I thought I’d share an excerpt from Island No. 6. The scene that follows occurs about halfway through the novel. A group of recently-graduated med school students are on island celebrating their residency assignments when the island is blockaded by Navy, Coast Guard, and Border Patrol vessels. Quarantined inside a dormitory for island workers and with full knowledge of the likely tragic outcome of their situation, they’ve decided to party like it’s the end of the world rather than wallow in worry and woe.
Clothes were strewn all over the lobby. Over the weekend while I was sick, the Chief had dropped off boxes of unclaimed clothes from last summer’s lost and found for the Booze Cruisers and others who’d crashed in the dorm. He had also used the Police Department’s credit card to darn near empty out the souvenir stores, beach shops, and boutiques of much of their adult-sized clothing. Unclaimed T-shirts, board shorts, and bikini tops, bottoms, and cover-ups littered the lobby.
The music rose from the basement, making it the logical place to begin. It was an open communal area with lounge furniture, big screen televisions, a karaoke/disc jockey station, a tile dance floor, pool and foosball tables, and vending machines, which had already been ransacked. Twenty to thirty bathing-suited bodies were sprawled all over the room.
The Chief stepped over body after contorted body. He made his way to the sound system, pulled its several plugs, and put an official end to the rave. The basement looked like Jonestown meets Spring Break.
“Hey! Who shut off the music,” the voice came from the top of the basement stairs.
“It’s the Chief of Police.”
A young man slowly materialized from toes to head: a pair of flip-flops; red and white floral board shorts; a shirtless, lean, angular torso with perfectly-manicured chest hair; a face with two day’s stubble and Mediterranean features; and dark curly hair spilling from a backwards Cleveland Indians ball cap. Although there weren’t even any windows in the basement to allow in sunlight, he wore a pair of mirrored Aviator sunglasses. “Sorry, bro,” he said. “Didn’t know it was you.”
“What happened here?” With a nod of his head, the Chief indicated his concern for the lifeless bodies littering the basement.
“Oh, they aren’t dead, Chief. They’re just sleeping or drunk or both. A bunch of us decided to throw an end of the world party – at least until the alcohol runs out. We’ve got a fully-stocked cafeteria and a few dudes made a beer run.”
“And who exactly are you?”
“I’m Giovanni Dioneo; my friends call me Geo.”
“Where you from, Geo?” The Chief asked.
“Cleveland. East side. Murray Hill neighborhood in Little Italy. You know it?”
“No. I’m afraid not.”
“Came over on the Booze Cruise with a bunch of college friends.”
“Are you in charge?”
“Me? In charge? Nah. Nobody’s in charge here.”
“Look, Geo. We’re here to collect any weapons and to locate anyone who is sick and in need of our help.”
I don’t suppose you’ve noticed if any of these,” the Chief scanned the passed out bodies, “friends of yours were carrying any weapons, did you?”
“Nah. No way. We had to pass through a metal detector on the dock back in Sandusky even to get on the boat or ship or whatever. There aren’t any weapons here.”
“Good. I’m going to take your word for it. Could you do us a favor and rouse these folks while my partner and I do a sweep of the rest of the dorm? Make sure they’re all just hung over and not sick?”
“Is there anything I can do or get for you guys?” the Chief asked.
“We’re good, Chief. Like I said, plenty of food and drink, at least enough to last for . . . well, you know.”
“Don’t be so morbid, Geo. We had a town hall meeting of sorts at the ball field this morning. I think that, if we work together, we can beat it.”
“Maybe. Maybe not. We talked about it, and we think otherwise. These kids may not look like it, but most of them are really smart.” He nodded to the scattered bodies.
Neither the Chief nor I were convinced.
“Pardon my language, but our consensus is that we’re fucked. Tommy there, in the plaid shorts, he was a biochemistry major. Karen, over there in the Cleveland Cavaliers shirt: neuropathology. I studied biomedical engineering. Based on that cooling tower to the west, Tommy’s sticking with the radiation event, but I’m not buying that bullshit. Karen’s going with SARS, which would be bad enough. But I’m thinking something avian. What? H5N1 or even H7N1?”
“You’re the winner, Geo, but let’s keep it between us.”
“Then they all owe me a beer, and now I’m even more convinced that we’re fucked.”
“You really think this is your best option then? Locking yourselves away and partying?”
“What’s the other choice? Sit scared in some room like those bird lovers at the hotel waiting to die?”
“Or maybe, to live,” the Chief said.
“That’s not an option, Chief. That’s a fairy tale. There’s a reason they have us caged up on this island. This bug is a nasty one, and they can’t afford to let it loose on the mainland. We both know that. We’re being amputated like a frostbitten finger.”
“You’re a smart guy, Geo, but I think you’re being too pessimistic. I’d like you and your friends to join the community and put some of that brainpower to work, but suit yourselves.”
“I’ll run it past them when they ‘wake up,’ but I wouldn’t expect much. We’re a pretty disillusioned bunch. For eight fucking years, we watched our liberal arts and business school buddies party and live it up while we studied our asses off because we were going into medicine to make the big money and laugh the last laugh, then this shit happens,” Geo paused in his reflection. “Oh well, what are you going to do? We’ve got a lot of making up to do and short time to do it in.”
“You’re sure there isn’t anything you need?”
“No. Like I said, we’re good. You know, Carpe Diem and all that. We’ll just keep the doors locked and eat, drink, and be merry – if that’s all right with you. Who knows? Maybe you’re right, and we’ll all get lucky and ride it out.”
“Come to think of it, Chief, there is one thing you could get for us.”
“Condoms. I mean, between you and me, what’s the difference? But smart as they are, not all of these chicks do their math so good.”
“I’ll see what I can do,” the Chief said.