Read Lights Out Online

Authors: Peter Abrahams

Tags: #Thrillers, #General, #Fiction, #Suspense

Lights Out (8 page)

BOOK: Lights Out
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“And Fingers. Evelyn came up with the rest.”

Eddie studied an artist’s rendition, not to scale. It showed a pink pavilion cut into the side of the hill. Pastel-dressed white people were dancing to the music of a bare-chested black steel band. Eddie said: “If someone has the money to build all this, why bother doing it?”

Jack put down his beer bottle. “No one uses their own money, Eddie. This is all about leverage. Leverage and operating in a tax haven with no unions and no bullshit. Brad’s going to make a fortune. He’s just lining up one more investor. We could break ground by the end of July, which is pretty quick considering we just got title three months ago.”

Eddie said: “I thought you were in anthropology.”

“What do you mean?”

“You sound like a business major.”

Jack took a long pull from the bottle, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “Fact is,” he said, “I’m not going back.”

“Not going back where?”

“USC. I’m staying here. It’s a chance to get in on the ground floor of something really big.”

“What about your degree?”

“It’s just a stepping stone to something like this. I’m already here.”

“You want to work in a hotel?”

“I want to make money, jerk. You’ll see when you get out there.”

“See what?”

“How some people live.”

A white bird dove out of the sky, splashed on the water, rose with something silver in its beak. “What’s he paying you?” Eddie asked. He himself was supposed to get a hundred dollars a week, plus room and board.

“It’s not what I’m getting now. It’s what I’ll be getting in the future—I’ve got a piece of the action.”

“You bought into his company, or whatever it is?”

“GB Devco. Buying in was out of the question. That takes money, and we don’t have money, you and I. It just hasn’t hit you yet, that’s all.” Jack lowered his voice, although no one was around. “I own seven and a half percent of everything, all legal and binding. At least it will be in a few weeks.”

“How did you manage that?”

Jack glanced around. “It’s all part of the deal. That doesn’t mean I won’t have to work like a son of a bitch.”

“Doing what?”

“Whatever it takes. Selling time shares, setting up the waterfront program—you’ll be helping with that—romancing travel agents, busting my ass.”

There was a long silence. The sea shone like beaten gold. Eddie remembered that image from English class, but he couldn’t place it. English was his worst subject. “What about swimming?” he said.

“Four hours a day in the pool? Who’s gonna miss that?” Jack took another drink; his eyes rested on the dancing pastel people. “So: what do you think?”

Eddie didn’t look again at the plans. He swiveled around on his stool. The bar had no walls, just a roof that seemed to be made of nothing but palm fronds. Up in the hills, a red-flowering tree blazed like the start of a forest fire.

“I like it the way it is,” he said.

Jack snorted. “It’s a dump the way it is. The last owner’s selling pencils on the street.”

Eddie looked into his brother’s eyes for some sign that he was joking. All he saw was the shimmering of beaten gold.

Eddie gestured toward the hills. “Does Packer own all that land?”

“Not yet.”

“But he can afford to buy it.”

“Hell, no. I told you. He’s got no money.”

“Then how did he pay for the hotel?”

“Borrowed, except for the five percent that came from Evelyn’s old man. And he got the place for a song.”

“He tells you all this?”

“All what?”

“Borrowing from Evelyn’s father. Isn’t that embarrassing?”

“You’ve gone dainty on me, Eddie. There’s nothing embarrassing about it. Got to have money in business. You get it where you can, at the lowest price.”

“Did the plane come from Evelyn’s father too?”

“Every dickhead developer in South Florida’s got a plane, Eddie.” Jack rose. “Enough theory. I’ll show you the main attraction.”

They walked down a path lined with sun-bleached conch shells to a shed by the beach. Jack came out with masks, fins, snorkels, tossed a set to Eddie, led him onto the dock. A silver-and-blue cruiser was tied up along one side; thirty-five feet or so, with tuna tower, portable compressor, dive platform. Eddie absorbed all that without really looking. What caught his eye was the name written on the stern in fresh black paint:
Fearless
.

Jack put his arm around Eddie’s neck, squeezed hard. “Of course I remember, asshole. What do you take me for?”

Eddie put his arm around his brother, squeezed back.

They boarded
Fearless
. Jack led him below, pointing out the electronics, the tank racks, the twin Westerbeke diesels. Then they rode out half a mile and anchored. “Wait till you see this,” Jack said. Eddie had done a lot of diving, but all in
lakes and ponds. He donned his gear and followed Jack over the side.

First time in the islands, first time on a plane, first time on a coral reef. It lay on a bed of white sand about fifty feet below and sprouted up almost to the surface. Eddie took a breath and dove down, reached the bottom in eight or nine kicks. Even at fifty feet, the water was warm and shining with light. Tiny fish darted over the coral, wearing camouflage that would work only in a jewel box. Eddie took in a mouthful of salt water and realized he was smiling. He bit down on the mouthpiece.

They dove: two land creatures as at home in the water as land creatures can be. They didn’t stop until the sun sank toward the horizon, first reddening the sea, then darkening it. After, in the boat, they watched the sun disappear, leaving radiant traces on the surface of the water, in the sky, on their retinas. Then, quite suddenly, it was night.

“Not bad, huh?” said Jack.

“Not bad.”

“It goes on for miles up and down the shore. Sometimes better. Brad’s got a big New York outfit handling the advertising. Every diver in the world’s going to know about this place in six months. Nondivers, too. We’re designing an underwater observatory—you won’t even have to get wet.”

Was this another joke? Eddie looked at his brother. It was too dark to tell.

The radio crackled. “Galleon Beach to
Fearless
. Come in,
Fearless
. Over.” It was Evelyn.

Jack spoke.
“Fearless
here.”

“You forgot to say
over
. Over.”

“Over,” said Jack, laughing.

Evelyn was laughing too. “Dinner is almost over. Over.”

They ate sandwiches in the bar, Eddie and Jack at one table, the Packers at another. Baloney and cheese slices on white: the cook was arriving the next day. It didn’t matter. Eddie ate until there was nothing left.

“Stay for a drink?” said Evelyn. The Packers had a bottle of Wild Turkey on their table.

“Or two,” added Packer. “Then maybe Evelyn’ll get out her scissors.”

“Thanks,” said Eddie. “Some other time.”

Jack stayed for a drink. Eddie walked up the beach to the old fish camp—a go-cart track in the plan—where the previous staff had lived. There were a number of cabins but only two were habitable, Jack’s on the beach, the other under a tall spreading tree farther inland. A light was on in the second cabin, and a human silhouette moved behind the shade. Eddie entered the cabin on the beach.

He felt for the light switch, switched on an unshaded ceiling bulb. It spread a weak yellow glow, almost brown at the edges but strong enough to illuminate the peeling paint on the walls, the pile of laundry on the floor, and the two beds, one with a bare mattress, the other unmade. Eddie went into the bathroom—sink, toilet, rusty shower stall—and splashed cold water on his face. He looked around for a towel and in looking glanced down at the wastebasket. There were crumpled papers inside. One crumpled paper with a USC letterhead caught his eye. Thinking, if at all, that it might have something to do with him, he picked it out, smoothed it.

Dear Mr. Nye:
This is to officially inform you of your permanent expulsion from the University of Southern California, effective today. You have the right to appeal to the Board of Governors. Appeal must be filed by the first day of fall term, September 3. As per our discussion with Dr. Robbins of the Ethics Committee and Mr. Morris, the A.D., your athletic scholarship is hereby terminated.

Sincerely,

      John Reynolds
        Dean of Students

Eddie recrumpled the letter, dropped it in the wastebasket. He sat on the bare mattress. After a while he shut off the light and lay down.

Through the window, Eddie could see the other cabin. From time to time, a human figure, female, moved behind the shade. Later something small and quick ran across his roof. Then there was silence, except for the quiet crashing of the waves on the beach.

The light in the other cabin went out.

6

T
hudding sounds, heavy and rhythmic. They grew louder and louder, then ceased with a slap like the closing of a screen door.

Eddie awoke. He opened his eyes and saw: the sun, glaring in the window over Jack’s bed; Jack asleep in a beam of light, his forearm thrown over his eyes; a cockroach crawling through the laundry pile. He listened to the sea, quiet, yet making too many sounds to catalogue.

Eddie got up, went out the door, crossed the beach, already warm under his feet, and dove in. The sea bubbled around his body; he rolled in it a few times, swam a few lazy strokes, drifted. Waves bobbed him, up and down. He almost sank back into sleep.

A few minutes later, as he stood on the hard, furrowed bottom, making little whirlpools on the surface with his hands, a thought hit him: forget about USC. A crazy thought, and self-destructive. He knew it right away and was marshaling all the obvious counterarguments when the door of the second cabin opened.

Brad Packer came out. He wore running shorts and running shoes and carried a bottle of water, but none of that made him look like a runner. Packer didn’t even glance at the ocean and so didn’t see Eddie; he just walked quickly away on a path that led into the trees. Between their trunks, Eddie could see a dirt road that paralleled the beach. Packer turned onto it and began jogging, heavy-footed and slow, in a direction that would lead him to the hotel. He left behind dust clouds, brassy in the sunlight, and thudding sounds, heavy and rhythmic, that carried through the still air after he was out of sight.

Eddie stood at the waterline, back to the sea. Each retreating wave sucked his feet deeper in the sand. He was up to his calves when the cabin door opened again. A woman in bikini bottoms and nothing else came out, a woman of about his own age, perhaps a few years older. She was tall and muscular, with smooth round breasts, tanned as the rest of her. She closed her eyes, stretched in the sun, made a little sighing sound. Eddie stayed where he was, rooted. The woman opened her eyes, shook out her hair, took a step toward the beach, saw Eddie.

“Oh,” she said, covering her breasts. At the same time her eyes looked him up and down, and it hit him only then that he wasn’t wearing anything. Now, finally and too late, he was wide awake. Blockhead, he thought, found that his mouth was open, anticipating speech, the easy line that the situation demanded. The easy line didn’t come. His only idea was to move deeper into the water, to waist level, say. Eddie tried, but his feet were stuck in the sand; he lost his balance, started to fall, caught himself, then decided that falling would be the best thing; and fell. He heard laughter as he went under, came up in time to see her diving into the water, arched like a dolphin.

The woman swam straight out, passing close enough to splash him with her kicks. She swam energetically, even powerfully, but not efficiently. Eddie, watching, had a notion to swim after her, to simply flash by; but realized just in time that it would not be cool. He was considering various lines of conversation, or perhaps going back to the cabin before conversation became necessary, when she circled, swam back, and stopped a few yards farther out, treading water.

The woman smiled. With her hair plastered to her head she looked younger, almost like a kid.

“Another nature boy,” she said.

None of Eddie’s lines adapted to that opening. He heard himself making some sound; she took it for incomprehension.

“Jack’s brother, right?” she said.

“Right.”

“Freddie?”

“Eddie.”

“Much better. You don’t look like a Freddie.”

“What does a Freddie look like?”

“Stick-out ears. Goofy grin. Not you.”

Something in the way she spoke those last two words, a deepening in the tone of her voice perhaps, unsettled him, delaying the arrival of the next obvious remark.

“What’s your name?” It came at last.

“Mandy,” she said. “Short for Amanda.”

He nodded. Short for Amanda. Great. We could move on to surnames, he thought, or …

“What’s Eddie short for?”

“Edward the Seventh.”

She started to laugh, that same unrestrained laugh he had provoked by falling in. Eddie laughed too. Then came a silence, as though their conversation had run out of supplies, like an army advancing too rapidly into unknown territory.

“Going to be here long?” Mandy asked.

“The summer,” Eddie said, thinking: maybe much longer. “What about you?”

“On and off. I work for Mr. Packer.”

“What as?”

“What as?” Her voice was sharper.

“Your job.”

“I’m his secretary.” A wave came in, raised her above him. “Did you meet him yet?” she asked. The wave lowered her back down, a little closer to Eddie.

“Last night. I flew over with Mrs. Packer.”

“What fun.”

Eddie didn’t know how to take that. He was forming a reply when another wave rose, bigger than the others, lifted Mandy up and threw her forward, against him; a lot like the way Mrs. Packer had fallen on him on the plane. Sea and air were conspiring to hurl women at him. For a moment he felt Mandy trying to squirm away. Then her body relaxed around his. She made a sound in his ear, much like the sigh he’d heard before, except now it was full of promise, like the introductory chord of a beautiful piece of music.

BOOK: Lights Out
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