Part 1: Opening
The problem with Turquoise Isle, you see, was that it had trouble living up to its name. It didn't exceed the expectations any photos, brochures or pamphlets liked to boast, either. Where were the sparkling seas? the tourists liked to ask. The sparkle on the water? The sun upon the sand? Turquoise, in these unfortunate Summer months, had been anything but turquoise at all. Navy, black and grey described it best – the clouds hung horrid and heavy in the sky, looming down upon the island and all its pretty little markets and bistros, grumbling as they waited for just the right moment to pelt the place with a squall. The locals, grumbling in their homes, were sure of it.
The problem with Turquoise Isle, you see, was that the locals were right to be sure ...These months were something fierce, and Summer brought storms in their dozens, enough to make Winter seem a green and pleasant season. Green with envy, perhaps.
Sarah strode along the promenade, clutching her skirts tight. Not a squall, maybe, but more than enough rain for her tastes. The tourists were mad, she insisted. Oh, it was all well and good to complain once you arrived, but a little word of mouth would tell anyone Turquoise was fast becoming a red-flag zone. Read a paper once in a while, you dippy, shirt-clad lot, thought she, as she passed by a tavern in which a hundred holidaymakers peered out at the rain, slack-jawed, from the frosted windows. The weather had made headline news inland. Yes, water really can fall from clouds. Startled? The rain was never much good for her mood. Scowling, she held herself a little tighter. She'd much prefer them to stare at the rain than at her, striding through it.
But Turquoise Isle was a strange little place. In sunnier weather, that strangeness would seem playful, and eccentric, but to see its strangeness in a storm? Sarah found it unsettling. Why, just one look at Old Man Maurice, dressed in shirt and dungarees, out mending the sign to the fish hatchery in this weather, could convince you. And if it didn't, the sight of him turning around to smile and wave would. Sarah smiled weakly, and trudged on. Really, the man was seventy-four, and there was nothing straight and simple about Turquoise Isle's streets – they sloped and drooped, as if they melded with the very buildings. A ladder was twice as likely to slip, and Maurice, twice as likely to break his neck. And then, accounted Sarah with a shiver, there were the Symington Twins, so young as so skinny, out splashing away in the puddles without so much as a coat! Again, the Isle was a slippery sort of place, and if they kept on running, they'd go and trip face-first into any of those shell-shaped stones that littered the ground, carved from the rock.
This just deepened her scowl. She was twenty-four; she didn't care to go about mothering folks.
No, storms weren't good for Sarah's mood at all.
Wiping drenched strands of burgundy hair from her oval face, she dared to look up and into the biting winds, to peer out at something that only soured that simmering mood of hers. The Rouben Refinery – Rouben Rig – that stood tall, stark, and ugly out in the Summer fog, off the storm-tossed coast. The great, grand oil-rig, in all its murky, unclean glory, looming out there like a monster risen from the sea. It dwarfed the lighthouse by the pier, and it was that very lighthouse Sarah strode towards. She hoped the town hall, built by its foot, would be well heated.
Walking on, she held herself tighter still, shivering from more than just the bitter, sleeting rain. She shivered with each and every wave to crash against the pier's stone, thundering and bellowing like horses against their stable doors. How could they hold the meetings here? After all that'd happened, how could they really bring themselves to hold a meeting here?
The Town Hall trembled with mutterings and mumbling, as townsfolk crammed into its white-washed, plastered rooms. Like birds of a feather flocking to a nest, the locals were pleased to get inside, huddling away from the cold and wet. Jackets came off and scarves were wrung dry as people took their seats, all set up to face the wooden podium at the room's end, by which Mayor Sanders stood, looking rather uncomfortable ... Mr. Thomas Graham, of Rouben Oil inc., who stood right beside him, could make anyone feel uncomfortable.
Sarah made her way towards the few seats lined up by the room's side, wishing she'd put on a jacket of her own today. Really, it was getting so that it would be wise to wear a jacket every time she left the house, the weather was getting so unpredictable! Sitting straight, swishing damp hair from her face, and straightening her skirts, she turned to face the mayor, who's raised hand gently eased the Hall and its murmuring.
'Mr. Graham, and his good associate, Mr. Lester –' he gestured toward the taller, thinner man who stood by Graham as if only to save him from carrying his own briefcase and brolly, '– have been speaking to me about future plans for the coastal rig. Now, we're all well aware the view from the coast and bay is an essential part of the island's heritage,' He sounded keen to say that quickly. 'But with the weather concerns driving holidaymakers away by the day, and all the profit with them, we must look to alternative means of making mint. But whether that means scarring the landscape, I ... Well, Rouben's representatives and I thought it best we ask you, the public, for an input.'
And the voices threw up right away, just as Sarah knew they would. She drew her damp little notepad from her utterly drenched handbag – she got it for her birthday just last month; it had better not be ruined! – as quick as a deputy drew a pistol from his holster. The comments needed recording, no matter how often she'd heard them before.
'It goes above and beyond heritage – I'm not looking out my window to see some scabby, rusted rigging stare right back at me. I'd take the gabbing of gulls over the creaks and moans of that thing any day!' came Rupert Beasley. She wrote that down.
'The island's architecture – the ruin on which the town itself is built – is unlike anything to be seen elsewhere. Turquoise Isle is an archaeological goldmine, and that's not even counting the curious geometries to be seen about its hills and coasts. Let Rouben start drilling for oil, and you can be sure we'll never have the chance to study these puzzles again.' That was Rolf Josley, a graduate from overseas who'd taken to the many strange carvings, sculptures and ruins that did indeed litter the island. There was a time Sarah thought she had taken to him.
'If you ask me,' spoke elderly Doris Crofford with a scowl, as she rose from her chair. 'It's all a bit suspicious that the weather should turn all blustery and awful right as you big-wigs show up. Right after you first started hammering down that rig's foundations – back when you said it'd be a little thing!'
Sarah didn't even bother writing that one down. It appeared Doris had trouble noticing the absurdity of such suspicions, as she brought this up each and every meeting. It was clutching at straws, even if it were true.
Just then, Thomas Graham put a hand on Sanders' shoulder and stepped forward. Looking prim and dapper in his navy suit, with a fiery buzz of orange hair, Sarah just knew he was a man who'd grown used to acting cocky and clever before booing crowds.
'Turquoise Isle,' he began with a smile, 'is in the shape of a perfect crescent.' He took out a silver pointer, and directed it towards a diagram of the island, hung upon the wall. 'We believe there are rich, vast deposits of oil right here, dead in the centre. You see? By expanding the rig inward, into the bay, we can reach it. The crescent of hillocks and mountains would shield the rig from all these meddlesome storms, too, so you can surely see – it's perhaps the most desirable point of extraction Rouben have set their sights on yet. Now think about this, folks ... That's an awful lot of money for you, for your families, and for your futures you'll be receiving. Enough to buy another, far sunnier home on another, far sunnier island.' Sarah thought that was a very greedy smile he wore indeed. With a chuckle that was perhaps supposed to be friendly, Graham said, 'And we can assure you, we've had nothing to do with the weather except increase your umbrella sales. This will be the seventh rig we've set up in recent years, and there's nothing blustery about those sites, so you can cast those suspicious aside, dear Doris.'
Doris Crofford sat back down, her scowl as deep as a valley. Yes, he really had been here long enough to learn everyone's name. It was the most hesitant, gradual project Sarah had ever helped administer. Taking her pen in hand, she scribbled a flood of fluent letters onto her notepad. The voices from the crowd had just kicked up again.
The meeting had ended, as inconclusively as always, and Sarah again found herself standing out upon the pier. The rain had stopped, for the moment, and the waves were calm, but still, she'd never let herself get too close to that water. As far as she was concerned, it wasn't the same water as that she'd splashed in as a toddler. Not the same as that she'd swam in, and raced through, in her teenage years. No, not anymore. It was just as she sighed, and turned to leave, that she noticed Graham and Lester, right behind her, both struggling to hold a smile in this chilly island wind.
'We haven't caught you at a bad time, Ms. Trent?' asked Graham.
Sarah, when her mood wasn't spoiled by rain, always did her best to be polite, but she'd be lying if she said she was fond of either representative. Turquoise Isle wasn't a place for suits and ties, and especially not for people who thought wearing them made themselves special. No, Turquoise was a place for skirts, shirts and dungarees to be worn in the worst possible weather.
'Not at all, gentlemen,' said Sarah. 'How can I help you?'
'We were wondering,' continued Graham, 'whether you'd think about having a chat with some of the locals. There's a stubbornness in them, that's for sure, but you seem to have a more stable head on your shoulders. Try to bring them around to see sense, could you? Try to help them see the brighter side of our proposition, perhaps?'
Sarah opened her mouth to reply, before Lester added, quite keenly:
'We've heard many good things about you, Ms. Trent. Assistant to the mayor – political pride of the island, we've heard them call you. Community worker for youth programmes, and for the wellbeing of the beach. Why, even favoured chef for –'
'The chef role at The Seafarer lasted just a month – I most certainly wasn't anyone's favourite cook,' she cut in with a humble smile. It was obvious, and a little irritating, to hear flattery. After the way most meals wound up black, she definitely hadn't been anyone's favourite.
'Look,' attempted Graham, edgewise. 'It really would be for the best, don't you agree? It's climate doing all this to the region's weather. Settling down someplace sunnier would surely be a thing to consider? And besides, we've heard other things about you, too. Do you really want to stay in a place with such sore memories anchored to it?'
'Ah, Sir,' whispered Lester. 'I don't think we should ...'
But it appeared they'd noticed the look on her face. Oh, it wasn't memories making her frown that way, it was just being so near the sea. Sarah insisted that was all.
'I'll think about it, gentlemen,' she said quietly, before turning to leave.
Finding a quieter spot, unsullied by suited executives, Sarah paused to look at the simple little sketch she'd drawn in that notebook of hers. A face. Two weeks since she'd drawn it, but a whole month since the incident happened. She did all she could to protect that silly little face from the few drops of rain, before putting it back in her bag. A bag just as special to her as the drawing was. Looking out at the unfriendly waters, she muttered Courtney's name. A month since that horrid storm had hit. A month since her sister went missing. How could she look at that water the same way again? How could she bring herself to attend those meetings, so near it? Turquoise's "beautiful heritage" and "archaeological worth" be damned, there was nothing beautiful about water so cruel!
And then she saw it. Gasping, she looked up, but it was gone. Again. A shimmer. A sparkle. Just something else the water used to taunt her. That strange, impossible sparkle that had caught her eye so often. That sparkle that had been watching her as much as she tried to watch it.
Was that a fin she saw?