I suppose it was funny how it all started up again really. Stella, actually Rhoda Steel my literary agent. Just about everyone called her Stella — read Stealer - because she was so hard when it came to negotiating spin-offs, film contracts and the like, from her stable of writers' successful novels. Although some of us authors suggested (in jest) that she'd got the nickname for ripping off as much of our money as she could in her commissions.
Anyway Stella had insisted that I go along with her to a party on some friend of hers - Norman Stanley's - yacht.
This guy Norman, I do believe, must have had a soft spot for Stella, and perhaps she was trying to cultivate him as her fifth - or maybe it was her sixth husband. Shit, Stealer had been married so many times; I'd bet that even she has trouble remembering them all. Whatever the prune had money spilling out of his ears and I'm pretty sure that Stella was hoping to take a great chunk of it off of him in the divorce settlement. Yeah, you get the idea of what kind of a woman Rhoda Steel is.
Anyway Stella had persuaded me to attend this damned party, so that her current mark could show me off to all his friends. As the author of four successful novels — two extremely lucrative, one being made into a film; the other still being at the centre of a bidding war between TV and film companys at the time — I was considered hot stuff in the "look who I have as a friend" game.
To be honest, I didn't consider myself a celebrity or enjoy being in the public eye very much. I'm just someone who enjoys writing for the fun of writing and — if I'm being honest - how much cash it put in the bank, so I can live the life I've always wanted to. Not for the fame, but for fortune. But sometimes - no matter how much you dislike it - you have to become involved in the marketing side of things just a little and these being seen in the right places things are all part of that pantomime.
Norman - the millionaire's - yacht was anchored off in the bay, so Stella and I were ferried out to the thing in a swish launch. Damn it, if that bloody tender wasn't bigger than the boat that my father and I used to sail around the Isle-of-Wight most summer weekends when I was a kid.
Climbing the gangway stairs we were met by an immaculately dressed crewmember who led us - very formally - up a companionway to an upper lounge area that opened out onto a large awning covered deck. Liberally sprinkled around were sunloungers, tables and chairs etc; where a nefarious collection of posers, Hooray Henries, rich businessmen and minor celebrities - like myself - were milling around drinking Champagne and the like.
The most important people there — to my mind at least and if I'm being totally honest, probably the main reason I'd agreed to attend the bloody party in the first place — were the collection of eye candy that this particular host was famous for having at these parties on his yacht.
In the gossip columns they were reputed to run around serving the drinks in the skimpiest bikinis ever made. It was also routinely insinuated that once the boat was out of sight of land, most of them - if not all - discarded the upper portions of their apparel. The magazines and papers had even hinted that some of these beauties had been known to finish up sans bikinis altogether on occasion. And there had been veiled suggestions of the odd orgy or two; not that I was into that kind of thing.
Of course it shouldn't be necessary for me to point out that it should be taken into account that reporters will write just about anything that they can get away with, to get their by-line into a newspaper. And some folks who crave notoriety will acquiesce to almost any twisting of the true facts, to gain some publicity.
Me? Well, like most men I just loved to look at beautiful nubile forms. I said look, and that should not be implied to mean anything else; I'm extremely choosey about who I take into my bed with me. In this day and age you can't be careful enough, what with all that there is to catch out there. And of course there are those young women — and men I'll add — who are only too happy to gain notoriety — not counting copious amounts of cash - by selling their "kiss and tell" stories to the gutter press.
Norman our host — a short, not very handsome tubby man in his early fifties - rushed over to meet us as we gained the deck, greeting Stella with an enthusiastic kiss, before welcoming me aboard and then beginning to introduce us to a whole collection of wankers who held little or no interest for me whatsoever. However I believe that at the time I made a pretty good job of feigning some passing interest in them. Even if my eyes were looking at them, my mind was straying — using my peripheral vision - around some of the other people on the deck.
So whilst these introductions were going on, I have to admit that I was struggling to keep my eyes on the person that I was being introduced to; there did appear to be copious amounts of much more interesting and nubile flesh around to look at.
A small group, who almost immediately caught my eye, were several females - nominally dressed in tiny triangles of cloth and bits of string that I suppose were meant to be bikinis — who appeared to be together in a little clique. Oh, there were several other small groups of people dotted about the deck, but this group caught my eye because two of them had their backs turned towards us, or should I say me; because that was the distinct feeling that I had. Maybe my unconscious mind had seen the two rapidly turn around as Stella and I had stepped from the companionway. The other point was that almost everyone else on the deck — probably because we were the new arrivals - appeared to be looking in our general direction.
As our host introduced the next little group of boring people to Stella and myself, I moved slightly so that I could look between a couple and watch the little clique more directly. I said boring because for the most part I had taken it as read that I was going to find almost the whole day boring, except of course for the time I could devote to perving the eye candy.
There were five of them altogether. The most obvious point to make about them is that the two blonds with their backs to us were a lot paler skinned than the others, who had obviously been enjoying the Mediterranean sun on their nubile bodies for a considerably longer period of time. I very much suspected that the two paler girls were newcomers to the local scene.
Look, all five women had fashionable suntans, but for some reason I suspected that the odd two's tans most likely came from a bottle, or artificial sun bed, somewhere a lot less sunny than the south of France.
Anyway the other thing that caught my eye was that the two with their backs to me could easily have been mistaken for being naked. I noted that from the rear those particular bikinis looked like nothing more than pieces of very thin string or tape tied in a bow on each hip just bellow waist level, with another length of string disappearing between the cheeks of their rather perfectly shaped arses.
Another piece of string or tape appeared to be tied around their upper back obviously supporting the small triangles of skin coloured material — plainly visible on the three girls who were facing me - that were only just managing to cover their nipples. There were also supports for those triangles that were around the back of the girls' necks, but they all had flowing locks of blond hair so they couldn't be seen from the rear.
All five girls appeared to be talking at once with the three facing my way glancing at me several times. I got the impression that they were arguing — or at least having a disagreement - about something. As I watched, one of the two pale skinned blonds took a quick look in my direction and for an instant our eyes locked; then she quickly turned back to her friend and said something to her. The second girl vigorously shook her head, before she let out at a run towards a doorway at the other side of the lounge area and disappeared from sight. She was promptly followed by the other paler skinned blond.
The other three were still standing there like dummies, looking at the doorway that their friends had just exited through, when a sleazy looking guy in shorts and a tee shirt who I hadn't noticed before approached them. There followed a short but very animated conversation, before he took a quick glance in Stella's and my direction. Seeing me watching him, he gave me a tentative smile and a little nod on his head, then turned back to talk to the three girls again; I got the feeling he was giving some kind of a lecture to them.
Suddenly the three girls switched from "concerned about friends" into "eye candy" mode. The expression on their faces turning into those kind of false smiles that tells you that they are being paid to be there. After that, the little group broke up, the girls strutting their stuff and pushing out their implants for everyone to admire. The sleaze took another quick look in my direction before exiting by the same door that the two pale skinned blonds had gone through.
"Cute arse!" Stella said to me quietly, "You fancy some of that, I'm sure you can have some later if you like?"
"Sorry?" I replied, feigning ignorance of what Stella was referring to and pretending that I hadn't been staring at the scantily clad young women.
"That sexy little blond you were watching. I'll get Norm to introduce you if you like. I hear that some of them are willing to earn a few bob on the side, if you know what I mean. But then again, you might be able to sweep her off her feet with your charm," Stella gave a kind of muffled giggle. "And with those rugged looks of yours, with any luck you might get her for nothing."
I did have a bit of a reputation of being a loner and appearing rather aloof most of the time. I'll admit that it was a persona I'd created on purpose, and for personal reasons. For some years by then, I'd preferred my own company.
"Damn it, Stella, what are you blabbering on about?"
"Duncan, it wouldn't hurt your reputation any to be seen around with a floozy on your arm now and again. And a good shagging might make you a little more personable as well. You can be a real killjoy on occasion, you know."
Duncan - yeah, you noticed the bloody name, did you? It was Stella's idea for me to use the name of my main detective character, Duncan King, as my pen name. I must admit that it did help me keep a low profile for a few years around where I lived. The trouble was that, now I had become famous, every bugger in the world knew me as Duncan fucking King.
"Stella, I'm not a miserable arsehole. I just enjoy my privacy. I like to keep my private life out of the bleeding newspapers."
"Yeah, I know, but you don't have to appear as if you're bloody celibate. For Christ's sake, some bleeding muckraker is bound to suggest that you're a bleeding doughnut shitter or something before very much longer. You know what the Sunday papers are like."
"Do you have to be so bloody crude, Stella? Anyway everyone knows that I'm not a bleeding poof."
"Makes no difference to a reporter, Duncan, you should know that by now. If they can sell a story by insinuating that you're gay, they will. They'll say that just because your private detective Duncan King fucks any bit of skirt he can get his dick near. That doesn't prove that you swing the same way. If anything they'll claim it's a bleeding smoke screen."
"Besides I can't understand you anyway! Why, you can't take your eyes off of those little tarts' tits, but you never bother to take up what's on offer. Most likely half of those little sluts who drool over you at those book signings, would jump into your bed with you, if you gave them half a chance; but to my knowledge, you haven't shagged a one of them."
"Can I help it if I'm cautious, Stella? I have no intention of doing a Beckham and then having some tart make a mint out of selling the story of our tryst to the Sunday rags. Besides that, there's all sorts of nasties out there that you can pick up from casual sex nowadays."
I thought Stella suddenly looked a little embarrassed as she replied, "Yeah, I suppose you do have a point there." Then she went uncommonly quiet for Stella for a couple of minutes. The thought crossed my mind that maybe wonder-woman had possibly come unstuck with one of her many liaisons in the past.
Stella soon wondered off to find Norm again, no doubt trying to snag the old sod. But with Norman's penchant for young and scantily dressed women, I personally thought that good old Norm was one guy who wouldn't end up paying Stella an exorbitant divorce settlement.
It could only have been five minutes or so later that I spotted the sleaze reappearing on the deck, followed by the blond who'd locked eyes with me. I was talking to some young would-be actor guy and his agent at the time, so I don't think the sleaze or the young blond realised that I had noticed that they had both taken a good look in my direction as they'd come back out onto the deck.
The fact that Stella was no longer in close proximity to myself was the final piece of evidence that I needed to convince me that the blonde's hurried departure from the gathering had been prompted by my arrival. My problem was, I couldn't figure out who she was or why she would run away on sight of me as she had.
For the next hour or so I circulated. Making short but courteous conversation with some of the other guests and watching several of the dolly birds cavorting with a couple of guests in the yacht's small pool. I counted getting-on-for a dozen of the young women altogether; some were serving drinks, the others either sunbathing, or cavorting in the pool. All of them had very 'fit' bodies and were clad in those identical flesh coloured and very minuscule bikinis; the odd thing was that they all had long blonde hair.
"Wigs!" A woman called Helen Carpenter - who bore a somewhat striking resemblance to the actress Diana Rigg when she'd played Emma Peel — informed me when I commented on the fact to her and her husband John. "Haven't you noticed that it's only those four, who I suspect are natural blondes who are going into the pool. All the others' hairstyles are so similar that they must be wigs."
"Oh, I never thought of that. What made you notice?"
Helen smiled at me. "I'd have thought that the great detective Duncan King would have spotted that as well; after all John and I are in the same line of work."
"Oh, you're writers?"
"No, Duncan, John and I are recovery agents. Although some people tend to class us as private detectives, like the great Duncan King."
"Ah, now, there you have it; what's in a name? Duncan King might be a smart-arsed detective. But I'm afraid that Warren Price is just a humble author who has to do a hell of a lot of research before Duncan gets his man. My agent over there, Rhoda Steel, thought it was a good idea that my first book should bear the by-line of its main character and I've been stuck with the bloody name ever since. Well, for all the Duncan King novels, at least."
"Oh, my, which do you prefer, Warren or Duncan?"
"Everyone knows me as Duncan King now. It just causes unnecessary confusion when anybody uses my real name."
"Well, in that case, Duncan, would you care to explain why that young lady did a runner the moment you stepped on board? Is she an old flame or something?"
"Honestly, Helen, I have no idea; I didn't even get a look at her face. I've only dated a couple of blondes in my life and I'm sure that she's neither of them; they were both gold diggers and I'm bloody sure they would have run in the opposite direction." I smiled back at her.
"She's probably not a blonde, Duncan, otherwise why the wig?" John Carpenter pointed out.
"That's a point that I hadn't considered; but there's no other women that I know intimately who would run around dressed like that in public."
"Well, whoever she is, I would suggest that it's quite possible that you wouldn't have expected to see her running around dressed as those girls are, Duncan," Helen said, "And what's more likely, she didn't expect to see you here today either, and she was embarrassed about the way that she was dressed. She definitely did not want you to see her dressed that way in public."
At that point Stella arrived at our side and apologised to John and Helen for interrupting us, then dragged me off to talk to some producer who was in the bidding war for the film rights to my latest book.
To be honest, except for saying hello to the wanker, I said very little to him; Stella did most of the talking, dropping the names of other producers and TV companies into the conversation whenever she could, and vague hints on how much other people were offering for the cinematic rights.
Whilst the conversation was going on I spent most of my time watching the coast of France disappear over the horizon. Then the thought struck me that it was when the yacht was out of sight of the coast that the rumours claimed the dolly birds went sans bikinis. I was to learn later that like most rumours, although based on a little fact, most of the rumour was untrue.
Yeah, during the day there were a couple of instances where the girls cavorting around in the pool had the odd accident with those tiny bikini bras; but no more than would be expected around any pool if the females were wearing such tiny bikinis. Jesus, I'd seen more nipples than I saw that day on Southsea beach on an August Bank Holiday Monday as a kid.
Anyway as I'd turned my attention back from the horizon to the pool area, I'd noted that John and Helen Carpenter were talking to two of the bikini clad dolly birds. Helen looked up at me, gave me a smile and raised her eyebrows. I gathered this was a signal, and it was supposed to tell me something, but I had no idea what. What kind of facial expression I gave Helen in return, I have no idea; I believe that I was trying to express confusion. Whatever Helen smiled again and winked at me then returned to talking to the two girls, one of whom also took a quick glance in my direction.
"Christabelle, ring any bells?" Helen said with a giggle, when she joined me at the yacht's rail a few minutes later.
"The runner. She's calling herself Christabelle. She and her friend arrived out here a couple of days ago. They're part of a dance troop or something and they came along today to make up the numbers; apparently some of the usual girls Norman has along on these shindigs are sick - food poisoning or something. Anyway I doubt that Christabelle is her real name. The same as yours isn't Duncan King."
"Stands to reason, but I still have no idea who she is or why she did a runner."
"Oh, well, apparently she knows you extremely well, and she referred to you as Warren; almost had a heart attack when you appeared on deck."
I'm not sure whether Helen read something in my facial expression or not, but she went on.
"It was all the other girls could do to stop her trying to swim ashore. Anyway she's hiding in one of the cabins now and refuses to come out. Norman and that Prat agent who supplies the girls are furious. He's the dance troop agent locally as well and, from what the other girls say, he's planning on firing Christabelle toot sweet."
"Do we know what cabin?" The penny had finally dropped; there was only one person that I could think of who would unconsciously refer to me as Warren.
"No, not yet. We thought you'd be interested to know though so John's trying to discover that now. You have any idea as to who she is?"
"To be honest with you, Helen, there's only one person that I can think of that it could be. But her name isn't Christabelle, and when I knew her, she wasn't a dancer. She left me to become a model."
"Yeah, it's all a bit complicated really."
My mind began to drift back into places I'd have preferred it not to go.