Friday
Jan202017

The Question

Hugh Sheehy


 

Paradise was protected by a chain of offshore reefs. Sharks never got into the swimming area, the towel girl said, and when they did, lifeguards grabbed fishing spears, mounted no-name jetskis from China, and chased the cartilaginous monsters back out to sea. The towel girl laughed then, remembering a stranded mako, big as a bull, thrashing in the sand while resort staff with machetes waited for it to use up its oxygen.

The story bothered Frank. He slumped under the wide cloth beach umbrella and smeared blue sunscreen across his sparsely haired legs. "Why you'd pay for this escapes me," he said, defeated, downward-facing, showing his teeth. "Swim out too far, sharks eat you. Leave the private beach, they're waiting to rob you."

Marian sipped the slushy, peachy-tasting cocktail the waiters brought around. Two weeks ago, she would have Googled the name, but since winning day five on The Question and claiming the Grand Prize, she felt she could live out her remaining decades without learning one more fact. Frank said months of cramming had left her brain a wasteland bereft of neurotransmitters, that she should have stayed home to veg out for a week or two. Insightful words for a guy who never won anything.

"I'm not trying to spoil this, Mar. Honest to God," he said. "But you saw those men. I won't feel safe until we're home."

"There are poor people in Cleveland, too." She had done comprehensive research—read reviews, travel guides, history books, had taken a night class in the local patois—before settling on Paradise's Honeymoon III plus Massage Upgrade package.

"The Cleveland poor are different. They have optimism to hold them back."

They had seen the men the day before, three of them standing beyond the boundary signs and armed guards, shouting promises of cheap fishing charters, homemade jewelry, marijuana, hand-rolled cigars. They hoped Marian or Frank would leave Paradise and the jurisdiction of the bored-looking men holding assault rifles. That's what Frank thought, anyway. Marian had her own view and supposed guards and hawkers alike lived in the shanty town way down the beach, its corrugated steel roofs glinting in the sun. Probably these men knew and liked or at least tolerated each other.

"I'm going for a dip." She got up and ventured into the golden heat, hand over eyes under floppy-brimmed hat. Feeling self-conscious about her two piece, she made her way past bodies on sandy towels, people sleeping and reading and gazing half-drunkenly while the atmosphere worked on them. No one here recognized her or admitted to recognizing her, but she had gotten over her disappointment with that. She had seen that real freedom depended as much on being unknown as on having money.

Clear seawater spilled over her feet, cooling her to the ankles. Here in the break and farther out were more couples, women topless, their breasts supported by implants, she thought, studying their youthless faces. She could afford those now, along with any other surgery she desired. Her fellow bathers looked back, noticing her waist and neck, their carefully assessing eyes so different from the eyes that had stared when she was big. She waded deeper, pale feet and ocean floor visible in the water below. On the horizon were freighters, fishing boats, other boats. She reached out as if to embrace the view, then pitched forward into the pleasant shock and silence of saltwater immersion. She came up and wiped her eyes, brine dripping in her throat. Her ears popped, and she heard the beach as if for the first time, the waves and wind that muted swaying palms and human chatter. Downshore the three hawkers bantered with the security guards. Frank was tiny and obscure under the blue umbrella, spying on a young woman who had sat up to dig in her purse, her small, oiled breasts shining in the sun. Maybe there was hope for him yet.

 

By day five, she'd gotten used to thick makeup and the microphone clipped to her lapel. She was used to being smaller and feeling lighter, used to getting Facebook messages from men who had ignored her back in high school and from men she didn't know. She was used to getting pictures of their penises, which she had not asked for. She was used to being on TV, being on the inside of it with Host Ed Parlay, the ageless gameshow personality she had watched as a girl. He was a perfect gentleman and smelled like French cologne. The studio was immense and gleaming. Millions of nobodies were watching, seething with desire to be her. She wondered if her marriage could survive.

Then came Morris from Oak Park. He was unlike other contestants, who she'd dispatched with minimal effort, reading each question that appeared on the large screen behind Ed Parlay and then buzzing in and answering calmly. She went at her own pace, and still those strangers eyed her in disbelief and wonder. Morris from Oak Park was different, bent huge over the next console, breathing harshly as his eyes shifted behind oily glasses. He read as quickly as she did, was a hair faster on the buzzer. He was a slop player, racking up a wrong answer for every two or three right ones, and she took risks to keep up, buzzing in before she'd finished reading, which cost her points. It was close, and during a commercial break, Morris looked at Marian and grinned knowingly, though behind his bulging bloodshot eyeballs something more than cockiness flowed out, some raw hatred, so foul and palpable she'd looked away before its tentacles could stab themselves deeper in her mind.

When the gameshow resumed, the fun was over. They were at their buzzers, readier than before. Ed Parlay remarked that future episodes of The Question would simply feature Marian and Morris, for such a rivalry was unprecedented, to his mind, in the program's history. The third contestant, all but forgotten, laughed too loudly, drawing a raised eyebrow from Ed Parlay, much to the audience's delight.

When finally one question remained, Marian trailed by three hundred. The final answer was worth five hundred. The category was Classical Literature. She heard Morris chewing his tongue, it sounded like, and she knew she would lose to this miserable heap of human parts, that she would take her winnings and her dismal husband back to Berea, Ohio and fade into the obscurity from which they had come. Yes, she had made some money on The Question, enough to upgrade the house and invest, but she had fallen short of the big money, the million they awarded five-day winners, the chewing gum and board game endorsements, the invaluable prestige of being considered a genius. She did not want to look up, but it was too late to exit history. She raised her eyes to the screen behind Ed Parlay.

The final question appeared. The black letters read, IN PETRONIUS'S EARLY WORK THE SATYRICON, WHAT WAS THE SOCIAL STATUS OF THE TYRANT TRIMALCHIO BEFORE HE BECAME RICH?

She heard Morris's buzzer before she could move her thumb. She lowered her head and waited for him to answer and win, for the light above her head to go dark for the first time.

Morris was smiling hugely, his eyes rolling as he moved his head from side to side. He said, "A soldier."

"No," Ed Parlay said. "That answer is incorrect."

Marian was stunned. A warm, sweet feeling trickled down through her chest, seemed to lift her into the air and squeeze her gently. She coughed and began to laugh quietly. In the audience, people were murmuring. The bad answer had cost Morris five hundred points.

She buzzed in.

Ed Parlay lowered one eyebrow and said, "Before you answer, Marian, I must remind you. You are now in the lead. A wrong answer would lose you the game."

"I know," she said. "It's okay, Ed. I know this one. I read that book."

"Well, then," Ed Parlay said, looking around as if in disbelief. "What are you waiting for? In Petronius's early work The Satyricon, what was the social status of the tyrant Trimalchio before he became rich?"

She spoke the words she knew by heart, opened her eyes, and waited for Ed Parlay to crown her with his congratulatory smile.

 

They were seated in the resort's take on a French restaurant when the shooting and loud voices broke out. Rapid popping sounds exploded in the quiet, and then the night was still. Frank ceased complaining about the tough steak, a kind of complaining that was new for him. He straightened within the stiff confines of his new suit and watched the door where the waiters crowded the entrance. When their server, a young woman with very dark skin passed, he raised a hand. "Excuse me, miss. What's going on?"

She ignored him and walked back into the kitchen. Other waiters followed, likewise ignoring the voices of the mostly white diners.

"What do you think is happening?" Frank said. "Do you think there's been some kind of political violence? The government will get us out, won't they? Don't they usually make exceptions for the Americans?"

Marian said nothing. There was nothing to say. She remembered a passage in a guidebook about an obscure band of revolutionaries who lived deep in the island's jungle, sending out paranoid radio broadcasts about the coming day when the poor islanders would rise up and overthrow the rich islanders. It was too much to explain quickly, and besides, probably irrelevant to what was happening. Waiters and cooks and dishwashers emerged from the kitchen, shirts and blouses untucked, each holding some kind of firearm. A few wielded large weapons with clips and perforated barrels that Marian supposed were automatic weapons.

Their waitress had a large handgun she waved in a forceful and impersonal way. "Get up and go out," she said, her eyes big with fear, her voice trembling. "Go on out with the rest."

Frank pulled his grease-spattered napkin from his collar and smoothed his blue tie with the back of his hand. "Do you think they'll let us go back to the room?" he said. "There are some things I'd regret leaving behind."

She motioned for him to follow. The waiters were herding other diners into the night and up the wavy, shell-studded concrete path to the pool and then the lobby, and she and Frank were in danger of falling behind, calling attention to themselves. She hurried out behind two frightened newlyweds, listening to her husband mutter his questions were being ignored. The resort staff walked all around them, silent and watchful with their guns. No one was talking loudly or screaming or making any demands. There was a general understanding of the situation. She sensed that everyone, guards included, felt grateful.

In the imitation rainforest, small monkeys looked down from the dense canopy and the net strung above it. Ahead, the immense open-air lobby glowed like a submarine searching the deep ocean floor. Many guests were there, standing in the lamplight in the formalwear they had put on according to Paradise's various dress codes. They looked around at each other, drunk or high on drugs they'd smuggled in or bought from locals, frightened, confused. Many were crying. Many were trying to do things with their phones. Some men stood at the edges of the polished obsidian floor, hands on hips, arguing carefully with captors, who were a mixture of employees and men in military fatigues and who all carried guns. Those trying to negotiate with the gun-toting men kept their voices low, and for the most part the captors ignored them, aware the white men were trying to impress the white women and posed no real danger. Noting some guests had begun to stake out spaces for themselves and that most of the furniture was taken, Marian led Frank to the nearest open loveseat and sat down, just beating a woman who cursed quietly and turned away in search of some other place to sit. Near the main entrance, a young white man shouted at a man in a crimson-colored bellman's uniform. The man in the crimson-colored bellman's uniform raised the butt of a rifle and swiped it across the young man's face, eliciting a brief cry from the young white man's young white female companion. The young white man sat up and held his face, bleeding from a gash in his forehead. His companion asked if anyone was a doctor. People stared, and no one spoke. The general feeling, Marian sensed, was disapproval of the young white man's behavior.

Frank squinted at Marian and opened his mouth stupidly.

She settled against the armrest. "We may be here a while."

 

Eventually a leader identified himself. He wore jungle fatigues and a black beret and could not have been much older than thirty-five, though his eyes bore the sad and weary redness she had long associated with irreversible third-world trauma. He took a deep, reluctant breath and then spoke in a loud, clear voice that had been painstakingly purged of all hints of the island's famous accent.

"There is no need for alarm or violence. No one is going to die who doesn't want to. I think that all of you are recognizing what this is."

The following silence was an informative one. The man regarded the crowded lobby with a visibly modern sensibility. He knew the guests were aware of the island's history of exploitation, first by slaveowning farmers and then by the Western tourist and agricultural industries. He knew the guests were aware of his country's poverty. He knew the guests had assessed certain risks in coming here. He knew the guests trusted him to have his reasons.

"My name is Colonel Joseph. There are negotiations ongoing. There's no reason to beat around the bush. Some of you have wealthy connections. We are open to setting free those whose families will pay."

Indeed, Marian had already noticed, at certain points in the long night, guards leading well-dressed white couples out of the lobby. While some guests whispered about executions taking place on the beach, of throats being cut in the forest, she heard no gunfire or screams. She suspected deals were being cut, that a lucky few were being ferried home having spent almost no time at all as hostages. Beside her on the loveseat, Frank stared into a forest of finely attired legs, thinking they could trade the gameshow money for freedom. All he had to do was announce who she was, right? When he lifted his eyebrows to suggest it, she shook her head once, sharply, definitively. The money, the life ahead, was worth waiting for. Or did he wish to go back to recalculating insurance rates? To being a downward-facing man who attracted contempt wherever he stood? He nodded slowly, loosened his tie, and swallowed.

Colonel Joseph was wrapping up, preparing to go. Four bodyguards moved in and flanked him. "As for the rest of you, we will see what happens. We may eventually set you free if the US military agrees to let us be. We have a country to rebuild, after all, a way to life to begin anew, a promise of hundreds of years of living in spite of everything to make good on. We must control the future. In the meantime, there's work to be done."

 

In the kitchen, her job was to cook black beans and rice in enormous pots on a gas range. She climbed a footstool and mixed saffron, curry, garlic, and other spices into a bouillon before pouring in the rice from thirty-pound burlap sacks. She liked reading the Spanish and French labels on large plastic spice containers. Once these things had been grown in India, Turkey, and Iran. Now they were cultivated on nearby islands, processed in factories hidden in the jungle.

Her fellow cooks were beautiful, gym-built white women in their twenties who grieved their new responsibilities by complaining of faintness, fatigue, and the stares of the armed men who came in at random times to sneak something to eat. Preferring to stay busy, Marian kept quiet, never letting on that she was anyone more than a plain-looking Ohio woman in her late forties. Because she was a plain-looking Ohio woman in her late forties, the young women ignored her.

"They'll let us go at some point. They'll have to," said Rachel, who was from San Diego and trying to stay open to learning from this experience. Sleeves of interlocking tattoos traveled down her long and slender arms. "Even the North Koreans can't hold onto their American prisoners for long. Think about it. We'll probably have lunch with the President in a few days."

"You trust this administration to help us?" Nikki said. Nikki was from somewhere in Nebraska and was betting on the Lord to free her from this mess. She thumbed the gold cross resting in the notch of her collarbone. "I don't know what you're smoking over there in San Diego. Well, actually I do know. I used to do some of that myself, before I figured out the religious euphoria thing."

"It's cool," Rachel said. "All life descends from the same cosmic tree. These men and women holding us prisoners aren't all that different from us. The black people here are the same as white people, with one or two tiny genetic differences. It's a proven fact."

"I just hope my guardian angel doesn't stop interceding on my behalf," Nikki said. She feared her guardian angel had grown tired of rescuing her. She raised her eyes to the thatched ceiling, as if to make sure her guardian angel was still there.

During quiet moments, Marian thought about Frank, who had been put work with other able-bodied men outside the resort, building fortifications out of quarried chunks of limestone and granite. When he met her at the loveseat each evening, his skin was gray and black with earth. Veins bulged in his noticeably growing biceps, and minerals shimmered in his hair as he lay on the cushions, hovering near sleep, while she told him about her day.

By now the guests spoke of themselves as hostages. There was little violence. Most of the killing had taken place in the first fifteen minutes, and the bodies of the few policemen and resort managers who had resisted had long ago been carted off into the jungle—Frank had been on that work detail, too, assisting in digging the mass graves where they buried the fifty or so corpses. When he and the men returned from this bloody chore, a cry of relief went up from both those waiting in the lobby. After that, the mere possibility of bloodshed kept the hostages in check. Marian and Frank settled into a routine. Something about the island weather, the blue-gray sky gaping down like a skull, seemed to demand it.

At the end of the second week, Colonel Joseph summoned them to the beach to witness the shooting of five islander men said to have raped two female hostages. The men were bound wrists and ankles and quaked in fear, going down to their knees to beg for mercy. Marian looked around for the white women they had assaulted, but they had either been excused from watching or were hiding their reactions. Colonel Joseph let the men blubber for a while before giving the order to shoot. Frank and several other men put the bullet-filled bodies into deep trenches the dead men had dug in the sand.

"Let this be a lesson," Colonal Joseph said, his voice muted somewhat by the slowly rumbling sea. "None of our guests will be mistreated. We are not rapists, not like the white men who brought our ancestors here in chains and who raped our great-grandmothers. We are not barbarians and will tolerate no barbarism."

Marian felt very little emotion, looking at the corpses slumped over in the sand. It had been a long day in the kitchen, and she didn't know the story here. Other hostages had a similar response, looking on in solemn approval. Some held hands over mouths or crossed arms to separate themselves from what they were witnessing, but others spoke in casual support of it.

"Got to keep it under control."

"Always thought we were too easy on rapists back in the States."

"To be honest with you, this makes me feel safer."

She did not look at the people who said these things, though one sounded like Rachel from San Diego. She looked at the ocean instead. She had not seen it since the coup or whatever this was. It was early evening, the sky over the black sea a violet color. There were ships on the horizon, tiny but distinctly military in design, like steel fortresses risen from the sea. The shooting had been staged, to some extent, for this naval presence. Down on the sand, Frank dragged a dead man by the wrists. His face was hard with resolve, more handsome than she had seen it in years.

The number of hostages had dwindled. Fewer than half remained, most scruffy-looking young people waiting for parents to come through with scraped-together ransom funds. Many were in good shape, and standing together they were reminiscent of a fashion ad in a magazine. They fell into two groups, those who believed the disappeared had been murdered and buried in the jungle and those who believed they had been sent home. There were very few people like Marian and Frank, who had lost their parents and no longer felt like anyone's children. They did not dream of conspiracies and spoke primarily to give each other accounts of each day's events. Now and then they speculated that journalists back home might have figured out the winner of The Question was being held hostage. The thought thrilled them, gave them something warm to smile at as they settled down to sleep.

 

She woke to a rough hand covering her mouth and nose. It smelled like dust and decaying vegetables.

Frank's hard little eyes watched her from the couch they had pulled up beside the loveseat, now that there was plenty of available furniture. The surrounding night bristled with insect sounds, and out on the perimeter of the lobby guards stood talking and smoking cigarettes. They smoked marijuana and passed small bottles of rum back and forth.

"We are going to stage a rebellion," he whispered. "At the work site tomorrow. They hardly send any men anymore, and we've buried a stockpile of weapons. It sounds incredibly dangerous, I know. But there's very little risk."

She did not try to speak. His hand remained clamped over her mouth. He had changed so quickly, had lost much of the body fat he'd carried into this country. His shoulders and forearms had taken on a sinewy appearance, and working in the heat all day had made him less talkative and more watchful. He had become more comfortable with the prospect of real violence. The Frank she had known would have avoided eye contact with this one.

"We will take the truck to the line," he whispered. "We'll send a signal ahead to the Americans. They'll be waiting. I'll come back for you. Once the story is out that you're here, the people from The Question will want to get involved. Ed Parlay will take time out of the show to mention your ordeal. The government will have to act. We have a plan, so don't talk. And if we can't get through, we'll fight on the side of the government. Maybe we'll retake the resort. I'll come back for you. Don't say anything. Nod if you understand."

She nodded enough to press against his hand. A small part of her marveled at her lack of surprise or fear. She watched him close his eyes and went on watching until his mouth fell open and she knew he was asleep. She wondered how long he and the others had been planning this. She'd had no idea. She stretched her legs and then curled back onto the loveseat. Before he'd woken her, she'd been dreaming about something pleasant and mundane, and she shut her eyes and plunged in vain after that dissipating feeling.

 

The spices were gone. So were the beans. The men who brought supplies had ceased to bring in anything but the dead skates and the small sharks that could be caught fishing off the reef. Marian was learning how to prepare the young sharks. The sharks' heads made a pile in one bloody corner of the refuse area outside. The noise of buzzing flies was constant.

"I had a dream about Rachel," Nikki told her. For the first time in days, she looked pleased with herself. She had lost most of her teeth. "I'd been praying on it, and Jesus finally got around to answering. Sometimes it takes a bit. It's like calling Verizon or something."

Marian realized that the energetic young woman had cornered her and was holding a large chopping knife. She smiled as nicely as she could manage. "What did you dream?" she said.

"She flew away across the sky with a flock of angels," Nikki said. "The angels all had white gowns and black wings. I know she's in Heaven now. But I think I was supposed to tell you."

"Why?"

"Your husband in the flock, too. What was his name? Felix? He was wearing his glasses. He makes a very handsome angel."

"Oh," Marian said. "Excuse me."

She went to the large open dining area. It was deserted except for one table where four men in fatigues were playing cards. One had been with the trucks that returned the afternoon of Frank's disappearance. None of the hostages was present, but trucks and guards had been missing, too. The guards had refused to speak about what had happened, and rumors had gone both ways. She found herself watching the man who had possibly witnessed her husband's death or escape. She wondered if there was a third way, a fourth way, other possibilities she had not imagined. He noticed her watching, and he waved at her.

"Yes?" she said hopefully, approaching the table where the four men looked up tiredly from their guns and cards. "What is it?"

The guard squinted at her and tilted his head, as if to ask a question. "I hear talk of a delivery truck earlier. Probably too good to be true, right?"

 

Not long after people began to say the coup had failed, she was brought to live in The Tower, which was what everyone called the floor of suites Colonel Joseph used as his quarters. A young man in jungle fatigues escorted her. The young man carried his machine gun with a spirit of casual resentment, by the barrel, and hardly looked at her. They passed through the artificial jungle, where the monkeys had died a long time ago, shot and then sent to her in the kitchen. Though she had butchered those small bodies, scraped out every last bit of meat and brain, and then boiled their bones for stock, she searched the black net above the trees for any glimpse of one who might have escaped. At various security points, armed guards looked at them with disinterest and then turned away. What everyone shared in common, she noticed, was a look of hunger and exhaustion. The guards' clothes had come to look as shabby as her own. She felt no fear of these men and had felt no fear of them in a long time.

The eight apartments of The Tower boasted views of both the sea and the resort grounds and the surrounding jungle. As Marian understood it, she had been brought here in the capacity of personal cook. Apart from accepting the platters she prepared for him, Colonel Joseph ignored her. He spent most of his daytime hours sitting in a darkened corner of an apartment with an ocean view, smoking cigars and drinking rum. He was sometimes inspired to say a few words on this or that subject, but for the most part he sat silently, thinking or daydreaming. The television and radio across the room from him, as well as the wall behind him, had been shattered by bullets.

Another white woman lived in The Tower, too, someone named Letitia. She was younger than Marian and did not acknowledge questions about her last name or whether she had been married or with someone else before the colonel invited her to live with him. She had devoted an entire apartment to keeping clothes, shoes, purses, and jewelry that had been culled from the guests' rooms. She invited Marian to come with her and make judgements on what fit her and what did not.

"This is the best we can hope for. As a member of a card-carrying species, I mean," Letitia said, strutting before Marian in a sparkling black gown with a flowy skirt. She placed her hands on her hips and glanced back to see her own reflection in a standing mirror. "If you ever wondered what it's like to live at the very top of a society, you should know that this is it. There's no penthouse above where we stand now. We are living off the fat of the land. Sure, it might be nicer in Monaco or Switzerland or China, but psychologically it's the same. You can appreciate where I'm coming from."

Marian could appreciate it. One of the quirks of living in The Tower was that she could tell guards what to do, and often they would obey her. She liked spending time with Letitia, too. Letitia didn't listen to what she said, not exactly, but nor did she stare as if she'd suddenly found herself in the presence of a crazy person, which was what Rachel and Nikki had done whenever Marian spoke her mind. Rachel and Nikki, neither of whom Marian had seen in a long time. She noticed now that Letitia was wearing a gold cross much like the one Nikki used to touch when she spoke about her relationship with the Lord.

"The people in America have it all wrong," Letitia said, twirling so that the skirt floated up and revealed a glimpse of her powerful thighs. "Having no sense of value, they overvalue the wrong things."

Marian thought she understood. "I was one of those Americans," she said. "From a very young age I was identified as an obese person, and I thought of myself that way my entire life. Then last year I decided to do something about it. I went on the Extreme Workout Plan and lost seventy pounds, and I was never happier than when I posted photos of my new, thinner self online and got all those Likes. But it was never enough. Then I went on a gameshow and won a million dollars. And still it wasn't enough. If it wasn't for Colonel Joseph taking over Paradise, I wouldn't be grateful for all I've had." She thought of Frank, simultaneously imagining him dead in the jungle, a moldy skeleton picked clean by curassows, and alive back home, looking restored in a suit, talking intelligently to journalists about his wife being held hostage on a former resort island. The range of possibilities was inspiring. "Even my husband, who I only married because he was just as sad as I was and who I never really knew before his probably untimely death at the hands of Colonel Joseph's men."

Letitia wasn't listening. She grabbed a blue ballroom gown off a heap of dresses and threw it to Marian. "Try this on," she said. "Blue is your color, you know."

She did not know. No one had told her. But holding the dress now against the body the mirror showed smaller and harder than the one she'd sculpted for her first appearance on The Question, Marian saw that this was true. Blue suited her just beautifully. She looked over to thank Letitia, who held out her phone at an arm's distance to take a picture of them both.

 

The last fires had died away when she left the apartment where she had spent the entirety of the attack. A cutting odor hung in the air, heavy as smoke but sharper, and she supposed this was burnt gunpowder or cordite or something like that. Bodies lay scattered across the grounds, and she did not bother looking closely at those she did not recognize immediately. Colonel Joseph was easy enough to spot, but that was only because he had sunk to the bottom of the pool and the lights in the walls remained on even after the siege had ended. He lay at the bottom under the diffuse clouds of blood, gaping up with the stupid expression of an unposed dead man. She was glad, she supposed, that Letitia had not lived to see him this way.

She walked the carnage of the beach and then followed the various footpaths around the resort, looking past the bodies and the occasional smoking, burned-out structure. She was not searching for anything she could name, but she was looking for something nonetheless. She was not looking for survivors, that much she knew, for she assumed that all the men who had held her and the others hostage were now dead. The same went for many of the remaining hostages.

None of the invading troops had died in the fight, as far she could tell. She saw none of them on the beach or on the resort grounds. They had looked enormous to her, coming ashore. They were huge with health and padded black armor, and with their long black guns she had thought the word Myrmidons, which she used to know the meaning of. The Myrmidons had come ashore in dozens, crowded onto motored pontoon rafts, and they had overwhelmed Paradise's defenses within a matter of minutes. Where they had gone now, she could not say.

She came to the empty lobby, where the lights shone dimly on the abandoned check-in counter and the many empty couches and chairs. There were no bodies in here, and the clocks and fountains were untouched, the furniture mostly upright, so that she might have been an employee showing up to work early. She found a loveseat and sat down and waited.

She must have dozed, because time had passed when the couple appeared, talking to her, sounding impatient and mad. She was not sure what time it was, or what time it had been, but time had passed, she was sure of it.

She was surprised to see them. She knew them somehow. The woman was looking at her sternly. It was amusing but also annoying, to get such a look from someone fifteen years younger. "Marian?" the woman said. "What are you doing here? We've been looking all over."

She looked at the woman closely, trying to identify how she knew her. She was some kind of hipster, a twenty-something with a cropped short haircut and vintage high-waisted jeans. The man with her wore his hair in a mullet and sported a comic-looking mustache. Maybe that was how she knew them. They were the sort of people you saw hanging out in the gentrified neighborhoods of her hometown, people who dressed like the adults had when she was young.

"Let's go," the man said. "No point in wasting more time here."

"Have you been hiding?" the woman said. She looked at the surrounding lobby and scowled in disgust with what she saw in it. "I hope not, young lady. Let's go home and get away from all of this."

"Come on, honey," the man. "Everything's going to be all right. He's out there waiting for you."

"He is?" she said.

Then she saw him out there, dark against the still and silent darkness, the unmistakable silhouette of the man she had watched and admired for so many years. He called to her just as she caught a whiff of his French cologne. "Come on, Marian. We'd love to have you back. What are you waiting for?"

She stood from the loveseat with a feeling like all the school days and all the church services and all the work shifts and every long commute and traffic jam, every dull and painful moment and disappointed stare were somehow coming to an end, all of it here and now, for good. The couple was moving ahead of her, were near the polished stone doorway that led into the silent and peaceful night and the blessed voice of Ed Parlay. She ran to catch up, and she did not see the polished wall's reflection, blurred and fleeting, of a small girl running past.