Sailing into Danger
"That's it, just bag it all up for the lab, boys," the sheriff for Surf County instructed his men as they sealed up the evidence that had come ashore. "OK, I take it you two were the ones that made the call," he walked over to where Nicki and Adam were standing, "Your name, Miss?"
"Nicole Price," she told him, still shaken from the experience, which had only gotten worse when even more body parts had floated ashore after the head, "I prefer Nicki, though."
"I see. And you?" he asked Adam.
"Adam Marshton, sir," Adam also looked pale from the experience.
"You said you were just sitting here on the beach and the dead bodies just sort of floated up to you?" he checked his notes.
"Yes, sir," Adam nodded, "Actually, sir, Nicki here has been sort of investigating a little herself; she has a bit of a theory for you."
"Did you have to tell him!?" Nicki whispered to him, nervous.
"What theory, Miss Price?" the sheriff glanced at her. Nicki had a feeling she'd better tell the whole story anyway. She slowly laid out her theory that the appearance of the dismembered bodies were related to the wreckage she'd discovered earlier in the day and the disappearance of Tim Reilly and the Cochranes. "Well, let me say first and foremost I don't approve of junior detectives in my district," the sheriff shook his head disapprovingly, "I don't want to be responsible for endangering a minor, young lady. However, I must admit, your theory does seem to make some sense-apart from this whole sea monster nonsense, it all seems quite plausible."
"Hey sheriff," a deputy came jogging up, "We lifted the prints off a couple of the hands; they match those college kids that disappeared the other day."
"I see," the sheriff nodded, a light coming on in his face, "Well Todd, we might be in the middle of something big here. Call the Coast Guard and tell them we'd like their cooperation in searching the ocean off Surf County; we may be in the middle of a major set of felonies here."
"Right sir," the deputy bustled off. The sheriff turned back to Nicki and Adam. "Now you two just step back and let us handle this from here on," he advised them sternly, "We can crack this on our own from here. But I would like to thank you two for bringing it to our attention. Now run along and have a good night."
"OK sir, thank you," Nicki told him. She was silent as she and Adam started walking back towards the beach house. Sea monsters or not, this looked graver than it had appeared even a few hours ago. There had been eight college kids on that boat, she knew from listening in on Mr. Smarr's conversation from earlier in the day, and only the remains of three had washed up next to her, she'd overheard the police's official count. Likely the rest were in the same condition as their friends that had been recovered. Had the Cochranes and Tim met the same fate? It chilled her blood to think a human being would be capable of such wanton cruelty.
"You OK, Nicki?" Adam asked her, concerned, "You're really quiet..."
"Oh, yeah, I'm, I'm fine, Adam," she said quickly, "It's just...that scared me; did it scare you?"
"Incredibly," he shivered, "I hope that's one sight I never see again."
"Me too," she admitted, "To tell the truth, I'll be glad right now to step back and let the police handle it from here on; I think I don't really want to know any more about what's going on here."
"If you ask me, that's probably a good idea, Nicki," Adam came to a stop atop the last dune before the beach house. He gently took her hand. "You going to be all right here by yourself tonight?" he asked her, "If you'd like me to stay and..."
"No, I'll be fine, Adam, but thank you," she smiled at him.
"Well if you do want me at all, here's my number," he dug out a piece of paper and wrote it down, "Call at any hour. And please, call after you've gone back home. Now that I know you, I don't think I ever want to truly say goodbye to you again."
"Neither do I, Adam," she smiled warmly. The two of them kissed again. Adam dug out the ring and slipped it gently onto her finger. "So you'll remember me always," he told her kindly, "Have a nice night, Nicki."
"You too," she waved goodbye to him as he walked up the dune and out of sight. She sighed happily. Even with the horrible experience, she'd found true love, and it was entirely worth the horrors to have it.
Still, the unpleasant of the severed limbs stayed with her as she walked inside. "Hey you guys," she called to her friends, turning into the den, "You should know I just had a brush with...What's wrong?" she asked them. For they were staring at the television in the den, looking like they'd just seen a ghost.
"We've got trouble, Nicki, big trouble," Samantha pointed at the TV screen, "The hurricane just made an unexpected turn west. It'll impact within fifty miles of Coronado Beach, if not right on top of it, by this time tomorrow night."
"No, no, you can't go in the ocean today," Nicki called loudly to a boy who was coming close to the waterline late the next afternoon. The surf had definitively risen overnight and the waves coming ashore now looked large and threatening. Moreover, all day darker clouds had been streaming in from the ocean; those on the horizon now looked very threatening from her position on the lifeguard tower.
"Any word?" she called to Samantha at the radio inside the tower. Her friend had stuck alongside it all day, listening intently for the expected order to evacuate the beach, which truthfully Nicki thought was taking longer than it was safe to.
"No, nothing yet," the brunette shook her head, "Probably shouldn't be too much longer the way things are going out here now," she gestured at the sky out to sea. "Jessie," she called to the redhead as she came up the ramp, huffing, "Did you get through to your parents?"
"Yeah, and they'll be OK driving us to my aunt's in Flagston; that should be out of the hurricane's path," Jessie told the two of them, "But I think we'd better be out on the road immediately after the evacuation order comes out, or we'll never get there before the storm hits, so it's really a good thing we loaded up last night."
Nicki nodded in agreement. Once it was clear Coronado Beach was in a storm warning, the three of them had stuffed Samantha's car with everything perishable and driven it over to the Greenbriars' a few blocks away so they could leave with Jessie's family for safety at a moment's notice. She was surprised her parents hadn't called yet to check on her, but then again maybe they weren't entirely sure she was in the danger zone at the moment...
"Excuse me, miss," one of the few bathers on the beach called to her, towel in hand, "I take it no swimming is allowed today?"
"Nope," Nicki shook her head, "You'll have to..."
"You!" came a murderous voice behind her. It was Heather, looking livid. "I'll kill you!" she threatened Nicki, "You can't take Adam away from me!"
"Well Heather, it's time you woke up to the fact he doesn't like being suffocated and pushed around by you," Nicki said more than a little coolly, glad that Adam had put Heather in her place at last.
"Yeah," Jessie snorted from the tower, "It's time to wake up to the fact no one likes you, Heather."
"I'll kill you!" Heather jumped on top of Nicki and started swinging punches. "Hey, hey, stop it!" came Mr. Smarr's furious voice from behind them. His arms reached in and pulled Heather roughly off Nicki. "Stop it!" the lifeguard chief upbraided her, "I won't stand for fighting on my beach for anything! Now get back to your post; just because there's almost no one here today, that doesn't mean you should just walk off, Miss Rundle!"
Heather glared at him, but skulked off. "Thank you, Mr. Smarr," Nicki thanked him, climbing to her feet again.
"Any time, Nicki," he told her. "Jessie, Samantha," he called to her friends, "I'm going to need a some extra hands putting up those no swimming signs along the waterline further up; think you two could lend me a hand?"
"Guess so, Mr. Smarr," Samantha climbed down the walkway, Jessie in tow, "How about Nicki?"
"Nicki can stay here and keep watch, just in case something should happen, and I know you'll do quite well, right Nicki?" he smiled at her.
"I'll do my best, Mr. Smarr," she told him.
"That's all I need to know. Samantha, Jessie, let's get to work," he led the two of them down the beach. Nicki walked back up to the tower and dug out her Claudia Waterman book again. She was barely able to concentrate on the pages, however, her attention diverted to the dangerously black sky on the horizon and the distant but intense rumblings of thunder. It looked like one of the central parts of the storm, if not the exact center was bearing down on Coronado Beach, and she was amazed they hadn't been given the evacuation order yet. If it took much longer, they and the Greenbriars wouldn't be even close to getting out of town in time.
"SOS, SOS!" came a sudden frantic cry on the radio. Nicki bolted upright and knocked her chair over rushing to activate it. "This is the Coronado Beach lifeguard staff, over!?" she called.
"Send help quick; we're foundering out here!" a desperate voice cried, "About three miles offshore near the northern end of Coronado Beach! We're going to be swamped at any minute; help us!"
"Don't worry, sir; we'll get to you as soon as we can!" Nicki told him, anxiety in her voice. She switched to the general lifeguard frequency. "Attention everyone, this is Nicki in Tower Twelve; there's a boat in trouble; I'm going to try and help!" she told all the other lifeguards, "Stay on standby; I'll call for backup if I need it!"
She switched off before anyone could counter her. What she was about to do might be foolhardy with a storm about to hit, but she couldn't leave people to die out in the ocean, even with a hurricane coming.
She rushed from the tower towards the dock where the lifeguards' boats were moored. Even with Mr. Smarr's demand she not go out again, she felt it was a rule worth breaking with lives at stake. She untied the nearest boat, leaped in, started the engine, and zoomed out to sea in the general direction the imperiled seafarer had given her. Almost immediately, she got an impression of the force of the storm coming their way; large waves rose up beyond the breakwater, forcing Nicki to gun it to get past them before they came crashing down on top of her. Even when not in the path of the waves, the ocean churned roughly, making her feel sick already as the boat swayed from side to side violently. Still, she gunned it forward; no one was going to die on her watch.
The first raindrops were starting to fall when the boat came into sight, half-overturned and drifting in the surf. Her heart in her throat, she pulled up alongside it and dropped anchor. Hopefully everyone was still all right. She leaped on board and ran into the cabin. "Hello!?" she called out worriedly, glancing around the cabin, which appeared to be empty, "Coronado Beach lifeguards, are you all right!?"
There was no answer and no sign of human life. Worriedly, Nicki threw open the hatch the engine room. No one there either. Had the caller drowned already or been swept out to sea? She ran to the far railing and looked out into the ocean...
When suddenly without warning, a hand was clamped over her mouth from behind. Another hand seized Nicki around the waist and wrestled her motionless. "Don't even think of fighting, missy," a sinister voice warned as a large, sharp knife was flashed right in Nicki's face, "You're my prisoner now, and you're staying right here with me."