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Marriage is a murder weapon. At least, it was in the hands of Rosemary, my ex-wife. She was, of course, far too ladylike to wield it like a blunt instrument in order to dash out the brains of her victim. That would have put me out of my misery too quickly. Rosemary preferred a more subtle form of destruction. Venomous poison was administered in tiny doses over a long period so that my death could be drawn out almost indefinitely. Circumstances favored her. Motive, means and opportunity are there on a regular basis for a truly dedicated marital assassin. Rosemary, as always, reveled in her work.
Some men actually like their former wives. Others manage a brisk civility, as if dealing with a lawyer or a bank manager. A few even contrive to be on amicable terms with their old spouses, prompted by regret, remembering the good times, subject to upsurges of affection and able to learn the bland new language in which they have to communicate. I belong to none of these groups. Life with Rosemary disqualified me. After years of punishing me for the crime of marrying her, she pronounced my death sentence in the form of a divorce. From that point on, it seemed, the only conversations I had with her were posthumous, conducted in morse code as I tapped on the underside of the coffin lid. Rosemary had me exactly where she wanted me.
I'm the first to admit that she was provoked. As husband material goes, I was pretty threadbare. My obsessive personality was the problem. When I was obsessed with Rosemary, she was happy enough, but when she was displaced by the game of golf, a contented wife was transformed intoa vengeful harpy. She kept my crime sheet scrupulously up to date. I was accused of ignoring her, neglecting our daughter and refusing to take on any family obligations. Since I was playing or practicing on a golf course in order to feed, clothe and house the three of us, I felt that some of the allegations were a trifle unfair, but Rosemary allowed me no defense counsel. My irregular income was another strike against me. The higher the peaks in a golfer's careerand I've been fortunate enough to have severalthe deeper the valleys. During adverse times when those valleys broadened out into wide, arid, poverty-stricken plains, Rosemary was at her most scathing about my choice of profession.
Divorce solved nothing. It simply made my dealings with her even more fraught. That's why it took me the best part of a week to screw up the courage to ring her. When I discuss our daughter with her, I have to weigh my words with care. Taking a deep breath, I dialed the fatal number. Rosemary snatched up the telephone at the other end.
"Yes?" she demanded with crisp politeness.
"Rosemary?" I began tentatively. "Is that you?"
"Alan!" Her voice softened. "How nice to hear from you!"
"I've been meaning to give you a buzz."
"How are you?"
"Fine, fine," I said with feigned enthusiasm.
"Keeping your head above water?"
"Just about. And you?"
"Oh, everything is going splendidly at the moment."
"Where are you?"
"But where is Carnoustie parked?"
"Which part of Wiltshire?" she pressed. "I know that your motor caravan needs plenty of room but it doesn't take up an entire county."
"I'm in Chippenham."
"Can't you be more specific?"
"Okay," I said, shifting my mobile phone to the other ear. "If you want chapter and verse, I'm in the car park of the Angel Hotel, stuck between a metallic blue Honda Accord that needs cleaning and a red Volvo with a teddy bear in the rear window. Would you like their numbers?"
"No, thanks." She laughed. It was an infallible warning.
"I'm in transit, Rosemary."
"My life is one long list of parking places. I'm a true vagabond."
There was a reflective pause. "Are you alone?" she asked.
"Completely," I replied. "Apart from the flock of sheep, the band of the Royal Marines and the sixteen casual acquaintances I invited in for afternoon tea. Of course, I'm alone! Why do you think I live in a motor caravan? Carnoustie is hardly big enough for me, not to mention all my gear. I like being alone, Rosemary. I thrive on it." I gave a nervous chuckle. "Besides, I'd never dare to ring you while someone else was about. It would inhibit me."
Another well-bred laugh came down the line. Her good humor was unnerving.
"So what did you want, Alan?" she went on.
"The pleasure of chatting to you, Rosemary. That's all."
"Oh, come off it. I know you better than that. You only ever ring if you have to."
It was true and I didn't attempt to deny it. Put on the spot, I gabbled my request like a child pleading with a stern parent. "I want to take Lynette on holiday with me," I said, feeling my heart pound. "A week in Bermuda, just before she goes back to college. I mentioned it to her and she was thrilled with the idea but I wanted to clear it with you first. It's ages since I've spent any quality time with her and this is the ideal opportunity."
Rosemary kept me waiting for an answer. Strictly speaking, there was no need to involve her at all. Lynette is nearly twenty-one, old enough to vote, bear arms for her country and make her own decisions. But I didn't want to complicate an already tense situation between my ex-wife and me by going over her head. Since our daughter lives with her, Rosemary has certain unspoken rights. It was only a courtesy to let her know what my plans were. She eventually spoke.
"Why did you choose Bermuda?" she wondered.
"It chose me."
"Are you playing in a tournament?"
"Not this time."
"So why are you going?"
"To design a new golf course."
She was impressed. "All on your own?"
"No, I have a partner, Peter Fullard. He's a genuine course architect. They felt that his experience and my practical know-how would be a winning combination. It's a great challenge for me."
"Does it pay well?"
"That makes a change," she said with slight bitterness. "And will your work leave you much time to spend with Lynette?"
"She won't enjoy trailing around a non-existent golf course behind you and this partner of yours. Lynette needs attention."
"Just like her mother."
"I was denied it."
"That won't happen to Lynette in Bermuda. She'll get lots of attention."
"And protection, I hope."
She clicked her tongue. "Alan, for heaven's sake! Use your eyes. Lynette is a desirable young woman. She turns heads."
"Have no worries on that score," I assured her. "I'll take care of her."
"It'll require more than fatherly vigilance."
"What do you mean?"
"We'll come to that in a moment." Her voice hardened. "Is Clive Phelps going to be in Bermuda with you?"
"Are you sure?"
"Absolutely," I asserted. "I'm not familiar with Clive's travel plans but he has to cover the next tournament on the European Tour. That's what golf writers do, you see. They write about golf."
"Clive Phelps has other strings to his bow as well."
"We have to face facts," she insisted. "He's a complete menace to women."
"I thought you liked Clive."
"I do, Alanin the right place. But the right place is not on a holiday island with our daughter. Lynette is an impressionable girl."
"She's a full-grown adult."
"Females of any age should be protected from Clive Phelps."
"Alan, he's a compulsive lecher."
"Not with the daughter of his best friend. He'd never make a pass at"
"Oh, yes, he would," she interrupted. "Clive can't help it. It's an automatic reflex. If he can make a pass at his best friend's wife, he won't have any compunction about stalking his nubile daughter."
My anger stirred. "Are you saying that Clive?"
"Yes," she confirmed.
"I thought that you knew."
"I knew that he turned on that battered charm of his whenever you were around but he does that with every woman he meets."
"I rest my case."
"Let me get this straight," I said, trying to fight off rising jealousy. "Clive made a pass at you? Was this before or after we split up?"
"I'd rather not discuss it."
"Rosemary, this is important to me."
"Why?" she asked. "It happened a long time ago. I've buried it along with all the other unpleasant memories associated with the game of golf. Clive was never a serious threat to me. In Lynette's case, however, it might be different."
"Look," I said firmly, "I promise you that Clive Phelps will not be within three thousand miles of Bermuda. This trip has nothing whatsoever to do with him. Except indirectly, that is."
"He introduced me to Peter Fullard."
"You mean that this course architect knows Clive?"
"They're close friends."
"Birds of a feather, no doubt."
"Of course not!" I said irritably. "Peter lives for his work and for his family. He's squeaky clean. I've got a horrible feeling that he's a committed Christian. Probably rings the bells in church on Sundays. In any case," I added, trying to put the issue beyond further question, "his wife will be in Bermuda with him. Peter and Denise are the perfect married couple. Denise is a saint."
"That wouldn't stop Clive from making his obligatory grab at her."
"Forget him, will you? He's nothing to do with this."
"I'm glad to hear it. Where will you stay?"
"At the Blue Dolphin Hotel. It only opened for business a year ago," I explained. "It's not far from Elbow Beach."
"I remember that," she said fondly. "We stayed there once." A sigh of regret came down the line. "You played golf. Non-stop."
"That won't happen on this trip, Rosemary."
"I loved Bermuda."
"So will Lynette."
"Yes, I'm sure she will."
My hopes soared. "She can come?"
"Of course," said Rosemary. "I couldn't stop her even if I wanted to, and I've no reason to do that. Lynette's been working so hard at college. She deserves a break."
"Thank you!" I said with relief. "It would mean so much to me."
"Then I've no objection."
I slapped my thigh in triumph. But even as I was celebrating, I knew that there had to be a catch. Rosemary is never that agreeable without a purpose. There's always a dagger hidden up the sleeve of her generosity.
"Just one thing, Alan ..."
Here it comes, I thought.
"... I'd feel happier if Lynette took someone with her."
"But she'll have me there, Rosemary. Her doting father."
"She needs someone of her own age," she argued. "As it happens, we have a college friend staying with us at the moment. Her name is Jessica Hadlow. She's a lovely girlbright, sensible and good company. Just the right type for our daughter. Lynette would be thrilled if you could take Jessica along with you as well. She said as much over breakfast today."
I was checked. "Lynette has already spoken to you about Bermuda?"
"Of course. She tells me everything."
"But I asked her to keep quiet until I'd had a word with you myself."
"She was far too excited to do that," said Rosemary. "I knew that something was in the wind and she eventually let me in on the secret."
"Why didn't you say so?" I complained. "Instead of letting me ramble like that?"
"I wanted to see how you presented it, Alan. And to make sure that Clive Phelps wasn't going to be there to pounce on Lynette at the first opportunity. I give the trip my blessing," she said bountifully. "Now that I know that Lynette can take a friend, I have no qualms at all about the holiday."
"Hang on a minute!"
"All three of you will have a lovely time."
"I was expecting that only two of us would be going," I told her. "My employers are happy to pay travel and accommodation for Lynette but I doubt if their philanthropy will stretch to a complete stranger."
"There's a simple answer to that."
"Yes," said Rosemary. "You can pay for the flight yourself. Lynette and Jessica can share a room at the hotel so the additional costs there will be small. Excellent!" she continued, giving me no chance to protest. "It's all settled. I'll go and tell them the good news. Goodbye, Alan."
Before I could even gurgle a farewell, she hung up. Rosemary had done it again. Without even trying, she had left me thoroughly jangled. I felt so stupid at having to pussyfoot through a conversation that need never have taken place. Since she already knew about the projected holiday, Rosemary could easily have rung me to signal her consent, but that's not her way. She let me go through the usual agony before calling her, then pretended to be hearing about Bermuda for the first time. It was typical of her. She let me roast on the spit while she basted me expertly. The way that she had introduced a third person into the equation was especially maddening. When I first put the proposal to Lynette, there was no mention of any college friend coming with her. That was clearly my ex-wife's doing. Whatever plans I have, Rosemary always has to alter them. The one consolation was that she hadn't decided to include herself in the trip.
I left Carnoustie and adjourned to the lounge bar of the hotel for a stiff whiskey. It rallied me at once. When all was said and done, my main aim had been achieved. Lynette was going to spend a whole week on holiday with her father for the first time in years. It would give us chance to catch up on each other's news, to repair a few fences and to have some real fun together once again. It's rather strange. Lynette left school two years ago, yet I still haven't got used to the idea of having a daughter at Oxford. As someone who fled from the British educational system at the earliest opportunity, I can't understand why anyone would wish to remain within it longer than necessary. It was one of the many things I intended to discuss with Lynette andlo and beholdI'd now be able to do it. Having survived another bruising exchange with my ex-wife, I'd secured my objective.
Lynette was coming to Bermuda with me. So, alas, was someone called Jessica Hadlow. The name was new to me. I'd met most of Lynette's friends on my visits to Oxford but I didn't recall a Jessica. What sort of person was she? How well would she fit in? Rosemary had described her as "the right type." That sounded ominous. I decided to order another whiskey.
I dislike noise, I detest crowds, I hate the curiosity of the Great British Public and I simply loathe hanging around in a dangerous place. Gatwick Airport has been carefully designed to incorporate all my aversions. Its relentless clamor is swelled by a series of booming announcements, its concourse is as busy as Epsom on Derby Day, and its swirling chaos throws up dozens of nosey travelers who half-recognize Alan Saxon and therefore feel entitled to invade my privacy with insulting questions ("You mean, you still play golf for a living? At your age? Haven't they pensioned you off yet?") My gray hair is partly to blame but it's still humiliating for someone in his early forties to be taken for a decrepit old man. All I can do is to maintain a dignified silence.
What makes it worse is that this army of occupation is equipped with lethal weaponry. Indiscriminate attacks come from all sides. Steel trolleys will smash your legs, swinging flight bags will crack your ribs and other items of luggage can inflict even worse injury. Look the wrong way for two seconds at Gatwick and you can be steam-rollered by excess baggage or impaled on a pair of skis. It's like running the gauntlet. For a person of my delicate sensibilities, the airport is continuous torture.
One word made all the suffering worthwhile.
"Daddy! Over here!"
I spotted her at once. Lynette was sprinting across the concourse towards me, weaving her way between the aimless groups of holiday-makers with sublime ease. Her face was shining, her fair hair bobbing, her whole body animated by excitement. I revived instantly. Lynette flung herself into my arms for an embrace that momentarily reconciled me to the hostile surroundings. I was a father once more. I stood back to appraise her properly. It was months since I'd last seen her and Lynette seemed to have aged subtly. Tall, willowy and beautiful, she looked even more like her mother and I was forcibly reminded of what made me fall in love with Rosemary all those years ago. I, too, was under scrutiny.
Excerpted from Bermuda Grass by Keith Miles. Copyright © 2002 by Keith Miles. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.