On what seemed like his 714th attempt, Wyatt got somebody’s phone to ring. It was Dwight’s, which had been going straight to voice mail all day.
“Dwight, it’s Wyatt.”
“Oh hey, Wyatt,” Dwight said, just a little bit louder than usual. “You had your surgery?”
“No, that’s tomorrow,” Wyatt answered. “What’s going on over there with the hurricane?”
“Aw, hell, Wyatt, it’s just one big mess,” Dwight said. “All downtown’s flooded. We got surges as high as seven feet. National Guard’s been all over the place since late last night, evacuating people. Have you been talking to Vince?”
Vince was a thirty-year veteran, soon to retire, and was acting in Wyatt’s stead during his surgery and recovery.
“No, I haven’t been able to get hold of anydamnbody,” Wyatt said.
“Yeah, phones are pretty spotty,” Dwight said. “In and out, mostly out. What time’s your surgery?”
“Don’t worry about that, Dwight,” Wyatt said shortly. “Have you seen or heard from Maggie?”
“Maggie? Well, no. I talked to her the other day. Why?”
“Well, she was supposed to be leaving early last night to pick her parents up in Jacksonville, but she’s not there.”
“You don’t say. And you can’t get her on the phone?”
Wyatt grimaced at Dwight. Even though the guy couldn’t see him, it made Wyatt feel better. “Well, no, Dwight. I can’t.”
“Huh. Well, I haven’t heard from her,” Dwight said. “If she left early last night, though, she should be fine. It didn’t start getting really bad here ’til real early this morning.”
“If she was fine, she’d be answering her phone,” Wyatt said. “In Jacksonville.”
“Well, yeah, I see your point, Boss. I just don’t know what to tell you. We’ve been running every which way all day, rescuing people that didn’t evacuate, trying to shore up the sea wall, helping to board up some places better than they were. There’s a whole lot of damage.”
“Any loss of life?’ Wyatt asked.
“Not that we know of yet.”
“Well, is there any way you or somebody else can run out and check Maggie’s house?” Wyatt asked. “Just in case.”
“Heck, Boss, Bluff Road’s a mess from about Waddell Road on out,” Dwight said. “It’s those bony ass pine trees. They’re down all over the place. Weather guys say maybe we had a small tornado touch down, but we’ve been having gusts up to 50mph, and that could do it, too.”
Wyatt sighed. “Have they started clearing it any?”
“Not yet, Wyatt. We’ve pretty much got every hand full right here in town. There’s been some flooding here and there out Maggie’s way, off the creeks, but nothing her house couldn’t handle. Maybe she just got a later start than she thought and couldn’t get out.”
“I get that you’re worried, Boss, I do.”
“Yeah.” Dwight was one of the few people, as far as Wyatt knew, who knew that he and Maggie had some kind of a relationship. “I hear 98’s pretty much washed out everywhere. What’s the bridge look like?”
“Uh, it’s semi-serviceable, but they’re not letting anybody cross it,” Dwight said. “Why?”
“’Cause I’m about fifty miles out.”
“Well crap, Wyatt. Uh, what about Orlando?”
“It’s still where it was,” Wyatt answered. “Who’s not letting people cross it? The Guard?”
“Yeah. But what about your surgery?”
“Get with somebody over there, ask them not to give me any crap, ’cause I’m driving into Apalach.”
“Uh…will do, Boss. If I can get to somebody,” Dwight said. “I’m over here at the airport right now, helping with the shelter.”
“Just see what you can do, okay?”
“Okee-doke,” Dwight said, and Wyatt hung up before Dwight could make him feel like an idiot again for ducking out on the surgery to check on Maggie.
Freaking Maggie, with her boondocks, her developmentally-disabled chickens, and her pet serial killer.
Boudreaux took in a mouthful of rain and swished it around before trying to lean over and spit it out. What he managed to do was more or less dribble it down his shirt, and this annoyed him, despite the shirt being torn, bloodied, and soaking wet.
His left arm ached from the strain of hanging onto the pallet, and he shifted himself over a bit and changed to his right arm. It concerned him just a little that his abdomen didn’t seem to hurt as much as he thought it probably should. When he looked down, he could see swirls of fresh blood leaving his body and joining the rush to the river. It seemed to be less blood than before, but still a troublesome amount.
He leaned back against the pallet, which was a lot easier than trying to stay upright, and closed his eyes for a moment. He’d never felt his age before, but he was feeling it now. He was exhausted, cold, and thirsty. He opened his mouth to get some more rain, held it for a moment, then swallowed and opened his eyes.
It took him a moment to understand what he was seeing. His truck was about fifty feet away, headed more or less straight for him. It was moving slowly, but in a fairly determined fashion.
At first, he thought that Maggie was coming to get him, but then he realized that he didn’t hear the monstrous diesel engine. When he looked up toward the windshield, he saw that Maggie wasn’t driving. No one was.
He’d survived driving through a hurricane, tussling with some idiot, getting slashed, and nearly drowning. Now God was going to run him over with his own truck. As he lifted his free arm to cross himself, it occurred to him that he was having an unusually ironic day.
Sky and Kyle had stood on the deck for more than a few minutes after the truck had disappeared from view. It was almost as though they expected the truck to somehow return, with their mother at the wheel. Sky was crazily reminded of an old country song her Dad used to sing, something about giving him enough acres and he could turn the truck around. She allowed herself about half a second to wish he was there now, then forced herself to think.
“Kyle, come on!” she said quickly, and ran for the front door with Kyle on her heels.
“What about Mom?” he yelled.
“This is about Mom.”
She opened the door, which was nearly ripped out of her hands by the wind, sidestepped a very concerned Coco, but then slid through the puddle on the floor. There was a momentary confluence of pedestrian and poultry, then she ran toward the hall and Stoopid flailed into the living room before he could be trod upon by Kyle.
Sky ran into her room and threw open her closet, tossed aside a couple of boxes and backpacks, and grabbed up the pile of rope in the back.
“The fire ladder?” Kyle asked over her shoulder.
“I should have thought of it when I first got back up on the deck,” Sky said, walking quickly back down the hall. “Stupid. You and Mom wouldn’t have had to climb up that freakin’ truck.”
“What if she doesn’t come back?” Kyle asked as he followed her back into the main room.
“What do you mean, dude? She’s coming back.”
“I don’t think she was awake.”
“She will be,” Sky said and she opened the door, pushing Coco back with her foot. “No, Coco, stay.”
She turned around and looked at Kyle as the rain stabbed at her back. “You stay, too.”
“She will freaking kill me if I let you stand out on that deck and get whomped by somebody’s yard flamingo or something,” Sky said. “I’m serious. Stay in here. Feed Coco and find something for Stoopid. Some salad or Nyquil or something.”
She went back out onto the deck, only realizing afterwards that she should have grabbed a coat or something out of her closet. She went back to the rail of the side deck, and was about to hook the rope fire ladder to the rail when she decided that the wind would probably bork it up, so she set it down by her feet and waited, arms wrapped around herself as though they would keep her dry or warm or calm.
At least she could put her back mostly to the wind and the rain, and still be able to watch for her mother to come back. And she would come back. They might have their differences sometimes, but Sky knew her mother. If she had arms and legs, she’d come back for her kids.
Maggie felt the needles of rain stabbing into the skin of her face and chest, and she turned on her side and curled into a fetal position, with one arm over her head.
The back of her head was throbbing, and she wondered vaguely if a person could have more than one concussion at a time, or if the original one just got worse. Either way, the pain and pressure in her neck, her face, and the back of her head were starting to wear on her, and the slightest movement made fireworks go off behind her eyes.
She opened them anyway, and saw that she was in one of the back corners of the truck bed, up against the tailgate. Something about that seemed odd to her, until she braved movement and looked at the tops of the trees she could see, and at the sky.
The truck was tilted to the side, and she was piled in the lower back corner. She tried to think what the truck could be tilted on, without having to sit up and look over the side. There were a few spots in these woods where erosion had caused the trees to tug up on their roots, which led to more erosion and the creation of some gulleys and dips.
She looked around the truck without moving, but saw nothing she could use to cover her head. The bed was completely empty.
The rain was relentless, and she just needed to be out of it for a moment. She pulled up the bottom of her T-shirt and managed to stretch it enough to cover her face. It was soaked, but it lessened the impact of the raindrops and made her feel like she had some respite.
The throbbing in her head increased in intensity, and she wished she could form words to pray, but the only word that came to mind was “stop.” She just needed it to stop.
She laid there, curled up in a ball, for what she thought was maybe a few minutes, but could have been an hour, and was about to try to sit up when she heard a groaning, felt a shifting of her present world, and the truck flipped onto its back before she realized that it was happening.
She fell face first into the water, and then the truck came down on top of her with a tremendous splash.
When the truck had glided past Boudreaux, skirting him by more than six feet, he’d leaned back and taken several deep, wet breaths. The debris pile didn’t allow him to see behind him, but he waited to hear the truck hit a tree, and was surprised when he never did, though the trees were fairly well-spaced out here in this section of the woods. He never heard the truck hit anything, and for all he knew, it was continuing on down to the river, which could be fifty yards or half a mile behind him.
He was disoriented and in an unfamiliar place, and he would have had no idea where the river was in relation to him if it weren’t for the flow of the flood waters. The sun was nowhere to be found, and the sky was an unbroken sheet of titanium gray that offered no clue to his current place in the world.
He was entirely unaccustomed to this lack of control over his present and future, but he supposed on reflection that he had been ceding at least some control for months now. Ever since the night that Gregory had told him what he’d done, thinking it would spur Boudreaux to throw money at him and make him go away.
He had now spent the last two months carefully cultivating a relationship with Maggie, slowly building her interest and her trust, delicately revealing himself to her at an annoyingly but entirely necessary slow pace, and now it was likely to all be for naught.
He was going to bleed to death out here in somebody’s back yard, and all of that planning and all of that patience would amount to nothing in the end. He shouldn’t have wasted the last few weeks, but he hadn’t known what to say to her after she’d shot Patrick, so he’d just avoided her altogether.
What should he have said? I’m terribly sorry that my nephew raped you twenty years ago and that my stepson had your husband killed last month, but I’m very sincere in my desire to continue building this relationship between us?
He’d spent the last two weeks trying to decide the best way to approach Maggie again, to get past Gregory and Patrick and finally introduce her to the truth in a way that would put her niggling suspicions to rest and yet wouldn’t make her loathe him.
He should have thought a little faster and made a decision a little sooner, because it looked like the last two months were shortly to become moot.
He looked down and gently fingered his torn midsection, which was still releasing blood into the water in artful little feathers, then he dropped his head back against the pallet.
He supposed that, in the end, it was just as well. She already had a father, one she loved deeply, and Boudreaux had to admit that Gray had done a better job of raising another man’s child than he himself had.