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I'd been home for three days, and it still didn't feel like home.
Trouble was, I was depressed. Not just about bailing out of the Rampart mess, but about the resolute way that Matilde Gregoire had spoken to me after I'd quit, saying we were through. There was no place in her life for a Throwaway charterboat skipper--and evidently no place in mine for a dedicated Starcorp loyalist.
Half dressed and barefoot, I stared into the open refrigerator, wondering what I was going to eat for breakfast. I'd had my heart set on a monster Tabasco scramble, but all the eggs were gone. There were no green peppers, either. I still hadn't done a real grocery buy since my return, and the garden had been destroyed in the sea toad attack.
Just as an interesting alternative popped into my mind, the phone buzzed. I went out of the kitchen onto the field-screened front porch of my beach shack, which serves as the office and scuba equipment sales area.
"Cap'n Helly's Dive Charters."
The caller was female and apologetic. "This is Jenny Chung, Captain. My husband and I were supposed to go out with you today, but I'm afraid we'll have to cancel. The weather is just awful here at the Big Beach. We checked the report for the Out Islands and--"
"The tropical depression isn't due to arrive in this area until late tonight," I said pleasantly. "We're expecting a sunny, calm day in the place I'd picked for our dive."
"We really don't want to risk it. And we're returning home to Plusia-Prime tonight, so we won't be able to reschedule the trip. I'm very sorry. Of course, you may keep our
"No, " I said, with polite fatalism (and a craven desire to keep on the good side of the irascible booking agent at the Manukura Nikko Luxor). "The concierge at your hotel will credit you with a refund. Maybe we can go out together the next time you visit Kedge-Lockaby. Have a nice day, Citizen Chung." I poked the disconnect pad and said, "Rats."
The Chung couple would have been my first clients since my return from the planet Seriphos, and I'd been looking forward to the trip as an affirmation of my reacquired independence: I was free of Rampart responsibilities, free of my father's convoluted intrigues, free-alas!--of my emotional relationship with a lovely woman who disapproved of my undisciplined and feckless ways.
Well, the choices had been my own.
I picked up a mesh catch bag and went down the porch steps onto the beach in search of marine edibles. The morning sun was still behind the island so the sand was cool, shaded by the grove of mint palms that crowd close to by house on three sides. Eyebrow Cay's lagoon was mirror-smooth, reflecting a blue sky adorned with a few puffy cumulus clouds and countless silvery paintbrush strokes of the comets that infest Kedge-Lockaby's solar system. Glasha Romanov's classic fishing smack trolled the calm waters out near the reef. A nifty motor-sailer based at Manukura came slowly around Cheddar Head, outward bound with a party of tourists after spending the night moored at Gumercindo Hucklebury's marina. (I know: impossible name. But almost everybody on Eyebrow uses an alias. Mine is Helmut Icicle.) The big sailboat would probably ride out the upcoming storm in the shelter of Alibi Island, our larger neighbor to the west, after sending its clients back to the Big Beach on the hopshuttle.
Eyebrow Cay is a crescent, as its name indicates, about twenty-five kilometers from end to end. The jagged reef, with only two safe passages, extends from each tip of the island, completing a lopsided circle and enclosing our lagoon. Almost all of Eyebrow's population, under fifty souls, live on the inner shore where there are attractive sand beaches. The island's largest natural harbor holds the marina and Sal Faustino's boatyard, a few guest houses, a kite shop, and our little general store.
Many of the folks on Eyebrow Cay are Throwaways, and quite a few others have personal histories that don't bear close scrutiny. I definitely fit into the latter category; and if Rampart's personnel office was on the ball in upgrading their database, I would already have rejoined the former group after a brief sojourn among the franchised citizenry of the Commonwealth.
Two friends share the cove where I live. To the south, half visible through the palm grove, is the deceptively modest bungalow of Mimo Bermudez, who may be the wealthiest man on Kedge-Lockaby. He is certainly one of the most enigmatic. My neighbor on the other side is Kofi Rutherford, another dive charter skipper, whose tumbledown dump lies out of sight behind a small rocky rise.
From the Paperback edition.