Will the tropical remote island of Île Caché be far away enough for Dora to outrun the consequences of her crime? By Anne Dorrian.
Ms Pammers’ crystal tipped nail pierced the wind. When she spoke, her eyebrows danced above her sunglasses like caterpillars convulsing in a strange mating ritual. She pointed at the far side of the island. “You’ll see it in a moment.” Her voice had to contend with the noise of the boat’s outboard motor. Dora tried to light a cigarette. It was impossible to spark up in this wind though. She bounced her knees up and down, then wrapped her hands around them, to steady them. She was jumpy now. This was the final stretch, no time to lose your nerve, Dora thought. They sped past a modern house, made mostly of glass and overlooking a long stretch of sand.
“What about this one?” Dora said
“Not remote enough.” The estate agent shook her head.
Dora smoothed her black shift dress down. She had already taken her black tights and shoes off. She tried to forget about the sweat patches, the creases. She could feel her lipstick melting in the heat. She eyed Ms Pammer’s leopard print kaftan with envy.
“You’re used to a different climate?” the estate agent said.
“Is it that obvious?” Dora said. “I shall try harder to blend in.”
Ms Pammers laughed. Dora noted her cracked, brittle laugh; it was that of a fellow dedicated smoker. She liked the woman.
What does four million get you? She was about to find out. Secluded, that’s what she had told Ms Pammers, a discreet hideaway. And Ms Pammers had asked no questions, had not raised her manicured, caterpillar brows.
“Île Caché,” she had said immediately, “I might have just the thing for you on Île Caché.”
The boat rounded the island. Flying fish jumped out of the water next to it, their little wings stretched wide, vanishing back under the surface like droplets of quicksilver. The clear sea lapped at the seashell-coloured beach that was dotted with washed up seaweed. Behind that were palm trees, hibiscus, bougainvillea, and brush, every now and then a little clearing, a little grass, where small birds with long beaks stalked. And then more thick foliage. It was quite beautiful, almost bizarrely so. To think that elsewhere – in what used to be Dora’s home – there was concrete and drizzle, cracked kerbs and iron railings; there were bitter jokes about the weather and the traffic, and bitter coffee from a machine. It was ridiculous, Dora thought, all this beauty. And then, just where Ms Pammers’ bejewelled nail had pointed, it came into view. A small beach, interrupted by trees that seemed to be growing into the water, surrounded the house. It had three stories, carved balconies and a white, lacquered deck that stretched out over the beach and the sea. The evening sun tinted the windows pink. A tiny deer jumped off the deck and disappeared into the brush. The motor turned off, the boat glided towards the sand and landed with a thud as soft as the fluffing of a pillow.
“Don’t you want to get out?” Ms Pammers’ outstretched hand hung like a question between them.
“No,” Dora said, taking in the sight of the house. “It’s perfect.”
She lit a cigarette and exhaled deeply. This was it.
“Eugene,” Ms Pammers said later, in her office, “looks after the place most days. He can run errands too. Your nearest neighbour is the Norwegian’s house we drove past. The owner is never really there. There is an older couple who run a B&B, called the Swallow’s Nest, and that’s it. Like I said, you are now one of only five residents on the island. The nearest town is Coral Sands, on Intendance, about an hour by boat. If I had known, I would have arranged for Eugene to help you move your things in. But we didn’t guess -” she left a little pause “- the urgency.”
Dora nodded. She liked Ms. Pammers’ choice of words. She quite enjoyed being the sort of client that made estate agents speak like that.
“Eugene has a key of course,” Ms Pammers continued, “but this is your set,” and with a little flourish she handed them over. A tiny conch was attached to the keyring, on which someone had painted the word “Paradise”.
“How very charming.” Dora said.
The only thing she could hear was the gentle lapping of the waves. That was the first really noticeable thing about the house. The master bedroom was on the top floor and Dora left the French windows ajar to let the breeze in. The whole island seemed to be in a daze. Dora had been expecting the screeching of cicadas or parrots or whatever it was that lived here and all sorts of sounds, but not this. It was as if everything was wrapped in cotton wool. After sleeping in a string of airport hotels she expected to feel more at ease. She couldn’t have been further out of sight. But in this stillness, it felt disruptive to even turn on a light. So she sat on the balcony, smoking and watching the last of the light outside fade, watching the stars appear one by one. The sky was full of them, as if someone had thrown a handful of glitter on dark cloth. Towards midnight, a shooting star appeared, then another. Was it the jet lag that was keeping her awake? She ventured downstairs in search of a drink. The fridge was empty but she found a well-stocked little bar in the library. The place had a library, a thing Dora still had to get her head around. She poured herself a cognac, and turned the lights back off. You were supposed to toast the buying of a house were you not? More than a house, it would be a home. Maybe that was a bit of a stretch; it was sentimental even. And Dora did not suffer sentimentality gladly, least of all in herself. And anyway, people like her didn’t have homes, didn’t need them. Or families. She thought of her sister, the children’s drawings on the refrigerator, the small boots in the hallway next to the laptop bag, the dog asleep on the couch where it shouldn’t be. Dora thought of that phone call from Bogota airport, the only phone call she made in two weeks:
She could still hear that long-distance ring that would translate to a clear bell in that small, brick house, half a world away. Then her sister’s faraway voice, harassed, the phone probably held in the crook of her neck while finishing a project and juggling some child-related emergency all at the same time.
“Hannah,” Dora had said, “this will be the only thing you’ll hear from me for a very long time.”
“What are you talking about?” She could hear her sister unpacking groceries. “And where the hell are you?”
“Listen. Just listen. I’m going to go away for a very long time, maybe forever. You may understand why very soon. The police may even come to ask you questions. You know I don’t like to say it but I am going to miss you, and the kids and Mr. Bojangles. Make sure you get Mr. Bojangles out of hibernation and clean his shell up when spring comes. He doesn’t like to hibernate too long ok? It’s important.”
Then Dora had hung up. She imagined her sister’s puzzled face. Dora hoped Penny had understood. She imagined her digging up Mr. Bojangles after his long sleep, his eyes blinking at the spring sun, her sister brushing the dirt off his shell and finding a little key taped to his yellow belly. And the note with the numbers to the safety deposit box. It would make their lives so much easier. Dora poured herself another cognac and dwelt on all the changes that might come to her sister’s life after she opened the box. Dora really hoped it would happen. She hoped that it would be her sister and not some policeman who would dig out Mr. Bojangles and find the key to the box.
Dora woke with what appeared to be a shrunken head. Her mouth was both sour and parched, as if she had been eating sand. Her skull seemed to be made of shattered glass, held together only by the sweaty hair that was stuck to it.
Someone was calling out from below. She pulled herself up, the black dress was now rumpled. She really needed to find something else to wear. She whipped her hair into a ponytail and smoothed it down with the palm of her hand.
“Just a minute!” she yelled. Her voice was hoarse. A quick slap of water from the tap, a capful of Listerine.
It was like a damn committee, the three of them. A tableau of cheerfulness. They even had a fruit basket. Eugene, a man with a milky eye, wiped his hand on a ratty t-shirt before shaking hers. He made her feel uncomfortable. Even his one good eye seemed never to be looking straight at her. Geoffrey and Dolores, a couple with matching grey hairdos, presented the basket as if it were the crown jewels. They introduced themselves as the owners of the Swallow’s Nest.
“Mostly newlyweds,” Dolores said, “they stay for a few days of honeymoon romance, then go to another island. How long will you be staying here?”
“Are you wanting me to leave already?” Dora said.
“Oh not at all!” Dolores said. “I just wondered, since you were all alone. It can be a little isolated, a little lonely maybe, for a lady… all by herself.”
“I intend to stay as long as it takes to write my book.” There was much cover to be found between the pages of an unwritten novel, Dora thought.
“Oh is that so? Well I’m a keen reader. Especially murdery stuff. I love a bit of that. Is it crime you write?”
“Crime’s my thing, yes.”
Dolores didn’t know what to say next, it seemed. So she settled for saying, “Oooohhhh,” and then luckily Gregory intervened.
“If you like,” he said, “I could take you fishing on the boat one day. I have a few nice spots I show to our visitors, if you’re interested.”
“You’ve got me there Gregory. I would love to do that. I’ll need to find some clothes to first though.” She gestured at her dress.
Eugene cleared his throat. “I can get you whatever you need.”
“Thanks Eugene,” she said. “I’ll take the boat to Coral Sands myself this afternoon. I need to get my bearings.”
And she did. Coral Sands seemed to consist of no more than a roundabout and a couple of painted huts selling beachwear. Dora picked up sandals and a leopard print kaftan that looked a lot like Ms Pammers’. Past the roundabout was a place called Bishop’s that served fried fish and a large selection of rums at a long bar, under two whirring fans. Dora ate and had a rum and coke. At the far end of town was a supermarket, newly built and shiny but largely empty. Its gleaming shelves displayed just a fraction of what they could have, like a gap-toothed child. Row upon row of gleaming but vacant shelf space stared at her, yet the goods were distributed exactly where they should be. The baking aisle contained nothing but a few bags of flour and baking soda, arranged on opposite sides. There was one brand of toilet paper, the rest of the shelf was empty. She was alone in the supermarket and after she had picked up what she needed she had to call for someone, who came out of a cubby hole where she had been watching television, to open the checkout. There was a leaden silence, an oppressive sluggishness that seemed to affect the whole of Coral Sands and Dora was glad when she got back on her boat. She sped out of the harbour, past the moored yachts and into the sapphire open water. Forty-five minutes later Île Caché came into view. The water was shallower now, she could see the coral reefs underneath, could see the colourful fish darting to and fro. The closer she got to the shore the lighter the sea was. Turquoise to aquamarine, to almost crystal at the shoreline. She turned off the motor and bobbed in the water. She watched the clown fish, yellow and blue, feeding and further down a red and white striped lion fish, its fins set like sails and finely calibrated for the current. Under a rock she could now make out a moray eel, lurking for its dinner. A pair of eagle rays glided past the boat, breaking the surface every now and then. They were hunting, swimming towards the house and then slowly circling back in search of prey.
After dinner Dora opened the French doors in the bedroom to watch the sunset from the balcony and smoke. Down below, the two eagle rays were still doing laps. They swam the length of the beach then turned back at the house. Their wings moved like birds in slow motion and they seemed to be perfectly in sync. Back and forth they went, a slow, meticulous hunt. Nightfall came quickly here. Furry fruit bats flapped their giant leather wings, incongruous, she thought, like teddy bears in bondage. The sky was still golden in parts, already inky in others when the first stars appeared, timidly.
She tried to imagine where Carlos was now, but couldn’t. That was part of the plan of course. Just in case. All through those two weeks of constant travel, obfuscation, and covering of tracks she wanted to call him. Hong Kong, Bogota, Casablanca, Sydney, Bordeaux, Lagos, Bangkok, Dubai, Hanoi and so, so many others. The busiest airports were the loneliest places. She wasn’t a people person. Or as one psychiatrist had put it, “Intellectually, you are self-sufficient.” She had taken that as a compliment, though it may not have been meant as such. She had always valued independence, but those two weeks were brutal even for her. The longing she felt, for her sister, for Carlos, for anyone familiar, was a constant dull thud, like a toothache.
They had counted down the days, each knowing what the other was thinking, him in New York, her in London, partners in crime. Both had worked for the same bank, both knew the same things. Keepers turned poachers. Carlos and Dora. The fat Mexican trader who barged into any room leaving the door swinging dizzily on its hinges; and his brittle, witty counterpart, always in a black shift and pearls, the Dorothy Parker of investment banking. The unlikely team. That was part of their advantage. The other part was that they had understood each other wordlessly, that they were practically made to work together. The idea had germinated in that space between them that needed no words to fill it. The last time she had spoken to Carlos was on a pre-paid mobile she had binned straight afterwards.
“So what are you going to do?” She could hear his grin over the phone. “You going to light a big fat cigar and lie on a bed of cash in your underwear?”
“Course not,” she had snorted. “That’s what you would do. I’m far too English for that kind of thing.”
“You should come with me then. Live a little.”
She had dragged on her cigarette. “Don’t be absurd. They’d have us in a minute.”
“Alright.” She could hear him rubbing his chin. “That’s settled then. Time to take the leap. I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.”
The secret setting up of a string of accounts, of an escape route, had taken months. They had done it slowly, stealthily, circling their aim, undetected. Working on the clearance they needed, making the funds accessible. When the time came, the bank would know it was them within minutes so by then they had to be gone. One transfer, just one, and then – poof. It had to be big enough to be worth it for both of them of course, but not big enough for a major hoohaa. It was embarrassing for a bank to have its own employees shaft them, and the competition would get wind of it too, if you made a big fuss in the media.
A carefully calibrated crime then, executed with velvet-gloved fingers and a vanishing act fit for a magician. They had pulled off the impossible. Dora sank deeper into her chair and took a drag of her cigarette. She toasted the sky, which was all black now, the familiar scatter of stars and the total silence surrounding her.
It was then that she heard a boat. Almost inaudible at first, it became like the whirr of a mosquito in the middle of the night, tiny, persistent, unnerving, coming closer. She peered out into the night. Looking out over the railings she could make out the shape of palm leaves below, those ripples in the sea where the starlight hit a wave and nothing else. She strained to hear. It was definitely there. And it was coming closer. Eugene maybe? She shuddered to think of his milky eye, his sweaty smell, the unkempt hair and those big, calloused hands. The sound of the boat stopped. Again, she strained to see, but she could hardly make out the beach by the house. Then, in the distance, a light. The light swayed and moved, someone with a torch, then another light came on, a bigger one. It must be the Norwegian’s house. She stared. The light inside the house stayed on. The Norwegian must be home. Bit of a risk taking the boat in the dark though. When Dora finally went inside to get another drink and slip into bed, she noticed that the light at the Norwegian’s had been turned off.
She woke feeling as one of the undead; as if god was using a pair of tweezers to remove each hair on her head individually. Her tongue stuck to the roof of her mouth, which felt as if someone had sandpapered it, along with her lips. That’ll teach me, Dora thought. At least the Cognac was now done. The rum was bound to be better.
Again, the noise from downstairs had woken her. This time it was just Eugene sweeping the deck.
She asked him if he wanted a coffee and he looked at her apprehensively. Perhaps no one had thought to make him coffee before. Or maybe he just didn’t like coffee.
“Say, Eugene,” she ventured, “is my neighbour, the Norwegian, back?”
“Not that I know of Mam.”
“I just thought I heard a boat coming in last night.”
Eugene furrowed his brow. “I see all that come and go.”
Dora thought this was a bold claim to make for someone with just one eye.
“Maybe we should ask Gregory?”
Eugene cleared his throat, as she noticed he was apt to do when about to explain something to her, but his eye was still not looking at her straight.
“Never mind,” she said, closing the French doors.
She had found a snorkel and a mask and threw them into the boat and headed towards the Swallow’s Nest. She passed the Norwegian’s house but saw no signs of life. She found Gregory mending a fishing net by the beach. He waved to her as soon as he saw the boat approaching.
“Be careful,” he said as she jumped off the boat and into the knee-deep water the colour of a duck’s egg. “Just last week one of our guests stepped on a stingray in the shallows.”
“Fascinating. And thanks for telling me after I jumped.” Gregory laughed.
“How looks can deceive,” she said, surveying the shallows. “You wouldn’t think there was something deadly lurking under all this gorgeousness.”
“There is. We had a doctor here once step on one and he died before he made it to hospital. There’s no malice in it though. The stingray feeds on small fish, he’s not out to get a human. It’s collateral if you will.”
“Well, that is deeply comforting to hear.”
Gregory smiled and shrugged. He was a creature of the beach, the wrinkles at the corners of his eyes were white from squinting into the sun, his grey hair brittle, frosted with salt from the sea.
“I was wondering if any boats came in last night?” Dora looked around, she could see the Norwegian’s house in the distance. She wanted to know, had to know, who was on this island.
“Not that I know of.” Gregory turned away. If the Norwegian had come back – and Dora thought he had – then Gregory wasn’t going to tell her. But why not? And why had the Norwegian come back now when he was apparently never there? She could see Dolores approaching, carrying a fishing knife. Gregory looked up at her.
“I’ve been telling Dora about the stingray.”
“Yes you want to be careful,” Dolores said. “All manner of things can be hiding where you don’t expect them.”
“Speaking of which,” Dora said, “did you see any boats come in last night Dolores?”
“Well -” Dolores said.
“No,” Gregory said. “I told you, nothing came in. There’s no one here but us. And Eugene.”
“And the Norwegian?”
“He’s not here.”
“Gregory,” Dolores said, “I need your help with gutting the fish. Can you come in the house?”
When Dora returned to the house, she moored the boat off the shore. She put the mask and snorkel on and dove into the water. Fish, fish, fish, the click of underwater, the twinkle of light, the light spots dancing on the reef. And then there it was, a large stingray. It was buried under sand, invisible until it moved. It took off with a tiny puff of sand at the edges of its round body that was still white with only its eyes distinguishable from the background, empty as the holes in a bedsheet, like a ghost. It moved off slowly, trailing sand like a veil. Later, her hair still dripping on her shoulders, she sipped a drink on the balcony. The stingray was nowhere to be seen, but the two eagle rays where on the hunt again. Up and down the beach they circled, on outstretched wings surveying all that was below them for prey. Watching them from on high Dora understood the name, eagle ray. Again, nightfall took her by surprise and she went to fetch another drink. Why had Gregory and Dolores acted so oddly today? There was none of the warmth of their first encounter. Dora thought they were just a pair of fussy oldies but maybe there was more to it. And why was Eugene so sure that he saw all that came and went?
Again, she wondered where Carlos was. Was he sipping rum somewhere too, maybe smoking a cigar? Was he still running or had he found a place? Was he home and dry like her? And what about her sister? The police were sure to be listening to her phone still, a car sitting outside her house at all hours in case Dora should drop in. Was it weird for her? Dora felt bad. It was for a good cause though. Once she got the money, in the spring when Mr. Bojangles came out, after the dust had settled, she would be glad. She would think it was worth it then, never seeing her sister again. Dora didn’t think she would be missed much anyway. Can you price someone? How much is losing a sister worth? Depends on the sister. Dora was sure she didn’t rate too highly. Half a million? She forgot Ben’s birthday last year. Maybe two hundred grand then. They would gain so much more than they had lost.
There it was. Dora stood up. Maybe not, maybe she was mistaken. No, there it was. The whirr of an outboard motor in the distance. She listened intently into the darkness. If only she could see. It came closer, just like the night before. Whurrrrrr. Whurrrrrrrr, whurrrrrrr, it was hitting the waves as it approached. That drone, that hum, there was no missing it. Then it stopped. The light came on, danced about, then the big light in the house came on. If only she had night vision binoculars. There was something going on here in the night and she needed to know what it was. She stood and stared but after the light had come on nothing else happened. No noise, not from the boat or anything else, not even a faint rustle. She must have listened for an hour at least. Still there was nothing. The stars moved, sometimes she saw a shooting star. She didn’t know what to wish for.
She woke with a pounding head the next morning. The deck had not been swept and she remembered that it was Sunday. Eugene must have the day off. She made a coffee and stepped out onto the deck. A small piece of paper fell on her foot as she pushed the door aside. She bent down to pick it up. There was nothing on it, but when she turned it over she saw that it was a black and white photograph. It was dark but you could make out a woman. The woman was squinting in the direction of the camera as if she was trying to see. She was leaning against a railing, an intricately carved railing. She was holding a drink, her hair wet on her shoulders. Dora’s hand began to tremble.
She picked it up. There was no mistaking it: someone had been watching her. At night. From the Norwegian’s house. She pulled the boat down into the water. The sun stung her head, her eyes. She wiped the sweat off her forehead with the back of the hand while wading into the water. She clambered into the boat and fired up the engine. The noise broke up the silence of the beach like shattering glass. She sped past the woods and the Swallow’s Nest until she reached the Norwegian’s house. It looked uninhabited. She tied the boat up at the house and walked up the shore. The house was silent and imposing. Though it seemed to be made mostly of glass, it was as impenetrable as a fortress. Delicate paper blinds had been drawn. The whole house created the illusion of openness and space, it was in fact opaque. Dora went around the back where she found that she could climb over the railings of the deck that stretched around the house. She walked the length of it, peering in at the window edges, where the paper blinds ended. She caught a glimpse of some furniture, the back of a chair and at another window the edge of a table. She could see something patterned and soft, a bag maybe, but it could also have been a rug. It was hopeless. There wasn’t anything like a doorbell or a letterbox. In fact, it was hard to tell how anyone was to enter at all. She supposed the assumption was that any guest would only come on an invitation and that the owner would be able to see them coming from a mile away and would open whatever functioned as the door in this modern architectural riddle. Slowly Dora walked back to the boat. She hesitated. Why could she not find anything? Someone was watching her and she had to find out who and why? They had to be leaving some kind of trace. She watched the boat bobbing slowly on the waves. Past the Norwegian’s house the water became choppier. A little further and you wouldn’t be able to swim for the current. Waves slapped the bottom of Dora’s boat. It was a meditative sound. Dora wondered where the boat that had come in last night was now. Had it been tied up in the same spot as hers? And who had been in it? And why? The water lapped at her toes. It was the colour of blue glass; a small red crab made its way along the beach, sideways, cautious, wary of her. She bent down and held her hand out to it. It stopped. Only its little antennae eyes quivered. Otherwise it was completely still, a red lacquered living statue. Behind the crab, where the waves hit the beach, small fish, translucent but for their silvery bones, swam and nipped at something invisible. Further back, where the water was deeper, Dora could see zebra fish darting to and fro, excited, like friends organising a surprise birthday. And then, just like that, the sand lifted with a tiny puff and swallowed up two of the busy things. You couldn’t see it, the ghost, just the two holes in the sheet for eyes. Dora couldn’t tell if the other zebra fish had even noticed the absence of two of their friends, so quickly did the sand settle down again. The two eyes were all that remained visible, watching, waiting. Who was watching her, Dora? She got up with a sigh. She wasn’t going to wait for a predator to pounce. She would find him first. And she would do it tonight.
There was no one at the Swallow’s Nest when her boat went past it. For a B&B it seemed awfully quiet. Dora wondered how they made a living from that. But then all kinds of people said they did one thing and actually did another. She was a case in point.
Dora was preparing a dinner she did not really want when the sky darkened. As with nightfall, this came on suddenly, as if the elements moved more quickly in this part of the world. If anything, Dora thought, they should be moving slower in this remoteness. Within minutes rain was lashing at the kitchen window and Dora had to run and close the French doors upstairs to prevent the rain from flooding the bedroom. She watched the palm trees being beaten by the wind and the rain. She couldn’t see much past the beach and the sea had turned a murky green. Lightning seemed to strike very nearby, and thunder rumbled like tumbling rocks right behind the house. Dora darted out to pull the boat further up so that it would not be swept into the sea. Within seconds she was soaked. When she came back in, her footprints left big puddles. And then, as quickly as it had come, the storm passed. The leaden cloud cover tore open to reveal blue sky and a blazing sun. Where the storm clouds retreated you could see the sun’s rays coming down like ribbons. It was as if a gilded mirror, partially blind and flaking, reflected a summer’s day. Dora saw a rainbow where the remaining moisture met the sun. A flying fish was stranded on the beach. She picked it up and threw it back into the water. By the time the sun set, all traces of the storm had vanished. Now she just had to wait. She sat on the deck and smoked. Watched the fruit bats flap their wings, watched the eagle ray couple hunt their dinner. She didn’t eat much of her own dinner. There was too much on her mind. What would she find tonight? Would the boat even turn up?
As soon as it was dark, she set out. She had to get there before the boat arrived, to see who was in it. And to find out who was watching her, who had been taking pictures of her. She had found a pair of oars in a cupboard and now she attached them to the boat. She had to get to the Norwegian’s house undetected. It took a while. With slow, steady strokes her boat glided along the coastline. Luckily the sky was clear so the moon provided some light. She saw the shoreline bathed in silver, the silhouettes like a photo negative. It took her the best part of an hour until the Norwegian’s house came into sight. She tied her boat up at one of the house’s stilts. It was in the shallow water but overshadowed by the house’s deck that reached out over the water. That way it would not be seen immediately. She walked up the beach to the back of the house where she had found she could climb over the railings, and hid there. She was only here to find out, nothing more. She would take it from there. Just in case though, she had brought along a fishing knife that she had found in the kitchen. It made her feel safer.
It wasn’t long before she heard the familiar whirr of an outboard motor. Like all the other nights, the boat was coming closer and tonight it came right to her. She watched a bulky figure step onto the beach and pull the boat up behind him, one hand was holding a torch. He laboured to set it just where he wanted it, Dora could hear him breathing heavily. Then he unloaded a metal case and a canvas bag, which he slung over his shoulder, from the boat. Dora wondered where he was going to enter the house. Heaving his bags, he was walking towards her. Moonlight reflected on his perspiring forehead. Dora drew breath sharply; he was heading for her spot.
The light from the torch streaked the bush she was hiding under. She retreated into the foliage. As he came closer, she felt there was something familiar in his form, his walk, but she couldn’t place it. She ducked and tried to, without a sound, push further back into the bush. He did not seem to notice, busy as he was lugging first his equipment and then himself over the railing. Not the Norwegian then, Dora thought, because he would have had a key. This was an intruder, someone who had no business being here. He gathered his bags and walked toward the front of the deck. There he unpacked a much bigger torch and set it down on the deck. He turned it on and it became almost impossible for Dora to make out anything outside of the light’s cone of light. She saw him unpacking the canvas bag. It contained a tripod. Then he snapped open the latches of the metal case. It contained a camera and a lot of equipment. He set up the tripod, then began screwing the camera onto the tripod. This was as good a time as any, Dora thought. She stepped out of the bushes and crept up on the deck. Slowly putting one foot in front of the other she tiptoed along the side of the house towards the man setting up the camera. She put a hand on the fishing knife in her back pocket. She inched along the house. There he was, a big bulk of a man, huffing and tinkering and then he turned and there he was, looking at her.
“What on earth are you doing here?”
The dark moustache, the eyes like black beads, she had always thought he had a way of looking, curious, but detached, like a bird, and now it came to her, like a bird looking at a worm just before it pecks at it.
“Have you been watching me? Did you leave that picture on my doorstep?”
He said it matter of fact. As if it was obvious, as if this had been the plan all along. Perhaps it had been. His plan.
“What the hell for?”
“I was hoping to see you.”
“That’s a funny way to go about it.”
“What did you want to see me for?”
“I gave you the chance, but you didn’t want to come with me.”
“Yes, I know. And for excellent reasons. We’d be so much easier to find together.”
“I know,” he said. “But we’d have so much more money. You should have come with me.”
“So it’s the money? That’s why you want to be with me.”
“You should have come. Then I wouldn’t have had to go after you.”
“I thought we had an understanding. As friends. That it would be better this way. You know,” Dora paused a little, “there was a time I thought you might even have feelings for me.”
Carlos was still looking at her in that curious, bird-like way, but now a soft smile, something like fondness crossed his face.
“Friends come and go. Feelings come and go. You can always find another. But, the kind of cigars I like don’t pay for themselves. The kind of women I like, like money. They like luxury. I like luxury. You know?”
He seemed childlike, almost innocent in baring his greed.
“You got your share. Isn’t that enough?”
“There’s no such thing as enough money.”
“That’s exactly the kind of foolishness that gets you into trouble.”
“I love a little risk,” he said, folding his fat arms. She could see the sweat patches under them.
“So what now? Did you think I was just going to hand over my share?”
“Not really.” He uncrossed his arms. “In any case, I can’t have a witness.” He pulled a gun from the back of his trousers.
“I’m sorry Dora. You meant a lot to me. But -”
“It’s a tonne of money.”
Dora gripped the knife in her pocket. Carlos was not within arm’s reach. And he was pointing the gun right at her. There was only one thing for it. Dora yanked the knife out with one swift motion, threw it at Carlos and ducked. He was wide enough so that even if he tried to move out of the way, chances were it would get him somewhere. Dora turned and ran. She heard Carlos yell. She ran to the end of the deck where she vaulted over the railing, but she could hear his footsteps thundering closely behind her. The weight of him was shaking the whole deck. She slipped on the sand as she landed. Carlos was slower, struggling to heave himself over the railing. She saw the knife sticking out of his right shoulder, the blade in about halfway. His arm was still holding the gun by his side. Dora got up from where she had landed and ran to the sea, she had to get under the house’s deck to her boat. Carlos was surprisingly nimble on the beach. His weight seemed to be an advantage. She could hear him catching up with her, panting at her back. She could sense his heavy feet hitting the sand. He was getting very close. Dora did not turn to look. It would have cost her valuable seconds. The boat was close now. Dora’s toes hit water – she could hear Carlos’ feet hitting it too. This was it. She took one long stride and then jumped, hurling herself straight onto the side of the boat. She grabbed hold of the outboard motor and pulled herself in. Carlos splashed into the water behind her. She untied the mooring. Then she spun round to fire up the motor. The boat was already in motion, pulled away by the current. Then she saw it: The cables had been cut. Dora looked up. She saw Carlos wading towards her. He knew she wasn’t going anywhere. He knew because he had cut the cables.
“Damn you,” Dora muttered.
She jumped into the water on the far side of the boat, away from Carlos, and swam towards the shore. Behind her, the boat was being carried away on the waves. She swam, short hard strokes, against the current. She thought quickly what her options were and found that she didn’t really have any. She could try to run into the brush. She could try to hide in there. The Swallow’s Nest was on the other side, Carlos’ side. She would not be able to reach shelter, or help. Or, she suddenly thought, there was Carlos’ boat. But that was also behind him, on the side of the house she had just come from. She wasn’t going to get past Carlos, who was fast catching up with her. There was only one thing for it. As soon as she was in the shallows, she let her toes grip the wet sand, and ran. It was hard, running in wet clothes with Carlos hard on her heels. She made as if she were running for the brush past the Norwegian’s house. Just before she reached it, she took a sharp left turn and headed for the house again. She jumped over the railing and onto the deck. Carlos was now trailing behind, the deck railings cost him seconds. Dora could feel her naked feet hitting the deck, it felt hard and sandpapery each time. She rounded the house until she reached the railing on the other side. There it was, Carlos’ boat. The problem was that it sat on sand. Dora sped up. She would have to be so much quicker than Carlos to be able to get the boat into the water. She ran so fast that she could taste something metallic. When she reached the railing she did a running jump. The momentum of her run catapulted her over the railing and she landed quite far from the deck. In the same motion she lunged for the boat, giving it a hard knock as she did so. It slid down the beach a little. Again she threw herself at the boat, pushing it further down. Behind her, Carlos had reached the railing. With one gigantic effort she pushed the boat down the last stretch to the water. Then she waded in, pulling it behind her. It was heavy to pull and the current tugged at her legs. She felt her hands shake with the effort. Her breathing was fast. Carlos hit the sand. She turned away from the beach, tugging the boat behind her. When the sea reached her waist she gave it another push and then pulled herself up into it. Only then did she turn around.
Carlos was far too close. His good arm was reaching for the boat, only one stride away. She yanked at the engine. It spluttered, then stopped. She had to do it harder. She yanked again, but the line slipped from her hands which were wet from the sea and her sweat. She felt hot. Carlos was right there, his arm outstretched. He laboured to get closer. His fingers touched the side of the boat, then his hand. His good hand inched over the side of the boat. Then it stopped. His fingers gripped hard. His face contorted, he yelled out in pain. Then his face froze and his body went limp. He went under, then came back up, spluttering and trying for breath. Then he convulsed, turned limp and went under again. It was as if he was caught in a fight with an invisible giant foe, a mythical snake, a giant octopus. He cramped and turned in on himself. He fought and spluttered and yelped and then his movements slowed. It was as if he were falling asleep, as if a tranquiliser dart had got him. In fact, Dora realised, the fight was draining out of him. He slowed and stalled and sank. And then he was just a lifeless form, face down, floating in the inky water. She could only make out the back of his neck and his hands, which were white against the darkness below. There he was floating, floating, being carried away, past the boat, towards the choppier end of the beach. Drawn by the stronger currents of the deeper waters the lifeless body was carried farther and farther out. Dora watched as the waves swallowed him bit by bit, taking him away. Little by little what she could see of him disappeared, out into the open sea.
And something else floated too, just by her boat, towards the shallows. A large grey disc, like a flying carpet, trailing dust. The edges of the disc curled and quivered as if in anger, the tail twitched. The stingray was indignant. The two round holes, the ghostly eyes, were larger and darker than she had ever seen them.
“Thank you,” Dora said, as the stingray disappeared into the darkness, to stalk elsewhere, undisturbed.
Ssshhhh, Ssshhh. Dora woke to the sound of Eugene sweeping the deck. Back and forth the broom went, sounding like a teacher shushing a class. She ambled downstairs for coffee. Her knees hurt. Actually her whole body ached. The French doors were open, Eugene spotted her and waved.
“You’re famous,” he said, wiping the sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand and grinning.
“Pardon?” Dora said, not quite following.
“I said, you’re famous.” His smile widened.
Dora was suddenly wide awake. An image flashed into her head, of her face on a news bulletin; of her face – and Carlos’ – on the front page of a newspaper.
“Whatever gave you that idea Eugene?”
“You’re all alone here, all secretive. And with that big house. I should have known.”
Eugene stroked his chin as if Dora was just being coy.
“Should have known what?”
“Well now,” he said, “Saturday night I saw someone taking photographs from the deck of the Norwegian’s house. Some guy came special in a boat, equipment and all. So I thought, why would he want to do that? I wanted to find out a little more. So I went and asked Gregory and Dolores about it. They live close, they were bound to know. After a little prodding they told me a funny little story. A story about a guy coming over and giving them a load of cash. Told them not to see or hear nothing at night. Told them to stay indoors, keep to themselves. So I figured, why would someone do that? And then it came to me.”
He tapped the side of his nose and paused for effect.
“Yes?” Dora said, swallowing hard.
“You got the paparazzi after you.”
“That’s right. You must be a famous writer, a really famous one.”
Dora laughed. From sheer relief, she laughed. Eugene started laughing too.
“Am I right? I’m right aren’t I?” he said, quite proud of himself.
“You know what?” Dora said, “you might just be onto something. But,” she leaned in close and lowered her voice, “let’s keep that just between you and me.”
“Right,” Eugene said, his chest swelling, “just between us. Mrs Famous Author and me. Right-oh.”
Dora shot him a wicked, conspiratorial smile. He blushed like a schoolboy.
Dora went back inside. She could hear the sound of broom on deck. Sssssh, sssssh it went. And she heard Eugene muttering to himself, “Famous, huh.” Ssssh, ssssh. “Really famous.”