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A SONG FOR GLENDA

A NOVEL BY

MANNY

PANTA


This is a work of fiction. Names, character, places and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, are entirely coincidental.

A SONG FOR GLENDA Copyright © 2011 by Manny Panta Published at Smashwords ISBN 978-4660-9176-4 This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to Smashwords.com and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever. For information, please contact or e-mail the author at:mannyp8@gmail.com

COVER ARTWORK BY MANNY PANTA


PART ONE - GLENDA


JIM

How could this happen to me? Jim asked himself. Why am I here in Papeete, sharing a cramped cell with a three hundred-pound Tahitian drug dealer? Why don’t they believe me when I tell them I didn’t kill her, didn’t push her off the ship? Glenda, beautiful Glenda. Lost in the deep blue sea of Tahiti. Look what you’ve done to me.


1

TWO WEEKS AGO, ONBOARD THE M/V PLATINUM PRINCESS

From his chair onstage as first trumpet of the show band on the M/V Platinum Princess, Jim saw the woman. She sat on the second row to his right. Her jet-black hair, her red lips and the way her eyes seemed to find him at the exact moment that his own found her conspired to set his radar spinning. This was no ordinary woman. She was a goddess. Downstage, the cruise director, whose stiff body and cop stash moustache gave him the look of a gay Hitler, oozed practiced enthusiasm as he welcomed the tired-looking passengers. “Ladies and gentlemen!” he announced. “Welcome to the M/V Platinum Princess. Fun times await you on this cruise from Honolulu to Tahiti. And now, to set the mood for your South Pacific adventure, please welcome the Platinum Princess dancers in You Cruise!” Through the swirl of dancers’ limbs and fake flames of muslin and light, Jim and the woman continued sizing up each other. No one suspected that by the time the last notes of the welcome number had faded away, they had come to an understanding.


Let’s get to know each other, their eyes said. After the welcome show, Jim did not head down to the crew bar on deck two. Instead, still wearing his stage uniform of white pants and marine-blue blazer, he took the elevator up seven decks to the Star Bright Lounge. He felt – no, he knew - that she would be there. The Star Bright Lounge prominently occupied space on deck ten forward. Surrounded by hurricane-proof glass windows, the lounge provided great ocean views during the day. At night, dim lighting and strobe lights transformed it into a disco. From a low platform abutting the parquet dance floor, a Swedish duo serenaded a half-empty room with a mélange of jazzy tunes. Jim sat on a couch at the back of the lounge. The Filipina bar waitress approached him and asked him what he wanted. “Double Bourbon and coke,” he told her. When she brought back his drink, he signed his check, took a sip and waited. More passengers came into the lounge. The dancers also arrived. They had changed from their colorful show costumes into regulation blue and white uniforms. Because the M/V Platinum Princess was a relatively small ship, the dancers did additional duties as cruise staff. Tonight they were in the lounge to chat and socialize with the passengers. Jim observed that most of those who had made it to the room thus far looked like retirees well past their sell date. One of the dancers noticed Jim. Her eyes lit up when she saw him. He gave her a wave. She walked over to him. “What are you doing here, Jim?” she asked, genuinely surprised to see him in the lounge. “Hi Katya. Just chillin’ out. Care to join me?” “I can’t. I have to mingle with the passengers.” “What’s that you call it, swanning?” teased Jim. “Da,” said Katya cheerfully, ignoring the sarcasm in his voice. “Swanning it is. Look, Jim, I’m a swan!” She stood en pointe, raised her long, slender arms and let them fall gracefully down her side. Her blonde hair shone when it caught the glare of the ceiling light directly above her. Jim laughed. She poked him on the shoulder.


“I think you’re up to something,” she accused him. “Dunno what you’re talking about,” replied Jim. “You Russians are always suspicious.” “Well, I never see you here, that’s why! And, excuse me Meester Jim Fallow, I’m not Russian, I’m from the Ukraine! You forgot! You’re bad!” She gave Jim another dig on the shoulder. Jim grabbed Katya’s hand and planted a kiss on it. This flattered her but also made her nervous. She gently withdrew it from him. “Stefano’s on the Onyx,” she informed him. “We’re trying to get on the same ship together on our next contract.” “You should,” Jim agreed with her. He felt her unease. He knew it was her way of reminding him that she had committed herself to an Italian officer who at this moment was on another ship in the Caribbean. It was also her way of telling him that she wanted to forget that one night on his first week on the ship when too much drink led her to take him up and cheat on her boyfriend. Jim did not feel guilty about it. They were drunk. They made love. End of story. One of Katya’s fellow dancers waved at her from the dance floor and motioned her to come over. “I have to go now,” said Katya. “Behave. I know you’re up to something!” She wagged her index finger at him as a teacher would to a misbehaving child. “Don’t worry,” Jim assured her. “I’m not going to start World War III.” Katya giggled and walked away. Jim noted with fascination the way her ass moved to a rhythm that seemed to come easily to dancers like her: left, right, left, right... Sick! Jim laughed to himself. At that moment, the woman entered the room. She paused at the door and looked around. Jim turned slightly towards her and nearly knocked over his bourbon. A flicker of recognition crossed over her face when she saw him. Then, correcting herself, she quickly averted her eyes and walked towards the front of the lounge. She chose to sit at a table right beside the dance floor. Wasting no time, Jim picked up his drink and went over to her. “Mind if I join you?” he asked her.


The woman looked up at him. She did not seem surprised. In fact, Jim had the impression that she looked relieved. “Not at all,” she replied. He sat down on the chair across from her. At first he thought she had blue eyes, but then realized that they were, in fact, green. Her breasts rested easily against her light-blue blouse. Her smooth skin sported a pale-honey tan that suggested she spent time outdoors. “My name’s Jim.” “Glenda. I saw you in the show lounge.” “Yeah, I play the trumpet. You can’t miss me. I’m the loudest in the band, but of course the drummer will disagree with that.” “That’s funny,” she laughed. “May I ask you something, Glenda?” “Yes?” “Where did you come from?” “Guess,” she challenged him playfully. “Los Angeles?” “Try Melbourne, Australia,” she replied. “Although I’m originally from Chile.” “I thought you looked Spanish.” “My ancestors came from Spain.” “Buenos dias,” said Jim. “That’s all the Spanish I know.” “Buenas noches,” said Glenda. “That’s all right. You don’t have to speak Spanish with me.” “How has it been so far for you?” “It was hectic this morning with all the security and everything. I feel better now except for this jet lag.” “How long was your flight?” “Twelve hours.” Jim whistled. “I need a drink,” said Glenda. “Let me buy you one. What do you want?” “Chardonnay will do,” said Glenda.


Jim ordered the wine and another round of bourbon and coke for himself from the waitress. He did not see her roll her eyes as she turned to fetch his order. “I don’t see anybody with you,” Jim observed. “I’m travelling by myself,” said Glenda. So much the better, thought Jim. She will definitely need company. He noticed the diamond ring on her finger. Glenda saw Jim glance at it. “Yes, I’m married,” she said. “Is that a problem with you?” “No, Glenda,” replied Jim, “not at all.” Glenda slid the ring off and placed it in her purse. “There,” she said with a naughty smile, “that should settle it. Now only you will know.” “I won’t tell anybody,” said Jim. “And you, Jim, where are you from?” asked Glenda. “New York,” he replied. He lied. He was from Ashland, Ohio. “I love New York!” she exclaimed. “It’s a great city,” agreed Jim. “I’m curious. Why did you choose to study the trumpet?” “Oh, actually I played football but I broke my leg. I studied the trumpet while my leg was in a cast. I played in the marching band in high school and then decided to go to music school in Texas.” “How interesting,” said Glenda. “And what kind of music do you like to play?” “I like to play jazz. I tend to follow the style of Chet Baker,” he replied. “Have you heard of him?” “No,” said Glenda. “He kind of looked like James Dean.” “Ah, James Dean. Of course. So who is this Chet Baker?” “A great jazz player and singer. When you have the time, I’ll let you hear some of his music.” “I will be glad to. Where is he now?” “He died many years ago. He fell from the window of his hotel in Amsterdam. They say somebody pushed him. He was a drug addict, you know.” Glenda’s green eyes seemed to turn a shade darker when she heard this.


“That’s sad,” she said. “It is sad.” “How about you? Do you like working on this ship?” “Can’t complain. I get paid to play music and visit Hawaii and Tahiti at the same time. It sucks.” She gave out a throaty laugh. “You really are amusing,” she said. All of a sudden, her face turned solemn. “That guy in white at the bar has been staring at us,” she said. Jim looked over at the bar. He saw the guy in question. “His name’s Vicenzo,” he informed her. “He’s the staff captain.” “I don’t like him,” said Glenda. “Why do you say that?” asked Jim. “When we were in the show lounge this afternoon with our life jackets on….” “You mean, during passenger drill?” “Yes, during the drill, he walked around looking everyone up and down like a policeman. I didn’t like that. He made me nervous.” “He likes to do that,” said Jim. “He reminded me of the officer who took my father away in Chile during Allende’s time.” “Allende?” “You don’t know him?” said Glenda, surprised at Jim’s ignorance. “He was our president when I was a little girl. The army rebelled and overthrew him. They said he committed suicide but we knew better. They killed him. Anyway, they thought my father was one of Allende’s supporters. Soldiers came to our house and arrested him. Your staff captain over there, his face, the way he looked us over during boat drill…he reminded me of the officer who took my father away.” “What happened to your father?” “They freed him after one day. He would not talk about what happened to him. Many people died or disappeared. It was a bad time for Chile.” “When did this happen?” asked Jim. “Back in the seventies. Nineteen seventy three,” said Glenda.


“Way before my time,” admitted Jim. He realized that if she was old enough to remember the events she described down to the face of the arresting officer, she would be in her forties now. She would be at least ten years older than him. She certainly didn’t look it. If she hadn’t told him that little bit of history, he would have thought she was around his age. He returned Vicenzo’s stare with a smile. The officer did not reciprocate and looked away coldly. The waitress came back to the table and brought the chardonnay. Jim signed the bill and thanked her. He noticed the staff captain looking intently at the waitress as she made her way back to the bar. Jim knew that she was his girlfriend. He said something curt to her and she replied in kind. Ah, amore! thought Jim gleefully. “Here’s to your cruise,” said Jim, raising his bourbon to Glenda. “And here’s to you, Jim, Mr. Chet Baker!” Glenda replied, delicately grasping the stem of the wine glass with her now ringless hand. The Swedish duo struck up a cruise ship perennial, Miami Sound Machine’s Conga. It seemed to rouse Glenda out of her jetlagged condition. She began moving her chest in time to the music. The action revealed a little bit more of her cleavage, much to Jim’s quiet appreciation. “Dance with me?” Glenda asked Jim. “I don’t think so,” Jim demurred. If there was one activity that he felt such at klutz at, it was dancing. “I’m going anyway,” said Glenda. She stood up and joined the cruise staff and passengers who were already twirling on the dance floor. At first, she moved in a zone of her own, oblivious to the looks she attracted from the men in the room. She lifted her arms like a flamenco dancer, her hips moving with the easy seductive rhythm that Latin American women seemed to fall easily into. The other dancers circled her like captive planets caught in the orbit of a bright, pulsing star. When they finished playing the salsa, the duo segued into The Electric Slide. The dancers fell in line and clapped their hands as they performed the predictable movements of the banal dance. Jim groaned. He hated the song. His first instinct was to flee, but he remained glued to his chair, unable to take his eyes off Glenda. Her sensuous moves on the dance floor, even


to a song he loathed, transfixed him. He was determined to know her more intimately in the days to come. After the dance, Glenda rejoined Jim at the table. Katya and a male dancer, Dickie, came trailing behind her. “You dance wonderfully, Glenda,” proclaimed Katya. “Yes, indeed,” Dickie chimed in. He had pale skin and a pleasant face framed by rabbity ears. Whenever he smiled, his teeth glowed unnaturally white in the dim light of the room. He glanced furtively at Jim. Jim winked back at him. “Where’d you learn to dance like that?” asked Katya. “Back in Chile, although home for me now is Melbourne,” said Glenda. “Oh you’re from Melbourne? I’m from Brisbane!” crowed Dickie. “We have a vineyard in the Yarra Valley,” Glenda said. “Super!” said Dickie. “Can I come visit?” “By all means,” said Glenda. “You must all visit Toller Vineyard.” Seeing Jim hanging out with Glenda, Katya immediately understood why he was in the lounge that evening. She gave Jim a look that said: Now I know why you’re here instead of at the crew bar! “Well,” Katya declared, “we must be off now. Meet and greet the passengers! Do svidaniya, Glenda. Come on, Deekie!” “Nice talking to you Glenda!” said Dickie. He stole another glance at Jim. Jim ignored him. The two dancers glided away towards the other side of the room. A faint smile played on Glenda’s lips. “That was enough dancing for me,” she declared as she stifled a yawn. “I’m going back to my cabin. It’s been a long day.” She took one last sip of the wine and stood up to leave. “Do you want me to accompany you to your cabin?” Jim offered as he rose up with her. Glenda hesitated a moment, then said: “Sure, why not? My cabin’s on deck eight.” They walked out of the lounge towards the elevator landing. The elevator opened and they stepped inside. As the doors closed, Glenda took Jim by the hand and whispered: “Kiss me, Jim.” Startled, Jim leaned down to meet her lips. He felt her warm breath on his cheek and tasted


the chardonnay in her mouth. His tongue darted to meet hers. The kiss lasted barely a minute, but it was enough to throw Jim off balance. He had thought that the process of seducing her would take some time and that he would be the one to make the first move. This night was going even better than he had expected. He tried to suppress a grin from passing over his face. The elevator door opened on deck eight. They went out, turned a corner and encountered a trolley laden with towels and toiletry. It stood parked beside the open door of Glenda’s cabin. A stewardess came out carrying a towel in her hand. She smiled at Glenda and threw a questioning look at Jim. “I was putting in fresh towels for you, ma’am,” said the stewardess. “I’m sorry for being so late.” “That’s okay,” said Glenda. Jim stood back to allow the stewardess to pass. Glenda turned to Jim and said: “I’ll see you tomorrow. Maybe at breakfast?” “Okay, Glenda,” said Jim. With the stewardess looking on, he found it prudent not to press his luck. Ship’s rules did not forbid him from sharing a drink with a passenger in any of the lounges. On the other hand, if he entered a passenger’s cabin for no special reason, the Captain would disembark him at the next port. There was no appeal. Once he fired you, you went. Jim was not about to let the stewardess report him to her supervisor. It was too early for that. The stewardess stood watching him discreetly from the far end of the corridor. He waved at her. She gave him a half-hearted smile. He took the stairs to the ship’s lobby on deck four. Nobody manned the reception desk at that late hour. He opened the fire door that divided the passenger area from the musicians’ quarters and went into the cabin he shared with the saxophone player, a Polish guy named Szymanowski. Everyone called him Sym for short. Some wag in the band started calling them “The JimSym Horn Section.” “Jeem, my friend, what have you been up to?” Sym greeted him. He was sitting up half-naked on his lower bunk bed with the blanket drawn up to his paunch. He was reading Maxim’s. “Nothing,” said Jim.


“Nothing?” “No-thing,” repeated Jim emphatically. “Ah but a little bird told me you were in the lounge tonight with a very nice-looking lady, vavavoom, eh?” “You’re fast,” said Jim drily. “Who told you, the bartender? Don’t you Poles have anything else to talk about?” “Ah,” said Sym, “this is a small ship, my friend! Everybody knows already what you’re gonna do before you do it. Just be careful, passenger you know.” “Thanks for the warning, asshole,” Jim riposted. Sym chuckled. Ordinarily he would punch anyone who said that to him, but from his American roommate the word was almost a term of endearment. Despite their occasional bickering onstage as the only horns on the ship’s seven-piece band, he liked Jim mainly because he recognized him for the excellent horn player that he was. Jim undressed to his boxers and hung his uniform in the closet. He lifted himself up to the top bunk in one bound and breathed out a sigh as he sank back into his pillow. He could still feel Glenda’s warm breath and the sensation of her tongue darting against his. He replayed the moment over and over again until he fell asleep. Once, he awoke with a start and thought he heard Glenda calling out to him, but it was only Sym snoring like a clogged saxophone.


2

ASHLAND, OHIO, ONE YEAR AGO

“Jim?” said the caller on the other side of the phone. He knew that voice. Carl. A classmate from North Texas U. A pianist. It had been years since he’d last heard from him. “Carl? What’s up? How did you get my number?” “I asked around,” said Carl. “What have you been up to?” “Nothing much,” said Jim. “Doing computer work mostly.” “That’s great! How’s the scene down there?” “Not too good. You know how it is.” “Sure do,” said Carl. Four years ago, Jim had graduated from North Texas University with a degree in jazz performance, major in trumpet. He had come out of school overflowing with boundless


optimism. He was ready to conquer the jazz world. Everyone who knew him told him he would. The only problem was nobody told the world about him. There were the charity gigs that provided him free meals and free beer for his efforts and not much else. There were the clubs that paid him fifty dollars or less per gig. He considered himself lucky whenever he was able to nab a playing chair at the few corporate functions that still paid well. Karaoke and the lousy economy made sure hiring musicians was the farthest thing from people’s minds when they planned parties. For him, as well as for most other musicians, the money was bad. Then there was the birth of his son, Joshua. A month after splitting up with his girlfriend, Marla, he received a call from her. “I’m pregnant,” she told him.”I know it’s yours because I’ve not been seeing anyone.” This news stunned him. One night of wild, desperate lovemaking intended to salvage a deteriorating relationship had the unintended result of producing a bouncing baby boy that would ironically bind him to Marla forever. “Accidents happen,” Toby, his father, told him. “Deal with it.” They named the baby Joshua after the U2 album. They didn’t discuss the possibility of getting back together for the sake of the child. They had grown too far apart for that. Although he no longer cared for Marla, Jim made it his personal mission to be a good father and provider for Joshua. Faced with a dearth of steady music work, he applied as a computer technician at the local CompUSA. The company hired him. Four years and two girlfriends later, he was still putting in time at the computer store. It was good and steady work. The more time he devoted to repairing computers, the less time he found for music. His trumpet, resting snugly in its velvet-lined case, often lay untouched in his closet. Sometimes he’d play weekend gigs. The money he received was barely enough to pay for his gas. He would go for weeks without touching his trumpet. At such times he could feel the music die in him. He had yet to find a music gig that was worth quitting his computer job. Now, Jim listened attentively to a friend from university. “I need a horn player,” Carl was saying. “My trumpet player quit yesterday and the tour starts in ten days time.” “What’s the tour for?” asked Jim.


“Lindy Hop. We play swing tunes for a bunch of competition dancers. We start in Los Angeles, hit twelve cities and end up in New York. One night stands, but it’ll be worth your while.” “How much is pay?” “Three hundred per performance. Interested?” Lindy Hop. It could be worse, he thought. I could be fixing computers. “Do you need an answer now, or can you wait a day or two? I need to think this over.” “I need an answer by tomorrow. We’ll be doing Europe too.” Europe. He’d only been to Germany once, with his high school marching band. That was a lot of fun. “Tell you what,” said Jim. “I’m going to say yes.” “You don’t want to think this over?” “Naah, it’ll be all right.” “We’ll rehearse in Los Angeles. Is there anybody you can stay with in LA? I can put you up at my place for a couple of days if you don’t have anyone.” Jim thought quickly. His uncle, Fred had been living in Los Angeles for as long as he can remember, in a place called Norwalk. He ran a small used-car dealership there. He could stay with him. This would be a chance to see him again. “Yes, there’s somebody I know in LA.” “We meet next week, Monday. You only need to pay for your airfare this one time. After that, we’ll be riding a tour bus. I’ll email you the details.” “I’ll be there,” said Jim. Informing CompUSA of his decision to quit did not turn out to be as dramatic as he thought it would be. If anything, Dave, his boss, was encouraging. “Sure,” said Dave. “Take the time off. I’d hate to lose you, but it’s no big deal. I’ve got you covered.” “I just feel this is a good opportunity for me to play professionally again,” Jim explained. “Hey, you’re a musician. I’d do the same thing if I were you.” “If things don’t work out…” “If things don’t work out, you’re welcome back here. Of course I can't guarantee it.”


“I understand,” Jim agreed. It wasn’t so easy explaining his decision to Marla. “What about us? What about Joshua?” she complained. “I’m going to send you the money, same as always.” “You have a steady job and you’re going back to gigging? Remember how it was?” She didn’t need to remind him. Joshua was now four years old. He wasn’t too worried about him now that he was more or less grown. For him, the tour was a call back to doing the thing he loved most: playing music. “The tour pays well. Dave told me I can have my job back when I return.” They were in her apartment. Joshua sat on the sofa, staring at the TV screen and mouthing along to the songs on “Sesame Street”. “I was just thinking,” continued Marla, “you’d be lucky to get a job in this recession. Now you’re leaving a stable one? Aren’t you thinking only about yourself?” “Do you know when I last picked up the trumpet, Marla?” said Jim “Six months ago. I need to get out and be a musician again.” “And after the tour is over, what are you going to do?” demanded Marla. Her voice was getting shriller ever minute. “There will be other gigs. Or I can go back to fixing computers.” “I don’t know…” said Marla doubtfully. Jim stared at the woman facing him across the kitchen table. He no longer saw the perky, blonde cheerleader that he fell in love with in high school, the one who followed him around because he was a cool trumpet player. All he saw now was a whining stranger, all traces of happiness gone from her unmade-up face. That’s it, he told himself. I’m not going to hear anymore of your lecturing. We’re not married. I can do what I want. “Well,” he said as he stood up and noisily pushed back his chair, “I’ve already made up my mind. I’m going. Get a rich boyfriend if you want.” Marla gave him a hurt look. “I might just do that,” she sniffed.


Jim gritted his teeth and went over to Joshua. He playfully mussed up his son’s hair. Joshua had sandy hair like his father. When he looked up, he saw Marla’s hazel eyes. When he smiled, a single dimple on his right cheek was the exact mirror of his own, something which Jim always used to good advantage when luring possible conquests. “Bye, buddy!” Jim said. “Bye, daddy!” said Joshua. Jim picked him up and gave him a hug and a kiss. “Are you going somewhere, daddy?” asked Joshua. “Yes,” answered Jim, “but only for a little while.” “OK, daddy” said Joshua. Jim put him back down on the sofa. He left without bothering to say goodbye to Marla. He was afraid that if he did, one look at her face would only arouse his guilt and make him change his mind.


3

By the sixteenth repeat of the chorus of It Don’t Mean A Thing in as many shows, Jim knew he had had it. He wanted out of Carl’s Helzapoppin’ Lindy Hop All-Stars Band. It all started on a positive note. He had phoned his uncle Fred and asked if he could stay with him for a week in Los Angeles. The old man was happy to accommodate him. “Come on over, son,” Fred had told him. “ Of course you can stay with me. Stay as long as you want.” Fred was his father’s younger brother. A combination of hurt egos and family quarrels had driven Fred away from Ashland. A failed marriage didn’t help either. Fred’s wife had eloped with their pastor to Costa Rica. His response was to flee to California and find work as a mechanic in a Los Angeles car lot. He eventually took over the business and found himself another woman named Claire. He never went back to Ashland. Fred met Jim at the American Eagle Terminal in the Los Angeles Airport. The strapping, blond and blue-eyed Fred that Jim knew in the past had been replaced by a whitehaired old man in his late sixties who walked with a slight stoop. Jim was glad that, despite the number of years they hadn’t seen each other, Fred was still his cheerful and welcoming self. “Jim, m’boy!” Fred hailed his nephew. “You’ve really grown! Last time I saw you, you were still in high school!” “You don’t look too bad yourself, Fred!” complimented Jim. “Listen, I didn’t have a chance to tell you how sorry I am about Claire.”


“That’s okay, son, I’m not holding it against you. I’m sure if she was here she’d say the same thing. “ “Did she suffer?” “The doctors gave her morphine towards the end. Cancer is the cruelest disease.” A look of sadness fell over Fred’s face momentarily as he reflected on his wife, gone six months now. Then he brightened up and said: “But it’s okay. I have a pen pal now from the Philippines. Her name’s Cynthia. I tried to get her to come over here but US immigration’s a pain in the neck. Looks like I may have to go there myself and check her out. Ah, but you’re here! Welcome to LA!” They went to the car park. “We’re riding a Jeep Cherokee,” proclaimed Fred. “We still manage to sell a few of these old gas guzzlers.” As they sped to Norwalk on the I-105, Fred and Jim talked of family and friends back in Ashland. “Why don’t you come visit Ashland again, Fred?” asked Jim. “Don’t need to. Your father’s been to visit me a few times. I’d rather go to Cabo San Lucas,” replied Fred. “Can’t blame you,” Jim agreed. “So how long are you staying with me before your band goes on the road?” “Two or three days. There’s not a whole lot to rehearse.” “I’d ask you to ditch this tour and stay here in LA, sell cars and make some real money, but I know already what your answer is.” “Yeah, you got me there. I can’t back out from this tour.” “Following in the footsteps of Chet Baker, as always, are you?” commented Fred, giving Jim a wry smile. “I remember you used to dig him a lot way back when.” “Still do,” said Jim, “although I’ll pass on falling off a window.”

***


Jim’s rehearsals with Carl’s band followed the day after his arrival in Los Angeles. He met Carl and the members of his band at the Star Dancer Ballroom, a rental hall two blocks off Colorado Boulevard in downtown Glendale. Carl was still the sandy-haired, reed-thin pianist Jim knew back in university. At that time Carl was obsessed with Bill Evans and Schoenberg. Now, his talk was all about swing and lindy hop. “I thought you hated Glenn Miller, Carl,” Jim reminded him. Carl laughed airily. “Not when I get paid beaucoup bucks to play his music, Jim,” he replied. The mirrored walls of the ballroom echoed with the snappy strains of Stompin’ At The Savoy, 12 O’Clock Jump, Charleston and other familiar swing tunes. Easy, Jim thought. What wasn’t so easy for him was the maroon faux-velvet jacket that he, along with the other members of the band, was required to wear. “Do I have to wear this jacket?” he asked Carl. “I’m afraid so, Jim,” said Carl. “Didn’t I tell you about this?” “You did mention that I had to wear a stage uniform, but I didn’t know I’d be looking like a cardinal.” “My fans expect my band to wear those jackets. Is that a problem?” Jim considered Carl’s question. Here he was on the cusp of a big lindy hop tour. Was he willing to abandon this gig because he didn’t like the jacket? And what happened to Carl anyway? Was this the same earnest jazz pianist he knew back in North Texas U, the one who thought that Burt Bacharach was a hack and Bill Evans was a god? What made him go completely off the deep end where the music didn’t matter anymore as much as the money it earned him? Then again, shouldn’t he, Jim Fallow, be grateful that Carl had bothered to offer him this job at all? He had signed up for the tour. His son was enough reason for him to stick with it. There was no turning back, at least for now. “No,” admitted Jim. “It’s no problem at all.”

***


Palm Springs, Phoenix, Tucson, Dallas, Knoxville, Little Rock. The cities they visited were a noisy blur of dancers who cartwheeled to the same swing tunes. Not to be outdone, the audiences did their best to drown out the music with their screaming. The band stayed in cheap motels and played in towns and cities that, with a few exceptions, were indistinguishable from each other - from the Wal-Mart sign lording it over huge parking lots to the corner Seven Elevens manned by Indians and Pakistanis. Jim admitted that there were times when the energy and excitement on the dance floor infected the members of the band and gave them a happy buzz. He found Carl to be a kind, if eccentric, bandleader. The erstwhile jazz fiend had taken to wearing rhinestone-studded blazers and sporting huge cubic-zirconia rings on his fingers á la Liberace. He was amazed at the huge following his classmate had garnered in the lindy hop circuit. Carl knew what tunes to call to keep the people moving and dancing. Naturally, his tacky costumes contributed to his success. By the time the band made it to Washington, D.C., well into the second month of the tour, Jim had made up his mind to quit the band. He told Carl about it. “I thought you looked unhappy the past few days,” said Carl. “I know this isn’t your cup of tea, Jim, but what gig pays you this much nowadays? You can practically play these songs in your sleep.” “That’s the problem,” said Jim. “I can.” “And it pays the bills,” added Carl, ignoring the irony in Jim’s voice. “Think about it. Think about your family, your son.” “I know that,” said Jim, “but this isn’t what I want to do anymore. Remember the jam sessions we used to have back at North Texas? Those were fun!” Carl shrugged. “This is my life now, Jim,” he said. “So what’s wrong with playing music that people can dance to? I’m so over the idea that the only music worth playing is the one that you enjoy playing whether or not you have an audience for it. Playing lindy hop has been good to me. It’s given me a house and pool in Los Angeles. What do you have?”


Jim couldn’t answer that one. He had been renting an apartment and had given that up before he left on the tour. He was going to have to stay with his parents when he returned to Ashland. “I hear you Carl,” he said, “but I don’t think I can continue past New York.” Carl gave Jim a look halfway between insulted and resigned. “Why don’t you stay in New York for a while then?” he suggested. “You can get your jazz fix there if you hang around long enough.” “I’ll think about it,” said Jim. “Until New York then,” said Carl. “In church.” “Church?” “St. Jean Baptiste Church. That’s where the New York Dance Society holds its danceoffs.”


4

BROOKLYN – ONE MONTH LATER

The rooftop of the brownstone on 220 1st street was quiet when Jim set foot on it at eight in the evening. A young man sat on a fan-backed wicker chair, a young woman comfortably seated on his lap, her arms lazily wrapped around his neck. A carton of beer lay propped against a back wall. A fat July moon had already lifted itself up into the evening sky. It shone yellowly through a filter of city haze. “Am I early?” asked Jim. “Not really,” said the young man. “Everybody’s late. The fireworks won’t start till nine.” Jim gazed at the panorama of a lit-up Manhattan skyline before him. To his left, bright vapor lamps traced the contour of the Williamsburg Bridge. In the distance, the upper spire of the Empire State building, all lighted up in patriotic red, white and blue, thrust showily up into the night sky. A jumble of lights signaled the presence of skyscrapers that rose helter-


skelter in the distance like stacks of a gigantic Lego project. Viewed from a rooftop in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Manhattan tonight was a magical sight. “Have a beer,” said the young man, indicating the carton. “Help yourself.” Jim extracted a beer, twisted the cap open and took a gulp. “Thanks,” he said. He turned to gaze at the light display of Manhattan. The road to this rooftop from the time he quit Carl’s band had been a short one. Carl’s band went to Europe without him. “I hope you find what you’re looking for,” were Carl’s parting words to him. Carl was able to get a replacement for Jim on short notice but he was still visibly pissed off. Jim’s vow not to compromise musically turned out to be temporary. He needed a job and none was immediately forthcoming in the jazz capital of the world. He found out soon enough that brilliant trumpet players were a dime a dozen in New York City. If he was a god in Ashland, he was a minnow in the city that never slept. He scrounged like hundreds of other musicians for the few paying jobs available to the likes of him. Jim had saved enough money from the tour to send back home to Josh and Marla. He rented a small room with a shared bath in a hostel in the Bronx for one hundred fifty a week. He figured he could stay in New York City for two months tops before the money ran out. He needed a gig fast. This was why he was on this rooftop in Williamsburg tonight. Four weeks had passed without the glimpse of a job. He had scoured Craigslist and the wanted ads of the Village Voice. As usual, bar owners everywhere wanted to hire musicians for no pay. It was next to impossible getting a position in a Broadway orchestra. He considered and rejected the notion of applying as a waiter at a pastry shop in the Village. He applied as a technician in several computer stores but they were either laying off employees or were not taking any more applicants. He sat in on several jazz jams in Brooklyn that paid nothing. It was déjà vu time. It was in one of these jams that he met a Jamaican named Al. Al was a drummer. “Yo, man, you be smokin’,” Al complimented him after a spirited rendition of I Shot the Sheriff. “You be playin’ anywhere in town aside from messin’ round here?” “Still lookin’, Al,” said Jim. “Still lookin’.”


“Listen, have you thought of playing cruise ships? Pay’s ok. I just got back from one. We played mostly on deck. You’re a horn man. You can play in the show band.” Jim knew this moment would come. He had always known of cruise ships but resisted applying to work on them. He knew fellow musicians who had accepted cruise ship jobs. Some swore never to return. Others thought playing on cruise ships was the best thing they’d ever done. Back home in Ohio, he was earning steady money as a computer technician. This gave him the luxury of not considering putting his backside on a ship musician’s chair. Now, he thought, maybe it was time to change his tune. He had to do something for himself, for Joshua. A cruise ship job was the answer. If he wound up hating the music he had to play onboard just as he did on the lindy hop tour, he would at least be going on what amounted to a paid vacation. “Do you have an agent?” asked Jim. “Yeah,” replied Al. “He’s a guy in town who hires for the main office in Los Angeles. His name’s Ben Rubio.” Jim had heard of Ben. “I’ll give you his phone number,” said Al. “Give him a call and he’ll set you up. Tell him I recommended you.” Jim called the number Al gave him. An answering machine asked him to leave his contact number. He left it. The next day, he received a call from Ben Rubio. He was interested in meeting him. “Are you doing anything fourth of July?” asked Ben. “I might go to Battery Park,” said Jim. “Why don’t you go instead to Williamsburg? I’m giving a rooftop party there. There’ll be a jazz jam. You could play for me then. That’ll serve as your audition. Be there at eightish.” Ben gave him the address.

***


The guests who had assembled at the rooftop for the fireworks viewing and jazz jam party were mainly jobless musicians. Ben Rubio sure has his work cut out for him, Jim noted. Al the Jamaican arrived lugging his cymbal case. “Glad to see you here, my man!” he greeted Jim enthusiastically. He gave him a chest bump. “We be jammin’ on this rooftop,” he chortled. “I love New York!” he yelled. He sounded delirious, as if this was the first time he’d seen the panorama of rooftops and buildings of the city from this vantage point. Ben Rubio arrived just as the fireworks started. Despite his name, Ben turned out to be a heavy-set Jew of about sixty, with a gut that threatened to spill out of his Armani shirt. He had huffed and puffed heavily up eight floors to the rooftop. Jim thought his heart would give out from the effort. “So you’re Jim,” said Ben between gasps for air. “Let’s hear you after the fireworks.”

***

Red, white and blue and all the sparks in between: this was Fourth of July over Manhattan. For close to an hour, fireworks burst above the city in a rapid and seemingly endless succession of brilliant fire-falls and mini-supernovas. It almost looked like the city was undergoing a bombardment. From where they stood, they couldn’t hear the sounds of the explosions. This was Jim’s first Fourth of July in New York City. He was impressed. “Look at that, Jim,” Ben pointed out the fireworks in the distance. “Isn’t that just an amazing sight? Take that, bin Laden!” The jazz jam that followed the fireworks revealed to Jim the quality of out-of-work musicians in New York. There was Pancho, the bass player from Colombia. He had been a recording artist in his country, playing with the biggest names over there. He had decided to test out the music scene in New York and was now stuck as an overstaying alien. There was Terry, a forty-year old guitarist from Dublin who played like Eric Clapton and played the Celtic harp for good measure. He had also stayed past the expiration date of his tourist visa. Then there was Al, the drummer from Jamaica, who luckily had obtained a green card by marrying a Brooklynite whom he seduced in Ocho Rios. There was a smattering of


Canadians and Asians in the crowd, some of them web designers based in Brooklyn and Soho. The jazz jam did not take very long. Jim was able to put in his horn solos in just two numbers when a New York police officer, summoned by an irate neighbor, came rushing up the stairs. “We’ve got a noise complaint about your party here,” announced the officer. “Am I not allowed to have a party on this roof, officer?” Ben protested, his eyes bulging in outrage. “There is a noise abatement program in this neighborhood, sir!” replied the officer firmly. “Ya got a permit?” “No,” said Ben. “Then you’re done here. Next time ask the landlord for permission.” “I am the landlord!” said Ben indignantly. “Then shame on you, sir!” said the officer. He did not leave until the musicians had packed up their instruments and broken down the audio equipment. Jim had been watching Ben’s jazz jam fiasco, first with alarm, then with amusement. He was getting a feel for what Ben Rubio was: a loud, brash, typical New Yorker, not at all the stuffy, oily agent he expected him to be. He liked him. When the officer had left, Ben turned to Jim and said: “I think you’ll do great on the Platinum Princess. They need a trumpet player there. They will want you to sign on for six months at least. Can you do that?” “Where does it go?” asked Jim. “Hawaii to Tahiti. Interested?” “Sure,” said Jim. “What do I have to do?” “Get your passport and your medical and I’ll get you your contract. Call my secretary for details tomorrow. Pass me a beer, will you?” Jim already had a passport. He had obtained it in anticipation of his aborted trip with Carl’s band to Europe. Now he needed only the medical. He fetched a beer for Ben. They leaned over the wall of the rooftop, watching the remaining haze from the fireworks slowly dissipating into the night sky above Manhattan. “Do you really own this building, Ben?” asked Jim.


“Of course not!” Ben laughed. “I just tried that out on him, see if he was gonna bite. Fucking NYPD!”

***

Two weeks after the aborted jam session on the Willamsburg rooftop, Jim found himself flying to Honolulu, courtesy of Platinum Cruises. A ship’s agent met him at the airport and directed him to a van that would bring him to his hotel, the Honolulu Marriott. “You’ll be joining the ship tomorrow,” she informed Jim. “Pick-up time tomorrow is at seven AM sharp. Enjoy your evening in Honolulu!” Jim’s hotel room had a balcony with a view of Diamond Head. He opened the sliding door and went outside to take in the scenery. Things had happened fast: the confirmation of his contract to play for six months on the M/V Platinum Princess, the visit to a clinic in Queens for his medical certification, the flight to Los Angeles and then on to Hawaii. Twelve hours ago he was lugging his suitcase and gig bag through JFK airport. Now here he was on the balcony of a deluxe hotel, his eyes drinking in the panorama of an extinct volcano rising above the skyscrapers and palm trees of Honolulu. He looked at his watch. It was eight pm. He was hungry. He went down to the lobby and ordered dinner at the restaurant. He paid for his meal with a voucher that the ship’s agent had given him. Afterwards, he went out into the street, turned left and soon found himself on Waikiki Beach. “I like this life!” he said to himself as he felt a warm Hawaiian breeze caress his tired, jet-lagged body. ***

At seven the next morning, a van picked him up. Jim and other joining crewmembers piled into the van. They came from all over the world: the Philippines, Britain, Italy, Eastern Europe. Some were veteran crewmembers who were rejoining the ship and showed an air of nonchalance. Others who, like him, were new to the experience displayed a mixture of excitement and apprehension on their faces.


The van deposited the crewmembers at the entrance to Honolulu’s main cruise ship terminal, Aloha Towers. Jim declared his bags to the security officer and showed him his passport. The security officer opened and read it. “American, huh?” he remarked. “Pretty unusual for this ship.” “Why is that?” Jim asked. “Oh, these cruise ships hire mainly foreigners. Just look around you.” Jim saw what he meant. He saw Italians, British, Filipinos and Indians checking in their luggage for inspection. The crew waiting to board the ship could not have been more international. “So where are you from?” asked the officer. “Ohio.” “What do you do on the ship?” “I’m a musician.” “What’s your instrument?” “Trumpet.” The officer handed back the passport to Jim. “Aloha and make some good music,” he said. “Thanks,” said Jim. He fell in with the other crewmembers who were now lining up to board the ship. At the gangway, he had to surrender again his bags for inspection, this time by ship’s security. Inwardly Jim cursed. Were the inspections never going to end? Thank you, Osama bin-Laden, he muttered. Inside the ship, a woman in an officer’s uniform led the joiners to a small room one deck down from the gangway. This was a room with shelves of liquor peeking through steel shutters. A round parquet floor, chairs, tables and the smell of stale cigarette smoke and beer completed Jim’s impression that this was a much-used bar. A young man in an equally official uniform had everyone sign his name twice on a giant ledger. After Jim signed his name, the man told him: “Now you’re officially signed into the Platinum Princess!” That afternoon, he rehearsed with the band. The band and the ship itself was a veritable United Nations. Just like college, but with more Asians, he thought. He had signed on for six months. He would be seeing the islands of Hawaii and Tahiti. If there was any downside to


this job, he did not see any hint of it yet. The warm tropical air, the palm-studded shores, the white-sand beaches and impossibly blue seas of the Pacific gradually washed away any lingering memories he had of Carl and his Helzapoppin’ Lindy Hop All-Stars Band, the dreary, bum-filled streets of New York, and the distant complicated relationships he left behind in Ashland, Ohio. Only Joshua remained bright and shining in his mind, and even then, he too faded away, for now.


5

At one hundred and twenty tons, the M/V Platinum Princess was a midget among the current crop of mega-cruise ships. It had a maximum capacity of seven hundred passengers and a crew of five hundred. Statistically, the ratio of crew to passengers was almost one to one. The ship had six lifeboats and twenty life rafts. On a two-week cruise, everyone on the ship, passenger and crew alike, got to know each other pretty well. After the first few days of relative anonymity, they even managed to greet each other by name. The flush of excitement Jim experienced on first arriving on the ship ebbed away when he learned that he was obliged to attend boat drills, safety courses and various lectures indoctrinating him on how to serve the ship’s passengers. Moreover, playing along with backing tracks to the ship’s four production shows mortified him. To him it was an experience indistinguishable from playing along to a record. At least in Carl’s band, he did not have to follow the sound of a click on an earpiece. Adding to his doubts was the cramped windowless cabin he shared with Sym, his Polish roommate. Sym was a short stocky man past fifty. A lifetime of scowling seemed to have scoured his Slavic face so thoroughly that he started to resemble less a saxophone player than an unhappy bulldog. He had a ruddy complexion, the result not of exposure to the sun but to the effects of drinking vodka. When he became drunk, he would become argumentative, extolling his own musicianship and expressing scorn for the American musicians who don’t know any tunes. “I know one thousand tunes!” Sym would boast to Jim.


“I know one thousand and one,” Jim would counter cheekily. This would temporarily piss off Sym, who would sulk for a few minutes and then just as quickly recover. As a peace offering, he would produce a bottle of vodka he had stashed on the shelf above their common writing desk. He would press Jim to drink along with him. By the third round of vodka, all was well between the two of them. Then there was Staff Captain Vicenzo Pomodoro.

***

Staff Captain Vicenzo Pomodoro had always wanted to be a seaman. In his hometown of La Spezia in Italy, young men like him took to sailing as naturally as the Swiss took to skiing or Texans to cow poking. The blood of generations of seafaring Ligurians, past defenders of the once-mighty principality of Genoa, ran in his veins. In 1999, he graduated near the top of his class at the Instituto Maritimo in Genoa. He had been a serious student and swore off the sunny irresponsibility of the Italian south in favor of the businesslike earnestness of the north. The sea was his life and he was going to take it seriously just as his ancestors did. A three-year stint with the Italian Navy followed during which the majority of his time was spent hauling African boat refugees into their navy boat. In 2002 he applied at Platinum Cruises and was immediately designated First Officer. From there it was a short hop to making Staff Captain. By this time, he already knew the risks of sailing. Bad weather and norovirus aside, fire was the number one cause of ship’s fatalities. Human recklessness and stupidity always figured in ships’ accidents. He was sworn to prevent those accidents. He knew that the ship’s first line of defense was the crew. A safe ship depended on crew who knew what to do in case of an emergency. It was his job to drill them repeatedly until their responses became automatic. Any crewmember who showed less than perfect knowledge of the mechanics of an emergency drill faced his wrath and, in the more egregious cases, outright dismissal. The Captain and Platinum Cruises expected nothing less from him. Vicenzo also knew from experience that musicians were a happy-go-lucky bunch who did not fit in with ship life. He made it a point to make sure that they knew what he thought


of them: slackers who needed to pay attention during drills and ship’s exercises as if their very lives and jobs depended on it. When the new musician from the USA arrived, Vicenzo sensed trouble. One look at his pretty-boy face, his six-foot frame and the way his gray eyes glazed over during the safety lectures and demonstrations told him as much. When he learned that not three days into his first week on the ship this musician had a fling with Katya, one of the ship’s dancers, he almost choked with indignation. Certainly, there was nothing wrong with a musician having an affair with a crewmember. What was wrong was that Katya was the fiancée of an Italian officer currently assigned to another ship. That officer was his cousin, Stefano. The musician, Vicenzo decided, was trouble indeed.

***

It didn’t take long for Jim to realize that the Staff Captain had a beef with him. He found this roundly confirmed when, while inspecting the line of crewmembers standing at attention on deck for boat drill, Vicenzo stopped in front of him. Jim was wearing his regulation neon-orange life jacket. He also had on a pair of Ray-Bans. It was his shades that caught Vicenzo’s attention. “Take off you sunglasses!” Vicenzo barked. “You are trying to look ‘cool’, eh? You need perfect vision in a real emergency, sir!” Jim had worn the glasses to protect his eyes from the glare of the blazing South Pacific sun. He slowly took them off, revealing bloodshot eyes that bore telltale evidence of his late nights at the crew bar. “Look at those red eyes, eh? Too much fun in the crew bar! Too much alcohol means we breathalyze you, eh? But not today.” Jim just stared at the staff captain. He fumed at the unwanted remarks and embarrassed by his humiliation in front of the other crewmembers who, after all, were his fellow imbibers at the crew bar. Vicenzo muttered something in Italian. The look of disgust on his face told Jim that they weren’t flattering words. The staff captain shook his head and moved on.


“I don’t know why this officer seems to hate me,” Jim confessed to Sym later. “Seems like I can never do anything right.” “Jeem, you know is none of my business, but you and that dancer, Katya, ok?” said Sym. “What about her?” asked Jim. “She has boyfriend, Italian officer, not on this ship, he on another. That officer is friend of staff captain.” So that was it, thought Jim. The staff captain was mad at him for his one-night stand with a dancer. “Fuck him,” said Jim.

***

In spite of his uneasiness with boat drills and his problematic relationship with Vicenzo, Jim enjoyed his excursions into the ship’s ports of call. Growing up in his snow-bound Midwestern city of Ashland, Ohio, he regarded Tahiti and Hawaii as so exotic and remote as to be out of reach. When he finally made it to the islands courtesy of his current gig, the pleasure he felt came almost as a shock to his system. He reveled in the warm weather and the white sandy shores of Tahiti and Waikiki. He strolled through Matira beach in Bora Bora and flirted with the European tourists who lolled topless on the sand. He found it ironic that, compared to the uninhibited Europeans, the local women were more modest, oftentimes plunging into the sea fully clad in their pareos. Gazing at the turquoise lagoon of Bora Bora, he now understood why Christian Fletcher and his crew on the HMS Bounty mutinied and voted to stay on the islands for as long as they could. This was paradise. He was determined to enjoy the islands and keep away from Vicenzo as much as possible. That wasn’t always possible of course because of their incessant boat drills, but he vowed to keep a low profile and avoid the attention of the Italian officer. He did not reckon with the arrival of Glenda. He did not know, nor could he predict, that his affair with her would lead him to a very public kind of hell.


6

Blue skies over the island of Raiatea greeted Jim and Glenda as they disembarked the ship and walked on a road that branched off to the right of the cruise ship dock in Uturoa. The road hugged the shoreline towards the east along reclaimed land.. After their meeting at the Star Bright Lounge and the kiss in the elevator, they had spent the following days acquainting themselves with each other on a more personal level. He was her constant companion to beaches in Hilo and Maui. Then followed three days at sea in which somehow he found a way to sneak into her cabin at night, unnoticed by the ship’s security or the room stewardess. When the ship arrived on their first Polynesian port of call, Raiatea, they had become full-pledged lovers. The whole ship knew of course, including Staff Captain Vicenzo. There was nothing he could do about it short of catching the musician in the act of entering her cabin.So far, this musician had been a clever one, evading the watchful eyes of the Indian security and the Filipino deck stewardess. If he didn’t have a girlfriend already, he thought regretfully, he’d make a play for the woman from Australia. Che vergogna! he thought. What a shame! Not far from the ship’s dock was a small beach sheltered by a jetty made of corals. Except for a tiny strip of grass and sand shaded by low coconut trees, this beach was basically a coral-strewn outcrop that sloped a few meters from shore and fell off in a steep underwater drop. A palm-filled islet lay across from the beach. Parasailers rose to catch the wind above the ruffled sea. It was to this beach that Jim brought Glenda. They laid towels on the grassy part of the beach. Glenda took her bikini top off.


Other passengers and crewmembers had also discovered the cove and staked out their places on the sand. The men threw lusting glances at Glenda. The women tried their best to ignore her. Glenda presented her bare back to Jim and asked: “Lotion?” Jim fished the Hawaiian lotion from her tote bag and smoothed it onto her skin. He noted the white line on her tanned skin where the bikini strap had shielded it from the sun. “Funny,” murmured Glenda. “Just a week ago, we did not know each other, yet now here we are in Tahiti, on a beach of some island I’ve never visited before. And you, Mr. Jim, I have you with me! Tu eres muy lindo!” Jim leaned over to her, as if to kiss her nape, and whispered, “You’re the one who is linda.” He lifted his eyes and saw Vicenzo, his lean, hairy body supported by a flimsy thong. Somehow, the Italian had also decided to visit the beach in the company of his waitress girlfriend. Vicenzo was staring at him with a look that could have burned a hole between his eyes. Jim smiled at him. He knew that the more he made nice with the Italian, the more he provoked him. Jim also knew that his time off the ship was his own. He was free to socialize with any passenger who wished to have his company. No ship’s officer could hold that against him. Glenda wanted his company, and he obliged her. Nothing wrong with that, officer, right? Vicenzo looked away and walked towards the sea. “I wish it would be like this forever,” murmured Glenda as Jim finished applying the lotion. “Me too,” agreed Jim. He wanted to kiss her neck, to caress the glistening skin on her back, to possess her completely right there on that tiny beach, surrounded by all those people. He felt his manhood stirring. He was embarrassed. He looked around to see if anybody noticed. “I’m going for a swim,” he whispered into Glenda’s ear. He ran and made a headlong rush into the warm Pacific Ocean. At that same instant, Vicenzo emerged from the water. A crack sounded as their two heads met. “Figlio di una mignotta!” cried Vicenzo in pain.


“I’m sorry, Vicenzo, sorry,” said Jim. “Watch where you’re diving, idiota”! yelled Vicenzo. “Sorry! I didn’t see you go in!” Jim’s apology only irked Vicenzo further. Laughter erupted from the crew and passengers on the beach. Even Glenda sat up, her hands covering her breasts, giggling at the spectacle of two men nursing aching pates. Vicenzo ran back to his corner of the beach, the sharp corals tormenting the soles of his feet. His girlfriend consoled him and made a fuss over the bump on his head. Jim walked back to Glenda, seawater dripping from his body. “What happened?” asked Glenda. “Trouble,” replied Jim.


7

Tahiti is an island in French Polynesia that belongs to a group called the Society Islands. Its capital is Papeete. Although Polynesia is widely known for its dazzling white sand beaches, the island of Tahiti itself has mostly black sand beaches. Across the city of Papeete rises the turreted misty-blue island of Moorea, so near yet seemingly occupying a distant, mysterious space all of its own. It was this view of Moorea that greeted Glenda and Jim as they strolled along the seawall in the back gardens of the Museé de Tahiti et ses iles. It was a museum that displayed relics of Polynesia’s past. Glenda read about this museum from a brochure she had picked up at the port of Papeete. She asked Jim to accompany her there. The taxi wasn’t cheap. The only other visitors to the museum were a man and woman with children in tow, a boy and a girl. The children ignored the art and ran instead into the garden and played hide and seek among the birds of paradise and frangipani. “I guess you like museums, Glenda,” remarked Jim. “Don’t you?” asked Glenda. “Of course,” said Jim. “I love museums,” she said. “They remind me of the past that made us today. The beautiful things. The pain and suffering.” “Now you’re getting deep,” laughed Jim. “You’re a musician, an artist,” Glenda said. “You should know about beauty and pain.” Don’t I ever, Jim thought. I know a beautiful woman when she’s walking beside me. I’ve known pain. Not being able to see and play with Joshua was pain. Being constantly reminded by his father that he was living the insupportable life of a musician was pain. Ship life felt like a painful season in purgatory. Sometimes it seemed like an insane asylum where the doctors were crazier than the patients. It was a life made tolerable only by the regular paycheck, the cheap booze, the easy lays, the ports they called in, and once in a while, the arrival of a woman like Glenda.


“Yes,” said Jim, “I know all about that. I just don’t want to think about it too much. Besides, you’re on a cruise, remember?” Glenda gave Jim a tender look. Those green eyes, thought Jim. How can I ever get over those green eyes? “Yes, I remember,” she said. “It has been a pleasure.” Glenda’s presence had presented Jim with a host of questions that he idly turned over in his mind. Questions like: What if she left her husband and decided to take up with me? What if I resigned and went with her to Australia or Chile or wherever? He knew it wasn’t going to happen. She was going back to Australia, back to her rich winegrower husband, back to her world of wealth and privilege. She was just a passenger having a fling with a ship’s musician. It had been good so far and it will be good while it lasted and it will end when she disembarks in another week’s time in Honolulu. They strolled around the deserted museum and came upon a granite boulder with etchings on its surface. Some ancient Tahitian had carved the stick figures of a man and a woman into the rock. Here was signage from an earlier, unrecorded time in Tahiti. “Interesting,” said Glenda. She turned to Jim and asked, “Have you ever thought of quitting the ship?” “Yes, I have,” answered Jim without hesitation. “But you get to cruise for free!” said Glenda. “Yes, it all looks good, and it has been good except that there are too many rules on this ship. I’m not a rules man. There are too many assholes enforcing those rules.” Glenda laughed. “The staff captain being one of them?” she suggested. “Staff Captain Vicenzo Pomodoro? Yes.” “The golden apple,” translated Glenda. “That’s what his name means? More like the golden blowhard.” “What does that word mean, ‘blowhard’. Is it like when you blow your trumpet?” “Close!” laughed Jim. “So what’s his problem with you? He was really mad when you bumped his head on that beach in Raiataea.” “He’s just crazy. They all are.”


“La vida loca, si?’Glenda remarked. “La vida loca,” Jim confirmed. “This morning,” he continued, “we had a cabin inspection. Once every week they go into our cabins and see if everything is in order. I guess they’re trying to find out if we’re hiding guns or drugs or something. Vicenzo inspected my cabin and wrote me up.” “Write you up?’ “Wrote a report that our bathroom was a mess.” “Really? How so?” “A towel fell on the floor.” “He can cite you for that?” “He can cite me for anything. If it suited him, he can cite me for being with you. Of course, he can’t. I’m a musician. I’m allowed to be friends with you. Anyway I got a call from the bandmaster who got a call from the cruise director who got a call from the staff captain. Nothing provokes a cruise director more than a call from a ship’s officer.” “Your cruise director looks like a girl with a mustache,” giggled Glenda. “He’s gay. My roommate told me he used to bring his boyfriend on the ship. One morning he woke up and found the boyfriend dead beside him. He died of something in the night.” “Ay, que lastima!” cried Glenda. “That must have been traumatic for him.” “I wouldn’t know,” said Jim. “He seems to have gotten over it real quick. He’s got another boyfriend now. Boyfriend number two disembarked on the day you arrived.” Glenda laughed. “You are so amusing,” she said. “All these stories you tell me about ship life. So what happens when the staff captain writes you up?” “I will receive a written warning from the cruise director. Get three of those and I’m off the ship. After that incident on the beach, I guess he must have wanted to find something really bad to pin on me. He’s not a nice man.” Glenda whispered: “I know a few of those.” “Sorry?” “Nothing. You’re right. He’s not a nice man. That was my first impression of him, remember?”


“I remember. But let’s forget about him. How do you feel, right now?” “I’m happy,” said Glenda as she curled her fingers into his. Jim could not help wondering why Glenda’s husband would allow her to travel by herself. He must know what kind of attraction she would exert on the men on the ship. Or maybe, the husband just didn’t care. His loss, my gain, thought Jim. He felt lucky and happy indeed to be escorting Glenda Toller y Casas around the Museé de Tahiti et ses iles in Papeete, Tahiti.


8

That night, he and Glenda made love. She had left her cabin door unlocked as usual. When the room stewardess had retired for the night he discreetly let himself in. He had already become an expert in this cat-and-mouse game. “Did anybody see you?” asked Glenda. “No one saw me. They’re all in the crew bar.” She tugged the lapels of his jacket towards her and grasped his manhood. Their lips clung to each other like leeches in need of blood. They tore each other’s clothes off and fell down heavily on the bed. He pulled down her panties, grasped her buttocks and slid into her. She moaned with pleasure. She clawed at his back as he plunged repeatedly into her. She wrapped her legs around his thighs, urging him to go deeper into her. “Mas! Mas!” she moaned, reverting to her native Spanish. She flung her head from side to side, as if a force beyond her control was yanking her with invisible strings. He was all over her, his tongue licking her rigid nipples, exploring her soft belly, and further down, past her tan line, into the deep, musky depths of her. At the height of her pleasure, when Jim had to place his hand over mouth to keep her from screaming and alerting the neighbors, or worse, any security patrol passing by her cabin, she moaned out a name. Even while they grappled in the feverish motions of lovemaking, the name startled Jim. It was the first time she’d uttered it. It wasn’t his. “Colin! Ah, Colin!” she sighed as they came together.


Afterwards, as they lay curled in each other’s arms, Jim debated whether to ask the question, but could not bring himself to do it. He drifted off into sleep. He woke up an hour later to Glenda’s hand pulling at him, willing him to pleasure her once more. She succeeded in arousing him and once again, they made love, slowly, deliberately, as if they were dancing the tango. Spent but fully awake, they cuddled. “So tell me more about yourself,” said Glenda. “Girlfriend?” “I had a girlfriend. We broke up. I have a son with her. She’s taking care of him.” Glenda gave him a startled look. “You never told me that. What’s your son’s name?’ “Joshua. He’s four.” “To have a son is a good thing,” she said absently. Jim propped himself up on his elbow and traced a finger on her bare shoulder. He noticed fuzz on the edge of her cheek. “Now it’s your turn. Tell me about yourself.” “I was born in Aconcagua, Chile, in a vineyard. We had a finca, a villa. I had to sell it after my father died. Maybe I’ll bring you there to visit.” “Love to,” said Jim. “It was so beautiful there. I wish…” She stopped, as if something had struck her and she was forced to consider what she was going to say next. Jim waited expectantly for her to finish her sentence. “I wish I never left my country. I wish I never went to Australia.” “From what I hear, Australia is a pretty nice place,” said Jim. “It is,” she admitted. She added cryptically, “Anyway, what’s done is done.” “So why’d you sell that vineyard over there in Chile?” “We had a lot of debt. The bank foreclosed and sold our vineyard to a big American company.” “And you went to Australia.” “I went to Australia before all that,” she said. “The man I married is a good man but … I don’t know. I don’t want to talk about him. I’m glad that you’re here. Thank you for being nice to me.”


“It cuts both ways, Glenda,” said Jim. I must ask her now, he decided. “Glenda?” “Yes?” “Who’s Colin?” Glenda’s face turned pale. “Where’d you hear that name?” she asked in a low, trembling voice. “You said it while we were making love.” Glenda abruptly stood up and ran to the bathroom. She shut the door. Jim heard her lock it behind her. He followed her and stood outside the door. “Glenda,” he called out. “Are you all right?” Jim could hear her sobbing. After what seemed like an eternity, she opened the door. He could see that her eyes were red from crying. She lay down on the bed and drew her blanket around her. She looked pale. “Nobody,” she whispered. “Colin is nobody.” She was quiet for a moment, before she said: “I think you should leave now.” Jim was taken aback by Glenda’s request. “Are you sure, Glenda? Is that what you want me to do?” he asked. “Yes,” she replied softly. She turned her face away from him and stared at the sliding glass door that led into the balcony of her cabin. “That is what I want you to do,” she said. Jim picked up his clothes and slowly put them on. “If it’s something I said, I’m sorry,” he said as he was buttoning his shirt. Glenda did not answer. When he was about to open the cabin door, he asked her: “Shall we see each other tomorrow? Don’t forget we’re booked on that stingray excursion to Moorea. Are we going ahead with that?” She was quiet for a while. Jim sensed that she was trying to make up her mind. “Yes,” she answered in the same soft voice. She sounded like the wind had gone out of her. All is not lost, thought Jim.


As he sneaked his way back to his cabin, Jim wondered about what had just happened with Glenda. How could the mere mention of a name send her into a crying fit? I’ll never understand women, he thought. Must be a lover in her past. Big deal.


9

NUUTANIA PRISON, PAPEETE: THE PRESENT

Police Detective Pierre Dumont regarded the American seated in front of him coldly. “So monsieur, why did you push her?” “I didn’t push her!” replied Jim with a voice whose strength even surprised him. Pierre plowed on. “You had an affair on the ship, and then she rejected you, n’est-ce pas? You became angry with her.” “No!” Jim protested. “You pushed her and made it look like an accident.”


“No, she threw herself over the railing!” “So why didn’t you stop her?” “She was too fast for me.” “Where were you?” “I went to look for her purse in the lounge. When I came back, she had already climbed onto the railing. Then she jumped. There was nothing I could do!” Pierre coolly regarded the American. His pale, unshaven face and bloodshot eyes told Pierre that the past forty-eight hours had not been easy on the young man. He felt a twinge of sympathy for him which he allowed to last for all of a second. That was all the time he could spare. He had a job to do. “How long have you known her?” he asked Jim. “A week, ten days.” “Ah, you had a romance and she threatened to report you. She was going to say you raped her.” “That’s absurd!” Pierre’s job was to be a skeptic. He’d seen so many crimes committed by the most improbable perpetrators. He couldn’t dismiss the possibility that this American had done something worse than make love to a pretty passagér. When word reached him that the ship was going to surrender the American suspected of pushing the woman into the sea, he had looked forward to this interrogation with some eagerness. It had been some time since he’d last questioned an American. The last one was two years ago. A man from California who came to Tahiti on a private yacht tried to smuggle a pound of cocaine into Papeete. Police caught him and Pierre had thrown him through the wringer. Le mule Americain was now an honored guest at Nuutania prison for the next ten years. “I don’t believe you, m’sieur,” he declared gruffly. “I didn’t push her,” Jim insisted glumly. Pierre glanced at the paper in front of him, “It says here that you joined the ship on 2nd August 2008 as a musician, correct?” “Yes,” said Jim dully. “And when did you meet Glenda Toller?” “Just over a week ago. Ten days, I think.”


“It says here that you were seen with her at the ship’s nightclub several times. You also accompanied her outside the ship. You were seen sharing a drink with her at the lounge the night she disappeared.” “We were friends. I did nothing wrong. The officers do it, too.” “Ah but, m’sieur, you’re the only one who ended up with a missing passenger,” “I’m sorry about that,” Jim said with a tired voice. “I couldn’t do anything about it. I had no idea Glenda was going to do what she did.” “And that is?” “You know, jump from the ship. One minute we were walking on deck. She tells me she forgot her purse in the nightclub. I go back to look for it.” “And did you find her purse?” “There was no purse. When I went back to the deck, she was getting ready to jump.” “And you didn’t do anything to restrain her?” “How could I? She was too quick for me.” “What was your reaction then?” “I looked down and yelled at her. She looked up at me and held up her hands. The ship was moving so she started drifting away.” “What did you do next?” “I shouted for help. A crewmember rushed over, a Filipino deckhand. When we looked down, she had disappeared.” “You shouted for help. Weren’t you supposed to throw her a life buoy? This report by the staff captain, Vicenzo Pomodoro, states that you neglected to throw her a flotation device. Isn’t that the first thing you have to do in case a man, excusez-moi, a woman, fell overboard?” “I forgot about that. I was in a panic. We managed to throw a life buoy, but it was too late.” “So you screwed her, correct?” Jim winced. “We had a relationship.” “Did she tell you if something was bothering her?”


“She said she was married. Her husband was in New York on business. They owned a vineyard in Australia, some place called Yarra. I think she was going to divorce him.” Pierre made a note of that. Was the woman so depressed with the prospect of divorcing her husband that she would actually kill herself? Not probable. In fact, she would probably be celebrating with all that money she would get from the settlement. Pierre knew. He went through a divorce himself. Still, he could not totally dismiss it. He had seen people who killed themselves for flimsier reasons. For the moment, he had to concentrate on the probable guilt of this man Jim, the musician from the USA. “Was there anything else she said? Was she upset?” “She sometimes seemed distracted by something but she’d snap out of it quickly. I didn’t ask. She was on a cruise. I thought she was just chilling out.” “Chilling out?” said Pierre. “You know,” explained Jim, “relaxing, not thinking of anything.” “Bien,” said Pierre. “That will be all, m’sieur. For now.” “Can I go now?” asked Jim. “Yes, back to your cell.” “But why? I haven’t done anything!” “There are procedures.” “I have my rights! I’m an American!” There they go again, Pierre thought, these Americans, insisting that they’re “Americans”, as if to say they were a special breed of people. “M’sieur,” said Pierre. “You are in France and we are still in the garde a vue. My hands are tied. But I’m sure your lawyer can handle any complaint of yours.” Jim’s court-assigned lawyer was a florid-faced Martinican named Valvier. Valvier had spent all of thirty minutes explaining to Jim that the police were subjecting him to a process called garde a vue, the French version of preliminary discovery. The result of the garde a vue would determine if there was enough evidence to charge Jim of any crime. Jim barely understood what Monsieur Valvier was saying in his French-accented English. He merely nodded his head absently. He had never been charged with anything before, so it made little difference to him whether he was in an American or a French court. He just wanted out of there.


“I assure you, Monsieur,” Valvier told him, “based on the report provided me by the ship, you will be out of jail by tomorrow. And of course, we have informed the US consul of your situation.” Then he added cautiously, “Eh bien, we will see, we will see…” The guard ushered a dejected Jim back to his cell. Inside, he faced a questioning of a different sort. “Hey Jim!” yelled his cellmate. His name was Tubataha. He was from Bora Bora. He told Jim that he was in jail for selling meth in Papeete. Jim estimated that he weighed three hundred pounds if not more. Tattoos covered almost every inch of his brown, corpulent body. Jim noted an elaborate tattoo on his back that read: FuckFranceFreeTahiti. “So you from New York?” asked the Bora Boran. Tubataha spoke surprisingly good English. He had told Jim it came from doing business with the Anglo tourists. “Ohio. I just live in New York. Lived anyway.” “Man, I’d love to visit New York. Bitch killed herself, right?” “Yeah but she was no bitch.” “Then they can’t keep you here. No body, no crime. You like Tahiti?” “Once upon a time. Not anymore.” “Ah, but you must like les vahinés, you know, the girls here.” “They’re fine.” “That they are. My woman, though, she talk too much sometimes I want to strangle her. But she takes care of me. She looks after my business while I’m here inside. Do you have a woman back in USA?” “No.” “Children?” “One. A boy.” “What’s his name?” “Joshua.” “Ah, Joshua. How old is he?” “Six.” Jim decided to turn the conversation around. “How long have you been in jail, Tubs?”


“One year. I go spend one year more and maybe go free.” “I don’t think I can last that long.” “Désolé, bro. You have lawyer, right?” “Yes, the government gave me one. His name is Valvier.” “Ah, I know Valvier. Worthless prick. You no worry. You did not kill anybody. You’re free soon, you see. Go to beach again and get laid. Forget white woman. Tahitian women are best.” Jim sighed as he laid himself on the top bunk. His sleeping arrangement in this jail was not much different from the one he had back on the M/V Platinum Princess. The difference was that this cell was smaller, filthier and stank of urine and shit. More depressingly, instead of dreaming about a certain lovely woman with green eyes and red lips, he was trying to understand how that same woman had led him to this crappy cell in Papeete. Glenda, he thought bitterly, what have you done to me?


10

When word reached him in New York that his wife had gone missing from the M/V Platinum Princess and was presumed lost at sea, Angelo’s first reaction was shock, then grief, and finally, if a bit guiltily, relief. It didn’t have to end this way, he thought. Glenda didn’t have to kill herself. She had become nervous and impetuous, especially after last year’s incident. He cancelled meetings, wrapped up business and booked a flight to Tahiti. He had read that there was a man with her the night she disappeared. That man was a ship’s musician who was now in prison, awaiting judgment on whether he had had a hand in Glenda’s disappearance. Poor chap, thought Angelo, caught up in Glenda’s madness. Leaning back against his seat on the plane that would bring him halfway around the world, he closed his eyes.

***

Across fields of grape-heavy vines, the Aconcagua mountains rose, brown and bonedry in the South American high desert. He was back in Chile, back in Glenda’s family vineyard. He was a guest at their finca. He felt alive, his heart bursting with joy because he was madly in love.


The object of his affection materialized from among rows of grape vines. She was walking towards him with a radiant smile on her face. He had not seen a more beautiful and vital woman than Glenda, daughter of Francisco Casas, esteemed wine grower whose guest he was here in the Aconcagua Valley in Chile. “I’m so lucky to have you,” he said, holding her by her waist as she threw her arms around him. “No, I’m the lucky one. You’ve come to take me away to the great land of Australia. Tu es mi amor, my love, my knight in shining armor.” “Don’t you want to stay here?” asked Angelo. “I love this hacienda,” she said, “but I’m ready for a change. I want to stay with you at your place.” “Yarra,” he said. “Ya-rrra,” she repeated after him, exaggerating the r’s. They kissed, and as they did so, he caught a glimpse of Francisco watching them from an upper floor window of the finca. The expression on the old man’s face could have been approval, but to Angelo it seemed more like anger. The old man was probably afraid of losing Glenda. Angelo couldn’t be sure, nor did he care. He was too busy enjoying his fiancée’s kiss, on this fine, sunny day in Aconcagua, Chile.

***

Angelo awoke to find the plane in descent. A gray curtain of rain swathed the mountains of Papeete as the Airbus 340-300 made touchdown at Faa'a airport. It had been one of those long flights that Angelo loathed but had to make because, his home country of Australia being as far away from anywhere as it was possible for a place to be, he had no choice. He was determined to attend the inquest into his wife’s disappearance and hear from the last person who last saw her alive. He had no doubt that Glenda and this musician had an affair. He wondered if she had told him anything in confidence. He knew from experience that extreme passion can loosen lips. Although the image of Glenda in the arms of another man made him almost retch with jealousy, he was glad that she had found some happiness before her death.


I must find out if she’s told this man anything, he vowed quietly.


11

Detective Senior Constable Roy Bratton’s jaw dropped when he read the news on the Melbourne Times. It read:

Glenda Toller, wife of Angelo Toller of Toller Vineyard in the Yarra Valley, disappeared from the cruise ship M/V Platinum Princess off the island of Huahine in French Polynesia and is presumed lost at sea. Her husband who had been at a wine convention in New York City at the time of her disappearance was now in Papeete attending the inquest. An American, James Fallow, a musician on the said cruise ship was the last person to see her alive. He claimed that she jumped off the side of the ship. Authorities are continuing to search for her body. Tahitian police have detained Mr. Fallow in Papeete on suspicion of murder.

“Glenda, Glenda, what’s happened to you?” he muttered beneath his breath. Detective Roy remembered the last time he spoke with Glenda and Angelo. He had gone calling on them at their winery nearly a year ago. There had been disappearances in the area of tourists, most of them backpackers from Europe: two girls from Belgium, a couple from Germany, a British woman and a Swiss man. One sunny day in April of 2007, a horrific discovery occurred that connected the disappearances and placed Melbourne police on heightened alert.


Two boy scouts on an orienteering course in the Dandenongs, forty kilometers east of Melbourne, took a wrong turn in the bush and stumbled on human skeletal remains buried under piles of brush. A forensic examination of the cadavers identified them as belonging to the couple from Belgium. Further search of the forest yielded the skeletons of the two Germans. A few weeks passed before they found the remains of the British woman. She had been shot with an arrow. Searchers found no trace of the Swiss. A serial killer appeared to be on the loose in the state of Victoria. It was bad news and bad publicity for this idyllic part of Australia. What brought Roy to the Toller Vineyard was the case of the Swiss man. His name was Colin. He had been working part time during the summer at the Toller Vineyard. Roy was hoping the Tollers could provide some information that could lead them to an understanding of Colin’s whereabouts. “Please try to recall anything that Colin may have said before he disappeared…where he was going, whether he was meeting someone…” Roy had pleaded. “Believe me detective, we’re trying,” said Angelo. “I’ve asked Mike, my manager. He’s asked everyone. Nobody has a clue. I’m sorry I can’t be of more help to you. Have you any suspects in the disappearances we’ve had in this area?” “We’re working very hard,” said Roy. He remembered the call he made to Colin’s parents in Basel informing them of their son’s disappearance. The mother had fainted after hearing the news. He promised Colin’s father that he would do everything in his power to find his missing son. Roy could feel their pain. He himself had a teenage son. He wouldn’t know how he would react if he went missing. “Well, keep us informed, will you?” said Angelo. Glenda smiled nervously and said nothing. Roy noticed her gripping Angelo’s hand so tightly her knuckles were turning white. Odd, he thought, that she should be so nervous, but darn, what a looker! As Roy rose to leave, Angelo handed him a bottle of wine. “From the house. Best of luck to you, constable.” Roy examined the bottle. Toller Vineyard Merlot, vintage 2001. That was a good year for Yarra merlots. “Thanks, Angelo,” said Roy, truly grateful for the gift.


Reading now about Glenda’s disappearance from the cruise ship out in Tahiti, Roy wondered how it fit in with what was happening in Melbourne. He felt there was something suspicious about it. Even then, he couldn’t help feeling sorry for Glenda. What a tragic thing to happen to such a beautiful woman, he thought.


12

“I advise against it, monsieur,” said Roger Poiret. He was the procureur, the state prosecutor handling the case of the missing woman. “Talking with the defendant won’t advance our case. It may hinder it.” “Do you have proof that he murdered her?” demanded Angelo. “No, but we have circumstantial evidence based on eyewitness accounts that the defendant and your wife had a relationship on the ship.” “A relationship,” Angelo said drily. “That doesn’t mean a thing, does it? Isn’t a person presumed innocent before the law?” “Of course, m’sieur, but m’sieur, if I may ask, whose side are you on, your wife’s or the defendant’s? Why this attitude? Is there something you want to tell me?” Angelo sighed. “Glenda and I had been considering a divorce. She’s been depressed. Taking the cruise to Tahiti was her way of sorting things out. I went to New York without her.” “So what you’re saying is that your wife may have committed suicide because of this depression?” “Possibly. I heard that the man she was with was a ship’s musician. Hardly the killing kind, don’t you think?” It was Roger’s turn to smile wryly.


“M’sieur, your faith in musicians is commendable, but trust me, they’re as likely to commit a crime as the butcher or the baker. Anyway, I will do as you say. I will arrange for monsieur Fallow to meet with you. I will advise his lawyer to be present. That is the procedure. And then we will decide what to do next.” ***

Brooding in his cell, Jim thought: If I didn’t take that ship job, I would have been safe in New York. Maybe I’d be on a lake, fishing or out on a beach somewhere with Joshua. He had never felt so helpless in his life. Thousands of miles away from his country and entombed in a smelly cell, he listened to the terrifying noise of inmates screaming obviously vile words in a language he couldn’t understand. Add to that a stinky mass of lard for his roommate and he knew now what hell was like. ***

The guard appeared at the cell door and clanged the door open. “You have a visitor.” “Who?” asked Jim, puzzled. “The husband of the woman you killed.” Jim felt the blood rise to his head. His nose flared in indignation. “You got it wrong, buddy. I’m innocent,” he muttered. “Ouais, ouais, that’s what they all say,” said the guard, chuckling. He ushered Jim roughly to the visiting room. He did not like Americans. Jim saw a dark-haired man of medium height and thick build sitting on the opposite side of a glass partition. The man’s dark eyes, surmounted by thick eyebrows, followed him with interest. Jim thought he looked Italian, definitely Mediterranean. Jim took his place on the other side of the partition. The man picked up the phone. Jim did the same. “I’m Angelo. Glenda’s husband,” said the man. “I know,” said Jim. “You knew who I was?”


“I guessed.” “Do you know why I’m here?” “You want to know what happened. If you came here to ask me if I killed your wife, my answer is: no, I didn’t. She jumped.” Angelo took some time to take this in. “How was she before that?” he asked. “She seemed happy. At least that’s what I thought she was.” “Did you have a look at her when she fell over?” “Man, I’d rather forget about it. Okay, she raised her hand. I went looking for help. When I returned, she had disappeared. I think…” “You think what?” “I think she didn’t want to be rescued.” Angelo studied the pattern on the wood on which his elbows rested. Old mahogany. Its curls and whorls had a reddish tint, like dried blood. He raised his head up and looked Jim straight in the eye. “Did she tell you anything?” he asked. “Tell me what?” asked Jim. “Anything that might be related to me, our situation?” “No, man,” said Jim. “Did she say that we were getting a divorce?” “She mentioned something like that. Anyway, it’s none of my business.” “Is that all she said?” said Angelo. “Yes, that’s all she said.” Angelo was quiet for a moment. Then, he declared: “I believe you.” He addressed the two lawyers: “I don’t think this man killed my wife. You should set him free. I won’t be part of any prosecution of him. I’ll leave for Melbourne tomorrow. My time is done here.” With these words he rose up to leave. Jim sat stunned by Angelo’s vote of confidence in his innocence. Roger Poiret smiled drily.


“That may be what you believe, m’sieur,” he said, “but French law demands a higher threshold before Mr. Fallow can be considered not guilty of anything. In time, we will discover that. Now you must go. I allowed you to talk with the suspect. Highly irregular of course, but since both of you are not French, I made an exception to the rule.” “I understand,” said Angelo. He handed something to Valvier. “That’s my card with my address and phone number. Give that to your client.” “Pas probléme, m’sieur,” replied Valvier, his teeth shockingly white against his gleaming, dark-brown Caribbean skin. Angelo turned to leave. Jim knocked on the glass partition and made a sign for Angelo to return. Angelo picked up the phone once again. “She did say something. I don’t know if it’s important.” “What else did she say?” asked Angelo. “She mentioned the name ‘Colin’. Does that name mean anything to you? Just like Glenda, the blood seemed to drain from Angelo’s face. “When did she say that?” he asked. “She mentioned the name once, but you know, I think she didn’t mean to say it.” “Did she say anything more?” “That’s it, just that name.” “You’re right. It’s nothing important. Goodbye, Jim, and good luck.” Angelo replaced the phone and left the visiting room. Who is this Colin, wondered Jim, and what has he done to upset Angelo and Glenda? The guard cuffed Jim with visible relish and returned him to his cell.


13

Staff Captain Vicenzo Pomodoro stared at the video for what seemed like an eternity. Despite the slight fogging up of the lens of the deck camera, the sequence of events that led to the disappearance of Glenda now became absolutely clear to him. If he and the captain had seen this footage immediately after the unfortunate events of the previous week, things would have been different. They would not have subjected Jim Fallow to the ship’s enquiry that resulted in the captain’s decision to deliver him two days later to Tahitian authorities. Even as he lamented the fate of Glenda Toller whose body they never found, he had enjoyed watching the musician squirm under his and the captain’s questioning. At that time, his dislike for Jim had led him to post two security guards outside the musician’s cabin. “Suicide watch,” he explained. A possible suicide after a suicide. It’s happened before. It was also clear to him that, in the intensity of their efforts to search for Glenda’s body the day after her disappearance, they had failed to check whether the security cameras had recorded any activity on the promenade deck during the night in question. By the time security had unearthed the footage from the hard disk of a malfunctioning computer, the M/V Platinum Princess was already plowing the sea halfway towards Honolulu. After all, they still had a full complement of passengers who paid good money to go on a cruise to the South Pacific.

This was what Vicenzo saw on the grainy video:


Glenda and Jim amble out to the promenade deck. They lean against the railing, gazing out at the sea. Occasionally they look at each other and exchange a few words, lovers conducting their affair in sight of the whole ship. Now she gestures at something. Jim leaves. Glenda looks around and slips off her shoes. She hoists herself onto the railing, straddles it and then repositions herself so that she faces outwards towards the sea. She steadies herself with both hands on the banister. A few seconds later, she turns her face towards the door of the Star Bright lounge, as if responding to someone calling out to her. She abruptly lets go of her hands and plunges into the darkness below. Jim rushes forward and leans over the railing.

At this point the video changed to footage of the bow of the ship. Had anyone from the security office seen this incident as it played out in real time, Vicenzo surmised, Glenda might still be alive. No one was in the security room that night. The Indian security guys had cooked up a curry dinner at the officers’ mess. Everybody was there greedily wolfing down naan bread and curry chicken. Vicenzo played the footage again. The chief security officer, a retired policeman from Glasgow, looked on. “So what are we going to do?” the Scot asked. Vicenzo shrugged his shoulders “Beh, we will show this to the captain of course, and he will decide what to do. He might turn the ship around to deliver the video personally to the Tahitian authorities. He might have us burn the video to a disc and mail it from Honolulu. Most probably we will deliver this to our ship’s agent in Hawaii. Certainly the Tahitian authorities have to see this video.” “I’m sorry we did not find this in a timely fashion,” the security chief apologized. “Ah, queste macchine stupide! These damned computers! What can you do?” said Vicenzo. He knew he was going to write a report to the captain who will, in turn, inform the main office in Los Angeles about the video. He wondered whether he was going to pin the responsibility for this lapse on the chief of security or to the Indian guards. He decided on the Indians. There’s more where they came from, he rationalized.


Despite his animosity towards Jim, Vicenzo knew the proper course of action to follow. If he had decided to ignore the video and leave Mr. Fallow to his fate in that prison, he would not be able to explain away his action easily. Too many people already knew about this video. Worse, Mr. Fallow, being American, could sue the company for whatever reason he could come up with. He, Vincenzo, wasn’t going to lay Platinum Cruises open to any more lawsuits. He was certain that the woman’s husband was already preparing to sue the company for his wife’s death. In any case, he felt a certain relief in knowing that the video will certainly free the musician from jail. He did not like James Fallow, but no innocent person deserves prison and the video proved that the musician did not kill Glenda Toller. Fortunato figlio di una cagna, muttered Vicenzo. Lucky son of a bitch.

***

Roger Poiret, the French prosecutor, declined to press charges against Jim. He had no choice in the matter. The video FedExed from Honolulu by the lawyers of Platinum Cruises had clinched his decision. It showed plainly that the woman jumped from the ship. It did trouble him that it took two weeks for the ship’s officers to discover this video. He considered himself under no obligation to inquire into this error. That was the business of the Americans. It was time to release the musician. He signed the release order. Investigating a crime committed on the high seas was such a complicated affair, he sighed. It was easier to prosecute crimes that occurred on land. Just look at the paper trail in the Gaston Flosse corruption case. He had a lot of material to sift through: computer records, receipts, contracts. The American was lucky that the ship found the video and delivered it to him. Otherwise he would still be in Nuutania, playing his trumpet for the inmates. Les prisonniers could always use an extra instrument for their music CD’s. Poiret hoped this kind of case would be his last. He knew better, of course. The islands of French Polynesia attracted scores of cruise ships and yachts stuffed with dreamy-eyed passengers whose inner baggage made their vacations either the fulfillment of fantasies or the beginning of nightmares.


***

“I told you man, I told you,” cheered Tubataha. “Thanks Tubs. I hope you get out soon too,” said Jim. “Don’t worry, Jim. I got things covered. Maybe you go back to Tahiti and we see each other again, oui?” “Right,” replied Jim. I hope not, was what he was actually thinking. “Jim,” said Tubataha. “Yes, Tubs?” “I give you Tahitian farewell, OK?” “Sure,” replied Jim. Tubataha raised his hand in the attitude of a blessing and solemnly proclaimed: “Ti-toi!” The Tahitian laughed uproariously and gave Jim a hug. Jim gave Tubataha an appreciative smile. “Thanks, Tubs.” Accompanied by Valvier, Jim retrieved his trumpet and a suitcase that he had given up for safekeeping in the prison’s storeroom. “Did I not tell you m’sieur that you will be free?” said Valvier. “Yes, but two weeks in jail?” said Jim. “I’m sorry m’sieur, but the law….” Valvier did not finish his sentence and gave a shrug. “There’s a van outside waiting to bring you to the airport. You will leave this afternoon for Los Angeles. Your former employer has agreed to pay for your flight home. It probably has something to do with that video, but je ne sais pas.” A blue-shirted prison guard escorted Jim to the van. Jim placed his luggage in the back of the van and took his seat behind the driver. “Bon voyage, Jim,” Valvier said through the open window. “Thanks, Valvier,” replied Jim. “And Valvier?” “Oui?” Valvier replied. “Titoi!”


Valvier stared at Jim in astonishment. Jim looked back at him, expecting to be complimented for his Tahitian. Valvier said nothing and instead drew back in disgust. The driver laughed and revved up the engine. As they drove off, Jim looked back at Valvier who was still standing on the curbside, looking at him with indignation. “What did I just say? Did I say something wrong?” Jim asked the driver. “Ah, m’sieur,” the driver said, “you just told him Fuck You!”


14

Later, when the Air Tahiti Nui plane had taken off from Fa’aa Airport, Jim peered down at the sea below. The islands of Moorea and Papeete, ringed by the coral-encrusted rims of sunken volcanoes, rose up like gigantic, broken-toothed emeralds. In the depths of that sea, Glenda had found whatever peace she was looking for on her own terms. Because of what she did to herself, he, James Fallow, was never going to be the same again. When she fell into the sea, she took his soul along with her. Why, Glenda, why? The plane pierced through a ceiling of dark clouds, raindrops fiercely pelting its windows, its fuselage shuddering violently from air pockets. At forty thousand feet, the plane pulled free from the turbulence and leveled off, veering north, its engine settling into a gentle, lulling purr.

***

“Penny for your thoughts,” said Jim. He had joined her at the Star Bright Lounge after playing the show that evening. The featured act was a comic who played the piano atrociously as part of his act. Jim couldn’t wait to get off.


He found Glenda nursing a margarita, staring pensively out the window. It was dark outside. The only thing that she could possibly see was her reflection on the glass. Glenda looked up at Jim and smiled. She looked beautiful, as always. “I was just thinking how dark it is out there and what fun we had today,” she said. “Wasn’t that just a great day? Those sting rays! Boy do they suck!” laughed Jim. They had been on the island of Moorea, out off an islet that the Polynesians called a “motu”, wading in waist-deep water among stingrays. The creatures nibbled and glided between their feet. Off in the far distance, violent breakers rolled and smashed into the reefs that protected the lagoon. “Why doesn’t a moment like that last forever, Jim?” asked Glenda. “Maybe because we were meant to go on to the next one?” suggested Jim. “Like this moment here, me having a drink with you?” “Like this one, sure.” She was quiet for a while. “After this cruise,” she continued, “I know I won’t see you again.” Jim didn’t have an answer for that. The truth was that he was indifferent to the fact that he might not see her again. He had already enjoyed her company in the most physical way imaginable. Would he want to see her again? Of course, but things might be different then. Last night, he saw a darker side of her. He had to admit that he was scared for her. When they met that morning at the show lounge to join the other passengers who were going on the stingray tour, she hid her eyes behind large sunglasses and spoke little. As the day wore on and they played and swam among the stingrays, she started to relax and smile. By the end of the day, she seemed to have forgotten whatever it was that bothered her. Listening to her now, he sensed a feeling of gloom descending upon her once again. “I won’t see you anymore,” Glenda continued, “and you’ll forget about me.” “I don’t know what you’re talking about, Glenda,” Jim protested.” We’re having fun, aren’t we? Is something wrong?” “Yes. This is wrong. This is not right.” What the heck did she mean by that? Jim asked himself. What wasn’t right? “Are you tired? Do you need another drink?” he offered.


Glenda said nothing. Once again she stared out of the window, her face suddenly a pale mask from which any sign that she had enjoyed the day seemed to have vanished completely. “You should visit our vineyard in Yarra,” she continued, ignoring his offer. “When you’re there, I want you to play your trumpet among the vines. Play a tune for me there. Sing me that tune you said you wrote for me.” “Your song?” “My song. How does that song go?” Jim didn’t actually write it for Glenda. He had composed it years ago for his ex, Marla, back when they were still madly in love. He had dedicated the song to Glenda on one of the show band’s dance sets hoping to impress her and soften her up some more. He succeeded, of course. Reluctantly, Jim hummed the song. Glenda smiled as she listened to Jim’s voice. The mask fell momentarily from her face. For a moment, she was her cheerful self again. Jim felt assured and yet uneasy at this sudden change in her mood. “Why don’t we go for a walk, Glenda?” he suggested. “Why not?” she replied. They went out to the promenade deck. Nobody else was there. A cool breeze rushed to greet them. It carried with it the woodsy smell of invisible jungles and the salty tang of the sea. Glenda leaned on the wooden railing. She stared out into the darkness. Jim wondered what she was thinking about. He looked out at whatever she was staring at. There was nothing to see. It was a moonless night. “Do you believe in love, Jim?” asked Glenda. “I was in love a few times in my life,” said Jim. “During those times, yes, I did.” “And now? Would you say you’re in love with me?” “It would be hard not to fall in love with you, Glenda.” Glenda looked at him, her eyes moist. “But do you love me now, at this very moment?” Jim didn’t answer. He could not finesse his way out of that question. Glenda turned to look back at the darkness. “I thought so,” she said. She felt for something in her dress.


“Ay!” She said. “I think I forgot my purse in the lounge.” “Let me look for it,” offered Jim. He was glad to do something other than wrack his brains for an answer to Glenda’s question. Commitment to someone was the farthest thing from his mind, even to such a bewitching woman like Glenda. He had had relationships with other women in his life that all came to nothing. He feared it would be the same with Glenda. He wanted to spare her the pain. “Por favor?” said Glenda sweetly. Jim walked back to the lounge. In the short space of time that he negotiated the promenade to the Star Bright Lounge, Jim decided not to prolong this liaison with Glenda any longer. She was becoming too weird for him. Inside the lounge, he went to the table they had sat at earlier. The glasses hadn’t been cleared yet. He searched for the purse. It wasn’t there. He examined the floor. It wasn’t there either. He motioned for the Filipina waitress to come over. “Were you here earlier?” he asked her. “I’m looking for Glenda’s purse. Somebody might have picked it up.” “I’m sorry Jim,” said the waitress. “I haven’t cleaned up the table yet.” “Did you see anybody else at this table?” “No, I didn’t see anybody.” Jim thought for a moment. He did not remember seeing a purse on the table while he was with Glenda. Had she forgotten where she put it? “Thanks, I’ll go check with Glenda,” he said. He retraced his steps back to the promenade. The first thing he noticed were her red stiletto shoes lying on the deck. Then he saw her seated on the railing, her eyes fixed downward on the sea below, her hands grasping the slippery, salt-encrusted banister. “Glenda, don’t!” screamed Jim. As he made a move towards her, she turned to look at him, her eyes smudged with tears, and quickly let go of the railing. The darkness swallowed her up. Horrified, Jim leaned over and saw her submerged up to her neck in the water below, her face upturned. There was a look of panic in her eyes. She raised her arms to him, in almost the same way that Katya had raised hers when she pretended to be a swan in the Star Bright lounge. Look Jim, Glenda seemed to be saying, I’m a mermaid!


“Glenda!” he screamed. He swiveled around to see if there was someone whom he could call for help. A Filipino deckhand strode into deck with a water hose. “Help! Man overboard!” Jim yelled. The deckhand ran to him. “Where?” he asked. “There!” cried Jim, pointing at the sea below. They looked down. There was no sign of Glenda. She was gone. ***

Jim woke up with a start. For a moment he thought he was back on the ship’s promenade, trying in vain to catch a glimpse of Glenda in the dark waters of the Pacific. Then, just as swiftly, he realized that he was on a plane. He sighed and sank back in relief. He was going home. ___________________________________________________________________________________

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PART TWO - THE KILLERS PART THREE - COLIN PART THREE

- YARRA


A Song For Glenda-Part One