Authors: Dennis Yates
When the Russians went back to the sheriff’s house to search for money and drugs they found Cyclops sitting naked on the floor eating frozen peas out of a box while clothes kicked around inside a dryer in the next room. The sight of his blackened, hoof-like feet shocked them—more satyr than human—and they could do nothing but stand quietly and stare. Cyclops hadn’t looked up when they came in, but continued to chew loudly behind a curtain of greasy hair flecked with twigs and moss. After a few minutes he asked if Dawkins and the others had been harmed and they assured him that they’d received only minor injuries during their capture. Cyclops threw the box of peas at them and warned them that if they were lying there’d be serious consequences. He told them they were fools and couldn’t be trusted with feeding chickens…
Other than anxious fishermen hoping to make the first cast of salmon season, it was that hour in the morning when it was rare to see anyone up. The storm had stirred some inhabitants of Traitor Bay from their beds while others slept on. Generators seldom used spat to life and burned off dirty smoke. The quiet vacuum left behind by the storm was slowly being filled with the pulsating grind of machines, the smell of propane and gasoline, of modern civilization kicking back to life. Ann saw a handful of homes with their lights on inside and out, people walking around checking for storm damage or sitting in their kitchens thinking about starting coffee. The dogs seemed to be busy patrolling their yards, catching the scents of distant things carried by the wind on dead leaves, twigs and trash. She scanned the roof of the store as she approached it, didn’t notice any missing shingles or damage to the chimney. She’d been worried about it for a few years now, had found bits of mortar when she cleaned the rain gutters every spring. There’d been a house down on the bay that had its chimney knocked over during a storm, and it had slid down to the edge and hung there until someone could figure out what to do about it. She’d have to call someone to come out and take a look soon.
Don’t want bricks falling down on our customers.
Ann noticed all the windows looked undamaged and the lights of the Coke coolers still glowed in the back, reassuring her that the backup generators were doing their job. She stepped on the accelerator and sped past the rest of town, which on the outer edges appeared to be blacked out. When she got over the top of a big hill she was startled by bright lights shining on the road. It was as if she’d accidently driven onto a movie set. She soon drove by a repair crew setting up cones next to a crane with a cherry picker, while others worked at a downed fir with chainsaws and she could smell the tang of freshly cut wood even with the windows rolled up.
As she turned off the highway into the boat ramp parking lot, she noticed that the lights there had also been knocked out by the storm. The place was definitely showing its years of neglect. The small concrete building that used to cater to the salmon fishermen and anyone else passing by on the highway when she was a kid, was all boarded up. The old man who’d run it had died years ago and no one had wanted to take over after he was gone. Ann still remembered the perpetual tang of propane, the big steaming pots he’d cook crabs in and the smoke of hotdogs barbequing. Practically every inch of the structure was covered now with anti-cop graffiti, and only just before salmon season came would the city pay someone to come out and give it a hasty whitewash.
She hadn’t gone fishing since high school, never cared for the crowds that turned the bay into something resembling city gridlock. Late on Friday and Saturday nights she and James would sometimes go to the boat ramp to party with friends. Nothing too serious. Someone with a pickup rigged with stereo speakers blasting from the tailgate, a pony keg hidden under tarp. Everyone seemed to get along, even with the visitors from Buoy City who occasionally got swept up in a migrating party of their own. Then Sheriff Dawkins began to crack down, made some minor-in-possession arrests and got everyone too paranoid to do much of anything on weekend nights except hang out at the 101 or go to the movies in Buoy City.
Ann parked next to the staircase that led down from the top of the bank to a floating wooden dock below. She put the gun in her pocket and grabbed the flashlight from the glove box before she got out of her car. Stopping for a moment to look out over the bay, she saw that the dark mouths of small streams she used to explore in her kayak during high tide now stood above the bay like drained aqueducts. There was a network of these canals that led through the tall grass, secret places where Ann often found solitude. Now hours before dawn, the water seemed heavier than usual as it returned to the sea. She recalled it was that time of the year when it filled up with plankton and in the sunlight looked as if it had been silted with copper dust.
When she got down the two flights of wooden staircase, she noticed a small boat tied up next to the dock. There was no sign of anyone around. The parking lot above had been empty. She drew her gun and stepped closer to the boat, wondering if someone might be lying inside, but all she saw were some life preservers and a ragged crab ring. She smelled gasoline coming from the boat, felt a puff of warmth that had drifted from its motor.
“Ann?” said a voice from behind her.
She spun around, aimed her flashlight up into a face and made sure it saw the gun in her hand.
“Don’t come any closer.”
“It’s me Ann. It’s James.” The figure backed beneath the ridge of concrete seawall and was swallowed by thicker shadow. His voice had sounded familiar.
“Let me see your hands,” Ann ordered. As James raised them into the beam of her flashlight she began to recognize them. He’d always bitten his nails down to the quick. And there were the same chicken-scratch scars where he’d accidently cut himself while fishing. It occurred to Ann that something was missing.
“James wears a class ring. I don’t see one on your left hand.”
“I traded it for two bottles of tequila,” James said.
“You traded it for booze?”
“It’s a long story. Jesus Ann, it’s me. Put the gun down before something happens.”
Ann brought the flashlight up into his face again and made him squint. She took a few steps forward and noticed the pale welt next to the corner of his right eye, the scar he’d received back when they’d lived in Portland. It has to be him, she thought.
Already feels like another lifetime ago.
When she shoved the pistol into her coat pocket she could hear him sigh deeply.
“What are you doing here?” Ann said. She felt short of breath, floaty. For a few moments she wondered if she were talking to a ghost, if she’d truly begun to lose her mind. He seemed to sway a little, as if he’d been drinking.
James relaxed and moved closer. “I got your letter that Duane was dead… The navy finally forwarded it to me.”
Before she had time to resist, he opened his arms and Ann fell into them. Once they touched she felt herself wrapping up close. It was like her body was rushing ahead of her, anxious to return to a place it had been to hundreds of times. She buried her face under his chin and smelled his neck, the whiskey coming from his breath. It was him.
The last person in the world I’d expected to see tonight.
They held each other on the creaking dock, listened to the roar of a semi truck as it vanished around each new bend in the highway like a dying tuning fork.
“God I’ve missed you Ann,” James said. “I thought this day would never come.”
“What happened to you?”
“I was discharged. They couldn’t get my shoulder fixed so they cut me loose. I get a small disability check and a chance to go back to school.”
“How long ago was this?”
“Back in March.”
“You’ve been out since March? Why didn’t you tell anyone?”
“I was feeling sorry for myself and needed time to think. So I went to Mexico and stayed drunk until I almost ran out of money.”
“Did you figure things out?” Ann said. She felt tears trickling down her cheek, and when James discovered them under his palm he smoothed them away.
“Some of it I guess. I decided I needed to come back home and face a few things, that if I didn’t do something about it now they’d be pulling me down forever. Then when I got your letter, it all seemed to come together, that the time was right. I thought I was coming back to something I knew. But I was wrong. Everything here is totally screwed up.”
“Tell me about it,” Ann said. She took his hands in hers and they both sat down on a bench. The wood was cold and sparkled with fish scales. It reminded her of the sequined dress she’d worn to her senior prom, of James introducing her to cocaine.
James was shivering. He hadn’t had time to grab his jacket, was lucky he’d slept with his shoes on.
“You’re freezing,” Ann said.
“I’m okay,” James said.
Ann took her jacket off and threw it around them both like a shawl. She rubbed his arms with her hands, kneaded his tight muscles to bring the blood back.
“Where have you been staying?”
“Over at dad’s fishing shack. Until tonight that is. A van showed up with a hanging front bumper and crushed headlight. It looked like it had been in an accident. I could see where a tree limb had gouged the side. Some guys with guns got out and one of them smashed the bulb above the shack. I was barely out the window before they kicked in the door.”
“Who were they?”
“I wasn’t sure at first. All I knew was they weren’t a bunch of kids looking for a place to party. Luckily dad still keeps this boat stashed under the dock. I would have started the motor but I was afraid of drawing attention. Later on they walked out on the bank looking for me, but by then I’d already paddled too far out on the bay for them to see me. I just drifted in the dark for a long time afraid of making too much noise. Then I saw them get into the van and drive away. When it got quiet again I started to hear other voices coming from the shack. Unless I’ve gone completely crazy I’m sure it was Tammy, Mitch and the sheriff. And it didn’t sound like they were just getting ready for a fun day of fishing either.”
Ann felt an icy chill spread up the back of her neck and into her scalp. “Are you sure it was them?”
“It had to be, Ann. You don’t forget people you’ve grown up around that fast. Now tell me what’s going on.”
“All I know is that I’ve been up all night looking for them, ever since I went by to visit Tammy after closing the store. From what I could tell there’d been a struggle, and some blood was left on the sink. But no Tammy. And then later when I tried to find Mitch and the sheriff I found their wrecked patrol at the edge of Dead Man’s Point. Something horrible has happened, James. Now after what you’ve said I think they could have been kidnapped. If it’s really them, then we need to go help.”
“Are you sure we should get involved?”
“What are you talking about? Tammy and Mitch are my friends,
“All I’m saying is it’s not safe. Those guys could come back any time and then
might become their prisoners-hostages or whatever. Haven’t you tried calling anyone else for help?”
“There’s no way to reach anyone. The storm even knocked out cell phones. A guy working for the power company told me a landslide has closed 101 above Buoy, and just south of Traitor Bay it’s buried by downed trees. He said no one is going to be able to get through until late this afternoon, and that’s only if another crew can make it over the old road.”
“Then I guess we don’t have much of a choice,” James said, lighting a cigarette. “I just hope we have time.”
They climbed into the boat and James started the motor. Ann leaned in close so she could keep him warm with her body heat. She wanted to ask him when he’d taken up smoking but she didn’t want him to think she was a nag.