>When you reach the top, the only way is...

down in Port Antonio, Jamaica, where the A-list gather in their yachts, Si sips his drink and gazes into the eyes of one of the most beautiful women in the world. And she gazes back.

On the starlight waters of the bay, an oar splashes in the darkness and a tendril of marijuana smoke drifts in. In the bar, the rich and the famous make money and love, of a kind.

Only someone like Si would sense that there is danger in the night. Only someone like Si would know what to do about it – if he can take his eyes of Lara for long enough.

Star Light

That sickening feeling when I realise I’ve just wilfully done something stupid seems to be an unavoidable part of my life. Two men silently appeared and looked at me as if I were a banknote they’d just found lying on the road. I looked at them and called myself an idiot.

They started to move towards me. Even in the poor light from the distant harbour and the stars above, it was easy to read their intention. They must’ve followed me all the way down the breakwater from the town, waiting until I should be far enough from other people.

“Evening, lads,” I said. My voice sounding louder than I’d expected.

They stopped moving forward and carried on looking at me. They were between me and the way back. A hundred yards further on the breakwater ended in the passage between Hope Point and Nelson’s Island. I could see Polly’s riding lights against the lights of Port Antonio. Her mast a deal higher than anything else in the bay. It would be a long swim in the black water.

The bigger one’s mouth opened in something that was at least partly a smile. He didn’t have all his teeth but those he had were white against his black skin.

“Eh, mon. It ca be danrus to wak out ere a ni.”

“Can it?” I said.

“It ca, mon. We come ta see you saf.”

“Dere ca be bad men ereabouts,” the other one said, laughing.

The big one was silhouetted against the lights but the other was a black shape against the black trees on the other side of the road. I moved left a bit to bring him into better sight and loosened my shoulders and shook out my limbs.

“Wa’you doin, mon?” the big one said.

“Getting ready to break your neck if you don’t get out of my way,” I said.

“You gonna brek ma neck?” he said and came forwards, smiling again. “How you gonna brek ma neck, whi boy?”

He was a little taller than me. His shirt was almost a rag and hung in strips from his broad shoulders. He had fine muscles but he was beyond lean and the whites of his eyes were yellow. The undertaker’s breeze was bringing me the smell of him. It wasn’t nice.

I stepped backwards to keep the other man, who was trying to get round me, in sight and he kept edging towards me. He had something in his hand but I couldn’t tell what it was.

“Where you goin, mon?” the big one said. “Stay an tak now. We don mean you no arm.”

He kept following me as I backed up and took the machete that had been dangling beside his left leg from its loop in the rope that was also holding up his trousers. He pointed it at my heart. The blade was surprisingly steady. The man trying to get behind me was still making progress and I would have to go for him soon, if I was going to.

In the distance, on the sea-front road, a car slowed down by the end of the causeway. I watched it. It turned in and put its lights up. The beam sped up the road, lighting the trees and then us, throwing the men into relief. They involuntarily turned towards it.

I closed the distance between me and the smaller man and as he turned his head back, gave him a straight-right to the nose. My anger at myself was in it, and it snapped his head back hard. He looked surprised and started to shake his head. That seemed to be enough for the moment so I took the thing, which turned out to be a sharpened carving fork, from his unresisting hand, stepped behind him and put my left arm around his neck. The machete passed through the air where I’d just been.

“Hah,” the big man said, grinning and centring the point of the machete over his friend’s heart. “You quick for a whitey.”

The man I was holding smelt truly unpleasant and it must have showed on my face.

“You don like Stanley, Mr henglishman? I tought aa you whiteys wa batty men. You ca tak hi if you wa, seein as you aa line up dere.” He gave the machete a gentle swing, feeling the weight of it, and stepped closer. “Ah don suppose he goin to feel da shame a i.”

I put the tines of the fork into the man’s neck and said, “How d’you feel about him?”

“Dis mon? He dea aready, jus don know i.”

The man I was holding started to struggle. I tightened my grip on his throat and considered my options. The car which had been coming up the causeway arrived and stopped beside us. It was an old open-top Cady. A voice said, “Leave it, Jase.” It was a deep, unhurried voice and it didn’t seem to doubt that Jase would leave it.

“Fuck af, Stevie. Dis na business a you.”

“Is now. C’mon, I got a fare waiting here.”

“Hey, Si,” a female voice called from the back of the car. It was Lara and she was leaning on the door, arms crossed. The big car made her look even more delicate. “Put that man down, he doesn’t look very clean.” She rested her chin on her arms and looked at me with mock exasperation.

“Hi, Lara,” I said.

Jase, was still looking angry but he’d lowered the machete. I pushed the other one away from me and walked carefully round Jase, keeping the sharpened fork ready in my right hand. I went round to the other side of the taxi, shied the fork into the dark water and got into the car.

“Si, you’re very selfish going off like that,” Lara said, taking hold of my head and turning it towards her so that she could gaze into my eyes.

starlight

“I see you, batty mon,” Jason said levelling the blade at me, as the driver backed and filled and then took us away down the causeway.

“Thank you,” I said.

“You’re welcome, darling,” Lara said.

“I was speaking to the driver,” I said.

“No problem,” the man said, giving me a grin in the rear-view mirror. “Jason’s not as bad as he thinks he is.”

“Isn’t he?”

“Okay, maybe he is, but I’ve known him since he was a picinin and he knows I’ll tell the constable if I see him killin a whitey. Is very bad for business, even if they are stupid enough to go down here after dark.”

“Well, thanks anyway.”

“Is the lady you should be thankin. I jus the driver.”

“There you are, you see,” Lara said. “You should be thanking me. Go on, thank me.”

“Thank you Lara. I very much appreciate you giving me a ride and very possibly saving my life.” I was holding one of her little hands in each of my own now.

“You’re very welcome,” she said, looking at me with her big, liquid eyes from only a few inches.

It seemed like a good time to kiss her, so I did. She kissed me back and it was very nice. She wasn’t in any hurry and neither was I and then she put her hands on my shoulders and gently pushed me away.

“There you are, now you can say that you’ve kissed Lara Heath,” she said. “Not many men can say that.”

“I’ll remember this moment for the rest of my life,” I said.

“So you should.”

“I will. Why did you come to find me?”

“Why did you walk out alone along the breakwater at night?”

“I was hoping you’d come to find me.”

“Well, I did.”

“Where would you folks like to go?” the driver said.

“Bonnie View please,” I said.

“Bonnie View?” Lara said.

“It’s the best view in the world,” I said.

“Oh. Okay, we’d better go and see it then,” she said.

We went through the outskirts of the town and onto the steep road that climbs up into the foothills of the Blue Mountains behind. It was fully dark there with the occasional lights of a house interrupting the blackness of the tropical night. The breeze from our speed was good and the smell of the land was rich and warm and slightly disturbing. Lara sighed and leant against me.

“I’m feeling funny tonight, Si,” she said.

“Are you. How funny?” I said.

“I don’t know. Just funny. Like I want to give it all up and live like a real person again. Live like you, Si. You live like yourself, don’t you? Just like yourself, I mean.”

“And not like a star?”

“That’s it. Not like a star. Am I a star? What is a star, anyway? It’s just a word you know.”

“Don’t you want to be one anymore?”

“I want to feel different. I want to feel like you.”

“Like me?”

“Maybe not quite like you.”

“What does it feel like to be a star?”

“I don’t know, I don’t think anyone knows.”

“If you don’t know, I don’t think anyone can know.”

“That’s sweet of you, Si. You’ll tell me the truth, won’t you?”

“Probably. It depends on what you ask me.”

“Why do you say things like that? Perhaps it’s because you’re English. You must tell me the truth. Always.”

“Do you?”

“Tell the truth?”

“Yes. Do you?”

“Of course, darling. Go on: say you’ll tell me the truth.”

“If you want me to, I will.”

“Thank you. I knew you could if you tried.”

“What do you want me to tell you the truth about?”

“Everything, darling.”

“Everything?”

“Yes, everything.”

“Okay, I promise.”

“Thank you, darling.”

It seemed like a good time to kiss her again, so I did. She kissed me back for a bit and then pushed me away again.

“You know what, Lara?” I said.

“No, Si. What?”

“You’re very beautiful.”

starlight

“Am I?”

“Didn’t I promise to tell you the truth?”

“So you did.”

“Well then.”

“Men are such simple things.”

“So women often say.”

“Oh, Si…”

She turned her head away from me and looked out into the dark tropical night.

“What?”

“I’m feeling funny again.”

“Oh dear.”

“You’ll help me, won’t you, Si?”

“If I can. How can I help you?”

“I don’t know. You have to help me live. Can you do that?”

“I don’t know, but I’ll try.”

“Thank you, Si. I believe you will.”

She settled back on the seat and we were silent for a bit.

“Do you know that the view from the terrace of the Bonnie View is the best view in the world?” I said.

“Is it really?”

“Yes, it is. Come on, let me show you.”

The car pulled up on the gravel drive of the hotel and I got out and went round and opened the door for her.

“You want me to wait?” the driver said, grinning at me.

“Yes. Don’t know how long,” I said, holding out a fifty.

“You da boss,” he said, taking it.

I received Lara onto my arm and we walked past the pool towards the sound of people laughing and talking on the terrace. The laughing and talking stopped as we entered. Not all at once but mostly, and then altogether as those who hadn’t noticed us did.

“Oh my Lord! That’s…” a woman with an accent from the deep south said and then fell silent too. Everyone appeared to be holding their breath.

I hadn’t meant to, but I found that we’d paused just under the archway of flaming bougainvillea. Several people raised their phones to take photos and then the talking and laughing resumed, brightly and a bit falsely.

“Shall we sit at the bar?” I said.

“Yes, darling. That would be perfect,” Lara said, turning to show her profile to the crowd and looking up at me as if I’d saved her life, not she mine.

I arranged a stool for her at the end of the long bar where she would be framed by the jasmine shrouded timbers of the pergola against a backdrop of the blue mountains and the stars. She perched on it and crossed her beautiful legs. Benson stood to attention.

“Evening, Benson,” I said. “This is Lara. Lara, this is Benson.”

“Hello, Benson,” she said.

“Good evening, Ma’am,” he said.

“Benson makes a very fine punch. Don’t you, Benson?” I said.

“Some people have been kind enough to say so,” he said, smiling complacently.

“That’s wonderful. Will you make one for me, Benson?” Lara said.

“And me too,” I said. “Won’t be long. I’m just going to find the loo.”

“Don’t be long, darling,” Lara said.

“Don’t worry. Benson will look after you,” I said. “Won’t you, Benson?”

“It would be an honour, sir,” he said.

I walked through the reception area to the toilets. It wasn’t much of a hotel as hotels go but people came there for the drinks and the view so it did more business than it really deserved. I washed my hands and my face and ran my fingers through my hair. Soumy had said it needed cutting and she’d been right, as always.

When I got back to the bar, two pretty teenage girls were getting Lara’s autograph, so instead of joining her straight away, I paused to watch. The girls stood before her, faces open and shining, adoring but nervous. She put her hand up to brush a lock of hair from her face and looked at them seriously, as if they were the most interesting people she’d ever met. Then she smiled, delighted, as if this was the first autograph she’d ever been asked for and spoke to them, asking their names and about themselves, and giving them the full power of her attention as they answered her. Everyone in the room was watching, even if they were pretending they weren’t.

Benson put two pieces of the hotel’s stationary and a pen on the bar and she wrote, holding the pen delicately and away from her as if sketching, and then placed each them in the hands of each girl as if bestowing a blessing.

She saw me watching her and her expression became serious. She turned to the girls and dismissed them with a smile. They went back to their table holding their papers out in front of them as if they were too precious to know what to do with, almost dancing with excitement.

“Do you like the view?” I said, taking my seat and trying the punch.

“View, darling?” she said. “Oh, the view. Yes, it is the best view in the world. You were quite right.” She took hold of one of my hands. “What do you think I should do, Si? Tell me what you really think, darling.”

“I’ll do my best. What’s the problem exactly?”

“My life. All this. I want something real, something with real meaning. Do you know what I mean?”

“Sort of. Perhaps. You don’t have to do anything in particular, do you? What do you want to do?”

“I don’t know, darling. That’s the problem. I don’t know. I just know that I want to do something different, that’s all.”

“I understand that. I seldom know what I want myself. Things tend to turn up though.”

“There. I knew you’d understand. Do you know anything about elephants?”

“Large things, can be tricky to have about the house.”

“Don’t be facetious, darling. I could save elephants. We could go on safari and I could save some elephants. What do you think? Wouldn’t that be wonderful? You could come too. What about it? Will you come to Africa with me, Si?”

“You said I should always tell you the truth…?”

“Of course. You must always tell the truth.”

“Okay. Of course I’ll come to Africa with you, Lara.”

“Oh, thank you, Si. That’s wonderful. I knew you were wonderful the moment I set eyes on you. You could carry a gun and protect me from the leopards, couldn’t you?”

“You don’t want to save the leopards too?”

“I don’t think so.”

“We could watch the sun coming up over the red sands of the Kalahari and drink champagne and then go and save elephants.”

“The red sands of the Kalahari.” She savoured the words. “That sounds wonderful. What time does the sun get up in the Kalahari?”

“Quite early, I suppose. About six generally.”

“In the morning?”

“Maybe we could save elephants first and then watch the sun setting afterwards instead.”

“Si, you’re wonderful. I knew you’d understand. Come on, we’d better go and tell the others.”

“We only just got here.”

“Do you think Chase will understand about the elephants?”

“Does it matter?”

“Of course it matters, darling. He’s my agent. Didn’t I say?”

“Yes, but…”

“No buts, darling. Come on, let’s go to that wonderful bar on the pier. I’m sure they’ll all be there by now.”

“I’m quite enjoying this bar here.”

“So am I darling, of course, but we’ve been here. Haven’t we? How can they be managing without us?”

I swallowed the last of my punch. It was almost as good as I’d expected it to be and I’d been looking forward to its mate. I wasn’t in a hurry to share Lara with anyone else either.

“Come and have a proper look at the view with me,” I said.

“I’ve seen it, darling. It’s wonderful of course, but I want to go now.”

“I’ve looked at you and you’re beautiful and now I’m going to look at the view. I’ve not been up here for years and who knows when I’ll be back,” I said.

I got up and went to lean on the railing under the jasmine and look out into the night. The garden below was a deep, soft blackness and the frogs were calling. The land fell away in folds and ridges, softly lit by the lights of houses, to the town and the beautiful double harbour and the sea.

She came to stand beside me and said, “Men.” putting her arm in mine.

“Look, there’s Polly and there’s Aphrodite,” I said, pointing.

Besides the local boats, there were fifteen or so visitors from Florida and the Bahamas come for the marlin and to hang out in one of the most beautiful places on earth. From up here they didn’t look too bad, though there was only one proper boat amongst them, in my opinion anyway.

“It isn’t bad, I suppose,” she said, finally looking at the view.

“It’s the most romantic view in the world,” I said. “Look how the water shimmers and picks up all the lights from the bars and how the darkness of the land frames the harbour like it’s putting its arms around it. And the boats are like the silver scales of a giant fish scattered on a black velvet cloth.”

I put my arm around her waist.

“Si, you say the nicest things.”

“Thank you.”

On the water, a dark shape crossed the path of the lights from the jetty bar reflected there. It was a rib, no lights on, passing through the smaller boats. It rocked them, making their masts sway. It went behind Aphrodite and I watched its wake fade from the water.

“Come on, Si,” Lara said, rubbing her foot against my leg. “I want to go.”

“The view is even better this time,” I said. “It must be because you’re with me, Lara.”

“I like the way you say my name,” she said, looking up into my face.

“I’m enjoying saying it,” I said. “I will now take you anywhere you want to go.”

I gave Benson a few notes and we walked out through the arch of bougainvillea and past the pool. Behind us the tone of the conversation changed again. The car was there and Stevie was drinking a red-stripe and waiting for us. I held the door for her and went round to get in.

“What did you think of the view, Miss Lara?” he said, as he eased the big car over the lip of the driveway and pointed it down.

“It was wonderful. I could have looked at it all night. The way the water shimmers round the lights of the… It was just perfect,” she said.

“Can you take us to the pier bar, please?” I said.

“Pier bar it is,” he said.

“Have you ever been to Botswana, Lara?” I said.

“I don’t think so, darling. What’s in Botswana?”

“Oh, lots of things. They have elephants too.”

“That sounds wonderful, darling. Do you think they’ll have missed us?”

“Do I think who’ll have missed us?”

“Don’t be so dim. The others. Chase and Hal, of course.”

“Of course. If they have, it serves them right.”

“Oh, no. You mustn’t be hard on Chase. I know he seems a bit…”

“Of a bastard?”

“No! Don’t say that. He’s a very good agent. I couldn’t manage without him. Really, I couldn’t.”

“If you say so.”

“I do say so. He’s going to get me something good. He’s promised. Something really good.”

“I thought you could have anything you wanted.”

“Don’t be silly, darling. No one can have anything they want. Except maybe for a few months at the beginning. But it isn’t like that most of the time.”

“At the beginning?”

“I mean at the beginning of the big time. But the big time is over before you know it’s there and then it’s just ordinary time.”

“You have ordinary time?”

“No, darling. I have an extraordinary time. Didn’t you know? I mean ordinary for me.”

“That’s what I thought. I’m glad we got that sorted out.”

“You can’t help it.”

“I’m sorry, it’s a different life. What can I know?”

“Everyone says that. What can they know. It can’t be helped.”

“Perhaps we should have a drink. It might help a bit.”

“Perhaps we should. That’s a very good idea.”

“Do you really want to carry on? You don’t have to, you know.”

“I have to, darling. We all have to carry on while they’ll let us. If we can.”

“Then I’m sure you’ll carry on wonderfully.”

“Thank you, darling. I’ll do my best.”

There was the sweet, musky, farm-yardy smell of ganja and the beat from the dancehall band at the Splendide in the air when we pulled up at the end of the pier.

“Thanks Stevie,” I said, handing him a few more notes.

“Not a problem. Send one of the boys for me if you wan me an don’t go down there again.”

“I’m stupid but not that stupid.”

“Good. I want to get some more of you money,” he said, grinning at me and rubbing the notes together. “I’m going to go and buy myself a little sumn to eat.”

Lara put her arm through mine and held it tight as we walked down the planks of the pier. The bar itself, with its reed-thatched roof and shelves of bottles and glasses, obscured the seating beyond. We walked into the space beyond and paused. Lara was no longer holding my arm tight but standing taller and looking serenely out across the groups of people at tables. This was the crowd from the yachts in the harbour and they didn’t react so much to our entrance.

“Look, darling. There they are,” Lara said.

I’d seen them and caught the look of hate in Hal’s eyes as he saw me. He turned to Mya, as if he hadn’t seen us, and said something that made her laugh. Chase had his back to us and was talking to a man in a white t-shirt with some kind of crest embroidered on it, waving his hands about to make his point.

“Well, Lara,” I said.

“Yes, darling?” she said, not looking at me.

“Now that we’re here, would you like a drink?”

“That would be wonderful, darling…”

She moved off to talk to someone at a nearby table. I watched her begin to work the crowd and then turned to the bar.

“Good evening, sir,” the barman said.

“I’m not sure about that,” I said. “Do you know what they’re drinking at Mr Armit’s table by any chance?”

“Lady’s drinking pink gin, big gent’s on beer and the other two are on bourbon, sir.”

“Do us another round, will you. And two rum punch, easy on the rum. Okay?”

“I’ll bring them right over, sir.”

I caught up with Lara and she disengaged herself from the group she was chatting to. We walked to the table with the rest of them; Lara not taking my arm this time.

“Don’t mind Hal, will you, Si,” she said.

“I think Hal minds me,” I said.

“Ah, there’s… And you’ve brought Lara,” Chase said, noticing us. “Excellent, excellent. Let me get some more drinks. Come sit, sit.”

The man in the yacht club t-shirt got to his feet.

“Lara, darling. Let me introduce Chester. Chester, this is Lara Heath.”

“Delighted to meet you, ma’am,” the man said.

“Pleased to meet you too, Chester,” Lara said, letting him take her hand and giving him a moderate dose of her personal candle-power.

“And this young man owns that beautiful yacht sitting out there,” Chase said.

“Simon,” I said, shaking the offered hand.

“You two must be thirsty, I know I am. Where’s a waiter, someone?” Chase said.

“Drinks are on the way,” I said, pulling out a chair for Lara beside Hal and then taking a seat beside Mya.

“Efficient as well as handsome,” Mya said. “What have you two been up to, if it’s not an indiscreet question?”

“Lara saw that I’d walked out along the breakwater, which was stupid, and fetched me in a taxi before I got mugged,” I said.

“Really? That was very clever of you, darling,” Mya said.

“Well, you know me, sweetie,” Lara said.

“Oh yes, Lara to the rescue,” Mya said.

“Don’t,” Hal said.

“She didn’t mean…” Lara said, putting a hand on his arm.

“She did,” he said.

“Have you seen Tidebreak, Simon?” Mya said. “She does the rescuing not the being rescued, don’t you sweetie? Bombed, of course. Can’t go against the nature of things, can you?”

“I’ve not seen that one, but I’ve seen On The Sands. It was wonderful. And Lara was wonderful in it,” I said.

“Wasn’t she, though,” Chester said.

“Hear, hear,” Chase said, accepting another glass of scotch from the barman who had arrived and was handing round drinks.

“That was years ago,” Mya said.

“Well, I thought it was amazing and I’ve been in love with her ever since,” I said.

“And so have I,” Chester said.

“To Lara, my rescuer,” I said, raising my glass.

“Yes. To Lara,” Chester said, touching mine with his.

“To the talent,” Chase said, raising his.

Lara smiled at Chester and me, half stood to take a bow, and then touched her own glass against Hal’s and drank. He scowled and looked uncomfortable.

“Come on, darling. Cheer up,” she said.

“I’m not feeling cheerful,” he said. “And neither would you be.”

“I know, darling. Never mind.”

She put her arm through his and leant close to him. He just sat, accepting it with a bad grace and keeping his stolid martyr’s face on. It wasn’t pleasant to look at, so I looked at Lara instead.

“Never mind them; they’re always like that. Now, tell me; how did you come by that so young, Simon?” Mya said. “You haven’t said a word about yourself so far. I’m quite possibly going to die of curiosity.”

“Come by what?” I said, turning to look at her.

“That beautiful boat, of course. It must be worth a fortune,” she said.

“I don’t know. I suppose she is. I stole her, so I don’t know.”

“Of course you did. You can just go about stealing boats like that, can you?”

“If you know how, you can steal anything,” I said.

“You don’t say so? You’re going to get right along with Chase, you know that. Have you ever considered the business?”

“Your business? The film business?”

“Is there any other. You could be a star, couldn’t he darling? He’s got the looks. What do you say, Lara? He could be your next leading man. I know he’s a bit young, but with good lighting and all the tricks.”

“Shut up, Mya,” Lara said.

“Sure, honey. Can you act, son?” Chase said.

“No idea. Never tried,” I said.

“Don’t do it,” Hal said. “They’ll eat you up and spit you out. Trust me, it isn’t worth it.”

“Lara seems to like it,” I said.

“Yeah, but Lara looks like Lara. Don’t you, darling?” Hal said, looking at her critically.

“It’s amazing how young you look, darling. Doesn’t she look amazing, everyone?” Mya said. “Some women have it and some don’t. I always look just as old as I am, don’t I, darling?”

“I wouldn’t say that, darling,” Lara said, and took a gentle sip of her drink.

“You look just fine to me, honey bun,” Chase said.

“I’m pretty sure I’d need some talent,” I said. “Lara’s not only one of the most beautiful women in the world, but she’s also one of the best actors. I’ve no reason to suppose I have that.”

“Don’t say that to my wife,” Hal said, rising.

“He didn’t mean it, darling,” Lara said, holding his arm and trying to keep him down.

“If you want to take a swing at me, we can go over there, if you’d like,” I said.

“Maybe you’ve got something, honey,” Chase said. “I’m beginning to see it now. He’s got something. Wha’d’you think Chester? Bit like a young De Niro. Wha’dya think?”

“Kinda still but dangerous? Yes, I get you,” Chester said.

“How’dya feel about getting signed up, son? Let me get you a few tests and we’ll see about it. Get you a few lessons. I think I could maybe fix you up. Wha’dya say?” Chase said.

“Don’t mess about, Chase,” Lara said. “Si doesn’t want any of this shit.”

“Si, is it now?” Hal said. “I see. Just what’ve you been up to just now? Huh?”

“Nothing, darling. Like Simon said, I picked him up on the breakwater. That’s all.”

“Someone called Jase and his mate were all for chopping me up and picking over my corpse. I’d probably be dead by now if Lara hadn’t showed up,” I said.

“You don’t say?” Chase said. “Someone called Jase, you say? I’ve heard this can be a dangerous place if you stray too far from the lights. You shouldn’t have gone down there, sweetheart. You might’ve got into trouble out there on your own.”

“I wasn’t on my own. That driver called Stevie was driving me,” Lara said.

“He’s only thinking of the insurance, darling. Don’t mind him,” Mya said. “Sit down, Hal. Someone said something nice about your wife, is all. It’s not a crime, actually.”

“I still wana know…” Hal said.

“Shut up, Hal. I’m talking now,” Chase said. “Go take a walk or something.”

“Oh, what the fuck. I’ll go back to the boat and get some sleep. Where’s that chunt?” Hal said.

“I gave him and Tina the night off. Go take a walk or something. You can go back with Lara later. She’s not going on her own. Be a man for once, can’t you.”

“You take her, why don’t you? What diff’rence does it make who takes her?” Hal said.

“Mya and I are sleeping at the Pastel Inn tonight. I told you that, Remember? I said I’d treat her. Didn’t I, honey?”

“You sure did, darling. I’m set on that four-poster right now,” Mya said. “The boats nice but I wanna sleep on the land tonight. Just us. Right, darlin?”

“Whatever you say, sweetie,” Chase said.

“I’ll run you both over, if you like?” I said. “I’ve got my rib right here. It’ll only take a minute. D’you want to call it a night, Lara?”

Hal looked at me, wanting to get away but not wanting to get a lift from me.

“Nope. I’m busy signin’ you up remember,” Chase said. “Hal’s only blowing off steam. He’ll be alright in a minute. Go take a walk, Hal. Why don’t you go with him, darling? Go stand by your man, eh?”

“Okay. Let’s go for a walk, shall we, husband?” Lara said, standing up. “Come, give me your strong arm to lean on and let’s go and look like a loving couple for the people, shall we?”

“You mean like you just came in with this prick earlier, don’t you?” Hal said, looking at me. “Like he was to be the next Mr Heath.”

“There it is again,” Chester said. “See, he’s gone kind of calm and dangerous looking.”

“Yeah, I see it. I see it,” Chase said.

“Sorry, Si. He didn’t mean it,” Lara said.

“Look, just fuck off you two, will you forgodsake. I’m gonna lose all my credibility if you all start fighting right now. Go. Go on, go,” Chase said.

“C’mon, darling. Please?” Lara said.

“Oh, what the fuck. I’ve got nothing else to do.” Hal allowed himself to be led away.

“Don’t sign anything, Si,” Lara said to me over her shoulder as they went. They walked through the throng of other drinkers like royalty and disappeared beyond the bar.

“Very funny. Thank fuck for that. Now, where was I?” Chase said.

“Talking turkey, I think,” Chester said. “I gotta see this. Years from now I could be saying, ‘I was there when Simon met Chase’. Simon what, by the way?”

“Ellice. Call me Si, everyone does.”

“Chester Ticking of Ticking Clock. Get it? We’re production, if you didn’t know?”

“Sorry. Not my world,” I said.

“No matter,” Chase said. “I’m Chase Armit of Armit and Effortless.”

“Which is one of the big five, in case you didn’t know,” Chester said, grinning at me.

“Let’s just assume I’m newly arrived on your planet,” I said.

“Okay, Si. It’s like this,” Chase said. “You don’t know if you’ve got it, I don’t know if you’ve got it. Even Chester here don’t know. But you might have it. You get me?”

“No.”

“If the camera loves you, Si. That’s the question,” Chester said.

“And if I can act?” I said.

“Yeah, that too,” Chase said.

“So just supposing I’ve got it. What’s the deal?” I said.

“Then this is your lucky day, honey,” Mya said.

“I’ll say it is,” Chester said.

“Just supposin’ we do some tests and it’s lookin’ good. I’ll put you in a package, that’s what. Get you into something right away. Not a big role but something. How about that? Eh?”

“Why not something with Lara?” Chester said.

“Yeah, maybe,” Chase said.

“Why not, Chase? They look good together. We could make out there might be something between them. Get some photos of them together somewhere out into the media. Play up that story about him rescuing her from these muggers or whatever. Get some publicity right off. It’s perfect.”

“She rescued me,” I said.

“We’ll get to that. I got ideas about that. First things first. Chester he ain’t signed yet. I’m sure you’re a man of your word, aren’t you, Si? So am I. Won’t mess you about. This isn’t just drinkin’ talk. So you and I talk about it and maybe we shake on it. And if we do, you can meet me for breakfast and do the paperwork. How’bout that?”

“Slow up a bit. What’s a package for a start?” I said.

“You really aren’t in the business are you, honey?” Mya said.

“Everything above the line, Si. That’s what it is. Money, talent, script, the works,” Chester said.

I just looked at him.

“That’s not helping, honey,” Mya said. “Just shut up you two and let me lay it out.”

“Go on, sugar. You’ve got the floor,” Chase said.

“It’s like this, Si,” she said. “The studios ain’t what they was. They don’t own stars anymore. Agencies do that. They put together the script, probably most of the cast, the director and often times pull in the money too. That’s what we mean by a package. It means that you get to ride into a production because you’re with us and we’re doing the package. That’s why it’s your lucky day, baby.”

“If I’ve got it, and if I want it,” I said.

“What’s not to want?” Chase said. “Money, fame, girls, boys, whatever you want, on a plate. You could be the next Errol Flynn, who knows. If you know who he was?”

“This is his neighbourhood. Yes, I know who he was.”

“Good, good. Of course. We’re a bit old, Chester and me and we sometimes refer to the classics. Confuses the youngsters. Where was I?”

“What’s it actually like? Making films I mean,” I said.

“Great fun, boy. Best fun a man can have. Get to go to all the interesting places. Locations you know. Parties, hang out with the cool crowd, bit of action; stunts I mean. You look like you could handle a bit of excitement. I’ve got a film in planning about a fast boat. Ever driven one of those cigarette boats? Know what I mean? Could be just the kind of life for an adventurous young man like you. I think you should give it a go, I really do.”

“What he means is you spend a lot of time hanging about and then if you’re lucky something exciting happens to someone else, usually a stuntman, and then you go to a hotel, or else you say the same few lines fifty times until the director is happy, and then you go to a hotel,” Mya said.

“Whatayadoin, honey? Can’t you see I’m trying to sign this guy?” Chase said.

“He ain’t stupid, darlin’. There’s no point shitting him. It ain’t all fun but it does get to you somehow. Most people get into it, go mad to stay in it and won’t do nothing else if they can help it.”

“Well that’s one up on the army, at least you get a hotel,” I said.

“You been in the army? Tell me it’s the Navy Seals or something like that?” Chester said.

“He’s a Brit, dummy,” Chase said.

“Of course he is. Even better…”

“Okay, just stop there.” I said. “I’ve got nothing I’ve particularly got to do so I’m willing to have a screen test, just to see what it’s about, that’s all. After that we’ll see. As long as it doesn’t take too long or take me far out of my way. That’s it. Okay?”

“Did you hear that, Chase?” Chester said. “I’ve just heard someone say ‘take it or leave it’ to Chase Armit. Can you believe I lived that long? I’m going to get some more drinks, that’s what I’m going to do.”

Chase was looking a bit like I’d just dropped a heavy sandbag on his head.

“He don’t know what he’s just done, honey,” Mya said. “We just met someone from the real world, that’s all.”

“Okay, have it your own way, son. I can respect that. First we’ve got to sign you up though. Give me your hand, son. Let’s you and me do the deal.”

“I’ll shake your hand, Chase, but if I don’t like what happens after, I’ll toss you in the drink and be on my way. Do you understand me?” I said.

“It just gets better,” Chester said.

“Sure, I understand you. Ten percent is what it is. Ten percent, for God’s sake. Is that too much for you? Really? I’m offering you the… what, the wealth of the orient, a new life, fame and fortune, and you’re quibbling about ten percent?”

“Oh, what the fuck. Stop talking and let’s have another drink. I’ve wandered into a nut house,” I said.

“So, shake my hand,” he said, holding it out again.

“Okay, Chase. I’ll shake your bloody hand.”

I took his hand and he grasped mine and put his other one over the top of it.

“Deal. That’s a deal. You won’t regret it, boy.”

“It might be best if you stop calling me boy,” I said.

“He don’t mean nothing by it, honey,” Mya said.

“We should have a drink on this,” Chester said. “Over here, boy. Can’t you see we’re dying of thirst?”

He waved at the barman who was coming to us anyway.

“Perhaps we should have some champagne?” Chester said. “D’you think they’ve got any?”

“You drink it if you want it, Chester. I’m sticking to the scotch,” Chase said.

“I’ll have another punch please, barman. Make it just as strong as the last one, will you,” I said.

“Coming right up, sir,” he said.

We got fresh drinks and I sat back and wondered what the fuck I was doing, if I was doing anything, if in fact any of this meant anything at all. Chase and Chester started talking about how to argue up a blended value to help with a super-gap, whatever that was. Apparently I’d stopped being so interesting now I was a done deal.

“Whatcha thinking about, honey?” Mya said.

“I was just wondering what it would be like living Lara’s life,” I said.

“Crap, sweetie. Just about gilded crap. Can’t you tell?”

“Maybe. Why is that?”

“Anno domini they call it. It gets us all in the end but it gets her kind soonest of all. It ain’t fair, but it’s a fact.”

“Different planet, remember?”

“Sure, sure. She can act alright and in a bit she’ll get character roles, say ten years, but right now, honey, well she just ain’t young anymore and she ain’t old either. It’s a place no one wants to be.”

“You mean she can’t get the parts she used to?”

“It’s getting hard and that’s a fact. Chase is doing his best, but right now she’s just in the way of her own legacy.”

“So, she should go save elephants?”

“Yeah, whatever. Anything but hang around making desperate and doing straight to DVD.”

“I see. What’s the deal with Hal? He seems a bit pissed off.”

“You know who he is, honey?”

“Seems familiar but, no, not really.”

“Tennis pro. Had a good run, made Queens and the Roland Garros a couple of times but not quite into the top ten. We all thought he was going there. She certainly did. They were the golden couple then. He thought he could slide into acting after the muscles wouldn’t deliver anymore. No way josé.”

“Can’t act for shit?”

starlight

“You got it, baby. Stiff as a board.”

“Somehow I knew that.”

“I bet she did too. Somewhere deep down in that pretty little head. They don’t like to share, her kind.”

“You don’t like her very much?”

“Tell me you’d have looked like the cat that got the mouse with me on your arm when you came in earlier.”

“Fair point.”

“Every fucking man in this place looks at her when she comes in. Even Chester and he’s gay for fuck’s sake.”

“Sorry. It’s just… I don’t know. She’s just got something.”

“I know. Fuck don’t I know.”

“You all came out together in Aphrodite? Is she hers? The boat, I mean.”

“No, no. That’s the company’s. Expense deductible. Helps to grease the wheels, if you know what I mean. Gotta look the part and go where the in-crowd go or you’re nothing. We’re supposed to be bonding and making a plan for where to go next. With her career, I mean.”

“But there isn’t one?”

“Not one she’s goin’ to like anyhow. What she doesn’t realise is she’s worth more…”

“… Honey,” Chase said. “D’you think they’re alright? Haven’t they been a long time? D’you think we should go see what’s occurring with them?”

“Sure, sweetie. I’m sure they’re fine but Si and I’ll go walk along and lead them back. Suit you?”

“Gotta look after the talent. It’s all we have in the end, ain’t it? Let’s get them tucked up on Frighty, safe and sound.”

“Will you walk along with me and go see? I ain’t no Lara Heath but I’m not a complete disaster,” Mya said.

“I’m not from round here, remember. I’ll walk with you and I don’t care if you look like back end of a bus. Not that you do,” I said.

“Back end of a bus. I like that. You know what I like about you, Si? I just never know what you’re going to say next,” Chester said.

Mya and I got up and walked through the crowd. It was getting late but the tempo of drinking and talking didn’t seem to be slowing down.

“You were saying, she’s worth more keeping her head down and preserving the mystique than doing what’s currently available to her?” I said.

“You got it, honey. Only she ain’t taking it well and it’s causing trouble. A lotta trouble.”

The stretch of pier between the bar and the land was empty apart from one lone figure standing uncertainly part way down and staring out across the water. It was Lara. She put her hand up to her face as if to brush away tears.

“Oh shit. They’ve had a bust up,” Mya said. “C’mon, we’re the cavalry now.”

I went with her. A bit reluctantly, I must admit. Lara looked at Mya and then turned to me. Her cheeks were moist with tears and she was holding herself as if she hurt inside. She didn’t look any less beautiful though. I wanted to make it better. Well, part of me did anyway.

“He’s left me,” she said.

“No he hasn’t, honey. You’ve just had a fight, that’s all. Don’t you worry,” Mya said.

“I don’t know what to do,” Lara said, still looking at me.

“Come back with me, honey. Here, dry your eyes and get your game face on and let’s go get you back to the boat, shall we?” Mya held out a tissue that she’d produced from somewhere.

“I’m not going back without him,” she looked down the pier towards the town. “He might get hurt or lost.”

“He’s a big boy. He can take care of himself,” Mya said.

“Si, you’ll get him for me, won’t you?” Lara said.

“I can’t get him if he doesn’t want to come,” I said.

“Please? I want to know he’s okay. Will you, Si? For me?”

She took hold of my hands again and looked up into my face. Apparently she read something there as she said, “Oh, thank you. You’re so wonderful. I knew you’d help me.”

I looked over her head at Mya. For a fleeting instant there was a hard, unforgiving look on her face and then it was gone. “Go on, Si,” she said. “I expect you’ll find him in the first bar you come to. I’ll take Lara back to our table. You think you can face it, darling?”

“You promise to find him for me?” Lara said.

“I promise to look. If I find him, I’ll drag him back by the neck if I have to. Okay?”

“Promise me you won’t hurt him. I know you won’t hurt him. Promise me, Si. Please?” Lara said.

“Okay, I promise, Lara,” I said.

I started walking down the pier towards the town. You don’t know he won’t try to hurt me, though do you? I thought as I walked the short distance.

He wasn’t in the first bar or the second. I nearly missed him in the third; he was just coming out of the loo at the back.

“You bastard,” he said, and took a swing at me.

“Don’t be a…” I said, moving my head back out of the way, “… prick. If you want to have a fight with me, we’re going to do it outside.” I turned on my heel and went outside.

He hit me like a train just as I was turning to find out if he had followed me. We went down onto the dirt in a sprawling, threshing heap, with him on top of me.

I got hold of his hair with both hands and considered nutting him. It was tempting. In the meantime, he heaved himself up and tried to knee me in the balls. I got my leg in the way and held his head down so that he couldn’t get a proper swing at me. He grabbed one of my arms and tried to force it down so that he could bite it. It was turning into a messy and unpleasant fight.

I heaved us over so that he was no longer on top of me and we were side by side in the dirt, let go with one hand and forced my knuckle into the pressure point below his ear. He reached up, trying to claw at my face and I was trying to block him with my elbow and not let go of his head. I thought I might have to, or get hurt, and then he began to go limp.

I held on and kept pushing until he wasn’t properly conscious and then heaved him away from me and got to my feet. There was a cheer from the crowd who had gathered to watch. I brushed some of the dust off my trousers, not because I cared about my trousers but because it gave me time to compose myself.

On the ground Hal was quickly regaining consciousness. He started swearing unpleasantly. I stood and looked at him and wondered what to do with him. Or to him.

“Gi hi a ickle o da boo,” someone suggested. It was tempting.

Instead I reached down, pinched the bit of his upper lip under his nose between my thumb and index finger and lifted him to his feet with it. He howled, but up he came. I could see he still had plenty of fight left in him so I let go and gave him a short, hard right to his kidney. That did him some good, and he stood there dealing with the pain of it and being no trouble.

“Maybe Jase was da lucky one,” a voice near me said. It was Stevie the driver.

“Hey, Stevie,” I said, giving him a grin. “I think this man needs a drink. Will you take his other arm?”

“I don mine but why you botherin?”

“Lara wants him back,” I said.

“An you fetchin him? She some girl, that one.”

“Seems to be,” I said.

We took an arm each and the crowd moved aside for us and we walked him back into the bar and put him on a stool.

“Wha you goin to do now?” Stevie said.

“I’m going to have a drink with him and maybe talk to him a bit and then we’ll see,” I said.

“Why?”

“I really couldn’t say.”

“Okay. Move back you fellas. Show’s over. Can’t you see the man wants a bit of privacy here,” Stevie said.

The people who had followed us in reluctantly moved back. The barman was looking at Hal curiously.

“He’ll have a coffee and I’ll have a beer please,” I said. “What do you want, Stevie?”

“Redstripe wouldn’t hurt,” he said.

“Two beers and a coffee coming right up,” the barman said.

“You even think about it and I’m going to bounce your head off the bar until you need reconstructing,” I said to Hal. He glowered at me but didn’t move.

“What do you want?” he said.

“That’s better. I don’t know what I want but I said I’d fetch you back, so this is me fetching you.”

“I know what you want,” he said, and the way he said it wasn’t nice.

“Maybe, but what’s wrong with that?” I said.

He didn’t say anything to that. The drinks arrived and I passed a beer to Stevie who was standing not far away trying to look like he wasn’t listening.

“I’m not saying I don’t want her, but that isn’t the point,” I said.

“So, what is then? You bastard,” Hal said.

“You can’t act for shit and your tennis career is over and you’re busy feeling sorry for yourself and angry with everyone else,” I said.

“That’s not a point. That’s just a statement of the fucking obvious,” he said.

“The point is Lara’s in trouble and she sent me to fetch you. I was hoping she wouldn’t, but she did. What the fuck she sees in you I’ve no idea. Question is, what are you going to do about it?”

“What do you mean, Lara’s in trouble. She’s not in any trouble I know about.”

“Oh yes she is.”

“What kind of trouble?”

“Suppose you try asking her,” I said, and got to my feet. “Now, drink your coffee and do whatever the fuck you want. I’ve said what I came to say and now I’m going to go back to my boat and leave you bunch of idiots to your own devices.”

I put some money on the bar and walked out. Stevie came with me.

“You really going to leave that girl alone?” he said.

“Just watch me,” I said.

“I might jus do that, it’s turned out quite entertainin so far. Now I’ve seen you moves, I’m thinking of setting you up with our Jason. Could make some dollar. Wha’d’you say?”

“Well, so much for loyalty.”

“Oh, no, don’ say tha. I’ll be bettin on you mon.”

“You bring that smelly piece of shit anywhere near me and I’ll make you give him a ride in your car. All the way to Kingston and back.”

“I’d have to sell it after. I’m only teasin man. I’m not plannin to get on your wrong side if I can help it.”

“Good. My wrong side is the side I’m getting to be on tonight.”

“It’s wantin it and not gettin it,” he said. “Can easily sort you out, if you want.”

“No thanks, I’m fine.”

“Anyway, I caan set you up with Jase, some idiot give him a boat. He out there somewhere, hopefully drownin hisself.” He pointed out into the blackness of the water.

“Or trying to rob someone, you mean.”

“Don worry. Don, he’s the constable I mentioned, has gone out in his boat to do a little patrol. He thinks he’s in a hepisode of Miami Vice.”

“Someone should feed those two to the fish.”

“Jase and Stanley? Nah, they is like rats; you kill one an two turn up to the funeral. Better to jus live wi the devil you know.”

“If you say so. Night, Stevie, and thanks.”

“No problem, any time.”

I walked back down the jetty and past the bar into the space beyond. The crowd had thinned a bit and one of the barmen was clearing tables. Lara looked up at me expectantly.

“Oh, Si. Did you find him?”

“He’ll be along in a minute. He’s just having a coffee and composing himself,” I said.

“Coffee? This is Hal we’re talking about?” Mya said.

“Really?” Lara said. “Oh, that’s wonderful. Thank you so much.”

She would’ve had me sit by her but I’d had enough of that particular dance. I stayed standing and looked out over the water. All the boats were sitting on the black water like ducks on a pond There were lights on, on Polly. Someone moved behind one of the saloon windows.

“Well good for you. Sit down and have a drink, my boy. What’ll it be?” Chase said.

“I’m for bed,” I said.

“Don’t forget we’ve got a breakfast meeting, will you? Say about twelve?” Chase said.

“I won’t forget,” I said.

“I can see it all now,” Chester said, holding up his index fingers and thumbs to make a frame to view me through.

“Don’t start that again,” I said.

“Is Hal really coming?” Lara said.

“Yes, he just started walking up the pier now,” I said.

“You’ve been wonderful, Si,” Lara said.

“Quite the hero,” Mya said.

“We should hit the hay too, honey,” Chase said.

“Okay, babe. I’m ready,” she said.

“I’ll drop these two off, shall I? What about you, Si? D’you have a ride?” Chester said.

“I’ve got my rib right here,” I said. “Night, all.”

I walked to the end where I’d tied up Polly’s tender, undid the painter and pulled it in. I stepped in, pushing off. The outboard started on the button and I circled out to Polly, breaking the perfect surface of the water.

Soumy was in the saloon. She had her feet tucked up under her and one hand under her t-shirt resting on her belly. The other hand was holding up a dog-eared copy of The Female Eunuch. Beside her on the cushions was a fat English dictionary.

“You’re back,” she said, putting down the book and looking at me.

“You were right,” I said. “They aren’t very nice.”

“You don’t look like you are either.”

“I should’ve stayed here with you.”

“Do you want anything? Coffee?”

“No, I’ve been drinking all evening and I’m not even drunk.”

“Poor you.”

I sat down on the opposite bench and took my shoes off. I put my feet up and leant back. Soumy picked up her book again.

“How’re you finding it?” I said.

“Hard,” she said, turning a page.

I rested my head against the cushions and closed my eyes. Then I opened them and said, “That man, Chase, wants me to be an actor.”

Soumy put down her book with a sigh and said, “You mean that woman wants you to be an actor.”

“No, not really.”

“She wants to own you. I know the type.”

“She’s very interesting.”

“Very beautiful, you mean.”

“Okay that too.”

“Well, perhaps you should be an actor. Then you can be actors together.”

“I don’t want to be an actor. It seems all false and silly.”

“Okay, don’t be an actor.”

She picked up the book again.

“I nearly got mugged and I got into a fight with someone,” I said.

She lowered the book again.

“Who?”

“Lara’s husband. He’s an idiot.”

“He’s an idiot?”

“I think something’s going on.”

“I think so too.”

“No, I don’t mean that.”

“Apart from you wanting to fuck her and her wanting to collect you and use you to get at her husband, you mean?”

“I…”

She looked at me, waiting to see what I had to say.

“How did you know that?” I said, instead. “About her wanting to get at her husband, I mean.”

“She needs a man and the one she’s got isn’t looking after her. She probably thinks you might be a better bet. Little she knows.”

“All that reading is really paying off,” I said.

“Thank you,” she said.

“Anyway, she has an agent to look after her.”

“The big one?”

“Yes.”

“I don’t like him the most.”

“I like him the least.”

“I like him the least. Thank you.”

“I don’t like him much either.”

“He pretends not to be paying attention but his eyes are noticing eyes.”

“She’s like a tragic heroine. Like she needs rescuing.”

“The actress? No, it’s what she does. Don’t be fooled, she’s pretty tough.”

“I’m not sure. I think she may be in trouble.”

“Well, go and rescue her then.”

“Maybe I will.”

I got up and walked out into the cockpit. The music at the Splendide had stopped and the night was still. Most of the boats in the harbour were dark; only Aphrodite had a light burning. Something broke the surface of the water beyond the boats, perhaps a fish jumping.

I sniffed at the warm tropical smell of the sea and the mangroves by the entrance and someone smoking some ganga. There was no doubt about it, I was out of sorts and I didn’t know what to do with myself. Perhaps I should just go to bed and try to sleep. I moistened a finger and held it up to interrogate the almost imperceptible movement of the night air and then went back into the saloon.

“Come on, let’s go to bed,” Soumy said, shutting the book.

“Ganga,” I said.

“You want to smoke some of that filthy stuff?”

“No, but someone is.”

“They do that a lot round here. I think it’s a mistake.”

“Soumy, I think I might just go for a swim.”

“Okay.”

She looked at me with curiosity, but not surprise.

Even at night there’s no call for a wet suit at those latitudes so I just put on a dark t-shirt, swimming trunks, strapped my diving knife to my leg and let myself down into the water. I took fins and goggles but didn’t bother with a snorkel; it’s very hard to use one without making a sound when you clear it as you come back up.

The water was black and soft and velvety and when I pushed off downwards and then looked up, the light of the stars shimmered down through the glass-like surface.

I broke through as gently as I could, sucking in a lungful and rolling down again to power myself along with the fins until my lungs began to ache and it was time to come up. It was eerie being in the water, surrounded by life moving unseen all around me and I began to feel more like myself, and that all the drinking and doing nothing was washing off me a bit.

Four long underwater swims took me to the transom of Mr Manhattan and I hung there, hidden by the overhang, and looked at Aphrodite. I’d underestimated how big she was; I don’t value these plastic playthings of the rich so I hadn’t paid her any attention. As her kind often do, she had a wide low stern from which it was easy to step off into the water, or onto a tender or jet-ski. There was a low light on in what I took to be the main lower level saloon but nothing moved and there was no sound coming from her. Perhaps Lara and Hal had gone to bed.

After that I looked long and hard into the darkness all around. I didn’t see anything except water and the hulls of the boats looming against the stars but I heard the sound again. It was nearer this time.

I did my underwater thing again and came up under her stern. There was a handy ladder reaching down into the water, so I took my fins off and pulled myself silently onto it and put my head up, so that I could see in. The afterdeck was in deep darkness because of the overshadowing sundeck above it, but the big curved sliding glass doors that separated the after-deck from the interior were open, and there was subdued lighting within. I couldn’t see anyone but I thought I heard snoring. I climbed on up and went in, leaving wet footprints in the thick carpet. Lara was sitting on one of the leather chairs by the glass dining table looking at me but not seeing me. Hal was face down on one of the sofas. He was the one doing the snoring.

“Evening. Thought I’d pop by,” I said.

“Oh,” Lara said, looking at me and beginning to see me. There was a small mound of white powder, a US bill and a razor blade; one line cut out of it. “What…?”

“Don’t mean to intrude, just had an idea, that’s all.”

“Oh, Si, it’s you. How romantic. You’re all wet. And you’re being very British,” she said, laughing.

“Sorry.”

“There you go again. Come in. Would you like…?” She held up the razorblade in her slim fingers and waved it at me.

“No thanks.” I looked at Hal. He seemed pretty unconscious.

“Oh, don’t mind him, he’ll be out for hours,” she said. “Si, have you come to rescue me?”

“Yes, I suppose I have.”

“Oh, darling. That’s wonderful. I knew you would.”

“Did you?”

“Yes, darling.”

She got up and came to me and stood very close to me looking up into my face. I put my hand behind her head and kissed her deeply and slowly. She leant into me and put her arms up around my neck.

“Oh, Si,” she said.

It wasn’t easy but I pulled away and said, “That was… I think we should…”

“What, Si?”

“Over here I think.”

I leant down, scooped her up and carried her further into the luxuriously appointed room and put her gently down on one of the sofas.

“You’re so strong. I like that, but…” she said.

I found the light switch, turned it off and then sat down beside her.

“Si, darling, what are you doing?” she said, propping herself up on one elbow and looking at me.

starlight

Hal was still snoring loudly. Now that the lights were off, the doorway onto the after-deck was a paler square of the starlit night outside.

“This is me rescuing you,” I said. “Possibly. Speak low, Lara.”

“Nothing short of an earthquake will wake him now,” she said, but she said it softly. “What do you mean, darling?”

“What did you mean when you said I’d come to rescue you, Lara?” I said.

“To look after me, of course. That’s what very woman needs, darling. I feel so alone, you’ve no idea what it’s like. And Chase has changed, he used to be so sweet and nice, well not nice exactly, but now he’s… And look at him.” She pointed a disdainful finger at Hal.

“Speaking of Chase, I assume he keeps a gun or two about, do you happen to know where they are?”

“What are you talking about? Why do you want a gun? Oh, darling. You’re not going to….?”

She looked at Hal and then at me with wild surmise.

“No.”

There was a faint rubbing sound outside and a familiar silhouette appeared at the back of the boat.

“Lara,” I said, under my breath, “when they come in, don’t scream. Offer them some of your coke instead.”

“When who come in?”

“You’ll see. I’ll be with you in a bit.”

I disengaged myself from her, slipped back into the corridor leading to the accommodation and as I expected found stairs to the sun deck. I trod up them silently, came out into the starlight and went to the back and looked carefully over. There was a black inflatable tied to the ladder. One of its oars was floating slowly away in the quiet water. However far I leant over I couldn’t see its occupants.

I went forward a bit on the starboard side and found that I could let myself down by the guard-rail onto the narrow walkway running forward on the lower deck. I did that and stepped onto the dark after-deck. Even in that very still, late night I didn’t make much sound doing it.

Jase and Stanley were standing just inside the glass doors looking at Lara. Lara was still on the sofa at the far end where I’d left her.

“Stanley, you deal wi da gentlmn n I’ll jus go an hentertain da lady,” Jase said.

“Das no fair,” Stanley said.

“Do you worry, I leave you some,” Jase said.

Lara was frozen. She was gripping the edge of the cushions and her eyes were locked onto Jase’s machete which was pointing at her belly.

“Don you scream ledy,” Jase said. “You won come ta na harm by lickle ol Jase. Jus tek i easy, okay.”

He put the machete down on the table and went on into the room. Stanley took a firmer grip of the kitchen knife in his right hand and went to stand over Hal. I followed him, my feet silent on the thick carpet.

“Hello,” Lara said. Her voice was an octave higher than usual but I could tell that speaking brought her back to herself a bit. “I won’t give you any trouble. Would you like some coke?”

Stanley was about to strike into Hal’s neck so I put my left hand over his mouth, pulled him to me and drove my knife up under his ribs. There was some resistance from his skin and intercostal muscles, and then the blade slid easily in to the hilt. I waggled it about a bit to make sure. His weak little life began to drain out into his own body cavities. I held him tight while he kicked and twitched, scuffing the carpet a bit. Jase was leaning down over the table chasing a line with the rolled up note.

“Ahhh. Da sum goo shi,” he said, standing up and wiping his nose.

Lara was staring at Stanley who was becoming still. Her eyes followed him as I let him face down onto the carpet.

“Stanley, mon. C’m’n try some a di,” Jase said, turning to see how Stanley was doing.

I thought he would be slower. He just grinned and threw himself at me.

The knife was still in Stanley and it was too late to get it. I went over backwards meaning to throw him over me but he caught hold of my t-shirt with one hand and we ended up crashing into the wall in a flailing mess; both trying to find our feet. He was pulling me in with my shirt, wanting to get his other hand onto my neck, trying to drag me down with him. I was twisting and turning and struggling to get away, not having enough distance to make an effective strike at him.

The cloth of my shirt tore and I got one foot under me. He changed tactics, put a hand behind him and pushed off from the wall, launching himself at me again, intending to keep me off balance.

Now I’d got the tiny bit of space I needed. As he came forward, I got a right into his body. It wasn’t a good punch but it slowed him a bit and helped to put me back onto my feet. My left clipped his jaw and he started swinging too.

For all his greater reach it quickly became clear that this was my game not his. I tucked myself up, jabbing at him, trying to draw him in. He was flailing but not connecting and his breath was starting to come heavy, his mouth hanging open, showing his tombstone teeth.

He must have realised that he wasn’t going to win like this so he just ran at me, trying to overwhelm me and get his hands onto me again. I brushed aside one of his arms and met his rush with a fully backed up blow to his solar plexus. He folded up and all the force went out of him. I turned him sideways and gave him something more in his body. His legs gave out and he went down onto his knees. I went behind him and pushed my knuckle into the nerve point below his ear until he slumped to the floor.

“Shit. Fuck. Shit,” Lara said.

She was standing looking down at Stanley. In spite of me putting him on his face, the wound in his back was leaking blood. Hal was still snoring.

“It’s over now, Lara,” I said.

“That’s…”

“Real blood. You were about to be raped and killed.”

“Yes. I know.”

“Good. There must be some rope on this boat somewhere. Go and find me some, will you.”

“What are you going to do? I should phone Chase.”

She started looking in her handbag for her phone.

“Lara,” I temporarily left Jase, grabbed her hand and pulled her towards me, “No. Just go and find some rope. Now.”

Her face flushed with anger. She pulled her hand away and said, “You’ve no right to speak to me like that. I want Chase.”

“Okay. I’ll be off then,” I said.

I could see her pull herself together. She softened and came to me and put her hand on my arm and looked up into my face.

“I’m sorry, Si. You’ve been wonderful, you’ve saved my life and I’m going to be grateful to you for the rest of my life. Now just trust me, okay?”

“No. If you don’t do exactly what I tell you to, I’m off.”

“You can’t leave me like this. You won’t leave me like this. Don’t be stupid, we need Chase. He’ll know what to do.”

“I know what to do. But it’s your choice.”

I pulled my knife out of Stanley, wiped it on his jeans and put it back in its sheath.

“You won’t leave me. You can’t. You can’t leave me with these…”

“Whatever you say. You might want to find that gun before this fellow gets his wits back. And perhaps wake your husband up,” I said.

She looked at Hal and then started chewing one of her knuckles. I took a towel from the bar and began wiping down any surfaces that I might have touched. Jason groaned and started to try to push himself up.

“Okay, kill him for me,” Lara said.

“No,” I said, looking at her with interest.

“Why not? You killed the other one.”

“I don’t want to. And I don’t need to. You can, if you want.”

“I’ll tell the police what you did.”

“Fine. Tell them whatever you like, I don’t mind. Nice to meet you, Lara.”

I gave her a grin. She was still just as beautiful. Maybe more so.

“You selfish bastard. Let me call Chase. Why not? Just tell me why not.”

“It was fun to save you from this but I’m not going to save you from yourself. Bye, Lara.”

Jason sat up as I headed for the back of the boat.

“Okay. I’ll get your fucking rope. Just don’t leave me, okay?” she said.

“Are you’re sure?”

“Just fucking hurry up.”

“Okay.”

She ran forward into the accommodation and I helped Jase to his feet and put him in one of the leather chairs. He seemed to appreciate the assistance. He hadn’t quite come to yet so I emptied Lara’s handbag onto the table, picked her phone out of the contents and put it into the ice-bucket on the bar. It sank to the bottom in the water and half-melted ice and I put the lid back on.

“Rope,” Lara said, returning and thrusting something into my hand.

It was soft, silken stuff that I guessed was for tying back a curtain, but it would do. She watched while I tied his hands to the arms of the chair and then his legs to its legs. As I tightened the last knot, he started to struggle.

“Wha da fuck, mon? Wha you do ta mi?” he said.

“Easy, Jase. At least I didn’t kill you,” I said.

“I kill you dough, whe I ge ou a dis.”

“Fair enough. Lara, can you go and make some coffee please?” I said.

“I don’t want any coffee.”

“I do.”

“Then you can go and fucking make it, can’t you.”

“Okay. I was going to tidy Stanley up but I suppose he isn’t doing any harm.”

Lara started hunting through the things on the table as I went off in search of the galley.

While the kettle was boiling I searched the cabins; using a silk handkerchief to open drawers and cupboards. I found a snub-nosed revolver in one of the bedside cabinets; not great but good enough.

I filled a cafetiere with grounds, poured water in and then carried that, with two mugs, back to the saloon.

“What have you done with my phone? Give it back,” Lara said.

“It’s in the ice-bucket,” I said.

I sat down on the sofa with its back towards the back of the boat and put the cafetiere and mugs down on the carpet. I lifted the plunger a bit so that I could swirl the coffee about to release a bit more flavour and then pushed it down and poured coffee for me and Lara.

“You bastard. What are you doing?” she said, dropping her wet phone onto the table.

“Having some coffee,” I said, passing her a mug and then putting my feet up on the sofa and leaning back.

“I want to call Chase. He’ll know what to do. Why won’t you let me?”

“Hey, Jase. Who told you to come here?” I said.

“Na mon tol mi. I don need tellin where ta fi swee pussy li da,” he said, inclining his head towards Lara

“He means you, Lara,” I said.

“I know what he means,” she said. “I thought you were a real man but it turns out you’re just a selfish prick like all the rest.”

“I don’t suppose you’re familiar with the concept of irony?” I said.

“What do you mean?”

“No matter. Mya told me that you’re too old to get the best parts and that you’re devaluing your brand by trying to keep on working.”

“Mya’s a bitch.”

“Yes, but is she right?”

“What are you going to do? Why are you just sitting there drinking coffee?”

“Because I haven’t finished it and because I wanted to talk to you without all that actressy bollocks going on.”

“What do you mean?”

“You are quite possibly the most beautiful woman I’ve ever met but I was a bit disappointed,” I said.

“You mean, I’m getting old?”

“No, I mean all you do is piss about trying to get men to do things for you instead of doing them yourself. It’s a bit cheap. Like I say, it wasn’t what I had in mind.”

“So I’m supposed to be like you imagine I am, am I? And every other wanker in the world too, I suppose? Just because I’m an actor? You have no idea what my life’s like.”

“Fair point. I’ve actually no idea what you’re like at all.”

“Hey, mon. Wa wu i tek to ge mi outa dis?” Jase said.

“Just a quick flick of my knife. What’re you suggesting?” I said.

“I ca te you tings,” he said.

“Go on then,” I said.

“Fus you se mi free. Yeh? Den I sa whaas wha.”

“You know what, Jase?”

“Wha?”

“I don’t think I’m your problem.”

“Nah? Who he?”

“Can anyone else hear an outboard?” I said.

There was silence and we all listened. There was definitely a boat moving across the lagoon in the utter stillness of the small hours.

“I’ll bet it’s coming here,” I said.

“You mean the police?” Lara said.

“Could be. Let’s wait and see,” I said.

No one moved. The loudest sound was Hal’s snoring and that had diminished. The engine was cut a little way off and we felt the slight bump as it arrived. After a brief interval Chase appeared in the doorway holding a large automatic. I slid back down on the sofa, out of sight.

“Oh, Chase. Thank God,” Lara said, getting up.

“Hi, darling. I just had a bad feeling so I came on over,” he said. “What’s occurring exactly?”

“This man… he was going to rape me only…”

“Hey, boss,” Jase said.

“You’re supposed to be done by now,” Chase said.

“I ha a lickle problem,” Jase said. “Dis mon…”

“Never mind,” Chase said.

There was a loud bang and some of Jason’s brains splattered over some of the furniture and quite a bit of Lara. She screamed briefly and sat back down. Blood pumped out of the exit wound in the back of his head and ran down onto the back of the sofa I was on. Hal sat up and said, “What the fuck…?”

“Sorry about that, honey,” Chase said.

“Who’s…? What’s…?” Hal said.

“It’s nothing personal, babe. You’ve been wonderful,” Chase said.

“Chase. Chase, what’re you doing?” Lara said.

“Business is business, honey. Like I say, it’s nothing personal. I’ll see to it that you live forever, babe. James Dean won’t be nothing on you. Marilyn and you, that’s the way. You know it makes sense. Don’t you, sweetheart?”

“You bastard. I always hated you,” Hal said.

“Oh. Hi, Hal. Is that man dead?” Chase said.

“Yes. You shot him for God’s sake,” Lara said. “What do you mean about me and Marilyn, Chase?”

“No, this man on the floor,” Chase said. “Did you kill him, Hal?”

“You wouldn’t? Really?” Lara said. “Chase, you wouldn’t…”

“Somebody tell me who tied this man up,” Chase said, taking a closer look at Jason. “Tell me quick or I’m gonna…”

starlight

There was another shot. It wasn’t from Chase’s big automatic. I lowered the revolver that I was about to poke over the sofa and looked at Lara. She had a small silver automatic in her hand and a furious expression on her face.

“Shit, honey…” Hal said.

I sat up and looked over the back of the sofa. Chase had fallen to his knees and put his head between Jason’s legs. His arms were hanging down and he wasn’t moving.

“That would make some photo,” I said.

“You!” Hal said.

“Easy there,” I said. “I’m just passing through, don’t mind me.”

Lara dropped her gun and came to look at Chase. Hal got unsteadily up and stood behind her.

“That is kind of funny,” she said.

“You’re going to need a new agent, honey,” Hal said, rubbing his face with his hands.

“Maybe I am. Maybe I’m not,” she said.

“You might want to get rid of those ropes and, er, set the scene a bit,” I said. “I expect the police will be here in a few minutes.”

“Oh, yes. Si, you’ll help us, won’t you,” Lara said, turning to me.

“Definitely not,” I said, gathering up the two cups and the cafetiere. “I’ve had quite enough of you lot for the time being. I’ll wish you goodnight.”

I dropped the coffee things and the little revolver into the black water, wiped the rails of the ladder with the handkerchief, just in case, picked up my fins and goggles and slid over the back. Lights were coming on, on the other boats and there was the sound of a siren in the distance.

“You look like you’re feeling better,” Soumy said, when I pulled myself up on the other side of Polly and passed her my fins. “Have you got over her?”

“Yes. I was just bored.”

“I know. I’ve decided. Tomorrow we’re going back.”

“Back?”

“Back to Europe.”

“Oh, okay.”

“And you’re going to get a job.”

“Am I?”

“Yes.”

“Okay. If you say so.”

“I do.”

“Okay.”

“Good.”

“Just one thing.”

“What?”

“Let’s not wait until tomorrow. Let’s go now.”