A comical leer, brown eyes dancing in his sunbaked face. “Island’ll shake you loose. C’mon.” Barefoot on the searing concrete quay, he hustled me past the departing resort ferry sporting crimson paint, a Jolly Roger and Muzak calypso trailing off the stern. Frank climbed behind the wheel of a pickup, waving me around to the other side. I was closing the door as he shot into reverse, burned rubber out of the lot, and tore into a steep road winding up the hill to the hotel.
“Here.” He reached into a picnic cooler, thrusting a couple of Elephant Beers at me. “Opener in the glove compartment.” He careened around a switchback.
Taking the opened bottle I offered, he tilted it in a long swallow, propped the bottle between his bare thighs, and dug into a crumpled bag of peanut candy. “Balanced lunch—vitamin ‘B’ and protein.”
With a shudder, I popped the other beer. “How long have you been on the island, Frank?”
“Six or eight years, I guess.” Swigging, he squealed through a turn.
“You don’t get ‘rock fever’?”
“What’s to get tired of?” He swerved past a startled gardener. “Always something wild going on. You drive as fast as the roads let you, work when you want, forget about shoes. Never run out of sun, cheap booze, parties, good diving, lobster and conch. And pretty ladies.” He raised his bottle to me and drained it.
“Look.” We’d come over the crest onto a parking strip with a view over the outer side of the island. Below, the brilliant sea pawed at the rocky shore and a breakwater shielding a golden curve of beach. “Welcome to paradise.”
He pulled to a stop and turned to face me. “So, okay, we’ve got a big mark against us since John bit it. But he was having a blast here. He could’ve bought it just as easy, getting hit by some old fart with cataracts and a Rambler in good old Straightville, Washington. He was alive here.”
I bit my lip and nodded.
“Hey, I hear Laura and her crowd’s been giving you the royal run-around. Fuck-heads. Here.” He fumbled on the seat, pulled out the little bundle wrapped in the red bandanna. “You should have something good to remember John by.”
Wrapped in the cloth was a delicate little perfume bottle, clear glass curved into a graceful hourglass shape. Each flattened side had a different design pressed in, on one side curling vines and flowers, and on the other a geometric lattice. Sunlight sparked iridescent rainbows in the antique glass.
“John found it on one of our dives in the harbor. Bunches of ships got wrecked in a hurricane a couple hundred years ago, now they’re all ground up after they dredged the harbor for the cruise ships. Once in a while you get lucky and find something choice. Illegal as hell diving there, don’t advertise it.” He winked.
My finger traced the curling glass vines. “It really should be in a museum.”
“Bingo!” He slapped his thigh. “That’s what he said you’d say. I remember, we were having a blast, John really got stoked diving those wrecks, had the treasure bug bad. He was laughing, showing off that bottle and a silver piece of eight he’d found. Then all of a sudden he went serious on me, mooning over that bottle, said he wished he could give it to you, but you’d probably just hand it over to some moldy old museum where it’d sit locked up in a cabinet with the life sucked out of it. Knew you’d really want to keep it, use it.”
Throat tight, eyes stinging, I gripped the little bottle, the first solid artifact of John I’d found on the island. Suddenly his life here was real.
Frank touched my shoulder. “No crime in crying. John was a good man.”
Closing my eyes, I swallowed the surge of grief. I held the bottle up to the light. “Thank you.”
“Hey, it’s from John.”
“I mean for talking to me. No one else will.”
“Yeah, I heard you were asking all kinds of questions. About that shipwreck cove, and Vic Manden. Buzz is, you think Manden offed John.”
I turned quickly. “Frank, what happened between them?”
“Shit, I don’t know for sure. John got tight-lipped toward the end, tripping out over that treasure, goddamn Laura pushing him into it. All I know is he was smokin’ over Manden double-crossing him somehow.”
“Was Manden running drugs?”
He eyed me and sighed. “Where’s this gonna get you? Won’t bring John back. You don’t know the scene here, you’ll just stir up trouble for yourself.”
“I need to know what happened. He was my brother. Your friend. Doesn’t that mean anything?”
He stared out over the sea.
“You know something, don’t you, Frank?”
He finally turned to me, spreading his hands. “All right. I know a guy who might have something to tell you.” He glanced at his bulky dive watch. “Shit! Got to get this gear to the pool.” He jumped out of the truck. “Come by the shop next week.”
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