*** Chapter One ***
She was leaning against the ferry's metal rail, letting the cold North Atlantic spray her fingertips. She was in uniform: the crisply pressed tan trousers, tan short-sleeve shirt, and collar pins of a single gold stripe that signified her rank. She'd held that rank, ensign, for under twenty-four hours. Yesterday, she'd graduated from the Academy. This morning, she was in the field.
The stumpy female-officer hat and bob of short black hair framed her face -- it was a nice face -- frank, open, and thoughtful, with golden skin and a strong Apache nose. But the eyes were troubled.
Staring out at the still waters of Technical Bay, through which the ferry was passing, they failed to notice a haggard-looking figure moving toward her, up the port-side weather-deck. A hesitant, red-haired boy. Badly sunburnt. As he approached Sally in silence, weaving a trifle, he took up a position just behind her left ear -- and received a vicious blind punch in the neck. The blow came from nowhere, and sent him sprawling.
Waves crashing against the ferry's hull drowned out the sound. Sally heard nothing. The commotion went unnoticed by the nearby passengers.
And, for a moment, nothing else happened.
The boy had been preparing to speak to Sally, to form words in her ear. Did she know him? It was impossible to say. Was it to be a joke? A surprise? A secret? Who was he? She had not seen him and could not comment.
The boy was remarkable. Roughly eighteen, he was tall and lean, with an air of wildness. Here is a map of how he looked:
Now, he was flat on the deck.
Despite the obvious pain involved, the boy managed to struggle quickly onto his feet, blink away the tears, and square off with his attacker: a boy of darker hue, gigantic -- well over six feet -- and solid as a rock. A bit younger than his victim but of Polynesian extraction, the giant was dressed in almost-perfect monochrome: white shirt, black tie, black trousers, green galoshes. He was trim, vast, menacing.
The two boys faced each other in silence. Not much of a place for a showdown.
The giant had the hoarse, scratchy throat of a heavy teen smoker.
"Sorry, Little Dude," he croaked softly, balling up one hand in the other like he was polishing his fist. "Didn't mean to tag you so hard. Why don't you just go back home, eh, Little Dude? Then we can put a nice, rational end to all this open-hostilities and mayhem crap."
The red-haired boy remained silent during this speech. His hands, balled into fists, were held low, at his hips. He said, "I am home," and took three steps backward.
Now Sally saw him. The boy met her gaze and locked onto it. Her eyes widened perceptibly.
The moment was suspended in time.
Then a noise --
The sound of a switch-blade knife opening.
So, the boy thought, a glum smile flickering across his face, I've walked into an ambush.
Behind him, another figure had appeared. Older than the giant and wiry as a rail, but with the same tensed posture of attack. The new man wore bell-bottom jeans, a striped fisherman's sweater, and a cloth cap pulled low enough to give the illusion of shadows for eyes. He'd been waiting for the red- haired boy. The switch-blade knife held loosely in his thin left hand.
The boy cast a furtive glance at his shoulder, locating this new foe, then turned all the way around to face Sally.
They knew each other. That much was plain. He seemed about to speak her name aloud, and she his -- but his time was up. He brushed past her, planted one foot on the rail, and dove overboard.
The second man moved instantly to the side, leaned over, and cursed in a bright Cockney accent:
"Holy cats, Harry!" He whipped his cap off, revealing a bald head with strands of wispy blond hair and tiny, angry red eyes set deep in his skull. "There he goes again, that slippery little bastard!"
Sally looked down. There was no trace of the boy. He had disappeared. A drop of twenty feet.
The giant, joining his companion with a sigh, clubbed his massive fists down on the rail, making it vibrate dully. "Crap," he said calmly.
"You don't suppose," the Cockney began a moment later, then paused. He sounded amazed. "You don't suppose the little bugger's dead, do you?"
The giant leaned over the side to stare down at the water with huge, placid brown eyes. He took the number counter out of his shirt pocket and gave it a solitary click. "Probably, Dude," he said.
Somewhere, close by and getting closer, a Zodiac's outboard engine was growling on the open sea.
"Let's make a move," the Cockney urged, nudging his companion.
He turned away from the side and briefly faced Sally Wisebadger. As their eyes met, his conveyed the impression of words, of speech. All at once, Sally understood her peril. Whoever you are, the tiny red eyes seemed to say, I have seen you and will remember you. I am memorizing your face. You better forget you saw me because I will NOT be forgetting you. The switch-blade disappeared into his jeans pocket. With a slap at his bald head, the cloth cap extinguished the eyes.
The two attackers vanished into the crowd.
Less than a second passed. Sally's mind began to function. She whirled to the pilot house, cupped her hands to her mouth, and hollered:
Quickly, she found a life preserver ring, brought it up to the side like a discus, and scanned the water beyond the ferry -- you had to aim for the victim with one of these things; he might miss it, swim the other way. But she saw nothing, no-one. She raced aft, carrying the life preserver. Nothing behind. Nothing starboard either. People were beginning to collect around her. Attracted by the uniform. A bell started clanging. The deck heaved beneath their feet as the engines were thrown in reverse. No-one could hold their breath that long. There was no doubt about it.
The boy was dead.
Copyright © 2004 by Eric Chase Anderson.