Hope on the Horizon

The radar had blipped repeatedly giving the impression that the supply ship was just on the cusp of entering the airspace above them, but an hour had passed and the excitement had brimmed over and faded like the aftermath of a child’s birthday party. The supply ship arrival was the next big milestone in the mission plan. Surviving the entry and landing onto the Red Planet had been the first big hurdle. Establishing a reliable supply route was the next. Without it, there was no settlement, and without the settlement, human existence rested with the last sands in the hour glass that had been emptying at a torrid pace.

“Can you try communication again?” Jane asked Frederick.

He looked at his captain with an expression of overt doubt. “Sure.”

Frederick moved to another screen, made a few gestures, and began speaking. “Settler to Phoenix, can you hear me?”

Nothing but static greeted his ears.

“Phoenix can you hear me?”

A fuzzy hiss ended in silence.

Frederick shook his head.

“Fuck,” Sanjay exhaled.

Jane looked back at him briefly before she said, “Well, we see it getting closer, so before long we’ll be able to talk to the crew face-to-face.”

“Why can’t we communicate? We need to get in touch with Mission Control,” Ava interjected. The crew turned to her. Sanjay seemed annoyed that she had even spoke.

“I don’t know,” Frederick replied. “I’ve checked everything two or three times. I don’t see a problem on our end.”

Ava pursed her lips and looked down at the floor beneath them. Exhaustion suddenly overwhelmed her. Only the promising blip on the radar kept her standing in her position behind the astronauts in the control room.

“It’s getting very close,” Frederick announced.

“Olivia, take these,” Jane said handing her the binoculars, “and see if you can make eye contact with the ship. It’s coming from the northwest.”

“I’ll go with you,” Ava volunteered.

Olivia stared at the screen one last time before she pivoted and walked quickly out of the control room with Ava in her wake. The women burst through the door leading out to the bright, sandy confines of the Martian day and jogged to a point away from the base where they could get a good view of the northwestern sky. They could see nothing with the naked eye at that moment.

Olivia put the special binoculars up to her face mask. They had been designed for such use, but they felt awkward compared to the ones she had used on earth. The rubber ends of the binoculars bumped up against her face mask, and she could see nothing at first. Finally, she adjusted them until the distant sky became clearer. A faint glowing object hovered on the muted canvas.

“I think I see it!” Olivia said. Her excitement reverberated through the general comm system. Ava smiled.

“I do. It’s definitely coming closer,” she confirmed after a few seconds.

“How does it look?” Jane asked.

“Steady…normal so far,” Olivia replied.

She watched the ship grower larger in the binoculars, and she held her breath. Without the supply ship, they could not survive for very long. That much she knew, but mostly, she longed for other people to join them. She felt like she was on a deserted island with four other castaways and the rescue ship had just come into sight. The giddiness almost overwhelmed her.

Ava stared up into the sky behind Olivia who alternated with staring unaided and peering through the binoculars. At first, she could see nothing. Then, a faint, dark object appeared in the bright sky and grew noticeably larger.

“I can see it now!” Ava reported. No one said anything.

Olivia smiled and put the binoculars up to her face mask. She could clearly see the ship in the glow of its entry. It looked like it was on fire, so she couldn’t see any detail beyond the shape of the large ship as it pointed toward its landing. She dropped the binoculars from her face.

Neither woman said a word as the ship came into clear view with the naked eye. They watched as it grew larger and whisked toward them. Only when it grew to the size of a small airplane did they worry that they might be standing in the landing path, but the ship took a sudden turn away from them as it descended.

It angled to the side exposing the top starboard portion of the ship as if it were going to cartwheel to the surface, and that’s when the women noticed the small fire near the rear of the space craft. They collectively gasped as the ship continued past them high in the air and zipped across the horizon continuing its descent. It disappeared behind an outcrop of mountains not far from where they stood. They tensed waiting for the sight or sound of a crash, but nothing came.

Olivia turned back toward the base quickly and saw Jane, Sanjay, and Frederick standing a few feet behind them staring out in the direction the ship descended.

“Does the crew know where we’re located?” she asked.

“I don’t know. We haven’t been able to communicate with anyone,” Jane replied.

“Our ship beacon gives a precise location even if we can’t communicate,” Frederick stated. “They should be able to lock on our location.”

“They may have run into some trouble. Did you see the fire at the back of the ship?” Ava asked.

“That could have been a remnant from entry,” Frederick explained. “The ship seemed under control as it went by.”

“Will they come find us?” Ava asked.

“Yes,” Jane assured. “Let’s try to communicate now that they’re here. Maybe we can make the connection.”

Jane started back to the base, but the others continued to stare out to the horizon where the ship had apparently landed. One by one, they broke away and followed their Captain back to the base. Ava was the last to fall in line. She kept looking back hoping for signs that the ship had landed safely.

Frederick took his seat at a large screen and gestured repeatedly until he reached the screen he wanted. All lights were green on the comm system. “WSA Settler to Phoenix, can you hear me?” he said hopefully.

Everyone stood on edge waiting for a response, but nothing came other than some intermittent static.

“Phoenix, are you out there?” Frederick leaned back after a moment with a grim look on his face. He looked at Jane for further direction. Finally, he said, “What do you want to do?”

Jane paused as if she had stage fright and the spotlight had just pinned itself on her. She glanced at the screen before them and then at Frederick before an idea took hold in her mind. “We’ll have to go to them. They may not know our comm system is inoperable.”

“They may not know we even made it safely to the surface,” Olivia interjected.

“True,” Frederick agreed.

“I’ll go,” Sanjay volunteered. He had been uncharacteristically quiet for much of the conversation about the supply ship, preoccupied even, but Jane thought nothing of it. He had been something of a lone wolf from the very beginning. Jane seemed pleased that he wanted to help the mission rather than criticize it or her in some way.

“Thanks, Sanjay,” she said. “Olivia, will you go with him?” She looked at her co-pilot who seemed alarmed by the request.

“Sure,” Olivia replied after an awkward pause that clearly indicated her reservations about being alone with Sanjay.

Sanjay didn’t seem bothered by the lack of enthusiasm. He busied himself with preparing a pack while the Captain and her co-pilot exchanged a look. Finally, Olivia’s initial reaction evaporated and she followed Sanjay to out of the control center.

“What do you want me to do?” Frederick asked.

“Make sure we can communicate with Sanjay and Olivia. Do the suit comms have good range?”

“They should work up to several miles.”

“Do we have any portable backups?”

“Yes. I’ll get them one each.”

“What’s the range on those?”

“It’s similar to the suit comms.”

“We don’t have anything longer?”

“No, sorry.”

“Let’s hope the ship isn’t out of range,” Jane said wistfully.

Frederick stood up and left the room to retrieve the mobile units, while Jane stared at the camera feed pointing out to the horizon where the supply ship had landed. No plume of smoke trailed up into the sky to indicate that it had crashed, which gave Jane hope that they only needed to find the ship and resume their efforts to build the settlement. The first transport ship would arrive in three weeks, and they had a lot of work to do.

Shut Down

Here’s another excerpt from my current project Origins.

The bots swung Wally’s wrapped body between them like they were moving a heavy, rolled rug. They stepped gingerly on the red rocks and sand as they moved toward the grave they had dug. Jane watched as she led the procession of the crew and Ava. She feared that his body would unwind from the canvas and fall out onto the sand.

Finally, they reached the grave. The bots tensed as if they were going to throw the body into the hole.

“Let him down gently,” Jane commanded.

The bots stopped and bent down lowering the body slowly to appease the Captain. Everyone watched them in stunned silence. Tears flooded Ava’s eyes, but she said nothing. The events leading to Wally’s death played over and over in her mind. She felt responsible in some way.

Jane sensed that she was supposed to say something, something wise and thoughtful, but nothing came to mind. She wasn’t a religious person. God had never been part of her life, and she had never learned any of the rituals that some people followed in death. Brad didn’t have a funeral. His body was never recovered and she had simply held a memorial for him so that friends and family could celebrate his life and have a hushed debate about her role in his death. She winced at these thoughts and glanced at those who stood around her. Everyone had bowed their heads in silence, so she joined them.

“Godspeed, Wally,” Frederick muttered.

They remained silent for a bit longer before antsy movement raffled through the small group. Jane ordered the bots to fill in the grave and mark it with a mound of rocks. They turned and walked back to the base in silence. Tears still streamed down Ava’s cheeks reflecting the shimmering light that glanced off her face mask, but no one noticed.

As they walked into their new home, Ava made a beeline for the sleeping quarters, while the crew sat at the terminals in the main room. Sanjay was the first to speak.

“When the bots get back, we need to shut them down.” He looked to Frederick for support.

“Okay, I need to check their software anyway,” Frederick replied as if he had planned to do it anyway.

“We’re not destroying them. We’ll store them in the back,” Jane stated emphatically.

“Who said anything about destroying them?” Frederick asked.

Jane looked at Sanjay and he wilted a little under her stare. Frederick followed her line of sight and rolled his eyes.

“You’re too paranoid,” he said to Sanjay. “We need them to help us build out the settlement.”

The hairs on Sanjay’s neck stood on edge. “We don’t need the god damned bots. You’re just stuck in our old way of living. This is a fresh start for us. Let’s not ruin it with the bots.”

Frederick looked to Jane for support. She replied as if on cue, “We’ll shut them down and store them in the back. That’s it. Nothing else.” She eyed each of the crew members before she sat down in one of the chairs and wheeled around to the screen next to her.

Both Frederick and Sanjay sighed for different reasons. Olivia said nothing. She still thought of Wally and the pitiful funeral they had just held for him. She looked around the room for Ava, but she was nowhere in sight.

“Where’s Ava?” she asked.

“She went to the back,” Jane replied without looking at her co-pilot.

Olivia walked away without a word looking for Ava. She needed a kindred spirit with whom to share her feelings about Wally’s death, and she knew she could commiserate with Ava.

Sanjay, still stinging from Jane’s rebuff, asked, “Are the bots not back yet?”

Jane spun and looked at him, seriously considering the time that had passed. The bots should have finished the burial by now.

“Are the exterior cameras up?” she asked Frederick.

“Yes, but I haven’t checked them yet,” he replied.

Jane gestured to the screen next to her and a video feed popped up, but it was from a camera facing the cave. She flicked her finger to the right and another feed facing the ship appeared. Another flick revealed the scene from the stretch leading toward Wally’s grave. Neither of the bots were there. The mound of rocks on his grave were barely visible in the background.

“Did they come back and we just didn’t notice them?” Jane asked.

“We would have heard them,” Frederick said.

“Can you go check?” Jane asked.

Frederick stood up and left the control room. The void he left rendered Sanjay and Jane silent. She felt the “I told you so” stare emanating from her irritable colleague.

Frederick poked his head through the door a few minutes later. “They’re not in here. We should ask them to come back.”

“Hit the kill switch,” Sanjay suggested.

“Let’s call them first. I’d like to put them in the back if we can. If we hit the kill switch, they’ll drop wherever they are and they’re too heavy for us to drag back in here,” Jane stated.

“Suit yourself,” Sanjay retorted. He sounded like a spoiled child, and it aggravated Jane, but she ignored it.

“Bot One and Bot Two, please report to the control room,” Jane ordered. A long moment passed with no response.

“Bot One and Bot Two, can you hear me?” she asked. Frustration strained her words, but she still received no response.

“Son of a bitch…” Sanjay retorted. Jane narrowed her eyes at him as a grim look overtook her face.

“They may have turned off their comm system again,” Frederick suggested.

“No, I clearly told them not to do that,” Jane said defensively.

“They’re not listening to you or any of us. They’re more autonomous than we’ve been told,” Sanjay said. “Hit the kill switch.” A determined look bore down on Jane. She could sense something not quite right about Sanjay that bothered her, but there were more pressing matters at the moment, so she ignored her senses.

Jane looked at Frederick for support. He shrugged meekly but offered no other suggestions. Then, an idea popped in his head. “Tell them you’re hitting the kill switch if they don’t respond.”

Jane seemed to grasp onto his idea like a last-ditch effort to save face and maintain her authority in Sanjay’s eyes. His despondent, constant stare continued to unnerve her. She kept waiting to hear him boast that he was right all along.

“Bot One and Bot Two, if I don’t get a response from you now, I’m hitting the kill switch. Report your positions and return to the control room.”

A hiss whisked across the comm system, but otherwise silence greeted the tense crew in the control room.

“Hit the damn switch,” Sanjay urged after the silence became too obvious.

Jane looked at Frederick for another perspective, but he offered none. She wheeled around to the big screen beside her and made several gestures until the bot control panel filled the screen. She flicked to another screen and the red kill switches shined a bright green. She poked each of the virtual buttons and they turned red. She sighed heavily as the screen confirmed that both bots had been shut down, and then, she turned around to Sanjay and Frederick who watched with great anticipation.

“There, are you happy?” she asked Sanjay pointedly.

Her stern look did nothing to alter his mood. He didn’t smile or shake his head to affirm. He just stared at his Captain and said. “Let’s just hope it worked.”

“Of course, it worked. All worker bots have kill switches. They’re not programmed for autonomy, so you need the switch in case something goes wrong,” Frederick replied. He seemed aggravated by Sanjay’s conspiratorial behavior.

“Uh-huh,” Sanjay mumbled. Then, he stood up and left the room.

Frederick watched him leave before he moved toward the terminals and took his seat. An exasperated look washed across his face. He said nothing to Jane, but she knew how he felt. Both astronauts turned to the screens near them and examined the comm status hoping for messages or some sort of communication from the supply or transport ships that should be well on their way by now. The futility of it all had yet to dawn on them.

As Jane and Frederick worked inside the control room, a faint metallic movement could be seen from one of the cameras that was trained on the space toward Wally’s grave. Neither astronaut noticed it as they weren’t paying attention to the camera feed, but to any observer it was clear that Bot One was scurrying further away from the base taking shelter behind one of the enormous rock formations that emerged at the edge of the sandy plain upon which the base and the ship sat.

Abandon Ship

I’ve been eagerly working on my latest project and have the first six chapters (30,000 words) in rough draft form. Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 3. I hope it gives you a taste of what’s to come with this work.

Fear had overwhelmed her to the point where she couldn’t think straight. Ava could only react like a wild animal cornered and facing certain death. When Jane had ignored her pleas to leave the ship, she did what she thought was the best thing to ensure her survival – she abandoned ship herself. The rest of the crew could plummet to its death on the broken ship, but she was going to do all she could to survive.

At first, she couldn’t believe she had pressed the button to open the door, but once the door whooshed open she stepped out like she was leaving her house for work as cocksure and determined as any other day in her former life. She stepped onto the rocky sand and paused a moment to survey her surroundings before she located a destination and immediately began walking toward it.

Her boots scuffed against the surface kicking up small sprays of sand as she stomped away from the ship. She slipped on the rocks, but her strong legs kept her upright. The dim evening light seemed much brighter once she was outside, but she flicked on her suit light anyway. It cast ominous shadows before her. She feared the ship more than anything unknown that awaited her.

The strange, sinewy shadows flickered on the dim, red sand as she walked away from the ship. The bulge of the pack she had thrown over her shoulder made her look like a hunchback, and she strained under its weight. Her breathing flooded her helmet leaving her unable to hear anything else, even the pounding of her feet on the ground as she trudged to a rocky outcrop just above the ship.

She crested the closest rock and stood at the entrance to a cave. The hairs on her neck pricked and she swallowed hard. Her heart thrummed in her chest from climbing the small hill but also from fear of the dark entrance to the cave. She sat the pack down at her feet outside the entrance and took one tentative step forward.

She flicked on the flashlight she had grabbed from the passenger cabin before she walked out the door and stood stock still aiming the light forward. The strong beam washed over the red rocks and the ghostly clouds of dust that she had kicked up. She panned over the space before her illuminating the mouth of the cave. She could see nothing but endless red rocks and sand that cast curious shadows before her. She sighed a bit in relief. Sweat trickled down her forehead, and she wished she could wipe it away, but she couldn’t remove her helmet.

After she swiped the cave with her light a few times, she convinced herself that it was safe. Anything was safe compared to the ship. She spun around and slashed the ship with her light. It stood a little more than 100 feet away from her. The beam of light traced an outline along the port side of the ship. She could see the back side dangling over the edge of the cliff. From this angle, it didn’t look as precarious since only a few feet of the end of the lumbering vehicle actually hung over the edge. The majority of the ship sat firmly on the ground, and the two cables that remained held firm.

She pushed the light back across the side of the ship when she caught sight of Jane peering out one of the small, porthole windows. She was too far away to make out Jane’s expression, but she imagined that Jane scowled at her. She had turned off her suit comm system, so she didn’t know if Jane or anyone else had tried to speak to her. She didn’t care.

Ava sighed again, almost relieved to be out of Jane’s domain. “Bitch,” she muttered to herself. She returned her light and her attention to the cave as she explored its depth. The mouth of the cave seemed like any other she had explored on earth. Nothing remarkable jumped out at her other than the thrill of being somewhere that no human being had ever been. She wished she could remove her helmet and inhale deeply. She often associated smells with her memory, and this was certainly a seminal moment for her. She was the very first human being to explore the surface of Mars in person. The tingle of excitement eclipsed any lingering fear she felt.

The wind picked up again as the pressure on her suit increased. She swiveled her head around to see if an encroaching cloud of sand was near, but there was nothing on the horizon. Nevertheless, she picked up her pack and moved it into the cave. As she plopped her pack onto the ground near the back of the rocky shelter, she noticed that a smaller opening in the back wall that led further into the cave. She quickly shined her light on the opening revealing paler versions of the red rock and sand that surrounded her. Her senses stood on edge again, but she ignored them.

She sat down near the back of the cave just to the left of the small opening to rest and gather her thoughts. The depth of the cave both excited and worried her. Sure, no life had ever been detected on Mars, but how did she really know if something inhabited the cave or not. It didn’t have to be some large animal or creature; it could be microscopic and just as deadly. Her skin crawled at the thought, and Ava shivered.

Outside the cave, the wind continued to build and the blown sand started rising like an antsy audience eager to get out of the theater. The whine and the strain of the cables attached to the ship cackled as the sand swallowed the ship. Ava shined her light out of the mouth of the cave, but the sand reflected her light back. She could do nothing but wait out the encroaching storm and hope that her colleagues didn’t plummet to their deaths. Her body rattled in fear.

The intensity of the storm rivaled the surges she had felt earlier in the day. The blown sand stayed outside the cave at first, but then a swirl of grit poked through the entrance and wreaked havoc on her. It pelted her face mask and her suit and sounded like rain on a tarp. She crouched lower to the ground, but the incessant beating continued. Meanwhile, one of the two cables holding the ship in place snapped under the pressure and banged against its metal hull. An awful groaning noise emerged from the blight – a sound of metal scraping across rock. Ava wanted to throw up.

In all the craziness of the storm, Ava managed to flick on her comm system and try to communicate with the crew. At first, the ear piece just buzzed with static, so she waited for it to die down before she tried to speak. A short silence convinced her to plead with the crew once again.

“Jane!” she yelled into the microphone. “Captain Smith!”

Nothing.

“Captain Smith! You have to get out of there! It’s not safe!”

“Where…are…disobeyed…at risk…” replied the Captain.

Her fractured words arrived in Ava’s ear. Ava didn’t need to ask Jane to repeat herself. She knew what the Captain had said. She clicked off the comm system again. “Fuck her,” Ava thought.

As if Jane’s anger had fueled the storm, the wind picked up and more sand piled into the cave drubbing Ava. She shook in her suit. The flashlight proved futile; she could see nothing in the reflection of the light in the blowing sand.

Ava grabbed her pack and dragged it to the small opening in the back of the cave. She slid through it pushing the pack in front of her. Whatever lurked in the tunnel couldn’t possibly be worse than enduring the sandstorm in the bigger cave. Besides, she didn’t want to hear the spaceship plummet over the edge of the cliff. She may have been angry with Jane, but she didn’t want to see the crew die.

Killing Thomas

Story ideas seem to bubble up all the time. I sketch them out in my notebook, and when time permits, I flesh out a chapter or two to get a feel for the voice of the story. If I like it, I keep going and turn it into a novel. If not, I just put it aside in case I can use all or part of it later. If the character captures my imagination, I know it’s worth turning into a novel. Needless to say, I have quite a few first chapters that are still lingering in my files. Here’s one I just fleshed out. The working title is Killing Thomas. Not everything is as it seems.

His eyes stared at me insistent in their surprise, pleading really. I watched as his pupils widened, suggesting he understood what we had come to. His mouth froze agape demonstrating his fleeting state of mind. His dark hair floated in his wake beneath the surface of the crystal blue, Caribbean lagoon. His hands grasped mine, not in the loving way that I had imagined in my heart of hearts but in a way that suggested resistance as people are prone to do when they are being murdered.

The last of his breaths bubbled to the surface after the thrashing of his feet subsided. He had caught me a good one in my right side after I had submerged him and he realized that I wasn’t being my usual kindred, playful self. Something had changed, and he had sensed it; although, he arrived at his conclusion too late to change his fate.

I let him float a minute, lifeless and still in shock, in the sparkling water. I wanted to look at him through clear eyes after my pulse had settled down. The thumping in my chest slowly receded like the gentle waves that lapped the lagoon. The fading sun licked my face as salty drops ran down the side of my head. Whether it was sweat or seawater, I wasn’t sure.

I looked at Thomas again. His beautiful eyes pleaded to the heavens to no avail. I gave him a grim smile and sucked in some of the humid air that had engulfed both of us just a short time earlier. That had been harder than I had expected. Sometimes, it’s hard to let go.

I turned and kicked the water to pull myself from its waist-high depth. I trudged to the shore and glanced back only once before I broke into a trot across the cool, white sand. It felt good to my feet like powdered sugar with just a little bit of grit. I couldn’t remember ever putting my feet in powdered sugar, but had I ever done it, that’s what it would have felt like.

I reached my moped still tilted away from the cracked road where we had left it an hour ago. An hour. I checked my watch. It had taken longer than I had expected. Courage in planning rarely translated into swift execution.

The moped puttered and whined as I crested the hill leading away from the lagoon. Soon someone would find the body. They’d call the police, and there’d be an investigation. I trusted my plan. Meredith had promised it’d work. I wasn’t sure I trusted Meredith, but I needed to be rid of Thomas.

Water streamed down and away from my legs as I picked up speed along the narrow road back to civilization. My swim trunks swished in the seat making me feel like I was still sitting in the warm water, and every hair on my bare body waved in the wind. I felt like I was in a vast wind tunnel being blown dry in the generous Caribbean sun. The smell of saltwater mixed with the musty odor of that lifejacket Thomas had worn still clung to my body. I wrinkled my nose in the wind as if I could flick the smell away.

The exasperated moped bounced along the dilapidated old road and jarred me for a moment. I almost lost control of the damned thing before a sharp curve, but I released the accelerator just a little and wobbled into the turn before I regained control. My teeth clanked together rattling my brain, another shock to my system. I felt stunned and disoriented. It had all happened so fast. I shook my head and throttled forward. I couldn’t get away fast enough.

The 15-minute drive from the remotest point of the island seemed to take forever as if the wheels of my little motorbike were trudging through molasses. My wrist ached from twisting the accelerator to its limit, but I didn’t care. I had to get away from Thomas. He had caused enough damage already.

I crested one last hill above the tiny Caribbean village and the glaring white walls of my hotel came into view. The hotel was the largest building by far in the village. It had once belonged to royalty on the island but had been converted to a hotel when the last push for independence sent the royal family scurrying to a more civilized country. I felt sorry for the family for a brief moment as I descended the hill into the main street of the village. Such a beautiful place, however remote, deserved to be enjoyed. I doubted they had ever returned once they left. Such a shame. Then, I remembered, that I could never return either. Once I stepped onto that boat to leave the island, I would never see this place again.

I zipped through the roundabout at the center of town narrowly missing a few circling cars that promptly honked at me. I ignored them and continued on my way toward the hotel. I couldn’t get there fast enough and the moped resisted the whole way as if it knew it had become an accessory to a crime.

Meredith sat on the stone bench under the canopy on the left side of the hotel entrance reading her book when I pulled the moped into a parking space near the front of the building. She didn’t even look up at me or acknowledge that I had arrived until I was standing over her. She looked so calm and normal as if I had just gone kayaking in the sea rather than drowning someone with my bare hands.

“Are you ready to go?” she asked when she looked up from her book.

“What do you think?” I asked. I tried to be emphatic and commanding, but my hands shook uncontrollably and my voice was just as shaky.

“You should change into some dry clothes. I put some in the bag for you.”

I looked at the two suitcases next to the bench and saw a white bag with the word “Hilton” on it. I grabbed the bag and walked quickly back into the hotel. I struggled to change clothes as fast as I could. I thought I heard sirens nearing the hotel, and my heart jumped in my chest. I almost fell face first into the toilet in the stall where I changed out of my swim trunks. I didn’t bother drying myself off because the wind had mostly taken care of that for me, but the dry clothes clung uncomfortably to my body as I pulled them on. I stepped back into my sandy shoes and left my trunks hanging on the back of the bathroom stall door. I had not been careful in my planning so another piece of evidence left behind didn’t matter. If I was lucky, I’d be long gone before the cops put the pieces together.

“Try to look calm,” Meredith admonished as I walked toward her. I hunched over slightly and glanced around hoping no one heard her. What a strange thing to say. It would surely raise suspicions, but no one was close enough to hear her.

“I am calm,” I whispered when I stood right over her. She looked up at me and shook her head. I faked a smile and she turned her attention to the dark, old man dressed in a hotel uniform. She asked for a taxi.

“Where are you going?” the old man asked. It almost seemed accusatory.

“To the dock.” Meredith replied.

The old man blew a whistle, and after a moment, an unassuming and unmarked vehicle ambled up the stone driveway and stopped before us. This painfully skinny black man slid out of the driver’s seat and said hello as he helped us load the luggage into his trunk. He smelled of coconuts and had an easy smile about him that made me relax for a moment. I had forgotten about Thomas by the time I sat down in the cushy backseat of the man’s car. He was chatty and Meredith was more than happy to oblige with idle conversation. I just stared out the half-open window enjoying the breeze that massaged my face.

The dock was three or four miles from our hotel, but somehow, I had lost myself in the smell of saltwater and the warm breeze that blew away my worries. It seemed to take only a minute or two to navigate the narrow, crowded streets leading to the dock, but I knew it took much longer. I had been here too many times before to believe otherwise. Nevertheless, the skinny man pulled our luggage from the giant maw of a trunk and sat them before us at the dock. Meredith paid him handsomely as usual and we turned and walked toward the boat waiting at the end of the pier without a word between us.

I looked back one last time before we stepped onto the boat as if I expected Thomas to be there. He wasn’t. For a moment I saw the look in his eyes as he took his last breath, and I must have winced because Meredith asked me if I was okay. I shook my head to say that I was, but the trembling had returned by the time I sat in my seat next to her. She looked at my hands and then back at my face. She said nothing as she turned toward the window.

The boat roared to life and pulled away from the dock. I looked down the long pier. No one ran toward the boat. My escape was almost complete. Thomas was no more, or so I hoped.