Excerpt from A Deadly Exchange by Sheryl Jane Stafford, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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A Deadly Exchange

By Sheryl Jane Stafford

A Deadly Exchange

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"Here," she said as she handed it to him. He jammed the pole between the leading edge of the hatch and the fixed edge of the cabin top.

"There," he said, "now no one can open this from the outside." "Oh, God, Matt!" "Now, Alex, I want you to be calm. I need you to stay together. It's probably nothing, but those guys may have left their boat and I don't know what they're up to. They could have lifted their dinghy on board but I can't be sure." "Matt…" He heard a catch in her throat.

"Do you think…" "I don't know what to think. I'd better get my shotgun out of the hanging locker. And we'd better turn off the galley light." "Here," he said as he handed her the flashlight, "close all the curtains while I double check the hatches." The flashlight beamed brightly in the tiny cabin. Alex's fingers trembled as she fumbled with the curtains on the port side. "We're probably going to laugh about this one day," she said in a voice that didn't resemble her own. Matt didn't speak for a moment, then said, "I hope so." In a few minutes, the cabin became warm and close. Matt peeled off his shirt.

"Bring that flashlight over here to the locker," he said. "Shoving aside the foul weather gear, he reached for his twelve-gauge, that was leaning against the back wall. "I got it," he said with a grown. "The shells are in my drawer." "They used to be, honey. I moved them to the bottom of the locker to give you more drawer space." "Not a good place, babe. It gets awfully damp in there and the box will disintegrate pretty quickly." He stooped and fumbled in the bottom of the narrow closet.

"Aim that light a little lower," he said. The cardboard box containing the shells felt soft and pliable when he found it with his fingertips. As he lifted it, one end broke open and several shells tumbled out.

"Damn!" "I'm sorry, honey, I…" "Hold that light over here," he said as he began picking up the shells. "God, this locker stinks. Fiberglass." "That must be where they did some work on the boat." "H-m-m…" "What's the matter?" "I could be mistaken but I think this closet was bigger than this when we picked it up at the factory. Aim the light over here." "I've never really looked in there so I don't know," she said and coughed. "Hold the light still," he said as he began to run his hands along the new fiberglass at the back of the locker. "This is really strange. It feels like something… Let me have that flashlight." Matt aimed the beam directly at the wall and saw the smooth new fiberglass and fresh paint reflected in the light. He could think of no logical reason for another wall to have been added nor could he imagine any kind of accident or collision which would damage this precise area. He stood up and went to another storage compartment which housed his tools, opened one of the boxes, and took out a chisel and hammer. When he returned to the hanging locker, he squatted and handed her the flashlight. Using the tools, he began to chip and pry at the new fiberglass. It was slow going at first but after several desperate minutes, he was able to chop out a six-inch hole. With his fingers, he clawed at the sides of the opening and crammed his hand inside.

"There's something in here." "What is it?" "I don't know. I just," he said and groaned, "about have it." He wormed his hand backwards and came up holding a plastic-wrapped package. He had cut his knuckles on the rough edges of the fiberglass and blood trickled down his arm. Matt didn't hear Alex saying, "What is it? What is it?" All he could see was the bag; all he could hear was a roar in his ears. With trembling hands, he removed the package from its storage bag and peeled away the plastic wrap. "What is it?" Alex kept saying. "What?" He held his breath as he pulled the top of the bag apart and looked inside. It contained a fine white powder. He rubbed some of it between his fingers and sniffed it. The substance smelled a little like ether.

Copyright Sheryl Jane Stafford, 2001. All rights reserved. Reproduced by permission of Sheryl Jane Stafford.

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