Special Notice: PD Publishing will have in print shortly a new novel of mine that has never been posted. You can order Gold Mountain at <http://www.pdpublishing.com/>
by Anne Azel
Chapter One: Mudbugs and Pirates
Gerald was a sleepy farm town snuggled under a blanket of hot, humid Texas sun. Everything there was slow: slow meals, slow talk, slow change. Even the stray hound ignored the occasional dusty pickup passing by and lay contentedly in the shade of the massive oak in the town square.
Heat rose off the pavement in a shimmering veil. In pretty, well tended gardens, honeysuckle, sweetpea and daisies buzzed with hidden honey bees and cicadas. Moss hung motionless from the trees and the occasional lizard scurried from sight beneath a rock. Like many of the old towns of the south, there were dividing lines of colour. To the north, prosperous homes were neat and well kept. American flags hung from houses or cement statues of bald eagles sat in gardens. Here there was pride in the history of the community and the family. White clapboard, white picket fences, white America.
To the south, closer to the shipping docks, refineries and fishing fleets, was the black community. Here there was colour, sound and family but not money. Homes clung together for support. A community weather beaten and socially beaten, they clung to the edge of society. They still believed here in the American Dream but not in their chance of living it.
Farther out of town, hidden behind scrubby patches of oak, pine and tallow were the shacks of the field workers. Mexicans without citizenship, blacks without hope, they followed the seasons: planting, tending, harvesting just as the slaves had done two hundred years before.
Jay Regaud slipped her sun glasses on as she stepped out of the ShooFly Diner. The heat wrapped around her like an oven mitt. For a few minutes, she enjoyed the radiant warmth that sunk to bones chilled by the air conditioning of the diner. Soon, however, the sticky humidity settled between her breasts, trickled down her back and pooled damp and hot between her legs. Her tailored khaki shirt and shorts clung to her well toned and tanned body. She could understand why, when a Texan said "shit," they drew the sound out so that the word became three syllables. It took a long swear word to describe this heat.
Jay walked back to her old Chevy pickup. In the back of it, an equally old dirt bike lay wedged between a truck tool box and a knapsack. She slid with a grimace onto the hot seat. She cranked down the driverís window and then stretched her long, lean body over to crank down the passengerís side window too. Maybe she had gone too far with the role playing in buying this piece of junk. Air conditioning here was not a luxury. It was a breathing apparatus, a scuba tank of cool, fresh air in a humid sea of scalding atmosphere. She cranked over the engine and cringed as the old Chevy, with a backfire of smoke, started rocking to its own variation of all pistons firing.
Time to put her plan into gear. Sheíd spent three years researching and now it was time to motor forward. She rolled down main street heading towards Rouge Island.
Mary-Lou Marenette flung the wrench across the barn with a growl of frustration. It bounced off the old planks with a thud and dropped to the bales of hay below.
"Maybe, if yer tried tuning her over again, Mary-Lou. She might start ifíin she had a mind." Bubba slipped off the tractor seat and ambled over to pick up the wrench with a big, blue-black mitt of a hand. Bubba thought all mechanical things were just people with gear parts and if you waited long enough they either got better or died.
Mar wiped the sweat off her forehead with the back of her hand. Her red hair hung limply or stuck to her fair skin annoyingly. She looked at her hired man and smiled. "Iím thinking, Bubba, this tractor falls into your dead category."
Bubba walked over and handed the wrench back to the small, young woman.
"Thanks." Mar blushed. "I shouldnít have lost my temper. It does no good."
"Itís the red hair, I reckon. Red heads always have the temper. Yer old dad could curse somethiní awful when he got riled and just about anything could get him in that state." Bubba looked at the tractor with a calculating eye. "Now ya got that outta yer system, it might not hurt to try gettiní this thing goiní again. The durn thing is barely twenty year old. Why, at that age, Iíd work all day just to limber up for the dance at the community hall."
Mar laughed and poked her old friend affectionately. "Iíll try, Bubba. How about you see to feeding the cattle some hay and then head home. Martha will be wanting to head into town for her groceries this afternoon."
Bubba smiled, glad to be given the chance to leave a bit early. "Iíll do that. Now donít you be workiní to all hours. You just put these bits and pieces back on and let Ďer rest over night and sheíll be fine in the morniní."
Mar left Bubba to load the hay on the old Ford pickup and went back to trying to set the spark plugs. The afternoon wore on. Finally, she sighed and wiped the tears of frustration from her cheeks as she leaned her head on the wheel fender. She was so tired.
"Praying over them rarely helps. I understand the good Lord helps those who help themselves."
Mar jumped and turned to see a tall woman with broad shoulders and a lean, hard body standing in the door way of the shed.
"Sorry, I didnít mean to startle you. I thought youíd have heard my truck a mile away. It needs a new exhaust system, among other things."
The petite woman by the tractor wore overalls and a blue t-shirt. Grease seemed to be her only choice in make-up and her red hair had been controlled by pulling it into a ponytail through the back of her Dallas Cowboys cap.
Mar wiped her hands on a rag and walked over. "Can I help you?"
"No, but I might be able to help you. Iím a good mechanic."
Jay smiled. "Well, not licensed, but in the Navy you quickly learn how to fix almost anything. Besides, some people have a way with animals. I have a way with motors. They talk to me."
Mar looked back at the old tractor. "This one has been refusing to speak for a week and we need it for cutting hay."
"Do you want me to have a look?"
"Who are you?"
Mar looked liked like sheíd been hit. "Oh. I wasnít expecting you until next month."
"I had business down here and just took the chance to drop in and see if I could look the place over."
A greasy hand nervously pushed back some escaping hair, leaving an extra smudge of black on Mary-Louís forehead. "Iím not sure yet, Ms. Regaud, if I even want to sell."
The lazy smile hovered again at the corner of Jayís lips. "So I heard. I assume you are Mary-Lou Marenette."
"Forgive me. Iím forgetting my manners. Yes, Iím Mar Marenette." Mar went to offer a dirty hand, then thought better of it and wiped it on her work pants instead. "Please come up to the house. Iím sure you could do with a drink."
"That would be nice. Itís a real hot day."
"Seasonal for this time of year."
They settled in the shade of the verandah where a gentle breeze off the river cooled them and surrounded them with the scent of rich, damp earth and the sea. Jay sipped her iced tea with relief. "How far are we from the Gulf here?"
"Not far. About five miles. Rouge island is one of the many islands that fills the mouth of the river."
Jay nodded. "Can you bring a boat up this far?"
"Oh sure, when the tideís in, but youíd be stuck once it went out."
Jay nodded and fell silent. She looked across the flat land with calculating eyes.
Mar pulled nervously at a loose thread in the pillow, not sure whether she should open the discussion about property rights or not.
"I guess we are related then."
Jay snapped back from her thoughts and steel grey eyes focussed on the woman beside her. "Very distantly. We share the same great, great, great grandfather on our fatherís side. That would have been Harley Lee Regaud."
Mar nodded. "Yes, his name is in the family Bible. As I understand it, one of his eight sons, Joe-Bob, left the family farm and moved out west during the Ď49 gold rush. The family sort of lost touch after that, which is why my ancestor was never able to buy your familyís share in the land. My great, great grandfather, Sonny Marenette, married Gladys Regaud, one of Harleyís daughters and bought out the Regauds except for Joe-Bobís share. Is there still family out in California?"
"Just me now."
Mar smiled mischievously. "And did great, great, Uncle Joe-Bob strike gold?"
"Yes, he did."
Marís eyes got big. "He did?"
"A small claim. It made him enough to start up as a gold smith. I guess the love of gold is in the genes."
"Are you a jeweler then?"
"No, but my father was. I joined the Navy."
"Oh. Are you still serving?"
"No. As I told you in my letter, as the only surviving member of Joe-Bobís family, I own one eight of the property."
Mar fiddled with her glass and licked her lips before responding. " I saw a lawyer after I got your letter. Heís not sure you can claim inheritance. My family has worked this land a long time."
Jay smiled. It was the smile of an opponent enjoying the challenge rather than that of a friend. "True, they have. But my family has always paid the taxes on our share of the land. And that makes me the legal owner under Texas law."
Green eyes narrowed a fraction and the mouth tightened. "Well, I guess weíll have to see about that. In your letter you made the offer to buy me out."
"Iím looking at that truck you are driving and wondering where you are going to get the money."
"Donít you worry, Ms. Marenette. Iíve got enough money saved from my Navy days to make a fair offer. There was no point in wasting what I got on a new truck when an old one would get me here just as well. Now I figure we can continue throwing threats and innuendoes at each other or we can call a truce and just wait to see how things work out. "
There was a momentís hesitation. "Okay, a truce, for now."
"Good. Now would you like me to change and have a look at your tractor? I really do know engines."
"Whatís the catch?"
Jay laughed. "You sure pegged me quickly, lady. Iíd like dinner and Iíd like to stay around here for a few days. Get to know the old homestead if I can. Well?"
Mar shrugged but managed a smile. "You might own one eighth of everything, so I guess you have that right."
"I guess I do. Iíd better get that tractor fixed then. A broken tractor isnít worth shit."
Mar looked shocked but said nothing. Swearing was not something a Texas lady did.
Jay worked late into the night by the single bare bulb that hung from a wire from the shedís beams. It cast a cone of yellow light around the tractor and beyond shadows played at being monsters among the old farm equipment and hay bales. Mosquitoes and moths flew in and out of the light or came close enough to Jay to meet a quick death. Crickets out in the grass filled the night air with a continual buzz and occasionally a bug frog croaked out a warning.
Jay slapped at a mosquito and then wiped the sweat from her face with her sleeve. The tractor had proven to be more of a challenge than she had realized. She felt cranky and tired. With a sigh, she swung up on the metal seat and turned the key. The old engine cranked over several times and then caught, bouncing noisily on the spot. Exhaust bellowed from the pipe and, as Jay stepped on the clutch and put it in gear, the tractor leaped forward, choked, caught again and rolled ahead with a great groan of protest. Jay fought the wheel all the way over to the house. Left on its own, the tractor would keep bearing right.
Mar came to the door as Jay turned the tractor off and waited for the engine to stop coughing.
"Well, I donít believe it. I never thought Iíd be laying eyes on this old thing in motion again."
Jay grinned and raised an eyebrow cockily. "Sheís moving but I need to work on her more yet. There are a few parts that I need to replace before Iíd be prepared to drive her out of sight of the shed."
"Oh, just about everything but the seat, and it could do with a cushion."
Mar laughed. "Well, the cushion I can probably manage, but how much else will be limited to what is left in the farm budget."
"Is that dinner I smell?"
"Come on in and wash up," Mar smiled, holding the screen door open.
Like many southern women, Mar could set a good table. Dinner was chicken-fried steak covered in white gravy and served with creamy mashed potatoes and fresh, crisp green beans. They washed it down with iced tea and they finished the meal with pecan pie. Jay could barely move by the time sheíd cleaned her plate. It had to have been one of the best meals she had ever eaten.
"I thought you said we were having chicken. That was beef."
"Lady, here in Texas if it isnít the best cut of prime rib or a two inch t-bone, itís not beef. That was a steak cutlet, pounded to tenderize it, and soaked in garlic and beer before the batter was put on and it was deep fried."
"God, if this is Texas cooking, Iím willing to let my arteries clog. Iíll meet my maker with a contented smile on my face."
"Iíll take that as a compliment."
Jay leaned forward, placing her elbows on the table as she leaned her chin on her hands. "You seem more at home in the kitchen than out on the fields. Why are you trying to work a farm this size by yourself?"
Green eyes flashed with annoyance and then turned dull with sadness. "Mom passed away nine years ago, dad two years ago, just after I married."
"Married?" The question had popped out unintended. That was an important piece of information that Jay had not known.
"I never got the chance to change my name. Billy was killed in a car crash a few weeks later. A drunk driver."
Mar blinked back tears. "Billy and I, we grew up together. His parentsí farm is just north of here. I guess it was just understood that weíd marry. We were good friends."
"Friends? Thatís all?"
"There wasnít much time for love to grow."
"Anyway, I was left with the farm. Thatís all Iíve got. Well, now there is you and an eighth less."
"I might be worth that eighth. Did you ever think of that?"
Mar got up and started clearing dishes. "You have a way with old engines, Iíll give you that, but what do you know about running a farm like this? Nothing. At least I grew up here and know what I have to do."
"Itís a rice farm, isnít it? So you flood the paddies and grow rice."
Mar snorted. "Yeah, we do that and then we tend the fields and harvest and the following year weíll flood different acreage and raise craws in the original fields instead. We run a herd of cattle too, just to diversify our product."
Mar shook her head, crossed her arms and looked at the woman still sitting at the table. "You know anything about farming and Iím not sure you care so Iím really wondering, Ms. Regaud..."
"Iím really wondering, Jay, why you want this land so badly."
Jay smiled. "Iím just sentimental, I guess."
Mar laughed. "What? For two hundred acres of flat mud? Or is crawfishing in your genes like gold?"
"Well, I did run away to the sea. It was the thought of Mermaids though, I think."
"Wait here." Mar disappeared into the livingroom and returned with a load of magazines with the less than catchy title of Texas Rice Farming. ĎHereís some bedtime reading for you."
"Magazines are not what I usually take to bed," Jay grinned and enjoyed the rush of red that flooded Mary-Louís face.
"Ah yes, well, this will have to do. If you are going to stick around here for a while youíd better start learning."
"Kernel smut: The black soot menace. Controlling winter run-off with flashboards. Crawfish purging pros and cons," read Jay, as she shuffled through magazines. "I can see my nights are going to be packed full of excitement."
Mar smiled wickedly. "Enjoy."
The next day, Mar took Jay around the farm in her jeep.
"These field are planted with rice. We had problems with erosion, so we have put in a new pipe system and flashboards. We actually let the winter water sit on the fields. The layer of still water prevents erosion from heavy spring rains or flash floods. Then we can slowly drain water off and use it as we need to. That has really helped but it wasnít a cheap undertaking.
"The key to rice farming is to make sure you keep checking the nitrogen levels. If it gets too high, kernel smut develops."
"I was reading about that last night, Mary-Lou, something about planting soy after."
"Call me Mar. Yes, thatís right. Crop rotation not only helps balance nitrogen levels but it also helps reduce insects."
She drove on down the dirt lane that separated huge flooded beds of rice. "We use grass buffers to reduce erosion too. Youíll note here the levees are higher. Weíd like eventually to make them all higher. That would allow us to raise craw on more acreage. The water has to be deeper than weíd normally use for rice so the craw boats can be pulled through. These beds are all raising crawdads."
"Crawfish, craws, crawdads and mud bugs, theyíre all the same thing."
"Oh. Where do you get them?"
"They are naturally in the ground. As the ground dries out, youíll see little mud chimneys where they have dug deeper into the wet mud below. We flood the field and the rice stubble provides a great place for the micro-organisms that the craw feed on to grow. Then weíll set traps similar to lobster pots to catch them."
Mar pointed. "Those white cylinders out there are the tops of the traps. We use PVC pipe so the crawdads canít crawl out. The traps are emptied each day."
Jay nodded, starting to realize just how much Mar knew about farming and how technical farming really was.
Next, they visited the cattle pasture where fallow land was used for grazing while it rested. "We actually harvest the rice plants to make chop for the cattle. By adding processed feed to the chop we can increase growth and weight of our cattle considerably. We try not to waste any resource on the farm."
"Whoís we?" The question sounded almost suspicious on Jayís lips.
"Bubba, me and the five to six seasonals we have working here. Youíll probably meet Bubba over at the drying hampers. He started out doing odd jobs around the farm as a boy for my dad. Now heís more of a field manager. Iíd have never been able to hang on here without him. Heís great."
"Oh." Jay didnít like that there was another influence on the farm. Bubba could be trouble.
Caught up in sharing her work, Mar didnít notice the change in Jayís attitude. She drove on to where the drying hoppers and crawfish processing barn were located, stopped the jeep in front of the barn and swung out.
"Once the craw have been caught they are brought here to this barn and put in big tanks of clean well water. That allows time for the mud to wash off them and for them to purge the mud from their systems," explained Mar, as she pushed the heavy barn door back.
"You mean shit it out of them."
"I was trying not to be so crude."
Mar went over to a massive cooler and opened the door for Jay to look in. "Once the craw are cleaned, we put them in thirty-five pound bags and store them here."
"You freeze them to death?"
"No. At forty degrees Fahrenheit, they go into a state of hibernation. We keep them like that for shipping. Because we go through the process of cleaning and purging, our crawdads donít have to be soaked in salt or vinegar before cooking."
"What do they taste like?"
"Youíve never had crawdaddies?"
"Youíre in for a Texas treat."
Jay smiled wickedly and looked into her petite guideís emerald green eyes. "I sure hope so."
Mar licked her lips nervously and quickly headed for the barn door. Jay followed more slowly whistling softly.
Jay climbed in to find Mar sitting rigidly behind the wheel.
"Iíll thank you to remember that this is Texas, Ms. Regaud."
Jay laughed. "Iím an officer and a lady, Ms. Marenette. Your virtue is safe. But now we both know where we stand."
Mar put the jeep in gear without another word and swung the wheel violently as they did a U turn and headed over to the hampers where Bubba now stood watching them. He was a mountain of a man and Mar looked fragile and tiny next to him.
"Bubba, this is Jay Regaud. I told you about her letter. She was down here on business and decided to spend a few days on the farm."
"Good day. I hope youíre enjoyiní yer tour of Rouge Island Farm."
"Iím showing Jay the business side of farming. She was under the impression that we just planted the rice in paddies and waited for the Good Lord to provide."
Bubbaís laugh started low and bubbled to the surface like Old Faithful going off. "Well now, thereíd be a little more to it than that."
"So Iíve discovered."
Bubba pointed a thumb back over his shoulder.
"These here are where the rice is dried. It gotta be done right or the yield and quality are low. Iíd better get back to checkiní it. Mary-Lou, you call me iffíin you need any help." Bubba looked down at Jay meaningfully and then stalked off.
"I think I was just threatened ever so politely."
"Iím not a threat."
"That remains to be seen. Optimum harvest conditions are when the average rice kernel is at a eighteen to nineteen percent moisture level. Then we harvest. Once the rice is in the bins we want to reduce the temperature and moisture as quickly as possible without over drying. This system actually monitors the exterior humidity and temperature and fans will automatically come on to maintain the interior environment we need. By maintaining an EMC of 12.5 %..."
"Equilibrium Moisture Content."
"We can maximize quality and by chilling the rice to sixty degrees Fahrenheit, we can reduce loss to insects. Most insects in this area become inactive at that temperature."
"No, just on overload and damn hungry. Itís almost two oíclock. Would it be inappropriate of me to invite you to lunch in Gerald?"
Mar hesitated and then seemed to relax. "No, no that would be nice and while we are there we could buy a few parts for the tractor at the scrapyard."
"If you plan to farm, youíd better get used to pinching pennies."
In Gerald, Mar did the ordering for the two of them. "Jasmine, weíll have two plates of your beans and mudbugs and a couple of ice teas, please."
"Do I want to try this?"
"This is the southern experience. Bubba will tell you that Jasmineís beans and mudbugs are about as close as you can get to heaven this side of the pearly gates."
"Iíd better enjoy them then, because I hear my kind are lucky to get even a close encounter with Saint Peterís pearly gates."
"Can we change the topic?"
"Does it make you uncomfortable?"
"No...Yes...Lets talk about something else."
Jay laughed. "Okay, tell me what Iím going to eat."
"Well Jasmineís recipe is a secret, of course, but basically she cooks ham, crawfish tails and pinto beans together for most of a day and then adds rice, hot peppers, onions, garlic and smoked sausage and simmers it until everything is cooked real well. Sheíll serve it with cornbread. Itís pretty rich but nothing tastes as good."
"I think I should have put my California stomach in training for this visit. My idea of fish for dinner is sushi."
Mar crunched up her nose. "Wait until you try a mess of beans and craws. There will be no going back."
Later, Jay had to admit it had been a fine meal. They lingered over the remains and talked about all sorts of things, discovering that they had more in common than they thought they would. Then they headed out to the scrap yard to get a distributor and gear box for the tractor. Mar had already changed the battery and points and with these parts and a proper wheel aliment, Jay was confident that she could get the old tractor operational again.
They headed back to the island feeling contented and happy with their day.
The evening drew in around the old clapboard farm house like a draw string of darkness. Mar switched on lamps and busied herself with farm paper work at the wooden harvest table in the kitchen. Jay snooped about the house stopping at each picture and looking at it intently. Many were old photos of relatives. One in particular had caught her eye: a lean man wearing a stylish hat and coat of the early 1800s.
"Thatís Jean Lafitte," a voice came from behind her.
"Hero of New Orleans."
"He was a pirate though."
"Not in these parts. He fought to protect the South. He might have lived outside the boundary of the law but he always was a good American who was there when his country needed him."
"He was a slaver."
"Yes. And Iím embarrassed that our ancestor could have held such views and participated in such an ugly part of Americaís history. They were different times. In many ways ignorant times. I try to focus on the good things he did. You seem to know a lot about him."
"Only a little. Tell me about him."
They settled on the porch swing and rocked gently as Mar explained the legend of Lafitte.
"Jean Lafitte was so famous, or perhaps notorious, in his time that Lord Byron actually wrote a poem about him. He wrote, he linked one virtue to a thousand crimes. I donít know if that is a true assessment. I think Lafitte had many virtues, not least among them was that he was a loyal and brave American. I canít deny though that there was an ugly side to his life."
"Tell me more," Jay encouraged softly.
"They called him the King of Barataria, which was the name of the area he explored. He was also known as The Corsair, the Terror of the Gulf and the Hero of New Orleans." Mar laughed. "I guess like most people he was a mixture of good and bad.
"There was no doubt that he was a pirate. Although he never attacked American vessels, three times the American government charged him with piracy and each time he managed to charm his way into an exoneration. There is no doubt that the War of 1812 battle for New Orleans was won by the South because Jean Lafitte and his men came to the aid of Andrew Jackson."
"A rogue with a heart of gold?"
Mar considered. "No. He never saw himself as a pirate, just as a Southern gentlemen doing his part to maintain the life style of the deep South. He hated the label of pirate and always referred to himself as a privateer."
"So where was Barataria?" Jay probed, leaning back, her eyes closed but her attention on every word Mar said.
"The swamps of the New Orleans area. It was a pretty wild and virtually unexplored place at that time. Lafitte was able to take a collection of poor fishermen, sailors, smugglers and adventurers and mould them into a force of a thousand fighting men and privateers. His plundering provided not only slaves but much needed supplies for the South in those days. Heíd actually go from place to place along the Mississippi deltas providing for the small communities that the government didnít care about. People here havenít forgotten that.
"He admired the United States very much, although some say he was from France and others from Haiti. What is known is that he knew this coast line like the back of his hand and it was he who protected and provided for the Cajuns and Creoles with his stolen black market goods."
"So you admire rogues do you?" Jay couldnít help but ask.
"Well, no, but well, Lafitte was different. He was supposed to be very much the Southern gentleman and they say the ladies loved him."
Jay laughed. "Iím sure."
Mar ignored her and went on with her story. "Anyway, after the Louisiana Purchase, the new governor had Lafitte imprisoned several times and his home, somewhere in the swamps and bayous of the New Orleans area, was burnt to the ground. But when the territory and New Orleans were under attack it was Lafitte and his men who arrived to fight . I guess one of the reasons Lafitte is so interesting is that he was such a complex individual. On the one hand, legend indicates he was a ruthless, violent pirate with no regard for the laws of the sea. On the other hand, he was supposedly very charming, well read, and caring of those with whom he identified. He was a dangerously seductive man, I imagine."
"I think I like him."
"You would," Mar laughed. Then she went on with her tale. "There is a building still in New Orleansí French Quarter called Lafitteís Blacksmith Shop that was supposedly one of his bases of operation. But in 1817, he was forced out of New Orleans and established himself on an island near todayís Galveston, Texas only about fifty miles from here."
"So is this where he enters our family history?"
"Yes. He bought a home there from the French pirate Louis-Michel Aury and named it Maison Rouge."
"Rouge, like in Rouge island?"
Mar shrugged. "Around that time he married Madelaine Regaud but before long the Americans sent out the man-of-war USS Enterprise to force him out again. The story is that Lafitte refused to fight the Americans, packed up his fortunes and left, never to be heard of again."
"What kind of ending is that?"
Mar laughed. "Some say he died a few years later in a hurricane but no one seems to know where heíd been before that. In the 1950s, a diary appeared in the hands of supposedly one of his descendants that said Lafitte had taken his wifeís name and had lived the life of a gentlemen in St. Louis until 1840. Who knows. What I can tell you is that the family legend has it that this land once belonged to his wife and that after leaving Galveston, he came here and buried a good part of this treasure for safe keeping."
"And youíve never looked for it?"
Mar snorted. "This coast is loaded with stories of pirates, curses and hidden treasure. Rice and crawfish might not be very romantic but itís a better living than chasing pipe dreams and hidden pirate gold."
"Are you sure?"
"Positive. Thatís not the passion of gold fever I see in your eye is it, Jay?"
"No, itís the passion caused by moonlight, the southern air and the beauty of my hostess."
Mar jumped up immediately and backed away. "Time for bed."
"My thoughts exactly."
"Nothing. Good night."
Mar scooted into the house and Jay remained on the porch swing, whistling softly to herself as she listened to the sounds of Mar getting ready for bed in the room above her head. Much later, she took the metal detector and shovel from the locker in the back of the pickup and headed out into the fields.
Chapter Two: Ghosts from the Past
Jay was in the kitchen making coffee when Mar came down the next morning, her hair all neatly tied back and wearing a pretty cotton dress. Jay gave her the once-over and smiled.
"You look cute. So, whatís the occasion?"
"You donít go to church?"
Jay leaned on the counter sipping her coffee contentedly. "God and I have cursed each other into the low levels of hell a long time ago and now pretty much leave each other alone."
Mar looked shocked. "Iíll say a pray for you then."
Jay couldnít help herself. She put her cup on the counter walked over and kissed Mar gently on the cheek. "Thanks."
Marís hand came up and covered the spot where she had been kissed as if it was scalded. "Oh!"
Then she was gone. Jay stood in the doorway smiling as she watched Mar climb into her jeep and head down the road.
The smile disappeared with Mary-Louís dust trail. Jay was all business now. She took her small digital camera from her pocket and went into the livingroom where Mar kept a desk and file cabinet in one corner. First, she went through the desk and then the file cabinet. Mar was meticulously neat and organized. The file labelled "Family History"gave her much of what she needed. Another labelled "Deeds and Maps" was also photographed. One map, from the early 1800s, clearly showed the original island boundaries and family lots. Jay hoped she could superimpose this image over the modern one she had found of the island.
By the time Mar got back from church, Jay was in her overalls, working on the tractor in the shed. An hour later, Jay was called in for lunch. There was fresh avocado salad, spicy tacos and, for dessert, ice cream pie.
"Iím going to get so fat staying here," groaned Jay, pushing back from the table.
"On the farm, we like to have our big meal at noon and a lighter meal at night."
"Youíre an excellent cook."
"Thank you and Iím a good farmer too," responded Mar, her eyes sparking over the memory of the remark Jay had made the first day theyíd met.
Jay blushed. "Yes, you are. I learned a lot yesterday, at least enough to know to keep my mouth shut about things I donít understand."
"And a greater respect for farmers too, I hope."
"That too. Well, Iíd better get back at that tractor. I think if I donít run into any major problems I can get her up and running by nightfall."
"That would be great. We sure need that old thing for harvest. Oh! I meant to tell you. I met someone at church today who asked about you. He said he knew you from your naval days. His name was Blackwell. He had flowers put on the altar in memory of his late mother. Wasnít that caring? He seemed like such a nice man. Heís interested in the land for sale north of us and plans to retire here and farm."
Jay stiffened. "Lance Blackwell?"
"Why yes! So you do know him?"
"Stay away from him, Mar. Heís bad news."
Mar looked annoyed and started cleaning up the dishes.
"He seemed very nice to me. A Christian and very well spoken, not like some I know," she added for good measure.
Jay walked over and looked down at Mar with stormy eyes. "I might be a queer and a sinner in your eyes but Iím a damn sight better person than Blackwell. Iím warning you, Mar, stay away from him."
The chin went up. "And if I donít?"
"Then you are a damn fool. Iím going to work on the tractor." The screen door slammed shut behind Jay and Mar, left alone in the kitchen with the dishes, stuck out her tongue at the retreating figure.
Some time later, Mar took a cold drink out to Jay to try to ease the tension between them but Jay wasnít in the shed, nor had the tractor been worked on. Jayís old Chevy was missing too.
In town, Jay clicked off her cell phone with a satisfied grin on her face. From her parking spot under a shady tree, she watched the Gerald Hotel entrance. Lance Blackwell walked up the sidewalk and entered the lobby. Jay gave him half an hour and then got out of her truck and crossed the street to the Grand Gerald .
Entering the old hotel, she walked across the old stately lobby to the counter.
"Hello. Lovely day, isnít it. Iím Jay Regaud. Iím staying out at Rouge Island Farm."
"Certainly, Miss Regaud. We heard you were staying with Mary-Lou. What can we do for you?"
"I wasnít sure if Iíd be staying at the farm or here at the hotel, so I did leave the hotelís address for some of my associates out on California. Could I trouble you to see if any mail was left here for me."
"Of course, Miss."
The clerk checked a pigeon hole where several letters sat.
"No, I donít see anything."
"Well, I actually was expecting a parcel. Could you just check in the back and see if it was left there?"
While the clerk was gone, Jay went around the counter, checked the computer and got Blackwellís room number. She was back on the other side looking at the hotelís menu by the time the clerk came back.
"Dear me, you just canít rely on the postal service like you used to."
"Iíll keep my eye out for it, Miss Regaud."
Jay headed down towards the back entrance and then quickly disappeared up the backstairs.
She climbed to the third floor and found the right room. It was a simple Yale lock. First looking both ways first to see no one was about, she pulled out a slim piece of metal from her wallet and wedged it into the crack between the doorframe and the door. Carefully, she wiggled the metal until it slipped behind the tongue of the lock. With a quick sideways push, the tongue drew back and the door popped open.
Jay slipped into the room. Blackwell was asleep propped up on a few pillows, the TV going. Jay closed the door and sauntered over to the sleeping man. She quietly pulled a chair up, swung her legs up and dropped her boots on his groin.
"What the fuck!" Blackwell woke with a start looking pale and pained.
"Hi, big boy. Want to fuck?"
Blackwell pushed her feet off and covered his equipment with a hand. "Regaud, you bitch. I shoulda known youíd be crossing my path soon, like the piece of bad luck shit you are."
"Now, now, Mr. Blackwell. Is that the way a good Christian man should speak in front of a lady?"
"Lady? Shit. Youíre just a freak of nature."
"Youíre just jealous because I get more girls than you do. What are you doing here?"
Blackwell pulled himself farther up the bed and poured himself a glass of cheap red wine from a bottle beside his bed. There was no sign of Marís gentlemen now. Lanceís features were course and angry. His room a mess of take out food containers, dirty clothes and empty bottles.
"A mutual friend of ours told me you were coming down here to work. So I decided to pay you a social visit, seeing as we are old friends."
"No informant of yours is a friend of mine."
"Iím by nature a curious man. I said to myself, what would Jay Regaud be doing in a hick town like Gerald. So I do a little reading and discover that there is all sorts of legends about pirates and treasure around here. Lafitte, Aury, even Drake himself all worked out of this area. So I figure you had a lead."
"So you are poaching again, are you? I thought youíd have learned better after our last encounter."
Blackwell laughed without humour. "Iíll get even, Regaud. I always get even."
Jay snorted. "You donít know your ass from a hole in the ground, Blackwell."
The man smiled. "I know that sexy little filly is related to you and that Lafitteís treasure is buried somewhere on Rouge Island. Iím figuring on getting lucky."
Jayís temper snapped. In a flash, a knife was at Blackwellís throat.
"You can search all you want for buried treasure. Itís a free country. But if you touch Mar Iíll cut off your balls and make you eat them."
Eyes filled with a mixture of hate and fear looked up at Jay.
"Donít threaten me."
Jay laughed softly as she pulled the knife away and backed towards the door.
"Itís not a threat. Itís a promise." Then she was gone.
Lance Blackwell threw his glass at the closed door and swore. Later, he would swear even more when he discovered that Atlantis Enterprises had bought the land on Rouge island right from under his nose.
Driving back to the farm Jay was in a foul mood. She was angry at Mar for being so stubborn and not listening to her warning. She was angry at Blackwell because he was the worldís biggest asshole. She was angry at herself because sheíd let her temper get the better of her. And she was royally pissed that the tractor still lay in pieces in the shed.
It was there that she headed to work off some steam.
Mar saw the truck arrive back and Jay slam out of it and storm into the shed. She decided to leave Jay alone. There was no point in looking for trouble. There was no doubt there was bad blood between Lance Blackwell and Jay, but her reaction to the man had been way over the top. Mar considered herself a fairly good judge of character and she had found Lance Blackwell well mannered and charming. At least, he didnít seem to have secrets like Jay did. Jay was, Mar knew, living a lie.
Jay worked on the tractor until the sun was almost up. Except for the wheel alignment, the tractor was in pretty good shape now. Sheíd sleep for a few hours and then finish the job. Bone tired and filthy, she headed back to the house, showered and was asleep almost as quickly as she laid her head on the pillow.
It was not until nearly noon that Jay yawned her way downstairs, washed and dressed, but extremely hungry. There was not the usual smell of fine cooking coming from the kitchen. Instead, Jay found a note.
Thanks for getting the tractor up and running. You must have been up half
the night. Iíve left you to sleep in. Bubba phoned and asked if I could take
the tractor down to the back quarter. Weíve got a crawboat stuck out there.
Its winch has jammed. Bubba is to join me there later. He has to wait for
the delivery truck that is to pick up the bags of crawfish. Youíll find a few
sandwiches in the fridge. Thanks, Mar.
Jay got a sandwich from the fridge and ate it as she headed out of the house. She didnít like the idea of Mar driving the tractor down the narrow grass buffers between the flooded fields when the wheels were so badly out of alignment. Besides, she need to apologize for the way sheíd handled things yesterday.
She swung into the jeep and headed out towards the back quarter. In the distance, she could see the tractor and Mar working at attaching a chain to the hitch in order to pull the crawboat off the mud. As she drew closer, she saw Mar swing up into the tractor seat and start edging the tractor forward. Suddenly, the tractor leaned far to the right, balanced there for a second and then toppled, taking Mar with it into the flooded field.
Jay drove the last hundred yards as fast as she could. Slamming the jeep into park, she leapt from the vehicle. The tractor was half submerged in the water and Mar was pinned below. Muddy water splashed as Mar tried to get her head to the surface and then settled into rings.
Jay waded in, grabbed a handful of hair from under the water and pulled Marís head to the surface. She was no longer breathing. Jay dropped to her knees in the flooded field, braced Mar against her arm and stuck her finger in Marís mouth to clean out the mud and debris. Then she sealed her mouth over Marís, pitched her nose and blew air into Marís compressed lungs. Once, twice, three times. Nothing.
Jay tried again struggling to control her own panic. Suddenly, Mar gave a ragged gasp, choked and threw up vomit and mud. She gasped again, coughed, choked and then started to fight in total panic.
Jay took several good blows to her head before she managed to pin Mar to her chest and cover her mouth with her other hand.
"Stop screaming and stop fighting. Iíve got you. Iím not going to let you drown. Calm down. Youíre safe."
"I...I....I canít swim," Mar sobbed. "C...Canít swim."
"Honey, the waters only a foot or so deep here. I got you. Come on now. I need you to be calm."
"I t...t...thought I was going to die."
Jay held the shaking woman close to her chest and let her cry her fear out. "Itís okay now. Youíre safe. It was a scary moment but the worst is over."
"I....I... want out. Please g...get me out."
"I canít, Babe. Your legs are pinned under the tractor. Weíre going to have to wait for Bubba to get here."
"Come on, Mar. You can do this. Youíre alright. Take a look around you now. See, youíre propped up against me. You canít fall back in the water. Okay?"
Mar had Jayís hand in a death grip against her chest and was shaking with fear but she nodded.
"Good. Youíre going to be okay. Iíve got you and Iím not going to let go. Are you in pain?"
Mar shook her head no.
"Good. Can you wiggle your toes?"
"Wow, words again. Weíre making head way here."
Jay felt Mar laugh despite her terror.
"I...I was so scared. I..I t..thought I was dead."
"Anyone would have been scared in a situation like that. But you did okay, Mar. You saved your own life by fighting to stay on the surface for as long as you could. If you hadnít I wouldnít have got to you in time."
Mar clung on even tighter. "Donít move."
"I... I feel sick."
"You swallowed two quarters of muddy water and several raw crawfish, I think."
"Oh t...that helps."
"Itís okay, you threw up most of it. I think youíll have a pretty rummy tummy tonight though."
Jay wrapped her arms around the small torso. "Probably a little shock. Keep talking to me, okay."
By the time Bubba got there both woman were shaking with cold even though the day was quite warm. They had also been burnt red by the sun. Mar was barely conscious in Jayís arms. It finally took the fire department with some heavy equipment to free Mar. Both woman were taken to the local clinic. Jay was declared fit after a few blood suckers had been burnt off and sheíd had a mug of tea and a shot for infection. She was given a cream for her sunburn.
Marís condition was considered more serious. She was treated for shock and her many cuts and bruises seen to. Like Jay, she was given a shot for infection but was also given follow up medication as well as cream for her burnt skin. It was nearing dark by the time Mar was released into Jayís care and Bubba drove them back to the farm.
Bubba waited around in the kitchen until Jay got Mar comfortably in bed.
"Sheíll be okay, Bubba, donít you worry."
"I shoulda been the one out there. I feel so bad."
Jay patted the big man on the back. "Things happen and they are no oneís fault. What I do know is that if you hadnít come along and gotten help, weíd have been in bad shape by now. You were great. Thanks."
Bubba nodded but still looked unhappy. "You take good care of her tonight, Miss Regaud."
Budda left without another word.
Jay, dead on her feet, gave a sigh and headed upstairs to strip out of the scrubs that the clinic had lent them and crawl into bed. Sheíd barely got her head on the pillow when she heard Mar moaning in the other room. On went the scrubs again as Jay hurried to find out what the problem was.
Mar was barely awake and her dreams were not pleasant that was for sure.
"Shhh, Iím here," whispered Jay.
"Donít leave me."
Jay curled up beside Mar and held her close. "Youíre safe now. Itís all over."
"I wonít." Jay settled in beside Mar pulling her close into her arms. The warmth of the two women melded into one and they slept.
Jay woke early and reluctantly uncurled from around the warm, soft body beside her. Every bone in her body protested as she hobbled her way to the shower. The hot water helped and she slipped into clean clothes and headed down to the kitchen to make coffee. To her surprise, Bubba sat at the table and he didnít look happy.
"Hi Bubba. Sheís fine. Still sleeping peaceful..."
Jayís words choked off in surprise as Bubbaís huge form towered over her.
"Been out to the site. That tractor turned over because someoneís been digginí out there on the buffer and filled the soil back in and covered it with grass. Iím figuriní, I know who would gain ifíin anything happened to Mar."
"What? Someone digging? Letís go. I need to see the site."
"Not until I hear you swear it werenít you. Iím wonderiní what made you head out there ifíin you had nothiní to do with it."
"It wasnít me. You have my word, for what itís worth. Mar had left a note. The one on the kitchen table. I was worried because I hadnít done the front wheel alignment on the tractor yet."
The massive formed backed away from her a little and Jay gave a sigh of relief. Bubba was strong enough to have killed her with one blow. She didnít think him a violent man, but Jay suspected that he looked on Mar as one of his own.
"Youíd better come look for yourself then."
"Iíll leave a note for Mar in case she wakes while we are out."
Bubba stood with fixed concentration and watched Jay write a brief message.
"Iím not likiní this."
They headed out together in Bubbaís old truck and stopped at the churned up and muddy bank.
Jay got out and looked about with a frown.
"The rescue people cut it up so bad its hard to tell what happened here."
"Bin dug. This here loose soil goes down far too deep just from them trucks. Itís bin dug right down to the pipes."
"Thereís some old pipes here for flooding and draining. We never took Ďem out when we put in the new plastic stuff. Them metal pipes are down well over three feet. There was no point in pulliní them out. You seeiní what I mean? Iffin a truck did that itíd still be stuck here."
"Molly said she saw a ghost out here the other night."
"Over near the rice ponds, Miss Regaud."
Bubba nodded. "I guess one of the Mexicans saw somethiní too. High tailed it out of here sayiní he werenít gonna work on haunted land."
"What do you think, Bubba?"
"Iím thinkiní it was you."
"I have no reason to be digging."
"Maybe. Maybe not."
Bubba seemed to grow bigger and more menacing as he spoke. Jay looked around for a way to escape.
"I gave you my word."
"You did and that will do fer now. But Iím thinkiní I need to be keepiní an eye on you."
Jay shrugged, trying not to show her relief. "Do so. I have nothing to hide."
"Maybe. Maybe not."
Jay turned and got back in the truck and Bubba followed more slowly. The ride back was made in silence. It was only when Jay swung from the cab that she spoke again.
"Can I do anything to help while Mar is recovering?"
"You just be takiní care of that little thing and donít be walkiní about the fields at night."
Budda looked straight into her eyes. He knew.
Jay nodded and Bubba left without another word.
Jay climbed the stairs deep in thought and was surprised to see Mar awake, if still in bed.
"How do you feel?"
"Sore and a bit of a queasy stomach."
"Iím not surprised. I donít imagine that many people have a tractor pin them under water and live to tell the tale." Jay came over sat on the edge of the bed and felt Marís forehead. "Just as I suspected."
"Still as soft and warm as last night." Jay smirked.
Marís face instantly glowed red. "About last night..."
"Yes, what about last night?" Jay leaned closer, her face only inches away from Marís.
Mar pulled back. "You are a rogue."
Jay laughed and moved to give Mar a larger comfort zone. "How would you know? I doubt very much if a rogue has ever been in your life, Miss Southern-Belle."
"I do know right from wrong, Ms. Regaud," Mar huffed. "And that doesnít mean I havenít got a streak of adventure."
"Do you now?"
Jay leaned forward again and softly kissed Mar on the lips. She eased reluctantly away until their eyes met. Mar licked her lips and then slipped her hand around Jayís neck and pulled her close.
The kiss this time was more demanding, more needy. Again it was Jay who pulled away.
"I do declare, Miss Marenette, this is a side of your personality I had no idea existed."
Mar blushed and looked away. "Iím not sure I did either. I...I... Thank you for saving my life. Thank you for being there last night."
Jay got up. Mar had gone a lot farther than she ever dreamed she would go and Jay knew sheíd be chasing a lot of demons in her head as a result. "A kiss doesnít damn you to hell. Forget about it."
Mar looked up and their eyes locked again. "It wasnít the kiss. It was what I felt that will damn me. And I donít want to forget it."
Jay smiled softly. "Neither do I."
"Youíre bad news, Jay."
"I can be."
They left it like that. Enough lines had been crossed.
The days passed quickly now, each one bringing more changes. Seasonal crews were hired for the harvest and migrant homes once sitting empty were full. The sound of Spanish voices were more common now than the long, southern drawl and the rhythm of the field crickets and cicadas was replaced by the roar of equipment.
Jay did her best to help around the place but most of the responsibilities fell to Mar and Bubba who had the practical experience to get the job done. Jay concentrated her skills on what she knew best, which was mechanics. Her nails were soon broken and her hands stained with oil but Mar said that the farm equipment had never worked as well.
Each night, Jay went to bed early and but got up again in the late hours. Sheíd slip out to her truck, get out her equipment and head out to the fields. In the morning, Mar would always find her in the kitchen making coffee or sitting with a mug of it out on the porch.
It was near the end of the harvest, when one day the air pressure started to drop and the humidity rose to barely bearable. The nightly weather report cautioned that a hurricane they had been monitoring was coming off the Keys of Florida and was likely to bring them bad weather, even though it was expected to remain off shore. Everyone but Jay knew the drill. Animals were taken to high ground, levees reinforced with sand bags and windows shuttered against the coming storm.
By night fall, the winds had got up and the first large splatters of rain were falling. Jay and Mar ate a quick meal, washed the dishes and put coffee and soup into thermoses in case they lost power for sometime. They were just finishing the task when Bubba knocked on the door and stumbled in out of the weather.
"Bubba, you should be home by now."
"Came to tell you. Mamaís taken a turn for the worse. The doctor donít think sheíll last the night." The big man cleared his voice and looked away while he blinked back tears.
"Oh, Bubba, Iím so sorry. Can I do anything?"
"No, not yet. Mama is upset, Mary-Lou. Sheíd always said she wanted to die with the preacher at her side but old Reverend Muller canít get across the bridge safely in this here storm. It donít seem right."
"No, it doesnít. Is all the family there anyway?"
"Yesíum except for young Jelani on account of heís in the army."
"Maybe I could help."
Bubba and Mar looked at Jay in surprise.
"I can perform a service."
"Youíre no minister," Bubba growled.
"No, but Iím a sea captain and Iíve trained for such things."
Bubba stood silent, looking at Jay suspiciously.
Jay sighed. "It would make us even."
Bubba nodded. "Youíd be better than nothiní, I guess."
Jay rolled her eyes. "I need to get a few things."
Mar excused herself and followed in Jayís wake looking more than upset. At the base of the stairs, she grabbed Jay and spun her around.
"What are you doing? You are about the last person on Earth who should be giving a service like this. Pearl is a God fearing woman. Sheís ninety-two. She doesnít need some lying..." Mar searched for a world, "rogue to impersonate a minister. Damn it, Jay. She believes."
Jayís eyes narrowed and she pulled her arm away from Marís grasp. "Thanks for that lovely summation of my personality. I have no intention of making a mockery out of this. I mean to cancel my debt to Bubba for pulling us out from under that tractor by providing comfort and guidance to a woman facing death. Now leave me alone to get on with this."
A little while later, Bubba, Mar and Jay sat wedged on the seat of Bubbaís old truck bouncing through a river of mud towards the other end of the island where a gathering of seven or eight old houses, a chapel and a small variety store formed the black community on the island. On Marís lap was a big basket of casseroles and the thermoses of coffee and soup that she and Jay had made up earlier. Bubba filled in the silence talking about his mother.
The house they entered creaked in the wind as if it stood empty but inside the living room was crowded with Bubbaís relatives. Three women sat on a green sofa, clutching bibles and softly singing hymns. In a big arm chair, an old man sat looking on with interest, his toothless mouth half open. Children, their eyes white with fear, sat on laps or on the floor about the room and men looking awkward and out of place sat stiffly on kitchen chairs brought in from the back room or stood in corners trying to stay out of the way.
"Yíall know Mary-Lou Marenette. Sheís come to pay her respects and bring a few things for us to have."
Black faces looked up with surprise but welcome and Bubbaís wife came out from the bedroom to accept and carry the basket to the kitchen with Mar in tow. That left Jay.
"This here is Jay Regaud. Yíall have seen her about. She said on account of her beiní a Navy captain, she can offer Mama a few words of comfort on her way. I figure Iíll take her to see Mama and Aunt Bella and see what they have to say."
The others nodded, too surprised by the chain of events to respond.
Bubba turned. "Youíd better come this way then and meet Mama and Aunt Bella."
In the small bedroom a shrunken, little woman with white, thinning hair lay dozing in the bed. By her side, on a ladder chair, sat an old woman, red eyed and bowed, reading a bible that lay on her ample lap. Her cane was held at her side with an old, wrinkled hand. Jay guessed this must be Pearlís sister.
"Aunt Bella? I stopped by the farm to let Miss Marenette know Mama was feeling poorly. Sheís here now and brought the family some food to tide us over through the storm."
"That was good of her. Sheís better than most is Mary-Lou Marenette." The old ladyís eyes moved to Jay.
Bubba shifted from foot to foot. "This here is Jay Regaud. Sheíd be a distant relative of Miss Marenette. I was sayiní how Mama wanted a minister here and seems Miss Regaud is a Navy captain and can do that sort of thing. That okay with you, Aunt Bella?"
The old woman looked back at Jay again. "Donít seem right, Reverend Muller not being here, but I guess sheíll do fine ifíin she know what to say."
The door behind Jay opened and the old womanís eyes shifted.
"Miss Marenette, it was good of you to come out in this here storm to say good bye to Pearl. Sheís sleepin now but sheíll wake soon, Iím thinking. Least ways, she has been doing so fur most of the afternoon."
"Pearl is one special lady. Iíve known her and her family all my life. I needed to come," responded Mar, as she looked around the door.
The old eyes moved back to Jay. "I figure youíd better get started. Miss Marenette, could you leave the door open there so the family can hear."
"Sure." Mar gave Jay a stern look and then opened the door wide and stood off to the side just outside of the room and out of the way.
Jay stepped forward and sat on the edge of the bed. Leaning forward, she addressed the sleeping woman gently.
Tired eyes opened slowly.
"Iím Jay Regaud, a relative of Mary-Lou Marenette. Iíve been asked to pray with you, if youíd like, since Reverend Muller couldnít be here."
The voice was barely a whisper heard after a shallow, raspy intake of breath. "Fancy them sending a white, woman preacher."
Jay smiled. "Bubba tells me you had five children and raised them all to be good people. He tells me you now have ten grandchildren and four great grandchildren. How lucky you are."
The old woman smiled and looked with pride at Bubba. "I tarred them when they werenít good but I never had to do it very often."
Jay nodded. "You worked as a house keeper for many years and helped farm a patch of land as well. They were not easy times but I imagine that you took pride in all you accomplished."
The eyes closed then opened again and a small smile hovered on the dying womanís lips.
Jay took a Bible and a candle from her bag and carefully lifted the old womanís hands so they rested on the Bible and held the candle. Carefully, she lit the candle with a match.
"This candle represents the light of your Lord Jesus Christ. Let its warmth and light surround you, Pearl. "The Lord said, Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest".
"You and I, Pearl, come from different worlds, but Jesus said, "in my fatherís house are many mansions...I go to prepare a place for you". Hear his words and be comforted, Pearl. There is a place prepared for you. As St. Luke wrote, "the kingdom of God is within you".
Jay reached out and placed her hands over the old womanís, helping her to steady the candle.
"You have lived your life well, Pearl. And you leave behind to follow you, a good family raised in love and in the Word of God. This home has withstood many storms and is strong just like you and your family. In Proverbs 24, verse 3 you find these words: "Through wisdom a house is built and through understanding it is established". You have established a fine house, Pearl. Take comfort in that knowledge.
"Follow the light, Pearl. It will lead you home. "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me."
The old woman gave a soft gasp and her hands slipped slowly away from the Bible. Jay checked for a pulse and then leaned forward and gently blew out the candle.
"And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. - The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord."
Jay leaned down and checked for a heart beat. She lifted the sheet to cover the old woman and then soft said the Lordís Prayer over the body. When she had finished, she stood and came around to give Bella a hug and to offer Bubba her hand. Bubba took it and shook it, tears rolling down his face.
"Iíll get one of the boys to take you and Mary-Lou back up to the house."
Jay smiled and then turned to Mar expecting to see an angry face. But Mar was crying and looked at Jay with caring and troubled eyes. Jay moved forward and wrapped her arm around the small woman, holding her against her side as the two of them waited for a ride back.
It was Bubbaís cousin, Eddie, who drove them. The wind howled and battered at the truck and the rain made visibility nearly nothing. All three of them were soaked from the short run to the truck and Mar shivered and snuggled close to Jayís side. The trip was made in silence. Only by yelling over the wind could they have heard each other anyway.
Back at the house, they thanked their driver and dashed to the porch. Fighting the door so it didnít get blown from its hinges, they managed to get inside and stood dripping in the lobby.
Mar looked up at Jay.
"You are a very complex person, Jay Regaud."
"That was so caring and lovely and yet you didnít believe a word of it."
Jay shrugged and wiped rain drops from her face. "It didnít matter what I believed tonight. It only mattered that Pearl found the peace she needed to pass on. I need to get dry."
Jay headed up the stairs aware that Mar stood at the bottom watching her with curious and confused eyes. In her room, Jay stripped off her wet clothes off and threw them in the laundry hamper then slumped onto her bed. Tears rolled unchecked down her face. She cried because she felt for Bubbaís family and for the old woman who had just died. She cried too, because it hurt her that Mar thought so little of her. Jay wasnít sure why that mattered but it did.
After a while, she forced herself up and took a hot shower to relax tense muscles and felt warmer but not better. Outside, the heavy rain and wind had continued and the lights now had started to flicker. Jay had barely dried and put on clean clothes when the lights went off and didnít come back on. She stood in the total darkness and cursed for not being sensible enough to have her flashlight handy.
"I have a light. Can I come in?"
Jay braced herself, letting the mask of indifference cover her emotions once again.
There was a scraping sound and then the door opened to reveal Mar carrying a oil lantern in each hand.
"Here. Itís not exactly the fanciest but these old things last a lot longer than batteries."
Jay took one of the lanterns from Marís out stretched hand.
"I made some dinner before the lights went out. Are you hungry?"
"A little bit."
"Come on then. Weíll eat in the living room and see if we can pick up any news on the weather report."
Jay followed Mar downstairs, enjoying the opportunity to watch the graceful movements of the woman in front of her yet still feeling moody and angry with her.
It was evident that Mar had gone to some extra trouble. The battery powered radio played soft music and the lighting in the living room was the soft glow of candles rather than the brighter light of the oil lanterns. Dinner was gumbo soup that Mar had put down in the freezer and had gotten out and warmed before the power failed. They ate it with brown rolls and butter and beer.
For a while they ate in silence listening to the radio. Jay hadnít particularly been hungry and she had a headache coming on but the tasty food and light beer had gone down easily.
"That was good. Thanks."
"Youíre welcome." Mar hesitated then put down her spoon and continued, "Itís part of a thank you and an apology. I...I misjudged you. There was a side of you that I hadnít been willing to see. Iím sorry for my harsh words towards you earlier today. You were so caring with Pearl and what you said rang with sincerity. I know it helped Pearl pass on in peace."
Jay continued to eat not saying a word. When Mar had finished she looked up enquiringly.
"Do you want that last roll?"
Mar slammed down her fist on the table.
"Damn it, Jay. I am trying to apologize here. Donít be like that."
"Like you donít care."
"Yes, you do."
Jay shrugged. "Itís past history. So what is the other part of the apology?"
"You said this was part of a thank you and an apology."
Mar bit her lip to hold back angry words. Jay was being a bitch but she knew this was not the time to get into a row.
"I thought the dinner and the verbal apology was enough."
"Damn. I was hoping you were going to come across."
Mar blushed a bright red and leapt to her feet. Without another word she stormed off, snatching up one of the lanterns and heading upstairs.
Jay held her aching head and swore. She had no idea at all why she had acted so rudely. Quietly, she cleared up, did the dishes and put away things. By then she had started to feel sick and she realized that she must be feeling the beginnings of a migraine. It was not something she had experienced before and she didnít like it.
Jay blew out the candles and turned down the lantern wick. Light hurt her eyes. She headed upstairs in the dark, stripped her clothes off and, uncharacteristically, left them in a pile on the floor as she crawled into bed. During the night, she dreamt she was lost out in the storm being hunted by ghosts from the past. She tossed and turned fretfully and when she woke in the early morning she was feverish and her head pounded.
She crawled from the bed and just made it to the bathroom before she threw up. By sheer determination, she managed to wash and brush her teeth. She felt no better. The world spun and she crashed to the floor.
Part Three: The Fever and The Dance
Mar had been surprised to come down the next morning and not find Jay up. She had eaten a bowl of cold cereal as she stood looking out on the storm washed yard. The wind had dropped and the rain had passed. Grey clouds were streaming off to the west across the flat land and to the eastern horizon some blue sky could be seen. Mar had weathered a lot worse and hoped that their power would be back on soon. The loud thump from upstairs made her start.
She put her bowl on the kitchen table and hurried to the base of the stairs.
"Jay? Are you all right?"
Mar headed up the stairs, a worried frown on her face. At Jayís door she knocked tentatively.
Mar cautiously opened the door and stuck her head around to look into the room. The bed was unmade and rumpled and Jayís clothes lay in a heap on the floor. Mar stepped in and looked towards the bathroom. The door was open and Jayís naked body lay on the floor.
She gave a gasp of concern and ran to kneel by Jay. She checked her breathing first and then for injuries. Jayís skin was hot with fever. Mar got a cool, damp face cloth and put it on Jayís forehead.
"Malaria, I think. And bad."
"Bad," Jay moaned.
"Iím going to cover you up with a towel for a minute while I change your sheets and make up the bed. Then Iíll get you something for the fever. Okay?"
"Okay," Jay managed to say.
Mar worked as quickly as she could removing the wet sheets and making up the bed with fresh ones. She placed a bath towel over the bottom sheet to help keep it drier. Then she helped Jay to her bed, acutely aware of Jayís nakedness. Jay had a gorgeous body, tanned golden except for the white strip where a bikini bottom must have fit. Jay must go topless at times.
To her surprise, a rush of desire passed through Mar, pooling in a hot throb low in her body. She forced her mind on the task of getting the barely conscious woman to her feet and then to the bed. With relief, she tucked Jay in and hurried out of the room and down the stairs to the kitchen to get the bottle of quinine she kept in the cupboard for the seasonal help from Central America who sometimes came down with fever. She wondered where Jay had recently been to contract malaria. Mar was relieved to hear the sudden whine of the fridge and the ticking of the kitchen clock. The power was on again. She got out a bottle of water and took the stairs two at a time.
Jay had kicked her sheet off and was shivering now with chills. Mar covered her again with the sheet and pulled up the blanket.
"Here. I need you to sit up and take these pills. Come on. Theyíll make you feel better. All three of them now."
With effort, Mar supported the sick woman while Jay managed to swallow the pills and then gasp.
"Yes, the taste is very bad but they will help."
Jay drank half the bottle of water and then collapsed back on the pillow.
"Donít thank me yet. I think you are in for a rough few days. If the fever doesnít break by tomorrow, Iíll take you to the clinic."
"Iíll be okay."
Mar smiled. "Sure you will."
For the next forty-eight hours Jay hovered on the edge between consciousness and wild, disjointed dreams. She would be teeth-chattering freezing one moment and burning with fever the next. She was vaguely aware of Mar who would help her to the bathroom when she needed to throw up or when her bowels convulsed in pain. She grumbled when Mar forced her to drink or to take the foul tasting medicine and moaned her thanks when she was given a sponge bath and had her sheets changed under her. She thought the doctor had visited and given her a shot but her rational mind was confused by fever hallucinations that made the wall paper look like crawling bugs.
In her sleep, she talked of Spanish treasure, drug runners, sharks and naval operations. She talked to comrades now dead, swore at enemies and rambled on about the sea and its treasures.
A cooling cloth touched Jayís forehead. "Iím here."
"Youíre cute. Wanna sleep with me?"
"Iím heterosexual, Jay. Iíve been married, remember."
"You kissed me."
Mar blushed. "I...It was a silly thing to do. I was feeling vulnerable and you dared me."
"You donít kiss like a het...het...straight. You kissed like you wanted me."
"You wanna run away to sea with me?"
Mar laughed at the ravings of the woman. "No."
"Yes, you do. Weíll all live in a mudbug submarine," Jay sang.
"Sleep, perchance to dream...do you dream, Mar?"
Mar gently washed Jayís feverish face. "Yes."
"About pirates and a...adventures?"
"Yes, even that sometimes, but mostly about family, friends and farming."
Jay giggled. "I think there is a little, bitty bit of pirate blood in you."
"Maybe. Sleep now."
"Okay. Love you."
Mar watched Jay drift off to sleep a sad expression on her face. "No, Jay. You love only gold. I only wish you could love another."
It was early morning of the third day when the fever finally broke and Jay opened her eyes to a room bathed with early morning light. She felt exhausted and every bone in her body ached. Her sheets had been freshly changed and a pitcher of water sat on the night table beside the bed.
Carefully, Jay sat up in bed and poured herself a glass of water. She was very thirsty and hungry. A quiet knock came at the door and Mar looked in.
"I brought you some toast if you feel up to it."
"Iíd like that, thanks. Iím hungry."
Mar entered the room carrying a plate of dry toast and a bowl of apple sauce. "I didnít want to put anything too heavy on your tummy yet. I remembered apple and dry toast are what you give people who are sea sick."
Jay smiled. "See, there is some pirate in you."
Mar looked up in surprise from placing the tray on the night table.
"You remember talking to me?" She blushed.
"Only little bits. Did I make a real fool of myself."
Mar smiled mischievously. "Only every other hour."
"Oh well, thatís alright then," Jay smiled. "Look, Iím sorry about dinner last night. I acted like a bitch."
"It was nearly three days ago and you were a bitch. I imagine you were sick even then, so Iím willing to give you another chance."
Jay smiled as she slowly ate a piece of toast. "Thanks."
"Eat your breakfast and then try to sleep. You must be exhausted. The doctor said you had quite a bad case of fever and would need to rest for a few days anyway after the fever broke. I think itís safe enough to leave you, so Iím going to go to church. Iíll be back and make a light lunch in a few hours."
Mar smiled and left.
In her room, Mar brushed back tears as she changed for church. Part of what she was feeling was relief that Jay was over the worst of the fever. It had been scary. She knew if anything happened to Jay she would never get over it. And that thought was even scarier. When had her feelings for Jay grown so deep over these many weeks?
Mar might have been raised a simple farm girl but she wasnít stupid. One of the first things sheíd done when sheíd got the letter from Jay was to consult her lawyer and to run a credit check on Jay. So she knew Jay was living a lie. Playing her for a fool. She had a pretty good idea what Jay was up to as well behind her back.
She picked up her keys and headed down stairs and out to the jeep.
Bubba had been all for confronting Jay but Mar had said no. At first, she was hoping to get to know Jay and cut some sort of deal with her for the land. Now she just didnít want Jay to leave. She didnít think she could bear it. But how could she bear having Jay here? Jay was lying to her. Using her. And yes, Jay would bed her as well, Mar believed, if she gave Jay the chance. She had come close to doing that on a few occasions. Jay had a sort of sexual power that radiated from her. She was forbidden excitement, danger and raw sexuality. Jay was hard to resist.
But Mar had every intention of resisting her. She knew what Jay was and she knew that when Jay got what she wanted, sheíd be gone. Then what? Mar had to live in this town. Had to make ends meet on the farm. She couldnít afford to burn her bridges on a short-term fling with a gay adventurer. It was stupid.
Mar drove the jeep to the small, white clapboard church just on the other side of the bridge. The bell was ringing when she parked her vehicle and she just had time to get to her seat before the choir came in. Today, for some reason, the familiarity and routine of the service did not give her comfort but instead made her feel trapped. She looked around. Everyone was in the same old Sunday best sitting in the same pew theyíd had for a donkeyís age, including Mar. Nothing had changed in years except the outside world.
Even the sermon that the Minister had given was predictable. Mar was one of the last to leave as Lance Blackwell had stopped to talk to her before he drove old Katie-Anne Lawrence back to her home. She was thinking that Jay was quite wrong about him as she stepped out onto the church porch. To her surprise, the minister took her arm and drew her aside, asking if he could speak with her.
"Mar, this is a bit embarrassing. Are you closely related to the woman who is staying with you? Do you know her well?"
"Jay Regaud? We are very distantly related and no, I donít know her well. I met her only this summer. She inherited the north forty of the farm and came to see what she wanted to do with it."
"I see. Mar, this is difficult. Iíve heard from a reliable source that this Miss Regaud is, well, unnatural. I have concerns about you being alone in the house with her."
"Sheís," he looked around to make sure no one was in ear shot and then whispered, "One of those lesbians."
"Oh, yes, I know. She is quite open about it."
"Oh, dear. She hasnít tried anything inappropriate has she?"
Mar felt the colour rising in her face. She side stepped the question. "Jay Regaud has conducted herself in an honourable manner, I assure you."
"Thatís a relief. Still Mary-Lou, there might be talk. I really must advise you as your minister to see this woman is gone as soon as possible. She is about the devilís business."
Mar laughed. She couldnít help herself. "Iím sure Jay is quite capable of being a devil in her own right. But she has another side too. Did you hear about the lovely service she did for Pearl, Bubbaís Mama."
The minister stiffened. "I realize that the storm made for unusual circumstances and one has to do oneís Christian duty but it was a risky thing you did, going into the black village. They do have their own preacher. And I can tell you, I donít approve of Jay Regaudís kind uttering the Lordís message when she wades in sin. Itís just not right."
Marís temper rose with the colour in her face. "You know, you are a bigot and a racist and although damn good at judging others, you are not the least bit good at seeing your own less-than-Christian ways."
"Mary-Lou Marenette! I canít believe you would talk and swear like that, especially in front of a man of the cloth. Iím shocked. Iíll pray for your soul. I can see this Jay Regaud has had a terrible influence already."
"No, no that is where you are wrong. Jay has lots of faults but she is not afraid of seeing a bigger world and she is not afraid to change. I realized today that what you preach here is not faith, itís fear and hate for anyone or thing thatís different. I look for strength in my religion, not fear. Good day."
With as much dignity that she could muster, Mar walked to her jeep, got in and was not particularly careful about which way the mud splattered as she turned the jeep around and headed back to the island.
Jay heard her arrive back at the house. It was hard not to. The jeep roared into the yard and squelched to a sudden stop. The front door slammed, and feet stomped up the stairs and wrenched Jayís door open. Jay ducked under the covers and then looked over the top of the sheet in question.
"Up to the devilís work again are you, Regaud?"
"I just got a warning from the Minister about your Ďunnaturalí ways. He thinks I should chuck you out."
Jay smiled. "Are you going to?"
"No. I swore at the Minister and called him a racist and a bigot. I suspect Iíll be the one that gets kicked out," sighed Mar, sitting down on the edge of the bed.
"I did," sobbed Mar, as tears trailed down her face. " I donít know why Iím crying. I enjoyed it."
Jay sat up in bed and pulled Mar into her arms.
"Hey, itís okay. If you feel good about it then it was probably the right thing to do. That doesnít mean it wasnít a pretty big step though. Itís understandable that youíre upset. Ah, this argument you had with the minister wasnít over me, was it?"
"Yes, it was."
"Oh boy. Look, if it would help I can go stay at the hotel."
"No! Jay, I donít think you are unnatural. And I think you were wonderful to be there for Bubbaís Mama and if I had to do it again tomorrow I would. There are a lot of things about you that scare me, Jay Regaud, but I wonít have you judged on the terms that the minister was using."
"Tell me about it," Jay said quietly.
And so the whole story came out as Mar sat wrapped in Jayís arms.
After Mar left, Jay lay staring at the ceiling for a long time. Her feelings towards Mar were very confused. To start with, she had always thought herself a bit of a stud and she was not used to being rejected. She didnít buy into Marís protest that she was not interested in a gay relationship. There was an attraction there. She just wasnít interested in having a relationship with Jay and that hurt.
There was a second part of Jayís consternation. She cared about Mar thought of her. She wasnít sure why. She had always lived her life exactly as she wanted and if that had scandalised or revolted a few along the way, sheíd never given a damn. But she did care what Mar thought of her. She cared a lot and although Mar seemed to have conceded that Jay might have some good qualities, they didnít seem to out weigh the negatives.
Jay sighed. The reality was that she was the person that Mar feared she was. She lived on the edge and yes, she was a pirate at heart. Most women found that attractive. They were willing moths to Jayís white-hot flame. But not Mar. Mar was different. And somehow the little woman had really gotten under Jayís skin.
Jay punched the pillow. Common sense told her to leave before things got anymore comple, but her heart told her that life without Mar was going to be empty.
Several days went by and Jay was able to come down stairs and sit on the porch. Mar was often away now, supervising the last of the harvest with Bubba. Inactivity led to boredom and boredom to moody contemplation.
She looked over the flat, humid land. It wasnít much of a place and yet it was a home. That wasnít something with which Jay had a lot of familiarity. Her mother she could not remember. Nor was she sure her father could. She had been one of many that had passed through her fatherís life as he squandered the family moneys on the good life.
Heíd had no time for Jay as a kid and as a rebellious teenager heíd had no patience either. She had been passed through the succession of live-in girlfriends like a hand-me-down toy. When she came out, her dad used it as an excuse to throw her out. Jay had no regrets. To get an education, sheíd joined the Navy. Her intelligence, determination and courage had allowed her to move ahead quickly. Her independence and love of wild adventure had made the possibility of a naval career too limiting. Jay was a risk taker.
Sheíd never had any regrets. Yet sitting here, the feeling of home, of place, seemed an enchanting proposition. She could see that Mar and Bubba loved the land no matter how hard the life. They belonged.
Jay sighed. It made her sad that a home was not in the cards for her. She knew that, no matter how appealing home might be, that sheíd never be able to stay. She had the heart of a pirate and her only real love was adventure. She smiled. The lust for treasure was pretty appealing too, she had to admit. That decided, she tried to force all thoughts of home and of Mar from her mind. It didnít prove easy.
When Mar got home that night she was greeted to heavenly smells from the kitchen.
"Hey, you arenít the only one that can cook you know. Go up and have a cool bath and Iíll see about mixing some drinks before dinner."
Mar smiled. "Thatís an offer I canít refuse."
"I have others," Jay called, after the retreating figure.
Mar laughed. "I just bet you do."
Jay smiled as she made up iced glasses of gin and tonic with a sprig of fresh mint. Sheíd spent the afternoon baking her favourite recipe, Chilli Pie Casserole. First, sheíd browned onions, fresh crushed garlic and minced beef in extra virgin olive oil. Draining off any extra grease, sheíd added brown sugar, chili powder, tomato sauce and fresh cut mushrooms.
In a casserole dish, sheíd spooned in a layer of the mix and then added a layer of cooked kidney beans, then a layer of Fritos and a layer of cheese. She repeated this process several times. stopping on the last layer of Fritos.
She then popped the casserole into a hot oven to finish cooking for thirty-five minutes. Just before she was ready to serve sheíd toss on the last layer of cheese to melt over in a warm, creamy topping.
Mar came down stairs fresh and cool from the shower. She wore a crisp yellow t-shirt and beige shorts. Jay offered her a drink.
"You look beautiful."
Mar blushed. "Thank you."
As they sipped their drinks on the porch, Mar told Jay about driving the big combine in the fields that shot the harvested rice into the hoppers of vehicles they called doodlebugs. Then the doodlebug would take the load to the rice dryers that Bubba would oversee.
Mar looked tired but contented by the seasonís work.
"We are going to have a good harvest despite the late rain and market prices are fairly strong for a change."
"Thatís great news. Are you ready to eat?"
"More than. This gin and tonic is going straight to my head."
Jay served up her specialty in bowls at the harvest table in the kitchen. She freshened their drinks and placed a basket of warmed brown rolls on the table. Mar tucked in with enthusiasm.
"Okay, Regaud from now on you do the cooking."
Jay laughed. "This is my party piece. After this, I have to resort to peanut butter sandwiches."
"I donít believe that for a minute. Tell me about your life Jay. You talked a lot about the sea when you were sick."
"What did I say?" Jay asked suspiciously.
"Nothing concrete, just phrases."
Jay leaned back. "People who stand on the shore think they know the majesty of the sea, Mar, but they donít.
"You have to be out there in her domain. There is no way I can describe for you the beauty of a peaceful evening when the sea is a loving woman and whales or dolphins swim in her warm liquid. Or the rush of standing on the bridge when sheís a bitch and the waves tower over your bow and crash on the deck with the force of a slap. Iíve swum in waves topped with seaweed that glowed with florescent shades of pink, lime green and pale blue. Iíve felt the fear as a Great White breaks the surface by your boat and you look into the cold, indifferent eyes of death. Iíve felt her heave beneath me with passion and power. The sea, Mar, was my first woman, demanding, experienced, and powerful."
Jay suddenly sat forward and looked deep into Marís eyes.
"She taught me all I know. Want to learn to ride the waves, Mar?"
Mar blushed and dodged the implied invitation. "I had no idea you were such a romantic poet."
Jay smiled. "You did say I was a pirate."
Green eyes met hers. "And are you?"
"Then Iíd better be on my guard. Is there dessert?" Mar asked, trying to change the subject.
"Peanut butter sandwiches?" Jay offered.
Mar laughed. "The meal was wonderful. Thank you. Iíll get some pecan ice cream out of the freezer, okay?"
"Sounds good. Iíll clear the table and get some bowls."
For a while, they sat side by side and ate the creamy, sweet ice cream in silence. Then Jay leaned forward and kissed Marís lips gently. The kiss lengthened. Jayís hand came up to run long fingers through freshly washed hair, the scent of sunlight and peaches. Marís lips parted and Jay tasted the warm, bitter-sweet liquid of her body. Jay leaned closer so that their breasts touched. The moment over-flowed with sexual tension. Abruptly, Mar pulled away.
"Iím sorry." She got up shaky from the sheer power of the experience and took the bowls to the sink.
"Are you?" Jay whispered. "Iím not."
"Iím not denying your power as a lover, Jay Regaud. Iím just not interested in being one of the women who have swum in your sea."
"Why, Mary-Lou Marenette how you do wax poetically."
Mar gave her a look and Jay laughed. It broke the tension of the moment but the under current of unfulfilled sexual need was still very much there as they did the dishes together and filled in the evening watching a movie.
Later in bed, Jay had to admit that Mar was right. As much as she wanted Mar, to get involved with her would have been a big mistake. Mar wasnít like the other women Jay had known. Mar was love and commitment and Jay would have none of that.
Across the hall, Mar groaned with need. Sheíd done the right thing she knew, but she also knew that she would regret to the day she died not tasting the inner sea of Jayís being.
The next week went pleasantly enough on the surface although the sexual tension between the two women ran deep. Jay kept her distance so as not to be tempted and Mar, feeling confused and needy, gave off a mixture of signals that left Jay frustrated.
Saturday, Mar dropped the bombshell as they finished their lunch.
"Iíll be out tonight."
"Okay. Farmersí meeting or something?"
Marís chin went up. "No. Iím going to the town hall dance with Lance Blackwell." She waited for the argument.
"Have fun," came the indifferent reply.
Mar placed her dishes in the sink, gave Jay a dirty look, and stomped off to get ready.
In her room, Mar fumed. She was angry that Jay hadnít reacted and would have been just as angry if she had. Worse, she was angry at herself for acting like a teenage idiot.
On the one hand, she found Jay very attractive and was both excited and pleased that Jay seemed to find her appealing. On the other, she wasnít at all convinced that she was attracted to all women. It was just Jay. Jay was a law unto herself. Looking back, had she been honest with herself, sheíd always been more comfortable with her female friendships than her boyfriends. And her brief sexual relationship with her husband had left her unfulfilled and wanting. But Mar was still very much in denial about her true feelings and that left her confused and upset.
Jay had gotten under her skin and made her feverish. She wanted Jay to leave immediately so that she could reclaim her life and at the same time was terrified that she would. She expected that Jay would get angry and refuse to let her go to the dance with Lance. Had she hoped for a passionate scene like some silly girl? Mar blushed. She no longer knew what she wanted.
In the kitchen, Jay did the dishes quietly and methodically. She had gone into her zone, clearing her mind for the task ahead. It had taken all her self control not to get into a fight with Mar but sheíd managed. She ground her teeth. She was angry. Not the hot tempered anger that passes quickly but the cold, deliberate anger that demands revenge.
Later, Jay watched from the darkness off her room as Blackwell picked Mar up in a flashy rented car. She smiled cruelly. Blackwell was really putting on the charm and Mar was buying it hook, line and sinker.
Jay changed into black jeans, runners and t-shirt. On her belt, her Beretta 96 nestled in the small of her back. A tactical knife was strapped to her right leg. Lastly, she clipped a taser to her belt.
She slipped out into the night and instead of taking her old truck, she cut across the field and removed her dirt bike from a patch of scrub oak where sheíd hidden it. She swung her leg over, gave the bike a kick and was gone down the road in a roar of exhaust and dust.
Jay sat in the shadows watching the comings and goings at the community hall. Sheíd seen Blackwell and Mar enter the building and occasionally she would see one of them pass a window. Mar was smiling but Jay knew her body language well enough to know she wasnít happy. Grimly, she waited.
Just before eleven, they came out and got into Blackwellís car. Jay followed, keeping her distance. It was a moonless night and in this flat country a tail could be easily spotted. Earlier that evening, sheíd used a screw driver to make a small puncher hole in the plastic cover of one of the carís parking lights and broken the bulb. It was one of the oldest tricks in the book and one of the most effective. A car with a taillight out can be followed safely at a good distance.
Jay saw Blackwellís car turn. They were headed down to the small park that ran along the river about a mile out of town. Jay knew it was the local loverís lane. She snorted in disgust. Blackwell was too cheap to take her to a motel outside of town or too needy.
She turned off her light and drove slowly and cautiously along the road. A half mile out, she left her bike and started jogging.
Mar fought for all she was worth. She had not enjoyed the evening as she thought she would. Blackwell had been like a school boy in heat and sheíd been embarrassed by his continual touches and remarks. Sheíd been furious when Blackwell had brought her to the park instead of taking her home as sheíd requested and when heíd tried to force himself on her, sheíd slugged him and managed to get out of the car.
But heíd come right after her and had knocked her to the ground. Now she was terrified and fighting for all her worth. Heíd hit her several times and she was barely conscious. She could feel his groping hand under her skirt.
She sobbed in fear and pain then suddenly his weight was off her body. Mar curled into a little ball and whimpered in terror. In the darkness, she could hear a scuffle. Then hands touched her.
Mar cried out in panic.
"Itís okay. Youíre safe." Jayís voice.
Mar clung to Jay sobbing in relief. "I was so scared."
"Are you hurt? Did he rape you?"
"N...no. He tried. If you hadnít come. He hit me."
"I think Iíd better take you to the clinic."
"Jay, donít leave me."
"Iím not going to. Come on. Letís get out of here."
Mar grabbed hold of Jay. "Where is he?"
"Taking a nap in the bushes."
"Jay, you didnít kill him!"
"No. But Iíd have liked to."
Mar allowed Jay to help her up and get her into the rented car. Down the road, they stopped and Jay loaded her dirt bike into the trunk. Then they drove onto the clinic.
Jay sat in the waiting room, dirty, sweaty and tied in a knot with worry. It had only been when sheíd got Mar into the light that sheíd seen how badly Blackwell had worked her over and how close Mar had come to being raped. She felt sick.
The sheriff walked in, talked to the secretary on the counter and then motioned to Jay to come over. Jay was glad sheíd taken the precaution of leaving her weapons in the car. This guy didnít look like heíd be too understanding.
"The doctor called in a situation. I need to talk to you. Come in this room."
Jay was escorted by the local law into an empty examination room.
"I need to check you for weapons. But your hands against the wall."
Jay spread and allowed the officer to feel her over. He took out her car keys and threw them on the examination table. Jay was carrying nothing else.
"In the car, youíll find my Beretta, knife and taser. The taser has been used."
"Where is he?"
"In the bushes, out by the Rotary Park."
"Is he dead."
"You wanna tell just what the hell went on tonight."
"Can I move off this wall?"
"Sit down on that stool."
Jay did so, making sure to move slowly and keeping her hands in the open.
"Iím Captain Jaylene Regaud. Iím a distant relative of Mary-Lou Marenette and have been staying up at her place this summer. I own a share in the farm."
"I know all this. Keep going."
"Mar had a date with Blackwell tonight."
"Yeah, I saw them at the dance."
"I know Blackwell well. Heís in the same line of work, marine salvage. Heís got a really bad name. If you check with the Florida or Nassau police youíll get quite an earful. I tried to warn Mar but she thought him quite charming. Most con men are. Blackwell has been suspected of rape, drug running and theft although nothing has ever been proven to my knowledge.
"I followed Mar tonight just to make sure she was safe. He took her out to the Rotary Park after they left the dance. When I got there, he had Mar on the ground and was attacking her. I pulled him off. We exchanged a few punches and then I took him out with the taser. I was worried about Mar. I took Blackwellís car and put my dirt bike in the trunk and brought Mar over here."
"Not too many girls carry the weapons you do."
"Not too many women work in marine salvage and have served in combat zones in the military. My weapons are registered and I use them responsibly and properly."
"Seems you went looking for trouble."
"I went prepared for trouble, not looking for it."
The sheriff nodded. "Iím going to have to cuff and hold you until I check this all out. My deputy is still over at the dance."
Jay stood, turned and put her hands behind her back. "Iíll co-operate fully as long as I can stay here until I know how Mar is."
The sheriff snapped the cuffs on and then had Jay sit again. Jay fought down her fear. She didnít like feeling so helpless.
"I got a citizen whoís been assaulted and until I know the role you played in what happened tonight, Iíll be giving the orders around here, little lady. Not you. But you can stay here until Iíve talked to Mary-Lou."
She was locked into the room and left for the next few hours. The wait seemed like days. She memorized the weight chart thumb tacked to the wall, counted tiles and worried.
Finally, the sheriff returned and uncuffed her.
"Well, Miss Regaud, your story checks out. Mary-Lou is right anxious to see you. Said you saved her life. We havenít found Blackwell yet. But we know heís okay. Pulled two of our kids out of their vehicle and took off in it. We found the kids walking down the road scared to death. They wonít be going up to the Rotary Park anytime soon, thatís for sure."
"How is Mar?"
"Mary-Lou? Doc said sheíll be okay. Sheís been knocked about, that is for sure, and the poor thing is in shock. She wasnít raped though, thanks to you."
Jay half listened as she followed the Sheriff out and to the room where Mar was located. Mar looked white and small lying under the sheet when Jay opened the door and quietly went in.
Jay kissed her forehead.
"Hey. How are you doing?"
"Okay. I want to go home, Jay. Take me home."
"As soon as the doctor signs the release forms."
"You were right. I should have listened to you."
"Shhh, it doesnít matter now. Youíre safe. Thatís the main thing."
"Stole a car and has disappeared for the time being."
"You think heíll come back?"
"Be careful, Jay."
Jay nodded. Her jaw was set in a grim line. "I will."
Chapter Four: Pirates
Several days passed and Jay stayed pretty close to the house making sure that Mar felt safe and had everything she needed. They spent a good deal of time talking about family history, the farm and their views on life in general. To their surprise, they found that their world views were very similar. Jay proved to be more conservative than Mar would have thought and Mar was surprisingly liberal in her ideas, Jay discovered. They found common ground easily.
Although the raw attraction was still bubbling just under the surface, Jay was careful to keep her relationship with Mar on a friendly level. Jay was determined not to cross the line again. As much as she wanted Mar, she was not prepared to make any sort of commitment and thatís what Mar would want. More than that, she didnít want Mar associating her touches with the likes of Blackwell. These decisions, rather than settling Jay, left her feeling that there was something very important missing in her life. She couldnít recall ever feeling that way before.
Mar, on the other hand, was needing the warmth and strength of Jayís touch. She needed someone to love and care for her while she recovered from the beating and near rape of the night of the dance. Sheíd had to settle for the care. Jay had kept her distance. Mar feared that Jay must be angry and no longer interested in her since her date with Blackwell. That filled her with a great deal of sorrow that she didnít quite understand.
Mar had never thought herself gay. Then again, sheíd never really thought about it. Her lack of response to the boyfriends sheíd had, or even to her husband, she had put down to circumstance. Now she was forced to think that maybe that wasnít the case. The way she felt when Jay was even close was amazingly intense. She wondered if she had been living a lie all her life.
That thought was both exciting and terrifying. She knew she would love to feel the thrill and intensity of real love. She also knew that despite her liberal views, she had been conditioned by her upbringing to feel ashamed of such feelings and to be afraid that such thoughts and actions were sinful. Her thoughts went in circles, leaving her confused and frustrated.
Very late one night, Mar woke again to hear subtle movements in the room next to hers again. This time, she quietly slipped from her bed and pulled her robe on. She turned on the light and met a surprised Jay in the hall.
"Iím just stepping out for some fresh air. Go back to bed, Mar."
Mar rolled her eyes. "No youíre not. Do you think Iím stupid, Jay? Iíve known what you have been up to since day one."
Jay stiffened. "What do you mean?"
"You slip out late most nights and return before dawn. Youíre not the least interested in the farm. You are here looking for Lafitteís gold. For Godís sake, Jay, itís a pipe dream. An old, silly legend."
Jay smiled. "You seem very sure of that."
"I think if there was buried gold on this island, it would have been found by now. Lance Blackwell is here for the same reason isnít he? Just like you, heís been digging out there looking for treasure. The two of you are the ghosts that the workers have seen. For Godís sakes, Jay, this treasure hunt is silly and dangerous."
"You donít understand."
"Yes, I do. Do you think I didnít run a background check on you after I got your letter? Do you think that old truck and dirt bike were going to fool me? Youíre the CEO of Atlantis Enterprises. You hunt for sunken treasure in the Caribbean and youíve been lucky enough to make some finds and wise enough to invest and diversify. As well as owning homes in California and Trinidad and Tobago, you own two ships, a helicopter and have controlling interest in three companies. Youíve used and misled me from day one."
Jay shrugged. "Iím a pirate. I told you that."
"Youíre a liar and a fool."
Jayís eyes turned stormy. An arm shot out and pulled Mar close. The kiss was not violent but filled with passion and need.
Marís anger dissipated to be replaced with want. She reached up bring her breasts against Jay and wrapped her arms around Jayís strong shoulders. The kiss lasted a long time and left them breathless. Finally, it was Jay who pulled away.
"It seems like you are living one big lie too, Mar," she stated sarcastically. "Iíll be out of here by the end of the week. In the meantime, Iíll keep my distance." Jay turned and headed down the stairs.
Mar leaned on the wall, tears of betrayal running down her face. "Bitch!" she yelled after the retreating figure.
Jay stormed off to her truck to get out her gear. She was angry more at herself than Mar. Angry that she had lied and deceived her and angry that she couldnít control her feelings for the small, Southern woman. She cursed herself for taking that last kiss. First, it was a cruel thing to do to Mar and second it brought with it the realization that Jay had steadily denied. She was in love.
She forced the thoughts to the back of her mind and concentrated on what she was doing. As always, Jay set a false trail, making sure that if Blackwell saw her, he would do so miles away from the area of her real dig. Sheíd walk along the buffers, stopping here and there to take soundings. Sheíd do this for an hour or so and then use all her skills as a hunter to disappear into the night. Sheíd circle around, pick up her dirt bike and head out to the site where she was really working.
Once there, Jay moved across the field with knowing steps. The darkness of the night was no longer a handicap but rather a cloak of privacy as she went about her business. Perhaps her early success and the lack of difficulties had made her careless or perhaps her mind had wandered off into recalling moments with Mar, but for whatever reason, she was totally unaware that she was not alone until the blast cracked the air.
She saw the flash first. An orange ball of flame spreading out. A split second later, she heard the shotgun crack and crumpled to the ground as hot metal penetrated her thigh and leg in a dozen places. Gasping she crawled to the edge of the grass buffer and rolled out of sight into the taller grass that lined the edge of the drained field.
The sound of the shutgun being pumped sent chills down her back. Sweat dripped down her face.
"Where are you, Jaylene Regaud. Come out and play with your old friend Lance."
"I know youíre hurt, Jay. Youíre going to need my help."
The footsteps stopped. Jay held her breath and hoped the darkness of the moonless night would be enough to cover her hiding place.
The voice was now hard. "Youíre in trouble, Jay. Youíre going to bleed to death. Show yourself and Iíll make it quick. I told you Iíd get even. And I will. I know the places you have been digging and once youíre gone, well, I figure that gold and your little friend are mine."
Jay ground her teeth in pain and anger. She knew, no matter what, she was going to live and get the bastard.
The footsteps continued on. Slowly, Jay edged forward inch by inch. She kept her eye focussed on the farm house a half mile or so off and did her best to block out the pain and anger. Sheíd been in worst situations. She had to believe that she could do it.
Time passed. Several times nausea and pain brought her close to passing out. She crawled on. Where was Blackwell? He wouldnít have given up. What was he up to?
Mar looked out the window, straining her eyes to see off into the darkness. The crack of a shotgun blast had startled her. Logic told her it was someone hunting possum or muskrat in the swamps. But she knew Jay was out there. Jay was always out there, chasing myths and pipedreams. She sighed. She knew now she loved Jay with all her heart. But loving Jay meant living life on the edge. It meant no safety net and no promises. It meant loving a pirate.
The time ticked by. Mar stayed at the window. She had decided to give it an hour and if she didnít see Jay, she was going to take the jeep out and find her. Then she saw a movement in the shadows by the pump shed. A figure stumbled forward, leaning heavily on the pump house wall. It was Jay.
Mar was down the stairs and out in the yard before she was aware of moving. She wrapped an arm around Jay and held her up. Jay was covered in blood.
Jay gritted her teeth against the pain. "Shot. Shotgun."
Mar nodded. "I heard the shot. I was hoping it was hunters. Careful on the step. Iíll leave you in the kitchen and then call the doctor. At this hour, the clinic wonít be open."
"Iíll tell him."
Mar half carried Jay into the kitchen and lowered her to the floor. She wrapped her belt around Jayís leg to try and slow the bleeding and ran into the livingroom to use the phone. When she came back, Lance Blackwell was standing there a shotgun in his hands.
"Well, hello pretty thing. How about you come over here so itís easier for me to keep an eye on both of you. I have to admit killing Regaud here has been a dream of mine for sometime. Iím glad you are here. Weíll celebrate after."
Jay struggled to get up. "You leave her alone, you bastard."
Heart pounding in fear, Mar walked over and stood in front of Jay.
"Iím not going to let you kill her, Lance."
"Do you think you can stop me?"
"Iím sure I can."
Blackwellís eyes roved over Marís body. "So make me one of those offers I canít refuse."
Mar swallowed and moved towards Blackwell.
"For Godís sakes, Mar, donít! Heíll kill me anyway. Please. Donít," Jay sobbed.
Mar wrapped her arms around Blackwell as if to kiss him. Then she gave a gasp of pain as he twisted her hand back and wrenched the taser from her fingers.
"Mar, get away from him, please."
Blackwell laughed. "You didnít think I was going to fall for that, did you? Youíll get yours soon. But first, I want to hear Regaud squeal like a pig as I slowly kill her."
Mar went for him. Blackwellís reflexes were much quicker. He brought up the butt of the shotgun and caught Mar under the chin. She dropped beside Jay without a sound.
Instinctively, Jay went to crawl to her then stopped when she saw Blackwell had the shotgun aimed at her good leg. Instead, she edged away from Marís still body. Her temples drummed with each beat of her heart. Fear grasped her chest in an iron vice, not for her own situation but for Marís.
"Come on, Regaud, beg for your life."
Jay looked him straight in the eye but said nothing. She watched as Blackwell slowly put pressure on the trigger. The blast made her jump and pain shot through her body.
Blackwell gasped. The shotgun dropped from his hands as he crumpled to the ground. Jay looked over at the living room archway. Bubba stood there with an old twenty-two rifle in his hands.
"He was goiní to kill you so I had to kill him. Itís goiní to be bad for me, killing a white man."
Bubba came over and knelt by Mar.
"Mary-Lou, are you okay?"
"Jay?" came a moan.
"Iím here. Iím okay." Jay crawled painfully to Marís side and took her hand. "Are you okay?"
"Yes. Jay, your leg. You need help. Blackwell?"
"Bubba shot him."
Bubba got up from where he knelt by Mar. "Iíll better be calliní the police and an ambulance. You two are gonna need some patchiní up. Iím thinkiní thereís been a whole heap of trouble tonight and more of it to come."
Jay nodded and closed her eyes. She knew Mar was safe and that was all that mattered. She let unconsciousness wash over her.
"Bubba, give me the rifle," Mar groaned.
"What you mean?"
"The rifle. I shot Blackwell with your rifle after he ordered you to put it down. Remember?"
"Mar, I canít be lettiní you do that."
"You saved Jayís life and you saved mine. Iím going to make sure that yours is protected too, in case there is trouble over the shooting. Give me the rifle."
Bubba handed it over and watched Mar carefully check it and wipe the firing mechanism clean of prints before making sure hers were on it. "You came in and Blackwell surprised you. He told you to drop the rifle and you did. I reached for it while he was threatening Jay and shot him when he went to fire on her. Okay?"
"Yes, Miss Marenette."
"Help me up, Bubba. I have to be on my feet when the police arrive. Youíd better get us some help now. And Bubba?
"Thanks for looking after me."
"Iíve been keepiní an eye out most nights for them ghosts the workers have been seeiní, figuriní it was Miss Regaud. When I heard the shot, I got my gun from the truck and ended up tailiní Blackwell back here," Bubba explained, as he helped Mar to her feet.
"Thank God you did or weíd all be dead. Could you bring a blanket for Jay too?"
Bubba nodded. "Sure thing."
Jay woke feeling groggy and disorientated. An IV dripped slowly into her arm and her leg throbbed painfully. She was alone.
A nurse passed the doorway.
Footsteps, and the nurse walked into Jayís room.
"Good morning. Are you feeling better today?"
"Mar? Mary-Lou Marenette. Is she okay?"
"I have no idea. Was she shot too? She wasnít admitted to this floor. I could check if she is in the hospital."
"Hospital? Where am I?"
"Has anyone come to see me?"
"Not to my knowledge, but maybe someone came last night."
"I need a phone. How do I get a phone?"
"Iíll arrange it. Okay? Now I need you to rest. You lost a lot of blood."
Jay stared at the ceiling while the nurse checked her vitals and IV. Her heart ached with worry about where Mar was and if she was alright and why she hadnít come to visit or even phone.
For the next three days, she lay there with just the routine visits of the hospital staff. It gave her a long time to think. Sheíd always lived her life for the moment. The houses she owned were stopping off spots between adventures and not real homes. Birthdays and Christmas passed with no special celebration. She didnít even own a pet.
She wondered if commitment was such a bad thing after all. She didnít know a lot of happily married people but the ones she did, seemed to have something special going for them. Jay wondered if she could have that too and whether she was capable of being a good partner.
Her fatherís inability to maintain a relationship had always angered her and yet she had never even tried to establish a decent relationship with anyone. She wondered if she was incapable of doing so or if she was just too scared to try.
One insecurity led to another. Jay fretted as to whether her lifestyle was suited to having a full time partner. Could she ask a partner to spend half her life at sea? Would Mar want that?
That was the thunderbolt, Jay realized. Her thoughts hadnít been hypothetical they had been about Mar. Jay had to accept that she was in love and that meant commitment.
But Mar had not been in touch. Yeah, she had tried to protect Jay but sheíd also called her a bitch. Jay had tried to call many times but no one ever picked up. She knew Mar was okay because the Sheriffís office had phoned to say the Sheriff would be down to talk to her about the events. Jay had asked about Mar and been told sheíd been released the next day with only some bruising and sore muscles. So why then, Jay wondered, had Mar not answered her phone.
New insecurity flooded into her thoughts. Jay wondered if Mar was glad to see her gone. That thought caused Jay almost physical pain. Not to see Mar again, she knew, would hurt like hell.
The Sheriff arrived on the afternoon of Jayís fourth day in hospital. She was sitting up in the chair now and doing long walks around the hospital wing to strengthen her leg muscles. She had a mess of stitches still, pocked all over her leg where some buckshot had to be dug out of her but she hoped to be out of the hospital soon. She suspected that her release might have been delayed until the Sheriff could get to see her. The time had allowed her to worry herself into a pile of anxieties. She needed to work on putting a lot of fears at rest.
The lean, tall figure of the Sheriff appeared at her door.
"Miss Regaud. We seem to keep meeting at hospitals."
"Iím afraid so. Have you seen Mary-Lou? How is she?"
"I saw her yesterday. Sheís doing fine. Told me she was thinking of taking a holiday."
"Oh." Jay swallowed hard. It sounded like Mar didnít care.
"I need to ask you a few questions about that night."
Something made Jay feel cautious. Something lost in her memory of the evening of the shooting.
"Iíd lost a lot of blood. I was only semi-conscious for most of it. Iíll do my best to answer if I can."
The Sheriff pulled up a chair and got himself comfortable. "You just tell me what you saw and heard that night.
"Blackwell was after me. There has been bad blood between us for years over sites weíd worked. Heíd followed me to Rouge Island because he thought I was looking for LaFitteís gold."
"And were you?"
Jay shrugged. "I looked around. I wonít deny that. Treasure hunting is what I do for a living but I was there because of the land I had inherited not because I had any leads on buried treasure."
"Weíd fought the night of the dance. He came back for revenge. Iíd gone to have one more look around the field now harvest was pretty well over and he caught me unawares. Shot me in the leg and would have finished me off if he could have found me. I managed to crawl back to the farmhouse."
"Mar saw me from the window and helped me in. I was lying on the kitchen floor and Mar had gone to call for help when Blackwell came in."
The Sheriff nodded but said nothing. What did he want to hear, she wondered? What should she be careful not to say?
"Mar tried to protect me and Blackwell hit her."
"She was over by you then. Not by the door."
Jay nodded and then realization started to sink in. She knew how Mar would play this one out.
"Yes, but she backed off after Blackwell hit her and told her he was going to deal with her later. Then he pointed the shotgun at me. After that things get a bit fuzzy. Iíd tried to get up, you see, when Mar got hit but I think I blacked out from the pain. Next memory I have is of a gun going off and Blackwell dropping. Then I donít remember much of anything until I woke up here."
The Sheriff sat quietly for a bit looking at the floor. Then his eyes came up and met Jayís.
"Iím having trouble here imagining Mary-Lou Marenette killing someone."
Jay felt her heart drop. "Look, it was self defence. Blackwell had threatened to kill both of us. Iíd swear to that in a court of law."
"But you donít remember who fired that gun."
Jay met the Sheriffís eye and hoped sheíd worked this one out right. "No I donít, but I know Blackwell was going to kill us."
The Sheriff got up. "Did you see Bubba there?"
"Not when Blackwell threatened us. Maybe later, when help came. Iím not sure. Like I said, I was pretty well out of it by then."
The Sheriff smiled slowly. "Well, I guess your story checks out with the others as far as it goes. Blackwellís dead and it appears his killing was this side of the law. Hope youíre better soon, Miss Regaud. But Iím also hoping youíll be leaving Gerald pretty quickly. You seem to have brought a whole mess of trouble out there on Rouge Island."
"Yeah, Iíll be leaving soon."
The Sheriff stood. "Good. Good day, Miss Regaud." And he was gone.
Jay sighed. There was no reason to stay on Rouge Island now. There was still the land issue to work out but her lawyer could handle all that. As soon as she was released, sheíd rent a car, go pick up what she needed and leave. Mar could keep the old truck and dirt bike if she wanted, or sell them.
On Rouge Island, Mar was beside herself. The Sheriffís office had told her that Jay had surgery to remove the shot from her leg and was recovering nicely. But she desperately needed to see and talk to Jay. That, the Sheriffís office had refused to allow. The Sheriff explained that he needed to interview Jay before they could talk.
The last four days had been a living hell. Mar was terrified of losing Jay and she was terrified that Jay would tell a different story from her own. Finally, the call came from the Sheriffís office that Jay had been interviewed and the case was closed. Blackwellís death had been ruled a justifiable homicide.
Mar was on the phone to the hospital in Galveston immediately. But her heart sank when she learned that Jay had been released and had left the hospital just an hour before. She sank down onto the chair and tears rolled down her face. She loved Jay. She knew what Jay was and that a life together was probably not possible but she loved her and she had wanted to feel, however briefly, that love returned. Now there was no chance of that. Misery welled up inside her and she sobbed uncontrollably.
Jay tried leaving several times. All she had to do was get on a plane and head for California. Instead, she rented a hotel room and paced it until her leg throbbed. Then she sat moodily in a chair and channel surfed. Then next day, she followed the same pattern and the next. Finally, she packed and called for a rented car.
Later that afternoon, Jay saw a cloud of dust heading towards her up the dirt road that she bounced down. Carefully, she pulled her rented car to the side to avoid the truck that was advancing on her at a reckless speed. Marís vehicle was almost beside her before Jay realized who it was. She honked her horn madly. A cloud of dust surrounded her as the truck roared past. Then there was the squeal of breaks. The truck backed up.
Jay got out, waving dust away with her hand and squinting into the red mist. There was Mar.
"I came back." Jay said.
"I was just leaving."
"Before you do, Iíve got something to show you."
Jay led Mar over to the car and pointed to the back seat. Mar looked in.
"Itís a dog," exclaimed Mar in surprise. The dog in question was of questionable heritage. The fur was a mottled brown and rather shaggy, the ears drooped and the tail looked too long and too narrow to belong to the body.
"A particularly ugly dog."
"Yeah. I got him at the pound. He was scheduled to be put down."
"Why a dog, Jay?"
Jay kicked dirt with the toe of her boot.
"Yeah, commitment. Where you headed?"
Mar smiled. "The sea."
Jay smiled now too. "You need a pirate."
Mar moved closer and ran her hands up Jayís chest. "I already got one but I could do with a dog."
Jayís arms wrapped around the woman that leaned against her.
"What about the farm?"
"Bubba and his oldest son are taking over. Theyíll do a great job."
Mar laughed and wrapped her arms around Jayís neck. "Come here."
The kiss was long and needy.
"Letís go," Mar finally gasped, her voice rough with need.
Jay loaded Marís knapsack into the back of the car while Mar pulled the truck to the side of the road and phoned Bubba to tell him where he would find it. Then she walked over and joined Jay in her car.
Jay looked at the dog in the back seat. "LaFitte, this is Mar. I told you about her."
Mar laughed. She looked out over the flat, humid land that had been her life.
"Regrets?" Jay asked.
"None." Mar snuggled closer. "Except maybe never bothering to look for LaFitteís gold.
"Oh, about that." Jay pulled a bag from under the car seat and poured a silver fork bent and dirty with age, a bronze coin and three hand-made nails onto the seat.
"You pirate!" Mar laughed and swatted her. "You found the treasure and didnít tell me."
"It was on my land," Jay protested. "Besides I planned to cut you in all along."
Mar nuzzled Jayís ear and whispered, "You are busted, Regaud. Hand over your treasure and your life."
Jay did so willingly.
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