The air in Detective Dane Lloyd’s former office hung warm and heavy, like something already used. He glanced at the broken air-conditioner near the tiled ceiling and sighed. His headache was half from the heat and half the beer from last night’s celebrations. His own retirement party for crying out loud, but here he was again, all hands on deck since they called him in at five a.m.
The press already crowded against the doors to the building, international too. This boat case was the weirdest and biggest damn thing that had ever happened around here and he wouldn’t want to leave that crew to Detective Jenks. No way. Jenks was still green and over-excitable like one of those police dog pups they have running around in training. No, better that Dane was here himself to oversee it and give the press a statement if need be.
‘Again,’ he said.
Detective Jenks pushed a button on his PC. As the recording played, a white line danced against a black background; the lifeline of a voice. It was a man, his tone pitched high with desperation.
‘Mayday, mayday, mayday. This is The Serenity. Mayday. This is the Serenity, 3LXY573, MMSI number 503123456.’ Dane was always amazed that people remembered the standard format under stress.
‘If you can hear us you can save us, come in? We are thirty-eight point one-three degrees north, eighteen point three-nine degrees east off the coast of Honolulu. Assistance is required, I mean really goddamn required. There are one hundred forty-three people on board. There were. Oh God. The nature of the issue is…’
The captain tailed off. Dane listened hard. In the background he heard seagulls, the radio’s static hiss. Nothing out of the ordinary.
‘…the nature of the issue…is…’
There was a clattering as the radio was dropped, then the transmission ended. Dane had heard some chilling stuff in his time but the sound of that radio dropping took the cake.
Jenks fixed him with a wide-eyed look that makes Dane feel old. The man was wired alert.
Dane shook his head. ‘I think fourteen is the charm,’ he said. ‘Where is she?’
‘Interview room three, Detective.’
‘Okay,’ he said and pushed himself out of his chair with effort, ‘I’ll go.’
Jenks nodded, serious. ‘Coffees?’
‘Three sugars in both.’
‘Roger that. Sir,’ said Jenks and turned in his chair. ‘Do you like your watch?’
Dane smiled, showed him his wrist. It was his retirement present, a weighty gold watch from the whole team at the Hawaii County Police Department. It was inscribed with a reference to their traditional Thursday nights at the bar.
Time to get ‘em in, Detective Lloyd, it read.
Dane approached interview room three, and nodded to the guard.
‘Just couldn’t say goodbye to us, then, detective?’ the guard said.
It was a variation on a phrase he’d heard five times that morning. It wouldn’t be the last.
‘Nope,’ he said and opened the door.
The interview rooms were Portakabins, temporary since 1983. They were like slow-cookers at this time of day, but their windows faced the sea and its promise of fresh salt air. Inside, the girl they’d rescued from the yacht sat with her back to the view. Who the hell could blame her?
Dane gently sat down opposite at a Formica table that was decorated with the ghost rings of coffee cups past. He added two more. The girl looked up and held his gaze. There was something empty in her look, but that was normal for people who’d been through trauma. They broke a little, sometimes for a while, sometimes forever. She was young; twenty or so, and pretty. She had a shock of red hair, full lips, clear skin and probably a string of boys she never said hi to, who wrote bad poetry about her every night. In his day Dane would have been one of them.
She looked strong too, the kind of girl that carries an ordeal under her skin. Not local either; he guessed she was in Hawaii on vacation, though they hadn’t yet traced her ID. She should have gone to Vegas.
The girl eyed the cup. ‘You don’t like coffee?’ he asked.
She shrugged. ‘It’s hot in here.’
He reached over to an electric fan on a shelf and pushed a button. Warm air moved tendrils of her hair across her face.
‘You’re welcome.’ Dane leaned forward, his thick forearms sticking to the Formica. He reached to press play on a small silver recorder in front of him and recited the time and date to the machine.
‘Miss Rosemary Green. Do you know why you’re here?’ he said.
‘You think I killed a hundred and forty-three people.’
‘I don’t believe you did,’ said Dane. He glanced at the ocean through the window. It looked calmer than he felt. ‘But you told an officer on the rescue boat that you did. Now, you want to tell me why you said that?’
Her eyes were so blue they looked enhanced. He thought she might cry, but instead her face broke into a smile.
She straightened her mouth, seemingly with effort.
‘Sometimes my mouth turns the wrong way,’ she said.
Dane squinted at her a little. These Brits had a weird way of talking.
‘It’s okay,’ he said. ‘Tell me the whole thing from the beginning.’
‘That would take a very long time.’
‘We have time. I’m afraid the people from the boat aren’t going anywhere,’ he said, ignoring his headache. ‘And neither am I, Miss Green. So let’s have it.’
‘In the beginning,’ she said, almost to herself. ‘You don’t want the beginning. Noise, fire, heat; a maelstrom of fear, motion and collision—’
‘There was no fire,’ said Dane.
She smiled again. ‘Not on the boat. Don’t be so literal.’
Her manner was beginning to get him riled. Worse, she knew it. She stood to refill a plastic water cup from the machine, then sat down and drank deeply.
‘Okay,’ he said. ‘When I say the beginning let’s assume I mean the incident on the boat, not the beginning of time immemorial. Okay? The party yacht you got onto yesterday in Honolulu on the last night of your holiday. Start there.’
‘You’re assuming I was on the boat when it set off.’
Dane frowned. ‘You weren’t?’
‘I don’t go in for parties.’
‘Miss Green. This is a serious matter,’ he said. Was she being obtuse or just in shock?
‘A lot of people drowned last night. Let’s try again. When the rescue boat answered the call they found you alone on the deck. Everybody else was in the water. Everyone. You remember that?’
Rosie stared into his eyes. ‘Of course.’
‘Then do you remember why they were in the water?’
‘And why is that?’
She shrugged. ‘The ocean wanted them. I helped.’
Dane felt cold. The hair on his arms pinged and prickled as it was released from the sweat on his skin. In her blue eyes he could have sworn he saw something shift, an almost imperceptible movement.
‘You think it’s a lie,’ she said.
Dane cleared his throat. ‘I think you’ve had a very big shock, Miss Green.’
‘Okay,’ she said. ‘I joined the boat when it had left the dock, out of view of the shore. The party boat. All of them drinking, drunk, out of their minds on something, the things people put into their bodies to make them forget their bodies. Like life isn’t enough. Music played; tribal drums thumping so loud they pushed their swim-suited selves together to hear one another. Shouting declarations of love; lust abound, abundant.’
As she spoke her voice rose and fell musically and the room filled with her clipped accent, lilted with memory.
‘They were dedicated to pleasure,’ she said. ‘It consumed them, woke me and drew me to them. They had enough of life above; believe me they had more than enough. Don’t feel bad for them detective, they had the party of their lives.’
The sound of her voice made Dane’s blood rush to his ears, creating a momentary tinnitus whistle. When it cleared he remembered. Terrorists come in all shapes and forms. Could she really have had something to do with those one hundred and forty-three bodies stretched out, waiting for a drawer in the overcrowded morgue?
He looked away from her gaze, from her green-blue irises that wouldn’t settle, and focussed instead on a point between her perfect brows.
‘What happened to those people last night, Miss Green?’
The girl closed her eyes as though she enjoyed the stale Portakabin air from the fan as much as the sea breeze. A piece of hair the colour of a trawler’s rust curled over her mouth. She smiled. ‘They jumped.’
Dane waited for her to say more but she didn’t.
‘That’s it?’ he said. ‘They just got up and all jumped off the boat together?’
She opened her eyes and caught Dane with her stare.
‘Oh no,’ she said. ‘One by one. It’s much more graceful that way. The music came to an end and it was quiet, I mean really quiet. It’s best when the wind is down. You can hear them breathe when the ocean doesn’t. The water was so pretty, like a starlight mirror. When the first few went in there was panic. The others threw life buoys, screamed out names. But they soon realised no one would use them. Then they jumped too. The captain was the last to accept it. Captains almost always are the last.’
Dane glanced at the recorder on the table. He stood to pour himself some water.
‘For the record,’ he said. ‘Miss Green is smiling.’
‘It was something,’ she said. ‘You should have seen it, detective. It was beautiful.’
He gulped water down. He’d seen some crazy people in his time; Hawaii was goddamned full of them in tourist season. He once interviewed a man who’d married a dolphin on the same day a woman had cut her husband’s head off with a meat cleaver. People did extreme things in the face of madness. And then there were those who just thought they’d done things. The downright deluded.
‘Forgive me if I have a hard time believing you, Miss,’ said Dane. ‘People just don’t jump off boats, and I personally don’t think that you had anything to do with them drowning. Do you understand what could happen if you pursue this. If you’re found guilty of murder?’
He stood by the water cooler, his gaze drawn to the ocean. He could imagine the pleasure of water on his skin, the sound of the waves above him, fathomless depths below him. For a moment there was no girl, no room, no retirement. Just the beautiful blue-green water all around him.
‘Let me ask you a question,’ she said.
He pulled himself back with effort and sat at the table, cool cup in hand.
‘How many people were registered on the boat, including the captain?’ the girl asked.
Dane thought back to the Mayday call. He didn’t answer.
‘The numbers match don’t they? The corpses they found.’
Dane glanced at the sea again. It had never looked so beautiful.
‘How did you get onto the boat, Miss Green.’
She smiled. ‘Bingo,’ she whispered. ‘How do you think, detective?’
‘Speedboat I guess?’
She leaned forward, her eyes fixing him in place. ‘That would make sense.’
He tried to concentrate. ‘Why did you do it?’
‘Do what? Get onto the boat or make them jump?’
‘You know what I’m asking,’ he said.
She reached out and rested her cool hand on his. For some reason he let her.
‘I told you, the ocean wanted them. They were using up life, they had too much life. The sea wanted them. It wants you.’
She closed her eyes and mercifully released him from her gaze. It was a relief. It meant he could look at the ocean again. It really was breathtaking.
‘For the record,’ said Rosemary to the room. ‘Detective Lloyd is standing. He is walking to the door and opening it. For the record, Detective Lloyd is leaving the room.’
Dane left the door open wide and pushed past the guard. He took the steps without taking his eyes off the waves with their frothy edging; white horses that rolled themselves out on the slick flat sand. They pulled back and beckoned.
His feet took him. The warm tarmac underfoot became dust on the tarmac, then a layer of sand on hard ground, then soft hot sand that his tired work shoes sank into and were instantly filled with.
His fingers worked at his tie knot. Dane was bemused by the purposeless of it; a pointlessly restrictive accessory he’d worn for more than forty years. He draped it over a salt-bleached bench as he walked past.
By the time detective Dane Lloyd reached the beach filled with acorn-brown tourists, his feet were bare and his jacket and shirt on the ground long behind him. And as the first inch-high wave slid over his toes and heels he let out a long, shuddering breath of satisfaction.
Then he pushed on in.
Banner photo: By Hakilon (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons