It was already dark when a powerful car swung in through the gates and glided along the uneven dirt track, its headlights tracking over the rough ground, randomly exposing the sleek white shapes of yachts balanced on stilts. Kate shivered and hugged her shoulders tighter, watching its progress from the doorway of one of the buildings, the chill wind picking at her flimsy skirt now claiming second place for indictment with the arrival of the real villain.
The building served as office and yacht brokerage for the yard, and Kate knew the details of every one of the for-sale notices in its window by heart. They had all been read many times over during the cold and miserable hours she had been waiting there. But now she stood motionless and silent, her eyes set scuffing the side window of the car even before she was able to distinguish the monster lurking the other side. The window whirred softly, revealing its coal black eyes and scrutinizing grin:
"Couldn't you find it?" he enquired, lazily.
"Oh yes, I found it... I also found that somebody had forgotten to unlock it!"
A remnant of the grin clung to Walter's mouth but his eyes lost it:
"I meant the key, not the boat!"
Kate's resentment turned to horror:
"Don't tell me you haven't got one!" she gasped.
Walter shook his head slowly and patiently:
"It's supposed to be under the mat... the one you're standing on! Didn't I tell you that..?"
Kate postponed her anger for later, preferring to look for the key instead, her searching allowing Walter to assess her hips and thighs, and then, as she skipped in front of the headlights, her breasts in their absolute freedom under her sweat shirt. She opened the door and scrambled in beside him, shivering and hungry but still able to appreciate the smell of unmistakable luxury as she slammed the door:
"Well, naturally, we wondered what was keeping you. Of course, we knew you wouldn't be roughing it! But surely you haven't begun spending it already!"
The glow from the dashboard gave enough light to show the expressions on both their faces; and Kate had no difficulty in seeing the smugness on his:
"What's that? he inquired, lazily.
"The reward money!"
"How d'you work that one out?"
Kate sniffed at the car:
"This..?" Walter allowed a faint smile to manoeuvre at the corners of his mouth. "Some people work for a living — they get paid!"
"While others just simply steal whatever they want!"
The grin on Walter's face broadened but Kate lifted her chin and pressed on:
"You found it didn't you, hidden in the bottom of the boat?"
"The gold..?" Walter sounded indifferent. "Of course, it was easy — a halfwit could have figured it out! It beats me why your boyfriend couldn't manage it; it was right under his nose!"
"As you said — it took a halfwit! And he isn't my boyfriend."
"Well, whatever the relationship, it's obvious that the combined brainpower didn't amount to much!"
"What do you intend doing with it?"
"It's back where it belongs," he said, studying her; "back with its rightful owner. And what about you, where d'you belong? If he's not your boyfriend, what you doing with him on his old tub?"
Kate took a deep breath:
"It's really none of your business. But, rather than feed your imagination, I suppose I'd best put you in the picture. He owes me some money and I'm staying with him until he sells his boat and can pay me back." She dragged a hand through her hair and smoothed her skirt. "Do you have the slightest intention of sharing any of it?"
Walter fondled the steering wheel glove, continuing to eye her speculatively, then finally decided to ignore the question:
"How much does he owe you?"
"Two hundred pounds,"
"Two hundred pounds! Hell, I keep that much in my back pocket for change..!"
She sighed again, repeating the question:
"Do you intend to share any of it?"
"My loose change?"
"Not a chance... d'you think he's share any of it with me if he'd found it; he'd have to be even softer than I thought!"
Kate pointed her face straight ahead, deciding to ignore him and shiver instead.
"D'you want my jacket?" he said, experimentally.
"No thank you... unless you're thinking we should carry on sitting here for the rest of the night!"
She glanced sideways at him and the meagre offering lying in his palm, brandishing equal contempt for them both:
"Strangely, just at the moment I don't feel like rotting my teeth as well..!"
"As well as what..!" he growled, softly.
She met his gaze with an even more rancid smile:
"It's not surprising that you have to carry so much loose change around in your pocket, never bringing yourself to part with any of it! Most people would have had something a little more substantial to offer!"
Walter's eyes darkened while another perilous grin scaled the battlements:
"That's already been seen to: beans and sausages and a nice big loaf of bread in the back! But don't worry, you can just have the beans and bread if you think the cholesterol might be too much for you!"
"Couldn't we stretch things just a tiny bit further," she said, also experimenting with a smile. "I'm sure that with just a tiny bit more effort you'd be able to find us a really cheap restaurant somewhere!"
"Sorry... that your style! Personally, I never eat in cheap restaurants."
"Oh, goody!" She looked hopeful: "So..?
He shook his head, decisively:
"So forget it — too many trippers around. After driving three hundred miles, the only thing I'm looking for is peace and quite..." He leaned forward, peering through the windscreen: "Where do I find it?"
Kate stiffened her back and gazed ahead:
The track ended two hundred yards further on where, as they rounded a bend, a small yacht basin suddenly sprang from the darkness, the car's headlights revealing an assortment of vessels moored to a floating pontoon. Kate pointed out a small cruiser amongst them and Walter swung the car on to the grass opposite it.
The wind seemed even colder after the warmth of the car, marauding gusts warning of their approach by the rattle of halyards against metal masts. As she made her way down the bank and onto the pontoon, Kate wished she had accepted his coat instead of just his flashlight. But then, as she leapt aboard and down into the cockpit, her concentration became reserved for the padlock on the companionway door, leaving him grabbing his suitcase and carrier bag from the back of the car and finding his way in the dark.
"If you're hoping I'll rupture myself," his voice called after her, "you're gonna be disappointed! And even if I do, you might find that even more disappointing..!"
Kate swung open the door and disappeared inside just as Walter stumbled onto the pontoon:
"We should have some electricity," he called out; "I can see a cable com—"
The cockpit was suddenly illuminated by a wedge of light slanting through the door, helping him as he climbed aboard and down into the cabin, squeezing in behind her.
The cabin was about eight foot square with the chart table and small galley immediately at the bottom of the steps. Kate stood a little beyond that, looking helplessly around at the small space, trying to combat the sudden feeling that she had just been won at the fair, the magnanimous grin on his face doing nothing to dilute the impression. But she was broke and had nowhere else to go; no choice now other than to go along with him, temporarily at least. She pressed her hands to the emptiness under her ribs and felt weak. Walter lifted his huge shoulders:
"It ain't the Ritz, I know, but it can be made cosy. Once the stove's alight you'll soon warm up — sure you don't want my coat?"
She shook her head: that one extra garment on her would be one less on him and she had no intention of getting him started in the wrong direction. It was less cold in there as well. She was unequivocal:
"I shan't be staying the night here; I think I'd be safer in a hotel somewhere — anywhere! rather than chancing it down here with you!"
Walter was impervious:
"That's okay." He placed the carrier bag at her feet and squeezed past with his case. "You'll probably want a bite first, though, before you leave?"
Kate nodded, feeling a degree of defeat but lifted the bag onto the chart table seat and began unpacking it, placing the contents on the surface next to the cooker:
"Either that or I'll sleep in the car," she added. "But you had just better not try anything first!"
Walter shook his head and snapped open the catches of his case:
"I won't if you won't. Though I wish I knew why you like to keep putting those thoughts in my mind!"
"Oh, that's easy!" she said, her hand searching the drawer for a tin opener whilst Walter lifted a smaller case from the depths of his large suitcase; "it's because I've seen what you're so very capable of!"
"That was different..."
Walter took some pyjamas out and laid them neatly on top of the smaller case:
"Liza and I went around together for a while until I found out who's side she was really on — young and susceptible as I was then... bit like yourself!"
He closed the case and turned, eyeing her quizzically a moment before slipping off his jacket and holding it out:
"Here, take this and sit down — I'll do that."
She laid the tin-opener down and eased past him, avoiding the offered jacket, moving to the doorway that led forward:
"You keep it — I'll just look for a blanket."
She disappeared into the small wedge-shaped forward cabin.
Walter sighed and threw aside the jacket then lit the three available gas burners. It was while he was extracting a frying pan and saucepans from the cupboard under the sink that Kate returned voicing alarm:
"Will you lend me some money please: it seems that there aren't any blankets on this nasty little, ughhh..! Surely, there has to be a hotel around here somewhere!"
"Sure..." He shook beans into a saucepan; "must be, just so long as I'm not expected to do the honours and chauffeur you around looking for it."
She squeezed past him and sat at the chart table, trying to find a voice that was less aggressive, one that would be more appealing:
"I can drive..." she said, delicately.
He shook his head, concentrating on laying the sausages into the frying pan while she continued to watch, waiting the right moment to creep past the sentry:
"If I could just borrow the car..." she ventured, softly.
Walter's tone was equally inactive:
Kate was less disappointed than she might have been, the spluttering of sausages in the frying pan and the thick aroma of beans simmering, all contriving to undermine her resolve. It was obstinacy alone that helped some conviction back into her voice:
But the longer she sat at the chart table, watching him, the more his cooking seemed to give a new perspective to the situation. In fact, she even began to feel as if she may have been acting like a schoolgirl. As he stood there stirring the beans, then began busily pumping water from a diminutive tap into the other saucepan, totally unconcerned, she even began to doubt that he was interested in her at all.
Kate was shaken from her absorption:
"No... not till I've eaten, thank you!"
"Two miles to the nearest..." he mused; "then two miles back here again afterwards when you find out that they're all full up!" He looked over his shoulder at her. "And it might be a lot safer here, as well, if you're planning on walking around in the dark dressed like that... that's for sure!"
She knew that he was right; also that she would have to leave before it became too late to find a place to stay. That meant having to do so even before eating. Now, suddenly, he became the lesser of all evils. Even wearing his coat she was still going to be cold. She picked it up and slipped it over her shoulders, eyeing it ruefully: but if he did let her take it... well, at least she would have an overcoat!
"Would you let me borrow this if I go and look for a place to stay?"
"If I decide to leave early in the morning, I don't want to have to come looking for you first."
"Oh, so now, all of a sudden we're in a big hurry. Forget that you're practically already a week late! Hah..! So what was all that stuff about tak—!"
To her consternation, Walter suddenly dropped the fork and began undoing the buttons of his shirt. She half rose but he pushed her back and completed the job, standing over her with his ribs bare and the massive bruise offered close to her nose for inspection. She pulled a face:
"Ugh, how did that happen... been on another bonking spree!"
She helped hold up his shirt and allowed the fingers of her other hand to lightly to feel the damage:
"You ought really to have something around it to protect it — doesn't it hurt?"
"It felt better without anything."
"I dived head first out of a burning building. Our skinny friend Lutzin, the one you escaped from, the little arsehole had me doped and tied to a bed, then decided to set fire to the mattress..."
Kate suddenly felt more at ease — he was vulnerable! He tucked his shirt back in and continued:
"Lucky for me the bed was only one of those brass things and the joints were easy to pull apart..." he picked up the fork again and began turning over the sausages. "I was doing pretty good, though, before I rolled off the outside loo and landed in a dustbin, or something..."
Kate's face was a mixture of concern and delight:
"A loo and then a dustbin..! Well, how appropriate!"
Walter ignored the jibe:
"That was the last I knew until I woke up in hospital. And that's where I was until late yesterday afternoon!"
"But surely you can't go chasing around after a bunch of animals when you're in a condition like this... it would be difficult enough if you were alright?"
"I'll make out. There's just two of them I'm intending to have a few words with."
There was no denying he had certain qualities, was even attractive in a brutish way; very different from some of the oily and insipid creeps she had known. But he really belonged to an earlier epoch where he would have been a perfect mate to protect the cave. Just so long as the creature was on your side then fine! But then, suddenly, the realization fell on her that they were on the same side! The idea had never occurred to her before.
"It won't be easy getting onto the island without being seen," she warned, moving to the other end of the cabin and the hinged table that needed lowering for their plates. "But I suppose Jeremy should be back there by now... assuming nothing bad's happened to him in the meantime? Will he be alright do you think?"
"If he keeps his head down. They'll have enough to worry about without bothering with him... that's providing he don't go looking for it!"
The sausages were done and he began laying them out on the plates while she lowered the table and slid along the seat behind it. He added, reluctantly:
"Don't worry, from what I've seen of him, he can take care of himself."
But she was less worried than she appeared and in fact was more disturbed by that thought. Yet why should she be? After all, during all the time they'd spent together, their relationship hadn't developed at all, which had hardly been her fault!
Walter finished serving and proudly set two heaped plates on the table. Kate had meant to wait while he sawed up chunks of bread and found a bottle of sauce but one sausage was down and the other already disappearing by that time. Walter tried to look intimidating:
"One of those plates is mine!" he warned.
"Mmmm... well you'd better get it quick!"
"You see... imagine if you'd started eating like that in a good restaurant instead of the sort you usually use, we'd have been thrown out!"
He squeezed in beside her while she pressed closer to the bulkhead:
"At least there'd have been more room..!" she grumbled, eyeing him resentfully.
"I didn't design the table!"
"Oh no, I'm sure of that..." She dropped her eyes back to her plate, avoiding his: "if you had there would have been a mattress on it..! But what about Jeremy?"
Walter continued watching her between his own mouthfuls, admiringly, eventually forcing her to meet his gaze again:
"Well..?" she urged, unable to prevent a faint smile of pleasure at it.
"Jeremy... what about Jeremy?"
Walter's eyes darkened but he grinned crookedly:
"Him again..? Well I just find it very strange there's nothing been happening between the pair of you... someone as attractive as you... except, of course, he's nothing like me! What I'd really like to know is what's gonna happen after he sells his boat and gives you your dough?"
He turned his attention back to his plate whilst Kate, in spite of herself, had to admit to a warm feeling of pleasure invading after his compliment. Following the nasty experiences of late, any appreciation was as nourishing as the food, even if it did cause her to feel vaguely uneasy again. It would have been much wiser, she now realized, to have pretended that there had been something between her and Jeremy. But it was too late for that now. She squeezed closer to the bulkhead.
"Perhaps he won't sell it," she said.
"You mean you'll just let him keep the two hundred and stay together... just hanging on?"
"No, not exactly..! Why do you always have to sneer at everything; be so abrasive — so defensive!"
"It's obviously the root of all your aggressiveness... so I've been told!"
"Told by who?"
"Does it matter?" She changed the subject. "And what about you, what will you do with all that money?"
"Don't worry, that's all been taken care of... arranged in advance: a nice six months trip travelling across the States looking for a place to settle down — you can come with me if you like! How'd you like to do something like that?"
Kate hid her surprise: had she taken him at seriously then she may have had some difficulty in doing so. As it was, she simply pulled a wry face, the bland expression on his own giving little encouragement anyway. But if he had meant it, it was surely not the worst offer she had ever had! Walter lifted another forkful to his mouth, imperturbably munching away as he eyed her again:
"Well, what d'you think — coming or not?"
"To America with you!"
"That's what I said."
"I don't think so, thank you!"
"Because this is just a witless attempt to quietly guide me into your bed without hurting your ribs, and it definitely won't work!"
Walter sounded unconcerned:
"D'you imagine I couldn't take you, anyway if that's what I really wanted?"
Kate raised her fork threateningly:
"Not without getting one of these stuck in your ribs you
couldn't! Just try! Do you intend to try?"
Walter looked unimpressed by either the small fork or the tiny fist brandishing it:
"I'll think about it if you like!" he said. "It might just depend."
"On whether you and me's going to the States together or not."
"I see, either way, I'm going to be raped — definitely a no-win situation!"
"Relax! I said it might depend. I've got no intention of raping you just at the moment, whether you come with me or not."
"But you might change your mind sometime in the next half hour?"
"Don't you ever think about anything else!"
"No... I find that very difficult with somebody like you around!"
"Well, that's just about the nicest thing you've said to me so far..!"
Kate decided that she should finish her meal and try to regain as much strength as possible. After a moment, Walter added quietly:
"Doesn't have to be rape!"
"Do you know anything else!"
"Sure... but just for the moment I'd like you to keep your mind on choosing whether you're coming with me or not."
Kate remained silent, continuing to eat while she considered the situation. Eventually she said:
"I'll let you know in the morning..!"