It was another limpidly clear day in Nassau when Buck walked to work around the corner from his “bed-sitter” apartment in Oakes Field. He was still having trouble getting used to driving on the wrong side of the road and spelling English the English way, which was a requirement for the publishing company he worked for. This seemed to involve a lot of extra “U”s : harbour for harbor, for instance.
The publisher’s pre-school kids and dogs were romping through the hallways outside Editorial followed by a bedraggled nanny when he came up the stairs past reception. Buck supposed that it made a charming scene of laid-back island life, but he found it annoying. The rest of the editorial staff was forted up behind closed doors to avoid the noisy pack. Buck slipped through and joined them.
“The nanny will take them away soon,” his friend Hollis, the executive editor, told him, seeing his expression and laughing. Nothing about the islands seemed to bother Hollis much.
Buck bummed a Canadian Rothman from Donn with two ns (It’s got nothing to do with British spelling, it’s just a cooler byline, Donn had explained) and a cup of coffee from the staff illustrator, a woman Buck once had been sure was the love of his life. That was in another country, as the saying went, but she still made the best coffee around.
“Donn, why don’t you take Buck with you to Coral Harbour?” the executive editor said. “He’s still learning his way around the island.” To Buck, “Donn’s got an interview out there this morning.”
“You still renting that Triumph Herald?” Donn asked. “Good, let’s take it, then. This is nothing if not convertible weather.”
So they walked back around the corner to Buck’s garage apartment behind the defunct Playboy club, and Buck called upstairs to tell his wife he was taking the car. The island air was like a fine Chablis on their faces as they headed out across the island. It certainly was superior to the muggy soup that served for air at Cecil Field, his last mainland employer, much too far back from the Florida coast for sea breeze, and heavily laced with jet-fuel fumes from the constant coming and going of Navy fighters whose screaming engines were headache-inducing.
The island roads were almost deserted that early in the morning. There was a surprising amount of undeveloped land; most of the population was clustered in the city near the main harbour. Driving across the island was almost like driving out into the country. That made it feel even stranger to drive on the wrong side of the road, as if some speeding rural redneck was liable to come roaring head-on into them in some huge American boat of a car.
Donn leaned his sun-seamed face back to catch the rays. “White man going to hell in the Bananas,” he said peacefully. He liked to grumble about just about everything in the islands, but he seemed right at home in this lifestyle. “So,” he said at length, “the boss tells me that you guys were pals back on the mainland, broke in on the same newspaper and all.”
“Yep,” Buck said. “That explains how I got here. He rescued me from a damn civil-service job. How did you?”
“By freezing my ass off in Boston. I had to get outta there.”
“You don’t sound like Boston.”
“Me? Hell, no. I’m a Californian, Buck. Started out on a newspaper in Sacramento and did the reverse migration bit. It was California there I went. I wound up with United Press International in Boston.”
“Just like one of those old newspaper gypsies, huh?”
“Look who’s talking. The boss says this is your fifth gig and you’re four years younger than me.”
Buck had never thought of it just that way, but he actually liked being compared to the well-traveled old-timers he remembered from his first newspaper job.
“A lot of reporters I got to know when I broke in came south to Florida for the weather,” he said.
“Yeah? Well I got it backwards then, going from California to Boston. There I was in my apartment, wearing my overcoat in bed with all the covers over me, the heat turned all the way up, and I was still freezing. I was trying to read Editor and Publisher to take my mind off how cold I was, and there was this job in Nassau, right there in the classifieds. Now I don’t even wear socks to work.”
“I noticed,” Buck said.
Donn didn’t wear a sport coat either. He wore cheap wash-and-wear white nylon shirts, and a clip-on tie only if he had to. He looked a lot more comfortable than Buck felt in his Florida reporter’s garb.
They found a spot for the Herald near the check-in office of the Coral Harbour Club and asked at the desk about the celebrity Donn was supposed to interview. He hadn’t checked in yet, but a limousine had been dispatched to the airport for him.
“We’ll wait,” Donn said, and led the way out to an Olympic sized pool. White-coated Bahamian waiters moved among the swimsuit-clad patrons, delivering drinks. Nobody was swimming, just sunning and loafing.
“Ah the idle life of the rich and famous,” Donn said. “Why don’t you take off your jacket at least?”
Buck did. They sat back and closed their eyes to the soft November sunlight. Working for the island publishing house was not exactly a deadline-driven proposition. The leisured pace made Buck uneasy in a way he didn’t quite understand; it sure didn’t bother Donn any.
When he opened his eyes a few minutes later, Donn had unclipped his tie and was taking off his shirt. His shoes already sat beside his sockless bare feet. When he had his shirt off, he folded his slacks up to his knees. Then he lay back on the deck chair with a beatific smile.
“Now this is the life, you gotta admit.”
Buck half expected somebody to show up to throw them out. He had witnessed young native Bahamian men doing the same thing Donn had just done on the private Sheraton British Colonial beach downtown: slip over the fence and shuck their shoes, shirts and pants to reveal Speedos. After which they moved in on pale Northern girls lying out on beach blankets, all set to prove Nassau’s alleged reputation as the stud farm of the Western Hemisphere. Sometimes they got run off, sometimes they got lucky. But nobody in the Coral Harbour Club challenged the reporters’ right to loll by the pool.
Donn was all the way asleep when someone from the desk came out to inform them the celebrity had directed the limousine straight to the Paradise Island casino, and wouldn’t be coming to the resort until much later. They were welcome to join him at the casino if they wished.
“I think I need a drink,” Buck said.
“Hell, you’re right,” Donn said. “It’s eleven a.m.” He rolled down his pants and put on his shirt but didn’t button it. “Let’s go.”
The bar off the pool was dim and cool and pleasant. Buck ordered a gin and tonic and went to the bathroom while Donn called in for instructions about the interview. When Buck got back to the bar, his drink was waiting and Donn was already half-through his first one. The icy Tanqueray gin smoothed down Buck’s throat and he thought he had never tasted a better gin and tonic. When he complimented the bartender on his deft touch, Donn started laughing so hard he had to hold onto the edge of the bar to keep from falling off his stool. The waiter looked mortified.
“But — but sah! All I did was open the Schweppes and sit it beside your glass…”
“Okay, you are now officially a white man going to hell in the Bananas,” Donn interrupted. “Drinking straight gin for brunch and calling it perfect.” He polished off his drink. “If we head out now, we can be back at the office just in time for lunch.”
*From Newspaper Gypsy, AbsolutelyAmazingeBooks.com.