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Island of the Sequined Love Nun Chapter 51~53

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51

Where Losers Flourish

The Sorcerer paced back and forth across the lanai. “I want to find another pilot, Beth. We can’t let him act that way and get away with it.

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The Sky Priestess yawned. She was draped across the wicker emperor’s chair, wearing a towel she’d wrapped above her breasts at the Sorcerer’s request. He said he needed to think. “Did you ask him why he did it?”

“Of course I asked him. He said he was trying to liven up the game.”

“Worked, didn’t it?”

“It’s not funny, Beth. We’re going to have trouble with him.”

The Sky Priestess stood up and put her arms around the Sorcerer. “You have to have a little faith in me,” she said. “I can handle Tucker Case.” She didn’t want to have this conversation. Not yet. She hadn’t told the Sorcerer about Tuck going off course. She had plans for the fair-haired pilot.

The Sorcerer pulled away from her and backed up to the rail. “What if I don’t like the way you handle him?”

“And what’s that supposed to mean?”

“You know what it means.”

She approached him again, this time untucking the towel so it dropped as she stepped into his arms. Her nipples just brushed the front of his shirt. “‘Bastian, if what happened today proved anything, it proved that Tucker Case is a troglodyte. He’s no threat to you. I’m attracted to finesse, not force. Case reacts to force with force. That’s why he hit Yamata. You use a gentle touch with a guy like that and he’s helpless.”

Sebastian Curtis turned away from her. “I’m not taking the guards off his house, not for a while anyway.”

“You do what you think is best, but it’s not good policy to make an enemy of someone whose services you require. So what if he hates the ninjas? I hate the ninjas. You hate the ninjas. But we need them, and we need a pilot. We’re not likely to be as lucky next time.”

“Lucky? The man’s a reprobate.”

“Tucker Case is a loser. Losers flourish on islands, away from competition. You taught me that.” Flattery might work where seduction seemed to be failing.

“I did?”

She unzipped his pants. “Sure, that monologue about ninety percent of the endangered species living on islands. That’s because they would have died out years ago from real competition. Losers, like Tucker Case.”

“I was talking about unique ecosystems, like the Gal??pagos, where evolution is speeded up. The way the religions take hold.”

“Same difference.”

He yanked her hand out of his pants and pushed her away. “What’s that make us, Beth? What does that make me?”

The Sky Priestess was losing on all fronts. There was an element here that she was not in control of, an unknown variable that was affecting the Sorcerer’s mood. When sex and flattery don’t work, what next? Ah, team spirit. “It makes us the fittest, ‘Bastian. It makes us superior.”

He looked at her quizzically.

Easy now, she thought. You’re getting him back. She walked slowly back to the emperor’s chair and sat down daintily, then threw a leg over either arm and leaned back spread-eagle. “A quiz, ‘Bastian, a quiz on evolution: Why, after all these years, with all the fossil evidence, doesn’t anyone know for sure what happened to the dinosaurs? Don’t answer right away. Think.” She fiddled with her left nipple while she waited, and finally a smile came over his face. He really did have great teeth. She had to give him credit for keeping up his dental hygiene all these years on the island.

“No witnesses,” he said finally.

“We have a winner. But more precisely, no surviving witnesses. Losers can only flourish until a dominant species appears, even on an island.”

A shade of concern crossed his face. “But dinosaurs ruled the Earth for sixty million years. You can hardly call them losers.”

Could he be any more difficult? “Look, Darwin, there are absolutely no dinosaurs getting laid tonight. Pick your team.”

52

Don’t Know Much About History

Tuck twisted the guts out of the stick pen and pried off the end cap with a kitchen knife, making, in effect, a perfect compact blowgun. He found a piece of notebook paper in the nightstand and seated himself on the wicker couch so he had a good diagonal view of the guards posted outside his door. He tore off a small piece of the paper with his teeth, worked it into a sufficiently gooey ball, then fit it into the pen tube and blew. The spit wad sailed through the window and curved harmlessly away from the guards.

Too much moisture. He squeezed the next one between his fingers before loading, then let fly to strike the nearest guard in the neck. He brushed at his neck as if waving off an insect, but otherwise didn’t react.

More moisture.

Tuck had taught himself deadly accuracy with the spitball blowgun at a time when he was supposed to be learning algebra. In contradiction to what his teacher had told him, he had never needed to know algebra in later life, but mastery of the spitball was going to come in handy, although this skill had not ended up on his permanent record, as had, presumably, his failure of algebra.

The third wad struck the guard in the temple and stuck. He turned and cursed in Japanese. Tuck had prechewed a follow-up shot that took the guard in the neck. The guard gestured with his Uzi.

“Go ahead, fuckstick. Shoot me,” Tuck said, a gleam in his eye. “Explain to the doc how you shot his pilot over a spit wad.” He tore off another piece of paper with his teeth and chewed it while the guard glared.

The corrugated steel storm shutters above the windows were held open with a single wooden strut. The guard clipped the strut and the shutter fell with a clang.

Tuck moved to the next window down. He leaned out and fired. A splat in the forehead of guard number two, another strut knocked out, another clanging shutter.

One window to go, this one demanding a shot of almost twenty-five feet. Tuck popped his head out and blew. A spiderweb of spittle trailed behind the projectile as it traveled down the lanai. It struck the first guard on the front of his black shirt and he ran toward Tuck, leading with his Uzi. Tuck ducked back inside and the final shutter fell.

Tuck heard the guard at each shutter, latching it down.

Mission accomplished.

With the guards peeking in the window every two minutes, he would have never been able to pull off the coconut dummy switch. And even in the ambient moonlight, he’d have never made it to the bathroom unnoticed. Of course, he couldn’t have closed the windows. That would have been suspicious.

“Good night, guys. I’m turning in.” He stood, blowgun waiting, but the shutters remained latched. He quickly turned off the lights and crawled into bed, where he constructed the coconut man and waited until he heard the guards start to talk and smelled tobacco smoke from their cigarettes. Then he tiptoed to the bathroom and made his escape.

He half-expected the shower bottom to be nailed down. Beth Curtis had used it to escape only this morning. Maybe she hadn’t figured that he knew about it. No, she was nuts, but she wasn’t stupid. She knew he knew. She even knew that he knew she knew. So why hadn’t she told Sebastian? And she hadn’t said anything about their little detour to Guam either – or maybe she had. Sebastian hadn’t sent a big postflight check like before. Tuck made a mental note to ask the doc about the check the next time they were on the golf course.

For now he snatched up his flippers and mask and headed for the beach. Before entering the water, he pulled a bottle of pills from his pocket – anti-biotics left over from his dickrot – and made sure that the cap was on tight. This might be the only chance he’d have to get medicine to Kimi.

He swam around the minefield and went straight into the village and down the path toward Sarapul’s house. Women and children

were still sitting around outside their houses, the women weaving on small looms by kerosene lantern, the children playing quietly or finishing up dinners off banana leaf plates. Only the smallest children looked at Tuck as he passed. The women turned away, determined, it seemed, not to make eye contact with the strange American. Yet there was no alarm in their ac-tions and no fear, just a concerted effort to not notice him. Tuck thought, This must be what New York was like before the white man came. And with that in mind, he stared at a spot in the path exactly twelve feet in front of him and denied their existence right back. It was better this way. He never knew when he might have to fly one of their body parts to Japan.

He made his way quickly up the path and soon he could see a glow near Sarapul’s house. He broke into the clearing and saw the old cannibal and Kimi sitting around a fire, working on something. Sewing, it looked like.

“Kimi,” Tuck said, “you shouldn’t be up.”

Kimi looked up from his work. There was a huge piece of blue nylon draped over his and Sarapul’s laps. “I feel better. You fixed me, boss.”

Tuck handed him the pills. “Take two of these now and two a day until they’re gone.”

“Sarapul give me kava. It make the hurt stop.”

“These aren’t for the hurt. These are for infection. Take them, okay?”

“Okay, boss. You want to help?”

“What are you guys making?”

“I’ll show you.” Kimi started to rise and his face twisted with pain.

Sarapul pushed him back down. “I will show.” The old cannibal snatched up the kerosene lantern and gestured for Tuck to follow him into the jungle.

Tuck looked back at Kimi. “You take those pills. And don’t move around much, I’m not sure how well those stitches will hold. You had a big hole in you.”

“Okay, boss.”

Sarapul disappeared into the jungle. Tuck ran after him and almost ran him over coming out of a patch of small banana trees into an area that cleared into walking trees, mangroves, and palms. About fifty yards ahead, Sarapul stopped near the beach. He stood by what appeared to be a large fallen tree, but when Tuck got closer

he saw it was a long sailing canoe. Sarapul grinned up at Tuck, the light from the lamp making him appear like some demon from the dark island past. “The palu – the navigator – he make. I help.” Sarapul ran the light down the length of the canoe. Tuck could see that one of the tall gunwales was darkened and glazed with age, while the other had been hewn recently and was bright yellow. He could smell the fresh wood sap.

There was an outrigger the size of a normal canoe and a platform across the struts. As canoes went, it was a huge structure, and hewing the hull from a single piece of wood with hand tools had taken an incredible amount of work, not to mention skill.

“Kimi did this? This is gorgeous.”

Sarapul nodded, his eyes catching the fire of the lamp. “This boat broken since before the time of Vincent. Kimi is great navigator.”

“He is?” Tuck had his doubts, given the storm, but then again, as Kimi had said, they had survived a typhoon in a rowboat. And this craft was no accident; this was a piece of art. “So you guys are sewing a sail for this?”

“We finish soon. Then palu will teach me to sail. The Shark People will go to sea again.”

“Where’d you get the nylon for the sail? I can’t see Dr. Curtis thinking this is a good idea.”

Sarapul climbed into the canoe and dug under a stack of paddles and lines, each hand-braided from coconut fiber, until he came up with a tattered mass of nylon straps, Velcro, and plastic buckles with a few shreds of blue nylon hanging here and there.

“My pack. You guys used my pack?”

“And tent inside.”

“Do you have the stuff that was inside? There were some pills that can help Kimi.”

Sarapul nodded. He led Tuck back through the jungle to his house. Kimi had gone inside and was lying down.

“Boss, I don’t feel so good.”

“Hang on. I might have some more medicine.” Actually, Tuck had never been sure of all the things that Jake Skye had loaded into the pack.

Sarapul retrieved a palm frond basket from the rafters and handed it to Tucker. Tuck found the antibiotics he had been looking for, as well as painkillers and aspirin. Even what was left of his cash was in the basket. All the pills were still dry. Tuck doled out a dose

and handed them to the navigator. “Take these when you have pain, and

these take like the other ones, twice a day, okay?”

“You good doctor, boss.”

“You did a hell of a job on that boat.”

Kimi seemed distressed. “You not tell Sorcerer or Vincent’s white bitch.”

“No, I won’t tell them.”

Kimi seemed to breathe easier. “Roberto come today. He say you must see the canoe. But he say you should no tell the Sorcerer.”

“Roberto told you that.”

“He talk funny now,” Kimi said. “Like you, kinda. In American. He tell me Sepie is okay. She come home soon.”

“I couldn’t get in to see her. There was a guard on the clinic.”

“Dog fuckers,” Kimi said.

Then Tuck told the navigator about the golf game and watched as the old cannibal held him while he laughed, then curled with pain. “I better sleep now, boss. You come back. I take you sailing.”

“You got it.” Tuck backed out of the house and waited until Sarapul joined him with the lamp. “You know which pills to give him?”

Sarapul nodded. Tuck started down the path toward the village, but pulled up a minute later when he heard the cannibal running after him.

“Hey, pilot. Vincent send you to us, huh?”

“I don’t know.”

“You tell Vincent I wasn’t going to eat you. Okay?”

Tuck smiled. “I’ll try to smuggle you some Spam next time I come.”

Sarapul smiled back.

As he came up on the drinking circle, Tuck stopped and checked his watch. He didn’t want to be gone more than a couple of hours. There was little danger that he’d be called to fly, at least not without the warning appear-ance of the Sky Priestess, but Beth Curtis might show up at his bungalow at any time. Funny, he didn’t think of the Sky Priestess and Beth as the same person.

The Shark men were applying new coats of red paint to their bamboo rifles by the light of a kerosene lamp. They moved around on the logs and Tuck took a seat by Malink. Without a word, the

young man who was pouring handed Tuck the cup. He drained it and

handed it back.

“What’s the deal with the rifles?” Tuck asked Malink.

“Vincent’s army,” Malink said. “Vincent said we must always be ready to fight the enemies of the United States of America.”

“Oh,” Tuck said. “Why red?”

Malink looked at Tuck as if he was something he had stepped in. “It is the color of Vincent’s brother.”

“Yeah?” Tuck didn’t get it.

“Vincent’s brother, Santa Claus. Red is his color. You must know that.”

Tuck couldn’t help it. He let his mouth fall open. “Santa Claus is Vincent’s brother?”

“Yes, Santa Claus brings excellent cargo for everyone, but only once a year. He comes in a sleigh on the snow. You know, right?”

“Right. But I don’t get the connection.”

Malink looked as if it was all he could do not to tell Tuck how incredibly dense he really was. “Well, we have no snow, so Vincent will come in a plane. Not once a year. When Vincent come, he will bring cargo every day. More than he gives through the Sky Priestess. More than Santa Claus.”

“And Vincent told you this, that he was Santa’s brother?”

Malink nodded. “His skinny brother, he say. So we make rifles red.” Malink watched for signs that Tuck was getting it. Tuck wasn’t giving them. “Even Father Rodriguez know about Santa Claus,” Malink insisted.

“Okay,” Tuck said, “how about moving that cup around the circle a little faster, guys?”

“Vincent will bring us real rifles when he come. We must be always ready to fight,” Malink said.

“Who?” Tuck asked. “Have you guys ever been attacked?”

“Once,” Malink said. “When I was boy, some guys from New Guinea come in canoe. We no like those guys. We go in our canoes to kill them.”

“And what happened?”

“It got dark.”

“And?”

“We come home. Those guys from New Guinea pretty lucky no one know how to navigate in the dark.”

“No palu?” Tuck asked, using the native word for “navigator.”

“Japanese kill them. No palu left, except maybe one.”

“That’s why you didn’t turn Kimi over to the Sorcerer?”

Malink nodded and trouble crossed his brow. “I am thinking, if Vincent send you, how come the Sorcerer not know you here? And how you not know Santa Claus?”

Tuck noticed that the men had stopped painting their rifles and talking among themselves to listen to his answer. There was pressure here, beyond whether he’d be able to drink or not. He told them what they needed to hear. “Vincent called me from the land of armored possums to come to the island of the Shark People. I am a flyer, as Vincent was a flyer. He does not tell me everything, and he does not tell the Sorcerer everything. Vincent is sometimes mysterious, but we must trust his judgment.”

Malink smiled. “Let us drink to this flyer. Then we go to sleep.” To Tuck, Malink said: “Tomorrow is the hunt.”

53

How the Shark People Got Their Name

When the pounding came at his door just after dawn, Tuck prepared himself mentally to meet the smiling face of Sebastian Curtis, who would be overly cheerful at the prospect of trouncing the pilot at another round of gravel golf, but when he opened the door, there was Beth Curtis wearing a long-sleeved white cotton dress and a huge sun hat with a brim that fell over her face like a lampshade.

Tuck had on hand-me-down boxer shorts that showed more of his morning bulge than he was comfortable with. Strange, a month ago he was ready to sell his soul for this physiological phenomenon, and today it was an embarrassment.

“Good morning,” he said. “I was expecting the doc.”

“Oh, did you two have plans?”

“No, I just…never mind. Would you like to come in for some coffee?” He gestured to the small kitchen nook.

“Why don’t you make yourself a cup and bring it with you? I have something to show you.”

“Sure. Just give me a second.”

She waited by the door while he threw a pot of water on the stove, dressed quickly and combed his hair, then poured the water over some coffee grounds and stirred in some powdered milk. “I’m ready. What’s up?”

“I want to show you something on the other side of the island.”

“Outside of the compound?”

“Near the village. I think you’ll enjoy it.”

Tuck walked with her out into the morning sun, nursing his coffee as they went. There were no guards in sight anywhere. The wide

gate to the runway was open.

“Where’s the ninjas?”

“You call them that too? That’s funny.” She laughed, but because he couldn’t see her face under the hat, he couldn’t tell if there was any sincerity in it.

She put her hand on his arm and let him lead her across the runway like a Victorian lady under escort.

“Do you ever miss your family?” she asked as they walked.

Tuck was taken by surprise. “My family? No. We parted on less than favorable terms. I fell out of contact with them long before I came out here.”

“I’m sorry. Really. Is it difficult for you?”

Tuck thought she might be joking. “My mother and my uncle are my only real family. They married after my father was killed. I wasn’t pleased.”

“You’re kidding. I thought they only did that in West Virginia. Aren’t you from California?”

“She married my father’s brother, not her brother. Still, I don’t miss them.”

“What about your friends?”

Tuck thought for a second. Things had changed for him since he’d last seen Jake Skye. In a way he’d taken on some responsibility. He was acting on his own, without a net. He wished that he could tell Jake about it. “Yeah, I miss my friends sometimes.”

“Me too, Tucker. I’d like to be your friend.”

“You have Sebastian.”

“Yes, I do, don’t I.”

They walked in silence until they entered the village, which was deserted except for a few dogs and too many roosters. “Where is everybody?” Tuck reminded himself not to let it appear that any of this was familiar to him. “Is this where the natives live?”

“They’re all at the beach. Today is the day of the hunt.”

“The hunt?”

“You’ll see. It’s a surprise.”

As they passed the bachelors’ house, Tuck peeked through he door. He could see someone sleeping inside. Beth led the way to the beach and Tucker looked back. Sepie stood in the doorway wearing only a bandage around her ribs. She waved and Tuck risked a quick smile and turned away. They were going to give him away. One hint of recognition and he was screwed.

The women, children, and old men were all lined up on the beach. Tuck had never seen most of the women and children. There must have been three hundred people there. The only familiar face was Favo, the old man from the drinking circle, who showed no recognition when he looked at Tuck. The younger men were out in the water, standing knee deep on the reef in the light low-tide surf. Each of the men held a five-foot-long stick with a rope tied at one end. They wore long knives tucked into cords tied around their waists.

“Fishing?” Tuck asked.

“Just watch,” Beth said. “This is how the Shark People got their name.”

Tuck spotted Malink coming out of the jungle with four other men. Each carried a large plastic bucket.

“They make the buckets out of net floats from the huge factory ships,” Beth Curtis said. “The plastic is tougher than anything they can make.”

“What’s in them?” Tuck watched as each man swam out to the reef holding a bucket on his head.

“Pig and chicken blood.”

Two men helped Malink onto the reef and took his bucket from him. Malink looked out to sea and said something in his native language, then looked to the people on the beach as if to say, “Ready.”

The chief shouted a command to the men in the water and they dumped the buckets of blood. Soon they were all knee deep in crimson surf and the bloodstain swept out into the ocean in a great cloud.

“Isn’t that dangerous?” Tuck asked.

“Of course. It’s insane.”

Interesting choice of words. Tuck was surprised that no one seemed to notice or make a big deal of Beth’s presence. “Why aren’t they drumming and kowtowing to you?”

“They aren’t allowed to when I’m dressed like this. It’s a rule. I need my privacy at times.”

“Of course,” Tuck said.

A fin appeared in the water about twenty yards out from the reef. Someone shouted and Tuck recognized Abo from his warrior’s topknot. Malink nodded and Abo dove into the water and swam toward the shark. Before he was ten yards out, the fin turned toward him.

More fins appeared and as Malink nodded, more young men dove into the water with their sticks.

“Shit, this is suicide,” Tuck said. He watched as the first shark made a pass at Abo, who moved out of its way like a bullfighter.

“You’ve got to stop this.” Tuck couldn’t remember ever feeling such panic for another human being.

Beth Curtis squeezed his arm. “They know what they’re doing.”

The shark circled and made a second pass at Abo, but this time the young warrior didn’t move out of the way. He shoved his stick into the shark’s jaws as if it was a bit, then flipped himself on the shark’s back and wrapped the cord just behind the pectoral fins, then back to the other end of the stick so it wouldn’t come out. The water boiled around Abo as the shark thrashed, but Abo stayed on and, holding the stick like handlebars, he pulled back to keep the shark from diving and steered him into the shallow water of the reef, where the other men waited with their knives drawn.

A roar went up from the crowd on the beach as Abo turned the shark over to the slaughterers and held up his arms in triumph. The men on the reef slit the shark’s belly and cut off a huge hunk of the liver, which they handed to Abo. He bit into it, tearing out a ragged chunk and swallowing as blood ran down his chest.

Soon others were steering sharks onto the reef and the water beyond was alive with fins. The red cloud expanded as the sharks died and bled and more came to take their place. The gutted sharks were brought onto the beach, where the women continued the butchering, handing pieces of the raw flesh to the children as treats or prying out serrated teeth and giving them to little boys as trophies.

One of the men actually stood up on the back of a huge hammerhead that he was steering to the reef and nearly castrated himself on the dorsal fin as he fell. But the shark was held fast and died on the reef with the others.

In half an hour the shark hunt was over. The sea was red with blood for a thousand yards in all directions and the beach was littered with the corpses of a hundred sharks: black tips, white tips, hammerheads, blue, and mako. Some of the deadliest creatures had been taken like they were guppies in a net, and not one of the Shark People was hurt, although Tuck noticed that many were bleeding from abrasions on the inside of their thighs where they had rubbed against the sharks’ skin during their ride. The Shark People were ecstatic, and every one of them was drenched in blood.

Tuck was stunned. He’d never seen such courage or such slaughter before, and he was getting the willies thinking about all the time he had spent swimming in these waters at night.

Malink walked up the beach dragging a leopard shark by its gills. His Buddha belly was dripping in blood. He looked up at Tucker and risked a smile.

“That’s the chief,” Beth Curtis said. “He’s really too old for this, but he won’t stay on shore.”

“Do the sharks ever get any of them?”

“Sometimes. Usually just a bite. A lot of sutures, but no one’s been killed since I’ve been on the island.”

No one hunting sharks, anyway, Tuck thought. A little girl who had been helping her mother shyly peeked over the carcass of a big hammer-head, then ran up to Tucker and quickly touched him on the knee before retreating to the safety of her mother.

“That’s strange,” Beth Curtis said. “The women and girls won’t have anything to do with a white man. Even when they come to Sebastian, they talk to him through a brother or husband – and he speaks their language.”

Tuck didn’t answer. He was still looking at the little girl’s back. She had a massive pink scar that ran like a smile from her sternum, under her arm, to her backbone at exactly the place where the kidney would be. Tuck felt sick to his stomach.

“I think I’ve seen enough, Beth. Can we go?”

“Can’t deal with the sight of blood?”

“Something like that.”

As they walked back through the village, Tuck noticed a woman and a little boy sitting outside of one of the cookhouses. The mother was holding the boy and singing to him softly as she rocked him. Both of his eyes were bandaged with gauze pads. Tucker approached the woman and she pulled the child to her breast.

Beth Curtis caught Tuck’s arm and tried to pull him back. Tuck shook her off and went to the woman.

“What’s wrong with him?” Tuck asked.

The woman slid across the gravel, away from him.

“Tucker!” Beth Curtis said, “Leave her alone. You’re scaring her.”

“It’s okay,” Tuck whispered to the woman. “I’m the pilot. Vincent sent me.”

The woman seemed to calm down, and although her eyes went wide with wonder, she managed a small smile.

Tuck reached out and touched the child’s head. “What’s wrong with him?”

The woman held out the boy as if presenting him for baptism.

“He is chosen,” she said. She looked at the Sky Priestess for approval.

Tuck stood and backed away from her. He was afraid to look at Beth, afraid that he might strangle her on the spot. Instead, calmly, deliberately, although it took all his effort to keep from shaking, he said, “We’d better get back.” He led the way through the village and back to the compound.

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