Still summer, p.20
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       Still Summer, p.20
 

           Jacquelyn Mitchard
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  She approached him slowly.

  “The gun isn’t loaded,” he said softly. “They didn’t think they would need ammunition for this. But Ernesto has a big magazine of ammo. It’s around his belly in a belt.”

  “Why are you here?” Tracy asked. “Why?”

  “I work with them,” said the young man.

  “How? You don’t seem like the kind of person who would do this.”

  “I am doing it, so I must be that kind of person.”

  “Are they forcing you?”

  “No.”

  “Then what?”

  The young man rubbed his eyes with the backs of his hands. “Listen, I don’t want you or your daughter to get killed, or your friend, either. I am trying to think of a way out of this, and getting this fuel into our motor is the best thing I can think of.”

  “Where is your mother?”

  “Please don’t,” said the young man.

  “Where is she?”

  “She’s in New York. In a house by the ocean right now, because it’s summer.”

  “So your family is well-to-do.”

  “Yes.”

  “So you don’t have to do this. What is it that you are doing? Do you rove around and just steal from people?”

  The young man pointed to the bouncing yola. “There is heroin in that boat, and these men bring it to another man who brings it into New York City. That’s why we have to get the fuel in a hurry. We got held up by the wind that popped your sail.”

  “But you said ‘these men,’” Tracy pressed him. “As if it weren’t you also.”

  “It is me also.”

  “You bring drugs into New York?”

  “I do this for money, a great deal of money for me. I’ve only done it once before, and I won’t do it again if I live.”

  “Are you a drug . . . user? Are you a drug addict?”

  The young man laughed. He looked hard into the woman’s green eyes with the gold flecks. “Of course not,” he said.

  “Then why?”

  “I want to move to Montana,” he said. “I always have.”

  Tracy laughed. It was as if he’d said he was studying piracy for a role in a movie. “Why doesn’t your father just give you the money to move to Montana?”

  “He doesn’t know where I am. Neither does my mother, really.”

  “Nobody does this to move to Montana! People move to Montana and get jobs. What’s the real reason?”

  “It is the real reason,” the young man continued. “If there are other reasons, I don’t know them. . . .”

  “How did you even meet them?”

  “Why does that matter? Look, this is the last trip. I’m going away from here in just two weeks. Then this happened. But if I’m lucky, they will only want to come back for the boat after we drop off the cargo and then you’ll be gone. Please be gone when we come back in three days.”

  “Why do you care?”

  “I don’t want to hurt anyone.”

  “Drugs hurt people.”

  “I don’t know them! It’s their choice!”

  Tracy sank back on her heels to think of a way to take advantage of this deep well of vacillation. If he was a young man from a wealthy family, someone had driven him away, and since mothers did not do this, it must have been his father. But if his mother knew about this, she would be distraught. His mother—this might be the reason, beyond their common nationality, that he was eager to escape without damaging her and Cammie and Olivia. Gangsters wept over their mothers. This kid was deep in bad company. But perhaps Tracy could mine whatever vein of his recent past she could uncover. All his past was recent—perhaps closer to the surface than Tracy thought.

  He shook the fuel can. “This is taking a long time,” he said, glancing at the maw of the saloon, where Carlo and Ernesto slept.

  “You can take the gun and shoot them,” she said finally.

  “Yes.”

  “You’ve thought of that.”

  “Yes.”

  “Why don’t you? You’d be free. You could go home.”

  “I can’t go home,” he said.

  “Your mother would welcome you home.”

  “Yes.”

  “So would your father.”

  “No.”

  “He would, even if he didn’t say it. He may be a fool or proud, but you’re his child.” The young man grimaced. “Would you let them kill us?”

  “No,” said the young man. “But I don’t want to kill even them unless I have to kill them. I hate them. I hate what we’ve done. But killing them would make me one of them. I don’t mean entirely that. I am one of them. Killing them would make me worse than I am. I just want to get out of here without being worse than I am.”

  “And . . . ,” Tracy prompted.

  “There’s the matter of prison, not only my conscience. They haven’t done anything to you except threaten you. If you kill a smuggler while he’s asleep, that doesn’t make it something, like, nobler than murder. People would know, because you would know, and eventually someone who knows my family would know, and I would be . . .”

  “Unworthy?” Tracy asked.

  The young man smiled, a smile that had seen orthodontia. “No. Unsalvageable.”

  Tracy looked for the riddle. Why hadn’t they simply gunned them all down, raped Cammie, and pushed all of them over the side? Wasn’t this game of threat and reprieve just that, a game—as Lenny had told them, something pirates didn’t do, the waste of a good plank? There had to be a reason that all of them were not already spiraling down among the sharks, and it had to lie in the balance of power among these three men. This boy, no less handsome or vigorous than her own Ted, and not much older than Cammie, was a drug smuggler, with an automatic weapon, in the company of criminals. He was himself a criminal. Why did he turn to her with crucifixion in his eyes? Did she only imagine it? Because he spoke English? Because he didn’t smell of offal and pitted teeth and rancid oil? Was she such a pure racist that this boy’s veneer of politeness and concern, not to mention his wide blue eyes, had convinced her that he was a handhold of hope? Did he have the same intents as these others, and was his assigned role only to present the face of civility?

  Unsalvageable, she thought. He said he wanted to be saved.

  “There isn’t a soul for miles around here,” said Tracy, pressing him. “Why haven’t you hurt us?”

  “I don’t want to,” said the young man. “I’ve said so.”

  “Why haven’t they? Are you afraid of them?”

  “Yes, I am. But for them, if the man above us were to tell the man above him that they killed American women, it would be certain death. Or if they were caught, if this boat was to be found and identified. There is no appeal in a Central American prison. They will hang or be put against a wall and shot. They have to think this over.” Tracy thought of the scales’ delicate equilibrium. “This boat, it could be made unrecognizable with some easy work. But time is a factor.”

  “But how would you ever get it to . . . wherever it is you go? The motor’s frozen. You can’t sail it.”

  “Oh, you can make a sail from anything. You still have the genny,” the young man said, pointing to the small, furled sail. “You can use canvas. Bedsheets. If we made another sail and set both of them, even halfway decently, we could make good time. It’s the time before you get there, until the boat is hidden and painted so it looks like another boat, that’s the fear. Because people might already be looking for you and your family.”

  “They are,” Tracy said rapidly. “My cousin called the Coast Guard. The American Coast Guard. And I assume they’ll cooperate with the navy in Grenada. . . .” She had no idea, especially with Dave’s illness, whether she would be on Janis’s mind at all.

  “Grenada, you are not even close,” said the young man. “If they think you are near Grenada, then they are looking in the wrong place. You’re headed for Honduras now, or you were. They’d have to know where you are to find you. Don’t let them know people are l
ooking. It might make them feel reckless.”

  “What can I do to save my daughter? What would your mother do to save you?”

  “I want to try to talk them into going to bring the drugs to . . . the man we meet. And to convince them you will be here when we return. I don’t mean you. I mean the boat. And maybe your . . . sister, the younger woman, and the girl. They’re no good to them dead.”

  “You mean sexually.”

  “I mean that and other things.”

  “What other things?” Tracy’s voice ratcheted up. The young man’s hand slackened on the pump.

  “There are places that women are sent. You don’t want to know.”

  “What would your mother do to save you? Because you’ll go down, too. You said prison. Your father will know. Or they’ll kill you. You speak English. You could tell the police that you were forced at gunpoint. They know that you could do that. You could betray them and they wouldn’t even know it. You could die and your mother will never know what happened to you. No one even knows your name. Would your mother want this to be the end of your life? Would your mother want you to end the life of another mother’s child? My child?”

  “No. That’s what I’m trying . . . I’m trying to stop this. Stop talking. I’ll try to explain this to them. You could offer them . . . your rings, your watches. Maybe they’ll take them.”

  “You don’t think so, do you? You think they’ll take them and then they’ll kill us anyway? Or take the rings and watches and earrings and liquor and then drug them and sell them and kill me?”

  The young man looked at her, and his eyes were horrible. “You, and me, too,” he said. “I wish we had never seen this boat.”

  “Olivia,” Cammie whispered as the sun moved overhead and the men still slept, for what Cammie imagined was by now the eighth hour. “Do you think we can lift them?”

  “We could try with the smaller one. Your mother could help us,” Olivia said. Carlo’s phlegmy snores were punctuated by a snort and a sigh.

  “She’s with him,” said Cammie, indicating with a brief nod the young man. “If we ask her to help us, what do you think he’ll do? What I think is, I think he’ll help us. Or he’ll just keep pumping the gas and try to get out of here, because he said when he got on the boat that he was going to try to make sure they didn’t hurt us. . . .”

  “What if that was just to get up on the boat? What if he was just trying to jerk you around?”

  “We have to try.”

  “He’ll drown,” said Olivia, nodding at Carlo. She gave him a nudge with the toe of her sandal, and he did not stir.

  “I hope so,” Cammie replied.

  “What do you think Holly is doing?” Olivia asked. “She told me not to say a word about her being in there.”

  “She’s hurt. They’d hurt her worse. She can’t help us.”

  “If we can push him up the stairs and onto the side, we can roll him over.”

  “We have to get him up the stairs first. He’s heavier than we are combined, and he’s deadweight.”

  “Why don’t we just take their boat and run for it?” Olivia asked.

  “I thought of that. We have to wait until that thing down there has fuel. At least enough to get us far away from them. And we’d have to take the one radio and life jackets and flares. Blankets or something to cover us from the sun . . .”

  “We’re not planning a picnic, Cammie. We have to get out of here. It should be full now.”

  “No, we wasted so much time messing around before I could even start to pump that it’ll take longer for it to have enough to go more than a few miles. That’s a big motor.” She looked up at the sky. “How long will that Valium keep them out?”

  “Hours. It would knock down an elephant. I gave him two ten-milligram tablets and another one, and your mom gave the other guy the same, plus what they drank. . . .”

  “Okay, then. You stay here. I’m going to go get my mom. You go up and steer. They won’t notice.”

  Cammie crept up onto the deck, keeping to the shadows as if the passage were an alley and she a scavenging cat. When she saw her mother sitting folded back on her heels, the way an old Chinese woman might, her hands on her knees, deep in conversation with the young man, she paused. She saw her mother reach out her hands, not quite touching the young man but caressing the air around his shoulders. Cammie knew that she was arguing, pleading for Cammie’s life, offering her own in exchange, begging the young man to help them. She crawled forward on her knees.

  “Mom, we need you down there,” Cammie said. “Aunt Olivia is sick. She’s throwing up. You can do that yourself, can’t you?” she asked the young man sharply. He nodded. Then, impulsively, she whispered, “Why can’t you help us? Why can’t we push them over? You could take the boat yourself and go and meet your guy. You could take us with you if you wanted—”

  “It won’t hold four,” the man said. Cammie thought, Five. With Holly, five.

  “Well, you could take me, for insurance—”

  “Cammie!” Tracy warned her.

  “And then we could send someone back for my family!”

  “He would kill me. The man we drop it with. Like you swat a fly.” The American paused to consider what he had said. “At least, I think he would. He might not. Yes, he would. Because I could tell others about this thing they do. He’d kill me.”

  “You could just go yourself, then, and tell him that they tried to double-cross you and that you left them somewhere you stopped, in self-defense! Or you could just not show up, you fucking asshole! Can’t you think for yourself? Just help us push them over while they’re out cold and get the fuck out of here!”

  “He’s known these men for fifteen years. He knows they’ll show up.”

  “No!” Cammie whispered. “What if you hadn’t seen us? You’d have run out of fuel. You wouldn’t have shown up at all. Don’t you see that? Are you a retard?”

  “Look,” the young man said with wretched certainty. He thought of the money in the patched plaster behind the books in his room. He thought of the great gorges in Montana. “I have to get back to where I came from, just once more. I won’t let them hurt you. I promise. Just please help me get this tank filled. I don’t want to have done so much wrong for nothing. Please.”

  For another half hour, while Tracy paced, clasping and unclasping her hands, Cammie squeezed the bulb.

  And then they all heard an angry rumble that built and built; and, blinking, Ernesto stood up.

  “Is the tank filled, at least enough?” asked the young man.

  “Yes,” Cammie lied. They would not find out how filled it was or was not until they were too far away to turn back. They would be stranded.

  “Good. Now I’m going to try to get them out of here. Nothing will happen. Stay quiet.”

  Cammie sat cross-legged, miming the pumping of the fuel, as the young man spoke urgently to Ernesto, pointing at the watch on his wrist. Ernesto shook his head and pointed at Cammie. “¿Por qué no guardamos a ella?”

  “¿Por qué?” the young man asked. “Solo queremos el barco.” No room, he said in English, pointing at the yola. Ernesto shrugged and pointed briefly with a thick finger at the crumpling surface of the water.

  They were talking about her, Cammie realized. Talking about taking her along with them. If they needed her, it would not be for very long, she realized. She began to consider what she would do if any of them made a move toward her. She would run to her room, on the opposite side of the saloon from where the men stood. She would lock her door. By the time they had broken down the door of her cabin and the lock on her bathroom door, she would have pried the blade out of her little disposable razor and cut the artery beneath her own ear. She would not die with their filthy hands on her and then be thrown alone into the impassive depths. She would be brought home, to be buried by her father and her mother. Hugging her knees, she willed herself not to cry. She sensed that if she cried, Ernesto would be elated. Cammie tried to make herself small. She tried
to shrink into nothingness.

  The music had stopped, and Holly could hear the sound of raised voices. The fucking lock would not give. All around it, the metal of the box was dented and pocked. Her pounding had opened a hole in the white metal. She could easily poke through it with the pry bar, but there was no way to get anything out. She had no choice left, though. She opened the ama and crawled out, wincing, lying with her ear close to the thin edge of light along the bottom of the cabin door.

  “I’m telling him that Chief will never let him live if he shows up with this girl,” a voice was saying, a strong, young American voice. “¿Por qué no la llevamos con nosotros?” the same voice said, and then added loudly in English, “I’m convincing him we can come back for the boat, and find it with our locator, and then take the girl back with us to . . . the place they go. They’ll pay mucho for . . . ella linda. Of course, you’ll have vanished by then,” he pleaded, whoever he was. “Get into the lifeboat. It’s made to hold four. Just get in and get as far away as you can. Try to find land. You have to have a device that shows where you are. . . . You’re not far from Honduras now. . . .”

  Holly crawled back into the ama. She despaired. She alternated the claw end of the hammer and the pry bar to enlarge the hole. Two inches. Three . . .

  Impossibly, the lock fell backward into the box. Holly threw open the lid.

  Ernesto spoke. Slowly, almost lethargically, he hefted the magazine off his chest and, as Tracy watched, began to load the gun.

  The young man cried, “¿Matar a todos? ¿Por qué?”

  Ernesto gestured again at the water. Tracy understood some of what he said. In the sea, he’d said. They will never be . . . seen? Found? The young man argued that the boat would be grounded on rocks, that possibly it would sink. What a stupid thing to do, he told Ernesto. Waste the girl and the boat. Why not . . . just the older woman? “They can’t even sail it!” he told Ernesto urgently, pointing up at the shreds of canvas, forgetting in his haste to translate. “They don’t know how!” He began to repeat all of it in halting Spanish.

 
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