Maggie picked at the overhand knot for what felt like hours, but probably wasn’t. With the windows boarded, she had lost confidence in her sense of time.
Her hands, like her, were small, and her fingers short and deceptively delicate for a woman who could work the oyster beds and fire several weapons accurately. Her middle finger wasn’t quite long enough for her to gain any purchase underneath the overhand knot, so somewhere along the way she’d switched to picking at the threads of the rope itself to try to dig herself something that she could manipulate.
If she could get the simple overhand knot loose, the handcuff knot itself would become expandable and she could be free. To do something she wasn’t sure of yet.
Sky and Kyle dropped in and out of sleep, and Maggie herself nodded off for a few minutes at a time. She was groggy and she was slightly nauseous, and she wondered if she had a mild concussion from either the gun butt to the head or her fall on the stairs.
The man, too, had slept for a few minutes here and there, his chin falling to his chest before he jerked it up again and quickly checked to make sure she was still where he’d left her.
At one point, she had found herself trying once more to engage the man in conversation, more to keep herself awake than anything else.
After looking over at the kids to make sure they were asleep, she had quietly cleared her throat, and he’d looked over at her.
“Why don’t you just take me outside and shoot me? Why sit here all night? You could just be done with it and walk back to town.”
His upper lip had curled just slightly, like she’d put a plate of salad in front of him when he’d asked for a steak. For some moments, she’d thought he was going to ignore her again, but then he spoke.
“Because I ain’t here for me. I’m here on someone else’s part,” he’d said.
“Whose?” she’d asked, though she hadn’t really expected an answer.
He’d glanced over at the kids before he replied. “You’ll know that soon enough,” he’d said, then he’d tried to make his call for the hundredth time.
He’d slapped the phone down after a few seconds. “Damn storm.”
Then he had walked over to look at her bookshelves again, and she’d gone back to her rope.
Maggie hadn’t realized that she’d dropped off again until the noise woke her. The plywood was wrenched violently from the kitchen window, then banged against the side of the house as it was blown away.
Apparently, the man had fallen asleep at some point, too, for both he and Maggie jerked their heads up, and he jumped out of his chair. He looked just as surprised as she was to see daylight. Somehow, Maggie had started to believe it would always be night.
As the man looked out of the kitchen window, the kids roused, and Maggie checked her rope. She had managed to dig herself a ragged little hole in one part of the overhand knot, but she hadn’t yet managed to pull the knot any looser. She dug what was left of the nail of her middle finger into the niche and went back to work trying to pull it loose.
Her best hope was that once she did loosen the ties, she would have a moment while he used the bathroom or was otherwise occupied somewhere else in the house. He seldom left the main room, but he had wandered on occasion. If she were quiet enough, and fast enough, she might get to one of the weapons that he had left strewn on the kitchen counter last night. His .22 was still in his waistband, and she wondered why he didn’t just switch it out for her Glock. She would.
He turned away from the kitchen window and wandered down the hall to the bathroom, walked in without shutting the door. Maggie’s stomach turned a little as she listened to him urinating a night’s worth of Dr. Peppers.
She picked at the rope furiously, and almost stopped breathing for a moment when she felt the knot give just a bit. It was almost imperceptible, but it was movement. She couldn’t help but huff out a little breath, and when she did, she met Sky’s eye.
Wyatt shifted uncomfortably in a chair that felt as though it were made of recycled shopping carts. He’d already done his pee test, and was waiting for the nurse to draw his blood. Apparently, all of this was to save time tomorrow, when he had his surgery, but he failed to see the logic of that.
His phone vibrated in his shirt pocket, and the nurse gave his a disapproving look over her shoulder.
“Sorry,” he said with a shrug. “I’ll turn it off after this call.” He pulled out his cell. “Hello?”
“Hey, Wyatt, it’s Gray Redmond,” Maggie’s father said.
“Hey, Gray, how was the cruise?”
“It was great, but I was wondering if you’d heard from Maggie.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, they’re not here,” Gray answered. “We got in about half an hour ago, but there’s no sign of them.”
Wyatt frowned and looked at his watch. “Did you call her?”
“Yes, but it went straight to voice mail. I called the kids, too. Same thing.”
“Maybe there’s a problem with T-Mobile,” Wyatt said. “They might be overloaded with the storm.”
“Maybe,” Gray said. “I was hoping you’d heard from her though.”
“Not since last night. She called to tell me that Kyle came home early, so they were going to head out. That was about six or seven.”
Gray was quiet for a minute. “Maybe we should rent another car and drive home,” he said finally.
“No, don’t do that,” Wyatt said. “I’m sure she’s fine. Maybe traffic on I-10 sucked with everybody headed inland. They may have stopped somewhere for the night and gotten behind. She’s headed your way, so you should stay there.”
“All right, we’ll wait a bit longer. I don’t suppose you could get the Highway Patrol or somebody looking for her?”
“I’m planning on it,” Wyatt answered. “Don’t worry, I’m sure she’s fine. I’ll call you as soon as I hear something.”
“Same here,” Gray said.
Wyatt hung up and thought a minute. He’d talked to Deputy Dwight Shultz earlier, and he knew that what remained of the Sheriff’s Office and the Apalach PD were people who were busy helping with the evacuations and taking emergency calls. The National Guard had been in Apalach since before sunrise, and Apalach was being evacuated, along with several other coastal towns between Cedar Key and Biloxi.
Hurricane Faye hadn’t made landfall, but she wasn’t heading out to the Gulf, either. She’d just been sitting off the coast, collecting and dumping more and more rain. Between the rains and the wind, storm surges of up to six feet had begun flooding the streets along the bay.
Wyatt opened his contacts list and began scrolling, then found the number he was looking for and tapped it. It was answered on the second ring. “Brevard County Sheriff’s Office, Capt. Burrell speaking.”
“Hey, Paul, it’s Wyatt.”
“Hey, man, how’s it going?” Paul answered cheerfully. “If you’re looking for your old job back, I think the Sheriff’s ready to let you have it.”
“No, I’ll keep the one I’ve got, thanks,” Wyatt said. “But I need a favor. It’s important.”
“One of my people was supposed to have driven over to Jax last night, and she never showed. I need you to check the accident reports.”
Five minutes later, Wyatt called Gray back and at least let him know that Maggie’s Cherokee hadn’t been in a reported accident. After reassuring Gray that Maggie was bound to turn up shortly, he tried her number himself and got the same result Gray had. He hung up and frowned at the cracks in the tile floor for a moment.
He looked up when the nurse approached with a small tray containing a hypodermic and a couple of glass vials. He leaned on his cane and struggled to his feet.
“Mr. Hamilton? Do you need to use the restroom?”
“Actually, I’m afraid we’re going to have to reschedule.”
“Sir, we can’t reschedule. Your surgery is tomorrow at seven.”
“Yeah, we’re gonna have to reschedule that, too.”
Wyatt limped out of the room and went to find a taxi.
Maggie was picking at the threads of her rope, trying to get it to move again, when the man’s cell phone rang from the kitchen counter. She actually jumped when it did, and she froze while the man ran over to the counter from the kitchen window.
“Hey!” he said when he answered. “What do you mean, where have I been? I been trying to call you all night and I couldn’t get nothin’ to go through.” He paused and listened for a moment. “I’m at her house, with her! Her and her kids.” He listened for a few seconds. “Because they were here, dammit. Now you listen to me. You get over here, and you bring me some jumper cables.”
He rubbed at his face as he listened for a moment. Maggie started picking faster and harder. When she glanced across the table, she saw that Sky was watching her.
“I don’t care about no evacuations,” the man said. “My truck is dead and I need you to get over here now, and bring me cables! How many—” He glanced over his shoulder, then lowered his voice a little. “How many times did you say you wanted payback for your son? Well, I’m handing it to you. So get over here.”
Maggie stared at him as he slapped the phone shut and leaned on the counter. She even stopped picking at her knot for a moment.
She glanced over at Kyle. He looked out of it, dazed. She didn’t know how much of that was exhaustion, hunger and dehydration, and how much of it was resignation and fear. Sky’s demeanor had also become more fearful. It was amazing how fast a person’s spirit could be worn down. The teenager’s chin wasn’t quite so high, and her eyes were still watchful but no longer defiant.
The man turned around and walked lazily over to the table and leaned on one hand. Maggie could feel the warm air from his mouth and she tried not to breathe anything of him into her lungs.
“I’d do some praying, if I was you,” he said, grinning. “It looks like your comeuppance has come up.”
He patted her on the head like she was a neighbor’s puppy, then walked back into the kitchen. He stood with his back to her at the kitchen sink, and watched as the branches on the tree just outside bent at impossible angles.
Maggie was staring at a spot between his shoulder blades when the rope gave again, just a tiny bit, but enough to dig her nail into. She cut her eyes over to Sky. The girl was staring at the table, and Maggie sniffed.
When Sky looked up, Maggie touched her chin to her right shoulder. Sky just stared, and Maggie did it again. Sky eyes moved to Maggie’s shoulder, and Maggie lifted it. Just barely, but visibly. She saw Sky blink a couple of times, then Maggie tried winking at her, and she could see that Sky finally got the message that Maggie was either loose or working on it.
Maggie glanced over at the man’s back again before looking at Sky and nodding. She almost came undone when Sky’s eyes filled with tears.
Boudreaux closed his cell phone when he heard the call disconnect, then turned it over a few times in his hand as he stared at the stone surface of the kitchen island.
“Who the phone?” Miss Evangeline snapped from the kitchen table. It took Boudreaux a moment to hear her, and he turned around.
“Something’s come up,” he said.
She pointed her thick lenses at him, and the flame from the hurricane lamp on the counter reflected in both of them. “I know somethin’ come up,” she barked. “Hurricane come up, like I done told you.”
Boudreaux looked over at Amelia, who was toasting a slice of bread for her mother over one of the gas burners. “I’m going to have to go out for a bit,” he said quietly.
“What you mean, go out?’ Amelia asked. “Ain’t no ‘out’ out there.”
“Flood come up, too, like I told you,” Miss Evangeline piped up. “Water come all up Mr. Benny yard like I say.”
Boudreaux turned around and looked at her. “Yes, Miss Evangeline, you were right,” he said politely. “I was wrong. Again.”
“Wrong, right don’t matter, no,” she said, but she looked satisfied anyway. “Matter that the shark gon’ be in the yard, eatin’ all the drown cats and messin’ round my mango.”
Boudreaux sighed. It had taken him hours yesterday to convince Miss Evangeline to come stay in the house with him. The house was elevated on a brick foundation, while the cottage in back was not. Miss Evangeline had wanted to stay back there and guard her TV set against sharks and looters. The only reason she’d finally come was that he’d pointed out how much dear Lily would hate the idea of Amelia and Miss Evangeline sleeping in the guest room.
He looked back at Amelia, who had turned off the burner and was sliding the toast onto a saucer. “I won’t be long,” he said. “Just stay put and you’ll both be fine. I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
“But where you goin’?” she asked.
“Who go?” Miss Evangeline snapped.
“He say he goin’ somewhere,” Amelia said.
Boudreaux sighed as he heard Miss Evangeline’s chair bumping against the floor. He turned around to find her grabbing onto her walker and standing.
“Mr. Benny ain’t go nowhere!” she said. “I ain’t gon’ tolerate no nonsense, me.”
“I’ll be back in just a few minutes,” he lied, trying to sound soothing to someone who hadn’t been soothed once in almost a hundred years.
She jabbed a bent finger at him. “Where you think you got to go in the hurricane?”
He took a breath and let it out slowly. “To Maggie Redmond’s.”
“No. I won’t have none of this,” she said, and started inching toward the hallway that led to the front door. “You need stay right where you at, and you get your mind off that girl. I told you leave it alone, me!”
Boudreaux watched her head out the kitchen doorway at what would have been breakneck speed for someone whose neck was already broken. Boudreaux supposed she was going to head him off at the pass. He looked at Amelia. “Go make sure she doesn’t unlock that door,” he said.
Amelia sighed and put down the saucer, then went after her mother. Boudreaux dropped his cell phone into his trouser pocket and heard it tap against the switchblade he’d carried every day for forty years. Then he headed for the back door. On his way, he could hear Miss Evangeline in the hallway.
“You think you go somewhere,” she was saying. “You try and I put my foot to that Cajun ass.”