BackStreet – A week later
The full impact of what was about to happen in Hawke’s well ordered life collided with his still rational thoughts when he accepted the fact, after searching the legal records in every government and real estate office in the archipelago, that no-one knew who owned the island and appeared no one ever had. The mysterious owner had covered anything that might lead back to him so thorough no one was aware any files existed. Well, they would now, but it didn’t matter. Hawke would register building permits; build a small vacation resort, several guest cottages, a small marina and a tram to a clubhouse restaurant on top of the ridgeline for his high paying clientele.
He had to find the owner and buy it before he could do anything. With the puzzling lack of information that no one knew of the owner and didn’t care, he did what does best. He engaged the curious isle as a SpecOps Intel target. He stood tall at the helm of Atlantic Storm, set sail toward her mysterious realm and dropped anchor near a sandy shoal to the isle’s leeward. The following day he circumnavigated the isle several times and dropped anchor at the same spot, the views suited him. He took another day in the yacht’s skiff, contemplated the obvious lunacy of attempting an entrance through the reef alone, and returned to Moorea committed to finding a guide, or the elusive owner.
He soon fatigued from asking questions of Moorea’s residents and local businesses, his gumshoe routine had led him nowhere. He dismissed all warnings from respectable islanders not to ask questions of BackStreet natives, but knew the present means would turn up nothing. He headed for BackStreet, picked a place at random; a nicer place if you could call it that and walked through the battered swinging doors of a BackStreet bar.
The rancid odor of stale ganja smoke and ammoniated urine hit him square in the nostrils as the tattered doors swung back and forth behind him on ancient, squeaky hinges. Hawke stood motionless for a moment, thought he might lose his lunch from an hour earlier, forced his stomach to settle and panned the interior of the dingy club.
The drunken chatter filling the room hushed. Hawke stood alone in the doorway, the bright sun made a dark silhouette of his tall physique. No sooner had he made out the nude paintings on woven palm fronds behind a makeshift stage than the Congo drummer ceased his rhythmic cadence. The attractive young girl next to the drummer stopped her lewd and suggestive dance and fled through stained and tattered curtains. The threat of hard eyes glared at him from a dozen sweaty faces set atop hunched figures that hadn’t seen a bath in weeks, maybe never except for rain.
He looked slow around the room, saw no immediate threat, walked with casual purpose toward the bar and stopped in front of the bartender. A native man five feet tall and near as wide, stared into his eyes from an obese face the size and shape of a lumpy volleyball. His black skin glistened from greasy sweat that ran from a matted tangle of dread-locks across his face and down his shirtless chest.
Hawke forced an emotionless smile, slow with no sudden movement, put his right hand into his pants pocket and retrieved a roll of one hundred dollar bills. He kept his eyes on the greasy figure before him and pulled off the top bill. “I’ve heard if a guy wants to find out the islands secrets, you have to rub shoulders with the natives.” Hawke panned the room again and talked loud enough for everyone to hear. “Set up a round for the bar, I’m buying.”
The bartender remained silent, turned his head slow and glanced across the room. Hawke followed his line of sight to a table set next to the dancer’s stage. The club’s owner stared at Hawke through the stale smoke and dead silence for a few moments and almost imperceptible, nodded his head.
The bartender looked back at Hawke and moved an obese hand the texture of a cantaloupe toward the hundred-dollar bill.
“Wha’da ya want, mister?”
“I doubt you have frozen Glenlivet, so why don’t you give me a rum and orange juice.”
“We have Gleen-lavette.” The bartender muttered. “Wha’cha buyin’ the bar, mista?”
Hawke turned and panned the silent room staring back at him. “Well, if they can make it up here, get them whatever they want. And as long as I enjoy myself, you keep pouring until I tell you to stop.”
The owner clapped his hands twice with sharp cracks and the drummer resumed his cadence. The girl emerged from behind the tattered curtains, resumed her rhythmic dance while the club’s poor patrons all gazed toward the owner. Another silent nod granted permission to accept the American’s offer. One-by-one they went forward, being careful to keep their distance from the tall American. They replaced their usual diet of warm, flat beer with doubled-up hard drinks on ice. An extravagant luxury they could never afford.
Hawke watched the bartender pour from a Glenlivet bottle and set the glass in front of him. He smelled it, took a drink and watched the village peons come forward. He took another drink, it was scotch, but it wasn’t Glenlivet. His mouth curled in a crooked smile when no change from the hundred came either.
A grizzled old man, five feet tall with skin as dark and lined as the ancient teak bar, took a barstool three slots down. He looked over at Hawke, raised his drink in a weathered and feeble hand and cracked a faint smile. “Thanks, mister. Mighty kind of ya.”
Hawke raised his drink. “My pleasure, old timer.”
The old man looked back with curious eyes, deep-set and as black as his skin. “What brings you in here, sonny? Rich Americans don’t come into this neighborhood, let alone in here. Ya either got guts, or yer plain stupid. Which is it, sonny?”
“Like I said, old timer, I’m looking to find out an island’s history from the native’s viewpoint.”
The old man stole a careful glance around the room and lowered his voice. “If yer not careful sonny that can get ya in trouble around dis place. These folks don’t take to strangers, not rich Americans. They ok with rich druggers or slavers movin’ goods through here, but they isn’t White. You is.”
“I don’t want any trouble. I just need someone who can give me information on that island at the edge of the archipelago. The one you folks call Killer Isle.”
The old man downed his drink, ordered another and looked back at him. “You is crazy, mister. He looked around, the bartender was at the other end. What is it ya wan ta know bout dat place?”
“I want to pay someone to guide my boat through the reef. Someone that knows these atolls and knows what he is doing. If you can find someone for me, there’s a hundred bucks in it for you.”
The old man’s eyes lit wide. “Hey der sonny, ye’ll bust yer boat to pieces if ya get anywhar near dat reef. Ye’d be smart to stay clear o’ dat place! Dat reef’s a killer, it’ll kill ya fastern ya can think bout it! And ifn it don’t, dat coral sand will blind yer eyes fer good.”
The old timer took a puff on his crude, handmade teak pipe. “I lost a nephew and a couple of his friends to dem whitetip sharks. And, I’ll tell ya sonny, I have a hunert stories bout dat place, and another thing—
Hawke slipped a twenty in the old man’s breast pocket, moved to the other end of the grungy bar and took an empty stool. He glanced back at the old man. He was still talking, but to no one.”
Hawke sat quiet and watched the dancer. He bought two more rounds at a hundred dollars a whack and talked with patrons that offered nothing but amusing answers to his questions. Hawke got nowhere and four hundred dollars later, he rose from his stool and looked at the bartender. “I won’t leave you a tip. I’d imagine you already skimmed off have a pretty good one.”
The bartender stabbed him a menacing glare and said nothing as Hawke walked toward the bright sunlight where thick smoke streamed out the swinging doors. No sooner had he left his bar stool than the owner raised his chin. A patron general slipped in behind and broke a pool cue hard across Hawke’s back.
A pain shot through his shoulders and ripped through his head like a bolt of lightning. The bright sunlight dimmed to stars against a blackened canopy as he hunched forward and collapsed to his hands and knees. After a few dizzy moments, he raised upright, still on his knees. He looked over his shoulder, two patrons stood over him. One held the large end of the broken pool cue, the splintered end pointed at Hawke, the other a rusty machete he tapped against his shoulder, the chipped blade faced forward.
“Ya forgot to pay yer covar chage, you smart-ass Americao fuck. What do ya thin we are? Somethin you dammed Americanos kin amuse yerself wit and leave when ya please?”
Hawke knew if he didn’t distract them, his roll of hundreds and his Rolex Sub Mariner would part from him. “What is it you want? My watch?” He raised up slow from the floor. “The hundred dollar bills? Is it the money?” He stood slow, reached into his pocket and gripped the bills rolled around a bar of solid brass. “Here, you can have it. You can have my watch too; please… please don’t hurt me. Please!”
The two patron generals looked at each other and grinned with chipped, brown teeth; the moment Hawke waited for. His fist flew from his pocket in a blur of speed and adrenaline pumped power. It landed hard on the first man with a hollow thud in the middle of his chest, over his heart. He reeled backwards, smashed through a table and collapsed to the floor dead.
The second man raised his machete, lunged and swung the rusted blade in an arc toward Hawke’s head. Hawke jumped into the air, out prone in a Taekwondo maneuver and kicked a swift left foot hard into the man’s knee. He screamed in agony over a loud crack as the joint shattered backward. Bloodied bones splintered through his skin.
Hawke retrieved the machete, jumped to his feet and waved it with caution toward the rest of his would-be attackers. Sunlight streamed through the doors and glinted off Hawke’s cold, steel blue eyes. “Okay! Which one of you bastards wants it next?”
Their eyes met a primitive glare that wasn’t there before. A cold chill raced through them. As they backed away, he stretched out the machete and motioned to one nearest him. “You! Get all four of my hundred-dollar bills from that slimy son-of-a-bitch behind the bar and bring them here. Do it quick, right now!”
The man retrieved the bills from the cowering bartender and hustled back. Hawke put them into his shirt pocket, flipped the machete into the air and caught it by the blade. In a quick movement, he raised it over his head and threw it toward the man grasping his bloody, shattered knee. Bright sunlight flashed a golden brown off the blade as it spun through the air and stuck with a solid thud into the floor not inches from the man’s face.
Hawke drew a faint smile, panned the room and backed through the swinging doors. While he made his way to the tourist sector, he reflected on earlier warnings not to hobnob with the natives. Despite better judgment, he knew the only thing that remained was appealing to the BackIsland villagers masquerading as one of them.
Hawke didn’t bathe or shave for a week, put on a good drunk and set off again into BackStreet disguised as a vagrant thrasher hand that missed his port call. It didn’t take long to realize he learned nothing more than BackIsland rum was like drinking motor oil mixed with gasoline. When offered to share in their “culinary delights”, only God knew how he wanted to say no. Still, he knew a vagrant and hungry thrasher hand would never refuse a pull on a jug of islander rum, nor would he refuse a steaming bowl of back islander stew. Neither did Hawke.
After living in a veritable hell for a week, he left the village with a rotting belly and reddened eyes while cursing the bright sun rising over the distant horizon. He swaggered through the foliage to the nearest road and caught a ride on a goats-milk cart pulled by a half-dead donkey, driven by a weathered old man in no better condition.
He grabbed hold of the stake rack and pulled himself onto the cart. His tattered pants stuck to the sloshed ooze and the stench of soured milk mixed with the taste of islander rum sent vomit rising in his throat. He put his hands in the putrid ooze, pushed off the back of the cart and tumbled to the dusty road.
Hawke lay on the roadside for hours looking at a blurred sun shining through the palms while people passed and paid him no attention. He rolled off the road, forced his mind to grasp reality, and picked wild fruit growing nearby to settle his stomach. Eating a handful of red berries, he swaggered like the drunken derelict two miles to the Moorea Hospital at the edge of town. He lumbered through the front doors and appeared like a crazed island rummy. The nurses cringed back until he spoke in perfect English.
After a hot shower, antibiotic shots and an I.V. solution for three days, the doctor assured Hawke of a quick return to health and described his ailments as nothing more than racked nerves, malnutrition and alcohol poisoning.
The fourth day he left the hospital, returned to Moorea Yacht Harbor and found a smartly dressed courier waiting for him at the ramp to Atlantic Storm’s berth.
“Are you Mr. Hawke?”
Lachlan looked down at the hospital scrubs they gave him, and back at the courier with a dry smile. “I am.”
The courier handed him a sealed envelope with a deep red monogrammed wax seal on the back. “My employer directed me to deliver this to you, sir.” The courier stepped back, turned and walked toward a classic black 1965 Mercedes-Benz 600 parked at the end of the pier.
Hawke opened the envelope and read the contents as the Mercedes sped off into the bustling traffic.
Mr. Hawke: Don’t be alarmed but I have monitored your activity for the past couple weeks. You must forgive my informality but right now, time doesn’t allow me to speak with you personally. However, should you be interested in the island, present this memo to the gate at my villa, 7077 Menken Drive, Buenos Aires, two months to the day, same time. —Klaus Berringer