The man in his white linen suit
Previously in the novel: Leon, a novice mercenary, is foiled in kidnapping the Archbishop of Canterbury by a mysterious man in black. The man in black turns out to be David, better known as Edward the Prince of Wales. Soon to join the world of espionage is Wallis Spencer, an up-and-coming Baltimore socialite. David kills an ambassador in Shanghai.
Old Joe, the Eleuthera fisherman who had always given Leon a free ride back home, was dead. That was the word on the Freeport dock as Leon returned from the Far East. Yesterday morning someone dropped by his thatched roof bungalow and discovered him in his bed, clutching a couple of half crowns. Leon grimaced when he heard the news. Joe had been like a father to him in the last few years; however, when they last saw each other as Leon left for Shanghai, their friendship was strained. When Leon disembarked from the fishing boat at Freeport he handed Joe him two half-crown coins. Leon intended it as a gesture of appreciation. He could see in Joe’s eyes he had taken it as an insult, as though Leon was setting himself up to be the old man’s superior. Leon searched for the right words, but Joe gruffly pushed his boat away from the dock before Leon could explain. Now he would never be able to explain.
Perhaps it was just as well, Leon thought. When he went back through the Panama Canal after his mission, he took a quick tour of some of the shops in Panama City and bought himself a white linen suit, a wide brimmed hat and a new traveling bag. Leon conceded to himself that old Joe might have been right, because he did take considerable pleasure in hailing a boatman to take him back to Eleuthera. The man bowed deferentially as he loaded Leon’s new bag. The wind caught sail and impelled him homeward. Leon languidly leaned back, puffing on a cigarette of fine Egyptian tobacco.
When they landed, he placed a single half-crown in the man’s palm which made the boatman grin broadly and scurry to extend the plank to the dock and carry Leon’s bag ashore. At the last moment, Leon handed the man another coin to carry the bag down the dirt road to Leon’s house. He sauntered a few steps ahead of the carrier, lit another cigarette, tossing the match into a nearby sand dune. Soon he saw the high severe wall surrounding the Ribbentrop hacienda house. It still had the thick wood doors. Leon paused to take a long drag on his smoke, grabbed the bag from the boatman and dismissed him with a nod of the head. He removed a key from his pocket and unlocked the door.
The house was now his. The courtyard, once filled with exotic flowers, now overflowed with vegetables and fruit trees. He saw his mother Dorothy on her hands and knees between the rows pulling weeds.
“Mum!” Leon called out. “I told you to hire a village child to tend the garden.”
Looking up, she smiled. “I enjoy it. If I didn’t kneel down, soon I wouldn’t be able to.” She rose with great difficulty. “And then what good would I be?”
She walked to her son and kissed him. “My pretty little boy is home again safe at last.” Her wrinkled hand smoothed out the lapel of his linen suit. “I see you bought yourself a new fancy suit of clothes.” Her fingers ran down the sleeves. “Good for you.”
Behind him he heard a baby crying. He turned to see the pretty smiling face of his wife Jessamine. Though she was a mere slip of a woman, her slender arms ably held her child. Leon embraced both of them tenderly, showering their faces with little kisses. Though he did not even know the gender of the child, which had been born while he was half a world away trying to kill an old white Englishman, Leon already he loved this baby. He vowed he would be as good a father as his father had been to him. He would teach the same lessons of defeat, humility, defiance and brutality. As his father died to fill his belly with food, so would Leon die to feed his child.
“Say hello to your son Sidney,” Jessamine announced proudly.
“Is he strong?” Leon examined the tiny hands and feet. Sidney’s hand reached out to clutch Leon’s little finger. “Yes, very strong.”
“You are lucky you weren’t here. I screamed my head off, calling you all sorts of names.”
“How did the Freeport hospital treat you?” he asked.
”I didn’t go to the hospital. Pooka delivered him.”
“Pooka! That old witch! I gave you money to go to the hospital.” He stroked the baby’s cheek. “Only the best for my child.”
“Pooka is not a witch,” Jessamine corrected him. “She is the high priestess of Obeah.” She pulled a wad of bills from her dress pocket. “And I still have the money.”
Leon looked deeply into her eyes. “Obeah is one of many religions created by our people brought here from Africa in chains. We don’t need that. We can take care of ourselves now.”
One of Leon’s earliest memories of toddling down the beach was a plump, beautiful baby in the arms of a woman his mother called Auntie Millie. Millie, who was Dorothy’s best friend, kneeled down so little Leon could see little Jessamine better. Even then he knew he would spend the rest of his life with her. Jessamine grew into a slender woman who was not afraid of hard work. She always had a song on her lips even when times were tough. She was a passionate lover. But she was not as smart nor as skeptical as his mother. She let Pooka fill her with lies and fears. What of that, Leon told himself, because Jessamine was the sum of his reason to live. He took Sidney into his arms. No, he corrected himself, Jessamine and Sidney were his reasons to live.
“Besides,” Jessamine continued, “Pooka said things would not go well for you on your trip.”
Leon held Sidney up so the baby could see his white linen suit. “Does it look like it didn’t go well? I was paid handsomely. I won’t have to work again for a long time.”
“But it didn’t go the way you expected, did it?”
“No, it didn’t but I was paid more than I thought.” He rubbed noses with his son.
“See, Pooka was right.”
“I am home. I am holding my son. My wife is healthy. I have money. Even my mother is having fun playing in the dirt. Do we have to talk about Pooka?”
The next morning Leon awoke, dressed casually in shirt and shorts and took a long walk along the beach. By the time he returned home for breakfast, he noticed the plant pot outside his front gate was askew. Another assignment, he thought. So soon? He smiled as he took the message out. Good. More money the better.
Rialto was the most popular casino in Nassau. Leon had to leave now to reach Nassau by evening. That night when he walked into the casino in his new linen suit, Leon looked around, certain someone would make a sign. One black jack table was empty. A tall blonde in a tailored tuxedo coat and silk blouse sat in the dealer’s chair. She stared at Leon.
He sat at her table. The woman immediately dealt him a hand. When he picked it up Leon noticed a note was tapped to the ace of diamonds. Discreetly detaching it he slipped it into his trousers’ pocket. Leon pushed the cards back at her.
She scowled. “Finish the damn hand, jerk.”
“Only if you smile for me.”
Parting her red lips, she revealed even white teeth. Leon also noticed she was much younger than the way she was dressed and wore makeup. She could not have been more than fourteen or sixteen, he decided, the same age when he had to grow up too fast. Not only did he finish the hand he also played three more games, losing all three pots but at least she smiled at him.
Leon took the midnight ferry back to Eleuthera. Sitting in a deck chair he pulled the note from his pocket to read it.
“Lobby of Plaza. Labor day.”
Leon knew of only one Plaza Hotel, and it was in New York City. His stay at home was being cut short. Wadding up the note, Leon tossed it into the midnight waters of the Caribbean.