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Chapter 27

Chapter 27: Dead in the Water

I pick a splinter off the broken oar and fish the note out of the bottle. The rolled paper is soaked in rum. I’m no alcoholic, but I glory in its vapors. I lick at the drippings on my hand.

“Read the damned thing! Don’t eat it!”

I peel the message apart to reveal flamboyant loops of penciled script.

Dear Marco. Nothing personal. Only business. I hope you understand. Love, Hector.”

“Business?” says Sabonis. “I’ll give him business.”

He undoes more lashings to enlarge the sail and swings the boom to catch more of the wind. Something rips, and rips again.

“Piece of shit boat! Sail’s come apart at the seams.”

Delgado and the catamaran pass between islets. We watch them get smaller and smaller.

“That cat of yours is darned quick.”

“No shit,” he says, unlashing the sail from the boom. “Take the oars. I got mending to do.”

I move forward, splashing through a thin film of water. The swelling is finally starting to seal the cracks as Sabonis predicted. I sit down between the oarlocks.

“Just keep us off the rocks,” he says.

I’m clumsy with the oars, but it doesn’t matter. Between the big waves and strong current, it’s all for show. There’s not much an oar can do to alter our position in the water. We are being swept into the channel between two islets.

“I said row, goddamnit! Don’t just sit there. Keep us in the middle of the flow.”

I skip the oars off the tops of waves to keep him happy. As we drift closer to the islets, I notice black smears swarming their ledges. Seals? Penguins?

The islets grow, so do the objects. They are much larger than I thought.

“What the heck are all those black things?” I have to shout over the crashing of the surf.

“Shades,” says Sabonis without looking up. He is threading a long curved needle made of bone.

“All those are Shades? Holy cow! What are they all doing there?”

“Beach blanket bingo. How the fuck do I know?”

“But why do they gather like that?”

“That place is a haven. Collectors don’t bother them there. Not sure why not. All they’d need is a boat. Be as easy as bagging dodos.”

The ledges are dark and bleak and bathed in perpetual spray. The Shades stand rigid, like ranks of mourners at a stuffy funeral. When any one of them moves, concentric ripples propagate through the crowd like a pebble tossed in a pond.

“Doesn’t look like they’re having much fun.”

“Whattaya want? They’re Shades,” says Sabonis, his hands dipping and flicking deftly down the length of the torn sail. “They had their time. Now they’re just hanging on.” He snorts. “There’s some real old-timers there. Some so old, even their languages are dead.”

The catamaran is just a speck now in the distance, soft in the mist.

“No way we can catch up with him now.” I say, dipping an oar to maintain the illusion of rowing and keep Sabonis off my back.

“Oh, we’ll catch him alright,” says Sabonis. “He can’t run forever. He has to come ashore to conduct his business.”

“What … business?”

“He does things for people back in the living world.”

“Like what?”

“Message delivery, bringing stuff back … hit jobs.”

“Hit jobs?”

“That’s the rumor.”

“How does he get paid?”

“Don’t rightly know,” says Sabonis. “Favors, I guess.”

Hearing Sabonis speak so casually about Delgado’s crossings sparks a thrill. Despite all overwhelming evidence surrounding me—that copy of Newsweek, the plethora of the same flotsam and jetsam that washed up on every earthly continent—I still have trouble getting the idea that these crossings were real to stick in my head.

But the lingering taste of Delgado’s rum works magic on my senses. It re-ignites my desire to do everything in my power to get back to the living world. I’m not worried so much about keeping Victoria happy and getting back to the mountain.

The outrigger swings close to a ledge cheek to jowl with blank, black faces. The hull vibrates as we scrape over a boulder. We wedge tight, dead in the water. I try to row away for real but we’re stuck and the outrigger can only rotate in place until a fortuitous swell lifts us free.

“What the fuck were we doing so close?” says Sabonis, looking up from his mending. “I told you to keep away from the rocks.”

“Wasn’t me … it was the current.”

Sabonis drops the sail. “Give me those damned oars!”

We careen against more submerged stones. The cracks in the bottom of the outrigger flex and spurt. Another crunch and we’re stuck again atop a ledge. A wave strikes us broadside and tips us. The outrigger float rises high over our heads. I look to Sabonis for reassurance but find only panic in his face.
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