A Killer Opening
Leo hurdled the final boulder, then gallantly took hold of Amelia’s hand and hoisted her up and over it too. Tulip and Monty were gambolling at their heels. Tulip had something brown and nasty clenched between her teeth as she played a game of tag with Monty.
Oh well. It wasn’t as if Tulip didn’t find something fetid and rotten on almost every walk they took. Thank goodness for the garden hose between here and Amelia’s white cotton sheets, which the two hellhounds refused to acknowledge as a doggy no-go area.
As they emerged from the windswept thicket of thorny shrubs, Amelia was pleased to see that Oliver was playing the perfect host. The guests were sipping on perfectly chilled drinks he had ferried up in cold boxes and were staring down through binoculars at the magical pinkness of the Greater Flamingos. They looked as if they belonged in a Disney cartoon.
Amelia strode across to the old ammunition box Oliver had packed the binoculars in and removed a set for herself and another for Leo. She pulled him to an empty spot behind the railing they installed before opening the island to the public. Safety first! her inner girl-guide whispered the almost forgotten memory of Mary Williams and the Singed Eyebrows.
‘How many will there be once the stragglers arrive?’ Leo asked, using his binoculars to point at the scattering of wading birds below.
‘Last year there were around forty when the season was in full swing,’ Amelia said. ‘The majority of the Balearic population spend their winters in Mallorca or one of the other larger islands. There’s more food. But we have some diehard fans drawn here like alkies to a free bar. They can live for up to forty years, and are now bringing their children with them, so our little group is on the rise.’
‘They sure are a sight to see,’ Price interrupted, peering through his binoculars as he dabbed his sweating forehead with a facecloth he’d pilfered from his suite. Will we have a chance to shoot a couple; pretty sure you limeys call that a brace, while we are here? Maybe we could—’ Amelia’s horror-filled face stopped his next words on the tip of his tongue.
‘Absolutely not!’ she screeched. ‘It’s against the law!’ Not that she knew that for a fact. It was likely only Oliver knew whether it was indeed against Spanish law to hunt flamingos. But it didn’t matter. This was her island, and if it wasn’t against Spanish law, it most certainly was against El Pedrusco law.
‘Not even one? What would be the harm in that?’
‘They mate for life! They are gregarious creatures; they couple up, then breed at the same time as their friends so all the kids can grow up together. So, when one dies, it’s really two plus all the offspring they could have produced.’ Price took a slug of his San Miguel not looking impressed by her tale of flamingo amigos. His brows furrowed and Amelia tensed for his next words.
‘What about the goats?’ he asked. ‘We passed a whole bunch on the way up here. Surely the herd needs thinning? I bet they could give a man a run for his money!’
‘No! Absolutely not! No hunting on the island. No fishing, no crossbows, no trapping and absolutely no shooting,’ Amelia spat out, her voice rising. ‘In fact, new rule. No guns allowed on any part of this island,’ Amelia said in a way it could not be misconstrued. There began her proclamation.
‘Guns are dangerous and are, as far as I can see, without any redeeming qualities. So, it is with great joy that I now declare this island a gun-free zone.’ By the time she finished speaking, Amelia was panting, her limbs rigid with indignation. Glancing at the faces around her, she realised her aversion to Price and his murderous ideas were a tad heavy on drama.
Only Herb wasn’t staring at her. Instead, he had his binoculars—no, his telephoto lens—firmly trained on one of three ledges beneath them. Amelia raised her own binoculars, shifting them in the direction Herb’s camera was pointing.
Though she knew his fascination wasn’t with the flamingos, Amelia still gasped at what he had his camera lens trained on. Beneath them, on the rock platform, Sawubona and Tantriana were practicing a complicated—no…impossible—tantric ritual. Naked.
‘Get away from there,’ Amelia hissed, rushing across to Herb, making sure to stay well back from the railing. She grabbed his camera from his sweaty grip.
‘Give them a little privacy, old boy,’ Leo drawled, taking the camera from Amelia’s shaking hands and passing it to Oliver.
They had an audience. Only Daisy had her binoculars trained out over the lake, towards the harbour. She was watching Bill as he sat on a chair under an awning on the deck of his boat. He had his old briefcase open on the floor beside him. Daisy’s eyes were hidden by the binoculars but her brow was furrowed, her head was cocked to one side and she was so still Amelia couldn’t have sworn she was breathing. What on earth? Amelia thought.
Bill must have sensed Daisy’s scrutiny because he looked up at their little group, spotted Amelia and smiled his wolfish mushy pea smile, before taking off his ridiculous captain’s hat and waving it around in a wide arc over his head.
Amelia waved back with a lot less enthusiasm, then turned back to Daisy, who was now slumped on a nearby rock. Amelia approached and sat down beside her.
‘Are you okay?’ she asked.
‘Yes. I think so,’ Daisy replied. ‘It feels strange being back here. Surreal. Every stranger I see looks like the boogieman. Something about the day feels…ominous. I don’t know…’
Amelia remained silent, giving her old friend space to share if she needed to.
‘I’ve been afraid every day for the past fifteen years since…’ She took a deep breath. ‘I haven’t had flashbacks of the kidnapping for a long time. Not until today. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but something about this place, or maybe these people, has brought it all back.’ Daisy shivered and Amelia grabbed hold of her hand and squeezed. She could feel every single bone in that hand. A strong tramontana wind would blow my fragile friend away.
‘Let’s go back,’ Amelia suggested, climbing to her feet and dragging her friend away from the edge, towards the group.
Price was back at the jeep, as was a chastened looking Herb. Oliver had the disgruntled man’s camera clutched in his hands and spoke to him a stern voice. ‘You will have it back in time for this evening’s festivities, but only if you promise not to make more of a nuisance of yourself than is entirely necessary.’
‘It’s a funny thing,’ Herb said, smirking like an unrepentant child caught with his hand in the cookie jar. ‘How you toffs practically beg me to attend your stick-up-your-own-arse self-congratulatory soiree. But once I’m here, doing my bloody job, you moan and groan about respecting your privacy. Effin’ hypocrites,’ he said as he stomped off.
Wendy was packing the cold box away and Maud and Leo were having a heated discussion. Amelia guessed Leo was confronting her mother over the events Amelia had revealed on their walk.
‘Maud, be careful so close to the edge,’ Amelia called to her mother, just as the ground slipped from beneath Maud’s foot. Her face froze, her arms flailed around like she was trying to fly, and Amelia’s heart skipped at least one beat. But Leo shot out one hand and grabbed hold of Maud’s shoulder, dragging her away from the edge.
‘This conversation isn’t over,’ Maud hissed after collecting herself. Without a word of thanks, she stalked back to the jeep.
The journey down was far quicker than the way up had been, partly because gravity was kind, but also because after she waved off her guests, the spectre of her mother appeared out of the dust kicked up by the jeep.
Amelia, who had been enjoying the reprieve of Maud’s loaded silences, was not ready for battle to recommence, so she turned toward the path and made her escape down the rocky descent. The awkward run-walk she adopted quickly became a slow jog, then a faster one until eventually, she was running full pelt, as if fleeing from a pack of wild hyaenas, and instigating countermeasures to evade her determined mother cantering after her, calling out her name in an accidental imitation of a braying donkey.
As she ran, Amelia glanced across the valley toward the artist village. There was another awkward situation she had failed to avoid in her single-minded pursuit of that weekend’s prize. Embarrassingly, she had yet to invite her eccentric neighbours to join in Saturday's festivities, and with it now looming large on the horizon, she worried the lateness of the invitation would be insulting. She was left with a choice. She could invite them and brand herself forever after as one of the rudest people on the planet, the kind that left some invitations until the last minute in case someone better came along. Or, alternatively, she could leave things as they were and run the risk of permanently blighting relations with her neighbours by snubbing them. This was the dilemma that plagued her as she hurtled down the rocky slope.
In her worry, she had avoided making a decision, taking too long to weigh up the pros and cons of putting the artists in the same room as her celebrity guests. Left to her own devices she would have invited them immediately. In fact, she had even set out to do just that when Bill had warned her against poking a sleeping tiger. They had, he had explained, some resentment against the changes she was making to the island. They weren’t entirely happy with the idea of her healing hotel, and he counselled her to steer clear of them for the time being.
She still hadn't worked out the best course to take, when she stubbed her toe on a rock, then attempted evasive manoeuvres before taking an unladylike flight. She reached out her arms to save herself, which only served to cause her to stumble around like a drunken sailor—a trip to the hospital in Mallorca flashed in front of her eyes— and she bounced off a nearby pine and windmilled backwards before landing on her bum in the dirt.
It couldn’t have been more than ten seconds later that Maud was looming over her. She was surprised at her speed, especially in those shoes.
Amelia stayed where she was, though she shifted her eyes from one of the large orange rocks that littered the landscape to another, and silently counted them –one, two, three… – which was what she did when she caught herself judging someone, which wasn’t exactly often, but it did happen. Then she did her best to redirect her thoughts to serenity and peace.
Restored, though still panting heavily, Amelia prepared to clamber to her feet and recommence her run when Maud gasped out, ‘If you had just slowed down for a moment, I could have said the few words I needed to say, which I will do now, after which I will happily leave you in peace!’
‘It feels to me,’ Amelia said, ‘that you and I have exchanged more than enough words for one lifetime’.
Maud’s eyebrows shot up into her hairline. Before the dreaded Will reading, Amelia had disagreed with Maud perhaps five or six times, at most, in her entire life. Today, it was looking like her habit of passive compliance was at an end. Amelia found she was enjoying the moment, but she had little practice while Maud had more than five decades of it, so it was time to move on.
‘Alright,’ she continued wearily. ‘Why don’t you just spit it out so I can see to my guests.’
‘I don’t need you to come home,’ Maud said. By which Amelia knew she meant to come home immediately. ‘Wendy is extraordinary,’ Maud added, which translated to, Wendy doesn’t pass muster and is quite ordinary, which Amelia knew, to Maud, was beyond the pale. Amelia disagreed. In fact, she would go so far as to say that dealing with the ordinary would do her mother some good and might even spur her into rising from her bed and making her own egg and soldiers once in a while.
‘Is that all?’
‘No, that is not all. I should have you know, if you’re even interested, that the words for my latest play are flowing like the vodka at Café Pushkin. It will be a triumph.’ Maud had completed her Pollyanna speech with the greatest lie of them all. It was clear that writer’s block had set in.
This did not bode well for Amelia. In fact, it undoubtedly meant that the thing Maud wanted, that Amelia had sensed through her mother’s uncharacteristic, almost charitable forbearance, was for Amelia to come home, no questions asked. Maud would spend the coming days relentlessly badgering Amelia, and it would continue after the opening.
Perhaps, Amelia thought in horror, she would go as far as sabotaging Amelia’s inheritance.
‘Mother…’ Amelia tried to stop the flow.
‘The one cloud on my horizon is dear Daisy.’ Amelia gritted her teeth. Her whole life, Maud had used Daisy’s perfection, her suffering, and her celebrity to highlight Amelia’s perceived mediocrity. After a year in paradise, Amelia’s armour against Maud was brittle through lack of use. She wasn’t sure her newfound non-compliance would stand up to a ‘Daisy would have made a better daughter than you,’ tirade.
‘I’m so worried about her. When we were waiting for you for so long in the lobby. You know, before that fake guru traumatised us all with his ugly song and uninvited physical activity.’ Amelia winced and balled her fists. ‘Daisy told me her time on the island had always felt like a dream, a dream that preceded an unimaginable nightmare…which was of course a nightmare for us all. She went on to explain that this trip will be an ending, an ending she yearns for. Then, when she went walking along the cliffs by the hotel in those sky-high heels, I wondered…’
‘Mother!’ Amelia gasped.
‘I do not mean to frighten you. I only point it out so that nothing terrible happens to get in the way of the party…and your inheritance. It would be awful if you were to lose it this late in the day.’
Maud’s words sounded like a threat. For once, Amelia took care of herself instead of bowing to whatever nonsense Maud had in mind. So, with Maud’s spiteful mouth still open like a serpent ready to strike, Amelia dragged in a shaky breath, clambered up to her feet, only thinking thoughts of denial. She pushed past Maud, who let out a far-too-desperate yelp, and walked down the hill toward the hotel.
No, I cannot – will not – believe it. There is no way that Daisy, having lived through so much only to fight through it and become Hollywood’s darling, could be thinking of ending it all. And damn Maud for even suggesting it!
But, then again, I can recognise what Maud is trying to do. She’s planting a fearful seed just behind the boulder in the pit of my stomach. Amelia’s fists balled. Her jaw tightened. But this time, I’m not going to water that fear. I’m not going to let it grow and shut out the light I have found on this island. I’ll kill her before she robs me of that.