The third installment of the Mystery in the Islands series, AGROUND ON ST. THOMAS, opens with a grand jury indictment of the sitting governor, his cabinet, and the entire VI Legislature. Chaos ensues as the FBI attempts to arrest those accused of corruption. The governor and two VI senators evade capture, leading to a chase through Charlotte Amalie’s narrow alleyways and steep streets. Competing conspiracies among the locals hamper the search, leaving a hapless Agent Friday to sort out who’s scheming whom.
The story is told with an ensemble cast so that the role of lead protagonist is shared among a handful of eclectic characters. A few of these are inspired by people I’ve met during my travels in the Caribbean – or, rather, people I’ve met while waiting in airports en route to the Caribbean.
For a mystery writer, the airport departure lounge is a potential gold mine of character material. Not only is it perfectly acceptable for me as an author to sit and observe this concentrated sampling of humanity, but people stuck in airports tend to loose the inhibitions that might have otherwise shielded their, ahem, unique personalities. It’s not unusual for someone waiting for a flight to chat loudly on his cell phone about the most intimate details of his personal life – helpfully broadcasting that information to the rest of the departure lounge.
Often, the briefest of encounters can plant the seed for a future fictional character.
For example, it was while waiting through a rain delay for a recent Caribbean flight that I spied a religious figure dressed in a brown robe pacing the departure lounge near my seat. He wore several gold chains around his neck and a red garnet ring on his finger. He was a priest of some sort, I reasoned, or maybe a monk. He was frustratingly quiet in his cell phone communications, so I couldn’t determine his denomination or anything more about his life story.
My querying texts to a friend with knowledge on religious matters provoked a slew of questions about whether my latest island research was about to evolve into a Thornbirds-style romance.
But the enigmatic man in the brown robe did provide the inspiration for a character in AGROUND known only as the Bishop of St. Thomas.
Of course, even for a writer, there can be too much of a good thing.
I’m referring to fellow travelers who continue to provide personal anecdotes long after any potential character potential has been mined.
About seven years ago, I encountered a wheelchair-bound man in the Miami airport who was suffering from a long-term illness. Despite his frail condition, he was determined to acquire a Mojito cocktail – before our early morning flight departed. His condition was terminal, he informed me, between loud requests for the alcoholic drink. Cancer. He was traveling to St. Thomas to die.
He somehow managed to commandeer the seat next to me on the plane, and the one-sided conversation continued all the way to the Caribbean. By the time we touched down at Charlotte Amalie, he had made several attempts to convince me to join him at his hotel.
Alas, once again, romance was not to be. But the Mojito Man lived on in my imagination – and as a character in AGROUND ON ST. THOMAS.