Ted Bell


The sixth book in the Alexander Hawke series, 2010

For Page Lee, who makes it magic

An eye for an eye only makes the whole world blind.




ALEX HAWKE HELD THE BATTERED GOLD Dunhill to the tip of his cigarette. First of the day always best, he thought absently, inhaling, padding barefoot across the polished mahogany floor. Expelling a long, thin plume of blue smoke, he sat down, collapsing against the sun-bleached cushions of the upholstered planter's chair.

Pelham, his friend and valet of many years, had all the glass doors of the semi-circular living room at Teakettle Cottage flung open to the terrace. Had Alex Hawke bothered to notice the view, he would have found the riot of purple bougainvillea climbing over the low limestone wall, and, below and beyond that wall, the turquoise sea, ruffled with whitecaps, typically lovely for this time of year in Bermuda.

But he seldom noticed such things anymore.

He'd tried all the usual antidotes for sorrow. Endless walks on endless beaches, the headlong expedition deep into drink, seeking refuge at the bottom of a rum bottle. He'd tried everything, that is, except women. Ambrose Congreve, the retired head of Scotland Yard and Hawke's oldest friend, had unsuccessfully tried no end of schemes to lift Alex's spirits. The latest being women.

'Women?' Alex had said, regretting a dinner party Ambrose and, his fiancee, Diana, were throwing in honor of Diana's beautiful young niece, a recent divorcee from London. 'That part is over for me, Ambrose,' Hawke said. 'My heart's in the grave.'

His life had become a sort of floating dream, as most lives are when the mainspring's left out.

His house was a long-abandoned sugar mill, with a crooked chimney on the domed roof that looked like the spout on a teakettle. The whitewashed stone mill house stood against a green havoc of banana trees overlooking the Atlantic. You could hear the waves crashing against jagged rocks some thirty feet below. Familiar Bermuda seabirds were darting about overhead, click-clicking petrels, swooping long-tails and cormorants and frigate birds.

Hawke inhaled deeply, holding the smoke inside his lungs for as long as he could. God, he loved cigarettes. And why not? He rued all those years he'd wasted abstaining from tobacco. That first bite of nicotine afforded life an intense immediacy he seldom felt these days; the whole grey world suddenly awash in colors fresh as wet paint.

Cancer sticks. Yeah, well, nobody lives forever, he said to himself, taking another drag and lazily stretching his long legs.

Alex Hawke, even knee-deep in malaise, was a striking figure of a man. He was tall, well over six feet. He had a full head of thick black hair and a fine, high brow. His nose was long and straight above a sensuous mouth with hints of suppressed cruelty lurking at the edge of every flashing grin. But it was his ice-blue eyes people remembered, eyes that could suddenly widen and send a searing flash across an entire room.

'Up bright and early this morning, m'lord,' Pelham Grenville, Hawke's snowy-haired octogenarian butler, said, toddling in from the terrace. He had obviously been out hacking away in the banana groves for he was cradling a fresh-cut bushel of ripe bananas in his arms as he headed for the kitchen.

'Bright and early?' Hawke said, taking a puff and letting his gaze fall on Pelham, irritated despite himself at the man's obvious sarcasm. 'What time is it, anyway, you old possum?' He'd stopped wearing his wristwatch long ago. Watches and clocks were an anachronism, he'd informed his friend Ambrose, when Congreve had chided him for his habitual tardiness. The criticism fell on deaf ears. Nine times out of ten, what's the bloody point of knowing the time, anyway? It's not like you're going to miss something worthwhile.

He'd come to a conclusion: Nothing ever happens.

Pelham said, 'Just going on twelve noon, sir.'

Hawke jammed the cigarette into the corner of his mouth and raised his arms above his head, yawning loudly and deeply.

'Ah. The crack of noon. Nothing makes a man feel more in the pink than to be up and about when the blazing sun is fully risen in the azure sky. Wouldn't you agree, young Pelham?'

'Indeed, sir,' the old fellow said, turning his face away so Hawke couldn't see the pained look in his eyes. Pelham Grenville, like his father and grandfather before him, had been in service to the Hawke family all his life. He had practically raised young Alex after the tragic murder of his parents at the hands of drug pirates in the Caribbean when the boy was but seven.

'Besides,' Hawke said, 'I've a doctor's appointment on for this afternoon. There's a treat. Get the eagerly anticipated results of my recent physical. One's health is almost a good enough reason to get out of bed, I suppose. Wouldn't you agree?'

'What time is your appointment, sir?'

'Two o'clock or thereabouts,' he said, waving his cigarette in an airily vague manner.

'Your friend former Chief Inspector Congreve will be taking you to the hospital, one hopes.'

'Congreve? No, no, don't be ridiculous, Pelham. No need to bother Ambrose. I don't need a Scotland Yard escort. I'm perfectly capable of getting over to King Edward's and back under my own steam. I'll take my motorcycle.'

Pelham winced. It had been raining early that morning. The roads were still slippery. The antique Norton motorcycle had become a sore subject between them. His lordship had been arrested at least three times for speeding, somehow charming his way out of being charged with driving under the influence on each occasion.

Pelham said, 'I'd be glad to take you round in the Jolly, sir. There's more rain in the forecast. The Jolly might be preferable to a motorcycle jaunt on those slick roads.'

'The Jolly? You must be mad.'

The bright yellow Jolly was a tiny Fiat 600, no doors, sporting a striped and fringed canvas roof. It was the 'circus car' once well beloved by Lord Hawke. It no longer seemed to suit his ever-shifting moods.

'Pelham, please, do try not to be such a fusty old nanny. That motorcycle of mine is one of the very few things I enjoy anymore. I damned well will take my motorcycle and that's the end of it.'

'Indeed, sir,' Pelham said, turning away. Fusty old nanny, indeed! He was wholly unaccustomed to insult, and, although he knew Hawke never really meant to offend, such comments still stung.

'Do you know what I'd especially like on a splendid morning like this?'

'No, sir,' Pelham said, not at all sure he wanted to find out. At one time it might have ranged from a simple pitcher of Bombay Sapphire martinis to flying in a chorus line of Las Vegas showgirls for the weekend. One hardly knew what to make of things any longer. But a grey pall of sadness and despair had settled over Teakettle Cottage,

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