Castaways - The Storm
Thanks Mitzi and NotTasha - as always you're the best!
No 2 in the Series and follows Castaways - Marooned.
days had passed since they’d been shipwrecked on the island, and after
a number of scouting missions, it was concluded that they were alone,
completely surrounded by water with no signs of previous habitation.
With the yacht’s communications system damaged and the irreparable
destruction to the vessel, it was with subdued acceptance that their
only chance of escaping the island would be with a rescue coordinated
from offshore. And with that conclusion, the seven crewmembers and
passengers of the shipwreck would have to work together in the ultimate
goal of survival. For there was no knowing how long they would be
marooned on the island.
Vin Tanner dropped the empty
canteen and let it swing on the cord about his neck. It was
working out to be a scorcher of a day, and it was only early afternoon.
He squinted up at the cloud-free sky, studying the telltale signs; he
licked at the moisture that played along his lips. With his hip
leaning against the trunk of a palm tree he exuded a stance of
relaxation, but only someone familiar with his ways would have
recognised the growing trepidation that surged beneath the surface.
The security guard shaded his face,
watching Buck and JD as they unloaded more essentials from the yacht and
dropped them to the beach. His lips curved slightly at the comical
antics of the duo. It hadn’t taken long for Buck to take the young
stowaway under his protective wing. JD Dunne was energetic and
positively beaming under the guiding hand of Buck Wilmington. He
joined them with enthusiasm and resourcefulness, showing them that he
was willing to pull his own weight. He was welcomed to the group
with equal gusto.
Tanner was certain that of the
seven, six could find some common ground, especially as five of them
were already firm friends. In fact, they already worked well as a
team. As for the seventh member of their tribe - that still
remained a questionable factor. Ezra Standish had yet to show any
alliances with them, although Josiah seemed guardedly protective of the
black sheep. He wondered how Standish had drawn Sanchez into his
seriously doubted the Southerner had the endurance and mental aptitude
that was required to survive on this island without the support of some
kind of friendship. Ezra appeared, on the surface, to be a loner.
And Vin could see that because that is how the security guard would have
described himself before he got to know Chris and the rest. Tanner
was only fairly new to this whole group thing himself. He
remembered the first time that the five of them all came together.
He was the newest to the group, and nervous didn’t describe his
turbulent emotions. But to his relief, Tanner fit comfortably
within the group. They made him feel welcome. Vin
decided that he gained some insight into Standish’s situation with his
reluctance to open up to them. He figured the Southerner only
needed a little extra time to come around. And given the
opportunity, Ezra would return the friendship. Or so he assumed.
Tanner first met Chris just on
twelve months ago, while he was working as a bouncer for a local
nightclub. A fight broke out with thirty of the customers joining
in the fray. Chris was at the club that night, and across the
crowded room their eyes meet for the first time – it was an instant
understanding and connection that bonded them for a lifetime. It
was as though they had always been friends and knew how each man was
going to react. It didn’t matter, that, in taking on
thirty drunken and aggressive men, that it was two against
insurmountable odds. And, by the time the cops arrived, both Chris
and Vin lay unconscious on the floor. Vin smiled at the memory –
God, but that had been a good fight - what he could remember of it, he
When he woke up, Tanner was in the
hospital with a broken arm, concussion and several broken ribs.
Chris Larabee shared his room, and he sported two black eyes, concussion
and numerous bruises and contusions. Of course, Tanner lost his
job as a bouncer at the club, but he did, in a roundabout way, acquire
his new job because of his association with Larabee.
As it turned out, Larabee, along
with Buck Wilmington had inherited an old yacht. The lawyer, Orrin
Travis, who handled the transfer of the legal aspects for Chris and
Buck, had his office broken into during the same month. Chris knew
that Vin was out of a job and automatically suggested him to take over
the security of the office building. Travis wasn’t convinced so
readily. But after doing a surveillance course and passing the
scrutiny of the background checks, Tanner found himself in charge of the
security for the five-storey office block. That was ten months ago
“You planning on holdin’ up
that tree all day?” Larabee dropped the heavy tarp and shared
his flask of water. He wiped the sweat from his upper lip and
followed Vin’s upward gaze.
“Hey, cowboy,” Tanner smirked,
his smile brightening at the scowl that crossed Larabee’s forehead.
There was a comfortable silence that lagged between them, where neither
man felt the necessity to speak. Vin pushed off the palm.
“Reckon I ought ta get back ta work.”
“Yeah, in a bit. Somethin’
up?” Larabee had been watching the security guard for the past
ten minutes, gazing periodically up at the sky and frowning.
“Yeah. Storm’s coming.”
He nodded at the near perfect sky and wasn’t surprised at the
incredulous eyebrow that arced in response.
“So we get a little wet,” Chris
“Nah, it’s gonna be more than
that. More like the one we had the other night,” he predicted,
“except this one’ll be a lot worse.”
Larabee rubbed the back of his
neck, attempting to ease the tense muscles and nodded his understanding.
Just what he didn’t want to hear. Wasn’t it enough that they
were dumped on this island, without any hope of leaving? “Where
are the others?”
“Josiah and Nathan went to get
fresh water; they should be back soon. Haven’t seen Standish
since this morning.” Both Wilmington and Dunne were obviously
accounted for as they were still on the beach.
“We need to get as much of this
stuff, as we can, up to that cave we found yesterday.” Chris
pointed at the growing mound of supplies. How was it that he’d
been nominated leader of this unique bunch of men? Just because
he’d been the captain of the yacht, all six of them had looked to him
to take control. He didn’t know whether he was up to it or not.
Taking responsibility for his own life had been an uphill battle over
the years, and now he was expected to organise and protect seven lives,
including his own. What a laugh. They were relying on him,
and that’s what made it so much harder.
“Sure is warm,” Nathan puffed,
wiping the sweat from his brow. Lowering the knapsack from his
shoulder he rolled his aching neck. His shirt was damp from
perspiration and the thick sultry air made it difficult to breath.
“Ya got that right, brother,”
Sanchez responded, flopping his large frame to the lush grass and
fanning his face with his open hand. “Gonna have drunk all this
water before we get it back,” he chuckled.
“Maybe we can talk Chris into
setting up camp a little closer to the stream.”
Josiah poured a generous helping of
water down his parched throat and then a small amount into the palm of
his hand. Using the luke-warm liquid he splashed the contents from
his hand onto his face. “Sure is nice here,” he sighed with
pleasure. Then seeing the look of aghast horror in Jackson’s
expression, he amended, in deference to the doctor, “Except for the
“It’s hot, Josiah!” Jackson
The older man shrugged non-committally.
“You’re just used to the air conditioning you work in.”
“Ain’t always had that
pleasure…and how can you not notice it? All of those kitchens
you work in are like boiler rooms…”
Josiah sighed. “It’s a
different kind of heat. This is quite refreshing, compared to the
claustrophobic environment of the workplace,” Sanchez sighed
contentedly. He heard the brush rustle and glanced in that
direction expecting to see some colourful parrot spreading its wings.
The diverse array of bird life on the island enthralled him.
“Well, well…Mr. Standish…would you like to join us?” He
sat up and crossed his legs, sitting Buda style. The older man
noticed that Ezra had changed out of the expensive suit and now looked
more comfortable in a pair of worn jeans, Reeboks and a black T-shirt.
But didn’t the man own a pair of shorts? It was much too hot to
hike around in long pants.
The younger man suspiciously eyed
the doctor and cook; his decision finally reached when Sanchez beckoned
holding up a water bottle. He stepped forward, his eyes glued to
the water container. His fingers wrapped around the bottle and he
moved to back away, but Sanchez retained a solid grip on the container.
Standish lifted his eyes to Sanchez’ blue gaze. “Thank-you,”
he croaked hoarsely.
Sanchez smiled at the Southerner
and dropped his hand to the grass, content to run his fingers through
the course blades of grass. “Been out exploring?”
“Yes,” he nodded in agreement,
though did not elaborate further.
“And what do you think of this
Standish licked the droplets from
his lips and returned the bottle. “Marvellous,” he drolled
Sanchez chuckled at the
Southerner’s sarcasm. There was a lot they didn’t know about
Maude Devereux’s son, and his dry humour and acerbic tongue made the
man that much more intriguing. “We could use a hand to get this
water down to the beach,” Josiah solicited.
“That’s if ya ain’t too
busy,” Jackson snarled churlishly. Standish had made it obvious
over the past days that he couldn’t tolerate the company of the black
man. Nathan had initially made overtures of friendship, but Ezra
had ignored him, even refusing to listen to him when Nathan had tried to
point out that the Southerner should help with setting up their camp.
Standish raised his eyebrows a
fraction, taken aback by the doctor’s viscous tone of voice.
What had he done this time to warrant an attack? What could he
have possibly done to offend the doctor? He’d hardly spoken to
Nathan lately. In fact, he’d made a deliberate effort to stay
away from Jackson after he had berated him in front of the group the
first day on the island. And for what? He knew he was wrong.
Did he constantly need reminding that it was he who damaged the radio?
Couldn’t Nathan just leave it be? No! He had to make a big
deal of it. There was nothing he could say to defend himself –
Nothing that anybody would believe, or wanted to hear. They
were trapped on the island because of his selfish act. One,
apparently, that he was forever going to have to remember and pay for.
And Jackson seemed determined to be the one to do it. “By all
means,” Ezra agreed, and nodding in deference to the older man he
picked up the backpack that Sanchez had been carrying and without
waiting, trudged toward the beach. He smiled irreverently; two
could play at that game, Mr. Jackson. And ignoring him seemed to
garner the anticipated reaction.
Sanchez turned his frown on the
dark skinned doctor. “You got some beef with Ezra? I
suggest you get over it real fast, ‘cause we’re gonna be sharing
this island with him for a while to come. You ain’t gonna be
able to avoid him for long.”
“Ain’t nothing personal…”
“Sure sounded personal to me.”
Josiah pushed to his feet.
“Ah, come on, Josiah.
Surely you can see it?”
“He don’t want to be here with
“Can you blame him? I bet
you, Chris, Vin, Buck and JD don’t want to be here on this island
either,” the cook countered, gesturing in the air.
“That’s not how I meant it.
I can see it in his eyes…he don’t want to be near me ‘cause the
colour of my skin,” he explained bitterly.
“I think you’re reading more in
Ezra’s eyes than is really there.”
“Well I disagree. And until
Ezra proves he ain’t judging me, then I don’t want to have anything
to do with him,” the doctor haughtily announced.
“Sounds mighty prejudiced,
“Just reading it as it see it,”
he harrumphed. “I can tell a racist when I meet one.”
“Even when it’s you?”
They returned to the beach with
little more than a word spoken between them. Nathan fumed, blaming
the Southerner for his argument with Josiah. And the soaring
temperatures and high humidity further soured his mood.
“Hey Buck, do we really need to
take all this stuff? Wouldn’t it be easier if we just left it on
the yacht?” JD panted, dropping the folded tarp and blankets on top of
the large ice cooler.
“Chris says we take it out, so
that’s what we do, kid.” Wilmington lifted off the coil of
rope from about his neck and added it to the growing mound. “We
should sort this stuff as we bring it out. Make certain that we
get everything up to the cave that is essential, and leave everything
else that isn’t, until last.”
“They’d be like our luxury
“Yeah, kid,” he chuckled.
Survivor was a hit in his lounge room, too.
JD nodded, dutifully following the
moustached man back to the yacht. “You and Chris have been
friends for a long time, haven’t you?”
“Sure, kid,” Buck replied
absently. He and Chris had known each other for the best part of
twenty years. The two owners of the yacht met during their
freshman year at school. They’d seemed an unlikely pair, but
eventually, they became firm friends.
Both men vied for the opportunity
to date a fellow classmate, Sarah Connelly, in their senior year.
They even both asked to escort her to the prom and she accepted both
dates, saying she couldn’t choose between them and wanted to use the
dance to sort out her feelings for each man. Chris and Buck had
gone along with the request. With an escort on each arm and
two corsages pinned to her dress she danced the night away, alternately
with each prospective beau. By the end of the evening it became
obvious to Buck, that Sarah was a little more smitten with his friend.
He left the dance alone, and didn’t see either Chris or Sarah for the
next four years.
They went their separate ways, and
it was ironical that both men wound up with careers that revolved around
boats. Chris joined the police force and moved on to become a
private investigator, but he eventually found his calling as a coast
Buck Wilmington was a little
disillusioned with life. After losing Sarah to his best friend,
and then finding his mother murdered in her own bed, he decided to pull
up stakes and start a new life. He chose to join the Navy,
determined to put distance and a career between the triangular
relationship. He found that it was easier to do than he first
perceived. The ladies’ man quickly forgot his passion for the
dark-headed beauty and discovered the delicacies that each new port had
It was during his third year out to
sea when he met up with Nathan Jackson, a young midshipman.
Jackson had been the brunt of every practical joke on the vessel, and
some nasty racial slurs and eventually an unprovoked attack. Buck
had arranged to meet up with Jackson in the mess after dinner, when he
didn’t show, Buck made it his responsibility to find the absent
sailor. It was six hours later when Wilmington found the beaten
and bloodied midshipmen.
Nathan had garnered many serious
injuries in the vicious attack that caused him to spend six months in
hospital. After that, he spent two years in and out of the courts,
defending his name and honour, and ultimately Nathan managed to get an
early discharge on the grounds of misleading information that led him to
begin a career in the navy. The crew that assaulted him managed to
get off scott-free leaving Nathan vastly unimpressed with navy life and
with the lawyers that defended him so inadequately. Even Buck’s
testimony was not enough to convict any of the men who attacked him.
It was after spending so much time
in the hospital that encouraged Nathan to study medicine. He had
to do night school for a few years to get his grades up in some classes,
but eventually, all the hard work, little social life and working two
and three jobs at a time, paid off. The pair had kept in contact
with one another over the years and when Buck left the Navy they began
to see each other more regularly. The ladies’ man had even gone
out on a few dates with Nathan’s younger sister. Fortunately the
doctor held no grudge with the gregarious man when the short-lived
relationship ended with his sibling.
Buck was on leave when he heard
again from Chris and Sarah. And it was with major consternation
that he accepted the invitation to attend their wedding, supporting
Chris as his best man. Buck suspected that upon seeing his former
flame that all the emotions would rush him, but to his relief, the surge
didn’t happen. He was incredibly happy to be part of this union,
and when he brushed his lips to Sarah’s cheek in a chaste kiss at the
end of the ceremony, she wrapped her arms around his neck and returned
the kiss smack on his mouth. And when Chris hugged him and Sarah
together, Buck knew he’d found a new family.
“Buck…hey, old man,” the
young stowaway called again.
“Huh?” Wilmington shook
the others? Ya all know each other?”
“Yeah…except for Standish,”
“But he’s okay,” Dunne jumped
to the defence of the man who courageously saved his life at the risk of
“Dunno, kid. He’s real
hard to figure. Too quiet; don’t seem right for what you’d
expect of a car salesman. Guess he’s laying low for a bit…especially
after what he did, smashing the radio and the GPS.”
“He did save my life,” Dunne
“Yeah…he did,” Wilmington
admitted thoughtfully. He shrugged, flicking the baseball cap
backwards off Dunne’s head and climbing inside the wrecked vessel.
“He probably just doesn’t want us asking too many questions.
Man’s entitled to his secrets. Come on,” he’d had enough
with the twenty questions, “we got more stuff to get yet.”
When Standish returned to the
beach, it was to discover Larabee swinging his arms about, as though he
were madly directing traffic. There seemed to be a lot of activity
surrounding the doomed yacht, and a looming mound of materials littered
the beach. JD and Buck were dismembering the boat of its contents,
and Vin was bent-over packing smaller items inside a heavy box.
Ezra stood motionless for a minute, just studying the commotion.
He rubbed at his eyes and wearily sighed, psyching himself to join them.
Why was it so hard?
“Hey, Ezra!” JD waved,
drawing the attention of Buck, Chris and Vin as he stepped closer.
Standish smiled weakly, dropping
the backpack at his feet. The smile remained steady in place when
he heard the approach of Jackson and Sanchez behind him. A large
hand clamped over his shoulder and he struggled not to flinch.
“You got a bit ahead of us,
son,” the older man panted, and ruffled the Southerner’s hair
affectionately. He chuckled light-heartedly and was rewarded with
a derisive scowl.
“Good, I’m glad you’re all
back,” Chris called out, effectively bringing the byplay to an end.
“We need everything off the beach and safely undercover.” His
tone encouraged immediate capitulation and the urgency apparent.
“Why the rush?” Ezra frowned,
feeling entirely unenthusiastic just looking at the amount of supplies
Larabee wanted transported. And a lot of the items looked heavy.
He wasn’t a damn packhorse, and it was far too hot to even consider
Vin pointed to the sky.
“There’s a storm on the way, and it’s gonna be big.”
Ezra looked sceptically at the
cloud-free sky and returned his disbelief in waves. Not that he
was any kind of expert, but it just seemed so unlikely.
“Take Vin’s word for it;
there’s a shit-stopping storm heading our way, and we’d best be
“Is this all really necessary?
Couldn’t we leave it until the weather was more amenable?”
Chris spun on Standish. “We
don’t have time to pamper your needs, Standish. Just because
your mama’s a wealthy woman, doesn’t mean that you’re gonna be
treated like royalty. We’re all equals here and this needs to be
a team effort.” He aimed an index finger and shook it severely,
emphasizing his point, “And we expect you to take your share.”
Larabee picked up the first thing he could grab and tossed it to the
Ezra found himself fumbling a
weighty duffle bag that Chris had shoved at him. He stared blankly
at Larabee and immediately dropped the bundle.
“Here, I’ll take that one,”
“No, don’t bother.” Ezra
continued to stare at Larabee. “I’ll take it.” He
staggered a little before hefting it over his shoulder and disappearing
through the brush.
“A little rough on him, weren’t
“Josiah, if he wants to question
my every order, then he shouldn’t expect anything less.”
The older man chewed his bottom
lip. “Maybe ya ought ta try asking for a change, instead of
ordering…might work more effectively.”
Tanner smirked, totally agreeing
with Sanchez. Closing the lid on the box, he snapped it into
place. “Here, Larabee. Ya mind taking this end?”
“Yeah, fine. Nathan, could
you and Josiah start bringing up those other boxes.” Chris
glanced at the chef; his hunched back was turned facing the sea.
“Will you be alright with him?”
Jackson nodded grimly. His
relationship with Josiah had been solid prior to being shipwrecked, but
now it was fraying around the edges because of Standish. He’d
never had an argument with Sanchez before, but now they couldn’t seem
to agree on anything. It was disappointing to have his friend
questioning his own motives.
Buck and JD initially stayed with
the yacht, continuing to unpack the ship of its vital parts, and deposit
them on the sand, while the others ferried the supplies to the cave.
Ezra passed the others on the path,
lowering his head and refusing to look them in the eye. His pace
didn’t slacken, and he made as many trips as each of the others, but
he ferried the goods on his own. He didn’t waste time on the
beach, quickly finding new items and left on his way before any of the
others caught up with him.
The trail leading from the beach to
the cave took ten minutes each way, but with the addition of hauling
boxes and equipment up the path it generally took closer to twenty.
The temperature soared and the
unforgiving sun stroked the earth. The sky to the west darkened to
a deep shade of black with an added hue of green; it threatened and
moved in a slow methodical dance. Clouds bulged with promising
rain and hail, and lightning flashed between the upper atmosphere.
With the approaching storm, daylight was diminishing with each
“Mind if we stop for a
breather?” Sanchez panted, dropping his end of the storage box to the
earth. He arched his back, rubbing it with bronzed hands. He
lifted his hat and wiped the beads of perspiration from his brow and
Jackson sagged to the wooden box,
happy to comply with the older man’s request for a rest. “Be
glad when it hits,” the doctor grunted, exhaustion numbing his senses.
He’d lost count of how many trips he had already made, but his legs
were protesting the unusual exercise.
Sanchez looked to the heavens and
with a determined second wind jumped to his feet. “Should be
able to get a few more loads, yet,” he predicted, picking up the rope
handle of the box. Jackson grunted in response, allowing Josiah to
take the lead. They only managed a few paces when Sanchez tripped,
rolling his ankle on a half buried rock. “Arg!” he groaned,
dropping his end to the box and grasping at the injury.
“Here, let me see,” the doctor
ordered, kneeling in front of the giant and manipulating the foot back
and forth. “Think it’s just a sprain, but ‘til I check for
sure, it’d be best to keep off it.”
Josiah grimaced, pulling back his
foot from Nathan’s grasp. Steeling his features, he
straightened, testing the amount of weight the limb would tolerate.
He groaned unintentionally, but hobbled forward a few paces.
“You can’t carry this, let’s
get you to the cave. I’ll get one of the others to help me bring
up the box,” Jackson reasoned. It was already bad enough having
to tend Josiah’s sprain with the limited medical supplies he carried
in his first aid kit, but with no hospital to rely on, no x-ray machines
or medicines, he was worried about any future accidents, and illnesses,
that were likely to occur while they were shipwrecked on this island.
This was going to test his resourcefulness and patience.
Sanchez took another step, screwing
up his tired face in pain as sharp bolts speared through his foot.
“Sure,” he capitulated, sighing in resignation.
When the pair reached the entrance
of the cave they stared in bewilderment, witnessing the Southerner
riffle through the supplies. He was so intent on his purpose that
he didn’t hear the approach of Jackson and Sanchez.
“WHAT THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU
ARE DOING?” Nathan thundered, leaving Josiah to flounder without the
support of Jackson’s steadying presence.
Ezra startled, stumbling backwards
as the doctor roared and stormed further into the enclosure. His
eyes widened, and for a moment fear flashed through them, before the
mask fell into place. He glanced to Josiah for help, but found
none coming from that quarter, meanwhile Jackson closed in on him.
“I…I…” he stuttered, warily keeping his eyes on the irate
“We’re trying to prepare for
the storm and you’re stealing from us?” he accused incredulously.
“I resent that, Dr Jackson,”
Ezra responded tightly, finally finding his voice.
“Then how would you explain
“I think we’d all like an
answer, Standish,” Larabee added, as he stalked past Sanchez.
Standish took another step
backwards and found he was hard up against the wall, with no more room
to move. His eyes darted nervously between the tall doctor and Larabee
and over to Sanchez and Tanner who guarded the mouth of the cave.
He swallowed past the lump in his throat and evaluated his chances of
getting by all four men intact.
Chris and Vin had arrived just as
Nathan was berating the Southerner. Chris watched Standish
retreat, cornered like a deer in headlights. It occurred to him,
for a split second, that Ezra acted like he was the victim. That
he was innocent of Jackson’s allegations. But if that was so,
why didn’t he defend himself? He wondered what it was that Ezra
was searching for and why it couldn’t wait. But his anger
gripped him as he remembered that Standish had only recently displayed a
self-serving attitude, which had ultimately been a major factor in their
lack of communications with the outside world. He was the one
responsible for tampering with the ship’s communications equipment.
What additional reasons did he need to vent his anger? There was
no way he was going to stand back and allow a thief and a conman to
remain in their midst. “Is what Nathan claimed, true? Were
you stealing from us?” he verbally attacked the smaller man.
“Isn’t it enough that we caught
him in the act?” the doctor snapped. “He’s guilty, Chris!”
“That’s enough!” Josiah
growled, limping inside. Daring Nathan to contradict him, he spoke
soothingly to the Southerner. “Ain’t nobody gonna hurt you,
son,” he declared, putting a restraining hand on Nathan’s shoulder.
“If anyone’s interested,
storm’s almost on top of us,” Tanner drawled matter-a-factly.
“Josiah, you stay put, the rest
of us will bring up another load,” Larabee ordered. “In
pairs,” he paused, accessing the grouping of Jackson with Standish and
dismissed it. It hadn’t escaped his attention that Josiah and
Nathan had teamed up, Buck and JD and himself and Vin, leaving Standish
to manage on his own. Obviously that had to change now.
“Vin, you go with Ezra.” Leaving no doubt in anyone’s mind
that he would join up with the doctor.
As the attention drew away from the
Southerner, he manoeuvred to the front of the cave. He heard Chris
announce the new pairings, and briefly wondered, what was the point?
If none of them wanted to partner him before, he sure as hell didn’t
want to have one now. He didn’t wait, he’d had enough.
Ezra raced out and down the path, almost colliding with Buck as he made
his way up the track, arms full with life jackets and torches. JD
jumped quickly to the side to avoid Ezra and had to juggle his hold on
the assortment of tackle boxes and fishing poles as a result.
Tanner glanced up and saw Standish
disappear down the path. He’d catch up with him in a minute.
Right after he’d said his piece. “Ya can’t honestly believe Ezra
was going to steal from us?” Tanner asked, appalled at the direction
his friends’ thoughts had taken.
“He was going through all our
stuff,” Jackson protested, pointing at the opened boxes and emptied
“Even if there were the crown
jewels and a million dollars hidden there, what good would it do him
here?” Vin flashed a stern look at the doctor then at Chris.
Why weren’t these people willing to give the Southerner a chance to
redeem himself? Well a second chance, after all, he had damaged
the radio and GPS on board the yacht. He also thought that Sanchez
had left his support a fraction too late. Of them all, the chef
had been the only one to come to the former car salesman’s defence.
That’s if he didn’t count JD, but he saw only the good in everyone,
and Ezra had saved the young stowaway’s life. “Ya ought ta
think on that for a bit,” he growled. “Buck, JD. You see
Ezra?” Vin asked the pair as they entered the cave.
The ladies’ man glanced about the
room. He could feel the tension; it was rife in the small
enclosure, too thick to cut. Nathan wouldn’t even meet his eyes
and hung his head guiltily. Something obviously had just happened. He
wondered briefly what. “Yeah, almost barrelled…” he began,
coming to an abrupt halt as the security guard raced out. “…Us
over,” he finished lamely, staring intently at his best friend,
waiting for an explanation.
“Ain’t getting into it right
now,” Chris responded. “We’ve probably only got time for one
more trip, then we’ll be stuck in here to wait out the storm.
Buck, can you and the kid go down and bring up the box along the
path?” He assumed that they had seen it, because he and Vin had
to climb over it on the way up. “Then I want you both to stay
here, once you’ve got it back.”
“Sure,” Buck agreed, eyeing
Larabee suspiciously, eager to find out what had transpired in his
“Ezra!” Vin slid down the
well-used path and jumped from the bank to the sand. He’d made
it to the beach without finding any sign of the Southerner. He
glanced up at the sky; it was almost completely black. The wind
had picked up, forcing the waves to pound the beach with increased
menace. The air was heavy with the scent of rain. There was
no time to waste in organising a search for the missing passenger; the
tempest was all but on them. He’d do it alone. Besides,
with tempers already flaring, he doubted Standish would welcome one of
the others seeking him out. As it was, Tanner couldn’t
anticipate what kind of reception he’d receive.
“Ezra!” he called again; his
voice drowning under the roar of the wind. It wouldn’t be long
before the clouds opened at the seams. “Dammit, Standish!”
He whirled in a circle glancing quickly up both directions of the beach.
Tiny specks of sand lifted to the air and were blown about in the gusts
clouding his field of vision; Tanner closed his eyes as the miniature
projectiles stung his eyes. Turning his back to the wind he headed
in the opposite direction, hoping he was not going the wrong way.
He glared at both Larabee and
Jackson as they joined him on the beach. It wasn’t the time to
get into anything at the moment and he hoped they realised this and
allowed him to keep looking for Standish. Larabee pulled him
around stopping him in his tracks.
Confused at not seeing Standish
already with Vin, he quickly glanced up both ends of the beach, and back
to Vin. “Where is he?” he shouted.
Tanner shrugged, but suspected that
the wrecked yacht would be a good place to check. “I’ll find
him. Leave it to me.” Vin turned and left Chris, not even
giving Jackson the time of day, he sprinted over the sand. Tanner
looked back up the beach and waved Larabee off as he ducked inside.
Chris and Nathan were already heading back.
Vin crawled through the hatch of
the shipwreck on his hands and knees; water bubbled through this section
and his clothing quickly absorbed the water. The ship rested on
its side, and even now, the waves buffeted the vessel, rocking the
damaged yacht restlessly on the sandy shore. The sounds from
outside were slightly muted, but the ferocity of the gale-force winds
and the deafening claps of thunder caused the vessel to vibrate, timbers
creaking and bending under the strain. “Ezra!”
The yacht seemed bigger than Vin
remembered, and with each room he searched out and didn’t find the
Southerner, the closer the storm gained on them. He had to be in
one of these rooms. How many places were there to hide? That
was assuming Standish was on board the wrecked vessel.
“Ezra?” Tanner called softly,
jumping when a hand touched him from behind. “Geez!” he sucked
in a mouthful of stale air and swallowed it painfully. “Give a
man some warning, next time, will ya,” he panted, still shaken at
being taken unawares.
“My sincerest apologies, Mr.
Tanner. What can I do for you?” Standish hunkered down, a
sad ambiance settled around him.
“This ain’t the safest place ta
be, Ezra. Not with a storm coming.”
“That hardly matters,” he
answered dejectedly. “Perhaps you should be leaving…”
“They didn’t mean it…” well
maybe they did, but they were wrong and you need to prove it to them.
“I know ya weren’t trying to steal from us,” he confided. He
was a little ashamed to see the speculative gaze of Standish as he
considered the assertion. Ezra refused to comment. Seeing
that he’d not yet gained Ezra’s trust, he persevered. He had
only a short time to convince the other man it was not safe inside the
yacht and they needed to leave immediately. “So what were you
looking for,” he asked cautiously, attempting to draw the man into his
confidence. “Bet it was something important,” Vin hedged a
The Southerner sighed in response,
rubbing absently at his temples. “I was just looking for a
couple of painkillers,” his voice a mere whisper.
“You hurt?” he asked stepping
closer to assess the Southerner once more, but Standish reacted quickly
and backed out of reach.
“It is nothing of consequence,”
he muttered, wincing in unison with the crack of thunder.
Vin didn’t believe the Southerner
for one minute. After all, Standish was an ex car salesman, and
everybody knew how conniving and manipulative that breed of people were.
And in normal circumstances, Vin probably would have accepted the simple
answer, but not today. Not after what had just occurred.
“Must be awful bad to need painkillers,” Tanner prompted, searching
Standish for any visible injuries.
Standish rolled his eyes and
immediately regretted the action. “Oh, for heaven’s
sake…it’s just a headache,” he shouted, wincing again when his
voice echoed loudly in his ears. He’d be fine if he could just
have a few hours sleep with some peace and quiet. Was that
too much to ask? And besides, it was nothing serious, he attempted
to convince his suffering body, even though he felt deathly ill.
And nobody died of a headache, he reminded himself. So it can’t
be that bad. Right? Except it hurt like hell! And he
was nauseous and light headed, his eyes screamed in agony and he just
wanted to lie down and die. Not really, die… well, maybe just
for a few hours, until this monster headache had passed.
“Please leave,” he begged.
Tanner shook his head. There
was no way he was leaving without Ezra. The man was in obvious
distress, and was constantly rubbing at his eyes. He was even
swaying, and it wasn’t in time with the yacht. He wondered if
the Southerner had been drinking sufficient fluids during the heat
today. He hadn’t been partnered with anyone, so there was a
doubt that he’d been drinking properly. Larabee had been a hound
on his own tail, making them stop and drink at regular intervals.
But who took care of Ezra? Taking the partially empty canteen from
about his neck, he offered it to Standish. “Here, drink,” he
ordered flatly. The headache was probably a result of dehydration.
“I’m fine,” Ezra refused.
“Drink some now and I’ll help
you find something for ya head, when we get back to the cave,” he
Ezra’s hand shook as he snatched
at the canteen. Fumbling with the lid he spilt some out before it
reached his cracked lips. He emptied the container and glanced at
the security guard to ascertain if he had any more.
“That’ll do for now.”
He offered his hand and Standish grasped at it as though it were a
lifeline. “Rain’s started.”
“Marvellous,” Ezra drawled with
“Time to go, Ezra,” Vin pushed
him from behind.
“I think it is preferable to stay
here,” he decided.
“Nope! This tub is gonna
end up like banana in a food processor - mush. Don’t recommend
stayin’ around for the curtain call.”
Standish swayed unsteadily on his
feet and appealed to Tanner. “Mr. Tanner…”
“Ain’t open for discussion.
Let’s go!” he ordered, slipping a hand under Ezra’s elbow and
dragging him from the protection of the yacht.
“Agh!” he shuddered.
“It’s wet!” he grumbled, believing Tanner wouldn’t hear the
sentiment over the howling wind.
Vin grinned, reading the horror
clearly on the Southerner’s face. He enjoyed the harsh power of the
weather and the rush of adrenalin that surged through his veins.
He thought it hilarious that Standish didn’t share the same outlook.
But then, not everybody was at peace with nature. And he figured
Standish was the type that was more accustomed to swank hotels and fine
cuisine, than roughing it in the bush, camping. That was
definitely more Vin’s style. His long hair became plastered to
his scalp the instant they exited the yacht and he had to literally
fight to remain upright. His jeans and shirt stuck to him like a
second skin and his sneakers, which were already soaked, squelched with
every step. His companion fared little better.
The short distance of beach they
had to cover before they reached the undergrowth suddenly seemed a
hundred times further away. With each step forward, they were
pushed back two. And in no time they were exhausted from the
effort they had to apply. And, in addition, it wasn’t just the
sand that was being thrown up at them either, palm fronds, branches,
leaves, basically anything that wasn’t permanently attached to the
ground seemed to find a course concurrent with theirs.
Tanner laced his fingers tightly
under Ezra’s belt; their strength lay in the premise that they stayed
together. He felt the savage wrench of his shoulder as Standish
stumbled and went to the ground, but he refused to release his hold,
instead he followed the Southerner down. He could feel Ezra’s
heart pounding rapidly through his shirt and the panic stricken face
that turned and looked up at him shook him to the core. The
normally pokerfaced man was scared and not attempting to disguise the
fact. And the reality of the situation hit him like a
sledgehammer, knocking him askew. It would be easier to go back to
the yacht, but that option would leave them with no hope. With
renewed determination he pulled Standish upright and pointed up the
path. It was no use voicing his directions, it wouldn’t be heard
in any case.
The hail started suddenly and fell
with painful precision; many were the size of golf balls. The
globes of ice bounced on the shore and within minutes, covered the
beach. Tanner thought it strange to see the icy white hail
covering the land instead of the accepted soft sand. The hail
crunched under their shoes, shattering like glass and squishing into the
ground. The rain mingled on the trodden path and formed a slippery
brown slush, making the journey that much more difficult. Vin
winced as the top of his head was struck with another icy projectile,
and he was thankful that some of the impact was deflected through the
baseball cap. Standish didn’t wear any headgear and valiantly
attempted to protect his head with his arm.
The sky illuminated, lightning
streaking across the heavens, and the rain fell almost horizontally.
The water quickly drained through the sand, but first it had to find
passage through the thick layer of ice. Hail melted on the
previously sun baked shore, but was rapidly replaced with more - a
Finally they reached the bank,
where the jungle met the sea. Rainwater cascaded along the slick
track, running down the path in a torrent. The heavy traffic during the
day had worn away the top layer of grass that bound the earth beneath
and the thin layer of topsoil was washed away in the first flush of
rain, leaving the route guttered and holed. Similar tracks over
the island were treated in the same manner. Still, the hail
exploded from the sky. At least once they entered the brush the
canopy of the trees would deflect some of the larger pieces before they
hit the earth.
Both men were reduced to climbing
up the slick path on their hands and knees; even then it was difficult
to find purchase up the track. Hands and fingers groped for
exposed tree roots and vines to assist in the passage, but the rainwater
hampered their progress. More and more often the pair were struck
with flying branches, scratching and clawing at bare arms and faces.
Palms uprooted and crashed to the ground, landing within inches of their
progress and adding to the storm’s melee.
Chris Larabee stood impatiently at
the mouth of the cave; he’d been waiting there for at least half an
hour. He and Nathan had made it back to the cave just as the rain
began to fall in earnest. His clothing was wet and plastered to
his lean body, but that didn’t deter him from the task at hand.
His pale blue eyes glared intensely down the path, his hands knotted in
fists at his waist. Where the hell were they? They should
have been only minutes behind him. What could be keeping them?
Larabee took a backward step,
attempting to stand clear of the lashings of wind and rain that entered
through the wide opening. The action had little effect.
Unless he moved to the back of the cave where the others sought shelter,
then he was going to be besieged by the furore. He felt as though
his breath was sucked from his lungs as the winds circled and swirled
about the entrance, and his legs and body muscles were overwrought from
holding them rigid so he wasn’t snagged from the hole.
The boat-owner looked back into the
tunnel, craning his neck to see around the high pile of supplies that
created a barricade between them and the rest of the cave. He could see
part of Nathan’s back and a protruding foot, that obviously belonged
to Sanchez; the doctor was winding a bandage around the swollen
appendage. He couldn’t see either Buck or JD, but he wasn’t
concerned about that; he knew they were both safe within the walls of
the cave. With a sigh, Chris turned back to waiting for Vin and
Ezra to return.
A blanket of rain screened his
vision, so in effect he could only see a few feet outside. It was
impossible to know if they were standing on the other side of the sheet
of rain or if they were still on the beach. If they didn’t get
here soon…Hell…he didn’t know what he’d do. It would be
foolhardy to go outside when the island was being thrashed by the
typhoon. He turned his wrist over and glanced again at his watch;
the hands had not moved since the last time he checked. He shook
the instrument in frustration, wondering if the batteries had died, but
even as he did this the minute hand swept to a new position, thus
disabusing his theory.
A shudder ran up his spine and
Chris knew it wasn’t from cold. The longer both men remained
missing, the worse he felt. His gut twisted and the guilt of his
accusations echoed in his mind. If he hadn’t been so quick to
judge the Southerner, then his best friend wouldn’t now be out,
possibly fighting for his life, in the storm. And it was too soon to
realise, that part of his worry was also directed at the suave
gentleman. He’d only known Ezra for a matter of days and had yet
to form any lasting impressions of the loner, but still, he was
responsible for the irritating conman.
Chris startled as a large hand
closed over his shoulder. Without turning he knew it was Buck.
“They’ll be here soon.
Don’t worry.” Wilmington had to yell to be heard over the din.
Chris didn’t hold the same belief
as his jovial friend, but couldn’t bring himself to voice the thought.
Instead he nodded grimly, returning his gaze down the track.
“They’re on their way. I
can feel it in my bones.”
“That’s yer arthritis, Buck,”
Chris drawled half-hearted, a small smile came to his lips.
“Ain’t your fault.”
“I’m responsible for everyone,
Buck,” Larabee growled. “I should never have left them, when I
did.” Vin had waved off the boat-owner when he reached the
yacht, indicating that he wouldn’t be far behind Larabee and Jackson.
Something must have happened. Maybe Tanner had more difficulty
persuading Standish to leave the wreck and return to the cave.
Damn, he should have gone and dragged the Southerner from the yacht
himself. That might not have worked, though he conceded.
“What are you? Den mother?
You can’t make grown men conform to your every demand. They’ll
sooner rebel than obey the order. They’re like children
really,” he shouted, “got to make them think it was their idea.
Can’t always protect them from the dangers of the world either.
There are some things a man’s gotta find out for himself.”
“But I’m the one
“Yeah. You’re responsible
fer shooting from the hip and asking questions later,” he chuckled.
“But so far as getting ‘em back here…ya made a decision to let Vin
handle it…leave it at that, huh?”
“What if they don’t make it
“Then we go looking for them when
the storm’s passed.”
“How’d you get so smart?”
“It was all that time I spent
picking up after you,” he grinned.
“I wasn’t so bad…was I?”
Larabee watched the moustached man’s eyebrow’s disappear into his
hairline. “Aw, come on…”
Wilmington shook his head, smiling
widely at his long time friend. He didn’t relish the prospect of
bringing up Chris’ past, but it was a pleasant surprise to see the
sparkle of life shine in Larabee’s blue eyes, and not the familiar
hooded and pained expression of old.
It had been a struggle to pull
Chris from his devastation after the death of both his wife and son.
They had been involved in a car accident, and Chris blamed himself for
not being there. Sarah had borrowed his pick-up to drop Adam off
at school, when some lunatic sideswiped the vehicle spinning them into
oncoming traffic. Sarah died at the scene, but Adam survived the
crash only to lay comatose in the hospital five days. He never
woke up. And Chris was by his side the entire time, not willing to
leave his son. The driver of the other vehicle was never caught,
leaving Larabee unable to vent his rage. Instead he had dived head
first into the bottle, barely coming up for air. And when he did
surface into sobriety, he was angry and mean and hell bent on revenge.
Ezra no longer contemplated the
initial reasons he so desperately wanted to leave the cave, by now only
concentrating on the all-consuming goal to return in one piece. It
was a slow process, crawling up the slope. And, it had been more than a
passing thought to just give up and allow the tempest to do its worst,
but some inner voice urged him to go on. And the determination in
Tanner’s bright blues eyes encouraged him like nothing ever before.
He could feel the security guard’s resolve burning through his mind.
A simple reassuring squeeze and friendly smile was all that was needed.
A path that should have taken only
ten minutes to cover had so far eroded the majority of an hour. In
this time, Standish had become totally lost. He kept heading up,
just hoping that sooner or later he would recognise something, or at
least stumble upon the cave. He wasn’t certain that the path he
followed even led to the appointed destination. The terrain was
awash in swaying palms, fernery, broken limbs torn from the larger
trees, not to mention the effects of the blinding rain.
He was confused, disorientated and
utterly fatigued. His head was permanently throbbing and the
light-headedness had developed into waves of dizziness. He slipped
in the muddy track falling heavily on his right hip and skidding to a
halt crashing into Tanner, knocking both of them over. Untangling
from each other he mouthed the words of an apology, unable to meet
Vin’s eyes for fear of recrimination. He slipped again, wincing
as his foot twisted wrongly, but he ignored it and resumed his steady
climb. He felt Vin touch his shoulder, signalling him to turn back
around. Standish complied, his face frowning a questioning mask.
His features brightened somewhat when Vin gestured with a thumbs-up.
Every so often, Standish would
check over his shoulder to ensure Vin was still following close behind
him. Twice already, Ezra had found the space behind him empty, and
the surge of grief that welled up in his chest burned, only to be
swallowed gratefully as Tanner reappeared. His relief was short
lived, for on the next subsequent check, Vin was again missing.
Ezra waited, shivering and swaying on his feet. His legs quivered
and the stationary position grew more difficult to maintain.
Surely Vin could not be too far behind? Standish took a faltering
step back, straining to see through the curtain of rain. He rubbed
at his eyes and glanced pensively up his intended route and then back
the way he’d already come. He knew he wouldn’t be welcome in
the tight-knit group if he didn’t have the longhaired Texan with him.
“Mr. Tanner!” Standish cried over the howl of wind and rain,
stumbling as he retraced his steps.
Josiah wriggled his foot, wincing
as the bandage pulled against the tender joint. He rolled his
shoulders once more and attempted to find some comfort on the
hard-packed floor. Lifting his backside, he smoothed out the
surface, ridding it of loose pebbles that were digging into his
posterior. Still he couldn’t settle. He couldn’t see out of the cave, as he sat perched behind the barricade of boxes, but he
knew Chris stood a vigil at the mouth, waiting for their friends to
return. He sighed deeply and frowned at his inability to help.
Sanchez’ face held a grim line,
and he felt ill inclined to speak with anyone at the present. He
was angry with himself for not defending the Southerner earlier than he
did, but he was stunned also, and it took a few moments to process the
situation. He hadn’t expected Standish to just stand there,
looking guilty as hell.
His ankle throbbed and he lifted it
from the rolled blanket, bringing his knees to his chest. He
groaned inwardly as a shadow fell over him.
“You need to rest it, Josiah.”
Nathan came over and clasped his shoulder.
“I know, Nathan,” Josiah
wearily replied. “How’s young JD coping?”
Jackson sighed, glancing at Buck
and the stowaway. On the surface they laughed and joked as though
nothing was wrong, but he’d be blind not to see the worry that was
clearly written on their faces, and the tense silences that periodically
came between them. “Reckon Buck’s taking his mind off
“Good.” Dunne was such an
innocent; it would devastate him if either of the two missing men
didn’t return. The young man had grown close to both the Texan
and the Southerner, and would undoubtedly grieve their loss, if that
should happen. They’d only known each other for such a short
time, but he would also feel deeply saddened if Ezra and Vin couldn’t
make it back.
Wilmington rustled the stowaway’s
unruly hair, smiling indulgently at the youth. “You got a lot to
learn, kid. And you’re lucky you’ve got me to teach you,” he
boasted, slapping his chest, Tarzan style.
Dunne rolled his eyes.
“You’re so full of crap, Buck.”
The ladies’ man laughed.
“You only just working that out?” The smile faltered as he
glanced over to where Chris was waiting. He patted the younger
man’s knee and walked over to join Larabee in his wait.
Dunne sighed and began drawing
lines in the earth. The young man envied the strong relationship
Wilmington had with Larabee. Well, all of them really. He
wondered if he’d ever have that. It was almost like family, he
JD sniffed back the tears that
threatened and unzipped his duffle bag. He rummaged through it,
and with a weak smile withdrew a photo and held it to the waning light.
His mother’s image smiled back at him and he kissed the reflection
uncaring of what the others might think. “Why did you have to
leave me?” he whispered. “Things could have been so different
if you hadn’t got sick. There are so many things I want to tell
you, and I miss you, too,” he ended on a sigh. Ma, you would
have really liked Buck – probably too much actually. Buck’s
that kind of guy, a real ladies’ man. But he’s fun to have
around. He’s sorta like a big brother. The stowaway
grinned at his startling conclusion.
“What you got there, son?”
Sanchez lowered his giant frame down next to JD.
JD automatically hid the photo,
pressing it against his chest. Realising what he’d done he
looked away sheepishly. “It’s my ma.”
Dunne held out the photo for Sanchez to see.
Dunne held out the photo for Sanchez to see.
Josiah glanced at the object and
nodded his understanding. “Mighty fine looking lady.” He
was happy to see a proud nod from Dunne. “You must miss her a
Again, JD nodded, unable to find
“I’m guessin’ that you’re
thinking about Ezra and Vin…they’re big boys, they’ll be fine,”
he confidently predicted.
“But what if they’re not?”
Sanchez grimaced; he’d been
thinking a lot on those lines himself. “Reckon there might be a
real nice lady up there,” he thumbed his finger to the ceiling,
“ready to take care of them if they don’t.”
“You think she’d know them?”
Sanchez nodded. “I reckon
she’d be keeping an eye on her son, so she’d have to know them, now
Ezra climbed over a fallen trunk
that wasn’t there when he’d first climbed up this part, but now
dissected the track in two. “Vin!” he called urgently, wiping
the rain that mingled with tears off his face. “Vin,” he
croaked hoarsely. The throbbing in his head had worsened and his
stomach cramped. Both his ears were ringing and he couldn’t
determine whether it was his headache that caused the loud roar or the
storm. His vision swam, but he refused to allow his ailments to be
his reasons for not finding the Texan.
Straddling another palm uprooted
close to the path, he was surprised to see panicked blue eyes staring up
at him from under the timber. “Vin!” Standish knelt beside the
trapped man, uttering assurances that couldn’t be heard. Ezra
ran his hand along the smooth trunk, finding the point where Vin was
pinned beneath the tree; it had most of his left leg caught,
disappearing under the length. He felt Tanner tense his leg and quickly
apologised for any further harm he’d caused the man. “I’ll
get you out,” he promised, glancing to his left and right for
something he could use as leverage.
Standish quickly found a sturdy
limb and jabbed it under the trunk. He gave a nod to Tanner, then
levered his weight onto the branch. It had little effect; rolling
the palm slightly, but quickly falling back into place. Tanner
screamed, clutching the palm with his hands and throwing back his head.
Standish winced in sympathy. He squeezed Vin’s shoulder, and
prayed that he wasn’t about to cause him any permanent injury.
Ezra wiped the incessant rain from
his face and smiled reassuringly. Picking up a rock he rammed it
under the palm. Finding another, he did the same, continuing until
he had the palm stable. Then Ezra gently levered up the tree,
panting, he used his foot to kick the closest rocks under tighter.
There was now some clearance between the palm and Tanner’s leg.
Not a lot, but he might be able to pull the Texan clear if he dug around
the ground first to deepen the gap.
Standish gripped under Vin’s arms
and dragged him out, being careful not to bump the injury.
Vin rested his head against Ezra’s chest, panting and moaning in pain.
His knee was screaming at him, and it was swollen tight in his jeans.
He knew it would be impossible to walk on his own, and he’d be reliant
on the Southerner for assistance. “Thanks,” he whispered.
“Why don’t you join us in
Larabee scuffed the toe of his
boot, grateful for the gregarious man’s diversionary tactics.
“You think they’re not gonna make it.” It was a statement,
devoid of emotion.
Wilmington whistled softly, not
wanting to be the bearer of bad tidings. The more time that
passed, the less the likelihood of Ezra and Vin returning. He
didn’t want to say that he’d never see Tanner again, or Ezra for
that matter, but he didn’t want to see Chris tearing himself apart
either. “It’s getting’ late…”
Larabee nodded, patting Buck on the
shoulder. He squeezed his eyes closed tightly and rubbed his face
on his sleeve. It shouldn’t be happening like this! Damn
it! He hadn’t worked his butt off to save their lives the other
night, only to have all his efforts wasted. Vin was his best
friend! Chris wasn’t about to lose someone else that was close
to him. He snapped his eyes open and a surge of
determination sparkled in them. “I’m going to look for
them,” the rough tone of voice brooked no room for argument.
Buck’s hand snaked about his biceps, spinning him in a circle.
“Let go, Buck,” Larabee growled, intent now that he’d made his
“Ain’t it bad enough that
we’ve already lost two?” he ranted, drawing concerned looks from the
others. “If you go out there, we’ll be losing you too.
Is that what you want? Leaving the four of us to fend for
ourselves while you selfishly sacrifice yourself? And for what?
They’re probably already dead!” There, he said it. And
he cursed himself instantly when Chris turned a shade paler.
“And what if they’re not?”
Chris asked, his voice a low growl. “Tell me, Buck. Could
you live with yourself, knowing that you abandoned Vin and Ezra?
They could be hurt. They might be at this very moment waiting for
us to come and help them. I’m not asking you to come…you’re
“Dammit, you’re needed here
“Something I’ve gotta do,
“You’re asking me to just stand
aside and watch you walk out in this typhoon. We ain’t even got
the worst of it yet. Chris think about what you’re
considering,” he pleaded.
Larabee stared at his friend
thoughtfully for a long moment, finally shaking his head. “You
look after the kid, Buck.”
“No!” Wilmington shouted,
pulling the blond man back inside. “I could stop you,” he
threatened, flexing his fist at his side. He didn’t want to use
violence, but if that was the only way to stop Chris then he’d do it
in a flash.
Larabee smirked, and quickly hugged
the taller man, throwing him off balance. “I gotta do this…”
Buck blinked, swallowing hard,
tears threatened to fall. He glanced out the mouth of the cave and
spun his oldest friend around, pointing through the dense screen of
falling rain. “Is that what I think it is?” he gaped,
open-mouthed. “It’s them!” He jumped, punching the air
with his fist. “Yes!”
Chris raced out of the cave,
uncaring of the tempest outside. A wide smile spread across his
face at the sudden appearance of the missing men. It dropped a
fraction when he saw Standish supporting Tanner up the slippery
gradient. He immediately took up position on the opposite side and
hustled the injured man inside.
“Bring him over here,” Jackson
directed. “We need blankets, and start stripping him out of
those wet clothes.
Vin shivered. He felt the
loss of Standish at his side and sluggishly looked about for the
Southerner. He heard Nathan through a thick fog, and fought to
understand the doctor’s orders, but his mind was filled with cotton
wool and his body refused to obey his own simple commands.
“Chris…” he slurred barely coherent.
“Yeah, pard…yer safe now.
You do everything the doc here tells you to.” Tanner’s eyes
fluttered once, then again, before he fell limply against Buck.
Chris surged forward, a pained expression marring his features. He
glanced at the doctor, demanding an answer.
“He’ll be fine, Chris,”
Nathan reassured. God, he hoped so, he silently prayed. If
he had the chance, he would have crossed his fingers just to hedge his
bets. “JD, did you find my kit yet?”
“I see it,” he grunted, digging
down to the bottom of the stack. “Have it out in a jiffy…”
“What about his knee? Is it
broke?” Buck asked. They’d all gasped in horror when the limb
“Nah, it ain’t broken,”
Jackson rubbed the swollen area while he spoke. Damn he wished for
an X-ray machine, just to check the damage. It was risky using
guesswork. And it was his first year as a resident…what if he
got it wrong? What if Tanner is never able to properly walk again?
It would be his fault. There was nobody who he could refer his
patients to, they depended solely on him.
“Deep breaths, Nathan,”
Josiah’s calming rumble brought him back into focus.
Taking the kit from JD, Jackson
unzipped it and opened it out. He knew where everything was,
because he’d packed it himself. The doctor removed a wide
bandage and began to wrap Vin’s leg. “Keep that blanket
wrapped around him, Josiah. He’s gonna be mighty sore for a
while,” he contemplated, adding ruefully. “He won’t be going
on any hikes for a bit. You boys are going to ensure that he stays
off it,” he looked directed at Chris with the last directive.
Larabee would keep Vin in line.
Larabee sought out the conman, but
Ezra’s gaze was fixatedly on Vin, a pale shadow in comparison to the
man who had stood before him earlier in the day. Chris stepped aside to
allow Nathan more room, while keeping a steady watch on Standish.
He didn’t even blink, but Larabee could see the rapid rise and fall of
his chest and the quivering pulse that throbbed at his neck. It
was the slow seesaw motion that finally moved Chris into action.
They had been so concerned about Vin that they had completely forgotten
the Southerner. He just managed to reach Ezra as consciousness
left and exhaustion took over, eyes rolling upward and knees buckling
forward as Standish sagged to the earth. “Shit! Nathan!”
He cradled the Southerner’s head, preventing it from hitting the
ground. “Easy there, pard,” he soothed, wiping the damp hair
off his face. “Nathan! What’s wrong with him?”
Jackson tied off the bandage and
joined Larabee. It came as a complete shock to see the
blond-headed man supporting the conniving Southerner. He certainly
wouldn’t be so forgiving. “Same drill,” he ordered with less
enthusiasm. “Blankets, and get his wet clothes off.” The
doctor crouched, and lightly tapped Standish’s face, but it lolled in
Chris’ hold. “Ezra,” he shook the unresponsive man’s
shoulder, none too gently. “Ezra,” he spoke more roughly,
pushing harder to get a reaction. Jackson drew back his hand
preparing to strike his patient, when Larabee leant forward and
effectively blocked the blow.
“Nathan!” Chris admonished,
glaring at the doctor, while protecting the recumbent southerner.
“What’s got into you?”
Jackson sighed, turning his back
and returning to Tanner. “I don’t think I’m gonna be able to
Ezra moaned and attempted to roll
on his side, but found something prevented this movement. His head
ached and his stomach lurched, threatening to spill its contents.
With any luck he could avoid the embarrassment and keep it down.
He opened his eyes a slit, groaned, and lifted his arm to cover his
face. He heard the doctor’s refusal to tend him and accepted it,
knowing it as his due. He vaguely wondered who supported his head,
but couldn’t manage to convince his mutinous body to cooperate, thus
his eyes remained closed and hidden beneath his forearm.
“Ezra?” Larabee scowled at
Jackson’s back, tugging the space blanket up over Ezra’s bare
shoulders. “How you feeling?”
The Southerner heard the query from
the boat-owner, but hadn’t the strength to respond. He wanted to
sleep for a week, and longer if possible. Couldn’t they leave
“Ezra…” Larabee drawled out
the name, lifting the arm off his face and tilting his head up.
“I know you’re awake,” he continued in the calming voice that
Standish was unfamiliar with.
Josiah hobbled over and rested a
hand over the position of Ezra’s heart. “I got a bed ready for
him,” he informed Larabee, then swooped in and lifted the limp man off
the earthen floor, transporting him to the bedding. “Son, I
ain’t gonna drop you,” he assured, feeling the tension that gripped
the younger man when he was lifted into his arms.
Once settled, Sanchez moved back
allowing Chris to take up position between Tanner and Standish.
Chris glanced at Vin’s relaxed features then down at the frown that
crossed Standish’s. He knew the Southerner was awake, because he
flinched when Chris touched his arm. “Ezra, I just want to say
thanks…for helping Vin…”
Standish shot upright, eyes
frantically searching the room. Vin! How did he manage to
forget the Texan? “How is he?” he rasped, choking on the bile
that rose to his mouth. The sudden change in position made his
head ache even worse, if that was possible.
“He’ll be fine.” Chris
glanced over at the doctor to confirm his prognosis and Jackson
confirmed this. “How about you?” Chris noticed the way
Standish had begun to shake, tremors wracked his body. He lowered
his head between his raised knees and started rubbing it.
“Nathan?” Chris crawled to his knees, worriedly glancing at Ezra and
the slowly moving doctor.
Standish wrapped his arm around his
middle, rocking back and forth. He should have remained lying
down, he berated himself. His vision was a complete blur and he
wasn’t going to win this battle. “Don’t…feel…well…”
that was all he managed before throwing up. A watery mixture
erupted from his mouth and nose, covering the space blanket. Tears
formed in his eyes, and rolled down his cheek.
“He’s got a headache,” Tanner
informed them all, waking up just as Ezra threw up. “He was
searching for some painkillers earlier, not trying to rob ya.”
“Oh, Shit!” Jackson bowed his
The typhoon kept them trapped
inside the cave all through the night. The winds and rain ravaged
the island, ripping palms from their tenuous hold in the ground and
tossing them like toothpicks scattered from a box. Inside the
cave, Ezra was fighting his own battle with a mammoth migraine. He
spent much of the night alternating between heaving bile from his empty
stomach and lying deathly still curled in a tight ball.
Eventually, toward morning, the stomach cramps had lessened and he was
now in a restless sleep.
JD panted, running up from the
beach. “You ain’t gonna believe what’s happened…”
Josiah, Nathan and Buck all stopped
what they were doing and turned as one at the young stowaway’s harried
“Don’t tell me,” Wilmington
dramatically put his hand to his forehead, fingers massaging his skull
and squeezed closed his eyes, “the tide’s come in,” he
Dunne rolled his eyes. “Ha ha,
get real, Buck!” JD glanced over to where Vin and Ezra were
still sleeping and realised Chris wasn’t inside. “Where’s
“Wasn’t here when I woke up,”
Nathan informed them.
“Something on your mind, son?”
Josiah stretched out his long limbs, wincing at the twinge that radiated
from his ankle.
“Yacht’s gone,” Larabee
announced coming in behind Dunne. A collective round of gasps
greeted the revelation.
JD jumped at the boat-owner’s
entrance, but sighed gratefully that it wasn’t him who had to inform
the others of the missing yacht. “Um, yeah…that’s what I was
trying to tell you guys.”
“It’s gone?” A muffled voice
echoed from under the blankets. Standish pushed back the covers,
groaning at the concerted effort the simple gesture took. With no
further reserves of energy left he lay lethargically in his swaddle of
covers, searching out the bearer of said news with unfocused eyes.
Jackson crouched beside the
Southerner and placed the palm of his hand over Ezra’s forehead.
He withdrew it quickly before Ezra had a chance to pull away.
“How you feeling?”
Standish wearily watched the doctor
through hooded eyes; he vaguely seemed to recall it was Nathan, who
helped him through the ravages of last night, but it was all a thick
haze and the flashes were few and far between. He was already
feeling the weight of his eyelids droop and the need to resume his
interrupted slumber. He finally shrugged off the query, not
certain how to answer, or what exactly was expected. “The
yacht’s really gone?”
Larabee nodded his head.
“Yeah.” He hadn’t expected to find the vessel this morning
after the storm they had the night before. It would have been more
of a surprise if it had been there. He’d left the cave before
any of the others had woken and made his way down to the beach, where
he’d discovered his and Buck’s vessel no longer in sight.
Larabee searched out each of the
faces that were trained on him, and could feel the growing apprehension
of the group. “We’ll find a way off here,” Chris promised, making
a point to meet JD’s gaze. “There’s bound to be a search and
rescue mission organised.” He saw the guilty expression that
Standish wore and smiled amenably at the sick man. “Don’t go
there, Standish.” He watched Ezra fight to stay awake, but his
body betrayed him, and it wasn’t long before he succumbed to the
much-needed rest. It was probably for the best at the moment.
Both he and Tanner needed to recoup. “Is he gonna be okay?”
Jackson pulled the blanket up
around the Southerner’s shoulders and tucked it in. Standish had
certainly given him some worried moments the previous night, but given
the bouts of vomiting had ceased, he was more confident in predicting a
total recovery. “Give him a few days, and he’ll be back to his
“Just what we need,” Chris groaned.
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