We were led across immaculate grounds to a white building that housed the Tower, our compact but elegant room, with French windows opening onto a balcony and the ocean beyond. A silver tray balanced with a bottle of Perrier-Jouet and a frosty jug of liquefied tropical fruit arrived and was duly consumed. I did a Tony Curtis line from Sweet Smell of Success: "From now on, the best of everything is good enough for me!" The Cotton House is that kind of place. The kind with a "pillow menu."
Island residents gather every Tuesday for cocktails in the Cotton House's neocolonial reception hall. Some awful people who'd been on our plane from San Juan were there-a blond woman in a straw hat and a navy blazer who had said to a man in lavender pants and a golf shirt: "I do hope they don't make Puerto Rico a state, because then we'll have to give them aid."
The party gave Ilene an insta-anxiety attack: she was wearing palm-leaf Cotton House flip-flops because of a foot injury sustained while swimming that afternoon, and this was not a flip-flop affair. Still, she managed to cozy up to the island's unofficial ambassador, a Brahmin matron with addresses on Beacon Hill and Martha's Vineyard who's been coming to Mustique for 30 years. Through her, Ilene secured a session with Roxanne, the island's unofficial masseuse, at the Brahmin's own house for the next day. So transported would Ilene be by this experience that the following morning she'd declare, "If Madonna were here, she would be hanging out exclusively with Roxanne."
While this high-toned transaction was taking place, I was sweating in front of Tommy Hilfiger. Tommy reached over and expertly fingered the black rayon of my J. Crew shirt.
"You know why you're warm?" he said, looking as if he'd just stepped out of a meat locker. "This doesn't breathe. You need to wear cotton."
With that he was gone.
In the morning, we looked at some villas with the resident real estate agent and Tina Turner look-alike. Many of them were designed by or in the high- gingerbread style of Oliver Messel, a former theatrical set designer who established the tone of storybook luxury here. Most have glimmering pools and incomparable sea views and, considering the cook and maid service, are a better deal than the Cotton House.
We rented a Mulea grinding, heavy-duty golf cart that most people use to get around the islandand took it to the Firefly, a little guesthouse/restaurant/bar run by a glamorously louche English couple we'd met at the cocktail party the night before.
Not an Hotel, An Experience, the sign said. I could have done without the "an hotel" business. But the restaurant is a great vantage point, high above the ocean, with a terra-cotta terrace rimmed with wrought-iron railings. Never mind the superb cocktails and fish-and-chips. Riding a midday buzz and aspiring to loucheness ourselves, we were beginning to feel Mustique's mystique-or is it mystique's Mustique?Barman! Another round, please.
After lunch, we gravitated to the strip of shops by the waterfront. Ilene bought a pink bathing suit. I got a couple of little wooden birds on sticks. A two-hour massage and facial from a lovely Scottish lass at the Cotton House Spa primed me for the weekly "Jump Up" at Basil's Bar.
Basil himself is as much of an institution as his bar. He became a bartender at 17 and eventually rose to the status of island shareholder. Resplendent in a flowing red robe and gold Rolex, he stopped by our table to chat. He dismissed the Cotton House as "overpriced and overrated." After the all-we-could-eat lobster and barbecue-pork buffet, we danced amid giggling teenage girls to Bob Marley's "One Love." This wasn't quite the hot, sweatily sexy bacchanal I'd been led to expect.
The next morning the phone rang. I picked up.