It’s cold out there. Perhaps this story from the collection Calypso, Stories of the Caribbean will warm this cold January up just a bit.
Upton Swann sat all alone on the ornate cast iron love seat that had been painted white sometime in the distant past, shaded by a spreading Poinciana, surrounded by chattering merchants with piles of bananas to the right, piles of coconuts to the left — fruits, vegetables, fish and tourists everywhere. Activity swirled around him, but he didn’t seem to care. It was noon. He’d been sitting there since 7 a.m.
On a second floor terrace of the Hotel Vieux Habitant that overlooked the market square, five people sat in a row, leaning over the railing, staring down past the frenzied activity at Upton Swann. They, too, had been sitting there since seven.
Upton Swann and his audience of five had all been together on the terrace the previous evening, enjoying the serenity of the market square, abandoned in the early evening hours by merchants and tourists alike. And they enjoyed the soft warmth tempered by the steady breeze off the ocean – at least five of them did; Upton Swann did not. He found the climate foul - too hot — and that was just the tip of his iceberg of complaints about this island in particular and the Caribbean in general. Unlike the others he could not wait to get back to the sensible climate of New York in March, a desire he did not endeavor to keep to himself. “What if I get sick here?” he lamented. “My god, they’ve probably got chickens wandering through the hospital.”
By 8 p.m., he had enjoyed just about as much of the tropical night as he intended to enjoy. With a harrumph, he marched inside, revved the air conditioner up to its maximum, and sat down on the couch with a tumbler of Scotch. Within minutes, he would complain no more.
The beginning of Upton Swann’s journey to the great beyond went unnoticed. In fact, he was about two hours along before the Dexters — Howard and Wilma — came in and thought it odd that the tumbler lay in his lap in the center of a large Scotch stain. (Later, they would recall that his last words were: “This is a wretched place; I need Scotch.” Not eloquent enough for his tombstone, but certainly better than Myrna Pomeroy’s first husband’s last words: “Five minutes on the toilet and I’ll be just fine.”)
The Dexters sounded a general alarm, and Myrna, her current husband Phil Pomeroy, and Upton’s widow Adele all came running in — although Adele didn’t yet realize that she was a widow, not until Howard Dexter said: “He’s deader than a doornail.”
Adele sobbed, and the others looked on with bewildered expressions. Howard wasn’t a coroner or a doctor or anything, but he knew a lot of things, and the others accepted his diagnosis.
“Do you suppose he had a heart attack?” asked Myrna Pomeroy.
Howard Dexter picked up the bottle of scotch and ceremoniously sniffed at it. He might have been selecting a wine for their dinner. Then he poured a few drops into his palm, wetted a finger and touched it to his tongue. The others watched in silence.
“Poison,” Howard proclaimed. “Not a doubt of it. This Scotch has really been laced with it.” Howard wasn’t a pharmacologist or detective either, but he knew a lot of things.
Adele sobbed again, and Myrna Pomeroy said: “How could it be? We were all here. How could someone have… no, you’re not suggesting…?”