He stood on the trail and waited for the men to tie up and approach. A tall, lean man, about thirty-five came first, followed by a short, stocky fellow wearing a black leather jacket. The jacket seemed out of place on the Maine coast, more appropriate for a motorcycle. They walked slowly toward him and he decided to meet them before they got too close.
“How do?” he said.
“Fair to middling,” said the tall man. They stopped a few feet from him and looked over his shoulder, to the cottage. The stocky guy seemed agitated and sweaty. He chewed a toothpick, turning it with his tongue until the splintered side hung out, then turned it back again. The tall guy was slick and calm, a wry smile on his face.
“This is private property, I suppose you know?”
“We’re looking for a missing woman. She fell off a boat a few days ago.”
He smiled, and almost laughed at the man’s statement. “A woman fell off a boat? Like a cruise ship, or something? I heard that happens quite a bit.”
“She fell off my trawler.”
“How big is that? A fishing trawler, sport, or what?”
“Sport, I guess. Forty-two foot.”
“Sounds nice. No railings, though, huh?”
The two men stared at him. Stocky Guy stopped chewing the splintered toothpick and spit it out. Tall Guy’s eyes watered, like he was biting the inside of his cheek and was trying to hide the pain.
“Well, I haven’t heard anything from the coast guard. You called them, right? They usually call me right away, someone falls off a boat around here.”
The stocky guy grunted and spit. “Are we amusing you?”
“Are we amusing you in some way or something?”
“No, of course not. It’s just a strange story. Think I’d have heard about a man-overboard situation.”
“Well, we had one. Checking all the islands near the mishap,” Tall Guy said.
“Good plan,” he said. “Where’d you say this happened?”
Tall Guy pointed out at the bay. “A few miles -”
“Who’s the girl?” The stocky one interrupted, and nodded toward the cottage.
“Well, that’s an interesting question. Seems she fell off a boat a few days ago and doesn’t remember much else. Said somebody was gonna come looking for her. That you?”
“Why didn’t you say so?” Tall Guy asked.
“I just did.”
“Is she all right?”
He was looking for signs of relief or joy, but observed none. “Depends on who’s asking.”
“I’m her husband.” Tall Guy said. “I’m Bill and this is my brother, Jack.” The stocky guy nodded.
“Does she have some sort of medical condition, makes her forget things?”
“No,” Bill said. “Why?”
“Well, she doesn’t seem to know where she came from, or remember anything before the other night.”
Bill shook his head, then glanced at Jack, who just squinted. “We’ll get her to a doctor.”
“That’s a good idea.”
Bill started walking toward the house, but he stepped in from of him. “Why don’t I go talk to her, tell her you’re here and we can go from there?”
“Are you kidding me?” Jack asked.
“What’s going on?” Bill asked.
“Well, she’s a bit skittish since she came on shore. Spooks easily. The shock of seeing you might make her worse.”
“Are you serious?” Bill asked.
“What’s your name, again?” he asked.
“Bill. What’s your name?”
“Garrett what?” asked Jack.
Garrett looked at him and then turned toward the cottage. “Wait here. I’ll get Jane,” he said.
“Who’s Jane?” asked Bill.
“Isn’t that her name?”
“No, my girl’s named, Rose. Rose Matheson.”
“Well, maybe two different girls fell overboard. This one’s named Jane.”
Garrett walked up the path toward the cottage. Jack and Bill started to walk with him, but Garrett turned and they stopped. “Just wait here. I’ll see if Jane wants to come see you.”
“If Jane wants to…” mumbled Jack. He took a step closer to Garrett, but Bill grabbed him by the arm.
“Go, go ahead. We’ll wait,” said Bill.
“You sure?” asked Garrett, looking Bill in the eye. Bill looked to the cottage, then back at Garrett and nodded. He turned slowly and walked up the hill.
She was building a fire when he walked in. On her knees, prodding the kindling with a poker. She didn’t look up when he shut the door. “Those two, they the one’s coming for you?” he asked. She shrugged and said nothing. “You want to tell me what’s going on?” She ignored him, poked at the fire with a piece of kindling. “What happened the other night? Were you trying to escape something? Were you pushed off that boat? What happened, Rose?”
She stood and turned to him. “Don’t call me that.”
“That’s your name isn’t it? Rose. Or are they the liars?” She looked at the window, but he knew she couldn’t see them from where she stood. “Why wasn’t the Coast Guard called?”
“I don’t know,” she said.
“They want to come up here, to take you back.”
Foot falls rang hollow on the front porch. She turned quickly toward the sound, her eyes lit like firecrackers.
“This is all pretty dramatic, don’t you think, Jane, Rose or whatever your name is?” She wrapped her arms around herself and stood watching the door. “Why don’t we all sit down and have a cup of coffee and talk about it?”
“Fine, I’ll tell them to go.”
“No,” she said. “I’ll see them. Stay by me.” He nodded and they walked to the door. He could see the men standing on the porch, talking quietly.
“If you don’t want to go, just say so and I’ll tell them to leave.”
She nodded and stood guilelessly in front of the door, waiting for Garret to open it. The men on the porch turned and looked at her as she stepped outside. She let out a little gasp and held her hand to her mouth when she saw Bill. He took hold of her hand and kissed it.
“Rose. Are you okay?”
“Yes.” She flung herself against him and they hugged for a long time. Then she turned to Garrett and smiled. “I’ll go now. Thanks for all your help.”
Garrett was stunned by her quick turnaround. He was sure she would reject Bill and wanted to stay on the island. Then he realized that notion was a fantasy. She had to go. She wasn’t meant for him, no matter how lonely he was or how she made him feel alive again.
“Don’t forget your clothes,” Garratt said, and walked back into the cottage. He went to the bedroom and gathered her clothes drying in the bathroom, and returned to the porch. Jane was wandering toward where they’d picked the berries, Bill close behind her, apparently pleading his case. Jack stood near the porch and looked up a Garrett.
“What’s going on?” asked Garrett.
“I don’t know,” Jack said, and sat down on the steps.
“Is she all right? I mean, does she have mental problems?” asked Garrett.
Jack turned his head slowly, deliberately and looked at Garrett. “Why would you say something like that?”
“Her memory. She doesn’t seem to recall anything that happened the night she fell overboard. If that’s what happened.”
“She’s fine,” Jack said. He reached out and snatched a piece of tall grass and stuck it in his mouth, gnashing it between his teeth. Bill and Rose stood high up on the path and talked. Jane seemed frightened, forlorn even. She turned to go further down up the path, but Bill took hold of her arm. She lifted it away from him and he grabbed her by the shoulder and spin her around to face him. Garrett walked down the porch steps and started to call her name, when Jack stood and touched his shoulder.
“Let them be,” Jack said.
“Who the hell are you?” Garrett asked, and started to walk toward the couple. Jack stood in Garrett’s path and looked him in the eye.
“She’s his wife,” Jack said.
Garrett stopped dead and watched the couple continue to argue. Then he called out to her. “Jane, are you all right?” They both looked at him, spoke a few more words to each other, then walked back toward the cottage. Garrett held her clothes loosely in his right hand. Bill walked over to him and grabbed the bundle. Garret held on tight.
“Her things.” Bill stared into Garrett’s eyes, almost testing him to do something about it. Garrett let go of the clothes and walked over to her.
“Are you okay?” he asked her. She looked unhappily at him and nodded, but said nothing. “Is this man your husband?” he asked, pointing to Bill. She nodded, yes. “Are you happy to go with him?” She seemed to think for a second, then nodded in the affirmative.
“I’m leaving now,” she said in a robotic tone. “Thanks for all your help. I’m sorry if I’ve been a burden.”
“No, you haven’t been a burden. I’m concerned.”
She cocked her head and gave him an inquisitive look. “Oh,” she said. Before he could say anything more, Bill took her arm and steered her toward the path leading to the dock. She turned and looked toward Garrett, a faint smile pulling up the corners of her mouth, then she turned away, her hair blowing the breeze. Jack followed dutifully behind, holding her clothes under his arm.
Garrett watched the strangers take her onto the small boat and push off from the dock. They made the rookie mistake of not starting the outboard until they were clear of shore, and the boat started to drift in the current. Bill pushed off a large rock while Jack yanked on the outboard starter rope. Garrett would have been amused, had the circumstance not been so unsettling. The engine finally cranked up in a fit of blue smoke and the boat roared off.
He stood at the top of the trail, watching until they were out of sight, then turned and walked back to the cottage.
Suddenly, he felt alone, and small, unsettled even. He looked up at the cottage, framed against the tumultuous cloud formations running across the sky, and he wished for his wife. She would have made the cottage a home. As he measured his loneliness against the promise off what could have been, he noticed something looked askew. The cottage profile was different. Then he realized the antenna for his CB radio wasn’t where it should be.
He walked to the side of the cottage and stood staring at the broken antenna. It was severely bent down in the middle, the tip touched the ground. There were no broken branches or any indication of what may have brought it down. He’d been through worse storms than the one last night, and the antenna had weathered well. Then he noticed marks on the side of the antenna. They were laid in black, and appeared to be finger prints made with tar. Upon further inspection, he realized the tar he’d laid down at the base of the antenna had been disturbed by someone’s hand and that hand had brought down his antenna. Garrett looked out at the bay to see if any boats loitered off shore, but saw none.
The violation of his equipment sent a jolt of anger through him. Jack, the round little man, had done this while he’d been in the house talking to the girl. How had he done it so quietly? He remembered seeing a bit of black on Jack’s shirt. Garret had thought it paint stains. Now he knew, the tar had come off the antenna and onto Jack’s hand. The proof was in front of him. On the ground near the antenna, in a tall patch of grass, he found a log and realized it was used to leverage the antenna back into a fold. He was flush with anger as he carried the log to the woodshed and dumped back it inside.
After retrieving a roll of scotch tape from the cottage, he stood by the antenna and pulled two pieces from the dispenser and sealed them together, making a wider strip. Pressing the tape onto the fingerprint, he carefully lifted it from the aluminum tube. Holding the tape up to the sky, he saw they were a good, clean set of prints. He placed two more strips of tape over the sticky fingerprint and sealed it tight. He tucked the tape into his wallet. Inspecting the wires running from the antenna to the cottage, he found a cut line. The wire was cut cleanly, probably with a sharp knife. Garrett began to worry about Jane.
Taking the ends of the wire in hand, he pulled out his pocket knife and carefully cut back the plastic casing surrounding the ends. Once clear of the lining, he twisted the wires back together in a kind of braid that he hoped would hold until he could pull a new wire. He decided to go into town and get a new aluminum pole for the antenna, and perhaps take a ride to the sheriff’s office to see about a missing girl and the two men. No doubt, Jack and Bill were not their real names, just as Rose was probably not her real name.
Looking back on what had happened in the last twenty-four-hours, he began to wonder how any of it could be believed. A beautiful girl shows up, wet, afraid, suffering from amnesia, cuddles with him in his bed. Two bad men come to fetch her, and damage his equipment when he’s not looking. It was crazy. But it was real. He had the proof. Perhaps, he’d take that to the sheriff’s office. He looked down at his boat tied to the dock and wondered if they had done anything to the engine.