He had drowned before. During a training exercise in icy Pacific waters just south of LA, he sucked in a lungful of water and blacked out. They hauled him into the raft and Skinny CPR’d his dead ass back to life. He coughed back to consciousness. An hour later he was training again, despite having two cracked ribs.
He remembered the dread as his lungs took in water. It hurt like hell, and his body shook like he’d been nailed to a high-tension power line, and then his mind went dark.
Like an unwelcome visitor, the darkness had come for him again.
Coughing. Jesus, it hurt like a son of a bitch! It was … him! Well, of course it was! Who the fuck else would be hacking like a chain smoker?
Coughing and coughing. Water expelled from his lungs and stomach like shrapnel from exploding grenades. Water … no, air! If he turned his head—air!
He turned his head as far right as he could and sucked wind between bouts of violent retching.
His head throbbed like a bitch, so he didn’t open his eyes. Bright orange-red light glared through his closed eyelids, like his face was pointed at the sun.
Coughing, coughing … Breathe, another! Breathe! Another! Breathe! Breathe! Breathe! There you go … there you go … there you go …
An insect stung his face, and he slapped at it. It was then he tasted … mud? Sand?
It came to him then that he was beached in shallow water.
Coughing … a long, wracking spasm. When it subsided he forced his eyes open to a bare squint. His head throbbed like his brains might leak out his ears any second.
He pulled focus as best he could, which wasn’t good at all.
Water. Half his face was submerged in it. Tiny waves glinting with bright sunlight washed against him.
In the near distance … more water … then—sand. Sand? Sand!
“What the—cough!cough!cough!—what the—cough!—fuck?”
In the far distance … palm trees.
He didn’t drown? Somehow, while unconscious, he surfaced and drifted face up in bloody, shark-infested Pacific waters—to an island?
Apparently not. This … this looked like reality. He wasn’t dreaming.
Was he dead? Was this hell? Sure as shit he wasn’t going to the other place.
He dug his hands into sand beneath him and pulled himself out of the water. When his fists clutched dry sand, he collapsed. The darkness was waiting patiently for him.
Pain. Top of his head. Sharp. Sudden. Repeated.
A squawk. Another sharp pain.
He waited a half second between one pain and the next and lashed out.
The vulture pecking at his head pecked at his hand the last instant it was alive. He grabbed its neck and twisted, eyes still closed, and tossed the lifeless carcass away. He could hear other vultures flap quickly out of his reach.
“Not dead yet!” he announced, his voice gravelly with the sting of expelled seawater. He spat sand. “Not fucking yet …”
How that was true was beyond him.
The Minnow had sunk. He’d watched the fuckin’ thing sink! Its three hundred ninety-five-foot length stuck out of the ocean like it had been fired into it, like it was some obscene giant’s arrow shaped like an ultramodern yacht, its stern ablaze, its occupants trapped inside.
Or had they been?
He’d come looking for Mary Ann (where the fuck did she go?). Mennon was waiting behind the bar.
Shots. Bastards! But he was ready for them. He knew Carlos and that Argentinian fruit fly with the bandana and the Jesus-fucking-Christ-what-a-stupid-tattoo of Madonna on his steroid-inflated chest had already jumped ship. A boat was waiting for them. He saw it hurry away trailing a big white wake.
He dropped and swept with his leg, and the shots ricocheted off the table or buried themselves in the fine wood of the deck. The assailant—who the fuck is this?—lashed out with a knife in his other hand. Missed. And now the knife was his.
He jerked it into the bastard’s stomach, then pulled it out and underhanded it at Mennon, who deflected it as he jumped the bar for him. He got to his feet as Howell’s bodyguard slammed into him.
The fight was a blur: fists flew, deflected; kicks; an elbow, knees, twisting, spinning, clawing. Mennon caught him good just below his neck. He got free, sucking wind, and tore up the stairs, the asshole grabbing at his pants.
No one up here. Was Ginger Grant gone too? Had he killed her too? Where the fuck was Mary Ann?
Spin, kick, deflect the incoming elbow, kick, punch. Mennon was good; but then, that fucker Howell had always employed the best.
But not as good as him. He let one fly. His fist caught Mennon square in his square chin. He tried keeping his balance, but a spinning wheelhouse sent him head over heels back down the stairs.
“MARY ANN! MARY ANN!” he bellowed, rushing for the quarterdeck.
Fire engulfed the casino room. He was suddenly clawing his way through noxious smoke. The fucking yacht was going down; that was certain.
The pool glimmered as though full of liquid sunshine—and now twenty-foot flames. Grant’s towel bag was next to a lounger, as was Mrs. Howell’s. Glasses full of mimosas had spilled. The ship lurched with another explosion, this one stern, what sounded like one of the Minnow’s big engines. Tables scattered like a hurricane had grabbed them, along with him, who pitched forward into the pool, which, at this angle, was now emptying onto the deck.
He pulled himself out as Mennon emerged out of the smoke at the landing, broken whiskey bottle in hand. His forehead bled, giving him a gruesome visage, and his huge forearms trembled with exhausted rage. It must’ve been exhaustion, because he chose to talk instead of attack.
“You ain’t gettin’ out of this alive, Santayana,” he growled over the fire’s roar.
“Neither are you. So put down the junk and have a drink.”
He scooped up a bottle of something that was rolling around and held it up without looking at what it was.
Mennon took a step to get out of the smoke. “Thanks. I generally don’t drink tanning lotion until after dark.”
He glanced at the bottle in his grip. Tanning lotion?
Yep. Tanning lotion.
Who the fuck put tanning lotion in a glass container shaped like a fucking whiskey bottle?
He kept it. Mennon took another step towards him.
“I’ll give it to ya, Gilly,” he said, taking another step. “You know what you’re doin.’ But you faggot SEALs can’t hold my dick.”
“If you had one,” said Gilly.
“You’ll be suckin’ mine soon enough,” snarled Mennon, and came at him.
Gilly dropped the lotion and dove overboard. When he came up he swam as fast as he could. The boat was going down, and it’d pull him down with it if he didn’t get the fuck away right fucking now.
Of course there were no life rafts!
Mennon, he knew, had been an All-American swimmer back in the day. He saw him dive in after him.
It must’ve been low tide, because he was no longer half-submerged.
The vultures had left him alone. They tore apart their dead comrade and didn’t bother him.
He turned over with a sustained groan and opened his eyes, still only to a squint.
A lagoon. A small waterfall roared quietly to his right. Palm trees … everywhere.
The sun was setting. The air was cool and calm.
He got to his elbows, opened his eyes fully, and looked down at his person.
His black servant’s pants … torn. His white shirt and bow tie—gone. Where the fuck were they? He didn’t remember taking them off.
His chest was covered in cuts and bruises. His neck felt broken. His lower lip felt like a swollen noodle, and his nostrils were clogged with dried blood, forcing him to breathe through his mouth. The bridge of his nose felt broken. He fingered it carefully.
Sand fleas bit him mercilessly. He slapped at them. When that didn’t work, he fought to get to his feet. His body throbbed, and he swayed with lightheadedness.
He straightened, grunting, and stumbled for the water, which had receded a good twenty feet. He waded into it. The biting stopped.
Water. Fresh water. From the waterfall. He could taste it mixing with seawater. Suddenly he was dying of thirst. He breaststroked to the fall, his body twinging with every movement, and got under it. He opened his mouth wide and drank and drank and drank.
How to explain what happened to him?
He couldn’t. More to the point, he didn’t care. He was alive. That was all that mattered.
That, and staying alive.
That would be the real challenge.
He was a trained and decorated SEAL. He could do it. For now, he needed to tend to his injuries, and find food and shelter.
Food was aplenty here—wherever here was. It was everywhere, from three dozen varieties of exotic fruit (and counting; many varieties he had never seen before) to edible roots to coconuts, pineapples, wild strawberries, and green apples. There was even a meat supply: an odd species of cattle ran wild here, as did horses, breed unknown, and a tropical bighorn sheep species with huge curving ram’s horns and filthy tempers.
Predators? At first he found none, and saw no traces of them save a species of python that seemed too large to be true. He very nearly stumbled into one. It struck at him but missed, and he ran like a man whose pants were on fire.
Fuckin’ thing had to be forty feet long!
A day later he spied what looked like cougar tracks, and then the tracks of what had to be wild boar.
So yes. Predators. And spiders. Huge spiders. Fucking spiders the width of his goddamn chest! No fucking shit! He’d been camping in a cave when he saw one of them. That was last night—night number five.
No more camping in caves, then.
His wounds were healing quickly—abnormally quickly, like he’d taken a magical salve or something. He had jabbed himself in the palm of his left hand with a makeshift spear the day before yesterday; the wound was deep and needed stitches and a gallon of antiseptic, both of which, of course, he had none. He ended up tearing his pants to make a bandage.
He inspected the wound an hour ago. It looked no worse than a nasty scrape and itched like a bitch. No infection.
Just where the fuck was he?
Where had Howell’s guests gone? There were three: movie star Ginger Grant; her best friend Mary Ann Summers; and Professor Roy Hinkley.
It was Hinkley that Howell was most interested in. It was why Howell had set sail from
Honolulu in the first
place. Some secret destination or other. August Howell, Thurston’s little
brother and greedy little jealous sniveling bitch-second to the vast Howell
fortune, unsuccessfully tried to blackmail big brother to find out what was
Grant was along because Thurston Howell III couldn’t keep his dick out of her, even with his wife on board; and Summers was along because Ginger Grant was a needy superstar who required a constant shoulder to cry on.
And he, Gilly? He was along because August Howell hired him after the blackmail failed. It was his job to find out what was what and report back.
Everything had proceeded to plan. But then a week ago the bosun was found garroted in his quarters, and that’s when shit got real.
Speaking of Thurston Howell: What the hell had happened to him and his wife?
What had happened to the Minnow’s captain and the rest of the crew?
Who was responsible for blowing up the damn ship?
Howell’s bodyguards: there were a dozen of them, including Mennon, the head asshole. Why did he only see him and those other two at the end? Did the rest leave with the crew and complement? How could they have left without a big fuss being made? It was almost like they just vanished, poof!
Was he left behind so that Mennon and his goons could kill him? Why didn’t Mennon have a life boat ready? It was as if Howell wanted both of them dead; or had sent Mennon on a suicide mission to kill him, which seemed fucking ridiculous.
“Stupid,” he murmured as he watched sunset from the lagoon, which he’d taken to doing the past couple nights.
Mennon wasn’t important. And Howell? Despite being a typical rich pig, selfish and greedy and a sniffing snob, he just wasn’t the murderin’ sort! Still, he and his little bro didn’t exactly exchange Christmas cards. If Thurston Howell discovered why he, Gilly, was aboard, that he’d been hired by August Howell for purposes of espionage, he might do something like drop him off on a remote island somewhere like fucking Guam without a penny to feed his sorry ass or get back home. But—murder? Howell? Not a fucking chance! Right? Right?
Too many questions; too much confusion; and now this—this island in the middle of the goddamn ocean (was it even the Pacific?) where no islands existed, not at least where the Minnow sank!
He spied them days ago after mounting the tallest mountain here. (Not a mountain, really; more like a big hill with an easy incline on one side and a sheer face on the other. All told, it was five hundred meters tall at most and took up most of the island’s area.) His island he estimated to be five miles wide by maybe six long. It was basically a large jungle-covered circle with a small, round bite taken out its southern end. That was the lagoon he’d woken half-submerged in.
In the distance, to the west, was another island, probably twice the size of this one, maybe thirty miles distant. North of it was a much smaller one, maybe forty.
To the east was a third, which looked approximately the size of this one, but significantly taller, like a series of dramatic, towering, cloud-enshrouded cliffs.
There were no islands where the Minnow went down—where he had drowned. Not for thousands of miles! Hell,
was the closest dirt, and it was over a thousand miles away!
Which meant that he had been saved, brought back to life, then transported and dumped here before he woke up. He could be halfway around the goddamn world!
The sun had set and the spray from the lagoon smelled sweet and fresh. He bit into a particularly juicy mango.