The young server behind the counter nods at the glass of rum she’s set before him, waiting for an answer. Her face shines from the heat of the tropical night, but she’s used to it.
Anabel looks like a typical local, her skin olive dark and her lips full and rich. Everything about her is tight: her tank top, her jeans, the way she pulls her black hair into a ponytail to reveal big hoop earrings. She’s young and attractive, but offers very little challenge for pursuit.
Definitely not his type.
“The three-year rum. You like it?” she persists.
“Yes. Very good,” he lies.
The truth is he’s tasted better, but he doesn’t care to waste words arguing with her. After a few glasses, it’s all the same— weakening you, making you less capable of being your true self.
He pulls out a polished silver money clip, inlaid with a pearl dolphin, and slides a few bills across the counter.
Anabel half grins and takes the money, satisfied enough to move onto the next customer.
Jack came to the island several weeks ago to deep dive the nearby four-hundred-foot deep submarine sinkhole and its dangerous caves. The locals told tales of people unable to handle the depths, who fell prey to euphoria and disorientation. Rapture of the deep, they called it. Nitrogen narcosis. They’d run out of oxygen too far below the surface and disappear into the dark blue depths.
But as he watches the ice cubes slip around the bottom of his glass, his disappointment is strong. He pushed himself— hard—during his dives but never once experienced any of the thrills promised by the brochure. There had been no fear factor, no risk. Not once had this so-called adventure taken him to his limit.
Of course, not everyone in his group had been so capable. One stupid tourist swam too far out and got lost. Jack’s guide had had to rescue the woman, supplementing her oxygen with his own before both of them were endangered in the swift-flowing currents. When they finally made it back safely, the excursion was cut short to take the woman back for medical treatment.
Now, at the end of the day, Jack just wants to relax. He likes this bar and its distance from the glitzy hotels and safe resorts. The odd “snowbird”—whose only excuse for leaving home is to escape the winter freeze—stumbles in off the beach now and then, but for the most part it looks like the place was made for adventurers like him, those who long to seek out the real edge of a place, to uncover its true nature.
He studies the couple at the table across from him. They’re speaking German and laughing, flirting, intoxicated by more than just cheap liquor. A dahlia, probably purchased from a beggar kid on the beach, sits between them, tied with a long purple ribbon. Watching the two of them together in their own little world provokes a hot sting of envy.
On the other side of the room, two weathered young men loudly debate the best shores to surf. Although he dislikes their brash conduct, he appreciates their passion, their outspoken wanderlust. Jack enjoys travelling and diving and work but has yet to experience that ferocity of desire for any of it. If only he could inflame such passion—
A woman sits alone under a light at the other end of the bar.
It’s surprising: most women avoid travelling alone in this part of the world. Perhaps she has someone back at her hotel. She’s not too young, somewhere around his age. Long wavy hair, strong features, dark eyes—maybe European. The heat doesn’t seem to bother her at all. She takes a drink and meets
Jack’s eye with a confidence that seems to say “I dare you.” She’s definitely his type.
Well, that’s something, he thinks.
Unfortunately, the feeling doesn’t last.
Jack glances over his shoulder. There’s a tourist in the corner staring at him.
The man is alone, out of place, awkward. Sweat blooms dark and soggy on his powder blue linen shirt. He pulls off a woven fedora, setting it on the table in front of him, to reveal damp, matted hair. He yanks out a handkerchief and wipes his brow, dumping it in a wrinkled heap on the table.
Jack doesn’t like the look of him. No, that’s not it. He doesn’t like the feel of him. It’s not that the man’s a tourist or that he’s distinctly uncomfortable in the climate. There’s just something off, a stickiness like an oil slick spreading out from the corner where he sits to foul things up.
Getting too close to that guy would only drag himself into the muck, Jack’s certain.
Anabel steps between them to set a fresh bottle of beer down at the tourist’s table and pick up his empty.
“Where’s the tourist from?” Jack asks, nodding at the corner when she passes him again.
“Canada, maybe?” She stacks a few glasses. “He came two days ago.”
“He with anyone?”
“No. I only see him alone so far.” She seems to have taken note of the way the man’s been watching Jack, though, because she adds teasingly, “Maybe he likes you.”
Jack shakes his head. He only wishes it were that uncomplicated.
Get lost, man.
The tourist waves Anabel over and she tends to him.
In the mirror, Jack catches a glimpse of Anabel taking the man’s money. When she comes back, she grabs a cold beer and sets it in front of the woman, gesturing to the tourist.
The woman turns and smiles politely at the man but shakes her head—she’s not interested.
Wise woman, Jack thinks.
Anabel shrugs, walks back to Jack and pours him another shot of rum.
Jack reaches for his money clip. “No. Es un regalo del turista.”
Jack doesn’t even look over his shoulder, refusing to acknowledge the man for his “gift.”
He knows Anabel’s judging him, probably thinks he’s an asshole for not being gracious, which only pisses him off more. Not at Anabel—no, just at the man for spreading his oiliness over the whole bar.
Jack pulls a few bills from his clip and sets them on the counter. He’s had enough.
Anabel has no reservations about snatching it up, though her “Good night, Jack” is a bit curt.
He ignores it. He nods to the pretty lady at the end of the bar—his fellow kindred spirit—and she smiles back.
He feels an unfamiliar rush and embraces it, enjoying the feeling.
The light breeze is welcome relief from the stuffy bar as Jack steps onto the sand. The moon is full and sits low on the horizon, shimmering on the ocean’s surface as waves break in long lines up the beach.
This tranquility is marred by exhaust fumes and headlights on the highway behind the bar; everyone’s headed home from the beach.
Jack decides to take the long seaside walk back to his room.
He strolls along the water’s winding edge and around the piers, past a couple of fishermen casting their lines, toward the soft orange glow of the village’s fringe. As he moves farther away from the bar on the beach, the din and vehicle exhaust surrenders to the rhythmic pulse of waves on sand and the wind in the palms.
Yet Jack feels unsettled. He glances back, searching the shore.
He exhales, trying to release his stress, but he can’t shake the restlessness. He stops again, peering into the darkness of the night more carefully. But again, nothing.
He presses on, no longer settled, no longer calm like he wishes he could be. He looks over his shoulder once more, and there, in the inky black distance between him and the colourful gleam of the bar’s lights, a figure approaches.
It’s a weeknight and late. Most of the residents should be in their homes. The tourists ignore the village for the most part—it’s working class, with no attractions.
Could be a fisherman, late to join his buddies, or a drunk out for a stroll.
It’s the fedora Jack notices first, then the powder blue shirt as the man passes under the naked bulb of the pier’s entrance lamp.
Jack’s instincts kick in. Adrenaline hits his bloodstream. He lengthens his stride, focusing on his destination, not wanting the man too close.
He’s still a mile from the village. He can see the small fires of more night fishermen far ahead, but between him and them, the shoreline slips into darkness. There’s no trace of people—no streetlights or buildings—nothing except for the outline of rowboats anchored by thick lines, like hulking beasts resting in zigzags along the shore.
The man is close now, a silhouette moving toward him in the moonlight.
“Hey,” Jack offers, heart pounding.
The man doesn’t respond, maybe hasn’t heard him in the crash of the waves—
“Hey!” Jack repeats, this time louder, as the man rushes toward him.
There’s a small reflection, a flash of moonlight, down by the man’s hip.
Knife! Jack thinks, twisting and running toward the moored boats.
“Wait!” the man yells. “I have something for you.” He’s only metres behind and Jack feels the hot, oily blackness that soaks the man’s every word.
Fear grips him and Jack shoves a hand deep into his pocket, grabbing his diving knife. He keeps it for utility, not protection, but now he pulls it out and opens it with a quick, sharp flick, pivoting to meet the tourist.
The man stumbles toward him and Jack doesn’t pause, plunging the blade into the man’s belly. It sinks in easily and a sticky warmth flows over his skin.
The tourist seems shocked by the way things have suddenly turned out. He stares down at Jack’s fist pressed tight against his gut.
Jack pulls out the knife and the man yells, “Why’d you do that?”
Jack doesn’t have an answer, but for some reason he’s certain it was the right thing to do.
A deep, low moan escapes the man and he starts to shake. His strength is draining—quickly, all over the beach—his eyes rolling back in their sockets, his legs buckling. As he drops, he releases the silver money clip Jack accidentally left at the bar.
Jack’s embarrassed by the display. The man’s down in the sand now, unconscious but wheezing. A fish out of water.
Looks like he pissed himself too, Jack thinks. Disgusting.
Yet he leans down, trying to hold the tourist’s gaze in the dark. He has a sudden, incomprehensible, urge to witness this man’s last moments: the blood draining out, the heart slowing down, the mind slipping away…
All this, Jack realizes, because of him.
Jack’s focus returns. He rises from between the boats, worried someone may have seen what’s happened.
But no one’s around. The closest people are the fishermen he passed, but they’re too far away to have noticed.
He listens to the rhythm of the waves and the rush of the wind. Even they don’t seem to have heard the man’s cries. He stares up at the moon and calls out at the top of his lungs, “I killed a man!”
No one comes running. No sirens blare. The earth doesn’t open up to swallow him whole. No one seems to care at all.
He feels a surge in his heart. He’s discovered something, a secret that’s lain dormant at his core for a very long time. The capacity to do things that very few are willing to do. The opportunity to push himself to his furthest edge.
He kneels again by the body. Despite the blood on his hands and a little on his knees, he’s clean. He searches the man’s pockets, taking the money he finds and folding all the cash into a tight bundle, then picks up the money clip.
He peers over the boat hulls, checking all directions to be certain he’s still alone before sloshing out into the ocean. He tosses the clip out as far as he can but pockets the money— no sense wasting it. He washes the knife and his hands in the warm water and glances up at the moon—that glorious transformative moon—as it reflects off the crests rolling toward the shore.
Once the tide comes in, there’ll be no trace of Jack left on the beach, and the water will wash away any evidence remaining on the man. In the next day or so, the local news might report the story of a foolish tourist who wandered too far from the safety of the resorts and got knifed by a mugger.
An old fisherman once told Jack, “The ocean eats everything.” The ocean will eat this too.
Jack has one last thing to do.
He swaggers back to the bar. The place is empty now, and Anabel is behind the bar, chatting with the woman.
He walks up to them.
“You’re back,” the woman says, her tone acidic.
It sends a chill down his spine, but he can give as good as he gets. “You noticed.”
“Only for a second.”
She’s cool to him but her actions betray her. The dahlia from the German couple’s table lies on the counter before her and she’s fiddling with the purple ribbon tied around it.
He flashes a smile, showing his teeth, and turns to Anabel. “I don’t suppose I left my money clip behind? Silver, with a little pearl dolphin?”
Anabel shakes her head, but Jack’s sure she would’ve denied it even if she’d had it.
“That tourist took it,” the woman says, indicating the now empty corner.
Jack likes that she’d noticed.
“Ran out of here almost ten minutes ago. Figured he was on his way to chase you down.”
Jack glances halfheartedly at the door, then back to the woman. “Well, hopefully he’ll come back.”
She takes a thoughtful sip of her beer. “Or maybe he’s on his way to spend it.”
“You’re not very trusting.”
She raises an eyebrow. “Pays to be cautious.”
She’s loosened the ribbon from the flower entirely now, and runs it in long strokes between her fingers.
Jack grins, sliding up on the barstool beside her, turning up the charm. “You never know the sort of person you’re dealing with, right?”
“Nope, you never do.” She finishes off her bottle.
Jack doesn’t allow a pause. “Thank you for your help. I’d buy you another—”
“Well, now that’s quite the invitation—”
“What do you mean?” Jack plays dumb, but he’s certain she’s onto him.
“Offering to buy me a drink when you’ve just made it clear you don’t have any money so I’ll feel obligated to buy you one.”
She is whip-smart.
And he’s appreciative.
“Did it work?”
“You’re still sitting here, aren’t you?” She winks at him and gestures for Anabel to bring another round.
She sets the ribbon aside to turn to him and he makes a mental note to pocket it later—a memento of the evening.
He puts out his hand.
She takes it. “Nice to meet you.”
Seems like his day might end well after all.