Island of the Sequined Love Nun Chapter 65~67
Down to the Promised Land
Malink joined Tuck on the flight deck and tried to work the flight officer’s harness around his belly as Tuck released the ground brakes and the jet started rolling. The two fighters did another pass overhead, one of the pilots warning Tuck not to attempt to take off.
“You forced me down,” Tuck said into the headset mike. “What more do you guys want?”
He rammed the throttles to maximum. They either had enough runway or they didn’t. What was certain was that he wouldn’t know in time to stop. They were going into the ocean or into the sky and that was that.
The flaps were down for maximum lift, which would use three times as much fuel as a regular takeoff, but that was a problem to deal with once they were in the air. He looked at the ocean ahead, then at the airspeed indicator, then at the ocean ahead – back and forth, waiting, waiting, waiting for the airspeed indicator to reach the point where the plane would lift. He was twenty knots short of takeoff speed when the end of the runway disappeared from view and he started his pull up.
The rear wheels of the great plane grazed the water as it lifted into the air. Tuck heard what he hoped was a cheer coming from the back of the plane, but there was a distinct possibility that he was hearing collective screams of terror. He had just lifted off with three hundred and thirty-two people who had never flown before. Tuck thought of Sepie, who would have started her first plane ride two hours ago.
“Where are we going?” Malink asked.
He was trying to compose himself, but when Tuck looked at him, he saw that the old chief’s eyes were as wide as saucers.
“A place called Costa Rica,” Tuck said. “You ever heard of it?”
Malink shook his head. “Vincent tells you to take us there.”
“No, it was my idea, actually.”
“There is plenty cargo on Costa Rica?”
Couldn’t say, Malink, but the climate is nice and there’s no extradition.”
“That is good?” Malink said, as if he had the slightest idea what extradition was.
Tuck admired the old chief. He was here because his god told him to be here. He had just made a decision that would change the history of an entire population, and he had done it on faith.
Tuck set the autopilot and crawled out of the pilot’s seat. “I’m going back to make sure everyone is strapped in. Don’t touch anything.”
Malink’s eyes went wide again. “Who is flying the plane?”
Tuck winked. “I think you know.” He turned and headed down the steps to check on his passengers.
Pushed to his limit and no little bit frightened, Sebastian Curtis sneaked up on his wife, who was in full tantrum, and injected her in the thigh with a syringe full of Valium. She turned and gave him a good shot to the jaw before she started to calm down. He caught her by the shoulders and backed her into the office chair in front of the computer.
“Don’t worry,” he said, “Nomura is on his way back with the Lear. We’ll be long gone before anyone can get here.”
“How did he do it?” Beth’s voice was weak now, trailing off at the end.
“I don’t know. I’m surprised he’s even alive. We’ll be fine. We have plenty of money. Not as much as we’d hoped, but if we’re careful…”
“He turned them against me,” she said. “My people…” She didn’t finish.
Sebastian stroked her hair. The clinic door opened and Mato came inside carrying his Uzi. “Phone,” he said.
“No,” Sebastian said. “I’ve already called Japan. The Lear is on its way. Now give us some privacy.”
Mato threw the bolt on the Uzi and said something in Japanese. Sebastian didn’t move. Mato dug the barrel of the gun into the doctor’s ribs. “Phone,” he said.
Sebastian picked up the receiver that was connected to the satellite and handed it over.
“Out,” Mato said.
Sebastian helped Beth to her feet. “Come on. We have to do as he says.”
Beth let him lift her to her feet, then she pointed a finger at Mato. “You can kiss your Christmas bonus good-bye, ninja boy. That’s it.”
Sebastian dragged her through the door and helped her across the com-pound to her bungalow. Inside he lay her on the bed. Getting her out of the surgical greens was like trying to undress a rag doll. She babbled inco-herently the whole time, but did not fight him. When he turned to leave the room, two of the guards were standing in the doorway grinning. One of them motioned for him to leave the room. The other stared hungrily at Beth.
“No,” Sebastian said. He stepped into the doorway and pushed aside the barrels of their weapons. They stepped back in unison and raised the Uzis. Sebastian stepped toward them. They took another step back. He was a full foot taller than either of them.
“Get out,” he said and he took another step. They stepped back. “Out. Get out. Or do you want to lose all your fingers?” He’d found the magic words. The people they worked for were notorious for taking the finger joints of those who disobeyed. The guards looked at each other, then backed out the door that led into the compound. One of them hurled a curse in Japanese as he went. Behind them Sebastian saw Mato coming out of the clinic. He marched right for Beth’s bungalow, almost stomping the ground as he walked, his jaw clenched and his weapon held before him. Sebastian closed the door, locked it, and ran to the bedroom.
“Come on, Beth. Get up. We’ve got to get out of here.” She was still conscious, but had no coordination. He picked her up and threw her over his shoulder in a fireman’s carry, then went out the french doors onto the lanai and down the steps to the beach.
The warm water seemed to revive her somewhat and he managed to get her to kick as together they made the swim around the minefield.
The fighters veered off after an hour and the 747 was picked up by a B-52 that stayed on them until they were in fighter range of the Americas, where they were joined by two F-16s. Out of Panama, Tuck guessed. What exactly did they think they were going to accomplish? A 747 wasn’t the kind of plane you ditch in the jungle and make your escape. In fact, Tuck didn’t think that any plane was that kind of plane. He certainly wasn’t going to ditch in the jungle or in the water for that matter. Despite his misgivings, they were going to make it to Costa Rica with plenty of fuel. They were well below the plane’s passenger capacity and they carried almost no baggage and no commissary supplies. The only worry he had now was what would happen to him when they got on the ground. It was true, Costa Rica had no extradition treaty with the United States, but what he had done was an act of international terrorism. He might have done better to head back to Hawaii and take his chances with the FBI rather than risk rotting away in a Central American jail. Still, something told him that this was where he should be going. He didn’t know why, really, he had picked Costa Rica, any more than he knew why he had stolen a plane and gone back to Alualu in the first place.
As he started his descent for Palmar Airport on the coast, the B-52 veered off to the north and was soon out of sight. Tuck had turned the radio off hours ago, tired of hearing the same threats and commands from the milit-ary pilots. As much as he hated the idea of giving the authorities a warning, however, he turned on the radio to advise the tower at Palmar that he was coming in. A midair collision might be even worse than a Costa Rican jail. Especially with three hundred and thirty-two lives riding his soul to hell.
He called to the tower, then took off the headset and sat back and relaxed, convinced that for once in his life he had done the right thing. Somehow he would see to it that Sepie got half the money from the Swiss bank ac-counts. He envisioned her in a big house with one bedroom and seventy-two bathrooms with a television in every one. She’d be fine.
Malink, who had gone to the back to reassure his people, came up the steps and climbed into the flight officer’s chair. “We are going down?” he said.
“You’ll like it,” Tuck said. “The weather here is the same as Alualu. There are beaches and jungles just like home.”
They could see the coast now, extending into the distance to the north and south, the rainforest running from beaches to mountains. “This island much bigger than Alualu.”
“It’s not an island.” Tuck realized that Malink had never walked more than a mile without having to turn. “Your people will be fine.”
“Are there sharks here?”
“A lot of sharks,” Tuck said.
Malink nodded “My people will be fine.” He was quiet for a minute, then said, “Will you come with us?”
“I don’t think so, Chief. I’m going to be in a lot of trouble when we land.”
“But didn’t Vincent tell you to do this?”
“Sort of. Why?”
Malink sat back with a self-satisfied smile. “You’ll be fine.”
An alarm went off in the cockpit and Tuck scanned the instruments to see what had gone wrong. The red air collision warning lights were flashing. Tuck scanned the sky for another plane, then, seeing nothing, put on the headset to see if the Palmar tower could tell him what was going on.
Before he could key the mike someone said, “Darlin’, I’ll be whitewashed if stink don’t follow you like a manure wagon in summer.” A familiar, melodic Texas drawl, probably the sweetest sound he had ever heard.
“Mary Jean,” Tuck said. “Where are you?”
“Out your window at eleven o’clock.”
Tuck looked up and saw a brand-new pink Gulfstream running parallel to them.
“If you’d a been wearing your headset, you would have known I was here fifteen minutes ago.”
“What are you doing here?”
“Jake called me from Hawaii and told me what you was doing. We cooked up a little plan. I’m gonna get your tail out of the fire one last time, Tucker Case, but you owe me.”
“Boy, have I heard that before.”
“Do you remember the corporate address in Houston? The number?”
“Well, you dial that up as a frequency and I’ll give you the skinny. It’s unladylike to broadcast your personal matters over the same frequency the tower’s using.”
They were lying in the jungle near the runway when the Learjet landed. Sebastian left Beth sleeping under some banana leaves and crawled to where he could see. The jet taxied to the gate and stopped with the engines still running. The guards came out of different buildings and converged on the plane. They’d stacked duffel bags near the gate.
“What’s going on?” Beth crawled up behind him. The effects of the Valium were obviously wearing off.
“I think they’re leaving.”
“Not without us, they’re not. I am the Sky Priestess and I won’t allow it.” She started to get up and Sebastian pulled her back down.
“They were coming to kill us, Beth. You were out.”
“Right. If you ever drug me again – “
“You’re insane,” he said.
She reared back to slap him and he caught her hand. “Keep it up, Beth. I’m telling you that if they find us, they’ll kill us. Do you understand that?”
“They’re grunts. I won’t…”
Suddenly there was a huge explosion from across the runway and they turned to see a mushroom of fire rising from where the clinic used to be.
The guards had loaded onto the jet and Nomura was taxiing to the end of the runway.
The guards’ quarters went off next, then the hangar, the barrels of jet fuel throwing a column of flame five hundred feet in the air.
“Where did they get explosives?” Beth said. “Did you know they had explosives?”
“They’re destroying the evidence,” Sebastian said. “Orders from Japan, I’m sure.”
The Learjet started its run for takeoff as Sebastian’s bungalow went off like a fragmentation grenade, followed by Tuck’s old quarters and Beth’s bungalow. Fire rained down across the island.
“My shoes! All of my shoes were in there. You bastards.” Beth pulled away from Sebastian and ran out on the runway just as the Learjet passed.
“You rotten bastards!”
The Sky Priestess stood in the middle of the runway and screamed herself mute as the Lear disappeared into the clouds.
If They’d Only Had Her at the Alamo
Mary Jean brought the pink Gulfstream in right on the tail of the 747. Tuck kept the speed over eighty in the taxi, turning it away from the terminal, where police jeeps and a hundred men in riot gear waited. He also noticed a half-dozen TV news trucks there as well.
“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Costa Rica, the new home of the Shark People. The temperature outside is 85 degrees and it’s clear that things are going to get ugly. I hope everybody’s ready.”
The police jeeps were speeding across the tarmac toward the two jets. Mary Jean turned the Gulfstream so that it was facing back toward the runway.
Tuck turned to Malink. “Where’s Roberto?”
Malink pointed up. Roberto hung from the handle of the emergency hatch. There was a spring-loaded spool of steel cable attached to the ceiling next to the hatch. “Mary Jean, you ready?”
“Sweetheart, we’d better git while the gitten’s good. We stirred a hornet’s nest out here.”
Tuck grabbed Roberto and stuffed him inside his shirt. “Stay,” he said. Then he opened the hatch and looked back at Malink. “I have to go now.”
Malink took Tuck in his big arms and squeezed until the bat screamed. “You will come back.”
“If you say so, Chief.” Tuck flipped the intercom switch and picked up the headset. “Go!” he said and climbed up into the hatch.
The six doors on the 747 all sprung open at once and the yellow emergency slides inflated and extended to the ground as if the jet was a huge insect suddenly growing legs. The Shark People piled
down the emergency slides and Mary Jean spooled up the Gulfstream for takeoff.
Tuck climbed onto the roof and reached back into the hatch for the loop of nylon webbing that attached to the spool of cable. The police jeeps were pulling up on the sides of the two jets; men with rifles stood in the back trying to figure out what they should be shooting at. The Shark People crowded in between the jets, making a human corridor. Tuck took a deep breath and leaped off the top of the jumbo jet. The spring-loaded coil of cable did exactly what Boeing had designed it to do: It lowered the pilot safely to the ground from four stories up. Once on the ground, Tuck ran under the cover of the Shark People and leaped into the open door of the Gulfstream. “Go!” he yelled.
The Shark People scrambled away and Mary Jean released the ground brakes. The jet shot forward. Tuck slammed the door and got to the cockpit just as a jeep swerved out of the jet’s path and flipped over.
“Don’t try to play chicken with me, snotnose,” Mary Jean said grimly. “I knew James Dean his own self.”
“Think they’ll let you get this thing in the air?”
“I’d like to see ’em try to stop me.”
The police jeeps seemed to part for the jet as it headed back to the runway. For all the guns there, no one seemed interested in firing a shot. Tuck looked back and saw the Shark People waving as Mary Jean made her takeoff run.
When they were airborne, she said, “Tucker Case, when you make a turnaround, boy, you don’t do it half-twiddle, do you?”
Tuck laughed. “Did you really know James Dean?”
“Sounded good, didn’t it?” She turned to him. Not surprisingly, her makeup was done perfectly to complement her outfit and the Gulfstream’s headset. She let out a little yelp. “Tucker, there’s a varmint in your shirt.”
“That’s Roberto,” Tuck said. “He no like the light.”
“Darlin’, if I had a face like that, I’d gravitate toward dim and unlit territories myself. Remind me to give your friend a sample of our new depilatory.”
“What was that all about back there?” Tuck asked.
“Heroics, son. I told you on the phone, I believe in redemption and I thought it was time I practiced what I preached. Were they really selling those poor heathens’ organs?”
“Beg your pardon, Mary Jean, I really do appreciate the rescue, but don’t bullshit me. Any one of those cops could have shot out the tires of this plane and we’d still be on the ground.”
She smiled, a knowing smile with a hint of mischief, the Mona Lisa in a big blond wig. “Media event, son. You’d be surprised how far a little palm grease goes in the Third World. Why, I couldn’t buy the media coverage my company’s going to get on this with a year’s profits. And of course you’re going to reimburse me for the bribes. Jake says you’ll be able to. The tax boys frown on taking bribes. as a deduction. Although we could take it as advertising expense. Never mind, you don’t owe me nothing.”
“So that’s the only reason you did it, the media coverage?”
“I was shabby to you, Tucker. Not that you didn’t deserve it, but I wasn’t feeling so good about myself for doing it. I aways kinda looked at you like my wayward little lamb. Course, I’m from cattle folk.”
Tuck smiled. “Whatever. Where are we going?”
“Little place of mine in the Cayman Islands. Jake’s going to meet us there with your little friend.”
The Cannibal Tree Revisited
The Sky Priestess awoke with a terrible pain in her head. She couldn’t feel her arms or legs, and something was cutting her between her breasts. She and the Sorcerer had been living in the deserted village for two weeks. The last thing she could remember was the Sorcerer going into the dark for more firewood and hearing a thud. When he didn’t answer her call, she had gone to look for him.
She opened her eyes and blinked to clear her vision. The world seemed to be spinning and for a second all she could see was a green blur that was the jungle. Then things popped into focus. She was slowly turning at the end of a coconut fiber rope, suspended six feet above the ground. The harness was digging in between her breasts and cutting off the circulation to her limbs. She lifted her head and saw an ancient native tending a long earthen oven that was spouting smoke from either end. The Sorcerer’s clothes were piled nearby.
The old native looked up and ambled over to her on spindly legs. There were chicken feathers stuck in his hair and his eyes had a rheumy yellow cast to them.
He grinned at her with teeth that looked as if they had been filed to points, then reached up and pinched her cheek. “Yum,” he said.
Due to the influence of Mary Jean Dobbins, who opened a manufacturing plant in the capital, and a large land purchase by an anonymous buyer, the Shark People were accepted as Costa Rican citizens and their land was set aside as a national reserve. Malink remained chief for many years, and when he became too old to carry the responsibility – since he had no sons – he appointed Abo his successor. Abo learned to preside over the ceremonies in honor of Vincent and led the prayers for his return, for they all believed that he would return, but as time passed and history grew to legend, they believed that this time Vincent would return in a pink jet and at his side would be the prophet Tuck – who had delivered them from the Sky Priestess – and the great navigator Kimi, without whom, it was said, the prophet Tuck couldn’t find his ass with both hands.
Every morning before breakfast, Tucker Case walked his bat on the beaches of Little Cay. Actually, the bat flew on those mornings. Tuck usually flew in the afternoons. He owned a five-passenger Cessna that he tied down on the airstrip next to the small house where he and Sepie lived. With what was left of his half of the money from the Swiss bank accounts – after buying the house and the plane and ten thousand acres of Costa Rican coastal rainforest, which he gave to the Shark People – Tuck was able to buy Sepie a satellite dish and a thirty-two-inch Sony Trinitron, which was all she asked for besides his love, loyalty, and that the bat stay out of the house. Tuck gave
her all she wanted, and in return asked her to love him, respect him, and to turn down “Wheel of Fortune” when he was doing his books.
He chartered his plane out to fishermen and scuba divers who wanted to island-hop and made enough money to keep them in food and Sepie in perfume, lipstick and Wonder Bras, the latter a new obsession she had picked up and more often than not the only item of clothing she ever wore.
One morning, just before sunrise, after they had been on Little Cay for a year, Tuck spotted a figure standing alone on the beach. He knew who it was before he was close enough to see him. He could feel it.
As he got closer, he looked at the sharp dark features, the flight suit shot with starch and free of wrinkles, and he said, “You look pretty good for a dead guy.”
Vincent took a pack of cigarettes out of his jacket pocket, tapped one out, and lit it. “You did good, kid. I’d have to call it even.”
“The least I could do,” Tuck said. “But can I ask you a question?”
“Shoot,” said Vincent.
“Why’d you do it?”
“I didn’t do anything. I didn’t move a thing, I didn’t touch a thing, I didn’t change a thing. Believers do everything.”
“Come on,” Tuck said. “I deserve a straight answer.”
The flyer turned away for a moment and looked at the corona over the water where the sun was about to rise. “You’re right, kid. You do. You re-member that speech the dame gave you about losers doing good on islands because there’s no competition?”
“Well, it ain’t the case. Islands are like, you know, incubators. You got to start things and let em grow. Isolate ’em. That’s why all your loony-toon cult guys have to get their people out in the boonies somewhere where no one can talk any sense into ’em. Just nod if you’re gettin’ any of this, kid. Good.
“Well, I had this bet with these guys I play cards with that my little cult could go big-time if I could get enough citizens. I told ’em, ‘Two thousand years ago you guys were just running cults. Get me to the mainland and give me a thousand years and I’ll give you a run for your money.’ All the conditions were right. You need some pressure, I got the war. You need a promise, I got the promise I’ll come back with cargo. I’m on easy street. Then this crazy dame and the doc come along and start selling me up the river and I’m thinking
it’s my chance to make the bigs. You’ve got to have some bad guys so your citizens can recognize who the good guys are, right? So I says to myself, ‘Vincent, it is time you got yourself a Moses. Get a guy who can get your people out of trouble and give them some stories to build a reputation on.'”
“And that was me?” Tuck said.
“That was you.”
“Why me? Why did you pick me?”
“You weren’t busy.”
“And that was it? I wasn’t busy?”
“Face it, kid, you were flying with full flaps down. You know that saying? “The devil makes work for idle hands.”
“It’s true, but only if he gets there first. He didn’t even want you, so I showed.”
“So are you going to screw up the rest of my life?”
“You ain’t got it so bad. It ain’t like you have to go into the desert for forty years. What are you worried about?”
“Yeah, I’m happy now, but are we finished?”
Vincent butted his cigarette in the sand. “That kind of depends on what you believe, doesn’t it kid? He began to fade as he walked down the beach. “Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”
Tuck watched as a sailing canoe materialized on the beach. Kimi was at the tiller and waved as Vincent climbed into the front of the canoe. Tuck waved back even as the canoe dissolved to mist, then he walked home to have breakfast with Sepie. He stopped at the door to wipe his feet and Roberto landed with a thud against the screen, digging his claws in to keep from slipping.
“Boy, I’m glad all that supernatural stuff is over,” the bat said.
Afterword and Acknowledgments
My approach to research has always been: “Is this correct or should I be more vague?” A quick word search of one of my books reveals that I use the term “kinda-sorta” more than any living author. My readers, who are the kindest and most intelligent people in the world, understand this. They know that using my books as a reference source is tantamount to using glazed doughnuts as a building material. They know that these pages serve the masters of goofiness, not those of accuracy. So…
While some of the locations in Island of the Sequined Love Nun do exist, I have changed them for my convenience. There is no island of Alualu, nor do the Shark People exist as I have described them. There are no active cargo cults in Micronesia, nor are there any cannibals. The position of mispel did exist in Yapese culture but was abandoned almost a hundred years ago. A strict caste system still exists on Yap and the surrounding is-lands, and the treatment of Yapese women is portrayed as I saw it. My decision to make the “organ smugglers” Japanese was dictated by geo-graphy, not culture or race.
Most of the information on cargo cults comes, secondhand, from anthro-pological research done in the Melanesian Islands. I have found since fin-ishing Island of the Sequined Love Nun that the “Cannibal-Spam Theory” was first postulated in Paul Theroux’s book The Happy Isles of Oceania, and I must give a jealous nod to Mr. Theroux for that twisted bit of thinking. The information on Micronesian navigation and navigators comes from Stephen Thomas’s wonderful book The Last Navigator. My depiction of the shark hunt comes from a story told to me by a high school teacher on Yap about the people of the island of Fais, and I have no idea whether it is ac-curate. The
day-to-day life on Alualu, with the exceptions of the religious rites and outright silliness, comes from my experience on the high island of Mog Mog in the Ulithi Atoll, where I had the privilege of living with Chief Antonio Taithau and his family. Many thanks to Chief Antonio, his wife, Conception, and his daughters, Kathy and Pamela, who saw that I was fed and who pulled me out of the well that I fell in after too much tuba at the drinking circle. Also, thanks to Alonzo, my Indiana Jones kid, who followed me around and made sure I didn’t get killed on the reef or eaten by sharks and who I forgive for letting me fall down the well. Many thanks also to Frank the teacher, Favo the elder, Hillary the boat pilot, and all the kids who climbed trees for my drinking coconuts.
I also owe a debt of gratitude to those people who helped me get to the outer islands: Mercy and all the Peace Corps Volunteers on Yap, Chief In-gnatho Hapthey and the Council of Tamil, and John Lingmar at the Bureau of Outer Island Affairs on Yap, who educated me about local customs, gave permission, and made arrangements. Also to the people of Pacific Mission-ary Air, who got me there and back and answered my questions on flying in the islands.
Thanks to the Americans I met on Truk: Ron Smith, who loaned me his diving knife, and Mark Kampf, who gave me his sunscreen, Neosporin, and duct tape, all of which saved my life. (Research Rule #1: Never go to an undeveloped island without duct tape and a big knife.)
Here in the States, thanks goes out to the following people:
Bobby Benson, who told me about Micronesia in the first place.
Gary Kravitz for voluminous information on aircraft and flying.
Mike Molnar for more pilot stuff as well as patient explanations of computer and communication technology.
Donna Ortiz, who gave me the phrase, “you’re just a geek in a cool guy’s body” (and I have no idea who she was talking about at the time).
Dr. Alan Peters for medical information.
Shelly Lowenkopf for supplying out-of-print books on cargo cults.
Jim Silke and Lynn Rathbun for drawings and maps.
Ian Corsan for advice on equipment and how to survive in the tropics.
Charlee Rodgers, Dee Dee Leichtfuss, Liz Ziemska, and Christina Harcar for careful readings and helpful suggestions.
Nick Ellison, my agent and friend, for helping to keep the wolf from the door while I wrote.
Rachel Klayman and Chris Condry, my editors at Avon Books, for their confidence and support.
And most of all, my thanks to novelist Jean Brody, who took the time from her own writing to do a line edit on Love Nun.
While all the above people helped in the research and writing of this book, none of them are responsible for the liberties I took with the information they gave me. When in doubt, assume that I made everything up.
– Christopher Moore November 1996