I could have flown out in five minutes but I didn't like getting behind the stick anymore. I hired a crummy flat bay taxi from a service and chugged outwards. The wind whipped across the choppy water, I leaned back against the fishing chair and held the wheel with gloves on. Out here, you could look to either side and see Los Angeles stretching out in either direction up and down the coast as far as you could want, see the cargo zeps docked at the warehouses, see the stream of planes and copters buzzing through the skyscrapers and above the rows of identical suburban houses. You could see the statue of Dunbar being built in the harbor, his arms open as if to welcome all the ships and planes that could get past him. Unless, I reflected, they belonged to 'undesirables', meaning Mexicans. I pulled my coat tighter around me.

The Samedi Dimanche was out past the seven mile limit. It was in the same place where it had been before, anchored just behind a cluster of rocks coated with seagull guano and a few sprays of multicolored lichen, Nature's graffiti. It looked abandoned, but as I found out when I moved the launch up next to the ladder, it was anything but. A shotgun blast fired off above me, and I looked up to see a black-haired woman racking the slide and pointing it down at me. "Keep moving." she said. "Right on back to the shore."

"I'm here about Renoit." I said, putting my hands up. "I don't want any trouble."

"No trouble if you keep moving." she said. The shotgun barrel, still curling with the smoke of her first shot, pointed unwaveringly down.

"Renoit came to see me. I'm Drake Merlin." I said. "Private investigator."

"...where's Renoit?" she said.

"He's dead." I said. "He was shot in my office."

There was a pause. "The police are investigating, but I wanted to see what he wanted." I said. "He and I were..."

"I know. The war." she said. "The damn war, everything is the damn war." Her voice was taking on an accent I didn't quite recognize, not quite Mexican.

A moment passed where there was nothing but the sound of the ocean, the creaking of the boats, the stretching of the ropes, the chugging of my idling engine. Finally she moved back. "I still got the shotgun." she called out. "Cut your engine and come on up. Slow."

I did. She grabbed the back of my coat collar and dragged me up on deck when I got close. It was the first look I got at her. She was a big woman, with big hands, wide shoulders, big chested, big-hipped. Her skin was dark brown, not quite African, but darker than Mexican, her eyes were chocolate and incongrously innocent given that she had a shotgun on me. "Coat off, hands up." she said, and patted me down quickly. In my wallet, she checked my PI card, saw my gun license peeking out from behing my drivers' license. "Where's your pistol?" she asked.

"At home." I said. "The cops had to check it out since he died in my office."

"And?" she said.

"I ain't in jail, am I?"

"I don't have a lot of confidence in Dunbar's goons." she said, and there was a bit of flutter behind her voice. She slowly lowered the shotgun. "He's really dead?"

"I'm sorry." I said, and that was all she could take. Tears started to stream down her face, blown by the ocean wind, dried before they got half down her cheeks. Sobs came from her throat. Her hand gripped the shotgun as it dangled and her knuckles paled with the exertion of it.

The ship creaked in a new way. I turned and looked, saw the impossible, a dark-haired girl leaning on the deck of the boat as she came up from a belowdecks cabin on wooden stairs. She seemed weak, pale, a bandage wrapped her body. But the main thing I noticed was the wings. Big, feathery things, white as the clouds above us getting pushed along by the wind from the sea. "Maria?" she said. "What...what's wrong?"

"Max." she choked. "No, get back down...he can't..."

I was dumbfounded, I didn't know what to say. Max, if that's who she was, said, "Maria, if this is who Renoit went to find...he can help us. We have to trust him."

"Renoit...but Renoit is dead, Max...he was killed." Maria said helplessly. "What, what does it matter now?"

Another moment passed between them. Max clearly cared for Renoit, although she wasn't as torn up as Maria was. "...I don't know, but...the situation's still the same, isn't it? We have to trust Mr. Merlin, that's what Renoit said, wasn't it?"

Maria nodded. She put the shotgun in a loop of leather near the tiller of the ship, where it was close at hand but wouldn't fall over.

"What the hell's going on?" I asked.

"I'll...explain." Maria said, looking up at the empty sky as if expecting Renoit to be there himself, reaching down for her.