Terrors of the High Seas
“Whoo.” Kerry ruffled her hair dry with a towel, and padded across the deck. “Dar, that was awesome.”
Dar looked up from the basin she was standing over, at the bottom of which rested their little prize. She studied Kerry’s face, finding a smile on her own responding the honest delight she saw there. “Yeah, it was, wasn’t it?”
Kerry applied the towel to her lover’s body, drying the droplets of sea water off it. “That eel scared the poo out of me, though. Did it hit you on the way out?”
“Right in the mask, yeah.” Dar chuckled. “Bounced off me and just kept going. He was a big one.” She glanced up as the sound of far off engines disturbed the otherwise peaceful air, and watched as a relatively small tender approached them, slowing when they came even, very obviously giving them the once over.
Kerry peered over Dar’s shoulder. “What’s that all about?” She wondered. “We’ve got the dive flag out. Is there a problem with that here?”
“Nah.” Dar frowned. “There’s a thousand old wrecks like this around these islands… that’s just an old island freighter. Some of the historical wrecks have no dive zones, but not this area.”
“So what’s their problem?” The small boat circled them lazily, then after a moment, roared off.
Dar watched the small boat retreat into the distance. “Beats me.” She shrugged. “Maybe they’re not used to people using 56 foot Bertram’s as dive platforms.” She finished covering the water well, full of seawater, that held the box they’d brought up. “Let’s leave that in there until I figure out how to take it out, and not have it fall to bits on us.”
“Rats.” Kerry circled from behind with her arms and gave her a squeeze. “I wanted to open it up and see inside.” She inspected the basin. “I know it’s nothing much, just an old cigar box or something, but…”
Dar turned around and returned the hug, giving Kerry’s neck a friendly scratch. “I think we might need some oil first… to keep the wood from drying out. Tomorrow, okay?”
“Mm.” Kerry licked a few remaining drops of water off Dar’s throat. “Okay.” She released her lover, but took her hand and led her over to the cooler. “Share an ice tea with me?”
“Sure.” Dar waited while Kerry opened the bottle and took a swig, then accepted it and sucked down a mouthful herself. She swished the tea around before she swallowed it, clearing the last taste of salt water and rubber from the dive. “All right. How about we pull up anchor, and go get us some conch.”
Kerry stifled her mild amusement over the casual speech, wondering if Dar knew how much she sounded like her father sometimes. In the office, it almost never showed. There, Dar’s vocalizations, when they weren’t wall rattling yells, were crisp and sharply professional. Only when they were alone, and her lover was relaxed did her southern upbringing tend to slip in. “Sounds great to me, Dixiecup.” She teased. “I’ll go pull in the buoy.”
Dar captured her with one long arm and pinned her up against the bulkhead. “You making fun of my accent, you little Yankee?”
“Nope.” Kerry ran her hands over Dar’s still damp body. “I love your accent. I wish you’d let it out more.”
One of Dar’s eyebrows lifted expressively.
“I so want to hear you tell Jose to ‘get yer damn ass out mah office.’” Kerry giggled. “Yah damn little pansy assed pissant.”
Dar burst into laughter. “He’d piss in his pants.”
Kerry nodded cheerfully. “Exactly!”
Dar’s chuckles wound down, and she quieted. “It’s funny.. you liking my redneck side.”
A shrug. “It just is. To me anyway. I.. worked so hard to cover that all up.” Dar said. “I remember sitting in a management meeting once, after I’d made regional director and listening to three of the other people there trash one of the southern project managers.” She exhaled. “Calling him a hick and a lowlife redneck.”
Kerry sighed. “They make fun of everyone, Dar.”
Dar nodded. “I know. But this was different, because it might as well have been me they were talking about, only the other guy wasn’t bothering to pretend.” She gazed thoughtfully over Kerry’s shoulder.
“Mm.” Kerry was slowly rubbing Dar’s back, easing the tension she felt there. “What did you do?” She asked softly.
“Called them jackasses and told them to go find some class before the company had to buy it for them.” Dar admitted.
“That’s my Dar.” Kerry leaned her head against Dar’s collarbone, soft chuckles emerging from her throat.
“Yeah, well.” Dar had to smile herself. “They never did say anything about rednecks after that in any meeting I was in.”
No. Kerry hugged her often curmudgeonly boss. “I bet they didn’t.” Just like no one says anything about you… in any meeting I’m in.”
The small island they pulled into was definitely laid back. Kerry peered over the railing with interest as they approached, noting the gorgeous white beach and the cluster of small, sun bleached buildings behind the spare, patched together docks. “Now, Kerrison.” She murmured to herself. “We’re not doing the Waldorf here.”
Of course, she wasn’t dressed for the Waldorf. Kerry glanced down at her stonewashed white short overalls and sandals, her lips twitching as she imagined her family’s reaction to the worn fabric and the cutoff, sleeveless gray sweatshirt she wore under it. “I’m just a proper marine vagabond, I am.”
Dar skillfully navigated the Bertram into a slot at the end of the dock. Kerry tossed the bow rope to the young boy who ran up to greet them, then took the stern rope and jumped onto the wooden surface, pulling the line taut around the rusted cleat and tying it off. “Thanks.” She smiled at the boy, who smiled shyly back at her. He had dark skin, and shaggy brown hair and eyes, and he was dressed in a pair of denim shorts and nothing else.
His eyes went past her and widened a little. Kerry turned her head to see Dar leaping off the boat, a broad grin on her face. “Hey, Rufus.” She said, pausing and sticking her hands into her pockets. “What do you think?”
“Wow.” The boy replied. “Killer boat, Dar!” His eyes roved over the vessel. “C’n I ride it?”
Dar chuckled. “Later, yeah.” She put a hand on Kerry’s shoulder. “This is my friend Kerry. Kerry, this is Rufus.”
“Hi.” Rufus studied Kerry warily.
Kerry held a hand out. “Hi, Rufus. Nice to meet you.” She waited for the boy’s hesitant hand clasp, then returned it gently.
Rufus backed off a step. “I’ll go tell dada you’re here, Dar.” He told her, and then he turned and ran off, bare feet almost soundless on the wood.
Dar exhaled a little as she watched him go. “I’m looking forward to seeing his father.” She said, guiding Kerry up the dock. “He was in the service with Dad.”
“Ah!” Kerry smiled. “His friends are always interesting people.”
“Mm.” Dar agreed. “He doesn’t know.” Her eyes flicked to Kerry’s face. “About my father being alive. There’s no phones out here… I think he keeps it that way on purpose. Dad was going to make a run out here, but I told him we were stopping, and that I’d pass the news.”
Kerry read several levels of meaning to her lover’s words. “Hm.” She studied the small cluster of weatherworn buildings. “Looking forward to meeting him, then. He lives here?”
“He runs the joint we’re having dinner at.” Dar said. “After he got discharged on a medical, he came out here and set up this place. Him and his partner – they do all the cooking, and brew their own beer.”
Kerry’s ears pricked. “Partner?” She queried.
“They adopted Rufus. He showed up one day on a little raft, and just refused to leave.”
Kerry absorbed all that as they walked off the dock and onto a shell strewn path. As they approached the buildings, a figure came out onto the porch of the biggest one, placing hands on the porch railing and leaning on it.
“Look at what that damn wind blew in, wouldja?”
The man behind the railing was tall and had a chunky build, but that’s not what Kerry noticed.
He was also missing a leg. Below his right knee, swathed in a overlarge pair of dark green khaki shorts, extended a metal frame. On the end of the frame was a well worn shoe. He had thick, silvered brown curly hair and a bushy beard, and his skin was crossed with thin, but noticeable scars.
“Howdy, Charlie.” Dar greeted him, lifting a hand
The man limped down the wide, wooden steps and came to meet them, pulling Dar into an enthusiastic hug. “Damn, it’s been over a year, Dar. Where’ve ya been?”
Dar released him. “Here and there.” She replied. “Charlie, this is Kerrison Stuart.” Her arm draped over Kerry’s shoulders. “My chosen one.”
The man turned to study Kerry, who was hard pressed to hide her bemused surprise at Dar’s new term for her. “Ahhh.. so that’s where you been, huh?” He held a hand out. “Ms. Stuart, it’s an honor and a pleasure.”
“Mine too.” Kerry rose to the occasion, clasping his hand firmly. “I hear you make some mean conch chowder.”
Charlie laughed, clapping Dar on the shoulder and gesturing towards the larger building. “C’mon. Let’s go siddown and let me prove out my reputation. We got some catching up to do.” He limped ahead of them, obviously used to his disability to the point where it didn’t appreciably hamper him.
Kerry and Dar followed after him, Dar with her arm still draped over Kerry’s neck.
“Chosen one?” Kerry inquired softly, giving her lover a curious look.
Dar’s jaw bunched, and she glanced down at the ground before she snuck a look at Kerry’s face. “I’ll explain later.” She murmured as they reached the steps. “It’s a compliment.”
“Duh.” Kerry bumped her hip with her own as they walked up the stairs. “Looks like we’ll have lots of interesting things to talk about tonight.”
“Hm.” Dar held the door open, and they went inside.
Kerry glanced around curiously at the inside of the little shack. They were seated at one of six tables, all made of hand worked driftwood. The room wasn’t much bigger than her bedroom at the condo, though at the rear a door led into a kitchen. The place was lit by oil lamps, both hanging on the walls and on their table, though the large, square windows on three sides of the room let in the glow of sunset and a cool breeze.
Two other tables were occupied, one by two scruffy looking men in beach combers outfits, and the other by a handsome islander and his female companion, who to all appearances were on their honeymoon.
“Smells great in here.” Kerry commented, sniffing appreciatively at the spicy, delicious scents coming from the kitchen.
A quirky grin twisted Dar’s lips. “Not too rustic for you?”
“Dar.” Kerry frowned, glancing down at herself. “Did I forget to rip the alligator off my shirt pocket or something today?”
“Just kidding.” Dar fingered the woven rope salt and pepper holder.
“No, that’s the second time you brought this up.” Kerry shook her head. “Are you really that sensitive about dragging a Midwestern wasp around with you?” She turned her head and regarded Dar seriously, finding soft, round blue eyes gazing back at her. “Honey?” She put a hand on Dar’s in pure reflex.
After a moment, Dar cleared her throat with a touch of sheepishness, and propped her chin on her fist. “Yeah, I really am that sensitive.” She admitted quietly. “Sorry.”
“Well.” Kerry relaxed a little, stroking Dar’s fingers with her own. “I’ll just have to work on that, then.” She glanced up as Charlie limped over, almost jumping up to help him as he navigated a tray towards them.
“Naw.. just siddown, there, little lady.” Charlie managed to get the tray on the table in one piece. “Go figure Bud’s over on the big island right when I need em.” He set a large bowl of steaming, spicy scented almost stew like soup in front of each of them. “There ya go.”
“Wow.” Kerry blinked at the mass of rich broth and seafood. “This looks great.”
Charlie grinned at her. “Ya got good taste, but I knew that seeing as you picked old Dar here. Get you anything else for now?”
Kerry looked up at him. “The biggest mug of beer you have. I think I’ll need it.”
An even bigger grin split his face. “You got it. Dar, same for you?”
Dar nodded vigorously.
“All right. I’ll get these here folks taken care of, then we can sit down and catch up… how’s that?” Charlie picked up his tray.
“Sounds great.” Dar replied. “Thanks, Charlie.”
He winked at them, and then limped back towards the kitchen, disappearing behind two swinging doors.
Kerry waited a few moments, watching Dar out of the corner of her eye. The dark haired woman was fiddling with her spoon, a pucker visible above her eyebrows. “Dar?”
A tumble of words suddenly filled Kerry’s mouth, and she let them out, almost without thinking. “You want to talk about it?”
Dar cocked her head, gazing at Kerry curiously for several heartbeats. Then she put her spoon into her chowder and stirred it. “It’s… um... “ She paused as Charlie returned, putting down two huge tankards in front of them, with nice, foamy heads. “Thanks.”
“Ditto.” Kerry grinned in appreciation.
Charlie chuckled, and then headed off towards the next customers.
Kerry took a sip of her beer. It was rich, with a nutty taste, smooth, and very, very potent. “Oo.” She licked her lips. “This could be dangerous.”
“It is.” Dar took a sip of her own brew, then a second, longer one before she set the mug down. “The last time I was here, I got in trouble with it.” She studied the tankard. “Charlie and my father were good friends.”
Kerry accepted the sudden change of subject with grace. “Mm.” She made an encouraging noise.
“But dad and Bud never got along.” Dar continued, with a sigh. “But hated him, and it took me a long time to figure out why.” She glanced at Kerry. “He told me the last time I was here he was glad dad was gone.”
Kerry stopped dead in mid motion. Then she put her mug down and looked around the place. “What the hell are we doing here then?” She asked, with a splutter. “That guy’s lucky he’s not around. I’d kick his ass. For that matter, why didn’t you?”
Dar grinned wryly. “He was drunk, I was halfway there, and he ended up apologizing for being a jackass.” She said. “He told me then that he’d always been convinced that Dad was after Charlie.”
“Wait.” Kerry covered her eyes. “Wait… wait….wait. He thought your father… “ She peeked between her fingers. “Your father, Andrew Roberts, the sailor man, the most hetero male I think I’ve ever known was chasing his partner?”
Dar nodded. “Yeah.”
A clue waddled inside the door and pecked Kerry on the foot. “So you’re nervous about telling them he’s alive.”
Dar nodded again. “Yeah.” She exhaled, scrubbing her face with one hand. “Isn’t that pathetic? I can tell the president of Exxon to tap-dance on his boardroom table but I get nerves doing this.”
“Relax.” Kerry felt a sense of relief at unknotting Dar’s mood. “We’ll get through it… after we get through this really great smelling soup and this awesome beer.” She patted Dar’s knee under the table. “I’m sure it’ll be okay.”
“Yeah.” Dar visibly unwound, taking a spoonful of the chowder. She chewed it, swallowed, then reached over and brushed her knuckles against Kerry’s cheek. “Thanks... I know I’m acting a little off tonight.”
“You’re never off.” Kerry reassured her, sampling some of the chowder. “Oh, wow… this is awesome.” The chowder was full of seafood, from shrimp to scallops, to its namesake conch. It was spicy, and it had lots of other things in it too. “You better eat yours, before I do.”
Dar stifled a grin, resting her chin against her fist as she consumed her soup.
It was full dark out before Charlie finished taking care of the five other groups of patrons who came in. He dusted his hands off on his shirt and limped over to their table, settling down in a chair across from Dar. “Well, Dar, how’ve you been?” He asked.
“All right.” Dar drawled softly. “You?”
The grizzled man nodded. “Life’s been good.” He said. “Quiet out here, but the place has a good rep, we make out all right.” His eyes flicked around the room. “Bud’s doin okay. He’s putting on some weight, but he’s finally chilled out and decided he likes the life out here.”
“Glad to hear that.” Dar could feel a light buzz from the beer, and the meal, a large plate of fresh fish after the chowder with a whole loaf of fragrant herb bread was making her sleepy.
Kerry was finishing off her tankard, the oil lamp’s light casting her light green eyes in shades of amber. She was watching them quietly, her weight shifting slightly to bring her knee into contact with Dar’s as she listened to the conversation.
“What about you?” Charlie asked. “Aside from the obvious.” He turned a grin on Kerry. “Tell me about your chosen one here.”
“What would you like to know?” Kerry asked, with a charming smile. “I work in the same business as Dar does... I’m from Michigan… I love your cooking and your beer…”
Charlie chuckled delightedly. “Can’t ask for better than that.” He said. “So you do that computer stuff, huh? That where you two met?”
“More or less, yes.” Kerry agreed. “We’ve been together over a year.”
“I knew you’d find a good one.” The man turned his eyes to Dar. “I said you would, didn’t I?”
“You did.” Dar admitted. “Though... “ She waggled her hand. “I’m not sure which one of us found the other.” She took a deep breath, and decided to just get it over with. It was late, and she was tired. “A lot of things changed for me this last year.”
Charlie leaned on his elbows, watching her. “Yeah?”
Dar nodded, then lifted her head and met his gaze squarely. “My father’s alive.” She stated softly. “He came home.” She felt warmth close around her knee as Kerry’s fingers tightened comfortingly around it.
The man across from her simply stared blankly at them for the longest time. Then he slowly let out a breath and looked away. “Well, damn.” He whispered. “Ain’t that something.” His hands were visibly shaking as he picked up the glass he’d brought with him.
“It was.” Dar agreed. “He… just contacted me one day… and, um… “ She shook her head. “He’d been hurt pretty badly, but they patched him up, and there he was.”
Charlie nodded faintly. “He okay?”
Kerry’s ears pricked.
“Yeah... “ Dar smiled. “He retired from the service… he and my mother got a boat, if you can believe that, and they’re living on it. Having the time of their lives.” She sipped at the remainder of her beer. “He was planning a trip out here in a couple months – but I told him I was swinging by, so I told him I’d let you know.”
Charlie absorbed all that, a shuffle of emotions flickering across his face. “Damn, Dar. “ He finally said. “What a kickass thing to happen. That’s great.” A smile appeared, only trembling at the edges. “You must have been some kind of stoked.”
Dar’s face relaxed into a rare, broad grin. “Stoked.” She laughed softly. “Yeah.”
“Wow.” Charlie collected himself. “I hardly know what to say.” His eyes went to Kerry. “Dar’s dad is a heck of a guy.”
Kerry draped an arm over Dar’s shoulders. “I know. He adopted me.” She said. “I love both of my parents in law very much.”
The kitchen doors creaked open. Charlie turned, as Rufus poked his head shyly inside. “Hey, Rufie. C’mon over here.”
The boy obeyed, coming over and resting his hands on the table. Charlie put his arm around him. “We adopted Rufie here.” He said. “He’s learning how to run the kitchen, right Rufie?”
“Yep.” Rufus grinned. “Dar’s gonna gime a ride on her boat, dada.”
“Is she now?” Charlie asked. “Think she’d give me one too?” He glanced at Dar. “You in a rush out of here?”
“Nah.” Dar replied easily. “We’re just planning on bumming around, doing some diving. Kerry and I just needed some time off.”
“Great.’ Charlie seemed to have recovered his spirits completely. “Bud’s due back tomorrow – I know he’d love to see you.” He said. “You need a bunk for the night?”
Dar shook her head. “We’re fine on the boat. You’ll have to let me know what dock power cost – no bs, Charlie. I can afford it.”
He chuckled. “So you said the last time.” He stood up. “Great. We’ll see ya tomorrow, then. I gotta get cleaning up this place, and get this little pup to bed.”
“Bye.” Rufus waved his hand at Kerry. “Nice t’meet you.”
“Nice to meet you too, Rufus.” Kerry replied. “See you tomorrow.”
“Night, Rufus.” Dar said, watching as the two disappeared into the kitchen, leaving her and Kerry in solitary splendor in the room. With a sigh, Dar leaned her head against Kerry’s. “I’m trashed.”
“Me too.” Kerry murmured. “You interested in a nice, soft bed?” She decided to put off discussing the odd evening until after a good night’s sleep.
“That means I have to get up and walk, huh?”
“I could try carrying you.”
Dar stood up and pulled Kerry up with her. They left the tiny restaurant and walked down the path, now lit only by moonlight that poured up from the beach. It was incredibly quiet, only the surf sounds breaking the night, and the faint whispers of the leaves around them rustling in the breeze.
Kerry put her arm around Dar’s waist and leaned her head against her shoulder as they walked. She tried to think about what she’d heard, but the two tankards of very good beer defeated her best efforts, and she finally had to be contented to simply concentrate on getting back to the boat. “Urmph.” She stifled a yawn as they stepped off the dock and onto their deck.
Dar opened the door to the cabin and they went inside. Kerry was already shucking her overalls as she trudged into the bedroom, pulling off her cutoff sweats and standing for a moment, swaying gently.
Dar came up behind her and took her by the shoulders, guiding her to the bed and pulling the light blankets down. Kerry crawled gratefully into its soft confines, and waited until Dar slid in behind her, the warmth of her bare skin brushing against Kerry’s in a very pleasant way.
Thoughts buzzed like bees through her mind, but she shooed them away as she tangled her arms and legs with Dar’s, and snuggled close to her, leaving the problems for another day.
Dar let her eyes drift open as the sunlight poked it's way inside the hatch, dusting the bed with a square of buttery warmth. She remained still for a while, watching Kerry sleep curled up against her, the blond woman's arm wrapped around Dar's waist.
Kerry had always been that way, Dar reflected idly. Even when they'd barely known each other she'd noticed Kerry's almost unconscious instinct for close contact - a hand on the back, or the shoulder, making a connection with her that seemed as natural to her as breathing.
Dar had at first been bemused at that. She never could stand anyone putting their paws on her. Then she'd realized one day, after Kerry had put both hands on her shoulders as she'd stepped around behind her in a meeting, that far from objecting to it, her body was suddenly craving the touch.
Shoulda been your first clue, bucket head. Dar gazed wryly at the roof of the cabin.
Kerry shifted, rolling onto her other side, and releasing Dar for the moment. Since she was awake anyway, Dar decided to get up and shake the cobwebs out, and maybe surprise her lover with breakfast. She carefully slid out of bed and tucked the covers in around the blond's sleeping body, then ambled into the corridor and down to the head.
A quick scrub of her face with cold water, and an experiment with Kerry’s new sparkly toothpaste later, Dar emerged from the bathroom in her swimsuit, pulling her hair back and fastening it with a bit of elastic as she walked.
The boat was moving gently and she rocked with it, making her way out onto the back deck and into the sun. It was very quiet on the dock, and they were still the only boat there. The beach was empty of everything except for a few gulls, and the water around her was still, with only a few ripples and pops to indicate the marine life around them.
Beautiful morning. Dar hitched herself up on the stern railing and hooked her feet under the bottom rung. Then she leaned back and stretched her body out over the water, holding it until she felt her spine pop gently into place. Then she extended her arms out and did a few slow rotations, giving her entire body a good warm up.
Satisfied, she pulled herself upright, then just for fun did a couple of sets of sit ups before she unhooked her legs and hopped off the railing. Cautiously, she extended her arms and checked her range of motion, pleased when her injured shoulder responded with only a mild grumpiness, allowing her to swing her arm in almost a complete circle.
Ah. Dar chuckled to herself happily. The diving and relaxing seemed to be doing the trick. With a contented grunt, she checked the boat’s lines and rigging, then went back inside and made her way to the galley.
She filled the water pot and put it on the burner, then examined her choices for breakfast. Ah. She plucked a box from the cabinet and set it down, then turned to get a bowl.
Halfway around she stopped; feeling a sudden prickle up her spine, and then a hoarse cry sent her bolting for the bedroom. She shouldered the door open to find Kerry thrashing in an evident nightmare, her hands clenching into fists in the sheets.
“Ker!” Dar quickly caught hold of her and shook her gently. “Kerry!”
“N…no! No!!! NOO!!!” Kerry abruptly woke up with a gasp, her eyes snapping wide open. She looked around wildly, stopping when her eyes met Dar’s. “Oh.” She exhaled, still breathing hard. “Dar.”
“Easy.” Dar rubbed her shoulder.
Kerry lifted a shaking hand to her head. “Shit.”
“You okay?” Dar asked quietly.
“Yeah. I’m fine.” Kerry replied, visibly trying to collect herself. “I’m okay.”
Kerry was, Dar had long ago decided, really good at a lot of things. Lying wasn’t one of them. She slid under the covers and folded Kerry into her arms, pulling her close in an attempt at comforting her.
For a moment, she thought the attempt was going to fail, then Kerry’s body relaxed and slumped against hers as Kerry buried her face in Dar’s shoulder. “Shh.” Dar stroked her disordered hair. “It’s okay. I’ve got you.”
“I hate nightmares.” Kerry whispered.
“I don’t think anyone likes them, sweetheart.” Dar said. “I know I don’t.” She rocked Kerry a little, unsettled by her recent spate of bad dreams, ever since they’d gotten back from Michigan. “Was it the same dream?” The worst of the recurrent nightmares was of her watching her father die in the hospital, and now Dar found herself wondering how long it would take for that horror to fade.
“Yeah.” Kerry picked her head up and rested her cheek against Dar’s arm. “Bah.” Her voice had lost its hoarseness, though, and seemed more normal in tone. “What a way to wake up.”
Dar stroked her cheek. She could see the sparkling remains of tears caught in Kerry’s lashes, but her expression had relaxed and she appeared much calmer. “And here I thought I’d let you get a little extra sleep. Shoulda woke you up and made you go do calisthenics with me.”
“Mm. Yeah.” Kerry agreed, with a wry smile. “Or at least let me watch.” She poked Dar in the belly, a reassuringly playful motion. “I don’t wake up like this when we wake up together.”
No. Dar realized. That’s true. “I’ll keep it in mind next time.” She gave Kerry a hug. “Interest you in some breakfast?”
A green eyeball peeked up at her. “You cooking?”
“Yep.” Dar said. “Unless you think that might seem like too much of another nightmare.”
Kerry smiled wanly. “As long as it comes with some Aspirin. I’ve got a headache that would knock down an AS400 at a hundred paces.”
Dar slid her hands up and clasped the back of Kerry’s neck, kneading it gently. Kerry slumped against her again and her eyes closed as she carefully probed the tense muscles she found under her fingertips. “Hang on.” She eased a knot at the base of her lover’s skull and felt her vertebra shift. “Hm.”
“What’s the verdict, Dr. Dar?” Kerry asked.
Dar kissed her on the head. “Dr. Dar says you get to spend the entire day lazing around with me and relaxing.”
“Oo.” Kerry exhaled. “That sounds like great medicine.”
Dar gave her a last rub, and then got up from the bed. “I’ve got some water on. C’mon.”
Kerry willingly scrambled out from under the covers and followed her like a puppy, one finger hooked in the back of Dar’s swimsuit. “Let me just put something on.” She released her partner as they came even with the bathroom. “And wash the sleep out of my eyes.”
Dar kept going, ducking behind the counter and reaching for the rattling water pot. “Hush.” She scowled at it, picking it up and pouring the boiling water over the cups she had ready. She left the grounds to steep while she got out two bowls, filling one from the box she’d gotten down earlier.
She then removed some strawberries from the small refrigerator and set to work cutting them into slices, which she let fall onto the top of the cereal. She had finished several when Kerry appeared, her hair damp and her body covered with a T-shirt.
Kerry came over and leaned on the counter, resting her cheek against Dar’s upper arm. “Thank you for cooking my Wheaties, honey.”
Dar laughed silently.
“You made them just the way I like them.” Kerry plucked a flake from the bowl and put it into her mouth, chewing it. “Just right.”
“You’re welcome.” Dar drawled. “Want to go outside?”
“Sure.” Kerry turned and opened the refrigerator, removing a yogurt and adding it to the tray Dar had sitting on the counter. She put the two cups of coffee on it as well, then stepped back as Dar finished pouring her own breakfast into it’s bowl and picked up the tray.
She followed Dar onto the back deck, smiling a bit as the cool sea air blew against her. She waited for Dar to put the tray down on the little table, then she took her usual left hand seat and reached for her coffee. A few sips of the stuff seemed to ease her headache, and she leaned back, propping one bare foot up against the footrest and gazing off towards the horizon.
The nightmare had shaken her. Kerry put her cup down and picked up her bowl, pouring some milk over the flakes and patting them down with her spoon. She took a mouthful and chewed, one ear cocked to catch the louder crunching as Dar munched on her favorite Frosted Flakes.
Watching her father die had been bad enough. But in her dream, after she relived that again, and again, and again, her father’s stiffened figure would be replaced with Dar’s, and the feeling of utter, helplessness and the shock of loss drove her awake screaming every time.
Kerry forced herself to swallow past the sudden lump in her throat.
How does she know? Kerry glanced to her right. “Hm?”
Dar was watching her with an expression of concern. “You okay?”
C’mon, Kerrison. Get yourself together, and let it go. It’s just a damn dream. “Yeah.” She smiled at Dar, trying to convey her gratitude without saying it.
Dar’s face relaxed and her eyes gentled, apparently receiving the message.
“So.” Kerry firmly shifted her focus. “Tell me more about Charlie and Bud.” She dug into her cereal again. “And Dad.”
“Mmph.” Dar swallowed a mouthful of flakes. “Long story.”
“My favorite kind.” Kerry said.
“They were in a special training class together.” Dar said, between bites. “Dad says from the very start, Bud was always confronting him, challenging him, while Charlie was just the opposite.”
“So, after they graduated, the three of them, plus about six other guys were assigned to a special ops unit, and they shipped out for six months.” Dar went on. “Dad said Charlie was a great guy, real friendly, all right to hang out with, but Bud was your typical antisocial military hardass.”
“They were… somewhere… and ended up under fire.” Dar said. “I don’t really know what happened, and I’m not sure I want to ask Dad, but it ended up with Dad carrying Charlie out on his shoulders after they walked into a mine, I guess, and they lost two other guys.”
“So after that, Charlie got discharged, and Bud didn’t re-up a month after that. They hung out around the guys at the base, though, and it came out that they were lovers.”
“Ah.” Kerry finished her cereal and started on her yogurt.
“So, then Bud accused my Dad of chasing after his partner. He somehow was convinced that the only reason Dad got Charlie out of that firefight is because he wanted to impress him, and get between the two of them.” She shook her head. “I think he’s a couple chips short of a motherboard, if you ask me.”
“No.” Kerry disagreed mildly. “He’s just not seeing the real picture.” She swallowed a mouthful of the plain stuff and pointed the spoon at her partner. “He doesn’t want to think about the fact that this guy he’s in love with is head over heels in love with your father.”
Dar stopped eating, the spoon still in her mouth. She turned round, almost comical eyes on her partner.
Definite distraction. “Don’t tell me you didn’t know that.” Kerry spluttered. “C’mon, Dar!”
Dar removed the spoon. “Kerry, it took a medical exam for me to figure out I had a crush on you. Gimme a break, okay?”
Kerry went back to her cereal, suppressing a smile as she watched Dar process out of the corner of her eye.
“Son of a biscuit.”
“You realize what a can of worms we just opened, right?”
“Son of a biscuit.”
Kerry sipped from the straw stuck into her glass of ice tea, her eyes scanning over the book held in her lap. She and Dar had just finished lunch, and true to her word, Dar was sprawled in the chair next to her, doing nothing more than beautifully taking up space, her body splashed with sunlight.
Her mystery novel was interesting, but she found herself sneaking looks over at her companion from time to time. Dar’s bathing suit clung to her body and outlined its sculpted lines, which held a hint of dynamic motion despite the light doze Dar was in.
She was glad to see the bruising had faded around Dar’s shoulder, leaving only a faint discoloration, hardly visible against her tan. Kerry had also noticed that Dar had mostly stopped favoring the arm despite her stubborn refusal to go to her prescribed therapy sessions.
Lucky thing. Kerry shook her head wryly, and returned her attention to her medieval mystery. Her own dislocated shoulder had taken weeks of physical therapy to ease and she was still being careful of it when she attacked the climbing wall at the gym. She stretched her bare legs out and crossed them at the ankle, then looked up again as the sound of a boat engine broke the peaceful silence.
Coming around the corner of the island was a small tender. Kerry tipped her sunglasses down and squinted, wondering if it was the same boat that passed them by the day before. It was about the same size, but as yet it was too far away for her to really tell.
It was coming closer, though, and by its arc Kerry suspected the dock was its destination. She set her book down and reached over, closing her fingers around Dar’s wrist.
“Hm?” Dar stirred, turning her head towards Kerry. “What’s up?”
“Company.” Kerry pointed.
Dar pulled her sunglasses off, revealing sharp blue eyes that scanned the newcomer intently, all trace of sleep gone. “Ah.” She murmured. “Our curious friends.”
“It is them? You can tell?”
Dar nodded. “Same id numbers on the bow.”
Kerry squinted, then turned and looked at Dar in amazement. “You can read those?”
Another nod, and a shrug. “Yeah. It’s…” Dar made a vague motion near her face. “Close up stuff I have a problem with.” A pause. “Sometimes.”
Kerry wasn’t sure if she should be more shocked by the boat, or by Dar’s frank admission of her vision problems. She finally decided to deal with the boat first. “They’re coming here.”
“Looks like it.”
“It could just be coincidence.” Kerry reasoned. “Maybe they heard about the food.”
“Could be.” Dar agreed, settling her glasses back onto her nose and resuming her relaxed position. “Guess we’ll find out.”
Kerry felt a prickle of apprehension, unsure of what they were getting into. She watched the boat come nearer and nearer, then slow as it prepared to dock several slips away from them. It occurred to her that both she, and Dar were far out of their usual world, and if trouble really found them, it might not be as easy to deal with as their usual day-to-day life was.
Dar, however, seemed to be completely at ease, so Kerry leaned back in her chair and opened her book, finding her spot and continuing to read.
The small boat docked, and four people got off, three men and a woman. Two of the men continued up the docks towards the buildings, but the third man, and the woman headed towards their boat. Kerry kept her head down, but watched them as they approached from behind her sunglasses, evaluating them.
They were dressed in sharp, pressed shirts and Docker shorts, with conspicuous gold at throats and wrists, and Kerry got an immediate impression of sophistication and money. The woman had blond hair a few shades darker than her own, pulled back in a neat tail that exposed a high cheek boned, elegantly made up face. She carried herself with a sense of aggressive self-possession and she was the one who was leading the way towards the boat.
The man behind her was tall, dark haired, and skinny to the point of emaciation. He had a high forehead, and he was carrying an over the shoulder briefcase with a satellite cell phone clipped to it.
Maybe they just want to say hello. Kerry reasoned. Maybe they just like the boat. Maybe…
“Ahoy there.” The woman addressed them. “Excuse me!”
Sounds about a friendly as an auditor with hemorrhoids. Kerry closed her book a looked over, aware of Dar’s watchful alertness next to her. “Hi.” She replied. “Something we can do for you?”
The woman put her hands on her slim hips and regarded Kerry. “We’re looking for some information… maybe you could help us?”
Hm. “Sure, if we can. Would you like to come aboard?” Kerry politely replied.
They stepped onto the railing, then down onto the deck and approached the two of them. Kerry watched their eyes flick to Dar, who was to all appearances blissfully asleep. The woman returned her attention to Kerry.
“My name is Christen Mayberry.” The woman stated. “This is my associate, Juan Carlos.” She paused, giving Kerry an inquiring look.
“Kerry.” A sudden impulse towards reticence took hold. “Roberts.” Her ears heard the faint snort of surprise from Dar, and she smiled. “Nice to meet you.”
Christen cleared her throat. “I represent a salvage consortium. We’ve contracted to do some research and location work in this area. We saw you out by the straits yesterday, and I was wondering what your interest is here.”
Kerry sorted through that, and felt a sense of relief. “Nothing, actually.” She gave the woman a reassuring smile. “We’re just on vacation.”
“And you picked that spot at random?” The man asked suddenly.
“No.” Dar’s low voice broke in. “I picked the spot because it’s got a great view and nice fish.” She lifted a hand and tipped her glasses down, exposing her eyes, which studied their visitors.
“No offense.” The man smiled at her. “See anything good?”
“Moray eel as tall as I am.” Dar drawled softly. “And a lot f clowns.”
“Well, that’s great then.” Christen’s attitude had suddenly shifted. “You going to be around long? Maybe we can do dinner. We’re new around here, and we don’t know many people.” She leaned against the back railing. “The locals are pretty tough nuts to crack.”
Kerry and Dar exchanged quick glances. “We’ll be around for a few days, yes.” Kerry replied. “I’m sure we can get together.”
“Great.” Christen smiled. “Nice to meet you Kerry.” Her eyes shifted to Dar questioningly.
“This is my partner, Dar.” Kerry supplied. “Nice to meet you, too.”
“We will be seeing you around, I am sure.” Juan said. “This is a lovely boat you have.”
“Thanks.” Dar replied. “What’s your consortium salvaging? I didn’t think there was anything around here worth going after.”
Juan looked at Christen. “It’s a private commission.” Christen said. “We can’t really discuss it.” She took Juan’s elbow. “We’ll drop by later, to set a date for dinner. Let’s go, Juan.”
Christen and Juan turned and jumped off the boat, strolling down the dock together.’
Dar and Kerry watched them go, and then looked at each other. “What the heck was that all about?” Kerry wondered.
“I don’t know.” Dar sat up and rested her elbows on her knees, studying Kerry. “What was that name change all about?” She half grinned.
Kerry nibbled her lower lip.
“I’m not objecting…” Dar said. “Just a little surprised.”
Kerry crossed one ankle over her knee, and rubbed a bit of sand off her skin. “You know.” She finally said. “I’m not really sure why I did that.” Her head rolled to one side, and she peered at Dar with sheepish honesty. “Let me think about it for a while.”
“Sure.” Dar nodded. “As for our visitors... I don’t know what their game is, but now I’m wishing we’d brought the laptops with us.”
“To find out who they are?”
Kerry drummed her fingers on the chair arm. “Well, I guess we’ll just have to ferret that out the old fashioned way.” She said. “You don’t think they’re going to be a problem though, do you?”
“Nah.” Dar shook her head. “Just some gold diggers. We might not hear from them again, now that they know we’re not after what they are.” Dar put her glasses back on and resumed her comfortable position.
“That’s true.” Kerry tucked her knees up under her chin and wrapped her arms around them, gazing out at the sea thoughtfully. “They were a little weird, though.”
“Preppy.” Kerry added. “I don’t k now, Dar. They just didn’t seem like sea types. You know what I mean.”
Dar opened one eye. “Maybe they’re the business end.” She suggested. “The money people.”
Kerry pursed her lips. “I just didn’t like them.”
“Well.” Dar captured her hand and squeezed it. “I’ve always trusted your people judgment.” She said. “Why don’t we…”
Dar sat up, as they heard footsteps approaching rapidly. Rufus was running down the docks towards them. “Hey.” Dar greeted him.
He stopped short of the boat. “C’n I come on board?”
“Sure.” Dar waved him over.
The boy grinned and scrambled onto the boat, looking around wide-eyed as he walked across the stern deck. “Wow.”
“Nice, huh?” Dar stood up. “Want to see inside?” She offered.
“Sure!” Rufus followed her eagerly as she opened the door, looking up at her in awe as he walked under her arm. “Boy, Dar. You got a lot of muscles!”
Kerry muffled a giggle, as she caught the look of bemused consternation on her partner’s face.
“Yeah, I sure do.” Dar replied. “That’s kinda weird for a girl, huh?”
“Yeah.” Rufus nodded solemnly. “But it’s really cool. Can you rassle a gator?”
Dar chuckled. “C’mon.”
They disappeared inside, leaving Kerry to resume her quiet pondering. She leaned back in her chair and exhaled. “What the hell is going on with you, Kerrison?” She rested her head against her fist and tried to look inside herself for the answer.
Finally, she lifted her eyes and exhaled, nodding a few times. Had her family had so enraged and disgusted her, she mused, that a part of her wanted to just leave them behind? Maybe that same part thought doing that would rid her of the nightmares.
Was that good or bad? Kerry wasn’t sure. It hadn’t seemed to bother Dar, though; in fact Kerry suspected Dar kinda liked the theft of her surname. With a thoughtful frown, she picked up the strong golden chain on her neck and regarded the ring it was threaded through. She and Dar both wore their commitment rings the same way, and now she studied the inscription on hers carefully.
Then she smiled and pushed herself to her feet, shaking her head as she walked towards the cabin. Then a motion caught her eye and she turned to watch a much smaller boat, just a motored skiff, pull up to the dock and tie on.
The motor died, then a tall, grizzle haired man with a husky build got out. He was dressed in faded and patched fatigues and a black tank top, and he adjusted a blue cap as he paused on the dock. His eyes fell on their boat and he turned, examining it carefully from bow to stern. Then he turned on his heel and headed up towards the buildings, walking with a determined, powerful stride.
“You know.” Kerry leaned on the edge of the cabin door. “If I were the gambling type, I’d bet that guy’s name is Bud.” She watched as the man passed Christine and Juan coming back the other way, brushing by them without a word. The two continued back to their boat, but not without a look in Kerry’s direction. “This is starting to look squicky.”
“Did you say something, Ker?” Dar appeared at her elbow. “I’m just going to kick the engines on and give Rufus the ride I promised him.”
“Sounds like a great idea.” Kerry patted her on the side. “I’ll untie us.” She jumped onto the dock and set them free, aware of being watched from across the way.
Something definitely was going on. Kerry suspected they’d be finding out what sooner or later.
It was sunset when they pulled back into the dock, and the first thing Kerry noticed was that the small tender was gone. She perched on the bow of the Bertram as Dar navigated in, having enjoyed their late afternoon ride.
Rufus was a cute kid. Kerry found his enthusiasm over anything nautical adorable, and watching Dar explain the working of the large diesels was a precious moment she wished she had on camera. Rufus obviously adored her partner, and even now he was glued to her side as she edged the big boat into dock.
Kerry made a mental note to get Dar to let her bring the craft in sometime, though this tiny dock probably wasn’t the best one to start with. Dar had to shift the diesels into reverse twice, and then into idle before they drifted into place. Kerry stepped off as they gently hit the bumpers and secured the lines. The setting sun was turning the white beach sand a deep gold and painting the wooden buildings into a tropical watercolor scene. She leaned against a pylon and stuck her hands into her pockets, simply enjoying the view.
“Hey, Ker.” Dar jumped off the boat and onto the dock. “See that?”
Kerry obligingly peered down Dar’s arm. Her eyes widened. “Whoa… what is that?”
A young woman was racing around the waves on what looked like a surfboard, but this surfboard had a handle and apparently an engine. As Kerry watched, the girl zoomed around in a big figure eight, effortlessly racing over the surface of the water.
Kerry clutched Dar’s shoulder. “Ooo.” She crooned. “I want.” She craned her neck to see better. “That rocks!”
Dar smirked. “I thought you’d say that.” She turned and watched Rufus jump off the boat. “Okay, Rufus, tell your friend he’s got a customer.”
“Cool!” Rufus grinned at both of them. “I’m gonna go tell em. Go see papa Bud, too.” He pattered off down the dock, only to turn and race back, throwing his arms around Dar and giving her a hug. “Thanks for th’ride!”
“No problem.” Dar seemed a little embarrassed, but she returned the hug before she sent him on his way again. “Nice kid.”
“Mmhm.” Kerry agreed. “He’s got great taste in heroes to worship.”
Dar rolled her eyes. “Don’t you start that, Kerrison.”
Kerry snickered. “But it’s so cute.” She teased, reaching up to tweak Dar’s cheek. “C’mon. How about a shower before we go to dinner?”
They turned to go back onto the boat, when heavy footsteps made them look back around. Charlie was limping down the docks towards them, giving them a friendly wave. “Ho, Dar!”
Dar lifted a hand in greeting. “Evening, Charlie.”
The big ex-serviceman halted as he reached them. “Evening, you two. Listen, got a favor to ask.”
“Sure.” Dar replied easily.
“Damn fuel delivery’s being held up cause of weather down south. We gotta shut down tonight – mind if I bring over a potluck on your pretty boat here?”
“Not at all.” Dar said. “We’ve got a table inside. How about we go out and do it under the stars?”
Charlie beamed. “Sounds great. Bud’ll love that. It’ll take bout forty five to an hour, see you then?”
Charlie turned and limped up the dock, waving his hand in farewell.
“Well.” Kerry mused. “That’s interesting… I guess they use a generator for power, right?”
“Yep.” Dar stepped onto the boat and offered Kerry her hand. “So we get to be hosts for the evening. That work for you?”
“Definitely.” Kerry allowed herself to be pulled on board. Quite unreasonably, she’d developed a wary dislike for Bud, whom she hadn’t even met yet and she was glad their first encounter would be brought into their territory.
It wasn’t really fair to the guy, she acknowledged. Kerry reasoned it was mostly her gut level reaction to someone who professed a dislike for someone she dearly loved and admired, and she was willing to give the unknown Bud a chance when she met him, especially since Dar seemed to be, at least, willing to sit down to dinner with him.
But still. Kerry entered the cabin after Dar and cast her eye around it. “Go grab a shower first, I’ll straighten up in here.”
Dar looked around, and then gave her a wry look. “Oh, right. It’s trashed. Thanks, Ker.” She teased, referring to the customary neat appearance of their joint living space. But she ambled towards the head anyway, flitching a towel on the way.
Kerry drummed her fingers on the galley counter, thinking hard.
Dar brought the pot of coffee to the table and resumed her seat. They’d finished dinner, and the conversation had gotten more casual as the night had gone on. Bud was behaving, and he’d discovered in Kerry a camera fan after his own heart. Dar suspected the evening was going well, and she relaxed, sneaking a glance outside at the dark, restless sea.
She’d anchored them near their dive from the prior day, and the moon had cooperated, lighting up the area in a ghostly silver glow. The ocean was picking up a bit, rocking the Bertram lightly but not enough to really bother anyone.
“So, Dar.” Charlie’s voice caught her attention. “You got any plans for your vacation?”
“Not really.” Dar replied. “We’ve just been picking spots and diving, taking it easy.” She said. “It’s been a busy year.”
“S’what I heard.” Bud said. He had a very deep and usually emotionless voice. It matched his dark, somewhat hooded eyes, and the watchful gaze he habitually had. “Scuttlebutt said you folks got to take over all the service gigs.”
“That’s right.” Kerry responded, with a smile. “Starting in January we’ll be taking over a lot of infrastructure. Should be quite a project.”
Bud eyed her. “Careful they don’t mess you up. You know the Navy, Dar. If they can point a finger, it’s in your eye.”
“They’re not that different from any other company.” Kerry told him. “Trust me, when you’re the outsourcer, if they can blame you for anything, they will. We have to deal with that all the time.”
There was a momentary silence, then Bud cleared his throat and looked at Dar. “Heard about your dad.” He rumbled. “That’s good stuff, Dar.”
Kerry neatly retracted her mental claws and took a sip of beer.
“It was…” Dar studied her glass. “One of the most amazing things in my life.” She shook her head. “But then, this last year’s just been full of things like that for me.” Her eyes shifted to Kerry, twinkling a little.
“He living down near the old place?” Charlie asked.
Kerry chuckled. “Right now, he and mom are puppy sitting for us.” She replied. “They usually live on their boat, though.”
Bud snorted. “Boats? Puppies? That ain't the same people I remember.”
Dar shrugged. “Things change. People change. They went through a lot.”
Bud snorted again, and Kerry’s claws peeked out, just a bit. “I like their boat. I think it was a great choice for them to live on.” She replied.
“Yeah, well, if you say so.” Bud said. “Musta changed a lot if Ceci Roberts’ll park her butt on some fishing dingy.”
“Oh, I doubt she’d do that.” Kerry said. “But…”
Kerry paused as a sound of engines came through the half open windows. She looked out, as did the rest of the table, and saw a large, well-lit craft slowly cruising past them. “Hm.”
Dar leaned on the back of the banquette and studied it. “That’s a big one.”
Bud got up and walked behind her, crouching down and resting his elbows on the sill. He squinted, studying the ship’s line. “Huh.” He pointed. “Got a search light on it. Just hit us.”
Charlie was also now peering out the window. “Hey, you know, I think I saw that boat two days ago off the lee side of our island.” He said. “Big ugly black thing.”
Kerry rested her chin on Dar’s head. “Dar, that can’t be that obnoxious boat that passed us in the straits, can it?”
“Hard to say.” Dar murmured. “Let’s go check it out.”
They got to the door, but as Dar opened it, a loudspeaker suddenly cut the night.
“Dixieland Yankee. Do not pull anchor. Stay where you are, and prepared to be boarded.”
Dar blinked, and then abruptly her brain kicked into gear. “Boarded? Who in the hell is that?”
Charlie watched over her shoulder as the boat started coming in at them. “Some very big shot with a ton of money, tell ya that.”
Dar headed for the bridge. “Kerry, go watch the anchor, willya?” She shouted down, as she scaled the ladder. “You guys, hang on!”
Bud turned. “That means you, muskrat.” He poked Charlie in the chest. “I’m going up top.” He turned and followed Dar up to the bridge. Charlie remained in the doorway, holding on and watching the big ship approach.
Dar swung behind the console and hit the switches to retract the boat’s anchor, her eyes darting out towards the oncoming ship. “Feel like I’m trapped in a cheap movie of the week.” She muttered, glancing up as Bud appeared next to her. “This happen a lot out here?”
Bud didn’t answer.
“Anchor’s in!” Kerry’s voice rose up from the bow.
“Get off the topside!” Dar yelled back, as she punched the starter buttons for the diesels. The engines caught at once and rumbled into life.
“Dixieland Yankee, I repeat. Stay where you are. You are trespassing in restricted waters.”
“Are we?” Dar asked.
“My ass.” Bud muttered. “This thing got legs?”
“Kerry!” Dar bellowed.
“Hang on.” Dar shoved both throttles forward, and heeled the boat over, watching the bow rise as the dual diesels dug into the water. The bigger boat was moving to intercept them, and a searchlight hit her in the eyes. Dar cursed, and kept the wheel turned, just clearing the other boat’s bow before she whipped the wheel straight and gave the engines full throttle.
Their conjoined wakes rocked the Bertram, then the boat leveled out and Dar turned her eyes towards the depth meter, checking their draft. Behind them, the bigger boat had turned to follow, and she heard the roar as their engines were let loose in the chase.
“What in the hell is this?” Dar snarled.
Bud chuckled dryly, the first time he’d laughed that night. “Welcome to the Caribbean, Paladar. There still be pirates here, y’know.”
“Pirates in seventy freaking foot mansion cruisers?” Dar asked, glancing behind them. “Jesus!” The searchlight pinned them, and she could hear the engines getting louder. “Kerry! Strap everything down!”
“Already there!” Kerry yelled back. ‘What the hell is going on?”
“Dixieland Yankee. If you don’t reduce speed and go to idle, we will halt you by force. Please obey.”
“Kiss my ass.” Dar flicked two switches on the console, and nudged the throttles a little further.
Bud was wedged between the seats and the console, as their speed increased and the wind slammed against them. “You ain’t much of a rule follower, are you?” He commented.
“I make the rules.” Dar replied. “Hang on.” She set two final switches, glanced behind them at the boat gaining rapidly on them, and shoved the throttles all the way forward. With a throaty roar, the engine superchargers cut in, and the bow planed up out of the water as their speed doubled.
“Shit.” Bud clutched at the railing.
Dar looked back, and felt her heart slow a little as the other boat stopped gaining as quickly. She looked again, swallowing a nervous lump as she frantically tried to figure out what to do next. The compass showed them going south, and the depth finder showed good depth under their keel.
The only question was, where the hell was she going, and what was she going to do when she got there?
Kerry exhaled in relief as she saw the big vessel drop behind them a little. “Excuse me.” She gently eased past Charlie, who was still in the doorway to the cabin. “This is getting very icky.”
“No shit.” Charlie eyed the big boat. “What the heck did you girls get yourselves into?”
“I wish I knew.” Kerry strode into the cabin and went to the storage chest, flipping the seat up and pulling out a long, black case. She set it on the table and undid the catches, lifting the lid and laying it back. Inside, a powerful, blued black shotgun rested, giving off the very distinct scent of gun oil.
“Ah.” Charlie was at her shoulder. “Shoulda figured Dar’d have one of these.”
Kerry pulled the gun out and opened the stock. “It’s not Dar’s.” She murmured, flipping open a door in the case and removing shotgun shells. “It’s mine.” She glanced up at the surprised man. “I’ve been shooting since I was eight.” She closed the shotgun and pocketed a handful of extra shells, then headed for the door.
She’d never really liked guns. Handguns, in fact, scared the daylights out of her as she’d realized when they’d been faced with one in Chicago. But she’d realized that she hated the feeling of being helpless even more, so she’d gone out and gotten herself a gun she at least had experience with.
Kerry was pretty sure her father had never intended his forced familial skeet lessons to have this particular result. She had always found it ironic that of all her cousins and siblings, she was the only one who could hit anything smaller than a VW bus with any regularity. She still remembered those frosty fall days, with reporters in full attendance, watching as adolescents barely able to lift the damn rifles gamely plugged away at skittish, fleeting clay plugs.
She stood next to the door and peered out, holding the shotgun close to her body. If she squinted, she could just see figures moving out onto the bow of the larger vessel, one manning the annoying searchlight and the two others coming to the railing.
Charlie limped up behind her, and shut the light in the cabin, giving them a better view. “No sense prettying up a target.” He commented. “Wonder what they’re after?”
“I have no idea.” Kerry inhaled, as she realized the bigger boat was gaining on them again. She made a grab for the doorframe as the Bertram heeled over, then accelerated again in a new direction. “Jesus, Dar.”
International waters. There wasn’t anyone, really, they could call. They could, Kerry realized, get into real trouble out here and it would be weeks before anyone knew about it. “Dar?”
“This could get nasty!”
Kerry stepped out onto the stern, and worked the shotgun mechanism. “I’m armed!”
“Great.” Dar felt more than a little frazzled. “Here I am playing Captain Kidd and I’ve got Wyatt Earp on the stern.”
Bud leaned over the edge of the console, and regarded Kerry’s wind buffeted form. “She know how to use that thing?”
Dar grunted, focusing on her route. Ahead of her, the sky no longer held stars, and as she gazed ahead, lightning fluttered, outlining huge thunderheads. “That the storm you were telling me about?” She pointed.
“It’s a storm.” Bud stated. “You figgering to head into it?”
“Not exactly.” Dar looked behind her. The big boat was definitely gaining on them now. “But it could get a little rough.” She plotted a course, and then settled herself, wrapping her legs around the captain’s chair. “Kerry, stow it! I’m gonna be moving!”
She heard the cabin door slam. “All right, asshole. Let’s see if you can stick with me.” Dar headed between two tiny, uninhabited islands. The boat raced over the waves, now becoming perceptibly choppier. The searchlight zapped over their heads. Dar felt it’s glare on her neck and she pulled the boat into a faint arc, first one way and then the other.
A popping sound brought her head up and around, both she and Bud ducked as a flare seared past their starboard side. Dar spent an unfruitful moment wishing like hell her father was next to her, and then put her attention to threading the boat through the narrow channel.
“Getting shallow.” Bud offered.
“I know.” Dar kept one eye on the depth meter, and the other on the blinking buoys the marked the route. A roll of thunder rumbled overhead, almost obscuring the sound of the engines. Another flare screeched by, this time on the port side. “Next one coming right up our backs, I guess.”
“Inta the engine cowling.” The laconic ex sailor stated. “Fastest way to stop you.”
“Thanks.” Dar’s eyes narrowed, and she inched her route slightly to her left. Then without warning, she spun the wheel, sending the boat into rapid curve. She straightened out, and then went right again, daring their pursuer to follow them.
She heard their engines rev as they did, and with that sound, Dar smiled. “Gotcha.” She whispered, ramming the throttles home and skimming down a specific line in the sea with a light, precise touch on the controls.
Bud was gripping the console, his eyes wide.
Dar watched the depth meter. “C’mon… c’mon….” It sounded a warning, and she kept her fingertips on the wheel, crossing the rest of her body parts and just wishing. The Bertram threaded a tiny line down the center of the meter, the klaxon blaring louder and louder as the sounds of their pursuit also got louder.
“Jesus Christ!” Bud yelled.
The boat flashed over a section of water, then the klaxon cut off, just as they heard a horrific crunching sound behind them. Dar dared a quick look behind her, to see the big boat heeling off to one side; it’s engines dying and panic on the bow. She faced forwards again, into the rain now hitting the shield around the console.
Every nerve in her was alive. Dar could see her own grin reflected in the glass, and she just barely kept herself from letting out a wild yell of triumph. “All right.” She was proud of the even tone in her voice. “Now let’s get outta here.”
Bud unglued his hands from the rail. “Whoinhell taught you to drive?” He asked.
Glinting blue eyes reflected back in the mirror. “My dad.” Dar replied, savoring the moment. Then she keyed the mic for internal communications. “Kerry?”
“Here.” Kerry’s voice sounded a little out of breath. “Holy shit, Dar.”
“Yeah.” Dar trimmed the engines, which now labored against the rising seas. “Out of the frying pan… I’m gonna circle back around and see if I can get past this storm, and come back into the island from the other side.”
“Anything I can do?”
“Monitor the radio. See if you can pick up those bastards calling for help. I want to know who they are.”
Dar clicked the mic off, and clipped it. “Board me, will you?” She muttered. “I don’t think so.”
Kerry put the mic down, but left her hand on it for a long moment as her nerves steadied. “Okay.” She finally said, gathering her composure and pushing away from the wall. “Glad that’s over.”
“Me, too.” Charlie agreed. He was seated securely in one of the chairs bolted to the deck. “Now, whatinthehell was it?” He got up and peered out the window. “Sumbitches bottomed, huh?”
“Yeah.” Kerry walked over to the galley and removed a bottle of Gatorade, popping the top and sucking down several mouthfuls. She set the bottle down. “Now all we have to worry about is the weather.” She walked back over to the radio and set it to fast scan, turning the volume up a little. The shotgun was already tucked back into its case under the seat, and now that the immediate danger was over, Kerry felt her entire body shaking in reaction.
Adrenaline rush, the hard way. With a sigh, Kerry sat down in the other bucket chair and let her hands rest on her thighs.
“Ain’t’ your cupppa brew, is it?” Charlie asked.
Kerry gave him a wry look. “I’m a Midwestern Republican with a degree in information technology. What do you think?”
The big man chuckled. “You done pretty good, though.” He said. “Where in the Midwest you from?”
“Michigan.” Kerry replied. “Saugatuck.”
“Been up there a time or two.” Charlie said. “Got to do some dry suit work in the lake once upon a time.”
Kerry was glad of the distraction. “Is there anything to see down there?” She asked curiously. “I always wondered. Other than downed freighters, I mean.”
Charlie shrugged. “We weren’t sightseeing.” He explained, with an apologetic look. “You could ask Big Andy, though. He did two tours up there.” He paused. “Strange, talking about him real time now.”
“I can imagine.” Kerry leaned back, folding her hands over her belly. “I’ll ask him, though.” She smiled. “I remember the first time we went diving with him. He’s like a fish.” She waggled one hand in mid air.
“Always was.” Charlie acknowledged. “A real natural. Used to watch him swim, and wonder if he was hiding gills.”
Kerry nodded. “I know. Dar’s the same way.”
“Ah.” Charlie looked up as the door opened, and Bud came in. “Didn’t spect you get a wild hare ride with dinner, didja?” He addressed his partner.
Bud shook his head and snorted. “Crazy assed bastards.” He said. “Near as crazy as the nut drivin this thing.”
One of Kerry’s eyebrows rose. “I think Dar did pretty good.” She stated. “They’re on the rocks. We’re not.”
“With Dar? Never.” Kerry got up and paced over to the galley again, recapturing her bottle of Gatorade. “She always knows what she’s doing.” She sucked a mouthful of the drink. “Now we just have to find out who and why.”
“Well, you could go back and ask.” Charlie joked wanly.
Kerry leaned on the counter. “Is this something that happens often? I know we were reading something in the local Miami papers about modern day piracy, but I didn’t think the pirates drove luxury yachts.”
Bud and Charlie looked at each other, but didn’t answer.
Kerry’s other eyebrow rose.
“They weren’t pirates.” Bud finally muttered. “Not the kind we have around here.”
Ah. Kerry noticed neither of them would meet her eyes. “So it does happen.”
“Oh, well, you hear things.” Charlie interjected. “You know.”
Uh huh. “No, actually I don’t.” Kerry answered. “But then, what were these guys after?”
Bud shrugged. “Maybe they just didn’t like Dar’s attitude.” He suggested. “Inherited trait.”
Kerry was quite surprised to hear herself produce an almost audible growl. “Excuse me.” She said. “Keep an ear on the radio. I’m going topside.”
Dar unclipped the plastic water bottle from under the console and gulped its contents, satisfied with her new course at last. They were headed into a little weather, the winds had picked up to about twenty knots, and the seas were up, but the Bertram rode the surf solidly, and she knew she could make the eastward turn around the far side of the island in about ten minutes.
She turned around in her seat and looked behind her, shading her eyes against the rain. She could just see the other boat’s running lights far back, bobbing up and down in the surf but coming no closer. The depth would have been shallow enough to rake the bigger boat’s hull, and maybe even puncture it depending on how they hit, and though it was a wide sea, and bad weather, Dar had absolutely no compunction about leaving them to their fate.
Dar swiveled around and thought about that for a minute. “Okay.” She addressed the controls. “What would dad do?” The dials and gauges peered mutely back at her. Dad would… Dar chuckled dryly. Dad might have stayed and challenged the other boat. But if he’d done what she had, he might have called the Coasties for them – but her mother wouldn’t have.
To hell with them. Dar still felt pumped, almost giddy from her successful escape. She’d hoped the high speed run up the center of two parallel reefs, keeping her keel right down the space between them would work, but she’d also known she was counting on luck and her own piloting skills a lot more than she should have.
But. Dar wiggled her fingers, looking at her own strong hands. She’d done it. She chortled privately, clearing her throat and regaining a serious expression as she heard someone coming up the ladder behind her. A peek over her shoulder, however, brought her grin back. “Hey.”
Kerry had her rain slicker on, and was carrying Dar’s. “Hey, yourself.” She took the seat next to Dar and handed her the slicker. “I’ve finished pooping in my pants now. How about you?”
Dar laughed, leaning back and pulling her bright red rain jacket on. “That was something, I gotta tell you. What the hell was up with those people?”
Kerry leaned on the console. “I don’t know, but we’d better find out, Dar. This is not funny.”
“No kidding.” Dar finished tying her hood, then glanced at Kerry. “You okay?”
Green eyes blinked at her, in the misty rain. “That was really scary.”
Dar laced her fingers through Kerry’s damp hair. “I know.”
“Your old friends are making my nape hairs rigid.”
“Sorry.” Dar scratched her neck. “Bud’s pretty abrasive.” She admitted. “I kept in touch mostly because of Charlie. He’s a good guy.”
Kerry sighed, aggravated. “He’s married to a jerk.”
Dar eyed her. “There’re a lot of people who’d say the same about you.” She joked. “That you’re married to a jerk, I mean.” She added.
“Pah.” Kerry started laughing. “Okay, I’m cranky, I hate being scared, and mysterious black boats who do great pirate imitations really tick me off.” She looked up as thunder rolled overhead. “Gee, thanks. That so helps.”
Dar reached out and pulled Kerry over, into her lap. She hugged her close, as she adjusted the boat’s course slightly, and started her turn to the east. “We’ll be out of the rain soon, we’ll drop these guys off, then we’ll head out to St Johns. Once we’re there, I’ll call in and have that damn boat checked out. Sound like a plan?”
Kerry found that not even rain and two layers of plastic could ruin a good Dar hug, and she grunted softly as she returned it. “I like it.” She agreed. “Do we have reservations on St. Johns?”
“Uh huh, at Caneel Bay.” Dar replied.
“Is that the one with the seven beaches?” Kerry was intrigued. “And DSL in the rooms?”
Dar nodded. “With rental laptops. Got all the essentials covered.”
“Be still, my technobeating heart.”
The mic crackled. “Hey, Dar.” Bud’s voice came through. “Got a distress call casting down here. 117.9”
“Thanks. I’ll tune it in.” Dar said. “We’re coming in around the eastern side of your island.”
“Yeap.” The mic clicked off.
Dar frowned, then shook her head and tuned in the marine radio. For a few moments, there wasn’t any sound, and she thought she’d gotten the wrong channel. Then a harsh feedback sound erupted, and a voice came through.
“Mayday! Mayday! Help!”
“Oh, that’s professional.” Kerry sniped.
“This is Siren of the Sea… in bad weather… sinking… “
The words cut off. Dar peered at the radio, then looked behind them. “I don’t think that’s them.”
“Help! This is Siren of the Sea… thirty foot sailboat in bad weather. I lost my engine, and snapped the mast lines. Taking on water.”
“Oh, that’s bad.” Kerry sat up. “He needs help.” She looked at Dar. “I’ve crewed a thirty footer, Dar. It doesn’t stand a chance with no sail control.”
Dar keyed the mic. “Siren of the Sea, this is Dixieland Yankee. Do you know your location, over?” She released the mic and waited. There was no response. “Siren of the Sea, do you copy?”
Still no answer. Then finally – “Hello? This is Siren of the Sea to whoever’s calling – I think I’m off St Johns… off the western coast!” A break, with static sounded. “Raining like hell! I think the swells are twenty feet!”
Kerry got up. “I’ll tell our passengers, and get the safety gear out.” She kissed Dar on the lips. “Think we can find him?”
Dar flipped on the radar scope, which showed not much of anything. Given that she was not familiar with the waters, and had no idea what she was really looking it, she didn’t want to give Kerry false hopes. “Do my best.” She replied.
“Done deal, then.” Kerry blithely answered, before she turned and made her way to the ladder.
Dar shook her head, then plotted a new path, this one recurving back towards the sound of thunder, and the rising wind.