Having exhausted all of their current leads on Adnan’s Island, they trudged back to the ship through the pouring rain. Shades chucking the mobile phone aside with the maddening foreknowledge that when next he returned to this island, it would be right back where he originally found it. Justin, on the other hand, hanging on to the journal; though he knew they had a time limit before it, too, magically returned to that student’s cabin, and he had his doubts about whether even Shades would be able to wring any more insight out of its vague pages, he still felt those two damnable machines were as much a part of the puzzle as the building itself.
“By the way,” Max told him, for, seeing the remaining dishes from lunch reminded him of something that had completely slipped his mind while they were investigating the phone and the building, “I forgot to mention it earlier, but while I was making lunch, I noticed something really weird.”
“Like what?” Justin asked as they prepared to depart. Almost afraid of what Max might say next, in light of all they had seen lately.
“Well, you know how that book you found disappeared?”
“Don’t tell me…” Shades suspected that he had already figured out what his friend was about to say.
“You see, I think I made the very same stew that Justin made the other day…”
“What do you mean, the very same stew?” Though Justin already didn’t like where Max was going with this.
“Guys, I can’t find any of the stuff we bought yesterday. I went looking while the stew was cooking…”
“You mean we wasted all that money—” Justin began, already seeing it all sitting back on that pansy-ass store clerk’s inventory shelves…
“I doubt that,” Shades assured him grimly. “I’ll bet if we count it, we’ll find we’ve got the same amount of money we started this whole mess with.”
“I guess that makes sense…” But, like most things about this whole affair, it made Max’s head hurt just thinking about it.
“Donaldson…” The more Justin thought about their conversation with the old man, the more certain he was that he wanted them to go there. “That son-of-a-bitch! I’m gonna kill him!”
“I really don’t think he knows,” Shades said, trying to calm him. “It’s not his fault— in fact, I’m pretty sure we got stuck the moment we entered these waters. Everyone else seems to be trapped in some kind of repeat-loop, and I’d bet Mr Donaldson wouldn’t remember us, either.”
“Why don’t we go talk to him?” Max suggested.
“Yeah,” Justin agreed darkly, “I think we should have another chat with the old man.”
“I agree,” Shades concurred. “But you’re not killing him.”
“Then let’s go,” Max said, changing course toward Donaldson’s small island.
“When you stop and think about it, he is our only remaining lead,” Shades remarked. “After all, he was the principal there, so he must know some things we don’t. The only other thing I can think of is the kid who wrote that diary, but even if I thought he actually knew anything else, there are other issues.”
“Like what?” Justin asked.
“Like even finding him, for starters,” Shades pointed out. “We’re outsiders, so we can’t exactly go around asking such suspicious-sounding questions. And even if we came with the pretense of ‘returning’ his diary, it would still raise issues of what we were doing out here. No parents worth their salt would buy our…”
He trailed off as they came in sight of Donaldson’s island, spotting a second, even a third, vessel docked there. Along with Donaldson’s small craft, there was another small vessel, looking like any of at least a dozen or so they had seen around the harbor back in St Lucy. The other, bore white-and-red markings, they all noticed, matching that of the Harbor Patrol boats they had seen back there, as well. Max reflexively slowed down at this unexpected sight.
“Justin,” Shades said, thinking fast, “I hate to make you sit out in the rain like this, but would you go up top and hide below the railing? You’ve got one of your EMP grenades handy, don’t you?”
Justin nodded, relieved to have a backup plan.
And so they approached the docks at a more modest speed, coasting in close at a broadside angle. Max cracked the window next to the helm in spite of the weather, the better to hear what was going on. Shades put on a plain grey ball cap he had picked up in the Konas and stepped out on deck to do the talking while Justin secretly covered him.
They all had a sinking feeling when the only person to emerge from Donaldson’s cabin was Sheriff Boggs.
“Who goes there?” Boggs demanded, shotgun at the ready.
“Just a couple passing travelers,” Shades replied, remembering to keep Justin’s presence hidden.
“That doesn’t answer my question,” the sheriff countered.
“And just what business do you have with Mr Donaldson at this hour?” Though given what the old man had said about him being on Camcron’s payroll, he already had a bad feeling about his chances of angling for info.
“How do you know Donaldson?” Boggs’ eyes narrowed in an open display of suspicion. “You hardly strike me as former students.”
“He’s a recent acquaintance,” Shades answered. “We just want to talk to him, Boggs.”
“That’s Sheriff Boggs to you, boy. And just where did you get my name? I’ve never seen you before…” At that point, he seemed to notice the Maximum’s trajectory, demanding, “You just came from Adnan’s, didn’t you? What were you doing out there?”
“None of your business.” And Shades reminded himself that Justin’s EMP could prevent any pursuit. “Did Camcron send you out here? What have you done with Donaldson?”
“Camcron…” Boggs raised his shotgun. “Who do you work for? What the hell are you talking about?”
“We just want to see Mr Donaldson.”
“Well, you can’t.”
“Says who? You?”
“Says the Reaper,” Boggs shot back. “Of course, you wouldn’t know, but there was a robbery in St Lucy today. I lost one of my best deputies, and the store clerk was wounded. We got two of ’em, but one stole a ship.
“He came all the way out here— whether to hide out or take that old fool hostage, I’ll never know— but by the time we caught up with him, he had already killed Donaldson. I was just about to issue a report back to headquarters when you showed up. Now tell me, what are you doing here?”
“So that’s how it ends…” Shades realized they had forgotten about the robbery, that they had no clue how the original sequence of events played out on that front. “Looks like we missed him this time…”
“What’s going on? Who are you?”
“I guess you really don’t remember us, either.” Shades now knew there was nothing further to be gained from this verbal fencing match, so now all they needed was an opening to escape. “Looks like Camcron screwed you over even more than you know.”
“Don’t take an attitude with me, boy…”
“And don’t you ‘boy’ me, lapdog,” Shades shot back, deciding to pose one more question as a parting shot, though he doubted he would get an answer, “and one more thing: what do you know about a Mr Geist?”
“Just that if you don’t know about him, you ain’t supposed to. Now get off that ship. You’re under arrest.”
“I see. So that’s how you’re going to play it this time.” Shades was just thankful Justin would have the element of surprise when he made his move… “Well, I’m afraid we have to be going now…”
“And just what makes you think you’re going anywhere?”
Re-aiming his shotgun for emphasis.
“Looks like we’ll just have to talk to Donaldson next time.” Trying not to shift his head toward Justin’s position.
“Next time… Have you lost your mind?”
Right then, Shades’ rebuttal was interrupted by another deputy stepping out of the cabin, calling, “Sheriff! We’re ready to… Who are those—”
Was as far as Justin let them get before popping up and stunning Sheriff Boggs. Shades hit the deck, and Max took that as his cue to fire up the engines. As they pulled out, Justin chucked the EMP grenade into the Harbor Patrol ship as Max poured on more speed.
Once they were out of range, Justin came back down, and Shades told him, “Sorry I made you use one of those, but if it’s any consolation, I imagine you’ll have it back in the morning.”
Didn’t care to find out how being thrown in a jail cell would affect the loop, and suspected Justin felt the same, but kept that part to himself.
“Yeah, I figured as much,” he said as he shook the rainwater out of his hair. He sneezed loudly, adding, “I just hope I don’t catch a damn cold from that.”
“I doubt that will matter in the morning, either,” Shades pointed out. “What matters now is getting our act together, and planning for the next round.”
“Donaldson…” Max said quietly.
“Not just Donaldson,” Shades intoned. “The people of St Lucy may have originally let Camcron in, but they didn’t deserve this ending. While we’re busy trying to escape, we should try to give St Lucy a better day.”