Chapter Nine, Part One

After the disastrous date with Cade, I through myself into my work. What else could I do? He had awakened dangerous feelings, and I made it my mission to do everything I could to put him out of my mind.

Anything that would make me forget, I did. I delivered drugs for Arlo. I helped Mouse cook a batch of meth. I turned a few tricks and tried not to think about Cade while I let a stranger use my body. When I had money to spare, I drank and took pills, staying wasted and insensible for long stretches of time, until night and day become jumbled in my mind. Father Cash never knocked to check on me, and Cade never called. Only the threat of eviction or having my electricity cut off could get me to answer my phone or work yet another shit job until finally one gray afternoon, I came out of a blackout in Crazy Eddie's living room.

The television was showing a football game, but the sound was turned down and Eddie was talking about an upcoming vote before the state legislature. From his tone, I guessed it was a mutual conversation, and he was disagreeing with something I had said.

"You obviously don't know how the game is played, Judith. He wouldn't dare use his veto power. They'll block his highway bill, which he needs to pass if he's going to get reelected."

"But not vetoing would cost him his other constituents," I said, seizing on the most general thing I could say that wouldn't give away that I had no memory of what we were talking about.

"You keep coming back to that."

Obviously I was on the right track.

"I'm telling you, his base isn't as conservative as you think. Legalization's time has come."

Oh, so that was what we were talking about. Eddie had a struggling grow room in a warehouse on the outskirts of town, and was convinced that he could make a killing in the marijuana business if only it would be legalized. Unfortunately, Eddie was the sort who could wither plants just by walking into a room, but I wasn't going to be the one to tell him that legalization would only allow him to fail out in the open, instead of behind closed doors.

"Specialization is where it's going to be at. That's where you're going to be a big help to me."

"Hm." He rambled on tediously, but I ignored him, having just now noticed that the seams of my leggings were twisted, as if I had put them on hastily, and my shirt was misbuttoned and open to my sternum. I frowned. Had I fucked Crazy Eddie? There was a glass on the coffee table in front of me and I picked it up and sipped it warily. Ginger ale. I took a few greedy gulps, hoping it would settle my sudden nausea.

"So that's all you've got to do. Easy, huh? You don't need to worry that it'll piss off Arlo or any of your other contacts. You're not diverting their business, just getting a sense of what the market really wants. That way when legalization does come, we can target that market and win them over legit, no undercutting needed, because we'll be providing what they've been looking for all along."

"I'll do what I can," I said, trying unobtrusively to button up my shirt, only to find that my fingers felt thick and clumsy. "But I mostly deliver meth and oxy, you know. Pot isn't usually part of the deal."

Eddie scoffed. "Everyone smokes, whether they buy it from your guys or not. Just ask around, okay?"

The ginger ale was starting to settle my queasy stomach, and my mind was growing clearer by the minute. I still had no memory of how I came to be here, but the thought that I might've slept with Eddie threatened to make me sick. I stood up, willing myself not to wobble. "I should probably be going now."

"Let me get your coat."

He walked away and came back a moment later with my coat, which he helped me into. Since he wasn't usually so solicitous, this only confirmed my suspicion that something had happened between us, but it was his next words that chilled me though. "Thanks for stopping by. I hope you can do something with the information about Sella." His hand, which had been adjusting my collar, slipped inside the coat and squeezed my breast. "It was a fair trade, don't you think?"

Now I realized what had happened, and I floundered for a few functioning brain cells to help me out of this dilemma without coming right out and admitting I had no memory of what we had done, much less what he had said. "Fair for you, I guess. But how do I know what you said is true?"

"Don't be like that, babe." He pulled me to him and put his hands on my ass. "I saw them with my own eyes."

I tried to pull away, but he held me firm, his breath stale and stinking on my face. "It could've been something other than what it looked like," I pointed out.

He kissed me sloppily, forcing his tongue into my mouth while grinding his hips into mine. I tried to feign at least some willingness, but it was almost too much. I wasn't going to have to go to bed with him again, this time remembering every repulsive moment of it, was I?

I forced myself away and faked a small laugh. "That's no answer." I pulled my coat tightly around myself.

Eddie scowled. "What else could it have been? She gave him something, he gave her something...didn't look like they were exchanging Hallmark cards."

"But how would they have even known each other? Sella was a stranger here."

He gave a little shrug. Maybe he was friends with that uncle of hers, or maybe they met at the corner store sometime when she was out buying tampons or something, how would I know?"

"But Sella never left the house and hardly spoke at all."

"Obviously you're wrong about that, because she knew Arlo at least well enough to make a deal with him." Eddie took a step closer and touched my hair. "You're too hung up on this, babe."

I forced a smile. "You're right. I gotta go now." I grabbed the door and fumbled with the lock. Eddie reached over to help and I stepped out into the cold.

"We should do it again sometime," he called after me as I hurried down the steps.

I managed what I hoped was a cheerful-looking wave. "Sure. See you around."

I heard the door of his apartment close as I reached the ground floor, then I ran a little, stumbling in the cold, as I tried to put some distance between me and Eddie. When I reached the pizzeria at the corner, I paused to catch my breath.

Sella had bought drugs from Arlo? That didn't seem likely, for a number of reasons. But although Eddie was always looking to make a quick buck, I didn’t know him to be a liar. If he had had bribed me into sex with information, it was the truth, or at least the truth as he understood it. 

The door of the pizzeria opened and a customer darted out with a takeout box, trailing the aroma of garlic and pepperoni. My stomach growled. A slice of greasy pizza was exactly what I needed right now, and I checked my purse to see if I could afford it. Inexplicably, there were two crumpled twenties inside. Where had they come from? Had I made a delivery for someone, in which case not all of it was mine? Or had I been to bed with a paying customer, in addition to Eddie?

I needed to do some reflecting and get my life together. But first, I needed some food. I shoved the bills back in my purse and went inside.

Chapter Eight, Part Three

I wouldn't have noticed it if he hadn't pointed it out. The Peregrine seemed to me like any other fishing boat, painted white and battered by the ocean and its sun, salt and storms. We walked down the dock and boarded, and I found the deck and small enclosed cabin to be clean and well-maintained, although a bit dingy with wear.

"I know it's not much to look at," Cade said, "But I'm close to having her paid off and then I can look at growing my business a little."

"You mean more boats?"

He shrugged. "Maybe. I have a few options I'm considering. Haven't decided which way I intend to jump, though. Things could change, and I like to stay flexible."

For the next few minutes he showed me around, explaining the different screens and electronic equipment used for finding and tracking schools of fish.

"I thought only governments had these. I had no idea an ordinary guy could have his own sonar," I said.

"And echosounders." He grinned. "It's pretty standard in the industry, but if you haven't seen one before, it can seem kind of special."

"I suppose it's better than having to guess where the fish are. Or go to a lot of trouble to catch them only to find out they're not the right kind."

"Fishing has come a long way," Cade admitted. "There's a lot of science involved now. You still need to have an instinct for it, though. And you need to not mind being cold, wet and in danger. Lots of strange people in this business, too. No real vetting process. You could end up on a boat with just about anyone, and once you're out at sea, not much you can do about it. You learn a lot of tolerance out on the water."

"I would imagine so," I said. "There are a lot of strange people in my life too, but at least I don't have to live with them."

"It's an acquired skill," he assured me. "But there's no point acquiring it if you don't have to. Save your energy for more interesting things."

He showed me around the rest of his boat, including a small kitchen, cramped bunks that were rarely used for more than brief naps, and a vast hold where the catch had to be stored at just the right temperature and precise weight distribution so as not to tip the boat.

"If your cargo isn't balanced right, a storm or a rogue wave can tip you over just like that. and in the cold waters around here, you've got twenty minutes to live under optimal conditions. Most guys that happens to aren't so lucky."

Over the next half hour Cade told me more about fishing than I ever thought I'd want to know, but in his frank, unpolished way he made it seem, if not exactly fascinating, at least not dull. By the time he took a couple beers out of a fridge, I was feeling at home on the Peregrine and was content to sit with him near one of the windows and look out over the metallic gray water.

By now the sun was little more than a pale glow on the horizon. Sunsets aren't much to look at in Cold Harbor and I found myself longing for the vivid reds and golds of home instead of anemic silver. "Are the sunsets pretty in Maine?" I asked.

"Not as pretty as the sunrise, since the sun sets over land, not water." As if reading my mind, he added, "I miss home sometimes."

I didn't trust myself to answer, and only nodded.

"Maybe you'll let me show it to you someday."

I sat back, startled. "Maine?"

"Or just a pretty sunrise." He looked away, abashed. "Sorry if that was a little awkward. I don't spend much time around women. I'm out of the habit of knowing what's the right thing to say."

In that moment he looked so vulnerable that I forgot my worries, set my beer aside and scooted closer. "Offering to show me a pretty sunrise is just fine. I'm a little out of the habit of good manners myself."

He drew me into his arms and it felt like the most natural thing in the world to settle into the hollow of his body, warm and safe, watching the light fade from the sky while the boat gently bobbed with the waves. I wasn't prepared when he brushed his lips over my hair and then found the bare spot on my neck where my hair had fallen forward. The sensation was warm and electric. I froze for a moment, then felt his lips on my neck again, and a long-forgotten fire coursed through me. I turned and kissed him, my body and mind burning with a desire I had thought myself too jaded to feel any more. Cade pulled me to him, as hungry as I was, but then unbidden, Father Cash's warning repeated itself in my mind and brought me back to reality.

"I'm sorry." I pulled away and stood up, dizzy and weak in the knees. "I need to leave."

Cade reached for my hand. "I didn't mean for that to happen. Really. Please sit back down."

I shook my head. There was no way I could explain, so I gave the most classically lame excuse anyone has ever made for walking away. "It's not you, it's me." I grabbed my coat and headed out the door, but he followed me onto the deck.

"Let me at least walk you home, Judith."

"I'll be fine," I shouted, then I jumped onto the dock and started running. I ran through the docks, across the street, and into the warren of lanes and alleys full of fishing shops, chowder houses and pubs. Although I didn't hear any footsteps behind me, I kept going until I reached a familiar area. Brook Street and Gaslight Avenue weren't exactly the best part of town, but here I was on my own turf, and I slowed to a walk, trying to catch my breath.

What an idiot I had been. I had thought myself immune to men after going to bed with so many, but I was only fooling myself. From the moment I laid eyes on Cade at the dock, I had wanted him, and no amount of survival sex could change that.

But I wasn't the kind of girl Cade deserved. Father Cash was right about that. He was better off without me, and even friendship was a bad idea, since how could I just be friends when I wanted so much more?

As I walked the dingy streets toward home, my treacherous mind spun fantasies of what things could be like if only I were an ordinary waitress or bookkeeper, or better yet, if we had met before I had made so many costly mistakes with my life. Cade and I could travel the sea on his boat, or maybe get a little cottage together on the coast of Maine. We could be lighthouse keepers, supplementing our income with the revenue from a fleet of fishing boats. On sunny afternoons, I would sit outside and paint, and at night me and Cade—

"Hey, Judith. Been trying to reach you for the last hour. How come you're not answering your phone?"

I squinted at the darkness, scrambling to bring my mind back to reality as Arlo stepped out of the shadows.

"I got a job for you, if you want it. If not..." he shrugged.

So much for cottages in Maine. "Yeah, I want it," I said. The rent would soon be due and no amount of fantasizing was going to change my empty wallet. "Whatever you've got, I'm game."

Chapter Eight, Part Two

Cade suggested we meet at a place he was familiar with, and luckily it wasn't very far away. Jimmy's was a cheerful-looking place relative to its gray surroundings near the docks. I had never been inside before, since it was frequented by the fishing caste, but today I took a deep breath and pushed open the door. Dark wood paneling was draped with old fishing nets and shellacked, taxidermied fish, and a few obligatory neon beer signs glowed from the wall behind the bar, but it was otherwise well-lit and unintimidating. The strains of Patsy Cline emanated from a jukebox as I scanned the room. Not seeing Cade, I approached the bar and gingerly took a stool.

While the bartender was busy with another customer, I checked my phone. No messages from Cade, so he would probably be on time. I had arrived a little early, just to play things safe.

As I was tapping on my phone, a burly man a couple stools down asked, "Company around here too boring for you, Miss?"

I suppressed a sigh. If men knew how tedious and predictable they were, would they still behave the way they did? "I'm waiting on my date," I said, not so much to be polite but in case the guy knew Cade. It wouldn't do to have any of his acquaintances telling him I was rude, when I was enough things already.

"Well, no point being lonely. If he doesn't show up, I'll keep you company."

"I'll remember that." I returned to my phone and pretended to be texting, even though I was only looking at my web browser.

Not two minutes later, the bartender walked over and slapped a coaster in front of me. "What can I get you?"

I hesitated. If I ordered a beer, would Cade think I was an alcoholic, arriving early to start drinking? But if I ordered nothing, or only water, would I look like I had no confidence he would show up? My dilemma was solved by the pub door opening, and Cade walked in, wearing faded jeans, well-worn boots and a brown leather jacket. He suggested we get a table and I gratefully followed him to a quiet corner, where a rough-looking woman brought us a basket of pretzels and took our beer order.

"I really didn't think I was going to hear from you," Cade said with such genuine pleasure in his eyes that I was as overwhelmed as the first time I saw him.

"Well, it would've been rude not to return the favor..."

"And here I thought it was the pleasure of my company you wanted, and not just good manners."

In spite of myself, I smiled. "That too, of course."

We spent the next half hour in idle chat about the safe topics of food, fishing, and what passed for society in Cold Haven. I was feeling relaxed and happy that I had called him, when he broke my mood with a single remark.

"So how did you end up here, Judith? You clearly aren't enjoying it much, but I don't see any chains holding you down. It's a big world out there."

I forced a smile. "I'm still planning my next move."

"I see."

"I'm glad you do."

A long silenced passed between us and I was wondering what to say next when the awkward moment was broken by the waitress asking if we wanted another round. Instead of answering her, Cade turned to me. "Want to see my boat? It's not far from here."

All fishing boats looked alike to me, but it was a chance to stay near him without the pressure of a conversation that might drift into dangerous territory. I agreed, and Cade paid for our beers over my objections. Then I followed him out into the weak gray light of early evening. 

Chapter Eight, Part One

I did call, although not right away. I could hardly call him up and invite him to buy me dinner again, and it wasn't like Cold Haven had any free parks or similar venues for a cheap date, so that meant scraping together enough money to invite him for a beer, or at least a cup of coffee.

Since it was the first of the month, I got my bogus pseudephrine prescription filled and handed it over to Mouse for a profit so he could cook it into meth. Arlo had a few deliveries for me to make, and sent a trick my way. Crazy Eddie turned out to be my best source of money, though. I did some temporary home care for his shut-in aunt, whose dementia made her sweet-tempered and befuddled one day and a screeching maniac the next. I sat lookout while Eddie and a friend stole some cash and home brew from a guy who was an even bigger thief than they were. And, most troubling, I got asked to scrub down an apartment where a friend of a friend had blown his brains out after one heartbreak too many and more gin than any human had any business drinking. That last job left me disturbed for days, never quite certain that the stench of blood was gone from my clothes and hands. Nevertheless, the pay was excellent and I could now call Cade and invite him for a beer and maybe even a pizza.

I chose a quiet afternoon, sat down on my lumpy sofa, fought back a sudden wave of shyness, and punched in his number, willing myself to take deep breaths. Cade was a nice guy, totally harmless, and I wasn't hung up on him or anything, so there was no reason in the world for my heart to be racing as his phone rang and rang. Then I heard a click, and a voice.

"Hi, this is Cade Dermott. Please leave a message."

I turned off my phone and threw it away from me in disgust. Didn't it just figure that I would finally work up the courage and the money to call him, only to get his voice mail? I went to the window, leaned against the sill and sighed. As a fisherman, Cade could be anywhere. Stupid of me to forget that. He might be halfway around the world, chasing herring, and who knew when he would return?

On the sidewalk below, the ginger cat I had been feeding strolled by. Craving a little companionship, no matter what its form, I grabbed the bag of Friskies and my coat, and hurried downstairs.

It took a bit of coaxing, since the cat was still aloof, but I made a kibble trail and soon had the cat lounging uneasily near my feet while I sat on the steps and gazed at the cars and people going by. I didn't have anything planned for the evening, but after building up my hopes for a possible date with Cade, the thought of being alone or having to scare up some work depressed me. Clearly I had been looking forward to seeing Cade again more than I was willing to admit.

That would never do. I had bigger issues to deal with if I was to ever get out of Cold Harbor. Forming an attachment here would only be a distraction. And since no way would Cade want anything to do with me once he learned what I really was, maybe it was for the best that he hadn't answered my call. We would only waste each others' time.

I rubbed the cat's ears, which he didn't seem to appreciate, and got to my feet. I was just heading back inside when I ran into Father Cash heading out. We both paused in the doorway staring at each other, and then Father Cash put on his best benevolent priest's face and wished me a good day. Before I could do more than stammer a "Same to you," he was gone.

Wholly out of sorts now, I stomped up the stairs to my flat. On the floor by the sofa, my message light was blinking. Arlo? Crazy Eddie? Mouse, with a meth delivery for me to make?

I picked up the phone. It was Cade, returning my call.