Blonde Bait by Ed Lacy – Chapter 4

Blonde Bait by Ed Lacy
Chapter 4

In the long twilight the sky was a thin, milky light spotted with a few pale stars on the horizon. The sea was running choppy but it looked like a good night. Tuning in some fair music on the radio, I lit a cigar and sprawled on my bunk again to read a New York City paper I’d bought in Port-au-Prince. It was only three days old. I’d hardly started the sports section when I heard the slight splash of oars and a rough voice calling, “You here, mister?”

I went on deck and there was my old man buddy I’d had on board earlier. He held up a pint of cheap rum and gave me a large grin. I motioned for him to come aboard and he tied up, careful not to bang against the Sea Princess. I didn’t mind company. We sat in the cockpit and he wanted to know how the radio ran. I explained about the Diesels charging the batteries when I was under power. I wasn’t giving a very clear explanation and he didn’t understand a word of it, but he nodded and patted the knee patches on his pants, as if agreeing with everything. I changed the subject by asking if I could drink from his bottle. He said most certainly. The junk burned on the way down and then made a blast furnace of my stomach. And I’d only taken a polite sip. It was like guaro, the coarse sugar cane rum of Central America. I knew what the old guy was sucking around for, and that was okay, too.

I asked if he would care to try some of my whiskey? After the proper hesitation he said he would—as a favor to me—and slipped his bottle into his pocket. We had several shots of Canadian with crackers and sharp cheese. The old man discussed my boat, and the advantages of whiskey as against rum. We were quiet for a short time, drinking more whiskey. Islanders love to talk and soon the old man pointed at the cloudless sky and said it would most certainly rain by morning. I told him he was wrong, gave him the radio weather report. But he rubbed his knees, said his joints knew better than any radio.

He had been eating steadily at the cheese and crackers so I broke out another tin and he insisted I have a shot of his rum. It didn’t burn as much this time. I tried it with ice, and so did he, and it wasn’t too bad. Then we went back to the Canadian and he told me about fishing in his youth.

By the time we’d finished the Canadian, and the rum, I realized we were both drunk. The old man assured me he could row ashore with ease despite the choppy sea. Outside the cove it was really blowing. But I pulled in my dinghy and tied it to his heavy boat. While he was admiring the teak planks of the dink, I got the outboard over without falling on my face and attached it to the stern of his boat. He was delighted and I let him steer and we made an extra run around the cove, taking on spray and water, before we hit the beach. While I stood in water up to my can and fastened the outboard to the dink, the old man staggered around in the shallow water and asked how much the motor cost, what was the best make, and the amount of gas the tank held. I answered him with drunken carefulness, as if he would ever be able to buy one. I helped him beach his boat and we shook hands solemnly and he said he would bring me some mangos and fresh fruit in the morning. That he had meant to ask if I had an extra pair of old pants I could spare?

I said I was sorry but I didn’t. I waved and headed back for the Sea Princess. The dink was full of water and even though I was soaking wet, I was still drunk. I hadn’t been this high in a long time.

I tied the dink securely, put the outboard in its rack, and checked the anchors. I went below. Usually liquor is a sleeping pill for me—not that I need anything to make me sleep. But now I was feeling wide awake and I dried myself, stretched out in the bunk and went back to reading the paper. Not the news, but the ads. The show and Broadway ads, the pictures. I’d never been to New York and I wanted to see it. Right now I wanted to very much.

It didn’t make sense, night life never meant a thing to me. But with Rose’s money and her looks, I had this desire to taste big time spending. The feeling had come up several times in the past months.

Of course that was out—at least until I knew what kind of trouble Rose was in. It wasn’t anything that worried me. I had no lack: a woman like Rose, the Sea Princess, money. Only I’d get to thinking we weren’t putting the money to its fullest use. If I only knew what she’d done, we might be able to see New York, Canada, maybe even take a crack at Paris.

I studied the few pictures of Broadway in the paper, read the gossip column. I turned to the sports section again, then the news. There was a piece about some slob who had knifed his girl friend because she hadn’t given him money. The paper said he didn’t deny he was a “kept man.” As I folded the paper and put it away carefully—Rose loved to read the papers but flew into a temper if they were torn or wrinkled—I turned off the light and wondered if I was a “kept man.” I didn’t give a damn if I was. But I told myself I was really working hard for whatever I spent. For one thing I would be an accomplice to whatever she was jammed over. Yeah, I was earning my keep… and it certainly was damn nice work.

The boat was bouncing when I awoke. It was dark out and I had a big head. My wrist watch said it was a few minutes after five. It was raining hard. I listened to the rain awhile, then sat up. I felt creepy. Then I noticed the hatch door was pulled shut. I went up on deck and even the cove was full of white caps rolling before a strong wind. The rain felt good on my face and chest. As I turned to relieve myself over the side, I saw the old man’s boat tied to the dink. I looked around and he was crouched up near the bow, wrapped in part of the jib sail, watching the anchor ropes.

I went forward and he turned and waved a dark hand at me. He said something that was lost in the wind. I put my face next to his and he said he had never seen a man sleep so hard, that he had been trying to awaken me all afternoon.

“Afternoon?” I repeated stupidly, glancing up at the dark sky.

I couldn’t believe I’d slept the day away but the old guy insisted he had come out with fruit before noon, then took up an anchor watch when he couldn’t shake me awake. He thought the storm would blow over during the night. I hated losing a day away from Rose and it wasn’t a big storm. If my head felt better I probably would have started the engines. But you can’t play catch-up with time and there wasn’t much point in going now— if it was this dark in the afternoon the night would be pitch black.

The anchors seemed okay and I told the old man to come with me. He sat and marveled at the cabin, felt of the bunks and the galley metal, while I dressed and cooked a good meal of eggs and bacon, toast and plenty of coffee. I had some of his bananas and when we finished he said he had work to do ashore. I wanted to give him a pair of pants but I couldn’t after telling him last night I didn’t have any. He asked if I wanted him back later but I said it was too rough. I thanked him and held out a ten dollar bill. He shook his head and stuck his hands in his pockets. There was a kind of angry dignity about him as he said he’d sat anchor watch both as a friend and as a man who admired a good boat.

I finally gave him a new sweat shirt and a large box of tinned meats, making sure to explain it was merely in exchange for the fruit.

I helped him load it into his bouncing boat. We both knew I couldn’t leave the Sea Princess to ferry him ashore with the outboard. I watched him row, kneeling in the boat to get all the leverage of his body behind each stroke. Once ashore I could dimly see him pull the boat up, wave to me, and disappear among the Woman’s Tongue trees, carrying the stuff I’d given him. The seed pods on the trees must have been really chattering in this wind.

For want of something to do I took a rain shower on deck, soaping myself good, and when I dressed again and put on oilskins, I felt sober and okay. I spent the rest of the night listening to the radio, checking the anchors every half hour. I still thought about Rose and myself dolled up, living it big on Broadway.

By early morning the storm died and the stars were visible. At dawn I started the motors, noticed the oil temperature shot up too high. I had a little trouble raising the anchors, but once out of the cove I ran up sail and keeping a good mile out to sea, followed the Jamaica coastline. I considered putting in at Green Island, which is a town and not an island at the tip end of Jamaica, for a few hours sleep. I had a good twenty-hour run to Grand Cayman. But I kept sailing because now that I was a day late, I missed Rose more than ever. The fact is, at the moment I even looked forward to seeing my landlord, Ansel Smith, and his sharp puss. I had a big box of the Havana blunts he prized so much.

Old Ansel could—and generally did—talk your head off but he had been a break for us.

 

After hauling anchor from port to port like sea-going gypsies whenever Rose got her wind up because she thought a man might have looked at her suspiciously, we had lucked up on Ansel’s island. If it wasn’t much of an island, most of the land actually was his and free of tourists. I’d vaguely heard of him years ago—a small time operator interested in smuggled bolts of cloth or anything else he could sell at his rundown general store. Ansel lived in a fine wooden bungalow within sight of our hut and the whole island was about a half a mile of land many hundred yards off one of the “bigger” Cayman islands, on which his store stood. While I’ve never been to the South Pacific, I suppose we had the closest thing to a South Sea isle. It has white sandy beaches, colorful and heavy-smelling flowers, coconut palms, and we live in a large thatched hut facing a small reef. This same reef wrecked the first Sea Princess, but actually our cove is a protected and safe mooring, with plenty of water to cross the reef at high tide.

Although I’d heard of Ansel, we had sailed into his cove by pure chance and when we found the hut had running water—it had been his house before he built the bungalow to celebrate his newest and last child—we decided this was for us. I explained we were on a prolonged honeymoon—but under wraps because Rose had a husband who didn’t think much of our honeymoon idea. Ansel took the lie and assured us he was a man of the world and understood perfectly. The only time I’ve actually seen him amazed was when we installed a bathroom in the large hut at our expense.

Ansel’s a little man in his late fifties with a dark skin, sharp features, and very proud of his thin, silky-white hair. His wife is a large tan woman who rarely speaks and probably can pick him up with one hand without straining. They have a son who runs the store, and two married daughters living in the islands. The baby boy was a change of life child and as Ansel says over and over, “We knew she have de child in her and we squeeze him out just in time.”

The first time he told me this I made the mistake of asking what he meant. “When Cecil, de first born, come, de old lady have four knots in navel cord. All islanders know each knot signifies de number child woman have inside. Then we knock out two gals a year apart, and den nothing. As years go by, Mrs. Smith say to me, ‘Come on, mon, come on, de last baby awaiting.’ Mickey, I wear meself out trying for that baby. But we bring him in right under de wire. You bet!”

Ansel himself is not only a dreamer but a tremendous liar. Although he sometimes lapses into the island dialect—for my benefit, I think—he’s widely read and self-educated. His hobbies are the history of the Cayman Islands and sex. Over a beer he’ll tell anybody Columbus first called the islands Las Tortugas, or the turtle islands. Ansel claims Columbus reached the Caymans first—before he sighted Dominica, which would make old Cris a hell of a cockeyed navigator. Later Ponce de Leon thought the islands were a continuation of the Florida Keys —or cays—named them Cayman Islands. Old Ponce must have had a queer sense of distance, too. Once the Caymans were the center of the turtle industry—there still are turtle pens around—and Ansel loves to lecture about them.

On sex Ansel is the local Dr. Kinsey. In an open and scientific manner, and in great detail, he asked how Rose was in bed. Of course he considers her the most beautiful woman in the world—and so do I. In exchange he told me about the women he’d slept with—which seemed to number millions—and gave me local pearls of wisdom concerning birth. If a crawling baby looks under the mother’s skirts the woman is pregnant again, “for the baby is hunting for de new child.” Unless a pregnant woman works hard, the baby will be lazy. A woman will certainly be sterile if the after-birth of the first born isn’t buried with a silver coin in the yard outside the house, and facing East. The nana or midwife should tie a tight cord around the waist of a pregnant babe to keep the child from leaping from the womb into her lungs and suffocating her. Half the time I didn’t know if he was kidding me or not. Ansel knew a lot about Obeah—a kind of ancient voodoo—but frankly refused to discuss this with me.

He talked about sex and birth with Rose. At first she was sore, until she realized he was merely talking. I know she’s fond of him and his wife. Often Rose and Mrs. Ansel Smith (we never knew her first name) have fierce arguments over the baby boy, mainly on matters of sanitation. But Mrs. Ansel is a good listener and they get along fairly well. Most important, from the start Rose completely trusted them.

If Ansel suspected we had more money than we should, that we were on the run, he never said a word. And Rose felt safe there, or as safe as she ever could feel then. Every few months we would sail out for a day or two, then come back to Georgetown, register as new arrivals to get our temporary tourist permits.

At one time, I thought we were going to be stuck on Ansel’s hunk of land. Eight months ago a hurricane came ripping through the West Indies, heading for Florida where it did a lot of damage. Of course it also kayoed plenty of huts in the islands, too. We had ample warning and I had the boat securely anchored. The hurricane came in over the reef and hit us without doing much damage. Then one of those nutty things happened: the wind suddenly did a complete about turn. It came raging back—without warning, blowing away from the reef and out to sea. The Sea Princess swung around so sharply she broke one anchor rope, and dragged the other anchor… landing on the rusty brown reef. Crouching behind some trees that had been flattened the first time around, we watched the Sea Princess breaking up on the reef—with all of Rose’s money in the hidden drawer. I clawed my way to the hut, grabbed an aqua-lung, and let myself be blown toward the water. Rose was screaming at me to stop, frantically trying to get her hands on me. I finally had to knock her down with a shoulder punch.

The water was rough and soupy with sticks, leaves, boxes, and any other loose junk. But once I submerged it was calm and a snap to make the reef. I got cut up a bit around the legs trying to climb aboard the Sea Princess. I made a raft and tied the oilskin bags of money— and the bag with all that foreign writing—to it, lashed everything securely—and started back, towing the raft. The coral ripped a large hunk of skin from my left thigh as I jumped into the raging water. It was rugged swimming against the wind, losing a lot of blood, and the salt stinging the hell out of the wound. I tried staying just below the water but it was hard going and soon the air in my tank gave out. So I had to battle the wind and the waves, duck a thousand objects being driven over the water with bullet speed. I collapsed when I reached the beach. When I came to, I crawled up to an old overturned rowboat—a hulk that had been lying on the beach for years and far too heavy for the wind to move. I dug through the sand, cutting my fingers on a big coconut crab hiding there, and shoved the oilskin bags under the boat… then refilled the hole. It was about the hardest work I’d ever done in my life and when I was finished I was too bushed to move. I lay there, protected by the boat from the wind, listening to the wild beat of my heart which seemed to be louder than the roar of the hurricane.

The next thing I knew the wind had started to die and there was Rose dragging me toward the hut, my body leaving a bloody track in the sand. She was hysterical and I could dimly hear her cursing as she washed me down and bandaged my cuts as best she could. Then the bed felt like heaven. I awoke several hours later. The sun was streaming through the window and for a moment I couldn’t even recall what had happened. I tried to sit up and then Rose was at my side, her eyes red with crying, pushing me back into the wonderful softness of the bed. I pulled her head down, mumbled about the money being under the old rowboat, and slipped off into sleep.

I slept around the clock and when I awoke I felt weak but okay—except for the cuts on my legs and body. I asked her if she’d found the money and she nodded and began crying again. Talking was as tiring as lifting a barbell, but I asked, “What’s the matter? Why the tears?”

“You money-hungry bastard!” Rose shouted.

“Look, I got it for you,” I said, talking very slowly, to save my strength.

“You damn near got yourself killed! You think I wanted that? Or any money is worth having you dead!”

“I told you, I did it for you. Want… to count it?”

“You greedy louse!” she said, walking away from the bed.

I was too weak to get it. When I awoke later that night and had some food, I felt strong enough to argue. She was still mad as a boil and I asked, “Honey, what the hell is the matter with you? Getting your dough wasn’t any pleasure swim or…”

“Of course it wasn’t! You were willing to take a chance with your life for some lousy money! If I didn’t have the dough, if I lost it, what would you do, throw me aside!”

“Rose, did the storm scare you crazy? Do you realize what it means for a couple of… well, for us, to be flat broke in the islands? Sooner or later we’d be deported, have to go to the authorities for help. That what you want? That’s the reason I swam out for the money. Hell, it’s your dough, doesn’t mean a thing to me.”

“I bet!” Her face was suddenly ugly with a horrible sneer.

I turned over and looked at the wall, finally went to sleep. I didn’t understand what was eating her and a day or so later when I was up and around, she was cold and abrupt. We never talked about the money for some time, and after a week or so she forgot the whole thing.

There wasn’t a stick of the old Sea Princess left on the reef, not even the old Essex engine. After she’d broken up, everything had been carried out to sea. Later that month, when I was completely healed, Rose agreed we had to have another boat. I borrowed an old double-end catboat from Ansel, a typical island boat with an oversize sail of sugar sacks that swelled out like a racing spinnaker, and made the forty-mile run to Georgetown. There wasn’t anything worth buying there but through a yacht broker I heard of a boat in the water at St. Croix in the Virgin Islands. I cabled for more information and it seemed worth looking at. I sailed back to our island and told Rose, suggested we both take the boat to Kingstown and then a plane to St. Croix. Of course she was afraid to step into a USA port. I finally asked her to give me ten grand and I’d buy the boat. There was a long moment of hesitation—I knew damn well what was running through her mind. But then we had to have a boat, and she knew that too.

Rose got crocked the night she handed me the money and I told her, “I should be back in about ten days, or sooner.”

“I’ll keep a fight burning in the window for you.”

I grabbed her and shook her hard as I said, “I don’t like what you’re thinking. I don’t need a fight to come back to you. Remember that.”

She gave me a long kiss and we put in quite a night.

I felt like a big shot stepping off the plane in St. Croix with all that money in my pockets. The boat was a dream. Some rich joker who must have been a little like Mr. Decker had her custom-built abroad, and because he didn’t have too much confidence in sails, had installed the two Diesels so she could cut water like an express cruiser. The guy and his wife, along with a friend, had taken her down the inland route from New York, then island-hopped to St. Croix, where he’d had a heart attack. They flew back to New York and left the boat with a broker. They were asking $18,000, claiming the boat had cost $25,000. I offered six grand in cash, came up to eight thousand and told the broker that was all I had. Glancing at my clothes, he must have been astonished I had over two singles in my pockets. Perhaps because it could only sleep four in double bunks—and only two comfortably—there hadn’t been many offers. After a day of cabling back and forth, I had the boat for eight grand.

I took her to San Juan to register her as the new Sea Princess with the Coast Guard station. Exactly eight days later I sailed the new Sea Princess over the reef into our cove.

Rose swam out, followed by Ansel and his wife in their rowboat. I showed Rose around and saw she was crazy about the ship. Giving her $1675, I calmly said, “Here’s your change,” like a kid returning from the store.

She cooled it, too. “What took you so long?”

“Had to straighten out my Coast Guard papers in San Juan. I registered her in my name. Okay?”

Grinning at what her wet bathing suit held, I pulled Rose to me. “See, I didn’t run off with the dough—you can put out the light in the window.”

There was a slight odor of stale whiskey in her kiss, and then we had to go back on deck because Ansel and Mrs. Smith were climbing up the ladder.

 

I had an uneventful sail to Georgetown, crowding on all the canvas I could handle and making good time. But after the usual early morning chat and drink with the custom officials, I wondered what I’d been rushing for. True, I was in a hurry to see Rose, but I was punchy from being up nearly twenty hours, and what I wanted with Rose… well, being bushed wouldn’t help. I tied up at the dock and called a pretty good mechanic over to see why the oil temperature had shot up so high, and hit the sack for a few hours of deep shut-eye. When I’m not drunk I can wake up whenever I want to. I was up at noon and found the mechanic sleeping in the cockpit.

I shook him awake and he said, “I was waiting for you. I have found the trouble. I checked the water jacket cooling, the fuel circulation, the timing, and the crankcase for…”

“I know you worked yourself to death,” I cut in. “What’s wrong?”

He wasn’t to be rushed. He stuck a cigarette into his dark face and took his time lighting up. “All these things, and a clogged oil cooler, would account for the overheating of your port engine. The oil cooler is clogged.”

“What’s that mean, bad news?”

He blew smoke up at the bright sky. “In time. You can use the engine for several months without danger. But it should be taken care of. If you like, I can send to the States for a new cooler and install it. Or, you might be able to get one in Kingston, although I doubt if anybody in the islands carries parts for these particular Diesels. Maybe in San Juan. I’d like the job, but easiest thing would be for you to sail to Miami and have a new cooler installed.”

I paid and thanked him, hoisted sail, and started the final two hour run to our cove. When I dropped anchor I was surprised Rose didn’t swim out and for a bad second I had this uneasy feeling I’d never see her again. Mrs. Ansel rowed out with the baby to tell me Ansel was over at the store, and to see what I’d brought. I asked where Rose was as I handed her some copper pots I knew she wanted.

“Oh, my beautiful, beautiful pots! Look at the bottoms. Rose—sick womon.”

“Sick? What happened?” I had a feeling of trouble.

“Nothing. Bad stomach—too much worry about you. The storm and you a whole day late. That womon get most nervous. My Lord, I very glad when she try get drunk. I swear I never see no womon worry about one mon so much. She carry big love you, very big. You lucky fellow.”

“Where is she?” Big love—like when I’d gone out after the money in the hurricane, Rose was afraid she’d lost her boy. There’d be so much explaining—and looking—if she had to start all over again with another John.

“She best place for gal wait for mon—in de bed. I tell her, it really not bad storm. Rain and lightening and de sky breaking wind. All we lose is few hands banana.”

I put the outboard on the dink and towed Mrs. Ansel and the baby boy ashore. I ran to the hut. It was cool and dark inside, full of the smell of Rose: a great perfume. Opening the bedroom door, the streak of mild sunlight following me through the front door seemed to spotlight Rose’s tumbled hair, her beautiful face on the crumpled pillow. Blinking, she sat up. “Mickey?”

“Yeah.” She was sleeping nude as she always did, and the sheet half fell away from her big body. We stared at each other—a grin of relief on her face. I don’t know what was on mine. Maybe wonder. I didn’t care what I was to her. How many men come home to see a half-naked movie queen smiling at them from their bed? In the odd lighting, almost as if it was staged, Rose looked fantastically desirable.

“What happened to you, Mickey?”

“I had to wait the squall out. And I overslept. Also some motor trouble. We’ll have to get a new oil cooler…”

“I’ve been sick with worry.”

“Come on, you knew I’d be back. Relax.” I sat on the edge of the bed, aware of her warmth on the sheet. I reached over and touched the soft hair tumbling to her good shoulders.

She put her hand over mine, stroked it. “I had a nightmare. All sorts of wild nightmares about you being…”

“But I’m back, everything’s okay, babes.”

She gave me a long look as she nodded slowly. And suddenly Rose did something I’d never seen her do before. She began to weep. I’d seen her cry with anger and frustration plenty of times, but this was a kind of tender, happy weeping.

“No tears, honey,” I said, taking her in my arms. We kissed fiercely and I thought what a lucky character I was to come home to a moment like this. Even if I ended up in the chair, it was well worth it.

Later as I was sleeping, a tired and contented sleep, Rose shook me awake. I sat up fast. “What’s the matter?”

“Nothing is the matter,” she said softly, pushing me back on the pillow, snuggling against me. “Mickey, can I tell you something?”

“Of course.”

Her lips formed words but nothing came out. Then she blurted: “Listen, I think I’m in love with you! Don’t wisecrack, I’m serious.”

“I’m not wisecracking.”

“I think I knew it last night. I almost went crazy worrying about you. I was scared I’d never see you again and I suddenly knew I’d go off my rocker if that happened. And just now, oh, Mickey, I never felt so… so… good. For the first time I know what a man and a woman can be to each other. You must think I’m nuts, but it’s the truth. I’ve told you I’ve been with a lot of men. But… what I’m trying to tell you is, up to last night—just now—you were only another guy to me. Kinder than most I’d known but… I hated all men. Sex didn’t mean a thing to me but a way of getting something from a male slob. It had to be that way, Mickey, otherwise… well, if each guy had meant the smallest… I’d have gone crazy. I’m able to say this to you now because when you walked through the door a little while ago, I was excited as a teenager. Mickey, I’ve never known anything so wonderful!”

She threw herself at me, giving me a strong hug. I held her tightly, not sure I believed all this. Sleeping with Rose had always been great—for me. But even if this was some kind of sales talk it didn’t matter: I was happy to have Rose on any terms. I’d have been glad merely to have her picture on the wall. It was that way with me.

She whispered, “Oh, Mickey, Mickey, I do love you! I’ll love you always and only you. Darling, I—I want to do something for you. Take all the money, hold it for us. It’s yours, every dollar!”

“I like the set-up the way it is,” I said cautiously. She’d never offered me the dough before.

“Don’t you get it, Mickey, I want to do something… important for you. Anything you want. Do you want a child? I’ll make a baby for you.”

“No, I don’t want a kid.” I kissed her cheek.

“You must let me do something for you! Let me be as good to you as you’ve been to me.”

“Okay, Rose, there is… one thing.” My fingers played with her ear.

“Honey!” She went over my face with hot little kisses.

“Rose, tell me what you’re running from.”

It was a sickening thing—to feel her body turning stiff and cold, the way she recoiled from me as if I’d become a snake—and I was sorry I’d popped the question. From the other end of the bed she asked harshly, “Goddamn you, why did you have to spoil it?”

“I’m not spoiling anything. You’re the one who wants to make our dream world a real one. Look, Rose, I’m willing to let things be as before but if you want to make it real… it has to be down the line. You have to trust me all the way. I have to know what you did.”

“What I did?

You miserable bastard, what makes you think I didanything? I didn’t do a damn thing!”

She started to jump out of bed. I yanked her back. For a moment we wrestled but that was my racket and she didn’t have a chance. Pinning her to the bed, one leg across her belly, I told her, “It’s not mere curiosity on my part to know the full score—it will help me protect you. You’re a stand-out chick. Everyone in these islands will remember you. For all I know, we ought to clear out of the islands. In Port-au-Prince I ran upon an old buddy. That can happen again. I have to know how much to tell him, or whether I should have ducked him. There’s also…”

“What

did you tell him?” She was breathing hard into my face, fear back in her voice.

“A pack of lies. You don’t have to worry about Hal, he…”

“How the hell do you know what I have to worry about!”

“That’s it, exactly. I want to know—for your own good.”

“Damn it, why did you have to tell him anything?”

“Because I couldn’t duck him and he saw me on the Sea Princess. Boats like ours don’t come in crackerjack boxes—I slipped him a crook of bull about being a yacht captain for some rich cluck. Don’t you see, if I’m going to lie—and I don’t mind doing it, or anything else for us—I at least have to know what I’m lying around. There’s this other thing: I like it okay here on Ansel’s island. You do too—at times. But if I knew the score… well, there might be other places for us. Maybe, well… might even live it up in a big city for a few weeks or…”

“No!”

“Why must you alone decide this for us? If the cops get you they’ll throw the book at me, too!”

“I haven’t done anything wrong.”

“Then why the big fear, being on the run? Rose, wanting you as I do, I wouldn’t do anything to… to spoil what we have. But I have to know.” Kissing her, I rolled to the center of the bed.

She stood up and walked around the room. Then she stood at the side of the bed, a calendar girl staring down at me with hard eyes. She was shaking a little.

There was a long silence. Closing my eyes I said in a matter-of-fact voice, “I bought everything on the list. Soon as I rest we’ll unload the boat. The new records you wanted, the newspapers and magazines. I spent $419.67. The change is in my wallet. I even have some ice cream for you…”

She reached down and slapped my face. I caught her hand. She said, “Stop talking like you’re a hired hand.”

I pulled her down on top of me. “Isn’t that all you trust me to do?”

The tears came again and she was all over me, soft and warm and big, kissing and hugging me, moaning my name. “Mickey, it terrifies me to even talk about it.”

“Honey, there’s only you and me here—no dream-busters. We talk and see what it adds up to. I have to know—if you want it the way you said.”

For a few seconds she seemed limp, almost lifeless. I felt her take a deep breath and then she sat up as she said, “Okay, I guess I knew I’d have to tell you some time. As you said, I have to trust you all the way. Get me a cigarette, please, and I’ll tell you… all of it.”

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