9: Toby’s jug

Blake was used to getting her own way. Whether on her own or with Toby, when she had cajoled, cheated or lied somehow her tall, lean, proud stance and cold, clear eyes had shone a way through the most difficult circumstances. People had caved before an icy beauty and forthright manner. That blank eyed stare opened doors; even if people understood the lie they still rolled with it, she was not to be upset.

It wasn’t working in Vanuatu though, certainly not on Crab Island. People couldn’t listen if they didn’t understand her language and her alien beauty was but a curiousity to the Ni-Vans rather than a delicacy.

Jack was doing his best to explain, to act as mediator to the events around them.

“That’s Neri’s father, he’s kind of a boss around here, not really a chief, he’s too drunk to be that well respected, but he gets things done.”

So there was more to the native child than met the eye. Blake’s once laser perception had been wrong about near everything on the islands, from Toby to Jack to her own place on the food chain.

“They don’t get along, but she’s trying to find out what happened to your husband. The, uh, specifics…”

It looked to Blake like they were having a reunion under the nakamal rather than an investigation. There was a lot of hugging and kissing and laughing as the islanders took turns to greet the homecoming queen. There wasn’t any sadness about a tourist’s death, which gave credence to Blake’s own theory about Toby’s disappearance, unless her radar really was that askew.

“Your husband disappeared in the hallowed ground, ” said Jack. “It’s not like a burial place, or anything really, just a dip the other side of that big hill up there.” He pointed above the village, to where the island rose to a domed green head. “That peak drops sheer the other side. It’s actually the edge of an underwater volcano that stretches a few miles round. That’s all Crab Island is really, the edge of something bigger. Don’t worry it’s never erupted…”

Blake wasn’t interested in his natural history lecture. Save that for the tourists. She was scanning the faces instead. Trying to perceive what was really being said.

Then she saw it. One of many objects perched higgidy piggidy on a rough on a rough clay wall. Inbetween wood carvings, coke bottles and Chinese tourist tat perched a Harvey’s beer mug, a pewter tankard from a real ale brewery in Lewes, East Sussex. It was Toby’s jug.

Its disappearance from the Port Vila house was one of the reasons Blake suspected his plan was escape not explore. Taking that and the silver Patek Philippe watch she had given him for his 30th, engraved with ‘forever’ on the back. They weren’t items someone took on an island camping excursion, not if they planned to return.

The red mist came. Blake stormed forward, pushing past the Crabbies in their circle jerk, grabbed the mug and held it high in front of them.

“Why do you have this?” she said to a sea of blank faces. “Why is this here?” Nothing.

“Where is he? Where is the rest of him?”

The islanders knew what she was saying, even if they didn’t understand her words. Jack stood at the edge of the nakamal, studying the situation, Maddie next to him, unsure where to go. Then she stepped forward, crossed the nakamal, and stood next to her mother. The blonde angel seemed to sway the group. The villagers turned to Pisiv, who reluctantly rose sweatily to his feet with a grunt.

Nodding, he waddled across the path into a rickety hut. Neri motioned for Blake to follow. Jug in one hand, Maddie in the other, she did.

The hut was small, criss crossed with shards of light through stick walls that illuminated a spartan mat and stool as the only furniture. On the mat was Jack’s rucksack, half emptied. His Crabtree & Evelyn shaving soap, mirror, blade and brush decorated the stool. The vain idiot shaved when he was camping.

Neri and Pisiv leaned against a fragile wall, Jack loitered in the doorway chewing a nail, Maddie sat down cross legged on the mat. Neri and her father began to exchange words, but it was just gabble to Blake’s alien eyes, there was more to learn with her eyes. There were only a few basics in the rucksack, towel, T-shirts, shorts. No money, no wallet, no passport, no travel documents. There must be more.

The wall behind Neri and Pisiv was lined with boxes. Blake pushed Pisiv aside to get a better look. She lifted the lid of the first crate. Mother lode. Oh Christ. Nestled amongst the spit and sawdust were sticks of dynamite. Actual old school cowboys and indians stick and string fuse dynamite. Insanity. Had Toby became infected with that same colonial explorer madness as Leo?

The next box she didn’t need to open. She knew what rifles and ammunition containers looked like. The third and forth packages started to explain. Filing boxes. Papers. Brochures, bills of sale. Blake leafed through and the scale of her husband’s ambition began to reveal itself.

“Oh Toby,” she said, thoughts too loud not to be shared. “You stupid bastard.”


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