THE SUNLESS SEA — Chapter 5

This would be a good place to say this is a work of fiction and all characters are hand-shaped and glassed in the author’s imagination and bear no resemblance to any real person living or dead.

Also, my normal manuscript chapters are generally around 3000 words long, usually two or three scenes, but it’s hard to read something that long on a computer monitor. Plus the revision is going slow. So I’m putting up single scenes as single chapters.

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4

Chapter 5



What little breeze there was died away, and the air felt bloated, with just the faintest stink of mangrove muck. On the island’s hills, several tall trees killed by lightning stuck out from the tangled green mass of jungle like burnt bones. The bay’s unmoving water was a mirror, reflecting clouds fat as maggots.

Joe Quigg fanned himself with a Surfers’ Assistance brochure, the cover a happy healthy island family flapping back and forth across his face.

“I fear Rani blames me,” he said. “I was the one who hired Callie and I was the one who introduced her to Tommy.”

“Who was Tommy?” Andy asked.

“A surf charter boat guide. Worked for Elroy Kapuni.”

“Elroy Kapuni? The big wave surfer?” Andy had met Elroy once, at a San Diego fabrics trade show that Dana had dragged him to. Elroy was representing a line of Hawaiian shirts and signing autographs, some of them on the shirts themselves.

“Let’s not forget bit Hollywood actor, too,” Quigg said. “Did you see the profile Vanity Fair did on him?”

Andy had. In Bali, a passing yachtie had traded the magazine for a paperback. The piece was rather snarky, amused in a snooty way that Elroy was the boy toy of Celeste Perry, socialite and principal shareholder of Peregrine Mining, a privately held company.

“A surf charter boat? I didn’t know Elroy was operating out here,” Andy said.

“Celeste Perry brought up three old fishing boats from Perth. She’s a fisherman’s daughter, you know. Grew up surfing. She’s also the principal investor in the Xanadu Surf Resort. Rani is the local partner.”

“Her father the governor, to be precise,” Colonel Hatta said. The Colonel’s hands were limply draped over the ends of the chair’s arms, his expression calm and benign. With the baseball cap still on his head, he looked like a local deity for the Red Sox*. Perhaps this year they’d break the Curse of the Bambino and win the World Series.

“As the American consul,” Andy said to Quigg, bringing critical issues back on track, “I’m sure you know the police can only hold me for twenty-hours for questioning. Which they have. Forget the diesel, I’ll sail out.”

Quigg slurped an ice cube, spat it out into the glass again, and wiped his lips. “I’m not the consul. I’m a consular agent. A hired civilian. But you are right. In this country, the police can only detain a person for twenty-four hours.”

The Colonel’s brow rose a fraction. “You are familiar with the details of our criminal law, Mr. Mack?”

“It’s hardly a detail.”

Quigg nodded at the envelope of money on the table. “I daresay if you gave the Colonel half, he’ll give you the fuel and his blessings.”

The Colonel lifted his hands at the wrist, holding the palms upright. “Now, now, my dear Quigg.”

Andy was tempted. Get out of Dodge while he could. But then his stubbornness set in. He’d been running ever since the trial, but damn if he was going to run from this. At some point, a man had to stand his ground. He told Quigg, “It’s against American law to offer or facilitate the offering of bribes to foreign officials.”

Far out in the bay, cats’ paws riffled the water, striding toward the corvette. The breeze sifted through the ship and trailed cool fingers along Andy’s cheek. Quigg lifted his chin to expose his sweaty neck. “Ah, that feels good,” he said.

“I’m not going to paying a bribe,” Andy said. “I want you to do your job.”

“My job? Okay. If you donate a thousand dollars to Surfers’ Assistance, then I’m sure I could convince the good Colonel to allow you to leave.”

Andy took a deep slow breath and counted to ten. The oldest anger management trick in the book, the therapist had told him years ago, but it works. Although sometimes it didn’t. This time, though, it did. When he spoke, his voice was calm, almost reflective. “And that’s extortion.”

“Do you want me to arrest him?” the Colonel said, his voice dry as the ship’s steel deck.

Quigg held up the Surfers’ Assistance brochure. “A thousand dollars will supply an entire village with insecticide treated mosquito nets.”

“Except there’s no village here.”

“We work on many of the other islands.”

On the shore, marines in jungle uniforms, geared with weapons for a long patrol, clambered into an inflatable. The inflatable zipped past the corvette and into the wide mouth of the river, heading inland. Quigg watched it until it disappeared and then swung his gaze to Andy.

“You’re a medic? You could come work for us.”

“I’ve made other plans, thanks.”

Closer to the shore, the steadying breeze turned the Chinook turned on its anchor. On the island, the branches of the taller trees quivered to life.

Quigg tossed Andy the plastic bag with the money and then handed him his passport and boat papers and box of morphine.

“And the gun?” Andy said.

“Confiscated,” the Colonel said.

Andy eyed the wind, coming in at a side-shore angle. Even if the bay was empty, it’d be a tricky sail out, but the anchored corvette blocked all angles.

Quigg smiled. “The surf report is calling for an 8-foot southwest swell and an offshore wind. The Xanadu Rights should be very good. Why don’t you stay for another day and go surfing? I’m sure tomorrow we can scare up some diesel for you.”

“I lost my surfboards in the cyclone.”

“It so happens that Elroy is headed out here on Celeste’s yacht. They’ll be here this afternoon. Plenty of boards you can borrow. And he’s looking for another charter boat skipper, in case you’re interested.”

* Alert readers may note that earlier the Colonel was wearing a White Sox cap, but I’m changing it.

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