This story started here.
I drove across the marsh and onto Heron Island. Where the main road split into three, I took the one to the right. It went through thick trees, over bumps and gullies and roots, and finally into a small clearing by the shore. There were two little cabins, side-by-side, and the beach was visible beyond.
The place seemed deserted. The air was chilly in the early afternoon under a slate gray sky. I saw a rusted sign saying that only vehicles with Heron Island parking stickers were allowed to park in the lot, but there was nobody there to enforce the rule, and in any case Millie wasn’t staying.
I left the motor running as I got out and held the door for her. She climbed behind the wheel, announced that she was keeping the sailor’s hat, and drove off.
This was my employer’s plan: These were the only two unoccupied buildings on the island, the only ones we could search, so I had been delegated to do the actual searching.
I zipped up my jacket, which, despite being categorized as a windbreaker, didn’t seem to be much use against the chilly breeze coming off the water.
At that moment, wishing I’d brought my hooded sweatshirt, aware that my clever plan to get onto the island had not included an equally clever plan to get back off the island when I was done, I was fairly sure that the only reason I was here was because my employer did not want to get into a conversation about how Elsa and I (mostly Elsa) had modified the plan for the previous evening.
But, here I was, and at least I had some sandwiches and a large thermos of hot coffee to look forward to.
I looked around. Elsa had described the two structures as summer cottages, but they were really just shacks. They were about twenty feet apart, almost identical, and there was no indication that anybody was there. I got the idea that nobody had used them recently.
I tried the one on the right first. The door was locked, but it wasn’t a fancy lock and I got in pretty easily.
The interior was basically one large room, rectangular, with a small kitchen area on one side, and a built-in double bed on the other. The floor was painted boards, with the paint partially worn off. There was a large sliding glass door on the ocean side, leading to a very small deck with a small table and a couple of chairs.
I tried the light switch by the door, but nothing happened. I tried a table lamp also, with the same result. Apparently the electricity had been shut off for the winter. I was hoping to be done before it got dark out, but in any case I had a flashlight.
I looked around the room. To my inexpert eye, it looked like the glass doors and the deck had been added much later than the rest of the structure. My guess was that the buildings had originally been bath houses, for people to change to swim clothes before spending time at the beach.
I thought it was likely that building any new structures on Heron Island was impossible (that was true in a lot of the local area), but if somebody had ended up owning this little plot of land the local zoning rules might have had enough leeway for the small decks to be added and for the shacks to be rented out during the summers, to couples with modest resources.
Certainly nobody would have rented them at this time of year — the walls were a single thickness of plywood and they were only slightly better insulation against the brisk ocean breeze than my “windbreaker.”
I put my knapsack in the center of the floor, in the center of the braided throw rug that reminded me of the one in the living room in Heron House, and I went to work.