She had no one to talk to aboard the Minnow. “Not really,” she added.
“You’re best friends with Ginger Grant,” he countered gently. “I mean—aren’t you?”
She shrugged. “Well, yeah ... I mean, I guess so. I mean ... I guess what I’m trying to say is: we were best friends in high school. BFFs. But then she landed a plum modeling gig in
and off she went. She really didn’t make an effort to stay in contact with me,
so naturally I didn’t try either.”
“Where are you from?”
she said proudly. “Ginger getting that modeling contract was the biggest thing
to hit that town since ... well, ever. Though Dean Strother came from
Winfield.” Winfield, Kansas
“Who’s Dean Strother?”
She gave him a playful scowl. “He was a four-star general! North American Air Defense Command! He kept the Ruskies from bombing us!”
“I didn’t know.”
“Aren’t you a SEAL?”
He hadn’t told her. Hope tingled surreptitiously up his spine. He wondered who had told her.
“I was,” he nodded. “Now just looking for the right business opportunity.”
She playfully glanced down at his servant’s clothes and back into his eyes. “How’s that workin’ out for ya?”
He chuckled. “You take what you can get.” He glanced around at the overbearing opulence of the Minnow’s casino room, where they were by themselves, then brought his stare to her and let it roam over her form in a quick but conspicuous fashion. She was a hottie all right ...
If she noticed, she didn’t let on. “I mean,” she continued, her smile fading, “she’s this huge, huge star now, more money than God, hobnobs with all the swells ... but then she gives me a call out of the blue a month ago and invites me on this cruise like we hadn’t lost contact, like we were still best buds!”
“Not really a cruise,” he commented.
“Yeah, right! It isn’t! This isn’t a cruise ship—it’s someone’s actual friggin’ yacht! Can you believe the size of this thing?”
“No,” he said, glancing around, “I can’t. So what did you do after high school?”
“College,” she replied, her smile brightening. “Southwestern.”
“Get a degree?”
She nodded proudly. “Even got me a master’s—secondary education.”
“You’re a teacher?”
“High school, yep.”
He tried to imagine how difficult it would be to pay attention to Ms. Summer’s lessons instead of her tight little ass, and how many boys probably had bell-to-bell boners sitting in her class. He thought of Ginger Grant. Yeah, she was drop-dead gorgeous, that was true. But was she actually prettier than this piece of tail? He didn’t think so.
Besides, Mary Ann had something Ms. Grant didn’t—that irresistible, cute hometown girl thing. He’d spoken several times to Grant while on this diamond-studded tub. Definitely an air of arrogance.
“English and social studies,” she replied. “Even won Teacher of the Year last year.”
“Thanks,” she said, and shook her head. “She’s changed.”
She glanced down. “I don’t know. Maybe it’s not my place to talk about her like this. I just ...”
He threw out a line, hoping she’d bite. “Has she always liked older men?”
“No!” she murmured in disgust, taking it. “I mean, not that old. She’s twenty-five! He’s almost seventy! And he’s married! Yeccch!”
When he went to respond, she added, “And his wife is on board too!”
She gazed at him with disgust.
“Yecch,” he said.
“I mean—seriously! It’s ...” She shook herself as though covered in invisible ants. “Yeccch!”
Before he could say anything, she jumped back in with a pointed finger. “And she’s got a boyfriend in
York! She told me! Apparently it’s one of her
co-stars in the last film she was in!”
“Think he knows?”
“He doesn’t! She told me!”
“I suppose it’s the price for getting to the top,” he offered with an oh-well shrug. “To get to the top you gotta get on top.”
The disgust melted into a dismayed grin. “Yeah, Gilligan, that’s just gross.”
“But I got you to smile.”
“Guess that doesn’t say much about my choice of friends, does it?”
“I’ll be your friend.”
Her new smile was genuine and made him want to kiss it. She looked like she’d be a wicked kisser. “Gilly. It’s an odd name.”
“You certainly don’t look Irish.”
“My father was. Mom was from the
Republic. They became US citizens the same
year I was born. ‘Gilligan’ is Old Gaelic. Means ‘page,’ which is basically a
knight-in-training.” He shrugged. “I like it.”
That kissable smile widened. “I like it too.”
“So ... have you met her—Mrs. Howell?”
She nodded uncomfortably. “You really can’t avoid people on a boat—not even one this large.”
“She buzzes me more than anyone else.” He fished into his pocket and took out the Smartphone and scanned its screen.
“I just ... I just can’t imagine what she’s thinking!”
“Maybe they’ve got an open marriage. Maybe they’re polyamorous.”
“No,” she said right away, and without any humor. “You can tell. She drinks half the day.”
“Ginger too.” She shook her head in disbelief. “She came from this heavy-duty Bible-believing family, God this and God that and sin-sin-sin, don’t do this, don’t do that, you’re gonna burn in Hell for this and that and the other ... they were very devout!”
“Do you believe in all that—Heaven and Hell?”
“Sure. Do you?”
He shrugged. “Sometimes. Most times no. I don’t know.”
She studied him. “When is it yes?”
“Yeah. When you do believe in Heaven and Hell?”
“Don’t know about Heaven,” he said. “But Hell? I’ve seen too much death and hate not to think it isn’t right here, right now.”
He felt the phone go off, and pulled it back out. “Mrs. Howell,” he murmured with a knowing grin. “Another gin and tonic. A double.” He rose to leave.
“If you believe in Hell, then you believe in Heaven, doncha?”
“I do right now.”
He returned her flirty smile with one of his own and a wink, and hurried for the bar.
“Wake up, Gilly. Wake up!”
He felt a soft hand lightly slap his cheek. He opened his eyes.
She was gazing down at him. Her face, just a few inches away, was cut, her right eye black and blue and half-swollen shut. She still looked good enough to eat.
The fight with the fruit fly came rushing back to the front of his brain. He sat up, pushing her to the side, and stood.
Stupid. The world swam in his vision, then went gray, then—
He woke with the sense that he’d just slept perfectly and deeply. It felt so good that he didn’t want to move in any way so as not to disrupt it.
His head was against ... pillows. Softy, cushy ones. He was covered too. The cabin’s air conditioner hummed quietly. He could feel the back-and-forth of the boat, and thought again of jamming his knife into the fruit fly’s ear. He reached for his neck, where the fucker had stabbed him with a butter knife.
The wound was neatly bandaged, the blood gone.
And now he could smell toast ... and bacon ... and coffee ...
“Mary ... Mary Ann?” he called out. “Mary Ann?”
He didn’t want to black out again, so he sat up very carefully. His throat felt like it had been stuffed with beach sand. The delicious smells chased away the memory of the fight.
She appeared at the door an instant later. “Well, good afternoon!”
She had changed clothes. No longer in the short shorts and short top, but a navy tank-top and tan cargo pants. Her light brown hair was pulled back into a ponytail, and her eye looked much better. She stared at him with a concerned smile, then came and sat down next to him, where she lifted the bandage.
“I don’t get it,” she murmured after reapplying it. “That wound should be infected as all get-out. You’ve definitely got an infection, but it’s only minor. The wound is almost closed over. It’s as close to a medical miracle as I’ve ever seen, even compared to my eye. The swelling is almost gone!”
He stared. “I ... can’t believe you’re here.”
“That makes two of us,” she declared, and stood. She glanced down at the bed, hands on her hips. “You’ve been sleeping in your own blood about four hours. It’s just past one. I thought if I cooked you might come around. Do you feel good enough to try to get on your feet? I’d like to replace the sheets.”
“Where’s the asshole? Still in the galley where I left him?”
“Bloated and attracting flies like a dead bull, yes he is. It’s a pain in the butt cooking around him, but I am out-and-out starving, and I figured you would be too, so to hell with him. I was able to pick you up and put you on the bed, but just barely. He just looks way too heavy for me. Can you get up on your own?”
He swung his legs over the edge and cautiously stood. The comforter (duvet, Mrs. Howell had corrected him once) had a large, wet impression of him on it, along with a large splotch of purple-red. Aside from a momentary surge of queasiness, standing did nothing except bring him closer to her. “I can’t believe you’re here,” he repeated. “How did you get here? Whose boat is this?”
She shrugged as she stared up at him (she was almost a full head shorter than him). “Hell if I know! I woke up in the middle of the night on the Minnow with the worst feeling that someone was in my room. Someone was! They must have injected me with something, because I felt a sharp sting on the ball of my right foot. I sat up ... and then ... I must have passed out. When I woke up, I ...” She glanced around herself. “... I was here! On this boat! In the clothes I’d been wearing earlier in the day! Whoever drugged me must’ve put me here! She glanced with disgust towards the kitchen where the fruit fly lay. “I thought I was by myself. He must have been hiding ...” she shuddered ... “somewhere.”
“Let’s get rid of him,” he growled, and half-walked, half-stumbled around her into the short corridor.
She helped him lift the fruit fly and drag him up to the deck. For her size, she was remarkably strong, made so, she commented, by baling hay with her brothers. She turned off the stove while helping; he noticed that she’d already done a fair amount of cleaning. Most of the spattered blood was gone. With a great heave, and his wounded shoulder twinging, they pushed the fruit fly overboard. The fucker’s left arm clung in a ghastly fashion to the hull for a moment, as though trying to get back on board, then slowly let go as the body sank out of sight.
“Good riddance!” she yelled down at him.
Gilligan’s mouth watered so much that he had trouble talking. He told his side of the story—what had happened to him: the fight with Mennon, the Minnow sinking, drowning, and then waking in the island’s lagoon. The last two months of life here. She looked utterly confused at that; but when he told her that the Minnow had sunk, her face fell in horror.
“Ginger ... Mrs. Howell ... They’re ... dead?”
He shook his head. “I don’t know. Probably. I have no idea. I didn’t see them that last day.”
I don’t get it,” she murmured. “You’ve been here two months?”
She shook her head violently. “That makes no sense. I was drugged and kidnapped two days ago!”
“Two days,” she repeated. “I’m sure of it.”
“But how do you know?” he asked as they made their way back into the galley, where she washed her hands, followed by him. “You were drugged.”
She pointed at the fridge after turning the stove back on. An electronic clock with the date was at the top right corner, along with the fridge’s current temp.
He walked to it. “What ... the ... hell—?” He studied it, then rapped on it with the knuckle of his index finger. “I’ve got sixty-four marks on a dead coconut palm back on the island. This is my sixty-fifth day here! Maybe ...” he got even closer to it “... maybe that asshole changed the time and date for some reason.”
“The clock in the bedroom says the same thing,” she replied. “Besides, what would be the point? I wasn’t emaciated when I woke. My muscles weren’t atrophied. Sixty-four days unconscious would do that! I don’t have any IV marks in my arms. They’d have to be there too! My arms would be black and blue and look like my grandma’s to boot!”
She went back to the stove and continued cooking.
“I don’t fucking get this,” he muttered, grabbing a sponge on the countertop close to her. At the kitchen table he began wiping up the rest of the blood she’d missed.
“I really don’t like that word,” she said, glancing down at the eggs. “Would you mind not using it around me?”
That surprised him, and he grinned. “Yeah. Sure. Sorry.”
“Thank you. Breakfast is ready.” She dished up his portion and handed him the plate. He took it and went to the table and sat. She joined him a few moments later. Her bright countenance had returned. “Eat! Eat!”
He had three eggs waiting, and four slices of bacon, and two slices of rye toast. He tried to eat slowly, but it was impossible. Five minutes later, his plate was completely clean. Hers was soon to follow. She stared down at it. “I sure could go for seconds.”
“Me, too,” he said with a hungry smile.
“But ... we shouldn’t. We’ll run out! We should save everything in case rescue doesn’t come.”
His smile faded. He stared at the refrigerator, then stood and went to it and opened it. He found the eggs and took a carton out (there were three, two full and one almost empty) and glanced at the expiration date.
“What the...?” He was about to finish with “fuck,” but remembered her request, so cut himself off.
“I didn’t think to do that,” she said, and joined him. “What does the expiration date say?” She glanced down at the carton.
“Three weeks ... from ... well ... the day the Minnow sank. Roughly,” he added. He gazed at her. She was right up against his left shoulder, and he realized that as hungry as he was for food, he was just as hungry for her. He could smell her hair, and the soft skin of her arm as it pressed into his bare side almost made it almost impossible for him to think. “If I have been here sixty-five days, these are very out of date, and we’ll be puking in a few hours. But if you are right and it’s only been two days ... How long are eggs good for from the store?”
She shook her head. “A month. Tops.”
“These were probably on the Minnow before they were stored here, doncha think?”
“Sure, sure,” she nodded.
“The Minnow sank three days into its voyage ... right?”
“Three ... yeah. That’s right.”
“Which means ...”
He glanced at the expiration date again, then set the carton down and examined the expiration dates on the other cartons, then, frustrated, went through the rest of the fridge looking for dates. She watched him expectantly, and glanced at the dates as he handed her jars of pickled herring, a block of cheddar cheese, several bags of deli meat (turkey, roast beef, and chicken), two packages of bacon, a container of yogurt, a half-gallon of half-and-half, two small jars of caviar, a container of hot mustard, and, finally, two small boxes of organic butter. All of them at the very minimum suggested that ...
He straightened. “Son of a bitch! How can that be?”
This was his sixty-fifth day here! He had the marks to fucking prove it! “Something isn’t f...” He glanced at her. “Something isn’t goddamn right!”
She didn’t seem offended. She was looking at him like he was nuts.
“I can prove it to you,” he said defensively.
She blinked self-consciously and squeezed his arm, more to reassure herself, he thought, than him. “Know what I think? I think to hell with it! That’s what I think. I think I’m going to make us seconds. What do you think?”
“Yeah,” he murmured blankly. “Yeah. Seconds sound good.” Just fuck it! “Except,” he offered with a quick smile, “I’ll make them. We’ve already started an inventory; maybe I could persuade you to continue it while I cook—?”
She nodded purposefully. “Sure. I’ll get right on it.”
Or on me, he thought past his frustration and confusion. Or on me.
He finished cooking before she had finished her inventory. She stopped long enough to eat. Again, as before, they both ate as though starving, with almost no conversation, save her saying, “Delicious. You’re a good cook.” She wiped her mouth when she finished, and sat back. “I’m kind of freaked out.”
“No. I mean, I get why you are. But ...” She glanced down at her person. “There’s more to tell you. I found these clothes in the bedroom closet. I mean ... they fit—perfectly ...”
“I mean, they all fit,” she declared. “All of the clothes. I tried a bunch on to be sure. Even the underwear is my size—exactly my size. And it’s ...” she blushed a little “... it’s exactly the kind I like wearing.”
“Weird,” he murmured, fighting a hopeless battle not to think of her in her underwear.
“The toiletries ... they are all the things I like ... the make-up ... all of it! It’s like someone outfitted this boat for me personally!”
“Yeah, that’s really f ...” He stopped. “That’s really friggin’ weird.”
“How’s your food inventory coming along?”
He had gone around the kitchen as the eggs and bacon cooked.
“This tub is well-stocked,” he replied. “There’s a big freezer right there, next to the corridor, in the wall.” He motioned with his chin. “Steaks, pork chops, roasts, and chicken. Probably months’ worth. There are other things too—frozen veggies, frozen pies, even ice cream bars! They’ll last forever since this boat runs on solar power.”
“That’s really freaky,” she mumbled, staring down at her empty plate and shaking her head. “It’s like ...”
“It’s like someone wants you to be here—and for a while.”
She glanced up at him, her eyes pleading. “But—why?”
After helping him clean up, she joined him as they continued to inventory the catamaran.
“This boat by itself is damn weird,” he commented as they opened yet another hold, this one near the bow. “It’s a huge catamaran, the largest I’ve ever seen. Ultra-modern, too. I checked the bridge. All the best equipment; everything’s digital. I have no damned idea why none of it works, including the GPS and Internet, but the air conditioner does, and the fridge, and the motherfriggin’ clocks!”
He went to the engine compartment and opened it, checking the gas lines and the tank itself, which was three-quarters full. Everything appeared to be in perfect working order.
Mary Ann was a persistent and highly organized individual, he noted during a break in the late afternoon. She had made a series of lists using a pad and pen she found in one of the kitchen drawers. “At least those work,” she grumbled. Her eye had completely healed; his stab wound was no more than a superficial cut.
“This rig brought you here, piloted by ... the fruit fly, presumably, who then hides for some damn reason ... but then it breaks down once it gets here?” he said, shaking his head.
Surely the fruit fly was responsible, and was the one who brought her here. But he couldn’t have been working alone. What was their game? What was their fucking aim? What the fuck did they want?
This hold contained extra canvas, the lines that went with them, an extra anchor, various engines fluids and a complete Craftsman toolbox. It was large enough almost for him to stand in. The day’s sun had made the confined, dark area oppressively hot. He glanced up as she finished writing (he had called out each newly discovered item to her), and used a dish towel he’d stuffed into his back trousers pocket to wipe away the latest sheen of sweat to form on his forehead. “If the engine refuses to run, we can sail her. The GPS doesn’t work, but look what I found in the toolbox.”
He handed her an old-style compass.
“Pretty fancy, this,” she remarked, looking at it. “Brass with fine crystal face ... beautiful engravings ... probably antique and worth a small fortune. Hey!”
“The owner engraved his name on it! Look!”
She handed it to him.
The engraving was on the back. It read:
Property of Captain Jonas H. Gumby
“I’ll be damned,” he muttered.
“What?” she demanded. “Who is he?”
He gazed up at her. “This is the skipper’s compass! The skipper of the Minnow!”
He met Captain Jonas Gumby at the beginning of the voyage. Gumby was a large middle-aged man maybe forty or fifty, with short-cropped blond hair, a wide face, and bushy eyebrows. He didn’t smile when they shook hands.
“Says on your BC that you’re a SEAL.”
“Yes, sir,” answered Gilligan.
“What’s a SEAL doing as a servant on a yacht?”
“It looked like a nice opportunity to make some money.”
And that was it.
“I was unofficially part of his crew,” Gilligan said as he continued looking at the compass. “But he always sent his subordinates to talk to me if he wanted something. I got the impression that he wasn’t all that impressed with me. In any case,” he went on, handing it to her, “this will be very handy.”
She looked it over, then gazed at him worriedly. “You don’t suppose the skipper is part of all this, do you?”
He shook his head. “I don’t know. Could be. I mean, he was the skipper ...”
Her worried glance deepened. “Oh ... I can’t stand not knowing!”
“Yeah. Me, too.”
He bent back under and closed the toolbox, and stopped. “What’s this?”
He reached behind it and pulled up ...
“What is it?” asked Mary Ann, bending over to look.
The hard plastic rectangular box he held was white and came with a silver handle and a retracted antenna. “I’ll be damned!” he exclaimed, turning it slightly so that she could see its face, one with two large dial to the right of a numbered AM face. “This has got to be an antique. It’s an old transistor radio! A Packard Bell! My grandpa used to have one of these!”
He turned it over and opened the back. The batteries were ancient Eveready double-Ds heavily corroded. He pried them out with some effort, put them on the deck with the radio, then crawled out and closed the hatch. Mary Ann had picked the radio up and closed its back. “There are some double-Ds in the cabin!” she said, looking it over carefully. “Maybe this old thing will work!”
He picked up the batteries and followed her. “We’ve got state-of-the-art digital everything on this tub—GPS, depth gauges, the works, all fully powered, and somehow all that crap doesn’t work!”
If she heard him, she didn’t make any effort to let him know. They went back into the cabin and breathed a big sigh of relief as the cool air (thank fuck the friggin’ AC worked!) descended over them. Gilligan grabbed a wash cloth, doused it in cold water from the sink, and wiped it over his face and neck as she opened a drawer and extracted a package of double-D batteries. The sun was just kissing the tops of the palm trees, but it was still quite hot. His injury had stopped complaining a couple hours ago.
“They won’t fit!” she groused. “There’s too much corrosion!”
He went to the pantry and opened it, and pulled out some white vinegar. “Try this.”
She smiled. “Go grab me some Q-tips from the bathroom, would you?”
This he did, but only after using the toilet first. It felt almost alien to him, having been relegated to shitting in the woods for two months now.
He returned with the Q-tips. She extracted several, dipped them into the vinegar, and then worked them one by one along the brackets that held the batteries. Eventually the corrosion came off. The new batteries fit with no problem.
He shook his head just before she turned it on. “Don’t get your hopes up. This isn’t going to work.”
“Cook me dinner if you’re wrong, Mr. Pessimist?” she said, eyebrows raising with a sweet grin lightly smudged with hard work.
“You’re on,” he said, thinking almost involuntarily, You could be dinner.
She clicked the dial after raising the antenna. Static immediately crackled through its speakers. She squealed and bounced up and down in her seat.
“What—?” he demanded, gawking down at it. “How the hell is this possible—?”
She laughed and winked. “And I get dinner too! Let’s see if there’s anything on ...”
She twisted the dial. The static faded and returned with odd whistles. So far, nothing ...
“This radio is so old that it only offers AM!” she noted, shaking her head as she continued twisting the dial. Just before the face’s black indicator reached the far right end of the AM spectrum, the static suddenly cleared and a male voice sounded out in grave newsman tones:
“Search efforts continued today for the lost luxury yacht Minnow owned by billionaire Thurston Howell III, and for crew and survivors. So far rescuers have turned up nothing. The Minnow last radioed in five days ago from a remote location a thousand miles south of
but gave no indication that anything was wrong. Due to the depth of the Hilo, Hawaii Pacific Ocean at their last known location, the Coast
Guard is having trouble getting a reading of the ocean floor. More details as
this story develops ...”
With that, “Pretty Woman” from Roy Orbison came on.