Good news from Anne
By popular demand my well known Aliki Pateas Murder Mystery Series is now available at PD Publishing.
Also look for the Little Book of Big Christmas Tales coming out the fall of ‘08.
by Anne Azel C 2007
Chapter One: Stranded
She had always been wearing pearl grey. Grey slacks and blouse. She was tall and her figure slim. Her hair was such a light blond that it was almost white and she wore it cropped short. She carried a grey cane but Kate did not know if she needed it or not. She had never seen the mysterious woman move. Kate had seen her only twice. Each time, she’d been standing on a balcony of a house that over looked the tropical gardens of the resort. And on both occasions when Kate had looked up the woman had been looking boldly at her.
Kate knew her name. It was Peri Dubois. Madame Peri, she was called by the staff. When they said her name there was both respect and fear in their voices. Peri Dubois owned the resort and several other businesses on the South Pacific island of Bora Bora including a cultured pearl business and a vanilla bean plantation.
Bora Bora is part of French Polynesia, one of the Tahitian chain that form a necklace of islands in the South Pacific. The island is dominated by a cone shaped mountain, green in tropical vegetation. It is ringed by a wide coral reef on which the resorts are located. Kate had been here for two weeks and her breath was still taken away by the sheer beauty that was Bora Bora. The ocean was a kaleidoscope of colour from soft milky green, to aqua, to deep blue. The beaches were coral white and the tropical forest thick and lush. The clear blue sky heightened the intensity of the colours and when the occasional rain storm blew in off the ocean the thunder of the surf was exhilarating. At night, the skies were crystal clear and the Milky Way danced with the diamond sparkles of millions of stars. It was more than a tropical paradise, Kate had decided, it was a beautiful dream come to life.
That dream had now turned into a nightmare. Her husband of two weeks had deserted her leaving her with incredible debts and no job. He had told her he was rich, a self made man who had made a fortune designing a unique piece of software for computers. Theirs had been a whirlwind romance and her friends had been envious of her.
Rick Keynes, alias Roy Kendall, Roy Kendrick, Roger Keynes and countless other names was a con man, who preyed on young women like herself. Rick was ruggedly handsome, fit, and intelligent. He was a man of the world and so very, very charming. Kate had fallen for his charm hook, line and sinker. After a short but amazing courtship, a beautiful wedding, and two weeks in paradise, Rick Keynes had simple got on a plane and left her behind without so much as a note.
Kate, frantic, had reported him missing. The local police had soon found out that he had taken the local flight to Tahiti and caught a connecting flight to L.A. where he had simply disappeared. Further enquires with the police in the US had discovered that Kate was at least the fifth Mrs. Keynes. Rick had warrants for his arrest in six states on charges of assault, bigamy, kidnapping and fraud. When she accessed her bank accounts she had discovered that Keynes had used her money, not his own as she had been led to believe, to pay for their expensive courtship and wedding. The money that she had inherited from her parents, which Keynes was supposedly investing wisely for her, had all gone and with it so had her good for nothing husband. He’d even cashed in her plane ticket. Now she was stranded in Bora Bora and deeply in debt to the resort.
Kate waited in the lobby to see Madame Peri Dubois. She had been asked nicely but firmly to leave her room earlier that morning and had been presented with the bill. $52,326.19. How had they spent so much money, she had asked? Their suite over the water with its glass bottom lounge was $1,200 a night. Meals had cost them around $350 dollars a day. Then there was the bar bill, another $1000 and the excursions they had taken: the private submarine dive, the helicopter ride, deep sea fishing, wind surfing, the list went on and on. All those magical moments had now become huge debts. Kate felt sick to her stomach and her head throbbed.
“Mrs. Keynes? Madame Peri will see you now. This way please,” said the beautiful Polynesian woman who wore a smart suit with the hotel’s logo on the pocket. Kate followed the woman up the curved stairs and along the teak hall way to a bridge that arched over the hotel’s gardens to the hill on the far side. Peri Dupois’ beautiful teak home sat on the hill.
Her guide put in the code for the lock on the gate that bared the walkway to the hotel guests and indicated that Kate should go first. Kate heard the woman closing the gate behind them. No one entered the private world of Madame Peri without permission. Kate felt like she was walking the plank as she crossed the narrow bridge.
They followed a stone path that wound through beautiful gardens to the open verandah of The House as the staff called it. Kate was asked to wait there. A few minutes later, Peri Dupois limped out. She leaned on her cane and one leg appeared stiff as she walked.
“Mrs. Keynes, please sit down.”
Peri’s English was good yet it maintained that wonderful lilt of the French accent. Kate sat obediently as she’d been told. Peri did not sit. She leaned against the rail and looked at Kate with interested eyes.
“First, may I express my sympathies. I am sure this is a very trying time for you.”
“Thank you,” Kate muttered. She looked at her hands feeling both embarrassed and worried.
“Still, I run here a business not a charity. My bookkeeper tells me that you owe the hotel a considerable amount of money.” Peri hated these sort of encounters. She had to do what was best for the hotel but that didn’t mean that she didn’t feel for those individuals, such as Kate Keynes, who found themselves in financial trouble through no fault of their own.
“You can not pay?”
“No.” Kate felt the heat of embarrassment creeping up her neck.
“You have family or friends that you could ask for money?”
“I’m an orphan. My friends would not be in a position to help me.” Vocalizing these words made Kate realize just how alone she really was. A wave of depression descended on her.
“You have a job back in the United States?”
“I quit when I got married.” Kate barely got the words out. Her lip quivered and she swallowed hard and painfully as she tried to hold her emotions in check.
“I see. Do you have any skills?”
“I’m a nurse.”
Peri sighed. She was trying to find a solution for both the hotel and Kate but it was not proving easy. “If you had a job in the United States I could arrange to garnish a per cent of your salary until the debt was paid off. If I allow you to leave without such an arrangement there is a good chance I will never see my money.”
“I will find a way to pay you back. If you let me go, I could get a job and arrange payments.”
Peri steeled herself. As owner and manager of the resort, she couldn’t afford to be soft hearted when Kate owed so much money. “I have only your word on this and you have not proven to be trustworthy. Once you are in the United States there is little chance of me getting my money back.”
“I will pay you back.”
“Perhaps, but I do not think I wish to take the chance.”
For a few seconds there was silence while head down, Peri considered her options. Then she looked up and met the eyes of the upset woman.
“You are in a difficult position. I can offer you only two options. The first is for you to refuse to pay your debt in which case my lawyers will have you charged and arrested. I am sure this is not satisfactory to you and it would not be to me either as I still would be out the money. The second would be for you to work here until your debt is paid off.”
Kate looked up in disbelief. “I could do that?”
“Work here? Oui. But you should know, you will be working off your debt. I will provide basic accommodations and you may eat with the staff. For this, you will be charged a small sum as all my on site staff are. I also realize you will need some money for basic needs, say twenty dollars a week. At a local wage for a nurse, it will take you two years perhaps a bit more to pay off your debt. In the meantime, you will be basically indentured labour. I am sure neither choice is very satisfactory to you but you have been very foolish and it is the best I can offer you. Do you accept?”
“Do I have a choice?”
Peri found herself growing impatient. “I am not forcing you. If you can think of a better solution for paying off your debt I am willing to hear it.”
“If I were to get some money and pay off the debt at sometime, could I get out of this agreement?”
“Then I accept,” said Kate, feeling she had just signed away her life.
With relief that this unpleasant task was over, Peri called over the porch rail to someone out on the gardens. “Maria, you will please escort Mrs. Keynes to our accounting office so that she may sign a contract.”
“Yes, Madame Peri,” came a voice from below.
“That is all then, Mrs. Keynes. If you can find your way out, Maria will meet you at the bridge.”
Kate nodded, too upset to speak. She left quickly with her head down.
Behind her, Peri Dubois frowned not sure why she had taken the steps that she had. On the rare occasions when a guest could not pay his or her bill, Peri had taken legal action to get her money back as best she could. A business of this size had a margin of profit designed to absorb losses to theft, breakage and unpaid bills. Although Kate’s bill was unusually high, there was no reason for Peri to have handled this case any differently than the others. Yet she had. There was something about this woman. Peri had noticed her walking with her husband in the gardens on their first day here and several times after and each time Peri has stopped and watched fascinated. Kate was beautiful in a fresh, uncomplicated way. She was only slightly shorter than Peri and her hair was short, curly and the colour of chestnuts.
A cold dread seeped over Peri and she ground her teeth in annoyance. She had learned her lesson with Odette and wasn’t about to make another mistake. Kate was clearly heterosexual. She was safe from making another error in judgement by this alone. Peri might have been instantly attracted to the woman but it was not a relationship that was going anywhere.
Besides, her decision had practical applications. An American nurse on site would be reassuring to her American clients who found communicating with the French/Tahitian speaking population difficult at times. Yes, this solution would benefit the resort and therefore was a good one even though it went against general policy. With this argument, Peri managed to justify her actions to herself.
~ ~ ~
Kate was led to the administrative office and told to wait. After a considerable time, she was called into an office to sign a contract.
“Hello. My name is Piahuru. I am the day manager for the hotel.”
“How do you do?” murmured Kate, feeling drained of energy from the whole humiliating experience.
“I am well, thank you. I am sure this is a trying time for you but I have every reason to believe that Madame Peri’s solution will work to everyone’s benefit. Non? I have just talked to Madame Peri. She wishes you to work out of our first aid station. At the moment, we have a woman trained in First Aid, Zenie. She works for us weekdays so after hours and on weekends we have no medical personnel on site. This will be your job, oui?”
“If this is where I am needed. I will have to certify to work here, I imagine and I’ll also need to get a work visa.”
Piahuru waved his hand impatiently. “We will see to all these details. You are not to concern yourself. I will now walk with you over to our first aide post and introduce you to Zenie. She will outline your job and show you around. Come please.”
Dutifully, Kate followed Piahuru out of the office and back into the main lobby of the hotel. The lobby was a massive two story tent supported by gigantic tree trunks. At one end was the spiral staircase to the second floor and the main desk of teak with its dazzling wall of Mother of Pearl. To the other end, across the stone floor with its arrangement of bamboo furniture with bright floral cushions and huge pots of tropical plants, the tent flaps were drawn back so that the sea breeze blew in with a salty fragrance. Beyond the patio was the white coral beach of the reef, the aqua water and then rising up from the lagoon a mile away was the lush jungle peaks of the island of Bora Bora itself.
Kate hardly noticed the beauty that only a few days ago left her breathless. Head down, she followed Piahuru, feeling as if the entire staff were watching her and talking about her situation.
They followed a stone path through gardens of tropical flowers around one of several hotel pools and then turned left as they made for a small building of bamboo and grass shaded at the edge of the forest.
“Please come in,” said the smiling woman who had come to the door. Zenie was in her fifties and was a big woman. Tall and blocky, she wore a colourful printed dress and a white lab coat.
“Zenie, may I present Kate Keynes. Madam Peri has decided that Kate will be working with you at the First Aid station. She will be using one of the back rooms for her bedroom for now. I will leave you to show her around and explain your job.”
As soon as Piahuru was out of ear shot, Zenie smile dropped and she got considerably cooler.
“This is my station.”
Kate bit her lip and looked up into big, stormy eyes. “Yes, I consider myself lucky to be working under you. I will work hard but I know I will need a lot of instruction from you. I know nothing of tropical diseases. I am working off a debt. That is why Madam Peri hired me.”
Noting a basket of herbs that were being chopped one by one on the counter, Kate went on. “I am also hoping to learn something of the local cures. Western medicine is very good but I have always felt that much can be learned from alternative traditions.”
The smile returned to Zenie’s face. She now knew that Kate was not there to be the boss and that she was sympathetic to some of the traditional medicines that Zenie sometimes used.
“I know much about local medicines. I will help you. You too can teach me, non? We will be friends. Oui? You are the woman I heard about whose husband left her here. My husband was a no good too. Always he has big ideas but he no want to work to make them happen. All he make is babies. I had six. Then I throw him out.”
Kate laughed. It felt good to laugh. She might be virtually a prisoner here but working with Zenie would be fun. For the rest of the afternoon, Kate stayed with Zenie around the well stocked First Aid Centre learning the ropes and unpacking her bags in one of the two very small rooms at the back. Each room held two cots for any ailing guest who needed to lie down while being treated or who was waiting for the sea or air ambulance to arrive. Kate used one of the cots as a dresser as there was no other furniture in the room and the other would be her bed. It was a far cry from the beautiful suite over the ocean that she’d shared with Rick but it was much better than jail. She was also allowed to help Zenie prepare a herb salve for sunburn.
It was just before Zenie was getting ready to leave for the day that she pointed out the large, dark stain on the wood floor.
“That is blood. Always I scrub any blood clean but this stain would not come out. Never! It was here I found Madame Peri eight years ago. She had crawled here from out of the sea. A shark had eaten her.”
“Oh no! I saw that she used a cane and walked with a limp but I wasn’t aware what happened.”
“It is a very bad story. I will not be telling it in the dark. It will draw evil spirits. Tomorrow, when I come, I will tell you. Now I just warn you never to step on that stain after dark. Madame Peri’s grandmother, they say, was a witch. The power of the ancient ones runs in her veins. That is why the shark could not digest her.”
Kate felt a shiver go down her back despite the fact that she didn’t believe in such things. Zenie believed and Kate felt her fear.
After Zenie left, Kate sat up reading a book until midnight in case any guest might need medical attention. Then she placed the sign on the door that she had made during the day, before getting ready for bed. It read Twenty-four hour First Aid. Knock for service after hours. All evening she had avoided walking over the huge stain on the wood floor. Not because she believed in evil spirits, but if Zenie asked, she wanted to be able to say that she had followed her advice. Now, ready for bed, she bent over and touched the offending stain wondering how anyone could have been bleeding so profusely and have survived.
After the raw emotion of the last few days, Kate found it hard to sleep. She tossed and turned finding the little room hot and stuffy even with the screened windows. She had just seen the arms of her clock reach two when she first heard the soft sound. Thump, thump. Thump, thump. Kate froze and held her breath not sure why she felt threatened by the noise. Thump. Thump. She eased herself quietly from her cot and looked out her bedroom window. Nothing. The jungle beyond with its pandanus and coconut palms, kapok, and breadfruit trees seemed still in the moonlight.
Then from behind her she heard the gentle rattle of the clinic’s doorknob. A chill of fear waved down her body. Once again came the soft rattle. Kate tiptoed out of her little room. The main room of the clinic was bathed in moonlight making the stain on the floor stand out like a dark abscess on the blond timber boards. Heart pounding, she carefully skirted the horrible stain and tiptoed over to look out the front window. Nothing.
~ ~ ~
Next morning, Zenie found Kate nursing a cup of coffee as she stood looking out the window.
“Penny for your thoughts.”
Kate started and turned to see Zenie unpacking her substantial bag of the items she felt she needed for the day. Out came a comb, a book, two coconuts, a wood cross and a dried, smoked fish.
“I had a disturbing night,” Kate stated.
Zenie looked up.
“You tell me about it, non?”
So Kate did as the two of them got on with the morning cleaning. In between, they treated a boy with scraped knees, a woman who had got a very nasty sun burn the day before and a couple with rummy tummies from eating some cooked goat they had bought in the market that morning.
“I know I just let my imagination run away from me and there was probably no reason to be scared but still I’m sure there was someone at the door last night,” Kate concluded.
Zenie didn’t say anything. She went on with cleaning up the supply cupboard.
“It was nothing right?”
“It was the shark woman’s soul. Madame Peri.”
“It walks free at night. Others have seen it or heard it dragging that leg that still inside the shark’s mouth.”
Kate sank into the chair. “Maybe you’d better tell me the whole story so I understand.”
Zenie got out the two coconuts that she had been chilling in the fridge all morning and expertly cracked around the head of the coconut to break off the top. She placed a straw inside and passed it to Kate so she could drink the cool milk while she prepared the second one for herself. The fresh, cold coconut milk tasted wonderful after a hot morning’s work.
“Madame Peri was born here on this chain islands as were her mother and her grandmother and her great grandmother and so on. Her grandfather was an America sailor stationed here during the war. Her grandmother was one of the daughters of the Tongan royal house who ran away with this American sailor from Cape Cod and came here to live. Pomare was her name and she had the sight. People from all around came to consult her about their problems. Always she would help them but they knew they’d better pay because she was a spirit woman and one of the royal line. Much power this woman had.
“Now Madame Peri’s grandmother Pomare had only one daughter too and she marry a wealthy French business man who owned the cultured pearl farm and a hotel. Her name was Ohipa but the French called her Olivia. She was a great beauty. She died when Peri was born. So many years now in this family it has been the only daughter of an only daughter, non? The power of the spirits is strong in them.”
“I see,” said Kate, as she scraped the coconut flesh from the shell to eat with the smoked fish as Zenie had showed her.
“Now, Madame Peri likes the woman. We islands see no problem with this. In our culture, you are what you are. If a man wants to wear a dress and do women’s work, no problem. If a woman wants another woman no problem either.”
“Madame Peri is a lesbian?” Kate asked for clarification.
“Oui. Eight years ago, she has a partner, Odette Bondy. Very beautiful she is. A French model and photographer. One day, they take the Dubois yacht out and anchor on the reef. Odette said she wanted to get pictures of the sharks. So Peri stands on the back deck and throws chub into the water to bring the sharks close. Many come and the water boils with them. Then, some say, Odette pushed Peri in and a big shark eats her!”
Kate had forgotten about her coconut and smoked fish lunch as she listened to an animated Zenie tell her story.
“A shark bit her?”
“It ate her whole. Peri did not know this but Odette was not really interested in her at all. Non, she had the aventure - the affair with Peri’s father who was a silly old man to fall for a young woman. Some say, Odette wanted Peri out of the way so she can marry the rich, old man, non.”
“That’s attempted murder!”
“Oui. But Peri is no ordinary woman. The shark stomach can not harm a spirit woman. The spirit of the shark and the woman became one. Peri grabs the shark’s back bone and forces it to swim close to the hotel. Then she pulls the shark inside out so she can escape. But the spirit of the shark holds onto her leg and rips it to pieces. Still she swims to shore and drags herself to this hut.”
But she couldn’t have swum all that way so badly hurt in shark infested waters. It’s not possible.”
“Maybe, maybe not but I see with my own eyes this bloody trail from the water and it is I who find Madame Peri lying here near death. There was no boat. She had crawled from the sea.”
“My God. But what happened to Odette and the boat?”
“No one knows. She was never seen again. That night, while Madame Peri fights for her life her father dies in a house fire. Burnt to death by his desires.”
“Oh that’s awful. Awful.”
“There are bad spirits here, Kate. Bad spirts. I bring you this cross to wear. It will keep you safe at night. But you must be very careful not to step on the stain, non?”
“I won’t, Zenie. I promise. And thank you for bringing me the cross.” Kate slipped it on. “I’m sure it will protect me from any bad spirits that might be about.” Kate didn’t really believe the myth that Zenie had told her but she was grateful for the woman’s concern and kindness and was happy to wear the cross for her.
~ ~ ~
Like the day before, Kate left the clinic open after Zenie left. She treated a man who had cut his foot on a shell and a woman who had a migraine. She was in the process of cleaning up for the day when she heard quite a commotion down by the pool. Her French was not strong but she heard an American voice say something about a bad heart. Grabbing the hotel’s portable defibrillator, and her medical kit just in case, she ran and pushed through the crowd.
“I’m the duty nurse. Please let me through. ”
A woman held a man in her arms. “He’s got a bad heart,” she sobbed, as tears rolled down her face. The man was pale but still breathing shallowly.
She looked around the crowd and saw the pool boy looking worried and lost. “Tautu, go and get the oxygen tank from the main office.”
While she waited, Kate listened to his heart with her stethoscope. The heart was racing and the beat was uncoordinated. Dangerous arrhythmia, Kate concluded. She gnawed on her lip. If she used the AED she could perhaps regulate his heart beat and save his life. But if her quick diagnosis was wrong, she could bring on a fatal heart attack.
“Has he taken any medication?”
“Digitalis this morning but he’s been complaining all day that his heart was racing and he felt dizzy. He wanted to just sit by the pool and relax. Then all of a sudden, he tried to get up and passed out on the ground.”
The man was going grey and his lips were turning blue. Kate opened up the defibrillator and ordered everyone to stand clear. Then she put the pads to the man’s chest and gave him a jolt. Again she listened to his heart. The beat was slowing and becoming more regular. With a sigh of relief, she slipped an oxygen mask over the man’s face and adjusted the flow.
By now, the night manager, Monsieur Pana, had arrived. Kate addressed him. “I think we need to call the water ambulance to take him to the mainland, Sir. Let them know that it’s a serious heart problem and that the air ambulance from Tahiti should be standing by.”
“Oui. I will do this immediately.”
Kate stayed with her patient and monitored his condition. While she waited, she tried to reassure his wife and also wrote up her observations and treatment for the paramedics that would arrive on the water ambulance.
By the time that the man had been put on a stretch and taken to the ambulance boat, it was passed seven and the sun was starting to set. Kate felt tired, grimy and hungry. She gathered up her gear and headed back to the First Aid hut. Placing the closed for thirty minutes sign on the door, she stripped and stepped into the shower to freshen up. Drying herself with one of the clinic towels, she made her way to her little bedroom and slipped into fresh underwear, a t-shirt and some shorts. As she did so, a rather determined knock came on the door.
Now what? Kate wondered, as she made her way across the room and opened the door. On the other side was Marie, the assistant manager who had escorted her to Peri Dubois’s house just the other day. It seemed like weeks ago already.
“I keep knocking but you did not answer.”
“I was having a shower. I didn’t hear you knock until I was getting dressed. How can I help you, Marie?”
“Madame Peri wishes you to come. I will escort you.”
“I really need to clean up here and write up a report on today’s incident while the event is still fresh in my mind,” Kate protested. “And my hair is still wet.”
She saw fear in Marie’s eyes. “Please. You must come. It is as Madame Peri wishes. Some of the female staff are sick.”
“Sick. Well, why didn’t you say so? Can you tell me their symptoms, Marie, so I can bring some medicine with me?
“Some have headaches and are dizzy some have been vomiting. They feel very bad.”
“I don’t think so.”
Kate gathered some supplies and followed Marie to one of the dorms used by the on site staff.
“I must go. We are short staffed now. Kate, they are young. I would not want them to lose their jobs.” Marie hurried off before Kate could ask anymore questions. Surely, the dreaded Madame Peri wouldn’t fire the girls for being sick, Kate wondered, as she stepped up into the dorm.
The dorm was one room with a communal washroom and showers at the end. Six metal beds lined each side of the room with a standing closet separating each bed. Of the twelve beds, five were occupied with sick women.
It didn’t take Kate long to discover that the young women had been to a beach party with some friends before going on duty and had simply had too much to drink. Marie had been afraid to tell Peri Dubois for fear the girls would lose their jobs. She had passed the problem on to Kate.
Kate made sure that none were in danger.
“Please, Madame. You will not tell Madame Peri. We will lose our jobs.”
Kate shook her head. “You five have been very foolish. I will put in my report that you are suffering from tummy upsets that you got at a beach picnic. But if I hear of this sort of behaviour again. I will have to report you. Is that understood?”
“Oui, merci, merci,” the girls chorused.
Kate made sure everyone was comfortable and got them all glasses of water to drink for during the night. She left some medication to help with their hang-overs in the morning and told them to report to her if they were not on the road to recovery by tomorrow afternoon. Then she reported to the front desk to let Marie know that the girls would recover and that the problem was upset tummies from something they digested at a picnic. Marie smiled her thanks and said that she would phone Madame Peri and let her know.
Exhausted, Kate made her way back to her station and flopped on the bed. She didn’t wake until the early hours of the morning when she again heard the thump, thump. Thump, thump. She lay holding her breath and straining to hear. There it was again the gentle turning of the door knob.
Had she locked the door? She couldn’t remember. Fear clutched her heart but the door held. Thump, thump. Thump, thump. Then silence again.
Kate was too afraid and tired to undress. She wrapped a sheet around her and drifted off to sleep just as the sun started to rise.
~ ~ ~
It was late on the morning before Kate woke. She showered quickly, changed into fresh clothes and went in search of Zenie. She was anxious to find out of there had been any word on the man who she had given First Aid to yesterday. She found Zenie standing by the front steps of the clinic talking to a beautiful little girl. The child would be about seven. She had red hair and big grey eyes.
“Ah, you are awake,” called Zenie seeing Kate at the door.
“I’m so sorry, Zenie. You should have called me. It was a busy night last night.”
“So I have heard. Kate, this is Marau.”
“Hello Marau. How are you this morning.”
“I am well thank you. You do not need to worry. The man who had the heart attack yesterday is doing well. The five girls though that drank too much are not feeling so good today,” the child smiled.
“Oh.” Kate was totally taken back by the information that the small child knew. She wasn’t sure what to say.
Zenie watched the exchange with interested eyes, then turned back to the small child.
“Now here is the medicine your mother wanted. You take it right to her now.”
“Yes, Zenie, I will. It was nice meeting you Kate. I will see you again soon.”
Kate smiled although she felt strangely unnerved by this small child. “It was nice meeting you Marau.”
Kate watched Marau run off with the bag of medicine that Zenie had given her.
“Who is that child?”
“The spirit of the shark and the woman became one. That is the shark child - her hair the colour of her mother’s blood and her eyes the colour of the shark’s skin. Peri’s daughter.”
“What? But, Zenie, that is not possible!”
“Yet there is no other father. Did you not see for yourself? A beautiful child. An intelligent child. One who sees into our souls and knows all. On the Cook Islands there are many, ancient stories of people who can talk to sharks and even change into a shark.”
Kate bit her lip and shivered despite the heat of the day. She didn’t know what to think about the wild stories that Zenie had told her but she meant to know the truth.
That night, Kate set her alarm for one in the morning. Each time she had heard the strange noise outside, it had been around two. This time she was going to be up and ready. She dressed in khaki jeans and a t-shirt and slipped out into the cool, early morning darkness. A bench in a small alcove of bushes made and excellent place to hide. Kate pulled up her legs and wrapped her arms around them for warmth as she quietly waited. Some time later, she heard the soft sound off in the distance, thump, thump, thump, thump. Kate’s heart pounded with anticipation and her nerves tingled with excitement. She peered intently into the dark.
Something slivered over her foot and she leapt up and gave a sharp gasp. A lizard. Had she been heard? She listened. No sound. She relaxed back on the bench and waited. Then cold, icy fingers touched her arm. With a cry of freight, Kate leapt up and ran for the hut, slamming the door behind her. What the hell had that been? Calming herself, she looked out of the window. Between the trees, Kate could see a dark shadow moving with an uneven gait on the beach. Then the shape moved out into the lagoon and disappeared beneath the dark waters.
~ ~ ~
The days passed into weeks. Kate worked long hours. She opened the clinic at eight and closed it at midnight although she remained on call all night long. Officially, she was on duty from when Zenie left to the following morning but with nowhere to go and nothing to do, she got up and helped Zenie. Lying in bed only led to painful memories or worse horrible nightmares. She was better working. Zenie had become her one trusted friend and confident. She wasn’t sure how she could have gone on if it hadn’t been for Zenie’s practical wisdom and funny common sense.
When she got depressed or cried, Zenie was always there to drag her out of her doldrums. “Why are you crying? Your old man was no good. You be glad that he has gone. Here you are living in paradise with a roof over your head and good food. Now you stop your crying. Everything is going to be okay, Non? And Zenie would wrap a big arm around her and sing softly until Kate felt better.
Kate had to admit that if she had to be made a fool of and deserted by a no good husband, she’d couldn’t have been left in a more beautiful spot. The view was magnificent, the weather perfect and the guests generally polite and relaxed. Her job, over looking the one man who’d had a heart attack, had been well within her abilities. Her room was basic but clean and private and the food the hotel provided for the staff in their canteen was good. There was lots of fruit, rice and fish with any bread and desserts left over from the guests buffet from the day before.
But Kate found it hard to eat. She was stranded miles from home and deeply in debt to a stranger. She had little money and could only speak French hesitantly and with a limited vocabulary. And then there was the whole mystery of Peri Dubois and her shark child.
Not that she believed in Zenie’s wild stories. She didn’t. She now had a pretty good idea what the noise was. It was Peri Dubois walking the ground in the small hours of the morning when no one was around. He cane and metal brace making a rhythmic thump, thump as she walked. It was her who had slipped into the waters for a swim when no one was around to see her and it was her whose cold, fingers had touched her arm.
At least, that is what Kate had made herself believe. Kate had not ventured out again in the early hours. She was embarrassed at running away and wasn’t sure she could explain her actions to Peri Dubois. No, better to avoid the woman. Better not to know the secrets of the Dubois family. She was in enough trouble as it was. Still, she’d lay awake despite how tired she was until she heard the foot steps, the rattle of the doorknob and then silence.
Over the weeks, Kate grew gaunt and exhausted from grief and stress. Several times, when she had been heading over to the staff canteen for a meal, she’d noticed Peri Dubois on her balcony watching her. It was unnerving. Kate had taken to skipping meals or going at irregular hours. As she hurried along to the canteen, she would look up at the balcony. Sometimes, her eyes would met Peri’s and she would feel almost an electrifying jolt as their eyes met. Other times, the balcony would be empty and Kate would feel an irrational sense of disappointment despite her desire to avoid Peri Dubois.
Kate had been at her job for almost two months when Marie came running into the First Aid hut one evening looking panic stricken.
“Come quickly! Come quickly! Madame Peri needs you immediately. It is Marau. She was eating dinner and suddenly she could not breath. Hurry!”
Kate grabbed her medical kit and ran after the frightened assistant. They ran through the gardens and up a path that led to the Dubois house. The security gate was open and Marie led Kate through the lower hall of the house and up the stairs to the dining room.
Peri Dubois sat awkwardly on the floor. Her damaged leg out straight and her other curled up under the small frame of her daughter. Tears rolled silently down her face as she whispered softly to her daughter. Marau was grey and struggling to breath.
“She was eating dinner?”
“Did she choke on something?”
“Non. She complained that she felt funny and that her throat was closing in. Then she started to gasp for breath and fell from her chair.”
Kate was grateful that despite Peri Dubois’s obvious distress she was able to respond clearly.
“Marie, have the desk send over the oxygen tank just in case.”
“Does she have any food allergies?”
“I do not think so.”
“Did she eat anything different tonight?”
“Oui. I have hired an Indonesian chief and he prepared a special meal for us.”
Kate nodded and took out the snake bite kit form her medical bag.
“She has been bitten by a snake?”
“No. I think she is in anaphylaxis shock. A severe food reaction. Possibly peanuts. The adrenalin in the needle will help her recover if that is what has happened. It won’t do her any harm if I’m wrong other than giving her the shakes and a bad headache. Can I give her the needle?”
Kate gave the small child the shot just as Marie arrived rolling in the oxygen tank. Kate adjusted the oxygen flow of the tank and put the mask on the small child’s face. Her head was right next to Peri Dubois’s. She could smell the exotic woman’s perfume - spicy and sweet. Their hands touched and Kate nearly jumped with the impact. Peri Dubois didn’t seem to notice. Her focus was totally on her child.
Already, Marau was breathing easier and her colour was returning. Kate smiled reassuringly at the little girl.
“You are going to be okay now, Hon.”
Kate got up and went to smell the food. Peanut sauce as she had thought. It might not be the source of Marau’s attack but it a likely suspect. She turned back to her patient and removed the oxygen mask.
“You want to try and stand up now, Marau. Moving around a bit will help you feel a little better.
Don’t worry if a leg or arm suddenly starts to shake. It’s just a side effect of the drug and will soon disappear. Marie, could you take Marau for a walk into the other room and back?”
“Oui Kate. Come on Marau. You’ll feel better soon.”
Once they had left, Kate turned her attentions to the woman on the floor.
“Let me help you up.”
She saw Peri Dubois’s jaw tighten in anger but after a second of hesitation she nodded and Kate helped the woman to her feet. Peri DuBois was remarkable fit despite her crippled leg. Kate could feel the warm muscle next to her own as she wrapped an arm around her employer and pulled her up. Once she was sure the woman had her balance, she picked up Peri Dubois’s cane and handed it to her just as Marie and Marau came back into the room. Marau ran to her mom and held on to her tightly. Peri Dubois bent and whispered something softly into her child’s ear. It brought a smile to the child’s face.
Peri Dubois looked up.
“Thank you Marie. You helped save Marau’s life. I am deeply grateful. There will be an extra something in your pay pack this week for your efforts on behalf of my daughter. You may go now.”
“Oui, Madame Peri.”
Kate knelt and started to pack up her medical kit.
“You will not go. I need you here to care for Marau. Tonight, you can sleep in Marau’s room. Tomorrow, you will move your things up here and I will have a room ready for you.”
Clearly, Kate was not going to be thanked only ordered. She controlled her annoyance with effort.
“That really isn’t necessary Madame Peri. Marau will be fine now. I suggest that you have her tested as soon as possible for food allergies. If she does have them, she should be taught to use and carry and epi-pen with her at all times.”
“I said you will stay. There will be no argument. You work for me.”
Kate swallowed hard and forced back the tears. She was in an impossible position. Until she could pay back her debt, Peri Dubois controlled her life. She was essentially indentured labour. Dubois could make any reasonable request and Kate would be obliged to accept. Although an over reaction, it was not an unreasonable request for Peri Dubois to ask her to be a personal nurse to her child and live in her house. It was a beautiful home and much better than the small room in the back of the First Aid Clinic. Yet, she had to admit that she was not comfortable being there so close to Peri Dubois and her child.
She had slept in Marau’s room on a cot that the resort had provided that night. She had been told, no ordered, to pack a night bag and to return to The House before eleven. Madame Peri had shown her to her daughter’s room and left.
Kate had quietly got ready for bed so as not to wake Marau. She’d laid awake for a very long time too wound-up to sleep. The strange noises started about 12:30 that night. Low voices came from Peri Dubois’s quarters. Then moans and groans and the occasional thump. Close to two, a door opened and down the hall came the steady thump, thump of Peri Dubois’s step. The bedroom knob turned. Kate pretended she was asleep. The door opened slowly. Then closed softly. Kate was asleep before the footsteps returned.
Breakfast was surprisingly fun. Marau had to tell Kate all about the book she was reading.
“So is there a door in the back of your closet that leads to another world?”
“No, I checked. Maman came with me just in case but we didn’t find anything did we Maman?
“I’m afraid not and I was so looking forward to talking to the lion.”
“Well, maybe next time,” Kate smiled.
Marie came to take Marau on the ferry to the school on the mainland and Kate followed them out saying good bye to Marau in the beach before she headed over to the clinic to join Zenie.
Chapter Two: Into the Belly of the Beast
“Where have you been?” called Zenie, when she saw Kate walking up the path.
“I stayed up at The House last night.”
“Non! I had heard this but I did not want to believe it. Are you okay? Did anything happen?”
Kate decided to keep some of the events of the night to herself. Instead, she related just the story of how Marau had gone into anaphylaxis shock.
“Madame Peri was very upset and insisted that I stay in Marau’s room last night. Marau slept soundly and I got some sleep although it’s always hard to sleep in a strange place. I had breakfast with Madame Peri and Marau on their balcony this morning. It was all very pleasant.”
“Madame Peri is very good to us all but she is so powerful and that child, Marau, has the eye like her great grandmother. Strange things happen. I fear for you.”
“Now Zenie, don’t let your imagination run wild. As you said, Madame Peri is very good to her people. I will still be able to help you down here at the clinic. I just have to have meals with Marau and spend nights up there. Everything will be fine.” Kate sound far more confident than she felt. She was worried and yes, a little scared about living up at The House.
The day wore on with all the usual first aid issues that occur at resorts when tourists leave their common sense at home. Most of their patients were suffering from sun burn or minor cuts and bruises. When it was time for Zenie to leave, she gave Kate a big hug.
“You are like one of my daughters. I will pray for you. Wear your cross and stay away from Madame Peri at night when the shark calls for her.”
Kate laughed. “I’ll be fine Zenie but I will follow everything you say as best I can so you don’t worry.”
Zenie left reluctantly and with many backward glaces. Kate knew that she would be telling the other workers quite a story as they travelled back to the mainland on the hotel ferry.
At six, Kate closed up the First Aid clinic and left a note on the door telling people they could contact the nurse at the main desk if they needed assistant. She had stocked her first aid bag well and felt prepared if someone needed her during the night. Then squaring her shoulders, she headed up to her new quarters in The House.
To her surprise, she found that Peri Dubois was not there. Instead the house keeper, Miranda was babysitting Marau.
“Bonjour Marau. Bonjour Miranda. How are you today?”
“Bonjour Kate. We are fine. Now that you are here. I will leave. Madame Peri is on the mainland and will not be back until after dinner. The kitchen staff will serve the meal in the diningroom at eight. Madame Peri requests that you see that Marau does her homework.”
So now she was a babysitter too. “Oui. I’ll see that she does that. Au revoir, Miranda. Come on Marau, you’d better get started on that homework. You wouldn’t want to disappoint your mom.”
“It is so easy. I do not like having to do it. But Maman said I must.”
Kate got the small child organized and sat with her while she did her homework. Marau was reading several grades ahead of her age group and was doing well in math at her grade level. Kate could understand why the child found her school work less than challenging. When Marau was finished, they played a game of snakes and ladders until it was Marau’s bedtime. Marau was a good kid and talkative.
“Maman took me for allergy tests this morning. We flew to Tahiti and back. They put little needles in my back to see how I would react to things. I am allergic to peanuts just like you said I might be. Also a little bit to milk. I have never liked milk. Maman had to delay an important meeting to take me so she had to work tonight.”
“Well, I’m glad Madame Peri was so quick to get you tested. Did the doctor give you an epi-pen and show you how to use it?”
“Yes. We keep one in the diningroom now, one at the front desk and both mom and I carry one. Maman is having all the senior staff trained in how to use one. See, here is mine in my pocket. Next time I have a problem, I want to give my own needle. Maman and I have practised on an orange.”
Kate smiled at Peri Dubois’s over reaction. She was a caring mother, if overly cautious, but then she’d had a very nasty scare.
Kate sent Marau off to get showered and into bed. Then she let the small child read her book for twenty minutes before she turned the light out. This was not turning out to be the job that she had planned on at all.
It was coming up to eleven when Kate heard the uneven gait of Peri Dubois coming up the walk. She went first to her daughter’s room and then came on to where Kate sat on the balcony.
“Marau does not usually go to bed so willingly.”
Kate smiled. “She must have been on her best behaviour.”
“I didn’t have time to personally let you know of my plans. I will hire a nanny to care for Marau when I am not around. In the past, I have relied on the hotel babysitting service. I’m not comfortable with doing so now.”
“Marau is in no real danger. She is smart and responsible for a little girl and I understand the hotel staff are being trained to use an epi-pen. That is an excellent idea to protect guests with allergies too.”
The response is sharp. “I know what is best for my daughter.”
“Oui, Madame Peri. I will leave you alone now. Bonne nuit.”
~ ~ ~
Peri watched her go seeing the hurt and bewilderment in her eyes. She did not enjoy being so abrupt with Kate Madison as she was now calling herself having gone back to her maiden name. Kate had saved her daughter’s life and for that she would always be grateful. Peri had tried to repay the pretty nurse by reducing Kate’s debt by half. She had not told Kate this. She needed to keep a wall of coldness between her and Kate to protect herself and her daughter. There was no other way.
She limped out on the balcony and looked over the garden to the sea. Once again she could hear Odette’s voice and see the aqua water around her turn red with her own blood. Once again she could smell the wet ashes of her father’s home and feel the bitterness of betrayal.
No one would ever again have her trust or her heart. She would see to that. Nor would anyone ever come between her and her love for Marau as Odette had come between her father and her. She was the shark woman. Always moving, never sleeping and always alone.
~ ~ ~
One in the morning and Kate was still awake. She lay stiff and frightened in her bed. Straining her ears to hear the noises that were coming from down the hall even though she didn’t want to. Voices. She couldn’t hear the words. Movement, bangs and rattles too. Worse still moans. Painful groans and gasps. What was going on in Dubois’s private chambers? Who else was in there?
Then the noise stopped as suddenly as it had started. Dubois’s door opened and closed and the soft thump, thump came down the hallway stopping first at Marau’s door and then coming past Kate’s. The shark woman was on her nightly hunt.
A sudden thought made Kate shivered in fear. What if Odette Bondy had not escaped? What if she was imprisoned in the shark woman’s quarters?
That thought haunted Kate all night. She made a plan and in the morning after breakfast with the Dubois family she walked as usual towards the clinic. Once she was out of sight she doubled back and took the garden path that led to the back entrance of The House. Nervously, she slipped in her pass card that had been given to her that first night she had stayed in Marau’s room and slipped through the gate.
I have a perfect right to be here, she reassured herself to calm her beating heart. She entered the house and listened intently then headed to the wing that housed her room and the suites of Marau and Peri Dubois.
She listened again, her eyes darting left and right for any sign of life. Then quietly, she passed her own door and that of Marau’s to reach the end of the corridor that led to Peri’s suite. She slowly tied the handle. It was locked. She listened at the door. Nothing. Looking around again, she knocked gently and whispered close to the door then listened again. No response. Once more she tried. Nothing.
Thump, thump. The telling sound came from somewhere in the house behind her. Kate darted for her door and was just in the process of opening it trembling with fear when Peri Dubois came around the corner.
“What are you doing here?”
“I forgot something and came back for it.”
Peri Dubois looked sceptical. Her eyes shifted down the hall then back to Kate. “What did you forget?”
“My medical bag. I pack it ready for any first aid call I might have to go to during the night. I don’t like to leave it in my room because it does contain drugs.”
Dubois nodded. “Tomorrow, is Saturday. I have promised to take Marau swimming. You will come. Meet us at the docks at ten and wear a swim suit.”
“Oui, Madam Peri.”
Their eyes met. Kate wondered if Dubois could hear the fear in her voice or see the sweat on her lip that would reveal her stress at lying.
“Aren’t you going to get your bag?”
“Yes, yes, I am.” Nervously, Kate entered her room and picked up the bag that she had left that morning on her bed as an excuse should she be caught back in the house. Thank God she had. She didn’t think she would want to face an angry Peri Dubois.
Her boss waited at the bedroom door for her, watching her every move and stood in the hall silently as Kate took her leave. What was behind that locked door? And why had Peri Dubois returned to the house?
~ ~ ~
Peri watched Kate walk quickly down the hall. Kate was lying. She had tried to get into Peri Dubois’s rooms. Peri had watched her on the security screens that monitored the house and grounds. At first, she had assumed that Kate was after pearls and was going to rob her quarters. Her desertion by her husband could have been an elaborate plot to get Kate on the inside. She was about to reach for the phone to call security when she heard Kate knock and whisper, Is there anyone in there? Do you need help? What was she doing? Why would she think someone was in her quarters and needing help? Who was Kate Madison and what was she up to?
Peri went out onto the balcony and watched Kate as she nearly ran through the garden heading for the pool and on to the clinic. At the moment, she needed Kate to protect her daughter. But she would advertize for a nurse to be with Marau and then Kate could go back to living in the clinic until she had worked off her debt. Peri turned and limped back into the house.
~ ~ ~
“Non! What are you saying to me? You can not spend another night up there. These bangs and moans, they are the work of the devil.”
Kate, shaken badly from her experience had told Zenie everything as the two of them brewed up a batch of Zenie’s famous sunburn treatment.
“No. It’s not the work of the devil. Peri isn’t evil. You should see her when she is alone with Marau. This morning she was pretending to be a character in a book that Marau is reading and was wearing the maid’s dust mop around her neck so she would look more like a lion. She can be - funny, creative, loving - just nice.”
“No one who works for Madam Peri would accuse her of not being good. But that does not change the fact that she is the shark woman. What you think those noises are if they are not the devil?”
“I’m not sure. Last night, I scared myself into believing she might be holding someone prisoner in there. I mean no one knows really what happened to Odette Bondy do they? That’s why I went back this morning to check. I listened at the door. Knocked. Called out. No one answered. But something weird was going on last night.”
Saturday found Kate waiting on the dock by nine thirty. She had not slept well. Again last night the moans, groans and voices had come from Peri Dubois’s quarters. At breakfast, Marau filled in the silence that would have existed between the two women with the excited talk of a child determined to show her new friend all her special spots.
“Maman? Can we show Kate the reef? I want her to swim with the sting rays and see the sharks and the wonderful coloured fish. Can we have a picnic? Will we go to the pearl farm?”
Peri smiled at her daughter. “All this in one day?”
“We shall see what the ocean is like and do as much as we can. Now I have some work to do and you have promised to clean your room this morning. I will walk Kate part of the way to her clinic.”
The message was clear. Kate was not to be left alone in the house. Meekly, she got her swim bag that she had prepared the night before and walked beside Madame Peri through the garden.
She thought it would be difficult to keep pace with Peri Dubois’s uneven gait but she found they walked well together. The path was narrow for two and their bodies were close. Peri stopped at one point and took Kate by the shoulders turning her around and pointing into the bush.
“Do you see the frog?”
“No.” Kate was acutely aware of Peri’s scent and the warmth of her body at her back. It was both disconcerting and appealing.
“Over there on the tree trunk just above the red of the Flame Plant.”
“Oh my! I didn’t see it at all. Its so perfectly camouflaged. It’s amazing.”
For a few seconds, they stood there looking at the tree frog. Later, Kate would realize with a shock that it hadn’t been about the frog at all. It had been about them. About being close. Was she attracted to a woman? No, she couldn’t be.
She thought about her relationship with Rick. He had been her first. He had been kind and attentive but had she really enjoyed their love making? No. It had relieved her physical need but not her emotional want. They’d had fun planning a wedding and having a marvellous honeymoon but what would have held their marriage together after all the excitement? Nothing. Over looking the fact that Rick had been a con man preying on women with money, the marriage would never have worked over the long run. There was no spark. No passion.
Rick had never been committed to her emotionally and she now realized that she had not been committed either. Rick seemed like a good catch. He’d been charming and fun and led everyone to believe he was wealthy too. Her friends had been envious of her good fortune and had encouraged the relationship. She had been dazed by her good luck. It was time to marry and Rick had seemed perfect. When she thought about it, she had simply followed the pattern that society had expected of her. She’d got an education, found a job and lived independently for a few years and then had married to start a family. It was the right thing to do. Wasn’t it?
Unwillingly, her thoughts returned to Peri Dubois. The feel of her surprisingly strong body as Kate had helped her to her feet the night Marau had been ill. The radiant warmth of her and the spicy scent of her perfume as Peri stood close pointing out the frog. With shock, she had to admit that she’d felt a powerful sexual charge from those brief encounters.
Was she a lesbian and had never realized it? She thought back. There had been a female teacher of whom she’d had a hero worship as a young teen. And there had been a fellow nursing student that she had wanted as a close friend. She had been very disappointed when she found out the woman was involved with another woman. The new understanding of her feelings left her feeling totally unnerved.
So preoccupied with her thoughts was she that Zenie asked her if anything was the matter.
“No nothing. I’m going with Madam Peri and her daughter out to the reef today. I guess I feel nervous about that.”
Zenie crossed herself. “I will pray for you. Be on your guard.”
Kate forced a laugh. “I’ll be fine.”
But would she? She had known women and men who were gay. She certainly sympathized with their fight to be accepted by society and to live normal lives. She had been proud when Canada took the step to allow gay marriages. It seemed the right thing to do. But was she a lesbian? That was a very hard idea to accept. Did she want to be different? Could she help not being? Was she able to suppress those feelings and live a so called normal life? Would she want to?
She was in a very confused and agitated state as she carried her swim bag down to the docks to wait for Madam Peri and her child.
~ ~ ~
For Peri things had not been much better. She had tried to work but her thoughts had kept going back to walking beside Kate on the way to work. It had felt right. The frog she had spied on the tree truck had given her an excuse to touch Kate. She had enjoyed the feel of Kate’s form nestled against her own and the softness of her hair next to her face as she pointed out the frog over Kate’s shoulder. It had been a weak, pathetic act of need. She had acted impulsively. Had she thought for a moment she would have resisted.
What was she thinking? Since Odette, she had carefully and successfully avoided any attachments. Why was this woman different? No matter what the reason, she needed to get a grip on her emotions. Involvement was not for her. No one, not her mother who had left her at birth, her father who had rejected her or her lover who had betrayed her had loved her. She was the lone woman, the shark, and would remain so. Besides, to make a pass at a straight woman and an employee was just totally foolhardy. She could end up being sued for harassment. No, she must do everything she could to keep Kate at arms length.
Peri gave up the pretense of working and went back to her home. She changed into white slacks and a resort t-shirt and then went to find Marau in her room. They gathered the things they would need for the day and had a porter carry it down to the yacht. Hand in hand, she walked with her daughter down to the dock her face set with determination.
~ ~ ~
Kate had expected that they would take one of the resort’s outboard boats with the colourful canvas tops and bench seats. They ferried guests back and forth from the reef resort to the island of Bora Bora. Instead, Kate was led to a forty-five foot yacht. The ship, for that is what it seemed to Kate, was equipped with a beautiful lounge of bamboo furniture, a flying bridge for observation, a wheel house, a full galley, several bedrooms and a luxurious central cockpit. The yacht’s tender swinging from its derricks on the stern seemed like a big enough boat to Kate.
L’Explorateur was simply a magnificent ship and for the first time Kate became aware of just how wealthy Peri Dubois really was. Aboard the yacht there was a crew of four, a cook, maid, pilot and deck hand.
They climbed aboard and Marau immediately climbed up to the flying bridge to watch as the crew cast off and head out into the lagoon. Kate found herself alone with Peri Dubois in the midship cockpit. There were a few seconds of awkward silence.
“Would you like to take the tour of l'Explorateur?” Peri finally asked.
“Yes, I’d like that. I’ve never been on a ship before.”
Peri laughed. “This is hardly a ship but it is a reasonable sized yacht. I bought it second hand from a retired businessman who decided that Manhattan suited him better than a yacht in the South Pacific.”
They made their way towards the bow. Passing the navigation centre with its impressive array of technology and the well equipped galley, going through the main cabin and on past the head and storage closets to the two small bedrooms that filled the bow of the yacht. Then Peri led her back to the stern of the yacht and showed her the master bedroom with its wrap around stern windows, double bed and private bath. It was lovely but Kate felt on a razor’s edge being in there with Peri.
What if Peri used the opportunity to touch her? How would she react? Her body tingled with excitement and fear. She was aroused just being in Peri’s quarters. She wondered how many women had.
Then the touch on her shoulder. Kate turned and looked up into Peri’s face. For a minute nothing was said. Kate could feel her heart thumping and her desire had pooled into a pain of need. This had never happened to her before. Never. And it was both exciting and terrifying all at once.
Peri went to say something. Then stopped. Instead, she took a step closer and took Kate by her shoulders. Kate leaned into Peri’s body resting her head against Peri’s chest. She could hear the steady beat of the mysterious woman’s heart. Peri’s arms moved around her. Long, gentle fingers explored the contours of her back. Kate shuddered with desire and looked up into grey, passionate eyes.
Peri’s head lowered. Their first kiss was tender and gentle. Kate ran her arms up Peri’s chest and wrapped them around the taller woman’s neck. The kiss became needy, demanding. Kate had wondered if this moment came if she would pull away realizing that it was all wrong. Instead, she melted like butter next to a hot knife. It was definitely right. A need far greater than she had ever felt consumed her. All she wanted was to be loved by this woman. To feel the release that she knew she had never felt before.
Peri’s hand’s felt her breasts and Kate gasped with excitement. She was pushed back against the bulkhead and Peri kissed her mouth, her face her neck and finally her breasts.
“Stop,” Kate whispered.
Peri did so immediately. Stepping back but looking at Kate with eyes filled with want.
“But you do want to.”
“Yes. I just need time. I ...I’m confused.”
Peri’s face was expressionless. “Very well. Shall we go back on deck? Marau will be wondering where we have gone.”
“Yes. Yes, of course.”
Hurriedly, Kate straightened her clothes and stumbled out of Peri’s state room and up the ladder to the cockpit once again.
~ ~ ~
Peri followed much slower. Lifting her braced leg one step at a time up the teak steps and trying to come to terms with what had happened. Hadn’t she just decided not an hour ago that this woman was taboo? Hadn’t she realized that getting involved with this woman was dangerous? Then why had she succumb at the first touch?
On deck, she saw that Kate had retreated to the flying bridge and was letting Mararu point out all the sights to her. Peri smiled. It was not a warm smile but that of a predator. Kate might have not been with a woman before but Peri had felt her want. She would not give her heart to this woman. She had no heart left to give but there was no harm in an affair as long as they both knew the rules. After all, not quite four months ago, Kate had promised to love, honour and obey her husband. It hadn’t taken her long to get over him. It had been Kate who had come on to her.
When she had touched Kate’s arm she had merely wanted to show Kate the built in sound system in her stateroom. But Kate had turned into her arms and the look that had passed between them had been all about desire. Peri could not resist. Since the first day she had seen Kate, she had wanted the woman. Now having touched the softness of Kate’s skin and tasted the sweetness of her lips, Peri wanted more.
She sat in the corner of the cockpit watching Kate above her. Her eyes focussed on Kate’s breasts, her tight, round bottom and the shape of her crotch. She wandered what it would be like to claim this woman and knew immediately that it would be wonderful.
Kate looked down and saw Peri undressing her with her eyes. She didn’t blush or look away as Peri thought she might. Instead, she looked back, drinking in Peri’s long legs and firm body with curiosity and desire in her eyes. Peri smiled and Kate smiled back. This wasn’t over.
~ ~ ~
It had been a day of wonder for Kate. The yacht had anchored off the reef and they had taken the tender into the shallows where they had snorkel dived. Below Kate had been an underwater paradise of beautiful castles of coral and colourful fish of all shapes and sizes. It had been amazing to see.
In the water, Peri was like a fish moving freely and gracefully through the current with her daughter close at her side. On deck, it had been a different matter. Peri had removed her slacks to reveal an expensive knee brace and a scar that told the story of a grisly attack. Hundreds of teeth marks formed an oval shaped scar over her knee and up her thigh. Above the knee the muscle tissue was particularly mangled and a deep hollow ran for several inches where flesh was torn out. A surgical scar over the top of her knee indicated that she’d had knee surgery. Kate wondered if she had and artificial joint. Peri had removed her brace and with little difficulty had hopped down the ladder and into the water. Marau had dived off the gunwales and joined her. Much more cautiously, Kate had joined them, the scar on Peri’s body a good reminder that the ocean was an unforgiving place.
Once in the water though she forgot all her fears so taken was she with the beauty around her. It was only reluctantly that Kate followed Peri and Marau back to the yacht. The small child had wrapped her arms around her mom’s neck and was riding her back through the waves. Kate was envious of that intimate contact.
What was she thinking? Hadn’t she just got married only months before? Okay, he’d been a jerk and walked out on her but hadn’t she loved him? She thought she had. Hadn’t she enjoyed the sex? She’d thought she’d had. But Peri’s touch had awakened something in her far more powerful than she had ever imagined. She was like a moth drawn to a flame. She suspected that Peri hid a dark secret and yet she couldn’t help but want more of the woman. She was playing with fire and she should be afraid to be burnt but she wasn’t. It would be a wonderful pain.
Next, they had taken the outboard tender to a spot where the water was shallow and the bottom white sand. There Peri had slipped into the water and held a small bait-fish in her hand. Within a few minutes, she was surrounded by stingrays. Huge grey bat like fish swam over her body trying to get the fish. Their dangerous barbed tails trailing up her form. Marua squealed with delight and Kate, although apprehensive, was mesmerized. Peri gave up the fish and the when the stingrays had backed off she held up her hands and Marau slipped into her arms. Once again, Perri took a small fish from the bait bucket and the stingrays returned allowing Marau to feel them as they swam around the mother and daughter.
Then it was Kate’s turn. Marau scrambled up the ladder and Kate nervously slipped into the shoulder deep water. Peri wrapped an arm around Kate and held their bodies close together. The thrill of their naked skin touching almost made Kate come right there.
Peri gave her some brief instructions. “Try not to make any sudden moves. Do not touch their tails and avoid their mouths that can suck. You can touch them though. Are you ready?”
Marau passed Perri a small fish and a few seconds later they were surrounded by the magnificent beasts. They moved smooth and gracefully around them, slipping up and around their bodies. Peri took her hand and together they reached out and touched the wonderful creatures. The darker grey of their backs felt like fine sandpaper but their bellies felt as soft as silk. The fish released for the stingrays to take, they climbed the ladder once more.
“It is so much fun, non?” asked Marau.
“It is. I could never have imagined swimming with such wonderful creatures. Thank you, Marau for bringing me.”
Marau smiled and gave her a big hug. “But the best is yet to come. You’ll see.”
Peri had by now pulled herself up the ladder and swung herself onto the seat by the motor. She started up the engine and they headed back through the aqua lagoon water to l’Explorateur. On deck a wonderful meal of salads and cold lobster waited for them with a pitcher of tea ice.
Marau chatted away about fish she had seen and laughed with her mother about adventures they’d had in the past. Kate smiled. It was clear, the mother and daughter had a close and very deep bond.
“So while my back was turned, the Little Coconut here, spots a bloom or smack of Portugese Man-of-War and swam straight toward them.”
“I thought they were very beautiful. I didn’t know then that they could sting. I was just a child,” said the seven year old indignantly. She turned to Kate to explain. “You are supposed to call them all jellies not jellyfish because not all are fish. The Man-of-War isn’t really a jellyfish. Is that not so, Maman?”
“Oui. They are jellies and you swam right for them. I just managed to grab your foot and pull you back before you entered the smack. Marau knows no fear.”
“But the ocean is wonderful, Maman. I know better now than to swim near Man-of-War. Maman got stung. They used hot water to get the venom off and then rubbed meat tenderizer on her arm. Didn’t they mom?”
“Oui, it helps to soften the muscle again.”
“Are we going to swim with the sharks, Maman?”
“I see no reason why not.”
“They are very powerful,” Marau explained.
“They also bite.”
“Non! That is not true, is it Maman?”
Kate raised an eyebrow and looked at Peri. Would Peri tell her the story of how she had been attacked.
Peri winked at her daughter. “I think Kate has been told the story of the shark woman.”
Kate blushed and the mother and daughter laughed.
“Well, weren’t you bit by a shark?”
“Oui. I had thrown chub into the water and the sharks were feeding. I fell in and a shark bit me. As soon as it realized that I was not chub, he spit me out and I was able to pull myself back up on the diving platform.”
“It didn’t swallow you whole?” Kate asked in mock disappointment, smiling now herself.
“Oh you have heard that one. I’m afraid not. There are about 200 shark attacks a year. Most of those are accidents. The shark sees a splash in the water and thinks a fish is in trouble or a human steps on a shark in the sand. Only about five people a year actually die from a shark attack. We taste bad, I think. Still they are wild, dangerous hunters and it would be foolish not to treat them with respect. Is this not so, Marau?”
“Yes, Maman. Nature must always be treated with respect.”
An hour later, Kate watched from the runabout with her heart pounding with fear as Peri swam out with a bucket of chub and stood waist deep on a pile of coral. She didn’t like this at all. A shark could easily swim by and grab Peri. The fear must have shown in her face.
“Do not worry. Maman knows what to do. Remember to hold onto the anchor rope. Do not swim away,” instructed Marau seriously.
Pierre, the deck hand, had come with them when they left L’Explorateur after lunch. He slipped into the water and then reached his hands out for Marau. Kate followed. They formed a group along the anchor line. Pierre carefully holding Marau close to him.
When Peri saw they were in place, she started to throw chub from the bucket. Within less than a minute, five black finned sharks knifed through the water and started to eat the bait. Wearing snorkels and face masks, the three observers watched in awe as the powerful and magnificent fish swam past opening their mouths like huge canyons as they grabbed the pieces of fish. They moved swiftly with the minium of movement, darting in and out. They were creatures that had reached their evolutionary level of perfection millions of years ago and had barely changed since. Nearly two metres long, they were massive, graceful hunters.
When the chub was gone, the sharks swam off disinterested and they all returned to the runabout. Regardless of what she had learned about sharks, Kate was relieved when they were all safely back in the boat.
“Wasn’t that great?” Marau asked, eyes sparkling.
“Yes, it was. But I think it will take me awhile to feel comfortable swimming in the ocean. I’m used to city swimming pools.”
Marau laughed and the crewman took the three woman back to l’Explorateur. Kate looked over at Peri. The day had cost her. Kate could see the strain in her face and the tightening of her jaw. When Peri thought no one was looking she would gently massage her mangled leg.
They pulled up to the diving platform of l’Explorateur and took turns climbing up the ladder onto the stern deck. Peri came last and slowly. By the time she reached the deck, Kate had a lounge chair ready for her and a chilled glass of ice tea. Then she took Marau to play hide and seek. Peri sat watching as the two ran about laughing and in the case of Marau squealing with delight. It made Peri smile. Kate and Marua got on well together. Marau needed someone with whom she could rough house. She was an active child and her mother was partially lame.
They sailed back to the hotel dock just as the sun was setting. Tired or not, Peri set the example of responsibility for Marau by helping her gather all their equipment, clean it and put it back in the plastic container they used for storage. With Kate’s help, they soon had it done. The crew would see that the container was brought up to The House later. Marau skipped ahead along the path while Kate walked slowly beside Peri who leaned heavily on her cane.
“You over did it today and are in pain.”
“A little. Marau enjoys days like this very much.”
“Yes. She swims like a fish.”
“She has been about water all her life but I worry that she has no fear. I do not want her to be afraid, but I have tried to warn her to be a little more cautious. She lives on a reef and she lives at a hotel where many sorts of people come and go. She needs to think before she acts.”
“Yes. I’m sure when she swam into the smack of jellyfish you were beside yourself.”
“Oh yes. But she was young then. Only five. She is more aware of the ocean’s dangers now.”
“Why don’t you have a hot shower and then if you want I could massage some of that soreness out?”
Peri stopped and looked down at Kate with a cheeky smile on her lips. “That sounds like an invitation.”
Kate raised an eyebrow. “It wasn’t. I’m a nurse. You are someone in pain who needs my assistance.”
“You do not want me to kiss you again?”
“Yes - No. I mean, I don’t know. I’m attracted to you Peri but I’ve never been involved with a woman. I’ve never even considered it. I don’t know anything about you. Damn it, I was just married three months ago. I’m pretty confused.”
“Understand, that being my employee isn’t part of this equation. You may do as you like and it will not effect our agreement. You have my word on this. As for your marriage, you seem to have got over him quickly. But I am not looking for commitment just a sexual relationship, please understand that.”
A number of emotions ran through Kate. She was relieved that Peri didn’t feel that sexual favours were part of her job description. They certainly were not. She was angry that Peri felt her marriage vows had meant so little to her. They had meant a lot at the time. She was still dealing with the pain of betrayal. Mostly, she was disappointed and hurt that Peri didn’t feel the emotional attraction that she did. It was just sex to her. Kate couldn’t live with that.
“The failure of my marriage is a personal grief and not one I choose to share,” she responded stiffly. “I’m not a person who would be interested in casual sex, Madam Peri. I think what happened today had better not go any farther.”
Peri looked confused but responded quietly. “As you wish.”
They continued their walk in silence yet the sexual tension and attraction was still there between them. This was not over and no matter what they said, in their hearts they knew this.
~ ~ ~
The weeks passed into months. Kate continued to have breakfast and dinner with the Dubois and to work at the clinic during the day. She was on call at night as well and on weekends she would often accompany the Dubois’ on day trips. On these occasions, Marau was always full of life and fun. Peri Dubois, on the other hand, although treating Kate fairly, acted very formally with her. She had not teased or touched her since the first day on the l’Explorateur.
Marau was different. She had taken to coming to the clinic after getting off the ferry that brought her back from school each day. Declaring that she was far too old to go to the hotel babysitting service until her mom came home from work. She would help Zenie and Kate cleaning up at the end of the day and then Kate would play a game with her before dinner. The woman and child had become good friends.
The strange noises from Peri Dubois’ room continued each night. Most nights too, Peri Dubois would take her nightly walk through the resort stopping to swim in the lagoon. Kate, often watched her from the balcony. She had not tried to get into Peri’s quarters again. It hadn’t taken her long to realize that Peri Dubois had caught her in the act because there were surveillance cameras throughout the house. She thought she had located most of them but she couldn’t afford to take the chance. Already, Peri must know she had tried to get into her suite and also knew she had lied about it. She wondered why she had not been confronted with the evidence.
Despite the beauty and friendliness of Bora Bora, the first few month’s had been tough as she came to terms with the fact that she had married a gigolo who didn’t love her and who had used up her savings and then left. That betrayal had been devastating. But since the encounter on l’Explorateur the emotional pain she carried had grown worse. She was now confused about her orientation, plagued by doubts and hurt by Peri Dubois’ attitude.
More than that, she was confused about her own feelings. She found she ached to be near Perri Dubois. That her body wanted desperately to feel Peri’s touch. She knew Peri Dubois did not care for her beyond a sexual encounter and yet she couldn’t control how she felt about the mysterious woman. Even knowing that there was something not quite right going on at The House, she couldn’t help being attracted to Peri. That Peri did not return that attraction left her both relieved and hurt. She continued to lose weight and to sleep badly.
“I am worried,” declared Zenie one day.
“Yes, you. Look at you. You are all skin and bones and the black has shaded your eyes. You are not well.”
“I’m okay, really Zenie. This has just been a very difficult six months for me. I love Bora Bora and working here at the clinic but...well you know.”
“Yes. I know. You have fallen in love with the shark woman.”
“What? That’s nonsense. Really Zenie.”
“I am not blind. I see. You come alive when she is near and when she is not you are like a fallen branch. Did I not warn you?”
“Zenie, Peri Dubois was not swallowed by a shark. And Marua was conceived artificially in Hawaii. Peri wanted to give her father the grandchild he always wanted. She had wanted a child but she also hoped a child would help her get on better terms with her father.”
“How do you know this?”
“Peri told me. She didn’t know she was pregnant when she was bit by the shark. They checked when she was in the hospital. Naturally, she was terrified that anything might have happen to her baby.”
“She told you this?”
“What about the strange noises? Do you still hear them?”
“What are they?”
“I don’t know. There are surveillance cameras in the house. I can’t check.”
“You are in love. I think for the first time. And look with who you have fallen in love. It is making you sick. I am very worried about you.”
“Zenie, I have never thought of myself as being a lesbian. I have never had a relationship with a woman before coming here. I can’t deal with this and the betrayal of my husband and the loss of my money and all the other issues.” Much to her embarrassment she burst into tears. Zenie held her as she had often done before.
“I’m sorry Zenie. I always seem to be crying on your shoulder. I just can’t cope with it all.”
“I know, Little One. I know. You just cry that pain out. Zenie is here to help make it better.”
~ ~ ~
And she had. Instead of getting on the resort ferry boat to go back to the mainland at the end of the day, she had headed first to the resort office and asked to speak to Madman Peri. She only had to wait a few minutes before she was ushered in by Maria.
“Zenie,” said Peri, making the effort to get up from her chair and shake the woman’s hand. “It is not very often I see you in here. Please be seated. How can I help you?”
“One of your staff is not well and I think you can help.”
“Of course. Who is it? You know Dubois enterprises cares about the welfare of our staff.”
“This I know and for this reason I have come to talk to you about, Kate Madison.”
Peri’s heart skipped a beat. “Kate? She’s ill?”
Zenie was glad to see that Peri was genuinely alarmed. There was feeling for Kate in this woman. “Of course, she is ill. Has she not had a no good husband walk out on her? Is she not trapped in a foreign country even one as beautiful as Bora Bora. Is she not pennyless? And now you have her working at The House so she must work night and day, non?”
“I hardly think having breakfast and dinner at my home can be considered over work.”
“But it is. She must work at the clinic with me and be on call all night and be there for little Marua while all the time she is so unhappy and can not eat.”
“I didn’t realize there was a problem.”
Zenie’s face showed her disgust. “How could you not see how skinny she has become or the black under her eyes? How could you not notice how little she eats?”
Peri blushed. She wasn’t used to being corrected. “I provide good meals. I can’t force her to eat or to be happy under my roof.”
“You should take her out to dinner.”
Peri sighed and leaned back in her seat. “Kate has made it quite clear that she’d rather not know me on a social level.”
Zenie’s eyes sparkled. “Ah, so you have tried to get to know Kate better.”
“Kate Madison is a married woman. She is not interested in me,” Peri responded stiffly.
“Maybe. Maybe not. She needs a night out.”
For a few seconds, Peri played with her pen in thought. “I will ask her. Is there anything else I can do to help?”
“I will see. Thank you Madam Peri for seeing me. I will keep you informed.”
“Thank you,” Peri smiled, realizing that she had been neatly played by Zenie.
After, Zenie left, Peri sat for a long time wondering how she could make this happen. Taking Kate out was easy enough there were a number of fine French restaurants. It was how to resist Kate that was the problem. It was hard enough now. Having Kate in the house had been - difficult and yet she couldn’t imagine not having her there. She looked forward to seeing her and Marau adored her. She had planned to get a full time babysitter for Marau and a nurse but she had kept putting it off. She knew the reason she did so was because she would have no excuse to keep Kate at the house anymore.
Now she was being asked to spend an evening with Kate Madison. Could she and maintain the wall of formality that she had placed between them since that day on the l’Explorateur? She wasn’t sure. And what had Zenie said? Maybe Kate was interested in her. If anyone would know it would be Zenie. She was the hub of all the gossip and knowledge at the resort. Was Zenie trying to tell her something?
The phone rang and Peri reached for it. It was the office at the pearl farm calling. They had good news. Very good news. Peri knew now what she would do.
Chapter Three: Pearls
“Precious stones are forged in the heat and pressure of our active planet but the pearl is different. It develops layer after layer for years within a living organism. In a way, it is birthed not created. A pearl stands for purity, loyalty and trust. Yet many have died diving for them or been murdered in order to obtain them. There is, I think, a drop of blood in the history of each pearl. They are part romance and part adventure and they are very, very beautiful.”
The waiter had quietly served a small salad of fresh greens, tangerine bits, and almonds coated in caramelized sugar and fresh black pepper. It was served with a raspberry vinegarette. It was simply heavenly. They had a chilled glass of Dubonet with it.
Earlier, Peri had walked down to the clinic and asked if Kate would join her for dinner and an evening of celebration. Marua was to be babysat by Maria, Peri had explained and they would take one of the resort ferries to the mainland of dinner.
Kate had been delighted. She had taken some time in preparing and had slipped into a long red dress that she knew fit her well and was very becoming on her. It was a little more roomy than she would have liked because she had lost so much weight but with her tan, she knew she could turn eyes in this outfit. Peri had wore a grey pant suit as she always did but this one was cut in the line of a tux and the silk blouse she wore with it must have cost her a fortune. They had taken the boat to the mainland.
As they sat side by side near the bow, Peri had explained that today she had got a call to say that they had found the last pearl that was needed to make a necklace. At the dock, they disembarked.
Peri’s grey Maserati MC12 Cora waited for them. Kate felt exhilarated as Peri drove them along the coastal road to a beautiful restaurant situated over the water.
“But doesn’t your company make many necklaces in the course of a year for your store?”
“Of course. Each necklace and setting is chosen with the value of the pearl in mind. There are five basic qualities to a pearl. It’s size, shape, lustre, colour and how few blemishes it has. When a necklace is made, the jewellers will try to match the pearls as closely as possible. The closer the match the more expensive the set.”
“I see. So this pearl will finish a well matched set?”
“Oui. They are large, perfectly round pearls and the rarest rose in colour. Their lustre is deep and nearly unmarked by any blemishes. It has taken twelve years to make this necklace.”
“Oui. From a small irritant that enters into the tissue of an oyster or mollusk, a pearl will grow as nacre is secreted over time to build up layers around the foreign substance. For a large pearl, this process could take twenty years. A pearl is part crystalline and part organic substances. It is the sea’s treasure. Once, they were found only in the wild. Now almost all pearls are cultured. In the late 19th century the great Kokichi Mikimoto of Japan developed a method to insert several irritants into mollusk or oysters so that pearls could be farmed. But still, what happens inside the shell is random and takes years to develop. One never knows what is inside until the shell is opened. Perhaps it is a treasure, perhaps it is not. Every pearl is different, therefore, to find enough pearls all the same to make a perfect necklace is very rare.”
Their salad had been cleared and the waiter had brought an appetizer of Portobella mushrooms cooked in fresh butter and cream with just a hint of garlic. The wine that was served was a Gewurztraminer from Alsace. Kate’s taste buds were in ecstasy.
“Then this is a night to celebrate. Congratulations Madam Peri.”
“Peri.” Kate smiled. “So if I was to buy a pearl, how would I know it was real and not plastic or whether it was natural or cultured?”
“Plastic is just a cheap imitation of the real thing. It lacks the colour, weight and quality of pearls. The easiest ways to check if you have real pearls are to run the pearls gently against your front teeth or rub two pearls together. A real pearl will feel rough while a synthetic imitation would feel smooth. If you buy a pearl today chances are it is cultured. Natural pearls are very rare and usually not of the same quality. The only way to tell if a pearl is natural or cultured is to x-ray it and see what is inside.”
The appetizer finished, an egg-shaped, tangy, mango sherbet was served to clean their palettes in cut-glass egg cups. Kate sighed. “Thank you for sharing all this with me.”
Peri smiled. “You are welcome.”
Peri’s handsome face became beautiful when she smiled, Kate thought.
The main course was red snapper served on a bed of lemon rice with sauteed vegetables. The wine was a German Reisling, fresh and clear.
They walked then along the restaurant’s docks and stood by the railing watching the night sky. The Milky Way shown with the pin picks of millions of stars and the waves washed gently around the pilings bringing with it a gentle, warm breeze and the scent of tropical flowers and the sea. Peri made sure there was a safe distance between them but they talked and laughed easily mellowed by the wine, good food and the beauty of the night.
Later, they went back and had a tropical, fruit flan and finished it off with a plate of French cheeses and cognac. Kate was not used to eating and drinking so much and she felt quite light headed. Their meal, eaten slowly, had taken most of the evening so it was passed midnight when Peri drove them to her pearl store.
It was an elegant place nestled among palm trees close to the beach. As they drove up two uniformed guards came out of the darkness. Seeing that it was Madam Peri’s car, they relaxed and each opened a door for the two women.
“Bon soir, Madam Peri.”
“Bon soir, Tiotim and Henri. You are both well, I hope.”
“We are, thank you Madamn.”
“Bon. You will please open the side gate for us and then lock it again.”
“Yes, Madam Peri.”
The fresh air rather than clearing Kate’s head had made her acutely aware that she had drunk and eaten too much. Inside the gate, a path led through a garden of tropical flowers and over bridges and docks. In the water below, the oysters and mollusks were attached to strings row after row. Seeing that Kate was a little unsteady on her feet, Peri took her arm and showed her how the beds were set up with six shells to each string.
“We are able then to lift them out and check their condition and clean their shells. This maintains a healthy population and reduces the chance of any foreign body getting in that we don’t want in the shell. Each string is dated so we know when and if we want to harvest the pearls.”
They moved on and Peri opened the door to the pearl factory using a code. They entered a large area with metal security gates down each side. Within were areas were the pearls were sorted and cleaned by apprentices. On the other side, the master craftspeople, would drill and string the pearls adding the clasps and get them ready for display.
“In the past, we had about ten per cent of our pearls that we sold to other companies whose standards were not as high as ours. They were pearls with uneven colour, too many blemishes or irregular shapes. Now we have started a laser etching process. These poorer quality pearls are etched with patterns making them quite charming. Parents often buy them for their children or as gifts as they are quite reasonable in price.”
Peri gave Kate an etched pearl and a magnifying glass so she could see the beautiful and intricate work of the engraver.
“This is wonderful,” Kate smiled.
Peri took one of the rings that had been finished and stood on a wood rack waiting for packaging. She signed a receipt and then took Kate’s right hand and slipped the ring into place.
“A souvenir of your evening.”
“Peri, I can’t take this. The wonder meal and evening was enough. This is beautiful.”
“Then it should be worn by someone beautiful. I must insist. It gives me pleasure. And when guests ask where you got the uniquely etched pearl ring, you can send them to my company, non?”
“You are welcome.”
Peri took a step back putting some space between them and let go of Kate’s hand. There was a second of awkward silence and then Peri managed to pull herself together.
“Please come this way. I will turn on the lights in the main display room and you can see some of our pearl jewellery.”
Again, Kate waited while Peri used a code to open the locked, metal door and disarm the alarm system before switching on the lights. The glass cases of the show room were tasteful and the displays of jewellery beautiful. Pearls set in gold, silver and copper in beautiful art forms graced the silk cushions on which they were nestled or were draped over colourful and intriguing pieces of coral or driftwood. There was simply some amazing pieces. Kate noted that there were no prices on the jewellery at the main counter. I guess if you have to ask, you can’t afford it, Kate mussed.
While Kate was looking around, Peri opened a wall safe and brought out a blue velvet box. She placed it on the counter in front of Kate and opened it. Inside was a string of rose pearls so beautiful in their uniformity of shape, size and colour that Kate gasped in delight.
“Oh Peri, this was worth waiting for twelve years to celebrate. It is simply breathtaking.”
Peri smiled with pride. “Merci. I am very pleased with it. All ready there are several buyers interested in it.”
“It must be very expensive.”
“Oui. If there is no bidding war, it will sell for $50,000 American dollars.”
“Oh my God. Put it away, Peri. It makes me nervous just looking at it.”
Peri looked thoughtful as she closed the box and put it away in the safe. She came from behind the counter and took Kate’s arm.
“I thought we might have a coffee out on the terrace and watch the sunrise if you would like?”
“Sunrise. How late is it?”
“It is very early. Only four o’clock.”
“But I need to get some sleep before work.”
“No work today. Zenie will not be expecting you. Come.”
Kate, feeling now sleepy and very mellow followed Peri through what must be her office. It certainly was magnificent with its cherry wood deck, Persian rug and panelled walls. They went through a back door onto a private balcony over looking the sea. Kate curled up on a double lounge and looked out over the lagoon while Peri busied herself at a small bar making coffee and putting together a plate of sugar cookies. She brought the tray over and sat it on a teak table by the lounge. Kate was dozing. She looked incredibly beautiful, soft and vulnerable.
Peri leaned over and kissed her feeling Kate’s soft lips starting to respond. Kate raised an arm and pulled Peri down to her.
They both knew it was wrong but desire easily dominates over sense when the hour is late and the wine good. Kate moaned at the feel of Peri’s hard, lean body over her. She opened her lips and felt Peri’s tongue stroking her own. Desire ached between her legs. It had never been like this with Rick. This was a sweet fever flowing through her being.
They undressed each other slowly. Taking the time to savour each revealed moment. Kissing, feeling, exploring. When Peri finally lowered her naked form on Kate’s the rush of excitement brought a gasp from her lips. Kate followed Peri’s lead, still unsure about this new and exciting love making. She realized now only a woman knew how to really please a woman and Peri was an expert. The Tahitian slipped down Kate’s body teasing and tantalizing her senses until Kate’s nibbles were swollen, hard and sore with need. Peri slipped farther and did things with her tongue that had Kate breathless as she arched her body into a climax coming on Peri’s lips.
Peri slid up her form once again leaving a trail of kisses and claimed Kate’s mouth. Kate could taste her own excitement on Peri’s lips. She ran her hands along Peri’s form. She felt hard muscle beneath the softest, warm skin. Peri’s breast were full in her hand and her hard nipples under Kate’s finger’s felt wonderful. Kate liked what it was doing to Peri. Now as the dawn broke and the first rays of light touched their bodies, Kate could see the desire in Peri’s eyes.
“Mon amour, I want to enter you. To be one with you,” Peri whispered.
Kate felt Peri’s long, strong fingers parting her sex and entering her being. The moment was electrifying. The steady movement like the tidal waves below made Kate wild with desire. She reached and found Peri’s sex warm and wet with need and moved her hand over her lover’s most sensitive places. Together they came and exhausted they slept in each other arms naked and sated.
Kate woke to find Peri naked beside her.
“Bonjour Kate,” she whispered and kissed Kate gently.
Kate froze. She was naked. It was bright daylight. They were outside and she’d made mad love with Peri Dubois last night.
“What is the matter?”
Kate looked around frantically for her clothes as she tried to disentangle herself from Peri’s long form her head pounding as she tried to organize her thoughts through a mind suffering from lack of sleep and a bit of a hangover.
“This isn’t right.”
“What do you mean?”
“Peri! You know what I mean. I...I’m married. You’re a woman. You don’t love me. You want sex. You are my boss. I owe you money. This is all wrong!” Tears rolled down Kate’s face as she sat on the edge of the bed and tried to get into her bra with shaking hands.
Peri reached out and fastened the hooks for her and then swung around so she sat naked and not the least bit intimidated beside her.
She took Kate in her arms. “Do you regret last night?”
“No. It was wonderful. You were wonderful.”
“It can’t happen again Peri. It can’t. I can’t take anymore heartache. And I can’t be an employee and your lover too. And what about Marau? We can’t.”
Peri fought for control. “If that is what you wish. I too had a wonderful evening. But I will respect your wishes, Kate. There is a washroom off my office if you wish to wash and dress. This balcony is quite private. You do not need to worry. Please, let us end this beautiful encounter not with tears but with companionship. If you will allow me to, I will arrange for us to have breakfast here and then we will drive back to the boat and make our way to the resort. Is this agreeable?”
Kate looked up into a handsome faced framed by a visa of sea. She leaned forward and kissed Peri. “Thank you. Thank you for last night and thank you for understanding. She gathered up her things and left the balcony.
Peri swore under her breath and hurled a coffee cup out to sea. She didn’t understand. They’d had a wonderful evening together and their love making had felt like a bonding that had touched their souls and now Kate wanted to end it all. What did you expect Peri Dubois? No one can love you. You are the shark woman.
By the time Kate had returned to the balcony, Peri was dressed and had arranged for a breakfast to be delivered. She excused herself to freshen up and left Kate standing on the balcony looking sadly out to sea.
Their European breakfast of fresh rolls, pawpaw and coffee was a bitter-sweet affair. When it was over, they left and Peri drove them back to the boat. Kate tried not to blush as the pilot cast off and they sat in their crumpled evening wear in the back of the boat.
Peri looked moodily out to sea and then turned and met Kate’s eyes.
“I need to ask you something.”
“You tried to break into my quarters and lied about it. I thought at first you wanted to steal pearls but then you asked if anyone needed help. Why?”
Kate blushed. “I hear moans, groans and sometimes voices at night coming from your quarters. I thought someone might be in trouble.”
Peri’s jaw tightened. When she spoke her voice was a hiss of anger laced with bitter sarcasm.
“So you thought I was holding someone? Torturing them? Perhaps my last lover who pushed me to the sharks? I am the shark woman, am I not? The one who sold her soul to the beast to survive. Do you want nothing to do with me because in your mind I am more the predator than the lover? Do you think I will chain you up in my quarters and force myself on you each night?”
Kate glanced at the pilot to see if he’d over heard. “Peri stop. You wanted honesty. What goes on in your quarters at night? What happened to Odette?”
The reply was icy. “That is not your concern.”
Tears pricked Kate’s eyes. “And that is the problem. With you there always has to be a wall that no one can get beyond. You offer only sex not love. You offer romance but not commitment. You have chosen to be the lone shark, Peri Dubois.”
“I do not need to be judged by you. Mon Deu! Do not talk to me about commitment. Your marriage vows didn’t last very long.”
Kate paled and turned away. How could she have given herself to this cold, nasty woman?
At the dock, Kate hopped out quickly with a hurried thank you and good bye and nearly ran back to the clinic. Peri stood on the dock and watched her go and then taking up her cane she limped back to The House.
Zenie was not there yet. Kate sat in her old room and worked to get her emotions under control. When she knew Peri would be having breakfast with Marau, she slipped up to The House and changed quietly in her room then headed back down to the clinic. Zenie was sitting outside the clinic writing up reports when she arrived.
She looked up and her smile turned to a look of concern.
“I see sorrow. Why is this?”
Kate sighed and sat down on the bench beside her Tahitian friend. She took a deep breath to settle her emotions and then with a shaky voice she told Zenie about her wonderful evening and how it had ended so badly.
Zenie nodded. “I thought you were ready. You were not. As for Madam Peri, she is a fool. You are right she hides behind a wall. I blame her father.”
“Her father? Because he stole her girlfriend?”
“No, because he never loved her. He blamed her for the loss of his wife in childbirth. Have we not all heard him say it should have been the child who died not the mother. I think he wanted Odette to hurt Peri.”
“That is awful.”
“Madam Peri has had a privileged but a sad life. Always she was alone. It is not surprising that it is the shark that is her family.”
“Zenie, Peri isn’t a shark. She’s just, well hurt.”
“So have you been. You are my friend. I do not like this. We need to know what is going on in Madam Peri’s house. Non?”
Chapter Four: The Dark Side of Paradise
Kate walked around the private gardens of Madam Peri with Marau tagging along. Marau had arrived at the clinic right after school and had insisted that Kate tell her all about her evening out with her mother. Kate had obliged leaving the more personal aspects of the evening out and showed her the ring that Peri had given her.
“It is a good ring, Kate. It is pretty.”
“Thank you. It was very nice of your mother.”
“I wish I’d been allowed to come too.”
“Maybe some other time,” Kate smiled.
“I will have to ask Maman to take me to see the necklace. It must be very beautiful.”
“Maman told me that different people like different colours of pearls. The Japanese only want the very whitest and the Australians like the creams and yellows. And North Americans like the black pearls.”
“Look Kate, there is a butterfly.”
They walked around talking and looking at the gardens. Kate measured off the house with her steps and looked at the windows careful. There were few windows uncovered at the back of the house where Peri’s quarters were. It was also a much bigger area than Kate had realized. As they came around the corner a beautiful woman came out a back door and walked down the path.
“Bonjour Eiaha. How are you today?”
“Bonjour Marau. I am fine. And how are you?”
“I got a gold star for my math today. That’s my third.”
“Well done,” the beautiful Tahitian smiled.
“Eiaha, this is Kate. She lives with us now because of my allergies.”
“Hello Kate. I had heard about you.”
They shook hands and then Eiaha gave Marau a quick hug before she left to catch her ferry to the mainland.
“Does Eiaha work at the house too?” Kate asked casually, although her heart was pounding.
“She is Maman friend.”
Kate could tell by Marau’s tone of voice that Eiaha was not a topic that the usually talkative Marau wished to discussed so she changed the subject. They played hid and seek in the garden before they needed to head up to The House so that Marau could do her homework .
Kate looked up and met Peri’s eyes. She had been standing on the balcony watching them play in the garden. How long have you been there, Peri? Did you see me meet Eiaha? What secrets do you have hidden in the other side of the house?
Dinner was a strained affair. Fortunately, Marau kept the conversation going recounting her day at school and telling Peri of how they had played in the garden. The tension between the two women was just relaxing a bit when Marau entered waters that were clearly muddied by emotion.
“We met Eiaha, Maman. I introduced her to Kate.”
Peri’s eyes darted to Kate’s. Kate studiously drank her coffee as if nothing was out of the ordinary.
“I see and what did Eiaha have to say?”
“Nothing. She just went down to catch the boat.”
Peri seemed to relax. “How about you and I take the runabout to the mainland and I will show you the pearl necklace?”
“Please Maman. Is Kate coming too?”
“I think Kate has things she needs to do.”
Having been dismissed, Kate went to her room and lay on her bed. Who was Eiaha? Was Peri involved with her? What was Peri hiding?
Tears rolled down Kate’s face. For the first time, Kate whispered the words that her heart had known for sometime. “I love you, Peri.”
The words were lost in a flood of tears. The thought that Peri had someone else was just too much to bear.
Breakfast was a quiet affair. Marua was tired and cranky because she’d been up too late the night before. She and her mother had gone to see the pearl and then had visited friends before heading back to the resort on the reef. Peri was tense and sullen. Kate excused herself as soon as she could and with relief headed down to the clinic.
“Who is Eiaha?” Kate demanded before she had even properly greeted Zenie.
“Why you want to know of that woman?” sniffed Zenie, indignantly.
“Because according to Marau, she is Peri’s friend and she has access to Peri’s private quarters.”
“We should make more sunburn cream today.”
The big woman sighed and seemed to deflate with defeat. “Eiaha was not a good woman. We don’t speak of her.”
“Not a good - She’s a prostitute?”
Kate paled and sunk into a chair. “Oh.”
“It is nothing. People have needs.”
Kate shook her head too emotionally shocked to deal with this revelation. “Let’s make the sunburn cream.”
Kate got through the day with great difficulty. She felt used. Worse, she felt that she had once again been the victim of lies and was disgusted with herself. She wasn’t sure she could stand to listen to the sounds that came from Peri’s quarters each night now she had a pretty good idea what was going on in there. It made her feel sick to think about it. How could she have thought that she was in love with Peri? How could this sort of betrayal have happened to her again?
Dinner was an ordeal. Peri and her daughter talked about their day. They had taken the commuter flight to Tahiti and had shopped for new shoes for Marua and her first watch.
“See my watch, Kate. I got it because I reached the goal that Maman and I had set to get three gold stars in math in a row. I am happy to get the watch because I have wanted one for a long time but I’m also happy that I am doing better in my math.”
“It is a beautiful watch, Marau. You should feel very proud that you worked so hard to meet your goals.”
“Maman said that goals are important to be successful. But Zenie told me that your successes are the spice in your life. I think this is true. I feel very good because I have done so well.”
“Then you have learned an important lesson, Marau. I’m very proud of you,” smiled Peri.
“Maman, can I be excused to go show Maria my watch before she leaves?”
When Marua left the room, Peri’s eyes met Kate’s for the first time.
“Would you have coffee with me on the balcony?”
“No. No, I don’t think I would feel right doing that.”
Peri’s face tightened. “Why?”
“I learned from Zenie that Eiraha is a call girl.”
“She was, yes.”
“And she is now your mistress?”
Peri rose slowly like a thunder cloud growing on the horizon. “I can think of nothing I have done that would warrant your compulsive need to always jump to the worst possible opinion of me. Quite the opposite in fact. I have gone out of my way to treat you very well. I think I am getting a little fed up with your attitude.”
Kate stood and faced Peri. “I slept with you. I think I have a right to expect some explanation for why a call girl would be leaving by the back door of your house today.”
“You made it quite clear yesterday morning that you did not wish to continue a relationship with me. I do not feel I owe you an explanation.”
“Damn it, Peri! Why must you always put up walls between us?”
“Perhaps because I don’t feel I can trust someone who rips off my company, tries to break into my quarters and is always thinking the worst of me.”
“I’m also the person who works twenty-four hour days to pay your company back.. Who saved your daughter’s life. Who was concerned that someone in this house might need my help and who has trusted you enough to sleep with you.”
Peri had the decency to blush. “I am grateful for your efforts.”
They stared at each other with angry eyes. Neither prepared to give. Then the maid came in to clear the table and Peri picked up her coffee and went out onto the balcony alone. Kate headed down to the clinic needing to be as far away from Peri as possible.
~ ~ ~
Some days later, Kate had locked the clinic for the day and had turned to see a scene that made her blood run cold. It was like watching a TV. The man had Marua by the arm and was leading her down the path towards the docks. Kate could tell the little girl was afraid but didn’t know what to do. Kate was after them in a split second.
“Let her go!” Kate yelled as she drew near. The man turned and smiled. It was Rick. He’d shaved his beard and dyed his hair but it was Rick. “What are you doing back here? Let her go.” Then she saw the gun under the beach towel and froze.
“Kate. I’ve missed you. Do come along with us. I’m sure the child would be reassured by your company.”
Bravely, Kate moved closer and wrapped her arms around Marua. “Let her go Rick.”
“Walk with us. Do not make a scene. I would be very sad to have to kill my beautiful wife.”
“Really Kate, not in front of the child.”
Kate kept an arm around Marua as they walked close together to a waiting boat. Rick gestured at them to go below. Kate went first and then lifted the terrified child down and away from her husband. He followed them down.
“There is some duct tape on the navigational desk. Bind the kid’s wrists and ankles and tape her mouth shout.”
“That isn’t necessary.”
Rick raised his gun. “Do it.”
Kate picked the small child up and placed her on the bench seat and then got the tape.
“Don’t you worry Marau. This won’t hurt. Everything is going to be okay. You’ll see.” Carefully, and with lots of reassurance, Kate taped Marau as she was told. Then she gave the child a reassuring hug and stood.
“There. Now the small, defenceless child can’t hurt you. Do you feel braver?”
“Dear me, is this the polite, charming young woman I married? I think you need a lesson in manners.” Rick lashed out so quickly that Kate didn’t have time to react at all. The barrel of the gun caught her on the temple and pain exploded behind her eyes. The second blow caught her shoulder as she crumbled to the sole of the boat. Several kicks to her stomach left her senseless and gasping for breath.
Rick smiled. Then climbed up the steps to the aft cockpit and closed and locked the hatch before
starting the engine and casting off.
~ ~ ~
Peri punched in the code of the combination lock on her private quarters. She stepped inside and looked around. The first room was her gym. She exercised every night to help strengthen her damaged leg and to keep up her body tone. She must remember not to moan and grunt so loudly she thought as she walked on. It seemed to put all sorts of wild ideas in Kate’s head.
Farther on was a small lounge area that led out onto a private garden. A woman sat there reading a book. Peri slipped into the lawn chair beside her and leaned over and kissed her forehead.
“Hello Odette. I’m glad to see you out enjoying some fresh air. Would you like to go out tonight?”
“Okay. Are you enjoying the book I got you?”
“Good. I - Sorry. I need to answer my cell phone. I’ll be back in a minute.” Peri moved out into the garden and flipped her phone open.
“Madam Peri. Was Kate and her husband to take Marau off the island?”
“What? No! What is her husband doing here?”
“I don’t know. I just observed the three of them heading down the beach path to the docks. They got on a cruiser and just pulled out. I have called security to stand by on l’Explorateur. Should I call the police?”
Peri’s voice was steel cold. “Yes. Report a kidnapping. I am on my way.” She turned and looked at where Odette sat watching her. “Kate and her husband have kidnapped Marau. I’ll be gone for a while.” She limped quickly into her room and from her closet got down a box containing her Berretta 92F. She jammed in the clip , stuck it in her jacket pocket and picking up a heavy cane limped quickly out of her quarters towards the main office.
Peri stood watching the security video of her frightened daughter being led to the boat by Kate and her husband. Her jaw tightened in anger. Without a word, she turned and slammed out of the office heading for her yacht.
The crew and security personnel started to cast off as Peri stepped on the deck.
“Get the radar up and operating. Chances are they are heading for the big island. They have about a half hour head start. We should easily be able to over take them in the open water. I want full speed. They have my daughter.”
“Oui Madam Peri.” The crew moved quickly and efficiently to get their craft under way and through the narrow passage in the reef to the open sea.
Peri watched her security personnel check their weapons. Their eyes stern and focussed.
“The first priority is getting my daughter back safely. Only use your guns if it is necessary but do not hesitate if you have to use them. The Tahitian police will meet us at sea but we should over take the cruiser well before they arrive.”
Her security people nodded. They were good people. All of them came out of the French police force and knew their job. Peri climbed up to the flying bridge and scanned the sea with her binoculars. I have been a fool and it is my daughter who has paid for my blindness. I’m going to catch you Kate and there will be no mercy this time.
Chapter Five: High Seas
L’Explorateur smashed through the rolling sea as it bow came around to head for the island of Tahiti. Peri knew that it was a calculated guess that they would head to the big island but it made sense. The other islands near by were just too small for them to find a good hideout. Even on Tahiti, they would have trouble. The Dubois family was well known and many people would recognize Marau. Peri’s biggest fear was that the kidnappers had a plane that would take them to Hawaii, Los Angeles even Australia. Then it would be much harder for her to get her daughter back. It was imperative that she intercept them first.
She stood on the bridge scanning the horizon for a boat. She tried not to think about what that bastard might do to her daughter. When she did, she felt sick to her stomach. No, Kate might have turned out to be a schemer, liar and kidnapper but she wouldn’t let anything happen to Marau. Peri was fairly sure of that. Still the longer Marau was in their hands the greater chance of her being hurt.
“Madam Peri?” called one of the crew from the deck below.
“We are picking up a boat on the radar about two nautical miles ahead. We should over take them within half an hour.”
“Are you sure it is them?”
“Oui, we’ve been in touch with another boat that pasted their cruiser, Debauchery, about twenty minutes ago.”
Peri turned back to the flying bridge, bracing her feet and leaning her body against the bulkhead. Debauchery. The perfect name for a boat for those two. They live the high life and when their money runs out they feed on others. Peri sneered. She didn’t think she had ever been so angry or upset. If anything happened to Marau, she’d hunt those two down to the ends of the Earth.
Peri raised her binoculars. There on the horizon barely visible yet was their cruiser. “I see them!” she yelled down to the crew and watched as her people prepared themselves for the encounter. Two security guards remained hidden in the cock pit. Another moved forward and lay on the bow deck. The last climbed the ladder and stood beside Peri on the flying bridge. They were ready.
Time seemed to stand still. Peri never took her eyes off the blurry dot on the horizon that slowly, ever so slowly, got bigger until the white hull of Debauchery could be made out clearly. Peri waited until she could see a figure in the wheelhouse.
She yelled down to her crew. “Get on the radio and hail them. Tell them to heave to.”
“Oui, Madame Peri.”
Peri watched as they gained on the cruiser. She no longer needed the binoculars to see that it was Rick at the wheel of the boat. Marau and Kate were not in sight.
“No response. The cruiser has speeded up.”
“Damn them!” Pass them and cut them off.”
The powerful yacht slowly gained on the cruiser until it was along side. Their wakes smashing against each other and causing a back wash.
“Cut your engines,” Peri yelled down at Rick, as she waved to him to stop.
Rick pulled a gun and got off a couple of shots. Peri would have been hit had not the security guard with her, who had seen the gun as Rick was pulling it from his belt, pulled Peri down to the deck.
“Like hell,” Peri snapped, pulling herself up so that she could look around the side of the flying bridge. Rick had cut his engines and was now firing on L’Explorateur. The security personnel in the cockpit returned fire. In the heaving seas, it was hard to get a good shot off but one caught Rick and he jerked back crumbling to the deck. Blood smeared across the deck. Then the bow hatch slammed open and Kate pulled herself out before reaching in and dragging Marau up. Kate had a gun in her hand.
“Marau!” Peri yelled, bracing her revolver with two hands on the bulkhead of the flying bridge and taking aim at Kate.
Kate and Marau looked up and saw her.
“Maman. Maman.” Marau broke loose from Kate’s grasp and went to run down the deck . Kate made a grab for her but a bullet stopped her and she dropped to the deck. Peri turned in shock to the security guard beside her.
“She had a gun, Madamn Peri. I felt it best to take her down.”
Peri stumbled down the ladder. Already her people were aboard the other craft and had turned off the engine. A man and a woman were tying the two ships together. Rick had been handcuffed and one of her people was using his shirt to slow the bleeding.
As Peri got to the railing, Marau was being passed up to her.
“Marau! Marau.” Peri wrapped the child close to her and tears rolled down her face. “Are you okay?”
Marau was crying too and it was several minutes before the terrified child could respond. “I’m okay, Maman. But Kate is hurt. Rick hit her with his gun and then kicked her.”
Peri looked up. Kate’s body was still on the deck. Blood had blossomed across the white field of her shirt. One of her guards was tending to her. Peri want to go to her but Marau came first.
“Come down into the lounge, Marau. I will get you some ginger ale and you can sip it while our people see to things. Then if you feel up to it, you can tell me all that happened.”
“They are taking care of her. Don’t worry.” Peri worried though. Her guts churned with conflicting emotions. She held her daughter, comforting her and looked out the porthole window for any sign of Kate. Don’t die Kate. I love you.
That realization came on a sob as tears rolled down Peri’s face.
~ ~ ~
Kate lay on the swaying deck in pain and shock. Peri had shot her! She had looked up at the sound of Peri’s voice to see her with a revolver trained on her and then she turned to make a grab for Marau before she fell overboard and there had been a crack and piercing pain.
Voices speaking French spoke around her but they spoke too fast for her to understand. Someone was kneeling over her, handcuffing her and looking at her wound. She tried to tell them the cruiser was sinking but the words would not come out. What was going on? Everything was wrong. Where was Marau? Why was Peri doing this?
Deep in shock, Kate struggled to make sense of what had happened. After she had taped Marau up as Rick had ordered. He had hit her and kicked her. She could still feel the throb in her temple and the ache in her gut. She knew for a long time she had laid on the sole of the galley gasping for breath as she drifted in and out of consciousness. Finally, she was able to force herself to her feet only to throw up in the galley sink. Washing her face with some cold water, she managed to clear her thoughts and limped around to where Marau sat on the built in couch her eyes large with fear.
“Don’t scream or yell. I’m going to take the tape off your mouth, okay?”
Marau nodded and Kate eased the duct tape off the child’s face and gave her a hug.
“Everything is going to be okay, Marau.”
“Kate, why is he doing this? I want to go home.”
“He has kidnapped you. He thinks your mom will pay a lot of money to get you back.”
“Will she?” Marau asked in fear.
“Oui. Without a second thought, your mom would give up everything for you. But if I know her, she’ll be looking for you right now.”
“I’m scared. That bad man hurt you.”
Kate held the small child close. “I’m okay. I will never let him hurt you. I need you to be brave now while I look around a bit. Okay? ”
The nurse got up and quietly started to search. She needed weapons and options. First, she tried the radio. Rick had disconnected it. Then she looked in the kitchen and when Marau wasn’t looking slipped a carving knife down her sock. In the navigation table she found a flare gun and cylinders. She could use it to send a signal and if need be to keep Rick at bay. She slipped it in her waist band. Then she returned to sitting by Marau.
“He’s probably heading for Tahiti. It will be easy for us to escape there,” she reassured Marau. The child nodded and snuggled deeper into Kate’s arms.
It was barely a half hour later when Kate became aware of the roar of another boats engine and got up off the couch to look out the port window.
“It’s l’Exporateur! Your mom has come for us.” Quickly, Kate got out the knife and cut Marau’s bonds. “Marau, I want you to go up into the V berths in the bow. There is a hatch there that you should be able to open to escape to the front deck. Don’t do anything until I tell you, okay?
Kate smiled. Marau was scared but being brave and calm. “Your mother would be proud of you.”
A short time later, Kate was knocked to the sole as the wake from the much larger yacht smashed into the side of the cruiser. She struggled to get her balance keeping the flare gun at the ready in case Rick undid the hatch. Then the gun fire started. Kate ran forward and covered Marau with her own body. The cruiser’s engine choked off and a few more shots were exchanged before silence.
Kate looked up. Sea water was spreading across the sole. Some of the stray bullets had pierced the fiberglass hull.
“Come on Marau, we need to get out of here.” Kate undid the hatch and slammed it back. She pulled herself up and out of the bow compartment and then reached down in and pulled Marau to safety. Keeping her flare gun at the ready, she looked around for Rick.
“Marau!” Kate looked up to see Peri with a revolver trained on them.
“Maman. Manman.” Marau had broken from Kate’s hold and started to run down the deck. Kate had reached for her fearing she would fall or be caught by Rick. Then a crack and a sudden thud of pain. Why?
The next hour was a blur of pain and activity. A ship arrived and she was strapped into a stretcher and hauled up by a crane onto the ship. From there she was lifted into a helicopter and flown to Tahiti. The paramedics aboard put her on a drip and gave her something that made her sleep.
~ ~ ~
Peri had not slept. Far from it. She, Marau and the crew were all interviewed by the police who had been aboard the Coast Guard vessel. They had been made comfy and then taken to the big island. After farther questioning, they were allowed to go. Peri booked them into a hotel room and got Marau washed, fed and put to bed. By then, Marie had joined them having taken the afternoon plane from Bora Bora at Peri’s request. Marie stayed with the sleeping Marau while Peri had a cab called to take her to the hospital.
She leaned back against the warm seat and closed her eyes for a minute. Everything had gone so badly wrong. She had been so upset that she had allowed her emotions to blind her to any other scenario than the one were Kate and Rick had kidnapped her daughter.
It was only when Marau had calmed a bit and had drunk a bit of ginger ale that she was able to tell Peri what had happened and how Kate had been beat up trying to protect her and how she had covered Marau with her own body to protect her from the gun shots.
Peri had called the hospital. Kate had been hit in her right breast. The bullet had gone through and cracked the sternum as it had exited. She also had a slight concussion from the gun whipping she’d taken and bruised ribs and muscles from being kicked. She was going to okay but Peri couldn’t help but blame herself for what had happened. Rick had taken a shot to his left lung. He too would recover not that Peri particularly cared. He was on his way to jail for a long time.
“Madam? We are here.”
Peri opened her eyes with a start. Groggily, she fumbled for some bills and left the cabby beaming with a significant tip. She entered the hospital and having made enquiries made her way to Kate’s room. Kate was asleep. Peri slipped into the chair beside her bed and waited. It was a long night.
It was actually the nurse who woke Kate the next morning to check her vitals and to make sure that she was relatively focussed and coherent after her blow to the head. Peri waited patiently in the hall until the nurse came out and then returned to stand by Kate’s bed.
“Bonjour. How are you Kate?”
Kaye looked up with frightened eyes. “You shot me.”
“Non. Non. I didn’t. But one of my security personnel did. He saw a gun in your hand. I take the responsibility though. I had told my staff not to fire unless they needed to but not to be afraid to do so to save Marau. I’m sorry.”
Tears rolled down Kate’s face. “I want to go home. Please. Let me go home. I’ll get a job. I’ll send you the money I owe you. Please, just let me go.”
Peri stiffened. “You are not my prisoner. Twice now you have saved my daughter. You do not owe me. I owe you. I will see to arrangements. As soon as the doctor allows it, you can return home.”
Peri turned on her heal and walked out.
Kate tried to wipe her tears but it hurt too much to move. She sniffed and tried to make sense of it all but couldn’t get her mind around what Peri had said. After a while she drifted off into sleep. When she woke later in the morning, she wasn’t even sure if Peri had been there or what they had said to each other.
Peri Dubrois. She loved her. How was that possible? Peri was a woman of so many secrets. It seemed that she shared her quarters with a call girl. There was all the mystery surrounding her father’s death and her lover’s disappearance. And what had happened the day Peri was attacked by the shark? How had she got to the resort? What had happened to Odette and the boat?
Kate felt empty, cold and hurt. She just wanted to be back in her own apartment close to her friends and working at her old job. She just wanted all the madness to end so that she could feel safe and secure again. Most of all, she wanted to be far away from Peri. The woman she loved and couldn’t have.
Kate was in hospital for a week and then released. During that time, Marie visited her on behalf of Dubois Enterprises. She provided Kate with air tickets home and told her that an apartment lease had been provided for her and the rent covered for one year. There was a letter of reference from the company stating how she had preformed her nursing duties well and had been responsible for the saving of two lives by her quick action. She was also given her back pay and a severance pay that was far more than she deserved.
“I can’t accept this. I owe Dubois Enterprises not the other way around.”
“Madam Dubois feels that her debt is greater. You saved her daughter’s life when she had an allergy attack and you risked your life to protect Marau when she was kidnapped. Also, Madam Dubois regrets that Dupois personnel shot you. They thought at the time you were a kidnapper and that you were armed. Our law office would like you to sign this document stating that you do not hold our company responsible in anyway for your injuries.”
Kate felt her skin turn cold. “I’m being bought off.”
“It is just a legal matter. Madam Dubois informed us that you wished to return home and that every effort was to be made to see that you were able to do that easily and successfully.”
Kate nodded, too shocked to speak. She took the document and with a shaky hand signed where Marie told her to.
Later, she lay staring at the ceiling. So it was over. Peri had bought her off. Why was she surprised? Peri had always indicated that it was sex not love.
It was Zenie who showed up several weeks later on the day Kate was released from hospital. Dubois Enterprises had paid for her commuter flight to Tahiti and for a rented car and hotel room. Zenie had packed for Kate and brought her suitcases along. In the morning, she would put Kate on the plane to the States, return the rented car and fly back to Bora Bora.
“This is all wrong,” Zenie stated, over the meal they were having in the hotel’s garden restaurant.
“What do you mean?”
“You are in love with the shark woman and I believe that she loves you. Marau too is very upset that you have left. It is not right that you are going.”
Kate looked up in annoyance. She didn’t feel emotionally strong enough to get into this.
“You were the one who warned me not to get involved. You told me that I would only get hurt. Well, I did. Peri has too many secrets, too many walls to love anyone. I think she is happy enough with her call girl.”
“I do not believe this.”
“Look Zenie, I came to Bora Bora on my honeymoon. I’m not the sort of person to live on a tropical island with some rich, mysterious shark woman. I’m a nurse from a middle class neighbourhood in the USA. I want to go home. I want to live a normal life and try to get over all that has happened to me here. Maybe someday I can love again. But it won’t be a woman or some smooth operator who appears to be a good catch. It will be some average Joe, with an average job and there won’t be any whirlwind romance or expectations. I just want normality.”
Zenie said nothing but her face was set in a scowl letting Kate know that she still felt that Kate was wrong to leave. In the evening, they took a slow walk around the hotel gardens and then sat on their balcony over looking the ocean. Kate found she had a lump in her throat. It was going to be hard to leave the islands. No matter what she had said to Zenie, a part fo her heart belonged here.
The next morning Zenie took her to the airport and waited until Kate’s plane had left. Then she turned away. This was wrong, she knew.
Chapter Six: Low Tide
The first few weeks back in the States were just a blur to Kate. Dubois representatives had met her plane in Los Angeles and took her to her new apartment. It was a three bedroom apartment close to several hospitals. It had been furnished nicely with all the basics and even the cupboards and fridge had been well stocked.
Kate leaned her head against the fridge door. That was so like Peri. Her removal from Bora Bora had been run with military efficiency and her arrival in L.A. with an attention to every detail. She supposed she should be grateful. This is what she had asked. She was home. But her emotions boiled over when she thought of Peri safely behind her emotional walls, tucked up in her safe house, on an island in the middle of ocean. Damn you Peri. Damn you.
That wasn’t fair and Kate regretted the thought as soon as she had it. Peri had made it clear that it was about sex not love. And it had looked like Kate had been Rick’s partner in the kidnap. Peri had always treated her fairly. More than fairly really. It wasn’t her fault that she didn’t love Kate. Perhaps she wasn’t capable of loving anyone. There were too many secrets, too many walls between Peri and her emotions for Kate to break through.
Come on Kate, be realistic. You are a little nurse from a middle class background. Who got conned out of her inheritance by a sweet talking crook. Did you really think that someone as rich and powerful and so cosmopolitan as Madam Peri Dubois was going to fall for the likes of you? No, you would have been a fling and then Peri would have moved on. You were right to end it before you got really hurt.
Kate looked down at her pearl ring. It might not be the finest pearl in the world but Peri had given it to her and she cherished it. She brought it to her lips. Peri was like this pearl. She was made of layers and layers and underneath there was some secret irritant that had coloured her life. On the surface she was beautiful but underneath, down deep, she was damaged.
Kate was back at work five weeks later. She’d found two student nurses to share her apartment with her and was banking their rent plus half of her own salary. By working double shifts when she was needed and on holidays, she was quickly building up the money that she owed Peri. No matter what Peri said about her debt being paid, Kate meant to pay back the money that she owed plus the cost of the apartment. She wasn’t a taker and she wasn’t going to have Peri buy her off just for doing her job or worse still for one night of love. It was a matter of pride.
The weeks turned into months. Kate recovered physically but the ache and loneliness in her heart never left. All her time and energy went into paying Peri back. Nothing else mattered to her. She might not have been able to win Peri’s love but she at least wanted her respect.
A year went by then two. Kate worked on. Although the nursing students were much younger than she was, they had over that time become friends. Gale was tall and practical and Annette short and fiery. They looked on Kate as their big sister and role model. She’d guided and comforted them through exams, offered practical advice when they started their practicums on the wards and been there to pick up the emotional pieces through a series of boyfriends. They in turn, filled the void in Kate’s life.
She was not surprised then to find the two of them waiting at the kitchen table with coffee cups in hand to talk to her. Naturally, it was Gale who got Kate her coffee and started the conversation.
“We need to talk. Annette’s older, half brother, Joe, is coming out west on business.”
“He’s nine years older than I am,” Kate put in. “From my dad’s first marriage but he’s really nice.”
“He works in an engineering company. And we think he’s perfect for you.”
“Oh no, you two. No blind dates,” Kate objected
Annette protested. “It’s not a blind date. He’s my brother. His first marriage didn’t work out. We warned him she was a flirt but you know what guys are like. Anyway, he’s divorced and well over her and you are divorced and we think you two should get together.”
“Yes,” stated Gale. “You need to get out. You make wall flowers look exciting. Life is passing you by. We won’t take no for an answer. Besides, we’ve talked to Jason and Ron and all six of us are going to a movie and then dinner. Come on. It will be fun.”
Kate smiled. She knew the two young women only wanted the best for her. It wouldn’t hurt to have a night out. “Okay. Thanks. I’ll go.”
To Kate’s surprise the evening had been great fun. They’d had a few drinks and snacks at a local bar and then gone to see an action packed movie. After, they’d had pizza and beer and sat for a few hours laughing over stories the Gale and Annette were telling about their experiences as student nurses.
Annette’s brother Joe was exactly what Kate had said she wanted. He was of average height and had pleasant features and was clearly just a nice guy. He had a good, steady job and was reasonably intelligent. Kate knew that he was the sort who would be loyal and supportive in a marriage. He’d make a good father and would always be there for them. He was normality.
The other two couples had gone bar hopping but Kate had asked to go home as she had an early shift the next day. Joe had drove her back and they had walked hand in hand up the her apartment door. Then he had kissed her. It was just a brushing of lips but Kate knew immediately it was all wrong. The roughness of his skin, his scent and feel. It was not want she wanted.
“It looks like my company will be transferring me out here. Can I see you again?”
Kate stepped back. “Joe, you are a great guy and I like you a lot but, well, there was someone else and I’m just not over them yet.”
He nodded sadly. “Well, I’ve been there. I know what its like but you do get over a bad relationship. If you don’t mind, I’ll keep in touch.”
“Sure. That would be okay. We can be friends. Thanks for a great evening Joe.” She hadn’t invited him in. She probably never would. How could you explain to someone like Joe that you were wrong. It wasn’t a normal life in a middle class neighbourhood that she wanted. She wanted to be on a South Pacific island, swimming with sharks, looking for that perfect pearl and loving a shark woman as the dawn broke over the ocean.
Unable to sleep. She had written a letter to Zenie. Although Zenie’s English was pretty good, she couldn’t read it. But Peri had paid for Zenie’s children to go to good schools and they had all studied English as a second language. Zenie’s oldest daughter would translate the letters into French for her and then would write back for Zenie.
She wrote Zenie all about her date and how he was just what she thought she wanted and then had discovered that she was wrong.
Zenie, Joe is just the nicest guy. He has a good job and he is just one of those men who wants to be married and settled down with a family. He would be a kind and caring husband and a great dad. And his sister is one of my best friends. We are going to keep in touch but I had to tell him that my heart belonged to another. Oh Zenie, how can I ever get over my love for Bora Bora and that special person who came into my life?
~ ~ ~
For Peri, the troubles of the last few months were just the beginning. She found she couldn’t sleep or focus on her work. She felt guilty that the smile she wore around Marau were not true and that she took little pleasure out of the time they spent together. Everything seemed so hollow without Kate.
“I miss Kate. Don’t you Maman?”
“Why did she have to go? I thought she loved us.”
Peri looked up in surprise and saw young eyes with a depth of wisdom. “Kate loved you very much Marau. But Bora Bora was not her home.”
“She loved you too, Maman.”
Peri sighed. The child just couldn’t understand. “Kate only came here on a holiday and the stayed on for a while when her husband left her.”
“He is a very bad man. Kate should not have married him.”
“Oui. He is a very bad man but he is in jail now and Kate will divorce him and find someone nice back in the United States. Then she will have children of her own.” Just saying those words sent a lance of pain through Peri’s heart. The thought of Kate with someone else was just too hard to bear.
Life now was hard to bear. Peri had thought when she found out that Odette was having a relationship with her father that she had felt the worst emotional pain imaginable. She now realized that what she felt was betrayal. She thought back to that day. They had taken her dad’s boat out at dawn because Odette had wanted to get pictures of the sharks in dramatic lighting. When Peri thought back on it, Odette had been trying to tell her that their relationship was over for sometime but Peri had been in denial. On the boat that day though, Odette had made it clear.
“Peri, I’m sorry. You will always be special to me but I’m not a lesbian. I realize that now. It is not women I was attracted to but you.”
“So you are attracted to me and not other women. I can live with that.” She’d tried to end the conversation picking up the bucket of chub and climbing down the stern steps to the diving platform. She started to throw pieces of fish into the water.
“You’d better get your camera ready. I see three black fin sharks coming.”
“Peri listen to me. There is someone else.”
Peri froze then turned to look up at Odette.
“Peri, I’m so sorry. I never meant it to happen. It just did. I love him.”
“Who?” She’d managed to get out through a tightening throat.
“That bastard! I’m going -” The sentence had not been finished. In her shock, Peri had tripped over the bucket of chub. The pieces of fish slipped from the bucket and fell into the water along with Peri. The sharks moved in.
Even now Peri could feel that bite as rows of razor sharp teeth sunk into her. Then the shark had shook her like a rag doll trying to tear off her leg. She could do nothing to save herself.
It had been Odette that had saved her. She’d climbed down onto the diving platform even though the sharks were all about and in a feeding frenzy. With the boat hook, she’d stabbed at the shark until it had let Peri go. The she’d reached down and helped Peri pull herself up onto the platform. The sharks were snapping at the platform as blood from Peri’s leg washed overboard. Odette kept hammering at them.
“Peri, you have to get up the ladder. I can’t hold them off.”
In a state of shock, Peri had managed to pull herself up the two steps and collapse into the cockpit. Odette had not been far behind her but it had been long enough for Peri to arm a spear gun.
“Take me to the resort.”
“No! Peri, you need a proper doctor. I need to take you to the clinic. They can stop the bleeding and call the air ambulance from Tahiti.”
Peri raised the spear gun. “Take me to the resort or I’ll take myself.”
“Peri, you’re in shock. You are not thinking straight.”
Perhaps realizing that precious time was wasting, Odette ran to the wheel house and started the engines heading their craft for the ring of reef that surrounded the island of Bora Bora. Peri lowered the spear gun and pulled off it’s rubber strap. She used this to wrap around her leg to slow the bleeding. Then she wrapped a towel around the wound and taking her flippers, she placed them on each side of her knee and used the cord from a canvas bag to hold the joint in place. She’d been lucky. The shark had not been big. The bite itself was extensive but not as deep as it might have been with a bigger shark. But the jaws had caught her lower hip and knee and she knew bones had been broken. She had been unable to move her legs on the ladder and had to pull herself up by her arms as she balanced her good leg on each rung.
Odette slowed as they got close to the resort.
Peri raised the gun again. “Don’t take me to the dock. Get as close to the clinic as you can. Pull into the beach.”
“Peri this is craziness. You need to see a doctor.”
“I can take care of myself. I don’t need you. And I don’t need my father. If you come ashore, I’ll shoot you.” She had pulled herself up and had rolled over the gunwales into the water as Odette brought the launch in as close as she dared. The impacted with the water had almost caused Peri to blackout. Shock and anger alone kept her conscious as she swam weakly to shore.
“I’m going to get help. I’ll find someone you’ll listen to,” Odette yelled, as she sped away in the boat.
Peri pulled herself up on the beach. Slowly, painfully she dragged herself to the clinic and passed out of the floor.
Now, she was able to see that Odette had been right. She hadn’t been thinking straight. She had been lucky to survive. Luck that Zenie had come and knew what to do until the air ambulance could arrive. She had repaid Zenie by paying for her children’s education. But there was another debt. A bigger one that she was still paying.
Weeks went by then months. Peri’s heartache went from an unbearable stabbing to a dull ache and mild depression. There was a terrible loneliness that never really left her. After diner while Marau did her homework, Peri went to sit with Odette.
“How was your day?” she asked bending over to drop a light kiss on the scarred tissue.
“Okay,” Odette managed to wheeze out form her damaged lungs and burnt lips. “And you?”
“Okay. Business as usual.”
“Eiraha, is getting married.”
“Really? The man who owns the small, general store?”
“He is a good man. He doesn’t care about her past. He will be good to her.”
Eiraha had been one of a huge and poor family. At fifteen, she had been working the streets. She had made the mistake of trying to come on to Peri who had dragged her home, cleaned her up, fed her and had offered her a job caring for Odette. It had worked out. Eiraha understood pain and had quickly bonded with Odette. It was her chance at a new life and she’d taken it doing her best to live up to Peri’s expectations and to live down her past.
“Would you like me to take you for a walk or a boat ride tonight?”
Odette would not let herself be seen. Only at night and even then covered up would she venture beyond her walled garden sometimes allowing Peri to wheel her around the more isolated areas of the resort or taking her for a boat ride. Not that she wanted to go out very often. She was so weak that even such small excursions took her days from which to recover. But Peri always asked.
“Non. My lungs hurt tonight.”
“Do you need to see a doctor?”
“Non. Just rest.”
“Okay. I’ll help you to bed before I do my exercises. If you are still awake later, I’ll let Marau pop in to say good night.”
“Oui. When I die can you bury me with your father?”
“Of course. You belong at his side. But not for a while yet.”
“Maybe. I love you, Peri.”
“I know but not in the same way you loved my father and that’s okay. I understand now,” Peri admitted as she helped the crippled woman get ready and into bed.
“Because of Kate.”
“Oui, because of Kate.”
“Don’t grieve. You have loved.”
“Oui. I have loved.” With a sigh, Peri turned out the light and left Odette to sleep. She went to stand on the balcony looking not at the garden and the sea beyond but into the past.
Peri had been weeks in the hospital. Her knee joint had been shattered and her pubis bone cracked and there was extensive muscle and tendon damage. It had taken 286 stitches, and eight pins to put her back together again. It was almost a week before she was told of her father’s death and Odette’s burns even thought the fire had started the same day.
He father had got up and joined them for coffee before they had left. They had left him eating a croissant and drinking his coffee in the livingroom.
In their absents, her father had gone back to bed leaving the cigarette he had been smoking smoldering on the edge of an ashtray. It had fallen off onto the wicker table. The dry, varnished wicker had smoldered for a long time before it caught and spread to the curtains, the ceiling tile, rug and so on. By the time Odette pulled the boat into their dock, the house was a blaze.
She had loved him. She had loved him more than herself. She’d run into the burning house and slowly, painfully dragged the man she loved from the building. He was already dead, over come by smoke. Odette was nearly dead too with burns to 90% of her body. They didn’t think she would live but she had. Her skin was distorted and scarred, her fingers welded and claw-like and her face hideously burnt. Her lungs too had been damaged and cataracts had to be removed from her eyes.
Peri had buried her father and scuttled his boat. Odette, she had cared for, building an addition on her own quarters for the woman. She owed her that. She might not have loved Peri but she had loved her father. Loved him above her own life. Peri wondered if her father had really loved Odette. She doubted it. She suspected that he was using Odette to hurt her as she had hurt him when his wife had died giving birth to her. Still, she liked to think that maybe he had. That maybe at the end he had found happiness.
“Out here, Marau.”
“I went to see Tante Odette. She is breathing funny and isn’t answering me.”
“Phone Marie, Marau. Have her send a boat to fetch the clinic doctor from the mainland.”
Odette never regained consciousness. She slipped away in the night with Peri at her side. A few days later Peri saw that she was buried at the side of her father on the old estate where once their home had stood.
“Maman, is Odette happy now in heaven?”
“Oui. She is with the man she loved. This is good, non?”
Marau nodded and snuggled into her mother’s arms. Sadly, they walked hand in hand back to their boat. There was just the two of them now.
~ ~ ~
Zenie waited on the doorstep of the clinic working on an inventory list in her slow, methodical manner. She missed Kate’s company. Yesterday, she had got a letter from Kate and her daughter, Taupoa, had translated it for her. In it, she had said that over the last two years she had raised the money that she still owed Peri. Then she had gone on a described her date with Joe.
Zenie, Joe is just the nicest guy. He has a good job and he is just one of those men who wants to be married and settled down with a family. He would be a kind and caring husband and a great dad. And his sister is one of my best friends. We are going to keep in touch but I had to tell him that my heart belonged to another. Oh Zenie, how can I ever get over my love for Bora Bora and that special person who I love?
Zenie waited. She knew that Marie would have told Madman Peri that a letter had come to her from Kate. Sometime this morning, Peri would find a reason to come by the clinic and Zenie would tell her about the letter. This had happened every time a letter had come over the last two years.
This time it was different though. Zenie too had her sources. Kala, who brought the mail from the mainland, had told Zenie that Madman Peri had also got a letter from Kate.
“But it was much thinner than the one she sent you Zenie. I do not think she had much to say to Madman Peri.” Kala had told her.
Zenie looked up. Here came Madman Peri now.
“Bonjour, Zenie. Comment allez-vous?”
“Je vais bien. Et vous?”
“Tres bien, merci.”
“I have had a letter from Kate.”
“I have too.” To Zenie’s surprise her boss lowered herself awkwardly to the step and leaned her cane against the wall of the clinic. “She sent me a cheque for the money she felt she owed me.”
“Just a small one thanking me for my understanding and explaining that the cheque was for the debts she and her husband had run up plus the cost of the apartment.”
“She is an honourable person.”
Peri nodded. “Oui. But I hadn’t wanted her to pay. She saved my daughter’s life.”
“Oui, she did. But also you gave her money because you two had been together.”
Peri blushed deeply. “Non. Well maybe. It was the least I could do. It was a moment of weakness. A special moment.”
“Humph! Do you think me a fool? Do you think I have not seen you watching Kate from your balcony? You are in love with her.”
Peri smiled but the light did not reach her eyes. “Oui. I am. I am not very lucky at love.”
“You can not find love if you are not prepared to take the chance of being hurt.”
“She didn’t love me. She told me that it couldn’t happen again.”
“She does love you.”
Peri looked at Zenie. “Why are you so sure?”
“She told me so.”
“Oui. But now it is too late, I think.”
“What do you mean?”
“In this letter she writes to me she talks of a nice man who will make a good husband. She doesn’t love him but she will be satisfied with him.”
“Maybe being satisfied is enough for her.”
“Non! It is a mistake. You two are very silly. You must go after her. I will keep Marau while you are gone. I am teaching her about herbal medicines. She wants to be a doctor.”
“I can’t do that.”
“You could if you were not afraid.”
“I am not afraid.”
“Oui. You are afraid to be hurt again. Kate would never hurt you. You must go before it is too late.”
“I can’t. She would say no again.”
“You can if you are prepared to tell her the truth. You must share your secrets about Odette and Eiraha. I do not know what you have been up to but if you love Kate you must love only her.”
Peri looked out at the ocean for a long time. Then she turned and looked at Zenie. “I do love only Kate. Zenie, Can you take Marau for a week?”
“Oui. It is no problem. She is a good girl.”
Peri struggled to her feet and picked up her cane. “Thank you. Thank you very much.”
Zenie nodded. “I will look forward to seeing Kate again. We have much to catch up on.”
Chapter Seven: Risking Hurt
Peri found flying hard. Even in first class, there wasn’t enough room for her leg or space to get up and walk. Her leg tightened up and ached so that by the time she arrived in L.A., she was limping heavily. She called a cab and booked into her hotel. Then she took a hot bath and went to bed to recover. That is what she told herself anyway. The truth of the matter was that she was scared and she was delaying calling Kate.
It wasn’t until the next morning that she picked up the phone and called.
“Hang on a minute, I’ll get her.”
A cold sweat spread across Peri’s skin. Why was another woman at Kate’s house this early in the morning? Who was she? Then with relief, she remembered that Zenie had told her that Kate had two student nurses staying with her.
“Kate. It’s Peri Dubois.”
There was a shocked silence. Then a shaky voice asked, “Peri. Where are you?”
“I’m in town staying at the Bel-Air. I was wondering if we could have dinner tonight?”
“At the Bel-Air?”
“Oui. I’ll send a limo to pick you up about six if that is okay.”
“Bon. I’ll see you then.”
“Okay. Good bye.”
Peri sat for a long time after trying to slow the beat of her heart. Kate had sounded surprised, then distant. Maybe she’d made a mistake coming. No. No, she wasn’t going to be a coward about this. Love was worth risking getting hurt. Why had she made the invitation sound like a business meeting? Why couldn’t she let how she felt show in her voice?
She picked up the phone again.
“I would like to make reservations for two for diner tonight on the Terrace. A table that affords a good view of the bougainvillea garden and has some privacy. For eight this evening, please.”
~ ~ ~
Peri’s soft voice with its sexy French lilt had turned Kate’s insides to jelly. She had sunk down on to the kitchen chair and turned white. Gale, who had been making her breakfast and had answered the phone, turned to look at Kate with a worried frown.
“Are you all right?”
“No. Yes. I don’t know. That was Peri.”
Gale stopped what she was doing and turned to lean on the counter. “The shark woman from Bora Bora. I told Annette that you were gay.”
“It’s - I mean. I don’t know what I mean. I’m not even sure what I said to her. I only got home from a double shift a few hours ago. My brain just won’t function. That was Peri. It was Peri.”
Gale smiled. “So you have told me a number of times. Are you getting together?”
Kate nodded. “Tonight for dinner at the Bel-Air. She’s sending a limo to pick me up at six.”
“A limo? The Bel-Air? Is that were she is staying?”
Kate nodded as she absently turned the pearl ring on her finger.
“You didn’t mention that your shark woman had money.”
“Yes. She owns a resort, a pearl farm, a jewellery shop and vanilla bean plantations.”
Gale smiled and joked. “Okay, if you decide you don’t want her give her my phone number. I’m willing to change my orientation for a resort in the South Pacific.”
‘What should I do? Maybe its just about the money. Maybe she doesn’t think I’ve paid her enough? She sounded all business but she always does.”
Gale took charge. “Well, first of all, you are going back to bed. I’ll wake you at two. That will give you four hours to go from Cinderella to fairy princess. Then, we’ll pack you off in the limo. If she doesn’t offer to take you back to live in a life of luxury, you can slip some Ecstasy into her drink and blackmail her after a night of wild passion.”
Kate laughed. “As if. You won’t forget to wake me?”
“Of course not. I’m hoping for discount holidays at the resort,” Gale joked, pulling the exhausted Kate onto her feet and propelling her in the general direction of her bedroom.
At five to six, Kate was dressed in the same red evening dress that she had wore in Bora Bora and was waiting in the lobby of her apartment building flanked on either side by her two friends.
“I hope you understand, Annette. I mean, Joe is a really nice guy but -”
“He is about as exciting as watching paint dry. I love him and he’ll make a get husband and father but, he not for you.”
Kate blushed. “Thanks.”
“Wow, check out the limo, Cinderella,” joked Gale.
“Cinderella,” grumbled Annette. “Didn’t we spend hours making our friend here into the belle of the ball?”
The two student nurses smiled at each other and looked at Kate. “We did good,” Gale announced with pride.
“I think I’m going to faint,” Kate gasped.
“Not on my watch,” protested Gale. “Deep, slow breaths.”
“Break a leg.”
Her two friends waved good bye as Kate sank into the leather seats of the limo and watched L.A. drift by in the silent, calm cocoon of the limo. She was anything but calm. Her heart was pounding and her stomach was twisted in a knot. Why am I going? I’m getting my hopes up about nothing. It probably has to do with the money. Kate, you are going to get yourself hurt again.”
~ ~ ~
Peri stood in the lobby waiting. She’d dressed carefully wanting to look her best. Why am I here? I’m only going to get hurt again. She hasn’t contacted me in almost two years and when she did it was just to pay me back. I’m a fool.
The limo pulled up and Kate and the driver held the door open for Kate to get out. She was wearing the same red evening dress that she had worn the night they had made love. Peri’s heart skipped a beat. Kate looked lovely.
Peri stepped forward to meet her.
“I thought we might have drinks first in my suite.”
“No! I mean - ”
“It’s okay. I understand,” Peri cut in quickly. “Perhaps you would prefer a walk in the gardens. They are really quite beautiful here.”
Kate nodded. She hadn’t meant to blurt out the no. It’s just that Peri had taken her by surprise. Peri had said she understood but she didn’t. Kate could tell by the way her jaw tightened.
“Yes, a walk would be nice,” she agreed, and then realized that Peri did not have her cane with her.
“Oh. I’m sorry do you need to get your cane first. I can wait.”
Wrong thing to say again. “I am not an invalid. I can walk around a garden without the aid of my cane.”
“Oh course,” Kate agreed quickly. She’d been with Peri less than five minutes and already it had turned into a disaster.
Peri gritted her teeth as she walked down the stone steps to the Bougainvillea garden. The steps put a great strain on her knee without her cane for support. But she wasn’t going to leave Kate waiting in the lobby while she returned to her suite. She managed to walk one step behind Kate. Without her cane, her limp was more obvious.
They walked silently neither knowing what to say. Finally, Peri sighed in frustration.
“Can we sit here in this bench by the swan pond? I have some things I need to tell you.”
“Okay.” They sat at opposite ends of the bench and looked out on the white swans that glided around the yellow lilies on the pond.
Peri gathered herself together. It had been wrong to come but she was here now and she was going to do what she’d set out to do. She might be going back to Bora Bora with a broken heart but she wasn’t going back with regrets.
“You accused me once of having secrets. Of putting up walls between myself and others. You were right. Although I have done so partly because I had given my word to another. But things have changed and I feel free now to speak.”
“You don’t owe me any explanation, Peri.”
“Please! I need to say this. It is a painful story for me. And I do not think you will enjoy it either.”
Kate felt a weight pressing on her chest. She didn’t want to hear about Peri’s intimate secrets. She didn’t think she could bear it.
Peri looked at her hands afraid to look at Kate.
“I did not have a good relationship with my father. He provided for me but he couldn’t love me. He resented that I had lived and my mother, who he adored, had died in child birth. As I got older that wedge between us widened because he did not approve of my lesbian ways.
“It came to ahead one summer when he told me he would not leave the family business to me if I didn’t have an heir to pass it on to. I think he hoped he could force me to marry and have a child. Truthfully, I liked the idea of having a child of my own. Someone to love. But I did not want a husband. Instead, I arranged for artificial insemination. I had gone to Hawaii for the first attempt. I was well aware that the odds were high that it would not be successful and I would have to try again. While I was there, I met a woman, Odette Bondy. She was a former model and a professional photographer.
“We had a relationship. I thought I was in love.” Peri shrugged. “I do not think I knew what love was then. I confused it with desire.”
“Peri, I don’t think I want to hear this.”
“Please. I must go on.”
Peri seemed so earnest that Kate nodded woodenly and clutched her hands tightly while the woman she loved talked about another.
“I took her back to Bora Bora with me. When I think back, she tried to tell me it was over several times but I just chose not to understand. Then one early morning, we went out so Odette could take pictures of the sharks. She took that opportunity to tell me that she was in love with someone else. My father.”
Kate automatically reached for Peri’s arm. “Oh no. Peri, I’m so sorry.”
Peri nodded and cleared the lump form her throat. “ I was shocked. I hadn’t seen it coming. I thought Odette and I would raise my child and we’d be happy together. I was on the dive deck throwing chub to the sharks and I tripped and fell in. That’s when the shark bit me. Odette jabbed it with a boat hook and managed to pull me to safety.”
“She hadn’t pushed you in?”
Peri looked at Kate in surprise. “Of course not. She had fallen in love with my father but Odette would never deliberately hurt me.”
“But she did hurt you emotionally.”
“Yes, very deeply. I did not react well. I was so angry and hurt and I suppose I was in shock too. I just wanted to be as far away from Odette and my father as possible. I loaded a spear gun and forced her to take me to the resort. I had it in my mind that Zenie could put a bandage on my leg and I’d be fine. I know that sounds stupid put I wasn’t thinking straight.”
“Shock can do that.”
“Oui. I told her if she tried to land, I’d shoot her. I dropped over the side and managed to crawl along the beach to the clinic before I passed out. Fortunately for me, Zenie was able to keep me alive until the air ambulance could arrive. I woke up a day later in a hospital in Tahiti. It was while I was recovering there and doing therapy that I discovered I was pregnant with Marau. She’s a bit of a miracle baby to have survived all that.”
“She is indeed. Peri, what happened to Odette?”
She went to get my father hoping he could talk some sense into me before I bled to death. He had got up that morning to see us off. I guess he was giving Odette moral support because he must have known she was going to tell me about their affair. Anyway, he’d fallen asleep again and left a cigarette burning. It smoldered for a long time but when the morning breeze got up it caught.”
Kate squeezed Peri’s arm to let her know she was there and cared.
Peri took a deep breath and continued. “Odette arrived to find the house in flames. She ran in and pulled my father out. He was died of smoke inhalation. Odette was burned to over 90% body. She had sacrificed herself to try and save the man she loved, my father. They didn’t think she would live, but she did. She was horribly scarred.
“When she was well enough to leave the hospital, I built an addition onto my house and she lived there. She made me promise that no one would know she was there. She didn’t want to be seen. Marau would visit her Tante Odette and I hired a young woman to be with her when I wasn’t about. No one else knew.”
“Oui. She’d come from a poor family and had been working the streets. She was caught by my security people on the resort property one night. I offered her jail or a new start. She stayed on as a care-giver until Odette died last month. Now she’s working in our day care centre. I just needed you to know all that.”
“Thank you for telling me. It explains a lot. But what about the groans I could hear from your room at night?”
“I have a gym. I exercise, every night to strengthen my leg. It can be painful.”
For a while, they sat in silence looking at the pond. Peri desperately wanted to know what Kate was thinking but she said nothing.
“Maybe we should go and have dinner,” Peri suggested. “They are holding a table for us.”
Kate nodded and they walked back though the beautiful gardens of the Bel-Air Hotel. Neither woman felt like eating but they didn’t want to part either.
The food was wonderful. The garden terrace elegant and the music soft and gentle. They had a drink before dinner and wine with it and gradual the conversation became more relaxed and comfortable.
“So I said to her, Marau, how did you end up in the headmaster’s office for telling lies? I have always told you to tell the truth. Oui, Madmn, she said and I am sorry. But the person who broke the window did so by accident. But she will have to pay anyway and her family does not have the money. We are rich so I thought if I said I broke the window it would be better.”
“I see. But you got caught in your fib.”
“Oui. It seems I do not lie very well even for a good cause. It was embarrassing.”
Kate laughed and so did Peri.
“So what did you say to the Little Coconut?”
“I told her that she must apologize for lying and explain why she had done it and then offer to pay for the window as her punishment.”
“So it was settled to everyone’s satisfaction, I think. I am holding back half of Marau’s allowance until the glass is paid for.”
Peri looked up sharply. “She shouldn’t have lied. She should have gone to the girl and told her that I would help her pay for the glass if she would do some jobs for me.”
“Well, a lessoned learned.” Kate looked down at the table. “About the money I owed you, Peri-”
“You owe me nothing. I will not cash the cheque.”
Kate looked up eyes flashing. “But you must. I too need to be allowed to pay off my debts and make good on my mistakes. It’s only fair.”
“Kate -” Peri saw the determination in Kate’s eyes. “Very well. I will use the money to set up a scholarship fund for children on the island. Is this satisfactory?”
“Oui. Thank you, Peri.”
They ate in silence for a bit.
“Kate, I have been honest with you. I want you to return to Bora Bora with me. Marau misses you.”
“Marau misses me?”
Peri blushed. “I miss you too. Let me buy you a ticket so you can return with me to the islands.”
Kate looked at Peri with hurt and confused eyes. Peri had been honest. She had come all this way but she had not talked of love. Still, with all her heart, she did want to go with Peri. It was so hard to say no. She looked down at the table unable to look Peri in the eyes.
“That is a very generous offer, Peri. I do miss Marau, Zenie and you. But I have responsibilities here and a job. I just can’t walk away from all that.”
Peri made a noise that sounded almost like a growl. “It is this Joe? You are going to marry him?”
“Joe? No. Whatever gave you that idea?”
“Do not lie to me, Kate. You wrote Zenie about him. She told me.”
Kate’s eyes narrowed. Conflicting emotions boiled up into anger. “Do not call me a liar, Madamn Peri. Yes, I did write Zenie about a blind date I’d had. Not that it’s any of your business. Nor is it any of your business who I chose to see. I can’t believe that you thought I’d just waltz back to Bora Boar with you and be your nanny and mistress. I think I’d better go.” Kate rushed off leaving Peri trying to struggle to her feet without the aid of her cane. By the time she’d limped to the lobby, Kate had gone.
~ ~ ~
Kate sat on her sofa in her crumpled dress with mascara running with tears down her cheeks. Annette passed her another tissue and Gale topped up her drink.
“Let me get this straight. This beautiful, rich woman, who you say you love, offered to fly you to the South Pacific with her and you said no?” Gale asked in confusion.
Annette, sitting with her arm around Kate looked up at her pragmatic friend with fiery eyes.
“Of course she said no. What else could she do? Did this Peri Dubois talk of love? Or commitment? No. Could Kate be expected to drop everything and go just because this woman asks it? No. This Dubois has been nowhere for two years and then suddenly appears making demands. No!”
Gale looked confused. “I don’t get it. Kate loves her. Peri came all this way to get her. That’s gotta mean something.”
“Of course, it does, but this woman must say what her heart feels. That is what is important.”
“Look, thanks you two for being here for me. I really appreciate it but I think now I need to have a shower and just be alone for a bit.” Kate got up.
Annette looked at her with sympathy. “Sure, Honey. We understand.”
“I don’t. You don’t need to be alone. You need to go to that woman and tell her that you love her. How else is she going to know? I mean, she came all this way for you.”
Annette looked aghast. “Gale!” She turned back to Kate. “You go off an have your shower Honey. We’ll be around if you need us.”
“Not me. I’ve got the graveyard shift tonight,” muttered Gale.
Kate took two steps and stopped. She never had told Peri that she loved her. Kate turned and looked at Gale. “Would you drop me at the Bel-Air on your way to the hospital?”
Gale smiled triumphantly and pulled a face at Annette. “Sure. I’d be glad to.”
“I’ll just shower and change.”
An hour later, Kate found herself in blue jeans and a t-shirt sitting in Gale’s car.
Gale turned off the radio. “So have I missed something here? I thought you walked out on Peri.”
“I did. Twice. And neither time I told her I loved her. I didn’t realize that until you said it. I mean to do that this time. I might be making a fool of myself but I’ll regret it for the rest of my life if I don’t.”
“That a girl,” smiled Gale, pulling up at the front doors of the Bel-Air. “Good luck.”
“Thanks.” Kate smiled at the doorman who opened the car door for her and led her into the main lobby of the Bel-Air. She took a deep breath, squared her shoulders and walked over to the reception desk.
“Could you call, Madam Peri Dubrois’ suite and tell her that Kate Madison is here to see her?”
“Certainly madam. If you will please wait a minute.”
Kate watched as the clerk phoned from an ornate table over in the corner of the reception area. The clerk talked for a few seconds, smiled and returned to where Kate was standing.
“Madam Dubrois has the presidential suite. Mark here will take you through the gardens to her suite.”
Kate dutifully followed Mark.
“How many rooms are there here?” she asked, to break the silence.
“91. They all have private entrances off the gardens. The Presidential suite is our largest at just under 1,500 square feet. It has two bedrooms, a livingroom with a wood burning fire place, a dining room, full kitchen, a private garden and outdoor spa and a fountain,” Mark explained, with some pride.
“Really. Just like home.”
The sarcasm was missed by Mark who smiled. “That’s exactly how we at the Bel-Air want our guests to feel. That our hotel is their home away from home. Here we are.”
Kate smiled her thanks and opening the garden gate, headed up to the door. It was opened before she got there by Peri who stepped aside to let her in.
“What are you paying for this place?” That hadn’t been what Kate meant to say. It just came out as she stepped in to the luxurious accommodations.
“A little under $4,000 a night.”
Kate’s eyes got big and her mouth dropped open. “Did you say a night?”
Colour rose in Peri’s face. “I got the suite with the extra bedroom. I was hoping you’d spend sometime with me and I didn’t want it to look like - well- that I was expecting anything in return.”
Kate smiled. “Weren’t you?”
Peri went beet red. “I- ah- I-”
Kate fed Peri the words. “You love me?”
Tears, welled in the woman’s eyes. “Yes, very much so.”
“I love you too, Peri.” Kate whispered, stepping into Peri’s arms.
“Thank you God for giving me this special gift,” Peri whispered. For a long time, they just stood there holding each other. It was all they needed. All they wanted, just to be in each other’s arms.”
“I’m sorry I lost my temper and stormed off. I needed you to say it. I needed to know it was love not just passion. Can you understand that?”
“Yes. I’m sorry. I wanted to say I loved you. I was afraid. There have been others in my life who I loved and who wouldn’t or couldn’t love me. I was just afraid if I said those words that you would tell me that you were in love with Joe.”
“Joe? Oh Peri,” Kate reached up and kissed her. She could feel Peri’s body responding and it excited Kate to the core of her being. “Bed. Now,” she muttered.
Their love making was passionate. The emotional walls that had divided them crumbling as fear was replaced by trust. Kate took the lead this time, showing Peri just how deep her love was and how passionate. Under Kate’s hands, Peri moaned with delight and bucked with need. When she came, Kate felt the warm, wetness of her release and smiled. This felt so good, so right. It was what had been missing in her life. Peri made her whole.
“I love you,” Peri whispered.
“Show me how much,” Kate teased, kissing Peri’s breasts softly.
And Peri did. With command and gentleness, she explored Kate’s form. Teasing, stimulating, kissing, stroking until Kate gasped with want and came with a deep convulsion of wonderful sensations.
“Don’t ever leave me again,” Peri groaned.
“I have to.”
Peri sat up and looked down at the naked woman beside her in shock. “What?”
“I’ll have to, Peri. I’ll have to give notice at the hospital and see to packing up my life here. I’ll have to apply to live in French Polanisia and advertize for someone to sublet the apartment. I can’t just throw Gale and Annette out on the streets.”
“Oh,” Peri looked disappointed and concerned. “But you are coming back, right?”
Kate reached up and pulled her lover down towards her. “I plan on coming for you for the rest of my life.”
Peri smiled. This is what she had search for all her life. Someone, who loved her, who wanted to be there at her side for the rest of their lives.
Two days later, Peri looked out the window of her plane as it taxied to the runway. She wondered if Kate was watching from the terminal window or if she had already left to get on with her life. They had barely come out of her suite. Peri had their meals delivered by room service. In the cool of the evening, they had ventured out to walk in the gardens but for the rest of the time, they had been happy just to be together. It has been wonderful. But now she was on a plane back to her home and Kate wasn’t with her.
On the one level, she was confident that Kate would follow at the end of the month. On another, the old scars had opened to seep out the fear of doubt. Please Kate. Don’t leave me.
The trip out had been bad for Peri but the trip back, still alone was even worse. She limped heavily from the plane in Tahiti feeling depressed and worried. As soon as she could, she took out her cell phone and called Kate’s apartment. No answer.
Peri stood or paced when her knee wasn’t too painful while she waited for her connecting flight to Bora Bora. She phoned several times more. Still no answer. Logically, she knew that Kate and her friends were probable all at work. She still fretted though. Her insecurity brought up unwanted images of Kate out having fun with Joe or someone else. That wasn’t fair to Kate, she knew. But she had thought Odette loved her and would stay with he,r hadn’t she? Maybe, Kate was playing her for a fool just as Odette had done.
Her cell phone vibrated in her pocket and she pulled it out.
“Bonjour Sexy. How is the woman of my dreams?
Peri’s insides melted in relief. “Kate. I miss you.”
Kate laughed. “I know. You have phoned seven times in the last hour. I just accessed my voice mail. I was hoping you might call to let me know you were home safe.”
“I’m in Tahiti waiting for my connecting flight. Where are you?”
“I’m on my break, standing in the rain outside the hospital so I can use my cell phone. I gave the hospital my notice today. I’ll be finished in two weeks.”
“Then you will come?”
“As soon as I can find someone to sublet the apartment.”
“No you couldn’t cover the costs. I know you are very wealthy but I am not. I won’t be a kept woman, Peri. I need to work and pay my way as much as I can. You understand don’t you?”
“My mind understands, my heart is protesting.”
“I love you Peri. I want to be there with you and I will as soon as I can. Okay?”
“I have to go now. I’ll be off duty at five. Could you call me around six my time? I should be home by then.”
“Love you. Bye.”
Chapter Eight: The Power of Love
The days went by agonizingly slow for both Peri and Kate. They talked every day on the phone. Kate had asked for her old job back at the clinic and Peri has reluctantly agreed.
“Kate, you don’t need to work. You are my partner.”
“Then as your partner, I need to pull my weight. I want to help Zenie with the clinic and also see what role I can play in the heath care system of Bora Bora. If I’m going to live there, I need to give back something to the community.”
“You may have your old job back then. But only an eight hour shift. I will not have you work night and day as you did before.”
Kate’s voice turned teasing. “But Madam Peri, if I work for eight hours and sleep for eight hours what will I do with the remaining eight hours?”
“I will fill them for you,” Peri promised and then began to list some of the ways she could do that until Kate was so deeply aroused she nearly came for Peri right then and there.
“Peri stop! This is so unfair. Listen, I have news. I’ve sublet the apartment and I’ve booked my ticket. I will be there on the fourth.”
“Bon! Kate, I have missed you so much. I love you.”
I love you too, my shark woman. See you soon.”
Peri smiled and hung up the phone leaning back in her office seat. She could hardly wait for Kate to get here. Everything seemed to be going so well. Even what she though might be a very difficult conversation with Marau had gone well thanks to Zenie’s foresight and guidance.
“Marau, I have good news. Kate is coming back to live with us.”
The small child beamed. “Maman this is wonderful. I have missed her so much.”
“Bon. Marau, adults have feelings that are different from children and yet in some ways the same. You Marau, know that I love you.”
“I love Kate too but it is not in the same way. It is in an adult way. When Kate comes back she will be like my partner. I mean - well-”
“She is to be your wife? Maman this is wonderful! Now I will have two moms.”
Peri blushed and looked at her daughter in amazement. “You know about these things?”
“Of course. Zenie has talked about such things with me as part of my training to be a doctor. I have always known that the tall maid, Bobbie, is not a woman at all but a man who wants to be a woman. I remember Pere Dubois calling you a lesbian sometimes. That’s a woman who loves another woman instead of a man. Zenie explained it all to me.”
Peri felt totally shocked and drained by this conversation with her intelligent. little daughter. “It doesn’t bother you that my life style is a bit different from most women?”
Marau considered this question seriously. “The islanders will understand. Perhaps the tourist won’t. The kids at school might tease me, maybe. But they tease me now because my mother is rich and is known as the shark woman. I don’t care.”
Peri wrapped her daughter in a deep hug. “You are one very, special child and I love you so very, very much.”
“I love you too Maman and I love Kate as well.”
Early on the fourth, Peri took out the hotel submersible. It was a small sub that could carry six guests and the pilot for dives to depths of two hundred feet along the reef. It did not look like a regular sub. Instead, it was a flat fiberglass deck with a hatch that led by ladder down into a circular glass enclosure. Stools lined the sides so that the guests got a wonderful view of tropical fish, sea urchins, coral, sharks and hundreds of other ocean treasures.
Today, however, the sub was being used in a different purpose. A ship’s anchor had caught onto a communication cable that ran from the mainland to the reef. Peri had been asked to dive down and see if there was any damaged that could cause problems if it was not fixed. The dive would take her to 150 feet.
Yesterday, her regular pilot had towed the sub with a boat to the other side of the island where the dive would be made. The sub ran on twelve batteries and was not designed to travel from place to place on the surface. In the process of tying the sub to its temporary anchor buoy, the pilot had slipped on the wet deck and broken his wrist. So Peri was piloting the dive in his place.
She didn’t mind. She had less than ten hours now to the arrival of Kate’s plane and she was finding the wait unbearable. A dive would keep her occupied and fill in a good deal of that time before she could pick up Kate at the airstrip at eight this evening.
Jean, the hotel employee she’d taken with her, tied their runabout to the anchor buoy and held their boat close while Peri climbed onto the deck of the sub. Jean would stay on the surface and be ready to assist if there was an emergency. A dive, even in a sub, has a risk factor. The sub carried inflatable life jackets. In the case of an extreme emergency, the chamber could be flooded, the hatch opened and a quick assent could be made. The occupants would still need to decompress quickly once they got to the surface but the island clinic was equipt with just such a chamber due to the number of sport divers who came to Bora Bora.
Unlocking the hatch, she climbed down and carefully and methodically checked her craft and ran through the pretests. The sub design was a good one and the craft had a great safety record but it was a sub and every precaution needed to be taken. When she was finished, she climbed up the ladder and called to her spot man.
“Jean, cast off. I’m sealing the hatch and will start my dive.”
“Oui, Madam Peri.”
Peri pulled the hatch down, locked the latches and then turned the metal wheel to seal the sub. Taking the pilot’s seat, she radioed to Jean.
“Jean, are you reading me?”
“Oui. You are free to dive.”
Peri flooded the ballast tanks and the craft started to slowly descend into the ocean. At fifty feet, the water had turned from green to blue. Peri switched on the sub’s lights. At one hundred feet the water seemed grey in colour as little light penetrated to this depth. At 130 feet, Peri leveled off. Her lights clearly showed the sandy floor of the lagoon.
“Descent completed. Depth 130 feet. Request directional guide. Over.”
“Sonar indicates the cable is north-east of you. Probably within 25 meters.”
“Starting search pattern.”
Peri moved back and forth looking for signs of the cable. For the most part it would be buried in shifting sand after all these years but where it had been grabbed and lifted by the anchor it was hopefully exposed. Up ahead Peri say the cable arching in a loop on the ocean floor.
“I’ve got visual. It looks like there might be about twenty metres of cable exposed. So far I don’t note any damage to the casing.”
Peri checked and rechecked. Although the cable had been pulled from its sand bed by the anchor, it seemed fine. There was no visual damage to the cable’s water proof outer coat.
“It looks okay here. I’m returning to the anchor buoy and starting my assent.”
“I’ll be standing by.”
It was the last thing that Jean said. His body would be found three days later floating face down caught in a mango grove. Sixteen minutes before his death, the floor bed 168 nautical miles away had sudden risen. The seismic graph registered a 7.2 on the Richter scale. The ensuing tidal wave rolled across the ocean surface peaking into a 5 metre wave as it smashed over the reef. Resorts were flooded, docks destroyed, village homes flattened and five people lost their lives including Jean.
The turbulence hit Peri’s craft like a high wind sending her sub tumbling through the water. Strapped in to her seat, Peri was able to shut down all but the life support systems and reach for one of the life jackets. If the craft flooded she’d have only a few minutes of air to get to the surface.
When the craft finally came to a rest and the sand settled a bit, she found that it was wedged on its side between two coral formations. The safety glass, although scratched had held.
Peri patted the wall. “Good girl. You are one hell of a craft.”
Shaken, she radioed to the surface. “Jean, do you read? Jean, do you read?” No answer. Peri felt her fear and worry knotting her insides. Don’t panic, she warned herself.
Peri looked out through the darkness to the faint light above. It had been a tsunami, she was fairly sure. She hoped Jean, had been able to ride it out. How much damage had been caused? How much loss of life? Her gut ached with worry. She was fairly sure the wave had come from the south-east that meant her businesses on the other side of the island should have escaped with little damage. But this side of the island would have suffered the impact of millions of cubic tonnes of water hitting them with the force of a freight train. A imperial galleon of water occupies one cubic foot of space and weights ten pounds. A massive wave contained millions of galleons of water. It’s destructive power was unbelievable.
Peri forced herself not to think of what might have happened on the surface. Chances were Jean was not in a position to provide help. Nor would he have a fix on where she now was. She needed to get herself out of this situation. She looked at her gages. Air pressure and oxygen levels indicated that the craft was air tight. She looked around, no visible leaks. Cautiously, she flipped on the air flow and was reassured to hear the electric motor start up. Her depth gaged showed she was now in less than 85 feet of water. Good. She could probably make it to the surface. Blow up the emergency life raft and paddle for shore.
It was then she noticed, that wedged as she was, there was no way to get the hatch open. She checked her gages again. With only her in the sub, she had eighteen hours of oxygen. She undid her safety belt and carefully lowered herself on to the metal frame of the viewing glass. Carefully, she worked her way around looking to see how badly she was wedged in. From what she could tell, the topside decking was leaning against a wall of coral making it impossible to open the hatch. On the other side, the hull was hedged under a coral ridge. If she could ease the craft out from under the ridge slowly, and pump the air out of the ballast tanks in the decking, she might be able to flip the sub right way up and drift to the surface.
Peri checked her power gage. She still had a good lot of power but the manoeuvring she was planning on doing would use a lot of it. If she was wrong, her life support systems would fail pretty quickly. So did she sit tight and hope someone found her within eighteen hours or run the risk and cut her bottom time down considerably? She’d take the chance. If all else failed, she’d attempt to pop out one of the glass plates and try to escape before she drowned.
It took a considerable amount of time and effort to get strapped back into her seat as it was now on its side. Once in, she started up the six electrical engines. Slowly, back and worth she went, trying to rock her craft free.
For six hours, she worked and then seeing her power was now low she turned the engines off. It was completely dark. Occasionally, she saw the flash of a fish body against the glass. She would have liked to turn on a light but couldn’t afford the energy drain. She had made some head way but not enough to break free. She looked at the gages. The oxygen levels were starting to drop and the air pressure to build. Her craft was losing its battle to stay alive. Her only chance now was to try to break the seal on the glass and hope the water gushing in would break it or she could pop a section free before her small compartment filled with water and she drowned. She’d rest and wait to the last minute and then try. She didn’t think her chances of survival were very good.
She sat quietly thinking over the happy times of being with Marau and how proud she was of her. She thought about Kate and how much she loved her. Kate would have landed by now. She would know that Peri was missing. No doubt she would search for her.
From a compartment in her arm rest, she took out a small flash light, a note pad and a pen. And started writing.
My Dearest Kate,
I love you with all my heart. I am doing everything I can to stay alive for you but if this is my end, then I will die happy knowing that for a brief moment I have had your love and we had formed a very special family. I leave to you and Marau, all my estate, properties, business, and belongings. Please be a guide and mother to Marau until she is old enough to be a partner at your side. Remember me Kate but don’t hold to the past. Move on knowing that what we had was so very, very wonderful. Love eternally, Peri.
My Little Coconut,
I am fighting to stay alive for you. But I have got myself in an impossible situation down here and I am not sure I will survive. Know that I wasn’t hurt or in pain that I just fell asleep. I love you with all my heart, Marau. All these years, you have been my reason for being. You gave my life meaning. Listen to Kate and grow up healthy, and happy. I will be in your memories and heart forever, Love Maman.
Tears rolled down her face as she folded the notes carefully and tucked them in a plastic bag that she put in her pocket. At last, she had found what she had wanted all her life and now she was likely to die. Why had she decided to pilot the sub herself? It could have waited a few days. Kate would be arriving soon and she wasn’t going to be there for her. It was just wrong, so completely wrong. Wasn’t there supposed to be happy ever afters? It was getting hard to breath now. There wasn’t enough power left to effectively run the air flow system. She felt light headed and her ear drums were aching from the building pressure. She needed to act while she could.
She slipped from the pilot chair once again and put on an inflatable life jacket. She had turned to look for something with which she might break the thick safety glass when suddenly the sub moved. She grabbed hold of the seat to keep her balance. A loud scrapping sound came from behind her head. Hold together. Hold together, she prayed, as she realized that the tide was going out and grinding the sub against the coral. She stumbled over with her small flashlight to look out. The tidal current was rushing through the opening between the two coral formations and it’s force was pushing the sub forward with it. This is my chance! Peri dived for the control panel and started the pump that would clear the water from the ballast tanks.
There was agonizing grinding and then with a lurch, the sub broke free and flipped right side up. Peri went flying hitting the back of her head against the thick side of one of the battery cases. There was a sudden pain and then nothing.
~ ~ ~
Kate had heard of the tsunami before her plane landed on the reef airstrip. Worried, she didn’t bother with her bags but rushed to where she knew the hotel boats that taxied the incoming guests to the various hotels were docked on the other side of the small air terminal. She was surprised and filled with dread when she saw it was Marie and Zenie who waited for her not Peri.
“Tell me what has happened. I know about the tsunami.” The bearers of bad news, they explained to Kate as concisely as they could how Jean was missing as well as the sub and Peri. They told her about the damage and what efforts were being made to help people. Their resort was barely damaged at all and so they were taking in guests from other hotels and providing meals for the rescue workers. L.Exploreur was out searching for Jean and Peri. Eiraha was staying with Marau. Marau didn’t know yet her mom is missing.
Kate looked at the sky. It was nearly dark. “Take me to L’Exploreur. If the sub isn’t damaged, how long does she have?”
“It depends on her depth. We think she should have until dawn.”
“Are you sure her craft wasn’t washed ashore or on to the reef?”
“Fairly, yes. We could find no debris. We did find the runabout but there was no sign of Jean. We know, Peri was submerged when the tsunami hit because the docking gables were still stowed and the dive radio was still turned on,” Marie explained, through a voice cracking with emotion. Zenie said nothing. She just sat next to Kate, holding her hand. She knew there was little chance that Peri’s craft survived. Kate forced her emotions back. Finding Peri was the first priority. Emotions could wait.
A half hour later, she stood on the deck of L’Explorateur. The yacht moved along slowly while the crew stood at the rails scanning the water with flashlights. Overhead, the fly bridge spot light swung slowly back and forth making wide arches across the waves. There was so much debris in the water it would be hard to pick out the sub if it had made it to the surface. Kate knew that on the bridge, the pilot was scanning the ocean floor with sonar.
It was a warm evening and yet Kate felt chilled to the bone. Zenie wrapped a blanket around her and handed her a cup of coffee.
“Thanks, Zenie. I’m not sure I can drink this. My stomach is doing flip flops.”
“Try. It will help.”
They stood straining their eyes into the darkness as precious minutes ticked by. Finally, one of the crew on the flying bridge yelled out and pointed. The searchlight swung around. Adrift among a bed of torn branches, logs and housing debris was the bright yellow deck of the sub.
All hands rallied around. A boat was lowered and pulled along side the sub. The hatch was opened and one of the crew members dropped inside. He passed Peri up to the other who had waited on deck. In a few minutes, they had Peri lying on the deck of l’Explorateur. She was out cold and her breathing was laboured.
“The bends. We need to get her to the mainland,” someone stated. Again the crew sprang into action. Disregarding the debris in the water, the craft cut through the lagoon to the clinic dock. One of the men, brought a tank of oxygen and placed the mask over Peri’s face. Kate knelt by the woman she loved and held her hand. There was nothing she could do but pray that they had been in time.
~ ~ ~
Later, Kate found herself pacing back and forth by the decompression chamber. Once the yacht had docked, Peri had been placed on a stretcher and rushed into the clinic. In a matter of minutes, she had been slipped into the chamber and the pressure inside had been increased to reduce the damage caused by the bends or DCI. Kate stopped once again to look through the little portal window to where Peri lay. The doctor had given her only a few minutes examination while the chamber was made ready. She had a bump and cut on the back of her head, he had said and numerous bruises. He wasn’t sure how bad a case of DCI Peri had.
“She was down there a long time but the sub was pressurized, I think, for most of that time. But the sub probably rose fairly quickly. This might have saved her life but it has also caused DCI. What had happened is that nitrogen has formed bubbles too big to diffuse through her tissues or blood. The chamber will increase the atmospheric pressure and reduce the size of those bubbles so that Peri can slowly get rid of them through respiration. She is breathing 100% oxygen in there to help that process a long.”
“Will she be okay?”
The doctor squeezed Kate’s arm. “We don’t know for sure. It depends on how much nitrogen built up in her system and how long was she suffering from the symptoms.”
Kate stared in at Peri willing her to be okay. Their dreams had come true and now in such a short time all their plans had been washed away like a sand castle on the beach. How could she go on without Peri? How long had it been? Too long.
Then she saw Peri’s finger move. She looked up and Peri was looking at her and smiled. Kate gave a sob and tears rolled down her face. She mouthed, I love you, through the portal window. Peri smiled again and lifted her hand to touch the glass.
It was an agonizing seven hours later when Peri was pulled from the chamber. Kate wrapped her in her arms. “How do you feel?”
“My feet have pins and needles and I feel a bit sea sick.”
“The pins and needles is from the oxygen. Oh Peri, I thought I’d lost you!”
Peri, held Kate close and whispered in her ear. “It’s over. I’m here. I’m fine. I love you.”
The doctor gave them a few minutes alone. They sat together by the window and watched the pink of the dawn light rise over the ocean.
“I didn’t think I was going to survive,” Peri said and felt Kate shiver and move closer. “All I could think was that I had come so close to having the most perfect love and now I was going to lose it. It made me struggle to stay alive. I just was not going to die and not have known our life together.”
“Don’t ever scare me like that again. Promise.”
~ ~ ~
Four nights later, Perri sat on one side of Marau’s bed and Kate the other. Perri was telling them a traditional island myth as a bed time story.
On the island of Raiatea is a northern mountain range called Te Mehani Ura, the home of the parakeet. Here you find a very beautiful flower that was called by the elders, Tiare Apetahi.
In the distant past, a young woman named Apetahi and her partner lived happily on the island. One day, her partner set out in their dugout to fish and a huge storm came up. Apetahi went down to the beach after the storm but all she found were pieces of her partner’s dugout washed up on the shore.
Knowing that the one she loved was dead, she picked up a piece of the wood from the dugout and hiked up to the peak of Temehani, the tallest of the mountains. This was a sacred place where the villagers came to greet the souls of their ancestors.
And there she died of a broken heart. The villagers found her body. In her hand, she still held a piece of her lover’s canoe. They buried her there with the ancestors and were surprised to see that Apetahi’s tears and the soil of the scared place had caused the dried wood of the canoe to start sprouting again.
Sometime late when they returned to the peak of Temehani, they found by the grave a very special tree. It’s flower was the purist while like Apetahi’s love and the five petals were spread out like the fingers of a reaching hand. The villagers realized that it was Apetahi’s soul reaching towards the sea for her lost partner. They brought a root of the tree to the village to grow but it wilted and died. The plant is very rare, as is true love, and it can only grow on the high elevations of Temehani. So the ancient ones called the flowering tree Tiarre Apetahi - the hand of Apetahi and it is a symbol of eternal love.
Marau smiled. “That is a sad story but a beautiful one Maman. I hope I find and eternal love some day.”
“I’m sure you will,” smiled Peri, tucking her daughter in and giving her a kiss. Kate leaned over and kissed Marau too and then turned off the light.
“Sleep well, Marau.”
The two women quietly closed the door and walked back down the hall to the livingroom.
“I liked your story. You islanders are a romantic lot.”
Peri smiled. “How could we be anything else when we live in a paradise. She took Kate’s hand and led her out on to the balcony. Torches burned, bathing the area in a warm glow. A sea breeze blew gently though the trees bring the scent of ocean and of tropical flowers. The setting sun had turned the ocean waves red and in the distance the faint sound of island singing reached them above the sound of the surf.
Peri had set out a bottle of her finest wine and two crystal glasses. From a box, she removed the pearl necklace that she had showed Kate months before. She kissed Kate and then slipped behind her to place the necklace around her neck.
“Pearls are the treasures, the wonders, the blood of my islands and my people. They stand for purity, loyalty and trust. They also stand for my devotion and love. I could not think of a better gift to give you before I ask you to be my partner and to live with me here until the ancestors call us. I love you, Kate. Now and forever. Please marry me.”
Kate turned into Peri’s arms. “Oui. Je vous aimerai maintenant et pour toujours. I will love you now and forever, my shark woman.” They kissed.
Far away, the breeze gathered the warm waters of her lover from the ocean and carried it to the peak of Temehani. There it fell onto the outstretched, petal hand of Apetahi. Love is eternal. It is a pearl of purity within the hearts of us all.
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