Cruel Summer

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Chapter 17

Carter

The back of the Revenge was empty when we returned to it, the three men walking right up the plank and onto my floating home like they owned it. A firm hand on my shoulder, Declan guided me back to the shelter, forcing me onto the bench.

I glanced around, “Where is he?” I asked while the short man I had heard called ‘Garrett’ came up to the wheel and turned the engine over. My body tensed in the seat and I searched around the other boats, wondering if this wasn’t going to lead to someone’s death again.

Should I be screaming out for help right now? Where was Jackson? Seeing my body tense with the start of the engine, Garrett turned slightly to me with an unconcerned look, almost seeming to read my thoughts on calling for help, “Please don’t do anything silly.”

I stared up at him with a helpless look. “Is he even on this boat?” A horrible thought hit me when I realized what this was probably about if Declan was here. It wasn’t about me and Rob at all, Rob was just a catalyst. “Is he still alive?” I whispered up to the stocky man with round cheeks.

From below, the Indonesian man I had passed by earlier on the jetty, emerged on the stairwell. A grim look on his face. Garrett ignored him for a second, still studying me. “Of course he is still alive!” He proclaimed with an enthusiastic manner, as if I was the crazy one, before glancing at the new figure, “Right?” he asked.

The Indonesian nodded before returning below again, and I sighed with relief. Declan came into the shelter, “Ready.” He simply said, and Garrett gestured with his head for him to place himself on the back of the boat.

With an expert hand, he began to drive the Revenge out of the dock and through the Marina as I helplessly looked on, hoping to hell someone would see us, notice it was unusual for this boat to be leaving at this time of day. But the few faces I saw didn’t seem to notice anything beyond normal and were too far away for me to subtly signal, even if the squat little man hadn’t been right beside me. I swiveled in my seat, spying Rob up under the mast, looking out on the water. What the hell was he thinking? Enlisting drug dealers to help kidnap his ex?

He must be some level beyond desperate if he thought this was going to work out in his favor. Studying the man holding the wheel of the boat like it was his to control, I watched him as he calmly passed others boats filled with relaxed tourist and vacationers. Short, a full head of brown curly hair, an old collared shirt and long trousers to match. The most unassuming drug dealer I had ever seen.

It was brilliant.

He tossed a glance aside to me and our eyes met, a shiver running down my spine with the contact. He looked harmless, like a man stuck in some kind of timewarp with his older styled clothes and hair. But that stare…

Declan was definitely dangerous in a ‘teen who grew up poor’ kind of way, taking what he wanted when he needed it. But the man in front of me was different. He calculated and I suddenly got the feeling he was ten times more dangerous as the others on this boat. A heavy weight settled on my chest as I realized the only outcome of this trip. I wouldn’t be leaving it.

I should jump ship while I could still see the shore and town. Many jellyfish might not be around with so many boats around. I pushed the thought away as soon as I remembered the reason I first came on. Jackson. He had to be below but if he hadn’t rushed up the stairs as soon as I was brought aboard, I doubt he was conscious. My eyes drew to the stairs leading down just as a loud crash sounded. Someone was rummaging through the cabin, searching through the cupboards.

I watched helplessly, feeling Declan’s menacing presence close behind me but refused to look at him, instead thinking over my choices as we slowly left other boats behind, heading North along the deeper channel of the reef. Maybe an hour had passed as I thought about my phone in the cubby seat. But it was probably trashed if the crashes coming from below were correct. Rob probably had a phone on him and I was confident once he realized who he just handed us over to, he would happily call the coast guard.

Another crash rang out, glass shattering from below and the sound of a man, angrily grunted echoed down the boat. A moment later, the Indonesian emerged once more, this time, he had a small pistol in his hand and sweat hanging on his brow from exertion. He gave Garrett a hard stare before turning to me.

I swallowed at the sight of the gun, instantly recognizing it from the one time I had seen it used in my defense. Jackson’s gun. Garrett let out an exasperated breath and nodded once to Declan behind me. Rough hands came under my arm and the cretin hauled me up to my feet. I swung my free arm to hit him with force and make him regret touching me but it was again stopped by the surprisingly strong arm of Garrett who gave me a reproachful look, simply accompanied by a strained, “Don’t”.

The tone of voice immediately forced the strength from my arm, my previous impenetrable will now subdued by the man I was sure had used force and violence to obtain anything denied to him. Our eyes met for a brief moment, the backdrop of the blue waters of paradise behind him in sharp contrast to his homely features, before Declan’s hand forced me down to the cabin. His hand was still clenching tight as I stumbled down the stairs and into the cabin.

Instead of finding Jackson, the main cabin had been totally trashed. My heart fell slightly with the knowledge that the upgrades and renovations were now for nothing. The cabinets of the kitchen, the cubbies of the benches, everything had been upended and tossed around. But oddly, not maliciously. Everything was toppled over, but in a manner that made it seem it was only to get to the bottom of the cabinets.

They were searching for something.

I spied my green duffel bag in the middle of the main room, underneath the dining table. It had been opened, searched, my personal wetsuit I had bought the week before half pulled out. But my phone was in there, and it was still turned on.

Before I could think any more about my potential phone, Declan pushed me toward the line of benches and I fell onto them, quickly turning myself around, not taking my eyes off the man who had once nearly sexually assaulted me. The sound of the boat’s engine cut, and the tread of several feet came down to the cabin. Garrett, followed by Rob, and the Indonesian came in from the hallways. Rob sat himself on the far side of the room, behind the table, a pensive look still on his face.

“Miss Magness, or Brunner,” Garrett said, stealing my attention from Rob. He was standing in front of me, almost like a judge, his hands clasped behind his back. “Where would Jackson hide something on this boat? Something big.”

He asked the question with bridled frustration, and I frowned, tilting my head over to Jackson’s personal cabinet now opened and ransacked. The bottle of green absinthe and a bottle of vinegar spilling out, the hidden gun already in the Indonesian’s pocket. Besides the engine room and the anchor chain storage, what you saw was what you got on the boat. Garrett shook his head at my gesture towards the cabinet, and I felt the need to jump to his defense,

“There is nothing hidden on this boat. Whatever you’re looking for isn’t here. And Jackson doesn’t take what isn’t his.”

Declan, leaning back on the dining table gave me a knowing look, his eyes wandering down my bare legs and I internally cringed at the erotic scene probably playing in his head. In front of me, Garrett, looking more and more like the leader of the bogan drug runners group, clicked his tongue and folded his arms in front of him.

“I’m sure Jackson is a great lay, Carter. And maybe you really don’t know anything about him but I’m afraid it looks like he is on the hook for a lot of money.”

I stiffened at the mention of money, suddenly remembering that my ‘cover’ had been blown, and that I might be the news source of that money lost. My eyes fell to Rob, sitting in the back corner, leaning on his knee and looking out the porthole like it was the most interesting thing in the world. Holy shit. I used every fiber of my being to will Rob to look at me and confrim my suspicions. He stoically kept his gaze out the window, and swiped his nose.

Was he absolutely out of his mind?

They were going to ransom me.

The Indonesian, still in his lean on the hallway shifted his weight, and my eyes vollied between all the men, a picture of calm rather than what was racing through my head. My phone was on, and I had just seen Joe. I glanced at the watch on my wrist. We were due to embark with the next tour group in thirty minutes, Linda would raise the flag of concern if we weren’t in our dock. I calculated we probably only had another hour until people would be looking for the Revenge. I returned to Garrett,

“So, what is the plan here? Whatever you think Jackson stole isn’t on this boat.”

He hung his head and nodded to the ground, as if he thought I was telling the truth, and then glanced aside at his foreign colleague who nodded also.

“Well, Miss Brunner, looks like we are heading North. The Revenge will be payment enough for the cargo lost. Will you help us sail? Unfortunately we do not have your experience on a boat like this.”

I shook my head with a small grin, “You know what? I’m good, just drop me off at the nearest island, thanks.”

Declan gave a slight chuckle at my sass and Rob shuffled in his seat uncomfortably, now finally giving me his attention. To my side, the Indonesian brought his hand from behind his back, a thick rope we used for tying the boat off in his hands and Garrett said, “I guess it was too much to hope for your help.” He clapped his hands together as if coming to a conclusion,

“But I’m sure we will manage if we stop at dark, yes?”

Garrett gave a head nod and said, “Budi, please tie Miss Brunner up her, just… in case.”

My body sat up alert as ‘Budi’ moved towards me now, and I was on my feet in a flash, running for the cabin stairs, now in flight mode. I was on the second stair when my ankle was clutched by a strong, unforgiving hand, and yanked back. I caught myself enough to save my face planting on the step but my torso caught the brunt of my fall and I was dragged back down to the cabin floor in a daze.

The hand pulled me over by my shoulder and onto my back, my own wrists quickly brought forward and I felt the rough rope wrap around them, tightening with each loop. I remembered to quickly squeeze my fist into balls and tense my muscles as the Budi did so. Hovering above me as he tied, I studied his face, feeling like I had seen him before, or someone like him. He quickly tied off the thin coarse cord and Declan behind me hoisted me up under my armpits.

His hand wandered around to the side of my breast and I twisted out of his hold, denying him any groping. He frowned and grabbed my arm with force again, a new thought coming over his features when Garrett interrupted,

“Enough, zip tie her ankle to the desk and let Ms. Brunner have a rest for a while,” he told Declan then addressed all the men, “We are going to need everyone up top if we are going to get this thing through the reef and up North. We’ll stop at sundown, so we need to make up some time.”

Declan and I kept our gazes locked in some twisted version of a showdown. I was not going to give an inch to this dreg of society, and if he thought he could get another grope without suffering the consequence to his face or dick, he was wrong. Another hand pulled me away and Garrett sat me at the dining table, a zip tie coming around my foot and securing me to the table in front.

I silently watched as the four men began to leave the interior, and I hollered at Garrett, “Wait! Where’s Jackson?” None of them responded but Rob, last to leave, gave me a worried look. Finally seeming like he was regretting his choice of bedfellows and I understood immediately. Rob was notorious for fuck ups like this, hence our present situation, but even he knew when he messed up beyond control. And this was definitely a text-book definition of a fuck-up.

The red ring around my wrists burned, blood was nearly starting to weep out from the marks the rope made against my struggles. I slumped back in the seat. It was useless. I thought I had been making headway getting this rope off my wrist but even if I did, I still had to contend with the ziptie. After what had to be a few hours of struggling against my binds and feeling the rougher waves of what had to be the outer reef, worry started to creep into my bones.

This was not good.

I looked out the small circular window at the darkening sky. We were going too fast for just a single engine, so the men above must have known how to use the sail. Sailing North under engine and sail power for three or four hours? We had to be at least half way up to the tip of Australia and way out of my known territory. Most certainly out of range of anyone who might be looking for us.

The engine behind the kitchen wall aprubtly stopped its thrumming, the boat slowing with each rock on the ocean’s waves. Eventually, a pair of feet came down the stairs and Rob entered the cabin, looking worn and tired. He sat on the bench opposite the cabin and looked to me with regret.

“Kidnapping and theft not the life you imagined, Stryker?” I sassed and he gave me a reproachful look, leaning over his knees.

“You know I didn’t plan this.”

“What did you think was going to happen? They would just hold me for a few days until good, old, definitely not overprotective Cameron Magness wired them some money, then peacefully let me go, giving you a fair share?” he sighed and I finished, “And after? When I am ‘safely returned’? You planning on living in Indonesia for the rest of your life?”

Rob came out of his lean and shook his head slightly, “You wouldn’t give me up. Not when you know I would never hurt you, and that I only agreed to it because it meant seeing you end up on a remote beach for a few days until the cavalry arrived.” I huffed out as his excuse and he looked up the stairwell,

“Anyway, I think this was going to happen anyway. That captain of yours and these guys have some bad blood between them. I don’t think he is going to survive this.”

I narrowed my eyes at him, murderous resolve settling in my voice, “You better make sure he does, or I will burn this entire boat into the ocean along with everyone inside.”

He straightened up with my threat, but didn’t have a chance to respond as another set of feet came down the stairs and I involuntarily shuddered. Declan. He ducked his head to enter the cabin and clapped his hands together, a grin over his face.

“Right, that’s enough of this ‘sailing’ business for tonight,” he said to no one in particular and I tensed my body. Even when he wasn’t actively being threatening the man still unnerved me to the point of uncomfortableness. Decaln noticed my shift and now gave me his full attention, a knife coming out from his pocket.

“I believe you and I have some unfinished business, blondie.”

Behind him, “Sorry, bro, whatever you think is happening , is not happening. Surely you heard that you never mess with merchandise?” Rob asked him, and a wide grin came over Declan’s face, turning to the other man.

“Sorry, brah, remind me why we need you again?” he asked the American and Rob stood with the threat.

“You know how to contact the father? The best way to get his cooperation instead of every mercenary on your ass?” he retorted and my mind suddenly flew to Smith. Holy jesus, Smith was already in Australia, probably keeping his distance in my own town. If I knew anything about the man and how he worked, I was fairly confident that he already had eyes on me while I was clueless to his presence. I returned my argument happening in front of me as Declan turned to me,

“You remember your daddy’s phone number, sweetheart?” he asked and I kept the unflinching hard look over my features. Declan turned again to Rob, this time, a small gun emerged from his pocket and Rob eyed it wearily as his hands came up between them. Declan kept the ugly grin and from his gestured over to the table and the few zip ties left on it.

“Tell you what, champ, why don’t you just zip tie yourself right on the other end of that table there, could you?”

Rob straightened his body with the command, feeling angry that his position in this heist had suddenly changed. He was going to catalyst and instigator to victim. His strong, well toned body could take Declan in a heartbeat, and the Australian seemed to know it because he cocked the small gun in response.

Brah” he said mockingly, “Please, do it, I beg you.” he mockingly Rob.

Rob’s eyes flashed over to mine, wide with worry. Declan would absolutely not hesitate to kill Rob. I nodded to him to sit his ass down next to me. After a moment hesitation, he begrudgingly did sat and reached for a zip tie.

Declan squatted with his gun still aimed at Rob and tugged the biting plastic a little tighter on the man’s ankle. In the same movement, the small knife made a reappearance and cut my tie to the table leg, my ankle now free. In a swift motion up, Declan stood, grabbing my bound hands by the rope and dragging me into his body.

His hot breath came against my neck, the smell of bad breath wafting up. I made a sound of disgust as he kissed my skin and struggled in his grasp, not caring if I felt a gun pointed to my ribs. Offended, his free hand pulled on my short hair, wrenching it back and forcing me to look at the ceiling. I whimpered in pain as he angrily whispered in my ear.

“I am going to fuck you so hard, you’ll be ruined for him.”

My heart started to race with the threat of sexual violence from the drug dealer, and for a moment, began to panic. In my periphery, Rob had begun to really tug at his zip tie, searching around his body for something to cut himself free. Declan looked across at him with a malicious grin at the other man’s helplessness before aiming his voice at the stairs,

“Brock!”

A moment later, the man came down the stairs, “Yeah?”

“Come on down here for a few and watch our brah here, would you? The young lady and I need to finish our conversation.” I began to struggle against my bound hands and the rope that gnawed on them. Brock’s eyes wandered over the two of us, spying the gun pointed against my ribs and sighed to himself at his friend, “Okay man, just don’t take forever.”

Declan began to drag me to the hallway and the bunk rooms when I came to my senses enough to talk, “Whatever three pumps of satisfaction you think you’re going to have, I promise, it won’t be worth the pain its going to take to get it.”

He ignored my own feeble threat, and continued to drag me by my useless hands down the hallway, as I attempted to plant my feet. At the end of the hallway, Declan opened the door to the left, the larger room and I gasped,

Jackson, lying prostrate on the floor, his tall frame taking up most of the space, had his hands above his head and bound to the thick metallic pipe present in each room while his feet had a rope connecting him to the pipe on the opposite side. His long body had been stretched to the point of incapacitated.

“Jackson!” I nearly screamed.

His head whipped around to look at the doorway, a strip of towel tied firmly around his mouth and head. A muffled holler came out from his mouth as he saw Declan and I together, the gun still in Declan’s hand and the other holding my bound ones. I began to move into the room, unconsciously going to him, when Declan reminded me of the pistol still aimed in my direction.

“Hold on now, sweetheart.”

Jackson, now struggling with his own binds, seemed about to rip the rope off of the unyielding steel pipe in a fit of rage at the sight of Declan threatening my body. The other man smiled at Jackson’s response, looking over him as he was about to get free, and called out once more,

“Brock!”

I didn’t turn to see the other man, but stared at Jackson, helpless. He looked pissed, struggling on the ground like a snake strung out.

“I think you should bring big guy out here with the brah, he looks like he is about to break out of those ties Budi did on him.”

Without waiting for a response, Declan closed the door on struggling Jackson, flashing the man a smile before he disappeared and I automatically went to the door again,

“Hang on, there, princess, we are in this room here.” he tugged me across the hallway, and I swung my hand towards him, intending to hit him in the face, when he deftly caught them, an amused look on his face. He threw down the balled fist, and smacked me in the face a little shy of knocking me out, but certainly causing stars. I reeled against the bathroom door, and felt his hands pull me forcefully into the other cabin.

He flung me onto the small bed, and I felt grubby hands started to paw my legs as soon as I landed, reaching up for my shorts. I looked up at the man, wild hair flung over my face and I assured myself that he wasn’t getting anything without giving some pain. I began to flail my legs and kicked at the air, screaming with outrage and panic and felt my sneaker connect with the man trying to rape me.

He gave a grunt and I looked down my length at him to see him sway with the rocking of the boat, holding his groin.

Make him hurt.

The motto I had been drilled into me for a full three months of basic self defense came back. A large wave hit the side of the boat, Declan not being used to the rock of boats, swayed back his arms flailing out to the sides to catch himself and I took my shot. My foot came up quick but now with aim, and kicked him in the groin again, this time with as much force as I could muster. He let out a muffled ‘ugh’, before he swayed back in my direction .

My other foot aimed at his chest, pushed him back across the cabin, as the still rocking boat gave him momentum and he flew against the side of the cabin. A clear thunk of something hard hitting metal sounded and Declan swore again and grabbed the back of his head. He bent over low now clutching his head, and I saw the metal pipe behind him.

Make it fast.

If I was going to do anything, it needed to be over with. I scrambled off the bed, nearly coming right up to his body but he was too absorbed in his own pain to notice. With my bound hands, I grabbed his scalp, handfuls of his oily hair in my palms and yanked it up violently and back to the pole. Another thunk echoed from the metal, Declan stupified, and I repeated the action with more force. The thunk this time sounded final and instead of a groan or cuss coming from Declan’s lips, his body sunk to the ground.

I stepped away, my breath heavy with the adrenaline, and looked over my assailant. He was still breathing but knocked out cold and I sighed with relief. His gun had long scattered to the floor and was nearly under the bunk but his knife was poking out of the pocket of his khaki shorts. I knelt down and grabbed it, opening it to cut away my own bonds.

I looked out the window. Night had nearly settled, only the slightest tinge of blue still in the sky as the stars were clearly coming out. Shit. Maybe I could swim to an island if I could even see one but in the night, it would be suicide to just jump off the boat and swim East in hope of hitting one of the many Great Barrier sand islands that rose and drowned with the tides.

Then there was the issue of Jackson and Rob, not to mention the three other men who probably had plans to kill us all. I looked around the cabin, the sound of scuffling and men fighting coming from outside and down in the main living space. Shit shit shit. If Declan didn’t emerge soon, someone would come looking for him.

I picked up the gun gingerly, never having handled one before and held it firmly away, my finger most definitely away from the trigger as I tried to think. We needed off this boat. I didn’t know much about Garrett but he seemed that under that calm and portly visage, he was actually the more dangerous man here and wasn’t going to give up Jackson’s boat simply because someone had a gun pointed at him.

But we couldn’t just jump off the boat and hope for land. And certainly no one would find us in the water, even if they were looking. The ocean was big, and even if we were still hugging the reef, there could be anywhere between 20 to 30 kilometers between islands. The Coast Guard would only notice something big in the night. Something big...or bright.

Like a fire. A big fire.

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