Stir it up, little darlin…Stir it up… Vice Consul Walt Seabury sat at his desk lost in Bob Marley’s voice and the reggae beat pulsing from his radio. He swayed with the rhythm, feet tapping, hips rocking, and shoulders in motion. Stir it up. From time to time he closed his eyes as the island girl he’d met at Frenchy’s Bar the night before danced in his mind. Lord, oh, Lord– she had all the moves, and what moves they were. Stir it up…
Consul George Tate marched into Seabury’s office, slicing straight into his musical reverie. Tate’s brisk pace captured Seabury’s attention; Tate rarely marched anywhere. A rotund and large-faced man, well into middle age, he ordinarily propelled himself along at a much slower gait. The small Caribbean consulate where he and Seabury constituted the entire staff, save for a part-time secretary, would likely be his last assignment before retirement.
“They say she has a gun,” Tate said, his voice peppered with excitement.
Vice Consul Seabury clicked off the radio. “Who’s she? What gun?” he asked.
“Anna Brunner. That’s who. She’s got herself in a jam with a bunch of the locals. The police just called and said she’s holed up in her house, with a crowd outside.She’s holding them off with a gun.”
“But, why, I just don’t . . .”
“Chief Ogelsby’s the one who called. Says she bilked a half dozen or more locals out of some money. Said she could get them visas, but needed an advance deposit. When they discovered it was a scam, they came after her. Now the bilkees–if that’s a word– and a crowd of their outraged families and friends are milling around in the street.”
“What do they want us to do? Sounds like it’s up to the police–at least right now.”
“Cops wanted her to surrender to them; for her own safety. I guess the crowd’s pretty threatening. But, she pointed the gun at the cops too.”
“They’re probably afraid of her.” Seabury knew that the local constabulary, a ragtag outfit at best, rarely confronted problems more serious than a stolen pig or a drunken tourist off one of the cruise ships.
“I expect you’re right. Anyway, since she’s a US citizen, they asked if we could mediate. Get her to give up. I told them you’d come over. See what you could do.”
“You know her. Maybe she’ll listen.”
It was true Seabury knew her. He had interviewed her for their vacant secretarial position only two weeks earlier. Born in New York, Anna carried an American passport. But, the lilt in her voice marked her as someone who’d grown up in the islands. Like many local inhabitants, she was a woman of uncertain ethnicity. Puerto Rican–probably; Dutch or German–maybe. erhaps even some Chinese or Pacific Islander. Seabury remembered her well, in her late thirties, an attractive woman, a very attractive woman. A bit thin faced, perhaps, but striking. And shapely; too many curves for one woman. He especially remembered her chestnut colored, almond shaped eyes, and long legs. If she’d told him she had been an Olympic sprinter, he would have believed her.
Until recently employed in a travel office for one of the cruise lines, Blue Seas Holidays, during the interview she told him she had always been interested in diplomatic work. She demonstrated strong computer skills and spoke three languages. Yet, Seabury had felt a bit uneasy; she seemed almost too eager, too assertive. And when he called her former supervisor at the travel office, the man’s guarded responses surely did not constitute a glowing recommendation. In the end, Seabury hired the wife of a local American businessman. Anna Brunner had not taken her rejection well and slammed down the phone when Seabury gave her the news.
Seabury’s consular work provided little excitement: an elderly man from Chicago who’d misplaced his passport; a woman complaining she’d been cheated in a jewelry shop; a Texan who got into a fight with a farmer who refused to pose for a picture on his donkey; two or three befuddled merchant seamen looking for help finding jobs on ships; and third country nationals and local people who hoped for visas to travel to the United States. In the year he’d been there, Seabury had surely confronted no problem like this one. He really didn’t know how to proceed.
“Okay, George. Give me the address and I’ll see what I can do.”
Tate handed him a slip of paper and said, “I’ll let them know you’re on the way.”
Seabury hurried down an outside stairway (the office was located over an apothecary) and stepped to the edge of the street where he intended to hail a taxi. The consulate had no vehicles of its own.
It was Seabury’s first overseas assignment. Twenty-six years old, tan from hiking and swimming, he was outfitted in a white suit and dark blue shirt, without a tie. Rather ordinary looking, he had brown eyes, vigorous brows, and a nose he wished was a bit smaller. He tended to think he was smarter than other people, a notion he did not always succeed in keeping to himself.
Only nine-thirty in the morning, but the sun already glimmered in a near cloudless sky. Seabury removed his jacket and hooked it over his shoulder, then scanned the street for a cab. None in sight. Like all the travel poster days on the island it was another blue-skied day, with balmy air and the trade winds more like zephyrs.
For a time, Seabury’s mind strayed from the problem awaiting him up island. Across the square at the quayside, local people, most of them descendants of African slaves who in times past had labored on the island’s sugar plantations, had come to town for the Tuesday market. The hoarse cries of sellers mingled with the clamor of buyers. Thick smells of cooking food hung in the air. Men and women in broad brimmed straw hats scrutinized the bananas, plantains, and yams on display for their consideration. Women with trays or baskets on their heads maneuvered through the crowd; other people crouched on the ground, purveyors of fish and live chickens.
Seabury had experienced nothing like it growing up in Ohio. The bursts of laughter rising out of the crowd, the bubbling social chatter, the general hubbub–it all pleased him.
Beyond the seaside marketplace, small craft nestled along the quay; an inter-island ferry churned a gentle wake as it abandoned the pier; further out the sails of boats belonging to the hotels and estate dwellers speckled the cobalt water; and, even further out, a cruise vessel, its imposing white bulk looming high off the surface lay at anchor.
Seabury flagged down a taxi. Junkyard derelicts, most of the cabs looked like candidates for a demolition derby. Held together, it almost seemed, by lavish paint work offering up such themes as struck the driver’s fancy, how these vehicles ran he did not know. On this particular morning, Seabury climbed into an ancient Chevrolet identified in bright orange letters as The Island Clipper.
“I want to go up to King’s Hill,” Seabury told the driver and showed him the address.
“What’s taking you up there this morning?” the driver asked.
“Oh, just some consular business.” Not certain what he might be getting into, Seabury didn’t know quite what to say.
They left the town and headed out Bay Road for the twenty minute drive to King’s Hill.
With his driver repeatedly turning to talk to him or fiddling with a radio hanging half out of the dashboard, Seabury alternately feared they would kill someone or that they would be killed. Early on, the driver tuned in some reggae oldies on his radio. Listening to Lord Wellington and the Birds of Paradise steel band harmonize on Don’t worry, Be Happy, Seabury tried to take heart. But, he did worry–and he couldn’t be happy. The lady pointed guns, and that worried him–big time.
To their left the Caribbean arced away to the horizon. On their right green, shrub covered hills and low mountains climbed away from the road which defined the boundary between land and sea. They slowed in small hamlets where old men sat close to the road playing dominoes in front of stores and houses and where unconcerned goats stood like hood ornaments atop junked cars. Finally the driver turned onto the grandly named King’s Hill Boulevard, a narrow gravel road flanked by tightly packed homes.
Seabury made out a crowd of thirty or forty people, maybe more, milling around in front of a house. Ten or twelve policemen, outfitted in blue shirts and a rummage sale selection of trousers, shorts, tennis shoes and sandals, seemed to have their hands full trying to keep order. So far as Seabury could tell, only two of the policemen had weapons. None of this reassured him–at all.
Nor did the reggae tune bouncing merrily from the taxi radio encourage him: I Shot the Sheriff. What was this woman with a gun up to? He slipped on his jacket and strode with as much purpose as he could muster toward the agitated crowd. A police lieutenant saluted him and, after confirming Seabury had indeed come from the Consulate, said, “I told them, sir, you were on the way to set things right.”
A man in the crowd called out, “We want our money back.” Apparently, it didn’t occur to the complainant that, if the story was true, she’d got hold of his money owing to his attempt at bribery. A particularly upset woman said, “You better get that witch or we will.” She sounded like she meant it. Each demand, each threat triggered another round of raucous endorsement from members of the mob. Seabury felt every eye, none friendly, was on him.
“She been in there since early morning when all these folks came up here from town on the bus,” the police officer said. “She told them they could all go to hell and waved a pistol at them. When we arrived she stuck that gun through the louvers and said we could go to hell too.”
“Why are they so sure she cheated them?” Seabury stalled, trying to decide what to do next.
A large woman, a very large woman, decked out in a print dress, mostly red, and a head scarf, mostly blue, pushed in front of the policeman. “She told us she had a job lined up in the consulate and, if we’d give her some front money, when the time came she’d make sure we got our visas to the USA.”
“But, you don’t need an intermediary. If you just apply . . .”
The woman’s face rippled with astonishment and exasperation.
The first man spoke out again. “My cousin down at that travel office heard she didn’t get any job working for you. Found out instead she bought an airplane ticket to the States. We want our money. Came here to shake it out of her if we have to.” Again, the crowd voiced angry agreement.
“Are you sure she is still in there?” Seabury looked at the silent house.
The police officer reasserted himself. “These people been watchin’ the back. And I have an officer staked out there too. She’s in there.”
It was a single story house, of a sort typically occupied by a shop owner or civil servant. On one side it almost touched the neighbor’s house; on the other it abutted a weed-challenged garden enclosed by a picket fence alive with the pink blossoms of coralita vines. As if disregarding the shabby circumstance below it, a flamboyant tree, laden with fern like leaves and orange-red petals, raised its head above the garden.
The house itself was built with concrete blocks, covered with stucco, and then painted white. A tin roof–lobster red–sloped up from four sides to a flat top that accommodated a metal tank for storing rain water. The front door, bright green seemed firmly shut and likely bolted from within.
“Is this her own place?” Seabury asked the policeman. The crowd fell silent, all members listening attentively.
“No. Belongs to some fellow in Miami. Sometimes he comes to see her. But, neighbors say it’s been a long time since he’s been here.”
Not liking it, the crowd sensed Seabury was buying time. “When you gonna do something, Mr. American?” a woman said.
“What’s in back?” Seabury asked.
“Just a sewage ditch. Then the land runs right up to the mountain behind.”
Seabury considered the slope and the ridge, covered with clusters of shrubs, dwarf trees, and lava outcroppings. Anna Brunner would not leave from the back.
Seabury nodded to the policeman, and then rapped on the door. “Ms. Brunner. This is Walt Seabury–from the Consulate. Can I come in and talk to you?”
He knocked again.
“Go away. A muffled voice struggled through the door. “Go away.”
“I want to help you. Please.”
“Don’t need help.”
“Just talk. Okay?”
“You have any cigarettes?”
Seabury, who didn’t smoke, looked to the police lieutenant for help. That officer, in turn, ordered one of his reluctant men to hand over a pack of Marlboros, a gift from a tourist. The lieutenant produced a book of matches bearing the logo of a downtown bar.
“I have some Marlboros,” Seabury said in a loud voice.
The door inched open a crack. Seabury looked down at the silver barrel of a revolver pointing directly at his stomach. It was not a good feeling.
“Show them to me,” Anna Brunner said.
Seabury displayed the cigarette pack in his hand.
“Okay. No tricks,” she said and allowed him to squeeze through the barely open door. “Over there–in the chair.” She gestured with the pistol in one hand, leaned back against the door and latched the dead bolt behind her back.
The room, with a bare wooden floor, was sparsely furnished: mostly rattan; two or three chairs, a couple of cheap, brightly colored paintings of marketplace vendors; miscellaneous lamps; and a coffee table where Seabury placed the cigarettes.
While she lighted her cigarette Anna placed the gun on a side table, next to a half empty beer bottle. But, she kept the pistol within easy reach. She took a satisfied drag. “I needed that.”
Here she is, Seabury thought, like a caged parrot. A good looking parrot, though.
“Anna, the police mean you no harm. It’s quite the opposite. They want to help you. They . . .”
She stared at him with sardonic disdain. “Those are their people. They’d turn me over in a minute.”
When Seabury leaned forward to speak, she picked up the pistol. “You don’t need the gun,” he said.
“That’s for me to decide.” She didn’t put it down, keeping it pointed in his direction.
“What if that thing goes off?” She just smiled. Damn. She looked even better than he remembered.
“You should have hired me you know,” she said.
“It was a difficult decision. I . . .”
How could she say that? Given what she had been up to. Yet, he allowed his mind to explore what it might have been like if she had been hired . . . stir it up, little darlin.
“No matter,” she said. “What are we going to do now? About those thimble brains out there.” She offered him a cigarette, which he waved off.
“Why don’t you just give me the gun? Then I’ll have the police take us out to their Range Rover?” Seabury mopped his dripping brow with a soggy handkerchief–nerves, not heat.
She rolled her eyes heavenward, and then shook her head.
A long period of silence came between them. What could he say? Or do?
Outside he heard shouts, “Send her out.” “Won’t be long, we’re coming in.” The police lieutenant’s voice came through the window, “You all right, Mr. Consul?”
“Doing okay. Be patient,” he called out.
Then Seabury said, “You can’t stay here indefinitely, Anna. Maybe if you promise to pay them back . . .”
“I don’t have the money just now,” Anna said. “But, I could try to get it.” Her lip began to quiver, tears welled.
“That’s the spirit,” Seabury said. He smiled his winningest smile.
“It was a big mistake, but I had so many problems. I never did anything like this before,” she said.
He felt a twinge of tenderness. For the first time Seabury detected a sense of vulnerability about her. He felt increasingly confident.
Anna began to shake. “I’m sick,” she said.
“Oh, you’re just tired,” Seabury said. “It’s been quite an ordeal.”
“No, I ate something bad. Maybe somebody poisoned me. Help me.”
She slumped in her chair moaning and gagging. The gun clattered to the floor. He picked it up as if it were a living–and dangerous–thing and placed it in his jacket pocket. Yielding place to consternation, Seabury’s confidence disappeared like a puff of smoke from the old saluting battery at the harbor. Repentant and ill, she deserved some help, some kindness. Seabury actually felt sorry for her.
He let the police in, and with Seabury leading the way, two officers picked her up, one by the arms, the other by her ankles and carried her out. Their comrades opened a path through the fist-waving hostiles clustered outside and they loaded her into their battered Range Rover. Seabury handed the pistol to the lieutenant and said, “Get this woman to a hospital.”
Tate plopped down on an overstuffed chair in the Consulate’s reception area. “The chief called to say thanks for what you did, Walt. What happens next?”
“That’s up to the magistrate–once she’s well enough to show up for a hearing.”
“Sounds like it was touch and go for awhile. Chief said you showed a lot of courage when she pointed her pistol at you.”
“That’s nice to hear. But, to tell the truth, I was scared silly. Nobody ever told me about anything like this when I was in consular training.”
Tate smiled, apparently recalling his own adventures during thirty years of consular work. “You did fine,” he said, “just fine.”
Tate left for an appointment, and Seabury retrieved some fried chicken from the office refrigerator. He carried the food back to his desk in a paper bag and wolfed three or four pieces, washed down with a cold Heineken. Still shaken by the morning’s experience, he dwelt on the thought of how badly it could have turned out; thank God it worked out as it did. On further reflection, it occurred to him that perhaps he might receive some sort of award. Why not? He would have to check with Tate. Of course, he didn’t want to come across as self-serving, but . . .
At first ambivalent, Seabury gave her the benefit of the doubt. Whatever her reason, Anna had to have been desperate to mislead those folks. Besides, her victims weren’t exactly paragons of virtue; as a matter of fact, many of them looked like thugs and crooks. Unfortunately Anna made the choice she did; he just hoped the magistrate wouldn’t be too hard on her. Considering Anna had pointed a gun at him, Seabury leaned toward an exceedingly generous assessment. The fact that she was smart and good looking–well, Stir it up, little darlin.
He had begun to process the half dozen visa applications on his desk when the phone rang. Chief of Police Ogelsby said, “Just wanted to give you folks an update, Mr. Seabury, about that lady you helped us with today. She’s over to the Hawkins Bay Dispensary. Old Dr. Peckham couldn’t find a thing wrong with her, at least nothing physical. But, he said he wished we had a psychiatrist on the island, said she’s acting kind of strange.”
“What seems to be the . . .?”
“Says he wants to keep her for observation. Apparently she said something about suicide.”
“I thought you might take her to the jail house, at least until she got a preliminary hearing,” Seabury said.
“Dr. Peckham was insistent, so I agreed she could stay at least a day or two at the infirmary. Just want you to know we treat your citizens with consideration, Mr. Seabury. Yes, sir, with consideration.”
“Thank you, Chief. Keep us posted. ”
“Be assured. Doctor gave her a sedative and she’s resting peacefully. I have an officer right outside her door. Won’t anybody disturb her.”
The same could not be said for the house where Anna had taken refuge and where Seabury had, at least in his mind, convinced her to surrender. The aggrieved crowd had pushed by the nervous police recruits and ransacked the house. They tore the place apart; certain Anna had concealed their money there. They pried up floor boards, ripped open furniture, pulled out drawers, and slashed into mattresses. Cursing and complaining at finding nothing, the crowd members finally gave up, poured out and went their various ways. Some toted pots and pans, pillows, chairs, and other household paraphernalia–they figured it was their due.
After an early dinner at the Bristol Restaurant, Seabury decided to stop by the dispensary to see how Anna was doing. He had been unable to get her out of his mind. The police had her under guard, and, he told himself, as a consular officer he ought to ensure she was being well treated. Moreover, he hoped to learn more about what motivated her to take the risk she did. She had seemed so contrite before she collapsed. Her earlier bravado must have been all for show. He didn’t coordinate visiting the hospital with Tate. His boss would likely have suggested Seabury’s assertion of commitment exceeded his obligation. Stir it up. Seabury thought of her long legs. Stir it up, little darlin.
The sun had already set and the orange-blue tint in the west would soon transform itself into indigo and then black. The hospital, a small facility with only ten beds, sat atop a hill looking out over the ocean. Guarded by bent palm trees and tropical grasses, it consisted of a collection of three adjacent bungalows. Seabury asked his hired driver to wait and climbed the three steps leading to the central building. The louvers stood open, allowing restorative and gentle breezes to find their way into the buildings.
An Afro-Caribbean nurse seemed to be the only person on duty.
“I’m Seabury–from the American Consulate,” Seabury said. “I’ve come to see the American lady–Anna Brunner.”
“Oh, you mean the prisoner, the fraudster chiseled money out of folks.”
“Well, that hasn’t been proved yet, you know.” He sounded defensive.
“I heard she had a gun.”
“Yes, but there was a mob. Maybe she had to protect herself.”
“And you’re the one who could have been killed?” The nurse delivered him a you have to be kidding look . She gestured and said, “Right down that little hall. Where the officer is.”
Seabury went along a short corridor with two or three doors opening off each side. The policeman on guard–was not; he was slouched in his chair, mouth open and snoring softly.
Seabury tapped the guardian of the law, and of Anna Brunner, on the shoulder. “Vice Consul Seabury. Here to see the lady.” Now awake, the man looked perplexed. “Official business,” Seabury said.
“Yes, sir. Pleased if you would leave the door open a bit,” the guard said.
When Seabury stepped into the room the cool evening breeze wafted across his face through open French doors leading out to a verandah. The bed–empty. The room–empty. Seabury went out to the verandah. She was gone. Anna Brunner had, as Tate later put it, “flown the coop.” Seabury felt as if he’d been kicked in the stomach. She might just as well have shot him at King’s Hill.
Gone. But, to where? Chief Ogelsby and his men launched an immediate search. To no avail; the lady had vanished. Their only lead came from a Hawkins Bay fisherman who had been trudging along the road toward home, when a car with a man and woman shot past him early in the evening. It appeared to have come down the hill from behind the hospital. The man and woman were light complexioned, maybe Hispanic, he said.
The next morning the police located the car, abandoned in a pullover on the northern end of the island five miles north of King’s Hill. Alas, the police found no sign of the occupants or any indication of where they might have gone. They did, however, discover an envelope bearing the Blue Ocean Lines logo and addressed to Vice Consul Seabury.
While the search for the missing woman and her presumed accomplice continued, Seabury studied the note, written in a florid hand. With Tate and Chief Ogelsby looking on, he read it aloud.
Dear Consul: Sorry to have tricked you a little bit. You seem to be a nice guy. People on this island have been mean to me long enough. If they’re so stupid to give me money, well ha ha ha. Also, sorry I put a fright in you with that gun. No bullets. One more thing. I saw those thimble brains ripped up the house. Money was in big tree in garden. One more ha ha ha. Good luck to you. Your friend, Anna.
Inquiries to US and other law enforcement agencies led nowhere. To those agencies it apparently seemed an insignificant event in an insignificant place. The only response of any sort came from the Virgin Islands. A woman more or less matching Anna’s description had disappeared from St. John four or five years earlier after being accused of soliciting money for a nonexistent charity. That was the extent of it.
Theories abounded: Anna had escaped to South America in a small boat; she’d been smuggled aboard the cruise ship by one of her friends; she been carried away to Miami in a chartered Cessna delivering lobsters. Never located, never heard from again, she became part of the island’s lore. She’d fooled them all. And that was something. Stir it up, little darlin . . .
About the Author:
Currently a Minnesota resident, Lawrence Farrar has degrees from Dartmouth and Stanford. He also completed studies at the Inter-University Center in Tokyo and the National Defense University in Washington, DC. His stories have appeared in Green Hills Literary Lantern, New Plains Review, Evening Street Review, Blue Lake Review, Bloodroot Literary Magazine, 34th Parallel, and elsewhere.