As Maggie neared the pile of debris, Boudreaux’s eyes fluttered open, much to her amazement. He blinked up at the sky for a moment, then looked over at her. He seemed a little surprised to see her, too.
She waded over to the pile as he watched her come toward him, his normally deeply-tanned face alarmingly pale.
“Mr. Boudreaux,” she said when she’d gotten there, like she’d just run into him at the library.
He nodded at her once. “Maggie,” he answered, like he’d asked her to meet him at the library.
The water wanted to force Maggie back the way she’d worked so hard to come, so she pushed over to the pile of debris and let the water pin her there. She grabbed on to the pallet Boudreaux was leaning on, and looked at him.
Her face was only about ten inches from his, and she thought about the only other time she’d been that close to him physically, the night early on in their odd relationship when she had danced with him at the Cajun Festival. He’d looked great then; he didn’t look so hot now.
“What are you doing out here?” he asked her weakly.
“I was checking out your truck,” she said, trying to smile but primarily failing.
He blinked at her a few times. “What did you think?”
“It’s a little rough,” she answered.
He tried to smile too, and he too pretty much failed at it. Then he looked at her for a moment. “Where are your children?”
“In the house,” she said. “I didn’t quite make it.”
“How far are we from the house?”
Maggie blew out a breath and looked off in the general direction she’d been heading. “Not that far, if we were out for a walk. Maybe three or four hundred yards past that clump of old cypress over there. My property line is just past them.”
He looked where she was pointing, at a stand of trees and stumps about fifty yards away, then looked back at her. “It’s amazing how weighty water is when it’s moving against you, isn’t it?”
She looked down at the water in front of him, saw tendrils of red slipping away from his midsection beneath the surface. When she looked up again, he was watching her.
“Please excuse me for saying it, but you don’t look much better,” he said.
She nodded and looked back down at his midsection.
“Did he hit you?”
Maggie thought it was an odd question, given that Boudreaux had burst in while Alessi was strangling her. ”No, I fell on the stairs.”
“Who was he?”
Maggie looked back up at him. “Richard Alessi’s father.”
Boudreaux nodded and his eyes drifted closed.
“Why did you come here, Mr. Boudreaux?”
He opened his eyes again and stared at her for a moment. “Your father was worried about you.”
“But why would he call you?”
He seemed to consider his words before he answered. “Everybody knows I never evacuate.”
Maggie was about to tell him that she didn’t think he’d actually answered her question, but she felt a sudden lurching in her stomach, and she turned her back to him. She leaned over, but nothing came up. There was just an overwhelming nausea that rippled outward from her stomach to her follicles, and the fine hairs on her arms stood up in protest.
She closed her eyes and waited a moment until it subsided a bit, then she turned and laid her face against the rough wood of the pallet. When she opened her eyes, Boudreaux’s were right there, staring back at her. Those impossibly blue eyes.
“What was the name of that song we danced to at the festival?” she asked him. “The one you said was your favorite?”
He frowned at her for a second, seeming surprised by the question. “La Chanson de Mardi Gras,” he said. “The dance of Mardi Gras.”
“It sticks with you.”
Maggie felt her eyes drifting closed. “My mother wasn’t too happy about me dancing with you that night,” she said softly, and one corner of her mouth turned up in a smile.
“I can imagine,” she heard him say after a moment.
Gray and Georgia had been on I-10 for more than an hour, the last half of it in silence as they each occupied themselves with their own thoughts. According to the radio, things were calming down in the Panhandle, but Gray hadn’t been able to get through to Wyatt’s number.
“I wish you hadn’t called him,” Georgia said when she finally broke their silence.
Gray cut his eyes at her.
“What I mean is, I wish you hadn’t needed to,” she added almost apologetically, then looked back out her window.
“So do I.” He pinched at the bridge of his nose, his eyes feeling strained and tired. “But I knew he’d go.”
She was quiet again for a moment, as she stared out at nothing.
“Why do you suppose that is?’ she asked finally. “He’s kept his word, left her alone all these years.”
Gray chose his words carefully before he spoke. “Maggie thinks he feels guilty about what happened. That it was his nephew who did it.”
Georgia looked over at her husband. “Why did he know, and we didn’t?”
“The nephew told him, right before he killed himself.” He looked over at her. “Maggie told me that.”
Georgia looked back out the window and was quiet again for a moment. “What do you think?”
“I think it’s a father’s guilt.” He caught his wife’s skeptical look. “You think Gregory Boudreaux would have dared lay a hand on her if he’d known who she was? You think anybody would? But I think he’s actually come to care for her, in whatever way he does that.”
Georgia swallowed, then looked away. “We’re going to have to talk to her, Gray, and she’s going to despise me.”
Gray sighed. “I’m not sure that we are, and no she won’t. We were just kids. It was one night. We got through it, and she would, too.”
They fell silent again for a moment, each with their own dread about having to dredge up the past, each with their own fear about the future.
“Let’s just deal with right now,” Gray said after a few minutes. “Let’s just get home.”
The boy soldier with the cute dimples had been right; the fill was mostly underwater.
The fill was a spit of land that sat at pretty much sea level, and connected the Apalachicola Bay bridge to the shorter John Gorrie Bridge, which went into downtown Apalach. Wyatt made it across the fill by what could only be called extended hydroplaning, with periodic episodes of actual driving.
Things got better for Wyatt as he finally made it to the John Gorrie, which gradually rose up out of the water and carried him across the Apalachicola River where it opened into the bay. Wyatt breathed a little bit better as he enjoyed the feeling of rubber actually meeting the road, until the bridge curved and descended into town.
Wyatt could see on either side of the bridge that downtown was flooded. He got the impression of descending into a watery ghost town, like Atlantis in the early stages of disappearing. There was no one out on the streets. The only cars were those that had been abandoned or parked in unfortunate locations.
Once Wyatt’s car reached the street, he slowed to a crawl, and managed to coast for about a block in two feet of water before the Focus crapped out on him. He drifted more or less to the curb, turned off the ignition, set the parking brake just in case, and slowly opened his door.
Water flowed in and soaked the floorboards, and Wyatt wondered briefly if his insurance was going to cover it, then he carefully swung his legs into the water, feeling the protest from his left hip. He reached over and grabbed his cane, then took his time standing up, one hand on the cane and the other on the door.
Once he decided he was as steady as he was going to get, he slowly made his way over to the sidewalk and stepped up onto it. Then he started making his way up the street, hoping that he ran into the National Guard again before he either fell or passed out from the pain.
He was six-foot-four and the Sheriff of this freakin’ county, and it would be embarrassing as hell to drown on the sidewalk.
Boudreaux watched as Maggie’s eyes moved behind her lids. He wasn’t sure how long she’d been out; he might have drifted off for a few minutes as well. But before she’d lost consciousness, she’d been acting confused, had said something about the way the light reflected on the bay, and then wondered aloud how long a rooster could go without grit.
He didn’t know if it was shock or perhaps a head injury, but she wasn’t okay. He wasn’t okay, either; in fact, he was surprised to still be breathing. But if he died shortly, she’d be out here alone and not thinking clearly. It was time to go.
“Maggie,” he said again, almost yelling.
Her eyes fluttered open and blinked a few times against the rain, which was falling more gently, but still falling.
“Crap,” she said quietly.
“We need to get you back to the house.”
Maggie lifted her head and looked at him. “You can’t. The more you move, the more you’ll bleed.”
“Then you go.”
“No. I’m not leaving you out here.”
“You’re not staying.”
“Someone will find us soon.”
“Who? Coco?” he asked sharply. “Nobody’s coming, Maggie.”
“My Dad will,” Maggie said. “He’s not sitting around in Jacksonville. I promise you my father is already riding to the rescue.”
Boudreaux felt a weight inside his chest as he watched her head drift back down to the pallet, saw her eyes shut. He blinked a couple of times as his eyes became warm and full, then he swallowed hard and slid his upper body off of the pallet, wincing as his abdomen seemed to come apart.
He splashed a handful of water into her face and she opened her eyes and threw up a hand to smack his away.
“I’m going to your house now,” he said as he grabbed her wrist and pulled her with him. “And I would appreciate it if you’d come with me in case I need someone to carry my intestines.”