“No. Cross over. Like Erzulie.”
I understood. The crossroads. I searched for the words to comfort her, but in the end, I said nothing. I didn’t want to lie to her anymore.
By the time I could tell Solange was truly asleep, when her breathing had evened out and the tension in her body had fled, I was thinking about what Rusty had said back at Tugboat Annie’s. He agreed with me that there was something special about Solange, that she was not just another restavek. What took place on the Miss Agnes seemed to bear that out. Why had the other passengers felt it was important to get her off the boat? What was the reason Malheur wouldn’t or couldn’t just kill her? Why hadn’t we been deep-sixed as soon as the boat got offshore? Unless, of course, they were just waiting until we got a little farther out into the Gulf Stream.
I woke when the RPMs on the engine dropped down, and I noticed immediately that the rocking and rolling motion had steadied out. We had to be in the lee of the islands. The inside of my mouth tasted like stale beer and rancid grease, and when I tried to sit up I got another monster case of the dizzies. I felt like I was going to puke. I forced myself to swallow the acid taste; whatever it was, it seemed to get stuck halfway. Finally, the nausea began to subside.
Through the porthole I could see the dark outline of a low island off our starboard beam. The dense cloud cover hid the stars, but I knew that on this night, clouds or no, there would be no moon. Just as city people always know when it’s legal to park on the street, knowing the phase of the moon comes with my job. Had Malheur planned this trip for a night with no moon?
The little ship was starting to make her turn in the inner harbor when I heard voices outside in the companionway. Solange was sleeping, so I shook her shoulder and sat her up. I’d taken off my sweatshirt so she could use it as a pillow, and it was too hot in the cabin to bother putting it back on. Solange was still rubbing at her eyes when the door to our cabin swung open and someone shined a flashlight into our faces. I threw up my hand to try to shield my eyes, but the light seared my eyeballs and intensified the pulsing pain in my head. The light clicked off just as abruptly, and all I could see were bright red and white dots swimming in the darkness. The footsteps I heard enter our cabin sounded like they came from leather-soled shoes, and while I flinched just a little, expecting brutality, the arm that grabbed hold of mine did so almost gently.
“Come. Please, make no noise or I will have to hurt the little one.” As my eyes began to readjust to the darkness, I saw that the voice belonged to a slender Haitian man. His voice reminded me of Racine’s husband, Max, when he said “leetle wun.” They both had that same touch of Maurice Chevalier.
My eyes had cleared by the time we passed through the companionway door and out onto the cargo deck, and though I looked, I saw no sign of Gil or Joslin Malheur. The Haitian man who was leading us had me on one side and Solange on his other. He paused in the shadow of the ship’s superstructure, waiting for the deckhands to secure the ship to the dock.
I had never been to Bimini before, but I had been to Nassau and Eleuthera on a former boyfriend’s sailboat. Most Bahamian towns had a government dock for cargo ships and a place for yachts to get their customs clearance. I figured that Alice Town, the only real town here on Bimini, would be the same. The floodlights that lit up the ship’s cargo deck illuminated the dock as well. It was a concrete dock now slick with rain; though it was not raining at the moment, the humidity had to be in the upper nineties.
The captain of the Bimini Express had dropped a bow anchor out in the middle of the harbor, and he was backing into the dock so he would be able to roll off his cargo. Other than a sleepy-looking dockworker who was securing the ship’s lines and a pack of five or six wet and bedraggled stray dogs who stood scratching themselves, Alice Town looked to be fast asleep. My estimate of a 2:00 a.m. arrival time might have been a little on the short side. Judging from Bimini’s reputation, I would have thought there would still be some music and bar traffic if it was only 2:00. Instead the town seemed eerily quiet.
As soon as the cargo ramp had clanged down onto the cement dock, our escort hurried us back through the pallets of building materials and shipping containers and led us off the ship’s stern. We turned to our left on the government dock, and there, tied alongside, at the south end, was a twenty-foot open fishing boat, outboard idling, the single man aboard holding on to the concrete dock with his hands: It was Gil.
I thought about screaming for help, trying to escape, running into town, throwing myself on the mercy of some of the local Bahamians, but then I remembered how strong Gil’s grip was. I remembered, too, the Haitian man’s comment that he would hurt Solange if I did anything foolish.
As I slid into the boat, Gil turned around and directed me to the stern.
“I’ve got to help her,” I said, pointing to Solange. I reached up to the girl, got my hands under her arms, and started to lift her into the boat. Gil came up alongside me and took the child out of my arms. He startled me, and when I turned to look at him, I saw that his eyes were clear. Once you got past the scars, big mustache, and misaligned features, there was an intelligence there. Was the craziness an act he could turn on and off at will?
He settled Solange gently on the stern.
“What are you doing with these guys, Gil?”
He whirled around, his arm upraised as if to strike me. “Shut up.”
I turned my head aside, waiting for the blow, but none came. When I opened my eyes, he had his back turned to us, and he was watching the bridge on the Bimini Express.
“You knew my father, didn’t you?” I said.
He remained standing facing the ship, but I could see his profile. “Your father?”
“I saw pictures of you,” I said, “with Red in Cartagena almost twenty-five years ago. You and Joe D’Angelo were—”
Once more Gil surprised me with how fast he could move. In an instant, he was at my side, squeezing my arm in that grip. “I said, shut up,” he hissed, and shoved me hard toward the back of the boat with Solange.
Then I heard another voice behind us, speaking Creole. Malheur had arrived, and he was castigating the slim Haitian man for not doing something to his liking.
Gil had done his best to hide any reaction, but I had seen his eyes widen slightly at the mention of Red and Cartagena. He had been surprised.
Once we were all in the boat, Gil shoved off and headed the boat back toward the harbor entrance. Our leather-shoed friend pushed Solange and me down in the back of the boat, making us sit on the wet deck so that our heads were not visible above the boat’s gunwales. The boat would look like it carried three men going fishing. When they were all deep in conversation, I raised myself up on my knees and took a look over the rail. We were idling along, passing a marina, and I nearly did a double take when I saw a familiar boat tied up to the seaplane dock. It was an Anacapri with two big outboards, just like Rusty’s.
I sat down quickly when Gil turned around to check on us. He glanced over at the seaplane dock, and even in the darkness, I could see the recognition on his face. That boat meant something to him, too, and he turned around and shoved the throttles forward. We surged up into a plane and sped across the channel toward South Bimini. Like the Anacapri, this boat could do maybe twenty knots—more than twice the speed of the Bimini Express. Now, with our bow raised and the stern lowered, I didn’t need to get up on my knees to see over the top of the outboards. Under the bright dock lights, I could just make out the name of the boat tied to the seaplane dock: INS AGENT.