Absence of Evidence

Here are the first “completed” chapters of the new book. Some editing but no proofreading, so there will be typos, misspellings, other mistakes. But it’s going in the right direction, I think. ~ ED

Chapter 1

We pretend that something is good or bad as if the judgements are external to us, unrelated to what we bring to the judging. Of course, that’s laughably untrue.

Staci Jeffries can’t defend herself and I don’t blame her for what happened on board Dragonfly. Staci was used in death as she was so often in life. Her call simply put the ball in play.

It wasn’t her fault I became the ball in play.

“Please, Jessica!”

“Staci, I’m already stretched too thin. I’ll give you some phone numbers, and the public defender’s office is available. That’s all I can do.”

“No! I trust you! Please!”

“Staci. Don’t. I’ve got to go.” I hung up the phone at the same time thinking I should help her out. Staci and I had been cellmates in the King County Jail. The comment about trust me made me feel guilty, and feeling guilty makes me angry.

The “Shoulds” do that to me. Even when I’m the person saying “You should …” to myself. So that colored my day, even though I “should” not have let it.

There was something else. I’d gotten an email the previous evening from a man different than others. He wrote that he was ending our relationship, that he wasn’t the priority for me that I was for him.

I’d been looking forward to seeing if we’d pick up where we’d left off. I didn’t know if I loved him, but knew I loved being with him, in his arms, in his presence.

It could have been worse, I told myself. I was going to make a plane reservation soon, any day. At least I wouldn’t have to pay cancellation fees.

That life raft of gallows humor sank under the realization I’d been putting off making a plane reservation a day at a time, then a week at a time, as different issues with my practice surfaced. He was right about priorities. I’d put him off too long.

Not five minutes later, there was a light knock on my door and Claire came in.

“Jessica, there’s a Geoffry Quinn on line one. He says he needs to speak with you.”

“Claire… “I started to say, but stopped. Claire usually just used the intercom. That she delivered this in person meant something. Claire also knew I was behind with work.

Friday’s are reserved for clients who desperately need help but can’t afford it. Because I don’t charge for my time on Friday, the schedule was always too full.

My mentor Tony calls it “Freebie Friday” with a sneer, but he has his own charities. I suppose that was part of the reason for my response to Staci.

“Yeah, I know,” Claire said. “But there’s something about this guy, Jessica.” She flashed her brilliant smile that contrasted with her gorgeous black skin as she shrugged, telling me she didn’t know why but thought I should take the call.

I trust Claire’s instincts. It takes a lot to raise two good sons in neighborhoods of Seattle bypassed by Microsoft and Amazon. Claire’s boys were so handsome they could have taken easier paths, but one was a cop and the other made a ridiculous amount of money as a sales rep for a prosthetics manufacturer.

And, there are a lot of lawyers in Seattle. Racking up a few billable hours did make sense, even on Freebie Friday.

“Thanks, Claire. I’ll take it.”

“Ms. DuBois, my name is Geoffrey Quinn. Would you be able to meet about a matter that might be of mutual benefit?”

“Mr. Quinn, I’d be happy to meet but I don’t do my own scheduling. I can turn you back over to my assistant. I’m sure we can set something up for the week after next.”

“That’s very kind of you, Ms. DuBois, but my matter is somewhat pressing. Is there any way we can meet sooner? I’m happy to make it worth your while.”

“Perhaps we can get together next week. I’ll ask my assistant to go over the schedule and get back to you.”

“I was hoping for something a little sooner.”

I looked at the clock. I was getting further behind. I needed to get the work in front of me done; I wanted to go to the gym maybe a little early after work so I didn’t have to fight for a machine.

And this was another moment when I just wanted to say “no.”

“Mr. Quinn, I’m sorry. I have things to do that need to get done. If you’d like to speak with my assistant, I’ll transfer you. If not, have a good morning, what’s left of it.”

“Thank you for taking my call, Ms. DuBois.”

I went back to working on a case involving two girls who had been accused of swiping the cell phone, credit cards, watch, and pretty much whatever they could get their hands on from a “client” who thought he was getting the best deal on the best sex Seattle had to offer.

Their ad said “Just the three of us…” and showed the blond and brunette mostly naked with arms around each other and beckoning with kisses. The price was surprisingly low.

“That’s quite a come on, but I ’spose they have towels,” Claire deadpanned at the morning meeting, which caused my assistant Sara to almost shoot latté out her nose.

I would not have taken the case except for the fact that the “low ball price” (Claire again) was being used as evidence of intent to steal. That didn’t seem fair in a free market economy.

The girls had also convinced me they’d taken nothing from the “client,” saying he had actually refused to pay for services rendered. He simply laughed at them and called them names and told them to get out of his room after promising a session the following night and getting their personal contact information.

Which he gave to the police when he filed a police report that he’d been robbed after having consensual sex with the girls. He was also suing the hotel where he stayed and met the girls in the bar.

It didn’t seem right that he wanted to profit from the evening while causing the girls a whole lot of pain, to say nothing of not paying for the sex in the first place. Calling them names entered into my calculation too, the superior bastard.

He might have made a couple small mistakes though. One of the credit cards was used about two hours after the time he alleged it was stolen, and a call was received by his cell phone that lasted longer than it should have.

The District Attorney was willing to accept his explanation that he had the times wrong of when the girls left. I was not.

I had just settled back into the file when a call came in on my cell phone, caller ID blocked. I did not pick up, a habit I have to avoid the aggravation of spam. But the phone went silent after three rings, then another call came in, ID blocked. This time I answered.

“Hello, Ms. DuBois. Geoffry Quinn.”

“This is not a good way to start out.”

“I thought it best not to bother your staff.”

“How did you get this number?” I asked.

“Ms. DuBois, may we not go into those details? It could be a distraction and I know your time is limited. Suffice to say it wasn’t from anyone you know?”

There’s no such thing as privacy, any longer. Everything we do is monitored and logged. A tree falling in the forest makes a sound if at some time in the future, someone replays the event and hears a branch break.

“What do you need from me, Mr. Quinn?”

“I’d like to meet with you in person to discuss this.”

“We can save a lot of my time and a lot of your money if we agree right now not to play games.”

There was a pause on the other end. I made no attempt to fill the silence, something I’ve learned if I need information and honesty.

“I would like you to deliver a letter. I’d like this done sooner than later.” Geoffrey Quinn’s voice changed as he said that.

“Why not email? Registered mail?”

“I prefer to have the letter delivered by hand and know it was received.”

“Why me, Mr. Quinn?”

“You have qualifications that are of value. To begin with, you are a woman. This can be less threatening and allows you to see things sometimes more accurately than a man. As an attorney you have certain obligations to me as your client, and protections from others.”

“You mean the police.”

“Not specifically, but yes, attorney-client privilege is an advantage.”

“I don’t think I’m interested.”

“I am somewhat surprised at that attitude, given what you experienced at the hands of the legal system. That must have been a difficult six months.”

Few people knew that I spent six months in jail as a “first time offender” on falsified drug charges. Eventually justice was done, but sometimes the legal system is constipated and requires a bit of urging.

“I’m not the only lawyer who has seen the system for what it is,” I said.

“Quite true,” said Geoffrey Quinn. “Your gender, your age, your legal abilities and your attitudes toward sexuality all play a part.”

“What do you know of my attitudes?” I shot back. I’m not ashamed of who I am or what I like outside the office. But I don’t broadcast either and those who knew the whole package were very, very few.

“Ms. DuBois, that is something I’m sure you’d rather discuss in person.”

“When?”

“Tomorrow?”

“Tomorrow is Saturday. I have plans,” I said. My friend Billy and I had made kinda-sorta plans to go sailing on his boat on Lake Union.

It’s not like Billy would be devastated if I cancelled. He cancels on me, especially if he’s just found a new girl and it’s at the “all new great sex” stage, or he’s just breaking up and going through the “break-up / make-up sex” stage, which he says is the best. That’s why he and I were just friends, no benefits, but he makes me laugh.

“Yes, tomorrow is Saturday. I thought that would be more convenient for you. I’m happy to pay your fee while in transit.”

“Transit to where?”

“A small island close to the U.S. border with Canada.”

“Mr. Quinn, you would be looking at about $2,000 just in travel time. Hours of driving … ”

“Kenmore Air flies into Port Vicente. There’s a plane first thing in the morning from Lake Union.”

I thought about that for a moment.

“Ms. DuBois, will you meet with me tomorrow? You will leave with $10,000.”

“You guarantee the amount regardless of the outcome?”

“I’m pleased to do that. Can you be at the Kenmore Air terminal on Lake Union at about 7:45 a.m.? They will take you to Port Vicente and my boatman will pick you up there. You will be back in Seattle by 7 p.m.”

“Alright, Mr. Quinn. I’ll have my assistant call Kenmore Air and make arrangements. Is there a number where you can be reached if I can’t get a ticket?”

“That won’t be necessary.”

Just then, Claire knocked softly twice on my door and came in with something in her hand. When she saw me talking on my cell phone, she started to turn away, but I motioned her over so I could at least look. I needed to multitask if I was going to get anything done.

She put down on my desk a round trip ticket on Kenmore Air from Lake Union to Vicente Island.

“Mr. Quinn, how did you…?”

“Ms. DuBois, please, just call me Quinn. Everyone does, and the ‛Mr.’ just gets in the way. My mother loved the name ‛Geoffrey’ far more than I do. I’m so looking forward to meeting you.”

And the line went dead.

It wasn’t just the money. My life was feeling a little out of sorts and Quinn was intriguing. I still don’t know if I made the right decision, and certainly couldn’t know then.

My French grandmother once said that we are not responsible for all that we are, but must choose who we will be, and accept the consequences.

 

Chapter 2

Arriving at a new place can feel fresh and fulfilling or ominous and threatening, even if we don’t know how the experience will turn out.

I’d never been on a float plane before that brief flight from Seattle to Port Vicente. The pilot banked hard, skimming over hills surrounding the harbor. A clear patch of water appeared between ferries, boats, kayaks and dinghies, and the plane dove toward the surface, barely clearing masts of sailboats anchored out.

Then the nose came up and we floated on a cushion of air until pontoons touched and the plane slowed as if he’d slammed on the brakes.

It was strange stepping off a plane and onto a dock where boats bobbed just a few feet away. The old but freshly painted wooden buildings of Port Vicente cascaded down a steep hillside to splay out from shore into the harbor along pilings and piers.

“Ms. DuBois?”

I turned, and did everything I could not to gasp a little.

Facing me was one of the most beautiful men I’d ever seen. At least a full head taller than me, broad shoulders, skin not quite olive but rich in tone, one or two days of stubble depending on his testosterone level (my guess, quite high), dark hair and … electric blue eyes.

The eyes were just not fair, on top of everything else.

“Um, yes? Mr. Quinn?”

He laughed easily, softly.

“No, my name is William. I’ll be taking you to see Mr. Quinn.” William reached for my backpack, which happens often. Most people don’t see it as my “purse.”

“I’ve got it,” I said, but let his hand get close enough that I could brush it with mine. I wanted to feel the warmth of that skin.

It had been a while since I’d had sex. Truthfully, I was in a period of abstinence. With the breakup email I’d received the night before, I was technically as well as emotionally free to explore where and who I wanted.

I followed William down the dock. After all, he knew where we were going. I walked far enough behind that I could look at his. It was perfect. His shoulders were broad but moved easily and I imagined all the muscle those clothes barely hid.

My analysis was interrupted by a long low bellow from a Washington State Ferry approaching the harbor. Sailboats turned ninety degrees to get out of its way.

“Here we go,” William said.

The boat was unlike anything else at the dock. It had rubber sides, but an aluminum hull. A small three-sided cabin with thick windows was open at the back. I’d never seen a boat with four huge outboard motors. Each Yamaha had “350” on its back end, and I assumed that was horsepower. I did a quick calculation.

“This has 1,400 horsepower?” I asked.

“Only about 1,200,” said William. He was untying the boat from the dock and didn’t look up. Matter-of-fact, no bragging. “They’re derated to 300 each because of how we have them tuned and propped.”

“Please put this on, and fasten your seat belt.” He handed me a life-jacket and pointed at a chair to one side of a podium with controls but without steering wheel.

“How do you steer?” I asked.

“With this.” He pointed at an impossibly small stick coming out the top of the podium.

“If you go in the water, which you won’t, pull this cord,” he said, pointing at a place on my life jacket. I wished the life jacket wasn’t there as I looked down at his hand.

“If it doesn’t inflate, blow into this tube.”

“Just like an airplane,” I said, instead of the double entendre I wanted to make to start a different conversation.

“Pretty much, but these are a little more stout.”

He slipped his arms through his lifejacket, fastened its three clips in front of his muscled chest, pushed a button and the Yamaha engines sprang to life.

Unlike any other boat I’ve been in, the nose turned directly away from the dock but the back of the boat didn’t move much. I looked back, and the four engines were facing every which way.

“How does it do that!” I said.

“It’s like magic, isn’t it? Hold on.”

We headed out of the harbor. William said something I could not hear into a microphone. As we cleared the last set of buoys, we climbed and then dropped off some large waves from the passing of a large white yacht. Someone on board yelled our direction, and William waved.

“Ready?” William asked. “Grab that.” He pointed at a horizontal bar on the dash, which I grabbed with one hand. He pushed the throttles straight forward.

The four motors hesitated for a half second, as if to be sure they’d been given permission, then screamed in unison as the boat launched up and forward. I was pushed so far into my seat that I would not have been able to reach the bar in front of me if I did not already have my hand around it. When the bow came back down, we were already skipping over the top of the water.

William looked back with the grin of a ten-year-old.

“You doing okay?”

He could tell from my laughter that yes, I was doing just fine.

“How long is the trip?” I asked.

“About forty-five minutes, depending on the water. There were quite a few logs when I was coming down, so we’ll probably have to slow down before Desperation Pass.”

“Desperation Pass? That sounds ominous.”

“It’s the only way into the lagoon. In the old days, fishermen would only take the pass if they were desperate, if they stayed out too long and it was getting dark and they were trying to outrun a storm. The pass is narrow and the currents are huge. They’ve never recovered a body or a boat that went down in there, and there have been quite a few.”

“So we’re going to take it?” I laughed.

“It’s not much of a problem in this,” he hiked a thumb back toward the Yamaha motors on the stern. “Still, we need to be careful. We’ll be at the pass in a half hour.”

I sat back for a while and enjoyed the scenery. Islands flowed past us. The water became a flat color once we slid under a high fog that hid the sky. The four huge motors droned. Every once in a while, William would slow for a large wave or veer off course if he saw a log. There were quite a few of those, and not many were easily seen.

“What’s it like to drive?” I asked.

“Try it,” he motioned me to the center of the boat. “The joy stick just does the steering. We have it set up so the throttles can be separate for maneuverability, but right now all four are locked together, and that’s how we run it most often.”

He pulled the throttles back and the boat slowed and settled into the water. I moved the joy stick first one way, then the other. Small movements made the boat turn smoothly.

“Okay, let the joy stick return to center and push the throttles forward.”

I did, and the bow rose, then just hung there.

“More power!” said William, so I pushed the throttles past half way and the boat climbed over its bow wave and planed over the surface of the water.

“Keep it on that heading,” William said, pointing at a small boat on the screen in front of me that was tracking a blue line. “Don’t just stare at the blue line, though. Keep an eye out so we don’t hit a half-submerged log or a shipping container.”

I was standing next to him, maybe a little closer than I needed to. He didn’t respond, but he didn’t pull away, either.

It’s interesting how nonverbal communication works. In that situation, unattached men will usually move imperceptibly closer. By small movements we exchange information that there’s mutual interest, and anything could happen.

Married men, secure in their marriage, will not move closer, but won’t pull away. They enjoy the thought of possibility, but won’t act on it. They’ll talk about something like the weather, easy enough that they can enjoy flirtation without committing anything unseemly.

Married men not into their marriage will move closer, often too close. They are communicating, too, though the message is that they’re in a hurry.

“What do you when you aren’t taking passengers to and from Mr. Quinn,” I asked William.

“On my days off, I hike or kayak around the islands,” William said.

“I’ve always wanted to kayak,” I said.

An unattached male will usually take the next step and offer to take a woman kayaking, offer to teach, etc., at her convenience: “Then let’s go kayaking. When would you like to go?”

A committed married man will say something like “I’ll see what my wife’s schedule is. Maybe we can all go out in the next week or two.”

A wandering married man will offer, but with limits while he schemes. “Why don’t you give me your number and we’ll see what works.”

William said, “Our schedule on Dragonfly is pretty hectic over the next couple of months. Excuse me a sec while I check in with Mr. Quinn.” He reached around me. I leaned a little toward his arm, but he retrieved the microphone from the rack where it was clipped and pushed the button.

Dragonfly, Seagull One.” he said.

Dragonfly,” came the clipped response.

Seagull One six units out. Flotsam. Not quite desperate.”

“Roger that. See you in six.”

“What’s a unit?” I asked.

“Today it’s six minutes. We’ll be there in a little more than a half hour.”

“Today?”

“I better take the helm,” he said, indicating I should take my seat and not offering to continue that conversation.

“Seat belt?” William said, without turning. I clicked the buckle closed and he pushed the boat toward what looked like an island.

“Okay, here’s the pass,” he said a few minutes later. All I could see was a cliff face straight in front of us. As we moved closer, I could see that what I thought was solid rock was in fact two fingers of land crossing with the one on my left slightly in front of the one on the right.

There was a slot in between them with what seemed to be a river flowing out.

As we approached the river, there were high waves that stayed in one place. William went around the first few, but then rock began to close in from each side. “Hold on,” he said at last, and we went up the next wave, and down into the trough behind.

The boat seemed to stall there a moment until the bow lifted again, then William pushed the throttles even farther. The boat pushed its nose forward and up, then down the back of that wave as he eased off. He accelerated again into the face of the next. Finally the boat sliced through the last set of smaller waves and danced its way between cliff faces.

“That was amazing!” I yelled over the roar of the engines and rush of water between the walls of rock.

“In the old days they had to wait for the tide to change and then pray for enough wind. If they tried to get through without wind, or the tide and wind matched speed in the same direction, they wouldn’t be able to steer and would end up lost on the rocks. They only came through here if they were desperate.”

It took a while before we came out on the other side into a widening cove that reached back far into the distance. I was shocked to see so much water. I had assumed we were going up a river.

“No, that’s just a tidal push, in and out,” William said.

I saw a boat in the distance. “Is that where we’re headed?”

“Yes,” said William, and he put the throttle down. The little boat leapt forward, seemingly connected to the water only by its four propellers.

“Oh, my God,” I said as we closed the distance. “What in the world is that?”

“That’s Dragonfly,” William said, with some pride.

“But what is it?”

“It’s a Pinisi. Modeled on after Indonesian trading vessels.”

“It’s beautiful!”

The boat stretched out low in front with a sharp bow, but climbed to three square stories that hung out above the water toward the stern. It almost had the lines of a pirate ship, but with Asian flair. Her wooden hull was graceful yet stout. Unlike any of the yachts back at Port Vicente, or anything I’d ever seen in Seattle.

As we approached, a boom swung over the side from above and a cradle was lowered down and into the water. William pushed the launch slowly forward until the cradle surrounded it, then gave someone a thumbs up and the launch rose with us still inside. When even with the deck of Dragonfly, we stepped out and down onto a broad expanse of deck.

“William, that was so much fun. Thank you.”

“We’ll do it again, that’s for sure. I have to take you back to Port Vicente to catch your plane home.”

“Can’t wait,” I said.

“Welcome aboard, Ms. DuBois,” came a soft deep voice behind me. I turned and saw a striking older man in black pants and a rough light gray wool sweater, silver hair, laugh lines etched deep into tanned skin, bare feet and a wide smile.

As a captain for this incredible boat, and boat to match this man, they made sense of each other, as my grandmother used to say.

“I’m Quinn. Very pleased to meet you.”

Chapter 3

What we think of as ‘true’ is simply how we interpret or select our information. It’s only possible to ‘prove’ something is false, and that’s not always easy. True or false, real or fiction, in the absence of evidence we sometimes just have to choose.

“How was your trip out, Ms. DuBois? The plane, the trip from Port Vicente?” Quinn was looking at me as if my answer meant something to him.

“I enjoyed it. The flight was smooth and William is quite competent. And that speedboat, or whatever it is, is just amazing!”

“Yes, those are impressive craft. And William is an excellent boatman. Would you like a tour of Dragonfly, or prefer to get down to business?”

“Business can wait!” I replied.

“Exactly right.”

The main deck of the Pinisi, toward the bow and outside, was very spare. A low table sat between two benches with lush cushions, one chair at the head with its back to the mast. Another long bench ran along the front of the house without cushions.

It looked like a table one would find in a boardroom, with a commanding seat for the chairman and cushions for directors, with the bare bench for minions who would receive orders.

Inside the “house” on that main deck was a lounge and dining area. There were five round tables of woven colored cane, each with four chairs that matched. In one chair, reading a book, a lovely woman with olive skin and dark hair made no move to rise as we entered but smiled politely and went back to her reading.

I wondered if that was Ms. Quinn, but no introductions were offered.

Behind what looked like bar with stools was a wall full of liquor bottles, but to one side of the bar counter was small grill and cooking surfaces.

“This is the lounge and dining area,” Quinn said.

“Is everything cooked there?” I pointed at the small grill.

“No, that’s just for appetizers or quick snacks. There’s a larger kitchen right below where most meals are made. There’s a dumbwaiter set into the counter beside the grill.”

Below the deck we were on were also six luxurious suites.

“This one is occupied,” said Quinn as we walked past a closed door, “but they are all very much the same except for decor.” The one he showed me was done in gold and purple that matched the sail covers I saw when William and I approached.

“There are also some crew quarters on the deck below this. Nothing much there to look at. Bunk beds, shared baths. The engine room, a repair shop, laundry, and so on.”

“Upstairs” on the aft end and highest level was Quinn’s private area. It was spare to the point of ascetic. The bedroom had furniture of an Asian feel. There were no handles to indicate where closets or dressers might hide. There was a luxurious stone bath and shower. The suite opened up to a deck with a sitting or sleeping platform and a few benches, all made of dark wood formed into lattice work of one-inch squares. Everything was immaculate.

“Is everything built out of wood?” I asked.

“Everything that can be,” Quinn replied.

“I didn’t know this was done anymore in this age of steel, aluminum and fiberglass.”

“Would you rather live in a soup can, a plastic cup, or a violin?” Quinn asked.

“I guess that explains it,” I said to his smile.

“Me too.”

“But isn’t it incredibly hard to build this today?”

“There are places in the world where the craft is not lost. It’s just a matter of finding the talent and spending the money. Dragonfly was built in Indonesia.”

On the very top of the house and nearly hidden were launch cradles, the hoist that pulled items up from the sea like the launch I arrived in, or supplies on pallets from a dock to the deck. All the machinery and vents were hidden out of site.

Ahead of his quarters, through a single door secured with a key pad, was Quinn’s office, a room with what could be called bay windows on each side looking out at the sea. There was another very low table. There were no chairs here, but cushions sat along the walls and below the windows.

Through another locked door was the helm or steering station. Two men stood there, one looking intently at screens under the front windows, the other looking out and speaking into a headpiece radio.

Just then sails came up out of the boom and rose up the mast. I felt the boat turn slightly as the sails caught the light breeze.

“Are we going somewhere?” I asked.

“We’re just repositioning here in the lagoon. We do this at least once a day, to improve radio reception and to stay in practice. Lets go back to my office,” Quinn said.

When we were ensconced on the cushions at the table, and the woman I’d seen sitting in the lounge down below had brought us tea I did not remember Quinn asking for, Quinn again thanked me for coming.

“You’ve made it worth my while,” I said.

“Yes, but you were gracious, none-the-less.”

I didn’t feel I’d been very gracious, especially now that I’d experienced what I imagined was the full force of Geoffrey Quinn’s charm.

“I suppose it’s time to talk about the bit of work I’d like you to do for me,” Quinn said.

“Yes, but I’d like to know something else, first. You committed to paying me $10,000 to come here, just to listen to your request. Obviously you have the money. But why out here, a place so difficult to get to? In my experience, truly wealthy men don’t throw money away.”

Quinn wore a half smile through the last half of my question.

“There are certain advantages to the present location,” he said. “Both Canada and the United States have claimed it at one time or another, but did so half-heartedly. You may have noticed there are no beaches, just sheer volcanic rock rising out of the ocean. Except for this inlet, which is extremely difficult to enter, there is no easy access. In fact, for most of its history, it was thought the island was uninhabited.

“But it was, and eventually, the indigenous people decided they did not want to be either Canadian or U.S. citizens. Its status remains unclear.”

“I assume then that you don’t want to enter U.S. or Canadian waters. Are you a criminal?”

“Let’s just say that the governments of both nations would like to ask questions that would intrude on my businesses and not enhance my liberty.”

“So you hide out here, and the locals allow that.”

“I am a guest, I pay a mooring fee, and have agreed that no one from my boat sets foot on the island.”

“No one may go ashore?”

“Anyone who steps on shore may not leave, according to the island law.”

“How do they get away with that?”

“In past centuries, the only newcomers to Isle Inestable were shipwrecked sailors. No one was ever allowed to leave. This protected the local’s privacy and left their culture mostly intact.”

“Why didn’t anyone come to the rescue?”

“It was assumed they had drowned.”

“No one tried to get home? Build a raft, light a signal fire?”

“There were benefits to staying. The people of Isle Instable are quite beautiful, and the culture is governed by women. Sailors and fishermen who shipwrecked here were always men. Here they could have almost whatever they liked, certainly everything they needed, and anyone who tried to leave was killed, slowly and unpleasantly, as an example to others.”

That took a minute to sink in. “One would have thought that a society like this would have been discovered long ago, and written about extensively.”

“No one came out here,” Quinn said.

He explained the island was named by the Spanish, and then that was poorly translated by the English, then retranslated into French and then back to Spanish. The island was the top of a volcano located on the ‘Ring of Fire.’ It’s name, “Unsettled,” originally came from rock slides that were seen falling from its flanks into the ocean.

“Before the Europeans arrived, a group of women, probably about 50, left several villages on the mainland and came out here. They were tired of the tribal wars, the deaths, slavery, rapes, kidnappings and so on that seemed to define the leadership of men and the “ownership” of women.

“They brought with them a few men from each community. The men and women all just disappeared, as far as the villages knew. Each village has their own myth about what happened.

“When they arrived here, the women burned all the canoes so no one could leave. They survived on fish they caught from the rocky shore, shellfish from this bay and plants similar to what they had at home.

“Women were in charge. They abolished marriage. The men were regarded as belonging to all. You see where this is going.”

“Not quite.”

“The elder women eventually realized that they needed new blood. They set fires out on the cliffs during storms to lure boats to the rocks. They captured the survivors.

“All were permitted to live, but none were permitted to leave. The few that tried were killed. The rest were shared.”

“Lucky men.”

“Not for all men. Strong men, handsome men, smart men, yes. They sired many children who gave birth to many more. Those without “desirable” characteristics had less opportunity to pass on their genes. They either had no sex, or turned to each other. Homosexuality is accepted in the culture.

“Eventually, the population became quite beautiful, if not somewhat idealized. English and Spanish and Russians all made a contribution, and later, Canadians and Americans. Though not dominate, blue eyes became more common. Skin lightened but remained olive … ”

“William,” I said.

“Yes,” Quinn smiled. “William was born on this island.”

“I don’t think evolution works like that.”

“We don’t know why evolution favors beauty. There are many examples in nature that are counterintuitive. Peacocks come to mind. Their tails should be a liability.”

“How did you discover this place?”

“As you might imagine, the local population had little resistance to disease. When much younger I was, shall we say, transporting cargo from Canada to the U.S. Both countries had an interest in my small business at the time.

“I once had to take advantage of a rather violent storm and fortuitous tides to avoid them and came into this lagoon and dropped anchor. The navies assumed we’d sunk.

“We’d lost my landing craft in the storm. Without a small boat, I made no attempt to go ashore, fortunately.

“While trying to figure out how we could leave, hoping patrols were not lingering outside, the matriarchs sent a boat out. They told us that the island was dying, the people were in the grip of another epidemic. They asked for help.

“I had medications on board that were part of my cargo. I shared. They recovered. I was granted hospitality in return. We’ve established a friendship over the years.”

“You’ve been on this boat for years!?”

“Oh, no. I go ashore, just not on this island. I bring them what is needed, and I’ve assisted some of their people to go out into the world. They return with an education, and the village prospers.”

“So, you’re hiding out in the heart of a volcano in the middle of the ocean off the coasts of the U.S. and Canada, protected from the law by a tribe of beautiful people run by women.”

“Crudely put, but … yes.”

“I don’t know if I can believe that.”

“Perfectly understandable. But that’s irrelevant to the business you’re here to discuss,” Quinn said, with a smile that had an slight edge.

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