Costa del Silencio, Tenerife, August 20
The boy in the frayed straw hat reeled in, detached the flapping fish from his hook and inspected the prize. It wasn't unlike one of those displayed last night at the restaurant at Los Abrigos. But smaller, of course. Anyway a catch.
He threw it behind him on to seaweed where it continued its desperate contortions. Sickened, he reached back and struck it with a rock. It lay instantly still, spoilt now. The boy grimaced. He lifted it by the tail and threw it back in the waves.
Hunched, he sat brooding over the sea's reflected glare. His lips tasted of salt, his shoulders were beginning to peel. He'd forgotten the barrier cream.
He un-stoppered a plastic bottle of water, warm to his hand, and drank, then let the liquid trickle down his face, splash on to his naked chest. God, it was hot. Why must Marty pick on August to dump him on the Canaries?
Although he hadn't so much picked as been picked. It was for a job, and jobs meant bread. They kept him and in circumstances to which he'd always intended to become accustomed. Marty went where he had to go, but chose when the opposition was most vulnerable. He, Neil, was the little woman left behind, this time having to pretend, for other eyes, that a stomach upset had prevented his sailing too.
It was six days since Tourmaline had puttered single-handed out of Puerto Colon on its Volvo pentas, ostensibly on a tour of the islands, to fetch up at Lanzarote. The weather had stayed calm. By now Marty would have reached Agadir, trekked inland towards Marrakesh and located the isolated Moroccan farm.
That was the point where things could go bottom-up. Ifthey did he'd never learn how it happened, or why. There'd be an unendurable wait, then notification from the harbourmaster at Agadir of an abandoned twenty-seven-footer registered to a marine hire firm in Tenerife. By then Neil Raynes would have scarpered to the UK and a new address. And an unfaceable future.
Damn him, why couldn't Marty do a nine-to five job like anybody else - sell expensive cars like he pretended to, or get his highs on some trading floor in the City? If he must chase risks, why sail single-handed, refuse back-up?
The boy - twenty, but looking like a young Tom Sawyer in the frayed trousers and battered straw hat - collected his fishing things, slung the empty water bottle in the sea and picked his way, barefoot, back over the rocks. A golf buggy wheezed past as he climbed over the barrier to the cinder path. He slid his sandals on to trudge uphill towards the hired apartment in the row of villas that faced the tenth hole.
Cinders pricked between his toes. When he was little they used to scatter the stuff to stop him sliding on ice. Here it was the natural surface of the south end of this volcanic island, coming in all sorts of weird shapes and chemical colours. Walking on it was like crunching over a vast furnace floor. Except, of course, for the cactus flowers and butterflies.
He dumped his line, box of bait and empty creel on the doorstep and continued up towards the clubhouse for the mail, stopping off at the mini-market for more bananas and coffee. Pointless stocking up until Marty got back. It was too hot to cook, or to eat.
The dark little shop, stinking of overripe pineapples and melons, was full of ghastly English parents being pestered by kids for ices. He shouldered his way through to pick up a hand of green bananas. He'd learnt already that if you bought them yellow they'd be black next day. There was a banana tree in their diminutive garden but it hadn't picked up the idea of fruiting. Wrong sex, he supposed: the sort of balls-up that could happen to anyone.
He tucked a packet of ground coffee under one arm and doled out the despised euros. Then he padded into the clubhouse and peered into their mailbox.
There was a thick, official-looking envelope with Isle of Man stamps. His heart lurched as he recognised the name of Marty's solicitor printed on the reverse. But the letter was addressed to himself.
God, what now? Was this the final pay-off? Had something really dire happened this time? Marty taken a risk too many?
He carried it unopened back to the apartment, stood shakily on the cool tiles of the kitchen floor and steeled himself to face the worst.
Unbelievable! Nothing of any importance. A few clippings from estate agents' catalogues, and a covering letter informing him that owing to a withdrawn offer it was now possible to acquire the desired first floor apartment at Ashbourne House, near Mardham, South Bucks. Would Mr Neil Raynes, as representative for Mr Martin Chisholm, authorise a bid for the said property up to the value previously agreed?
Better than that, Neil decided. He should have a firm commitment faxed from the hotel in Los Cristianos where the young duty manager was open to financial persuasion. The signature would appear to be Marty's, admirably forged after long and meticulous practice (as also by previous agreement.)
He was glad of the chance for positive action, however minor. His part in the project to date had been totally negative: not stepping out of line; not getting drunk or stoned, not laid locally or depressed. That last was the really dodgy bit, and would be until news came through.
Ten days later there was a fax waiting for him at the clubhouse: 'A great journey. See you soon. Hope you're feeling fitter.'
The message started with A, which was code for Albufeira in the Algarve. So Marty had pulled it off, got away unscathed, and was anchored off the south coast of Portugal. (Omit theindefinite article, and Great journey would have meant Gibraltar. V - 'Very good crossing' - was to indicate Valencia. The simplest codes are the safest.)
Now Neil had to phone a number in England, advise that the flight tickets to Faro were the ones to use. Marty would meet the client there, hand over the goods and be free to sail back.
Relief flooded Neil. A day or two more, then he could pick up where they'd left off. He unlocked the apartment safe and removed the spare photograph of a heavily bearded Marty, as shown in his fake Egyptian passport.
Over the kitchen sink he set light to the photograph and watched it curl to fall in ashes, which he swilled away.
Another venture accomplished. By the weekend Tourmaline would have eased back into its mooring at Puerto Colon with Marty on board, clean-shaven and once more a British subject. With a satisfyingly swelled bank balance waiting for him back home.
A MEETING OF MINDS. Copyright © 2003 by Clare Curzon. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.