The two friends tilted the bikes against the cottage’s sea-damp pilings and climbed steps to the elevated gazebo. Artie trod the boardwalk-bridge from gazebo to kitchen and returned with two frosty glasses and two bottled beers: A 3 Floyd’s Imperial Stout and a Lone Pine Tesselation. Artie’s “beer guy” was under orders to deliver mixed cases with no duplicates, at least until Artie had finished his quest to sample every brew on Earth.
They sat in the shade, drinking quietly until Artie said: “I gotta make an appointment at that spa. You know how many girls grabbed my dick this week?”
“Two hundred and forty six.”
“Asshole. Seriously. I remember Cammie Vang from high school. She was a freshman, right? The shy ones you’ve gotta watch out for. They’re tigers underneath.”
“We’ll see if she shows up tonight. If she doesn’t come out …”
“Proves nothing,” Artie said.
“Artie, your parties are notorious. People at Console have begged me for an invite. Even Rhonda the Stiff keeps asking me. I think she’s under the mistaken impression that all your friends are rich.”
“Who’s Rhonda the Stiff?”
“HR flunky at Console. And my neighbor.”
“Eh,” said Artie. “No corporate climbers, please. They’re enemies of the people. Hey, this Cammie chick is playing hard to get. Oldest game in the jungle.”
Taylor crossed the boardwalk and entered the cottage. It was a humble shack, and if moved to a suburb, could have been bought by anyone with a steady income. But as the most private property on a privacy-obsessed island, it was worth millions. Its ownership was tangled in the divorce proceedings of Artie’s parents, Darla and Tim Buchanan. They hated each other almost as much as they loved money. Their dissipated lives had wasted two elite educations (Princeton, Brown). They distrusted Artie, their only son, because he’d embarrassed them with his scholastic failure (community college dropout) gambling (basketball) and drug use (designer.)
Taylor opened the refrigerator and yes, it had been stocked with wagyu burger patties by Artie’s “meat guy.” Artie grew up with maid service, had never so much as fried an egg. He left Chef Taylor in charge of party food.
Artie approached the fridge, knelt like he was worshipping it, selected a bottle of Lost Abbey Duck Duck Gooze, and handed it to Taylor. “Go ahead, I’ve had that one,” he said.
Taylor grabbed that bottle and glanced out the salt-stained windows toward Surfer’s Rockpile, where his Mom was last seen alive. Until last year, this wild end of Poke Island had been his favorite spot in the world. Now he imagined, with a shudder, a black casket floating away on the tide. It made him feel low, the whole world in funeral mode.
“Sometimes I wonder,” Taylor said, and carried that frosty beer out to the deck.
“Wonder what?” asked Artie, right behind him.
“I never cried,” Taylor said. “Isn’t that strange? I mean, maybe that’s because there’s nothing final. We’ll never be sure, I guess.”
“There’s a statute of limitations right?” Artie asked. “A year? Maybe now that a year’s passed …”
“It’s not a statute of limitations. Five years, though, until the missing can be, you know, declared …”
Artie heard the stress in Taylor’s voice, and knew it was time to back off. “You’re not alone, brother, that’s all I meant to say. I miss her. She was a fine lady.” He held up an empty bottle to the sun’s rays. “Should I drink a Funky Buddha or a Toppling Goliath Dorothy?”
With fresh, cold beers, they played blackjack on the deck, using scallop shells like they were casino chips. Artie played recklessly and lost. He understood the laws of Probability and was determined to defy them. As the declining sun got swallowed by foggy skies, Artie bolted upright in the adirondack chair.
“Who’s coming up the path? Oh shit. Steffie! Hide the Ouija board. She’ll be holding seances. That girl’s the death of any party.”
Taylor turned to see Stephanie Voss doddering up the path in the salt-spray gloom.
“I can see her future,” Artie said. “Reading palms on the East Island Boardwalk.”
“The mystic thing,” Taylor whispered, “it’s goofy. But she’s a sweetheart underneath.”
“You’ve boned her too?” Artie said. “God, you get around.”
“Wrong again, Arthur.”
Artie shook his bleach-blond locks. “How can I be so wrong, so consistently? Even a coin toss is right half the time. It’s a good thing I don’t have to earn a living because, I’ll tell you, I’m totally incompetent.”
Steffie climbed the stairs in black goth outfit and heavy makeup. It was a long walk from the ferry, and she’d wobbled that half mile in silly shoes. Some time in the last few days, she’d had her hair dyed a weird, nuclear green.
“You’re alone?” asked Artie.