Thursday, April 1, 2010

Chapter 6

He wasn’t exactly sure when his shit had fallen apart.

Some of it had been due to seeing his best friend go through a divorce, a relationship that had been publicly ugly, and then the death of his friend’s father. All that had culminated in his friend’s arrest and public condemnation by a media that seemed to be waiting for them to fail.

He shook his head as he thought about this, wondering what he had ever done except be successful at what he wanted to do to make the mainstream media treat him and his friends as a sometimes joke.

This trip was what he needed. He would get away, look at places on beautiful secluded islands and then buy something for his family. He was already planning the vacations they would take.

He refused to think about what else his wife had said.

Hearing his name being called, Jon walked back to the plane to see Greg holding a piece of paper and Mel telling him that this was her flight plan. Greg nodded vigorously as she talked and then nodded again when she informed him she would call every few days, but not to worry if she didn’t check in on a regular basis as she would be in touch as she could.

With another smile and a wave at Greg, Mel and Jon entered the cockpit of the plane and adjusted their seatbelts. The dual engines turned over and a few minutes later the plane took off smoothly, leaving the small island bay behind them. Climbing to 3,500 feet, well below commercial air traffic, Mel leveled the plane and headed for Crooked Island, southeast of Cat.

Jon sat back and watched quietly as Mel expertly took off and leveled the plane out at the correct altitude. The day was clear, with little turbulence, and he allowed his thoughts to drift once again. He had been worried when arranging this charter that he would have to deal with the seemingly ever present attention of people who recognized him. It was the main reason he had used an alias, a name that was a play on his and his friend’s nicknames.

He had been even more worried when he’d realized his pilot was a woman, but she hadn’t shown the slightest interest in him beyond his travel requirements. He was glad he had grown out his beard as that detracted further from his famous face. The sunglasses could be kept on during every flight as the sun shone without clouds and reflected even more brightly off the water than from above.

He had no idea how old his pilot was and truthfully, as of yet he couldn’t really say what she looked like. His overall impression was that of a somewhat dumpy younger woman, albeit one with a rather nice profile.

Mel’s voice as she spoke over the headset to tell him they were landing soon brought Jon’s gaze to back outside the plane window. He could see an island below them and felt the plane beginning its descent. Practiced ease had the plane lightly skipping over the small waves until its weight had it settle deeper into the water. The engines were throttled up and the plane rode the water to a small dock where Mel eased up on the throttle allowing the plane to slow to a gentle stop. A man had stopped his work to aid in tying up the plane.

Standing beside Mel on the dock, Jon gave a small stretch to ease his back after sitting in the tight quarters of the plane. He saw Mel talking to the man who had helped them and walked over.

“Mr. Martin, this is Raoul.”

The men shook hands and Jon asked for directions to the first property on his list. He listened as the man pointed to a building a short distance away where he could call for a cab. Jon quickly moved toward the office as he had been instructed, while Mel arranged with Raoul to watch the plane until her return. He nodded at her and winked; she said the same thing to him every time she came to the island.

Following Jon up to the building, Mel thought about the difference between this client and her last few. This one had been quiet during the flight, never once trying his cell phone, and not even seeming to mind. He had not gotten sick - always a plus - and had not seemed to be a white knuckle flyer during either take off or landing. She thought that this charter just might not be the worst she had ever done.

Quickly arranging for a taxi proved to be the easiest part as Jon started pacing impatiently during the more than an hour wait. He had forgotten that Bahamians seemed to travel on a different time schedule and it was approaching five that afternoon by the time the cab arrived.

Mel had been busy visiting with Pete at the dock office and tinkering with her plane and when Jon walked back down the dock to her for at least the tenth time, she didn’t even look up. Glancing yet again at his watch in impatience, Jon realized that to save time Mel should go with him instead of waiting for another cab.

“Mel? Excuse me, Mel?” He called out louder each time. He saw her look up from a book she was reading and eye him quizzically.

“What do you say to coming with me? That way we could go to dinner afterwards and then head to the hotel.” He hoped she would say yes as it would be much less complicated and save him time in the long run.

He had a thing about time.

Nodding in agreement, Mel grabbed her bag from the back, locked the plane doors and checked the tie off lines one more time. Satisfied her baby would be safe for the night, she walked with Jon back to the office where she told Pete about her plans. Assuring her that the gate would be locked when he left for the night, Mel smiled at him and then followed her charter out to the waiting taxi.

Although their religious convictions had not been discussed, both Mel and Jon were complete and utter believers in Jesus by the time the cab ride ended.

The Bahamian driver who had picked them up had been blasting the radio message of a fire and brimstone preacher during the entire drive, as if the multiple crosses and rosaries inside were not enough.

It was evident that someone was watching out for the driver as he careened down the narrow streets of the town, seeming to miss the low walls on the sides of the road by some divine intervention, barely pausing at stop signs, and taking turns that had the mouths of his passengers moving in silent prayer as they slid from left to right and back again across the slick leather seat.

With knuckles slowly returning to their normal color, the two passengers exited the finally stationary vehicle in an uncharacteristic haste to have solid ground underneath their feet again.

Paying for the ride, Jon made an instant decision to dismiss this driver and buy a car.

It didn’t matter that he would only be here for a few hours, he was never trusting Jesus that much again.

Both survivors stood for a moment on the side of the road, shaking their heads and taking deep breaths. Mel finally spoke.

“Planes. I’m sticking to planes.”

Jon looked at her and then the laughter hit. What started as a burst of laughter, turned into a belly laugh that had him throwing his head back and bracing a hand on one of the walls their cab had just missed.

Mel stood staring at him, her mouth dropping open, until the infectiousness of his laugh hit her. Suddenly she was weak in the knees as her giggles hit until she had to sit on the low wall beside Jon.

They both laughed harder for a moment until the laughter slowed and a not unfriendly silence struck.

Jon motioned with his head toward the driveway of a house.

“This is the first one. You gonna come up with me?”

Mel got off the wall and waved at him to go ahead, mumbling wryly under her breath.

“Sure, I like seeing things I can’t afford.”

Jon turned back to her. “Did you say something?”

Mel smiled. “Nope.”

He squinted at her in question, but she turned an easy smile on him, glad now herself for the dark sunglasses she wore.

They continued down the drive until they came to an extremely large house encircled by a virtual riot of tropical plants and trees. Parts of the house seemed nearly obscured by the thick foliage and what they could see had the air of a beauty now past her prime.

Jon scowled as he gave the exterior a thorough once over, glancing back down the drive to judge the distance from the home to the gate and then turning back to the house. They were both unsurprised to meet a man coming out the front door, his greeting thick with the lyrical quality of Bahamian speech.

“Mr. Martin, how nice that you and your wife could come today.”

Slightly startled, Mel met Jon’s gaze and saw the small negative shake of his head. She held her tongue and allowed the realtor to continue what seemed to a carefully rehearsed greeting.

Following the two men into the house, she suddenly stopped as the vastness of the interior seemed to engulf her. Wide open spaces with splashes of bright colors everywhere. There were so many spots of color in so many places she thought it looked as if terrorists had attacked with paint ball guns. And ferns. Who would of thought so many ferns could be inside one house?

Standing a bit off to the side, her hands clasped behind her back, she watched as Jon talked with the realtor. She could have told the man immediately that Mr. Martin wasn’t interested, but the Bahamian seemed determined he could convince the rich American to buy.

Oh, he acted a good game, but she could see that he was less than interested and only being polite. She wandered off a little towards the back of the house and saw that not as much care had been given here as to the main rooms. The constantly humid environment had done its work here and there were cracks in the plaster, seeping water spots, and dark mold growth in some areas. She was stopped from further exploration at the sound of her name being called.

“Mel, Mr. Newbold is going to drive us to the hotel. Did you see everything you wanted?”

Smiling sweetly and only slightly lethally, Mel answered her “husband”.

“Why, yes dear, I did.”

Jon raised his eyes at her response and a slight smirk crossed his lips. Seems his pilot had a bit of a smart ass inside her. He tried to see the expression in her eyes, but she, like he, continued to wear sunglasses. Oh well, he would see her at dinner.

Mr. Newbold drove more carefully than their cab driver and neither Mel nor Jon felt the need to call upon a higher power. The hotel was a small two story building with pink walls and green trim. The interior was cool after the heat of the day and Jon quickly confirmed his reservation and gave Mel her room key. He had not thought to request rooms on the same floor and they were separated both by floor and by the rooms being at opposite ends of the hotel.

Mel took her key, gave Jon a thank you smile and turned to head in the opposite direction. She entered her room a few minutes later, moving directly towards the shower. Half an hour later, she was clean, cool, and relaxing while looking at the room service menu. Having already decided to eat in her room that night, she was quick and decisive when her client called a few minutes later.

“Really Mr. Martin, I appreciate the offer, but I’d rather stay in.” Mel rolled her eyes slightly at his repeated invitations to meet him for dinner.

In his room at the other end of the hotel, Jon shook his head at the stubbornness of women. It was dinner for god’s sake, not an invitation to meet the president. He heard her again refuse and finally agree to meet him in the lobby in the morning to head back to the plane.

Only after hanging up the phone did he realize that somehow she had also refused to have breakfast with him without it even being mentioned. He was not used to being turned down, especially by women.

The real problem was he was now left alone with his thoughts.