Thresh Read online
"Someone is missing?"
I didn't bother trying to hide the worry in my voice; something told me Lola wouldn't see it as a weakness. "Yeah, my buddy Duke. He's never out of communication. He's permanently attached to that fucking iPhone of his. He's even got this bulletproof case he had custom made, so he can take it out on ops without risking it getting blasted. For him to not answer anybody, let alone me? Not like him. Even if he's in the middle of getting it on with a girl, if one of us calls, he answers. Even if just to say he'll call back when he's done. Even Anselm and Lear are having a tough time getting a lock on him. It's worrying, and I don't worry easily."
"I'm sure he'll be fine. He's probably just doing the same thing we are."
"Yeah, but you don't know Duke. Subtlety is even less his strong suit than it is mine. And he may not even stop to check in with anyone before he goes on a rampage if he were to catch wind of someone following him. The dude is my equal in every way when it comes to wreaking ruin, but once he gets his ire up, it's almost impossible to rein him in. I learned early how to shut my shit down. Duke...doesn't have that off button. And it can blind him."
Lola's eyes were soft on mine. "You're really close to Duke, aren't you?"
I had to look away, because the expression on her face was doing something weird to my heart, and my worry for Duke was putting a lump in my throat. "Yeah. Everybody at A1S is family, and the only family I got, but Duke...he's the brother I never had."
"He'll turn up. He'll be fine."
Filipo was approaching on foot, waving for us to join him.
"He better, or Cain is gonna see a side of me he'll wish he'd left buried." I nodded at Filipo. "Time to go."
Since it was nearing sundown, Filipo insisted on taking us in himself, and I noticed Lola didn't argue very much.
The trip was slow, oppressively hot, and stultifying. Bugs bit me nonstop, and every channel looked the same as the last. Oh sure, it was beautiful enough, but not my thing. Give me mountains or white sand beaches and, preferably, the snow bunnies and beach bunnies to go with them. This endless slog through one identical waterway and channel after another, the banks sliding past on either side in sludge-slow increments, the motor buzzing weakly, our bow barely causing a ripple...?
I understood within ten minutes what Lola had meant by having to know exactly where you were going, though, because that's how fast I was lost. Filipo, however, obviously knew exactly where he was going, because he never hesitated when it came to turning into a minor offshoot, or cutting across a larger bay and into another tiny canal. When we hit larger, more open areas, Filipo would gun the motor a bit, which always caused me relief but, for the most part, he stuck to tiny, narrow channels, meandering our way slowly south and west. At least, that's how I interpreted our overall vector. It was hard to keep track.
After what I reckoned to be over an hour, and probably closer to two, Filipo slowed to a crawl, scanning the bank on our left side. When I say bank, I mean a wall of mangrove trees, unbroken, thick boughs waving softly in a slow hot breeze, the occasional tree arching out over the water. I don't know what Filipo was looking for, since there didn't seem to be anything to find, even as I scanned the same bank, looking for any kind of irregularity. Filipo just trawled along slow enough that I could have gotten out and crawled on my hands and knees faster, bum arm and all.
And then, seemingly at random, he swung the tiller of the boat to angle the bow toward the bank. As we got closer, I saw it: an opening in the trees, so narrow and so well obscured by low-hanging branches that you'd miss it if you weren't looking for it very carefully, and knew what to look for ahead of time.
As we cut toward the opening, Filipo cut the outboard motor and tilted it up out of the water, and then pulled a long, thick pole from a set of hooks spot-welded to the inside lip of the boat along the right side. The trees concealing the opening were swiftly approaching, despite our slow pace, and it wasn't until Filipo spoke up that I realized exactly how low those were.
"Best duck, uso," he called up to me, "or you get a nasty whack on the head."
I ducked, just in time, and even then the branches scraped and grabbed at my head as we slid under them. Once past, we found ourselves in a tree-shrouded tunnel, the water so shallow it was a wonder we didn't run aground. Filipo dug the pole into the water, still sitting, and used it to push us forward, pulling at the pole until he reached the end of it, when he would extend his grip, plant the end in the bottom of the waterway and push/pull us along.
"This little inlet is invisible from the air," Lola said. "Dad showed me once, when I was a kid. He had a friend take us on a helicopter ride, and we passed right over this spot. You wouldn't even know it was there."
I snorted. "Babe, when you said your dad lived remote, you weren't kidding."
She grinned. "Thresh, honey, just wait until you see this place. We still have a good ways to go yet."
She called me honey.
I tried not to read too much into that, but it was tough. I called her all sorts of stupid names, but that was just how I was. Words like honey and baby and sweetheart just sort of popped out when I was talking to a girl I was digging on, and I dug Lola hard. Anselm was right on that score.
We traveled via pole-driven locomotion for another ten or twenty minutes, and then the channel just sort of dead-ended in a copse of huge, ancient-looking mangrove trees whose roots extended away from the bank and into the water. Filipo just kept poling us toward the bank, and then when the prow scraped sand, he hopped out.
"Haul us in, yeah?" Filipo murmured. "I gotta see if Tai is around."
"Meaning, you'd best stay here until he finds Dad. Unannounced visitors, even me and Filipo, make Dad antsy." Lola had taken off her shoes and socks and was rolling her yoga pants up to her knees, and then she hopped out of the boat and into the water, helping me haul the boat up onto the bank.
There was another boat there on the bank, a long, narrow, shallow-draft dugout-style canoe, hand-carved from the trunk of a tree, with an outrigger float extending off to one side.
"That your dad's boat?"
Lola glanced at it. "Yeah. It's called a paopao." She smiled. "Dad showed me how to build them, actually. We made one together, one summer. It was fun. I did an essay on the process and got extra credit the next year."
I chuckled. "Suck-up."
She pulled a face. "Dad made me, as a matter of fact. Despite the fact that I have an M.D, I actually hated school."
"I still have the one you made, you know," came a honey-slow, cavernously deep voice, from off to my left. He had an accent, but it was soft, arching his vowels, only barely making his words sing-song, unlike Filipo's accent, which was pronounced and thickly Polynesian.
Lola glanced past me, and her face lit up. "Dad!"
She jogged past me and into the arms of a truly mammoth individual. Coming from me, that's saying a lot. He wasn't much over six-three, maybe six-four, but what he lacked in height, he made up for in sheer bulk. Lola had said he'd been a bodybuilder, and I believed it. Dressed in a pair of knee-length cut-off khakis and a pair of water shoes and nothing else, I could see he'd lost the ultra-sharp definition of a bodybuilder, but had clearly packed on additional mass in the form of sheer muscle.
Every inch of his upper body from wrist to wrist, across his shoulders and down his chest to his diaphragm was covered in intricate tribal tattoos done in thick black lines and angles and whorls, and the designs continued down beneath the waist of his shorts, and reappeared on his calves, ending at his ankles. He had a scuffed and battered kukri in one hand, and a modern fishing rod and a string of more than a dozen huge fish in the other.
His voice as he spoke to his daughter was even, calm, affectionate.
But when his gaze fixed on me...
He was not happy to see me.
"Who is this, Lola La'ei Solomon?" His voice, now, was cold. Still quiet, still calm, but...frigid.