Excerpt of A Deadly Exchange by Sheryl Jane Stafford
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When darkness shrouded the anchorage, Matt went below decks. Alex had thrown together some sandwiches for dinner, but neither of them had much appetite. Every few minutes Matt would get up, turn off the cabin light, and check for any activity on the cabin cruiser. Each time he looked, he saw the faint outline of The Happy Hour as it silently rode the waves. Inside his head a battle raged. Was he just being paranoid and frightening Alex unnecessarily or were these guys a real threat to them?
Matt picked up the thirty-eight from the navigation table, pressed the release lever, and swung open the cylinder. He carefully dropped all six bullets in his hand and checked them for corrosion. Before reinserting them into the cylinder, he looked down the barrel to see if there were any obstructions. Once the bullets were back in the cylinder, he closed the chamber and wiggled it to be sure it was locked. When he set the gun on the desk top, Alex jumped.
"I've gotta get a grip," she said as she cleared the uneaten sandwiches and iced tea glasses from the table. I can't believe how jittery I am." "You have reason to be. Nothing about those characters adds up and we should be concerned." "Do you think they want to steal the boat?" she said. "I don't know if they're after the boat. They don't look like they would be very good sailors. That skinny guy, whatever his name is, can hardly walk around the deck without tripping over his feet. I think that if anything, they're after our money, the electronics, or both." Alex fussed about the cabin, straightening the cans of applesauce and lima beans and folding and unfolding dish towels. Matt wanted to be prepared for the nine o-clock weather forecast. He got out his single-side-band receiver and set it on the dining table. The wind had shifted 180 degrees and the boat had pivoted at its mooring. The anchorage was becoming uncomfortable.
"I'd better go forward and put chafing gear on that mooring line," he told her. "Can't hurt. Turn off the cabin light soon. We need to conserve our battery power." "Okay, just a minute. Here's a flashlight," she said and handed it to him. "Thanks." He leaned over and nuzzled the top of her head.
"It's going to be all right," he assured her. "Really." She looked at him wide eyed and nodded without conviction.
As he held onto the lifeline and clutched his way to the bow, he glanced at the cabin cruiser and noticed that something was different about it. He stared for a moment but wasn't sure what it was. Crouched on the fore deck, Matt wrapped the mooring line with some canvas and tied it with a couple pieces of cord. It had already begun to stretch and groan against the strain. He watched it for a while before making his way aft. Amidships, he paused and peered into the darkness.
Something is different. What? The longer he stared at the outline of the cabin cruiser the fuzzier it became. He glanced down and looked up again. God, their dinghy's gone! Did they haul it on board? If not, where the hell are they? He looked around. There was no sign of anyone on the forty-footer next door, no glow of cigarettes. Even their noisy generator was mute. If the fishermen's two power boats had not been tied to its stern, Matt would have thought that no one was aboard. Maybe their dinghy is on the starboard side of the big boat. No, that wouldn't make sense. It would be almost impossible to board from anywhere other than the stern. He rushed to the cabin and called to Alex in a hushed voice. "Where are you?" "I'm here," she whispered. "I want you to get the hatches," he told her. "Why? What's the matter?" "Get the hatches and help me close up the boat." "Is it going to rain?" "Yes." Alex hurriedly inserted the companionway hatch boards and shut the windows.
"Get the stick from the American flag, you know, the pole, and give it to me," he said. Alex removed a cushion that covered one of the port storage areas and retrieved the flagpole.
Copyright Sheryl Jane Stafford, 2001. All rights reserved. Reproduced by permission of Sheryl Jane Stafford.