Two marines escorted Rani and Andy along the boardwalk through the mangroves, one leading point, one bringing up the rear. They sauntered along, holding their M-14s casually at the ready, their gaze sweeping left and right. They looked ready to shoot at anything.
Andy switched the alaia to his other arm and adjusted the backpack with his towel and change of clothes. It occurred to him that if they needed armed escorts to go surfing, then they probably shouldn’t be going surfing at all. He felt hollowed out, that post-narcotic blah.
Rani walked ahead of him, her board under her arm, a plain white Channel Islands, looked like a 5’8″ or so. She strode with cat-like grace, but not exactly silent as one. Her rubber flip-flops slapped at the wooden planks. Small feet, the kind that would leave small damp footprints on cabin tops.
“Your T-shirt,” Andy said. “UWA.”
“University of Western Australia. Where I went to uni.”
“You like to go swimming at night?”
“Sometimes. When the water has that glow. You can see the fish leave tracks. I like to jump in. My arms and legs sparkle.”
“Like last night?”
She glanced over her shoulder. “Why the questions?”
“I thought I heard somebody swimming.”
“Not me. The bay is too murky for sparkles.” After a few strides, she said, “So where’s your wife?”
“I’m not married.”
“That’s not a wedding ring?”
Andy glanced at the ring on his finger. “Divorced. I haven’t taken it off yet.”
“Really? That’s weird. Why not?”
“I don’t know.”
“You still love her,” Rani said.
A bug flitted out of the mud-stink gloom and close to Andy’s face. He waved it off. “I’ve found that that there’s a fine line between hate and love and sometimes you can’t tell the difference.”
“When Tom broke up with me, he didn’t even tell me. He just left. I was so angry and heart sick I could have killed him.”
“Somebody did. Cut off his balls. Pardon the French.”
“I was in Bali.” She was silent then added, “But Tom was here on Camel Island because Callie was here.”
“You think she did it?”
“Callie,” Rani said, “is the woman who would be queen.”
The marine on point held up, gesturing for silence as he peered to the left, where a sand bank curled into the swamp, breaking the monotonous brown-black murk with its tawny shore. Andy’s neck puckered, and he was about to hit the deck, his reflexes kicking in thanks to his army training, when Rani pointed and whispered, “Look. A mouse deer.”
Standing nearly invisible between palm thickets was a miniature deer, hardly bigger than a house cat, well-camouflaged by a dappled brown coat.
The marine aimed his rifle. Probably thinking barbecue venison. Rani snapped something at him. With a jump and twist, the deer vanished.
“My people have folk tales about Si Kancil the Mouse Deer,” Rani said as they continued on. “Si Kancil is the smartest creature in the forest. Always more smart than the tiger. In one story, he convinces the tiger that a pile of elephant poop is the real mouse deer.”
“Yum,” Andy said. “I don’t think even the roadrunner could have talked Wile E. Coyote into that.”
The mangroves ended, the gloom giving way to sun-dazzle. The sky spread blue with cream dollop clouds, palms swayed to the breeze, the sea sparkled like a turquoise gem. On the beach, a safari tent right out of Arabian nights had been pitched. Beach chairs were spread out, with a table set up for cold drinks, ice chests in the shade. Stacked on a folding rack were a dozen surfboards, lined from short-boards to longboards. A steward fussed with a carton of chilled orange juice, filling a glass on a tray. A smooth, brown-skinned man, he wore white deck shoes, white shorts, white T-shirt and white cap. The whole scene looked like a photo shoot for a luxurious travel and leisure advertisement, complete with the local native servant.
The only thing wrong with the picture were the burned skeletons of the resort’s bungalows and the platoon of marines, spread out on guard out along the perimeter of stream and jungle.
Joe Quigg plopped onto one of the chairs to chug the glass of juice. He was ready for the surf, wearing a full-body lycra cover-up, complete with brimmed hat, to protect him from the sun. His boogie board was beside him, along with orange flippers. Underneath the tent’s extended awning, a woman was lathering her big-boned limbs with enough sunscreen to survive a nuke blast. Long auburn hair was tied up with a bright yellow scrunchie, the same shade as her yellow bikini and yellow longboard and yellow reef booties on her broad feet. Most women did not look good in yellow, Dana had informed Andy, except a few could get away with it. This woman got away with it all the way to Sunday.
Celeste Perry, color-coordinated for the surf.
“I think I’ll warm up with you on Baby Reef,” she said to Quigg.
In the middle of the lagoon, a pleasant, head-high peak feathered in the offshore breeze and curled softly across a fingernail of reef. A couple hundred yards further out on the reef pass, a solid overhead set denoted in explosions of foam, the right hander zippering for a good hundred yards, one of the best waves Andy had seen in months. A manned runabout from the super-yacht idled in the lagoon, waiting to ferry the surfers.
Celeste looked up at their approach and smiled in delight. “Rani! There you are, darling! When was the last time I saw you? It’s been far too long.”
The two women air-kissed, Celeste having to bend down a little. Rani looked petite, almost mouse-deerish, against Celeste’s bulk. Not fat, just big and tall and well-curved.
She turned to Andy. “You must be the solo sailor,” she said, holding out a hand with sensible nails. Andy put down the alaia to take it. Her grip was firm and brief. Their eyes met on the same level, hers green and friendly, but also with a measure of cool assessment. You didn’t get to be CEO of Peregrine Mining without busting a few balls, Andy was pretty sure.
“Andy Mack,” Andy said.
“Celeste Perry. We dropped anchor early morning, and just in time for the swell too.” A handsome woman of uncertain age, she’d been blessed with strong bone features and the common sense to leave good enough alone, although the skin had been discretely tightened and botoxed. “Would you like some rehydration before the dehydration?”
The steward came over with the tray. He was a small wiry man without a single hair on his body that Andy could see. Not even eyebrows and eyelashes. His smooth skin looked shrink-wrapped onto his bones. Andy gratefully swigged a glass of juice. Rani said something to the steward in her language, and with a wordless nod he padded away to return with a bottle of mineral water.
Andy nodded at the marines. “Expecting some Brazilians to gate-cash the surf?”
Celeste laughed, a sexy, deep-throated laugh. “There’s at least one Brazilian around here somewhere. Oscar? Elroy? Where are you guys? The surf isn’t waiting for us.”
Two men stepped out from the blackened ruins of the resort lodge. Andy immediately recognized Elroy, that long black hair, those geometric tats on his bare-chested and chiseled torso. His square-jawed face was clamped grim as he took another look at lodge. The other guy was a wiry Latino, equally tattooed. With only a traditional Army eagle on his bicep, acquired in some back alley dive during a state of R&R inebriation, Andy felt positively under-inked.
Elroy came over. Celeste took his elbow and said, “Elroy, this is Andy Mack. Andy, this is Elroy and Oscar. Andy’s the sailor who found Tom Fairbanks.”
“I’m sorry you had to get involved in this, bra,” Elroy said. He was at least ten years younger than Celeste, but those years of sun and surf had weathered his face to just the right touch of grizzle, with an air of authority gained by experience. Been there, been through it. The man you could count on in the event of a shipwreck. A diamond gleamed in his earlobe. The diamond was part of Elroy Kapuni lore, and served as the logo for his line of surf clothes, like the board short hugging his rippled waist. It was said that in his wild youth he’d smuggled a bunch out of the Namib Coast in Africa just one jump ahead of murderous brigands.
“It was what it was,” Andy said. “Not a real happy coincidence.”
Celeste handed the tube of sunscreen to Elroy. As he rubbed a handful between her shoulders, she said to Andy, “Perhaps not a coincidence. A synchronicity. Sometimes things happen for a reason.”
Andy looked at her. He didn’t like that the sound of that. What reason could there be? He said, “I’ve never heard of the Xanadu Surf Resort. How long you guys been open?”
“We were just about to,” Elroy said. “The Governor was going to come and cut the ribbon.”
Rani made a noise. “Out here to Camel Island? That’s what Vice Governors are for.”
“I can see a lot of hard work went into this place,” Andy said. “A shame.”
“Elroy is from a warrior culture,” Oscar said, a Latin tilt to his English. “Respect means everything. This is the ultimate disrespect.”
Celeste added a final daub of sunscreen to her nose. “Let’s just go surfing and enjoy ourselves for a while, okay?”
Elroy’s gaze drifted down to Andy’s alaia. He picked it up, turned it over. “Where did you get this, bra?”
“In Honolulu,” Andy said.
“My uncle shaped this. See the signature? Jelly Roll K.”
“What do you know. It’s a small world.” Too small a world. Another coincidence that made him uncomfortable, but damned if he would call it a synchronicity.
“The thing is,” Elroy said, his Hawaiian brogue thickening: Da t’ing is, “this is koa wood. My uncle sold his other boards, but never the koa.”
Andy shrugged. “Actually, the board was an anniversary gift from my ex-wife. How she got it I don’t know.”
Elroy thought this over. “She a hot-looking haole?”
“You could say that, yeah.”
With a chuckle, Elroy said, “My uncle’s gotta be eighty something, but he does love the haole women. How much do you want for it? Let it come home.”
“I don’t want anything for it,” Andy said. “I want to surf it.”
Oscar took a step forward, his face tightening like a fist. “Listen, my friend—”
Elroy held up a hand and returned the board to Andy. “Have fun, bra.”