Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Murder she wrote

The peace in paradise was shattered at 2am on Monday morning by the sound of a gunshot which woke me from my sleep. I was snoozing on the ‘bed’ on my porch and was confused about what had woken me. I stumbled inside in the darkness and climbed into my real bed, enclosed and protected by a mosquito net. I didn’t remember the sound of the gunshot until I heard the stories the following morning.

The previous night I had been walking home in the twilight when I came across a huge gathering of people outside Julie’s guest house (Julie is a man!). People were spilling out into the road dressed in more than just their Sunday best. They were sporting suits and shiny silk dresses, rubber slippers had been replaced by sparkling stilettos and the women had plaited and straightened and woven their hair. It was a spectacular sight. We are usually a shabby bunch us residents of Bequia, so I changed my route so that I could wander through this gleaming crowd and take the spectacle in. A wedding party and most of the island seemed to be there.

As I walked into town in the morning a small boy playing with his sister in the dry storm drain by the road shouted something to me, or at me I wasn’t sure. I didn’t catch what he said so smiled at him and continued to walk. As I rounded the corner I was confronted by a yellow police tape stretching across the road. Suddenly the penny dropped ‘you can’t go down there!’ is what the boy had yelled. I turned and climbed back up the hill telling him ‘I should have listened to you’ as I passed. ‘What happened?’ I asked him, ‘Somebody dead’ he solemnly replied.

I wandered down into the harbour through the back streets. For anyone unfamiliar with the place the town would have looked a picture of tranquillity. But I could sense a change in atmosphere. The gaggles of people sitting on steps in the shade and under the leafy protection of the almond trees was normal, it was the looks on their faces that were different. Dark and serious, something had happened.

An old lady standing by the police barrier told me someone had died, but she was still unsure of the cause. The area that was cordoned off was yards from where the wedding party had been held, there had to be some connection, I thought. Sitting outside the, ironically named, Rush Hour eating my chicken and rice I listened as facts were passed back and forth.

‘It was a gun’ someone declared as they walked in ‘shot in the head’. Everyone knew the boy. His father is the captain of the local schooner which I have been working on. It was his sister’s wedding which I had walked through. But the boy had been in trouble; ‘a vagrant’ and ‘a crack head’ he was variously described as. He had been “troublin’” everyone for months.

“But still he doesn’t deserve to be dead!” someone cried
“Not with a gun”
“If you’re vexed with he, just let he know, even attack he with a knife would be better, at least he has a chance”
‘Nobody has a chance against a gun”

Someone else bounced in for his lunch “what’s happenin’ man?” he asked as a casual greeting
“You not heard about the murder?”
“Wha’ murder?”
“Last night”
They filled him in on what they knew and he hung his head in his hands ”I’m going home, not hungry any more, I feel different” and he left.

This murder has hit the place hard, not because of the death so much but because he was killed with a gun. The neighbouring island of St Vincent is gun city. A pointless killing every week and few of them are solved. But Bequia is different and proud of it, a quality which people seem to respect. Even the Vincy boyz leave their arms at home when they visit.

So now that everyone knows the facts, the next task at hand is to decide who was to blame. 30 officers have come over by boat from St Vincent. An island of 7 square miles and 3000 people all of whom know each other. A wedding party of hundreds and a night watchman on duty in the school yard where the body was found. Sounds like a straightforward nut to crack. But things in the West Indies have a habit of complicating themselves. There are stories and gossip and bribes and corruption. The watchman is still being held which has compounded the talk.

The dead man was gay, or so they say and the watchman was a ‘batty boy’ too. This is where the theories start to spiral.

“If they were having sex and the watchman was afraid he would talk, maybe he kill he”

The poor watchman is a marked man now, guilty or not. There were jokes flying too amongst the serious talk. My friend Wilf had knocked the dead boy out in a fight 2 nights before. “It’s you, it’s you!” “Murderer!” they laughed. The gossip and the jokes became less funny when Wilf was questioned by the police the following night. They made him take them around the town and meet all his alibis, the people he had been with when he heard the shot. But still they joke and taunt him. They know it wasn’t him so they think it is still funny. He, not surprisingly, does not. But that is the humour here, it is harsh and direct. There is no room for a sensitive soul in this Caribbean world.

There is a unanimous feeling that it is “someone not from here”. No-one from Bequia would do a thing like that, they say. I would tend to agree, but then what do I know.

There is a white man in the picture too. He is the one the locals are pinning it on. A German who lives alone on his boat. He is based here but frequently sails off on trips between the islands; ‘running drugs’ is the word on the street. He reappeared last week. Arrived agitated and aggressive at Penthouse (the local rum shack, another ironically named establishment!) an hour after the bullet was fired. And, it is said, he had blood on his shirt. Well the blood could have been paint, or any such thing, we are a scruffy lot here, as I said.

So, Wilf has hit the bottle again with the stress of the accusations, the German has moved his boat but has not left the island and the watchman is still banged up. I will keep you posted but the plot is thickening and these are tense times in paradise.

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