“Uhn.” My head nodded heavily, and with a jolt I snapped upright, blinking in confusion at the shabby terminal. I twisted around on the bench, knocking over a plastic cup that hadn’t been sitting beside me a minute before. “What?” I fumbled for it as fruit and bright red juice sprayed across the floor. I retrieved the cup and peered into its sticky, pungent residue. Sharp shards, mixed with dark bits that looked like whiskers, glinted in the red puddle.
I touched them. Broken glass.
The bartender, emerging from his snores to my insistent shaking, threw his hands up, shook his head, swore on his mother’s soul he hadn’t seen anyone approach me with the doctored drink. “Be dey Rude boy, dey makin’ moh trouble here!” He hastily closed up the bar and disappeared. No one else around.
I threw the island’s notion of a prank into the garbage can. I needed a cold shower and some sleep. There had to be a phone where I could call Laura.
A red-painted line took me past plywood ticket counters and the roped-off corner where young boys in ragged T-shirts had stacked the baggage that hadn’t been misrouted. A few battered boxes and a shiny purple suitcase were the only remnants of the departed tourist horde. The red line died at the back of the building, where I pushed through metal swing doors to the pickup area.
Blinding glare, heat waves shimmering off cement under the fierce sun. A lone taxi minus driver baked in the dusty parking lot. The heat pulsed, closing around me like a voracious creature determined to suck away even the memory of coolness. I couldn’t get a proper breath.
And it was only February. Tightening a sweaty grip on my briefcase, I was heading back for the shade when a battered Jeep careened over the rutted road and jounced to a stop near the taxi.
The cab driver emerged from a cubbyhole off the loading area, throwing up his hands as the dust cloud defiled his glossy black paint job. “You be drivin’ dis ting like a crazy mon!” He jabbed a dark finger at the dented gray Jeep.
Its driver stopped bawling out an off-key rendition of “Stairway to Heaven,” pushed back a tumble of tawny hair, and vaulted over the side bar. He reached in back and produced two beer bottles, striding over to lean against the taxi hood. “Cool out, Joe. What’s happening?”
The cab owner flinched as the other man lounged against the gleaming paint in his faded shorts and T-shirt. He shrugged, flicked specks of dust from his immaculate trousers and white linen shirt, and accepted a beer.
“Same ol ting. I jus work all de time.”
“Car’s looking good.” He took a swig and poked his head through the window. “New tape system? Put out some sound?”
Joe’s impassive face was split by a white grin. “Is de bes.”
“Well, don’t keep that domino game waiting.”
Joe nodded and sauntered back through the dim doorway. The other man took a swallow of beer and strode toward me, stopping to size me up and down.
“Lost baggage?” He grinned through a short coppery-glinting beard. “No point waiting here, could be days. I’ll give you a ride into town after I pick up my stuff.”
“Thanks, but I —”
“No problem.” Halfway through the door, he turned back. “Want a beer? Cold ones in the back, help yourself. Here, hold this for me.”
He was gone and I was holding his half-full bottle. I looked down at it dazedly. I walked over to set it on the Jeep’s dashboard and headed back for the shade of the terminal. The tropic sun wasn’t kidding around. Time to call Laura.
As I reached the doorway, the man burst through with a large box balanced on one shoulder, a young native boy staggering sleepily behind with a smaller box.
“Ready to go?” He stopped and the boy bumped into him. With his free hand, he steered the boy forward and propelled him gently toward the Jeep.
“Look, you’re three or four scenes ahead of me here. Excuse me.” I made a move toward the door he was blocking.
He didn’t get the message. “If you need the bathroom, it’s over behind the bar. What happened to my beer?”
All I wanted was to get inside, out of the sun’s onslaught. He was planted tall and solid in the way, teeth flashing through the close-trimmed beard that set off just too nicely the kind of blunt, rough-hewn features that would have labeled a woman homely, but on a man broadcast sex appeal. He seemed to find me vastly amusing. I winced away from the glaring reflections off his mirrored shades, refocusing on a pair of muscular brown legs. This deep a suntan had to be overkill.
“Excuse me,” I repeated, edging around him. “I’m waiting for a friend.”
“Can’t do better than that?” He grinned. “Good luck with the baggage.”
He frowned then, pushing the sunglasses up over his hairline and giving me what seemed to be a suddenly puzzled scrutiny. His eyes glinted vivid blue with the intense sunlight. “Hey, don’t I —”
“No. Definitely not.” I moved around him toward the door.
He started to reach a hand, then shrugged and slipped the shades over his eyes. “I’d get out of this dive before dark if I were you. See you around, it’s a small island.”
Inside, I blew out a long breath, sucking in the marginally cooler air with relief. If my first minutes of the island were any indication, I’d have to take Pat MacIntyre’s warning seriously. The dull throb of an overheated headache was the worst threat I could cope with at the moment.
I finally found the phone, complete with a faded message scrawled on a dusty scrap of paper sack taped over the dial. Out of Order.
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