Authors: Gillian Royes
Praise for Gillian Royes and the Shadrack Myers Mystery Series
THE SEA GRAPE TREE
“A superb detective story with richly imagined characters,
The Sea Grape Tree
is set in an island paradise where more goes on than meets the eye. This splendid third novel in Gillian Royes's Shad series, featuring the delightful bartender/neighborhood detective Shadrack âShad' MyersÂ .Â .Â . keeps everyone on edge.”
âAmy Hill Hearth, author of
Miss Dreamsville and the Collier County Women's Literary Society
The Sea Grape Tree
Gillian Royes serves up a delicious rum punch of a mysteryâsmart and savvy, touched by her stylized prose, and mixed with beautiful settings and a host of memorable characters like Shad, the lovable town sleuth and bartender.”
New York Times
bestselling author, publisher, scriptwriter, and executive producer
“From page one, Royes's characters grab you. They are complex, not particularly nice, but completely human and captivating. We highly recommended
The Sea Grape Tree
“A gentle Jamaican mystery brimming with compassion for hardworking Shad, the amateur sleuth; his wife Beth, mother of his four children; and other vivid characters who populate this enchanting novel.”
âJoan Steinau Lester, author of
Black, White, Other: In Search of Nina Armstrong
THE MAN WHO TURNED BOTH CHEEKS
“Royes's strong sequel to her fiction debut, 2011's
The Goat Woman of Largo Bay
, deepens the character of Shad MeyersÂ .Â .Â . in this sensitive, thought-provoking novel.”
“Royes's Jamaica is lush, stormy and stronger than the rum punch cocktails that Shad pours over ice.”
“Royes is brilliant in bringing Jamaican sun and sea, people and places to life.Â .Â .Â . She's equally adept with characters.Â .Â .Â . A cozy mystery as social commentary.”
THE GOAT WOMAN OF LARGO BAY
“Strong characters and vivid descriptive passages.”
“PoeticÂ .Â .Â . leads to a tense climax that will have the reader engrossed to the end.”
New York Journal of Books
“[Royes] does an outstanding job of creating a small Jamaican villageâit is so vivid that the reader feels part of the environmentâand deftly shows the social and political life on the island.Â .Â .Â . [
The Goat Woman of Largo Bay
] is an absorbing read and one that won't be forgotten quickly.”
Portland Book Review
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For Judith, who opened my eyes to the wisdom of Bob's words
The good times of today are the sad thoughts of tomorrow.
âROBERT NESTA MARLEY
od liked to play games with people, made the biggest things creep into their lives when they least expected them. If it wasn't so, Renford would have gotten a shout-out before he climbed onto his bicycle to tell him a drunk driver was coming down the road, and somebody would have told Miss Maudie, hinted to her gentlelike, that she'd won the lottery. It might have saved her the heart attack when she heard it on TV. But, no, Shad was to reflect later, God liked to spin people around with a shock and see if they could walk straight, like a child about to pin the tail on the donkey. Like the boss after Shannon's call.
The news had fallen out of the clear blue sky. Shad had been minding his own business, wiping the dust and salt spray off the bottles behind the bar before any customers came in. The ocean had been drumming on the cliff below and the breeze blowing through the bar's open sides as they always did. Even the tiny island sitting a quarter mile offshore hadn't been doing much of anything. The mildewed buildings in the middle were sitting roofless and somber in the sun, the almond tree tossing its leaves now and again.
The petite bartender had squatted down to reach the vodka and gin bottles under the sink, and since it had been a month since he'd dusted, he'd had to do more wiping than he'd expected. Beads of perspiration had popped out on his bald head, and his once-crisp white shirt was getting damp. Normally meticulous about his appearance, Shad had barely noticed. He'd been brooding about an upcoming celebration, the one that surprised every man no matter how far in advance he'd been notified. He'd just started talking himself into a positive attitude (for the sake of the children, if nothing else) when the telephone in the bar had started to ring.
“Largo Bay Restaurant and Bar,” he sang out after snatching up the receiver.
“Shadrack Myers, how are you?” a woman said with an unmistakable lift to her voice.
“Shannon!” Shad inhaled sharply through the gap between his front teeth. “It's still cold in Canada, nuh?”
The woman laughed in her usual hearty way. “No, it's June, remember? It's spring here, the flowers are out and everything.”
“It's nice in Jamaica, too, dry season.”
“She good, busy planning for us to marry next month. Is all she can talk aboutâwedding, wedding, wedding. You would think we was young, not big old people with children.”
“You're getting married? That's wonderful!” The groom wagged his head in doubt. “What day in July?” she added, her voice more intense. “Maybe I'll be there.”
Shad's hairless eyebrows shot up as he leaned on the counter. “You meanâyou coming back to Largo Bay?”
“After fourteen years, Shad, can you believe it?”
“I better get the boss.”
Shad hurried toward the parking lot, where Eric Keller was peering inside the hood of his ancient Jeep pickup with a sour face.
“Boss, your baby mother on the phone,” Shad called from the safety of the restaurant, and Eric looked up, frowning. As the tall American trudged past in his old shorts and flip-flops, knobby knees slightly bent, Shad thought about giving him Shannon's news, but decided against it. Certain messages shouldn't be relayed by third parties to sixty-five-year-old men with white hair and paunches, especially when ambulances took half a day to reach this corner of Jamaica.
As Eric took the receiver back to his apartment, Shad picked up his dusting cloth, trying to recall Shannon's face, but the years had turned it into a blur above her tall, skinny body. It hurt Shad's heart to know that the fourteen years since she'd been in Largo had dimmed his memory of her, as much as she and Eric had loved each other. Their much-talked-about affair had started soon after Eric had opened his retirement dream, a cozy hotel called the Largo Bay Inn, where Shannon had been a guest. Every month thereafter for two years, she'd arrive to stay in Eric's suite, and he'd walk around beaming. Everyone had expected them to be together for the rest of their lives, but the photographer had suddenly stopped coming to Largo, leading to much speculation among the hotel employees. A year later, after she'd sent cards with photographs she'd taken herself of her new baby, the fears of the worst gossipers were confirmed.
Shannon had been missed by all of the workers and been on their minds for years after. They'd imitated her laugh, loved that she'd tried to remember everybody's name, and that she'd brought presents sometimes, once an apron for Beth and a bottle of aftershave for Shad. They would remind each other how she was always taking pictures, always carrying a camera. After she stopped coming, the photographs of Eric's daughter showed Eve as a serious, solid-looking child.
The bottle dusting finished, Shad started sponging down the refrigerator shelves, waiting for the boss's explosion of Irish temper after the callâlike when he heard a liquor bottle breakâbecause the timing of Shannon's visit couldn't be worse. But the bar owner returned and placed the receiver in its cradle, his eyes numb.
Shad stood up and slammed the fridge door shut. “She coming back.”
“She told you, huh?”
The men returned to their chores, nothing more needing to be said between two people who were closer than family. Over the years, Eric and Shad had become codependents, struggling now to eke out a living from the crude roadside bar that one owned and the other ran since the demise of the hotel. Both men would have found it impossible to live without the other.
It had been seventeen eventful years since the two had met. The starting point had been when Shad arrived back in Largo with his small family after a year's stay in Kingston Penitentiary for stealing a woman's purse in Port Antonio. His grandmother had immediately found him work with her friend Old Man Job. As she reminded her grandson daily, the devil found work for idle hands; besides, he had to support her in her old age.
Old Man Job, a toothless and talented jack-of-all-trades, was building a fifteen-bedroom hotel for an American man who'd bought Mr. Sommerset's property on the point at the end of the bay, a job that called for a young man to carry cement blocks and steel beams. Twenty-year-old Shad had no interest in construction, but the only other honest work he could get in Largo Bay was fishing, which he hated with all his might for its danger and clinging stench.
“You have a girlfriend and a baby to mind,” Granny had urged him. “You is a man of
.” He had taken the construction job.
The owner of the hotel being built had been Eric, and Shad had liked him from day one.
“Looks like we'll be learning this stuff together,” the big American had told him as they watched Job layering concrete blocks with mortar. True to his word, Eric had worked shoulder to shoulder with Shad digging trenches, laying footings for the steel rods, piling up blocks for the walls, doing whatever it took to create his hotel.
“I never see a white man work so hard,” Shad had told Beth one evening while they were eating dinner, Granny snoring in the next room. “He say he used to sit behind a desk all day, but you wouldn't believe it, the way he work. He not proud, you know, like some of them brown people who think they too good for hard work.”
When the job was done, Shad had become the hotel's bartender (learning on the job) and Eric a big deal in the little village. His exalted status came from being white and foreign, and the owner of the only real business for miles around. He was as happy as a pig in mud, he used to say.
“I dreamed of this every day before I retired,” he'd told Shad as they laid steel rods for the lobby's concrete floor. “I couldn't wait to kiss that paper company good-bye.”
“But you were living in New York!” Shad had protested, not imagining any place more wonderful than the skyscraper city on TV where everybody looked busy and rich.
“Listen, man, the only reason I stuck it out for thirty damn years working in human resources was so one day I could live in the Caribbean and never have to suffer through another winter. And since I couldn't live down here without working, I figured that the best way to make some money was to own a hotel.” Eric had shoved a rod into place with his boot. “It'll be a cold day in hell before I work for anybody again.”
Contrary to Eric's hopes, the Largo Bay Inn had never made a profit. Limited by its size and location in the isolated northeast of the island, it barely broke even every month. Ironically, although Eric had to live on a shoestring, the hotel brought prosperity to everyone else in the village. The conch divers and hair braiders and vegetable gardeners had money jingling in their pockets for a change. Employing up to thirty-five workers in the tourist seasonâreceptionists, gardeners, cooks, and maidsâthe inn put food on the tables of Largo's families. This beacon of hope burned for seven good years, only to be blown out. A Category 5 hurricane sweeping across Jamaica had not only destroyed the Largo Bay Inn, but had washed away the narrow peninsula road leading from the main road to its front door. At the storm's end, the battered, roofless hotel had been left standing on a tiny island, an almond tree its only companion.