I watched her as she finished packing her things. We had been seeing each other for close to two years and just yesterday she told me she was leaving. 'But why now?' I asked.
'I feel it's time to move on, do new things. It's not that I didn't enjoy our time together, but I'm nearing 30 and I feel I have to do something more with my life. I don't want to run cons anymore.'
'I've been trying to quit for two years,' I said. 'It's not that easy.'
'You've been staying with the same people. You need to make a complete break.' She zipped up her last bag.
'Like you're doing.'
'Nick, please don't make this any harder for me. This just might help you as well.' She stopped by the door when I made to follow. 'No, don't. It'll be easier for the both of us.'
I stayed in the bedroom and listened to her cross the living room and close the flat door. I tried to fight the urge to run to the door but lost. When I looked into the hallway, she was gone.
* * * *
That happened three years ago and it still hurts whenever I think of her. What triggered it this time was some photos we had taken on vacation. Now, I could understand what she meant by a clean break. It's the people you associate with that make you act the way you do. I remember one of the first times I tried to stop, a friend pulled me back in just by talking about a potential mark.
My break was not as complete as hers as I still run a con occasionally to enlarge the bank account. Oh, to be one of the idle rich and not have to worry about that.
Later that day I received a phone call from a firm of solicitors not my own. 'Mr. Adamson?' God, he was using my real name!
'My name is Ian Drummond of Collins, Copeland, and Drummond. Our firm is representing the estate of Josiah Rutledge.'
' "The estate of"?'
'Yes. Mr. Rutledge passed away last week at his home in the Bahamas.'
'Why are you contacting me? I haven't seen him in over a year.'
'You have been left a bequest in his will which his being handled by his Bahamian firm. The will is scheduled to be read the day after tomorrow. I hope that isn't too short notice.'
'No, that should be fine.' He then gave me the phone number of the office in order to give them my flight information. 'Thank you, Mr. Drummond.' I hung up the receiver slowly. Poor old Rutledge. He was such a sweet old guy. I met him when I was running my first con after she left. He had just learned that he had terminal cancer and was trying to find lost relations. I came in pretending to be some long-lost nephew but couldn't go through with it. I told him the truth and we stayed friends and I visited him when he was in hospital.
The Bahamas. I'd never been there. I didn't think I'd need my passport, but I'd bring it just in case. I put in a call to British Airways to check on their flights to Nassau. There was one leaving that night at 8.00. I also decided to splurge and go first class. After all, I was an heir to something.
I packed a few light slacks, shirts, shorts, a couple of jackets and a bathing suit. I tossed in my camera as well. I might not use it, but it would be there in case. I also phoned my mum to tell her that I'd be out of town for a few days. 'Actually, I'll be out of the country.'
'Where?' asked my sister Kate, who had answered.
'The Bahamas. I got a phone call today and I'm leaving tonight.'
'When will you be back?'
'I'm not sure. I'll call when I get home.'
Then I called Drummond and gave him my flight number. 'I'll call Nassau and make sure someone meets you.'
About 6.00 I left for Heathrow. While I was waiting, I went to the first class lounge for a drink. When I was done, I stopped at a news-stand and bought a copy of The Times. There was a shelf of new books and I saw a photo of James Stuart, the duke of Edinburgh, peering from one of the books. Since I had met him and helped him solve I case, I felt somewhat obligated to buy it.
I boarded the plane and took my place by a window seat. The stewardess came by and offered me a glass of champagne. I gave her one of my best smiles. She smiled in return and went to serve the others. I settled into my seat and opened the paper. I was vaguely aware when the other passengers boarded. I paused when the pilot made his welcoming announcement and didn't start again until we were in the air and my ears had stopped popping.
The paper couldn't hold my attention and I switched over to the biography of James Stuart. I skimmed through the introduction which gave a history of the Stuart line up through the ascension of James II, his father. Then I was ready for Chapter One. "James Edward William Charles was born on a cold Christmas Eve in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1920. . ."
'Excuse me, sir. Sir?'
I looked up, startled. It was the stewardess. 'Yes?'
'Which would you rather have for lunch: ____________ or ____________?'
'Oh, um, _________.' I tried to return to my book.
'What would you care to drink?'
'You choose. Whatever goes best with my lunch.' Anything to get her to leave me alone. Steven was right in the middle of rescuing Dr. Philippe Jonteau and his daughter Genevieve from Nazi-occupied Paris. Even though I knew what happened, it still made a great read. Just when my meal arrived, Steven and the Jonteaux reached Bern.
The stewardess looked down at the book as she set my meal on the tray. 'No wonder you were so absorbed. I'm sorry I startled you earlier.'
'That's okay. This reads almost like fiction.' She had chosen ______ for my drink. 'Good choice,' I said, after taking a sip.
'Thank you. Is this your first trip to the Bahamas?'
'Yes. I have to meet someone there. I got a phone call this morning.'
'Do you plan to stay long?'
'Not more than a week, unless, of course, something comes up.'
'I'll have a layover for a week as well. Maybe we can meet somewhere.'
'I'd better introduce myself, then. Nicholas Adamson. Call me Nick.'
'Helen Markham. Since you don't know where you'll be staying, I'll give you my address and phone number.' I gave her the receipt from the bookseller's. 'Don't lose it,' she said with a smile.
'I won't. Thanks.' I watched as she walked back up the aisle. The _______ was delicious. When I was done, I put down the tray on the empty seat next to me and put the plate on that. Then I turned back to the book; Steven had just been imprisoned by the Gestapo.
I was vaguely aware of people walking by and noticed that Helen had left a glass of water without disturbing me. This would make a great movie.
* * * *
When the pilot announced we were approaching Nassau, I pulled myself away from Steven's learning that he was the rightful King of England to look out on the turquoise waters of the Caribbean. Somewhere down there something was waiting for me. What exactly, I had no idea, but that only made things more exciting.
It also made me think of Josiah Rutledge. After I broke down and told him I wasn't related, he smiled and told me he thought as much because I acted like a relative and 'not a leech' We wrote letters to each other and he always asked after my family and if I had been successful in going straight. When he first went into hospital, I visited and kept him company. When he recuperated, he left for the Bahamas and that was the last time I saw him.
We were passing over palm trees and brightly painted houses and then we were at the airport. The landing was pretty smooth. I picked up my carry-on case and walked to the exit and took my hanging bag out of the cupboard. Helen was there saying good-bye and smiling. I gave her a wink then stepped out into the sunshine and walked across the tarmac to Customs.
After I passed through, I found myself facing a line of drivers, each holding the name of the passenger they were waiting for. I spotted my name and walked over. The man smiled and greeted me with an accent that only a native could have. I followed him out to the car and I got in the back.
'Nice car,' I remarked.
'It belongs to the firm and it's used for things like this.' He started the car and pulled out into traffic. 'Have you ever been to Nassau before?'
'No, this is my first time. Very colourful compared to London.'
'Very different, it's true. Many decide to stay here after they first see it.'
He told me his name was Billy and that he did work for the law firm. He drove along the shore towards the centre of Nassau and a public dock. 'What are we doing here?' I asked. I was expecting a hotel.
'There's a boat here waiting to take you to Mr. Rutledge's island. That's where the will is to be read.'
'His own island?' I couldn't believe it. I knew he was rich, but an island?
'Enjoy your stay, Mr. Adamson, and good luck.'
The man in the boat took my bags and I jumped into the boat. It was small-ish, maybe 15 feet, just enough for island-hopping. I took my jacket off and draped it over the seats. The driver was an older man who came to Nassau before the war and never left. He then bought the boat and started his ferry service. 'You from London?' he asked.
'Does it show?'
'Too pale. Plus, I can hear your accent.'
'The Cockney? I tried to hide it.'
'Can't from one who grew up there.'
I tried to change the topic. 'Have you ferried others over to Rutledge's?'
'Just his grandson and his wife. The rest are expected tomorrow.'
'Oh.' I sat back and watched the fish swimming in the clear water. I was going to be stuck on an island with a group of strangers who were all related to Josiah. What a fun vacation this was going to be!
About ten minutes later he said, 'That's it, straight ahead.' He had to be kidding. It looked like something out of a Gothic novel. Part of the side facing us was a sheer cliff and the remainder sloped lower and I could just make out a green lawn. I couldn't see much of the house, but it looked like a cross between typical English country- house architecture and native Bahamian style. We then pulled up in front of the dock that was attached to a large boathouse. Inside, I noticed, was a luxury yacht and a smaller speedboat. I wondered why they didn't come get me themselves until I heard Captain ask for help with his deliveries. 'Just to get them to the top of the stairs. There's a cart waiting at the top.'
I stepped onto the dock and he began handing me packages--and my luggage. When we were done, we divided the packages between us and headed up the steps. If I was going to stay here a few days, I knew I'd have to get in shape. At the top of the stairs, we loaded everything into the cart which was connected to an engine. 'Get in,' Captain said. 'It's a lot easier this way.'
We drove down a wide gravel pathway lined on both sides by meticulously kept hedges. As we approached, the house looked even more imposing. 'Did Josiah stay here alone?'
'Most of the time. In his earlier days, there were many wild parties here.'
'I can imagine. This would have made a great backdrop for Agatha Christie.'
Captain laughed. 'More like P. G. Wodehouse.' He stopped at the front door. I got out and picked up my stuff. 'I have to drop these off in the back. Good luck, kid.'
'Hey, what's your name?'
'Just call me Mike.' He drove around to the back of the house leaving me alone to face the family of the deceased. I took a deep breath and rang the bell.
After a few minutes the door was opened by a man in his mid-thirties, bearing a slight resemblance to Josiah. 'May I help you?'
'Sorry for staring. My name's Nicholas Adamson and I'm here for the reading of the will.'
'Come in, Mr. Adamson.' I stepped through the doorway and entered a well-lit open room. 'Did you know my grandfather well?'
'I met him a few years ago and we kept up a correspondence. I also visited him in hospital when he was in London.'
'I do recall him saying something about a young man in London. I guess that was you.' He held out his hand. 'Drew Rutledge.'
I shook his hand. 'Pleasure. Too bad it's under such circumstances.'
'Can I get you something to drink? You must be parched.'
'Single or blended?'
'You can leave your bags there for now.' I followed him through a few rooms to the library that also had a wet bar. Bookshelves lined three of the walls and the fourth had windows looking out onto the pool and even further to the sea. I saw a woman making her way up from the pool, a wide-brimmed hat protecting her face from the sun. 'Lovely, isn't she?' asked Drew as he handed me my drink.
'Have you been married long?'
'Two years come August.'
The door opened. 'Drew, I saw Mike around back and he said he brought a man from London.'
'Yes, he did. Let me introduce Nicholas Adamson. Mr. Adamson, my wife, Sophie Rutledge.'
Oh, Lord, it was her. She had a lovely tan, a few lines around the eyes, but it was still her. 'Pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Rutledge,' I said with a slight nod.
I think she was just as surprised as I was. 'Mr. Adamson.'
'Would you like something?'
'Just water, please, Drew.'
Drew poured her a tall glass of ice water. I think I noticed her hand shake. 'Mr. Adamson kept up a correspondence with Grandfather.'
'Really? What about?'
'He gave me advice concerning some changes I was trying to make in my life. He gave me a whole new perspective on things.' I finished my drink and attempted to stifle a yawn. 'Excuse me.'
'I'll show you to your room,' said Sophie. 'You must want to rest after your flight.'
'I don't want to trouble you. . .'
'No trouble at all. I need to change out of my suit anyway. I'll be right back down.' She gave Drew a quick kiss on the cheek. I followed her up the front stairs. 'What are you doing here? How did you find me?'
'Full of yourself, aren't you? I received a phone call from Josiah's solicitors in London telling me that I was mentioned in his will. I had no idea you were here, let alone married to his grandson. How did you manage that, anyway?'
'At a party.' She stopped in front of a door and opened it. 'This is your room.'
It was of a good size with a full bed and a balcony that overlooked the back lawn with Nassau in the distance. There was also an attached bath. I put my garment bag on the bed and dropped the other on the floor. 'Quite a place. I never would have thought it of Josiah.'
'You really knew him, then?' Sophie asked, sitting down, her robe parting to reveal her great legs.
'Yes. What I said was true. Granted, when we met I was trying to con him, but then I told him the truth and we became friends. I was surprised when the solicitor called.' I sat on the bed. 'So, you met at a party. How did that come about?'
'I was invited, if that's what you mean. After I left you, I got myself a new job and a friend invited me to her party where I met Drew.'
'Love at first sight?'
'I thought him handsome and was flattered when he paid me attention. We went out a few times and then he proposed.'
'You look happy. I'm sorry we didn't work out, but if you've found your niche, I'm happy for you.'
'Thanks.' She stood. 'I'd better change. Drew will be wondering what happened to me.'
'I hope he's not the jealous type.'
'I don't know.' She paused at the door. 'Dinner's at 7.00. See you.'
This whole thing definitely came under the Small World Category. I thought I had gotten over the way she made me feel, but being in the same room with her told me I hadn't. It was going to be strange, thinking of her as married. Maybe if I kept my distance and treated her like a silver-haired hostess. For now, I'd settle for keeping to my room and reading about Steven. * * * *
I stopped close to dinner so I could put on my tuxedo. I brought it because Josiah had been a stickler for dressing for dinner. After winning the fight with my bow tie (just barely), I headed downstairs. I expected to see Sophie in an evening gown and Drew in a tux, but neither of them had dressed-up. God, I felt like a fool. 'Guess I'm a little overdressed.'
'You're making me feel underdressed,' said Drew. 'Grandfather always liked to dress.'
'That's why I thought you would.'
'You look wonderful, Mr. Adamson,' said Sophie.
'Call me Nick, please. If we're to be spending the weekend together, I think we should be on a first name basis.'
'Tonight will be strictly ourselves,' said Drew, 'as it's the servants' day off. They'll be back tomorrow when the other guests arrive.'
We ate in the kitchen at the small table in a very casual atmosphere. Afterwards, we all leant a hand in cleaning up. With that done, we went onto the terrace with our after-dinner drinks. I took a deep breath and smelled the sea mixed with tropical flowers. I looked up at the sky and gazed at the stars. For some reason, it seemed like they loved the tropics more than London--there were lots more of them here. 'God, what a beautiful night.'
'I know. I love nights like this. It's no wonder that Grandfather spent most of the year here.' Drew sat in one of the chairs.
'How were things in London when you left?' asked Sophie.
'Slow business-wise, unless you're in something tourist-oriented.'
'Oh? What line of business are you in?'
I glared at her. 'I guess you could say it's kinda like public relations. As a matter of fact, a few months ago, I was on the BBC.'
'Really?' asked Drew.
'I was in a show on criminology--that's one of my hobbies,' I explained. 'With the duke of Edinburgh.'
'You actually met him? I'd love to,' said Sophie.
'I heard he's coming to Nassau this week. Maybe we could arrange to meet him.'
Oh, God. How was I going to manage this? Yes, I had met Steven and we had solved a case together, but I didn't think he'd remember me or even want his vacation interrupted. 'Sure, I guess so.' I looked at the two of them and could see that they wanted to enjoy the romantic mood of the night. 'I think I'll head up to my room. My flight is beginning to catch up with me. Good night.'
'Good night, Nick. Sleep well.' Sophie nodded as I went back inside. It looked like they were really in love. Why did I ever let her go?
* * * *
I woke up the following morning and almost forgot where I was. I had done some more reading to keep my mind off Sophie, fell asleep near midnight, and slept straight through to 9.00. I must have been more tired than I thought. I put on my robe then stepped onto the balcony and looked out over the lawn. I could be spoiled by all this. I saw Sophie walking towards the pool and I called to her. ''Lo, luv! Nice mornin' innit?'
She looked up and smiled. 'I'm going for a morninng swim. Care to join me?'
'What about Drew?'
'He's gone to get the others.'
'Okay. I'll change and be right down.' I quickly put on my trunks, grabbed a towel, and headed down the stairs.
She was still waiting on the terrace. 'How did you sleep?'
'Great. That bed is very comfortable.'
'You got one of the best rooms.'
'How did you manage that?'
'Josiah requested you have it.'
'You're looking wonderful, Soph. Life with the upper-crust seems to suit you,' I said as we walked to the pool.
'Yes, I have been very lucky.'
'Have you ever spoken to him of me?'
'Not by name. I've told him little pieces of my past. You were either my "old boyfriend", "former boyfriend", or "last boyfriend".'
'I hope you told him of the good times.'
'Course I did. I'm just worried about you and Drew under the same roof.'
'I promise not to say anything to him about us unless you give the okay.'
'Thanks.' She draped her robe and towel over a chair, tucked her hair into a bathing cap, then dove into the water. I quickly followed.
It was a very relaxing morning, almost as if it had only been a week since I had last seen her. We talked about past times and old friends.
We were walking back about two hours later, laughing about something that had happened to an acquaintence. Suddenly, she stopped. I looked up at the terrace to see what caused her to sober up. Drew was standing there, staring at us. He wasn't alone, either; the others were watching as well. 'Drew, you're back.' Sophie stated the obvious, a sure sign that she was flustered. 'I must look a mess. Please excuse me.' She rushed inside.
I thought Drew needed an explanation. 'She invited me for a morning swim. We learned we had a few things in common.' I stepped onto the terrace. 'If you'll excuse me, I'll take a shower and change.' I looked at the others. 'Good morning.' I went inside and up to my room.
Close to an hour later, I went back downstairs weraing a short-sleeved cotton shirt, and a pair of dress shorts. My legs were very pale, but, hopefully by the time I returned to London, I'd have a nice tan. I heard voices in the library and joined them. Drew noticed my entrance and introduced me to the other guests. There was Timmothy Sutton, Josiah's business partner, and his wife Hilary; Eleanor Rutledge, Drew's aunt; Paul Rutledge, her dominated son; and Anne Cooper, Josiah's nurse.
The solicitor, who had ridden over with them, took out his briefcase. 'Are we all here?' he asked.
Drew looked around the room, counting heads. 'Yes, everyone's here.'
'Very well. I'll begin.' He took out Josiah's will. I shifted nervously in my chair. '"I, Josiah Rutledge, being of sound mind do hereby bequeath my last will and testament. . ."' Each of the servants was left a stipend of £1000. Then it was time for the family and friends.
'"For my daughter-in-law Eleanor and her son Paul, I leave £500,000 in the hopes that it will provide Paul with the means for buying his own home and give Eleanor a chance to hire someone to replace Paul when he leaves."'
I looked at Paul who was smiling, unaware of the glares of his mother.
For my business partner Timmothy Sutton, he will have controlling interest of the business by one share as long as the profits are divided evenly with the remaining heirs.
Timmothy looked quite pleased. To my grandson Drew and his lovely wife Sophie, I leave the London townhouse and all the furnishings. Also, £1 million to help with the upkeep of said house. To Anne Cooper, my dedicated nurse who put up with an old man's tempers, I leave £250,000. Lastly, to Nicholas Adamson, my friend, I leave my Bahamian estate and all acoutrements.
I couldn't believe it! I had barely known the man and he left me an island! The others stared at me, wondering what type of pull I had on Josiah. Looking at Sophie, I could see she thought it a con.
'I protest!' cried Eleanor. 'Surely Josiah wouldn't leave his favourite property to a nobody!'
'Mr. Rutledge thought there might be trouble, so he wrote a letter, witnessed by myself, stating that he was under no pressure while he drafted his will.' The solicitor held up a sheet of paper. 'If any of you would care to read it.'
Eleanor nudged Paul, who reluctantly stood and took the letter from the olicitor's hand. 'It's dated three weeks ago. "I know that if anybody were to be upset with my bequest, it would be Eleanor."' Paul looked up at his mother, who was fuming. '"Timmothy knows now to carry on the business, so he gains control. Drew and Sophie always cared for me and looked after me, so I'm giving them the townhouse. But what Eleanor is probably most upset about is Nick getting the island. She may have even called him a nobody."' (She turned and glared at me.) '"Even though he was no relation or business associate, he was a friend. He wrote me letters keeping me updated on his life and took time to visit me in hospital. I thought he most deserved it. He struggled to be where he is, like I did, and didn't have things handed to him on a platter. It's about time he did."' Paul put the letter down and took his seat by his mother.
'This is outrageous!'
'Eleanor, leave it be. There's nothing you can do,' said Timmothy.
'I can contest the will.'
'What will that gain you?' asked Drew. 'It may cost you more than you'll get. Besides, I didn't think you liked it here.'
'It's a matter of principle, Drew. It's not so bad for you; you got the townhouse and the money for upkeep.'
'But you have the house and money left to you by Uncle George. Grandfather probably felt that you didn't need any more.'
I sat there in shock. I was aware that they were talking about me, but I didn't say anything to defend myself. How could I? What could I say? That's okay. I don't really want an island anyway? Hell, no. As a kid growing up in the East End, this was the kind of thing I dreamed of.
I went outside, leaving them arguing. I looked out over the land. It was so strange to think of it as mine. At least it would be after I signed whatever documents were necessary.
'May I be the first to congratulate you, Mr. Adamson?'
I turned and saw Anne Cooper walking over. 'The way things are going, you'll be the only one to congratulate me.'
She smiled. 'But I know how much your letters meant to him. He liked to hear about your progress. I think he really felt that getting this--' she spread her arms '--would help with that.'
'I can just imagine my mother's face when I tell her I inherited an island. She'll think I've finally gone 'round the twist.' She laughed at that.
There was a polite cough from behind us. 'Excuse me.' We turned and saw Paul standing in the doorway. 'Mr. Adamson, you're needed to sign some papers.'
'Thanks.' I excused myself from Anne's company and walked past Paul. As I did, I noticed he was looking nervously at Anne. 'She won't bite,' I said. He looked at me, shocked, but I kept on walking.
fter I had signed the documents that made the island legally mine, I decided to walk the rounds to see exactly what I had inherited--and to get away from everyone in the house. My walk took me past the pool, tennis courts, stables, ending on the beach. It was still hard for me to believe what had happened. I was almost afraid that I'd find out that everyone was conning me!
I slipped off my shoes and waded out to a large rock. Fish changed direction and swam away. The water felt soothing to my feet. I sat up on the rock and dangled my feet in the water. Further out near the channel, I thought I saw dolphins.
I didn't know how long I had been sitting there when I heard someone calling me. I twisted around and saw Sophie on the beach, the wind blowing her hair as she looked around trying to find me. 'Over here!' I called.
'How's the water?' she asked.
'Feels great. Care to join me?'
'I'm tempted, but I came to get you because it's almost time for dinner.'
'Already?' I slid down from my perch on the rock and waded to shore. 'How long have I been out here?'
'I'm not sure, but it's close to 6.00.'
We walked towards the path that led back up to the house. Near the cliff wall, a few small pebbles fell on me, but I thought nothing of it. Then Soph cried out. I looked up and saw a huge boulder falling. I dove to the side as it thudded onto the sand. My head pounded as I sat up and looked at the rock. It was enormous and I would have been flattened, or at least mangled, if Sophie hadn't been there.
She ran over and knelt beside me. 'Are you okay?' She sounded near to tears.
'Yeah, I'm fine, just a little shaken.' She helped me stand and I dusted myself off.
We climbed up the path to the top of the cliff. When we reached the area from where the boulder fell, I saw footprints and a stout branch lying there. I didn't say anything to Soph, but it looked like it was deliberate.
The conversation at dinner was strained. Eleanor still thought me an interloper and, as she was the matriarch, the others didn't want to get on her bad side. I was thinking of how nice it would be to get back to my book when Hilary asked where I had been. 'Oh, down on the beach.'
'He was watching the sunset when I found him,' Sophie saaid. I looked at her, knowing she'd tell them about the rock. I wasn't disappointed. 'As we were walking along the beach to the path, a large boulder fell from the cliff and almost hit Mr. Adamson.'
'Are you all right?' asked Anne.
'A little shaken is all. It would've been worse if Mrs. Rutledge hadn't called out.'
'The cliffs can be dangerous. Weather can wear them away so there's nothing left under the rocks,' noted Drew. 'I'm glad you weren't injured in any way.'
'Thank you. I'm a little tired right now so I think I'll retire to my room.' I stood and made my apologies.
'Would you care for some laudnum?' asked Anne. 'It might help you sleep.'
I shook my head and made may way to my room. I took Helen's phone number out of my pocket where I had put it until I found a convenient time. A woman answered. 'Is Helen there?'
'Just a minte.'
A few moments later, she picked up the phone. 'Hello.'
'Helen, this is Nicholas Adamson. We met on your flight.'
'Yes, I remember. How are you enjoying yourself?'
'Okay. I'm sorry I didn't get a chance to call earlier, but things have been pretty busy.'
'You never told me why you were here.'
'How about if we meet in town tomorrow and I'll fill you in.'
'Sure. How about Rawson Square at 9.00? I can give you a quick tour.'
'Till tomorrow at 9.00, then. Good night, Helen.'
'Good night, Nick.'
* * * *
The following morning I woke in a good mood. Today I was going to spend the day with a beautiful woman with no worries. I'd be away from this place for a whole day! There was a knock on the door. 'Come in.'
One of the maids brought in a tray. 'I have your morning tea, sir.'
'Thank you. It's a lovely day, isn't it?'
'Yes, sir, it is.' I'm sure she didn't expect such exuberance so early. 'Will there be anything else, sir?'
'No, thank you. I'll be down in a few minutes.' She left and I took a sip of my tea. Man, that was good! I stepped onto the balcony and looked over at Nassau while I finished my tea. If I had to explain how I felt, I'd say it was close to that of a kid waking up Christmas morning: wild anticipation. I went back inside, checked my reflection in the mirror, then went downstairs.
Drew was the only one I saw having breakfast. 'Good morning,' I said, buttering some toast.
'You sound very chipper.'
'I was planning on going into Nassau this morning to meet a friend. Could I use the speedboat?'
'Sure. It's yours, isn't it?'
'I thought you would be more helpful. I need all the friends I can get.'
'I'm sorry, Nick. As far as I know, no one else has plans to use the boat.'
'Great! Thanks.' I took another piece of toast for on the way. 'Where are the keys?'
'Hanging on a hook in the study. It has one of those floaters atttached.'
'Okay. I'm not sure when I'll be back, but I'll call. See you later.' I made my way to the study, took the keys off the hook, went out the French doors, and headed for the dock. The stairs didn't seem as bad going down as going up. I slipped the ropes from the cleats and pushed off.
It was a wonderful morning. The combination of sun, sea breeze, and the boat's speed made me feel exhilerated. The fact that a lovely woman was waiting at my destination didn't hurt.
I tied up at Prince George Wharf. I then made my way through the throng to Rawson Square--which is actually circular. I spotted Helen sitting on a bench under a tree. She looked up and waved. 'You look comfortable,' I said.
'No uniform.' She was wearing a bright floral print skirt and a white cotton blouse. 'You look nice and cool yourself. How has your stay been so far?'
'Not bad. Some of the company is a little trying, though.'
'Let's walk and you can tell me about it.' As we turned onto Bay Street, I filled her in on everything--except my previous relationship with Sophie.
'So, you've inherited an island.'
'And a few enemies. I think someone pushed that boulder over the cliff.'
'Do you have any idea who could have done it?'
'No, but I plan to keep an eye on all of them. For now, let's just enjoy ourselves.'
We looked in some stores and I bought presents for my family. Helen was a wonderful guide. Aside from pointing out typical tourist spots, she showed me Bahamian neighbourhoods. The last stop we made was at the remains of Fort Fincastle which offered a great view of the harbour. I could even spot my island in the distance.
Looking down on the town, I could see a crowd of people gathering outside an official looking building. 'What's going on over there?'
'I've no idea. Let's go find out.'
We made our way down the Queen's Staircase and over to Blue Hill Road--that's where Helen said the crowd was. We threaded our way up to the police barriers and heard four words 'the duke of Edinburgh'.
A limosine drove up and the back door opened as the duke stepped out. He walked along the barrier to greet people and shake hands. I wondered if he'd remember me. It had been about six months. 'Nick Adamson, isn't it?'
'Yes, your Grace. I'm surprise you remembered me.'
'You helped me out before and I'm not apt to forget that. Look, I'm booked for the rest of the day, but maybe we can get together tomorrow?'
'Sure. I'll call in the morning.'
'Great.' He continued down the line.
I felt a tug on my sleeve. 'You know him?' asked Helen.
'I helped him out on a murder case about six months ago. We did a BBC show together. I didn't think he'd remember me.'
'It seems that he does. What exactly did you do?'
Over tea, I explained. 'It started as a talk show on crime and we both spoke on how we started out. I used to be a pickpocket and con artist.' She was stunned. 'Anyway, after the show, we walked to the car park and found that Steven's car was missing.'
'You can call him Steven?'
'Yeah, he said I could.' I hadn't given it much thought until then, but only close friends were allowed to call him that. 'Anyway, the police found it early the next morning with a packet of cocaine in the boot.'
'Someone used it to smuggle drugs?'
I nodded. 'We tracked them down to a garage in Lambeth and discovered that the head was an executive at the BBC.'
'I wonder where I was at the time. Something like that must have gotten a lot of press coverage.'
'It did. They even asked us to do another show.'
She walked me back to Prince George's Wharf and we said good-bye. 'I really had fun today,' I told her.
'Here's the number at the island. Don't be upset if you hear a woman answer--there are four staying there plus the staff.'
'Oh? Well, as long as I know about it, I won't worry.' She slipped the paper into her purse.
'Do you want to join me when I meet Steven tomorrow?'
'I don't think so. He only asked you.'
'Okay. How about if we meet in front of Government House. I have to talk with Steven in the morning and I'll ask him. Then I'll call you.'
'I'll wait to hear from you.'
'See you tomorrow.' I pushed the boat away from the dock. I turned and waved before opening the throttle and heading out of the harbour.
* * * *
The next morning I called Steven first thing. 'I hope I didn't wake you.'
'No. I'm having tea in the garden. I must admit I was surprised to see you yesterday. I didn't think you were one for the Bahamas.'
'I'm not, really. A friend died, and, well. . .'
'Sorry to hear about that. What time do you want to get together?'
'Let's see. About 9.30? I still have a few things I need to do.'
'Fine. Shall we meet here?'
'Okay. Oh, before I forget, I was wondering if a friend could join us.'
'No problem. Just gove me his name so I can tell Security.'
'Is she the blonde who was standing next to you yesterday?'
'Yep. I'll give her a call and have her meet us at 9.30 at Government House. See you then.' Immediately upon hanging up, I dialled Helen. 'It's all set for 9.30 at Government House.'
'Thank you, Nick. Today is going to be wonderful. Oh, my God!'
'What am I going to wear?'
'Something casual and serviceable,' I said. 'See you in about an hour.'
My phone calls done, I went into the bathroom and took a refreshing shower. Just as I turned off the water, I heard the maid in my room. 'Just set the tea on the table and I'll be right out.' I dried myself off, wrapped the towel around my waist, then walked back into the bedroom. The tea tray was resting on the table with the cozy over the pot. I poured myself a cup and took a couple of sips before I dressed. I stood to tuck in my shirt and felt dizzy. I thought it was only because I got up to quickly. I went into the bathroom and put shaving cream on my face. When I lifted my hand to begin to shave, I noticed my hand was shaking uncontrollably. I dropped the razor and began to panic. I had a hard time breathing and knew something was definitely wrong. I tried to get to the door to call for help. My feet were like lead and each movement took ages. I couldn't do it anymore. I slowly fell to the floor and blacked out--my last thoughts being on the drugged tea.
* * * *
I briefly came to and found myself lying on my bed with people gathered around. One face I recognized was Sophie's and it brought back memories of the time I was knocked out in the course of solving the murder of Edmund Newbury. 'Soph. . .just like before,' I whispered with a great deal of effort. 'Just like Baskerville Hall.'
'Ssshh, it's all right. Just relax and get some sleep.'
I drifted off.
* * * *
I woke up and yawned. All the shutters were closed so I slowly stood and walked to the windows. I still was a little dizzy, but it wasn't that bad. I opened the shutters and the soft light of sunrise cascaded into the room--onto the figure sleeping on two chairs pushed together. I looked closer and saw that it was Steven.
'You do realise you're staring.'
'Sorry, didn't know you were awake.'
'I may be a little out of practice, but I haven't gone soft. How are you? You had everyone scared to death.'
'Still a little dizzy. Nowhere near as bad as before. I was scared.'
'You were poisoned.'
'I asked the lab to rush the job and I got the call last night. There was a lethal dose of liquid morphine in your tea. Someone thought to would do a better job than falling rocks.'
'How do you know about that?'
'Miss Markham met me at Government House as planned, and, when you didn't show, we got worried. I got permission to use the Governor's helicopter, and, as we were preparing to leave, we saw the doctor. We offered him a ride when he told us he received a call from "the Rutledge place".
'On the flight over, Miss Markham filled me in on what you told her. It seems that someone feels you don't deserve this place and they do.'
'Enough to kill for it.' There was a knock on the door. 'Come in.'
Helen walked in with the tea tray. I looked at it warily. 'Don't worry, I prepared it myself. You're looking much better. How do you feel?'
'Better, thanks.' I smiled. 'I wish I could have seen their faces when they saw you,' I said to Steven.
'I didn't get a chance to see either as I was too concerned about you.'
'Thanks.' I was pretty embarrassed that a man who barely knew me--particularly one of his status--would worry himself over me.
'Now, tell me everything that you can remember about yesterday morning. It might shed some light on who did this.' I thought back and related everything I could. 'Dizziness, quickening pulse, loss of muscle power, and diffuculty breathing are definite symptoms of morphine poisoning.'
'Do you have any idea as who would want to do this to you?' asked Helen.
'It would be easier for me to say who didn't.' I looked at them both. 'Sophie Rutledge.'
'And how do you know your hostess is innocent? Good looks can hide an evil heart.'
'You've seen her, then? I know her, Steven, and have done for close to five years. She left me three years ago, wanting to start a new life. This is about as far away from the East End you can get. She's got her new life and I'm still stuck with the old one.'
'It seems that someone tried to part you from it yesterday,' remarked Helen with a wry smile.
'Whoever it was didn't know you were meeting us, otherwise they would have waited for another day.' Steven stood and walked to the balcony. Helen and I followed, taking seats on the furniture. 'If you're up to it, I want you to tell me and Helen about the other houseguests. If we put our heads together, we should be able to find our attempted murderer.'
'Okay. The host is Drew Rutledge, grandson of Josiah and husband to Sophie. I think he's somewhere in his mid-thirties. From what I gathered, he was Josiah's favourite. He and Sophie were left the London townhouse. He defended me at the reading of the will, but seemed really cold the next morning.'
'Does he know about you and Sophie?'
'He may now, but he didn't yesterday morning.' Steven nodded as if making mental notes. 'Then there's Eleanor Rutledge. She was married to Josiah's son George. From what I understand, Josiah didn't think much of her: she was left £500,000. She also dominates her son. She was the most vocal opponent, calling me a nobody. The funny thing is, Josiah expected that and wrote a letter saying I was the most deserving as I never had anything handed to me on a silver platter.'
'I don't think I'd want to meet her,' said Helen. 'She sounds awful.'
'What about her son, the dominated one?'
'Paul. He seems like a nice enough bloke, hard to tell because he's so quiet. I think he's somehwere in his mid- to late-twenties. He was left £500,000 as well "in the hopes that it will provide him the means to buy his own place", to quote Josiah. I think he's got a crush on Josiah's nurse.'
'Aha, the nurse. What did Josiah die of, anyway?'
'A disease for which morphine or laudnum is sometimes prescribed.'
'So it was readily available to the murderer. Who would have known about it?' questioned Helen.
'The night the rock fell, she offered me some to calm my nerves. Everyone was there at dinner and heard her, It would be a bit obvious for her to use it, wouldn't it? She'd be the prime suspect.'
'Maybe someone was trying to frame her for it,' said Helen.
'Could be,' agreed Steven. 'What was she left in the will?'
'£250,000, the smallest portion not including the servants. She was the only one who sincerely congratulated me after the reading. I don't think it was her.'
'Okay, who else is there?'
'Josiah's business partner Timmothy Sutton and his wife Hilary. He was given controlling interest in the business by one share under the stipulation that the profits be shared equally among the other heirs.'
'How did he react when it was revealed that you inherited the island?'
'As I said before, Eleanor was the most vocal and Timmothy tried to calm her down; told her there was nothing she could do as it was perfectly legal.'
'What about Hilary?' asked Helen.
'I don't know. She hasn't said that much to me. She does seem to have a much nicer disposition than Eleanor.'
'From how you describe her, anybody would,' commented Helen with a laugh.
There was a knock on the door. 'Come in,' I called.
It was Anne Cooper. 'Mr. Adamson, you're looking much better this morning.'
'Thank you, Anne. I'm feeling much better, too. Even a bit hungry.'
'That's wonderful. Just keep taking fluids to wash out whatever's left in your system.'
'Excuse me, Miss. Cooper, but may I ask you a question?' asked Steven.
'Certainly, your Grace. I hope I can be of some service.'
'It's about the laudnum. Do you keep it locked up? I'm not trying to accuse you of carelessness, but was it somewhere where any of the others in the house could have gotten it?'
'No, sir. I keep it locked in a medicine chest and wear the key around my neck.' She pulled it out to show us. 'As soon as I had the chance to look after we were sure Mr. Adamson was out of danger, it was all there.'
'Thank you, Miss Cooper. We appreciate your help.' She left. 'Seems very efficient.'
'Josiah thought so. Talked about her in his letters.'
'Did she know about your past, um, profession?'
'I don't think so. Josiah wasn't the sort to talk about that stuff.'
'What past profession?' asked Helen.
'Remember? I told you that I was a con artist. That's how I met Josiah.' I told her the whole story.
'And he still left you this place? He must have been a great guy.'
'I thought so.' I stretched.
'Tired?' asked Steven.
'Of lying here. I'm not used to being so inactive. Maybe a bath would make me feel better.'
'I'll come back and check on you later,' said Helen. 'Sophie told me I could borrow one of her bathing suits if I wanted to swim.'
'Enjoy yourself!' I called after her.
'You seem to have a knack for finding charming lady friends,' Steven told me.
I looked at him. 'And this from a man who has gorgeous women drooling over him.'
'More for my money and position than for me.'
'Must be tough.' I slowly stood and walked to the bathroom and started the water.
'I'll stay out here,' he called.
'Okay.' I slipped out of my pajamas and stepped into the shower. I stood there for about five minutes, just letting the water run over me. After washing my hair, I stepped out and dried myself off. It wasn't until then that I looked in the mirror. For someone who had almost died twenty-four hours ago, I looked pretty good. A bit pale, perhaps, with bags under my eyes and a day's growth of beard, but not that bad. I remedied the latter by shaving, the others would have to wait. I went back into my room and headed for the bureau. I took out a pair of white shorts and a light blue polo shirt and dressed. Steven came in as I was brushing my hair. 'How do I look?'
'Good for someone who was just on his deathbed. I guess that shower did the trick. What do you plan to do now?'
'Go downstairs, maybe get something to eat, get some sun, that sort of thing.'
'I know what it really is; you can't bear to be confined to your room while Helen and I move about trying to find the poisoner.'
'I think I have the right to be in on it.'
'Fine. Just don't push it.'
* * * *
Sophie and Drew were sitting on the terrace finishing breakfast. 'Is there anything left?' I asked as if nothing had happened. 'I'm famished.'
'Nick, how wonderful to see you,' said Sophie. 'Do you think you should be out of bed so soon?'
'It'll take more than some morphine to keep me in bed on such a lovely day,' I remarked as I helped myself to some eggs and toast. 'I thought I'd take in a little sun. It would definitely be more relaxing than being cooped-up in my room all day.'
'What's he doing here?' questioned a shrill voice.
'This belongs to him now, Mother,' said Paul, who looked like he was on his way to the pool. 'He has a perfect right to be here.'
'You don't need to remind me.' Steven tried unsuccessfully to turn a laugh into a cough. Eleanor glared in his direction but said nothing. She merely picked up a basket. 'I'll be in the garden,' she stated then marched off.
'I'm glad to see you're up and about,' said Paul. 'I think Mother is, too, except that she won't admit it.'
'Thanks.' He gave me a smile before continuing on to the pool. 'And what about you?' I asked Drew, who had been quiet this whole time.
'Of course I'm relieved to see you in good health--not as much as my wife is, however. She wanted to keep a vigil by your bedside, Something you said when you briefly came around made me ask further about her past.'
'Oh? What was that?'
' "Just like before. Just like Baskerville Hall." '
I looked at Sophie, whose eyes told me everything. 'So you know.'
'She had told me about her last boyfriend when we started going out, but he was just a faceless man with no name. I never thought I'd meet him under my own roof. Correction: your own roof.'
'Drew, let me explain. After Sophie left me three years ago, I never saw or heard from her until I arrived here. Since she told you about the episode at Baskerville Hall, you know I was a con-man. I want you to know that this whole bit is on the level. In no way did I convince your grandfather to leave me anything. I'm sure his Grace would testify to that,' I said with a look at Steven.
'I'm sure he would. You must admit these are strange circumstances for all this to be revealed.'
'Quite.' I held out my hand. 'Friends?'
'Sure.' We shook hands.
'Good morning,' said Timmothy Sutton. 'Good to see you up and about. Quite a close call, what?'
'Yes, quite.' His old-school way of speaking almost made me laugh. He could have played the part of some retired general or country squire to perfection in the films.
'Going for a morning ride, Mr. Sutton?' asked Drew.
'Yes. Hilary and I thought it was such a lovely morning. Ah, here she is.'
'Good morning,' she said, her eyes looking at us all. When they rested on me, for a moment I could have sworn they were filled with malice that would have put Lady Macbeth to shame. She quickly covered it with a warm smile. 'Mr. Adasmson, how wonderful to see you out of bed.'
'Thank you, Mrs. Sutton,' I said, returning the smile. 'Have a good ride.' They walked towards the stables.
'If you'll excuse me,' said Sophie, rising, 'I promised Miss Markham I'd join her at the pool. Maybe later you'll come down?' she asked.
I wasn't sure who she was talking to, so I answered anyway. 'Maybe.'
Drew got up as well. 'I have some paperwork I have to catch up on.'
Once we were alone, Steven spoke about the 'case'. 'All right, now the two most common motives for murder are love and money. Since we've crossed off love, that leaves money.'
'But everyone was left well-off.'
'How long had Josiah been away from the actual "hands on" aspect of the business?'
'About two or three years. Why?'
'A lot can happen in that amount of time,' he said cryptically.
Then I realised what he meant. 'The business could be in the red and Sutton could have controlling interest of nothing.'
'Exactly. I need to make a few calls to get our motive.'
'There's an extension in the library.'
'Great. Shouldn't be too long.' He went into the house.
I sat there and sipped my coffee. I let my mind wander and then reality set in. Here I was, alone, after two attempts had been made on my life. I suddenly felt a need to be with people and headed for the pool.
* * * *
A few hours later we headed back to the house, Paul and Anne in front. I was sandwiched between Helen and Sophie. Oh, the agony! I decided to tell them what Steven and I had come up with. I swore them both to secrecy and knew I could trust them.
'But just because the business may be in debt doesn't mean that Timmothy was the one who poisoned you,' said Helen. 'Granted, it does give him a motive.'
'Yeah, well, Steven's making a few phone calls to see what he can find.'
'Then what will you do?' asked Sophie. 'You're going to need more concrete evidence or a confession.'
'I don't know, but I'm sure we'll think of something.'
'Oh, Nick,' called Drew when we arrived on the terrace. 'While you were down at the pool, the police called.'
'Really? What for?'
'The detective wanted to check on your health and to thank you for the description relayed through his Grace. He said it should narrow things down.'
I looked at Steven. I never gave him a description. He gave me a slight nod which said to play along. 'Good. I hoped it would.' I tried to stifle a yawn.
Anne saw this and insisted I go upstairs for a rest. 'Even though you want to deny it, your body is telling you it needs rest.'
'Okay.' I wasn't in the mood to argue. Besides, Steven was up to something and I had the feeling I was meant to be alone. I made my way upstairs and shut myself in my room. I didn't lock the door because that would ruin the trap. He had convinced Drew to be the one to say I could describe my poisoner in the hopes that it would lure them to my room in another attempt to kill me.
I debated about pulling pillows under the bedcovers but abandoned it because it was too obvious. I then thought that just because I was up for a rest didn't necessarily mean that I was going to bed. I went out onto the balcony and positioned one of the chaises so that the back was facing the door. I then got a short stick and positioned a hat on it so it looked like I was lying on it. Tossing on some pillows to fill out the 'body', I then covered it with a blanket. I stood back and surveyed my work. It should be enough to convince the guilty party that their victim was lying there, oblivious to their approach. I waited in my hiding place, a niche in the wall from where I could see everything. And waited. And waited.
About two hours later I heard someone enter my room. I could tell they were trying to be quiet. Maybe because I was waiting for it, I heard the footsteps as they came closer to the balcony. I held my breath as they came near the door. My God! It couldn't be! The figure raised a gun as it moved up to the dummy in the chair and fired. The dummy fell over, and, realising it was a trap, she looked about. I could just see her and the blazing hatred in her eyes.
I tried to move deeper into the niche, but my legs had fallen asleep and wouldn't cooperate. She must have heard the scufflingnoises because she came right at me. 'Get out here. You know I have a gun and can use it.' Knowing there was no escape, and hoping that someone had heard the shot, I slowly walked out, my hands up in front of me. 'Trying to play smart, Mr. Adamson?'
'You fell for it,' I remarked with a glance at the remains of the dummy. My mind told me to stall. 'Why did you do it? I had no idea what was going on.'
'I knew that sooner or later someone would find out.'
'Who would have been next? Would you have offed the rest of the heirs one-by-one so you wouldn't have to worry about the remaining profits? Profits of nothing?'
Hilary Sutton glared at me. 'There would have been no need to go that far. I just needed time.'
'You did? Were you doing a little skimming on the side? Did Timmothy know?'
'No, of course not. He let me handle the books. Enough delay.' She lifted the gun and I closed my eyes. 'You'll only have time for a short prayer, I'm afraid. Good-bye, Mr. Adamson.'
I heard it go off, but strangely felt no pain. I opened one eye and saw Hilary clutching her arm, blood showing between her fingers. 'Are you okay, Nick?' asked Steven as he walked over and carefuuly picked up Hilary's gun.
'Yeah. How long were you there, anyway?'
'We followed her into your room, stood out of sight, and heard the whole thing. That's three brushes with death in four days. I think that's a new record.' He handed the gun over to the police detective, who then placed it in a plastic bag. 'Not much of a surprise,' he remarked as they led Hilary out through my room.
'You mean you knew?'
'Suspected. I called the business and asked about the records, I was told that there was possible embezzlement. When Sutton knew nothing about the missing money, I asked who did the accounting.'
'And he told you Hilary. But why didn't you tell me? And why did you have Drew say that I gave you a description?'
'If I had said it, she would have suspected a trap. No one would think Drew was in on it. The fact that you could describe the culprit played upon her guilt. If you could describe her, killing would be the only solution and that was what she wanted in the first place.'
'Brilliant!' I cried.
'Elementary,' said he.
.......to be continued......