On Monday, Taylor did a sneaky debrief of Steffie, buying her burger and brews at the Wonder Bar.
“I don’t have to eat every carbohydrate in sight,” she said, and pushed the plate of fries away. “So, okay, I admit, I’m a little embarrassed about the weekend.”
“Mmmm,” Taylor said.
“Taylor, don’t judge me, okay?”
She sipped from her wine glass, grimaced. “I’d rather have a beer. I should develop a taste for white wine.” She glared at him. “You’re judging, I can see it.”
“Yes, Butchie Block. He’s a human being , you know. Somebody’s got to help that man. I think like I can help him.”
“Oh boy. You said your mom was a compulsive helper? How about you?”
“Butchie’s changed, Taylor. People change and grow. He says he learned his lesson in prison.”
“Listen to yourself.”
“Why are we here? Why are we on Earth, Taylor? To help people. Don’t be so selfish all the time. We all need something from the Universe, Taylor, and you know what Butchie needs? He needs people to forgive him.”
“Do you have a fever?”
“Imagine what it must feel like to be Butchie, and everybody hates you, everybody’s afraid of you, all for things you did back when you were a kid.”
“Steffie, you’re going to save Butchie Block? From whom? From himself?”
“Taylor, I’m on your side. I think I can weasel something out of him. Maybe.”
“I wouldn’t play I spy if I were you. You partied with him last weekend, that’s dangerous enough.”
“I didn’t let him fuck me, if that’s what you want to know. We just took a little hit of … you know. He’s being all Gentleman Butch now. He wants to take me to The City to see a show. How do you like that?”
“Too bad, I’m going. When’s the last time a guy offered to take me up to Theater Row? Answer? Never!”
“He’s on parole. For manslaughter.”
“Manslaughter? A guy attacked him, they fought, the guy drowned, okay?”
“Aren’t you concerned it might be woman slaughter next?”
“I can get him to tell me things, I know it. You’re such a prig, Taylor.” She looked aside, as if consulting a spirit guide. “I’ll tell you this. When you’re with Butchie, you feel safe. Nobody messes with him.”
“So that’s …”
“I haven’t been to The City yet this year. To the Theater? Are you kidding? That’s a lifetime event for me. Now look, who knows what secrets Butchie will reveal after a couple of strong cocktails.”
She looked down at her plate, picked off a fry. “I told him in no uncertain terms that we’re not staying overnight.”
“You shouldn’t do it. But if you’re fool enough, I can’t stop you. Keep your cellphone with you. Don’t let him get you alone. Don’t allow him to … what show are you going to see?”
“Murder She Wrote. It’s at the Ortley.”
“Butchie Block at the Ortley? I didn’t think he’d have the wardrobe.”
“It’s a matinee.”
“What are you going to do after the show?”
“Have dinner. At the Elegance. I’ve studied the menu. I’ve already got tickets for the 10:30 train home.”
Taylor was not just frightened for Stephanie, but disappointed, for he had depended on Butchie being on the island this weekend. Killing that bastard, and getting away with it, wouldn’t be as simple as he’d hoped.
Steffie dipped into her purse and pulled out tarot cards. “I’ve consulted the tarot about Butchie.”
“Oh have you?”
“Now I’m going to give you a reading, Taylor, because I sense something unsettled in you. Ready? Bring your mind to an accepting state while I call on Aquarius.”
She pushed aside the lunch dishes and laid her cards out on the table. Taylor did not understand the formations or theory of a tarot reading, but this time when he drew a card, it was the Nine of Swords, which depicts a man sitting up in bed, in a white robe, hands to his face, sobbing.
After a long look at the other cards laid out, Steffie said: “I’m so sorry, Taylor, but this is a reading of anxiety and fear.” She consulted a pamphlet and read: “Try not to blame others for the anxiety and fear you are feeling. Pay attention to your breathing, which will help return you to calmness. Take a good look at whether this fearful situation is under your control.”
Taylor didn’t believe in the Tarot, but was intrigued by Steffie’s interpretation. When she went back to work at Billie’s office, he walked home, set himself on the deck, watched the city bustle by, drank an Irish coffee, and came away with a revelation.
It seemed to him now that it was lucky that Penny had seen the rogue gun, since it had caused him to buy a registered one. He could reserve the rogue gun for ambushing Butchie. But in the meantime, he could carry the registered one. If Butchie tried to ambush him, he had a legal Ruger to defend himself with.
It was such a simple solution that he wondered why he hadn’t thought of it before. Taylor could now live his life right here, just with a lump in the small of his back.
Concealed carry isn’t simple. There are a lot of decisions to be made: Belly band, shoulder rig, ankle, small of the back? Taylor already had a lot of loose floppy summer shirts and decided on a good fabric back holster, $34.99 at Wow Mart. Thus armed with his legal weapon, he resumed his normal life in Shipwreck Bay.
Except he had no girlfriend and no job. Everybody he knew was working all week, except for Artie. So after days of pounding out resumes to cloud development teams and, in desperation, to a plastics manufacturer in Uptown, he steeled himself for an island confrontation with Butchie.
Part of him wanted to warn Butchie off with a display of the legal weapon. Another part of him wanted to use the rogue pistol to kill Butchie in revenge for his mother’s murder. This weekend, he determined, would be the warning. Its purpose was to get Butchie to leave him alone. If Butchie backed off, maybe Taylor would decide to live and let live.
He took the bus down to the ferry and was already aboard when he saw Adora. Her face was stiff and she looked depressed. Taylor turned his back hoping she’d take the hint but in a moment she joined him at the rail, the ferry bobbing toward the island, seagulls circling and cawing in its wake.
“I’m afraid Cammie is dead,” Adora said. “We have heard nothing.”
Taylor didn’t say anything.
“Don’t you care?” she said.
He whispered: “Who would have killed her? Nick?”
“Don’t be stupid. Nick loves her. He’d never harm her.” She shot Taylor a sideways look of suspicion. “She is not hiding at your place?”
Taylor shook his head. He became aware of this strange new sensation of being armed, a weight in his mind and at the small of his back too.
“She loved the beach,” Adora said. “I would not be surprised if she rented a room out here.”
“With what money?”
“She has money. I put away money for her. That was the whole point of her working for Nick.”
They arrived at the dock, with its tiny commercial district: Aunt Crabbies. The Surf Shop. The Shore General Store. The taco shack, and the Isle Be Seaing U ice-cream shop and diner, and the weedy sandy lot that would become Taylor’s after probate.
Adora put her hand on his arm. He enjoyed that touch. Despite it all, he liked Adora. Maybe he was intrigued by her many contradictions. Or maybe he was just a sucker for women.
“When we find Cammie,” Adora said, “I’m taking her to the country and away from this evil town.”
“I thought you believed she was dead?”
“I am so depressed. You are the cruelest man. Of course she’s not dead. I would know. She is a part of my soul. I am afraid she is dead but I know better. She is here. She is somewhere around. I can feel her. Why she is not contacting me, I don’t know.”
They boarded the jitney, sat together in the last seat. Adora scanned the beach with binoculars. The jitney’s quiet electric motor powered them at a walker’s pace down the loose old boardwalk. The Island Committee was lax on repairs, both to save tax dollars and discourage tourists, always hoping to send them over to the gaudy commercial East Poke Island or the somewhat less awful West.
Out of absolutely nowhere, Adora said: “Nick. He is the worst. All about himself, and that is all.”
“I thought you said he loved Cammie?”
“Because he can use her, that is all. Because she is, I cannot say stupid, I would say, innocent for her years. She is 21, but a mere child. He took advantage of her, that is his way of love.”
Taylor recalled Nick’s nasty remarks disparaging Asian immigrants, and how they should have stayed in Asia with their water buffalo. “I’m not in his fan club,” he muttered.
“Help me search for Cammie. You know what kind of girl she is, don’t you?”
“I barely know her.”
“She has a mental deficit. She is the sweetest person on earth, but she has no sense of time. She has no urgency. When she worked at the spa, I had to shepherd her appointments. She lives in the eternal now. It would be just like her to wander and wander. She is smart enough, but what a terrible disability.”
Adora rested the binoculars in her lap. “We’re always told to live in the moment. My cousin actually does. It has made her a baby almost, who must be cared for constantly.”
“So you turned her into a prostitute?”
“She cannot work! She cannot hold a job!”
A bitter look came over her face. “It was Nick’s idea. The girl is cute, looks younger than she is. Men will pay big money. She can work a few years and retire, he said. And then he promised to put her in the movies.”
“Take her to Hollywood?”
“Porn movies. Typical of his lies. He said he was saving money for her, but I worried all along it was a lie. He wants to buy a gym back in Varna.”
“Aren’t you supposed to be working at Console right now?”
“I quit,” she muttered. “I was working so Nick could have health benefits. I don’t care about Nick anymore. He is a bastard.”
Taylor expected to find Butchie at Artie’s cottage, but although the doors were open, nobody was inside, on the deck, in the gazebo, or in the yard. His rehearsed the script he had planned, informing Butchie calmly, at gun point, that he wasn’t going to pay, would not stand for further harassment, and was prepared to defend himself.
Maybe, he thought, Butchie and Artie were trolling for women down on Babe Beach. The telescope was not on the deck, so he climbed through the dunes and over the rocks only to discover an empty beach. He entered Surfer’s Rockpile, that complex of caves, holes, rocks, and tide pools, and wended his way through its maze.
There, at lands end, sat Butchie, facing the wild ocean, his back turned to Taylor. In his cutoff shirt and surfer’s bathing suit there was no place to hide a weapon.
Taylor imagined Butchie strangling his mother, or knifing her, or shooting her, and pushing her body off these very rocks. Man, did that gun feel heavy at his back. Taylor sneaked up on him, covered by the sound of waves hitting rock. He could put a bullet in the back of Butchie’s head and he’d never know. But not now — he had packed the traceable gun.
Butchie somehow intuited Taylor’s presence, and turned around. He grinned, held out his hand expecting Taylor to slap money into it.
“I came out here to talk to you, Butchie.”
He shrugged. “Speak.”
“I can’t pay you.”
He smirked. “Where have I heard that one before?”
“Marco fed us bullshit. He knows the Bulgarian has an antipathy for Hispanics, so…”
“Hatred,” Taylor said. “Marco tricked us. He’s already disappeared again.”
Taylor heard himself say in an oddly calm voice: “I’m not going to pay you a dime.”
He drew the pistol, pointed it at Butchie with a steady hand. Butchie crossed his sunburned arms over his chest. His knife-scarred cheek quivered. “Look-y here,” he said. “You asked, and I delivered. Don’t try to wuh wuh weasel now, it’s unmanly.”
With Butchie in his gun sights, Taylor summoned the courage that had so often eluded him. “I will not pay you,” he said.
“I want to hear it from you,” Taylor said.
“Who killed my mother, Elizabeth Burns. You know. I know you do.”
Butchie shook his head.
“You set the whole Marco thing up just to fleece me,” Taylor said. “You drowned her. You drowned my mother, and she wasn’t the first person you drowned.”
Butchie sat on a slimy wet boulder, and leaned forward, resting his arms on his thighs.
“So that’s it,” he said. “Kid, you don’t know nothing.”
“Motherfucker robs a drug store, using my car. Pills he was after. The cops bust into my hau hau house, find the pills, boom, Butchie done it. Charges don’t stick but still, cops tearing up my house? Fuck that. Goodness of my heart I took this prick in when he was down, and he tells the cops Butchie done it? That’s some suh suh serious shit. I had to get revenge on that, you don’t get revenge …”
“So one day he’s going fishing, stripers, I seen him on the charter boat, we get off, and I say hey asshole let me buy you a drink and one thing leads to another, it’s darker than shit no moon no stars no nothing, motherfucker twice my size tries to drown me off the pier, but he was drunker than shit and I won.”
Butchie looked Taylor square in the eyes.
“So what? That makes me a sy sy psycho killer?”
“I got nothing to say there, because I didn’t do nothing to her. She was beautiful to me. I had a thing for her. She blew me off. It was years and years ago. She was too good for me anyway. Too much class. Yeah, I was glad to see her back in Ship Bay. I had drinks with her now and then. Because I’m not the hot head punk I was. So go ahead, kid. Pull the trigger. I can’t fucking stop you. But no matter wuh wuh what you do, your mother’s killer will still be out there, laughing at your skinny ass.”
Taylor, utterly confused and losing his nerve, backed away. “You’d better know I can defend myself,” he said, his voice shaky. “And I will. You mess with me again, and I will kill you.”
He steadied himself on the rusting pole of a sign that warned: BEWARE OF SLIPS AND FALLS.
“Watch your step,” said Butchie.
Watching Butchie, not his step, Taylor backed into a damp rock defile.
“You’re bad at this, kid,” Butchie called out. “Don’t try to be a tough guy, it’s not your style.”