The “town” is maybe four blocks long. It’s understated and laid-back. There are restaurants with outdoor seating under awnings, bakeries, barbecue joints, shops selling silver jewelry, renting snorkel equipment—nothing gaudy or overbearing. They pass public tennis courts and a school with children in yellow-and-navy uniforms out on the playground.

“The children are just back to school after the holiday break,” Paulette says. “I have a son at that school. He’s six.”

“I have a son who’s four,” Baker says. “He’s back in Houston with his mother.”

Cash supposes he should be grateful that Baker’s an extrovert; he will be the goodwill ambassador and Cash will tend to Irene. The family joke has always been that Cash is the daughter Irene never had; it doesn’t bother Cash because he’s secure in his masculinity. He knows his strengths: he’s sensitive, thoughtful, introspective, a nurturer. And Baker is alpha, or he was until he married Anna. She definitely wears the pants in that family—hell, the whole tuxedo—but Cash is relieved to see that Baker has retained his charm.

Out of town, the road grows steep and curvy. Paulette is pointing out trailheads, talking about hiking, about the three-thousand-year-old petroglyphs of the Reef Bay Trail.

“Very famous,” she says. “They’re what St. John is known for.”

On either side of the road is dense vegetation. Everything here is so green and alive, Cash can practically hear it growing. At the crest of a hill, Paulette pulls over to the shoulder. Below them is a crescent of white beach backed by palm trees. It’s the most picture-perfect beach Cash has ever seen. It’s so beautiful it hurts.

“That’s Trunk Bay,” Paulette says. “Perennially voted one of the best beaches in the world.”

“Great,” Baker says, nodding. He pulls out his phone, and Cash wonders if he’s going to take a picture, but no, he’s just checking the time. “Paulette, you are so kind to serve as our tour guide, and I hope you don’t think I’m being rude when I suggest you take us right to my father’s property. We’ve been traveling since early this morning.”

“Of course,” Paulette says. “I just thought since you were unfamiliar with the island, you might want to see what all the fuss is about.”

They couldn’t have sent anyone less sensitive, Cash thinks. And yet he doesn’t want to alienate Paulette because she is, right now, their only link to Russ’s life here.

Paulette pulls back onto the road. She’s at ease on the windy, twisty, steep terrain, where there’s zero room for error. One side of the road is unforgiving mountain face, and the other side is a dramatic drop to the sea. Paulette waves to the drivers of the big open-air taxis that pass them—too close for Cash’s comfort—in the oncoming lane. She stops to talk to one of the taxi drivers. They speak some kind of island patois; the only words Cash recognizes are “invisible man.” Is that what they call Russ? he wonders. He peers discreetly at his mother. Her eyes are closed.

Finally, Paulette slows down, puts on her blinker, and turns. They drive up a series of hairpin turns. The road is deserted and it’s shady; there are driveways, but no houses are visible. At the end of the road is a high gate with a sign that reads: PRIVATE.

Baker laughs. “Is this where Kenny Chesney lives?”

Paulette punches a code into the keypad and the gate swings open. Cash nudges his mother awake. He knows she’s tired, but she has to see this. It’s like something from a movie. This is his father’s villa, his father’s villa, on an island in the Caribbean. Cash can’t help thinking that there has been a mistake, a very large, serious, and yet simple mistake. A man named Russell Steele did die in a helicopter crash north of Virgin Gorda, but it was a different Russell Steele. Their Russell Steele—husband, father, connoisseur of arcane trivia and corny puns, fan of the Beatles and The Blues Brothers, is still alive somewhere, schmoozing with clients in Sarasota or Pensacola.

The driveway is long, surrounded on both sides by evenly spaced palm trees, each of which has a spotlight at the bottom. When they reach the house, Cash takes his mother’s hand.

“We’re here,” Paulette says.

They all climb out of the car. Baker lets out a long, low whistle. He has absolutely no impulse control.

The property is… stunning. They’re way, way up high, with hundred-eighty-degree views of the water and the islands beyond. Paulette leads them up a curved stone staircase to a mahogany deck, where she turns with her arms open like a woman on a game show, as if to present the view.

“That’s Jost Van Dyke and, next to it, Tortola.”

“What?” Irene says.

“The British Virgin Islands, Mom,” Baker says.

Paulette guides them around the outside of the house. The grounds are impeccably landscaped with bougainvillea, frangipani, banana trees, and tall hibiscus bushes. There’s a round aqua pool with a slide down to a second, free-form, dark-blue pool. A few yards away is a separate hot tub, water bubbling, surface steaming. There’s a covered outdoor kitchen with a granite bar, a grill, an ice machine, and a glass-fronted refrigerator displaying a variety of Italian sparkling waters. Cash shakes his head. This isn’t his father’s house. Russ drinks tap water.

Paulette opens a sliding glass door and they all step into the house; after the heat outside, the air-conditioning is delicious. The ceiling of the living room is peaked, with thick beams jutting from the center like the spokes of a wheel. They wander into the enormous eat-in kitchen and Paulette says, “I’ll let you explore in peace. I’ll be on the deck if you have any questions.”

“Which way to the master bedroom?” Irene asks. “And is there a study?”

“The master is at the end of that hall,” Paulette says. “Mr. Steele’s study is attached. All of the other bedrooms are upstairs, and there’s a lower level with a billiards table and a wine cellar. That level opens up onto the shuffleboard court below. And the steps to the beach. There are eighty steps, just so you’re aware.”

“I’m going down to check that out,” Baker says. He looks at Cash. “Do you want to come?”

“I’ll go with Mom,” Cash says. He can’t let his mother walk into the “master bedroom”—presumably where his father slept—by herself.

Baker cocks an eyebrow, a signature expression of his, and Cash remembers just how much his brother irks him. Cash resents Baker’s confidence, his smug self-assuredness, his aura of superiority. Baker is the worst kind of older brother—all alpha dominance, no support or advice. But the most frustrating thing is that despite this, Cash yearns to be just like him. “This place is unbelievable,” Baker says. “And I do mean unbelievable.” He lowers his voice. “It can’t be Dad’s. They have the wrong guy.”

Cash doesn’t comment, though he happens to agree. He trails his mother down the long hall to the master suite. In the bedroom is a king bed positioned to face the water through an enormous sliding glass door. There are two walk-in closets—empty, both of them: Cash checks immediately—and there’s a huge marble bathroom with dual sinks, a sunken soaking tub for two, and a glassed-in shower. There’s a paneled study, which is where Irene has chosen to start poking around. The top of the desk is clear, so she’s rifling through drawers. Cash, meanwhile, pokes through the bathroom. There are a couple of toothbrushes and a can of shaving cream, but nothing else in the way of personal items.

The place feels staged. It feels cleaned out. If Russ had been living here or even just staying here—Irene said he’d left Iowa on December 26—then wouldn’t he have left behind clothes, a razor, aftershave, reading glasses?

Cash opens the dresser drawers. Empty. That’s weird, right? He goes over to the bed and opens the nightstand drawer. He startles as if he’s found a disembodied head.

There’s a photograph staring up at him. It’s a framed photograph of Russ with a West Indian woman. They’re lying in a hammock. Cash turns around. It’s the hammock that’s hanging out on the deck right off the master bedroom. Russ is wearing sunglasses and grinning at the camera and the woman is snuggled up against him.

Cash casts about the room for a place to hide the photograph. He can’t have his mother see it.

He stuffs it between the mattress and box spring, then sits on the bed and drops his head in his hands. His unspoken suspicions have been confirmed: Russ had a mistress, most likely the woman who was with him on the helicopter. The bigger shock, perhaps, is seeing a picture of his father in this house. This is real. This is his father’s house. His father is dead.

Cash wants to laugh. It’s absurd! He wants to scream. After all of Russ’s gentle prodding for Cash to finish his education and establish an “infrastructure,” it turns out his father’s own infrastructure was built of lies! He had a secret life! A fifteen-million-dollar villa in the Caribbean and a West Indian mistress!

What else? Cash wonders. What else was Russell Steele—a three-term member of the Iowa City School Board while Cash was growing up—hiding?

He pokes his head into the study, where his mother is sitting at the desk, staring out the window.

***

***P/S: Copyright -->Novel12__Com

***