Authors: Wendy Corsi Staub
Wendy Corsi Staub
sushi pal, walking partner, shopping buddyâ
thank you for taking me away
from it all in the afternoons!
And for my three favorite guysâ
Brody, Morgan, and Mark.
Special thanks to Barb Mayes Boustead, Margaret Malloy, Kathy Piede, and David Staub; to my agent, Laura Blake Peterson, and the gang at Curtis Brown; to my editor, Lucia Macro, and the gang at Avon Books/HarperCollins; and finally, to Mark Staub, loving husband, competent editor, and talented writer, whose own books I will be reading someday soon.
Please note: This is a work of fiction. While certain names, places, and events are real and/or based on historical fact, the plot and narrative action depicted within are strictly products of the author's imagination.
The past lies like a nightmare upon the present.
I believe that one can never leave home. I believe that one carries the shadows, the dreams, the fears and the dragons of home under one's skin, at the extreme corners of one's eyes and possibly in the gristle of the earlobe.
Letter to My Daughter
Saint Antony Island, the Caribbean
May 10, 2012
t's been a while since Carrie's spotted someone with enough potential, but .Â .Â . here she is.
The woman in the orange and pink paisley sundress is about Carrie's ageâforty, give or takeâand has the right features, the right build. She's a few inches taller than Carrie; her hair is much darker, and she's wearing glasses. But really, those things don't matter. Those things can be easily faked: a wig, some heelsÂ .Â .Â .
What matters far more is that the woman is alone. Not just alone in this particular moment, but alone as in socially isolated, giving off an indefinable vibe that any opportunistic predator would easily recognize.
Carrie's natural instincts tell her that this is it; this woman is her ticket off this Caribbean island at last.
Always listen to your gut
, Daddy used to tell her.
If you tune in to your intuition, you'll find that you know much more than you think you do.
A part of her wanted to mock that advice later, when he'd failed her.
The words didn't even make sense. How can you
more than you
you do? Whatever you
is what you
. Knowing .Â .Â . thinking .Â .Â . it was all the same thing.
Anyway, if she really
know more than she thought, she wouldn't have been so shocked by his betrayal.
That was what she told herself afterward. Even then, though, she heard his voice inside her head, chiding her, telling her that she'd ignored the signs; ignored her gut.
Well, she'd done her best never to make that mistake again.
Right now, her gut is telling her that this woman, unaware that she's being watched closely from behind the bar, is the one.
She's been sitting on a stool at the far corner for almost an hour now, nursing a rum runner and looking as though she'd like some company.
Male company, judging by the wistful glances she's darted at other patrons. But that's obviously not going to happen.
It isn't that the woman is unattractive; she's somewhat pretty in an overweight, unsophisticated, patchy-pink-sunburn kind of way.
There's someone for everyone, right? Some men are drawn to this type.
Not here at the Jimmy's Big Iguana, an open-air beach bar filled with tanned and toned scantily clad twentysomethings. Island rum is flowing; the sporadic whirring of bar blenders and raucous bursts of laughter punctuate the reggae beat of Bob Marley's “One Love” playing in the background. Lazy overhead paddle fans do little to stir heavy salt air scented with coconut sunscreen, deep-fried seafood, and stale beer.
Beyond the open-air perimeter of the bar, against a backdrop of palm trees and turquoise sea, tourists browse at vendors' tables set up on the sand. Fresh from shore excursions, those with local currency to burn are pawing through T-shirts and island-made trinkets, snatching up cheap souvenirs before their ships set sail for the next port of call.
The woman at the bar darts a look at her watch as she slurps the last inch of her rum runner, and Carrie realizes it's now or never.
“Ready for your second drink?” She reaches across the bar to remove the empty glass, with its gummy pink film coating the inside.
“Oh, that's okay. I don't want anotherâ”
“It's a freebie. Two-for-one happy hour for cruise ship passengers.”
No, not really.
Carrie nods, already reaching for the bottle of Tortuga Rum. “All you have to do is show me your ship ID. What's your name?”
Carrie nods, smiles, points to her own plastic name tag. “I'm Jane.”
As in Doe.
Well, not quite. Jane Doe had translated, in her clever mind, to Jane Deereâ
doe, a deer
âand that's the name she's been using for years now. Jane Deere. Before that, she was Carrie Robinson MacKenna, and before thatÂ .Â .Â .
Before that doesn't matter.
“Nice to meet you.” Molly's face glistens with island humidity, and moist strands of her dark hair are plastered to her forehead. She glances again at the Timex strapped around her thick wrist.
“Don't worry. You have time.”
“How do you know that?”
“I've been working here a long time. I know the sailing schedules.” That is most definitely
Such is life in this harbor town: the same-but-different routine every day, set to the rhythm of the cruise lines' itineraries.
Carrie has always appreciated the precision with which she can see the gargantuan vessels begin to appear every morning out on the turquoise sea, an hour or two after sunrise. From the window of her rented apartment above the bar, she watches the same ships glide in and out of Saint Antony harbor at the same time on the same days of the week, spitting thousands of passengers onto the wide pier.
The same passengers, it sometimes seems: waddling Americans in shorts and fanny packs; hand-holding honeymooners; chain-smoking Europeans in open-collar suits and dresses with high heels; multigenerational families of harried parents, tantrum-throwing toddlers, sullen teens, silver-haired, scooter-riding granniesÂ .Â .Â .
Carrie serves them all; knows them all. Not on a first-name basis, but by type and, often, by ship. Sure, some crowds of passengers are interchangeableâon, say, Tuesday, when megaships from Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and Princess are simultaneously in port. They all cater to middle-class Americansâfamilies, retirees, and honeymooners alike.
But today is Thursday. Three different cruise lines; three distinctly different crowds.
“Which ship are you on,” Carrie asks, “the Carousel?”
Molly raises an eyebrow. “How'd you know?”
Easy. It's a singles cruise out of Miami. There are two others in port for the day, but one is a Disney ship favored almost exclusively by families with young children; the other, a small luxury line popular with wealthy South American couples.
This woman is definitely single, U.S. born and bred .Â .Â . and U.S. bound, or so Molly thinks. Little does she suspect that if all goes according to Carrie's plan, the Carousel will be setting sail in a little over an hour, at five o'clock sharp, without her.
“How'd I know? Lucky guess.” Carrie shrugs. “Like I said, I've been working here long enough. ”
“It must be hard to be inside on the job when it's always so beautiful out there.”
“Sometimes.” Much easier to agree than to explain that she prefers it this way.
Carrie's never been an outdoorsy girlânot by choice, anyway. After all those childhood summers working the fields in the glaring, burning sun of the Great Plains, she welcomed the architecture-shaded canyons of Manhattan. And yes, she had regretted having to leave New York behind so soon. Given proper time to plan her exit strategy a decade ago, she'd have opted for a fog-shrouded city like London or San Francisco, or perhaps rainy Seattle or PortlandÂ .Â .Â .
But at the time, her objective was to get out quicklyâin the immediate aftermath of September 11, no less, when public transportation was at an inconvenient standstill. Had she been trying to enter the U.S., she'd have been out of luck, given the sudden, intense border scrutiny on incoming travelers.
But she only wanted to leaveâand hitchhiking was the way to go, from truck stop to truck stop, down the East Coast. Riding high in the cabs of eighteen-wheelers along an endless gray ribbon of interstate brought back a lot of memories. Good ones, mostly.
As she made her way to Florida, she perfected her cover story: she was supposed to meet her terminally ill fiancÃ© in the Caribbean to marry him that Saturday.
People were in a shell-shocked, help-your-fellow-American mode. Every time she mentioned that she'd escaped the burning towers in New York, strangers bent over backward to help, giving her rides, food, money.
Eventually she encountered a perpetually stoned, sympathetic trucker who was more than happy to connect her with a man willing to help her complete her so-called wedding journey. For a steep priceâone she could easily afford, thanks to years of stockpiling cashâshe was quite literally able to sail away on a little boat regularly used for smuggling illegal substances
the country, as opposed to smuggling people
She'd chosen Saint Antony for its relatively close proximity to the United States and for its unofficial look-the-other-way policies when it comes to just about everything. She figured she'd stay awhileâsix months, a year, maybe twoâand then move on. Once she was here, however, complicated post-9/11 security measures made it a challenge to return to the States.
She could have gone elsewhereâEurope, maybe, or the South Pacificâbut she wasn't really interested in doing that. America was home, and someday, she might want to go back.
As always, she'd done her homework and figured out how she would eventually be able to get around the new security obstacles. She came up with the perfect plan, but she wasn't in any hurry to put it into action. Maybe she'd stay here forever. Maybe not. It was just good to know she could escape if she wantedâor neededâto.
She didn't, until the morning six months ago when she turned on her television and was blindsided by her own face staring back at her. There she was, in an old photograph that accompanied a news report from suburban New York.
“So do you like bartending?” the woman at the bar, Molly, asks her. “I bet you meet a lot of interesting people.”
“Sure do,” Carrie agrees, but of course that's another lie.
These people don't interest her. At times, they bore or frustrate her, but mostly, they merely remind her that there's a world beyond this island. A world Carrie is ready to rejoin at last.
A generous shot of rum splashes into the blender, and then another for good measure, along with ice, mixerâand the powdered contents of a packet Carrie surreptitiously pulls from her pocket, where it's been waiting for months now. Waiting for just the right opportunityÂ .Â .Â .
This is it.
Carrie reaches for the blender switch. It's sticky; everything here in the barâand everyone, for that matterâis sticky, and damp.
Oh, it's going to feel so good to escape the looming Caribbean summer, with its oppressive humidity, daily rainstorms, and hurricanes lining up out in the Atlantic like steel balls in a pinball shoot. Disembarking in the States tomorrow morningâyes, even Miamiâwill be a literal breath of fresh air.
Her stomach fluttering with excitement at the thought of it, Carrie flips the gummy switch. The contents of the blender erupt, sucking the white powder into a frothy vortex. Carrie lets it whirl for at least thirty seconds before filling the waiting glass with frozen slush the color of the Caribbean sky at duskâher favorite time of day.
I'm probably going to miss those sunsets, if nothing else
, she acknowledges.
But I've seen enough to last a lifetime.
She's spent more than ten years in this barefoot, rum- and ganja-laced, easy-living part of the world, where no one bats an eye or asks too many questions of a newcomer. Ironic, Carrie has always thought, that countless people come to the sunny Caribbean to slip into the shadows. Here, they can escape their past; maybeâif they're luckyâerase it altogether.
But last November, when Carrie saw her own face in that news report about her ex-husband and his new wife, she was swept by a fierce, unexpected wave of emotion. Resentment swirled up from the murky depths of her memory, churning renewed frustration and rage.
It's been six months since that day. Six months of planning and plotting. Six months of growing obsession, just like beforeâyears ago, when she was little more than a girl and developed the fixation that would consume her life.
I couldn't help it then, and I can't help it now.
It's time to go home, confront the past, battle the demons she'd left behind. Time to make things right at last, the way she couldn't the first time she'd tried, because something got in the way: an unexpected yearning for a so-called normal life, a glimmer of hope that she might somehow achieve it.
I should have known better.
Ah, but she
Maybe you were right after all, Daddy. Maybe I knew much more than I thought.
But she'd gotten sidetracked, caught up in desire. She'd been foolish.
What am I now, all these years later?
Adding a straw and the obligatory paper umbrella to the doctored rum runner, Carrie smiles, certain that her plan is going to work.
I thought the same thing the last couple of times, and I was wrong.
The first candidate she'd found, about two months ago, hadn't been alone after all. That was a close call. Before the female tourist Carrie had selected could lift her doctored daiquiri to her lips, a pair of friendsâthe woman's roommates on the Carousel, it turned outâburst into the bar to join her, toting bags from a souvenir shop down the street.
Carrie managed to accidentally-on-purpose knock over the glass, spilling the drug-laced slush all over the bar. She made the woman a fresh drink on the house, along with two more for her friends, and when the Carousel set sail, the tipsy threesome were all aboard.
A few weeks later, she saw her chance again.
Another solo woman at the bar, one who bore enough of a resemblance to Carrie that it just might be possible. Her name was Beth and she was the chatty type. She had just survived an ugly divorce, she said, with no children, and was on her cruise to celebrate leaving behind her old life in rural Maine to start fresh in New Orleans, where she didn't know a soul.