The place Pidge had borrowed was a studio apartment on the eleventh floor of the Kaiulani Towers on Hobron Lane, about a hundred yards to the left off Ala Moana Boulevard on the way toward downtown Honolulu.
Riding in from the airport, I had found out why taxis cost so much in Hawaii. When you want to know something, ask. “What happens,” the driver said, “the companies bid for exclusive. Like the Ala Moana Shopping Center. I could drop you there, but I can’t pick up from there. You pay so much for exclusive, see; it’s got to be passed on to the customer. Your first time here?”
“No. But I’m no regular visitor.”
“Everything costs an ass and a half, sport, and it keeps going right on up.”
It does, indeed it does, sport.
Even though I had phoned from the airport, and had used the low-fidelity speaker system in the cramped foyer, Pidge Brindle didn’t undo the door until she had opened it a few inches, to the end of the safety chain. A round eye, a segment of wide smile, a squeak of pleasure. She slammed the door, and I heard the clinking and clicking of chains and bolts, and then she swung it wide and pulled me in, saving the obligatory embrace until she had done up the door once more. Then she stood tiptoe tall, reaching up to hug with strength and enthusiasm, saying, “I can’t believe it, Trav. I can’t, I really can’t believe you’re here, you came.”
“You called, didn’t you?”
“I know. Yes. But it is a long way to come.”
Five time zones is a long way. Here it wasn’t yet time for lunch, and back at Lauderdale, Bahia Mar was almost into the early dark of early December. I had me a case of jet lag. It turns your brain to putty and makes the edges of everything too bright and sharp.
But Pidge looked very good, very real, though far too pale. It had been a little more than a year since she and Howie Brindle, a few months married, had set off from Bahia Mar in the Trepid to take their sweet long time going around the world. There had been a few postcards. But there always are, when people leave. Marinas are transient places. They are big, elegant, outdoor waiting rooms.
Then the phone call, small and meek and scared. “Please? Please?”
And as Meyer had pointed out, though it was not at all necessary so to do, if I had to make a list of the people to whom I owed a Big One, it would have to include one dead man named Ted Lewellen, whose only child, Linda, had come to be named Pidge because when very young she had learned to imitate the throaty warble and coo of a city pigeon perfectly. Meyer didn’t have to remind me about Professor Ted because I had already said yes to that small faraway voice. I had told her to stay put and I would make it as soon as I could.
And so I phoned an airline, went through my checklist of things to do when leaving the old houseboat for an indefinite time, packed, and took off, leaving Meyer to keep an eye on the store and hang onto any mail which might come. Everything I needed went into a bag small enough to go under the seat. I carried extra funds. Her voice had overtones of the deep miseries. Most solutions are available in your local shopping center, at high prices. The call had caught me about one week into another segment of my retirement. I had made score enough for a half year of it this time, so I had ample cash in the hidey-hole in the bow of the Busted Flush. I stocked the wallet handsomely and put the larger reserve supply in a safe place.
I learned about the safe place long ago from a man who had to carry four complete sets of identity papers in his line of work. You get hold of one of the longer Ace bandages for people with trick knees. I have one anyway, the left one. You divide the money into two equal stacks, fold each in half, wrap each stack in pliofilm, slip one under the bandage above the knee in front, one above the knee in back. No risk of losing. Nothing uncomfortable. Just comfortable presence.
I bought my ticket amid the night people at the National counter at Miami. There are two ways to go--first and tourist. First is better. Everybody’s life style is jam-packed with as many small arbitrary annoyances as the industrial-governmental bureaucracy can cram into it. So when you buy first class you buy lower blood pressure, because when it comes right down to nit and grit, they call more decisions your way if you have an F after your flight number. And for a man who’s six four and a bit, with a 34-inch inseam, there is more sprawl room in F. I had a DC-10 to Los Angeles and found on arrival that, for reasons unknown, my connecting flight, originating in Chicago, had not yet left there. So I shopped the terminals in the first gray light of day and switched to Continental, to a 747, to the window seat in the rearward starboard corner of first class, leaving in an hour and a half. The bigger the bird, the more you feel like something being processed, and that feeling is enhanced if you sit forward in first on a long flight in the 747, because they will sure-God pull down the movie screen and then yank down the little slide that will cover your window. “But sir, it spoils the quality of the picture for the people watching the movie if your window lets any light in.” And what crass person would spoil the movie for a small crowd of first-class clutzes thirty-seven thousand feet in the air?
Airplanes are empty three weeks before Christmas. There is a little lull in there. I think we had seven jolly girls flouncing about, servicing fifteen customers. After the unreality at the terminal of being served pineapple Kool-Aid by a couple of yawning ladies in plastic grass skirts, and the further unreality of the Inspection Before Boarding--a ceremony that any certified maniac could outwit--I caught a single tilted vista of Los Angeles in morning light, and the altitude and the sweep of the light gave it a strange appearance of total emptiness, a grid pattern of pale broken structures and rubble, long abandoned, a place of small dry vines and basking serpents. Moments later I got a second rearward look from a higher place, and it was no longer city, but stale pizza sprinkled heavily with chopped nutmeats.
As soon as they had unstrapped, the hearty girls set about getting us bombed on Marys, then nailed our feet to boards and crammed us chock-full of airline food, depending on the dual stupor of booze and food to drop us off to sleep. For the sleepless, the stereo high fidelity of the sterilized, repackaged headsets with a choice of umpty channels, or the sterilized, repackaged motion picture, would keep them from bothering the stewardess crew with any demands for service.
Halfway along, a great big stewardess, a king-size pretty, came back and stopped and looked at me in a troubled way. I wasn’t eating, drinking, reading, listening to music, or watching the movie. I was sitting there with my eyes open. This was unthinkable! Would I like a drink? A magazine? A newspaper, maybe?
In a.d. 3174 the busy, jolly nosexicles on the planet Squanta III will sever our spinal cords, put us into our bright little eternity wombs, deftly attach the blood tube, feeding tube, waste tube and monitor circuitry, remove the eyelids quickly and painlessly, and, with little chirps of cheer, strokes and pats of friendship and farewell, they will lower the lid and seal it, leaving us surrounded by a bright dimensional vista of desert, a smell of heat and sage, a sound of the oncoming hoofs on full gallop as, to the sound of a calvary bugle, John Wayne comes riding, riding, riding . . .
“No, thanks,” I said. “I’m just thinking.”
Pursed lips. Vertical lines between the dark brows. “Thinking? Hey, I’ve got a friend who’s totally freaked on the contemplation thing, you know, how a person can do brain waves. I thought a person had to be all quiet and alone. I didn’t know you could do it on airplanes. Is that what you’re doing?”
“Yes. You can do it on big reliable airplanes.”
“We’re pretty steady this time on account of we’re taking sixteen tons of plywood to Hawaii on account of some kind of strike.”
“That would make it very steady.”
“If I set you back by talking to you, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to mess up anything. You just go . . . right ahead, huh?”
She went away happy. I wasn’t idle at all. I was no longer a symbol of stewardess failure. But her farewell at Honolulu International was full of that special warmth which meant she was glad to be rid of me. Meyer says that not only are the New People incapable of being alone and idle without cracking; they feel compelled to turn all loners into group animals like themselves.
Anyway, before seeing Pidge again, I had a chance to think about her. Swift, bright images of Pidge. Color stills starting ten years back when she’d been fifteen. That’s when she had appeared around Bahia Mar, the motherless daughter of Professor Ted Lewellen. Ted’s wife had died suddenly, and out of impulse born of grief and shock, he had taken a long leave of absence from the midwest university where he had taught for years. The cover story was that he was taking off to write a book.
I would hate to have to estimate how many genuine, authentic, priceless treasure maps have been offered to me. Sunken treasure along the Florida keys, off Bahama reefs, near Yucatan. I think there must be a printing plant in Tampa which turns them out on a production basis, shredding the edges and boiling them in tea.
Ted Lewellen had taken a sabbatical year a couple of years before his wife died and had spent that year in the old vaults and dead-storage rooms of the ancient libraries of Lisbon, Madrid, Cartagena and Barcelona. Because his colloquial Spanish and Portuguese were almost without flaw and his credentials as linguist, scholar, historian were perhaps more honored there than here, and because his project appealed to national pride and honor--being the tracing of the lesser-known voyages and forgotten heroes of the thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth centuries who had sailed from Western Europe--he was given full cooperation.
Long after he had decided he could trust me, he had told me about that year. Letters, ships’ logs, statements of account. Great masses of material never adequately researched. Stilted formal tales of gold and blood, piracy and disease, tempests and greed. So, along with his scholarly project, he had kept a personal account of treasure clues. He had called it the dream book. He and his wife had made jokes about it. Some day, baby, ahunting we will go.
The next year, during summer vacation, Ted and his wife had come to Florida, learned the rituals and precautions of scuba diving, visited the sites of a couple of the wrecks of the galleons which had sunk close to the Florida shore. He read the extravagant literature of the treasure hunters and, with a scholar’s discipline, extracted the helpful facts and discarded the gaudy myths. From every available source, he compiled a master list of known or suspected treasure sites, and then he went through his dream book and wrote off those he had found on other lists, knowing that either they had been cleaned out long ago or they had eluded long and diligent search.
I met them, father and daughter, when they had first come down and were looking for a boat. Each trying to turn it into fun for the other one. Both trying to respond. They had heard I was selling a boat for a friend. I drove them up the Waterway to Oscar’s Dock, where Matty Odell’s Whazzit was quietly, politely moldering away. I remember I wondered at the time if he was another treasure freak. But he didn’t have the gleam in the eye, or the elaborate and misleading explanations about why he wanted a sturdy old scow like the Whazzit. He did not make the usual buyer’s mistake of pretending to know a lot of things he didn’t know. I answered his questions. He was on a close budget. He had an expert go over it. Then he made Matty’s widow a first and final offer and she took it. I forgot about it until I was over at the gas dock one day about two months later and the Professor brought the scow in for fuel. It was now called Lumpy.
More than the name was changed; I could only guess at how many backbreaking hours he and his daughter had put into that tub. The Professor was leaned down to strings and sinew and sun-dried cordovan hide. He asked me aboard, showed me the big rebuilt generators, the air compressor. I noted the oversized Danforths and the hawser-type anchor line. It was still a slow, ugly old scow, but now it was a nice old scow.
I asked him why he’d equipped it the way he had, and he said he had an underwater research project lined up. I asked him where Pidge was, and he said she was in school and adjusting well. He said she never had trouble making friends. I watched him take the Lumpy on out, handling it smartly in wind and tide.
A few months later I learned by accident that Lewellen had sold the Lumpy to a scuba club down near Marathon. I decided he had gone broke and gone home. Then I learned that somebody had bought the Dutchess. She’d been on the block for a long time at Dinner Key. Out of my reach, financially. A fantastic custom motor sailer with a semitrawler hull and a beam you wouldn’t believe. She was about ten years old then. The hull had been made in Hong Kong. Mahogany and teak. The diesels and all the rest of the mechanical items had been installed in Amsterdam. Huge fuel capacity, desalinization, all navigational aids. She had been rigged with automatic winches and heavy-duty fittings so that one man could sail her alone.
The new owner was having a lot of work done on her. Then he brought her to Bahia Mar, to a big empty slip. I walked over when she came in and found Ted Lewellen and Pidge crewing the Trepid, as he had renamed her. You could take that thing anywhere in the world and stay as long as you wanted.
Excerpted from The Turquoise Lament by John D. MacDonald. Copyright © 2013 by John D. MacDonald. Excerpted by permission of Random House Trade Paperbacks, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.