Ten miles south of Mazatlán and ten miles off the Mexican coast, the Isla de Puesta del Sol rose gently from the sea, a verdant bosomy mound. A broad sandy beach ringed its eight square miles, the silver setting of a tropic emerald.
"The south third—you can’t see it from here—isn’t cultivated yet," Swan told Cay as they cruised toward the short low pier. "My laziness or incompetence or something, I guess."
To Cay, the serried rows of coco palms, slender pale trunks loftily topped with feathery fronds, made the island look like a green pincushion stuck full of identical green hatpins. Swan shyly squeezed her hand; he hadn’t given her any trouble on the short voyage and she felt toward him a sort of grateful contempt. However, she affectionately returned his pressure, meanwhile engrossed with the plantation house coming into view.
The pier, on the coastal side of the island, traversed the wide beach to a palm-shaded clearing where the house stood. Dark vertical planking, red tile roof—but it was the vined pillars of the encircling veranda that gave Cay a thrill of recognition. Valdes slept here, she reflected grimly. Why? She clutched her death-laden purse more tightly. Other guests might arrive yet tonight: Diki, Felix, the Trader.... She was prepared.
Her pale blue eyes moved among the dark throng of workers, men and women, streaming down to meet the returning Concha. They came from the thatched shanties and tin-roofed storehouses east of Swan’s house. They trudged along the narrow-gauge tracks that appeared from the palm forest and ran to the end of the pier. She saw a pair of rail carts, man-powered, standing idle in the late sunlight. More uneasily she noticed the vicious-edged machetes used for splitting coconuts; one of the heavy blades hung from the belt of every man. From tonight on they would be armed with rifles.
Spencer Swan was guarding something more valuable than coconuts. His life? The cruiser bumped the pier. "Oye, Spencer, aqui! Give me a hand up!" It was the mellow voice of a woman, her English slurred. Cay spun around, startled, and Swan gave a little jump away from her side. But there was no one to be seen near at hand.
Swan mumbled, "Oh, good lord, I didn’t see her in the water," and went over to the rail of the Concha. Cay followed and looked down at the upturned face and foreshortened body of a woman treading water alongside the white hull. She wore no bathing cap; her heavy black hair was coiled round her head in braids. She was Mexican and handsomely mature, with broad cheeks and dark glinting eyes, and a large red smile until she saw Cay.
Swan leaned down and, using both hands, gruntingly helped her walk up the side of the cruiser and across the rail. She didn’t thank him. She said, "I didn’t know of the visitor because you didn’t telephone."
"Slipped my mind. You know my memory," said Swan awkwardly. "I happened to run into Cay Morgan, a friend of mine from the States. Cay, this is Concha, my wife."
"Concha, of course—like the boat," Cay said brightly. "Spencer’s told me all about you." She wanted to laugh at this sudden piquant emergence of a wife. Concha Swan acknowledged the introduction coldly, and the women’s gazes prowled over each other. Swan gained some respect in Cay’s estimation. His tall wife, as slickly glistening as a dolphin in her brief black bathing suit, was a worthy conquest for any man. Squared shoulders, proud breasts,strongly curved hips, long and smoothly muscled thighs—a magnificent body over which descended slow droplets of water that fell to the deck.
Concha stated, "Then I must inquire of the dinner. Do believe that our house is yours, Miss Morgan." Shifting into rapid Spanish, she remarked to her husband, "What a stupid swine you are!" and crossed to the pier. She strode rapidly toward the house, her firm hips swaying angrily.
Cay and Swan followed more slowly. He seemed upset by his wife’s behavior but, characteristically, avoided the subject. "...one of the guest rooms. I expect you’ll want to shower. Heat’s sticky today." They crossed the veranda into the cool dim reaches of the house, which seemed largely furnished in rattan.
"Spencer, darling, I’m in our room," Concha’s voice floated along a wainscoted hallway.
He didn’t answer. Cay was listening carefully but could hear no other person in the house. Swan showed her into an airy bedroom at the beginning of the hall. It was yellow-plastered, wainscoted, and with the usual bare tiled floor. Cay hadn’t seen a carpet since arriving in Mazatlán.
"Well..." Swan fumbled around the doorway for a moment, expressing hopes for Cay’s comfort, then suddenly seized her and pressed his cheek against her pearly hair. She submitted passively. "Well...at dinner, then," he stammered, and she shut him out with a melting smile. She discovered the door’s lock was out of order.
She pulled the curtains across the French doors leading onto the veranda and wearily stripped off her clothes. "Oh, God," she muttered about nothing in particular. She allowed herself a few seconds’ collapse on the bed, arms and legs and blonde tresses sprawled wide. She found it difficult to convince herself that she was getting any nearer to the Trader; she moodily fancied she was being swept away from him. The irate Concha and her halfhearted spouse were rather less than she had bargained for. She wanted a full-scale brush with the enemy, not a long evening in a jangled but average household. Yet she was positive about Swan’s shipment of rifles, and his picture had appeared on the film from Valdes’ camera....
She got up and, stuffing a cigarette into her ivory holder, stalked into the bathroom. She carried her purse and gun with her. This door locked. She was standing under the lukewarm shower, gingerly smoking with wet fingers, when she heard the muted sound of voices in argument. She cocked an ear to the wall. She failed to make out any words but discovered that the voices sounded stronger near the shower pipes. Evidently the Swans were discussing her in their own bathroom, the water pipes relaying a murmur.
Cay stubbed out her cigarette. Was this trip another of her familiar dead ends? She was soaking wet but determined to eavesdrop and couldn’t spare time to dry or dress.
The bath towel solved her problem. It was the European variety, a vast area of thick coarse material. When she draped it about her damp shoulders, it enveloped her modestly to the shins. Leaving her shower running in case the Swans were keeping tabs on her location, she concealed her purse within the folds of the towel and crept out into the hall.
Another room lay between her quarters and what she supposed was the master bedroom. Ready with her doors-so-much-alike excuse, she quickly let herself in. It was another bedroom like her own, and as deserted. She made a beeline for the bathroom, guessing that it adjoined the Swans’. Now, with her ear against the wall of this shower stall, she could hear quite clearly. Next door, Swan’s voice mingled with the water of the shower. His wife’s voice came more clearly. Apparently Concha had followed him into the bathroom to continue an argument.
"...certain you can’t," Concha was saying. "Voluptuous little thing. Be rid of her."
Cay bared her teeth ferociously.
Swan said, "Your jealousy astounds me, dear one. When I review your own actions of these recent weeks—"
"Jealousy, no. That died not so recently. Sleep with her in town if she represents your taste—but bringing her here endangers us all. I sense she suspects the island."
"I’m certain she does, she wanted so dearly to come," agreed Swan. Cay bit her lip; Spencer Swan wasn’t so naive as she had supposed. "But what’s here for her to see? So close your mouth. Besides adding a bit of spice, I believe Señorita Morgan worth probing more deeply."
"Swine, swine without brains! You know she should be killed!"
"I decide what I know, Conchita dear. Hand me the towel, will you?"
Cay drew back from her listening post, seething. She tiptoed hurriedly out of the bathroom.
She stopped short in the center of the bedroom. She was no longer alone...
Copyright © 1952 by Wade Miller, copyright renewed 1980 by Robert Wade and Enid Miller.