Life on a Caribbean island was near perfect for american Brad Stone until one day he answered a call from a beautiful woman. The encounter brought him face to face with terror, death taunts and a voodoo curse. How could he stop the evil that controlled his life? A murder, a kidnap and a race against time stretched his sanity and endurance to the very limit, to find The Seventh Island.
425 pages 113,500 words.
Locations: New York - Barbados - Trinidad
Theme: Love Story, Stalking, Kidnap, Murder, Siege, Chase, (stop....read the book)
Purchase the book at:-
Purchase the book at:-
Read the Prologue and Chapters 1 - 4 free below
Sam was walking along the deserted beach with his dog at Harmony Bay on the south west coast of the island. He looked forward each evening to the solitude. It gave him time to unwind. He felt the warm sea breeze wafting over his face. The sound of the breaking waves echoed off the cliff face that rose high above him. Scamp was running on ahead exploring and jumping through the water.
The tranquil scene was disturbed by what sounded like a firecracker from somewhere up ahead. Was it gunfire? They were both startled and stopped for a moment; Scamp barked and looked around at Sam as if to say ‘What was that?’ There was nothing to see so they continued walking. The sky was getting darker. The breeze was getting fresher.
Another loud crack seconds later ripped through the air. It was a gunshot, Sam was sure. The sun was setting fast. The last ribbons of wispy crimson light above the horizon were fading to grey. Soon the light would be gone completely.
Sam decided to head back and shouted ‘Come on boy,’ to Scamp up ahead, but he seemed to be riveted to the spot. There was a dark shape on the sand about fifty yards away. He was sniffing around it inquisitively. Sam called out again but Scamp still didn’t look back. He decided to go and see what all the fuss was about. When he got closer he saw that Scamp was standing next to a young woman lying motionless on the sand.
She looked as if she were dead.
The woman was lying half on her side and half on her back. Her left leg was pointing straight out; her right leg was bent awkwardly to the side. Her arms were splayed from her body. Sam stood right beside her and saw that she was bleeding from a nasty wound on her forehead. Blood was seeping through a rip in her blouse near her shoulder.
She was a beautiful woman with long brown curly hair, dressed in designer jeans and a white, long sleeved, silky blouse. She couldn’t have been more than twenty-three, twenty-five years old, he thought.
Looking down again he saw a shoe on her right foot but her other shoe was missing. Her black leather purse was lying beside her arm. The strap was still hooked over her arm near her elbow. He looked up at grassy ledges and small bushes growing out of the cliff face towering over him. How long had she been there, who was she?
Sam peered into the darkness along the beach to the left and to the right, back where he’d come from, he could see nothing and no one. Curiously there were no footprints in the sand leading up to the woman’s body.
He knelt down beside her and saw that she was still breathing, albeit shallowly, her chest was gently rising and falling. The rest of her body was limp and lifeless. Her eyes were closed. She was somewhere between unconscious and dead.
The tide was advancing steadily up the beach and pretty soon it would be lapping around her body. He remembered that it might be dangerous to move someone who was injured but he also knew there wouldn’t be enough time to go for help and get back, before the ebbing tide would drag her out to sea.
She was certain to drown.
He decided that he must somehow get her back to Martha - his wife - who was a nurse. She would know what to do. She could treat the wounds whilst they summoned for help.
Sam bent down to pick the woman up. He dug his left hand through the sand cradling her under her shoulders and scooped up her legs with his other hand, just under her knees. He lifted her up and her head fell back limply and her legs flopped around like a rag doll. She didn’t wake or make a sound. Scamp was jumping around excitedly, thinking it was some kind of game.
She was a slightly built woman; she couldn’t have weighed more than a hundred pounds. Sam carried her with ease back along the half-mile stretch of beach to his house. As he was walking back he recalled the gunshots he’d heard a few minutes earlier and realised there might be a connection to the injured woman in his arms. He stopped for a moment, turned around and looked back at where she had been lying. How she came to be there was a mystery.
He continued walking.
He reached the steps that led from the beach up to the deck at the back of his house. There were twelve narrow wooden steps, he held her sideways in his arms as he climbed them. He crossed the deck and knocked on the back door with his elbow.
Martha opened the door; her mouth fell open in surprise at Sam carrying the young woman into the kitchen.
‘Samuel, who is she? What happened to her?’ asked Martha.
‘I don’t know Martha. Scamp found her lying on the beach, there was no one else around and the tide was coming in fast, I couldn’t just leave her there.’
‘Take her to the guest room Samuel and lay her down on the bed,’ said Martha.
He weaved through the doorway taking care not to hit her head against the walls.
Sam laid the unconscious woman gently down on the bed and placed a pillow under her head. Martha took the woman’s purse and set it on the nightstand. She told Sam to fetch the first aid box from the kitchen cupboard. Martha felt the woman’s pulse, it was strong and her breathing was regular. She felt her forehead with the back of her hand; her temperature appeared to be normal. She then ran her hands over her arms and legs but found no broken bones or other injuries apart from her forehead and shoulder. The woman’s vital signs were good and gave Martha hope that she wasn’t too badly hurt. Martha cleaned up the wounds and kept her under observation.
‘Martha shouldn’t we call the hospital?’ said Sam.
‘No need just yet, she’ll come round, we’ll take good care of her,’ she said. Martha started to clean up and bathe her wounds. She stayed by the woman’s bedside and kept a vigil throughout the night.
The next morning they were both relieved to see that the woman had coped well with her injuries.
She was still alive, but she was also still unconscious.
Sam still thought that they should call the police or the hospital at least.
‘Someone might be looking for her?’ he said.
Martha took the woman’s purse and looked through the contents, laying them out on the kitchen table. Sam had just made coffee, he placed the mugs down and sat and watched her. There was a cell phone, a lip-gloss and some perfume. The woman had two passports; her photo was in both. The name in each was different. They looked at each other. Martha tightened her lips and raised her eyebrows. Sam took a look also and held them up side by side to study them.
‘It’s the same woman alright,’ said Sam. ‘Wonder which name is the real one?’ He placed the passports back on the table and watched Martha opening an envelope containing several documents.
The first item she picked up was a one-way ticket for a flight to New York later that day, in one of the passport’s names. Martha picked up the second document; it was an Electronic Bank Transfer dated Friday, yesterday. It was in the other name that the woman was using.
The woman had deposited US $2 million in a Cayman’s bank. Martha blew out her breath and handed the bank paper for Sam to see. His mouth opened when he was reading it and it didn’t close for some time.
Sam picked up the envelope, he thought it was empty but he heard something rattling about at the bottom. He turned it upside down and a key fell onto the table. The key had an engraving on it ‘19/4 CPW & 76’. He shrugged his shoulders it meant nothing to him.
Martha was just about to place the items back in the purse but as she picked it back up it still felt a little heavy. She weighed it up and down with her hand and looked across at Sam. He stared back and said ‘What is it?’ She looked inside and saw a zipped compartment. She pulled the zip open and took out the heavy item that was weighing down the bag.
It was a small handgun.
Martha sat and wondered just who the woman lying in the next room was. A very wealthy woman, she thought, whatever her name was, and possibly dangerous.
Why was she lying, alone, half-dead on a deserted beach on an island in the Caribbean?
They heard a moaning coming from the bedroom. It sounded like the woman was coming round. Martha put the passports, the papers and the gun hurriedly back into the purse and they went to see how she was.
Martha reached the bedside.
‘Where am I?’ said the woman, in a croaky and unsteady voice.
Sam stood by the door.
‘Don’t worry you’re safe, you’ve had an accident.’
Martha sat down and held the woman’s hand to comfort her. A few moments later she spoke again. She was anxious and confused.
‘Who am I?’ she said grabbing at Martha’s arm.
The woman was conscious but disoriented. Her eyes were scanning around the unfamiliar room. She looked up at Martha and then at Sam. Her eyes were full of fear and apprehension.
‘Who am I?’ she repeated. Even more anxiously than the first time.
It became evident that she couldn’t remember what had happened to her the night before. The woman had no memory at all.
She didn’t even know her own name.
One month earlier in New York.
Rachel Parker was sitting at the bar in Laceys on Madison Avenue. It was to be the last night before she and Danny, the tall young bartender, would move on, to find another bar. She hadn’t scoped out the bar closely this particular evening, if she had she would have seen a big black guy in a black leather jacket, black roll neck sweater and shades. The lighting wasn’t so bright at the end of the bar where he was sitting. He had been there the night before and the night before that. The man had noticed Rachel the very first night, most men did. He was watching her at work.
Watching his new recruit?
Rachel was sitting alone. Her glass was empty and she was talking to Danny the bartender. He was leaning in close and they were talking business. The big guy, Chad Loman - a seriously shady character - saw the play and each night he’d sit silently.
It gave him ideas.
Rachel would wait for a single guy to come in to the bar and sit down. He had to be alone, and he had to look like money, a player maybe, a sucker for a beautiful woman.
Rachel would wink to Danny. The guy would order his drink and just after placing it on the bar Danny would turn to Rachel, this time he was just the bartender, not her accomplice.
‘Ms Parker, I’m sorry, I’m not allowed to give you anymore.’ He would speak just loud enough for the player to hear. ‘I’ll lose my job,’ he would say. He leaned in a little closer to her almost whispering now but still so the guy could hear. ‘You know your tab is over the limit, I am sorry Ms. Parker.’
The guy would usually watch Danny as he spoke and then would always, without fail, look at Rachel, and would notice just how beautiful she was and how vulnerable she appeared.
Rachel would turn on the waterworks, reaching in her purse for a tissue …sobbing for full effect.
The guy would notice, they always noticed, Chad Loman had seen it three times before.
Danny would act out the last part of the script…
‘Don’t cry Ms Parker, just find the two hundred dollars by tomorrow and the boss will be cool, okay?’
The guy would bite. ’Hey, hey ease up buddy I’m sure this can be cleared up.’
Danny would shrug his shoulders.
Rachel would play the next part ‘No…no…you’re too kind, I’m starting a new job on Monday…I’ll…’
‘Ms Parker it’ll be too late by then the boss said he will fire me if I didn’t get the money today.’ Danny would say.
The guy would now step in and move his stool up to Rachel’s and the scene would play out. Chad Loman watched with a wry smile on his face. You have to start somewhere, he thought.
The guy would take out his wallet and start to count out the cash, Danny would lean in close and explain that he ‘Couldn’t show a large amount of cash in the till, she had a card bill to settle.’ Sure enough, plastic would come to the rescue. Danny would slip away out of sight and clone the guy’s card.
He would then return the card to the guy and give him a fake receipt, thanking the guy profusely for getting him off the hook with the boss. The guy now would move in on Rachel and she would be so grateful, and after a couple more drinks, even more grateful. They would usually leave together before very long.
Later, at the guy’s apartment, Rachel would secretly stir a white powder into the guy’s drink. The drug would kick-in after around thirty minutes, just enough time for them to have sex. Afterwards the guy would slump back onto the bed breathless and mysteriously feel quite tired.
‘Must be the drink, I feel so sleepy, so god dam sleepy baby,’ he would say. Within twenty seconds the guy would be out cold.
Rachel would get up, shower, dress, and go to work. Not surprisingly the guy would lose his wallet, his laptop, his watch, his cell phone and anything else that would fit into Rachel’s large fake Gucci purse. She would be long gone before midnight.
This particular night, Rachel and Danny’s last night before moving on, things would turn out a little differently.
Chad Loman was in the bar as usual. A guy came into the bar, sat up on a stool and ordered a scotch on the rocks from Danny. He was good looking, well dressed, and had a more serious face than the usual guys looking for a good time. He was checking the room out; he was looking all around the room through the long mirror at the back of the bar and occasionally glancing over his shoulder. It didn’t register with Rachel, ‘inexperience’ thought Loman. But Loman noticed, and he was worried.
Rachel had already seen the guy enter the bar and watched as he sat down out of the corner of her eye. She winked at Danny - game on.
Danny served up the guy’s scotch and started his routine with Rachel. Danny had told her about the big bill and the tears started to flow but Chad Loman set his drink down and moved in quickly. He walked up to Rachel and took her by the arm, almost lifting her out off of the stool.
‘Baby, sorry I’m late, I got held up, we need to be at the restaurant by nine…’ he was pulling her to her feet, she was shocked but being a fairly slight woman did not have the power to stop him. She had no choice. Loman was in control. He was too strong for Rachel, or anyone else in the bar that night.
‘Keep moving,’ said Loman through pursed lips. He kept his head pointed forward. ‘I’ll tell you why when we get outside.’
Before she knew it she was outside the bar, carried along by Loman. When they were out of sight, a safe distance away, he loosened his grip and spun her around in front of him. She was ready to explode.
Back at the bar Danny stood transfixed wondering what to do…there wasn’t much he could do. The guy, the undercover cop, went back to his drink. He’d figured out what had happened but she hadn’t propositioned him yet, so he kept his cover, finished up his drink and left the bar a little later.
Chang, Loman’s Chinese sidekick, was outside waiting for him; he was never far away, just in case Loman needed back up.
Rachel could not hold it any longer.
‘Who the hell are you Mister…what do you think you’re doing?’
Loman was cool and untroubled; his arrogant manner angered Rachel even more. She was used to being in control.
‘You were doing pretty good Ms Parker but tonight you lucked out, but three in a row ain’t bad.’
‘How do you know my name? Mr. Mr. whatever your name is, and what do you mean three in a row ain’t bad?’
‘Shadlowman, you jus corr him Shadow.’
Chang’s English needed a lot more work, whichever way he tried to say Chad Loman, it came out the same, Shadowman. That suited Loman fine, and that’s all Rachel heard.
She was still seething with rage. ‘Well?’ she demanded.
Shadow took his time; he tapped his cigarette pack onto his fingers, drew out a cigarette with his mouth, clicked the lighter in his other hand and lit it. He took a long drag and blew out the smoke up into the air before speaking again.
‘The skinny bar guy called you Ms. Parker. You’re new to the game girl, your trick tonight…he’s an undercover cop. He was probably there on a tipoff. Good thing for you I know his face. If I hadn’t have stepped in when I did you’d be wearing a bracelet on both wrists by now.’
Her face changed, and the colour seemed to drain out of it. She burst into tears, more out of frustration than embarrassment, she thought she could handle her emotions, but this was New York not back home where her brother would be watching her back. She wanted to both curse and thank Shadow all at the same time. Her pride kicked in, she dried her eyes and remained silent. Shadow’s face showed nothing, his eyes couldn’t, he always wore shades.
She was right where he wanted her to be.
‘Listen to me,’ said Shadow. ‘You need to lose the boy bartender, work smart, not cheap. You’re worth more than that. You’re a beautiful chick; you just need a better game, need to trade-up. Now follow me, ya got a lot to learn.’
Shadow walked the few yards over to his Lincoln parked a little way up the road. Chang was already behind the wheel.
Shadow opened the back door of the car; he left it open, then slid into the front seat.
Rachel was still in the middle of the sidewalk. Shadow stabbed the electric window switch, it hummed and the glass lowered slowly down. He leant his head half out of the window.
‘Get in,’ he ordered.
Rachel took a long hard look back towards the bar, almost like she was looking back on her past, the painful teenage years, sharing her body, never letting anyone into her heart or mind. The open car door was like the gateway to her future, but what future? She hesitated for a minute. It seemed like a lifetime. She walked up slowly, put her hand on the door, paused - then got into the car.
Chang pulled away from the kerb and sped down the Avenue. There was silence. Rachel was deep in thought. She was missing Randy, her brother. Back home she never did anything without him, without his help. He’d be there if there was trouble. She was questioning herself as to why she’d got into the car. Who was this guy? Shadow, a gangster for sure, she thought. Was she safe? Perhaps she did need someone to show her how it’s done in the Big Apple.
She sat back and watched the city streets blur past the window, the taxi horns, the big fancy cars and fancy people. She’d been told her tricks were ‘Little league.’ and wondered what this guy Shadow had in mind. She promised herself one thing. At the first sign of any trouble, any abuse – she’d leave. For now she decided to put her trust in the shady guy in the front seat, wearing shades.
After about a quarter of an hour Shadow spoke in his low gravelly voice.
‘What’s your first name gorgeous?’ He angled his head and saw her mesmerizing dark brown eyes looking back at him through the rear view mirror. She held his gaze. Despite all the tears and doubt she was street tough. She knew what she was getting into.
‘Rachel,’ she answered.
Shadow looked ahead at the road again.
‘Hmm…. Rachel Parker…we may use that, in the right circumstances, but for now,’ Shadow paused while he thought about what to call her. ‘We’ll call you…Bobby.’
Rachel knew she was taking the next step up on the ladder and put her faith in the gangster in the front seat. There was no resistance.
She was now Bobby.
Stone heard a screeching of tyres below his first floor office window. It was December 2007 and the tail end of the rainy season in the southern Caribbean. The daily tropical downpour hadn’t arrived yet, an hour or so later and the car might have skidded on the wet greasy street. He spun his head back to the spreadsheet on his computer screen it needed his full attention.
It wasn’t getting it.
He had a two o’clock lunch appointment with his bankers. He had clean forgotten that he had a one o’clock appointment with a journalist before that.
Some of the work guys in the street were whistling and jeering upon seeing an attractive woman climb out of the car. Stone glanced back to the street below and saw his head security guard helping the glamorous looking woman out of the car. She put a leg out onto the sidewalk. He couldn’t see anymore of her because the car’s windows were blacked out, like most cars in Trinidad. There were many reasons why people travelled around as discreetly and stealthily as they could in Trinidad, partly to look cool, but mostly for personal security.
This woman had as many reasons as most - if not more.
Stone stood up out of his swivel chair to get a better view of the woman, but he couldn’t, she was facing away from him. She was now fully out of the car, an old beat up Nissan, pretending to be white, with more repair patches than paint, a broken left tail light and the remains of half a rear number plate. The other half had probably been ripped off against some curb or gully at the side of a street. The gullies were usually full of old food wrappers, empty coke cans and dead dogs. When the rains came - and they came hard just about everyday - the torrents of storm water flushed the drains clean.
Except for the dead dogs.
The woman made her way to security; she was carrying something under her arm, magazines maybe? She was petite, late twenties, maybe thirty, though he couldn’t see her face yet. Her tailored black pants, designer shoes, pretty printed blouse, and styled shoulder length hair, hinted at a woman of taste and beauty.
He would soon find out.
The noisy Nissan car sped off at speed around the corner and out of sight, leaving a trail of blue exhaust smoke hanging in the air behind it like a piece of rope spewing from its rusty old muffler. The smoke rose up six feet above the car and then thinned out in the midday heat haze. A few seconds later, it was gone.
Stone returned to his work, or tried to.
His desk phone rang. It was Indira, his personal assistant.
‘Your one o’clock appointment is here Mr. Brad, shall I show her up?’
Stone hadn’t arranged the meeting, which is probably why it had slipped his mind. Ewen ‘Mac’ McLeish, his business partner in the Barbados office, had emailed him saying someone from a fancy magazine had contacted him. They wanted an interview with a construction guy.
Mac thought that Stone would be better suited to handle the media attention.
‘Okay, show her up,’ he said.
McLeish and Stone were business partners. They owned a construction and property company with offices on three Caribbean islands, Barbados, St. Vincent and Trinidad and managed the day-to-day operations on a very hands-on basis. They met in the Middle East, Stone was there heading up a US re-construction project in Iraq and Mac was there as an Engineer with the British Army, seconded to assist the Americans with security and logistics in the regeneration of bomb damaged facilities. They forged a personal partnership, it worked successfully and since then they had pooled their assets and had gone from strength to strength.
Indira, Brad’s personal secretary, was a bespectacled yet pretty Indian woman in her mid-twenties, a little over five feet tall with shoulder length straight black hair parted to one side. She knocked on his office door.
Stone shouted ‘Come in.’ He didn’t look up.
The young woman that had arrived just a few minutes earlier walked into his office. He still hadn’t looked up from the computer screen.
‘Hi Brad Stone? I’m Roberta Brown from Vantage Point magazine in New York, its great you could make time to see me today.’
Her voice caught Stone’s full attention. The woman had a strong American accent, which seemed to fit her appearance. He swivelled around in his chair to face her and stood up to shake her hand. At six-one tall he towered over the diminutive Ms. Brown.
‘Hi Ms. Brown, I’m pleased to meet you.’
He said thank you to Indira without looking at her, and instructed her to hold all calls. From that moment he found it difficult not to look directly at Ms Brown.
‘I saw you arrive, I had no idea I was meeting a young woman today, please sit down. You’re a long way from home Ms Brown.’
‘Yes, I flew in yesterday, and my driver brought me down here today.’
‘Can I get you anything to drink? Water or a coffee maybe?’
‘Coffee would be nice, thanks.’
Stone called out to Indira who was already half way down the wooden staircase to her office, to bring them some coffee.
Ms. Brown settled down into a black leather swivel armchair, there were two on the opposite side of the desk to Stone’s. She chose the one that was closest to him. By the time they were both seated they couldn’t have been more than three feet apart.
Stone was not normally a nervous person but the presence of a very attractive female was making him feel a little uncomfortable. If there were women around his site they generally didn’t look like Ms. Brown. Stone was, he had to admit, quite attracted to her. She asked Stone if she could rest her magazines on his desk in front of her and as she did so she leafed through one of them and explained the reason for the interview.
‘Can I call you Brad?’ she said it in a confident manner, she didn’t wait for his answer.
She continued anyway.
‘We’ve been looking for an international construction guy; we want to do a special feature for our Vantage Point readers. We have a ‘Business in the Caribbean’ supplement coming out next month. My photographer will take some shots of you, some of the jobsite; we’ll mix in your life outside the project and talk about where you’re living. I’m sure your jet set life style will really get our readers excited.’
She took a sip from her coffee, all the time fixing her eyes on Stone. At thirty-five he was several years older than she was. She hadn’t counted on being so attracted to his rugged good looks and deep blue eyes.
‘I’m happy to talk to you and you can have a look around, but it’s just a boring jobsite, I’m not sure what your readers will find interesting,’ he said.
‘So Brad, tell me why you came here to the Caribbean? Please, call me Roberta.’
The over familiarity unnerved Stone a little; he was thinking a very similar thing about Ms. Brown.
‘There’s not much to tell you Ms. Brown.’ He didn’t feel comfortable calling her by her first name. ‘My partner Mac and I have worked together for years all around the world, Europe, Middle East, Far East. We decided to start our own development company down here in these beautiful islands. We’ve been here about six months now. Things are going pretty good but when it comes down to it we’re developers, our job is the same wherever we go, only the surroundings change.’
Stone felt sure he was going to bore the pants off this young journalist, nevertheless he continued to answer her questions.
‘I see. You’ve travelled a lot. You must have so many exciting stories to tell me. Are you married?’
This seemed a little personal to Stone.
He cut her short.
Roberta was making the fatal mistake of allowing her personal thoughts to creep into her questions.
‘Lets keep this to business shall we, there’s nothing in my private life that will interest your readers I can assure you.’
Still admiring him, even though his short blond hair had more than a hint of grey around the temples Ms. Brown said ‘I’ll be the judge of that.’
Stone could be warm and charming but he could also cut it rough, his years on jobsites around the world had hardened him, readied him for trouble if it suddenly sprang up.
He wasn’t expecting any today.
‘Okay Brad I think that’s all I need for today, I’ll call you to set up the full interview, say next week, how does that sound?’ she began to stand up.
‘Thank you so much, it’s been great to meet you.’
Stone didn’t answer.
He was quite relieved that the meeting had been brief and was drawing to a close. Ms. Brown stretched out her hand towards him. They shook hands but she seemed to hold onto his hand just a little longer than normal, a little too friendly. Stone smiled back at her politely. She took out her cell phone tapped a few numbers and pressed it to her ear.
‘I’m calling for my driver,’ she said. ‘He told me he’d wait somewhere nearby, I’ll be out of your way real soon.’
Despite dialling several times she wasn’t getting through.
‘He must be out of reach, I’m going to be late. I’ll have to call a taxi.’
‘Where do you need to be Ms. Brown I’m going out to lunch, can I give you a lift somewhere?’
He hadn’t really expected her to say yes, in fact he was kind of hoping she wouldn’t - but she did.
‘Oh Brad would you? Where are you going? That would be real good.’
Stone called David on the site radio to bring his jeep around up front.
Stone drove out of the site car park and down Andrew Street. He turned left into Chancery Lane. After five hundred yards he made another left through Kings Wharf, passing by the fishermen selling their daily catch at the waters edge. They were sitting at makeshift tables of old crates and driftwood nailed together, the sun beating down on their bare backs. The freshly caught fish were laid out side-by-side on the tables, covered with ice shavings to keep them fresh and with umbrellas perched above them to give as much shade as possible. A small group of passers by were huddled around the tables picking out the best fish for their lunch.
He took the coast road due south to La Romaine. Black skimmers were dipping in and out of the water as they flew over the Bay of Paria looking for their lunch too. It was another hot sunny day. ‘De Islands’ and the Northern Range mountains could just be seen in the distance to the north, stretching from Chagaramas westwards like a row of jagged dominoes, almost hidden by the heat haze. To the south he could see Queens Point, La Brea, and to the west, the coast of Venezuela was just visible across the bay.
Stone and Ms. Brown spoke little for the remaining five minutes or so that it took to reach Gulf City. As he was driving Stone’s mind flashed back to the interview and the journalist’s personal questions. He purposely avoided talking to her about such private things; it wasn’t her business. Somehow the subject had forced a wedge into his memory bank. It opened up thoughts of home. Stone was married, to Eleanor, for thirteen years, but being away almost constantly on business around the world had gradually chipped their relationship away until there was nothing left, except their daughter. Laura. She was the one good thing that came out of the marriage. Stone missed his daughter who was now twelve years old and in high school. He made sure he got back home at least twice a year but the years were slipping away and it was his one regret.
Not seeing her grow up.
Stone was jolted back to reality when he bumped the jeep up onto the verge; he parked across from the main entrance to the shopping mall. He switched off the engine and turned to face Ms. Brown.
‘Thanks again Brad,’ she said. ‘By the way I’m staying in Siparia ‘til Friday.’
Siparia is a small town around thirty minutes south of San Fernando. He wasn’t sure why she had made a point of telling him that.
‘So, let me check Brad, your cell is 4-7-7 9-6-0-3?’ She accentuated the numbers pedantically.
Stone confirmed the number, he shook her hand again then she opened the door and stepped out of the jeep onto the grassy verge by the side of the road. She walked away from the car; she didn’t look back. She was calling someone, probably her driver, he thought.
Stone sat in the car for a while still puzzled why a beautiful young journalist from Vantage Point, in New York, would be interested in visiting him.
Why was she all the way down here in Trinidad?
The meeting with his bankers lasted around an hour and afterwards Stone returned to the jobsite. The rest of the day passed by as normal. After work he met up with a couple of buddies for a meal and a drink at his favourite bar, Castaways, down by the coast. Stone didn’t get home to his house in Bel Air ‘til after midnight. He drove himself home and managed to get back in one piece and fell on to his bed, still in his clothes. He lay there sprawled out face down in a star position.
Stone’s cell phone vibrated on the glass nightstand. It startled him out of a deep sleep. He’d been in bed for less than four hours since getting in from Castaways. He swam to the side of the bed, grabbed it up and pushed it to his ear; in his bleary state he thought he heard a woman’s voice.
‘Brad - it’s - it’s - me, Roberta,’ the woman said. She was crying hysterically.
The woman sounded desperate. He was waking up slowly and regretting now having the last three drinks. He wasn’t really drunk but his mind and body told him that it was too soon to be awake. He poked his legs out over the side of the bed and placed his feet onto the cold tiled floor. He leant forward ‘til his elbows were propped up on his knees; one hand was holding his forehead, the other cradling the cell phone. He still hadn’t fully opened his eyes yet.
‘Who is this?’ Stone tried to make sense of the call; it was five in the morning, and still dark. She called herself Roberta. He was trying to put two and two together, the woman he had met just yesterday was called Roberta, wasn’t she?
‘Brad, Brad, Oh my God I’m so glad you picked up. I need you - I’ve been robbed.’ It was the journalist he’d met briefly in his office. ‘You’ve got to help me. Please, please come.’ She really was sounding quite desperate. ‘They may come back for me.’
Stone stood up. His legs were shaky but he made it from his bed to the living room, pulled open the curtains, looked out onto the terrace but could see nothing, it was still dark. He rubbed his head and tried to focus on the distressed journalist still crying down the phone in his hand.
‘Are you hurt? Have you called the Police? Where are you?’ he asked her.
Stone knew this was a tricky situation, a foreigner, new to Trinidad, latching onto the only person she knows. He got a feeling in the pit of his stomach that he would soon learn more than he really wanted to know. What was he being drawn into?
‘No Brad, luckily I was asleep, didn’t hear a thing, can you come and get me? I can’t stay here Brad, they might come back, they stole my laptop, my Luis Vuitton cases and all my cash…what am I going to do?’ She was sobbing uncontrollably as she spoke.
He had to do something, he thought.
‘I guess I could come fetch you but it will take a little time, where are you exactly?’
‘I’m in Siparia, just off the high street, you turn left just before the KFC, you know it?’ She was a little calmer now thinking Stone would come to rescue her.
‘No, its some time since I was down that way but it’s a straight road from Sando, there should be no traffic this early, I’ll find it, keep your cell phone close, I’ll call when I reach the high street.’
Stone was committed now, he thought, no turning back, but where will she go? He couldn’t think that far ahead so early in the morning. He decided to take it one step at a time. He couldn’t leave her she knew nothing about Trinidad. He thought he would just get her back to town and maybe she’d get a hotel or something. She’d be safe there and she could report the whole thing to the Police.
There was no time to bathe. He dragged on some shorts, slipped into a polo shirt and pointed the jeep towards Palmiste. Across the southern main road Stone took a short cut through Duncan Village and took the Debe road on towards Penal and across the main junction. Later in the day, any day, it could take half an hour to crawl through the town, past the roti shops and doubles stands and street traders, fighting the local traffic who drive erratically and park just wherever they feel like. To Stone this was chaos and it wasn’t getting any easier as the months went by. His blood pressure was usually on a roller coaster ride whilst all around him simply went about their business, curious as to why this white guy was getting all bent out of shape.
Dawn was breaking.
He drove through Penal and out into open country, the sky was cloudless and a warm blue, a beautiful backdrop to the palm trees and timber shacks dotted around the hillsides. Diving and weaving through the trees were Kiskadee birds making their first runs of the day looking for breakfast.
The cool of the night was changing shifts with the remorseless heat of the day; it would soon smoulder and suffocate like an invisible fog.
As he reached Siparia Stone saw the KFC in the distance down the high street. He took the left turn just before it down Coora Street and called Ms. Brown to get further directions. A quarter of a mile later and after making a right and a left he pulled up outside a two-storey timber house just as Ms Brown had described. There was no fence or driveway; just a dusty path with small stones either side to mark the way. There was no sign of anyone around.
Stone walked towards the door, there was an old dog lying asleep across the porch, he probably felt like Stone had an hour or so earlier. He raised his head an inch or two off the timber boards, flickered his eyes half open, squinting in the bright sunlight, but nothing interesting registered to him, so he stretched his legs out, let out a long yawn and was asleep again in seconds.
Stone looked the place over. It was a timber house with a patchwork of different wooden panels for walls, new and old. The house was leaning slightly to the left and extra pieces of wood had been nailed on to fill in gaps. The light blue paintwork had weathered away in the tropical rains and the doors and windows were painted yellow but the wood was cracked and bleached from the relentless sun. The galvanize roof looked good and strong, it had to be. Still, it was someone’s home and in the rainy season the main thing was to be dry.
There was no sign of life on the outside, net curtains were dancing in and out of the open windows in the morning breeze. Stone knocked on the front door and shouted out for Ms. Brown.
There was no answer.
At that second she appeared from the left side of the house, almost running towards him, she threw her arms open and hugged him around the waist tightly, trapping his arms straight down the side of his body. He couldn’t move and waited for her to draw away. He guessed this was her way of thanking him for coming to her rescue.
‘Brad I’m so glad to see you, how will I ever thank you?’
That wasn’t on Stones mind at that moment. He was again wondering what she was doing way down south in Trinidad in what was nothing more than a beat up old shack.
Did she know these people?
He put his thoughts to one side.
‘Ms. Brown lets get your things into the jeep. Where are they?’
Just as he was asking her, two young girls and a boy, all would be about thirteen years old or so, came out from the same side of the house that Roberta had earlier. They were carrying garbage bags that seemed to be full of clothes. They walked right up to the jeep, opened up the tailgate and loaded them in. Roberta disappeared for a minute around the back again and returned holding her personal stuff in both arms. As she had said there were no fancy suitcases, no business laptop, nothing. Most of her clothes were stuffed into the garbage bags. What a comedown he thought. She really had been robbed.
Stone left Siparia behind in his rear view mirror, he headed back north towards San Fernando, it was now around seven a.m. Since leaving, Ms. Brown had been strangely quiet, her head turned slightly to one side against the headrest. She was gazing out of the window, though there was nothing much to look at, just mile after mile of scrub grass and palm trees and the odd squatter shack every now and then. She was probably still exhausted from the journey the day before and the robbery business, he thought.
The silence gave Stone time to do some thinking. He was a fixer, a guy who couldn’t walk past if he saw someone in trouble. Trouble was something that cropped up with fair regularity, he was used to it. It was an everyday part of being a developer.
This felt different though. He was driving back to San Fernando with a beautiful young woman, someone he had known for less than twenty-four hours. Was he becoming involved?
Ms. Brown stirred; she sat more upright in her seat and straightened her hair. She checked her face in the mirror on the back of the sun visor.
‘Brad I have a big problem,’ she began.
Back came the teary words. She was looking straight at him. Stone kept his eyes on the road, wondering what she would say next.
‘I have nowhere to stay tonight…I’m booked into the Hilton on Friday, the magazine has taken care of that. I was supposed to have stayed in Siparia ‘til then but I couldn’t stay there after what happened, you understand that don’t you?’
Stone felt drawn in again, the Oscar speech, the pleading continued some more.
He had about ten minutes to figure out what to do before they hit the main junction in San Fernando. They were passing through Philippine, a pleasant suburb of houses and small businesses on the way to Cross Crossing. Upon reaching the crossing, the main interchange, he could take a right towards the north, to Port of Spain, or turn left, back to Gulf City and to his house in Bel Air.
Ms. Brown continued.
‘Brad, can I stay with you? Just for a day or two? I’ll be gone by Friday. You’ll do that for me won’t you?’
Mr. Fix-it was also Mr. Sucker, a sucker for a beautiful woman, he couldn’t say no. It was only a few days, he thought, he had two spare rooms and he’d be at work all day.
What’s the worst that could happen?
It was early in September 2007 and Rachel’s first autumn in New York. Back home there was no autumn, winter or spring, just summer all year round. Golden, brown and ochre leaves were already falling and drifting erratically down carpeting the pathways in the autumn breeze.
Rachel’s mind was flashing back to home thousands of miles away but her thoughts were interrupted by snapshots of the previous night, as if someone were throwing them onto the table in front of her. Just when she had a fond memory of her brother or her father making her smile, a sound bite and clip of Shadow and his mean face, eyes hidden by his shades, would cloud it out. ‘Work smart, not cheap,’ he had said. ‘You’re worth more than that.’ His words revolved around her head, she knew he was right, she also knew she had a lot to learn. ‘Need a better game, need to trade-up.’ She recalled what a guy had said to her back home so she resolved to look for a ‘big’ client.
She would trade up.
Rachel was sitting at a square white table with matching white plastic chairs on the terrace overlooking the lawn outside the Celsius café in Bryant Park. She was leaning back in her chair staring out into the bustling throng of office workers, tourists and shoppers passing by on 42nd St. She was looking over to the forty-second street allée, trying to catch sight of her roommate Jennifer Madsen. They had planned to meet during Jennifer’s lunch break from her secretarial job at a magazine on 43rd St. Her office was just across 6th Avenue near Times Square.
Rachel had dreamed about coming to New York for years, ‘The city that never sleeps,’ and, as the song continued, ‘She would do whatever it would take to make it there’. Her chances of achieving the lifestyle she sought would not come from study or qualifications, she would get there with the only attributes she had, her beauty and her body.
She also dreamed of visiting her late mother’s grave in the Maple Grove cemetery in Queens. The last time she saw her mother Rachel was twelve years old. Somewhere deep in her heart was the grief and hurt of her mother leaving and then tragically dying. Being so far away it hadn’t been possible for Rachel to attend her funeral. Alice Parker had died ten years earlier in a traffic accident, that’s what her father told her. Maybe it was the lack of her mother’s care and guidance through her adolescence that led Rachel to the wrong side of the tracks.
Rachel was a gawky teenager; she was usually left alone with her elder brother at home. Her father, a police sergeant, was striving to succeed, to get that next promotion and worked all hours to make ends meet, struggling to keep them out of trouble. Skipping school habitually Rachel learnt more on the streets than she did in the classroom. At fifteen her body matured, she developed womanly curves; she threw away the braces that she’d had on her teeth for three years. She also started to wear her hair long. She didn’t need make-up, she, like most Caribbean women, had a naturally beautiful complexion. Overnight she changed from a pubescent schoolgirl sitting in a classroom, to an attractive young woman venturing out into the world. She began to court men’s attention - a lot of it. She soon saw this as a way to get what she wanted.
She learnt a trade, a street trade, and to the countless, nameless guys on the street, she was known as ‘Sparkle’. At home for birthdays, Christmas and the rare days her father managed to be home, she was Rachel again, his little girl.
At sixteen Rachel was able to leave school legally and ‘Sparkle’ went into her new business full time. Her elder brother Randy became her minder and manager. Randy was twenty-one, he had a car; he too had learnt a trade. Extortion. They formed a perfect money making combination. She had the looks and he had the muscle. Randy moved in all the wrong circles, ideal for getting to know shady men who had money, big money. And liked to spend it.
Or have it taken from them.
He put business propositions to them; he persuaded them that using call girls and escorts was too risky. He sold them complete discretion and anonymity - a personal service. His client list included company directors, lonely politicians and playboys looking for that extra something.
Sparkle was that extra something.
Randy made all the arrangements and never asked questions, the customer’s satisfaction was everything. Randy and Sparkle never took risks, they never flashed around the profits of their business. They saved wisely. They continued to live at home so as not to attract attention. There were no fancy cars or apartments. Business was good, very good. They had a small number of discreet satisfied clients.
One day Randy met a very ambitious guy; he was a friend of a trusted friend, and Randy’s normal security checks on the guy threw up nothing of concern. Any new clients would need private referrals from within his circle of contacts. Everything was going smoothly with the new guy, he saw Sparkle regularly. Then he started to ask questions. He wanted a piece of the action, ‘He had plans,’ he said. There were bigger players out there, millionaires, billionaires, ‘The sky was the limit,’ he said. Randy was more than apprehensive.
It all sounded risky.
‘We’re doing okay as we are,’ he told Rachel.
But Rachel was tempted; she was impressed by the talk of big clients, big money.
‘In just a few months we could make it big, we could get out of this place forever,’ she said. She let the guy arrange the first of his ‘international players’. All she knew about the guy with all the plans was his name, Joseph, but she was sure it wasn’t his real name.
The man was just getting into politics, local stuff, and wanted to start his own business, he was very ambitious. Said he was going places and that ‘They could all get where they wanted to go, together.’ He explained his proposal to Randy, who would still be the boss; the man would take his cut, an introduction fee. The bigger the client, the more money they would all make.
For a time all went well, business was good. Rachel suspected the clients were probably wealthy visiting politicians and dignitaries. She also realised that Joseph had his own agenda. She was never allowed to know the client’s real names or other details about them. She only usually saw them one time only. Rachel was not concerned with who they were as long as there was no trouble. Randy became more relaxed with the situation.
Until the Arab.
The man called Randy one day and said there was a very wealthy international client visiting at the weekend, he wanted Rachel to drop whatever client she had and be available for him. He would tell him the date and time, but it would be soon. He had arranged to lease a large private villa in Cascade, high on the hill overlooking the city. They would drive up there on Saturday. Rachel agreed but Randy was worried, as usual. Joseph sent a car for them; Randy followed behind in his own car, he wanted to check the place out so he knew where she was.
After driving through Belmont they turned right onto St. Ann’s going north and then right onto First, then up and up the steep windy lanes ‘til they reached the top. At the top of the lane was a dead-end. A pair of tall wrought iron security gates filled the whole width of the road. A small camera was mounted on top of the post at either side of the gate. The cameras were focussed on the approaching vehicle and Rachel noticed that they rotated and ‘tracked’ the car as they passed through the gate. The house was one of the biggest she had ever seen, it had high white walls and a terracotta-tiled roof, a beautiful modern style, with balconies at every window that had views over the city and the Caribbean Sea. As the car pulled up outside the main door Rachel got a text from Randy. ‘Call me if you need me sis,’ it said. ‘I will bro,’ she replied.
There was a big security guard - who was stood motionless on the top step by the door - dressed all in black in a jacket that looked two sizes too small for him. He walked up to the car and opened the door for Rachel. She could see a clear plastic curly-wire leading to an earpiece in his left ear and a give-away bulge by his left shoulder under his jacket. He was definitely armed, and looked pretty dangerous. She got out of the car and was led into the house ‘Follow me,’ said the guard. The car turned around in a one eighty and disappeared out of the gate. Rachel felt a little safer knowing that Randy was nearby. He had followed them right up to the house.
The guard only went as far as the main doors and another guard, who looked like a clone of the first man, took over, he was waiting inside the hall. The first guy went back to his sentry duty outside the main door. The clone showed her through to a vast, dimly lit lounge with a stylish beige leather suite of four, two-seater chairs facing each other in a square formation in the centre of the room. There was a large low marble table in the middle of the arrangement, which was adorned with a crystal vase of fresh flowers. The walls each had a piece of artwork or a painting in the middle with a miniature light above each one, just like in a gallery, Rachel thought.
A Middle Eastern man sat on the far couch smoking a huge cigar, he was talking on the phone and as he saw Rachel approach he finished the call put it down.
‘Come here my beauty,’ he said, in his strong accent.
Rachel walked over and did as she was asked and sat down on the couch next to him. The man kissed her hand and couldn’t take his eyes off Rachel, he was besotted with her beauty from the moment he first saw her. He spoke very little. His English was not so good. He showered her with gifts and affection. They drank champagne, and after about half an hour he led her to the bedroom. Rachel was nervous, frightened even, and deservedly so, he treated her roughly. Like she was some kind of toy or object. For once she was reluctant, she tried hard not to show it, but she did, in her eyes. He grew impatient and told her to do as he said, he slapped her, it wasn’t a playful slap. She knew that she would have to please him otherwise he would become even more violent and aggressive.
He took her, there was no thought for her feelings, she was his to do with how he pleased. When he had finished, despite her obvious fear, he wanted more. He told her he would take her with him back to the Middle East. Rachel said nothing, she knew it would be useless to show her emotions and refuse his advances. She was horrified at the thought of being taken away from Trinidad. She was worried that at any moment she might be drugged or locked up in readiness for being whisked somewhere far away.
When the Arab had finished and had fallen asleep Rachel went to the bathroom. She decided to text Randy. ‘Come and get me,’ she text. ‘Now?’ came a reply text. ‘Yes, as soon as you can, text me when you’re outside the gates.’ ‘Okay, be there in five minutes,’ said Randy.
The Arab was sleeping soundly. Rachel had made sure that he had drunk at least two glasses of champagne to her one.
He was dead to the world.
She unlocked the bedroom door, turning the key as quietly as she could, and crept down the stairs. It was dark outside and the clone was asleep sitting in the security room. His head was slumped back against the wall and his mouth was open. A bank of grey-screened TV monitors flickered silently. She looked through the side window next to the front door and saw that the guard outside was pacing back and forth across the gravel drive; he was talking on his cell. She would have to create a diversion, she thought. She could see the zapper remote for the main gates sitting on the wall next to the guard’s post. Her cell phone vibrated, a text from Randy came through, ‘I’m outside sis. I’m waiting.’
Rachel took off her flimsy dress and put it in her purse and set it by the front door. She roughened up her hair and took off her shoes. She ran into the security room just wearing her bra and panties and woke up the clone, prodding him, crying that ‘There’s something wrong with the boss, he’s complaining of a pain in his chest.’
She did her best to fake a worried expression and pointed to her own chest with her hand to make sure he knew exactly what she meant. He shook himself awake, grabbed his walkie-talkie and ran up the stairs. As soon as he was at the top of the stairs Rachel opened the main doors, still crying, still keeping up the act. She shouted to the outside guard and told him the same thing about the ‘boss’ upstairs. He ran inside and up the stairs. She waited a few moments for him to go out of sight and picked up her bag and shoes. She grabbed the zapper from the wall and opened the gates. She ran across the drive, the stones were cutting into her feet but she didn’t stop and saw Randy waiting there for her by the car.
‘Start the car Randy,’ she shouted. She jumped into the back seat, ‘Go, go, go,’ she said as she closed the door behind her. Randy took off as fast as he could. Rachel looked back through the rear window and saw the guards running after the car across the drive. As they reached the gates the car rounded the bend out of sight, the tyres squealing on the tarmac. The guards drew their handguns and took aim but the car was gone.
When Rachel knew they were safely away from the house she stopped looking back and sat down, she closed her eyes and let out a long sigh in sheer relief. Randy slowed the car down to a more normal pace. He watched Rachel through the rear view mirror.
‘You’re safe now Sis, it’s over.’
Rachel told Randy what had happened and then fell asleep exhausted for the rest of the journey home.
The next day Rachel got an angry call from Joseph.
‘What’s going on Rachel, why did you leave last night he was furious and threatening all kinds of shit, he would have paid you a fortune,’ he said.
‘He wanted to take me back to his ‘home’, wherever that is? Thousands of miles away in some foreign country, I don’t think I had a choice.’
‘But nothing,’ she cut him short. ‘Big money or no big money, I can’t be bought like that.’
‘So what now?’
‘What now is we’re finished, the deal’s off.’
‘Just like that?’
‘Yeah, just like that, you’ll have to find someone else, I’m going to New York.’