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By Wendy Corsi Staub
HarperCollins PublishersCopyright © 2013 Wendy Corsi Staub
All rights reserved.
Saint Antony Island, the Caribbean May 10, 2012
It's been a while since Carrie's spotted someone with enough potential, but ... here she is.
The woman in the orange and pink paisley sundress is about Carrie's age - forty, give or take - and has the right features, the right build. She's a few inches taller than Carrie; her hair is much darker, and she's wearing glasses. But really, those things don't matter. Those things can be easily faked: a wig, some heels ...
What matters far more is that the woman is alone. Not just alone in this particular moment, but alone as in socially isolated, giving off an indefinable vibe that any opportunistic predator would easily recognize.
Carrie's natural instincts tell her that this is it; this woman is her ticket off this Caribbean island at last.
Always listen to your gut, Daddy used to tell her. If you tune in to your intuition, you'll find that you know much more than you think you do.
A part of her wanted to mock that advice later, when he'd failed her.
The words didn't even make sense. How can you know more than you think you do? Whatever you think is what you know. Knowing ... thinking ... it was all the same thing. Anyway, if she really did know more than she thought, she wouldn't have been so shocked by his betrayal. That was what she told herself afterward. Even then, though, she heard his voice inside her head, chiding her, telling her that she'd ignored the signs; ignored her gut. Well, she'd done her best never to make that mistake again.
Right now, her gut is telling her that this woman, unaware that she's being watched closely from behind the bar, is the one.
She's been sitting on a stool at the far corner for almost an hour now, nursing a rum runner and looking as though she'd like some company.
Male company, judging by the wistful glances she's darted at other patrons. But that's obviously not going to happen. It isn't that the woman is unattractive; she's somewhat pretty in an overweight, unsophisticated, patchy-pink-sunburn kind of way.
There's someone for everyone, right? Some men are drawn to this type.
Not these men, though.
Not here at the Jimmy's Big Iguana, an open-air beach bar filled with tanned and toned scantily clad twenty-somethings. Island rum is flowing; the sporadic whirring of bar blenders and raucous bursts of laughter punctuate the reggae beat of Bob Marley's "One Love" playing in the background. Lazy overhead paddle fans do little to stir heavy salt air scented with coconut sunscreen, deep-fried seafood, and stale beer.
Beyond the open-air perimeter of the bar, against a back drop of palm trees and turquoise sea, tourists browse at vendors' tables set up on the sand. Fresh from shore excursions, those with local currency to burn are pawing through T-shirts and island-made trinkets, snatching up cheap souvenirs before their ships set sail for the next port of call. The woman at the bar darts a look at her watch as she slurps the last inch of her rum runner, and Carrie realizes it's now or never.
"Ready for your second drink?" She reaches across the bar to remove the empty glass, with its gummy pink film coating the inside.
"Oh, that's okay. I don't want another -"
"It's a freebie. Two-for-one happy hour for cruise ship passengers."
No, not really.
Carrie nods, already reaching for the bottle of Tortuga Rum. "All you have to do is show me your ship ID. What's your name?"
Carrie nods, smiles, points to her own plastic name tag.
As in Doe.
Well, not quite. Jane Doe had translated, in her clever mind, to Jane Deere - doe, a deer - and that's the name she's been using for years now. Jane Deere. Before that, she was Carrie Robinson MacKenna, and before that ...
Before that doesn't matter.
"Nice to meet you." Molly's face glistens with island humidity, and moist strands of her dark hair are plastered to her forehead. She glances again at the Timex strapped around her thick wrist.
"Don't worry. You have time."
"How do you know that?"
"I've been working here a long time. I know the sailing schedules." That is most definitely not a lie.
Such is life in this harbor town: the same-but-different routine every day, set to the rhythm of the cruise lines' itineraries.
Carrie has always appreciated the precision with which she can see the gargantuan vessels begin to appear every morning out on the turquoise sea, an hour or two after sunrise. From the window of her rented apartment above the bar, she watches the same ships glide in and out of Saint Antony harbor at the same time on the same days of the week, spitting thousands of passengers onto the wide pier. The same passengers, it sometimes seems: waddling Americans in shorts and fanny packs; hand-holding honeymooners; chain-smoking Europeans in open-collar suits and dresses with high heels; multi-generational families of harried parents, tantrum-throwing toddlers, sullen teens, silver haired, scooter-riding grannies ...
Carrie serves them all; knows them all. Not on a first name basis, but by type and, often, by ship. Sure, some crowds of passengers are interchangeable - on, say, Tuesday, when mega-ships from Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and Princess are simultaneously in port. They all cater to middle class Americans - families, retirees, and honeymooners alike. But today is Thursday. Three different cruise lines; three distinctly different crowds.
"Which ship are you on," Carrie asks, "the Carousel?"
Molly raises an eyebrow. "How'd you know?"
Easy. It's a singles cruise out of Miami. There are two others in port for the day, but one is a Disney ship favored almost exclusively by families with young children; the other, a small luxury line popular with wealthy South American couples.
This woman is definitely single, U.S. born and bred ... and U.S. bound, or so Molly thinks. Little does she suspect that if all goes according to Carrie's plan, the Carousel will be setting sail in a little over an hour, at five o'clock sharp, without her.
"How'd I know? Lucky guess." Carrie shrugs. "Like I said, I've been working here long enough. "
"It must be hard to be inside on the job when it's always so beautiful out there."
"Sometimes." Much easier to agree than to explain that she prefers it this way.
Carrie's never been an outdoorsy girl - not by choice, anyway. After all those childhood summers working the fields in the glaring, burning sun of the Great Plains, she welcomed the architecture shaded canyons of Manhattan. And yes, she had regretted having to leave New York behind so soon. Given proper time to plan her exit strategy a decade ago, she'd have opted for a fog-shrouded city like London or San Francisco, or perhaps rainy Seattle or Portland ...
But at the time, her objective was to get out quickly - in the immediate aftermath of September 11, no less, when public transportation was at an inconvenient standstill. Had she been trying to enter the U.S., she'd have been out of luck, given the sudden, intense border scrutiny on incoming travelers. But she only wanted to leave - and hitchhiking was the way to go, from truck stop to truck stop, down the East Coast. Riding high in the cabs of eighteen-wheelers along an endless gray ribbon of interstate brought back a lot of memories. Good ones, mostly.
As she made her way to Florida, she perfected her cover story: she was supposed to meet her terminally ill fiancé in the Caribbean to marry him that Saturday.
People were in a shell-shocked, help-your-fellow-American mode. Every time she mentioned that she'd escaped the burning towers in New York, strangers bent over backward to help, giving her rides, food, money. Eventually she encountered a perpetually stoned, sympathetic trucker who was more than happy to connect her with a man willing to help her complete her so-called wedding journey. For a steep price - one she could easily afford, thanks to years of stockpiling cash - she was quite literally able to sail away on a little boat regularly used for smuggling illegal substances into the country, as opposed to smuggling people out of it.
She'd chosen Saint Antony for its relatively close proximity to the United States and for its unofficial look-the-other- way policies when it comes to just about everything. She figured she'd stay awhile - six months, a year, maybe two - and then move on. Once she was here, however, complicated post-9/11 security measures made it a challenge to return to the States.
She could have gone elsewhere - Europe, maybe, or the South Pacific - but she wasn't really interested in doing that. America was home, and someday, she might want to go back. As always, she'd done her homework and figured out how she would eventually be able to get around the new security obstacles. She came up with the perfect plan, but she wasn't in any hurry to put it into action. Maybe she'd stay here forever. Maybe not. It was just good to know she could escape if she wanted - or needed - to.
She didn't, until the morning six months ago when she turned on her television and was blindsided by her own face staring back at her. There she was, in an old photograph that accompanied a news report from suburban New York. "So do you like bar tending?" the woman at the bar, Molly, asks her. "I bet you meet a lot of interesting people."
"Sure do," Carrie agrees, but of course that's another lie. These people don't interest her. At times, they bore or frustrate her, but mostly, they merely remind her that there's a world beyond this island. A world Carrie is ready to rejoin at last.
A generous shot of rum splashes into the blender, and then another for good measure, along with ice, mixer - and the powdered contents of a packet Carrie surreptitiously pulls from her pocket, where it's been waiting for months now. Waiting for just the right opportunity ...
This is it.
Carrie reaches for the blender switch. It's sticky; everything here in the bar - and everyone, for that matter - is sticky, and damp.
Oh, it's going to feel so good to escape the looming Caribbean summer, with its oppressive humidity, daily rain storms, and hurricanes lining up out in the Atlantic like steel balls in a pinball shoot. Disembarking in the States tomorrow morning - yes, even Miami - will be a literal breath of fresh air.
Her stomach fluttering with excitement at the thought of it, Carrie flips the gummy switch. The contents of the blender erupt, sucking the white powder into a frothy vortex. Carrie lets it whirl for at least thirty seconds before filling the waiting glass with frozen slush the color of the Caribbean sky at dusk - her favorite time of day.
I'm probably going to miss those sunsets, if nothing else, she acknowledges. But I've seen enough to last a lifetime. She's spent more than ten years in this barefoot, rum-and ganja-laced, easy-living part of the world, where no one bats an eye or asks too many questions of a newcomer. Ironic, Carrie has always thought, that countless people come to the sunny Caribbean to slip into the shadows. Here, they can escape their past; maybe - if they're lucky - erase it altogether.
But last November, when Carrie saw her own face in that news report about her ex-husband and his new wife, she was swept by a fierce, unexpected wave of emotion. Resentment swirled up from the murky depths of her memory, churning renewed frustration and rage.
It's been six months since that day. Six months of planning and plotting. Six months of growing obsession, just like before - years ago, when she was little more than a girl and developed the fixation that would consume her life.
I couldn't help it then, and I can't help it now.
It's time to go home, confront the past, battle the demons she'd left behind. Time to make things right at last, the way she couldn't the first time she'd tried, because something got in the way: an unexpected yearning for a so-called normal life, a glimmer of hope that she might somehow achieve it.
I should have known better.
Ah, but she did know better.
Maybe you were right after all, Daddy. Maybe I knew much more than I thought. But she'd gotten sidetracked, caught up in desire. She'd been foolish. Human.
What am I now, all these years later?
Adding a straw and the obligatory paper umbrella to the doctored rum runner, Carrie smiles, certain that her plan is going to work.
I thought the same thing the last couple of times, and I was wrong.
The first candidate she'd found, about two months ago, hadn't been alone after all. That was a close call. Before the female tourist Carrie had selected could lift her doctored daiquiri to her lips, a pair of friends - the woman's roommates on the Carousel, it turned out - burst into the bar to join her, toting bags from a souvenir shop down the street. Carrie managed to accidentally-on-purpose knock over the glass, spilling the drug-laced slush all over the bar. She made the woman a fresh drink on the house, along with two more for her friends, and when the Carousel set sail, the tipsy threesome were all aboard.
A few weeks later, she saw her chance again.
Another solo woman at the bar, one who bore enough of a resemblance to Carrie that it just might be possible. Her name was Beth and she was the chatty type. She had just survived an ugly divorce, she said, with no children, and was on her cruise to celebrate leaving behind her old life in rural Maine to start fresh in New Orleans, where she didn't know a soul.
Perfect, Carrie thought. But this time, before she could reach into her pocket to add the powder to the frozen piña colada she was mixing, Jimmy Bolt, the Big Iguana's owner, materialized.
"Hey, Jane," he said, "I need you to stay on till closing tonight, okay?"
Of course she said yes. You don't mess with Jimmy. Ever. About anything.
She learned that years ago, not long after she came to work for him and foolishly - fleetingly - got caught up in his charismatic web.
Excerpted from Shadowkiller by Wendy Corsi Staub. Copyright © 2013 by Wendy Corsi Staub. Excerpted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.
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