All The Way

by Charles Williams



I was talking sailfish with some man from Ohio when I noticed her. I’d just lit a cigarette and had turned to drop the lighter back in the pocket of the terry-cloth robe beside me. She was off to the right and a little behind us, sitting cross-legged on a large beach towel with her face lowered slightly over the book spread open between her knees. At the moment she registered merely as a pair of nice legs and a sleek dark head, but after I’d looked away something about her began to bother me.

“I thought I’d go nuts,” the Ohio man was saying. “This damn sail must have trailed us a hundred yards. He’d come up behind the bait and follow it like a kitten after a ball of yarn—”

“They’ll do that sometimes,” I said. “Did the skipper try slowing down, and speeding up?”

“Sure. Tried everything. But we never could coax a strike out of him. Finally went down.”

I frowned, thinking of the girl, and turned to shoot another glance at her. Somehow she seemed vaguely familiar, but that still wasn’t it exactly. What the devil was it? Then I began to catch on. The pose was phony. She wasn’t reading that book; she was listening.

To us? That didn’t make sense. What woman would waste her time eavesdropping on a pair of filberts second-guessing a sailfish? But there it was. There were a few sunbathers sprawled around in the vicinity, but ours was the only conversation near enough to be heard. Maybe I was mistaken—No. There was no doubt of it. The little frown of concentration on her face wasn’t directed at the book at all, but towards a spot just to the left of it, towards us. And her eyes didn’t move when she turned a page.

Well, maybe she was a screwball, or a fisherman herself. But she didn’t appear to fit either category—if they were two categories. I tried to tag her, and the only thing I could come up with was clothes-horse, which was a little on the bizarre side in view of the fact she was about seventy per cent naked at the time. I wondered how a woman could look smart, patrician, and faintly elegant while wearing a bathing suit, and decided it must be the chignon and the beautifully tapered hands.

Or the sun, I thought, or the two Martinis. Knock it off. I shrugged, and went back to the conversation. “You going out again tomorrow?” I asked the Ohio man.

It was a still and muggy afternoon in early November. The place was Key West, and we were lying on the narrow strip of sand in front of the private beach club to which I’d been given a guest card by the motel where I was staying.

“No,” he said. “My wife wants to go over to Havana. We’re taking the plane in the morning. How about you?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I was hoping to find somebody to split a charter with.”

“I know what you mean,” he replied. “It’s a shame to have to charter the whole boat when you’re alone. Damned expensive, and they fish two lines or four just as easy as one.”

I glanced round at the girl, and a slight movement of her face told me I’d almost caught her looking at me. I was conscious again of the impression I’d seen her before. But where? I’d been so many places the past two weeks they were hard to sort out. It couldn’t have been here. This was only the third day I’d been in Key West, and the other two I’d spent out in the Stream, fishing. Miami Beach? Chicago? Las Vegas?

Maybe if I saw her with her clothes on, it would help. I tried a tailored suit, and one of the new sheath things, and then some hand-knitted jersey, but got no make. Slacks? She wouldn’t be caught dead in them, I decided; women who could wear slacks never did.

The Ohio man looked at his watch and stood up, brushing sand from his thick-set body. “I’ve got to get back and start packing. Take it easy, pal.”

He departed. The girl went on staring at the pages of her book. Far out, a westbound tanker hugged the edge of the reef to avoid the current of the Stream. I’d better start packing myself, I thought, and get out of Key West. I had to come up with something pretty soon; in another week or ten days I’d be broke. Sooner, if I spent any more on fishing trips.

I wondered about the girl again. Propping myself on an elbow, I glanced round at her. “What’s the world record for dolphin?”

I expected a blank stare, of course, or one right out of the deep freeze, but instead she said calmly, without even looking up, “Hmmm. Just a moment.” She leafed back through the book and ran her finger down a column. “Seventy-five and a half pounds. It was taken off East Africa.”

It caught me completely off-balance. She glanced up finally. Her eyes were a very dark blue, almost violet, in a thin but fine-boned face. They regarded me with urbane coolness, but then amusement got the upper hand. “All right. I was listening.”

I sat up and slid over by her. Picking up the book, I glanced at the jacket. It was a volume on salt-water fishing. “I wouldn’t have said you were a fisherman.”

She reached for the packet of cigarettes at her side. When I held the lighter, she smiled at me over the flame. “I’m not, as a matter of fact. If you’d asked me for the world’s record Striped Limbo, I’d still have tried to look it up.”

“Then why the book?” I asked.“Your boy friend a fisherman?”

She shook her head. “No, it’s not that. I just wanted to try it.”

“Why?” I asked. She still didn’t look like an outdoor type.

“A man I used to work for. He talked so much about marlin and sailfish I decided if I ever had a chance I’d see what the attraction was. Maybe you could tell me something about the boats.”

“Sure,” I said. “The charter fleet ties up over in Garrison Bight. Along Roosevelt Boulevard, I think it is. Most of them charge sixty a day, but a few are higher. The only one I’ve fished with is Captain Holt, of the Blue Runner. He’s good, and so is his Mate; they’ll put you into fish if anybody will. He charges sixty-five.”

“They’re rather expensive, aren’t they?”

“Nothing’s ever cheap about boats,” I said. “And don’t forget you’re hiring two men all day, plus gasoline, tackle, bait, and so on. Plus a lot of skill you can get only with experience. Are you alone?”

While I was speaking I noticed the same intent expression on her face I’d seen before. It puzzled me. “Oh,” she said abruptly, as if she’d been thinking of something else. “I—yes, I’m alone.”

“Well, look,” I said, “if you want to go out tomorrow, why don’t we team up? It’s a lot less expensive—thirty- two dollars fifty apiece.”

She appeared to think about it. “We-ell—”

”Come on, I’ll buy you a drink,” I told her. “We can talk it over.”

She smiled. “All right.” I helped her up, and gathered up her towel and my robe. She was a little over average height, I noted, and very slender. Too slender, I thought, to attract much attention among all the stacked and sun- gilded flesh lying around on Florida beaches, but she was smart-looking and exquisitely feminine and she moved nicely. She appeared to be around thirty.

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