The Cry of the Halidon


Chapter One


Port Antonio/London


Port Antonio, Jamaica

The white sheet of ocean spray burst up from the coral rock and appeared suspended, the pitch-blue waters of the Caribbean serving as a backdrop. The spray cascaded forward and downward and asserted itself over the thousands of tiny, sharp, ragged crevices that were the coral overlay. It became ocean again, at one with its source.

Timothy Durell walked out on the far edge of the huge free-form pool deck, imposed over the surrounding coral, and watched the increasing combat between water and rock. This isolated section of the Jamaican north coast was a compromise between man and natural phenomenon. Trident Villas were built on top of a coral sheet, surrounded by it on three sides, with a single drive that led to the road in front. The villas were miniature replicas of their names: guest houses that fronted the sea and the fields of coral. Each an entity in itself; each isolated from the others, as the entire complex was isolated from the adjoining territory of Port Antonio.

Durell was the young English manager of Trident Villas, a graduate of London's College of Hotel Management, with a series of letters after his name indicating more knowledge and experience than his mid-twenties appearance would seem to support. But Durell was good; he knew it, the Trident's owners knew it. He never stopped looking for the unexpected - that, along with routine smoothness, was the essence of superior management.

He had found the unexpected now. And it troubled him.

It was a mathematical impossibility. Or, if not impossible, certainly improbable in the extreme.

It simply did not make sense.

'Mr Durell?'

He turned. His brown Jamaican secretary, her skin and features bespeaking the age-old coalition of Africa and Empire, had walked out on the deck with a message. 'Yes?'

'Lufthansa flight 16 from Munich will be late getting into Montego.'

'That's the Keppler reservation, isn't it?'

'Yes. They'll miss the in-island connection.'

'They should have come into Kingston...'

'They didn't,' said the girl, her voice carrying the same disapproval as Durell's statement, but not so sternly. 'They obviously don't wish to spend the night in Montego; they had Lufthansa radio ahead. You're to get them a charter...'

'On three hours' notice? Let the Germans do it! It's their equipment that's late...'

'They tried. None available in Mo'bay.'

'Of course, there isn't... I'll ask Hanley. He'll be back from Kingston with the Warfields by five o'clock.'

'He may not wish to...'

'He will. We're in a spot. I trust it's not indicative of the week.'

'Why do you say that? What bothers you?'

Durell turned back to the railing overlooking the fields and cliffs of coral. He lighted a cigarette, cupping the flame against the burst of warm breeze. 'Several things. I'm not sure I can put my finger on them all. One I do know.' He looked at the girl, but his eyes were remembering. 'A little over twelve months ago, the reservations for this particular week began coming in. Eleven months ago they were complete. All the villas were booked... for this particular week.'

'Trident's popular. What is so unusual?'

'You don't understand. Since eleven months ago, every one of those reservations has stood firm. Not a single cancellation, or even a minor change of dates. Not even a day.'

'Less bother for you. I'd think you'd be pleased.'

'Don't you see? It's a mathematical imp - well, inconsistency, to say the least. Twenty villas. Assuming couples, that's forty families, really - mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, cousins... For eleven months nothing has happened to change anyone's plans. None of the principals died - and at our rates we don't cater exclusively to the young. No misfortunes of consequence, no simple business interferences, or measles or mumps or weddings or funerals or lingering illness. Yet we're not the Queen's coronation; we're just a week-in-Jamaica.'

The girl laughed. 'You're playing with numbers, Mr Durell. You're put out because your well-organized waiting list hasn't been used.'

'And the way they're all arriving,' continued the young manager, his words coming faster. 'This Keppler, he's the only one with a problem, and how does he solve it? Having an aircraft radio ahead from somewhere over the Atlantic. Now, you grant that's a bit much... The others? No one asks for a car to meet them, no in-island confirmations required, no concerns about luggage or distances. Or anything. They'll just be here.'

'Not the Warfields. Captain Hanley flew to Kingston for the Warfields.'

'But we didn't know that. Hanley assumed that we did, but we didn't. The arrangements were made privately from London. He Copyright 2016 - 2024