“Lookin’ good, Babe. Hot hot.”
Buoyed by my discussion with Phillip Holte, I cheerfully ignored the bleached-blond bartender lounging against a piling, picking his teeth and leering as I docked the rented dinghy at the seedy East End Marina.
A big iguana drowsed on a thorny branch overhanging my parked Honda. He could have been a twin to old Granddad, who’d climbed down from his mimosa tree that morning to investigate a piece of mango I’d set out for him. He’d accepted it with dignity, wattles bobbing as he moved ponderously to the cottage doorway to peer inside with heavy-lidded eyes.
“Lookin’ good, Babe!” Imitating the bartender, I winked up at this iguana as I climbed onto my bike. He blinked and licked his scaly lips.
Humming Mozart again, I dipped and climbed the dry hills of the East End, spiky shrubs and stony outcrops sharp-edged in the shimmering sunlight. As I rounded a turn, heading downhill, a glimmer in my handlebar mirror caught my eye. A rusty pickup, speeding down the slope at me, swelled in the mirror.
Used to the scare tactics by now, I edged closer to the left shoulder, keeping an eye on the mirror.
The pickup barreled closer, veering toward the shoulder, right behind me. Light lanced off its windshield. It was closing in on me fast. Heart leaping, I tried to pull onto the shoulder, started skidding, got back onto the pavement, shot a glance at the mirror to see the pickup almost on me. It wasn’t swerving around me like they usually did at the last minute.
A side road appeared ahead. I managed to pull into it, skidding, pulse pounding in my ears as the pickup roared past in a cloud of dust. Glimpse of the dark driver, a bald head, gold chains.
Coughing, arms shaking, I waited. Cautiously I edged toward the main road. I pulled back onto the pavement, climbed the next hill past another side road, and picked up speed down a dip to a mangrove swamp.
Sharp flash in my mirror. My grip jumped on the handlebars. Rusty pickup. Same one? Hurtling even faster down the slope at me this time.
The truck bore down on me. Dense green and black shadows closed in with the ripe stink of the swamp. A sickening slide as I skidded in gravel on the shoulder, leaning, losing my balance but somehow recovering. The bike careened over potholes. Salt taste of blood as I bit my tongue. The truck’s horn blared in my ears, almost on me.
In a startling green flash, a young iguana darted ahead of me onto the road, then froze.
I jounced the bike off the edge of the road, lurching up and over roots and in among sheltering trees. The dented pickup blasted past, bulky metal cargo shifting in the back. Impassive dark face behind the wheel, bald head, glinting gold. The big lizard was still frozen on the side of the road. The truck veered right to hit the iguana, then left again, screaming on up the hill and around a curve.
Jolting to a halt, barely missing a tree trunk, I straddled the bike, gasping for air and straining to hear the pickup return. Killing the iguana must have satisfied the driver.
Shadows shifted under the mangroves, my heart hammering. One vivid glimpse was stamped on my nerves, the cargo in the pickup bed: a corroded, antique anchor, cross-bar topped by a chunk of dead white coral the size and shape of a human skull. The same anchor I’d seen in Victor Manden’s salvage yard.
The bike died, ticking into silence. Leaf shadow flickered, pulsing with the damp heat of the swamp.
I threw off the helmet, scrubbed a forearm over my sweaty face, and strode into the sunlight blazing over the road. The iguana was barely clinging to life, back broken and hind legs crushed. Its scales shimmered a complex pattern of bright greens that should have faded later into mature gray. Opening and closing its mouth in silent cries, it tried to drag itself along with its front legs.
If I moved it, I’d only hurt it more. Blood pooled, thickening on the baking road.
The lizard finally went still, and I pulled it into the mangroves. I didn’t want to touch the mangled body, but it had been a beautiful animal, I couldn’t leave it to be pulped into the road like another tossed paper bag or beer can.
The dense silence mocked me. Sunlight pounded down, mosquitoes closing in with the overripe stink of the swamp and the smell of the iguana’s blood. I wanted to wash my hands. Wanted to race to the sea and let the waves wash away the presence of the island. Heat haze shimmered off the paving, the red pool shivering into life, and it suddenly surged, gushing over the road toward me.
*earth groans sky splits and the crimson deluge pours down. Shadow hands seize the iguana, sharp blade slicing its throat and red drops spray over the mob, avid faces tongues lapping the blood.
Drums pulse to a feverish beat. Strong hands crush roots, mix powders, place the flask on the cave altar with the smeared feathers and bones and shells, cloaked black rock and gold coins winking in torchlight with the white veve patterns.
The Bocor’s face is a gold mask, mouth gaping on darkness. He lifts a hollow skull brimming with blood, tilts it to my lips gagging hot sweet stink forcing it down my throat*
Waves of pain beat through my head, red sparks dancing. The blood tide was swamping me, pulsing against my dams. They were cracking. I could taste the primal glee as I struck back at John’s killer, clawing his flesh to ribbons and wringing his pain and death into the steaming flood.
Maybe Laura was right—you could never be whole until you threw open the doors and embraced the darkness. Was this the shadow side of the Link? Had I made some blind Faustian bargain long ago, and now I was paying the price?
Shuddering, I pried my eyes open. I was sitting on the edge of the road, huddled with my head in my arms. I straightened, dreading to see my hands dripping with blood.
The fierce sun beat down, Mozart flute theme ringing an endless loop in my ears, transformed to a sinister minor key. Civilization was a joke. A rickety dam of sticks and rocks and concrete and steel alloys bulging before the mounting flood, little people running around frantically tacking on patches of poetry and penicillin and symphonies and martyrdoms across the pathetic shield. What was it for? What did it matter?
“No man is an island.”
With a shaky, rueful laugh, I pulled myself to my feet, patching together my own little rituals of purpose, blotting my forehead with a kerchief, pulling on the helmet, sipping tepid water from my plastic bottle. I had work to do. Somewhere there were answers. Starting up the bike, I eased onto the road.
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