Dex grinned at me. “Can we get that on tape?”
Zach carefully watched the exchange between us before saying asking, “You still with Jennifer, Dex?”
The coffee cup rattled loudly in Dex’s hands. They were shaking again, albeit for just a quick moment. He swallowed hard and put it down.
“Yes, of course,” he said matter–of–factly.
Damn it. Obviously I had been hoping that the phone call meant they’d broken up. Guess not. I tried not to look annoyed, especially since Zach was looking at me now. I don’t know why it was but I always got the feeling that people were tiptoeing around the relationship question with him. It was like they couldn’t quite believe that Dex and I were just partners. I flashed him a bright smile, anyway. Didn’t want to let on how I was feeling or what I was thinking.
“Gotta love Wine Babes,” Zach remarked rather awkwardly.
“Oh, yes. Who doesn’t?” I added. I could tell Dex eyed me suspiciously but I didn’t want to acknowledge it.
“Indeed,” Zach mused with a smile and got out of his armchair. He took his and Dex’s empty cups into the kitchen. I looked around the room, at the expansive library of books and the hominess of the place and decided that whatever happened between him and his ex–wife (which I was not supposed to mention) left him pretty well off. I think I’d be happy with a house like this albeit probably not with a daughter.
At that, I turned my head and saw Amanda standing in the doorway to the front hall, peering at us with her large eyes. She smiled shyly but didn’t move. It was like her need to know overcame her instincts to run away from strange company. I knew that feeling all too well.
“Hey Amanda,” Dex said, his voice animated. “When was the last time I saw you?”
Amanda smiled broadly at him in a girlish way and put her finger to her mouth, pondering.
“I don’t know. It wasn’t this year because you never got me a birthday present,” she said teasingly.
“That’s true. But what if I said I had your present right here?” he said, his voice raised along with his eyebrows. I watched him, more fascinated than I should have been.
She eyed him like he was the Easter Bunny. “What is it?”
“You’ll have to come over here and see.”
I briefly wondered if children her age were taught to fear the rapist moustache because that’s one thing that would have had me running the other way (that and a white Chevy Astro van with no windows). But she skid towards us on the hardwood floors, using her socks in a Risky Business type manner.
She stopped in front of Dex and looked at him expectantly.
“Where is the present? What is it?” she demanded.
I wanted to know too. I looked at him with as much expectancy, hoping he wasn’t so cruel and stupid as to actually fool a child with promises of gifts. That shit never worked on me.
He didn’t miss a beat. He reached down into his cargo pants pocket and paused. He leaned forward to Amanda and whispered.
“Close your eyes.”
Amanda stood up straight, hands clasped behind her back and closed her wide eyes with a silly grin splashed across her face.
“Open your hands.”
She displayed her hands forward, palms up. I watched Dex fish a few rubber bands out of his pocket and place them in hers. They were in the shape of a boat, a rose and a heart. They were Silly Bandz, a trend that was slowly taking even adults by storm, though I didn’t have the foggiest idea why. I mean, I liked the look and music of the ‘90s but something like Silly Bandz was way beyond my appeal.
But Amanda liked them and as soon as she opened her eyes, she was exclaiming loudly and dancing around the house in some frantic child boogie. Zach came back out of the kitchen with another cup of coffee and a couple of books under his arm, shaking his head at his daughter who was running upstairs to put the other bands she already had on. I figured a Silly Bandz fashion show was in order.
As much as I didn’t hate the idea of humoring a child, I just wanted to get to the island and get the whole project going. Zach must have too, because the books he brought in were about D’Arcy Island. He plopped them on Dex’s lap and handed him the coffee.
“Thanks, bud,” Dex said, taking the cup in his hand, “but the books are for her.”
He jerked his head in my direction, spilling a drop of coffee at the same time.
“Ah,” said Zach, and handed me the books instead. There were only two and both were thin and un–scholarly.
“Is this it?” I asked.
“Yeah that’s it. Afraid there’s just not much written about the place.”
He shrugged. “There just isn’t much to go on. The island was kind of run below the surface. Those books report everything that is traceable but a lot of it is just speculation. There’s really not a lot of records about it.”
“But…Dex told me people had died there.”
“Oh, yeah. At least 40–something people died there. But they were lepers. And Chinese lepers at that, so you have to understand they weren’t really considered people. If it was a white man’s leper colony, there’d be tons of books about it. But those are the breaks.”
I looked down at the books in my hand. They seemed to be poor consolation for what happened.
Zach must have been reading my face because he said, “It gets worse as you get into it. The fact that the government at the turn of the century barely kept any records, any real insight, anyway, is just the tip of the iceberg. These people were left there to die. That’s why they call it the Island of Death.”
A marked shiver ran up behind me. “Are you serious?”
Zach nodded grimly and looked over at Dex. “You haven’t briefed her?”
“He never briefs me,” I said. “It’s like he wants me to look totally unprofessional.”
Dex looked at me with a quizzical expression. “I got you the books, didn’t I? You’ll have plenty of time to read up on the sail over. Just relax, kiddo.”
He turned back to Zach. “It’s still supposed to be fair, right?”
Zach pulled out his Blackberry and entered in a few keys. “Yeah, it should be. There’s a chance of strong northwesterlies tonight but as long as you stay on the boat you should be OK.”
“Stay on the boat?” I repeated. I could feel Dex tense up beside me.
“The anchoring is very poor over there,” Zach said. “It’s fine when the weather is calm, but this time of year, you’re better off on the boat.”
It wasn’t a suggestion, it was a demand, and it was one I took to heart. I had no problems with being on the boat overnight. The more I learned about the “Island of Death” the more that staying on the boat seemed like a perfectly sane and enjoyable option. Besides, it was Zach’s boat.
“But we’ll have no problems getting there?” I asked.
He shook his head. “Weather is at least holding nicely for today. You might get some fog tomorrow morning but hopefully that’s it. The patterns change really quickly out in Haro Strait. It looks like it’s really close by, and it is, but believe me, that place can get rough.”
“Bill said they chose that island for a reason…you couldn’t escape,” I said, my voice feeling heavier.
“He’s right. People tried. They drowned. Some days the supply ships couldn’t even come in because of the winds. When it hits just right, you get a nasty rip that prevents any boats from coming to the shore. And will take any desperate soul out to the Pacific to die.”
My shoulders sank a little at that. The more I heard about this island, the more I wanted to just throw in the towel and call it a day. Yeah, maybe I was chickenshit when I shouldn’t have been, maybe I was feeling unprepared when I really needed to feel like I could own the whole thing and prove I wasn’t some idiot, maybe I was afraid of being alone with Dex. Even beyond the worry that I would molest him at some point (which I knew wouldn’t happen) – it was the idea that we would be alone on the “Island of Death” together. What if something went wrong? Sure we handled skinwalkers, but there were still people there to aid us. In this case, we would be utterly, entirely alone with only each other to depend on.
But there I was, sitting with a few library books on my lap, sipping a lukewarm cup of coffee in some stranger’s house. I had come this far and from Dex’s determined expression, there was no turning back. And so far, in all of our experiences together, there always was that moment that I could have turned back and I never ever did. Even if it scared me to the core, to my very soul and fiber of my being, I still went forward into the unknown. Some may call that brave. I don’t think I’d call it that. Stubborn beyond repair seemed more fitting.
It wasn’t long before Dex gulped down the rest of his coffee and we were off towards the marina. I was sure that Zach would have come with us and shown Dex the ropes again in how to manage a sailboat but he seemed to think Dex could it handle himself. He had more faith than I had. Even if Dex was suddenly an expert sailor, I don’t think I’d trust him with a boat.
On the other hand, I trusted Dex with my life. Go figure.
* * *
The boat was actually a lot scruffier than I had expected, considering how neat Zach’s house was. This was a good thing though – it made me feel a lot better about having Dex at the wheel knowing he wasn’t going to be scratching a multi–million dollar yacht.
I didn’t know much about sailboats (the only sailboat I had really been on had been my grandfather’s yacht in Sweden, but I was quite young and the memories of that were vague), but it was a C&C 38, which is kind of your standard boat. At least that’s what Dex told me as we drove over.
After a few trips back and forth to the car to get all of our stuff, it was time to go aboard. I handed Dex the cameras, extra careful not to drop them in the space between the boat and the dock. That would have been the worst thing ever.
He took them and disappeared down into the cabin. I felt more comfortable standing on the creaking, moving dock than going on board. I was in no rush. On the dock I still felt attached to the land, attached to the smiling sailors who were going about the area tending to their own boats and taking advantage of the mild autumn day before the winter rains set in. It was pleasant and familiar. The boat, with its fading aqua color, peeling wood trim and crackled paint job on the name “Mary Contrary” (apparently his ex–wife’s name) was not.
Dex popped his head up inquisitively, and asked, “What are you doing, skipper?”
“I’m skipper now?” I asked, hesitating before lifting my foot onto the first wrung of the boat ladder. I stared down at the dark depths beneath me.
“You will be if you come aboard. You need help to get up, shorty?”
Who was he calling shorty? I grabbed the railing for balance and stepped up onto the slanted, grainy surface of the deck and carefully made my way over to the cockpit, staying bent over for balance and thankful for the smooth grip on my Chucks.