"What sort of investment are you looking for?" Derek asked. Elena answered. "Investment is not the right word. Investment implies an ownership stake, and that is something we cannot grant. The arrangement with Mr. Nakamura has never been formalized. We can't expect anyone to step into a situation like that. Nor would we want it. We might offer a lease medium term or long term or lifetime lease on the house he built and the land it stands on. We might include the resort area, or manage it ourselves. That would depend on the person. We would require that no outside labor be brought in without our permission knowing that that limits what can be done here."
James thought about the series of mining and trading and political entrepreneurs he'd worked with over the years, some of them difficult and dangerous. "Do you care what nationality any investor what shall I say leaseholder would be?"
"No. We have adopted English as our working language, because of the opportunities it opens up to us; we'd want to be able to deal with the person in English. Naturally we'd investigate any offer, and the person behind it. To the extent possible, we would also consult Mr. Nakamura. He's widely acquainted, and we would respect his opinion. This is his legacy, and we will treat it with respect."
James wondered, "How much of this have you discussed with Nakamura?"
Malia responded. "Mr. Nakamura concern with what happen to island. He have no child, he know island belong to us. He always ask, never tell us what to do."
"He's from a world of handshake agreements," Elena added. "He may wish that someone could just step in as he did decades ago. But he knows how the world works now."
"He must have thought that someone tied to one of our companies might step in," James offered.
"I'm sure. And what do you think?"
Derek answered. "I think first of Richard Branson. And frankly I doubt it. He doesn't operate in this part of the world, and he already has Necker, which he owns outright. But he knows a lot of people, and I know a few. Now that we understand what you are making available, we can spread the word."
"I have to give you the same answer," James said. "I spoke with Peter Prost the other day from here, and he didn't want to hear anything about the island; his interest was in Nakamura's art collection. But he knows a lot of people, too, we both do."
Elena flashed anger. "We are not happy that he brought that collection here."
"He invited Heather Green to come this week, didn't he?"
"Do you know that she's with the Eisenthal Institute? Here specifically to investigate the collection?"
"No, I didn't know that."
"Last I saw, she and Helen were in an intense discussion about it. Liz thinks that Nakamura wanted that discussion to happen, and I agree. Just as I think Nakamura intended our discussion to happen. He may not tell you what to do, but he's been aggressive in opening possibilities."
Derek jumped in. "The success of a party is in the guest list."
Left alone, Liz went to the pavilion to see that Wolf was there, his empty breakfast plate still in front of him, a few unwashed dishes on the bar, the last of a pot of coffee on a warmer. She offered coffee to Wolf, and poured away the rest. Malia had plainly turned to other priorities. Liz drained cold dishwater from the sink and set about finishing with breakfast cleanup. Wolf wandered into the sun with his coffee to see Anjelo coming his way at a trot. They came into the pavilion together. Anjelo offered to take over the dishwashing. Wolf took a seat at the bar. Momentarily, Afitu followed his son into the kitchen. Afitu wore a waist wrap which he removed and tucked away when he arrived. Anjelo had arrived naked.
"We want to talk to Nakamura." It was Heather, Helen just behind her. Suddenly the pavilion was full, but this was no lunch crowd. Afitu responded to Heather's abruptness in kind. "Soon?" "As soon as we can." Anjelo looked to his father for guidance. Afitu gave him brief instructions in the local language, and Anjelo was off, running naked and barefoot into the sun. "We ask," Afitu told the women. Take seat. I get you anything?"
Liz watched Anjelo dash out of view. In a man's body, this was one of the naked children scampering about the village, running for the joy of running. He came back wet, panting. He'd swum the channel that lay between the resort and Mr. Nakamura's house. He relayed a message to Afitu. Afitu then let Heather and Helen know "Canoe ready. Mr. Nakamura see you now."
Malia rose from her bench, gesturing James and Derek to remain seated with one hand, shaking her dress with the other to straighten it. "Mr. Nakamura stay here as long he want, whole life OK with us. You understand. Not time to tell world he leave, not time to tell world we think he go jail. Thank you if you tell your boss, your friend, about island, about how Elena explain. Only them. They come visit, we welcome them." She made a slight bow, which Elena and then the men took as cue to stand. It was time to go.
They walked first to Elena's house, where her husband and little girl were tending their garden while an older woman with an infant watched from a nearby patch of shade. Elena said her goodbyes and stayed to join them. Malia led the men back to the resort's pavilion, where she joined Afitu and Anjelo. Derek went off to his cabin, and James went to his.
Liz was there, reading on her bed. "How was your walk with Malia?"
"Good. We met with Elena, the one with the New Zealand accent, the greeter at Nakamura's."
"I know her. We spent the night together last night in the village, sitting up with Malia."
"She's - they've - given their future a lot of thought; they're ready to lawyer up once they find the right people to deal with. Confidential, at this point, in deference to Nakamura. They definitely want me and want Derek to noise the opportunity around, though. You sat up all last night?"
"Kava party. A very, very, quiet kind of party. I'll tell you about it. But first, a piece of news from here. Heather and Helen are off, at their insistence, to talk with Nakamura."
"How does one insist on talking with Nakamura? Swim over and bang on the door?"
"They did it by asking Afitu," Liz explained, "with Anjelo doing the swimming, playing messenger. They had a canoe crewed up in minutes. I wouldn't have expected Nakamura to be so open to their visit, given his splendid isolation in that cement fortress."
"In fairness, it's a fortress against waves, not people. It doesn't really have a front door to knock on, or a gate to open. It's hard to know how to read it, or him. Good to know you can just ring up on the barefoot telephone. Listening to Malia and Elena today, it's clear that they are choosing what to bring in from outside and what to avoid. They could easily put phones in, but they just don't. And yet they send kids overseas to college."
"Malia told me last night that they credit Nakamura's investments with the ability to send kids to school."
"The word investment' is officially out, according to Elena. Implies ownership."
"I'll be careful."
"So, about the kava party?"
"Let's go find a place in the sun."
They walked toward the lagoon.
There was little breeze, and there were few clouds. The view across the lagoon and to the ocean horizon was clear. Behind Liz and James, afternoon clouds were forming in the island's daily updraft. Birds circled in the updraft. Large, black gliders with long, narrow wings bent sharply in the middle for streamlining. Their striking profiles circled lazily over the lagoon, and occasionally back into the rising cloud. Smaller white shorebirds dotted the ground and the air, and added their calls to the sound of the gentle, lagoon-side surf.
Suddenly, one of the dark profiles above sharpened and dove, swooping to the surface of the water to snatch up some small creature, succeeding without so much as a splash to swoop back up into the rising air. The waves lapped the sand, and occasionally one lap would exceed all that had come before. The tide was coming in, making work more difficult for the shorebirds, some of which began to retire from foraging.
A small powerboat, conspicuously laden with fishing gear and bearing two figures, eased across the reef into the lagoon and made its way to the village.
Then all was quiet, the quiet of lapping water, joined soon by the sound of rain, watering the village gardens while the shore lay in sunshine. The shore breeze grew stronger; the leaves of the coconuts began to rattle with a sound very much like rain.
Was it time for lunch, or for dinner? They stood to go.
It was nearly dinnertime. Afitu was tending the kitchen and bar. Mark was in the pavilion when Liz and James arrived, drinking a Coke out of the can. Heather came in soon after, and sat with Mark. "He's given us access to the whole catalog. Today and tomorrow I'll physically verify that all the art here is included and well described." Mark wondered, "Why?" "Because he doesn't want to be on the black market with the stuff. Either we find a reason to give a piece back to somebody, or we tacitly bless its sale on the open market, where it's more valuable. He's sincerely looking for a way to get unhooked from the whole mess."
Mark asked, "If he just want to get unhooked from it, why is he thinking about its value?"
"He's not going to profit from it. He's not planning to, which makes our work easier. He'll be giving the collection away. Part to Eisenthal, for our trouble with all this -which our board will probably refuse, but he's made the offer - part to a trust to benefit the islanders here." Turning to Afitu, who had not appeared to be listening, "And this is not a secret. He's committed to complete transparency over this. Part of the deal. We are not going to keep his secrets."
Anjelo appeared, from the gathering dusk to extend an invitation to James. "Mr. Nakamura has invited you share an aperitif with him before our dinner. Would you care to join him?" "I would like that. Is the invitation for just myself, or for the two of us?" It was a rude and difficult question, but James trusted Anjelo with it, and Anjelo trusted James with his answer. "Just for yourself."
Anjelo led James into the dark central hallway of the house. An open door led into a sitting room, windows open but curtained against the growing darkness. Mr. Nakamura did not stand. "Welcome. Please, have a seat. What would you like?" James took a seat opposite a small table from his host and asked for the martini which had become his daily habit on this trip. Anjelo disappeared, and shortly a server brought James' drink. Mr. Nakamura picked up his own, something dark in a whiskey glass, and raised it "to this island."
"You had a good talk with Malia and Elena today." James agreed, a question in his look: What had Nakamura heard?
Nakamura saw the question. "I spoke with Derek earlier, and I have been speaking frequently with Malia. I want to add one thing. This is probably the last time I will be here. Perhaps by force of circumstance. But if not that, then to take myself out of the way, whenever the islanders make a fresh arrangement. For the rest of my life, I have enough to attend to at home."
"Malia trusts you to understand the island's needs, well enough to begin a conversation if someone you or Peter know might be interested in negotiating with her. I don't believe Peter would be the right person to step in, and I don't believe he would want to."
"That's true," James answered.
"Peter cared more taking on the burden of my and my father's collection from Germany. In the way too many people have thought I cared for it, an illicit bargain, a compromise. Maybe I thought of it that way once. I've made many compromises over my life. When the only way to open a factory in a country was to make generous gifts to its leaders, I have done that. Even when the leaders were not good people. Even when it was done in secret. That is how business was done. I've had a long career, but I have outlived that time. I do not belong in today's world, and today's world has noticed. But Peter does business that old way, too, and he is a generation younger than I am. If he had come here, I would have warned him myself. If you can ever speak to him of these things, pass along the advice of an old man, will you? You understand."
James did understand. He could not imagine such a conversation with Peter.
Anjelo reappeared to lead James away the moment the men had finished their drinks.
Anjelo, the barefoot messenger, the bartender kid, leader to be. As they went to the landing, James chose to address the leader. "He is ready to leave." "He is," Angelo answered. "He is leaving tomorrow morning. You are here for several more days. Please, be our guest. Lie on the beach, take it easy."
It's been over twenty years since Liz and James first visited the island.
Mr. Nakamura lost his ownership stake and leadership position in Matsumoto Industrial, spending time in house arrest while that was decided. He spent the rest of his life comfortably in Japan. Peter Prost sold much of his ownership share in Haverford on learning that its mines in Kandara were going to be seized, and before that news had spread. An insider-trading crime for which he forfeited his own position and gains, and spent several years in jail. Richard Branson was knighted by the Queen, and remains in possession of Necker island, on good terms with its government.
The staff in the concrete house now wear clothes, the preference of the new lessee. The wooden buildings of the resort were washed away. There are fewer buildings now, raised on cinderblock foundations. The village itself is still plywood and coconut leaves.
Angelo earned an MBA in California. He and Hiva have three children. He now manages the resort, and greets visiting dignitaries.
Elena went back to Aukland for her law degree once she'd nursed her last. She works for her national government, but spends as much time on her home island as she can. And she drives a careful bargain.
Malia watches children, and gives advice when she's asked. This happens more and more with each passing year.
The island never did install telephones. They have cell phones now, and the best satellite uplink available, but they still send their children running with messages.
Mr. Nakamura's trust holds most of his art collection, and money from the sale of his house in Japan. Helen and Elena are its trustees.
James stepped up a notch at Haverford after Peter's departure, and is now Vice President for Development. He and his wife live in Connecticut, but he still manages to visit the island. He helped them rebuild after the storm.
Liz found work as HR manager of a packaging plant in Long Beach, and love among the crowd at one of Mark and Wolf's stage pieces. She and her husband have a house in west Los Angeles, with a yard and a pool, where Liz can sit naked under a palm tree, without a care in the world.