Allowed to return to the Chinook, Andy sat in the saloon and stared at the alaia surfboard hanging across from him. An electric fan hummed, blowing sticky air over his bare body. From the corvette came the banging of hammer on steel, faint but relentless.
Dana had given him the surfboard twice. The first time on their anniversary. Close your eyes, she’d said. When he opened them, there was the board, on the grass of their back yard. Why don’t you ride it, she told him, and he said, okay, but not quite the way you think. They’d made love on it.
Riding the narrow, finless board on the lazy, chest-high waves was harder than he thought. He floundered and fell. A burly surfer he didn’t know told him to get the penis plank out of the water. Andy ignored him and took off on another wave behind the surfer. The surfer slapped him. Andy grabbed his arm, rotated him off his board, and held him like a pretzel under water until a friend in the line-up yelled at him to let the guy up, for god’s sake. The guy came up swooshing and red-faced and went to the beach, where he paced up and down waiting for Andy to get out. When Andy did, he marched straight up to him without a word and gave him a look. Dana sometimes called it his thousand-yard stare, the one he’d come home from Iraq with. That wasn’t exactly right. That look wasn’t all the time, or even most of the time. There was indeed the thousand-yard stare, a nothingness to mind and memory, but there was also its kissing cousin, the I-don’t-give-a-shit stare that’d been with Andy since he was a kid fighting his own battles. That’s the one he gave the guy. The fellow blustered and ranted and shook his fist, but he kept his distance. Andy just stood there. The guy stalked off.
One afternoon, an oily three foot swell curling in gray from the horizon, Andy finally started getting the hang of the finless alaia. Even managed a 360-spin. Elated, he drove home to tell Dana. She was showing her fabrics to a fashion designer. A lot of the men in the business were gay, fun and fast and cleverly-witted. Andy enjoyed their company. He enjoyed Bernard’s, too. The designer was stylish and cultured. They started hanging out. They bro’d. Bernard hated sand, but Andy dragged him to the beach, stuffed him into a wetsuit, and sent him out on a surfboard. Over ice lattes at Dom’s, or martinis at the Martini Shack, Andy told him things about growing up hard that he hadn’t even told Dana. Then he started sharing with Bernard his worry that somehow he was getting the sense that things were tilting in his marriage. Oh, Dana was the same, but it was like she was working at it, not as free-spirited or natural.
The second time Dana gave him the alaia was a couple weeks after his acquittal. He was living on the Chinook in the marina. She’d gotten the house during their divorce (the trial following the divorce), and her lawyer wanted her to get the boat too, but she’d let Andy have it. That afternoon she’d walked down the marina gang-plank, awkwardly carrying the alaia.
He was doing something on deck, but what exactly, he couldn’t remember.
“I heard you’re getting ready to sail around the world,” she said, squinting against the background sun in that scrunched-up way of hers. He remembered that, every detail of it.
“Something I’ve always wanted to do,” he said.
She cleared her throat and patted the board. “You want this? It’s just collecting dust in the garage.”
“Sure,” Andy said. She handed it over the railing, hesitated as if she wanted to say something more, but she didn’t, just gave him a final wave from the marina gate.
His first instinct was to chop the alaia into little pieces. Instead, he hung it in the saloon.
And he was staring at it now, but it wasn’t with his thousand-yard-stare. His mind wasn’t empty enough. There was that damn banging, for one thing.
On the saloon table was the box of morphine vials. He’d lied to the Colonel. The fisherman with the broken leg had gotten one of the vials, true, but Andy hadn’t given him a second.
He opened the box, cracked a vial, filled a syringe, and slid the needle into a forearm vein. As he injected the dose, the warmth instantly swooshed through him. He had just enough time to dispose of the evidence and puke in the head before his mind fizzed away in a million little lazy bubbles.
Pop-pop, pop-pop, pop-pop-pop-pop.
This was not some dream of the lotus eater. This was for real. He knew the sound of automatic rifle fire. Oh yes he did. He could probably hear it from his grave, let alone the long tail of a narcotic high.
He sprawled on sweat-soaked sheets. The open hatch above the master cabin bed showed a patch of stars and la half-moon fringed by clouds. He stood and hoisted himself through the hatchway onto the cabin top. Camel Island hulked as a dark, uneven mass, the blackness broken only by a few electric lights from the marines’ camp. The corvette was on blackout, its silhouette sharp and edged against the seaward horizon. The northeast breeze held steady.
From the island, somewhere in those hills, the rifle fire leaking out through the jungle,
The way the inflatable had zoomed up the river, bearing armed men.
Andy jumped down to the railing to piss. He was still pissing when without warning the night split open with fire and thunder. The corvette’s forward turret spat lances of flame, one after the other, the cracks of the double 4-inch guns a rhythmic pulse of deafening noise. The flames hurled toward the island, but wherever the shells were falling, Andy could see no distant burst of fire. The jungle seemed to be swallowing them, rendering them harmless, but he knew better. This was modern armament, not cannon balls, and he knew very well how shrapnel could puncture steel, rip open flesh.
The firing stopped, and the shuddering night fell still and silent once more, the stink of cordite drifting on the breeze.