If you follow the link, you can see the great review of my latest novel, Dreaming Wide Awake. The story of a slightly psychic PI who unravels a mystery involving the secret government Stargate Project, (a remote viewing program) and finds it leading to the trail of a possible serial killer.
I came upon the small man in a dream.
He squatted by a river teaming with fish. As he looked into the rippling waters, I asked him where he came from and he said, “It is a closed system. There was nothing before and something since. The idea was strong, intense and consuming. It took root in the soil of imaginings and grew by way of hopes and dreams, emotions, gradually taking form. This is the eye of man. It sees all in front of it, none behind and certainly not into tomorrow. It’s frightened by things it does not understand, is wary of new events, yet trudges on in hopes of finding sameness, a lack of pain, some joy, perhaps a feeling of enlightenment. Happiness even. It marvels at small acts of physical manipulation. It doesn’t know what’s best for it. And it dies, leaving behind that which it has created.”
“Do you mean to say I was born of an idea and am the eye of man?”
He looked at me with his white and tearing eyes, unable to make out my form and whispered, “Do you have a dime?”
I pushed him into the water and walked on.
(Warning sexual content, some violence, PG 13)
The headache started as soon as he lifted his head from the pillow. Pain behind his eyes. He turned on his back and sat up. He was alone. Sunrays cut through the room. Dust danced in the rays. His eyes felt the stab of his drink. He walked to the bathroom and relieved himself. In the kitchen he stuck his head under the well pump and soaked his head in the cold water until the back of his skull went numb. He grabbed a kitchen towel, then walked back into the bedroom. Both pillows on the bed were troughed. The covers on his side were ruffled and out of sorts, the other side was still tucked in. He walked into the kitchen and searched the floor to find evidence of blood, a struggle, fresh death, and found none. The table and chairs were still in place, the pots and pans, freshly scrubbed the night before were still stacked in the rinse tray by the sink.
He stood on the porch and scanned the yard. The woodpile appeared undisturbed. The wind was calm. The bay looked clear and smooth as glass. A lobster boat hovered near shore. The lobsterman pulled lines. Gulls circled and squawked above. He turned to go back inside, but stopped when he saw a splotch of red moving around the corner of the cottage. Her red jacket.
When he got to the garden, she was covering a spot with fresh dirt. She stood and wiped her hands on her jeans. Her face was white, with two patches of red on ether cheek.
“What are you doing?”
“Feeling better?” She said it without a hint of sarcasm, or real concern.
“There.” She pointed to the fresh dirt.
He frowned. “You buried him?”
She nodded, her mouth drawn, fighting grief, a tear forming in the corner of her eye.
“He’s dead and you buried him in my garden?”
“You told me to.”
She nodded, then went to him and pressed her face against his chest, holding him tight. He pushed her away, looked at the fresh grave, then turned and walked back toward the house. She followed close behind.
“What else could we do? You don’t want to go to jail.”
He turned on her, his teeth clenched, but couldn’t bring himself to look at her, that red face streaked with grave dirt, and tears. He walked quickly down the path toward the water. She followed close behind.
“We both know it was an accident, but they’d never believe us. You had sex with his wife. They’d see right through that. It’s first degree murder.”
He walked to the water’s edge and stood with his hands in his pockets, looking out at the bay. The lobster boat was moving off. He thought of his traps, and how yesterday his biggest concern was whether to pull the traps and now he was a murder. An adulterer killer.
“I did what had to be done. You know that,” she said.
He shook his head and stepped into the cold water.
“What are you doing?”
He took a few more steps, the freezing cold instantly numbing his legs, then he dove in head first. He swam straight out, away from the dock, his head coming up only to take a single breath. He swam until he saw a green lobster buoy and stopped and treaded water. His legs were numb, his arms stung from the cold. His throat was tight.
“Garrett!” She yelled, but he didn’t turn toward her.
She went to the dock, released the lines and pushed off as she jumped into his boat. Taking up an oar, she paddled out to him. He turned and watched her as the oar rang hollow against the side of the fiberglass hull. When she got close, she tossed him a life vest. “You need to come back. I need your help. Please. What are you doing?”
He took hold of the vest and placed it under his chin, his teeth chattering. He said nothing and didn’t look up at her, as he turned toward shore and kicked.
She picked up the oar and started to paddle back to the dock.
He crawled up onto the rocky beach and collapsed.
She tied the boat and stood on the dock, just above where he lay. His feet were still dangling in the frigid water.
“You’re going to get hypothermia. Get up.”
He lifted his head toward her and coughed. His eyes stung and his head pounded. His fingers didn’t work anymore. When he got to his feet, he fell toward the house, but caught himself before his knees collapsed completely. Each step was a controlled fall forward, up the hill, stumbling as he went. His knees finally buckled when he reached the porch steps. He turned and sat, watching her, as she came toward him.
“It’s our secret,” she said. “I’ll protect you and you’ll protect me. We both know what really happened. It was an accident.”
He squinted at this stranger, this pariah who’d come into his life and said, “I don’t know you.”
“You didn’t mean to do it. You were trying to protect me.”
He looked doubtfully at her, water dripping from his hair down onto his face and neck, his skin red and stinging from the cold.
“He beat me. You saw what he did. The bruises.”
He got to his feet and walked slowly into the cottage. The almost empty whiskey bottle was still on the counter near the sink. Pulling it up to his mouth, he slowly let the liquid fall down his throat. It burned him and he embraced the cool sting.
“Stop it. You’ll be sick,” she said.
He looked past her, and went to the bedroom closet. On the top shelf, behind extra blankets, he found a full bottle of whiskey and broke open the seal and took a long slug. She reached for the bottle, but he held it high above his head. She was a blur, a figment of his imagination. A pest, a demon buzzing him like a wasp.
After a few minutes, she gave up, and sat on the bed and watched him as he took another gulp.
“You’re killing yourself.”
He staggered into the kitchen. She followed close behind.
“I can cook eggs. You want scrambled or over easy?” she asked.
He gathered kindling and tossed it into the fireplace, then stuffed it with old newspapers. After tossing in a lit match, and watching it catch, he sat back on the sofa and stared at the flames. It melted into an unfocused, orange glow. There, he saw his daughter, his wife helping her walk for the first time. His little girl was full of energy and laughter. The fire warmed his skin, and he felt his beautiful wife wrap her arms around him, his little girl by her side. What were they worth, their lives? Two and a half million dollars, according to the airline and the lawyers. Two and a half million pieces of paper he could burn just as easily as those twigs. And it would be gone. Transformed into so much smoke and ash, just as they had been.
Rose banged around in the kitchen, and it drew his thoughts away. He felt the horror of the killing rip through him like a knife running into his chest. He took another long swig of whiskey. He wasn’t coming back from this one, he knew. He was lost, and that would be that. He’d die alone. Fall into a thorny bush and let the birds peck at him, until they found his bones, aged and bleached by the sun. There’d be no funeral. No mourners. He’d estranged himself from the world and now he was absolutely alone. The way he wanted it. Left alone on his island. Floating in a bottle of whiskey.
“Eggs are ready. Coffee. Toast. Come eat.”
She knelt at his feet and placed her hands on his thighs. He looked at her through the haze of grief but saw nothing. “You’re tired. Come and eat. You’ll feel better.”
He looked past her to the flames.
She got up and returned with a hot cup of coffee with cream and sugar, even though she didn’t know how he took it, and gently placed the warm mug in his hand. The heat of the cup felt good and he drank a few sips, then got up.
He went to the bedroom and stripped off his wet clothes and put on clean sweats and went to the kitchen table and sat down.
They ate. He felt his blood warm. “What about his boat,” he said, looking down at his half-eaten breakfast.
She smiled reassuringly at him and he thought her a silly girl. He could read her phony concern a mile away.
“I found it near the path to the hill, near some rocks. It’s a small skiff. He’d pulled it almost out of the water. I covered it with branches.”
He sneered at her. “You covered it…”
“I cut bushes.”
“What do you know about covering things?”
“What do you mean?”
“Branches die and turn brown, don’t last long. We need a better way to hide it.”
“Why don’t we sell the boat at the marina?”
He stared at her, the stupid look on her face made him grind his teeth. “Yes.” He nodded, knowing it was a dumb idea, but he didn’t care. They’d figure it out and come to take him away, but they’d find him dead. “You should go do that,” he said.
“I don’t have any -”
“Go to your sisters. The police will be here soon.”
“No, they won’t. Why would they?”
“Jack will tell them.”
“He doesn’t know anything.”
“That doesn’t matter. He knows what happened the first time they found you here.”
Her eyes hardened into a cold stare, a look he’d never seen from her. “I’m not going alone.”
He sat back in the chair. She went around his back and placed her hands on his shoulders and rubbed them. He didn’t trust her, but didn’t really care, either, and half hoped she’d slit his throat. She gently rubbed his neck and scalp. He closed his eyes and let her do what she wanted. She kissed his ear, then his cheeks, his lips. She rubbed his chest and kissed his throat and chin, then looked into his eyes. “I liked it when you were inside me. You stared into my eyes, and I liked that more than anything.” They kissed deeply. “Look at my eyes, Garrett.”
She led him into the bedroom and slowly removed his shirt, then his sweats, letting them slid to the floor. He stood naked in front of the bed and she ran her fingers down his legs and across his chest, then she held his hips. After a few minutes, she let him go and he slid back, onto the bed. She let her clothes fall to the floor and climbed on top of him. “I want you,” she said. “I want you to look at me and like you did before.” She moved slowly up and down, grinding herself onto him. “Look into my eyes.” He stared into her bluish-white eyes. After a few minutes, he flipped her onto her back, and felt himself melt into her. They moved in unison, breathing deeply together, sweat drenching their bodies. When his climax came, he closed his eyes and moaned, but his wife’s face popped into his head and he opened his eyes and rolled off of her. He crawled to the other side of the bed and stared at the wall, eventually slipping into a deep sleep.
He gasped when he opened his eyes. Covering him, a hazy shroud of light, a sheet backlit by the sun in front of his eyes. He coughed and cleared his throat, rubbed his neck. He’d dreamed he was drowning in mud. It was dark, and he was caught in a storm. He was trying to see if the girl was lost, in his boat perhaps, caught in a violent storm, when he fell off a cliff banking and slid down toward the raging ocean. He gained footing somehow, but when he tried to crawl back up, the water and mud kept pushing at him, a torrent of rain making him lose his grip, his feet slipping. When he looked back up, the mud troughed into his mouth, and he couldn’t breathe. The water and the filth filled his mouth and spouted from his nose like a fountain. He felt himself losing consciousness. His chest was about to explode, his throat was growing like a croaking toad, and he couldn’t hold it back any longer and finally took a deep breath in. That was when he was sure he’d died, and saw the bright light and that’s when his eyes popped open and he’d woken up. He couldn’t see clearly for a few minutes, it was just the bright light. Then the window came into focus. And when the blurriness had gone completely, he saw her standing by his desk. She was fully dressed and wore her red jacket. She leaned back and he heard the draw snap shut.
“Good morning.” She moved to the foot of the bed and smiled at him. He turned and followed her with his eyes, waiting to see what she was going to do. She crawled onto the bed and straddled him, her knees on either side.
He let her hover there, watching her eyes wonder around his face, like she was seeing him for the first time. She pulled the covers down and gently rubbed his stomach. He didn’t care. He was dead. He’d died in his dream and wasn’t sure he’d come back. She ran her fingers down his leg and between his legs. He felt nothing. She was just a girl. A girl on a dead man. The spell was broken. A tsunami of guilt and rage had stripped the illusion to its bare essentials. She was a human being. A girl with strange eyes. What did she want? Why couldn’t he feel anything?
“I can make breakfast,” she said, and jumped out of bed with the enthusiasm of a child.
He lay quietly on his side, staring out the window. The sky was light blue with wispy clouds. That meant more wind. The boat would rock and his fingers would freeze when he pulled his pots.
“I want to go into town,” she said, from the kitchen. He heard pans clanking together, water running, the kettle whistling. “I need a few things. Some clothes.”
What was she thinking? She buried her husband and now she wants new clothes? Of course, to get rid of any evidence. She should burn her clothes. Wipe away any blood in the cabin with bleach.
Or he could go to the sheriff, tell them it was accident. First, he could dig up the body, clean it up. They’d never know she’d buried it. That would look bad, them burying the body. The cool earth would keep it fresh, though. That was a good thing. They wouldn’t be able to determine the time of death. They’d see the bruises on the neck. Perhaps his larynx was broken. How could he explain that? Perhaps he’d push him out into the bay, let his lungs fill with water. Or he could push water down into his lungs, force fluid down there. That would make it look like drowning.
“Go. Take the truck, the boat. I’m staying here.” She poked her head in through the doorway, her eyebrows raised, like a kid being told about a birthday present. He said, “Well, you don’t have to get so excited about it. I told you you’re free to go. Take my shit, I don’t care anymore.”
She thought for a minute, her eyes locked onto the ceiling, like she’d seen a small bug and was trying to figure if it was a spider or a fly. “You still have Bill’s boat. If you need it, I mean. It runs really well. And fast. It’s a good little boat.”
“Thoughtful of you,” he said, thinking it was a sarcastic remark, but he didn’t care enough to make it sound that way.
She stood staring at him. “You should get up.”
He forced himself to sit up. His head throbbed, his eyes stung, his stomach was on fire. He needed a shower and a shave, his hair was all over the place. “I’ll take a shower. Leave what you cook for me on the table.”
“Oaky,” she said.
He went into the bathroom and threw-up in the toilet. He grabbed a drink of water from the bottle he kept by the sink for brushing his teeth, and turned to the shower. The water was cold, very cold and he hated it. He rinsed as best he could, lathered up and repeated the rinse. He was still chilled from yesterday and felt his skull would split from the cold water.
By the time he was dried and dressed, she was gone. She’d left some coffee, scrambled eggs and toast. All cold, but well season. The coffee was still warm. He ate quickly, thinking about moving the body. He hated to see it, but had to make sure it was really there. He pictured the face, cold, pale, wet maybe, dirt filling the hollows of the eyes. They’d be closed. No, open. The dirt in his eyes. That made him squirm. Would he be bloated? It had only been a few hours, or had it been longer? At least twelve hours, he figured. Long enough to putrefy. Another reason to put the body in the water. Maybe the sharks would take it? He’d let it sink into the deep, they’d rip it apart. He pictured the deadly fight with Bill, felt his hands on his neck, the warmth of it, the blood running through the veins beneath his fingers. Had he really choked out another person?
He found the whiskey bottle on the floor of the bedroom, half empty. He took a long swig, wiped his mouth and took another mouthful, then capped the bottle and tossed it onto the bed, then thought better of it and placed it on the bedside table. He didn’t want any leaking from the cap.
He stood on the porch and looked down at the bay. His boat was gone. The land birds sang and the gulls squawked over the water, fighting over every crumb of some ripped-up dead thing. Just as he anticipated, it was windy and the cold made him tense. He went back inside and got a warmer coat, then stopped to look at the whiskey bottle sitting in the sun on the bedside table. He wanted to drink, but told himself to wait. He should have told her to get more. But really, he just wished she’d never come back.
He went around to the back shed and got the long shovel and the wheel barrow. He’d wanted to plant a garden, grow sunflowers, maybe. Those were his wife’s favorites. Large yellow sunflowers, brown in the center.
Around the back of the cottage, he found the soft spot where the dirt was freshly turned over.
He couldn’t help but check the broken antenna. It was in sight, bent down, the wires hanging loose. He’d fix that right after he got the body dug up. He leaned on the shovel and looked at the loose dirt. How had she dragged that heavy body out and buried it all by herself?
To Be Continued…
(Warning sexual content R rated, I think)
She made a fire while he put away the groceries. She knelt in front of the hearth and he watched her out of the corner of his eye, pleased she was with him.
“How about sautéed chicken and pasta?” he asked.
She nodded. “That sounds good.”
“I bought crusty bread.” He held up the uncut loaf, but she’d turned toward the fire.
The icy wind, when it gusted, could be felt coming in under the door. “I’ll have to put the storm door on tomorrow,” he said, pouring a small amount of olive oil in the large black skillet.
She stood looking at the flames as they grew higher, the tips lapping the top of the fireplace lintel. Her outline reflected golden in the light from the fireplace.
“You’re using too much kindling,” he said. “We don’t want flames shooting up that chimney, it’s old, needs to be cleaned.”
She took an iron poker from the set and knocked down some of the kindling. The flames receded, but burning sticks fell onto the floor in front of the sofa. Garret ran over and kicked them back into the fireplace. Rose stood back, her eyes wide as she stared at the flames. He took the poker from her and smiled. “It’s something you get used to. How much kindling to use.”
She walked into the bedroom and closed the door. Garret lit the gas burner under the pan and when the pan was hot, he laid the chicken breasts side by side, and sprinkled them with salt and pepper.
After a few minutes, he left the stove to peer into the bedroom. She lay on her side, covered by blankets. Her clothes were in a pile at the foot of the bed. The floor creaked where he stood and she turned. Her eyes were sleepy. She smiled and waved him over. Smoke began to come from the pan and he ran over and pulled it off the hot burner. He placed a cover over the partially cooked chicken and turned back to the bedroom.
There was a slight chill in the bedroom. He sat next to her on the bed and ran his hand over the covers, down her side and hips, to her legs. She lay with her head resting on her right arm, her eyes barely open.
“Do you want-” he started to say, but she put a finger to his lips. She pulled the covers back. Her naked body dimly lit from the window. She placed his hand on her breast. Her skin was cool and dry. He removed his clothing, letting his pants drop where he stood, and flung them aside. He sat next to her and kissed her side, her hip, her breasts, then turned her onto her back. He climbed into the bed and slid on top of her. She received him as he had hoped, warmly, lovingly, without words. He grabbed the covers and pulled them over his back.
“I want-” he started to say, but again, she held her finger to his mouth. He gently kissed it. She rubbed her finger on his lips, feeling the gentle undulation of his philtrum. She drew her finger across his cheeks, and pulled him close as she stared into his eyes. She brought her lips up to meet his and they kissed for a long time. Her mouth was small and warm, her lips full. He could feel her lips move and press into him as they kissed. She was passionate and strong, growing more aggressive. He locked his eyes onto her blue-white irises and pressed himself into her.
She gasped as she fully received him, then closed her eyes and kissed his neck. He gently turned her head to face him. They moved in rhythm, their hips together, in a slow dance. They were lost to time, but floated above, locked in a moment of total joy. When they felt, as one, the orgasm coming, he said, “Look at me.” She opened her eyes and they stared at each other as he released. When they were finished, he kissed her on the lips, and they lay in each other’s arms, their bodies glistening with sweat. They listened to the wind rustling through the trees and shrubs outside, cleansing the air, cooling the earth.
At first he thought the banging on the porch was a tree branch blown in on the wind, but he quickly realized it was footsteps. A man’s footfalls rang hollow on the porch. He sat up. More banging. Garrett got dressed, and stood in the bedroom doorway, trying to see out through the windows. It was still light outside, although the cottage was in the shadow of the pine trees, and cloud cover obscured the sun. The man leaned in and looked through the window. Garrett walked to the front door and waited. A loud knock came. He opened the door and stood looking at Bill.
“You have my wife?”
“I don’t know, do I?”
“Is she your wife?”
“Let me see her.”
“She doesn’t want to see you.”
“That’s not for you to say.”
“And yet, I said it.”
Bill tried to push past Garrett, but couldn’t move him. They grabbed each other’s shirts and as they struggled, stumbled into the kitchen. Rose stood in the bedroom doorway, staring at them. When they finally let go of each other, Bill turned to her. “Come on. We’re going home.”
She turned and walked into the bedroom. He tried to follow, but Garrett wrapped an arm around his neck. They fell back against the stove, pots and pans slamming onto the floor. In a headlock, Bill screamed for Rose, but Garrett held him tighter. Bill kicked the sink and pushed back, knocking them both into the table. Garett hurt his back, but didn’t let go. He tightened his arms. Bill thrashed back and forth, but couldn’t get free. Garrett held on until the man fell silent. Garrett fell on top of him, his hands squeezing his neck, his weight pressed on him.
Rose came out of the bedroom and stood silently watching. After a few minutes, she said, “Let him up.”
Garrett looked up at her and then down at the man he was still choking. His hands fell away. The man beneath him held no breath, showed no evidence of life. His chest was still. Garrett got to his feet and staggered to the sink. He pumped water and put his head under the spout. Rose knelt at Bill’s side and shook him. “Bill. Wake up.” She rubbed his hands, then felt for a pulse, but there was none. “You’ve killed him.”
Garrett pushed the wet hair from his eyes and shook his head. “No. He’s all right.”
“No, look at him. He’s not breathing.”
Garrett knelt down and felt for a pulse on Bill’s neck, but couldn’t find any. He sat back on his heels.
“Do something,” she said.
“What do you want me to do?”
Garrett got to his feet and walked to the door and opened it. He took several deep breaths of the cold air, then turned to her. “He can’t be dead. I didn’t do anything.”
She pressed on Bill’s chest, but he was a dead lump. Nothing moved. He was stone. She stood up and ran into the bedroom.
“Don’t leave him. Do something.”
She came into the kitchen holding a pillow and placed it under Bills neck, “You killed him!”
Garrett dripped water on the corpse. The dead man’s lips were blue, his face speckled with red. He got down on his knees and pressed the man’s chest. He pressed hard, trying to bring him back. He punched his chest and forced opened his mouth and blew into him, but didn’t really know what he was doing.
After a few minutes, he gave up trying to resuscitate him, walked to the fireplace and, somehow, he didn’t remember how, the whiskey bottle came down from the mantle and was in his hands. He drank a quarter of the bottle before he lifted his lips away. He took a long, slow breath, the sting of the alcohol making it difficult to take in air. He sat on the sofa and stared at the dwindling fire. When he looked up again, she was standing above him, her strange eyes glaring in the dull light. “We have to do something.”
Garrett shook his head and took another long swig of the whiskey.
“No? Are you saying no, you won’t do anything?”
“What do you want me to do?”
“We have to get rid of him.”
He got to his feet and faced her. “What should I do, huh? You want me to throw him in the current, let it take him out to sea? Because that just brought you here, didn’t it?”
“No.” She put her hands on his cheeks, and squared her stare at him, trying to think. “We can bury him.”
He stood and pushed her away. “I’ll call the Sherriff. Turn myself in.”
“Garrett, no. You can’t. They’ll put you away.”
“It was an accident. They can figure that out.”
“You think they’ll buy that? You fucked his wife, then you strangled him dead.”
Garrett stared into the fire, and took another long pull on the bottle. “So, you are his wife?”
She glared at him for a second, then said, “Okay, I’ll do it. I’ll take care of him.”
She walked over to Bill’s corpse and tried to lift it. She grabbed him under the arms and dragged him halfway to the door, when Garrett cleared his throat and coughed. She turned to him.
“Where’s what’s his face, Jack?” he asked.
“I don’t know. He’s not here.”
“How do you know? He came with him last time. He’s his brother, isn’t he? And he knows about us.”
“It doesn’t matter. He’s not here. We never saw Bill, that’s all. That’s how it ends.”
“What about his boat? He had to have brought a boat.”
“We’ll sink it.”
“When we went to town, there were people that saw us together.”
“They don’t know who I am.”
Garrett went to the porch window and stared down at the dock, instinctively checking the tide level, to see how much of the cove at the dock was visible. It was mid-tide. The beach would be four more feet visible in a few hours. How far out could he sink the body without worrying where it may come up? Should he use rocks? An old anchor would be better. Gathering the information he had at hand, what his life had come to, adding it all up, he any way he looked at it, he held a losing hand. “You can tell them we didn’t have sex. They won’t check your body.” His arguments rang hollow. The inevitable truth of his downward spiral hit him, like a spider web he’d snagged on the trail. Invisible. Sticky. He’d never seen it coming.
“I don’t think he’s dead,” he said.
He walked over to Bill and took him under the arms and dragged him into the bedroom. He lifted him off the floor and onto the bed. He rolled the body into place and sat next to it, breathing heavy from the exertion. He took Bill’s arm and held it, feeling for a pulse. After a few minutes, Garrett laid down next to Bill and stared at the ceiling. The light was fading fast and the room was darker. Rose stood at the foot of the bed.
“We can bury him,” she said.
“The soil is too rocky.”
“We can take him out to the yard. Bury him under the woodpile.”
“I didn’t squeeze him that hard.”
“Whatever you did, he’s dead. Where is there a place with no rocks?”
He continued to stare at the ceiling, talking as if to himself, now. “I started a garden a while back. Behind the woodshed. I never planted anything. I wanted to grow sunflowers. The rocks have been cleared.”
“Good. We can bury him there.”
“He’s not dead.”
“Yes, he is. I checked.”
“No, there’s a faint pulse. He’ll be okay in a while.”
She took Bills wrist and felt for the artery. After a few minutes she let it drop. “There’s no pulse.”
“I felt it.” He looked at Rose, who stood at the side of the bed now, a stern look on her face. Or was it resolve?
“Go. Get out of here. I need to sleep.”
“You’re not going to sleep next to Bill, that way. How much did you have to drink?”
“I doesn’t matter. When Bill wakes up, we’ll feed him and send him on his way.” Garrett closed. He could feel her staring at him. He popped his eyes open and said, “You can go with him, too.” He closed his eyes until he heard Rose leave, then he opened them again and stared at the ceiling. He didn’t move for a very long time, just watched the shadows moving on the ceiling, then eventually he closed his eyes and fell asleep.
After a few minutes of staring at the bathroom door, the cracked and faded white paint ignited memories of summer nights spent with his wife in a similar cabin, on a similar island not quite two miles from where he lay. His wife’s soft features backlight from the window, her gentle smile, her delicate hands and long fingers as they found his. The familiar sensation of mounting sexual anticipation caused him to harden.
He heard water trickling onto the shower stall and it brought him back to the present. After a few minutes he hollow ring of the metal enclosure softened and he knew she stepped under the spout.
Her teasing had ignited strong desire, it ran through him like a thirst. But it wasn’t a desire for sex as much as a desire to travel back to a better time. It had been years since he’d been sober when making love to a woman, and now, in the next room, as she stood naked under that dribbling stream, as he imagined her skin glistening with foamy soap, it was all he could do to keep from going to her, ripping the plastic shower curtain aside, and taking her. Then he wished it was his wife standing under that stream, and shame came upon him. She was a stranger.
He lay down on the bed and closed his eyes. Grief shrouded his heart and today. The desire for love thrust him back into loneliness. It ran through him like a current. Beaten down by memories that bit at him, he closed his eyes and felt the embrace of his wife. Her body warm and soft in his hands. The soft smell of her perfumed skin, familiar and perfect in his memory.
A bang against the shower stall caused him to open his eyes and stare at the wall in front of him. He could call the police, have them come to the island, but for what? She hadn’t broken any laws, and it was her word against her husband’s any abuse had taken place. He’d observed no bruises on her, except on her head. She could have hit that on anything. She was well-developed, no sign of an eating disorder or malnutrition. She appeared perfectly normal in most ways, except one. And that abnormal part, the compulsion to come back to his island and present herself to him, not only made him wary, but enlivened him, jolted his nerves and he feared the entanglements she might bring. Why should he get between a man and his wife? It didn’t matter if he beat her or not. Didn’t it take two to ruin a marriage? But he knew that was wrong. It only took one. The abuser.
The scar just above his left hip ached, and he moved onto his back. It had taken fifteen stitches to close the semi-circle of wounds, when he’d woken up from a blackout. It was in the alley behind a dive bar on 57th street, early last year. He bled in the cab on the way to the hospital. The driver kept looking in the rearview, his eyes wide, trying to see if that was actually blood, and swearing loudly about the clean-up he’d have to do.
The doctor at the hospital didn’t really care how it happened, but he had to ask anyway. Garrett didn’t remember, the truth at the time. Later, as he sat in bed, as the lidocaine wore off and his wound began to ache, he remembered the bet he’d made, with a drinking buddy, that he could pull his pants down and run across the alley, touch his hip on a lamp post and make it back to the bar in under ten seconds. He smiled as he remembered the look of surprise on his friends face when he’d actually pulled his pants down around his ankles and ran across the alley, his penis flapping, legs stretched far as possible, hindered by the pants. Then he remembered the fall and the sting of broken glass as it pierced his side. He thought it was funny until the pain set in and blood began to soak his shirt. When he looked up from his fall, still sitting in the alleyway, the small crowd that had gathered to watch the fool do his trick were gone. He was alone, pieces of glass from a smashed bottle of schnapps embedded in his side.
Now, as he lay waiting for his uninvited guest to exit the shower, it seemed ten years since that incident, instead of ten months, and he realized how closely he still teetered on that line he dared not cross. The booze would end him the next time he fell, of that, he was sure. If he started drinking again, especially here on the island, the one place he felt safe and himself, he didn’t think he could stop.
The door to the bathroom opened, and she stood naked in front of him. He stared at her breasts, white-lined at the top where her bathing suit ended, then her dark nipples, slightly erect in the coolness of the room, at her stomach, flat and smooth, the skin darker then he’d expected, the small bellybutton, slightly protruding outward, and just below that, he followed the line of her inner hip through the tan lines there, down to her dark, neatly trimmed pubis. She smiled slightly and walked toward him. He sat still, his hands by his side, as she moved to him and stood close, her breast near his mouth. He pulled her close, sliding his face across her breast, his hands moving around, down to her hips. He held her there for a moment, his mouth on her tummy, breathing in her fresh scent, then turned his head away. “No,” he said, and pushed her back. She took a step away, looking him in the eyes, her expression openly confused for a moment before going blank. He turned his back to her and stared out the window. The yard was quiet. The breeze moved the tall grass. A chipmunk moved along the woodpile and disappeared in a crevasse of wood. Rose sat next to him and dried her hair with a towel.
“Put something on,” he said.
She silently got up and slipped into her clothes. He ached to touch her, could feel the want, like a sucking monster inside. It took hold of him and he thought for a moment he would go to her, but he let the monster stir, but die of neglect. His eyes never left the window. Thin clouds moved slowly toward the West.
Now fully dressed, she walked to the door and stopped to look at him. He felt her stare and looked up. She smiled, then walked out the door, leaving it slightly open. He sat in the room for a long time watching the clouds, the bushes angered by the wind. When finally he got up, the sun was almost directly overhead. He’d been sitting for longer then he knew. He stood in the doorway and watched her as she shuffled cards at the kitchen table.
“Why did you come back?”
“I didn’t come back. I escaped him and this is where I ended up.”
“I can’t have it.”
She held the few remaining cards in her hand and looked at him, her eyes pleading. “He beats me.”
“Beside the point.”
“He’ll kill me.”
“Where are the marks?”
She threw down the cards and pulled the hair apart on the left side of her head. Just above her ear, the scalp was red. A curved welt revealed through her spread fingers.
“He did that?”
“His belt buckle.” She stared defiantly at him. Tears filled her eyes, but she wiped them with the back her hand and dealt the cards. When all the cards lay in a pile on the table, he sat down across from her. He sorted his cards until they were in a neat stack, then he threw down the king of spades from the top. She threw down the ace of diamonds and smiled. “You owe me a truthful thing about yourself.”
He nodded at her, staring into her strange light-blue eyes. “Go ahead, ask.”
She offered a slight smile. “How did you like it when I touched you?”
“You never touched me.”
“You wanted me to.”
“Did you want to?”
“Not really,” she said, looking demurely down at her hand. She shuffled the cards again.
The wind picked up and something hit the side of the cottage. He went to the windows and looked out, following the trail with his eyes down to the dock. The bushes and trees swayed in the strong gusts. White caps dotted the bay. “The wind has shifted.”
He’d leave his traps for another day. He turned to her. She sat with her back to him, looking at her cards. “I was going to go into town to buy some supplies. You can come, tell your story to the sheriff.”
She scoffed. “Why don’t I just hang myself?”
“Well, why the hell did you go with them, then?”
“They’d blame you. I didn’t want you to get hurt.”
“Maybe. But, you can’t stay here. Don’t tell the sheriff, it’s up to you, but I can’t help you.”
“Did I ask for your help?”
“Don’t be an idiot.”
She stood and threw the cards onto the table. The wind hit the cottage again. A loose windowpane trembled. After a few seconds she said, “I’ll go to town, but I’m not talking to the cops.”
“Fine.” He reached for the list off the table, but she snatched it up and began reading.
“Why an aluminum pole?” she asked.
“Ask your friend, Jack.”
“He’s Bill’s friend, not mine.”
“I thought they were brothers.”
“What does Jack have to do with the pole?”
“He tore down my antenna.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because it’s broken and he’s the only one who could have done it.”
He reached for his coat hanging by the door, then went to the back shed and got another jacket for her. She put on the blue windbreaker. It fit loosely around her frame and made her look small, fragile even.
He walked quickly, deliberately fast, like he was trying to get away from her. She followed him down the path leading to the boat, He held the small craft steady as she got in. Once settled, the wind blowing their faces red, their hair waving in the wild breeze, he pulled the starter and the engine coughed, then started, blowing blue smoke into the air. He reversed the boat, the waves slapping the stern, water spaying them. Finally, he thrust it into forward and they were off.
“How do you know which way to go?” she asked.
“I follow the path in the water, he said. ” She turned and smiled at him. He smiled back. “Can’t you see it?”
She turned back, and looked straight ahead, her face in the freezing wind, and said nothing else.
The small whitecaps rocked the boat and she held on, her hands gripping both gunwales, as water spray dampened her wind-tossed hair. She sat rigid, like a dog in the wind, he thought, staring straight ahead, never daring to move or look around.
When they reached the harbor and tied up at the public dock, he saw her hands were stiff and her face was cherry red. She rubbed her hands together and flexed her fingers. As they walked to his truck, he looked around for men who might be waiting for them, but saw no one of consequence. The small shack in the parking lot was dark. The man overseeing the operation was sitting with his legs up on the porch rail drinking coffee and chatting with another man, with whom Garrett was vaguely familiar. He waved to them and continued walking to his truck, the girl close behind.
They said nothing as he drove them into town, his old pick-up comfortable, if not a bit rocky. “You need new shocks,” she said. He grunted and kept driving without saying anything. They stopped in front of the Sheriff’s office. The girl looked straight ahead, as if they were waiting at a light. After a few minutes, he turned to her. “Do you want to go in?”
He put the truck in gear and they headed to the hardware store.
After loading the truck with the new aluminum tubing and cable and other supplies, they headed for the grocery store. In the check-out line, as he was paying for their supplies, a tall man with dark hair walked into the store. He stood at the door, near the checkout and waved to Garrett. When the six bags were loaded into the cart, Garrett stopped next to Jim. “Jim, how are you?”
“Got a day off, been busy otherwise. Who’s your friend?”
Garrett turned to Rose, who partially hid behind him. “This is Rose. She’s my wife’s cousin, from Boston.”
Rose nodded at Jim. He reached to shake her hand, and his gun became visible under his jacket, on his belt. Garrett saw her bristle at the weapon and said, “Jim’s a Deputy Sherriff.”
“Off duty. Right now, I’m just a guy getting food for the family.”
After a few minutes of small talk, Garrett said, “Well, good to see you, Jim.”
They nodded at each other and Garrett and Rose walked back to the truck. She slammed the door closed as she got in. Garrett loaded the back with the bags and closed the tailgate and got in on the driver’s side and turned the key. “We can get lunch over there if you want.” He pointed to the Woodbine Café, a place he frequented on trips to the mainland. She looked straight ahead and said nothing.
He turned to her and she looked at him for the first time. He saw fear and hate in her eyes, and he knew she was going to accuse him of setting up the chance meeting with the Deputy in the store. “I didn’t know he’d be there,” he said, wanting to cut her off before she said anything. “Besides, you’re on the mainland, you need to go. Find your family and stay there, they can help you.”
“What do you know about my family?”
“Look, I told you before-”
She got out, slammed the door shut and walked down the sidewalk to the street corner. She stood under the Woodbine sign, and bummed a cigarette from a young man as he passed by. They talked as he lit her cigarette. She seemed flirty, like she’d go anywhere with him and Garrett didn’t like what he was seeing. He shut off the truck and walked over to them. Rose turned away as he approached. He touched her shoulder. “Let’s get going, Rose.”
She looked at him, while closing one eye and taking a deep drag of the cigarette. The young man felt the possessive vibe from Garrett and silently turned and walked into the Woodbine.
“What are you doing?” he asked.
“Nothing. I’m not doing anything.”
“Get in the truck.”
“Yes, just get in.”
She tossed the cigarette and he placed his hand on her arm as they walked back to the truck. They sat silently, the engine idling. She turned on the radio. A rock tune blared from the speakers. She turned it up. Garett leaned in and shut it off. “I don’t know what your game is, but latching onto the first person you see isn’t a healthy thing to do.”
They let the irony of that statement sink in, then he added, “You lucked-out with me. I only want to help you. But others, they’ll hurt you, use you…” he involuntarily looked at her body and she got the message. She sent a message back. She knew the power she held over men. It was obvious.
They sat in silence for a while and when he took a breath to say something else she said, “He’s not my husband.”
“We’re not married. Only in his head. He’s got a fantasy that he’s married to me because he said so. But we’re not married.”
“I just want to make that clear. He has no hold on me.”
“He shouldn’t hurt you, either way.”
They sat staring out the front windshield. He wasn’t sure what to do, drop her off somewhere or take her back to the island. A cold front was moving in. The clouds were high and thready. People dressed in fall clothing walked the sidewalks, cars stopped and started, smoke rose from tailpipes. He couldn’t think of what else to say that wouldn’t spoil things, in his mind. He wanted her, and he knew he could have her. All he had to do was listen to what she was saying. Desire flamed up in him and he glanced at her knee. She wore jeans, but he they were thin. He wanted to touch that knee, slide his hand up to her thigh, feel the soft flesh there. These thoughts surprised him. He knew it was wrong. The whole thing was wrong. It was like she was a gift. One that could make him feel so much better, fill his emptiness, but he didn’t trust any of it.
“I really don’t know what I’m going to do,” she said. After a few minutes she added, “My sister lives in Portland, but she’s gone away with her husband for a week. They went to Florida on vacation. Guess I’ll go there when she’s back.” She turned to him and he saw her hopefulness. “Otherwise, I have nowhere else to go.” She touched his thigh, and smiled. “Besides, I can help you chop wood.”
She adjusted closer to him, and he could feel the heat of her. For a few moments, his crushing loneliness was replaced by her warmth.
“Let’s just go,” she said.
He nodded and put the truck in gear.
The soft touch of her hand caressed the back of my neck as I sat upon the bed in the dim light of the evening lamp, a cool breeze coming from the open window, the street noises occasionally echoing in the halls of my room, the dull low rumble of the city layered below. Shivers ran down my spine and the hairs on the back of my head stood up. It was a perfect spring evening with the scent of cross pollination in the air. Budding trees held new shiny leaves just outside the window. She leaned into my naked back and her warmth met mine in perfect contour. She melted into me. I felt the dread of loneliness then. The emptiness of being one, alone, not sharing, no one to care what happens in my world but myself, and sometimes even I don’t care, capitulation being a long tradition running through my life. Scattered pictures of her embrace echoed in the darkness of my dream.
It was mid-tide. The wind was calm and the sky was clearing. Some high thin clouds drifted slowly across the horizon. The nearby island, Crafts Peak, was clearly visible, about two miles directly off shore. He stood on the dock and surveyed his boat. It looked unmolested. He climbed down into the vessel, prepped the engine and it started right away. After letting it idle a few seconds, he killed it and sat back against the seat, closing his eyes. The gentle sway of the boat, the warmth of the sun and the gentle breeze, soothed him. The rhythmic slapping of the water against the dock brought him a sense of peace and calm.
Going to the sheriff didn’t hold the same appeal as before. Did he really want to involve himself with this strange girl? Any problems they had was between her and her husband, if he really is her husband. And what of Jack, hovering around them like a fly. Had he really damaged the antenna? The best thing would be to steer clear. He knew she was agitated the first time he’d laid eyes on her, knew she was trouble, snuggling up against him in bed, daring him to make a move on her, it was transparent. She could have accused him of molestation or rape. What’s to stop her from claiming that now? She could be telling her husband lies about him and it would be her word against his. He leaned over the side of the boat and saw a crab scurry into the shadows beneath the dock. It was a reminder to check his traps and reset bait. But first, he’d check the radio.
The hissing static was louder than before. No signals strong enough to dial in, they just weren’t reaching the receiver. He shut off the radio, and walked into the kitchen. He sat at the table and started writing a list of supplies he needed from town. A trip to the mainland took half a day or longer, and he going. The longer he stayed on the island, alone with his thoughts and memories, the more he resented the outside world. Stepping off his boat onto the public dock, going from quiet simplicity to the chaos meant he left himself open to be affected by others. Their lives intersecting with his, no matter how small the consequence, he hated that they could impact him in some way. On the island there was no one to affect him at all. He wasn’t held up in traffic, cut off by someone late for work, didn’t have to stand in line in the stores. He didn’t miss cars, traffic, people, or the internet. The first few weeks on the island, he craved news from the outside world. Along with booze, he missed the internet, using a cell phone, and listening to the nightly news. He craved media interaction, much like a wino craved wine, and came to realize he had an addiction to social media. Now, he saw it as massive waste of time and energy. Another form of impulse control, an overload of information he didn’t need or want or want to need. It was a waste of his time. If he wasn’t pulling traps. Making a fire, cooking, or working with wood, what was he doing? Nothing. He’d been conditioned to the relentless blathering of a tumultuous society. He looked up from his notebook and stared at the bottle of bourbon in the middle of the table. The rich amber color appeared darker in the sparse afternoon light. He thought about the girl and his stomach did a little turn. She’d have him drinking in no time. He’d get a taste for her and when she left, he’d want to drink her out of his head. Her beauty and youth would drive him to drink because he was weak and could never keep her, this he knew. She would become one craving too many. He thought of her lying next to him, warm and naked against his back, feeling her soft breasts against him, smelling her skin, and her hand reaching around for him. His wife interrupted these thoughts, and his stomach turned over again. She was always there, just beneath the surface. Watching from that doomed jet plane, sitting next to his baby girl as they breathed their last, strapped into a tin can full of strangers.
The day they died, texts from his wife, reminding him of the airline and flight number, were accidentally erased, as he frantically searched for them on his cell phone. He sat in the bar and watched the news as it unfolded. Half drunk, heart pounding, blood flush in his cheeks, the lilting unreality of it tearing through his brain like a buzz saw. They could have been on that flight.
His hand rested on the kitchen table, inches from the bottle of bourbon, he remembered racing to the airport, his heart pounding as he swerved frantically through stalled traffic. Then he was in the terminal, having no memory of parking or walking the long hallways, like he’d just willed himself in front of the airline spokesperson. She stood straight, staring robotically ahead, not making eye contact, her crisp uniform and red lipstick-stained teeth belying her horrifying message. What could she add that they didn’t already know? The smoldering wreckage was all over the media. He stared at the spokesperson’s mouth as she formed the words, but her message was unintelligible to him. Yards from where they stood, the biggest part of his life lay crushed and burning. How could this happen? Why didn’t he stop her from leaving? She’d been reluctant to go. All he had to do was ask her to stay. But he didn’t.
He moved sluggishly toward the sink. He ran the cool water over his hands. He closed his stinging eyes, and put a cold cloth against his pounding head. No longer caring about his list or the broken antenna, or going to the mainland, he walked slowly to the sofa and stared at the empty fireplace. The black coals and soot mirrored his mood, and deep down, his soul, if he had a soul, charred and blackened by the sin of regret, the sin of waste. He had wasted his life, striving for things. The perfect job, money, more power, that great new car, that corner office, big house. Who cares? What was it all for?
He laid back on the sofa and placed the cloth on his eyelids. His wife and daughter hovered above him, smiling and lovely, their mouths forming silent, familiar adorations. Then they were gone, and he was alone again, deeply, listlessly, alone. A breeze from the open door had swept them away, and chilled him. The chortle of birds outside reminded him of where he was. They bickered, as he faded into deep sleep.
His eyes slowly adjusted to the dim light. A dark figure draped in a black hoodie loomed over him. He quickly sat up, and the girl jumped back. They said nothing for a few seconds, each eyeing the other. After his heart slowed, and he was able to determine it was, indeed, the girl who stood before him, he said, “What’s going on?”
“You’ve got to hide me.”
“I escaped. Please, they’ll kill me.”
“I don’t understand.”
“I jumped ship, again. They’ll come for me.”
He sat up. She stepped back into the shadows, her hand quivering in front of her mouth.
“Are you hurt?”
She shook her head no.
“I’ll call the police,” he said.
“No! You can’t do that.”
“Then you’re the one who has to call.”
“I just need to stay for a few hours. I’m so tired.”
“The only place you can go from here is the water or the mainland. The police can protect you.”
She looked toward the front door. Her clothes dripped water onto the floor. He follow her eyes, and realized she was pondering when the bad men might come through his door. He moved to the other side of the room, secured the deadbolt on the door and slammed shut and locked the all windows.
“Can I start a fire?” She asked, shivering.
“Come,” he said, and walked into the bedroom.
When she entered the room, he tossed clothes at her. She caught the bundle and stared at him.
She stood by the bed, in the darkened room and pulled off her shirt.
“No,” he pointed to the bathroom, “in there.”
She slowly entered the room, but left the door open. He watched her strip, her naked body gleaming in the late-afternoon sunlight streaming in through the windows. He walked over to the doorway and watched. She stared innocently back at him.
“Is this what you want?” he asked. “For me to see you?”
“You’re the one looking.”
“You’re not hiding it, are you?”
She smiled and held a tee shirt in front of her breasts, leaving the dark triangle between her legs exposed. He took hold of her wrist and she dropped the shirt. He moved his face close enough to feel her tremble, the smell of smoke and earth coming from her hair. He put his lips to the cool of her neck and kissed her salty skin. “Is this what you want?” He asked.
She moaned softly.
“What about this?” he asked, and pressed his body to hers, his hands sliding down to her bare bottom. Her tight, goose-pimpled flesh was cool in his hands.
“I don’t know,” she whispered.
“I think you do. You know.”
He kissed her deeply, pulling her body into his. He could feel the blood rise to her skin, as the warmth came back into her. She returned his kisses, her mouth hard and cool, lips small and narrow against his. Her breath was clean and warm and fueled his desire for her.
After a minute, she pulled away, but he reached for her again, and held his mouth on hers. Her breath was sweeter than before, her mouth even more responsive.
“No,” she said finally, and pressed her hand forcefully against his chest.
Taking a step back, suddenly feeling her warmth leave him, he wanted more than anything to take her. But he simply smiled and said, “Okay.”
Her light eyes glistened with moisture, revealing perhaps years of loneliness, but they held no fear. Her breathing was rapid. Pink rose in her cheeks. She held a hand demurely over her naked crotch and bent slightly at the knees, trying to hide herself.
“Take a shower,” he said. “You’re salty,”
A slightly surprised expression crossed her face as she placed a hand where he’d kissed her. He turned and shut the door without looking back.
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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.
An excerpt from Dark Genius (Unpublished manuscript)
The last time Harper went out to Stone’s Island was in August, some years ago. He couldn’t remember exactly how old they were, or what year it was, but they’d gotten hold of Uncle Jim’s 15-foot Boston Whaler and headed out to explore the island. They discovered a cove on the lee side of Stone’s and pulled her up onto the rocks. Deciding to take a closer look at the estate, they walked along the rocky shore and discovered in the tide pools the headless carcass of a harbor seal, rotting in the morning sun. Instead of going to the house as planned, they took the carcass back to the boat and headed out into the shallows.
They hooked the carcass onto a drop line, cast it out, and let it sit on the bottom. After a few minutes they pulled it up, and with it came a mass of frenzied, feeding sharks. The sharks swarmed and dove and bit at the meat, breaking the surface as they gorged. Jimmy stood in the boat and smacked the bloody water with an oar, trying to bean one of the sharks. He frantically smacked the water over and over, but failed to hit anything. The spray got into their eyes and ran down their faces into their mouths. Harper remembered the taste of the salty red water and, even now, it turned his stomach.
Jimmy stood on the bow, feet wide apart, rocking the small boat back and forth, forcing the weight of his whole body with each push, laughing uncontrollably, until they started to take on water. Waves slapped up, into the boat. Bits of seal gut came aboard with each wave. The sharks circled and bit at the meat, swarming in a frenzy. Harper held on to the side of the boat, overcome by fits of uncontrolled laughter as it bobbed up and down, shark fins rising up, teeth mashing the seal flesh. Jimmy became brazen by Harper’s response, rollicking with laughter at his mad game, forcing the boat closer to the water with each push. Jimmy suddenly fell out of the boat, and into the churning sea. Harper had seen Jimmy swim fast before, but he practically leaped back into the boat. The image of a shark grazing Jimmy’s leg as he swam, the black shadow surging forward from the depths, was etched in Harper’s memory.
Harper fell to the floor of the Whaler, holding his stomach; the cold water and uncontrolled laughter caused him to pee in his pants. Watching from the floor of the boat, his body drenched in remnants of seal guts, seawater and urine, looking into Jimmy’s wild eyes, he knew; He knew Jim had fallen overboard on purpose. Had carried the little adventure as far as it could go. It struck Harper as such an obtuse thing to do, and he couldn’t understand why Jimmy always went too far.
He was awakened by movement and lay silently in bed trying listen. The room was pitch black. He realized it was the slight sway of the bed that had awakened him. She was getting in beside him. He cleared his throat, and said softly, “Hello?” She slipped under the covers and laid down next to him, her hip and legs touching his.
“It’s okay,” she said, gently patting his arm. “It will be good now.”
She adjusted herself, then didn’t move. He lay quietly, feeling her body heat and listening to her gentle breathing. After a minute, he started to get up, but she held onto his arm and he lay back.
“Don’t,” she whispered.
“But, I –”
“Shhhh,” she said. “I’m almost asleep.”
The gentle patter of falling rain was the only sound now. Occasionally, a drop tapped against the window, like a finger flexing against the glass. Her breathing was deep and regular. He closed his eyes, feeling his body melt into hers. She was small next to him, frail almost, and very hot. He was tempted to slide closer for the heat, but didn’t move. It had been a while since he’d been sober and in bed with a woman. He thought how he may get excited in spite of himself and would want to do something with her. Moving closer would feel like heaven. Then he thought of his wife and how her body felt next to his. This girl’s body was different, smaller. Maybe she was warmer than his wife. He thought about the many times his wife would climb on top of him, in the morning just after waking up, and he would melt into her. She would ride him and always climaxed very easily, she would be right there with him. She had learned how to do that for herself, she had told him, and he was happy for that.
The girl moved, and the bed swayed a bit. He lay still, not wanting to encourage contact while he was thinking of his wife. Cheating was something he’d never done, and now he felt like a cheater, because he wanted the girl. Her warmth next to him lit a fire he thought was dead. Desire is something for lovers, not drunken fools. The whiskey came into his thoughts and he saw himself taking a huge swallow of the cold sting, savoring it as it burned his throat and warmed his stomach. A wave of unsteadiness washed over him, as if he had actually taken that drink. Then he realized avoiding bad feelings was what brought the thoughts of drinking. Taking a deep breath, he tried to relax, and push the taste of whiskey from his mind.
Her smell came to him, and he could discern the salty sweetness of her skin. He moved further away from her, and thought he might finally drift off, when she came closer and cuddled up to his backside. His eyes popped open and his heart raced, but he didn’t move. She melted into his back and he could feel her soft breath against his neck. He thought about how it would be if she reached for him. He could feel himself growing, and wanted her to take hold while he thought about her scent, and the softness of her body. After a few minutes of being still, his thoughts shifted to his life and his family, then about his drinking and his writing. He wanted to start a new novel, now that the drinking was at bay. Perhaps the girl would inspire some ideas. Perhaps she was the beginning of a new story. Soon, he felt the weight of his fatigued body, and let his muscles relax. He stopped thinking about writing and the girl and listened to the steady drop of rain outside his window, and soon drifted off into a deep sleep.
In the morning he was alone in the bed. Light streamed in through the windows, which he never bother to curtain. He could hear the gentle splashing of water coming from the kitchen. He slid into his mocks and T-shirt and walked to the door and peered into the kitchen. She stood at the sink, bare chested, dabbing herself with a wet towel. She wore her jeans, and nothing else. Her back was well contoured and muscled, her youthful skin slightly tanned. She turned and saw him looking at her, but didn’t stop washing.
“I have a shower. The rain barrel should be full after yesterday,” he said.
“You have a rain barrel?”
“Yes, it’s mounted on the roof. It feeds down into the shower.”
“I didn’t notice,” she said, and turned to him, exposing herself. Her breasts were firm, small and white. Tan lines marked her bathing top. Water glistened off her upper neck and ran down onto her waist. He smiled and turned to go back into the bedroom.
He sat on the bed while he dressed, slipped on his mocs and walked to the door. She was already standing there waiting for him.
“I wouldn’t mind a shower, actually,” she said.
“In there,” he said, pointing to the bathroom adjacent to his bedroom. “It’s small and the water kind of trickles out, but it works. You’re welcome to it.” She walked in past him, her eye on the bathroom door.
“Keep in mind, it may be cold, though. No water heater.”
She turned to him. “Why don’t you have a water heater? You have gas, don’t you?”
“I don’t know. Didn’t want to lug it all the way from the mainland, I guess.”
She said, “Cold showers come in handy, here on the island?”
He smiled. She turned and walked into the bathroom.
In the kitchen, he made pancakes from flour, eggs, milk, salt and baking powder. He added some vanilla and a touch of cinnamon. He fried bacon and eggs-over-easy in the big skillet. When he was done cooking, he stacked the pancakes on a large platter and placed it on the kitchen table. He didn’t have any maple syrup, so he put honey and powdered sugar on the table. When the eggs and bacon were cooked, he placed them on a separate plate, and put that down on the table. The coffee percolated and was strong, the way he liked it.
When he finally sat down at the table, she appeared in the doorway of his bedroom. She was fully dressed in her own clothes and held a towel to dry her hair. “Wow,” she said, looking at the food. She sat at the table, the towel wrapped around her neck, and reached for the pancakes. “I can’t believe you made these,” she said. “Do you have any strawberries?” He saw a youthfulness in her manner that he hadn’t seen before. She was from a different generation. She probably saw him as an old man. And he thought he was too old for her, maybe. But why would he think such things now?
“No strawberries. But if you want, blackberries grow on the island. Up on the ridge, just over there.” He pointed to the door. “We can hunt for some later.”
“You’re a forager, huh?”
She slapped a few pancakes onto her plate and added powdered sugar, then poured herself a cup of the steaming coffee. He was pleased she ate so well and liked his coffee. He took a few pancakes and ate them with bacon and the eggs, runny on his plate.
When they were done eating, they sat quietly for a few moments. Birds chirped in the front yard. He got up and opened the door. After listening to the birds and the gentle calling of gulls at the shore, he said, “So, these people coming to get you, you think they’ll be here soon?”
“No,” she said, and got up to look out the front door. “I don’t think anyone is coming.”
“Oh? That’s not what you said last night.”
“I feel a lot better today.”
“That’s good, but how does that change anything?”
She looked away. “You’re a good cook.”
“Sometimes, when I try.”
“I can see that. I try and things suck. They never pan out.” She leaned on the doorframe, still listening to the birds. “Do you think that’s where the expression pan-out comes from? From cooking?”
“I don’t know.”
“Or gold diggers?” she laughed.
“From prospectors, maybe.”
She turned to him and smiled. “That’s what I meant. Or the movies. Don’t movie cameras pan out?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “I want to know what we’re going to do with you. See how that pans out.”
She held onto the door frame and swung back and forth, like a child. “Oh, clever. How many ways can we use that expression? How about if I pan over here and go out the door?”
She walked outside. He followed her onto the porch. She stared at the trail leading to the center of the island. “That’s the way, right? Up that hill?” She pointed.
“Let’s get some.”
“Blackberries. Show me where they are.”
“They’re all over. You just go out and find them.”
“What if I pick something poisonous and eat it? What then?”
“Then…I don’t know. You get sick and die, I guess.”
“Great! Remind me not to eat poison with you around. Show me where they are.”
She walked toward to trail, then stopped and looked at him. “Come on. You have to stop me from eating poison berries.” She put her hands to her throat and made a gagging sound.
“Wait,” he said, and went back into the cottage. He returned carrying a small bucket.
“Oh, we’re gonna get a lot them,” she said.
“They’re easy to catch.”
The sun peeked out from clouds, illuminating the bay in bright slips of silver and blue. The wind gusted sharply and cut through the trees clinging to scourged shoreline. Cool air rippled across the bay. The few remaining storm-clouds moved quickly across the sky, as if they in a hurry to get somewhere.
The interior of the island held onto coalescing moisture and heated by the sun. Foliage surrounding the trail released warm vapor into the air. They walked further away from the shore, and the air was still and dense, with fragrances from the plant life. Northern Bayberry bushes gave off a surprisingly strong scent. She broke a small sprig if it off in her hand and smelled her fingers. The sounds of the bay were muffled. The dirt trail that was well worn near the house, quickly diminished as they walked farther into the field. Soon, tall grass and bushes caressed their legs as they walked.
The island was only a mile long and about a half mile wide. The center held tall pine trees that through many seasons, produced thick needle beds and was well shaded by the tall trees. On the outskirts of the woods, partially hidden in the tall grass, they found blackberry bushes.
“So many!” The girl said, with delight, and started to eat the berries.
“Wait. We should wash them first,” he said.
She popped another one into her mouth and laughed. “They’re ripe and delicious.”
They quickly filled the small bucket to half way. “That’s enough” he said. “We can make blackberry pancakes.”
“Or something else,” she said, smiling.
“You don’t like my pancakes?”
“Is that all you make?”
“Of course not,” he said, feigning annoyance. “You saw me eat lobster and corn.”
“Oh, yeah.” She tilted her head and looked at him. “I forgot. When was that?”
He frowned. “You don’t remember?”
“I’m not sure.” She placed a few berries in the bucket and suddenly looked lost, like she was remembering or daydreaming. He saw this and made light of the situation.
“I bet I can beat you back to the cottage,” he said, and started walking quickly back down the path.
“Hey,” she yelled, and laughed and ran after him.
He had seen the small boat approaching the dock as they rounded the corner, closer to the cottage. A ten or twelve-foot whaler outboard. Two men in the craft. The girl didn’t see the boat, and he decided not to say anything. They entered the cottage and he placed the bucket in the sink.
“Why don’t you wash those and I’ll be right back,” he said.
“Where are you going?”
“Down to the dock. I need to check a crab trap. Maybe we can make crab cakes.”
“Blackberry crab cakes,” she said smiling, then frowned. “Sounds awful.”
He was halfway to the dock when he turned and saw her behind him, standing at the trail-head. When the two men climbed out of the boat, she ran back to the cottage.