At the rental office, Lori received her first gig as a
moonlighting P.I., events went hay-wire and the last we saw of her, she leapt into Oak Bluffs Harbor.
Duncan Toomey and Priscilla Lytton sat on the cement bench facing the Atlantic at the very brink of the bluffs of Priscilla’s property. Striated rings of pink clouds caught the light of the setting sun. A rustle of low waves bathed the rocks below, sending back a white froth against a darkening sea.
Not for the first time did Duncan think about the dangerous height of this jutting land abutting his own property. It had always made him careful about wandering the cliffs after he’d had one too many late-night Frangelicas, straight up; kind of a girlie drink, but he could do what he liked with his free hermit time.
Until this recent horror-show, Becca Van Norden, had moved in with him.
Now Priscilla mused, “I’d never sat here until Titus proposed it the other day. Now I do believe I truly see the value of staring at the sea. I mean, beyond the status oceanfront property endows, there really is something soothing, mesmerizing about all this water.”
Duncan stared at her, astonished, although, as ever, his expression remained impassive. “Good God, Priscilla! Are you telling me that it’s only in the past few days that you’ve taken any personal pleasure in living by the sea?”
She looked chagrinned, then shrugged. “Well . . . yes.”
This was good, he felt. Her new sensitivity could he a help in foisting his unwanted roommate on her. He began without preamble, “I wanted to talk to you about Becca Van Norden.”
“Who?” she asked, and then it sunk in. Her expression showed a hint of alarm. “Oh. Yes. We became rather friendly last summer.”
“Why did you dump her, Priscilla? Did she hit on Titus? Use a guest towel to wipe her behind? What?”
Priscilla resumed her calm, charming mien from her Shockingly Good Taste
episodes. “Oh, well, you know how that goes. One loses one’s affinity for one.”
“Does once?” he asked archly. “Could one regain affinity for this “one” and take her off my hands?”
She gazed at him with pity. “I was under the impression she was your girlfriend. Is the summer fling over? Do you not wish to take her to Fiona’s wedding? We know how our Becca loves parties.”
He frowned. “I’m not going to any damn wedding and, yes, Becca loves parties like a hound loves liverwurst.”
“It’s rather disgusting, isn’t it?”
“Priscilla, spare me. You’re the Island’s hostess-in-chief.”
She sighed and stared at the sea as if it truly did now speak to her and reveal great truths about a higher purpose.
She said, “I’m tired of all that. Everything’s changing, Duncan. Titus is spending all his time with that horrid old Sonja Dash. He’s going to be knighted, and I’ll be Lady Priscilla, but what’s the use of being titled here in America? No one will call me Lady Anything. I’ll be obliged to return to England to receive any of what you Americans call “mileage” out of it. I’m placing this property on the market. Someone else can be hostess-in-chief on Martha’s Vineyard. It takes a lot of effort and a lot of money, and I cannot for the life of me remember why I ever cared to do it.”
Duncan stared at her, absorbing all this new information. At last he said, “Well . . . Lady Priscilla, for the little time that remains of this pre-aristocracy summer, would you possibly be willing to put up this godawful Becca person?”
Priscilla looked haggard as she turned to him. “She has no conscience, Duncan. She dislikes her kids, her husband, and she even betrayed that lovely Mandy girl who cooks for us.”
“Yes, I know. Becca herself told me about that. It was almost as if she were still trying to figure out what was wrong with what she did.”
“She’s shockingly shallow.”
Duncan started to grin. This shockingly shallow woman herself seemed to find no apparent irony in calling the kettle black.
He said eagerly, “But you’ll take her, right? You have a bigger house. You can tell her to stay in the north wing and leave you alone.”
Priscilla sighed and stood up. “I’m sorry I can’t help you, Duncan. The minute I realized how casually cruel she was, she started to give me the willies. Good luck!” she called with a wave as she strode back purposefully across a long emerald field of grass to her contemporary chateau.
Duncan turned back to the sunset, now a “shockingly” true red against a pink sea. He gazed at the swirl of water over the sharp boulders far below. Should he simply jump and be done with this problem? With all problems? Like many smart and sentient people who ever casually contemplated suicide, he’d read too much Eastern religion that suggested suicides’ souls were funneled straight back into a human birth without a shred of new perception granted them. They would be bleak and whiney babies, mired in a new set of circumstances more dire than the last.
No thanks. Better to stick with this life and pray for fresh insights.
Lori, after she’d splashed into the Oak Bluffs harbor from the single window of the rental office, had paddled her arms and legs like her life depended on it – which it sort of did – until one Davey Loomis pulled her over the gunwale onto his splendid yacht.
The splendid yacht had since provided all her downtime moments of fun when she wasn’t busy at the rental office, or needing to check on the rooms, the guests, and the help at the run-down Capt. Jernegan Inn which she managed.
Her budding romance with tanned, short but handsome dentist Davey had morphed into her one highlight of the summer. Not only did they have a whole bunch of stuff to talk about – they both loved action movies, detective novels, and wine, wine, wine!, they found each other a riot; how great was that?
And now he had started to make noises about sailing back to visit her every weekend, once he returned home to Westport.
One problem arose. He kept harping on how fun it would be to spend the night with her at her small suite in the ground floor of the inn.
Oh ick. But she had finally agreed, and now he was flailed in her brown Naugahyde Lazy Boy chair facing an unlit television. Lori had no time for – and really no interest in – watching, so she’d cancelled her cable service a year before. Davey did watch, apparently, finding a lot of time to veg in front of the boob tube. Even now, knowing her TV was defunct, he still assumed the position for watching. Odd. Would this be the start of mutually divisive annoyances that ended up pulling them apart?
She lured him over to the small breakfast nook where they polished off a pizza from Slice of Life – the one with gobs of roasted veggies – divine!, but for once their seamless transition from food to bed felt, well, not so seamless. Not seamless at all. Lori re-filled their goblets, hoping that might help.
And then they heard an ungodly scream from the third floor.
Oh no. Oh God, do not let this be one of those nights.
She said in her chirpiest voice. “I’ll be right back!”
On her way to the third floor, up the stairs covered with mildewed cheap grey industrial carpeting installed some thirty years ago, she heard another scream. But she was distracted by loud voices coming from room number 207 on the second floor. Her moccasins scraped over the corridor of continuing hideous grey carpet. She rapped loudly on the door.
“Come in,” said a man.
The door was unlocked. Lori poked her head inside to see two drunk men in their seventies, clad in boxer shorts and frayed grey-white tank tops. They sat on facing broken-down armchairs. All around them, nips of liquor littered the floor.
Lori put on her sternest look. “Keep it down, fellahs. I mean it. Zip it! If I have to come up and tell you again, you’re out on your ear. Do you understand?”
They nodded dumbly.
Lori cocked her head at the carpet. “And pick up those bottles!”
She slammed the door, knowing their voices would escalate. She’d be back, and she would send them packing. She had learned from hard experience that if she permitted intoxicated people to sound off all night, other guests would complain in the morning, and demand their money back.
From floor three, the woman’s yowl filled the corridor.
A minute later, Lori stood outside the lunatic’s door. The screams had subsided to a babble” “A tyrant . . . poor drowned kitty cat . . . buffalo wings . . . no money, no nookie, no cookie, no rookie.” Lori knocked. She heard no invitation to enter.
A woman with a thatch of bleached blond hair atop a hefty fortysomething body held an empty 40-ounce bottle of Colt 45 in her fist. Lori waved a hand in front of her, but the woman’s eyes were glazed, lost in some timeline from long ago, in a faraway place that had never done her one bit of good. She slowly closed her eyes, then tilted to her left. For a moment, her body hung in the balance, then she fell off the chair.
She’s dead, thought Lori, who actually had supervised a few o.d.’s in her time at the inn. But as she stooped to examine the poor soul, the woman sucked in a huge breath, then snorted out a stentorious snore.
Okay, okay, she told herself to calm the shock to her nerves. Without much expectation of success, she gripped the woman’s arm and tried to pull her into a sitting position with the eventual hope of leading her to the bed.
Ain’t gonna happen.
Instead Lori stood up, grabbed a pillow and blanket from above, and made the patient comfy down there on the worn out, moldy carpet.
Lori traipsed back downstairs for her hookup with cute Davey.
But already she was thinking it was too late. The crummy old inn, its clientele, the grubby details of her job, and the sharp difficulties of making one’s way in the summer here was already putting the kibosh on her budding romance. Because, you know what, Lor? She said to herself: Hard as it is to make it here, no way could she imagine life in the Connecticut suburbs with dentist Davey.
She loved too much this island when the precious place was given back to her, and she could walk the empty docks with nothing moored to them but empty, rusting fishing boats, with the caw of a single seagull rasping overhead.
It was the curse of the Captain Jernegan House speaking truth to the lost and lonely and habitually romantic.