Dragging her backpack on over her shoulder sent more pain through her. She and the rest of The Five, as they'd dubbed themselves as kids, had stayed out until two a.m., laughing riotously over everything in their lives, but most especially over Fiona's having to go on a fishing trip.
"You?" Jean had said. "I can't imagine you more than two miles from a manicurist." Jean was a sculptor and her hands always looked scraped and worn. But all four of the women knew that Jean didn't need to do anything to make a living; she had a trust fund.
As Fiona walked into the airport, the bright light coming through the huge windows made her hide her eyes while she fumbled in her bag for the sunglasses she'd bought at LaGuardia Airport. In New York they'd seemed so dark she could hardly see through them. But now the glare made them seem like clear glass.
The airport seemed empty as she trudged ahead, her aching head filled with nothing but bad thoughts. How was she going to survive the next three days? Would this man require her to clean fish?
When she stepped onto the escalator leading down to the baggage carousels, the movement almost made her retch. Quickly, she fumbled in her bag for a tissue, then held it to her mouth. Why was she here and what did this man Roy Hudson want with her? And why Florida? And if Florida, why not some nice clean, private beach? Why was he insisting on going into the swamps or whatever to look for --
Because Fiona had a tissue to her mouth and her eyes closed, she had descended the escalator without seeing the silent, watching crowd at the bottom. But when she stepped off, she nearly fell on top of a man with a paunch and not much hair.
"Pardon me," she said in a voice as husky as her brain was feeling.
The man looked up at her and his face softened. "Any time," he said, then stepped aside so she could see what they were all watching.
Later, Fiona said that she didn't think, she just moved. What she saw -- her eyes blinking behind the dark glasses, her mind full of swamps and alligators and the treachery of the state of Florida -- was a man with his arm being eaten off by an enormous alligator. As the alligator started to thrash its tail, then move its head from side to side, the man shouted something incomprehensible as he tried to free himself from the attacking reptile.
In school Fiona had been the girl with the fastest reaction time in any game, whether it was soccer or pickup sticks, and now she lost no time. Next to her was a woman with an airport luggage cart, and on top of it was a pink bowling ball bag with the name Dixie embroidered on it.
Without a thought, Fiona picked up the bag and threw it with all her might at the midsection of the alligator.
She wasn't prepared for what happened next. The alligator exploded! It didn't open its mouth and release its victim. Instead, there was a terrific noise, then the whole nasty green thing seemed to fly into thousands of pieces that went flying around the airport.
While Fiona stood there in stunned silence, the rest of the people in the airport seemed to go crazy. Instantly there was screaming and shouts of, "Bomb, bomb!"; then sirens went off and people started running.
Unmoving, still not understanding what had happened, Fiona removed her sunglasses and looked at what she thought had been an alligator. A man came toward her and there seemed to be a double row of teeth attached to his upper arm. Her eyes were on the oddity of the teeth, but when she looked up at the man to ask why he was wearing teeth, she saw that he was furious and he was coming after her.
Instinctively, Fiona took a step backward, whereupon she tripped over the luggage cart of the woman who had had the bowling ball bag. But now the woman was gone, probably to join all the many people who were screaming and running frantically for the exits.
Copyright © 1999 by Deveraux, Inc. Published with the permission of the publisher, Pocket Books
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Southern Gothic fantasy with a contemporary flare set in Savannah
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