The first time I saw Evelyn Broughton, she was in the ocean, drifting lazily in the water out beyond the breakers, letting the incoming waves carry her body on their crests. I remember that distinctly. At least I think I do.
But maybe not. Maybe it's just because I saw her that way so often. But the first time, the absolute first? I guess I really can't be sure. Maybe she was sitting on the sand; maybe she was walking the boardwalk at Carolina Beach. It was more than fifteen years ago, back in 1976.
All I can say for certain is that I sure as hell noticed her. Everybody noticed her. She'd walk by the harbor in Carolina Beach and men would fall in the water, turning their heads to look. So you can understand, maybe, the effect she had on me.
I was a rising senior in college then--I was in marine biology, spending my summer at the Marine Station at Fort Fisher, which is the undeveloped section of North Carolina's Cape Fear, just a few minutes' drive from the tourist towns of Carolina and Kure Beach. I spent my days--and many of my nights--with my sea turtles; but the weekends I reserved. I had no steady girlfriend, and when I came to the Cape I knew almost no one there. So the crowded boardwalk drew me like a magnet. Man--especially college student--does not live by sea turtle alone.
It was on one of these excursions that I first saw her. I'm sure I stared--I'd never seen anything like her. The olive skin, the thick black hair that hung well past her waist, the startling turquoise eyes that turned jade green in some lights--not to mention the body that was revealed by the miniature white string bikini-- hardly gave me a choice. But I lacked the confidence to approach her. She had, I was sure, some steady boyfriend--probably some guy who looked like a movie star. Even if she didn't, she was doubtlessly lionized by men, and I'd be just one more in a crowd. So I watched her, and I fantasized, and that was about all.
It didn't take long for me to notice that while the first part of my assumption wasn't correct, the second certainly was. She didn't seem to be attached to any one man, but a virtual retinue of them followed her around, vying for her attention. She was always pleasant to them, but she let them know she wasn't interested; thus the faces in her entourage were always changing. But throughout June, she was never without it.
On Saturday nights I found myself hanging around places I knew she frequented; she didn't often come into the bars along the boardwalk, but she'd stroll around the shops, occasionally playing the carnival games. Like everyone else, she usually lost. More than once, I saw a college student or a Marine on leave drop twenty dollars on one of these games to win her a two-dollar stuffed toy; she always smiled her dazzling smile and thanked him politely, refused a date, and went away clutching the toy as if it was a treasure. The man, though rejected, inevitably seemed to feel that her smile and attitude were reward enough, and he'd stand gazing wistfully after her. When she was out of his sight, she'd give the toy away to some child. I suppose she had to; if she kept them all, she'd have had to rent a truck to carry them home.
But then, one weekend--for reasons I didn't know at the time-- she disappeared from the boardwalk. The next was the same; I didn't see her at all, and I began to wonder if perhaps her vacation had ended, if maybe she'd gone home.
With Evelyn absent, Carolina Beach lost much of its appeal. In a way that was good; I was able to concentrate more on my studies. When I wasn't, I spent a good deal of time beachcombing. Which was what I was doing one hot July Saturday--idly searching for small sea life in a series of little tidal pools. Poking around at one end of a ridge in the sand, I was surprised when I came up with a lettered olive, quite alive. These pretty shells are common in Florida, but to find a live one--even a shell in good shape--on the coast here was unusual. I was looking at it when I heard a voice from behind me.
"What did you find?" the voice asked.
"Lettered olive," I said, not turning around. I was fantasizing about Evelyn again, and I sort of resented the intrusion.
"Pretty," said the voice, female and very musical. I still didn't turn. "Do you do a lot of shelling here?"
"No," I said. "Florida or the Caribbean is a lot better."
"Oh." Pause. "I like shells. I think they're really beautiful."
"Yeah," I said noncommitally, wishing the woman--whoever she was--would go away and leave me with my fantasies.
"I think I've seen you up on the boardwalk," she said. "But I haven't been there lately..."
"Neither have I." I put the olive back in the water, watched it burrow in. There was a long silence.
"You'll let it go?"
"Sure. It isn't worth collecting. No reason to kill it." I still didn't hear any movement. Not knowing what to expect, I turned.
It was Evelyn. Of course.
I was wearing ragged shorts, beat-up tennis shoes, and an old hat; I hadn't bathed, hadn't shaved. I looked at her, resplendent in a black knit bikini. Even though I had ached to meet her, I fervently wished I was somewhere else. Anywhere else.
"Ah--hi," I said lamely.
She laughed. "What's the matter?" she asked.
"Oh--uh--nothing--uh--" I was completely tongue-tied, had no idea what to say to her.
She sat down, put one leg up and rested her chin on her knee. "Are you embarrased about how you look or something?" she asked directly, her green eyes moving from one of mine to the other.
"Well," I replied, trying to be casual about it, "I'm really not dressed to impress, if you know what I mean!"
"You're also beachcombing, not at a disco," she pointed out. "And you probably didn't expect company. Do you mind?"
"Uh--no--no, not at all--"
"Good. I'm Evelyn Broughton," she said. "And you are--?"
"Jeremy Stevens," I told her. There was only a little catch in my voice. I was working at it.
"Glad to finally meet you, Jeremy Stevens. Like I said, I've seen you on the boardwalk. I kept thinking you were going to come up and introduce yourself, but you never did. So I figured it was up to me. Unfortunately, I started having some problems up there."
She waved a hand, looked irritated. "Yeah. A guy who thought he owned me--a guy I never even went out with! There was going to be trouble, sooner or later, and I didn't want to be the cause of it."
I tried to look sympathetic. "So," I said, trying not to be too self-conscious. "Where are you from? Are you here on vacation?" I babbled on, peppering her with questions.
She laughed again, and I'm sure my cheeks turned red. "Want to try one at a time?" she asked. "You don't have to cram it all into five minutes!" Smiling, she pushed back her hair. "Okay, let's see if I can remember all those! I'm from Lumberton, I'm here on vacation--I just graduated from High School up in Robeson County-- I'm down for the summer, pretty much. Right now, I plan to leave the third week in August, get ready to start college at--"
She waved her hands at me. "I was getting to it, I was getting to it! At N.C. State in Raleigh. I'm going to study Oceanography--"
"I'm at Duke, Marine Biology," I told her, almost too eagerly. "I'll be a senior next year--"
She looked at me with what I truly hoped--prayed, even--was increased interest. "Marine Biology? Really?"
"So. How about you? You here on vacation?"
"No--I'm helping with some research down at the Marine Station on Fisher. Tagging sea turtles. Archie Carr stuff."
"Archie Carr. He's real famous, he studied sea turtles--"
She shook her head. "I guess I'm real ignorant."
Taken a bit aback, I tried to cover what I thought might be a faux pas. "No, no," I told her quickly. "You wouldn't have heard of him, probably, unless you'd been in Marine Biology. I meant he was famous in my field--it's pretty specialized and all--"
"Oh, it's okay--you didn't hurt my feelings or anything. But I'm interested, Jeremy. You suppose I could see some of your sea turtles?"
Oh thank you Lord, I said to myself. Thank you thank you. "Of course," I told her magnanimously. "When?"
"I've got nothing else to do today--"
"Today is great. I'd like to go back to my apartment and clean up, though... could I pick you up somewhere?"
"I've got a bag in my car with some clothes in it," she said. "If it's okay with you I could just follow you."
Oh, yes, it is definitely okay, I thought. It is more than okay. And you do not have to change clothes, my God you look wonderful-- "Sure," I said aloud, finally. "No problem."
So we drove back to my apartment, a tiny, cramped affair at the southern edge of Kure Beach. While I showered and shaved, she changed clothes. There wasn't much difference; she was now wearing jade-green shorts and a brief tube-top--an outfit that concealed only a little more than the bikini.
I had a bunch of marine curios I'd collected here and there piled on an old table in the corner, and she was looking through them, admiring some of the seashells. "I like your place," she told me. "All the marine stuff. I've always loved the ocean; lakes and rivers, too. I guess I'm just a water person. Maybe I was a fish in another life, you think?"
"Maybe a mermaid," I allowed, grinning.
"That may be..." she said seriously. "Well. Sea turtles. You want to show them to me?"
"Sure 'nuff. Shall we?"
Twenty minutes later I ushered her into one of the research areas at the Marine Center. There was a large holding tank there, and a number of loggerhead turtles paddled around in it.
"They're nice," she commented, leaning on the edge of the tank.
"Sometimes," I told her. "But they can bite, too, just like a snapping turtle. You've got to watch them."
"What do you do with them?"
"Well, what I do--" I said, turning away to get a handful of tags, "Is tag the hatchlings, so that--" As I turned back, I saw that her hand and arm were dangling in the water. Some of those loggerheads were adults, four feet long. And they were used to being fed from that side. "Evelyn!" I cried. "You can't--"
"Why not?" she asked. "They're friendly." I looked; one of the largest turtles was nuzzling up against her hand like a pet cat. They did not, as I well knew, usually behave like that.
"Because," I continued lamely, "you might have something on your hands that would contaminate the water--"
"Oh," she said, withdrawing her arm immediately. "I'm sorry; I didn't know. I haven't hurt them, have I?"
"No," I grumbled, "You haven't hurt them. But ask first, okay?"
"Okay, Jeremy," she said, contrite. "I will, I promise."
"Look," I told her, "I'm expecting a hatch tonight, down on Fort Fisher. I was planning to go down and tag them--would you like to come along?"
She turned her face up to me, looking happy as a child. "Can I?" she asked. "I'd love it!"
I grinned. "Great!" I said, and I truly meant it. I glanced at my watch. "We'll want to go out just after dark, and it's getting a little late. You want to have dinner with me? I mean we both have to eat, don't we, and so I was just--"
"Sure, Jeremy. I'd love to have dinner with you."
After the dinner--a most pleasant one, at one of the seafood restaurants in Kure Beach--we took one of the four-wheel-drive pickups from the Center and headed down the beach. As we drove, I kept my eye on a thunderstorm out at sea, one that looked like it might be coming in. I was hoping that we'd have time for the tagging, get back to the hard-surface roads before the rain came.
Finally we arrived at the nest site--a quick look told me nothing had happened yet. After sorting my tags, I told Evelyn we'd have to wait a while, see if the hatch was indeed going to take place tonight.
"I'll never complain," she told me. "I'm near the ocean, and that means I'm satisfied!" Leaving her sandals in the truck, she walked down to the edge of the water, let the waves lap over her feet. Standing beside her, I watched her as she gazed at the faraway storm, her pupils expanding slightly as a bolt of lightning lit the sky out there.
"Hope it stays out," I commented.
"I don't," she murmured. "I love thunderstorms, love the rain. Love to get caught in it. Always have." Her eyes were misty.
I laughed. "It'll be hard to tag baby turtles in a driving rain!" I said.
"It'll probably stay out, like you said. At least long enough for you to do your work."
I had been right about the hatching; after about an hour and a half, the surface of the nest begin to stir, and soon the baby turtles were emerging, making their way toward the ocean. Hatchling sea turtles have only one primal instinct--get to the water. They know where it is, and they head for it, allowing nothing to stand in their way. On land, they are defenseless; for them, it's a matter of get to the water quickly--or die.
I called Evelyn to look at them; I wanted her to see them before I began the tagging. She came running up, stood bent over with her hands on her knees, smiling down at them.
And they stopped. I had never seen them stop before. But they remained where they were for a moment, their small heads raised as if looking for something. Then, as if they were all parts of one larger creature, they started moving again.
Toward Evelyn. Not toward the ocean.
I stared, dumfounded. "Impossible," I muttered. "What the hell is wrong with them? They're headed up the damn beach!"
"They aren't supposed to do this?" Evelyn asked, concerned.
"Hell, no! I mean, that's what all the books say--and this isn't the first hatch I've seen--damn! Maybe they're genetically defective or something."
"My legs are wet," she suggested. "Maybe they smell the sea water?"
I shook my head. "You can't fake them out that way. Sometimes bright lights do, but..."
"Here, let's try this." She stood up, walked into the edge of the dunes, behind the nest. The infant turtles turned and headed straight for her; even the later hatchlings just emerging from the sand started in her direction. Directly away from the sea.
"Surely somebody's tried the smell of sea water," I mumbled, trying to remember the literature. "I just can't believe no one has thought of something so stupidly simple!"
"That has to be it, though," she said. "See, they're coming toward me no matter where I move!" She was right; wherever she went, the turtles followed.
"Okay," I said firmly, "We'll just see!" I went to the truck, got a bucket and a couple of towels, and came back. After tossing one of the towels to Evelyn, I ran to the water and filled the bucket.
"Now," I said, stuffing my towel into the water and draping it over the side of the pail so that sea water dripped from it. "You dry your legs and feet, and let's see if they follow the bucket!"
She nodded, quickly dried herself, and for good measure, tossed me the damp towel. Then we stood on opposite sides of the group of turtles.
They still went to her.
"Damn!" I cried, frustrated. I told her to back off; she did, and I went closer. The turtles continued to follow her. "Why?" I demanded, as if they could answer me. "It doesn't make sense!"
"Maybe I ought to just lead them to the water," she told me. "I mean, I don't know why they're doing this either, but--"
"Well, I suppose," I muttered. "Let me tag the damn things, and you can lead them to the sea like some fucking Pied Piper!"
"Don't get mad at me, Jeremy," she asked, a slightly hurt tone in her voice. "I'm not doing anything to make them follow me, they just are. It isn't my fault."
"I'm sorry," I said quickly. "I know you aren't. I just don't understand, that's all."
Sitting on the sand, she waited while I put the red tags on the turtles. During this time, some of them reached her; they acted like they were trying to climb up her legs or onto her hips. That made even less sense; sea turtles know about as much about climbing as monkeys do about deep-sea diving.
She picked a couple of them up, played with them. Like a child with some precious toy, she was very gentle, very careful. Though she took no precautions, they didn't try to bite her; right now, that didn't seem all that unusual to me.
When I had finished the tagging, Evelyn put the turtles down and walked to the ocean. Dutifully, the little reptiles headed toward her. But they gathered around her feet; she was obliged to go further out to get them into the surf. When all the turtles had vanished, she came back out. I almost immediately forgot all about them. Taking her hand, I led her back up the beach toward the truck, wondering what else I could suggest to extend the evening.
She glanced back down toward the water. "Jeremy, look!" she cried, pointing.
I did. "Well, I'll be damned!" I shouted. Struggling against the waves, the little sea turtles were coming back in! Several of them had already gotten onto the beach; their flippers working madly, they headed toward us. "Must be flattering," I told her, trying to regain my sense of humor. "They like you better than the ocean! They like you enough to give up their lives for you!"
She started to smile, but then her eyes seemed to glazed over. I spoke to her again; she didn't respond. She looked somehow different --even better, if that was possible. But she continued to stare fixedly into space. Becoming worried, I shook her shoulder.
"What?" she asked. "What?"
I grinned. "You fall asleep on me or something?"
She shook her head. "Maybe so, sort of. I was remembering a dream. Or something. I don't know, something triggered by what you just said, like a memory from a long time ago..." She shook her head, glanced back at the turtles. "Let's go," she said, "down the beach a little ways, in the truck. They'll go back to the water then."
"How do you know? Maybe I should take them back to the lab--"
"No, don't. Trust me, it'll be okay. Just drive; in about thirty minutes you can come back, they'll be gone. They'll be okay."
I started to object, but finally shrugged. Why not? They'd be easy enough to find again if they were wandering around on the beach or trying to follow us. And, it'd make the evening last another half-hour, at least. So we did as she said; while we waited, she was quiet, just gazing out to sea at the now-closer thunderstorm.
Then we drove back. It was as she'd said; there was no sign of the turtles. As a precaution, we drove on a mile or so, but then she asked me to stop again. I did; she got out, stood silhouetted against the sea and the offshore clouds. I could not have kept my eyes off her if I'd wanted to.
"I have to get into the water," she said, her voice a little dreamy. "You want to join me?"
Images of "Jaws" and the midnight swim it opens with jumped to mind. "Uh--Evelyn," I temporized, "look at the waves out there! They're eight feet or more! The storm, right?"
"Oh, it won't be a problem," she told me casually. "The wind and the rain are, well, friends of mine. They wouldn't interfere with something I really wanted to do."
"You're sort of a mystic, aren't you?"
She looked back at me, the mane of hair covering half her face. "Sometimes," she said. "But I don't understand any of it. It just kind of wells up, from somewhere inside me. And the sea is--is so very--special--" She turned, started walking toward the edge of the water. A huge rolling wave was coming in, a ten-footer at least. The foam of its break flying around in the moonlight, it smashed down on the shore with a thunderous sound.
"But you don't have your swimsuit..." I cried, running after her. That argument was already voided; her tube-top lay on the sand, and she was stepping out of the green shorts. I stopped, staring.
"Come on," she called, her voice overpowered by another large wave. She said something else, and though I didn't really hear it, I could have sworn it was, "I want you in me." Forgetting about the waves, the sharks, and virtually everything else, I whipped my shirt off and ran on.
Right at the edge of the water, at the point of going in, she did seem to find the waves intimidating after all; she was just standing there, gazing out to sea. That was all right by me; what I wanted wasn't the water. But then she raised her arms, like she was stretching. Wearing only my shorts, I got there just in time to see it, to watch her firm high breasts being lifted by her arms. I was so taken by her, standing there nude, that I wasn't aware that anything had changed for a few seconds. Gradually, I realized I wasn't hearing the big waves booming in anymore.
Tearing my eyes away from her, I looked at the sea. Right in front of us, and for perhaps fifty feet to either side, it was quite calm; there were only a few small waves, rolling in at long intervals. I frowned at it, like it wasn't real. Both up the beach and down, the ten-footers the storm had kicked up were still crashing in, as before.
"What?" I asked stupidly, looking at her. "What?"
She smiled. "See?" she said, and ran into the water.
I watched her dive in, maybe twenty feet from shore, and decided not to worry about it. After fumbling with my shorts for a few annoying seconds, I followed, though it felt funny to be running with an erection. I was hoping she wouldn't notice, and I was glad when I got down in the concealing water.
I am--I was then--a good swimmer. I had been a lifeguard; I could do all right in the water. But by comparison with Evelyn, I was a virtual nonswimmer. She literally swam circles around me, diving under me and even leaping out of the water like a dolphin. Once again I stared in disbelief. I had never seen anyone swim like that. I would've said it wasn't possible.
Finally she stopped frolicking and drifted lazily next to me. I watched her tread water; she didn't seem to be doing anything at all.
"I assume you were the star of your high school swim team?" I managed finally. "And that you'll be doing that at State?"
"No," she said with a frown. "I wasn't even on it, and I won't be in college, either. I know I can swim well--but somehow, I've always felt it wasn't fair for me to compete. It always seemed so natural for me--I could swim before I could crawl. And so I--"
"Well, that doesn't matter! Most babies swim before they can crawl, anyway! It doesn't mean you shouldn't compete!"
"I feel it does," she said, in a tone that implied that the discussion was closed. She threw herself over backwards and floated on the surface for a moment, her eyes closed and a look of pure contentment on her face. "It is nice to swim like this, though. No stupid swimsuit, and I can do what I want. If I do that up at Carolina Beach, I draw a crowd."
"I'll bet!" I said, staring at her breasts.
"I don't mean that," she replied, opening one eye. "I mean the swimming!"
"I can see that too!"
With a graceful movement, she brought herself upright again. "I have really enjoyed this day, Jeremy," she told me.
"So have I. But it isn't over yet." There was just a trace of an inflection on the last word; I was hoping she wasn't about to say that it was.
"No, it isn't," she said, touching my shoulder. "You said I was a mystic--I really am tonight. I sort of feel this evening was meant to be."
I grinned. "Doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo," I sang, a poor version of the "Twilight Zone" theme.
"I'm serious!" she insisted. "I think there must be something in the stars, or something. It's a night for weird things to happen!"
"They have been," I muttered.
"And more will," she declared. As she spoke, a gentle wave billowed up behind me, pushing me forward; a wave just like it was coming up behind her, pushing our bodies together. When she was close enough, she put her hands on my shoulders and kissed me.
As she did, I felt currents in the water, moving all over my body; it felt as if hands were manipulating me. I looked from shoulder to shoulder; both her hands were still there. For a moment I was a little afraid. I looked down, expecting to see some fish, possibly about to bite.
"Random eddies," she said with a broad grin. "Don't worry about it." She kissed me again; my hands found their way to her breasts, and it was hard for me to worry about anything.
Though she seemed perfectly comfortable, I felt awkward in the water; after a few minutes, a larger wave rolled in, carrying both of us toward the shore. Though I was sure it had to, it never broke; it deposited us on our knees on the wet sand, while we went on embracing. Then it left us, and I saw that we were above the wash line. We rolled onto our sides, her hands on my hips. I was erect again, and as she pulled me, I sank slowly inside her.
That moment--and the repetitions that occurred over the next couple of months--represents the best time of my life. Nothing else even comes close.
But, of course, the moment could not last forever. Still, when we reluctantly dressed and climbed back into the truck, a tinge of dawn was already on the eastern sky.
With Evelyn casting many longing glances backward, we took the truck back to the Marine Station, where I'd left my car. At that time of day, it should have been the only vehicle in the parking lot; but there was a blue Mustang parked next to it. I didn't pay much attention. It was not uncommon for couples to use that parking lot at night.
As we neared my car, the door of the Mustang swung open and a man got out. "I been waitin' for you all night," he said to Evelyn, ignoring me utterly. "Tom's been wonderin' where you been." Finally he acknowledged me with a sneer. "With this asshole. Tom ain't gonna like it!"
"It doesn't matter what Tommy thinks, or likes," Evelyn told him, turning away. "He has nothing to do with me--"
The man grabbed her arm. "I think you better come with me," he told her. She stared at him, incredulous.
Angrily, I knocked his arm away from hers. "I think she just said she wasn't interested!" I snapped.
"Look, asshole," he told me. "You stay out of this, just be glad you're all in one piece!" He turned, reached for Evelyn again, and I stepped between them.
He swung at me then; I ducked, received only a a glancing blow. I was no fighter, but I certainly wasn't going to stand by and watch him drag Evelyn away. I swung back, perhaps clumsily, and connected. By chance, my thumb went into the corner of his eye.
He screeched, grabbed at his face. "You bastard!" he screamed. "I'm going to kill your ass for that!"
The next thing I knew, I was backed up against my car, and he was delivering blow after blow to my midsection. I could hear Evelyn screaming; I tried to defend myself, but I couldn't. It seemed then that he was going to fulfill his promise.
Then, suddenly, I saw slim fingers on his shoulder, and he was being pulled away from me. Through a haze of pain, I saw her spin him around and hit him. Just once, a backhand from the knuckles of her right hand.
And right then, I knew the weirdness of the evening wasn't over yet. The man--who must have weighed at least two-fifty--literally flew away from her, landing on his back and skidding after having been airborne for some twenty feet. Gasping for breath, I pulled myself up, went to Evelyn.
She looked at me with wild eyes. "What happened?" she cried. "What happened?" She sounded desperate.
"I don't know," I told her honestly. "I think you hit him."
Slowly, we walked toward the fallen man, and I could see already that this wasn't good. One of his arms was cocked rigidly over his chest, and his hand fluttered rapidly. One foot twisted back and forth in a steady rhythm.
I looked at his face, and almost threw up. His right eye was gone, as were most of the teeth from the right side of his crushed and splintered jaw. His head was twisted over at an impossible angle. As I stared, his mouth fell open, and I did retch then--it was filled with blood and brain tissue.
"I don't understand," I said absurdly, when I'd regained my control. "It looks like he got hit with a sledgehammer, not a fist." I lifted her slender hand and looked at it. It was not marked.
"Jeremy, we'd better get out of here," she begged, her eyes frantic.
"Well, we can't just leave him here!" I cried. "A few hours, there'll be a lot of people here--"
She pointed to the salt marshes beyond the parking lot. "We could drag him in there--" she suggested.
I was dubious. "I suppose--"
"Jeremy, we have to do something!"
"We could call the police--"
"And tell them what? What? That I slapped his face, and this is what happened? Can we tell them that?"
I looked at her for a long time. "You certainly are an unusual girl," I told her. "But no, now that I can think a little more clearly, no, we can't tell them that. No. They'll say we used a tire iron or whatever. They'll put us up for murder one. Okay. Let's get this fucking body out of the lot. Maybe the damn crabs will eat it before anybody finds it!"
So we dragged the body away, deposited it in the salt marsh, and watched as it sank nicely into the black muck. Afterwards, we were covered with that muck, and not a little blood; we had to return to the water to clean ourselves up. Evelyn washed me, and I her, and in spite of everything, I became excited again. But there was no time. We left the parking lot in full daylight, less than an hour before the Center's employees would begin to arrive.
I took her back to my apartment, and we tried to sleep; or rather, she did. I could not. I kept seeing that man's crushed head every time I started to drift off.
About noon, she woke up. At first we didn't talk about it; we just sipped coffee in silence. When we did, it seemed she was as distressed about it as I was, but for subtly different reasons. The man's death didn't seem to bother her at all; what did was that she had crushed his skull with what seemed to her to have been a slap. She couldn't understand it--and, of course, I couldn't either--but that appeared to be the extent of her worries. She seemed to feel that the man had brought on his own demise by "mistreating"--her word--us. She confirmed what I'd assumed--that "Tommy" was the man she'd mentioned earlier, the cause of her disappearance from the beach. He was quite rich, she told me, a college jock, good-looking; he wasn't accustomed to being turned down by women and hadn't taken it well when she'd refused his propositions. He also, she added, was usually accompanied by a crowd of male friends, guys who hoped to benefit from his aura--or perhaps just pick up his leavings. Of these, evidently, the dead man had been one.
Listening to her talk, I wondered if "Tommy" would still be interested if he knew about her apparent ability to deliver a skull-crushing blow with her fist. Most men, I supposed, would be terrified of such a woman, no matter how good she looked.
As for me, well, maybe I just wasn't most men. I could not find it in myself to be truly afraid of her, even though I'd accepted, in a way, the idea that she could kill me anytime she wished. Looking into those green eyes, I decided that she was, without question, worth that risk, worth almost any risk; she was in so many ways so unlike anyone I'd ever met before. The best way I could describe, to myself, how I was feeling about her was to think of the way sailors talked about the sea, the sea they always called "her," the sea that could be at one moment gentle and loving, and at the next raging and murderous. My work put me in contact with a lot of sailors, and I'd never heard one of them say that the ocean's rages in any way diminished their love for her, even though they knew she could cause their deaths. She was always their love, their life, and their lady, as the unfortunate Brandy was told in an old pop song.
Oh, I understood that feeling that way about a flesh-and-blood woman was, to be sure, a little different. But I couldn't help it.
After we'd talked for quite a while she said she was hungry, and since I had nothing in the apartment, we decided to go to a restaurant. After all, we couldn't hide in the apartment forever. Though in a way, with her there, I wouldn't have minded.
I took her to a seafood restaurant just up from the Kure Fishing Pier. We both had stuffed clams; her appetite was good, her spirits rising. Even before we'd finished the meal, she began to encourage me to put the incident out of my mind. There was nothing we could do about it, she told me; no reason to expect that we'd ever be connected with it even if the body was found. Which, she added, it probably wouldn't be.
As soon as we left the restaurant, it became obvious that we weren't going to be able to forget about it, at least not right away. Evelyn had preceded me out the door, and as I came out, I bumped into her. She stood frozen, and I soon saw why.
Three men were leaning against my car, glaring at us.
"We been waiting for you," one of them said. He was big, athletic-looking; intimidating.
"I've told you a hundred times, Tommy," Evelyn snapped. "I am not interested. I want nothing to do with you."
"I don't give two shits about you, bitch," he said, grinning. "There's a lot of cunts on the beach, and you had your chance. You blew it. But one of my friends--Phil--called me last night. He saw you two together, said he was gonna follow you. Hell, I told him not to bother--if you wanta screw some second-rate asshole, that's your problem. But Phil, he thinks a lot of me--thinks I shouldn't get treated like that." He paused, made a helpless gesture. "Anyway, lemme make a long story short. Phil didn't come back. This morning, we went looking for him; we found his car, but no Phil. Follow me so far?"
"Yes," I said, aware by now who "Phil" must have been. "but we didn't see him. We don't know where he is."
Tommy laughed. "You are one lying bastard!" he snarled, his laughter disappearing abruptly. "You work down at the Institute, we know that. That's where his car was. Now you listen to me! I know Phil can get a little crazy sometimes, and I know he mighta started a fight. So, one more time--what happened? Where is he?"
"One more time," Evelyn repeated, "We! Don't! Know! You want him, you find him!" She started past them, headed for the car.
He grabbed her arm, and I wondered if she was going to hit him. She didn't; she just jerked away, started for the car.
Tommy gestured at a red Porsche parked nearby. "I don't think you can get away from us," he said, grinning unpleasantly.
Evelyn glared at him. Then she turned, started walking toward the beach--it was less than a city block away. I walked beside her, the three men following closely. She led us down the wooden steps alongside the pier house, out onto the crowded beach.
"I'm getting a little tired of this, asshole," Tommy said as we walked along. "I didn't hunt for you two to walk with you on the beach! You going to tell me something, or am I going to--!"
"Going to what?" I challenged, cutting him off. "Going to beat me up? Maybe Evelyn too? Right out here in broad daylight, in front of all these people? I doubt that, I really do."
"Maybe," Tommy said, his eyes just slits, "we don't hafta." He waved his hand generally at the crowd on the beach. "Far as any of these people can see, there's just four guys and a girl walking on the beach, follow me? Buddies. Chums. A lotta times, you see buddies get into some horseplay in the water. Sometimes it gets kinda rough. Follow me?"
I was afraid I did. "Now look--" I started to say. But I didn't get anymore out. Tommy lunged at me, laughing a phony laugh, and the force of his rush carried me well out into the surf. Choking, I tried to get up, but he pushed me down again, and further out. I could see his two friends and Evelyn, rushing toward us.
"Stop it, Tommy!" she was yelling. "This is going too far--"
"Fuck off, bitch," he told her. "Just be glad it's him and not you! If he doesn't tell us where Phil is, it will be you!"
We were now in chest-deep water, and they were holding my arms. I kicked at them, but to no avail. As Tommy had predicted, the people on the beach were paying little attention. It just wasn't that rare to see college students wrestling around in the water. Even with their clothes on.
Then Tommy pushed my head under, held it there for a few seconds. Pulling me up, he asked me again. I didn't answer, and I found myself under again, for a much longer time. He isn't judging this very well, I thought, as I came up gasping and choking. And he's going to end up drowning me; I'm going to die, I'm going to be killed, right here in broad daylight, on a public beach, with hundreds of people watching...
The third time he brought my head up, I heard Evelyn's voice: "It is enough," she was saying. "I myself, in person, do so decree." I couldn't imagine why she was talking like that; there was no way it could have any effect on the thugs who were killing me.
But suddenly, everything changed. A rip, unbelievably fast and irresistably strong, developed in the water around us, and suddenly all four of us were being carried out to sea at an alarming speed. The two men holding me let go of my arms and tried to swim back, but there was no way they were going to resist that current.
Before I could even begin to struggle, I felt the water swinging me around and up, lifting my head clear of the ocean's surface. The others, though, were ripped away and carried past me like they were being towed by a speedboat. I could see Tommy's eyes bulging with terror; he was trying to swim and he was trying to scream, but little wavelets kept coming up in front of him, slamming into his face, cutting off his voice and his air.
I looked around, toward shore, for Evelyn. I couldn't see her, but I saw people yelling and jumping around on the beach, saw a lifeguard running toward the water. Feeling a surge of fear for her safety, I kept looking; then I saw her.
At first, I figured she'd found a sand bar. She was sitting cross-legged in maybe six inches of water, watching the men rocket out to sea. For some reason, she'd taken off her shorts and top; she was again nude. One of her hands was raised, her palm toward the speeding bodies of the three men. As I watched, she lowered her arm slowly, and the men were driven under the surface. I looked, but I didn't see them come up again. I was sure--not just from her gesture, but from somewhere deep inside myself--that she'd done this somehow, that these currents were under her control.
She turned her face toward me. "Come up here," she said, her voice mild. "Sit with me."
"Where are the others?" I asked, reaching for the sand I was still sure had to be there.
"Gone. Out to sea. The bodies will never be found."
I never did feel sand; as I came close, a current welled up under me, and I found myself lifted up beside her. I looked, then felt; there was no sand, only the ocean.
"What the hell is going on?" I demanded wildly. "This can't happen--"
"It is happening," she said quietly. "It has happened. You have to try to accept it."
"Accept what?" I almost screamed. "Who--who are you, anyway?"
"Evelyn," she told me, her voice still calm, still peaceful. "As you've known her. Yet I am more--even Evelyn herself is not aware, cannot be aware as yet, of the Lady of the Jade Skirts, of all that she truly is!"
I just stared at her, totally confused. She smiled at me, she reached out and touched my hand, gently and lovingly; her smile and her touch made me feel good in spite of the bizarre things that had just happened. While we sat there, almost on the surface of the water, high waves rose between us and the shore; we could not see the beach, and no one there could've seen us. She kept talking, telling me what was going to happen over the next few months, making predictions that later all came true, just as she'd said. And finally, she told me that I wouldn't remember all this correctly, not for a long time.
"But you will, Jeremy," she added. "When it's time. Your memories will not be taken from you forever!" She kissed me then, and suddenly the water ceased to support us; we both promptly sank. We floundered up, began treading water; the lifeguard came for us, towed us back to shore. Of course, we were unhurt; but our "friends"--as the police called them--had been lost to the sea.
I spent the remainder of a wonderful summer with her; even the "memory" I seemed to have of killing Phil didn't interfere with it. I saw her regularly after she started college; but then, in early October, she left me. I didn't know why--not then--but I did the only thing I could do. I kissed her, told her I loved her, told her I'd always be there for her if she wanted me. And I smiled as she walked away weeping. But when she was gone, I cried for days.
And now more than a dozen years have passed. As she promised, my memory has returned; a little at a time at first, but now, I think, pretty much all of it.
I've done a lot of studying since then. Not in Marine Biology--thos particular studies have, of course, been sidetracked. But I've always been something of an academic; studying comes naturally to me, whether the subject is Marine Biology or my current interest, mythology. Following the only clue I had, I've focused on the Aztec Indians of ancient Mexico, and by now I've studied their religion very thoroughly; especially their notions about the gods and goddesses being periodically reincarnated, unaware of who they really were, in human bodies.
In any event, I have an idea why what happened to me did happen; you see, I've not had a lover since Evelyn. She put me on ice, put me in storage. I don't know why. I don't know what she has planned for me. But I do know that it wasn't an accident that the police knocked on my door in late November, asking questions about the death of a man named Philip Wills. It was no accident that I got convicted of that murder--I even confessed--no accident that I got twenty years in prison. It hasn't been easy, living here for twelve years. But I remember the police saying that a freak wave had pushed the body up out of the salt marsh, and I know it was no accident.
Still, I hold no grudges. I do my studies, and I sit in my cell and wait. She'll come for me one day; I'm sure of it. And when she does, I'll be waiting. That I've been celibate for all these years doesn't bother me; after her, well--maybe it isn't fair to ordinary women, but that's the way I think of them--as ordinary. They can't compare; so I have little interest. I don't even have all that much desire to get out; I just want to see her again, and I am so sure I will, someday.
There's only one thing that worries me--I'm sure she'll be married then. I wonder if her husband will object if I hold her in my arms, if I kiss her, if I tell her how much I've missed her?