In this much-anticipated sequel to the award-winning “Matinicus,” five longtime friends—briefly freed from their complex lives for an annual, all-female retreat on Adria Jackman’s remote, 200-acre enclave of Mistake Island, Maine—are forced to put the partying on hold to host the hard-drinking, bachelor botanist, Gil Hodges, stranded there for what could be days.
A hopeless womanizer, Gil is secretly pleased at the layover, but soon finds Mistake’s deeply forested interior deceptively bucolic and the women a bit too intriguing for comfort, stirring both glorious memory and profound regret. When a diabolical stranger appears out of nowhere, insinuating himself into the fold to exact a twisted kind of revenge, it falls to Gil to keep the women safe, despite a dawning awareness that not everyone will make it off the island alive.
I’m slow coming to in the early-morning stillness—arm slung over my eyes, something lumpy under my butt I only now realize has been digging in for some time. It seems I slept fully clothed, too—something I never do—but the damp chill beneath me makes even less sense, the fusty smell wafting from my bedclothes not quite the permeating fug of the hammock I’ve grown used to. I could crack my eyes and get a visual, I suppose, but that would involve prying the pasty things apart first—something that’s beyond me just now.
The shamelessly chipper bird sounding off just above me and the dry whisper of field grass are what tip me off. The meadow. I spent the night in the fucking meadow.
My groan is of the just-how-big-an-asshole-did-I-make-of-myself variety, chased by the kind of creeping, morning-after dread I’ve come to know so well. I vaguely recall a bottle of tawny Port, unearthed by Adria from some secret stash of her father’s after everyone else had gone to bed—which was earlier than usual, thanks to the pall Brit and Pete cast over the evening. Just the two of us, then—well, three, if you count the bottle. Pure liquid ambrosia, if memory serves. No doubt I went a bit overboard. But it wasn’t the booze or the thought of another night crammed onto that miserable hammock that got me out here, I recall now, but the fear of what I might do about Nora’s tempting proximity while I lay in such a weakened and vulnerable state. Still, I’ve no clue how I managed it. Could have walked, could have flown, could have been wheeled in a barrow. But however I did it, I slept like the proverbial rock.
No reason to get up now either, I figure—at least not ’til the mosquitoes find me. Another hour, I plead, rolling over, which is when I see Pete down on his haunches studying me, face not a foot from mine.
“Jesus!” I bark, adrenaline powering my scramble to clear the sleeping bag I apparently dragged out here with me. “Don’t do that!”
He cocks his head, rising to meet me as I stand. Not a good idea as it turns out, this standing business, considering the explosion of pain at the top of my head. At six-two, I’m five or six inches taller than this guy—something that would normally make me feel pretty good, only nothing feels good just now. My legs are so wobbly, it’s all I can do to remain vertical. I glance down at the cool breeze running over my left foot.
My sore, bare left foot.
Where the fuck is my shoe?
“Piece of advice,” Pete says, glancing toward the mountain, gaze flat and unreadable as he swings it back my way. Think Clint Eastwood’s slow burn, but with none of his style. “Right now we got no real beef, you and me. Keep out of this and it’ll stay that way.”
What this? There’s a this?
“Let me guess,” I say, pinching the bridge of my nose against the vise slowly tightening at the top of my head, the forks carving out the backs of my eyeballs. The things I do to myself. “This is about your brother, right? What—you were too busy lobbing the n-word at Adria to hear her say she wasn’t around? That none of these chicks know anything about this?”
“They know,” he assures me. “Just not sayin’.”
“All of ’em, probably.”
Of course. Conspiracy among the conifers. I’ll have to remember to suggest this to Duggan for the title of whatever mystery or thriller he’s hoping to eke out of all this.
“Come on, man. You saw the looks on their faces—total fucking surprise.”
“Brit said they come out here every year—same women, same week in July.”
Good old Brit. “I wouldn’t know.” Nor do I care. Once around with this shit’s more than enough for me; besides, I desperately need to keep the sun from hitting my retinas just now. Shades, I think. I pat my pockets.
“Earl was killed the week they were here. July 21st.”
“July 21st what?”
“Day he died.”
“You can’t possibly know that,” I say, carefully lowering myself to rummage in my
rucksack for those miserable Maui Jims. Sliding them on makes things marginally better, but mincing my way back to my feet brings stabbing pains from the sole of the shoeless one. Man, it hurts. What the hell did I step on, anyway? Glass, rock—what?
“So, okay,” I say, cranking the foot up stork-like to peer at the dried brown goo stuck to the bottom. Mud? I wonder, hopping awkwardly to stay upright. Blood? “Say you’re right, and he was here. Doesn’t mean they knew he was here.” Gently probing the most tender places for lacerations, protruding foreign objects. “If Adria even suspected he was camping on the island, she’d have booted his ass off. You’ve seen the way she is about this place.”
“Earl don’t listen to nobody when his mind’s set. Kind of his trademark.”
More of that unremitting Eastwood gaze, which is frankly starting to piss me off. Out of nowhere, another piece of yesterday slips along the edge of my mind—something weird about the timing of all this. And then it hits me. If Earl died two years ago, why’s this guy just turning up now?
“You were in prison when it happened.” Pure hunch, of course, but it fits. Explains why he seemed so hinky from the start, that vague whiff of what I now recognize as recent and intimate acquaintance with Maine State Corrections. I do the mental math, take a stab. “You and Earl were sent up together; only he got out early. Drugs would be my bet. That or a juicy little B&E.”
“Fuck them bastards. Bullshit’s what it was. Lousy pot bust. My second time, so the judge bumped me a couple extra years.”
“So Earl gets out, comes here to revisit the old stomping grounds, and ends up dead.”
“I knew there’d be trouble, what with me not around to keep him in line. It was me always looked out for him.”
“Plus, you landed him in jail. What a bro. But hey, at least you knew where he was; there’s that.” Screwing with him like this probably isn’t smart, but I’m still kinda punchy, and I need to piss. Besides; I really, really, really don’t like this guy.
Pete cocks his head.
“This funny to you?”
Fucking hilarious, actually, only it’s fast becoming clear that leaving Adria et al alone while a deluded nut like this is wandering the island wouldn’t be smart. There’s my conscience to consider, what’s left of it anyway. “So you got sprung—what—a month ago? Two?”
“Sat in that shitty jail two years knowin’ he’d been murdered, countin’ the days ’til I got out.”
“Accidents happen, pal. You’ve seen the cliffs out here—dangerous as hell in the wrong conditions.”
“Earl never went near them cliffs. Hated heights. No, somethin’ happened out here. I’m gonna know what and I’m gonna know why. I owe him that. You bein’ here just complicates things.”
“Yeah, well, only person leaving the island is you,” I say, trying to sound all bad-ass as I fight the urge to toss my cookies. “I’m not going anywhere.”
He considers. “Your decision. Things been put in motion. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.” A smirk as he nods toward the sleeping bag. “Nice.”
I glance down, following his gaze. A faded field of blue dotted with yellow and pink flowers, the darker hue of a minimally sullied ball gown and white-gloved hands—all this capped with the lemon yellow orb of Cinderella’s hair, her face lit with a saccharine smile. A little girl’s sleeping bag, I realize. Swell.
“So here’s what you do,” he says. “You and the other girls have a meetin’. You explain how things are gonna get really ugly, really fast, if I don’t find out what went down.”
With that he trots back into the brush like something out of The Last of the Mohicans—all that bouncy action enough to set my eyeballs aching. What the fuck was in that bottle, anyway?
Nothing for it but to head to the house and fill Adria in, come up with some kind of plan.
After I find that fucking shoe.