The blinds were half-down in the study, the room in semi-darkness.
Must have been more of Paolo’s doing, because Honeyman never worked that way. A rambling fig tree draped its pendulous branches and fleshy leaves over the windows. That was normally enough against the bright lagoon light, and free fruit if he was lucky.
Honeyman drew back the shades. Rays of evening sun streamed in, yellow and green like the fading drought-stricken foliage through which it fell. There was an aroma from somewhere. A perfume. Maybe a flower he didn’t know existed outside the window. Though it reminded him of home life too, of family and a house shared with women.
Then he popped the computer on the desk and listened to the familiar boot-up chime as the laptop came to life. Within seconds, a sudden and quite unexpected sound startled him. The brisk sting that introduced the TV news in upstate New York had started automatically, and with it the station’s logo, both unwanted memories of a life he’d long left behind. A video began running across the whole of the screen. It was a clip he knew well, one that was probably somewhere among his reference material on the drive. Though why it should come alive like that…
When he saw the anxious newscaster, her hair, her dress, everything took him straight back to 2008.
‘This just breaking. We understand there’s a significant development in the case of the Mohawk Lake fire tragedy. Law enforcement officers have surrounded a trailer one mile from where the murders occurred. Our crime reporter Jim Preston, who’s been on the case since the start, is in the Seven News helicopter overhead now. Jim?’
There was the chop of helicopter blades and a powerful engine. Then a face Honeyman knew so well, Preston, the local TV guy who handled crime stories when they cropped up.
‘That’s right, Sue,’ the reporter announced over the racket. ‘After weeks of seeming mystery over the perpetrator of the terrible murders of a young teacher and her pupil, a horror that shocked the nation, it appears police may be chasing a significant breakthrough this morning. This follows the publication online of a story in the Prosper News-Ledger, claiming that Jorge Rodriguez, a local firefighter, is likely the prime suspect in the killings of Mia Buckingham and Scott Sorrell, the two who were burned to death in a school cabin outside the town a month ago. According to the report, Rodriguez may have been involved in some kind of relationship with the dead woman, and there’s photographic material in his possession to tie him to the crime.’
The picture switched to Sue in the studio making a face that said: You got to be kidding me.
‘And you’re telling us this is the first the cops have heard of the guy?’
‘So it seems. Right now we’re flying over Rodriguez’s trailer close to Mohawk Lake. Like I said, one mile from where the teacher and Scott Sorrell were burned to death. You’ve got our live feed on the screen. As you can see eight, no, nine squad cars are taking up position and—’
‘Wait, Jim. You’re saying this case got broken by a small-town newspaper? Not by the local police department?’
‘The police have been sidelined on this case pretty much since it turned big, Sue. Word is that the town’s police chief, Fred Miller, could face disciplinary proceedings before long.’
‘I’ve got to ask this again, Jim. The paper cracked this case open?’
‘The reporter, Tom Honeyman, named the guy—’
‘That doesn’t seem right.’
‘To be honest with you, Sue… nothing much has seemed right about this story right from the get-go.’
‘You think Chief Miller could lose his job over this?’
‘Not really uppermost in anyone’s thoughts at the moment. But in due time… Christ—!’ A panicky Preston yelped into the mike as the helicopter engine rose into a roar.
‘You’re over the scene. Talk to us, Jim.’
‘We’re having to move fast from here. OK, OK. The guy’s coming out of the trailer. Oh my god. There’s shooting… We’re getting… There’s… there’s gunfire. I don’t think—’
Honeyman killed the clip with a shaking finger, still unable to figure out why it had popped up like that when he turned on the computer.
Sweating now—and it wasn’t just the close and humid heat—he glanced at the status bar. The laptop’s Wi-Fi was on. He was connected to some kind of network, not that there should have been such a thing out here. When he pulled up a browser it came back with nothing. This was all local, as if there was a router somewhere on the island and he was hooked up to it.
The webcam was staring straight at his face, and the light above it was blinking. Maybe whoever it was could see him, hear him… Maybe they’d been watching him all along.
Fingers shaking, he clicked on the dropdown to turn off the connection. All he got was a warning: You have insufficient access privileges.
When he tried again, a deafening electronic laugh almost sent him screaming out of the room. For a moment he couldn’t begin to think what it was. Then it came again, and he zeroed in on the source. Second drawer down in the desk. There was a walkie-talkie there, the voice bellowing out from it.
Welcome to Maledetto, Tommy boy. You and me need to talk. And don’t even think of turning the computer off. How the hell are you gonna work then? How are you gonna fix this shit you’re in?
The TV clip started playing again, and Honeyman hadn’t even touched the laptop. He slammed his fingers on the keyboard, trying to stop it.
Hey, Tommy. That’s an expensive machine you’ve got there. Don’t hurt it.
Hands shaking, he picked up the handset, lurched to the window, pushed the blinds back all the way, peered outside. All he could see was wild green shrubs and lanky weeds. All he could hear was the buzz of insects and the distant squawks of lagoon birds. And the smell… stagnant water and fresh-cut vegetation.
There was no sign of the gardener.
‘How did you get into my computer?’
You’re a lazy man. You take shortcuts all the time. You did back then when you were writing that first book. Didn’t you?
‘This is my home. I don’t know how the hell you got here—’
We walk on water, Tommy. All dead people do. Maybe Saturday night we get to walk together ’cross all that shit and mud and flat lagoon, go meet your redeemer. You like that idea? I hope so. Your clock’s ticking, man. Running out by the minute.
Tom Honeyman was barely listening. He didn’t have much of a temper, but when it came the sudden, unwanted heat was hard to control.
‘I don’t know who the hell you are. This is my home. I want you off the island. Now!’
Come on! Is that any way to talk to a friend? I’m the only one you’ve got right now. Watching over you from this dump of a church on this dump of an island. Come all this way to help you find your mojo. You really think you could turn yourself into Hemingway by squandering your stupid money on this piece of rock? Christ. Cash don’t make class. One book don’t make a writer. Look out the window again…
Beyond the leafy green branches of the figs he could see the ragged stone wall of the ruined church at the very tip of Maledetto. As he watched, an arm waved briefly from what must once have been a parapet. It appeared then vanished so quickly he barely had time to register what he was seeing at all.
It was an invitation, though. One he wasn’t going to refuse. Honeyman went in the kitchen, found the sharpest knife he could and stomped outside.