Jaguar Island

an excerpt



1

Roger Balanto surprised Anton Raniklin by looking younger, and far more handsome, than he did in the television commercials where he extolled the virtues of his family's Balanto Rum. Anton wondered if it was some idiosyncratic quality inherent within the camera lens which was the cause, much as it could add twenty pounds to an individual, or whether it had been merely the work of some clever makeup artist called upon to make Roger older and less attractive to have him better relate to the majority of everyday rum drinkers less physically blessed than he was.

"Mr. Raniklin," Roger said, took Anton's hand and squeezed it. His grip was powerful but not so much so as to make Anton grimace in response. It was short-lived when Anton would have preferred it to linger longer. "Kyle says you and he are long-time friends."

"We went to high school together," Anton said and advantaged Roger's gesture to sit in the chair that faced Roger across a wide expanse of highly polished ebony desk top.

Anton knew what Roger was thinking. The media was so full of what Anton had done to his wife, soon to be his ex, that even those without a scintilla of involvement in the music business knew the particulars. Anton's case was little helped by the incident having happened in a public parking garage, recorded by not one, but two, video cameras.

"I'm desperately in need of somewhere private where I can have the time to get my shit together," Anton said, knowing that Roger would know to which "shit" Anton referred.

"You're talking Jaguar Island," Roger said, and it wasn't a question.

"I am. Kyle swears he would likely not have managed his withdrawal from drugs if he hadn't had access to the isolation your island provides. He attributes the success of his career, today, to you having provided him access."

"Providing him access didn't see me illegally aiding and abetting," Roger said with a faint grin that seemed neither condemnation nor amusement.

"The legalities, regarding my wife and I, the public, our lawyers, the police, and the public prosecutor, have been momentarily smoothed over," Anton assured him, "as will be relayed by the media as early as tomorrow morning. Surprising what a bit of money can do."

Roger tented his palms as if in prayer, which allowed the octagonal-cut emerald of his left pinkie ring to catch the light and refract a spray of kaleidoscopic rainbow colors.

"I just need someplace that will keep the reporters at bay," Anton said, somehow convinced that Roger wasn't yet ready to allow him access to the island. "Since Kyle's visit to Jaguar Island, I suspect any reporter would have second thoughts about trying to follow me, or anyone else, there."

"The disappearance of Mr. Donor, of The Scoop, you mean? Do you really think any ambitious reporter, knowing what a photograph of you in seclusion would fetch from the tabloids, will be discouraged by whatever the myth is as regards a predecessor's disappearance?"

"I have my own contacts in the media who assure me that more than a few of their number are spooked, yes. For those who aren't, the obstacles, natural and otherwise, that discourage access to the island, provide whatever additional assurance I have of my privacy being preserved, above and beyond some kind of demon spirit lurking in the island's undergrowth."

"You're not fearful of such a demon spirit?"

"Kyle survived his stay," Anton reminded Roger. "Your island caretaker, Mr. Phillipe, survives there, unharmed, on a permanent basis. You've had crews come in regularly for years to harvest the sugarcane that grows there, without even one laborer disappearing."

"I presume you know enough about your intended destination to know that wasn't always the case, though?"

"Those disappearances, mainly slaves, in a by-gone age, have since been attributed to quicksand."

"You think it quicksand, then, that caused the reporter's disappearance in his attempt to photograph Kyle?" The tips of Roger's prayer-like fingers touched his chin, not indenting but merely calling attention to the small attractive cleft that already existed there.

"Or a shift in the wind," Anton suggested in alternative, "that saw his parasail dragged seaward, rather than to the shore. Or a lull in the wind that saw him dropped into the sea as shark bait. Or a collision of his skis with the coral so abundant around the island and so close to the surface, except for that one small entrance blocked by a mechanized man-made gate, under your caretaker's control, that keeps all unwanted boats from gaining the shoreline."

"There was the lone ski found on the beach," Roger reminded him.

"Which could have been washed there by high tide," Anton said. "If not, the man actually having stepped onto shore, I'll go back to attributing his apparent demise to natural dangers within that section of island he'd have had to pass through to gain the main house."

"You do remember that generations of one-time island residents swore a demon spirit walked away with at least a dozen of their kith and kin, causing them to offer up preventative human sacrifices on a regular basis?"

Anton shrugged and said, "I'm loathe to pooh-pooh the paranormal, about which I have so very little expertise, but I remain firm in my conviction that granting my request won't see me any more the victim of the island's supernatural forces than Kyle or your resident caretaker."

Anton came forward in his chair, almost bringing his chest into contact with the leading edge of the desk.

"I really do have to get out of the spotlight for awhile," he said. "Everyone around me, who holds my best interest, recommends that as my best course of action, while all, except Kyle, have been completely unable to suggest just where I should go. They only know that I seem to have alienated -- at least for the moment, memories short, especially in my business -- a helluva lot of women who don't realize what a true bitch my wife, soon-to-be-my-ex, really is. Even my shrink recommends I go somewhere and contemplate my apparent deep dislike of women and try to resolve that issue in order, somehow, to successfully exist within a society so filled with them."

"And should I possibly be wary," Roger asked, "that my helping you may see countless women stop drinking Balanto Rum?"

"So many women drink it, now, do they?"

Roger's wide smile suddenly seemed one of genuine amusement. "Demographics do insinuate drinkers as primarily men, possibly in your favor."

"Besides, who's to even know where I've headed?"

"Such secrets aren't kept secret for long from those intent upon ferreting them out," Roger said. "However, if you think the island's reputation, as far as providing the isolation you think you need, will actually deter interlopers, I might, as a personal favor to Kyle, possibly arrange for you to visit."

"That would be much appreciated."

"Depending, of course, upon what's reported by the morning press as regards the resolution of certain assault-and-battery charges."

"Of course," Anton confirmed.

Roger came to his feet, extending his hand and impressing Anton, yet again, with the firmness and reassurance of his handshake. More impressive, though, remained just how extraordinarily handsome the rum baron was.