Derek was in a large, soft, luxurious bed in a small pink room with watercolors of oleander and hibiscus on the walls. Most of the wide window was shaded by a tangle of crimson Bougainvillea, but rays of the eastern sun streamed around the ragged edges. He used an arm to shut them out. Kiskadees were screaming from the rooftop.
"Go ahead," Derek mumbled. "See if I care." He rolled and let his arm flop back, and his hand fell onto Mimi's hair. He mauled a fistful of it and thought, "We're okay." Then he probed the bandage taped over the abraded skin around his neck and smelled cement powder in his nasal passages. There was a flash of the eye-gouger, but he snuffed the image away. "No!" he said. Mimi made a small, inquisitive noise.
He reached to put an arm around her and buried his nose in the bunched blackness at the nape of her neck. He inhaled deeply and the earthy scents of the island erased the cement.
Mimi was wearing an oversized clean white t-shirt. She turned her head. He kissed her lips through spread hair. "Hey," she said. The soft hands came alive.
Evie had left for work after giving a statement. The constable was in the living room with Michael. He was a black man, the same age as Michael and almost as large. They looked enough alike to be brothers, but as much as Michael was easy-going and extroverted, André Wilson was formal and reserved, almost shy. They had known each other since primary school. They sat on opposite sides of a glass-topped coffee table, and as they talked, André jotted notes in his little police pad.
"How could they have escaped?" Michael asked in disbelief. "I tied them up! I cut their fuel line!"
"Maybe there were more of them."
"With their own boat?
"They might have rowed back."
"Quite a feat," Michael said, doubting the men he had punished would have been capable of such exertion, even without the punishment. He couldn't recall any oars.
Because the previous night had been raucous, with many Bermudians holding meteor-watching parties that had gotten out of hand, the police had been swamped with calls and were unable to tend to Tea Kettle Island until more than three hours after the incident. André and an inspector found it completely deserted, with little to indicate an assault or subsequent struggles, no cement bag used in an attempted suffocation, no scraps of duct tape, no lengths of clothesline that might have been involved in the binding of wrists. They found the bloody spade and took it back to Hamilton for analysis.
Michael explained with some difficulty how he had managed to capture both attackers. He said he didn't know how Mimi escaped the thin one, who was already unconscious and bleeding by the time Michael found him to tie him up.
"Who konked him? asked André .
"Maybe he fell against the rampart while the girl was struggling?" Michael couldn't describe the faces of the thugs or recognize them in the mug-shot catalogue. He had been too charged with adrenaline and rum to be able to remember anything more specific than "fat" and "thin." He wasn't even sure if they had been black or white or something in-between.
The conversation ended with the distraction of faint creaking from upstairs.
"I guess they're awake," said Michael. He led the constable into the garden. "Uh, let me get you an iced-tea, Mate," he said. After some quick puttering in the kitchen, he marched up the stairs, loudly singing a wordless song. The bedroom was silent by the time he rapped on the door.
Derek sat calmly on the sofa where Michael had been sitting. He recounted everything he could about the attack, which wasn't very much, because he had been suffocating in a bag of cement powder throughout most of it. Michael was washing dishes, separated from the living room by the kitchen counter and overhead cupboards. Derek said in a frustrated tone, "This isn't the first time something like this has happened to me." He lifted his glasses to reveal his eye.
André winced, displaying sympathetic pain on half his face. "You're not a lucky man," he said.
Michael dried his hands and went upstairs. “Lucky enough,” he said to himself.
All right, Dr. Coulter," said André , "let's look for the one who attacked you." He placed the catalogue on the coffee table and instructed Derek to take his time.
He flipped it open to a random spot. "Where's the section on bald, fat ones?"
"Ah, it's not organized that way.".
Derek worked his way through the book, giving extra attention to all the fat-faced and skinny-faced criminals. "I just don't know," he said. "It was dark, and we were taken completely by surprise. I was a bit drunk too. I only saw the arms of the one who grabbed Mimi and the outline of the one who attacked me, after Evie knocked him off."
"Oh dear," said André . "I'd hoped you might have observed a little more, being a scientist and all."
A phone in André ’s shirt pocket rang. He fished it out and checked the number. "Yes? Really? I see. Wait a minute, I'll ask." He lowered the phone and asked, "Any idea if it would be possible there might be non-mammalian blood on your little digging tool?"
Derek explained guiltily that he sometimes used it to kill anoles.
"He says it's lizard blood," André said into the phone. This was followed by a couple of "uh-hmm"s as André and the caller digested this peculiar piece of information.
"Can I get my spade back?" asked Derek. "I need it for my work."
Next was Mimi's turn. Her petiteness caused André to suffer the same sensation of being oversized and clumsy that Derek had experienced previously. She told him that she also had been taken by surprise. She was with Derek, outside the tent, and suddenly someone grabbed her, pinned her arms to her sides, and lifted her over his shoulder. She couldn't see what was happening to Derek, but could hear him choking and struggling.
"What happened next?" André asked, after a period of hasty jotting.
"He was sitting on me and was putting duct tape on my legs. He had already taped my wrists and my mouth and over my eyes. I was having a hard time breathing and was about to pass out, but someone knocked him off me. I think it was the two men from two nights ago, but I don't know. I obviously couldn’t see. It was pretty terrifying, actually.” To elaborate she added, quietly, "I, we were interrupted in the midst of a romantic moment, which made it all the worse, because what was suddenly happening was the sharp opposite of what should have been happening."
"Ahh, don’t write that, okay?” She reached to hold his pen.
"Of course not, Miss."
"Oh, excuse me." She withdrew her hand.
He smiled. "Now Miss, what other two men are you talking about?"
"I wish I knew."
He expected a follow-up sentence, but Mimi was distracted by her reflection in the marbled mirror-tiles the Spencers had affixed to the wall at the far end of the living room to make it appear a little larger. Unlike Derek, she bore no enmity toward mirrors, and it had been a while since she'd had a good look at herself in a really big one. She straightened her back and ran a hand through her hair.
"Miss?" André asked.
"Hm? Oops, sorry. I'm kind of a mess."
"The other two men?"
She shrugged and made a funny face. “Ghosts?”
André didn’t write that down.
Mimi was more useful with the mugshots than Michael and Derek had been. She picked four possibilities for the thin man, which André marked with yellow sticky notes. "I dare you to smell their breath when you arrest them," she said. "He had terrible breath." Her eyes narrowed, then widened again as she remembered something. She remembered a flash of his tape before her eyes had been covered. "Hey, his teeth! He had a big gap in his teeth." She snatched back the book and flipped from sticky note to sticky note. The criminals were surly and tight-lipped.
"Figures," she said. "You should force them to smile when you take their pictures."
André chuckled, and printed in large block letters, "GAP-TOOTHED." "Good work, Miss. You've given us a decent lead. In a little country like this, gap-teeth should be relatively easy to find."
Michael entered the room. "Mimi, I phoned the Admiral."
Her face soured. "What about my students? What's he going to do with them?"
"He said he would send them sight-seeing. They'll take the bus to St. George. He said they'll be there by 10 AM. Maybe André will drop you off so you can meet them there, if you're feeling up to it. The bus stops right at the town square."
"Certainly," said André , glancing at his watch.
"What about Derek?"
"He's coming with us, back to the island. He and I will be helping with the investigation."
He entered the room, pink and clean from a shower, in a green Fisheries t-shirt that hung loosely. Mimi said, “You look vaguely respectable."
"Thanks." He struck a silly pose of grave self-importance, and Mimi lost her smile. He had reminded her of Adrian.
André spent the first part of the morning more cabbie than cop, driving first to a bank, and then to a mall in Hamilton. Mimi now sported a pair of sky-blue Bermuda deck shoes.
“What do you think?”
“Very nice,” said Derek.
“Those are proper Bermudian shoes,” said Michael.
“I wanted pink, but they didn’t have my size.”
They arrived at St. George’s town square at ten minutes to ten. "They'll be on the next pink bus," Michael explained. "We'll meet you back here at three-thirty."
"Okay," said Mimi. She opened the door and stepped out. "I'll be waiting under that green veranda over there." Then she reached through the driver's side window and tugged André 's epaulet. "Wait a sec!" She skipped around the back to Derek's side and stuck her head in his window. "Hey," she said. She gently removed his sunglasses and kissed his cheek. "Bye, honey," she said, and then jogged off across the square.
Michael viewed this exchange in the passenger-side mirror. He saw Derek put his glasses back on, and watched as the boy gazed at Mimi as if she were the most marvelous thing in the world. He said, "Okay if we go now, Honey?" His laugh shook the car. André laughed too, and lifted his foot from the brake.
A short way along, Michael's mirth subsided. "I just remembered something strange." He wrenched around in the seat. "The fat one had your sunglasses in his hand when I caught him."
Derek was surprised. "What is it about my sunglasses?" He took them off and squinted at them one-eyed. "Why does everyone want to take my sunglasses?"
At the next delay in traffic, at the crook of Mullet Bay, André whipped out his notepad and scribbled, "FAT ONE TOOK MALE VIC’S SUNGLASSES." Then he said, pessimistically, "I don't suppose there would be a chance he left a fingerprint or two."
"Afraid not," Derek answered. "I cleaned them thoroughly this morning."
"Damn!" said Michael. "I didn't think of that. I was so sure they wouldn't get away it didn't occur to me to preserve fingerprints."
"Plus you were out of your mind with rage."
"That too," said Michael, recalling he had almost killed one of them. "Maybe there's a head-print on the spade." He remembered the "clang," and laughed heartily.
They were headed toward the Fisheries Division, intending to take Michael's whaler to Tea Kettle. This meant crossing a number of bridges to go not very far as the tropicbird flies, or as the boat sails, first south across Ferry Reach via a swingbridge, and then after a lights-on sprint along Kindley Field Road behind the airport, west across the narrow stone causeway that connects the airport to the main island of Bermuda, and then, after a winding northward drive north along Coney Island Road, one more bridge going east that carried them to Coney Island and the Fisheries Division. The scenery drifted by unregistered as Derek put things together. "I've got it," he said as André pulled into a parking space at the yard. He tried to jostle Michael's seat, but because of the anchoring bulk could only vigorously squeeze the upholstery on either side. "I know who they were!"
They sat in the car as Derek reminded Michael of his scuffle with the Admiral, how it had happened when the Admiral tried to remove his sunglasses. He said Fatty and Skinny must be thugs sent by the Admiral. "What a complete asshole," said Derek. "One of the smallest countries in the world has one of the world's largest assholes."
"Ho-ho, very well put," said Michael.
André remained official. "Surely he wouldn't want to kill you for your sunglasses. He probably owns plenty of sunglasses."
"Who kills with a cement bag? Maybe they weren't trying to kill me. Maybe they were just trying to rough me up, scare me," Derek answered. "They want me off the island. At least, the Admiral and his nephew want me off it. The old man probably wanted to punish Mimi too, for being... friendly with me, and for not returning to his estate at night. These guys knew exactly where we were. They've been spying on us for a couple of days."
"No, no," Michael corrected. "I think those were different people."
André was exasperated. "What different people? Who are the other men?"
Michael was afraid to explain. He didn't know what to say.
Derek said, "I bet the Admiral rescued them after Michael tied them up. He could have towed their boat back."
André extended his arms to the steering wheel and pushed himself into his seat. He let himself out again and exhaled. "Oh boy, I do not relish the thought of questioning that old bird."
"He's not so tough, just whack him in the nuts." Derek said.
Michael smiled, but André looked pained. "That's not it. He's chums with some of the higher-ups. He could make trouble for me."
"Well, maybe you won't have to question him, not at first," said Derek. "We could find out if the students saw anything. They're very lively, and we told them to be sure to watch the meteors last night, so probably they were still up at the time we were attacked. If the Admiral went out in his boat, maybe they heard him leave."
"I would want to be discreet. I wouldn't want him to know that the police are asking questions."
"Don't ask all of them. Start with just one, one who can be trusted never to say anything to the Admiral."
"Who's that?" asked Michael.
"Little Molly. She never misses anything, and she's as timid as a mouse."
The students hopped from the bus like penguins abandoning an iceflow. Mimi waved excitedly, and yelled, "Hey, over here!" She attracted a lot of attention, but none from her students, whose young heads were spinning in all directions as they tried to decide on a spot to commence their explorations of the old city of St. George.
Molly touched Shana's wrist. "I see Mimi," she said.
They flocked to their teacher and assailed her with questions. "What was going on? Why weren't they digging today?" The Admiral had told them nothing. He had been in an especially foul mood at breakfast, and Cora had been a pain too, creeping around and telling them to be quiet.
Mimi didn't tell them much, only that there had been intruders on the island, there had been a fight, and the intruders got away. The police were on the island today.
"Is Derek okay?" asked Shana.
"He has a few nicks and scrapes," said Mimi.
Stew said, "A few more nicks and scrapes."
Mimi said, “Neither of us is hurt. It was just a little scary, that’s all, and because of it we get an unscheduled day of sight-seeing. Let’s make the most of it.”
Shana pointed at discolorations on Mimi's arms. "You have bruises. What happened?”
"It's nothing," Mimi replied.
"Fuck," said Brian.
"We should have been there too, instead of watching those dumb meteors," Joanne grumbled. She ground one fist into the other in a way that would have seemed silly were it anyone else.
Mimi led them on a tour of the city. She started at the top of King's Square and showed them famous St. Peter's Church. They went inside and admired the box-pews and hand-worked cedar columns and beams, then walked outside and perused the cemetery. They crossed the street to the Confederate Museum, once a hotel serving as a base for Confederate blockade runners during the American Civil War. Next, she led them back through the square and a short block up King Street to the Old State House, the ancient seat of government and one of the first buildings constructed of Bermuda limestone, still standing after so long. They went inside and signed the guest book beneath the benign gazes of the Queen and Prince Philip, the same photographs that had been on the walls of their elementary schools in Canada. Mimi took them past Somers park, where it was believed the heart of the founder of Bermuda was buried. Then they hiked uphill to the unfinished church, a roofless, gothic edifice with palmettos growing in the nave like coral within a sunken warship.
Although she had never before been to St. George, Mimi had read about the town extensively and had memorized its general layout and history. She recognized buildings she'd previously known only from pictures, and was thrilled to see them in person, in context, next to each other, real. Her enthusiasm was contagious, and the students panted after her, experiencing the town for the first time through her eyes. It was as though they themselves were discovering it, with Mimi merely the voice of their thoughts. She knew everything it seemed, and several times ran out of breath from talking too fast. Filipino pronunciations slipped in, but Mimi noticed only a couple, and kept going without bothering to correct them.
At three-twenty, Derek, Michael, and André returned. Mimi was still talking when they arrived, but not to the students. She had bid them farewell and sent them shopping, but had been unable to shake a small group of middle-aged North American tourists who had latched on to her partway through the tour. Eventually she spotted Derek, Michael, and André leaning against the side of the police car, enjoying her predicament. She excused herself and ran over.
"Hi!" She squeezed Derek's hand. She asked if the crime had been solved. It had not. There were no new leads, but the Bermudian constabulary had been alerted to be on the lookout for a gap-toothed suspect.
The tourists stood patiently at the edge of the square, waiting for Mimi to return.
"Where's Molly?" asked Derek.
"With Joanne, in the shops somewhere," Mimi answered, "Why?"
"This could be good," Derek said to André . "You could talk to her alone, while the others are busy elsewhere."
“Why do you want to talk to Molly?”
“I’m sorry, Mimi, we can’t talk about the investigation,” said André . “And that includes Derek, so don’t ask him, okay?”
“What does Molly look like?”
"A Chinese girl this tall, with black-rimmed glasses and hair this long." Mimi held her hand in a salute, first at the level of at her eyebrows, and then just below one ear.
"With a person who looks like she could crush granite with her fists," Derek added.
"Hey, that's my student!" She nudged him in the ribs. "Be careful not to scare Molly. She's very shy."
"And the other one is violent."
"Stop it! Bye!" She waved to André .
One of the tourist ladies approached Derek and Mimi. "Excuse me, Miss, will the tour be starting-up again soon?"
"No, I'm afraid not. It's over for today. Sorry." The woman walked back to the others, who were visibly disappointed.
Derek tried not to laugh.
"You get a private tour," she said, clutching his arm. "Let the big guys find Molly."
They were walking toward Ordnance Island, a dab of land connected to the city square by a footbridge, and historical and tourist epicenter of Bermuda.
“You really can’t tell me what this is about?” she asked.
“I’m sworn to secrecy, under penalty of arrest. But I promise Molly’s not in any trouble.”
“This is getting very weird.”
“Yes, it is. But what can you do?”
“Come,” she said.
Now familiar with the streets, she gave Derek an even faster version. She changed the organization of the tour too, using a chronological sequence to give the impression of a town growing through time, over several centuries. This required a certain amount of backtracking, but Derek remained enthralled.
At the end, he said, "So, where's the script?"
"How the hell do you know what you're talking about? You've never been here before, right?"
"No before today."
"Well, you could fool anyone. You sure had those tourists fooled, although admittedly, that's not saying much."
“Oh, they were nice.”
"I bet your students remembered everything you showed them, everything you said. I bet they'll never forget walking through this place with you.”
“You can’t go wrong with good material.”
"More quietly, he said, "You know, sometimes, on the island, I watch you. You're very good. You're a very fine teacher."
She squeezed his hand, pulling him back toward the center of town. She wanted to visit the shops and art galleries. His flattery was nice, but also worrying.
He said, “This has been really something, hasn’t it? In just a few days, all the things that have happened.”
“Yes,” she said. “We were very lucky last night. We seem to have the world’s greatest guardian angels.”
“I think back on the night you arrived, how annoyed I was. Little did I know what was in store.”
She knew what was in store. It seemed she had known all along what was in store. Thinking back to that night, the first night, she had somehow known that she was going to become involved with the naked guy who pulled the cactus spine from her ankle. And now, knowing much more about him, the things that tormented him and who he was and what he definitely didn't need, she knew she had screwed up royally. And she knew what was in store right now, any second now. He was going to tell her he was in love with her.
They came to a shop that sold pastel watercolors of extraordinarily picturesque Bermudian houses and paused, their reflections looking back at them.
She tried to ward it off. She turned to him. “Derek…”
“I love you," he said. “I’m totally in love with you.”
“Oh, honey.” She stood on tiptoes and kissed him, holding his face with both hands. It was immediately clear that this was not enough.
Molly was shopping for a present for her mother, inspecting a brooch made from sea-shells glued together, when a deep voice spoke from behind.
"Miss?" it said.
She turned and looked up. Her eyes became enormous black dots behind her lenses, trying to deal with the image of a giant policeman. She quickly put the brooch back on the counter.
The policeman said, "Is your name Molly?"
Molly nodded. She looked around for Joanne, who had been nearby a minute ago.
By chance, Mimi and Derek met the students back at the bus stop. Michael had introduced himself to the Canadians, revealing tidbits about St. George that Mimi couldn't have known, stories of childhood derring-do in the old town, tales of what it was like growing up on a sub-tropical speck. André had departed after speaking with Molly.
As they approached the group, Mimi and Derek heard Shana say to Molly in an excited whisper, "I saw you talking to that gorgeous policeman! What did he say to you?"
Molly said, "Oh, nothing much."
The bus arrived and the students formed a hasty line. "We'll be back on the island tomorrow," Mimi said, "working twice as hard, so get a lot of sleep, okay?"
Stew pulled a dark bottle of rum from a plastic bag and waggled it at her.
After the bus departed, Michael took Derek and Mimi for drinks at a tavern that overlooked the little bridge to Ordnance Island. Evie was to pick them up after work. They sat on the veranda, watching children fishing for bream using hand-lines, and were beset by plucky little house sparrows demanding food. "Another introduced species," Derek said, glumly.
Derek and Michael gulped gin and tonics, while Mimi sampled more brightly-colored, less volatile drinks. Funny they aren't happier, Michael thought. They must be drained from all the excitement.
Evie was miffed to find her man not in a suitable condition to drive. "All right, Michael," she said, "you have to keep Anna under control."
The little girl was in the back seat, tugging on the seatbelts. Derek and Mimi got in on either side. They had agreed to stay at the Spencers until the assault was solved, with Michael taking care of their transport to and from Tea Kettle each day. Anna gaped at Mimi. "You're pretty!" she exclaimed.
Mimi laughed. "So are you."
Anna grinned. She was extremely pleased to have company in the back seat. She'd never heard the name Mimi before. "MEEE-MEEE-MEEE-MEEE!" she sang.
"Enough, young lady!" Evie scolded from behind the wheel as Michael smiled out the window.
She's right, Derek thought, recalling something Evie had said earlier about Anna. The child had just attempted to insert the head and neck of a green plastic Apatosaurus up his right nostril. She's exhausting, an attention sink. Like a hurricane, she absorbs the energy of those surrounding her and unleashes it on whatever is in her path.
"Oh Derek," Michael said suddenly, as Evie shifted gears angrily around a curve, "according to Miss Molly, the Admiral went out in his boat last night at about eleven o'clock."
“I thought we’re not supposed to talk about this.”
“Why shouldn’t we?”
“Because of what André said.”
“Bah,” said Michael. “André ’s been my mate since kindergarten.”
“So it doesn’t count?”
“Hell no. He’s my mate.”
Derek suspected he was encountering something essentially Bermudian. He said, "Well then it’s an interesting thing to know."
"Yes it is."
"Can someone explain this to me?" Mimi asked.
They didn't answer. Michael wanted her to figure it out for herself, and Derek was not in a talkative mood. He was glad to have Anna between them, demanding all the attention in the car.
At the Spencer's that evening, a squad car pulled into the driveway. André entered the home triumphantly, carrying a manila folder. He was accompanied by another policeman, an older white man whom he introduced as Detective Inspector Crane.
"Hello Mimi," André said, much less formally than earlier. "Have you got a moment?"
She was cross-legged on the living room floor, being worn out by Anna and her toys. "Oh, thank you," she said.
Derek was in the kitchen with Evie, helping dry and put away the supper dishes. He left the kitchen to see what news André had brought. The policeman nodded to him. The Detective Inspector nodded too. He had met Derek that morning on the island.
André and Mimi sat on the sofa. "Tell me what you think," he said. He handed her a picture.
Her eyes widened. "That's him!"
"Are you sure?" the Detective Inspector asked.
"Yes," she said. "Did you smell his breath?"
"Not on purpose," André said. He handed the photo to Derek. It showed a frantic-eyed, gap-toothed man with a large, syrupy bruise in the middle of his forehead. There was a pale hand holding him by the hair on the top of his head. Two darkly-pigmented hands were forcibly pulling his lips back to show his teeth, and the incriminating gap.
Derek was astonished. "Do you need a search warrant to do that?"
André explained with pride how they had caught both suspects. His youngest brother Winston wished also to become a police officer, and as a hobby kept tabs on the Bermudian crime scene, what little there was. He was making money during his summer vacation as a motor-bike courier, working the congested grid of Hamilton. While at his parent's house for breakfast, on a whim, André told Winston to keep an eye out for a fat, bald man, maybe with his head bandaged, possibly accompanied by a tall, skinny, gap-toothed man with a cut on his forehead. He said they might also have marks on their wrists, grooves from ropes.
"Roger," said Winston, and he scribbled in a police pad André had given him for his birthday.
Shortly after leaving Michael and the others in St. George, André received a phone call from Winston. "They're here!" he shouted, "in the old boarded-off warehouse building off Court Street!"
André asked how he knew. Winston said he'd stopped for a break at a roadside stand that sold snow cones. While he was there, a battered Mitsubishi pulled up and out popped a fat bloke. He purchased all of the vender's ice, and as he walked back to his car, he put the bag on top of his head. When he paid for the ice, Winston saw rope marks. And the skinny one was with him, in the car, with a bright green child's bandage glued to his forehead. Winston carefully followed them to back of town, and watched them enter the building.
"Brilliant," said Michael. "Pass on my congratulations, would you?"
André couldn't stop smiling. "Derek," he said, "come on out to the car. You may have your digging tool back. We've photographed it, along with the marks on the suspect's head. We don't need it anymore."
Michael accompanied them outside. He asked, quietly, "Any connection to you-know-who?"
"Not yet," said André . He cast a glance toward the Detective Inspector, who was at the end of the driveway with his hands in his pockets and looking at the sky, perhaps sensing himself out of place. "This boy is stupid, but stubborn. We'll see." He handed Derek his spade.
“Meet you back inside,” Michael said to Derek. “I need to chat with my mate.”
Michael placed his hand on his old friend's wrist as he reached for the door handle of his car and said, “Don't sweat it, mate, it's not worth your trouble. Give me their names and addresses. Here is exactly what I will do to them. I will bind and blind them with duct tape as they did to this young woman. I will torment them for as long as I can stomach it, doing my best to avoid permanent damage. When I’m done I will dump them side-by-side in Pembroke Marsh and make an anonymous call for help.”
Michael and André shook hands.
Entering his house, Michael said brightly to Derek, "Time for a beverage, to celebrate."
"Right," said Derek.
"Are you feeling well?"
"Yes," said Derek. "Fine. A little wrung out, that's all. It's been intense, you know? My trip to Bermuda is turning out to be a little more eventful than I thought it would be."
Michael said, "Really? You underestimated our little island."
There was a news update on Dexter. The young cyclone had been upgraded to a Category One Hurricane with maximum sustained winds of eighty-one miles per hour. He was expected to intensify further and remained a potential threat to Bermuda. To enliven the report, the newscast showed dramatic footage of Anna's namesake storm, including scenes of a cruise ship caught by surprise in Hamilton Harbour, sloshing around like a toy in bathtub. The effect was magnified by the other Anna, who was leaping from the furniture and shrieking.
Mercifully, she went outside, into the back garden. Five minutes later she returned and dropped something small and dark into Derek's mug of beer, and then flew upstairs, giggling fiendishly. Derek fished the object out. It was a tiny, bug-eyed frog, small enough to nest within a teaspoon, gulping furiously, but otherwise paralyzed.
"Shit," he said. He went to the kitchen and carefully rinsed the little amphibian under the tap.
Michael growled after his daughter.
Derek took the frog outside and gently placed it on the leaf of a potted plant. Mimi followed. "Is it okay?" she asked.
"Maybe," said Derek. "They absorb liquids through their skin. He might be a bit drunk. Maybe poisoned." Then he said, "These don't belong here either."
"Another introduced species. These frogs are from the Caribbean."
She stood quietly. "So why are you trying to save this one?"
He continued to watch it closely and didn't answer.
"Are you coming back inside?"
"I want to make sure he's okay."
After waiting for a minute, she placed her fingertips on the back of his neck as he hunched above the tiny creature. "You are unlike anyone I have ever met," she said. She went back inside.
Michael and Evie came out with Anna in tow. The child was whimpering.
"What do you say to Mr. Cooter?" Michael said.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Cooter," she said.
Derek looked at her seriously. "What do you say to the frog?"
Anna peered closely at the frog. "Sorry, Fro-g." Her voice broke to a sob.
"Okay, Anna, you can go now." Michael patted her on the bottom, and she tip-toed back into the living room.
Michael's teeth flashed at Derek. "You are an amusing man."
"What?" Derek asked, defensively.
"Sorry, Fro-g?" Evie mimicked. "You trying to confuse our darling little baby?"
The frog had briefly alleviated Derek's preoccupation with his afternoon gaff, but it had all come back when touched his neck. So he was 'unlike anyone she had ever met.' Was that good? Couldn't you honestly say that to anyone?
He doubted she had been completely surprised. After all, they were sleeping with each other, but still, when one person said what he had said and the other didn't respond the same way, it had the potential to ruin everything. "Damn!" he said. He hadn’t even planned to say it. It just sort of leapt out of him. He had forgotten about this nonsense. It had been too long. He had made her uncomfortable, maybe scared her away. He hoped she would forget he said it.
But of course, she wouldn't.
The Spencers reclaimed their bedroom, leaving Derek and Mimi on the pull-out sofa in the living room. A new kind of hell was in store for the herpetologist. After dark, the whistling frog he had rescued, accompanied by hundreds or thousands of its friends, began celebrating life -- by calling. Their not-so-tiny voices were like tinkling bells, ringing GLEEP GLEEP GLEEP, with clappers falling against the sides and clinking to a stop. They might have been pleasingly musical in small groups, but in such large numbers created a maddening din, like a steel drum band inside an airplane hangar. The chorus wouldn't have bothered most people unduly, but to Derek, with his temperamental ears, almost instantly it became unbearable. The frog-chimes encompassed the worst possible range of frequencies, and his ears shrieked hysterically. He hadn't anticipated this problem, because, unlike in most of Bermuda, there were no whistling frogs on Tea Kettle Island.
Worse than this aural torment was the gnawing in his gut. He now understood that this wonderful thing wasn't real. It was a fling, like something among counselors at a summer camp. He was staring at the ceiling, and thought back two hours, to when they had gone to bed. Mimi phoned home to speak with her mother as Derek lay beside her, his arms beneath his pillow, listening to this intimacy which Mimi seemed willing to share. He could tell from the sounds coming from the receiver that Mimi’s mother was speaking a mixture of English and Tagalog, but Mimi spoke entirely in English, although with a surprisingly pronounced Filipino accent. She told her mother that the course was going well, and that her students were “honeys.” She told her about the rock lizards, but had a difficult time convincing her they were pretty things. She made sure Derek was listening — kicked him beneath the sheets and rolled her eyes. She also mentioned that a hurricane might be coming. Apparently her mother wasn’t concerned. “Yeah, like the typhoons when we were little and school was canceled,” Mimi said.
In response to something her mother said, Mimi responded with a couple of non-committal “nn-nnn” sounds that made Derek’s stomach knot because he suspected they were speaking of Adrian.
Their laughter intrigued him. Mimi laughed after almost every exchange and her mother was laughing on the other end. They seemed more like two young girlfriends than mother and daughter.
She hung up, kissed him enthusiastically on the forehead, and reached to turn off the light.
“How’s your mom?” he asked.
“Great,” she said. “Mama’s great.”
“That’s good,” he said. Minutes of silence passed until she shifted abruptly, sat up, and thrust her knee beneath his pillow so that his head was cradled in her lap. She was looking at him upside-down. She clamped his face in her hands.
“What are you doing?” he asked.
Her head shook and the ends of her hair danced on him, tickling. She breathed deeply and leaned to whisper closely, “You can’t phone your mother.”
“It’s okay,” he said.
Her face hung darkly above him. “No, it isn’t”
No it wasn’t. If it was, would he write letters to his cat?
She moved back beside him and he held her. That’s when the frogs began to sing.
Did she think of his mother because she wanted him also to have the joy that she had, a mother as eternal friend? No, that was not it. She was regretting that he was soon to be disappointed and would not have the comfort of a mother’s words.
Mimi shifted. Her hand slid up and nestled beneath his chin. That afternoon he had removed the gauze covering the draw-string burns on his neck. Her fingertips were now resting on a raw strip, and the traces of salt burned him like ketchup on a cold sore.
He didn’t move her hand.