The man with a beard

 Man who was tugging his Beard

     The smell of the sea was wafting on the breeze, cooling the air temperature to a pleasant 24 degrees. I looked up from my book as a tall man strode purposely up the beach, the sand trickling from his soggy sandals. As he approached the pineapple shaped date palm trees and bougainvillea bushes his pace changed. He nervously turned around, as a seagull made a screeching sound. I was curious. Was someone calling him? No. Was anyone watching? 

     I assumed the man was in his fifties because of his grey hair but physically fit for his age. I couldn’t see his face because he wore dark glasses and the peak of his cap threw shadows across his features but I could just see his hair beneath his navy cap. He put up his hand and gently gave his beard a tug. The seagull screeched and again he looked a round. Satisfied no one was watching he tugged at his beard more vigorously several times.

     Was it a false beard? I wondered, as he walked passed me. I dropped my eyes to my book so that he wouldn’t know I had been watching him. He passed me, his head held high, looking straight ahead his stride purposeful again. He seemed oblivious to me sitting on the bench reading my novel. But as he passed, there was a slight incline of the head in my direction. He seemed satisfied that I was absorbed in my book because as I watched his suntanned back disappearing his pace slowed. Then I saw his left hand once again going towards his face.

     I closed my crime thriller and slowly stood up. I needed to walk in the same direction as the bearded gentleman. Where was he going and where had come from? The sheltered beach? But he wasn’t your usual tourist. I looked back to the beach with families playing in the clear water, children laughing as the little fish swam round their feet. Then I noticed the little blue and white boat with an outboard motor bobbing up and down. Its anchor chain holding against the tides movement.

     Maybe it was his boat? Had his shorts been wet? As I watched, I noticed a strikingly beautiful mother stand up calling to her children and the water came up to her knees. It was certainly shallow enough for the man to wade ashore.

     Turning back to the path, I could see the bearded man still in front of me. He was now walking towards the harbour. I followed. I could see the” fast-cat” ferry approaching the passengers on the upper deck watching as the ferry began to manoeuvre. Hoot, hoot, hoot the ferry’s horn sounded, 3 hoots said “I am reversing”. I had always marvelled at the skill of the captain and how he could manoeuvre such a large ship into its berth so effortlessly. Cars and lorries were lined up awaiting transport to the neighbouring island just 25 mins away. Of course it would take a good deal longer in a little blue and white boat with an outboard motor.

     The man was still some distance in front of me. I could see him climbing the steps to the promenade which would lead him to the town then on to the marina. I too climbed the steps and passed one of the many cafes where I could see a woman reading a paper. What was it I had read in the Daily Mail the other day? Something to do with the Brinks Mat and Hatton Garden Jewel robbery and a shadowy figure with a hat covering his face, so that detectives could not identify him. Well I certainly could not have told you what the bearded man looked like. He had been wearing dark glasses and a cap pulled down and a false beard. There had been something about a missing £20million. So the man could be both rich and wanted. He could own something much bigger than a small boat. That man would be clever, he would be on his guard and he would have an escape route planned, just in case justice tried to catch up with him.

      I could still see him striding along the promenade towards the town and marina. I quickened my pace. He could have multiple identities, maybe one for each island. It was easy to island hop with all the ferries, the tourist trips and a small boat. But to escape the islands you would need a much bigger boat, like one of the yachts in the Marina. Not of course the really big yachts that would draw to much attention, but one large enough to sleep on and to do a Trans-Atlantic crossing. When I had been in the marina yesterday there had been at least six yachts with pennants indicating they were going to do the Trans-Atlantic Race later this month. I had thought how small they had seemed for the crossing, but they were large enough to live on very comfortably, large enough for one man to escape to a country with no extradition.  

     I had reached the town, the point where I needed to turn if I was going home. The bearded man walked on towards the marina speaking to no one, no longer pulling his bearded, as he weaved in and out of the tourists.  

      What now? Do I follow, do I find out the name of his yacht? 

     Then what? Phone the police and say a lonely, grey haired man with a itchy beard has a yacht?

      As I looked back at the man, he turned and seemed to be looking straight at me. Then I noticed the two local policeman who had just come into sight. They walked straight past the bearded man who now had his back to them. I looked at my crime thriller in my hand, was I letting my imagination run away with me?

      How could I not look back to the promenade but the bearded man had disappeared.

     I stood for a few minutes surveying the scene before I realised he must have gone past the perfumery and clothing shop and round the corner of the building. The promenade followed the coastline twisting and bending round the contours, going across the rocky cliffs then winding round the beaches, then onwards to the Marina. 

     I was too curious by now. I couldn’t go back to my villa without satisfying my suspicions. I delved in to my bag and took out my new top which I had bought earlier in the day. I slipped it over my bikini top, in the vain hope it would give me a disguise. Just incase the man was looking to see if he was being pursued.  

    Then I set off again along the promenade passing the many bars and restaurants. I glanced at each of them. He may have stopped for a drink. The tide was coming in and the waves were breaking over the wall in places. I was too intent on my quarry. I didn’t notice the wet path until it was to late and the wave crashed over the wall leaving me soaked. I looked back and several people at a near by bar turned away. I know they were laughing. On any other day I would have sat there, people watching, enjoying the spectacle. I moved on, embarrassed but the sun was still hot and my silky top would soon dry.

      I hurried round the outside of the Perfumery and clothes store so I was out of sight of the watchers. Then I paused as the next stretch of the promenade wound its way across the cliff top. I could see him in the distance and I recognised his purposeful stride. He would soon be going round the next bend in the promenade. For the moment I would be safe in my disguise if he turned to look my way to see if he was being followed.

    I quicken my pace as I walked along the cliff top. To my right was a drop and I could see the waves crashing on the volcanic rocks producing a rhythmic sound echoed by the sea gulls call. There was a chain strung between posts dividing the path from the drop to the sea below. Lovers had hung padlocks with their names on to the links which added colours as they swung in the breeze. Today I could not stop to look. I just hurried on.

Would the man with the false beard live alone or would he too have a lover? I supposed a man hiding from the law would have to be very careful. It would perhaps be too dangerous to get close to any one person. Twenty million would not give you freedom but would chain you to a life of hiding and subterfuge.

   I slowed as I reached the next bend, cautiously looking a head. The man was climbing the rise towards a hotel which was bounded by a bougainvillea hedge of multi colours. He seemed to slow and turn as he reached the hedge. I stepped back so I was out of sight and waited my heart pounding with anticipation. A few minutes later I rounded the bend again and the man was out of sight. He could have walked on over the brow of the rise by the hotel or he could have gone into the hotel. My intuition was that he had walked on towards the marina.

   There were a few steps from this point that went down to the beach. It would be a much shorter route to walk across the beach and then up the steps on the other side. As I reached the sand I took off my sandals and put them in my bag. I would look more like a tourist if I paddled round the waters edge. There were other people doing this so I followed closely behind a couple and their children. I hoped that if the man looked down to the beach, he would not recognise me, in a pale blue top, for the lady he had seen earlier reading a book. As I paddled through the breaking waves, my pace determined by the family a head of me, I felt the warm sun drying my top and my hair. I knew I would be late reaching the villa and my family would begin to worry but having begun this quest I couldn’t turn back. The family paddling in front of me stopped half way across and I was forced to go on, exposed to anyone watching from the path. I scanned the pathway above me but could not at first see the man. The shrubs and date palm trees blocked some of my view. Then as I neared the steps to take me back up to promenade pathway, I saw him cross the top of the steps. He did not look down, so I was safe.  

    If I was too close behind him, there was more chance of being detected. So when I reached the seat a little way beyond the steps, I stopped. I dusted the sand from my toes then replaced my sandals. For a moment or two I enjoyed the view, then, when I judged the man with the false beard to be far enough a head, I followed.  

    Passing the last hotel on this section of the promenade, I realised that I was now more exposed than anywhere else on the walk. There were no more buildings or date palm trees until we reached the marina and there were fewer people about. I had a clear view ahead for about half mile. If I let him get too far ahead, I was in danger of losing him when he reached the buildings in the marina’s maze of streets. To follow too closely risked him realising he was being pursued. I had to risk it, so I walked on briskly.  

    Along this section there were no trees and the shore line was rocky. I could feel the spray on the breeze. I looked at the standing stones like an army all lined up to defend the coastline. When I first walked this path I had thought someone had used superglue to make the rocks stand on top of each other. Today I could see a local man carefully making one rock balance on top of a pile of other rocks. Just to gain cover, I hurried to where a few people were watching. On a normal day I would have watched with fascination at the artist’s skill but not today. Peeping from behind my cover, the bearded man was striding on. I continued my journey knowing, despite the risk, I needed to be close behind him when he reached the village which surrounded the marina.

   Luckily, he didn’t look back. He chose to follow the road that wound its way round the out skirts of the village passing the square, then on to the quayside. It would be safer if I walked through the village, he would have to come back to the waterside if he had a boat. My path would take me round three sides of the marina. The first side was where the little weekend fishing boats were anchored. I could see the floating decks to which the boats were moored they were deserted except for the flocks of little birds, I knew to be turnstones, which hurried along the planks. I came to the bridge which separated the marina from the lagoon. As I crossed it, I could see the mackerel swimming in the clear water waiting for someone to throw them bread. I had travelled one side of the marina. Now I turned right to walked through the cobbled street where there were boutique shops until I came out into the square. This is where, twice a week, the market was held but today, as it wasn’t a market day, it was quiet. I was now on the second side of the marina. Here were the larger yachts, the sort that needed a small crew. There was no sign of the man with the false beard so I walked on, glancing at each yacht as I passed.

    As I neared the point where the road joined the marina and travelled between the high wall that protected the boats from the sea, and the peaceful safe haven of the marina, I spotted the man striding out past the anchored yachts. The yachts on this side were moored to the boardwalks that could be reached by a locked gate. The man did not stop to enter any of these gates. He passed the racing yachts with their pink pennants fluttering in the breeze.

    As I looked beyond the man, I could see a collection of large vehicles at the end of the jetty. They were not neatly parked but seemed to have been placed haphazardly, blocking the end of the road. I had now reached the place where I could see the multi million pound yachts were anchored and then on to where the historic sailing yacht’s varnished woodwork glistened in the bright sunlight. The man walked passed without even a glance.

   There was a small group of people gathered, among them two local policemen. I joined this group as I was near the end of the jetty and there was nowhere else to go. The man with the beard had disappeared among the vehicles. I looked down into water to see what held the onlookers interest. There was a flotilla of small boats, which were of two types. The first, the most surprising, were old wooded craft, they had no outboard motor, just oars and a poor excuse for a mast and sail. The men in the craft were oddly dressed. They looked like they were shepherds from a nativity play without the head gear. The other craft were powerful dinghies. The people on these also appeared rather strange but after a few moments I realised what I was looking at. Some of people on the dinghies were cameramen and they were trying out shots of the wooden craft and crew.

Then as I turned, in a moment of sudden revelation, I understood, the vehicles were the film crews support vehicles. They were costume, equipment, canteen, and makeup. Now my quarry was leaving the make up department. I knew it was him from the way he walked, but he no longer had grey hair and he didn’t have a beard. He was also wearing the costume the other men were wearing on the old boats. He joined the other men on one of the wooden craft tied to the jetty wall. I realised he was a actor not a robber. How wrong could one be!!!

    Then I over heard someone beside me speaking to the policeman, who explained that they were filming a version of Moby Dick, the film as yet untitled. They must have been waiting for my man to arrive because as we watched,the flotilla of boats left the marina, to do their filming in the quiet waters between the islands.  

   Walking back slowly along the jetty, I felt tired and a little mesmerised by the mornings events. I knew I should be heading home but I needed to sit and gather my thoughts. The first bar I came to, I found a seat overlooking the large yachts. The ropes banging against the metal masts made a gentle soothing music to my ears. The waiter took my order for a drink and while I waited I looked around. I noticed someone was reading a newspaper and as they turned the pages, I spotted a picture. I remembered reading the story this morning. The paper had reported that the former model seen in her bikini, in the article, was on holiday in the islands. Suddenly it all made sense, she was the beautiful lady with her children, that I had seen in the cove by the little blue and white boat. The paper had talked about her acrimonious and very public divorce from her husband. He had been pictured, also in the article, with a leggy blond on the red carpet at a film premier.  

Now, I could see that the former model was moving on with her life. To start a new friendship in the public eye would be difficulty if not impossible. So the actor, I had seen and followed, was her new “love interest” and he had met her in a quiet spot with a little help from the makeup department. The local police had been tasked to prevent locals hindering the film crews activities. So when he had seen two of them in the town, he had avoided contact, in case they recognised him.

   How could you blame them for their caution and secrecy. Their romance was new and might not go anywhere but to have it exposed on the front pages of a newspaper would hamper the course of true love. Well I for one could keep a secret.

   The price of fame is loss of privacy. The price of curiosity for me would be the taxi fare home, I was just too tired to walk.

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