Oh, God, he thought as he raced toward the shore. That sounds like gunfire!
Matt's feet could not propel him fast enough. He felt like a man moving underwater as he untied the dinghy and shoved it into the rough sea. Because his legs trembled so badly, he thought for a moment that he wouldn't be able to lift them over the side and into the inflatable. His body responded to danger as it had in Hanoi when the Viet Cong half carried, half dragged him to the infamous torture chamber, otherwise known as the Green Knobby Room. Panic bubbled up his throat and threatened to choke him. He sobbed. As the dinghy plunged through the ragged chop, he clutched the twelve-gauge. I'm a good shot, he reassured himself, and with this, I can hit what I need to. He thought he heard the dull throb of an engine somewhere near the channel entrance. The Amani gradually took shape in the gloom. It wandered at its mooring, and this movement, coupled with his weak legs, made it difficult for him to board. Mustering all his strength, he hoisted himself over the stern rail and called out.
"Alex!" He heard waves slapping the hull and the wind tugging at the sail cover. He waited with his twelve-gauge pointed at the companionway. Because his hands had begun to quake, he gripped the gun like a vise. Overwhelmed by his concern for Alex, he leaped into the cabin and groped for a light. The air below still felt warm. Matt saw that Alex wasn't there. No one was on the boat. He quickly examined the companionway hatch and found a hole the size of a fist had been blown through it. This opening had enabled someone to reach in, remove the flag pole and hatch boards, and enter. And I told her she'd be safe. Oh, God. He felt something sticky beneath his feet and kneeled down to see what it was. It appeared that something had spilled on the floor. He fumbled for his flashlight and aimed its beam on the teak boards. To his horror, he saw blood, fresh bright blood. Lots of it.
"Alex," he whispered. "Alex." He stood up, turned off the cabin light, and crept up the steps. Crouched in the cockpit, he peeked over the stern rail and looked toward the cabin cruiser. He stared until he was dizzy. It was so dark and windy his eyes kept watering. He wiped them, blinked. There was no way around it. The Happy Hour was gone. And Alex was gone.
Matt stood up, looked to the heavens, and emitted a raging cry that was swallowed up by the wind, the waves, and the impassive night sky.
Copyright Sheryl Jane Stafford, 2001. All rights reserved. Reproduced by permission of Sheryl Jane Stafford.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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