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"Island Recess" by Sonora Rayne

Heat Scale: 3 of 5. (Adult Language And Situations)

Chapter 1.  Chapter 2. Chapter 3.  Chapter 4,

Chapter 5,   Chapter 6.   Chapter 7.    Chapter. 8

Chapter.   9.     Chapter 10,     Chapter 11    Chapter 12

Chapter 13   Chapter 14   Chapter 15    Chapter 16

Chapter 17

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Island Recess, Chapter 6.

Helena rubbed her temple with a moan as the smile on her face relaxed, and she slumped against the door frame of the tiny classroom. Unaccustomed to the two drinks consumed with Neil the night before, and a rapidly following celebratory rum and coke chaser (or was that chasers?) poured upon arrival home, Helena’s body was in revolt. Returning to her desk, Helena rifled through her drawers until she found some aspirin. Locating the noxious brew that passed for coffee in the teacher’s lounge, she filled a mug with the fluid and plenty of sugar and speedily gulped the now-lukewarm beverage. While she adored her students, her relief today when the clock struck 3:30 was palpable. Despite her attempts to treat his attentions with the feigned casualness of the type of pouting-lipped, serial dating women profiled in the popular fashion magazines, Helena found her thoughts drifting with increasing frequency in the direction of Neil Streep. Scolding herself repeatedly for what she perceived to be weakness, she recalled that the invitation for dinner had come in the context of an expression of gratitude and not of romantic interest. Still, there had been moments when their eyes or flesh made contact during which she had been certain his intentions were not strictly, well, honorable. How Victorian, she laughed to herself, to be thinking of honor and virtue in the twenty-first century. Still, hard on the heels of an ass like Karl, a little knightly chivalry would be welcome. Despite the raging inferno that her hormones were becoming, Helena was rather glad that Neil had immediately respected her desire to post-pone their date, at the same time wondering if his interests weren’t lascivious after all. On the other hand, maybe a true knight just didn’t assume that every woman was easy prey. Smiling at the mixed metaphors of knights and jungles, she found herself humming lightly as she returned to the classroom for her knapsack.
An hour later, Helena was tapping gently on the door to Ben’s apartment. Under her free arm, she carried a bag containing two generously proportioned slices of the popular local treat, bread pudding. Rather than the ill-favored dessert of her childhood, this confection was a dense, moist cake, studded with raisins and served in thick slices. Ben’s grin expanded into a maze of wrinkles as he spied Helena through the crack in the door. Throwing the door open wide, he gripped Helena’s elbow tightly, ushering her into the dimly lit apartment. In the corner, the monitor of the computer seemed to beckon her with a screen-saver of darting tropical fish.
“I’ve brought afternoon tea,” Helena teased, waggling the bag between them. Her elderly landlord smiled with pleasure.
As if reading Helena’s mind, he then suggested, “You would like to use this computer while I put on some coffee, or tea?” Peeping inside the bag that Helena had handed over, he said with finality, “With bread pudding, always strong coffee.” Then, he waved vaguely in the direction of the computer and shuffled into the galley kitchen, clutching the bag in a weathered brown hand.
Pouncing immediately on the opportunity to check her e-mail, Helena seated herself at the computer and quickly logged onto the Internet. She accessed her e-mail account with practiced ease, and began scrolling through the messages, discarding without reading, junk mail and chain letters. Reading the title, “PLEASE READ THIS” and the author, Karl, she impulsively clicked beside the delete key. Then, with a sinking feeling, she realized that her actions may have been premature. The message following Karl’s was from Julie and read, “WATCH OUT FOR PSYCHOS!” Clicking on the highlighted text, she read the following:
Hey there, Island Girl! Hope all is well and that you are managing to keep your clothes on, at least at work. After hours, what you do with your clothing or without it is your business! On a serious note, thought you should know that Karl is still asking around about you. Your mom and I are playing the cat & mouse game with: hinting you’ve left St. John and are off on a tour of the Caribbean, etc. Still, he mentioned having a friend that works for one of the major airlines who he says can check on outbound flights. The more I hear from Karl, the more convinced I am (like I needed much, ha!) that you did the right thing leaving him. Okay, re: Mystery Man. Helena, I think you need to know who this guy is before you get too involved. Guys who are all mystery usually have something to hide (girlfriends, wives, domineering mothers, etc.) I digress. Anyway, Helena, I swear, if this one turns out to be another Godfather wanna-be, you will be banned from dating forever. Your dregs will become mine! Anyway, I called my cousin Alex in New York, you know, the one who works on the staff of that big architectural magazine:- Blue Prints. He asked around and he couldn’t find anyone who knew of a Neil Streep with a design or construction firm on the East Coast. He did say he’d met a few Neil’s on a casual social basis (“A few studs” was how he put it) but no one with a surname like Streep. That’s like Meryl Streep, right? Alex said, if he could see a picture of Neil, that he would show it around and see if anyone recognized him. After all, Alex knows everybody who’s anybody in the business. Especially if they’re cute! Anyway, if he doesn’t he’ll know someone who does. Can you possibly sneak a photo? If you can, and have access to a scanner, send it on to me and I’ll see what I can do. And Helena, for God’s sake, be c-a-r-e-f-u-l.. Love, Julie. P.S. Your mother said to remind you about using sunscreen.
Helena frowned absent-mindedly as she quickly composed a response. Hearing Ben’s slow steps behind her, she exited her e-mail account and rose to take her seat beside him on the wicker settee. While she and Ben chatted lightly about the events of the day, she found it more and more difficult to focus her attention on the conversation. Several times, she found herself asking to have a question repeated, or simply starting after a brief lull in what was becoming a monologue on Ben’s part. While she knew she should be primarily concerned with the threat of Karl’s potentially dangerous behavior, Helena found her thoughts increasingly consumed by the mystery surrounding Neil. Although every iota of her logical reasoning told her that Neil’s background could be as nefarious as Karl’s, her heart was pumping out a bewildering series of rationalizations. Maybe his business was too small for common knowledge. Maybe the local gossips were wrong about his home, or his occupation. Did she even catch his last name correctly? Was there any other way to spell “Streep?”
She had a date to keep and her body wouldn’t stop reminding her. Still, even the prospect of a strings-free fling with a near-stranger had her on edge. She needed to reassure herself that he was at least, “safe,” not a liar, not a criminal, and not a distraction that would have her free-falling to complete ruin. What she needed was the truth, and her investigative work, to date, had been half-hearted and utterly lacking in sophistication. If only she had taken some steps to investigate Karl’s background before their ill-fated alliance, her life in Seattle would still be intact. If she really wanted to protect her future interests, she was going to need to hone her detective skills.
Helena slumped in her chair with an involuntary moan. Ben frowned and looked at her with consternation, shaking his head slowly.
“Girl, I don’t know what’s into you tonight, but I think you be needin’ some early to bed. And don’t you be arguing with me, young lady.”
Helena put up a weak show of protest, secretly relieved that she would be able to devote the remainder of the evening to pondering the enigma Neil Streep appeared to present, and possibly to planning her date-night ensemble. With a tight hug for Ben, she left the apartment. To his aging eyes, his young neighbor seemed to dance up the stairs, taking each step with a light jump. He passed a shaking hand across his smiling face, and quietly closed the door behind her.
Helena entered her apartment with the first warning prickles of excitement sliding up the back of her neck. The doorknob still clenched in her hand, she glanced about. Her backpack lay by the settee, a fistful of papers bursting through the opening.
“Your mission, Helena, should you choose to accept it…” ran through her mind, as she knelt down and sifted through the bag’s contents until she located her old-fashioned camera. The telephoto lens was loose in the front pocket. Dumping the papers out on the floor, Helena noted ruefully that the majority had not yet been graded. If she hurried, she would be back in time to finish up her paperwork and still catch a few hours’ sleep. With her pack now empty, she replaced the camera and lens, and then waded through the papers to the tiny closet where she kept her clothes. Quickly selecting, and then just as quickly discarding wardrobe options, Helena soon had a small pile of clothing at her feet. Near the bottom of the pile was her garment of choice, a loose-fitting pair of khaki shorts with deep, buttoned cargo pockets at each side. Stripping to her bra and panties, Helena donned the shorts and paired them with a close-fitting tank top. Searching further, she was able to add a black ball-cap to the ensemble. Surveying herself in the mirror, Helena laughed. Dressed for her covert mission, she resembled a miscast guerilla in a B-grade action movie. She tossed the hat back up onto the shelf, fluffed out her hair and tied it back in a high ponytail.
Her heart was thudding against her chest as she took up her pack, slung it over her shoulders and fastened the strap about her waist. To the camera equipment, she added a light sweater, a notebook, and a hastily constructed sandwich of left-over tuna. The notebook had been included with a fit of hysterical laughter as Helena envisioned herself furiously scratching notes on the nocturnal activities of Mr. Streep from an ill-concealed hill-top perch. First locking up her apartment, Helena glanced about the hallway furtively before proceeding to tiptoe guiltily down the back stairs and out onto the street. Helena prayed fervently that Ben did not chance to glance out his window and witness her attempt to flee the building without his notice. There would be no “early to bed” for her this evening. Already racked with guilty feelings about abandoning the visit with her landlord so prematurely, Helena craned her neck for a sign of a passing cab. Seeing none, she began walking swiftly toward the trendy retail area of town and its collection of coral-colored buildings. Then she stopped, frowning in consternation. Where exactly was she heading? She couldn’t very well duck her head in the window of the first available cab and ask to be taken to the residence of the infamous Mr. Neil Streep, could she? Helena paused momentarily, screwing up her forehead in a desperate attempt to recall the pertinent details of their conversation over drinks. Neil lived on a boat, or so he had said. A passing reference had been made to its name: something Greek, she had thought at the time. Mentally, she kicked herself for not having paid closer attention. That afternoon, it now seemed, she had been more intent on guarding against drunken revelry than on investigating the mysterious background of Friday’s dinner date. Taking a deep breath, Helena considered the possibilities for mooring. The main anchorage, Cruz Bay, was also the terminal for the inter-island ferries. Noisy and crowded, Cruz Bay would be an unlikely choice for someone claiming to be seeking peace and solitude. Not to mention the fact that the bar at which they had sat the previous night looked out onto the bay. Surely, if his boat had been moored there, Neil would have taken pains to point it out. Absent-mindedly, Helena nibbled her fingertip as she pondered. On one of her bike rides around the island, she had stopped on a hill to snap a few photographs of the island and ocean extending beyond. Sighting a number of sailboats bobbing in the white-tipped waves, she had asked a passer-by the name of the cove. What was it now? She frowned in concentration.
“Coral Bay!” Helena exclaimed in triumph, causing a matronly-looking tourist to give her a wide berth and disdainful glance as she passed. Her heart began to pound as she saw a vague plan beginning to gel into a more plausible one. Hearing, rather than seeing the approach of a cab, heralded by the stereo thudding within, Helena turned and waved it to a stop.
“Coral Bay, please,” Helena requested as she opened the rear door and slid across the cracked vinyl bench to the opposite window. Despite her casual interchange of pleasantries with the talkative cabbie, Helena’s mind was focused on the task ahead. At a time when she often felt the abstinent life of a spinster schoolmarm loomed ahead, she was surprised to find herself so consumed by investigative exploits aimed at “clearing” possible lovers of possible wrongdoings. She could only imagine what the Board of Education would think of her decidedly un-teacherly conduct. Helena barely managed to suppress a snort of laughter as she pictured the tabloid cover: “Visiting Teacher Turns Peeping Tom.”
Hearing the moment of sudden laughter, the cabbie half-turned, then shook his head and re-focused on the road. Helena’s face in the rear-view mirror was flushed scarlet as she bit her lip to contain the nervous giggles. She could only imagine the spectacle she presented to an onlooker.
The cab slowed near the top of a hill sloping down toward the sea.
“Were you going down to the dock, Miss?” He inquired politely, but with a look of wariness on his plump face.
“Um, not exactly,” replied Helena, without elaborating further. “If you could just pull over around here, that would be great.”
All she needed at this point was a talkative cab driver revealing her bizarre mission to someone acquainted with Neil. Having paid the fare, Helena stepped out onto the roadside. The sidewalk ran down one side of the slope, which gave a clear view of the bay. More than a dozen sailboats ranging from single-handed jobs to luxury yachts swayed with the movement of the sea beneath them. Before she could focus her attention on her target, she would need to determine which boat belonged to Neil. She realized with a twinge of nervousness that she would need to wait until dusk to move much closer without risking discovery. Glancing to her right, she noticed a clutch of slender trees surrounded by low, lush bushes. If she were to move in amongst the foliage, she would at least be able to make use of her telephoto lens to sort out Neil’s boat from the others. Cautiously, she moved toward the trees, feigning casualness as she slung her pack onto both shoulders and proceeded to wade into the low brush. Ouch! She had not counted on thistles. Helena glanced down ruefully at the prickles nestled in her sock, and pushed on farther. Grabbing hold of the nearest tree trunk, she pulled herself from the patch of thistles, and into a nest of wild grass. Here, at least, was a place to sit down. Glancing back at the road through the minimal cover of grass and brush, Helena realized that her hiding spot was an abysmal one. She could only imagine herself, creeping forward through the undergrowth, telephoto lens poised for action, and Neil slipping up behind her with innocence in his eyes, and a “Helena, what a nice surprise!” on his lips. She shuddered involuntarily. At least there was no law against taking photographs. And it was a rather picturesque spot, after all. If cornered, she could always feign ignorance. In fact, she thought she could feign it rather well, having not the slightest clue who Neil Streep really was!
After several uncomfortable minutes passed in removing burrs from her socks and shoes, Helena unzipped her backpack, reached in and extracted her camera. Attaching the impressively proportioned telephoto lens, she adjusted the viewfinder on the bay before her. The difficulty in determining which of the vessels belonged to Neil was the fact that each of the boats riding the gentle swells seemed to be pointing in a different direction. How would she be able to read the name scripted on the hull if the bow and not the stern was facing her? Her glance swept the bay, the late afternoon rays of the sun tilting off the lens and making the surface of the water dance in sparkling waves. One of the boats, moored slightly away from the others, caught Helena’s attention. It was small and neat, its white trimmed with wood which gleamed in the sunlight. The waves rocked it gently, making it difficult to read the calligraphy across the stern. By training her lens on the boat, and trying to ignore the sickening effects of the moving writing, Helena at last was able to read the name. Yes! It was the one. Odyssey. She had thought the name was Greek, but only because it reminded her of the mythical hero Odysseus. Then, she remembered how Neil had explained the origin of the moniker: Homer’s Odyssey. Biting her lip with excitement, Helena snapped a photo of the boat, then stood, moved a little to her right, and snapped another, and another.
The sun was sinking lower on the horizon, and the sky was becoming suffused with tinges of pink and mauve. She had seen no human movement on the Odyssey, and decided to venture from her hiding spot to find another, closer to her target. As she emerged from the prickly underbrush, she heard the rumble of an approaching vehicle, followed quickly by the appearance of an ancient Jeep rounding the corner. To Helena’s horror, the passenger seat was occupied by Neil Streep. The vehicle began to slow as it headed toward the dock area.
Turning swiftly in the direction of the treed grove, Helena put her hand to her forehead, shading her eyes and feigning great interest in the scenery beyond. Staring intently into the distance, she was certain that she was striking a ridiculous pose. The vehicle and its passengers seemed not to notice, however, and passed by with no give-away toot of the horn or friendly call. Helena exhaled deeply in relief, and then took a step back from the walkway as she continued to observe the actions of Neil and the driver. Raising her camera again to her eyes, Helena watched as Neil jumped from the vehicle and reached into his pocket. With a quick hand, he extricated a small package and handed it to the driver, who received it with a nod and a flash of white teeth. After a moment, the driver, whose features were obscured by a close-fitting black cap, then handed Neil what appeared to be folded bills held between extended fingers. The two waved briefly as the jeep made a tight right turn, and with a roar of the engine, returned back up the slope to the main road.
Behind the protruding lens, Helena’s eyes widened. She blinked several times, as if to verify what she had just witnessed. A package and what appeared to be money had changed hands. What was in the package? Helena’s mind reeled with possibilities. This certainly was an odd place to conduct legitimate business. Her skin prickled with a chill of apprehension.
The sun had dipped low against the horizon. Helena knew she was unwise to linger much longer, but against her better judgment, she was determined to have her suspicions confirmed, or erased. She watched as Neill strolled toward a small dock to which several dinghies were tied. Approaching the nearest, he deftly untied the knot securing the vessel to a plank of the dock, stepped into a wooden rowboat and dipped a pair of oars into the waves. Under Neil’s powerful strokes, the dinghy pulled away from the dock and headed in the direction of the Odyssey, leaving a v-shaped swath in its wake. Helena waited nervously, the back of her neck tingling with anticipation as Neil reached the Odyssey, tied his dinghy to the side, and clamored aboard. Within minutes, he had disappeared from view.
Lowering her head, Helena emerged onto the sidewalk, feigning absorption in the camera she clutched in her hands. She kept her steps toward the water’s edge casual but determined. If asked her purpose by a passer-by, Helena intended to indicate a photo-journalistic endeavor. Hands shaking, Helena had difficulty maintaining her grip on the camera. Reaching the wooden dock, Helena glanced casually in the direction of the Odyssey. She wished fervently for the cover of the hat she had recklessly tossed aside back at the apartment. Having seen the driver of the Jeep in a similar model, Helena supposed that these were considered fashionable island gear for the shadier element. Quivering with nervous tension, Helena lowered herself casually to the dock, dipping her tanned legs in the warm water. The Odyssey was now no more than 100 meters away. Gazing in the direction opposite to Neil’s boat, she snapped a few photos, pretending to take great care with the composition of each shot. Then, ever so slightly, she eased her lens back toward the Odyssey. What she saw, nearly made her drop the camera. Neil Streep was standing at the stern of the boat, apparently shampooing his hair with the aid of a bucket of water. He was, undeniably, stark naked, brown as a berry, and gleaming impressively in the rays of the setting sun. The camera lens whirred as Helena desperately clicked off several photos. Just as she prepared to take a final shot of his lean, tanned body, Neil Streep turned to face the camera and looked straight at Helena. Pulling her legs from the water, Helena struggled to her feet. Flushing crimson, she turned and made an awkward lunge toward the dock’s edge, missed her footing, and fell flat. Her camera landed, uninjured in the dirt beyond. Scrambling to gather the expensive equipment and replace it around her neck. Helena fumbled her retreat further. Finally, equipped with her belongings, she began a graceless lope back up toward the road. She could almost hear the phantom laughter dogging her footsteps. Reaching the main road, Helena paused momentarily to catch the breath that surged raggedly through her lungs. On a perverse impulse, she turned back for a final glimpse of the Odyssey and its occupant. In the last dying rays of sunlight, she caught the unmistakable glint of a pair of binoculars. They were trained in her direction.
Chapter 7.

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