Near the ledge at the drop off is where it’s least dark, and Ku and I are determined to follow its line all the way back to my village. It really isn’t that far, but a twisted ankle makes it bloody awful. I’m gimping along like a broken toy, and the only bright spot is that my pained expression looks to be about my actual physical pain. Not that Will Tongahai makes me do and say the strangest things. Or the fact that Will and Oliana had a thing going before he went off to school and that everyone on the island appears to fully expect that that thing will be a forever thing.
Don’t know why I even care. He can go ahead and marry her if wants. Not like I have any intention of remaining on this rock after the war or anything. I’d die of boredom a thousand times.
“Go ahead,” Ku says, crouching. “Hop on.”
Ku’s back, wide and muscular, ready for me, gleams in the night and I limp over to him. Climbing up, I wrap my arms around his neck and he stands with a feigned groan.
“You eat the whole pig, little A?”
“You’re hardly one to talk,” I say, reaching up and smacking his cheek.
I shouldn’t be so shaken about damned Will, but I am. I mean literally, I am shaking, and I have been since we left the plank. It was just a dream, after all. A dream that feels more real than anything I know, but it’s still a damned dream. Only ever since we got here, I’ve felt my old life slipping away from me, that’s all. Even dad and Jamie being gone. Gone forever. That seems far away now. Not like it happened so long ago – more like it happened to someone else. I haven’t cried once about it since we arrived on Niue. Not even when I hear mum having a good blub like she always does nearly every day at the crack of dawn. When she wakes up and remembers that it’s real. Her men are never coming back.
“I hope you’re not in a crank,” Ku says. “I mean, I was just teasing. And I’ve carried heavier sacks of coconut than you.”
“What on earth are you talking about?”
“You’re just quiet, that’s all,” Ku says. “I haven’t known you long, but I’ve never known you to be quiet.”
I pinch his ear and bring my lips right up to it.
“You want another smack?” I ask him.
“From you? I’ll take it.”
Ku stops. Down below, I can hear the waves shattering at the base of the cliffs, and the sounds of a barn owl and a cuckoo in conversation.
“You tired?” I ask Ku. “I can walk, you know.”
Although I’m none at all happy about that prospect.
“No, I’m fine,” Ku says. “I was just…well, I was just wondering if maybe you’re upset about what I said about Will. And my sister.”
“Why would I be upset about that?” I try to be convincing on that one, really I do.
“Angelie, Will’s a good bloke. He wouldn’t set out to wreck you or anything. He’s an odd bloke, though. Always has been.”
“Yes,” I say. “He is.”
Ku puts me down and turns me towards him. Such a sweet face he’s got. Handsome in the way of the good ones, with the kind of smile that’s not lying to you, charming you into liking him more than he likes you. And just for the sport of it. He takes my hand and I let him. It’s rough and tough-skinned from all the farm work he does, and patterned with cuts from cleaning fish. Some long-healed, some from yesterday. Can’t see those scars now, but I have in the daylight, and I like them. These hard-working hands of his add to Ku’s warmth and good-nature. A girl would be lucky to have a bloke like him weave his fingers through her own. Call her his sweetheart.
A girl who isn’t me.
“You know,” Ku says. “I can’t blame Will for wanting to get to know you better, but…”
A sharp squealing noise cuts into whatever Ku was going to say next – thank God. It’s come on the wind, from just where the Drs. Neville and Vogel were taking their geological samples this morning. Ku’s brow scrunches up, but I know exactly what that sound is.
“Shhh,” I say, giving a good listen. Yes, there it goes again.
The drop-off is still a quite a ways off, up an incline leading off from the Tongahai’s crop field. I limp towards it with Ku in tow, and he’s whispering how it was probably just a bird.
“No bird,” I tell him.
At the base of the incline, I look up and can barely make out the hunched forms of two figures. A red light blinks between them and I can catch intermittent gurgles of static above the draughts of wind that come up this time of night.
“Is it a radio?” Ku rasps.
“A radio transmitter,” I tell him.
A series of taps and squealies toll over the drop-off, raining down on us as a light pitter of far-flung noise. I hear the unmistakable bark of German throughout it all.
“Is it those doctor blokes?” Ku asks.
“Trying to pick up the news from the mainland, you think? Fat chance of that.”
I shake my head.
“They’re the ones doing the talking. Sending out some sort of message I think.”
Ku takes a few strides up the incline and strains to have a look. “Why do you suppose they’re doing that?”
A loose rock gets under foot and Ku wobbles, then skitters all the way back down to me, flailing those thick arms of his and calling out a big, long waaaa that can probably be heard on the other side of the fields, at Will’s place.
“Dammit,” I say.
Up top, the shadowy outlines of Drs. Neville and Vogel stand, Neville with his legs wide and his hands on his hips. Vogel, all stiff, barely looks human. More like a spike about to be pounded into the ground – or plunged into someone’s heart.
I’m about to grab Ku and make a run for it when he starts waving his arms.
“Hello there,” he says.
“That you, Ku?”
“O, yea,” Ku says in that way of his that makes everyone want to be his friend. Kandi Neville, however, appears uncharmed.
“And who’s that with you?”
I walk towards him a bit, trying my best at an even gate. It’s hard, what with my ankle and all. “Collecting soil samples again, are you, Dr. Neville,” I say.
The transmitter has been turned off, but I can still see the bare specter of its outline between them.
“It’s late,” Neville says, the whites of his eyes catching every possible glint of light.
“I was just taking Angelie here home,” Ku tells him, being all helpful.
“But we’re happy to stay to keep you fellows company,” I say. “Your work is awfully fascinating.”
Neville comes down from the drop-off, blending into the shadows where Ku and I have been obscured from his view. I can see him better now. His customary good humor is all but gone and I can smell the bitter tang of sweat infused in his shirt.
“We weren’t trying to disturb you,” Ku says. “We just heard something and wanted to know what it was.”
“Can’t blame us for being curious,” I add.
Neville comes up close. Just a crumb closer than is polite. I can see the bulge of his ancient statue tucked in to his shoulder holster, in place of where a gun would normally be. I think how odd it is that an archaeologist would have a pistol on Niue, and wonder where he put that pistol. I just hope Max Vogel doesn’t have it trained on us.
I swallow hard as I watch Neville take in a deep breath through his nostrils. They flare wide, like his eyes, and make me want to turn and run right here and now. I don’t though. No way.
“Is there a difference, collecting samples at night or during the day?” I ask. “Geologically speaking, I mean?”
Max Vogel says something in German and I know he’s talking about me because I hear him say “heiress,” which means girl and I’m the only girl here. And it sure doesn’t sound like he’s saying anything particularly nice about me, but then again, nothing sounds nice in German, does it?
Neville answers him back and I have no idea what he says – didn’t catch a word – but if I had to venture a guess, I’d say it was something along the lines of, “Keep your shirt on, I’ll handle this.” I comfort myself with the thought that two missing persons on an island as tiny as Niue would cause a hubbub these two characters can’t afford. Getting rid of our bodies, Ku’s and mine, would prove pretty damned hard unless they took us way out to sea and dumped us there. Even if they threw us off this cliff, we’d just float right back in and wash up on shore. And that would wreck whatever it is they’re doing for the Axis – yes, the Axis, I’m sure of it. There in with the Germans and the Japanese and the Italians, out to stomp their bloody feet all over the world!
Neville lifts up his hand and puts his knuckle under my chin, tipping it up to meet his face. I take a breath just as deep as he did and flare up my nostrils, too.
“Go home, Angelie,” he says softly. “A girl like you shouldn’t be out at this time of night.”
“A girl like me? You mean from Down Under?”
My voice cracks a bit and Neville smiles. His teeth are so radiant under the moon, it’s like they belong to a spirit.
“Something like that,” he whispers. “Yes, something very much like that.”