Sunlight coming through the uncurtained French door, although muted by the live oaks outside, was still bright enough to wake me up. The patio offered a fine view of the estuary which covered most of the marsh grass when the tide was high, as it was mornings this week. So I pulled on a robe and took a cup of coffee out to appreciate the morning.
Yes, really. No daydream fantasy anymore, coffee on the patio had become my morning routine now that my pantry was suitably stocked. George had a well-worn wooden rocker out there that, once I’d added a cushion to the seat, was a lot more comfortable than wooden furniture usually is. I’m a morning person, and this was the nicest spot I could remember spending mornings in a while. The brisk weather hinted that I was eventually going to require something more than a robe, but I’d solve that modest inconvenience as fall progressed.
My very first morning out there, as I pondered George’s disappearance and the meager clues I’d discovered so far (along with the meaning of life and the miracle of coffee), a faint path through the woods out back—overgrown, but still distinguishable—caught my eye and intruded into my reverie. Not that I was driven to get up and check it out immediately, but once I finished my second cup and got dressed, I strolled out there to see what it was.
Not that I knew what I was looking at when I got there. A little clearing nestled among the oaks contained an odd assortment of rocks definitely not natural to the area. The five largest—I could lift the one I tested, but only just—formed a cross, with one in the center and the others on the tips. Smaller ones, averaging about the size of a cantaloupe, further defined the cross, four to an arm. More rocks, most baseball sized although the four midpoints were a bit larger, delimited a circle between the four outer stones. The whole thing was around 15’ in diameter.
It took fifteen minutes of searching the Internet to discover that what I’d found was a medicine wheel. Wikipedia further informed me that medicine wheels, originally sacred to Native American religious practices, had more recently become common in “New Age, Wiccan, Pagan and other spiritual discourse throughout the World.”
What I didn’t know was if this was a clue or just a curiosity.
Next in my morning routine, after normal ablutions of course, was breakfast at Peckerwood’s. It seemed like a good compromise. Breakfast may not be the most important meal of the day—in case you haven’t figured it out, your mother might have exaggerated when she told you that bit of folklore—but it definitely is the most affordable if you’re going to eat out. Plus Sabrina worked mornings. She sadly informed me on Sunday that she hadn’t been able to get a hair appointment on Monday and no way could she get married without having her hair done, could we reschedule for Monday week? I graciously consented, of course, sharing the blame by telling her that my tux wasn’t back from the cleaner’s yet.
After a couple of mornings people began to stop by my table and introduce themselves. Only a handful accepted my offer to sit, but it was a start. Those who did almost always had a story about George fixing something—an outboard motor that hadn’t run right since the storm blew water up under the housing, a water pump that kept kicking the breaker, a railing that needed to be extra strong so granny “could hang on to it while she hauled her fat ass up the stairs” (those were the exact words of Merwin Heyward, who also informed me that a relative of his had signed the Declaration of Independence). Nobody knew a Lacey. Few believed that George could’ve had a girlfriend, since he was “a confirmed bachelor,” “pretty much of a loner,” and “sure liked his quiet.”
I’d made the trek to Beaufort to get a shot down copy of the painting of the island and the map (as well as the cushion for the rocker), since the originals were too big to haul around. I’d been showing them around for a few days but nobody recognized the place.
In fact, I didn’t discover a single answer, although I did uncover a more questions. On Monday I finally got around to emptying George’s clothes out of the dresser so I could unpack. Tucked in under his socks was a large heavy pin that looked like it was made of bronze or brass (I wasn’t exactly sure what the difference is). The design was quite unusual: an open circle with ornate knobby clusters on the two ends. The word “Celtic” came to mind, although it certainly wasn’t what I think of as a Celtic knot or similar design. The pin was unusual too, straight and sharp and not protected like it is in most brooches I’d seen. I added searching the Internet to see if I could find out what it was to my list of things to do.
Tuesday, as requested, I checked in with Adeline. It was late in the afternoon and I was killing time down at the boat ramp. There were still a half dozen empty trailers in the parking lot for boats that hadn’t come in yet. These would be the hardest of the hard core fishermen and my best resource to find out about the island George had named Avalon.
“So how are you enjoying White Sands, Rick?” The bell-tone giggle was back. Must be part of her telephone persona; I hadn’t noticed it at all while we were having lunch.
“Actually, it’s not as bad as I feared. The TV doesn’t work yet, but the back porch is spectacular and there’s a great place in town to eat. The people here are friendly even though I’m an outsider, and always happy to share a story about something your father fixed for them. Apparently they regarded him as something special, although he didn’t seem to be real close to any of them.”
“Sounds just like Daddy. I suppose nobody has any leads on what might have happened?”
“Not yet, but it’s still early. By the way, did he ever mention a woman named Lacey? Apparently they were dating.”
“Daddy dating? That’s a little hard to believe. What makes you think that?”
“I found a book she’d given him. The inscription makes it sound like their relationship was intimate.”
She was quiet so long I wondered if we’d been disconnected. Then she started laughing. Not the reaction I’d anticipated.
“How do you suppose he wooed her without talking? Never mind, I’m just being catty. I guess I don’t really mind if he was sleeping with someone other than Mother, just surprised. Wouldn’t it be something if when you locate her, you discovered that he’d just left it all behind and moved in with her. Although I’d definitely be pissed.”
“There’ve been a couple of other surprises as well. There’s a medicine wheel out in the back of the house, and an antique bronze brooch or a facsimile tucked down in his sock drawer. Don’t know if they have any bearing on what happened to him, though.”
Another long silence. “Sounds like I really didn’t know him very well.” I couldn’t tell from her tone of voice if she were being wistful or embarrassed. “Would it help if I came down there?”
“Unless you can fix TVs, I don’t think so. Let me dig some more first.”
A boat was pulling into the ramp so I said my goodbyes, although I promised to make checking in on Tuesdays a weekly event. It was the Hendersons, Vic and Gloria, a retired couple I’d met at Peckerwood’s a couple of days before. They were in their late sixties and went out most days except never on the Lords’ day—that would have been a sin. Rode each other mercilessly. Didn’t recognize the island or know of anything there on the map that might have been marked with a pen.
“Unless it was his own special fishing drop.”
“’Cept only a dumb ass like you would mark a drop on a map, somebody might find it.”
“I wouldn’t need to mark a spot, I can still remember stuff. Not like somebody who I won’t name that loses her glasses twenty times a day and can’t remember where she set her coffee cup.”
“Least I didn’t forget my own anniversary thirty years in a row.”
“I didn’t forgot, just didn’t see any cause to celebrate.”
“You should be celebrating because you finally got some real lovin’, didn’t have to rely on those sheep anymore.”
Ah, isn’t love wonderful. Just not particularly helpful. Neither were the Oak brothers or Old Johnny, who gave me a big speck out of a cooler crammed with the day’s success. Even Joe and Ollie couldn’t shed any light.
“I don’t believe that island is anywhere around here. I’da seen it if it was. You, Ollie?”
“Nah. Prolly just some place he dreamed of. I know for certain, ain’t nothin’ where you got that mark on the map. After Big Crab Island, there’s just a long oyster bank sticks out in the bay, then a big open stretch before you come to Shark Point.”
“No, that ain’t exactly how it is, Ollie. After Big Crab there’s that big ass mud flat, then some pissant little island that’s doesn’t have a name, got that big dead oak on it, then comes the oyster bank.”
“Naw, Joe, this once it’s you who’s wrong. That little island with the dead oak is before you get to Big Crab. And no, before you ask, I ain’t bettin’, you’re not gettin’ any of my money this time. I’m just tellin’ you the way it is.”
Joe looked at me and scratched his nose. “Much as it pains me to admit it, what Ollie’s really trying to say is, we’re not sure. We don’t usually fish down to that end of the bay.”
Ollie chimed in. “And what Joe’s too embarrassed to say is, if you really want to know, ask James.”