The mys­te­ri­ous death of a cul­ture sales­man

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL - By

Toni Ni­cholas

the company of a lady friend re­cently re­turned home after sev­eral years in the United States, pho­tog­ra­pher Bill Mort­ley and I paid a visit to Bou­ton on Tues­day, Jan­uary 13. She was in awe of the sur­round­ing green­ery as we ap­proached the small farm­ing com­mu­nity, some six miles north of Soufriere. On ei­ther side of the road were var­i­ous trees loaded with invit­ing fruit.

Alas, I had more im­por­tant mat­ters on my mind, in par­tic­u­lar the dis­pute over land be­tween cer­tain res­i­dents and the Catholic church. Our first stop was the pri­mary school. It was lunchtime and we ex­changed pleas­antries with sev­eral stu­dents.

We met two fe­male teach­ers who pointed us in the di­rec­tion of an old sugar mill—a land­mark that I imag­ined would fea­ture in the story I planned to write. Res­i­dents are hop­ing that any dis­cus­sion of the fu­ture of the Bou­ton lands will in­clude con­vert­ing the mill and ar­ti­facts into attractions for Saint Lu­cians and vis­i­tors alike.

We vis­ited the home of Paul Au­guste, one of the res­i­dents call­ing for the be­queathed Bou­ton lands to be vested in the hands of the peo­ple. (See STAR De­cem­ber 20.) He was not home but his mother and three other in­di­vid­u­als wel­comed us from Au­guste’s ve­randa. One of the trio, a par­tic­u­larly gre­gar­i­ous in­di­vid­ual, in­tro­duced him­self.

“My name is Ru­fus Charles,” he said, after I’d told him mine, “but you can call me Dr. Bash.” Soon he was en­ter­tain­ing us with at times hi­lar­i­ous episodes in the his­tory of Bou­ton.

After I’d ex­plained the pur­pose of our visit, Dr. Bash of­fered to take us down a rocky track, at the bot­tom of which, he said, were three beaches and an old sugar mill.

Be­fore set­ting out, how­ever, he in­sisted on telling us about sev­eral slave plan­ta­tion in­ci­dents. We heard in vivid de­tail some of pro­cliv­i­ties of the plan­ta­tion owner and his fa­vored vis­i­tors, usu­ally en­joyed on the beach sands, and about a hold­ing cell for dis­obe­di­ent slaves near the sugar mill.

We had no way of val­i­dat­ing his some­times shock­ing rec­ol­lec­tions. His com­pan­ions on the ve­randa kept what­ever they knew to them­selves. For fleet­ing seconds I con­sid­ered tak­ing him up on his of­fer to take us down the track to the leg­endary bay, then thought bet­ter of it.

On the oc­ca­sion nei­ther my body nor my spirit was will­ing to take on the rocky road. I promised to re­turn prop­erly out­fit­ted in a few days. Bill and his friend ea­gerly sec­onded the mo­tion.

I even promised Dr. Bash on my re­turn visit to carry some­thing bot­tled for his en­joy­ment, at which his face fur­ther bright­ened. As we drove off Dr. Bash waved us good-bye, his now empty glass from which he had been sip­ping through­out his entrancing rev­e­la­tions held high.

“Make sure you come back, eh,” he hailed.

Five days later, while check­ing my email, I hap­pened upon an item about a body that had been dis­cov­ered in a Bou­ton house. A short time later I learned that the corpse had been iden­ti­fied as that of Ru­fus Charles: aka Dr. Bash.

I tried to con­tact a rel­a­tive of Charles, per­chance to as­cer­tain the cause of death; to no avail. It would be another two days be­fore I was in­formed that the 58-year-old had died in his sleep. No one sug­gested foul play.

A post­mortem con­ducted here on Tues­day re­vealed the dash­ing Dr. Bash had died from an “in­ges­tion of toxic sub­stance.” A green sub­stance was dis­cov­ered in his throat and stom­ach.

A re­lated po­lice press re­lease mean­while an­nounced: “Sud­den death now sui­cide.” Nev­er­the­less, “in­ves­ti­ga­tions are con­tin­u­ing into the mat­ter.”

On Thurs­day a rel­a­tive told the STAR the fam­ily did not be­lieve Ru­fus Charles had taken his own life: “I re­al­ize you can­not know what is go­ing on inside a per­son, but Ru­fus was was well loved in the com­mu­nity. He was with­out a care in this world. I can­not see him do­ing this.”

He went on: “Ru­fus lived alone. Ev­ery­one in the com­mu­nity knows him. He was a tour guide to per­sons vis­it­ing Bou­ton and he used to help out on farms in the area. He did his own gar­den­ing. He used to keep all sorts of chem­i­cals and weed­i­cides near his bed in bot­tles, right along­side his other bot­tles of wa­ter, rum and so on.”

He spec­u­lated that on the fa­tal night Dr. Bash had prob­a­bly re­turned home al­ready in­tox­i­cated, then picked up and drank from what he wrongly thought was a bot­tle of wa­ter or rum.”

He shrugged. “This is some­thing we feared would hap­pen some day and we used to warn him about keep­ing so many bot­tles by his bed.”

Mean­while, the nor­mally tran­quil, close-knit Bou­ton com­mu­nity has been plunged into mourn­ing the not fully ex­plained pass­ing of one of its best loved mem­bers.

The af­fa­ble Ru­fus Charles: His death in the com­mu­nity of Bou­ton has raised sev­eral ques­tions.

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