Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, Coastal North Carolina
Dusk, and neither knew their next step.
Jessica Bright tried to grasp why the man, and not her red-tail hawk, was perched on the limb above her. His hooded cape failed to conceal his piercing eyes and muscled frame. She worked alone, miles inside a wooded peninsula. The autumn air cut at her thin-gloved hands. A see-through mesh cap for mosquito protection covered her face, neck, and hair. A camouflage field suit fit tight to her body.
The man watched her for signs of nervousness. He knew she had spotted him; their eyes had made contact. Even through her face mask, he could tell hers were alert and intelligent, although he couldn’t make out their color. He wanted them to be pale yellow, like a young raptor's.
She pondered confronting him. Yell up there; ask him why he had her under surveillance. Get him talking. She decided against it. Let him make the first move. Pretending normality, she peered through her scope. It pointed to the entrance hole of a woodpecker colony. She speculated he might be a thug, hired to intimidate her. A federal judge had halted a logging company's clear cutting, pending her expert testimony. Her research on the foraging range of the refuge's endangered red-cockaded woodpeckers would decide the case.
Her calmness perplexed him. He wanted to know what made her tick. Like claws, his gloved hands grasped the limb, readying his spring. His falconer's cape matched the feather pattern of her hawk.
She lifted her head from the scope. Another possibility: the man in the tree connected to, or wrote the letter, postmarked Munich. "You are one of two who can guide me to trumpeter swans, whooping cranes, and snowy owls. I must see them in-situ, as Audubon did. By the time you read this, I will be in America. I will find you. Manfred Hellman."
Famed bird artist John James Audubon had traveled wilderness frontiers, in search of specimens to use as models. The location of Audubon's whoopers, she knew well. It was thousands of miles north, in the Northwest Territories of Canada. They still nested there, in a complex of old salt marshes on First Nation reserved lands. Audubon's snowys had flocked at a river plain near the North Saskatchewan's headwaters. Not far away was Rocky Mountain House, historic site of two trading posts. Aboriginals had come there to swap furs for blankets, and Audubon came to ask about birds. The writer's mention of trumpeters raised her concern. Audubon once traveled here to observe them. They no longer migrated this far south and east. But a week ago, four of them--accidental, uncommon to the area for centuries--had shown up. They were at remote Pungo Lake, forty miles away as the crow flies.
She tried to get inside the writer's head and ferret out his interest in swans, cranes, and owls. Her gut told her their significance was mythological. To the Greeks the swan symbolized purity. Taoists made the crane synonymous with immortality. For Native American tribes and the Aztecs and Mayans, the owl meant death.
He licked his knife blade, refreshing the taste of blood on his tongue. His hurl had sliced the hawk’s neck. He had taken the pieces to the river, and returned to assume the hawk’s place.
Her hawk should be on the limb, not him. He had killed it. She lifted her mesh cap with her left hand and smoothed her hair with her right hand, then let it drop to her side. In her half-closed palm now she held a survival weapon. Its base was a carved piece of prehistoric Mexican amber, with a bee embedded. The business end was three inches long. It was strong, thin, sharp-pointed, and suitable for raking a face, or stabbing a jugular.
Why wouldn't she look up? He wanted to see her eyes again.
Over a mile, twenty minutes give or take, to her cabin. Farther to her vehicle at the highway parking lot or to her kayak at the peninsula point. Darkness almost here now. His night vision unlikely to exceed hers and she could maneuver these woods blindfolded.
She felt his stare and returned it, in a sense. She put her left hand in her vest pocket and pressed a transmitter button, activating her helmet-mount minicam. It began imaging a predetermined spot on the limb. Tonight's film clip would feature not her hawk, but him.
He saw her withdraw both feet from the tripod, and he saw the two flashes of light, separated by several seconds. She had recorded him. He realized this at the exact moment she abandoned her tripod.
She headed in the direction of her cabin. She set a slow pace, not wanting to get too far ahead of him. She needed to keep track of his position relative to hers. First, she wanted to hear the soft sound of his drop to the soft green-brown pine-needled forest floor. It came. She speeded up.
She followed an unmarked trail she had blazed months prior. Along it, virgin southern pine trees stood tall and straight, their limbs touched blocking light. Darkness came with a vengeance. It was pitch black. Cold now, her face signaled. He wouldn’t be able to keep track of her unless he stayed close or shined a light. So far he hadn’t.
She removed her cell phone from her vest. Call Charlie Hanson, her friend and colleague from the other refuge; call 911. Neither Charlie nor the police could get to her in time, but at least she could document what was happening. No, she couldn’t. The screen indicated no subscriber identity module. Without its sim card, the phone couldn’t connect. Or be tracked by the police, for that matter. The son-of-a-bitch had disabled her communications.
Her red-tail hawk was as adult female. Her perch overlooked the river. It was an ideal place to watch for prey to feed her family. Dusk after dusk, Jessica had felt communion with her. No way would she not have been on her perch. She had no natural adversaries. No way had he not killed her hawk. But how? And why? Cruel bastard to do that. She felt her face reddening with anger, and struggled to tamp it down. She was all alone; no choice but to outwit him. She squeezed the survival weapon in her palm. Or kill him, perish the thought.
The refuge was staggering in size. Twenty-eight miles north to south and fifteen miles east to west. Over one hundred fifty thousand acres. It lay in North Carolina's Coastal Plain, almost surrounded by water. A road from the main highway cut though the refuge, winding for miles, alternating between forest and open land with drainage moats on each side, and ending at a ragged peninsula on the Alligator River. Over the past months, Jessica had created the faint woods trail she was following. A snaking path that hugged the terrain, up and down and crossing the refuge road twice. There were faster ways back to the cabin, but she always kept to this one. Sentimental to her.
She knew these woods like the back of her hand. The nesting colonies of endangered Red-cockaded woodpeckers were widely dispersed and she had been to most of them.
She had come to the refuge to perform field research on woodpeckers. And also to find herself. Thirty-five now, although she didn’t look it, and could pass for a coed. Good job, no lack of professional satisfaction, already an internationally recognized ornithologist. Birds her love and her life. No mate. No prospects. Where was the right man? Not exactly the life she had planned.
She listened as the wild wolves that roamed the refuge began their nightly howls. They were far away. Howls of the captive breeders near her cabin would be louder. She knew that when she approached them, in maybe a half hour—she planned a deviated path that would take longer than usual-- they would be singing in a familiar harmony. It would resonate in her ear. Something she loved. A pleasant condition of her free lodging was the duty of serving as the Red Wolf Caretaker. The caretaker’s cabin, a primitive one-room structure, had neither electricity nor plumbing. It had a nice stone fireplace, though, and wood was plentiful.
She stopped. She heard his footsteps. Her sensitive ears had picked up the soft crunch of shoes contacting pine needles. About a hundred to a hundred fifty feet behind her, she reckoned. He was keeping up. She picked up her pace even more, making long, purposeful strides. Not far ahead now, she would leave her blazed trail and start a free-lance navigation, using night sounds. Hoots and howls. First, she would veer off on an “owl walk.” The first hoot would come soon after.
He smiled to himself. She had made it easy to disable her communications. He had entered her cabin when she went to feed the wolves. Her phone had been lying on her bed. A simple matter of removing the sim card. But he had not managed to tamp down his feelings about her. What were they? He wasn’t sure. They had given rise as he watched her from his tree perch. And it appeared she wasn’t afraid of him. He didn’t know how to feel about that. Okay, he did know. It excited the hell out of him. But the other thing: she had a video recording of him. He had to get it away from her. A quarter of the way to her cabin now and she’s changed direction. Where is she going?
She loved the dank smell of the night woods, and in spite of the situation tonight was no exception. She breathed easily, wondering about the physical conditioning of the man following her. Soon she would test it. She again squeezed the amber base of her survival weapon, and thought about her dad.
Childhood memories…Dad and I lying on our backs in the open on our sleeping bags, watching a big sky full of constellations perfectly visible against the darkness.
“Why did Mom have to die?” Always her first question, after they had enjoyed their initial fill of the stars.
“Because she wanted you to live,” her dad would say, as he began gently stroking her blonde hair.
“But why couldn’t we both live?”
“I guess it wasn’t meant to be, Jessica. Like when we found the little baby bird dead in the nest. We don’t know why.”
“What happened to its mother and father?”
“Well, we don’t know. That’s how things are in nature. We all try to survive, but we all don’t make it. Life and death are part of nature.”
“So you and I were survivors and Mom was not, and that’s nature?”
“I’m not sure I like nature. Let’s talk about something else.”
She smiled. What an emotional burden I placed on Dad. But how lucky I was to grow up wilderness-hardened. When she was old enough, he told her the story. There were complications regarding her pending birth. Her mother had chosen to accept the risk to herself to ensure Jessica’s safety. She had made it; but her mother had not.
Her mind took her to the great room of the Gila Wilderness, New Mexico log home, where she lived with her dad from birth until college. On the mantel of the massive stone fireplace, a framed photograph: a young woman and her horse, a white Appaloosa stallion. Incredibly beautiful—its long mane and tail a zebra-like interspersion of black and white hair. Its front was a solid white from face to mid-horse, then leopard-like spots, black on white, on its rump and back legs. The horse’s bloodline originating with the Nez Perce; the woman’s with the Blackfeet that had stolen the horses. In her left hand, an old bridle of horsehair braided by her grandmother; her right arm wrapped around the horse’s muzzle, his head snuggling against her face; her beauty matching his. Her dad swore the stallion shed tears when she did not return from the hospital following Jessica’s birth.
Her mother’s appearance radiated a mix of Indian blood and that of the Montana trapper who married her grandmother. Her dad said his ancestors were mountain people too, their field stone house high above the rugged Wales coastline.
She was, she thought as she walked through the dark forest, a nice mix of her mother’s features and her strong slender body; and she had her father’s blue-green eyes, light-toned hair and light complexion, these characteristics somewhat of a rarity among the Welch.
Her dad had presented her the survival weapon in her hand. It had been just before she left for college. It looked like an innocent hairpin. Its needle end was space age material, incredibly strong. And he had taught her how to use it, if necessary. Dad... She lifted her mesh cap and returned it to its place. For now, flight not fight; she would outmaneuver him. She made the turn and soon after came to the first bridge crossing the drainage moats, transitioning from the patch of open land back into the forest.
The military grade thermal imaging night scope strapped on his head had enabled him to trail her to this point but she had just jumped her speed and made a course change that took her from open to woods. His scope had lost lock. She had foiled him. Her slim body generated a low thermal signature, her heat relative to that of the background barely above threshold. Fortunately night had come. The trees and forest floor were cooling. Her thermal image would increasingly stand out. He began weaving back and forth while rotating his head side to side, giving his scope its best chance of reacquiring her.
She stopped a second time and listened. His footsteps were fainter now, and less regular. Maybe she had given him the slip. Or maybe he had taken off his shoes and closed the distance between them. The bogeymen crept in. Fear and anger. She remembered some life and death situations she and her dad had faced in remote wilderness, alone except for each other. To her mind came his words.
“Jessica, remember these two things. Fear: a certain amount is good; to keep you alert, and cautious. Too much can paralyze you. Anger: some situations call for it, to beneficially raise your adrenalin. Too much can make you act irrationally. Keep these in balance. Do it with humor,” he would say. “Force yourself to operate in stereo. One channel ‘taking in’ via your senses--your gut being the sixth and most important. The other channel ‘putting out,’ telling yourself funny stories.”
She heard the first hoot, from the ten o’clock position: Hoo-h’HOO-hoo-hoo. And picked up the sound of his footsteps behind her. Her first thought was to stave off the bogeymen by imagining herself lecturing the graduate students back at her home base, the research department of the world famous Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
But her second thought, inspired by the situation, was to talk out loud. Yes, this would perhaps distract and confuse the man following her. “Hey, Mr. Asshole, who killed my Red-tail Hawk?” Her voice was full of ridicule and disdain. “You’re an ignorant bastard, with disrespect for birds. Hoo-h’HOO-hoo-hoo. “Hear that? Great Horned Owl.” She started raising and lowering the amplitude of her voice, hoping to confuse him on their separation distance. A large and NOISY fellow but quiet in FLIGHT. Short bill, rounded HEAD, broad WINGS; large, thick body. It can take down PREY larger than itself—maybe it’ll ATTACK YOUR ASS. “SPEAK UP, MR. ASSHOLE. You’re expected to participate in my seminar.”
What the hell is she doing, talking like that? He touched the sheath enclosing his knife. Rheinfelden: a village at the southwest corner of Germany. The Rhine running through it, the Black Forest surrounding it, the Swiss Alps near it. Existing there since medieval times, a guild of Swiss-German knife craftsmen. He had conceived the knife, acquired the exotic material and commissioned the guild to design and make it. Requirements easy to state but difficult to meet: quick disassembly to innocent-looking pieces; rapid reconfiguring. Switchblade for concealment and surprise. Fixed blade for hand to hand combat and field survival. Throwing knife for engagement from a distance. A killing machine.
She made a sharp turn right and stopped, listening for his footsteps. She didn’t hear him. She waited, cupping her left ear. The hoot of the second owl came from the two o’clock direction. She put her face to a hollow in a tree and yelled into it. Maybe the echo would confuse him on their relative azimuth. “Hear that, you ROTTEN PIECE OF SHIT? Eastern Screech Owl. Spooky sound, ain’t it? Eerie WHINNYING TRILL. You could stuff him in a sock--if you could spot him, LET ALONE CATCH HIM. He’s seldom seen, sometimes heard. LOOKS LIKE A CAT. Hey, if you don’t START TALKING I’m going to FLUNK YOUR ASS.”
He had lost her again. He withdrew his knife from its shield, not knowing what he would do with it. Perhaps disable her. He had to get his hands on her minicam and take its memory chip. The movie she had made of him in the tree would likely be poor quality but it might yield a recognizable image—one good enough to trace him—the last thing he needed right now.
As she neared her cabin she heard the third owl, at eleven o’clock. “Listen up, YOU IGNORANT BASTARD. That’s a male Barred Owl you just heard. Its distinctive hooting call sounds like ‘WHO COOKS FOR YOU? WHO COOKS FOR YOU-ALL?’ First glance he looks like a barn owl. But a barn owl bobs and a barred owl flies straight, and has those BARS on his wings and breast—he looks like he’s ‘behind bars’--a jailbird.” She laughed out loud. “JAIL IS WHERE YOU’RE GOING, YOU HEARTLESS SON OF A BITCH, as soon as I get my camera image of you processed and I’m going to GET YOU IDENTIFIED BY THE AUTHORITIES.”
She had not succeeded in getting him to talk. This would have helped her pinpoint his location, size him up, and, later, identify him from his voice. And thrown him off whatever was his plan. Like rape. Rapists didn’t want their victims to talk to them. Nevertheless, her story telling had calmed her, bucked up her courage and cleared her head. She had figured out how he had stayed up with her in spite of her rapid changes in course and speed. Thermal imaging. He had a night scope. It worked for him when she was in the open. It didn’t when she was in forest because the trees’ heat exceeded her body heat. The second moat crossing lay ahead. It would take her from forest to open and she would again be exposed.
Sensing her nearness, the breeder wolves had begun howling. A plan came to her. She broke into a flat run in the direction of their sounds. Her cabin lay beyond them, three hundred feet in the open. She began counting. Thousand one, thousand two,… When she reached one hundred eighty—three minutes elapsed time--she veered sharp left. The woods to her left would shield her from his imager. She would loop the wolves, staying in the woods on the opposite side of them and wind up at her cabin. But then she would have to cross three hundred feet of open land to reach it. The length of an American football field. She would sprint it.
He knew the cabin was near when he heard the wolves. Earlier he had surveilled them. He had just reacquired her track and now he had lost it again. But her feint of turning into the woods did not fool him. He continued in the direction of the sounds of the caged wolves, certain her destination was the cabin behind them.
When she emerged from the east edge of the woods he was waiting for her at the north edge. His scope picked up her thermal image.
In spite of the darkness she knew by heart the location of her cabin and broke for it at full speed.
He slewed his head in the direction of her motion and found a much larger thermal image—her cabin. Having established the vector of her race to the cabin, he put himself on an intercept course.
She didn’t know his location, and couldn’t unless he made sounds. She focused on reaching the cabin, and getting inside it as fast as possible. The door had a keyed dead bolt lock but fortunately she only used it when she left the refuge. The door would open inward when she pressed the thumb latch. But the latch mechanism didn’t always work the first time. Sometimes she had to try it several times. Getting the door open the usual way could be a stumbling block, it could use up precious seconds. But if she did make it inside and was fast enough, she could bar it.
She ran for the cabin door. He broke full stop for an imaginary spot twenty-five feet short of the door, where he intended to tackle her and rip the helmet minicam off her head.
A few seconds later, he realized she was faster—much faster than he had credited her—and was going to make it inside the cabin before he could reach her. But she was within his throwing range for a moving human target. From a dead run, he hurled the knife.
She was ten feet from the cabin door when she heard his footsteps behind her.
She threw herself into an airborne trajectory, her boots and his hurled knife impacting the cabin door at the same time. Her momentum overwhelmed the latch, the door swung open and slammed against its hinges, impacting the wall, bouncing back just as she landed inside. She recovered, slammed the door shut and swung the bar across it. The door didn’t budge when her assailant rammed his shoulder against it.
She worked to slow her rapid pulse, and think about what might happen next. If the idea came to him, he could use one of the logs beside the cabin as a battering ram. She flipped on her penlight and scanned the door. She thought its heavy iron hinges would hold. She saw the pointed end of his knife--protruding about three feet from the bottom of the door. Was it a bad throw or had he aimed at her thighs, to disable instead of kill her? She decided the latter; likely he had killed her hawk with a precise throw from the ground to her twenty-foot high perch. She pressed an ear to the door and heard him breathing. Anger flew all over her. She tamped it down. She needed to present herself just right when she spoke
“You chicken shit bastard, do you get your kicks off of stalking me?” Her voice calm and deliberate. “You’re a damn coward.”
No reply. But she saw the knife point’s slight wiggling and heard it squeaking. He was trying to extract his knife; it was stuck. She felt the blade’s sides with her thumb and forefinger, noting factors complicating things for him. The blade thickened from point to base. And one edge was serrated, like a saw. His complications became her opportunity. Scanning her penlight around the cabin, she considered various items she might use as weapons and tools. She fixed on the iron poker by the fireplace, fetched it and returned to the door.
“Can’t get your little knife out, shithead? Maybe I can help you,” she said. Drawing the poker back, she swung it like a ball bat, striking dead center the exposed part of the blade. The loud ping of metals contacting didn’t surprise her; the sting of the poker’s rebound did. The blade did not bend as she had hoped, her intent being to ensure he could not extract it from the door.
“Well, that didn’t work, my little asshole buddy. Let’s try something else.” Silence. He still doesn’t want to reveal his voice…
It occurred to her she could remove the blade by hammering on the pointed end. But that would help him, not her. The thought gave rise to another approach. Her attention shifted to a large cylindrical metal object hanging beside the door.
She pulled the heavy old-fashioned fire extinguisher from its clamps, gathered it in her hands and rammed it against the blade’s edge. As with the poker, the impact made a loud ping but did not fracture the blade. Although thin, it had incredible strength.
Her efforts made him smile. She would find it futile. On the other hand, he couldn’t free his blade from outside the door; he had to get inside and pound the knife’s tip end.
He backed away from the door a few feet, flipped on the lamp on his scope and looked around for combustible material. He spotted a pile of brown pine needles. He could stuff them in the chimney, set them on fire and smoke her out. Now he needed a way to get on the roof.
His planning ended when Jessica flung open the door and sprayed him with the fire extinguisher. He screamed; eyes stinging and nostrils burning. He began coughing uncontrollably, but retained the presence of mind to know what had happened. He had previously seen the water pump. He stumbled to it and rotated the handle, bringing forth a stream of cold water that he began splashing in his face.
She ran for the river, wearing her backpack--full but not heavy—containing only her field notes and the woodpecker feathers she had collected. In her zippered pants pocket she had secured her vehicle keys, photo id, credit cards and cash. And the minicam’s memory chip with a film clip of her hooded assailant looking down at her from the tree limb above.
He hunched down on one of the camp table’s benches until he recovered enough to move. Picking up a large stone, he went inside the cabin and used it to retrieve his knife. As he had known, his pounding the tip did not damage it—the material had extreme hardness. He put the knife in his sheath.
He searched the cabin’s one room. The minicam lay on the pillow on her bed in the corner. He staggered to it. “She took the memory chip,” he said aloud. He threw the minicam against the wall, shattered it, fragments flying everywhere. He made his way outside. His respiratory function and mobility not yet recovered, he realized. He returned to the camp table and sat on a bench, head down, arms propped on his knees. Which way did she go: river or highway? The latter, he figured. He’d seen an old sports utility vehicle parked there. Had to be hers. By the time he could get there she’d be long gone. He sliced down on the bench with the heel of his open hand, imagining it was her neck.
She didn’t know the degree to which she had temporarily disabled him with the spray. The old fashioned fire extinguisher, a forty year old relic, did nothing more than, when agitated, mix baking soda into water-diluted vinegar to create carbon dioxide that could snuff small fires. She had loaded the extinguisher herself. The vinegar would have stung his eyes and impaired his breathing. How long it would take him to recover? It depended on his constitution and determination; and whether he self-treated. The anecdote was simple: water and a period of rest. Likely she had bought herself no more than thirty minutes if he came after her. She had to assume he would.
Fairly certain he had a thermal imager to track her, her path to the river emphasized stealth over speed. She set a winding course—far from straight line, that kept her for the most part in wooded vice open land. An hour later, she came to the edge of the pine forest overlooking the peninsula point. Caution in order. She couldn’t rule out he had beaten her here and lurked nearby. She remained still, listening for sounds other than those of the omnipresent night creatures, the loudest being tree frogs. Fifteen minutes passed uneventfully.
She came into the open and made her way to a clump of bushes where she pulled her kayak from its hiding spot. She hoisted it over her head and headed for the water. She saw something offshore that disturbed her. Faint lights. From inside a fishing boat. Not moving. Anchored, about three hundred feet away. Someone standing on the deck with a thermal imager could spot her. She’d stand out like a deer under headlights. Her heart pounded. She got herself under control by imagining her dad’s humorous response to the situation: “Nobody’s watching, no problem; somebody’s watching, gotta catch us.”
She evaluated two escape options:
Plan A- Go southwest. Put in here and paddle the shoreline for a few miles, to the bridge. There, stow the kayak and hail a westbound truck. These regularly plied the highway even in wee hours of the night. Have the driver drop her at the refuge parking lot containing her vehicle.
Plan B- Go in the opposite direction; walk her kayak a half mile or so and put in on the other side of the peninsula. Follow the shoreline northeast to the mouth of East Lake. Paddle inland along the shore of the long lake, which would narrow before transitioning to a creek. The creek would end in a marsh near the highway. Across it, the refuge parking lot containing her suv.
A complicating factor: her attacker might be waiting at the parking lot. Trees surrounded it on three sides. From any of the three, he would be able to see her when she crossed the highway. He could intercept her before she could get inside her vehicle. Worse, he might already be inside it by the time she got there.
Another consideration: his attack had thrown her off schedule. She had missed her night flight from Norfolk, Virginia to upstate New York. Ithaca. The Cornell University. She needed to get to her lab right away. Test and analyze the feathers. Prepare for her presentation to the judge. She had to stop the logging company from destroying the endangered woodpeckers’ habitat. She could drive to Norfolk, sleep a couple hours in the airport and take the next flight to a New York City airport.
She decided on a variation of Plan A. Make it to the highway, hail an eastbound truck and have the driver drop her in Manteo. She’d call Charlie Hanson who tended the adjoining refuge. Even in the middle of the night he’d gladly drive her back to the parking lot. Charlie would stand watch while she entered her vehicle and ensured the man who attacked her wasn’t inside. And the man would have to think twice about fooling with Charlie. He was the size of a grizzly, and just as capable of tearing somebody’s head off.
He had made his way to the peninsula point. There he had hidden a small inflatable with oars that had brought him from the rented fishing boat he had left anchored offshore. He pulled the inflatable from its hiding place, pulled it into the water, climbed in, and rowed to the fishing boat. Stepping onto the aft landing, he hoisted up, and let the air out of the inflatable and pulled it aboard.
Climbing the steps to the main deck, he walked forward and then down the steps to the galley. He made instant coffee using twice the recommended concentration, sipped the strong, dark brew, and thought about things. Now he knew what Jessica Bright looked like in person, and had some indications of how she reacted under stress. He also knew that she planned to be at her lab tomorrow. He knew this because he had called the receptionist and she had told him. She had liked to talk. Her name was Marcia.
He raised anchor, fired up the twin engines, turned on the running lights, and headed northeast, in the direction of Manteo. But he spotted a small object along the shoreline, moving in his direction. He sped up.
She heard the boat before she saw it. Damn… She reversed direction and paddled hard toward the mouth of the lake, her kayak scooting the surface like a water bug on steroids.
He closed on the moving object. It had to be her in a kayak.
She disappeared. She had rounded the tip. He brought the engines to full throttle.
Her arm muscles burned as if on fire. They said give up, but she knew she couldn’t. Just a little bit farther now...
He steered his boat around the tip and headed it into the lake, scanning the shoreline. Where is she? Ahead, he saw an opening, perhaps a creek. Could she have made it that far? He didn’t think so. He killed the engines and dropped anchor. She’s somewhere in those reeds, no doubt. He put on a spotlight and began slowly scanning the shoreline. Flush her out. She won’t be able to take the pressure of waiting, not knowing.