VAULTS OF POWER
Robyn Gabriel pushed the guy's arm off her bare chest. He rolled on his back. His steady breathing filled the cabin. The boat rocked and whined. Then there it was again. A scraping, maybe a faint knock. She propped herself on her elbow. Didn't hear anything. She put her toes on the floor and felt the bundle of her clothes. The guy rolled back toward her and put his hand on her thigh. She pushed the hand away and slipped from the cot into her jeans. Didn't bother with underwear. Her damp T-shirt clung to her skin. Middle of July on the Gulf of Mexico, you had to expect that.
Another, more distinct knock. The word “Captain,” muffled. She felt her way to the door. The boat rocked again and an empty bottle of tequila hit her foot. She smiled.
A whole thirty-three ounces of love shots.
She cracked the door open, took in the mass of tangled, sun-drenched hair and the worried eyes. She slipped out and sighed. “Hey Parker,” she whispered. “Give me a couple more hours of sleep. Tomorrow's our big day.”
Parker glanced toward her cabin door. “It's Sybil.”
“Oh for Chrissakes. Tell her about time zones.” She turned the doorknob. “I'll call her on my time, not hers.” Then she froze. If her twin needed to get in touch, she'd have called her cell. “What do you mean, Sybil? On the radio?”
“There's been an accident.” Parker glanced again at her cabin door. “I just spoke with what’s-his-name.”
Sybil’s fiancé. “Tom?”
“Right. You need to get on the first plane. He's already on his way there. Marseilles, France.”
Of all places. Her throat constricted. “But she was going to Switzerland.”
“He said Marseilles.”
It can’t be happening again.
Parker ran his hand through his hair. “Marseilles, that’s where… right?”
Where their parents were killed in a car accident, thirteen years ago. She blinked tight. “Why didn’t she tell me?”
He looked at her and didn’t need to speak. She and Parker went way back—to detention room, thirteen years ago, when she and Sybil moved to Florida to live with their uncle and aunt. Assiduous haunting of detention room sometimes had side effects, and Parker and Robyn’s friendship was one of them. Forged in rebellion, sealed in mutual understanding. Sybil hadn’t been part of it. She was the straight-A twin.
Little by little, a lot of things ended up not mentioned between the two.
“I should have known,” Robyn said. She steadied her hand on the doorknob, backed into the cabin and hit the light switch.
The guy's large shoulders shivered and he squinted. “Man, you're hot,” he mumbled. “What's with the clothes?” he said, then smiled. “Lemme take care of that.”
She found some sneakers and grabbed her tote bag. Her wallet was in there, with her passport and credit cards. She stuffed a couple T-shirts on top. “Maybe some other time. Get some rest,” she said. She snapped the light off and walked out of the cabin and began forgetting his name.
Robyn didn’t have a car. She had a Harley, and you didn’t want to leave a Harley sitting at the airport. Parker had a Mazda RX, stick shift, electric blue, not exactly classy, not really her style of vehicle, but it did its job of taking you from A to B while providing some kind of distraction. She made sure her voice didn’t slip into question-mark tone when she said, “You won’t mind if I drive.”
He threw her the keys in a buddy kind of fashion and looked away. Got in the passenger seat and buckled up. “Why am I here again?” he asked.
Because I need my best friend right now. “Cause someone needs to drive the car back,” she said.
He didn’t snap back. Parker could be annoyingly nice. When she was in the mood for a healthy fight, just to let steam out, she knew it wasn’t going to happen if there was only Parker around.
They peeled off the quay. Streets were empty, traffic lights were blinking. She gunned it. She felt every pebble, every irregularity of the road through the wheel, every jump and whine of the engine through her feet and hands. She wasn’t fooling herself. When life went sour, some people boozed through it. She needed to feel in control.
On the bridge spanning Tampa Bay, she turned the short-wave radio on. It crackled, then an over excited voice came out. “Festivities at Bohemian Grove are drawing to an end. This year we spotted …”
Parker turned the radio down. “When was the last time you guys saw each other?”
She wanted to listen to the radio. She wanted to hear the news about Bohemian Grove. She wanted to know what Fortune 500 leaders had been seen going there, what foreign head of state had been invited. She couldn’t help keeping tabs on the powerful and their connections.
And she wanted to think about something else than her own life. “Christmas, I guess.”
She shifted from fifth gear to fourth to third. Swerved toward the sharp exit turn. Second gear. The engine screamed. The car held the ramp curve nicely. Eased out in a comfortable acceleration. Her right hand stayed on the stick.
“Talked to her recently?” Parker asked.
“Talk to her all the time. Matter of fact, just before she left for Switzerland. About Dad’s letter.” She could still hear Sybil reading their father’s letter on the phone, released by his lawyer on their twenty-fifth birthday.
“My dearest daughters,
As I write this letter I am watching you play—Robyn with your Chinese chess and Sybil with your marble maze. Your mother is softly playing the keyboard and if I am lucky, you will sing along in a little while. I shall cherish this moment for the rest of my life.
If you are reading this letter I am no longer alive, and you are fully grown and assuredly fine young women. I have no doubt on your ability to live up to the responsibility I am about to hand down to you. Caution dictates that I not reveal anything in this letter. You must contact the office of Maître Durand, Attorney-at-Law in Geneva, who will deliver further instructions to you…”
An address in Switzerland followed. The letter was dated two weeks before the car accident that had killed both their parents.
That should have been enough of a warning.
But when Sybil asked her to join she said she couldn’t leave the boat now. Couldn’t put the diving on hold. She’d already lost time. And it wouldn’t be fair to let Parker handle the whole thing on his own.
“Fair, you mean you’re going to miss out on the fun?” Sybil had said.
She’d hung up on Sybil. Managed to forget the whole story. Until now, when it boomeranged with guilt.
She turned the radio back up. “… and a senior executive of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York was seen two weeks ago entering the premises.”
The Tampa airport lights glistened in the distance.
The next flight to Europe was at 2pm. They killed time in a corner booth of a chain steakhouse in the middle of the concourse.
“What do you want me to do?” Parker said. “Send the divers home for a few days, cut the expenses?”
She thought of how she had failed Sybil. Of how, if she hadn’t been so adamant in pursuing the success of her own business, things might have turned differently. And she thought about her loan at the bank and about the friends who had chipped in and how she couldn’t fail them now. About the fact that late July, hurricanes could start hitting one after the other. “Keep diving,” she said. “I can't afford to lose a single day.”
She thought back to her father’s letter. She didn’t remember owning a game of Chinese chess. Never played it, for sure.
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