The next morning, Lalji told me that I had had a close shave last night.
“Pino came snooping around asking about his wife,” he told me grinning.
“Pino? Oh, brother! What did you say to him?
“I told him I had not seen Lois and that I did not know where you were either. I am not sure if he believed me or not. But I did not want him nosing around the Blue Star. I know you and Lois were there, and my imagination supplied what you might be doing. I know what I would have been doing with a good looking woman like her.” He winked slyly.
“Thanks, Lalji,” I said. It could have been damned embarrassing it he had found us.”
I shuddered at the thought and made up my mind not to let it happen again.
If I had the sense God gave the geese, I would stay absolutely clear of Lois. She was trouble spelled with a capital T, married to a jealous husband like Pino. I had a sure hunch about that man. I felt that he would kill because of her. You never know what an insanely jealous man will do, and I did not want to be the one to find out, not in this case, certainly.
Lalji turned to leave, then he paused. “Have you found out anything about what I was asking you about, Toni?”
I glanced at him, puzzled.
“The Blue Star,” he explained. “Remember?”
“Oh. No, I have not. I have asked around some but nobody seems to have heard anything like that. You will have to admit it is kind of hard to swallow that Aunt Veena would simply hand you the boat on a silver platter and not even put it in writing.”
“Yeah, I can understand that. I am not lying, though. She said – rather she promised – she was going to leave the boat to me. I think she meant to put it in her will but never got around to it.”
“I will keep checking,” I promised him. “If I can come up with any convincing evidence that it was meant to be, the Blue Star will be yours. You can count on it.”
“Thanks. I hope she told somebody besides me. It would just be my luck though that she did not.”
“You find some grappling hooks yesterday?”
“Yeah, I got hold of some. I just Borrowed them from the hardware store.”
“Come on, we will have a cup of coffee, then we will get to work and try to bring up Aunt Veena’s fishing rod. I am curious over what is down there on the bottom around the pier.
“Me too,” Lalji said.
We had our coffee, then we came out on the pier and started dragging the bottom with the hooks. It was going to be another hot day. I was already sweating. I had taken off my shirt and the sun was hot on my shoulders. It would not be long before I would be wanting a cold beer or two.
We had two sets of hooks and we kept throwing them out, letting them sink, and then pulling them in. We brought up all kinds of things. Old shoes. An automobile tire. A sodden log, watersoaked and heavy as lead. Every time you felt something on the hooks, you could not help getting excited wondering what it was going to be.
“Wish I could clamp onto a pirate’s chest full of gold coins,” Lalji said.
“Maybe you will,” I said with a grin.
“Then I could buy the Blue Star from you and that would be all there was to it.”
We still kept tossing out the hooks, all the time figuring the angles of changing tides and where the fishing rod might be, but we were not having any luck.
“I don’t understand it,” I said. “If her line was out, it should not be too difficult, picking it up. It is not as though we had to catch onto the rod itself. If we could just hook onto the line . . .”
“That is what I was thinking,” Lalji nodded. “Maybe it is not even down there.”
“It has to be . It was not found on the pier.”
“Maybe it was on the pier and somebody snitched it.”
“Who would do a thing like that?”
“Search me. It could have happened, though, I think. The rod does not seem to be on the bottom. If it was we would surely have picked up at least the line by this time.”
I had to agree, at least partially with this. It was possible that the rod had been on the pier when Aunt Veena drowned. Somebody could have picked up the rod and done something with it, either on purpose or otherwise. Some kid could have seen an opportunity to own a good rod and reel, all equipped and ready to fish with. It would have been a big temptation to a kid. I thought about Veenu. But if he had taken it, he was now afraid to use it, seeing he fished with a hanline.
“I think we might as well give it up as a bad job,” I told Lalji.
“Looks that way.”
“I am sweating up a storm. Let us go get some cold beer. I put half a carton in the icebox yesterday. It ought to go good just about now.”
“You don’t have to ask me twice. I am thirsty enough to drink a gallon,” Lalji answered.
We went inside and sat in the hall, drinking beer. It became clear that Lalji was curious about last night.
“You used to go with Lois before she married Pino, didn’t you, Toni?”
“We used to run around together some.”
“Pretty hot stuff, I will bet!” He grinned and winked.
“She was okay.”
“You are not telling me anything I don’t already know.”
“So you have been with her yourself.”
“You are not kidding. She is a real sexpot if you ask me. When she gets hot and bothered, she is like a tigress and she would not stop until she has had all she wants.”
I nodded. I wondered how Lalji had gone about giving her what she wanted, if he was not lying I wondered if she made him love her the way she seemed to like loving the best. I guessed she did. Some girls demand having their breasts kissed first, and if you would not go along with it, they refuse you all the rest. It seems to take that kind of stimulation to get them in the proper mood. I had heard somebody say once that it made a girl feel like she was some kind of queen and was due to have her body worshipped. You never know.
I did not want to talk anymore about her, but Lalji was just hooked on the subject.
“You make out with Lois last night? Aw hell, I know you did. I sure did envy you. She used to let me see her once in a while, but no more. That was in the beginning when she first started running around on Pino. Then I think she graduated away from me. I kept after her, but she never would give me another break and finally I gave up.”
I told him it might be that he was luckier than he knew.
“I think Pino is wrought up enough to kill somebody.”
Lalji shook his head. “Now, Pino has lost his nerve altogether. He is not near the man he used to be. Everybody knows it and they are laughing at him.
“A man will take so much and then one day he will explode into violence.” I lit a cigarette. “You never know what a man will do when gets a bellyful.”
“Maybe you are right, but I doubt it with Pino.”
“I hope you are right.”
We got to talking about Prem Shankar and family, and Lalji told me he would give his front seat in hell to sink his teeth into that hot wife of Shankar.
“I never saw anything to equal her, Toni. She really sets a guy to dreaming. I believe I would go down on my knees for some of her, I swear I do.”
I laughed. “You mean there is any doubt?”
He drank some of his beer and the more he drank the pinker his face got. He looked up and asked, “How in the world do you think Prem Shankar managed to hook himself a babe like her? He went all the way to the big city and when he came back, she was with him. It sure does beat all. I don’t blame him a damn bit, but I don’t know how he did it.”
“Me neither,” I replied as I got up to get a bottle of beer from the ice-box. I got Lalji too another bottle while I was at it.
Then he got onto the subject of Renu, saying, “She is just a teaser, they say. I would like a chance to find out for myself, but she does not come around. “It is possible that she is still a virgin,” Lalji said dreamily. “Man, that really would be something to get for the first time. I never had a virgin, though I always wanted to find out how it would be. Have you ever broken in a virgin, Toni? I suppose you have, huh? Much as you have knocked around the country and meeting all kinds, moving from place to place.
He awaited my answer, hungrily.
“Oh, I have punctured a few cherries.”
“How is it? Hell of a bang, I will bet!”
“Only sometimes. Usually they cry a lot, though, and when you are done, you feel like the biggest asshole that ever lived on this earth. But the way I figure it is that somebody is going to break them in if they are ready and willing for it, and I might as well be the one to do it.”
“I would give my right arm to break in that Renu girl. Man, would I! I bet she would go nuts over it, once you got her started.
“You never know how the will be, afterwards. Because sometimes they are so sore, they never want to think of doing it again. On the other hand, if it strikes them right, they don’t want to stop ever. You have to find out.”
“I bet Renu would want it for sure.”
“I don’t know,” I lied. “Maybe she would, and then maybe she would not. And still maybe somebody has gotten to her already.”
Lalji shook his head violently. “No, I am certain no guy has been in her. Word gets around fast, here, you know. Everybody would know it if she had. Those things get out on a girl.”
“A guy is a fool to tell when he gets something,” I commented. “Best way I know of to keep from getting any more of the same. Women do not like men who talk, I have found that out for sure. They just stay clear of all those they think will tell.”
Lalji nodded and said, “That is right, and that is the reason I don’t talk about women. It does not do you a bit of good to talk about a girl if you gotten into her.”
I felt like laughing in his face, but I did not.
Roopa came out of the beauty shop, saw me parked at the sidewalk, gave a quick smile and came toward me. She looked good. She was wearing a long white skirt and a purple blouse and she had on high heels which made her legs appear positively delicious.
“Fancy meeting you here,” she quipped.
“Hop in and lets find some trouble to get into.”
She laughed and came around the car and I leaned over to get the door open for her. She slid onto the seat beside me and I caught a whiff of perfume emanating from her. It was just right for her and touched off an additional feeling of excitement in me.
I felt that I could not wait to get her naked on a bed somewhere. This girl did things to me that no other girl ever had. There was an aura of sex floating around her that you could almost taste on the tip of your tongue.
“You look good enough to eat,” I said as I pulled away from the curb. “You really do.”
She smiled and asked, “Do you have sharp teeth?”
“I would not need them. You would be tender.”
I picked up a pint and some ice cubes to go with it along with some light snacks and came back to the car.
“I don’t have much time. I will be missed at home if I am much later than usual.”
“Prem Shankar took a party out just before I left. I doubt if he will come in until after dark.”
“I am glad to hear that. I was hoping maybe he would get a party today At least I can breathe easier, knowing there is no chance of his snooping around down here. Gosh, would it not be awful to bump into him, you and I, together? I shudder even to think of it!”
“Well, no chance of it happening today,” I assured her.
I reached the place I had already booked. Once in the room I proceeded to make the drinks.
“Don’t let me get too tipsy,” Roopa begged. “I would hate to go home drunk and disheveled.”
“Don’t worry, I did not follow you down here to get you drunk.”
“That is nice to know.”
I followed you to make passionate love to you, and I want you sober and knowing exactly what is happening.”
“Oh. Gosh, you are blunt. I don’t know . . .”
“Like you said, there is not much time.”
I handed her her drink, and she immediately started sipping on it.
“Why beat around the bush?” I said. “We both know the score between us. I am nuts about you, and you would not be here in this room if you were not interested yourself.”
“But you are taking too much for granted.”
“No, I am just forced to rush it. Time is too short for a lot of preliminaries, as you well know. Look, I will lay my cards on the table. I want you, I want you real bad, so damned bad it actually hurts. Nobody will ever know if we enjoy ourselves a little. I am not a fool so I don’t go around bragging about my conquests.”
“I should hope not,” she said nervously. “But I . . . well, this is just happening so fast I can’t seem to think!”
“Don’t try to.” She looked at me puzzled and I kissed her, right on her opened mouth.
She tried to say something and I kissed her again, cutting off any protests she might try to make.
“Gosh,” she breathed, “you are terrible, you really are.”
We had another drink and I kept tossing my own brand of logic at her. The whiskey relaxed her somewhat, and my boldness began to amuse her and maybe the thought of cheating on her husband began to excite her too.
“You are the most stubborn man I ever met,” she said. “The fastest talker, very convincing and you expect so awful much to happen. You are crazy, I believe you actually are crazy.”
You make me that way. Listen, beautiful, I have already explained to you my feelings for you and given you my full assurance that it will remain strictly between us and no third person will ever know about it.” I placed a hand on her thigh.
Her whole body trembled and I glanced quickly at her but she had her eyes closed and there was a small indication of amusement playing about her lush red mouth.
My blood temperature quickly rose to boiling and I started kissing her in deep earnest.
I was amazed at the smooth firm sensuality of her firm and slim pinkish white body. I had gotten both of us out of our clothes in record time. Her breasts were not overly large, but they were classically formed in perfect conformity to the rest of her. The nipples were the delicate color of pink, like just-budded rose. I was enthralled at the way kissing and suckling them sent spasms of ecstatic pleasure through me.
It evidently affected Roopa the same way. On the bed where I had laid her, her hair tossed from side to side in bright contrast to the white sheet. She was gasping and moaning and her hands pressed lightly against my shoulder in faint unconvincing resistance.
“Please . . .” she whispered. “ Don’t leave any marks, Toni. Please don’t leave any marks . . .”
I was shocked at my own utter sex madness. I had known instinctively that she would be very good to love, that she would be enchanting to kiss all over her gorgeous body, but I now realized it was going to be more than this, that it was going to be right out of this world.
My arms were wrapped tightly around her tiny waist and I felt I never could stop kissing those pure ivory breasts. They had roused my senses to strange, half-sweet savagery that turned me into a clutching, slavering madman.
“Don’t hurt me, Toni . . . Don’t be too rough.”
“I am going to have my fill,” I vowed. “You may as well make up your mind to it. You are just wonderful . . .”
“I don’t want to struggle, Toni”
“Please . . . I bruise so easily.”
“You should not be so delicious.”
I was excited at the feel of her trembling form under me. Gradually she was beginning to squirm and undulate, and the awareness of growing passion delighted me and increased the fervor of my own.
She was speechless now, and her gasps were becoming long, filled with an agonized rapture. The only sound other than our labored breathing was the low purr of the unit air conditioning system.
I lifted my avid lips from her breasts, got my arms from under her, and pushed up on my elbows. I studied the wet beauty of her breasts, exulting in the way the appeared so achingly taut and tortured, as though crying out for more of the love I had already lavished on them.
I had to go back to them, sampling them as you would the tender, dainty delicacies which demanded your lip-licking appreciation.
Then the savagery again drove me to seize her roughly which made her moan pleadingly. When I finally rose to her mouth I found it gasping and hotly open and her flickering tongue was the sweetest I had ever crowded and captured.
She was wild when I broke for air and her arms went around my neck, pulling me back. I could feel her sharp fingernails doffing into my back flesh.
“Darling!” Her voice was a hiss of emotion. “I can not stand any more of this teasing. You are driving me out of my mind! Take me . . . Take me now, don’t make me wait please . . .”
I rose off her, and still bent over her, opened her legs. I could not withstand the loveliness of those limbs and I kissed them in a flurry of hot searching desire that fairly lifted her from the bed.
Her blue eyes burned into mine when I went to her, she held out her arms to me, her expression one of longing, of pain, of pleasure. I could not wait. I entered her eager body with a hungry eagerness of such deep, high, wide intensity as I had never before experienced with any other woman.
She shuddered, and I experienced a feeling of slick tightness, of a close, wet, throbbing engulfment as heady I nearly fainted with the exquisite thrill of it.
She caught her breath at the mutual perfection, hesitated, then cried out, “Oh, Toni . . . Toni, Toni . . . darling!”
“You are lovely, Roopa, baby. Heaven help me. You are too damned tortuously lovely dearest.”
It started the, slowly at first, to capture every element of the first delicious wonder. She strained and arched under me and the electric charges this brought were like bolts of ecstatic bliss.
With mesmerized eyes, we watched each other’s face, seeing complete pain and ecstasy and maddened helpless intensity. Breathless, my mouth moved over her quivering red lips. She gasped as I locked her quickly opening mouth in my own, hugging her to me.
With my free hand I started caressing her breast, her side and then I moved my hand to her rounded hip and started kneading it. She was trembling all this while and matching me stroke for stroke.
We lived, then, in a world of utter joy, a world trimmed in pink wild-fire, garnished with sensations of love, pure lust, breathless endearments, small sweet sufferings, sighs of untold happiness and moans of pleasures almost too enormous to bear.
Sometimes, we yelled out in sudden spasms.
But we simply could not let it end.
“Why is Shankar in such a sweat to buy my property?” I asked later, as we lay smoking and resting. “That is, if you know and don’t mind telling me.”
Roopa had one lovely knee propped up and the other let suspended nicely over it. I was finding it difficult to think of anything other than her bright close nakedness, but I was determined to allay the questions in my mind.
“The only reason he has given me,” she answered, “is that he wants to take in your pier and land so he can spread out. He is ambitious to eventually own the largest fleet of sport-fishing boats in this part of the country. Why? Do you think there may be another motive behind his wanting the extra space?”
“I am not sure. Somehow it does not make sense to me. Shankar is a smart business man, shrewd as they come. Did you know he offered me a hell of a lot more than the property is worth? That is what has me puzzled. It is not like Shankar to give money away just out of goodness of his heart.”
“No, he is pretty tight when it comes to a business deal. Perhaps there is something else, something he has got in mind that he thinks will reap him a big profit. I would not put it past him. I have come to know my husband pretty well when it comes to such sharp, close-fisted dealings.”
“And he has never hinted anything to you?”
“No, never, other than what I told you.”
“Do you think I should sell out to him, Roopa?” Would it make you happy if I did?”
She kicked her leg toward the ceiling, examining her small perfect foot. “That depends,” she replied mysteriously.
“Depends on what?”
“What would your plans be afterwards? I mean, when you had the money. Would you leave?”
“Sure. What else I would do here?”
“Would you take me with you?”
“You are not serious.”
She turned her face and nipped my shoulder.
“Of course I am serious. After being here with you, knowing how marvelous it is between us, do you think for one instant I could spend the rest of my life with Prem Shankar?”
“Don’t you love him?”
“No. I have started loving you.”
“Why did you marry him?”
“I needed a home and security, the kind I knew I would never find there in the big city. And I had a son, Veenu, to take care of. I feel a certain responsibility toward him, even though I am his stepmother only. When I met Shankar, he begged me to marry him and told me he could and would give me all of these things and . . .”
She paused and I said, “Well, hasn’t he?”
“Yes. He has. But I made a mistake, a terrible mistake at that. He is so much older than me, in fact old enough to be my father. He has a daughter almost the same age as me. And the worst part is that he and Veenu secretly hate each other. I am sure Veenu is constantly unhappy. Then there is Shankar’s daughter, Renu, she is hurt and jealous and vindictive toward both Veenu and me. It is a mixed-up situation which can only end in misery for all of us. No, I want out of it.”
“And you are thinking I am the answer?”
“I had not, but I do now. I think we could love each other very much, Toni. We are more suited . . .”
“How do you know he would let you go?”
“I don’t know. But if he refused, I would run away with you if you would take me . . . take us. Veenu and me. Would you darling?”
“It is a tempting prospect. I will give it a lot of thought.”
She rolled over on top of me then, and kissed me warmly and long and tenderly. She ran her fingers through my hair and caressed my face. Her body was cool now and receptive to my touch as I fondled her smooth curves and her silken skin.
Then gradually, my blood started pulsating hotly once more. It grew hectic with us pretty fast, and soon I was knowing the wonder of her all over again.
This time we were all over each other fast, like wild, wild things, half animal, half pagan god and goddess.
Our lips burned over each other’s flesh like raging traceries of searing lame and our bodies surged against each other in frantic accelerated abandon.
We both reached that white-hot, piercing peak at once, and we lay utterly still, totally lifted for several whirling moments.
“Parting is such sweet sorrow, isn’t it, Toni dear?”
I was shocked to see that Lois had walked silently up behind me just after I had returned Roopa to her car and watched her drive away.
“What are you doing here?” I asked. “And it was not a parting. I saw Roopa walking towards her car and I opened the door for her, that is all.”
“Did I suggest anything else? You are acting like a man with a guilty conscience.”
“Well, stop smirking as though you just stumbled onto some sweet and juicy piece of gossip.”
Lois laughed at me, and I felt myself flushing. I could read the depraved thoughts in the back of the deviltry in her eyes.
“Let us make a deal, Toni. You stop lying, and I will stop smirking. How is that?”
“What is that supposed to mean?”
She shook her head at me naughtily. I was wondering how much she really knew and hoping very much that she did not know anything at all. I knew that was highly unlikely because of her taunting manner.
“Silly boy, I have been following you all afternoon so you can drop that mask of phony innocence. No red blooded man can resist that lovely bitch. But don’t worry, I a not about to spill your little secret. I don’t want you killed by an outraged husband just yet because, you see, I sort of like you myself for myself, and I don’t want to lose you.”
“Very thoughtful of you,” I said sarcastically.
I still wondered if she could just be guessing. I certainly wanted to be sure, though. If she had followed us, she would know entirely too much for comfort and I would have to convince her of the wisdom of keeping her lips sealed.
“Why don’t you ask me for a detailed resume of your activities, Toni dear? I can see the doubt in your eyes. You don’t know if I am lying or not, do you?”
“Look, just what kind of pipe dream are you having, Lois? Are you trying to be funny or something? Because if you are, I can’t see the humor.”
She still was smiling, and deviltry was written all over her face.
“Well, then . . . suppose we start at the point where you picked Roopa up just as she came out of the beauty shop, shall we?” she said. “That is when I first saw you and I am telling you, Toni darling, curiosity simply started eating me up. I absolutely had to follow you. I drove along at a safe distance behind you so that you would not notice. You picked up something to drink from the wine shop and some eatables too and from there you went to the cutest little club house.” She paused, laughed, and added, “Shall I continue, dear?”
I shrugged, accepting the worst. Then I asked her what she intended to do about it. “You would not run around yelling it, would you, Lois?”
“Why?” she teased. “You are not afraid of Prem Shankar, are you Toni? I bet you could beat him any old day.”
“I am not particularly anxious to prove it.”
“Do you think I would actually tell on you, Toni?”
“I don’t know. I hope not.”
“You will have to be sweet, then. You will have to be very nice to me, and very sweet, Toni.”
“In what way?”
I could not help feeling worried. I knew Lois to be screwball who would do anything to have her own way and I realized it would not be smart to anger her unnecessarily at this particular time. I would not put it past her to get word to Prem Shankar that I had spent a few torrid hours in a private room with his young and beautiful wife.”
She studied me, with a dainty finger at her lips. “Well, let us see now, Toni darling. This is a delicious situation I have you in and I want to think of something extremely interesting.”
“Yes, you do that,” I said. I was not sure whether or not she was just trying to kid me, but I damned sure wanted my mind set at rest.
“I could insist that you take me to that same private room and make my life a little exciting. But I suspect Roopa would have already thoroughly quenched all of your passionate fire . . . at least all that you had stored up for one day.”
“Very funny, Lois. Your talent for humor touches me deeply.”
“Well, there is always a tomorrow, thank goodness! Yes, so that will be the price of my silence, dear. You will meet me right here tomorrow and make violent love to me in that same private room. Do you like the terms, darling?”
“Would it make any difference?”
She giggled and said, “None whatever.”
“That’s it, then. I will meet you.”
She set a time and before I left her, she cautioned me in a voice dripping with honey, “Now be good tonight and save yourself. I want you to be very strong and eager tomorrow, Toni.”
“Just make damn certain Pino does not follow you here tomorrow,” I flung back. “I don’t want two kill-happy husbands on my tail at the same time.”
She laughed and walked away.
I got in my Maruti and headed back home. I was beginning to feel plenty worried because the entire situation was getting way out of hand. If I did not watch out, I was going to find myself in the middle of some kind of explosion. It was almost impossible to keep romantic interludes quiet in such a small place. When the news leaked out that I was bedding down with Roopa or Lois, the roll of disaster drums would be heard from here to the west coast.
They could say Pino was not dangerous all they wanted, but I would never be convinced. I had known others just like him. With guys like that, there is a certain breaking point where they go nuts, grab up a gun and start blasting away. They do it in a fit of frustration and anger at the world, if for no other good reason. They reach a state of emotion where something inside them has got to give.
When it happens, you don’t want to find yourself in the line of fire or you might not live very long.
In spite of all my repeated efforts, I could not find anything which could point out even remotely the reason for the nagging thought that had been eating me since my arrival in town. And that was about the death of my Aunt Veena. I don’t know why, but something was telling me time and again that there was something missing about the death of my Aunt Veena. What? I was unable to point out exactly. All my efforts had been in vain.
Nothing from Uncle Vinod, the area SDM.
Nothing from Lalji, who was a constant companion of Aunt Veena and always kept his eyes open to the happenings in town.
Nothing on dredging the ocean bed near the pier. Not even Aunt Veena’s fishing rod and reel.
Nothing about the reason for Prem Shankar’s extra-ordinary offer for the property.
No inkling from Renu or Roopa, about Prem Shankar’s offer, they being the only living relatives of him.
All these nothings gave a boost to my suspicion that something was really amiss and I was not able to reach for it and I should continue searching for the same with renewed and extra efforts.
I was getting tired of my own cooking so that evening I decided to try the food at the local café. The food appeared to be extra tasty, maybe because I had been eating self cooked food lately. While I was relishing every tasty mouthful, I remembered that big black trunk in which Uncle Amrit and Aunt Veena used to keep personal things stored away. I decided I ought to search through it on the off chance I might comp up with something of interest.
I was really plagued with the idea that some deep mystery surrounded Aunt Veena’s death, that it was not the simple cut and dried accident all the others supposed it to be. Because I knew my aunt better than the other people did. I remembered bow careful and steady and strong-willed she was. It was nearly impossible to imagine her toppling off the pier into the water and drowning. I felt there had to be more to it and I knew I would never rest until I had settled the matter once and for all. That is just the way I am.
Before I finished the food, I saw Renu coming in. She smiled when she noticed me and came over to my table. I asked her if she would like to join me.
“The food is pretty good.” I told her.
Just a cup of coffee, thanks,” she said, sitting down.
She looked as though she were dressed for a party. She was wearing an embroidered yellow suit of a thin material with transparent sleeves. I was amazed at the nice things it did to her. The yellow seemed to bring out the smooth texture of her olive skin and I had to admit that I had never imagined she could be so beautiful. I had always thought of her as a tomboy type, but I suppose that was because I had never really seen her in anything other than shorts and a T or halter on the beach or in a bathing suit or something else, just as casual.
“You look decked out for action tonight, Renu.”
“Do you really like it, Toni? I am going out to a friend’s birthday with other friends.
“Got a couple of dates panting for you to get there, too, I imagine.”
She laughed out loud and said, “Could be! I wish I thought it could make you pretty jealous, Toni, but I know it does not.”
I gave her a wink and said, “Don’t be too sure.”
She told me she had gone over to my place before coming here. “Lalji told me where I could find you,” she said. “I wanted to make sure you saw me dressed properly like a lady so you would know that I am one.”
“You look entirely lovely and that is a fact. I would not have believed it unless I saw it with my own eyes. Renu, honey, you are a vision, a real delectable vision. The men will go ape over you tonight and that is for sure.”
“I wish you had go ape over me and take me with you when you leave this town, Toni”
“I have not said I would not, have I?”
“No, and you have not said you would, either. But I know you are just kidding and one morning I will wake up and somebody will tell me you have gone off to some place unknown again, and that will be the end of it.”
“I don’t know. The way you look right this minute tempts a guy to think twice before passing up an opportunity to have you as a constant bed companion.”
“Stop teasing me, Toni.”
Her silky hair had been combed and brushed until there were light dancing in it. In spite of myself, I felt a touch of nostalgia remembering the old days when Renu and I had romped the beaches together and made love in the sandy hideaway under her house. I wondered if it was possible I was still the only man who had gotten to her. This was kind of difficult to bring myself to believe. Yet I supposed it could be possible because, as of now, there did not seem to be an scandalous talk drifting around town concerning her, and Lalji was convinced she was still a virgin. I found myself wondering if she had stayed true to me all this time. But there is never an easy answer to a question like that. You just have to go on an assumption and hope you are right.
I spoke of Aunt Veena to her and asked her if she had ever hear anything about Aunt Veena’s saying she was going to let Lalji have the Blue Star.
“Lalji swears she promised the boat to him, Renu, I said. “But I can’t just take his word for it. You were around home pretty much, and I thought maybe you might have heard something.”
Renu shook her head. “No, I never heard any such talk,” she said. “The only thing I can recall is that one day when he was bringing in the Blue Star for mooring at the pier, your Aunt Veena smiled and told me that Lalji and the Blue Star had been made for each other.”
“She said that?”
“Yes, I remember it very well. But that does not mean she was going to give the boat to him. It was just a spur-of-the-moment expression. She seemed to be in a very mellow mood that day. I am sure it did not mean any more than that. The Blue Star is worth a lot of money. I have heard Daddy say so himself. It is much too valuable to give to somebody just on a whim. Lalji must be trying to trick you. You don’t believe him do you, Toni?”
“No, but I would like to be sure. If Aunt Veena wanted him to have that boat, that would be what I would want, too.”
“Well, you are crazy if you hand the Blue Star over to him on a silver platter just because of what he claims.”
“I don’t intend for it to be that simple. There’s got to be more proof of his claim than his unsupported claim, don’t worry about that, Renu. That is why I asked you and I have been asking around and I have not found anybody so far supporting his claim.”
She sipped her coffee. I asked if she was not being foolish running around with Lois. “That girl with get you both in trouble. Pino is liable to follow. If he catches up with you and Lois and some men, he is sure to blow his lid off and try to kill somebody. Do you want a scandal like that on your hands, that is, if you are still alive afterwards?”
Pino is harmless,” Renu said with a smile. I saw that she really believed this. “He is so crazy about Lois, he could not bring himself to do anything to her. She can snap her fingers and make him toe the mark. He will do anything she tells him to do.”
I shook my head at her and warned, “Don’t you believe it, Renu. I know Pino’s kind, and he is just about at the exploding point. Men like he is will take just so much, then they would not stand for any more, and they go clear off their rockers and get kill-happy. Pino is a fighter, and all real fighters have killer instinct in them to begin with. That killer instinct is still lurking inside Pino. Lois is playing with dynamite and does not realize it. Neither do you. But listen to what I am trying to tell you. Stay away from her. There is going to be trouble, and you are both likely to get hurt.”
Renu then smiled at me strangely and said, “Don’t you think you should listen to your own advice.”
“Meaning what?” I tried for a light tone.
“Oh, Toni, cut it out. Lois and I are friends, close friends, and don’t you imagine we tell each other things?”
“Like what, for instance?”
“Well, you are going to meet her tomorrow out of town, are not you? Or was she lying when she told me about it?”
For a moment, I could hardly breathe. I was wondering just how much that screwy bitch had spilled. Surely she had not gone so far as to tell how she had stumbled onto Roopa and me . . . and then mentioned that to Renu? About her stepmother and me? . . . Surely she had not gone to that extent.
“She told you that? What else did that sex machine say?”
“Oh, nothing else. Just that you had been pleading so desperately for a date with her that she had finally broken down and decided to see if you could be interesting.”
I sighed with relief and hoped Renu did not notice.
Renu finished her coffee and said she had better be going. “Have a good time tomorrow, Toni dear. I am jealous but I am not going to show it. Don’t think I am so naïve, though, that I don’t know what is going on around here.”
“Bye, honey,” I had tosmile. “Have a good time. But I still say, watch out for Pino.”
“You watch out for him yourself, lover boy.” She laughed. “It is the men in her life he will be trying to kill, not the women.” Then Renu was gone.
* * *
When I got back to the house Lalji was nowhere around but I thought nothing of it at that time. I went into my bedroom, got down on my hands and knees and dragged the heavy flat trunk from beneath the bed. I opened it and spent some time examining its musty contents. I found nothing of immediate interest, mostly old photographs and family mementos, an ancient Gita and small chest of silverware which I supposed somebody had given Uncle Amrit and Aunt Veena as a wedding present long ago. There were some gold ornaments in a pouch, which I thought were of my mother and Aunt Veena. When I was putting all of the stuff back, a folded sheet of paper I had not noticed before fell from between the Gita. Opening and reading it, I found it to be a scribbled will in Aunt Veena’s handwriting, and it bore witness to the fact that she had indeed intended to leave the Blue Star to Lalji in gratitude for his loyal service to her since Uncle Amrit’s death.
So that was that. Putting the stuff back as I had found it, I kept asking myself why that clause pointing out that Lalji was to receive the Blue Star had been omitted from the later will which she had her lawyer Naresh Kumar, draw up for her and put on record. Evidently something has cause her to change her mind. What? I wondered. Aunt Veena had not been one to run around changing her mind about things after having made a decision. Something had happened, something important that had not come out in the open as yet. I intended to learn the truth before this was all concluded. There was something this whole damned situation that did not quite add up, at least in my mind it did not.
I was hot when I finished, so when I shoved the trunk back under the bed, I went into the kitchen, fixed myself a drink with plenty of ice cubes in a tall glass and carried it to the porch. I sat on the top step of the three leading onto the pier, drank some of the liquor and stared off into the moonlit night.
After a while, I saw Lalji approaching from the direction of the Prem Shankar’s house. I considered this curious. When he was close, I asked, “Been visiting, Lalji?”
“Yes, kind of.”
“Did not know you and Prem Shankar were so thick.”
I watched him and got the impression that he was a little nervous. He managed a weak smile.
“No, we are not,” he said. “Shankar’s not home. He took a party out late this afternoon. They were going to fish quite some distance away and will not be back until sometime tomorrow.”
“Oh? Now don’t tell me you were visiting his wife?”
“He shifted uncomfortable from one foot to the other. “Now, I am not so lucky as that. Wished I was, though. No, I got kind of lonesome thinking about Renu, and wondering if I could not maybe get in a little romance with her. Something about that girl catches me. She is real pretty.”
“Oh, How did you make out with Miss Renu, then?”
He laughed and shook his head. “All I managed to do was sneak in a little necking. I sweated over her for about an hour and then when I saw I was only getting hot and bothered over her for nothing, I gave up. I don’t think Renu can be had.”
“You just left her?”
“Yes, what is the use working up a head of steam when you know damn well you are not going to be allowed to blow it off? I am not much for that. I told her good night.”
I stared at him, all tightened up inside, and wondered why he was lying to me. I started to ask him, then changed my mind. I I had told him I happened to know Renu and Lois were over to a birthday party out of town by this time with friends, he would just be embarrassed and think of another lie to cover the first one. It would be best that I keep him ignorant of what I knew until I had a chance to discover his motives.
One question was eating hell out of me, though. Just why had he been visiting that house in the first place, and then, much more important, who had he been visiting with? Since Shankar was out with a fishing party and Renu was out with Lois and friends, that left only two possibilities, Roopa or Veenu her son. I could not imagine Lalji passing the time with Veenu. Which left only Roopa as suspect.
I racked my brain for an answer. What in the living hell was going on here? Things were getting more mixed up by the minute. What the hell was it all about? I got up and told Lalji I was going to fix myself another drink, then hit the sack. Itold him to help himself to the bottle if he wanted more.
“Maybe I will have a short one,” he said as he followed me in. “When you miss out on a piece of loving you think you have made, a good snort of booze to settle your nerves is the next best thing. Helps put you to sleep. Otherwise you lie awake, thinking about tail and sweating because you can’t get any.”
I told him I guessed that he was right.
Later that night, I lay in bed and I was the one who could not get to sleep. I tried over and over to figure out the answers to the questions that were stirring around in my head. The answers refused to come. I played with theories that haunted and angered me. In the final analysis, none of the theories added up. None of them made any sense.
I thought about Lalji probably sleeping like a baby in his room at the other end of the house. Why had he lied to me? Who could give me the answers I sought? Why had Lalji been over to Shankar’s house while neither Shankar nor Renu had been there? Why had be told that lie about trying to make it with Renu? What was he hiding? What could be the possible connection between Roopa and him? Could a dish like Roopa be interested in a man like Lalji? Nothing made any sense.
I got up and boozed myself up and finally managed to drift, drunkenly, off to sleep.
Lois caught her breath, then laughed in that exciting way she had. Her skin was creamy, and she had insisted that all the light in the room be left on. Her amazing white body shimmered and wiggled on the bed. I was glad the lights and I both were burning because Lois was the kind of beautiful woman without a single blemish anywhere on her completely nude form, needing no dimness as did other women to hide their flaws.
She was absolutely beautiful all over, both of hair and flesh. She knew the power of her enormous sexual pull. She was thankful for it and proud of it. She demanded that her amazingly lovely attributes be given their due homage. Which meant a thousand kisses from head to toe while she gloated in happy passion and enjoyed the electricity of the searching lips hotly exploring the silken inches of her exquisite body, especially her delicious and proud breasts.
She palpitated in happy passion and made the ritual continue for as long as it pleased her which, usually, was a very long time. But once you started, you would find yourself in a heady state of brain-reeling desire that you hated to think must eventually end.
Such skin and such a body as Lois possessed would captivate the sex hunger of all men and drive them to animal passion. You could not tear your kisses from her mouth, from any luscious part of her.
You had to love her even when she had you over a barrel and was taking full advantage of your disadvantageous position.
“Toni,” she had said in a teasing voice when I had met her earlier in the day, as she had demanded, “I am glad you came. It means that you were afraid not to, were you not?”
“Maybe. What difference does it make? I am here.”
I had helped her out of her car and into mine, and we were driving toward the room.
“I always wanted to blackmail somebody so I could have him completely in my power,” she said with an impish grin.
I had to laugh at her deviltry. “You call this blackmail? I don’t. It is nothing more than a threat. And one I am delighted to yield to.”
“No, it is blackmail. I know a scandal regarding you. I know that you and Roopa were in a private room together for hours. I could tell Prem Shankar and he would kill you. Maybe he would kill Roopa too. That puts you right in the palm of my hot little hand! Now you will have to do as I say, and I find it a simply delicious sensation!”
I glanced at her and shook my head with an amused smile. “And I find you a mixed-up little sex kitten.”
She laughed and moved closer to me on the car seat, whispering such hot sensuous threats that I had to concentrate to keep from running of the road.
In the room, continued the blackmail farce, and I decided I might as well go along with it and let both of us have our fun. I really did not know what she might fo if I refused to play the game as she wanted. To tell the truth, I found the whole crazy idea kind of fascinating. She did have a torso which no man could find anything but delightful, and her legs were classic ivory, long and perfectly contoured and devastatingly expressive.
Her fascinating demands began at once. She immediately languished on the bed, smiled , and crooked her finger at me.
“Undress me, slave,” she ordered in an overly dramatic tone. “Show me how much you adore me . . .” Then she had snickered at her own actions and added, “Now, damn it, Toni, come and be good with me!”
In a little while, we were way past the joking stage. It was wild. It was a slow building up to a pulsating crescendo of kisses that were sweet torture, of moaning, of twisting flesh.
Each time she attained her zenith, that lovely body would tremble and stretch, those perfect white legs would seem to elongate in her tense rapture, then paused and shudder, then kick and thrash, and her heels would make rapid small thudding sounds on the bed.
I knew she was all set for a day of it, that with only slight pauses in between, those legs would start their tormenting entwining over and over and it was hell trying to decide which way you liked your women best.
She squealed for what I thought might be a final time in her all-out orgy, then she said, “Let us take a shower together, Toni.”
“I am all for it,” I said. “I could use some cooling down.”
She laughed and agreed that we both could. We turned the water to cold and let the stinging spray invigorate our bodies. We tickled and prodded each other while the water beat down. Then I turned the water to warm and we soaped each other down, lingering in laughter and pleasurable sensations over certain susceptible parts of our anatomies.
Finally we came out from under the water to huge white towels that were fluffy white and deliciously rough. We rubbed each other’s already glowing flesh into even more poignant glowing aliveness.
“Tell me one thing, Lois,” I said. “Why did you have to blab to Renu about our getting together? That kind of running off at the mouth can be pretty damned dangerous, and you ought to know it without my having to tell you. What if Pino hears? If he does It is my guts for sure, and he could go after yours, too.”
Lois shrugged impatiently. “Oh, don’t worry so damned much. Renu would not talk. She and I share lots of secrets.”
I smiled. “Know what I think? I think you made it a point to tell her. I think you probably gave her the word to make sure I would now you had told her.”
“Now whatever would put such a wild idea into your head, darling?”
“Oh, nothing. Only that you would figure it would frighten me to learn you actually had told somebody which could mean you might go so far as to tell Prem Shankar about his wife and me. Isn’t that the way you really thought?”
She touched my nose with the tip of her index finger and smiled mysteriously.
“You will never know,” she said. “If I did think of it like you say, it worked, didn’t it?”
I had to admit she had a point.
“Toni, I bet I know something that you don’t know,” she said teasingly, letting her fingers drift across my lips.
“Yes? Well, don’t keep me in suspense.”
“With Roopa, you have got competition.”
Curiosity prodded me. “That so?”
“And you would never guess who it is either, not in a trillion years.”
“You tell me,” I said, trying to restrain the urgency in my voice. “Don’t make me strain my limited mental capacities.”
“It is Lalji. I have seen them together. Right here in this town.”
“Lois, you have to be kidding.”
“No, I am not. I have an amazing talent for bumping into people at the most peculiar times and thus learning their little secrets. I went to a movie one night and noticed Lalji and Roopa parked in a car in the parking lot near to my car. They were in her car, and they were so wrapped up in each other, they did not even see me. They were necking all over the place.”
“You mean they. . . .” My mind shuddered away from the picture. “Not right in the car?”
She shook her head. “No, but I got the impression that Roopa was putting on the big tease act, making the poor jerk feel like blowing his stack right then and there.”
“And I suppose you shared this juicy tidbit too with Renu, didn’t you?
“No, I was tempted to tell her, but I resisted the urge. I did not want to cause havoc in her family because, after all, she is a friend of mine.”
“How noble,” I said sarcastically. “I am a friend of yours too, but did not mind threatening me with havoc.”
“With you there is a difference, Toni, dear. You are a man, and I can use you.”
She laughed and tossed away her towel, then she brought her nakedness into my arms. “Now I am ready, Toni . . . I am ready to be crushed and loved half to death. Oh, I have never been so ready in my life!”
I was ready, too.
I practically threw her on the bed, then threw myself on top of her. I kissed her gasping mouth, driving my tongue into it with the force I would use for a greater rapture in moments. I licked at her already hardened nipples and covered her breasts with most, adoring kisses. I loved her quivering body with my hands, my lips, the pressure of my own flesh against hers.
All the time, she moaned and babbled a litany of lust, until, finally, she panted and grasped my very much ready instrument of bliss and guided it purposefully in her lifting throbbing self.
I made it last. On the shuddering edge of bliss all the way, I still made it last.
When the end came in hot, lunging madness, we were soaked in each other’s perspiration, lifted so high it took long moments to tremble back to earth.
* * *
The next morning, I walked out on the pier, mostly because I had seen Veenu through my window tie up his boat under it, and I felt like talking.
“Fishing again, kid?” I asked.
“No sir, I am not after any fish. I am not even trying. What I am trying to do is find my rod.”
He seemed more talkative than he had been before. I was pleased at his new warmth and friendliness.
“I doubt if you will be able to locate it down there. I tried with larger grappling hooks than you are using and I did not have any luck. I tried for a long time, too, before I had to give up. There is usually a lot of silt around the bottom of a pier. The rod is probably buried deep in that, too deep for you to reach it with hooks.”
“Could be.” The boy tried to smile, but he did not quite make it. “Still, I have to keep trying. Daddy Shankar said if I did not find this rod he would never let me have another one.”
“That is being a little too rough on you,” I sympathized.
The effort at a smile left his thin face, and he returned to the tedious task of dragging the line with the fish hooks on the other end of it around and around his little pram. He was wasting his time. I felt sorry as hell for the poor kid. I swore under my breath at Shankar for being so hard on him.
“Tell you what,” I said. “There probably are two rods down there . . . my Aunt Veena’s and yours. If you find my Aunt’s, you can keep it.”
“Gee, thanks. Now I know why my sister always calls you a good joe.”
“Renu. She is not really my sister, but Mom makes me call her that.”
“Renu says that you and she grew up together and that, in her book, you are okay.”
“Yes, we have known each other for a long time.”
I gave him a man-to-man look. “Say Veenu, how would you like to help me try to figure something out?”
He scratched his already mussed-looking head and glanced up at me, bit puzzled. “I will if I can.”
I let my gaze veer out to sea. “What I am trying to figure out is how in the world my Aunt Veena could have been so careless as to fall off this pier and drown. She was a careful old lady and she never took any chances. It is driving me out of my skull thinking and wondering about it, trying to understand how she could pull such a fool stunt when she knew damn well that she could not swim a single stroke. You are a smart boy. Maybe you could come up with some idea of how it could have happened.”
“I don’t know. I never even thought about it,” the boy said. “I think she just lost her balance and fell, the way all the grownups say she did.”
I shook my head gravely. “I can’t believe that,” I told him. “Aunt Veena was afraid of water over her head. She was just too careful for it to be that simple. I am certain there was something else, but I can not figure out what to save my own life. Well, may be we never will know.”
“I am sorry it happened,” Veenu said seriously. “She was a very nice lady.”
“Yes,”I sighed. “She was that.”
“I do, I know. And I think Mr. Lalji misses her a lot more than anybody.”
“Why do you say that, Veenu.”
“Because he wanted to marry her.”
“He what? Oh come now, Veenu, you must be joking.”
Veenu rubbed one foot against the other. “Well he said he did, that is all I know. Oh God, I wish I could find at least one of those rods.”
I had to go on.”You mean Lalji told you he wanted to marry my aunt?” Veenu you must have heard wrong. Aunt Veena was old enough to be his grandmother.”
The boy nodded but he remained bent to his task of dragging the line. I watched him carefully. Questions I wanted to ask him raced through my mind. But I had to take it easy. I didn’t want to frighten him, make him afraid to say more. I wondered just how much he really knew, how he had learned it, and if what he had said was a lie, a supposition, an exaggeration, or the unbelievable truth.
“When did Lalji tell you all this, Veenu?” I mean about wanting to marry Aunt Veena.
“Oh, he did not tell me. That is not how I came to know.”
“How was it then?”
“I was tied up right here under the pier one night, trying to fish. Mr. Lalji came out on the pier and started talking to your Aunt Veena. I heard him tell her that if there was not so much difference in their ages, he would ask her to marry him.”
“Are you sure that is what you heard?”
“I am sure.”
“Well, what was Aunt Veena’s answer? Were they joking? Cripes, the must have been kidding.”
“No, sir.” He glanced up at me. “If it was meant to be funny, she would not be so mad at him, would she?”
“What did she say that showed you she was really angry?”
“She told him to get away from her and stay away. She said he was talking like a fool, and not to ever speak about anything so stupid. I felt sorry for him, the way she lit into him. I know how I feel when somebody really blesses me out.”
“Did he go away the, like she told him to?”
“Yes, but he was mad. He was muttering under his breth.”
“What happened after that?”
“Didn’t either of them know you were under the pier?”
“No, sir, and I didn’t want them to find out. Grownups get mad when they think kids are listening in on their talks.”
I quizzed him a little further, but learned nothing else of importance. I left him and walked slowly back to the house, digesting the curious information he had imparted, still doubtful as to the truth of his statements. Kids have fantastic imaginations. You learn not to put too much stock into some of the wilder things they come up with. This was about as wild as anything could get.
Renu came over later that day, looking very agitated.
“I am going to leave this town forever and never coming back,” she told me.
“Hey, calm down!” I said. “What is all the hullabaloo about?”
I made her sit on one of porch rocking chairs, while I sat on the railing. She was wearing a white shirt with the two top buttons open and the luscious mounds of her breasts, heaving with excitement, looked extra good. Her shining hair hung around her shoulders, beautiful against her olive skin and her deep brown eyes.
“I am disgusted,” she said. “I am sick of everything and everybody in this damned place.”
I laughed and lit a cigarette and told her to calm down and tell me what is eating her.
“You just hopped out of bed on the wrong side today, baby.” I tried to cajole her.
“I wish that was all there was to it.”
“Did some guy give you a bad time last night over on the party . . . or did he not?” Or maybe you and Lois had a hair-pulling match over the same target for the night?”
She just sat and simmered. She had on very brief shorts under the white shirt and her feet were bare. When she crossed her legs, I noticed how deeply tanned they were, how desirable. She noticed my concentration and the gleam in my eyes.
She laughed and said, “You can stop drooling, Toni. I am not in the mood, really.”
I licked my lips. “Then you should not be prancing around with practically nothing on, whistle bait. I am all man and ready to prove it any old time. Besides, you can’t get pregnant by just looking.”
“Men!” She turned up her pert nose. “They never have but one thing on their nasty minds whenever they see a good looking girl.”
“And how you babes love it!” I retorted. “I know your trouble, honey, and I have got just the cure for what ails you. Let us go inside and get cozy. You will forget everything in just two minutes flat that you ever were mad about. I guarantee a complete cure or all money cheerfully refunded.”
She waved a disdainful hand. “Oh, go to hell!”
“Anywhere with you sweetheart.” I laughed at her and she flushed under her gorgeous tan. I found myself wondering what the fell really was the matter to put her in such a foul mood.
“Tell Uncle Toni what is bugging you, baby. Maybe I can help. You know you don’t want to leave this town for sure. Where the hell would you go from here?”
“Anywhere would be better than here.”
“You don’t mean that and you know it. This is your home.”
Renu studied me very seriously for a minute, then she asked, “Can you imagine what I have just found out?”
“No, but it must be pretty important to upset you so badly. What is cooking?”
“It is simply that I heard on good authority that Roopa, that dear, sweet stepmother of mine was nothing but a high-class call girl before she married my dad.”
“The way I heard it was that she worked as an extra in the film industry.”
“She did. But she had a much better paying sideline. I always thought she was no good. Now I know it for sure.”
“Who cued you in on this wild lowdown?”
Renu looked into my eyes, her lips trembling. “I went to school with a girl who moved to the tinsel town after marriage. I wrote to her and asked her to find out whatever she could about my father’s blushing bride. She just answered my letter and she had found out plenty”
“So? What are you going to do about it? What makes you think your father was in the dark about all this? May be he knew the whole bit and wanted to marry her anyway. Even you will have to admit that Roopa is special in the looks department.”
Renu just glared. “Would you have married a girl you knew was a whore, Toni?”
I shrugged. “Who can say? Nobody knows what they will do in any given spot till they are in it. Roopa had Veenu to support. Maybe she really needed the extra loot. I have got enough to do to worry about my own faults without judging others. Why don’t you do the same, honey?”
Now she was really furious. “Don’t tell me how to feel about my father marrying a prostitute, my dear Toni! And you can quit sticking up for her, too. No woman need to sell her body to get by. There are other ways to earn one’s keep.”
“You mean like working?”
She tossed her head. “Oh, don’t try to be so damn funny. You are not. Other people work. They are not too good or too dainty.”
“How do you know she did not consider it work to go to bet with a man? I teased. She looked so cute, real mad.
“Hah! Toni, you are as disgusting as she is.”
“So you are tucking tail and cutting out. When are you leaving town, Renu darling?”
“Soon. I have not decided yet, but real soon.”
“Where do you plan to go?”
“I don’t know yet. Have not thought about or decided as yet.”
“Kind of undecided about a hell of a lot, aren’t you?”
“Why don’t we leave this place together? You would not have to marry me if you don’t want to. I would just plain go with you. I would want to. There will be nothing here for me when you leave anyway. Please take me with you, Toni.”
“My kind of nomadic life is no life for a beautiful girl like you, Renu. You would be miserable in no time and you would hate my guts for getting you into it.”
“I would be satisfied just so we are together, Toni. That is all I would ever want.”
I looked at her and I knew, in that moment, that she meant it. I had always known vaguely, kind of in the back of my mind, the Renu loved me. I had even wondered, out on the road or the Gym, where I had stayed the maximum time, all of six months, if I was not stupid for not coming back home, for not settling down and marrying her. She was a sweet girl, a real looker, and she was decent and clean. One like her does not come along just any day of the week.
“I will tell you something, Renu, but I don’t want you to breathe a single word of it to anybody. I am suspicious that Aunt Veena’s death was not an accident at all. And before I leave this place, before I do anything else, I am going to find out the truth so help me god.”
Her hand went to her throat and she stared at me with horror in her brown eyes.
“You mean you suspect somebody murdered her?”
“It is a distinct possibility,” I said.
“Why Toni . . . why . . . ?”
“For reasons I don’t care to go into now. Not just yet.”
“But who would want to harm a nice old lady like your Aunt Veena? Toni, you are letting your imagination run away with you. I just plain don’t at all believe it.”
“Did you come over here to visit her often?”
“Yes, sometimes. I used to ask her about you, where you were, when she had last heard from you. She was my main source of news where you were concerned.”
“Did she ever say much about Lalji?”
“How do you mean?”
“Well, did she ever mention him in a way that stuck you as unusual? Just anything about him.”
“Are you trying to say that you think he might have killed her, Toni?”
“I did not say that, did I? I am just curious, that is all. I don’t want to overlook any possibilities.”
She looked down at her legs. “Well no, I don’t recall Aunt Veena saying any unusual thing in regard to Lalji. I got the impression she was pleased with the way he kept the business going. She did brag about him several times, saying she did not know what she would do without him, that she was too old to get out and work and that, if it was not for Lalji taking out parties on the Blue Star, she did not know what she would do for a living.”
“Has Lalji ever been in any serious trouble?”
“Not that I have ever heard of.”
“You know any woman he goes with?”
“Lalji?” she gave a little laugh. “You know how Lalji is? He is not exactly ugly, but there is something about him that girls don’t go for. He has no more personality than a cold pancake. And he has no money. Without either, he is a nothing, just a big fat zero. All he has got is a hungry look when he stares at you in that stupid way of his. It would give any girl the creeps. Ugh, I can’t stand him ogling me at all.”
“I thought girls enjoyed being ogled,” I teased.
“No by him.”
“You mean you never gave him any kind of a break? Never even let him get close enough to make a pass?”
“It is really none of your damned business, Toni,” she snapped, “but I did neck with him once or twice, a while back. I don’t even know what made me do it. You can get enough of him in a big hurry.”
“Okay so much for Lalji. One more thing, baby. Did Aunt Veena ever mention anything in your hearing about selling her property?”
Renu shook her head slowly, trying to remember. “Gosh, not that I ever heard. I myself always thought of her as a permanent fixture around here. Why? Did somebody tell you she wanted to sell?”
“No, but your father sure is hell bent to buy me out now.”
Renu’s face clouded. “Now wait a minute Toni. Just don’t start accusing my dad of anything. I don’t like it.”
“I am not accusing him,” I hastened to reassure her. “But I am curious as to why he is in such a sweat to get his hands on this place.”
“I don’t see what is so hard to understand about that.” I could tell she was angry. Her tone was cold, even contemptuous. “He wants to expand his operation and one thing he really needs is room for more boats. You have never shown any interest n this business, and I doubt if you feel any now. So what in the name of god is so damn odd about his making you an offer?”
“Something besides the lake still smells fishy to me.”
“You think he is lying?” Renu asked icily.
I thought about it. “Not lying, just being evasive. Sort of an ‘anything is in business’ attitude. I admit he has a right to keep his own affairs a secret, but I have got a right to be concerned about mine, too. He made a big mistake when he was so quick to offer me so much more than this place is actually worth. Still I can’t figure it out. It looks open and aboveboard, but . . .”
I felt oddly regretful, even embarrassed. I did not want Renu looking at me with thunder and lightning in her gaze.
“How much was this magnificent offer?” she asked sarcastically.
“About ten lakhs more than the place is actually worth. Wouldn’t that make you wonder?”
She hesitated. “Maybe, Toni. Surely, you don’t think Dad had anything to do with Aunt Veena’s . . .” she stared at me with real hurt in her eyes.
“No, I don’t believe he had any part in that,” I said.
“Well, thanks.” She looked away, then her gaze seemed forced back to meet mine. “Toni, are you going to be home tonight?”
“That depends. Why?”
“I . . . I thought I might come over and visit you a while.”
I knew what she meant, and the way she looked, I was all game for it for sure.
“In that case, I will be at home only.”
I gave her a knowing smile. I wanted to kid her about my knowing all along what she needed to cure what ailed her. But I decided not to take a chance. She might get sore and change her mind. The mood I was in, I sure as hell didn’t want her backing out. So I kept my humor to myself. It is always more fun to make love to a beautiful girl like Renu than to laugh at her.
End of part 02