They made the Key West Express ferry with seconds to spare. He watched in silence as the fascinating woman drove them across the Sanibel Causeway, which became McGregor Boulevard, which became Summerlin Road. She took the San Carlos Boulevard exit and followed it south to San Carlos Island where she made a left on Main before taking a right just past Shrimp Boat Lane into the parking area. Nineteen minutes flat.
Was he running away? Yes. Did he at least have a plan to justify it? No. He bought the parking pass and they sprinted for the boat.
The agent at the ticket window scolded them playfully. “You crazy kids should buy your tickets before you get here,” she said. “You’re doing it backwards.”
“Perfect,” Kak said.
Rudy removed his driver’s license and credit card from their standard locations in his wallet, handing them over. Kak plunged her arm into the bowels of her backpack, studying the pavement as she searched about before extracted her license. It was curled like a potato chip and had begun to delaminate.
The agent held the two licenses side by side, framing Kak and Rudy between them.
“Aren’t you just the odd couple,” the agent said.
“You have no idea,” Rudy said.
“We’re not a couple,” Kak said, almost at the same time.
The agent punched at her keyboard. “You’re leaving your car? That’s two round trip tickets then.”
“Just the lady,” Rudy said. “I’m not coming back.”
The agent pursed her lips. “Got it. Mr. and Mrs. Not-a-Couple. You’re in luck. We don’t always have space.”
By the time the agent handed them their boarding passes the engines were warmed up. The dock hands were casting off as they waived Kak and Rudy over the gangplank and onto the Key West Express. Last to board.
Rudy tucked his one-way ticket into his trouser pocket and watched her deposit her round-trip ticket in her backpack. Whatever she had to do, it was on Sanibel. She wasn’t talking about it, at least for now. As for him, he had no reason to go back. For better or worse, whatever he’d meant to do there was done.
He watched her settle into her seat in the main cabin. She was different now. He’d seen it, an exuberance, as she bounced across the gangplank. She had the countenance of a person either running toward something she looked forward to or running from something she dreaded. Both? He might never know. But her change in mood almost made him forget his problems.
Almost. Out the window a jet contrail chalked a line across the sky. A plane flew to Atlanta without him while he headed the opposite direction. The reaction of the Trinity would be explosive.
He pulled up the VMware AirWatch Agent, the application that told Pax-Jupiter where he and all other employees were at all times via GPS tracking. If the Trinity wished, his whereabouts could be discovered in a few seconds and pinpointed to within thirty centimeters. Less than one foot. The technology was that good. It was the first thing they’d check when he didn’t walk into the executive conference room. Rudy took a deep breath, let it out, and disabled the app. He closed the screen. They’d know he did it. The act alone could be incendiary enough to end the game. It was a gamble but every decision from here came with an increasing calculation of risk. He couldn’t talk to them now. There was nothing to say. Not with a dead Max in his head. And he couldn’t buy time if his location could be fixed on a map.
Next he held the power button until the screen gave him the option to ‘slide to power off’. He swept the button to the right and the screen went black. With that, he completely disconnected himself from Pax-Jupiter. He was officially a fugitive now. Absent without leave. Off the reservation. He could only imagine what would be said about him by mid-afternoon in the halls of the Pax-Jupiter Corporation.
“I’m getting a drink,” he said. “Want one?”
“The world is always one drink behind.”
“I’ll take that as a yes.”
Unlike the crowded mid-ship bar, the stern bar served only walk-up orders, with no seating, and stood free of a single customer. The bartender’s nametag introduced him as Jeremy. Rudy recognized him immediately as one of those perpetually happy people you didn’t want to see when you had a problem. Jeremy beamed for no particular reason other than training or natural simple-mindedness. He dropped a napkin on the bar top.
“We don’t get many suits in here,” he said, giving Rudy the once-over. “You headed to a funeral, boss?”
“I doubt the arrangements have been made.”
The insensitivity on his part visibly distressed Jeremy. “Sorry,” he said. “No disrespect intended.”
“Can you make a Bloody Caesar?”
This perked Jeremy up. “Does a shark shit on the reef?”
The big cat’s diesels picked up and Rudy felt the deck move under his feet as they backed away from the dock. By the time he’d removed his tie and unhooked the top button of his dress shirt, Jeremy speared each drink with a stalk of celery and raised his hands like a cowboy done roping a steer.
They were easing past the shrimp boats docked along the channel that followed the north shore of Matanzas Harbor when he got back to their seats. She took her cup, extending her dusty toes to touch the tip of his Bondeno dress shoe.
“Beautiful,” she said.
“Thanks. I had them custom made.”
She tipped her drink. “Do you mind if I ask how much?”
“About nine hundred.”
She froze mid sip. “And they say women have a shoe problem. What could make them worth that?”
“They make a mold of each foot so they have exact replicas. They’re adjusted to match your fitting preference. Your elasticity index. Other stuff. They send it all to a shop in Italy where each shoe is handmade like they were a hundred years ago.”
“I’m seeing you in a whole new light. I won’t even ask what the suit cost.”
“Don’t get the wrong idea. My company paid for it.”
For the first time he felt self-conscious in the clothes that fit him so well before. They’d been perfect. Ordered from Balani because that’s what the Pax-Jupiter guys at his level did. At his level. It sounded strange in his head now. What level was he on? How many levels above Max?
“For the record,” she continued, tapping his shoe again. “I’m against wearing leather.”
“I suppose that would follow.”
“I’m an animal rights girl. But I still have a recurring fantasy where I have sex in nothing but a full length fur coat. Is that wrong?”
He waited for a sign she was joking. She watched the passing harbor, expressionless.
“Anne Sexton died wrapped in a fur coat,” she said.
“So did Smoky the Bear.”
She laughed at this. He’d forgotten how pleasant it was to engage and amuse a woman. To feel chemistry.
“Sexton put on her mother’s fur coat,” Kak said, “locked herself in her garage, started the car engine and killed herself by carbon monoxide poisoning. Can you imagine?”
It was like getting punched. Did she know something? How could she?
“There’s something to be said for knowing the time and place,” she continued. “I find that comforting.”
His struggle for a response didn’t escape her notice.
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
“I was—just wondering what pushes a person to that point.”
“That’s easy. One out of every ten people suffer from some form of mental illness. Anxiety. Bipolar. Anorexia. Schizophrenia.” She looked away. “Depression.”
“One of ten? It can’t be that high.”
“One in ten. After that it just takes a nudge. An event. Maybe no one around them would even notice.”
Had Max been in that group? Were ten percent of all Pax-Jupiter retirees, 6147.1 people, quietly contemplating their exhaust pipes?
“Where did you just go?” she asked.
He shook it off. “How is this deal supposed to work?”
“How should I know?”
“It was your idea. I come toward you? You move toward me?”
“Right. Well. To start with, I have four days.”
“The end of the world.”
The way she said it, so matter-of-factly, with none of the embellishment such a grand statement should require, gave it a legitimacy.
“That isn’t much time,” he said. “Are you sure?”
“As far as I can tell.”
“How do you know?”
“Apparently it ends on Sanibel Island.”
“It’s better not to talk about it.”
“Is your world ending?”
“Want to talk about it?”
“The important thing is that we made a deal. We’re in full bargaining. That’s one step closer.”
She squinted at the horizon. “The beginning.”
“This is what I’m talking about. Everything you say is in code. I’d like to come to an understanding.”
“That may or may not be possible. But we’ve come to a misunderstanding. And that’s better than no understanding.”
The 170-foot Key West Express catamaran continued its escape from the back bay, hugging the shore to the north, following the channel to avoid the fouled area in the middle of the harbor where even a dinghy would ground itself. They slipped through the tight gap under Matanzas Pass Bridge and hugged the south shore channel then, along the barrier island of Fort Myers Beach, following it into the gentle curve north to Bowditch Point.
He slid down in the seat so that his head could rest on the back of it. It had been a long twenty-four hours with little in the way of sleep. The triple whammy of the failed beach exorcism, his career coming off the rails and Max’s suicide ensured that.
“If you don’t mind,” he said, “I’m beat.”
“You’re going to sleep?”
“We could talk more but it gives me a headache. I didn’t get much rest last night.”
“Me either, but I’m no quitter.”
“Who said I was quitting?”
“There’s that anger again. Don’t worry. The bargaining will start to sink in.”
“I still don’t get a word you say.”
“Goodnight, sweet prince.”
It was heaven letting his eyes close. His fatigue and the thrum of the big cat’s engines were the perfect combination. In less than a minute he didn’t know anything about anything. Even dreams were lost to him.
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