Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Such a Shimmering Maquereau


Chapter One

Look at her. She is the one. She leaps to the surface, breaking from the circling school. They swim around in dull orbit while she splashes to be free and be with me.

I raise her from the bait well and kiss her on the lips. Such a lovely and shimmering maquereau. Rainbow and vivid with the sun of the Caribbean in her eyes.

Bon chance, petit ami,” I say and hook her through the nostrils.

I flip her overboard and sink her to the bottom.

Resting my rod in the holder, I sink into my chair and sip. My cocktail is rich with roasted sugar depth, smoking oak, the sweetness of Bordeaux and citrus air. The sun, she is rising.

Salted flowers on marine air. The island is igniting magenta. A riffle of wind tousles the transparent water. The ripples stand up gold. How did I get here? How long may I stay?

The oscuro from my humidor reclines on my glass tray. The wrapper is inky as midnight with a faint sheen of oil on its gnarled skin. With sickled scissors, I snip off the cap. I toast the foot while La Prévoyance drifts at anchor in twelve fathoms, just away from the coral.

Then I puff, imagining groupers and snappers ignoring my bait until I have achieved a proper cherry glow.

Mahogany and amber. An edge of black paprika.

Another sip while wishing the fishes leave me alone for a small time. Guava and mango, grapefruit and papaya I have sliced for my breakfast. I have no appetite for chumming. For les touristes I'll be bloody as a savage sawing fish heads for the slick, but I do not desire such dirtiness today.

Clear is my schedule. No charters or dives. Only my appetites, my boat and the massage of the waves.

Eins zwei Polizei,” comes a voice from my shorts. I'm vibrating. “Drei vier Offizier.”

That's the ring of El Comisionado. From my pocket, I pull my phone.

Allo?” I reply.

I hear a hand rub whiskers. A throat clears. “We have a problem.”

Always, when rarely I have no problems, El C brings one to me.

“The problem, what kind?”

“We have a body.”

At least it's not mine. “What kind of body?”

Ven rápido.” The line is dead. So is my morning. My day and my week also, perhaps.

Standing, I finish my drink in one leaning gulp. I set my cigar in the tray next to my phone. The sky, she is so placid and blue like the water.

I fall overboard.

How silent are all things underwater. The coral makes no sound growing across the marine floor. The schools do no shout orders as they swim in formation. The sharks, they do not snarl as they stalk the fishes. My shimmering maquereau does not wail as she struggles against the steel piercing her nose.

Down here, all maintains the sound of peace.

I pull myself onto the dive step. I wipe water from my scalp. Time to discover how and why a person became a body.

From the ashtray, my robusto sends a ribbon into the unblemished sky. My rod tip bounces in time with the scarce rolling of the boat.

But I must go.

I strip, squeeze the sea from my clothes and drape them over the stern rail. I descend below deck. I pull on dry shorts. My M9, she has fifteen in the clip with one chambered. I shrug into my shoulder holster. The pistol rides under my left arm with two spare clips under my right.

My stiletto, I draw from between my shoulders. I shave my thumb-nail with both edges before returning her to the sheath. I flick open my latest souvenir: a switchblade scarcely thicker than a credit card. Also razor sharp. I drop her in my pocket.

May I need none of it.

I slip into a blue short-sleeve embroidered with golden tuna. I button up halfway and look in the mirror. Concealed, but not so much. This island's tourists like to sunbathe and sip rum while believing cowboys and pirates still exist. Today, I am neither. Only a deputy.

My rod is bounding when I return. I snatch the pole, set the hook and reel. I pull up a grouper, too small to give much fight.

Today is your day, mon frere.” I rub noses with him and pull the hook from his mouth. Not bad, he is injured. May I free myself so easily.

I drop him back into the blue. On another day, his two fillets would make a nice lunch.

My bait, she is bitten and stunned. Gently as I can, I turn the hook from her nostrils. The barb cuts her.

“You have done your best.” I slip her back into the sea. She splashes a circle, leaving a ribbon of blood.

White gulls swoop on black wings for my bait, each lunging at the others. Not the ending you deserve, mon petit maquereau, yet so few of us will end how we wish. Someone is dead on the island. If the end came placidly after a century of joy drenched in an abundance of pleasure, El C would not have called.

A blue bullet nose then a dorsal fin break the water and my bait is gone. With a splashing thrust, the shark disappears. The gulls scatter, screeching back into the air.

A more fitting finale.

I brew coffee and rinse my cocktail glass. I stow my fishing gear before weighing anchor and climbing to the bridge with my mug and cigar.

I am coming, but not rápido. Why should I move? I look across the gem-like water with palettes of coral beneath and rainbows of fish. The sky is a light year of blue with a single cloud. Shaped like a mermaid, I think, or a yacht with a maiden on the bow.

Ah yes, death. That is why I must go. All that guides me is death. To explain one or prevent my own, that is why I move.

I fire the motors. La Prévoyance rumbles deep, subdued and controlled. Bolted tight, she is, and damped to keep the racing diesels from dominating my soundscape. Rarely do I need the power, but sometimes one needs escapability.

Chapter Two

My finger-tips touch the throttles and we edge away from the reef. We cut the slightest of wakes as we purr towards the marina. The water is clear at this hour. The fishermen have already headed out. The tourists are not yet awake. I pass the jungle topped cliffs on the island's east side and the harbor opens.

Moorage for hundred foot yachts, jet skis and everything in between. I pull into my slip in the charter fishermen's section.

A shirtless man with a knotted mess of dreads dances in leather sandals along the dock. “I wish I had sun,” he sings, “oh, right here. I wish I had water... wait, right here.”

A woven satchel hangs across his shoulders and off his hip. “Working early, Chitchat?” I ask him.

“Every single morning, I'm right here,” he continues, shaking his hair. “While de fishermon is sleeping off beer. Breath in my lungs? It's right here.” He pats his satchel. “If you need something, got it right here.”

Chitchat shuffles on toward the end of the pier. Perhaps he will not stop when the boards end and the water begins. For sure, he will still be singing.

I finish my mug, puff again and clamp the robusto in my teeth. I pull on socks and sneakers. I would love to be dancing in sandals as well, but they bring me bad luck. Whenever I wear shoes that are no good for running, I find myself chasing or fleeing.

Just before setting foot on the dock, I pivot and return to my galley fridge. I pick a box of Belgian chocolates filled with raspberry crème.

I set my alarm and pocket my key fob. Briskly, I walk along the pier, ignoring fellow charter captains dozing or toying with tackle. I wish the chocolates not to melt. Plus I need to find my question and answer it so I may return to life.

The pier ends in a broad ramp which passes under a carved wooden arch in the shape of a leaping marlin. “No Motors Past this Point” mentions a sign in English, Spanish and French. They mean it. Gasoline and diesel are for boats. Electric carts and mopeds are too fast for the image of this place. The tourists, they walk or are ferried around. The locals, they bicycle.

At the top of the ramp is courtyard paved in local stone. I smell coffee and fried plantains from one side. On the other, coriander simmers with turmeric and chiles. A man arranges stools in front of a street bar. He opens his arms.

“Comrade, come sit.” He waves his thick hands and forearms to his taps and bottles. “The night, it must be very late.”

I must not tip my hand to my business this morning. “Soon, Sergei. Soon.”

I take one last drag from my cigar in front of the vast grey facade of The Keep. It's the only old building in this place. A castle that looks like it belongs in the days of Sir Lancelot, but it is only a century old. Turrets on the corners. One moat and a few gargoyles short of a fairy tale. The fancy of an English nobleman before his servants rose up to kill him, or something.

The oral history of this island is like the lace of a dancer. Decorative and entertaining while not revealing as much as you'd like.

I stub my cigar and drop it in the trash. Pulling a great iron ring, I swing open one of the broad teak doors. Inside, beams of sun stream down from tall window slits.

Bonjour, Marcel,” says a bright-eyed Hindi woman behind the receptionist desk. Her French is very clipped and British. Her teeth and smiling lips, illuminated by her computer screen, twinkle like the stones decorating her neck, ears and nose. She should not be inside this cavern. She should be in a sarong on the beach, doing whatever so she pleases.

Enchante,” I reply. A nod and a grin are all the identification I need here, unfortunately. She knows where I am going. I descend an unmarked steel staircase, trying not to cause echoes. Soon, the temperature is like a cave. Gone is any trace of sunlight. Only bare bulbs with orange filaments.

At the end of the gray hall is a steel door. I knock and hear silence. Of course he is here. I turn the knob and enter.

Every time I wish for a jacket. Every time I wonder if I own one. My pistol is suddenly icy on my side. This man uses more air conditioning than any building on this island. At least the chocolates, they will not melt.

El C sits at his tin desk, the blotter covered in pictures and stapled papers in tan folders. Behind him are four flat monitors, blank but powered up. They are dark blue, not black. His face is lit by the screen on his desk and the tubes overhead.

His black handlebar mustache is bunched at the corners of his mouth. He is grinning at the information in front of him. I set the chocolates on the barest part of his desk.

Callebaut avec framboises. Only available from...” The crinkling of the plastic wrapper interrupts me. The lid of the box hits the floor. His mustache bends back to its customary inverted horseshoe shape as he chews one and then another.

I drag a screeching steel chair across the stone floor of his office and cringe. I carry it the rest of the way and sit on the stiff, frozen vinyl cushion.

He wears a khaki uniform shirt with epaulets and a polished badge. His black hair is slicked under a stiff peaked hat of matching khaki. Under that brim, his face is much too pale for a hispanic.

A month after I am dead and buried, my European face will still be more tan.

“The body?” I finally ask. Ribbons flap from the grille of his air conditioner.

“KJ Dupree.”

Perhaps the worst name other than my own I could have heard. The island's first celebrity. An American footballer here for a wedding and a honeymoon. The his entourage and the one of his fiance plus the accompanying paparazzi were creating quite an opportunity for this budding tourist paradise.

His cheeks lifted back to a scrunched smile. His bristles poked his face. “He was found with the caymans.”

“How much?”

“How many?” His head tilted and he gulped another chocolate. “All of them.”

Non. How much? How much of him was left? Surely, they were not playing cards together.”

“Extremities missing. Face beyond recognition. The remains were naked.”

“Can you be sure it is him?”

As the sentence left my mouth he flipped over a photo. One buttock and a thigh with wrenched tendons. Shoulders with one stump, mangled with splinters of protruding bone. The back of a head, hair faded up to a black curly top. A ravaged cheek with the wreckage of a lower mandible. The back largely untouched except for a narrow wedge of puncture wounds. A fresh tattoo across African skin: Forever Angelique's.

“Say no more,” I reply. That ink has been all over digital and print media since Sir Jerry did the work a block from here a few days ago. I saw it on my boat just yesterday when I took the couple fishing.

“Where is it?” The island has a clinic for the basic medical needs of guests and locals. Anyone needing more serious help is flown to Grenada or Miami. For certain, we have no morgue.

“At the hotel. The guard thinks he's protecting special food for the wedding,” El C says, grinning at his own plan like he'd been stamped by a horse. “Tell him you are there to check on the caviar.”

I was wondering if I could look at a fish egg correctly again when he continued. “But first,” he said to the chocolate in his palm, “make sure no one talks to the bride.” He gulped it down. “And she talks to no one. Get her someplace out of sight. Keep the lenses off of her.”

“Is she a suspect?”

“You figure that out. Who ever killed him, the island will pay for the crime. Wash our hands.”

When the island wakes up, everyone will look to see what the power couple is doing. Especially the flock of media watching from the street, the sea, helicopters and satellites. They can't know about this yet. What will I do with her?

“What are you waiting for? Vaya.





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The murder mystery is growing. I'm on it. It's in my head and it won't let go. Stay tuned.