathered speed; swinging in a
terrible arc, like the axe of the headsman, it fell towards us. Sherry
was fifteen paces ahead of me, just beginning the ascent of the saddle
and she had her face turned downwards, watching her own feet, her hands
still held to her head.
She was running into the path of the falling tree, and she seemed so
small and fragile beneath that solid hole of descending timber. It would
crush her with a single gargantuan blow.
I screamed at her, but although she was so close she could not hear me.
The roaring of the wind seemed to swamp all our senses. Down swung the
long limber stem of the palm tree, and Sherry ran on INto its path. I
dropped the motor, shrugging it from my shoulder and I ran forward. Even
then I saw I could not reach her in time, and I dived belly down,
reaching out to the full stretch of my right arm and I hit Sherry’s back
foot, slapping it across the other as she swung it forward. The ankle
tap of the football field, and it tripped her. She fell flat on her face
in the sand. As the two of us lay outstretched the palm tree descended.
The fury of its stroke rushed through the air even above the sound of
the wind and it struck with a blow that was transmitted through the
earth into my body, jarring me and rattling the teeth in my skull.
Instantly I was up and dragging Sherry to her feet. The palm tree had
missed her by eighteen inches and she was stunned and terrified. I
hugged her for a few moments, trying to give her comfort and strength.
Then I lifted her over the palm stem that blocked the path, pointed her
at the saddle and gave her a shove.
“Run!” I shouted and she staggered onwards. Angelo helped me lift the
motor on to my shoulder once more. We clambered over the tree and toiled
on up the slope after Sherry’s running figure.
All around us in the palm groves I could hear the thud and crash of
other trees falling and I tried to run with MY face upturned to catch
the next threat before it developed, but another flying coconut hit me a
glancing blow on the temple, dimming my vision for a moment and I
staggered on blindly, taking my chances amongst the monstrous
guillotines of the falling palms.
I reached the crest of the saddle without realizing it, and I was
unprepared for the full unbroken force of the wind in my back. It hurled
me forward, the ground fell away from under my feet as I was thrown over
the saddle, my knees gave way and the motor and I rolled headlong down
the reverse slope. On the way down we caught up with Sherry North,
taking her in the back of the legs. She collapsed on top of me and
joined the motor and me on our hurried descent.
One moment I was on top and the next Miss. North was seated between my
shoulder blades then the motor was on top of both of us.
When we reached the bottom of the steepest pitch and lay together in a
battered and weary heap, we were protected by the saddle from the direct
fury of the wind so it was possible to hear what Sherry was saying. It
was immediately obvious that she bitterly resented what she considered
to be an unprovoked assault, and she was loudly casting doubt on my
parentage, character and breeding. Even in my own desperate straits her
anger was suddenly terribly comical, and I began to laugh. I saw that
she was trying to find sufficient strength to hit me so I decided to
“-Jack and Jill went up the hill They each had a dollar and a quarter-I
croaked at her, “-Jill came down with half a crown They didn’t go up for
She stared at me for a moment as though I had started frothing at the
mouth, then she started to laugh also, but the laughter had a wild
hysterical note to it.
“Oh you swine!” she sobbed with laughter, tears streaming down her
cheeks and her sodden sand-caked hair dangling in thick dark snakes
about her face.
Angelo thought she was weeping when he reached us and he drew her
tenderly to her feet and helped her down the last few hundred yards to
the caves, leaving me to hoist the motor once more to my bruised
shoulder and follow them.
Our cave was well placed to weather the cyclone winds, probably chosen
by the old fishermen with that in mind. I retrieved the canvas fly leaf
from where it was wrapped around the hole of a palm tree and used it to
screen the entrance, piling stones upon the trailing end to hold it down
and we had a dimly lit haven into which we crept like two wounded
I had left my motor with Chubby in his cave. I felt at that moment that
if I never saw it again it would be too soon, but I knew Chubby would
treat it witth all the loving care of a mother for her sickly infant and
that when the cyclone passed on, it would once more be ready for sea.
Once I had rigged the tarpaulin to screen the cave and keep out the
wind, Sherry and I could strip and clean ourselves of the salt and sand.
We used a basinful of the precious fresh water for this purpose, each of
us taking it in turn to stand in the basin and be sponged down by the
I was a mass of scratches and bruises from my long battle with the
motor, and although my medical kit was still in the boat at the bottom
of the bay, I found a large bottle of mercurochrome in my bag. Sherry
began a convincing imitation of Florence Nightingale, with the
antiseptic and a roll of cotton wool she anointed my wounds, murmuring
condolences and sympathetic sounds.
I rather enjoy being fussed over, and I stood there in a semi-hypnotic
state lifting an arm or moving a leg as I was bidden. The first hint
that I received that Miss. North was not treating my crippling injuries
with the true gravity they deserved was when she suddenly emitted a hoot
of glee and daubed my most delicate extremity with a scarlet splash of
“Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer,” she chortled, and I roused myself to
“Hey! That stuff doesn’t wash off.”
“Good!” she cried. “I’ll be able to find you now if you ever get lost in
a crowd.” I was shocked by such unseemly levity. I gathered about me my
dignity and went to find a pair of dry pants.
Sherry reclined on the mattress and watched me scratching in my bag “How
long is this going to last?” she asked.
“Five days,” I told her, as I paused to listen to the unabated roar of
“How do you know?” “It always lasts five days,” I explained, as I
stepped into my shorts and hoisted them.
“That’s going to give us a little time to get to know each other.”
We were caged by the cyclone, locked together in the confined few square
feet of the cave, and it was a strange experience.
Any venture out into the open forced upon us by nature, or to check how
Chubby and Angelo were faring, was fraught with discomfort and danger.
Although the trees were stripped of most of their fruit during the first
twelve hours and the weaker trees fell during that period also yet there
was still the occasional tree that came crashing down, and the loose
trash and fronds flew like arrows on the wind with sufficient force to
blind a person or inflict other injury.
Chubby and Angelo worked away quietly on the motors, stripping them down
and cleaning them of salt water. They had something to keep them busy.
In our cave, once the initial novelty had passed there developed some
crisis of will and decision which I did not properly understand, but
which I sensed was critical.
I had never pretended to understand Sherry North in any depth, there
were too many unanswered questions, too many areas of reserve, barriers
of privacy beyond which I was not allowed to pass. She had not to this
time made any declamdon of her feelings, there was never any discussion
of the future. This was strange, for any other woman I had ever known
expected – demanded – declarations of love and passion. I sensed also
that this indecision was causing her as much distress as it was me. She
was caught up in something against which she struggled, and in the
process her emotions were being badly mauled.
However, with Sherry there was nothing spoken of – for I had accepted
the tacit agreement and we did not discuss any of our feelings for each
other. I found this restricting, for I am a lover with a florid turn of
speech. If I have not yet succeeded in talking a bird down out of a tree
– it is probably because I have never seriously made the attempt. I
could make this adjustment without too much pain, however, it was the
lack of a future that chafed at me.
It seemed that Sherry did not look for our relationship to last longer
than the setting of the sun, yet I knew that she could not feel this
way, for in the moments of warmth that interspersed those of gloom,
there could be no doubts.
Once when I started to speak of my plans for when we had mised the
treasure – how I would have another boat built to my design, a boat that
incorporated all the best features of the beloved Wave Dancer – how I
would build a new dwelling at Turtle Bay that would not deserve the
title of shack – how I would furnish it and people it – she took no part
in the discussion. When I ran out of words, she turned away from me on
the mattress and pretended to sleep although I could feel the tension in
her body without touching her.
At another time I found her watching me with that hostile, hating look.
While an hour later she was in a frenzy of physical passion which was in
She sorted and mended my clothing from the bag, sitting cross-legged on
the mattress and working with neat business-like stitches. When I
thanked her, she became caustic and derisive, and we ended up in a
blazing row until she flung herself out of the cave and ran through the
raging wind to Chubby’s cave. She did not return until after dark, with
Chubby escorting her and holding a lantern to light her way.
Chubby regarded me with an expression that would have melted a lesser
man and frostily refused my invitation to drink whisky, which meant that
he was either very sick or very disapproving, then he disappeared again
into the storm muttering darkly.
By the fourth day my nerves were in a jangling mess, but I had
considered the problem of Sherry’s strange behaviour from every angle
and I reached my conclusions.
Cooped up with me in that tiny cave she was being forced at last to
consider her feelings for me. She was falling in love, probably for the
first time in her life, and her fiercely independent spirit was hating
the experience. I cannot say in truthfulness that I was enjoying it very
much either – or rather I enjoyed the short periods of repentance and
loving between each new tantrum – but I looked forward fervently to the
moment when she accepted the inevitable and succumbed completely.
I was still awaiting that happy moment when I awoke in the dawn of the
fifth day. The island was in a grip of a stillness that was almost
numbing after the uproar of the cyclone. I lay and listened to the
silence without opening my eyes, but when I felt movement beside me I
rolled my head and looked into her face.
“The storm is over,” she said softly, and rose from the bed.
We walked out side by side into the early morning sunlight, blinking
around us at the devastation which the storm had created. The island
looked like the photographs of a World War I battlefield. The palms were
stripped of their foliage, the bare masts pointed pathetically at the
sky and the earth below was littered thickly with palm fronds and
coconuts. The stillness hung over it all, no breath of wind, and the sky
was pale milky blue, still filled with a haze of sand and sea.
From their cave Chubby and Angelo emerged, like big bear and little
bear, at the end of winter. They too stood and looked about them
Suddenly Angelo let out a Comanche whoop and leaped four feet in the
air. After five days of forced confinement his animal spirits could no
longer be suppressed. He took off through the palm trees like a
“Last one in the water is a fascist,” he shouted, and Sherry was the
first to accept the challenge. She was ten paces behind him when they
hit the beach but they dived simultaneously into the lagoon, fully clad,
and began immediately pelting each other with handfuls of wet sand.
Chubby and I followed at a sedate pace more in keeping with our years.
Still wearing his vividly striped pyjamas, Chubby lowered his massive
hams into the sea.
“I got to tell you, man, that feels good,” he admitted gravely. I drew
deeply on my cheroot as I sat beside him waist deep, then I handed him
“We lost five days, Chubby,” I said, and immediately he scowled.
“Let’s get busy,” he growled, sitting in the lagoon in yellow and purple
striped pyjamas, cheroot in his mouth, like a big brown bullfrog.
from the peak we looked down into the shallow waters of the lagoon and
although they were still a Flittle murky with spindrift and churned
sand, yet the whaleboat was clearly visible. She had drifted sideways in
the bay and was lying on the bottom in twenty feet of water with the
yellow tarpaulin still covering her deck.
We raised the whaleboat with air bags and once her gunwales broke the
surface we were able to bale her out and row her into the beach. The
rest of that day was needed to unload the waterlogged cargo, clean and
dry it, pump the air bottles, jet the motors- aboard and prepare for the
next visit to Gunfire Reef.
I was beginning to become, seriously concerned by the delays which had
left us sitting on the island, day after day, while Manny Resnick and
his merry men cut away the lead we had started with.
That evening we discussed it around the campfire, and agreed that we had
made also no progress in ten days other than to confirm that part of the
Dawn Light’s wreckage had fallen into the pool.
However, the tides were set fair for an early start in the morning and
Chubby ran us through the channel with hardly sufficient light to
recognize the coral snags, and when we took up our station in the back
of the reef the sun was only just showing its blazing upper rim above
During the five days we had lain ashore, Sherry’s hands had almost
entirely healed, and although I suggested tactfully that she should
allow Chubby to accompany me for the next few days, my tact and concern
were wasted. Sherry North was suited and finned and Chubby sat in the
stern beside the motors holding us on station.
Sherry and I went down fast, and entered the forest of sea bamboo,
picking up position from the markers that Chubby and I had left on our
We were working in close to the base of the coral cliff and I placed
Sherry on the inside berth where it would be easier to hold position in
the search pattern while she orientated herself.
We had hardly begun the first leg and had swum fifty feet from the last
marker when Sherry tapped urgently on her bottles to attract my
attention and I pushed my way through the bamboo to her.
She was hanging against the side of the coral cliff upside down like a
bat, closely examining a fall of coral and debris that had slid down to
the floor of the pool. She was in deep shade under the loom of dark
coral so I was at her side before I saw what had attracted her.
Propped against the cliff, its bottom end lying in the mound of debris
and weed, was a long cylindrical object which itself was heavily
infested with marine growth and had already been partially ingested by
the living coral.
Yet its size and regular shape indicated that it was man, made – for it
was nine feet long and twenty inches thick, perfectly rounded and
Sherry was studying it with interest and when I came up she turned to
meet me and made signs of incomprehension. I had recognized what it was
immediately and the skin of my forearms and at the nape of my neck felt
prickly with excitement. I made a pistol of my thumb and forefinger and
mimed the act of firing it, but she did not understand and shook her
head so I scribbled quickly on the underwater slate and showed it to
“Cannon.” She nodded vigorously, rolled her eyes and blew bubbles to
register triumph before turning back to the cannon.
It was about the correct size to be one of the long ninepounders that
had formed part of the Dawn Light’s armament but there was no chance
that I should be able to read any inscription upon it, for the surface
was crocodileskinned with growth and corrosion. Unlike the bronze bell
that Jimmy North had recovered, it had not been buried in the sand to
I floated down along the massive barrel examining it closely and almost
immediately found another cannon in the deeper gloom nearer the cliff.
However, three-quarters of this weapon had been incorporated into the
cliff, built into it by the living coral polyps.
I swam in closer, ducking under the first barrel and went into the
jumble of debris and fallen coral blocks. I was within two feet of this
amorphous mass when with a shock which constricted my breathing and
flushed warmly through my blood I recognized what I was looking at.
Quickly and excitedly I finned over the mound of debris, finding where
it ended and. the unbroken coral began, forcing my way up through the
sea bamboo to estimate its size, and pausing to examine any opening or
irregularity in it.
The total mass of debris was the size of a couple of railway Pullman
coaches, but it was only when I pushed aside a larger floating clump of
weed and peered into the squared opening of a gun port, from which the
muzzle of a cannon still protruded and which had not been completely
altered in shape by the encroaching coral, that I was certain that what
we had discovered was the entire forward section of the frigate Daurn
Light, broken off just behind the main mast.
I looked around wildly for Sherry and saw her finned feet protruding
from another portion of the wreckage. I pulled her out, removed her
mouthpiece and kissed her lustily before replacing it. She was laughing
with excitement and when I signalled her that we were ascending, she
shook her head vehemently and shot away from me to continue her
explorations. It was fully fifteen minutes later that I was able to drag
her away and take her up to the whaleboat.
We both began talking at once the moment we had the rubber mouthpieces
out of the way. My voice is louder than hers, but she is more
persistent. It took me some minutes to assert my rights as expedition
leader and I could-begin to describe it to Chubby.
“It’s the Dawn Light sure enough. The weight of her armament and cargo
must have pulled her down the instant she was clear of the reef. She
went down like a stone, and she is lying against the foot of the cliff
Some of her cannons have fallen out of the hull, and they’re lying
jumbled around it-”
“We didn’t recognize it at first,” Sherry chimed in again, just when I
had her quiet&led down. “It’s like a rubbish dump. just an enormous
“From what I could judge she must have broken her back abaft the main
mast, but she’s been smashed up badly for most of her length. The cannon
must have torn up her gundeck and it’s only the two ports nearest the
bows that are intact, -” “How does she lier Chubby demanded, coming
immediately to the pith of the matter.
“She’s bottom up,” I admitted. “She must have rolled as she went down.”
“That makes it a real problem, unless you can get in at a gun port or
under the waist,” Chubby growled.
“I had a good look,” I told him, “but I couldn’t find a point at which
we could penetrate the hull. Even the gunports are solid with growth.”
Chubby shook his head mournfully. “Man, looks like this place is badly
hexed,” and immediately all three of us made the cross-fingered sign
Angelo told him primly, “You talking up a storm. Shouldn’t say that,
hear?” but Chubby shook his head again, and his face collapsed into
I slapped him on his back and asked him, “Is it true that you pass iced
water – even in hot weather? and my attempt at humour made him look as
cheerfal as an unemployed undertaker.
leave Chubby alone,” Sherry came to his rescue. Let’s go down again and
try and find a break in the hull.” “We’ll take half an hour’s rest,” I
said, “a smoke and a mug of coffee – then we’ll go take another look.”
We stayed down so long on the second dive that Chubby had to sound the
triple recall signal – and when we surfaced the pool was boiling. The
cyclone had left a legacy of high surf, and on the rising tide it was
coming in heavily across the reef and pounding in through the gap,
higher in the channel than we had ever known it.
We clung to the thwarts in silence as Chubby took us home on a wild
ride, and it was only when we entered the quieter waters of the lagoon
that we could continue the discussion.
“She’s as tight as the Chatwood lock on the national safe deposit,” I
told them. “The one gun port is blocked by-the cannon, and I got into
the other about four feet before I ran into part of the bulkhead which
must have collapsed. It’s the den of a big old Moray eel that looks like
a python – he’s got teeth on him like a bulldog and he and I aren’t
“What about the waist?” Chubby demanded.
“No,” I said, “she’s settled down heavily, and the coral has closed her
Chubby put on an expression which meant that he had told us so. I could
have beaten him over the head with a spanner, he was so smug – but I
ignored him and showed them the piece of woodwork that I had prised off
the hull with a crowbar.
“The coral has closed everything up solid. It’s like those old forests
that have been petrified into stone. The Dawn light is a ship of stone,
armour-plated with coral. There is only one way we will get into her –
and that is to pop her open.
Chubby nodded, “That’s the way to do it,” and Sherry wanted to know:
“But if you use explosive, won’t it just blow everything to bits?”
“We won’t use an atomic bomb,” I told her. We’ll start with half a stick
in the forward gunport. just enough to kick out a chunk of that coral
plating,” and I turned back to Chubby. “We need that gelignite right
away, every hour is precious now, Chubby. We’ve got a good moon. Can you
take us back to St. Mary’s tonight?” and Chubby did not bother to answer
such a superfluous question. It was an indirect slur on his seamanship.
There was a homed moon, with a pale halo around it. The atmosphere was
still full of dust from the big winds. The stars also were misty and
very far away, but the cyclone had blown great masses of oceanic
plankton into the channel so that the sea was a glowing phosphorescent
mass wherever it was disturbed.
Our wake glowed green and long, spread behind us like a peacock’s tail,
and the movement of fish beneath the surface shone like meteors. Sherry
dipped her hand over the side and brought it out burning with a weird
and liquid flame, and she cooed with wonder.
Later when she was sleepy she lay against my chest under the tarpaulin I
had spread to keep off the damp and we listened to the booming of the
giant manta rays out in the open water as they leaped high and fell to
smack the surface of the sea with their flat bellies and tons of dead
It was long after midnight when we raised the lights of St. -Mary’s like
a diamond necklace around the throat of the island.
The streets were utterly deserted as we left the whaleboat at her
moonngs and walked up to Chubby’s house. Missus Chubby opened to us in a
dressing-gown that made Chubby’s pyjamas look conservative. She had her
hair in large pink plastic curlers. I had never seen her without a hat
before and I was surprised that she was not as bald as her spouse. They
looked so alike in every other way.
She gave us coffee before Sherry and I climbed into the pick-up and
drove to Turtle Bay. The bedclothes were damp and needed airing but
neither of us complained.
I stopped at the Post Office in the early morning and’my box was half
filled, mostly with fishing equipment catalogues and junk mail, but
there were a few letters from old clients inquiring for charter – that
gave me a pang – and one of the buff cable envelopes which I opened
last. Cables have always borne bad news for me. Whenever I see one of
those envelopes with my name peering out of the window like a long-term
prisoner I have this queasy feeling in my stomach.
The message read: “MANDRAKE SAILED CAPETOWN OUTWARD BOUND ZANZIBAR 12.00
HOURS FRIDAY 16TH. STEVE.”
My premonitions of evil were confirmed. Mandrake had left Cape Town six
days ago. She had made a faster passage than I would have believed
possible. I felt like rushing to the top of Coolie Peak to search the
horizon. Instead I passed the cable to Sherry and drove down to
Fred Coker was just opening the street door of his travel agency as I
parked outside Missus Eddy’s store and sent Sherry in with a shopping
list while I walked on down the street to the Agency.
Fred Coker had not seen me since I had dropped him moaning on the floor
of his own morgue, and now he was sitting at his desk in a white
shark-skin suit and wearing a necktie which depicted a Hula girl on a
palm-lined beach and the legend
“Welcome to St. Mary’s! Pearl of the Indian Ocean.”
He looked up with a smile that went well with the tie, but the moment he
recognized me his expression changed to utter dismay. He let out a bleat
like an orphan lamb and shot out of his chair, heading for the back
I blocked his escape and he backed away before me, his gold-rimmed
glasses glittering like the sheen of nervous sweat that covered his face
until the chair caught him in the back of his knees and he collapsed
into it. Only then did I give him my big friendly grin – and I thought
he would faint with relief.
“How are you, Mister Coker?” He tried to answer but his voice failed
him. Instead he nodded his head so rapidly that I understood he was very
“I want you to do me a favour.”
“Anything,” he gabbled, suddenly recovering the power of speech.
“Anything, Mister Harry, you have only to ask.” Despite his
protestations it took him only a few minutes to recover his courage and
wits. He listened to my very reasonable request for three cases of high
explosive, and went into a pantomime to impress me with the utter
impossibility of compliance, He rolled his eyes, sucked in his cheeks
and made clucking noises with his tongue.
“I want it by noon tomorrow – latest,” and he clasped his forehead as if
“And if it’s not here by twelve o’clock precisely, you and I will
continue our discussion on the insurance premiums-” He dropped his hand
and sat upright, his expression once more willing and intelligent.
“That’s not necessary, Mister Harry. I can get what you ask – but it
will cost a great deal of money. Three hundred dollars a case.” “Put it
on the slate,” I told him.
“Mister Harry!” he cried, “you know I cannot extend credit.”
I was silent, but I slitted my eyes, clenched my jaws and began to
“Very well,” he said hurriedly. “Until the end of the month, then.”
“That’s very decent of you, Mister Coker.”
“It’s a pleasure, Mister Harry,” he assured me. “A very great pleasure.”
“There is just one other thing, Mr. Coker,” and I could see him mentally
quail at my next request, but he braced himself like a hero.
“In the near future I expect to be exporting a small consignment to
Zdrich in Switzerland.” He sat a little forward in his seat. “I do not
wish to be bothered with customs formalities – you understand?”
“I understand, Mister Harry.”
“Do you ever have requests to send the body of one of your customers
back to the near and dear?”
“I beg your pardon?” He looked confused.
“If a tourist were to pass away on the island – say of a heart attack –
you would be called on to embalm his corpse for posterity and to ship it
out in a casket. Am I correct?”
“It has happened before,”he agreed. “On three occasions.”
“Good, so you are familiar with the procedure?”
“I am, Mister Harry.”
“Mister Coker, lay in a casket and get yourself a pile of the correct
forms. I’ll be shipping soon.”
“May I ask what you intend to export – in lieu of a cadaver?” He phrased
the question delicately.
“You may well ask, Mister Coker.”
I drove down to the fort and spoke to the President’s secretary.
He was in a meeting, but he would see me at one o’clock if I would care
to lunch with him in his office. I accepted the invitation and, to pass
the hours until then, I drove up the track to Coolie Peak as far as the
pick-up would take me. There I parked it and walked on to the ruins of
the old look-out and signal station. I sat on the parapet looking out
across a vista of sea and green islands while I smoked a cheroot and did
my last bit of careful planning and decision-making, glad of this
opportunity to make certain of my plans before committing myself to
I thought of what I wanted from life, and decided it was three things –
Turtle Bay, Wave Dancer II and Sherry North, not necessarily in that
order of preference.
To stay on at Turtle Bay, I had to keep a clean pair of hands in St.
Mary’s, to have Wave Dancer II I needed cash and plenty of it, and
Sherry North – well, that took plenty of hard thought, and at the end of
it my cheroot had burned to a stub and I ground it out on the stone
parapet. I took a deep breath and squared my shoulders.
“Courage, Harry me lad,” I said and drove down to the fort.
The President was delighted to see me, coming out into the reception
room to welcome me and rising on tiptoe to place an arm around my
shoulders and lead me into his office.
It was a room like a baronial hall with a beamed ceiling, panelled walls
and English landscapes in massive ornate frames and dark smoky-looking
oils. The diamon&paned window rose from the floor to the ceiling and
looked out over the harbour, and the floor was lush with oriental
Luncheon was spread on the oaken conference table below the windows –
smoked fish, cheese and fruit with a bottle of CUteau Lafite “62 from
which the cork had been drawn.
The President poured two crystal glasses of the deep red wine, offered
one to me and then plopped two cubes of ice into his own glass. He
grinned impishly as he saw my startled expression. “Sacrilege, isn’t
it?” He raised the glass of rare wine and ice cubes to me. “But, Harry,
I know what I like. What is suitable on the Rue Royale isra necessarily
suitable on St. Mary’s.”
“Right on, sir!” I grinned back at him and we drank. “Now, my boy, what
did you want to talk to me about?”
I found a message that Sherry had gone to visit Missus Chubby when I
arrived back at the shack, so I went out on to the veranda with a cold
beer. I went over my meeting with President Biddle, reviewing it word
for word, and found myself satisfied. I thought I had covered all the
openings – except the ones I might need to escape through.
hree wooden cases marked “Canned Fish. Produce of Norway” arrived on the
ten o’clock plane from the mainland addressed to Coker’s Travel Agency.
“Eat your liver, Alfred Nobel,” I thought when I saw the legend as Fred
Coker unloaded them from the hearse at Turtle Bay and I placed them in
the rear of the pick-up under the canvas cover.
“Until the end of the month then, Mister Harry,” said Fred Coker, like
the leading man from a Shakespearian tragedy.
“Depend upon it, Mister Coker,” I assured him and he drove away through
Sherry had finished packing away the stores. She looked so different
from yesterday’s siren, with her hair scraped back, dressed in one of my
old shirts, which fitted her like a night-dress, and a pair of faded
jeans with raggedy legs cut off below the knees.
I helped her carry the cases out to the pick-up, and we climbed into the
“Next time we come back here we’ll be rich,” I said, and started the
motor, forgetting to make the sign against the hex.
We ground up through the palm grove, hit the main road below the
pineapple fields and climbed up the ridge. We came out on the crest
above the town and the harbour.
“God damn it!” I shouted angrily, and hit the brakes hard, swinging off
the road on to the verge so violently that the pineapple truck following
us swerved to avoid running into our rear, and the driver hung out of
his window to shout abuse as he passed.
“What is it?” Sherry pulled herself off the dashboard where my manoeuvre
had thrown her. “Are you crazy?”
It was a bright and cloudless day, the air so clear that every detail of
the lovely white and blue ship stood out like a drawing. She lay at the
entrance to Grand Harbour on the moorings usually reserved for visiting
cruise ships, or the regular mail ship.
She was flying a festival burst of signal flags and I could see her crew
in tropical whites lining the rail and staring at the shore. The harbour
tender was running out to her, carrying the harbour master, the customs
inspector and Doctor Macnab.
“Mandrake?” Sherry asked.
“Mandrake and Manny Resnick,” I agreed, and swung the truck into a
U-turn across the road.
“What are you going to do?”she asked.
“One thing I’m not going to do is show myself in St. Mary’s while Manny
and his fly lads are ashore. I’ve met most of them before in
circumstances which are likely to have burned my lovely features clearly
into even their rudimentary brains.”
Down the hill at the first bus stop beyond the turn off to Turtle Bay
was the small General Dealers” Store which supplied me with eggs, milk,
butter and other perishables. The proprietor was delighted to see me and
he flourished my outstanding bill like a winning lottery ticket. I paid
him, and then closed the door of his back office while I used the
Chubby did not have a phone, but his next-door neighbotir called him to
speak to me.
“Chubby,” I told him, “that big white floating brothel at the mail ship
mooring is no friend of ours.”
“What you want me to do, Harry?”
“Move fast. Cover the water cans with stump nets and make like you are
going fishing. Get out to sea and come around to Turtle Bay. We’ll load
from the beach and run for Gunfire Reef as soon as it’s dark.” “I’ll be
in the bay in two hours,”he said and hung up.
He was there in one hour forty-five minutes. One of the reasons I liked
working with him is that you can put money on his promises.
As soon as the sun set and visibility was down to a hundred yards we
slipped out of Turtle Bay, and we were well clear of the island by the
time the moon came up.
Huddled under the tarpaulin, sitting on a case of gelignite, Sherry and
I discussed the arrival of Man&ake in Grand Harbour.
“First thing Manny will do, he will send his lads out with a pocketful
of bread to ask a few questions around the shops and bars. “Anyone seen
Harry Fletcherr” and they’ll be queueing up to tell him all about it.
How Mister Harry chartered Chubby Andrews’stump boat, and how they been
diving looking for seashells. If he gets really lucky somebody will
point him in the direction of Frederick Coker Esquire – and Fred will
fall over himself to tell all, as long as the price is right
“Then what will he do? “He will have an attack of the vapours when he
hears that I didn’t drown in the Severn. When he recovers from that, he
will send a team out to ransack and search the shack at Turtle Bay. He
will draw a dud card there. Then the lovely Miss. Lorna Page will lead
them all to the alleged site of the wreck off Big Gull. That will keep
them happy and busy for two or three days – until they find they have
nothing but the ship’s bell.”
“Well, then Manny is going to get mad. I think Lorna is in line for some
unpleasantness – but after that I don’t, know what will happen. All we
can do is try to keep out of” sight and work like a tribe of beavers to
get the Colonel’s goodies out of the wreck.”
The next day the state of the tides was such that we could not navigate
the channel before the late morning. It gave us time to make
preparations. I opened one of the cases of gelignite and took out ten of
the waxy yellow sticks. I reclosed the case and buried it with the other
two in the sandy soil of the palm gtove, well away from the camp.
Then Chubby and I assembled and checked the blasting equipment.
It was a home-made contraption, but it had proved its efficiency before.
It consisted of two nine-volt transistor batteries in a simple
switchbox. We had four reels of light insulated copper wire, and a
cigar-box of detonators. Each of the lethal silver tubes was carefully
wrapped in cotton wool. There was also a selection of time-delayed
detonators of the pencil type in the box.
Chubby and I isolated ourselves while we worked with them, clamping the
electric detonators to the handmade terminals that I had soldered for
The use of high explosives is simple in theory, and nerve-racking in
practice. Even an idiot can wire it up and hit the button, but in its
refined form it becomes an art.
I have seen a medium-sized tree survive a blast of half a case, losing
only its leaves and some of its bark – but with half a stick I can drop
the same tree neatly across a road to block it effectively, without
removing a single leaf. I consider myself something of an artist, and I
had taught Chubby all I knew. He was a natural, although he could never
be termed an artist – his glee in the proceedings was too frankly
childlike. Chubby just naturally loved to blow things up. He hummed
happily to himself as he worked with the detonators.
We took up position in the pool a few minutes before noon and I went
down alone, armed only with a Nemrod captive air spear gun with a barbed
crucifix head I had designed and made myself. The point was
needle-sharp, and it was multi-barbed for the first six inches.
Twenty-four small sharp barbs, like those used by Batonka tribesmen when
they spear catfish in the Zambezi River. Behind the barbs was the
crucifix, a four-inch cross-piece which would prevent the victim
slipping down the shaft close enough to attack me when I held the
reverse end. The line was five-hundred-pound blue nylon and there was a
twenty-foot loop of it under the barrel of the spear gun.
I finned down on to the overgrown heap of wreckage and I settled myself
comfortably beside the gunport and closed my eyes for a few seconds to
accustom them to the gloom, then I peered cautiously into the dark
square opening, pushing the barrel of the spear gun ahead of me.
The dark slimy coils of the Moray eel slithered and unwound as it sensed
my presence, and it reared threateningly, displaying the fearsome
irregular yellow fangs. In the gloom the eyes were black and bright,
catching the feeble light like those of a cat.
He was a huge old mugger, thick as my calf and longer than the stretch
of both my arms. The waving mane of his dorsal fin was angrily erected
as he threatened me.
I lined him up carefully, waiting for him to rum his head and offer a
better target. It was a scary few moments, I had one shot and if that
was badly placed he would fly at me. I had seen a captive Moray chew
mouthfuls out of the woodwork of a dinghy. Those fangs would tear easily
through rubber suit and flesh, right down to the bone.
He was weaving slowly, like a flaring cobra, watching me, and the range
was extreme for accurate shooting. I waited for the moment, and at last
he went into the second stage of aggression. He blew up his throat and
turned slightly to offer me a profile.
“My God,” I thought, “I once used to do this for fun,” and I took up the
slack in the trigger. The gas hissed viciously and the plunger thudded
to the end of its travel as it threw the spear. It flew in a long blur
with the line whipping out behind it.
I had aimed for the dark earlike marking at the back of the skull, and I
was an inch and a half high and two inches right. The Moray exploded
into a spinning, whipping ball of coils that seemed to fill the whole
gunport. I dropped the gun and with a push of my fins I shot forward and
got a grip of the hilt of the spear. It kicked and thumped in my hands
as the eel wound its thick dark body around the shaft. I drew him out of
his lair, pinned by a thick bite of skin and rubbery muscle to the
His mouth was opened in a silent screech of fury, and he unwound his
body and let it fly and writhe like a pennant in. a high wind.
The tail slapped into my face, dislodging my mask. Water flooded into my
nose and eyes and I had to blow it clear before I could begin the
Now the eel twisted its head back at an impossible angle and closed the
dreadfully gaping jaws on the metal shaft of the spear. I could hear the
fangs grinding and squeaking in the steel, and there mere bright silver
scratches where it had bitten.
I came out through the surface holding aloft my prize. I heard Sherry
squeal with horror at the writhing snake-like monster, and Chubby
grunted, “Come to papa, you beauty,” and he leaned out to grasp the
spear and lift the eel aboard. He was showing his plastic gums in a
happy grin for Moray eel was Chubby’s favourite food. He held the neck
against the gunwale and, with an expert sweep of his bait-knife, lopped
the monstrous head cleanly away, letting it fall into the pool.
“Miss. Sherry,” he said, “you going to love the taste of him.”
“Never!” Sherry shuddered, and drew herself farther away from the
bleeding, wriggling carcass.
“Okay, my children, let’s have the gelly.” Angelo had the underwater
carry-net ready to pass to me, and Sherry slid in over the side prepared
to dive. She had the reel of insulated wire and she paid it out smoothly
as we went down.
Once again I went directly to the now untenanted gunport and crept into
it. The breech of the cannon was jammed solidly against the mass of
I chose two sites to place my shots. I wanted to kick the cannon aside,
using it like a giant lever to tear out a slab of the petrified
planking. The second shot fired simultaneously would blow into the wall
of debris that barred entry to the gun-deck.
I wired the shots firmly into place. Sherry passed the end of the line
in to me and I snipped and bared the copper wire with the side-cutters
before connecting it up to the terminals.
I checked the job once it was finished and then backed out of the port.
Sherry was sitting cross-legged on the hull with the reel on her lap and
I grinned at her around my mouthpiece and gave her the thumbs up before
I retrieved my spear gun from where I had dropped it.
When we climbed over the side of the whaleboat Chubby had the battery
switchbox beside him on the thwart and it was wired up. He was scowling
with anticipation, as he crouched possessively over the blaster. It
would have taken physical force to deprive him of the pleasure of
hitting the button.
“Ready to shoot, skipper,” he growled.
“Shoot her then, Chubby.” He fussed with the box a little longer,
drawing out the pleasure, then he turned the switch. The surface of the
pool bounced and shivered and we felt the bump come up through the
bottom of the boat. Many seconds later there was a surge and frothing of
bubbles, as though somebody had dropped a ton of Alka Seltzer into the
pool. Slowly it cleared.
“. , “I want you to put the trousers of your suit on, my sweeting, I
told Sherry, and predictably she took the order as an invitation to
debate its correctness.
“Why? the water is warm?”
gloves and bootees also,” I said, as I began to pull on my own rubber
full-length pants. “If the hull is open we may penetrate her on this
dive. You’ll need protection against snags.”
Convinced at last, she did what she should have done without question. I
still had a lot of work to do before she was properly trained, I
thought, as I assembled the other equipment I needed for this descent.
: I took the sealed unit underwater torch, the jemmy bar and a coil of
light nylon line and waited while Sherry completed the major task of
wiggling her bottom into the tight rubber pants, assisted faithfully by
Angelo. Once she had them hoisted and had buttoned the crotch’piece, we
were set to go.
When we were halfway down, we came upon the first dead fish floating
belly up in the misty blue depths. There were hundreds of them that the
explosions had killed or maimed, and they ranged in size from
fingerlings to big sodped snapper and reef bass as long as my arm. I
felt a pang of remorse at the massacre I had perpetrated, but consoled
myself with the thought I had killed less than a biuefin tunny would in
a single day’s feeding.
We went down through this killing ground, and the light caught the
eddying and drifting carcasses so they blinked and shone like dying
stars in a smoky azure sky.
The bottom of the pool was murky with particles of sand and other
material stirred up by the shock of the blast. There was a hole torn in
the cover of sea bamboo and we went down into it.
I saw at once that I had achieved my purpose. “The explosion had kicked
the massive cannon out of the hull, tearing it like a rotten tooth from
the black and ancient maw of the gunport. It had fallen to the bed of
the pool surrounded by the debris that it had brought away with it.
The upper lip of the gunport had been knocked out, enlarging the opening
so that a man might stand almost upright in it. When I flashed the torch
into the darkness beyond, I saw that it was a turgid fog of suspended
dirt and particles which would take time to settle. My impatience would
not allow that, however, and as we settled on the hull I checked my time
elapse and air reserves. Quickly I calculated our working time, allowing
for my two previous descents which would necessitate additional
decompression. I reckoned we had seventeen minutes” safe time before
beginning the ascent and I set the swivel ring on my wristwatch before
preparing for the penetration.
I used the jettisoned cannon as a convenient anchor point on which to
fix the end of the nylon line and then rose again to the opening, paying
it out behind me as I went.
I had to remove Sherry North from the gunport, in the few seconds while
I was busy with the line she had almost disappeared into the hole in the
hull. I made angry ssigns at her to keep clear, and in return she made
an unladylike gesture with two fingers which I pretended not to see.
Gingerly I entered the gunport and found that the visibility was down to
about three feet in the murky soup.
The shots had only partially moved the blockage beyond the spot where
the cannon had lain. There seemed to be a gap beyond but it needed to be
enlarged before I could get through. I used the jemmy bar to prise a
lump of the wreckage away and discovered that it was the heavy gun
carriage that was causing most of the blockage.
Working in freshly blasted wreckage is a delicate business, for it is
impossible to know how critically balanced the mass may be. Even the
slightest disturbance can bring the whole weight of it sliding and
crashing down upon the trespasser, pinning and crushing him beneath it.
I worked slowly and deliberately, ignoring the regular thumps on MY rump
with which Sherry signalled her burning impatience. Once when I emerged
with a section of shattered planking, she took my slate and wrote on it
“I am smallerh” and underlined the “smaller” twice in case the double
exclamation mark was not noticed when she thrust the slate two inches
from my nose. I returned her Churchillian salute and went hack to my
I had now cleared the area sufficiently to see that my only remaining
obstacle was the heavy timber bulk of the gun carriage which was hanging
at a drunken angle across the entry to the gundeck. The jemmy bar was
totally ineffective against this mass, and I could abandon the effort
and return with another charge of gelignite tomorrow or I could take a
I glanced at my time elapse and saw that I had been busy for twelve
minutes. I reckoned that I had probably been using air more wastefiilly
than usual during my recent exertions. Nevertheless, I decided to take a
I passed the torch and jemmy bar out to Sherry, and worked my way
carefully back into the opening. I got my shoulder under the upper end
of the gun carriage, and moved my feet around until I had a firm stance.
When I was solidly placed, I took a good breath of air and began to
Slowly I increased the strain until I was thrusting upwards with all the
strength of my legs and back. I felt my face and throat swelling with
pumping blood and my eyes felt ready to jump out of their sockets.
Nothing moved, and I took another lunghil of air and tried again, but
this time throwing all my weight on the timber beam in a single
It gave way, and I felt like Samson who had pulled the temple down on
his own head. I lost my balance and tumbled backwards in a storm of
falling debris that groaned and grated as it fell, thudding and bumping
When silence had settled, I found myself in utter darkness, a thick pea
soup of swirling filth that blotted out the light. I tried to move, and
found my leg pinned. Panic rushed through me in an icy wave and I fought
frantically to free my leg. I took only half-a-dozen terrified kicks
before I realized that I had escaped with great good luck. The gun
carriage had missed my foot by a quarter of an inch, and had fallen
across the rubber swimming fin. I pulled my foot out, of the shoe,
abandoning it, and groped my way out into the open.
Sherry was waiting eagerly for news, and I wiped the slate and wrote
“OPEN underlining the word twice. She pointed into the gunport,
demanding permission to enter and I checked my time elapse. We had two
minutes, SO I nodded and led the way in.
Flashing the beam of the torch ahead I had visibility of eighteen
inches, enough to find the opening I had cleared. There was just
sufficient clearance to allow me through without fouling my air bottles
or breathing hose.
I paid out the nylon line behind me, like Theseus in the labyrinth of
the Minotaur, so as not to lose my direction in the Daurn light’s warren
of decks and companionways.
Sherry followed me along the line. I could feel her hand touch my foot
and brush my leg as she groped after me. Beyond the blockage, the water
cleared a little, and we found ourselves in the low wide chamber of the
gun-deck. It was murky and mysterious, with strange shapes strewn about
us in profusion. I saw other gun carriages, cannonballs strewn loosely
or in heaps against angles and corners, and other equipment so altered
by long immersion as to be unrecognizable.
We moved slowly forward, our fins stirring up fresh whirlpools of dirt
and mud. Here also there were dead fish floating about us, although I
noticed some of the red reef crayfish scrambling away like monstrous
spiders into the depths of the ship. They at least had survived the
blast in their armoured carapaces.
I played the beam of the torch on the deck above our heads, looking for
the entry point to the lower decks and the holds. With the ship lying
upside down, I had to keep trying to relate the existing geography of
the wreck to the drawing I had studied. About fifteen feet from our
entry point I found the forecastle ladder, another dark square opening
above my head, and I rose into it, my bubbles blowing upwards in a
silver shower and running like liquid mercury across the bulkheads and
decking. The ladder was rotted so that it fell to pieces at my touch,
the pieces hanging suspended in the water around my head as I went on
into the lower deck.
This was a narrow and crowded alleyway, probably serving the passenger
cabins and officers” mess. The claustrophobic atmosphere reminded me of
the appalling conditions in which the crew of the frigate must have
I ventured gingerly along this passage, attracted powerfully to the
doorways on either hand which promised all manner of fascinating
discoveries. I resisted their temptation and finned on down the long
deck until it ended abruptly against a heavy timber bulkhead.
This would be the outer wall of the well of the forward hold, where it
pierced the deck and went down into the ship’s belly.
Satisfied with what we had achieved, I turned the beam of the torch on
to my wrist and realized with a guilty thrill that we had overrun our
working time by four minutes. Every second was taking us closer to the
dreaded danger of empty air bottles and uncompleted decompression stops.
I grabbed Sherry’s wrist and gave her the cut-throat hand signal for
danger before tapping my wristwatch. She under, stood immediately, and
followed me meekly on the long slow journey back through the hull along
the guiding line. Already I could feel the stiffening of the demand
valve as it gave me air more reluctantly now that the bottles were
We came out into the open and I made certain that Sherry was by my side
before I looked upwards. What I saw above me made my breathing choke in
my throat, and the horror I felt turned to a warm oily liquid sensation
in my bowels.
The pool of Gunfire Break had been transformed into a bloody arena.
Attracted by the tons of dead fish that had been killed by the blast,
the deep-water killer sharks had arrived in their scores. The scent of
flesh and blood, together with the excited movements of their fellows
transmitted to them through the water, had driven them into that
mindless savagery known as the feeding frenzy.
Quickly I drew Sherry back into the gunport and we cowered there,
looking up at the huge gliding shapes so clearly silhouetted against the
light source of the surface.
Amongst the shoals of smaller sharks there were at least two dozen of
the ugly beasts that the islanders called Albacore shark. They were
barrel-bodied and swing-bellied, big powerful fish with rounded snouts
and wide grinning jaws. They swirled about the pool like some grotesque
carousel, with their tails waggling and their mouths opening
mechanically to gulp down shreds of flesh. I knew them for greedy but
stupid animals, easily discouraged by any aggressive display when not in
feeding frenzy. Now they were in intense excitation they would be
dangerous, yet I would have accepted the risk of a decompression ascent
if it had been for them alone.
What truly appalled me were two other long lithe shapes that sped
silently about the pool, turning with a single powerful flick of the
long swallow tail, so that the pointed nose almost touched the tip of
the tail, then gliding away again with all the power and grace of an
eagle in flight.
When either one of these terrible fish paused to feed, the sickle-moon
mouth opened and the multiple rows of teeth came erect like the quills
of a porcupine and flared outwards.
They were a matched pair, each about twelve feet in length from nose to
tail-tip, with the standing blade of the dorsal fin as long as a man’s
arm; they were slaty blue across the back and with snowy white bellies
and dark tips to tail and fins, they could bite a man in half and
swallow the pieces whole.
One of them saw us crouching in the mouth of the gunport, and it turned
sharply and came down over us, planing a few feet above us as we cowered
back into the gloom so that I could clearly see the long trailing spikes
of the male reproductive organs.
These were the dreaded white death sharks, the most vicious fish of all
the seas, and I knew that to attempt to ascend in the clear and
decompress adequately with limited air and no protection would be
If I were to get Sherry out alive I would have to take risks that in any
other circumstances would be unthinkable.
Quickly I scribbled on the slate: “STAy! I am free ascending for air and
She read the message and immediately shook her head in refusal and made
urgent signs to prevent me, but already I had pulled the pin out of the
quick release buckle of my harness and I took the Last deep,
chest-swelling breath before I thrust my scuba set into her hands. I
dropped my weight belt to give myself buoyancy and slid down the side of
the hull, using the wreck to cover me as I finned swiftly for the cover
of the cliff.
I had left Sherry what remained of my air supplies, perhaps five or six
minutes” breathing if she used it sparingly, and now with only the air
that I held in my lungs I had to run the gauntlet of the pool and try
for the surface.
I reached the cliff and began to go up, close in against the coral,
hoping that my dark suit would blend with the shades. I went up with my
back to the coral, facing out into the open pool where the great
sinister shapes still swirled and milled.
Twenty feet from the bottom and the air in my lungs was expanding
rapidly as the pressure of water decreased. I could not hold it in or it
would rupture the tissue of my lungs. I let it trickle from my lips, a
silver beacon of bubbles that one of the white death sharks noticed
He rolled and turned, dashing across the pool with slashing strokes of
his tail, bearing down upon me. Desperately I glanced up the cliff and
found six feet above me one of the small caves in the rotten coral. I
dived into it just as the shark flashed past me, turned and sped back
for a second pass as I shrank into my shallow shelter. The shark lost
interest and swirled away to pick up the falling-leaf body of a dead
snapper, gulping it down convulsively.
My lungs were throbbing and pumping now for the oxygen had all been
absorbed from the air I held, and the carbon dioxide was building up in
my blood. Soon I would begin to black out into anoxia.
I left the shelter of the cave, but, still following the cliff, I drove
upwards as hard as I could with the single swimming fin, wishing
bitterly for the use of the other still trapped under the gun carriage.
Again I had to release expanding air as I rose, and I knew that in my
veins nitrogen was also decompressing too rapidly and soon it would turn
to gas and bubble like champagne in my blood.
Above “me I saw the silvery moving mirror of the surface and the black
cigar shape of the whaleboats hull suspended upon it. I was coming up
fast and I glanced down again. Far below me I could see the shark pack
still milling and turning. It looked as though I had escaped their
My lungs burned with the craving for air, and the blood pounded in my
temples as I decided that the time had arrived when I must forsake the
shelter of the cliff and cross the open pool to the whaleboat.
I kicked out and shot towards the whaleboat where it lay a hundred feet
from the reef. Halfway across I glanced down and saw one of the white
deaths had seen me and was chasing. It came up from the blue depths with
incredible speed, and terror gave me new strength as I drove for the
surface and the boat.
I was looking down, watching the shark come. It seemed to swell up in
size as it rushed towards me. Every detail was burned into my mind in
those frantic seconds. I saw the hog’s snout with the two slitted
nostrils, the golden eyes with the black pupils like arrowheads, the
broad blue back from which stood the tall executioner’s blade of the
I came out through the surface so fast that I broke clear to my waist,
and I turned in the air and got my good arm over the gunwale of the
boat. With all my strength I swung my body forward and jack-knifed my
legs up under my chin.
In that instant the white death struck, the water exploded about me as
he burst through the surface, I felt the harsh gritty skin tear across
the legs of my suit as he brushed against me, then there was a
shuddering crash as he struck the hull of the whaleboat.
I saw Chubby and Angelo’s startled faces as the boat heeled over and
rocked wildly. My violent contortions had thrown the shark off his run,
and he had missed my legs and collided with the hull.
Now with one more desperate kick and heave I tumbled over the gunwale
and fell into the bottom of the whaleboat. Again the shark crashed into
the hull as I went over, missing me again by inches.
I lay there pumping air into my aching lungs, great sweet gulps of it
that made me light-headed and giddy as on strong wine.
Chubby was yelling at me, “Where is Miss. Sherry? That big Johnny Uptail
get Miss. Sherry?”
I rolled on to my back, panting and sobbing for the precious air.
“Spare lungs,” I gasped. “Sherry waiting in the wreck. She needs air.”
Chubby leaped into the bows and dragged the canvas sheet off the extra
scuba sets stacked there. In a crisis he is the kind of man I like to
have covering for me.
“Angelo,” he growled, “get them Johnny pills.” They were a pack of
copper acetate shark repellent pills which I had ordered from an
American sports goods catalogue and for which Chubby had professed a
deep and abiding scorn. “Let’s see if those fancy things are any bloody
I had breathed enough to drag myself off the floorboards and to tell
Chubby: “We’ve got problems. The pool is full of big Johnnys, and there
are two really mean uptails with them. That one that charged me and
Chubby scowled as he fitted the demand valves to the new sets.
“Did you come straight up, Harry? I nodded. “I left my bottles for
Sherry. She’s waiting down there.”
“You going to bend, Harry?” He looked up at me and I saw the worry in
“Yes,” I nodded, as I dragged myself to my tackle box and lifted the
lid. “I’ve got to get down again fast – got to put pressure on my blood
again before she rises.”
I picked out the bandolier of explosive heads for my hand spear.
There were twelve of them, and I wished for more as I strapped the
bandolier around my thigh. Each head was hand-tapped to screw on to the
shaft of a ten-foot stainless steel spear. It contained explosive charge
equivalent to that of a 12-gauge shotgun shell and I could fire the
charge with a trigger on the handle. It was an effective shark-killer.
Chubby hoisted one of the scuba sets on to my back and clinched the
harness, and Angelo knelt before me to strap the shark repellent tablets
in their perforated plastic containers to my ankles.
“I’ll need another weight belt,” I said, “and I lost a fin. There is a
spare set in, I did not finish the sentence. Blinding burning agony
struck me in the elbow of my bad arm. Agony so fierce that I cried
aloud, and my arm snapped closed like the blade of a clasp knife. It was
an involuntary reaction, the joint doubling as the pressure of bubbles
in the blood pressed on nerve and tendons.
“He’s bending,” snarled Chubby. “Sweet Mary, he’s bending.” He leapt to
the motors and gunned them, taking me in close to the reef. “Work fast,
Angelo,” Chubby shouted, we got to get him down again.”
The pain struck again, a fiery cramping agony in my right leg.
The knee doubled under me and I whimpered like an infant. Angelo
strapped the weight belt around my waist, and thrust the swimming fin on
to my crippled leg.
Chubby cut the motors and we coasted in under the lee of the reef, while
Chubby scrambled back to where I crouched on the thwart. He stooped over
me to thrust the mouthpiece between my lips and open the cocks on the
“Okay?” he asked, and I sucked from the set and nodded. Chubby leaned
over the side and peered down into the pool. “Okay,” he grunted, “Johnny
Uptail gone somewhere else.”
He lifted me like a child, for I had lost the use of arm and leg, and he
lowered me into the water between boat and reef.
Angelo hooked the harness of the extra scuba set for Sherry on to my
belt, then he passed me the ten-foot spear and I prayed that I would not
“You go get Miss. Sherry out of there,” said Chubby, and I rolled over
in a clumsy one-legged duck dive and went down.
Even in the cramping agony of the bends my first concern was to search
for the sinister gliding shapes of the white deaths. I saw one of them,
but he was deep down, amongst the pack of lumbering Albacore sharks.
Cliriging to the shelter of the reef, I kicked and wriggled downwards
like a maimed water beetle. Thirty feet under the surface the pain began
to recede. Renewed pressure of water was reducing the size of the
bubbles in my bloodstream, MY limbs straightened and I had use of them.
I went down faster, and the relief was swift and blessed. I felt new
courage and confidence flooding away my earlier despair. I had air and a
weapon. I had a fighting chance now.
I was ninety feet down, in clear sight of the bottom. I could see
Sherry’s bubbles rising from the smoky blue depths, and the sight
cheered me. She was still breathing, and I had a fully charged extra
scuba set for her. All I had to do was get it to her.
One of the fat ugly Albacore sharks saw me as I slid down the dark cliff
face, and he swerved towards me. Already gorged with food, but endlessly
hungry, he came in at me grinning horribly and paddling his wide tail.
I backed up and hung in the water against the cliff, -facing him.
I had the spear with its explosive head extended towards him, and as I
finned gently to hold myself ready the streamers of bright blue dye from
the shark repellent tablets smoked out in a cloud around me.
The shark came on in, and I lined up to hit him fairly on the snout, but
the instant his head and gills encountered clouds of blue dye he spun
away, flapping his tail in shock and dismay. The copper acetate had
burned his gills and eyes, and he retreated hurriedly.
“Eat your liver, Chubby Andrews,” I thought. “They work!” Down again I
went, almost to the tops of the bamboo finest, seeing Sherry still
crouched in the gunport thirty feet away watching me. She had exhausted
her own air bottles and was using mine – but I could tell by the volume
and scanty rate of flow of bubbles that she had only seconds of
breathing time left to her.
, I started towards her, leaving the cliff – and only her frantic hand
signals alerted me. I turned and saw the white death coming like a long
blue torpedo” He was skimming the tops of the bamboo, and from one
corner of his jaws hung a tattered streamer of flesh. He opened that
wide maw to gulp, down the morsel, and the rows of fangs gleamed
whitely, like the petals of some obscene flower.
I faced him as he charged, but at the same time I fell back kicking my
fins in his direction and laying a thick smoke-screen of blue dye
With hard slashing strokes of his tail, he arrowed in the last few
yards, but then he hit the blue dye and swirled, altering the direction
of his charge as he sheered away.
He passed me so close that his tail struck me a heavy blow on the
shoulder, sending me tumbling end over end. For seconds I lost my
bearings, but as I recovered my balance and looked wildly about me I
found the great shark circling.
He swept around me, forty feet away, and in his full length he seemed to
my heated eye as long as a battleship and as blue and as vast as a
summer sky. It seemed impossible to believe that these fish grew to
almost twice this size. This one was still a baby – I was thankful for
Suddenly the slim steel spear in which I had placed so much faith seemed
futile, and the shark regarded me with a cold yellow eye across which
the pale nictitating membrane flicked occasionally in a sardonic wink,
and once he opened his jaws in a convulsive gulp, as though in
anticipation of the taste of my flesh.
He continued in those wide racing circles, with myself always at the
centre, turning with him and paddling frantically with my fins to match
his smooth unforced speedas I turned, I unhooked the spare lung from my
back and slung it by the harness on my left shoulder like the shield of
a Roman legionary, and I tucked the hilt of the spear under my arm and
kept the head pointed at the circling monster.
My whole body tingled with the warm flush of adrenalin in the
bloodstream, and my senses were enhanced and sharpened by the adrenalin
high – the intensely pleasurable sensation of acute fear to which a man
can become an addict.
Each detail of the deadly fish was etched indelibly on my memory, from
the gentle pulsing of the multiple gill behind the head to the long
trailing ribbons of the remora fish holding by their suckers to the
smooth snowy expanse of his belly. With a fish of this size, it would
only infuriate him further if I went for a hit with the explosive spear
on his snout. My only chance was for a hit on the brain.
I recognized the moment when the shark’s distaste for the blue mist of
repellent was overcome by his hunger and his anger. His tail seemed to
stiffen and it gave a series of rapid strokes, driving his speed up
I braced myself, lifting the spare scuba protectively, and the shark
turned hard and fast, breaking the wide circle and coming in directly at
I saw the jaws open like a pit, lined with the wedgeshaped fangs, and at
the moment of strike I dintst the twin steel bottles of the scuba into
The shark closed its jaws on the decoy and it was torn from my grasp,
while the impact of the attack tossed me aside like a floating leaf.
When I had gathered myself again I looked around ftantically and found
the white death was twenty feet away, moving only slowly but worrying
the steel bottles the way a puppy chews a slipper.
It was shaking its head in the instinctive reaction which tears lumps of
flesh from a victim – but which was now inflicting only deep scratches
on the painted metal of the scuba.
This was my chance, my one and only chance. Kicking hard, I spurted
above the broad blue back, brushing the tall dorsal fin and I sank down
over him, coming in on his blind spot like an attacking fighter pilot
from high astern.
I reached out with the steel spear and pressed the tip of it firmly on
to the curved blue skull, directly between those cold and deadly yellow
eyes – and I squeezed the springloaded trigger on the hilt of the spear.
The shot fired with a crack that beat in upon my eardrums, and the spear
jumped heavily in my grip.
The white death shark reared on its tail like a startled horse, and once
again I was. tossed lightly aside by his careless bulk, but I recovered
to watch him go into a terrible frenzy. The muscles beneath the smooth
skin twitched and rippled at random impulse from the damaged brain, and
the shark spun and dived, rolling wildly on its back, arrowing downwards
to crash snout first into the rocky bottom of the pool, then it stood on
its tail and scooted in aimless parabolas through the pale blue waters.
Still watching it, and keeping a respecthil distance, I unscrewed the
exploded head off the spear and replaced it with a fresh charge.
The white death still had Sherry’s air supply clamped in his jaws.
I could not leave it. I trailed his violent, unpredictable manoeuvres
warily, and when at last he hung stationary for a moment nose down,
suspended on the wide flukes of his tail, I shot in again and once more
pressed the explosive charge to his skull, holding it firmly against the
cartilaginous dome, so that the full shock of the charge would be
transmitted directly to the tiny brain.
I fired the shot, cracking painfully in my own ears, and the shark froze
rigidly. It never moved again but still in that frozen rigour it rolled
over slowly and began to sink towards the floor of the pool. I darted in
and wrested the damaged scuba from his jaws.
I saw immediately the air hoses had been torn and shredded by the
shark’s teeth, but the bottles were only extensively scratched.
Carrying the lung with me I sprinted across the tops of the bamboo
towards the wreck. There were no longer air bubbles rising from the
gunport, and as I came in sight of her I saw that Sherry had discarded
the last empty scuba set. They were empty, and she was dying slowly.
Yet even in the extremes of slow suffocation she had not made the
suicidal attempt to rise to the surface. She was waiting for me, dying
slowly, but trusting me.
As I came down beside her, I pulled out my own mouthpiece and offered it
to. her. Her movements were slow and uncoordinated. The mouthpiece
slipped from her grasp and floated upwards, spewing out a torrent of
air. I grabbed it and forced it into her mouth, holding it there while
lowering myself slightly below her level to induce a readier flow of
She began to breathe. Her chest rose and fell in long deep draughts of
the precious stuff, and almost immediately I saw her regaining strength
and purpose. Satisfied I turned my attention to removing a demand valve
from one of the abandoned lungs from which the air supply was exhausted
and using it to replace the one damaged by the shark.
I breathed off it for half a minute, before strapping it on to Sherry’s
back and retrieving my own mouthpiece.
We had air now, enough to take us through the long period of slow
decompression ahead of us. I knelt facing Sherry in the gunport and she
grinned lopsidedly around the mouthpiece and lifted her thumb in a high
sign and I returned it. You okay, me okay, I thought, and unscrewed the
expended head from the spear and renewed it from the bandolier on my
Then once more I peered from the safety of the gunport out into the open
waters of the pool.
As the supply of dead. fish was depleted so the shark pack seemed to
have dispersed. I saw one or two of the ungainly dark shapes still
searching and sniffing the tainted waters, but their frenzy was reduced.
They moved in a more leisurely fashion, and I felt happier about taking
Sherry out now.
I reached for her hand and was surprised at how small and cold it felt
in mine, but she answered my gesture with a squeeze of her fingers.
I pointed to the surface and she nodded. I led her out of the gunport
and we slid down the hull and under cover of the bamboo crossed quickly
to the shelter of the reef.
Side by side, still holding hands and with our backs to the cliff, we
rose slowly up out of the pool.
The light strengthened and when I looked up I could see the whaleboat
high above. My spirits rose.
At sixty feet I stopped for a minute to begin decompressing. A fat old
Albacore shark swam past us, blotched and piebald like a pig, but he
paid us no attention and I lowered the spear as he drifted away into the
Slowly we rose to the next decompression stop at forty feet, where we
stay6d for two minutes, allowing the nitrogen in our blood to evaporate
out through our lungs gradually. Then up to twenty feet for the next
I peered into Sherry’s face-mask and she rolled her eyes at me, clearly
she was regaining her courage and cheek. It was all going smoothly now.
We were as good as home, and drinking whisky – just another twelve
The whaleboat was so close it seemed that I could touch it with the
spear. I could quite clearly see Chubby’s and Angelo’s brown faces
hanging over the side as they waited anxiously for us to emerge.
I looked away from them, making another careful search of the water
about us. At the extreme range of my vision, where the haze of water
shaded away to solid blue, I saw something move. It was just a suspicion
of a shadow that had come and gone before I had really seen it, but I
felt the returning prickle of fear and apprehension.
I hung in the water, completely alert once more, searching and waiting
while the last few slow minutes dragged by like crippled insects.
The shadow passed again, this time clearly seen, a swift and deadly
movement that left me in no doubt that it was not an Albacore shark. It
was the difference between the shape of the prowling hyena in the
shadows around the campfire and that of the lion when he hunts.
Suddenly, through the misty blue curtains of water, came the second
white death shark. He came swiftly and silently, passing fifty feet
away, seeming to ignore us and going on almost to the range of our
vision and then turning steeply and returning to pass us again, like a
caged animal back and forth along the bars.
Sherry cowered close to me and I disengaged my hand from the death grip
in which she had it. I needed both hands now.
On the next pass the shark broke the pattern of its movements and went
into the great sweeping circles which always precede attack. Around and
around it went, with that pale yellow eye fastened hungrily upon us.
Suddenly my attention was distracted by the slow descent from above of a
dozen of the blue plastic shark repellent containers. Seeing our
predicament Chubby must have emptied the entire. boxful over the side.
One of them passed closely enough for me to snatch it up and hand it to
It smoked blue dye in her hand, and I transferred my attention back to
the shark. It had sheered off a little from the blue dye, but it was
still circling swiftly and grinning loathsomely at us.
I glanced at my watch, three minutes more to be safe, but I could risk
sending Sherry out ahead of me. Unlike myself she had not already had a
nitrogen fizz in her blood, she would probably be safe in another
The shark tightened its circle, boring in relentlessly on us.
Close – so very close that I looked deep into the black spear-headed
pupil of his eye, and read his intention there.
I glanced at the watch. It was cutting it fine – very fine, but I
decided to send Sherry up. I slapped her shoulder and pointed urgently
to the surface. She hesitated, but I slapped her again and repeated my
She began to rise, going up slowly, the right way, but her legs dangled
invitingly. The shark left me and rose slowly in time with her,
She saw it and began to rise faster, smoothly the shark closed in on
her. Now I was under them both, and I finned out fast to one side just
as the shark went into the stiff, tailed attitude which signalled the
instant of his attack.
I was directly under him, as he turned to maul Sherry. I reached up and
pressed the spear-head into the softly obscene throat, and I hit the
I saw the shock kick into the bloated white flesh, and the shark reared
away with a convulsive beat of its tail. It shot upwards and went out
through the surface, leaping out high and clear, and falling back
heavily in a creaming froth of bubbles.
Immediately it began to spin and fly in maddened, crazy circles, as
though beset by a swarm of bees. Repeatedly its jaws opened and snapped
Torn with terrible anxiety, I watched Sherry maintain her mental
discipline and rise leisurely towards the whale, boat. A pair of huge
brown paws were thrust down through the surface to welcome her. As I
watched, she came within reach of them. The brown fingers closed on her
like steel grabhooks and she was plucked with miraculous strength from
I could now employ all my attention on the problem of staying alive
through the next few minutes before I could follow her. -The shark
seemed to recover from the shock of the charge, and it exchanged its
mindless crazy gyrations for the terrible familiar circling.
It began again on the wide circumference, closing in steadily with each
circuit. I glanced at my wristwatch and saw that at last I could begin
to rise through the final stage.
I drifted upwards slowly. The agony of the bends was fresh in my memory
– but the white death shark was pressing closer and closer.
Ten feet below the whaleboat, I paused again and the shark was
suspicious, probably remembering the recent violent explosion in its
throat. It ceased its circling and hung motionless in the pale water on
the wide pointed wings of his pectoral fins. We stared at each other
across a distance of fifteen feet, and I could sense that the great blue
beast was gathering himself for the final rush.
I extended the spear to the full reach of my arm, and gently, so as not
to trigger him, I finned towards him until the explosive charge was an
inch from the nostril slits below the snout.
I hit the trigger and he reared back in shock as the explosive cracked.
He whirled away in a wide angry turn and I dropped the spear and shot
for the surface.
He was angry as a wounded lion, goaded by the hurts he had received, and
he charged for me with his humped back large as a blue mountain and his
wide jaws gaping open. I knew there was no turning him this time,
nothing short of death would stop him.
As I shot for the surface I saw Chubby’s hands waiting for me, the
fingers like a bunch of brown bananas, and I loved him at that moment. I
lifted my right arm above my head, offering it to Chubby and as the
shark flashed across the last few feet that separated us I felt Chubby’s
fingers close on my wrist.
Then the water exploded about me. I felt the enormous drag on my arm and
the powerful disruption of the water as the shark’s bulk tore it apart.
Then I was lying on my back upon the deck of the whaleboat, dragged from
the very jaws of that dreadful animal.
“You got some nice pets, Harry,” said Chubby in a disinterested tone
that I knew was forced, and I looked about quickly for Sherry.
“You okay?” I called, as I saw her wet and pale-faced in the stern. She
nodded; I doubted she could speak.
I jerked out the quick release pin on my harness, freeing myself of the
weight of the scuba.
“Chubby, set up a stick of gelly ready to shoot,” I called, as I rid
myself of mask and fins and peered over the side of the whaleboat.
The shark was still with us, circling the whaleboat in a it” of hurt and
frustration. He came up to-show the full length of his dorsal fin above
the surface. I knew he could easily attack and stove in the planking of
“Oh God, Harry, he’s horrible! Sherry found her voice at last, and I
knew how she felt. I hated that loathsome fish with the full force of my
recent terror – but I had to distract it from direct attack.
“Angelo, give me that Moray and a bait-knife,” I shouted and he handed
me the cold slimy body. I hacked off a tenpound lump of the dead eel and
tossed it into the pool.
The shark swirled and raced for the scrap, gulping it down and scraping
the hull of the whaleboat as it passed so close. We rocked violently at
“Hurry up, Chubby,” I shouted, and fed the shark another lump. It took
it as readily as a hungry dog, dashing past under the hull and again
bumping thie- boat so that it swayed unpleasantly and Sherry squeaked
and grabbed the gunwale.
“Ready,” said Chubby, and I passed him a two-foot section of the eel
with its empty belly cavity hanging open like a pouch.
“Put the stick in there, and tie it up,” I instructed him, and he began
“Hey, Harry,” he chortled, “I like it.”
While I fed the monster with scraps of eel, Chubby trussed up the stick
of gelignite in a neat parcel of eel flesh, with the insulated copper
wire protruding from it. He passed it to me.
“Connect her up,” I instructed, as I coiled a dozen loops of the wire
into my left hand.
“Ready to shoot,” grinned Chubby, and I threw the bundle of meat and
explosive into the path of the circling shark.
It raced for it, and its glistening blue back broke the surface as it
swallowed the offering. Immediately the wire began to stream away over
the side and I paid out more from the reel.
“Let him eat it down,” I said and Chubby nodded happily. “Okay, Chubby,
blow the bastard to hell,” I snarled as the fish came to the surface,
fin up, and swung around us in another circle, with the copper wire
trailing from the corner of the sickle-moon mouth.
Chubby hit the switch, and the shark erupted in a tall burst of pink
spray, like a bursting water melon, as his pale blood mingled with the
paler flesh and purple contents of the belly cavity, sputtirig fifty
feet into the air and splattering the pool and whaleboat. The shattered
carcass wallowed like a bleeding log upon the surface, then rolled over
and began to sink.
“Goodbye, Johnny Uptail,” hooted Angelo, and Chubby grinned like a
“Let’s go home,” I said, for already the oceanic surf was breaking over
the reef, and I thought I was going to throw up.
However, my indisposition responded miraculously to a treatment of
Chivas Regal whisky, even though taken from an enamel mug, and much
later in the cave Sherry said: “I suppose you want me to thank you for
saving my life, and all that crap?”
I grinned at her and opened my arms. “No, my sweeting, just show me how
grateful you are,” which she did, and afterwards there were no ugly
dreams to spoil my sleep for I was exhausted in body and spirit.
think all of us were coming to regard the pool at Gunfire Break with a
superstitious dread. The series of accidents and mishaps to which we had
been subject appeared to be the result of some deliberate malevolent
It seemed as though each time we returned to the pool it had grown more
sinister in its aspect and that an aura of menace was growing about it.
“You know what I think,” Sherry said laughingly, but not completely as a
joke. “I think the spirits of the murdered Mogul princes have followed
the treasure to act as guardians. -” Even in the bright sunshine of a
glorious morning I saw the expressions on the faces of Angelo and
Chubby. “I think the spirits were in those two big Johnny Uptails; that
we killed yesterday.” Chubby looked as though he had breakfasted off a
dozen rotten oysters, he blanched to a waxy golden brown and I saw him
make the sign with his right hand.
“Miss. Sherry,” said Angelo severely, “you must never talk like that.” I
could see gooseflesh on his forearms. Both he and Chubby had an attack
of the ghostlies.
“Yes, cut it out,” I agreed.
“I was joking,” protested Sherry.
“Good joke,” I said, “you really slayed us.” And we were all silent
during the passage of the channel and until we had taken station in the
shelter of the reef.
I was sitting in the bows, and when all three of them looked at me I saw
by the expressions on their faces that I had a crisis of morale on my
I will go down alone” I announced, and there was a small stir of relief.
“I’ll go with you,” Sherry volunteered halfheartedly. “Later,” I agreed,
“but first I want to check for Johnnies, and recover the equipment we
lost yesterday.” I went down cautiously, hanging just under the boat for
five minutes while I scrutinized the depths of the pool for those evil
dark shapes, and then finning down quietly.
It was cold and eerie in the deeper shades, but I saw that the night
tide had scoured the pool and sucked out to sea all the carrion and
blood that had attracted the shark pack the previous day.
There was no sign of the huge white death carcasses, and the only fish I
saw were the multitudinous shoals of brilliant coral dwellers. A glint
of silver from below led me to the spear I had abandoned in my rush for
the boat, and I found the empty scubas and the damaged demand valve
where we had left them in the gunport.
I surfaced with my load, and there were smiles amongst my crew for the
first time that day when I reported the pool clear.
“All right,” I capitalized on the rise of their spirits, “today we are
going to open up the hold.”
“You going in through the hull?” Chubby asked.
“I thought about that, Chubby, but I reckoned that it would need a
couple of heavy charges to get in that way. I’ve decided to go in
through the passenger deck into the well.” I sketched it on my slate for
them as I explained. “The cargo will have shifted, it will be lying in a
jumble just beyond that bulkhead and once we pop her open here, we can
drag it out item by item into the companionway.”
“It’s a long haul from there to the gunport.” Chubby lifted his cap and
massaged his bald dome thoughtfully.
“I’ll rig a light block and tackle at the gun-deck ladder and another at
“A lot of work,” Chubby looked sad.
“The first time you agree with me – I’m going to begin worrying that I
may be wrong.” “I didn’t say you were wrong,” said Chubby stiffly, “I
just said it was a lot of work. You can’t let Miss. Sherry haul on a
block and tackle, can you now? “No,” I agreed. “We need somebody with
beef,” and I prodded his bulging rock-hard gut.
That’s what I thought,” said Chubby mournfully. “You want me to get
“No.” I stopped him. “Sherry can come down with me to set the charges
now.” I wanted her to test her nerves after the previous day’s horrors.
“We will blast the well open and then go home. We aren’t going to work
again immediately after blasting. We are going to let the tide clean the
pool of dead fish before going down. I don’t want an action replay of
We crept in through the gunport and followed the nylon guide line we had
placed on our first visit, along the gundeck, up through the companion
ladder to the passenger deck, and then along the dark forbidding tunnel
to the dead-end bulkhead of the forward well.
While Sherry held the torch for me, I began to drill a hole through the
partition with the brace and bit that I had brought from the surface. It
was awkward working without a really firm stance on which to anchor
myself, but the first inch and a half was easy going. This layer of wood
had rotted to a soft corky consistency, but beyond that I encountered
iron hard oak”planking and I had to abandon my efforts. I would have
been a week at the task.
Unable to place my explosive in prepared shot holes, I would now have to
use a larger charge than I really wanted and rely on the tunnel effect
of the passageway for a secondary shock to drive the panel inwards. I
used six half sticks of gelignite, placed on the corners and in the
centre of the bulkhead, and I secured them to bolts driven into the
woodwork with a slap hammer.
It took almost half an hour to set up the blast, and afterwards it was a
relief to leave the claustrophobic confines of the ancient hull and to
rise up through clean clear water to the silver surface, trailing the
insulated wires behind us.
Chubby fired the shots while we stripped off our equipment. The shock
was cushioned by the hull of the wreck so that it was hardly noticeable
to us on the surface.
We left the pool immediately afterwards and ran home with rising spirits
to the prospect of a lazy day while we waited for the tide to clean the
pool of carrion.
In the afternoon Sherry and I went on a picnic down to the south tip of
the island. For provisions we took a wickercovered two-litre bottle of
Portuguese virws verde, but to supplement this we dug out a batch of big
sand clams which I wrapped in seaweed and reburied in the sand. Over
them I built an open fire of driftwood.
By the time we had almost finished the wine, the sun was setting and the
clams were ready to eat. The wine and the food and the glorious sunset
had a softening effect on Sherry North. She became doe-eyed and melting,
and when the sunset faded at last and made way for a fat yellow lovers”
moon, we walked home barefooted on the wet sand.
The next morning Chubby and I worked for half an hour bringing down the
equipment we needed from the whaleboat and stacking it on the gun-deck
of the wreck before we were able to penetrate deeper into the hull.
The heavy charges I had set against the well had wrought the sort of
havoc I feared. They had torn out the decking and smashed in the
bulkheads of the passenger cabins, blocking the passage for a quarter of
We found a good anchor point for our block and tackle and while Chubby
rigged it, I left him and floated back to the nearest cabin. I played my
torch through the shattered panelling. The interior was, like everything
else, smothered in a thick furring of marine growth but I could make out
the shape of the simple furniture beneath it.
I eased myself through the gap, and moved slowly across the cluttered
deck, fascinated by the objects which I found scattered and heaped about
the cabin. There were items of porcelain and china, a shattered
washbasin and a magnificent chamber pot with a pink floral design
showing through the film of accumulated sediment. There were cosmetic
pots and scent bottles, smaller indefinable metal objects and mounds of
rotted and amorphous material which may have been clothing, curtaining
or mattresses and bedclothing.
I glanced at my watch and saw that it was time to leave and surface for
a change of air bottles. As I turned, a small square object caught my
attention and I played the torch. beam upon it while I gently brushed it
clear of the thick layer of muddy filth. It Was a wooden box, the size
of a Portable transistor radio, but the lid was beautifully inlaid with
mother-of-pearl and tortoiseshell. I picked it up and tucked it under my
arm. Chubby had finished rigging the block and tackle -and he was
waiting for me beside the gunk deck ladder. When we surfaced beside the
whaleboat I passed the box up to Angelo before climbing aboard.
While Sherry poured coffee for us and Angelo changed the demand valves
to the fresh scuba bottles, I lit a cheroot and examined the box.
It was in a sorry state of deterioration, I saw at once. The inlay was
rotten and falling out of its seating, the rosewood was swollen and
distorted and the lock and hinges half eaten away.
Sherry came to sit beside me on the thwart and examined my prize with
me. She recognized it immediately.
“It’s a ladies” jewel box,” she exclaimed. “Open it, Harry.
Let’s see what’s inside.”
I slipped the blade of a screwdriver under the lock and at the first
pressure the hinges snapped and the lid flew off. “Oh, Harry!” Sherry
was first into it, and she came out with a thick gold chain and a heavy
locket of the same material. “This stuff is so in fashion, you’d never
believe it.” Everyone was dipping into the box now. Angelo ripped off a
pair of gold and sapphire earrings which immediately replaced the brass
pair he habitually wore, while Chubby picked an enormous necklace of
garnets which he hung around his neck and preened like a teenage girl.
“For my missus,”he explained.
It was the personal jewellery -of a middle-class wife, probably some
minor official or civil servant – none of it of great value, but in its
context it was a fascinating collection. Inevitably Miss. North acquired
the lion’s share – but I managed to snatch away a thick plain gold
“What do you want with that?” she challenged me, reluctant to yield a
“I’ll find a use for it,” I told her, and gave her one of my looks of
deep significance, which was completely wasted for she had returned to
ransacking the jewel box.
Nevertheless I tucked the ring safely away in the small zip pocket of my
canvas gear bag. Chubby by this stage was bedecked with chunky jewellery
like a Hindu bride.
“My God, Chubby, you’re a dead ringer for Liz Taylor,” I told him and he
accepted the compliment with a graceful inclination of his head.
I had a difficult job getting him interested in a return to the wreck,
but once we were in the passenger deck again, he worked like a giant
amongst the shattered wreckage.
We hauled out the panelling and timber baulks that blocked the passage
by use of the block and tackle and our combined strength, and we dragged
it down to the gundeck and stacked it out of the way in the recesses of
that gloomy gallery.
We had reached the well of the forward hold by the time our air supplies
were almost exhausted. The heavy planking had broken up in the explosion
and beyond the opening we could make out what appeared to be a solid
dark mass of material. I guessed that this was a conglomerate formed by
the cargo out of its own weight and pressure.
However, it was afternoon the following day before I found that I was
correct. We were at last into the hold, but I had not expected such a
Herculean task as awaited us there.
The contents of the hold had been impregnated with sea water for over a
century. Ninety per cent of the containers had rotted and collapsed, and
the perishable contents had coalesced into a friable dark mass.
Within this solid heap of marine compost, the metal objects, the
containers of stronger and impervious material and other imperishable
objects, both large and small, were studded like lucky coins in a
Christmas pudding. We would have to dig for them.
At this point we encountered our next problem. At the slightest
disturbance of this* rotted maw the water was immediately filled with a
swirling storm of dark particles that blotted out the beams of the
torches and plunged us into clouds of blinding darkness.
We were forced to work by sense of touch alone. it was painfully slow
progress. When we encountered some solid body in the softness we had to
drag it clear, manoeuvre it down the passage, lower it to the gun-deck
and there try to identify it. Sometimes we were obliged to break open
what remained of the container, to get at the contents.
If they were of little value or interest, we tucked them away in the
depths of the gundeck to keep our working field clear.
At the end of the first day’s work we had salvaged only one item which
we decided was worth raising. It was a sturdy case of hard wood, covered
with what appeared to be leather and with the corners bound in heavy
brass. It was the size of a large cabin trunk.
It was so heavy that Chubby and I could not lift it between us.
The weight alone gave me high hopes. I believed it could very readily
contain part of the golden throne. Although the container did not look
like one that had been manufactured by an Indian village carpenter and
his sons in the middle of the nineteenth century, yet there was a chance
that the throne had been repacked before it was shipped from Bombay.
If it did contain part of the throne, then our task would be simplified.
We would know what type of container to look for in the future. Using
the block and tackle Chubby and I dragged the case down the gun-deck to
the gunport and there we shrouded’it in a nylon cargo net to prevent it
bursting open or breaking during the ascent. To the eyes spliced into
the circumference of the net we attached the canvas flotation bags and
inflated them from our air bottles.
We went up with the case, controlling its ascent by either spilling air
from the bags, or adding more from our bottles. We came out beside the
whaleboat and Angelo passed us half a dozen nylon slings with which we
secured the case before climbing aboard.
The weight of the case defeated our efforts to lift it over the side,
for the whaleboat heeled dangerously when the three of us made the
attempt. We had to step the mast and use it as a derrick, only then did
our combined efforts suffice and the case swung on board, spouting water
from its seams.
The moment that it sank to the deck Chubby scrambled back to the motors
and ran for the channel. The tide pressed closely on our heels as we
The case was too weighty and our curiosity too strong to allow us to
carry it up to the caves. We opened it on the beach, prising the lid
open with a pair of jennny bars. The elaborate locking device in the lid
was of brass and had withstood the ravages of salt sea water. It
resisted our efforts bravely, but at last with a rending of woodwork the
lid flew back and creaked against the heavily corroded hinges.
My disappointment was immediate, for it was clear that this was no tiger
throne. It was only when Sherry lifted out one of the large gleaming
discs and turned it curiously in her hands that I began to suspect that
we had been awarded an enormous bonus.
It was an entre plate she held, and my first thought was that it was of
solid gold. However, when I snatched a mate from its slot in the
cunningly designed rack and turned it to examine the hallmarks, I
realized that it was silver and gold gilt.
The gold plating had protected it from the sea so that it was perfectly
preserved, a masterpiece of the silversmith’s art with a raised coat of
arms in the centre and the rim wondrously chased with scenes of woods
and deer, of huntsmen and birds.
The plate I held weighed almost two pounds and as I set it aside and
examined the rest of the set I saw the weight of the chest fully
There were servings for thirty-six guests in the set; soup bowls, fish –
plates, entre plates, dessert bowls, side plates and all the cutlery to
go with it. There were serving dishes, a magnificent chafing dish, wine
coolers, dish covers and a carving dish almost the size of a baby’s
Every piece was wrought with the same coat of arms, and the ornamental
scenes of wild animals and huntsmen, and the case had been designed to
hold this array of plate.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” I said, “as your chairman, it behaves me to
assure you, one and all, that our little venture is now in profit.”
“It’s just plates and things,” said Angelo, and I winced theatrically.
“My dear Angelo, this is probably one of the few COMPlete sets of
Georgian banquet silverware remaining “anywhere in the world – it’s
priceless.” “How much?” asked Chubby, doubtfully.
“Good Lord, I don’t know. It would depend of course on the maker and the
original owner. – this coat of arms “:,probably belongs to some noble
house. A wealthy nobleman on service in India, an earl, a duke perhaps,
even a viceroy.” Chubby looked at me as though I was trying to sell him
a spavined horse.
“How much?”he repeated.
“At Messrs Sothebys on a good day,” I hesitated, “I don’t know, say, a
hundred thousand pounds.”
Chubby spat into the sand and shook his head. You couldn’t fool old
“This fellow Sotheby, does he run a loony house?”
“It’s true, Chubby,” Sherry cut in. “this stuff is worth a fortune.
It could be more than that.”
Chubby was now torn between natural scepticism and chivalry. It would be
an un-gentlemanly act to call Sherry a liar. He compromised by lifting
his hat and rubbing his head, spitting once more and saying nothing.
However, he handled the case with new respect when we dragged it up
through the palms to the caves. We stored it behind the stack of
jerrycans, and I went to fetch a new bottle of whisky.
“Even if there is no tiger throne in the wreck, we aren’t going to do
too badly out of this,” I told them.
Chubby sipped at his whisky mug and muttered, “A hundred thousand –
they’ve got to be crazy.”
“We’ve got to go through that hold and the cabins more carefally.
We are going to leave a fortune down there if we don’t.”
“Even the little items, less spectacular than the silver plate, they
have enormous antique value,” Sherry agreed. “Trouble is when you touch
anything down there it stirs up such a fog you can’t see the tip of your
nose,” gloomed Chubby, and I refilled his mug with good cheer.
“Listen, Chubby, you know the centrifugal water pump that Arnie Andrews
has got out at Monkey Bay?” I asked, and Chubby nodded.
“Will he lend it to us?” Arnie was Chubby’s uncle. He owned a small
market garden on the southern side of St. Mary’s island.
“He might,” Chubby answered warily. “Why?”
“I want to try and rig a dredge pump,” I explained and sketched it for
them in the sand between my feet. “We set the pump up in the whaleboat,
and we use a length of steam hose to reach the wreck – like this.” I
roughed it out with my finger. “Then we use it like a vacuum cleaner in
the hold, suck out all that muck and pump it to the surface,”
“Hey, that’s right,” Angelo burst out enthusiastically. “When it spills
out of the pump we run it through a sieve, and we will be able to pick
up all the small stuff.”
“That’s right. Only muck and small light items will go up the spout –
anything large or heavy will be left behind.”
We discussed it for an hour working out details and refinements on the
basic idea. During that time Chubby tried manfully to show no signs of
enthusiasm, but finally he could contain himself no longer.
“It might work,” he muttered, which from him was a high accolade.
“Well, you better go fetch that pump then, hadn’t you?” I asked.
“I think I will have one more drink,” he procrastinated, and I handed
him the bottle.
“Take it with you,” I suggested. “It will save time.” He grunted, and
went to fetch his overcoat.
Sherry and I slept late, gloating on the lazy day ahead and at the
feeling of having the island entirely to ourselves. We did not expect
Chubby and Angelo to return before noon.
After breakfast we crossed the saddle between the hills and went down to
the beach. We were playing in the shallows, and the rumble of the surf
on the outer reef and our own splashing and laughter blanketed any other
sounds. It was only by chance that I looked UP and saw the light
aircraft sweeping in from the landward channel.
“Run!” I shouted at Sherry, and she thought I was joking until I pointed
urgently at the approaching aircraft “Run! Don’t let him see us,” and
this time she responded quickly. We floundered naked from the water, and
went up the beach at top speed.
Now I could hear the buzz of the aircraft engines and I glanced over my
shoulder. it was banking low over the southernmost peak of the island
and levelling over the long straight beach towards us.
“Faster!” I yelled at Sherry, as she ran long-legged and fullbottomed
ahead of me with the wet tresses of her sable hair dangling down her
darkly tanned back.
I looked back and the aircraft was headed directly at us, SItill about a
mile distant, but I could see that it was twinengined. As I watched, it
sank lower towards the snowy expanse of coral sands.
We snatched up our discarded clothing at full run, and sprinted the last
few yards into the palm grove. There was a mound formed by a fallen palm
tree and the fronds torn off the trees by the storm. It was a convenient
shelter and I grabbed sherrys arm and dragged her down.
We rolled under the shelter of the dead fronds and lay side by side,
panting wildly from the run up the beach, I saw now that it was a
twin-engined Cessna. It came down the beach and swept past our hideaway
only twenty feet above the water’s edge.
The fuselage was painted a distinctive daisy yellow and was blazoned
with the name
“Africair’. I recognized the aircraft. I had seen it before at St.
Mary’s Airport on half a dozen occasions, usually discharging or picking
up groups of wealthy tourists. I knew that Afticair was a charter
company based on the mainland, and that its aircraft were for hire on a
mileage tariff. I wondered who was paying for the hire on this trip.
There were two persons in the forward seats of the aircraft, the pilot
and a passenger, and their faces were turned towards us as it roared
past. However, they were too far from us to make out the features and I
could not be sure if I knew either of them. They were both white men,
that was all that was certain.
The Cessna turned steeply out over the lagoon and, one wing pointed
directly down into the crystal water, it swept around and then levelled
for another run down the beach.
This time it passed so closely that for an instant I looked up into the
face of the passenger as he peered down into the palm grove. I thought I
recognized him, but I could not be certain.
The Cessna then turned away, rising slowly, and set a new course for the
mainland. There was something about her going that was complacent, the
air of someone having achieved his purpose, a job well done.
Sherry and I crawled from our hiding-place and stood up to brush the
sand from our damp bodies.
“Do you think they saw us?” she asked timidly.
“With that bottom of yours flashing like a mirror in the sunlight, they
could hardly miss.”
“They might have mistaken us for a couple of native fishermen.”
“Fishermen?” I looked at her, not at her face, and I grinned. With those
great beautiful boobs?”
“Harry Fletcher, you are a disgusting beast,” she said. “But seriously,
Harry, what is going to happen now?”
“I wish I knew, my sweeting, I wish I knew,” I answered, but I was glad
that Chubby had taken the case of silverware back to St. Mary’s with
him. By now it was probably buried behind the shack at Turtle Bay. We
were still in profit even if we had to run for it soon.
The visit by the aircraft instilled in us all a new sense of urgency. We
knew now that our time was strictly rationed. Chubby brought news with
him when he returned that was equally disturbing.
“The Mandrake cruised for five days in the south islands. They saw her
nearly every day from Coolie Peak, and she was messing about like she
didn’t know what she was doing he reported. “Then on Monday she anchored
again in Grand Harbour. Wallys says that the owner and his wife went up
to the hotel for lunch, then afterwards they took a taxi and went down
to Frobisher Street. They spent an hour with Fred Coker in his office,
then he drove them down to Admiralty Wharf and they went back on board
Mandrake. She weighed and sailed almost immediately.”
“Is that all?”
“Yes,” Chubby nodded, “except that Fred Coker went straight up to the
bank afterwards and put fifteen hundred dollars into his savings
“How do you know that?”
“My sister’s third daughter works at the bank.”
I tried to show a cheerful face, although I felt ugly little insects
crawling around in my stomach. “Well,” I said, “no use moping around.
Let’s try and get the pump assembled so we can catch tomorrow’s tide.”
Later, after we had carried the water pump up to the caves, Chubby
returned alone to the whaleboat and when he came back he carried a long
“What have you got there, Chubby?” I demanded, and shyly he opened the
canvas cover. It was my FN carbine and a dozen spare magazines of
ammunition packed into a small haversack.
“Thought it might come in useful,”he muttered.
I took the weapon down into the grove and buried it beside the cases of
gelignite in a shallow grave. Its proximity gave me a little comfort
when I returned to assist in assembling the water pump.
We worked on into the night by the light of the gas lanterns, and it was
after midnight when we carried the pump and its engine down to the
whaleboat and bolted it to a makeshift mounting of heavy timber which we
placed squarely amidship. Angelo and I were still working on the pump
when we ran out towards the reef in the morning. We had been on station
for half an hour before we had it assembled and ready to test.
Three of us dived on the wreck – Chubby, Sherry and myself – and we
manhandled the stiff black snake of the hose through the gunport and up
into the breach through the well of the hold.
Once it was in position, I slapped Chubby on the shoulder and pointed to
the surface. He replied with a high sign and finned away, leaving Sherry
and me in the passenger deck.
We had planned this part of the operation carefully and we waited
impatiently while Chubby went up, decompressing on his way, and climbed
into the whaleboat to prime the pump and start the motor.
We knew he had done so by the faint hum and vibration that was
transmitted to us down the hose.
I braced myself in the ragged entrance to the hold, and grasped the end
of the hose with both hands. Sherry trained the torchbeam on to the dark
heap of cargo, and I swung the open end of the hose slowly over the
I saw immediately that it was going to work, small pieces of debris
vanished miraculously into the hose, and it caused a small whirlpool as
it sucked in water and floating motes of rubbish.
At this depth and with the RPM provided by the petrol engine, the pump
was rated to move thirty thousand gallons of water an hour, which was a
considerable volume. Within seconds I had cleared the working area and
we still had good visibility. I could start probing into the heap with a
jemmy bar, breaking out larger pieces and pushing them back into the
passage behind us.
Once or twice I had to resort to the block and tackle to clear some
bulky case or object, but mostly I was able to advance with only the
hose and the jemmy bar.
We had moved almost fifty cubic foot of cargo before it was time to
ascend for a change of air bottle. We left the end of the hose firmly
anchored in the passenger deck, and went up to a hero’s welcome. Angelo
was *in transports of delight and even Chubby was smiling.
The water around the whaleboat was clouded and filthy with the thick
soup of rubbish we had pumped out of the hold, and Angelo had retrieved
almost a bucketful of small items that had come through the outlet of
the pump and rfallen into the sieve. – it was a collection of buttons,
nails, small ornaments from women’s dresses, brass military insignia,
some small copper and silver coins of the period, and odds and ends of
metal and glass and bone.
Even I was impatient to return to the task, and Sherry was so insistent
that I had to donate my halfsmoked cheroot to Chubby and we went down
We had been working for fifteen minutes when I came upon the corner of
an up-ended crate similar to others that we had already cleared.
Although the wood was soft as cork, the seams had been reinforced with
strips of hoop iron and iron nails so I struggled with it for some time
before I prised out a plank and pushed it back between us. The next
plank came free more readily, and the contents seemed to be a mattress
of decomposed and matted vegetable fibre.
I pulled out a large hunk of this and it almost jammed the opening of
the hose, but eventually disappeared on its way to the surface. I almost
lost interest in this box and was about to begin working in another area
– but Sherry showed strong signs of disapproval, shaking her head,
thumping my shoulder and refusing to direct the beam of the torch
anywhere but at the unappetizing mess of fibre.
Afterwards I asked her why she had insisted and she fluttered her
eyelashes and looked important.
“Female intuition, my dear. You wouldn’t understand.”
At her urging, I once more attacked the opening in the case, but
scratching smaller chunks of the fibre loose so as not to block the hose
I had removed about six inches of this material when I saw the gleam of
metal in the depths of the excavation. I felt the first deep throb of
certainty in my belly then, and I tore out another plank with furious
impatience. It enlarged the opening so I could work in it more easily.
Slowly I removed the layers of compacted fibre which I realized must
have been straw originally used as packing. Like a face materializing in
a dream, it was revealed.
The first tiny gleam opened to a golden glory of intricately worked
metal and I felt Sherry’s grip on my shoulder as she crowded down close
There was a snout, and lips below that were drawn up in a savage snarl,
revealing great golden fangs and an arched tongue. There was a broad
deep forehead as wide as my shoulders, and ears flattened down close
upon the burnished skull – and there was a single empty eye-socket set
fairly in the centre of the wide brow. The lack of an eye gave the
animal a blind and tragic expression, like some maimed god from
I felt an almost religious awe as I stared at the huge, wonderfiilly
fashioned tiger’s head we had exposed. Something cold and frightening
slithered up my spine, and involuntarily I glanced about me into the
dark and forbidding recesses of the hold, almost as if I expected the
spirits of the Mogul prince guardians to be lurking there.
Sherry squeezed my shoulder again and I returned my attention to the
golden idol, but the sense of awe was so strong upon me that I had to
force myself to return to the task of clearing the packing from around
it. I worked very carefully for I was fully aware that the slightest
scratch or damage would greatly reduce the value and the beauty of this
When our working time was exhausted we drew back and stared at the
exposed head and shoulders, and the torch beam was reflected from the
brilliant suece in arrows of golden light that lit the hold like some
holy shrine. We turned then and left it to the silence and the dark,
while we went up into the sunlight.
Chubby was aware immediately that something significant had happened,
but he said nothing until we had climbed aboard and in silence shed our
equipment. I lit a cheroot and drew deeply upon it, not bothering to mop
the droplets of seawater that ran from my sodden hair down my cheeks.
Chubby was watching me but Sherry was withdrawn from us, wrapped in
secret thoughts, turned inward upon herself.
“You found it?” Chubby asked at last, and I nodded.
“Yes, Chubby, it’s there.” I was surprised to hear that my own voice was
husky and unsteady.
Angelo who had not sensed the mood looked up quickly from where he was
stacking our equipment. He opened his mouth to say something, but then
slowly closed it as he became aware of the charged atmosphere.
We were all silent, moved beyond speech. I had not expected it would be
like this, and I looked at Sherry. She met my gaze at last and her dark
eyes were haunted.
“Let’s go home, Harry,” she said and I nodded at Chubby. He buoyed the
hose and dropped it overboard to be retrieved on the following day. Then
he threw the motors into gear and swung our bows to face the channel.
Sherry moved across the whaleboat and came to sit beside me on the
thwart. I placed my arm about her shoulders but neither of us spoke
until the whaleboat slid silently up on to the white beach of the
In the sunset Sherry and I climbed to the peak above the camp and we sat
close together staring out across the reef, and watching the light fade
on the sea and plunge the pool at Gunfire Reef into deeper shadow.
“I feel guilty in a way,” Sherry whispered, “as though I have committed
some dreadful sacrilege.”
“Yes,” I agreed, “I know what you mean.”
“That thing – it seemed to have a life of its own. It was strange that
we should have exposed its head, before any other part of it. just
suddenly to have that face glaring out at one,” she shuddered and was
silent for a few moments, “and yet I felt also a deep satisfaction, a
good quiet feeling inside myself I don’t know if I can explain it
properly – for the two feelings were so opposite, and yet mingled.”
“I understand. I had the same feelings.”
“What are we going to do with it, Harry, what are we going to do with
that fantastic animal?”
Somehow I did not want to talk about money and buyers at that moment –
which in itself was a measure of how profound was my involvement with
the golden idol.
“Let’s go down,” I suggested instead. “Angelo will be waiting dinner for
Sitting in the firelight with a good meal filling and warming the cold
empty place in my belly, and with a mug of whisky in one hand and a
cheroot in the other, I felt at last able to tell the others about it.
I explained how we had come upon it, and I described the fearsome golden
head. They listened in complete and intent silence.
“We have cleared the head down to the shoulder. I think that is where it
ends. It is notched there, probably to fit into the next section.
Tomorrow we should be able to lift it clear, but it’s going to be
ticklish work. We can’t just haul it out with the block and tackle. It
has to be protectea from damage before we can move it.”
Chubby made a suggestion, and for a while we discussed in detail how the
head should be handled to minimize the risk of damage.
“We can expect that all five cases containing the treasure were loaded
together. I hope to find them in the same part of the hold, probably
similarly packed in wooden crates and reinforced with hoop iron-”
“Except for the stones,” Sherry interrupted. “In the courtmartial
evidence, the Subahdar described how they were packed in a paymaster’s
“Yes, of course, I agreed.
“What would that look like?” Sherry asked.
“I saw one on display in the arsenal at Copenhagen which would probably
be very similar. It’s like a small iron safe – the size of a large
biscuit bin.” I sketched the size with the spread of my hands like a
fisherman boasting of his catch. “It is ribbed with iron bands and has a
locking rod and a pair of head padlocks at each corner.”
“It sounds formidable.”
“After a hundred-odd years in the pool it will probably be soft as chalk
– even if it’s still in one piece.”
“We’ll find out tomorrow,” Sherry announced with confidence.
We tramped down to the beach in the morning with rain drumming on our
oilskins and cascadwing from them in sheets. The cloud was right down on
the peaks, oily dark banks that rolled steadily in from the sea to loose
their bomb loads of moisture upon the island.
The force of the rain lifted a fine pearly spray from the surface of the
sea, and the moving grey curtains reduced visibility to a few hundred
yards so that the island disappeared in a grey haze as we ran out to the
Everything in the whaleboat was cold and clammy and running with water.
Angelo had to bale regularly and we huddled miserably in our oilskins
while Chubby stood in the stern and slitted his eyes against the
slanting, driving rain as he negotiated the channel.
The flourescent orange buoy still bobbed close in beside the reef and we
picked it up and dragged in the end of the hose and connected it to the
pump head. It served as an anchor cable and Chubby could cut the motors.
It was a relief to leave the boat, escape from the cold needle lances of
the rain and go down into the quiet blue mists of the pool.
After withstanding considerable pressure from Chubby and me, Angelo had
at last succumbed to veiled threats and open bribes, and relinquished
his ticking mattress stuffed with coconut-fibre. Once the mattress was
thoroughly soaked with seawater, it sank readily, and I took it down
with me in a neat roll, tied with line.
Only when I had manoeuvred it through the gunport, down the gun-deck and
into the passenger deck did I cut the line and spread the mattress.
Then Sherry and I returned to the hold where the tiger’s head still
snarled blindly into the torchlight.
Ten minutes” work was all that was necessary to free the head from its
nest. As I suspected, this section ended at shoulder level, and the
junction area was neatly flanged clearly it would mate with the trunk
section of the throne, and the flange would engage the female slot to
form a joint that would be strong and barely perceivable.
When I rolled the head carefully on to its side I made another
discovery. Somehow I had taken it for granted that the idol was made
from solid gold, but now I saw that in fact it was a hollow casting.
The actual thickness of metal was only about an inch, and the interior
was rough and knobbly to the touch. I realized immediately that a solid
idol would have weighed hundreds of tons, and that the cost of such
construction would have been prohibitive even to an emperor who could
support the construction of a temple as vast as the Taj Mahal.
The thinness of the metal skin had naturally weakened the structure, and
I saw immediately when I turned it that the head had already suffered
The rim of the neck cavity was flattened and distorted, probably during
its secret journey through the Indian forests in an unsprung cart – or
possibly during the wild death struggles of the Dawn Light during the
Bracing myself in the entrance to the hold, I stooped over it to test
its weight, and I cradled the head in my arms like the body of a child.
Gradually I increased the strength of my lift and was pleased, but not
surprised, when it came up in my arms.
It was, of course, tremendously weighty, and it required all of my
strength from a carefully selected stance – but I could lift it. It
weighed not much more than three hundred pounds, I thought, as I turned
awkwardly under the oppressive load of gleaming gold and laid it gently
on the coir mattress that Sherry was holding ready to receive it. Then I
straightened up to rest and massage those parts where the sharp edges of
metal had bitten into my flesh. While I did so I tried a little mental
arithmetic: 300 pounds avoirdupois at 16 ounces to the pound was 4800
ounces, at 150 to the ounce was almost three-quarters of a million
dollars. That was the intrinsic value of the head alone. There were
three other sections to the throne, all were probably heavier and larger
– then there was the value of the stones. It was an astronomic total,
but could be doubled or even trebled if the artistic and historical
value of the hoard were taken into account.
I abandoned my calculations. They were meaningless at this time, and
instead I helped Sherry to fold the mattress around the tiger’s head and
to rope it all into a secure bundle. Then I could use the block and
tackle to drag it down to the companion ladder and lower it to the
Laboriously- we dragged it to the gunport and there we struggled to pass
it through the restricted opening, but at last it was accomplished and
we could place the nylon cargo net around it and inflate the airbags.
Again we had to step the mast to lift it aboard.
But there was no suggestion that the head should remain covered once we
had it safety in the whaleboat, and with what ceremony and aplomb I
could muster in the streaming tropical rain, I unveiled it for Chubby
and Angelo. They were an appreciative audience. Their excitement
superseded even the miserable sodden conditions, and they crowded about
the head to fondle and examine it amid shouted comment and giddy
laughter. It was the festive gaiety which our first discovery of the
treasure had lacked. I had taken the precaution of slipping my silver
travelling flask into my gearbag, and now I laced the steaming mugs of
black coffee with liberal portions of Scotch whisky and we toasted each
other and the golden tiger in the steaming liquor, laughing while the
rain gushed down upon us and rattled on the fabulous treasure at our
At last I swilled out my mug over the side and checked my watch.
“We’ll do another dive,” I decided. “You can start the pump again,
Now we knew where to continue the search, and after I had broken out the
remains of the case that had contained the head, I saw, -in the opening
beyond, the side of a similar crate and I pressed the hose into the area
to clear it of dirt before proceeding.
My excavations must have unbalanced the rotting heap of ancient cargo,
and it needed only the further disturbance caused by suction of the hose
to dislodge a part of it. With a groaning and rumbling it collapsed
around us and instantly the swirling clouds of muck defeated the efforts
of the hose to clear them and we were plunged into darkness once more.
I groped quickly for Sherry through the darkness, and she must have been
searching for me, for our hands met and held. With a squeeze she
reassured me that she had not been hit by the sliding cargo, and I could
begin to clear out the fouled water with the suction hose.
Within five minutes I could make out the yellow glow of Sherry’s torch
through the murk, and then her shape and the vague jumble of freshly
With Sherry beside me, we moved farther into the hold again.
The slide had covered the wooden crate on which I had been working, but
in exchange it had exposed something else that I recognized instantly,
despite its sorry condition, for it was almost exactly as I had
described it to Sherry the previous evening, even down to the detail of
the rod that ran through the locking device and the double padlocks. The
paymaster’s chest was, however, almost eaten through with rust and when
I touched it my hand came away smeared with the chalky red of iron
In each end of the case were heavy iron carrying rings, which had most
likely swivelled at one time but were now solidly rusted into the metal
side – but still they enabled me to get a firm grip and gently to work
the chest out of the clutching bed of muck. It came free in a minor
storm of debris, and I was able to lift it fairly easily. I doubt that
the total weight exceeded a hundred and fifty pounds, and I felt certain
that most of that was made up by the massive iron construction.
After the enormously heavy head in its soft bulky mattress, it was a
minor labour to get the smaller lighter chest out of the wreck, and it
needed only a single airbag to lift it dangling out of the gunport.
Once again the tide and surf were pouring alarmingly into the pool, and
the whaleboat tossed and kicked impatiently as we lifted the chest
inboard and laid it on the canvas-covered heap of scuba bottles in the
Then at last Chubby could start the motors and take us out through the
channel. We were still all high with excitement, and the silver flask
passed from hand to hand.
“What’s it feel like to be rich, Chubby?” I called, and he took a
swallow from the flask, screwing up his eyes and then coughing at the
sting of the liquor before he grinned at me. “Just like before, man. No
“What are you going to do with your share? Sherry insisted. ”
“It’s a little late in the day, Miss. Sherry – if only I had it twenty
years ago, then I have use for it – and how.” He took other swallow.
“That’s the trouble – you never have it en you’re young, and when you’re
old, it’s just too late.”
“What about you, Angelo? Sherry turned to him as he perched on the
rusted pay-chest, with his gipsy curls heavy “with rain dangling on to
his cheeks and the droplets clinging in the long dark eyelashes. “You’re
still young, what will you do?” Miss. Sherry, I’ve been sitting here
thinking about it, and already I’ve got a list from here to St. Mary’s
and back.” It took two trips from the beach to the camp before we had
both the head and the chest out of the rain and into the cave we were
using as the store room.
Chubby lit two gas lanterns, for the lowering sky had brought on the
evening prematurely, and. we gathered around the chest, while the golden
head snarled down upon us from a place of honour, an earthen ledge hewn
into the aback of the cave.
With a* hacksaw and jemmy bar, Chubby and I began work on the locking
device and found immediately that the decrepit appearance of the metal
was deceptive, clearly it had been hardened and alloyed. We broke three
hacksaw blades in the first half hour and Sherry professed to be
severely shocked by my language. I sent her to fetch a bottle of Chivas
Regal from our cave to keep the workers in good cheer and Chubby and I
took the Scottish equivalent of a tea break.
With renewed vigour we resumed our assault on the case, but it was
another twenty minutes before he had sawn through the rod. By that time
it was dark outside the cave. The rain was still hissing down steadily,
but the soft clatter of the palm fronds heralded the rising westerly
wind that would disperse the storm. clouds by morning.
With the locking rod sawn through, we started it from its ringbolts with
a two-pound hammer from the tool-box. Each blow loosened a soft patter
of rust scales from the surface of the metal, and it required a number
of goodly blows to drive the rod from the clutching fist of corrosion.
Even when it was cleared, the lid would not lift. Although we hammered
it from a dozen different directions and I treated it with a further
laying on of abuse, it would not yield.
I called another whisky break to discuss the problem. “What about a
stick of gelly?” Chubby suggested with a gleam in his eye, but
reluctantly I had to restrain him.
“We need a welding torch,” Angelo announced. “Brilliant,” I applauded
him ironically, for I was fast losing my patience. “The nearest welding
set is fifty miles away – and you make a remark like that.”
It was Sherry who discovered the secondary locking device, a secret
pinning through the lid that hooked into recesses in the body of the
chest. It obviously needed a key to release this, but for lack of it I
selected a half-inch punch and drove it into the keyhole and by luck I
caught the locking arm and snapped it.
Chubby started on the lid again, and this time it came up stiffly on
corroded hinges with some of the rotting evilsmelling contents sticking
to the inside of it and tearing away from the main body of aged brown
cloth. It was woven cotton fabric, a wet solid brick of it, and I
guessed that it had been cheap native robes or bolts of cloth used as
I was about to explore further, but suddenly found myself in the second
row looking over Sherry North’s shoulder. “You’d better let me do this,”
she said. “You might break something. “Come on!” I protested.
“Why don’t you get yourself another drink?” she suggested placatingly,
as she began lifting off layers of sodden fabric. The suggestion had
some merit, I thought, so I refilled my mug and watched Sherry expose a
layer of clo&wrapped parcels.
Each was tied with twine that fell apart at the touch, and the first
parcel also disintegrated as she tried to lift it out. Sherry cupped her
hand around the decaying mass and scooped it on to a folded tarpaulin
placed beside the chest. The parcel contained scores of small nutty
objects, varying in size from slightly larger than a matchhead to a ripe
grape and each had been folded in a wisp of paper, which, like the
cotton, had completely rotted away.
Sherry picked out one of these lumpy objects and rubbed away the
remnants of paper between thumb and forefinger to reveal a large shiny
blue stone, cut square and polished on one face.
“Sapphire?” she guessed, and I took it from her and examined it quickly
in the lantern light. It was opaque and I contradicted her.
No, I think it’s probably lapis lazuli.” The scrap of paper still
adhering to it was faintly discoloured with a blue dye. “Ink, I should
say.” I crumpled. it between my fingers. “At least Roger, the Colonel,
took the trouble to identify each stone. He probably wrapped each piece
in a numbered slip of paper which related to a master sketch of the
throne to enable it to be reassembled.”
“There is no hope of that now,” said Sherry.
“I don’t know I said. “it would be a hell of a job, but it would still
be possible to put it all together again.”
Amongst our stores was a roll of plastic packets, and I sent Angelo to
ferret it out. As we opened each parcel of rotted fabric we
superficially cleaned the stones it contained and packed each lot in a
separate plastic packet.
It was slow work even though we all contributed and after almost two
hours of it we had filled dozens of packets with thousands of
semi-precious stones – lapis lazuli, beryl, tigees eye, garnets,
verdite, amethyst, and half a dozen others of whose identity I was
uncertain. Each stone had clearly been lovingly cut and exactingly
polished to fit into its own niche in the golden throne.
It was only when we had unpacked the chest to its last layer that we
came upon the stones of greater value. The old Colonel had obviously
selected these first and they had gone into the lowest layer of the
I held a transparent plastic packet of emeralds to the lantern light,
and they burned like a bursting green star.
We all stared at it as if mesmerized while I turned it slowly to catch
the fierce white light.
I laid it aside and Sherry dipped once more into the chest and after a
moment’s hesitation brought out a smaller parcel. She rubbed away the
damp crumbling material, that was wound thick about the single stone it
Then she held up the Great Mogul diamond in the cupped palm of her hand.
It was the size of a pullet’s egg, cut into a faceted cushion shape,
just as Jean Baptiste Tavernier had described it so many hundred years
The glittering array of treasure we had handled before in no way dimmed
the glory of this stone, as all the stars of the firmament cannot dull
the rising of the sun. They paled and faded away before the brilliance
and lustre of the great diamond.
Sherry slowly extended her cupped hand towards Angelo, offering it to
him to hold and examine, but he snatched his hands away and clasped them
behind his back, still staring at the stone in superstitious awe.
Sherry turned and offered it to Chubby, but with gravity he declined
“Give it to Mister Harry. Guess he deserves to be the one.”
I took it from her, and was surprised that such unearthly fire could be
so cold to touch. I stood up and I carried it to where the golden
tiger’s head stood snarling angrily in the unwavering light of the
lanterns and I pressed the diamond into the empty eye socket.
It fitted perfectly, and I used my bait-knife to close the golden clasps
that held it firmly in place, and which the old Colonel had probably
opened with a bayonet a century and a quarter ago.
I stood back then, and I heard the small gasps of wonder. With the eye
returned to its socket the golden beast had come to life. It seemed now
to survey us with an imperial mien, and at any instant we expected the
cave to resound to its crackling wicked snarl of anger.
I went back and took my place in the squatting circle around the rusted
chest, and we all stared up at the golden tiger head. We seemed like
worshippers in some ancient heathen tire, crouched in awe before the
“Chubby, my old well beloved and trusted buddy, you will earn yourself
an entry on the title page of the book of mercy if you pass me that
bottle,” I said, and that broke the spell. They all recovered their
voices competing fiercely for a turn to speak – and it wasn’t long
before I had to send Sherry to fetch another bottle to lubricate dry
We all got more than a little drunk that night, even Sherry North, and
she leaned against me for support as we finally made a riotous way
through the rain to our own cave.
“You really are corrupting me, Fletcher,” she stumbled into a puddle,
and nearly brought me down. “This is the first time ever I have been
“Be of good cheer, my pretty sweeting, your next lesson in corruption
When I woke it was still dark and I rose from our bed, careful not to
disturb Sherry who was Wbreathing lightly and evenly in the darkness. It
was cool so I pulled on shorts and a woollen jersey.
Outside the cave the west wind had broken up the cloud banks. It had
stopped raining and the stars were showing in the breaks of the heavens,
giving me enough light to read the luminous dial of my wristwatch. It
was a little after three o’clock.
As I sought my favourite palm tree, I saw that we had left the lantern
burning in the storage cave. I finished what I had to do and went up to
the lighted entrance.
The open chest stood where we had left it, as did the priceless golden
head with its glittering eye – and suddenly I was struck with the
consuming terror that the miser must feel for his hoard. It was so
” – where thieves break in-” I thought, and it was not as though there
were any shortage of them in the immediate vicinity.
I had to get it all stowed away safely, and tomorrow would be too late.
Despite the pain in my head and the taste of stale whisky in the back of
my throat, it must be done now – but I needed help.
Chubby roused to my first soft call at the entrance of his cave, and
came out into the starlight, resplendent in his striped pyjamas and as
wide awake as if he had drank nothing more noxious than mother’s milk
I explained my fears and misgivings. Chubby grunted in agreement and
went with me back to the storage cave. The plastic bags of gem stones we
repacked casually into the iron chest and I secured the lid with a
length of nylon line. The golden head we shrouded carefully in a length
of green canvas tarpaulin and we carried both down into the palm grove,
before returning for spades and the gas lantern.
By the flat white glare of the lantern we worked side by side, digging
two shallow graves in the sandy soil within a few feet of where the
gelignite and the FN rifle with its spare ammunition were already
We laid the chest and the golden head away and covered them.
Afterwards I brushed the soil over them with a palm frond to wipe out
all trace of our labours.
“You happy now, Harry?” Chubby asked at last.
“Yeah, I’m happier, Chubby. You go and get some sleep, hear.”
He went away amongst the palms carrying the lantern and not looking
back. I knew I would not be able to sleep again, for the spadework had
cleared my head and roused my blood. It would be senseless to return to
the cave and try to lie quietly beside Sherry until dawn.
I wanted to find some quiet and secret place where I could think out my
next moves in this intricate game of chance in which I was involved. I
chose the path that led to the saddle between the lesser peaks and as I
climbed it, the last of the clouds were blown aside and revealed a pale
yellow moon still a week from full. Its light was strong enough to show
me the way to the nearest peak and I left the path and toiled upwards to
I found a place protected from the wind and settled into it. I wished
that I had a cheroot with me for I think better with one of them in my
mouth. I also think better without a hangover – but there was nothing I
could do about either.
After half an hour I had firmly decided that we must consolidate what we
had gained to this point. The miser’s fears, which had assailed me
earlier still persisted and I had been given clear warning that the wolf
pack was out hunting. As soon as it was light we would take what we had
salvaged so far – the head and the chest – and run down the island to
St. Mary’s to dispose of them in the manner which I had already so
There would be time later to return to Gunfire Reef and recover what
remained in the misty depths of the pool. Once the decision had been
made I felt a lift of relief, a new lightness of spirit, and I looked
forward to the solution of the other major puzzle that had troubled me
for so long.
Very soon I would be in a position to call Sherry North’s hand and have
a sight of those cards which she concealed so carefully from me. I
wanted to know what caused those shadows in the blue depths of her eyes,
and the answers to many other mysteries that surrounded her. That time
would soon come.
There was a paling of the sky at last, dawn’s first pearling light
spread across from the east and softened the harsh dark plain of the
ocean. I rose stiffly from my seat amongst the rocks, and picked my way
around the peak into the wicked eye of the west wind. I stood there on
the exposed face above the camp with the wind raising a rash of goose
bumps along my arms and ruffling my hair.
I looked down into the sheltering arms of the lagoon, and in the feeble
glimmer of dawn, the darkened ship that was creeping stealthily into the
open arms of the bay looked like some pale phantom.
Even as I stared I saw the splash at her bows as she let go her anchor,
and she rounded up into the wind showing her full silhouette so that I
could not doubt that she was the Mandrake.
Before I had recovered my wits, she had dropped a boat which sped in
swiftly towards the beach.
I started to run.
fell once on the path, but the force of my headlong descent from the
peak carried me on and with a single roll I was on my feet again, still
I was panting wildly as I burst into Chubby’s cave, and I shouted,
“Move, man, move! They are on the beach already.”
The two of them tumbled from their sleeping bags. Angelo was
tousle-haired and blank-eyed from sleep, but Chubby was quick and alert.
“Chubby,” I snapped, “go get that piece out of the ground. jump, man,
they’ll be coming up through the grove in a few minutes.” He had changed
while I spoke, Pulling on a shirt and belting his denim breeches. He
grunted an acknowledgement. “I’ll follow you in a minute,” I called as
he ran out into the feeble light of dawn.
“Angelo, snap out of it!” I grabbed his shoulder and shook him.
“I want you to look after Miss. Sherry, hear?”
He was dressed now and he nodded owlishly at me. “Come on.” I half
dragged him as we ran across to my cave. I dragged her out of bed and
while she dressed I told her.
“Angelo will go with you. I want you to take a can of drinking water and
the two of you get the hell down to the south of the island, cross the
saddle first though and keep out of sight. Climb the peak and hide out
in the chimney where we found the inscription. You know where I mean.”
“Yes, Harry,”she nodded.
“Stay there. Don’t go out or show yourself under any circumstances.
She nodded as she tucked the tail of her shirt into her breeches.
“Remember, these people are killers. The time for games is over, this is
a pack of wolves that we are dealing with.”
“Yes, Harry, I know.”
“Okay then,” I embraced and kissed her quickly. “Off you go then.” And
they went out of the cave, Angelo lugging a five-gallon can of drinking
water, and they trotted away into the palm grove.
Quickly I threw a few items into a light haversack, a box of cheroots,
matches, binoculars, water bottle and a heavy jersey, a tin of
“chocolate and of survival rations, a torch and I buckled my belt around
my waist with the heavy baitknife in the sheath. Slinging the strap of
the haversack over my shoulder, I also ran from the cave and followed
Chubby down into the palm grove towards the beach.
I had run fifty yards when there was the thud, thudding of small-arms
fire, a shout and another burst of firing. It was directly ahead of me
and very close.
I paused and slipped behind the hole of the palm tree while I peered
into the lightening shades of the grove. I saw movement, a figure
running towards me and I loosened the baivknife in its sheath and waited
until I was sure, before I called softly, “Chubby?” The running figure
swerved towards me. He was carrying the IN rifle and the canvas
bandolier with spare magazines of ammunition, and he was breathing
quickly but lightly as he saw me.
They spotted me,” he grunted. “There are hundreds of the bastards.”
At that moment I saw more movement amongst the trees.
“Here they come,” I said. “Let’s go.”
I wanted to give Sherry a clear run, so I did not take the path across
the saddle, but turned directly southwards to lead the pursuit off her
scent. We headed for the swamps at the southern end of the island.
They saw us as we ran obliquely across their front. I heard a shout,
answered immediately by others, and then there were five scattered shots
and I saw the muzzle flashes bloom amongst the dark trees. A bullet
struck a palm trunk high above our head, a woody thunk, but we were
going fast and within minutes the shouts of pursuit were fading behind
I reached the edge of the salt marsh, and swung away inland to avoid the
stinking mudflats. On the first gentle slope of the hills I halted to
listen and to regain our breath. The light was strengthening swiftly
now. Within a short while it would be sunrise and I wanted to be under
cover before then.
Suddenly there were distant cries of dismay from the direction of the
swamps and I guessed that the pursuit had blundered into. the glutinous
mud. That would discourage them fairly persuasively, I thought, and
“Okay, Chubby, let’s get on,” I whispered, and as we stood there was a
new sound from a different direction.
The sound was muted by distance and by the intervening heights of the
ridge, for it came from the seaward side of the island, but it was the
unmistakable ripping sound of automatic gunfire.
Chubby and I froze into listerung attitudes and the sound was repeated,
another long tearing burst of machine-gun fire-. Then there was silence,
though we listened for three or four minutes.
“Come on,” I said quietly, we could. delay no longer and we ran on up
the slope towards the southernmost peak.
We climbed quickly in the fast-growing morning light, and I was too
preoccupied to feel any qualms as we negotiated the narrow ledge and
stepped at last into the deep rock crack where I had arranged to meet
The shelter was silent and deserted but I called without hope, “Sherry!
Are you there, love?”
There was no reply from the shadows, and I turned back to Chubby.
“They had a good lead on us. They should have been here,” and only then
did that burst of machine-gun fire we had heard earlier take on new
I removed the binoculars from the haversack and then thrust it away into
a crack in the rock.
“They’ve run into trouble, Chubby,” I told him. “Come on. Let’s go and
find out what happened.”
Once we were off the ledge we struck out through the jumble of broken
rock towards the seaward side of the island, but even in my haste and
dreadful anxiety for Sherry’s safety, I moved with stealth and we were
careful not to show ourselves to a watcher in the groves or on the
beaches below us.
As we crossed the divide of the ridge a new vista opened before us, the
curve of the beach and the jagged black sweep of Gunfire Reef. I halted
instantly and pulled Chubby down beside me, as we crouched into cover.
Anchored in a position to command the mouth of the channel through
Gunfire Reef was the armed crash boat from Zinballa Bay, flagship of my
old friend Suleiman Dada. Returning to it from the beach was a small
motorboat, crowded with tiny figures.
“God damn it,” I muttered, “they really had it planned. Manny Resnick
has teamed up with Suleiman Dada. That’s what took him so long to get
here. while Manny hit the beach, Dada was covering the channel, so we
couldn’t make a bolt for it like we did before.”
“And he had men on the beach – that was the machinegun fire.
Manny Resnick sailed Mandrake into the bay to flush us, and Dada had the
back door covered.”
What about Miss. Sherry and Angelo? Do you think they got away?
Did Dada’s men catch them when they crossed the saddle?”
“Oh Godv I groaned, and cursed myself for not having stayed with her. I
stood up and focused the binoculars on the motor-boat as it crawled
across the clear waters of the outer lagoon to the anchored crash boat.
“I can’t see them.” Even with the aid of the binoculars, the occupants
of the dinghy were merely a dark mass, for the morning sun was rising
beyond them and the glare off the water dazzled me. I could not make out
separate figures, let alone recognize individuals.
“They may have them in the boat – but I can’t see.” In my agitation I
had left the cover of the rocks, and was seeking a better vantage point,
moving about on the skyline. Out in the open I must have been highlit by
the same sun rays that were blinding me.
I saw the familiar flash, and the long white feather of gunsmoke blow
from the mounted quick-firer on the bows of the crash boat, and I heard
the shell coming with a rushing sound like eagles” wings “Get down!” I
shouted at Chubby, and threw myself flat amongst the rocks.
The shell burst in very close, with the bright hot glare like the brief
opening of a furnace door. -Shrapnel and rock fragments trilled and
whined around us, and I jumped to my feet.
“Run!” I yelled at Chubby, and we jinked back over the skyline just as
the next shell passed over us, making us both flinch our heads at the
mighty crack of passing shot.
Chubby was wiping a smear of blood from his forearm as we crouched
behind the ridge.
“Okay?” I asked. “A scratch, that’s all. Bit of a rock fragment,”he
growled. “Chubby, I’m going down to find out what happened to the
others. No point both of us taking a chance. You wait here.”
“You’re wasting time, Harry, I’m coming with you. Let’s go.” He hefted
the rifle and led the way down the peak. I thought of taking the FN away
from him. In his hands it was about as lethal as a slingshot when fired
with his closedeyes technique. Then I left it. It made him feel good.
We moved slowly, hugging any cover there was and searching ahead before
moving forward. However, the island was silent except for the sough and
clatter of the west wind in the tops of the palms and we saw nobody as
we moved up the seaward side of the island.
I cut the spoor left by Angelo and Sherry as they crossed the saddle,
above the camp. Their running footsteps had bitten deep into the fluffy
soil, Sherry’s small slim prints were overlapped by Angelo’s broad bare
We followed them down the slope, and suddenly they shied off the track.
They had dropped the water-can here and, turning abruptly, had separated
slightly, as though they had run side by side for sixty yards.
There we found Angelo, and he was never going to enjoy his share of the
spoils. He had been hit by three of the soft heavy-calibre slugs. They
had torn through the thin fabric of his shirt, and opened huge dark
wounds in his back and chest.
He had bled copiously but the sandy soil had absorbed most of it, and
already what was left was drying into a thick black crust. The flies
were assembled, crawling gleefully into the bullet holes and swarming on
the long dark lashes around his wide open and startled eyes.
Following her tracks I saw where Sherry had run on for twenty paces, and
-then the little idiot had turned back and gone to kneel beside where
Angelo lay. I cursed her for that. She might have been able to escape if
she had not indulged in that useless and extravagant gesture.
They had caught her as she knelt beside the body and dragged her down
through the palms to the beach. I could see the long slide marks in the
sand where she had dug her feet in and tried to resist.
Without leaving the shelter of the trees, I looked down the smooth white
sand, following their tracks to where the marks of the motor-boat’s keel
still showed in the sand of the water’s edge.
They had taken her out to the crash boat, and I crouched behind a pile
of driftwood and dried palm fronds to stare out at the graceful little
Even as I watched she weighed anchor, picked up speed and passed slowly
down the length of the island to round the point and enter the inner
lagoon where Mandrake was still lying at anchor.
I straightened up and slipped back through the grove to where I had left
Chubby. He had laid the carbine aside and he sat with Angelo’s body in
his arms, cradling the head against his shoulder. Chubby was weeping,
fat glistening tears slid wearily down the seamed brown cheeks and fell
from his jaw to wet the thick dark curls of the boy in his arms.
I picked up the rifle and stood guard over them while Chubby wept for
both of us. I envied him the relief of tears, the outpouring of pain
that would bring surcease. My own grief was as fierce as Chubby’s, for I
had loved Angelo as much, but it was down deep inside where it hurt
“All right, -Chubby,” I said at last. “Let’s go, man.” He stood up with
“the boy still in his arms and we moved back along the ridge.
In a gully that was choked with rank vegetation we laid Angelo in a
shallow grave that we scraped with our hands, and we covered him with a
blanket of branches and leaves that I cut with my bait-knife before
filling the grave. I could not bring myself to throw sand into his
unprotected face, and the leaves made a gentler shroud.
Chubby wiped away his tears with the open palm of his hand and he stood
“They got Sherry,” I told him quietly. “She is aboard the crash boat.”
“Is she hurt?” he asked.
“I don’t think so, not yet.”
“What do you want to do now, Harry?” he asked, and the question was
answered for me.
Somewhere far off towards the camp, we heard a whistle shrill, and we
moved up the ridge to a point where we could see down into the inner
lagoon and landward side of the island.
Mandrake lay where I had last seen her and the Zinballa crash boat was
anchored a hundred yards closer to the shore. They had seized the
whaleboat and were using her to land men on the beach- They were all
armed, and uniformed- They set off immediately into the palm trees and
the whaleboat ran back to Mandrake.
I Put the binoculars on to Mandrake and saw that there were developments
taking place there also. In the field of the glasses I recognized Manny
Resnick in a white opens neck shirt and blue slacks as he climbed down
into the whaleboat. He was followed by Lorna Page. She wore dark
glasses, a Yellow scarf around her pale blonde hair and an emerald green
slack suit. I felt hatred seethe in my guts as I recognized them.
Now something happened that puzzled me. The luggage that I had seen
loaded into the Rolls at Curzon Street was brought out on to the deck by
two of Manny’s thugs and it also was passed down into the whaleboat.
A uniformed crew member of Mandrake saluted from the deck, and Manny
waved at him in a gesture of airy dismissal.
The whaleboat left Mandrake’s side and moved in towards the crash boat.
As Manny, his lady friend, bodyguards and luggage were disembarked on to
the deck of the crash boat, Mandrake weighed anchor, turned for the
entrance of the bay, and set out in a determined fashion for the
“She’s leaving,” muttered Chubby. “Why is she doing -,that?”
“Yes, she’s leaving,” I agreed. “Manny Resnick has finished with her.
He’s got a new ally now, and he doesn’t need his vwn ship. She’s
probably costing him a thousand nicker a day, – and Manny always was a
shy man with a buck.”
I turned my glasses on to the crash boat again and saw -Manny and his
entourage enter the cabin.
“There is probably another reason,” I muttered. “What’s that, Harry?”
“Manny Resnick and Suleiman Dada will want as few witnesses as possible
to what they intend doing now.”
“Yeah, I see what you mean,”grunted Chubby.
“I think, my friend, that we are about to be treated to the kind of
nastiness that will make what they did to Angelo seem kind, by
“We’ve got to get Miss. Sherry off that boat, Harry.” Chubby was coming
out of the daze of grief into which Angelo’s killing had thrown him.
“We’ve got to do something, Harry.” “It’s a nice thought, Chubby, I
agree. But we aren’t going to help her much by getting ourselves killed.
My guess is that she will be safe until they get their hands on the
His huge face creased up like that of a worried bulldog. “What we going
to do, Harry?”
“Right now we are going to run again.”
“What do you mean?” “Listen,” I told him, and he cocked his head. There
was the shrill of the whistle again and then faintly we heard voices
carried up to us on the wind.
“Looks like their first effort will be brute strength. They’ve landed
the entire goon squad, and they are going to drive the island and put us
up like a brace of cock pheasant.”
“Let’s go down and have a go,” Chubby growled, and cocked the FN- “I got
a message for them from Angelo.”
“Don’t be a fool, Chubby,” I snapped at him angrily.
“Now listen to me. I want to count how many men they have. Then, if we
get a good chance, I want to try and get one of them alone and take his
piece off him. Watch for an opportunity, Chubby, but don’t have a go
yet. Play it very cautious, hear!” I didn’t want to refer to his
markmanship in derogatory tones.
“Okay,” Chubby nodded.
“You stay this side of the ridge. Count how many of them come down this
side of the island. I’ll cross over and do the same on the other side.”
He nodded. “I’ll meet you at the spot where the crash boat shelled us in
“What about you, Harry?” He made a gesture of handing me the FN – but I
didn’t have the heart to deprive him.
“I’ll be okay,” I told him. “Off you go, man.”
It was a simple task to keep ahead of the line of beaters for they
called to each other loudly to keep their spirits up, and they made no
pretence at concealment or stealth, but advanced slowly and cautiously
in an extended line.
There were nine of them on my side of the ridge, seven of them were
blacks in naval uniform, armed with AK47, assault rifles and two of them
were Manny Resnick’s men. They were dressed in casual tropical gear and
carried sidearms. One of them I recognized as the driver of the Rover
that night so long ago, and the passenger in the twin-engined Cessna
that had spotted Sherry and me on the beach.
Once I had made my head count, I turned my back on them and ran ahead to
the curve of the salt marsh. I knew that when the line of beaters ran
into this obstacle, it would lose its cohesion and that it was likely
that some Of its thembers would become isolated.
I found an advanced neck of swampland with stands of Voting mangrove and
coarse swamp grass in dense shades of fever green. I followed the edge
of this thicket and came upon a spot where a fallen palm tree lay across
the neck like a bridge – offering escape in two directions. It had
collected a dense covering of blown palm fronds and swamp grin which
provided a good hide from which to mount an ambush.
. I lay in the back of this shaggy mound of dead vegetation and I had
the heavy bait-knife in my right hand ready to throw.
The line of the beaters came on steadily, their voices growing louder as
they approached the swamp. Soon I could hear the rustle and scrape of
branches as one of them came directly down to where I lay.
He paused and called when he was about twenty feet from me, and I
pressed my face close to the damp earth and peered under the pile of
dead branches. There was an opening there and I saw his feet and his
legs below the knees. His trousers were thick blue serge and he wore
grubby white sneakers without socks. At each step his naked ankles
showed very black African skin.
It was one of the sailors from the crash boat then, and I was pleased.
He would be carrying an automatic weapon. I preferred that to a pistol,
which was what Manny’s boys were armed with.
Slowly I rolled on to my side and cleared my knife arm. The sailor
called again so close and so loud that my nerves jumped and I felt the
tingling flush of adrenalin in my blood. His call was answered from
farther off, and the sailor came on.
I could hear his soft footfalls on the sand, padding towards me.
Suddenly he came into full view, as he rounded the fall of brushwood. He
was ten paces from me.
He was in naval uniform, a blue cap on his head with its gay little red
pom-pom on the top, but he carried the vicious and brutal-looking
machine-gun on his hip. He was a tall lean youngster in his early
twenties, smooth faced and sweating nervously so there was a purple
black sheen on his skin, against which his eyes were very white.
He saw me and tried to swing the machine-gun on to me, but it was on his
right hip and he blocked himself awkwardly in the turn. I aimed for the
notch where the two collarbones meet, that was framed by the opening of
his uniform. at the base of his throat. I threw overhand, snapping my
wrist into it at the moment of release so the knife leapt in a silvery
blur and thudded precisely into the mark I had chosen. The blade was
completely buried and only the dark walnut handle protruded from his
He tried to cry out, but no sound came, for the blade had severed all
his vocal chords as I intended. He sank slowly to his knees facing me in
a prayerful attitude with his hands dangling at his sides and the
machine-gun hanging on its strap.
We stared at each other for a moment that seemed to last for ever.
Then he shuddered violently and a thick burst of bubbling blood poured
from his mouth and nose, and he pitched face forward to the ground.
Crouched low, I flipped him on to his back and withdrew the knife
against the clinging drag of wet flesh, and I cleaned the blade on his
Working swiftly I stripped him of his weapon and the spare magazines in
the bandolier on his webbing belt, then, still crouching low, I dragged
him by his heels into the gluey mud of the creek and knelt on his chest
to force him below the surface. The mud flowed over his face as slowly
and thickly as molten chocolate, and when he was totally submerged I
buckled the webbing belt around my waist, picked up the machine-gun and
slipped back quietly through the breach that I had made in the line of
As I ran doubled over and using all the cover there was, I checked the
load on the AK47. I was familiar with the weapon. I had used it in
Biafra and I made sure that the magazine was full and that the breech
was loaded before I slipped the strap over my right shoulder and held it
ready on my hip.
When I had moved back about five hundred yards I paused and took shelter
against the trunk of a palm while I listened. Behind me, the line of
beaters seemed to have run into trouble against the swamp, and they were
trying to sort themselves out. I listened to the shouts and the angry
shrill of the whistle. It sounded like a cup final, I thought, and
grinned queasily, for the memory of the man I had killed was still
Now that I had broken through their line I turned and struck directly
across the island towards my rendezvous with Chubby on the south peak.
Once I was out of the palm groves on to the lower slopes, the vegetation
was thicker, and I moved more swiftly through the better cover.
Halfway to the crest I was startled by a fresh burst of gunfire.
This time it was the distinctive whipcracking lash of the FN, a sharper
slowerbeat than the storm of AK47 machine-gun fire that answered it
I judged by the volume and duration of the outburst that all the weapons
involved had emptied magazines in a continuous burst. A heavy silence
Chubby was having a go, after all my warnings. Although I was bitterly
angry, I was also thoroughly alarmed by what trouble he had got himself
into. One thing was certain Chubby had missed whatever he had aimed at.
I broke from a trot into a run, and angled upwards towards the crest,
aiming to reach the area from which the gunfire had sounded.
I burst out of a patch of goose-bush into a narrow overgrown path that
followed the direction I wanted, and I turned into it and went into a
I topped the rise and almost ran into the arms of one of the uniformed
seamen coming in the opposite direction, also at a headlong run.
There were six of his comrades with him in Indian file, all making the
best possible speed on his heels. Thirty yards farther back was another
who had lost his weapon and whose uniform jacket was sodden with fresh
On all their faces were expressions of abandoned terror, and they ran
with the single-minded determination of men pursued closely by all the
legions of hell.
I knew instantly that this rabble were the survivors of an encounter
with Chubby Andrews, and that it had been too much for their nerves.
They were hell-bent and homeward-bound – Chubby’s shooting must have
improved miraculously, and I made him a silent apology.
So much were the seamen involved with the devil behind them that they
seemed not to notice me for the fleeting instant which it took for me to
slip the safety-catch on the machine-gun on my hip, brace myself with
knees bent and feet spread.
I swung the weapon in a short kicking traverse aimed low at their knees.
With a rate of fire like that of an AK47, you must go for the legs, and
rely on another three or four hits in the body as the man drops through
the sheet of fire. It also defeats the efforts of the short barrel to
ride up under the thrust of the recoil.
They went downward in a sprawling shrieking mass, punched backwards into
each other by the savage strike of the soft heavy-calibre slugs.
I held the trigger down for the count of four, and then I turned and
plunged off the path into the thick wall of goose-bush. It hid me
instantly and I doubled over as I jinked and dodged under the branches.
Behind me, a machine-gun was firing, and the bullets tore and snapped
through the thick foliage. None came near me and I settled back into a
I guessed that my sudden and completely unexpected attack would have
permanently acounted for two or three of the seamen, and may have
wounded one or two others.
However, the effect on their morale would be disastrous – especially
coming so soon after Chubby’s onslaught. Once they reached the safety of
the crash boat, I guessed that the forces of evil would debate long and
hard before setting foot on the island again. We had won the second
round decisively, but they still had Sherry North. That was the major
trump in their hands. As long as they held her they could dictate the
course of the game.
Chubby was waiting for me amongst the rocks on the saddle of the peak.
The man was indestructible.
“Jesus, Harry, where the hell you been?”he growled. “I’ve been waiting
here all morning.”
I saw that he had retrieved my haversack. from the cleft in the rocks
where I had left it. It lay with two captured AK47 rifles and bandoliers
of ammunition at his feet.
He handed me the water bottle, and only then did I realize how thirsty I
was. The heavily chlorinated water tasted like Veuve Clicquot, but I
rationed myself to three swallows.
“I got to apologize to you, Harry. I had a go. just couldn’t help it,
man. They were bunched up and standing out in the open like a
Sunday-school picnic. just couldn’t help myself, gave them a good old
squirt. Dropped two of them and the others run like hens, shooting their
pieces straight up in the air as they go.”
“Yeah,” I nodded. “I met them as they crossed the ridge.”
“Heard the shooting. just about to come and look for you.) I sat down on
the rock beside him, and found my cheroots in the haversack. We each lit
one and smoked in grateful silence for a moment which Chubby spoiled.
“Well, we lit a fire under their tails – don’t reckon they’ll come back
for more. But they have still got Miss. Sherry, man. Long as they got
her, they are winning.”
“How many were there, Chubby?”
“Ten.” He spat out a scrap of tobacco and inspected the glowing tip of
the cheroot. “But I took out two – and I think I winged another.”
“Yeah,” I agreed. “I met seven on the ridge. I had a go at them also.
Aren’t more than four left now – and there are eight more out of my
bunch. Say a dozen, plus those left on board – another six or seven.
About twenty guns still against us, Chubby.”
“Pretty odds, Harry.”
“Let’s work on it, Chubby.”
“Let’s do that, Harry.”
I selected the newest and least abused of the three machine-guns and
there were five full magazines of ammunition for it. I cached the
discarded weapons under a slab of flat rock and loaded and checked the
We each had another short drink from the water bottle and then I led the
way cautiously -along the ridge, keeping off the skyline, back towards
the deserted camp.
From the spot at which I had first spotted the approach of the Mandrake
we surveyed the whole northern end of the island.
As we guessed they would, Manny and Suleiman Dada had taken all their
men off the island. Both the whaleboat and the smaller motor-boat were
moored alongside the crash boat. There was much confused and meaningless
activity on board, and as I watched the scurrying figures I imagined the
scenes of terrible wrath and retribution which were taking place in the
Suleiman Dada and his new protege were certainly wreaking a fearful
vengeance on their already badly beaten and demoralized troops, “I want
to go down to the camp, Chubby. See what they left for us,” I said at
last, and handed him the binoculars. “Keep watch for me. Three quick
shots as a warning signal.”
“Okay, Harry,” he agreed, but as I stood up there was a renewed outbreak
of feverish activity on board the crash boat. I took the glasses back
from Chubby and watched Suleiman Dada emerge from the cabin and make a
laborious ascent to the open bridge. In his white uniform, bedecked with
medals that glittered in the sunlight and attended by a host of helpers
he reminded me of a fat white queen termite being moved from its royal
cell by swarming worker ants.
The transfer was effected at last and as I watched through the
binoculars I saw an electronic bullhorn handed to Suleiman. He faced the
shore, lifted the hailer to his mouth and through the powerful lens I
saw his lips moving. Seconds later the sound reached us clearly,
magnified by the instrument and carried by the wind.
“Harry Fletcher. I hope you can hear me.” The deep wellmodulated voice
was given a harsher sound by the amplifier. “I plan to put on a
demonstration this evening which will convince you of the necessity of
co-operating with me. Please be in a position where you can watch. You
will find it fascinating. Nine o’clock this evening on the afterdeck of
this ship. It’s a date, Harry. Don’t miss it.”
He handed the bullhorn to one of his officers and went below.
. “They’re going to do something to Sherry,” murtered Chubby and fiddled
disconsolately with the rifle in his lap. “We’ll know at nine,” I said,
and watched the officer with the bullhorn climb from the deck into the
motor-boat. They set off on a slow circuit of the island, stopping every
half mile to shout a repetition of Suleiman Dada’s invitation to me at
the silent tree-lined shore. He was very anxious for me to attend.
“All right, Chubby,” I glanced at my watch. “We have hours yet.
I’m going down to the camp. Watch out for me.” The camp had been
ransacked and plundered of most items of value, equipment and stores had
been smashed and scattered about the caves – but still some of it had
I found five cans of fuel and hid them along with much other equipment
that might be of value. Then I crept cautiously down into the grove, and
learned with relief that the hiding-place of the chest and the golden
tigers head and the other stores was undisturbed.
Carrying a fivegallon can of drinking water and three cans of corned
beef and mixed vegetables I climbed again to the ridge where Chubby
waited. We ate and drank and I said to Chubby: “Get some sleep if you
can. It’s going to be a long hard night.”
He grunted and curled up in the grass like a great brown bear.
Soon he was snoring softly and regularly.
I smoked three cheroots slowly and thoughtfully, but it was only as the
sun was setting that I had my first real stroke of genius. It was so
clear and simple, and so delightfully apt that it was immediately
suspect and I reexamined it carefully.
The wind had dropped and it was completely dark by the time I was
certain of my idea and I sat smiling and nodding contentedly as I
thought about it.
The crash boat was brightly lit, all her ports glowed and a pair of
floods glared whitely down upon the afterdeck, so it looked like an
I woke Chubby and we ate and drank again.
“Let’s go down to the beach,” I said. “We’ll have a better view from
“It might be a trap,” Chubby warned me morosely.
“I don’t think so. They are all on board, and they are playing from
strength. They’ve still got Sherry. They don’t have to try any fancy
“Man, if they do anything to that girl!” he stopped himself, and stood
up. “All right, let’s go.”
We moved silently and cautiously down through the grove with our weapons
cocked and our fingers on the triggers, but the night was still and the
We halted amongst the trees at the top of the beach. The crash boat was
only two hundred yards away and I leaned my shoulder against the trunk
of a palm and focused my glasses on her. It was so clear and close that
I could read the writing on the lid of a packet from which one of the
sentries took and lit a cigarette.
We had a front row seat for whatever entertainment Suleiman Dada was
planning, and I felt the stir of apprehension and knowledge of coming
horror blow like a cold breeze across my skin.
I lowered the glasses and whispered softly to Chubby, “Change your piece
for mine,” and he passed me the longbarrelled FN and took the AK47I
wanted the accuracy of the FN to command the deck of the crash boat.
Naturally there was nothing I could do to intervene while Sherry was
unharmed, but if they did anything to her – I would make sure she didn’t
I squatted down beside the palm tree, adjusted the peep sights of the
rifle, and drew a careful bead on the head of the deck guard. I knew I
could put a bullet through his temple from where I sat and when I was
satisfied I laid the rifle across my lap and settled down to wait.
The mosquitoes from the swamp whined around our ears but both Chubby and
I ignored them and sat quietly. I longed for a cheroot to soothe the
tension of my nerves, but I was forced to forgo that comfort.
Time passed very slowly, and new fears came to plague me and make the
waiting seem even longer than it was but finally, a few minutes before
the promised hour, there was a renewed stirring and bustle on board the
crash boat and once more Suleti -man Dada was helped up the ladder by
his men and he took his place at the bridge rail looking down over the
after-deck. He was sweating heavily and it had soaked the area around
the armpits and across the back of his white uniform jacket. I guessed
that he had passed his own period of waiting by frequent recourse, to
the whisky bottle, probably from my own stock that had been plundered
from the cave.
He laughed and joked with the men around him, his vast belly shaking
with mirth and his men echoed the laughter slavishly. The sound of it
carried across the water to the beach.
Suleiman was followed by Manny Resnick and his blonde lady friend.
Manny was well groomed and cool-looking in his expensive casual
clothing. He stood slightly apart from the others, his expression aloof
and disinterested. He reminded me of an adult at a children’s party,
seeing out a boring and mildly unpleasant duty.
In contrast, Lorna Page was excited and shiny-eyed as a girl on her
first date. She laughed with Suleiman Dada and leaned expectantly over
the rail above the deserted deck. Through the powerful glasses I could
see the flush on her cheeks which was not rouge.
I was concentrating on her so that it was only when I felt Chubby move
suddenly and restlessly, and heard his grunt of alarm that I swung the
glasses downwards on to the deck.
Sherry was there, standing between two of the uniformed sailors.
They held her arms and she looked small and frail between them.
She still wore the clothes she had thrown on so hurriedly that morning
and her hair was dishevelled. Her face was gaunt and her expression
strained – but it was only when I studied her carefully that I saw that
what looked like sleepless dark rings below her eyes were in fact
bruises. With a cold chill of anger, I realized that her lips were
swollen and puffed up as though they had been stung by bees. One of her
cheeks was also fatly distorted and bruised.
They had beaten her and knocked her about badly. Now that I looked for
it I could see dark splotches of dried blood on her blue shirt, and when
one of the guards dragged her around roughly to face the shore I saw
that one of her hands was bandaged roughly – and that either blood or
disinfectant had stained the bandages.
She looked tired and ill, nearly at the end of her strength. My anger
threatened to wipe out my reason. I wanted to inflict hurt upon those
that had treated Sherry like this, and I had already begun to lift the
rifle with hands that shook with the force of my hatred before I could
control myself. I closed my eyes tightly and took a long deep breath to
steady myself. The time would come – but it was not now.
When I opened my eyes again and refocused the binoculars, Suleiman Dada
had the bullhorn to his lips.
“Good evening, Harry, my dear friend, I am sure you recognize this young
lady.” He made a wide gesture towards Sherry and she looked up at him
wearily. “After questioning her closely, a procedure which alas caused
her a little discomfort, I am at last convinced that she does not know
the whereabouts of the property in which my friends and I are
interested. She tells me that you “have hidden it.” He paused and mopped
his streaming face with a towel handed to him by one of his men before
he went on.
“She is no longer of any interest to me – except possibly as a medium of
He made a gesture, and Sherry was hustled away below. Something cold and
slimy moved in my guts at her going. I wondered if I would ever see her
again – alive.
On to the deserted deck filed four of Suleimans men, Each of them had
stripped to the waist and the floodlights rippled on their smooth darkly
Each of them carried the hickory wooden handles of a pickaxe, and
silently they formed up at the points of a star about the open deck.
Next a man was led into the open centre by two guards. His hands were
tied behind his back. They stood on each side of him and slowly forced
him to turn in a circle -and show himself while Suleiman Dada’s voice
boomed through the bullhorn.
“I wonder if you recognize him?” I stared at the stooped creature in
canvas prison overalls that hung in filthy grey tatters from his gaunt
frame. His skin was pate and waxy with deep-set dark eyes, long scraggly
blond hair hung in greasy snakes about his face and his half-grown beard
was thin and wispy.
He had lost teeth, probably knocked from his mouth with a careless blow.
“Yes, Harry?” Suleiman laughed fruitily over the loud hailer. “A sojourn
in Zinballa prison does wonders for a man, does it not – but the
regulation garb is not as smart as that of an Inspector of Police.”
” Only then did I recognize ex-Inspector Peter Daly – the man who I had
pitched from the deck of Wave Dancer into the waters of the outer lagoon
just before I had escaped from Suleiman Dada by running the channel at
“Inspector Peter Daly,” Suleiman confirmed with a chuckle, “a man who
let me down badly. I do not like men who let me down, Harry. I really
take it very hard. I brought him along for just such an eventuality. It
was a wise precaution, for I believe that a graphic demonstration is so
much more convincing than mere words!
Once again he paused to mop” his face and to drink deeply from a glass
offered him by one of his men. Daly fell to his knees and looked up at
the man on the bridge. His expression was of abject terror, and his
mouth dribbled saliva as he pleaded for mercy.
“Very well, we can proceed if you are ready, Harry,” he boomed, and one
of the guards produced a large black cloth bag which he pulled over
Peter Daly’s head and secured with a drawn string around his neck. They
dragged him roughly to his feet again.
“It’s our own variation on the game of blind man’s bluff.”
Through the glasses I saw the liquid flood soak through the front of
Peter Daly’s canvas trousers, as his bladder emptied in anguished
terror. Obviously he had seen this game played before during his stay in
“Harry, I want you to use your imagination. Do not see this snivelling
filthy creature – but in his place imagine your lovely young lady
friend.” He breathed heavily, but when the man beside him offered him
the towel again Suleiman struck him a passionless backhanded blow that
sent him sprawling across the bridge, and he continued evenly, “Imagine
her lovely young body, imagine her delicious fear as she stands in
darkness not knowing what to expect.”
The two guards began to spin Daly between them, as they do in the
children’s game, around and around he went and now I could faintly hear
his muffled shrieks and cries of fear.
Suddenly the two guards stepped away from him, and left the circle of
half-naked men with their pick handles. One of them placed the butt of
his weapon in the small of Daly’s back and shoved him, reeling and
staggering across the circle and the man opposite was waiting to drive
the end of his club into Daly’s belly.
Back and forth he staggered, driven by the thrust of the clubs.
Slowly his tormentors increased the savagery of their attack, until one
of them hefted his club and swung it like an axe at a tree. It smashed
into Daly’s ribs.
It was the signal to end it, and as Peter Daly fell to the deck they
crowded about him, the clubs rising and falling in a fearsome rhythm and
the blows sounding clearly across the lagoon to where we watched in
disgust and revulsion.
One after the other they tired, and stepped back to rest from their grim
work and Peter Daly’s crumpled and broken body lay in the centre of the
“Crude, you will say, Harry – but then you will not deny that it is
I was sickened by the barbaric cruelty of it, and Chubby muttered beside
me, “He’s a monster – I’ve never heard of nothing like that before!
“You have until noon tomorrow, Harry, to come to me unarmed and
reasonable. We will talk, we will agree on certain matters, we will make
an exchange of assets and we will part friends.”
He stopped speaking to watch while one of his men secured a line to
Peter Daly’s ankle, and they hoisted him to the masthead of the crash
boat where he dangled grotesquely, like some obscene pennant. Lorna Page
was looking up at him, her head thrown back so the blonde hair hung down
her back and her lips were slightly parted.
“If you refuse to be reasonable, Harry, then at noon tomorrow I shall
sail around this island with your lady friend hanging like that-” He
pointed up to the corpse whose masked head swung slowly back and forth
only a few feet above the deck, “–from the mast. Think about it, Harry.
Take your time. Think about it well.”
Suddenly the floodlights were switched off, and Suleiman Dada began his
laborious descent to the cabin. Manny Resnick and Lorna Page followed
him. Manny was frowning slightly, as though he was pondering a business
deal, but I could see that Lorna was enjoying herself.
“I think I’m going to throw up,”muttered Chubby.
Get it over then,” I said, “because we have a lot of work to do.”
I stood up and quietly led the way back into the palm grove. We took it
in turns to dig while the other stood guard amongst the trees. I would
not use a light for fear of attracting attention from. the crash boat
and we were both exaggeratedly careful to maintain silence and not to
let the clank of metal sound through the grove.
We lifted the remaining cases of gelignite and blasting equipment, then
we did the same with the rusted pay chest and carried it to a carefully
chosen site below the steeply sloping ground of the peak. Fifty yards up
the slope was a fold in the ground thickly screened with goose-bush and
We dug another hole for the chest, going deep into the soft soil until
we struck water. Then we repacked the pay chest and reburied it. Chubby
climbed up to the hidden fold above us and made his arrangements there.
In the meantime I reloaded the machine-gun and wrapped it lightly in one
of my old shirts, the five full magazines placed with it, and I buried
the lot under an inch of sand, next to the stern of the nearest palm
tree where the recent rain waters had cut a shallow dry runnel down the
The water-torn trench and the tree were forty paces from the spot where
the chest was buried, and I hoped it was far enough. The trench was
little more than two feet deep and would provide scanty cover.
The moon came out after midnight and it gave us enough light to check
our arrangements. Chubby made sure I was in full view from his hideaway
up the slope when I stood beside the shallow runnel. Then I climbed up
to him and double-checked him. We lit a cheroot each, sheltering the
match and screening the glowing tips with cupped hands, while we went
over our planning once again.
I was particularly anxious that there should be no misunderstanding in
our timing and signals, and I made Chubby repeat them twice. He did so
with long-suffering and theatrical patience, but at last I was
satisfied. We dumped the cheroot butts and scraped sand over them and
when we went down the slope we both carried palm-frond brooms to sweep
out all signs of activity.
The first part of my planning was complete, and we returned to where the
golden tiger and the rest of the gelignite was cached. We reburied the
tiger and then I prepared a full case of gelignite. It was a massive
overdose Of explosive, sufficient for a tenfold over-kill – but I have
never been a man to stint myself when I have the means to indulge.
I would not be able to use the electric blaster and insulated wire, and
I must rely on one of the time-pencil detonators. I have a strong
distaste for these temperamental little gadgets. They operate on the
principle of acid eating through a thin wire which holds the hammer on a
powder cap. When the acid cuts the wire the cap explodes, and the delay
in the detonation is governed by the strength of the acid and the
thickness of the wire.
There can be a large latitude of error in this timing which on one
occasion caused me a nearly fatal embarrassment. However, in this case I
had no choice in the matter – and I selected a pencil with a six-hour
delay and prepared it for use with the gelignite.
Amongst the equipment overlooked by the looters was my old oxygen
rebreathing underwater set. This diving set is almost as dangerous to
use as the time pencils. Unlike the aqualung which uses compressed air,
the rebreather employs pure oxygen which is filtered and cleansed of
carbon dioxide after each breath and then cycled back to the user.
Oxygen breathed at pressures in excess of twice atmospheric becomes as
poisonous as carbon monoxide. In other words, if you rebreathe pure
oxygen below underwater depths of thirty-three feet, it will kill you.
You have to have all your wits together to play around with the stuff –
but it has one enormous advantage. It does not blow bubbles on the
surface to alarm a sentry and give away your position to him.
Chubby carried the prepared case of gelignite and the rifle when we went
back to the beach. It was after three o’clock when I had donned and
tested the oxygen set, and then I carried the gelignite down to the
water and tested that for buoyancy. It needed a few pounds of lead
weights to give it a neutral buoyancy and make it easier to handle in
We had reached the water from the beach around the horn of the bay from
the anchored crash boat. The point of sand and palm trees covererd us as
we worked, and at last I was ready.
It was a long tiring swim. I had to round the point and enter the bay –
a distance of almost a mile – and I had to tow the case of explosive
with me. It dragged heavily through the water and it took me almost an
hour before I could see the lights of the crash boat glimmering above me
through the clear water.
Hugging the bottom I crept forward slowly, terribly aware that the
moonlight would silhouette me clearly against the white sand of the
lagoon bed, for the water was clear as gin and only twenty-five feet
It was a relief to move slowly into the dark shadow cast by the crash
boat’s hull and to know that I was safe from discovery. I rested for a
few minutes, then I unrolled the nylon slings that I had on my belt and
secured them to the case of gelignite.
Now I checked the time on my wristwatch, and the luminous hands showed
ten minutes past four o’clock.
I crushed the glass ampoule of the time pencil, releasing the acid to
begin its slow eroding attack on the wire, and I returned it to its
prepared slot in the case of explosive. In six hours, more or less, the
whole lot would go up with the force of a two hundred pound aerial bomb.
Now I left the floor of the lagoon and rose slowly to the hull of the
crash boat. It was foul with a hanging slimy beard of weed and the hull
itself was thick with a rough scale of shellfish and goose-neck mussels.
I moved slowly along the keel, searching for an anchor point – but there
was none and at last I was forced to use the shank of the rudder. I
bound the case in position with all the nylon rope I had – and when I
was finished I was certain that it would resist even the drag of water
when the crash boat was travelling at the top of her speed.
Satisfied at last, I sank once more to the bed of the lagoon and moved
off quietly on my return. I made much better speed through the water now
without the burden of the gelignite case and Chubby was waiting for me
on the beach.
“Fixed up?” he asked quietly, as he helped me shed the oxygen set.
“Just as long as that pencil does its job.”
I was so tired now that the walk back through the grove seemed like an
eternity and my feet dragged in the loose footing. I had slept little
the previous night, and not at all since then.
This time Chubby watched over me while I slept, and when he shook me
gently awake it was after seven o’clock and the daylight was growing
We ate a breakfast cold from the can, and I finished it with a handful
of high-energy glucose tablets from the survival kit and washed them
down with a mug of chlorinated water.
I drew the knife from the sheath on my belt and threw it underhand to
pin into the trunk of the nearest palm. It stood there shivering with
the force of the impact.
“Show off!” muttered Chubby, and I grinned at him, trying to look
relaxed and easy.
“, just like the man said – no weapons,” and I spread my empty hands.
“You ready?” he asked, and we both stood up and looked at each other
awkwardly. Chubby would never wish me good luck – which was the worst of
all possible hex to put on someone.
“See you later,”he said.
“Okay, Chubby.” I held out my hand. He took it and squeezed it hard,
then he turned away, picked up the FN rifle and plodded off through the
I watched him out of sight, but he never looked back and I turned away
myself and walked down unarmed to the beach.
I walked out from amongst the trees and stood at the water’s edge,
staring across the narrow strip of water at the crash boat. The dangling
corpse had been removed from the masthead, I saw with relief.
For many seconds none of the sentries on deck noticed me, so I raised
both hands above my head and gave them a loud
“Halloo’. Instantly there was a boil of activity and clamour of shouted
orders on board the crash boat. Manny Resnick and Lorna appeared at the
rail and stared across at me, while half a dozen armed seamen dropped
into the whaleboat and headed for the beach.
As the boat touched- they leaped out on to the sand and surrounded me
with the muzzles of the AK47’s pressed eagerly into my back and belly. I
kept my hands hoisted at half-mast and tried to maintain an expression
of disinterest as a petty officer searched me with deliberate
thoroughness for any weapon. When he was at last satisfied, he placed
his hand between my shoulder-blades and gave me a hearty shove towards
the whaleboat. One of the more eager of his men took this as a licence
and he tried to rupture my kidneys with the butt of his AK47 – but the
blow landed six inches high.
I made briskly for the whaleboat to forestall any further martial
displays and they crowded into the boat around me pressing the muzzles
of their fully loaded weapons painfully into various parts of my
Manny Resnick watched me come in over the side of the crash boat.
“Hallo again, Harry,”he smiled without mirth.
“The pleasure is all yours, Manny,” I returned the death’s head grin,
and another blow caught me between the shoulder-blades and drove me
across the deck. I ground my teeth together to control my anger, and I
thought about Sherry North. That helped.
Commander Suleiman Dada was sprawled on a low couch covered with plain
canvas cushions. He had removed his uniform jacket and it hung heavy
with all the braid and medals from a hook on the bulkhead beside him. He
wore only a sweat-soaked and greyish sleeveless vest, and even this
early in the morning he held a glass of pale brown liquid in his right
“Ah, Harry Fletcher – or should it be Harry Bruce?” he grinned at me
like an enormous coal-black baby.
“You take your pick, Suleiman,” I invited him, but I didn’t’feel like
playing word games with him now. I had no illusions about how dangerous
was the position in which Sherry and I were placed, and my nerves were
painfully tight and fear growled like a caged animal in my belly.
“I have learned so much more about you from my good friends,” he
indicated Manny and the blonde Lorna who had followed me into the main
cabin. “Fascinating, Harry. I never dreamed you were a man of such vast
talent and formidable achievement.”
“Thanks, Suleiman, you really are a brick, but let’s not get carried
away with compliments. We have important business – don’t we, “True,
Harry, very true.”
“You have raised the tiger throne, Harry, we know that,” Manny cut in,
but I shook my head.
“Only part of it. The rest has gone – but we salvaged what there was.”
“All right, I’ll buy that,” Manny agreed. “Just tell us what there is.”
“There is the head of the tiger, about three hundred pounds weight in
gold-” Suleiman and Manny glanced at each other.
“Is that all?” Manny asked, and I knew instinctively that Sherry had
told them everything she knew during the beating they had given her. I
did not hold that against her. I had expected it.
“There is also the jewel chest. The stones removed from the throne were
placed in an iron pay chest.”
“The diamond – the Great Mogul?”demanded Manny. “We’ve got it,” I said,
and they murmured and smiled and nodded at each other. “But I’m the only
one who knows where it is–” I added softly, and immediately they were
tense and quiet again.
“This time I’ve got something to trade, Manny. Are you interested?”
“We are interested, Harry, very interested,” Suleiman Dada spoke for
him, and I was aware of the tension growing between my two enemies now
that the loot was almost in view.
“I want Sherry North,” I said.
“Sherry Northt Manny stared at me for a moment, and then let out a brief
cough of amusement. “You’re a bigger fool than I thought you were,
“The girl is of no further interest to us.” Suleiman took a swallow from
his glass, and I could smell his sweat in the rising warmth of the
cabin. “You can have her.”
“I want my boat, fuel and water to get me off the island “Reasonable,
Harry, very reasonable,” Manny smiled again as if at a secret joke.
“And I want the tiger’s head,” and both Manny and Suleiman laughed out
“Harry! Harry!” Suleiman chided me, still laughing. “Greedy Harry,”
Manny stopped laughing.
“You can have the diamond and about fifty Pounds weight of other gem
stones, – I tried to sell the idea with all the persuasion I could
muster. It was the understandable thing to do for a man in my position,”
– in comparison the head is nothing. The diamond is worth a million –
the head would just cover my expenses.”
“You are a hard man, Harry,” Suleiman chuckled. “Too hard.” “What will I
get out of it, then?” I demanded.
“Your life, and be grateful for it,” Manny said softly, and I stared at
him. I saw the coldness in his eyes, like those of a reptile and I knew
beyond all doubt what his intentions were for me, once I had led them to
“How can I trust you?” I went through the motions however, and Manny
“Harry, how can you not trust us?” Suleiman intervened. “What could we
possibly gain by killing you and your young lady? “And what could you
possibly lose,” I thought, but I nodded and said, “Okay. I don’t have
They relaxed again, smiling at each other and Suleiman lifted his glass
in a silent salute.
“Drink, Harry? he asked.
“It’s a little early for me, Suleiman,” I declined, “but I would like to
have the girl with me now.”
Suleiman motioned one of his men to fetch her.
“I want the whaleboat loaded with fuel and water and left on the beach,”
I went on doggedly, and Suleiman gave the orders.
“The girl goes with me when we go ashore and after I have shown you the
chest and the head, you’ll take it and go.” I stared from one to the
other. “You’ll leave us on the island unharmed, do we agree?”
“Of course, Harry.” Suleiman spread his hands disarmingly. “We are all
agreed.” I was afraid that they would see the disbelief in my expression
– so I turned with relief to Sherry as she was led into the cabin.
My relief faded swiftly as I stared at her.
“Harry,” she whispered through her swollen purple lips. “You came – oh
God, you came.” She took a faltering step towards me.
Her cheek was bruised and swollen horribly, and from the extent of the
oedema I thought perhaps the bone was cracked. The bruising under her
eyes made her look sick and consumptive, and blood had dried in a black
crust on the rims of her nostrils. I didn’t want to look at her
injuries, so I took her in my arms and held her to my chest.
They were watching the pair of us with amusement and interest, I felt
their eyes upon us, but I did not want to face them and let them see the
murderous hatred that must show in my eyes.
“All right,” I said, “let’s get it over with.” When at last I turned to
face them, I hoped that my expression was under control.
“Unfortunately, I shall not be going with you,” Suleiman made no effort
to rise from the couch. “Climbing in and out of small boats, walking
great distances in the sun and through the sand are not my particular
pleasures. I shall say farewell to you here, Harry, and my friends-
again he indicated Manny and Lorna, -will go with you as my
representatives. Of course, you will also be accompanied by a dozen of
my men – all of them armed and operating under my instructions.” I
thought that this warning was not entirely for my benefit alone.
“Goodbye, Suleiman. Perhaps we’ll meet again.”
“I doubt it, Harry,” he chuckled. “But God speed and my blessings go
with you.” He dismissed me with one great pink-palmed paw and with the
other he raised his glass and drained the last half-inch of liquor.
Sherry sat close beside me in the motor-boat. She leaned against me, and
her body seemed to have shrivelled with the pain of her ordeal. I put my
arm about her shoulders, and she whispered wearily, “They are going to
kill us, Harry, you know that, don’t you?”
I ignored the question and asked softly, “Your hand,” it was still
wrapped in the rough bandage, “what happened?” Sherry looked up at the
blonde girl beside Manny Resnick, and I felt her shiver briefly against
“She did it, Harry.” Lorna Page was chatting animatedly to Manny
Resnick. Her carefully lacquered hairstyle resisted the efforts of the
breeze to ruffle it, and her face was meticulously made up with
expensive cosmetics. Her lipstick was moist and glossy and her eyelids
were silvery green, with long mascaraed lashes around the cat’s eyes.
“They held me – and she pulled out my fingernails.” She shuddered again,
and Lorna Page laughed lightly. Manny cupped his hands around a gold
Dunhill lighter for her while she lit a cigarette. “They kept asking me
where the treasure was – and each time I couldn’t answer she pulled a
nail with the pliers. They made a tearing sound as they came out.”
Sherry “broke off and held her injured hand protectively against her
stomach. I knew how near she was to breaking completely and I held her
close, trying to transmit strength to her by physical contact.
“Gently, baby, gently now,” I whispered, and she pressed a little closer
to me. I stroked her hair, and tried once again to control my anger,
bearing down hard upon it before it clouded my wits.
The motor-boat ran in and grounded on the beach. We climbed out and
stood on the white sands while the guards ringed us with levelled
“Okay, Harry,” Manny pointed- “There’s your boat all ready for you.” The
whaleboat was drawn up on the beach. “The tanks are full and when you’ve
shown us the goods you can take off.”
He spoke easily, but the girl beside him looked at us with hot predatory
eyes – the way a mongoose looks at a chicken. I wondered what way she
had chosen for us. I guessed that Manny had promised us to her for her
pleasure without reservations – just as soon as he was through with us.
“I hope we aren’t going to play games, Harry. I hope you’re going to be
sensible – and not waste our time.”
I had noticed that Manny had surrounded himself with his own men.
Four of them, all armed with pistols, one of them my old acquaintance
who had driven the Rover on our first meeting. To balance them there
were ten black seamen under a petty officer, and already I sensed that
the opposition was divided into two increasingly hostile parties. Manny
farther reduced the number of seamen in the party by detailing two of
them to stay with the motor-boat. Then he turned to me, “If you are
ready, Harry, you may lead the way.
I had to help Sherry, holding her elbow and guiding her up through the
grove. She was so weak that she stumbled repeatedly and her breathing
was distressed and ragged before we reached the caves.
With the mob of armed men following us closely, we went on along the
edge of the slope. Surreptitiously I glanced at my watch. It was nine
o’clock. One hour to go before the case of gelignite under the crash
boat blew. The timing was still within the limits I had set.
I made a small show out of locating the precise spot where the chest was
buried, and it was with difficulty that I refrained from glancing up the
slope to where the fold of ground was screened by vegetation.
“Tell them to dig here,” I said to Manny, and stepped back. Four seamen
handed their weapons to a comrade and assembled the small folding
army-type shovels they had brought with them.
The soil was soft and freshly turned so they went down at an alarming
speed. They would expose the chest within minutes.
“The girl’s hurt,” I said to Manny, “she must sit down.” He glanced at
me, and I saw his mind work swiftly. He knew Sherry could not run far
and I think he welcomed the opportunity to distract some of the seamen –
for he spoke briefly to the petty officer and I led Sherry to the palm
tree and sat her down against the stem.
She sighed with weary relief, and two of the seamen came to stand over
us with cocked weapons.
I glanced up the slope, but there was no sign of anything suspicious
there, although I knew Chubby must be watching us intently. Apart from
the two guards, everyone else was gathered expectantly around the four
men who were already knee-deep in the freshly dug hole.
Even out two guards were consumed with curiosity, their attention kept
wandering and they glanced repeatedly at the group forty yards away.
I heard quite clearly the clang as a spade struck the metal of the chest
– and there was a shout of excitement. They all crowded around the
excavation with a babble of rising voices, beginning to pull and elbow
each other for the opportunity to look down on to it. Our two guards
turned their backs on us, and took a step or two in the same direction.
It was more than I could have hoped for.
Manny Resnick- shoved two seamen aside roughly, and jumped down into the
hole beside the diggers. I heard him shouting, “All right then, bring
those ropes and let’s lift it out. Carefully, don’t damage anything.”
Lorna Page was leaning out over the hole also. It was perfect.
I lifted my right hand and wiped my forehead slowly in the signal I had
arranged with Chubby, and as I dropped my hand again, I seized Sherry
and rolled swiftly backwards into the shallow rain-washed runnel.
It caught Sherry by surprise, and I had handled her roughly in my
anxiety to get under cover. She cried out as I hurt her already painful
The two guards whirled at the cry, lifting their machineguns and I knew
that they were going to fire – and that the shallow trench provided no
“Now, Chubby, now!” I prayed and threw myself on top of Sherry to shield
her from the blast of machine-gun fire and I clapped both hands over her
ears to protect them.
At that instant Chubby switched the knob on the electric battery
blaster, and the impulse ran down the insulated wire that we had
concealed so carefully the night before. There was half a case of
gelignite crammed into the iron pay chest – as much explosive as I dared
use without destroying Sherry and myself in the blast.
I imagined Chubby’s fiendish glee as the case blew. It blew upwards,
deflected by the sides of the excavation – but I had packed the sticks
of gelignite with sand and handfuls of semi-precious stones to serve as
primitive shrapnel and to contain the blast and make it even more
The group of men around the hole were lifted high in the air, spinning
and somersaulting like a troupe of insane acrobats, and a column of sand
and dust shot a hundred feet into the air.
The earth jarred under us, slamming into our prone bodies – then the
shock wave tore across us. It knocked sprawling the two guards who had
been about to fire down on us, ripping their clothing from their bodies.
I thought my eardrums had both burst, I was completely deafened but I
knew that I had saved Sherry’s ears from damage. Deafened and half
blinded by dust, I rolled off Sherry and scratched frantically in the
sandy bottom of the trench. My fingers hit the machine-gun buried there
and I dragged it out, pulling off the protective rags and coming swiftly
to my knees.
Both the guards nearest me were alive, one crawling to his knees and the
other sitting up dazedly with blood from a burst eardrum trickling down
I killed them with two short bursts that knocked them down in the sand.
Then I looked towards the broken heap of humanity around the excavation.
There was small, convulsive movement there and soft moans and whimpering
sounds. I stood up shakily from the trench – and I saw Chubby standing
up on the slope. He was shouting, but I heard nothing for the ringing
buzzing din in my ears.
I stood there, swaying slightly, peering stupidly around me and Sherry
rose to her feet beside me. She touched my shoulder, saying something,
and with relief I heard her voice as the ringing in my ears subsided
I looked again towards the area of the explosion and saw a snw*e and
frightening sight. A half-human figure, stripped of clothing and most of
its skin, a raw bleeding thing with one arm half torn loose at the
shoulder socket and dangling at its side by a shred of flesh rose slowly
from beside the excavation like some horrible phantom from the grave.
It stood like that for the long moment which it took me to recognize
Manny Resnick. It seemed impossible that he should have survived that
holocaust, but more than that he began walking towards me.
He tottered step after step, closer and closer, and I stood frozen,
unable to move myself. I saw then that he was blinded, the flying sand
had scorched his eyeballs and flayed the skin from his face.
“Oh God! Oh God!” Sherry whispered beside me, and it broke the spell. I
lifted the machine-gun and the stream of bullets that tore into Manny
Resnick’s chest were a mercy.
I was still dazed, staring about me at the shambles we had created when
Chubby reached me. He took my arm and I could hear his voice as he
shouted, “Are you okay, Harry?” I nodded and he went on, The whaleboat!
We have got to make sure of the whaleboat.”
“I turned to Sherry. “Go to the cave. Wait for me there,” and she turned
“Make sure of these first,” I mumbled to Chubby, and we went to the heap
of bodies about the shattered iron chest. All of them were dead or would
soon be so.
Lorna Page lay upon her back. The blast had torn off her outer clothing
and the slim pale body was clad only in lacy underwear, with shreds of
the green slack suit hanging from her wrists and draped about her torn
and still bleeding legs.
Defying even the explosion, her hairstyle retained its lacquered
elegance except for the powdering of fine white sand. Death had played a
macabre joke upon her – for a lump of blue lapis lazuli from the jewel
chest had been driven by the force of the explosion deep into her
forehead. It had embedded itself in the bone of her skull like the eye
of the tiger from the golden throne.
Her own eyes were closed while the third precious eye of the stone
glared up at me accusingly.
They are all dead,”grunted Chubby.
“Yes, they’re dead,” I agreed, and tore my eyes away from the mutilated
girl. I was surprised that I felt no triumph or satisfaction at her
death, nor at the manner of it. Vengeance, far from being sweet, is
entirely tasteless, I thought, as I followed Chubby down to the beach.
I was still unsteady from the effects of the explosion, and although my
ears had recovered almost entirely, I was hardpressed to keep up with
Chubby. He was light on his feet for such a big man.
I was ten paces behind him as we came out of the trees and stopped at
the head of the beach.
The whaleboat lay where we had left her, but the two seamen detailed to
guard the motor-boat must have heard the explosion and decided to take
They were halfway back to the crash boat already, and when they saw
Chubby and me, one of them fired his machine-gun in our direction. The
range was far beyond the accurate limits of the weapon, and we did not
bother to take cover. However, the firing attracted the attention of the
crew remaining aboard the crash boat – and I saw three of them run
forward to man the quick-firer in the bows.
“Here comes trouble,” I murmured.
The first round was high and wide, cracking into the palms behind us and
pitting their stems with the burst of shrapnel.
Chubby and I moved quickly back into the grove and lay flat behind the
sandy crest of the beach.
What now?” Chubby asked.
“Stalemate,” I told him, and the next two rounds from the quick–firer
burst in futile fury in the trees above and behind us – but then there
was a delay of a few seconds and I saw them training the gun around.
The next shot lifted a tall graceful spout of water from the shallows
alongside the whaleboat. Chubby let out a roar of anger, like a lioness
whose cub is threatened.
“They are trying to take out the whaleboat!”he bellowed, as the next
round tore into the beach in a brief spurt of soft sand.
“Give it to me,” I snapped, and took the FN from him, thrusting the
short-barrelled AK47 at him and lifting the strap of the haversack off
Chubby’s shoulder. His marksmanship was not equal to the finer work that
was now necessary. “Stay here,” I told him, and I jumped up and doubled
away around the curve of the bay. I had almost entirely recovered from
the effects of the blast now – and as I reached the horn of the bay
nearest the anchored crash boat I fell flat on my belly in the sand and
pushed forward the long barrel of the FN.
The gun crew were still blazing away at the whaleboat, and spouts of
sand and water rose in rapid succession about it. The plate of frontal
armour of the gun was aimed diagonally away from me, and the backs and
flanks of the gun crew were exposed.
I pushed the rate of fire selector of the FN on to single shot, and drew
a few long deep breaths to steady my aim after the long run through the
The gun-layer was pedalling the traversing and elevating handles of the
gun and had his forehead pressed hard against the pad above the
eye-piece of the gunsight.
I picked him up in the peepsight and squeezed off a single shot.
It knocked him off his seat and flung him sideways across the breech of
the gun. The untended aiming handles spiralled idly and the barrel of
the gun lifted lazily towards the sky.
The two gun-loaders looked around in amazement and I squeezed off two
more snap shots at them.
Their amazement was altered instantly to panic, and they deserted their
posts and sprinted back along the deck, diving into an open hatchway.
I swung my aim across and up to the open bridge of the crash boat.
Three shots into the assembled officers and seamen produced a gratifying
chorus of yells and the bridge cleared miraculously.
The motor-boat from the beach came alongside, and I hastened the two
seamen up the side and into the deckhouse with three more rounds. They
neglected to make the boat fast and it drifted away from the side of the
I changed the magazine of the FN and then carefully and deliberately I
put a single bullet through each porthole on the near side of the boat.
I could hear clearly the shattering crack of glass at each side.
This proved too much provocation for Commander Suleiman Dada. I heard
the donkey winch clatter to life and the anchor chain streamed in over
the bows, glistening with sea-water, and the moment the fluked anchor
broke out through the surface, the crash boat’s propellers churned a
white wash of water under her stern and she swung round towards the
opening of the lagoon.
I kept her under fire as she moved slowly past my hiding, place lest she
change her mind about leaving. The bridge was screened by a wind shield
of dirty white canvas, and I knew the helmsman was lying behind this
with his head well down. I fired shot after shot through the canvas,
trying to guess his position.
There was no apparent effect so I turned my attention to the portholes
again, hoping for a lucky ricochet within the hull.
The crash boat picked up speed rapidly until she was waddling along like
an old lady hurrying to catch a bus. She rounded the horn of the bay,
and I stood up and brushed off the sand. Then I reloaded the rifle and
broke into a trot through the palm grove.
By the time I reached the north tip of the island, and climbed high
enough up the slope to look out over the deep-water channel, the crash
boat was a mile away, heading resolutely for the distant mainland of
Africa, a small white shape against the shaded greens of the sea, and
the higher harsher blue of the sky.
I tucked the FN under my arm and found a seat from where I could watch
her further progress. My wristwatch showed seven minutes past ten
o’clock, and I began to wonder if the case of gelignite below the crash
boat’s stern had, after all, been torn loose by the drag of the water
and the wash of the propellers.
The crash boat was now passing between the submerged outer reefs before
entering the open inshore waters. The reefs blew regularly, breathing
white foam at each surge of the sea as though a monster lay beneath the
The small white speck of the crash boat seemed ethereal and
insubstantial in that wilderness of sea and sky, soon she would merge
with the wind-flecked and current-chopped waters of the open sea.
The explosion when it came was without passion, its violence muted by
distance and its sound toned by the wind. There was a sudden soft
waterspout that enveloped the tiny white boat. It looked like an ostrich
feather, soft and blowing on the wind, bending when it reached its full
height and then losing its shape and smearing away across the choppy
The sound reached me many seconds later, a single unwar-like thud
against my still-tender eardrums, and I thought I felt the flap of the
blast like the puff of the wind against my face.
When the spray had blown into nothingness the channel was empty, no sign
remained of the tiny vessel and there was no mark of her going upon the
I knew that with the tide the big evil-looking albacore sharks hunted
inshore upon the flood. They would be quick to the taint of blood and
torn flesh in the water, and I doubted that any of those aboard the
crash boat who had survived the blast would long avoid the attentions of
those single-minded and voracious killers. Those that found Commander
Suleiman Dada would fare well, I thought, unless they recognized a
kindred spirit and accorded him professional privilege. It was a grim
little joke, and it gave me only fleeting amusement. I stood up and
walked down to the caves.
found my medical kit had been broken open and scattered during the
previous day’s looting, but I retrieved sufficient material to clean and
dress Sherry’s mutilated fingers. Three of the nails had been torn out.
I feared that the roots had been destroyed, and that they would never
grow again – but when Sherry expressed the same fears, I denied them
Once her injuries were taken care of I made her swallow a couple of
codeine for the pain and made a bed for her in the darkness of the back
of the cave.
“Rest,” I told her, kneeling to kiss her tenderly. “Try and sleep. I
will fetch you when we are ready to leave.”
Chubby was already busy with the necessary tasks. He had checked the
whaleboat and, apart from a few shrapnel holes, found her in good
We filled the holes with Pratleys putty from the toolchest, and left her
on the beach.
The hole in which the chest had been buried served as a communal grave
for the dead men and the woman lying about it. We laid them in it like
sardines, and covered them with the soft sand.
We exhumed the golden head from its own grave with its glittering eye
still in the broad forehead, and staggering under its weight we carried
it down to the whaleboat and padded it with the polythene cushions in
the bottom of the boat. The plastic packets of sapphires and emeralds I
packed into my haversack and laid it beside the head.
Then we returned to the caves and salvaged all the undamaged stores and
equipment – the jerrycans of water and petrol, the scuba bottles and the
compressor. It was late afternoon before we had packed it all into the
whaleboat and I was tired. I laid the FN rifle on top of the load and
“Okay, Chubby?” I asked, as I lit our cheroots and we took our first
break. “Reckon we can take off now.”
Chubby drew on the cheroot and blew a long flag of blue smoke before he
spat on the sand. “I just want to go up and fetch Angelo,” he muttered,
and when I stared at him he went on, “I’m not going to leave the kid up
there. It’s too lonely here, he’ll want to be with his own people in a
So while I went back to the caves to fetch Sherry, Chubby selected a
bolt of canvas and went off into the gathering darkness.
I woke Sherry and made sure she was warmly dressed in one of my jerseys,
then I gave her two more codeine and took her down towards the beach. It
was dark now, and I held the flashlight in one hand and helped Sherry
with the other. We reached the beach and I paused uncertainly. There was
something wrong, I knew, and I played the torch over the loaded vessel.
Then I realized what it was, and I felt a sick little jolt in my belly.
The FN rifle was no longer where I had left it in the whaleboat.
“Sherry,” I whispered urgently, “get down and stay there until I tell
She sank swiftly to the sand beside the beached hull, and I looked
around frantically for a weapon. I thought of the spear-gun, but it was
under the jerrycans, my bait-knife was still pegged into a palm tree in
the grove – I had forgotten about it until this moment. A spanner from
the toolbox, perhaps – but the thought was as far as I got.
“All right, Harry, I’ve got the gun.” The deep throaty voice spoke out –
of the darkness close behind me. “Don’t turn around or do anything
He must have been lying up in the grove after he had taken the rifle,
and now he had come up silently behind me. I froze.
“Without turning around – just toss that flashlight back here.
Over your shoulder.”
I did as he ordered and I heard the sand crunch under his feet as he
stooped to pick it up.
“All right, turn around – slowly.” As I turned, he shone the powerful
beam into my eyes, dazzling me. However, I could still vaguely make out
the huge hulking shape of the man beyond the beam.
“Have a good swim, Suleimanr I asked. I could see that he wore only a
pair of short white underpants, and his enormous belly and thick
shapeless legs gleamed wetly in the reflected torchlight.
“I am beginning to develop an allergy to your jokes, Harry,” he spoke
again in that deep beautifully modulated voice, and I remembered too
late how a grossly overweight man becomes light and strong in the
supporting salt water of the sea. However, even with the turn of the
tide to help him, Suleiman Dada had performed a formidable feat in
surviving the explosion and swimming back through almost two miles of
choppy water. I doubted any of his men had done as well.
“I think it should be in the belly first,” he spoke again, and I saw
that he held the stock of the rifle across his left elbow. With the same
hand he aimed the torch beam into my face. “They tell me that is the
most painful place to get it.”
We were silent for moments then, Suleiman Dada. breathing with his deep
asthmatic wheeze and I trying desperately to think of some way in which
to distract him long enough to give me a chance to grab the barrel of
“I don’t suppose you’d like to go down on your knees and plead with
“Go screw, Suleiman,” I answered.
“No, I didn’t really think you would. A pity, I would have enjoyed that.
But what about the girl, Harry, surely it would be worth a little of
your pride ” We both heard Chubby. He had known there was no way he
could cross the open beach undetected, even in the dark. He had tried to
rush Suleiman Dada, but I am sure he knew that he would not make it.
What he was really doing was giving me the distraction I so desperately
He came fast out of the darkness, running in silently with only the
squeak of the treacherous sand beneath his feet to betray him. Even when
Suleiman Dada turned the rifle on to him, he did not falter in his
There was the crack of the shot and the long lightning flash of the
muzzle blast, but even before that, I was halfway across the distance
that separated me from the huge black man. From the corner of my eye I
saw Chubby fall, and then Suleiman Dada began to swing the rifle back
I brushed past the barrel of the FN and crashed shoulder first into his
chest. It should have staved his ribs in like the victim of a car smash
– instead I found the power of my rush absorbed in the thick padding of
dark flesh. It was like running into a feather mattress, and although he
reeled back a few paces and lost the rifle, Suleiman Dada remained
upright on those two thick tree-trunks of his legs, and before I could
recover my own balance I was enfolded in a vast bear hug.
He picked me up off my feet, and pulled me to his mountainously soft
chest, trapping both my arms and lifting me so that I could not brace my
legs to resist his weight and strength. I experienced a chill of
disbelief when I felt the strength of the man, not a hard brutal
strength – but something so massive and weighty that there seemed no end
to it, almost like the irresistible push and surge of the sea.
I tried with my elbows and knees, kicking and striking to break his
hold, but the blows found nothing solid and made no impression upon the
man. Instead, the enfolding grip of his arms began to tighten with the
slow pulsing power of a giant python. I realized instantly that he was
quite capable of literally crushing me to death – and I experienced a
sense of panic. I twisted and struggled frantically and unavailingly in
his arms, but as he brought more of his immense power to bear upon me,
so his breathing wheezed more harshly and he leaned, forward, hunching
his great shoulders over me and forcing my back into an arc that must
soon snap my spine.
I bent back my head, reached up with an open mouth and I locked my teeth
into the broad flattened nose. I bit in hard, with all my desperation,
and quite clearly I felt my teeth slice through the flesh and gristle of
his nose and instantly my mouth filled with the warm salty metallic
flood of his blood. Like a dog at a bull-baiting, I worried and tugged
at his nose.
The man bellowed a roar of agony and anger and he released his crushing
grip from around my body to try and tear my teeth from his face. The
instant my arms were free I twisted convulsively and got a purchase with
both feet in the firm wet sand, so I could put my hip into him for the
throw. He was so busy attempting to dislodge the grip of my teeth from
his nose that he could not resist the throw and as he went over
backwards my teeth tore loose, cutting away a lump of his living flesh.
I spat out the horrid mouthful but the warm blood streamed down my chin
and I resisted the temptation to pause and wipe it clean.
Suleiman Dada was down on his back, stranded like some massive crippled
black frog, but he would not remain helpless much longer, I had to take
him out cleanly now and there was only one place where he might be
I jumped up high over him and came down to knee-drop into his throat, to
drive my one knee with the full weight and momentum of my body into his
larynx and crush it.
He was swift as a cobra, throwing up both arms to shield his throat and
to catch me as I descended on to him. Once again, I was enmeshed by
those thick black arms, and we rolled down the beach, locked chest to
chest into the warm shallow water of the lagoon.
In a direct contrast of weight for weight like this, I was outmatched,
and he came up over me with blood streaming from his injured nose, still
bellowing with anger, and he pinned me into the shallows forcing my head
below the surface and bearing down upon my chest and lungs with all his
I began to drown. My lungs caught fire, and the need to breathe laced my
vision with sparks and whorls of fire. I could feel the strength going
out of me and my consciousness receding into blackness.
The shot when it sounded was muted and dull. I did not recognize it for
what it was, until I felt Suleiman Dada jerk and stiffen, felt the
strength go out of him and his weight slip and fall from me.
I sat up coughing and gasping for air, with water cascading from my hair
and streaming into my eyes. In the light of the fallen torch I saw
Sherry North kneeling on the sand at the edge of the water. She had the
rifle still clutched in her bandaged hand and her face was pale and
Beside me, Suleiman Dada floated face down in the shallow water, his
half-naked body glistening blackly like a stranded porpoise. I stood up
slowly, water pouring from my clothing and she stared at me, horrified
with what she had done.
“Oh God,”she whispered, “I’ve killed him. Oh God!”
“Baby,” I gasped. “That was the best day’s work you’ve ever done,” and I
staggered past her to where Chubby lay.
He was trying to sit up, struggling feebly.
“Take it easy, Chubby,” I snapped at him, and picked up the torch.
There was fresh blood on his shirt and I unbuttoned it and pulled it
open around the broad brown chest.
It was low and left, but it was a lung hit. I saw the bubbles frothing
from the dark hole at each breath. I have seen enough gunshot wounds to
be something of an authority and I knew that this was a bad one.
He watched my face. “How does it look?” he grunted. “It’s not sore.”
“Lovely,” I answered grimly. “Every time you drink a beer it will run
out of the hole! He grinned crookedly, and I helped him to sit up. The
exit hole was clean and neat, the FN had been loaded with solid
ammunition, and it was only slightly larger than the entry hole. The
bullet had not mushroomed against bone.
I found a pair of field dressings in the medical chest and bound up the
wounds before I helped him into the boat. Sherry had prepared one of the
mattresses and we covered him with blankets.
“Don’t forget Angelo,” he whispered. I found the long heartbreaking
canvas bundle where Chubby had dropped it, and I carried Angelo down and
laid him in the bows.
I shoved the whaleboat out until I was waist-deep, then I scrambled over
the side and started the engines. My one concern now was to get proper
medical attention for Chubby, but it was a long cold run down the
islands to St. Mary’s.
Sherry sat beside, Chubby on the floorboards, doing what little she
could for his comfort – while I stood in the stern between the motors
and negotiated the deep-water channel before turning southwards under a
sky full of cold white stars, bearing my cargo of wounded, and dying and
We had been going for almost five hours when Sherry stood up from beside
the blanketed form in the bottom of the boat and made her way back to
“Chubby wants to talk to you,” she said quietly, and then impulsively
she leaned forward and touched my cheek with the cold fingers of her
uninjured hand. “I think he is going, Harry.” And I heard the desolation
in her voice.
I passed the con to her. “You see those two bright stars,” I showed her
the pointers of the Southern Cross, “steer straight for them,” and I
went forward to where Chubby lay.
For a while he did not seem to know me, and I knelt beside him and
listened to the soft liquid sound of his breathing. Then at last he
became aware. I saw the starlight catch his eyes and he looked up at me,
and I leaned closer so that our faces were only inches apart.
“We took some good fish together, Harry,” he whispered. “We are going to
take a lot more,” I answered. “With what we’ve got aboard now we will be
able to buy a really good boat. You and I will be going for billfish
again next season – that’s for sure.”
Then we were silent for a long time, until at last I felt his hand grope
for mine and I took it and held it hard. I could feel the callouses and
the ancient line burns from handling heavy fish.
“Harry,” his voice was so faint I could just hear it over the sound of
the motors when I laid my ear to his lips, “Harry, I’m going to tell you
something I never told you before. I love you, man,” he whispered. “I
love you better than my own brother.”
“I love you too, Chubby,” I said, and for a little longer his grip was
strong again, and then it relaxed. I sat on beside him while slowly that
big horny paw turned cold in my hands, and dawn began to pale the sky
above the dark and brooding sea.
During the next three weeks, Sherry and I seldom left the sanctuary of
Turtle Bay. We went together to stand awkwardly in the graveyard while
they buried our friends, and once I drove alone to the fort and spent
two hours with President Godfrey Biddle and Inspector Wally Andrews –
but the rest of that time we were alone while the wounds healed.
Our bodies healed more quickly than did our minds. One morning as I
dressed Sherry’s hand, I noticed the pearly white seeds in the healing
flesh of her fingertips and I realized that they were the nail roots
regrowing. She would have fingernails once more to grace those long
narrow hands – I was thankful for that.
They were not happy days, the memories were too fresh and the days were
dark with mourrning for Chubby and Angelo and both of us knew that the
crisis of our relationship was at hand. I guessed what agonies of
decision she must be facing, and I forgave her the quick flares of
temper, the long silences – and her sudden disappearances from the shack
when for hours at a time she walked the long deserted beaches or made a
remote and lonely figure sitting out on the headland of the bay.
At last I knew that she was strong enough to face what lay ahead for
both of us. One evening I raised the subject of the treasure for the
first time since our return to St. Mary’s.
It lay now buried beneath the raised foundations of the shack.
Sherry listened quietly as we sat together upon the veranda, drinking
whisky and listening to the sound of the night surf upon the beach.
“I want you to go ahead to make the arrangements for the arrival of the
coffin. Hire a car in Zarich and drive down to Basie. I have arranged a
room for you at the Red Ox Hotel there. I have picked that hotel because
they have an underground parking garage and I know the head porter
there. His name is Max.” I explained my plans to her. “He will arrange a
hearse to meet the plane. You will play the part of the bereaved widow
and bring the coffin down to Basie. We will make the exchange in the
garage, and you will arranged for my banker to have an armoured car to
take the tiger’s head to his own premises from there.”
“You’ve got it all worked out, haven’t you?”
“I hope so.” I poured another whisky. “My bank is Falle et Fils and the
man to ask for is M. Challon. When you meet him you will give him my
name and the number of my account – ten sixty-six, the same as the
battle of Hastings. You must arrange with M. Challon for a private room
to which we can invite dealers to view the head-” I went on explaining
in detail the arrangements I had made, and she listened intently. Now
and then she asked a question but mostly she was silent, and at last I
produced the air ticket and a thin sheaf of traveller’s cheques to carry
“You have made the reservations already? she looked startled, and when I
nodded she thumbed open the booklet of the air ticket. “When do I
“On the noon plane tomorrow.”
“And when will you follow?”
“In the same plane as the coffin, three days later – on Friday. I will
come in on the BOAC flight at 1.30 p.m. That will give you time to make
the arrangements and be there to meet me.”
That night was as tender and loving as it had ever been, but even so I
sensed a deeper mood of melancholia in Sherry – as at the time of
leave-taking and farewell.
In the dawn, the dolphins met us at the entrance of the bay, and we
romped with them for half the morning and then swam in slowly to the
I drove her out to the airport in the old pick-up. For most of the ride
she was silent and then she tried to tell me something, but she was
confused and she did not make sense. She ended lamely, “–if anything
ever happens to us, well, I mean nothing lasts for-ever, does it-” “Go
on,” I said.
“No, its nothing. just that we should try to forgive each other – if
anything does happen.” That was all she would say, and at the airport
barrier she kissed me briefly and clung for a second with both arms
about my neck then she turned and walked quickly to the waiting aircraft
She did not look back or wave as she climbed the boarding ladder.
I watched the aircraft climb swiftly and head out across the inshore
channel for the mainland, then I drove slowly back to Turtle Bay.
It was a lonely place without her, and that night as I lay alone under
the mosquito net on the wide bed, I knew that the risk I was about to
take was necessary. Highly dangerous, but necessary. I knew I must have
her back here. Without her, it would all be tasteless. I must gamble on
the pull I would be able to exert over her outweighing the other forces
that governed her. I must let her make the choice herself, but I must
try to influence it with every play in my power.
In the morning I drove into St. Mary’s and after Fred Coker and I had
argued and consulted and passed money and promises back and forth, he
opened the double doors to his warehouse and I drove the pick-up in
beside the hearse. We loaded one of his best coffins, teak with
silvergilt handles, and red velvet-lined interior, into the back of the
truck. I covered it with a sheet of canvas and drove back to Turtle Bay.
When I had packed the coffin and screwed down the lid it weighed almost
five hundred pounds.
When it was dark, I drove back into town and it was almost closing time
at the Lord Nelson before I had completed my arrangements. I had just
time for a quick drink and then I drove back to Turtle Bay to pack my
battered old canvas campaign bag.
At the noon of the next day, twenty-four hours earlier than I had
arranged with Sherry North, I boarded the aircraft for the mainland and
that evening caught the BOAC connection onwards from Nairobi.
There was no one to meet me at Zarich airport, for I was a full day
early, and I passed quickly through customs and immigration and went out
into the vast arrivals hall.
I checked my luggage before I went about tidying up the final loose
threads of my plan. I found a flight outwards leaving at 1.20 the
following day which suited my timing admirably. I made a single
reservation, then I drifted over to the inquiries desk and waited until
the pretty little blonde girl in the Swissair uniform was not busy,
before engaging her in a long explanation. At first she was adamant, but
I gave her the old crinkled eyes and smiled that way, until at last she
became intrigued with it all – and giggled in anticipation.
“You sure you’ll be on duty tomorrow?” I asked anxiously. “Yes,
Monsieur, don’t worry, I will be here.”
We parted as friends and I retrieved my bag and caught a cab to the
Zorich Holiday Inn just down the road. The same hotel where I had
sweated out the survival of the Dutch policeman so long ago. I ordered a
drink, took a bath and then settled down in front of the television set.
It brought back memories.
A little before noon the following day I sat at the airport cafe
pretending to read a copy of the Frmilqarw AUgmiene Zeitung and watching
the arrivals hall over the top of the page. I had already checked my
baggage and my ticket. All I had to do was to go through into the final
I was wearing a new suit purchased that morning of such a bizarre cut
and mousy shade of grey, that no one who knew him could believe that
Harry Fletcher would be seen in public wearing it. It was two sizes too
large for me, and I had padded myself with hotel towels to alter my
shape entirely. I had also self-barbered my hair into a short and ragged
style and dusted it with talcum powder to put fifteen years on my age.
When I peered at my image through goldrimmed spectacles in the mirror of
the men’s room, I did not even recognize myself. At seven minutes past
one, Sherry North walked in through the main doors of the terminal. She
wore a suit of grey checked wool, a full length black leather coat and a
small matching leather hat with a narrow businesslike brim. Her eyes
were screened by a pair of dark glasses, but her expression was set and
determined as she strode through the crowd of tourists.
I felt the sick slide and turn of my guts as I saw all my suspicions and
fears confirmed and the newspaper shook in my hands. Following a pace
behind and to her side, was the small neatly dressed figure of the man
she had introduced to me as Uncle Dan. He wore a tweed cap and carried
an overcoat across his arm. More than ever he exuded an air of
awareness, the hunter’s alert and confident tread as he followed the
He had four of his men with him. They moved quietly after him, quiet,
soberly dressed men with closed watchful faces.
“Oh, you little bitch,” I whispered, but I wondered why I should feel so
bitter. I had known for long enough now.
The group of girl and five men stopped in the centre of the hall and I
watched dear Uncle Dan issuing his orders. He was a professional, you
could see that in the way he staked out the hall for me. He placed his
men to cover the arrivals gate and every exit.
Sherry North stood listening quietly, her face neutral and her eyes
hidden by the glasses. Once Uncle Dan spoke to her and she nodded
abruptly, then when the four strongarm men had been placed, the two of
them stood together facing the arrivals gate. Get out now, Harry,” the
little warning voice urged me. “Don’t play fancy games. This is the wolf
pack all over again. Run, Harry, run.”
Just then the public address- system called the outward flight on which
I had made a reservation the previous day. I stood up from the table in
my cheap baggy suit and shuffled across to the Inquiries Desk. The
little blonde Swissair hostess did not recognize me at first, then her
mouth dropped open and her eyes flew wide. She covered her mouth with
her. hand and her eyes sparkled with conspiratory glee.
“The end booth,” she whispered, “the end nearest the departures gate.” I
winked at her and shuffled away. In the telephone booth I lifted the
receiver and pretended to be speaking, but I broke the connection with a
finger on the bar and I watched the hall through the glass door.
I heard my accomplice paging.
“Miss. Sherry North, will Miss. North please report to the inquiries
Through the glass I saw Sherry approach the desk and speak with the
hostess. The blonde girl pointed to the booth beside mine and Sherry
turned and walked directly towards me. She was screened from Uncle Dan
and his merry men by the row of booths.
The leather coat swung gracefully about her long legs, and her hair was
glossy black and bouncing on her shoulders at each stride. I saw she
wore black leather gloves to hide her injured hand, and I thought she
had never looked so beautiful as in this moment of my betrayal.
She entered the booth beside me and lifted the receiver. Swiftly I
replaced my own telephone and stepped out of the booth. As I opened her
door she looked around with impatient annoyance.
“Okay, you dumb cop – give me a good reason why I shouldn’t break your
head,” I said.
“You!” Her expression crumpled, and her hand flew to her mouth.
We stared at each other.
“What happened to the real Sherry North?” I demanded, and the question
seemed to steady her.
“She was killed. We found her body – almost unrecognizable – in a quarry
outside Ascot.” “Manny Resnick told me he had killed her-_2 I said. “I
didn’t believe him. He also laughed at me when I went on board to do a
deal with him and Suleiman Dada for your life. I called you Sherry North
and he laughed at me and called me a fool.” I grinned at her lopsidedly.
“He was right – wasn’t he? I was a fool.”
She was silent then, unable to meet my eyes. I went on talking,
confirming what I had guessed.
“So after Sherry North was killed, they decided not to announce her
identity – but to stake out the North cottage. Hoping that the killers
would return to investigate the new arrival – or that some other patsy
would be sucked in and lead them home. They chose you for the stake-out,
because you were a trained police diver. That’s right, isn’t it?”
She nodded, still not looking at me.
They should have made sure you knew something about conchology as well.
“then you wouldn’t have grabbed that piece of fire coral – and saved me
a lot of trouble.”
She was over the first shock of my appearance. Now was the time to
whistle for Uncle Dan and his men, if she was going to. She remained
silent, her face half-turned away, her cheek flushed with bright blood
beneath the dark golden tan.
That first night, you telephoned when you thought I was asleep.
You were reporting to your superior officer that a sucker had walked in.
“They told you to play me along. And – oh baby – how you played me.”
She looked at me at last, dark blue eyes snapping with defiance, words
seemed to hod behind her closed lips, but she held them back and I went
“That’s why you used the back entrance to Jimmy’s shop, to avoid the
neighbours who knew Sherry. “”that’s why those two goons of Manny’s
arrived to roast your fingers on the gas-ring. They wanted to find out
who you were – because you sure as hell weren’t Sherry North. They had
I wanted her to speak now. Her silence was wearing my nerves.
“What rank is Uncle Dan – Inspector?”
“Chief Inspector,”she said.
“I had him tabbed the moment I laid eyes on him.”
“If you knew all this, then why did you go through with it?”she
“I was suspicious at first – but by the time I knew for certain I was
crazy stupid in love with you.”
She braced herself, as though I had struck her, and I went on
“I thought by some of the things we did together that you felt pretty
good about me. In my book when you love someone, you don’t sell them
down the river.”
“I’m a policewoman,” she flashed at me, “and you’re a killer.”
“I never killed a man who wasn’t trying to kill me first,” I flashed
back, “just the way you hit Suleiman Dada.”
That caught her off-balance. She stammered and looked about her as if
she were in a trap.
“You’re a thief,” she attacked again.
“Yes,” I agreed. “I was once – but that was a long time ago, and since
then I worked hard on it. With a bit of help, I’d have made it.”
“The throne-” she went on, “you are stealing the throne.”
“No, ma’am,” I grinned at her. “What is in the coffin then?”
“Three hundred pounds of beach sand from Turtle Bay. When you see it,
think of the times we had there.”
“The throne – where is it?”
“With its rightful owner, the representative of the people of St.
Mary’s, President Godfrey Biddle.”
“You gave it up?” she stared at me with disbelief that faded slowly as
something else began to dawn in her eyes. “Why, Harry, why?” “Like I
said, I’m working hard on it.” Again we were staring hard at each other,
and suddenly I saw the clear liquid flooding her dark blue eyes.
“And you came here – knowing what I had to do?” she asked, her voice
“I `;2:+’ wanted you to make a choice,” I said, and she let the tears cling
like dewdrops in the thick dark eyelashes. I went on deliberately, “I’m
going to walk out of this booth and go out through that gate. If nobody
blows the whistle I will be on the next flight out of here and the day
after tomorrow, I will swim out through the reef to look for the
“They’ll come after you, Harry,” she said, and I shook my head.
“President Biddle has just altered his extradition agreements.
Nobody will be able to touch me on St. Mary’s. I have his word for it.”
I turned and opened the door of the booth. “I’m going to be lonely as
all hell out there at Turtle Bay.”
I turned my back on her then and walked slowly and deliberately to the
departures gate, just as they called my flight for the second time. It
was the longest and scariest walk of my entire life, and my heart
thumped in time to my footsteps. Nobody challenged me and I dared not
As I settled into the seat of the Swissair Caravelle and fastened my
seat belt, I wondered how long it would take her to screw up her nerve
enough to follow me out to St. Mary’s, and I reflected-that there was
much I still had to tell her.
I had to tell her that I had contracted to raise the rest of the golden
throne from Gunfire Break for the benefit of the people of St. Mary’s.
In return President Godfrey Biddle had undertaken to buy me a new
deep-sea boat from the proceeds – just like Wave Dancer – a token of the
I would be able to keep my lady in the style to which I was accustomed,
and of course there was always the case of Georgian silver gilt plate
buried behind the shack at Turtle Bay for the lean and hungry off
season. I hadn’t reformed that much. There would be no more night runs,
As the Caravelle took off and climbed steeply up over the blue lakes and
forested mountains, I realized that I did not even know her real name.
That would be the first thing I would ask her when I met her at the
airport of St. Mary’s island, – Pearl of the Indian Ocean.