Rob and Anna have only just met Owen and Kim. Now they've boarded their handsome old boat to travel to a far off island in the Caribbean. With only the four of them on board, it should be paradise: lazy afternoons spent snorkelling; long nights enjoying the silence and solitude of the sea. But ten days is a long time to spend with strangers—especially when one of them carries a destructive secret.
|Publisher:||Head of Zeus|
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.80(d)|
About the Author
Jane Lythell worked as a television producer and commissioning editor before becoming Deputy Director of the BFI and Chief Executive of BAFTA. She is the author of The Lie of You.
Read an Excerpt
After the Storm
By Jane Lythell
Head of Zeus LtdCopyright © 2014 Jane Lythell
All rights reserved.
Caribbean Sea, off Honduras
Some nights Owen Adams tried to sleep next to his wife Kim in the saloon of his boat. He rarely lasted a whole night there. The slightest sound would wake him and, in an instant, he would be hyper-alert and watchful. Kim had suggested he use ear plugs. He'd tried them a few times but had given them up because he did not like the sensation of not hearing what was going on around him. It was better to be aware of the slightest noise in the boat or a disturbance on the water, even if it meant that his sleep was disrupted. Most nights he went up on deck and lay there with his blanket around him, looking up at the sky.
When he did fall asleep the nightmare would come. It was not every night but it was always the same one. When he first started having sleepless nights he worried, knowing that lack of sleep could send a man mad. He devised a way of dealing with it: he would imagine that he was floating above his body looking down on himself. Tonight, as he lay stretched out on the deck, he visualised looking on his prone figure and seeing the outline of his boat, the El Tiempo Pasa with its tall wooden mast. Then he imagined himself moving higher up into the sky so that he could see how his boat was floating in the sea edged by the distant lights of the mainland. As he rose ever higher, he shrunk to nothingness, the boat becoming a speck and the horizon a dark curve. This exercise always calmed him even if he did not sleep.
Occasionally, if they had no guests on board, Kim would come up on deck and lie with him through these nights. He didn't like her to lose her sleep and would tell her to go back down to the comfort of the saloon. She would say, always making the best of things, that when they were back in Florida they would remember these nights as special ones, lying on deck and looking at the stars and the moon while the El Tiempo Pasa rocked them back and forth. There were places he went to in his mind where Kim could never follow. He didn't understand why she loved him but he was glad that she did. Kim was his anchor, holding him to earth.CHAPTER 2
Belize City, Central America, late June
Anna helped the old man down from the coach. His hands were rough and dry and stained a deep purple. As they got off the air-conditioned bus a blast of hot air hit them. Rob had gone ahead and was standing with the other passengers waiting to retrieve their rucksacks from the undercarriage of the bus. She watched as the old man crossed the square slowly and lowered himself onto a bench. He settled himself carefully as if he was in for a long wait. He looked frail and she hoped someone was coming to meet him. Rob lifted her heavy rucksack onto her back and they walked away from the coach station. Stagnant, mud-filled, mosquito-clouded waterways criss-crossed the city.
'We'll find a hotel, dump our stuff and get down to the water for a cold beer,' Rob said.
He was in front of her and she kept close to him. It was always difficult arriving in a new place. You had no bearings and had to make sense of the sights and sounds that flooded your senses. This part of the city looked poor. He stopped at a shabby hotel that had a sign saying rooms were available.
'Shall we look inside?'
She nodded. They were taken to a room on the first floor. It was high ceilinged and might have been an elegant room once. Now there was crumbling plaster, a double bed in an iron bedstead, rickety drawers and a cubicle shower in the corner. They were tired and decided to take the room for one night only. They could find something better the next day. It was not the kind of hotel where you would leave your money or your passports. Rob peeled off his clammy T-shirt. He put all their dollars into a small fabric bag that hung low around his neck and then put a clean T-shirt on top. He zipped their passports into the leg pocket of his long khaki shorts and they left the room.
They headed towards the water. Large wooden colonial buildings faded on the quay. They saw a pub on a corner called O'Brien's with the name written in a green Celtic font.
'You'll find an Irish pub wherever you go in the world,' he said. 'We won't go in there.'
Further along there was a small bar that looked local.
'Let's try in here.'
They took their bottles of beer out to the pitted metal tables and plastic chairs that stood at the water's edge and looked at the gaggle of boats tied up in front of them. The beer fizzed in Rob's glass as he poured it.
'It's not very cold,' he said, disappointed after his first sip. He held the glass up to the light and assessed its colour then picked up the bottle.
'Belikin, the beer of Belize ...'
'Did you see how his hands were stained purple?' Anna asked.
He looked at her, not understanding.
'The old man on the coach; his hands were dark purple.'
At the table next to them a couple were drinking beer. The man was tall and thin with long limbs. He looked over at them now and said:
'That would have been the vegetable dye. He'd have been making and dyeing hammocks. They use a vegetable dye out here.'
'Oh I see,' said Anna.
'You see the hammocks all over, purple and turquoise, drying between the trees.'
He had an American accent and the longest legs. His face was thin with high cheekbones and his dark hair curled under his jaw. In spite of his thinness his shoulders were broad and strong-looking and he would have been strikingly handsome, Anna thought, if it wasn't for the deep shadows under his eyes which gave his face a haggard look. He was dressed in a grey T-shirt and washed-out jeans and was wearing boat shoes on his long bony feet. Sitting next to him was a petite tanned woman with a mass of curly dark blonde hair that she'd tied up with a rainbow-coloured bandanna.
'Yes I saw some hanging in the trees, from the coach. And they were selling the hammocks too at the roadside,' Anna said.
Rob raised his glass to them.
'We just got in.'
'We did too,' said the man. 'Sailing for three days from Honduras.'
'You have a boat?'
The American man got up and pointed to a yacht moored a few yards away from them.
'That's ours – the El Tiempo Pasa. I'm Owen.'
'Rob, and this is Anna.'
The blonde woman said:
'Hey, I'm Kimberly, pleased to meet you.'
She had a fluty voice with a southern lilt to it. The two women smiled at each other uncertainly, as you do when you're thinking: shall I continue overtures with this stranger?
Rob asked Owen:
'Does that mean: Time Passes?'
'Time Marches On; do you wanna take a look at her?'
'I'd love to.'
The women stayed sitting at the tables to finish their drinks and watched as the men headed for the boat. Owen walked with a long easy stride and he jumped onto the boat and helped Rob aboard. It was an old wooden sloop, thirty-seven feet in length that looked as if it had sailed through many rough seas. They stood on the deck and Rob touched the tall wooden mast and looked up at the night sky. Then the two men disappeared down into the cabin. Kim put her glass down.
'So how did you guys get down here?'
'We came on the coach. We've been in Mexico for a week and decided to come down and look around Belize,' Anna said.
'You may be disappointed. Belize City is the pits. But you can get everything you need here and we gotta get provisions for the boat.'
'I don't think we'll stay here long, more a stopping-off point while we decide where to go next.'
Kim nodded thinking that Anna was a pretty woman but with a noticeable defect. She had large grey eyes and there was a mole right between her eyebrows and while this did not quite turn her eyebrows into a mono-brow it did give her eyes a kind of weird intensity. If it was Kim she would have paid to have that mole taken off as soon as she hit her teens. It was the first thing you noticed about Anna. She also had one of those classy English voices and there was a reserve about her that Kim associated with English folk.
The men were now up on deck again and beckoned to them to come on board. Owen helped Anna get into the cockpit. This had seats around the sides and was roomy with a canvas roof over the top. Kim went below and came back with a half-full bottle of rum, some limes and four plastic glasses on a tray. She poured a generous amount of rum into each glass. She had cut the limes already and she squeezed them and the smell lingered on the air.
'Sorry I can't offer you any ice,' she said handing a glass to Anna first.
'Thanks so much, lovely smell of lime ...'
They touched glasses.
'This morning some kid stole one of the oars from our dinghy. I'd forgotten to tuck it away. Brought it back this evening and said he'd sell it to me for three US dollars. No way was he gonna take Belize dollars,' Owen said.
They all laughed. Owen explained that they were from Clearwater in Florida and had been sailing around the area for three years, chartering their boat to travellers who didn't mind that it was an old wooden boat and fairly basic. It was certainly no fibreglass gin palace he said. Rob said he much preferred handsome old boats like this.
'Where are you headed?' Owen asked.
'We want to see as much of Central America as we can. We're thinking we'll maybe go to Guatemala next. We've got three weeks left.'
'There are some special islands off Honduras, the Bay Islands. Do you dive?'
'It's sensational there.'
Anna sipped her rum and looked on as Owen described the islands. Roatán was the largest of the Bay Islands he said and it was ringed by a coral reef, the third largest reef in the world. Too many tourist ships came into Roatán now, but if you knew where to go you could still find pristine reefs and the clearest waters in the Caribbean. And he knew where to go. There was Mary's Place which had this narrow cleft in the reef. You swam through the cleft and there in front of your eyes were huge sponges and seahorses and shoals of brilliantly coloured fish. Anna recognised the expression that was growing on Rob's face; he was being well and truly seduced by Owen's descriptions. She looked over at Kimberly who hadn't said much since they sat down.
'And all the different types of coral you can see,' Owen was saying. 'Elkhorn and staghorn, flower coral, smooth starlet, grooved brain, pillar coral ...'
'Such great names ...' Rob said.
'We could take you there. Show you the unspoiled places. Kimmie and I wanna do a last run out there before we sell the boat and head back to Florida for good.'
Rob looked over at Anna, his face lit up. She half smiled back and didn't say anything. She was trying to convey wordlessly her reaction which was 'be careful'. Kimberly had said nothing in support of the plan either. Her head was bent over her glass and she looked ill at ease.
'We don't have a lot of money,' Rob said when he could see that Anna was not going to commit to any such plan.
'I don't know how much you charge to charter the boat? We've got enough for the two of us to get around for the next three weeks ...'
'Well you'd be doing us a favour. We wanna say goodbye to our friends on the island. If you were willing to share what money you've got we could provision the boat and take you to Roatán. Show you the reefs and the hidden places. Think about it and let us know tomorrow.'
'We will; thanks,' Rob said.
It was dark and the rum bottle was empty when Anna and Rob left the boat and headed back along the quay and into the streets of Belize City. Owen and Kim sat on in the cockpit. He moved closer to her and started to play with her hair.
'Do you think they'll do it?' he said.
'Owen for Chrissakes, why are we even thinking of going out again?'
'You can't wanna leave all this, Kimbo?'
He gestured at his boat and at the sea. She tried to think of the words to use. They had just completed what she thought was their last sail and it had been a tough one. The plan had been to sell the boat in Belize City. She knew he hated the idea of returning to Florida, but she felt they had reached the end of the line. It seemed he did not.
'I'm not sure how safe it is any more.'
The sails were worn, the sail stitches were rotted and the lines were chafed. They both knew this. The engine had failed them on their entry into Belize City. He was a fine sailor but even fine sailors need their boats to be seaworthy.
'You know I hate to say goodbye to her, but we only just made it here this time. It's best we bite the bullet and sell her now.'
She said it gently. She knew how much he loved his boat.
Owen had worked in boat repair and maintenance in Clearwater for fifteen years. He had often had to patch up their boat over the last three years. He had sewn ripped sails and nailed planks back in when they had sprung. That was what happened with an old wooden boat. It needed a lot of upkeep. You expected that. But the engine was a worry to him because it was corroded inside and he couldn't afford to buy a new one.
'I can replace the lines that are bad and I'll work on the engine tomorrow.'
He stroked her earlobes knowing she liked that.
'One last run out ... Come on Kimmie.'
'I think they'll say no. He wants to do it but she's gonna put a stop to it.'
'She seems a buttoned-up English type to me with those big serious eyes of hers, looking and reckoning and not saying much.'
They sat in silence for a while, listening to the slap of the water against the boat. She didn't say it but she hoped fervently that the English couple would say no. It was time to sell the boat and go home to Florida.
'I can pawn my wedding ring if they say no,' she said.
'I don't want you to do that.'
She looked at her ring. It was a thick gold ring. She had wanted a big wedding ring. She wanted the world to know that she was married to Owen Adams.
'It would give us enough till we made the sale.'
Anna and Rob said little as they walked back to their hotel on Orange Street. Rob seemed to know the direction. Anna gripped his arm tightly as they passed through the poorly lit and unfamiliar streets. Rob was moving purposefully but was watchful as they were far downtown and in a poor neighbourhood. Then he noticed a man standing in a dark doorway. There was something about the way the man was standing that alarmed him. The man was poised on his feet, like a cat when it's ready to pounce on its prey. Rob could see a lighted road ahead, some way in front of them. He took Anna by the hand and said quietly:
'When I say go, run as fast as you can to that lighted street, and don't let go of my hand ...'
She gripped his hand and they took a few more steps, their hearts knocking. Then Rob shouted 'Go!'
The man had sprung out of the doorway and was chasing them. The road was rough and uneven and Anna was gasping, finding she couldn't get enough air into her lungs as she ran. Her fear was making her breathing so shallow. She looked back over her shoulder in terror and the man was closing the gap between them and his face had a look of focused aggression. She was nearly tripping in her panic and Rob was yanking her along the road. They reached the lighted street. There was no-one about and still the man pursued them, close behind them now, almost at reaching distance. Rob noticed a house on the street with its door slightly ajar and light pouring out from it. He pushed the door open, hauled Anna in and shut the door behind them with a bang.
They had stumbled into someone's house. A large family were sitting around a TV set. Some of the small children were asleep on the sofa and the crashing door woke them up. The older children and their father turned as one as the door was slammed shut.
'Sorry. Sorry,' gasped Rob. 'Lo siento. Perdon.'
He spread his hands in a gesture of helplessness while he tried to get his breath back. Anna stood there unable to speak, her chest heaving from the chase. She felt she might throw up as Rob nodded towards the street.
'A bad man ...' he took a deep shuddering breath. 'Un hombre malo ...'
The man of the house had stood up and he came over to them.
'Si. Perdon, perdon ...'
'OK. OK,' the householder said to them making soothing gestures with his hands.
His young children had all got up now and were gathered around their father and staring up at Anna and Rob. A woman had come into the room from another door and she was staring at them too.
Excerpted from After the Storm by Jane Lythell. Copyright © 2014 Jane Lythell. Excerpted by permission of Head of Zeus Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Caribbean Sea, off Honduras,
Belize City, Central America, late June,
Ten Days Later,
Ten Days Later,
About this Book,
About the Author,
Also by this Author,
An Invitation from the Publisher,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Great characters in this suspenseful tale. I loved this book until the last few chapters. The ending unsatisfactory leaving loose ends and situations unexplained.
Interesting, but never quite lives up to the build-up. The layout of the e-book makes it difficult to read. No spaces between shifts in characters and places are confusing.