Irene needs physical contact and Huck needs it too, doesn’t he? And she’s a good-looking woman.
They walk down a long white hallway with a vaulted ceiling ribbed with exposed beams. There are rooms off to both sides, bedrooms. Huck peers into each one. They’re similar; it feels like a fancy hotel. At the very end of the hall is a closed door. Irene turns the knob. Locked.
“When we got here on Thursday, the house had been cleaned out,” Irene says. “Every personal item removed. Russ’s clothes, gone. All the papers from his office, gone. Someone came and took it all away, probably his business partner, Todd Croft. Ever heard that name?”
Huck shakes his head. “No.”
“This door is locked. And I was hoping you could force it open for me.”
“Okay.” Huck says. The door is solid wood, the handle is heavy. Nothing about this house is cheap. “Have you asked your sons?”
“I didn’t ask them,” Irene says. “And they obviously haven’t been blessed with any natural curiosity, because neither of them has noticed. I’m afraid of what we’re going to find inside.”
Huck presses against the door. He’s a big guy, but breaking down this door is beyond him; he’ll have to pick the lock. The nice thing about owning a boat for forty years is that he can tinker with the best of ’em. He is a world champion tinkerer.
“Do you have a hairpin?” he asks. “Or bobby pin?”
“I do,” Irene says. “Hold on.”
She’s back in a few seconds with an ancient, sturdy steel bobby pin that looks like it came straight from the head of Eleanor Roosevelt. It takes Huck a few moments of poking and twisting—he doesn’t have his reading glasses, and the wine has gone to his head somewhat—but then, click, he gets it. Lock popped. He hesitates before turning the knob, because he’s also afraid of what they’re going to find inside. More dead bodies? Assault rifles and refrigerators full of money? Who was this guy Russell Steele, and what was he into? Irene clearly doesn’t have the first idea.
Huck opens the door and the first words that come to him are those from “Sugar Magnolia,” Sunshine, daydream. It’s a bedroom with a huge white canopy bed decorated with turquoise and purple pillows. The wallpaper is a swirl of purple, green, and turquoise tie-dye. There’s a white powderpuff beanbag chair, a desk, and a dressing table. Maia would love this room, Huck thinks. Then he sees the letters painted on the length of one wall. M-A-I-A.
“Oh,” he says. “This is Maia’s room.”
Irene slips past Huck into the room and starts poking around. Hairbrush and pick on the dressing table, a bottle of shea butter lotion. A book on the nightstands entitled The Hate U Give. Huck thinks to speak up on behalf of Maia’s privacy; she’s only twelve, but she still deserves respect. Huck understands why the door was locked—it would have been impossible to “undo” this room on short notice.
How must Irene feel, knowing her husband decorated a room like this for his lover’s daughter? Is it salt on the wound? Huck supposes so, although he, for one, is happy to see that Maia had a safe space of her own in this house. He will be Maia’s champion to the end.
“There can’t be anything too important in here,” he says. “She hasn’t mentioned it.”
Irene spins around. “Do you have a picture of her?”
“Of Maia? Yes, of course.” Huck takes his phone out of his pocket. There she is, a close-up of her face, his screen saver.
Irene takes the phone from Huck and studies the photograph. He expects her to comment on how pretty Maia is, exquisite really, and elegant in a way that belies her years.
But when Irene looks up, her steel-blue eyes are spooked.
Like she has seen a ghost.
No, Huck thinks. Please, no.
He can’t have Ayers pick him up at the villa—he’s savvy enough to realize at least this much—and so he plans to have her pick him up at the Trunk Bay overlook.
“I don’t get it,” Ayers says. “Why don’t I just come to the house?”
For all he knows, Ayers has been to his father’s villa with Rosie. He isn’t willing to risk it. “I hate to be the bearer of bad news,” Baker says. “But my brother, Cash, also has a crush on you, and I think you coming to the house to pick me up for our romantic beach date would be… uncool and probably also unkind. I’ll be at the Trunk Bay overlook at ten.”
Baker isn’t completely lying: Cash does have a thing for Ayers. When Baker comes down dressed in swim trunks and a polo shirt, holding a couple of towels he lifted from the pool house, Cash shakes his head.
“I can’t believe you.”
“It’s not like we’re eloping. We’re going to the beach.”
“If you were eloping you’d be breaking the law. You’re married, Baker.”
Baker lowers his voice. He’s not sure if Irene is awake yet or not. “I told you, Anna left me. She’s in love with Louisa Rodriguez. Do you not remember having this conversation? Were you too drunk?”
“I remember,” Cash says. “But still.”
Still, Baker thinks. You’re jealous.
“She doesn’t know who you are, does she?” Cash asks. “Who we are?”
“No,” Baker says. “I haven’t told her.”
“If she knew who you were, she wouldn’t go out with you,” Cash says. “But she’s going to find out sooner or later. You should cancel now to save yourself the heartache.”
Baker feels an uncomfortable pinch of conscience. “Don’t tell me what to do.”
“Fine,” Cash says. “What time are you going to be home?”
“She has a previous commitment at three. So I’ll be home around then.”
“Previous commitment meaning another date?” Cash asks.
“She didn’t say.”
Cash takes two bananas from the fruit bowl, pulls them apart, and hands one to Baker. “I have an errand to run around then. Why don’t you have Ayers drop you at the ferry dock at that outdoor bar, High Tide? We can grab a drink and you can tell me about your date.”
Something about this sounds fishy. “What kind of errand?” Baker asks.
“The only kind of errand there is,” Baker says. “A boring one. I have to pick up something coming from the States.”
Money, Baker hopes. Cash was ironically named because he’s the brokest SOB Baker has ever known. However, meeting Cash at the ferry dock saves him from having to give Ayers another excuse about why she can’t come to the house.
“Okay,” Baker says. “I’ll meet you at High Tide at three. And I’ll tell you about my date.”
As Baker hikes up the unreasonably steep hill to the Trunk Bay lookout in the gathering heat of the morning—the trade winds, he’s learned, don’t kick in until the afternoon—he has upsetting thoughts. His father is dead and the list of questions surrounding his death is long, and nearly all of them are unanswered. On the one hand, Baker feels like he’s put in a good-faith effort. He’s made calls, he’s left messages, and he followed up with more messages. Short of hiring a private investigator—which isn’t a step his mother is ready to take—he has done all he can do. On the other hand, his efforts feel meager. He doesn’t deserve a day at the beach. He should be at home to support Irene, whether she wants it or not.
There are the additional issues of Ayers not knowing who Baker is, and—as Cash so emphatically pointed out—of the pesky fact that Baker is still married to Anna and hardly in a position to jump into a new relationship.
To all of this, Baker says: Too damn bad, I’m going anyway. It’s half a day of pleasure. Cash went out on Treasure Island; he has no right to point fingers.
Baker is panting by the time he reaches the lookout. He needs to get in shape! He has time to gaze down over the white crescent of Trunk Bay, backed by an elegant stretch of palm trees. He thinks about snapping a picture and sending it to Anna so she can show Floyd—half the fun of seeing something so breathtaking is letting other people know you’ve seen it—but he doesn’t want Anna to question his real reason for being here on St. John while she’s out saving people’s lives. And there’s no time, anyway, because at that moment, Ayers pulls up in her little green truck.
Baker folds himself into the passenger side. It’s small; he’s chewing his knees, even when he puts the seat all the way back.
“Your first ride in Edie,” Ayers says. “I’m so happy you fit. I was a little worried.”
He doesn’t fit—he has to hunch over and his thighs are cramping—but he’s so happy to be in Ayers’s presence, he doesn’t care. “Edie? That’s the truck’s name?”
“Short for Edith,” Ayers says. “Rosie named her. She had a pet gecko named Edith when she was a kid that was this color.”
“Gotcha,” Baker says. There was no room for his backpack up front, so he put it in the back, and he checks the side view nervously, expecting it to go flying out when Ayers takes the steep, twisting turns at breathtaking speed.