Terrors of the High Seas
Dar surfaced, coughing to clear her lungs of a hastily mis-swallowed mouthful of seawater. She swiveled around, shaking the hair out of her eyes as she frantically searched for Kerry. A moment later, the blond woman popped up nearby. Kerry spotted her and swam over with quick, efficient strokes. The water was choppy, and the downpour made it hard to see, but she made it through the swells to Dar’s side.
For a moment, they tread water and just looked at each other. Dar shook her bangs out of her eyes again and squinted through the rain. “C’mon.” She stifled a cough. “Let’s get to the boat.”
Between the tide, the rain, and the chop it was a tough swim. Kerry found herself really missing her fins as she struggled to make progress. A crawl stroke didn’t do much, so she switched to a frogman style of swimming, keeping just her head above water so she could breathe. Her strength, though, started giving out when they were about three quarters of the way back to the docks, and she slowed to catch her breath.
Dar seemed to sense it. She stopped and turned in the water, then swam back over to her. “What’s wrong?”
“Tired.” Kerry admitted. “Give me a minute.”
“Hang on.” Dar offered her arm, her legs moving powerfully under the waves and keeping her upright.
“No, it’s okay.” Kerry felt a little better. She started moving forward again. Dar stayed close by her side as they battled inside the seawall, the rain coming down harder and harder. Kerry felt Dar slow just inside the wall, and she reached out to grab onto the rocks, resisting the waves that were trying to bash her against them.
“Not much further.” Dar pointed to the rocking form of their boat, dimly seen through the rain. “Are you all right?”
Kerry felt her second wind kicking in. “Yes.” She nodded positively. “Let’s get over there.” She pushed off the wall and started swimming, feeling a strong current fighting her pulling out with the waning of the tide. Grimly, she pushed against it and kept at Dar’s shoulder with determined effort. The chop washed over her, making her eyes sting and she tasted salt in the back of her mouth more than once. Her focus narrowed down to the chilling water, the beat of the rain, and the tall body moving just ahead of her.
Something not water brushed against her, and she felt stringy something’s trail over her body. She jerked and twisted, then gasped as a searing pain across her midriff nearly shocked her senseless. “Damn.” She held still with great effort, and felt the strings drift off, and then she started forward again, grimacing at the jolts still going through her body.
Jellyfish. Kerry cursed under her breath. Just my luck. After a moment, though, the pain faded a little, and she pushed it out of her mind as she continued on.
Her breath was coming short, and her muscles were burning painfully when she heard the distinctive sound of the waves slapping against fiberglass nearby. Kerry looked up to see a white surface arcing over her head. She reached out and grabbed the barnacled edge of the dock as she watched Dar approach the side of the boat. With a powerful surge, she emerged from the water, arms extended towards the railing that ducked towards her at the last moment and obligingly slapped itself into her hands.
Dar grabbed on and hung there for a moment, visibly gathering her strength. Her wet clothing clung to her body, and Kerry saw her chest expand as she took a deep breath. Her upper body contracted, pulling her up to the railing and then over it, but Kerry could see the effort it took and given how she herself felt at the moment considered it a testament to Dar’s very sturdy constitution.
She knew she wasn’t going to be doing that any time soon, so she pushed off again and stroked for the stern, the lowest part of the boat where the dive ladder was clamped in place. By the time she got there, she heard the clanks as Dar unhooked the hatch and freed the ladder. The next thing she felt was a light sting as the aluminum tubing hit the water next to her and quickly submerged. Gratefully she grabbed on to the steps, riding the ladder in the chop until the boat dipped again, then getting her feet on the bottom step and pushing upward.
Dar’s grip suddenly fastened around her arm and she was hauled unceremoniously aboard the boat, landing on the stern deck in a soggy lump as Dar pulled the ladder up and closed the back hatch.
Buh. Kerry discovered that sitting still was a very good thing. She didn’t even mind the rain pelting her, rinsing the salt water off her body as she struggled into a cross legged position. Her arms and legs felt numb and weak; she kept her head down as she rested her elbows on her thighs and simply worked on catching her breath.
Dar dropped down next to her, seemingly just as glad to just sit still. She extended her long legs out and rested her hands on her knees. “Son of a fucking bitch.”
Kerry’s head lifted, and she regarded her lover bemusedly. “Are you thinking maybe we should just go to Las Vegas on vacation next time?”
Blue eyes framed in a mess of dark, wet hair peered at her. “With my luck, a computer virus would take down the entire city while we were there.” Dar exhaled. “You okay?”
“Just wiped.” Kerry nodded. “And I think I swallowed half a gallon of salt water. My tongue is pickled.” She raked her hair back out of her face. “Dar, that sucked.”
“Uh huh.” Dar blew out a breath. “Might as well get out of the rain.” With a slight grunt, she pushed herself to her feet and gazed out past the marina entrance. It was hard to fathom what had just happened. One moment they’d been getting somewhere with DeSalliers, then next minute she’d found herself in an almost dangerous situation.
Which, she considered thoughtfully, she’d actually handled damn well.
Dar turned, to find Kerry holding a hand up with a wry expression.
“Mind giving me a tug up?”
Dar clasped her hand and leaned backward, pulling Kerry to her feet. “Wonder who he took off after?” She mused, as they moved towards the cabin door and she fished in her pocket for the key. “Damn, if we’d only had a minute more.”
“Yeah.” Kerry agreed. “We were close. Did you hear what he said? About his reputation? What was that all about, I wonder?”
Dar paused, holding the door open. “Want to go find out?”
Kerry looked up at her. “You mean, go out there after them?” She watched Dar nod. “That’s totally insane, Dar.” An eyebrow quirked wryly at her. “Let’s do it.”
“Go in and change. I’ll cut us loose.” Dar gave her a pat on the behind, and then disappeared up onto the deck.
“Aye aye, cap’n.” Kerry entered the cabin, shaking her head and chuckling bemusedly. “No one’s gonna believe this.” She told the empty room. They’d brought their things down from the hotel before they’d gone for breakfast; their bags and Dar’s laptop were resting on the table where they’d left them.
Kerry stripped off her soaking wet shirt as she continued through the cabin and into the head. She hung it up on the shower rail then added her shorts to it, tossing her sneakers into the shower itself along with her socks and underwear.
The rumble of the engines starting thrummed through her bare feet. Kerry slipped out of the head and into the bedroom, giving herself a cursory glance in the mirror on her way to the dresser. “Wow. Check the drowned rat out.” She pointed at herself. Her skin showed a few light scrapes and the red mark where she thought she’d been stung by a jellyfish. It still throbbed, and she winced as she pressed lightly against the spot.
The boat moved, and she grabbed quickly at the dresser, holding her balance. She waited for the turn to finish and the bow to straighten out, then she tugged dry clothes from the dresser and slid into them. Then she grabbed a rain slicker from the closet and pulled it over her head, pausing to chuckle when the garment fell all the way to her knees. “Whoops.” She started to remove it, then stopped in mid motion and resettled the rubberized fabric around her.
Without really stopping to think about why she’d done that, she walked to the galley and grabbed a bottle of water from the small refrigerator. Popping the top open, she sucked down a few gulps to get the taste of the sea from her mouth, and then headed for the door.
Dar settled soggily into the captain’s chair, wincing at the uncomfortable dampness of her clothes. She adjusted the throttles and guided the boat out of the dock, reasoning that she could get Kerry to take the helm long enough for her to change when they were out and into open water.
The rain beat steadily down on the roof covering her, and Dar leaned forward to see better through the plastic as she guided the boat out into the channel. She turned at the buoy and nudged the engines forward, setting off after the disappearing speck that was DeSalliers craft.
She’d barely had time to relax when she heard Kerry climbing up the ladder. Dar turned to see her lover appear on the flying bridge, dressed in a blue slicker obviously not her own. Kerry scooted under the bridge cover and pushed the hood on her raincoat back, exposing disheveled blond hair. “Nice jacket.”
“You like it?” Kerry presented her with the bottle of water, and then draped her arms over Dar’s s shoulders. “I think I got stung by a jellyfish, Dar.”
“Yeah?” Dar set their course, and then turned her attention to Kerry. “Where?”
Kerry pulled her overlarge jacket up and then her shirt, exposing her belly. “There.”
Dar peered at it, gently touching the angry red mark. “Does it hurt?” She looked up at Kerry’s face. “Not just sting, actually hurt?”
“A little.” Kerry admitted. “It’s sort of throbbing.” She explained. “Otherwise I wouldn’t have even mentioned it, Dar. I mean, I’ve gotten hit by men o’war before.”
“Did you clean it off with anything?”
Kerry shook her head. “Didn’t think I needed to – do I?”
“I don’t know.” Dar frowned. “Did you see what kind of jellyfish it was?”
“No.” Kerry sat down next to her. “It’s okay, I think. It hurt a lot when it first happened, but now it’s just annoying.” She scanned the horizon. “What’s the plan?”
Dar opened the small cabinet under the console and removed a brown bottle and a small packet of gauze bandage. “Pull that jacket back up.” She ordered, opening the bottle of alcohol and wetting the gauze.
“Shouldn’t you be watching where we’re going?” Kerry teased gently. “Instead of playing with my navel?” Nevertheless, she hiked up the fabric and the shirt underneath, sucking in a breath as the gauze touched her skin and burned. “Ow.”
“Some of those stupid things leave stinging cells.” Dar told her. “Hold the wheel while I do this.”
Kerry curled her fingers around the metal, keeping them on course as she felt Dar carefully clean the still painful spot on her belly. The throbbing seemed to be getting a little worse, but she figured that was because Dar was messing with it. “What are we going to do when we catch up to them?”
Dar finished her task and gently pulled Kerry’s shirt down, then arranged the rain jacket over it. “Just watch.” She said, giving Kerry a little pat on the side. “Maybe we can maneuver him into revealing what his game is.”
“I hope so.” Kerry sat back down and sighed.
Dar glanced at her. Kerry’s profile seemed tense, and she could see tiny creases around her eyes. “Hey.”
Kerry looked over, her green eyes visibly bloodshot. “Hm?”
“We don’t have to do this.”
The blond woman cocked her head. “Huh? I thought you wanted to go after them.”
“You don’t look so hot.”
Kerry swallowed, her brow contracting. “I’m fine.” She told Dar.
Dar looked doubtfully at her.
“Dar.” Kerry’s voice took on a hint of impatience. “I’m not a little kid.”
“I didn’t say you were.” Dar fiddled with the controls, fidgeting over the throttles. “I’m just wondering if being out here chasing down a nutcase in the rain is such a good idea.” She said. “Maybe we should just drop it, Ker.”
Kerry propped one bare foot up against the console and studied it. She could hear the upset in Dar’s voice and knew she was at the root of it. “I think…” She paused, and really considered her words. “I think if we’d dropped it at the very start, that would have been okay.”
Dar watched her out of the corner of her eye.
“But now, I think we have to see this through. You know?” Kerry said. “I don’t like the idea of running away, and if we just ducked out now, knowing what we know, then that’s how I’d feel.”
“Mmph.” Dar grunted grudgingly. “This was supposed to be a relaxing vacation.” She countered. “For both of us.”
Kerry reached out and circled Dar’s arm with her fingers. “Do you want to stop?” She asked with quiet sincerity. “Sweetheart, if that’s what you want, we’ll do it.” Her hand tightened slightly.
Dar fastened her eyes on the horizon, pondering in silence for a very long minute. She felt torn between her desire to know the truth, and her equally powerful desire to protect Kerry.
“Dar?” Kerry uttered softly.
“Why don’t we compromise? Let’s not follow them. Let’s circle around the other side of Charlie’s island, and watch from behind that point on the west side. “
Dar adjusted the throttles a little. “And?” She probed the idea cautiously.
“That way, we don’t force a confrontation, and we can just sort of satisfy our curiosity.” Kerry reasoned. “And if there’s nothing going on, we can... um...” She plucked gently at Dar’s damp sleeve. “Get a lot more comfortable downstairs.”
It was an acceptable plan, Dar decided. “Okay.” She agreed. “I can go with that.”
“Cool.” Kerry grinned briefly. She slid over on the seat a little, and leaned against Dar’s damp body, laying her head on Dar’s shoulder. The throbbing from her sting seemed to be getting worse, and she now had a headache, but she reasoned that it was nothing a little relaxing in Dar’s proximity couldn’t cure.
The boat shot on in the rain, now in a curving path that left DeSalliers to disappear over the horizon.
The second time she felt the chill, Kerry realized something was wrong. Despite the protection of her rain slicker, she felt cold, and her throat seemed to be closing making it hard to swallow. She debated trying to ignore the feeling, but her better sense intervened. “Dar?”
Her partner looked quickly at her. One hand lifted and touched the side of her face. “You okay?”
Kerry’s lips twitched. “I don’t think so. I feel kind of lousy.” She admitted. “I’m cold and my throat hurts.”
Dar put a hand on her forehead, and cursed. She turned and surveyed their surroundings with anxious eyes. They were nearing the north side of Charlie’s island, but otherwise they were in a large patch of quiet, empty sea.
She slowed the engines, and then stilled them, checking the depth meter as they drifted.
“Wh...” Kerry stopped, finding it a little hard to breathe. “What are you doing?” She watched Dar work the boats controls, and realized suddenly her hands were shaking. “Dar?”
“Need to get you below.” Dar spoke quietly, with a world of tension in her voice. “I’m going to drop anchor.” She did exactly that, and the rattle of the deploying anchor was suddenly loud as she cut the engines. “C’mon. I’ve got a kit downstairs I think we’re gonna need.”
Kerry wasn’t really sure what was going on, but she stood, holding on to Dar’s arm when her knees suddenly threatened not to hold her. “Oh boy.”
“Hang on to me.” Dar clasped her around the waist, and guided her to the ladder. “You’re having a reaction to whatever stung you, I think.”
“Oh.” Kerry shivered, feeling like she was underwater trying to breathe. “My throat… feels kinda thick.” She kept her breath for climbing, feeling the utter security of Dar wrapped around her. “Feels funny.”
They reached the deck and Kerry’s legs buckled under her. “D...”
“I’ve got you.” Dar picked her up bodily and carried her into the cabin, kicking the door open and taking Kerry from the confusion of the rain and warm air to the cooler quiet. Kerry sucked in air, hearing the rasp in her own breathing, and it occurred to her suddenly that she should be scared.
She felt the cool fabric of the couch against her lower legs as Dar put her down. “D... Dar?” She clutched Dar’s arm in shivering fingers, as she felt Dar slide a pillow under her head, propping her up a little.
“Just stay quiet, and try to relax. I’ll be right back over here.” Dar told her.
Kerry just watched, her breathing now coming in shallow heaves. She felt like there wasn’t enough oxygen in the air, and as Dar came back over and knelt next to her, she noticed her fingers and toes were tingling. An unreasoning fear swept over her and she started to panic.
“Ker… Ker... take it easy.” Dar’s voice penetrated the haze around her.
“Da… I can’t breathe.” She panted.
“Sweetheart, I know. Just give me a minute. Hang in there.”
Kerry felt, suddenly, something cold against her arm. “Wh… “She turned her head and saw Dar bringing a needle close to her, its length quivering as Dar’s hands shook. Kerry looked up at Dar’s face, and saw a fierce, intent mask, eyes widened in fear and that terrified her.
Was she going to die?
A soft cry escaped her throat. She felt a sting and her arm jerked, then a solid bolt of pain made her struggle, panting, unable to draw in a decent breath.
Dar’s weight pressed against her abruptly, pinning her down. Kerry felt panic take over and she fought the hold, grabbing at Dar and pushing hard against the powerful body laying over her. One arm was grabbed, and held tightly, and she felt another prick.
Then a chill.
Then a hot, strange sensation under her skin where the needle had entered.
Then it was gone and she thought she heard a clatter of something going across the room. The weight came off her and the cabin whirled up and around and she couldn’t breathe and it was cold and….
The voice penetrated her confusion, somehow. Kerry coughed, and then inhaled in reflex, surprised when she was able to suck in a lungful of air. The bands of pressure around her chest eased and she shivered, huddling close to the source of warmth now wrapping itself around her.
Slowly, the tingling in her hands receded and she flexed them weakly. She could still feel harsh chills shaking her entire body and it was very hard to think straight. But she did know she was being held securely and she could feel Dar’s breathing pressed against her back.
At least she could breathe now. Kerry sucked in air gratefully, feeling completely drained. “Wow.” She whispered. “That sucked.”
She felt the faint jerk behind her as Dar almost laughed. She could hear the hammering of Dar’s heart where her ear was pressed against her chest and she coughed a little, hearing a rattling in her lungs that unnerved her. “Ungh.”
“Easy.” Dar finally spoke, easing back against the couch and cradling Kerry a little closer. Kerry’s face had taken on a pale gray tinge, and she could feel the shivers working their way through her body. Now that the shot of medicine, a stimulant she always carried, was administered there was not much more Dar could do other than just be there for her.
There would be time later for her to curse herself out for not seeing the signs. Time later for her to be angry she hadn’t checked Kerry’s sting further, or taken more precautions, or…
Dar exhaled. Kerry had never had a reaction to a sting before. Truth be told, Dar kept the shots on board for herself, since she’d gotten stung once at age ten and had almost gone into convulsions from it. “Easy, honey.”
Kerry simply lay there quietly, her head resting against Dar’s chest. Her hand rested limply on her partner’s, her thumb moving ever so slightly. “Dar?” She murmured.
“Am I dying?”
Dar felt her blood pressure shoot up so high she got light headed and she saw sparkles in front of her eyes. “No, sweetheart.” She answered softly. “Please don’t even think that.”
It was like listening to constant thunder. Kerry almost couldn’t count the beats. She rolled her head to one side and looked up fuzzily, seeing the stark fear written across her lover’s face. Her hand lifted to touch Dar’s jaw and she felt it quiver under her fingers.
No. Kerry blinked. She couldn’t die, now could she? Dar needed her.
“Never felt like this before.” Kerry burred. “What happened?”
Dar swallowed, and then impatiently wiped her forearm across her eyes. “You reacted to that damn fucking sting.”
Kerry’s eyebrows lifted slightly. “Ouch. Never did that before.” She felt another chill take her, and she burrowed into Dar’s embrace, seeking warmth. Her arm ached, and she looked at it with a frown. “Ow.” She touched the sore spot.
“Sorry.” Dar shifted. “Had to stick you pretty fast.” She drew in a breath. “How about I get you into bed? Bet the covers’ll feel good.” Her voice sounded a little rough. “Should get you in to the hospital on St. Johns.”
Hospital. Kerry’s nose wrinkled. Ick. “How bout we start with bed.” She conceded. “But only if you come in there with me.”
“You’re in no position to be bargaining, Kerrison.” Dar’s tone had gentled, and Kerry could hear her heartbeat slowing down and steadying. “You need a doctor.” But she carefully stood up, letting out a little grunt of effort as she picked Kerry up and cradled her. She walked slowly into the bedroom, turning sideways to get them both inside the door and then putting Kerry down on the bed.
Kerry gazed at her through half closed eyes as Dar examined her. “Urmph.”
With a sigh, Dar unzipped the raincoat Kerry was still wearing, and pulled it off. Then she drew the covers over her partner’s body, tucking them in carefully around her. The blond woman’s skin still had an unhealthy tinge, and she was shivering. “We’re heading back.” Dar told her.
Kerry reached out and caught her hand, holding it. “Don’t leave me.”
Dar’s brows contracted. “Kerry, I’ve got to drive the boat, remember?”
“Don’t leave me.” Kerry begged softly. “Please?”
Indecision seared its way across Dar’s face, as she found herself caught between two overwhelming urges. Her better sense was telling her to get Kerry to a doctor’s care. However, she knew St. John’s was a long ride away, and by the time they got back there Kerry’s symptoms would most likely have faded.
“Let me get you something for your fever.” Dar temporized.
“And get those wet clothes off.” Kerry teased weakly. “We don’t both need to be sick.”
The coherence in her partner’s eyes reassured Dar immensely. “Okay. Don’t go anywhere.” She warned, as she turned and eased out of the bedroom.
“I won’t.” Kerry watched her go. She relaxed a little, and pulled the covers up more closely around her, relieved to feel her body starting to settle down. Her arm hurt where Dar had injected her, and the sting throbbed, adding that discomfort to her fever but she could now breathe easily and all the feeling had returned to her hands and feet.
“Son of a biscuit.” Kerry remarked to the cabin ceiling. “That was not funny.”
Not funny at all.
Dar walked into the galley and stood for a moment, then she slowly leaned on the counter and cradled her head in her hands. Son of a bitch. She thought silently. Son of a fucking bitch that was too close.
With a sigh, she straightened, letting her hands drop to her sides. She felt completely drained and her legs were still shaky, but she forced herself to walk over and pick the teapot up. Hot tea would not do anything particularly medical, but she knew Kerry liked the beverage. Besides, it gave her something to do.
Dar filled the pot and put it on the galley stove, then opened the cabinet and removed a bottle of Tylenol. She shook out a couple of the tablets and set them down, then removed Kerry’s mug from it’s hook and put it down next to them.
She studied the items, then shook a few more tablets out and palmed them, putting a little water in Kerry’s cup and using it to swallow the pills down. Then she turned and leaned on the counter, folding her arms across her chest as she waited for the water to boil.
The dampness against her forearms reminded her she’d forgotten to change. With a sigh, Dar pushed off the counter and walked over to where their bags were still resting on the table. She unbuttoned her shirt and removed it, draping it over the chair, then pulled her sports bra off, wincing at its clammy dampness.
Dry clothes felt good against her skin, and she felt a lot warmer as she crossed back over to the galley and poured the boiling water over the herbal tea ball she’d placed in Kerry’s cup. Steam rose, carrying the scent of blackberries to her nose. Taking a small jar of honey from the refrigerator, she drizzled some into the cup and carefully stirred it.
When she was satisfied that it was perfect, she picked up the Tylenol, tucked a water bottle under her arm, and secured the teacup. With a glance around the cabin, she headed back for the bedroom, entering the door and sweeping her eyes over the bed with badly hidden anxiety.
Kerry was right where she’d left her, curled on her side with her arm wrapped around her pillow. Her eyes were half open, watching the door and they widened as Dar entered. “Ah. There you are.”
“Here I am.” Dar agreed, setting her burden down on the bedside table. “How are you feeling?”
“Feeling like I want my Dar.” Kerry reached out and fingered the soft cotton of Dar’s shorts.
Dar sat down on the edge of the bed and put her hand on Kerry’s forehead. It was warm to the touch, and her color was still definitely off. “Sit up a minute, and swallow these.” She helped Kerry sit and handed her the pills, then uncapped the water bottle and held it while Kerry suckled a mouthful, then swallowed.
“Thanks.” Kerry leaned against her. “Jesus, I feel like hot boiled trash.”
“Hm.” Dar put her arm around her. “I bet.”
Kerry shivered. “That was really scary.”
“Oh yeah.” Dar picked up the cup of tea and offered it to her. “I was scared.”
Kerry cradled the cup in her hands, savoring its warmth. She took a sip of the sweet, hot tea and sighed. “I know.” She said. “I think that scared me the most.”
Dar eased off the bed and knelt in front of the dresser, opening up the lower drawer and rummaging in it. She found the small case she’d tucked inside when they’d boarded in Miami and picked it up, bringing it with her as she resettled herself on the edge of the bed.
“What’s that?” Kerry watched her curiously. Her eyes followed the zipper as Dar unzipped it, then the brows over them lifted sharply as she saw the blood pressure cuff inside. “Where in the hell did that come from?”
“Dr. Steve.” Dar replied quietly. “Gimme your arm.”
Ignoring the mild protest, Dar fastened the cuff around her lover’s toned arm and started pumping it.
“Do you actually know how to use that?” Kerry sighed.
“I can manually reprogram the flash bios of an IBM mainframe. I think I can figure it out.” Dar replied, watching the small gauge on the gadget.
Kerry exhaled unhappily, and her shoulders dropped.
Dar glanced up and caught the expression. “He made me bring it.” She explained gently. “I wasn’t gonna use it, but since I had to give you a damn bucket of stimulant…”
Kerry peeked at the gauge. “Hmph.” She tapped it with her other hand. “Damn.”
One sixty. Not good. Dar released some of the pressure, and checked again. Over one hundred. She unfastened the cuff from Kerry’s arm and rubbed it in attempted comfort. “Probably from the stimulant, sweetheart.” She offered. “Why don’t you lie down?”
Kerry meekly complied, still visibly unhappy.
Dar tossed the device onto the dresser and stretched out next to her, gently arranging Kerry’s disheveled hair with her fingers.
“Bah.” Kerry muttered.
“I bet when I check it later, it’ll be fine.” Dar gave her a sympathetic grin.
Kerry eyed her dourly, and then held a hand out. “Gimme that.” She pointed to the cuff.
Dar reached over and snagged it, then handed it over, surprised when Kerry wrapped it around her arm and started pumping. “Um…”
“Ah ah.” Kerry continued her task. “Fair’s fair, Dar. I thought your heart was going to come out of your chest before.” She finished pumping, and observed the results. “Hah.” She gave Dar a look. “Higher than mine, darling. Park your head on the pillow.”
Dar blinked in real surprise, looking down at her own arm. Then she gave Kerry a sheepish grin, and wriggled into a more comfortable position next to her partner. “I was stressed.” She commented. “You matter to me.”
Kerry tossed the cuff into the corner, and wrapped her arm around Dar as she put her head down on her shoulder. “I guess we’re letting DeSalliers go, huh?” She murmured. “Are we in this over our heads, Dar?”
Dar had her eyes closed, and she welcomed the easing of the headache throbbing across the back of her skull. She considered Kerry’s question for a few minutes. “I don’t know. Maybe.” Her body shifted a little, and she pulled Kerry closer. “Let’s take it easy for a while, then head back to St. Johns.” She rubbed Kerry’s back. “I’d like them to check you out, just in case.”
A green eyeball rotated up and fixed on her in faint accusation.
“I know, I know.” Dar sighed. “I’d be kicking and screaming at the mere suggestion.”
Kerry snorted softly. “Yes, you certainly would be.”
“Humor me.” The dark haired woman requested. “Please?”
Kerry grunted, having made her point. “Okay.” She closed her eyes again.
Dar put her arms around Kerry and hugged her. “Atta girl.” She said, then paused as she heard the sound of a motor approaching. She exchanged a quick glance with Kerry. “Let me go see what that is.”
Kerry hitched herself up on an elbow and watched as Dar got up and left. She considered the idea of following her, but her body protested, unwilling to move. She fluffed the pillow up behind her instead and settled back, tucking her feet up and picking up her teacup, inhaling the fragrant steam.
Dar threaded her way through the cabin and went to the door, opening it and looking outside. A medium size fishing boat was approaching them, with two men on the flying bridge and several others standing in the stern.
For a moment, she stared at them, and then comprehension dawned.
Dar didn’t see any real fishing gear on the boat, and the men were clustering together, watching her. Her heart rate started to increase, and for a single brief moment she wished she and Kerry were back in the office dealing with a multiple layered international cluster fuck. With a soft oath, she pulled her head back inside and bolted for the bench seat, yanking it open and pulling out the case “Ker!” She yelled. “Keep your damn head down!”
She opened the case and removed the shotgun, loading it hastily as she heard the engines throttle down outside. With a savage motion, she chambered a round, then jumped to the door and threw it open.
Two men were about to jump on board from the fishing boat’s bow. Dar braced herself and threw the gun up to her shoulder, sighting along the barrel as her finger curled around the trigger. “Hold it!” She barked loudly.
The men in the stern had guns. She could see them from the corner of her eye. But her immediate problem was the men on the bow.
“All right, lady! Take it easy! No body get hurt!” The man closest yelled at her. “You got one gun, we got ten. Now put that down, okay?”
“Fuck you!” Dar snarled back. “Touch the boat, and I’ll blow your damn cock off!”
The man lifted his rifle casually. “I’m telling you, lady! Put it down!”
Dar didn’t budge. She tightened her finger on the trigger, feeling the cold metal warm to her touch. “Back off!” She yelled at the man. “Get your asses out of here, you pieces of pirate shit!” A hand touched her back, and she almost jumped through the bulkhead. “Grrrr!”
“I’m calling the coast guard.” Kerry told her, in a low voice. “Tell them that.”
“G’wan, jump! She won’t shoot you! All talk!” The man on the stern yelled. “Hurry!”
Dar felt her heart lurch, as the man on the bow prepared to leap. She trained the barrel of the shotgun on him, and swallowed hard, not sure she was either willing or able to pull the trigger.
“Dar.” Kerry’s voice was tense.
I have to protect her. Dar’s inner voice spoke quietly. “Stay back.” She called over her shoulder, and then faced forward. The man tossed a rope over to the deck and climbed up onto the railing.
Dar steeled herself, and pulled the trigger. The gun bucked powerfully, jerking against her shoulder. Yells erupted.
Then she pulled it again. Splinters of white erupted all over the water as both shots blew through the hull of the pirate’s boat near the waterline. She pumped the shotgun and loaded two more shells into the chamber.
“Shoot her ass!”
“Get the fuck back! Get back! Holy shit!”
“Next one’s gonna put chum in the water!” Dar bellowed. “Instead of fucking fiberglass!” She swung the shotgun towards the stern, since the two men on the bow had dove for cover into the water. One of the men facing her brought his gun up and sighted down it, and their eyes met across their gun sights.
And in that moment, with her life on the line, Dar felt her fear drop away as the predator inside her woke. Her eyes narrowed, and a smile etched itself across her face and she knew way down deep that she not only could pull that trigger…
Her finger tightened
“Get the fuck outta here, man! We’re fucking sinking!” One of the men from the bow had climbed over into the stern and grabbed the wheel.
“Coast Guard, Coast Guard, mayday, mayday.” Kerry’s voice came from behind her. “This is Dixieland Yankee, a US registered vessel being attacked just north of AVI B21.”
“Fuck! They’re calling the coast guard! Get moving!” The man pointing the gun at Dar dropped his muzzle and ducked behind the cabin. “Move! Move!”
The fishing boat wallowed in the water, then its engines cut in, and the bow turned away from them. They gunned the motor and the bow lifted, two holes now visible against its white curve. As they left, one of the men on the stern lifted his rifle to his shoulder and pointed it at them.
“Shit.” Dar jerked back through the doorway, trying to get the door closed.
One of the man’s companions struck the muzzle up, then cuffed the man in the back of the head. The gun carrier reacted angrily, and smacked him with the butt of the rifle. They struggled; shoving each other as the boat retreated, curving widely towards the southern shore of the island just north of Charlie’s.
“We better get out of here.” Dar uttered tensely. “In case they come back.” She turned to find Kerry watching her with a pale face and widened eyes. “You okay?”
Kerry set the microphone down. She leaned against the cabin wall and exhaled. “Yeah.” Her voice held a rough note in it. “But heading back to some place where I can just…” She took a breath. “Take a nap would be very cool.”
Dar guided her over to the couch, and set her down on it while she put away the shotgun. “Curl up here, sweetheart. I’m pulling up the anchor and we’ll dock over by Charlie and Bud’s.” She said. “Bud’s a medic.”
“Bet his bedside manner’s a peach.” Kerry muttered, as she lay down on the couch. She watched Dar’s face as she closed the case, seeing the restless shift of her jaw muscles, and the tension etched across it. “Hey, Dar?”
“Yeah?” Dar didn’t look up.
Kerry reached out to stroke Dar’s leg. “That was really impressive.” She said.
Dar’s hands paused in their work. The dark head turned and their eyes met. Dar closed the bench seat and sat down on it next to Kerry, resting her forearms on her knees. “Was it?” She answered softly. “It just sounded like a bunch of pompous yelling to me.”
Kerry smiled. “It worked.” She said. “That was a great idea to put a hole on their boat.”
Dar gazed at the floor between her bare feet. Her mind drifted back to the feeling she’d had when the gun had centered on the man on the bow. There had been no fear, no confusion in her. She’d centered the sights on his chest.
Why hadn’t she pulled the trigger? What had sent the muzzle lower, to target the boat instead?
Dar lifted her head, and turned. “Yeah? Um... thanks.” She managed a smile. “I’m not sure it was all planned, but I’m glad I ended up doing the right thing.” She pushed herself to her feet. “Call me if you need anything, okay?” She ruffled Kerry’s hair, then walked to the door and eased through it.
Kerry felt her brow furrow. Her instincts told her something in Dar’s voice… in her manner... just wasn’t right. She heard the engines start up, followed by the clank of the anchor retracting, felt the motion as the boat headed towards the island.
Later, they’d have time to talk. Kerry put her head down on the couch arm and let her eyes drift shut. Then she’d figure it out.
Dar was in turmoil. The rain had stopped, and a weak splash of sunlight dusted her forearms where they rested on the boat’s control console. Things were just happening too fast, she decided. She was in a place where she was purely reacting, instead of driving what was going on and she wasn’t used to that.
“So I react like a freaking nutcase. Nice.” She stared glumly at the controls. “What the hell was that? A gun? Shooting people? What the hell is going on with you, Roberts?” Shaking her head, she turned the wheel a little, arcing the boat towards the end of the island. “I think I’m losing it.”
Dar jumped, and then picked up the microphone. “Right here. Everything okay?”
“Well...” Kerry’s voice crackled through the intercom. “You’ve got the mic keyed open, and it’s kind of tough for me to listen to you yelling at yourself when I’m not there to kiss you and make it better.”
“Oh.” Dar felt herself blushing. “Sorry.” She muttered. “I’m just a little rattled, I guess.” Her eyes lifted to the horizon, and she adjusted their course again. “Be glad to be in port.”
“Me, too.” Kerry replied.
Dar felt a pang of anxiety. “You feeling worse?” From pure instinct, she hit the throttles and increased their speed. On top of everything else, worry about Kerry’s physical condition was gnawing at her.
“No.” Kerry replied, a touch of warmth in her tone. “I just had some more tea, matter of fact. I think the fever’s down.” She said. “I think I just need some processing time.”
Dar relaxed a little, but her body still twitched, her leg tensing and releasing in a nervous tattoo. “Yeah.” She agreed. “Just take it easy, okay?”
“I will if you will.” Kerry’s wry retort came back.
“Mmph.” Dar released a gusty sigh. “Almost there.” She commented. “Might want to radio ahead to see if…. Crap.” Her eyes found a profile on the horizon as they cleared the northern point of the island and headed south west. Desalliers’ boat was hunched in front of the channel leading into the island’s dock, trolling in a tight circle.
“What?” Kerry answered, then after a rustling. “Oh, fudge. What the hell is he doing, Dar?”
Dar’s face tightened in anger. She felt a wash of rage flood easily through her, focusing a dark energy on the boat squatting arrogantly in her path. “He’s pissing me off.” She growled softly. “And he’s going to regret it.”
She turned the boat directly towards the harbor and gunned the engines. Almost immediately, the radio crackled to life.
“Approaching vessel, stand off and remain clear of our position.”
Dar clicked the mic. “Kiss my ass. You’re in my way. I suggest you get out of it.” She barked into the instrument, putting some of her tension and a lot of her pent up frustration behind the words. She could feel her temper building to the breaking point and curiously she had no desire to cap it off.
“Do not approach this vessel! We are conducting a search!”
“Get.” Dar let her voice deepen and intensify. “Out of my way.”
There was a moment’s silence, in which she directed the bow of the Dixie right for the center of DeSalliers hull.
Dar grinned unpleasantly. “Not in the mood, buddy.” She clicked the mic. “I’m going into that harbor.”
“Listen to me!” DeSalliers replied. “You can’t come through here. We’re in the middle of…”
“You’re the one not listening.” Dar told him. “I don’t give a damn what you’re in the middle of. Move or I’ll go right through you.”
It was, if you looked it, pretty crazy. Dar snarled, and rethought her words. “No. I’ve just got a sick passenger, and I need a medic. You’re between me, and that.”
There was a short period of silence, and she didn’t slacken her speed though she set her hands on the throttles. She almost jerked them backwards when the intercom crackled, aware of the dire tension running through her muscles.
She could hear the anxiety in Kerry’s tone. “Hang tight, love. I think I’m gonna win this point.” She uttered. “Jackass.”
The main radio blasted static at her. “All right, Roberts. We’ll clear you a channel past us, but slow down for Christ’s sake!”
Dar watched the other boat carefully, and saw the bow dip slowly towards her as it moved. With a satisfied grunt, she pulled the throttles back, dimming the rumble of her diesels and slowing the boat. There wasn’t much room in the channel for even DeSalliers boat, and as she got closer she could see they were trawling a net along the length of the big vessel and blocking the path into the harbor.
What in the hell was he doing? Dar shifted the Dixieland Yankee to the far southern part of the channel, protected by two seawalls of coral that stretched out into the sea. There would be, she realized, just barely enough room for her to squeeze by and any shift in the waves would send her against the coral.
DeSalliers’ small boat circled behind it, with a diver’s flag out. Dar could see faces turned her way, full of anger and resentment as she approached their position. She reduced speed to almost an idle, wishing she could see better what they were up to.
Two of the men pointed at her, and shouted, and Dar’s quick hearing detected the distinctive sound of a shutter closing. Occupied with the delicate task of maneuvering the tiny path she’d been given, looking wasn’t possible, but by the looks on the faces on that boat, she could guess what Kerry was up to.
Gotta love her. Dar watched her depth meter anxiously, tapping the throttles to get them past a bulge in the seawall.
The small boat cut towards them and got in her way. Dar slowed and let out a blast on their air horn in warning. The men yelled, and pointed at Kerry.
Dar raised her middle finger to them, and tapped the throttles.
The boat skimmed closer. Dar glanced behind her as the stern of the Dixie cleared DeSalliers boat, the bow empting of people as Kerry’s lens swept over them. “Kerry! Hang on!” She yelled back, as she threw the boat hard to one side, then gunned the engines and reversed course, building a wake that smacked into the smaller boat and sent it half onto its side.
One of the men on the boat catapulted over the side, and the boat swerved, its occupants screaming at her in words that the wind ripped away into incoherence. Dar wrapped her legs around the captain’s chair and swept past them into the islands small, protected harbor. A flush of wild triumph washed through her, muting the anger and forcing a chuckle from her throat at her successful maneuver.
They left DeSalliers behind and she pulled slowly into the cramped dock.
He wasn’t finished, however. “Roberts.”
Dar eyed the radio with a smirk.
“You only think you got away with that.”
Dar eased the Dixie into a vacant slip, not a difficult task since most of them were. She picked up the radio. “You only think you let me.” She replied. “Have a great day.” With that, she dropped the mic onto the console and shut the engines down, leaping to her feet and heading for the ladder.
Kerry was standing on the stern deck, wrapped in a jacket and pale faced. She turned as Dar slid down the ladder and let her camera looped around her neck rest on her chest. “Wow.” She exhaled.
Dar hopped to the railing, then onto the dock to secure their lines. “Wow wasn’t the word I had in mind.” She told Kerry, as she leaped back onto the deck. “Stupid son of a bitch… I don’t’ know what the hell he thinks he’s doing, or who he thinks he is, or what the hell he’s looking for but…”
A loud clank made them both jump. They froze for an instant, then moved to the other side of the boat and looked down.
“Me.” A bedraggled, ragged figure was hanging onto one of their buoy lines. “Is what he’s looking for.”
Kerry gripped the railing, and blinked. “Bob?” She uttered.
“Son of a…” Dar gaped at him.
Bob tugged off his mask and coughed his face pale and strained. “Fifty psi left.” He looked completely drained. “He almost got me.”
Dar and Kerry looked at each other. Kerry rubbed her eyes, very obviously at a complete loss. She gave Dar a plaintive, sheepish look and lifted both hands in appeal.
Dar scratched the back of her head, and then shook it, having nothing really to add to the emotion. She leaned over the railing, substituting action for reaction, and extended a hand. “Gimme your gear.” She told Bob. “Come round to the back. There’s a ladder.”
Bob gave her a wry look. “Thanks.” He unbuckled his BC and tank, and lifted it high enough for Dar to grab it. “I know I’m not what you wanted to find hanging off your lines.” His eyes shifted to Kerry, then dropped.
“At this point…” Kerry walked over to the deck chairs and sat down on one, despite its dampness. “If Harry Houdini showed up clipped to the rudder, it wouldn’t surprise me.” She slumped in the chair, the fever and residual effects of the jellyfish poison taking over as the adrenaline faded.
Dar let the ladder down, and set Bob’s scuba gear in the corner. She put a hand on Kerry’s shoulder, and squeezed it gently. “I’m going to go see if Bud’s at home. Hang in there, love.” She started to jump to the dock, and then paused, pointing a finger at Bob who had just emerged wearily onto the deck. “Mess with her, and I’ll tie you to that pylon and call your friends to come pick you up. Got me?”
Bob froze, and looked at her, wide eyed. “Yes, ma’am.” He squeaked, at the menacing scowl directed at him.
“And you’re gonna tell us what the hell’s going on when I get back.” Dar added, in a growl. “So get your story ready.” She turned and leaped for the dock, landing gracefully and stalking towards the shore.
Bob sat down on the stern rail and blinked at Kerry, who gazed wanly back at him. “I can guess what you must be thinking.” He murmured, awkwardly.
“No you can’t.” Kerry sighed, putting aside images of bubbles and hot fudge. “Really.”
“Oh.” Bob studied the deck. “Hey, listen, I’m sorry I…”
“It’s okay.” Kerry gently cut him off.
Bob peeked up at her, noticing her pallor. “Are you sick or something?”
“I got stung by a jellyfish.” Kerry told him. “It’s been kind of a crappy day.” She exhaled, turning her eyes towards the shore and willing Dar to reappear. “Hopefully, it won’t get worse.”
Prudently, Bob kept his thoughts strictly to himself.
Bud straightened, resting his hand on the edge of the bed as he knelt next to it. On the bedside, a small olive drab kit rested a coiled stethoscope sitting snakelike on tip.
Kerry was lying quietly on the bed, the covers pulled up to her waist. Her eyes moved between Bud and the visibly restless Dar lurking behind him, and a faint smile crossed her face. “Find anything?”
“Jelly sting’s fine.” Bud issued a half shrug. “Ain’t much you can do for that cept what Dar did.” He glanced behind him, then looked back at Kerry. “Fever’s from a bug. Here.” He tossed a packet onto her chest. “Penicillin. Take one now, every twelve hours, two days.” He paused. “Unless you’re allergic to it.”
“I’m not.” Kerry shook her head slightly. “Thank you, Bud. I really appreciate this.”
He got up and turned to Dar. “You wanna tell me what the crap on the radio was all about?”
Dar considered the question. Bob was tucked away in the spare room across the hall, keeping silent. She wanted to get to the bottom of his story, but she k new Bud deserved some kind of explanation, especially since he’d dropped everything to come and check Kerry out. “Sure.”
Behind them, Kerry was swallowing one of the tablets Bud had provided her, drinking down the rest of the bottle of water that had been sitting at her bedside. Her nose wrinkled a little at the pungent scent of the antibiotic, but she was glad to trade that for the chills racking her again. “Why don’t you go grab some coffee, Dar. I’m just going to lie here and vegetate for a while.”
Dar studied her, the pale blue eyes shadowed and the brows over them tensed and lowered. After a moment she nodded, however. “Sounds good to me. Bud?”
Bud picked up his kit and grunted. “Java works.” He looked briefly at Kerry. “Drink water. It’ll get that crap out of you.” With that, he turned and followed Dar out of the bedroom.
Kerry pulled the covers up higher and looked up at the open hatch, admitting a splash of sunlight that brought out the warm colors in the comforter. She still felt lousy, but knowing what the problem was eased her mind and erased some of the fear that had started to nibble away at her composure. She’d been afraid that the fever had been connected to the sting, and that maybe the sting had been something other than a jellyfish. She’d read enough horror stories about marine snakes and their venom for all sorts of bad ideas to begin circulating but Bud’s words along with the fact that the sting mark was fading reassured her immensely.
As the tension faded, fatigue replaced it and she found she couldn’t keep her eyes open. Though she wanted to hear Bob’s explanation, she knew it would have to wait until Bud left. Kerry felt the gentle rocking of the boat soothing her and she surrendered to it, allowing sleep to finally claim her into its healing embrace.
“So.” Bud examined the cup of coffee Dar had provided him. “What’s the gig?”
Dar had seated herself across from him, and she took a swallow from her own cup before she answered. “Guy who chased us the other night.” She said. “He’s a big money treasure hunter.”
Bud sipped his coffee, holding the cup in his whole hand rather than by the handle. “DeSalliers. We heard.” He said. “He’s a right bastard.”
“Mm.” Dar agreed. “He wants something off that wreck we dove the other day.” She said. “He wouldn’t say what.” Her eyes studied Bud’s face. “The kid we picked up the other night’s also after something on the same wreck.”
Bud’s grizzled eyebrows lifted in surprise. “No shit?”
The retired sailor leaned back, his attitude relaxing and opening a little. “It’s just an old trawler. I’ve dove it.” He said. “Got some nice holes for lobsters, but that’s’ about it.” He frowned. “Though…” His voice trailed off. “Now, hold on.”
Dar leaned forward, cocking her head.
Bud tapped his forehead with two powerful fingers. “Remember a story I heard when that damn thing sank.” He muttered. “Somethin about maybe some kinda fight on board made it go under in the storm.” He got up and prowled through the cabin, his muscular body shifting under the light tank top he wore. “Didn’t really pay attention to it.”
Dar watched him stop and study a picture on the wall, then turn and look out the window. “But that was years back.”
Bud nodded. “Yeap, it was.” He turned and regarded her. “So why drag it up?” He asked. “Cops just buried it back then. No one cared.” He walked back over and sat down. “Charlie’d remember. He listens to all that crap.”
“He around?” Dar asked casually.
“Be back round sunset.” Bud replied. “Had to go over to the big island for something.” He leaned back, seemingly relaxed. “Hey, listen. Charlie told me about what you offered. Thanks.” His eyes met hers. “I know I act like a jerk sometimes. Sorry.”
Dar eased into a more comfortable position. “Going to take me up on it?” She asked directly.
Bud shook his head. “We’re fine.” He dismissed the idea. “I worked something out.” His eyes roamed over the inside of the boat again. “So now what?”
“With DeSalliers?” Dar asked.
Bud nodded. “He took off out of the harbor. Headed east.”
Figures. Dar leaned her head against the back of the chair. “I dunno.” She mused. “First thing’s first – Kerry needs to get well.” She looked over at him. “Thanks for checking her out.”
Bud issued a rare smile. “She’s a nice kid.” He allowed. “Sweet.”
Dar felt her own face tense into a returning grin.
“Never figured you to get all wrapped up like that.” Bud drawled. “Thought you’d end up a lonely old salt and not ever been in the Navy for it.”
Dar’s nostrils flared slightly. “I thought I would too.” She admitted. “Life’s weird sometimes.”
Bud nodded, then he set his cup down and stood up. “I gotta get the kitchen cranked up for Charlie.” He said. “Heard some weather’s brewing up east of here.”
“Great.” Dar sighed. “Next time I swear, I’m gonna go skiing.”
Bud snorted. “Holler if Kerry’s feelin any worse.” He put the cup down in the galley sink. “I’ll send Rufus down when Charlie gets here.”
“Thanks.” Dar stood and walked him to the door. They were about the same height, and the slight rolling swagger he had reminded her strongly of her father. She was glad Bud’s attitude had softened a little. Maybe he’d just needed a little while to think things through.
They emerged onto the stern deck, to a wash of late afternoon sunlight filtering through the trees. The air bore a sweet scent of gardenias, and a sense of quiet peace pervaded the scene. In somber contrast to the chaos of the previous hours, now the sleepy spell of the tropical sea surrounded them as the tide lapped gently at the docks.
Bud stepped off the boat, and lifted a hand, then turned and walked back up towards the buildings without a word or backward glance.
Dar leaned against the cabin and watched him for a moment. A few more puzzle pieces seemed to have been delivered to her, and now she took them, juggling them mentally as she went back inside the cabin to collect a few more. “Now.” She eyed the spare bedroom. “Let’s put two and two together and see if we get something other than zero.”
With a determined look, she headed for Bob’s hiding place.
The sun was setting, slices of reddish gold light peeking through the hatches and splashing across the hardwood floor. Kerry gazed fuzzily at them, then blinked her eyes open wider and stifled a yawn. She cocked her head, hearing low voices nearby, recognizing them after a moment as Dar and Bob.
Her head seemed clearer, and it hurt less. Kerry stretched, grateful for that. She could still feel a little chill, and there was an ache in her bones, but she found her curiosity prodding her past the discomfort and urging her to get up and go find out what was going on.
Accordingly, she eased out of bed, and padded over to the dresser, removing a sweatshirt from the bottom drawer and tugging it on over her head. She paused a moment, sniffing the distinctive smell of home in its folds, then pulled it down into place.
She stopped by the dresser and peeked at her reflection. “Uck.” She picked up Dar’s brush and ran it through her hair, settling it into some kind of order. Then she eased out the door and into the main cabin. Dar was sitting in one of the easy chairs, facing Bob. Dar’s eyes lifted as Kerry entered and her face shifted into a warm smile, which Kerry returned. “Hey.”
Bob turned around. “Oh. Hi.”
“How’re you feeling?” Dar asked.
“Eh.” Kerry cleared her throat. “What’s going on out here?” She went into the galley and retrieved a bottle of juice, pulling the top off as she trudged over to where Dar was seated, and plopped into the chair next to her. She tucked her feet up under her and leaned on the arm, sipping her juice quietly.
“I was.. um.. just kind of getting into why I’m here.” Bob said. “But first, I’d kinda like to apologize for getting you both mixed up in all this.” He went on. “When I came out here, I thought I could get in and get out, and no one would be the wiser.”
Dar reached over and scratched Kerry’s back lightly. “All right, but let me get this straight.” She said. “Your grandfather was the captain of that fishing trawler that went down just west of here.”
“Right.” Bob nodded.
“He left a fortune.”
“The fortune went to his eldest son, your uncle.” Dar continued.
“Nobody else got anything.”
Bob nodded. “He’s tighter than a ten year old girdle.”
“I knew money had to be at the root of this.” Kerry muttered in disgust, getting a startled look from Bob. “Let me guess – grandpa took a treasure chest with him, and you’re trying to find a few pieces of eight to raise a family on, right?”
“Um. No.” Bob exhaled. “Actually, I’m trying to prove my uncle killed my grandfather, and get him charged with murder.”
Two perfectly still faces with identical expressions of startlement faced him for a long beat, then Dar and Kerry looked at each other.
“O…okay.” Dar said. “You have reason to think he did it?”
Bob nodded. “If I can prove it, the will’s broken and the rest of the family will take over the inheritance.” He said. “Oh I won’t pretend to altruism. I’m due for about a tenth of it. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life behind a desk, and that’ll keep me in style.”
Kerry sipped on her juice to keep herself from commenting.
“What the hell are you looking for?” Dar asked.
Bob gave her a wary look. “I can’t say.” He said. “It’s very confidential.”
Kerry rolled her eyes.
“It’s something of my grandfathers.” Bob said hastily. “We thought it had been destroyed in a fire at his house, but just recently we found out it hadn’t.” He ran a hand through his hair. “So I decided to try and find it. I figured the wreck was the only place left to look.”
“You weren’t the only one, I guess.” Kerry finally commented.
“My uncle hired DeSalliers to salvage every speck of the wreck, after DeSalliers boasted he was the best in the business. He’s paying him a gold mine to do it.” Bob admitted. “And his reputation is at stake.”
“That’s what he meant.” Kerry murmured. “About being hoisted on his own reputation.”
Bob stared at her. “You talked to him?”
“Long story.” Dar cut him off. “Your plan sucks. He almost caught you today, and if he’s got a few more days to get a salvage barge in place, you’re sunk.”
Bob blinked. “Um… well, yeah.” He confessed. “I thought I’d have more time. He surprised me.” He sighed. “I don’t know. It was probably a bad idea to begin with.”
Kerry scratched her jaw, her green eyes in wry agreement with him. “Even if you could find whatever this is – do you really think you can make a case against your uncle?” She asked skeptically. “People with lots of power and money don’t give it up that easily.”
Bob sat up. “I’m sure the police will help us, once they see the evidence.” He told her. “That’s their job.”
Dar snorted. “Well.” She got up and walked to the door. “Good luck.” Her eyes searched the dimming horizon, streaked with gentle orange light. “You’re gonna need it.”
Bob stood up and peered out the window towards the west. “I know I can do it.” He said. “I just need the time to look – if I could only get that bastard DeSalliers off my back for a few days!” He straightened up and turned. “Well, anyway. Thanks again. I know you didn’t mean to rescue me for the second time, but boy, I appreciate it.”
Dar remained staring out at the sunset.
“I’m glad we were in the right place at the right time.” Kerry gracefully picked up the ball. “Where are you going now? You can’t try the wreck again – he’ll get you next time.”
Bob sighed. “Yeah.” He said. “I don’t know. Maybe I can check out the drift shops on the islands. Maybe what I’m looking for has already been picked up, and it’s there.”
“Don’t you think DeSalliers has thought of that?” Dar asked, from the doorway. “I bet his little gumshoes are looking right now.”
Bob smiled. “He would, if he knew what he was looking for.” He eased past Dar, then turned, with a faint, half crooked smile. “But he doesn’t.” He picked up his gear, and stepped off the boat onto the dock. “Thanks again.” He said to Dar. “Hope Kerry feels better soon.”
He turned and started walking up the dock, slinging his gear over one shoulder as he carried his tanks in the other.
Dar turned and went back inside the cabin. She found Kerry waiting, one leg slung over the arm of her chair as she finished her juice. “He’ll never find it.” She said. “Whatever it is.”
Kerry wiggled her toes. “Probably not.” She agreed. “You think there’s anything to his story?”
Dar sat down on the couch and extended a hand out to her. “C’mere.” She wrapped her arms around Kerry as she complied, pulling her down into her lap and leaning back on the couch. “I don’t’ know.” She answered the question. “Right now, I don’t really care.”
Kerry put her arms around Dar’s neck and nuzzled her cheek. “What a mess.” She found Dar’s ear invitingly close by, and despite the fact that she still felt like heck, she gently suckled the tasty looking earlobe. Dar’s arms tightened around her, and she laughed softly.
“Mmm.” Dar hummed. “Feeling better?”
Kerry gave her a kiss on the cheek. “How could I not feel better?” Her lashes brushed Dar’s skin, tickling it and making the dark haired woman smile. “How about you?” She whispered into Dar’s ear. “You sounded kinda torked before.”
Dar hesitated, then sighed. “Yeah, I’m okay.” She said. “Just too much going on at once, I guess.” She admitted.
Kerry nuzzled her cheek again. “I think we’re due a vacation from our vacation, Dixiecup.”
“Mm.” Dar thought about the trials of the day, then decided dismissing them and simply immersing herself in Kerry’s presence was a much better idea. There was really no point in dwelling on it all anyway, was there? It was over, and in the past. Things had worked out all right.
Kerry was okay. She was okay. They knew what was going on. Now they could take off, and leave it all behind.
They were out of it.
Kerry suckled on her earlobe again, blowing gently into her ear. Dar closed her eyes and smiled.
Yeah. Everything was all right.
Dar woke to the soft clang of the buoy sea bell at the edge of the harbor. She blinked the sleep out of her eyes and looked around in slight confusion, taking a moment to recognize the dim interior of the boat around her.
She and Kerry were lying together on the small couch, limbs entangled. Dar had no idea what time it was, or how long they’d been sleeping, and she found herself quite willing to let her eyes close and drift back into peaceful oblivion.
Not that she could have gotten up even if she wanted to. Dar observed the slow, rhythmic rise and fall of Kerry’s chest up close and personal, since she was pinned under her lover’s sturdy form. Luckily for her, it wasn’t nearly as uncomfortable as it seemed and after she stretched her body out a little, she settled back down and amiably resigned herself to pillow duty.
However, after a few quiet minutes, Kerry stirred and made a tiny grumbling sound.
Dar scratched the back of her neck gently. “Shh.. go back to sleep.”
Kerry opened one eye and peeked at her. “Thirsty.” She muttered, with hoarse note in her voice. “Damn pills.”
“I’d get up and get you some water, but, um…” Dar reviewed their tangled bodies.
“But I’m squashing you.” Kerry got her hands on the couch and pushed herself upward, awkwardly getting to her feet. “Ooof.” She wavered a minute, then sat down again, putting her hand to her head. “Whoa.”
Dar immediately sat up. “Hey.”
“Just a little dizzy.” Kerry muttered. “I got up too fast.” She added. “I think.”
“And you also haven’t eaten anything since this morning.” Dar realized.
“Neither have you.” Kerry got to her feet a little more cautiously, then she held a hand out to Dar. “C’mon. Let’s go raid the fridge together.” She looked around. “What time is it?”
Dar picked up her cell phone as she stood to join her partner. “Eleven thirty.” Her eyes lifted to the cabin door. “Huh. Bud was supposed to send Charlie down when he got home. Guess he got caught up.” She tossed the cell to the table, then reached up to put her hand across Kerry’s forehead. “Ah.”
“No chills.” Kerry acknowledged. “Now I just feel like a dishrag.”
“Maybe we should call you terrycloth then, instead of Kerry.” Dar teased, relieved at feeling no fever in her partner. “C’mon.”
They walked together to the galley. Kerry slipped inside first and retrieved a water bottle from the fridge, popping it open and sucking several mouthfuls from it. She turned to find Dar rummaging the shelves, and put a hand on her partner’s shoulder. “Nothing exotic honey. Just some yogurt if it’s there.”
Dar retrieved a container and handed it up. “How about some toast to go with that.”
Kerry cleared her throat experimentally, feeling an ominous scratchiness. “I think my bug is migrating.” She informed Dar mournfully. “Ice cream would work better.”
“Ah.” Dar stood and gave her a sympathetic look. “How about some soup?”
“Mmph.” Kerry had popped the top on the yogurt, and spooned up a mouthful. It was plain, and cool and it made her throat feel better. “Only if you’re having some too.” She replied, bumping Dar lightly with her hip.
Dar felt her stomach growl at the thought. “Deal.” She agreed, searching in the cupboards for the appropriate cans.
Kerry took her water and yogurt and retreated to the table, sliding behind it and sitting cross legged on the bench seat. She nudged the indirect light on and sat there quietly munching. “If we both get sick, this is going to so suck, Dar.”
“Eh.” Dar shrugged, busy emptying things into one of the pots. “In that case, I vote we just find an empty beach, stake it out, and let the sun take care of it.”
“Relax. At worst, we spend a couple days in bed together.” Dar chuckled softly. “Is that so bad?” Taking a small oil candle from the cabinet, she lit it and walked over to set it down in front of Kerry. It made a friendly, warm flicker between the two of them, and Dar watched it a moment, before she went back to her task.
“If you put it like that, no.” Kerry messed with her yogurt, making small mounds of it with her spoon as she consumed it. Out of the corner of her eye she watched Dar in the galley, her profile quiet and somewhat somber as she heated up the soup. Absently, she lifted a hand and pushed a bit of hair behind one ear, then fiddled with it, a sure sign Dar was preoccupied with something. “This has sure been a day, huh?” Kerry asked.
“Yeah.” Dar glanced over, with a half smile.
“Those pirates had me a little spooked.” Kerry said. “Glad you knew how to handle them.” Her ears detected a hitch in Dar’s breathing, and a soft clank as her spoon whapped against the pot. “I know they didn’t hurt those other people, but getting tossed off the boat the way I was feeling… wow.”
Dar eased past the galley entrance and came over with two bowls of something steaming in her hands. She set one down in front of Kerry, then took the seat next to her.
“Mm.” Kerry sniffed. “Chicken noodle.”
Dar dabbled her spoon in her soup, propping her head up on her fist. “I wasn’t gonna let them take the boat.” She said. “But what was more important to me, was protecting you.”
Kerry took a spoonful of the hot soup and swallowed it, feeling a blessed sense of relief as it soothed her cranky throat. “You did.” She ate a small bit of carrot. “Protect me, that is.”
“Mmhm.” Dar nodded. “And anyway, you know how much I hate having anyone tell me what to do. I wasn’t going to let those scrungy bastards do it.”
“Aaabsolutely not.” Kerry smiled. “Not my Dar.”
That got a smile from Dar, and she stopped twiddling her spoon.
“So… why is that bothering you?” Kerry asked softly.
Dar looked up at her. “Did I say it was?” She asked, in a mild tone.
Kerry just looked her in the eye without saying anything. After a moment, Dar’s lips tensed into a wry half grin, and she ate a spoonful of soup to give herself time to think about her answer.
It wasn’t something she wanted to talk about. But if she couldn’t talk to Kerry about it, then who? There was no one on earth closer to her than her partner was, not even her father. Andrew, though, might well understand what she’d felt. Kerry surely wouldn’t.
Kerry simply waited, and ate her soup. Dar would either tell her, or she wouldn’t – further probing didn’t seem like a good idea.
Dar started to speak, then stopped, a mildly bemused expression on her face. She shook her head. “It’s actually pretty stupid.”
A blond eyebrow lifted. Stupid wasn’t something Dar usually applied to herself. “Hm?” Kerry made a small encouraging noise.
“When that guy on the boat pointed that gun at me, I almost shot him.”
Kerry waited, but when nothing else seemed to be forthcoming, she leaned on her elbows. “Okay.” She agreed. “And?”
Dar was sucking on her spoon. “For a minute there, I wanted to.” Her eyes fixed on something past Kerry’s head, with a pained, almost lost expression. “I wanted to kill that guy.”
“He was pointing a gun at you, sweetie.” Kerry answered matter-of-factly. “For that matter, I wanted to kill him too. It’s a good thing for him you were holding the shotgun.” She gazed at her lover. “Because if I saw anyone threaten you with a gun like that, I would kill them.”
Wasn’t quite the response Dar had been expecting. She regarded her adorable soulmate with bemused eyes, watching her slurp her soup. “So you don’t think that was a strange reaction, I take it?”
“To someone pointing a lethal weapon at you? NO.” Kerry snorted. “Do you?”
Dar reconsidered. “It just surprised me, I guess.” She admitted, remembering that moment of dark joy, and the fire that had seemed to fill her from within. Maybe it was normal, or at least, the alternative to dissolving into a puddle of fear. The tension inside her eased with Kerry’s obvious acceptance of the subject and she attacked her soup with greater gusto.
Kerry grinned to herself, and picked her bowl up, drinking from the side of it. “Now this.” She commented, after swallowing a mouthful. “Is guaranteed to send you straight to hell, on the other hand. If you believe my family.” She drained the bowl, then licked her lips. “Heh.”
Dar chuckled, a great deal more easily this time.
Kerry offered her a carrot. Dar’s eyes narrowed, and she bared her teeth. They both laughed, as Kerry relented and ate the vegetable herself. “You know, I like this.”
“Carrots? I know.” Dar replied, slurping a noodle.
“No, this.” Kerry indicated the flickering oil lamp. “It’s romantic. Almost like being around a campfire.”
Dar eyed the tiny flame, then looked at Kerry. One eyebrow lifted.
“Okay, so it’s a campfire for gerbils.” Kerry admitted. “I still like it.”
Her eyes went to the clock on the wall, then she remembered something. “Be right back.” Kerry slid out from behind the table and disappeared into the bedroom. After a minute, she returned, with her hands behind her back, and walked over to where Dar was seated, resting her chin on Dar’s shoulder. “Hi.”
Dar turned her head, so they were nose to nose. “Hi.” She replied.
Kerry removed her hands from behind her back and set a small box down in front of Dar. “Happy birthday, my love.” She leaned in and gave the shocked Dar a kiss on the lips. “You forgot, didn’t you?”
Dar stared at the box. She had forgotten completely that it was her birthday the next day. She and Kerry had agreed to exchange Christmas presents when they got home, so she figured… “Yeah, I did.” She answered softly. “Kerry, you didn’t’ have to…”
“Ah ah ah ah ah.” Kerry put her fingers over Dar’s mouth. “Just open it. Humor me. I’m a sick woman.” She slid back into her seat and watched as Dar examined the box, turning it over in her hands before she started to unravel the thin, lacy ribbon around it.
Dar’s face was a study in concentration as she carefully untied the knots and laid the ribbon down on either side of the box. Then she held the bottom steady with one hand and lifted the top with the other, setting it down before she removed the light layer of cotton fleece just under it.
Kerry waited. She saw the motion as Dar’s jaw muscles relaxed and the sudden reflection of the dim light on her widened eyes. “You’re tough to shop for.” She spoke quietly, more to give Dar a chance to collect herself than anything else. “And you’re one of the most conservative non traditionalists I know. So I thought you’d like something like this.”
Dar carefully lifted the gift out of the box and cradled it in her hand. She released a long held breath and looked up at Kerry. “It’s gorgeous.”
Dar looked back down at her hand. Resting in her palm was a pocket watch, its cover etched in fine gold and silver filigree, over a darker base. From the top, a twisted link silver chain trickled through her fingers. She gently opened the facing to reveal a face with large, crisp numbers, and a briskly sweeping second hand.
There was engraving on the inside of the cover. Dar tilted her head to read it. Because you make every moment of my life worth living. She stared at the words until they blurred and she had to close her eyes to blink the tears from them. Without a sound she put the watch back into its box and reached for Kerry, who readily squirmed into her arms for a hug.
Kerry felt the shudder as Dar inhaled, and the soft gasp as she buried her face in Kerry’s shoulder. She held the moment carefully in heart, understanding deep down that she could have written the words on a napkin and it wouldn’t have made a difference. “I love you.” She whispered in Dar’s ear, hugging her tightly.
Dar drew in a breath, held it a moment, and then exhaled, sniffling a little before she spoke. “Sorry. Didn’t mean to get you all wet.”
“Honey, you always get me all wet.” Kerry teased gently, rubbing Dar’s shoulders with both hands. She felt her lover’s body shake again, but this time it was with laughter. She rocked Dar back and forth, just loving her.
So what if she had a bug? So what if their vacation had turned into a bad television movie? She had Dar, and they had each other, and there was nothing else anywhere that could top that.
The soft sound of the waves trickled through the windows, on a breeze that ruffled the oil lap and threw a single shadow dancing against the wall.