Marvin was pleased to be finally in Alicante-Elche airport and away from Kev & Co. He had watched the whole family as they elbowed their way down the aisle and off the plane. All were now, thankfully, way in front of him and hurrying to meet up with Nan and Granddad Essex. They would be taking their younger kin to Benidorm – a fitting destination for such typically belligerent British tourists. As Marvin walked through the automatic doors into the arrivals hall, he sighed with relief as the screaming of the little Dagenham finally dissipated into a distant whisper. Even though he was early, he walked over to the lift, his all-time favourite Louis Vuitton travel bag firmly in his grasp. It had been a 50th birthday present from his daughter, and he never failed to take it on his travels.
Rollinson was following him, not knowing they were heading for the same destination. She eyed his bag enviously as she pulled her own small wheeled suitcase along behind her.
She was glad of the walk after sitting still for a couple of hours. By choice she was an outdoorsy person and was looking forward to walking on the beach on the island. Her writer’s mind visualised palm trees and long stretches of virgin sand; better than the bunkers on the local golf course, especially this time of year.
Dee and Barton had decided to have a coffee before taking the escalator up to the bridge would lead them to the multi-storey car park. In both their letters it stated they had to be on the 4th floor for 11.15am on the dot. The flight had arrived on time, which left them 20 minutes before the rendezvous in the car park.
“I don´t envy cabin crew, when you get those infuriating kids running up and down the aisle,” said Dee, as she absentmindedly stirred her cafe con leche.
“Me either” he responded, enjoying having Dee sitting in front of him.
A few minutes later, Barton and Dee found themselves near Marvin and Rollinson, who were standing by the allotted meeting point more or less ignoring each other.
Miguel Jayasinghe had caught a taxi from the train station in Alicante to the airport, and had been dropped just minutes before at the departure entry. Unknowingly he had crossed the bridge with Joy Lennick. Her husband Eric, had carried her bag into the terminal, but left her to get to the car park from the main building by herself. He had wanted to help her, but she had insisted she could manage on her own.
Both Jayasinghe and Lennick reached the car bays at the same time. They introduced themselves to those already waiting, but received no more than a cursory nod from the rest of the company. So, finding themselves as outcasts already, they struck up their own conversation.
“Did you have far to come?” Lennick asked.
“From Madrid, today. I was there to see inside the Museo Nacional de Prado. I never had much chance to visit museums when I was younger, and since I´ve been living here in Spain I’ve managed to address the situation somewhat. I booked the break months ago, and then I get this letter asking me to go to Tabarca today; I couldn´t resist seeing a literary agent. Poets hardly ever get invited anywhere.”
“Oh you´re a poet! How nice,” Lennick said, clearly preferring to move the conversation to her. “I’ve written my autobiography, of course,” she said, as if Jayasinghe ought to know, “and I’ve won a few short story contests. In fact, my success in this area led to me being employed as a specialist judge for several short competitions.. But it’s the autobiography that clearly impressed Irma Iller. Apparently…” she said, looking around to make sure no one was eavesdropping, “… she wants her own memoirs written. That’s why I´m here.”
“Have you always written?”
“No, good heavens, no. At least not like I do now. I was a forensic scientist years ago, but it became tiring, How about you?” she asked, through politeness rather than interest. Before Jayasinghe could answer, Janette Davies made her a high profile entrance, bringing her MG screeching to a halt in the same lane as the meeting bays. She´d stopped for petrol and the loo, and even with all the speed in getting to the airport she found herself almost late for the rendezvous.
Getting out of her car, she brought her blue and white case off the passenger seat, locked the MG, and strode purposefully towards the assembled company.
“I take it that this is the bus stop for Tabarca´s jolly boat ride?” she called out as she approached.
Janette smirked as she neared Joy.
“Looks like it to me; although I´m not sure of the jolly part,” Lennick whispered.
Miguel nodded his head in agreement.
Joy plonked her suitcase down and leaned against one of the pillars of Bay 419. Who were these people?
Suddenly, two white saloon cars appeared and drove to where the other seven passengers were waiting. The group moved hastily out of the way as one slid into 418 and the other 419.
Gerry Wright knew he was cutting it a bit fine, but his flight had been the only one from Gatwick arriving around the stipulated time. Luckily the wind direction had been kind, and his plane had landed on time. He’d been first to disembark, and, with only hand luggage, had rushed through passport control. Out of breath, he arrived at bay 418 at the same moment the Spanish driver jumped out of the saloon.
“Hola, mi nombre es Jesús, he venido a llevarte a la embarcación que va a Tabarca. Mi amigo es Pedro,” he said, as he opened the boot.
“He says his name is Jesus, and he has come to take us to the boat going to Tabarca. His mate is Pedro,” Barton translated for the rest of the group, hoping to have impressed Dee.
“Dead on time, they must have been waiting downstairs!” Marvin said, to no one in particular.
Barton picked up Dee´s suitcase along with his own, and walked over to the car where he handed them to Jesus. Then he walked round the car, opened the rear door and ushered Nikki Dee inside.
“Thank you, kind sir,” she smiled, simultaneously faking a curtsy. He watched her legs disappear as she climbed inside, and quickly followed her as she shuffled along to settle in the middle seat.
“I´ll sit in the front,” said Marvin, passing his case to the driver, leaving Rollinson standing to one side. As no one in the other group moved, she pulled her case towards the first car. Jesus took it from her, and added it to the other three in the boot. He slammed the lid closed.
Pedro, followed the lead of his colleague, similarly packing the cases of Jayasinghe, Lennick, Davies and Wright.
With all the writers in the two cars, Pedro walked away, leaving Jesus alone. The group sat silently, wondering what was happening. A couple of minutes later, Pedro reappeared. He handed Jesus a paid parking ticket, and kept one for himself. .
“Snug in here, isn´t it?” Rollinson said, visibly relieved to be on the move again. No one answered. She turned her head, looked out the window, and watched as each floor of the multi-storey came and went with every screech of the cars tyres.
In the other car, the passengers were discussing a comment Wright had made about hearing from a fellow passenger on his plane that a storm was approaching this part of the Costa Blanca.
“Are you telling me this is going to be a choppy trip?” Davies asked. “I don´t do choppy!”
“Don´t worry, I shouldn´t think it will be here today. I expect the captain will be able to tell us more, when we get on the boat.”
“How far is this boat?” Jayasinghe asked.
“The marina is about 10 minutes away; not far.”
“Good… I don´t do being a passenger in backseat of cars, either,” Davies commented again, taking deep while staring out of the front windscreen.
Minutes later, the two cars had parked on a slip road which ran parallel to the Marina at Alicante.
The drivers quickly helped their passengers exit the cars, and unceremoniously disgorged their luggage from the boots.
Making them take their own cases, Jesus led the writers to the allotted boat. Pedro stayed with the cars.
Their transport was tied up, on the other side of the harbour café. The captain was waiting at the bottom of the gangplank.
“Hola, good morning to you, please welcome to my ship. I am the Capitan. They call me El Matador del Mar,” he said, smiling profusely.
Dee looked at Barton, and raised her eyebrows.
“The bullfighter of the sea,” he explained.
“She´s a boat. And she looks a bit worse for wear,” Wright complained. “Especially with this storm brewing.”
“Storm, what is storm?” the captain questioned.
“Una Gotta Fria,” said Barton, turning to Wright. “Not today, tomorrow per´aps. You come back when the storm is going away. My lovely ship… she likes the sun.”
“Oh great; we could be stuck on the island for a while then?” Lennick said, looking from the boat to the other passengers.
“Si, yes, come, come, we have to go now!” Scurrying up the gangplank, the captain left his passengers to make their own decision to follow.
With a shake of his shoulders Marvin was first to follow the captain. Turning back to the rest, he said, “It´s a bit of an adventure. “Anyway we are expected. I wouldn´t like to be the one to let Irma Iller down, and to be honest I´d rather be on dry land when this storm finally hits, if it does.” He looked back to the boat, and then returned his attention to his fellow passengers. I don’t think we want to be on this rust bucket in high seas.”
With that, the majority immediately followed, scuttling up the dodgy walkway behind Marvin. Ladies first, of course.
Wright was last, as he deliberated still on terra firma, whether or not to go behind them.
Jesus returned to the cars, not waiting for the Englishman´s decision to go. They had done their work for the morning. “You come, hurry,” the Captain yelled from the upper deck.
“OK, keep your hair on, I´m coming!” Wright called. He jumped onto the gangplank and strode quickly when he saw one of the crew members was already unfastening it at the top, ready to bring it on board.
“Wait a minute, I´m not there yet” Wright shouted. He barely managed to jump aboard, before the man pulled out the last pin, moved the plank to the side and closed the gate to the deck.
“I´m too bloody old for all this,” Wright muttered. He dumped his case with the rest of the luggage, and reluctantly joined the others who had congregated at the rear of the boat.
This area was set out with cushions on wooden benches that were fixed to the floor. Plenty of room for the 8 guests, who sat and watched as Alicante began to slowly disappear behind them.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I have been asked to welcome you aboard. Your trip will not be too long as we travel down the beautiful coastline. We will bring nibbles to you in half an hour,” announced a young Spanish woman. “Please enjoy your trip and the Cava my colleague is handing round.”
Davies took a glass of the Cava that was offered, as Wright sat down next to her.
“Thanks, I need this,” she said to the girl serving, “even if it is a bit early in the day.”
“Yes, thank you,” Wright said as he took his drink. “I didn´t get much breakfast, so I hope the nibbles have some substance,” he said to anyone listening.
“I doubt it,” Jayasinghe murmured, his bow tie looking strangely out of place on the dishevelled ferry.
“Does anyone know anything about this Irma Iller?” Barton asked, approaching the group.
His question was met with shoulder shrugs and shaking heads.
“I´ve just spoken to the captain, he got the booking through the internet,” Barton continued. Jesus told me the same thing. Don’t you think it’s a little strange?”
“Agents work in funny ways. So do publishers,” Marvin commented.
“Yes, possibly, but still….”
“Maybe we’re just going to be on that island all alone,” said Rollinson nervously.
“Apparently not,” Barton answered. “According to El Matador up there, they’ll be staff on the island looking after us. He doesn’t know who they are, but he’s been told we’ll be met when we reach the island.”
“Then I suppose we shall just have to wait” Lennick said, helping herself to another glass of Cava. “I have to say, this is rather nice.”
The journey wasn´t as quick as they had hoped; the wind was gathering strength. Clearly a storm was approaching.
By the time they reached the shoreline of the island, they were thoroughly fed up and miserable. Disembarking the boat, they were directed along a wooden pathway to the large villa that stood alone on a windswept hill.
Reaching the entrance, the door was flung open and two women came out to greet them.
“Come in, come in,” the more rotund of the pair called to them. “My name is Ann Mancey, and this is Margaret Shea. We will be looking after you while you are here.” She spoke with a flourish, clearly excited.
“Unfortunately, our hostess Irma Iller is delayed, but we have a meal prepared for you,” Shea said as she led the way into the huge entrance hall. “Ann will give you your room keys over at the desk there.” She pointed to where her partner was now standing.
It took a little over ten minutes for the keys to be distributed. Corresponding rooms were easily found on the large map of the villa to one side of desk.
“Dinner will be provided in the dining room in one hour,” Mancey called, as the group began to leave the hall.
Marvin was the last to take his key. “Ann, do you know what this Green Bottles Agency is?”
She shrugged her shoulders “All I know is that we’ve already been paid, and been given our instructions. Never met the woman. Everything was done over the internet and by letter. She looked around her, as if checking no one was listening, and then leaned in toward Marvin. “But easy money like this,” she whispered, sneaking a look around again,”well, you can’t turn that down, can you?”
“No, of course not,” Marvin replied, winking acknowledgement.
“Oh, we also had to put a green bottle in each room,” she giggled. “Strange, but it was enjoyable making them empty first!”
Marvin nodded, smiled, and left to follow his companions. He welcomed the time to freshen up before dinner. Clearly their host, whoever she was, had some notion of decorum.
Mancey and Shea disappeared to the kitchen in order to finish preparing the early evening meal.
“They look a motley crew don´t they?” Shea said, folding napkins into swans and placing them on a tray ready to take into the dining room.
“They’re writers, what do you expect!” Mancey giggled again. “Just like us!”
Within the hour movement was heard around the villa.
Dressed to kill, Lennick made her way down to the dining room. As she reached the bottom step her heel caught on her hem. She floundered and fell into Marvin´s arms.
“Thanks,” she said, regaining her balance. “You´re welcome.”
He was as smartly dressed as she. He had shaved, and suddenly Lennick recognised him from her past, but couldn’t quite place him. The past is so long ago, she said to herself.
.The pair walked in silence to the dining room. Suddenly she remembered who he was. They had met in court, several times over the years, but on one occasion he had given evidence which led to the conviction, she believed of an innocent man. He had ridiculed her forensic evidence and, unfortunately, the jury had taken his side. But, hey it was ages ago, water under the bridge now, it wasn´t the only case she lost.
Davies was in a room on the ground floor. From the bath she was languishing in, she could see the garden. All the guests were strangers to her and each other; although Dee and Barton seemed cosy. She wondered about the pasts of all her companions.
She reached for the towel and stepped out of the bath, thinking about what her late husband would have thought of the whole thing.
Wright was in his room, knotting his tie. As he did so, he reflected on the reason for his being here. He was to watch and wait. An easy task, perhaps, but all the more reason to ensure it was professionally completed. He had to make a good impression; his writing career could be on the line.
Jayasinghe noticed for the first time the green bottle standing alone on the shelf above his bed. Is it significant? Should he be here in the first place? He was beginning to wonder if he should even stay on the island. He adjusted his new red bow tie and walked out of his room. Dinner beckoned.
Rollinson was also studying her green bottle. She had showered and dressed. She began to hum the song associated with it green bottles. She wondered how the other nine guests could be ousted as her competition. If that is, indeed, what this was. She continued humming Ten Green Bottles as she made her way to the dining room.
Barton was on his way downstairs. As he negotiated the first steps, he could see into the dining. Dee looked stunning, her head tilting to one side as Lennick talked with her. He was looking forward to making an impression on her over this weekend.
He pulled his stomach in and continued down the stairs, hoping he’d already made a good start.