Read Soundkeeper Online

Authors: Michael Hervey

Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Mystery, #Police Procedurals, #Thrillers, #South Carolina, #Pinckney Island, #thriller, #Hall McCormick

Soundkeeper (3 page)

BOOK: Soundkeeper
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Chapter Four

Although she was blindfolded, Gale knew she was back in familiar waters by the ripe smell of the marsh at low tide, which meant it was late afternoon. Her hands were taped behind her back, and her legs were tied to something. Fear and helplessness gathered in her throat, and she fought the urge to cry. The boat bounced off of something solid and the noisy engine shut off. She tensed when she heard someone approach.

“If you try to get away or anything, I’m going to let my friend cut you up. Do you understand?”

Gale nodded. She recognized the voice of the tattooed man. The one she had bitten.

“If everything works out, you’ll be just fine,” he said.

She stiffened when she felt his rough hands on her bare legs. His body odor was overpowering, and she realized he was stronger than she had given him credit for when he carried her off of the boat and walked several minutes without even breathing hard. She turned her head away from him and tried to look underneath her blindfold but couldn’t see anything. Old boards creaked and moaned, the light dimmed, and she heard a door close. Arnold took off her blindfold.

“Jeez, your mouth is really swole up,” he said.

The pain that had been blocked by fear crept back to the surface. Opening and closing her mouth, she was relieved when she didn’t hear any grinding and popping and that none of her teeth were loose. If her jaw was broken, it wasn’t severe. She knew from her years on the hospital ship that a fractured jaw was most often left to heal itself. A crooked smile was the least of her concerns. She was dizzy and sick to her stomach, symptoms of a concussion. She held her breath as Arnold stomped over to her and slipped the blindfold back over her eyes. His gentleness scared her.

“Don’t move,” he ordered.

Gale felt the vibrations as he walked away and guessed that she must be in a building that was built on pilings above the marsh. Her hands were still tied behind her back, but her feet were free and she stood up. She counted her steps as she walked toward light that penetrated her blindfold. When she bumped into the wall she rubbed her blindfold against the wall until she could see and peeked out of a partially boarded up window. Any hope of calling for help vanished when she saw miles of empty marsh beyond the dilapidated dock.

She looked around and realized she was in an old, abandoned fish house. The walls were made of rough wood, but the wooden floors were polished smooth from decades of commerce. The roof was tin and had rusted through along one edge. There were double doors large enough for a truck on one end of the building and a commercial ice maker that looked like it had been stripped for parts. No lights were on, but there was a television, a cot and a lawn chair in one corner of the building. A small closet was built into one of the walls, but other than that the entire space was wide open.

She felt footsteps and tiptoed back to where she had been. She wiggled her nose and the blindfold fell back in place just as she heard the door open. Arnold untied her hands and took her blindfold off again.

“Here,” he said. He handed her a plastic bag with ice.

Gale nodded and put the cool bag on her swollen jaw. Then she noticed what else he was carrying.

“I’m going to have to make sure that you don’t go anywhere, at least until after we’re done.”

The cold steel ratcheted around her ankle.

“Is it too tight?” he asked. She wanted to scream, but just shook her head.

He walked around the room, measuring a heavy chain as he went. When he seemed satisfied he looped the chain over a steel girder that had once been used to hoist heavy loads of shrimp and crabs onto trucks.

“If my partner finds out that you’re alive, he’ll kill you, understand?”

Gale nodded.

“Maybe when we’re done I can let you go.”

It was the first time she felt hopeful since she had been kidnapped. She had to clear her throat several times before she could speak.

“Done with what?” she asked.

Chapter Five

Near Big Harry Island they stopped to watch a pair of biologists pull a seine through the shallow water of the mudflats. Comfortable in T-shirts, fishing waders and ball caps, they were accompanied by a research assistant Hall recognized. She was recording the number and size of the horseshoe crabs they netted on a clipboard, and she smiled and waved to them as they passed by. The biologists were conducting surveys to make sure the population of horseshoe crabs wasn’t declining. Hall knew enzymes from the blood of horseshoe crabs were unique in the animal kingdom because of their ability to fight pathogens and infections and were being used in cancer research. Hall gave them a longing look before he waved back and sped away.

Parris Island was quiet on their starboard side when they passed by. Hall had passed by the Marine Corps training depot many times before and usually heard the sounds of gunfire or cadence being called by the drill instructors as they worked their recruits. Hall had an uncle who was a Marine, and all he remembered about Parris Island was the heat and the mosquitoes. He had been kind enough to pass this information on to Hall just before he left for neighboring Pinckney Island and Hall had the insect bites to prove his uncle had been right.

The municipal marina was next to a waterfront park with a bandstand and behind the park was a small downtown area. Beaufort was the second oldest city in South Carolina and most of the buildings having been built in the previous century, had been well preserved or restored. The old construction methods of tabby brick and rough pine boards was still visible on many buildings, and horse-drawn carriages pulled tourists under live oaks and magnolias that shaded the park and antique shops. The diner here offered shrimp and grits long before the dish was served at any trendy bistro.

Along the seawall were several porch swings hanging from pergolas, the perfect place to while away a lazy afternoon and make it feel like being in a hurry was a crime. Further down Bay Street was the U.S. District Courthouse. It was close enough to walk to from the Marina, which Hall and Jimmy had done more than once, and he wouldn’t have been surprised if they saw Forrest Gump or the Great Santini walking along Bay Street. Being in Beaufort reminded Hall of all the neat seaside towns his family had vacationed in when he was a kid.

The Rebecca Ann was moored at the end of one of the piers at the city marina. Hall let Jimmy take the wheel of the patrol boat, not wanting to misjudge the current and put the first blemish on the new paint. Jimmy’s wife Rebecca heard them coming and waved as she came out onto the deck of the sailboat. Jimmy waved back and eased up alongside his new home without effort, judging the current and wind with practiced expertise.

Hall liked Jimmy’s wife a lot and smiled at her as he climbed aboard. When Rebecca Barnwell had found out that Hall would have to live in a hotel for eight weeks until she and Jimmy vacated the caretaker’s cottage on Pinckney Island, she decided they would move onto the Rebecca Ann before it was finished. Hall once again admired the fit and finish of the Rebecca Ann. He knew that Jimmy and Rebecca had done most of the work themselves, turning the derelict ketch into a vessel worthy of live aboard cruising. The Barnwells were going to follow spring all the way up the coast to Maine and spend the summer exploring the coves and beaches of the New England coastline.

“There’s still a problem with the radar,” Rebecca said after Jimmy poured himself a cup of coffee. She handed Hall a thick sausage biscuit. Grease spots soaked through the napkin it was wrapped in. He thought it was the best thing he had tasted in months.

“Are they coming to fix it?” Jimmy asked.

“He’s supposed to be here before noon,” she answered.

Jimmy looked at his watch and smiled.

“I’ve decided to take early retirement,” he announced.

Hall felt the blood rush from his face in panic, and he coughed on a piece of sausage. He had been counting on six more hours of instruction. Companionship.

“Don’t look so worried, Hall. You’ll do fine,” Jimmy told him.

Hall stayed as long as could but decided to leave before the tide was completely gone. He wanted to go back to his house before lunchtime and thought the safest thing for him to do was stay at home and catch up on his paperwork. The channel that led to his dock could be tricky at low tide, so he reluctantly said his good byes and cast off.

The wind was against him as he crossed Port Royal Sound, and he put on his rain slicker to keep the spray from drenching him. The small, open boat offered little protection from the elements. Between the noise from the wind and motor and the concentration required to keep the boat on course in the choppy water the voice on the VHF radio had hailed him three times before he realized he was being called.

“This is the refuge officer,” Hall said into the microphone. He still wasn’t comfortable talking on the radio and slowed the boat so he could hear.

The woman who was calling him reported a dolphin in distress in the May River near Bluffton. She said that it was tangled in a fishing net and looked like it was dying. After checking his chart, Hall gave the caller his ETA and corrected his course. Along the way he heard someone from the Waddell Mariculture Center on the radio. They were responding as well, and Hall hoped they got there first since they were the primary responders for beached whales, injured sea turtles, and the like. He was concentrating so hard on his navigation, watching the channel markers and buoys, that he didn’t realize until he arrived that he had no idea of what to do for a dolphin in distress.

Three boats were rafted together and drifting in the current: a big sportfishing yacht, a motorsailer with its sails furled, and a large Zodiac inflatable boat. The Zodiac belonged to Nature’s Way, an ecotourism company from Hilton Head that specialized in dolphin watching cruises. Near the boats he saw a large dolphin struggling on the surface. She did not remind him of Flipper.

With some skill and more luck he managed to tie his boat to the others without scattering them like billiard balls.

“I think she’s tangled in an old fishing net, Officer,” a blue-haired lady on the motorsailer said. She must have been the one who called him, and Hall reminded himself to thank her later. The dozen or so people on the dolphin cruise were alternately videotaping him and the dolphin, clearly waiting for him to do something. He hoped Jimmy was having just as much fun trying to get his radar fixed.

Hall’s knowledge of bottlenose dolphins or porpoises was very limited. He knew they were intelligent and very social animals. He also knew that their mouths were lined with razor sharp teeth and remembered when he was a kid he had seen a dolphin at Seaworld launch a woman all the way across a large swimming pool. They were also protected by the Federal Marine Mammal Protection Act, a direct responsibility of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Hall’s employer.

“I’m going to try and snag her and pull her over to the shallow water near the shore. It will be much easier to free her there,” Hall announced with more enthusiasm than he felt. The tourists on the Zodiac nodded in approval and no doubt believed Hall handled all of his dolphin rescues in that manner. Hall untied the line from his anchor and coiled the rope in preparation to throw. He hoped the rope would catch on the rough surface of the net, but after the third try it was apparent that it would not.

The dolphin began clicking and squealing, which solicited sympathetic “Oohs” and “Ahhs” from all of the spectators. Hall was just getting ready to call Jimmy for help on his cellular phone when a small fishing boat with a huge outboard motor idled up and joined their flotilla. The bearded captain talked to the woman on the motorsailer for a moment and then pulled off his shirt and slipped into the water. He swam towards the dolphin, and Hall saw him whisper to her. To Hall’s amazement, the dolphin stilled as if she understood what the man was going to do. Treading water, the man used a small knife to cut away the net.

“I need another hand,” the man in the water said, looking at Hall.

Hall unbuckled his gunbelt, took off his shirt and body armor and was down to his boxers before he had time to think about what he was doing. He slipped over the side of his boat into the cool water.

“I can’t reach all the way around her and hold the net at the same time,” the man said.

Hall positioned himself on the other side of the dolphin and swam close to her, waiting for a flick of her powerful tail fluke to snap his neck.

“Easy girl,” Hall said. Her giant eye looked right at him, and he touched her for the first time. Her skin was smooth and warm, just like his, and there was a long pink scar in front of her blowhole. He stroked her side with one hand and lifted the net over her dorsal fin with the other. Within a few seconds the dolphin swam free and disappeared. She surfaced a few yards away and performed a jump worthy of an amusement park show. Then she was gone.

Cheers and applause echoed from the other boats and Hall swam back to his patrol boat. Someone from the motorsailer tossed a towel to him and he dried off.

“You must be taking Jimmy’s place,” his fellow rescuer said. He was back on his own boat now.

“I’m Hall McCormick.”

“Silas Pickens,” he said. “Nice to meet you.”

“Gale’s brother?” Hall asked.

Silas Pickens nodded and waved as he motored away, and Hall almost called out to ask for his number, when he saw the name of his boat: Native Son. No need for a phone number. He would be able to reach Silas on the radio if he ever wanted to talk to him.

BOOK: Soundkeeper
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ads

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