I look up, still smiling at the sight, to see Charlie watching me with amusement. “You’re going to get real bored of the chickens, real fast. The rest of the world has pigeons. We have chickens.” He starts pulling the suitcase along and says over his shoulder, “At least pigeons don’t wake you up at 4 AM.”
“Why are there so many chickens?” I ask as he leads me toward a beat-up green Toyota Tacoma from the 80’s, a surfboard in the back.
“Hurricane Iniki swept through here in ninety-two, let them all loose. Here.” He grabs my other suitcase from me and swings it in the back with a grunt, shoving them under the board. He wipes his hands on his surf shorts and gestures to the passenger seat. “Hop on in.”
“Were you here for the hurricane?” I ask him as I settle in the seat, the raw leather hot against my hands as I adjust myself, stuffing coming out of the torn seams.
He starts the car, a beefy rumble from the engine. “Nah, I’ve only lived here for six years. Before that I was in Boulder, Colorado, dreaming the dream. You know?”
“And now you’re living the dream.”
“Yeah,” he says with a laugh. “This island will shake-up your soul, I’ll tell you that much.” He glances at me as he pays the parking fee to the attendant with dimes he scrounges out of a compartment on the dash. “Aren’t you here to live the dream?”
“What did Logan tell you?” I ask him,
“Shephard?” he says and the name jolts through me like a bullet. “Nothing. Our cook Hugo left a few weeks ago and it’s been a scramble to find a new one. Me and Johnny been working overtime. Not that that’s anything new.”
“You’re a cook?” I ask, surprised. I’m not sure what I thought Charlie was, maybe a surf instructor.
“Cook, errand boy, Jack of All Trades,” he says, rolling down the window as we pull onto the highway, my gaze stolen by the contrast of colors around me. The rich rusty earth juxtaposed with the the startlingly bright greens of the lush land, the ocean in the distance. “At the compound, everyone has more than one job. I wonder what yours will be.”
“That’s what we call it. Once you start working at Moonwater Inn, you don’t leave. We’re like a big family.”
Family. Another word that cuts like a knife.
“Or a cult,” he adds with a chuckle. “Depending how you look at it. I’ll tell you, finding a good permanent job on the island isn’t easy. Shephard treats us well. It’s a small hotel but it’s got a good reputation, and even if we’re all stretched thin sometimes doing side jobs, he makes sure we’re still living life. Ya know? That’s why people live here. To live the life. To take that away…might as well go off-island.” He glances at me over his shades. “So how do you know him, anyway? It’s not every day that someone comes all the way from the mainland. You from Seattle?”
“Chicago,” I tell him. “Changed planes in Seattle.”
“Bears, Cubs, Blackhawks?”
I grin. “Cubs.”
“This is your year.”
“Hope so. 2016 has been a shit-show.”
“Well you came to the right place to escape all that. I know how it is. Why live and work where there’s winter and cold and gloom and shitty people, busy, busy, busy, when you can live and work here?”
The thing is, I liked the winter and the cold and the gloom and the shitty people. Maybe I didn’t like it all the time, but it’s what I knew. Better the devil you know, they say, and I’ve lived in the Chicago area my whole life. I knew many devils and I knew them very well.
I turn my attention to the scenery whizzing past. I shouldn’t say whizzing since we aren’t moving very fast—the highway is two lanes for the most part and traffic has been steady—but it gives me a better chance to soak it all in.
Not that it helps.
To be honest, it feels like none of this is real. To the right of me, golf courses and resorts stretch out among palm-strewn grounds, to the left, verdant hills lead sharply to jagged peaks, the razorback cliffs lined with thick vegetation. When we cross a bridge going over a river, I get my first true glance at the ocean, azure waves pounding a golden shore, a few surfers bobbing out on the swells.
“How do you know Shephard anyway?” Charlie asks. “He a friend of yours?”
“Through family,” I tell him, my voice firm.
“Ah,” he says. “Then you know what you’re getting into.”
I give him a sharp look. “What do you mean?”
He raises his brows. “Oh, well, you know there are…were…two Logan Shephards, right?”