Marilyn Monroe, Todd Croft’s oddly named secretary. Yes, Irene has heard about this woman, though she’s never met her. Irene has only met Todd Croft, Russ’s boss, once before. Todd Croft and Russ had been acquainted at Northwestern, and thirteen years ago, Russ and Irene had bumped into Todd in the lobby of the Drake Hotel in Chicago. That chance meeting led to a job offer, the one Irene had been so eager for Russ to accept. Now Todd Croft is just a name, invoked by Russ again and again. The man has become synonymous with the unseen force that rules their lives. Todd needs me in Tampa on Tuesday. Todd has new clients he’s courting in Lubbock. “Todd the God,” Irene calls him privately. And yet everything she has—this house, the swimming pool and gazebo, the brand-new Lexus in the garage—is thanks to Todd Croft.
“Happy New Year, Marilyn?” Irene says. There’s a hesitation in her voice because Irene can’t imagine why Marilyn Monroe—Irene has no choice but to picture this woman as a platinum blonde, buxom, with a beauty mark—would be calling. “Is everything…?”
“Mrs. Steele,” Marilyn says. “Something has happened.”
“Happened?” Irene says.
“There was an accident,” Marilyn says. “I’m afraid your husband is dead.”
AYERS: ST. JOHN, USVI
Servers across the country—hell, across the world—regard New Year’s Eve with dread, and although Ayers Wilson is no exception, she tries to keep an open mind. It’s just another night at La Tapa, the best restaurant in St. John, which is the best of the Virgin Islands—U.S. and British combined—in Ayers’s opinion. Tonight, for the holiday, there are two seatings with a fixed menu, priced at eighty-five dollars a head, so in many ways it’ll be easier than regular service and the tips should be excellent. Ayers will likely clear four hundred dollars. She has no reason to complain.
Except… Rosie is off tonight because the Invisible Man is in town. This means Ayers is working with Tilda, who is not only young and inexperienced but also a relentless scorekeeper, and she has a crush on Skip, the bartender; it’s both pathetic and annoying to watch her flirt.
The first seating, miraculously, goes smoothly. Ayers waits on one of the families who came on her snorkeling trip to the British Virgin Islands that morning. The mother looks like a woman plucked from a Rubens painting, voluptuous and red-haired, with milky skin. She had wisely spent most of the day under the boat’s canopy while Ayers snorkeled with her two teenagers, pointing out spotted eagle rays and hawksbill turtles. Now the mother tilts her head. She knows she recognizes Ayers, but she can’t figure out how.
“I’m Ayers,” she says. “I was a crew member on Treasure Island today.”
“Yes!” the mother says. The father grins—kind of a goofy guy, perfectly harmless—and the kids gape. This happens all the time: people are amazed that Ayers works two jobs and that she might appear in their lives in two different capacities on the same day.
Ayers’s other tables are couples who want to finish eating so they can get down to the Beach Bar to watch the fireworks. In past years, Ayers has managed to squeak out of work by quarter of twelve. She and Mick would change into bathing suits and swim out to Mick’s skiff to watch the fireworks from the placid waters of Frank Bay.
Ayers and Mick broke up in November, right after they returned to St. John from the summer season on Cape Cod. Mick, the longtime manager of the Beach Bar, had hired a girl named Brigid, who had no experience waiting tables.
Why on earth did you hire her, then? Ayers asked, but she figured it out in the next instant.
And sure enough, there followed days of Mick staying late to “train” the new hire, whom he later described to Ayers as “green” and “clueless” and “a deer in the headlights.” On the third day of this training, Ayers climbed out of bed and drove down to the Beach Bar. It was two thirty in the morning and the town was deserted; the only vehicle anywhere near the bar was Mick’s battered blue Jeep. Ayers tiptoed around the side of the building to see Brigid sitting up on the bar counter and Mick with his head between her legs.
Ayers hasn’t been to the Beach Bar once since she and Mick split, and she certainly won’t go tonight. She has bumped into Mick—alone, thankfully—once at Island Cork and once, incredibly, out in Coral Bay, at Pickles in Paradise, the place “they” always stopped to get sandwiches (one Sidewinder and one Sister’s Garden, which “they” shared so “they” could each have half) before “they” went to the stone beach, Grootpan Bay, where “they” were always alone and hence could swim naked. Ayers had been stung to see Mick at the deli—he was picking up the Sidewinder, which was funny because she was picking up a Sister’s Garden—and she could tell by the look on his face that he was stung to see her. They probably should have divided the island up—Pickles for her, Sam & Jack’s for him—but St. John was small enough as it was.
Ayers has also seen Mick driving his blue Jeep with Brigid in the passenger seat—and worse, with Mick’s dog, an AmStaff-pit bull mix, Gordon, standing in Brigid’s lap. Gordon used to stand in Ayers’s lap, but apparently Gordon was as fickle and easily fooled as his owner.
Tilda taps Ayers on the shoulder and hands her a shot glass of beer, which Ayers accepts gratefully.
“Thanks,” Ayers says. “I need about forty of these.” They click shot glasses and throw the beer back.
“Yeah, you do,” Tilda says. “Because look.”
Ayers turns to see Mick and Brigid walking into La Tapa, hand in hand. Clover, the hostess, leads them over to Table 11, in Ayers’s section.
“No,” Ayers says. “Not happening. No way.”
“I’ll take them,” Tilda says. “You can have Table 2. It’s the Hesketts. You’re welcome.”
“Thank you,” Ayers says. The Hesketts own a boutique hotel in Chocolate Hole called St. John Guest Suites; they’re lovely people, with excellent taste in wine. It’s a good trade, and very kind of Tilda, although a part of Ayers, of course, would like to wait on Mick and Brigid and dump some food—ideally the garlicky paella for two—right into Brigid’s lap. She’s wearing white.
What is Mick thinking? And why isn’t he working? It’s New Year’s Eve, he’s the manager of the Beach Bar, it will be mayhem down there, even now at a quarter to ten. How did he get the night off? The owners never give him holidays or weekends off. And why isn’t Brigid working? Why did they choose La Tapa for dinner when they both know Ayers would be here? Are they looking for trouble? Because if they are, they found it. Ayers’s nostrils flare and she paws at the ground with one clog like an angry bull.
She steps into the alcove by the restroom, pulls out her phone, and texts Rosie. Where are you? Please come save me. Mick and Brigid are here at La Tapa for second seating!
A few seconds later, there’s a photographic response—a table set for two with a bottle of Krug champagne in an ice bucket.
In the background is the Caribbean, scattered with pinpricks of light—boats heading over to Jost Van Dyke for the invitation-only Wheeland Brothers concert. It has been rumored that Kenny Chesney might sit in for a song or two.
Ayers studies the picture, trying to get an idea of where the Invisible Man’s house is. Looks like somewhere near Cinnamon Bay. Rosie refuses to disclose exactly where the Invisible Man lives or even tell Rosie his name. He’s very private, Rosie says. His business is sensitive. He travels a lot. Apparently the house is impossible to find. There are lots of places like that on St. John. Rosie stays with the Invisible Man when he’s on-island, but otherwise she and her daughter, Maia, live with Rosie’s stepfather, Huck, the fishing captain, who owns a house on Jacob’s Ladder. It’s a strange arrangement, nearly suspect, and yet Rosie seems content with the way things are. Once, after service, when Ayers and Rosie were drinking upstairs at the Quiet Mon, Rosie confided that the Invisible Man paid for all of Rosie and Maia’s living expenses, including Maia’s tuition at Gifft Hill School.
Ayers makes it her New Year’s resolution to find out more about the Invisible Man—at the very least, to figure out where he lives.
She tucks her phone away and heads out to the floor to studiously ignore Mick and Brigid and to hear which fabulous wine the Hesketts are going to end their year with.
After her shift, Ayers greets the new year with a bottle of Schramsberg sparkling rosé, sitting on the west end of Oppenheimer Beach. Because of the wind, she can actually hear the music floating over from Jost. There’s a group of West Indians down the beach, drinking on the porch of the community center. At midnight, they sing “Auld Lang Syne.” Ayers texts Rosie. Happy New Year, my friend. Xo.
Rosie responds immediately. Love you, my friend.
At least Rosie loves her, Ayers thinks. That will have to be enough.
It’s ten o’clock the next morning when there’s a pounding on Ayers’s door. She hears Mick’s voice. “Ayers! Wake up! Open up! Ayers!”
She groans. Whatever he wants, she doesn’t have time for it. He sounds upset. Maybe he got fired, maybe Brigid broke things off, maybe the new year brought the crystal-clear realization that the biggest mistake he ever made was letting his relationship with Ayers go up in smoke.
***P/S: Copyright -->Novel12__Com