Island Girl (Part 7) PG 13

 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.”

“What happened?”

“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.

“Get dressed.”

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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Island Girl (Part 6)

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?”

“What’s that?”

“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?”

“I’m Garrett.”

“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?”

“No!”

“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.

OUT ON AUDIBLE!!!

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