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Island of the Sequined Love Nun Chapter 44~45

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44

Revealed: The Perfect Couple

Back at his bungalow, an argument went on in the still-sober brain of Tucker Case.

I am scum. I should have told them to shove it.

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But they might have killed you.

Yeah, but I would have at least had my integrity.

Your what? Get real.

But I’m scum.

Big deal. You’ve been scum before. You’ve never owned a Learjet before.

You actually think they’ll give me the jet?

It could happen. Stranger things have happened.

But I should do something about this.

Why? You’ve never done anything before.

Well, maybe it’s time.

No way. Take the jet.

I’m scum.

Well, yes, you are. But you’re rich scum.

I can live with that.

The dog tags and Jefferson Pardee’s notebook lay on the coffee table, threatening to set off another fusillade of doubt and condemnation. Tuck lay back on the rattan couch and turned on the television to escape the noise in his mind. Skinny Asian guys were beating the snot out of each other in a kickboxing match from the Philippines. The Malaysian channel was showing how to fillet a schnauzer. The cooking show reminded him of surgery, and surgery reminded him that there was a beautiful island girl lying in the clinic, recovering from an unnecessary major surgery that he could have prevented. Definitely kickboxing.

He was just getting into the rhythm of the violence when the bat came through the window and made an awkward swinging landing on one of the bungalow’s open rafters. Tuck lost his breath for a minute, thinking there might just be a wild animal in his house. Then he saw the sunglasses.

Roberto steadied himself into a slightly swinging upside-down hang.

Tuck sighed. “Please just be a bat in sunglasses tonight. Please.”

Thankfully, the bat said nothing. The sunglasses were sliding off his nose.

“How do you fly in those things?” Tuck said, thinking out loud.

“They’re aviators.”

“Of course,” Tuck said. The bat had indeed changed from rhinestone glasses to aviators, but once you accept a talking bat, the leap to a talking bat with an eyewear wardrobe is a short one.

Roberto dropped from the rafter and took wing just before he hit the floor. Two beats of his wings and he was on the coffee table, as awkward in his spiderlike crawl as he was graceful in the air. With his wing claw, he raked at Jefferson Pardee’s notebook until it was open to the middle, then he launched himself and flew out the window.

Tuck picked up the notebook and read what Pardee had written. Tuck had missed this page when he had looked at the notebook before. This page had been stuck to the one before it; the bat’s clawing had revealed it. It was a list of leads that Pardee had made for the story he had been working on. The second item read: “What happened to the first pilot, James Sommers? Call immigration in Yap and Guam.” Tuck flipped through the notebook to see if he had missed something else. Had Pardee found out? Of course he had. He’d found out and he’d followed Sommers to the last place anyone had seen him. But where was Pardee? His notebook hadn’t come to the island without him.

Tuck went through the notebook three more times. There were some foreign names and phone numbers. Something that looked like a packing list for a trip. Some notes on the background of Sebastian Curtis. Notes to check up on Japanese with guns. The word “Learjet” underlined three times. And nothing else. There didn’t seem to be any organizational form to the notes. Just random facts, names, places, and dates. Dates? Tuck went through it once more. On the third page in, all by itself, was printed: “Alualu, Sept. 9.”

Tuck ran to the nightstand drawer, where the Curtises had left him a calendar. He counted back the days to the ninth and tried to put events to days. The ship had arrived on the ninth, and the morning of the tenth he had made his first flight. Jefferson Pardee could be lying in the clinic right now, wondering where in the hell his kidney was. If he was, Tuck needed to see him.

Tuck looked in the closet for something dark to wear. This was going to be different than sneaking out to the village. There were no buildings between the guards’ quarters and the clinic, no trees, nothing but seventy-five yards of open compound. Darkness would be his only cover.

It was a tropical-weight wet suit – two-mil neoprene – and it was two sizes two big, but it was the only thing in the closet that wasn’t khaki or white. In the 80-degree heat and 90-percent humidity, Tuck was reeling from the heat before he got the hood on. He stepped into the shower and soaked himself with cold water, then peeled the hood over his head and made his escape through the shower floor, dropping onto the wet gravel below.

In the movies the spies – the Navy SEALS, the Special Forces, the demolition experts – always sneak through the night in their wet suits. Why, Tuck wondered, don’t they squish and slosh and make squeaking raspberry noises when they creep? Must be special training. You never hear James Bond say, “Frankly, Q, I’ll trade the laser-guided cufflink missiles for a wet suit that doesn’t make me feel like a bloody bag of catsick.” Which is how Tuck felt as he sloshed around the side of the clinic and peeked across the compound at the guard on duty, who seemed to be looking right at him.

Tuck pulled back around the corner. He needed a diversion if he was going to make it to the clinic door unseen. The moon was bright, the sky clear, and the compound of white coral gravel reflected enough light to read by.

He heard the guard shout, and he was sure he’d been spotted. He flattened against the wall and held his breath. Then there were more Japa-nese from across the compound, but no footsteps. He ventured a peek. The guard was gesturing toward the sky and brushing his head. Two other guards had joined him and were laughing at the guard on duty. He seemed to get angrier, cursing at the sky and wiping his hand on his uniform. The other guards led him inside to calm him down and clean him up.

Tuck heard a bark from the sky and looked up to see the silhouette of a huge bat against the moon. Roberto had delivered a guano air strike. Tuck had his diversion.

He slipped around the front of the building, grabbed the doorknob, and turned. It was unlocked. Given Beth Curtis’s irritation at being buzzed and the amount of wine she’d consumed, Tuck had guessed that she’d get tired locking and unlocking the door. What did Mary Jean always say? “Ladies, if you do your job and assume that everyone else is incompetent, you will seldom be disappointed.” Amen, Tuck thought.

He squished into the outer room of the clinic, which was dark except for the red-eyed stare of a half-dozen machines and the dancing glow of a computer screen running a screen saver. He’d try to get into that later, but now he was interested in what, or who, lay in the small hospital ward, two rooms back.

He sloshed into the examination/operating room by the light of more LED eyes and pushed through the curtain to the four-bed ward. Only one bed held a patient – or what looked like a patient. The only light was a green glow from a heart monitor that blipped away silently, the sound turned off. Whoever was in the bed was certainly large enough to be Jeffer-son Pardee. There were a couple of IVs hanging above the patient. Probably painkillers after such major surgery, Tuck thought.

He moved closer and ventured a whisper. “Pst, Pardee.”

The lump under the covers moved and moaned in a distinctly unmasculine voice. “Pardee, it’s Tucker Case. Remember?”

The sheet was thrown back and Tuck saw a thin male face in the green glow. “Kimi?”

“Hi, Tucker.” Kimi looked down at the other person under the covers. “You remember Tucker? He all better now.”

The pretty island girl said, “I take care of you when you sick. You stink very much.”

Tuck backed off a step. “Kimi, what are you doing here?”

“Well, she like pretty thing, and I like pretty thing. She tired of having many means and so am I. We have a lot in common.”

“He the best,” Sepie added with an adoring smile at Kimi.

Kimi handed the smile off to Tuck. “Once you be a woman, you know how to make a woman happy.”

Tuck was getting over the initial surprise and began to smell the smoke of his beautiful island girl fantasy as it caught fire and burned to ash. He hadn’t realized how much time he’d spent thinking about

this girl. She, after all, was the one who had revived his manhood. Sort of.

“You right,” Kimi said. “Women are better. I am lesbian now.”

“You shouldn’t be doing this. This girl just had major surgery.”

“Oh, we not doing nothing but kissing. She very hurt. But this make it better.” Kimi held his arm up, displaying an IV line. “You want to try? Put in you arm and push button. It make you feel very very nice.”

“That’s for her, Kimi. You shouldn’t be using it.”

“We share,” Sepie said.

“Yes, we share,” Kimi said.

“I’m very happy for you. How in the hell did you get in here?”

“Like you get out. I swim around mimes and come here to see Sepie. No problem.”

“You don’t want to let them catch you. You’ve got to go. Now.”

“One more push.” Sepie held the button, ready to administer another dose of morphine to Kimi.

Tuck grabbed it from her hand. “No. Go now. How did you know about the mines?”

“I have other friend. Sarapul. I teach him how to be a navigator. He know a lot of things too. He a cannibal.”

“You’re a cannibal lesbian?”

“Just learning. How come you have rubber suit? You kinky?”

“Sneaky. Look, Kimi, have you seen a fat white guy, an American?”

“No, but Sarapul see him. He see the guards take him from the beach. He not here?”

“No. I found his notebook. I met him on Truk.”

“Sarapul say he see the guards bring him to the Sorcerer. He say it very funny, the white man wear pigs with wings.”

Tuck felt his face go numb. All that was left of Pardee was a pelvic bone wedged in the reef, stripped of flesh and wrapped in flying piggy shorts. Oh, there might be the odd kidney left alive in someone in Japan, a kidney that he had delivered. Had the fat man died on the operating table during the operation, the surgery too much for his heart? Or was he put under and never meant to wake up?

Tuck suddenly felt that getting into the doctor’s computer was more important than ever. He grabbed Kimi’s arm and pulled the IV needle out of his vein. The navigator didn’t resist, and he didn’t seem to feel it.

“Kimi, see if you can get that back in Sepie’s arm and come with me.”

“Okay boss.”

Tuck looked down at the girl, who had evidently picked up on the panic in his voice. Her eyes were wide, despite the morphine glaze. “Don’t buzz the doctor until after we’re gone. This button will let you have only so much morphine, and Kimi’s used some of yours. But if it hurts, you still have to wait, okay?”

She nodded. Kimi crawled out of the bed and nearly fell. Tuck caught him by the arm and steadied him.

“I am chosen,” Sepie said. “When Vincent comes, he will give me many pretty things.”

Tuck brushed back her hair with his fingers. “Yes, he will. You sleep now. And thank you for taking care of me when I was sick.”

Kimi kissed the girl and after a minute Tuck pulled him away and led him through the operating room to the office section of the clinic. In the glow of the computer screen, Tuck said, “Kimi, the doctor and his wife are killing people.”

“No, they not. They sent by Vincent. Sepie say Vincent come from Heaven to bring people many good things. They very poor.”

“No, Kimi, they are bad people. Like Malcolme. They are taking advantage of Sepie’s people. They are just pretending to be working for a god.”

“How you know? You no believe in God.”

Tuck took the boy by the shoulders. He was no longer angry or even irritated, he was afraid, and for the first time ever, not just for himself. “Kimi, can you swim back around the mines?”

“I think.”

“You’ve got to go to the other side of the island and you can’t come back. If the guards find you I’m pretty sure you’ll be killed.”

“You just want Sepie for yourself. She tell me you follow her.”

“I’ll check on her and I’ll meet you at the drinking circle tomorrow night – tell you how she’s doing. I won’t touch her, I promise. Okay?”

“Okay.” Kimi leaned against the wall by the door.

Tuck studied him for a moment to try and determine just how fucked up he was. It wasn’t a difficult swim. Tuck had done it stone drunk, but he’d been wearing fins and a mask and snorkel. “You’re sure you can swim?”

Kimi nodded and Tuck cracked the door. The moon had moved across the sky throwing the front of the clinic in shadow. The guard

across the compound was reading a magazine by flashlight. “When you get outside, go left and get behind the building.” The navigator stepped out, slid down the side of the building and around the corner. Tuck heard him trip and fall and swear softly in Filipino.

“Shit,” Tuck said to himself. He glanced at the computer. It would have to wait. He slid out the door, palming it shut behind him, then followed the navigator around the building. He heard the guard shout from across the compound, and for once in his life, Tuck made a definitive decision. He grabbed the navigator under the arms and ran.

45

Confessions Over Tee

Tucker Case dreamed of machine-gun fire and jerked as the bullets ripped into his back. He tossed forward into the dirt, mouth filling with sand, smothering him as the life drained out of a thousand ragged wounds, and still the guns kept firing, the rhythmic reports pounding like a violet storm of timpanis, like a persistent fist on a rickety door.

“Just let me die!” Tuck screamed, most of the sound caught by his pillow.

It was a persistent fist on a rickety door. “Mr. Case, rise and shine,” said a cheery Sebastian Curtis. “Ten minutes to tee time.”

Tuck rolled into the mosquito netting, became entangled, and ripped it from the ceiling. He was still wearing his wet suit and the fragile netting clung to it like cobwebs. He arrived at the door looking like a tattered ghost fresh out of Davy Jones’s locker.

“What? I can’t fly. I can’t even fucking walk. Go away.” Tuck was not a morning person.

Sebastian Curtis stood in the doorway beaming. “It’s Wednesday,” he said. “I thought you might want to play a few holes.”

Tuck looked at the doctor through bloodshot eyes and several layers of torn mosquito netting. Behind Curtis stood one of the guards, sans machine gun, with a golf bag slung over his shoulder. “Golf?” Tuck said. “You want to play golf?”

“It’s a different game here on Alualu, Mr. Case. Quite challenging. But then, you’ve been practicing, haven’t you?”

“Look, Doc, I didn’t sleep well last night…”

“Could be the wet suit, if you don’t mind my saying. Here in the tropics, you want fabrics that breathe. Cotton is best.”

Tuck was beginning to come around, and as he did, he found he was focusing an intense hatred on the doctor. “I guess we know who got laid last night.”

Curtis looked down and smiled coyly. He was actually embarrassed. Tuck couldn’t quite put it together. The doc didn’t seem to have any problem with killing people or taking their organs – or both – but he was blushing at the mention of sex with his wife. Tuck glared at him.

Curtis said, “You’d better change. The first tee is out in front of the hangar. I’ll go down and practice a few drives while you get dressed.”

“You do that,” Tuck said. He slammed the door.

Twenty minutes later Tuck, his hair still wet from the shower, joined Curtis and the guard in front of the hangar. He was feeling the weight of three nights with almost no sleep, and his back ached from dragging Kimi across the compound, then towing him in the water to the far side of the minefield. The guard had never caught up to them, but he had come to the edge of the water and shouted, waving his machine gun until Tuck and Kimi were out of sight.

“We’ll have to share a set of clubs,” Curtis said. “But perhaps now that you’ve decided to stay, we can order you a set.”

“Swell,” Tuck said. He couldn’t be sure, but he thought the guard might be the same one that had chased them to the beach. Tuck sneered at him and he looked away. Yep, he was the one.

“This is Mato. He’ll be caddying for us today.”

The guard bowed slightly. Tuck saluted him with a middle finger. If the doctor saw the gesture, he didn’t comment. He was lining the ball up on a small square of Astro Turf with a rubberized pad on the bottom. “We have to hit off of this. At least until someone invents a gravel wedge.” He laughed at his own joke.

Tuck forced a smile.

“The Shark People covered this entire island with gravel hundreds of years ago. Keeps the topsoil from being washed away in typhoons. This first hole is a dogleg to the left. The pin is behind the staff’s quarters about a hundred yards.”

“Doc, now that we’ve come clean, why don’t we call them the guards?”

“Very well, Mr. Case. Would you like honors?”

“Call me Tuck. No, you go ahead.”

Curtis hit a long bad hook that arced around the guards’ quar ters and landed out of sight in a stand of palm trees behind the building.

“I have to admit that I may have a bit of an advantage. I’ve laid out the course to accommodate my stroke. Most of the holes are doglegs to the left.”

Tuck nodded as if he understood what Curtis was talking about, then took the driver from the doctor and hit his own shot, a grounder that skipped across the gravel to stop fifty yards in front of them. “Oh, bad luck. Would you like to take a McGuffin?”

“Blow me, Doc,” Tuck said as he walked away toward his ball.

“I guess not, then.”

The pins were bamboo shafts driven into the compound, the holes were lined with old Coke cans with the tops cut off. The best part about it was that Tuck was able to deliver several vicious high-velocity putts into the shins of Mato, who was tending the pins. The worst part was that now that Curtis considered Tuck a confidant, he decided to open up.

“Beth is quite a woman, isn’t she? Did I tell you how we met?”

“Yeah.”

“I was at a transplant symposium in San Francisco. Beth is quite the

nurse, the best I’ve ever seen in an operating room, but she wasn’t working

as a nurse when I met her.” “Oh, good,” Tuck said. Curtis seemed to be waiting for Tucker to ask. Tucker was waiting for

the guard to rat him out for sneaking out of the compound last night. “She was a dancer in North Beach. An exotic dancer.” “No shit.” Tuck said. “Are you shocked?” Curtis obviously wanted him to be shocked. “No.” “She was incredible. The most incredible woman I had ever seen. She

still is.” “But then, you’ve been a missionary on a remote island for twenty-eight

years,” Tuck said. Curtis picked his club for the next shot: the seven iron. “What’s this?” “Looks like blood and feathers,” Tuck said. Curtis handed the club to Mato for him to clean it. “Beth did a dance with surgical tubing and a stethoscope that took my breath away.”

“Pretty common,” Tuck said. “Choke you with the surgical tubing and use the stethoscope to make sure you haven’t done the twitching fish.”

“Really?” Curtis said. “You’ve seen a woman do that?”

Tuck put on his earnest young man face. “Seen? You didn’t notice the ligature marks on my neck when you examined me?”

“Oh, I see,” Curtis said. “Still, I, at least, had never seen anything like it. She…” Curtis couldn’t seem to return to his story. “The wet suit this morning. Was that a sexual thing? I mean, most people would find it uncomfortable.”

“No, I’m just trying to lose a little weight.”

Curtis looked serious now. “I don’t know if that’s such a good idea. You’re still very thin from your ordeal in getting here.”

“I’d like to get down to about eight pounds,” Tuck said. “There’s a big Gandhi revival thing going on back in the States. Guys who look like they’re starving have to beat the babes off with a stick. Started with female fashion models, but now it’s moved to the men.”

Curtis look embarrassed. “I guess I’m a bit out of touch. Beth tries to keep up with what’s going on in the States, but it, well, seems irrelevant out here. I guess I’ll be glad when this is all over and we can leave the island.”

“Then why don’t you just leave? You’re a physician. You could open up a practice in the States and pull down a fortune without all this.”

Curtis glanced at the guard, then looked back to Tuck. “A fortune maybe, but not a fortune like we’re accumulating now. I’m too old to start over at the bottom.”

“You’ve got twenty-eight years’ experience. You said yourself that the people you take care of are the healthiest in the Pacific. You wouldn’t be starting over.”

“Yes, I would. Mr. Case – Tuck – I’m a doctor, but I’m not a very good one.”

Tuck had met a number of doctors in his life, but he had never met one who could bear to admit that he was incompetent at anything. It was a running joke among flight instructors that doctors made the worst students. “They think they’re gods. It’s our job to teach them that they’re mortal. Only pilots are gods.”

This guy seemed so pathetic that Tuck had to remind himself that the good doctor was at least a double murderer. He watched

Curtis hit a nice hundred-yard bloodstained seven iron to within ten feet of the pin, which was set up on a small patch of grass near the beach.

Tuck chased down his own skidding thwack of a nine iron that had landed between the roots of a walking tree, an arboreal oddity that sat atop a three-foot teepee of tangled roots and gave the impression that it might move off on its own power at any moment. Tuck was hoping that it would.

The caddie followed Tuck, and when they were out of earshot of the doctor, he turned to face the stoic Japanese. “You can’t tell him, can you?”

The guard pretended not to understand, but Tuck saw that he was getting it, even if only by inflection. “You can’t tell him and you can’t fucking shoot me, can you? You killed the last pilot and that got you in a world of trouble, didn’t it? That’s why you guys follow me like a bunch of baby ducks, isn’t it?” Tuck was guessing, but it was the only logical explanation.

Mato glanced toward the doctor.

“No,” Tuck said. “He doesn’t know that I know. And we’re not going to tell him, are we? Just shake your head if you’re getting this.”

The guard shook his head.

“Okay, then, here’s the deal. I’ll let you guys look like you’re doing your job, but when I wave you off, you’re gone. You hear me? I want you guys off my ass. You tell your buddies, okay?”

The guard nodded.

“Can you speak any English at all?”

“Hai. A rittle.”

“You guys killed the pilot, didn’t you?”

“He tly to take prane.” Mato looked as if the words were painful for him to form.

Tuck nodded, feeling heat rise in his face. He wanted to smash the guard’s face, knock him to the ground, and kick him into a glob of goo. “And you killed Pardee, the fat American man.”

Mato shook his head. “No. We don’t.”

“Bullshit!”

“No, we…we…” He was searching for the English word.

“What?”

“We take him, but not shoot.”

“Take him where? To the clinic?”

The guard shook his head violently. Not saying no, but trying to say that he couldn’t say.

“What happened to the fat man?”

“He die. Hospital. We put him water.”

“You took his body to the edge of the reef, where the sharks would find it?”

The guard nodded.

“And the pilot? You put him in the same place?”

Again the nod.

“What’s going on. Are you going to hit or not?”

Tuck and the guard looked up like two boys caught trading curses in the schoolyard. Curtis had come back down the fairway to within fifty feet of them.

Tuck pointed to his ball. “Kato here won’t let me move that out for a shot. I’ll take the penalty stroke, Doc. But hell, we don’t have mutant trees like that in Texas. It’s unnatural.”

Curtis looked sideways at Tuck’s ball, then at Mato. “He can move it. No penalty. You’re a guest here, Mr. Case. We can let you bend a few rules.” Curtis did not smile. Suddenly he seemed very serious about his golf.

“We’re partners now, Doc,” Tuck said. “Call me Tuck.”

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