“Which is?” Billie asked.
“Try it. It’s safe,” Artie said.
“If you bought it on the Dark Web,” Taylor said, “you have no idea what it is.”
“Taylor the TImid,” said Artie. “My source? His initials are B.B.”
Artie meant Butchie Block, a legendary badass who’d terrorized Shipwreck Bay until he got locked up in Stateville Prison. Butchie tales still echoed in the town’s dive bars and dark alleys. But Butchie, out on parole now, had at least one virtue: he’d never sold Artie a batch of bad drugs.
Billie dabbed pink powder on her tongue.
“Takes a few minutes,” said Artie. “It’s fantastic.”
“You know, Nick, honey,” said Billie, “you should … be kinder to immigrants. You’re new to this country yourself.”
Nick huffed. “But I do not ask people to speak Bulgrarian.”
“Touche,” said Billie.
“That’s French,” joked Artie. “I thought this was an English-only party.”
The giant was being mocked, but he missed it. He said: “And I have a green card, 100 percent real.”
He pulled what looked like a driver’s license out of his pocket, waved it around, pointed at Billie. “Americans! You commit suicide, open the gates to criminals. Even you, Billie, hiring cheap immigrants.”
Like a mom explaining an irrational father to his children, Billie said: “He means the new girls at the spa.”
Taylor perked up. “Cammie? That one?”
“Cammie, no, she’s … left us,” Billie said. “Her replacement. Suzanne. She’s from Thailand.” She glared at Nick: “Nicky, the masseuses are private contractors. They pay me for table time and office help. They are not my employees.”
“Rice peasants don’t belong here,” groused Nick. “We eat no rice. They should go back to their water-buffalo. Do you think at farmers market I would buy even one stupid potato from them? Pfff. Bulgarians know potatoes.”
He passed the drug foil to Taylor.
“Drugs, I do not need them,” he declared. “Bad for you body. Make you fat.” He pounded his chest.
“What happened to Cammie?” Taylor asked Billie.
“Billie’s business, not yours,” Nick growled. “Strictly business matter.”
This interjection, and its strident anger, made Taylor curious. “You know her?” he asked Nick. “You know Cammie?”
“Sometimes,” Nick said, “shut up is best policy.”
Taylor hadn’t intended to take a swab of Artie’s drug, but the prospect of spending the evening with a loudmouth muscleman made him reconsider. Taylor snorted the powder. He wandered onto the deck and stared at the ocean. The night was particularly dark, as was his soul. Out there in bleak profile stood the rocks where his mother’s battered surf board had washed up.
Steffie embraced him from behind.
“It’s been a year now,” Taylor said. “She was murdered, I know that, l’ve been going back and forth, denying that for a year now. What kind of man allows his mother to disappear, without seeking vengeance, or justice, or even just an answer?”
He sighed. “I’m a boy, a spoiled, overpaid math nerd, living in the reflection of a computer monitor. That’s all I am. I took my father’s advice, to let the police do their jobs, and did they?”
Steffie massaged his shoulders.
“Come back to the party,” she whispered.
Artie was a Tom Petty freak and played Damn the Torpedoes through speakers that had cost more than his Subaru. In about ten minutes, music and drugs combined, Taylor wasn’t himself anymore, and there was no such place as Shipwreck Bay, USA.
Freed from the bounds of reality, Taylor became a pirate on the high seas. A modern pirate, in command of a sleek yacht. Flying the Jolly Roger. Not sailing the seas exactly but scooting over them, free as the wind. He closed his eyes. The wind lofted him. Lifting him like he was a kite! When he looked down, he was flying, but his pirate ship had disappeared, the world at his feet like a globe in the night, all its cities lit up in unbearable beauty.
He was flying for who knows how long before he encountered turbulent dark skies. In the ocean below, flash-lit by a monster electric storm, floated the wide-eyed body of his drowned mother.
Taylor grabbed the couch like he had to keep it from flying away. A nasty ache spread from skull to neck, bile rose in his throat, along with a feeling of heavy sadness, as if he weighed five hundred pounds.
Billie sat beside him, flirting with Artie. The Bulgarian Giant had disappeared. Steffie sat alone on the opposite couch, looking forlorn. Where was Lisa? Had she caught the last ferry home?
Billie and Artie started smooching and petting. Billie slipped off her jacket and revealed full cleavage. Artie removed his shirt.
Taylor could not focus enough to say: Hey, Artie, a guy twice your size is out on the deck fuming.
Trouble seemed all but certain. Billie and Artie were high and had lost all sense. Taylor wondered what kind of cloud ship they were sailing on, and when Nick was going to charge in and torpedo them both.
Everything seemed to be happening in stop-motion as Taylor recovered from the rush-and-crash of Artie’s dope. Billie and Artie began licking each other. Artie led Billie by the hand into the bedroom. Lisa popped into the living room and walked out with Steffie, holding hands, to join the Bulgarian giant on the gazebo deck.
Taylor heard Steffie laughing out on the windy deck. Lisa had her back turned, trying to make a cell phone call, but gave up. “Come on,” she shouted at the Bulgarian, “you do it every week.”
The giant dropped his trousers, kicked them aside. Nope, that was no sock stuffed in his trousers.
Lisa joined the strip show on the deck, removing puffy dress and panties. Steffie shed only her blouse. Her breasts were her best feature, or so she’d been told, but her chubby body was no competition for Lisa’s.
Everyone could see Artie and Billie through the bedroom window, and hear their orgasmic gasping and moaning. Taylor, afraid of trouble, stepped into the deck shadow. The clouds had blown off, revealing a moonless, starry night.
In the bright-lit master bedroom, Artie and Billie were going at it atop the bedspread. He was riding her good. Nick was watching from the gazebo as his date fucked a guy ten years younger, and half his size.
Poke Island relied on the Sheriff for police services, but there was no deputy stationed there during off-season, and bad cell service anyway. Taylor imagined that even he and Artie together would have lasted less than a minute in a fight with Nick.
Nick stomped down the gazebo steps and into the star-lit night.
Taylor was spooked. He’d have been less worried if the giant had simply stalked into the bedroom and punched Artie. Was Nick going to sleep on the beach? Walk off his anger? Plot to murder them all?