Skye wakes up underwater. Also, under surveillance. He is hovered on all sides by eyeballs, mouths, fins. He stretches sideways and discovers the eyes he likes best: smoky brown, wide-set, marquis cut.
“Good morning, wonderboy.”
Her lips taste like mint. She brushed her teeth just to wake him up.
“You’re a marvel.”
She cups her breasts. “What makes you say that?”
“You have internal muscles that American girls seem to lack.”
She rolls her eyes. “American girls think the job is over once you open your legs. Filipinas are instructed by their mothers in the ways of pleasing men.”
Skye laughs. “You’re mostly right. I have had the good fortune to meet some exceptions.”
“No doubt raised by Filipina nannies.”
He falls back on a coven of pillows and looks around: a dome-shaped bedroom wrapped entirely in fishtank. The contents are decidedly tropical: a foot-tall angelfish with streaks of mustard warpaint, a leopard shark, a green boxfish with black spots.
Andorra curls beside him and inspects his penis. She lets it drop with a disappointed expression.
“Jesus, woman! What do you expect?”
She peers through her bangs. “I was hoping for one more ride before you leave.”
“Why would I ever leave?”
She pats him on the belly. “Sarge is a very generous man. For example, he built this room based on a single account of a snorkeling trip I took as a child. But he also has his rules. You arrived at one o’clock yesterday, you will leave by one o’clock today.”
Skye finds this thought to be terribly sad. Still, he wouldn’t dream of pushing his luck. He gives his dick a slap.
“Wake up! Bastard.”
Andorra giggles and kisses him on the forehead. “You’d better hit the showers. In the bathroom, you will find your clothes from yesterday, cleaned and pressed. Meanwhile, tell me your fantasy breakfast.”
Skye recalls a creekside restaurant in Ashland, Oregon. “Marionberry pancakes. Eggs Benedict with smoked salmon. And guava nectar.”
“I’ll see what I can do.”
Skye works his way to his feet and scans the room.
“Oh,” she says. “Stand on that copper circle and say the word ‘Down.’”
He finds the circle at the foot of the bed, but pauses to watch naked Andorra walk toward the angelfish. She says “Open” and the tank slides to the right, revealing a meadow dotted with crocuses and stalks of purple lupine. A picnic table stands near a fountain, with a fresh tablecloth and two settings.
“Down,” says Skye. He sinks into the floor.
Andorra escorts him to the front room – the modest farmhouse – and leaves him with a quick kiss. He steps outside to a dark sky, and to Bubba Yoshida, hosing down the Escalade.
“Precisely on time. You would be surprised how difficult it is to get people to leave this place.”
Skye is still alarmed at the Orson Welles voice coming from the marionette body. “After the best day of my life,” he replies, “I like to get the hell out of town.”
“Ah. Before the complications set in.” Bubba opens the passenger door. “Sarge would have preferred to send you off himself, but he has a rather important conference call.”
Skye buckles himself in and takes a Zen breath. Bubba proceeds at an absolutely normal rate of speed. He notes Skye’s expression and reveals a bright smile. “I thought you might like to enjoy the view this time.”
A good half-hour later, they pull up to Skye’s room at the motor court. His truck is parked out front, looking amazingly clean.
“Please,” says Bubba. “Come inside. We have one final matter to discuss.” He enters the room and waves Skye into the armchair. Bubba folds his hands. “Again, Mister McCollum thanks you for joining him yesterday. He had a splendid time.”
“My pleasure. Absolutely.”
“Now, the sad realities of modern life. As you may have guessed, Mister McCollum is strongly protective of his privacy. In consideration of the entertainments he has provided for you, he asks that you sign a non-disclosure agreement.” He pulls a fold of papers from his jacket and hands it to Skye. “Essentially, you agree not to discuss Mister McCollum, the nature of his residence, or, especially, the location. And especially not to the press. Should you break the agreement, Mister McCollum’s squadron of soulless amphibian lawyers will make a considerable degree of trouble for you. One the plus side, if you do sign it, you will receive a generous cash incentive.”
Skye takes a pen from his writing case, flattens the paper on his nightstand and signs it. “Mister Yoshida, your employer found me after one of the most depressing fiascos of my life and threw me the world’s most glorious lifeline. I should be paying him.”
Bubba laughs and takes the paper. “I hardly think that Mister McCollum…”
“I’m sorry. Mister Who?”
Bubba stops, then points a finger at Skye. “You’re good.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“All right, Olivier. Here’s a copy of the agreement for your reference. Mister Pelter, I regret that I may not ever see you again.”
Skye remains seated as he accepts his handshake. “Thank you, Bubba.”
“As my father used to say, Sayonara, cowpoke.”
Skye watches the little man stride from the room, and listens to the crunch of gravel as the Escalade rolls away.
Skye awakens to a Spanish-language novela. A family of gorgeous, quick-talking women gather at the bed of an ailing uncle, breasts spilling from their dresses like eager puppies.
It takes Skye a few minutes to understand that the dream with the granite cliffs and Pete Sampras and the fishtank was not a dream – and to regret, just a bit, that he has given away the right to talk about it. He spies the word Traitors in his writing case and has a Spanish paroxysm: Aye! Que lastima! He pays a quick visit to the bathroom, grabs the book and paces into town, where he finds the miracle of a post office with fifteen minutes till closing. Traitors is the book he abducted from his father’s nightstand. It’s a World War II aviation tale, wonderfully sharp and fast-paced. He loaned it to his dad – a retired Navy pilot – for the Tahoe trip, but now it must go to Cincinnati. Skye earns generous amounts to screen entries for a novel competition at a writer’s magazine. Traitors is one his finalists. He hands his package to the clerk and allows himself to breathe.
Outside, the clouds have dissolved their union, allowing the orange sunset to play along the aisles like kids at a matinee. He stands in the middle of the street as they drift in his direction. A headlight snaps him into motion, and he finds himself at Mae’s Pizza. He enters a room half-filled by hunters and orders the namesake product with pepperoni and mushrooms. When he gets the bill, he hits the little barside ATM, wincing at the $3.50 service fee. A few minutes later, he finishes his beer and spies the young Clint Eastwood riding across his television. Skye takes out his wallet. Is this Pale Rider? Pulls the ATM receipt from its spot next to his library card. Nah. Gotta be one of those Italian movies. Angles it to the light. If I could just hear the soundtrack. His account appears to contain an extra hundred thousand dollars.
Photo by MJV