Chris was trying to convince her that marrying Bobby was a terrible idea.
“You don’t believe people can change?” Lane asked him.
“No. Look at me. I can’t.”
It must have been chilly, because Lane hugged her arms. Her fingernails were pink, which Chris found disturbing. She never painted her nails. She must’ve done it for Bobby.
“Chris, you’ve got to stop,” Lane told him. “You can’t keep doing what you’re doing.”
“I gave it up,” he told her. But he could tell she didn’t believe him.
“I know where you could get a job,” Lane said. “Alex would take you in. He bought the hotel, you know.”
Chris protested. Alex was an old friend, but they hadn’t seen each other in years. Not since Alex had joined the army. Besides, Alex had gotten a little weird ever since his old man died. How the hell could he afford to buy Rebel Island, anyway?
“His father had some money,” Lane said. “He never spent anything. And I think Mr. Eli wanted him to have the place. He sold it really cheap.”
Chris didn’t think much of Mr. Eli. The man had been creepy. Alex living on that island so long with just his dad and that old guy in the bathrobe—it seemed pretty damn strange.
“I’ve got no experience,” Chris said. “Nobody would hire me.”
“Alex would,” Lane insisted. “He believes in giving people a chance. He’s got big plans for the hotel.”
She took out a business card and pressed it into Chris’s hands. He paid a lot more attention to the warmth of her fingers than he did to the card.
“Just call him for me?” she asked.
Chris gazed at the waves, thinking about surfing, how he would like to be out there riding the crests. Things were simpler in the water. The waves came to you. You just needed patience and balance. You didn’t need to think too much, or prove anything. You didn’t get in trouble just because you wanted to make some money.
“I’ll call him,” Chris promised.
A week later, Chris wrote: I took the job. It’ll only be for a while. Besides, I’ve got an idea. I could have enough money for Hawaii in a few months.
The hotel office looked like a hurricane had blown through, though it was one of the few rooms where the hurricane hadn’t.
Paperwork was strewn everywhere. Notes and old photographs overflowed the bulletin board. There were a wall calendar and two desk calendars, and as far as I could tell none of them was for this year.
“Here, señor.” Jose handed me the phone bill from last month.
“Please,” I said, “just call me Tres.”
Jose had a quick, natural smile that would’ve gotten him labeled impertinent in school or the military. He probably didn’t find anything particularly funny. His mouth was just shaped that way. He was built like a wrestler, low and thick and solid, with hands that could’ve crushed rocks. But his smile and the gleam in his eyes made him look nonthreatening. Almost cuddly.
I decided not to share that observation with him.
I scanned the list of calls from the hotel’s land line. Most were to Port Aransas or Aransas Pass. Some to Corpus, Kingsville, San Antonio, Brownsville. All the closest metropolitan areas. The places you might expect.
“Can you tell which room dialed which number?” I asked.
Jose looked at the phone bill. “No, señor.”
“How about cell phones? Does Chris have one?”
“I think, yes. But mobile phones do not work on the island.”
“Don’t suppose you have any idea where his might be?”
Jose shook his head. “Lo siento, señor.”
I stared at the dark computer screen. No way to access the thing. I found some printed-out emails, but nothing interesting. Confirmed bookings. Catering invoices. Responses to creditors and guests. It looked like Chris had written most of the hotel’s correspondence. There was nothing that matched the printout from U.S. Marshal Berry.
“Jose, how long have you worked here?”
“Two years, señor, in July.”
“You like it?”
“The work is good. I enjoy preparing the brunches on Sunday. Usually, I make better than Vienna sausages.”
I went back to the phone numbers. Something about them nagged me but I couldn’t pinpoint what.
“Did Chris hire you?” I asked.
“No, señor.” A hint of distaste in his voice. “Mr. Huff hired me. Mr. Stowall came later.”
It seemed weird for Jose to be calling a young twerp like Chris “Mr. Stowall.”
“They treat you okay?” I asked. “Chris and Alex?”
“Yes, señor. They have been most kind to me and Imelda.”
Something in his voice—as if it were difficult to say Imelda’s name. “You are married, aren’t you?”
I noted the shift from señor to sir. His tone had become guarded, maybe a little obstinate.
I decided not to press him further. For one thing, I wasn’t sure it would do any good. Also, I wasn’t sure it would be wise. Despite the smile, there was an undercurrent to Jose that I didn’t quite understand.
I looked back at the phone numbers. Corpus Christi, Kingsville, San Antonio.
“Jose, do you have the registration cards for this weekend’s guests?”
“At the front desk, sir.” He looked relieved to have an excuse to go. “I will get them.”
While I waited, I stared at one of the photos on the bulletin board: Alex Huff as a teen, squatting at the dock with a rope curled in his hands. The boat in the photo wasn’t anything like the forty-thousand-dollar one I’d just scuttled. It was a simple twenty-footer—the same boat Alex had once taken me fishing in. Despite all the time that had passed, the sight of it still unsettled me.
That afternoon, twenty-five years ago, the sky had been clear and bright. We took the boat out so far Rebel Island seemed to sink into the sea. The water was green as chlorophyll, hot with the smell of salt and fish. In the distance, a shrimp boat trailed its nets, a mob of seagulls circling above the wake.
“Bait your hook,” Alex told me.
He’d brought a bucket of live shrimp—translucent gray things that snapped and jumped in the lukewarm water.
I hated the way they felt—like slimy fingernails. My twelve-year-old mind couldn’t comprehend why adults would ever want to eat these things. I pinched one between my fingers and proceeded, grimly, to impale it on the hook, its crescent body just the right shape.
Put the point through the brain, my father would’ve advised me. That little black dot. Don’t worry. It can’t feel anything.
I had trained myself to bait a hook without flinching. But whenever I did so, I felt like I was deadening my own brain—forcing myself not to feel. It was just a stupid shrimp. Its entire nervous system consisted of a gray line and a black dot in a colorless body. Why should I care?
Alex cast his line. “Old man giving you a hard time?”
He sounded almost sympathetic, but I didn’t trust him. I was pretty sure this was some kind of setup, a prank that Alex and Garrett would laugh about later. Yet I didn’t want to go back to the island. I didn’t want to see my parents.
“Didn’t they tell you?” Alex asked.
“Tell me what?”
He studied me. “Not my place. Ask Garrett.”
He might as well have told me to ask God. I figured I’d be more likely to get an answer.
We fished until the sun began to slant into my eyes. Alex hadn’t brought any bobbers, so I couldn’t tell if I got any bites. He said he didn’t believe in bobbers. He could feel a tug on the line just fine. Couldn’t I?
The ocean toyed with me, plucking my line like a guitar string. Every swell was a false alarm. I reeled in and found my shrimp still impaled on the hook.
I had just recast when something scraped against the hull. At first I thought we’d run into a sandbar. Then I looked off the port side and saw the beige tip of a fin going underwater.
“Shark,” Alex told me calmly.
I dropped my fishing pole as if it had become an electrical line. I scrambled away from it, trying to get to the dead center of the boat.
“What are you doing?” Alex demanded.
“Shark,” I repeated.
“Jesus.” Alex leaned over and saved my fishing rod from getting dragged into the water. “We’re in a fishing channel. Lots of blood and guts from the big boats. Of course there are sharks. Take your rod.”
I just stared at the water. It was calm and green, no sign of anything stirring underneath. “I want to go back.”
“Suit yourself.” Alex reeled in my line. My shrimp had been nibbled into a fluffy gray mass. “Your parents are getting a divorce.”
“Your parents. They’re getting a divorce.”
“No, they’re not.”
Alex didn’t argue. He could probably see the impact his words were having on me. For months, I’d known something was wrong: my dad’s angry outbursts, my mom’s evasiveness and tears. Then there’d been the scene in the hotel room.
“He’s been screwing around,” Alex said. “Nothing new. Garrett’s known about it for years. Your dad’s a drunk. A dirty old man.”
“That’s not true.” Which was a stupid thing to say.
Alex laughed. “Whatever, Tres.”
Anger built up in my throat. I’d heard Alex brush me off too many times before, whenever he and Garrett played a cruel joke on me because they were bored.
“My dad’s better than you,” I said, my voice cracking.
“I saw in the lighthouse.”
I should’ve known from the steely light in Alex’s eyes that I was entering dangerous territory. I needed to stop. “You get high and carve girls out of wood,” I said. “Who were you making up there, anyway? Your girlfriend?”
Alex grabbed me by the shirt collar and pitched me headfirst into the water.
I came up spluttering. Salt water burned in my nose and my eyes stung. I dog-paddled frantically, clawing for the side of the boat. My shoes weighed a thousand pounds. I knew the shark must be close, already crazed from the smell of fish blood.
Alex looked down at me. His face was cold and harsh. “Don’t ever, ever mention that again. You can swim home. Do you want to swim home?”
I couldn’t answer. I couldn’t even beg. I tried to grab the side of the boat but my hands wouldn’t work.
Alex swore in disgust. He grabbed my shirt and hauled me soaked and trembling into the boat. When we got back to Rebel Island, Garrett was waiting for us on the dock, scowling as I trudged ashore dripping wet.
“What the hell happened?” he asked.
I was too ashamed to speak. When Alex explained, I expected Garrett to bust out laughing, like he’d done many times before, but this time Alex seemed to have gone too far even for Garrett.
“You fed my little brother to the sharks?” he demanded. “What the hell for?”
He and Alex began to argue. Under different circumstances, this would’ve pleased me. Garrett was actually standing up for me. At least he didn’t think I quite deserved to be shark bait. But watching him and Alex yell at each other, all I could think of was my parents—the way they’d been at each other’s throats the past few weeks, the idea that their marriage was over.