Rocks’ guests were in their rooms, bathing, dressing, or still taking a siesta. A few were sitting at the bar in bathing suits. Charlie walked across the patio toward the bar, past two middle-aged men hunched over a backgammon board. Dominick Cleland, even hunched, was tall and thin, with a thatch of straight gray-blond hair that made him look like a dissolute version of a well-known British cabinet minister. He was wearing a royal blue Turnbull & Asser shirt over Speedo briefs. His long, hairless legs, shapeless and knobbed as a giraffe’s, entwined around themselves, ended in long sockless feet and white Gucci loafers. He had written pulp novels about the misbehavior of the British upper classes, but his subject no longer held the public’s interest and he hadn’t published a book in twenty years. With a small annuity left to him by an uncle, he lived most of the year in a tiny flat in South Kensington, and spent his summers at the Rocks. He felt at home there. If he was near the phone in the bar when it rang, Dominick liked to answer it by shouting into the receiver,
“Los Roques! Dígame?”
regardless of the fact that no one but Anglophones ever telephoned the Rocks.
His opponent, and physiological opposite, Cassian Ollorenshaw, resembled, even in his youth, the actor Edward G. Robinson at his most toadlike and implacable. Now, his face blotchy red from inflamed rosacea, he peered at the board through small, round, yellow-lensed glasses. His body below his large head was inconsequential, swallowed in a voluminous white T-shirt and skirt-sized swimming trunks. They played fast and silently. They’d been there, playing backgammon at a table on the patio, every summer—except a couple of years when Cassian had been in prison—since Charlie’s father had first brought him to the Rocks as an infant. They’d been there when he played in the pool as a child with the children of guests, and with those same children when they returned as teenagers. They were more familiar to him than most of his relatives. Cassian looked up now and said, with a small smile, “Hallo, Charlie.”
“Hallo, Charlie,” said Sally, as he approached the bar. “I’m supposed to give you whatever you want to drink tonight.”
“A Coke, please. Just the bottle’ll be great, thanks.”
He took his Coke into the small room off the bar that once housed the gas bottles. It was no wider than its two glass doors. Inside stood a chair and a table that supported a turntable. Charlie set his Coke down on the table and began going through the vinyl albums that filled a wall of shelves.
Lulu came out of the house, gliding across the patio in a gauzy linen djellaba that billowed behind her. She smiled serenely.
,” Dominick Cleland greeted her loudly, while shaking a cup of dice. “Are you having the most
, my love?”
“I am, thank you, Dominick. So happy you’re here to share it with me.”
Lulu didn’t break her pace. Dominick threw the dice.
The guests at the bar wished Lulu a happy birthday. “Thank you,” she said, her smile raking them as she swept by. She went into the small music room.
“Charlie,” she said.
“Oh, hi, Lulu. Happy birthday.”
She hugged him. “I have a present for you.”
She handed him a small black bundle of cloth. It fell open in his hands. He held it up. It was a long black shirt without a collar, opening halfway down the chest with lots of small buttons close together.
“It’s from Morocco. It’s old but it’s never been worn. I want you to have it. I think it will look very good on you.”
“Put it on.”
“Yes, sweetheart. It’s your uniform for this evening. I want to see how it looks on you. Take off your shirt and put it on.”
She sounded like a mother, affectionately, matter-of-factly in charge. Charlie unhesitatingly pulled off his white