In a flash, Nicki leaped towards him, pushing his arm backwards just as the shot rang out. Chester immediately stumbled backwards, glancing down at his chest, which was now bleeding almost as badly as Nicki's. "Oh...why...?" he managed before slumping to the ground. Samantha hesitantly reach for his wrist. "He's dead," she pronounced.
"I didn't mean it!" Nicki was horrified, "I just...!"
"Nicki, he was going to kill us; it was either him or us," Samantha, shaken to be so close to a dead body herself, put an arm around her sympathetically.
"At any rate, we'd better get moving; someone would have heard that shot," Jessie glanced hesitantly out the door, although the hallway was deserted at the moment, "Got enough feeling back in your legs, Nicki?"
"Some, but they're still pretty numb," she admitted, rubbing them to try and wake them up.
"OK, Sam, take one arm," Jessie hefted Nicki's left one, "Don't worry, Nicki, we'll get you out of here soon. There's plenty of boats down there..."
"Hey!" it was Edgar at the other end of the hall. A shot rang out, slamming into the wall inches from the girls. "On second thought, RUN!" Samantha came to a quick decision. She and Jessie half-dragged Nicki around the corner as another shot just missed as well. "Hide, hide, in here!" Samantha pushed open a cell door and hustled the others inside. They pushed the door shut and slid to the floor out of sight as Edgar slid to a stop right outside. "Well!?" Rex shouted impatiently from the other end of the hall, "Where are they!?"
"How should I know!?" Edgar shouted back, "Maybe they went back downstairs through the back staircase!"
"Well, go look there; I don't want those three brats getting off this island alive!" his boss snapped. Two set of footprints bustled off down the hall. The girls waited until all was quiet outside before opening the door again. "We'd better move in case they come back," Jessie looked worried, "They'll search around here in each cell when they see we're not down there."
"I think I have enough feeling in my legs to walk now," Nicki told her, and although she was swaying on her feet, she was able to stand upright now.
"Good, Nicki, the exit's back this way," Samantha waved her back around the corner. Although she was feeling a little lightheaded from everything, Nicki rushed back around the corner with her friends, down the hall and down the stairs to the cave under the island. "So this is it," she remarked, staring at all the boats moored in the cave, "These guys are pirates; they kill and rob their victims and probably sell their boats off on the black market or something. They've probably got..."
She tripped over a bag lying against the wall, which slumped forward. Out of the front slid a patch of familiar hair. Suddenly fascinated and horrified, Nicki hesitantly opened the bag...and had to jam a fist to her mouth to keep from screaming. Staring blankly right back at her was Heather's severed head-and other severed body parts. They'd found the killers' victims. "OH MY GOD!" she moaned in a high voice, feeling like throwing up, "Heather...I hated her, but to have her end up like this...what happened!?"
"I, I, I think that's Tim Reilly right there," Jessie numbly pointed at another, male head deeper down in the bag, "Oh my...so this is what they did to...Sam, remember what they said earlier when we were still tied up in the hold!?" she turned weakly to the brunette, "If that was Adam they were talking about...!"
"Adam? What about Adam!?" Nicki felt a lurch of horror inside of her. When neither of her friends answered, she pressed, "Come on, tell me, what's happened to Adam!?"
"Um, Nicki," Samantha began very slowly, "Jessie and I heard these guys say that they'd taken out our 'contact on the beach.' Adam had stayed behind to man the radio when we went looking for you. Now we don't know what they meant, but..."
"No, no, they couldn't have, THEY COULDN'T HAVE!" Nicki found herself shrieking in horror. Not Adam, not the sweetest boy she'd ever met...!
"Nicki, come on, don't scream!" Jessie clapped a hand to her mouth, "Do you want to tip them off that we're here!? Come on, let's just get one of these boats and try and get back to shore; maybe he isn't dead."
Nicki wasn't listening. She was frantically tearing through the bag, gruesome though its contents were. The good news was that Adam's remains, if he was in fact dead, weren't in there. But she knew these men were professionals; if Adam had been "taken out," they would have made good sure of it. The tears flowed in buckets from her eyes again; why did Adam have to pay for this...!?
"Nicki, come on, help tie this one off," Samantha was already aboard the nearest boat. Nicki wiped the tears away and undid the lines mooring it to the cave wall. Glancing back at the entrance, she saw the storm still raging outside. "Do we want to chance it with this still going full blast?" she asked haltingly.
"It's better than staying around here and waiting for those guys to kill us," Jessie pulled the lever to raise the anchor, "See if there's a key in the wheelhouse, Nicki."
"On the contrary, all of you freeze," came another voice from the wheelhouse, accompanied by a gun cocking. Nicki's blood froze. It couldn't be, not...
"MR. SMARR!?" she gasped, shocked.
"Hello Nicki," he looked grim, "I really wished you hadn't intruded into what was going on here."
"I see," she mumbled in shock, "THAT'S why you asked Sam and Jessie to go put up signs for the hurricane; it was just a ploy to have me alone when the killers put out that phony S.O.S. call; you wanted no one to be able to come and help me when I was kidnapped by them!"
"And it was you who tipped them off that Sam and I were going out to look for Nicki, so they could grab us too," an equally shocked Jessie added, "But why!? Why would you agree to help people like this do the things they've done!?"
"Because Larry's my brother," Rex stepped onto the boat behind the girls, gun drawn and with Edgar in tow, "I needed someone I could trust when I decided to set up my little operation here. He'd listen in on the boat signals and radio me when the weather was right and we could strike unprotected ships. It was his idea to use the whole local legend of the sea monster; I wasn't sure it was quite necessary, but if it kept people guessing, why complain?"
"And I get an equal cut of the profits from each robbery," Smarr finished, "but unfortunately, because you girls tried to figure out what was going on, the cover got completely blown."
"Adam," his memory flashed through Nicki's mind. A rage was building up inside of her. "What did you do to Adam, Mr. Smarr!?"
"Oh, don't worry about him, Nicki, he's on the floor in my cabin, not to bother you again," he looked a little repulsed, but nonetheless convinced whatever he'd done had been necessary. Nicki lost all self-control. "YOU FILTHY DEVIL!" she snarled leaping at him with her arms outstretched. Her boss shoved her away and clamped his hands down on her throat, leaving her gasping for air yet again. "LEAVE HER ALONE!" Samantha rushed forward to help Nicki. Smarr raised his gun and brought it down violently hard on her head. "Oh God, Sam!" Nicki gasped in horror to see her friend collapse unconscious to the floor, or perhaps even...
"She brought on herself, Nicki," Smarr looked stunned at what he was capable of, but he quickly changed expressions to one of resolve, pushing Nicki up against the boat railing next to an equally horrified Jessie, "If you don't want to meet Samantha's fate, don't fight back any more. What do we do now?" he asked his brother.
"Now we'll start over again elsewhere along the coast-after we finally dispose of your nosy lifeguards for good," Rex glared right in Nicki's face.
"Mr. Smarr, please, you said you respected how well I've done all summer!" she begged him to intercede, "You wouldn't want to be responsible for the deaths of...!"
"I meant what I said, Nicki; you were the best lifeguard I had in years," he told her glumly. Lowering his head, he turned to the convicts. "Do as you want with her and the others."
"No, please, Mr. Smarr, you can't do this!" Nicki protested as Edgar pulled her arms behind her back and started tying her hands together, "You can't want to...!"
A thick blue rag was jammed into her mouth. "Just shut it!" Rex warned her, hefting a wide strip of white adhesive tape, "I swear, the sooner we get rid of you, you whiny little jerk, the better!"
He wrapped the tape around her head over her lips more times than she could count, sealing her mouth firmly shut. He then joined Edgar in tying her up from head to toe. Nicki grimaced as each knot was tied bone-crunching tight, too weakened from her earlier struggles and loss of blood to effectively resist. To her left, there was a moan as Mr. Smarr stuffed a red rag into Jessie's mouth, then took the tape off Edgar and wrapped it around her head over her lips as well. Jessie stared at Nicki once she was completely gagged again, her green eyes wide in fear. And Nicki couldn't blame her; there was no one left to come to their aid this time.
"That's good," Rex stepped back from Nicki, having left her entire body immobilized, "But we're going to make real sure you can't get loose this time. Edgar..."
The professional kidnapper handed him a large sack. Rex lifted up Nicki's legs and slid them into it. Nicki tried to roll away, but Edgar held her still until Rex had pulled the sack all the way up to her chin. He tied the drawstring tight, then tied more ropes around her waist and thighs, leaving Nicki feeling like a mummy. She stared somberly at Jessie, who was putting up more of a fight as she was being tied into a sack of her own, but in no time she too was completely immobilized in it as well. Her eyes still wide, the redhead's shoulders slumped in resignation. She and Nicki could only watch as the men turned their attention to the still unconscious Samantha, who was quickly gagged and tied up in a sack of her own as well. "All right, put them in the cabin," the head lifeguard mumbled softly, "Then go on and take care of them."
Nicki was picked up and carried to the middle of the boat. A door was opened, and she was flung roughly inside, landing with a thud on her side. She grimaced as Samantha landed right on top of her. She strained to roll out of the way and glanced around what was to be their prison for the moment. It wasn't encouraging; just four steel walls and nothing else. Nothing they could use to get loose was anywhere in sight. And even though her hands were only tied now, it did her no good tied into this sack, where she couldn't use them even if she did get them loose.
With a low squeak, Jessie was flung into the corner. "Enjoy the ride, girls; it'll be the last one you ever take," Edgar hissed at them.
"Wait," Rex walked forward with the roll of tape in hand, "Don't want to spoil anything, do we?"
He bent over Nicki, and despite her efforts to avoid the tape, she was soon firmly blindfolded again. Shaking, she heard the sound of the engines starting. "OK, head on out," Rex called after having presumably blindfolded her friends as well. The door to the cabin was slammed shut and locked after him. Nicki felt the boat moving forward. A soft moan heralded Samantha's return to consciousness next to her just seconds before the sudden roar of the storm as they exited the cavern drowned out all noise. Suddenly the waves kicked in full force, and the boat rocked violently. Nicki was flung roughly against the wall behind her as the boat crested a wave, then was thrown with even more force all the way across the cabin as it flew down the other side. She moaned in pain as she hit the wall hard, straining every muscle in her body with her remaining strength to at least loosen the ropes a little. But there wasn't enough time to concentrate as she was flung backwards again with the next wave, crashing into either Samantha or Jessie in the middle of the room.
What was their fate now going to be, she wondered with a shiver, her ears being assaulted by the deafening crashing of the waves against the boat? No one could survive out in a storm like this. Were the men going to set them adrift to be drowned by the hurricane? That, she knew, would be a slow, agonizing death. Then again, none of the immediate alternatives were any more appealing...
It seemed like forever that she was tossed about like a rag doll inside the cabin as they headed to wherever they were going. Eventually, though, she heard the hum of the engine die. The cabin door was unlocked and opened, just as a torrential shower of water inundated the cabin, splashing her hard into the back wall under a wall of water that she was convinced was going to drown her then and there before it mercifully pulled back out. "OK, Miss Koppel, Miss Greenbriar," Rex had to shout over the din of the storm to be heard at all, "Don't you two bother getting up, if you could anyway, because this doesn't concern you; we'll just lock you girls back up in here, and the storm'll smash this boat to pieces in short time and take care of you that way. As for you, Miss Price, though, your time's up now."
Nicki was lifted up and carried out into the maelstrom, crying out into her gag as she and Rex were inundated with another wave. He swayed from the water's impact, but remained on his feet and continued carrying Nicki away. She could only barely and briefly hear Samantha and Jessie crying fearfully into their own gags for mercy behind her as the door to the cabin was slammed shot and locked, leaving the two other lifeguards to meet their grim fate. She heard the clanking of a chain as she was lifted up high and lowered down over the railing, it felt like when it brushed against the back of her head. She also felt cold metal against her head now-the anchor. "OH NO, PLEASE, NOT THAT!" she begged in her mind, numb with terror.
But it was true; they were now chaining her to the anchor. "Once you're all set, Miss Price, we'll just throw the lever here and send you down to a deep, dark watery grave," Edgar sneered loudly right in her ear to be heard over the storm, "The perfect resting place for a nosy young lifeguard. And once you've hit the bottom, we'll cut the chain and leave you down there for all eternity. Don't worry about your friends Miss Koppel and Miss Greenbriar; they'll drift around in the waves for a little while once we set the boat adrift before they get smashed up by the waves and drown. Meanwhile, we'll escape in our sub down there to a new hideout and pick up where we left off. And remember, in the last few minutes of your life, if you hadn't gotten involved in what we were doing, both you and your friends would be safely back on shore now."
Nicki hung her head. They were right, she conceded; she had dragged Jessie and Samantha into this. Their deaths would be on her conscience. If only she'd been able to get them off the island; now her fate would be theirs in the end.
She was shaking as the men stepped back, having chained her from head to toe to the anchor. It would only be a matter of seconds now. There'd be a sudden jolt as they dropped the anchor, she knew, and then nothing but water. "Get ready and hurry it up," Mr. Smarr shouted impatiently from the submarine, apparently parked right next to the boat, "The sooner we get her underwater, the sooner we can close up and get out of this mess."
"Don't worry, Larry, I'll just pull this..."
"Wait, is that a boat there?" came Edgar's worried voice. Nicki's spirits briefly rose; was help at hand at the moment of doom!?
"Never mind that; watch out for that wave!" Smarr cried out in pure terror, "That's got to be at least thirty...OH MY GOD, TURN!"
"TOO LA-!" Rex never got to finish his cry. The wave crashed hard into the boat-too hard, for Nicki felt the sudden jolt as the anchor dropped; the wave must have been hard enough to throw the anchor lever itself, she realized in horror, but knew it was already too late as it plunged into the ocean and dropped rapidly into the depths, taking her down with it straight to the bottom...