No wonder he couldn't keep up with McCoy. No wonder he was looking at his feet. “And McCoy read me a poem today,” I said, “where he mentions that Pedican said something that he, McCoy, couldn't understand just before they ran, or tried to run. Probably said he couldn't run because his feet were cut to pieces, and then he looked up helplessly to the sky just before they got hit. Poor stiff.”
“Stiff” hung in the air drawing attention to itself while Bernard Lowell who bore a striking resemblance to the actor Sidney Poitier, The Bahama's ambassador to Japan, nodded and wiped sweat from his face. Harcourt Cambridge sitting beside me smiled at the floor.
“When he showed up here, yeah, his clothes was still damp,” Mr. Cambridge said. “I'll be damned," I said, what was old news to them hitting me like a wet newspaper. "That's got to be a record. Washed off Glass Window twice in a single day.”
“You know,” Mr. Cambridge went on, “Sam Pedican did some strange things. When they found that man he was naked.”
“I know. I heard all about it today. His daughter cried when she told me that they carried him up to The Bluff naked in a body bag. The waves beat his clothes off him.”
“That never happened,” Mr. Lowell said with quiet authority.
“He wasn't naked when they carried him to the Bluff?”
“No, that's not what I mean. The waves didn't strip Sam Pedican's clothes off.”
“That's the Caribbean side over there” he said, referring to the Bight. “No waves on that side of the island are going to tear a man's clothes off. No, no.” He shook his head slowly side to side, drew a deep breath and sat up in his stool, planting his elbows on the bar. “And besides, where are his clothes? If waves beat them off, certainly something--his shirt, his underwear--something would have been found. But not a stitch of Sam's clothes was found, and somebody would have found his clothes if the waves had beat them off.”
“What do you mean?” I asked. "They found none of the man's clothes?"
“Not a stitch,” replied Mr. Lowell.
“But then, where did his clothes get to. He wasn't naked when he went over.”
“No, he wasn't.” Both men chuckled and looked at Mrs. Cambridge. “No, he had his clothes on when he went over but not when he got to the Bluff.”
They knew something I didn't.
“He had only one cut on the back of his head,” Mrs. Cambridge added. “His body wasn't torn up.”
I've got to trim back on the pop-skull, I thought, looking befuddled at my half-empty rum and tonic.
Then Mr. Cambridge dropped the other shoe. “Sam was a salesman. Everybody knew,” he said under his breath, “that he carry six or seven thousand dollars on him everywhere he go. Cash money.”
I spun around in my bar stool and stared at the empty chairs behind me. The dining area was vacant. The young man with the gold stud in his ear had slipped out.
So that was the sorry end of Sam Pedican, I realized. He had floated all Monday afternoon and night while people searched for him, hoping to fatten themselves on this foolish man's money. Whoever found him stole his cash and stripped his body, to cover the theft. I hoped the full story hadn't, and wouldn't, reach Madeline Pedican.
With no concrete evidence to say that a crime had been committed, what many suspected no one could prove, and the matter had been forgotten until I came along to dig it up. I hadn't thought Eleutherans capable of such treachery, and I understood why people would want to bury the episode.
But perhaps the man with the gold stud wasn't Eleutheran, I rationalized. Haitain, maybe. He certainly didn't look native. No one in the bar seemed to know him. But, then, just as likely he and his accomplices were in fact Eleutherans. It was just that I had carried around the tacit, unchallenged assumption that Out Islanders in The Bahamas, especially Eleutherans, were better than other people, incapable of heartless crimes, even though I knew that drug dealing and other nefarious activities went on at the margins of this society. In many years traveling in the Out Islands I had never seen an act of violence. Now I had been confronted by an ugly reality and I was saddened by the realization that these children of the sun were some of them as desperate and greedy and evil as people anywhere.
I was still in a funk the next morning on the drive from Cambridge Villas to the North Eleuthera airport -- at least as far as Glass Window. Approaching from the south, the highway tops a hill lined on both sides with Casuarina pines and then drops steeply below the ridge behind the cliff top before rising gently up a long slope to the bridge. The view from up here is beautiful and menacing, with a slate-colored wall of rock to the east stopping a killer ocean you can hear but not see. Below and to the left the sweep of the Bight's electric green water takes the eye ahead down the hill and up over Glass Window and then gently to the left a mile or so out to the point. The sand under the Bight's clear and shallow water is rippled and pale as a shark's belly.
Anyone topping this hill, especially anyone piloting a dubious rental car, as I was, is sure to recognize the danger and gun the car down the hill. The idea is to get over the bridge as fast as you can. Even if you know nothing about this stretch of road, your instincts tell you to run like hell. As I gassed it, half way down the hill the engine gave off one muffled pop and died, the accelerator pedal going flat to the floor, the steering tightening so I had to muscle the wheel. I shifted into neutral and, coasting to top speed at the bottom of the hill, faced the decision whether to pull off the road to the left and slide to a stop in the rubble before the bridge, or to carry on and trust that my momentum would take me up the long slope and over the bridge, gambling that no one would be crossing from the north at the same time.
I aimed the car toward the bridge, losing speed as I drifted up the slope. As I wrenched the ignition key and feathered the pedal, the engine whined but wouldn't crank. It seemed an eternity as the car drifted up onto the bridge and the ocean came into view. I braced myself and glanced to the right, fearing I would see a wall of water, a rage, bearing down on me. What an ironic end to an untold story that would be, I thought. The ultimate victory of Glass Window, killing me who wanted to tell its story. In an eerie silence the car crept on across the bridge as I thrust my shoulders forward and back and forward again like a kid on a swing, trying to coax the dusty Buick across.
She rolled to a stop, her rear wheels still on the bridge. I left the shift in neutral, threw open the door, ran to the back of the car and pushed it off the road on the north side, in the shadow of the rock wall towering in the east.
Heart pounding, stomach turning somersaults, I got back in the car just as Bob Marley's voice rose happily from the cassette player, “Everything gonna be all right, now. Everything gonna be all right.”
Our thanks to Marvin Hunt for his article. You can read more in his new book:
Among the Children of the Sun: Travels In the Family Islands of the Bahamas