Liz sat on the floor next to Malia where the circle opened to accommodate them. A young woman across from them smiled. "Hello, Liz." She wore a red-and-green patterned sundress, her hair tight in a bun at the nape of her neck. Liz returned the hello. Another woman about Liz's age wore shorts and a T-shirt. The elderly woman to whom Malia had introduced Liz wore a skirt made of a stiff handmade fabric, patterned with shades of brown, with no top but accessorized with a heavy bracelet woven from split leaves. Next to her was a second elderly woman similarly dressed, her generous gray-flecked hair trailing down her back to the floor, with a girl of four or five on her lap, the only person in the room who was naked. Into the room walked a beauty draped in a pareu tied over one shoulder. She exchanged muttered greetings and nods with the seated women. Noticing Liz, she nodded a "Mrs. Edgerton," her New Zealand accent making Liz recognize her as the greeter from Mr. Nakamura's, now evidently off work. "Liz," Malia corrected her. Then looking to Liz, "This Elena." Elena took a place in the circle, and the little girl crossed to fall into her lap, burrowing her head into her mother's belly.
The mother rubbed her hand in the girl's hair, then lifted her onto her feet and sent her back. On the table was a wooden bowl of pale brown liquid. The oldest of the women ladled some into a coconut-shell cup, and set the girl on her way, with very careful steps, to carry it back to her mother. With both hands, the girl presented her mother with the cup; with both hands the mother accepted it, with words Liz did not understand, and took a sip. Around the circle, the girl served each woman in turn. Malia, accepting her cup, replied as the others had, and then added "Thank you" in English. Liz, grateful for the hint, gave her own "Thank you" when her turn came.
Liz took a tiny, cautious sip. The drink tasted like mud. A sweet, medicinal sharpness crept into the taste as she let the liquid sit in her mouth. She swallowed, and took another swallow of saliva to clear the taste from her mouth. Following what the others did, she held the cup in her hands, and after an interval took another sip, which sat more easily in her mouth now that she knew what to expect. What surprised her next was a tingling numbness on her lips. This was strong stuff. Brief conversations came and went, outside Liz's understanding. The little girl, restless, wandered out from under the thatch and into the moonlight. Liz was surprised that no one dashed out after her. One of the women went into the house and returned with a plate of sweetened coconut confections. Liz found them the perfect antidote to the taste of the kava. Malia nibbled one, then took another in hand and stood to go out; Liz could see that she easily found the little girl, and offered her the treat. The mother went out to join them. With the only people she'd spoken with now outside, Liz sat in shared silence with the group. People began to stir; one woman excused herself to go. Malia came in to suggest to Liz "Come out watch moon."
The mother sat on the ground outside leaning against the side of the house, the girl now sleeping in a fold of her pareu. Malia sat next to her. The air was still; with any movement Liz felt a bit of chill. She pulled the pareu off her waist and threw it over her shoulders for warmth, then sat with the others.
The moon was now high above the horizon. The ground glowed diamond-bright under the black sky. Shadows shortened.
"I worry sometimes," Malia said. Liz and Elena let a long time pass for Malia to gather her thoughts.
"Before time, we fish. We grow garden, we grow coconut. Hard life, mostly come and go other island. Now we go school, go doctor, kid can stay on island, work resort, work Mr. Nakamura. He here long time, build electric, build water, build radio. What we do if he not here? Old man. Trouble in Japan, you know. We all know."
"He's had his place here my whole life," Elena explained to Liz. "And longer."
Liz felt sadness with them, but felt no need to speak. They shared a feeling. There was sweetness even in the worry. The moon crossed the sky. The stars turned. There were a few words now and then. The little girl whimpered in Elena's lap. "I'll get her to bed." Then it was just Liz and Malia and the worry and the moment and the movement of the moon, now descending from the top of the sky. Black turned to purple on the eastern horizon, the stars no longer sharp pricks of light, but sequins on velvet.
Liz thought that she had not felt any effect from the kava, besides the tingling in her mouth. And in thinking that, broke its spell and came to realize that she had just sat up all night, calmly alert, and now felt as rested as if she'd slept.
Malia turned to her and smiled. "You like? You OK?"
"Yes, thank you very much for this."
"I walk you home."
Only three people remained at the tables by the bar. "Mind if I join you?" Heather asked James, seat cover in hand. "Sure," James said, pulling Liz's empty chair out from the table with one hand,
Derek turned his chair toward them, and transferred his drink to their table. "What do you think of this place? As a business, what do you think?"
"This is my first visit here," James answered. "I've had just two days to get an impression."
"You're with Haverford Resources, right? Peter Prost? I know he's always looking for opportunities. I assume he's cast an eye this way."
How did Derek know who James worked for? James had his own piece of intelligence to parry with, thanks to Liz. "I can't say I've been encouraging. You're with Virgin Airways, I hear. Richard Branson? He's already got a private island in the Caribbean and should be something of an expert. Are you considering doing business in this part of the world?"
"You haven't been encouraging, you say."
"No. There's no space for a decent dock or airport, the resort area is underdeveloped and barely above high tide. It's a white elephant. A retreat for the right person, but I can't see it as a money-maker, at least not without a huge upfront investment. You know Nakamura. Is it for sale?"
"What is Peter's interest, do you think?"
"I don't know."
James didn't need to ask what Richard Branson's interest might be.
Helen announced her presence with a question. "Where's everybody off to?" She stood in the line of torches, surveying the empty tables. The bartender, who had been off in the shadows, emerged behind the bar to pour Helen a cup of coffee.
James answered. "They took the first boat out, back to the cabins. I wondered if you had gone back, too."
Helen pulled up a chair. "No, I was here. Kenji wanted me to look at some of his collection downstairs. He sends apologies, he's gone off to rest."
"What was your impression of the work you saw?"
"The sort of thing he and his father used to buy in Europe and resell in Japan. Nothing new. He's brought his whole collection here. Lots of interesting pieces. I have to say I know mostly twentieth-century work, and most of his collection is older."
Heather asked "What does he mean to do with it, do you think?"
"Well, he hasn't sold anything in decades."
James asked "Do you think he's planning to sell any now?"
"It's hard. There are provenance issues, and he's reluctant to publish a catalog."
"Talk about art," Peter had said. This was that conversation; James saw now what he had been sent here to do. "Would Mr. Nakamura be interested in selling to a private buyer?"
"He's considered it. He's reluctant to go that way, but the collection has become a burden to him."
Heather interrupted with an audible intake of breath, and sat stiffly upright in her chair. Helen shot her a wary glance. "A burden? You know why he hasn't sold any art. With the provenance issues, as you say, that collection would be a burden to anyone."
James was surprised at the intensity of Heather's reaction, surprised at Heather's interest in the question, surprised that Heather and Helen spoke to each other in an art-world jargon unfamiliar to him. He was out of his depth. But he pushed on, more cautiously. "Let's keep in touch, if he does want to pursue it."
"I'm ready to go." Heather stood. But it was an empty gesture; no one could go unless they were taken. She walked out onto the terrace and to the glass wall overlooking the ocean. James noticed the bartender slipping away.
"Yes, it is getting late," Derek said, and took a sip of his drink. "It's a very still night, not a whisper of a breeze."
"Do the clouds always clear away at night?" James asked.
"Almost always. Build up every afternoon, then they rain or they don't, and then they're gone."
"Derek, do you remember that awful storm, what was it? Three years ago, when we were here" Helen asked. "Cold cold for here. Just miserable outdoors for three or four days."
Figures approached from the dark. Mr. Nakamura, on his game, the radiant host, and Heather, deflated, beside him.
"Are you all ready for your ride home? The canoe is ready, I'll have someone walk with you to the shore. I trust you have had time to get to know one another. I hope to see you again before you leave."
He offered a hand to each of them, firm and businesslike. Heather resisted the handshake limply for moment, then rose to it, fixing an intent, unsmiling gaze on him, holding his hand long enough that he had to be the one to break away. Then he disappeared past the torches.
The bartender returned with a young man and a young woman, who escorted the party into the moonlight.
Liz was not in the cabin. James dismissed his concern with the thought that it was a bright, calm night and she would be fine wherever she was. He stirred awake when she came in, enough to know that it was nearing dawn, then he slept more soundly, until bright sun reached the cabin window. Liz was still asleep when he left to go in search of breakfast.
James found Mark and Heather together in the pavilion. "I put coffee on," Mark said. "Seems to be serve-your-own-breakfast day."
"Glad for the coffee. Thanks. Good morning, Heather."
"Good morning," she said. She finished her coffee in one gulp, and to Mark, "See you later. I'm going to go back to my cabin for a while."
"She didn't sleep well," Mark said to James by way of apology for her abrupt departure. "I hear you guys had an intense conversation last night after we left."
"She got upset over something, I could see that. Pretty much broke up the party."
"Well, yea. Nakamura's trying to sell a bunch of Jewish-owned art that he smuggled out of Nazi Germany."
James had only vaguely understood what 'provenance issues' meant. Now he knew, and he was part of it. He turned the conversation to the weather.
Liz woke to the warmth of the cabin in the morning sun. She kicked down the covers and lay on the bed, listening. Surf whispered in the distance. Coconut fronds rattled. She padded outside, barefoot and naked, and ground her toes into the sand, glad to find herself alone. For the joy of feeling the sand under her feet and the breeze on her skin she moved among the trees, wandering finally to the edge of the grove, where she came to the stretch of low beach that separated the resort from the village. The tide was low, and the surf high enough that between waves the way ahead was completely exposed above water. She walked on, stopping with each wave to let the water splash past her, stepping forward when the ground was again visible, finding and then not finding the rhythm of the waves.
Onto higher ground, she advanced along the ocean shore, until she came to the spring where she had dived with Malia. She sat, looking across the Pacific, her mind on the island behind her, the houses and yards that she would see if only she turned around and climbed a few steps. But she did not intrude even so much as that.
A chicken appeared beside her, examining the ground for insects, close but only so close to where she sat. She turned to look at it, and it edged away, finding something of interest a bit further on, and further still.
A confusion of waves threw water noisily into the air. A cool mist settled on Liz's skin.
Powerful and dangerous, this ocean had supported generations of islanders or borne them away. What supported them now was equally powerful and dangerous. Boatloads of propane and diesel fuel, visitors and videotapes, flour and beer and beef. Liz understood, she thought she understood, Malia's worry. They had shared a great deal between silences last night.
Another, wetter, splash caught Liz where she sat. She stood. With a ruffle of feathers, the chicken scrambled away.
Mark went behind the bar to see what the refrigerators might hold for breakfast, and began to pull out fruit and bread and pastry. James stood with his coffee in the sun just outside the pavilion. The day was far enough advanced that Helen had taken refuge under her hat, which made her conspicuous as she approached. James waved a hello. "Impressive fellow, Kenji Nakamura, isn't he?" Helen said.
"He is. Hard to imagine what he was like in his prime. How long have you known him?"
"Over thirty years. Almost the whole time I've been selling art."
Helen walked into the pavilion and James followed.
"But you haven't sold to him or bought from him before?"
"Very little. He knows people in Los Angeles. He knows people everywhere. But doesn't have a reason to be in the market in LA. He hasn't done much buying and selling anywhere, since I've known him. Once his family took him into manufacturing, he set that aside."
At the bar, Mark finished creating a continental breakfast spread, and poured Helen the coffee he knew she would want.
"Will you be selling for him now?" James asked.
"When he makes up his mind what to do, maybe. Unwinding a collection is a complicated thing."
"Complicated isn't the word for it," Mark interjected. ""Criminal is more like it."
"Oh, Mark, you don't know him. That's not a fair thing to say."
"Fair enough, Helen. You've got to know where that stuff came from, and if you don't, you're not paying attention. You don't want anything to do with that guy."
"That guy has been a friend of mine since you were in diapers." Helen's response was loud enough to push James back; he took his coffee to a table while Helen and Mark remained standing at the bar.
"You always say he bought art in Europe. Yea, he and his father bought art, OK, or took it. In Berlin, specifically, in the 1930's, specifically, and after Kristallnacht, especially. The guy's a crook and a Nazi."
"You don't know what you're talking about."
"Yes, I do. Heather's been researching them for a while now. They smuggled crate after crate of artwork out of Germany right up until the war cut off shipping. Heather tells me you just saw the whole lot of it, sitting his basement."
"What does Heather know? That was their business, to buy in Europe for the Japanese market."
"Heather knows a lot. She's with the Eisenthal Institute, and it's her business to track this stuff down, now that they've got most of the war criminals out of the jungle in South America."
"Oh, lovely, coming here to spy on her host. Kenji is no war criminal. He was only twenty when he left Europe at the outbreak of the war. And he's certainly no Nazi, and never was."
"Like you were there."
"Mark, I've had enough! Where's Heather? I need to talk to that girl."
Liz made her way back through the shallow splash that separated the resort from the village. Among the cabins she saw Heather sitting against the shady side of a coconut. "How's that sand burn doing this morning?"
"It'll be fine. I don't feel it, and its not looking so bad."
"I'm definitely ready for breakfast. Have you eaten?"
"No. I was there for coffee. There's no one to cook; people are raiding the fridge."
"Want to come scrounge food with me?"
Heather stood, brushed off a bit of sand, and submitted to Liz's inspection of her wound as the walked off toward breakfast.
Mark met them partway. "Good morning, Liz. Heather, I've got to warn you, I blew your cover with Helen, and she's on the warpath. Are you ready for that?"
"No. She's at breakfast now? If it's time to talk, it's time to talk."
As they arrived at the pavilion, Helen spotted Heather and commanded, "Sit down. I want to tell you a story."
Heather glared at her and took a seat at a table adjacent to Helen's. Liz essayed a hello to Helen, but was not responded to; she exchanged glances with James, then took a seat at the bar next to Mark's breaksfast display. Mark wordlessly set coffee and a pastry in front of Heather.
"I wasn't there, Mark says, and hes right. Ive heard this story from Kenji Nakamura, and from the artist Laszlo Nagy, I knew him for years before he died. And from Magda.
"Mark tells me you already know the beginning. Kenji's mother died young. Kenji's father wanted nothing to do with the family business and liked to get away to Europe. He put Kenji in school in Berlin and lived there most of the time, buying art and antiquities to resell in Japan. Kenji joined the business when he left school.
"OK, things in Germany got really bad. Jews were trying to leave, raise money for passage away, for bribes, for whatever it took, and the Nakamuras were established dealers, still buying, still shipping work to Japan. Shipment was getting more difficult. They tried reselling work inside Germany, but lost money doing it; they were paying more to the sellers than the German market could support..
"Passenger cruises were still running from Italy to Japan, and they put some crates of art on those for shipment. Shanghai was the next-to-last stop. Japan had taken over in Shanghai, and set up a ghetto there for refugees. If you could get there, you could stay, Jewish or not, with our without a passport. The cruises were expensive, but raise the money and get to Italy, and you were safe. And that's what the Nakamuras helped people to do.
"In 1941, the elder Mr. Nakamura decided it was time to get his son out of Europe, and arranged passage for Kenji. One of the people they had bought paintings from was Laszlo. Who was a Hungarian Jew living in Berlin. They helped arrange passage for him on that same cruise. Laszlo had no Old Masters to sell, only his own work; I assume the Nakamuras subsidized his passage. Laszlo was in his thirties and Kenji was only twenty. Laszlo served as an adult escort for Kenji. Kenji, as a passport-carrying Japanese citizen, served as a fully legal, gentile escort for Laszlo. Whichever was more convenient at any particular border. Laszlo was not allowed to take possessions out of Germany. What little he had, went as Kenji's baggage. When they got to Shanghai, Laszlo had to disembark. Japan wasn't taking refugees into Japan proper. Kenji went with him, intending to stay long enough to help him settle in, then catch the next cruise on to Japan. But Japan had just bombed Pearl Harbor and there was no next cruise. Kenji spent the war in the Shanghai ghetto. After the war Kenji went to his uncle's in Japan and Laszlo made it to LA - that's where he met Magda. He and Laszlo were fast friends for the rest of Laszlo's life.
"So there's your Nazi."
Heather had listened with some interest to Helen's story, but bristled at this last remark. "I never said he was a Nazi and I don't care. What I care about is that he and his father bought goods in coerced sales, and very possibly bought goods that had been seized or stolen, and that those goods are sitting right here and are apparently about to go on the market."
"The Nakamuras never coerced anybody!" Helen shouted. "How could they have? Seized or stolen? No way. That just didn't happen."
"How do you know that? You've heard Nagy's story, OK, but Nagy didn't have anything of great value to sell; he was a new artist. And he was just one case. Do you know all the other people they bought from? Nakamura obviously knows he has a problem. You said so yourself: "provenance issues'. Provenance where the works came from, who they came from, how they were obtained. Why else do you think he's kept the whole collection under wraps for fifty years? Why has he taken everything out of Japan before starting to talk about selling it?"
"I dare you to find once piece of stolen art in that collection!"
"Oh, sure, like he'd let me look!"
Liz caught James's eye and motioned him to follow her outside. "I think Nakamura set this up. Heather wouldn't be here if he didn't want her here. Just like you. He knew way more about you than you knew about him. Do you mind if I tell her about your experience with that?"
"Go ahead. My situation with Peter may be beyond redeeming. But attempting discretion certainly hasn't worked."
They re-entered the pavilion to see Helen rising out of her chair, Mark putting his hand on her elbow. "Helen, just listen," Mark said. "Just listen for a minute." Heather began to stand; Liz quickly took a seat at Heather's table. "Heather, can I talk to you about this?" Heather dropped back into her chair; Helen, her attention now on Liz, did the same.
"Heather, you may not know it, but you are here because Mr. Nakamura wants you here. I've been talking a lot with Malia. She tells me that when Nakamura is here, the place is closed to the public. No one can book a cabin. They get a guest list from him, and handle the arrangements. With us, he must have put out a feeler to James's boss who quote "suggested' this vacation to us. We had no idea. We thought we were incognito, scouting the place for a possible real estate offer. Maybe that's what Nakamura wanted, but James's boss is more into the art collection as it turns out. Anyway, I'd bet the same sort of thing happened with you."
"Eisenthal Foundation got a tip that the collection was being moved," Heather said. "They asked me to come investigate. I was not invited here."
"Where do you suppose the tip came from?"
Heather contemplated the question. She didn't know; she hadn't been told. That was not unusual; sources were commonly kept anonymous. She wanted to call Eisenthal to ask. But of course she could not. There was a radio connection somewhere, she'd heard. But otherwise she was completely isolated. She sensed her vulnerability. "We are a long way from anywhere, aren't we?" she said.
"Yes, we are. We have each other, and that's about it. And the locals I'm completely sure we're safe here. James arranged a radio call back to the US yesterday; you can do that too, I'm sure. I doubt if it's a private connection. Look, you have no secrets from Nakamura. I'd suggest you just go talk to him."
"Liz," Helen said, "don't be so suspicious. I'm sure the invitation confusion was just a misunderstanding. Kenji was perfectly straightforward in asking me if I could come out for a visit."
"He knows you, and he knows Derek; Heather and James are strangers to him, and I don't think he knows James's boss very well. So he's been really cagey about getting us here without revealing anything. Let me ask you this when he invited you here, did he tell you he'd have his whole collection here for you to look at?"
"He told me he had some pieces for me to look at. But no. I found that out last night."
"Once you were over here and couldn't tell anyone."
Malia came in with apologies. "Good morning, good morning. Sorry I late this morning. You find food, good. I cook if you still hungry."
"I'm famished," Liz said. "Don't fire up the grill just for me. What can you do in a pan? Scrambled?"
"Omelette, vegetables, with toast? How that?"
"You're on. Thanks."
Liz went to sit under the umbrella at the volleyball court. After her intervention in Helen and Heather's argument, thankful for the interruption of breakfast. James brought her omelette when it was ready, and sat with his coffee to watch the morning unfold.
Liz was mopping her plate with the last of her toast when Derek and Sarah appeared at the volleyball court, each carrying a plate of food.
"May we join you?" Sarah asked.
"They're having quite the serious breakfast meeting over there," Derek added.
James invited them. "Welcome to the peace and quiet of the volleyball court. Please, do have a seat."
Derek asked "What did you think of our Kenji Nakamura last night?"
"I can see what a powerful personality he is," James replied. "and why he's been such a success. But he's done. There's an air of resignation and defeat around him. I didn't research him before I came, was barely aware of him, but I know he's in legal trouble - over bribery, I think. What's the status of all that?"
"There's the threat of jail, but they won't lock up a man of his status or a man of his age. The main charges have to do with his paying bribes in third-world countries to secure his right to do business there. Little of it has to do with what he's done within Japan. Charges like that are new; Japan is bringing them only under international pressure. So their heart's not in it, and it may go off very easily for him. But if they decide they have to make an example of him, t could go very badly. It's a situation he can't control, and I know that weighs on him."
"Is he a refugee here?"
Derek was surprised by the thought. "No, he'll go back. It would be dishonorable to run away. When he invited us for this trip, he told me that he might never be here again - which of course he repeated to all of us last night. He's ready to let the place go."
"It's a shame," Sarah said, "after so many years, being forced to sell the island. It's been a wonderful retreat for him, for all of us."
For James, it was no retreat at all, but a business opportunity to analyze. It was hard for him to imagine lounging naked on the beach, taking it all for granted. But that experience, exactly that, was part of the place's value. He fell into the language of a travel brochure. "Yes, it's a unique experience, as far as you can get from the cares of home, in a beautiful setting with a welcoming climate." He saw the beauty of the sunsets in his mind's eye, but pulled himself back to practicality. "It's also a big project for someone to take on, if Nakamura leaves it behind. It would take someone like Peter Prost or Richard Branson to step in; there aren't many men with the means to pull it off. Derek, I see the feelers going out, but have you had anything concrete about the possibility of a sale?"
"No. Kenji plays close to the chest. I've wondered if he's invited us both here to maneuver us into bidding against each other."
"More likely just to increase the chances he can unload the place."
Liz had never heard James fall into businessman mode, and she didn't like it. Particularly because the men were talking about the island as if it were uninhabited real estate. With the tone of a reprimand, she interrupted. "There is nothing to sell." James gave her the floor. "What do you mean?"
"There is nothing to sell. Not the land, not the cabins, not the house. The island doesn't have private land titles; their national government wouldn't let them sell land even if they wanted to. The islanders treat Nakamura like a demigod and their economy depends on him, but he doesn't own any of it, not even the house he lives in. He's here because they want him here."
Derek was incredulous. "Who owns it, who's in charge? There must be some way."
"They all own it. The people in the village. Collectively. They decide together how to use it, how to live on it. Officially, they're a democracy; if things got really bad the national government would expect them to take a vote. But they never do; they just agree on things. With respect given to elders and traditional leaders. I've never spoken with the oldest of them, because they don't know English. But I've gotten to know a few people. If you want to talk to someone who's in charge, try Malia Obermeier. In her generation, she's the highest-ranking person here, or one of them, and people respect her."
"Queen of the Island." Derek was not being kind. Liz let the comment echo in a moment of silence. "Maybe two hundred years ago Westerners would have called her that. But she can't order people around; even back then she couldn't have. And if the people aren't comfortable with her, they'll just start looking to someone else. In the generation after her, that grew up in contact with the outside, it's probably Anjelo."
"Anjelo?" Derek did not know the name. Sarah reminded him. "The young fellow at the bar the other night." Derek felt the need to confirm this with James. "The bartender kid?" James addressed Derek's doubt. "Yes, the bartender kid. He's a nice guy, and smart, and has a serious side." Liz was relieved to hear James defend him. "Anjelo or one of his sisters," she said. "Malia thinks Anjelo has the right energy to be a leader. Look, I know she's concerned about what happens after Kenji Nakamura. James is right that it would take someone like your boss or his to step in if things are going to keep on the way they have been for most of her life. Why not go talk to her?"
Derek did not reply.
James stood with his empty plate and gathered Lizs. "Can I get you anything?" he offered to Derek and Sarah. "No, thank you," Sarah answered.
James took the dishes back to the pavilion and set them on the bar where Malia retrieved them to wash. Mark wast there, and Wolf, with a big breakfast in front of him. "I thought I might find Heather and Helen still arguing," James said. Mark shook his head with a smile. "Oh, theyre probably still arguing, for sure they were when they left."
James took a seat at the bar. With breakfast served, Malia was tidying up the kitchen. "Weve been talking to Derek Bradford, vague notions about the fate of the island. You know the man who owns his company already owns an island, right?"
Malia surprised him with her awareness of it. "I know. Necker Island, Caribbean. Mr. Branson make deal with British Virgin Islands for resort. Mr. Bradford say he want another resort?"
"He hasnt been so clear. But I think Dereks exploring the possibility, maybe at Bransons direction, maybe not. Liz tells me youre the person to go to about it."
"I talk to Liz about what happen if Mr. Nakamura go. I worry, she know. I talk to Mr. Bradford, sure. He come here many time but he not know island not too well. Maybe we take walk together. You want to come?"
"I can come if you think its appropriate."
"No secret here. Your boss, who know, he might want island, too. He by volleyball? We go ask."
Malia disappeared into the room behind the bar, and reappeared with a simple dress covering her shoulders and flowing to her calves, a floral print with a midnight-blue background. She startled James with this; hed never seen her dressed in anything but a waist wrap, and seldom that. She took a deep breath and held it for a moment, chest out and head high, and when she exhaled she was taller. She walked to the ball court, James naked beside her. Liz, Derek, and Sarah looked up from their conversation, speechless at her appearance. James, aware that Derek barely knew here name, introduced Malia. "Malia, this is Derek Bradford. Derek, Malia Obermeier. Weve been discussing the fate of the island, and shes invited us to walk with her." Derek rose, Malia extended her hand. They accepted the introduction as if they had not been acquainted for years. This was a new start.
"Malia, thank you. I look forward to it," Derek said.
"You want to go now this morning? Any time you ready, Derek."
Liz, who still had never brought herself to address Derek by his first name, was struck by Malias deliberate assertiveness. Malia, she understood, was prepared to insist on a level relationship. She was acting the queen. "You guys should dress for the walk," Liz advised, disinviting herself, and Sarah. Malia was on this.
The men left to dress, Sarah with Derek. Liz rose from her seat to stand facing Malia. She folded her arms in front of her and broke slowly into a smile, which Malia returned. "I go to kitchen," Malia said. Liz followed; Malia cleared what dishes were empty from Mark and Wolf's breakfast, and left them unwashed on the bar. She took a seat at one of the tables, where Liz joined her. Derek and James reappeared, together, Derek in carefully unfolded walking shorts and a short-sleeved shirt, James in khakis and a t-shirt. Liz took in their clothing with a fresh eye, seeing the choices behind even the plainest of men's outfits, sitting on their naked bodies with the uneasy artifice of paper cutout clothes on a cardboard Ken doll.
They walked, first the familiar path among the resort's coconuts to the stretch of open beach that bridged to the higher ground on which the village stood. The tide was low. Malia, barefoot, bunched the fabric of her dress with one hand to pull it clear of the water that swept across their path. Derek removed his shoes and carried them. James did the same, and rolled up his pants. Thinking, like the nudist he was beginning to become, that it might be better just to take them off and carry them with his shoes, but he didn't act on the thought.
"There pipe for water." Malia indicated a black pipe lying partly covered with drifting sand, visible under waist-high water on the lagoon side of their path. "And electric come that way." Whatever cable was attached to the pipe was invisible to them. Derek must have walked this way, if he'd ever made a radio call (or could this be done from Nakamura's house?) but he didn't indicate any familiarity, and James didn't ask. Along the lagoon side of the village site was a cement landing, with the two double-hulled vessels James had already seen the canoe and the powered catamaran tied nearby. A tin-roofed shelter without walls held drums of oil and some other supplies. They found their way to the generator that burned the oil to electrify the island, to another spot where fishing craft were pulled up. They toured gardens, Malia greeting the proprietors in their shared language. They climbed to the radio room and interviewed the woman who came to greet them there, spoke of distances and altitudes and sightlines and relations among the islands.
Malia led them to the church, a small coral stone building with a steep metal roof. As they went inside, James felt the quiet. Every other structure he had been in was very lightly built, admitting the sounds of wind and waves, birds and people and the rattle of coconut leaves. A background murmur, recognized now by its absence. James tried to guess the denomination, but there was no evidence. A cross on the front wall, a table. Backless benches. No hymnals or missals or signage. In fact he had seen no signs anywhere. Why post a sign when everyone knew what and where everything was without it.
Malia sat on one of the front benches, facing back toward the door, and invited James and Derek to sit opposite her. Then she waited. Derek shifted in his seat, unsure how to proceed; James saw this happen and decided for the moment to be a bystander rather than break the ice. Derek chose to open with a lawyer's question, one to which the asker already knows the answer. "Have you considered what will happen here after Kenji Nakamura?"
"We want," Malia replied, speaking for a consensus already achieved among the islanders, "We want stay here. Can not stay, not today, with no money come in. Mr. Nakamura good with us. We like life here, not want to change for visitor. Other island, they lose themself to tourist. We careful. You like island? What you like?"
Before Derek could answer, the doors opened and a woman entered, dressed in shorts and a t-shirt, thick hair in a bun at her neck. James recognized her as one of the gardeners Malia had greeted on their way here. "This Elena. She sit with us."
"Gentlemen," Elena nodded. At her first word, James pictured her at the entrance to Nakamura's house, the woman who had shown them to the bar, recognizable by her accent. "Hello," he said, "I'm James. I can hear you've spent time in New Zealand."'
"I graduated college in Auckland."
"This is home?"
"This is home. Malia's grandfather is my great-grandfather. I grew up here, and I'm raising my children here. You're with Haverford Resources, aren't you, in New York?"
James acknowledged his employer. Derek volunteered his own: "Virgin Airways, Derek Bradford." Then, answering Malia''s question, "I've always enjoyed being completely undisturbed here. The weather is always warm and usually pleasant. There are never very many guests, but often people I know. The better sort. It's too remote for mass tourism. Kenji's quite a personality; he's become a friend. I know that the nudism is particular to him. To be honest, I've never thought about what it means to you."
"Naked visitor they easy, not drink and be angry and make trouble way we know happen other place. We no mind either way."