Chapter 15 July, Thursday the 5th. Afternoon. Both brake calipers had been broken from the brutal braking. One of them had already some kind of split for some time, judging by the shape and colour of the parts, and the other was probably too old. The AAA towed them, along with their trailer, to Houma. On the way, the AAA mechanic informed. Kathryn she had to let the revolver's handle out of the fanny pack if she didn't have a concealed weapon permit. Kathryn and Erich remained close to the car at all times, although they were tempted to have a peek into the town that was so close to their new home. There was a feeling of holidays in the air, and Kathryn really beamed. As soon as he noticed this, Erich told her to call Glenn. The conversation had to be short, but it made them both feel great. Glenn was delighted to hear in his daughter's voice a mix of relief, hope and joy ; it energized him as well. She told him about the accident, and he told her about Jim, who had visited him in the morning. Glenn didn't say much about this, but Jim would probably write them a letter as soon as they provided him with a postal address. The air was hot and moist and it carried unknown scents. There were already too much mosquitoes around and the weather knocked them down for a while, but the sunlight was delightful. Kathryn basked in the sun, wearing only her trousers and one of Axin's t-shirts Erich had liberated. When Erich asked her how long she hadn't been on holidays, she realized it hadn't been since High School, seven years ago. Erich arranged an earlier meeting at the lawyer for the following day, and also arranged for earlier transport. In the late afternoon, the car was fixed, and the insurance would take charge of it all. Relieved and charmed by the early evening lights, Erich was tempted to have a nice dinner on a restaurant terrace, like he used to the Bahamas. But he wasn't in the same situation, and instead they bought their dinner at the local supermarket, then left Houma for a few miles down south and parked near the bayou for the night. They were surrounded by a lush and exotic nature, as far as the eye could see. Both of them were mesmerized by the quiet but intense atmosphere of the evening. Chicago was far behind and almost forgotten ; the conversation revolved around all the details they had discovered on this day, from the local accent to the unseen types of trees, flowers and birds. Feeling sticky from the heat and sweat, they managed to clean themselves up using leftover bottled water, but quickly after they put themselves to sleep, they felt sticky and uncomfortable again. They woke up to a new world. Many worries had evaporated, and those which remained were much lighter. After a more serious cleaning-up in a supermarket's customer toilets, they drove to the lawyer's office. Here again, the procedure was surprisingly brief. Less than forty minutes after, Erich was owner of his own island. He carried the papers in a waterproof bag and put it in the « Papers » small drum. Before leaving for Joyeux-Tiburon, they went to a gun store to buy up new ammunition for the
revolver and rifle. They discovered that the caliber was not common at all ; the shop owner called his colleagues and confirmed ammunition wasn't on hand anywhere near. They decided not to make an order for it : they would reload when time allowed. Nevertheless, they bought 25 shots of discounted #1 buckshot for the shotgun. From a supermarket they bought a 5-gallon gas bottle, 32 liters of bottled water in 1-liter PET bottles, 4 pounds of rice, 2 pounds of pasta, one pound of dry beans, 6 pounds of onions and ten cans of prepared meals. It would be a first food reserve until they could commute to Joyeux-Tiburon on a regular basis. *** The trip to Joyeux-Tiburon lasted one hour, but it appeared longer to them as the anticipation rose, as well as their curiosity. Their eyes began to recognize more details beyond the exotic ; the area became increasingly modest as they drove on, but they didn't see blatant sights of poverty. Houses were high perched upon their pilings, some of them boarded up or damaged from some storm. As the road encroached further into maritime territory, with canals on either side, large fishing boats and houses began to mingle in the general perspective. The air was filled with salt and dust. They kept on driving through Joyeux-Tiburon until the road made a final loop. Beyond the warehouses and the small fisheries buildings, there was only water and flat islands above. Fishing boat parts had been roughly aligned near the road, rusting gently in the hard, bright sunlight. As instructed, Erich drove on a small unpaved road that led to a compacted earth beach. A small motorized aluminium pontoon ferry, fit to carry a van at best, was waiting there for them. The pontoon's small size was an unexpected issue. It meant they would have to make two trips if they wanted to take the trailer with them, but each trip was costing 200 dollars. The pilot was willing to take the trailer as payment, but it was too bad a deal for Kathryn. After some negotiations, that seemed to linger on just to pass time, the pilot agreed they would have a 50% rebate next time they used his pontoon. They had to unload the trailer, lighten the car from some of its load and dismount the canoe, under a scorching heat. After twenty minutes of effort, they were exhausted. They allowed themselves ten minutes of rest, after which Kathryn carefully drove the car on the ramps to the pontoon. Erich placed all drums but the « paper » drum inside the canoe, as well as the heavier gardening tools. The pilot was intrigued by the vertical axe turbine, and would periodically ask Erich specific technical questions about it. The space in front of the car had been kept clear. The car would disembark first, while the rest of the load could provide a little added stability to the boat. Erich and Kathryn fell strange as the pontoon boat left the shore, towing the canoe : they were now truly leaving the world behind them. The pontoon boat progressed at a lazy 10 mph, five times faster though than Erich hoped to travel with the canoe. Erich and Kathryn were on the lookout for landmarks to become familiar with, but could only remember the general direction from which they were coming. The pilot showed them
the two important landmarks they'd had to remember, and Erich wrote them down on the satellite image map he had prepared. At three o'clock in the afternoon, they arrived at Trois-Chênes. The place was readily identifiable because the back of the island was raised several feet above the surroundings and because it had some trees and remnants of the burnt-down house on pilings. Old trees had either died or had few leaves left. Younger trees were smothered by wild bushes. Plastic bags, shredded by the elements, were hanging in the branches, slowly moving with occasional and lazy movements of air. The pontoon boat slowly and cautiously maneuvered for landing after it passed the broken and rotting pier. Lost in high grass, the husk of the old car could be guessed not far away from the landing spot. Erich jumped in the shallow water in front of the pontoon boat and reached the shore. In a corner of his mind, he felt like Christopher Columbus, but the events imprinted their pace upon him. He placed the ramps between the pontoon and the shore. When everybody had checked the ramps a couple of times, Kathryn started the car and slowly drove over. After long seconds of concentration and anxiety, the car had been disembarked. It stood about five feet from the shore, slightly pointing up. Kathryn and Erich exchanged an intense look. This time, it was for real. Both could read confidence in the face of the other, and felt relieved. Erich and Kathryn brought the canoe on the shore and finished to unload the rest of the cargo. The pilot congratulated them and shook their hands ; he wished them luck and happiness. They waved him goodbye as he drove his pontoon boat around and left. They still observed his path, because now they were truly stranded in a maze of marsh islands and shallow waters. They felt tired, thirsty and very hot, their muscles ached, but they were still standing there, silent, walking a couple of steps inside the land, looking around. They understood each other very well without a single word. *** Under the unrelenting sun, they took a break, sitting in the tiny shadow of the car, sharing the same bottle of water. The place was silent and the air immobile. After some time, their ears accustomed themselves, and could identify tiny sounds, the clap of water on the shore, a distant bird flying. When a bout of wind made the grass rush, it sounded like an complete orchestra playing a crescendo, just to wane away just as suddenly. Eric and Kathryn were immersed in the moment, slowly adjusting to the place. Time passed, shadows evolved sluggishly. Erich rose up and helped Kathryn up. Erich : « Let's take a tour, shall we ? »
As they took the plastic boots out of the car, they felt the sense of activity coming back in them, but in a faded, gentle way. They allowed themselves to take their time now. Kathryn was wearing her fanny pack with the revolver inside, but she assembled the shotgun and would carry it in her hands, in case snakes were present. She had one cartridge of birdshot in the barrel and another one in her pocket, along with a buckshot cartridge. Erich shouldered the rifle's sling and took the machete, if the way had to be cleared. They thought they were looking ridiculous with their plastic boots and their weapons. Erich put on an English accent : « Well, ah we readeh missiz Livingstone ? » Kathryn replied in the same manner : « Well most certainly, misteh Stanley. Afteh you, Sir» Erich bowed graciously and opened the way. The grass was waist-high and dense ; it was not easy to recognize smaller objects on the ground. Pathways could be however be distinguished through the area, and it seemed to Erich they weren't just what Bob and his acolyte made when they visited the island. They were on a plateau about one acre of surface ; all trees and construction where there. When Erich and Kathryn reached the sloping end of the plateau, the rest of the island stretched out before their eyes like an empire. In a remote corner, a couple of pelicans flew away and glided over the sea, a sea of glittering sun sparks. The majesty of the sight made a deep impression on them. Kathryn looked at Erich with a face expression that said : not bad ! Erich nodded in agreement and recognition. He was too impressed by the sight to smile. They explored the rest of the plateau. Due to the high grass and various greater objects obstructing sight, it appeared as a complex, intricate area, something like an automobile scrapyard in disorder. In front of the car was an empty square space of roughly ten foot by twelve. On the other side of it, southwards, was the wreck of the old pickup. On the right side of the square, westwards, was a dead oak, with some unmarked plastic containers around, containing suspicious liquids. It was sufficiently far away from the central area to be conveniently forgotten. On the left side of the square, eastwards, was what remained from the wooden house, that had burnt to the ground except an area roughly the size of a tool barn, close to the bayou shore. A fourth wall had been improvised out of metal sheets to close the small space again. It could be accessed with a jury-rigged wooden stairway, now definitely unusable, that was prolonged by a path leading in a straight line to the dilapidated T-shaped wooden pier, equally unusable. Except for what remained of the burnt piles, whatever had been left over after the fire had disappeared. The area was now littered with broken old parts from cars, antique farming equipment, completely eaten away by rust, and various garbage like broken plastic buckets and entangled wire. Some very rusted metal sheets and disaggregated plywood panels had been stacked in the continuity of the house, close to the second oak. The second oak had lost one-third of its branches to the fire, and the other branches had few life in them, as it could be guessed from their sparse leaves. All over the place, bushes and young trees created visual obstacles. These two oaks formed a perfect triangle with the third one, which was behind the car wreck, on the right side of the island. Under it was a trailer, surrounded by thick bushes.
The trailer had become an uneven geometrical form, its panes displaced by strong winds and age. A foul odour emanated from it. The area surrounding its door was littered with broken glass bottles, rusty cans of food and paint, as well as other litter. As for the trailer's interior, if it had not been for Bob's photographs, Erich would have been shocked. It was crammed full with broken furniture, clothes, old curtains, all mostly of the sixties, had a lot of shattered glass and dishes. It was reeking of old excrement, piss, vomit and the acrid, warm tangy smell of some mammals, perhaps rats or racoons, that somehow had burrowed themselves a home inside. Some six or seven yards away from the trailer, more centered in the plateau was a haphazard shed made with salvaged metal sheets, metal tubing and rods, all held together by excessive amounts of bailing wire that had become very rusty and frail. The place had some traces of human occupation like empty soap bottles or cheap food cans, of recent brands and expiry dates. It also had the most visible trail in the grass, leading to a landing spot on the right side of the island. Erich was concerned : « Someone had been camping here from time to time. We better keep our eyes open and not become complacent. » Kathryn suggested : « Once we will have cleaned the place up, I'm sure they won't return. » Before they would climb to what remained of the house, Erich and Kathryn ventured on the rest of the island in a straight line to the shore. The rest of the island was about two feet over water at high tide ; some areas subsided even lower, already glittering with water. The grass was uneven and some garbage had been brought upon the land by floods and winds. Erich and Kathryn kept watching out for snakes and, although they wouldn't admit it, alligators. Then they reached the sandy beach, littered with dead algae and driftwood. But Kathryn looked at it with much pride and declared : « Our own private beach. Now how good is that ? » Erich was also proud ; his investment turned out to be good, and Kathryn's take on it was the proof he needed. *** The house's remains were perched eight feet above the ground. It appeared the stairs had been purposely destroyed, and even the stair case was unsafe. Erich and Kathryn improvised a table with Norman's plywood and the four small drums. Then, they placed the 15-gallon drum on it and used it to climb on the small platform in front of the door. The door had been closed but remained unlocked. Erich opened it, to be greeted by a foul, old smell of decay ; there was no furniture inside, the floor was covered with bones and dried-out remains of dead animals, among which those of a baby alligator stood out. Above it all, painted directly on the left wall, loomed a large-sized picture of a demon’s head. It was devoid of details but its general shape had been well thought out. It looked as a late medieval or Renaissance-era depiction of a goat-like daemon.
Erich, still standing in the doorway, leaned back and told Kathryn : « Well, it's very messy and there is a demon’s face painted on a wall. » Kathryn : « So they did have some style, after all. Too bad it's not ours. » Kathryn had a glimpse inside and moved back, startled. Kathryn : « I won't clean that up. » Erich : « I'll do it, no problem. Can you just get me the shovel and the machete ? » Erich used the shovel to toss out the carcasses of about ten animals, under which there was also a small dog. The animals had been shot , brought here, their innards tossed all over the room and its content smeared on the walls. Erich intended to use the sharp machete to chip the picture's paint away from the wall's wood planks. But as he progressed, he noticed the chipped area would be a reminder of the picture. He improvised his machete as a plane tool, without much success. Upon closer examination, Erich concluded the painting had not been made as a prank, but rather as a decorative element, with some quality in the execution. Outside, evening was falling sooner than he expected. Due to the difference in latitude with Chicago, the sun was setting half an hour earlier. Erich didn't want to leave that picture on the wall for the night : this was his own place now. He asked Kathryn to get him the axe, with which he shattered the picture along with the wall. The wood was much more fragile than he had estimated when he chipped it ; it offered no resistance whatsoever. The place was probably decades old and could collapse at any moment. He had envisioned it as a temporary shelter, but now it was clear it had to be torn apart and replaced. Erich tossed the shattered planks to Kathryn, who lit a small fire with them in the middle of the square. She kept it going with other random pieces of wood lying around the area. Erich tossed the carcasses in the water next to the pier, washed his hands with some mineral water and then installed the gas stove on the improvised table. The air was getting from hot to gently warm but darkness fell faster than anticipated. They just had time to fix a quick dinner by heating two cans of prepared meals in boiling water. After dinner they used this water, still warm, to wash themselves. They improvised a toilet, digging a hole with the small shovel and covering it up again. So close to the ocean, the air freshened faster than in Houma, and they spent the rest of the evening in the car, trying to get some rest. When Erich switched on the car's radio, some of the magic of the moment left. Suddenly, the world as they had known it came back into their lives. They spent some time planning the upcoming day like they used to when Erich lived on the supermarket's parking place. They would spend the whole next day cleaning up the area around the car and arranging their belongings in a practical way, away from the sun. Although they were quite tired, their excitement of being in this new place kept them from falling asleep rapidly. Erich sensed that something else was also responsible for this. Now, their world had narrowed down
to the both of them. They would be each others society, with its laws, traditions, taboos and order. They both wanted it to work, but they were overacting. They were getting along well, they had accumulated a lot of time and experiences together, but on this very day Erich finally acknowledged they were also attracted one to another. Devoid of any friends or other sources of advice, Erich had no idea on how to deal with the situation. *** The next morning went on sluggishly. They both felt sleepy and overwhelmed by the amount of things to do. Worse, their behaviour felt awkward and wooden, so they each chose separate activities. Erich started tilling the square with the hoe while Kathryn tried to arrange a cooking and bathing space. In between movements, Erich eyed her furtively. At ten o'clock, the weather grew increasingly hot. Kathryn gathered her large bath towel, two bottles of water and headed off to the beach. Erich felt like a shy teenager all over again, and, unsure of what to do, decided to keep on tilling in spite of the heat. Kathryn called him from a distance. She was only wearing one of his t-shirts, that reached down mid-thigh. He went to see her with his rifle slinged on the shoulder. She went back to the beach, out of sight. When he got there, she was mid-waist into the water, naked, turning her back to him. She called out : « I've got enough sunburns on my arms and neck already, right now I need you to put some lotion on my back. » He had a smirk that said 'you got to be kidding me' and undressed, leaving his clothes on hers. He entered the mild water with her lotion in his hand and walked up cautiously towards her. She turned her head only slightly, just enough for him to see her perky smile. They both remained silent as he rubbed the lotion on her back and neck. She had a step backwards and found what she expected. She turned around with sparkles in her eyes : « Well... you're very happy to see me, aren't you Erikhh ? » He kissed her on the spot. She drank his kisses to quench years of thirst while he held her strongly in his arms, his heart raging like mad. He had never felt like that before. Before they left for the beach, she needed to take his hand, as if to say she needed him in her life and not just for the moment. He pulled her close to him and kissed her gently on her forehead. They spent a moment like this, gently rocked by the sea. Then she splashed some water on his back and dashed to the shore. He followed her and catched her by the waist. They lowered themselves on her bath towel and started to play gently with each other After some time, he was on his back, she was leaning by his side, smoothly stroking him. She had a wide smile and sighed : « Now... what are we going to do... you know, I don't take the
pill... pity you're not a forward thinking guy... » Erich was aroused but embarrassed. He remained silent. Kathryn : « But I always carry my fanny pack with me for my protection... » Erich looked at her, unable to think. She made a movement with her chin and stopped short of rolling her eyes. Erich understood all of a sudden and opened the fanny pack's small front pocket, where three condoms waited for him. Erich : « Whoa, three? » Still stroking him gently, Kathryn whispered in his ears : « Yes, three only on our first date. I'm not the girl you think I am ! » *** They spent most of the day on the beach, living a moment lost in time. It wasn't until halfway in the third round that Kathryn, facing the ocean, noticed an immobile fishing trawler far away. Kathryn panted : « The fishermen... I think... they're.... they're watching us. » Erich, under her : « Oh... you're... sure ? » Kathryn : « You... do you... mind ? » Erich : « I'm... I'm okay... right now... » Kathryn : « I... don't mind... either... » She made waving signs towards the trawler, which immediately blew its horn repeatedly. Kathryn and Erich erupted in laughter. It was late afternoon when they returned to the living area, where the hoe was still where Erich dropped it. They were both feeling a healthy exhaustion and a sharp appetite. They fixed themselves a nice pasta dish and drank Erich's fine cognac, seated at the improvised table. They called it a day and sat on the ground, Erich's back against the large drum, snuggling while watching the sunset. As the sun finally disappeared, Erich told Kathryn : « I don't want to ruin the mood with grandiose sentences, but... thank you for having given me this very day. Now I have lived. » Kathryn said nothing, kissed him and held him strongly in her arms.
Chapter 16 July, Sunday the 8th. Early morning. Erich had awaken in the earliest light of the day. He felt refreshed and at peace with himself. Sitting on the driver's seat, he watched Kathryn sleeping. Something moved in the back mirror of Kathryn's side. He looked on his side, and saw a tall black figure crouching close to the car. Kathryn must have felt his alarm and woke up instantaneously. Erich made a silent « Shh » and calmly spread out his hand to grab the machete, as always in the back of the passenger's seat. He examined the figure on his side. It was a black woman. She rose her head to look straight at the back mirror. If Erich had waken up to these two frightening white rings, it would have gone straight to his unconscious. The stuff of nightmares. Erich opened his door and jumped out of the seat. The black woman was somewhat taken aback, having lost the initiative. Erich shouted : « Fuck off ! » The black woman stood up. It was a skeletal figure, wearing a very worn and badly patched up black and dark green polyester dress. She looked at Erich with disdain and said, with a strange rhythm of speech : « You go off my land ! » Erich noticed she had meth sores all over her face and arms, some deep and visibly infected. Her teeth were in an advanced state of decay. Erich stood still, camped on his feet, the machete still up in the air. What to do now ? Kathryn got out on her side and shouted : « There's a kid here ! It's a little girl ! » Erich shouted : « Don't touch her ! They’re junkies ! » The black woman looked towards the other side of the car. She was obviously worried for what was there. Kathryn was speaking with the kid, but neither Erich nor the black woman understood what was said. Kathryn went back to the car and grabbed her half-empty bottle of water. The black woman turned back and rushed to the other side, shouting : « No ! Don't take it ! » A skeletal black girl, about six years old and wearing a very dirty white and green checkered dress, ran off with the bottle in her hand. She sipped from it, looking at the black woman with the alert and cautious look of an animal. Just like a hare, she promptly ran away and hid in the high grass, then peeked with her head up for a second. The woman was visibly not well, but radiated a frantic energy. She stopped when Kathryn brandished her revolver. She came back to Erich's side. Black woman : « You leave now. This is my land. » Erich : « No it ain't. I just bought it. » Black woman : « So where is the money ? Gimme the money and leave.» Erich : « This is my land now, you piss off. » Black woman : « Or what, white boy ? You ain't no killer. You ain't nobody. »
Erich felt angry, but less than she probably expected. He felt she was testing him. Kathryn took a bag of crisps and a tablet of chocolate and walked towards the grass, her revolver still firm in her hand. The little girl walked out of the high grass. Something in her gait was askew. She looked as if she was experiencing great pain. She took the bag of crisps and the chocolate with the cautious, fast movement of a squirrel. The black woman shouted : « No Lizzie, leave it ! It's bad ! » Lizzie dashed back to the high grass. Erich found it hard to look the woman in the eyes, so he concentrated to a sore near her left brow. Had these sores not been there, her look would have petrified him. Erich : « What's your problem anyway ? You think we'll give the girl bad food ? » Black woman : « No one feeds Lizzie, only me. Nobody will be her boss. » Erich : « She's starving right now, so yeah, good job you did there. » The black woman had a look of strong hatred towards Erich, who kept concentrated on her sores. Kathryn went to the car and got a sealed bottle out. She threw it towards the black woman. The black woman didn't catch it, and didn't even look at where it fell. Kathryn shrugged : « Your choice if you're stupid. » Erich looked around, to see if other people were around. Pretty late to check that, he thought. The black woman sneered : « Don't you try to impress me. If you wanted me dead, I'd be dead by now. You're just a pussy boy. » Erich : « Yeah, anyway you'll have to leave now. You're not welcome here. » Black woman : « Nobody takes my land from me. » Kathryn : « You weren't here the last two days. » Black woman : « Ain't nobody's business where I'm at. » The conversation was leading nowhere, but neither Erich nor Kathryn knew how to handle the situation. Erich took the rifle, engaged a cartridge and aimed at the black woman’s. But they weren't ready to kill the black woman just to get rid of a problem. And then, what with the girl ? The girl walked out of the grass. She was crying, her face torn by pain. Lizzie : « Pain ! » She began to pee, in short, painful spurts. Her urine appeared very dark, with a red colour hue. Kathryn : « I've heard about this, and it isn't a good sign at all. » The black woman : « Ain't nothing. She will heal. She's my girl, she's strong. » Kathryn : « No, she's about to die. » The black woman said nothing. In this moment, she had to acknowledge the future of her daughter. Kathryn squatted in front of the girl, the revolver still firm in her hand. Kathryn : « Now, Lizzie, you have to show me your pee-pee. » Lizzie looked at her mother. The mother said nothing. She looked at Kathryn, unable to decide. Kathryn soothed her : « I have to look at it for a couple of seconds only. » Lizzie accepted and lifted her dirty and now soiled dress. The dress was her only piece of clothing.
Kathryn almost jumped out of shock and disgust. Kathryn : « Holy shit ! It's completely infected ! » She turned to her mother : « If you don't take her to the hospital right now, she might die, and if she survives she might never have children. You have to act now. » Something changed within her mother. But she regained her defiant attitude and sneered at Kathryn. Lizzie cried and pleaded : « The pain, Ma ! I don't wanna die ! Ma ! » Erich, who kept the mother in his sights the whole time, sensed that the junkie in her had taken over. The junkie wasn't caring about the girl. The girl only brought her pain now. The junkie wanted meth. Kathryn : « Well, if you're not going to do it, I'll take her. You'll meet her at Joyeux-Tiburon or wherever they're going to take her. But I'll talk to the cops about this, they'll be here in a couple of hours, just that you know.» The mother still remained silent and defiant. Kathryn went to the car, took her purse, closed the doors and locked them with her key. She put Erich's keys in his pocket and went to Lizzie. The girl was slightly bent forward, with a permanent grimace of pain on her face. Kathryn holstered the revolver in her fanny pack and reached her hand towards Lizzie. Kathryn : « Come on, Lizzie, we're going to the hospital. » Lizzie : « What is a stipal ? » Kathryn : « They will heal you. No more pain. » Lizzie took Kathryn's hand and they walked towards the canoe. Erich was ready to shoot the black woman in the blink of an eye. Kathryn seated Lizzie in the front and pushed the canoe in the water. The black woman watched them go and shouted : « She's nobody, Lizzie. Lizzie has no boss ! Say it ! » Lizzie didn't know what to say, but she screamed : « Pain, Ma ! Pain ! » The black woman turned again towards Erich, visibly disappointed. She sat next to the bottle of water and opened it, as if Erich didn't exist. Erich felt like he had to gain control over the situation ; at the moment, he had lost it. Erich : « So let's wait for the cops now, shall we ? » The black woman had a short glimpse full of disdain towards Erich, and drank from the bottle. *** She was prepared to spend some time there and slowly finished the water bottle. Erich relaxed from his shooting stance as his muscles started to ache. He sat on the car's hood, the rifle on his thighs. Time passed. Suddenly, the black woman stood up and walked towards the kitchen area. Erich jumped on his feet and aimed the rifle back at her : He shouted : « Stop ! Where do you think you're going ? » The black woman walked on, unimpressed, and reached under the table, where Kathryn had piled the cans of prepared meals. She grabbed a can and hurried behind the house.
Erich swore and squatted, watching the black woman's legs hurrying towards the pile of metal sheets. He ran towards the same direction. His fear was growing into an early panic. He felt as he had felt in school, when he was the tormented by bullies. Whenever he thought they had forgotten about him, they came back to him, hitting him or humiliating him. The black woman was fast, and reached the scrap metal pile before him. He felt very uneasy. She had a real edge. If she ran towards him with a shiv or just any piece of metal, or if she surprised him from behind, he was not going to react fast enough or well enough. He might die if he tried to run around the scrap pile. He decided to remain close to the square. At one moment, he saw her dashing away from the scrap pile to a thick group of bushes. After some minutes passed, he became unsure of her location. With only three cartridges left, he wasn't going to waste any of them on random shots. Some noise could be heard from the metal shed. It appeared as if she was attempting to tear the place apart. But it could be a trap to lure him there and kill him. He felt in control where he stood, with reasonable vision all around. The rest of the plateau was just a maze, a tactical nightmare. She could be anywhere, undetectable until the decisive moment. What to do ? Did he have to stay on full alert, in what he called an « animalistic » mode, or could he allow himself to think ahead ? Would he become lost in his thoughts and oblivious to his environment ? Erich walked backwards to his car and relaxed his shooting stance. The metallic noises stopped. He considered his environment in a quick glance. He realized the machete he had left on the ground could become a weapon for her, just as the axe or the shovel for that matter. Thinking in larger scales, the gas bottle and the car were also hazards. With the car in his back, and a long if narrow field of view before him, he felt at the best tactical position. But strategically ? The car contained what mattered the most for him, so this was covered. But what was important for her ? He forced himself to periodically glance around him, in order not to become lost in his thoughts. What would he do in her place ? He would go away, to come back another day. But could she afford to ? She looked famished and ill. He looked around : nothing. But now she had a can of food. Perhaps she was eating it right now. But she was a junkie. Perhaps what mattered most to her was her drugs, and how to get some. He looked around : nothing. So she had to gain access to something she could sell. Clearly, the valuables were in the car. But he was there too.
He looked around : nothing. Then he realized he didn't want to live like that for days or months, jumping up in the middle of the night, in fear of the junkie daemon. Out of instinct, he walked towards the metal shed. He looked around and imprinted the new configuration in his mind. It would have to look as if he wanted to confront her at the shed. He looked around and became extremely nervous. He had entered the maze again. She could jump on him from everywhere now. He decided to take chances and dash past the metal shed, to reach the edge of the plateau. She couldn't have prepared an ambush there. Now she would have to take him into consideration : he had regained some initiative. He looked around and he looked onto the rest of the island for a single time. If she was there, he would have spotted her, or she would make herself noticeable if she dashed towards him. He decided to progress along the plateau's edge westwards, to reach the trailer, although he hardly knew that area. Nothing was to be seen around. An ambush would have been difficult because the terrain was not really practicable. There were too many young trees there. He walked back eastwards, as silently as possible. He had a look around. She could be just anywhere now. Instead of risking himself in the maze again, he realized he could actually wait for the police from his position : she would then be caught between them and him. Time was perhaps also a factor. She would need time to escape and hide in the bayou before the cops could spot her. Or was she so deranged she would try to kill him no matter what ? Erich considered he held a good position. Then he smelled gas. He stopped his primal urge to rush forward : she could be baiting him. He proceeded into the maze at a slow, steady pace, taking the time to scan the surroundings whenever possible. Indeed, as he followed the trail in the high grass, he could recognize rusted bailing wire crossing it, at ankle height, stretched with some slack between a young tree and a metal post. He squatted in the grass instinctively. He had to decide right now if he wanted to cross the wire or take the longer way around, from the left. He decided for the latter. Noise could be heard from the camp area, but this time it was almost imperceptible, and not bait. Erich kept on progressing at a controlled pace. In the grass on his right side, he could distinguish the white shards of a couple of broken glass bottles, exactly where he would have fallen if he had tripped on the wire while running. He heard the noise of shattered car glass, the kind he had heard back in Richard's garage. Erich still progressed with a steady but cautious space. He exited the maze between the sheet metal pile and the car wreck, but didn't rush forward for that matter. He was simultaneously thinking about the
shotgun in the car, the strong smell of gas and about all the possible traps that could still be waiting for him around. He could see the black woman had entered the car from the passenger door, the window of which had been shattered with a brick. Out of sheer luck, he avoided stepping on the hoe, which was laying with its blade upwards in the little high grass that remained before entering the tilled area. Now on the tilled area, Erich progressed to the side of the car in order to get in the best shooting position. The black woman bolted away from the car, carrying the laptop bag by its loop. Erich fired one shot in a hurry, and missed. He rocked the lever back and forth. Only two shots left. Erich thought : no need to hurry then. Her boat was most probably on the west side, close to the metal shed. She would have to run past the dead oak and use the bushes as cover while progressing on the shore. But there were those containers around the dead oak, so she would have to keep on running to reach the northern shore. He took a good shooting stance and aimed carefully, slightly anticipating her movement. He fired. She collapsed immediately. He chambered his last round and observed. She was still alive, and she still found the energy to toss the computer bag into the water. Would he wait for the police ? Well, he shot her already, so they would make problems either way. Most of all, he wanted her dead so that he would never have to worry about her whereabouts again. She was crawling away towards the water, perhaps to gain flotation and escape somehow. Erich didn't want to waste time to search for his machete, nowhere to be seen, nor his axe. He walked back between the dead oak and the trailer, where the toilet spot was, and took the short shovel in his hand. He might need his last cartridge for something else. As he walked towards her, a cold current of fear invaded his veins. Was he really going to kill somebody with a short shovel ? In horror, he witnessed himself walking at a steady pace to do just that. A clear memory came back from an old man his father and him visited when he was seven years old. It was a memory he had not even been aware of until now. The old man told his father about a war story involving soldiers on the Russian front using shovels as improvised axes in melee combat. Erich stopped in front of the black woman, pathetically crawling towards the water, but also almost there. The water around her was red, from her gaping abdominal bullet wound. She would probably die from it in a couple of hours, if not earlier. But it had to end here, and her body would have to be destroyed. Erich told calmly, as an epitaph : « Jetzt ist Schluss. » He walked into the water and placed himself close to her in order to give perpendicular cuts. His raised his shovel slowly, took a deep breath and in a swift, violent movement cut her spine at the base of the neck. She died instantly, her face in the water.
Jetzt ist Schluss. It stops now. *** Kathryn had trouble concentrating on the correct path in the bayou, because Lizzie's pain was steadily increasing. Kathryn at first tried to paddle fast, but it took a toll on her muscles. She was now in pain, but had to keep on going. While not exactly lost in the bayou, she was very unsure of her location. She asked Lizzie if she knew the place. Lizzie, in her limited language, told her she was right. Kathryn asked her to paddle with her hands, so that they could get to Joyeux-Tiburon faster. This motivated Lizzie and also helped her concentrate on something else than pain. Kathryn noticed Lizzie wouldn't stop scratching herself, and noticed fleas gleaming in the sunlight when they jumped from Lizzie towards her. Soon enough, they entered the bay around Joyeux-Tiburon's harbour. From their two and a half hours journey, half an hour was dedicated to cross that bay. As Kathryn approached JoyeuxTiburon, she asked herself if she was really going to call the police. If she didn't, the situation would grow awkward, and then the black woman might become dangerous. If she did, and she was still there, there was little they could do except take her away, just to release her on the following day. She could very well come back, sneaking upon them as she did this morning. Erich and Kathryn were isolated, vulnerable and possessed things that could be bartered for meth. It was obvious Lizzie's mother would keep on harassing them, day and night. Meth was just that powerful. Kathryn was paddling towards the Fisherman's Bar. She had to take a decision. She wouldn't call the police, but ask a fisherman to drop by and check things out. If something happened, he could call the police and perhaps ferry Erich back to a hospital if need be. Upon arrival, shortly after nine o'clock, she hauled the canoe out of the water and left Lizzie inside. She climbed up the steel stairs and entered the bar, which had just opened. On a Sunday morning, it was very sparsely populated, with half a dozen lone men with nothing better to do within their means. A fifty-year old guy seemed to recognize her, and raised his glass to her. She nodded politely, and immediately told the men Lizzie's situation. The men exchanged looks. Kathryn feared they wouldn't care, like they would have done in Chicago, but instead they were determining who was going to drive. Kathryn told them Lizzie also had fleas, and then the options cleared : only the old man, Jeremy could drive her to Jingeaux's hospital, since he was the only one with a pick-up. Kathryn then asked the others to drive to Trois-Chênes and check if Erich needed help. The men were much more reluctant for that mission. Eventually two of them teamed up and promised to drive there. They each had a truck gun to bring along.
*** Kathryn carried Lizzie to the bed of the pick-up truck and climbed aboard next to her. Jeremy drove slowly and cautiously for twelve miles, until they arrived at the larger town of Jingeaux, north of Joyeux-Tiburon. Lizzie was frightened as well as fascinated by the ride. Kathryn held her tight in her arms, as a safety measure but also to comfort her. Lizzie clutched to Kathryn's forearms as if they were safety railings. The car parked in the emergency ward ; a doctor and a nurse, both black women, where already waiting : the bar owner had called as soon as Jeremy left. They had a first look at her straight on the pick-up bed. Lizzie was terrified, and desperately clutched to Kathryn. The doctor told Kathryn : « For starters, she has scabies, fleas and lice. This is why I would like you to take her to the shower and wash her thoroughly before we can examine her. Be careful when washing the vaginal area. We're understaffed today, so would you mind also shaving her head yourself ? » Kathryn didn't mind, and carried Lizzie to the shower. The nurse also told Kathryn she would have to wash herself thoroughly as well, because the parasites were already on her. Regarding Kathryn's clothes, they would have to be boiled. Lizzie's clothes would have to be destroyed as biohazard, she would receive disposable patient dresses until the social services would provide her with replacement clothes. Following the doctor's suggestion, Kathryn undressed first, so Lizzie wouldn't be afraid to lose her own dress. They showered together. Lizzie had known few showers in her life, and none as warm as this one. After the first shower, Lizzie had to swallow a pill that would soothe her and reduce the pain of vaginal examination. Lizzie again cluthced Kathryn's hand during the whole examination, crying profusely. Once the examination was over, the doctor exhaled loudly and told Kathryn : « It's only a first examination, but Lizzie has a most severe bacterial vaginosis and an equally severe urinary tract infection. She's also severely dehydrated and starving. It's good you haven't given her more food than you did, or she could haven't made it to here. » Kathryn nodded, concerned. She asked : « Will she be able to have children one day ? » The doctor answered immediately : « I'll tell you the truth : maybe yes, maybe not. It's too early to say. But there are many factors here favoring sterility, in particular early and protracted malnutrition. » Kathryn : « How can you tell it has been early and protracted ? » Doctor : « From what I can see, Lizzie has a lot of symptoms indicating a mild mental retardation. Many causes for this are also causes for sterility. » Lizzie asked : « What she says ? » Kathryn : « She's saying she can heal you. » Doctor smiled and shook Lizzie's foot gently : « That's right, sweetheart. We're going to fix you, and then the pain will go away. » Lizzie : « Now ? » The doctor had a nice, routine laughter : « Soon enough. Tomorrow already, you will have less
pain. » Lizzie wasn't sure what to think of it. The doctor resumed : « That's not everything. She has scabies, everywhere, fleas and lice. Mycosis on toenails, blepharitis, earwax plugs in both ears. We will have to look in her feces, to check for intestinal parasites, and of course, blood tests.” Kathryn was astonished : “She has all this ?” Doctor : “And maybe more. When it rains, it pours on those poor fellows.” Lizzie looked at the doctor in anguish. The doctor told her in a reassuring voice : “But we're going to fix all that, yes Lizzie?” Lizzie said, categorically : “Now !” The adults laughed. Kathryn then asked : « I have a question, though. Who is going to pay for all this ? » Doctor : « Most of it will be taken in charge by social programs, but certain other things, like some medication as well as treatments for you and your house will not. We're looking at something like 300 dollars tops. » Kathryn : « I understand. But what if I stay her with her in the hospital ? » Doctor : « That's going to be okay. We need you to be around because, given her mental state, she might become real trouble if you leave. We have enough free beds for the season to allow for that. And, personally, I think you're doing the ethical thing. Why don't reward that ? » Kathryn : « And how long is this going to last ? » Doctor : « At least three days. Maybe more. » *** Kathryn shaved Lizzie's head completely, using scissors and a disposable razor ; the skin on Lizzie's skull had a lot of scars and scratches. Right afterwards, they both had another shower, during which Kathryn spent a long time shampooing her own hair with lice repellent. Kathryn applied a lotion against scabies on Lizzie and a different one on herself. With great care, the doctor then showed Kathryn how to apply the vaginal lotion, but Kathryn felt uncomfortable at the idea of taking care of it. The doctor insisted on it because Kathryn would have to continue the treatment at home, and Lizzie would feel less worried now if a person of confidence did it rather than an unknown person. The doctor added : « The mind is the most potent element here. If her mind rebels, it helps the disease. If it's on our side, it helps the cure. » Kathryn executed the task reluctantly but meticulously. Once they were dressed in their disposable patient dresses, Kathryn fed Lizzie with small portions of baby food and gave her pills in between. While they waited for additional exams, Kathryn also clipped Lizzie's nails. Whenever an occasion arose, she also took the time to polish them, accustoming Lizzie to being cared for. Lizzie was very calm, also because she was still quite weak. The mood was calm and even somewhat boring until Lizzie got up, went to a corner and started to defecate on the floor. Kathryn was alarmed at the sight and helpless. She called for the nurse. The nurse arrived and was angry at the sight, but not surprised : « How do you think she got her bacterial vaginitis in the first place ? You'll have to teach her. » Kathryn had to teach Lizzie about water closets, wiping and washing hands afterwards. Lizzie
appeared confused but complied nevertheless. *** At five o'clock Lizzie was given a sedative because she wouldn't stop scratching her skin. She fell asleep in a large clean bed, Kathryn sitting by her side. Shortly afterwards, Kathryn took the opportunity to call her father at the retirement home. She made him a very brief report of their arrival and focused on her present situation. Glenn was at a loss. The whole situation was difficult. Glenn always chose his words cautiously when talking on the phone : « It's one thing to say : this has to go away. But it's something completely different to do it, you know. You did good in sending those men there, though. They probably know how to handle that kind of situation » Kathryn thought he was saying it all to soothe her, but he had a point. The call ended shortly afterwards. She kept quiet about the most important news of her life. It wasn't neither the right day nor the right way to tell him about her man. At seven o'clock, the Fisherman's Bar called the hospital and left Kathryn a message from Erich. The nurse read it to Kathryn : « Call Helen and tell her we won't need her wood chipper after all. Your new home awaits you. I love you with all my heart. » Kathryn felt an intense relief, but right afterwards felt ashamed for it. The nurse looked at Lizzie, deeply asleep, and told Kathryn : « You know, you probably saved her life today. Her dehydration was the worst I've ever seen. » Kathryn nodded ; she took Lizzie's little hand and started to cry.
Chapter 17 July, Sunday the 8th. Morning. Erich didn't waste any time, as he feared the police could be here any minute now. He would be able to hear them a couple of minutes only before they landed. Still in the water, he dragged the black woman's corpse along with him, in order to reach his island's lowlands. He had the short shovel in his hand and kept on rinsing it. Along the way, he discovered the machete resting right behind the corner the black woman was about to turn. Was she trying to counter-lure him there to kill him, or was it more of a backup solution ? If it was a trap, then he did well to anticipate her direction, or he would have missed her again. Or perhaps she was getting too old or too weak for that kind of stunt. She could also have miscalculated it all, or have a streak of bad luck when had the opposite. He decided he would never know for sure. Further away, he discovered a poorly made raft, assembled with empty Tide bottles and various flat surfaces, the largest being one half of a basketball backboard. He decided not to use it now, in order to avoid smearing blood over it. The corpse was dragged reasonably far from the plateau, the Highlands as he would call it now. Erich found a long log behind which he could hide the corpse until nighttime. Walking back, still in the water to hide his tracks, he took the raft and dragged it out of the water, all the way to the trailer, where it blended well in the various other objects that were leaning on it. He put the small shovel in its right place, went to the car, emptied the rifle and put the single cartridge in his left pocket. He left the rifle in the car and took the shotgun instead, with a round of buckshot in the chamber and four others in his right pocket. The shotgun slinged across the torso, he grabbed the hoe and used it to clear a path across the glasscovered ground leading to the trailer. Then, still with the hoe, he pulled out some soiled clothes from the trailer and put them in a broken plastic bucket. He took the bucket to the place where the black woman had been shot, and placed a dirty pair of trousers on the blood spot. The remainder of the clothes were dumped in the water, in order to disturb the pink colour that still tinted that particular place. As soon as it was over, Erich could hear a motorboat approaching. He took a good look at himself and found traces of blood on his shirt. He took it off in a hurry and crammed it first into a plastic grocery bag, then in Kathryn's small drum. The motorboat appeared as soon as he had replaced the plywood table above it. He took a bottle of water and washed himself quickly over the torso, to wash off any possible remaining traces of blood. As the motorboat maneuvered to landfall, Erich had a quick glimpse at the towel : no red traces to be seen. It wasn't the police but two locals. One of them was a very strong man above thirty, looking quite rural, the other was a métis in his mid-twenties with an smart look. Erich greeted them and invited them to enter his island. The older one called himself Ron, the younger one Benjamin. Ron was armed with a pump-action rifle with an M-16 magazine, as much as Erich could tell ; Benjamin had a classic and well-used pump shotgun. Ron : « Your missus told us you had problems with Black Pat, so she asked us to drop by. You're
OK ? » Erich : « Yeah, well that's a nasty one. She played with me for more than an hour. Set traps, cut my gas duct, smashed my window, took my laptop. I shot at her, she dropped the laptop bag in the water, and ran away. I didn't leave the car for a while. » Benjamin asked : « Why that ? » Erich : « Everything I have is the car right now. If she puts in on fire, don't know, with the cigarette lighter, I lose everything. Bitch said it was her land. » Don had a nervous laughter : « Well, in a way it used to be. » Erich was intrigued. He invited them over to have some cognac. He poured his fine cognac from its soda bottle in the German wine glasses over the plywood table. Both appreciated the high quality spirit, and relaxed somewhat, following Erich's attitude. Ron worried : « Where is she now ? » Erich : « I guess she left. Shot at her twice and missed, I guess that's enough for everybody's day. » Benjamin : « Yes, we better be on our guards here. That crazy bitch is really nasty. » Erich : « Come on, let me show you something. » Erich took them to the trap. Ron hissed at the sight of it : « Yep, that's her all right. » Erich : « As soon as Kathryn is back, I'm going to see the sheriff, or perhaps you can call him when you're back. » Benjamin : « You don't have any radio here ? » Erich : « No, no radio I'm afraid. » Ron : « You have to get yourself one. If she comes back, just make a call. People might come and help. » Benjamin observed Erich. He had a hunch that kept being confirmed by Erich's attitude. Benjamin : « No need to call the police now. There are no witnesses, so all they're going to do is file a report. » Erich nodded, then asked : « While we're at it, could you help me searching for other traps like this one ? » Benjamin and Ron hesitated. Benjamin looked at Erich, smirked and agreed. Ron then had to agree as well. *** They searched the entire place and found nothing else. Standing on top of the slope, Ron looked towards the Lowlands. He saw a fresh trail in the grass that led from the shore to the log. Erich, somewhat worried, said : « If you're looking at the log, I have already been there. There's nothing. » Ron narrowed his eyes. He had a peasant's hunch. Ron : « I'll take a look at it anyway. » Erich, helpless, had to watch Ron walk down the slope. All he was left with was the hope they could find some kind of arrangement. Benjamin examined Erich attentively. Then he turned around and fired a shot in a bush. Benjamin shouted : « There's something here ! » Erich took a shooting stance, covering Benjamin's back. Ron stopped on his track. Reluctantly, he had to turn back and join them up the slope again.
For about ten minutes, Benjamin oriented the action and led them all towards the car again, until Ron said : « Oh, come on, there is nothing here. I'll have a look at that log again. » Erich said : « As I said, you'll find nothing there. But here, have a look at that. » Ron was intrigued. Erich opened the car's hood, and told Ron to have a peek inside. Erich : « You see, I made it worthy for the road again, but in the end I used it for about two days. Here, let me show you the brakes. » Erich squatted in front of the front wheel : « Everything is new. The caliper, the lining and even the disk. Brand new. And I also bought two dampers, a good roof track, a hitch and... » Ron : « Dude. That car is gone. » Benjamin frowned at Ron. Ron smelled a deal and didn't try to conceal a large, greedy smile. Ron : « What are you telling me that for anyway ? » Erich : « You see any roads in this place ? I have no use for that car. I need a... I need... an outboard motor ! » Ron : « You're never going to get an outboard motor for a car missing two windows. » Erich : « I doesn't take much to change them. And, besides, the battery is all new and the tires are good for thousands miles more. It's a good car to start with. » Ron : « Nah, no way you're going to get a motor for that. » Erich : « I don't need a great motor, I just need one that runs. » Ron narrowed his eyelids. He was thinking. Ron : « There's an old outboard motor I'm thinking about. » Benjamin : « Old Tutties' ? » Ron : « Yep. » Benjamin told Erich : « Yes... That should be a good trade-off for both of you. » Ron shouted : « No ! » His eyes were firing darts at Benjamin. He didn't want to make a deal, he wanted a super deal. Erich : « What if I tell you you have it delivered at Joyeux-Tiburon's harbour ? » Ron : « Of course, I'm not going to come here and get it myself ! Why are you even saying that ? » Ron was furious. He looked back, towards the log in the Lowlands. Erich looked around in panic, unable to find anything more to add to the deal. Benjamin was embarrassed. Ron was looking around as well : everything else in this place was junk. Erich looked at Benjamin for help. Benjamin made a sign with his fingers. Money. Erich : « Okay, let's put fifty dollars on top of it. » Ron walked the place up and down : « No ! That's still not enough. » Ron, to himself : « There's got to be something. It's not enough ! » Erich : « Seventy-five ? » Ron made a dismissing gesture, like he was chasing away an annoying fly. Erich took a serious tone : « Look, I can go up to hundred, but then no more. If you want more than hundred then let's call it all off. » Ron looked at Erich, sniffing nervously. He couldn't call the deal off, but still wanted something spectacular to seal it off. Benjamin had an idea. He went to the plywood table and poured himself a little bit of cognac. Ron didn't get the clue and kept looking around. He was eyeing the small drums, but that was Erich's only furniture. It wouldn't work.
Benjamin pretended to stumble and spilled his glass. Erich pretended to be annoyed : « Hey, be careful with it, this is not some cheap bourbon, you know. » Ron's face illuminated. He searched the bottles under the table, and said : « The cognac, how much do you have of it ? » Erich reluctantly sorted the two other cognac bottles out. Don opened them and had a whiff : « Yeah, that's the stuff. ». He compared the colour of the liquids in all bottles, to be sure Erich wasn't hiding any Cognac from him. Benjamin said : « That's gotta to be enough, really. » Ron took another bottle, and showed it to Erich : « What's that ? » Erich overplayed his frustration, but had not to spend much effort : « That's port wine. » Ron : « There. The car, delivered, the hundred bucks, the cognac and the port wine. What do you say ? » Erich had to pretend to hesitate, or the price would still climb up. He took some time. After all, the hundred dollars for the pontoon boat and the other hundred dollars on top were tearing a hole in his pocket. But it was also the price of silence. Erich : « Deal. » Ron let his joy erupt without any restraint, and walked around with a triumphant pace. His eyes were glittering, caressing all his new acquisitions like new found treasures. Benjamin pressed Ron to leave. He turned to Erich and reached out his hands : « Thank you for the hospitality. » Erich thanked him sincerely : « Thank you so very much to have come to my rescue. » Benjamin : « You're a good man. I'm sure you would have done the same for me. » Erich : « I will. Promise. » After having discussed final delivery details, Ron went to the boat. Erich scribbled hastily a message for Kathryn and gave it to Benjamin. When Benjamin got on their boat, Erich pushed it off the shore, and then remembered something. He took a buckshot cartridge out of his pocket and gave it to Benjamin. Benjamin : « Thank you, but that wasn't necessary, you know. » Erich : « It's a personal thing. One day, I'll tell you the story. » Benjamin replied : « I'm interested. See you some other day, then. » The motorboat started and quickly faded away. Erich felt drained, but also released from a heavy burden. *** Erich felt very hungry but realized he couldn't cook anything now that the gas bottle was empty. He fixed himself a small fire with scattered pieces of wood, just enough to heat a small can of mineral water. The water didn't get more than very warm. He poured some rice in it and waited some time before spilling the excess water away. This would be his lunch and his dinner. He found it fitting for a funeral. After he was done with lunch, Erich found himself alone, once more, just like on the supermarket's parking lot. His belongings and his money where dwindling so fast now. He vowed to be cautious with the few he still had, but events kept succeeding at a fast rate.
Now that he had taken a life, he considered his own life in a different light. He told Kathryn the day before : Now I have lived. And indeed, if he had tripped over that wire, that would have been it. His life was just the sum of moments he had been accumulating until the day when it would stop. And someday it would stop, inevitably. He thought about Kathryn. He considered it evident he would die before her, although nothing could say what the future held. For the first time in his life, he considered writing a last will. But another idea, long abandoned, resurfaced. Someday, he could have children. The thought accompanied him as he gathered wood and combustible materials for Black Pat's funeral pyre. Thinking of new life while burying the dead. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. *** By mid-afternoon, he had cleared the Lowlands of of its scattered wood and other combustible materials. The weather was mostly cloudy, which made his work more bearable. He siphoned gasoline from the car tank, leaving a minimal amount inside. By mid-afternoon, the pyre was ready. Erich moved to the Highlands and disassembled the trip wire trap. Then, the shotgun always within reach, he resumed his work of clearing the trailer. As the place was littered with broken glass, he used the hoe to scrub an upper layer of soil, taking with it the wild grass, the glass and other garbage. Using the shovel, he piled it all up besides the trailer. Now that the front area was cleared, he brought all the trailer's content out on it, and started to sort it out. The funeral pyre was not only going to look like a garbage fire, it would be one as well. First, all textiles where sorted out. The cotton items were brought to the shore, to soak in water. All the others were to be added to the pyre. Some broken furniture looked like it could be salvaged, but Erich considered it wasn't worth the effort and the emotional cost. In spite of all the evidence, he wasn't ready to live a life of destitution. There were two destroyed and incredibly soiled mattresses that just asked to be burnt. He brought the garbage to the pyre and spread it out, so it could dry out a bit more until the night fell. He added what remained of the car wreck's tires to it. There was still enough light for him to build, out of rusted metal sheets, two small sorting areas for garbage. The broken glass would be dumped in the first area, the rest in the second one. Cans and other metallic objects were to be dumped on the ground, next to the second area. He allowed himself a pause to contemplate his work : quite the German thing to sort out garbage. He washed his hands, face and arms and proceeded to cooked himself a dinner with the little remaining ambient light. He remembered the gas duct had been cut, in its exact middle, and the bottle was now empty. He had nothing to cook a prepared meal on, and thus ate one cold, from the can, under the light of his head torch. Spices came in handy to make it more palatable, as Kathryn had predicted.
At half past eight, it was dark enough to light up the fire. His shotgun on the shoulder, he walked there, carrying the remaining oil canister from his trip and the gasoline. He mixed the two in the oil canister and poured the mixture on the pyre. The remaining drops were poured on piece of cloth, which he lit. The fire started rapidly, due to the gasoline, but after fifteen minutes, in was reduced to small areas. Erich spent a lot of energy blowing on the few small flames. Gradually, the fire grew again, and already it smelled of burnt flesh. Erich threw two of the shredded tires on the fire and walked back. He felt shame at burning a corpse with garbage. For the first time since he had left Germany, he said a prayer, in German for lack of the exact English words. Then, he told Black Pat he didn't knew her, and that killing her was the result of combat. He also added that drugs were as much a culprit to this situation as his own actions. He felt like he was bargaining again, just as he did this morning, and this wasn't what he intended. He said : « I guess one can't live in times of war and present himself before the Almighty saying : look how pure I am, I managed not to get dirty. » He let moments pass, reflecting in what he had said. Now that it was more of a funeral and less of a garbage fire, he found it unfitting to throw more trash into the fire. A gust of wind from the sea brought the smell of burning flesh and guts on his face ; he decided to cover the horrid smell by throwing a mattress on the fire. A thick billow of smoke rose from it and engulfed him. He had to step back and watched the mattress catch fire. After a while, he said : « I guess your funeral shouldn't be about the soul of your murderer. I hope you will find peace now, and that God may take you by his side. I'll take care of Lizzie. » He made the sign of the cross towards the fire, then recited the credo and signed himself. Erich remained close to the fire until the last piece of trash had been consumed on it. Without a window, the car would be colder than this place. The corpse had taken a long time to be cremated, but now it was mostly bones. He had hoped the fire would last until dawn, but it dwindled down after two o'clock in the morning. By three o'clock, there was no residual heat anywhere around it, so Erich rose up and walked back to the Highlands by the light of his headlamp. Once he was on top of the slope, he turned back and witnessed the immensity of the ocean. A decreasing moon shed its light on it all, and beyond, countless stars were glimmering. He seemed to have noticed them, at last. He was taken by the beauty of the moment, and sat for a while to watch. After some ten minutes, he felt suddenly very tired and went for the car. He realized the seats were still littered by tiny bits of safety glass. Under the light of his hand torch, he cleaned off one seat, suspended a towel over the gaping window hole, and wrapped himself in his blanket, still dressed up, the shotgun resting on the shattered glass of the passenger seat. ***
The heat woke him up. It was already half past eight. He was smelling an awful mix of soot and old sweat. He went to the shore, but the water had the smell of the clothes he had left there to soak. He took his towel, one of the four remaining water bottles, a cut-off plastic water bottle with a bar of soap inside and his shotgun. He walked to the beach, immersed himself and scrubbed himself with sand. Then, using very little sweetwater, he washed his hair and other hairy parts, and finally rinsed himself in the ocean. He walked back, thinking about his former house and the level of luxury he was taking for granted a mere month ago. He took a hike to look at the remains of the fire. The bones were clearly visible, intermingled with the metal of the tires and springs from one mattress. He walked back to his car, and found himself with nothing to do. He had to wait for the Ticonderoga to return if he wanted to toss the remains at sea. He tried not to think about Kathryn too much, because deep inside of him he was afraid of suffering from withdrawal again. He figured she would come back as soon as she could. He was hungry again, but without heat there was little he could eat. He contemplated heating a can of food over the running motor, but gave up on the idea. What had he written back then ? Food, shelter, heat. Now he practically had none of them. He lacked even the means to return to civilisation, except for Black Pat's raft as a last resort. He asked himself if he had failed. The answer came to him immediately and evidently : he had not. This was a temporary situation. Should water become scarce, by tomorrow morning, he could reach Joyeux-Tiburon and withdraw cash from the ATM. He thought about the survival shows on TV, and how fabricated they all were. Millions of people were living permanently in the kind of squalor he was experiencing for a couple of days now. Kathryn's former hamster wheel existence, leading to inevitable demise, appeared worse to him than his present situation, stranded on his own private island. He walked around his property and felt bored. There was still so much left to do. Manual work had become as much a recreation as a necessity. He took the hoe and resumed tilling the ground, with a hungry stomach. He felt alive, just as the mosquitoes around him. At twelve, he took a break and soaked some pasta in a can of mineral water. Waiting for the pasta to swell, he went to the shore and rubbed the soaked clothes. Most were worn or torn, and in fact couldn't be used as clothes anymore, but other uses were still possible. He removed the last fragments of organic matter from them and spread them over the grass to dry. He then washed his hands and his face with little sweetwater, and proceeded to eat the swollen pasta. It had a very bland taste, but he ate it just the same. He drank the soaking solution as a desert, then took two glasses of Ouzo to give him some energy. He tilled for an hour, then proceeded to sort garbage and broken glass out of the pile he made by the trailer. While sitting in the dirt, he thought about the joke they made at his farewell party. How can you live for so long among people and still hope they won't know who you were ? Erich also found intact glass : fourteen empty minibar bottles, two mason jars missing their lids, and six bottles of various shapes. Erich thought they would be great waterproof containers.
The pile of garbage was sorted out surprisingly fast ; Erich was in the mood, and scraped the remaining area around the trailer. The new pile was sorted out just as rapidly, with four more intact glass containers in the form of three beer bottles and a Jack Daniels bottle. Erich took the different glass containers to the shore and rinsed them all, then inspected them thoroughly, just as if he intended to sell them. In this barren environment, they were treasures. *** As the sun began to hit again, Erich decided it was about time to transform the large tarp into a roof. It would reach from the burnt oak to the trailer oak. At first he was tempted to proceed empirically, a quick and dirty job, but then he decided that rope was going to be just as precious as anything else. This had to be planned. Like his father said : the engineer's first tool is the chair. Lacking one, he sat on the ground at some distance, to have an overview of the situation. It wasn't long before he sat up : he had to make a map of the place. First of all he searched in the garbage for empty cans and rusted bailing wire. He put the cans at the spikes of the oak's shadow and watched his wristwatch. He went to his toolbox and took a pair of pliers, with which he bent and cut the bailing wire in large, straight pins. Once fifteen minutes were elapsed, he stuck one pin per shadow top, then set the alarm for the next interval. He also placed pins to monitor the shadow of the trailer's edges as well. He put the rest of the pins in a can and prepared more of them. One part found it silly, the other had fun. He was free to do whatever he wanted, after all. He stretched the tarp on the ground and tried to remember its dimensions. After more than ten years spent in the United States, he had still trouble thinking in the imperial system ; the metric system was just hardwired into him. He searched his papers for his diploma. It was printed on an A4 piece of paper, roughly 30 centimeters tall, 29,7 to be precise. Using a pencil, he marked ten 30-centimeters intervals on the ground below the house, then carefully placed the diploma back into its secure position. He took twine and made a three-meter measuring rope, which he folded in three. He made a knot on the onemeter and the two-meter marks. The watch beeped, he placed some more pins, and returned to his Deutsche Industrie Normen local subsidiary. He took some more twine and made a twelve-meters measuring rope, on which he knotted metric intervals. Erich said with a smug face: « Who says degrees are useless nowadays ? » and laughed at his own lame pun. He intended to use the now useless rectangular gas stove as a try square, but estimated it wasn't serious work : it was way too small, and the area had not been cleared properly. He sat down, disappointed, and reflected on the project. Although he was in the oak's shadow, the temperature was becoming unbearable. The oak's shadow was sufficient as long as he was alone. When Kathryn and presumably Lizzie came back, he would then make the tarp roof.
With the rising temperature, time would best be spent on the engineer's chair. He let his mind wander around, then the solution began to crystallise by itself. The twelve-meters rope could of course become a 3-4-5 triangle, also known as rope stretchers triangle. It was a natural try square. With it, he would establish a base line, with markers at onemeter intervals, then a parallel line twelve meters away from it, with the same kind of markers. This would serve as a base grid from which he would measure the entire Highlands. With the grid, he could plan all further constructions on a piece of paper. *** Another afternoon had passed. He hoped Kathryn would return tomorrow morning with some water. But the sight of the remains in the funeral pyre would certainly shock her. Not to mention Lizzie. Erich took the two broken plastic buckets and his hand drill. He drilled small holes along each side of the fractures and closed them with bits of bailing wire, like sutures. He took his axe and the two buckets to the fireplace and put the remains of Black Pat in them. He used the axe to break the larger bones and the skull in smaller bits. It was a sinister job but it went over very quickly. He placed the two full buckets close to the beach, as far as possible to the usual path. Then he took a quick immersion in the ocean and returned to the Highlands. He placed new shadow marking pins, and observed the general pattern that emerged. One day, he would have to build a sundial. As the temperature began to drop, he resumed the tilling of the place. All the uprooted grass was collected and spread out to dry. With the grass already dried, he improvised a small stove with a punctured can, just to heat up some water. It took a large amount of grass to get the water to a warm temperature, but it was sufficient for another dish of pasta, this time with olive oil as sauce. He was experiencing a strange state of slow burning hunger, that made him feel weaker but more alert. Evening fell. The silence became uncomfortable for Erich, and was glad to switch the car's radio on again. He just listened to the news for ten minutes, in order to spare the battery. He needed to hear another voice, after almost an entire day spent in loneliness. Although tired, he still felt so bored he endeavoured to remove all remaining items from the car as well as all the tiny bits of glass, which he collected into an empty can and carried to the recycling area like the well disciplined urbanite he always had been. He wrapped in his blanket and, still unable to find sleep, he used the back side of the Jack Daniels paper labels he had removed earlier to draw a to-do list for the next day. He was expecting the pontoon boat in the late morning. He had only one bottle of water left. If Kathryn wasn't on that boat, he would have to take a ride back to Joyeux-Tiburon if only for the water. He took off his headlight and found that sleep was another way to fight boredom.
Chapter 18 July, Monday the 9th. Morning. Kathryn was sleeping profoundly when the nurse woke her up along with Lizzie at seven o'clock. She realized she was more in need of sleep and rest than she expected. An idea kept coming back to her mind with increased frequency since she met Erich: she wasn't that young anymore. Anxiety, poverty, long working hours and unnatural schedules had taken their toll over the years. As soon as an exit option presented to her with Erich, she found it harder to get into her daily routine. The sudden extraction out of her known environment and rhythm of life, coupled with yesterday's intense effort at canoeing, had give a serious blow to her general condition. She would be glad to spend a full day at a low level of activity. The breakfast came rapidly after the wake-up. From the various medication she had to take, Lizzie was first given a sedative, under the supervision of a nurse. From that moment on, Lizzie remained in a calm, almost vegetative state, staring at the television set in their room. At ten o'clock, another doctor came to check up on Lizzie. After a thorough examination he told Kathryn they could leave on Wednesday morning ; the treatment could be continued at home. Kathryn asked him why sedatives where also included in the treatment. He replied that the social worker would come later in the day and tell her more about Lizzie and the family background. Kathryn spent the rest of the morning in bed, then took a long shower and joined Lizzie in front of television. After lunch, Kathryn tried to bring Lizzie to draw pictures. Lizzie was barely able to hold crayons, not out of energy but due to ignorance. As agile as she appeared, she wasn't used to paper and pens. The sedative also made Lizzie unable to concentrate and hold a conversation. At three o'clock, Myriam Hyatt, a social worker from Joyeux-Tiburon, took Kathryn to another room to inform her about the situation. She had never met Lizzie, since her mother and her were extremely elusive. The police were never able to capture them, and two police missions on TroisChênes found an empty island. Kathryn and Myriam had a good contact, and the conversation took a more relaxed tone. Myriam : « You know, I used to go to the same school as Lizzie's mother, Patricia Dixon. » Kathryn : « What happened ? » Myriam : « Drugs. Her dad, already. He was the real deal, that man. » Myriam had an involuntary shiver. Kathryn : « Care to say more ? » Myriam : « That family, they've been on Trois-Chênes like forever. Some years after the Civil War, Dixon, a black man, possibly a former slave, bought the land. He died almost on the spot, something like two weeks afterwards. He had a wife and kid, they took over and worked the land. Patricia's great-grandfather had been in the army during World War 2, a truck driver in France. Then his son got some pride and started to study, but didn't get the jobs he expected. He was in the Civil Rights Movement, then friends in the movement there got him a job at Jingeaux. You see at that time, the canal that leads to Trois-Chênes was a road. » Kathryn nodded, pensive. Myriam continued : « The old man was frustrated, he wanted Martin, his son, Patricia's father, to be
someone. In the end Martin was fed up and fled to the army. But he wanted to make his daddy proud and sought to become an officer. They promised him he would if he did some nasty work for them. » Myriam stopped and took a deep inspiration, as if to overcome some kind of emotional block. Myriam : « When Patricia's father came back a Master Sergeant, he had changed, like, completely. They've sent him to Nicaragua and some other places. I don't know what he had done there but it made him evil. I mean, really evil, you know, like in the Bible. So his dad wanted him out of the place. Some time later his father was no more. People keep telling Martin killed his own father. But at that time nobody liked him already, especially the Bertons. Old Berton wanted his neighbours to band together and kill Martin, pure and simple, but people weren't like that anymore. Back when Old Berton was a kid, they used to do this. Anyway, Old Berton walked into a rusty nail smeared with pig shit, in his own garden. His feet got infected and then amputated. » Kathryn : « Are you even allowed to tell me all of this ? » Myriam : « It's common knowledge in our area, and since you now own the place, you have to know it all. And as soon as possible. » Myriam : « Then the Bertons sought revenge, but the Dixons endured. Patricia got her head messed up by her dad. She always had an extreme character anyway. » Kathryn : « And her mother ? » Myriam : « Martin had that kind of thing, it was like he was eating people's energy away. Do you know what I'm talking about, more or less ? » Kathryn nodded. Myriam : « Anyway, her mother just got sicker and skinnier, then she died. She was the breadwinner. Martin lost it then, he got caught in a burglary in Houma because he just stayed in the place and kept torturing the poor buggers. The police just shot him on the spot. » Myriam finished his story : « That was ten years ago. Patricia had the land for herself but didn't do squat. She tried to be with a guy, in Jingeaux, on welfare. They had a girl, Lizzie, and then it all went downwards. Drugs, guy gets shot, Patricia prostituted herself, got on drugs, still on more drugs, started stealing stuff from all the people around. You know, stuff in the garden, in the car, in tool sheds. She would sell them for drugs. She was completely stealthy, like a nightmare. » Kathryn : « And the girl, Lizzie ? » Myriam : « She went along. Patricia, or Black Pat as she was called, used Lizzie as a scout and to get inside houses through small openings, like windows or pet doors... » Kathryn : « They were never caught ? » Myriam : « Some people had pity for Lizzie, those who didn't have tried some things that never led to any result. Black Pat must have been shot at six times a year, but always too late and from too far away. She was known to choose her targets very carefully, you know. » Kathryn : « But was it enough to keep both of them fed ? » Myriam : « You've seen their condition. It wasn't even enough for Black Pat's drugs, you know. So, they would eat anything. She used to fish in the bayou at first, but then she was also eating cats, dogs, anything she could find. » Kathryn : « And they were never caught ? » Myriam : « The bayou is a very large place, you know. They had several places to hide, and the police, well... not a lot they could do. » Kathryn : « Are there more people like her around ? »
Myriam : « Not really in the bayou anymore. You've got to live like an animal to be able to survive like Black Pat does. Which leads me to the next aspect. » Myriam seemed embarrassed ; Kathryn worried. Kathryn : « Come on, what is it ? » Myriam : « You've noticed they've given her sedatives. » Kathryn : « Yes. How come ? » Myriam : « Well, I spoke with the doctor today, and he confirmed the early analysis of yesterday's doctor. » Kathryn : « She's mentally retarded, I know. » Myriam was embarrassed : « It's not only that. Now I'm going to use a word that's scary, but she's not what that word means. It's to help you understand the problem. » Kathryn didn't answer. She didn't even wanted to know. Myriam : « You, know, feral children. Sometimes they're unable to have social contacts, some can't even walk upright. » Kathryn protested, not for Lizzie's sake but as a rejection of a possibility : « But she talks, she understands, she obeys. » Myriam was categorical : « The way she complied was due to a state of exhaustion and aggravated illness. She was about to die. » Kathryn : « How would she be in her normal state ? » Myriam : « I've talked with the doctor and I'd say, from experience and similar cases, she will be very problematic. Living in the instant, impulsive, few reasoning skills, corporal punishment being considered normal and expected. And certainly incomprehensible character, leading to sudden explosions of rage without reason. » Kathryn was shocked : « And do I control this ? » Myriam : « You have to punish her if she misbehaves, but also be ready to offer comfort and physical proximity. She might invade your private sphere at any moment to get this proximity. » Kathryn was thinking, trying to find a way out. Kathryn : « But... I don't have to keep her, have I ? » Myriam was embarrassed but very clear : « Since yesterday, people in the area are saying that Black Pat is not a problem anymore. Not to me as a social worker, but I live there and have relatives. » A cold veil of fear descended on Kathryn. Myriam gave her time to stomach the news. When she estimated the time was right, Myriam resumed : « There are no places left in orphanages anywhere. Actually, not only are they completely over capacity, not only are many orphans now on the street, even toddlers, but these places are closing one after the other. And children like her are not welcome : too difficult to handle, too little personnel, and their character might be contagious. So if you intend to send her there, it has to be ordered by a judge, and thus he will send the police to investigate rumours about her mother. » Kathryn : « And we might not want that. » Myriam : « Exactly. » Kathryn : « That's it ? Erich and I have to take charge of a semi-feral child ? » Myriam : « I'm sorry, Kathryn, but it looks like it. » Kathryn was devastated. Myriam held still. One could see it was her job to be in that kind of situations, but in this case she cared a bit more about the other person. Kathryn : « What am I going to do ? » Myriam : « It's on a personal level. Her personality would probably be mysterious at first, and thus I can't give you any recipe. However, one thing I'm certain of is that you and your boyfriend will
have to be the boss of her. At all times. » Kathryn : « But Erich and I aren't people like that. Besides, her mother's last words were exactly that nobody was going to be her boss. » Myriam : « Yeah, sounds like Black Pat all right. Always trying to inflict maximum damage. » Kathryn looked at her, waiting for more clues. Myriam was sorry to disappoint her : « I really don't know what to say besides that. » Kathryn : « And sedatives ? Ritalin maybe ? » Myriam : « Without prescription, which you most probably won't get, you can't buy it. If you use it on her and you're caught, you can have big trouble. Besides, she wouldn't evolve at all if she took it. » Kathryn : « So she's going to evolve a bit ? » Myriam : « Yes. But it's never going to be enough, and it will be at a high price. » Kathryn remained pensive, and declared : « Some shit sandwich... » Myriam : « I don't want to tell you stories, Kathryn. It is. » Kathryn : « You know, I wanted to have children myself. » Myriam : « She might be a danger to them. You'll have to wait first. » Kathryn : « How long ? » Myriam : « Chances are, she will leave at age fifteen or so. Hence, eight years at a maximum. But perhaps she will turn OK, it's also a possibility. » Kathryn started to cry, silently. Myriam wanted to help, but out of professional habit refrained from it. After a couple of minutes, they went back to the room where Lizzie kept on watching TV. They measured her size ; Myriam promised to return the following day with two complete sets of clothes for Lizzie, all cotton, one pair of running shoes and two sets of pajamas. When she left, Kathryn felt abandoned. She joined Lizzie in front of the TV, trying to establish a sense of familiarity between them. *** On Tuesday, Erich awoke in the early morning light. Just like his hunger, his exhaustion was rampant but never acute. He didn't want to rest but didn't want to work either. He decided the pier was beyond salvage and broke it with the axe. The wood was old and frail, it exploded in plumes of dust. Erich knew it wouldn't even give proper heat, but proceeded to destroy as much of it as he could in the morning's fresh temperatures. By ten o'clock, only an armature of rotten piles were left over, and he didn't feel strong enough to finish the job. The temperature was high already, so Erich decided to sit down. He did so too hastily, and got hurt. He was hungry, but wasn't ready to start a fire just yet. He remembered some images he had seen on the internet when preparing for his trip at work : he would fix himself a stove. He gathered the few bricks, concrete blocks and stones that were present on the island, and cobbled something of a homemade stove with it. He build it on the area in front of the trailer, which was turning more and more into a new living area. A steel plate found among the metallic rubble was placed on top to finish the design.
As anticipated, a lot of old wood had to be burnt just to bring a kettle of water to boil. With the water, he prepared himself a double ration of noodles for the day. He was grateful for the spices Kathryn had insisted to keep. As he contemplated the small packets of spice, his eyes drifted towards the empty minibar bottles. They would be perfect as substitute containers. Erich ate the noodle's water as a soup, with Chinese spices. Half a bottle of water was all he had left. He would try to save it until the next day. If Kathryn had not returned by then, he would boil some bayou water, but he wouldn't leave his island. At half past eleven, the pontoon boat appeared, carrying some cargo with it. The pilot said they were leftovers from Benjamin's home and some things he collected from neighbours. There was a large four-person tent, rolled in its original carrying bag, two assorted sun loungers in old, brittle plastic, two dusty old mattresses, some old bed linens, an inflatable beach mattress, a round white plastic table lacking one leg, a clear plastic box without its cover and three assorted white plastic chairs. Benjamin had also added two 12-liter packs of bottled water to it all, a very appreciated intention. Finally, the last object was an old, rusty and dented outboard motor, that nevertheless seemed reasonably well tended. Half a can of gas was also provided along. As Erich unloaded the boat, he was at the same time glad such furniture had been given but also appalled at his current low social status. One month ago he was still sleeping in a house that had been worth 600,000 dollars at a time. The pilot helped him unload it all, but when it came to loading the car into the boat, he insisted to drive it himself : « It's more complicated than it looks like ». Erich was just meant to manage the boat's motor to prevent any motion backwards. Erich noticed the pilot looked at him in a worried manner. As the boat was about to leave, he had to ask him : « I'd like to know : if there is something odd with me, you can say it. » The pilot replied : « You don't look too good. Take some rest, don't push yourself too hard. » Erich agreed, and the boat slowly drove away. The sight of the car leaving made a profound impression on Erich ; the relocation was over. The car had been his home, his entertainment center, his safe place and the object of much attention and anxiety. As it was leaving, all that remained were the few dilapidated objects strewn around him on this isolated island. Erich covered the newly delivered objects with the small tarp, and then proceeded to hang the large tarp across the burnt oak and the good oak. He had found broom handles on the other side of the trailer, and tossed them towards selected branches of both trees, so they could drag attached strings of twine behind them. The twine was then attached to generous lengths of nylon rope and fastened to the larger tarp. The tarp was tilted sideways towards the sea side, to deflect mild sea wind. It was precisely adjusted with the trailing of the good oak's shadow so that from the middle of the afternoon there would be no shadow discontinuity. Erich contemplated to swim out and dump Black Pat's remnants at sea, but felt too tired for that. He would do it the next morning. Instead of that, he would clean up the trailer, in order to be able to live inside.
He promptly sat down on the ground, under the tarp's shadow, feeling the gentle breeze of the ocean. Using a broom handle, the severed leg of a jeans he salvaged from the trailer and some bailing wire, he improvised a mop. After a long pause, he dragged some water from the bayou in the clear plastic box and poured some chlorine in it. While mopping inside the trailer, or rather watering the clumps of organic matter to dissolve them, he didn't understand why he wanted to sit down, until he realized his legs couldn't simply carry him anymore. The whole day long, he had experienced alarming signs of weakness, but his mind had rationalized it away. *** He walked out of the trailer with a wobbling gait, sat on the ground under the tarp and laid down. He opened his mind to the evidence : he was completely exhausted. But a strange sense of activity still pounded inside of him ; it was a sense of obsession. Somehow, he had to force a part of his mind to switch off. He tried to remember relaxation sessions he had received at the gym and in the Bahamas. Neither of these sessions have had any effect on him, but he decided to give it another try. He focused on his respiration, taking deep inspirations, expiring slowly. He closed his eyes and kept on concentrating on his lungs, his diaphragm, his skin... He used to consider such exercises as esoteric mumbo-jumbo, but now he understood that was because the people who wanted to teach him were suburban mumbo-jumbo types themselves, perceiving themselves as a mix between wonder healers and Yoda. Now that there was only his body and his mind, things were self-evident. Thoughts kept on banging into his consciousness like angry flies on a window pane. He had to make an effort not to think about anything. Ideas kept appearing, some with a sense of urgency, some with the promise of achievement and pride. Erich cleared his head by concentrating on the sounds around him, the distant waves of the ocean, the bristling blades of grass. He felt the breeze of the wind on his skin. And then a flash of pain : like a rubber band that snapped, a part of his brain relaxed brutally. It was a physical experience, and not an intellectual one. Now that one area was relaxed and inactive, he sensed the other areas that were still tense. Another area snapped, this time less suddenly. Then, a huge area collapsed at once with a frightening movement. As a reflex, he tried to tense it back again, but to no avail. His mind slipped into a different state. It was like his mind was afloat in water, drifting aimlessly, encountering no resistance. Then, there was a small lifting movement, that appeared too tame, followed with a sense of suspension that turned into a feeling of floating, not in water, but in the air, or rather, simply above. Erich sensed he could steer this, but wouldn't know how. Gradually, he didn't feel the need to. His body and his mind had entered a very relaxed state. There was a sense of passing time, of changing light, of freshening temperatures.
The sun was setting as Erich left his detached mental state in a natural manner. It wasn't a wake-up, it was like an object had been carried by the waves and then, as the ebb made the water retread, it remained on the shore. Erich looked around him with different eyes. His mind was at ease, embracing the environment with a sense of acceptance and understanding. No ideas were rushing in his head, and no uninvited thoughts entered without knocking. He understood the situation he was in, all the tasks that remained to do, the deteriorating situation in the country, having to care for two people and Glenn as well, the remains of Black Pat that could get him in jail. He embraced it all. But he felt all right. *** Another night had done Lizzie good. She was now visibly in better shape : her face was less distressed, her gait almost normal and her skin was less wrinkled. Although still quite sedated, she expressed the need to go out of buildings. Kathryn took her out for a walk. Outside the air conditioned building, she felt the massive Louisiana heat hammering on her, progressively knocking her out. To add to her trouble, Lizzie was trotting around the hospital's small park and wouldn't come back to her. It was, like so often with children, a game as well as a test. And Kathryn wasn't doing so well. Kathryn was already playing with the idea of letting her go her own way, but inevitably the social services would come back to her, and problems would just pile on. Lizzie just wouldn't come back, and couldn't be caught. Kathryn decided to not indulge in playing fake abandonment. When she couldn't catch her, she went back to straight to her room. Lizzie waited for her to come back, and as she wasn't, she broke out in tears and cried with a deafening voice. A nurse had to bring her back to her room, and seeing Kathryn watch TV, reprimanded her. Kathryn answered : « I'm sorry to give you trouble. But I had to set a certain thing straight with that girl. » The nurse went away, still furious, but Lizzie remained in the room. She was still sad about having been left alone, but she also had to seek solace somehow. Kathryn asked : « So, you're going to give me trouble like that again ? » Lizzie didn't want to answer. She tried to bribe Kathryn with a smile. Kathryn remained unimpressed. Kathryn : « If you think you don't need me, you can go away, you know. » Lizzie started to cry again. She felt abandoned in a foreign place. Kathryn : « I don't play games. Lizzie, you do as I say now, do you understand ? » In spite of her need of consolation, Lizzie faked incomprehension and smiled. Kathryn : « If you don't get it, just go away. » Lizzie broke out in tears again, expecting to be taken in Kathryn's arms. She then switched to a high-pitch crying, purposely annoying everybody. Kathryn stood up. Lizzie's crying became milder and more hesitant as she tried to guess what Kathryn was up to.
Kathryn tried to grab her, but Lizzie dashed away and stopped in the corridor, shrieking again at a high pitch in retaliation. Lizzie didn't notice Myriam approaching behind her, who grabbed her and dragged her back to Kathryn. Kathryn took Lizzie with anger and gave her a spanking without holding back her blows. Lizzie was not surprised but kept on crying. With a calculated look of distress, she tried to trigger pity in Myriam, but fell on cold eyes. Kathryn didn't know what to say after the spanking. She improvised : « I'm going to tell your Mom, she's going to punish you twice as hard ! » Lizzie immediately answered : « My Ma is going to kill you ! And your man !» Kathryn and Myriam exchanged looks. Myriam : « What have you just said ? » Lizzie : « It's our land ! You want to steal it from us ! » Kathryn : « Your Mom is not going to do anything, because then she'll go in jail, and you would be given to strangers ! » Myriam tried to make signs to Kathryn to keep it within reason. No need to cause even more panic in the child. Lizzie looked around, in panic. She was shaking her head, in denial. She was expecting her mother to actually be caught for murder and locked away. Kathryn then said : « Until you see your mom again, you'll be with me, understood ? » Lizzie still didn't answer. Kathryn : « Or you want me to give you to somebody else ? » Lizzie had to extricate her answer from within herself : « No. » Kathryn : « Then it is all clear. » Myriam took the opportunity to hand out the clothes she had brought for Lizzie. Lizzie was floating in them, but they were the correct length. Myriam said to Kathryn : « It's all cotton. You can boil it. » Kathryn thanked Myriam for her help ; she wanted to ask her for advice, but the presence of Lizzie dissuaded her from doing so : it would have been a sign of weakness. Lizzie was fascinated by the clothes, and that they had been given to her. Kathryn wondered if she ever received a gift in her life. Then Myriam gave Kathryn a wrapped soft gift and said : « It's what you asked for, you know, for Lizzie. » Kathryn was intrigued, but tried to play the part. She took the gift from Myriam and gave it to Lizzie. It was a small stuffed toy, that could be had for few dollars, in form of a moose. Lizzie knew what it was but didn't know what to do with it. Kathryn had now to improvise being a mother, and teach Lizzie how to play with it and tell stories. Myriam watched them then said goodbye and left. Lizzie was intrigued by the possibilities that the toy opened to her. A new world was slowly building up around her, and she was part of it. *** Erich had slept outside, wrapped in his blanket, on a mattress placed on top of a sun lounger. That
blanket used to be a nice accessory when Allison wanted to feel comfortable while watching TV. Now it was worn, dirty and out of shape, but a vital element in Erich's life. He couldn't even remember when he had bought it or at what price. In the early Wednesday morning, Erich still felt markedly weak. He still forced himself to dispose Black Pat's remains at sea, before Kathryn and Lizzie returned. He took Black Pat's raft and tossed the two buckets upside down on it, for added stability and to avoid the contents to show. He swam for fifteen minutes out in the ocean, pushing the tiny raft in front of him, and then emptied the buckets. He fell suddenly released as well as exhausted. With little energy left, he crawled on the raft and kept the two buckets in his hand. When he felt some energy coming back, he went in the water again and swam back for five minutes, then crawled back on the raft. A part of him knew what he was doing was very dangerous. He could drown from exhaustion, get carried away by currents, or receive an insulation. Yet it had to be done, to avoid jail and also to spare both Kathryn and Lizzie. In two other five-minutes segments, he took the raft to the southern side of the half-submerged island east of his land. Carefully avoiding to step on the top of the island, he walked in the water, back to his own island, still carrying the buckets. He knew these buckets would remind him of what he did, until he could finally discard them. When he would do it, it would also take a part of that memory with them. The effort had drained him for the day. He went back to his bed, his body still wet from sea water, and laid down. Many muscles were aching, as well as the back and some articulations. It wasn't only his age ; his whole body was not prepared for that kind of life. He contemplated his foolishness when he believed he could switch from one extreme lifestyle to the other. Yet, it was a necessity. A life of working at Gino's would have destroyed him even more. He wondered how many modern people would survive the imminent economic transition. Then he realised that his story was just another tiny part of a transition so vast and so far-reaching it would affect everybody's life on the planet. Had Allison not cheated on him, he would have been caught by surprise by that evolution. He might have been smart enough to downsize in time, but all in all, he was very lucky to have received the incentive for it. *** Kathryn had to wait the whole Wednesday morning for the doctor's visit. In the meantime, she paid for the medication and the other medical costs, about 300 dollars, with the remaining cash she had in her small backpack. The doctor appeared shortly before lunch, and inspected Lizzie rapidly. He deemed her fit enough to leave the place ; she had not been given any sedative that morning. As Kathryn and Lizzie were leaving, Lizzie suddenly ran back to the corridor. She entered a room where lunch had just been served ; exclamations were shouted, and Lizzie ran out of there with a roasted chicken leg in her hand. Still running away, she ate as much as she could, literally gobbling down large hunk of meat. Kathryn was horrified when she saw Lizzie's large, protruding eyes with an absent look, like an animal's, as if all her energy had been redirected to the act of eating. Kathryn had to apologize profusely towards the nurse and the victim of the theft, while Lizzie had
retreated to a corner to finish the piece of meat ; when she was done, she dropped the bones on the ground. Fed up, the nurses showed them both the door, and Lizzie ran away, almost into the traffic. She couldn't be caught, again. Kathryn felt on her own ; it was as if the past days had had no effects at all. She decided she wouldn't care, and started to walk southwards. There were twelve miles to walk, and Kathryn had three 1-liter bottles of water in her backpack. Lizzie didn't know how to cross the road. Cars had to screech to a halt, honks erupted. Lizzie ran about, scared. Kathryn looked at the situation like a deer looking at headlights : nothing in her education had prepared her to handle this situation. She watched, powerless and resigned, expecting a fatal collision at any moment. Lizzie was looking at the stopped cars in panic. Kathryn made a gesture, inviting her to finish crossing the road towards her. Lizzie ran towards her, and Kathryn grabbed her hand. As soon as the cars started to drive again, Lizzie extracted herself suddenly and violently from Kathryn's grip. She ran down the road in front of her. Kathryn had to yell to ask Lizzie where her stuffed toy was. Lizzie didn't know and didn't seem to care. Kathryn decided to carry on. After twenty minutes, Lizzie was nowhere to be seen. Kathryn was worried she had lost her for good. She was less worried about Lizzie than about the problems she could get because of that. Deep within Kathryn, there was the hatred of a situation that forced her to delay having her own children. She had delayed so many things in her life already ! Actually, she had put her entire life on hold as soon as her mother had a cancer. She was not looking to pick up any other person's tab this time. Lizzie reappeared again, still walking far ahead from Kathryn, but the distance between them kept getting smaller, until they got within talking distance. But Kathryn didn't mind to talk. One hour after they had left the hospital, Kathryn made a pause. She would make one five-minute pause every hour. Lizzie was intrigued and asked : « Why you stop? » Kathryn : « I'm getting some rest. We've still got five times just like this to walk as we did. » Lizzie didn't understand. Kathryn wondered how many normal children would have. Kathryn : « There's no bus line here, and I've got no money for a cab. So we walk. » Lizzie : « You don't like me ? » Kathryn took a deep breath. She was not in the mood to think what was the best answer, nor did she care. She answered : « You're not my child. I took you to the hospital because you were dying. » Lizzie : « Why ? » Kathryn : « People don't let other people die. » Lizzie : « Ma does. A lot. » Kathryn : « So, she let you die too, right ? » Lizzie had a hard look into Kathryn's eyes. Kathryn almost felt like she had to look away, but she held the stare. Lizzie held back her tears : « We're poor. Nobody likes us. » Kathryn asked : « And why is it so ? » Lizzie didn't answer. Kathryn thought it was less because she didn't want to answer, but rather because she had not thought about it, or perhaps she wasn't even able to. Kathryn : « You want me to like you ? » Lizzie looked at Kathryn, embarrassed, and nodded. Kathryn : « Then you have to do things for it. When you're not doing what I say, I don't like you. » Lizzie tried to look away, as if she didn't hear, but looked back at Kathryn. Kathryn had a stare that
said : you heard all right. Kathryn stood up and resumed walking. Fortunately, a few moments later, a local resident took them in his old sedan all the way to Joyeux-Tiburon. It took him about fifteen minutes. Lizzie held still and smiled : she liked being in a car.
Chapter 19 July, Wednesday the 11th. Mid afternoon. Kathryn and Lizzie entered the Fisherman's Bar in the middle of the afternoon. The place was busy, as many boats had returned and unloaded already. Kathryn sensed a kind of atmosphere change as she progressed towards the bar. She didn't know it is was about her or about Lizzie, or about the two of them together. The barman had no messages for her ; he accepted to be their mailbox for a while, charging ten dollars a month. Kathryn paid five dollars in advance for the remainder of July, then ordered a meal for herself and a junior meal for Lizzie. They sat at a table that had just become free. Lizzie was impressed by the number of people around. Many stared or glimpsed at her, knowing who she was. The patrons, mostly fishermen and dock workers, weren't particularly considerate when talking openly about Black Pat between themselves. Kathryn could see people whispering to the hear, faces clearing up, and glimpses of aggressive caution towards Lizzie turned to moderate commiseration. The meals were served, accompanied by a pink-orange cocktail. Kathryn : « I'm sorry, I didn't order any cocktail. » Waitress : « It's a gift from gentlemen at the bar. » Some heavy laughter could be heard at a distance. Kathryn : « I've been working in cocktail bars. I know what it is. » It was a cocktail called 'Sex On The Beach'. The waitress had a small smile ans answered : « No offense intended. They have their own sense of humour, you know. » Kathryn had an embarrassed smile and raised her glass. Several patrons raised theirs, followed by the rest of the patrons soon afterwards. Kathryn's face became crimson with shame and embarrassment. Lizzie asked with her high-pitched voice : « I wanna have some too ! » Kathryn snapped : « No ! You're too young for this ! » The whole room laughed. Lizzie was angry, because she didn't understand. The waitress brought her a small bottle of orange juice, also a gift from patrons. Kathryn told Lizzie to say thank you, and so Lizzie yelled « Thank you ! » in a somewhat furious tone. Smiles and laughter followed. Joyeux-Tiburon was reday to reconcile with Lizzie. Some time afterwards, witnessing Lizzie gobbling down her food with haste and disorder, with the same exorbited eyes she had before, the patrons' looks turned to Kathryn. They were looks of pity. *** During the way back to Trois-Chênes, Kathryn noticed Lizzie becoming worried and anxious by the minute. She had a primordial fear of being given to her mother again. As they approached Trois-Chênes, Lizzie said in a sincere plead : « Can I come again to see you ? » Kathryn promised she could, and she would be welcome if she behaved. Lizzie didn't understand the concept of behaving, but said she would. They arrived in the early evening. Kathryn was shocked to see her car had disappeared. The old
house was missing two-thirds of its planks. A large central area, about one third of the Highlands, had been meticulously cleaned and tilled. Regularly paced small pickets had been placed, some had numbers written on them with a marker pen. Under the large tarp, suspended between two oaks, was a large four-person tent, that had been mended and patched up several times over the years. Erich was sitting in an old lawn chair, at a plastic table with three plastic legs and a wooden one, reviewing the sorry state of the laptop bag and its content. He hadn't noticed them until Kathryn walked outside the canoe. Lizzie remained in the canoe, in fear. Erich rose to meet her. He looked tired but relaxed. Kathryn : « Don't tell me you traded my car for that garbage over there. » Erich : « I traded OUR car for silence, and got an old outboard motor on top. The rest is a gift from the other guy. » Kathryn : « Yeah, well let me tell you : the whole town knows. » Erich's face paled. Kathryn suddenly understood the gravity of his situation. Kathryn : « I'm sorry, I... » Erich : « As long as the police doesn't show up, it's going to be all right. » Kathryn : « But the police will know. » Erich : « If there is a rumour, then they certainly were about the first reached. But my guess is they won't do anything, or they would have been here already. Three full days in this heat : I just had to dispose of the body somewhere at some moment. So, no body, no evidence, no clues. » Kathryn : « It's all clear then ? » Erich nodded : « And about the girl ? » Kathryn : « That's the other part of the deal. We have to keep her, or they'll investigate. » Erich : « She's all right ? » Kathryn told her what the social worker and the doctors had told her. Erich was very worried, but accepted it as a penalty for killing Lizzie's mother. Lizzie still sat in the canoe. Then she noticed Kathryn and Erich were exchanging jokes when she washed him, before applying the scabies-killing lotion. She walked to them, noticing Erich's relaxed state. If her mother was still around, he wouldn't be laughing. Lizzie : « Where is Ma ? » Erich : « She has gone away. » Lizzie : « Where ? » Erich : « She left a short time after you. Don't know where she is. But she knows it's my land now. » Kathryn felt rustled that he didn't include her as an owner. Erich noticed it and apologized : « Sorry. I had to carry the point across. » Kathryn remained offended, but understood. Lizzie sensed something wasn't right. She left to search the entire land. Erich and Kathryn had a tense discussion ; they were both tired and angry about the situation. Gradually, they understood they just had to let out some steam. Kathryn was reassured about Erich's acceptance of Lizzie. The discussion ebbed, and they reconciled. In the end, it still was about the two of them making it work. Lizzie came back in the late evening, her new clothes already torn apart. She hadn't found any sign of her mother, and didn't understand.
Kathryn : « Maybe she wanted us to care for you now. » Lizzie couldn't understand the situation, and started to cry, in high-pitched shrieks. She was tired and hungry again. Erich watched her wolf down the onions & beans casserole he had prepared. Erich : « She's strong. It will work out. » *** Inside the tent, Erich and Kathryn arranged a double bed out of the sun lounges and mattresses. Lizzie had the inflatable mattress to herself, but in the middle of the night she crawled between them. Kathryn noticed Erich had the shotgun at his side or in his vicinity at all times. It had become a natural habit. In the morning, Erich and Kathryn had to improvise a morning routine. Lizzie didn't want to wash herself at all, so Erich had to heat water and pretend it was very nice, but the trick didn't work. His forced acting was even more of a deterrent. Then Kathryn told Lizzie she would sleep outside if she didn't wash, and it took some more persuasion of the same order to get her to wash herself. In the end, Lizzie didn't want the adults to reject her and complied. Erich explained to Kathryn what the stakes were for measuring the ground. He had already drawn a topographical map on a small corner of the car's hood. Eventually, the whole island would be on the hood. They decided for the next steps. Glenn had to be brought in as soon as possible, because if they wanted to go a step up over improvised camping, they would be bleeding money for some months. They were especially worried about hurricanes, which could arrive at any moment now. The trailer would be consolidated with jury-rigged metal corners and its door fixed. The inside room would be cleared of its internal furniture, washed, washed again with paint thinner and finally painted. This would remove most of its foul smell and make it liveable as a temporary hurricane shelter. The oak, the small wild trees and the remaining bushes would serve as windbreakers. The trailer was also to become the safe place, with a lock and most valuables inside. Hygiene was next on the list : Erich would assemble a solar water heater out of new copper tubes, painted black. They would also build a dry closet close to the slope, using the remaining wood piles and planks from the old house. The wind generator would serve no purpose, as there was no battery to charge and no 12V appliances to use ; it would be considered again at a later stage. For the time being, they would use the solar charger for the torches' batteries. Tarps and metal sheets would catch rainwater. Ducts made out of plastic water bottles cut in half lengthwise would be placed in trenches and concentrate the water flow towards holes in the ground, lined with garbage liners, that would become temporary cisterns. As soon as eighty gallons of rainwater have been collected, they would start a veggie patch, enclosed within metal sheets. The middle-term goal would be to build a new, small house on piles, to have an edge against
flooding. This would consume the last of Erich's savings, and from then on they would rely on Glenn's pension. As soon as Glenn had arrived, Erich and Kathryn would look out for work in the area. Erich had to look out for work to receive his unemployment insurance. *** The following week was mired in small details of all kind. On Friday, Erich went to Joyeux-Tiburon by himself to swap the gas bottle and buy some supplies in the local store. He met Eugene, whom he had talked to from the comfort of his large desk at Axin. It seemed like it had been another time, but it was only last month. Eugene told Erich where to park his canoe in Jingeaux, one mile away from the hardware store. Eugene had a slow day, and spent an hour talking with Erich about small details and practical information. Eugene would allow Erich to fill canisters of tap water at his place. At seven cents a 5gallon canister, it wasn't even worth billing ; for Erich it meant the most precious resource was free. Eugene also let Erich charge up the battery his mobile phone for free. With his photo camera, it was the only piece of electronic equipment still functioning. Eugene allowed Erich to use his computer, for one dollar per hour. Erich checked his bank account first, and found everything in proper order. He sent three pictures of his canoe to Luis and several pictures to Richards and Glenn, along with his new postal address at the Fisherman's Bar. He also texted his address to Jim. He went to The Fisherman's Bar and allowed himself a drink, chatting a bit with patrons and the bar tender. He sensed they all had a very clear perception of him already, from everything they've heard. They made some jokes about his old shotgun and its rainbow sling, to test the limit to where he allowed jokes to be pushed. Erich then replenished his cash reserve from the ATM and left for the last chore of the trip : the way to the glass container. He had brought with him the two jury-rigged buckets, full of broken glass. The water container was already overflowing, so he had to remove intact bottles from within to pour in the broken glass. Looking at all the intact bottles still around, he considered them as worthy, brand new containers He selected a type of orange juice bottles, the most common brand found at the container, as his standard container. He also sorted out sturdier whisky bottles and took all the minibar bottles and corks he could find. There was so many material he had to make three trips to the canoe to carry it all. People were looking at him with an uneasy feeling. He knew that look from his department, when he had started to downsize. His new status was now being the guy that looked into trash for valuables. He was okay with it, because his former status brought him five thousand dollars in ten years, half a grand a year, and had cost him a fortune to maintain. His canoe, laden with a gas bottle, supplies and a person's weight in glass, was heavy and harder to move. Then it started to rain, gently at first, then heavier. The canoe got even heavier, and Erich was afraid he couldn't move it anymore. He docked on an abandoned island and put most of the glass there. The canoe was still filling in with water, but Erich decided to push it to his place. He was glad to gather some sweetwater. At Trois-Chênes, Kathryn was awaiting him impatiently : she needed the new garbage liners to transfer the contents from the drums.
It kept raining all night. Erich and Kathryn didn't sleep, eager to store and use as much rainwater as they could. Using the newly bought gas bottle and gas tube, Kathryn boiled water and poured it into the bath tub, where it was used along with other rainwater to wash all glass bottles. Some more water was boiled, and the washed bottles dipped inside to be sterilized. They didn't have to be rinsed, as the warm water evaporated quickly afterwards. The procedure took three hours. Erich and Kathryn were in a sort of frantic activity, and Lizzie observed them, uncertain of what to think. Once the procedure was over, the remaining hot water was used to wash whatever clothes and textiles they could. The mild grey water was then used to scrub the trailer, as well as its disassembled table and cupboards that had been brought outside. In the middle of the night, all water drums had been filled with rainwater, as well as the canoe. Erich, still in a frantic activity, wanted to start digging a cistern. Kathryn calmed him down, and assembled the trailer's dismounted furniture in a square. She placed a garbage liner inside and filled it with rainwater. The rigid walls held the garbage bags in place while she made a knot to close the bag. They used the procedure to fill another liner when the rain trickled down. With the little remaining water, they had themselves a shower. Lizzie was soundly asleep inside their bed, so they had to bring her back to her mattress. They fell asleep rapidly, but had only a few hours sleep. As soon as the sun rose up, Lizzie woke up, brimming with energy. She played with the water bags and punctured them both, watching with delight as the water seeped out of it. She saw no harm in what she had done, but Erich thought she had to be raised properly. Lizzie could see Erich was angry, but she didn't understood why he wouldn't hit her. Instead, he explained to her what she was forbidden to do. She didn't understand anything. *** As soon as the early dawn allowed to see, Erich decided to leave for Jingeaux' hardware store. But he would stop at Joyeux-Tiburon first, for a matter he considered urgent. He wanted to get Lizzie baptised. Erich was himself a Catholic, but hadn't practiced in years. As the events around him became increasingly worrying and fast-paced, he had reverted to a sense of spirituality he hadn't experienced since his teenage years. He still kept a very cautious approach to organised religion. The Catholic Chapel was set in a large old wooden construction, that could have mistaken for another home if its name had not been written in enormous letters on its back wall. Erich had noticed it on the day he arrived at Joyeux-Tiburon. Erich had donned its better clothes and entered the church in a nervous mood. To his surprise, he signed himself with holy water, out of habit, after all these years. Two priests were inside : a man in his fifties with a comfortable figure, a very wrinkled skin, a huge nose and a greasy smile. The other priest was a very young man, in his early twenties, with a thin face, clear eyes and a
discretely severe outlook. An older woman was confessing to the older Priest with a gossipy tone, so Erich went to the young priest. As soon as he had introduced himself, Erich understood he was already known, in all aspects. The young priest, Father Jacques, readily accepted to baptize Lizzie, and so Erich considered the matter settled. But Father Jacques suddenly lead the conversation towards Erich, and asked him when was the last time he had confessed. Erich knew where it was leading to. Erich : « I haven't confessed over the last fifteen years. But now it's a bit difficult for me to confess. » Father Jacques knew exactly what it was all about. He had the posture of an administrative clerk that couldn't issue a required document until the proper form had been filled. Father Jacques : « I understand. In my seminary, I have been told of people who thought they had committed a mortal sin, but in certain cases had no other choice. In these cases... » Erich interrupted him : « I'm certain theses cases all had their intricacies. » Father Jacques : « Certainly. I take it you have thought about these things you don't want to confess yet. » Erich : « Oh yes I did, and I keep doing it. At one time, I can't tell when, I will confess. » Father Jacques accepted the answer and rose up as the other priest, Father Robert, approached. Something in his face reminded Erich of the look the barman at the Fisherman's Bar gave him as a new, permanent patron to the place. Father Robert : « It is so nice to see new faces coming to this place. Be welcomed, you and your family. » Erich thanked him. Father Jacques told him about Lizzie's baptism. Father Robert was visibly very pleased. He would arrange this for the coming Sunday afternoon. Father Robert : « You'd be most welcome for the Sunday mass. It's good for people to see that someone is ready to paddle for five hours just to have been part of it. » Erich didn't know if it was a joke or a request. Given Father Robert's large, warm smile, it must have been a request so bold it looked like a joke. Erich didn't want to commit himself, and said he would come as regularly as he could. When Erich left the chapel, he said to himself : « One of them thinks he's working for God, and the other one knows he's working for an Italian organisation. » *** It took him seven hours to get to Jingeaux ; he swore he would use the outboard motor next time . He parked his canoe in a small tourist lodge that had excess docking capacity. The owners didn't mind, as it made the place look busy. At Jingeaux's Hardware Store, Erich bought two 5-gallons plastic canisters to carry tap water, but kept them empty because of the added weight of the other purchases. The main project was going to be the water heater. For this, he bought a small soldering torch with a replacement cartridge, tin wire, 10 five-feet type L 1⁄2 inch copper tubes, 30 copper brackets and 15 elbow fittings, 100 wood screws and a small tube cutting tool. He also bought a small can of matte black paint and two discounted cans of paint, one in light blue
and the other in taupe, along with one gallon of paint thinner, three brushes, hundred feet of small electrical wire for 12V direct current, some good twine and a tiny FM radio for AA batteries, which had a loudspeaker and a set of ear buds. Everything fitted in his Bergen backpack and rain jacket pockets except for the two canisters, which had been dangling in front on him, joined by a piece of twine around Erich's neck, and the ten tubes held together by twine and carried by hand. He left Jingeaux at seven o'clock in the evening. His plan was to paddle down all the way to Joyeux-Tiburon, using the light provided by the houses neighbouring the canal. If he became too tired, he would tie his canoe at some pier and resume his trip with the first daylight. A motorboat was about to drive past him. Instead, it slowed down. The pilot asked : « What are you doing here ? » Erich answered : « I'm going to Joyeux-Tiburon. » The pilot : « Haven't you heard about the tropical storm ? » Erich froze in terror. He immediately thought about Kathryn and Lizzie. The pilot went on : « It's due to make landfall at ten. You'd better get yourself in safety. » Erich : « Can you tow me to Joyeux-Tiburon ? » The pilot agreed. One hour later, the sky was already very dark, and it rained continuously. Erich asked the pilot if he would mind towing him to the end of the bay : it would be the matter of minutes for him, half an hour gained for Erich. The pilot : « Are you crazy ? You don't want to be out there when it hits ! » Erich : « Two people there need what I've got here in the canoe. I can make it there 'til ten. » The pilot : « You don't understand. You will need twice that time. The wind, the current, the tide, it will all play against you. » Erich : « I have to try it. » The pilot : « Nonsense. I'm going to tow you to your place. » As they approached Trois-Chênes twenty-five minutes later, Erich saw the blinking light of Kathryn's LED head lamp, which had been suspended on a high branch of the dead oak. Kathryn ran with her backpack towards the shore. She helped Erich to pull the canoe, then walked to the pilot. She took the unopened bottle of Four Roses bourbon out of her backpack and gave it to him. The pilot happily accepted the gift and told her : « That man really loves you, Ma'am. He'd defy a storm to get to you. You take good care of him now. » *** The motorboat dashed away, as the wind howled menacingly. Kathryn had placed Lizzie inside the trailer along with mattresses and their most prized possessions. The girl was terrified. Erich and Kathryn brought the canoe under the house and turned it upside down, covering the newly bought copper tubes with it. The tubes themselves had been placed on plastic bottles of mineral water, to avoid contact with the soggy ground. The canoe was fastened with rope to the houses' piles. Back at the trailer, the tarp had been brought down, and the tent had been collapsed on the ground, with the sun loungers on top, strapped with rope to improvised stakes. The windmill, the gas bottle
and the stove had been placed in the metal shed, along with the tools, the garden furniture, the trailer furniture and whatever couldn't be brought into the trailer. More rainwater had been collected and placed in garbage liners, that had also been brought to the metal shed. They had few possessions now, so the whole procedure had been quicker for Kathryn than she had expected. She even had the time to fix a grappling hook with a broom handle and some wire, with which she suspended her headlight as a beacon. She retrieved it the same way and hurried back to the trailer. While still outside, Kathryn explained Erich the real trouble had been to fix the trailer's door. The hinges had been ripped away, taking outer wall material with them. The best Kathryn could do in the short time was to use a hammer and a large nail to puncture holes into the upper part of the door and above the door opening. She suspended the door with bailing wire, so it could still be swung open from below. It was now extremely windy. There was noise and chaos everywhere around them. While Kathryn brought the Bergen backpack inside, Erich dared to venture at the edge of the Highlands, and look at their island. It was as if it was a loose boat in the middle of a furious ocean. Dark ominous waves crashed on its shores, bringing salt water deep inside. Witnessing that dramatic instant, he thought he had to build a levee sooner or later. The wind increased even more. Erich couldn't stay upright, and crawled back to the trailer. Its suspended door kept on banging in the mad wind. Erich asked Kathryn to get him the nail and hammer she used before. He made pairs of holes on the left, right and bottom of the door. He passed a loop of twine in each pair of holes, including the top holes, while Kathryn tied it together on the other end. Erich crawled inside and asked Kathryn and Lizzie to pull the strings. The door remained shut. Erich searched in his toolbox and took a screwdriver, then pulled the pack of wood screws out of his Bergen. He installed screws close to the door, close to the holes in the door, and fastened each thread with great strength. The door held. Kathryn said : « I'm so happy I've found myself a nerdy guy » and laughed, then placed her arms around him and kissed him. Lizzie also wanted to hold him, or rather, to be held by him. Holding themselves in the small trailer, battered by the wind as if it would be blown away at any minute, they felt safer and stronger. Erich and Kathryn got out of their rain jackets, and changed clothes on the mattresses, under the weak bleak light of Kathryn's headlight. The trailer still reeked from its former state, but it had come down to a manageable yet still annoying level. In the back of the trailer, Erich saw something like a low table, formed by bottles. In the morning, Kathryn had washed and sterilized the bottles Erich had retrieved the day before from where he had left them. The rectangular orange bottles had been filled with staple food and sealed with plastic film. Kathryn had added wax to the grocery list, to seal some bottles airtight. All spices had been poured in minibar bottles. For those lacking their caps, plastic corks had been cut to the proper diameter and used instead. The former improvised plastic bags had been repurposed into name tags, held by a small string to the bottle's neck. Erich searched in the plastic bag where he had placed the objects he had saved from the car before it was taken away. He pulled out the small scented candle they had been using when they ate in the
front of the supermarket. Erich improvised a tablecloth with a white plastic bag, placed a mason jar upside down on it and finally the candle on top. When he lit it, its light became a beacon in the bleak darkness. Inspired by the sight, Erich searched for bailing wire. Only a short length of it remained. Using pliers, he cut it in two and, using white thread from Kathryn's sewing kit, tied the bits into a tiny cross. He chose the small bottle of red peppers, for its deep red colour and its cork top, and stuck the cross on top. He placed it next to the candle. Kathryn was worried about Erich becoming some kind of Jesus freak, but instead he appeared measured and confident. Lizzie asked : « What is it ? I've already seen this. It's everywhere. » Erich : « It's the sign of Jesus Christ. » Lizzie : « What's it good for ? » Erich : « If we keep being good people, God will protect us. » Lizzie : « Also from the storm ? » Erich : « Especially from the storm. » Lizzie thought about it a while. Then she asked : « And if we're not good ? He's still protecting us ? » Erich looked at her with a desperate look. Kathryn looked at him, and he crossed her look. Erich : « It's all in God's hands. God decides. » *** When the candle started to flicker, Erich blew it off. They huddled themselves tight on the mattresses, Lizzie in between. The storm pounded on them like a mad, gigantic creature whose sole purpose was to enter the trailer. When the trailer shook at its wildest, Erich asked Kathryn in a calm, almost joking tone : « So, you're still OK for this whole island thing with me ? » Kathryn : « It's all right. I've seen worse. » Erich : « You've seen worse weather ? » Kathryn : « I've seen worse people. » Strong winds and rain continued all the following day. In the middle of the night, Kathryn had improvised a toilet with a bucket and a liner, and an empty orange bottle for the urine. They went outside for several short moments ; the air was moist and cold, but had a pure, fresh feeling to it. They were very tired but also hungry. Erich fired up his jury-rigged stove and boiled water for some rice and tea. Some other groceries he had bought, such as dried fruits, made a solid boost to their morale. Lizzie felt caged in and became as restless as she was tired. She took short naps, never long enough for Erich nor Kathryn to have a real nap by themselves. Had it not been for the radio, the mood would have turned problematic. Lizzie enjoyed the radio much more than the TV she had been watching at the hospital. Kathryn showed her how to dance on some tunes, and Erich forced himself to dance as well, all crammed into a small spot of the narrow trailer. Finally Lizzie laughed again and the tension dissipated. When the evening fell, the bulk of the storm had passed. The air was still damp but the sky was clearing. Erich and Kathryn erected the tarp and the tent back again into position, retrieved the furniture and installed the gas stove. It was important to get back to precious normalcy.
Chapter 20 July, Thursday the 19th. Early afternoon. The mood on this day was execrable. On the day before, Erich and Kathryn had tackled too many diverse tasks, in disorder. Erich thought he could dig a cistern hole in the mild morning hours, then proceeded to assemble the water-heating circuit. But the day became scorching hot quite rapidly, and thus Erich had to retreat under the tarp. It grew too hot under it to comfortably solder the tubes with tin. Kathryn wanted to gather metal sheets to fence a veggie patch, but got mired in a vast variety of shapes and quickly grew unsatisfied with the ragged look of it. As a minor compensation, she found a large can of drainage motor oil, in which many long bits of bailing wire as well as assorted screws and nails have been kept from corrosion. Lizzie was getting bored and nervous. The night brought no relief, as it was too hot to sleep. Erich progressed on the water heater as best as he could. In the late night, the temperature had dropped down to acceptable levels, but Lizzie had taken her diapers off and peed right in the middle of the adult's bed. She fled as they became angry. Kathryn and Erich wanted to heat water in order to wash the mattresses, just as the gas bottle ran empty. Kathryn started to cry, believing her father could never survive in this place. A few hours later, Lizzie appeared again, as if nothing had happened, and wanted to eat. Erich chased after her to give her a good spanking, but she dashed away like a gazelle. Erich resumed his work on the water heater. In the night before, he had assembled all U-shaped elements, that didn't require to be aligned. Now came the more delicate phase of assembling them. He had assembled one-third of it when Lizzie came, stole the soldering torch and ran away. Erich searched for the torch while Kathryn chased Lizzie. Both endeavours failed. In the insufferable heat, Kathryn fell in Erich's arms and cried. Lizzie observed from a distance, with an inquiring smile. They decided to punish Lizzie by not preparing any lunch. They also punished themselves in the process. Their priority had become to protect the rest of their belongings from Lizzie. *** Erich was switching the trailer's door hinges to the other side when a motorboat could be heard in a distance. It was Benjamin, in his large, flat skiff. Erich and Kathryn were happy to see a new face after all these days spent in isolation. Even Lizzie could be seen in a distance. Benjamin had finished his shift and drove by to check things out. Erich and Kathryn told him about their recent mishaps. Benjamin : « You guys have to understand the girl is bored. She's not used to this kind of life.
You've got to offer her some adventure. » Erich : « But what kind of adventure can we possibly offer her ? » Benjamin spread his arms and turned around, contemplating the surroundings. Benjamin : « You're in in the Louisiana Bayou ! People from the cities pay good money to spend some days here. I don't know, go and try to hunt some birds. Go fishing, somewhere you've never been. » Kathryn : « That sounds just about right for what I need now. I'll do this. » Kathryn went to say it to Lizzie, or rather, to shout it in her direction. Lizzie was still hesitating to approach the adults. Kathryn convinced her of bringing the torch back to be pardoned. A quarter of hour later, Kathryn and Lizzie left with the canoe and the shotgun, to explore the side of the bayou opposite from their location to Joyeux-Tiburon. Erich was left with the rifle and five remaining bullets. He realised he would have to reload ammunition at some point, as well as the other millions things, big and small, he still had to do. Erich and Benjamin toured the property. Benjamin showed great interest in Erich's practical solutions, and also offered many advice along the way. Benjamin made Erich realise his guns were his highest valuable possession now, and then a full gas bottle was next valuable possession. The rest has only use value. In the scorching heat, Erich realised heating was, paradoxically, his highest current expense. The water heater would take a large part of that burden, and the improvised stove some more. But firewood was scarce now, unless he started to dismantle the remains of the house entirely, and cash was running increasingly scarce as well. Benjamin had planned to drive to Houma in the coming days. He offered to take some broken pallet wood from a pallet refurbisher there, if Erich gave him the cash for them and the gasoline in advance. This light a spark in Erich's eyes. New possibilities emerged. Erich asked him to retrieve as many intact pallet parts as possible : he could use it as building material. After some reflexion, Erich also asked Benjamin to find him any kind of car air conditioning system that could be had at the scrapyard, along with a battery. Benjamin offered him to find a marine battery instead of an car battery, because of the increased capacity and durability. Finally, Benjamin vowed to find Erich some old fishing equipment people wouldn't need anymore. They made a agreement and, to celebrate, finished Erich's ouzo bottle. Two bottles of unknown brandy and a bottle of eastern European bitter was all there was left from Erich's bar now. As Erich watched Benjamin drive away, he was glad to have found a local person to provide some help. He promptly returned to the water heating project. As the day lingered on, Erich had to admit he disliked that kind of hands-on work. As much as he liked solving problems and imagining solutions, he usually wasn't the one implementing the concrete aspects. Now he had to. Maybe he wouldn't like it, but he could grow accustomed to it. In the evening, Kathryn and Lizzie returned with one dead duck and no ammunition left. The last cartridge had killed a bird, finally. Lizzie wasn't anxious anymore, and Kathryn smiled, proud of her achievement.
While Kathryn and Lizzie plucked the duck, Erich decided to destroy another wall of the old house. Its wood was even more brittle than the opposite wall, and would give off practically no heat, but its large quantity would be enough to cook the duck. While the duck cooked, Erich painted a first layer of black paint on the finished water heater. In the following night and the nights to follow, Lizzie was to sleep in her own bed. In the next morning, they would have to wash the two mattresses. Erich realised he had forgotten to buy a metal funnel to pour water into the heater. He tried to improvise one with a piece of metal sheet, when Kathryn made him stop. She took a large empty soup can and dented its bottom outwards with a metal rod. Now all Erich had to do was to drill a hole. Erich complimented Kathryn's simple and ingenious solution, and installed it as a final touch. But already, his over-engineering drive had found another object of attention : he would assemble his own boat. Kathryn poured some rainwater into the heater, and everybody was surprised at the very high temperature it had reached while circulating through it. Kathryn thought she would had to run the water two or three times inside it to get it as a warm temperature, but it was already boiling hot. The mattresses had not been washed in a decade or more. It took about half their rainwater reserve to wash them, but upon seeing the deep grey water, they deemed it was a necessity. The well-named grey waters were kept in liners, to serve as irrigation water. The water heater appeared as a sort of magical object. Kathryn was in the process of doing another series of washing when Erich reminded her they had little rainwater left. They couldn't heat water when it rained, and inversely. They would also have to dig some other cisterns to hold the grey water. As soon as one solution emerged, it carried other problems with it. Erich understood it was the bane of technology. *** On Saturday, Kathryn wanted to put the first layer of paint into the trailer : the taupe colour would be applied on the places the eye wouldn't see, like the insides of cupboards, on the sleeping place and under the table. The light blue would cover anything else. Erich left for Joyeux-Tiburon with the remainder of the broken glass, as well as two bags of trash. He had come to consider lining bags as a common resource, increasingly too precious for its intended purpose. The glass container had been emptied, and thus it was impossible for Erich to glean intact bottles from it. He found some empty plastic bottles and took them to his canoe : they could become flotation devices for his new project. Once the groceries and the tap water had been bought, he waited for Benjamin at the Fisherman's Bar, where some mail had arrived for him. Kathryn was eligible for assistance programs, that would provide them with food stamps. The unemployment insurance made problems as his new registration in Louisiana had not been transmitted to Illinois. He would also have to meet a counselor once a month and prove he was looking for a job.
Erich had not planned this aspect as well as he should have, simply because he wasn't ready to face reality when he was still in his office building. Now that he was washing on rainwater and facing tropical storms, he looked at the problem from a different point of view : how to be dressed up as best as possible to make a good impression on a lowly clerk ? When Benjamin arrived, Erich offered him a drink and asked him if he wanted to become Lizzie's godfather tomorrow. After some hesitation, Benjamin agreed. Over his glass, he asked : « Are we like family now ? » Erich : « More than not, I think. Again, thank you very much for your help, back then. » Benjamin : « No sweat. I just had to do it. » Erich : « But how come everybody knew about it by the next day ? » Benjamin : « Ron made too good a deal. He had to brag about it everywhere. » Erich : « I see ; and because there was a guy there who met Black Pat on her territory and was still alive, they figured it out. » Benjamin : « I was also on the island with him, and all of a sudden I'm collecting leftover stuff from neighbours and friends for you, so it was kind of a confirmation. But don't worry about owing anything because of this stuff. » Erich : « Really ? » Benjamin : « People around here don't have too many possessions, and were so very tired to have their car windows replaced after Black Pat broke them to check for valuables. So, yeah, people are glad this problem's over. And you took the right decision with that church thing of yours. » Erich : « How so ? » Benjamin : « Some people are a bit over-religious, and they do mind your sex stunt on the beach. » Erich was flabbergasted : « You mean they don't mind me... er... getting rid of their problem in a violent manner, but they mind if my girlfriend and I screw around our own property ? » Benjamin : « Some people here are like that, especially the women. But it's okay now, with Lizzie's baptism and all that. I'll gladly be Lizzie's godfather. We need people like you around. » Erich : « I'm afraid I don't have a lot to offer. » Benjamin : « You've come from a world that most of us don't know anything about. And now you're like us. You probably don't realise what it means to us. But there's also something else : you're changing things in a good way. » Erich : « Well, I've not done that much of a job, you know... » Benjamin : « You took a problem away. Now you're cleaning the island up, you're trying your goofy stuff like the water heater. People see it as a welcome change. Many people around are losing hope, you know. That two people who could have it better decided to live here is a good sign. » Erich and Benjamin drank to that. Later, as the evening fell and the temperatures dropped, they transferred the pallets on Benjamin's skiff and the AC unit, the battery, as well as very old fishing equipment on Erich's canoe. Benjamin towed Erich to the Trois-Chênes, then helped for the unloading and stayed for dinner. Lizzie and Benjamin were introduced ; he tried to make Lizzie understand the significance of the ceremony, but to no avail. As Erich and Kathryn did, he ended up explaining it was going to be a special day just for her, and that from now on God will look upon her. On the following day, the baptism ceremony itself went over quite rapidly. The church was barely cooler than the oven-like temperatures that reigned outside, and about ten people attended the ceremony apart from Erich, Lizzie, Benjamin and father Robert. Lizzie was very curious but also restless.
When they took her for a nice meal at the Fisherman's Bar, Benjamin informed Erich that the ten people who assisted the ceremony represented the main groups of Joyeux-Tiburon. There were present as token of presence as well as an equivalent of journalists. Three of them were actually protestants, among which a member of an small fringe radical movement called « Our Savior's Soldiers ». Benjamin : « From now on, you're going to be intertwined with the rest of the people in the area. You're not strangers anymore ». *** On Monday morning, Erich finished sorting out the pallet wood. It was costing him less than a gas bottle, although it wasn't as flexible as a heating method. He had left the best parts as construction material for his new boat. He was still in the project's specification phase, and narrowed it down to a kind of pontoon boat, to carry construction materials for the new house, all the way down from Jingeaux. The problem was in the floating material. Erich first toyed around with the idea of binding plastic bottles together in bundles. But the sheer volume required meant they would have to accumulated a very large quantity of it. Plastic drums were better suited for the purpose, but they were too expensive in the current state of his finances. He would have to do with the very few things he had on hand. Erich decided he wouldn't build floaters or hulls out of wood ; it was beyond his technical capabilities. His mind still running wild with ideas, he assisted Kathryn in setting up their very first veggie patch, consisting in potatoes, sprouted onions as well as beans and wheat. Its main purpose was to start the learning curve somewhere, and accumulate experience. Kathryn would also try to use seeds from the vegetables he just bought, such as tomatoes, bell pepper and pepperoni. The patch was surrounded with stakes made out of palette wood, bound together with twine. It would have to do until a better solution appeared. As Kathryn poured some grey water on the dry ground, Erich had an idea : the garbage bag was again going to prove useful. Filled with compressed air, they would hold a large volume. But they were fragile, and thus would easily be cut or punctured by various objects, especially branches, so they required an outer shell. Erich contemplated to use the plastic bottles for that purpose, but again, a quick calculation proved he would need a large quantity of them nonetheless. Besides, the shape of the outer shell would be hindering the flow. Erich had to get other chores done. Lizzie was eating up a lot of their time, since she wouldn't really contribute to the general effort. When he came back to the issue, he had a fresh view on the problem : the volume of air would be provided only by the garbage liners : the plastic bottles would be cut in three, lengthwise, to form tiles or more specifically, fish scales.
The workload would be manageable. Preparing the scales was a light task that he could do in the evening, after a day's work. The construction of the platform would use mainly palette material, with beams from the old house as structural support for the first trip. Most wood was cut, and thus it only had to be assembled. He would have to find a way to pressurize the garbage liners. He would start to work on the project as early as this very evening. In the mean time, he had to install the AC unit to the trailer. It would be kept in perpetual darkness and surrounded by glass bottles filled with water, for maximal thermal inertia. By the middle of the afternoon, the AC was installed and jacked up to the marine battery. Kathryn and Lizzie were delighted to witness the first bouts of fresh air streaming into the trailer. Erich switched it off quickly afterwards, in order to spare the battery. On the next day, he would have to install the wind turbine. Kathryn decided they could invite Glenn over for the end of the month. In the end of the afternoon, Erich used the remaining light to prepare the dismantlement of the old house's roof. He would continue the next morning, to use the air's freshness, and travel to JoyeuxTiburon during the day. Every trip to Joyeux-Tiburon cost one of them a full day, so Erich considered the morning of such days could be devoted to small tasks of secondary projects, such as the pontoon boat. *** On the next morning, the old house's roof had been stripped of his metal sheets and everything else except the four main beams that remained. When it became too hot to work, Erich climbed down the rope ladder he had fabricated from fragments of palette wood on Sunday evening. He prepared the canoe, parked under the house's platform, and inspected the unlabeled containers he had dragged there, except a one-barrel large white container with an unknown chemical liquid inside. The closer this place became to a home, the more details appeared. He left for Joyeux-Tiburon under an unforgiving sun. He arrived, practically exhausted, at the Fisherman's Bar, and had to rest for half an hour before he could call Glenn. Glenn : « Good God, I've been waiting for your call for so long ! So, can I come to your place now ? » Erich : « Sure, now we've got a place for you, it even has conditioned air ! » Glenn : « Very good ! Listen, I take it Kathryn is not around you now ? » Erich : « She's on the island. Why ? » Glenn : « I've seen the doctor yesterday. » Erich had a sense of apprehension : « Yes, and what did he tell you ? » Glenn : « Erich, promise me you won't tell my daughter. Not now and not ever. » Erich took in a deep breath : « I promise, Glenn. » Glenn : « I have about four months left to live. » Although he was expecting this kind of news, Erich was shocked : « Are you serious ? » Glenn : « Dead serious, if you pass me the expression. So it's vital I get to you as soon as possible. » Erich : « Understood. When can you arrive ? » Glenn : « I checked : I can make it at minimal cost, but still in First Class, for Monday the 30th. This also saves me another month of fees for the retirement home. » Erich : « That's good, but why do you want to keep the cost minimal ? It's not that we're going to
use those miles anytime soon, you know. » Glenn : « It's because Jim asks you if he can use the rest of it for his own flight. » Erich had another emotional blow : « He what ? » Glenn : « Long story short : he's leaving the Edge Of Space, and will be looking for some place to live in Joyeux-Tiburon. Like he keeps saying, he's sixty-two years old and owns sixty-two thousand dollars. » Erich : « What happened ? Why does he want to move to Joyeux-Tiburon now ? » Glenn : « He'll tell you. Let's say a lot of things recently have changed his outlook on life. I'm younger than him, and I'm dying, you know. Besides, he has no family on his own, and he has left everything he owned to Fred and Helen. He said he would try to help you now. » Erich : « I don't have that much room on my place, you know. » Glenn : « He'll find his own place, don't worry. Perhaps he can taxi you when he'll get a boat or something. » Erich : « All right. When does he want to come over ? » Glenn : « We're going to take the same flight. It's much better. The retirement home wanted to charge me extra for taking me to the airport. At New Orleans, we'll take a cab to your place. All you'll have to do is to pick us up on the pier, around 1 AM on Tuesday. » Erich agreed and repeated his promise to keep the grave news to himself. *** Erich waited for the afternoon to end before paddling back home. Along with tap water, he brought some sunflower seeds from the store, and tried to focus on cultivating some. There were a lot of possibilities offered by the oil, and the crushed seeds could feed chicken. But he couldn't keep his mind off from Glenn's tragic news. He dreaded the moment when he would meet Kathryn again. She would guess something, inevitably, and because he vowed to keep silent, her worries would escalate. Perhaps even her trust in him would be eroded. Erich was less than ten minutes from home, the sun slowly falling on the horizon, when a motorboat rushed in from a distance. Erich turned his head around and saw Benjamin's boat. As it came closer, he noticed Benjamin had a look of worry he had never seen on him before. Benjamin decreased his speed and arrived close to the canoe : « Erich, there's something of an emergency right now. We need you. » Erich was somewhat unnerved by the accumulation of sudden news : « What it is now ? » Benjamin : « The police sergeant Collins, he wants to see you. He's sitting on an island twenty minutes from here, so nobody watches both of you together. » Erich was as intrigued as he was intensely griped by fear. Could he be jailed for manslaughter ? But then, why the ceremonial ? Was it going to be some kind of blackmail ? Erich hesitated but finally accepted to be towed to the place. The island was overgrown with high grass. From any side, nobody could guess someone was waiting inside of it. Erich brought his canoe on the island as Benjamin drove away. The sun was about to set, colouring everything in red tones. A deep voice called : « Over here » Erich followed the voice and met a black man in his forties, dressed in casual wear. Sgt. Collins : « I'm Sergeant Collins, from Terrebonne parish, Joyeux-Tiburon troop. » Erich introduced himself and asked what it was all about. Sgt. Collins : « I need a man of confidence for tonight and tomorrow morning. »
Erich : « Why were you thinking of me ? » Collins : « You dealt with Black Pat on her own turf, and you don't know anybody here yet. You're the ideal man for me. » Erich : « About that Black Pat thing, I - » Sgt. Collins interrupted him : « I'm not here to arrest you or entrap you. I'm here because I need you, and you're a person I think I can trust. » Erich : « What is it all about, then ? » Sgt. Collins : « If I tell you, it automatically means you're accepting. So before I do, I'll tell you what's in it for you : a fisherman discovered Black Pat's raft on the ocean after the storm. We can have her declared dead without much of a fuss. And it's better that way, because then the Lieutenant wouldn't have anything against you. » Erich : « Why would he ? » Sgt. Collins : « He likes to have a leverage on people. But now it's getting ugly out there, and he might very well be after you for no other reason than some Jesus freaks hate you. » Erich was shocked : « What ? » Sgt. Collins : « Some guys don't like you because you're new, and some others because you sinned by fornication and didn't get punished by God. » Erich : « What's the police lieutenant got to do with all this? » Sgt. Collins replied flatly : « Small town politics. In our troubled times. Let's say this : if you watch my back tomorrow, I'll watch yours. I'll owe you one. » Erich suddenly fell a chill running down his spine. It wasn't just the freshness of the evening. Sgt. Collins resumed : « I take it you're accepting the job, aren't you ? » Erich felt trapped : « I'll try. » Sgt Collins resumed : « Tomorrow, at dawn, I'll be with Corporal Timmons, and we're going to check out a cabin in the bayou, at Green Spike. A small meth lab is supposed to be there. But it's going to be a trap. » Erich : « How so ? » Sgt Collins : « The lieutenant said Avery tipped the place off. But it's bullshit. » Erich : « Who's Avery ? » Sgt Collins : « Avery is a chemist that used to cook meth. But Avery doesn't tip off the competitors, because he's a damn bright guy. » Erich : « How do you know ? » Sgt. Collins : « He's my age. He saved my bacon when we were fifteen. We've lived in the same town for decades now and I still owe him one. So yeah, I know who Avery is. » Erich felt trapped : « What guarantee do I have you're not setting me up to kill or frame me ? » Sgt. Collins : « There are no guarantees. In that kind of situation, it's not really possible. Besides, I don't have any money left to speak of. I'm sorry. » Erich : « So, what do I have to do ? » Sgt. Collins handed him a large handheld radio : « Be there tonight already. Scout the place. If there's anybody there, remain silent. If the place is clear, call on this frequency at 6 AM and just say : I just saw a marlin. » Erich's breath was blocked by fear. Sgt. Collins : « You're all right ? » Erich : « No. No I'm not all right. But if I do it, you'll have to find me a job. » Sgt. Collins looked at him in understanding : « That's a very difficult thing to ask around here these days. But Benjamin told me you're having trouble with your unemployment security, right ? » Erich : « Correct. » Sgt. Collins : « So hear this : you'll get what you need to receive that money for two years. Employers will testify in your favor, red tape will be eliminated. » Erich : « I can go for that. »
Sgt. Collins sighted heavily : « You don't know how good it is for me to hear that. » Sgt. Collins gave Erich the directions to the place and left shortly afterwards on a small fishing skiff. Erich lost himself in the dark and paddled for two hours until he reached home. Kathryn ran to him, worried. He couldn't reassure her in any way : his face was telling. He didn't tell her neither about Glenn or about Collins. Instead, he rummaged in his papers and took out his diploma. On the back of it, he wrote a last will to her complete benefit. She was all he had. Kathryn was deeply moved by his gesture, but also panicked because it meant the very real possibility of him dying soon. Lizzie looked at them, unable to guess what was happening. He prepared his canoe for the trip : he would take his brown, very worn blanket, the machete, the rifle with the five rounds in the magazine, the headlight, the handheld radio and four bottles of water. When Erich was about to leave, he asked Lizzie about Green Spike. She became radiant and yelled : « I know where it is ! Been there with Ma a lot o'times. I'm coming with ya ! » Erich and Kathryn exchanged looks. Kathryn knew that whatever the situation, it would be a dangerous one. Lizzie would be an asset to Erich's survival. She nodded. Erich accepted, and took tow other bottles of water. At midnight, they paddled away. Kathryn was now stranded on the island, with no means of reaching Joyeux-Tiburon on her own.