Dobie hadn’t been joking about having a full day, and for the first time Lexi was able to confirm her suspicion that his house had been built to be as much a meeting center as it was a domicile. She stayed more or less out of the way, shooting her bow in the backyard, reading and napping, but there were important movers and shakers in and out of the place in a steady stream from nine in the morning until the close of business.
As the sun started to fall in the sky, Lexi watched the last of the day’s procession of limousines and company cars pull out of the driveway, and she went looking for Dobie. She couldn’t find him, but Maya showed her how to use the house’s intercom.
Lexi keyed it with a giggle. “Hey, Dobie, I’m taking one of your cars down to the beach for dinner. You’d better appear if you want a say in which one it is.”
He was there in two minutes. “What ‘beach’ do you intend to go to?” he asked. He sounded amused by the idea.
“Isn’t this an island?” she asked. “You’re surrounded by ocean, I can smell it. There’s got to be a beach somewhere.”
“Does there, now?”
“Of course there does. They had pictures of beaches on the tourist guide.”
“I’m afraid those are up in the northeast. About a thousand miles from here.”
Lexi shrugged. “I wasn’t looking for a touristy beach. Just water. I know we’re close to the ocean.”
“That we are,” Dobie said. “But there’s no…look, I’ll show you. Victor, get the keys to the Discovery, would you please? We’ll need its off-road capability,” he added.
“Spoken like a knowledgeable guy who’s watched too many Camel Trophy loops,” Lexi said. Maybe Dobie did know his off-road vehicles, but she was willing to be that he’d picked the Disco because of Land Rover’s much-publicized off-road adventures, footage of which the Discovery usually figured heavily in.
Still, she could give him the benefit of the doubt. She was in a good mood. She didn’t even complain when Victor pulled up in a slate-blue Land Rover Discovery, handed the keys to Dobie, and got in the back.
“You need a tour of the area,” Dobie said as they passed the gate, turning away from town.
“I’ve been here already,” Lexi said. “Mostly annoying your neighbors, what few of them there are, by driving non-street legal race cars all over the place.”
“That’s not exactly what I meant.”
“I know. So where does this road we’re on lead to?”
He pointed forward. “This road goes up the ridge, which is between us and the ocean.”
“I noticed. How high?”
“About six hundred feet. The road follows an old military trail, in both directions from the ‘T.'”
“The one at your house?”
“No, before it. You were turning right to make your driving loops.”
Lexi bounced in her seat, remembering the fun she’d had on the twisty, hilly road. “Okay, I remember that. I went down a ways, and found a couple of roads that looped back.”
“If you’d kept going straight that road would eventually come down off the ridge, and take you out into the desert.”
“Salt desert, right?”
“More or less,” Dobie said. “Skirt the edge of the desert, get on the highway, and that takes you into Marjori. Stay on L7–that’s the name of the highway–and you’ll continue on across the desert to Hamilton. It also intersects G18 and G16 along the way, both of which will take you to the beaches you want to see so badly, I suppose.”
She didn’t tell him she’d already been on it. “I can’t believe you have a highway named L7. That’s hysterical.”
She rolled her eyes. “Never mind. But we’re going away from Marjori and all that, so what’s ahead of us?”
“On the other side of the ridge, we go through Roman, and then it drops fairly steeply to the ocean.”
“A little fishing town.”
“Cool. How do we get to the water?”
“There are roads we can take to get down there, but you’re going to find more marsh than beach.” Dobie pointed out the window to the sizeable trees and thick undergrowth that bracketed the road. “All of this vegetation is growing on soil that’s been transplanted in the past forty or fifty years–it used to be a barren crag, really. At the water’s edge, a break has been built–I think parts of it are scuttled warships, in fact–that keeps the waves from destroying all the work they’ve done down there. There’s a levee, and a long shallow overspillway that fills up when the tide is in.”
“Cool! Let’s take our Chevy to the levee and go see.”
“There’s nothing down there but mud, rocks and water, Lexi.” As he talked, they reached the top of the ridge, and the road dropped rapidly. The trees thinned out somewhat, and little square saltbox houses began to dot the landscape. Many of them were on stilts. Lexi assumed that she was looking at Roman. It wasn’t much more than a collection of little houses, none of them more than one story, a gas station, two cute stone churches and a building that looked like a general store. Several roads led away from what could be called downtown; all of them except the one they were on led toward the ocean.
“I like mud and water. Rocks I can live without, but that’s okay. Is the tide in?”
In the back seat, Victor consulted his watch. “On its way out,” he said. They had already passed through Roman, and the trees closed in again. The road took a delightful curve downhill and to the left, starting to head away from the ocean.
“Supercool! We’ll go down and see if we can catch ourselves a crab or two.”
Dobie’s brow creased. “What on earth for?”
“To eat, stoogephile! Are you kidding? Your gourmet palate doesn’t get all aquiver at the idea of fresh-from-the-surf shellfish? Free, no less. You can’t tell me they’ve invented a law against it.”
“Oh, I’m sure it’s legal, I just don’t know why you’d want to. If you want crab for dinner, we can ask Giovanni to get–“
“Bork Giovanni. I don’t want him to get me a crab. I want to get my own, one that I stalked and seized with my bare hands. Turn here,” she said, pointing to a small road that appeared on the right. “Does that go down to the water?” Lexi craned her neck and could just see a featureless expanse through the trees on that side of the road, a hint of the distance down they’d have to travel. Goodness, the ocean was close, wasn’t it? “I’ll bet Victor would like a crab, wouldn’t he?” She turned in her seat. Victor did his best stoneface. “Of course he would. Dobie, you missed the turn.”
“I’m not driving down there so you can get yourself hurt trying to catch a crab. And I’m surely not going to let you eat a wild animal,” Dobie said sternly.
He wasn’t stern enough for Lexi, though. “Of course you will, because you want to be a good host. This is the sort of thing I do for fun, Dobie. Humor me.”
He looked at her for a long moment. The Discovery slowed slightly as his foot came off the gas. “It doesn’t sound like fun to me.”
“Have you ever tried it?”
“Of course not.”
“Me, either. We’re definitely doing it. Where does this road go when it comes off the ridge?”
“There’s a smaller village with no name a bit farther along–technically part of Roman–and it ends where it meets the desert on the other side of that. About twenty miles.”
“What do people out here do, Dobie?”
“Roman has a small port, and most of the residents work there, or are sailors. There’s no farming at this end.”
“This ‘end?’ Isn’t this island mostly round?”
“Sorry,” he said with a smile. “The three islands of Ile du Soleil are positioned in a vague crescent, so because of the land bridges we tend to refer to them as if they’re connected. We’re at the southern end of the south-most island, hence, ‘this end.'”
Lexi nodded. “Cool. Turn here,” she said, pointing to another road to the right. This time, Dobie turned. “The land bridges are those highways that connect the islands, right? Like the ones in the Keys?”
“That’s the first comparison Americans always make,” Dobie said. His tone was just patronizing enough to remind Lexi that she didn’t like him all that much all the time. “But ours are much larger. There are almost ninety miles of bridge connecting the islands, and they’re strong enough to withstand tropical storms without flooding or damage. They also carry rail traffic.”
“I’m all atwitter,” she said. “We should take that Diablo you have and go play, see if we can break 200.”
“There is a reasonable and prudent speed limit, remember?”
“Of course I do. If we get pulled over, you can just bribe the cops,” Lexi said lightly. Dobie gave her a sharp look, which she ignored. She hadn’t been serious anyway. She watched the ocean come closer as they descended. The road had gotten steeper, less well maintained, and narrower. “Can we drive down to the water, or does someone own this land?”
“We can go down to the water,” Dobie said. His tone suggested that he could drive to the water whether someone owned the land or not.
Shortly the road petered out entirely, and the Discovery was driving across the top of a grassy hill. The Pacific Ocean spread out two hundred yards in front of them, and Lexi smiled.
Dobie looked about; there were no other vehicles or human habitation in sight. No airplanes, either. He started down the slope, which ended in the rock-lined levee which kept the tidal waters from swallowing the artificial shore. When they reached the levee, he drove along it for a short distance, looking for a clearing so they could get back up on the ridge bordering the ocean.
“Why don’t we get out and climb?” Lexi asked.
Dobie looked at Victor, who remained studiously neutral.
“Oh, my God, you’re afraid of dirt, aren’t you?”
“I’m not afraid of dirt.”
“Well, I’m getting out. And I’m going to get all wet and dirty, too, so spread out your towels on the seats if you brought them.” Lexi bounced out of the truck and ran up the hill that separated them from the ocean.
She had more than one reason for wanting to escape. There was some weird vibe between Dobie and Victor that was driving her nuts, but she didn’t want to pry about it just yet. The two of them together wouldn’t tell her anything anyhow.
She also felt a bout of random tears coming on. Well, they weren’t that random. She hadn’t traveled much since Ren had died, and had never been to Ile du Soleil before, although they had talked about going. Everything she saw was something she wished she could show him. Oh, he was seeing it in some mystical way, Lexi supposed, but that wasn’t nearly enough. She wanted to be near him, to squeeze his hand and hear what he thought, make jokes…
Yep, she needed to cry. “I am a creature of sunshine and rage,” Lexi told the horizon, and tears squeezed from her eyes as she closed them, hoping Dobie would stay in the car like she expected him to.