25: Fall from grace

It was a good day when Jack took Toby up the mountain. Clear sky, clean air, all the better for the entrepreneur to survey his new land.

It was a hard climb, at least for Toby. He’d spent too long away from a gym and his legs ached as the path steepened. Still, he was invigorated by the beautiful island, he had so many plans for it and he described them to Jack as they ascended.

“People pay top dollar for a place like this. A week in paradise. It’ll be a boutique hotel, cabins dotted through around the hill and on the beach, meals prepared from local produce grown here, fresh fish caught that day, all the islanders can be employed. You can run boat trips for trip whack…”

Jack said nothing. Toby’s vision for Crab Island™ sounded a hell of a lot like the rest of the world, a community of serfs catering to the whims of the rich. Not what he wanted in life, representing everything he was escaping from. But the more Toby talked, the more Jack realised this man was planning to take his own dream away from him.

Toby almost collapsed with exhaustion when they reached the summit, a flat disc  pockmarked with a medley of roots and tree shards growing out from the rocky earth horizontally. Panting, ruddy faced, glistening with sweat he unburdened his rucksack and fell to the ground heaving.

Watching the beached whale the guide made his decision. “That’s no way to enjoy the view,” said Jack. “Take a traveller’s tip. When you reach the top, remove anything that’s weighing you down. Shoes, socks, watch. When you feel lighter its easier to stand tall.”

Jack tore off his own battered boots and wriggled his toes in the earth as example. Toby watched, snorted, then followed suit. His spanking new Red Wing boots were a lot stiffer than Jack’s holed and worn soled DM’s. Jack eyed them jealously, with practical rather than materialistic purpose.

Toby placed his silver Patek Philippe watch in one of the boots carefully. It glinted in the warm sun. How much boat fuel would that pay for? thought Jack. A year, maybe two, three or more?

“Now you can stand and see the land properly,” said Jack. “Stretch out and walk to the edge.”

Toby did as advised. He wasn’t a man who enjoyed orders, too thin skinned to believe another should best him, but the guide knew what he was talking about. That was why he was paying him after all.

He walked to the edge and breathed in the sights. It was every bit as glorious as suspected. The supposed hallowed ground of Crab Island below was a thick field of lush green that glowed even more vibrantly in the midday sun, with the village and farm falling away to his right, flanked by clear blue waters all around. Paradise.

“Wow,” said Toby. “I can see it all now. It’s majestic. I’m going to build so much here.”

Revelling in his dreams, he did not notice the guide slowly move behind him, too blinkered to realise another’s intent.

“No,” said Jack. “Not on my watch.”

Toby started. The voice was on his neck. He whirled around and Jack shoved him hard. Eyes wide, Toby fell backwards, grasping hands desperate for a hold, but finding none from Jack. He teetered, then span in mid-air, flapping bird arms not enough to prevent the fall. His body did twist though, and one hand  reached out and fortunately caught an outlying tree branch, taking his descent away from the hallowed ground towards the village side of the hill.

Dammit, the preening jerk was lucky, thought Jack. The dead wood of the tree strained under Toby’s flabby weight and began to arch back, tipping his bare foot away from any chance of a toe hold on the rock face. Jack picked up the largest boulder he could find, raised it above his head and threw it with a mighty heave.

The stone smashed Toby full in the face and that was enough to loosen his tentative grip on the branch, knocking him into space. He fell, too stunned to scream, to shocked to realise why he’d been murdered.

Jack watched him drop and breathed in the fresh air once more. He’d not planned it, but this wasn’t the first time he’d acted on such instinct and he knew enough not to let guilt trouble his mind. He’d done it for the island, for his own dream, for Neri.

It was a pity he’d not fallen into the hallowed ground, but no matter, Jack could still tell everyone that’s where he was, confident there’d be no search party and the bones would never be found.

He pocketed the watch and noted the engraving on the back. Forever. He would have to be careful when and where he sold it, but lucky it didn’t have a name etched there. Again, no worries.

He tried on Toby’s shiny boots. The size was alright, but they weren’t broken in and the stiffness felt unnatural, claustrophobic. He took them off and casually threw them over the edge, then began the descent down the mountain in his bare feet, just like a true islander.

TO BE CONTINUED

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