Bill’s foot hung on his bathing suit, and he fell against the wall. Somebody knocked.
Bill yelled, “Who is it?”
Bill’s lips buzzed as he blew out a lung full of air. He knocked the side of his head against the wall, pulled up his swim trunks, pushed himself off the wall, walked over to the door, and opened it.
Harold stood there in his Hawaiian teal swim trucks, a polo, and flip-flops. He pointed at the white stripe on his wrist, “Come on, man, we need to get topside.”
Bill scowled and walked away to put on his shirt. “I thought we had thirty-minutes.”
Harold said, “That’s twenty-five minutes CIA time, and this is important, so I’m guessing we should be there in twenty.”
Bill slipped on his flip flops. “Sorry, I didn’t know.”
Harold slapped him on the back as Bill exited his room. “It’s alright. I was always late too.”
The brothers made their way to the third deck. They found Darla and Garcia leaning against the bar with their sunglasses on. Darla had on a wrap over her bikini, and Garcia had on a teal Bermuda swimsuit with prints of yellow surfers, a black t-shirt, and flip-flops.
Bill heard footsteps behind him as he and Harold made their way to the bar. Joshua and Maria topped the stairs. Maria’s eyes were red and puffy. As soon as Joshua joined her on deck, she wrapped her arm tightly around his waist, and the two of them slowly walked towards the others.
Garcia moved behind the bar and pulled up a bottle of Scotch.
He said, “This is more than fifty years old. I was saving it for a special occasion, and this seems appropriate.”
He filled each of the shot glasses and then lifted his. “This first drink is for Alice. She was one of the toughest women I ever knew, a good friend and a great boss.”
Garcia rapped the bottom of the glass on the bar. Everyone followed his example. Garcia and Darla walked to the yacht’s aft and poured their shots over the side. Bill, Harold, and the others followed suit. Everyone rejoined Garcia at the bar.
He poured another round and tapped and then raised his glass. Everyone joined in. Garcia said, “To a successful mission. Alice did not die in vain.”
He downed his shot, and everyone followed suit. The liquor was smooth and warmed the back of Bill’s throat. The warmth wrapped around his body down to his toes.
Garcia poured one more shot and put away the bottle. Bill noticed Garcia drank half his small glass and took that as a queue that the toasts were over. He took a sip and then sat down on the nearby barstool.
Bill watched the group make small talk. Darla pulled Maria aside, and Harold and Joshua began to debate the pros and cons of the Caribbean versus the west coast. A hand touched his arm. Carol’s sleek dark body looked stunning beneath the white bikini she was wearing.
She cleared her throat, “My eyes are up here.”
Bill felt his face flush. “Sorry. I just, well, you look amazing.”
Carol smiled, and Bill detected a slight twinkle in her eyes. “I’m glad I can set your mind on happier things.”
“I’m sorry you missed the ceremony. It was short. Garcia toasted to Alice’s memory and then the mission.”
Carol’s lips went flat, “Yea, they told me thirty minutes. What’s up with that?”
Bill put his hands on Carol’s shoulders, and for a moment, he felt his fingers tingle. “It’s not personal. I was under the same impression until Harold came and got me.”
Carol’s brow wrinkled, “And you’re too busy for the woman you saved?”
Before he could stop himself, Bill cupped Carol’s cheeks between his hands and looked deeply into her eyes. She returned his gaze.
A twinge of regret pierced his chest, and he dropped his hands. “I’m sorry. I mean, I don’t know what’s coming over me.”
Carol replied, “Don’t worry about it. I don’t work for you anymore.”
Bill’s eyebrows went up, and his chest relaxed. His fingers gently caressed the outside of her arms.
Carol put her hand up, “Easy, boy. You ain’t getting any of this,” she waved across her body, “without some kind of commitment. Talk to the hand until we are out of this mess.”
Bill’s gaze passed down to the deck. Carol’s cool hand lifted his chin, and she said, “Look at me. I’m not going anywhere anytime soon.” She nodded to the nearby group. “I don’t know if this is your family, friends, or strangers. I don’t think you know either. Until we are back in Charlotte, we had better pay attention to more than just each other.”
Bill nodded. “Alright.”
Carol asked, “So, why did I get dissed?”
“Harold said it was CIA time. Evidently, thirty minutes means twenty-five. Harold said he thought this would be a twenty-minute waiting period because it was important. We started about ten minutes early.
“I would have gotten you, but Harold practically dragged me out of my cabin while I was still getting my clothes on.”
Carol nodded, “Uh-huh. Well, I hate to think Chuck gave me more attention than the good guys.”
Bill scowled, “How much attention.”
Carol reached over and finished off Bill’s shot. After she took a breath, she said, “Nice Scotch. As for Mr. McGill, you need to cool your jets, cowboy. If we are going anywhere, you have to trust me.”
“I don’t trust Chuck.”
Carol leaned against his shoulder, “Okay. He never tried anything. He had a lot of questions about you. It was weird, though. He didn’t ask about money or your career. He just wanted to know if I had any knowledge of your relationship with Harold.
“Then he asked me about your relationship with Lori and if you two were happy together.”
Bill asked, “What did you tell him?”
“The truth. You two were happy. I told him Lori didn’t seem like a gold digger, and the two of your made each other happy.”
“What did Chuck say?”
Carol responded, “Nothing. He just got quiet, put out his cigar, stood up, and walked out of my room.”
Garcia walked up, “Excuse me. I hate to intrude, but I need to talk to Bill.”
“Come on, she just got away, and we would like to catch up.”
Garcia put up his hands. “Alright, it’s just a request. Do me a favor and don’t leave the party. I want to have a chat before we shut down for tonight.”
Bill nodded, and Garcia walked away.
Carol whispered, “What do you think he wants?”
Bill spoke softly, “I’m guessing it’s about today and me causing Alice’s death.”
Carol scowled, “You did no such thing.”
“Well, I think I did. She felt like she had to pull me aside after I tried to kill Chuck. If I had just played along, we probably would have been alright, and maybe Alice would have noticed the drone sooner or had been in a better position to hide from it.”
Carol crossed her arms. “I swear, you sound so foolish sometimes. You did what you had to do to make sure I was safe. I know inside you want Chuck dead for what happened to Lori, but it wasn’t like you started something. The man was taking potshots at us.”
Bill answered, “Well, if it hadn’t been for Darla, things would have ended differently, at least for Chuck. I know you want to believe I’m always in control, but I have to be honest with somebody. Something inside me wishes for bad things to come my way sometimes. I was happy when Chuck shot at us.”
Carol’s eyes widened.
Bill continued, “I was hoping he would start something. This thing inside me wanted out. It needed out.”
“You make it sound like you keep him caged up. Like it’s a whole other person living inside you. How is that any different than what Joshua did?”
Bill responded, “That’s how it feels. It’s just, I’m not sure how long I can keep this up. I mean, what if I spend my life looking for trouble? We both know that’s a good way to end up dead or in prison.”
Carol said, “Maybe you should stop treating that part of you like it’s somebody else. It’s who you are. You aren’t any more evil or good than the rest of us. Didn’t you ever hear a preacher say God’s grace is sufficient?”
“Yea, that was usually right after telling everyone how bad they really are.”
Carol scowled, “Don’t be such a cynic.”
“Right now, being a cynic seems to fit my life.”
Carol waved her hand at him, “Whatever, listen to me. Those preachers were trying to say that Jesus’ blood and the Holy Spirit can take what is bad and make it good. You’ve proven that multiple times already. You saved us at the office, you saved Darla at the airplane hangar, and you saved me today.”
Bill asked, “How did you know about the hanger?”
“Chuck told me. He was complaining about the manpower you cost him.”
Bill smiled and muttered, “Good.”
Carol continued, “Don’t get me off-topic. You need to focus on the good you can do and stop trying to pretend you’re turning into something bad. This berserker, or thing or whatever you guys call it, is you. Your strength, your bravery, it’s a gift. What you do with it is up to you.”
Bill looked skyward, “I would have preferred a family over any of this.”
Carol grabbed his chin and pulled his face down so he looked into her eyes. His heart melted at the sight of her glistening eyes looking into his soul.
Carol said, “You need to stop living in the past. Look around you. This may be your family, but you’re too busy wishing for something that didn’t happen the way you wanted to notice.”
Over from the other side of the deck, Harold announced, “I hate to be the party pooper, but it’s time to end the party. Garcia, Darla, and Joshua have a big day tomorrow.”
Garcia walked straight over to Bill and said, “Please don’t go anywhere.”
Carol hollered over to Harold, “I thought this was a pool party.”
Harold shrugged and responded, “You never know when one might breakout. Maybe next time.”
Darla answered, “It’s just an excuse for the men to see us in our suits.”
Maria added, “Boys.”
Bill watched Joshua blush while Harold’s smile was barely perceptible under his red beard. Everyone began to leave except Garcia. Carol gave Bill a hug and headed down with the rest of the group.
Garcia said, “Please, join me in the hot tub.”