The Eye of the Tiger

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He was muscle, a soldier, in the jargon. I had hoped never to see this kind of barracuda cruising St Mary's placid waters. It gave me a sick little slide in the guts to know that it had found me out again. Harry Fletcher lives a quiet life these days, running a tourist fishing boat from the peaceful island of St Mary's, off the South African coast.


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Before he knows it, Harry has been swept back into a world of greed and violence, of men who will do anything to get their hands on the treasure under the sea, and of women who are too beautiful to trust. But when the Great Mogul diamond is the prize, all Harry knows is that he'll do anything to get there first.

A gripping tale of one man's desperate attempt to escape his past, from global bestseller Wilbur Smith. The standalone' books are so called purely as they do not form part of the 'Courtney', 'Ballantyne' or 'Egyptian' series! They cover a wide range of subjects, from lost civilisations to supersonic aerial combat. Several have been made into films or TV series. The journey turns out to be a nightmare, softened only by Curry's meeting with Shermaine, a Belgian girl with whom he falls passionately in love.

This scheme is Napoleonic! The year is The place East Africa. The action — ivory-poaching deep in the German-occupied delta of the steaming Rufiji river. You will be my man. Drawn to the sky as though to his natural element, he trains to become a brilliant jet pilot and, fleeing from his home and all it stands for, sets out to make his own life.

It was one of those seasons when the fish came late. I worked my boat and crew hard, running far northwards each day, coming back into Grand Harbour long after dark each night, but it was November the 6th when we picked up the first of the big ones riding down on the wine purple swells of the Mozambique current. By this time I was desperate for a fish. He was a short wiry little man, bald as an ostrich egg and grey at the temples, with a wizened brown monkey face but the good hard legs that are necessary to take on the big fish.

Angelo spotted him at the instant that I did, and he hung out on the foredeck stay and yelled with excitement, his gipsy curls dangling on his dark cheeks and his teeth flashing in the brilliant tropical sunlight. The fish crested and wallowed, the water opening about him so that he looked like a forest log, black and heavy and massive, his tail fin echoing the graceful curve of the dorsal, before he slid down into the next trough and the water closed over his broad glistening back.

I turned and glared down into the cockpit.

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Chubby was already helping Chuck into the big fighting chair, clinching the heavy harness and gloving him up, but he looked up and caught my eye. Chubby scowled heavily and spat over the side, in complete contrast to the excitement that gripped the rest of us. Chubby is a huge man, as tall as I am but a lot heavier in the shoulder and gut. He is also one of the most staunch and consistent pessimists in the business.

Chubby was right, of course. After me, he is the best billfish man in the entire world.

The fish was big and shy and scary. Five times I had the baits to him, working him with all the skill and cunning I could muster. I put the dolphin to him. I had rigged the bait myself and it swam with a fine natural action in the water. I recognized the instant in which the marlin accepted the bait. He seemed to hunch his great shoulders and I caught the flash of his belly, like a mirror below the surface, as he turned. Superfluous line in the water would place additional strain on the man at the rod. My job required infinitely more skill than gritting the teeth and hanging on to the heavy fibreglass rod.

A few minutes after noon, Chuck had the fish beaten. He was on the surface, in the first of the wide circles which Chuck would narrow with each turn until we had him at the gaff. I looked and saw the shark coming. The blunt fin moving up steadily, drawn by the struggle and smell of blood.


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  • He was a big hammerhead, and I called to Angelo. Dropping to my knees I knocked open the toggles that held down the engine hatch and I slid it open. Lying on my belly, I reached up under the decking and grasped the stock of the FN carbine hanging in its special concealed slings of inner tubing. As I came out on to the deck I checked the loading of the rifle, and pushed the selector on to automatic fire. He was a hammerhead all right, a big one, twelve feet from tip to tail, coppery bronze through the clear water.

    The FN roared, the empty brass cases spewed from the weapon and the water erupted in quick stabbing splashes. The shark shuddered convulsively as the bullets smashed into his head, shattering the gristly bone and bursting his tiny brain. He rolled over and began to sink. At ten minutes to one, Chuck brought the marlin up to the gaff, punishing him until the great fish came over on his side, the sickle tail beating feebly, and the long beak opening and shutting spasmodically.

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    The glazed single eye was as big as a ripe apple, and the long body pulsed and shone with a thousand flowing shades of silver and gold and royal purple. Chubby withered me with a glance that told me clearly that he had been pulling the steel into billfish when I was still a gutter kid in a London slum. The swell rolled the fish up to us, opening the wide chest that glowed silver between the spread wings of the pectoral fins. In a burst of bright crimson heart blood, the fish went into its death frenzy, beating the surface to flashing white and drenching us all under fifty gallons of thrown sea water.

    The No. 1 hit from 1982 still pumps us up.

    I hung the fish on Admiralty Wharf from the derrick of the crane. Benjamin, the harbour-master, signed a certificate for a total weight of eight hundred and seventeen pounds. Although the vivid fluorescent colours had faded in death to flat sooty black, yet it was impressive for its sheer bulk — fourteen feet six inches from the point of its bill to the tip of its flaring swallow tail. The word travelled as far as old Government House on the bluff, and the presidential Land-Rover came buzzing down the twisting road with the gay little flag fluttering on the bonnet.

    It butted its way through the crowd and deposited the great man on the wharf.

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    As State Presidents go in this part of the world, he was top of the class. He was a symphony in black, black wool suit, and patent leather shoes, skin the colour of polished anthracite and only a fringe of startlingly white fluffy hair curling around his ears. It had taken a year or two — but the President had finally accepted me as though I was island-born. I was one of his children, with all the special privilege that this position carried with it. Fred Coker arrived in his hearse, but armed with his photographic equipment, and while he set up his tripod and disappeared under the black cloth to focus the ancient camera, we posed for him beside the colossal carcass.

    Chuck in the middle holding the rod, with the rest of us grouped around him, arms folded like a football team. Angelo and I were grinning and Chubby was scowling horrifically into the lens. The picture would look good in my new advertising brochure — loyal crew and intrepid skipper, hair curling out from under his cap and from the vee of his shirt, all muscle and smiles — it would really pack them in next season. I arranged for the fish to go into the cold room down at the pineapple export sheds. I would consign it out to Rowland Wards of London for mounting on the next refrigerated shipment.

    He was muscle, a soldier, in the jargon. I had hoped never to see this kind of barracuda cruising St Mary's placid waters. It gave me a sick little slide in the guts to know that it had found me out again. Harry Fletcher lives a quiet life these days, running a tourist fishing boat from the peaceful island of St Mary's, off the South African coast.

    Before he knows it, Harry has been swept back into a world of greed and violence, of men who will do anything to get their hands on the treasure under the sea, and of women who are too beautiful to trust. But when the Great Mogul diamond is the prize, all Harry knows is that he'll do anything to get there first. A gripping tale of one man's desperate attempt to escape his past, from global bestseller Wilbur Smith.

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    The standalone' books are so called purely as they do not form part of the 'Courtney', 'Ballantyne' or 'Egyptian' series! They cover a wide range of subjects, from lost civilisations to supersonic aerial combat. Several have been made into films or TV series. The journey turns out to be a nightmare, softened only by Curry's meeting with Shermaine, a Belgian girl with whom he falls passionately in love.