Bermuda Tangle

BERMUDA TANGLE

George Massey was having a very bad day. His taxi had been caught in a traffic jam on the way to the airport which made him ten minutes late for check-in. The check-in procedure itself was a further delay, his luggage was overweight and he had to pay an excess. It was probably his diving gear. Perhaps it would have been more sensible to rent everything over in Bermuda, but George was the living embodiment of the old maxim that what separates the men from the boys is the price of their toys and he was damned if he wasn’t going to play with them when he had such a wonderful chance. His only stroke of luck was getting a window seat, despite being the last to check in for the flight.

George wasn’t an especially good flyer, but it mattered to him to have the view of the ground. He enjoyed comparing the view with his idea of how the world looked from maps and he liked to try to work out where he was flying over. But not during take off and landing. Those were times when he just wanted to sit with his eyes tightly closed and wait for the impact. Not that there would be much to see today, most of the flight would be over the Atlantic Ocean.

Security was next. Shoes, belt, phone and cabin bag in the trays, George strode keenly through the metal detector doorway. Predictably, the alarm sounded and he was directed to a thin, bearded man who took him aside and searched him meticulously. Looking over, he could see his bag being hand searched by another guard. Eventually they reluctantly let him proceed, leaving him feeling thoroughly humiliated by his experience. In the toilets, George examined himself in the mirror. Did he look like a terrorist? Not this week. Collar length blonde hair, swept back from his face, blue eyes, but otherwise he considered himself pretty non-descript in a plain white linen shirt and light weight beige chinos.

He had 15 minutes or so before the flight would be called, so he headed for a coffee bar and indulged himself in a frothy Cappuccino. The airport was bustling as a Friday night in the holiday season tends to be and George enjoyed the quiet of the moment and the sweet milky taste of the coffee as he took in the crowds around him. As usual, all human life was here. Families struggled to keep children together and find their gates; young couples strolled by hand holding, or occasionally arguing. He admired a group of girls straggling past on their way to Benidorm, by way of as many bars as they could find. Behind them a group of young men with strong northern accents were indulging in horseplay and striving for attention. It was two of these, each intent on proving their virility by tripping the other, who catapulted out of control into George’s table spilling his coffee into his lap. The coffee had cooled enough not to burn him, but his trousers were a real mess. This journey was just getting better and better!

George took himself back to the toilets to clean himself up. It was not a winning experience. Water seemed to just spread the stain and then there was no way to dry it easily. He had wedged himself as well as he could in underneath a hand dryer, when the same group of lads came in still horsing around. Wishing to avoid a confrontation and feeling very uncomfortable, he took himself back out into the lounge, only to hear his name called over the speaker system to go to the gate now as the flight had boarded.

He rushed out and hurtled down towards the gate and it was a sweaty dishevelled George who handed over his boarding card and was ushered onto the plane by disapproving ground staff. He self consciously walked along the gangway to his seat aware that he had held the plane up. The plane was packed with holiday makers, all of whom appeared to him to be staring at him and his embarrassingly wet trousers. What did they think he had been up to? The overhead locker was full so he apologised again and he struggled with his bag into his seat. His neighbour, despite the hassle, was pleasant and sensibly suggested he put it under the seat. George slid gratefully into a sitting position. His neighbour sat back down and looked at him in amusement.

“You look as if you have had a trying time?”
He had a cheerful manner, which George took to immediately and for the first time for an hour he smiled.
“I could write a book about it.”
“If you don’t want to, I might,” came the reply. “I like you already. We were all waiting for you and then you arrived in such a comic manner that I can use you for the introduction for my travel piece. My name’s Richard.”
He stuck out a hand and George shook it, introducing himself.
“Good to meet you, George,” Richard continued. “It’s going to be a long flight. We might as well get to know each other a bit. Are you off on holiday or business?”

Before he knew it George had explained that this was a holiday. His first alone for a couple of years and that he was looking forward to diving the reefs and wrecks around Bermuda and anywhere else that caught his attention. He looked the other man over. He was taller than George by a good four inches and it showed, even in the seat. He had brown shoulder length hair, pulled back into a pony tail and he wore relaxed clothes, a Billabong t-shirt and a pair of cargo trousers. He looked confident and approachable. George suddenly felt embarrassed and he broke off the eye contact, looking out of the window. As the plane taxied towards the runway the conversation was broken off anyway as the cabin crew began the safety demonstration.

George didn’t know what to make of his new companion. He was a reserved man, not given to opening up about himself, or to easy friendships. He felt that he had already given away more than he usually did to a stranger and that made him very uneasy. As the plane gathered speed along the runway, he resolved to avoid further conversation if at all possible. He closed his eyes nervously as the cabin tilted and the rumble of the tyres on the tarmac stopped.

About half an hour later the plane was safely in the air and speeding its way towards the Caribbean. George had experimented with the in-flight entertainment and found that he had seen all the movies and resigned himself to the feeling that this was going to be one long flight. His neighbour had closed his eyes and seemed to be napping, so he struggled in his cramped seat to get a book out of his bag from under the seat, trying hard not to disturb him, but inevitably failing.

“Need a hand there?”
“Just trying to get to my book.”
“Let me make you some more room.”

Richard got up from his seat to give him room and he was finally able to pull his bag out. Richard was busy in the overhead locker.

“If you pass your bag to me I can make enough room for it here, then your feet won’t be so cramped.”
“Thank you, you’re very kind.” George rummaged in his bag, pulling out his book and some headache tablets. He passed it up to Richard and the man sat down.

There was another period of silence between them, more companionable this time. George read his book and Richard thumbed through the in-flight magazine, until the food trolley came along. The food was included in the flight, but drinks were not. As they waited for the drinks trolley, Richard offered to share a bottle of wine.

“These mini bottles they offer are just not enough. You get too much for a glass, but not enough to really enjoy it. Even with an eight hour flight, though, I can’t drink a whole bottle. Would you like to share one?”
Despite his determination to be reserved, George was drawn by the offer.
“That sounds like a good idea, how much is a bottle?”
“Don’t worry about that, I get this kind of thing on expenses.”

Despite himself, George was intrigued and asked the obvious question without hesitation. Before he knew it they were chatting away about Richards’s job as a travel writer, the opportunities it gave him to see the world and the difficulties of finding new things to say about places that had been visited by every travel writer in the world since Hemmingway. A bottle of red wine arrived and they toasted invention. George talked about his job as a salesman. He usually talked the job up, but today he found himself talking honestly, about being a middle ranker, the pressure to try to rise to the top and his dissatisfaction with this competitive world. Like many sales people George had not set out to be in sales, but after nine months with student debts and living back with his parents he had taken the next reasonably well-paid job just to move on and out.

Richard too, talked about the frustrations of travelling alone, of the need to find new ways to experience and describe places that were becoming well known.

“What do you intend to do with your time on this holiday?” He asked George.
“What drew me to Bermuda is the reefs and wrecks. There are more wrecks to dive on in the Caribbean than any where else, plus you have the fish and the reefs. I learned to dive in England. That means quarries and cold grey seas. I’m so excited about diving in warm water, being able to see the fish and explore the wrecks.”
“I have never dived — I surf and travel the sights on land, but that would make a good new angle to write about. Can you put me in touch with a good diving centre.”

Of course he could. He explained the training that Richard would need and that alcohol was not to be taken before dives. They discussed the opportunities and things that might be seen in the water in detail. Then they moved on to discuss the Bermuda Triangle and whether it might be possible to find any of the ships and aircraft that had disappeared in the area. Richard was quite well-informed about the various theories and rumours about the Triangle, but he had no favourites among them and the conversation took them towards the end of the bottle of wine in fine style. Just as Richard started to pour their last glasses the plane hit an unexpected pocket of turbulence. It dropped like a stone for a very long second before pulling up with a bump that transferred the contents of George’s glass to his shirt front in almost its entirety. Richard had not yet poured his own so he escaped. The plane filled with the sound of screams and curses and the two men sat for a moment in shocked silence. Then Richard began to laugh. It started as a low chuckle that he tried to restrain and George felt a flare of irritation, his usual response in such a situation. Richard’s laughter, however, was infectious and very soon other passengers heads began to turn at the incongruous sound of the two of them laughing. Richard pressed the call button for a stewardess and asked for some towels.

After cleaning up, Richard ordered a couple of Whiskies as an apology and they settled into a companionable conversation about life in general. They were both comfortable now and after the drinks were finished, they each drifted off to a sleep.

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- What makes you think it will work this time? There are a lot of people on that plane.
- I have been testing it with the fish and then with the dolphins. I am sure. There will be no mistakes.
- We have caused enough damage over the years, we must not cause more.
- I am sure. We can read them first. If you are happy with the results then we can decide on the next step.

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“Control this United 517 inbound to Bermuda”
“This is Bermuda control, go ahead please”
“We have just experienced an unexplained phenomenon. Do you have anything on your radar?”
“Negative United 517, please supply further information and your position.”
“Position is 60degrees 51minutes west, 39 degrees 30 minutes north. We have experienced what looked like a lightning strike, but we have clear skies and no other aircraft in view.”
“Do you have any damage United 517?”
“Nothing detectable Control”
“OK United 517, please remain on this channel and we will advise. Control out.”

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- OK, you proved your point. Now what do you want to do?
- Look at the data, there are several people on here we can help.
- Choose one. Do this well and we can work on a bigger scale.

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George woke up as the crew announced that the plane was beginning its approach to Bermuda. As the passengers stirred and seat belts clicked back on, he realised that he had moved in his sleep and his head was embarrassingly now on Richard’s shoulder. The other man didn’t seem to mind, but George avoided eye contact as he fumbled with his belt. He looked out of the window and saw the island and the sea below them. As he looked the whole appeared to go out of focus, as if a veil of cloud had wiped over the plane for a moment, he experienced a strong feeling of dislocation. There was no cloud in the sky here.

“What was that?” he asked Richard.
“What?”
“I had a funny feeling for a moment and everything went blurry.”
“Did you have any more of those whiskies?”
“Huh. I can take my drink better than that you know.” They laughed and George shrugged his experience off as travel stress.

At security George was once again dropped into the nightmare of his journey. The immigration official did not like his dishevelled appearance and took him aside for an interview. By the time he had convinced the man that he was not a beach bum, but was booked into an excellent hotel with his return travel pre-arranged, the other travellers had moved on from the luggage hall and his case was circulating in lonely splendour in an empty room. He claimed it and made his way out through Customs to the arrivals hall, where the bus had left and the holiday company rep waited alone for him. They took a taxi to his hotel, the rep explaining that he hadn’t wanted to keep the other passengers waiting. George stuck to his usual habit of not making conversation. He was a very private person and always said little about himself. When confronted by outgoing people, he usually fell back on his sales training and asked them questions about themselves until they took the conversation away from him.

The hotel did not disappoint George. He had chosen this holiday carefully, after the recent break-up of his relationship with Maggie he wanted to spoil himself, to give himself time to think and to relax. Maggie had always been a bit of a whirlwind in his life, arriving dizzyingly fast after they met at a mutual friend’s party, moving in with him, pushing him towards commitment and then leaving in a blinding rage almost a year later accusing him of an inability to have an adult relationship. She had been very close to home with that last remark. The only thing he was sure about was that he didn’t want to be married and settled and yet there was a current in his life that was pushing hard and fast into the “Real World” of job, mortgage and 2.6 children. He couldn’t put his finger on why, but he knew that was not right for him at present. He hoped to use some of his time on this holiday to give it a bit more thought.

He checked in to his hotel and was led along raised wooden walkways to a beach-front log villa, built on stilts over the water in a sheltered bay. Behind the villa the walkway led back to the bar area and the pool; in front was a veranda, the door and a window, all which had been cleverly designed to show him views of the sea and hide views of the other villas. This was what he wanted: luxury amenities and the impression of solitude. He was sure he would be able to think and that after this holiday he would have the energy and direction that his life currently seemed to lack.

He put his case on the floor and looked around the room. The bathroom was roomy, with a shower, bath and bidet. He wasn’t sure that he could use everything in there in a single day, but he thought he might try. The towels were plentiful, thick and fluffy and there was even a pair of white bathrobes on the back of the door. His room was as impressive. There was a door and large picture window that looked out towards the sea and as he looked the sun was setting in a red haze over the ocean. Waves were crashing over the reef at the end of the bay and the sea below the room was rippled, throwing up pink reflections onto the ceiling. He sat on the bed and took it in for a while. The room was spacious, with a king-sized bed, a table with two armchairs for relaxing and dressing table/desk with a mirror and lights. A large cabinet on the wall opposite the end of the bed contained a television and below it a fridge with a mini bar. There was bottle of mineral water on the table and at that moment there was a tap on the door and a waiter brought in a complimentary bottle of Champagne. George popped the cork to mark his arrival, poured a glass, sat back on the bed and looked back out at the sunset. He was tempted to sit out at the table on the balcony, but the heat had already caused him to sweat into his ruined clothes and he wanted to stay in the air-conditioned comfort of the room. For a moment he wished he had someone to share the moment and the Champagne with, but then he reflected on his reasons for taking the holiday and smiled to himself. This was going to work out fine. He slipped his dirty clothes off and sat back in his underwear. Everything else could wait until the morning. Just now he could relax and let the world go by. He drank the Champagne slowly, savouring the indulgent bubbles and revelling in the expensive, dry taste and the view. As darkness fell over the ocean and the lights of the other hotels and settlements around the bay rose, he drifted off into a contented sleep.

The next morning George woke with a splitting headache. He groaned and rolled out of bed. The room was bright with reflected sunlight from the sea and opening his eyes did not seem like a particularly intelligent thing to do. He cracked his eyes enough to stagger into the bathroom and sat down on the toilet to prevent accidents while he relieved himself with his eyes still tightly closed. He felt his way back by Braille, opened the fridge and took a long pull on a bottle of mineral water. That was a little better. He searched his hand luggage for some tablets, then made his way out to balcony and plunged into the sea. Even at whatever time it was in the morning the heat hit him in a wave and then the cool of the water embraced his body, instantly soothing it. He opened his eyes: the water was crystal clear. He could see the coloured, blurry shapes of fish that you never saw in the sea off the British Isles and his hangover dissolved in the balm of the warm water. He swam out for about five minutes, then turned around and wondered which of all the sea front villas was his. He swam back in slowly; finding the right one quickly and he settled comfortably on the balcony with his bottle of water and let the hot sun dry his body. He had carefully planned the holiday. From arrival to departure he knew what he intended to do with each day and had it laid out in a notebook in his hand luggage. Today was a restful orientation day. He had pre-booked and paid for his diving, starting tomorrow. Today was a day to explore the beach, the bay and the hotel; to get used to the heat and to find his way around. Next job, bathe off the salt, dress and go in search of breakfast.

As the bath ran, George opened his suitcase to unpack, only to find that the bad karma of the previous day had followed him here to this paradise on earth. These were not his clothes. He had certainly not packed bras, knickers and dresses. The airline had confused his case somewhere. He looked at the label attached to the handle — it had no name on it, so that was not the answer and he couldn’t find a name on the inside either. He picked up the telephone and called Reception, asking them to find his holiday rep and get her to call him. In the meantime he might as well take his bath and at least he had the dressing gown to wear until this was sorted out.

When Sharon, the rep came across to his room she did not help his mood by being amused. No, there had been no other reports of lost luggage. Yes, she would call the airport and the airline to see if they had it. Yes she could get some compensation for him if it was permanently lost, but he shouldn’t hold his breath as he wouldn’t see the money until after he had returned home. Hadn’t he got any other clothing? There was nothing she could lend him. Tomorrow was Sunday and on an island this small he wouldn’t be able to buy any. Looking through the case she thought he could try some of this, perhaps it would fit until he could get some more. Yes, she would look into it straight away and get back to him as soon as she had any news. Did he have his boarding pass with the luggage receipt? Could she take the tag from the wrong case? No, she would leave it here; she couldn’t possibly handle a case that big on her own, they could send someone for it when they wanted it back.

And then she had gone. George was left in his room with one set of very dirty clothes and the contents of the case. He sat on the bed for a while, hunger and irritation eating at his abdomen. There was very little choice really. His rational mind could not find a way around it. He began to look through the case. There were some very nice clothes here. It was definitely a young woman’s case, there were no shared “couply” items in it and as George looked through her clothes he felt drawn to her. He liked her style. He took a deep breath and picked out a pair of cargo shorts and a plain blue t-shirt, then with some misgivings, the plainest of the panties. He slipped them on, it was a strange feeling. He had expected them to be uncomfortable, but they fitted him reasonably well, if a little stretched out in the front and the material was far more sensual than his usual pants. The shorts were a little tight at the waist, but with some adjustment they went on and settled over his hips. The t-shirt was a little short and only just reached the waistband of the shorts. He looked at himself in the mirror. Not too bad. He could live with it; it wasn’t as if anyone knew him here anyway. He picked up his local guide book and headed off for breakfast.

After a breakfast, during which no-one had pointed him out as wearing women’s clothes, or even noticed him at all, George returned to his room. The original plan had called for a morning spent snorkelling in the sea. He took another look through the case on his bed. There was a snorkel and mask in there and a couple of swim suits. They would not do. A pair of green bikini bottoms could stand in for trunks, no-one would see and even if they could, with the mask on they couldn’t tell who he was. He changed quickly and took himself off to the sea. He spent the whole morning engrossed in the reefs and fish of the bay, coming in only when his stomach forced him to, eating in the beach front café of the hotel and comparing notes with an equally excited family on their first snorkelling holiday. In the afternoon they all went out together waving each other over to see each new fish that they found.

The afternoon had reached its hottest when George waved a farewell to his new friends and swam contentedly back to his villa for a siesta. As he reached the ladder to his balcony, his vision blurred again and he missed his grip on the first rung, falling back into the sea. Too much too soon, he thought. He climbed up quickly, rinsed his briefs and showered before lying down naked on his bed to sleep.

He woke up an hour or so later with the phone ringing in his ear. As he turned over to answer it, it was immediately obvious that swimming in the heat of the day had overdone the sun and his back was burned. Cursing himself roundly for his stupidity he answered the phone.

“Hello, Mr Massey?”
“Speaking.”
“It’s Sharon from TriTours here. I’m sorry, but we haven’t been able to trace your luggage yet.”
“Oohh no!” he groaned.
“I have been in to the airport for you, but they have no trace of any other cases and the airline has said the same. They are going to look out for it for you. No other passengers have reported lost luggage, so it isn’t anyone here. In the meantime I have some paperwork for you to fill in. Can I come over to see you this evening?”

They made an appointment for after supper and George hung up. He took himself through to the bathroom and surveyed the damage. It could have been worse, but he was going to have a rough night. He sifted through the suitcase looking for after-sun lotion and found a large cosmetics bag. Sure enough the after-sun was in there and he contorted himself to spread it over his back. He sat down on the bed feeling sorry for himself. This was supposed to be the relaxing holiday of his life, space to stop worrying about the day to day and sort out what he wanted for the future. So far, it had run from disaster to disaster. His clothes lost or ruined, the only clothes available not really suitable, now sunburn and what was he supposed to wear for dinner.

He decided that as he was stuck with it now for an indefinite period of time he had better take a closer look at what was in the case. Until now he had only gone through the top layer to find what he had needed and he had only looked cursorily below as he felt like an intruder going through someone else’s private things. There were some rather daring short skirts, more bathing outfits and matching sarongs to wear with them. A couple of sundresses were becoming creased in the rummaged case, there were more pairs of shorts, some t-shirts and loose flowing shirts that looked ideal for a hot day. Below them he found some strappy sandals with heels and at the bottom a god-send, a pair of Merrels, traveller’s flat sandals. He took them out and tried them on. Surprisingly they were a good fit. There were flip-flops too, for the pool, with jewelled bars across the toes. He thought he might give them a miss. He picked the shorts and t-shirt he had worn that morning and went into the bathroom to dress. The shorts seemed more comfortable this afternoon, but the t-shirt was definitely not going to work with this sunburn. After some thought he settled for one of the flowing shirts, which kept the weight on his back to a minimum and was light and cool. It was a light blue with embroidery on the front in the same colour. He felt it would not show up too much and the shirt had obviously been bought to go with the shorts he was wearing.

He slipped into the Merrels, picked up his wallet and made his way over to the restaurant. There was a buffet laid on, with both local and European food and as he made his way around it he was spotted by the boys he had talked to at lunch.
“George, George, did you see the turtle this afternoon?”
“Hello boys,” he replied, “where was that then?”
“By the outer reef. We saw it twice. It was well cool!”
“Come and sit with us George, we want to tell you about it.”
George was not too keen on the idea; he had not had much thought time yet, it had been spent swimming or sleeping and chatting to children was not really his thing. If he was honest with himself, they scared him a little. They seemed to be so enthusiastic, to ask so many questions and to see through people too easily. There was probably an out though.
“Only if your Mum and Dad are happy with the idea.” They would be sure to want some privacy and not want some stranger sitting with them. The boys raced off, each wanting to beat the other and they were soon back with the response.
“Mum says yes!”

They finished filling their plates together and made their way over to the table where the boys’ parents waited. They seemed pleased to see him again and welcomed him in. The boys enthused about the fish and the snorkelling and wanted to know if he would swim in the bay with them the next day. Unexpectedly, he felt sorry to let them down, but when he told them of his plans to dive with the local dive school they were enthused again, very envious and wanted their parents to book them in as well. George explained that they would be too young to dive and that as he had trained before coming out here he would be able to move rapidly into an advanced group. The boys then decided that they would become divers when they were old enough, it was sooo cool! When their father took them up to get desserts their mother leant in across the table.
“You have made a real hit there with the boys. They don’t usually take to someone that quickly. Will we see more of you during the holiday? I am sure the boys would love to hear about your diving tomorrow.”
George’s polite manner kicked in for him, although he had mixed feelings about the task.
“They are really nice kids. You must be very proud of them. If it is not too big an imposition I would be happy to see them. What time do you eat?”
“We plan to eat at about 6 each evening, when the dining room opens. If we leave it too late with these youngsters, then they won’t sleep later.”
“How old are they?”
“Peter is 11 and Jamie is 9. We figure this is about the last holiday we will have together before they will start to be bored by swimming and beaches, so we wanted to make this a memorable one. What brought you here on your own?”
“The diving, the fish, the wrecks and I have always been fascinated by the Bermuda Triangle.”
“Cool! Do you think it’s aliens?” Peter was back behind him, taking over at once with his new best friend. The discussion lasted for the whole of the later course and Peter questioned him closely in the manner of bright children, until he had had quite enough. At last the meal was finished and the parents took the boys off for a walk, much to George’s relief.

His meeting with Sharon, the travel rep passed off easily enough and he took a couple of turns around the hotel grounds, observing the scenery. Tomorrow was a diving day, so no alcohol tonight, but he visited the bar for a fruit juice, watching the couples and the families at their entertainment and getting more pleasure in the antics of the children than he had ever had before. He thought of Peter and Jamie, of their excitement at what they and seen and smiled.
“Must be getting soft in my old age.” he thought

Later, back in his room, George unpacked the case and put it away. If you pushed him on the subject he could not have explained why he did it. Everything was getting creased and it seemed bad to let that happen, but he couldn’t explain any further. He took a note book out to the balcony, listed the fish he had seen that day and then sat sketching as the sun went down.

Next morning he was up early. His sunburn had subsided enough in the night that he felt he would be able to wear the dive harness, but he didn’t want to take any risks with more sun and he pulled out a t-shirt to wear under it to keep the sun off his shoulders. The green bikini bottoms were dry so he wore them again and pulled a pair of shorts over the top. He looked at himself in the mirror. He looked cool and ready for a day in the sun, his waist peeked out a little between the shorts and the t-shirt and his feet were taken care of by the Merrels. His hair was wrong though and he spent a moment with a brush, until it looked good. He took his dive book out of his hand luggage and a credit card, then realised that the shorts had no pocket, so he found a cropped jacket that sat well on top of the t-shirt and put his things in the pockets.

At the Dive Centre he booked himself in and was asked to wait for the rest of his party and the dive leader. He seated himself in the waiting area and picked up a magazine from the table top to read. He was absorbed in the magazine when a familiar voice made him look up. It was Richard, checking in at the desk.

“Hello, I took your advice and I’ve booked myself in for a try dive. They tell me I won’t make it into the sea today, but if all goes well I will be able to do it tomorrow.”
“Good for you! What made you decide to do it?”
“You were so enthusiastic about it and I decided that a new experience might give me a new angle to write from. What are you doing today?”
“They are going to take us out to the reef and we will dive inside it first so that they can check us out and then we are going outside it to look for a wrecked Man of War.”
“That sounds superb; if I keep hard at the diving will they let me do that later?”
“I’m not sure how soon they’ll let you out into the open ocean, but keep at it and it won’t be long. How’s your hotel?”

They spent the next five minutes talking about their hotels and the quality of the stay and when they were called away George had an unaccustomed feeling that he did not want to be alone after the dive and called Richard back to arrange to meet in George’s hotel for a drink later.

The diving was everything George had hoped it would be. He quickly convinced the dive master of his competence and they were soon exploring the reef, finding fish and sights that you just cannot reach with a snorkel. Lunch was taken on the boat as it moved out to the wreck site. George was the first to find traces of the ship, initially a cannon on the sea bed and then the stumps of the mast, bearded with weed and almost completely covered over with coral. He was excited to see two Nursing Sharks swim round the wreck in an almost clichéd snapshot.

At the end of the dive, as they drifted slowly up towards the surface, George experienced another moment of disconnection with the world: his vision blurred and he shook his head hard to try to clear it. The Dive Master saw him and swam over, taking his left hand and controlling the ascent. They hauled him into the dive boat and helped him out of his equipment. He protested that he was fine, that it was a mixture of excitement and tiredness, but they kept a careful watch on him as the boat sped back to the Dive Centre. Before it arrived back, George was asleep in the back. At the dive centre they insisted on a doctor and although the doctor could find nothing clearly wrong, they refused to take him back out to the ocean again the next day. After some considerable argument they agreed that he could dive with one of the parties within the reef and that they would monitor him closely and make a new decision about deeper water after that.

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- How is your experiment proceeding?
- It’s going very well so far.
- How many doses have you administered?
- Three.
- And have there been any ill effects?
- None that we can detect. The subject is responding as normally as anyone could expect.
- When do you expect to be able to administer the next dose?
- We have to be careful with the next dose. Whilst we can suppress any reaction to the change, the dislocation caused by the treatment has been noticed and people are concerned about the subject.
- What can you do?
- We must administer the next dose more subtly.
- How many doses do you expect to need?
- One more.
- Keep me informed of your progress.

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Back at the hotel George lay down on his bed and slept for an hour without dreaming or stirring. He woke before supper time with an itchy chest and an aching head. He took a long relaxing bath, cleaning the salt off his body and then looked through the wardrobe to find something to wear. He made a mental note to go looking for more appropriate clothes either before or after the dive tomorrow. With a little thought he picked a pair of loose legged white cotton trousers and a white shirt, both fairly plain, except for some pearlized buttons. He tried them on and decided that the shirt was too see-through, so he selected a white vest with shoulder straps that were only a little too thin. He found that he really enjoyed the feeling of the satiny material next to his skin. After spending only a little longer on his hair than usual he slipped on the flip-flops and went down to dinner.

He was surprised and secretly pleased that almost as soon as he entered the Dining Room he was pounced on by Peter and Jamie, who had been obviously watching for the arrival of their new best friend. They were desperate to hear of his diving adventures and to tell him about the Puffer fish they had followed around the hotel’s nearest reef. Jenny, their mother was concerned about his incident on surfacing; but Steve, their father, was more interested in the sharks.

“Weren’t you afraid when you saw them?”
“No, I was too excited and keyed-up by the whole thing. They didn’t pay us any attention.”
“I would have been so out of there!”
“The dive master was keeping an eye on things. I’m sure he would have moved us had there been any real danger. He spotted me quickly enough on the way up.”
“Do you think that might have been a delayed reaction?”

George was reluctant to answer. The truth is he was not sure what had happened, it had never happened before and now it had happened several times in a row. Jenny picked up on his reluctance and sent the boys with their father to track down their favourite desserts. She looked George intently in the eye across the table.

“How are you really? That didn’t sound normal.”
“I’m fine. I’ve been quite tired, but I have looked forward to and trained for this diving for such a long time. It’s frustrating to have to hold back now.”
“Take it slowly. We haven’t known you long, but we would hate to see anything nasty happen to you. To say nothing of the impact it might have on the boys.”
“They are lovely children.”
“They have really taken to you too. You’re their new hero. David Beckham has been abandoned for good.”
“I promise not to get a Beckham haircut.”
They were laughing at the idea when the others came back.

Later in the evening Richard came through to the bar, they bought a jug of fruit cocktail, took it back to George’s balcony and drank it at the table with the sunset on the horizon. They sat for a short while in a companionable silence, before Richard broke it.

“You know, sometimes I wonder why I took up travel writing: with deadlines to meet; editors and publishers are quibbling over expenses, or when I am sitting in a lonely hotel room in a resort I didn’t really want to visit; but on other days it just seems to make perfect sense.”
“And which kind is this?”
“The best. You helped me to have one of the most fascinating experiences of my life, I would never have considered trying to dive before. I didn’t think ordinary people like me could do it. This is one of the most beautiful sights you can see anywhere in the world and I have someone I like to share it with. What could be better?”
George smiled.
“I’m pleased to be of assistance, but, if you’ll forgive me, I think you must have one of the most attractive jobs and lifestyles there are.”
“Oh, it looks good on paper, but one resort starts to look a lot like another when you start visiting and living in them day after day.”
“I suppose if you eat in good restaurants every day it starts to look and feel commonplace, but you have something here that most of the world would love to have, the opportunity to see the world and get paid for it.”
“If only! Airport — Hotel — Restaurant — Hotel — Airport — Write up.”
“Isn’t life what you make it?”
Richard paused in thought.
“Listen to me.” George continued, “a salesman who never wanted to be one, tied to a job he doesn’t like by a mortgage on a flat he doesn’t want.”
“Whoa! Sounds like a cue to move on and sell up!”
It was George’s turn to pause in thought.
“If only it was that easy,” he replied.
“It is always easy for others to see what we should do, but much harder for us to do it.”
“I’ll drink to that.”
They raised their glasses.
“So if it’s easier for someone else to decide what we should do, what should I do next?” Richard asked.
“Travel the world, look for new things to do and write about them. How easy is that?”
Richard paused.
“Not that easy on your own.” There was another pause. “What I need is a glamorous assistant; someone to travel with me and share the adventure. It would be much more fun then.”
George laughed.
“I could be a dive consultant to the new Hemingway.”
“If only it would pay enough, it might just work.”
“Fat chance! But I’ll drink to the idea.”
They raised their glasses again and changed the subject. Soon after Richard left and an exhausted George tumbled into bed and mused for a minute on his holiday so far. It was strange that such a disastrous flight had had such a positive impact. He had made a friend in Richard, one that he hoped he would keep and his experience of talking to him on the plane had given him confidence to keep chatting with the young family which had given more pleasure than he would ever have expected. He was smiling as he fell asleep.

George woke the next morning feeling more energised than he had done for a long while. He got up, put on a swimming costume and pulled his hair back into a pony tail. He dropped his mask and snorkel over the balcony into the sea and dived in after them. He spent a happy half hour swimming along the edge of the nearest reef to the hotel, watching the morning antics of the fish. Then he went back to his room for a shower. He washed his hair and dried it with the hotel dryer then dressed in a pair of red shorts, that fit him snugly and a pink T-shirt with flowers and a VW camper van motif. He slipped on the flip flops and went down to the restaurant for breakfast.

Steve was there with the two boys, but Jenny had had a bad night and would be taking the day to recover. George arranged to visit her after his day’s diving. He distracted the boys, teasing them about what foods they were eating and whether they would eat them if they were fish. Then he collected another bathing costume and left for the dive centre.

When he checked in they had another long discussion about what diving would be suitable for him after the day before. Eventually, they gave him a choice between diving with an intermediate group behind the reef or assisting with the Beginners’ Class. Knowing that Richard would be in the Beginners’ Class, he chose that and joined him in the waiting area. Richard was delighted to see him and introduced him to a young couple he had befriended the day before. George explained that he would be helping the dive instructor and Carrie began to explain to him that she was struggling with panic-attacks every time she thought about losing the mouthpiece under water. George gave her some tips and before they knew it they were chatting away as if they had known each other all their lives. If he had taken time to think about it, George would have been surprised at his behaviour. He had never found it easy to talk to attractive young women and yet here he seemed to have formed a bond with Carrie in minutes. Her partner, Rob engaged Richard in a discussion about sharks.

The day’s diving was one of the most enjoyable George had ever had. Despite a rising wind and the accompanying waves he felt no sea sickness, just pleasure in the company he was in. He had only seemed to have acquaintances in the water with him whilst learning to dive in England. People he met on the course on the day, who shared reserved comments on each experience and who went their own way at the end. Today he had three people around him whose excitement was as palpable as his. They endlessly signalled to each other to look at new finds, touching bare shoulders and legs to attract attention. In the boat, between dives, they thumbed the identification books to check out what they had seen, planned where to look for the fish that they hadn’t.

The day was over too soon and to continue it they agreed to meet for dinner that evening. As they were all in different hotels they arranged to meet in a bar first and Richard the experienced traveller would find then find a suitable restaurant. As they left the Dive Centre announced that with a storm due in there would be no diving in the ocean tomorrow so they agreed to discuss other options that evening as well.

Back at the hotel George went to visit Jenny, who was feeing much better. For her part she wanted to be reassured about George.
“Have you had any attacks or dizzy spells today?”
“None at all. I think it was all just an excitement thing. We had a brilliant day’s diving today and I am just fine.”
“You’re looking much better than yesterday. This holiday is doing you good. Tell me about that good looking young man Steve saw you with last night.”
“Who?....Oh! Richard. He sat next to me on the plane and we got talking. He’s a travel writer and he’s trying diving thanks to me. I dived with him and some other new friends today.”
“I’m glad you’re making some good friends. A solitary holiday can be a lonely thing.”
“It was what I wanted, but I am pleased to have found some lovely people to share it and that includes you and your menagerie.”
“What are you saying about my family?”
“Just that they are a very charming handful.”
They laughed together.
“Oh and that reminds me, I have to disappoint the boys tonight, I’m eating with my new friends in town.”
“I’m sure they will forgive you, but Jamie might try to extract a penalty.”
“I’ll pay it with pleasure, after a decent period of resistance of course.”

After his now routine afternoon nap George took a long bath and faced the problem of what to wear tonight. Once again he had been too absorbed in his day to go shopping for clothes, but somehow it seemed less important than it had before. On the other hand, picking the right clothes from the wardrobe seemed rather more important than it had ever done. He had shaved his legs and underarms in the bath, not that there had ever been much there, but shorts seemed too informal for a restaurant. After some deliberation he picked a pair of loose fitting black linen trousers and a strappy vest with sequined details that clung to his chest and stomach. The trousers were a little bit tight on his hips but fitted well around his waist. Even then they were a bit too long in the leg, so he tried on a pair of the sandals with a low heel. That made all the difference. You couldn’t really see the sandals under the trouser legs and even when they peeped out, George thought they looked cute. The other draw-back of the trousers was that they had no pocket for his wallet. He took put a small black handbag from the case and transferred some money and ID to it. He dried and styled his hair and looked in the mirror.
“Good to go!” he thought.

The meal was an unqualified success. Richard was charming and regaled them with stories of travel disasters. Rob told them about his job as advertising copywriter and the unsuitable suggestions for slogans that came up when they brainstormed. Carrie and George giggled at the stories and swapped tales of idiocy at work themselves. They decided that with the high winds there should be some good surf on the other side of the island. They had all surfed before and through Richard’s research he knew of somewhere they could hire wetsuits and boards. Without diving the next day they were able to drink and they were all quite merry when they came out of the restaurant. The storm had taken hold, so they took taxis back to their hotels.

Once again George slept soundly, his sleep filled with dreams of beautiful places, a world he had never seen. In the morning the storm had dissipated in the rapid way of tropical storms. The bay was choppy, even though the wind was falling fast and the air had a washed clean freshness. George dressed in a pair of beige three quarter length cargo trousers, a blue t-shirt that showed his midriff and a short denim jacket. His head ached, so he pushed a pair of sunglasses up onto his head to keep his hair in place with the option of shielding his eyes when the sun reached him and went down to breakfast. As soon as he went in to the restaurant he was ambushed by the boys.

“Where were you last night?”
“We didn’t see you at tea.”
“I went out with some friends. Didn’t your mummy tell you?”
“Yes she did, but we wanted you to tell us. You’re our friend aren’t you?”
“Why didn’t you take us too? We’re your friends.”
“I’m sorry boys. I should have come and found you. We were out long past your bed-time last night, so it wouldn’t have been a good idea to take you.”
“Did you drink a lot?”
“Did you kiss anyone?”
“Were there lots of people?”
“Was the food nicer than here?”
“Did you see the rain?”
“Whoa! One at a time! And I need coffee before I can answer any questions.”

With coffee and a little food, his head settled and he tackled their questions. The boys’ parents looked on affectionately amused. The question that had unsettled him most was the one about kissing, but he couldn’t put his finger on why.

Richard picked them up from their hotels in a taxi in the mid-morning and took them into town where they rented scooters. Despite the scooters being limited to 20 mph Richard and Rob raced each other across the island roads, which was no easy achievement. Carrie and George followed more sedately, stopping to point out beautiful views on the way. The journey across the island took half an hour and they met up in a café in which they discussed their previous surfing experience. George had spent a week in Cornwall a couple of years before, surfing the cold Atlantic swells, as had Carrie and Rob, although none of the three at the same time. Richard had surfed on most of the major oceans of the world and the experience had always made him want more. Today’s surf was going to be over 15 feet high, which was bigger than any of the others had previously tackled. Richard gave them advice on how to handle the waves and explained that the biggest thing they had to fear was fear of the wave itself.

“Fall off it and you will still just fall into the sea.”
“Yes, but what happens if the wave then breaks on top of you?”
“Hold your breath and wait to come up. It doesn’t take long.”
Carrie clearly wasn’t too convinced.
“I’m not very good with holding my breath and being trapped under water.”
“Always remember, you can hold your breath for thirty seconds at least. You won’t be under for more than five.”

They moved on to the surf hire shop and hired wet suits and boards. Shortly they were on the beach looking at the waves. Richard was supremely confident, but Carrie was now looking extremely nervous.

“You guys go ahead and surf it. I’ll watch you and join in when I’m ready.”
Richard and Rob needed no second invitation. George hung back with Carrie.

“Are you OK?”
“No. I’m not. I’m terrified of those waves and the way they’re crashing down on the beach here, but I’ve never backed down on a challenge before. I’m afraid of what Rob will think of me and I’m afraid of letting myself down.”
“I can understand that. But you mustn’t let fear of what Rob will think make you do things you don’t want to. Letting yourself down? Now let’s avoid that if we can.”
George sat down beside her on the beach and looked around.
“If you look over there, behind the promontory, where the waves have had to come in over the shallows, I think the waves are a bit smaller and they look more manageable. Why don’t we start there and join the boys when we’re ready?”
Carrie dried her eyes and nodded.
“I’d find you a tissue, but I think your face is going to be a lot wetter in a minute.”
She smiled, “Let’s go!”

The easier section of beach proved to be just what was needed to boost their confidence and they were soon in the larger waves with the boys, surfing into the tubes and wiping out in equal measure. The water was almost as warm as the day, but the size of the waves and the doses of adrenaline were such that after an hour or so they were exhausted. George was bobbing out beyond the break-line trying to muster enough energy to take another wave in when Richard swam over.

“The other two have got off the water. What do you want to do?”
“I think this will be my last one. I could do with a rest myself.”
“Let’s surf it in together.”
“OK, you’re on!”

They positioned their surf boards side by side and waited for the next suitable wave. As it came in they stood up together and accelerated down the slope. They reached out and for a moment held hands, then the wave swept them apart, laughing in exhilaration. George toed his board towards the top of the wave and let Richard pull ahead and then, as he turned down again, his vision blurred and the sense of dislocation hit him again. He tumbled off the board into the sea and the wave crashed down over him, tumbling him in the white water and propelling his board, rider-less to the beach. When he surfaced, Carrie and Rob were running into the sea towards him and Richard was surfacing about twenty yards to his right.

“George, George, are you OK?”
He shook the water out of his hair and ears and gave them a thumbs-up, whilst whooping air back into his lungs. They reached him and helped him out of the water.
“Wow,” he eventually spluttered, that was a dumping and a half.”
“We were worried about you, there was a shadow in the wave behind you and we thought it might have been a shark.”
“If it was it missed me. I was just being a Muppet, falling off my board like that.”
George didn’t want to talk about his strange sensation again. He had had too much fuss last time. Carrie hugged him and he returned the hug.
“Don’t start crying again girl; you’ll set me off this time.”
She sniffed it off and gave him a smack on the bottom.
“Don’t scare us like that again!”

Richard came over, grinning like a maniac.

“What a ride to finish on! Is it my imagination or are those waves getting bigger?”
“Definitely bigger.”
They explained what had happened to George. Richard started to laugh, at the idea of just George’s legs showing above the wave for a moment and for only for the second time in his life, George found himself laughing along at himself.

The four of them made their merry way up the beach and gave up their hired equipment before returning to the Café for a well earned lunch. Afterwards they split up, Carrie and Rob taking their scooters into Hamilton for some shopping and George and Richard making their way to the massive Fort on Castle Island to take in the history for Richard’s writing.

They sat on a fortified promontory, overlooking the sea and drinking fruit juice. George sighed.
“This is the life!”
“What’s wrong with your normal life?”
“How long have got?”
Richard waved an expansive arm at their surroundings.
“As long as you like!”
George sighed again, but more heavily.
“I took a job I didn’t really want so that I could pay off my student debts. It starts easily, but then before you know it you are buying a car, a flat, television, washing machine…. Each thing is supposed to make your life easier, but you have to keep on working to afford the next one and then the first one breaks down and you work longer and longer and harder and harder until you’ve forgotten why you started in the first place.”
“You’ve got it bad!”
“No, that’s the trouble. I’ve got it good. It’s just not the good I wanted.”
“I got the impression that you do well at your job?”
“That’s just a part of it. I do well at my job, but not well enough that I am recognised as excellent and I can’t put that extra effort in because I just don’t want to.”
“What did you do your degree in?”
“English Literature.”
“You like it?”
“I have always loved to read. But you can’t make much of living doing that.”
“Can you write?”
“I have never really tried, but I think I could write well.”
“Why don’t you try it?”
“And how do I feed myself while I’m writing?”
“Hmm, always a hard one; I struggled with that for a while”
“I’m sorry, that was insensitive of me. How did you achieve your current state of greatness?”
Richard laughed.
“I wouldn’t call it greatness. I write commissioned pieces for guides like the Lonely Planet and for travel magazines. To get here I wrote pieces on every place I had ever been to on holiday, while working as a waiter in the evenings. I took day trips to places like Blackpool and wrote them up on the train, before going back to wait tables. I eventually got a job with a travel magazine that went bust after six months, but I earned enough of a reputation in those six months to ensure that I have never had to go to a restaurant except to eat since.”
“So it was a struggle?”
“No. It was a labour of love. But not everyone gets the breaks I got and some people get into it without trying through contacts and the old boy network. You’d be surprised how many people owe their journalism careers to who they went to Boarding School or University with.”
“Where are you off to next?”
“I can’t really say at present. I have a couple of offers, but there is a new project on the table, that if it takes off will let me travel non-stop for six months, posting work as I go.”
“That sounds ideal for you.”
“They were going to let me know if I had the contract last week, so they could call any time now.”
“How will they contact you, out here?”
“I have my mobile in my room and I should really check my e-mail. I haven’t looked at it since we came out.”
“Well, I hope you get it.”
“Thanks.”

Back at the hotel George was once again exhausted. He fell onto the bed and slept until evening. He was woken by the phone beside his bed. It was Richard.
“Meet me for dinner at seven, same bar and I’ll book the restaurant.”
George was amused.
“What’s the rush? We only saw each other a couple of hours ago.”
“You’re my only friend here and I want to celebrate tonight. Are you in or what?”
George pointed out that there was also Rob and Carrie.
“What? Are you saying you’re not my friend? Are you insisting I play Gooseberry to a pair of lovesick fools?”
“You are in a happy mood tonight. OK, I’ll meet you. We can eat if you want to, but first I have to see some important people here.”
“Who can be more important than me today? Bring them outside and I’ll have them shot!”
“They are far too young and innocent for that. I’ll meet you at eight.”
“You drive a hard bargain. I’ll see you then, as long as I am not sulking.”

In the dining room Peter and Jamie were waiting impatiently to hear what George had been up to. They had had a day sailing in the sheltered waters of the central lagoon and their stories flooded out, especially pleased that Daddy had fallen over the side. Steve looked abashed.
“I was on the bow, changing sails and we hit an unexpected wave.” It had caused a bit of a fuss, but they had quickly picked him up again, with only his pride hurt. Jenny was amused to see her husband taken down a peg or two. Apparently he had been building up his sailing ability for months before the holiday. George told them of his surfing trip and the wipe-out on his last wave. They laughed at his feet sticking up out of the top for a moment. When they went up for their meals, George left them and returned to his room to get ready. He took a long time over his bath, drying his hair carefully to look its best. He selected clean underwear, pants and a matching bra and took down a summer dress in a light blue with a sunflower border. It all fitted him perfectly. He put on mascara, some lipstick and spritzed with perfume from the cosmetics bag he had moved through to the bathroom. Satisfied with his appearance, he went out to meet Richard.

“So what are you celebrating?”
“You prompted me to check my e-mail…”
“And?”
“I got the contract approved. As of next month I am writing a book and researching a travel series for the television. The aim is to travel to each continent and find the most exhilarating, the most relaxing, the most stimulating and the most entertaining thing to do there.”
“That sounds incredibly exciting!”
“It’s the best thing I could imagine doing. It will take me around the world, let me try every kind of experience and I will get paid for it!”
“Will it pay well?”
“Beyond anything I have ever done before. They will even televise it when they find the right person to front it and then we will probably have to go round again.”
“That is just so cool!”
“Come with me?”
“What?”
“Come with me. You hate your job and you and I would work so well together.”
“I don’t know. It’s a lot to think about.”
“I am sure I can get another salary out of the TV company with their budgets and even if I don’t there will be enough travel expenses for two. It would give you a chance to start in a better business, or just to think about what you really want to do.”
“It’s tempting. But I’ll need to think about it.”

They moved on to the restaurant and toasted Richard’s success. They ate well then visited a club and danced until the small hours. George got back to his hotel late and slept long and deeply. When he woke he had missed breakfast, He couldn’t face food anyway, he had a headache and his stomach was a little rebellious. He put on the green bikini and wrapped a matching matching sarong around his waist, fixed his sunglasses firmly over his eyes and made his way down to the poolside bar where he ordered a special pick me up. He hadn’t been there long when Peter and Jamie arrived in a welter of splashing and laughter, followed more sedately by their parents
“Where were you at breakfast?”
“Why are you wincing?”
“Why are you wearing your sunglasses indoors?”

George groaned and lowered his head to his arms. His blonde hair spread around his face in a protective shield.
“Give George some space, boys” commanded Jenny.
“And that’s another thing,” said Jamie. “Why have you got a boy’s name?”
“Jamie!” Jenny was shocked. “Don’t be so rude.”
George’s head lifted slowly from the table.
“No, it’s a fair point. My full name is Georgina. My parents call me Gina or Georgie. You can choose which you like really.”

She rested her head back on the table and a rising tide of happiness washed the headache and hangover away. For the first time in her life everything was clear.

“Are you going to swim with us today Gina?”
“Perhaps later. I have to go and find someone first and give them some good news.”

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- The experiment is complete.
- Is it a success?
- Total.
- No one is aware of the changes?
- No-one.
- When can we take the technology home?
- We have to test it again, but I think that we can go home soon and that nothing else need go missing in the Triangle.

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