After a brief encounter with this O’Flanahanaman character who seems to have been appointed Company Secretary by Warchalking (man, I worry about that laddie sometimes – his heart is in the right place, but his head’s exact whereabouts is anybody’s guess) I swim the turquoise stretch of sea between The Mardi and the white sandy shoreline of Plum Island. Dripping my way barefoot up the beach, I see various footprints in the sand leading left and right up the coast, and several disappearing into the tropical trees directly in front of me. When in doubt I always go left, so I go left. If you keep going left then eventually you return full circle to where you started and never get lost.
I pretty quickly stumble across a little beach shack bar in an alcove of trees not far from where the gentle waves lap against the island and follow the scattered footprints inside. The bar is deserted with the exception of a somewhat unwelcoming Samoan bartender built like a Sumo wrestler, and an apparently drunk unshaven middle aged man with a heavily bandaged skull, hunched forward on his barstool nursing a bottle of beer. I trail my footprints across the floor and stand at the bar while the bartender dries some glasses and rudely ignores me. I cough a couple of times and he continues drying oblivious, before I eventually say “Hey” and he looks up. “Any chance of a drink? I’m sorry, but I don’t have any money on me…”
“Money’s not worth shit round here”, grumbles the guy at the bar, nodding to some plastic Jesus figurines lining a shelf beside the Samoan, “but if you’ve got any more of those, I’m sure Moses here will keep the beer flowing until you’re flat on your back”.
“Okay, thanks. Uh, I don’t have any more of those, but there’s plenty of useless plastic crap back on our ship that I’d be happy to off-load on… Moses here, if he’d open a tab for me.” The Samoan’s expression doesn’t change. He replaces the dry glass on a rack and uncaps a cold bottle of beer, places it wordlessly on the counter in front of me. I nod in the direction of the bandaged man and say “One for…?”
“One for Dolly too please”. Moses waddles along and places a second bottle of beer in front of this Dolly character. “Is he deaf?” I ask.
“No sir, just he don’t like talking”, says Dolly, draining his old bottle and raising the new one to say cheers in my direction. Moses waddles back to drying the empty glasses and Dolly makes his way over to the bar stool beside me. “So you’re another one of those ship kids?”, he asks. “I met one of your friends the other day. Dark haired fellow, smoking the drugs, talking mighty strange. I left him with those scientists carrying out the experiments off-shore, that was after he got us into a brawl with them and damn lost me my ear. W he said his name was”.
“Ah yeah, he’s our Communications Officer. Sorry to hear about your ear”, I say, instantly regretting my choice of words.
“Yeah well, nobody died”, grizzles Dolly sourly.
We have another couple of bottles and he starts to seem more amiable. I tell him about The Mardi and as a fisherman he seems genuinely interested in the ship, asking me technical questions that I struggle to answer. He tells me that there are plenty of islanders who wouldn’t mind escaping Plum Island on a ship like ours. “How come Dolly? From what I’ve seen this place is fucking beautiful. You’re lucky it doesn’t appear on any maps otherwise I’m sure you’d be a corporate tourist trap. Kinda weird that. How come it’s not on our maps?”
He fidgets uneasily in his seat and calls over to the bartender sitting reading a Russian porno magazine. “Hey Moses… why don’t you see if you’ve got any of that Scotch left over through the back there? You are Scots right?”
“Yeah, how’d you know that?” I ask him.
“I recognise the accent. We got ourselves our very own Scotsman already on Plum Island”, he says, eyes narrowing as the big Samoan shuffles through a door at the back of the bar. He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a pen, slides it on a napkin towards me and suddenly discreetly says “Try and sketch the island on this napkin”.
“I don’t really know what it looks like”, I tell him.
“Sure you do. Little island, big fucking volcano, plenty of beach and trees. Doesn’t have to be so accurate, just try”. There is a mischievous glint in his eye that sparks my own curiosity, so I pick up the pen and make to draw an aerial map. But the strangest thing happens; the moment the nib touches the paper it freezes, like there is some kind of invisible force holding my hand back. I try to force it again, but the harder I try to make the pen move, the harder the force prevents me from making a mark and I notice that I’m pushing so hard that all I’ve succeeded in doing is ripping a small incision through the napkin into the bar counter below. “Watch you don’t press too hard or Moses won’t be pleased about you vandalising his establishment. It’ll take a lot more than little plastic religious figurines to buy your way out of that one.”
“Why can’t I move my hand?” I ask him, releasing my grip and handing him back the pen.
“Well that would depend on what kind of explanation you want from me – the scientific one, or the mythical one?”
“The scientific one”, I tell him.
He chuckles quietly to himself and takes another drink. “There is no scientific explanation”, he says.
“Okay, well then give me the other one, the mythical one”, I tell him.
His eyes narrow again and he stares at the door that Moses has just walked through as if he is weighing up whether or not to tell me. “Could get me in a lot of trouble you know telling you this. Folk don’t like us imparting this kind of information to outsiders that weren’t meant to be here in the first place. But I like you kid. So on this occasion I’m going to tell you, and you’re going to promise to keep this between Dolly and your good self”.
“I’ll not say a thing”, I tell him.
“Well… the mythical explanation is that it’s magic that keeps your hand from moving. Do you believe in magic?”
He laughs and says, “Me neither kid. But until someone comes up with an alternative to why nobody can draw a map of Plum Island, or why it don’t appear on any satellite imagery, or even in any atlas or book on world history, then I’m afraid magic’s all we’ve got to go on.”
“What kind of magic Dolly?” I ask, watching the door myself now, torn between feeling like I’m being led a merry dance and being completely bewildered why my hand wasn’t moving.
He takes a deep breath and leans in so close that I smell the mixture of beer and halitosis in my nostrils. “Legend has it that they put the spell on Plum Island to protect the Plum Necklace”, he whispers.
“What’s the Plum Necklace?” I whisper back.
“The Plum Necklace is why we’re all here. Three generations of… seekers have come to this place after hearing about it. Maybe in a drunken conversation just like this one in a bar on the other side of the world. Maybe a tale passed down from a grandfather on his death bed. Three generations of islanders have grown up here and have combed every last inch of this Godforsaken island in search of it, but…”, he tails off and takes another slug from the bottle.
“Nobody ever found it”, I say. “What’s so special about it anyway?”
“Well again, if you believe the story then whoever wears the Plum Necklace can stop time. Just like that…”, he clicks his fingers, “and then start it again”, he clicks his fingers a second time, “at will”.
“Where did it come from?”
He shrugs and grins a crooked grin back at me. “I don’t fucking know kid. Gods, aliens, fucking magical monks, Aztecs, wizards… it doesn’t matter. As far as I know it doesn’t even exist. I mean, if James McLymont can’t find it in fifty years with a map, then I think it’s safe to say that the rest of us are wasting our time chasing a lost cause”.
“Wait, there’s a map? I thought you said nobody could make a map of the island?” I ask him.
Dolly laughs to himself, and slurs “Well of course there’s a fucking map kid. How else would they – whoever they might be – remember where they hid the fucking thing? Of course the map story is probably just exactly that, nobody’s ever seen it and there’s not a hope in hell that that crazy old fucker’s ever going to admit that it exists, even if it did. Nope, your fellow countryman’s been camped up that there volcano for as long as anyone can remember and he’s not afraid to fire a few warning shots in your direction if you ever go up there”. He holds up his left hand and I see that his middle finger is missing above the knuckle. “I’m speaking from experience”, he says, “he did this to me when I was twenty three years old and green as you are sitting before me. Ah Moses… I was starting to think you’d found some pussy back there”.
The big Samoan ducks through the doorway and places the bottle and two spotless glasses on the counter in front of us. Dolly pours and I ask him why money’s no use. He shakes his head, “Jesus you ask a lot more questions than that other one. He just wanted to know if anyone sold weed on the island. The reason we got no need for money is that this little island is brimming with gold and every kind of jewel under the sun. Flush a fucking toilet and you’re liable to find a fist-sized emerald just sitting there at the bottom of the pan. The trouble with it is that it’s all cursed. Bad luck treasure. Just you see – try taking some of that gold away with you in your pockets and I promise you that your ship will end up at the bottom of the sea. I’ve seen more plane crashes and shipwrecks in my lifetime than I can count on my nineteen digits. Round here, the only currency that talks is curios. The more throwaway the better”.
I instantly find myself thinking about the Storage on The Mardi. If Dolly isn’t just drunkly rambling (and I’m convinced that he at least believes everything that comes out of his mouth) then the islanders would have a field day in there. I take the glass of whisky and raise it in the sun. “Here’s to lost causes”, says Dolly.
I stay there for another half hour and Dolly seems reluctant to discuss anything connected to the legend of the Plum Necklace in Moses’ presence. The two of us are sinking into our own personal morbid stupors and the words dry up and I thank him for his company, and make my excuses, promising Moses I’ll be back with some “stuff” the next day. I can’t tell what Dolly is so eaten up about – maybe his missing ear, possibly even his finger, but there’s only one thing on my mind – Bobby. I try my best not to think about it, but every so often I catch myself tearing through pages of ideas in my mind about how to rescue him from the belly of that whale. It seems impossible. There’s no way of tracking the whale, and the only way our Cook (and good friend) could have survived, was if he’s suddenly come round from his jam induced catatonia before his oxygen tank ran out. Yet I know whole-heartedly that sooner or later I’m going to have to break it to the Company that there’s been a change of plan – The Mardi will be sailing the seven seas and we’ll be searching the depths of every ocean looking for that whale. Going around the world will have to wait until we get Bobby back.
And then there’s this Plum Necklace. The story sounds crazy of course, but I’ve seen enough crazy shit in the last six months to at least not completely rule it out as the fictional ramblings of an alcoholic fisherman. As I swim back out to The Mardi, feeling worse for wears from the drink, I’m thinking to myself that there must be a reason why my hand couldn’t draw that map. And right now, magic seems the only plausible explanation. If the Plum Necklace really does exist, then how much easier would it be to find Bobby, to freeze time and with it the underwater avenues that the white whale rolls down. By the time I climb back up on deck, I know exactly what we’re going to have to do.