Beta Read by Danae
Written for PetFly by Peter Lance
internal thought in italics
The man stared at the photograph gripped tightly in his shaking hands.
Sweat poured down his face, dripping into the dark moustache and trickling down his
temples. You should not have done this, Carita. His soft voice rose in a
violent crescendo as he stared at the photograph. I gave you my love
and this is how you repay me? You will live to regret the
day you betrayed me!
The framed photograph flew across the room to land in the huge tiled fireplace. The glass shattered into countless sharp shards, and the edges of the photo began to curl, withering in the heat of the flames. Unblinking, the man stared down into the contained inferno, watching as the delicate features of the young, blonde woman turned to ashes.
Under his breath, the man whispered, You shall pay, Carita. Oh, how dearly you shall pay.
Two days later
Against the menacing black of the gathering storm clouds, the small red and yellow plane appeared little more than a brightly colored fishing cork, bobbing up and down on the currents of air. Jim Ellison stared down into the churning waters beneath the plane and fought against the queasiness rising in his gut. He leaned his head against the seat back and focused on taking deep, calming breaths, the way Sandburg had shown him. Land had disappeared almost thirty minutes before, and ever since, Jim had been intent on keeping his discomfort under control. I can handle this, he assured himself. I know why I have this phobia now, and I don't have to surrender to it any more.
What his mind accepted, somehow, the rest of his body seemed determined to ignore. Jim looked down at the dark waters. At the sight of the waves, unbroken by any sign of terra firma, Jim's breathing quickened as a cold chill crept through his body.
"Jim? You okay, man?"
Jim averted his eyes from the sea to look at the face of his partner. The book Blair had been reading lay open in his lap, but the younger man had removed his glasses and was now regarding Jim with obvious concern in his blue eyes. Jim nodded quickly. I'm okay.
Reaching over, Blair laid a warm palm across the sentinel's forehead. "Well, you don't feel okay to me. You're chilled, man. Clammy, almost." Setting his book on the seat beside him, Blair turned to face his friend. "Close your eyes," he ordered gently.
Ellison obeyed even as he protested. "This won't work, Chief. I've already tried the deep breathing. I know we're all right. The plane isn't going to crash into that water, but still..." His words trailed away as images of the black, churning water took over his imagination.
Blair's voice was soft and low. "I know. It's not easy, Jim. Overcoming a phobia is a long process, and it really hasn't been that long since you got a handle on exactly why you're afraid of open water. Each time you confront the fear, its a step forward. I mean, look how great you did out on the Cyclops rig. This is just one more step toward living with what happened to you as a kid and dealing with the effect it had on your psyche."
Jim didnt reply as the calming voice murmured on. "Take deep breaths ... in ... out ... slow and easy." Long minutes later, Jim began to relax.
Finally, without changing intonation, Blair added, "Tell me about your cousin Rucker."
Jim released his breath, concentrating on the feeling of relaxation as it spread through his body. "Ruck's a couple of years older than I am. Actually, were second cousins. Our dad's are first cousins, but they never had much in common. Rucks dad was a great guy. They had the kind of home where the door was always open, and there was always a gang of kids hanging around. I stayed over there as much as I could. His dad died when Ruck and I were in our twenties." Jim took another deep breath and let it ease out slowly. "I really miss him, Chief. In many ways, he was more of a dad to me than my own father ever knew how to be."
"I'm sorry, man," Blair said quietly. "What about Rucker? How'd he end up in the Coast Guard?"
Jim chuckled, his eyes still closed. "Rucker and I followed similar paths, I guess. College, then the military. He was in the Navy where I chose the Army, but we both liked the military life. He stayed until last year when he joined the Guard." Jim considered the paths he and his cousin had chosen. "I don't know why we haven't seen each other more. Ruck and I were like brothers when we were younger, a lot closer than Steven and I have ever been."
So you guys spent a lot of time together when you were growing up?
Knowing intuitively where his partner was going, Jim nodded. Youre wondering if he picked up on my senses? He thought back, reaching into the recesses of memory, then he said thoughtfully, Maybe. I remember one summer in particular. We had gone fishing together - Ruck, his dad, and me. Rucker and I had gone for a hike in the woods. It was really windy that day, and the trees were blowing, making a lot of noise. I wasnt really focusing on anything. Hell, at that time, I had no clue how to focus my senses anyway. Jim glanced over at Blair and smiled. He allowed his eyelids to close again as he took another deep, relaxing breath. I heard the rattle over the whistling of the wind and shouted at Rucker to freeze just as he was about to step over an old, rotting tree. Ruck backed off quietly and slowly, then we circled wide to see the snake. It was coiled directly on the other side, right where his foot would have landed. Western rattler. Jim chuckled at the memory. Ruck never understood how I knew that snake was there.
So you saved his life.
I guess. He asked a few times how I heard the rattle over that wind. I just made up some line about having really good hearing. Guess he bought it because he stopped asking.
Thats no line, Blair pointed out dryly. You think he suspected that something was up with you?
Maybe. With Ruck, its hard to tell. He plays his cards pretty close to the vest. Jim let the conversation die, turning his concentration again to his breathing exercises. He wasnt sure how much time had passed when he felt Blairs gentle squeeze on his biceps.
"Hey, Jim," Blair said quietly. "I think we're here."
Jim opened his eyes and peered warily out the window. The plane was approaching a small island, the majority of which was covered with evergreens. Churning waves crashed against its rocky shore, their frothy foam splattering wildly on the dark boulders. To the west, a lighthouse stood in stark contrast to the gray rocks and green trees. Its cheery red cap crowned a tower painted white.
The plane gradually lost altitude, dropping closer and closer to the water. A surge of the old panic tightened Jim's chest, and he leaned his head back again, shutting his eyes against the vision of the approaching water. Beside him, Blair counseled quietly, "Just keep your eyes shut, Jim. We're almost down. Breathe...nice and slow...that's the way."
The landing was fairly rough. Tossing on the waves, the plane maneuvered up to the shore and the dock that projected into the water. The pilot, Eddie, hopped onto the pier, securing both ends of the plane with lines attached to metal rings.
Gratefully, Jim crawled out next, his duffel clenched tightly in his hand. Dropping the bag to the pier, he immediately turned away from the sight of all that water. "Oh, man," he muttered, scrubbing his hand across his face as he took a deep breath of fresh air.
"You okay there, Jim?" Eddie came up behind him. "I brought her down as smoothly as I could, given those waves."
Jim nodded quickly. "Yeah, I know. It wasn't your landing, Eddie. Just...those miles of open water." Blair came up and stood at his side, and he looked over at his friend, smiling weakly. "I got this...slight phobia."
"I suppose that's why you chose the Army over the Navy, right?" Blair teased gently. A moment later, as Eddie checked the mooring on the plane, he whispered, "You okay, man?"
The sentinel nodded and forced a smile, grateful for the concern in the blue eyes. "I'm fine, Chief."
"Good thing you boys brought your tackle boxes," Eddie pointed out as he straightened up from checking the plane. "The fishing's awfully good in these waters. You've got plenty of time for a good, fresh catch fried up nice and brown. Mmmm...mmm!" He eyed the storm clouds again. If the weather lets up, that is.
Jim turned a shade paler even as he chided himself inwardly for his reaction to the mention of fish. "Could we back off the seafood chitchat?" he suggested.
Smiling at his partner, Blair said, "Come on, Jim, buck up. You know, 'the time a man spends fishing is not deducted from his life.' "
Eddie's face lit up with a broad grin. "Isaac Walton, The Compleat Angler. He wrote that back in, uh..."
Blair jumped in to supply the missing information. "1633. That's great, man. So, theoretically, if you fish every day, you're going to live forever."
"Sounds good to me," Eddie agreed enthusiastically.
"Yeah," Jim muttered, "well, Sir Isaac must have run out of bait, 'cause last time I checked, he was still dead."
Cute, Jim. Really cute, Blair commented with a wry grin. Hey, is that your cousin Rucker?
Jogging down the steps from the hillside above was a man outfitted in yellow coat with a blue Coast Guard cap. Not quite as tall as Jim, Rucker Ellison wore a broad smile as he waved at the new arrivals.
Hey, cuz, Jim greeted him. How you doing?
The two men embraced then Rucker pulled back. You didnt have to do this, Jimmy. Its not like you could just drop by for a beer and pizza, yknow.
Jim smiled at his cousin. Rucker had never been one for big celebrations or anything else that might call attention to himself. Maybe thats why we always got along so well, Jim mused. Neither of us like being in the spotlight. I couldnt let you watch another birthday pass by on the rock alone, Ruck. Oh, I brought you some fresh company. This is my partner, Blair Sandburg.
Sticking out his hand, Blair greeted Jims cousin. Happy birthday! How you doing?
Good. Its good to meet you. His eyes shifted back to Jim. I uh I thought you were coming alone. As if realizing he might have offended Blair, Rucker added quickly, Not that youre not welcome, Blair. Its just a surprise, thats all. We dont get much company out here, yknow.
Jim nodded toward the tower standing above them. With Andy gone, I figured you could use a couple of extra hands to blow out the candles.
Whos Andy? Blair inquired, glancing from Rucker to Jim.
Rucker's reply was brief and to the point as he assisted Eddie with the bags. My first mate. Father took sick over in Cascade. Be back next week.
Thats too bad, Blair sympathized. Must be tough being short-handed around here. So its gonna be just the four of us then?
Eddie shook his head. Youll have to carry on without me. Ive got to head up to the res at Taholah and drop off some medicine. Ill swing back down and pick you guys up tomorrow afternoon as long as that storm blows over. No way were going to make it across this channel in a 40-knot gale. Looking at Rucker, Eddie added, Hey, buddy Happy birthday, man. He tossed Rucker a small package.
Rucker reached up and snagged the box. Thanks, Eddie. Plain brown wrapper, huh?
Grinning, Eddie turned back toward his plane. Its not what you think. Ill catch you later.
Take care, Eddie, Rucker cautioned. He looked out over the water at the heavy, black storm clouds that continued to roll in. The wind had picked up considerably during their time on the pier. South-southeast, he muttered under his breath.
Think its gonna be a big one? Blair asked.
Jim elbowed Blair in the ribs before bending to retrieve his duffel. They dont call this Storm Island for nothing, Chief.
Ooh Blair replied with a nervous glance at the threatening clouds, blowing in quickly now on the breath of the strong winds.
Laughing, the three men turned toward the Coast Guard station perched above them on the hill. Following Rucker, Jim and Blair began the climb up the wooden steps.
By mid-afternoon, the storms intentions were clear. Storm Island was
going to live up to its name. On the small Coast Guard station and dwelling, the shutters
banged wildly in the wind. Tree branches whipped furiously as the waves pounded the gray
rocks below with increasing intensity.
Closing one of the windows around the main room of the station, Rucker commented, This thing came up on us fast. The last time I checked, the weather service had it blowing a hundred miles south. Thats the thing with these storms, though. Theyre mighty unpredictable.
Jim focused his hearing on the sound of the waves beating against the rocks. Think your launch is okay out there?
Blair looked out the last open window at the launch bobbing on its mooring. I hope its okay. I sure wouldnt want to be marooned out here if that launch goes under. He stepped aside as Rucker came to close the window.
His cousin nodded as he shut the final window. Shes on a hurricane anchorage. Im more worried about the power in here. Gesturing vaguely in the direction of the lighthouse, he continued, They gave the lighthouse a systems upgrade a couple of years back, but the Coast Guard, in its infinite wisdom, hasnt put this place on its priority list yet. Grimacing at Jim, he added, You know the government, Jim. Common sense isnt exactly their forte.
Oh, yeah, I know the type, Jim agreed, bending down to pull a wrapped package from his duffel. Well, heres something for your troubles, Ruck. For the man who has everything. Its from me and Sandburg. Sitting down on the couch, Jim opened a back-issue of National Geographic and began flipping through it. An ironic smile touched his face at the first article he saw - The Threatened Rainforests of Borneo. Hed have to hide that one from Sandburg. Might give the kid second thoughts about what hed passed up.
Rucker laughed as he took his gift. An Extendo-Flexo Mini-Fishing Rod. Thank you.
Isnt that great? Blair exclaimed enthusiastically. You know, like, as seen on TV.
Which reminds me, Jim interrupted, if were cooped up here all weekend without being able to fish, where is your television? Theres a World War II movie marathon starting late this afternoon that sounded good. We could pop some corn, and His words trailed off at the look on his cousins face.
We dont have one, Rucker stated flatly, shaking his head.
Jim felt the same cut-off from civilization feeling hed had at St. Sebastians Monastery. No cell phone. No TV. No fishing. It wasnt that he hadnt managed to survive without the comforts of a modern lifestyle before. The jungles of Peru werent exactly a technological Mecca. But now, he didnt have to go without watching the Jags or his favorite movies, and Jim preferred to keep it that way. He tried to look at the bright side for Ruckers sake. At least they were going home on Sunday. His cousin lived this life 24/7.
Blair moved over to the computer. Thats okay, Jim. Ive been meaning to show you this cool site on Peru I found last week. Youve got an Internet link on this computer here, dont you? He looked at Jims cousin hopefully.
Rucker began opening the plain brown paper on Eddies gift. This is a working U.S. Coast Guard substation, kid. We pull twelve-hour staggered shifts, search and rescue, and we dont get HBO or the world wide web. Wouldnt be much time for it if we did. He looked at the package and smiles broadly. Oh, all right. Books on tape. The short stories of Jack London David Copperfield
See, Jim, Blair said, taking one of the tapes from Rucker. We can listen to the classics, man. He hesitated, his smile fading as he looked at Jims cousin. But this is in Chinese.
Rucker nodded. Yeah, Andy and I are learning Mandarin. Were hoping to make a trip to China one day. He grinned wryly. When our ship comes in, pardon the pun.
Jim caught the startled look in Sandburgs eyes and grinned.
You and Andy, huh? Blair asked, one eyebrow arching upward. You two must be really close. Of course, I guess youd have to get to know someone pretty well, living out here on an island, right? He handed the tape back to Rucker. Hey, Blair said, pointing to a tattoo on Ruckers arm. Whos Jennifer?
Rucker shrugged. Big mistake. I dont know what I was doing with that one. Pointing at Blair with a warning finger, he added, But thats not why I live here, all right?
Blair raised both hands in a gesture of surrender. Sure, man. Your love lifes none of my business. Dont get me wrong - Ive done time in some isolated places myself - but how in the world did you pull a duty like this?
Jumping in to rescue his friend before his cousin reminded Blair of the Ellison penchant for privacy, Jim said, He asked for it. Rucks always been kind of a loner.
Blair grinned at Jim. Must run in the family, huh?
Im no loner, Sandburg. I tolerate you, dont I? Jim softened the words with a quick grin at his friend. Hey, Ruck, why dont we get down to business and play a little poker so I can relieve you of some of your hard-earned government money?
Youre on. Ill get the deck, Rucker agreed, disappearing for a moment into the small room off the main living area.
Blair dropped down on the couch beside Jim. Your cousins sure a character, man. I mean, he lives out here in the middle of nowhere with this Andy, and trust me, Jim, I do not pick up on mere platonic vibes between the two of them. Hes way too ready for his first mate to get back on this island, if you know what I mean. Yet, hes got this Jennifers name tattooed on his arm. Sandburg shook his head and grinned. You Ellison's sure arent easy to figure out, man, you know that?
Jim warned, Just drop it, Chief. Ruckers a private guy. You really dont know what youre talking about, so just leave it
Rucker reentered the room and stopped at the radar display set, his eyes focused intently on the screen. This guys gotta be doing 40 knots.
Jim dropped the National Geographic on the table, cover down, and he and Blair joined Rucker in front of the radar. Go to more detail, Jim suggested as he studied the quickly moving blip on the scope.
Blair peered around his shoulder. What is it?
Definitely a muscle machine. Maybe a cigarette boat. Straightening up, Rucker went to the storage closet and pulled out his rain gear.
Blair took his place in front of the display. Look at that thing. That bleep is all over the place. Why on earth would someone pilot a boat like that? Especially in this weather.
Could be pilot error or a damaged craft, Jim suggested.
Rucker headed toward the door. Either way, we better pull her in before the storm hits. Visibility is gonna be zip. If that boat slams into the rocks at that speed He handed extra sets of rain gear and life vests to Jim and Blair. Cmon. We dont have much time to catch up with that boat before the storm moves in.
The sound of rolling thunder in the distance confirmed Ruckers assessment. They didnt have time to waste.
The rain was coming down in sheets, blowing nearly horizontally against
the choppy water. Blair pulled his raincoat tighter around his throat, hoping to shield
himself from becoming totally drenched. Why was it so many of his adventures since teaming
up with Jim involved being wet, cold, and miserable? I really hate being cold,
he muttered to no one in particular. He stared at the choppy waters ahead from his vantage
point between Rucker, who was piloting the launch, and Jim, standing in the
Turning halfway around, Jim shot him a quick look of sympathy before returning his attention to the water ahead. I think shes headed for the other side of Long Point, he shouted above the roar of the boats engine.
Yeah, we should get a visual as soon as we make the turn, Rucker replied. Picking up a microphone, he flipped a switch, turning the radio into a bullhorn. This is the Coast Guard calling the unknown craft. You are traveling on an unsafe course at an unsafe speed. Heave to immediately. Repeat, heave to.
Blair caught the telltale look of concentration on Jims face that indicated the sentinel was focusing his senses. Leaning forward, Blair casually rested one hand lightly on Jims back. A moment later, Jim said, Its a Sea Ray running at full tilt and zigzagging like hell. Theres nobody at the helm.
Rucker cut his eyes at his cousin for a moment. How can you tell that without glasses?
Blair increased the pressure on Jims back, biting back a hasty reply. He neednt have worried; Jim covered smoothly.
Just a guess. Handing Rucker the binoculars, he added, See what you think.
Nice job, Jim, Blair muttered under his breath, knowing the sentinel would hear.
Holding the glasses up to his eyes, Rucker scanned the vessel running at full throttle ahead of them. Damn youre right. Then, youve always had great hearing, right? Why not vision, too? Picking up the microphone, he announced, This is the Coast Guard. Do you read? Repeat, do you read?
Suddenly, the boat ahead of them swerved sharply to the right. Directly ahead lay the rocky shore of Long Point.
Shes made a turn for the shore, Rucker shouted. Weve got to intercept before she racks up on the rocks. Theres no way anyone inside would survive a crash at that speed.
Jims gaze never left the boat ahead as it hurtled toward shore. All right! Pull up next to her, Ruck! Get as close as you can.
Glancing over at Jim, Rucker cautioned, You be careful.
Blair felt a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach, and it wasnt from the motion of the waves. Jim! What are you going to do?
His eyes locked on the speeding craft, Jim said flatly, Im gonna board her.
Blair had to shout to be heard above the roar of the wind, the boats motor, and the crashing waves. He grabbed his partners arms and turned Jim around to face him. What! Jim, on a calm day, yeah, maybe, but its like a washboard out there! Not to mention the winds tearing like a bat out of hell. You hit the water at this speed, and
Jims expression was calm and determined. And if I dont try, whoevers on that boat is as good as dead, Chief. You know I cant let that happen.
Their eyes locked, until, at last, Blair nodded his understanding. One day, the sentinels instincts to protect were going to give his guide an ulcer. Reaching out, Blair tugged at the belt on Jims life vest, testing to be certain it was secure. You be careful, okay?
Jim flashed a quick smile. When am I not careful, Chief? Turning, he headed toward the front of the boat.
You want the complete list? Blair muttered, knowing full well his friend heard him clearly.
Blair watched anxiously as Jim leaned over the side of the boat. Pull over to her, Ruck! Come up a little closer! He tried reaching out, but the distance was too great.
The two crafts slammed heavily over the waves as the powerful winds whipped around them. A flash of lightning illuminated the dark skies for an instant, but if there was thunder, Blair couldnt hear it for the wind and the boats. Looking ahead, Blair could see the rocky shore drawing closer, its boulders being pounded mercilessly by the waves. Jim! We dont have much time!
Jim called, Bring it up, Ruck! Bring me closer!
Fighting to keep his balance, Blair watched as their boat pulled dangerously close to the runaway vessel. Suddenly, the sentinel leapt from the safety of Rucks launch toward the other boat. For an instant, he seemed suspended in mid-air, then Jim hurtled down, missing the speeding boat by inches.
Jim! Blair grabbed Ruckers arm, but Jims cousin ignored him completely as he veered away from the unpredictable boat.
Jim was hanging over the side, his arms wrapped over the Sea Ray, his legs bouncing violently off the rock-hard water. Blair didnt want to think what that pounding felt like to the sentinel. He held his breath and watched.
Slowly, little by little, Jim began pulling himself upward. Cmon, Jim, Blair chanted, barely realizing he was speaking out loud. Cmon, man!
With a final burst of strength, Jim heaved himself up and over the side of the boat, disappearing on the other side.
Rucker hauled the wheel to the left, bringing the launch alongside the Sea Ray, now slowing to a stop in the water. Pulling up, Blair scanned the deck for his friend. Jim! Jim!
Ellison emerged from below, an unconscious woman draped limply in his arms. Blair stared at them in surprise. Man, is she all right?
Moving toward Ruckers launch, Jim answered, I dont know. Lets bring her to the station and get out of this weather.
Working together, they safely transported the young woman from the Sea Ray to the launch. Rucker hopped easily into the other boat. Ill bring this one in, Jim. You and Blair take the launch. Ill meet you back on the island.
The warmth of the small Coast Guard station was a welcome change from the
storm. With Rucker standing beside him, Jim studied the young woman wrapped in blankets
and huddled on the couch. Blair brought over a cup of steaming coffee and handed it to
How are you feeling? Sandburg asked, his blue eyes warm with concern.
The young woman smiled up gratefully at him. Better, thanks.
Whats your name? Blairs smile seemed to put the woman at ease, Jim noticed, and she answered readily.
Jim asked, Monique, what were you doing out in the middle of nowhere?
Jim recognized the curiosity in Blairs tone. What were you running away from exactly?
My boyfriend. Monique added hesitantly, Hes a powerful man.
Jim felt a warning tickle at the back of his neck. And whats his name? There was definitely something about this whole situation that he didnt like.
There was a long pause before Monique looked up at Jim. Enrique Enrique Mendez. Hes an investment banker. Her eyes dropped again to her coffee.
Pressing further, Jim asked, So why were you running away from him? Pretty nasty day for anyone to go for a boat ride.
Because today he started drinking, and he said he was going to get a gun. Then he passed out. So, I slipped out a window and ran down the docks to his boat. She glanced up at Blair with large, sad eyes, and Sandburg smiled encouragingly.
Where were you going to go? Jim kept his voice neutral. The young woman would clam up in a heartbeat if she didnt trust them.
Monique shrugged slightly and shook her head, then took another sip of coffee. Anywhere. I dont really know. I saw the lighthouse, so I figured well, Ill head that way, but then I dont know. I hadnt slept or eaten, so I guess I just I guess I just passed out.
Jim concentrated on Moniques physical reactions during her story. Her heart rate was definitely too fast, and her breathing too rapid. Of course, that wasnt necessarily a sign she was lying. If she had been as frightened as she claimed, both could be normal reactions to her experiences with Enrique and on the boat during the storm.
Monique pulled out an empty pack of cigarettes with a slightly shaky hand. Out of cigarettes. Great, just great. Guess Ill be quitting after all.
Blair jumped in with a comforting smile. I can teach you some meditation tips. Helped my mom out big time. Monique smiled up at him and nodded her acceptance.
Something hot and dangerous flared in Jim at Sandburgs offer. Watch yourself, Chief. I dont have a good feeling about this one.
Before Jim could comment, however, the lights quickly flickered twice, then blinked out completely, leaving the small room in gray darkness.
Rucker shook his head. Oh, great. The powers down. We got propane lanterns for the light. Going to have to do without everything else.
Power they could live without. What about communications? Jim asked quickly.
Rucker nodded. Radio links protected with a separate system coming down from the tower. Reaching for the wooden coat rack, he began pulling on a heavy coat. With a little sweat, we could probably jury-rig something for our power down here, but not until this weather breaks. Were just going to have to ride her out a while. Im going to go double up on the moorings on those boats. You better finish dogging this place down, Jimmy. Rucker opened the door, letting in a blast of cold, wet air, then he was gone.
Im so cold, Monique complained from her nest of blankets.
Jim realized he didnt have much time to complete the storm preparations at the station as his cousin suggested. At the rate they were going, it was going to be a long weekend. Sandburg, why dont you rustle her up some dry clothes? With a quick smile at Blair, he added, I hope you like flannel.
Rucker was finally satisfied with the safety of the Coast Guard launch. By
the time hed finished looking the boat over, the rain was pouring down in sheets
whipped by the powerful wind. He had seen waves higher during his service on Storm Island,
but at that moment, he couldnt remember exactly when.
Rucker moved toward the Sea Ray. Nice craft, he thought appreciatively, as he moved down to the small galley, checking cabinet doors and drawers to be sure all was secure. It was amazing what a mess could result during the pitching and rolling of a big storm. The girl seemed nice enough. Hed hate for her to have a gigantic cleaning job on her hands on top of everything else.
Rucker spotted an open cabinet door. A briefcase lay inside. He half turned away, then faced the briefcase again, frowning. Something was not quite right. Monique had told them she had no luggage, that in her terror, she had not taken time to gather any of her belongings before fleeing. So, what was an expensive leather briefcase doing here?
Giving in to his curiosity, Rucker carried the case to the table and popped open the lid. He bit back a gasp as he stared wide-eyed at the contents. Quickly closing the case and heading for the dock, Rucker sent up a quick prayer of thanks that Jim had picked this weekend to pay a visit.
A barefoot Monique emerged from the curtained sleeping area in dry jeans
and plaid flannel shirt, unbuttoned over a white, thin strap t-shirt, rubbing her long
hair with a towel. Blairs clothes hung slightly large on her small frame, but they
fit well enough for hand-me-downs.
Blair smiled approvingly. Oh, hey, all right. Grunge looks pretty good on you. He looked over at Jim and started to comment to him about the improvement in Moniques appearance, but he stopped short when he saw his friends face.
Jim was looking at Monique, all right, but the look on his face was far from approving. The sentinels blue eyes were cold steel as he regarded the young woman dressed in his guides clothing. When Jim didnt acknowledge Blairs comment, the oppressive silence in the room grew even heavier.
Blair looked from Jim to Monique, then back again. Definitely some bad vibes at work. Trying to smooth the waters, he picked up a pair of heavily beaded leather boots and handed them to Monique. Oh, here. I got these up in Alaska. Might be a little big, but they should fit okay.
Jim asked in a flat, emotionless voice, Didnt the chief of the Dene give those to you as a special gift when you worked with the tribe? You sure you want some stranger wearing them?
Blair stared at his friend, trying to figure out where this sudden antagonism was coming from. It was almost a territorial reaction - the sentinel defending his turf. Every time he made a move of welcome or friendship toward Monique, Jim seemed to jump into this over-protective mode. What sort of threat could Monique be to him?
Uneasily, Blair said, Its okay, man. Really. Im sure shell take good care of them. Monique nodded silently as she laced up the boots.
Shed better, Jim muttered, moving to open the door for his cousin as the sound of running footsteps reached the front porch.
Blair was glad to see Ruckers return. Maybe his presence would help diffuse the situation. Hey, Rucker, how you doing?
Dripping wet, Rucker shed his rain gear, then went across the room to Jim. Setting the briefcase down on the table, he opened it for Jims inspection.
Blair turned his attention back to Monique. She was lacing the last strap and looked at him with a smile. The Dene Indians, they swear by these things. Glancing over at Jim, he added softly, Hey, dont mind Jim, okay? Hes a cop, yknow. Not exactly the most trusting sort.
Monique smiled warmly. Its okay. I hear its beautiful up in Alaska. Ive never been anywhere. Well, Mexico. Whats it like?
Oh, its beautiful, just beautiful. I spent a couple of months in an igloo, and
The sound of heavy footsteps broke his train of thought, and Blair looked up to find Jim and Rucker standing over them. The look on Jims face warned that Ellison was definitely in cop mode.
Get away from her, Sandburg.
The look in the cold blue eyes was enough to end Blairs argument before it began. He got up from the couch and moved to stand beside Jim. Whats going on, man?
Ignoring him, Jim asked curtly, What is your full name?
Monique looked puzzled. St. James. Monique St. James.
Jim nodded. Monique St. James, you are under arrest. Reaching behind, he pulled out his cuffs and moved toward the couch.
What are you doing? Blair protested.
Rucker spoke up, holding out the open briefcase. She came in with a little package. In it were two wrapped packages.
Heroin, Jim added coldly. Mexican brown. Get up. Blairs heart sank. If there was a single, sure-fire way to get on Jims blacklist, it was to be caught with drugs.
Monique rose unsteadily to her feet. No no. She shook her head in denial. I swear. Thats not mine!
Reaching out to slap on the cuffs, Jim remarked, I didnt see anybody else on that boat.