“Yessir.”


He opened the door and pushed her out.

As they walked through the main dining room, Andrew put his arm around her.

Vi looked straight ahead, praying that Scottie Myers or the hostess or one of the waiters would be standing near the front door. They’d see the terror in her eyes, they’d stop this from happening.

Crying now, she prayed, Please God let someone be standing by the register.

She heard laughter in the kitchen, loud gleeful laughter, but no one saw her walk outside with Andrew Thomas, down the steps, into the cold rain.

The foreknowledge of her imminent death proved the hardest truth she’d ever faced. It weakened her knees and she fell, bawling, as Andrew dragged her toward the Cherokee, the wet gravel skinning her knees through the hose.

She’d failed miserably and would soon pay for it, along with Elizabeth Lancing and all future victims of Andrew Thomas.

Only as she glimpsed her oncoming death did she realize she’d never believed in it. Dying was something that happened to other people. The unlucky and the old.

But she believed in it now because once she got into her Jeep with Andrew Thomas no one would ever see her again. Last year she’d told a class of high school freshmen to fight with everything they had to keep from getting dragged into an attacker’s vehicle. She should’ve made Andrew Thomas shoot her right there in the parking lot.

But she climbed into her car at gunpoint for the same reason most people in that circumstance do—because she was afraid, because she didn’t have the guts to risk dying now, even though getting into the Jeep with him all but guaranteed the lonely horrible death to come.

P O R T S M O U T H

40

THE detective pulled into a parking space at the Community Store on Silver Lake in proximity to Charlie Tatum’s dock. I sat directly behind the driver’s seat as the young woman shifted her Jeep Cherokee into park and turned off the engine. She’d cried all the way from Howard’s Pub and she was still crying when she gave me the car keys and laid her head against the steering wheel.

While she wept rain hammered the roof and streamed down the glass.

The .45 trembled in my grasp.

“What’s your name again?” I asked.

“Violet,” she whimpered.

“Sit up, Violet. I want you to stop crying.”

Violet wiped her eyes and glanced at me in the rearview mirror. I scooted over into the middle seat and told her, “Put your hands on the steering wheel and don’t let go.”

“I’m pregnant,” she pleaded, her face starting to break all over again. “I just found out this morning. If you kill me, you’ll be—”

“Shut up. I don’t care. Give me your wallet and your badge.” She reached into her purse and handed them over. “The phone, too. You have a pager?”

“Not with me.” She lifted her cell phone from the passenger seat. I took it out of her hand, dropped it on the floorboard, and stomped it into bits with the heel of my boot. Then I opened her wallet and scanned the driver’s license. She was from Davidson, North Carolina, my old home, and only twenty-six years old.

“I told you not to let go of the steering wheel. Did you follow me here?” I asked.

“No.”

“No?”

“I swear.”

“Then what the f**k are you doing on Ocracoke?”

“I came here to find a man named Luther Kite. His parents live here, and it was his last known—”

“Are you investigating the murder of that family in Davidson?”

“Yes. Along with the kidnapping of Elizabeth Lancing.”

“Boy, you have really f**ked things up for me.”

The dashboard clock read 3:05. It would be getting dark soon and Charlie Tatum was expecting me.

Through the windshield I saw him exit the shack at the end of the dock and step down into his boat. Its motor subsequently purred in the water.

When I looked back at Violet her neck was craning. She eyed the gun. She’d probably never had a loaded firearm pointed at her.

“Well, here’s the deal,” I said to Violet. “We’re taking a boat ride. You’re my wife, and your name is…Angie. Don’t talk. Don’t cry. Once we get on the boat, you just sit there and stare at the ocean, like we’re fighting.”

“Where are we—”

“And let me tell you something. This old man who’s giving us a ride…his life is in your hands. Because if you start crying and freaking out and he gets suspicious, I’ll just shoot him and dump him in the sea. You understand that?”

“Yessir. You don’t have to hurt anyone.”

“That’s up to you. I’ve been hiding for seven years. I’m not going to prison.”

Reaching into the way-back, I grabbed up her red poncho and a pair of small damp hiking boots. Then I dragged the backpack I’d purchased from Bubba’s Bait and Tackle into the backseat.

“Here.” I handed her the poncho and boots. “It’ll be wet and cold where we’re—”

“You going to hurt me?” she asked.

I wanted to say, No, you’re safe. Everything you know about me is a lie. But only fear would get her to that island. She had to wholeheartedly and simultaneously believe two things: first, that I would execute her at the slightest resistance, but secondly, that she still had a chance of surviving this.

So I lifted the .45, aimed it between the seats, and threatened her with horrible things.

41

WE sat on a bench seat along the gunwale. I put my arm around Violet and cuddled with her as Charlie Tatum piloted the Island Hopper away from the dock into the middle of Silver Lake. The deck reeked of mildew and the discarded sunspoiled viscera of fish.

“That wind’s already turned on us,” he warned. “It’s gonna get rough as hell once we clear the harbor.”

Silver Lake was empty. I saw the motels and B&Bs along the shore, tendrils of smoke climbing out of several chimneys.

The rain intensified.

I wondered for a moment if I were mad for doing this, then thought of it no more.

We chugged through the Ditch and I stared beyond the narrow outlet into the sound, its waters roiling in the fierce north wind. Emerging from the harbor, Charlie leaned into the throttle. As the ferry lurched forward in a sprint for open water, he pointed to Teach’s Hole, a cove in the murky distance that the pirate, Edward Teach, (a.k.a. Blackbeard) had used for a hideout prior to his beheading in 1718.

Passing the southern tip of Ocracoke, we finally reached the inlet, where ocean and sound collided in a series of deadly shoals and currents. Waves pounded the sides of the boat and spindrift whipped off the whitecaps. We were exposed now to the full force of the nor’easter, the rain driving sideways into the plastic drop curtain with such fury we could see nothing of Ocracoke, its lighthouse, or the blue water tower just a few hundred yards back. The howling grayness enveloped everything, reducing our world to a cold angry sea.

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