The most pitiable thing about Liz Burns’s funeral was the wailing of her surrogate children, Annie and Jamie. In just three years, they had lost two mother figures. Their innocent cries echoed in the cavernous, medieval Holy Trinity Cathedral until it seemed they were vibrating hopelessly through Heaven. Taylor was so overwhelmed he burst out through the heavy wood doors and onto the stone steps where finally he could break down sobbing.
For the next eight days, the sun may have risen for others, but he lived in a black hole. In his mind, he kept playing over and over the most recent late night phone call from Dad. They had found Mom’s jawbone and teeth. There were other gruesome details, but he’d had no use for them. He’d hung up the phone, locked himself in his bedroom, turned out the lights, and cried.
That weekend they held a final memorial for her at Surfers Rockpile. The solemn gathering was held in the glow of sunset, but all Taylor could remember was Dad throwing a black lei into a black lagoon under a dark sun.
Sometime that weekend, Lisa invited Taylor to her apartment for a massage. Maggie came over two nights to comfort sleep alongside him. Steffie delivered big home cooked dinners, and used her mystic powers to predict a happy future for him. Artie, accompanied by Butchie Block, delivered drugs, which Taylor didn’t care enough to take. Butchie shook Taylor’s hand and said he remembered Liz Burns as a beautiful girl at Holy Trinity High.
The bright memory Taylor clung to was his Mom taking him along on Da Bus from their humble, rented Honolulu house, bound for the bright shores of Waikiki. They are gentle waves in Waikiki, perfect for beginners, and there, with Diamond Head in the background, Liz Burns had found her life’s thrill. He remembered sitting on the beach, watching her wade out with a local beach boy, and catching her first wave. He was so proud of her he cried.
She would soon move on to more challenging surf, and the house-bound mom he knew would never be the same.
In the days after the grim discovery of her remains, Taylor consulted with Rhonda the Stiff to rearrange his vacation and personal days at Console. On the last day of bereavement leave, found himself on the ferry, headed for Poke Island and a meeting with Billie McGinn.
Why did Billie want to meet him out there, just before tourist season? What secret did she want to keep from the town’s prying eyes? She’d said she I have something for you and that’s all she would say. Taylor wondered if Billie had discovered that Cammie had been whoring while on spa duty, and wanted to pump him for info.
The ferry ride across the calm glittering bay gave Taylor time to ponder the case of the missing ferryman. The ferry is a municipal relic, and Marco had been its hired captain for twenty-some years, and one of the most well-known men in town. Marco’s sudden disappearance, three days after Liz Burns went missing, had started a cruel guessing game among the town’s gossips.
There’s a weather-beaten burger-and-ice-cream joint a half-block from the ferry, insanely crowded all summer, but ghostly silent during the off season. Billie met Taylor there. He had to wait. She was on the ferry run following his and carried coffee in cardboard containers from the mainland. She handed him a sloshing full cup.
“Taylor, so good of you to meet me,” she said.
Red lights flashed in his head.
“Such a tragedy, what happened to your family. How are you holding up?”
“Just fine,” he evaded.
She took a deep breath and popped the lid on her latte, sipped. “If it’s too soon for this, I’ll understand, but I was wondering how you were going to handle the … future opportunity.”
“Your mom and I often talked about your property here.”
“Oh did you?”
Billie nodded. “I know she wanted you to build something wonderful for yourself and your young cousins. Annie and Jamie, right? I know that was her dream.”
He sipped milky coffee in self-defense.
“And now it seems, if she followed through on what she told me, that you and you alone will inherit the property.”
He shrugged. “We’ll see what the Probate Court says.”
“As I understand it, the will was quite explicit.” She took a deep breath and exhaled. “I assume you have student loans and a condo mortgage and I don’t imagine you’re drowning in cash right now.”
So she’d been snooping.
“I have a proposition for you. A partnership. Summit will supply the capital, the plans and the manpower to put up a beautiful two-family house on that property. If you occupy one of the units for at least a year, the tax consequences would be very beneficial. It would essentially be tax-free money. So I wanted to see what you thought before I talk to your Dad.”
He didn’t say a thing in response.
“Maybe it’s too soon,” Billie said. “I understand. These things are very difficult. When Hal, my husband, passed, every breath was painful for the next two years. Believe me. I know.”
Taylor leaned forward. “Tell me exactly what you had in mind.”
“A $300,000 build on top of a $500,000 lot, and the property would sell for well north of a million.”
“Oh yes. And with no cash upfront from you.”
“I don’t want to burst your bubble, Billie, but Poke Island is notoriously rigid about new property. The Planning Commission does the bidding of all these wealthy islanders, and none of them want to see any development.”
She covered his hand with hers.
“That’s where I come, in Taylor. I’ve been doing business around here for twenty years, and my husband, twenty years before that. I know the ins and outs, and that is why I believe you’d be wise to select Summit Property Group as a development partner.”
Taylor looked off toward the white-capped sea that had devoured his beautiful, vibrant mother.
“You’re right,” he said. “It’s too soon.”