Exhaustion stopped me beneath the driver side window of the navy Honda. Fighting pain, I stared at the dozing driver, his face still pressed against the window, drool sliding down the glass. I willed his eyes to stay shut.
At the Honda’s back bumper I glanced up to the bow, saw the Kites’ attention still engaged with the feasting birds.
I slung Violet over my shoulder, struggled to my feet, praying no one in the observation lounge would see us.
A dozen tenuous steps and we’d reached the Impala.
I stowed Violet in the back seat and climbed behind the steering wheel.
Sleet pouring faster than it could melt, ticking madly on the roof.
In the east, bits of early morning indigo showed through, the clouds cracking like ancient paint.
As the sky aged through warming shades of purple into oxblood, a wire of land materialized to the south and east.
Now emerging on the horizon—the silhouette of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, at two hundred and eight feet, the tallest in America, its beam still sweeping over Diamond Shoals, graveyard of the Atlantic.
I ached to drive off this ferry with Violet, get her safe, get myself something for this terrible f**king pain.
Drawing the keys from the ignition, I climbed into the backseat and sawed the longest key through the duct tape binding the young woman’s wrists. Then I ripped away the strip across her mouth.
“Violet,” I whispered. “Violet, do you hear me?”
She mumbled and shifted onto her side.
“You’re safe now,” I said. “You’re with Andy.”
It grew cold inside the car.
As I maneuvered back into the driver seat, key readied to crank the engine and start the flow of heat, I glanced through the windshield, saw Maxine Kite, her eyes cupped and peering through the tinted side windows of the Chevy Blazer just ahead.
She wore an old frayed gabardine coat, so long on her withered frame it fanned out beneath her like a black wedding dress.
I locked each passenger door.
Stepped out onto the deck.
Maxine looked up when my door slammed.
She bolted, disappeared around the galley.
I limped after her.
The coming daystar tingeing the clouds with a soft peach stain.
These Outer Banks turning into the sun’s dominion—a cuticle of pink fire peeking over the edge of the sea.
The Kites stood at the bow, awash with sunrise, ruddyfaced, watching me approach with a fusion of shock and amusement.
Except for Luther.
He lunged for me but Rufus grabbed his arm and jerked him back.
“Not here, son.”
Rufus stared at me, shook his head, grinning.
“Christ, Andrew, what are you made of—rubber?”
I stood five feet from the psychopaths.
“I have her,” I said.
“I see that.”
“What do you say you get in your truck, I get in my car, and we go our separate ways when we reach Hatteras? I think we’re even, Luther. I left you for dead, you left me—”
“I don’t give a f**k about even.”
Eddies of dizziness enveloped me.
Faltering, I stumbled backward, caught myself.
“But you sort of admire him, don’t you?” Rufus said. “I mean, he took some nasty voltage. We left him charred, no respiration, no…” A crewman strode past, lips moving to the music that blared from his headphones. “No pulse. It’s a resurrection.”
Hatteras was close, its mammoth soundside homes like mythic dollhouses in the distance.
“Look,” Rufus said, “you’re telling me you’ll let us leave this ferry without any commotion? Let us just drive off into the sunrise? No revenge? After all we did to you?”
“I just want to take Violet.”
“Well. I suppose you’ve earned that.”
“Pop, come on, what the—”
“Shut your mouth, boy,” Maxine hissed.
“Look me in the eye, tell me you won’t follow us,” Rufus said.
I looked the old man dead in his oilblack eyes and told him.
As I started back toward the Impala something occurred to me.
I turned to face them again.
“What happened to Elizabeth Lancing?” I asked.
Luther just smiled.
I sat seething behind the steering wheel, the Hatteras shore looming.
No f**king way I wasn’t going to follow the Kites off this ferry. I’d finish them right now if it wouldn’t endanger the other passengers.
The ferry engines quieted as we neared the island.
My thoughts turned to Beth but I shut them down. The coming hours would require my full attention. And if I lived beyond them there’d be ample time to grieve.
Violet drew a sharp breath. I glanced back, saw her eyes fluttering. They opened. They died. Went broken and void as though she’d ingested some awful truth.
Turning into the vinyl seat, she wept.
The engines quit altogether.
I climbed into the backseat, let my fingers slide through her hair.
“Violet. We’re on a ferry, about to dock on Hatteras.”
She looked up at me, said, “How are you alive?”
“I have no idea.”
We both jumped.
Something crashing through the windshield.
The ferry captain, headfirst, his torso draped backward over the dashboard, spraying the car with a warm burgundy mist.
I wiped blood out of my eyes as gunshots resounded from the observation lounge, three cataclysmic booms carrying the thunderous authority of a shotgun.
Elsewhere on deck there erupted the dry staccato cracks of a lesser firearm.
Another thud caving in the roof of the Impala.
Blood sheeting down the back window.
Someone moaning in the lounge, pleading for help.
The driver of the Chevy Blazer stumbled out of his idling car, suit wrinkled, bewildered.
I called out to him through the busted windshield. He looked at me, then moved dreamlike toward the bow, gazing all around in a sort of stupefied disbelief, as though he’d fallen into a movie.
At the front of the ferry he stopped abruptly, backpedaled, and went to his knees.
Rufus approached him, revolver in hand.
The businessman raising his arms in surrender.
I didn’t see him die, just heard the tiny pop as I opened the door and dropped down between the railing and the car.
“Stay here,” I told Violet.
“They’re killing everyone on board.”
I closed the door and crawled on between the cars and the railing, glancing back at the Impala, the crewman sprawled across its devastated roof like a giant mortar shell.