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34

PRESTON SAID, "Who is he calling?"

"Who? Oh, Tonio," Pam said, because the pilot of this small sailboat, the bronzed Tonio, was murmuring into a cell phone as he sat hunched over the tiller at the rear of the boat, steering them out of the cove, toward the open sea. "Oh, he always does that," she said. "He has to phone the marina whenever we set sail, it's a safety thing."

"Oh," Preston said, and faced forward again, as the open sea grew increasingly open. The little sailboat did bob around an awful lot, did it more and more the faster they went and the farther from the protection of the cove. Preston tried to think of the movements as sensual, but it was difficult.

This was the first time he'd been off the island since he'd flown down from New York, almost three years ago. He'd never felt the need to frisk about on the briny, and in fact he still didn't, but Pam was so difficult to pin down, a phrase he meant quite literally. She was always either off sailing with some lout or too tired from her outer-sea exertions to be of much use.

Well, if you can't fight them, join them. Last night, when once again Pam had been too tired to drop by his place for a little kidding around, he'd brought up the sailboat idea himself: "Tomorrow, what do you say, if you want to go sailing again, I'll came along with you."

She was delighted: "Oh, would you, Pres? You'll love it, I know you will."

So here they were, and so far he wasn't loving it. Not that he was going to be seasick — that sort of thing had never been a problem — but maintaining one's balance was definitely a problem, perched here on this padded seat at the prow of the sailboat. Also noise; he would have expected sailpower to be silent, but the rush of the little boat through the sea created two kinds of white noise that made conversation difficult, they being wind and wave. The wind of their passage rushed past his ears, and the surface of the ocean hissed as the boat sliced through it.

So Preston merely sat silently, clasped his knees, frowned mightily at all that empty water, and waited for the good part. Are we having fun yet?

Once he looked back, and Tonio was off the phone now, and the island was really surprisingly far away. The sailboat traveled faster than one would have supposed. Preston looked at Tonio, and the man just sat there, one hand on the tiller, no expression at all on his face. Preston faced forward again.

He let another minute whish by, then leaned very close to Pam's lovely left ear and murmured, "When does Tonio take his little swim?"

"Oh, Preston, not till we're out of sight of land."

"Out of sight?" Twisting again to look back past the stolid Tonio, Preston said, "By God, we almost are! Facing Pam, he called, into the roar of wind and wave, "Should we be out this far?"

"Oh, these boats are completely safe," Pam assured him. "They wouldn't let us go out if they weren't."

"Presumably." Preston gazed out at the illimitable ocean, and on it there moved a speck. "What's that?"

"What?"

"That," Preston repeated, and pointed at the black-looking speck with the tiny white line of wake behind it.

"Why, it's another boat," Pam said, sounding pleased.

"Why don't they find their own ocean?"

Pam caressed his near knee. "They'll be gone in a minute, darling."

Preston frowned toward that other boat, which, instead of going, was definitely coming nearer. "It doesn't have a sail."

"No, it's a motorboat." She shielded her eyes with a hand, gazing at the interloper. "I think it's one of those they call the cigarette boats."

"Noisy and fast," Preston said, disgusted with the idea. "Drug dealers and the like."

"Oh, some very decent people, too," Pam assured him.

"Is that boat going to crash into us?"

"Of course not, darling."

"They're coming right at us."

"Maybe they want to say hello."

Preston looked back past Tonio, and there was no island back there at all any more, no land anywhere in sight, nothing and no one except themselves and that other boat. "I don't like this," he said.

Scoffing, Pam said, "Oh, there's no bad people in this part of the ocean."

Preston shielded his own eyes with his hand. That other boat was surging powerfully through the sea, thundering on like a seagoing locomotive, nose up. It could now be seen to be mostly white, with blue trim, and with names and numbers in blue on its side. Sunlight glinted from its windscreen, so that whoever was driving the boat couldn't be seen.

Preston made a sudden decision. Twisting around again, he called, "Tonio, take us back! Now!"

Tonio didn't even bother to look at him. They continued to sail as before. Wide-eyed, Preston stared at Pam, but she was smiling at the approaching boat, apparently mightily amused by something or other.

And now Tonio did do something with the sail, so that they definitely slowed. Instead of rushing, all at once they were wallowing. And the cigarette boat was just there, also slowing, turning in a large, carnivorous circle as it approached.

Pam turned her beautiful head to meet Preston's stare, and her smile now was savage with triumph. "It's been fun, darling," she said.

"You're taking me off the island!"

"You are off the island, darling."

The cigarette boat eased in close, and Preston made a belated and bitter discovery. "You look like my wives."

She laughed, lightly. At him. "Of course," she said, and Tonio held out a hand to catch the cigarette boat's rope.


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