You could have heard them coming from a mile away. It was the car's fault. The old Austin Healy could hardly make it up the steep incline of the road that snaked through the hills from Ocho Rios. With a clatter of loose bolts, a grinding of gears, a squeal of decrepit brakes and a backfire, the rental car came to a stop in front of Hugh Carlow's villa. Alexander Scott jumped out of the passenger's seat and waited for Kelly Robinson to unwind his long, lithe frame from behind the wheel.
"A classic, you said," sneered Scott, eyeing the Austin Healy with a great deal of contempt. "I could have pushed the car up here quicker."
"Now you tell me," replied Robinson. "Hey, with a little tender loving care this baby would be good as new."
Scott harumphed. "Yeah, well, so would I." He peered at the villa. There were no lights on anywhere. "Doesn't look like anybody's home."
"Darn, I forgot my handy-dandy, government-issue spy flashlight, too. But I do have these." Robinson brandished a small box of matches from the pocket of his windbreaker.
"Good, light one -- and drop it in the gas tank. Then we'll have plenty of light."
Robinson shook his head. "Sacrilege. Complete and utter sacrilege."
They went up the stairs to the front door. Carlow's villa clung to the slope of a steep hillside, and sported balconies on two sides. The front entrance was off the balcony facing the road. When they reached the door and found it slightly ajar, Robinson and Scott exchanged glances. Guns materialized as if by magic in their hands. They had worked together as a team for a long time -- they didn't need to discuss what to do next. Scott pushed the door open with his foot and they went in one after the other, taking different directions. The big living room before them was empty. Robinson motioned for Scott to take the hallway on the right, and he catfooted his way down the hallway on his left. It took him to the study, and the first thing he noticed was the broken glass of the sliding door across the room, which looked like it had been hit by a cyclone. And there was something out there beyond the door, on the terrace....
Finding the bedrooms empty, Scott retraced his steps, went down the hall after Robinson, and found his partner standing just outside a shattered sliding door, looking down at a body crumpled on the terrace.
"I think we came at a bad time," said Robinson.
Scott nodded. He knew Robinson wasn't being callous. They'd seen plenty of death in their years as secret agents, but it was something you never really got used to. They used humor to quell the horror. And Carlow's death had been horrible.
"Whoever did this is long gone," muttered Scott. "Come on. Let's get out of here. Chee can call in the authorities."
"I'm right behind you."
They left the villa, got in the Austin Healy, and rattled, clattered and backfired their way down the road.
They went to see a man named Pringle the next day, but not in the Austin Healy, which had barely been able to get them back to Ocho Rios the night before. The taxi they hired was a vintage '57 Chevy that looked to be in mint condition. The cabby was a chubby, cheerful "colored" -- one of the mixed breeds who, along with the descendants of plantation slaves, made up ninety percent of Jamaica's population.
"Where to, chappies?" asked the driver.
"Old Harbour Bay," said Scott.
They drove south, across the island, and into Kingston, past the beautiful green square of Victoria Park and the old, whitewashed buildings along it. Just beyond the square they paused at the behest of a "Red Stripe", as the Jamaican constables were called, who looked very authoritative in his white pith helmet and gauntlets, the broad red stripes from whence came the nickname running down the outseam of black trousers. The driver twisted around and grinned toothily at Robinson and Scott.
"First time in Jamaica, mates? Mebbe you want to stop off at Castle Colbeck. Oldest and grandest mansion in the Caribbean, y'know."
"No sightseeing," said Robinson curtly.
"Righto. M'name's Ketch, by the way."
Robinson just nodded. The Red Stripe let them proceed, and Robinson watched the harbor, one of the finest in the world, pass by as they made for Spanish Town, crossing the Fresh Salt at The Ferry, angling around Hunt's Bay. Passing through scenic Spanish Town, Robinson hardly noticed the fine old English architecture of King's House and the Rodney Memorial. He couldn't get the image of Hugh Carlow's butchered corpse out of his mind. As for Scott, he was languishing in far more pleasant memories -- memories of honey-brown eyes, a bewitching smile, and lustrous jet-black hair.
They reached Old Harbor Bay, turning up a gravel drive and stopping in front of a small but impeccable colonial house. Robinson ordered Ketch to wait, and he and Scott crossed the columned portico to the front door. It swung open before they could knock, and Scott found himself looking into those honey-brown eyes -- and across five long years.
The Lily Pringle Scott had known had never been at a loss, and she didn't disappoint him this time, either. Smiling warmly, she laid her hands lightly on the broad span of his shoulders, leaned close, and kissed him softly on the cheek.
"Hello, Alexander." She smiled at Robinson. "Hello, Kelly. Father is waiting for the two of you. He is out on the patio."
She led the way, down a cool, airy hall with parquet floor and arched ceiling. She was wearing a pale yellow sundress, and her hair hung loose and full around her shoulders. Expensive perfume -- Alliage, wasn't it? -- wafted back to Scott and teased more memories to life.
Dr. Jonas Pringle sat on a rattan lounger on a sunny patio that offered a good view, across an expanse of Bermuda grass and a sliver of white beach, of the turquoise stretch of Portland Bight, to Great Goat and Pigeon Islands. Beyond the isles a high ridge of land jutted like a ship's prow into the sea -- Portland Point. Pringle was a tall, thin man, with short-cropped hair now gray at the temples and spectacles perched on a hawkish nose as he perused a newspaper. As usual he had an unlit cigar, a Cezadore, clenched between his teeth.
"Gentlemen!" Delighted, Pringle clasped their hands. "Pardon me for not getting up. My leg hurts especially badly today for some reason."
"No need to get up, sir," said Scott. He knew that Pringle had been shot by a British soldier while allegedly attempting a prison break fifteen years ago. One of black Jamaica's most respected citizens and accomplished physicians, he had gotten into politics -- and on the wrong side of the colonial government, thanks to a tendency to agitate for Jamaica's independence.
Pringle offered them a drink, which both agents declined. At the doctor's bidding they pulled up some chairs and sat down facing him.
"You've probably guessed why we're here, sir," said Robinson.
"Well, let's see. Last time you were tracking a Cuban assassin, as I recall. This time I suspect the problem you've come to attend to is homegrown. Named Poto."
"There's talk of a Marxist revolution," said Robinson. "Weapons being pipelined in from the Soviets via Cuba. Wealhy expatriates being contacted and asked to donate to the cause."
Scott was watching Lily. She had gone over to a rollaway bar flanked by huge potted plants and was mixing herself a Chivas with a dollop of water and a slice of lemon. This she took to a distant chair where she could hear and watch all. The smile she gave him when she realized he was looking at her was noncommittal. She was possessed of a strong sexual magnetism, and Scott couldn't help but feel the stirring of desire.
"I am older and, hopefully, wiser than the day I received a bullet in this leg," said Pringle, patting his left knee. "I have reached the disillusioning conclusion that revolutions only serve to replace one set of unacceptable rulers for another. I will answer the question you have not yet asked. Yes, Poto has contacted me. But I have declined the offer of becoming involved. But many are involved. The people have suffered for years under an incompetent, if not corrupt, regime. When times are hard it is quite easy to be swept away by the fervor of revolution. And Poto is a charismatic leader. Then, of course, there is the occult. I don't put much faith in it. But a lot of people on the island do. It gives Poto an edge. He's certainly not your run-of-the-mill rebel leader."
"So what are his chances of pulling off a coup?" asked Scott.
Pringle shrugged. "It is hard to say." He indulged in an enigmatic smile. "You Americans -- you still think of the Caribbean as your own private backyard. Someone is labeled a Marxist and he becomes a target."
"We're just here to assess the situation, sir," said Scott.
"Good. I would advise you not to tangle with Poto."
"No, sir," said Robinson glibly, "we didn't come here to tangle -- or even rhumba."
"The bossanova would be okay, though," mused Scott.
"Bossanova? Man, that is definitely uncool."
"How about the Watusi?"
"The Watusi is hip, but I'd get a bad case of lumbago."
Pringle stared at them -- then glanced at his daughter, who was suppressing a smile.
"You wouldn't know, then, sir, anyone who might be able to tell us more about Poto?" asked Robinson. "His strategy? His goals? Who his supplier is?"
"His goal is simple enough. The government is corrupt and incompetent and cares nothing about the suffering of the people. His strategy is also simple -- to empower the people. To give them hope."
"To overthrow the current government," murmured Scott.
"Yes. Of course. And to nationalize what little industry we have, so that all the people may share in the proceeds, not just the privileged few."
"I see," said Scott, nodding. "Well, we think Poto had an associate of ours killed last night on the north side of the island. The man was hacked to pieces with machetes."
"It was a warning," said Pringle. "I hope you took it seriously."
"Oh yes sir," said Robinson. "We always take death very seriously."
"Well," said Scott, rising. "It was good to see you again, Doctor." He nodded at Lily. "You too, Lily. Looking as fine as ever."
"Thank you, Alexander."
They shook hands with Pringle and left. Lily caught up with them in the driveway.
"Alexander? Do you, um, think we might see each other again before you leave Jamaica? Dinner, perhaps? And we'll talk about auld lang syne."
Scott glanced at Robinson, who raised an eyebrow and strolled on over to Ketch and the taxi.
"I don't think that would be a very good idea, Lily. Hanging around me might not be the safest place to be. But it was nice seeing you again."
He gave her a peck on the cheek and joined his partner in the back of the cab.
"Where to, mates?" asked Ketch.
Robinson told him to return them to their Ocho Rios hotel. Then he looked at his partner.
"Lovely lady, my Man. She hasn't changed at all in . . . how long has it been?"
"Too long," said Scott, with furrowed brow. "And not long enough."
"I roger that. So tell me, Professor -- what did we learn from the good doctor? Is he or isn't he?"
"He's a likely candidate. But maybe he isn't involved at all."
"And if he is he might just give us up to Poto."
"It puts him squarely on the horns of a dilemma," said Scott. "He owes us big time for saving Lily's life last time we rode into town."
Robinson nodded. They had cornered the wounded Cuban assassin in Pringle's office, and he'd taken Lily hostage. At great risk to life and limb they'd gotten Lily away unharmed, and killed the assassin. A very satisfactory outcome -- especially for Scott, who'd spent the next two weeks of downtime getting better acquainted with the lovely Miss Pringle. But Robinson had known all along that it wouldn't last. Lily Pringle was the product of a liberal liberal arts education courtesy of Cambridge U., and her ideas about politics and world peace and all that good stuff had been quite different from Scotty's.
They headed up Junction Road with the sun setting over the Cockpit country to their left, and were a few miles past Halfway Tree when Ketch half-turned, giving them a toothy grin.
"Hey, mates, there's a car on our tail. It follow us from Old Harbour, but I didn't think anythin' of it 'til we got out of Kingston town. Now I'm sure."
Robinson and Scott were too well-trained to turn and look behind them.
"What kind of car and how many in it?" asked Scott.
"A little blue job, a Triumph, I think. One man. This is plenty mecky-mecky, mates. What we do?"
"Just keep driving," said Robinson, reaching under his windbreaker to loosen the Walther P-38 he carried in a shoulder holster.